Flawed Memories

Image: My Bubby and me, August 8, 2013

There’s nothing romantic about death.

You say goodbye to someone you love, or someone you’ve known or someone you didn’t know so well or someone you wish you’d known better, or someone you liked a little or liked a lot or really didn’t like very much at all. And when there is no life left in their body, when, in an instant, it becomes a temporary mass of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus, you are slapped with the reality that our bodies are only vessels and that’s one thing that is completely clear.

And where does the person go? Where is she now? Moments after her death? Days, years, centuries afterwards? Some have no idea, some have theories, others think they know.

I woke up 20 minutes after my grandmother died. It’s one of the things I’m struggling with, as though I should have been awake, even if I was thousands of miles away. Either my soul should have sensed it or I should have been told she was leaving so I could cry about it while she was still here. I am laden with guilt following my grandmother’s death, almost as though it is a way to hold on to something, instead of letting her become simply a memory. She is a weight on my shoulders, as though that will give me some control, an occupation, as though, if I feel guilty enough, maybe she’ll come back to let me finish the job of good granddaughter.

But I keep thinking about how Bubby herself dealt with death. The death of her beloved parents. The death of her beloved husband and her best friend in one year. The death of her second beloved husband. The death of her son in law which left her daughter a widow, just one month after she had become one for the second time. The death of other close friends and relatives…

And I think that that thing that takes me fully into a task, into a moment, the great joy I feel in my accomplishments, my laughs with good friends, my good times with my family… That thing which makes me revel in life and my heart burst with love… I can feel it moving me onto this next stage in my life and I think it is what kept my Bubby moving on, time and again.

The one time I heard my Bubby curse was the day I called to tell her I don’t keep Shabbat. I didn’t want to lie to her about my shabbatot in Vancouver and so I told her that I drive to synagogue on Shabbat and she got so angry at me. She said, “That’s bullshit!” and then she asked me to write her a letter explaining my choice.

And then we continued on in our relationship. She took immense pride in her personal, authentic relationships with her grandchildren and I took immense pride in my part in that.

And with all the realness, she cherished me. I was a far from perfect granddaughter but she just loved me.

It often felt as though Bubby possessed some kind of deeper understanding of the world than I do. Her “simple faith,” something I observed with awe, respect and envy from the other side of the chasm, gave her an aura of romance and beauty that made her very attractive.

And I think that her “simple faith” was one of the things that kept her consistently determined to put one step in front of the other with a smile.

Bubby wasn’t always easy. I think most of us who were close to her had many times that we felt frustrated with her. But I’m not upset with her today because those memories fall away and I just recall her love for us, her beauty, her constant singing, her great pride and her contagious enthusiasm. I suppose, if she’s also thinking about me, she will be thinking of the good, which is what she always did. She’ll be remembering our conversations, going out shopping together, eating together, praying on the High Holidays together… And she’ll be feeling great pride for the person I am, as she always did.

It’s hard to let go of the guilt. There is no one to blame my shortcomings on but myself. There is no one to apologize to. And I don’t want to kid myself into thinking I would have been different given a second chance. Saying that would mean disregarding the complexity of what was and the reasons behind how I am.

Life is a great balancing act and it’s full of stumbles, falls, scraped knees and scraped hearts.

But it’s also full of getting back up, of hugs and kisses and singing together and holding hands and laughing and reveling in life’s experiences together, and I’d like to think that if I were to say, “Bubby, I’m sorry for the times I got upset at you. I’m sorry for not calling more often during the last year of your life,” she might say, “I don’t remember you getting upset at me. And that last year was hard on us all. But Deena, why are you thinking about that? Don’t you remember all the times we laughed together? And you looked hysterical in those curlers. And you’re the best.”

The symbolic act of a walk

Today my Uncle Avrum got up from shiva, the seven day mourning period when the immediate relatives of the deceased sit on low chairs as friends, family and acquaintances pay respects. As his shiva came to an end, we stood by him and gave him our condolences for the passing of his mother, my grandmother. He then stood up, put on his outdoor shoes, put on his jacket and went for a walk around the block by himself.

Avrum’s first reventuring out into the world seemed almost like a rebirth as a new person into an altered world. He has spent the last week embraced by those who love him and now he’s begun his reintegration into the world.

On the one hand it is so sad to see my uncle take his first steps. On the other hand, the post-shiva walk symbolizes the inner strength of the individual, especially the strength of which we are unaware.

I know those steps were only the first of many which will sometimes feel heavy, sometimes empty and sometimes full of potential. When Avrum came back, I gave him a hug and we all sat back down with our loved ones to have breakfast and to talk. Because thankfully he the cocoon of the home and family will continue to be there, waiting for his return.

חזק ואמץ.

My latest favourites: Adorable comic of what parenting looks like, hilarious autocorrects, heartbreaking photos and more

There is a lot about parenting in this one. So it shall be. :)

Louis CK on cellphones

louis c.k. about cell phones
Louis CK, a pretty amazing comedian, explains cellphone behaviour and why kids shouldn’t have them. Click to watch the video.

Grand Snider’s adorable comic about parenting

Grand Snider created this beautiful, sweet comic about what it's like being a parent.
Grand Snider created this beautiful, sweet comic about what it’s like being a parent. Click to see the whole thing.

One man dances like everyone’s watching

HILARIOUS autocorrects

Click on the picture for more.
Click on the picture for more.

Pictures that go straight to the heart

These pictures are heartbreaking, beautiful and chilling.

Glenn McCy’s comic: Dad, Mom… I’m a gatherer.

dad i'm a gatherer (he caved)
Just really cute. (Glenn McCoy)

Aziz Ansari on how texting has ruined dating

Not so funny because it's too true.
Not so funny because it’s just so true. Click to watch the video.

Michael McIntyre on how people without kids don’t know

Another one about parenting. “Singles do things that they don’t even realize are things.”

Michael McIntyre about parenting. Click to watch the video.
Michael McIntyre about parenting. Click to watch the video.

Dog wiping his paws

Just so cute!!!

dog wiping his paws
Just so cute!!!

Bill Cosby on cursing

Bill Cosby is baaack and here he talks about how terrible it is that people curse so much. Love it.

Certifying Facebook friends

This really gets across the absurdity of random Facebook friends.

Mother and Son

“Come on, Sammy. Come and play piano for Deena.” The mom asks of her 8-year old son.


”Come on, Sammy. Come and play. Deena wants to hear you play the 18th Century March.”

I do?

“I’m busy.”

”Sammy, you come here in 2 minutes.”

“You come here in 2 minutes,” Sammy mocks his mother’s Asian accent.

“Oh, he’s very shy,” his mother tells me. “He is smart, has lots of friends…”

Finally Sammy runs into the living room, sits down at the piano and plays the boring 18th Century March very well. Then, face down, he makes a quick get-away, before either of us can say anything to him.

“Oh, he’s not practicing. The teacher says he’s talented and smart but isn’t practicing.”


We go into the study where Sammy is playing computer games. He stares at the screen, trying to ignore our existence.

He’s a teenager at the age of 8, I keep thinking.

She scruffs his hair. He automatically moves away.

Does he avoid her touch? He’s only 8. When did he start doing that?

She retains her composure through our meeting, giving nonchalant excuses for his behavior. Talking easily about their need for a babysitter – someone to come in the afternoons and “help” him with his homework and piano practice.


Are we truly convinced a babysitter is what this family needs?

Written March 14, 2007 as part of a creative writing course with the thoughtful and caring teacher and writer Paul Belserene

Children and Lashon Hara – by Michael T. Pullen

So what do you do with 10 year olds when they say things that are not true when they do not understand the gravity of there words?

I live in a small sleepy suburb just West of Boston, MA. It is a bedroom community where the executive elite of Boston reside. It is a wealthy town. It is quiet. It is not usually in the public eye.

Wednesday morning Sudbury caught the attention of most of America. Why would anyone care about this town? Well, 1 street over from my house a man was arrested on account of trying to be a terrorist. I say trying because he attempted to join 3 terrorist organizations that would not let him in. And in a country where a weapon is as easy to buy as alcohol he was not able to buy his semiautomatic rifles he wanted for attacking the local mall.

So … good the Fed caught the man.

Well of course as parents we have been wondering what would come back home from school after such excitement.

We have some neighbors who have moved here from Iran. Lovely people. She is doing research on autistic children and he resigned from his high level job to come support her in the US. They have 2 children and one is in class with my son. So on the way home from school, as the kids rode the bus, another boy (happens to belong to our synagogue) decided to tell those around him that this Iranian boy’s father is a terrorist. We are not sure the boy heard on the bus, however, when they got off at the bus stop a couple of girls decided to inform him that this boy was saying this on the bus. Of course he got quite upset.

In the end my wife called the mother (she did not know anything about it even 2 hours later – he did not tell her) and the principal.

So my thing is this, the boy who is spreading these rumors is Jewish. My kids are Jewish. They are all under 10. How do you teach children about Lashon Hara? My favorite tale is the one of the child who is telling stories is asked to take a pillow of feathers and to run as fast as he can without dropping a feather. The moral of the story is that your words are like the feathers, once they are out of the bag and carried by the wind they are impossible to gather and put back in. It is a good tale but does it work?

What lessons have you encountered on such “soft” topics?


Triplets for his three lost sons

(The facts in this post are taken from the Arutz 7 article which you can access here.)

You’ve gotta admit it blows your mind, at least a little, this story.

This poor man lost his wife and three of his seven kids when one of our crazy local terrorists came into their house in the Shomron yishuv (settlement) of Itamar and killed them. (Um, just btw, how in the world can a religion think that’s a good thing?)

The people killed in his family that day:

Rachel, his wife, 40

Neriah, 15

Tzvikah, 12

Avishai, 5

How heartbreaking. Since this horrid incident in June 2002, Boaz Shabo remarried. His new wife, Hila, and her five children moved in with Boaz and his two unmarried children.

Reminds me of the amazing movie, Yours Mine and Ours (the original, of course).

Anyway, on the second day of Sukkot (so, around a week ago), Hila gave birth to triplets! Two girls and a boy.

We can’t know what a person deserves in this world so I hesitate to say that Boaz deserves this blessing, but it just seems so fitting after he lost three sons that he should have triplets. He said, “Though it’s impossible to forget those who were killed, this is a very joyous occasion for all of us.”

Read the full article on the Arutz 7 website, including the story how, in 2004, he went to visit a man who lost his whole family – his pregnant wife and four children – in a terrorist attack.

Pesach: I am a Child: I am a Man

by Avrum Rosensweig

It is springtime. It is Pesach time. As a child, my sisters and I would scour our house for crumbs, which might have fallen from a plate we held while reading or playing.

We would take each and every one of my father’s (may he rest in peace) books off the shelves and dust the front cover, then the back ones and finally do a quick wipe of some of those large Talmudic pages.

He was a bibliophile, my father was, and our task was to ensure his collection of 10,000 Sepharim (Jewish texts) were spotless, purified for Pesach.

I, like many of you I’m sure, feel a depth of warmth inside when I think about the Sedarim of years gone by, especially those of my early years. My Mother, God bless her, would set the table for us – as if we were royalty -complete with the Passover plate and the funny looking shank bone and terribly distasteful marror – the bitter herbs.

Later on in the evening when I would eat the marror sandwich and was instructed to remember: “All their labor was carried out under conditions of excessive force,” (Exodus 1:14) – in reference to the terrible plight of our Jewish ancestors – all I could do was wrinkle up my face, frantically reach for a glass of cold water and swear off horse radish (the main ingredient) for another year.

I was the youngest of five and therefore had the distinct honour of saying the Ma N’ishtana (The Four Questions). How special this moment was, as being the youngest then generally meant being the last in line for most things. One year I decided I would learn this whimsical prayer in Yiddish – Far v’us is the nacht f ’in Pesach, un’dish fin alla nacht fin a gunz yor?” (Why is this night different from all other nights?). I was so very proud of myself.

I also remember thinking about my great-grandparents in Poland, and the trusting smiles on their face when they were little and perhaps lucky enough to be the youngest. I thought about their shtetls – Slipia and Biesechien – and the joy they and their neighbours must have felt sitting around the Pesach table.

Then I grew up and realized that Pesach was more than just a holiday with fanciful rituals and ritualistic items to compel the children to ask questions. I began to understand that those shtetls I had remembered as a child, no longer existed and wondered what happened to the little ones who once had happily asked the F’eer Kashus (The Four Questions).

It became clearer that freedom is a sister to slavery and reclining like a Queen or King (as we are instructed to do at the Seder) is mirrored by the plight of the poor and tattered who are searching for an open door where the people inside are bidding them to enter, by the words: “those who are hungry let them come and eat.” The season has changed and we have joined our loved ones and friends at the Passover table.

As children we should play, and incessantly ask questions: Why? Why?

Why? Children are supposed to do that. Good luck with your answers! As we get older, we can’t help but remember those Jews who died building the store houses for Pharaoh; who perished in Auschwitz while quietly singing the promising prayer – Day’einu; and those who are suffering this very moment through poverty in Israel, genocide in Sudan, and loneliness and hopelessness on the streets of Toronto.

But, as adults we must also sit back at the Seder, taste the sweet charoset and as free people, dramatically and with fanfare, tell and retell the story of the Exodus, recollecting how we found our way back home to Israel, and discovered the uniqueness of the Jewish people and our ability to create extraordinary communities and congregations such as Habonim.

Chag Sameyach. Happy Pesach. Be free, play and remember!

Jewish Journey: Mitzvot

This is part IV. Read: Part I, part II, part III.

Ah now I am Jewish, all the hard stuff is behind me right? All I have to do is continue on living the way I have always been living? What changed? One day I was a goy the next a Jew. You cannot tell me that the day makes a huge difference.

So why not jump into doing all the halacha? Why not do all the mitzvot at once? Whoa nelly. I do not jump both feet into anything and with this I did not even have an idea where to begin. It is not even something I had ever encountered until a few years before.

So my wife and I (yeah we got married in there somewhere) decided that together we would start incorporating different mitzvot into our lives. (Since she is not orthodox we did not venture down the halachic path.) The first thing we did was to incorporate Shabbat into our lives. We made Saturday the day where our professional jobs were not allowed and we would not watch TV or use the computer. Slowly we added more and more things into our lives.

So now I want you to think of this situation. My family is all Christian or something like that and my wife’s family is a participating assimilated Jewish family who used to attend a conservative synagogue. And we live in an assimilated American neighborhood.

The more we do to incorporate Jewish traditions the more different we look to our families. Why don’t we just follow all of the halachic laws? Because that would and does skewer the relationship we have with our parents, family and community we participate in. We have been warned of becoming “too” Jewish by the Jewish relatives. 

I do not live in a Jewish world. I live in a world that contains a good number of assimilated Jews but it is an assimilated American world. Some would say “ah that is too easy if you really believed you would do it all and become orthodox.” I think that sentiment is not fair and very particularistic.

I am proud to be Jewish and I am proud of the participation and ways of my family and myself. It is perfect for where we are today. As I learn more I try to incorporate what I am learning. I am willing to stand out and be different but I am not willing to separate myself from my family and community as a strict halachic experience requires.

Outside of the orthodox world everything is done by my will power. I am learning everything new. The language, the customs, the rituals, the traditions – everything is new. It is not necessarily better than what I had before. My parents did a fabulous job of raising me. They are great parents and in their honour, do not deserve throwing everything out just because I picked a new way of doing things.

As I get all wrapped and emotional about the expectations of the relentless external eyes questioning “how Jewish are you?,” all I can think of is back off. We are all people. How we do our Judaism is way more important then grey line rules. Living as a good Jew in this world is more important then living as a rule abiding Jew secluded from the rest of the world.

If I can be so bold, don’t make excuses for what you do and don’t do. Just do what you do with intention. Make sure that everything you do is done with the full beauty of Judaism in your eyes. That may mean that you do not live up to expectations of your neighbors. However, the most important thing is your family and the community you surround yourself with. They all should see the beauty of the Judaism you practice.

Peace, Shalom

mTp – With Intention