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.

From one Jewish wanderer to another…

I can relate to finding a way to live in relative peace and comfort with a certain personally-defined lifestyle/outlook. But in my opinion and experience these are relatively short-lived (the same way the externally defined lifestyle+belief system is not sustainable). I think that’s first and foremost because they don’t successfully address the most important unanswered existential questions and issues, which at a certain point makes the lifestyle/system feel arbitrary and forced, even if was initially, supposedly, to a large extent self-defined.

Yom Kippur, a lamentation

I really hyped up Yom Kippur yesterday in my post on The Times of Israel hours before the fast began. I meant what I wrote and yet, post-Yom Kippur, I need to make a confession.

This year I had a very annoying and pretty upsetting Yom Kippur.

First of all, I really hate fasting. I’m not the worst faster but it makes me feel uncomfortable and weak and the whole time, I just can’t wait for it to be over.

Secondly, I knew I might have menstrual cramps on Yom Kippur and I wouldn’t be able to take pills for them. This stressed me out all day.

And then, thinking about cramps without pain killers got me thinking about other people who would suffer more than usual because of the extremely strict fasting laws on Yom Kippur. Ynet’s overly dramatized Yom Kippur in numbers article mentions that 108 fasters were taken to the hospital by ambulance after fainting today. Oy vey.

Third, Yom Kippur really stirs up the emotions and sometimes that means we get to see the stuff about ourselves that we wish wasn’t looming there, ready to rear its ugly head. My oh my.

In yesterday’s piece I said that I was going to focus on the positive – imagine a better me and a better world. But instead I kept thinking about how crappy I can be and that wasn’t fun. (For some odd reason.)

Finally, this year I didn’t feel like being in shul. I normally spend quite a lot of time there but after Ma’ariv last night, I decided not to go to during the day. This gave my Yom Kippur much less structure and maybe, much less meaning.

Of course Yom Kippur this year wasn’t all bad. Last night I walked to Emek Refaim with a few of the kids in the family and that was really nice. Instead of going to shul today, I took up camp on my parents’ couch and stayed on that dear couch from approximately 8:30 in the morning until around 5:00 in the evening. During that time, I read (Great Expectations), slept and had many visitors in the form of parents, sisters and nieces and nephews.

At around 5:30 this evening I decided to go to shul for the end of Ne’ila. I got there in time for the very dramatic and touching ending of the Yom Kippur prayers (I’m not being facetious).

And then it was over.

Usually when Yom Kippur ends, I am giddy that it happened and relieved that it’s over. This year I’m left feeling a bit empty. Maybe I would have felt better if I’d forced myself to go to shul at least for Mussaf today. It’s hard to know.

It’s interesting that I had such a frustrating, forced Yom Kippur after I wrote such an excited piece about this holiday a few hours before it began. I wonder if I jinxed myself or maybe, through writing the piece, I realized that actually I don’t exactly feel the way I thought I do.

Or maybe this Yom Kippur I was just in a bad mood. Everything being said, I think the truth is a mix of all of the above.

Shana tova.

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?


The most important moment of the week

I heard a talk a while ago around the idea that Judaism is a religion where time is the most important thing. Now someone just told me he heard a talk where the rabbi said that the most important moment of the week is the moment when we go from week day into Shabbat. Our lives, potentially, revolve around that moment. We rush all week, maybe especially right before Shabbat, then we light the candles and *poof*, we’re in a new realm of existence. Not that anything really changed but it did.

When this guy shared that idea with me, I said that it almost made me feel like fully keeping Shabbat again. : ) It seems so powerful, almost like it reminds us that we have the power. We think that life is just pushing us along but we choose to stop it all. Of course we could choose not to and of course some people don’t even feel that they are choosing to keep Shabbat, but if you can feel that you’re choosing to keep it – I mean seriously, you don’t have to, right? – then you can experience freedom through this.

And is freedom not what we all want? True freedom?

Manners in Israel

People who visit or move to Israel from “Western” countries know that Israeli culture is very different than the culture wherever they come from. It’s much more in your face, straight forward and, sometimes, a “Westerner” might think it a little, well, rude.

Honestly, maybe it’s because I’m hiding at home (kidding, sort of) but since I moved back to Jerusalem from Vancouver, B.C., I haven’t found it to be too bad. You have individuals who are rude and you see things here you wouldn’t see other places (like this guy who had wooden slats fall off his pick up truck so he stopped right in the middle of the road (there was TONS of traffic at the time) and started nonchalantly walking through the middle of the street picking up what he’d dropped) because people are more prone to just do what they feel like doing (which, in general, is great, no?). But when I have to deal with people here one-on-one, it’s really not too bad. At least so far that’s how it’s been.

I just got a phone call. A couple of days ago I emailed the mega food company Tnuva that I’m getting mail from them and I don’t want to anymore. A woman with the utmost will to offer good customer service (not as “professional” sounding as she would have been in Canada but I couldn’t give a damn) called to find out what I was referring to. She took all my information and told me she’s going to pass it on and she hopes I’ll stop getting the mail, as I requested. How lovely that conversation was. Of course I don’t believe I won’t receive the mail until I see it with my own two eyes, but I appreciate the will and effort very much.

But here’s something funny that happened to me and please tell me what you think.

One very cool thing I learned in Vancouver was to say thank you to the bus driver when I get off the bus, even when I get off in the back! When I first arrived in Vancouver, it seemed so funny to me, to see everyone shouting “Thank you, Driver!” from the back of the bus when getting off. But what a nice thing to do and so I got used to doing it too. You make eye contact with the driver with the help of his/her rear-view mirror and you say thank you.

So the first time I took the bus here, last week, I got off in the back and, without thinking, shouted “Todah!” to the driver as I got off. (Isn’t that funny that even though it was subconscious, I still said it in Hebrew?)

I actually got off the bus embarrassed! It must have seemed so strange to the people on the bus. I know, it’s nice and there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s so out of character for Israel. Not that people don’t say thank you, but not shouting up like that.

Now I have a dilemma. Do I continue doing this or do I conform to the local society? Of course I think it’s really nice to make this gesture but I’m shy! It’s embarrassing doing this because it really brings attention to yourself.

On the other hand, imagine if this became regular practice here in Israel. In general Israelis have become a lot more polite so someone must have started the change, right?

What do you think? Should I do it? Would you do it in Israel?

Yom Kippur inspired

Erev Yom Kippur (yesterday afternoon) I wrote this post.

I feel the need to write a follow-up to that post. I was somewhat upset that I didn’t feel very inspired leading up to Yom Kippur but I must say that in the end it was really a very beautiful holiday. Don’t get me wrong. I hate fasting. But it wasn’t a terrible fast. If we had to make a list of the coolest things about Israel, the fact that the country changes to the winter clocks before Yom Kippur so that the fast will come out an hour earlier, is definitely in that list. The fact we only changed our clocks one day before the fast, well, that’s not exactly the most logical thing since we all still felt like it was 7pm when the fast was over but still, the clocks said 6pm and that rocked.

Another one of the coolest things about Israel, is that Yom Kippur is such a quiet, quiet, quiet day. Amazing. I went for a walk with my little sister and niece (nine and 10 years old) after synagogue last night and they were, without a doubt, the loudest things on the street.

Everyone walks in the middle of the streets, even the main streets. It’s not that the streets are closed off. There is no rule. It’s seriously, if I may be so eloquent, the coolest. I only saw two cars go by over the whole 25 hours and they were both medical vans.

Today I went to a different shul than my parents because their synagogue is amazingly uninspiring. The place I went, Shir Chadash, was seriously beautiful davening! They hire professional Jewish-style popular – soulful, as my mom put it – singers to lead the prayers. So, besides the airconditioning that made me into a popsicle (not an icicle because I’m sweet) and the chairs that, well, my poor tushy, I’m so happy I went there at least for part of the davening.

And I do believe that the moment that Yom Kippur is over is by far the most wonderful moment of the year. There is a feeling of the tension being released after such an intense time. It’s such a happy time. Also, we have the longest time before one of the two major fasts comes around again (Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av) and it’s almost Sukkot!

So now we can say, chag sam’each! Happy Sukkot! Tonight we will be able to start hearing our neighbours build their sukkot. And in a day or two, Rachel and I will decorate ours! Yay!

Is this a Jewish country, or what?

I’m sitting in my new writing corner in my parents’ home, listening to the Shabbat begin. What does that sound like in Jerusalem? Less traffic, a quiet calm as people finish up their preparations, some sounds of kids interacting and, of course, the siren.

Have you all heard the siren that sounds at the time of candle lighting? I assume this happens in all cities in Israel but I definitely know that it happens here in Jerusalem.

The funny/weird/freaky thing is that we use the same siren to announce the descent of missiles (God forbid) as we do to announce the descent of the sun as Shabbat enters. It plays a different “tune” – during an attack the siren goes up and down and when Shabbat comes in it is just one flat note (like when the siren gives the all-clear signal) – but it’s the same one anyway.

I wonder what the story is behind that. Who thought of this and how did it come to be so accepted as a normal part of life here?

This city, Jerusalem, is so unbelievably hectic and loud and rambunctious, it almost makes no sense that right now, at this moment, it’s so calm. So calm, it’s like all week people run and rush and chase and now they say, “OK, good. All’s good.” Just like when God created the world and it says at the end of almost every day, “וירא ה’ כי טוב.” And God saw that it was good.

Very good.

Shabbat Shalom

What I love about being Jewish: 5 – by Michael T. Pullen


I am not a person that loves tradition. I have the personality that tends to rail against tradition. Why should I do something just because everyone else is doing it? Traditions should be challenged.

What Judaism has taught me is that tradition has a special place in passing along some of the important actions and interactions of a community.

Here are some of my favorite traditions:

  1. Lighting Shabbat candles, blessings over the wine and Challah
  2. Shabbat without the tethers of work
  3. Food, drink and family with each holiday occasion
  4. Encouraging learning
  5. Practice doing
  6. Focus on the making the mundane holy
  7. Passover dinner
  8. Hannukah stories (Eric Kimmel is my favorite)
  9. Building a Succah
  10. Wearing my Kippah

What are your favorite traditions?