Yizkor is said four times a year: on Yom Kippur, the last day of Sukkot, the last day of Passover, and the second day of Shavuot. There’s also a custom to light a yahrtzeit candle for our loved one the night before Yizkor is said, and to say “L’EEloy nishmat [Hebrew name ben/bat father’s Hebrew name]” which means, “may this be an elevation of the soul of [insert name of loved one]”. A candle is compared to a soul in a number of places in Jewish literature and lighting a candle is a Jewish way to memorialize a loved one.
It was toward evening in Rockville, Maryland as the second day of the conference progressed. Dinner was winding down and we anticipated a session from a woman who had sailed the Pacific for 2 years with her husband and two kids after he got laid off, followed by a “best practices” presentation by various city representatives. The evening would close with a soulful musical session of Jewish spiritual tunes.
There was a collective gasp that arose from the front of the room. I casually looked up, expecting the usual relieved laugh and “everyone’s okay” from the crowd.
It did not come.
Instead were swift shouts of “call 911!” “Is there a doctor??” “Is she OK?”
She was not OK.
A woman had leaned on a railing that overlooked a stairwell. The railing broke away from the floor and supporting wall, sending the woman down, down, down… panic, distress, and grief filled the air of that room.
Here’s what I know. I cannot help from a medical standpoint. And people in crisis will not improve with rubberneckers. So I did what I know how to do in a crisis: I prayed. I fished through my handbag for my prayerbook, flipped quickly to the back where the Book of Psalms is printed, and started saying whatever my eyes fell on. I don’t know what happened next, but someone gave me a microphone, directed the women away from the scene of the tragedy, and before I knew it, I was leading the group in saying Psalms, word by painstaking Hebrew word, phrase by painstaking phrase.
This group. Many had never prayed before. Many had no idea what we were saying, or why. I never lead groups in prayer without introducing, explaining, translating. But there we were, as the emergency crew arrived, as she was carried out, mercifully conscious, to the waiting ambulance, as people were instructed to move cars, to move away, we kept going, phrase by phrase, empowered by what we could do. Empowered by the strength in numbers. Empowered by our bond, our solidarity, from that moment of panic to that moment of doing. Empowered by doing just that, saying those words that were not understood but whose cadence reminded us of our common bond: Hebrew, though we may not understand it; spirituality, though our definitions of its expression may vary; care and concern for our fellow sister, though many of us had never even met her.
That moment was magical, transformational. Beauty in the midst of tragedy.
I know I shall never forget it.
Please spare a prayer, in whatever language you know, for Naomi bat Rosalia.
There’s so much talk about parenting these days. Don’t be a helicopter mom. Don’t bubble-wrap your kids. Don’t hire people to write their college term papers. (Yes.) Teach them to stand up to bullying. Teach them not to bully. To clean up their language. To handle technology. And in one Dove-sponsored video, teach them to take a selfie. (Yes.)
This is all, possibly, good.
What no one is saying is this: parent yourself.
Teach yourself not to be bubble-wrapped. Teach yourself to stand up to bullies. To manage technology. To write your own work. To clean up your language.
Whenever I teach a group of adults about a particular concept in Judaism, a value, a higher, more ethical way of living, the FIRST thing people usually think about is their kids. “How can I teach this to my kids?” But that’s not really the first thing. The first question should be, “How can I teach this to myself?”
The Jewish world-view I was raised with teaches that you’re never done growing up. That ethical development and responsible decision-making is never complete. You don’t get a free pass to drink, swear, and gamble indiscriminately because “you’re a grown-up.” Being a grown-up means MORE responsible behavior, not less.
And no, not only because this is the most effective way to parent (it is), but because it is the most effective way to BE, whether you have kids or not; whether your kids are grown or small; whether you’re pleased with how they’ve turned out, or sadly, otherwise.
Take all the questions you would direct toward your child, like:
- Did you clean up your room?
- Are you careful with what you post online? It’s there forever, you know.
- Are you treating your siblings and parents with respect?
- Are you cultivating self-control?
- Are you eating healthfully?
- Are your spending habits sustainable?
- Are you succumbing to peer pressure?
- Are you dressing to impress others?
- Are you relying on others to build your self-esteem?
- Are you reaching your potential?
Now ask these questions to yourself. The answers may not come easily.
Parent, parent thyself.
I’m sorry if some of you are sick and tired of hearing me talk about my son’s bar mitzvah. One more post on the post-bar-mitz (sorry for the lousy pun) and I’m done. I think.
I’m still busy clearing stuff out of my house, returning platters, writing thank you cards and finding space for all my son’s new Jewish texts, so this post will be done quick and dirty… here we go.
1. “He did a great job!” Thanks! I don’t consider that a reflection on me, just as if he’d flopped I wouldn’t consider it a reflection on me. I’m glad he did a nice job. I’m happy for him, and I’m happy, honestly, for his grandparents. In the grand scheme of things, though, it’s not that central.
2. I’m deep in the FOBISIDI phase. That’s “fear of bumping into someone I didn’t invite.” If you fall into that category (I do, for many other events) I hope you will judge me favorably. Here are some options to help you along:
- I goofed. (I’m frightfully fallible.)
- You come along with like 10 other people in your category. People I carpool with. People I see once a month. People who all know each other. If I invited you, it would be weird that all those other people didn’t get invited too.
- I honestly tried to figure out, if it were your son’s bar mitzvah, would I be invited? If I figured probably not, I didn’t extend the invite. (Could be I goofed…see the first option.)
- I know a lot of people and have a ton of relatives. We were seriously limited in space. I still like you. And I hope you still like me.
Well, the holidays are all over, and it’s time to get back to real life.
For those of you who celebrate the whole week of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah in addition to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur…you know exactly of what I speak. Especially if your kids have been home for like two weeks straight after just barely starting school.
So, this real life for which we pine. What is it?
Regular-sized meals (as opposed to feasts).
Crossing off the lists of things to do.
And what we’ve been doing the past few weeks?
Focusing on the meaning of life.
Which is real life?
And which is the part to get over with?
So we’re all saying the confessional, yesterday. And we self-flagellate, symbolically, mostly. And we say we did all those things. But here’s the small problem:
*I didn’t actually do all those things.*
To be sure, I did some of them. Most of them. Many repeatedly and habitually. And maybe for some of the crimes I didn’t commit, I was nevertheless negligent in ways I am unaware. (Sorry for the abstract language but I confess to God alone and in no way am giving specifics here!)
What am I to think when I beat my chest and declare “I did it” when I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it?
Maybe it means I was too unruffled when I saw others trespassing on this value.
Maybe it means I didn’t do enough to be an example in this area.
Maybe it means I’ve plateaued and have stopped striving to improve.
Maybe I’ve overlooked this value in a very subtle form.
And maybe I’m apologizing on behalf of an unknown fellow Jew simply because we are all connected and all mutually responsible.
(I like the last one best.)
Wishing all my readers a beautiful year.