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My wife’s message is one worthy of every seder table this year. Yes, one of the hardest discussions we can have, but if we talk about Mitzrayim / Egypt and are serious about it… then we ought to do whatever we can to bring ourselves (and others!) out of whatever Mitzrayim they are in.
Whoever saves one life, it is as if he has saved the whole world. (Talmud)
Soon, Passover will be here. It is usually one of my favorite holidays. I love the ritual of preparing the house, the smell of the food and the joyous atmosphere at the Seder table.
But this year is different. Passover will begin only three days after the one year anniversary of my father’s suicide.
My father was trapped in his own Egypt. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is defined as “narrow places or straits.” And that is where my father found himself. At 72 years old, he was in the midst of a deep depression coupled with overwhelming anxiety. Those illnesses of the mind left him feeling shackled, unable to see a way out of the suffering and the pain. And on April 20, 2015 he took his own life.
And here I…
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My wonderful wife wanted to fill a void in our Jewish community — sharing her personal prayers as a survivor of suicide — with the hope that it can be a source of comfort to others.
The following prayers are written in memory of my father, Lowell Jay Herman. He took his life on April 20, 2015. They are a reflection of the pain that my family & I have grappled with.
A Prayer for My Father
Adonai, darkness descended upon him;
cloaking and immersing him in a shroud of shame and sadness.
Mental illness took hold and metastasized into his soul
until he could bear the pain no more.
Adonai, we who loved him are left to navigate the murky waters, the tsunami of grief and the inexplicable pain of his suicide.
Help us not to lose ourselves in the unanswerable question of why, though it is a question we must ask; over and over and over again.
Strengthen us in the face of despair, guilt, shock, anger and overwhelming sadness.
Adonai, help us find the courage to speak the truth, his truth, our truth.
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Another great piece by my wife in recognition of National Disability Awareness Month. She shared this piece a few years ago… I wish we wouldn’t need a special month to advance issues of inclusion and access. I am grateful that the Jewish community is becoming more and more responsive, but we have a lot of work still to do.
February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month. A few years back, when I was writing, “Puzzled: Raising a Child With Autism & Other Pieces of Family Life” I shared these reflections. In addition to being on my blog, I was invited to share them once again with Jewish Family & Career Services. I just rediscovered it on their blog, and believe it to still be a timely & meaningful message. I hope that you will think so too. Because the values of inclusion, awareness & acceptance should be lived out every day in our synagogues.
Rabbi Eliezer says: Let other people’s dignity be as precious to you as your own. (Pirkei Avot 2:15)
Faith has always been an integral part of our family life. From the time our children were very young, we shared with them the traditions and beliefs that were a part of their Jewish heritage. As…
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I thought our friends who advocate for inclusion through Jewish Disability Awareness Month would like to see my wife’s post about our daughter songleading. Our daughter’s Autism has brought some incredible teaching moments about life, patience, resilience and gratitude. Deborah captures many of those ideas here in her post on her new blog (for those that remember Puzzled). Thanks for reading… and thanks for advocating for inclusion.
There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is.(William P. Merrill)
Once, we didn’t know if she would ever utter a complete & coherent sentence.
Once, we couldn’t bring her into a room full of people & stimuli-knowing it would overwhelm her senses.
Once we didn’t know if she would be able to make & sustain friendships.
Once we didn’t know if she would ever reach or achieve the milestone of becoming a Bat Mitzvah.
Once we were afraid to hope too much, ask for too much, pray for too much.
Once it seemed there wasn’t room for her in our faith. She would exist on the periphary, never being able to believe it truly belonged to her.
Once we didn’t know that we could teach her to cut with a scissor, let alone make beautiful music on an instrument.
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I have made lots of jokes about growing my hair out (as best as I could) for this fundraiser for St Baldricks Foundation in honor of a little boy who died this year… A boy whom I have never met. I am only acquaintances with his parents – fellow Reform rabbis. As I see women and men start to shave their heads in solidarity with this family and these children who are fighting their cancers, I am truly in awe.
I am in awe not only for the almost two dozen women who are participating in this “36 Shave for the Brave,” not only because there are 100 rabbis signed up for this, not only because they have raised over $528,000… But because there is an energy around people making a difference and doing something that is holy.
These shavees are walking around with hair longer than they ever would have tolerated before: unkept, hard-to-manage, not so appealing… to emphasize their experience in the shave. I am reminded of the Nazir in the Torah who takes on an oath and separates her/himself, takes on additional burdens, in order to designate her/his life to serving God in a unique way. It wasn’t necessary for these people to choose to do this. But they did it anyway. At the end of their service, they shave their hair that was previously consecrated to God. While they were in this temporary status as a Nazir, they could not shave their heads. Here at the annual conference of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing Reform Rabbis in North America, I see a whole host of people consecrating their beloved hair to God, preparing to shave it off in order to fight childhood cancer, to honor the spiritual courage of a family who experienced a loss few of us can understand, to remember a little boy who was a superhero to many, and to bring some holiness to our lives when the chaos embedded in Creation strikes.
May Superman Sam’s memory be an enduring blessing to his family and to all of us. May we reach this goal of $540,000. May people be inspired to do their part – through shaving their heads, making acts of tzedakah, and bringing comfort to a family still in pain. And may we bring holiness into our lives and our world by making a difference and showing God we care.
You can support my shave at: http://www.stbaldricks.org/participants/RabbiFredGreene
If you would like to see more, visit this site: http://www.reformjudaism.org/blog/2014/03/21/thirty-six-rabbis-shave-brave-backstory
Thank you for supporting my modest fundraising efforts and for enabling me to do this holy act.
I found this to be a really worthwhile read. I see how people “say the wrong thing” all the time because it is more about them than about the mourner… So friends, take note. This is helpful.
If I could share two things about visiting a mourner, I would encourage us to remain silent and let the one who is mourning speak first and lead the conversation. Second, stop bringing them cake. They aren’t hosting friends over. We are to bring food for them to eat (so they don’t have to worry about basic living issues); we aren’t to bring cake for them to entertain us…
Read on here. What do you think?
By Rabbi Julie Wolkoff. D.Min., CT
At some point during shiva, I turned to my friend Steffi and made an off-hand comment – something like “mutter, mutter, mutter, class on what not to say at shiva.” Which is how I found myself giving a presentation a few days ago at LimmudBoston. To be perfectly fair, there were very few comments at shiva that landed on the “I can’t believe s/he said that” list. It was more the discomfort of those who didn’t know what to say, friends who later shared with me some of the comments that their families had gotten in the past during shiva, and some comments I got in the weeks after Bob’s death.
You can look on-line for things to say or not to say to people who are grieving. Most of the lists are very good. It’s important to remember that it’s not…
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Is Rabbi Harold Kushner right about this statement? In his book, Who Needs God, he shares this message that has always resonated with me. It encourages me to think about why people come to the synagogue to pray — or why they don’t. It challenges me to strive to create opportunities to facilitate the opportunity to “experience being in the presence of God.” But what if people don’t really want it anymore?
I would love to know what you think… Can prayer move you? Do you strive to be in God’s Presence? Or is sitting in a community enough?
Prayer is not a matter of coming to God with our wish list and pleading with Him to give us what we ask for. Prayer is first and foremost the experience of being in the presence of God. Whether or not we have our requests granted, whether or not we get anything to take home as a result of the encounter, we are changed by having come into the presence of God. . . In congregational worship, regularly scheduled services on a Saturday or Sunday morning, I have come to believe that the congregating is more important than the words we speak. Something miraculous happens when people come together seeking the presence of God. The miracle is that we so often find it. Somehow the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. A spirit is created in our midst which none of us brought there. In fact, each of us came there looking for it because we did not have it when we were alone. But in our coming together, we create the mood and the moment in which God is present. . . We don’t go to church or synagogue at a stipulated time because God keeps “office hours.” We go because that is when we know there will be other people there, seeking the same kind of encounter we are seeking.
How can rabbis, cantors, synagogues, minyanim create opportunities for your encounter?
Yesterday, I attended the gathering in Roswell to remember those who have paid an ultimate sacrifice as they served our nation in our armed forces. For the past five years, my family and I have attended the Roswell Remembers program down by our City Hall. As it is each year, parts were heartbreaking, others were inspirational. I wish I knew more about my own father’s service in the Air Force when he was stationed in Japan during the Korean War.
But the thing that strikes me the most about our Memorial Day is the fact that so few of our fellow Americans mark it in a meaningful way. It has become more about days off, grilling and sales at the mall. Why is it that our commitment to service, sense of honor and love of freedom has yielded to more mundane interests?
A colleague shared similar thoughts and concerns very well in this post: Collective Amnesia: A Distinctively American Malady.
I want us to honor those who have served our country and remember those who have paid such a high price for our freedom. Every year, I reflect on a poem that was included in our Gates of Prayer:
The young soldiers do not speak.
Nevertheless, they are heard in the still houses:
who has not heard them?
They have a silence that speaks for them at night
and when the clock counts.
They say: We were young. We have died.
They say: We have done what we could
but until it is finished it is not done.
They say: We have given our lives but until it is finished
no one can know what our lives gave.
They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours,
they will mean what you make them.
They say: Whether our lives and our deaths were for
peace and a new hope or for nothing we cannot say,
it is you who must say this.
We leave you our deaths. Give them their meaning.
We were young, they say. We have died; remember us.
May their memories be an enduring blessing.
An additional note:
I have been remiss from writing regularly…so forgive me. As summer approaches, I look forward to returning to sharing my thoughts on a number of different topics.
Min Hameitzar Karati Yah
In distress I called onto God. (Psalm 118)
I remember the day when I was first confronted with a congregant who was sharing about a spouse’s addiction. I had no idea. Now, that seems to be a silly statement. To say, “I had no idea” almost implies like I should have been able to tell because I was a rabbi. My conversation with the spouse related to a request for support.
At the time…I didn’t have much to offer. I had no books. I was unable to think of any sources for inspiration. I was a recently ordained rabbi and while I surely knew that there were people with addictions in the Jewish community…I never met any. Or, to be more precise, I didn’t know who might have been.
That has all changed. As I settled into my rabbinate over the past ten years, I have shifted a lot of my energy from programming and organizing to advancing healing and wholeness. In faith communities, there are plenty of things that folks just don’t want to talk about. Addiction is one of them. As a result, folks often feel like they cannot go to or depend on their clergy to support them in what seems to be an issue out of their realm.
I would like to say that I am proud of our synagogue’s leadership for acknowledging the need in the Jewish community to have a safe place to go to talk about addictions. We are one of the few synagogues in the country to host a 12-step meeting. We are host to a local Families Anonymous group, supporting families who love someone with an addiction. Not everyone who comes is Jewish, but many are – from within our synagogue community and from other congregations.
But now I would like to ask you to help me break the taboo of silence and shame about confronting addiction in the Jewish community. Jewish Family & Career Services is beginning to look at its own clinical offerings for individuals in recovery. Our own congregant, Jeff Fain, is working to develop a new non-profit organization called Nachshon to support Jewish families and individuals confronting addiction.
Along with Nachshon, TBT will be hosting Rabbi Mark Borovitz as a Guest Scholar. Rabbi Borovitz has been in the trenches, not just as a community rabbi who serves as the spiritual leader of the Beit T’Shuvah recovery program in L.A., or even as the rabbi of their congregation, but as someone who turned to a life of crime at a young age, who served his time in prison, only to emerge as a transformed human being who became a rabbi. He is going to be our teacher and I invite everyone to join us – whether you or someone you love faces an addiction or not.
Look at the schedule of events to see where you can join me to learn from Rabbi Borovitz, hear his story, and be inspired to help transform the lives of all who are in the darkness of addiction.
In Pslams, it says Min Hameitzar Karati Yah – “In distress I called onto God.” The term hameitzar has the same Hebrew root as Mitzrayim – Egypt. When we are in distress, when we are in an Egypt (sometimes an Egypt of our own making), we can find hope if we can call out to God for help. When our neighbors, friends and family members call out from hameitzar, we can serve as God’s agents and lend a hand. Join me in doing so…
Rabbi Mark Borovitz, senior Rabbi and spiritual leader of the Beit T’Shuvah recovery program and synagogue in Los Angeles, is the author of “The Holy Thief: A Con man’s Journey from Darkness to Light,” which chronicles his journey from drinker and con man to Rabbi and community leader. He will discuss the issues of addiction, co-dependency and related harmful behaviors in the Jewish community. Rabbi Mark draws attention to the problem of addiction and to the powerful ammunition against it, both in counteraction and prevention.
Rabbi Borovitz will speak to the metro Atlanta community on Sunday, February 12, 2012 at 7 PM at Temple Beth Tikvah. RSVP is required: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parents and students in grades 8-12: Monday night, February 13 at 7-8:30 PM
Location: Temple Beth Tikvah
Other religious schools will be invited
Rabbis and Jewish Educators, contact email@example.com for more information.
Jewish Mental Health Professionals & Addiction Counselors: Tuesday, February 14 at 10-11:30 AM
Location: Jewish Family & Career Services, 4549 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Atlanta 30338
A closed program for Jewish professionals who are licensed social workers, psychologists, psychotherapists, addictionologists, addiction counselors and psychiatrists
Sorry for not sharing this earlier…this went out via email to our synagogue community last Monday, but for those who missed the email, I am posting it here since it has been requested…
From our Beth Tikvah family to yours, we wish you a joyous Chanukah filled with light! Here is another message for you to ponder for your Chanukah celebration.
For those of you who want to explore Chanukah in your home, here are some resources for you!
Check out the Reform movement’s “Chanukah 101: History, Rituals & More”
This site will show you how to light the Chanukiah, a latke recipe, and even some connections for music.
If you need to be reminded of the story, check out “G-dcast Spins Chanukah”
And just for fun, here are a couple of my new favorite songs!
We hope you will join us this Friday night for Shabbat services to celebrate Chanukah together. Bring your Chanukiot (Chanukah Menorah) with you. Do a mitzvah – bring a children’s book for STAR House in Roswell or canned food with you to be donated to those in need.
May your Festival of Lights be filled with light!
Rabbi Fred Greene