Unity

My husband and I mostly watch Sesame Street these days, but last night after the baby went to bed we decided to give that new show, Utopia, a try.  I was intrigued by the idea of a diverse group of people coming together, each with his or her own dreams and values, to build community.  Building community, strengthened and bolstered by diversity and respect of differences, is right up my rabbinic alley.  Alas, the show merely focused on clashing personalities and near violent arguments.  I fell asleep within the first quarter.  However, one piece, illuminating human behavior when faced with the task of creating unity, stayed with me.

The group’s first task was to sort through the belongings each person brought and decide which was essential to the survival of the group.. and of course space was limited.  Each person in the group decided what was most important to him or her and each time the rest of the people respected their decision.  Near the end of the task, one man, who had been standing quietly off to the side, began to scream and yell that he needed all his belongings and he was not going to leave any of them behind.  He was angry and cursing.  Several people tried to soothe him, telling him there was still room and that he could bring everything if he wanted.  Others objected at first, but in the end the group’s need to “all get along” won out and the grown man was coddled like a child, his belongings taken by others and put into the communal box.  I found this fascinating.  One man, behaving badly, took control of a group stranger, simply by being loudly unhappy.  The group reacted instinctively to give in to him in order to retain their sense of unity.

In our Torah, the principles of communal unity and freedom of choice are given in close proximity in parashah Nitzavim-Vayelech.  “You stand today, all of you, before the Lord your God: your heads, your tribes, your elders, your officers, and every Israelite man; your young ones, your wives, the stranger in your gate; from your wood-hewer to your water-drawer — to enter the covenant of the Lord your God.”  (Deut 29:9-10) In our establishment as a people in relationship to God, everyone is present.  We all stand together in unity.  Later in Deuteronomy we read “I have set before you life and goodness, and death and evil: in that I command you this day to love God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments . . . Life and death I have set before you, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life.” (Deut 30:15). This second command gives perspective to the concept of unity… Each one has free choice and we should be careful how we choose, actively choose to pursue the life we want, rather than being caried away by mere instinct or passivity.

I have notice in my years of pastoral care of families in grief and crisis that at times there is a family member the others fear to enrage or hurt and walk on eggshells in their presence. The group, without ever discussing the issue, works to bend their own wills to the needs and desires of this person so as to maintain the sense of calm and unity the family craves.  It is an elegant solution for families built of the concept of love where ousting the badly behaved person is unthinkable.  I am intrigued that the same solution is used in other communal systems.

Recently a fellow parent called me about her daughter’s birthday sleepover party.  The daughter had just three friends over and all seemed fine… until the morning.  It seems one of the girls decided it would be funny to urinate in the room of her host’s little sister.  The other girls said nothing, to her or to any adult, until after the badly behaved child left for home… then all the girls came and poured out the whole story to the mother in charge.  While there, one rude and obnoxious little girl of 12, seemingly held the her “friends” hostage.  They could not conceive of confronting her, or seeking a way to remove her.  This is what parents and educators call a “teaching moment”, an opportunity to encourage discussion and give lessons on standing up to bullies or bad behavior.  But the pattern repeats itself so often, and so subconsciously in groups of adults.

We are all familiar with the studies done after the Holocaust explaining why people follow those in authority without question or thought, especially groups of people… but this is not an issue of a person with power or authority… this is a case where all that is threatened is the group’s illusion of calm unity.  How often in group work, is it the opinion of those who complain most that is followed?  How often is visioning and dreaming to create our communal utopiahs do we find ourselves navigating endless lists of things we can’t do because they offend people, completely obliterating any sense of building to follow a dream?

The idea of rebuking someone who behaves badly or distracts from the dreams and goals of the community is upsetting to most people.  A public rebuke makes everyone terribly uncomfortable.  Our Torah answers, again, with two opposing teachings.  On the one hand we are forbidden to publicly embarrass another.  On the other hand, when someone’s actions are a danger to the community, they can not be litigated unless they have first been formally and publicly rebuked and given a chance to mend their ways. (ie The case of the goring ox.)

Rabbi Edwin Friedman wrote extensive about group dynamics and the power the unhealthy and selfish have to control our lives and the direction of our paths.  One of my favorites is his story about the boy who was born with all his nerve endings on the outside of his body.  In order to avoid hurting him, everyone had to be excruciatingly careful around him.  So that he shouldn’t feel different or left out, all the children in his class had their schedules changed to suit his needs.  So that no one should every accidentally touch or brush against one of the sensitive nerve endings that trailed on filaments around him, everyone had to think constantly of where he was, what he was doing, and what he needed.  When he grew up, his wife never felt she could truly express herself or her needs to him, for fear of hurting him… and it slowly drove her into a deep depression.  Finally one day, she actively choose to step on one of his nerve endings.  He howls in pain, and she remains there, foot on nerve.  It is a poignant lesson on the courage it takes to withstand another’s pain for the sake of growth and personal freedom.

Becoming conscious of what we do instinctively and then making a choice, with all the free will God has endowed to us, breaks us from the slavery of unconscious group patterns.  Sometimes bad behavior needs to be stopped.  Sometimes we need to face the discomfort we feel at someone else’s pain and think carefully… if I act to soothe, am I helping a person in distress, or am I soothing myself?  Am I being held captive?  If I choose to act or not act, do I condone bad behavior…  and what will the long term consequences be for me and my community?

Erwin

The monument company regularly asks me to fill in the Hebrew names and dates for my congregants’ headstones.  Today was no different, I thought, and I pulled Erwin’s records from the binder to fill out the paperwork.  I filled in his Hebrew name and went on to the date of death.  Oh dear, I thought, no time of death listed, was it before or after sunset?  Normally I would call the family to ask, the detail is essential to calculating the Hebrew date… but this was different.  I was the one present at Erwin’s death. I was the one responsible.  I remembered the day I decided to remove his life support and the day he passed.  It was a Monday, 4am.  I remembered, and with tears in my eyes, I filled out the form for his headstone.

When Erwin was diagnosed with cancer, he asked me to be his medical proxy.  Erwin’s only family is a sister with cognitive disabilities.  He lived most of his adult life in Spain, eating tapis and teaching English.  He returned to his family’s farm only to care for his mother when she was dying, and afterwards to care for his sister. I took some time to think about it and decided I could act as medical proxy as Erwin’s friend though not as his rabbi.  We sat on the back porch of his parents’ old farm house and I asked Erwin what his wishes were, promised to follow them, and signed the paperwork.

Erwin wanted to live.  His instructions to me were to try everything and anything to keep him alive until there was absolutely no chance.  He was very open with everyone about his reasoning: He was afraid of death.  There were therapies and plans in the works.  There was hope.

I thought I had time.  I thought there would be conversations about God, about fear, about life and about letting go.  I thought death would come at the end of this or another illness.  I didn’t know that death creeps, then attacks suddenly, seems to retreat, and takes us away in tiny snatches of devastating loss.

Almost immediately, Erwin was hospitalized and his cancer deemed inoperable.  He was in excruciating pain and there seemed no relief.  He received stronger and stronger pain medication.  He lost touch with reality.  He lost the ability to walk, to shave… The hospital arranged for him to go into temporary nursing care to recover physically.  Erwin was miserable.  He wanted to go home.

We tried to find at home nursing care.  I learned about “the gap.”  When people are released from nursing facilities in the State of New York, it takes days to weeks to arrange for the in home care covered by insurance.  Family or friends are expected to provide the 24 hour home care necessary during “the gap.”  Erwin’s friend L. shouldered the tremendous responsibility and drove him home.  Within 12 hours I was called to the emergency room.  Erwin had fallen.  He was in a neck brace.  His right side was paralyzed.  The medical proxy was wanted to sign forms for an emergency surgery.

God bless the doctor in that second hospital who finally correctly diagnosed the source of Erwin’s pain, a raging infection in his neck and spine, unrelated to the cancer (also in his neck).  I bless him not for his skill as a surgeon, but for his decency as a human being.  He looked Erwin in the eye the entire time he spoke.  He took Erwin’s hand and he told Erwin he would pray for him.  A wave of peace came over Erwin’s face at these words, and hope.  It was the last real moment of hope I saw in Erwin.  He never really left the hospital after that.

Following the surgery, Erwin was put on powerful narcotics and we lost him.  His body was alive, healing even… but Erwin disappeared.   He was deemed too cognitively impaired to make his own medical decisions.  I spent long hours on the phone and at the hospital talking to doctors and nurses and signing forms for this procedure and that… to keep him alive.  I wrestled with each procedure: the feeding tube, the collapsed lung, the kidney failure brought on by the powerful antibiotics… What were the teachings and strictures of halachah, Jewish law, on my decision, could it be reversed, did it prolong death or give Erwin a fighting chance?  I learned the lingo.  “Is this futile?” I learned to ask for numbers.  “What is the chance that this procedure can return Erwin to a quality of life, more or less than 60%?”  Each time I wrestled.  I talked with advisors and with Erwin’s friends, and each time I knew that Erwin would choose to take the chance, if there was even the slightest possibility of life.  Each time it wrenched at my gut as I watched his torture continue in that wretched hospital bed.

Erwin did return to us a few times and was able to take over making his own medical decisions.  He always chose to fight, to try.  But he was desperately unhappy.  In the last weeks when his lungs filled with fluid and had to be drained and re-drained so he could breath, I explained that the procedure was very painful and that the doctors could not permanently fix the problem in his lungs.  He clung to me and said “let them try.”

When they came to me and asked me if it was time to remove Erwin from life support I asked for a second opinion.  The two doctors agreed, it was futile.  Erwin would die within a week.  It would be a terrible week…. or we could end his suffering now.  They talked over Erwin like he wasn’t there, asking me if he reacted to stimulus.  Erwin stuck his tongue out at the doctor and swore.  If that isn’t reacting to stimulus, I don’t know what is.

The afternoon I made the decision to withdraw the life support drugs from Erwin, Erwin was awake and looking at me.  I couldn’t speak with him.  I don’t know if he know who I was or what was happening.  The doctors said he was completely unaware.  The nurses and I know better.  Some part of Erwin was there.

It is not how I imagined it would be.  I thought these decisions were made after a person had lost touch completely with the world, when their body was being held together by machines.  I did not imagine looking into someone’s eyes and stroking their hair, praying for the anti-anxiety medications to take away their suffering and allow him some peace before his death.

Death is not pretty.  I don’t know if it ever was. Certainly today, we have the power to stave off death for a time, but at what cost?  Where is the line between torturous hope and futility?  I don’t know.

I hope never to act as another’s medical proxy again.  Gone is my naivety.  This mitzvah came with a cost too dear.  I know I did what was right, but I will never know if I did what Erwin wanted.  I will never know how much of his mind was left in those last days and if or what he was thinking.  It haunts me.

 

 

 

 

 

Fritters

I wish I could tell you “she loved them” but in truth after hours of cooking, Eliyana licked the lentil sweet potato fritter and threw it on the floor. It made a dramatic splat sound.

A friend gave me the recipe which I fiddled with: cooked lentils, steamed sweet potatoes, sautéed onion, wheat germ, cumin… I added salt and an egg…  blend/mash and throw mini patties into pan of oil… I lasted one round then grabbed my non stick cookie tray and put the rest of the mini patties in the oven.Shmoo in cooks outfit Sep 2014

They were pretty good!  Perhaps a little more salt and garlic… But baked was equal in taste to fried.  Pretty healthy.  I think they would be great with an Israeli salad, hummus and pita. Eliyana was not impressed.

My Bubie Marge had two categories for people: “good eaters” and “not good eaters.”  I fear Eliyana would fall into the “not good eater” group.  Her main interest is cheese and yogurt. I hide veggies and fruit in her yogurt… Ah the challenges of Jewish motherhood. Looking forward to the day she can join me in the kitchen to co-create.

Where are you? Staying Rooted.

This piece was inspired by a sermon by R. Edward Feinstein.  My thanks to him for allowing me to reprint his words.

One of my favorite mitzvot outlined in this Shabbat’s parashah is the command the every King of Israel be given a copy of the Torah, that he may read it “all his life”, that it guide him and keep him rooted among the people as he remembers to revere God. The words have always written a beautiful image in my mind. I see the King, sitting in his golden throne, his scepter, and in the kings lap is a book of Torah, and he is reading it. (Deut 17:18)

This is good advice for all of us, for every Jew, for Kings and Queens and for Rabbis. The Torah is written for each of us, to keep us rooted among our people and to remind us of God on high.

As a young rabbi, I was deeply concerned with the words of the Torah and the precision of halachah. As I grow older, the Torah is rooted for me in the people of the community I serve. Their faces and stories inform my study. I will never forget a discussion I had with a family about their pain at being told many years ago the rabbi could not perform their wedding as it was an “intermarriage”. I also feel pain when I have to say “no.” All rabbis do and we discuss it often. I do not claim to have the answers, scholars of Talmud in our movement greater than I must address these issues, but I do know that the Torah is meant to anchor us in the lives of our people. And so I study, I struggle.

You may have noticed your rabbi has “calmed down” a bit as she matured. Of course I am older, I am less surprised by real life and more seasoned to our community’s particular history. But for me it goes deeper, I have been a part of this community for almost 8 years. I have come to know and love you, to rejoice with you, and to help you bury loved ones and grieve with you. I grieve. I miss people who were part of my life at Temple Israel for many years and are no longer here. I grieve the loss of our building, the absence of our bimah, of working at Rabbi Hurwitz’s wisdom filled desk. I have become rooted in our community and my study of Torah has changed to reflect that deeper connection.

The first question asked of the first human being is God’s question of Adam — “Where are you?” It is a question meant to help us stay rooted in the values and mitzvot of Torah, to remind us of the finiteness of our days.

The pshat of God’s “Where are you” assumes than a mere human being could “hide’ from the all knowing, all seeing God.  It doesn’t seem to make sense…. The Torah must be teaching something else.  Adam and Eve have eaten from the forbidden tree of knowledge.  They have simultaneous gained self awareness.  With this new awareness, they feel suddenly exposed, and they hide.  They hide from themselves, from their lost potential.  They hide from each other.  They hide from the truth.  God asks “Where are you?” –Who are you becoming, where are you now and where do you want to be?

Picture the King of Israel on his throne, and each of us in every generation, reading the Torah on our laps, being asked by God “Where are you?”  How humbling.  And how humbling for us to be pulled to the truth within each time we read Torah and the question is reiterated for us, for our lives. “Where are you?”

A poingant Hassidic story tells of the Hasidic master Shneur Zalman who was jailed in St. Petersburg, his jailer, apious Christian, came to him with a question of faith:– If God knows all, then why the game of hide-and-seek; why the question, ‘Where are you?’ The rabbi looked deeply into the face of the puzzled jailer, and asked him,– Do you believe that the Scriptures speak to every generation?The pious man replied in the affirmative.– Well,then, the question is addressed not only to Adam but to you. You have been alive these 44 years, Where are you?Hearing his age quoted exactly, a chill ran up the spine of the jailer.

It isn’t easy. To look at ourselves truthfully — without the defense, evasion, tor excuse.  During this High Holiday season, we are commanded to look deep within, to ask God’s question “Where are you?”  It is meant to send a chill up our spines.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein, who inspired this sermon, asks: “How many years have you been given, and where are you? Where are you on your journey? How much closer to wisdom? How much nearer to completing the tasks for which you were created? How much closer to your dreams? How much closer to those you love? How much wider your circle of concern? How much deeper your friendships? What did you do with My gift of a year of life? What have you done with all your years? Where are you?”

For me as I learn to be both a full time rabbi and a full time mom, this is a time to reassess my vision for my personal tikkun olam. How will I pursue my part in healing God’s world? How do I create balance, giving of myself with all the gifts God has given me.

And so I return to the words of our Torah: to sit with the teachings of the Torah, of our tradition, to allow then to help us connect to our fellow human being, to be rooted in our community, in the people of the world, and to know that every day, in every moment we stand before God. To revere God is to remember that life is a gift, that we have a purpose, that time is finite: the day is long but the work is hard. We may not finish but we can not leave our task unattended.

Cross-Cultural Parenting: Materialism vs Relationship

anne's beautiful Mommy and baby photo Winter 2014

I wrote a follow up article for Bechol Lashon on the influence of Ethiopia in our parenting of Eliyana:

Cross-Cultural Parenting: Materialism vs Relationship

Please click here to read it.

Nachamu Nachamu

Nachamu Nachamu – Give Comfort, Give Comfort, to my people, says God… thus begins this Shabbat’s Haftarah from Isaiah.  It is a call to the future, to a time after the destruction of our Temple and exile of our people.. a time of return, a time of healing, a time when humanity has overcome its propensity for self-destruction.

How can I call nachamu, nachamu, comfort… this Shabbat, when US troops are headed back to Iraq,  when Israeli’s   scurry to shelters, praying for their children at the front, when 200 young girls stolen from their classrooms in Nigeria by terrorists have yet to be returned to their families, when children die of diseases for which we have the cure, and despots drug them as use them as fodder in wars.  How can I call this a Shabbat of comfort?

I look to our Torah portion this week, which contains the Shema: Hear, O Israel, Adonai our God, Adonai is One. This sentence is the focal point of Jewish liturgy and traditionally, we cover our eyes when we recite the Shema.

A story is told in the Talmud (Brachot 13b) in which Rabbi Yehuda HaNavi covers his eyes to shut out the distractions of his students as he prays.  This was later codified in the Shulchan Aruch: We cover our eyes to eliminate distractions from our sight, so we can more fully concentrate on the oneness, the wholeness of God. Certainly there are enough distractions in our modern lives to make this explanation relevant today.

“The Noda Biyhudah, Rabbi Yechezkel ben Yehuda Landau, offers a second reason for covering our eyes. He teaches that it is difficult to have faith in the Holy One when we only have to look around us to see all the suffering in the world. For the Noda Biyhudah, we cover our eyes to block out the troubles of the world, to help us access our faith. Though he was writing in the 17th century, this insight applies in our own days. We look at our world, at the tragedy of the war in Israel, the economic troubles at home, the increasing anti-Semitism in Europe, and it is easy to despair. We cover our eyes and recite the Shema to remind ourselves that the world also contains Divine love, justice, and truth. We can have hope despite the tragedies we face in the world.” (Rabbi Cathy Felix, Jewish Standard)

Covering our eyes to concentrate on prayer, to be renewed in hope, is different than shutting ourselves away from the world and it’s brokenness.  We are commanded to tikkun olam, to heal the world.  But how can we begin the work when all we feel is despair.  I am reminded of the teaching from Pirkei avot: The task is hard, the day is long… you do not have to finish the work but neither may you desist from it.  The covering of our eyes in reciting the shema, is like that deep breath you take as you look at a hard long task and set yourself back to work on it.  We need that moment of breath.

A different interpretation:  The first line of the Shema is that “God is One.” The Talmud speaks about “lengthening” the way one says the word “One”: Echad.  Why do we lengthen the word echad?

The hassidim looked to gematria:  “Echad, is made up of three letters: Aleph, Chet and Daled. Aleph, which has the numerical value “one,” refers to God Himself. Chet, numerical value “eight,” signifies the seven heavens and the earth, ie: ‘up’ and ‘down’, the vertical plane, including all spiritual dimensions. The third letter is Daled, numerical value “four,” which denotes the four directions of the horizontal plane: north, south, east, west.” (Tali Lowenthal, Chabad.com)

During that time of saying echad, during that lengthening of the word, we have time to meditate, to think about the world in all its dimensions–the spiritual and the physical, and throughout the world and the entire physical universe–is really an expression of the infinite oneness of God.

This is the exact opposite of the reasoning given by Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, the we shut out the world as we pray… here we invite the world into our prayer.  And what if we combined the two… what if we cover our eyes, concentrating on the divine in our world, breathing and meditating on all that is possible and letting despair give way to hope….  If we find nachamu, comfort… And what if as we recite the words, we allow the world to come in, as it is meant to be, as a place of promise, of joy, of fulfillment, and what if as we meditate on God the creator, God who gives us one life, one world, one chance…. God of oneness, and we find in that breath, in that prayer, the strength to return to the reality of the world, and work towards fulfilling that vision of Isaiah, of working towards the time of peace, of healing, of fulfilling the best of our potential.

Casualties of War

I am troubled by the news reports that separate the victims of the Gaza Israel war into civilian and military.  Why is the life of a young soldier more acceptable as a casualty of war?  Why do we separate them out from the count, as though their lives, their family’s mourning is less important?

In Israel, every single young person (with some excepts) is required to serve in the army.  They do not choose this path. They are no different than any other 18, 19, or 20 year old.  They have family and friends who love them. They want to live.  Why are their deaths counted differently?

We have come to believe that soldiers are acceptable casualties of war and therefore can happily live our lives without guilt.  In the US we know that our veterans do not receive adequate medical care, that the benefits promised to them are not delivered.  Do we accept this because in our minds soldiers are already “other,” already an acceptable loss?  Our presidents receive a lifetime salary and physical protection.  This reflect our value of them, our thanks for their service.  How is our value of those who risk and lose their lives for our freedom reflected?

I deplore the harming of children in all its evil forms.  There is never an acceptable reason for a child to die in violence at the hands of fellow human beings.  The pictures of child casualties from the Gaza Israel war are heartbreaking.  I make no excuses, I have no words of outrage at those who put that child in that position.  I only cry at the horror and injustice.  I cry for our world, our people, for the parents of that child, for the life that will never be.  There should be rules, of war, of life, and these should begin with guarding the welfare of all our children.

There should also be rules for war and life that embrace the lives of those who are risked for our happiness.  Their deaths are to be mourned.  Their lives are to be treasured.  Their needs should be valued and met.

Our work should be towards one of peace for all people.  Separating this horrific tragedy into neat piles of “civilian” versus “military” is an insult to the preciousness of God’s creation.

 

Prayer for Israel

My mind can not analyze to give words of comfort or wisdom. The number of rockets, the counted deaths, the political theories…

I see only the mother rushing her child to a shelter as she hears the alarm. She is singing comforting words, hoping her daughter does not see the fear in her eyes.

In another shelter sits a woman praying to God that her children are safe. They are with their father across town. She prays they are safe in the shelter there and counts the hours and minutes until they are reunited.

A toddler, a baby, is held in his mother’s arms… she prays that the bombs don’t come for them.

Another mother waits, listening carefully to the news. Her son is a soldier at the front, only 18.

Four mothers grieve for teenage sons who will never see adulthood.

And another mother mourns as her son becomes a stranger to her. She grieves what her son has become.

God give comfort to the mothers who cry out for their children. Hear their prayers. Bring them peace.

What we want for ourselves, do for others!

This week’s post is from guest blogger: Danny Siegel. He has long been one of my mitzvah heroes and I thank him for inspiring me and so many to do tikkun olam.

I was delighted that Rabbi Tziona asked me to write a guest blog, and while I am leaving for Israel for the summer in a couple of days for my 39th year with USY Pilgrimage, I wanted to get to this as soon as I could so it wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle.

As some of you may know, I have been involved in Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam since 1975, focusing on text, practical projects and finding and working with Mitzvah heroes.

I wanted to share with you one of the most important texts I have found.  Not being a genius of Biblical and Rabbinic text, I cannot reconstruct how I found it, but I am happy I did.

The text deals with the topic of how Judaism doesn’t like to leave Mitzvahs in the high abstract, but rather looks for practical applications.  A good example is the over-used and often abused quote from Leviticus l9:18 “Love others as you love yourself”.  You will see below how Maimonides gives us an incredibly insightful way of figuring out how to bring this alive and into the everyday:

This is the commandment that we were commanded to love each other just as we love ourselves.

That is to say that my concern and love for other Jews should be the same as my concern and love for myself —as far as both possessions and per­sonal needs are involved —for whatever the other person’s possessions and wishes.

vchol

Whatever I want for myself, I want the same for that other person.

vchol2

And whatever I do not want for myself or my friends, I do not want for that other person.

This is the meaning of the verse, “And you shall love the other per­son as yourself.”(Leviticus 19:18)

Maimonides, Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive Mitzvah #206

I believe that if we ask ourselves both “what do we want for ourselves” and “what don’t we want for ourselves” we will have a good guide on how to do our Tzedakah and Tikkun Olam work.

One example I liked to use in my talks: infant car seats.  If we want our own children to be safe in a car, then we want others to be safe, and therefore we should have infant car seat drives and get them to people who cannot afford to buy them.

Danny Siegel’s List of Practical, Easily­ Doable Mitzvah Projects

POTENTIALLY LIFE SAVING MITZVAHS

1. Cellphones for survivors of domestic violence

2. Infant car seats

3. Rescuing leftover food to donate: www.rockandwrapitup.org,

*4. Legos, toys, puzzles and games, board games, kids’ card games, marbles, jacks, blocks, bubble blowers, jump ropes, fun stickers

5. Videos and DVD’s (kid and adult) for hospitals

*6. soaps, shampoos, hand lotion, other toiletries from hotels to shelters

*7. gloves, sweatshirts, sweaters, sneakers

*8. Dolls (including baby dolls for residents with Alzheimer’s disease)

*9. Sports equipment

*10. Eyeglasses

FOR EMERGENCY VEHICLES

*11. stuffed animals (gently used) – Police, sheriff’s office, fire department, rescue squads, ambulance units (for hospitals must be brand-new)

MAKING KIDS HAPPY

*12. Fun pajamas, fun socks

*13. crayons from restaurants (and drawing pad, ribbon, note to have fun) Colormyworldproject.org, sgreenwald1995@gmail.com

*14. Dancing shoes

*15. school supplies (and backpacks)

*16. Kid’s books – Gently-used – for kids in shelters, New – for hospitals

17. balloons (and then entertaining kids with them)

OTHER PROJECTS MAIMONIDES’ HIGHEST LEVEL OF TZEDAKAH –

PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES FOR EMPLOYMENT

18. Purchasing kippot made by Guatemalan-Mayan women for your guests), www.mayaworks.org

19. Purchasing purses and clutches made by Honduran women as presents for girls and young women, www.Manosdemadres.org

FOR THE SYNAGOGUE

20. Magnifying glasses in synagogue for visually-impaired persons

21. Pull-down flap in Torah reading stand to have the Torah at eye level for people who use wheelchairs

22. Mitzvah crib for collecting items for infants

23. Centerpieces at Synagogue events: sports equipment, books, school supplies.  If flowers: sectionalized (consult your florist) to donate to individuals who live alone or who can’t get out

FOR ELDERS IN NURSING HOMES AND ASSISTED LIVING FACILITIES

24. Plants for elders (and instructions for care of the plant)

25. Certifying your dog or cat to visit

26. Playing mah-jongg and poker with the residents

27. Making dreams come true – Second Wind Dreams (www.secondwind.org)

HUMAN-ANIMAL MITZVAHS

28. Invite a Veterinarian to speak at the synagogue to explain the Full range of human-animal interrelationships and benefits And set up a subcommittee of the synagogue Mitzvah committee Relating to human-animal interactions

29. Support Avshalom Beni’s awesome animal-assisted therapy program In Israel, HAMA-(ISRAEL)-Humans and Animals in Mutual Assistance, with money, donations of medications and equipment: beni.avshalom@gmail.com

30. Volunteer at an organization that provides therapeutic horseback riding For individuals with disabilities. Go to www.pathintl.org to find A local organization

31. Socialize a service guide dog for blind people or other people with disabilities

32. Learn about and observe a local program when children with reading problems and have the program introduced into the religious school, Contact Sharon Frant Brooks: Sfrantbrooks@excite.com

33. Have your local animal shelter train you to match rescue animals with individuals who might need them. 

34. Donating money to an animal shelter to buy dog food for homeless people

HOSPITAL AND HEALTH-RELATED MITZVAHS

35. Donate videos and DVD’s – for kids and adults

36. Certifying your dog or cat to visit

37. Dolls and stuffed animal – new

38. Songs of Love – providing individual songs written for children with life threatening illnesses (www.songsoflove.org)

39. Hearing aid batteries

40. Casting for Recovery retreats for women who have had breast cancer surgery www.castingforrecovery.org

41. Providing challot for Shabbat and holidays

ASSISTANCE TO ELDERS OR INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES LIVING AT HOME

42. Checking smoke alarms

43. Changing light bulbs and other simple tasks

44. Raking leaves, cutting the lawn, taking care of plants and flowers

45. Shopping

46. Walking dogs

47. Arranging for drivers to take them on errands and to community events

ISRAEL

48. Do advocacy for Israel by reading honestreporting.com, CAMERA.org [Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, www.ngo-monitor.org, www.dailyalert.org and informing friends, schoolmates, and relatives about what you learned

49. Support Israeli Mitzvah heroes making an enormous impact on thousands of Individuals in Israel (go to: http://dannysiegel.com/finalzivreport.pdf for A description of their Tikkun Olam work)

THE BIG TIME

50. Run a bone marrow testing drive: www.giftoflife.org

51. Encourage a local medical school to integrate animal-assisted therapy into the curriculum. Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA) The Center For Human-Animal Interaction, dekey@vcu.edu, Denice I. Ekey 52. Encourage a local veterinary school to take in animals for a family fleeing domestic violence (Use Google to find the program “Petsafe” at Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine

53. Inform your local shelter for survivors of domestic violence of Face to Face: Surgeons who repair faces of women who are survivors of domestic violence battered free of charge, www.facetofacesurgery.org

To quote Nike, “Just do it.”

a gun in my home

Sunday a friend of the family came to visit.  We were sitting at the table, enjoying some barbecued hot dogs, when I noticed something on his ankle.  It was a gun.  A wave of discomfort washed over me.  There was a gun in my home, near my baby.  I asked our friend to remove his gun, and he did, graciously promising not to bring it next time he visited.  For him, it was an act of polite sensitivity.  Our friend, an off-duty peace officer,  did not feel his gun was a danger to us.  For me, it was a real and present threat to my child’s welfare, and a strong emotional response of protection.

I knew my husband had a gun when we started dating.  He is ex Navy and used it for target practice more than “security.”  At first I was curious.  He took me out shooting and all my childhood “Charlie’s Angels” fantasies were realized.  It was fun shooting a gun.  It was thrilling hitting the target… and there were pancakes afterward.  As Tim and I got more serious and discussed marriage, I explained that I respected his right to own a gun, but I didn’t want it in my home.  I did not want a tool used by so many for such violence in the place in which I slept, ate, and hoped to make a family.  As Tim was head over heals in love with me, he agreed, and sold his gun.  There was some grumbling at my “insistence” and then it was a non issue.

On that terrible day when twenty children and their teachers were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, my husband and I watched the news in horror.  A disturbed man of twenty had taken guns from his mother’s home and shot classrooms full of frightenned little boys and girls. Tim turned to me and said “there is simply no reason to have a gun in your home.”  I was stunned by his change of opinion, but perhaps I should be more surprised that in the days after that shooting, every decent gun owner in American didn’t immediately throw their weapons into a mass bonfire and vow to make Newtown the last tragedy of children shot at school.  But we didn’t, and Newtown was not the last.  Instead we are becoming used to hearing about school shootings on the news. They barely register any more.

Since the Newtown shooting in Dec 2012, there have been sixty five shootings at American schools.  This is an amazingly large number in a short year and a half.  This is not a worldwide phenomenon.  In double that time, there have been five other school shootings: one in France, one in Norway, one in South Africa, one in Brazil, and one in Nigeria. I couldn’t find any more on the internet. This is obviously an issue particular to American society.

When my husband and I had the discussion so many years ago about not having a gun in our home, I told him my deepest fear was that we would be robbed and that the gun would be taken and used for violence against us or someone else.  I didn’t want to be part of putting that violence into the world.  I didn’t want a symbol of murder and grief in my home.

In the United States, we have more freedoms and rights than perhaps any other people in history.  It is a country wealthy in philanthropy, culture, and diversity.  But I fear we hold on too tightly, and perhaps too selfishly, to the mantle of our constitutional rights, when it puts our society as a whole in danger.  No one would argue that we each have the right to drive as fast as we like or to burn down our homes, or even blast music too loudly too late at night.  Yet, we shrink in fear at the idea of limiting (or eliminating) gun access for the safety of our neighborhoods and our children.

Judaism teaches us not to put a stumbling block before the blind (Lev 19:14)   This is broadly interpreted to mean “don’t put temptation before someone and thus allow them to fall into sin.”  We are also commanded to put railings on our roof tops (Deut 22:8), so as not to allow even a trespasser to fall into harm’s way. I believe strongly in our Torah’s wisdom.  In creating a just and right society, we must take care of those who would fall.  Waiting for the weakest among us to do so, then shaking our heads in dismay puts the sin on our shoulders.  Rather let us remove the stumbling blocks and enact the legal fences necessary to keep us safe.