Halloween is a interesting time. There has long been dialogue in the Jewish community about whether or not it is in keeping with Jewish values. I love the neighborhood quality to the day, the practice of families all congregating together outside their homes to visit each other and neighbors, adults smiling at the costumes and makeup of the children. The issue of the origin of the holiday, pagan, Christian, or sugar greed, is not relevant to most families today. It is a holiday of chocolate and make believe. However many parents no longer feel collecting candy from strangers is safe and often children trick or treat at malls or from selected friends and their trunks. The neighborhood joy seems to have been lost to the modern issues of safety.

I struggle with how to proceed with Halloween with my daughter. What is the message of halloween now? Getting free candy? The joy of letting loose for a day, the fun of costumes and candy? If there is a lesson that life is intended to be enjoyed, treasured, and shared, I can embrace that aspect of this secular holiday. If I can take it a step further to show her how much joy her happiness and presence can bring to others, by including a costumed trip to our neighborhood nursing home, even better. If I can moderate the giving of candy by purchasing chocolate treats free of slave labor, paying a little extra for the fair trade label, I can be proud of the message I am providing for my daughter.image

This Friday, Eliyana and I will first visit our neighborhood nursing home at 5:00pm then attend TI Shabbat services at the JCC at 5:30pm. I invite my congregation, friends, and neighbors to join us. The rabbi will have fair trade chocolate to share with anyone in costume (of any age).

Finding Hope in Darkness

Just two days ago, a lone gunman shot and killed a guard near the Canadian Parliament buildings.  I immediately felt for my family in Canada, and especially for my father and stepmother who live in Ottawa. I don’t think I fully appreciate the horror until I saw the pictures of of the members of parliament barricading themselves indoors for safety, chairs and desks piled against the exit.  It brought everything back, and my heart beat more quickly.  I thought immediately of the lone shooter who killed 13 at our American Civic Center here in Binghamton in 2009.  I thought of those victims fear, their terror.  I pray God bring comfort to the families of all victims of violence. There is such terrible darkness in the world.  I am bewildered by it.  I am overwhelmed.

Today I opened the news to find that Ebola has arrive in my home state.  My heart goes out to the brave doctors and nurses who travel to Africa to fight this terrible disease.  No one deserves to suffer from this illness, least of all those putting themselves on the line to help others.  But the terror that stays with me, is that of the disease inching closer to my home, to my child.  I am at a loss.  Do I bubble wrap my family and stay home… or do I continue to live?

Thank goodness the rain finally let up today and we have a beautiful sunny fall day to celebrate in Binghamton.  I don’t think my poor soul could take the grayness for one more day.  I need the sun.  I need it to remember the brightness and beauty in life.  Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin taught a similar lesson in relation to parashat Noach.  A midrash explicates that during Noah’s flood, the sun, the moon and the stars ceased functioning. The entire earth was plunged into complete darkness. Afterward, God produced a magnificent rainbow across the sky, adding to the beauty and illumination of the sun. The rainbow is a covenant that God will never again destroy the earth. It is also a message for each of us on our personal journey.  “Light can shine even after the darkest periods. No matter how “dark” things become, there is the possibility of the restoration of light, and even greater light than that which existed beforehand.” Within the destruction of the flood is a message of hope, even as things are at their darkest and we fall into despair, there is the promise of beauty and light.  We have the potential to shine more brightly after we have come through the terrible darkness.

Rav Shapiro ties this to a Zoharic teaching that Noah was punished for his lack of hope.  For his despair, the event became known to all generations as “Noah’s flood.”  (Meh NoachIsaiah 54:9)  Noah never went out to his neighbors to try and convince them to repent.  He was overwhelmed by their sin and aggression.  He didn’t know what to do and so did nothing.  For this, teaches the Zohar, he shares in the responsibility of the flood, tying his name to it forever.  We each have a role to play in tikkun olam, in healing the world.  None of us is released from it, not even when the world is at its darkest.

How do we as individuals deal with the acts of terror and horror perpetrated by our fellow human beings?  Our most basic instincts are to collect everyone we love and hide from the world in our ark.  Parasht Noah, with great kindness, teaches us to have hope.  As dark as our days get, there is sun that will shine again, perhaps even more brightly than before.  When we feel depleted we can hold on to the promise of the rainbow.  This can give us strength and courage to be a part of the world, it’s repair and healing, to bring our own light to help, to give support, and to speak out about what is right and just.



I have been Rabbi of Temple Israel for eight years now and I care deeply about our community and the people within it.  I work to be present for individuals in their pain and I feel a responsibility for the spirituality of our congregation.  There are times when it is beyond my power to help, to solve, to fix…. and there are days when the sadness of these moments cling to me, a small dark cloud, sitting above my shoulders.  There is the grief and loss I feel as people I care about pass away and the sorrow I feel in empathy for the loved ones they leave behind.

Grief can be all encompassing, can cast a shadow on the what should be days of light and happiness.  What can we hold on to in these moments of grief, to anchor ourselves in life?  How do we disperse the cloud that follows our days?  How do we turn our memories of loved ones to blessing?  How do we move forward?

We count blessings.  We hold one to that which brings us joy.  We remind ourselves about the people, the things, the activities, that bring light into our lives and we hold tight to them.  We are patient and gentle with ourselves, and we understand that grief takes time.

When I was in high school, two of my classmates were killed in a car accident.  We were in shock.  It was hard to believe that we would never see their faces again, that their life, in all it’s young potential, had simply disappeared from the world.  I remember staring at the empty desk of my classmate.  The following Monday, my teacher completely rearranged the room, from desks in teams of four, to one large semi circle.  We no longer stared at her empty chair.

When the twin towers came down 9-11 I was living in NYC.  My world was in chaos.  I could not wipe the image of the downtown survivors walking all day, covered in white soot, their only way to reach their Jersey homes, by foot.  I cleaned.  I ironed.  I called friends and family.  I put one foot in front of the next and took each day completed as a success.

The year I miscarried between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I took big breaths and I carried on.  I did two baby namings that week.  I buried myself in my work, in reaching out and helping others.  And I cried.  I held on to my husband and I cried.

Jewish tradition provides for us in our grief.  For seven days we are excused from worldly concerns.  We stay home from work and community comes to care for us. We cover our mirrors and are relieved from even worrying about brushing our hair or outward appearance.  For thirty days we are excused from parties.  We don’t have to put on a fake smile and pretend to rejoice.  We are allowed our grief.  For one year we say kaddish, and the community is bound to us, present for each repetition of the ancient prayer, present for our grief.  At the end on one year, we erect the monument, the headstone, and we gather once more at our loves one’s grave in memory.  With this ceremony we mark an end to our time of acute grief and we make the effort to remember more of the good and blessing in the one who is passed, than the pain of their loss.

Perhaps it is time that lessens the heaviness of our loss. Perhaps it is the rearranging of chairs physical and symbolic, the refusal to stare at emptiness.   In our darkest moments all we can do is commit to breathing, to accomplishing the task of completing each day.  We take the time we need to grieve, we cry, we stay busy, we reach out to help others, and we can stay connected to family, friends and community.  We look for and hold tight to those particles of light in our lives that bring us joy.  We forgive ourselves our guilt and give permission to our hearts to love.

Slowly, we move forward.  This is good.  Our hearts simply can not sustain the continued full time grief, it would break us completely.  But at the end of each holiday, we give ourselves permission to return to those memories of pain.  During yizkor we embrace all our memories, the sweet and the grief.  In this moment, we don’t have to move forward.  We stand still, we allow our sadness to encompass us once again, to cry, to hold tight to one another, to stare at the empty chair.  Perhaps because we are allowed this window of grief we find the strength to gently close the door at its end.  In this moment we have permission not to be strong, and perhaps that gives us strength in the days to come.  When we close the ark and complete our yizkor, let us look for that which still carries the light and blessing of our loved ones in this world.  Let us work to make their memories a blessing.

A New Sukkah

At the end of every Jewish wedding the bride and groom break a wineglass.  The most popular of the meanings attributed is that we break the glass to remember the destruction of the Temple.  The pain of that loss should be remembered always, even to the point of marring moments of great joy.  While I understood the historical reasoning, I never felt the spiritual truth of this practice until today.  Some losses we carry forward with us.

I am struggling these High Holidays.  Over the past months I have tried to be present for others’ pain at the loss of our synagogue building while enthusiastic and positive about the strength of our community and our future.  But today I can’t muster the strength.  Today I feel the full weight of loss and grief.  Perhaps it is the three funerals at which I officiated this week.  Of course I pass every day the trucks busy at work this week pulling down the remains of our beautiful building, forming neat piles of metal and brick to be reclaimed and reused.  And there is the strain of working through holidays without a private office or any of my rabbinic books and resources.  But the final straw that has broken me today, is our sukkah.

I had planned a lovely kiddush followed by Torah study in our sukkah after tomorrow’s services.  It can not be.  We have all been working so incredibly hard to rebuild our synagogue, to make a our high holidays outside our home beautiful and meaningful.  Today I came to roll our Torahs for sukkot services and make sure everything was in order.  Finally I went outside to visit the JCC’s sukkah.  The JCC has been incredible this last year.  They welcomed us with open arms and do everything in their power to help us at every turn.  They kindly offered to let us use their sukkah for the holiday.  Alas I did not find out until today, erev sukkot, that the flat and regular route to the sukkah is inaccessible due to cement pouring in the new JCC playground.  The alternate route is over a steep hill, impossible for our aging congregation.  For the first time since I became Temple Israel’s rabbi, we will have no sukkah.  I am heart broken.

I know that my heart hurts more for our lost synagogue building than for our sukkah.  Still the symbolism of it gets to me.  According to our tradition, the sukkah is symbolic of the impermanent huts the Israelites dwelt in while traveling through the desert.  They had left slavery.  They were in God’s presence, moving towards the promised land.  A sukkah is a rickety impermanent structure, that must allow more sunshine through it’s organic roof of branches than shade, that must be free standing and that most often blows down in a good wind.  But we build it each year to remind us not to rely on brick and mortar, to remember that God is the true strength in our lives.  We look through the branches at night, see the stars, and remember God’s covenant to make Israel a great and numerous people. The sukkah reminds us that at our most vulnerable, God is with us.  In our place of exile and homelessness, God is with us.

Perhaps this is why the loss of our sukkah hurts so deeply… perhaps this year more than any other, I needed the symbolism of our sukkah to remind me that our people are more than brick and mortar, that God is present in our moments of transience.

We need to mourn, and we need to find a way to put it aside and embrace this process with joy as a community.  To capture that same joy of those who built before us, I believe we need a conversation about who we are as a congregation of people.  What are our values, our priorities, our dreams and our gifts?  I would like a congregational dialogue about our identity as a community, what makes us special, and what do we want to give back to the world around us?

In each generation, there have been tremendous obstacles presented to the Jewish community, and in each generation, we have prevailed. Why, because we were willing to find what was most core to our Jewish souls, and protect it as we change and moved forward.  When the second Temple was destroyed, the Jews changed radically, developing prayer and synagogue ritual to replace animal sacrifice.  We became for almost two thousand years a people without a homeland.  And in each land we came to, and tried to make our own, we were met by avarice, pogroms, crusades, Spanish Inquisition, plague, the restrictions of the USSR, Ethiopia, and others who made us hide our Judaism to survive, the Shoah.  We moved forward.  We dug deep, found our core of identity, changed what we needed to, and we remained true to who we are as a Jewish community.

Now as our congregation is asked to move forward, to let go of that which has been our spiritual home for multiple generations, it is time to talk with each other about who we are as a community.  How do we want to impact on the world with the gifts God has given us.  If we rely on brick and mortar to hold us together, we miss the message of sukkot.  Structures in the end are all impermanent.  Judaism survives because we are a people.

So tomorrow I want to introduce my congregation to a new kind of sukkah, one which is built solely by the spirit of the people with the courage to lean on one another in the name of community.  We need no lumber, so decorations.  A minyan, sitting in conversation around a table.  No walls, no ceiling.  We are the structure.  We are the sukkah, if we cast our sheltering presence over one another.







Teshuva: Walking through Illusory Limitations

Once there was a powerful king who was so powerful that he managed to create the illusion of a palace with high walls and gates surrounding him. He then invited his subjects to come to visit him in his palace. Almost everyone who approached the palace was deterred by the fortress-like quality of the castle, the high brick walls and moats and gates. Only one subject — the king’s son—realized that the palace walls weren’t real—they were an illusion—and he could walk right through them and come right to the king.

This beautiful Hassidic story, told by the Baal Shem Tov, has much to teach us. There are walls that limit us in life. Some are placed before us by others, and some are of our own making. Some are real and some are merely illusion.

Our tradition offers us a means to move through the illusionary boundaries with which we bind ourselves: Tefillah, Tzedakah and Teshuva. Today on Yom Kippur, God does not ask for self flagellation. God offers us the opportunity to leave the distractions of life for 25 hours: food, business, the time spent on the personas we show the world, and look inwardly at ourselves… to find the courage and the perception to walk through illusory walls and make the life for which we were meant. Through prayer, acts of righteousness, and repentance, we grow as individuals, we adjust the patterns of our mind, we begin to see what impediments are mere illusion, and we move forward to the life of potential we seek.

Tonight I want to speak with you about Teshuva. The meaning of the Hebrew goes far beyond the simple translation, repentance. Teshuva means to turn, to change. Teshuva is the realization that we have the power to change ourselves, change even our perception of the world. Teshuva releases us from the set patterns that have limited what has always been.

I love the way churches use their billboards. I saw one once that read: “If you are headed in the wrong direction, God allows U-turns.” I think the Baal Shem Tov would have liked their billboard very much. It all begins with a turn, a step.

A Hasidic Rebbe once asked his students the following question: “How far do you have to travel to be on the other side of the world?” His students sat down and analyzed mathematical equations to find a possible answer. After a period of time they returned to the Rebbe and came up with possible solutions. He looked at all of them and said: “You are all incorrect. The answer is: Just one step. Turn around, and you’ll face the opposite direction.”

Teshuvah is often thought of as turning back from undesirable things – bad habits or patterns of behavior, broken relationships or interpersonal dynamics, spiritual apathy or distance, a feeling of God’s absence. But Teshuvah can be a turning towards — moving forward to our best and most fully actualized selves. With one step, we can change our direction, we can change our perception, walk through our limitations.

A young teacher in our community shared a fascinating article with me recently from the Huffington post. It discussed the psychology of two different mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. The messages individuals receive in childhood push them to one perception or the other. In the fixed mindset the person believes he was born with certain gifts and certain limitations. His intelligence and skills are simply too limited for certain tasks and he gives up. In the growth mindset the person believes that the more he challenges himself, the more intelligence he gains. He values learning over looking smart and works hard at new challenges. He perseveres. The idea developed for parents and teachers is to encourage not just intelligence and skill, but to praise the child for their effort, for taking on challenging tasks, and persevering.

As I read this article, I became entranced by its connection to Teshuva. Yom Kippur is a gift, a time of meditation and seclusion within community in which we are invited to change our mindset. Yom Kippur whispers in every page of prayer: persevere, make a turn, take a step. In the space between the prayers we challenge our perceptions of our world as immovable, unchangeable. We work to see through the curtain of illusion. We grasp our own courage and strength and we realize we are not bound by what has always been. We reach deeply into ourselves to readjust our vision, our identity and we find our core, our beliefs, our potential. We take a step. We turn. We move forward.

How do we take that first step? How do we change our perception so that we see through the illusion of walls and limitations?
The Talmud offers this story as insight: In the north of Israel, in the second century, two men met on a narrow bridge that crossed a rushing stream. Simon of Lakish was the strongest, fiercest gladiator to ever fight in the arenas of Rome. Simon was an orphan born of a Jewish family taken by the Romans and raised to be a killer. He was in a hurry to get to his next contest. Across the bridge he rushed, bearing the tools of his brutal trade. At the center of the bridge, he met another man, a very different kind of champion.
Rabbi Yohanan was a small man with fine features and gentle eyes. The leader of the Jewish community in the land of Israel, he was renowned for his deep love of Torah. The rabbi wore no armor and carried no weapons.
Simon was in terrible hurry, so he demanded that the rabbi move aside and let him pass. But the rabbi would not budge. He shouted, “Move aside!” But the rabbi would not move. So he bellowed and stomped and reached for a weapon.
As the gladiator raised his sword, their eyes met. And something remarkable happened. Simon was accustomed to seeing fear and terror in the eyes of his adversaries. Not this time. This time, he saw something in the eyes of the rabbi he had never seen before –a man with absolutely no fear. He saw a man who knew exactly where he fit in God’s world, who knew exactly what he was sent into the world to do. He saw in the rabbi’s eyes a strength and power he had never seen in all his opponents, in all the battles, in all the arenas of Rome. The power of the rabbi’s eyes shook the gladiator to his soul. He stood for a long time staring, and then dropped his sword and all of his rage.
For his part, the rabbi saw something he didn’t expect. There was more to this gladiator than his fury. Beyond the rage and the violence the rabbi saw a ferocious power to love and deep longing to be loved. Behind the armor was a heart, a soft, human heart, a soul waiting to be touched, to be warmed.
The rabbi spoke softly to the gladiator, “My brother, where are you going in such a hurry? To kill or be killed in the service of Roman glory? My brother, there is another way, a better way.”
“There is no glory greater than Rome! Rome is eternal! I serve Caesar!” the gladiator repeated the oath he had sworn so many times.
“One day soon, Rome will be gone, its Caesars forgotten and all its arenas reduced to rubble,” explained the rabbi. “But the glory of God is forever. And you, my brother, are created in the image of God. You carry God’s light. Come and join a greater cause, my brother. Come and master God’s Torah!”
“I know only the arts of battle. How can I sit with a scholar like you?” the gladiator retorted with embarrassment.
“Your heart is stronger than your sword, and that is all God requires. Come, my brother,” answered the rabbi.
Perhaps it was the rabbi’s truth. Perhaps it was his voice. Perhaps it was that the rabbi was the very first person in his life to call him “brother.” The words broke through the gladiator’s armor and reached his heart. For the first time in his life, the gladiator began to cry. Tears covered his face and his sobs filled the valley. He dropped his weapons into the stream. He unbuckled and cast away his armor. He turned and followed the rabbi.
Simon became Rabbi Yohanan’s most devoted student, until in time, the gladiator too became a rabbi, the great Reish Lakish. He married the sister of Rabbi Yohanan and became his brother. They fought and wrestled over the words of Torah for the rest of their lives, as they led the Jewish people with love and with learning.
What does this story teach us? That knowing who we are, knowing where we fit in God’s world gives us the strength to move beyond any obstacle.

Our minds and hearts this high holiday season are understandably focused on the loss of our Temple Israel building and the visions of our new spiritual home. The illusion we are challenged to see through is that a synagogue is a thing of brick and mortar. Our bayit, our home, is one of kenesset, of meeting, of coming together. Beit Kenesset, the Hebrew for synagogue. We are a community of relationship. What makes our home one of spirit is the vision and work we do for the people within. We are in a time of Teshuva, of change, of turning to move forward. We have the opportunity, the gift, to let go of set perceptions and limitations and to allow our dreams to take us in new directions.


Eliyana Watches Me

This morning as I sat on the couch with my cup of coffee, waiting to wake up, Eliyana amused herself by taking each item out of my purse one at a time and bringing them to me.  She stopped only when she found my kippah.  This she carefully placed on her head over and over again and then brought to me.  I have never put a kippah on Eliyana’s head, so this act was wholly one of mimicking an action she has seen Mommy do many times.  Of course, my heart melted… she was adorable. I became keenly aware that her Jewish identity would be formed not just in what we do together as a family, but in what she sees me do, as a rabbi, as her mother, and as a Jew, on a daily basis.

Family pic sep 2014 beigeI have been singing the Shema to Eliyana at bedtime since I first brought her into my life.  It has not been the hoped for ritual that marks her transition to sleep.  She knows the prayer means I want her to go to sleep, and she has made a habit of sitting bolt upright when I begin singing.  Sometimes, I snuck the shema in after she fell asleep, other times it was left behind as I experimented with different sleep rituals.  Today, I think we may finally have a ritual in place that works, and includes the shema, huzzah!

Eliyana does not like to go to sleep at night.  In desperation we have been driving her, transferring her to her crib, then transferring her to our bed when she wakes up in the middle of the night. Don’t judge, we are sleep deprived parents, and pretty grumpy at 3am.  I knew she needed to learn the self soothing skills to put herself to sleep but have been putting it off until “after the holidays.”  It came to a head Erev Rosh Hashanah when Eliyana simply woke up at 10, then 11, then 12, then refused to go back to sleep at all!  She did this three times this week.  My husband and I are exhausted.  Time for a change.  It’s the ten days after all. Teshuva, turning to the right path.

Last night I pulled the crib mattress onto the floor of Eliyana’s bedroom, turned out all the lights, and lay down on the mattress with her.  Then I began the ritual that we do every night, though it hasn’t worked in a while…  Goodnight Moon, Shema, and Had Gadya.  Yes, Had Gadya, the song about the goat from Passover.  It popped into my head one night when I was rocking her and she wouldn’t go to sleep and by the time I had sung it the tenth time through, she was asleep.  So now it’s part of the ritual. The goat, the cat the dog, the stick, the fire, the water, the ox, the butcher, the angel and God.. all part of the ritual.  Finally, I recited the story of how we came to be a family, how we flew to Ethiopia to find the daughter meant for us.  Miracle of miracles, she fell asleep and stayed asleep in her own room all night.  Baruch Hashem it will work just as well tonight, and tomorrow night, and onto the new big girl twin mattress I bought and lugged up the stairs this afternoon.

Eliyana and Mommy Sep 15 2014High Holidays are the busiest, most stressful time, in a rabbi’s year.  This week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur would not have been my choice for sleep training. God had another plan, a plan to weave together my roles as rabbi, Jew, and mother.  In the daily issue of bedtime, I found teshuvah.  My expectations were turned on their head and I found a way.  I may have less time and energy for cooking festive meals or deep  introspection, but I am living the Torah of teshuvah this high holiday season.  How could I not, with my beautiful daughter watching every move I make?

Gmar Tov.

If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem: Rosh Hashanah Sermon 2014

My love for Israel reaches into the core of my being. She is part of my soul.   I have spent the summer in despair at yet another war, at the months of death, destruction, and fear. I grieve for those who have been injured and killed. I grieve for the young people who have lost hope of ever living in peace. I grieve for the nation who must think always of security first and raise its children to be comfortable in shelters, its young people to shoot guns.

We have a cease fire, and hopefully a peace… but for how long?

Many of us were privileged on Sunday to watch The Prime Ministers; The Pioneers thanks to the Piaker Memorial lecture at Chabad.  It was a deeply moving documentary… the success of the six day war… the reunification of Jerusalem, the return of the Western Wall to the Jewish people…. the soldiers who died in droves in the Yom Kippur war…  and all these years later we still hope and yearn for an Israel at peace with her neighbors.. and it falls just short of our grasp.

I am acutely aware of how blessed I am to live in a land where I feel safe and free, and I feel guilty that I am not with my brothers and sisters in Israel. My family made aliyah to HaAretz as part of the wave of Russian immigration in the 1920s. My father was born in Tel Aviv the same year Israel achieved Independence and statehood. My grandfather died in battle to keep Jerusalem safe. I am named for him, Tzion, Zion… Jerusalem. My grandmother brought my father to Canada, visions of safety and economic stability.

I spent two years living and studying in Jerusalem, one as an undergrad and another as a rabbinical student. They were a wondrous time. I lived in Jerusalem and I had two or three favorite activities. I loved my membership to the Israel museum and I loved grocery shopping where everything was kosher. Saturday nights after Shabbat my friends and I would visit the shops on Ben Yehuda street or go out for coffee. But most of all I loved walking in the old city. The tiny alleys and streets with their old stone bricks wrapped themselves around me. Time stopped. I could imagine the Jews of Kind David’s time walking these same streets. I felt the history of our people in every stone. Finally I would come to the Wall, the last remainder of the great Temple, and I would walk softly to the wall, touch it, lean on it, and whisper my prayers, the same prayers my people have said for a thousand years. Everywhere one travels in Israel there is history, there is Torah. Tiberias held the graves of the great rabbis of the Talmud. In Tzefat I felt the presence of  see the rabbis who gave us kabbalah dancing in white robes through the streets singing Lecha Dodi. At midnight I visited a mikvah that was two thousand years old… and had been in continuous use for all those years.

There is a midrash (Tanhuma B, Kedoshim 10) that teaches “The Land of Israel is the navel of the world and Jerusalem is its center. The Temple is at the center of Jerusalem and at its center is the Ark of the covenant. And before the room which holds the ark is the foundation stone, upon which the world was created.” This is a beautiful midrash which speaks to the entire world being formed from a single beginning point, a place steeped in holiness at the center of Yerusahlayim. We each have a navel, it is the place from which we began, a point, a cell, connected to our mother by a cord that fed us, allowed us to become. This is the imagery of the midrash, a spiritual umbilical cord that connects God to the world, and the place at which we are connected is Jerusalem, is Eretz Yisrael.

This is the connection one feels when one is in Israel and especially in Jerusalem. The holiness, the presence of God and of our people reaching out to God is palpably present there. Even without the archeological digs, the Temple Wall, the Hebrew in the marketplaces… even without the gnarled old olive trees and the buses that stop running on Shabbat… Even if it were nothing but fields… Israel would feel holy because it is the place from which God touches the world.   That I know with absolute surety. The layers of Torah, of prayer, worship, study, and Jewish life bring that experience of God’s presence to almost painful reality. Everything becomes clear.

My very first Shabbat in Israel I was invited along with other students to enjoy some home hospitality for my first Shabbat dinner is Yerushalayim. We met early for some folk singing before kabbalat Shabbat. Sitting and singing on an enormous balcony, we heard a siren and immediately became concerned it was an air raid siren. No we were reassure, it was the siren announcing we had 20 minutes until Shabbat began. Time in Israel runs to the rhythm of the Jewish calendar. One feels perfectly in tune with Shabbat and the holidays because they are expressed are around us. A midrash explains it this way: “ There is a man who is comely but his clothes fit badly; there is another who is ungainly but his clothes fit him well. Israel becomes the Land and the Land becomes Israel. (Num R. 23:6)

Riding the bus to visit relatives for Rosh Hashanah I was enchanted when at each stop school children got on the bus to hand out honey cake to soldiers. On the eighth day of Passover the Sephardic community celebrates memoonah and very park is filled with picnicking families and memoonah festivities. During hahukah you can look out your window and see hanukkiot in every single window of the tall apartment buildings, hundreds of lights dancing in unison. And at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on Friday afternoon, just before the siren, a waiter comes to your door with a small cake on which is written Shabbat shalom.

There are some who complain that Jews in Tel Aviv go to the beach on Shabbat. I rejoice. In a land where everything is suffused in holiness and Judaism, even the secular abide by the rhythm of our tradition. As Rabbi Zera said in our Talmud “Even the everyday talk of people in the Land of Israel is Torah.” (Lev R. 34:7) The beach is not work, it is not mundane, and in Israel especially, it is God’s glory.

I loved living in Israel. The Talmud recounts that ten measures of beauty descended to the world and Jerusalem took nine (kiddushin 49b) I have to agree. It is a place of incredible spiritual and communal beauty. And yet, after my time of study in Israel, I chose to return to North America. I chose to make my life here.

This year when we became parents, Tim and I talked briefly about making aliyah to Israel. It is a beautiful land to raise a Jewish family. We want to give everything to our daughter. But I shy away from concrete plans to make aliyah. In addition to my love for this community, it is frightening to think of sending Tim or Eliyana one day off to war. It is difficult to think of moving so far away from family and friends, from the US and all the riches it offers us. I think of Yehuda Halevi’s poem “If I forget thee o Jerusalem, let my left hand fail and of his words “My heart is in the East and I am at the ends of the West.” A part of my soul will always reside in Israel. If I forget her, I will lose a part of myself.

For all of us who choose to live in the diaspora, Israel is there for us, beckoning us to come home, to rejoin our people.   We are so proud of Israel’s every accomplishments and we feel her pain when she is wounded. When I first went to Israel I remember the hygiene products were twenty years behind the times. A stick of deodorant was not to be found in the entire country. Now Israel leads the world medical and technological breakthroughs. Now Israel funds stem cell research and is close to finding answers to fight cancer. Such incredible achievements for such a young country. I can only surmise that our modern state of Israel stands on the shoulders of our ancestors, of all who came before her, from Maimonides to Abraham.

What is this connection we feel to Eretz Israel though we choose to live in America. We rush to defend her, support her, with what we can, our words, our money, our love.

Traditionally there have been two models in Jewish thought about Israel’s role in the hearts of Jews in the Diaspora. The first is the model of Israel as a shelter. Israel is a place that will take in any Jew, that will fly to Africa and rescue Ethiopian Jews fleeing persecution. The second model is of Israel as a light unto the nations, that Israel as a state guided by Jewish law and tradition can lead the way for other nations to follow in ethics and morality. For me, both of these are important, but I have a third relationship with Israel: Israel is a part of who I am as a Jew, not because I can flee to her or look to her for guidance, but because she is part of my Jewish soul. Elhanan Leib Lewinsky, the Zionist and Hebrew writer said that “without Jerusalem, the land of Israel would be a body without a soul.” This exactly how I feel about Israel: Though I live outside her borders, she completes me.

My heart aches for our sisters and brothers in Israel. I know they are so very tired of war, of constantly being on defense, of forcing themselves to live normally… taking their children out to play, though they quake inside with fear. 15 seconds warning to grab your children to safety? Every parent is in a constant state of stress.   I asked a friend currently living in Jerusalem for a quite about why and this is what she said “”Because I am living with Am Yisrael, in Medinat Yisrael, Al Pi Torat Yisrael” I am living with the people of Israel, in the land of Israel according to the Torah of Israel.

In words of our Psalms: “How shall I sing the song of God on foreign soil?”   The psalmist answers:  “If I forget you O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.  May my tongue cleave to my palate, if I do not remember you, if I do not bring up Jerusalem at the beginning of my joy.”  Israel is always in our hearts, on our minds, at each moment of joy, at each wedding, each seder table… we think of Jerusalem.

I am gratified by the ceasefire… I hope this war is at an end…. but I am praying for a miracle.  I don’t want a forever for Israel where her children grow up with guns in their hands.  I don’t want for Israel the constant stress of bomb shelters or emergency sirens.  I have faith Israel can defend herself but I want more for her.  Israel’s first prime minister, Ben Gurion, said “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”  I want the miracle for which Bruriah prayed, that those who seek to hurt change their ways.  I want that which Golda Meir, Ben Gurion, and the great pioneers of Israel dreamed, an Israel at peace with her neighbors.

Yitzhak Rabin said: “We, the soldiers who have returned from battle stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of their parents, we who have come from a land where parents bury their children, we who have fought against you, the Palestinians. We say to you today in a loud and clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough.”

God, our Strength and Protection, we pray for Israel. Watch over Israel, spread Your shelter of peace over the land and over all our brothers and sisters who live there. Shine your light upon Israel. Fill the men and women who defend Israel with wisdom and with Your holy light. Watch over them, God. Hear their prayers. Bring peace, God. Let it rain down from the heavens like a mighty storm. Let it wash away all hatred and bloodshed.
(Based on prayer by Rabbi Naomi Levy)

Rosh Hashanah 2 – 2014 – Elijah’s Message

Our Torah reading today is the story of the binding of Isaac.  The parasha pivots on the angel who stays Abraham’s obedient hand and points to the ram caught by its horns in the thickets. According to midrashic tradition, this specific ram was created by God in advance of the world and sat in heaven waiting for the day of its purpose, the akeda. Nothing of the ram was wasted. His hide became a cloak for Elijah the prophet. His guts became the strings for David’s harp. One horn was used by Moses to announce God’s giving of the ten commandments at Sinai. The other horn will be used by Elijah when he one day announces the coming of the messiah and the time of peace for all humanity in heaven and on earth.[1]

I have found myself recently captivated by Elijah the prophet and his role in Judaism’s theology of end of days. According to tradition, at the end of days, Elijah will ride a white donkey into the walled city of Jerusalem while sounding a shofar and announcing the coming of the mashiach, the messiah, the redeemer. At the time of his shofar blast, humanity will have achieved great spiritual heights, will have almost ended war and violence. In that moment, Elijah will guide us in finishing the work of peace, helping friends and family reunite and ending arguments, as the mashiach enters the gates of Jerusalem.

There are a variety of Jewish beliefs about what happens to our bodies and our souls after death. Some have us joining God in heaven for Talmud study, in others the divine spark given to us at birth returns to God’s essense. I have always loved the teaching of the end of days… that when mashiach comes, the dead will rise and stand before God to be judged. Those who lived righteous lives will live again, those who did not will be as dust. And what do we do in the thousand or so years some will wait from death until the Mashiach comes? God will give them wings and they will fly, says the midrash. I find this very comforting, the idea that my personal destiny is tied to the destiny of all humanity, that there is not only a spiritual place after death, but that beyond that there is a time that peace descends to earth, and all are present.

Judaism is not replete with discussion on death and the end of days… We don’t talk about what happens after death on a weekly basis, the way other religions do. Instead we focus on the mitzvoth… But on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, our liturgy is full of the imagery and vocabulary of end of days: who will live and who will die. Most notable is the Unetaneh Tokef prayer: we will pass before God like sheep pass before the shepherd, the angels will tremble and announce behold it is the day of judgement. God will judge each of us and all is recorded in the book of judgement. These themes were taken from Judaism’s theology about the end of days, the time after the Mashiach comes and all who have passed away arise again, to stand before God for final judgement. The author of the Unetaneh Tokef piyyut applied them to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, on Rosh Hashanah it is written, on Yom Kippur it is sealed, who will live and who will die. A new layer of meaning is created… Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur foreshadow the theme of judgement at the end of days. The final judgement may be after Mashiach comes, but the time of judgement is happening now, with each year, each day, each moment. We are reminded that our lives our finite, our days and hours counted. The prayer asks us to understand each year of life given to us as the precious and limited gift that it is. It foresees that in the coming year some of us will die and but that in this moment we have choice, we have potential, we have life. What will we choose to do with the days, the years, before us?

The prophet Elijah is hidden within the Unetaneh Tokef. He is, as the midrashist would say found in the spaces between the words. He is in the kol d’mah mah dakkah, the still small voice. We read in Unetaneh Tokef “The shofar is sounded, the still small voice is heard.” This is a reference to two traditions about Elijah, the first that he will sound the shofar at the end of days, at the time of judgement. The second the kol d’mah mah dakkah, the still small voice, is taken from a story of Elijah’s encounter with God in the Torah.

Elijah after much service to God, asks to see God’s presence. God tells Elijah to stand upon Mount Sinai, promising that God’s presence would pass by him. The story parallels Moses’s earlier experience. First “a great and strong wind tore the mountains,” and after the wind that broke rocks into pieces, there was an earthquake. And after the earthquake, there was a fire. The text tells us that God not in the wind, nor in the earthquake after it, nor even in the ethereal fire. After the fire, the text tells us, there was the kol d’mah mah dakkah, the still small voice, and that is where God could be found.

That still, small voice beckons us to pay attention. But we only hear it if we listen for it.  It’s the voice of our conscience, the voice of our deepest truths, the voice of our sacred encounter with the Divine.  Our deepest yearning as human beings is to feel God’s presence, and we are prepared to react with joy to the momentous, the miracles, that which trumpets loudly like the shofar…   To be awake to the still, small voice is to embrace the life that we are handed, to be truly present to life God has gifted us.

In a famous midrash, Rabbi Joshua meets Elijah the prophet and asks him: “When will the Mashiach come?” — “Go and ask him yourself” replies Elijah. “Where is he sitting?” — “At the entrance to the city “And by what sign may I recognize him?” — “He is sitting among the poor who are stricken with illness: all of whom untie and retie all the bandages over their sores at the same time, whereas he unties and reties each bandage separately, saying to himself, should I be wanted, I must not be delayed.” So Rabbi Joshua went to the Mashiach and greeted him, saying, “Peace be upon you, Master and Teacher.” “Peace upon thee, O son of Levi,” he replied. “When will you come, Master?” asked he. “Today,” was his answer. On his return, Elijah asked, “What did he say to you?” Rabbi Joshua said: “He spoke falsely to me, he said that he would come today, but has not.” Elijah answered him, “When he told you, “Today” he was quoting from the verse that goes on to say “If you will hear to his voice.” Psalm 95:6   (B. Talmud Sanhedrin 98a)

The theology behind this beautiful midrash is profound. We are told that the power to bring peace and goodness to the world is within our hands, at our very fingertips… that the messiah is waiting to come to us today… if only we hear the still small voice of God. What does it mean to really hear God’s voice? The midrash addresses this too… the mashiach sits among the poor and the ill.

This summer was a difficult one for me. I spent many hours with one of our congregation who was dying of cancer with complications from diabetes. He was in excruciating pain, physical, emotional and spiritual. One evening I visited him before an emergency surgery. He lay there in a neck brace, half his body paralyzed, and deeply fearful. The surgeon visited to explain the operation. I will never forget the decency and humanity of that meeting. Though my friend was struggling to follow the conversation, this doctor looked him right in the eye, held his hand and re-explained the procedure two or three times. He said he would offer a prayer to God before starting the surgery and with that my friend felt peace, and hope. This was a busy man, a doctor, a surgeon, and he found the strength to stop, to quiet the world, to listen for the still small voice of God, and be present for a single individual, a patient, a person. I bless him for this, and I will never forget it.

It is so very difficult to be present for others. So often the noise of our emotions, our stress, our responsibilities, cover us like a tarp, dampening the small tap of the person in need. If we can still ourselves, quiet ourselves, we can hear that still small voice. God is in these small moments, the gifts. We may not succeed each and every time, but we can strive to be present for our families, our neighbors, our community… and with practice, we can hear more often, the still small voice of God.

The Book of Psalms sings: “Pitchu li sha’arey tzedek, Open for me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter and praise God. This is the gate of God, the Righteous may enter therein.” The Rabbis of the Talmud wondered when one would make such a request? This midrash is their answer. When a human being dies, the body is buried in the earth, the soul ascends to heaven. There, the soul is met by the angels who guard the gates of heaven.

The angels ask: What was your occupation in the world?

If you say, In the world, I was a lawyer or a doctor or an executive, in the world I amassed a great deal of power, they will tell you: that’s irrelevant here. But if the souls says, In the world, I fed the hungry; they will say, Zeh ha-sha’ar la’Adonai This is the gate of God, you who fed the hungry may enter.

If the soul says, In the world, I protected the vulnerable, they will say, This is the gate of God, you who protected the vulnerable may enter.

And so too for those care for the abandoned and those who performed acts of hesed, of kindness and love. You who opened your hand and your heart, and did hesed, you may enter God’s gate.


[1] Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer chapt 31


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?


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.