Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Tzedakah, Minhag HaMakom, & Makom Kavuah

Each minyan I attend has it’s own customs. When entering any minyan, my first concern is “Whose seat am I taking?” Synagogue regulars have their spots. They sit in the same place every day, every week, every holiday. This is your regular, fixed place or makom kavua. A makom kavua isn’t set in stone. But people are very attached to their spots. In a new minyan, I’m always worried I may accidentally take someone’s spot. Personally, I hate when b’nei mitzvah families take my space on Shabbat. I have a Shabbat morning space, a Shabbat evening space, and spaces for other days depending on where we’re davenning.  There’s a custom of changing your makom during the year of mourning. Without thinking, I have, at least in our chapel. My space moved from the front to the back. I stand, and I want space around me. The front just doesn’t feel right anymore.

Other customs are whether or not the minyan recites tachanun or certain other t’fillot and when or if tzedakah is collected. Every minyan I’ve ever attended has a tzedakah box (or pushke) for the minytan. In Toronto the pushke seems to be out only at Shacharit. At my childhood shul in Merrick and at the minyan here in Monroe, NJ the pushke is out at every (non-Shabbat or holiday) service. Some also have pushkes at breakfast. Others do not. Then there is whether the minyan actively asks or simply leaves it to peer pressure. Does someone take the pushke around to everyone there, shaking lightly to rattle the coins inside? Who takes the pushke? I’ve always wondered how it’s decided. And, when do you do this? Just before Barechu? After the repetition of the Amidah or after the Torah service? In places where the pushke is simply left on a table, is that table towards the front where everyone can see, or is it more private? When one person gives (there’s still the custom of when), others seem to follow. It’s like a choreographed dance, but I have no idea who is directing? Then of course, what to give? Is it one coin, multiple coins, or bills? Does a yahrtzeit warrant more? What about minyan regulars?

It’s all just one more part of the culture of the tribe.

Shabbat shalom.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Haunting Me

Those of you who knew my father, know he loved to give us stuff. Whenever we drove home I would make lists of the things that accompanied us so I could tell customs exactly what we had to declare. We brought home looseleaf page reinforcements, glue, alcohol wipes, vitamins, comics (weeks and weeks of comics), spices, juice, shampoo, anything he overbought or came across. 

When we were in NJ for Daddy’s funeral, Keren came home with a bag he’d put together of comics he’d been saving since July. (He also saved newspapers for me to read even though I read most of them online.) This week, while cleaning after a multi-bathroom renovation, I discovered the comics, still here over three months later, divided between Gavi’s and Keren’s rooms. As I unpacked the bag from Keren’s room, still filled with comics, I discovered more: A small stuffed pill (from his dialysis center) saying “Meds Matter,” A machzor from 1931 (Dad’s been trying to pass these old siddurim and machzorim on for many years), a bag of buttons (the pin kind) mostly from charities and companies, but also ones that say, “Shalom,” “Bald is Beautiful,” and “Moynihan *88 Rally,” and a canister of Diamond kosher salt. 

Thanks Daddy for saying goodbye. I love you.UIKeyInputUpArrow

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Time and Forgetfulness

It’s been too long since I’ve written. A trip to Israel. Bathroom renovations in full swing. Normally you wouldn’t do a major renovation during this year, but it was arranged before Daddy died, just delaying the start. Amidst everything else, amidst minyan schedules and balancing time, Kaddish, and children, we have 3/4 of our bathrooms under construction. It had to happen, but seems odd. I want to talk to Daddy about our plans, to get his opinions. He always had great ideas. I want to hear them, even if he won’t agree with some of our plans. I know there’s something he wouldn’t like. Likely I wouldn’t change it. It may even be an arguement about our choices. But I want to hear anyway. I find myself saying, “Daddy would have liked this;” or “I think Daddy might have thought this was nutty.” I tell him, but he doesn’t answer.

Amazingly sometimes life seems normal. I forget that he’s gone. I go about my day as if he’s still there. I’ll call him later. We’ll talk, maybe for hours, maybe he’ll say he’s tired. Then I remember he’s gone. I won’t call him. I can’t speak with him. “Wow,” I think, “that happened. For just a little while I forgot. Life seemed normal.” And then it feels so very not normal. Pricisely because it did.

There are even moments when we get to Kaddish, even though that’s precisely why I’m in synagogue, I forget to say it. Kaddish begins. I hear a few words, and suddenly I realize that I’m quiet when I should be reciting these words. And I jump in, quickly catching up. “Yitgadal v’yitgadash she’mei rabah...” How could I have forgotten?! I’m only 2 1/2 months in. There’s so long to go. Maybe, for just that very moment, my life returned to pre-November when t’fillot was simply prayer. And maybe my mind wandered, thinking of happier moments.

Time seems to flow forward and back upon itself, changing speed and direction.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Year of Mourning - Travelling & Kaddish

I’m in Israel. I’m here on a MERCAZ Olami retreat. It was the next step in my slowly re-entering the world. It’s not so easy. I really wasn’t ready to leave. Normally I am totally organized. I have a packing list, and I pack early. Yet there I was, hours before I had to leave, trying to get organized in between bouts of crying. I thought I was past spontaneous crying, but clearly not.

“It’s too soon.” That’s how I felt. Too soon to travel. Too soon to be away from the comfort of my family. Too soon not to hug my children every night. Keren tearfully said, “Eema don’t go.” But I had no choice.

The benefit of being scattered was the focus of a lack of time. Rushing from house to car to check in to the gate. On to the plane. Finally breathe. Oh wait, no. There was work to do. I had teaching to finish. So the plane ride, with some sleep, was focused on fleshing out my teaching, having emailed the texts only minutes before leaving.

Of course there’s the Kaddish issue. While there will be a minyan on the plane, reciting Kaddish with that crowd simply wasn’t an option. I debated reciting Kaddish, counting the Jews on the plane without their consent.  Instead I recited El Malei Rachamim for my father, davenning as if I wasn’t surrounded by Jews. And again in the morning, part of me feeling antagonistic and wondering just how much shit I would stir up if I were to stand and don my tallit and tefillin. I was saved by some turbulence and a descent, I’d slept too long. Barely time to pray. Another El Malei. Tallit and tefillin back at the house.

A mere 9 1/2 hours later we were descending. Tears again came into my eyes. Of course I always cry when I land in Israel. I wondered, is this my normal crying or something more? Brucha haba’ah. Welcome to Israel. Wait in line a mob for over an hour to get through customs. To My cousins' for Shabbat. Thank God I have a home here to go to. It’s a comfort to have someplace familiar, but I still wondered about Kaddish. The shul is Orthodox, and though I’d been there dozens of times, I couldn’t remember ever hearing a woman recite Kaddish.

I showered and dressed for Shabbat, and made my way up the hill for Mincha and Kaddish. In the balcony I said the words I say every day, and NO ONE ANSWERED! Not a single woman standing around me answered with “Amen.” Again for Ma’ariv, for Shacharit, for Musaf, for Mincha.... No one answered. At Mincha on Shabbat I arrived early and found myself in a tsofim (scouts) minyan. Unlike the regular t’fillot, few girls upstairs davenned. They gossipped. They giggled. They walked in and out. And then, they stopped. They looked. Did they listen? Maybe. But still no one answered. What a comfort to get to the Conservative Yeshiva on Sunday to be surrounded by others who, while mostly strangers to me, supported my recitation of Kaddish, standing quietly with me and saying “Amen” strongly and clearly. At these minyanim I am supported in my recitation. With my colleagues from MERCAZ Olami, I feel bolstered by their presence. I cannot express how thankful I am to this group for their spiritual embrace, thankful for their presence.

At the Knesset Monday my father is in my heart and my mind. Daddy instilled in me my love of Israel and my belief in democracy. I sit listening to the MKs who come to speak to and with us. I am privileged to ask a question of MK Yuli Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset, and I credit my father’s lessons in my words asking about parity in funding for religious services. Mr. Edelstein is not receptive. To me he seems in denial, believing nothing has gotten worse at the Kotel. He’s wrong. I have photographic proof and personal experience.

From the Knesset to the Kotel, where I davenned Mincha as the shatz, breaking down during Kaddish Yatom, tears streaming, my voice cracking. I was enveloped by the warmth of my community. Hugs. Someone who knew my dad telling me how proud he would have been.

Today is a day of celebration. Tu B’Shevat and the 40th anniversary of the Masorti Movement in Israel. We have spent a day in learning, sharing ideas and passions. Another experience of Kaddish here with hundreds of Jews around me, reciting with a couple of others and the great crowd answering.

Each minyan, each experience is so unique.

Tu B’Shevat sameach.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Year in Mourning- Tears Return

Emotions are messy. You get into a routine, and you think, “I’m handling this. I’m doing okay.” Then, 45 steps backward. That was today (technically yesterday, as it’s 1:06 am).

I actually got to sleep at a somewhat reasonable time Tuesday night, so I woke before my alarm. Still, I can’t shake this amazing sense of fatigue that comes over me each day. Sometimes in the morning, just an hour or so after I wake up. Mostly in the afternoon while transitioning from work to home.

Today was a morning day. I was overcome just as we were leaving the house. The in minyan a new face, a friend who just got up from shiva. He too is dropping off a child at school , and coming to the well-timed Beth Emeth minyan, not his regular shul, for morning Kaddish. During t’fillot I thought about my upcoming trip to Israel for 9 days. There still so much to do, and more that simply won’t get done. At work I got the news of another friend whose mother-in-law died today. She lost her husband already, and had a special relationship with her mother-in-law. I’ll miss the shiva because of my trip. I really just want to sit with her, and hold her hand.

I visited with a friend this afternoon. It’s her mother’s yahrtzeit.

My daughter doesn’t want to to go. It’s too soon. She’s right. It is. I know by the waves of tears that returned today. But I have a conference, and the world doesn’t stop because I’m in mourning. It doesn’t stop just because part of my world did. No, it keeps spinning, tearing open the wound afresh. But each time the hole is a little smaller. It scabs over a little faster.

So tomorrow I’ll board a plane to Israel. I expect I’ll cry a lot. In the airport. On the plane. In Israel. At my cousins’ home. And so many other places. But it’ll be okay because it has to be.

My daughter said, “Papa would say, ‘Stop moping.’” “I’m not moping Daddy. I’m just sad.”