The Stories We Tell Ourselves

We tell many stories throughout the Jewish holiday cycle. Narratives of our ancestors’ journeys, their accomplishments, and their challenges; historical victories and  devastations – these and more are retold.

Living and telling our story is a central component of Passover. We gather with family, friends, and community for a meal in which we tell (and eat) our meta-story of redemption. We add personal and family stories to the printed haggadah (the seder book itself is called a “telling”) and thus we add meaning and layers.  (Remember the year that we opened the door for Elijah and a stray animal came in the house? Remember the year you were for allowed to drink wine instead of grape juice and how you felt? Remember when…..)

Telling our stories – communal, familial, and personal – is powerful. The weight and impact may magnify for difficult stories. Stories can push us to confront our weaknesses, to address pain, to acknowledge what we need to grieve. Telling may challenge us.

It is when telling challenges us that possibilities are especially potent. Framing a painful family moment differently may bring new understanding. Telling what others need to hear (but don’t want to hear) may bring relief. (Thus is only possible if the environment is safe.)

As we prepare our homes and hearts for Passover, think about what stories you want to tell, which ones you need to tell, and which ones you need to hear.

Act – Engage with Yourself

Today is the second day of Elul. I’m inspired (as are many others) by the writing and teaching that Imabima continues to do, including coordinating #BlogElul once again this year.  I’m not quite sure how she has the time and energy to do this, for she is a full-time mom, full-time rabbi, full-time spouse, and (as she said) things are a “bit rough” in her world.

Phyllis (Imabima) provided the prompt of “act” for today’s #BlogElul, and so I decided to finally act and return to posting on this blog.  Since I have last posted much has changed in my personal life.  I’ve gotten married and given birth to a son.   I have remained active on twitter and facebook over the past few years, but left this blog quiet.

Elul is a month for introspection, reflection, improvement, and preparation.  Each of these elements requires us to take the time and have the courage to engage with ourselves, to look within, be honest, and do the hard work.  It is not easy to do this.  Perhaps we can take courage from the opening and closing words of Psalm 27, the Psalm we recite daily during this month:

“Adonai is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear…” and “Be strong and let your heart take courage.”

May each of us have the courage to act and fully engage in the introspection, reflection, improvement, and preparation which will help us be fully ready for the Days of Awe.

The Mitzvah of Voting

On the way to work this morning, we voted.  To me, voting is a privilege, responsibility, and a mitzvah.  The act of voting connects us directly with our local, state and national society because we are participating.  We say to ourselves and our neighbors that whether we like our choices, we take part.

Far too many people were unable to take part in the past.  Women, minorities, and ex-cons are among the people whose voices have been silenced.  Some are trying to silence voices this year, in 2012.  I believe that we owe it to our personal and communal ancestors to vote, because too many of them were unable to do so.  Can you imagine a conversation with a great (or great great) grandmother and telling her “sorry, I don’t want to vote because of X, Y, or Z?” She herself may have been of voting age in the early 1900s, but she was not allowed to do so as a woman.

Voting is a mitzvah, an obligation/commandment when we study the Talmudic text “din d’ malchuta dina” (the law of the land is the law) found in tractate Nedarim 28a.  This principle, found a number of times in rabbinic text, helps us know that Jews must follow the local law in all cases except where doing so directly contradicts halachah (Jewish law).  While voting is not required in America, it is an important part of participating in the law of the land.

I hope that voting fills you with pride and hope for the future.

Mourning during the Three Weeks

We are about to finish the Three Week period of time when many Jews remember the period of time between the breach of the walls of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Some Jews choose to follow mourning customs during the weeks, restricting entertainment, music, and celebrations.  (More information in a My Jewish Learning article.)

This year, for the first time, I have been a personal mourner during these weeks. Mourning the sudden death of my mother-in-law has been a challenge.  This loss has been different and harder than any other I’ve experienced. As during previous losses, the rhythms, rituals and concepts of Jewish mourning guide and comfort us.

I’ve felt a bit disconnected with the communal/historical mourning for our losses so many years ago (we mourn not only for the losses of the Temples but many tragedies that befell the Jewish people on and around Tisha B’Av – like the onset of the Inquisition).  Perhaps it is that our personal loss is too consuming right now to have a wider perspective.  Perhaps it is because handling work, moving, grieving, the “work” that comes with a death, worrying about my husband, and the daily stuff of life is enough.  Perhaps it is something else that I haven’t been able to identify yet.

Have you had a similar experience where a personal loss has changed your connection to a communal commemoration or celebration?

On Munich & London

I’ve been thinking about the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who were murdered during the Munich Olympics 40 years ago.  They traveled to the games in the olympic spirit, to perform and coach at their best and instead they were brutally murdered in an act of terrorism.

I am disgusted and saddened that International Olympic Committee staunchly refuses to allow even one minute – 60 seconds – of silence to acknowledge the tragedy, to remember the lessons (hopefully) learned from it and to honor the lives lost.  One minute of a 3-hour opening ceremony is not a great sacrifice.  Such minutes of silence have been done during opening ceremonies.

I encourage you to read an article in Tablet Magazine by scholar and professor Deborah Lipstat titled “Jewish Blood Is Cheap: The real reason the Olympic Committee refuses to commemorate the Israeli athletes murdered in Munich.”

A number of years ago, I had the honor of meeting Daniel Alon, Israeli Olympian and Fencer.  A member of the ’72 Israeli team, he was in an apartment in the athletes village that was not immediately overtaken by the terrorists.  He and a few others were able to escape from the hostage-takers and survive.  Mr. Alon spoke at Miami University, sharing his story with students, faculty, staff and community members, telling of their horror, the loss of their teammates and friends, and the pain of the denial of the tragedy by the olympic officials.  (Read more in the Miami Student report.)

I usually watch the olympics and cheer for the athletes.  I admire their dedication, perseverance and talent.  The olympic ideal of sport above politics has potential to make an impact on the world.  How sad it is that the olympic officials themselves have chosen politics over the olympic ideals.

Because of the blatant disregard by the IOC for the spirit of the games, the dedication of the athletes and the importance of honoring all participants – - I will not watch these olympic games.

More info:
What happened in Munich
- Details of the events “Munich Massacre” (Wikipedia)
- “What Went Wrong in Munich” (Tablet Magazine)

Remembering the Athletes and Coaches
- The Fellowship

May the memories of those lost be an inspiration.

From Joy to Sadness

Our family gathered for joy 3 weeks ago as my husband and I were married under the huppah.  Now we gather again, this time to bury my mother-in-law.  She died suddenly and unexpectedly this weekend.

Job’s words keep echoing through my mind, “the L0rd giveth and the L0rd taketh, blessed be the name of the L0rd.” The last time we saw Ma (as I called her) we were beaming with joy, celebrating, dancing, laughing, planning for the future.  None of us imagined that was our last time seeing her.

Thanks for keeping our family in your thoughts and prayers during these difficult days.

A Bit of Personal News

I’ve been quiet (too quiet) on the blog lately. Part of the reason is my exciting news – - I am engaged to be married! I met a wonderful, incredible person about a year and a half ago. We began as friends and started dated nine months ago. Now we are engaged and planning a summer wedding.

I continued to be amazed at the wonderful and beautiful gift of falling in love. I am a lucky lucky woman.