Friday, December 19, 2014

A Reflection on Chanukah

(remarks I am making at services tonight):

It is tempting to think that Chanukah means something different for kids than it does for grownups. After all, we are older, wiser, more learned, and can read. My daughter is convinced that chocolate coins are a Chanukah ritual on par with lighting the candles.

Yes, as grown ups, we know that there are two stories—a story of miraculous military victory and a story of miraculously burning oil. We know that there are complicated notions of assimilation, oppression, and what it means to have religious freedom. We know that we are supposed to publicize the miracle, making this about lights (not about presents).

So, as we prepare for this Chanukah service, I would offer that even if our understanding of Chanukah is a little more evolved than the younger generation’s, both of us have something to learn from one another:

As we welcome this Shabbat of Chanukah, may we remember that as we have much to teach to our children, we also have much to learn from them.

When we light the candles, knowing that the story of the oil lasting for 8 nights came much later than the story of the military victory…may we remember that it doesn’t always matter which came first, which one is right, or whether it is true…sometimes the story is  a good story, and that’s enough.

When we bless miracles that happened then and now, may we remember with a child’s sense of wonder that miracles are present in our world if we look and define in the right way.

When we celebrate Chanukah amidst a predominantly Christmas-focused society, let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that we outgrow the challenge of being a minority.

When we eat the latkes, the sufganiyot, the chocolate coins…let’s not talk about our diets just for a minute and instead pretend we have a child’s metabolism. And then take a walk.

When we give and receive gifts, let’s remember that while Chanukah is not really about presents, they’re fun and that’s okay at any age.

When we look at the Chanukah candles, glowing with increasing light each night, we pray that we increase in holiness, from childhood to adulthood, from year to year, from day to day. And let us remember that we can bring light to the world at any age and in so many ways. Let us never dismiss the smallest lights among us.

Let us remember that Chanukah is a time for pride, for freedom, for believing in miracles in those days and in ours. It isn’t that complicated, it isn’t that hard, and we have 8 days to try to get it right each year.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Chocolate vs. Candles

This morning I found myself in a debate with my 3 1/2 year old daughter. When I said that Chanukah starts tomorrow evening and we'll have fun lighting candles and exchanging gifts, she said, "And eating chocolate coins." I said, "Well, we can do that too, but we're going to have so much fun playing dreidel and eating latkes," and she said, "And eating chocolate coins." In a last-ditch effort to emphasize the true meaning of Chanukah, I said, "The only thing we have to do is light the candles--the rest is just fun." And she replied, "But we have to eat chocolate coins."

At her Jewish preschool, and then at a Chanukah event at a Jewish day school, my daughter tasted chocolate coins. Now, it is abundantly clear that more than candles, latkes, and gifts, the true spirit of Chanukah can be expressed through chocolate.

This entire day I have been wrestling with that all-important parenting question: Why do I care? It is not the measure of my worth as a Jewish mother or rabbi whether my preschooler cares more about chocolate coins than lighting the candles. I have to trust that she will enjoy the aspects of the holiday as they unfold--candles, foods, gifts, programs with our Temple, dinners with friends. Chocolate coins will be just one part of a constellation of treats and joys during these eight days.

My answer, as best I can figure, is that I forget she is only 3. She speaks so clearly, seems to understand (or at least hear) so much, so I find myself surprised when she says something that is so clearly her age.

I could make this about me, or I could make this about her. This is probably the first Chanukah she will really remember--so I'm going to make it fun, special, and truly on her level. I imagine that if I make this a fun Chanukah for her, it will be my best Chanukah yet!

Now, you can be sure I am off to the store to buy some chocolate coins :-)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

32 Ideas for Making Chanukah Meaningful and Fun

Last night, we had a program hosted by our interfaith committee entitled, "How-To Chanukah: Filling Eight Nights with Meaning and Fun." The reality is that all of us, whether we identify as interfaith or not, sometimes struggle to make eight nights interesting and to make the holiday more than candles, gifts, and fried food.

I find it helpful to remember that Chanukah does not need to be hours of celebration every night. For many of us, Chanukah is a 20-30 minute experience (if that). Keep in mind the idea of quality over quantity and remember that the minimum to fulfill the mitzvah is to light the Chanukiah each night.

Further, as much as possible, let's not get into the "Chanukah is just as good as Christmas" competition. Chanukah is not Jewish Christmas and if it were at a different time of year it probably would not be such a big deal in our communities. Instead, let's celebrate Chanukah for what it is. It is a holiday centered around the themes of miracles, light, dedication, Jewish pride, freedom...and oil. It is a holiday that allows us to participate in the broader society through gift-giving, donating, celebrating, and lights. It is one of the only holidays we can celebrate by ourselves in our homes if we so choose. Personally, I appreciate the flexibility of Chanukah. Each night, each year, I can make it what my family needs it to be. Some nights it is a "big deal," and some nights, it is just lighting candles and returning to the weekday joys of dinner, bath, and bedtime.

So, as we all start to think about what we want to do for eight nights of Chanukah this year, I offer you a list of 32 ideas (which could get you through the next four years) compiled at our program last night:

1.       Connect with friends or family (skype or facetime the candlelighting or make time for an extended conversation)
2.       Homemade gifts night
3.       Craft night (do a project, make decorations for your home, go paint pottery)
4.       Game night
5.       Volunteer
6.       Donate (go shopping for gifts for a child in need or spend time researching charitable organizations to make a donation)
7.       See some lights (your neighbors’ lights or more official displays)
8.       Go to a public Chanukiah lighting
9.       Have friends over for dinner
10.   Tell the Chanukah story or watch it on a movie
11.   Make a Chanukah music playlist (Adam Sandler, anyone?)
12.   See how many things you can fry (yes, that's a fried Oreo)

13.   Focus on Israel (give gifts made in Israel, eat Israeli food, etc)
14.   Do an act of social justice (find a rally or meeting around a cause important to you, write a letter to a legislator)
15.   Light some sparklers
16.   Movie Night
17.   Tasting Night (pick an item such as chocolate or wine and taste as many varieties as the night of Chanukah)
18.   Go for Chinese food
19.   Try making a Jewish food you’ve never tried or from a different part of the world
20.   Give Jewish gifts (items of Judaica, books, etc)
21.   Star Wars Night (because lightsabres fit with “festival of lights”)
22.   Pet night (give your pets a gift, and maybe a bath, too)
23.   Focus on your health (take a walk before lighting candles, do some kind of exercise)
24.   Build a Lego Chanukiah (but don’t light it)
25.   Do a “White Elephant” gift exchange with friends
26.   Attend a Chanukah dinner at your Temple
27.   Try making latkes, especially unique varieties

28.   Bring in takeout—you need a break from cooking!
29.   Have your kids “invite” a stuffed animal or doll for the candlelighting (but keep them away from the flames)
30.   Go through toys or clothes and donate items that aren’t being used in your home now
31.   Write a letter or a card to a friend or family member (because nothing replaces “real mail”)
32.   Arrange to spend a night of Chanukah with someone who doesn’t have family around or offer to drive someone to services during Chanukah who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend

I hope that you and your loved ones have a very happy Chanukah!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Rainbow, Equality, and Our Children

This month, our family had the opportunity to do two social justice opportunities together. The first was the Atlanta Pride Parade, where we walked with 180 other people representing the Jewish community's support of LGBT equality. This was our daughter's third time in the parade, and our son's first.

Then, this week, Micah and I joined with other clergy in standing in support of marriage equality at a rally hosted by Georgia Equality, asking the state's Attorney General to stop defending the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. We didn't realize we would be standing behind the podium for the rally and had brought our children. No matter--our family, not just the two rabbis, stood in support (remarkably quiet due to the apple slices and lollipops in my bag--look to the left of the podium).

On the drive home, I reflected with my daughter on our "special mitzvah". She wanted more information so I said, "You know from school that there are many kinds of families. Some people have a mommy and a daddy, some people have just a mommy or just a daddy, and some people have two mommies or two daddies." She replied, "I saw two mommies there." I said, "I did too! That's why were there, to say that all families are special." For my 3 1/2 year old daughter, that made perfect sense.

So many people get nervous about explaining homosexuality or same-sex marriage to their children. I would offer that, just like any other topic in life, if we focus on the basic truths for us and answer the questions being asked, we create an open dialogue and build understanding. I would ask each parent to consider how they explain marriage between a man and a woman to their child, how they help their children to know that single parent-families are families too, and then build messages around this. 

In our home, we say all people are special and all families are special. And, at preschool Shabbat this week, teaching the story of Noah, I focused on the image of the rainbow. We counted all the colors represented there, how each had their space and could be seen in the rainbow. In the same way, all people should be seen and loved and given their space, too, because we were all created by and in the image of God.

While this is the preschool-friendly way of explaining diversity, and we will continue to layer more information as appropriate and requested, the reality is that the truth will never change. We will never tell our kids: "Hey, remember when we told you that all people are special and made in the image of God? Well, that was just because you were little." Instead, we can use this idea of all people are equal and deserving of respect to explain racial, religious, and ethnic diversity, why some people are in wheelchairs or have special needs, and any other questions our children's ever-developing brains bring to us. By the time they are adults forming their own opinions, it is our hope that they will always come back to this message, remembering that from their youngest ages, they stood for equality, dignity, and the hope for a better world.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Rabbi's Prayer for the High Holy Days

As a congregational rabbi, there is this pressure to make the High Holy Days perfect. As someone I work with says, "The company is coming!" Our entire staff, from those in charge of the physical plant to those responsible for administration to our educators to our clergy, is busily preparing for the High Holy Days (HHD). It is an overwhelming task to prepare for these sacred days and we want to make sure it is the best experience for our community.

For me, it is important to enter these sacred days intentionally and recognize their significance--both how big they are and how quickly they pass. So, as I enter this final week of preparation, this is my prayer:

O God, I pray that I will enter this season of repentance feeling the fullness of blessings and the awareness of my growing edges.

I pray I will have the internal strength to admit my failings to those I love and respect.

I pray I will have the confidence in myself to step back from my preparation to be home with my family as much as possible, because the work is never done and my family depends upon me too.

I pray I will be able to be mindful and present in the liturgy of these holy days, remembering that to be a rabbi is not to be a performer and I seek to be with the congregation, not above it.

I pray I will remember that the sum total of our Judaism, my rabbinate, or any one congregation is not this one season, but the entire year.

As I pray that this year will be one of blessing and peace, may I be ever mindful that I must act and live in a way to make that a reality.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Awakening: Everything in its Time

To be the parent of a ten month-old is to be in "watching and waiting" mode. We're watching for tooth #3, we're watching for allergies as he tries new foods, we're watching for signs that he'll pull up, and we're watching for a more even pattern of crawling. Each of these things is, in their own way, an awakening. To watch a (thank God) healthy child's brain wake up in a different way each day, showing another step on the journey of development, is to experience a depth of gratitude and awe unlike anything I have ever experienced.

Yet, waiting for each thing to awaken in its time requires patience and faith. I received a video of my son crawling at day care yesterday. I was delighted to see that he crawled almost across the entire classroom to reach his favorite toy because his crawling is progressing slowly. But I watched as he crawled awkwardly, slithering along using one arm more than the other. I found myself internally whispering, "Wake up...come on, just move your other arm."

Am I worried about him? No, he is a delightfully healthy and sweet baby. I have come to realize that I am just a little impatient sometimes and then lose the faith that everything will unfold in its time (and if it doesn't, we'll cross that bridge when it comes). Every baby website preys upon this part of parents: "just read this and you'll know if everything is normal." Upon reflection, though, I realize that I don't need him to be "normal." What is that concept anyway? What I want is for him to be healthy and to grow in his unique way--not his older sister's way, not the internet's way, but his way. And, I pray that I can find the patience to watch it unfold, to see each piece of his brain, his body, and his soul awaken and connect with us and the world. If I can sit with that patience, and the gratitude and awe which comes with celebrating this awakening, then I will truly love my son as he is, and I will be closer to being the mother I aspire to be.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Listening and Balancing

The Hebrew word for balance is izun, related to the word ozen  (ear), which makes sense since physical balance is linked to our ears. 

Internal balance, I believe, is also related to our ears. When we are in balance, we are hearing the competing voices and making sense of them. When we are out of balance, something isn't being heard or given its space. When I find myself out of balance, I know that something is crying out but I cannot listen to it. Sometimes that "something" is my children, asking for my attention. Sometimes it is my work, crammed into less time than it deserves because there are other things happening. Sometimes it is me, with needs for health or space that are not being honored. 

Each of us has these voices. The question is how well we listen and how we assign them priority and space. It is not realistic to expect that everything gets heard and fulfilled as we each have limited resources (time being the most precious). Yet, balance is not static. Each day we can listen differently and find a new sense of balance. The more we envision balance as fluid, the more forgiving and flexible we can become.

As I approach the new year, I am praying for the ability to listen. To hear myself, those around me, the voices that are often easily missed in the chaos of life...and in that listening, to find balance. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Carrying Forward A Legacy

Last week, I was in Baltimore where most of my mother's family is buried. We were actually there for my brother's wedding, yet since we are so rarely in Baltimore, it seemed appropriate to take the morning to go to the cemetery as a family.

As I was preparing my three year-old for the visit, I explained that a cemetery is a place where we remember those we love. It is a mitzvah to visit a cemetery and place stones on the graves. So, when we arrived at the cemetery, my daughter immediately set upon the task of finding enough stones for everyone. She was eager to place them where we said and was excited to "do a mitzvah."

I invited her to come over to her great-grandmother Irene's headstone. I was very close to my grandmother and my daughter was named for her. I pointed to the name Irene and asked, "Who do you know who has Irene in her name?" "Me!" my daughter proclaimed. This gave me an opportunity to say that she was named for someone who was brave, who loved family, and who was very special to her mommy and her Savta (grandmother). 

Standing in that cemetery, I was struck by how much my daughter does embody parts of my grandmother. I thought about how my grandmother would always raise her hands in excitement when I arrived for a visit, and how my daughter uses her hands when she wants to make a strong point. I think of my daughter's love of nail polish and how my grandmother did her best to keep a manicure. I think of how my grandmother, when she went into hospice, lamented how she would never see my children. Yet, 6 1/2 years later, I believe she does get to see her children in some way. I could feel in this moment of memory how delighted she would be in them, and in me as a mother. 

When we name our children for family, we are endowing them with a legacy. We are hoping and praying that they will take on the positive qualities of those we love and will maintain a memory for our entire family. In a way, we fulfill an obligation to remember our loved ones by passing on their name, and all that represents. The name, though, is only the first part. It is the stories, the memories, the "wow, your grandma used to do that" moments, that invite our children to actively carry forward this legacy. If we only say, "You were named for our relative," we miss the opportunity to make our children the bearer of a piece of history. 

I stood at the grave of my great-aunt Florence. She was my grandmother's favorite sister and died young. My mother chose to name me for Florence (which is why my name is spelled the way it is). Yet, that's the sum total of the stories I know about Aunt Florence. I never really thought to ask. For my daughter, I had the opportunity to start telling the stories about Grandma Irene in a way that makes sense to a preschooler. I hope that, with time, she will not only know why she was named for Irene, but what her great-grandmother meant to me. My stories will become hers, and then Irene Hurwitz Pollock's legacy and memory truly becomes a blessing. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

God is like...

At bedtime last week, as we prepared to sing bedtime Shema, my daughter asked why we say this prayer at night. I said, "Because we are asking God to watch over us." Then came the obvious question, "What's God?"

How does one explain God to a three year old, who still can't separate "today," "tomorrow," and "yesterday," or other abstract concepts? tried a few approaches: "God is something we can't see but can much bigger than all of us." I then received the question, "Is God a rabbi?" I tried again: "God is like love." Then I said, "God is in our good choices." And then I realized I should exit gracefully: "Let's sing the Shema."

I've spent the nights since then reflecting upon what I know as a rabbi about teaching God and what I now as a parent realize about teaching my children about God and faith. 

When teaching our children about God, the first step as parents is to know what God is to each of us. Everything I said to my daughter about God was true. I do believe that God is present but invisible, felt strongly in the relationships we have, expressed in the choices we make. I feel God's presence as gratitude, the overwhelming feeling of blessing as I look at my children and so many areas of my life. If we as parents don't have a clear sense of some basic truths for us with regard to faith, we will not be able to approach this from a place of confidence or authenticity. 

The next step is to model that knowing. In the moment my daughter asked me about God, I naively thought that I could give one answer that would make perfect sense. She's three, though, and her understanding of faith is more closely tied to her understanding of the parent-child relationship. She can't understand God the way I do....but she can understand that I have faith in God. She can understand that we pray. She can understand that we believe in something greater than ourselves. More powerful than any conversation is what she watches me and others do. 

Those little eyes and ears notice everything! There is a lot of pressure to make sure that what she sees and hears are positive messages. Yet, I would like to think that all of us strive to acheive the best within us, doing our part to bring goodness to this world. So, perhaps this is just another blessing children can bring to our lives--they can be the mirror that reflects who we are and inspires us to be better. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A Blessing For A Healthy Child

Today brought our daughter's 3 year and our son's 6 month physicals. It was entertaining to anticipate this visit to the doctor with our daughter. She had a list of the things she learned in school about doctor's visits and interacted beautifully with the nurse and doctor. Even the little hemoglobin stick didn't bug her. She watched her brother get some vaccines and was appropriate sympathetic. All in all, a good visit.

Every child has their growth areas, and ours are no exception. Certainly there are a few things to work on, but we left with fundamentally healthy children, particularly our daughter who doesn't need to come back until she's four!

When a child comes into the world, we "count their fingers and toes" and are grateful that he or she is healthy. I believe that gratitude needs to continue to be present in our minds and hearts after that initial concern. Every physical with a clean bill of health, every medical issue that can be easily resolved, every challenge that is manageable....this is a moment of blessing and thanksgiving. While I sit here this evening knowing that there could one day be something life-threatening which emerges in one of our children, surprising us and tearing our world apart (we've all heard the stories), I address that fear with acknowledgement of the blessing in this moment of healthy children. In that spirit, I offer this prayer for all of us who are so blessed:

Dear God, thank You for my child and for the good health he/she enjoys. I know that there are many children who are gravely ill, one of the deepest mysteries we have to face as human beings. I don't know why I am blessed with this healthy child, but I want You to know that I am so grateful. Help me each day to appreciate my child's health and growth, to put our struggles in perspective, and to never take the resources we have for granted. Make this next year one of health and strength for my child and for our family. Bless us with wholeness and peace. Amen. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Frozen Effect

With my princess-loving three year-old daughter, our house has fallen captive to the Frozen craze. Every day is a new opportunity to dress up as Princess Anna or Queen Elsa, to knock on a door and ask, "Do you wanna build a snowman?", and get excited about "coronation day." While I have read many articles and blogs about the phenomenon that is Frozen, including the positives and drawbacks of the two princesses, I overall think this is a great, entertaining movie. For all of its shortcomings, it does send a message of confidence and that sibling love is true love, too.

Yet, Frozen has blown a chill wind into our house as well. Recently I observed to a friend that, in the past few weeks, our daughter has worried that we are leaving her when we do multiple trips to the car before leaving in the morning, she is now complaining about the wind, and most recently, refuses to "be cold." The friend replied, "Oh, all major themes in Frozen."

Some of this, particularly some of the worry of being left behind, is normal three year-old behavior. She is trying to make sense of the world around her, and this is just part of that development. I also know, though, that my friend is right and this is could absolutely be from watching Frozen.

What I realized is that I watch Frozen with my daughter and we talk about some of it, but I have shied away from the scene when the parents go away and don't return. I have focused on the positive themes of sibling love, helping, being trustworthy...and not talked about the scary parts like dying parents or frozen sisters.

Fairy tales and princess stories often have scary parts in them because they respond and address the fears we all feel. How often do we really process them with our children?

This weekend, when it is time for our weekly viewing of a Disney movie (and I know it will be Frozen), I'm going to be pausing the movie at different parts and asking my daughter what she sees and feels. Maybe it will turn out that this is all just three year-old stuff, not anything related to the movie. Regardless, it will be a growing experience for me as a parent, opening up the difficult conversations I'm not sure we need to have. If I don't try, though, I'll never know!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

This is the day, and the love, that God created

There are many things which vie for "coolest thing a rabbi gets to do." Clergy of all faiths are blessed with the opportunity to be present for people in so many of life's sacred moments. We are entrusted with information and to make these holy moments resonant, special, and full of meaning.

One of the most special things I am honored to do is to officiate at weddings. While often an officiant is a choice made after venue, date, and obviously, partner, an officiant is a critical part of a wedding. To those who may be reading who are not yet married, remember this when you plan your wedding. The officiant is the person who helps you prepare for this moment, who walks you through this moment, and should be someone who you feel knows you well enough to support you in this moment. It is such a privilege to stand with a couple after months of meetings and premarital counseling, aware of what potential exists for them on their wedding day, and make it sacred for them. 

Someone said to me recently, "Weddings are fundamentally all the same..." It is true--there are many unifying elements of a wedding. Yet each couple is different. Each couple represents the joining of two families, many stories and generations, and is unlike anyone else who stood under the chuppah before. White dresses, DJs, caterers...they can be repeated. Yet, there are no two wedding ceremonies which are alike.

 When we see two people join hands and look at one another with the awe that they found one another and the humility that they have the rest of their lives to spend together...we are brought back to our own wedding days, the promises we have made and the time that has passed, or anticipate our own time under the chuppah. I remember when I watched my then-fiance officiate his friend's wedding weeks before our own. My father-in-law-to-be reached over during the vows and squeezed my hand. Both of us were feeling the amazing anticipation of what would unfold just a few weeks later.

As I write this, Micah and I are preparing to officiate his youngest brother's wedding. This couple knew each other in high school and reconnected years later. They are the story of amazing coincidences and circumstances and "right place at the right time"--they are beshert. We will say to them in just a few days that, as the psalmist wrote, "This is the day that God has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." Truly, this is not only the day, but the love, that God has created. It is unique and special and to me represents the presence of the Divine in our world. And as we officiate, Micah and I will be reminded of the vows we made to one another 8 1/2 years ago, and all that has unfolded since.

For every couple who stands under the chuppah, remember that this day was made for you, that this love was made just for you. Your story has never been told by another, what is yet to unfold is uniquely yours...and all of us are blessed by it. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my birthday. I'm not a huge birthday person--I don't expect parties, big dinners or to-do's, or even presents (I told my husband what I wanted). Instead, I like the "little extras": cake, nice dinner, getting hellos and good wishes from friends and family.

This year, I really thought about this as a milestone. Unlike Rosh Hashanah or January 1st, this is my personal new year. It is when my clock changes over and a new measure starts. In that spirit, here are some thoughts:

I'm supposed to be the age I am. I don't feel old (because I'm not) and if anything, I still feel a little young. But that is all because of life-stage. I have two kids, a minivan, a house, a husband, a job I love, and I'm in my early 30s. I hope I am always able to use the measure of life, not numbers. There will come a time, God-willing, when I will feel I am supposed to be 60, or 70, because of the measure of life experience and blessings. I just pray I have the health to enjoy it.

Speaking of blessings, I am blessed. Simply, truly, honestly. Life's too short to be too upset about the little things. My family is healthy, we have what we need, we do work that is meaningful...I am blessed. On this birthday, I really just wish for this feeling to continue. In this past year, I came through pregnancy safely and with a healthy baby boy who, along with his sister, astounds me every day. I look at them and am without words because I am overwhelmed with a feeling of love, blessing, and the miracle that these two human beings exist and I have the privilege of being their parents.

For the first year, I didn't get annoyed by the Facebook wishes. They are sent with love and give an opportunity for reconnection. My birthday resolution is to follow up on many of these birthday wishes which came from people I only can see through Facebook, to make it more than a passing encounter into something more meaningful and lasting.

My birthday present from my family was a purse that I picked out (I sent my husband the Amazon link). I didn't feel badly not having the surprise because instead of just getting it for myself, I gave my family the opportunity to give me what I really wanted. They made me a scavenger hunt and it was given with love and appreciation. That's better than any surprise.

So, on this special birthday, I offer this prayer (and maybe you'll want to use it too):

God, thank You for bringing me to this moment in time.
Thank You for my health and strength and for the many blessings I have in my life.
In this coming year, help me to take time to appreciate them.
Give me the discipline to slow down and be present in a piece of each day of the next year.
Help me to find the perseverance to pursue the goals I set for this year, and help me find comfort when I feel the ways I have failed.
Guide me towards a year of goodness, health, and blessing.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"I have called you by name"

In the Torah portion this Shabbat (Ki Tisa), God says, "I have called out by name Bezalel (karati b'shem)..." We learn that Bezalel, singled out by God, is endowed with a divine spirit and will lead the creation of the mishkan.

It is a powerful idea to call someone out by name. In Torah study this morning, several people suggested pieces of the same idea--to be named is to affirm one's fullness of being. To be reduced to a number or to be nameless is to be almost nonexistent. In this passage of Torah, Bezalel and his assistant, Oholiab, are both named with their lineage, so their fathers and tribes are recognized as well. Thus, when we give someone a name, we link them with generations past and we also endow in them hopes and dreams of what they may be. Studies even suggest that a given name has power over a child's development as a person.

Calling each of my children by their name for the first time was spiritually profound. In both cases, I asked Micah (who saw each child first) if the baby looked like the name we planned to give. Once he said yes, the medical team asked what the name was and I said, "Hadara Irene" and then two years later, "Caleb Doron." Setting aside that we then had to explain the origin and meaning of Hadara and Caleb, it was a moment when I truly called my children by name in the most powerful of ways. Like God calling Bezalel and endowing him with divine spirit, saying their names aloud for the first time was a recognition of past and present, and especially future. I could taste the sweetness of the moment, and heard the potential in each name and thus each child. 

To call someone by name is to acknolwedge their being, to say that we see them in an intentional way. And each of us has the responsibility and ability to bring honor to our names, to live out the things with which we were endowed by those who came before, and to create a future of goodness and blessing. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"But I'm still little"

Tonight is my last night of maternity leave. I am filled with the ambivalence of wanting to return to my work, with colleagues I respect and work I find meaningful, while wanting to stay within arms' reach of my three month old son and available to my daughter and husband. And, above all, there is a fear of change. I have had an amazing three months of being present for my family and now, change is coming. I can't stop the change so it is time to embrace it.

My daughter tonight discovered that same ambivalence about change. She has a guard rail on her bed and has been talking about removing it for some time. Today at nap we finally did it. She seemed to enjoy the freedom until bedtime when she insisted on putting it back. When we said that this was a big girl step, she cried, "But I'm still little!" My heart broke a little bit at hearing her face what we all do--a fear of not being ready for scary change. Tonight we could put the guard rail back...and she can decide when it is time to try again. Other times it won't be so simple, yet the emotions will likely be the same. How can it be time for this? I'm not ready!

Tonight I feel the same way. I'm not ready! My son is too little! I don't want change! I miss work, and right now I suspect that tomorrow I will miss my children more. The unknown seems overwhelming, yet change is the only constant in life. It keeps things interesting, it challenges us to find new qualities within ourselves. I know that in a few weeks, I will discover a new rhythm of balancing my roles as mother, wife, and rabbi. I will find the satisfaction in multitasking and will appreciate my time at home even more because I spend so much time away. My husband will discover new joys in his time with our children on the weekends when I am on the pulpit or at religious school. And, our children will continue to develop resilience as they are surrounded by so many different people who care for their well-being. But for tonight, my daughter and I both will feel a little ambivalent about the forces of change until we wake up tomorrow ready for the challenge!