Friday, April 22, 2011

Time Flies - Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesach 2011

“Time Flies.”  Trite, I know, but nevertheless it is a concept that is so very true.  As we were driving toward Clayton, GA where we spend Pesah at Ramah Darom, I looked from the front passenger seat over to the driver’s seat and wondered how we had gotten to this point so quickly.  Sitting in the driver’s seat, somewhere between Nashville and Atanta was my son, Elan.  He turns sixteen years old on Sunday.  Wasn’t he just sixteen months old?  Wasn’t it just last week that I could carry him around on one shoulder for hours at a time?  How is it that he is now 6’3” and can carry me around...or at least drive me around?  

I glance into the rear view mirror and see Amalya, our youngest at age 9, watching a video.  Mira, who just became bat mitzvah, is watching “Get Smart” on her iPod.  Time really does fly. I remember when I was a kid and we drove to Florida for winter break.  We could spread out in the back of the station wagon - no need for seatbelts - and play license plate bingo or the alphabet game.  Now, we drive or, rather, my son drives and the girls are individually occupied with small screens.  Forgive me for being so sentimental but, where did the time go?  

The Torah reading for Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesah gives us a bit of a hint to an answer.  In Exodus 34:18 - 24, we are taught the key cycles that dictate the rhythm of Jewish life and the passing of time.  We are commanded to observe Pesach, referred to in this Torah reading as חג המצות or the Feast of Unleavened Bread; to observe Shabbat; to observe Shavuot; and חג האסיף, the Feast of the Ingathering, which we refer to as Sukkot.  Three times a year, the pilgrimage festivals, we are commanded to go to the place God will show us.  In so doing, we mark the year, we mark time.  The reading commands not only ritual but the centrality of appreciating time - days, weeks, cycles, years. The reading even marks birth order, the ritual of pidyon haBen, the redeeming of the first born (we are a family of Levi’im so we were exempt from this ritual for Elan).  And while not noted in this reading, we are in the season of counting with tonight marking the 4th night of the Omer.

Time does fly.  It seems like the 2010 camp season just ended yet in just a few weeks, we will be moving up to Conover for the 2011 camp season.  It feels like Pesah was just a few weeks ago but here we are again - with a number of current Camp Ramah in Wisconsin families and alumni - enjoying  living in a shabbat and Yom Tov/Pesah observant village.  Sometimes it seems like it was just yesterday that I was a camper (David Sandberg is here and he taught drama my first summer at camp) or at least a Junior Counselor (Rabbi Amy Roth of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires was my rosh aidah in 1984) yet now I am back on the shores of Lake Buckatabon for my second summer at the camp director.

Yet, for as much as time flies, our Jewish calendar and rhythm of life give us dedicated pauses to stop and reflect, to appreciate, to reconnect - with our own memories, our families, our People, our values, and with God.  The passage of time can be intimidating and terrifying.  It is amazing how quickly the gray hairs come in these days.  Yet, reflecting on all the good that time brings us, we can see our own growth and development and that of our children, our families and our friends.  We can appreciate our triumphs and heal from our tragedies. We can not only note where we have been or dream about where we are going but we can appreciate where we are right now, at this moment and be filled with the glory of God that permeates our world.

Recently, our family experienced another milestone.  Elan, who got involved with USY not because we pushed him but because his camp friends recruited him, was recently elected to serve as the Israel Affairs and Executive Vice-President of CHUSY region USY. His goal is to constantly strengthen the connection between CHUSY USYers and the State, People, and Land of Israel (his words, not mine).  USY is our valued year-round partner in keeping Jewish teens involved and connected to the Jewish community and we deeply value this partnership on the chapter, regional, and national levels. I personally benefitted from years in USY and am so excited that Elan has chosen on his own to be involved and to make Israel his priority for his USY work.  Wasn’t it just last week that I was serving as religious/education vice-president in CHUSY under Bennet Kaplan, our regional president?  Now, our family time will be marked not only by ice skating and aerial class, carpool and train pick-up by regional board meetings and conventions, as well as international board meetings and conventions.

We are half-way through Pesah. Honestly, the food here is exquisite so there is no kvetching for hametz or the end of the holiday but I remember the days of being tired of matzah and cream cheese sandwiches at school every day.  We rush to have the holiday end, to move on, to get past the “restrictions” of Yom Tov and Shabbat.  But...take a breath, slow down, enjoy the taste of the matzah - the taste of freedom - and take stock of where you were, where you want to be going, and where you are right now.  Enjoy the time with family and friends.  Appreciate the partnerships from which we all benefit.  And then, give thanks to God for giving us the cycle of days and weeks, months and years.

Shabbat Shalom and Moadim l’Simha.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Jerusalem Thoughts - Tazria 2011

There is something so restorative about the air here.  Even the first breath of air outside the terminal at Ben Gurion Airport, replete with the fumes of planes and taxis, brings in part of the נשמה יתירה - the additional soul.  Driving through the maze that is the airport exit, my friend, Ronnie Garr, rolled down the windows and I was overwhelmed by the smell of fresh flowers and Jasmine of the airport gardens.  Another little bit of the neshama made its way in.  Exiting the car in Yerushalayim, all it took was one very deep breath to feel completely restored.  All the little pieces of my soul, the pieces that I leave as deposits after each trip here, seem to immediately find me upon my return.  They fill me up and render me complete, at least for the duration of my trip.  

I quickly made my way through passport control - with the customary questioning about the purpose of my visit followed by the request of the questioner to become a shaliach at camp. After that, I went straight to Koska, where I enjoyed my necessary and ritual first cup of Cafe Hafuch or the Israeli equivalent of a cross between a latte and a cappuccino (or as Pini, the character in a series of short films on the internet my son introduced me to, would say “Cafe, eh how do you say - upside down.  right Upside down...”).  After I ordered, I turned around to see four burgundy t-shirts that red “Ramah Israel Institute, “ immediate familiarity.  Speaking in Hebrew, I met each of the members of the RII team coming to welcome a day school group from the US.  

Even today, I felt right back at home. A greeting by the fruit stand guy at the corner of Derekh Bet Lehem and Esther HaMalka;  A quick visit to my dry cleaner where we exchange updates on our children; followed by a walk toward Yael and finally Emek Refaim.  Over the course of the morning, I see no fewer than three Ramah Wisconsin alumni, two Ramah Darom shilichim, as well as two rabbis from the US.  The same women who has been asking me for tzedakah, she usually stands around Emek Refaim and Rahel Imeinu, approaches me for my regular contribution.  And I feel complete.  

This is a beautiful time of year here.  It is almost 80 degrees and dry, a far cry from the low 40s and rain of Chicago.  The blossoms on the trees, bright pinks and purples, cast a radiance on everything nearby.  The air is full of the smell of flowers and the chirping of birds.  The parks are full with the sweet cries of children.  The relaxed atmosphere of Friday, combined with the sounds, sights, and smells, adds to the sense of personal restoration.  It always amazes me.

All of the natural and physical beauty of this season of the year stands in direct contrast to this week’s Parashah with its focus on skin maladies and the resulting external ugliness.  The plain text of the Torah does not tell us why these skin diseases develop only that they render the person impure for a period of time.  It is left to the Sages, based on their reading of this and other parts of the Torah, to make the connection between external maladies as reflections of internal flaws or certain trespasses of the law, such as the telling of tales or the spreading of gossip.  Does a skin malady reflect a Divine consequence for a transgression?  Are diseases sent by God to cause external pain as punishment for causing pain to another person?  Even if not sent by God, do things happen to our skin that reflects things going on emotionally on our inside?  Think about stress related rashes and the like.  

So, this Shabbat, I will sit with the contrast of the outer natural beauty of this season in Jerusalem and the skin ugliness discussed in parashat Tazria.  I will ponder the connection between what is going on the inside emotionally and how it might be reflected externally.  And I will enjoy both the נשמה יתירה, the extra soul granted to us by God on Shabbat, and the completeness of my neshama that I feel whenever I am in Israel.

Shabbat Shalom.