A Stitch In Time…

Photo Credit: Microsoft

As part of my continual effort to rid my life of clutter, I decided it was high time to get rid of any vestigial organs I might have lying around. At least that’s how I would like to think of it!

Last Saturday I had surgery to remove my appendix. I found myself on the other end of congregational Mi Sheberachs, as I let someone else take my place on the bima at the Bar Mitzvah of a student when no pleading with the surgeon allowed me to be there.

The pain started on Wednesday, and when it had not improved by Friday, my father urged me to see my doctor. The doctor didn’t like what he saw and he sent me to get a CAT scan. Barium. Yuck. The CAT scan technician didn’t like what he saw and he sent me to the emergency room for a surgical consult. By now, it definitely looked like I would not make it to services on Friday night. My symptoms were somewhat atypical, but the CAT scan did show some swelling in my appendix. The surgeon decided that he wanted to observe me overnight.

Surgeons have a reputation for being uncaring and cold. Some say they have to be that way, they cut people up for a living. This reputation is unfair however, at least based on my experience with my surgeon, Dr. Gordon at White Plains Hospital. He was kind and gentle. He held my hand when he saw I was upset. And… weirdest of all, he made a deal with me. Unheard of! He knew that I wanted to be at the Bar Mitzvah in the morning. He said that he would order my labs for 5am, and would be in to see me by 7, so that if there was any chance of avoiding or postponing surgery, allowing me to attend the Bar Mitzvah, he would make it happen.

True to his word, he did all of those things, but unfortunately, there was no improvement by morning. He felt that it was in my best interest to get the appendix out, because there was always the possibility of it rupturing, the consequences of which would be dire. The surgery was scheduled for that day, and the Rabbi’s wife, Naomi Adler, stepped in for the Bar Mitzvah, filling in for me, beautifully.

I’ve never been under the knife before and I was terrified. But, with a caring surgeon, a wonderful husband, and my amazing parents at my bedside I had to believe that I would be okay. I have been home and recovering since Monday afternoon. I still have some pain and am overwhelmingly tired all the time, but it is amazing how much better I am each day than the one before. The body is a miracle in its ability to heal.

I want to express my deepest gratitude to Dr. Gordon for his incredible kindness and skill, my husband for his never ending patience and support, my parents for their love, advice, and all of the driving to and from the hospital, my community for their patience and their continual Mi Sheberachs and, last but certainly not least:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ רופֵא כָל בָּשר וּמַפְלִיא לַעֲשות

Sing Unto G-d a Very Old Song

This week is Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath during which we read the Song of the Sea from the Torah.  This is the moment in the text when the Israelites have finally escaped slavery, and they come upon the Sea of Reeds.  Moses holds his staff up and the waters, miraculously, part.  The children of Israel pass to freedom and sing this song, a text that includes the Mi Chamocha prayer, a text that is central to every worship service.  This is probably the oldest song ever written down and it is beautiful not only for its poetry and its melody (we use special chants to sing this section of Torah), but also for the art of its notation.


Scribes write this poem in the Torah in three columns.  There are at least three explanations that I have seen as to why it is written this way.  Some say that it is to remind us of the bricks of slavery, others say that it represents the way the water would look in the parting sea, the third is that the columns to the left and right represent the parted sea and the center column represents the Israelites walking through to freedom.  I like the third explanation the best.

Let’s take a look at the Mi Chamocha text which is taken out of this Torah poem.  The first line, “מִי־כָמֹֽכָה בָּאֵלִים ה”  – Who is like You, G-d, among the gods that are worshipped,” appears in the center column – the column belonging to the Israelites.  The rest of the prayer text, “מִי כָּמֹֽכָה נֶאְדָּר בַּקֹּֽדֶשׁ, נוֹרָא תְהִילֹּת, עֹֽשֵׂה פֶֽלֶא” “Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders,” appears, as it were, in the sea.  Why do you suppose that is?

The first line is so characteristic of the way that people often look at religion.  What is everybody else doing, they ask?  The people are recognizing in this question that their G-d appears to be a step above the rest, but isn’t it interesting that as they are noticing this about their faith, they are still looking around to comment on the other gods that people worship.

The rest of the prayer, dealing in the holiness and splendor of G-d is written into the side sections, the parts that are designated as the sea.  The holiness and splendor are written into the miracle for the people to see as they pass through.

G-d among the gods is a theme that appears frequently in Torah text.  The Israelites were one nation among many and those other nations worshiped many gods.  How did our G-d compare?  What miracles could our G-d do that theirs could not.  It kind of reminds me of kids, each claiming that their father could beat the other’s in a fight.  And indeed this moment does represent the childhood of the Jewish faith.  We would have a long way to go after this moment to become the people that we would become.  We left Egypt a mixed multitude, needing desperately to see and experience G-d directly.  A desire that lead our people to commit the sin of the golden calf.  We would have to learn how to believe in a G-d that we could neither see nor touch.

We may have been an immature people, but we had the most basic element of faith down:  Song.  Once we had that, the rest would follow in its time.  For what is wonder, joy, spirit, meaning, growth, or renewal without song?

A Sad Day

Photo by Limmud/Flickr

As I am sure you have all heard by now, Debbie Friedman passed away on January 9th.  I am writing this having just finished watching the live stream of her funeral.  I watched it along with the congregation that was there in person and 7,150 other people on the web.  I cried through a lot of it.  Her influence on the Jewish world is almost immeasurable.

At Temple Beth Torah, we will be singing a lot of her music during this period of Shiva and Shloshim and on January 28th, we will mark our Shabbat with a service of her music and a sermon in song about her contribution to the Jewish world.

I will try to record that and make it available through the blog.

Most of all at this time, my heart goes out to her family.  Debbie’s passing has touched so many people, that we think that she belongs to us.  Her poor family, although I am sure touched by the outpouring of love, must deal with this loss in such a public way.  As Debbie herself said, “Heroes are just people that we call another name.”  I pray that G-d will be with Debbie’s family and give them strength enough to bare their own sorrow along with the sorrow of all of her fans.

Debbie, thank you for all that you have given to the world.  Thank you for your music, your spirit, your patience, your joy.  We will never forget you.

Songs of the Spirit

Friedman, Debbie

Upon hearing the news of the severe illness of singer-songwriter, Debbie Friedman, I tried to remember the first Debbie song I had ever heard.  I couldn’t.  Debbie’s music has always been a part of my Jewish life and her style changed the face of Jewish music, especially in the Reform movement.  There are those that love it, and those that could do without out it, but nobody would deny its impact.  Debbie is widely credited with bringing the folk musical style and the guitar into reform worship.  Her music is simple, yet lovely, and unlike a lot of other “folk” or “rock” style Jewish music, hers lends itself to piano accompaniment just as well as to guitar.

I will be singing a lot of Debbie Friedman music in services tonight.  I will be putting the power of her song into the universe and hoping for the best for her recovery.  The words and melody of Debbie’s Mi Sheberach have guided countless thousands through the throws of illness and pain into recovery.  May we do the same for her as we join throughout the country.

Mi sheberach avoteinu
M’kor habracha l’imoteinu
May the Source of strength who blessed the ones before us
Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing,
And let us say, Amen.

Mi sheberach imoteinu
M’kor habrachah l’avoteinu
Bless those in need of healing with R’fuah Sh’leimah
The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit
And let us say, Amen.

Happy New Year!

Time Passing
Image Credit: Photos.com

Happy New Year to my wonderful readers!  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of New Year’s resolutions.  I’ve never thought much of them because I have rarely seen them work!  It always seemed strange to me that everyone at once would pick an arbitrary, if unified, day to suddenly become better people.  I happened to mention this to my husband a few days ago, and he turned to me and said, “but you do it too!  You just do it on a different arbitrary day – Rosh Hashanah.”

He was right!  (Although I would not call Rosh Hashanah arbitrary!)  I make New Year’s resolutions every Rosh Hashanah, but they are very different from the ones that I ponder (but usually don’t make) on the secular New Year.  On the Jewish New Year, I resolve to be a better person, to turn away when in the presence of gossip and to avoid doing it myself, to be a better friend, daughter, sister, wife, Cantor.  My Rosh Hashanah resolutions are mostly about how I relate to others.

Secular New Year’s resolutions always seem to be about self, whereas t’shuvah (return or repentance) is so often about our relationship with others.  Most of the common New Year’s resolutions that turned up after a basic google search were related to a person’s relationship with themself alone– losing weight, getting more exercise, trying new experiences, stopping bad habits.  It’s not a bad thing to focus attention on self-improvement, even if it only benefits you.  Truthfully, the things that benefit you, improving your health, are bound to also reflect positively in your relationships with others.

Image Credit: Office.com

Judaism has four New Year’s holidays spread throughout the year. This means that American Jews get five.  Five opportunities to focus on different aspects of our lives that we can improve!  The next New Year is Tu B’shvat (falling in the secular calendar on January 20th, 2011).  Tu B’shvat is the New Year for Trees.  Many Jews take this holiday as a time to focus on environmentalism.  It would be a great time also to consider environmentally themed resolutions.

Oh so many ways to work on improving ourselves and our world.  Well, it’s January, people, let’s get started!

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