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December 5, 2016 / 5 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘High Holidays’

Eternal Life

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Psychologists are always quoted in holiday-themed articles about the seasonal blues. We are stressed from our holiday preparations and we remember our loved ones who are no longer with us. At the High Holidays, we may or may not be suffering from seasonal depression, but there is no doubt we are remembering those we’ve lost as we shop, cook, clean, daven, and take stock of our blessings at the Yontif table.

I lost my father so many years ago that the thought of this loss no longer generates pain. But that is not to say that I don’t think of him often. His presence is still palpable, still keen much of the time. Even so, 37 years is a long time. I am way past the pain of mourning him.

I was just 13 when my father passed away. It was a sudden tragedy. In spite of my youth at the time, and how I missed having a father at such a critical juncture in my development, I can look back and say that I had a good father for 13 years. I can see this as a rich blessing.

Today, at 50, I still rely on my father’s teachings. Though the body of those accumulated lessons may be smaller than for those of most people, the lessons remain eloquent and profound. I take great pleasure in sharing those lessons with my children.

I also like to imagine that Daddy somehow sees my large family and me and has nachas from the fact that I am raising a Jewish family in Israel. I credit him for raising me in such a way that I ended up making aliyah – that my life has taken the wonderful twists and turns that earn me a mitzvah for every four cubits I walk in Eretz HaKodesh. It is due to my father’s influence – abbreviated by time but never by impact – that I gave birth to children in the holy city of Jerusalem 12 times. There are now grandchildren, and all of these too are the fruit of my father’s teachings.

I don’t know what the Torah says about my wild writer’s imagination that likes to think of my father looking down and watching over me from the Heavens. But I do believe that Hashem is kind enough to grant us a certain power regarding those we love who pass away. We can give them nitzchiyus, eternal life, through remembering the special brand of goodness they brought to this world and left behind as their permanent gifts to the living.

It’s a kind of unwitting partnership: that unbreakable link between those lost and those who remain. One never knows when a virtual tap on the shoulder will be received from that long gone person who remains a part of you forever. Just this morning, as I washed the breakfast dishes, a memory popped into my mind, unbidden, like a visitation.

I remembered that my father and I were in the car (I think I was 11) and we passed some girls, teenagers, who were trying to hitch a ride. My father stopped the car for them. After ascertaining their destination, he gave them a lecture: “You look like nice girls from good families. You shouldn’t be hitchhiking. Not everyone is a nice man like me. Your parents would be very worried if they knew you were hitchhiking.”

How many people would have taken the time and cared enough to give those complete strangers, who after all were someone’s children, a talking to about the dangers of hitchhiking? How many people would have taken the time to drive those girls to their destination, way out of the way, just to ensure their safety? And, of course, I was there too. The lesson was also meant for me. My father was ensuring my safety too, by teaching me a lesson about the dangers of hitchhiking. That was a very specific lesson for a specific situation – and it remained with me long after my father’s demise.

Varda Epstein

Jewish Depictions Of Hell

Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

Although it’s the Hebrew month of MarCheshvan—known as “mar” or bitter, because it’s devoid of holidays, unlike the preceding month which has the High Holidays and Sukkot, and the next month which ushers in Chanukah—that’s not why I’ve been thinking about hell (gehinnom in Hebrew) a lot lately. In fact, I co-wrote an e-book recently with New York-based lawyer and author Joel Cohen called Gehinnom: A Conversation in Hell. (The book, which is available for free download at www.joelcohengehinnom.com, is a work of fiction, or creative non-fiction. The characters come from the Bible: Cain, Korah, Saul, Balaam, Miriam. But the dialogue is imagined.)

The characters in the book cling in death to the same philosophies and self-awareness (or lack thereof) that they embodied in life. One by one, the characters enter a conversation in “a dark, dank, forgotten cave,” where they have to trust each other’s disembodied voices, since they cannot see each other. The characters (with the exception of Miriam and a young man who later surfaces) team up on one another and expose jealousies, hatred, self-righteousness, and a confusing—and thus, distinctly human!—blend of emotions. Of course, the lines the characters deliver have little to do with what the figures might actually have believed and felt, and everything to do with what Cohen and I believe they might have believed. For such is the stuff of art, and the majority of the artistic canon is fictive—even the works that purport to be “realistic.”

Haggadah shel Pesach (with interpretation of Abrabanel). Hayim ben Tsevi Hirsh. Fürth: 1755.

Surely, one can imagine countless works of Christian art that depict demons torturing lost souls, grim reapers with scythes, and flaming depictions of hell. It’d be foolish to suggest that Jewish art has anywhere near such a prominent tradition of depicting gehinnom, and it’s not my intention to do so here. But many readers of this column probably have a pretty good sense that the Christian apocalyptic traditions of representing demons and eternal punishment for sinners have their origins in Jewish texts.

Some of the Jewish sources include the Mishnah in Gemara Sanhedrin (10:1), which addresses the statement that “everyone in Israel” has a portion in the World to Come. If the Mishnah goes out of its way to specify that everyone “in Israel” has a portion in heaven, surely there must be some who have no portion, the rabbis argue, so they compile a list: those who deny the resurrection of the dead, those who say the Torah isn’t divinely delivered, and those who are apikorsim, or heretics. Rabi Akiva adds that those who read “sfarim chitzonim”—“outside” books—also have no heavenly portion, nor do those who whisper (incantations) over a wound. Finally, Abba Shaul adds that those who recite God’s name as written also will not merit eternal reward. The Mishnah also adds a list of particular individuals and groups who have no heavenly portion, including the kings Jeroboam, Ahab, and Menashe (though Rabi Judah says Menashe was forgiven and did merit reward), Balaam, Doeg (who killed 85 priests), Ahithophel (who led Absalom astray, to say the least), and Gehazi, who disobeyed Elisha.

There are also chassidic traditions surrounding gehinnom. The Apta Rebbe (Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt, 1748-1825) famously said that as a sinner he’d be sent to gehinnom, but being unable to endure the sinners, God would have to send them out. His idea was to ensure that he’d be the only one there, a strategy that the Ropshitzer Rebbe—Rav Naftali Zvi of Ropshitz, 1760-1827—also embraced. The latter figured that gehinnom empties out during the Shabbat, and that any sinner who had visited the Rebbe’s house on Shabbat while alive, ought to be able to visit his table in heaven. And what a foolish man the Rebbe would be to let the sinner be returned to gehinnom at nightfall, the Ropshitzer Rebbe said.

Menachem Wecker

Title: The First Ten Days: A down to earth guide to the Days of Awe based on the Sefirot

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Title: The First Ten Days: A down to earth guide to the Days of Awe based on the Sefirot

Author: Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Publisher: Torah Lab

 

 

   Blow your mind bigger and better as you improve upon preconceived ideas about the High Holidays. This slim paperback holds 87 pages full of wisdom, insight, and keys to personal improvement!

 

   Far from talk-show fodder about Kabbalah, this is a thinking Jews’ approach to improved middot. A day-by-day peek at the power of each of the aseret yemei teshuva, The First Ten Days offers can-do ideas for letting kabbalistic insights guide your personal growth. Author Rabbi Yaacov Haber’s short, to-the-point writing makes excellent use of your limited time. Eye-grabbing graphics at each chapter heading draw attention to the content they herald.

 

   Days Six’s chapter entitled “Tiferet” exemplifies the author’s skill in the lines ” Tiferet is the product of a perfect balance of chesed and gevurah Draw people closer with your right or stronger hand! Train yourself to see the strengths of your companions even while pushing against their shortcomings As we ask God for His acceptance of us, we must internalize acceptance into our own relationships ”

 

   A definition of the sefira infusing the day, instructions for utilizing that power, and insight into its spiritual relevance are nearly presented in clear, memorable language. The other nine days are presented in the same thought-provoking manner. They can improve your life.

 

   Pack this powerful recreation of your personal history into a pocketbook, briefcase or personal library. The First Ten Days: A down to earth guide to the Days of Awe based on the Sefirot can guide your inner growth all year. An excellent resource for teaching the relevance of aseret yemei teshuva, it can help teachers with limited classroom time every holiday-interrupting Tishrei.

 

   Learn more about the author and his book at torahlab.org/haberblogand at torahlab.org/index.php.

 

   Yocheved Golani is the author of E-book “It’s MY Crisis! And I’ll Cry If I Need To: EMPOWER Yourself to Cope with a Medical Challenge”  (booklocker.com/books/4244.html).

Yocheved Golani

Dancing A Holy Neshamah Back Home

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

We had just finished celebrating the High Holidays in Boca Raton. With the intensity of those days behind us, we were looking forward to visiting my family in New York. The kids were so excited and counted down the days until they would see their Bubby and Zayde, aunt, uncle, and cousins. Never did I realize that while I was deciding what clothes to pack for the Yom Tov of Sukkos, I would also be packing clothes for my father’s levayah.

The first days of Sukkos were so beautiful – all the family together, the long meals, my children fighting to sit next to their Zayde. Even the weather was perfect. The topic of conversation was my dad telling my bechor, Yoni, how happy he was to buy him tefillin for his upcoming bar mitzvah. My son would joke around with him that he should buy him a car instead. My dad would say, “A car will get you far, but tefillin will get you much further.”

My father loved shul; he would always talk about the importance of place and time in Judaism. He was saddened when one of my sons didn’t show up at shul on Shabbos Chol HaMo’ed. I explained to my father that he was just tired from staying up late the night before; my father responded, “Would he have been able to wake up on time if he was going to the Giants game, instead of to shul?” The truth is, my boys were scheduled to go to the Giants game the next morning, and I knew there is no way they would have missed it, no matter how tired they were. “Well,” said my father, “shul is more important than any Giants game where we just watch a game of players. In shul, we participate as the players. The real “Giants” are those steeped in prayer.”

The next couple of days of Chol Hamoed where amazing; we spent so much time together. We went to Hershey Park, bowling, a simchas beis hashoeva – every minute was jam-packed. Even when we got rained on at Hershey Park, my dad was able to turn it into fun. We have so many pictures and memories from that week.

I will never forget the night going right into Simchas Torah. I brought my children to shul with their flags, anticipating the highest high of the year, when we celebrate completing the Torah. My father davened mincha, followed by the rav’s shiur which was about our renewing our love for Torah constantly; even if we just completed it, there are always more levels to attain. Right after the shiur ended, my father collapsed right into my eldest son’s arms. Within seconds, Hatzolah was there. The entire shul started saying tehillim for him.

Everything after that become such a blur: my mother, my husband, and my sister went to the hospital. I went back to my sister’s home with the kids. I didn’t stop saying tehillim. I divided the chapters among everyone so we could complete the entire sefer. I didn’t give up hope. I kept telling Hashem to change the decree.

When my husband came back, I saw it was bad from the look in his eyes. I ran away from him, I didn’t want to hear him say the words. Blindly, aimlessly, I ran right into the sukkah in my sister’s backyard. I cried so hard. All our lives we learn about the sukkah being a symbol of faith in Hashem. We shake the lulav in all direction to show Hashem is everywhere, in the lows and in the highs. In my pain, I realized that I was surrounded by Hashem’s shade. I felt Hashem sending me a message, telling me not to worry, that everything happens for a reason. There, in the sukkah, I made the brachah dayan emes.

After hearing words of Torah on earth, my beautiful father went to learn Torah in the Upper World. The tefillin he so longingly wanted to give his grandson would be his own pair of tefillin.

At first, I didn’t understand how it would be possible for the shul to have hakafos in the place where my father died. But then I realized how beautiful it really was. My father was always filled with simchas hachaim, always cheering people up. He was the candy man in shul. No other day would be more appropriate for his soul to return to his Maker than Simchas Torah.

We are always so happy when a new neshamah comes down to this world and sad when it leaves when, really, it should be the opposite. My father’s neshamah was so holy–he was born on Pesach night and left on Simchas Torah. Such a wonderful neshamah deserved to be danced all the way back home. We danced for him, as his mitzvos danced for him in the Next World.

The next morning, my children danced for the Torah that my father loved. They were embraced by the whole community.

I’m so happy I had this time with my father. Even while his death has been so shocking and the pain is so raw, I pray that Mashiach will come soon. I keep getting messages from Hashem that my father is in a good place. These past weeks, the media has been talking about the rescue of the miners in Chile. Such a miracle, where people arose from underground, alive, after many days and weeks, could only parallel the real techiyas hameisim. I daven that the real techiyas hameisim be soon and that we may all be united with our loved ones again. In the meantime, I will think of my father and everything he taught me. I miss you, Daddy. Thank you for touching so many people’s lives.

May my father, Yehuda Alter ben Zion, have an aliyas neshamah.

Chavi Peritzman

What’s New with Prague’s Old-New Synagogue, And Old Jewish Cemetery?

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

House of Life: The Old Jewish

Cemetery in Prague

A film by Allan Miller and Mark Podwal

First Run Features, 52 minutes, $24.95

www.houseoflifefilm.com/

 

Built by Angels: The Story of the

Old-New Synagogue

By Mark Podwal

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 48 pages, $16

www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/

 

 

When on April 5th, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Prague’s Pinkas Synagogue with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and David Axelrod, a senior White House advisor, she expressed particular interest in the synagogue’s collection of drawings by children from the concentration camp of Terez?n, which they created under the tutelage of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898-1944). When the group viewed the Old Jewish Cemetery, they were following in the footsteps of former President Bill Clinton, and the more than half a million tourists who come each year, according to a recent article by Mark Podwal in The Jerusalem Post.

 

Podwal should know, having visited Prague 15 times – often to spend the High Holidays and Passover at the Old-New Synagogue where he has his own seat with a Hebrew-and-English plaque bearing his name. Podwal has designed a poster celebrating 100 years of the Jewish Museum in Prague, and his Hamsa bookmarks and pins were sold in the Metropolitan Museum’s store in conjunction with its exhibit “Prague, The Crown of Bohemia, 1347-1437” (2005-2006). More recently, he is also the author and illustrator of a new book on the synagogue, and co-producer with Allan Miller of a new documentary on Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery, which aired on PBS earlier this month.

 

 

Allan Miller (right) and Mark Podwal

 

 

If the documentary must be summed up in one sentence, it would be Professor Vladim?r Sadek’s statement early on in the film, that Rabbi Judah Loew – the Maharal – was “traditional, ancient, and modern.” Indeed, the city that “House of Life” captures is one of juxtaposed opposites: cars, buses, and McDonalds logos, with tourist shops selling Golem dolls and candles, alternating with camera shots of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, with stones half-blank for Holocaust victims.

 

“House of Life” is no travel agency pitch for Prague, though it is jam-packed with fascinating historical facts and beautiful landscape shots. The first time a Star of David was officially used as an emblem for the Jewish community was on the tombstone of Rabbi David Gans (1541-1613), the author of the “Tzemach David.” On the stone, a goose symbolizes the surname, while the star, allegedly the shape of King David’s shield, reflects the historian and astronomer’s first name.

 

Other decorations on tombstones include: hands arranged a la [Star Trek’s] Spock (for a Cohen), a pitcher and washbasin (Levi), scissors (tailor), grapes (fertility), and various animals like lions (for those named Judah) and deer (for someone named Hirsch). There are even human figures (including nudes) on the tombstones, which may surprise some readers. But the film also has a journalistic touch when it interviews people who complain about being forced to pay to visit the cemetery. Some of the most beautiful pieces of art in the film are a series of paintings detailing the activities of the burial society, from preparing the body to the rabbi’s eulogy to washing the hands after leaving the cemetery.

 

The story also addresses the magic surrounding the Maharal, and in so doing overlaps with “Built by Angels.” Both the film and the book tell of white doves miraculously flapping their wings to extinguish fires that threatened the Altneuschul, the Old-New Synagogue. Both also tell of the synagogue’s stones, which were on loan from the Temple and which were to be returned for the next Temple, and of ghosts filling the synagogue after hours to pray when all the people had left. 

 

 

Interior of the Altneuschul

 

 

Podwal explains early on in the book that the Altneuschul, which has “as many stories as stones,” was said to have been constructed by angels, but was later forgotten. A thousand years later, the Jews came to Prague and found a beautiful city with many churches, but no place for them to pray. An angel, posing as a beggar, showed them a hill, and when they dug upon the hill, they uncovered the synagogue – “Although old, it mysteriously looked new.” As the beggar-angel prepared to leave, he told the people that the stones derived from the Temple, and they must not be moved at all, lest the entire structure fall.

 

The synagogue evoked the Temple in other ways too. On the High Holidays, when congregants were so tightly packed in that “no one could force a finger between them,” the stones expanded so there was room for everyone to bow down. This recalls a similar statement about the Temple in Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 5:5, in which the Temple was said to, have “opened up” on certain holidays (for the “regalim,” or “feet,” when all Jews living in or near Jerusalem flocked to the Temple) so that every person had enough room to bow on the ground.

 

Podwal’s book – which includes a wide range of Jewish and mystical symbols in its drawings, including angel’s wings, Torah pointers (yads), Hebrew letters, and Kabbalistic motifs – details others sorts of miracles that graced the synagogue. Congregants had to bang on the doors in the morning to let the ghosts know it was time to leave, and a piece of matzoh (the Afikomen, in fact) hung in the building all year. With Passover immediately behind us, a year-round matzoh might not sound particularly appetizing or miraculous, but this piece had special powers to protect the Jewish community.

 

 

Praying on the High Holidays. Image from “Built by Angels”

 

 

In many ways, the book makes a good companion guide to the film. The gouache paintings of “Built by Angels” are so bold and playful that they seem to suggest a dream sequence. They are realistic, and yet they also contain abstract elements. In that sense they resemble the most prominent element of “House of Life”: the tombstones in the cemetery. Through rain and snow, light and shadows, the stones seem to be both living things and inanimate objects that only point to people who once lived.

 

 

Old Jewish Cemetery. Still photo from “House of Life”

 

 

I have never been to Prague so I cannot vouch for the authenticity of its representation in the book and in the documentary. But I am fairly certain that if I ever get the chance, I will be well prepared for both the surfaces of the landmarks I encounter, as well as the mystical and magical aspects that lurk beneath.

 

Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, D.C.

Menachem Wecker

What’s New with Prague’s Old-New Synagogue, And Old Jewish Cemetery?

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

House of Life: The Old Jewish

Cemetery in Prague


A film by Allan Miller and Mark Podwal


First Run Features, 52 minutes, $24.95



 

Built by Angels: The Story of the


Old-New Synagogue


By Mark Podwal


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 48 pages, $16



 

 


When on April 5th, First Lady Michelle Obama visited Prague’s Pinkas Synagogue with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, and David Axelrod, a senior White House advisor, she expressed particular interest in the synagogue’s collection of drawings by children from the concentration camp of Terezín, which they created under the tutelage of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898-1944). When the group viewed the Old Jewish Cemetery, they were following in the footsteps of former President Bill Clinton, and the more than half a million tourists who come each year, according to a recent article by Mark Podwal in The Jerusalem Post.

 

Podwal should know, having visited Prague 15 times – often to spend the High Holidays and Passover at the Old-New Synagogue where he has his own seat with a Hebrew-and-English plaque bearing his name. Podwal has designed a poster celebrating 100 years of the Jewish Museum in Prague, and his Hamsa bookmarks and pins were sold in the Metropolitan Museum’s store in conjunction with its exhibit “Prague, The Crown of Bohemia, 1347-1437” (2005-2006). More recently, he is also the author and illustrator of a new book on the synagogue, and co-producer with Allan Miller of a new documentary on Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery, which aired on PBS earlier this month.

 

 


Allan Miller (right) and Mark Podwal

 

 

If the documentary must be summed up in one sentence, it would be Professor Vladimír Sadek’s statement early on in the film, that Rabbi Judah Loew – the Maharal – was “traditional, ancient, and modern.” Indeed, the city that “House of Life” captures is one of juxtaposed opposites: cars, buses, and McDonalds logos, with tourist shops selling Golem dolls and candles, alternating with camera shots of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, with stones half-blank for Holocaust victims.

 

“House of Life” is no travel agency pitch for Prague, though it is jam-packed with fascinating historical facts and beautiful landscape shots. The first time a Star of David was officially used as an emblem for the Jewish community was on the tombstone of Rabbi David Gans (1541-1613), the author of the “Tzemach David.” On the stone, a goose symbolizes the surname, while the star, allegedly the shape of King David’s shield, reflects the historian and astronomer’s first name.


 


Other decorations on tombstones include: hands arranged a la [Star Trek’s] Spock (for a Cohen), a pitcher and washbasin (Levi), scissors (tailor), grapes (fertility), and various animals like lions (for those named Judah) and deer (for someone named Hirsch). There are even human figures (including nudes) on the tombstones, which may surprise some readers. But the film also has a journalistic touch when it interviews people who complain about being forced to pay to visit the cemetery. Some of the most beautiful pieces of art in the film are a series of paintings detailing the activities of the burial society, from preparing the body to the rabbi’s eulogy to washing the hands after leaving the cemetery.

 

The story also addresses the magic surrounding the Maharal, and in so doing overlaps with “Built by Angels.” Both the film and the book tell of white doves miraculously flapping their wings to extinguish fires that threatened the Altneuschul, the Old-New Synagogue. Both also tell of the synagogue’s stones, which were on loan from the Temple and which were to be returned for the next Temple, and of ghosts filling the synagogue after hours to pray when all the people had left. 

 

 


Interior of the Altneuschul

 

 

Podwal explains early on in the book that the Altneuschul, which has “as many stories as stones,” was said to have been constructed by angels, but was later forgotten. A thousand years later, the Jews came to Prague and found a beautiful city with many churches, but no place for them to pray. An angel, posing as a beggar, showed them a hill, and when they dug upon the hill, they uncovered the synagogue – “Although old, it mysteriously looked new.” As the beggar-angel prepared to leave, he told the people that the stones derived from the Temple, and they must not be moved at all, lest the entire structure fall.

 

The synagogue evoked the Temple in other ways too. On the High Holidays, when congregants were so tightly packed in that “no one could force a finger between them,” the stones expanded so there was room for everyone to bow down. This recalls a similar statement about the Temple in Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 5:5, in which the Temple was said to, have “opened up” on certain holidays (for the “regalim,” or “feet,” when all Jews living in or near Jerusalem flocked to the Temple) so that every person had enough room to bow on the ground.

 

Podwal’s book – which includes a wide range of Jewish and mystical symbols in its drawings, including angel’s wings, Torah pointers (yads), Hebrew letters, and Kabbalistic motifs – details others sorts of miracles that graced the synagogue. Congregants had to bang on the doors in the morning to let the ghosts know it was time to leave, and a piece of matzoh (the Afikomen, in fact) hung in the building all year. With Passover immediately behind us, a year-round matzoh might not sound particularly appetizing or miraculous, but this piece had special powers to protect the Jewish community.

 

 



Praying on the High Holidays. Image from “Built by Angels”


 

 

In many ways, the book makes a good companion guide to the film. The gouache paintings of “Built by Angels” are so bold and playful that they seem to suggest a dream sequence. They are realistic, and yet they also contain abstract elements. In that sense they resemble the most prominent element of “House of Life”: the tombstones in the cemetery. Through rain and snow, light and shadows, the stones seem to be both living things and inanimate objects that only point to people who once lived.

 

 


Old Jewish Cemetery. Still photo from “House of Life”

 

 


I have never been to Prague so I cannot vouch for the authenticity of its representation in the book and in the documentary. But I am fairly certain that if I ever get the chance, I will be well prepared for both the surfaces of the landmarks I encounter, as well as the mystical and magical aspects that lurk beneath.


 


Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, D.C.

Menachem Wecker

Expectations

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

(Names and situation changed)


 


While I’m on the subject of expectations…

 

         The last two weeks of articles told Bob’s story; how he developed a clearer vision of what his family needed from him. He saw his adult family emulating the example he had set for them (by his intense community involvement and workaholic behavior) when they were children. Though as children they resented their always-busy father, as adults they emulated his behavior without seeing that their children were feeling the same resentment they had felt when they were the same age.

 

         As a young man, Bob was sure that his behavior as provider was correct. He had little understanding of men who put their family ahead of their work or the needs of their community.  As a grandfather, Bob was sure his new insights were correct and had little patience for fathers who put their family last, after job and community.

 

         Whatever we feel is correct at the time is what drives our behavior and controls how we relate to others. We are, of course, right. Other people’s ways of dealing with family, work and community are, of course, wrong. And so when others treat us in a manner in which we would not treat them, we take it personally. We are hurt and upset, and can’t understand how they could behave this way to us. But in truth, it is not personal or meant to be hurtful. They are merely doing what they feel is right for them in the situation.

 

         When Abe lost his job as the synagogue rabbi without cause or justification, it affected his entire family and split the community. Since it was just after the High Holidays, finding another position for that year was almost impossible as most rabbinic positions are filled by September. Abe’s synagogue was the only one in their town, and so merely attending the services was torturous for Abe, his wife and their children. Going to children’s clubs were equally uncomfortable.

 

         It pained both Abe and his wife to see their son, Eli, stop attending the clubs he loved going to so much and distance himself from former friends. They began to get really desperate, as Eli seemed to isolate himself more and more. And so they accepted one of the many offers of support they received from neighbors and friends – the “anything you need, just ask” offers. Eli would go to the clubs only if his friend Josh went with him.

 

         And so they asked Josh’s dad, Jack, to include Eli when he walked his son to clubs. This worked well for a while, and Eli’s parents felt relieved to see their son returning to normal activities. Then, Abe got a call from Jack. He said that he was sorry but Eli couldn’t accompany him and Josh to clubs anymore. Nothing had happened, but this was the only “alone time” he had with Josh, and he felt it was important to them. If Eli shared it, it just wasn’t a special father-and-son time.

 

         Abe was beyond devastated. He would never have done this to someone else’s child, especially when the child was as alone and hurt as Eli. Abe would have been the first one there to offer help, whatever it entailed. In the same situation, he would have put his “alone time” with his son aside for the needs of the other boy. What happened to “anything you need, just ask?” As Eli’s isolation increased, Abe’s pain multiplied, and his anger toward Jack grew.

 

         Meanwhile, Josh’s dad felt he had done the right thing. He felt terrible about Eli. He liked him, and hated to see him go through such a rough time. But the walks to clubs were the only “alone time” he had with his son. He had a large family and a time- consuming job, and those walks to clubs were their only time to bond with each other. He just didn’t want to give it up.

 

         Looking at this situation as outsiders, some of us will side with Abe while others will feel that Josh’s dad did the right thing. I’d like to suggest that neither did right nor wrong. Each just acted in the manner he felt was right for his family at the time. As a rabbi, Abe had always put his community first. He felt it was the right thing for everyone to do. To him, it was a simple case of right and wrong. He was right and Jack had been wrong.

 

         Jack, on the other hand, always felt it was right to put the needs of his family ahead of the needs of others. He acted in a manner true to his beliefs. It wasn’t personal. He felt badly by excluding Eli. But the right thing was to put his son’s needs first.

 

         We often get hurt by the behavior of others toward us – and especially toward our children – when it doesn’t match what we believe is right and how we would act in the same situation. Yet aren’t both parties doing the same thing by acting in a manner that they feel is right, based on their priorities at the time? No hurt is intended. The solution is to not be offended by someone who is doing exactly what we are doing. They just see their priorities differently. Don’t take the behavior personally.

 

         You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com.

Ann Novick

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/expectations/2008/01/30/

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