Thoughts for a Happy Father’s Day!

Four Men Who Made a Difference in My Life

Man and young boy kicking a soccer ball on a grassy field

Father’s Day was not a day of celebration for me as a child.

I never knew my father. My parents divorced when I was an infant. I was raised in my grandparents’ home in Chicago, with occasional visits from my mother, who was often away singing opera in New York and Milan.

All the other kids at my synagogue had fathers. They always talked about “dad” and looked on with pride as their fathers took positions of leadership and moved about the bimah (synagogue podium or platform). I felt a certain sense of inclusion by proxy, but, of course, it was not the same as having your own father present.

As I prepared for my bar mitzvah, I attended the synagogue’s Tefillin Club, where 12-year-old boys of our traditional congregation learned how to put on tefillin (small black leather boxes containing verses from the Torah and worn in prayer) and master the elements of the adult worship service.

One of the four Jewish male mentors in my formative years was Harry Schlitten, a senior member of the congregation. At the Tefillin Club, he would come over to each of us individually and share a bit of his wisdom. I had no idea what he did for a living, but to this day I can still see the diamond-encrusted pin he wore proudly on his lapel, his symbol of being a 33rd-degree Mason. What that meant we didn’t know, except that it was a sign of exceeding accomplishment. He regularly told us so. He also seemed to know the details of my life and, with a caring hand on my shoulder, would tell me: “The most important thing is to be a mensch.”

The second of my mentors was my Boy Scout leader, Harold Robbins (not to be confused with the bestselling author). He and the other men he brought together to take charge of our synagogue’s Troop 635 knew they had the awesome task of teaching us responsibility. Preparing for the annual Scout Jamboree, held every June in Marquette Park, was one of those times when responsibility counted. If you shirked the tough jobs, Mr. Robbins would simply ignore you. If you accepted the responsibility to bring the equipment up from the synagogue basement storage room, you were doing the right thing. If you accepted the responsibility of leading the annual service at the Jamboree – usually my job – you again were doing right.

I well remember his line-marked face reflected in myriad campfires as he let each of us know individually that being a Boy Scout was a key step on the road to becoming a man, that fun should follow work, and that the “jobs” had to be done right.

We were the only Jewish troop among scores of others sponsored by churches and fraternal organizations. Mr. Robbins taught us that we had to be at least as good as the best of them – that our tents, our equipment, should always be in top condition and “look smart.” Jews needed to behave that way.

And then there was my Orthodox rabbi, Mordecai Schultz. Right after I became a bar mitzvah, he would often call and tell me I was needed to complete a minyan (Jewish prayer quorum). Would I come? My bar mitzvah counted. I was needed. Imagine that!

The fourth seminal male figure in my life was David Fox, my Hebrew school teacher. He would always arrive in his plumber’s truck about 15 minutes before class to toss around a football and share an experience intended to teach us a life lesson.

One summer, while I rested in my bunk at Camp Moshavah, some 250 miles away, the door parted, and David Fox’s face appeared. I was ecstatic to see him. I learned later that he had made the long trip to see a friend, but, as an 11-year-old, you never could have persuaded me of that. To me, he was like a father, representing all that was important and right.

I learned from David and the other men who had given me a sense of belonging that you don’t have to be someone’s father to be a positive influence and role model, especially for boys who don’t have a dad in their home.

As the director of a camp for most of my adult life, I have the good fortune to have been a mentor to many young people.

And as for Father’s Day, having two loving daughters has made it one of the brightest days on my calendar.

Is There a Blessing for a Blintz?

Three blintzes on a plate garnished with peach slices and a dollop of sour cream

When you marry someone, you not only get a spouse, you also get another family. When I married my husband, Rabbi Donald Goor, I inherited his mother and father, his siblings, their children. I even inherited his grandmother: Jeannette Multer. Jeannette wasn’t “Nana” or “Bubbie” or “Safta” or “Gramma.” She was “Grandmother.” Grandmother. And the properness of “Grandmother” embodied who she was: exacting, precise, and at times a bit rigid.

But Grandmother was also a voracious reader (she had once owned a bookstore), an astute student of politics and world affairs, a lifelong, dedicated Reform Jew, and a passionate Democrat left-wing voter who wrote letters to politicians with whom she both agreed and disagreed. Her cooking was legendary and holiday tables were overflowing with family favorites: matzah farfel muffins and an almond torte for Passover, assorted fruit pies for Thanksgiving, an amazing sour cream coffee cake, and for Shavuotthere were Grandmother’s blintzes.

Shortly before Grandmother died, she shared the secret to the blintzes with me and my friend Rachel Andress-Tysch. We stood alongside Grandmother in her Beverly Hills kitchen and watched her mix and pour batter and flip from pan to plate the “bletlach” (Yiddish for crepes). Two, small aluminum steep-sided pans moved back and forth across the stove’s gas flames and with a quick “zetz” (Yiddish for smack or hit) to the pan’s handle the blintz turned.

“The first one you throw away…it’s greasy and it’s useless…but taste it, “she said.

It was light and airy and not too sweet. And as if we were in our own Food Channel episode, she taught Rachel and me how to make blintzes. The kitchen was perfumed with toasted butter as we poured and flipped and filled and rolled and fried again. We stuffed half the thin pancakes with a cream cheese-farmer cheese recipe and the other half were filled with Grandmother’s recipe for a cheese-less fresh fruit filling. And those crepes that were not perfectly round and browned – we sprinkled them with powdered sugar and devoured them standing around the stove.

At the end of the cooking lesson, Grandmother gave me a Nordstrom’s shopping bag. Inside were the two aluminum pans additionally wrapped in plastic bags: “You take them. Use them. Make blintzes for your friends with them. Just throw away the first blintz. Always throw it away.”

When we moved to Israel – made aliyah – in July 2013, we got rid of a lot of stuff as we were moving from a large, four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom apartment. But I kept Grandmother’s pans. They were a link to the past: to heritage, to history, to family. They were carefully placed in a box filled with lots of other kitchen paraphernalia: wooden spoons, a flour sifter, drawer dividers, a colander I especially liked for draining pasta, an orange zester, a variety of baking pans, a set of plates for serving asparagus, and other items I was convinced I’d never find in Israel. (Indeed, I’ve never, ever seen asparagus plates here in Jerusalem.) But when our cargo container finished its voyage from Los Angeles to China and into the port of Ashdod, that box was missing. The pans (along with the asparagus plates and my favorite colander) had disappeared.

Last year, I was cleaning a cupboard above the refrigerator when I noticed a Nordstrom’s bag pushed back into the corner of a shelf. Inside was a plastic bag and inside that were the blintz pans. How they got there is a still-unsolved mystery. At the bottom of the shopping bag was a note in Grandmother’s distinctive cursive penmanship that said:

2 blintz pans.
Use them for Shavuos – or whenever.
Wherever you may be.
Love, Grandmother

I’ve used the pans for Shavuot – and on other occasions. And now, “wherever you may be” is in Israel – in Jerusalem. As I mix that first batch of batter and melt the butter in the pan (” Never use oil!!”), the spirit of Don’s grandmother stands next to me thousands of miles from that kitchen in southern California and her unseen hand guides my fingers as I pour those first spoonsful of batter into the pan. I wait for the bubbles to appear on the surface indicating the bletlach is almost ready. As I see the edges of the blintz brown, I take the spatula and gently pull it from the pan but as I place it on the plate covered with a tea-towel, I instantly remember Grandmother’s cardinal rule of blintz making: “Throw out the first one!” But rather than tossing it away – I roll it up, sprinkle it with a bit of powdered sugar, and in lieu of a blessing (I wonder, is there a blessing for a blintz?) say to myself:

Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu umah naim goralinu umah yafah y’rushateinu!
Happy are we; how good is our portion; how pleasant is our lot; and how beautiful is our inheritance!

That, for sure, is a suitable blessing for a blintz handed down with love and care through the generations.

Chag sameach!

On Shavuot: “Re-Covenanting” as a Unified People

Kotel (Western Wall) crowded with throngs of visitors

And Israel encamped [at Sinai] as one person with one mind.
— Rashi on Exodus 19:3

Remarkable unity characterized the Jewish people in the days before receiving Torah at Sinai, an event we commemorate on Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. As a student in Jerusalem one year, I experienced that unity powerfully on Shavuot. At the end of the traditional all-night learning session, I joined thousands of others streaming toward the Old City. We poured into the Western Wall plaza and I nestled myself in with one prayer group among the hundreds. Tens of thousands of people packed the plaza, a sea of white prayer shawls and people swaying together to the sounds of our ancient liturgy. Indeed, my sense of oneness with the Jewish people at that moment was “like one person with one mind.”

The next year was very different. I finished the night of study in Jerusalem with friends from one of the liberal Jewish seminaries. Again, we joined the masses walking to the Old City, this time with our own Torah scroll in hand. When we arrived at the Western Wall plaza we set up our prayer service toward the back, away from many of the other groups. My friend started the morning blessings, our group of men and women standing around him.

Almost immediately, a man with a prayer shawl ran up to our table and yelled at us in Hebrew, motioning with his hands for us to leave. “Forbidden! Forbidden!” he called out repeatedly, gesticulating wildly. He was drawing attention and more people began to approach. A guard told us to move to an area in back of the plaza and up some stairs. We were not prepared for a major confrontation, so we moved to this area called “The Archeological Garden,” a quiet and lovely place to pray, so we began again.

Again, within moments, a man stuck his head out a window in his home near the garden and yelled those same words, “Forbidden! Forbidden!” My friend walked over and spoke quietly with him, assuring him that we were permitted to pray – men and women together – in this area. After a short conversation the man calmed down and we continued until we were finished.

The unity and the feeling of the year before were gone. I felt marginalized, separate, and disrespected, humiliated and furious all at once. This was my first experience with the depth of divisions in the Jewish people, divisions so deep that the Orthodox majority felt empowered to marginalize liberal Jews who came to celebrate receiving our shared inheritance, the Torah. I realized that the unity I had felt a year earlier was merely an illusion. Could a Jewish community this fractured ever be whole enough to stand again at Sinai?

This ancient story about receiving the Torah provides a way forward. The Talmud, in Shabbat 88b, tells us that when the Torah originally was presented to the Israelites, God held the mountain over their head and basically said, “I’m making you an offer you can’t refuse. Accept the Torah, or else.” Commenting on this coercion, one of the rabbis of the Talmud explained that the Jewish people can’t be held accountable to fulfill the Torah because they only accepted it under duress. Another rabbi agreed but added that, during the time of Esther and Mordechai, hundreds of years later in Persia, the Jews accepted the Torah voluntarily and thus are obligated in its fulfillment.

In the language of community organizing, the two different models of receiving Torah are called “power over” and “power with.” A power over model features domination and coercion.  God, so to speak, forced a unified acceptance of the Torah. A power with model invites people into participation, as Esther did by making herself vulnerable and asking the Jews of Shushan to unify together in a three-day fast.

In a power over model, the dominant group forces its vision and understanding of the world on everyone else – which is what happens at the Western Wall. Those who reject the dominant perspective are marginalized, threatened, and discounted. A power with model emphasizes sharing power and raising up previously marginalized voices for the good of the whole.

Only the power with model will help the Jewish people – in all our diversity of thought – achieve unity. The more one segment tries to impose its will on others, the more resistance and division it will create. If you sense your community is unified, who might be on the margins, not feeling that unity? In what ways does the dominant group in your community impose its will on the collective?

The key is for us to employ a power with approach – listening, not telling; cultivating curiosity for Torah, not imposing our approach; and making room for diverse perspectives. Although a power over approach may be easier, it won’t create unity. Knowing that real unity involves every voice, on Shavuot, let us commit to learn how others make sense of our shared Torah and bring people in from the margins.

Upcoming Dates to Remember for May

 

 

2 Last Day of Hebrew School

4  Lag Ba-Omer Cookout

5  Saturday Service, Tisch with Rabbi & Carrie

6  Last Day of Sunday School

11  Kabbalat Shabbat with Dr. Mark Packer leading services

12  No Saturday Service

13  Mother’s Day

16 Hadassah Closing Meeting

18  Sisterhood Sabbath

19  Saturday Service

20  Temple Board Meeting

20 Yizkor Service & Blintzes

25  Kabbalat Shabbat

26  Saturday Service

May 2018 Worship Schedule

May 4 & 5

Friday: Lag BaOmer

Dinner at 6:00 pm

Saturday: Cinco de Mayo Tisch with Rabbi & Carrie

9:30 am

May 11 & 12

Friday: Service at 7:30 pm

Saturday: There will be no Saturday Morning Service

May 18 & 19

Friday: Kabbalat

Shabbat 6:00 pm,

Refreshments at 5:30

Saturday: Morning Service 9:30 am

May 25 & 26

Friday: Kabbalat

Shabbat 6:00 pm,

Refreshments at 5:30

Saturday: Morning Service 9:30 am

May Events at a Glance!

Last Day of Hebrew School: Wednesday, May 2

Lag Ba-Omer Cookout: Friday, May 4 at 6:00 pm

Saturday Service & Tisch with Rabbi & Carrie: 9:30 am May 5-Cinco de Mayo

Sunday School: May 6 beginning at 9:30 am with Hebrew,

Last Day of Sunday School

 

 

Kabbalat Shabbat: Friday May 11 at 6:00

 

Saturday Service: May 12 at 9:30 am

 

Mother’s Day: Sunday, May 13

 

Sisterhood Sabbath: Friday, May 18 at 7:30

 

Saturday Service: May 19 at 9:30 am, Erev Shavuot

 

Yizkor Service & Blintzes: Sunday May 20 at 6:00 pm,

Shavuot Day 1

 

Temple Board Meeting: Monday, May 21 at 6:00 pm

 

Kabbalat Shabbat: Friday, May 25 at 6:00

Lag BaOmer: A Time of Celebration and Reflection

  • Lag BaOmer Bonfire Party

And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering (Omer) – the day after the Sabbath – you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week – fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain … (Leviticus 23: 15-16)

Many of our Jewish holidays are based on the agricultural calendar of our ancestors, including the three pilgrimage festivals of Passover (Pesach), Shavuot and Sukkot. There is an interesting connection between Pesach and Shavuot when we count the Omer (a harvesting unit of measure), starting the second night of Pesach until Shavuot, essentially marking the time from the barley to the wheat harvest. As in all agrarian societies, if the weather pattern deviates, it can be disastrous for the community. This is a precarious time, when everyone prays for positive results. Since our ancestors saw this as a somber time, there are many prohibitions during this 49-day period, including no weddings, parties or haircuts.

The one exception during this solemn period is Lag BaOmer-the 33rd day of counting the Omer. “Lag” is from the Hebrew letters lamed and gimel. Lamed has a numerical equivalent to 30, and gimel has the numerical equivalent of 3-thus the 33rd day. There are different reasons given to explain why this date is special. One rationale is that the plague that brought about the death of thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped on Lag BaOmer. The plague was supposedly due to their lack of respect for one another. There is also the claim that Lag BaOmer is the yahrzeit of one of Rabbi Akiva’s most famous students-Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who is said to have authored the mystical writings of the Zohar-the text of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). According to legend, Rabbi bar Yochai was so saintly that during his entire lifetime, no rainbows appeared. The rainbow is a sign of the covenant between God and creation, and since “rainbow” and “bow” both are translated as keshet in Hebrew, the bow and arrow are symbols used to recall Rabbi bar Yochai. In a commentary on Genesis, the great Torah scholar Rashi (1040-1105), explained that there were generations so righteous that they did not require a sign of the covenant. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s generation was among them.Thus, the holiday is seen almost as a tribute to scholars. It has become a day of celebration and joy amidst the mournful seven weeks surrounding it.

Among those who observe the somber days during the Omer, Lag BaOmer is a day of wedding celebrations. During the time of the counting of the Omer there are bans on parties, music and dancing, similar to the prohibitions for a person in mourning for a loved one. For those who wish to marry in the spring, this is the only day on which one can celebrate. Many Jews also do not cut their hair during this time period. Boys, at the age of 3, often have their first haircut on Lag BaOmer, with much festivity surrounding the event.

Lag BaOmer celebrations are generally outdoor adventures, including bonfires, fun and frolic with teaching. Especially in Israel, people young and old will be outside sharing a picnic and enjoying the beautiful day; school children celebrate with a “field day.” The bonfires lit in celebration are supposed to symbolize the light of Torah.

How can we honor and rejoice on Lag BaOmer? Take time to study a new Jewish text, learn a new ritual you can bring into the rhythm of your days, find a new idea that brings meaning to your life. Have a picnic with family and friends, and take time to appreciate.

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