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American Guild of Judaic Art New Vision. New Website. New Year. This new “virtual” home for the Guild was created by dedicated  members from all over the country with different talents and skills, who worked diligently to make the site easy to use, informative and—most importantly—the best venue to display AGJA members’ art.  I stand...

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Neshama Interfaith Center Marian Monahan, a founder of the Neshama Interfaith Center, speaks in the voice of a prophet. She preached these words on Mother's Day at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta, and has graciously allowed me to share them here: Those of you who know me are aware that I'm quite involved in the interfaith...

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Encountering Angels: Reading Genesis with my Children In this book, my children and I blend traditional Jewish learning and personal experience in our commentary on Genesis, making it unlike any other book written about the biblical text and rabbinic literature related to Genesis.  Like most books of biblical commentary written by rabbis, it examines the text through the...

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Pamela Jay Gottfried is a rabbi, parent, teacher, artist and author. An inveterate Scrabble player and New York Times Crossword Puzzle fanatic, she credits her love of words to her parents, who encouraged her to develop her vocabulary through reading and using the dictionary at an early age. Since her ordination from...

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Disbelief

We are sitting around Linda’s table. It is laden with Passover desserts—meringues, nuts, fruit, chocolate covered matzah—and we are discussing death. Somehow, a biography of King David leads us to the fire in Brooklyn that took the lives of seven children.

What do we say when a child dies? How do we believe in God when there is so much tragedy and suffering in the world?

We are mothers and grandmothers, daughters and sisters, wives and friends, grappling with theodicy during our Book Club meeting. There is a moment every month when I become suddenly aware of our level of intellectual and emotional engagement; it’s never surprising, always exhilarating, and I pause to savor it.

I acknowledge the challenge of believing in God when facing the death of a child, admit my own doubts and difficulties in praying to God in such circumstances, and recall the line in the Talmud, “Everything is in God’s hands except fear of God.” (Berakhot 33b) Linda expresses her abiding faith that everything is in God’s hands. “Maybe it’s simple, but that’s how I was raised,” she says.

It’s not simple, at all. Maintaining one’s belief in a transcendent God, the Ruler of the Universe, and an immanent God, who is near to us and acts in our lives, strikes me as complicated. I tell Linda she is lucky; her easy faith is one that does not come easily to many of us.

arlington cemetery

Not quite one month passes between this conversation and Linda’s untimely death.

My denial—I refuse to say “Blessed is the True Judge” upon hearing the news—and disbelief are absolute.

For twenty four hours I am numb. Then, unexpectedly, tears flow, as I realize we’ll be meeting this week at the cemetery, instead of next week for our final book discussion before summer break. I spend the rest of the day checking in with as many of the group I can reach by phone.  We cannot believe it, cannot imagine being together without her. How can a person of such timeless beauty and steadfast presence be gone?

It seems that, in leaving us so suddenly, Linda died as she lived, with perfect faith in God who would comfort us as we mourn her.

“Though I walk through the darkest valley or stand in the shadow of death, I am not afraid, for I know you are always with me.” (Psalm 23)

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RWB Blog

rwb_logo196There is some great Torah being taught by my Rabbis Without Borders colleagues at the blog on MyJewishLearning.com. We invite you to join our daily conversation! You can also engage with us on Facebook & Twitter: @rwbclal

Here are links to my latest posts: 

Memory and Desire: The heavy rains awaken me early on Saturday morning and dislodge a buried memory of a conversation… Read more →

From Futility to Freedom: The following is an excerpt from my personal Haggadah, a story of my enslavement to a principle and my discovery of the freedom to speak my mind. Read more →

Next month’s post will go live on May 26th at 9:00 a.m.

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All the Memories

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I am blessed to have three children, and each of them was born to a different mother.

When my eldest was born, I was a young woman, married less than three years, unsure if I was cut out for motherhood. I learned that I was pregnant a third time, just six weeks after an early miscarriage, still unsure how my heart would expand to love another child.

In 1999, we moved with our two daughters to Atlanta, then the fourth fastest-growing city in the country and the only city in which we both had job offers. We knew we wanted more children, but it took a while to settle into our new home. By the time I was pregnant with my son, I was in my mid-thirties. I felt young, but the Obgyn’s designation of my “Advanced Maternal Age,” bouts of hormone induced insomnia and a mandatory meeting with a genetic counselor forced me to consider this child would be my last.

On Sunday, my thirteen year old will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah; he will lead the congregation in prayers and song, read from the Torah and share wisdom he has gleaned from it while studying with me.  Before he teaches the community, I’d like to tell him a few things I’ve learned from him:

Perhajonah and imaps the greatest lesson I learned from you is how time passes quickly as we grow older. Although you are my last-born, the child of my middle age, I’ve spent more one-on-one time with you than with your sisters. I was able to stay home with you for the first six months of your life and return to part-time work until you were three. This arrangement turned out to be good for me, for you and for my students, as well. Because you didn’t sleep through the night for fifteen months, and during your waking hours you were in constant motion—climbing, exploring, testing the boundaries—I learned to accomplish much while moving. I discovered I was a kinesthetic learner. You taught me to take risks as a teacher, to engage my students who were also kinesthetic learners in new ways.

I became an art student during your toddlerhood. At first, I took ceramics classes as an outlet for the anxiety I experienced daily: I had begun to feel disconnected from God, probably because I was so exhausted. I attained a true healing of mind and spirit in the hours of silence I spent at the potter’s wheel. Eleven years later, my yearning for creative expression is fulfilled. You taught me I was not too old to try new things.

As you approached adolescence, you brought music into my life. I mean this quite literally. Every morning you would set your iPod to play an appropriate song for our drive to school. You introduced me to Phillip Phillips, whose song “Gone Gone Gone” was a soundtrack of a sad time in our lives, when we said goodbye to our first dog, Jenna. Recently, you downloaded newer songs, including “Raging Fire.” While we were in traffic and I drummed the steering wheel, you suggested that I watch the video.

Listening to the lyrics carefully as I watched, I understood the artist intended this to be a song about romantic love. Still, I hear in the second verse a declaration of a mother’s love for her son, a reminder to cherish the gifts you have given me  and a prayer for this joyous time in our lives.

You know time will give and time will take,

All the memories made will wash away,

Even though we’ve changed, I’m still here with you.

If you listen close, you’ll hear the sound

Of all the ghosts that bring us down,

Hold on to what makes you feel,

Don’t let go, it’s what makes you real.

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