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My children have bested me!

There is a famous story in the Talmud that describes several rabbis arguing about whether a fellow’s oven is fit for use.  In the course of trying to prove his point, the rabbi who holds the minority opinion attempts to convince his colleagues that he is correct by calling upon God to support him.  After the river runs backwards and a voice calls out from heaven that he is correct, his colleagues scoff, saying that they do not determine legal matters based upon heavenly voices.  They quote God, who told Moses and the people of Israel that the law is “not in heaven,” but in their own hands (Deuteronomy 30:12).  The story concludes with God laughing and declaring “Nitzhuni banai,” my children have bested me! This is one of my favorite images of God: the parent who is delighted upon realizing that the next generation has finally grown up to be independent adults, who are indeed smarter and more capable than their parents.


Just over one year ago, I wrote an essay about the demise of the Japanese maple tree which adorned our front yard.  Its trunk was eaten by ambrosia beetles, and we had to remove it and treat the surrounding trees to protect them from the fate of their neighbor.  At the time, I was bereft at the loss of the tree and I could not foresee a future moment when I would be laughing in delight, taking in the visual splendor of the tree’s child.  While I knew that our maple tree was female –it had dropped many seedlings in the yard, most of which did not grow beyond a few inches– I was unaware that a sapling had taken root and begun to flourish in the sunshine that now reached its branches.  Once its mother had been removed, the child was no longer hidden by her shadow from the sun’s rays.  Today, I imagine that old maple tree would be laughing with me, nodding her agreement and rustling in the fall breeze, whispering nitzhuni banai, my children have bested me.

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Counting to Ten

I recently agreed to review a new book by Thomas Block, titled Shalom/Salaam: A Story of Mystical Fraternity.   When the publisher excitedly pressed the book into my hands, I simply couldn’t refuse. Knowing the limitations of my organizational skills, I requested a deadline and was given six weeks.  Now, sitting at my desk, I am faced with the daunting task of reading the book and writing the review.  My mind wanders while I procrastinate: When did I become a girl who can’t say no?

The truth is that I think I may be turning into a softy. Not just a bleeding-heart liberal; but a softhearted, peace-loving, idealistic, naive sap.  At first I considered not writing these words and posting them publicly, because I fear that they evoke a caricature rather than a clear picture of my character.  But as fall breezes give way to winter winds, I am warmed by the thought of revealing myself.  I have been waiting– counting to ten– deciding whether to share these thoughts since September.
In early September 2001, I was happily living in the moment.  I was pregnant with my third child, and although I was still nursing the wounds inflicted by the 2000 Electoral College, I was guardedly optimistic about the future.  Now I am warily living for the future, dreaming of where I will be in September 2011.  I hope to be praying at an interfaith gathering to honor the memories of those who perished on 9/11.  Not because I am a sap who believes that all God’s children must live together in peace.  Rather, because I am a person of faith — faith in God and faith in humanity– who believes that we must learn to heal our broken selves by working together to live in peace.
I used to discuss these ideas with some of my Jewish friends, but I find that we are no longer united by shared beliefs.  For too many months I have heard the now-familiar refrain, “Where are the moderate Muslims? Why don’t they speak out about the extremists?” But I have barely heard a word about the rising Islamophobia in western countries or about the self-inflicted damage to our own ideals and principles.  When we allow our anxiety to fester and we nurture our grievances against an entire people because of the actions of a few, we hurt ourselves in ways that we rarely acknowledge.
And so I find myself compelled to ask, Where are the moderate Jews, whose grandparents fled countries in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Ukraine to escape rampant Judeophobia, and who arrived in this land of freedom only to be humiliated and censured by their German-American brethren who did not wish to be associated with immigrants? Do we no longer share the collective memory of being reviled that ought to inoculate us against revulsion and pronounced hatred of “the other?” Or do we believe that we have arrived in our safe haven where, no longer defined as “the other,” we are free to despise others?
As I count the remaining months on my fingers from now until September, I see my hands stretch open wide.  I hold them, palms facing upward and fingers splayed, ready to receive God’s forgiveness.  I imagine that God’s loving hands will protect us from ourselves.
I count to ten again and open the book, supporting it with my widespread fingers. The time for procrastination is at an end as I begin reading, careful to keep my mind open wide like my hands. And I pray that God will protect my soft heart.
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