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New Math

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

I remember this basic rule from high school math class, but I only recently began to understand that its application is limited to two-dimensional problems.

We humans try to apply the rules of Euclid and Pythagoras to our everyday lives, in order to feel like we can control our circumstances.  We draw boxes around the days, lining them up neatly into weeks, months and years.  We allow ourselves to think that we can leave 2011 safely enclosed on the last page of a wall calendar.

But life’s path is not two-dimensional or linear; it cannot be drawn using a ruler to connect two points on a graph. If I can draw a diagonal line through the box that represents December 31st then I do not live inside it.

My life is lived in the open spaces:

In the short, jagged breaths as I sprint to the top of a hill.

In the slow, cleansing breaths as I stretch my calves at the end of a long walk.

My life is lived in constant motion:

In the steady beating of my heart as the earth spins gracefully on its axis.

I sit at my potter’s wheel—my fingers gently squeezing, my arms pulling my hands slowly upward—and I can feel every muscle in my back moving as every inch of my spine is extended.  The flat, round disc grows taller.  The interior walls of the pot are ridged by the nail of the third finger of my left hand.  I remember a moment earlier in the day when I meant to trim it.  But the moment passed.

I watch as my body’s almost imperceptible movement creates circles within a circle.  I breathe slowly, momentarily harnessing the life force of the universe.  My mind wanders in a circuitous path.

Life is not a straight line.  Life is a circle.  And the greatest distance is its circumference.

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Rabbis Without Borders

3

Imagine the most diverse group of rabbis you can.

Take a moment and summon a visual in your mind.

Now compare it with this group: 22 men (some clean-shaven, others bearded) and women (one pregnant, another gray-haired); single and married; gay & straight; several recent graduates of seminaries and a few approaching retirement from years of serving the Jewish people; Orthodox and Renewal, and everything else along a wide spectrum of belief, ritual practice and rabbinic training.

We are crowded around a huge conference table in a room lined with bookshelves.  We are studying with talented teachers, scholars and guest speakers invited by Clal to meet us. We are expanding our own ideas about being rabbis in North America in the 21st century. We are discussing and debating, singing and praying, eating and tweeting, laughing and crying.  Growing. Learning how to help others grow.

What is a rabbi without borders? Clal faculty members share their vision of Judaism and the rabbinate with us. They push us to discover and define “What is my Torah?” and “Who is it for?”

What a gift to be cherished–and shared.  I am grateful to have been chosen for this year’s fellowship and will strive to learn, to teach, to observe and to make the most of this opportunity.

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Exposed

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2011 turned out to be a big travel year for me.  I hadn’t flown much in the previous few years, so I was unprepared for the ways in which air travel would prove to be newly exhausting.  For more than a year, however, I had been planning my response to the TSA officer who asked me to step into a full body scanner. In fact, I’d given a fair amount of thought—and air time around our dinner table—to this new technology.

And I had drawn my line in the linoleum.

Having been subjected to a wide range of scans in my life, I had decided that I would politely, but firmly, refuse to be scanned again—unless asked by a physician who would be reviewing the results with me in his or her office.

Yet there I stood in Newark International Airport—my stocking feet planted firmly on the yellow-painted footprints—as the uniformed man who had gestured for me to step to the right now asked me to raise my arms above my head.  How did this happen?

In the moment I was asked to comply with regulations, I’d made a split-second decision to be compliant.  It really wasn’t a choice, after all, with the only alternatives being a pat-down or an extended stay in NJ. I also ruefully admit that I didn’t want to be the “crank” that made a federal case about a 5 second X-ray. In my mind I pictured a rebel; in my reflection in the Plexiglas I saw a glimpse of my self.

I felt exposed and lightheaded as conflicting messages fired along synapses from lobe to lobe. The TSA officer’s voice interrupted my brain’s reverie:

“Thank you, ma’am.  Step this way.” His eyes revealed that he saw nothing unusual.

The full body scan had not revealed my inner thoughts.  At least there is still a choice whether to make those public.

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