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Antidote

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(noun \ˈant-i-ˌdōt\ definition: a remedy that counteracts the effects of poison)

I don’t doubt the biological imperative of humans to identify danger. The ability to perceive threats to one’s survival was necessary for our ancestors who inhabited the savannah. My concern is that we have cultivated a mindset of fear and hatred toward anyone who is slightly different or strange.

Friday afternoon, Jews around the world will commemorate the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Saturday evening, Jews around the world will commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70. In both cases we remember the violence and tragedy which was the direct result of senseless hatred.

I spent the better part of this week looking for an antidote, wondering if there is anything that one person can do to reverse this fatal trend. Then I received an email from a friend and colleague at Rabbis Without Borders which concluded with a prayer that “we all find random excuses to bring senseless love into the world.” His words inspired me to perform countless acts of kindness—humility prevents me from describing them in detail—and to ask that each recipient “pay it forward” to another person.

I realize that I can only affect small changes in my tiny corner of the world. I can only pray that my actions will generate equal, positive reactions throughout the universe. I can only hope that my prayers will reach the heavens.

Perhaps this realization is the beginning of discovering the antidote.

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The Dog Days of Summer

When I was a kid, summer break seemed to last for much longer than two months. We would stretch out beside the water, luxuriating in the warm daylight, until the need to replenish arose. When our fingers wrinkled from hours in the cool water, we turned our attention to the endless supply of summer fruits: plums, nectarines, berries and melon. At night we stayed outside long after the fireflies abandoned the dusk.

Now that I am an adult, it seems like summer break lasts only the few moments it takes for the water to evaporate on my skin as I step out of the pool. Friends my own age reassure me that I am not alone in feeling this way, but their words offer little comfort. I yearn to trap the extra hour of summer sun and save it for a cold winter day that will soon arrive, unbidden and unnoticed.

I don’t get much writing accomplished in the summer. Without the school routines to govern my days, the hours pass like minutes and quiet time comes only in fits and spurts. Instead, I am thinking and feeling intensely, planning what I will write when the children are back at school. Sometimes I feel that these are the most productive days of my year.

Tonight begins the month of Av in the Jewish calendar, which means that the celebration of the new year, Rosh Hashanah, is just two months away. I imagine how many words I will write in these months–the Jewish dog days of summer–and my tears come unbidden and unnoticed. I offer a prayer for these fleeting days: “‘Teach us how short our time is; let us know it in the depths of our souls.’ And lead our hearts to wisdom.”

(Psalms 90:12 with Stephen Mitchell’s translation from A Book of Psalms: Selected & Adapted from the Hebrew)

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Energy Conservation

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This has been a summer of electrical storms.

At overnight camp in the mountains, storms are particularly exciting events. One notable inconvenience at camp is that the waste removal stations are equipped with electrically powered pumps, so during an outage there is a moratorium on flushing the toilets.

One night, we heard a crack of thunder and the entire area went dark. While most children were tucked safely in their bunks, some campers and staff members were scattered around the camp. We waited in eerily, emergency lit buildings for hours until a bus could be dispatched to take us to our cabins. The “no-flush rule” made the dark evening pass slowly. After five hours of watching the rain and hoping that the food in the fridge wouldn’t spoil, we finally went to sleep.

At home this morning, as the eight-hour mark of a power outage approached, I was grateful for the silence.  The temperature outside was still bearable, the milk remained safely sealed in the fridge and the coffee maker sat silently on the counter top. I sat by the window for an hour—drinking cold water from the tap—and wrote by natural light. When I checked the time on my cell phone, I noticed its battery charge indicator falling steadily and wondered how accurate Georgia Power’s estimate of 10:15 a.m. would be. Some time earlier, two large trucks bearing their logo barreled down the street, inciting barks and howls from many neighborhood dogs.

I found my dog lounging on the cool tiles in the foyer; she was lying still, conserving her energy. At that moment, I made a decision to wait patiently. Some time later, while I was sprawled alongside her, I heard the house begin to hum.

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