New Pair of Shoes


I tried on a new pair of shoes this week.  I wouldn’t say they were comfortable—not entirely—but I was pleased to feel the increased support of the arches. I was careful to double-knot the crisp laces so that they wouldn’t come untied while I was running.  I wore them for a short while, because the occasion seemed to require new shoes. After I had broken them in, I set them beside my bed and wiggled my toes. Suddenly, I was aware of my achy muscles.  It was a good kind of ache, I think.

Those of you who heard my Kol Nidre sermon on Tuesday night know that I am not really talking about shoes.  After services concluded, a perceptive listener asked me two questions: Rabbi, how do you feel now that you have joined the ranks of rabbis who engage in exhortation of the congregation on Yom Kippur? and Rabbi, will you be returning tomorrow to your usual, more gentle tone?

The next day I slipped on my well-worn pair of sneakers. They were more comfortable; they creased and folded in just the right places when I stood on my tiptoes to stretch.  They are looking a little beat-up these days, because I have walked many times through the wet grass and have exposed them to the ultraviolet rays of the sun.

My mentor, Rabbi Irwin Kula, challenged me to think about the multifaceted role of rabbis.  Participating in Rabbis Without Borders, I realized that I have always preferred being the teacher or pastor and, until now, I had studiously avoided the role of prophet.  I strive to speak with a voice filled with compassion and to squelch the voice of moral outrage.

But this year I was drawn to express myself differently.

The sales clerk at Phidippides taught me that it is important to alternate running shoes regularly. Not only so that the shoes will last longer, but also because it is better for your feet.






There Are No Words


There’s a time for everything.

A time for silence and a time for speaking.*

According to Jewish custom, from the moment one hears of a death until the body is buried is a period of aninut, pure grief or sorrow, a kind of “suspended state of being” for the mourners.  Daily activities—even ritual obligations—are postponed until the body is laid to rest. The only words recited are those of the shomer, who sits with the body and quietly recites the Psalms. We show respect for the dead by never leaving them unattended.

Following the burial we enter a period of avelut, mourning, in which we show compassion for those grieving by being present. As the mourner’s leave the burial site, the community stands shoulder-to-shoulder, forming a wall on either side of them, and recites a single sentence of consolation.

When we enter the house of mourning, we are not supposed to speak first, but rather allow the mourners to initiate a conversation if they feel the need to talk. As my friend and colleague Rabbi Fred Greene explains, “It is the act of showing up that brings healing.” We recognize that a mourner’s pain is intensely personal and words of comfort are often inadequate.

And so, this period of aninut before the dead have been laid to rest and before the period of avelut has commenced—when the families of two people murdered in Libya may not even have heard the news of the death of their loved ones—is a time for silence.

This period of aninut is a time for us to reflect. Not a time to shout at one another—casting aspersions on political rivals, laying blame at the feet of anyone but the murderers.

It is a time to whisper words of sorrow; to pray and recite the healing words of Psalms.

During this period of aninut, daily activities are suspended and we wait in this time for silence until there is a time for speaking.

I am deeply saddened by the lack of respectful silence around me.

I pray the mourners will find consolation as they grieve.









*Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) chapter 3, verse 7


Airport Art


From my place in the security line, all I could see was the spider web. Until a TSA officer behind me sneezed, and she turned slightly to reveal the spider crawling up her left forearm.

“God bless you.”

She spoke softly but clearly, while making eye contact with the man. I looked at her face and noticed the long row of silver hoops snaking down the edge of her right ear toward an insect on her neck.  Perhaps it was a butterfly.

“Thank you,” he answered her with a smile.

Hardly anyone says “bless you,” let alone “God bless you,” I thought. And I was sure I wasn’t the only one in that line who didn’t expect this young woman to adhere to social conventions.

The middle-aged woman standing between us turned to face her and said, “No one says God bless you, anymore, I’ve noticed.”

She shrugged her delicate shoulders and politely replied, “Years of Catholic school training, I guess.”

They continued to chat as the line remained stalled.  People at the front were taking a long time deciding whether to enter the full body scanner. I considered what a full body scan might reveal about me.  Would it show my deeply internalized bias against what is now referred to as Body Art?

* * * * * * *

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were walking downtown and we saw a shirtless man whose chest appeared to be a canvas.  My friend is a painter and a professor of visual arts. She articulated the dissonance that I have been feeling lately about body art.

“I find tattoos disturbing,” she said. “No matter how beautiful the images are, knowing the way in which they are made makes them seem so violent.”

I will concede that I am drawn to many paintings that portray an artist’s expression of violence or pain.  I might linger in front of Picasso’s “Guernica” or Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” in a museum, allowing the art to evoke an honest, emotional response.  But in the airport—where the sounds, smells and crowds of people threaten to overwhelm my senses—I prefer to confront less-shocking visual stimuli.  Monet’s soothing “Water Lilies” rather than a tattoo artist’s needlework, no matter how carefully constructed the spider’s web, how boldly colored the butterfly’s wings.

* * * * * * *

She greeted me warmly as she sat down next to me on the airplane.  She had given up her seat to allow another middle-aged woman sit next to her elderly father. Looking beyond her body art, I saw immediately that the Artist had endowed her with incomparable beauty.