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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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American Guild of Judaic Art The American Guild of Judaic Art is a not-for-profit membership organization for those with interests in the Judaic arts. Guild Members include artists, galleries, collectors & retailers of Judaica, writers, educators, appraisers, museum curators, conservators, lecturers, and others personally or professionally involved...

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Tiferet: Literature, Art & the Creative Spirit Thanks to the encouragement of Tiferet's editors and community of writers, I've taken risks with my writing—submitting poetry to their site and entering their annual writing contest. Tiferet Talk, featuring interviews with authors, has also been a wellspring of inspiration. Here are links to my most recent posts at Tiferet: Gratitude...

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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 an ordained rabbi, teacher, mother, and self-described wordie. An inveterate Scrabble player and New York Times Crossword Puzzle fanatic, she credits her love of words to her third grade teacher and her parents, who encouraged her to develop her vocabulary through reading and using the dictionary...

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Beautiful Day for a Funeral

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Three weeks ago I attended a funeral.

I’ve attended many funerals during my fifteen years in Atlanta—some might call this an occupational hazard—and learned what to expect. So I was surprised, and a bit unnerved, by how disoriented I was during this funeral.

It was an impossibly beautiful morning for July in Atlanta, with relatively low humidity and a cool breeze. The sun was shining as we arrived at the cemetery, a mixed multitude of the Jewish community, a reflection of the many people whose lives were touched by the deceased and his family. People greeted one another warmly, with hugs and exclamations of “you’re here,” in much the same way the deceased would have greeted us in his home. This, along with the barometric pressure, contributed to an almost pleasant atmosphere in the cemetery.

Arlington Memorial Park, Sandy Springs

When the funeral director determined that everyone had arrived, he ushered us toward the small tent in front of the grave, where the family and close friends would sit shielded from the sun. The crowd assembled behind the tent and stood in rows, some with shoulders touching, others holding each other, all of us steadying each other.

I heard a woman near me say to her companion, “Look at all the widows.” I turned to my friend beside me, but she didn’t appear to have heard. I resisted the urge to look behind us and instead directed my attention to the rabbi, who was saying to the mourners, “God has given and God has taken away; may God’s name be blessed.”

I tried to concentrate as each of the grandchildren delivered a loving tribute and told their grandfather how much they missed him, as the rabbi brought the deceased’s life into focus with a well-delivered eulogy. But my thoughts inevitably wandered back to the women standing in the row before me, to my friend standing beside me, to the clusters of women gathered to support a friend who now bore the moniker of widow.

I wondered how many of us would come to be called widows. Some of us, due to the natural life expectancy of women, would belong to this demographic group in our later years. Others would be widowed at a younger age due to accident or illness, those unexpected and unnatural life circumstances.

I cried a lot on this beautiful day.

I was startled when my friend tapped my arm to offer me another tissue. I was only half-listening to the psalms and prayers, familiar rituals of funerals. The other half of me had momentarily left the cemetery to attend an imagined funeral taking place some time in the future. I was grateful for her interruption of these wandering thoughts. I looked straight ahead and recited the words of the mourner’s kaddish, together with the community that had assembled to honor a good man and to comfort his widow and family in their grief. I noticed a group of women, who have been friends for decades and have been together for countless celebrations; I realized that those who were still married stood protectively beside those who had lost their life partners.

It is likely that I will be present at many funerals in the next fifteen years. It is also likely that, as I get older, there will be many more women than men in attendance at these funerals. We will gather to support each other, as we assume the inevitable change of marital status from wife to widow. I did not happen upon this knowledge suddenly, but seeing these women reminded me of the great responsibility that comes with true friendship. At weddings, we promise to love our spouses until death. At funerals, we promise to love our friends as they confront death.

I felt strangely uplifted as I witnessed the enduring friendship of the women all around me. Three weeks later, I can still recall my odd feelings of euphoria as I drove home from the cemetery. Three weeks later, I am still awestruck by the power of love, radiating like the sun on that beautiful morning.

For love is stronger than death.

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Puppy Love

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I knew we would only have a few minutes to debrief before he fell fast asleep in the back seat, so I chose to ask three questions:

  • What were the highlights?
  • Any Lowlights?
  • Was there anything different about camp this year?

luna resting on jagI was surprised when he mentioned that he missed home more this year. Allowing myself a follow-up question, I asked, “Why do you think that was the case?” His reply: “New puppy.”

I understood exactly what he meant by those two words, despite that she isn’t all that new and isn’t really a puppy. She’s already more than eighteen months old and has been part of our pack for more than six months.

I also missed home more this year; I returned home twice on my Wednesdays off, which I’d never done in my previous nine summers at camp.  I missed my spouse and my daughters, I missed reliable WiFi and, I’m not ashamed to admit, I missed Luna.

* * * * * * *

I rescued Luna in early December, after her thirty day stint in the county shelter. It was eleven weeks after Jenna’s death. When she died, my son and I began lobbying for another dog almost immediately. His sisters and, moreover, the top dog of our pack, were not ready. My son and I waited with mounting impatience.

I knew I needed a totally different dog—a younger, leaner one—that I’d be able to lift into the car if necessary. My son and I were visiting Petfinder and other rescue sites daily, looking for a mutt who was already house-trained, who would presumably not suffer from some of the health issues that afflict full-bred canines.

I struck up an email correspondence with one of the volunteers at the shelter. She asked me a lot of questions about our family make-up, our experience with our first dog and our expectations regarding our next dog. We made a date for noon on Thursday, and she promised to bring several dogs that would be “a good fit for our family” out to meet me.

luna profile picI have many friends that are dog people. Throughout Jenna’s illness, they had reassured me—along with the Vet—that when it was her time I would know. Now they assured me, “the dog will choose you.”

At the time, I had doubts; I dismissed them as dog people. Driving home from camp, after five weeks without regular access to puppy love, I’d come to the realization that I too am a dog person.

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Neither Here nor There

When, during Staff Week, the Director of Camp Ramah Darom explained the new system for accessing the wifi network, he also spoke a bit about the importance of our being present at camp without the distractions of social media, texting, etc.  I didn’t think much about it at that moment. I didn’t realize that I would return to this question of how best to “be present” time and again throughout my five weeks at camp.

A few weeks into the camp session, my spouse and I were talking—while my wifi connection is temperamental, my cell phone connection is not bad, at least in my room—and we were reminiscing about the days before AT&T built a tower in the mountains. We used to have an arranged time for me to call him—on a landline, using a pre-paid calling card. It’s not surprising that we’ve spoken more this summer than in previous ones. I am surprised, though, by how much I feel torn between a desire to be home with my two daughters and a need to be focused on my work at camp.

Usually, I am able to be present at camp by remaining relatively disconnected from home and from events in the “real world.” This summer has been the exception that proves the rule: for the first time in ten years, not only did I not have any visitors from home at camp, but I also drove all the way home on two separate occasions to spend my day off with my daughters.

Maybe it’s because two-thirds of my children are home this summer, leaving only one-third of them at camp, or maybe it’s because world events are more intrusive this year. Maybe it’s because I left more work “on hold” while I was away. I’m not sure that any single explanation can account for my feeling neither here nor there.

Maybe this summer’s particular challenge is to be present neither here nor there. For the next five days, I’ll try to be present in each moment, and to remember that these camp moments will not come again for another year.

house in winter

fog rising panaroma

 

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