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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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There’s an App for That

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I know this sounds corny, or Pollyannaish, but I’m going to say it anyway:

I play the Compassion Games because I believe that playing makes me act with intentional compassion toward others. I believe that engaging in play helps us learn. I believe that my participating in this game makes a difference, bringing a small portion of peace to my tiny piece of the world.

At first, when I played last year, I was less enthusiastic about one aspect of the game: submitting reports to the Compassion Map. I felt uncomfortable boasting about Random Acts of Kindness that I performed. I felt strange writing about how my playing the game made an impact on me.  I wondered if reporting about my good deeds somehow devalued them.

This year, the timing of the games is right in the middle of the month of Elul, which begins a season of repentance in the Jewish calendar. This is a time for reviewing our actions of the previous year, and making amends with others prior to the High Holidays, RoshHaShanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh HaShanah , the Jewish New Year, is also called Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgement, when God reviews our actions of the previous year and inscribes us in the Book of Life. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, often considered the holiest day of the year, we stand before God and pray to be cleansed of our past sins and allowed to begin anew. Mapping my actions during these first two days of the Compassion Games has already helped me with my spiritual preparation for the coming holy days. Writing about acts of compassion makes them less random and more tangible.

I recommend the Compassion Games as a tool for personal growth and as a means for making positive change in the world and promoting peace. I invite you to play with me—if you want to play on my team, please submit your reports using the hashtag CompassionateAtlanta—or to join your city’s team, or to play as an individual.

compassion appLet’s play to seek peace, to pursue it, to help God bring peace to all the world’s inhabitants. The goal sounds lofty, but less daunting and possible to achieve through playing a game.

By the way, it’s easy to submit your reports: there’s an app for that, of course.

 

 

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The Strangest Dream

Last night I had the strangest dream. It woke me at 1:00 a.m. and left me unable to fall back asleep before 5:00 a.m. The more I examine this dream in the light of day, the more I am mystified by the workings of the subconscious mind.

I can point to a conversation, a few days ago, that may have triggered this dream. My two younger children were discussing the interpretation of dreams while packing their lunches for school. My son informed his older sister, “When you dream about losing your tooth, it means you’re anxious about dying.”

Where did he learn that? Is he repeating something I said to him? I didn’t interrupt their dialogue, as I was relishing the role of eavesdropper, but I guess my subconscious mind decided to join the conversation last night. My dream began, as it usually does, with my realization that I had a loose tooth. I wiggled it with my tongue and it popped out. I tasted the blood pooling in my mouth. As I packed the hole with gauze, I discovered a second loose tooth.

Last night’s dream followed the typical pattern of my recurring anxiety dream about losing my teeth, with one notable exception. I did not wake up at the moment I discovered the second tooth was loose. Instead, it popped out, too. Only then was I released from the dark corner of my anxious, subconscious mind. I sat upright and checked the clock while simultaneously checking for signs I had been clenching my jaw while asleep. Mercifully, there were none. I grabbed my notebook and Sunday’s crossword puzzle from my nightstand, and headed downstairs. Lying on the couch, trying to get tired enough to return to bed, I thought about the Nutella incident.

Last night, I was emotionally exhausted from the events of the day—from maintaining an awareness of the violence erupting on six continents while keeping despair from overwhelming my ability to function. Around 9:30 p.m., I announced to my spouse, “I’m finished. I’m going to have a spoonful of Nutella and then I’m going to bed.” He followed me into the kitchen, watched me dip into the Nutella, offered soothing words while I shamelessly double-dipped, and then noted without judgment, “That was two spoonfuls of Nutella, you know.”

He always knows just the right thing to say to dissolve my anxiety in laughter. He returned to the couch to watch the baseball game and I went to bed with the expectation of sweet dreams. Instead, I awoke after three hours to ponder the variation on my recurring anxiety dream’s theme. What does it mean if you dream about losing two teeth? I wanted to wake my son to ask him.

talmud berakhot

In the morning, I sit down at the computer to collect my thoughts and remember studying a segment of the Talmud that deals with the interpretation of dreams. I easily locate—with the help of Google—the pages that record the rabbis’ discussions about dreams, including Bar Kappara’s report that he dreamed his nose fell off and Rabbi’s reassurance that a fierce anger had been removed from him. I scroll down, searching for something specific about lost teeth, until I come upon this: “Rabbi Hanina said: One who sees a well in a dream will see peace, as it is said (Genesis 26:19), ‘Isaac’s servants, digging in the valley, found there a well of living water.’”  [Talmud Bavli, Berakhot 56b]

Maybe dreaming about lost teeth isn’t related to anxiety about my own death. I know that I am angry about the deaths of so many children this summer. I know that I am heartbroken after hearing Steven Sotloff’s mother plead for his release. Maybe my teeth can be compared to Bar Kappara’s nose: losing them is a way of freeing my mind from anxiety about death and making room for dreams about wells of water in the desert.

Reading these pages of Talmud triggers a memory of another text I learned years ago. I type into the Google search bar, “last night I had the strangest dream.” I click the link to YouTube and let Simon & Garfunkel fill my mind with daydreams of peace.

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Routine

Since emerging from the basement and returning to work last week, I’ve been trying desperately to reassert discipline and to restore routine in my life. Repentance is a hallmark of the month of Elul, which carries us to the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. But it’s only the second day of Elul, so I’ll refrain from dwelling on failures and instead celebrate the incremental changes I’ve made to my daily routine.

The writer’s notebook that lay abandoned and empty most of the summer is now tethered by both my hands, held open by the right while the left fills its pages with barely legible notes. Alternatively, it is propped open on my desk, its four corners weighted down by random objects—a three-hole punch, a tape dispenser, a broken cell phone and a ceramic mug filled with pens. Extracting ideas from my brain and crafting them into words, phrases and, finally, sentences takes time. I’ve succeeded, most days, by clearing my calendar of meetings to allow for hours of sitting with my notebook, alone, in silence.

luna on couch webWhile the afternoons are still hot and humid, the morning hours after I drop my son at school are generally cool and pleasant. I take advantage of this recent change in weather, walking with Luna while my thoughts incubate. After two miles, our energy spent, we are ready to sit still with our legs stretched along the length of the couch.

Summoning the self-discipline to reestablish routine isn’t easy for me. I remember the good habits that I developed last winter, at the beginning of the secular year, when I joined the My500Words challenge in January. Setting the phone to silent, shutting down the Internet, ignoring the laundry, resisting the temptation to run errands and meet friends for lunch, I return to my routine.

 

 

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