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Celebrating Hanukkah at Tiferet

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It’s betiferet logo 2en a long, long time since I posted to the Tiferet Journal website. A few weeks ago, I received an email about updating my settings, and that was just the reminder I needed. I’ve been spinning in a whirlwind of activity–teaching, moving, returning to work full-time, walking the dog, being a parent, doing laundry– while my writing time and studio time has been severely curtailed. So I’m rededicating my soul this Hanukkah. I’m taking time to nurture my creativity, slowing down. And I’m returning to the online places I love and have missed visiting in 2016.

While the post is still “pending” over at Tiferet, I’ll add it here for those of you would like to read it before Shabbat:

hanukkah-setup-new-house

The rabbis have a wonderful saying about moving to a new home, which loosely translates from the Hebrew as “change your place, change your luck!” I’ve considered this tidbit of Jewish wisdom often during the last nine months since we moved from our house in the suburbs to a town home just outside the Perimeter. Our lives have changed for the better in many ways: my commute to school is now ten minutes with my son as my co-pilot, my spouse parks in a free parking lot at the MARTA station and rides the train to work, and we are walking distance to many places we like to go, including the public library. Although we downsized, our college-age children are not deterred from coming home for weekends and holidays or from inviting friends to visit and sleep on air mattresses on the floor.

We moved right after Passover. I felt a little like the Israelites leaving Egypt in the middle of the night as I hurriedly packed up all of our belongings in the weeks leading up to the holiday. I took special care with ritual objects–many of them priceless only in sentimental value–and labeled boxes “Judaica, children’s art” and “Judaica, candle sticks,” so I would be able to find what I needed easily when each holiday arrived. However, in those last hours of packing, I failed to record a specific inventory as I rushed to find space for bubble-wrapped pieces in corners of unsealed cartons.

Before Rosh Hashanah I searched in vain for the shofar, the handmade honey pots and the apple-shaped trivets. Before Thanksgiving I came across a box on a shelf in the garage that contained four silver kiddush (wine) cups and the missing shofar. Before Hanukkah, during final exams week, I desperately searched for the menorah, the breakable, ceramic one I packed separately from the decorations that were stored in a plastic bin. I remember securing it in bubble wrap and white paper.

Had moving changed my luck for the worse? I can’t seem to find anything in time to use it! When I tell my colleague at school he laughs, suggesting it will turn up with the Passover items in the spring.

This morning I find it on a shelf in the garage: a large, sturdy box labeled “Judaica.”  It is filled with handmade honey pots and apple-shaped trivets, and some miscellaneous items made by a Kindergarten student who will soon graduate from college. I reseal the box and grab a Sharpie, scrawling the initials RH on the side of the box before returning it to the bottom shelf. We’ll just have to light the waxed-covered metal menorah I found in the plastic bin nestled among the dreidels and paper decorations.

I set up the sideboard in our dining room for Hanukkah, and I think about how lucky I am to be celebrating the holiday with all three children in our new home.

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Ink Blots

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It’s been two solid weeks of learning, teaching, professional development, curriculum development and preparation for an upcoming rabbi-in-residence weekend. Today, I stop to reflect before taking a ninety-minute certification test for the Interfaith Speakers Bureau (IFSB). I realize that I feel both exhilaration and dread.

It’s silly, I know, to be nervous about an open-book test on material that is within the scope of my expertise, ridiculous to allow my inner child’s test anxiety to resurface and interfere with my inner adult’s professional competence. But I can’t help it. While I’ve been almost completely occupied for two weeks by cramming new information and ideas into my brain, the back of my mind has allowed a mild preoccupation to creep in: can this middle-aged memory retain new information and ideas?

I am reminded of the words of Elisha ben Abuyah, a sage of the early Rabbinic period whose colleagues eventually shunned him for what they considered his heretical beliefs. One of his early statements, however, is preserved in Pirke Avot, a tractate of the Mishnah that contains aphorisms and ethical teachings of the first century rabbis:ink blots

“When a person studies as a child, to what may he be compared? To ink written on fresh paper.

When a person studies when he is old, to what may he be compared? To ink written on blotted paper.” (Avot 4:25)

This ancient teacher intuitively understood what experts of neuroscience now confirm about human memory: we have different channels and storage areas for memory, and often the lessons we learn in early childhood remain stored in our long term memory even as we have difficulty memorizing new facts.

I can still recite my street address that I learned when I was four or five years old, despite having moved from that home nearly four decades ago. But I can hardly remember what I read in yesterday’s newspaper, and in the last twenty four hours I’ve requested password retrieval from several online accounts that I visit every month to pay bills.

I can visualize Elisha ben Abuyah sitting at his desk, quill in hand, staring at an old parchment so dotted with ink splotches that fresh writing is absorbed and obscured. That is my brain—cluttered with telephone numbers and song lyrics from the 70’s, and several rabbinic adages learned in my youth—trying to discern what must be retrieved, whether anything can be purged.

To dispel the feeling of dread that impedes my studies, I summon a memory of the IFSB training session. Erasing the ink blots, I visualize this moment when Soumaya stretched one arm around me and Sucheta and the other in front of us, perfectly capturing the feeling of exhilaration that naturally accompanies sharing new ideas among friends.

isfb training web

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Christmas Music

“A Season to Remember”
for Miriam*

Some wounds,
old wounds,
with their ragged edges,
with their hardened skin,
never fully heal.

We sat in the dimmed living room,
lights twinkling on the tree,
listening to Christmas music,
and she said,

“My mother loved this time of year.”
I caught a glimpse
of her mother’s face,
saw the flame of the scented candle
reflected in the lens of her eyeglasses.
Her mother took care of me,
after I was fully grown
and already a mother.

Some wounds,
never fully healed,
reopen.
I daub at its soft center,
applying gentle pressure,
collecting the droplets of blood
with a damp napkin.

Santa looks up at me
from my dessert plate,
and winks.

I love this time of year.
The car radio is tuned
to the Christmas music station,
as I drive to the supermarket.
I walk the aisles humming Christmas music.
I carefully check my groceries for Kosher certification,
before loading them into the cart.

“I once wrote about how much I love
Christmas music,”
I tell her.

“I remember that blog post,” she replies.
Temporarily silenced by my memories,
by her loss,
I fail to say,
“I remember your mother.”

tiferet logo 2

*Thanks to Miriam for reminding me that I’d written this poem (in December 2012), which originally appeared on the Tiferet website.

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