The IPhone Unveiling

A friend of the family emailed me that she had a friend who wanted to have an unveiling for her father in Los Angeles the following weekend.  Could I help?   As luck would have it, the unveiling turned out to be on the one Sunday all year that I was flying rather than driving to LA for school; moreover, the request was to meet at Hillside Memorial which is right by LAX.  My grandparents, aunts and uncles are all buried there so it was familiar ground.  Karen*, who lives in Sacramento, rose at 4 am and drove down to meet me at 10:30 am. She and I had never met but we hit it off right away.  It took us 30 minutes to find the grave and the extensive, slightly humorous search allowed us to get to know each other.  When we finally found the spot, we saw that the cemetery personnel had set up a semi-circle of five chairs in anticipation of other people attending.

Karen’s family is not religious but she was intent on marking the day in a Jewish way.  We had planned that her husband and siblings would join us, but when the day arrived, it was just she and I.  Her husband was recovering from an illness and her sister and brother-in-law were not able to make the journey. As we settled in, Karen was feeling a bit lonely and so she Facetimed her husband to show him the setting.  I could see that she was intent on including him in a meaningful way and I suggested we also Facetime with her sister.  Within a few minutes we had her husband on her phone and her sister and brother-in-law on mine.  We faced two of the chairs opposite us on the other side of the grave and propped each of phones up on a chair so we could all see one another.  Our circle came alive as we began.   Karen and her sister told stories about their father, a famed designer and artist.  They read poems they had written to honor the moment.  We framed our gathering with prayers and readings provided by the cemetery and closed with the Kaddish.  As I recited the Kaddish, my eyes closed, I could hear all of us in recitation together, sharing the moment as one.   Our gathering was sacred and profoundly moving.

While at first glance, the idea of facilitating an unveiling via IPhone might seem strange, in today’s world, where we are much more mobile and where we often live great distances from where we were raised, this technology made a profound, memorable family gathering possible.   When our oldest son moved to Southern California nine years ago, we thought our Friday night family Shabbat dinners would be a rare occurrence.  But many Friday nights for the past nine years, at 7:30 pm on the dot, there he is on Skype.  Sam leads us in Kiddush, we bless our children as a couple, and my husband leads us in Hamotzi.  Frequently my father and stepmom Skype in from Idaho.  Our multi-generational observance has strengthened over the years.  What matters most is aided by the use of technology; spending time together as a family; living our lives by the rhythms and traditions of the Jewish calendar; and the transmission of Jewish values and heritage from one generation to another.

Whether it is Skyping the blessings as a family on Friday night, or coming together for an unveiling via IPhone, I am all for using technology to come together in community when we otherwise would lose the opportunity; to strengthen the bonds of family and friends; and to facilitate Jewish life and the milestone moments in our lives.

*not her real name

If Donald Trump and Maimonides were discussing their guiding ethical principles…

I was pondering the ethical contrast that might exist in a conversation between President Trump and Maimonides*.  Perhaps the conversation might go as follows:

1.TRUMP: “Winning is everything. To lose is to show weakness so never, ever, ever let your enemy sense compassion or compromise in your demeanor.  To do so is a huge mistake, HUGE… and believe me, I know huge from HUGE.”

RAMBAM: “A wise man in honest in all his transactions.  When he says “no” he means no, and when he says “yes” he means yes.  He does not encroach on another man’s occupation, and never mistreats anyone.  In short, he prefers rather to be among the offended than among the offenders.”

2. TRUMP: “Nothing in moderation. אם כבר, עז כבר….    Why have a leather chair when you can have a gold throne?  Always show your wealth and let ‘em know who’s the boss.”

RAMBAM: “Knowledge of the Torah cannot be sustained by one who is indolent, nor can it be acquired by those who combine study with luxurious living and feasting; it can be attained only by one who renounces the world for Torah, and regularly submits to physical discomfort, giving no sleep to his eyes, nor slumber to his eyelids.”

3. TRUMP: “Tell it like it is. Say whatever comes to your head.  No reason to think before you speak.  Everyone is dying to hear what comes out of your mouth anyway… Tweet in the middle of the night.  That is the best time to catch everyone off guard.”

RAMBAM: “A wise man does not shout and scream when he speaks, but talks gently with all people, and never raises his voice unduly.  He gives everyone a friendly greeting, judges all men favorably, loves peace and strives for it, so that all are kindly disposed toward him.  He dwells on the merits of his fellow man, without ever disparaging him.  If he finds that his words are helpful and heeded, he speaks; otherwise, he keeps quiet.”

*Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (מֹשֶׁה בֶּן־מַימוֹןMōšeh bēn-Maymōn; Arabic: موسى بن ميمون‎‎ Mūsā bin Maymūn), commonly known as Maimonides /mˈmɒ[9] (my-mon-i-deez; Greek: Μαϊμωνίδης Maïmōnídēs), and also referred to by the acronym Rambam /ˌrɑːmˈbɑːm/ (רמב״ם‎, for Rabbeinu Mōšeh bēn Maimon, “Our Rabbi Moses son of Maimon”), was a medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. In his time, he was also a preeminent astronomer and physician.[10][11][12][13] Born in Cordova, Almoravid Empire (present-day Spain) on Passover Eve, 1135 or 1138,[14][15][16][17][18] he worked as a rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Morocco and Egypt. He died in Egypt on December 12, 1204, whence his body was taken to the lower Galilee and buried in Tiberias.[19][20]    – From Wikipedia

Our First Shabbat Dinner!

Join us for our first Shabbat dinner.  We don’t know if there will be 4 of us or 40, but we do know Judith Markowitz will lead us in song, there will be beautiful music, delicious food, and great conversation.  Plans are to have the dinner at Chez Hyams but, if lots of folks want to join, we’ll shift to someone who has a bigger house in the Dublin/San Ramon area.

Please bring one of the following to feed 8 plus something to drink:

  1. A vegetarian main dish
  2. A fabulous salad
  3. Hors d’oeuvres or foods to pass around the table

If you are musical, bring your instruments

Friday, March 17th, 7:15 pm

Email to rsvp and let us know what you will be bringing.

Welcome to Kehillat Haverim

Do you have the Prayerbook Blues?

Are you lost when you open a prayerbook? Where did these prayers come from? Who wrote them?  How did prayer develop? Join me for a 3-session exploration of the history, development and purpose of Jewish prayer.
Dates:  2/16, 2/23, 3/2
7:30 – 9:00 pm
Location: Beth Chaim Congregation
1800 Holbrook Avenue, Danville
Register by letting me know you will be joining the class.

Welcome to Kehillat Haverim

Welcome to Kehillat Haverim.  Kehillat Haverim is Hebrew for a community of friends.  I am creating this blog as a way to grow my community and as a safe place to explore ideas among friends at a time when the world feels so chaotic.

My journey through rabbinical school is powerful and exhilarating and transformative. But what I am learning in the classroom is only part of the story.  As my thinking expands, I talk to you, my friends, and together we explore these ideas in more depth.  I am loving the conversations we are having on our bikes, on our walks and at our dinner table.

Much of what enriches my life happens at our Friday night dinner table, in our backyard sukkah, at our Academy Awards party, on bike rides, and on the beach.   For me, an authentic Jewish life is less about strict adherence to Jewish law and more about living our lives in community and engagement with Jewish ideas.   Over time, I am hoping that Kehillat Haverim will grow into a community of friends, living our lives in community under the umbrella of Jewish values and nurtured by Jewish tradition. I hope many of us will gather on a monthly basis for Shabbat dinner to mark the end of the work week; to enjoy each other’s company; and of course, to partake of really good food.   And as opportunities arise for other gatherings (gourmet potlucks in the sukkah, Passover cooperative dinners, Havdalah wine tastings), I’ll post that information too.

Regarding our chaotic world, what is happening to our society today is not o.k.  I need your help as I determine where to put my energy in response.  I’ve never been an activist but to quote Hillel “If not now, when?”  

So, let’s get this party started.  What do you think?