Monday, October 11, 2010

E-Dialogue Between 40-Somethings (okay…much, much closer to 50-somethings): A True Story

Note:  This has absolutely nothing to do with the typical themes of the Baker’s Dozen Press blog.  But there’s always room for humor, right?

11am – Noon 
  • While I am holding a meeting in my office, the landline rings three times; I ignore it until the meeting concludes.

  • I check messages; my husband’s mobile device (I can’t call a Droid Incredible a mere cell phone, can I?) has been calling from his pocket. 
  • I phone my husband, from my office landline to his Droid.
  •  He answers “This is Brad,” indicating that he did not look at the device to find out who was calling. I say, “Please lock your phone.  It called me from your pocket three times while I was trying to hold a meeting.” 
  • “Sorry.”

12:39-12:44 pm 
  • I find a text message on my Droid (yes, his-and-hers; how sweet.) It’s from him.  It says, “You called?” 
  • Me, 12:39 pm text: “I called you to say stop butt-calling me.  We spoke."
  • Him, 12:42 pm text: “But what?” 
  • Me, 12:44 pm text:  Calling from your butt pocket. Butt-calling. Other than when I spoke to you about that…no, I have not called since asking about your emergency blinkers.”
The emergency blinkers?  That was at 7:40 am.  As we both pulled away from the traffic signal near our home, heading to work, I saw them blinking on his truck.  I called, Droid to Droid.  I just noticed your emergency blinkers; are you okay?  Yes; the fuse is out in my left turn signal, so I needed to find an alternative signaling device.

12:45 pm 
  • I realize that his original text message was time-stamped 11:33 am, ½-hour before I called him about butt-messaging (though I could swear it wasn’t there earlier). So who knows why he’d thought I’d called him.  Perhaps he was looking at his call history where our 7:40 am conversation had been documented?

Why are our mobile devices called “Incredible?” Because the makers realized just how incredible it would be if they could help near-50-somethings like us to communicate.  Sort of.
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Friday, September 10, 2010

A Rosh Hashanah Lesson: T'shuvah for the Irresponsible Media (that Turns an Irrelevant Lunatic into a Global Threat)

Please click here to see my comment, # 285, posted at the New York Times website on the story Coverage of Koran Case Stirs Questions on Media Role.  Spending Rosh Hashanah with a focused intention toward t'shuvah -- a return to God (to righteousness) -- only makes more stark the complete absence of such intention in the media's attention to Terry Jones and its self-centered fascination with itself.  My prayer is that the sound of the shofar this season calls us to hear the effects of our own voices and to use them more responsibly...knowing when that means we should not be using them at all.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Family Vacation

Over the 25 years of my marriage, I have not been a great in-law.  Not that I've been a bad one (I hope), but my effort has been lacking.  No doubt I could find any number of excuses, but I cannot claim any good reasons.


Nor can I explain my sudden thought, in March, to reach out.  But whatever the impetus, I suggested that my husband Brad and I pool two of our accumulated timeshare weeks to trade for enough space to house the 12 people in our family and his sisters' families for a joint summer vacation.  My thought was to find a spot in the Midwest--where Beth's and Debbie's families live--so they, with younger children, could more readily travel with their kids and paraphernalia by car while we would fly.  And that we'd land at a place with two units available, one of the few weeks all of us were free, where there'd be plenty to entertain families with children ages 2 to 23.  Everyone said yes immediately and agreed on possible weeks and geographies--and I found the place.  Close enough that my husband's parents also could drive in to join us for some of the vacation.  And only about an hour from Brad's first cousin and her family of six...who happened to have her sister's family of five visiting during an overlapping weekend.

When you reach out, it would seem, the world really can manage to reach back.

What a week we enjoyed.  The core twelve of us did things together and apart, within and in various mixes of our nuclear families, with cousins deepening their relationships with each other and with their aunts and uncles.

On August 2, my in-laws having joined us, there were 14 to celebrate our niece's birthday right on time, our daughter's about a week late, and my father-in-law's two weeks early.

We spent the final Saturday on the water:  23 siblings and cousins (the local cousin and their visiting cousin families now joined with us), ages 1 to 55, on two boats, for eight hours, with every one of us loving every minute.  How often does that happen?

Twenty-five years ago, I married into a terrific family.  I've known this all along, yet I've failed to make the most of it.  I won't look back and beat myself up about the opportunities missed, and this is a family that wouldn't think to do that to me.  But I will look ahead and help make the opportunities to come, and this is a family that will appreciatively participate in doing so.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How Weighty is the Bible?

I’m on vacation in the Bible belt.  We have two very large vacation condos for three families of four: ours and my husband’s sisters’ families.  In each unit we found a “prayer for our guests” awaiting us and two copies of the New King James version of the Bible.

I awoke on our first morning here ready to exercise.  I’d brought my favorite exercise DVD and we had plenty of space in front of the living room television after I moved the coffee table aside.  But what would I do for weights?  A quick review of the options left me with a pot in one hand and a pan in the other.  My daughter considered this a prime photo opportunity, but I’m pleased to report that she was using our old camera that can’t capture anything indoors.

The pot and pan proved sub-optimal. Unevenly weighted and rather clumsily shaped.  As I struggled along with these, the thought came to me:  two Bibles in each hand.  That’s offensive, my husband said later when I announced my bright idea.  You’d never have let me exercise with the Bible in synagogue, my daughter objected.  (My son is wise enough to stay out of these conversations and look on with amusement.) Upon reflection, I found that the only strong sensitivities I have regarding the use of sacred texts involve placing them on the floor or in the trash. The disrespect of these actions has been ingrained in me, yet the notion of exercising with them fails to jar me at all.

I’d have had no problem with you using the Bible to exercise in synagogue, I told my daughter, but I’d have had a problem with you exercising at all in synagogue.  That’s when we started to think creatively. With Humash in hand, all that standing and sitting.  All that swaying and rocking.  It could look like intense davening (prayer), all the while a front for a great workout.  Spiritual and physical strengthening together; two for the price of one.

As for my sisters-in-law, for whom the Bibles in our condos are their Bibles, they found nothing offensive in the idea and were happy to donate their bedside volumes to my cause.  Then I came to another realization.  However weighty the content may be, or the philosophical argument about its appropriate use, the hotel edition of the New King James Bible simply does not weigh much at all.  Granted it’s got twice the Bible, with both the Old Testament and the New, but only the English text.  How I suddenly appreciated the weight of my Etz Hayim (Tree of Life) Humash, with the Five Books of Moses and the weekly Haftarah portions (selections from Prophets), all in both Hebrew and English, plus considerable amounts of commentary.  It gives me plenty to lift when in synagogue—certainly physically, as I’ve noticed on those Shabbat mornings when my back is out—but also intellectually.  Then there are the precious moments when the sensations of body, mind and emotion manage to align, and the lift becomes spiritual as well.

This morning I exercised again.  As weights I used a selection of the library books we’d brought for vacation reading.  The weight distribution was not as even as the four New King James Bibles would have allowed, but it was close and the books were considerably heavier—physically, that is.  I hope that no Dune devotees will be offended by the inclusion of two in that series; I am aware of the religious fervor these books can engender.  I’m just glad to be done with the pot and the pan.
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Jews for Jews

NOTES:  I delivered this d'var Torah (sermon, or literally "words of Torah") this Shabbat morning, July 24, 2010, at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, PA.  My learned friend Steve Carpey commented after that we should spend time studying the word "ger" (stranger) in our texts, and I think this is an excellent idea.  I welcome contributions to such a conversation either through comments on this blog or at the readers' discussion forum on my book's website.  And most important, I dedicate this entry to my daughter, Audrey, who celebrates her 23rd birthday today.

Six people are in a conference room. Four are Jewish, two are not.
This may sound like the opening line of a joke, but I know my oratory limitations well enough to avoid that tack.

I’m actually describing a meeting I attended Wednesday morning. The group was discussing a new concept for providing much-needed social services in the greater Philadelphia area, with a focus on making them readily available to the Jewish community. The funders (who were not in the room) had expressed interest in providing the services, at least initially, only to Jews and only through Jewish agencies.

How do you think this went over with the non-Jews in the room?  And how do you think the Jews reacted?


The two non-Jews barely seemed to register the issue. They focused on the need and how best to respond through the expertise each of us brought to the table.

Each of the four Jews, however, exhibited discomfort, one quite frankly and the others more subtly.

Later, in private, one of them said to me, “I hate the culture of Jews for Jews.” He was not suggesting that Jews should not support Jews, but that we best do so by supporting the broader community from the outset. In the case at hand, the established Jewish organizations in Philadelphia fail to provide the full scope of relevant and critical social services. We would deny our fellow Jews critical resources by limiting our program to Jewish agencies. In addition, the Jewish people needing these services seek, in part, socialization with others who have similar issues. By limiting them to the Jewish community, we would dramatically decrease their opportunity for developing a strong and extensive peer group.

Parashah Va-ethannan, however, with its frequent references to the chosen status of the Israelites, easily could suggest that we are to keep among ourselves as a community apart. We may understand this from D’varim 4:3-4, with the words “Adonai your God wiped out from among you every person who followed Baal-peor; while you, who held fast to Adonai your God, are all alive today.” And from verse 20:  “you Adonai took and brought out of Egypt, that iron blast furnace, to be God’s very own people....”  We read in verses 37 and 38, “God loved your fathers, God chose their heirs after them; … God led you out of Egypt, to drive from your path nations greater and more populous than you, to take you into their land and assign it to you as a heritage….”  Certainly, chapter 7 seems to reinforce the message:

When Adonai your God brings you to the land that you are about to enter and possess, and dislodges many nations before you…and Adonai your God delivers them to you and you defeat them, you must doom them to destruction: grant them no terms and give them no quarter. You shall not intermarry with them: do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. … Instead … you shall tear down their altars, smash their pillars, cut down their sacred posts, and consign their images to the fire. …[O]f all the peoples on earth Adonai your God chose you to be God’s treasured people.

How can we not read this parashah as an injunction to live apart?  Jews among Jews. Jews for Jews.

But let’s read it again.

Chapter 4 verse 6 tells us to “observe [the laws and rules] faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of these laws will say, ‘Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people.’”  Within the Decalogue, which we read in this parashah, the commandment to observe the sabbath includes “the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slave may rest as you do,” adding “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt.” And the v’ahavta (which also appears in this parashah in case the shema just before it and the Decalogue weren’t enough to make this a heavy hitter) instructs us to “bind [the laws] as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

These passages remind us that we are in no way a nation apart. Rather, we live very much among the world at large, and our chosenness confers a responsibility to set an example, not a privilege to remain separate. If social construct allows us what society defines as privilege, our own experience as slaves in Egypt must put this in perspective, teaching us to be inclusive of strangers and of those who serve us. Finally, we bear responsibility not only to keep the laws within our community and teach them to our own children, but to post them where all people can benefit.

Chapter 4 opens by stating why we observe the law: so we may enter the land. Chapter 5 begins with an explanation of why we study the law: so we may observe it. On our individual journey with the law, we travel in a closed system. Yet when we teach the law, the world opens up. From the passage that models the wise child’s question in the Passover Haggadah, we learn that when our children ask what the laws mean we are to invoke our slavery in Egypt…the very reference that we’ve just connected, in the Decalogue, with including the strangers among us.

Rachel Barenblat, a rabbinic student in the ALEPH rabbinic ordination program, holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and provides Torah commentary, in part through Torah poems, on her blog that she calls Velveteen Rabbi. This is Image, her 2008 Torah poem for Va-ethannan:

We're made in the image
and the likeness
which means we're
chips off the God block.

Damut, likeness, sounds
related to dam, blood
as though God's DNA
inhered in our bodies

though the etymology
doesn't hold up. Still
maybe it's the God in us
that lets us form

clay into vessels, wood
into houses, words
into language—
but we need to take care

not to worship
the structures we build
not to confuse
our various capabilities

with the real source
of creative power, lest
the land spit us out
and our God consign us

to never remembering
there's something out there
greater than the work
of our limited hands.

Barenblat goes on to say:

It's a paradox that we're made in the image and likeness of God …and yet [w]e're made in the form of something which has no visible form. So then what does it mean for us to be in God's likeness?

The answer that most satisfies me is that we're in God's likeness because we too are able to create. In Biblical Hebrew there are two verbs which denote creation: one which means forming or making (this is an act in which we can easily engage) and one which means creating ex nihilo (this one is God's purview alone.) The verses in this week's portion which caution against making sculptured images are there, I think, to remind us that even our most sublime creations are formed out of building-blocks we didn't create ourselves. That our power is necessarily limited. That we should be mindful of the Source from whence our creativity flows.

This lesson in humility—and thus in humanity—must inform our understanding of chosenness. Our creative force is but one aspect of a larger creation. We belong to a greater whole. We are not above. We are not apart, but a part.

Jews for Jews. To me, this means that we uphold our values and beliefs by sharing our creative force—the good we can bring—with the world at large. As Va-ethannan teaches, this “will be proof of [our] wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of these laws will say, ‘Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people.’” With our modern sensibilities, we also recognize that this journey takes place on a two-way street where we can equally benefit from the wisdom of others. In fact, Moshe himself understood this, as he took the advice of his father-in-law—an outsider—to set up the Israelites’ system of governance. When we are an asset to and humble member of the community at large, we protect our own place in the world and, as the parashah instructs, “do what is right and good.”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

So what’s this nobody doing, publishing a book of sermons?

Here's a tongue-in-cheek perspective I recently released on the audacity of my writings.  If after reading this you're still interested in my sermons, and you're in the Philly area, come to Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park this Saturday morning, July 24, when I'll be speaking on this week's portion, Va'ethannan.

So what’s this nobody doing,
publishing a book of sermons?

She’s not a rabbi. Not a Jewish scholar. Just a run-of-the-mill nonprofit marketing executive. Well, she is a Jewish mom and she did teach in her synagogue’s Hebrew School for a few years… but what qualifies Dina Baker to write and deliver more than a dozen sermons, and then—the height of arrogance—publish them as though all the world might want to read them?

But, then, that’s the point: we should all read them. And discuss them. And maybe even write and deliver some of our own. Baker recently published Creative License: Summer Sermons on Torah and Living in Community (Baker’s Dozen Press, 2010) to drive home the argument that we’re all leaders and congregants in a community of learners. We can teach and gain enrichment from each other: clergy, scholars and lay people alike. In other words, the text belongs to each of us; we all possess creative license.

Folks seem to agree
Rabbi Andrea Merow writes of the book, “In Judaism we are taught to place the value of study as our highest priority because ‘study leads to action.’ The author is reflective about current situations as she deftly weaves the weekly Torah portion, other great writings, and her superb intellect to confront issues that concern modern individuals and communities. In each selection she mines the wisdom of our great Tradition, and invites the reader to do the same. She essentially invites us in to use sacred text as a way to change our lives, to become better people, and members of more caring communities.”

Another reader says, “I am very much enjoying the book. It is so interesting when [Baker] speaks of ethical wills. My women's Jewish study group talked about writing ethical wills last year. I like your friend's feeling that her mother did leave her an ethical will in her way of imparting values, etc., even if it wasn't written. I find that comforting.”

The executive director of Beth Sholom Congregation writes in a congregational eNewsletter, “it’s a thought provoking read.”

If you’re going to write a book outside
your area of expertise, why stop there?

With her goal of widening the scope of text study and bringing it into our everyday lives, Baker also:
  • Offers a forum at, where readers are invited to continue the conversations begun by each sermon.
  • Issued the digital version of Creative License for Kindle, available here.
  • Publishes the Baker’s Dozen Press blog at, expanding on the book's themes of living in community, social justice, ethical wills, child-rearing, free will, obligation and more. One blog reader recently commented, “It was great to read your blogs and enjoy your expert writing again.”
  • Continues to deliver sermons, with her next one scheduled for this Saturday morning, July 24, 2010, at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, PA
  • Speaks to groups about her book, its themes, and what it all means to us as members of our communities.

Baker is available for interviews and speaking engagements. Please contact her directly at 215.913.4900 or and to receive a press preview copy of Creative License. The book is available to the public and to booksellers at

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why We're There

My attendance rate at my synagogue’s Shabbat morning services, once probably in the 90th+ percentile, has fallen so low that every time I show up I receive an aliyah (the honor of being called to the Torah), as though it's a big event to see me there.

I enjoy being at services.  It’s hard to explain why I don’t go.  When my father was ill, I was with him instead.  Family and extended-family events have called me out of town or to other synagogues. There are many excuses. But also I just wake up on Saturday morning and convince myself that I’m too busy. Or too tired.

This morning, I'd been mostly awake since 3 am battling a migraine and I was beginning to win at around 8:00.  The prior night had been pretty much the same, and between the two I'd had a Friday of work and preparing and sharing my family's Shabbat dinner.  I was too under-rested and over-medicated to feel very chipper.  Yet for some reason, this was the morning that I felt that old, unqualified urge to get myself dressed and to synagogue.  It seems inexplicable that my mind went in this direction, given how my body was feeling.

So I followed my mind.  And shortly after I’d sat in my usual spot in the sanctuary, a good friend arrived.  His mother had just died this week, and he’d been out of town for the funeral. My husband and I had planned to visit with him tomorrow.  But here he was.  Sitting alone. Crying.

I left my usual spot and went to him.  We hugged.  We talked.  We davened.  After a while, another friend of ours arrived to lend him “synagogue support,” as she put it, and we flanked him, each with an arm across his back, as he recited the mourner’s kaddish through tears.

Nothing in my belief system suggests that a force greater than I prompted me to go.  It was entirely fortuitous that I made it there when I happened to be needed. I was not so compassionate as to have thought ahead to be there for my friend, unlike the woman who quite consciously and compassionately came for that express purpose.

Yet the privilege of doing so belonged to each of us, because—however it came about—each of us was there.  And what greater reason to be there, at synagogue each week, than to be in community? To lend support? To learn who in the congregation is ill or in mourning, or otherwise in need of our collective care?

I think I’ll be there more often.

So good at telling people that they are so bad

[NOTE: This is a re-post of my May 20, 2010 entry on my former Open Salon blog, as well as the June 16 update to that entry.]

May 20 entry:
I've been told on several occasions that I ought to make a business out of ghost writing complaint letters.  Friends have stated that my track record is so good I could fare well on a pure commission basis, taking a percentage of the refund or compensation received.  I could be the voice of the downtrodden who don't excel at being pissed off in just the right way to get what they deserve from the situation. 

It's not that I'm driven to take advantage of anyone; I want people to give me the great service that makes me happy to pay them.  But when folks don't do what they promise, don't deliver excellence, don't earn what they are charging me ... well, I get angry. 

I never did take the ghost writer road to riches.  But why shouldn't others have the benefit of this odd yet useful talent I seem to possess?  So I offer a couple of examples for others to follow if they like. Sadly, both are from today and this does not seem particularly extraordinary.  What a testimony to how commonplace poor service has become. 

The background...
Every two or three years, we have the windows in our home professionally cleaned.  The house would probably look nicer with greater frequency, but recall that I didn't travel the road to riches...  so every few years it is.  Last week, to avoid yet another huge branch crushing my parked car, we succumbed to having a good deal of major pruning on our large, old trees.  Now the windows were really dirty.  So I called the number of my long-time, trusted window washer, Willie.  Willie had retired.  His grandsons had taken over the company, and would be glad to do the work.  I scheduled for today with grandson Daryl.  This evening, I wrote Daryl an email:
When I did business with your grandfather, he was invariably prompt and at the end of the day I had extraordinarily clean windows and my belongings back where Willie had found them.  What's more, his prices were very fair.  This is why I regularly came back to him and recommended him to others.  Even after he'd taken a hiatus due to health issues, and I'd been forced to use a different service, I returned to your grandfather when he returned to work.
I'm sorry to say that I have not found the same level of service from you.  When we first spoke, I asked two things of you:
1.   Be here no later than 8 am, as a compromise since I normally leave the house at 7 am.
2.   Check my past records and call me in advance if the cost would be much more than it had been when I last used your grandfather's services.

 As you know, I had to call you at 8:15 this morning to learn your whereabouts, and you were still 15 minutes away having forgotten our start-time arrangement.  Thus, I had to leave before your arrival with the door to my home unlocked and no opportunity to meet with you in person.  This hardly made me comfortable, and it is only because of my past loyalty to your grandfather that I did not simply cancel the work altogether at that point.  I must say that it shocked me to come home and find that you did not even add a note of apology with your invoice. 

What shocked me more, however, was the price.  Given that you never advised me of a significant difference from when I dealt with Willie, despite our discussion that you would were that the case, it is inconceivable how I could be charged dramatically more than in the past.  I'm horrified and this simply is outside the range of my budget. 

But before I ever saw the invoice, I saw my house.  As far as I can tell, there was no attempt to return a single item to where you found it.  I need to put in a full evening of work cleaning up after you.  What's more, the edge of the new, wool area rug in my sitting room is dampened and roughened, as though something wet were dragged against it.  And the light-colored, wall-to-wall, wool carpet in my dressing room is scattered with dark streaks, suggesting that something on wheels (your bucket?) was dragged across it.  This was not the condition of my rugs when I left the house this morning. 
Finally, while some windows are well cleaned others are not.  I've found dirt across the bottom of windows in my son's room (on the inside, where I can run my finger through it to rub it off, so hardly difficult to clean), and a front window in the living room is mottled with dirt on the outside, for just a couple of examples. 

I am not writing to ask that you return to improve upon your errors.  After this experience, I am not comfortable having you back in my home.  This saddens me, given my great admiration of your grandfather. 

In the meantime, I missed an hour of work this morning for no good reason, since you did not arrive in time for me to meet  up with you.  I have a full evening's work ahead of me returning my furniture and belongings to their rightful places.  I must hire someone to clean the dressing room carpet.  My new rug in the family room no longer will have a new appearance.  And I need to either live with the windows that are not quite clean or take my own time to remove the remaining dirt.  How can I pay $848 for the privilege of these costs and inconveniences? 

I'm angry.  I believe I'm justified in that anger.  Daryl has yet to respond, so the jury is out on whether I'll uphold my reputation for complaint-letter results.

In late April, I ordered a medication refill for my son from our mail-order pharmacy (an evil, though money-saving, creation that destroys local, family-owned pharmacies and offers yet another means to take the caring and customer service of a community-based provider out of the health care system; but I digress).  I received the usual email confirmation that the order was being processed.  But it still had not arrived, so this evening I checked on line and there was no record of the order.  It had simply disappeared.

I called and learned:

Your son is in the system as a minor dependent, and he no longer qualifies for your plan. 

Indeed, he'd turned 19, the magic age of no-longer-covered-unless-a-full-time-student, in early April (thank God for the health care legislation; the 6 month wait for this aspect of the reforms to kick in can't come soon enough; but I digress).

So it went:

He's a full time student.  He's covered. 

That's not in our system.  You need to inform your insurer, then they will update us, then you can reorder the medication.  

That takes too long.  I need you to override the system.

I can't. 

Someone can.  My son has a chronic disease.  Do you want to be responsible for him having no medication? 

Would you like to speak to a supervisor? 

The supervisor, of course, needed me to repeat everything.  And she then repeated everything I'd already heard.  I became, I must admit, a bit agitated with her. 

And you think it's acceptable to send me an email telling me it's being processed and then just fail to do so without sending a follow-up email letting me know that you cannot fill the prescription?

Well what would you like me to do?

Override the system. 

I physically can't.

Someone can.

Yes.  And I could go into our system and inform that person that your son is eligible as a student.  And they would override the system.  But then we'd be audited, and it would become apparent that I had lied by indicating that I had evidence that he is a student, which I do not.  And then I'd be fired.  And I have a family too, whom I have to protect, so I cannot take that risk.

Well, I said (more quietly, and with feigned concern cloaked in sarcasm) I do feel very sorry for you that you work for a company that cares more about following every possible procedure to deny coverage and save money than about protecting the health and life of its customers.  Someone could die because you can’t let them have their medication, and it must feel terrible for you. 

A brief pause, and then she had a solution.  Though she can't profess that my son is a student, and her company can't take my word for it, they can believe the benefits administrator at my company if she gives them a call (never mind that the benefits administrator has never laid eyes on my son and has no first-hand clue of his academic situation), and then they can change his status in the system.  Presto!  And guess what, the supervisor is being so generous as to note in the system that she's approved expedited delivery without additional charge (that won't get her fired, I gather).

I want to live in a world where people just take care of others, simply because they are fellow human beings.  Mostly, I’m happy to say, I do live in that world.  But too often I don’t and I get angry.  Here’s what I do with that anger:

I tell a story.
I make it personal:  not measuring up to your grandfather; feeling rotten for having to do what is wrong.
I show disdain, but in the context of the story. And by engaging with the story – reading or hearing my narrative - my targets recognize the disdain from within themselves.  No longer is it about me passing judgment; they’re doing that themselves.

You have my examples.  You have my process.  Let’s wish each other success in eking out those gratifying moments of justice.

And I’ll let you know how it goes with Daryl.

June 16 entry:

When I posted the essay about my peculiar talent with complaint letters, I promised to let you know how it went with Daryl.

 He resisted a little, but within 24 hours reduced the invoice by 25%, making it much more within the boundaries of reasonable, and he apologized for the problems I encountered with his services.

The Great Religious Struggle

[NOTE: This is a re-post of the May 14, 2010 entry to my form Open Salon blog.]
The Shabbat 
Observance The 
Philadelphia Flyers Observance
For the first 17 years of my now quarter-century marriage, we were an interfaith couple: I was Jewish and my husband was Protestant until he chose to convert to Judaism in 2001.  So you’d think I might know a little something about managing competing religious commitments.  But nothing could have prepared me for the conflict between maintaining our home-based Jewish Shabbat rituals and observing the religion known as The Philadelphia Flyers.  

On Friday nights, we gather around the Shabbat table together.  My son—my youngest child—is home from college for the summer, and he knows well the expectation regarding this each week.  We light the candles. Hug and kiss each other and wish each other Shabbat Shalom (a peaceful Shabbat). Recite the blessings over the wine and homemade Hallah (ritual bread).  Eat a large, festive meal.  And spend time reflecting on our week of activities.

On this Friday night, The Flyers are playing in the 7th game against the Boston Bruins, having come back from a three games to zero deficit in the playoffs.  On such nights, in this religion my son devoutly follows (with my husband not far behind), they gather around the television set.  They light the room with the TV’s glow. Loudly bless the feats of The Flyers (and curse the inroads of the Bruins).  Spend time reflecting on the extraordinary road to Game Seven.

How to rectify these two great religious rituals, when they are scheduled to compete with each other?  How indeed, in a household where there is not even a television set on the first floor, so the altar of The Flyers is uncomfortably far from the altar that one creates by breaking bread together at the Shabbat table?

This great religious struggle began late this afternoon, while I was in my office in center city Philadelphia.  My cell phone rang.  It was my son.
What time is Shabbat dinner?
I haven’t even left work yet.
I know, but you know The Flyers play tonight.
I know.  What time do they play?
Around 7.
I’ll try to time it for between periods.
Between periods is only 20 minutes.
I know.  I can only do my best.

I try to listen for the yells that emanate from upstairs, as I prepare our dinner, set the table, set out the ritual candles, wine glasses and Hallah plate.  It is an attempt to interpret the religious experience in the TV room, understanding as best I can by the yells, jumps, stomps and moans whether they indicate blessing or curse … and how far we may be into first period.  I ring for dinner (yes, we actually use a dinner bell) and hear not the sound of feet on the stairs, but the bellow of “five minutes.”  So I cover the hot food with foil and I wait until one religion is ready to give way to another.

My son is remarkably patient.  We complete the blessings, serve the food, enjoy conversation about our week.  I learn that, in fact, these two religions must not mingle. As I begin to mention The Great Flyers Comeback, I am told that such things are not to be uttered until the game is over.  Clearly, the mysteries of this religion elude me.

Our lovely Shabbat nourishes us with ritual, food, drink and conversation as it does every week … for exactly 20 minutes.  Then my son politely says May I go back now? And he returns to the other altar.  He is a loud and appreciative congregant.  And he is not alone.  When I finally rise from the table, my husband—who has been remarkably patient and calm as he struggles with what must be a roiling internal conflict—truly sprints up the stairs to join the Great Observance in front of the TV.

Between the 2nd and 3rd periods, with the score tied, my son does re-emerge long enough to tell me that, should he be quiet for long, I should come check on him to ensure he hasn’t had a heart attack.  Great religious experiences can have intense physiological manifestations, after all.
 As I finish this, The Flyers have just pulled ahead.  Thank God.

The ethical will: is living it enough?

[Note: This is a re-post of the May 13, 2010 entry on my former Open Forum blog.]

In the chapter entitled "Justice" in my book Creative License, I talk about ethical wills and link the concept of justice - and the way we uphold it in our lives - to the leaving of an ethical will.  At the outset, I talk of my sadness that my mother left me no written or recorded words.  And though I fully acknowledge that it is the life she lived, exemplary of upholding, fighting for and modeling social justice, that was her ethical will and my cherished inheritance, in the end I have written these sermons and published this book ... perhaps as the ethical will for my children, as I do want the words on paper so they may never repeat my struggle of questioning why nothing was left for them.  A life in pursuit of justice is inextricably linked, for me, to the ethical will.  Yet as a person of words, I seem to find that the action and the example do not suffice.  I'd love to hear from others, here and/or at the blog on my book's site:  What fundamental values and struggles do you find bound up in the notion of the ethical imperatives we wish to imprint on our ethical heirs?  And if we live it, is that enough, or must we leave it in a more indelible form?

Parent-Child Rebalance: Out of chaos, order

[NOTE: This is a re-post of a May 11, 2010 entry to my former blog on Open Salon.]

The first person to post on the forum associated with my new book, Creative License: Summer Sermons on Torah and Living in Community, is my daughter.  As she commented on "Chaos," a view of B'reishit and t'shuvah (return),  I realized that there is nothing like being told by one's (adult) child that she is proud of you ... to make you feel you've accomplished something and to make you feel just a little old (like the roles have reversed). This, in large part, is how we find our order in chaos: by emerging from the chaotic nature of raising children, of clashing personalities, to the loving symmetry of taking pride in each other and each in oneself.