Friday, December 31, 2004

I love living on the Jewish calendar. This is only ONE of my New Years.

2004 could have been a lot worse -- at least, for me -- but it certainly had its bumps. And it was an awful year for some folks.

Here's hoping for a New Year of blessing and peace, of growth and friendship, of challenges met and wisdom gained. My own life feels so rich and blessed I hardly know where to begin giving thanks.

For all of you who are my friends, who have encouraged me on my way, thank you so much for being there. Life is good: Keep coming back.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

If any of you are curious about my student pulpit, there was a very nice article in the Merced Sun-Star which is still available online.

Finished the history paper last night, praise be. The lesson plan in the second part is not the best thing to emerge from my word processor, but I never could imagine why any group of laypeople would even be interested in the historiographical debate around the relationship between Sabateanism and Lurianic kabbalah. (See, I knew you'd be interested.) Although it did give me an idea for a learning series that might be fun: a series of six meetings or so on "great debates" in Jewish tradition, with a focus on how our sages and rabbis go about a "dispute for the sake of heaven." It could be a very interesting way to look at the tradition, especially since we all still love to argue.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

After a brief break to celebrate Jamie's 21st birthday, I'm back at work. Everything must be done by Jan. 3.

Someone asked me today what I'm planning to do on New Year's Eve. "Type," I replied.

I've been a mom for 23 years; it's 21 years since that last trip to the labor room. I looked at the pictures from the party and realized, yeah, I'm definitely getting older. That isn't a bad thing, but it is certainly an odd thing. The gray hairs don't bug me, but the lines and the effects of gravity sure do!

Anything I might be cranky about, though, pales before the news from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and other places affected by the tsunami. I am upset with the response -- or lack thereof -- by our government; not sure yet what I want to do about that.

Incidentally, if you are looking for news about the affected areas, or for ways to help, check out The South East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami blog.

Friday, December 24, 2004

I'm disgusted, what about you?:

The families of American servicepeople are being forced to go to food banks and to seek other kinds of financial help because the breadwinner's military service is bankrupting the family:

'People may work with the bank to pay a little less on their mortgage each month,' Cerf says. 'But all the rest of their bills are the same — utilities, car bills, clothes for the kids. Food is generally the last thing on their budget.'" (USA Today, Dec 24, 2004)

Think about it: imagine those spouses and families. Your spouse, or your dad, used to live at home and make decent money. Now, though, he or she is thousands of miles away, in a very dangerous place doing dangerous work. On top of that, there's much less money, and you are forced to go to the bank to "work things out" so you can stay in your house, forced to go to the food bank so the kids won't go hungry, forced to accept charity for things like Christmas presents.

One of my sons (the Navy reservist) asked all his family and friends to give money to the Alameda County Community Food Bank, instead of giving him birthday presents when he turns 23 on January 9.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Here is another reason I love to live in California -- a photo of the northeastern United States taken from space this week:

It's my favorite temp here right now: coolish but not cold, sunny days, nippy evenings. Southern California in the wintertime is very, very nice.

The papers soldier on: I've almost finished the one for Jewish Thought, after which Midrash, Prophets, and History lie in wait for me. It's hard not to pause over some new and wonderful idea, and JT has been full of those. I never thought that Kabbalah would be either interesting or useful -- everything I'd read about it, and the current pop-culture popularity-- had turned me off. It seemed to me that it was a body of text that allowed for cherry-picking for colorful texts, and a bunch of mystical-sounding stuff useful to charlatans, and not much else, whatever it might have been in the past.

Well, I was wrong. I am seeing possibilities in the theological model of the sefirot (I'm not even going to try to give you a link to explain that phrase) for dealing with everything from the problem of evil to more mundane issues, like why it is that the road to hell is so often paved with good intentions.

Back to work.

Friday, December 17, 2004

OK, that last post was a big pity party. Here's something better:

I just found out that for $25, a person can sponsor a USO care package for a U.S. serviceman or woman serving overseas. I am personally very grateful that neither of my young men are far off in a scary place right now, but lots of other mothers' children are far from home and in need of gratitude and TLC.

Whatever your feelings about the war, take a look at USO Cares.

Shabbat shalom.

I am drowning in assignments. Our break, such as it is, runs from Dec 24 until Jan 10 and I am pretty clear now that the real break will run for the three days I celebrate the boys' birthdays with them. This year Jamie will be 21, and Aaron 23.

Right now, looking at the pile on my table and spilling out of my briefcase, I feel 102. Worst of all, I am aware that my biggest problem is my attitude: I'm tired, I'm cranky, and I don't wanna.

Mount St. Helen's is still there, majestic on my laptop screen. Yes, Virginia, there is a place called "outdoors."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

I've handed in my Pastoral Counseling paper, and Homiletics is over. Tonight I plan to get as much done as possible (maybe finish?) the Jewish Thought take-home exam. Then all I have left are papers and projects for Midrash, Prophets, History, and ... hmm... I'm forgetting something. Something.

Yup, I'm a little ragged around the edges. I had a sobering weekend, with the blowout of a tire on my car at 70 mph on the freeway. I'm OK, the car is OK, the tire is, of course, toast, but it could have been so much worse that I am giggly and grateful whenever I think about it. Delano, CA, is a pretty nice place.

In case there isn't enough strangeness in your life this week, take a look at the Humm section of the Llama Question and Answer website. (It was chosen by Llama Life II Magazine for their first ever Notable Llama Website Award.)

I like llamas. Sometimes I think it would be fun to have a llama to tote my books and follow me around; a briefcase llama, like the ones I saw in Peru, trotting after their people, carrying panniers of files. I don't think my landlord would buy the argument that it isn't a pet, it's an assistant, though.

Also on my list of fantasies: the laundromat/beit midrash [house of study]. Where else are there big tables and time to pass?

Yes, it's the end of the term. Be well, and may all your tires roll safe and sound.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Chanukah sameach! [Happy Chanukah!]

I'm on my way north in a few minutes to spend the weekend with my congregation up in the Central Valley. I'm toting a briefcase full of things I should study, papers in progress, etc., but I know it is unlikely I'll get to any of it. These weekends are full all by themselves. I'm looking forward to a baby-naming tonight, along with the usual Chanukah excitement: dreidels, singing, making sufganiot [Israeli jelly doughnuts], and latkes [potato pancakes], and of course, rivers of candle wax!

Glad to see that my baby brother is reading this blog, although I am truly sorry about the Moon Pie in the keyboard! I know it is a long way from Leiper's Fork to Merced (geographically anyway -- in other ways, they are closer than you might think) but if you want to have my share of sufganiot, it's yours!

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

I think I've mentioned it before, but I've grown inexplicably fond of the Mt. St. Helens VolcanoCam. If you haven't seen it, take a look -- although today it is completely fogged in, with some rain drops on the camera lens, for good measure.

I never know what I'm going to get when I click on that link. Sometimes it is a magnificent view of a still-magnificent mountain, with a curl of steam from the crater. Sometimes it is fogged in, partially or completely. Sometimes, at night, when the crater is glowing, all I can see are a few lit-up pixels. Occasionally it is bizarre, as it is when a bug takes a siesta on the camera lens.

Once in a while I catch a magnificent sunset.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

This Shabbat was darn near perfect. Aaron rode down for a visit this weekend, and arrived just after dark on Friday. This afternoon we went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which I hadn't yet visited. (Last year my mobility problems were just too bad for art museums, and this year I' ve been too busy.) Anyway, Aaron's my favorite bud for museum wandering.

We moseyed around an exhibit of Mexican and Peruvian pre-Columbian art -- some of it wonderful, some of it quite terrible (as in terrifying) but all very interesting. I'd never heard of the civilization in the far west part of Mexico; I've forgotten the name now, but their art was spare and elegant. The Aztecs, Incas, and other more familiar folks were also well represented.

Then we rode an elevator up to the Islamic art collection, which was small but powerful. I love looking at Islamic calligraphy, and there were some very lovely examples. It set off some interesting thoughts concerning the Jewish Thought quad on Kabbalah - - surely there is a connection between the reverence that the Moslems had (and have) for words and for the power that the Kabbalists perceived in words and even letters. I'll have to ask my teacher about that one.

We had a great time, wandering around, looking at things, and talking about them. When the museum closed, I took him by my favorite used bookstore, and we poked around in the stacks there. Didn't bring anything home with us, but it was a lovely day.

Now I'm tired, and off to bed. More study tomorrow -- time with Aaron, too. It's so nice to have him here!

Friday, December 03, 2004

In amongst all the sturm und drang over school (and yes, it's definitely that time in the term) -- I made a lovely discovery. I learned how to cook turnip greens.

Now, you might say, what Southerner gets past the age of 12 without knowing how to do this? For me, though, the trick was that I could not figure out how to get it to "taste raht" if there were no pork in it. Not only is this a "no pig" rendition of greens, it is actually a vegan (no animal products at all) dish. (My brother, a BBQ-eating good ole boy probably choked on his RC Cola at that idea!)

First, get a pound of turnip greens. Not collards, not mustard, TURNIP greens.

Wash them, and if any part of a leaf seems to be more like baling twine than a food item, pick that part off. (Note: do not put the strings down the dispose-all, unless it is an industrial strength appliance!) Drain the edible leaves, and rip them into reasonable sized bits.

Chop an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. Put a tablespoon of mild olive oil in a BIG saucepan, heat it, and when it is hot, add the onions and garlic. Saute those until they are translucent. Add the washed, drained, shredded greens. Add just enough water to make it look swampish.

This is where it gets a little hinky. Add 2 teaspoons of "Liquid Smoke," 2 packets of Splenda (if you are a sugar avoider like myself. Otherwise, 2 teaspoons of some sort of sweetener, brown sugar or molasses.) Add about 2 tsp of salt and a couple of shakes of Tobasco. Allow this to simmer on the stove for about an hour.

To serve, grab a slotted spoon and fish out some greens. Drizzle with apple cider vinegar. Particularly yummy with Hopping John (another concoction for another time.) Bliss.

Shabbat shalom, y'all.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I love studying Midrash. Here's a passage from Leviticus Rabbah, a fifth century collection of sermons and commentary:


Petichta verse (opening verse): Proverbs 29:24 -- The one who divides with a thief hates his soul -- he will hear an oath and will not tell. [In Leviticus 5:1, it says that if someone knows of wrongdoing, and hears a proclamation of an oath but does not testify, he bears the iniquity of the deed.]

Once there was one governor of Caesarea who used to beat the thieves and execute the receivers [fences of stolen goods.] The citizen were ridiculing the governor [for this policy] and said to him, "Do as is fit!" [meaning, execute the thieves!]

On the next day he sent out a hearld and he said, "All people to the open area."

He brought weasels and gave morsels to them, and closed up their dens. They seized the morsels and carried them to the dens. Finding the dens closed, they returned them [the morsels] to their place [to the original place in which they found the food.]

[He did this] to teach that all [the crime] was from [due to] the receivers. [The thieves would not be a problem, if there was no where they could take stolen goods.]


This was surely not the first case in history of a head of state with a bunch of weasels on his staff!

Monday, November 29, 2004

Need to laugh? Check out the tunes on this page:

The songs have been recorded by Dr. Carl Winter, a food toxicologist at UC Davis who also happens to be a musician. He's taken a lot of pop music and mangled the lyrics very entertainingly: imagine "Fifty Ways to Eat your Oysters." I imagine John Lennon would have laughed at "You Better Wash Your Hands."

OK, it's ridiculous. So enjoy.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

I'm sitting here, enjoying breakfast and "Weekend Edition" before vaulting into the day. Breakfast is particularly nice: I've figured out something that tastes good, doesn't make too bad a mess, and is nutritious: a quarter of a block of silken tofu, a cup of frozen berries, and a cup of milk, all blendered together into a smoothie. I have to wash the blender, but that's no big deal, and then all that's left is a dirty glass.

Who grew the soybeans, raised the berries, milked the cows? Who made the tofu and froze the berries? The only people I saw were the people at the grocery store -- and what I know about them is that they went on a months-long strike last year and basically lost most of what they were hoping to accomplish. It makes me wonder about the people I can't see. How many of them, how many of their kids, had a good breakfast?

I'm part of one food-related epidemic here in the U.S.: I'm part of the obesity epidemic. The spiritual approach I'm taking to the problem (having realized that for me, it is indeed a spiritual problem) is making it harder for me to ignore the other epidemics. There's an epidemic in the media (print, TV, billboards, you name it) of advertising to persuade consumers that they'll be happy if they eat huge pizzas, sugared cereal, sugar water, or other weird concoctions that are anything but nutritious. I can't help but wonder what it would be like to see those ads everywhere if I were part of a different epidemic: the epidemic of working people -- or people who want work, and can't find it -- who have to choose between rent and food.

I don't have any answers. I'm trying to shape my life into a better question: I know I'm hungry, but do I hunger for anything that will truly satisfy? I don't think that you have to be a tzaddik [an ideal righteous person] to see that Justice would be more satisfying than a Big Mac, that a good breakfast for everyone would be more satisfying than French Fries and Donuts for All.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I read this and all I could think to say was, "Amen.":

This is the true joy in life:

the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one;
the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap;
the being a force of nature
instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances
complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

—George Bernard Shaw

Monday, November 15, 2004

I am going to recommend a website to you, but before you take a look, be aware that it contains some graphic images of war. Fallujah in Pictures is not a pretty sight: it is a series of graphic photos from the war, along with portraits of American soldiers who have died there in the past ten days.

Whatever your opinion on the war, I think it is important to stop once in a while and think about what we are doing there. All those young soldiers are gone. The wounded children in a couple of the photos will be missing limbs for the rest of their lives. Every person dead or injured in the photos was or is someone's father, brother, son or friend (I didn't see any photos of women.)

It's so easy to sit here in the US of A and have opinions about this. Living in the middle of a "situation" is far different than living outside of it, as I learned in Israel.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The new "quad" off and running, yikes -- for those of you who aren't fluent in HUC-speak, that means my classes have changed a bit, my schedule not at all. The new goodies: Early Modern Jewish History, Midrash 2, and Jewish Mysticism/Kabbalah. Lots to prepare, as always, and the faster I run the behinder I get, but that's ok, I'm learning.

One not-so-great thing is that Mondays and Wednesdays are now completely in the basement. As I've mentioned before, our class is large; the class behind us is also large. We are too big for most of the classrooms at HUC-LA. Last year we had most of our classes in the student lounge and in the beit midrash, which was not good because those really should be common areas, not classrooms. This year, my class is taking most of its classes in some new rooms in the basement. On the one hand, we are learning some lovely Torah. On the other hand, it is really odd to spend an entire day in a windowless room with poor ventilation. At lunch we can wander a bit, if lunchtime is not taken up with something.

On the other hand, we really are learning some lovely stuff. I've been very resistant to the idea of studying kabbalah, but so far, I'm enchanted. The translations are a bear, and don't make sense until Dr. Fishbane helps us see how to decode it, but it is a whole new way of thinking about Torah.

The text of the sermon I mentioned in an earlier posting, about Jewish tradition, kashrut, and vegetarianism, is now online. You can find it at -- scroll down and click on "Prophetic Priorities." Oh, and by the way -- the NRJ folks aren't allowed to mention it, but since I don't work for them, I can: if you click on their ads, it helps support their site.

While I'm mentioning sites I like, are you familiar with Mark Fiore? He's a political cartoonist in Northern California.

If you think webcams are fun (I do) check out the Mt. St. Helen's VolcanoCam. Some of the photos of the mountain are breaktaking, even when the volcano is quiet.

I don't live in Tennessee history anymore, but I have found a column in the Nashville paper, The Tennessean, that I enjoy very much. It's Learn Nashville, and is a local history column. George Zepp, who writes it, does more than research local curiosities -- he's a storyteller. Take a look.

OK, enough ads. I'm short on sleep and should have been snoozing an hour ago. Be well.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

We the People spoke, and we're going to have four more years of the Bush Administration. We the People also decided that marriage needs "protection" from gay folk. We decided that we want a more conservative Supreme Court.

I'm just now figuring out that as a queer, Californian, Jewish, female citizen of the United States, I may have a vote, but I'm a lot farther out of sync with 55% of We the People than I ever imagined. That came as a shock, a big shock. When I saw the lines at the polls yesterday, I felt hopeful, because I really believed that I may fit into several minority categories, but that my head and my heart weren't all that different from most of my fellow citizens.

There have been a lot of Bibles thumped in connection with this election. I'd like to do a bit of Bible thumping myself right now. I wish I could remind the President that while he and I may disagree on the interpretation of the message of the Biblical Prophets, there are clear, simple messages there that he and his party need to heed. We have millions of people in this country going hungry. More children fall below the poverty level every year. Our city streets are littered with our mentally ill and our homeless.

We've turned the profit motive into a graven image; we worship it by glorifying the bottom line. White collar criminals go to Camp Cupcake, and the whole process -- if there is even a process, if they are even held responsible -- is treated as entertainment for the rest of us.

Yes, we have enemies in the world. But going to the other side of the world to stir a hornets' nest in Iraq has not helped us in that respect. And please, enough with the "fight them there so we don't have to fight them here." On your farm, Mr. President, do you deal with a yellow jackets' nest by poking a stick into it?

Why aren't our ports more secure? Why is the security at our airports 90% nuisance and 10% real security?

We keep hearing about innocent men on Death Row, and yet we keep on executing people. We have held God knows how many people in Guantanamo and places like Abu Graib without due process, without charges, without conscience or mercy.

We raise young men and women who don't recognize that an order to torture is a bad, wrong order. We cut funds for colleges so we can build more prisons.

We are wrecking the world of which we are stewards. Anyone who thinks that global warming is an unsubstantiated theory was not paying attention when the hurricanes mowed through the Southeast six weeks ago.

God knows, Mr. President. God knows what we are doing. God knows what you are doing, you and the people who work for you. That was the message of Amos, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah: God knows. And God is paying attention.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

It's been a long, long day and it's going to be a long night.

I started the day in line at my local polling place, on the second floor of an assisted-living facility a block from home. The lines were already long at 7:30 am, and long-timers in the precinct were saying that they'd never seen anything like it.

It's an interesting neighborhood: we're north of Pico-Robertson, the big Jewish and Jewish/Iranian enclave. We're south of Beverly Hills by a mere block. Lots of retirement-age folks in the neighborhood, and lots of immigrants.

In the voting line, the couple in front of me were from the former Soviet Union. They spoke Russian to each other, and heavily accented English to me. Ahead of them, a man with a heavy Farsi accent asked the fellow next to him (Arabic speaking, judging from his accent) for his opinion about one of the ballot initiatives. That sparked a lively conversation in the line, debating the pros and cons of stem cell research. The Arabic accented fellow worried that it would cost millions of dollars, and who would pay? The Farsi-speaker looked worried; he hadn't thought about that. All the diseases they could cure, surely?

Then he said to the guy next to him, "You want the old one, or the new?"

"Old or new, what do you mean?"

"Old Bush, or the Kerry fellow?"

"Well, what do you think?"

The couple just ahead of me said that they were afraid to vote for anyone but Bush, and looked at me for agreement. I hadn't planned to participate, but heck, I was not going to let anyone put his vote on my ballot. "Some of us are afraid NOT to vote for Kerry," I said.

"But the terrorists! And the war! You cannot change presidents in a war!" they protested. I just shook my head.

Others around us began to chime in with their own two cents' worth. Both parties were enthusiastically represented. The un-airconditioned hallway felt very close and hot. Voices began to rise. I began to sweat. I did not come to L.A. to die in a geriatric riot.

"Thank God we're in America," I chirped, as enthusiastically as I could manage. "We can disagree!"

"Yes! Thank God!" Everyone nodded and the tension was gone.

Thank God, indeed. Most of the people in the line with me today were not born in the United States; most of them, I'm guessing, can appreciate that precious ballot in a way I can only imagine. A polling place is a kind of holy ground, a place where people try to combine their own best opinion with the opinions of their neighbors. Some have fancy degrees; some came up through the school of hard knocks. The wise and the foolish each get a single vote, and the result is their common effort. In the voting line, we are no longer an assortment of individuals; we become, on election night, We the People.

I don't know who's going to live in the White House next year. I have my hopes, and I have my fears. I told a friend today that I'd vote for Richard Nixon before I'd vote for George W. Bush, but I said to someone else that if my candidate loses, I am most certainly NOT moving to Canada, or England, or even to Israel.

I'm staying right here.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Yom shishi -- it's Friday. I've been rushing around since 6am, clearing the decks for Shabbat. This coming week is going to be something else: we've got the end of the quad, which means the equivalent of midterms, papers due, change in schedules, plus "interquad" classes, which means we'll be in class on Friday, too. Add all that disruption to the drama of the national elections and it does look like an interesting week ahead.

Lots going on internally of late. I began keeping kosher two years ago in Jerusalem. Publicly, I wanted to learn about it, and there's no learning like doing. Privately, I knew that the biggest holiness deficit in my life had to do with eating. While I did learn how to keep a kosher home (separate meat and milk, have only kosher food in my kitchen) the holiness issue continued to be nagging. It's no secret that I'm a fat woman, and have struggled with eating all my life. The boundaries of kashrut (keeping kosher) served to highlight my difficulties around eating.

That's not a bad thing: nothing like shining a bright light on something in order to get a good look at it. But I felt particularly helpless: the scales rang in with scary numbers, my joints are failing, and other health issues loomed.

Then I heard a sermon from one of the fifth year students that really got my attention. Gersh talked to us kindly and sincerely about his own journey with kashrut. He reminded us of the mitzvot involved: not just the halakha (Jewish law) about kashrut per se, but also the commandments to take care of our bodies, to refrain from waste, to be kind to animals, to pursue justice, to feed the hungry of the world. He explained why each of those were tied to his own decision to keep a vegan diet, completely free from all animal produce. He buttressed his own opinions with the words of rabbis I respect.

Since September, I've changed my practice of kashrut. My kitchen is a dairy kitchen. But I've also been taking steps to move "bad for me" foods out of my life: sugar and some other foods that do not add to the holiness in my life are now as traife, as not-to-eat as a pork chop. I'm trying to make eating the holy activity that it should be, for sustaining life. I bless before and after meals, to make it "kadosh" -- set apart, holy. I don't eat between meals.

Frankly, it isn't easy and it hasn't been pretty. Sugar is a nasty addiction. I had no idea how much it dulled my senses: now I'm restless, and my joints are all screeching at me. (Ironic, isn't it, that one of the things I was doing with sugar was dulling arthritis pain -- the same arthritis that is aggravated by excess weight?) The trouble is, there's no "enough" for me with the sugar.

On the plus side, prayer has acquired a new edge for me. I am exquisitely awake in prayer in a way I haven't been before.

I have debated posting this on my blog, but it's what's going on with me right now; it's most of what's going on with me right now. It is directly tied to my journey through rabbinical school, and the journey I began when I entered the Jewish covenant. Dunno where it will lead, but it will surely be interesting.

Shabbat shalom.

Monday, October 25, 2004

I can't tell whether I'm ahead of my assignments, or just hopelessly lost. So many new facts are jumbling around inside my head right now that I hardly know which way is up.

Handed in the draft for my translation of Isaiah 6 (the passage I've chosen for exegesis this term.) Susan and I turned in our History paper. There are still many other papers and tests (and plain old things to learn) but I seem to be making progress.

Actually, "where" I am is not nearly as important as the fact that I'm learning, and that there is a nearly infinite amount to learn. Whatever it was, it wouldn't be enough. So probably I'm doing just fine!

Monday, October 18, 2004

Last spring, when the brochures came out for the various Los Angeles Philharmonic concert series, a classmate and I agreed to (1) buy tickets together and (2) drag each other there, if necessary, "no matter what studying 'needs' to be done."

All I can say is, excellent plan. Just as we feared, we were both "too busy" but we already had tickets. My knee was acting up, we have a Talmud quiz on Wednesday, we have umpteen things to prepare, and we just went to the concert anyway.

Oh, GOOD plan.

We sat in the new Walt Disney Concert Hall and filled our heads with beautiful music. Sitting in the WDCH is a bit like sitting in the middle of a Cubist painting; if you haven't seen pictures, click this link and take a look. We were sitting high against the wall -- perhaps a little too high to see well, but the sound was wonderful. I think I'd have been happy to swing on a rope from the ceiling, to hear that music.

It was a piano concert by Peter Serkin, and he just seemed to get better and better as the evening wore on. He played a wild variety of music: Josquin, Webern, Bach, Mozart, Bull, Dowland; about the only era he didn't touch was Romantic music.

I have been so deep into the left side of my brain -- doing translations, deciphering Talmud, writing lesson plans -- that I think I was getting a little lopsided, like a weightlifter who only works on the left side of his body. I felt my mind expand and relax, listening to the music: I feel wonderful.

Friday, October 15, 2004

My car's in the shop, my internet connection at home isn't working right, but life is pretty darn good. Linda's visiting down here this week, and while I am not studying as much as usual, it is lovely to spend time with a good friend. I am better at seeing complications than at seeing solutions; Linda's just the opposite, and all sorts of things have become simple during her visit.

We called Aaron one night from Canter's Deli, and demanded to know where he was -- why was he late for dinner? He was taken aback for a moment, and then remembered she and I are in L.A. He said, well, gimme six hours, and we all laughed.

We've moved in Prophets class from Hosea to Amos, and I'm much happier. I like the poetry better, and I much prefer this spokesman for God. I can deal with the idea that God gets really angry if we don't keep our covenants. I can't handle the idea of a crazy God, which is how the deity in Hosea feels to me. I know, I know, it's a canonical book, and I'll do my best with it!

Thursday, October 07, 2004

I have lots to do tonight: I'm on my way to Merced tomorrow morning for Simchat Torah and a weekend of work at Congregation Etz Chaim. But the news is pressing on me, and I thought I'd write about it a little and see if it will help my heavy heart.

Bombings at a resort in Egypt just over the border from Israel have killed at least 30 people. Three explosions took place, right at the conclusion of the Sukkot holiday, when the resorts were full of Israelis. The Egyptian public line is that they are not sure that it is terrorism. To that, all I know to say is, they must be kidding.

The world is bomb-crazy. Little children and their families are dead under holiday hotels in Egypt. Terrorists shoot missiles from Gaza over the border into Israel, killing children, which draws the Israeli army into Gaza, to try to stop the murderers, in the process killing more children. (For details of that convoluted sentence, check out the story in Haaretz.)

In Afghanistan, they are going to try to hold elections, but there are bombs going off there, too. And of course, there are the constant bombings and violence in Iraq -- I am mystified that anyone thinks that anything there is "going well."

Meantime, I'm studying. The prophets are shaking me to my bones, not that that is a bad thing, but neither is it a pleasant thing. Talmud is an intricate mental exercise. I can feel my mind becoming more limber and strong. In my other classes, I am learning wonderful things and in a constant state of frustration about the limits of time and my abilities. There is so much to learn, all of it important.

Time to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

School is delicious this term; I wish I didn't need to sleep.

I'm writing this after midnight on Sukkot, and the reason I'm up so late is that I came home from school yesterday and crashed into bed, after making the mistake of going to the grocery store while ravenous. I guess I need to work on the balance in my life.

I'd started the day at school at 7 a.m., doing some extra Talmud study with a senior student. I was skeptical of the time, originally -- ugh, do I really want to get up so early? -- but it was wonderful. There were a small group of us, lots of questions, and I learned a lot more about how to read a daf [page of Talmud]. Page layout is just the beginning of the puzzle: there are special words to let you know that "the following argument was brought up but ultimately defeated," and "the following argument resolved the question," and so on. There is a huge cast of characters to research, and it is hard to know what a sage is really saying if you don't have a clue who he is and when he lived. Gersh, our guide, was patient and encouraging, and by the end of the hour-and-a-half, I was jazzed: I can do this!

Then it was time for official school, with Prophets class. Dr. Eskenazi introduced us to Hosea and his "made-in-Heaven" marriage (which has to be one of the most horrible marriages on record.) We're reading Heschel on the prophets, and the prophets themselves, along with some commentaries, and it is very exciting, mostly because it's clear that I didn't know anything about those guys. I think I've had more of an acquaintence with them than most of my classmates, but as with the Torah class last year, I find that everything I thought I knew is at best only part of the story.

Then, history with Dr. Firestone. We looked at and compared the stories of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22 in Jewish and Christian Bibles) and the "Intended Sacrifice" in the Quran (37:99-111). That gave us a gate through which to look at the differences between the three religions and how they tend to see one another. It was fascinating stuff, and there is a feeling of urgency to this learning for me. Given my own feeling that Jews and Christians do not understand one another nearly as well as we think we do -- that our communications are confused by misinformation and misperception and projection -- I think it is no surprise that things between us and Muslims are even more of a tangle. The question in my mind lately is, if I were able to turn off all the projections and preconcieved notions I've got about Islam, would there be anything left in my head at all about the subject?

I went to lunch with a classmate, who showed me a little vegan restaurant not far from campus. I've changed my practice of kashrut [Jewish dietary laws] removing meat from my diet altogether, and I'm on a learning curve about that. We had a nice chat about kashrut, and school, and our pulpits, and then it was time to head back to school for Talmud.

In Talmud class, the day came full circle. We studied the sugya [portion of Talmud] from Kiddushin that a few of us had gone over with Gersh in the morning. It is encouraging to realize that even so early as the time of the development of the Gemara (200 - 500 C.E.) students and teachers were already looking at the Mishnah and wondering what some of it meant! The language of the sugya was easy -- amazing how quickly we're adapting to Aramaic -- but there were subtleties upon subtleties in the discussion. Thus the school day ended at 2:30 pm.

That's when I went to the car, realized the larder at home was empty, and headed to the grocery. I came home, put stuff in the fridge, and fell asleep until I woke at 10 pm!

I'm glad for the long weekend. I've a sermon to write, preparations for next week at my pulpit, lots and lots of preparation for class next week, and the housework that piles up from a week of stumbling in the door, running to do a few things, and then falling asleep.

It's Sukkot, and I am feeling a different connection to the little booths this year. It is indeed harvest time, and I am harvesting in the fields of learning as fast as I can, making hay while the sun shines. I need to construct myself a shelter in these fields, a shelter of balance and routine, of family and love, to get the most out of the experience. Family and love I've got: I am blessed in that department! Balance and routine is one of this year's extra-curricular tasks, I think.

I wish you a chag sameach, a good holiday!

Thursday, September 23, 2004

I'm sitting on a balcony in Oakland, watching the sun rise over the Oakland Hills. Five palm trees mark the spot where the sun rises this time of year, pompom remnants of the "Borax" Smith estate, Arbor Villa. This city, like most, has layers: it's hard to visualize the elegant estates that became my lively neighborhood. Smith's estate is gone, except for a few buildings, but I still use 20-Mule-Team Borax in my laundry, and sometimes I think about the palm trees when I shake it into the washer.

This state is connected by all sorts of odd threads: Borax is one of them. Smith was an early mover and shaker in Oakland, but he made his fortune in the Mojave Desert. He left marks all over the state, from a city park in Oakland (see the Arbor Villa link above) to the borax mines down south, to a worked-out sulphur mine that was still eating the asphalt of Redwood Road in the Oakland hills in 1997. Some credit him with the development of Oakland into a real city, instead of a suburb of San Francisco.

I'm fascinated by ol' Francis Marion Smith, and not only because I like using borax in my laundry. I am fiercely fond of Oakland -- have been since the August day in 1986 when I got lost on the 580 freeway, and got off at the Grand Avenue exit to get my bearings. It was love at first sight, despite the sketchy reputation of Oakland pretty much anywhere outside Oakland, at the time. Apparently "Borax" felt that way, too: he was a one-man civic development engine with a passion for this city.

The sun's up now, and I'd better get to work.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Linda and I have been arguing about movies for 20 years. We both love movies, but we often disagree about them. Some of the best fun of a bad movie, particularly, is arguing with Linda about it afterwards.

When I realized that we could do a "team" blog, I set up Linda and Ruth Go to the Movies and sent her an invitation to join me in doing publicly what we'd done privately for so long. If you like movies, take a look (click the link.) If you want to join the conversation over there, just click on "comment" and send us your 2 cents' worth.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

l'Shanah tovah umetukah!

[To a good and sweet year for all of you reading this!]

I found something absolutely wonderful at the bottom of an email I got this morning from an Outreach colleague:

No matter our attempts to inform, it is our ability to inspire that will turn the tides.

The quote is credited to the Syracuse Cultural Workers, although the only place I find it on their website is a discontinued tee shirt and a button. That's nice, but I'd really like to know who said it! If anyone knows, drop me a line or a comment, ok?

Friday, September 03, 2004

The first week of classes has ended, and my "to-do" box is overflowing: life is back to normal at Chez Ruth. That vacation was wonderful, but it's over.

I like being a third year student: I know my way around, know what's expected of me, know that the impossible-looking workload is actually probably do-able if I work smart -- and that part of my learning task is to figure out how to do it! -- and perhaps most important, I have a clearer idea of what isn't important.
And I'm lucky that my weekends at my pulpit are hard work, but also a treat: I've learned to enjoy that drive, the quiet time, and I've learned how to pray and lead prayer at the same time, how to learn while I'm teaching.

Los Angeles still doesn't feel like home -- most of my family isn't here -- but I have a growing constellation of non-HUC friends and regular acquaintences here. The brother and sister who run my favorite used book shop, the lady (and she is a lady) at the dry cleaners, several folks at my synagogue, and assorted others -- they're all friendly, familiar faces, and we are glad to see one another.

I realized, the other day, why Shammai [one of the great rabbis of pre-destruction Jerusalem] said, "greet everyone with a cheerful face." (Avot 1:15) We need those cheerful faces! Human beings are social, and we need to feel that someone (on some days, anyone) is glad to see us. When we provide that gift to one another, we let the b'tzelem Elohim --the image of God -- shine through us.

Friday, August 27, 2004

I just discovered a fascinating online toy -- at least, it is fascinating if you've got arthritis that appears to be sensitive to the weather. Check out the Aches and Pains weather map! No wonder I like California.

I've got osteoarthritis, an inheritance from my beautiful grandmother, and I've tried being mad about it, sorry for myself, depressed, angry, and a lot of other stuff. I've taken all sorts of odd nutritional supplements: my favorite is cod-liver-oil; the useless ones are a long list. Some people swear by glucosamine and condroitin, but they did bupkes for me. I also do drugs, as needed: Motrin, Naprosyn, Cox-2 inhibitors, aspirin, Tylenol, you name it.

What works? The Egoscue Method exercises have been helpful for me. Motrin is wonderful stuff, if I go easy with it. Meditation is a blessing. Laughter is indeed good medicine. Prayer works. Sometimes cussing has its points.

Being mad about it seems to be a more constructive state of mind that being sorry for myself. Depression is just another illness -- no thanks.

I got to a point last year, before I found the Egoscue exercises, when I wondered if I was going to be able to continue my program at HUC. I hurt too much, too much of the time, to concentrate properly. I stumbled on the book at exactly the moment I needed it, and all I can figure is that both the book and my willingness to try it were gifts of heaven. I was able to get back to the serious business of learning.

During the time that I feared I would have to quit, I remember feeling trapped, because on the one hand, I can't go to rabbinical school if I can't think -- but on the other hand, the thought of quitting school was unspeakable. My life is opening up in wonderful ways: the learning itself, the work it allows me to do, the people with whom I study and the people whom I am learning to serve, all combine to make life wonderful and purposeful. It would break my heart to quit.

So arthritis is a footnote; it gets in the way, but it isn't going to get more dignity than that from me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I've intended, for a while, to mention that I've set this blog up to accept comments. If you have any, just click on " x comments" at the end of the blog, and post what you have to say.

The last blog was cut short when I was startled by the phone and pressed the buttons I use to save work in my wordprocessing program. Turns out those same buttons will post a blog. It seemed sort of an abrupt ending, but I sort of liked it, so there it stands.

My classmates and I are in the midst of our week-long Aramaic Intensive. At the end of this week, we'll be equipped to stumble blindly through the Talmud, recognizing words here and there. Genuine reading will take a bit longer, but this is a good beginning. Long days, though: we start at 8:30 and go to 2:30, and I think most of us (including the teacher) are putting away massive amounts of caffeine in order to stay alert. The stories are good, though -- have you ever heard the one about the Zoroastrian magus, the dead rabbi, and the live rabbi? Seems that there was a Zoroastrian magus who was trying to dig up a rabbi who had been buried. This may have been for nefarious purposes (the text doesn't say why he was digging) but may also have been an attempt at a Zoroastrian mitzvah [good deed] -- long story. Anyway, when he started to dig, a hand reached up from the grave and grabbed him by the beard. He was trapped until another rabbi came along and cut his beard. The moral of the story appears to be, "don't mess with rabbis, even dead ones."

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Just back from my first trip of the year to my pulpit. It's in a little town 300 miles up Hwy 99, which makes for a very long Friday (driving up before services) and a long Sunday (driving back, after religious school.)

I've been making that drive for a year now, and while initially I dreaded it, it's become part of my routine. I hate the first bit -- getting out of LA -- because I have two choices for that: do it early, during rush hour, or a bit later, when I will have to hustle for the rest of the day, but I won't have to fight rush hour on the 405. There's no good way, I've decided, just grit my teeth and drive.

As I climb the mountains and the LA radio stations begin to choke and hiss static at me , though, the scenery turns wild and beautiful and the traffic isn't bad. There's a gorgeous wilderness up there, miles and miles of it, hills that tumble on both sides of the freeway, and surprising vistas. It's not green, this time of year -- burnt browns and oranges and grays -- and you can see the scars from old wildfires, but it is beautiful as only a California wilderness is beautiful. The road passes Pyramid Lake, which has a pyramid-like island in the middle of it, and somewhere out of sight of the road there is also Castaic Lake. Those miles shake the smog out of my brain; generally I turn off the radio and drive in glorious silence.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

I don't often feel the urge to go back and "fix" these entries, but my last entry had a dreadful clinker:

"I started the day by showing up for the regular minyan at a local Conservative synagogue. I decided that it was stupid, this one time in my life when I can for sure daven with a minyan every day, and I'm not doing it. So when I can be there, I will be there. "

I should clarify: *I* was being stupid. The regular minyan at Beth Am is a pleasure, and it is by no means stupid. Muddying that up was indeed a stupid writing mistake.

And now, whew, it's fixed.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Back in L.A...

Today is a stretching day, one of several I've scheduled this week. I started the day by showing up for the regular minyan at a local Conservative synagogue. I decided that it was stupid, this one time in my life when I can for sure daven with a minyan every day, and I'm not doing it. So when I can be there, I will be there. And "can" means "do not have a committment elsewhere" not "goofing off at home". (It also can't mean "I'm too embarrassed." As the rabbis point out to us, the shy do not learn.) Once school starts, I'll pray there.

Other stretches lie ahead, some I'll mention here and some I won't. One way I know that I'm really living on Jewish time these days is that the New Year really starts for me on Rosh HaShanah, and the preceding month (Elul) is the month of admitting to stuff and fixing what I can. It's Honesty Month, for mending relationships, with others and with God. I am extrapolating a bit, and including "myself" in the people with whom I need to mend things. And that is all I am going to say about that.

A month of friends and family in the Bay Area -- which I stretched to five weeks because I couldn't bring myself to go quite so soon -- was just the ticket: I feel ready to go back to school, which is truly a miracle. The hardest thing for me about L.A. is the people who aren't here; it gets lonesome. And sometimes it just has to be -- I'd be lousy company, with my nose in the books -- but another of my resolutions for the coming year is that I'm going home regularly. And phoning friends more often.

I got the dreaded exegesis paper back from Dr. Eskenazi-- the paper I agonized over most of June! -- and she liked it, she really liked it. I don't know when I've been so thrilled with a good grade on a paper; it's a lovely feeling, to put all I've got into a project and think that "that was pretty good, I think" and then hear from the teacher, "yeah, it was a good job." And what I learned, I get to keep.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Grrr. Abu Ghraib prison is back in the news.

Our tax dollars at work, folks. We paid the cretins who followed those orders, or who didn't follow orders. We paid the people who gave them the orders -- or who were supervising them so poorly that they didn't realize that the night shift was freelancing as torturers. We are paying the dog-ate-my-homework crowd in the Bush administration who could not be bothered to read a report, or to pay attention to it if they read it.

We are paying for this, every one of us, with every paycheck, with the checks we sent on April 15. Our children will be paying for it, too. I do not understand why the entire country is not up in arms to call the Bush administration to account for this.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

I just had an encounter that sent me back 40 years.

I stood at the crosswalk at Lakeshore and Trestle Glen, feeling impatient about the long stoplight.   A boy (he looked about ten) seemed to feel the same way I did -- he kept banging his fist on the "Press for Crossing" button.  I looked down at him, and said, "These things sure do take forever, don't they?"  and he grinned at me and said, "Yeah."  We were instant allies.  Just then, the light changed and the signal to walk flashed at us.   I stepped off the curb, and the kid yelped at me.  I stopped, and a car screeched to a stop (she had been about to run the light).  Without missing a beat, the boy galloped across the street, and I hollered, "Thanks!"  He didn't even look back.

As I got to the other side of the street, I saw him run over to a woman a little older than myself.  When I reached the curb, she turned to the group crossing over, holding out a copy of "Street Spirit", a weekly published by the American Friends Service Committee, that is sold by homeless folks around here.  "Buy a copy?" she said, rather tentatively, "My grandson is here with me, I'd like to take him to the fair."

I stopped (after all, her grandson just saved my silly neck.)  "I just met this young man -- he kept me from walking in front of a car," I said.  She beamed.  "Do you have kids?" she asked me, "Because there's a nice little street fair, and we're going to take the bus over so he can ride the rides."  "Oh, my kids are grown," I said, digging in my purse, "Big guys.  But I hope you have a good day.  Some of my best days were going places with my grandmother."  I handed her the cash from my wallet.  She gasped, and turned to smile at her grandson.  He wiggled and smiled back up at her.

All of a sudden I missed my own grandmother so much that my eyes were filling up with tears.  I wished them luck and a good day, and half-ran into a nearby coffee house (where I am sitting now).  I looked out the front window after I emerged from the ladies' room, and they were gone.  I hope they have a good day at the street fair.

I remember some great days, when I was that kid's age, sliding around on the front seat of her old Buick while she drove from Franklin to Murfreesboro through Triune.  We'd have had cottage cheese and tomatoes at her house, and then we'd stop furtively at Ole Taylor's Candy Kitchen in Smyrna (where they make Saturn cars today) and get a piece of chocolate. 

Then we'd hit an antique shop in Murfreesboro that we both loved; she'd pay a dollar for which we could fill a grocery bag with used books.  Thanks to Meme and the Antique Barn's back room, I read Dickens and Twain from old books that sometimes smelled odd but that were always nicer to hold than a paperback.  We'd examine the china and she would tell me all about France, where they make Limoge china and where my father spent his Army service.  She'd never been to France, would never in her life travel outside the United States, but she'd talk about it as if she had.  

She'd show me old tools and we'd talk about how people lived in "old times."  I remember a thing that looked like a wastebasket with teeth:  it was a cranberry picker.  She said people had to wade in water to scoop the cranberries for Thanksgiving dinner.  I am pretty sure that Ocean Spray has something more sophisticated, but I never eat cranberries without thinking of men standing in cold water.

Other times, we might drive up to Nashville and stop by Elder's Bookstore on Elliston Place, where she'd chat with old Mr. Elder, while I'd watch young Mr. Elder organize books on the shelves.  She had an arrangement with old Mr. Elder:  she'd bring in a bag of paperback murder mysteries, and exchange it for another bag.  We'd talk  history with the Elders for a while, then get back in the car and drive to the Cathedral, where Monsignor Albert Siener lived in the rectory.  Before he went off to seminary, he had gone to Cathedral Grade School in the same class with Meme.  He lost a leg to phlebitis, but before he got sick and they sent him back to Nashville, he and the man who became Pope John XXIII had been friends and fellow-students in Rome. 

We'd visit with "Msgr. Albert"  for an hour or so.  Meme would hand him the bag of mysteries, and he'd hand her the bag we'd brought last time.  Msgr. Albert was the holiest man we knew.   I learned a lot from listening to the two of them talk -- everything from old Irish Catholic Nashville stories to Vatican politics -- but the most important thing I learned was the humanity of the very holy:  Msgr Albert loved mystery stories, and he kept licorice candy in a jar, and when little girls got bored during a long Cathedral Mass and got squirmy and irritated their parents, he'd beckon (and since he was Msgr Albert, my parents simply waved me off to him).  We'd go to the back of the church and he'd hand me the tails of his cincture (rope belt) and we'd be off, me "driving" him in his wheelchair back and forth across the back of the church while the service droned on.  He believed that children should not be miserable in church.

[A side trip:  I get angry these days, when I hear jokes about Catholic priests and pedophilia.  First of all, the horrors that have come to light recently are no joke.  But secondly, the sick priests (and the bad bishops who protected them) were not the whole church:  in my childhood, I knew lots of priests and lots of nuns, and they ran the gamut from kind and saintly to crazy as a bedbug.  There are some I could have done without, true, but there are others, like Msgr Albert Siener, without whom I wouldn't be the person I am today, people from whom I got a glimpse of holiness.]

But back to the day:  we'd leave of Msgr Albert with his mystery books (he had lots of theology books, too; but Meme was his source for the fun stuff.)   We might go downtown to window shop at the Cain-Sloan department store, or at Harvey's, and then we might -- might! -- stop by Candyland for a dish of peppermint ice cream with chocolate sauce.  (Do you notice the recurring theme?)

Over ice cream, we'd talk about books, and history, and life.  I got advice from my grandmother that I value to this day: 

"Don't ever sign anything you haven't read, no matter who tells you to." 

"Vote every chance you get."

"A woman should always have a little money of her own."

"You need an education, Punkin.  College.  I only went to one year at Belmont, but you're going to get an education."

There was also information that -- well, she was opinionated.

"The liquor business is bad luck.  That's what happened to the Kennedys.  He made his money bootlegging, and now poor Rose has to live out all that bad luck.  Don't ever have anything to do with the liquor business."

"You can't tell me I'm descended from a monkey.  God made monkeys and he made people.  And little babies have been growing in their mother's stomachs ever since Adam and Eve."

"We're lace-curtain Irish, not shanty.  And your ancestors were kings in Ireland."

... and so on.  Actually, I did some research, looking for her in reference books the terrible summer after she died -- she was right.  The Carrolls were kings of Ely, in Ireland, in about the year 1000.  "King" meant something a little different in 1962 than it meant in 1000, but still, she was right. 

She died 30 years ago this past spring, and I still miss her.

I hope that boy has a good day with his grandmother.  I cannot bear to imagine my grandmother begging; I feel sick that his grandmother has to. 











Sunday, July 18, 2004

I've spent a very pleasant morning repotting african violets.   In March, I gave my big plants a haircut and used the castoff leaves to start new plants; now the new plants are big enough to graduate from their plastic cup homes (with the tacky but effective Ziplock "greenhouse" covers) to real pots of their own. 
No "Pomp and Circumstance" in the background but I got satisfyingly grubby, and now the windowsill here in Oakland is full of little green guys who will either make gifts for unwary friends or travel back to LA with me at the end of the month. 
I needed a hobby that would engage the right side of my brain and require me to get really dirty from time to time, without requiring so much time and attention that I couldn't deal with school.  I also missed having pets.  The violets fill the bill nicely:  they are fussy enough that they do require attention, but they don't need sitters or litterboxes. 
I can't speak for the rest of the world, but I need to live with other living creatures.   I suspect that the violets keep me from annoying my children too much, and worse yet, from inflicting my mom-energy on colleagues.    They aren't quite pets, and they certainly are not children, but they do remind me that I am the partner of God in miracles: they wouldn't thrive without water, food, and fussing.  Once upon a time, they grew wild in Africa, someplace where their leaves never got wet and their roots were watered regularly, but with a bit of help, they are nice to have in an apartment that is a little too quiet sometimes. 
Apparently I'm not the only person who feels this way about saintpaulia.   There's a national society devoted to the little devils, which sponsors shows, contests, trading events, and so on.   
I used to worry that someday I'd be one of those old ladies with 100 cats.  I don't think that's likely now, but I may become the middle-aged lady with 100 furry little plants!

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

On June 17, 1996, I sat in an armchair in the small shul at Congregation Beth Jacob in Oakland, CA, and answered the questions of a beit din [rabbinical court]. I recall three things clearly: (1) I was petrified (2) I had no idea how to answer the question about Israel and (3) One of the members of the beit din asked me, after an answer I gave to one question, whether I'd ever thought about rabbinical school. I couldn't tell if he was serious, or just trying to break the tension with a little humor.

Then we went to the mikveh [ritual bath], where management had forgotten to turn on the heater. I dipped a toe in the tank of ice-water, and asked myself the ancient question: well, how badly do you want to be a Jew?

Today, for the first time, in that same little room, I sat as a member of the beit din while we asked questions of first a young man I was meeting for the first time, and then, later, of a young woman from my congregation. I witnessed their readiness for conversion, and then we walked down the hall to the mikveh room (which was blessedly humid -- the heater was on!). I stood outside the door and listened as the young man said the blessings and immersed himself in the water. Then, later, I guided my candidate through the blessings and the rite of immersion.

There have been a lot of milestones in my Jewish journey; this one leaves me pretty much speechless. It is a privilege to be with someone at the beginning of his or her Jewish life, to study, to be a companion and guide, to decide, with three other Jews, that yes, indeed, we recognize a yiddishe neshomah, a Jewish soul.

What a blessing!

And now I can quit having nightmares about something going wrong. The worst nightmare was the one that had to do with a brass band marching through the mikveh room.... oy. I was glad, today, to have two senior rabbis with me, to keep me from messing up! They, too, were a blessing.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

I'm sitting at a window overlooking the old Brooklyn area of Oakland. It isn't a glamorous view, although if you squint you can see the mountains on the other side of the SF bay. I am fond of the jumble of eclectic architecture , interesting color choices, and the Parkway Theater sign.

I may live in L.A. most of the time, but Oakland is home. I cooked breakfast for one of my sons this morning before he had to go to class, and one of the main projects for the next month is to make this little condo into more of a home, and less of a storage bin. Mostly that involves throwing out boxes of stuff that I have not needed in two years (if I'd needed it, I'd have unpacked it.)

I am scheduled for a weekend at Etz Chaim in Merced, CA, and for a lifecycle event this month, and I have a bunch of studying to do. It's going to be a busy, quiet month.

There are so many movies out that I want to see: Control Room, Fahrenheit 9/11, Saved!, Spiderman 2, and some others I don't recall right now. Some things I am just as happy to see on video, but others I want to see on the big screen.

I want to see Fahrenheit 9/11 at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. Allen Michaan, the owner of the theater, is an opinionated East Bay guy who likes to use the theater marquee as a medium for ranting about the misbehavior of the Bush Administration. I cannot think of anywhere in the world I'd rather see that movie. It's a grand old moviehouse, too, and one with lots of good memories for me: I've been going to movies there since 1986.

Lots to do. I'm going to do an hour of grammar, and then clean out the bedroom!

Saturday, June 26, 2004


Shavua tov! [Good week!]

I wrote that the final day of the Interseminary Institute was to be a surprise. It was, in fact, several surprises.

The most striking experience of the day, for me, was an exercise in the ICU [Intensive Care Unit]. We were divided into two teams, each with its own scenario to role play. Our team was directed to choose a person to be the "patient," and then designate the other team members as family members. I volunteered to be the patient, so I took off my shoes and climbed into the ICU bed. Those places do not look the same when one is horizontal, I discovered. Then the "doctor" (actually an ICU nurse) came in to inform me and my "family" that I had had a bone marrow transplant after a long struggle with cancer, that it had gone well but that now I had had so much trouble breathing that they'd brought me over from the BMU [Bone Marrow Unit] to ICU. I was going to be put on a ventilator, and the staff needed to know if I and my family had discussed how far I wanted the hospital to go in prolonging my life, should my condition deteriorate. I would not be able to talk, once the tube was in my throat, so this was my last chance to give them directions about my care, and possibly (if all did not go well) my last chance to speak with them. Oh, and since I am already struggling to breathe, it is difficult for me to say more than a few words at a time.

Oy, gevalt.

I was myself, a 49 year old woman. My "mother," my "son," and my "husband" were with me. All of them were desperate for me not to die. I was sick and tired from months and months of increasingly aggressive cancer treatment, fatigue and nausea and mouth sores and goodness knows what else. My "mother" was very vocal, very talkative, not wanting to hear anything about me dying. The student playing her laid a very genuine feeling guilt trip on me about how I should not give up, that I couldn't die before her. She kept interrupting everyone in her desperation. My "son" (who looked remarkably like my real-life son, Jamie) didn't want me to die, either. He looked miserable. My poor "husband" couldn't get a word in edgewise. I couldn't say more than three words in a breath, and felt overwhelmed and guilty and scared (just how real was this going to be?) All of them were insisting, of course, we'll try EVERYTHING, and I (having spent the past two weeks getting a much clearer idea how miserable "everything" might be) was pretty sure that if a week on the ventilator didn't help, I didn't want more. But it was hard to tell them, and hard to convince them, and the whole thing was quite awful, even though it was only make believe.


There are legal documents, "advance directives," "Living wills," etc., for making our wants known in a legal way, but it is very important to TALK with family and friends and to share our feelings about extreme medical care. I don't want to spend my last conversation with my sons trying to communicate (or worse, trying to decide) how I feel about medical care at the end of life. I want to spend that last conversation telling them that I love them, if I am so fortunate as to have that chance. Even more, I do not want them to have the agony of deciding such things without my guidance: many families have to make decisions that leave them with years of guilt and pain, whether they elected to go ahead with increasingly aggressive measures (that only prolonged suffering) or elected to forgo those measures (and then wondered forever "if she might have lived.")

If you have an advance directive for medical care, be sure you talk to your loved ones about it. If you don't, put your wishes in writing and talk to your loved ones about it. It isn't pleasant, but you will come away with more of an appreciation for the life you've got, and if tragedy strikes, you will have given them a priceless gift.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Today we had graduation from the Interseminary Institute (I got the name wrong in the last post) at City of Hope hospital in Duarte, CA. We're going back tomorrow for something special they won't tell us about, but the learning portion is done. Also, tomorrow, we have time to go visit patients one last time; I have to say "thank you" to a couple who have taught me a great deal about life in the bone marrow transplant unit, and even more about love.

I learned a lot of things this past two weeks. I learned that nearly every cancer patient is not a single individual but lives in an "ecology" of friends and family that also live with cancer, albeit not in their own bodies. I learned that bone marrow transplants are a last-ditch solution that sometimes actually cures. If you are interested in learning how you can give someone a new lease on life, check out the National Marrow Donor Program. And don't let old news stories you've read about marrow donation scare you; these days, all it takes to put you in the registry is a blood sample, and if you are a match with someone who needs a donation, it's done in much the same way as a blood transfusion. No surgery, very little inconvenience, even.

The rabbis tell us that when you save a life, you save a whole world. This is a big mitzvah that costs you nothing and is easy to do! (So click the link, already, and find out how you can be a part of this mitzvah!)

I learned how to be helpful to sick people and their families, and I'm looking forward to learning more, and teaching it, too.

For me, this program was a big scary risk. Like a lot of people, I have lost many family members and good friends to cancer. I have friends who are cancer survivors, and I know that some of them went through a very dark place in order to survive. I was scared silly of cancer, and the main reason I signed up for the program was that it frightened the daylights out of me to even think about two weeks at City of Hope.

I'm more comfortable with my discomfort, now. I'm not over being scared of cancer: one time this week I realized, as I was holding the hand of a woman who was drifting in and out of sleep, but who wanted me to stay with her and pray for a while, that drops of sweat were running down my face and my back, and splashing to the floor. I learned, though, that it is enormously satisfying to face my fears and be with people who are fighting for their lives. I learned so much from them, and from the people who take care of them, and my life is never going to be quite the same.

After graduation, our carpool ("the three little rabbis," one of our mentors called us)went to donate blood and be registered in the bone marrow registry. I left a pint at City of Hope today, along with a piece of my heart.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I just finished Day Three of the Interfaith Seminarians' program at City of Hope hospital. It's a huge, miraculous, holy place: not only do they do bone marrow transplants, stem cell procedures, and other medical miracles, but they take exquisite care of patients. City of Hope is surrounded by gardens. The hospital food does not look or smell like hospital food. Every effort is made to support the dignity and healing of patients and their families. In that effort, I just finished three days of orientation for a two week chaplaincy program! They are serious about crossing every "t" and dotting every "i."

I was scared silly of the place, which is why I signed up for the program. Cancer has ended the lives of so many of my family and friends that I can't bear to count them. It brings up the spectre of my own mortality like nothing else. I knew I had to come to terms with my feelings about it -- at least become more comfortable with my discomfort -- if I wanted to be a decent rabbi someday.

The second aspect of the program, also exciting, is that we are an interfaith group. Friday a Roman Catholic colleague and I will lead a morning prayer service we are writing together. One of my supervisors is a Reform rabbi; the other is an American Baptist minister. It's a wonderful group for learning and discovering one another.

I'm learning things hand-over-fist, about myself and about the world of City of Hope. It's a place of life and sickness, learning and pain, sometimes a place of death and sometimes a place of rebirth.

Shalom, all.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Remember the chorus "They took Paradise and put up a parking lot"?

It's been a couple of years since I saw the county I grew up in, and I am sorry to say it's not there anymore. Franklin, TN cocooned itself in historical status, so most of old-time Franklin is still there (in a very manicured, cultured and cultivated sort of way) but what used to be Brentwood is a horror show of malls, chain stores, condos, and all-round yucky stuff. Don't get me wrong -- I understand that people have to live somewhere, and that all those places are jobs for someone -- but did it have to all be plastic and pre-fab and UGLY?

I can see a Red Lobster sign -- or for that matter, Red Lobster food -- anywhere in America. Did we really need another one in what used to be beautiful farmland? The place where the Huff Bros used to make the best country hams in the world isn't there anymore. You can't get good country ham (not that I eat it anymore, but that isn't the point) but you can get fast food galore.

As I told my son on the phone, it's sad when that beautiful green country has turned itself into Concord, CA. Or Anywhere Else, USA.

One of the things I love about Oakland and my new adopted home, LA: they have kept some of the weird old stuff that make a place distinctive. It doesn't all have to be plastic or prefab. (I know, so strange to say that about LA. But it's true, at least about the buildings. Let's leave the nose jobs and tummy-tucks out of this.)

Hmmm. This is hardly "gleaned objects" from my studies, so maybe it's off topic. Or maybe not. I would not want to be too quick to pick up every shiny new idea or practice. Some of the shabby, old, annoying stuff is what makes a place where it is. I am an unabashedly Reform Jew. But I am glad that we're past the "Classic Reform" phase in which we had "ministers" not rabbis, Sunday "Sabbaths" and other monstrosities. Red Lobster signs and other traife can stay out of my home county.

Monday, May 24, 2004

I'm home from my last official weekend of the year at Congregation Etz Chaim in Merced, CA. I'm honored and humbled to be their spiritual leader; it's still a new role for me. I look forward to another year there, to lifecycle events and holidays and the cycle of the year and the normal bumps of life in a congregation. They are my charges and my teachers.

And now back to that exegesis paper! I get some of my best thinking done on the five hours of highway between LA and Merced. I did not get any blazing insights about Genesis 50:15-26, but I do know why I'm so drawn to that passage. It's the final reconciliation of the bruised, battered, fractured, dysfunctional family of Jacob. The next time we meet them, in Exodus, they are still a cranky and intractable bunch, but there are so many of them they aren't just a family anymore -- and clearly the last reconciliation held, because all the brothers have surviving descendants!

All families have troubles. My own family has had its griefs, heaven knows, and much of the tsuris [suffering] in any congregation has to do with ruptures between siblings, or between parent and child, or between life partners. I am drawn to Joseph because he was able to transcend the family misery; he managed to "speak upon their hearts."

Joseph has always seemed to me to be an oddball character: brilliant but forever a little different. As a kid, his judgement was terrible, but he had the good grace to learn from every mistake he made. His heart was enormous: I am astonished by a man who can look at the brothers who sold him into slavery and say, "Lookit, your intentions were not good, but God made it come out OK, so no hard feelings."


Monday, May 17, 2004

I am enchanted! I have a delicious new word:


All those syllables, for a word meaning PUN!

Folks either love 'em, or hate 'em. I'm one of the former. I have some pretty decent company, too:

For instance, Anthony Burgess, the novelist, wrote: "... plurality of reference is in the very nature of language, and its management and exploitation is one of the joys of writing."

And from Jonathan Swift: "Punning is an art of harmonious jingling upon words, which, passing in at the ears, excites a titillary motion in those parts; and this, being conveyed by the animal spirits into the muscles of the face, raises the cockles of the heart."

For more, see The Pun FAQtory.


Sunday, May 16, 2004

Ohhhh my.

I just got home from attending the ordination of four people I have known as "fifth year students" who are now "Rabbis in Israel." I listened to wise words and stirring addresses from a series of distinguished rabbis, I visited with some old friends, congratulated the new rabbis, and generally got "all fired up" for the next stage of rabbinical school. I have so much to learn! I have so much growing to do! It's a big Jewish world out there.

Someone said to me, "You'll be there in three years." All I could think was, how can I be ready in only three years?

Rabbis are "klei Torah" -- containers of Torah. All through Jewish history, a certain number of people among us have studied hard for years, learned how to learn, soaked in the tradition, immersed themselves in words of Torah (Written Torah AND Oral Torah) and then, when the time came, they have been sent out into the Jewish world by their mentors, to serve the Jewish world, and to teach others.

A year ago I stood at the Rambam's kever (grave) and renewed my committment to Jewish life and learning. Today I sat in Wilshire Boulevard Temple and found myself doing the same thing: lifting up my heart and saying to God, this is what I've got. Help me fill it with Torah, help me live up to this tradition.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Oh, my. Well, the good news is that my last test was taken, and that the official part of my second year is done. The other news (also good news, from my point of view) is that I asked for an extension on my exegesis paper, so I could get the most out of it. And that's what I'm doing now.

I'm glad I have something utterly wonderful and absorbing to do these days. Otherwise I would have to pay more attention to the news, and I don't think I could stand to do that.

All I can think, looking at the horror pictures from Abu Ghraib is that this is my tax dollars at work, my good name as an American out there in the world. Dear God.

I don't care if John Kerry will be a "great president" or not. I feel I have a moral duty to do everything I can to support his candidacy because the people who are in power currently are, in their own parlance, "evildoers." Presidents and administrations are responsible for what happens on their watches. John Kennedy understood that, and took responsibility for the Bay of Pigs (even though he could have blamed it on the CIA.)

If the Administration sloughs responsibility off on "a few miscreants" which they seem determined to do, it's the ultimate in irresponsibility. The fact that much of what was done at Abu Ghraib seems to have been within interrogation guidelines -- while many of the human beings treated in this fashion may have been arrested by mistake -- makes me wonder uneasily if we toppled Saddam, or just replaced him.

Anyway -- back to Genesis 50: 14-26. It's the reconciliation of the brothers, and the death of Joseph. I feel a special affinity for the Joseph story, and it is a privilege to spend time delving so deeply into a portion of it. If I find something useful about reconciliation (and I think I will) I'll share it here.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

I used to joke that it was a good thing that they'd hired me to work for the Outreach Department of the URJ (then UAHC), because otherwise I'd have been found standing outside meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention, grabbing people by the lapels and telling them, "Let me tell you about Torah!"

"Jews don't proselytize." The first time I was told that, I was in my 20's, I asked a Jewish acquaintence "whether you had to be born Jewish" and that was his answer. I took that to mean, Jews don't take converts (which is not the same thing, but what did I know?) and that was that for another fifteen years or so. In that time, I spent three years in an Episcopal seminary community, one year in a nondenomenational graduate school of religion, and the rest hanging around various religious communities, with lots of Jewish friends and acquaintences. Not until 1994 did I hear that sometimes people convert to Judaism as adults, and not only in connection with a marriage.

In the meantime, I heard "Jews don't proselytize" many times, usually from Jews. And I continued hearing it after my own conversion (finally, in 1996, at age 46.) I repeated it myself, always thinking, gee, I was stupid not to realize that "not proselytizing" is not the same as "not accepting converts."

Then this past six weeks, as I have studied the history of conversion in the Reform Movement, I made a startling discovery. Several of our leading rabbis, some of them presidents of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and Union for Reform Judaism, have proposed exactly that: that we stop apologizing for ourselves and actively seek converts! They made it clear that they were not talking about the sort of behavior we find offensive in missionaries from other religions: not going door-to-door, not bothering people who are already affiliated, but making ourselves visible and available to those who are quietly seeking a spiritual home.

The movement as a whole has mostly avoided the issue, for a variety of reasons. We have a long history of persecution that masqueraded as Christian mission. We have a long history in which a few of those individuals who have converted -- either direction! -- have been dangerous to us. Many of us have been irritated, annoyed, or deeply offended by the tactics employed by Christian missionaries. Some of us have lost children, or grandchildren, to the proselytism of other religions. And we don't want to engage in bad behavior; we don't want to cause that kind of pain.

That's all good -- but what about the seeker who may only ask once, out of respect? What about the seeker who has already left whatever affiliation they had by birth, but who feels drawn to the Jewish people? We can be a pretty clannish bunch, and even the friendliest of us seem intimidating from outside "the tribe." Do we really need to put an obstacle course ahead of every yiddishe neshomah [Jewish soul] trying to find its way home?

There's a program called "Taste of Judaism" that the URJ offers, that simply makes Judaism visible as a house with doors and windows. It offers unaffiliated Jews a dignified way to check out the possibility of coming home to the synagogue. It also offers that yiddishe neshomah a place to ask questions and get accurate answers. And (just a nice by-product) it also lets allies of our community find out more about what we really believe and do.

As Martha Stewart would say, it's a good thing.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

I'm taking a little break from study. I have a nice rhythm set up here -- I study, I break for housework, I study some more, I break for laundry, I study, I file, I study, I check my email. I think I'm getting the hang of Midrash, a little. (Probably those are famous last words.)

I have been using some new exercises that have done wonders for my orthopedic problems. I originally found out about the Egoscue method by accident (I saw a book in a used book store) but after a few weeks of doing it, I'm sold. I recommend it if you have what the Arthritis Foundation quaintly refers to as "twinges in the hinges". For me, it has been MUCH better than drugs.

I read an article today about Midrash by a French scholar named Bloch. He pointed out that the root behind the word has to do with "searching" -- in this case, searching for the meaning of the text. When we get frustrated with the difficult or confusing verses in the Torah, we're not alone. The rabbis were confused, too. They "drashed" out the meaning, and my sense is that they expected we'd still be doing it today.

Shavuah tov -- have a good week!

Monday, April 19, 2004

We were back in classes today, and it felt good to be studying again. I don't like studying by myself; sometimes it's necessary but it lacks the pleasures of sitting in a group or a pair, struggling over a text.

I cannot believe there are only 2 weeks of the term left; I feel like I've just begun to dig into the meat of these courses, especially the text courses, Bible, Midrash, and Commentaries.

In Bible, we learn to see beautiful subtleties in texts we thought we knew. In Midrash, I occasionally recognize something I've seen referenced elsewhere, but mostly it's completely fresh, and a little like reading science fiction: the minds and worlds of the rabbis are so removed from ours that it is easy to get lost. The amazing thing is that so much of what they discern in the texts is bright and beautiful and useful today.

And in Commentaries -- there I am such a beginner that half the time I'm not sure what's going on. I can read Rashi now, but making sense of Rashi will take a lifetime. Ramban I find more difficult, but interesting, and tonight my study partner and I read a little Ibn Ezra too -- I understood even less of it, but even his descriptions of grammar are redolent with rich images. Even when I don't understand, I feel like learning is seeping in around the edges of my mind.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Hello again! I had a wonderful Passover, first in Merced, then in Oakland, in Santa Cruz, and then back here in Los Angeles. I've had some computer difficulties, though, so posts will be erratic for a while.

I've listened to a lot of radio as I drove up and down the state. I listen to a little bit of everyone: NPR, Christian radio, Rush Limbaugh, you name it. I like to know what everyone is saying and thinking -- I think that we don't pay enough attention to one another in this country, and too many of our public figures preach only to the choir. Does Rush realize how unpersuasive he is when he talks insultingly about anyone who doesn't agree with him? Sure, the "dittoheads" like it, but even when I'm trying to understand where he's coming from, he makes it difficult to do so.

Christian radio is varied and rather interesting. I've listened to various takes on "The Passion of the Christ" (Catholic, Fundamentalist Christian, and others) and learned a lot about what it means to the people who have flocked to see it. I've heard information and misinformation, things I agreed with and things that tempted me to pull over and phone in to argue. (I didn't.) I'm not a Christian and I figure they are not my shows to call in to -- but it's a good way to separate my fantasies about what Christians are saying from what's really going out over the airwaves.

I like NPR, when I can get it. Those are the voices most familiar to me, and the programming has a smooth, soothing quality. They have lots of pieces about people and ideas that I didn't know about, which I like, but a certain sameness to much of their programming, which makes me sleepy after a while. Not a good thing on the freeways -- but as I said, I can't always get it, so my snooze-factor isn't an issue.

When I'm not in the car, and I have a high speed connection for the computer, I listen to lots of other stuff. I started listening to the radio via the computer in Jerusalem; I'd get homesick and tune in to NPR (those friendly, familiar voices) or the traffic reports from KCBS in San Francisco. (THAT's how homesick I was.) NPR's take on the Middle East annoyed me, but even on the worst days I could feel pleased that I wasn't stuck in traffic on an on-ramp to the Bay Bridge.

Lately I've been listening to It's the new left-wing talk radio station, available in some cities, and while the humor gets pretty snarky at times, it is lively and closer to my own political leanings than Rush. It has a muscular feel that NPR lacks -- some days I'd rather get mad about the news than soak in more sorrow about it -- certainly I'm never in danger of falling asleep. Al Franken gets most of the publicity about Air America, but there are some other folks on there I like better: Randi Rhodes and Lizz Winstead, for instance. They are not so famous, but they have great radio voices with interesting things to say.

For music, if you are running Windows, the coolest thing out there is a group of stations at with classical, rock, country, and folk music. The radio software is nice, although you have to look closely at the site to figure out what's going on (it's all in Czech.) Nothing to download if you have Windows -- just click and listen. It's also amusing to see articles in Czech about Bob Dylan, Shania Twain, and so on -- I can only recognize a few words, but for some reason it tickles me.

I love radio. Do you know of stations I should check out, online or in L.A., Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced, or Stockton? Email me at val355(at), if you do!

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

My goodness. has posted two of my letters to them.

(I have two hobbies these days: I grow African violets, and I read and write rants -- er, letters -- to the editor.)

Before I went to Jerusalem, my friend Barbara Kadden asked me if there was a verse from the Tanach that was particularly dear to me. If someone asked you to pick one verse, which one would it be?

I chose a portion of Genesis 12:1 -- "Go, you, from your land, from the place of your birth, and from the house of your father to the land which I shall show you." Barbara made a quilted wall hanging for me in purples and gold with the verse emblazoned in Hebrew. It hangs next to my desk.

If I were to paraphrase the line today, I might write this:

"Go, you, from what is familiar, from the boundaries of your comfort zone, from the place where you are safe and secure, and I'll let you know what to do next."

It still works.

"It's obvious to me that this country is rapidly dividing itself into two camps -- the wimps and the
warriors," Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., said. "The ones who want to argue and assess and appease, and the ones who want to carry this fight to our enemies and kill them before they kill us." (March 30, 2004,
according to the AP).

Wimps and warriors?

I have a question for Senator Miller: how many of his relatives are in the U.S. military? Or, for that
matter, for the President or Mr. Cheney or Ms. Rice or anyone else in the current administration: are your children in the military? Exactly what can this war cost you, personally?

My eldest son is a Navy Reservist. He is not active -- yet. Many other mothers and fathers in the United
States have sons and daughters who are on active duty. I cannot imagine what they go through each time they hear that another car bomb has gone off in Baghdad.

Our all-volunteer U.S. military is made up primarily of two groups of people, with a great deal of overlap
between the two groups. Some of them are men and women who have chosen to serve our country as a career, or for a time, out of conviction: they want to keep America free and strong. Some joined
because it was their best economic option. Either way, they have chosen to restrict their own freedom in
order to preserve the freedoms we all enjoy.

The least we can do for those who choose to serve in our military is to hold their lives dear. This mother
wants to ask Senator Miller, who's the wimp? Where is your child, your grandchild?

A warrior is not someone who sends other people, and other people's children, off to die for a pack of
lies. A warrior is not a fool who sets off on a fool's errand. A warrior is not someone who plays dress-up for photo ops. A warrior is someone who actually fights.

Pardon me, Senator, but in my book, you and your friends are wimps. You are worse than playground
bullies: you send other people to take your risks.

I am the proud mother of a man who has chosen to serve America. Every time I listen to the news, I ache for the other mothers who dread the news. Every time I listen to the news, I wonder how these
self-proclaimed "warriors" can look at themselves in the mirror. Every time I listen to the news, I ache
for America.