Friday, December 31, 2010

A Single Wish

I woke up this morning thinking about my single status and the coming New Year. Then, I realized that my wish for a first-class man is in the palm of our hands!

This year, I am asking for *your* help. I am reaching out to you, my community of friends and family to hold this Single Wish for me in your hearts.

Using our modern technologies, please sift through your Blackberry and iPhones, through your social networks and family connections and send me the names and e-mails of your choicest men who long to be in relationship with this petite package of passion, personality and philosophy.

I know you know someone!

Please call (202 731 2273) or email me directly: with the subject line: A Single Wish

Send me the name (s) of a few good men and tell me why you think they would be a good match.

You know me but do you know who am I looking for?

I am in search of an open hearted person who is accepting and inclusive in his world view.

A generous person who gives of his time, his money and his expertise to enhance the quality of life for those he loves.

A positive person who laughs a lot, likes to have fun, and is not afraid to be silly.

Did I mention the music? Singing, playing music, enjoying music is a plus.

Is there a reward involved?


What is it?

The reward will be commensurate with the gift bestowed.

Check my upcoming *Spiritualetters* to see what happens when we focus on this Single Wish.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My Mother's Sabbath Candles

Among the smiles, among the tears, of my childhood’s sweet and bitter years
There’s a picture that my memory fondly frames
And in it softly shine two tiny flames.
by Jack Yellen

Last night, I discovered the sheet music to the song I played on the piano for my mother’s pleasure. “My Mother’s Sabbath Candles” copyright 1950.

The black and white cover never faded, and for seventy five cents, I made an excellent investment into my spiritual virtual wallet.
My fingers know the piece by heart; the words are etched into my vaulted memory bank.

The Sabbath was born inside me two decades before I bought that musical notation in a store along Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. I experienced the rhythm of the Sabbath while wading in the water of my mother’s womb.The first genetic text messaging sent from the Divine produces a body activated timer response just as the sun descends into the evening’s shade. It automatically reminds me to pause faithfully, and to recreate the fire and the magic of my mother’s Sabbath candles.

My mother lived ninety five years and fulfilled this commandment four thousand nine hundred and forty times. For twenty two years, one thousand, one hundred and forty four times, I witnessed her lighting and praying over the Sabbath candles every Friday night. When I got married and left the home of my childhood, I took the ritual of lighting the Sabbath candles with me.

For their last eight years as seniors, my parents lived in Philadelphia in a one bedroom apartment that included a small square kitchen where only the appliances lived. With no breakfast area, the appliances shared the space with the family’s European candelabras on a shelf built specifically for these holy ritual objects.

The week before my mother died, I stood next to her in this kitchen as we lit the Sabbath candles together again. She leaned towards me as she waved her hands in front of the candles to usher in the Divine light. With her eyes closed, her mouth mumbling the customary blessing and her heart crying out with silent grief, she continued the tradition of her lifetime. My father’s Yahrtzeit, the one year anniversary of his death, occurred the Sunday before this Sabbath night. My father’s spirit sneaked into the following week and stayed to bless and temper our Sabbath sorrow. He resided in the tears that fell into my mother’s apron. He sanctified the space that lingered in the room with no windows. The glow of the fire was his soul’s longing to be at home again.. Perhaps it was my mother’s longing to be at home in his soul. Or both.

My mother died the following Sabbath in the early morning hours before dawn. I was not there to light the Sabbath candles with her for that very last time. I wasn’t there, but I picture my heavenly father leaning towards her as they both waved their hands towards the Divine light. Her final prayer had been answered.

My Mother’s Sabbath Candles
That made our home so bright
That faithfully she lighted with a prayer each Friday night

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Quiet Mind of Winter

The quiet mind of winter has memories to offer.

Forced into solitude, we find an inner voice that speaks to our essence.

The reminders of years passed sit perched on the empty tree bough.

Another season and reason for reflection and seriousness.

Shall we accept the call to hibernate?

Friday, December 10, 2010


I am satisfied with my life today.

My state of contentment is maintained by the people I love and the people I have yet to love.

I have discovered that what I possess internally, and who I am authentically, is my key to happiness.

Satisfaction is a state of mind that I carry alongside my calendar to remind me that there is a time and a place for everything.

I substitute lack for the sanity I find in being satisfied.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Maccabee Search: My Interpretation

What does it take for a human being to begin a search?

Imagine the Maccabees: They run towards the sanctity and safety of the Holy Temple. Fallen boards halt each footstep. The putrid smell of sacrificed pigs continues to melt above the simmering flame on the altar’s base. The damp, dark dungeon diminishes their vision and their dreams of reconciliation with their beloved spiritual home.

Yet, someone begins the search for light in this tomb of total blindness.

“Let us ignite the eternal light to bring back The Eternal One to us," a hopeful spirit spoke.

“Could a cruse of oil, blessed by the priests and sealed under their supervision, reside in this defiled space? And even if it did, how could we find it?" a skeptical spirit stuttered.

“Why don’t we just go home to our families and mourn the Temple’s disgrace?" a defeated spirit sighed.

No one knows how long it took the Maccabees to find that cruse of oil in the residual rubbish.

No one knows because no one cares how long the search took.

We only care that they found what they were looking for.

What does it take for a human being to start any search?

An inside miracle.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Thank You Note: A Year in the Writing

A year ago I began writing the "Spiritualetters" to keep in contact with my friends and colleagues. This weekly forum has provided me with an important spiritual practice. I sit in front of my computer and stare into my heart’s emotions. Sometimes, the idea comes quickly with a tap on the computer letters; the story writes itself. Sometimes, the tapping continues into the nighttime hours and the story remains embedded in my sleep. I awake and start tapping again until it is time to push the “send” button.

Then I pray that it sends vibrations of truth throughout my small universe.

I wait for your e-mails to arrive in my inbox.

You have responded with your comments and commentaries.

My story invites your story to be revealed.

When I am out and about, at parties, lectures, bookstores, and synagogues, you have expressed how a particular letter spoke to you directly. I am always humbled and happy to hear how I have initiated a healing moment for you.

So I send you this thank you note in gratitude for all the times you have read my musings and sighed with appreciation.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Power Reverie

During my nighttime reveries, my soul expands beyond my small mindedness. I dream in high-definition images, creating grandiose goals mirrored on a technicolor, oversize movie screen. I see myself empowered.

This physical and spiritual power surge renews my life force daily. I am propelled into right actions as my priorities stay embedded body and soul.

Once I am awake and aware, I have choices to take and memories to make.

How do I choose the direction this day will take? Or does the day choose me?

I pray for discernment. I close my eyes. I detect a pathway. I step forward into the daylight hours where I offer my gifts unconditionally. My power battery diminishes as I extend myself to others.

The night ascends. I go to sleep and dream again.

Friday, November 12, 2010

You Are the Book That Will Touch His Soul

My father acquired books and a good reputation.

“You don’t need to remember everything,“ my father admonished, “But you need to know where to find everything. If you do this, you will acquire a good reputation.”

Every book he owned was a treasure box that contained golden nuggets of knowledge.

Whenever I had a question about a certain Jewish law or the meaning of a word in a Hebrew text, I called my father, my authorized, fully annotated, walking encyclopedia. He was every book that I would ever need.

Rabbi Benjamin Miller died of pneumonia one cold February morning three years ago. He died and took His Book with him.

So when I was confronted by a young Jewish man who was sabotaging his Jewish path and past, I wanted to call my father and ask him what to do. What book did he have on his shelf that would provide a compelling treatise for this man’s soul-full maturation?

I scanned my library shelves in vain, while I conjured up a conversation with the spirit of my late father. To my surprise and infinite gratitude, my father continued to transmit his teaching to me.

You don’t need to find a book. You are the book that will touch his soul. Bless him and love him. Skype him and e-mail him. Call him and text him. He will turn your pages and your knowing will be transmitted to him through you. He will read your soul and know everything he needs to know.

Today, I want to be the open book of my father’s essential being and teachings.

I strive to be the book that will touch people’s souls.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Modern Day Eleanor Rigby

Eleanor Rigby may have died alone, but because of the Beatles she was never forgotten. The song entitled "Eleanor Rigby" ends with the refrain:

All the lonely people.

Where do they all belong?

All the lonely people.

Where do they all come from?

Eleanor Rigby’s story continues to haunt me.

From the beginning of creation, God wanted to belong. One Midrash (rabbinic legend) imagines that after God created the physical world and saw that it was very good, God succumbed to an ethereal loneliness. The angels peeked in on him and heard a majestic quiet cry.

“Something is missing,” God mused. “I am disconnected from the very world I gave birth to. I need a connector. Where do I belong?”

Enter from above stage right, Adam and then Eve. The relationship between God and humankind began as a result of God’s loneliness. Belonging became a basic human need.

I often meet people who are disconnected from the world they live in. Their separateness and their loneliness pervade their daily lives.

Where do all the lonely people come from? Could it be that we have created Eleanor Rigby?

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Definition for God

God is the collective potential of the human imagination.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Faith Ball

Mr. Jeffrey reached into his backpack and showed me his variegated rubber-band Faith Ball -- the size of a child's soccer ball. I held it in my hands and felt the weight of his belief.

Two years ago he became homeless and collected rubber bands to literally hold onto his faith during this tumultuous storm. Today, Mr. Jeffrey has a room of his own, thanks to Friendship Place, a community homeless outreach
center in Washington, D.C.

"God made me homeless to make me humble," he asserted to our sixth grade religious school students. "I never thought I would be homeless, and I will never look at a homeless person in the same way again."

He stopped speaking and surveyed the crowd of fifteen Jewish teenagers.

"You probably understand what it is like to be homeless. After all, the Jews wandered in the desert for forty years: The Israelites were homeless all that time."

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Miner Miracle of Biblical Proportions

All 33 miners made aliyah from the bowels of the earth to the surface of the Chilean desert. My spirit was uplifted as they were lifted to safety in a man-made rocket ship created for this unprecedented rescue.

The descent and the ascent had all the makings of a biblical story and the inner journeys of many of our biblical heroes, such as Abraham, Jacob, Jonah and Moses.

Some journeys are chosen, and some are chosen for us. Our Kabbalists say all journeys have the power to elevate our self-awareness to our "human-being-ness."

We have ascended with the miners. We have witnessed a miracle no different than the splitting of the Red Sea.

In the 43rd Psalm the question is asked: Who will ascend into the hill of the Divine? And who will stand in His Holy place?

The Sages respond by commenting that while ascending is important, the real measure of a person's devotion is his "standing" before the Divine after having completed the ascent.

Several of the miners walked out of the "Phoenix" and fell to their knees in prayer.

They knew that the journey towards the Divine is the beginning of their self-awareness.

Where will we and they stand now that we have experienced this minor miracle? What will we stand for? Whom will we stand with? What is the next step in our spiritual formation?

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Vacuum of Descendants

No one sat on the gray speckled marble bench that adorned the family plot at the Cedar Park cemetery in Westwood, New Jersey. No names were engraved on this seated tombstone. A string of Hebrew words etched on the side of the bench read, “In memory of those who died in the Holocaust.”

From the time I was eight years old, I remember making the family’s annual pilgrimage to honor our dead ancestors. I focused only on the empty bench. My imagination soared upon visual contact.

The bench held the extended family I never met and never mourned. Each year more people joined my made-up group portrait as the stories from the past surfaced into the family's history. The cousins sat side by side waiting for the instructions from the elders about their reserved seating arrangement. I pondered their question in wonderland: Who would sit next to whom?

The dead aunt insisted on being next to the descendant that bore her name. In silence, the grandfather huddled with the grandchildren he never knew. A married couple stared into their own future and created two children licking lollipops.

After many decades, the bench disintegrated. After much discussion and conflict, we sprinkled the speckled silver marble pieces among the family graves.

Today, the spirits of those who died in the Holocaust protect the graves of my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and finally my own parents. The vacuum of my descendants has been filled with memories of those we loved and lost and never knew and never mourned.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Love Unwrapped

I received two gifts in two weeks.

Neither of which I expected.

One ... a gift of thanksgiving.

One ... a gift of friendship.

Both arrived in my heart’s only inbox from two already-opened hearts.

Both were starred and made a priority.

An artist’s handmade bronze goblet entitled: Miriam.

A gift certificate to my friend’s favorite masseuse.

One is material yet spiritual.

One is physical and integral.

Both came from a wellspring of generosity.

Both contained love.


Friday, September 24, 2010

The Accounting

I recently closed my bank account and put my money into a new, more convenient bank down the street from where I live. When I saw the official stamp “account closed,” I had an existential thought: Which one of my accounts has been liquidated?

Perhaps I am free of some debt that I made in another lifetime that has followed me into this planet. Perhaps my sincere prayers during the Jewish High Holidays tipped the proverbial scale and my good deeds now outweigh my bad ones. I have a clean ledger with God.

Will I ever know what I left undone in my former lives? Will my life take a change for the better now that I have made the payoff? How will this accounting be revealed? I waited for the answer in real time.

It appears with every deposit I make and every withdrawal I take.

I love my neighborhood bank. They call me by name when I walk in. They say, “Good morning!” and smile when they say, “What can I do for you today?”. It may sound phony, but I like this new attention that is directed towards me as a person of value.

Account closed. Account opened. Blessed be the bank tellers. They qualify as my new best friends. I like that change!

Friday, September 17, 2010

An Acceptable Apology

Dear Rabbi,

Question: Can one send a letter of forgiveness through the Internet? And will it count?

Response: The ideal situation would be a face-to-face dialogue of forgiveness. You can see the other person's expression and, if all goes well, you can receive a physical manifestation of forgiveness by the strength of a hug or the flow of tears.

The less than ideal situation would be a telephone conversation or a handwritten letter signed, sealed and delivered.

What about a text message, email, Twitter, Facebook? What if forgiveness comes in the form of a dozen roses? Or a bundt cake? Chocolate from Godiva?

Let forgiveness begin when the opportunity arises. Just do it. Take the Nike plunge.

Dear friend,

Question: How do you feel about my Internet apology below?

If I put all my friends and family in a large auditorium, and I asked each of you to forgive me for all the things I said or did that offended you, I would be overwhelmed with the capacity of love the exchange would produce. You are my vision as I step into the Day of Atonement with my heart trembling. Forgive me. Pardon me. Accept my apologies. Grant me atonement.

Let the forgiveness virus seep into your computers and provide protection against everyday conflicts and clashes. May you be inscribed in the Book of Forgiveness.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Begin Again? A Rosh Hashanah message

Begin Again?

*“Hey, you, begin again! Again? Again. Again, you’ll see it’s easy. Begin again.”*

*Grace Paley, author*

How easy is it to begin again?

Especially after the loss of a loved one, a financial downturn, a miscarriage, a cancer diagnosis?

How easy is it to begin again?

Not very easy.

And yet, at every moment, through every crisis, we are asked to begin again.

During the Days of Awe, the Jewish prayers remind us of the promise of teshuvah, the powerful possibility of return, renewal and repentance. We are asked to reroute and redirect our lives.

As Rosh Hashanah draws near, we think to ourselves, again? Please, God. Spare me the directions!

The directions come anyway like streams of light in a dark wooded sky.

In order to begin again, we must let go of what we imagined our life to be.

Every morning, I say goodbye to yesterday. I look into the dawn of the present daylight.

What choice do I have?

Shall I return to the deep, dark sleep of the night and stay hidden and

Or, shall I dance into the music of life and step into the river of revelation?

I choose to begin again. What will you choose this year?

*Shanah tovah tikateivu,*

*May you be written into the Book of Life again!*

Friday, September 3, 2010

Falling Upward

I lift up my eyes to the mountains anticipating help. Psalm 121

I tripped and fell on a crack in the sidewalk. I scraped my knee and ruined my new pair of Calvin Klein sheer silky taupe pantyhose. I lay on the ground anticipating my next move.

I looked up.

A twenty-something, dressed-for-success man offered me his hand and lifted me up.

He then proceeded to gather the scattered contents of my feminine purse: lip gloss, hand lotion, Kleenex tissues, Trident Bubblegum, and a Chanel make-up compact case with the mirror now broken into tiny fractions. He handled each item with the care of a jeweler counting his diamonds.

There will always be cracks in the road. You will not always see them. Even if you detect them, you may not be able to avoid them. Pavement buckles from the heat. The earth shifts gradually and invisibly.

Chances are the cracks will find you off balance. Pray for diamonds in the sky. Look up.

The fall is temporary if you fall upward!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookie Wisdom

My mother’s chocolate chip cookies tasted different each time: always delicious but never the same. Each individual cookie varied in the number of chocolate chips it contained. Some had only one. The bigger ones had two or three. If you were lucky, four, and sometimes five, Nestle's Toll House milk chocolate chips could be found embedded deep in the crust of the cookie!

The treasure hunt for chocolate chips became a favorite pastime for all the cousins. My children inherited the same chocolate chip treasure hunt gene. Now the grandchildren, respectfully, call the round, rich-flavored cookies "Bubbe’s cookie," and the search continues from generation to generation.

It took me decades to realize that cookies, like life, are not a uniform endeavor. No two chocolate chip cookies are alike regardless of the intent to make them so.

A jumbo package of Nestle's Toll House Milk Chocolate Chips
A couple of eggs
A dash of salt
Stick of Mother’s Butter
Sugar to taste
As much flour as needed

Roll them, pat them, and form them into small balls.

Carefully select the chocolate chips for each cookie.

Place in the oven on a cookie sheet.

Say a prayer.

Encourage them to grow.

Remove from the oven just before they burn.

Eat your vegetables first.

Cookies are for dessert.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Healing the Past

Do you know what it is like to meet a Holocaust survivor in person?

From the first "hello" you realize that this person knows something that you will never know. You immediately honor the truth of that wisdom.

A few days ago I met one of Dr. Mengele's "twins." Dr. Mengele, a Nazi physician and scientist, singled out Jewish twins as they entered the camps. The young children were housed separately from the other inmates. Eva Moses Kor, together with her twin sister Miriam, were among the physically exploited twins who suffered under Dr. Mengele's inhumane experiments and survived.

Mrs. Kor came to share her wisdom in my class, "The Power of Forgiveness." She outlined the process that enabled her to forgive her perpetrator, Dr. Mengele, and other Nazis.

It took her fifty years to realize that she had "the power to forgive." With that power, she deactivated her victimhood and became free. She released all hurt, resentment and pain. She let go -- and a new life enveloped her.

Today she travels to Germany to listen to the confessions of the Nazis who desperately seek her forgiveness.

Forgiving is the most direct way to heal the wounds of your past. It is practical spirituality.

Practice, practice, practice!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Robbery

A week ago Friday, my friends and I awoke to find our backpacks (with our money, cell phones, identification, etc.) missing from the condo in which we were spending a few days of rest and relaxation at the beach.

To be robbed is to know that the world is in disrepair.

And that brings pain of another sort:

Money and plastic cards can be replaced but

The loss of innocence again and again is a humbling hurtful happening

Reminding us that the ecstasy of having been in a Garden of Eden

Surrounded by love and God's presence

Is indeed irreplaceable.

Friday, August 6, 2010

I believe in yesterday

It was dark as we walked toward the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. People told me to go after sundown to see the lighted benches and to hear the rippling water that ran steadily beneath them.

I obeyed.

At first, the night time walk around the Pentagon building seemed precarious. Where was everyone, and did they know we were strolling around the biggest military repository of information looking for the memorial? I felt so insignificant next to this flattened construction, but when we reached the memorial and saw the rows and rows of benches shaped like wings in front of us, a deep well of awe elevated my being.

The cool summer breezes rustled the crape myrtle leaves and whispered in every language the words of sanctification.

Holy, holy holy. Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh.

You who are the God of all the Units.

Forgive us our trespassing as we traverse our tragedies.

Names written, ages honored, space given to remember what happened here nine years ago.

Some names we knew. Others we knew of.

Something wasn't right, I declared to my friend Toby. Why this big grassy area? Did they leave something out?

Oh, no, she said. There is a space between the three-year-old child who died and the children who were in their teens. There is a gap that does not need to be filled. The rows of benches were designed according to the year the person was born.

We sat on the edge of the memorial looking out into the distant mini-tract lighting beyond time. We saw the calm after the storm of hatred and malice burned us. We came to honor and remember our fellow Americans. We felt a deep longing for yesterday, when all our troubles seemed so far away.

Friday, July 30, 2010

false alarm

Last Sunday the rains and the winds raced through Montgomery County, Maryland, like a lion in winter.

The inconvenience of the sudden tornado-like weather became an emergency when the fire alarm went off inside the apartment building where I had been visiting with my friend's 88-year-old mother-in-law.

Eight of us stepped cautiously down nine flights of stairs in semi-darkness.

When we touched down on street level, I saw a gaggle of elderly renters gathering with wheelchairs and canes and walkers.

The first to bring bottled water with paper cups to share was a 97-year-young widow.

Another female tenant told me that she was a former opera singer in New York who knew Robert Merrill.

The woman with the green velvet slippers was hyperventilating. Her eyes favored fear. I instinctively began speaking the Yiddish of my youth. Her eyes sparkled. I held her hand and watched her breathing slow down to a waltz.

Each face was a portrait of courage. How many other false alarms did they escape during their lifetimes?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

the blessing stream

When we raise ourselves in spiritual awareness, blessing flows like a mighty stream.

Friday, July 16, 2010

out of the blue

I sit on a cliff overlooking the turquoise waters of Boston Bay at Great Huts in Port Antonio, Jamaica.

I await the sunrise at 5:00 in the morning.

I stare at the horizon in anticipation of the sun's dramatic arrival.

I close my eyes for a moment of pure meditation and deep breathing.

I open my eyes to find a white dusty ball placed precariously in midair above the waters. No strings are attached.

The sun appeared to me as an "out-of-the-blue" experience even though I had been watching and waiting for its debut forever.

"I expected a more fiery sun," I said to my young friend who had encouraged me the night before to experience the morning's early dawn.
"Every sunrise is different," she stated.

All of them, I realized, come "out of the blue."

Friday, July 9, 2010

saying goodbye again

My only son left home again.

First, it was preschool and his crying that would not cease when I dropped him off.

Then, it was kindergarten when my crying would not cease following his morning departures.

We all got into the rhythm of life and its daily separations: school and camp and overnights at his friend's homes.
Then he left home again for an eternity of ten months. He journeyed to Israel after his high school graduation when the intifada was in full swing. I prayed nightly for his safe return.

Now, at the age of 27, he leaves again in search of his true vocation.

For the 13-hour drive to Atlanta, he packed himself a bagel, a water bottle, an apple. He got behind the wheel of his Honda and slowly backed away from the driveway.
My only son left home again.

Friday, July 2, 2010

swimming in simplicity

I spent three glorious days across the road from Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.

The writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau lived on the shores of the pond for two years starting in the summer of 1845. He advocated living a simple life while transcending the ordinary.

I stood inside the famous cabin that contained a bed, three chairs, a desk, and a furnace. Surrounded by woods and within viewing distance of Walden Pond, Mr. Thoreau wrote down his observations.

Could I live so simply? Could I commune with nature and be content with the beauty that enveloped me?

Thoreau did it for two years. Could I do it for two weeks or even two months? Could I find solace and depth in my own philosophy?

My desire for solitude is an attraction. My love for the written word would seduce me.

If I went inside would I ever come out?

Friday, June 25, 2010


The ability to live with uncertainy is an act of faith.

The ability to choose faith in the face of uncertainty is the sacred task of living.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

wanting the opposite

What is the opposite of loss?

The opposite of loss is the fulfillment of inner peace.

What is the opposite of fear?

The opposite of fear is love.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

one year later

On June 10, 2009, I got a phone call that changed the trajectory of my life's work. An employee of GWU Hospital, where I served as Director of Spiritual Care, said, "Rabbi, you have to get down here. Something terrible has happened."

Earlier that day, a man dressed in a confederate coat had walked up to the entrance of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. A security guard named Stephen Johns saw him and moved to open the door for the 88-year-old man, who then opened fire on the museum with the rifle hidden in his coat. Johns was taken to GWU Hospital, along with the perpetrator, who had been felled by the museum's other security guards.

I was called to the emergency room to attend to Johns' wife. The waiting room was chaotic; in addition to two other chaplains, there was a flood of hospital administrators concerned about this high-profile incident. Meanwhile, Johns and the perpetrator were being operated on side-by-side by two different medical teams.

Family and friends of Johns began to arrive, and they were moved to a larger room closer to the post-operative care unit. It was at that time that I met Pastor John McCoy, the leader of the Word of God Baptist Church and the officiant at Stephen Johns' wedding. A nurse briefed us several times during the course of the operation. In the growing group of family and friends, there was crying, prayer, shock, disbelief, and anger. Then the nurse approached me and said, "Will you come back into the room with me? I have to give her the ring and tell her that her husband didn't make it." Stephen and Zakiah Johns had been married for only a year.

I went into the room with the nurse. She placed the ring in Zakiah's hands and gently said, "I'm sorry we couldn't save him." Another chaplain grasped Zakiah's body so she wouldn't fall to the floor.

Later I walked with the family to one of the intensive care unit rooms where Officer Johns' body had been placed. The initial screams and general pandemonium that had accompanied the announcement of Johns' death had given way to quiet tears. His family then offered their goodbyes.

I walked down the hall with Pastor McCoy. At 6'1", he towered over my petite frame, but we were still eye-to-eye. I was reminded of another traumatic racial injustice of my past. On November 3, 1979, in Greensboro, N.C., my childhood friend was shot in the head by a Klansman during a protest rally on behalf of the textile factory workers. Paul Bermanzohn survived, but five other young people lost their lives that day in what has come to be known as the Greensboro Massacre.

Fifty-one days later, I was fired by GWU Hospital.

The days that followed the shooting left me in tears and occupied by nightmares. Flashbacks to my childhood sitting in my parent’s kitchen among the survivors of Hitler’s war caused painful screaming in the middle of the night. My energy diminished as I carried myself through a robotic day. The tension rested in my back. My walking was compromised.

One night, after a fitful start to my sleep, I went and sat in front of the computer. I wrote down all that I had been thinking. In the morning, I sent it to a colleague. He suggested I send it to the editor of the "On Faith" blog at the Washington Post. With a click on the computer, my story was published online on June 25.

My back pain increased. I went to see my orthopedic physician who prescribed a week’s disability for rest and relaxation. “You are coming out of a traumatic experience, and you need peace and quiet. All your stress is in your back.”

When I returned to work, I was suspended and then dismissed ostensibly because of the article I wrote about the incident that dark night. But I believe I was let go because of my outreach efforts to the African-American community. My desire was to offer spiritual care to a diverse and multi-faceted community at the hospital, specifically recruiting African-American chaplains for the African-American patients of the D.C. community. My campaign for equal pay as a female chaplain probably didn't help either.

It's been a year since Stephen Johns was murdered. I've lost the illusion that things have moved forward in terms of the racial integration in this country. I've lost my naivete about ethical behavior in the workplace. I've lost a job that provided me with meaningful work. I feel in some ways that I lost my identity -- the status I had in the community because of my job -- not to mention financial security. I feel I was betrayed by people I trusted while I remained loyal to the mission of the institution. Loyalty is not a two-way street.

I gained a friendship with a contemporary African-American pastor. The relationship offered me spiritual succor in a difficult time. I gained a new self-identity, one of empowerment instead of victim, in the face of discrimination. I gained a new perspective about my calling to do inter-religious work. I realized what a strong support network I have; I felt at times that I was being held up only by the nurturing of my friends. I am grateful for everyone who encouraged me and then supported me in my effort to right a wrong.

“You did the right thing, Rabbi. I am proud of you.”

I have no regrets about speaking out in the many ways that I did (about diversity, about pay-based gender discrimination, about Stephen Johns). My true nature is not one of antagonism, but in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

Friday, June 4, 2010

New Spirituality Group

Sometimes we need a dose of spirit and community to lift us up during our weekday busyness.

To that end, I will begin leading a spirituality group every Wednesday, beginning June 16, in the atrium at the Center for Integrative Medicine.

WHAT: Spirituality Group
WHEN: Wednesdays beginning June 16, 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: Center for Integrative Medicine (908 New Hampshire Ave., Suite 200; Metro: Foggy Bottom)
COST: $20 (cash, or check made payable to Health Partners, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit foundation)

Topics will vary from week to week, and we'll begin and end each session with meditation, prayer and/or chant. Various technologies will be presented for self-healing and introspection. Individual support will arise from the mindful conversations of the community. No reservations are required. We'll begin gathering at 5:45 p.m.

I hope to see you there, and please share this information to anyone you think might be interested!

Friday, May 28, 2010

An Unending Love on Facebook

This was my first Facebook birthday party, and I loved it!

Emails poured in with words of blessings and good wishes. I received loving kindness through the Internet airwaves from co-workers, relatives and friends from all over the world. (I am still counting my blessings and my Facebook posts!)

I was not into my birthday this year. Years come and go; the important thing is to pass into them gracefully. My day was a kaleidoscope of my life which included breakfast with my mutual birthday girlfriends (Susan and Judy), taking care of my granddaughter while my son-in-law had knee surgery, dinner with my son, and a work project completed.

The icing on the virtual cake was the unexpected birthday wishes on my Facebook wall connecting me to the universe of friendship and love.

I recalled the poem by Rabbi Rami Shapiro that is found in the Reconstructionist Prayerbook: My gift to you!

We are loved by an unending love.
We are embraced by arms that find us
even when we are hidden from ourselves.
We are touched by fingers that soothe us
even when we are too proud for soothing.
We are counseled by voices that guide us
even when we are too embittered to hear.
We are loved by an unending love.

We are supported by hands that uplift us
even in the midst of a fall.
We are urged on by eyes that meet us
even when we are too weak for meeting.
We are loved by an unending love.

Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled
ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;
ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;
We are loved by an unending love.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Mikveh Delayed

Last night I saw the play "Mikveh" at Theatre J at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. I recommend you see it. It inspired me to write this piece.

Soon after I got engaged, I decided to honor the tradition of immersing in the mikveh before my wedding day. I was twenty-one years old.

I signed up for "kallah" (bride) classes at a local orthodox synagogue. This six-week course taught young women about the practice of mikveh in their married lives.

Throughout Jewish history, unmarried women have immersed in the mikveh prior to their weddings. And married women immerse after seven days from the end of each monthly menstrual cycle in preparation for the resumption of family relations in their most fertile days.

Submerging in a pool of water expressly to symbolize a change-of-soul was a deeply spiritual and immensely compelling reason for me to mark this new station in my life from bride to wife.

Even though our home was of orthodox observance, I went to public school. This was not true of the other women in the class. They were all products of the neighborhood girls yeshiva (the Jewish parochial school).

I had been dating since I was thirteen. Many of the women in the class vaguely knew their husbands to be, but I had dated my fiance for two years. They were virgins. I was not.

It never occurred to me that this single fact would interfere with my desire to perform this mitzvah before my wedding night. My mother had questioned my motivation in even signing up for the class, so I couldn't ask for her counsel.

Perhaps I was naive. Perhaps I was in denial.

I lived an orthodox lifestyle. I never spoke about sex to my girlfriends. I assumed that they, too, were not virgins. As each of them became engaged, and the topic of the mikveh came up, I realized that they were the real virgins. I was a virgin wannabe.

Week after week, the level of my guilt heightened after every lecture about the laws of family purity. Discipline and pure intention was required.

I still remember the small, classic, hard-covered red book entitled "The Hedge of Roses" by Rabbi Norman Lamm. It was an ideal size for carrying in a pocketbook for reference. The message elevated the monthly mikveh visit to an act of spiritual holiness.

I believed in the power of this mitzvah (commandment).

The lectures were practical and based on the law. My fellow classmates giggled with every sexual suggestion. I knew something they didn't know and felt unworthy to be in the same room with them -- or in the same mikveh.

I was not giggling. I was squirming inside. What if they were right to have held on to their "virgin" status? If they were right, then I had been wrong.

I never completed the "kallah" course or the mikveh experience I so longed for. I never consummated my marriage through immersion in the mikveh.

Twenty-two years later, after six years in seminary and a detailed course of biblical study on the laws of family purity, I went with two of my fellow female rabbinic students to an orthodox mikveh on the West Side of Manhattan a few days before our ordination.

The mikveh lady asked nothing from us except the minimum eighteen-dollar charge.

She showed us the accomodations and quickly left to administer to the other monthly visitors to the mikveh.

We became each other's mikveh ladies. We said the blessings and witnessed each other's immersions.

The regret of not having immersed as a young bride returned to me.

The mikveh is a status changer.

I am no longer a bride, yet I am ready to walk down the aisle that God has placed before me.

My name begins with Rabbi.