Friday, June 28, 2013

A Teacher's Restoration

Two decades ago, I prepared four boys for their bar mitzvah on Bainbridge Island in the Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest.

I was an inexperienced, recently-ordained rabbi whose idealism propelled me to instill a love of Hebrew and Judaism to these adolescent young men.

I secured myself with optimism, pedagogy, and perseverance, and still I completed each fifty minute class with a feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt. Could I make a difference that would last beyond the bar mitzvah speech?

This week, on the second day of a workshop on Modern Israel, I sat next to a nicely dressed young man who worked as a research assistant at Emory University. I noticed his name tag.

"Daniel, did you ever live on Bainbridge Island?"

"Yes," he replied.

"I guess you don’t recognize me. I was your bar mitzvah teacher."

The entire table stopped its chatter and reacted to this revelation.

He pulled up his Facebook page on his iPhone and proudly showed off his twelve-year-old self's extended Afro hairdo.

"Yes, that is the you I remember."

We passed around the phone and with each giggle, the table participants gave me the enduring understanding look.

Daniel has a Master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies. He speaks Hebrew and Arabic. He is thinking about getting his Ph.D. He is employed full-time and teaches students about Jewish identity.

Two decades and a primary source Facebook photo later, my faith in the bar mitzvah process has been restored retroactively.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Trauma of Waiting

The yogurt store in the Taco Hills strip mall in Atlanta is fondly called "Menches."

It was there that I waited for my daughter to come and pick me up.

We had made the plan earlier in the day, but now, at 7:30 in the evening, a brave rainstorm with howling winds abruptly changed the calm into a torrent of disasters.

Perhaps she hadn’t left her home yet.
Perhaps she took cover under a bridge.
Perhaps she will be late and that will be okay.
Perhaps something or nothing happened.

The chocolate, cold, yummy yogurt tingled my tongue, and I took notice.

Should I call or text her? I did neither.

A short and sincere prayer would give me comfort. I whispered it. I refused to look at the time. Time did not matter. I watched the glass door open, bringing unfamiliar drenched people into our contained space.

I choked on my chocolate, cold, yummy yogurt.

I waited until . . .

I saw her purple raincoat precede her.
She was safe but shaken.
I ceased my ruminations.
I breathed myself into serenity.

The tornado had touched down and was gone.

The trauma, however, stays long after the rainbow appears.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Preach From Your Struggle

"Preach from your own struggle," said the Baptist minister whom I overheard talking to his colleague outside the School of Theology at Mercer University.

"The Exodus story may not be relevant to the American Indians, and we must recognize the differences in their struggle."

How often do we hear a wisdom note from a stranger as we are passing through the proverbial doorway?

My eleven-year-old granddaughter is taking creative writing during her summer break on the first floor of the School of Theology building.

I know the Exodus story. I am part of the history of that struggle through lineage. But what has been my personal struggle?

"Preach from your own struggle."

I will remember this message when I create my next teaching on the Exodus and beyond.

Friday, June 7, 2013

In Defense of Friendship

She called to say she was having surgery next week. Would I say a prayer for her? Would I come visit? I did not hesitate to comply with her wishes.

We have been friends for over a decade, but what I remember most was her kindness towards me eight years ago. I had been emotionally distraught after charging my next-door, six-foot-two neighbor with assault. I had secured a restraining order, and my court date was imminent.

My friend insisted that she come to the courthouse with me and serve as my attorney.

"But, Risa," I quipped. "You are not an attorney."

"Ah, but I have a briefcase."

The judge accepted Risa’s non-credentials because of her determination to defend me. And defend me she did! The judge ruled against my neighbor and continued the restraining order until three months later, when my neighbor and his wife left our condominium complex unceremoniously.

When I walked into Risa’s room, she smiled, pressing her pain-relieving button.

She admitted her discomfort, but as she spoke her face and body softened beneath my watchful gaze.

Three doctors walked in to explain the surgery’s results and procedures.

I listened and wondered how I was going to defend my friend from further physical and emotional harm. I offered her a sip of water while chanting a prayer for the recovery of her body and spirit. I clicked the pain-relieving button for her so she wouldn’t have to use her energy to do it herself. We blessed each other. We defended our friendship with words of endearment.