Sunday, April 26, 2015


All too often life takes an unpredictable turn.

We find ourselves on a dead end street.

Or so we think.

We step outside the car and re-examine our options.

We walk around a fence.
An open field stares back at us, iridescent and vast.

Our dreams wait beyond those pastures.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Art and Maintenance of a Thirteen-Year-Old Mensch

For 13 years, I have watched my eldest grandson take on the characteristics of the proverbial mensch. Minutes after he was born, I witnessed a boy in the making. With his flagrant red hair, his calculated screams, and his sense of timing, Mr. Adin made an impression. Immediately after his covenantal circumcision, he began his preparation towards the real thing: his bar mitzvah.

Menschology is the art of making a child into a mensch. It is a gender-neutral word that encourages the creative strategies of parents and rabbis to fine tune the intricate details of becoming a bar/bat mitzvah in today’s contemporary society.

A mensch: A person of integrity and honor.

"Perhaps a public dialogue on the bimah about your parshah would be the way to go," I suggested to my daughter and grandson as we began exploring the essence of his bar mitzvah service at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington, D.C.

"Like what kind of questions?" asked Adin.

"Questions about your Torah portion. What are the Biblical and relevant themes? A few fun facts perhaps? Teaching moments," I concluded.

The morning of the bar mitzvah, I introduced the question/answer format to the congregation of friends and family. We did our back and forth routine with humor and affection.

After months of study and daily practice, my grandson learned some very important Judaic skills. Even before uncovering the sacred melodies of the scripted Torah, he had developed a built-in Jewish consciousness and a Talmudic mind characterized by his genuine curiosity.

So what was the task to be accomplished for his bar mitzvah?

The job of the bar mitzvah is to teach the young man how to swim in the world of knowledge, and how to navigate the nature of menschology. Both require a deliberate process with a talented guide/mentor. Both build on a strong foundation from the teacher/parent. Both are continuous and contiguous to each other. The bar mitzvah boy has to give himself over to the mystery that lies behind the Hebrew characters and learn to respect its history, legacy and sanctity. As a mensch in the making, the Bar Mitzvah boy has to search for his ethical and moral compass on a daily basis.

Have you ever watched the bar/bat mitzvah child during his special weekend? ow does he conduct himself around friends and family? What is his demeanor? Does he exude gratitude or haughtiness? Is he respectful to his family or is he spiteful? Has he begun the long road towards a person of character or a person of attitude?

As I watched my grandson stand up and be counted as an educated addition to the Jewish people, I was even more proud that after 13 years of character building and problem solving, his registration card reads, "Mensch." Now that the party is over, the guests have left, the daily practice routine has abruptly ended, we can focus on the art and maintenance of this thirteen-year-old mensch, Adin Isaac Yager. Mazal Tov!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Stuck at the Seder Table

I wish you all a meaningful and sacred Seder experience where time and space take you forward and backward. Do extend your prayers towards the possibility of freedom beyond our borders to all who need the miracles of the Exodus today. Chag Sameach V’Kasher.

Our annual seders were staged in the Bronx apartment where my maternal grandparents lived with my aunt, uncle and my two cousins. The living room was transformed into a festive dining hall where chairs and tables occupied the entire space. Once everyone was seated, it was difficult, if not impossible to move. Stuck at the Seder, we performed our rituals, sang our songs, recited the prayers and waited for our dinner. Sarah, our family housekeeper, prepared the plates from the overstocked kitchen and then passed them to the aunts, who passed them to the person at the end of the table who passed them down the table to the elders. The children were served last on smaller plates. During the passing of the plates. I stayed in my less than comfortable chair, taking in the heavenly smell of  my mother’s fluffy matzo balls. Besides the food and the atmosphere of thanksgiving, I felt lucky to be squeezed between my cousins at this crowded but cozy Passover Seder.

My immigrant Polish family had survived the pogroms, the holocaust, poverty and humiliation. Behind each song was a story. I would not tease out their solemn stories until I was in my twenties when the seders of my youth became the seders of my past.

My grandparents passed away. My cousins married and moved away. One by one we evacuated the Bronx apartment building on Prospect Avenue and moved to our own separate neighborhoods. My uncle moved to New Jersey, my aunt to Riverdale, my other aunt to Co-op City and my parents to the Grand Concourse. Our congenial family dispersed itself throughout the Bronx. For decades, I would try to piece together this geographic jigsaw puzzle, albeit unsuccessfully.

Tonight, I will celebrate Passover at the home of my eldest daughter in Virginia. Three of my four children will accompany my seven grandchildren, three son-in-laws, my ex-husband, his brother and sister-in-law from Israel, plus two young friends. We are still dispersed geographically, but we deliberately come together to replicate and celebrate the Seders of our past. The seating will be more luxurious. The dining room with its long table and chairs will extend into the hallway and two more tables will be added. I will be the one serving instead of waiting to be served. We will sing the songs, perform the rituals and recite the prayers while we all anticipate the holy matzo balls, fluffy or hard. I will be content to be stuck at the Seder table with those I love.