Wednesday, August 29, 2012

973. #BlogElul 11: Change

I'm on "stay-cation" this week, and so am trying to change my habits just a little to make the usual seem new and different. This morning I got up at 5AM and walked exactly 3.4 mles to a breakfast meeting (OK, I'm not entirely faux-away, but enough to tell the difference). It felt great, a reminder that leaving my comfort zone can be (almost) as rewarding as staying in bed an extra hour.

As I stumbled out of the apartment in near darkness, I passed and read the calligraphy print by the door just as I do every day:

"Nothing endures but change." --Epictetus

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

972. #BlogElul 10: Memory

I subscribe to a daily Google alert for the word "Judaism," which delivers some interesting (in the broadest meaning of the word) articles to my emailbox. This morning's batch included a critique of a recent Washington Post interview with Zeke Emmanuel, Obama bioethics advisor, brother of Rahm and Ari, and self-described atheist and follower of kashrut. The Post story focuses on the difference, in Judaism, between belief and practice. I won't link to or quote from the other article, which fits squarely into the Fox News mode and already has enough readers, I'm sure. I will say that it calls Dr. Emmanuel a hypocrite for keeping kosher and yet not believing in God, because the Old Testament says to be kosher and Jews follow the Old Testament. There you have it, end of story. (He then applies the same logic to the issues of abortion and gay marriage, and you can guess his conclusions.)

I mention all this in the context of today's Elul prompt, "Memory," because it reminded me of being 8 years old and asking my Hebrew School teacher what I was supposed to feed my goldfish during Passover. "Matzah meal," replied the rabbi, stroking his long, grey beard (he looked very much like Santa Claus). That night I informed my mother that we had to get some matzah meal for Goldie. I remember her looking very concerned as she answered, and kneeling down so we could speak eye-to-eye. "Oh, I'm so sorry, we can't do that," she said. "Goldie has to eat fish food or she'll die."

I burst into tears. Why did my rabbi want to kill my goldfish? I didn't want to be a bad Jew, and he had taught us that everyone, including pets, was supposed to eat kosher for Passover food during Passover or we'd be bad Jews. But wasn't killing even worse than that? My mother said something or other to calm me down, but I'd already concluded that the rabbi wasn't as smart as he seemed to be, since this made no sense. I also learned, at that moment, to follow no words blindly, not even God's, because "right" and "wrong" must be judged in context.

Which brings me to a question I've been asking myself during this month of Elul: have I done a good enough job this year of examining and, as necessary, challenging the rules?

I thank you, Rabbi Santa Claus, wherever you are, for inadvertently teaching me a lesson much bigger than the laws of kashrut.

Monday, August 27, 2012

971. Hello again (and #BlogElul)

Hello again, world. It's Elul, so I thought I'd honor the month of preparation for something new by revisiting this blog and exploring the newness (including spiffier colors) within something old and good.

Let's see, since February, 2011, the date of my last post, I:

  • chanted Torah A LOT, and loved every minute (even the nervous ones, much fewer these days)
  • led High Holy Day services last September without being surprised by overly dramatic moments, an experience I look forward to repeating in a few weeks
  • created art, in bits and pieces and way behind schedule, that I hope will be on a website very soon
  • went to the gym more often than before
  • wrote very little (and acknowledged that I can't do everything)
  • said hello to my stem cell recipient, who's feeling great
  • said goodbye to my dear cat, a beloved companion for 13 years
  • ended a long friendship that had become toxic; as sad as a death, and I will be mourning this loss for a long time
  • continued to be blessed with good health, an abundance of amazing, non-toxic, loving friends, unparalleled opportunities, and lots of luck.

In short, it was a year and half of life; a bit of a roller coaster, but not too much to complain about and an awful lot to celebrate.

I'm going to try to belatedly jump into #BlogElul, a terrific idea, and post throughout the month on the topic of the day. I'll also post links to the brand new @altoartist Twitter account. Today's topic, for the 9th of Elul, is "Blessings," so it seemed like an auspicious moment to count mine. A few weeks ago I also signed up for Grateful 160, which prompts you every day via email to list one thing for which you're grateful. Some mornings it's harder than others to find that blessing, but I always do—and then realize it was staring me right in the face.