A New Week in Jerusalem

Shavua tov,” the old man said as he passed. Wishing me a good, new, week, he reached out his hand and handed me a rosemary twig and smiled with warm, twinkly eyes. I had heard his shuffling feet before I looked up, and noticed him approaching slowly from down the street, as if hugging the closed storefronts, pausing occasionally. His cane helped stabilize him and he took his time. I noticed his clothes were a little shabby, and that he had a bunch of rosemary in his hand. But he didn’t ask for anything, and he didn’t seem to have an agenda. “Shavua tov,” I replied. He walked on.

I was sitting on a bench reading a magazine and Shabbat had just ended. The street was still quiet with few cars driving by and although the day of rest was officially over, there was as if a hiatus of neither here nor there; a few moments of suspended time before the busy bustle of the week was to resume.

To linger and notice this space in time is like an invitation to experience magic.

The magic of a time in-between silence and noise, in-between rest and work, in-between holy and mundane. A time that is fleeting like the setting sun, but infinite in its dreamlike quality of possibilities and promise.

A new week.

Soon the neighborhood would be bustling with people and cafés and restaurants, buses and taxis whizzing by, but for now it was still. I looked up and saw the man stop at the next storefront only a few meters past where I was sitting, and reaching up to its doorway he lifted his hand to touch the mezuzah, the parchment inscribed with a prayer found on the doorposts of Jewish homes and businesses here. He touched it and kissed his hand, this way kissing the words of G-d, and then he shuffled on to the next store’s doorway.

The shops were still closed for Shabbat, so many were dark while some had bright lights in the window. I followed the man with my eyes as he continued his ritual at every doorway, slowly moving down the street, eventually disappearing into the darkness.

Perhaps he is an angel, I thought to myself.

I smelled my fingers that held the twig of rosemary, the strong pine aroma had already left its fresh, minty scent on my fingertips. It made me smile and feel hopeful and invigorated.

I brought the rosemary upstairs to my apartment, turned on the light and opened my computer. And then I thought, it will be a good week, because I was touched by an angel.

 

 

 

rosemary

Seeing Time in Colors: On Turning 50

There it is, I’m turning 50 in a few days. That’s a lot of years to have lived a mostly blessed life, and, although a recent FB test I’d like to curse claims I will only live to 65 – or was it 67?– I plan and hope to be just about half way through my life’s journey. Perhaps it’s myself I should blame for having been suckered into taking the stupid “How Old Will You Get?” quiz and not the quiz itself. Hmm.

When I turned 40, I celebrated with a huge birthday bash: a sit-down dinner for 40 marvelous girlfriends, a super-long beautifully decorated table set up in our cleared-out living room for the occasion. The evening was not just grand, but meaningful as well. In addition to a constant flow of the then newly popular pink libation known as Cosmopolitan, bar tendered and generously poured by my at the time husband and his at the time best friend – the only males present aside from my 3 sons – it was the flowing of all the abundant words of inspiration, friendship and gratitude that left me in awe. The combination of extreme happiness, multiple Cosmos and beautiful speeches and toasts is about as good a time as anyone can have.

Much has changed since then. I am no longer married to that fun and larger-than-life husband, I no longer live in that gracious ginormous home where guests and parties made so much sense; my boys are mostly all grown up, and life has been marked by – enriched by – what Dante names traviamento, moments of getting lost. Friendships have waxed and waned, money has come and gone (mostly gone “whooozz”), and I am at the brink of a new dawn, a new leg of the journey. The empty nester. The midlife re-configuration. Being in love. The appropriation of the 50+ right to say “Frankly, I don’t give a damn” more often, and to stop feeling guilty about…so much. So much.

“What would you like for your 50th birthday gift?” my mom and sister asked me a while back. Old habits made me think about objects. Gorgeous bohemian tchotchkes that would beautify me or my home that they could send me in the mail. However, new habits made me think about an experience and time. With them. So, we are meeting up in Iceland for a long week-end – a sort of half-way point between Norway and the U.S East Coast, to relish in each other “while we have us” as my dad used to say.

Despite all of my existentially profound talk of more lofty goals and ethics than the lowly accumulation of earthly goods, the fact is that my watch is broken, and I could use a new one. My boyfriend has generously offered to bestow me with one, and the model I covet, yes covet, is a pricey, sleek steel Scandinavian design with a colorful face. The problem is, I can’t decide on what color. I can easily imagine each vibrant, inspirational shade look fabulous on my wrist, but alas, I can’t have them all and will have to choose one. Woe is me.

The good news is I have managed to narrow it down to three: Purple – the hue of a perfect, voluptious eggplant, or aubergine, one of my favorite foods and colors; orange – the tint of the brightest, happiest and most productive day; lime green – the hue of a cool spring morning, crisp, fresh and full of hope. The bad news is, each color brings with it all sorts of associations. I used to joke with my ex, the accountant, that he saw the world exclusively in a relationship of numbers and percentages, whereas I understood it through a lens of intense color awareness, symphonies or cacophonies alike.

With purple comes the memory of the loving home where I raised my boys and lived as a married woman, where I had sought to bohemian-ize the stately foyer and main stairway walls by painting them in a luscious Benjamin Moore purple – was it “exotic purple” or “purplicious”? – a color that was painted over by my ex’s new partner – and so, do I want to carry with me, like a shackle on my wrist, a reminder of what could no longer be, of loss and change and inevitability?

With orange I see the inspiration of creativity and the feeling I have when I must write the next word, and the next and the next until they pour out of me like molten lava to form another idea and paragraph that give my life energy and purpose. But with this commitment to letting go also comes the danger of too much, of exploding emotions and a more rapid heartbeat. Of loosing control. Do I want the visual, ticking reminder of how I feel too often inside, when my emotions get the better of me, like licking, greedy flames consuming my ability to be rational and calm?

With lime green, that delightful and tranquil stop on the color palette that beckons me to rest for a while, to stop worrying and allow myself to be carried along without so much effort; as if I had checked in to a sanatorium somewhere in the Swiss Alps, where a nurse wearing a crisp and white uniform addresses me in compassionate whispers with a strange but soothing accent, bringing me my medicine and tea on a tray while I sit in a teak chaise long on the sprawling lawn, overlooking the orchard and the blue mountains in the distance. Nodding off, letting a pain-free life pass by. Do I want to cast furtive glances at the time that remains, the time that has passed, the time of the present, feeling the detached coolness of this inviting hue of hospital-ity?

My broken watch is beside me on the counter. It’s strong steel rim and band, unproblematic white face with several fine hairline cracks, arms that aren’t quite in synch with passing time anymore. They seem to lag, to be heavy, to be lacking some energy despite the battery that works just fine. Like its owner, age is having its effects on some of the mechanics, but it still shines at me with a seeming timeless willingness to keep trying. To keep going. To keep doing its job. I think I’ll take it back again to the jeweler and ask her to take another look.

The Lost Tribe

We can stop looking for the lost tribe, because I know where they are. They are right here in Connecticut, about an hour away from my house, and they bear the same last name as I. These are the people I once had a close relationship with spanning several decades, and then things changed when I got divorced from their son/brother. I’ve tried to reach out many times over the past few years, but they have made it very clear they prefer to remain lost. At least to me.

Which is a shame, because losing them has affected my family in many ways, not just me. Holidays, birthdays, life cycle events all seem a bit off without them, and there’s that awkward absence or silence, like a void. With them, the wacky chaos is gone, but so if their fun-loving effusiveness. My natural instinct to share the stories and photos, accomplishments and future dreams of my almost grown-up sons has been shut down as well. Instead, they insist on isolation.

In truth, I’m the one they would probably have preferred to get lost. At times I do feel lost, since they were my only Jewish family, aside from my three kids.

But I worked too hard to find my Tribe, and I’m not going anywhere anytime soon; all the cooky tribal matters are what attracted me in the first place. They grow on you and although some complicate your life, I’ve alway been one for choosing complex over simple, interesting over dull. As long as there’s love and compassion, which there used to be plenty of.

I know how they got lost. They found a signpost on their path that offended them, and it was pointing to me. It came with some commentary (we Jews are big on commentary) that had no added value to their journey, our journey, and because of this they took a sharp turn that led them – or was it me? – to this galut,or diaspora. Funny thing is, they don’t seem to see it that way, as an unfortunate thing; instead they continue to guard the borders and fences that keep us separated with a strong conviction. Despite my outstretched hand, carrying an olive branch, suggesting a truce and a cup of coffee. Our Tribe is known for its ability to stick to its guns, after all. That’s how we have remained distinct for the past few thousand years.

There are discussions in the Talmud among the rabbis as to whether the lost tribes will eventually be reunited. There are even proven genetic links and abundant archeological traces connecting them. These bear the names of my children, their grand-children, nephews and cousins.

It would be better if the things we have in common could unite us, rather than letting the things that make us different, stand between us.

A good friend just told me about an exciting project she learned about on a recent visit to Jerusalem. It’s called New Story Leadership, and it invites young leaders from the Arab and Jewish communities to become agents of change, using the transformative power of stories to create a new story of possibility. It’s a form of conflict resolution that involves hearing the Other’s story, legitimizing it, and then moving onward and forward with a new and possible narrative of peace, hope and transformation.

But it takes the courage of leaders who believe that such a narrative is a better one than a prevailing mood of cynicism and separation. I am willing to listen to the story of the lost tribe, to honor it and respect it. I am hopeful that someone among them may accept my invitation to look toward a different and better story-line for our family.

For the sake of the children. For the sake of ourselves.

LostTribe

Don’t Mess With My People

This morning, with everyone in my community milling around getting ready for the first Passover seder, I’m going to my local JCC (Jewish Community Center) to work out in the first time in forever. Why? Because I want to make a statement: Don’t mess with my people!

Yesterday’s news of the horrific shootings at the Kansas City JCC and Jewish assisted living facility nearby, leaves us breathless and disgusted. But sadly, not surprised. Video showed the suspect – the biggest loser of them all – sitting in the back of a police patrol car and shouting, “Heil Hitler.” We’ve seen people like him before. We hear about their hate crimes almost daily still, 69 years after WWII ended and their cowardly brain-washer killed himself.

In all, the gunman shot at five people, none of whom he’s believed to have known. He killed three. A grandfather and his grandson. A woman. Turns out they were not all Jewish. 

When I pull into the JCC parking lot, I will see the boy, his grandfather and that woman in my minds eye. When I pant, sweat, and feel like croaking on the elliptical, I will go even faster in fury, unable to keep the murderer out of my mind. When I leave my community center, I will smile and wish the employes who work there a peaceful and meaningful holiday, because even if this tragedy did not happen here, we know in our hearts it might as well have.

We can only begin to imagine what Passover (and Easter) will be like for the families who have been affected by these devastating losses. The traditional passover meal question asked by the youngest child around the table, “Why is this night different than all other nights?” takes on a whole other meaning in light of such immediate tragedy.

Tonight when we talk about the meaning of freedom, I will make sure to remind my kids to use their freedom of speech to speak up against hatred and intolerance.

speak up