Friday, October 13, 2023

Live Music is the Truth -- Peter Anspach, Goose.

 If there were ever a night to light candles, sing songs of peace and bless our children... This is it.

Truth: I don't feel as connected to Israel as many of my Jewish friends, colleagues, and community. I've never even been there. (How many of you would have guessed that?!)

But I feel deeply, viscerally affected by the slaughter of 260 innocent Jews doing my favorite thing on earth, attending live music. I know how happy their hearts were just moments before the horror. I feel it in my soul.

On Saturday night I was on the lawn at CSU with thousands of other people watching my favorite band Goose. It was the perfect evening. I even got a high five from one of the guys in the band! I hadn't seen or heard any news that day. I didn't know what had happened in that desert.

I felt deep sadness for the attacks at concerts at the Bataclan in Paris (130 dead) and in Las Vegas (58 dead). My safest, happiest place had been invaded and attacked by terrorists and a mass shooter.

But the musicgoers near Kibbutz Re'im were not chosen because they were easy targets at a concert.

No. They were targeted because they were Jews.
Because. They. Were. Jews. I cannot stop thinking about the moment when euphoria turned to terror.

I've felt this kind of soul solidarity before.

I was the religious school director at our synagogue when the Pittsburgh massacre happened. I held Hebrew School the next day. I refused to let the Jew-haters (a term I prefer over the wishy washy "antisemite") terrorize me, my students, my community.

As soon as that awful Shabbat ended, I emailed my teachers. My message concluded with this:

"Remember our purpose and our focus: Teaching Jewish values to children and young adults so they can go out and make this world a better place to live. We do holy work. Take care of yourselves as you need to. Take a break from the news of you need to."

We had one of the best days of school of my career. Every child was a reason to maintain the hope for peace. HaTikvah.

May we all find moments of peace this Shabbat. Inhale the crisp fall air. Gaze into the sky for the awe-inspiring dance began the sun and the moon. Crunch a dry leaf in your hand and fell the circle of life.

I'm going to turn off my phone, watch British Baking Show with Evan and Elliot, my hopes.

Shabbat Shalom
שבת שלום

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Pining for Egypt -- A Preview of Post-Covid Life?

Pining for Egypt -- Or, Do I have to Leave My House Post-Covid?

It's Passover, the holiday where we remember and celebrate the liberation of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery thousands of years ago. The holiday is one of my favorites. As a writer, how could it not be? The primary mitzvah/obligation of the 8-day holiday is to tell the story of the Exodus to your children -- and anyone else stuck at the Seder table who has to listen to you. 

Saturday, instead of a seder, we watched The Prince of Egypt for the quintillionth time. I was particularly struck this year by the final scene. Moses, standing on Mt Sinai, the two tablets with the 10 Commandments in his arms, overlooking the assembled masses -- blurred in the distance. THE END. Roll credits. Yay!

At our delayed, outdoor Seder last night, the story in the Haggadah ended similarly: "...the sea parted and our people passed through on dry land to freedom." DAYENU! Pass the brisket. Yay!


Orson Welles famously said, "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story." 

I'd be hard pressed to find a better example of this axiom playing out in real life than Passover. You want a happy ending? Stop after the Sea and skip the next 2.5 books of the Torah. You can come back for the very end, but it's not a happy end for everyone, not even our once triumphant hero, Moses. 

End it with the euphoria of freedom gained. Stop before you get to the trials, tribulations, and tragedies of living free.

If the Prince of Egypt had continued just a few more seconds, Moses would have seen the people come into focus, their dancing bodies circling the golden calf, built in their panic when he left them for 40 days and 40 nights. We would have seen him smash the tablets, burn the golden calf, grind it into powder, scatter it in the water, and force the people to drink it. 

If the Haggadah had gone on just a few more verses, we'd know that barely a month after crossing the sea, the Hebrews started mumbling and grumbling against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt. ... For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death.” (Exodus 16:3) They BEGGED to go back to Egypt.

Those stopping points don't make for happy endings, to be sure, but maybe they make for better, more instructive endings. Especially this year, as we come closer to our liberation from Covid. 

Will we look back on these times with nostalgia and yearning? Will we turn our anger on those who worked to secure our freedom because it did not come fast enough or meet up to our fantastical visions? 

It seems ludicrous on its face, doesn't it? 

Go back!?      Are you kidding?        Get me out of here as fast as you can! 

We've spent a year thinking about the after-Covid life. Imagining how it will be. The plans we will make. The things we will accomplish. Oh, the places we will go! 

Are we only thinking as far ahead as the next stopping place that creates a happy ending, spurred on by the endless parade of vaccine selfies and photos of vaccination cards?

When Hebrew school kids start studying Exodus beyond what we tell on Passover, they are shocked(!) to find out about the mumbling, grumbling, complaining, and rebelling. 

When people are adults when they learn the unabridged Exodus for the first time, they are not surprised at all. They know where the story goes after "We're free!" The hard part is just ahead. 

The kids see their own lives as lacking freedom and control. Ask them what freedom looks like: No bed times! Pizza every meal! Unlimited video games! No curfews! No homework!

They will not say: Working full-time! No 12-week summer vacation! Paying bills! Traffic! Never enough sleep! Buying those $60 video games! 

Yes, when we get past this pandemic, we will be free to do a great many things we want to do now and can't. This kid in me is still anticipating the Live Music! Coffee Shops! Restaurant Meals with Friends! Shmying! Oh, I need a good shmy*.

But we will again be obligated to a great many things we never wanted to do. Commuting to work. Dressing up for work. Sitting in traffic. Running hours of errands after work before you can get home. Being overscheduled and defaulting to "I'm sooo busy!" Only seeing your busy teenage kids in passing. 

After the Exodus, the Israelites wandered for 40 years before reaching the Promised land. You can see it as punishment for their rebellions, or you can reframe it to say they needed that time to learn the rules of being free. When to work, when to rest. When, where, and how to worship. How to set aside some of what they own for the widow, the orphan. How to seek justice and be ethical in your diet. How to cultivate and maintain freedom.

We are at an advantage. 

We were not born into this pandemic.

We can look back into our own lives and see how we lived.

Look back to the year before the Year of Covid. When we were free, how did we enslave ourselves? When we were free, did we see ourselves as such? When we were free, did we see how others were not? 

Covid took away many of our freedoms. What did it free us from? And can we maintain that newfound freedom going forward?

Can we set our expectations and intentions so we don't look back from 2022's Passover and say, "Wow, that really would have been a happy ending if we had stopped in April 2021"? 

When we write our stories, picking where to stop is easy. 

When we live them, not so much. 

This story will not stop at "Yippie! We're vaccinated! We're free!" Though I would not be surprised if that's how we tell it to later generations.

In all likelihood, any happy ending is further down the road than we can see. Not right in front of us, but not yet behind us. We can't stop now. This is not The End, my friend. 

Maybe we can rest here a bit, in the in-between space, with freedom close ahead and constriction behind. Look back and forth and see both through lens of the other. 

Then we can gather our things -- carefully choosing what to bring and what to leave behind -- and get moving. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Year of No Photos

At work, they asked for photos from all of us to share during a virtual slide show that runs in the online Teams room between meetings. It's really a great idea - many of us have yet to meet in person. 

I have no photos to submit.

Looking back over the past year's worth of images in my phone, the great majority are screenshots -- tweets, memes, a screenshot of a song I was listening to on Spotify to share with a friend. 

And pictures of smoke and fire from our summer of living under two constant threats to our air -- fire and Covid.

But if I keep scrolling back... and back and back and back and back...

There you are. 

My friends. 

My family. 

My tribe. 

And we are dancing and singing and rocking to the most amazing music in the most amazing places. 

We are praying and learning (and teaching) Torah. We are grasping hands as we bless the bread.

We are in restaurants and bars trying each other's food and sharing sips of cocktails.

We are hugging and standing close and squishing together to get into the selfie.

We are on crowded planes and sitting on beaches.

We are huddled in the kitchen, cooking together and passing down family recipes.

We are marking the milestones of life -- graduations, birthdays, b'nei mitzvahs, new jobs, retirement.

We are cheering on our teams from behind first base, and toasting champions in sports bars.

We are living. 

And we will again.

Let It Be So | כן יהי רצון


Monday, November 09, 2020

For the Many Tomorrows to Come: Kindness, Singing, and Love

Below are what I posted on election day and the day after election day, 2016. The election day post, "Tomorrow I Will" was posted at 11 pm, after we knew the results. Not much sleep followed that post, and by the morning I had cobbled together some thoughts for my children.

I'm in a unique position among many of my Facebook friends. My feed is not an echo chamber of fellow progressives who agree with my view of what reality is or what is possible.  I watch Fox News and listen to right-wing talk radio. Hannity, Limbaugh, Shapiro, Ingraham, Owens, Levin, Savage, Beck, Jones, QAnon... I have had dozens of conversations with Trump supporters. 

When progressives expressed our fears for what a Trump administration could (and did) mean, we were met with gleeful dismissals: FUCK YOUR FEELINGS! and people rejoicing over LIBERAL TEARS and  OWNING THE LIBS.  We were SNOWFLAKES and LIBTARDS.  

All while the Trump administration rolled back legal protections for people I love, put into action capricious and cruel immigration policies, promised plans that never appeared (infrastructure, health care), ignored and mishandled a pandemic response, called the free press the enemy of the people, and spewed playground-level insult rhetoric from the official accounts of our leaders.  

So I am not surprised when Biden's gracious outreach in his victory speech is being met with a big ol "Yeah, right!" and hostility from Trump supporters. It's how they reacted, so it's how they expect us to react.  

My celebration of the Biden/Harris victory is not rooted in hatred of the other side.  I believe that progressive, inclusive policies will better the lives of all 300 million Americans. I will fight for your healthcare, your civil rights, and your freedom without asking who you voted for. 

I am not out to "own" Trump supporters or rejoice in their pain as they have rejoiced in ours. When you lead with compassion, you never say 'fuck your feelings'.

I have tried to spend as many tomorrows since 2016 (now yesterdays) being kind, loving, and singing over these past four years. 

There are many tomorrows to go -- may the kindness, singing, and love only grow. 

Sunday, February 02, 2020

The Beatles and Bo

2020 “Speaking Words of Wisdom”

When I was writing this, I kept having visions of Father Mackenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one would hear. 

So, thank you for lending me your years, letting me sing you a song, and not standing up and walking out on me when I sang out of tune. 

I get by with a little help from my chaverim.

Todah Rabah.


When I find myself in times of trouble, words of Torah speak to me. Speaking words of wisdom, “Set them free.

I read the news today. 
Oh boy.

A tyrant is in charge of the highest office in the land. Repeated calls from the people to do the right thing have been ignored. Day after day alone on the hill,
The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still,
Nobody seems to like him
They can tell what he wants to do.

His courtiers, with one or two exceptions, are standing fast in their support. His heart is hardened and, despite repeated pleas, warnings of impending disaster, and the destruction of his nation, he refuses to yield. An enslaved nation waits.

The tyrant? Pharaoh.

The people? Israel, the God wrestlers.

One has a hardened, stubborn heart. The other just wants to go live in the desert and worship their God and live in peace. The back and forth has been going on for 7 plagues now.

You say yes.
I say no.
You say stop
I say go
I say high
You say low
You say Why, and I say “I don’t know!”

7 plagues upon the Egyptians, and still Pharaoh will not yield.

Go again, God tells Moses. 

I’ve made his heart hard and stubborn and heavy and strong, but go. 

Moses is tired. It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’ve been working like a dog. It’s been a hard days’ night. God. I should be sleeping like a log. 

Weren’t you the one calling out into the night, God reminds him. I heard you: Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody. And here I am. Not just here, actually. Here, there and everywhere!

Yes, My sweet Lord
I really want to see you
Really want to be with you
Really want to see you Lord
But it takes so long, my Lord

Go, God tells him again. 

Moses, the prince raised in the palace, the recently-appointed spokesperson for the people, goes up to give his once-upon-a-time brother one more chance:

For though we may be parted there is
Still a chance that he will see
There will be an answer
Kein yehi

The Beatles were all about love. In fact, they used the word “love” 613 times in their lyrics. It’s no magical mystery -- 613 repetitions of love. 613 mitzvot in the Torah. A gift from God with a note attached saying, “with love from me to you”. Mitzvot which we do -- freely -- with love in our hearts. 

God may as well have said: Love me? Do. 
You know I love you. I’ll always be true. 
So if you love me. Do. 

In this story, no one is free -- not the people, not Moses, not Pharaoh. 

But Moses knows the value of freedom, the innate desire for freedom, and so he goes to the Pharaoh.

He say, "I know you, you know me"

You say you want a revolution? Pharaoh scoffs.
Well, you know. We all want to change the world
Don't you know that you can count me out

Two of Pharaoh's own advisers plead with him. Egypt is already destroyed! We’ve suffered 7 plagues. How long will you let this go on? There’s gonna be more! Locusts! That’s what the man said. But will he listen to what the man said?

Pharaoh seems to waver. He tells Moses to go! Picture yourself on a boat on a the Nile, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

Moses says, Thanks Pharaoh, but before I punch my ticket to ride, just so you know, we’re taking our young. And the old. And the cows, the goats, the lambs. The Walrus. The octopus and his garden.

Oh, Pharaoh says. I’ve got to admit, It’s getting better. It’s getting better all the time! You know what? You can only take the young. Everything else stays.

You’re a mean Mr Mustard, says Moses!  

Pharaoh tosses them out. Get back! Get back! Get back to where you once belonged.

Bring on the locusts. They covered the face of the whole earth and there remained not any green thing, either tree or herb of the strawberry fields, forever. 

Pharaoh is shook. He summons Aaron and Moses to him once more.

Can we Come Together on this?

Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend. 

I get it, Moses says. I used to be an angry young man. Hiding my head in the sand. God gave me the word, I finally heard. I'm doing the best that I can.

But then God hardened Pharaoh's heart. Or did he? Whether or not he had a little push from God, Pharaoh was well down the long and winding road to a stubborn, heavy heart on his own. I won’t back down. I will stand my ground. You can stand me up at the gates of hell but I won’t back down. 

The Thirst for power. 

You let too much of that into your heart and it will harden and calcify beyond repair.

Our rabbis taught mitzvah goreret mitzvah. Good leads to good. Love leads to love. Love is all and love is everyone. It is knowing, it is knowing...

But they also taught, averah goreret averah. Evil leads to evil. At what point could Pharaoh have gone back? After the first cruelty? The seventh? The thousandth? That boy won't be happy Till he's seen you cry 

And it really doesn’t matter to Pharaoh.
If I’m wrong, I’m right…
Where I belong, I’m right! 
Nothing’s gonna change my world!

But the heart of love, Moses’s heart, keeps trying: 
Think of what you're saying
You can get it wrong and still you think that it's alright
Think of what I'm saying
We can work it out and get it straight, or say goodnight

And Pharaoh says, Goodnight.

His hardened heart secures the 9th plague. Number 9. Number 9. Number 9: Three days and nights of Darkness so thick you could feel it. Here, there, and everywhere. 

Except in the Jewish neighborhood, where they sang: And though the night is fraught with darkness, there is still a light that shines on me. 
Shine until tomorrow. 
Let it be!

On the fourth day, in the light, Moses tries one last time.
When you were young and your heart was an open book
You used to say live and let live
(you know you did, you know you did you know you did)

But I guess Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see

The rabbis talk about how God writes the words of Torah on our hearts. Why on and not in? Because we’re collecting those words, like love notes from our sweethearts, for when our heart breaks open, all the words of love fall into the empty space and heal us. 

All you need is love, love. 
Love is all you need.

But hardened heart can’t break, and a hardened heart can’t be healed.

The people of Egypt paid the price for their leader’s inability to try to see it my way. Love’s way. With the final plague, An entire nation lost its first born. They're going to carry that weight -- the weight of a hardened heart -- for a long time.

And Pharaoh? Did he look back? Wishing for yesterday, when all his troubles seemed so far away? 

Or did his heart harden even more, his only pity reserved for himself? The world is treating me bad... Misery! Leave me here in misery. 

In the end, it’s not the job of the downtrodden to soothe the bruised ego of the tyrant. Moses and Aaron had better things to do and went to deliver the message to the people: 

Yisrael, singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise