Yizkor: Which Side Are You On?

The rabbi announces “Yizkor” and there is a shuffling of positions. Some remain silently in their seats. Others, myself always included, exit the room.  If it’s a nice day, many of those go outside.

Chances are it would happen, sooner or later, the day when I would not walk out of the room and out of the building and find a place in the sun where I could sit and basque, tilt my face toward the warmth and light, and breathe a sigh. I might wonder what was happening in the room and I might not. What I knew was that some people were in and others were out, that I was usually out; earlier, some whom I hadn’t seen all year were running to be there on time, and others running to be elsewhere.

It is a mystery and a dance. The basics of the dance remain the same each time, but not the characters in it.

Last year I had quickly glanced at the folded booklet – as if I had found my father’s condoms or my mother’s birth control, things I didn’t want to believe or deal with. In the glance I noticed there was a paragraph for a grandparent, or for somebody who gave their life for our faith. All four of my grandparents had long passed. Why, then, could not I not participate in this service? Why was it off limits? Still, it was forbidden. I dare not read more.

This year, as I sat in my seat, the Rabbi as usual requested “All who have not lost a parent please leave the room.” This year I did not join that group. I was tempted to look around. Who were we, those who remained? I sat on the first row, by myself, within arm’s length of the window. It was closed on this cold day in April. Kids were outside playing basketball on the patio. I looked down and found the paragraph for those who have lost a father. We in the room were in the temporary world, our loved ones in the eternal one. My father was in the eternal world, and I was here.

I pledged charity on his behalf.  “A fund-raising gimmick,” I found my brain briefly thinking, and then caught that thought. At a time of loss and confusion – to pledge to give to those in need – works. To others in real need. It restores the balance.

I followed the written lines on the card and prayed for my father to be in Gan Eden. The Garden of Eden. My father in the Garden of Eden?

It was hard for me to imagine him, my father, at least my father’s soul, happy, in Gan Eden. He’d been so wretched in this life but met his end of days bravely and with love for us. Could he be happy for all eternity? Such a thought!

A friend and I talked afterward; I was thinking of my dad but was he thinking of me? How could I know? How could I ever know.

Soon I began chanting to myself Jackson Browne: “Which side, which side, which side are you on?” with its heavy beat and repetition. We were on this side. I was on this side. The ones we prayed for were on the other. Just as my father’s soul cannot come back, neither can I go back to being one who wonders and walks out of the room.

Before the holiday began, as dusk moved in and replaced the daylight, between my husband and me, we had lit four 24-hour memorial candles, my husband three and me one. My first. A full 48 hours after the 24-hour memorial candles were lit, and counting, my father’s alone continued to burn strong.

Yes, I thought, his soul is shining and he’s letting me know what I cannot know.

*shul = synagogue


Permission to Celebrate

Tonight is the 3rd night of Hanukkah. The first night of Hanukkah my husband and I each lit our own respective menorahs. The second night too.  But tonight my husband is on the road; at 4pm, which is sundown nowadays, it’s just me at home. My husband will be home later tonight, and when he comes home he’ll light his menorah. Meanwhile, mine remains candle-less and light-less. I can’t do it without him?

Of course I can.

The issue, I realize, as I indulge myself on the sofa by the menorah, is that this is the birthday of my father, and it was only two weeks ago when he, my father, may he rest in peace, died.  In a dignified service at a national cemetery, we buried him and honored him, and his life, 9 days ago. So today is the first time we’ve had my father’s birthday without him,  and it’s also Hanukkah, a day of celebration.

The menorah remains unlit in front of the window as it’s darker and darker on the outside of the glass. I can hear the cars drive by, but I remain in my world.

I had a pretty good day. Got up, went to a doctor’s appointment, which had a good result, and went to another doctor’s appointment, which also had a good result. I had reason to feel good about my future.

I haven’t realized it yet but as I lay on the sofa with my feet on the side arm rest, I don’t feel I have permission to celebrate on this particular day, this particular night, which our holiday requires us to do. And this is why I’m dawdling. And feeling sad. It may look like I’m doing nothing, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

As the minutes pass by, I really really need to light these nerot. We cannot live in darkness. The holiday tells us to bring light to our lives and to the world. So I fill the shamash-holder (the servant candle) and three candle holders with candles. I light the shamash, and say my blessings, and light the three nerot, the three candles.

And as I’m doing this, this is what I realize :

My mother and father have given me this beautiful 2,154 year-old legacy of lighting the Hanukkah menorah to have as my own. They’ve given it to my siblings too, to have as their own. Lighting my candles and honoring our holiday honors them too, and honors their ancestors, the unbroken line, all the way back to Abraham.

The legacy also says that there is a time for mourning and a time for celebrating. I have kept my obligatory 7 days of shiva and now taken off my wrinkled mourning shirt, which sits in a heap on my bench. Although I had thought I’d get rid of it when the mourning ended, now I’m unable to throw it away. And now we are into the 8 days of Hanukkah. On this 3rd day and night, it’s time to celebrate our legacy, and it’s time to celebrate, and remember, the lives of those we love and who have given us so much and who have carried on this great tradition and allowed us to do the same.

We can do both.


What Charlottesville Could Learn from Valencia: The Peace and the Concordance

This is the way it is now, the Placa de Ayunatamiento, in Valencia, Spain.

Not the way I remembered it from the fearful days of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco who, supported by Adolf Hitler, had led the Spanish nation into years of Civil War, countless atrocities and the deaths of hundreds of thousands. People lived in fear long after the Civil War ended, until the death of the Generalissimo in November, 1975.

In fact, when I lived there, in 1975, it wasn’t even called the Plaça de l’Ajuntament. Plaza del Caudillo (Plaza of the Leader), we called it. Even the language was different: Castilian then, Valencian, the regional language, now.

What was most disorienting was the plaza in the background opposite the fountain. Absent was the large monument of Francisco Franco, riding high upon his horse.

“Donde esta la estatua de Franco?” I asked, again and again, to blank faces. On this sunny day in 2012, nobody knew what I was talking about, let alone where the statue was, until one day a man who had obviously suffered through those years offered up the answer.  “The statue,” he said, “had been torn down,” in 1983. He directed us to the Plaça de la Reina (Plaza of the Queen), where we saw this monument to the victims of terrorism, sculpted by in 1998 by José Puche, 23 years after Franco passed from this world.

#Charlottesville could stand a good lesson about remembering those who, 150 years earlier, caused, and led, death, division of country, tyranny and atrocities, and about moving on to a better day for all. The memory of Franco, who had brutally divided a nation, had to come down. The people chose to erect the Peace and the Concordance to represent them, and to guide them, in its stead.

The statue of Franco was moved away from the public, to a military base.

Statues of the “heroes” of the Confederate and rebellious south were erected after the confederacy lost,after 1865, after the Emancipation Proclamation, in order to maintain the de facto status quo of blacks as inferior, fearful of the white ruling class, and stateless. The people of Spain chose to remember the past in their art, in their books, in the pain of a lost generation. They chose to remember their past by choosing something better for all, after unity was restored to Spain and after fascist anti-Semitic Germany was brought to its knees.

Perhaps even the Madrid-based statue of the infamous and fictitious Don Quixote, who roamed the vast country on his steed Rocinante, along with his faithful squire, Sancho Panzo, to restore chivalry and to right wrongs, to (even if foolishly) see beauty even when it didn’t exist, also has a lesson to teach to the tattered remnants of the failed confederacy.















Film Review: My Hero Brother (2016)

Want to see a light film that you didn’t expect to like but has a subtle and uplifting impact? Read about some incredible sibling relationships, and a lot more!

The film is not in the theaters now, but you’ll be able to find it on Netflix and elsewhere.

Read my published review of the film, My Hero Brother, by Yonaton Nir. Here’s the link, as published in The Newton Tab:

‘My Hero Brother’ shows the treasure we share

And then drop me a comment!




Film Review: Hidden Figures


Please read my review of the film Hidden Figures as published in Boston’s print and online paper, The Jewish Journal.

The Jewish Journal begins….

The film “Hidden Figures,” directed by Theodore Melfi, brings us the true story of America’s zeal to put a man into space juxtaposed against the remarkable but unknown story of three black American women whose mathematical, scientific, computing and engineering genius made it possible – in an era of …  READ MORE




Truth or Mom?

As a college writing teacher, my students were required to write essays that would answer the question: Is it ever okay to lie?

Paper after paper my students would write “Yes” and go on to support their answers. I knew many people who lied regularly. But it was unusual for me to listen to somebody defend their lying.

The situation was often this: The student would have an elderly parent or grandparent who lived far away. Very far away.  Say, for example, the student lived in New York and the elderly grandparent was living in China. The student’s father was ill and nobody would tell the elderly grandparent back in the homeland. Their reasoning was this: That it would upset the grandparent so it was better to say nothing. I always just focused on the students’ writing, their development of ideas, sentence structure and grammar, but inside I was kind of horrified. How could you not tell a grandparent that their son was sick? Or dying? Or dead?

Recently I’ve started lying to my mom. It just happens. She’s elderly and has dementia. So when my husband came home from a business trip with a broken leg, did I tell her? Absolutely – NOT.

Last month I detected a large lump on the back of my head. To the doctor and hospital I went. Did I tell my mom? Absolutely – NOT. The lump thankfully turned out to be just a fatty deposit.

Sometimes I have to get my mom up and walking. She’ll stay in bed all day until dinner unless somebody gets her up and walking. I’ll call her around noon or 1pm and tell her it’s time to take a walk down the hall. She’ll ask, “Can I go back to bed after this?” I answer, “Absolutely!” Then in an hour I’ll tell her that her aid is coming. I don’t mention that her aid will be getting her onto the exercise bicycle.

Last week her home health aid texted me that my mom didn’t want to do a certain activity. She texted me, “I hate to lie to her but sometimes I just have to, to get her there.” To the home health aid I wrote, “You’re not lying. You are honest when you say, “Yes, you can go back to sleep after this. You’re just not telling her that she cannot go back to sleep right after this.””

It’s disturbing to not tell the truth, or to withhold the truth. It’s a line to be very very careful about. I have to decide in each and every case. But it does feel right to not worry somebody who, as part of her medical condition, lacks initiative and needs a little ‘help’ to get moving. I know what the consequences would be of my mom laying in bed all morning and afternoon. They would not be good.

With my husband’s broken leg, what I don’t want to have happen is for my mom to feel that she’s burdening me with taking care of her, on top of taking care of my husband. That could really be bad.

Maybe there’s somebody around and my mom will ask, “Have I ever met her (or him) before?” There was a time when  – without hesitation – I would say “Yes.” But now I hedge. “I don’t think so,” and she’ll feel better. It’s hard enough for her – she knows, she really really knows, that her memory is failing. Badly. But I’m not going to rub it in and feel unnecessarily badly about her condition.

Okay, let’s not call it a lie. Maybe let’s call it less than truth.

The last time I drove home from visiting her, a 7-hour drive mostly in the dark, she wanted me to call her when I got home. It was getting really late. Really late. Like middle of the night late. There was no way I was going to phone her at 3am. I considered lying and telling her I had arrived home, safely. NO I couldn’t do that. What if something actually happened to me on the road after I phoned her? Next idea: I might make her angry, but the call went something like this: “Mom, it’s getting late and I’m not home yet but I’m only an hour away from home. I’m not going to call you again because it’s just getting too late.” And she said, “That’s fine, dear. Thank you and drive safely.”

My religious tradition says one may lie to preserve the cause of peace, not to hurt another person’s feelings, or to provide comfort. One may also lie in a situation where honesty might cause oneself or another person harm.

Honestly, it’s not always so easy to tell what that line is. And dealing with aging parents is difficult enough. Maybe some of my students had this right all along.



TJ’s Household Haiku Weekly Challenge: “At the Diner”

TJ has a Household Haiku Weekly Challenge. This week her two items for the haiku are MEAL and FRIENDSHIP. Her blog is, timely enough, located in Paris. May Paris be blessed with all things good.

Here is my haiku:


Nan sees tearful Fran’s

waitress writing up her tab.

Says Nan, “I’ll take that.”