Monday, October 27, 2014

Cultivate YOUR *kitchen for the mind*

Inspired by an ad for the Bosch Kitchen Center in the current (October 2014) issue of Entrepreneur Magazine (www.entrepreneur.com), I re-read the insightful (if not slightly dated) Think out of the Box by Mike Vance and Diane Deacon (originally published 1995) - especially paying attention to the chapter titled "Designing Creative Environments". After an introduction praising the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright, the authors begin with the simple notion: Don't let your environment control you. A simple thought, right? As we all know, having a workspace that encourages and inspires our creativity isn't so easy to establish, never mind maintain. Too often, the space in which we spend the majority of our potentially creative time (and energy) has been designated, defined or given to us. The office, cubicle, kitchen, class room, reception area, and even sanctuary where we toil was usually conceived by someone else - with no regard for the actual individual/s who would occupy it.
Much of our creative class has, thankfully, trended away from being boxed in, in such a way. Many of us still need to break free of traditional working setups in order to foster the deepest and most dynamic of our talents. True for work, true for home - as the division between these t 
wo "separate" places blurs for so many. 
Promoting an enriched place as they call it, Vance and Deacon write:
Think of the kitchen for your stomach. You have the necessary utilities to transform recipes into wonderful food for eating. In your kitchen for the stomach, you have breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. In your Kitchen for the Mind, you work on projects, programs, celebrations and individual activities, cooking up recipes as you go...
...the walls of your Kitchen for the Mind should have lots of space to pin up concepts and ideas...and don't forget musical instruments, board games, a stereo (I said this is dated :), and anything else that gets your creative juices flowing.
When I first studied this material several years ago, I completely reorganized my office space in the synagogue I served: cleared off the large desk to make a truly useable surface area; put up a small white board to jot down ideas, random ones or not, and to keep them visibly part of my environment; color coded my notes, project planning and calendar activities; always had music playing (duh); even made sure the lava lamp was always turned on when I arrived, as if to indicate "open for business."
And, I, much like the universe itself, am subject to the gentle hand of entropy. After several weeks, it became easier again to allow items to pile up on my desk. Piles of books everywhere, seemingly haphazard (though I swear I knew the location of every volume!) littering the floor. Colored pens/pencils so easily replaced by the ever-present black ink...
As I recall, the times I'm motivated and energized to utilize a Kitchen for the Mind construct, because it's totally customized to me, I've been at my most creative, efficient and enthusiastic. Again time to sustain such a space...
 
Now - how do YOU engage such a workable, pleasing, inspiring, and yes fun spot for yourself? And if you want ideas, or a sounding board to continue the conversation - let me know!
 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sonny Rollins brings me back

Today should be a great day of celebration for the American spirit. And with due respect to Derek Jeter, another iconic figure I love (though, despite, and due to the fact he's a, no *the* Yankee) - this thought is not about him.
It's in tribute to the saxophone colossus himself, maestro Sonny Rollins. One of the great jazz sax players of all time, and perhaps our last vital link to the ageless pantheon of jazz immortals. His name is to be spoken in the same breath as Bird, Diz, Miles, etc....and let us recall with gratitude he is still with us.
He remains a great personal inspiration...his music, his vibe, his style through the ages...

Go out there, enjoy life, get your improv on, and give thanks to Sonny Rollins - 84 years powerful today!

Monday, March 31, 2014

My turn - why I'm shaving my head

Back in elementary school, I'm don't recall exactly which grade, a friend was diagnosed with something previously unfamiliar to me called leukemia. We were told that this is a very serious illness, and that he may or may not survive. It's the first time I genuinely remember wrestling with the idea of death and beginning to grasp the notion of mortality. Instead of wondering if we could get together to play catch (we were on the same little league team - boy he had a great arm!), I learned to be concerned whether he was having a decent day, week, or even semester. Thankfully, he overcame his cancer and stands testament to the possibilities of care, cure and life. For all the Eddies of my childhood, I am shaving my head.
As a teenager, a dear friend lost her father, all too young, after battling cancer. I still had not known death in my family personally. That summer at camp, I experienced the true power of community in the process of grieving, mourning, consoling and uplifting. We couldn't articulate it with these words, though we received somewhat of a masters class in comforting the bereaved. For all the "Sarahs" in my youth, I am shaving my head.
Serving as a young assistant rabbi in a very comfortable, well-to-do community, it was as if the world was only bright, shiny and positive. A growing congregation of good people dedicated to Jewish values and involvement, very little got in the way of whatever creative programs, activities and ritual we could imagine. And then it seems we had one after another young moms diagnosed with breast cancer. Looking back, I recognize that most of them were younger than I am now. Beyond the typical and wide-ranging obligations being a rabbi in this vibrant setting - I had to grow into the role of being able to hold hands, as it were, with these slightly older peers and their families as they confronted their questions: will I survive? Will I be less of a woman following surgery? Will my husband and children carry on after  I'm gone?  The meaning of just being present became absolutely clear. For the Karens and Anns and Lisas who've made me a better rabbi, I'm shaving my head.
Of course, not quite two years ago, our dear friends learned that one of their precious children faced his own challenge with cancer. I remain lost for words in gratitude for what I've learned through this episode. Their example as a family, in the range of what they've allowed others to witness, is profound: the raw emotion, gentle compassion, and genuine humanity in their expression from rage and frustration to humility and appreciation has helped cultivate a deeper understanding  of love - not only regarding their children, also for the connected circle of family and friends who they embraced during this unimaginably difficult time. All while undergoing what my grandmother taught was the worst thing possible, that parents should never have to bury a child. For all the Sammys who have exemplified bravery and dignity - and so one day there won't be any more - I am shaving my head.
Humbly I know that I'm fortunate that my own family is, at least for now, healthy and safe. And who knows, that may one day change. Jewish tradition demands that we embrace, love and care for the stranger, the "other", as we know what it is to be that stranger. What could be more "other" than someone going through illness, disease or hardship that I've never known? And so it has become even more important to work on behalf of those who are struggling - and to teach my own children that their greatest potential is to make a positive difference in the lives of people beyond themselves. In gratitude for the Bens and Vereds in our lives,and in hope that they might know a world one day free from cancer, I am shaving my head.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

That Missing Photo

(Please note - this piece was originally posted earlier today by the Religious Action Center for the series "Double Booked" about working parents and families.)
 
 
I have been following this series with great interest, curiosity and inspiration. Being asked to submit an entry reminded me that I too am a “working parent” – though that’s not usually how I describe myself among my roles as father, husband, rabbi, activist…And while finding affirmation in the words others have shared, I have found it difficult to articulate my own understanding of the challenges we working families face. It occurs to me: often we speak of work, family, career, volunteering, child-rearing, social life – and so much more – in terms of balance – as if it is possible to achieve (or magically summon) some state of mythic equilibrium in which all the many facets of our lives and selves synchronize flawlessly. Rather than balance, I have come to see that what we are blessed with is the opportunity, as Rabbi Irwin Kula suggests in the subtitle to his book Yearnings, to “embrace the sacred messiness of life.” He quotes his mother for the opening line: “When you’ve got an answer, it’s time to find better questions.” What a perfect Jewish response to life’s complexity!
How was I reminded of this wonderful perspective? When asked to contribute to this blog, one of the instructions was to supply a recent casual picture of the family along with the written piece. Sweet. When I mentioned this to my spouse Debra, her immediate reaction was “well, we don’t have one.” How is that possible, I asked myself, in this day of iPhones, Facebook and selfies – which all four of us definitely use? Then it struck: we’re a typical, over-busy bunch. Our son Ben is a high school freshman, with a full schedule of classes, school band, guitar lessons, extracurricular activities and hanging out with friends; daughter Vered’s time is taken up with homework, art club, French horn, and socializing as only immediate pre-B’nei Mitzvah kids can; Debra, a Jewish educator, is consumed with a variety of professional obligations, additional consulting, volunteer activities, and taking the majority of our carpooling responsibilities; as for me – beyond my congregational duties I am privileged to serve an assortment of local and national organizations. It’s not that Deb and I are a working couple; the four of us are today’s “working family.” As I write this, I’m somewhat surprised we recognize one another, never mind have time to take photos together.
So instead of searching for a level of stillness from the bustle that might be described as balance – I hope to better equip myself and my family not only to embrace life’s hectic pace, yet also to breathe deeply enough to truly enjoy the ride. Maybe we’ll take a few pictures along the way.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of 2013 (?)

2013 comes to an end: in many ways it was a wonderful, fulfilling and interesting year; and yes, in some ways it was God-awful - the pain endured by so many...difficulties at work and at home...illness, sadness and despair...and particularly the journey we shared in some minor way with those who suffered loss and disappointment. To alleviate that pain remains a most heartfelt goal...
And yet, I am inspired to think of the bright spots that dotted the calendar...and to use them to cultivate a sense of gratitude for the many blessings that keep us buoyed throughout. So here are some of those thoughts to frame this transition between the year that was, and the new one yet to be. In no particular order, just that of my rambling mind.

Music: a renewed interest in the Black Crowes, thanks in particular to one special friend; an ongoing love for all things vital like the Who, Kinks, Stones, Zep; and all things jazz...

Books: Thomas Jefferson - the Art of Power by Jon Meacham; Shai Held's Abraham J OSHA Heschel! the Call of Transcendence; World Peace and other 4th-Grade Achievements by John Hunter...

Other reads: www.supermansamuel.blogspot.com...'Nuff said...

Food: introducing V to Brazazz in Chicago; cooking with Little Jazz; culinary exploits at home and on the road...

Fun: Triple-D on Food Network (maybe I'll bleach my hair); Angel's Envy (thanks Matt); cherry Gibson...

Professional experiences: getting to sing, lead and celebrate with two very special student cantors, Dave and Lucy...

Community involvement: the sacred privilege to serve the United Religious Community of St. Joe County, committees of the CCAR, and especially the rabbinic/educational/cantorial committee (RECC) of OSRUI...

Camp: to fundraiser serve on faculty, send my children and encourage others to enjoy this most vital experience...

Inspirations: Julie, Neshama, David L., Rachel L., Gayle and always PT...

Sacred privilege: to be part of the #36rabbis effort raising funds and awareness in support of pediatric cancer research, in memory of beloved Sam Sommer, child of our dear friends Rabbis Michael and Phyllis. Your example has taught us through this unfathomable ordeal. It is a humbling honor to carry his spirit as an inspiration for the worthy work we now do.

Most undeserved status: maintaining the love and connectedness of such a great group of beloved friends and comrades, and mostly of my own immediate family. Let's do better, love more, and enjoy truly in the year, and God-willing years, ahead.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Grieve. Mourn. Love.

These were the three words that came to mind as we got ready to drive to Chicago to attend the saddest occasion I can recall. Many of you are now familiar with the story of Sammy Sommer, child of dear friends and colleagues Rabbis Michael and Phyllis. Through his 18-month struggle with acute myeloid leukemia, Michael and Phyllis have been brave enough, strong enough, loving enough to share Sam’s journey (and theirs) on their blog, www.supermansamuel.blogspot.com.
Their experience has truly informed us, not just about the horrific nature of pediatric cancers (and aml specifically); through their beautiful writing and generous spirit, Phyllis and Mike have taught us, inspired us, and challenged us to be more concerned, understanding, and thoughtful regarding others, especially our own loved ones (whom we often take for granted, even the best of us). For me, I know that they have opened my eyes to be a better rabbi, father, husband and friend. I so wish I could do anything to alleviate even a tiny bit of their pain.
I am privileged to know the Sommers as colleagues and more so as friends – a family that has become dear to mine. Our time together at camp. At each other’s homes. The shared laughs, tears, jokes, staying up together way past our bedtimes…
I am in awe of the community that they have drawn together – the circles of people from the various parts of their lives that have coalesced into a loving network of extended family. I am proud to be part of this. I am inspired by the group of rabbinic partners who have come together as #36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave to raise funds for pediatric cancer research for the St. Baldrick’s foundation (for more info and to consider a donation, please see http://www.stbaldricks.org/participants/mypage/660663/2014).
And for now, I am most grateful for classmate Rabbi Steven Stark Lowenstein of Am Shalom, the Sommer’s congregation who orchestrated the most difficult time imaginable with beauty and grace. Steven, your loving care for Sam and his family and the deeply touching way you guided us through the beginning of the grieving process will always be treasured, beyond words.

For Phyllis, Michael, David, Yael and Solly – know that we all are with you – and we are better because you shared Sammy with us. His light shines…

Friday, November 22, 2013

Again it's time, "ask not what your country can do for you..."

For those who witnessed, and yes for those born soon after, the assassination of President Kennedy did much to shape - if not define - a generation of America. Growing up outside Boston in the 70's, in what I've always called "Kennedy's Massachusetts", the impact of that event loomed large, as the nostalgia for the Kennedy mystique deepened further. Profiles in Courage and PT 109 were frequent choices on our reading lists in school. I was nearly bar mitzvah before realizing that Camelot was actually a play about some guy named Arthur...
Here we are, on the 50th anniversary of that fateful day. Many of the issues that troubled us then - world peace, economic disparity, racial divides, religious intolerance, the need for greater social justice - are still as significant today. Certainly some of the details and players have changed: Cold War alliances have given way to concerns about global terrorism; the struggle for civil rights now includes the strides we are making for our LGBT brothers and sisters; our social welfare efforts concern not only addressing poverty - they are also needed to fulfill our responsibility to an ever-increasing aging population as we've never known before.
And there is still hope that we can live up to our promise to become a better world. Looking at our situation today or during the Kennedy era (or any other point in time you choose) is but a momentary snapshot of the human condition. We need to involve a longer view of our history to sustain such hope. Consider this: this week we also mark the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, that powerful, articulate vision that Lincoln delivered during a particularly bleak and vulnerable time for our nation. Fast forward 100 years. It is following the Kennedy assassination that we truly begin the repair and resolve the issues that had torn the country apart through civil war. The Civil Rights act, the Voting Rights act, enabled in the mid 60s, we're predicated by earlier voices, Lincoln's included.
We still have much to do, much farther to go to bring about the just society that has been hinted at in every generation. On this sacred memorial, let us recommit ourselves to partnership with all of our fellow human beings in working toward that day.