Friday, April 30, 2010

Not everybody is a critic; but EVERYONEis an artist

Okay - it's April 30th, the end of the month. At the beginning of this month, I claimed that "jazz is Jewish" and blogged about the Smithsonian's declaration of April as "Jazz Appreciation Month". I still love all these thoughts (as a matter of fact, I'm even more convinced now of the Jewish-jazz interrelation).
Yesterday, a friend posted a question: "what are you going to do to make the rest of this month count?" That's a question we should ask ourselves not just toward the end of the month - also each day, week, season and year. By prompting ourselves to make each moment count - this is how we might live meaningfully. Even asking the question continues to be a step in the right direction.
Back to jazz (as usual) - the uniquely American art form - structure and improvisation, a spectrum of styles, differing instrumentations - it's all good. And, what makes a piece grand is the contribution of all the players involved. Perhaps we're not all jazz musicians - yet we all have artistic, necessary contributions to make to the musical piece that is life. Each of us has such gifts; Cultivating and employing these talents allows us to fulfill the idea of being God's partner in the ongoing work of creation. So now I ask - what's YOUR artistic talent; what is it that YOU contribute to the symphony of our lives?
Let me know your thoughts - and let us inspire and encourage one another to improve our world and improve ourselves through the offerings we bring.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy is the generation where big listens to little

This morning, Ben came downstairs ready to leave for school, dressed in all black - black shirt, black shoes, the whole thing. I asked "what's with the outfit?" He responded "it's for blackout day, one of our spirit days" (one day each month, the school conducts a "spirit day", you know, wearing the school logo, a particular color, pajamas, crazy socks, whatever). "So what do you do for spirit day?" I went on. "Well, you dress up in outfit of the day, and if you want, you bring in a dollar for the charity we're supporting - like the food pantry, or some other cause. Today we're supporting Reins of Life (ok, I've got to admit, I had to look it up for a reminder. "Reins of Life" is a local organization here in South Bend that provides therapeutic horseback riding. For more on this wonderful outfit, please visit
"So Ben, what does Reins of Life do?" "Well, they help out people through horseback riding." "What people do they help?" I asked, truly interested in the answer. "People with disabilities, children and adults." "Wow," I said, "that's neat." "Yeah dad, it's neat that we get to support them too."
Aha - game over, day made. What a great feeling to start the day knowing my kid "gets it". That being fortunate over all - healthy, not lacking anything essential - he knows his "job" is to help others who are in need in some way. I asked him one final question: "do you feel good helping others?" "Sure, I feel good helping - but more important, it's tzedakah - the right thing to do."

One day, I hope to live up the standard he sets.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sacred memory urges us to act forward

Today is both Yom HaZikaron as well as the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. On such a day, all good people should join together to prevent atrocities from happening to our society - from within or without. Again, a great potential threat to the safety and security of our world is the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran (not to mention Pakistan, etc.). Join with NoNukesForIran to lobby our legislators to take the strongest measures against such a thing - for us and our future.
The picture here is our NoNukesForIran banner now proudly displayed outside our building (we finally moved it from our entry foyer, now the weather is cooperating :).
Do your part - go to and sign the petition. Best wishes for health and peace in this spring season...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

butterflies and brakhot - what do we learn? who teaches us?

Somehow this butterfly got into our screened-in porch today. When Vered came home from school, she pointed it out to me. Wow - first I wondered how it got in. Then we just gazed at how cool it looks. A momentary, beautiful distraction from the "busy-ness" of the day. How often we let these moments get away from us - and how often we fail to appreciate the good stuff of life when we have it...

Today, I learned of the passing last week of Ellis Rivkin, long-time professor of history at HUC-JIR, and truly a pioneer in his field (well, he was 92!). It seems that every few months, we hear of the death of one of the luminaries of the previous generation - one of our beloved teachers, or elected officials, or cultural icons. And particularly in the case of our teachers and mentors, it's at these times that we reflect on how much they brougth to our lives, or influenced the path we've taken. Why then is it so easy for us to take these special people for granted while we still have the chance to express our gratitude to them (that is, to share our appreciation to our teachers while they're still around!).

So today I ask you: who's among your favorite, greatest, most influential teachers? Let me know, as I'm interested; but more - let THEM know. I bet it will be a butterfly moment.

Friday, April 9, 2010

100 years is nothing to sneeze at

L’DOR VADOR NAGID GODLECHA – “To all generations we will declare Your greatness, and for all eternity proclaim Your holiness. Your praise, O God, shall never depart from our lips.”

From the liturgy, we get this great tagline – l’dor vador (“from generation to generation”) which has become widely used in Jewish circles to designate, describe, and even define the significance of transmitting tradition from one generation to the next. It’s been used to underscore fundraising efforts; to speak of creating programmatic and institutional legacies; and yes, this phrase is even employed to assuage the guilt of disinterested adults who feel they are “forced” to expend time and energy providing Jewish experience for their children in order to please or appease their aging parents (ugh, this is certainly a challenge in our society).

I feel the best claim of this term (and this concept) is when we simply appreciate the magic of the stories that older people share with their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. And yes, in today’s world, when so many of us have faced our loved ones being saddled with various degrees of dementia, how precious it is for us to embrace and cherish the stories that are able to be handed down.

So here’s a great one, in my eyes: this week, we were up in Minneapolis visiting Deb’s family. One of the highlights, of course, is spending time with her grandmother, who will turn 100 (!) this coming September. Our children, who are now 11 and 8, have a wonderful relationship with their great-grandmother (whom they affectionately call G.G. Leah). We were going out to dinner a few nights ago, and as is usually the case, we end up asking her questions about her childhood, and the days before any of us (including my in-laws) were born. Jim, my father-in-law, asked “mom, what about silent movies?” To which she responded “oh, I remember going to see Birth of a Nation…”

BIRTH OF A NATION?!?!?! I said to myself, as my jaw hit the floor of the van. Yes, Birth of a Nation, the D.W. Griffith classic from 1915, one of the first feature-length films, which was heralded in its time (and ever since) for innovations in cinematography. (Oh, let me repeat – 1915!!!).

Wow – as Grandma Leah continued telling of her early movie-going experiences, I could only sit back and reflect “this lady’s seen it all.” She’s witnessed the emergence of the automobile as central to our society; airline flight; radio and TV; all the various wars and conflicts of our time; the great achievements in science, technology and culture; and the struggles regarding child labor, education, civil rights, the women’s movement and more. And this is without even mentioning the revolution brought to us through computers and the internet. I hope the kids were listening, even somewhat as interested as I was.

It really is a gift to hear such stories. When we listen and learn from them, these accounts become part of our story – it’s as if we can extend our own lifetime back into them, and even such things that we didn’t know or see personally enrich us as well. For Grandma Leah, though her birthday is a few month away: ad me'ah v'esrim - may you be strong at least to 120!

So next time your favorite (fill in the blank with that older relative who loves to talk) starts up with one of those time-worn tales, sit back, listen and enjoy. You too will be blessed, l’dor vador, from one generation to the next.

Got a great anecdote from an older relative? Please share, we’d love to hear.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jazz is Jewish. I’m convinced. With its defining motif of improvisation over set melody, jazz represents the dynamic tensions that underlie Judaism: keva vs. kavannah – the standard liturgy of prayer and the intentionality and baggage that each worshipper brings to it; sacred scripture and the midrashic interpretation that has enriched it throughout the ages; halakhah (“ritual law”) and its ever-emerging implementation in practice. All these demonstrate the inventiveness and creativity that have been inherent in Judaism through the ages.

The seasons and their holidays also illustrate this imaginative feature of Jewish tradition. From the weekly gift of Shabbat to the pilgrimage festivals to the way which times of year are marked in the prayer book, we continue to evolve, so that Jewish living remains vibrant and meaningful, its continually refreshed approaches responsive to the times while maintaining the richness of time-honored values and teachings. Take the Passover seder, for example, perhaps the greatest instance of tradition augmented by newness in every age. That is, the greatest instance of Jewish jazz (for more on the specifics of Passover creativity, see the previous post).

It seems timely and appropriate that right now, during chol ha-mo’ed pesach, the intermediary days of Passover, as winter turns to spring (as if on cue here in N. Indiana), as March turns to April, we are treated to the launch of Jazz Appreciation Month (for more, go to or How wonderful – a whole month dedicated to appreciating this uniquely American art form that draws its inspiration (at least as I’m arguing) in part from the depth of Judaism.

So what I’d like to know as we enjoy the true coming of spring: what’s the greatest, most influential, most meaningful, or simply COOLEST innovation you’ve witnessed in religious practice, in society or politics, or in how we live our lives. While you’re at it, why don’t you share your favorite jazz artist, album or performance. And let’s keep the jazz going…