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Get on the Boat

An old joke:
A great storm has taken place and massive flooding has occurred. A pious, holy man stood on his roof to escape the flood. As the water continues to rise ever higher, a boat comes along. The boat comes up to him and the people inside offer the religious man a ride. He declines, “No thank you. G-d will save me.” While those in the boat are surprised at his reaction, they recognize he will not get in, so they drive off. This same happenstance occurs two more times. Each time the end result is the same. The pious man declines by saying, “No thank you. G-d will save me.” Eventually, the holy man drowns.
The holy man gets to heaven, and he has his moment to speak with G-d. He says, “G-d, I don’t understand. I pray to you regularly, give charity, study the bible, and do acts of kindness to the stranger. I am a true believer. How could you let me drown? G-d replies to the religious man, “I sent you a boat three times, but you refused to get on.”

When offered an opportunity, take it. Don’t question. That is the lesson I take from that joke. You don’t know where or when opportunity will present itself. However, that doesn’t matter. Remember that Stevie Winwood song, When you see a chance, you take it.
Too often, I am a double clutcher to use a basketball comparison. The player who double clutches despite an open shot has his shot blocked. He/she can’t believe the opportunity they have, so they pause for a split second. Well, in that split second, the opportunity has come and gone.
I wonder what if, playing out multiple scenarios in my head. I tell myself I am being wise and practical. I tell myself I have:
children depending on me,
food to put on the table,
a mortgage,
private school tuition bills.
I have, have have. Too often, these blessings can double as burdens.

This week is Chanukah. A very brief summary of Chanukah – The Jews overcame the Greeks, the superpower of the day. The Greeks had ransacked the Temple. When the Jews came to the Temple to rededicate it, they found only one day’s worth of pure oil which was needed to light the menorah (or lamps). They lit the menorah, and miraculously, the oil lasted for eight nights by which time more purified oil was able to be secured.
One could easily ask why did they even bother lighting the menorah? The oil was not sufficient and ultimately would have disappointed. However, the people took that chance and let G-d determine what would be. They had faith. Another question which is commonly asked is why celebrate the holiday for eight days (of course extra jelly donuts, latkes, and presents is the answer most kids give)? After all, the first day was not a miracle. There was enough oil for one day, so the miracle took place over the final 7 days. One answer that I have heard to this dilemma particularly impresses me. The fact that oil lights at all is a miracle. It is not an acknowledged miracle but an everyday miracle. The lesson I learn from this is to appreciate the every day.
So as my family and I celebrate Chanukah and I contemplate the end of the year, I have lessons to relearn. I need to move forward, and pledge to get on the boat when it shows up at my door.

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Posted by on December 10, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Have To Wash My Hair Tonight

That’s not really true – the title that is. I am a morning shower person. Anyway, you know how you used to watch those television shows like Happy Days and other comedies of that era? When a woman didn’t want to accept a date request, she would say I have to wash my hair. Now, of course, the guy did not buy that excuse. It’s just too lame. However, he would accept it at least publicly because it was a way to escape the embarrassing no to his date request. “Hey she’s busy,” he could tell his friends, “she has plans tonight.”

This is the third week of the new school year. We have already had some days off for holidays with more coming. Despite that, I feel as though I have so much to do. Rushing, rushing, rushing.

One of my goals this school year is to minimize stress. Actually, it’s a goal I set every year which seems to fade ever slowly away till it’s time to do grading for the first marking period. At that point, it just completely disintegrates. I end up feeling anxious and fighting the feeling that I am not getting enough accomplished.

Last year, however, was a bit different. I wasn’t as hard on myself. I followed through on some of my promises to myself. I actually got to get bed earlier one night a week, assisted the students as best as I could and did not take their failings as my own. I even did some things for myself (one of those was to start a blog – you may have heard of it – it’s called memyselfandkids) You know what? It felt good!

This year, I am ready to take it to another level. I have a number of things that I want to accomplish outside of school. Therefore, I have to be even wiser and more efficient when it comes to budgeting my time. This goal has been in the back of my mind all summer. I know I can, I know I can. I psyched myself up.

You’re waiting for the but right? Well, here it comes. Sort of.

I have had to go out nearly every night since school started. Whether it was a back to school night, religious commitment, a concert (saw Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band last night), I have had regular plans every night. You know what I need? I need a bunch of nights in a row where when you get home, you can latch the door because you know you are not leaving till the next morning. You know the type of night I mean? Now, of course, there are still familial responsibilities, but that’s different. That’s an everyday responsibility, and one I enjoy (usually).

So, I am thinking about using that line. The next person who tries to make a plan will hear, “I need to wash my hair.” Who knows what they will think? I just know that I need the space and time.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Clean Slate

When you read this, I will be in the midst of celebrating, Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Like most religious holidays, it includes prayer and food.  However, it is so much more than that. It is the holiday of second chances.

Beginning tonight with Rosh Hashana, which commemorates the anniversary of the creation of the world, and concluding ten days from now with Yom Kippur, we are being judged. Scary connotations, I know. Who hasn’t gone astray? Done things they should not have? Said things that were hurtful to others? Let their potential go unfulfilled? I am confident when I say the answer to that series of questions is everyone. I know, for sure, I have.  That is why we have this period, which is known as the 10 days of repentance.

Often behavior noted above leaves me disappointed with myself. Whether it is losing my patience with my children, arguing with my wife, gossiping about friends, or not showing the proper respect to my mom, (I‘ll stop there – no need to fill you in on all my dirty laundry) I have a whole load of missteps that I need to work on. I am not expecting perfection, and I am confident G-d does not expect that. In fact, I read somewhere that one of the major aims of this time period should be set up a plan and goals on how you will strive to be that better version of you.

Anyway, I think my reaction to my faults is probably typical. Wallowing, frustrated, disheartened are obviously feelings no one wants to experience. That is where the beauty of this holiday and time period come in. We can say: I’m sorry, I made a mistake, I’ll change. I will do better. And an all knowing G-d will hear us and recognize our sincerity. Get this – G-d can wipe the slate clean.  It’s a burden lifted and an opportunity to move forward and strive to be more like the person you desire to be.

Isn’t that beautiful? I believe it is. So, while this is certainly a heavy time (and I don’t mean because of all the delicious food around – that’s a whole other topic) of year, it ultimately is a time of lightening one’s load. So, tonight and through these next 10 days, I will strive to let go and begin anew my quest to become a better me.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Nervous

I’m nervous. I don’t want to make a fool of myself.

On Saturday morning at around 9:00 a.m., I will be chanting words from the weekly Torah portion. Well, chanting is what I am supposed to do, but with my voice, that is an optimistic thought. Anyway, I will be doing this in front of a small group, maybe 20 (my wife and children won’t even be there). The portion I am doing is tiny – less than 100 words and will take me (should at least) less than two minutes.

So, there is no real reason to be nervous, but yet, I am.

What’s the worst that could happen? I could butcher the words, sweat profusely, or choke uncontrollably.  Or, I could feel embarrassed and disappointed in myself.

Why am I putting myself through this? Am I a glutton for punishment? Maybe, but I have a reason for wanting to chant the Torah. I’ve never done it before. My bar mitzvah was nearly thirty years ago. I did not read from the Torah but instead read the haftorah. I was nervous. While sitting in front of the congregation, which included all my family and friends, awaiting my moment, I got the hiccups. That helped my nerves. I used to get the hiccups all the time as a child, and they could last for up to an hour. Somehow, I overcame the hiccups and got through the reading. The reading went pretty well, though I could have been louder, if I do say so myself.

Since I became a regular synagogue goer about 15 years ago, I have wanted to read from the Torah. It is an honor and a privilege. I have been especially thinking about taking the leap this summer. I had some time to put into study, and I am not sure when this spare time will come again. So, now I find myself anxiously awaiting Saturday morning. Till then, I am practicing and practicing. Well, at least unlike my bar mitzvah, I don’t have to worry about my voice cracking though I do still get the occasional zit and hiccups.

Uggh, more things to worry about.

Wish me luck.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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On the Binder

Do you recall having loose leaf binders in school? I remember having a blue cloth loose leaf binder. I got my first one in 4th grade. I liked the different sections, the yellow dividers, and the inevitable reinforcements. However, what I liked most about having a loose leaf was that I could doodle on the cover. Whether its flowers and hearts or monsters and trucks, I think you can learn a lot about someone if you look at their doodles.

Well, if somehow my old loose leaf binders could be resurrected, they would confirm that I was a sports lunatic. I used to draw these rectangles which I envisioned as banners hanging from the rafters. This is where the elite athletes would have their names one day. However, the day came a little early for those I chose from among the stars of the Philadelphia teams of my youth – Clarke, Barber, Montgomery, Carmichael, Erving, Toney, Carlton, and Schmidt.

I put these players and many others on a pedestal. I looked up to them and imagined what it would be like to meet them. They were more than athletes I saw on television. I felt as if I knew them. I see my high school students do the same thing today. They are completely obsessed with particular players – Lebron James could have a thriving fan club just comprising the students I had last year.

In the years since my early ‘doodles’, I’ve realized that I did not know where to ‘draw the line’ – pun intended. Being a professional athlete means that an individual has been blessed with great skill which he or she has honed through hours upon hours of practice. It does not mean the athlete is a good person. It does not mean that I know the athlete because I have seen them perform their sport. I do not know them, and I have no true understanding of the type of person he/she is.

I want my boys to enjoy sports. Enjoying and partaking in sports is good exercise and a great way for children to bond. However, I do not want my boys to obsess over sports and blur the lines between a star on the field of play and a wonderful person in the game of life.

Respecting and admiring the athlete for his/her talents is fine. However, I also want my children to respect the policeman who puts his life on the line, the fireman who saves others, the military man who protects the country, the teacher who enables children, the entrepreneur who seeks to make things better, the scientist who tries to find a cure, the doctor who helps people to feel better, the religious figure who gives guidance, etc.

The point is everyone who works hard, shows care for others, strives to better himself/herself is deserving of respect. No one – particularly someone you don’t know – should be idolized. When it comes to worship, you should look above for inspiration and not around.

When my children get their first loose leaf binder, they will surely come to doodle on it at some point. As they consider what to doodle on their book, I hope that they will go beyond my options.

PS. I wrote a newspaper article about the Penn State situation that is related to this. Here’s the link: http://www.northjersey.com/news/opinions/163267936_What_to_do_when_idol_is_shown_to_have_feet_of_clay.html?page=all

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Striving to See the Good

I don’t believe in bad luck. I am a strong believer in fate. I believe everything from the big things – births, jobs, marriages — to the little things – the wind blowing, the amount of the electric bill, hair color — is meant to be. This belief stems from my belief in an all-encompassing G-d who is involved and does things for a reason that is ultimately good.  Despite that, there are times and events that can’t help but leave me wondering why, what is going on, where is the good? 

A week and a half ago a good friend of mine told me that his 11-year-old daughter has a brain tumor.  This girl has an amazing spirit.  She is a positive, sensitive, caring, and spiritual child who has not let any of the challenges she faced slow her down. Now, she and her family are faced with this incredible mountain.
A little boy who resides in my community recently underwent an umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant. His parents have been trying to find a stell cell match for some time. Unfortunately, a direct match was never found. So, now they find themselves trying this risky surgery and facing a long recovery (we can only hope and pray) process.
This afternoon, a friend of mine emailed and told me she is losing her job as of August 31st. The funding was cut and her position is being terminated. She is both scared and worried. With the economy as it is, this is certainly understandable.
Lastly, a friend of mine emailed me to let me know her oldest sister, just 49, passed away last week. She was suffering greatly from cirrhosis. The pain from the disease and other difficulties she was facing in her life became too much for her to bear. She chose her own way out.
The 11 year old has come through the first phase of her recovery well and the doctors are optimistic. The three year old continues to battle, and he has had some good days. My friend who was laid off is giving herself a day to mope and then vows to network like crazy (she is definitely the type).  My other friend and her family take some comfort that their sister/daughter is no longer suffering. 
As for me, I still believe in G-d. In fact, I am using these events and others to  inspire me to pray more. I pray for recovery, comfort, understanding, and for that which only G-d knows my friends and others need.  I pray to see the good and appreciate that in reality everything is just that.
 
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Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Just Watch TV!

I look forward to the weekends. I love being able to use my time more as I want rather than as I must.  I look at weekends as a time to refresh, bond, and catch up. This doesn’t make me unique – I know. Heck there are songs, stories, and clichés about looking forward to the weekends.

My family and I observe the Jewish Sabbath which runs from sundown Friday till one hour after sundown Saturday. During this 25 hour period, we strive to have our focus on more spiritual endeavors.  In addition, we spend time with family/friends, eat good food, dress nicely, and rest.  We do not use electronics (lights and ovens are left on) such as computers, television, phones, etc.  This tune-out of the mundane does indeed help to create a mental break from the previous week and is a way of preparing for the upcoming week. Each week, I greatly look forward to the Sabbath.

I looked forward to it just the same, but this past Sabbath was different. The children could not stop arguing. Our older son (BR) was rude, pushy, and overaggressive with his brother; the younger son (SY) was whiney, instigating, and inflexible. Everything that occurred produced a fight. I know many of you are probably shaking your heads at this point thinking something like – “kids arguing – been there, know that one.”  Me too. However, this time seemed different. It was as if they could not stop. Eventually, I insisted (actually, I yelled loudly but insisted sounds nicer) that they each go to their rooms and shut their doors. However, you know what I wished for – really – the television. I would have been happy to hear Thomas tooting, the Backyardigans going for a snack, Spongebob laughing moronically, or Dragonball Z Kai characters yelling. These sounds would have been music. Each child in a separate room watching contentedly and quiet – ahh. Hell, I would have brought them popcorn.  I know, I know, I shouldn’t encourage even more television watching, but damn it, I couldn’t take it anymore.

Peace and quiet on a weekend thanks to nonstop TV.  Have they written a song about that?

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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