Why Santa Brought The Rabbi’s Daughter A Gift
January 3, 2018
Never in a million years would I have ever thought that I would buy one of my children a Christmas present. I am not against Christmas by any stretch. But in my house, we celebrate Jewish holidays and we give Chanukah presents. That was until last winter.
My family and I spent the winter break driving the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles. We took Chanukah on the road, lighting some semblance of a Menorah nightly and making due with gift giving on the road.
Our youngest, Sadie, is a believer. She wonders and imagines; dreams and transcends. She asks questions about the ethereal without knowing it. She wants to know about the meaning of life and how and why people live and die. She thinks about how relationships are made and broken. She is befuddled by homelessness and hunger. Her wisdom is deep and otherworldly… and even better, she doesn’t think highly of herself for her extra sense about the world. She just is; just as the world just is.
She was only eighteen months when my mother, her Bubby, died and yet, she is sure she knows her. She looks like her and seems to be as intrinsically connected with her, as clearly as her face resembles my mother. Indeed, she is a believer in all kinds of ideas that go further than the finite.
And so, Sadie, last winter asked if Santa would visit her. Before my wife and I could answer, our older two children pounced, “C’mon, Sadie, you baby, Santa is not real. Santa is not real and neither is the Tooth Fairy.”
My protective instincts acted before my rational faculty fired up. “Sadie, don’t believe them, they are just giving you a hard time. Of course, Santa is real. Don’t ever stop believing what your heart tells you,” I emphatically voiced.
My wife looked at me with a stare that asked, “Now, what are you going to do?” I looked at my older two and whispered, “Don’t you dare say another word!”
I thought the whole thing would just go away, since we still had days of vacation in front of us. It didn’t! Every day, Sadie would ask more questions. She particularly wanted to know how Santa would know that we weren’t home on Christmas. How would she ever get her present if we weren’t at home? I was all in. I assured her that Santa knew everything.
We arrived home a few days after December 25th and I had already written her a note from Santa and purchased a bottle of shells and sand (she adored the Pacific Coast beaches and thought Santa would get that) from the airport gift shop. When we arrived home, I ran upstairs with the first suitcase and placed the letter and gift from Santa in her room. She came into the house and went searching. She found it and cried in bliss. She said, “Daddy, I was right. I knew it was true and look at the beautiful note Santa left me. He said that he knew I was Jewish, but because I believed in him, I also got a present, just like my Christian friends.”
I wondered if I was spiritually confusing my child. Judaism is part and parcel of our familial cadence. I know my parenting skills can always use honing, so I didn’t want to cause more problems than I do by way of everyday parenting. But somehow, it seemed spiritually clear. Her relationship with the mythical was age-appropriate, helped her delve deeper into her sense of wonder and was not about a choice between Original Sin being true for her or not; nor about if the Messiah had risen once already or not. Instead, it was somehow about a connection to that which will ultimately make her feel safe and connected to the possibility of the unknown, to the potential for her to feel sure in the world of the mysterious.
I believe that the ethereal world will lend her depth and confidence; surety and direction. I know she will get so much of that through her Jewish practice, but denying her temporary sojourn seems antithetical to everything we want for her spiritually. (Can you tell the rabbi is trying to convince himself?) I am guessing, like the Tooth Fairy, this will play out only for another year or so.
But, in the meanwhile, a year later, another Christmas has come and gone. And, wouldn’t you know it, Santa came for another visit. Sadie made him cookies and milk. And sure enough, Santa left a small gift for her (not her non-believing siblings), a letter, which assured her of some important messages from her Bubby, and our late dog, which made certain to her that her he is okay with us getting our new puppy this coming weekend.
This is the letter Santa wrote to Sadie:
December 25, 2017
Dear Sadie Rose Gewirtz,
Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and Happy New Year!!!!
I know that Christmas is a Christian holiday, but because you believe in me, I have decided to come visit you along with all of the Christian children.
You have been such a good girl this year. You care so much about the world and about people. You wonder so much about how the world works and about what will make the world a better place. You have such a deep heart and you think so deeply.
Don’t worry about anyone else…. just be the very best you can be and that will be enough. You are such a beautiful person, inside and out. You are so smart and incredible and lovely.
Keep on doing your gymnastics and acting and reading… it seems to make you so happy and it makes everyone else so proud also. I hope you are proud of yourself.
By the way, I ran into your Bubby the other day and she told me that she loves watching you grow up and she loves that you look just like her. She loves that you think so much and write so much and wonder so much. She told me that she was just like you when she was a little girl. She told me to tell you that you should keep on being you because she is so proud of you.
She says that she is so excited for Kobi to join your family. She has seen Cooper lately and he said he is so excited for you to have Kobi also.
Keep on dreaming, sweet Sadie, and keep on loving your donuts.
Thank you for the cookies. They were the best of any treat I have gotten this Christmas.
I love you!!
I asked Sadie what she wanted to be when she grows up yesterday. Without missing a beat, she confidently said, “I want to be a rabbi, Daddy!”
Go figure. The wisdom of babes!Read on Wisdom Daily
What Can We Learn From Larry David’s SNL Performance?
November 7, 2017
With the title of this space called, “The Wisdom Daily”, I have to admit that I fret that little wisdom can be found in a discourse about Larry David’s appearance on Saturday Night Live this past weekend. And yet, there has to be something to learn from his display and all of the reaction it has engendered.
I am a devotee of Larry David’s. I find that his grinding, relentless observations give me a chance to laugh at life in ways that I don’t enough. He gives my wife and me a chance to giggle together throughout the week, simply by reminding each other of the previous week’s episode.
And, I am also devoted Jew. I am a rabbi who tries to do what I can to teach a relevant, thriving brand of Jewish spirituality and wisdom. While I don’t believe that the Holocaust should be the sole director of Jewish thought and action, we can’t help but to be influenced by its still daunting shadow. I am privileged enough to be able to spend meaningful time with aging Holocaust survivors in my congregation and their stories imbue me with some of the most significant lessons of my life.
As well, since my father was barely first generation American, for someone in my early fifties, I am much closer to the Holocaust than many of my contemporaries. My father lost twenty-four first cousins and he was informed of my Great Grandmother’s death by first-hand account of relatives seeing her head rolling down a Ghetto street. (By the way doesn’t this sound like I am preemptively apologizing for what the rest of what I am about to write?….that in itself is a commentary on how fearful we are to weigh into this conversation without having enough actual blood and skin in the game).
Perhaps the wisdom in this discussion; and in a day and age where we find it hard to have difficult discussions without putting our lives on line, is to ask some questions on the matter.
I ask questions and admittedly, some are leading and all are laden with apologetics because, frankly I fear that we are less and less able to have complex conversations. I fear that I should label this piece with a flashing “Civility Alert” to beg you to see underneath the layers.
I know this seems cut and dry. Everything about the legacy of the Holocaust by way of how we honor the memories and live the lessons is paramount to our beings. And so, on that level, of course it is cut and dry. But the rest of everything, including this debate has some subtlety to it. Just because we wonder and ask the questions doesn’t make us horrible people who have forgotten to Never Forget. It just means that we can hate hate… and still expand our horizons on all levels of thinking.
Maybe after all of these years, we have come to find out that Larry David is a self-hating racist. Perhaps, we have come to find out that Larry David was trying to make a more important point and he struck out worse than he ever has before. (Up to you to decide) Perhaps, we are rip-roaring angry because he crossed a sacred line that should never be crossed (I certainly felt nauseous). And perhaps, we should just check ourselves and our anger to make sure we too don’t over-contribute to the cloudiness of a time where it is harder and harder to find wisdom because we are erasing the color of discourse and complexity.
Taking a Deeper Look At Larry David’s Performance
- Why were so many offended? David crossed a line. Of course, he did. To even joke about such a horrific time in our history is to defile the memory of innocents who died in the name of the worst kind of bigotry and hatred and animalism our world has witnessed. To do so is to diminish the solemnity and honor we must bring to the darkness of that chapter in our history.
- And yet, is there ever a time to laugh about horror? Does it ever help to assuage our rough contours by bringing laughter to dark matters? There are many accounts of laughter by Holocaust victims and survivors, even about their then current state, which served as an ingredient which lent some hope in order to survive. I didn’t find David’s humor so funny, but I wasn’t offended that he tried to make us laugh at something on its face that there was nothing to laugh about. I have seen others make us see the absurdity through humor as a way of uncovering even more so how absurd and upside down the situation was for the poor victims. Perhaps, humor actually highlights the horror in a manner in which other vehicles cannot.
- Is there a statute of limitations on when we can laugh again after something horrible has happened? I am not sure and I am only asking. But what do we think? Can we as Jews make fun of the most horrific time in our history without being self-hating Jews? Might we become less self-hating because we are able to make fun of ourselves? I know better than to compare suffering of one people to another. But I have watched other cultures, races and religions poke fun at their own suffering as a way of recounting and internalizing, without trying to offend their own sense of self and history. And, I will admit, I have found myself laughing with them. How about you?
- Is it possible that David was having a bad night? Perhaps, he was on to something deeper that he hadn’t worked out thoroughly enough about our sense of Jewish shame when horrible things have been done by Jews. I don’t know, but it felt like there was an awkward segue that he attempted to make about the coincidence of the number of Jews who have been accused of harassment, his own uncomfortable relationship with women and thus, the bizarre accusation that desperate, unhealthy men might even be sick enough…. unhinged enough on their journeys that they would even attempt to come on to women who were fighting for their lives in Hell. A predator surely wouldn’t distinguish. Again, I don’t know. I am only asking because for years, some of us who are so offended by David, are the same who have applauded his ability to pick apart the ridiculous in every layer of society, religion, race, gender and orientation. Is he a self-hating Jew who has finally outed himself; or was he trying to brilliantly uncover something horribly uncomfortable and missed badly on the comedic spectrum?
What does your deepest sense of wisdom see? I am looking for mine as far and wide and deep as I can.Read on Wisdom Daily
How A Distressed Fawn Revealed My Daughter’s Fear Of Abandonment
May 15, 2017
I consider myself a pretty caring human being. And, at the same time, I try to balance practicality with my commitment to compassion. This past week, both sides of that spectrum were challenged.
A neighbor showed me that there was a fawn lying in my backyard. It is not a rare occurrence to see deer where my family and I live, but never have I seen a baby deer simply resting by itself. It seemed like it had just been born within hours.
I am as “city” as they come. I was born and raised in Manhattan and I hadn’t a clue what to do. I called Animal Control and they said I had no choice but to leave it there (not that I wanted to touch it and do anything with it for that matter). They told me that the mother probably got scared off and that she would be back to collect her baby. They said that we humans are not to interfere with nature or the mother deer would become confused and not know how to find her offspring.
I felt badly for the poor creature, but, honestly, I had a busy and intense day at work so I was happy to forget about it and get on with my schedule. I sent a picture of the fawn to my wife with a message about instructions from Animal Control and went about my life.
I forgot about it. That is, until I got home to the sound of a crying fawn. His cry was that of a newborn who was hungry and cold and needed attention. My own children are old enough that I forgot how the agonizing whines of a baby could pierce the soul. And, I walked into the house to find my nine year old daughter a mess.
“Daddy, what are we going to do for the baby deer? We can’t just leave it out there.” I was exhausted from a day in which I was dealing with real people with real problems. I frankly wasn’t interested in the fawn and was more annoyed than upset that folks from Animal Control were wrong in their assessment of the situation. Now, I had a misplaced fawn in my back yard and a really upset nine year-old daughter on my hands.
We called Animal Control again and this time, since it was after 8:00 PM, there was a message which instructed that, unless it was a real animal emergency (i.e.: a dangerous bear, coyote or raccoon), that we should call back in the morning. Deer are a menace, a neighbor explained, but not an emergency.
My daughter, Talia, wanted to go to all lengths. She wanted us to take the fawn in for the night, feed it, tend to its needs like a baby. “Mommy and Daddy, how can we just sit here and do nothing?” she cried.
We hugged and consoled her and told her that there was nothing we could do. We tried to explain to her how nature had taken its course in a manner which forced deer to search for food in human confines. That didn’t work. We explained that we could not interfere with the natural process; that the only chance was to leave the fawn so the mother could come and fetch her child. That didn’t work. We explained that we couldn’t feed the fawn because it was too young to eat human food and that it would hurt more than help. That didn’t work. There was nothing to say and so Talia’s compassionate heart cried out to the cadence of the simultaneous cries of the fawn.
She told us that we were cruel and we didn’t care about the breathing life of all beings. It was brutal. My wife and I not only started to feel more badly about the abandoned baby deer, but also wondered what was burning so harshly in the heart of our child. Finally, Talia whimpered, “How could a mother just get up and leave her baby alone? Mothers don’t do that. They are supposed to take care of their children.”
And now, we understood. Not only is our daughter an exceedingly caring young being (and she is…her compassion knows no bounds), but she was also playing out, through the life of this fawn, her own deepest fears. Talia is separating at her own pace when it comes to summer camp, sleepovers and the like. We wondered about what was going on inside and, then, through the metaphor of this poor deer, she blurted it out.
No child wants to be left behind by their parents. What would happen if she were, God forbid, to be left alone? The thought was unbearable. It is for me also. On some levels it is for any of us. And, of course, in the real world, we are all left. We all have to separate. We all have to grow up. We just pray it happens on our own terms, in our own time. And, we hope that it comes with love, compassion and the palatable amounts of associated pain.
We all went to sleep that night to the sharp sounds of the crying fawn. By morning, the crying stopped. My wife went down as soon as there was light. The crying stopped, but animal control was wrong. The mother hadn’t returned and the baby deer died.
Talia was not far behind my wife in checking on the deer. We thought she would be hysterical. But she had already had her catharsis. She was resigned and she even seemed to have a sense of perspective on the difference between her life and that of the fawn.
The day was replete with learning. Talia reminded us that the every breath counts….and we should never ignore God’s creatures, even if we can’t do anything. The intention of compassion itself changes our own sense of character. And, we saw her more closely and deeply…and hopefully helps us help her with the natural separations which inevitably come our way in this journey of life.Read on Wisdom Daily
A Prayer For The President I Didn’t Vote For
January 19, 2017
Yours has been a unique rise to power. Your candidacy was unconventional, your manner disruptive and innovative; your path, unlikely.
You are the topic of every conversation I hear up close and afar. Some are full of excitement and others worry in their wondering anticipation.
I am no different than my fellow citizens. I also wonder and worry and hope. But today, I….and I invite the people I lead, to pray for you.
Dear President Trump,
My Tradition encourages me to pray for our appointed and elected government leaders.
You are indeed the President of our United States. You were elected by the system, which has elected presidents since our inception as a Nation. The success of your work would be a good thing for my family, people and me. I will not participate in denying your legitimacy as our president because I have abhorred the actions of those who have done so to President Obama the past eight years. Obstruction for the sake of itself eats away at our already ailing democracy.
Because I am an American, I will utilize my liberties to let you know, vociferously, when I support you and let you know even more so when I don’t. I will mobilize every resource at my disposal to advocate for you when I believe you make our lives better and will mobilize even more so when I believe that you are leading us astray. Not for the sake of political partisanship, but for the sake of good and decent ethics and values.
But, for today, I do what my people have done over the millennia. I pray for you, President Trump.
I pray for the health of your body, Mr. President. I pray for your health so that you can endure the rigors of running our country. I pray that you sleep enough to be clear minded, eat balanced enough so you have the energy to make it through each day; and take care of your physical vessel, so that you have the fortitude to navigate the weariness of being demanded in ways you have never experienced before in your life. So, Mr. President, I pray for your physical health.
I pray for the well being of your family as well, Mr. President. You have sacrificed a lot of your time, as you have built your business and now you will be pulled away in the most taxing ways. I pray that your youngest son is able to maintain the same level of privacy and respect children of the White House have received in past years. I pray that your wife and adult children will love and support you in ways, which help you serve our country. They, too, will sacrifice in the next four years. They too will be under acute scrutiny. I pray their boundaries are maintained and protected. I pray they are able to maintain integrity in your family business while maintaining the same distinction of integrity and honor in maintaining separation between government being government and business being business. Indeed, President Trump, I pray for your health and the health of your family.
I pray for the health of your mind, Mr. President. I pray that you are able to stay focused on that which counts the most. I pray that you are not diverted by the chaos that is politics. I pray that you are always able to prioritize what it is that counts most to the 300 million Americans you serve. I pray that you remember that you are now the leader of the Free World; that your words count in ways they have never counted before. The language, which leaves your lips, is not superfluous; indeed, it will move markets, stop and start wars and open and close businesses. Your verbiage will encourage people to either understand or dismiss one another; to believe in hope or cultivate our darkest impulses. I pray that you measure your words and be slower in your tweets. I petition that you pause more, wait before you respond and remember that we need you, not to entertain, but to inspire, create opportunity, cultivate partnership and make us believe that any of us can live at the top of towers overlooking Central Park.
I pray, President Trump that you remember that you have less to prove as a president and more to show as a human being. You have appeared on every newspaper and magazine, won prominent awards and mingled with those on high. I pray for your clarity of mind to see that your finest accomplishment would be for you to meld together the disaffected world into which you have tapped, with other parts of our nation who search for a better day. You could be more famous than you ever imagined if you but see all of us as made from the same Maker, the same primordial source, the same well of human beauty. I pray that your mind continually finds perspective and subtlety; diversity of opinion and character; varying scopes of knowledge and insight. You will need every single facet of your mind to work in sync and then you will be successful… and so will we.
Finally, I pray for your spirit, Mr. President. I pray that you let your soul be the biggest part of you. I pray that you are granted with depth of spirit in a manner which allows you develop the thickest skin of your life. People will continue to shoot arrows, but allow your spirit to be magnanimous and generous. A big spirit makes for a small ego. A small and healthy ego makes for a generous heart. A generous heart makes for a brave soul. A brave soul makes for openness of community. An open community makes for creative productivity. A productive nation will make for prosperity. Prosperity and love will make for a grateful nation. A grateful nation will make for a fulfilled president. And so, I pray that your soul become bigger than your ego and that your skin becomes thick…. toughness will come from a deep spirit; not from bravado.
Yes, I pray for your spirit. I pray for it to give birth to deep wisdom, discernment and insight. I pray for your spirit to be touched by all kinds of people, especially those who have been made to be afraid. I pray that your soul be touched by the sense of “otherness”. The “other” is you and me and everyone we know. A grand soul recognizes that difference can augment and not diminish. I pray that your spirit see underneath the surface; deep enough that you only deem anything or anyone evil when you have mined the depths of the matter. Protect us, please, but not at the cost of ripping apart our fabric. You are uniquely positioned to embrace the weak in a way which could change us for the better and forever. Your spirit can achieve all of that, Mr. President. So triple down on your own spirit and I will pray for it and you every day. That can be our covenant.
I didn’t vote for you, Mr. President. But, you are the president of the United States. And thus, you are my president. You can change my life for the better. You can change our fractured country for the better. You can change my family’s life for the better. You can change our world for the better.
I don’t yet believe in you, but please don’t be offended or get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I don’t pray every day for your body, mind and spirit.
I pray for you, Mr. President. I pray from the very bottom of my own mind, body and spirit.
May my prayers be answered.
And may God Bless You and the United States of America.Read on Wisdom Daily
From Standing By To Understanding: Black Lives Matter
April 30, 2015
I have been in and out of sleep all night. I wake automatically reaching for the remote to see if it has gotten any worse. I hold my blanket up so that only my eyes can see, pretending somehow that if I cover enough of myself, only parts of the news will infiltrate my soul. It’s too late, though. All of me is infected. All of us are infected.
Baseball, the telltale sign of hope springing eternal, played in a silent Camden Yards – fans locked out for fear of violence. Curfews have been set; people of all ages locked in their homes by 10 p.m. Barricades made up of police in riot gear; with the U.S. military to reinforce the line against resistance. Armored vehicles, automatic weapons, jail-vans there to swoop in for fear of violence. This is not Baghdad. This is the American city of Baltimore.
We pretend to engage in national conversations about race, but we only superficially engage in dialogue until the coast is clear and we can return to what we hope is normal.
I am both tired and frightened. I am tired because the scourge of racism runs deep and wide through our national fabric. For all of the progress we have made, it feels these days that we keep regressing. Because everyone has the ability to take video, we see what seems to have been hiding in the shadows: a reckless disregard for people of color.
I still believe that there are many more good cops than bad ones in this country, but way too many feel they can shoot now and explain later. People of color are mowed down like animals, and then the country is dismayed at the outrage of protesters.
So, I am tired, but I am also scared that the chasm between understanding and hate, between outrage and justice, has grown so wide, that one of our beloved cities is going to blow up like a powder keg. We wonder if our own city will be next. We wonder, when we see people whose color is different than our own, what they are thinking….and what we think of each other. We pretend to engage in national conversations about race, but we only superficially engage in dialogue until the coast is clear and we can return to what we hope is normal.
We are paralyzed by our fear because we really don’t know how to make the “other” into “self.” We talk like we do, but we don’t and can’t – because the truth of the “other” is too painful to bear. So, millions in our country hibernate in the guise of understanding, while one city after another takes turns on the carousel of injustice and ensuing anger, violence and square-offs with the authorities. We feel like we have to take sides.
Baltimore will calm down, just like Staten Island did; just like Ferguson did; just like South Carolina did. But make no mistake; the nation is simmering and our fear-filled paralysis in the midst of the heated waters will only add to the potential of the next explosion.
Last week, I was one of ten rabbis (#tenrabbis) invited into a new space for the world of religion. It was called the Disruptive Innovation Anti-Summit, part of the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards and Tribeca Film Festival. Some 800 people from various fields gathered to continue dedicating themselves to disrupting the same old ways of doing business, in order to find the agility to create anew. In the world of ethics and justice, the possibilities are endless, if we but only feel liberated to unshackle ourselves of old ideas, and ready ourselves for the new.
I was reminded at the conference that moral courage can still change the world. It’s rare, but within all of us. I was reminded that those who are most courageous are those who have the capacity to feel the most compassion for those who are different. I was reminded that when bystanders get involved, the world does indeed change. I was reminded that when we see racism, we have the responsibility to act. And I would add that when we look in the mirror and see our own hate that we can’t help but feel, that we say it out loud until we understand its source. We need to say it out loud to ourselves and eventually to the people for whom we feel the hate.
Perhaps most important is what I learned at the event from innovative filmmaker Jason Silva, host of National Geographic Channel’s Brain Games. He teaches that what we create, creates us. As we grow into the world, the world grows into us.
The world is waiting for our honesty, our truth, our compassion, our action, and our ability to step up and act. What we put into the world is exactly what we will become. This is our choice. It is time for us to disrupt the old and dangerous pattern and create anew, so we can bring justice and peace to all communities.
It is on us.
This post was first published April 29, 2015, on My Jewish Learning.Read on Wisdom Daily