Ruth Bader Ginsburg and 5781

Lighting storm over water, expressing shock of the day and the year

Beloved Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on the eve of a new year. As we all struggle to make sense of this year, it is capped with the overwhelming loss of a giant legal mind, and a formidable member of the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, 5781 arrives: with expectations for returning, reflection, and resolve.

Elul, the Jewish month preceding Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year, ends. My Elul broke and shattered by COVID-19 before this news. It is hard to be upbeat and joyous when it has been months since you’ve hugged someone who doesn’t live with you. The last time I saw a significant number of family members was during my uncle’s passing from this world to the next, in early June. 

Choosing joy

And yet, despite my anxiety regarding the future of my country, I am determined to find joy in this spiritual New Year. I am profoundly grateful to know my children on a deeper level than was possible before. Sinking into the depths of their innocence is a revelation. I do not remember ever being so pure and naive — perhaps because my siblings are five and seven years older than me; perhaps because James Bond and Poltergeist are two movies I distinctly remember from when I was their age. 

So we will dip apples in honey and wish each other a sweet year. We will continue to dream of all the adventures we will go one once this virus passes. The idea of a vacation involving airplanes and restaurant food for every meal enamors them.

A prayer: turning towards ourselves

I will have grace with myself and the world. Our lives turned upside down. Especially to my fellow parents: may we roll into each day with gratitude for the people around us and the village we know is near us spiritually. Let us not judge ourselves by the social media vision of other people’s lives. Let us resolve to be the best versions of ourselves we can be in this moment. And as we mourn what cannot be, let us find a way to relish in the companionship that is. 

Image by Benjamin G.E. Thomas from Pixabay

Indwelling of Eternity: 28 Days of Omer 5780, Shekhinah of Netzach

Today is twenty-eight days, which is four weeks of the Omer in the year 5780. שחינה שבנצח. Shekhinah of Netzach. Indwelling of Eternity, Presence of Endurance.

Sinking into Netzach is hard during physical isolation. The only eternity that seems real is my ennui.

Seeing both mortality and eternity with clear eyes

With over 250,000 COVID-19 deaths worldwide, it is hard to stay focused on the importance of every human life and the tragedy of every death. Compassion fatigue sets in. We begin to rationalize the world as it is, rather than remembering what should be. 

Tonight I forced myself to fully see the tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery. Made myself fully understand the fate of an unarmed black man jogging in broad daylight in his own neighborhood. He was murdered by his neighbors. Most news stories only detail the murderers’ claim of a “series of break-ins in the neighborhood.” Actually, there was just one robbery reported in the neighborhood: a gun was supposedly stolen from one of the murder’s car. None of the stories I read contained any details of the dead man’s life. 

To save a life is to save the world. For each person contains a soul and in that soul is an entire world. 

The news is not providing clear guidance on the importance of each soul lost. Nor is mass culture doing a good job of helping us navigate the meaning of life and death. 

Westworld v Mamet: What would you do for the ones you love?

Mostly I hate-watched Westworld this season. It is a familiar narrative. I made it through the exhaustion of watching humans murdered with abandon last season. And this entire season was devoid of emotional investment. At the end, I realized why: philosophical inquiry without soul is torture. I cannot care more for the death of a robot child than I do about the death of a human child. Being expected to have extreme sympathy for the loss of a robot child while accepting the death of a human child as a necessary, character-building, empathy-laden plot point broke me. 

On the other hand, one of the last plays I was able to see live, The Christopher Boy’s Communion, placed a sharp spotlight on what it truly means to be a mother during an unspeakable tragedy. I do not claim David Mamet’s latest play is perfect. Rather, he successfully focused the spotlight on people other than a crime victim. 

Westworld pretends to care about philosophical inquiry, but dismisses the notion of God. Conversely, Mamet is concrete in his belief and his spiritual foundation. If the Divine is merely a creation of men, then nothing is ultimately important. If Goodness and Justice exist beyond human mortality, then the choices we make in our lives have infinite meaning. For me, this is the difference between Westworld and Mamet: playing with infinite resources to create a world devoid of infinite meaning vs playing with finite resources to uncover the eternity underneath each moment. 

Prayers to make space for the Indwelling of Eternity

May we each be inspired by our cultural consumption to swim in pools of depth. Let us find meaning in our daily grind. I pray to remember my eternal embrace of my children, regardless of how irritating I find their penchant for mischief.

Indwelling of Eternity before COVID-19

5779 / 2019: Contemplating the Indwelling of Eternity through Shabbat and The Way.

5778 / 2018: The truth I am discovering was meant for me.

5777 / 2017: Your body is feeding the universe and will continue to do so after you die.

Splendor of Beauty refracted through COVID-19 death: 19 days of Omer 5780, Hod ShebeTiferet

Today was nineteen days, which was two weeks and five days of the Omer in the year 5780. הוד שבתפארת, Hod ShebeTiferet, Splendor of Beauty.

Meditating into Beauty While People Die

An incredibly beautiful soul gave up her fight with COVID-19 today. Rana Zoe Mungin, 30, was ignored twice before finally being admitted to a hospital. So it took three attempts to receive medical care for this brilliant Black woman to be seen. And then it took the full force of the Wellesley alumnae network to get her experimental treatment to have any sort of chance at survival. But it was too late. The racism she encountered in her fight against this virus took her life. 

Read Rana Zoe Mungin’s description of her life on the Wellesley Underground, an alternative Wellesley alumnae blog. Her sister, Mia Mungin, tweeted Rana Zoe’s fight for her life. Mimi Maciel, her best friend, posted a tribute to Zoe.

Nothing tells you more about my privilege in this pandemic than the fact that I can share this story with you, take several deep breaths, and talk about anything else.

Hod: creating a place to meet the Divine

In my imagination, the Divine Mother is not waiting for immaculate living rooms and sparkling bathrooms. She is praying for us to use our eyes to truly see the souls who surround us. The people whom we do not treat as fully human. The animals whom we treat as if they solely exist for our benefit. The earth we are shattering to gather more oil, not even stopping when we cause earthquakes far from the edges of tectonic plates. 

Splendor of Beauty: Deep Resilience Honoring the Spark of the Divine within Everything

True art sparkles with the spark of the Divine.
Deep love nourishes our recognition of the Divine.
The truth of being truly seen showers us with Divine energy.
Eternity reminds us that She exists beyond and within all that exists.
Discipline gives us the eyes to see the patterns of the Divine flowing through all. 

May we honor El Shaddai, embrace the Shekhinah, and always remember the importance and worthiness of each living being.
Rest in power, Rana Zoe Mungin. 

Other thoughts on Hod ShebeTiferet

5779 / 2019: The splendor of beautiful prayer envelops me.

5778 / 2018: Awakening to the temple of my body.

5777 / 2017: The holy splendor of leaning Torah.

Thirteen Martyrs

Thirteen people were murdered last week by white supremacists.

On Wednesday, Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Jones, 67, were murdered at a Kroger supermarket in Kentucky. Mr. Stallard was at the supermarket with his ten year-old grandson to buy posterboard for a school project.

On Saturday, eleven Jews were slaughtered at the beginning of their Shabbat services in Pittsburgh. Joyce Feinberg, 75, a research specialist at the University of Pittsburgh, mother and grandmother. Irving Younger, 69, a greeter at shul. Melvin Wax, father and grandfather, always in a good mood. Rose Mallinger, 97, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother; her daughter was injured in the attack. Bernice Simon, 84 and her husband, Sylvan Simon, 86; were married at the Tree of Life Synagogue more than 60 years ago. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, primary care physician and an early healthcare provider for HIV treatment. Richard Gottfried, 65, dentist who dedicated time to helping those without insurance and underinsured. Daniel Stein, 71, recently became a grandfather and attended Shabbat services every week. Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and his brother David Rosenthal, 54. Developmentally disabled brothers who greeted everyone who came to shul with a smile and a prayer book.

As my teacher, Dr. Rabbi Elijah Schochet confirmed, the slain Jews are Kedoshim HaShem, their deaths are a sanctification of God’s name, they are among the martyrs of Israel. We are commanded to choose life, and never to seek out death. Thus, Jewish martyrdom is not about choosing to die for your religion. Indeed, over the course of history, most of our martyrs were not given any choice in the matter. Now, I can understand that stating these murders are holy deaths can be disconcerting. As Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg points out, we must understand the context of their martyrdom and challenge the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States.

HaShem Yikom Damam. May HaShem avenge their blood. This is the traditional statement regarding martyrs. Wendy Kenin wrote a concise explanation of Jewish martyrdom in The Times of Israel, calling upon the wisdom of Rabbanit Sabrina Schneider.

There is a difference between avenge, the goal being justice and revenge which is angry retaliation. Even if in self defense a person kills an assailant, justice is in the jurisdiction of the Almighty.

It makes sense that the Jewish honorifics in these situations leaves the solution to Hashem the true Judge, similar to saying Baruch Dayan HaEmet or “Blessed is the true Judge,” which is a common term from our liturgy used after a person passes, sometimes with family members practicing the custom of tearing their clothing. But in the case of cold blood murder, it is an expression of our humanity to recognize there is an injustice that we do not accept when a Jew has been martyred while still maintaining faith in the ultimate outcome.

Rabbanit Schneider elaborates, “Jewish martyrdom is unique in that it isn’t something that the Jew seeks. Contrary to radical Islam, martyrdom is not glorified. Only G-d is glorified. Living a life in service to the Creator is what the Torah Jew ultimately seeks with the ultimate goal of perfecting all of humankind.”

More common honorifics for the deceased are “May their memory be a blessing,” or “May you be comforted among the mourners of Zion.” But for the anti-Semitic act of murdering Jews just for being Jews, we need a clearer statement that acknowledges the horror and injustice — one that does not invoke hate, one that does not perpetuate the cycle of violence, one that is inclusive of those sentiments of comfort, blessings, and faith. The phrase for martyred Jews already exists and has been in use for generations, “May Hashem avenge their blood.”

I reflect on this teaching because it is so painful that these murders are being shuffled away in the onslaught of the news cycle. I have felt the normalization of white supremacist rhetoric since Trump declared his candidacy. I have witnessed the rise in anti-Semitism, racism, and hate. And when a Christian wore a tallit and invoked Jesus before Vice President Mike Pence spoke at a rally yesterday, my political animosity boiled over. Like many Jewish Americans, I blamed Pence and his forceful evangelism for the slight. I seemed to be one of the first in my circles to learn that Lena Epstein, a Jewish Republican candidate for Congress, took responsibility for inviting the Jew for Jesus Messianic Christian as a sign of “religious tolerance.”

And as I signed off Twitter last night, I worried that I was letting my emotions get the better of me. I don’t want to speak out of anger. I want to transform my anger into righteous action that honors the souls of everyone around me, including people who cannot see how hurtful they are being. This is an important turning point for understanding the reality of the threat that surrounds us. Words matter. Choices matter. Three days after a massacre, allow a Jewish clergy person to stand up and say a benediction. Allow us to mourn our dead and acknowledge the horror and injustice, without invoking hate and without fake universalism. Each specific act of hate must be called out for what it is. Yes, thirteen people died last week at the hands of white supremacists. Two died because they are Black. Eleven died because they are Jewish. May HaShem avenge their blood.