Posted by Chava Tombosky
Meir: You know who my favorite figure in “Fiddler on the Roof” is?
Me: No, who?
Me: Why is that?
Meir: Because he was just a good dad trying to protect his family.
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September 22, 2010 | 6:34 pm
Posted by Chava Tombosky
A few nights ago I went to see “Eat, Pray, Love”. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a movie of this introspective caliber got made. The script clearly defied the typical outline of today’s movie making recipe for telling a story. Usually when a movie is made there are three vital characters. The main character who the story is about, the dynamic character that goes on the adventure with the main character and the opponent who messes with the main character’s experience. What was interesting about this film, was that the dynamic character changed with every different country the main character arrived in, which is hardly ever done in movies, and the opponent character was the main character herself, rather than another person with an evil plot and a twisted view on life. She was her own worst enemy when it came to finding her own self happiness and her own self enlightenment.
After reading the book and watching the movie, I came to realize why I love this story so much. It is the perfect human recipe. I realized after experiencing this month in particular that Eat, Pray, Love is all of our life stories. We spend a lifetime practicing the art of searching for that self-enlightenment in every Jewish ritual we are fortunate enough to partake in.
We begin the Eating part on Rosh Hashanah, the head of the new year, as we taste the sweet fragrant candied honey shmeared on the tart apple. We continue with a day of introspection and prayer on Yom Kippur. Much like Elizabeth, I also found myself fidgeting during the prayer service and trying my darnedest to concentrate on the words and the meaning of the melody vs my to-do list and my list of grievances that were clearly interrupting my praying groove. Unfortunately I didn’t have a young Indian girl to focus on who was freaked out about marrying a stranger, but I did find it helpful to focus on the friends and family in my life who need a better year than their last. And finally, we enter Sukkot which is all about love as we are embraced with joy and love by Gd’s makeshift hug he calls The Sukkah.
As the holidays come to a close, may we all continue to experience our own Eat, Pray, Love stories. Lucky for us, we don’t have to wait a year, as we are fortunate enough to tap into it each week with Shabbos, reminding us, that eating, praying and loving can be duplicated and practiced on a regular basis. We don’t even have to fly across the world to find it.
In light of all of that, I am still having a harder time this year in finding the joy for this year’s Sukkot holiday, being that my dear father isn’t here to taste my sweet and sour cabbage borsht that was his favorite, so I asked my husband to share his own thoughts about the ability to find joy even in a time that may not feel so joyous. Funny- enough, he watched “Eat, Pray, Love,” and was also fascinated that this film got made, stating- “It was the most boring chick flick, that you have ever made me sit through.” But I made it up to him when I made my very own home-made pizza the following night for dinner. As they say in Italian, “Delizioso!”
A big thank you to my dear husband who took the time to write this beautiful essay, and to my late father-in-law Reb Aaron Yisroel Tombosky, of Blessed Memory for inspiring our joy even at times when a joyous smile can seem difficult to muster.
TEARS OF JOY
By, Rabbi Robbie Tombosky
Every Jewish holiday has it’s own unique characteristic and hallmark. It is through this hallmark that we are able to connect with the spiritual energy of that holiday and channel the blessings of that holiday into our lives and our daily existence.
Our sages have taught that the hallmark of Succoth and Simchat Torah is the characteristic of Simcha – joy and happiness. The Torah actually commands us on three separate occasions to celebrate the holiday of Succoth and Simchat Torah with joy. In our prayers we refer to the holiday as “Z’man Simchatainu” – the time of our rejoicing.
While happiness and joy are truly a wonderful hallmark for this holiday, the commandment to experience happiness and joy seems to present a very practical problem: What if one’s life circumstances do not lend themselves to feelings of happiness and joy?
After all, many of us may be experiencing real and significant challenges, hardships or pain during the holiday of Succoth and Simchat Torah. So how can we be expected to experience joy while experiencing life challenges that seem to be antithetical to the experience of joy?
In truth, the commandment to experience joy on Succoth and Simchat Torah, in spite of life’s challenging circumstances, teaches us a fundamental lesson on how to experience life to it’s fullest and the secret to happiness.
However, to understand this lesson we must first understand the definition of ‘Joy and Happiness’. As a society, it is hard to find another emotion that is as misunderstood as the emotion of joy and happiness. In fact, a quick search for ‘Joy and Happiness’ in the self-help category of Amazon.com returns over 27,000 titles on the subject!
As we look to the Torah for the definition of ‘Joy and Happiness’ we find an intriguing Talmud (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 4:2) that states, “There is no joy greater than the resolution of doubts”.
This seemingly understated Talmudic statement holds within it the secret to true joy and happiness. Although a conventional thesaurus would say the antonym of the word happy is sad – the Talmud would say that the antonym of happy is doubt!
According to the Torah, the only bona fide obstacle to experiencing joy and happiness in one’s life is the experience of doubt and uncertainty – joy and doubt simply cannot coexist!
However, true joy and happiness can coexist with hardship, sadness and even pain.
I personally experienced this coexistence of happiness, sadness and pain in my own life just a couple of years ago during the Holiday of Succoth and Simchat Torah. My father, of blessed memory, fought a life threatening illness for the last twelve years of his life. Just before Succoth he finally succumbed to the illness and was hospitalized with the grim prognosis of only days to live. In respect for my father’s wishes to spend Succoth with his family, he was released from the hospital and allowed to spend the holiday at home under the care of home hospice.
It was a most sad and somber holiday; my father was unable to move more than a couple of feet at a time, he was on heavy medication and in constant need of oxygen as he fought for each and every breath.
Then something amazing happened.
On Simchat Torah, the pinnacle and climax of the holiday, we brought a Sefer Torah to the house so my father could participate in the Simchat Torah celebration. As my father rested in the easy chair, holding the Torah tight in his embrace, all of his children and grandchildren spontaneously and in unison encircled him and began to sing and dance!
As my father held the Torah close to his heart, with us dancing around him, his face shined with a smile so radiant that it seemed to originate in his soul, fill his heart with joy and then burst forth from his lips. And as his smile stretched from ear to ear, tears of joy streamed down his face.
The blaze of my father’s joy radiated so powerfully that it effortlessly ignited the joy of everyone in the room and we danced for what felt like an eternity – watching my father experience great pain, great sadness and great joy all at once!
After the dancing, I asked my father what he had experienced during the Simchat Torah Hakafah (dancing). The words that my father shared with me that night have become etched in my psyche; although he was sad to be dying and in immense physical pain – at that very moment, holding his holy Torah with all of his children and grandchildren dancing around him, he had a moment of clarity. A clarity that, if even for just that moment, removed all doubt and fear from his existence.
My father had a vivid realization that his life was significant and purposeful. A realization that, through his connection to the Torah and his meaningful influence on the lives of his children and grandchildren, his significance and purpose would continue on for generations to come. It was indeed that moment of clarity – the resolution of all doubt – that brought him the greatest joy.
Each and every one of us has the ability to experience that same clarity and joy this Simchat Torah, regardless of our current circumstances. With thoughtfulness and reflection we can each replace the vacuum of doubts, fears, and anxieties that cloud and blur our vision with the faith, clarity and purposefulness that is forever present in the depths and recesses of our hearts and souls.
And as we enter the holiday of Simchat Torah with a renewed sense of significance, meaning, clarity and purpose we can experience the truest joy that life has to offer – dancing with our Torah, on our holiday, with our children and grandchildren. And as we celebrate by dancing on earth, our fathers, mothers and grandparents will celebrate with us, dancing in heaven – with tears of joy streaming down their shining faces.
September 16, 2010 | 6:55 pm
Posted by Chava Tombosky
With this Yom Kippur leering at me like a large impending ruling, it became evident that I needed a serious shift in how I was going to look at this Friday night and Saturday. I’ve come to realize this can be a day that is filled with opportunity rather than an impossible conquest met by a surge of guilt I have received in past years from reading many sermons with familiar paraphrasing like “What we can learn from Aushwitz is…..”, “If the Pogroms taught us nothing else it’s….”, and my favorite: “Jews who sin don’t win, they get punished,” ouch! And what is it with Yom Kippur speeches needing a Holocaust tear jerker story anyway? Must every Yom Kippur service remind us that they hated us, they killed us, we sinned, and we might get punished again if we sin this year? Can’t we make it a little less impending? How bout a slide show of all our blessings? I’d like all the people in Synagogue who bought houses, new cars, got great jobs, found cute wives, met great husbands, had healthy babies, and had no one sue them to stand up and tell us about their awesome fortune coupled with a list of confessions of bad stuff they did. Wouldn’t that make for a more inspiring Yom Kippur sermon? I for one wouldn’t be hungry if I got that sort of joyous testimonial.
So it’s no wonder that Yom Kippur has always been a holiday that has filled with me and so many others, I imagine, with dread and fear. For so long it has felt like a day of reckoning for which I may surely lose. ‘Cause let’s face it, I surely sinned and clearly the punishment is waiting for me around the corner to attack me like a grim reaper (Heaven Forbid, pu, pu,pu, Chas V’shalom, knock on wood, and any other sayings that should take such bad ideas away from G-d- like he isn’t capable of thinking them up himself, and yet Gd willing, Imirtza Hashem, Bli-ayin horah I hope this Yom Kippur is the day with which I successfully make G-d realize I deserve a little reprieve for a better year than last. And YES I’M SORRY. I’m really really, truly, seriously SORRY.)
But it wasn’t until I shared this frightening nerve-racking- neurotic fear of Yom Kippur with my husband that I became enlightened to a new and better attitude. Rather than write his brilliant point of view for you all to observe, I thought I’d ask my dear husband to write his idea of what he thinks Yom Kippur is meant to be for us in his own words, a much better sermon than any Holocaust infested guilt plagued speech reminding us that yes, it can happen again, and threatening us that, yes we are sinners, and yes we will spend all day praying and fasting, and yes it may not be good enough- even if we break our fast on Lox and Bagels, we still might get what’s comin’ to us. Unless we sponsor the Lox and Bagels for the whole shul, then maybe we’ll be left off the hook.
So here is my sweet husband’s enlightening version of what tonight should bring us, and may we all have an easy fast with the knowledge that fasting the day can be an opportunity rather than a day of miserable fear with a lack of fortune at the end of the Yom Kippur rainbow.
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: By, Rabbi Robbie Tombosky (My Favorite Rabbi)
As Yom Kippur approaches people from around the world take a somber moment to reflect upon the year past and take stock of their lives. In fact, the very air we breathe seems to feel different today as we prepare for this most holy of days – the Day of Atonement.
Our sages have taught, the underlying principal of Yom Kippur is repentance and self-reflection - a day when G-d awakens his compassion for those who have sinned or gone astray; a day to make amends and turn over a new leaf.
Although the opportunity to achieve amnesty and forgiveness for our past iniquities is truly an ominous and precious gift – it also gives rise to a fundamental question.
If the raison d’être of our existence is to remain innocent and pure of sin then why do we put ourselves in harms way by actively engaging in the world around us? How can we ever hope not to err or go astray when we are surrounded by temptation? Simply put, if one wants to remain clean and pristine isn’t it counterintuitive to play in the mud?
If it is our goal to leave this world as pure and innocent as we were upon our arrival would it not make more sense to adopt a lifestyle of isolationism and insularism? How can innocence and purity be preserved in the oftentimes brutal pursuit of building one’s career, providing for one’s family, and acquiring financial security and wealth?
Furthermore, isn’t it somewhat hypocritical to stand before G-d on this Day of Atonement to ask for forgiveness for going astray once again this year? Didn’t we ask for forgiveness last year and the year before with a promise for better results? How can we stand before G-d again this year without feeling disingenuous?
In order to fully appreciate and understand the true nature of Yom Kippur we must first understand our significance as G-d’s partners in this world.
The true raison d’être of human existence is to engage in the world around us and imbue every aspect of our physical existence and experience with the intrinsic purity and goodness that each of us has been brought with us into this world.
Unfortunately, as in every mission of great importance, there exists an element of great danger and peril. As we engage in our daily activities we put ourselves at risk of losing our focus and of succumbing to temptation, jealousy, greed or fear. We are in constant jeopardy of becoming distracted, confused or disillusioned by our environment and the real pressures and stress of everyday life.
This is the secret of Yom Kippur.
The abstinence, fasting and repentance of Yom Kippur is not a punishment. The day of Yom Kippur is an opportunity for spiritual renewal and healing – a day that allows us to reconnect to the quintessential part of ourselves that is always pure and innocent, so we can continue our vital mission of sharing that part of ourselves with the world around us.
It is a day that G-d says to us, “I appreciate the sacrifices and the commitment you have made in being my partner and in doing my work in this world. I appreciate your monumental accomplishments. And I also understand the unfortunate casualties and collateral damage that are part and parcel of accomplishing our vital mission. Please don’t be dissuaded from continuing your mission! As you commit to being my partner for another year, and do your best to accomplish our mission with as little collateral damage as possible, I am committing to giving you complete amnesty for your mistakes – a new beginning with a renewed sense of energy and purpose”.
The gift of Yom Kippur is upon us and the opportunity to reconnect with our better selves is at hand. Let us pray that each and every one of us is blessed with good health and sustenance for the coming year – and the clarity of mind and purity of heart to be a good partner and become a part of something so much greater than ourselves.
Best wishes for a meaningful Yom Kippur.
September 8, 2010 | 10:20 am
Posted by Chava Tombosky
Tonight is Rosh Hashanah. Oh the pressure. ‘Cause if it’s not enough to deal with lots of baking, cooking and cleaning, organizing, and shopping, primping, and dealing, (look at me I sound like a pimp) you gotta also take inventory and face your own guilt, misconducts, culpabilities and wrongdoings. (Maybe I am a pimp?) As I go through my rolodex of sins that I am serving G-d on a silver platter this Wednesday night for him to excuse, I can’t help but think of some of my virtues I clearly managed to squeeze in between the gossip, evil plotting, and secret revenge schemes I had going for every Escalade driver that cut me off on the freeway, every teacher that yelled at me during carpool to get off my phone, and every salesman that stopped by my house during dinner time and homework to ask me if I would participate in a survey. And no- those don’t just take a minute!
It was Friday morning when my family learned that my dad was in the hospital. Within two hours we were on a plane headed to Chico for Shabbat. And like every Starbucks coffee house, which is plotted on every corner of the world, less than a mile away from the Chico hospital was a Chabad House. We called the Rabbi to inform him of our emergency, and of course, his wife had just come home that day from having a baby, so he invited all nine of us to spend shabbos with him and his family. This young couple was hugely inconvenienced, and clearly just adjusting to a new baby, plus three other small children, and yet without any hesitation at all, they accepted us with opened arms into their home last minute.
Please understand- we are not an easy bunch. We are emotional, we are loud, and we are quite honest about our feelings. To put it mildly, when we came home from the hospital that Friday night after witnessing our father’s untimely passing we weren’t shy about using expletives that I am sure this sweet Chassidic family had ever been privy to hearing before, let alone ever using. For if it’s one thing the Shallmans are not good at, it is composure during crisis. After crisis we are the best to have around, but during a crisis, we are a melodramatic hot-blooded tearful bunch (mostly it was me doing the hysterical rambling, but I feel better making it sound like it was all of us, so I don’t seem too insane. For sure you can exclude my brothers from this, mostly it’s my sisters and me. Okay it was mainly myself.) I really wanted to apologize to this family for having to deal with such an awfully awkward and unbearable shabbos. I felt so badly we disrupted their family time, this woman’s recovery time, this sweet Rabbi’s private time- of course I had clearly traumatized their children with my ranting crying fits. Leaving them a big check just didn’t seem enough. I really wanted to repay them with something, anything. But what do you get a family who has seen you at your worst, welcomed you into their home unexpectedly and even walked far in the middle of the night to deliver food to your family at the hospital? You pay it forward. Because if it’s one thing Chabadnicks do best, it is realizing that every good deed is there to pass on to another person in need.
This week I had the privilege of sharing in this couple’s gift they had given my family. I received a call from a relative who had mentioned her dear friend was flying into Los Angeles from Israel to be with his sister who was in hospice near my home and she had asked me if I would host her friend. Of course I was planning Rosh Hashanah, and a trip to Chico for my father’s memorial, but I remembered the Rabbi and Rebbetzin in Chico, and their kindness, and I did not hesitate to welcome my new guest. Upon arriving to my home, his voice crackled as he relayed the sad news that his sister had died that very night. I was so sad for him, and yet so very grateful that I could return the favor by sharing my home with him in this most difficult time, as Rabbi and Mrs. Zweibel had done for me not just one month ago. And because I had the privilege of having such great role models, I knew exactly what to do! I even offered him to use whatever language he felt like using to let off some steam. Funny, he didn’t have the urge to participate in any loud tirades that resulted in embarrassing outbreaks.
The gentleman sat shiva while staying at my home and I insisted his family come and stay with us for Shabbos as well. His niece and I cried over losing our parents in the same month. We laughed about the irony of circumstances that revolved around our good fortune to meet each other even if it was as a result of her mother’s passing. I even got to send over dinner to the shiva house and re-pay the favor of feeding mourners, as so many had done for my family only four short weeks ago.
In all my years, I have never ever had anyone stay at my home with his particular situation. What a strangely providential series of events that allowed for me to re-pay the greatest Mitzvah back before I have to go to the Big Guy tonight and once again beseech him as to why I deserve a sweet year and a large reprieve for that time that I secretly wished Josh the survey guy’s clipboard was run over by the Escalade.
September 8, 2010 | 1:35 am
Posted by Chava Tombosky
Me: “It hurts me when I do this….”(picture me moving my elbow)
My DAD: “So don’t do that.”
Me: “But it hurts when I touch my arm.”
My DAD: “So don’t touch your arm.”
Me: “Is my arm broken?”
My DAD: “I don’t know, try to move it.”
Me: “But it hurts.”
My DAD: “So DON"T MOVE IT!”
Me; “What kind of doctor are you?”
My DAD: “Guts and Butts. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s gotta do it.”
Me: “but it’s my elbow.”
My DAD: “Like I said, don’t move it, you’ll be fine.”
Me: “What if I die?”
My DAD: “You’re not gonna die. You’re alive today.”
Me: “What happens when we die?”
My DAD: “I don’t know much, but I can tell you this, life and death are like a two sided coin. On one side of the coin is life, and on the other side is death. One day we will die and go to heaven, and I promise you this, we won’t need money to pay for property once we get there.
September 7, 2010 | 1:34 am
Posted by Chava Tombosky
I admit I haven’t been as prolific as my usual. The truth is, when you’re mourning for someone you love, all you do all day is think about the person who you can no longer call, speak to, or hang out with. It is a deafening silence and although I have been trying to write funny or inspirational essays over the course of the last month, all I really feel like writing about is my dad. But let’s face it, who wants to hear me drone on and on about my father over and over again?
So I took a hiatus, hoping I would find something inspirational to write about other than losing my father, or my mourning, or the fact that I am consumed with grief. But the truth is, the only inspiration I am getting these days comes from a chubby bearded Doctor who died much too young.
Rosh Hashanah is coming, and the month of Elul is upon us. All month I have been telling myself to work on connecting to G-d, become more truthful about my own mistakes, take inventory…..bla bla bla. Again, all I can think about is a chubby bearded Doctor who died much too young.
So rather than fight this, I have decided to write about my father. For those of you who are sick of hearing about it, know that I plan on doing this until I get it out of my system. And if that’s annoying for you, well you can always go read something else. I’m not sure how long it will take. Maybe two or three essays, maybe a year’s worth, but for my own sanity, I must, must, must write about him. And if I don’t write about him, I am afraid I will never pick up a pen again. So this is the process of a grieving writer that you are witnessing. The process of a writer getting over life’s battles, the process of a daughter coping, the process of realizing the person who raised me, who lifted me up in my most difficult times, who always was there carrying me on his shoulders will only leave me properly if I write about him, and in doing so, I keep him alive, and in doing so I keep myself alive too.
One month ago, my father passed away in Chico, California where he was hired to work as their Head G.I (gastrointestinal….or as my dad liked to call it “guts and butts”) Doctor. He had only worked there for eighteen short months. It was a small slice out of his life. The hospital had invited my siblings and I to attend a memorial in his honor last week. I headed up there with my younger brother. We drove ten hours there and ten hours back. I was not happy about this trip. Mostly I was scared to go back to the very place my father died. I thought about the trip as a huge inconvenience and concerned it would set me back into a dark place. I kept making excuses in my head why I should cancel the trip. After all, the Chico folks hardly knew my father. What was the point? But at the same time, I felt as though I needed to go out of respect for my dad. He would have wanted me to go. So I went. Begrudgingly, I went.
Little did I know, I would be learning the greatest lesson about who my father truly was, and how important it is to “look a person in the eye when speaking to them,” as my father always told us.
My brother and I checked into the same hotel that my father stayed in those eighteen months. Without a beat, upon arriving, the hotel clerk said, “You must be Dr. Shallman’s children, you look just like him.” They continued to tell us how much they adored my father. How they had so many people coming in and out of the hotel, with some guests staying for two or three months at a time, but they had never come across anyone quite like Dr. Shallman. One clerk had said, “Many guests come and leave, and they never pay attention to us, but your father knew all of us by name. He spoke to all of us like we were the most important people in the world.” Tears swelled as one by one each clerk came out to welcome us to Chico with emotion and warmth.
We arrived at his memorial. Again, I was most shocked by the welcome. The room was filled with sixty or more people. Beautiful pictures of my father with his children and grandchildren were propped up on a table with rose petals, and a large white screen had our pictures floating on the wall with music playing. They lead us to the front. On stage sat a gentleman holding a guitar. He played “Happy trails to you until we meet again…” and sang a few other numbers that left my brother and I over emotional with tears.
The ceremony was filled with so many stories, and so many people sharing their memories. But here’s what surprised me the most, everyone that addressed the crowd and spoke about my father cried with great pain and anguish. Their loss was very real. These doctors and nurses see death and illness every day. They deal with loss on a regular basis. They only knew my father for eighteen short months, but their grief was raw, and it was authentic. They all said to have been so impacted by his greatness, by his sense of humor and by his calm and intentional composure that they all said his presence had brought them so much laughter and that knowing him made them better physicians, and better nurses.
One story in particular that was told by a nurse filled my heart with great understanding of who my father was and what made him so likeable. It was Thanksgiving weekend. No one liked to work on Thanksgiving, and my father was new to Enloe Hospital. He arrived in his sweet humble quiet way and gently asked one of the nurses to fill an order. The nurse was in a tizzy and overwhelmed by her workload and by the fact that her holiday was being disrupted. She yelled at my father and said “I’ll get to it soon, can’t you see I’m swamped here?!” My father was quite taken aback by her over-emotional rude response and stared at her in shock. A few minutes later, my father turned the corner to make a call on his cell phone. The nurse’s phone rang and she picked it up. “Hello,” my father said, “Could you page Dr. Seymour Butts, please?” The nurse was in such a state of agitation, that she hadn’t realized the obvious practical joke being played on her and started paging Dr. Seymour Butts on the loud speaker. After several minutes, disturbed and unstrung, and unable to reach “Dr. Seymour Butts”, she picked up the phone and replied, “I’m sorry but Dr. Seymour Bu-….” A smile crept on to her face as she realized what was happening. My father winked at the other nurses, everyone laughed, and Thanksgiving became a fun holiday filled with high morale and a change of pace the nursing staff had yet to have participated in. As this particular nurse recounted after telling over this story, “It was a love affair with Dr. Shallman ever since.”
My dad never took himself too seriously, and he always managed to keep life light and fun even in the most daunting of circumstances. Even with sick patients, which is why he could wag his chubby finger at his most beloved patient who was a double amputee and say, “Mrs. Smith, you don’t have a leg to stand on,” and completely get away with it. It’s no wonder the night my family arrived in Chico to say goodbye to my father, his attending nurse said, “It was a privilege taking care of your father. He treated everyone the same, and he will be missed.” This was the same response that everyone told us over and over. Security guards, orderlies, nurses, doctors, even hotel clerks. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me writing about him over and over. I know the people in Chico won’t mind it.
I hope this Rosh Hashanah, we all learn to laugh out loud at our mistakes and our shortcomings, and realize that life is too short to create unnecessary drama by dwelling on our imperfections rather than embracing them for what they are, necessary life lessons. May we all have a sweet new year filled with laughter, honey, and good food. And as my father would say continually throughout his lifetime, “It ain’t rocket science. Now let’s eat.”