Posted by Susan Esther Barnes
Yom Kippur last year was a mad rush. I went to services in the morning, dashed off to a retirement home to do a service for them, rushed over to the civic center to listen to a Q&A with Rabbi Doug Kahn of the JCRC followed by afternoon and concluding services, then to a restaurant for break-the-fast, only to collapse in bed at home before rising early to help build the synagogue's two sukkot at 6am.
It was too much to do, in too short a time. How is anyone supposed to engage in proper Yom Kippur reflection while rushing around like that? Part of it was caused by the fact that we have such a large congregation that we hold some concurrent services at the synagogue and the civic center, as well as some separate events at each location, but most of it was because of my own choices.
This year, it was different. I stayed at the synagogue all day. Yes, it meant I had to miss the healing service and the Q&A with Rabbi Kahn at the civic center, but it was well worth it.
After I helped to clean up the sanctuary following the morning service, I chatted with friends as families arrived for the children’s service. I sat in on the last part of the children’s service, and helped to clean up the sanctuary again.
Then, instead of rushing off for the healing service and the Q&A, I just sat outside the synagogue. I watched as the bustling crowds disbursed. I listened to a band practicing somewhere in the neighborhood. I eyed some almonds, presumably left by one of the kids attending the children’s service, abandoned on the bench nearby, and wondered how long it would take for the neighborhood birds to come eat them.
I chatted with the security guard, who’d gotten his job four months ago. He said, even though it was his birthday, this was his favorite assignment so far, because everyone here has been so friendly. He said at all his other assignments, people seem to be trying to avoid looking at him. In contrast, while guarding our synagogue, he experienced many people saying hello and thanking him for looking out for us.
I listened to the cars and the birds and the wind in the trees. Then, the musicians for the afternoon service started arriving, and I chatted with them, and other congregants as they arrived, until it was time to go back in for the service.
At the end of the service, we sang our way outside, where we did Havdalah and had the break-the-fast. I still waited for sundown before breaking my fast at a restaurant, and fell into bed exhausted afterward, but the next morning I didn’t have to arrive at the synagogue to start building the sukkot until 8am.
All in all, it was a much better way to spend Yom Kippur. It was much more restful, and allowed me the time I needed to slow down and to appreciate what was surrounding me. It was a beautiful island in time.
By the time you read this, my time of rest will be over. I will be, God willing, on my vacation, where I will be, appropriately, spending the holiday of Sukkot moving every two nights and sleeping in tents. As a result, I will not be posting anything next week, but I hope to report on my adventures the week after that.
May the new year bring you joy, rest, and peace.
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September 11, 2013 | 1:00 am
Posted by Susan Esther Barnes
On Wednesday night last week, Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael heard a powerful sermon by Juan Rodrigez. No, Mr. Rodriguez is not a rabbi. I have reason to believe he is not even Jewish. So what, you may ask, was he doing giving a sermon on Erev Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish High Holy Days?
As Rabbi Michael Lezak explained, it all started at the end of April last year, when Venetia Valley School, across the street from the synagogue, received a bomb threat. The school was locked down. No children were allowed out, and no parents were allowed in. So when Rabbi Lezak arrived at work that day, he found a crowd of worried parents in the synagogue parking lot.
Thank God, it turned out there was no bomb and nobody was hurt. But it made Rabbi Lezak realize that even though he’d been working across the street from Venetia Valley School for ten years, he had never crossed the street to visit them. Later that day, after things calmed down, he walked over to the school’s office with a big bag of Hershey’s kisses, and promised them he would be back.
Thus began what we hope will become a strong, long term relationship between Congregation Rodef Sholom and Venetia Valley School. Sure, we had donated school supplies to them in the past, but that’s not the same as sitting down with the school staff and talking about common issues and solutions. As Rabbi Lezak and Principal Juan Rodriguez got to know each other, they discovered we both have a lot to gain by learning more about each other and working together.
So, on Erev Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Lezak introduced us to Mr. Rodriguez, and he introduced Mr. Rodriguez to us. It was touching to see him wave to the crowded civic center auditorium, as many of us waved back at him. Then, he started speaking.
First, he told us about a girl in his school. One night, immigration officers came to her house, demanding to know the whereabouts of a man nobody in her home had ever heard of. After the officers became convinced that the man they were seeking wasn’t there, they instead took away the girl’s father.
The next night, the girl’s mother tried to get her to remove her backpack, so she could get ready for bed. The girl cried, and refused to take off the backpack. She said she needed to be ready, in case the men came back and took away her mother away, too. Despite counseling and repeated assurances, that little girl wore that backpack day and night for six months.
Next, Mr. Rodriguez told us about a brother and sister at the school. Their father has terminal stomach cancer, but he has no insurance. As a result, he has no pain medication. Every day, these two young children have to see their father suffering, in pain, as his condition worsens.
Last, we heard about community meetings that were held to discuss the traffic problem on our street. “I went to these meetings with the intent to try to do what was best for all the stakeholders,” Mr. Rodriguez told us, “and I assumed that’s what everyone else there was doing, too. But one evening, I explained how one proposed solution would have a negative impact on the education of the kids at our school. In response, one of the people at the meeting said, ‘What do we care? They’re not our kids.’”
It was a powerful message about fear, pain, and disrespect happening in our own community, right across the street. As Rabbi Lezak explained, that bomb threat was a shofar blast that reminded to us to open our eyes, to see what is happening around us, and to make sure we’re communicating with our neighbors. And, God willing, it was the start of what will turn out to be a beautiful relationship.
If you would like to make a donation to help kids like those Mr. Rodriquez spoke about, you may do so through the Venitia Valley Family Center.
According to their website, "The Venetia Valley Family Center is dedicated to helping support the parents and families of the Venetia Valley community to reduce any barriers to student success. The Family Center connects families to local resources – nutrition, housing, medical, dental, or vision care, health insurance access, counseling, tutoring, employment support, clothing, parenting education and leadership programs, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, childcare, enrichment, extended learning programs, and more. Family Center staff provide advocacy and referrals for individual families, as well as offer a comprehensive family literacy program, including home-visits, parenting classes, literacy workshops, special events, volunteer training, and capacity-building leadership opportunities. The goals of the Venetia Valley Family Center are to empower families to become full partners in the education of their children and to support the long-term goals of children and their families."
September 4, 2013 | 1:00 am
Posted by Susan Esther Barnes
One of the things I like most about the High Holy Days is it is a time to seek and to grant forgiveness. We are told that, during this time, God grants forgiveness for sins against God, but that for sins of one person against another, God does not grant forgiveness until we have made peace with one another.
It’s such a wonderful reminder that we must seek out forgiveness from those we have wronged, and that we should also grant forgiveness to those who apologize sincerely to us (or even, perhaps, to those who do not apologize).
The trouble is, I’ve heard a lot of very bad apologies over the years. Celebrities, in particular, seem to be quite skilled at issuing statements that masquerade as apologies, but really aren’t.
Below are a couple of this year’s examples, from Parade.com:
After calling Sandra Fluke a prostitute and a slut simply because she takes birth control pills, Rush Limbaugh said, “My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”
What’s wrong with this apology? First, he is not apologizing for saying disparaging things about Sandra Fluke. Rather, he is only apologizing for his “choice of words,” implying that it would have been perfectly okay for him to us different words to deliver a similar, demeaning message about her. Further, he says it was an “attempt to be humorous,” when anyone with any sense can tell you it isn’t humorous to verbally attack a person you don’t know.
At the end, he apologizes only for his “word choices,” never once saying anything like, “It was wrong of me to attack you in a public forum,” or, “I should never have assumed that I could discern anything about a person’s moral character based on their legal use of any prescription medication.”
Similarly, Angus T. Jones is quoted as saying, in an attempt at an apology, “I apologize if my remarks reflect me showing indifference to and disrespect of my colleagues and a lack of appreciation of the extraordinary opportunity of which I have been blessed. I never intended that.”
All he’s saying here is he’s sorry he might have been caught “showing indifference and disrespect” and a “lack of appreciation.” Any apology that contains the word “if” in it implies that the person thinks it’s likely they did nothing wrong – he doesn’t even seem to be sure whether or not the thing he’s theoretically apologizing for ever happened. And if it did, he claims he didn’t mean it.
It would have been better if he said something more like, “I’m sorry I said negative things about the show. It was wrong, and I apologize.” Regarding his “lack of appreciation,” he should have remained silent. It’s a red herring. What matters is he said negative things which he should not have said.
Below are some tips we can all follow in crafting a sincere apology:
Don’t imply anyone but you (the person apologizing) might be at fault. For example, don’t say, “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt.” The use of the passive voice implies the other person might be at fault for their own hurt feelings. Similarly, don’t say, “I’m sorry you took it that way,” or “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or anything else that avoids your own personal responsibility for what you said or did.
Simpler is often better. For instance, try, “I’m sorry I…” whatever it is you did. Then stop talking. For instance, “I’m sorry I said that to you,” or “I’m sorry I forgot today was our anniversary,” or even, “I’m so sorry I hurt you.”
The more you embellish, the more likely you’re going to say something to try to duck the blame. Remember, a real apology is all about taking responsibility for what happened. Trying to put the blame on someone else, or trying to explain the extenuating circumstances, or claiming you were just joking is not going to help. Just suck it up, apologize for what you said or did, and move on.
And remember, if you try three times to make a sincere apology to a person, and they still won’t forgive you, then you have done your part. God will forgive you even if the other person won’t. Because, as long as we have sincerely returned to the path of doing what is right, none of us should have to live in guilt.