It isn’t the cake. Not really but sort of. It is the
connection and the laughter; it is the planning and the execution; it is the
hands dirty and sticky. It’s the math and the sequencing; it’s the magic of the
kitchen and the tidbits of conversation unrehearsed and unexpected. It’s what
happens when you bake together adapting as you go along, the goal that moment
when iced and plated we are ready for the picture.
This is the third Fourth of July bake off that Tali and I
created. Each year a different cake but
every year a patriot’s theme. The first year it was the flag and we learned
that not all food colorings are created equal. So the red of our fist cake
batter was more maroon and the blue more of an aqua than navy. The second year
we went for the fireworks and as you cut the cake red white and blue M &
M’s cascaded to the plate, an homage to the rockets red glare.
This year we called it deconstructed. We showcase the guts
of the cake, with red white and blue sprinkles peeking through, the frosting an
afterthought. Or another way of putting it: The truth of America in 2019 can’t
be hidden under a parade of icing. Who
will this country belong to? Who will this country welcome to its borders? How
will this country rekindle its vision and promise for the America of many
different cultures, colors, heritages and traditions? We wanted our cake to
ask: What is really great about America: the confectionery coating of a puerile
patriotism or the gore and guts of you and me who want an inclusive, fair and open
But enough of the cake and its politics, it is the
experience of forming memories together – It is the love, love, love as
powdered sugar coats the counter. It is Jacob doing the math and Corey doing
the critique and Dani offering support, missing Sammy and Maya at camp. It is
ignoring how much butter is in buttercream. It is life at its best. It is thank
you to Momofuku Milk Bar for posting their recipe.
I have been watching the commemorations of the 75th
anniversary of D-Day. It has been touching, poignant and important. I loved the
red, white and blue flyovers the Normandy beaches and seeing Queen Elizabeth on
the podium in Portsmouth. I was grateful that President Trump was respectful.
But the stars of the moment were the surviving veterans themselves. Some of who
had never been back to this place that changed the course of history and saved
the world from Nazi tyranny and atrocities. This place that claimed the lives
of thousands of young, brave men who sacrificed themselves for us, yes for the
lives we lead and the future our children can look forward to is indeed sacred
I tried very hard not to personalize this celebration of
courage. Until I heard the clip of the President being interviewed on British
TV by Piers Morgan when he said that he never was a fan of that war, ”I’ll be
honest with you. I thought it was a terrible war. I thought it was very far
away.” I can’t believe he really said that. But then again we are becoming
calloused to the things he says.
Vietnam was very far away. It took me three plane rides to
get from Newark, NJ to Ton Son Nhut, Saigon. I wasn’t a fan of that war either
but I didn’t have bone spurs that kept me from serving. Funny they don’t seem
to keep him from playing golf. I was lucky though. I served as a Chaplain and
even if the war had little or no meaning my role there did. I could feel what
it meant to the Army, Navy, and Air Force soldiers that there was a Jewish
presence there. Someone cared; someone listened; someone brought a taste of
what Judaism meant to them wherever they were.
We didn’t win that war. We didn’t even have the high ground
morally or politically. We sort of knew it then but we sort of didn’t also.
They told us we needed to stop the Red Menace. They told us we were fighting to
preserve the freedom of the South Vietnamese. We didn’t want to believe that we
were killing children and that dropping Napalm from the sky was a necessary
How different were the wars and how different the experience of the returning soldiers. But none of that takes away from the 90 plus year olds who returned to Normandy and to the place where they waded ashore or dropped from the sky to fight for us. And none of that takes away from the rows and rows of crosses and stars in the American cemetery. And none of that takes away from the most fundamental of all facts: America salutes you.
I recently started taking an online course with Billy Collins (me and I don’t know how many other people). It is through a website called Masterclass and for $80 bucks I got to watch and listen to 14 or so lessons with this wonderful poet who provides not just his guidance but also a workbook with homework. I am far from finished with it but today we examined a Shakespeare sonnet. It was the most traditional of all the lessons.
The workbook challenged you to create your own 14 line sonnet, reminding you to keep the iambic pentameter rhythm going. It didn’t need to rhyme, he said but I thought if I am gong to try it, gotta go the whole way. Here is my first sonnet. it is far from William’s and it is far from even close to perfection but for some reason I thought I could share it with you. It just might be the start of a new series of “posts” some of which rhyme and some of which tell pieces of my truth. We will see how brave I am.
Along the way three men arrived Singing running in multi color dreams Winking yesterday really did survive Stars fading stripes falling white becoming cream
Fluttering the wind caresses the screen The morning breaking the sun alive Each sound a message or a story mean Day is born gone the men and all that’s fine
Alone I sit blessed to be alive awake Pressing keys of black and white Letters become words sentences to shake My thoughts and feelings rarely right
Sun rising my words broken truth A highway of meaning no end but proof
Tom O’Brien and I are excited to invite you to join us on an interfaith Israel experience that we will lead in late April 2020.
We have worked hard to
make it inclusive for those of you who have never been to Israel before and
diverse for those of you who are returning for another time.
Our lens is the faith
and life of Jesus and his followers and the traditions and culture of Judaism
and the Jewish people. We will see Israel as a thriving modern country
struggling with its multi-cultural identity and as a place where history and
stories of miracles and Biblical heroes merge.
We will not forget the food, the wine, the art and the beauty of Israel as well.
Our dates are April 18-30, 2020.
We have lots of information and particulars – just email me at email@example.com – We would love you to join us.
Howard in orange jacket not walking on water: Sea of Galilee
Tom (carrying blue jacket) with Howard: Western Wall
The end of year’s New York Times magazine section is my favorite. Since 1996, it has been dedicated to “The Lives They Lived”, people of some fame whose lives impacted the world they colored and enhanced. They choose an interesting mix of people. Some famous; some people who struggle through life with ups and downs, successes and failures, repeated attempts to resolve something unfinished in their lives. Always striving these are people of accomplishments but not necessarily the kind that leads to the fame or fortune we expect of front-page New York Times obituaries.
Among the people I am drawn to is Sylvain Bromberger. In 1940, a 15 year old Belgian Jew, he and his family were granted visas to travel to Portugal by the then unknown Portuguese consul general named Aristides de Sousa Mendes. Mendes defied the Portuguese’s government’s directive and saved tens of thousands of refugees fleeing Hitler. Severely reprimanded by his government Mendes died in poverty and disgrace in 1954. Over the course of his life as a professor at MIT and a philosopher of science, Bromberger wanted to know “why”. Why was his family saved? Why is the earth’s circumference 24,901 miles? Why questions he teaches us uncover the hidden and reveal the unknown, link what is seemingly unconnected. Bromberger dedicated one of his books to Mendes.
The people remembered don’t live perfect lives. Who does? But somehow their accomplishments are tied to their challenges; their successes are bound up with their defeats. One thing they all teach me: there are so many ways to make a difference. These people take the raw material we call living, shaping and fabricating it into a story only they can tell. Well that’s not 100% true. Sometimes the raw material of life formats them. And the plot is not always pretty.
When I was a young rabbinic student I remember taking inspiration from a traditional source and writing: “Everyone is born unique into this world; every soul is sacred.” I still believe that. We all have a purpose whether divinely ordained or a combination of genetic material modified by our environment, or both.
Anne V. Coates was a film editor. She won an Oscar for “Lawrence of Arabia”, discerning through her art that Peter O Toole’s blue eyes are an oasis in the desert and the Arabian sun is as much a star as Omar Sharif. She worked through more than than 30 miles of footage. Her genius was finding the right cut and freezing it into eternity.
There is a reason we are alive. Tonight a ball drops in Times Square at midnight. It will finish its descent with the numbers 2019. Sylvain Bromberger would ask us to find time this year with why questions that would help us discover the hidden arc of our lives. Anne Coates invites us to run the footage of however many years we have lived and find the clip worthy of an Oscar. Not melancholy but celebration. Not disappointment but enchantment. Not sadness but joy. Each of us is on a journey towards infinity. The lives we live are the most precious gift the universe bestows.
Last night we turned the clocks back an hour. And people celebrate with an extra hour of sleep. I am not that lucky. I am up early every morning no matter what time I went to bed or what time the clock says. So I did what I love to do on Sunday mornings – put on some music and read the Sunday Times. The music I choose often depends on my mood but it has to be readable. Today I chose my Vietnam era music playlist.
It probably has something to do with the image of an African American Pastor from Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC and the Tree of Life Synagogue’s Rabbi standing face to face, arm in arm, in the three-column picture on the front page of the paper. But the music did not resonate. I picked two other playlists and then resigned myself to the one I call “folk music I like”. It has a lot of Simon and Garfunkel. You know: “Hello darkness … Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio … Like a bridge over troubled waters …”
I haven’t finished the paper yet but I have seen at least three articles on anti-Semitism and two full-page ads. The ADL leads with “Never Again. Never is now,” while an article not very far from it asks: “Is It Safe to Be Jewish in New York?” So I hate to say this and I hate to think this but I ask, what is turning back in America? It isn’t just the clocks. It is the sense of complacency and comfort that it can’t happen here. I used to say: America is different. America is an experiment in understanding. America is one of the only countries where there has never been a pogrom.
Technically that is probably still true. (A pogrom is usually associated with an organized or government sponsored massacre.) But a massacre this was and I believe that some responsibility lies with how much vicious hate rhetoric spews out of the head of our government. The clock is teaching. We are falling back into racial and religious divides. We are falling back into anti-immigrant rifts. We are falling back into the rule of violence and we better wake up. It can happen here. It did happen here. The question is what do we do about it.
By not being complacent.
By being aware.
By examining ourselves and our unspoken prejudices.
By forging alliances.
By breaking down walls.
By breaking the silence.
By talking about it.
By calling out hatred and prejudice whenever we see it or hear it.
By calling our elected officials to task.
By exercising our sacred civic duties and getting involved.
By not taking anything for granted – neither our faith, our freedom or our future.
This is not a criticism; this is not judgmental. This is me just saying the truth that is in my heart.
So many of us are posting Facebook pictures of different stripes and colors that all share a similar message – we are proud Jews; we are one with the Jewish people; we stand against anti-Semitism; we grieve with the martyrs of Tree of Life Synagogue; we thank the First Responders and honor them for their bravery. We change our cover pictures. We put up Stars of David that say how proud we are and sad we are and how much we need to vote. (And that includes me.)
And it is all-good.
I mean that.
But it is not enough. Tonight I am attending an Interfaith Vigil at Temple Beth Am in Jupiter. If that is too far from your house or place of work our Jewish Federation and community is offering another one at Temple Shaarey Shalom in Boynton Beach. They both take place at the same time: Tuesday, October 30th from 6:00 – 7:00 PM.
I am going because I believe we need to be together. I am going because I believe we need to be in a Synagogue even if we don’t believe. I am going because I believe I need to stand with my non-Jewish neighbors and say with my body and my presence:
There is no place for hatred in this America.
There is no place for racism.
There is no place for homophobia.
There is no place for xenophobia.
Muslims are welcome here. Jews are welcome here. Christians are welcome here. “This land is OUR land…”
And I could go on. Facebook and Instagram posts are good. But they don’t take the place of face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder, hand-to-hand meetings.
All this: Find the right place for you and go. Meet me at Beth Am tonight.
Don’t let the haters define our country. Don’t let apathy win. We know what happens when good people stand idly by and believe it can’t happen here.