Reflections in a mirror

The Place of Sorrow, the Sorrow of that Place by Craig Taubman


When my in-laws Charlotte and Dr. Eli Brent passed away last year, these words by Marsha Falk became a comfort.

“All things are born small and grow large –

except grief, which is born large and grows small”

A year later, these words still resonate – and yet, the loss continues to loom large. We know our grief will soften with time and we also understand that time is not in our control.

Initially, I found comfort in honoring their memory by embracing their life lessons. They were lessons modeled every day while they were with us, and lessons that still resonate in their absence.

 “What’s your price?”

“When a door is shut, open a window.”

“Don’t extinguish flames, light lights.”

As time slips away, I now hear their voices at unexpected times, like Wonder Woman. I’ve never seen a super hero movie, but when Gal Gadot’s mother Queen Hippolyta tells her daughter the following, all I could think of, was my wife

“You have been my greatest love.

Today you are my greatest sorrow”

I saw them in this season’s House of Cards episode 6 when President Underwood turned to the camera invoking these words by Professor Batty to Goofy on how to flip a coin for life’s most important decisions:

“Life is but a gamble.

Let flipism guide your ramble.”

I’m not sure if life’s a gamble, but this past year has certainly shown me that life is fragile, and death is the reminder.

I even saw Eli and Charlotte in a recent article about the terrorists who killed Israeli soldier Hadas Malka. One of the killers, posted a tweet stating: “We are all temporary. The world is not ours. We just walk in it and leave everything behind. God, assign our lives some good for which we shall meet you.” How a person can use this as justification to murder another is beyond me and yet, I heard Eli’s query, “So Craigo, what’s it all about? And I would answer, “I’m not sure.”

This I know. It’s good to still have them in my life in these unexpected moments. It affirming to know that the values they received from their parents to make the world a better place and pursue justice, have been passed on to our generation. It’s comforting to see our children embrace these same values as generous and kind people. I also know that life is fragile and death but a reminder.  I have not figured it all out, but I do know that love is the way in.

It always has been, it always will be.

Craig Taubman has left an indelible imprint on the Jewish American experience through his original compositions and live performances. His songs bridge traditional Jewish themes and ancient teachings with passages and experiences from contemporary Jewish life.

Craig has also enjoyed a successful career in television and film composing music for Disney, Fox, HBO, and PBS series. He wrote the theme music for the Coca Cola Olympic Pavilion, as well as the feature films Andre, Pinocchio, and Disney’s Toontown.

Having traveled for years meeting people from communities large and small, Craig – a natural “connector” – became passionate about bringing diverse people and cultures together. He branched out to plan and oversee the production of community building projects, including Friday Night Live, The Celebrate Series, Jewels of Elul, and in 2013 the Pico Union Project, a multi-faith cultural arts center and house of worship.

Craig recently released 30 Days, a Journey of Love, Loss and Healing, a unique package of thirty introspections from poets, faith leaders, artists, healers and authors, to help people on their journey toward hope and healing.

 Craig Taubman

craignco@aol.com

Get Inspired!

www.picounionproject.org

“love your neighbor as yourself”

 

Craig Taubman

Craig Taubman

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GAMLIEL INSTITUTE COURSES

LOOKING FORWARD: UPCOMING COURSE

The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, afternoons/evenings, in the Fall semester, starting September 5th, 2017. This is the core course focusing on Taharah and Shmirah, ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means.

CLASS SESSIONS

The course will meet online for twelve Tuesdays (the day will be adjusted in any weeks with Jewish holidays during this course).

There is a Free preview/overview of the course being offered on Monday August 14th at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST. Contact info@jewish-funerals.org or  j.blair@jewish-funerals.org for information on how to connect to the preview webinar.

There will be an orientation session on how to use the platform and access the materials on Monday, September 4th, 2017, also at 5 pm PDST/8 pm EDST online. Register or contact us for more information.

Information on attending the online orientation and course will be sent to those registered.

REGISTRATION

You can register for any Gamliel Institute course online at jewish-funerals.org/gamreg. A full description of all of the courses is found there.

For more information, visit the Gamliel Institute website, or at the Kavod v’Nichum website. Please contact us for information or assistance by email info@jewish-funerals.org, or phone at 410-733-3700.

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DONATIONS

Donations are always needed and most welcome to support the work of Kavod v’Nichum and the Gamliel Institute, helping us to bring you the conference, offer community trainings, provide scholarships to students, refurbish and update course materials, expand our teaching, support programs such as Taste of Gamliel, the Gamliel Café, and the Gamliel Gracuates courses, provide and add to online resources, encourage and support communities in establishing, training, and improving their Chevrah Kadisha, and assist with many other programs and activities.

You can donate online at http://jewish-funerals.org/gamliel-institute-financial-support or by snail mail to: either Kavod v’Nichum, or to The Gamliel Institute, both c/o David Zinner, Executive Director, Kavod v’Nichum, 8112 Sea Water Path, Columbia, MD  21045. Kavod v’Nichum [and the Gamliel Institute] is a recognized and registered 501(c)(3) organization, and donations may be tax-deductible to the full extent provided by law. Call 410-733-3700 if you have any questions or want to know more about supporting Kavod v’Nichum or the Gamliel Institute.

You can also become a member (Individual or Group) of Kavod v’Nichum to help support our work. Click here (http://www.jewish-funerals.org/money/).

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MORE INFORMATION

If you would like to receive the periodic Kavod v’Nichum Newsletter by email, or be added to the Kavod v’Nichum Chevrah Kadisha & Jewish Cemetery email discussion list, please be in touch and let us know at info@jewish-funerals.org.

You can also be sent a regular email link to the Expired And Inspired blog by sending a message requesting to be added to the distribution list to j.blair@jewish-funerals.org.

Be sure to check out the Kavod V’Nichum website at www.jewish-funerals.org, and for information on the Gamliel Institute, courses planned, and student work in this field also visit the Gamliel.Institute website.

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SUBMISSIONS ALWAYS WELCOME

If you have an idea for an entry you would like to submit to this blog, please be in touch. Email J.blair@jewish-funerals.org. We are always interested in original materials that would be of interest to our readers, relating to the broad topics surrounding the continuum of Jewish preparation, planning, rituals, rites, customs, practices, activities, and celebrations approaching the end of life, at the time of death, during the funeral, in the grief and mourning process, and in comforting those dying and those mourning, as well as the actions and work of those who address those needs, including those serving in Bikkur Cholim, Caring Committees, the Chevrah Kadisha, as Shomrim, funeral providers, in funeral homes and mortuaries, and operators and maintainers of cemeteries.

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Yeladim


Every year on the fifth of the Hebrew month Iyar (that day falls this year on May 7), Israel celebrates Israeli Independence Day to commemorate the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. Parties and parades are held all over Israel and the United States. Yom HaAtzmaut comes after the close of Yom HaZikaron, which is a day of remembrance and mourning for those who died fighting for the Israel. These days, we also remember those who have died in terrorist attacks. After the serious and sad activities of Yom HaZikaron, the mood changes from sorrow to celebration with the onset of Yom HaAtzmaut.

Moments of Silence


There were a lot of moments of silence this week.

There was the one early Saturday morning when you firstheard the news of the space shuttle Columbia’s disappearance. Whoever told you,whomever you told, there was that instant of disbelief, that moment when wordsfailed you.

As the reality hit, the white noise of wall-to-wall newscoverage filled our cars and living rooms. But off the air, the rest of us hadfew words to say.

The tragedy, which would have been awful under anycircumstances, stung Jews especially deeply. Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli inspace, was also the first Israeli to die in space.

As rabbis and their congregants filtered into synagogues forShabbat services Saturday morning, they entered shaking their heads, ready tocry, unable to express the sadness and loss. Synagogue turned out to be aperfect place to be.

A full-to-bursting schedule of planned events this pastweekend brought Jews together, where they could, among other things, be silenttogether.

Saturday night, just hours after the tragedy, Israeli ConsulGeneral Yuval Rotem and his wife, Miri, were honored by Pressman Academy Jewishday school at a ballroom dinner dance. It was a celebration singed with sorrow.

Organizers, said Rabbi Joel Rembaum, debated whether tocancel the music and dancing. They decided that, in the end, strength came fromboth mourning and celebrating. Rotem delivered a powerful eulogy for Ramon (seepage 9), whose picture stood propped up on the stage above a row of yahrtzeitcandles. There was a moment of silence, then, as the dancing began, PiniCohen’s band shared the stage with the smiling image of the astronaut.

Wherever Jews gathered this week, the rituals were similar.Sorrow, then business. Sorrow, then celebration. The image of Ramon — hispromise, his courage, his achievement — orbited each gathering.

At the annual meeting of the Jewish Historical Society ofSouthern California, held Sunday at the Japanese American National Museum, thehundred or so people gathered to honor Jerry Freedman-Habush began theirprogram with a moment of silence.

At a dinner Sunday evening for the University of Judaismhonoring Ruth Zeigler, UJ President Robert Wexler called for a moment silence.

Some 500 people attended the memorial service for theastronauts on Sunday at Adat Shalom synagogue in West Los Angeles. “It wouldhave been a tragedy even if Ilan Ramon wasn’t on board,” Rabbi Michael Resnicksaid. “We would have done something anyway. At difficult times we cometogether, we reach out for strength, for optimism.”

Resnick reminded the gathering of Ramon’s view from theColumbia. “There are no lines, there is just the world,” he said. “It becomesso clear that from space that we are one.”

At the home of Jean and Jerry Friedman, an elegant dinnerreception Sunday evening for some 200 major donors to Jewish education fromaround the country began with a moment of silence. And at a high-spiritedMitzvah Day organized by The Jewish Federation/South Bay Council, 500 peoplestopped to remember the astronauts.

One simple reason Ramon’s death provoked such deep reactionis that many people here knew him, and even more people felt as if they did.

Ramon’s death broke the hearts of students at ShalhevetSchool, who had sent Ramon a letter on Jan. 13, while he was still in orbit,thanking him for his achievement. “May you reach a clearer understanding of theuniverse through your unique vantage point on God’s creation,” they wrote.

Rabbi Mark Blazer of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita was aclose friend who celebrated this past Thanksgiving with the astronaut and hisfamily. At the end of the meal, Blazer had wished Ramon, “Nesiya tova,” Hebrewfor bon voyage. “I realized this was the first time I had ever said these wordsto someone going up into space,” Blazer wrote in The Daily News.

“It’s just terrible,” said William Elperin of the “1939”Club. “I couldn’t get him out of my mind all weekend. We were at his home inHouston and spent time with his wife and four children. He was such a wonderfulman.”

The “1939” Club honored Ramon in October 2000, presentinghim with a barbed-wire mezuzah symbolizing the Holocaust. The son and grandsonof Holocaust survivors took the mezuzah into space with him. 

Ramon’s picture adorned the walls of many Jewish schoolclassrooms. At Pressman Academy, educators added a prayer for peace and otherreadings in memorial of the astronauts, and students of all ages wrote e-mailsto the Ramon family to express their concern and thoughts. 

It was exactly a year ago that Kol Tikvah religious schoolstarted a letter-writing campaign to Ramon, sending him letters of support,following his progress and awaiting his visit after landing. Instead, studentswrote condolence cards.

At Universal Studios theme park, where Ramon went with hisfamily as a guest of honor during the park’s 2002 Chanukah celebration,employees remembered how Ramon had been scheduled to sign autographs for ahalf-hour. As the line grew, he refused to leave or even accept lunch untileveryone had a signed poster, nearly three and a half hours later. Ramon vowedto return after his flight so he could experience the park with his children.

Sarit Finkelstein-Boim had just seen Ramon when he served asone of the Executive Honorary Committee members for her installation aspresident of B’nai B’rith Shalom Unit. Her husband, Nahum, an aeronauticalengineer, was a friend of Ramon from the air force.

Carol Koransky remembered seeing Ramon at the GeneralAssembly of Jewish federations in Philadelphia this past December. Ramon satgood-naturedly through a program that ran on until midnight. When finallyintroduced to a much-dwindled audience, he came to the podium and said, “Goodmorning.” Then, Koransky said, he proceeded to astonish the audience with aheartfelt explanation of what his trip would mean to him as an astronaut and asa Jew.

For so many, Ramon was the poster boy for the ideal Jewishidentity. Two recently released surveys of American Jewish opinion found that66 percent of Jews believe anti-Semitism is the “greatest threat” to Jewishlife, 73 percent of Jews said caring about Israel was important. Half saidbeing Jewish is “very important” to them, while 41 percent said “being part ofthe Jewish people” defined their identity.

Here was Ilan Ramon to fill all those roles at once — awarrior, an Israeli, a proudly self-identified Jew who took a Torah and kiddushcup into space, a real-life mensch and a textbook hero.

The imagery of the catastrophe and its aftermath could havebeen a chapter from mythology. The heroes soaring through the heavens, theirfirey deaths as they sought to bring the secrets of the cosmos back to those ofus on Earth, the few sacrificing themselves for the many.

Not surprisingly, the memorials held in their honorthroughout the week, like President Bush’s initial announcement of thedisaster, shuttled effortlessly between the sacred and the mundane.

Ramon’s death was marked and mourned with such intensitybecause of how he lived his life, and because of how we dream of living ours.He asserted the importance of his Jewishness to his life’s mission,understanding that in serving his faith and his people, he was serving all ofhumanity; and in serving all humanity, he served his people.  

The Grief Counselor


In second grade, my alternative San Francisco elementary school gathered all the students together for a "share" session. It was a tiny school. We crowded into the library, where a teacher calmly announced that there had been a tragedy over the weekend.

A girl a few grades above me had lost her father in a freak accident. For some reason, I remember that this accident happened in Mexico, that the body was being shipped back. We were asked to be respectful and kind in this girl’s time of grief.

At this point, the only being I had ever lost was my tabby, Gobbles. This news, the thought of this girl never talking to her father again, how unfair it all was, just shorted out my 8-year-old mind.

I remember sitting in class saturated with sorrow for this shy girl I hardly knew and her father, a hazy image I created of a dead man stowed away as cargo on TWA. Biting my nails, feeling a clenched fist take hold of my stomach, I knew I had to take action; I had to do whatever I could to let her know how sorry I was.

And that’s where things went wrong.

My mother loved homemade cards. That’s all she ever wanted as a gift for any holiday, a card and maybe a poem. On her birthdays I usually got out the crayons and markers to draw a cake motif for the card’s cover. Valentine’s Day was a heart; Chanukah was a menorah. You get the idea. All at once, I had a solution, a way to communicate my condolences to this girl whose plight had me unglued. I did the only thing I knew how to do: I made a card. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was what to draw on the cover.

Staring at the nicked top of my wooden desk, I got an idea. I would render a tombstone with the letters "R.I.P." This I did, lovingly drawing in weeds around the base of the tombstone and perhaps a crow flying overhead. I was only 8. That was the only image in my death file.

By the grace of some power far beyond me, a teacher intercepted the card. She was kind enough not to shame me; she just swiped the card off my desk to some secret teacher place on her person, and it was never seen again.

All this is to explain why it’s been so difficult for me to write anything since Sept. 11. What if the way I express a sense of sadness and loss comes out all wrong? Experts say everyone grieves differently, but let’s face it, with this much tragedy in the air, there’s not much room for error. I’m afraid of being one huge talking crayon R.I.P. card — my heart in the right place, but my ability to project proper human behavior sorely out of tune.

I’m not an expert on anything, least of all the affairs of terrorists and their plots or the history of conflict in the Middle East. Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard brilliant oratories on heroism, on restraint, on national unity. I’ve also tuned in to a trio of DJs — let’s call them Flaky, Drippy and Johnny — giving the tragedy the "morning zoo" treatment: two parts uneducated cliché-mongering, one part trumped-up gravitas. The last thing anyone needs is for me to add my own uninformed cliché chain to the slag heap.

I’ve never been much good at talking about the big things. I usually don’t feel I have the right, especially in this case, because I didn’t lose anyone I knew personally, and so many people did. This leaves me only what follows.

The day after the towers came down, I saw a bus come to a stop in the middle of the street. A burly driver got out so he could move an injured pigeon from the road, cupping the bird in his big hands. A lemonade stand materialized on Larchmont Boulevard, manned by three girls not much older than I was when I drew that awful card. A crayon sign announced that they were raising money for the Red Cross.

Cars slowed down to let me cut in front of them. Merging on the freeway was graceful.

My elderly Japanese neighbor stopped by to show me her new American flag. "You don’t know what I’ve been through," she said suddenly, shaking her head and thinking back to her days in Japan during the war. I froze with the old panic of not knowing what to say. She began to cry, looking at her slippers, at my rug. I bent down to hug her in my doorway, not saying anything. I let her hug me until it was awkward, until it was her idea to let go.