November 16, 2018

Man, G-d and the Great Conundrum

On Wednesday evening, Sept 20th, Jews ushered in the Jewish New Year. The first day of the Semi-lunar Calendar month of Tishrei commemorates 5,778 years since the Biblical story of the creation of Mankind as recorded in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis. As part of New Year celebrations many attend a local synagogue and read the liturgy of prayers, hymns, supplications and confessions. For others, the holiday is simply a reunion of family and friends over dinner festivities. Bread and apples dipped in honey will be eaten, accompanied by reciprocal wishes for a sweet New Year. The agnostics, atheists, and believers will convey good wishes.  

Merubim Tzarchei Amcha. Plenty are the needs of your Nation we proclaim. Indeed!

Oh Lord the Omnipotent:

May the heart surgeons have much success, may the elderly have healthy hearts. May the litigators find work, may the businessmen have no conflicts. May the unemployed find jobs, may the employers have a leaner staff. May the veterans be honored, may all war cease.  May the academics attain tenure, may the universities have a more innovative workforce.  May the plumbers keep busy, may there be no leaks. May the retailers thrive, may the consumer save online. May the teachers attain wealth, may private education be affordable. May the dentist have patients, may our children have no cavities.  I envy you not, My dear G-d.

Oh Lord the Omniscient:

May our leaders speak truth even just once, long live our political leaders. May the markets rise, may the short sellers see another day. May our pensions grow, may our posterity cease to fund them. May those mourning find solace, may mortality strengthen us. May the pharmaceutical companies make discoveries, may humans experience eternal well-being. May humanity achieve a solar powered world, may the oil drillers find work. May the auditors pore over our books, may the regulators resign. May our taxes be reduced, may the roads be paved. I covet you not, my dear Father.

Oh Lord the Omnipresent:

May the incarcerated be redeemed, may crime disappear. May the winds blow on the high seas, may the islands survive their wrath. May the coal miner have their sustenance, may we breathe cleaner air. May the mail carriers relax, may the packages arrive on the weekend. May the ski resorts have an abundance of snow, may there be no blizzards. May the flight attendants find empty seats, may the airline shareholders receive large dividends.  May the hotels be full, may all Airbnb listings be oversubscribed.  May the policemen protect us, may there be no arrests. May the rich share graciously, may there be no poor.

To the Undertakers we say, “Go out of business, but not quite today.” For to whom would we turn when our lives expire?

I lose no trust in you, my dear Master.

For the atheists there are no answers, for the agnostics but a few, for those of us who still consider ourselves believers, there are meant to be no questions. But mortality and the human condition have overtaken us. Can we truly resolve with absolute conviction that you will work this all out?

I seek optimism in those around me. I lean over and glimpse at the diversity of our people.  I hear the believer expressing a heartfelt cry. I notice the agnostic shrugging with a mix of anticipation and despair. But then a flicker of hope emanates from the soul and pierces the heavens. I hear the atheist softly praying, not for himself of course, but for the rest of us that line the pew.

Shmully Hecht is the Co-founder of Shabtai; the Jewish Society at Yale University.

Just 10 days to make a life complete

Photo courtesy of Warren Potash

Ever dreamed about a singular event changing your life for the better? For me, it took place Sept. 18, 1972, on the steps of my synagogue, just outside of Philadelphia.

It was Yom Kippur, I was 22, and I noticed a beautiful young woman I had never seen before. We stared at each other through the rest of the day’s services.

When we left, I turned to my friend David and asked her name. “Millie,” he said, “but she is close to being engaged.”

Weeks later, I was planning to move out of our family’s home and into an apartment with a friend. As I walked into the house, my mom said Millie had called twice. I said that I did not know a Millie. Mom responded, several times, “You really need to call her back.” Nothing more. (Little did I know that our mothers knew each other from the beauty parlor.)

I called and my first words were, “Hi, but I don’t know who you are.” She replied, “We stared at each other on Yom Kippur. Why didn’t you contact me?”

I told her what happened — that David had said she was close to getting engaged. “That isn’t true,” she said. “He always wanted to date me and is probably jealous.”

We spoke for an hour and I asked her out on a date on Saturday night, four days later. The next day, however, she called and said a friend needed her to drive to State College — a few hours away — but she would go only if I agreed to go out on Monday after work. I said that would be fine.

So, a little more than a month after first eyeing each other from afar, we met. It was the last Monday night in October. While neither of us was a film buff, we decided to see a movie. Too bad it was “Deliverance.”

Despite the unforgettable horror of the movie, I wasn’t thinking about it when I dropped off Millie afterward. My brain was in overdrive. It was like we had known each other for years. It was so easy to talk about anything.

Our next date was two days later on Wednesday night; we grabbed a bite to eat at a diner. That weekend I took Millie, 19, to her first hockey game, the Chicago Blackhawks versus the Philadelphia Flyers. I already had the tickets — the one I gave to Millie was originally supposed to be for a friend, but he understood.

I don’t remember which team won, but I’ll never forget how we sat in the top row at center ice of the Spectrum arena and I explained the game of hockey to Millie.

The following week we saw each other on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights after work. Driving back to Millie’s house on Wednesday, we parked outside and spoke about many important things.

Before I walked her to the front door, I spontaneously said, “I am not afraid of getting married.”

“Me, too,” Millie said.

“Let’s get married.”

She responded: “YES.”

In just 10 days, my life had changed for the better.

I ordered Millie’s engagement ring and gave it to her the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving. We were married on June 24, 1973. (It would have been earlier, but the shul was booked!)

Now, 44 years later, our life together still never gets old.

Millie has made the bad times tolerable and the good times better. We have worked together and I never tire of being with her. She is the love of my life who has been the most wonderful wife, mom and treasured friend.

Last year, some words popped into my head — “Just 10 Days to Make a Life Complete” — and I decided to commission a song for Millie. Lucky for me, I came across a talented folk-rock singer/songwriter/musician, Natalie Gelman, who took my thoughts and turned them into a song that we recently presented to my wife.

It was a wonderful surprise — and a lasting reminder of a quick courtship that has proven everlasting.

Looking back, it still amazes me: The best decision I ever made was also one of the fastest. 

Warren Potash trains athletes and lives in Moorpark.