Tag Archives: mitzvah

Pidyon Haben

by Gerard Sarnat (Portola Valley CA)

“Every first-born male among your children, you must redeem.”

— Exodus 13:13

Redemption’s a primitive mitzvah commanded in

the Old Testament to occur on my grandkid’s 30th day

when a Kohen from the priestly patrilineal tree of

Aaron is handed 5 silver shekels by the boy’s father.

While our alternating amused and distraught daughter

nurses off in a dark corner, ultra-orthodox little girls

clothed from head to toe wrap garlic + sugar cubes

in gold lamé lace bags that their subjugated mother

hangs for kenahorah-poo-poo-poo knock on wood

good luck to shoo away devils — after which she checks

that the fancy sheitel covers her wifely shaved skull.

Compared to the newborn’s bris with the mohel

hacking off the infant’s foreskin, this ain’t nothin’.

But having successfully bit my tongue, all said & done

till the next one, these rituals reinforce why I’m an atheist.

Gerard Sarnat has spent time as a physician and social justice protestor in jails,  built and staffed clinics for the marginalized, and spent decades working for Middle East peace. His work, which has appeared in over seventy magazines, including Gargoyle, Lowestoft Chronicle, and The American Journal of Poetry, has recently been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

For more information about Gerard Sarnat, visit his website: GerardSarnat.com.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under American Jewry, Family history, Jewish, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, Judaism, poetry

Shabbat in Rehab

Janice L. Booker (Malibu, CA)

“Shalom” I called through the open door. 

The couple stopped and turned toward the door in one movement.  I beckoned to them and invited them to come into my room.

It was my first day in a rehab center following orthopedic surgery. 

The couple was clearly Chabad.  I could be sure of that from the man’s worn but pressed and clean black jacket, shtreimel hat, and the ubiquitous payes – grey sidelocks cascading over his ears.  The tzitzit were clearly visible below the hem of a starched white shirt. 

His wife, a fading beauty, wore a long sleeved print dress and a brown curly sheytel (wig.)  It was late afternoon on a Friday and I assumed they were making loving kindness visits to Jewish patients.

After a few moments of friendly conversation, the woman offered me a miniature challah from a bag which sagged with many more.  Her husband told me proudly that she rose early Friday mornings and baked one hundred of them to distribute to patients in hospitals and nursing homes.  He examined the lighting in the room and explained how I could use the switches to simulate Shabbat candle lighting and gave me the exact time.  I don’t know if this was a Chabad pilpul decision or if our creative Talmud makes these allowances, notwithstanding the lack of electricity.  We are clearly a people who make it possible to adapt ritual under any circumstances.

I was in the rehab center six weeks. They arrived punctually every Friday afternoon with the challah and the time to light Shabbat candles.  I had asked on their first visit if they spoke Yiddish as it is always a source of great pleasure for me to converse in that artful and descriptive language, so he and I had very satisfactory conversations in Yiddish.

On my last Friday night in rehab I told them I would not be seeing them again as I was going home the next day.  My husband was in the room and the Chabad gentleman asked him if he would put on tefillin (phylacteries) in thankfulness for my recovery.  My husband replied, somewhat embarrassed, that he had never done that.  The man answered, “Well, then, it will be a double mitzvah,” and my husband, much to my surprise, said “of course.”

The gentleman put a kippah on my husband’s head and wound the phylacteries around his fingers, his arm, all in the prescribed ritualistic process, and placed the box that contained bible verses on his forehead in the centuries old appropriate manner.  My husband repeated the prayers and the tefillin were removed.

After the couple left with many good wishes, I turned to my husband and said, “I’m shocked that you, a lifelong skeptic, agreed to put on phylacteries.”

“How could I refuse,” my husband said in a soft voice.  “They were so gentle and sincere.”

Janice L. Booker is a journalist, author of four books, including The Jewish American Princess and Other Myths, an instructor in creative non-fiction writing at University of Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia radio talk show host, and a free lance writer for national publications.

2 Comments

Filed under American Jewry, Jewish identity

Two year anniversary since my father died….

by Linda Cohen (Portland, OR)

After Linda’s father died in December 2006, she began her blog, 1000 mitzvahs, as a way to move through the grief that she was feeling at that time. “It has proved to be a transforming experience both for myself and my family,” she writes. “This mitzvah project has allowed us opportunities to talk more about my father, doing mitzvahs and sharing more family stories.” The numbers below refer to the number of mitzvahs that she has performed since starting the blog.

Today is December 1, 2008. My father died two years ago today. His death also coincides with my son’s birthday which turns out to be a wonderful blessing. Solomon was so excited today to turn eight. I had left three gifts on the table and he was so happy to find them when he woke up. Later, he confessed to me that he had peeked into one of the bags while I was still asleep. When he opened the presents he never let on that this was the case. I know sometimes my husband and I wonder if our kids really need one more toy, but today Solomon was so grateful for everything that he received. There were some baseball items (hat and cards), PJ’s, Legos, several gifts of money but his most favorite gift was a boxed set of Chaotic cards. He had been coveting them for weeks at Target and I was excited when I snuck them to the cashier without him seeing a few weeks ago. He was shrill with excitement when he opened them and saw what was inside.

I spoke with my stepmother today and she had gone out for dinner with my stepsister and her family. They ate Chinese food, told stories about my dad and toasted him. Officially in Judaism, you commemorate or have someone’s “yartzeit” on the Hebrew date of their death. So I have decided that even though it is sometimes easier to remember the English date, I want this date to remain Solomon’s special day and I will light a candle in memory of my dad next week on his yartzeit, December 8th. I am sure my dad would want it this way too.

820) Referred a friend to a colleague of mine for some services.

821) Have you ever offered to do something and then really wished you hadn’t? You might wonder why did I offer to do that? I had one of those moments this weekend and was even contemplating how I could get out of it. It was kind of a misunderstood offer that would require about an hour of my time which in itself was no big deal, it was just that it was in combination with my son’s birthday party on an already busy day. In the end, I just figured I should make the best of it and did, and you know what? Attitude is everything because it turned out to be exactly what I needed at that time of the day.

822) Offered to drive two children to Solomon’s party to help out the parents.

823, 824 & 825) Donated a gift certificate to a Mitten Tree project, as well as coordinated a donation of hand creams and purchased some baby clothes for the project.

826) Brought new magazines to my gym to donate to the reading area.

827) Donated in memory of Rabbi Gavriel and Rivkah Holzberg of Mumbai, India.

Linda Cohen considers herself a young, hip Jewish mother who does what modern Jewish mothers do. They bring the traditions into the 21st century. They take care of their families, their communities and get involved with organizations they care for passionately.

Linda feels blessed to be married to her insightful “renaissance” husband. She’s also the mother of two spirited and exuberant children who keep her laughing and always keep her humble. They all live in Portland, Oregon with their Cavalier Spaniel.

You can read more about her work at http://1000mitzvahs.wordpress.com/ where this piece first appeared. It’s reprinted here with permission of the author.

Leave a comment

Filed under American Jewry