Tag Archives: Shema

Sh’ma – On the Matter of Hearing

by Elliot Holin (Dresher, PA)

When I was a child, I loved hearing the phrase “Hero Israel” because it brought to mind such wonderful and powerful images of men riding horses across the desert, swords held high, whooping with delight, their robes billowing in the wind. I admit that my vocabulary was more limited then, but I am sure that the pictures in my mind were vivid. In time, my list of heroes expanded from Moses to Abraham, but I don’t think Aaron ever made it. He wasn’t even on the ‘B’ list, though I’m guessing that David might have been because the Goliath story was pretty cool.

You can imagine my stunned disbelief when adults got around to telling me it wasn’t “Hero Israel,” it was “Here, O Israel.” That called for a new way to frame the image, and so I quickly decided that it was a call to being somewhere, but where, exactly? Where is “here”? I understood it when the words were recited at our synagogue, but I also knew that friends of mine worshiped at other synagogues, so could “here” be “everywhere”? Yes! Now I understood what my parents and other adults meant when they told me that God was everywhere! Here, too, and there, as well! That certainly made the phrase that people said and sang with such fervor all the more personal. I mean, heroes from a distant past were one thing, but to say that God is “here” made the possibility of relationship with a God who cares so much to be “here” for me pretty dramatic and meaningful.

But then (here we go again), people told me that the word isn’t “Here,” it’s “Hear.” That was pretty deflating. I mean, I went from heroes, to God being “here,” to something that my parents told me I didn’t do very well. All of a sudden a word that had meaning suddenly sounded, well, parental and disapproving. “You’re not paying attention! Do you hear what I’m saying! Why do I have to repeat things three times?”

When I calmed down, I wondered what it was that I was supposed to hear. The sounds of the world around me? The words of Torah or prayers speaking to me? God addressing me? How would I know if what I was hearing was important? If it was, what was I supposed to do?

“Now hear this! Now hear this!” Like the sound of a submarine dive alarm blaring throughout my adolescence whenever girls entered a room, scaring me to death with their poise and grace, and rendering me mute most of the time that I was around them, all that I really heard was the sound of my heartbeat, pounding me into submission through embarrassment. I had no vocabulary around those giggling, pretty female forms, and so I entered a new phase of my life.

Later, when things sorted themselves out – by which I mean that my silence was often interpreted as introspection, an assumption that worked so totally to my advantage that if ever proof of a miracle was needed, well there you had it: a bull’s eye scored by a blind man shooting blanks –  I came to understand over time the difference between just hearing and really listening. It wasn’t a dramatic moment that brought me to that realization; it was more like years spent connecting the dots.

But here’s the interesting thing: in the midst of those journeys, I always considered myself to be one of the children of Israel, and that always made me feel special. I heard something right for me pretty early on. Then I listened to the wisdom of our sages throughout the ages, and my hearing got better.

Elliot Holin, a native of San Francisco, is the founding  rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in Elkins Park, PA. He is married with three sons, enjoys people, world travel, photography, and the San Francisco Giants and 49ers.

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Shma Israel

By George  Oscar  Lee (Aventura, FL)

Hear O Israel…
This time O Lord You listen!
Did You, God, see the smoke from Auschwitz
Made of innocent souls?
Or read the sign Arbeit Macht Frei?
Did You hear the moans of murdered children?

Shma Israel, Adonoy Eloheynu
God in heavens!
Where are the millions of your chosen?
Soil covered their mass graves,
Unburned remnants of holy Torahs
The wind swept with wilted leaves.

Shma  Israel, Adonoy Eloheynu, Adonoy Echod
You are our Sovereign, look at Treblinka
At stones with engraved names of the cities,
Those are countless fingers.
Fingers pointing at Your cold skies
In mute accusation of J’accuseJ’accuse… J’accuse!

Shma Israel, Adonoy Eloheynu, Adonoy Echod
Echo of our offering ricochets
From our earthly globe
To the whole universe.
Instead of Shma  Israel
We hear only Kaddish… Kaddish… Kaddish…

_____

George Oscar Lee was born in Drohobycz, Poland. In June, 1941, he ran away to Russia, just ahead of the invading German troops, and was arrested by the NKVD.  Eventually, he was released as a Polish citizen, joined the Polish Army at the end of 1943, and participated in the Liberation of Warsaw. The author of five books, many short stories, and poems published in The Forward, Bialystoker Shtime, Slowo  Zydowskie, and Ziemia  Drohobycka, he lives in Aventura, FL.

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Shema: Hear! Listen!

By Gloria Scheiner (Sarasota, FL)

We signed the Shema today.

We cupped our ears and raised one finger to show the Lord is One.

It was Tot Shabbat at my daughter Elana’s temple, and everyone was called to listen.

The Lord is One, and we were one Jewish community.

The parents recited the blessing over their sons and daughters, and, of course, Elana, Michael, and three-year-old Chloe sneaked in a special prayer to include their miniature dachshund, Otto.

The Shema urges us to hear, to listen!

I listen.

I listen to my forty-year-old son, Adam, when he calls me each morning at 7:20 am on his way to his office.

I hear all about his day’s plans, his stories about the kids, the challenges of raising a family in today’s world.

I listen.

I listen to his six-year-old.

“Grandma,” he says, “I have to go to a listening class every Sunday. Everyone wants me to listen but nobody wants to listen to me.”

I listen to him.

I listen to my forty-three-year-old son, Jac.

He shares his excitement about his partnership, his books, his music, his recipes, and sometimes even his dates.

“Hey Mom, I completed Sunday.”

Who else but someone who has listened to him could share that excitement?

Because I listen, I know what he’s excited about: the Sunday crossword puzzle.

We listen to each other because we love each other. We love each other more because we listen to each other.

“Listen, Glo. I’m furious. Why do I have to bla,bla,bla…?”

I listen to my sister’s frustration. The more I listen, the more I connect.

It’s so easy to love and be loved. Just listen!

The Shema tells us to hear, to listen, even when it’s a challenge to listen to a loved one when Dr. Alzheimer interrupts his speech and flow of thoughts.

It gets more difficult every day, but I am determined. I am pledged to listen.

Some days are better than others. Yesterday was not one of the better ones.

Tomorrow I will have my hearing aids checked.

I want to listen.

Gloria Scheiner is a member of “The Pearls,” a group of six women who meet every Monday in Sarasota to write. “We choose a word and write for about ten minutes. If we like it, we are free to expand it, edit it, or just hone in on a particular phrase or idea. What I love most is how one word evokes such a different chord in each of us.”

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