Tuesday, February 22, 2011

God's Role in All This

By Susan Esther Barnes

Last night I had just passed the halfway point in Rabbi Lawrence Kushner's excellent book I'm God; You're Not, pictured above, when I reached a passage on pages 124-125 and came to a screeching halt.

This is where he says, "When you're facing an unknown future - and the future is always unknown - you have three options. First option: everything is fated, it's all meant to be. In other words, predestination."

He eventually settles on what he calls the third option, that God is everything, concluding "the entire glorious, horrible, holy, terrifying wondrous mess we call creation is a continuous manifestation of the Divine." He says, "Everything is the way it's supposed to be."

Maybe I'm a little dense, but I don't see how what he calls option 3 is effectively different than option 1. In neither case do I see any room for humans to have any effect on the outcome of anything. Either options strikes me as an invitation to sit back and do nothing. It's all predestined and/or it's all the way it's supposed to be anyway.

I don't understand why he so quickly dismisses what he calls option 2, or free will. He claims that if we excercise free will, that means God "refuses to intervene," and that would mean "God is effectively irrelevant."

The trouble is, he is basing his conclusion on a faulty assumption. Humans can have free will without God having to refuse to intervene. Even if God doesn't do things for us or make us do things, God can still influence us to do things.

A few years ago when this same Rabbi Kushner spoke at our synagogue, he told a lovely story. (I may have misremembered some of the details, but the important parts are here.) He was leading a Torah Study group when he had to leave early to meet with the bar mitzvah family before services started. The room was crowded, so it took him a while to extricate himself.

Then, for no apparent reason, and even though he has never done anything like this before or since, he squeezed back into the room to whisper in a man's ear, "Don't look now, but that woman in the red dress sitting across the table from you is a rabbi, and she's single." Then he left.

When Torah Study was over, the man struck up a conversation with the woman, they started dating, and eventually Rabbi Kushner presided at their wedding.

Why did he turn around and squeeze back into the room to say such a thing to this man? I would say he was excercising his own free will, but that the idea to do it was God's, not his.

Based on this story, as well as my own experiences, I would say God is giving us hints, giving us helpful suggestions, in a still small voice on a regular basis. Sometimes we're listening; often we're not. Sometimes we follow God's suggestions and things get better for us, and sometimes we don't, and things get worse.

This isn't to say that every time something bad happens to us it means we've done something wrong or failed to listen to God - far from it. In fact, if that were the case, we wouldn't really be exercising free will at all, we'd just be trying to avoid punishment. Random things happen, both good and bad, through no fault or action of our own or God's.

But God sees things we don't see, God has the big picture view, and God wants our lives to be better. So maybe option 4 (or just a revised option 2) is that, when faced with an uncertain future, we have the ability to act on our own free will. And the more we make God relevant in our lives by listening for and following God's good advice and suggestions, the better off we will be.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Haveil Havalim #305

Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs -- a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It's hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by Jack.

Opinions expressed in the posts linked below are those of the respective bloggers and not necessarily endorsed by me.

Julia Dvorin shares a lovely story about her experience as a shomeret in Guarding the Dead: Confessions of a First Time Shomeret posted at Parentheticals. It's a long post, but it's worth the time, especially if this is a topic you'd like to learn more about.

If you have ever worn a sheitel, I hope you will answer Frozenchallah's questions in Are Sheitels Comfortable? posted at Frozenchallah's Blog.

Shira Salamone presents a sad but lovely story which reminds us of one reason why it is so important to be an active part of the Jewish community in A Jew without a community posted at ON THE FRINGE—AL TZITZIT.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat writes about spirituality in our daily lives in This is spiritual life posted at Velveteen Rabbi.

I express some second thoughts about starting up a weekly shacharit service in Leap of Faith posted at To Kiss a Mezuzah.

If you're thinking about converting to Judaism under Orthodox supervision and haven't been discouraged enough yet, try reading about Kochava's esperiences in The Monster that Orthodox Conversion Has Become posted at You're Not Crazy.

Mystery Woman gives us a mother's view of trying to find a match for her daughter in My Daughter, The Cow posted at Mystery Woman.

On a more upbeat note, Kochava writes about learning about a new community in UPDATED: How to Interview a New Jewish Community posted at You're Not Crazy.

Has your pastry been properly supervised? Batya asks some practical questions about kashrut in Kashrut Question...? posted at me-ander.

Mrs. S. learns about what it's like to be married to a Levi in Confessions of a levi’s wife posted at Our Shiputzim: A Work In Progress.

Batya has some questions about her former classmates and about independent minyanim in Synagogue Membership, Simple Capitalism posted at Shiloh Musings.

Daniel Ben Shmuel presents The "Amuqah" Idolatry (audio) posted at THE JEWISH FIST: A Call to Resurrect the Jewish Scholar-Warrior of Old.

Daniel Ben Shmuel continues a conversation started in the comments section of the previous post in Response to a Reader posted at THE JEWISH FIST: A Call to Resurrect the Jewish Scholar-Warrior of Old.

Myrrh or musk? Josh Waxman explores the question in Mor dror as musk posted at parshablog.

Mordechai Torczyner writes about rationalism and the revelatory nature of the Torah in Can Torah and Rational Philosophy Co-Exist? posted at The Rebbetzin's Husband.

Josh Waxman debates the timing of the writing of the Zohar in parshablog: Archeih, and the Authenticity of the Zohar posted at parshablog.

The UN, settlements, and legitimacy are all discussed by Yisrael Medad in We're Back to the "Illegitimate"/"Illegal" Debate posted at My Right Word.

Harry lets us know that Valentine's Day has arrived in Israel in Do Israelis celebrate Valentine’s Day? | ISRAELITY posted at ISRAELITY.

Batya writes about the new light rail system in Jerusalem in No Passengers Yet, But The Train is Running on Jerusalem's Jaffa Road posted at Shiloh Musings.

Cosmic X tells us about a new Knesset member who is not a fan of what she calls radical feminists (and worse) in Standing Up For Family Values posted at Cosmic X in Jerusalem.

Strike up the band! Or not, when Yisrael Medad presents Was That Tuba A Musical Instrument? posted at My Right Word.

SnoopyTheGoon tells us about the attack of a woman in Is the barbarism unimaginable? Maybe, but it's all part of self-defence, a freedom-struggle, martyrdom posted at Simply Jews.

See some photos taken by Jacob Richman in Photos of A.H.A.V.A.'s Rap and Read in Ma'ale Adumim posted at Good News from Israel.

Ariel Ben Yochanan argues against democracy in Israel and equates it with the golden calf in On Terumah & Tetzaveh and on Ki Sisa posted at The Torah Revolution: Everything that Hashem has spoken we shall do (Ex. 19:8).

What does it take to rebuild a warehouse store in Israel? Find out as Harry presents a huorous answer in Rebuilding Ikea posted at ISRAELITY.

Read about conversion, who is eligible for aliyah, and more as Joel Katz presents Religion and State in Israel - February 14, 2011 (Section 1) posted at Religion and State in Israel.

Joel Katz presents even more about Israel at Religion and State in Israel - February 14, 2011 (Section 2) posted at Religion and State in Israel.

Risa presents 25 Years Since Natan Sharansky Returned Home posted at Isramom.

A Walker in Jerusalem presents The Paradox: Haaretz article on Rehavia posted at Nine Measures of Beauty.

Recent Events in Egypt:
Batya gives us her thoughts about Obama's statements about Eqypt in Tip of the Iceberg, or Should We Say Pyramid posted at Shiloh Musings.

Read Eli's take on social media, Egypt and Israel in Jews help Egypt to freedom posted at jewtribe.com.

Cosmic X offers an opinion on what will happen in Egypt in The Future of Egypt: Anybody's Guess posted at Cosmic X in Jerusalem.

Schvach uses some language that may be inappropriate for kids in Schvach - פני דל posted at Schvach - פני דל.

Ben-Yehudah wonders why Jews are still living in Tunisia in What Are Jews Still Doing In Tunisia? posted at Esser Agaroth.

Jill Miller Zimon looks forward to some appreciative inquiry in Who Couldn't Benefit from a little Appreciative Inquiry!? posted at Writes Like She Talks.

Then Jill Miller Zimon writes about her morning of apprciative inquiry in Appreciative Inquiry: The Morning as well as the afternoon in Appreciative Inquiry: The Afternoon posted at Writes Like She Talks.

Ben-Yehudah reviews a video in Message To Obama (Video Review) posted at Esser Agaroth.

If you're too busy to read a long post, it won't take you much time to read Yisrael Medad's My Right Word: J Street Correctly Defined posted at My Right Word.

Batya writes about Begin and Sadat in Caroline Glick Saved The Evening posted at Shiloh Musings.

Rickismom reminds us why it's important to warn kids about abusers and what to do when they encounter one in A Sad Story- And Sadder Yet if We Do Nothing About It posted at Beneath the Wings. Warning: It talks about a disturbing incident.

I am reminded, once again, that Love Isn't About Things posted at To Kiss a Mezuzah.

Elise writes about teachers and their impact on children, and more, in Raising Asperger's Kids: Of Walkouts, Strikes and Telling a Child To Stop Being Intelligent posted at Raising Asperger's Kids.

Izgad writes about his search for love in My Very Rational Approach to Love and Dating and Why it Has Not Worked (So Far) posted at Izgad.

How you can participate:
You may submit your blog post for the next edition of Haveil Havalim by using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Leap of Faith

By Susan Esther Barnes

"Oh my goodness, what was I thinking? Nobody's going to come and anyone who does come is gonna think it sucks because I don't know what I'm doing and we probably won't even be able to get in the door the first day and will have to stand out in the rain without prayer books; I'm an idiot for ever considering it & I'm so NOT a morning person - arrrrgh!"

The above panic-attack stream of consciousness is a direct quote from an email I sent to a friend shortly after I officially committed to start holding a weekly Tuesday morning prayer service at my synagogue.

I am not a rabbi. I don’t have any formal training on how to lead a weekday morning service. But I do read a lot of Jewish stuff, and I’ve been attending Friday and Saturday services regularly for long enough that I have memorized most of the prayers. A rabbi is not actually required to hold a Jewish prayer service. There’s no reason why I can’t do it. Other than fear.

This whole thing started when the synagogue experimented with holding morning services twice a month on Wednesday for a while. Those of us who attended regularly loved it. It was a little tough, though, because it started at 8:15, so the only people who could attend were those who don’t work, or those who can arrive at work later than the traditional start time of 8 or 9. And twice a month meant it was hard to remember whether or not there would be a service on any particular Wednesday, without consulting a calendar.

As a result, not many people came, and we regularly had to drag office staff in whenever we wanted to get enough people for a minyan so we could say the Mourner’s Kaddish at the end. Then summer came, and people went on vacation, and the Wednesday morning services stopped. And I missed them. And some other people missed them, too.

Eventually I went to the rabbi, and said I wanted to start up a weekday morning service again, but earlier, so we could still get to work on time. Of course, I knew this wouldn’t work for him. He often works late into the evening, and has three small kids at home, and doesn’t get enough sleep as it is.

So when he started to say he’s sorry, but that just wouldn’t work for him, I was prepared with my oh-so-diplomatic response, “It’s not about you.” I then explained, “We don’t need a rabbi to lead the service. We can lead it. We just need to be able to get into the building.” And because he’s gracious and kind and not about hoarding power, he is all for it.

Which leads me to where I am today, with the custodial staff being notified to let us in early on Tuesday mornings starting on March 1, and the Communications Director agreeing to put an announcement in the synagogue’s weekly email and monthly newsletter, and the Sisterhood planning to put a notice in their newsletter.

I’m nervous; the neurotic part of me is certain the whole thing will turn out horribly and be a complete bust. Yet I’m still willing to take the leap of faith required to give it a try because I’m in a covenantal relationship with God, and the spiritual part of me is certain this is the right thing to do, no matter who does or doesn’t show up or what does or doesn’t happen. Seriously, how could spending another 30 to 45 minutes with God once a week possibly be a bad thing? Even if I’m the only one there, I know it will start my day in a holy way.

So close your eyes, tighten your seat belt, and make a wish. We’re living in the best of all possible worlds, and anything can happen. As long as I don’t panic.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Telling it Like it Is

By Susan Esther Barnes

The other night a commercial came on TV. There’s a man in a shirt and tie who gets a phone call from his wife reminding him they’re supposed to have their anniversary dinner that evening, asking him if he’s on his way and whether he made the reservation. The man, who has clearly forgotten all about it, assures her that everything has already been taken care of while he frantically uses his phone to make the reservation and rushes to get ready to leave work to meet her at the restaurant.

I turned to my husband and said, “I’m so glad we’re not like that. It’s so nice to know that in the same situation you would say to me, ‘I’m sorry, I forgot all about it! Hold on a minute while I see if I can make the reservation now.’” We call this our “honesty policy,” and we have found that every time one of us forces ourselves to say something that is scary to admit to the other, it serves to strengthen our relationship.

Interestingly enough, at the same time I had been watching a series of videos posted by the BayNVC, which stands for Bay Area Nonviolent Communication. They state their mission as, “To create a world where everyone’s needs matter and people have the skills to make peace.”

The video series is a role play demonstration which starts with a theme of “Yes and No in the Workplace,” and teaches what to do when you ask someone if they can meet a certain deadline and they say “yes,” even though you’re pretty sure from past experience that the answer is really “no.”

Then there is a caller who phones in a real-life dilemma, and the role players demonstrate how the caller might be able to resolve her conflict in an honest and respectful manner, resulting in a win-win outcome.

It all seems so obvious – just be honest, say what’s on your mind, put all your cards on the table, and make room for the other person to do the same thing. But it’s so easy sometimes to get caught up in fears about potential conflict, how the other person might react, or a desire to “make” the other person just do what we want.

Not to mention how difficult it can be to make room for another person to tell us something we don’t agree with or may not want to hear.

All of this was a good reminder to me of how much I need to continue to work to not only be authentic in my communications with others, but to try to make space for others to be authentic with me as well.

I truly think this world would be a better place if we would all just tell it like it is, and make it safe for those around us to do so as well.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Love Isn't About Things

By Susan Esther Barnes

Friday was my birthday. My husband took the day off work to prepare. I didn't know why it would take him a whole day to bake a cake and wrap a present or two, but as it turned out, he needed the time.

My day went smoothly. There were no unexpected crises at work, and at my company they take you out to lunch at the restaurant of your choice for your birthday.

I also had a collection of birthday cards: One from a department store, one from an airline, one from my HMO, and one from our mortgage broker. It seems like it's only the large companies that haven't yet entered the digital age of online greeting cards.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, it seemed everyone around me knew it was my birthday. At the synagogue that evening, I received a steady stream of hugs and smiles and wishes for a happy brithday.

Afterward, I met my husband at a local restaurant for my favorite birthday nachos.

After we sat down, my husband said, "Happy birthday! I had a bad day. Feel free to write about this on your blog, photos and all." Uh oh.

He knows I love popcorn, and he wanted to get me a big tin of it. Just a couple of months ago, he had successfully ordered one for me online, but he had recently spotted a sweets shop in our town and had assumed he could get one there. Alas, they had none.

A while ago, when he had asked what I wanted for my birthday, I had suggested a particular kind of potted plant. At the time, he had replied, "Why do you want to kill a plant for your birthday?" (See my post Wanted for Multiple Planticide to learn why he would say such an awful thing). So he stopped by the local nursery, and discovered they didn't have the type of plant I wanted.

Apparently, he hadn't picked up on my hints about the accessories I would like for my new iPhone, so he went home empty-handed to eat lunch and to regroup.

He searched online for a place that sells popcorn, but couldn't find anything, so he opted for stopping by the local movie theater to get some.

What he didn't know at the time is I think fresh movie theater popcorn is way better than what you get in the tins. As they say, blind dog finds a bone.

As for the plant, he found a florist and called to confirm they had the right thing. It wasn't until he was in the car on the way there that he realized all they would have would be cut flowers and not a live plant, but he figured with those at least I wouldn't feel so bad when they died. Hrmph!

When he got to the florist, they presented him with some stems of the pretty blue little flowers he had asked for by name. He was a bit confused, since they didn't look at all like the big red flowers on the plastic plant we have at home. Nonetheless, he was in a bit of a panic by this point, so he purchased this gorgeous bunch of hyacinths

instead of the potted hibiscus I had wanted (see below). Of course, this was probably my fault, because I always get the names mixed up.

Then he went home to make the cake. Either one side of our kitchen recently settled, or the oven rack wasn't in right, or something else odd happened, because both halves of the cake came out higher on one side than the other.

When he tried to frost to bottom layer of the cake, cake bits kept coming off on the knife. As if that weren't enough, the top layer stuck in the pan. He finally got it out in pieces, and desparately tried to frost over the crumbling ediface, resulting in the interesting specimen on display at the top of this post.

Defeated, and with his stomach churning in acid, he retreated downstairs to his computer to await my phone call announcing that I has ready for my birthday festivities to commence.

Compare all this effort and care to my experience a dozen years ago, when nobody around me knew it was my birthday. That evening, on the way home from work, I picked up a perfectly formed slice of cake from a local restaurant, and ate it alone, sitting on my bed, watching TV.

Did I get everything I wanted for my birthday this year? You bet I did - and more. Love isn't about things. It is about caring and effort, and those things I received in abundance on Friday. And although I'm sorry my husband suffered so, it was a very, very happy birthday.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Your Questions Answered

By Susan Esther Barnes

One of the fun things about getting website statistics for my blog is I get to see the search terms people use to get here. A lot of those search terms are questions. You have some great questions, and I think they deserve an answer. So below is a list of questions that have brought people here recently, and my answers to them:

Are Jews allowed in Space?
Not only are Jews allowed in space, there have already been Jews in space. You can read a somewhat outdated list of Jews in space here. Thanks to your question, I learned that the first Jew in space was a woman.

Can a Jew Change from Orthodox to Reform:
Yes, they can, and some do. This can be difficult, however, because many in the Orthodox community would find this upsetting, and the person changing from Orthodox to Reform will likely leave behind upset friends and family members. A Reform Jew can also change to Orthodox, with many of the same difficulties. This is mainly due to cultural differences and intolerance, which is very sad. I believe everyone should be free to worship in the way that works best for them personally, but unfortunately, not everyone feels that way.

Can a Person Eat Pork and Kiss a Jewish Person?
It's best to deal with this on an individual basis. An Orthodox Jew is not supposed to marry a non-Jewish person, and is not supposed to kiss someone to whom they are not married, so they shouldn't be kissing others who would be eating pork. There are other Jews who kiss - and marry - non-Jews, so before you kiss a Jewish person, you should probably ask whether they keep kosher, and how they would feel about you eating pork before kissing them.

Can Jewish People Kiss People of a Different Religion?
Yes! Again, an Orthodox Jewish person wouldn't, but the majority of Jews can. That being said, any time a person gets into a committed relationship with a person of another religion it can lead to tensions among friends and family, as well as disputes around the holidays and how to raise the kids, so think about the ramifications before you kiss someone of a different religion, whether or not they are Jewish.

Do Women Kiss the Mezuzah?
Yes! Jewish women of all denominations kiss mezuzahs.

How Big is a Mezuzah?
A mezuzah can come in many different sizes. Some are small enough to be worn as a pendant on a necklace. Some, like those on the gates leading to the Old City in Jerusalem, are quite large. I'd say the average mezuzah you'd see on most doorposts of modern-day houses are about 4 to 5 inches tall.

How is Intermarriage a Tragedy?
It isn't a tragedy. At all. The tragedy is when people treat intermarriage as a tragedy, thereby making other people feel bad when they shouldn't. Some people are afraid that intermarriage will lead to the kids of the marriage not being raised as Jewish, leading to there being fewer Jews, and possibly ultimately to the end of Jews altogether. I have never seen any statistics to show this is the case, and in fact I know of many intermarried couples who are successfully raising their children as Jews.

How do You Kiss a Mezuzah?
I kiss a mezuzah by touching the mezuzah with the tips of the fingers on one hand (usually my right hand), and then thinking of what kind of person I want to be in the world as I bring the fingers to my mouth and kiss them. Some people kiss their fingers first and then touch the mezuzah. Either way is fine.

Is it Disrespectful to Try Another Religion for a Day?
This is a hard one to answer. I don't know how one can "try" a religion for a day. You may want to consult with your clergy on this (if you are a member of a religion). It is certainly okay to attend a Jewish service (weekday service, Shabbat service, bar/bat mitzvah, wedding, funeral, etc.) if you are not Jewish. If you go to a synagogue, you may drink the wine no matter what religion you are (because in a synagogue the wine is just wine, and does not represent the blood of a religious figure, for instance).

If you are Jewish, it is okay to attend a service for another religion (Mass, wedding, funeral, etc.) as long as you don't break certain rules. For instance, you should not bow to an idol (and some may consider Christian statues to be idols) and you should not drink the wine or eat the wafers that are supposed to represent the blood and flesh of a religious figure.

For more information about attending services for another religion, see the book How to Be a Perfect Stranger edited by Stuart M. Matlins and Arthur J. Magida.

I hope this was as helpful to you as it was fun for me. I hope to answer more questions like this in the future, as I get more interesting questions from all of you. Feel free to post your questions in the comments section below, or just keep using those search engines!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Rabbi Made Me Buy an iPhone

By Susan Esther Barnes

Ok, the title is a bit of an exaggeration. What actually happened is I sent Rabbi Lezak a recap of some things I’ve been thinking about lately, and asked him for some resources I might access to help me explore those topics. What I was expecting was a couple of book titles and maybe the name of a local class or two. What I didn’t expect was that among his suggestions would be a couple of Podcasts to listen to.

That would be all well and good for any of the large percentage of Americans living in the 21st century who actually have iPods or iPads or iP-whatever-else-plays-Podcasts, but I didn’t have any of those devices. Not only did I not have a “smart phone,” I had an old phone my husband had given to me some time ago. I almost never turned it on, and usually it had a dead battery anyway, since I almost never remembered to recharge it.

Of course, one can play Podcasts on one’s computer without any fancy mobile devices, but Rabbi Lezak’s suggestion, and it was a good one, was that I could listen to Podcasts in my car. He is well aware that, as a consultant, I drive 20,000 miles or more in a typical year, so I have plenty of quality time in the car to listen to Podcasts. “Turn your car into a beit midrash,” he said.

Micah, the son of some friends of mine, gave me some excellent advice regarding what I could buy to play Podcasts without going whole hog on an iPad or an iPhone. However, as luck would have it, my husband, who had no cell phone at all, had recently been suggesting he would like to have one. Miraculously, he agreed to take back my old cell phone, freeing me up to buy my own, shiny, brand new iPhone.

So this week I’ve been listening to Podcasts from the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and Ikar of Judaism from Los Angeles. I have downloaded, but have yet to listen to, additional Podcasts from the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, and The Moth from New York, which isn’t Jewish, but which comes highly recommended.

I also downloaded a Jewish prayer book and an app that lets me listen to Jewish Rock Radio (both shown in the photo above).

For those of you who know of additional Jewish Podcasts you’d like to recommend, I would appreciate it if you would post them in the Comments section. I know there’s a lot out more out there to explore, and I look forward to blogging about them in the future.

Now please excuse me, I need to go wash my beit midrash.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Top Ten Posts from To Kiss a Mezuzah 2010

By Susan Esther Barnes

Because today is Ground Hog's Day, and in honor the movie of the same name, today I'm going to go back in time to present a list of the top 10 posts from To Kiss a Mezuzah from 2010. The list below starts with the most popular, based on the number of page views from January 1, 2010 through yesterday. This list isn't really a "fair" comparison, since I had a lot more daily readers at the end of the year than at the beginning, but then again, the older posts had more time to get more pageviews from those looking at the archives.

So if you're a relatively new reader of this blog, this list may help you catch up on the highlights:

1. Most popular by far, probably due to the popularity of the Orthodox rabbi's blog which precipitated this post, was A Reform Jew Discussed on an Orthodox Blog Reflects.

2. Tefillin Barbie started a conversation with my readers which I hope to continue into this year.

3. Sharing the same month with Barbie and a similar number of pageviews is The Sliding Scale of Kosher.

4. In the number 4 position, and one for which I have a great deal of fondness, is She is Pure, focusing on a life changing experience I am grateful and honored to have experienced.

5. To read these in chronological order I'd suggest you read number 7 on this list before you read this one, but number 5, displaying my favorite graphic so far for any of my posts, is My Tefillin Are My Friends - How Did That Happen?

6. I still have a hard time reading the title of Orthodox Jews in Space without thinking of the Muppet's Pigs in Space, but of course the one couldn't be further from the other.

7. November was a popular month, resulting in number 4, 6, and 7 on the Top Ten list. Following up on the topic I introduced in Tefillin Barbie listed above, I wrote The Trouble with Tefillin.

8. Mezuzahs on the Doorposts of Gentiles gave me a chance to think about an issue I had not come across before. Jews don't always take their mezuzah with them when they leave? Who knew?

9. Following up on number 6 above is the sequel Orthodox Jews in Space - The Real Questions.

10. Rounding out the list is With Apologies to the Caterer. I'm happy to say I still see the caterer from this story, and we continue to have a friendly relationship.

I'm looking forward to finding out which posts from 2011 you think are the most worth reading.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Life is Fragile

By Susan Esther Barnes

I spent a couple of hours this afternoon at the memorial service of a man who died suddenly, and too young. Parents should not have to bury their children in any case, but a week ago this man, his parents, his wife, and his young daughter all thought he was fine, and now he's dead.

In a remarkable service, with over 800 people in attendance, we learned that although he technically was survived by only a couple of siblings, an astonishing number of men considered this man to be their brother.

From the boy he met in grade school by throwing rocks at him, to his brothers-in-law, to his work colleague, we heard story after story of his sense of humor, his kindness, his generosity, his gift of expressing interest in people and making them feel at ease.

But one day last week he realized something was wrong, and he went to the hospital, and within days he was gone. And in his final act of generosity, he donated his organs, giving life to others who will now be able to go on to leave their hospital beds, and hug their families, as he will not.

I was grateful to the rabbi for saying he does not believe the death of this man was God's will, but that it was an accident of nature. He said God did not will it that this man's daughter should grow up without her father or that the rest of his family and dear friends should lose him so soon.

It serves as a reminder to us all: Life is fragile. Be thankful for today. We never know what tomorrow may bring.