October 23, 2011

Baby Shower: the Hope of New Life

I went to a baby shower yesterday. After the devastation of Daniel's death, I felt very strange and teary-eyed during the brief drive to the event. When I walked in, it felt a little like the Twilight Zone. There were a lot of young women there, some pregnant, some with babies. Then there were a number of women my age, the mothers of the young women and their friends. Also a few younger girls in their early teens, cousins of the expectant mom. I looked around, wondering how many of this assembly had known, or would know, tragedy in their lives.

First order of business: find someone to talk with. I sat down with a woman I've seen before but didn't know. This was good for the initial break-the-ice casual chit-chat. It started to move my mind to neutral ground. Then the hostess asked us to go to the buffet and get our food. Food is always a life-affirming thing, and it was a lovely selection of down-to-earth healthy foods. As we ate and chatted, I became more comfortable with being in the present.

Then came the inevitable party games, bringing laughter to everyone's lips, and encouraging interaction with people outside of your own age group. I usually consider these games an inane waste of time, but in this case it was a useful step in the healing process for me. Passing a pacifier to a stranger by way of a soda-straw in your mouth makes everyone feel equally awkward and giggly. For a brief moment of concentration on a useless but difficult task, you must step away from all other thoughts.

The dad-to-be arrived, and settled down with his wife for the happy chore of opening the gifts. It was actually a ridiculous assortment of gifts. About 80% of the gifts were books: baby books and children's books. I guess I was one of the very few who bought what the couple registered for. But it was cute to watch all the young women react to the books.... they were still very close to their childhood selves, and the mere sight of these books brought delight to them. My peers and I simply smiled at "Good Night Moon" from the OTHER side of the memories. My friend, the grandma-to-be, sat contentedly holding someone's baby. She looked so very happy.

I kept looking around at all the women, glad for the wide spectrum of ages. I felt a little bit of cynicism, but also felt strangely comforted by the camaraderie of this age-old rite. It was good to see the excitement on the face of the mother-to-be, and feel the happiness of her friends as they expect the best for her. Life goes on, new babies are born, mothers laugh and cry. We were all there to help send her on this new journey with hope and support. And we'll all be there if life hands her a loss. As a community we share each other's joys and sorrows. That's comforting.

October 8, 2011

Yom Kippur Comes Full Circle

13 years ago, we moved to Portland just in time for the High Holy Days. On Yom Kippur, we sat in a strange temple where we knew nobody, amidst a sea of people in white clothing, and navigated our way through the very long, intense, somber process that is Yom Kippur. Then, all of a sudden, a small boy burst through the door, having escaped from child-care, ran to the young couple sitting in front of us, beaming from ear to ear, and shouted "Mommy, Daddy, my loose tooth came out!"

That moment lives in my memory as my best Yom Kippur experience ever. It was so real, so NOW, so life-affirming, so joyous. Just the break we needed, and also a motivation to love God even more.

Fast-forward to 2011. Life has come full-circle in the mystical period of 13 years, to present us with... death. And my worst Yom Kippur ever. Friday morning, just before Yom Kippur began, we buried the 26-year-old friend of my sons. Then, a few hours later, the Holy Day began, and we attempted to switch gears, to focus on asking God's forgiveness for our alleged sins. I couldn't do it. I am sucker-punched at the sudden death of a lovely young man I knew so well. I am so angry at God, or whoever/whatever controls these things. My head felt like it would explode. (And later, during the night, I thought it might do just that.)

In the morning, we had all sat in Stampfer Chapel for the funeral, dressed in black. All the young men, including my two sons, sat in the back, huddled together for support. They all looked so handsome in their suits, and so bewildered at this new and incomprehensible experience. And sitting throughout the rest of the chapel were a lot of people my age, crying their eyes out. These were the parents of Daniel's peers. The mothers who drove countless carpools, fed him, made sure he took his pills with applesauce, and the fathers who coached the childhood sports teams and drove the Maccabi team to PDX at 4 am, the pre-school and Hebrew school teachers who set him on the road to a love of Judaism. We had all cared for him as one of our own, felt a certain protectiveness over this sweet, diminutive child. Some of us had continued to know him as an adult, and were so very proud of his accomplishments. We all protected him when he was in our care... what happened?!?

In the evening, many of us were back in the same chapel, dressed in white for Yom Kippur. I couldn't stop crying. I really have a bone to pick with God. How could You? I tried, really tried, to focus on the text in the book. Tried to think about my past year, or the year ahead. But all I could think of was Daniel, and that plain casket, and his parents.

And I thought about that little boy 13 years ago. I wonder what he's up to now. He must be about 18 or 19 now. How was his Bar Mitzvah? Is he going on Birthright? Or is he pierced and tattooed? Is he still alive? Is he healthy? Did his teeth come in okay? Are his parents alive? I hope so. And I wish I could tell them.... hold onto him tight.

September 15, 2011

Rosh Hashana in the Age of Facebook

I don't know exactly how people traditionally prepared for Rosh Hashana. I've always felt it sort of jumped upon me, and I've never felt ready. But this year I find it's really being pushed to the front burner by, of all things, social networks!

Everywhere I turn, people are posting cool Rosh Hashana things on Facebook, or sending links by email... beautiful pictures, wonderful recipes, songs, videos, essays, prayers. It's actually got me thinking about the coming year. Ahead of time!

I find it fascinating how we utilize the newest technologies and trends to continue some of our most ancient traditions. It seems to help us relate to our ancestors, and explore what might be relevant today. Hmmm, maybe I'll download that Shofar app!

May 18, 2011

Mezuzah Finds a Good Home

I had the pleasure of selling one of my mezuzot today. It was purchased as a gift for someone, which always makes me feel warm and fuzzy. And I know the person it's for, so it's extra special, knowing it will have a good home.

I won't post a picture yet, until after the recipient receives the gift. Then I'll come back & show it to you. Meantime, I just wanted to share my good feeling.

Post Script: Here's the mezuza...

March 20, 2011

Gold Platform Shoes

Remember when I wrote about my inadequacies with makeup? Well, my relationship with women's shoes is kind of like that too.

Oh, to be sure, I wore heels most of my adult life, and it seemed fine. But gradually it destroyed certain joints in my feet, and 10 years ago I had surgeries to repair the damage. Since then I really haven't worn heels at all, and my feet just don't work that way anymore!

Don't ask me why, but when the lyrics in my solo for the Purim schpiel referred to "my platform shoes" I decided it was time to get a pair, and worse -- to wear them! That's when the comedy began. Have you ever seen a man trying to walk in women's shoes? That was me! You'd think I had never worn heels in my life. Hurky-jerky steps, sticking desperately to the carpeted areas, like a toddler again.

I practiced walking every day, and managed to get through our play without twisting my ankle. Of course, today my feet hurt, my legs hurt, my butt hurts, and my back hurts. But hey, they were GOLD PLATFORM SHOES! How could I resist?

And therein lies the mystery. These things are so ridiculous... perching your entire body's weight up on your poor little toes, with nothing but thin golden straps holding the shoes on. But no matter how rationally I know that, no matter how strongly the feminist in me resents them, I must admit.... a part of me still loves pretty shoes, sparkly shoes. Why? Sigh, there's a lot to be said for culturally ingrained aesthetics.

Update on Goings On

Progress reports:

Art Spark was awesome! The folks from RACC said it was the best attendance they've ever had at one of these events. And we were so pleased to meet all these new people! Also, the Urban Farmer restaurant was SO very cool! I've never seen a restaurant like that, and it was extremely fun. Pictures soon.

Purim was wonderful! We worked really hard on our presentation, and it was worth it. With ten Disco song parodies spread out among the ten chapters of the Megillah, it was almost like a full-blown musical, and the audience was very receptive. Gershon and I both had solos, as well as a number of other choir members. Singing with a live band was so great, and I haven't seen so many platform shoes in decades!
Our friend Petra was kind enough to film some of it for us with my iPhone, so I'm in the process of uploading those videos to YouTube. The first one is up; you can see it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AU948hA0JEE . Sorry about the mediocre quality, but hey, it's a phone!

The ORA exhibits continue in the lobby of MJCC, with my work among this week's featured artists. We set it up this morning, and it will be there until Friday at 2 pm. Next week will be the last exhibit in this series (and after that I'm gonna direct you to something really cool at Neveh Shalom).

March 16, 2011

Goings On

I've got a lot going on right now. First of all... Art Spark!
I hope you will be able to join us tomorrow as ORA hosts this month's Art Spark gathering.

What is Art Spark? It's a program of the Regional Arts & Crafts Council (RACC) to promote art in Portland. It's described by RACC as "a bi-monthly mingling for artists of all sorts to meet, discuss, blather, applaud and plot the growth of art in Portland." Each meeting is hosted by a different group, at a different restaurant, club, or bar.

This is a big coup for our group, and I hope lots of our friends will turn out to support us and have a good time. Each of the ORA artists will have one or two works on display, and Eddy and I will each do a very brief address, around 6 pm. The rest of the time is for schmoozing, networking, drinking, and socializing.

There will be raffle prizes, and a no-host bar all evening. Admission is free.

Thursday, March 17th, 5-7 pm
Urban Farmer Restaurant
(8th floor of The Nines Hotel)
525 SW Morrison


Then, this Saturday night is Purim! My favorite holiday, of course, starring Queen Esther. Gershon and I are co-starring in Neveh Shalom's musical Purim Schpiel, "Shushan Night Fever."

Gershon plays King Ahasueros, and I have a KILLER solo as.... wait for it.... Queen Vashti!! You have got to come hear Gershon singing the Village People, and me belting out "I Will Survive." I even bought gold platform shoes for the occasion!

Service begins at 7:30 in Birnbach Hall at Neveh Shalom. If you signed up for the dinner beforehand, you'll be pleasantly intoxicated by the time the service begins, and you'll enjoy the Disco theme all the more! Do come in costume, or you will feel out-of-place. Prizes for the best costumes, based on.... I have no idea what!

But wait! There's more! ORA has a series of exhibits all month in the lobby of MJCC. Each exhibit lasts for 5 days, and my work will be in the next one. The exhibit starts this Sunday, March 20th, and will be up till Friday afternoon. Stop by and take a look!

February 24, 2011

I've been in a JAM

I've been almost incommunicado lately, trying to finish the calendar web page for this year's Jewish Arts Month (JAM). Of course, the word "finish" is a fantasy, because this festival continues to evolve, right up to the end. So I'll continue to update the site, and add events, but the biggest chunk of my work is done. Phew! Maybe I can breathe again.

And now I have a moment to tell you about it... an amazing festival of arts - music, theatre, poetry, visual arts, films, photography, literature, and workshops. Special presentations by masters and amateurs, children and seniors, and everyone in between! Events are taking place all over Greater Portland, including some venues that might surprise you. It's so big, it couldn't begin to fit into a "month!" So it actually spreads over a period from February through early May. There's something for everyone, and for every calendar.

Wanna see what all the fuss is about? Check out the calendar page... and start participating!


January 16, 2011

Remembering Debbie Friedman

Volumes will be written about the accomplishments of Debbie Friedman, and people will sing her compositions in Synagogues for decades to come. But my strongest memories are from back-in-the-day, when we were in our early 20's, and she wasn't quite famous yet. That's how I will always remember her. And that's the memory that brings a smile to my lips, even as tears flow from my eyes.

Debbie came to Camp Swig in the summer of 1975, and turned the whole place on its head. We already had a strong song-leading program, heavily influenced with the "new" songs of Shlomo Carlebach and the Hassidic Song Festivals in Israel. And we were hearing some new songs coming from the camps in the East, and out of Cantorial schools. And then they brought Debbie in from Olin-Sang-Ruby.

How can I explain? It wasn't just the songs, although many of them were wonderful. It was the woman herself. She was so very energetic, intense, joyful, and determined. How could anyone resist being pulled in? She was clearly a rising star, and we knew we were in the midst of something important. And yet, she did not crush others, nor did she detract from the dance and art programs at Swig. The quietly feared friction between her and our own Debbie Pinto never materialized... they melded and soared together.

I will always picture her galloping around the dining hall, long hair flying behind her, and that beautiful Martin guitar that she held like a weapon of power. I remember her surprise at how cold it was when she first arrived at this Northern California camp... it was laughable, considering where she was from. I remember her glowing as she smiled at me one day over the heads of the campers, during an especially good song session. I remember her irreverent humor.

I never did know the politics behind it, but suddenly Debbie Friedman was a Camp Swig person, and suddenly we were making a camp album featuring her compositions. Here again, it could have been a Debbie Friedman album, but it wasn't. There were a number of songs featuring everyone at camp (see? I actually sang on her first album!), and some featuring various combinations of song leaders. It was a beautiful album, and it still holds up today. The cover was NOT a picture of Debbie, but rather the beautiful Migdal Mayim project that Peretz Prusan oversaw two years earlier.

Of course there are the songs. Everyone knows them, everyone loves them. But one line stands out in my mind above all: "Help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing." In the end, this idea exemplifies Debbie Friedman's life. After a truly life-threatening illness, it took enormous courage for her to resume her life's work. But she found reserves of courage, and indeed God did help her to make her life a blessing. A blessing in the world of Judaism, and a blessing to anyone who ever interacted with her.

Baruch Dayan Ha'emet.

(Thanks to Rick Heeger for the photo above. 1975 Songleaders depicted: Jason Gwasdov, Sharon Franz, Debbie Friedman, Debbie Pinto, Emily Georges, Neil Daniels)