“David and Left” – Our Day in Florence


“How the hell do we get out of here?” That dilemma evoked our plea to a kind guide at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence – “Where’s the door?”
Her answer: check above.

There are two major parts of the David experience here in Florence: Seeing the amazing creation that emerged from Michelangelo’s imagination when he was just 25 years old, and watching the incredible responses of each individual in the overwhelming sea of visitors who had joined us there.

See for yourself:





Our Gigantic Family #MicroblogMondays

Chagall_JW_Tables_Law_M374Two new little boys will enter our family before the end of September.  We’re excited, happy for our lovely sons and their wives and very happy too that our grandchildren have such wonderful people as parents.

There’s another thing, that (even though it is, of course, obvious) I hadn’t thought about in a long time: these children, while we can’t trace personal generations very far back because so many records and stories were lost in the Holocaust, have a family that goes back to Abraham and to Moses and Mt. Sinai and to Sarah and Rachel and Rebecca.  Of course, we all, biblically, begin with Adam and Eve but because I’ve always known I couldn’t trace our family, I didn’t let myself consider what we might never know – it was too painful.

I think that’s why the sudden recollection of this spectacular Jewish lineage became an almost new discovery even though the reality has always been part of our lives.  We, and our children, and theirs, are part of something well beyond ourselves.  I am grateful to be part of the tribe – and pray that our boys, and theirs – and their moms – travel safely as the world continues on its magnificent, scary and complicated trips around the sun.


Mens_side_praying_our_group_wide The lights were out; all that remained were small spotlights where the readers sat.  It was a day of sorrow and mourning, so we spurned comfort and, as tradition dictates, sat on the floor.  In front of the Sanctuary, the readings began: Eichah – Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah’s horrifying account of an ancent time of soul-shattering misery.  Reading it aloud is part of the holiday** but,
since I was newly observant, it was previously unknown to me, as was the
enormous impact of the dimly lit room and haunting content and trope of the reading.
  That first time, just three years ago, I didn’t have a clue what was coming — that night or the next morning, when the readings continued.

Accompanied by a 25 hour fast, this all takes place on the holiday of Tisha B’Av – the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, to commemorate the multiple horrors believed to have taken place on that day.*

This is a lot of sadness (and foreboding of more to come) to have
taken place on the same date.  So it’s fair to observe a period of
mourning and remembrance.  What happened to me, though, was that the
language of mourning is so fierce, so hideous, and in some ways, so
applicable to what we see happening around us now, that it is almost
unbearable to listen to.  And so, the first time I heard it, I fled in
the middle and went across the hall into the childcare room.  My sweet,
ridiculously smart friend Aliza, with her
infant daughter and unable to join the prayers, was off to the side
praying on her own.  In tears, so troubled that I was trembling, I
interrupted her prayers, something I would never do otherwise, and
demanded to know why it was necessary for us to listen to this.  And to
know we’d be doomed to do so every summer.  In her quiet way, she
replied that perhaps once a year isn’t too often to recall these
fearsome times in our history.

At the time, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, but now, I’m,
shocked to discover that I look forward to this annual observance,
comes this weekend.  Why?  I guess after three years some of the shock
has worn off.  Of course there’s more: as usual when I listen to Aliza,
I’ve had to think harder.  One thing I’ve realized is that this day,
ignored by most Jews, is a kind of anchor — keeping us in place,
connecting us, those who came before, and those who will follow. 

I can’t trace my family past my grandparents on either side; all my
grandparents and their siblings came here years before the Holocaust
and any records of their ancestors were lost or destroyed as the Nazis
decimated Europe.  That they were Jewish, though, is irrefutable.  Now
I find that, although I can’t share their stories and traditions, we do
share a history.  I realize as I am writing this that moments which
commemorate that common history are not just religious, but also family
connections.  Our mourning on the 9th of Av honors not just God’s
anger, which led Him to allow the destruction of the Temples, and not
just the martyrdom of so many, but also each individual, unknown person
whose DNA is mixed with mine.

I had often
protested that we need to honor that which we value as the positive
attributes of the Jewish experience, not just the martyrdoms that
remind us of our history of suffering, but also the joy and pride
our tradition offers.  What I’ve realized is that we can’t forget..
There’s much to be learned by what’s
come before and by acknowledging our connection to it.  And this deeply
moving, haunting and humbling tradition is connected to each of us
now, this minute. 

*   With thanks to the OU  Tisha B’Av website :

  1. In the time of Moses, the "sin of the spies" whom he sent out
    to evaluate the situation in the soon-to-be conquered Canaan and who
    returned with horror stories that questioned God’s power to protect the
    Jews and caused Him to decree that none from the generation who went
    out of Egypt would be permitted to go into Israel.
  2. The destruction of the first Temple under Nebuchadnezzar. (587 BCE  – 3338 in the Hebrew calendar)
  3. The destruction of the second Temple under Titus. (70 CE – 3895 in the Hebrew calendar)
  4. The Romans conquered Betar, the last fortress of the Bar Kochba
    rebellion and Hadrian turned Jerusalem into a Roman city.   (135 CE –
    3895 in the Hebrew calendar)
  5. King Edward I signed the edict that expelled all Jews from England (1290 CE – 5050 in the Hebrew calendar)
  6. Jews expelled from Spain because of King Ferdinand’s decree   (1492 CE — 5252 in the Hebrew calendar)
  7. The last Jews left Vienna under expulsion orders there. (1670)
  8. World War I began  (1914 CE — 5674 in the Hebrew calendar)
  9. Himmler presented the plan for the "Final Solution" to the "Jewish
    problem" to the Nazi party. (1940 — 5700 in the Hebrew calendar)
  10. Nazis began deporting Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto.  (1942 CE — 5702 in the Hebrew calendar) 

**  Also, interestingly, quoted in Christian prayers for Zimbabwe,


Indians2_2 I’m having a very hard time.  For a project, I’ve spent most of Wednesday reading infertility, IVF, adoption and other blogs written by would-be parents who are unable to conceive.  This 25-year old photo is of two boys, my sons, conceived in no time.  Granted there was a miscarriage in between that hit us very hard, but the blessing of these two little boys came rapidly and without incident.

I’m familiar with this issue – I have so many friends with adopted kids — but the articulateness of these women and the agony of repeated technical failures they describe, is unthinkable.  It’s so ironic – years spent in your twenties worrying that you ARE pregnant, then this.

I can’t imagine many experiences more painful — though they existed even in biblical times (remember the pain of Sarah, Hannah and Rachel?) and they’re for a lifetime.  "Do you have kids?" is the classic ice-breaker.  It just reminds me one more time of the blessings in my life.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate my kids every day; as my sons will tell you I’m a bit over the top where they are concerned.  And I’m tiresome on that fact that they’re a blessing and a joy.

What I don’t often consider is the fact that we had them so easily – that they are, quite literally, a gift.  My heart breaks for my sisters not blessed with this privilege – and I won’t soon forget their pain. 


Leftbehindgames_promoToday on AlterNet – a wonderful aggregator of things political, there appeared the rather remarkable tale behind production of the video game Left Behind.  Based on the phenomenally best-selling series of books set during the arrival of the End Times and the Rapture, it sounds like it’s pretty violent for a religious game. 

I guess though that the entire story of the End Times is pretty grim.  I remember thinking that back when I first heard of these books.  It was around 7 years ago, when the first one came out.  I wandered back to the galley on a cross country flight and found the flight attendant transfixed, deeply involved in the story.  We spoke of it for some time; it meant a great deal to her.

Duck_and_cover_photo_2 I have always found apocalyptic stories riveting.  Maybe it’s growing up in the "duck and cover" era but the idea of the world ending in fire seemed so plausible in those times*  I was deeply affected by it, I think.  If you had to go under your desk in 2nd or 3rd grade and put your crossed hands over your neck, you’d be scared too.   

In addition to our air raid drills, there were books and movies like Alas, Babylon, On the Beach, and dozens of other nuclear disaster tales.  They were full of small, horrible moments.  I was pretty young but I remember, from Alas Babylon, mobs storming drugstores and looting them for medicine.  Even now it is probably the image of nuclear war that sits most viscerally in my mind.  My father had high blood pressure – and was lost without his hearing aid – and I remember fearing that a war would take away his medication and the hearing aid batteries that connected him to us.

The bombs always came from countries back then.  Now of course all it takes is a suitcase and some under-funded port security to empower someone bent on destruction.  It probably is no accident that the Left Behind books are so popular — there’s so much uncertainty and so much that’s frightening.  Which brings us back to the game.  Somehow it seems less acceptable to insert violence into a religious game, but as I become accustomed to the weekly reading of Torah portions I realize the bloody violence in the Bible itself.  Even God was not immune – his anger was swift and deadly.  The understanding of that somehow seems, at least partially, to justify the violence of apocalyptic literature.

So.  No conclusions — just a riff for a Wednesday night.  And the thought that if violence emerges so often in sacred works it’s an acknowledgment of those things in our natures that challenge us most… to keep our own rage, envy and hatred from popping out and contributing to chaos — in real life, on the pages of a book, or on an XBOX 360.