An E-Mail To My Brother-In-Law

Good afternoon. I wanted to touch base with you and apologize first for not being able to do this over the phone since our schedules usually make it hard to find time.

I realize that you have decided not to have bagels and lox at the brunch for your parent’s anniversary, yet this now puts me in a difficult position. On one hand, I try to keep kosher to the best of my ability, yet on the other hand, I strive to build bridges of understanding and tolerance to others who may not do what ~wife’s name~ and I do. As you can see, if I choose the option of eating strictly kosher it may be detrimental to my relationships with others who do not. And, if I eat whatever non-kosher food that is served than I feel as if I have compromised my beliefs. It is truly a lose/lose situation on my part. Either way, I go home without a good feeling.

Last Sunday, I suggested ~name of kosher establishment ~ bagels, lox, and cream cheese because I thought it would be something we could enjoy and also because I thought it to be a win/win situation for everyone. Since you opted for a lighter option that is also better for your father’s health, perhaps ~wife’s name~ could bring something, and that way you can still serve whatever you would like. I am completely cognizant of that fact that it is not my place to weigh-in on menu selection in your home. I am not attempting even in the slightest to dictate what others eat, only what I choose to eat. What I eat or refrain from eating is not commentary on anyone else’s life despite the fact that is repeatedly seen as such. Not once have I ever told a family member, or anyone else for that matter, that what they are doing is “wrong”.

I hope this e-mail will give you insight into my thought process. If you could see inside my heart you would see that I wrote these words without a trace of divisiveness. I ask that you give us the ability to help us participate and celebrate along with you. I think that misunderstandings that we have had in the past stem simply from a lack of honest dialogue. Both ~wife’s name~ and I strive to correct this and want to break down barriers of misunderstanding that may exist.

Originally Posted September, 2006

If Only I Could Keep All Of These In Mind Every Day..

After Modeh Ani: Realize that I need to be concerned only with this day before me and not what I will do tomorrow.

After kissing the mezuza when leaving home: Remember that it is Hashem who decides what happens to me during the day.

Before Davening: Remember that I will be talking directly to the Ribbono shel Olam

While Davening: Remember that the second I open my mouth and daven that Hashem is right there listening to me.

Before and During Learning: Remember that I am not just studying any old book, rather it is a sefer that is precious and holy.

After Learning: Say a quick personal prayer that I am able to put my learning into practice.

Before Eating: Take time to slow down and realize I am thanking Hashem for the food and that without Him I would not even have it to begin with.

After First Bite/First Sip: Say a quick personal prayer that I use the energy from the food or drink for mitzvos and not aveiros.

Before saying Birkas Hamazon: Remember that bentching after I eat ensures that the channel of blessing that enables me to support my family is unobstructed.

Before Seeing Another Person: Ensure my eyes smile at them and that I greet them with a kind word.

After Work: Ensure I leave a bad mood outside before I enter the threshold to my house. Imagine that someone is going to pay me my entire yearly salary if I can refrain from expressing my anger for just that evening alone.

Originally posted here.

A Warmongering Switzerland

Sometimes I feel like I am Switzerland and am being accused of being aggressive and war mongering while I am just sitting quietly amongst the mountains. I am not stockpiling weapons, testing a nuclear arsenal, or even having troops engage in training maneuvers near the borders. I maintain an armed forces solely for defense of my country, and the majority of the time the troops are not even in uniform or even at their bases.

People cannot see what I do over the tall mountains and they rarely visit so they do not know who I truly am. At times when there is communication it is friendly but superficial. Later these conversations are spun in such a way to make it appear that what I am doing is offensive to them. Yet, this is hardly case.

There is a cold peace. At times when tensions escalate, I am always labeled as the aggressor.

And now, I am just sick and tired of it.

I summoned the ambassador of the country making these accusations to an off-site location. Over an ice cream cone and a cup of coffee I looked the ambassador in the eyes, made my case firmly, and made the counter claim that it was indeed his country who had the problem; it was his country who was being closed-minded and intolerant. This ambassador could not make any counter-claims when presented with the facts. I logically took apart any argument he attempted to raise. At the end of our meeting, he could only reply that he would take a report of this meeting back with him to his country along with the recommendation to his country’s rulers to re-establish friendly ties with my country.

He will attempt to explain to them that they need to understand and accept that the peaceful nation of Switzerland sometimes just does things differently.

In the end, I guess it all comes back to this for me.

Reposted from this entry on A Simple Jew’s blog.

Conflicting Emotions

On Sunday afternoon, I stood on a hillside in a cemetery as my great aunt’s coffin was lowered into the earth. At 93 years-old, she was the last of her siblings to pass away and thereby close a chapter in our family’s history.

I have such conflicting emotions about the events on Sunday because I was very close to my great aunt who was an exemplar of kindness and hakaras hatov. She was a person who was a source of encouragement to others because she was continually happy and only spoke about the good points of others.

I think, however, that my conflicting emotions about Sunday stem from the fact that I cannot simply go to a funeral without becoming extremely agitated with the unconventional way funerals are handled in my family. Five years ago, one of my great-aunt’s older brothers passed away, was cremated, and his ashes were scatted in a Jewish cemetery on the graves of his parents and brother and sister. I was so incensed about this idea at the time and felt helpless because I had absolutely no say in what happened. This pain was coupled with the knowledge that my own grandfather had been cremated as well.

With these experiences in my past, I walked into the Jewish funeral home on Sunday to be greeted with a funeral featuring an open casket. To make things worse, there was a half-hour before the service began and family members and friends gathered around the open casket cried, hugged, and even engaged in idle chit chat. I was horrified at the sight of people standing with their backs to an open casket and laughing with their friends. I wanted to scream at the lack of respect these people were displaying. But, I remained silent. Who was I, only a grand-nephew, to make a scene in front my great-aunt’s children and grand-children while she lay in the room before us? In reality, what could I have done?

At the cemetery, I helped carry her coffin. My great aunt’s son was across from me on the other side and began to ask me about my family; making me uncomfortable as we carried his mother to her final resting place. Once again, this sacred moment was shattered by small talk.

I threw a shovel full of earth on my great-aunt’s coffin, as is tradition, and went over to give words of comfort to her son. I told him that not only is his mother now together with his father, but that I also remembered that there were other family members buried in this cemetery. I told him that that now she is also together with her parents and her brothers and sister; that she has left one family and has returned to another. He responded, “They are also buried here?” When I explained that they are buried at another cemetery, he quickly added, “Oh, you mean together in a metaphysical way.”

I drove home with this comment echoing in my mind since I perceived that he used the word “metaphysical” in place of “make believe” or “hocus pocus”. I lamented the fact that in today’s society that many people have lost the ability to take the concept of a neshoma returning to its source in a literal manner. I reflected on how many sacred moments that I have witnessed in recent months that were marred by unthinking people; a bris in which people stood taking pictures with their camera phones over the mohel’s shoulders; a wedding where members of the wedding party complained about being hungry and continually inquired when they would get to eat; and now this, sons standing with their backs to their mother’s body while they laughed and engaged in small talk.

I have no more words. Perhaps I do not belong on this planet any more.

This article was first posted on A Simple Jew’s site.

Elul’s Daily Dose of Encouragement

For years I have wondered what the connection was between chapter 27 of Tehillim (L’Dovid Hashem Ohree) and the month of Elul. I could not understand what the underlying message was. I have read numerous explanations, however it was only yesterday when I finally discovered an explanation that satisfied me.

During the month of Elul we take upon ourselves new mitzvos and concrete ways that we will be better in order to properly prepare for Rosh Hashana. Immediately after we take this step forward, obstacles arise and people may notice that we are “changing” and try to impede our personal growth.

Beginning Rosh Chodesh Elul we say chapter 27 of Tehillim after davening. In the last pasuk (27:14) we are given our daily dose of encouragement; Hashem reminds us that He recognizes our latest struggle and tells us not to lose our resolve:

“Hope for Hashem, be strong and He will give your heart courage, and hope for Hashem.”

A Simple Jew

Accepting People “More Religious” Than Us

One evening this week my wife related a conversation she had with her father. Her father told her that her non-observant brother thinks that she is “brain washed” because she now goes to an Orthodox shul and keeps kosher.

While not Orthodox himself, my father-in-law has a great appreciation for it and did not accept this criticism from his son. My father-in-law replied by telling his son that he needed to be more open-minded and accepting of people “more religious” than him.

A Simple Jew

Maggid (Step 5) — The Lesson of the Simple Son

The Maggid step has got to be the most commented upon section of the haggadah. Our vort on Maggid is presented by A Simple Jew. What better section of Maggid for A Simple Jew to discuss than The Simple Son.

The Lesson of the Simple Son
By A Simple Jew

The Simple Son is one of the most overlooked sons in the Haggadah. He does not have a dominant part as do the Wise Son and the Wicked Sons. Who is wise? He who learns from every person. (Pirkei Avos 4:1). Thus, there are lessons one can learn from the Simple Son. Today the term “simple” has a negative connotation. When we say that a person is “simple”, it usually means that we regard the person as naive, unsophisticated, or unintelligent.There are many chassidic stories that honor the simple person and his pure intentions.
Read more Maggid (Step 5) — The Lesson of the Simple Son

Fleishig Bagel Shop?

My father stood in front of the counter perplexed why he could not order a corned beef sandwich at the bagel shop for lunch. Other “Jewish” delicatessens that he had gone to offered bagels, cream cheese, and lox and corned beef sandwiches. The bagel shop in his area even has corned beef sandwiches on a bagel. I explained to him that while there was nothing wrong with putting corned beef on a pareve bagel, this establishment could not offer such a sandwich because it was a strictly dairy restaurant.

Although my mother has slowly come to understand what keeping kosher entails, it seems to be much harder for my father. Many times he asks questions about the halachos of kashrus as if trying to find a loophole in the whole system that would permit a Jew to eat a Philly cheese steak.
Read more Fleishig Bagel Shop?