Friday, March 14, 2014

Early Retirement Ended

I've been retired since July 1, 2013. I walked away from looking for other jobs knowing that my place was with Sammy and my family come what may. Well 'may' came December 14, 2013 when Sammy died and I stayed retired as I drew my family in close, crawled into my own shell of hell and began mourning Sammy's death. As the weeks after sheloshim passed I slowly began tutoring again and seeing my families. Yesterday and today I came out of retirement. Today I started my new job as the interim rabbi at Temple B'nai Israel in Aurora, IL. Yesterday I officiated my first funeral for a dear friend who died suddenly on Monday. I am tentative, excited and sad all at once. It was beautiful having nothing to do but grieve and care for myself and my family. It is beautiful to be needed for my expertise as well as the comfort I can bring to dear friends in the beginning of their own loss and mourning. We all have our places in this world. We just don't always know where to be.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

So Not the Journey I Packed For

This is so not the journey I packed for
I tear apart my luggage of years
looking for that one triviality I think will change it all
The detritus of my gear grows about my knees
and nothing I find could have prepared me for this
the reality of living in a statistic's legend
set ajar in a present skewed by fractions of slivers
I tear it all apart, still looking
already knowing nothing I find can fix anything
what I need is buried deep within
grown slowly in the universe of my soul
silent strength
that may never be enough
but it's all I have.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

No Answers

I have no answers
this man of God
who kneels before the mountain
bruised but not broken, battered but still not beaten
Questions fill every pocket of my soul, as I crawl across the floor 
Trying blindly to match the right answers to their mates
Neither straight edges nor middle pieces find their beshert
So I breathe in the comfort of the blessings I know
And count them diligently 
like grains of sand I'm adding gently to a worn down shore 
one piece of silica at a time
Wishing I could melt them all into looking glasses
that would let me see what time has in store
for my dreams and prayers yet to come. 

I Love OSRUI!

With updates of my son, Sam, having an amazing time at the Zoo, at the Children's Museum and running around the Ron Mac House I can breathe easy while working in one of my favorite places on earth, Olin Sang Ruby Camp Institute, in Oconomowoc, WI. Not only does my presence here let my camp family know that Sam is doing so well that I can be here, but it also gives me a chance to be in one of the safest spaces in my world.

I grew up going to summer camp in Cheshire, MA knowing nothing about Reform Movement camps at that time. But since my family and I moved to Chicago a decade ago, every summer since 2004 we've lived at OSRUI for at least two weeks. Last summer was the first summer we missed at OSRUI as Sam started chemotherapy to battle his leukemia. And yet in the whirlwind of our lives OSRUI and our camp family always hold a place in our hearts and I feel most blessed to be here as part of the Segel, part of the staff of Rabbis, Cantors and educators, dedicated to lending our professional expertise and love of camp and Judaism to this incredible place.

For over 60 years OSRUI has been engaging, educating and challenging Jewish youth during their summer vacations to explore their outdoor self as well as their Jewish identity. From the daily limudim (lessons) taught by the Segel, tefillot (services) twice a day to weekly Shabbat services, Shabbat Dinners and Shabbat Shirah (song sessions) OSRUI feeds our Jewish souls that need to return to be BaMidbar (in the wilderness) once a year.

I work in the unit Moshavah, where campers not only gain a camp experience, but also go on hiking, canoeing, biking and rock climbing trips. Not only do the campers get to study their Judaism with their old and new camp friends, but they also get to challenge themselves and go on adventures they might not otherwise have gotten the opportunity to do if they were at home. The Chanikeem (like Chanukah with an eem meaning Campers) live in tents both at camp and on their trips. The counselors who choose Mosh as their home are dedicated to providing the best and safest camp and adventure experiences they can to their campers. Whether encouraging them to scale the highest rock face or leading them through the woods, down the rivers or on the road, the staff guide our youth through the times of their lives while giving them space to grow and get to know one another.

This camp not only inspired and  raised a rabbi in my wife, Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, but has nurtured the young lives of numerous other rabbis, cantors, educators and Jewish professionals in its six decades of existence. Many counselors meet their true loves here, marry and raise Jewish families due to the positive influence of this magnificent place.

So I am honored to be counted as part of this year's Segel. I am blessed to have my Sam be so healthy that I can be away from him for two weeks to take my part in the magic of this year's camp season. Just as the campers are surrounded by their camp family so too am I blessed to be surrounded by my camp family, new friends and old, who help support me professionally, personally and spiritually.

Each day I walk these hallowed grounds I feel my spirit uplifted and my soul replenished. OSRUI is a magical place where my Jewish soul is revived every time I am here. I only hope I can share the inspiration I feel here with all the staff, counselors and campers who inspire me year after year.

If I am not in the arms of my family there is no place on earth I'd rather be, but here at OSRUI.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Long and Winding Road...

It has been forever since I've posted a blog post on this site. Of course I spent 6 months blogging about my son, Sam's, battle against Leukemia on Superman Sam with my wife, Phyllis. But it is ten weeks since then and I haven't written a word. 

Sam is doing great. He's grumpy like a crotchety 70 year old man, but for him, that is normal. He is a middle's middle. His life is so half empty you would think it is all empty for a kid who battled himself into remission, received an iPad early on as a gift to focus on instead of his cancer, who lives in a nice home, with a loving family. He feels the world has wronged him because someone else always has more than him. 

Example:
Two weeks ago, 7:30am
Sam: I wish I lived when David was born!
Me: What!? Why?
Sam: He lived in a big house! He had a cat! AND, AND he had a CAR BED!!!
Sam and Yael: (with their arms folded across their chests said with attitude) We hate our beds. We want car beds. 
Me: Your bunk beds are in great shape. Where are you getting all this information?
Sam and Yael: The picture books from when David was a baby.
Me: Give me those. Those are clearly not age appropriate. You are now banned from looking at them until you are 18. 

Now let me be very clear. When David was born we lived in Cincinnati, OH where we could buy four large homes for what it costs to live in a duplex in Chicago. My wife wasn't allergic to cats and we didn't live near her father who is deathly allergic to cats back then. And David was TWO when we received a hand me down car bed (Thanks Solomon Family!). 
I hadn't even had my coffee yet, and I don't drink coffee, but that seemed like a good morning to be convinced to take up coffee drinking. 

My life is a comedy. It makes me laugh except for the moments when it makes me cry. 

And as for me, well I've been working hard in congregational life and struggling to get my fledgling company off the ground. For years I've been figuring out ways to digitize Hebrew learning tools and get them in the hands of my students to make their lives easier. When I showed a friend last spring he asked if I'd ever thought of marketing my learning tools. Six months, incorporation fees, two artists and one computer later I am ready to publish my first digital Alef-Bet book, my second Alef-Bet book is almost in post-production and my learning tools have had a major facelift. 
My website, www.DigitalJudaism.com is still a work in progress but you can go see some of the beautiful artwork that Sekana Radovic and Eric Winter have created for our books and request some free samples of my products (who doesn't love a free sample!). 
I'm tweeting @DigitalJudaism too and can be reached at michael@digitaljudaism.com

I've been told by my digital media savy wife that I have to blog more than once an eon too. 

Thank you for all your love and support, m


Friday, July 6, 2012

(A Post from the Superman Samuel  blog for my Son, Sam)
http://supermansamuel.blogspot.com/

The waiting in the near silence of murmuring machines while the cellular war is waged within my Sam is enough to drive me mad. We can all grasp Sam's life being weighed in the balance here. But few can truly grasp the numerical size of the war being waged.

On the outside we witness a boy struggling to maintain his spirit and wit without completely telling the adult world where they can stick their food, stethoscopes, bells and whistles. On the inside his cells wage a war numbering billions easily, perhaps in the trillions. The goal is to eliminate all the leukemia down to the very last cell while keeping Sam alive. The doctors, nurses and their chemicals are doing everything they can to vanquish Sam's foe valiantly so he may live to thrive for many decades and see his own children run about his legs.

The boy cares for none of this. Surely he wishes to live above all else. But he dreams of home, family and friends, not this world of strangers where his loved ones visit in trickles rather than the torrents of friends and family always flowing through his home.

We all have our banners raised for Team Sam as we wage and win this war with love, spirit and prayer in addition to medical prowess, technology and magical potions.
Sam is a true warrior inside and out. May we all be inspired to understand the wonders that live within us and the blessings those wonders allow us to bring into this world.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

On disappointment

Our children today can't fathom the world we actually grew up in. The moment I begin describing a world without iPads, iPods or XBox 360s their little eyes glaze over and their ears shut down as their defense mechanisms take over to protect their delicate spirits. When it truly sinks in that I grew up in the Dark Ages they look at me with such saddened eyes. They can't imagine how I managed to cope all those years without modern technology.
Modern technology fails to prepare our children for disappointment. Everything is so readily available at any given moment. They can no longer fathom having to wait for something, save up for something or God forbid understand if something is unavailable.

Now, I know it is my responsibility to teach my children delayed gratification and saving up for something big versus wasting all their money on small trivial objects. And it must be stated clearly that every piece of technology described in the rest of this piece and owned by my children has been either purchased with their own savings or received as a birthday gift from an overzealous relative (no names to spare the guilty).

My five year old daughter was funny the other day. She has a game for making cupcakes and a game for making breakfast on her iPod. She asked for the game for Lunch. I looked. There was no such game. She looked at me as if I had grown a second head. "Why not? There is breakfast and cupcakes? Where's lunch?" "In the kitchen, I think I just heard your mother, go eat" (It was 9am in the morning. It took her a good five minutes to figure out it wasn't lunch time yet).
In my six year old son's world disappointment comes in the form of his last generation iPod. It seems his little technological marvel can't play some of the new and current games. He doesn't care that he can borrow his older brother's or play on an iPad. He wants an upgrade now. He hates when I tell him to get a job and start saving the $200 for a nextgen iPod. "I'm too young to get a job! You never pay me allowance on time! How am I to save for a new iPod when I can never earn enough allowance."
"Go clean up the toys the baby just spilled all over the living room. I will pay you an extra dollar."
"Did mom just call me for lunch?"
He thinks I don't know it is 10am and no where near lunch time.

Seriously though, my kids are incredible about doing their chores and I almost never have to pick up a toy unless I am helping them clean up a baby devastated living area that looks likes Kansas after Dorothy's taken a trip. The immediacy of media and entertainment however is setting them up to always desire and need something newer, shinier and faster at the youngest age possible. Thank God for free games and vast amounts of storage space on their devices. As digital natives they can't fathom the true work involved to create, provide and maintain their technological desires.  My children all know the value of work and chores. But I am not looking forward to the constant battles over technological disappointment or the day when they realize the true cost of wanting something that symbolizes nothing in the end.