Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Every now and then,if one is particularly blessed,one encounters a response to a teaching that seems to capture its essence more poignantly and authentically than the words of the teacher himself/herself. Today I received an e-mail from a congregant and friend who has been reading my postings for a while. I am most grateful for his interest and for the following insightful understanding of gratefulness in one's life. I am delighted to dedicate this posting to his words.
"I have been perusing some of your wonderful discourse on gratefulness in your blog. You seem to have reached a level where the contemplation of the concept of gratefulness
itself has become internalized, a source of solace and peace; an inherent
emotion has evolved to replace an ephemeral frame of mind. So, it strikes me
that one can indeed be grateful for gratefulness itself. In this regard, one
really can be "eternally grateful". What a wonderful gift from Hashem, God, for
which we should be grateful to the Eternal."
Thank you Paul.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Grateful for the Gift of Blueberry Picking

All year round I look forward to one particular summer activity in the Berkshires. While listening to a stunning performance by the BSO on the luscious grounds of Tanglewood is indeed a highlight of my vacation, as are many other ‘Berkshirian’ events, somehow blueberry picking has a special place in my heart’s excited anticipation of summer. To pluck a blueberry off a branch fills me with a profound sense of gratefulness.

The owner of the blueberry farm, his countrified face fashioned in rugged lines of sunburned strength, matter-of-factly informs me that the crop of blueberries had not yet ripened. “ You’ll have to be a bit more choosey to find the ripe ones,” he said.

I place the empty bucket around my neck and turn to face the endless rows of blueberry trees. Each cluster is a portrait of changing colors, from pale green slipping into shiny red, reaching the rich blue color of the sea in summer. I stand in the hazy sun, my arms at my sides, my eyes absorbing the gift of nature’s humble beauty, the beauty of the blueberry.

Each movement of my finger is greeted with an infinite bounty of one ripe berry after another. The branches are dappled with blue, and contrary to the farmer’s assertion, the selection is more than plentiful.

My bucket fills quickly. I move from tree to tree, unable to strip bare any one single branch. I feel like a child in a candy store-all these tangy-sweet berries within my grasp, all for the taking. Of course I had to pay for them, but paying likewise becomes a reason for pleasure and delight. I experience the great blueberry bargain, a bucketful of berries costing not much more than a pint or two in the grocery store. The bang of a bargain was muted by a much deeper experience, the awareness of how priceless a gift are the treasures of nature’s generosity. I now had in my possession blueberries beyond counting which could fill jams and pies and cereal bowls with their nutritious and succulent flavors.

I recall the passage in Genesis: “…the land produced vegetation; plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds…” Again, exactly like the year before and so many years before that one, the earth had given forth its gift of tiny, plump, life-enhancing fruits of the tree. Whether one believes in the kindness of Providence or in Nature’s nurturance, one cannot escape the wonder and mystery of this magical gift. The spiritual awareness of nature’s unchanging plenty brings home to me, each summer, the gratefulness for the blueberry. And for this I give thanks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


A simple phrase is as meaningful and powerful as its context. In the course of a day we find ourselves uttering a stream of pro forma “thank yous" as part of the everyday human experience of social discourse. In the same way, we receive outpourings of thanks from intimates to strangers for deeds originating in automatic gestures of cordiality, holding the elevator door open, to activities that require greater effort, thought even sacrifice-preparing a nice meal for a friend.
Yesterday, I completed teaching a summer course in Jewish Social Philosophy at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work of Yeshiva University.At the end of the class, I was deluged with thanks. I was deeply moved and felt profoundly grateful for these expressions of acknowledgment. (Of course I could wax cynical by considering this response as a subtle and devious effort to gain my favor and influence their final grade)
I prefer to receive these words of gratitude open-heartedly and with reciprocal gratefulness. Thus a simple “thank You” becomes a priceless gift.
An article in the NY Times of that day gave extraordinary power to my experience of the meaning of ‘thank you.’ A physician working in hospice with dying patients relates the following.
“…I go in to see a patient I haven’t seen before the weekend. She is sleeping…I introduce myself to her son. I decide not to wake her…I am on my way off the unit when her son calls after me: “Can you come back? My mom wants to tell you something.”
I am back at the bedside. I touch her cool hands. “Do you want to tell me something?”
She holds my hand to her face and pulls me close.” I wanted to thank you for this. Thank you.”
There it is again-another moment, another near miss. I was rushing to get the day started. I would not have awakened her. I would have missed the chance to feel “wow.” It is a very big deal. …”

Pause to say thank you. Pause to hear it, as well.

Monday, July 21, 2008


He towered over me.I am not short-5'11"-but I felt dwarfed by his height.In a few moments, however, the Cantor of the synagogue in Hemlock Farms, a sprawling vacation and year-round community in northeast Pennsylvania, became my peer as he listened sympathetically and humorously to my interest in teaching gratefulness to his congregation.
I was visiting a friend for the weekend, and was brought to the synagogue as part of the tour of the community.
"Enough of 'Yisrael' and more of 'Yehudah,' he commented insightfully.
"Precisely," I answered excitedly.In those two designations for the Jewish people he had captured the essence of one of today's major Jewish spiritual dilemmas.
'Yisrael,'Israel, derived from Jacob's confrontational encounter with an angel, points to 'struggle' as essential to Jewish identity and survival, with, unfortunately, an aftermath of a wounded Jacob, limping but still alive.
"Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn...he wrenched Jacob's hip at its socket...Said he: ' Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human and have prevailed." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping on his hip."(Genesis32:25-32)
By contrast, 'Yehudah,'Judah-source of the term Jew-originates in an expression of gratefulness."She conceived again and bore a son. and declared,'This time I will praise the Lord.'Therefore she named him Judah."(Genesis 29: 35)'Yehudah' contains the words for thanks, praise and acknowledgment.
Realistically, the Jewish people continues to struggle for survival; in Israel against hostile enemies, everywhere else, against cultural and spiritual forces that nibble away at our core identity.
The dominant psychology of being Jewish remains a defensive one. Perhaps it is time to make an internal shift from 'Yisrael' to 'Yehudah,' asserting who we are not by virtue of struggle but rather out of a sense of gratefulness for the gift of Judaism and the Jewish experience.
It is the onset of a three week period of public Jewish mourning mourning culminating in Tisha Be'Av, the fast of the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, commemorating the destruction of Jerusalem over two thousand years ago and the end of temple-centered Judaism and Jewish sovereign independence. As our ancestors of old, we continue to feel besieged and embattled by struggle.'Yisrael' has the upper spiritual hand. Yet we are told that the Messiah was born on that awful day of destruction, the ninth of Av. Amidst the struggle of 'Yisrael' emerges the gratefulness of 'Yehudah,' a sense of praise and thanksgiving. 'Yehudah' sustains the spiritual outlook of gratefulness, the ground from which hope and renewal will sprout and become deeply rooted in the reality of tomorrow.
Thank you Cantor Osborne for your comforting d'var Torah, your words of Jewish wisdom.

Friday, July 18, 2008


I rejoiced when the phone rang and a pleasant voice requested that I donate either whole blood or platelets at the local blood donor center. Since I have always felt that this gift is such an easy one to share , my response was immediate.
I arrived at the center, completed all the necessary preparations-filling out a questionnaire-this time on a computer which was more fun than the paper document -and undergoing a brief physical examination with a delightful and charming young woman with whom I exchanged entertaining pleasantries.
Finally I was ready, and invited to lie down on a very comfortable recliner and offered a choice of movies to watch during the hour-long procedure.
Suddenly a voice called out. It was a nurse who questioned my health status and discovered on the application that I had a cold sore on my lip which had not entirely healed.I was summarily disqualified.Disappointed I bid all the staff members farewell and returned to my car.
I felt cheated, upset. I wanted to do good but was unexpectedly thwarted. "There will be a next time," I was told by a sympathetic staff. But now was empty without the gift of being able to give. I realized at that moment how precious is the act of giving, and how gratefulness is the most fertile of grounds from which giving can grow.
We give for many reasons. The gift from gratefulness is perhaps the best.
My blood is blessed with health. How do I thank? How do I acknowledge the gift?
I look forward to a return visit to the blood bank when again I will watch the red liquid flow from my veins into a plastic bag that will perhaps find its way into the veins of another for whom this fluid will bring blessing as well.
Shabbat Shalom.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Sabbath was approaching; all was prepared except the folding of the laundry. My wife insisted on doing it alone, allowing me to continue my reading of the Torah portion of that Sabbath.
I looked up for a mental pause in my deliberations of the text and my attention was suddenly captured by the sight of my wife bending over the basket of newly dried clothes, carefully and contentedly folding them neatly into a rising pile of sheets, towels and undergarments, from which her loved ones could pluck items of personal comfort and ease. She was lovely; simply dressed, without facial or bodily adornment, a soft radiance beamed from her face.
I just sat there, silently watching, washed over by a sense of deeply penetrating gratitude; in this quiet moment it was revealed how fortunate and blessed I was for the presence of this precious person. It was as if the fullness of a marriage was discovered in this ordinary, passing moment.
I returned to the Torah text. I read: “Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov”-How good, how fair, how wonderful are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwelling places, O Israel.
A reminder of the beauty and blessing in one’s home, a home made joyful and sacred by the ordinary act of folding the laundry, an act of ordinary love.
“Let the world have its way with you…graced as it is with the ordinary.” Mary Oliver


Yesterday I attended the wedding of my wife’s second cousin .It was a wonderful, joyful occasion one for which many were most grateful.
One attendee was an aunt by marriage. She was born in a small Polish town before the Second World War. As a young teenager of fifteen, she stood in line about to be directed to the gas chambers together with her family and meet the horrible and unimaginable death of six million others.
“What are you doing in this line?” barked the German guard. “You are not Jewish!”
She was spared and later escaped, living as a Gentile in Germany for the duration of the war.
The music blared .The dance floor shook with the stomping and shuffling of hundreds of jubilant feet. I joined the others to the popular and pretty raucous strains of “ I will survive.” As the words issued forth from the vocalist, I turned and my eye met the eyes of my wife’s aunt by marriage. A woman now in her eighties, she was one of the smiling, gyrating and celebrating crowd of wedding guests. “I will survive!” How poignantly ironic. The lyrics of this contemporary tune encompassed an extraordinary miracle of human survival from the ashes of the holocaust. I froze, unable to continue.
How grateful aunt Helena must feel at this moment. How grateful so many should feel not only for life but also for the joy of another Jewish celebration of marriage.

Friday, July 11, 2008


I was sitting on the sofa, not reading, working or watching television.I sat idly, my mind a blank. My eyes wandered to photographs on the wall and on the desk, table and bookshelves of the room. It was quiet and my attention rested on these scenes: my son at 2 years of age sitting in a swing in a park in Montreal ; my daughter celebrating her Bat Mitzvah on Massada in Israel, surrounded by grandparents , younger, healthier and energetic enough to ascend the mountain on a very hot August day; a framed Hallah cover sent to my beloved grandfather by his sister from the Land of Israel in the 1920's; a photo of me running the New York marathon-all moments frozen in time,such a long time ago and yet feeling like each moment happened only yesterday.
I have always loved photography.I continue to dabble, especially in this time of growing leisure in my life. Perhaps its a way of putting a halt on the mad rush of time.To photograph is to meditate on time and its passage, stopping its irreversible flight.
The painting, the photograph are gifts of the human mind and soul that lessen the dread of our mortality. Stop and look at your family pictures and be thankful for those slices of eternity.
Shabbat Shalom

Monday, July 7, 2008


I am not a good tennis player.Yet, I do enjoy hitting the ball across the net with someone of equal ability. It's fun and a good way to exercise.
My son is still unemployed and living at home, a situation that is far from ideal for both my son and his parents. Because it is summertime, we have an opportunity to use the tennis courts of our apartment building; it has been a delight for which I am most grateful.
The feeling of gratefulness arises each time I outplay my son; I take joy in my modest victory and my enduring physical ability to run and hit the ball across the net into his side of the court. My greater source of gratefulness is when my son exhibits excellent skill in running and hitting and out manuveurs his dad. My gratitude is mixed with pride and the confidence that he has the physical prowess that will stand him in good stead in the future. As every parent, we desire more than anything that our progeny will succeed beyond the boundaries of our own success. Our greatest success is to witness the greater success of our young, of the next generation.
As long as he is with us-I do hope it is not too long for his sake and ours-I intend to derive the fullness of gratefulness from his being with us, whether on the tennis court, at the kitchen table, in the family car or watching television together on the living room sofa. After all he is our cherished gift,and together with his sister who begins here first job today as a social worker, represents the ultimate reason for my fullest sense of gratefulness.
In tennis ,"love" is equal to zero. For me , playing tennis with my son is a blessing of love whose worth is beyond measure.


It was drizzling outside, a wet Saturday afternoon in the Berkshires. Inside, it was cozy and warm, with good food, good company and a Shabbat spirit encircling the lunch table.
The Four of July weekend and our conversation turned to politics, to the electoral campaign for president of the United States of America. Whatever our individual difference of opinion, we argued vociferously but respectfully, our debate sprinkled with humor and laughter. Aside from the serious analysis of the New York Times and other sophisticated media resources, we could not ignore the commentaries of John Stewart or Steven Colbert; nor was the late comedian George Carlin forgotten.
Beneath the laughter lurked the strains of anxiety and insecurity regarding America's future -the economic downturn, global warming, America’s ostensible decline and lack of respect in the international community, the prospects of another terrorist attack, the response to which could be a grandiose yet reckless and destructive presidential finale of a military assault against Iran- all worrisome scenarios and reasons for criticism of the Administration, politicians, the very fabric of American culture.
Yet, when we arrived at our friends’ country home, the front door was draped in red, white and blue and a small American flag sat proudly on the living room table. Our hostess informed us that her 90-year-old mother usually spent July Fourth with the family but this year was away. “She makes a big deal of the Fourth of July,” she added. ”It’s very important to her.” Her mother, as so many millions of Americans, had fled the persecutions of Europe and had found freedom and opportunity in America, something that so many take for granted, especially the younger generation. Perhaps that is why, as natural and necessary as it may be, protest and demand for change find its loudest voices among the young.
That soggy afternoon, I rediscovered a renewed sense of gratefulness for America, not because it is always right but because we are able to freely express what is wrong and at the same time be reminded of what is in fact so right about this very special and unprecedented community of individuals who continue to test the dream of democracy in a very dangerous and threatening world environment. Much needs to be changed; much needs to be upheld and defended. If we are intelligently grateful for our identities as Americans, recognizing our right, our duty to dissent and to defend, then indeed, divine grace will be shed upon the world and upon us. Happy Fourth! (Belatedly)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


I am particularly grateful today. In today's economic climate of downturn , with its growing scarcity of employment opportunities, a parent's greatest worry and concern is for the future of one's children. Both my children have graduated this year with Masters degrees for which I am indescribably grateful. As they seek employment, I struggle with feeling grateful in the face of an unresponsive job market.
A few moments ago, my daughter called.
"I got the job," she cried out excitedly. Needless to say those words brought joy and gratitude to my heart. I put down the receiver and the echoes of her joyful exhilaration rang through my mind.
I am thrilled at my daughter's achievement. I am most grateful for her exuberance.
I can only hope that she continue her life suffused with the gratefulness that spawns excitement and exhilaration from the many challenges and moments of help she brings to others as a working MSW, a real social worker.
Blessed be the One who is good and brings goodness to all.