Friday, July 31, 2009


The title of this posting appears contradictory; if one is grateful, it is not necessary to kvetch-translation of Yiddish-complain. If one kvetches, obviously one is not feeling very grateful.
How do we reconcile the two?
I propose that the ability to kvetch- to complain, to vent our unhappiness and protest what we perceive is unfair in our lives is a healthy outlet which could lead to an awareness of gratitude for what is. Often kvetching is like a cleansing of our feelings and thoughts which block the flow of positive energy in the world and inhibit our ability to connect to that for which we can be grateful. There are times we have to get the negativity off our chests. To paraphrase the Bible-“There is no man on earth who does not kvetch or at least have the desire to do so.” It is so natural to complain, entirely human. Because of the ease by which we can complain the challenge of seeing the world gratefully becomes even greater and more daunting. In fact, one can argue that to transcend our proclivity for kvetching is in some way a spiritually heroic act; after all, whenever we resist or overcome natural obstacles or hurdles in our lives, we arrive at special moments of personal achievement that can be regarded as significant steps of human spiritual advancement.
Tisha B’Av, the fast day of mourning, sadness, protest and anger was experienced only yesterday. This day hearkens back to experiences of kvetching . According to the Rabbis, when the spies and Israel were gripped by fear and negativity and complained bitterly to God that the Land of Israel was beyond their grasp and they would all perish in the wilderness, it was the Ninth of Av.
Thus, kvetching can go too far, and create the static that interferes with the clear communication of life’s blessings and goodness.
Today we turn toward the Fifteenth of Av-Tu B’Av; just 6 days after commemorating destruction and tragedy we are bidden to let go of our kvetching, no matter how legitimate, and reach out to the experience of “dancing in the vineyards,” a metaphor for the sweetness and joy of life’s many gifts.
May we find the strength to make our way from the kvetching in the desolation of our tragic history to rediscover the “grapes of gratitude” in the vineyards of tomorrow’s promise
Shabbat Shalom-May this Shabbat "Nachamu" comfort us all.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I have just completed one of my most enjoyable teaching experiences;in large part the satisfaction was derived from a fortunate mix of students who represented different walks of life and ideological perspectives but were open to pursue their social work studies with a unified aim of becoming effective and caring social workers.
The bulk of the class was comprised of Orthodox men and women, with the men being either rabbis or studying to become Orthodox rabbis.One student was Afro-American, another an atheist and a two others were secular Jews. They were all bright, intelligent, and "good people." They argued and debated enthusiastically, even heatedly but always respectfully.
What gave me the greatest sense of gratefulness was their genuine kindness and concern for one another and for their clients.
Another source of gratitude was my ability to be silly and sometimes humorous while enjoying an open responsiveness from the class. It is truly wonderful to be free when you teach and not constricted by institutional constraints or expectations of those who pay your salary. As I make my way into my "retirement " phase of life, I discover greater areas of freedom and openness in my writing and teaching. I can't adequately express what a gift that is, and how grateful I am for it.
The time whizzed by; each class was over "before it began;" I am saddened by its ending but fully aware that endings consist of feelings of gratitude for time well spent, for receiving again another gift of living "to teach and to learn."
Thank you, students of the Block program of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

Monday, July 6, 2009


I stepped into the lobby of my apartment house, the magnificent clear and summery blue sky behind me. My eyes blinked, adjusting to the sudden darkness of the indoors.
I spotted an elderly gentleman, leaning on a cane, frail looking but with eyes wide open, as if awaiting the adventure of a new day. We have become friendly through the almost daily contact in the small exercise room in the basement of the apartment building. He rides the exercise bicycle to keep himself fit.
“Good morning, Irving. Where are you off to today?” I asked.
With large eyes twinkling good-naturedly, he replied: “Where else? The doctor needs some money so I‘m paying him a visit.!” We chuckled and shared a few more cordialities, then said goodbye. His wife acknowledging my presence by adding-“Where do you think we’re going?” her voice slightly aggravated but resigned.
I continued to the elevator. How sad-what a way to spend one’s final days-going to doctors!
A moment later it occurred to me that Irving has so much for which to be grateful. He lives in a comfortable apartment house, together with a loving wife of 60 years; He is able to exercise each day, however limitedly; his mind is alert, and he continues to be sociable and friendly. His greatest gift perhaps is his ability to visit his doctor almost every week.
Is there not something in all our lives for which to be thankful? If not, then I fear a reality of utter despair.
I thank Irving for reminding again that the core of our lives pivots around the gifts that we have, if only we are blessed with the vision to see them.
I close with much gratitude for the sun that has been hiding but has finally decided to reappear and bless us with light and warmth.