Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Most e-mails fall under the category of “junk mail” for which we do not reserve much gratitude. Others urge us to participate in political activity; some are personal correspondences from friends and relatives for which we can feel grateful and still others represent grandiose offers of great profit and success, which can lead to much misery if we succumb to such advertising seductions.

One e-mail that I received without warning brought me a full measure of gratitude. It was not one that informed me of my extraordinary good luck in winning a lottery, a luxury home, boat or automobile. Rather, it was a communication that validated my efforts in trying to raise the consciousness of people of the utter joy and blessing accompanying the capacity to feel grateful.

A chaplain had made use of some material from my book-“I Think therefore I Am- Gateways to Gratefulness,” especially several of the exercises available to implement the awareness of gratitude into our daily lives.

" I work with a woman with emotional issues who is in need of surgery. While it appears to be relatively minor surgery, she is still very frightened of not waking up from the surgery. We wound up talking about what a gift it is to wake up each day and I directed her to the mindfulness practices that you suggest in your book. She felt much more at peace at the end of our visit. I also used passages of your book today as I led a group of seniors in a discussion on this theme. I told them that I was going to write you, and one said: "Everybody likes a thank you if they have done something to help you."

What a remarkable gift! Thank you.

Monday, October 18, 2010


My father-in-law passed away last week; he was 93 and lived a full, and most challenging life. A Holocaust survivor, he and my mother-in-law were spared by fleeing into the interior of Russia and surviving in the labor camps of Siberia and Khazakstan. His life reflected a commitment to hard work-he was a masterful tailor-simple pleasures of family and friends, and unswerving love of the Jewish people and Israel.He was the quintessential "zeide"-grandfather to his three adoring grand children and to any child who crossed his path. He shared over 70 years of devoted marriage to his wife from whom he was inseparable.
Jewish tradition ordains a week long period of mourning -Shiva in Hebrew means seven-during which the mourners remain at home and essentially receive family and friends who comfort them and take care of all every-day necessities.This week is an opportunity to live through the intense feelings associated with the death of a loved one, hopefully leading to a fuller resolution of these feelings so that normal life can be resumed.
It is also hectic and quite exhausting. We were blessed with the warmth, care and love of many friends and family members who provided food for all meals, visited and gave comfort and companionship during a time when one can experience great loneliness and a sense of abandonment.
The appearance of co-workers reflected the esteem in which my wife and her brother were held in their places of work; family members coalesced into a unit of deeper intimacy that often only an occurrence of loss can generate. Past feelings of distance and alienation were suddenly set aside ,even erased as all those concerned rose to the challenge of bringing comfort to the bereaved. Somehow death is the great teacher of life's inestimable value and worth; somehow death touches the human heart so that it may embrace the fullness and beauty of all things; somehow death connects us to the imperishable reservoirs of love and deeper understanding.
I am grateful for the shiva period that enlightened me so deeply regarding the preciousness of wife and children, and how fully blessed I really am.
May the memory of my father-in-law, Jacob Lederman, Yaakov ben Ze'ev Halevi, always be a blessing.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


By this time, the day after Yom Kippur, we have all completed a thorough process of confession of sins-it seems as if there are no more sins we could conceive of at this point. Yet, I must confess one more thing; I never liked Yom Kippur! I enjoy my daily cups of coffee too much to withstand a day without them! Moreover, for over 40 years I conducted services and impatiently awaited the end of the day so that all its demands could be put behind me.
Yesterday it was totally different. I can't express how grateful I am for the experience of Yom Kippur at a synagogue called ROMEMU, at which I spent 24 glorious hours in a church setting-they can't afford a separate space yet, especially in Manhattan-during which time not a moment passed when I felt the discomfort of fasting. So elevating was the service with its rousing and heartfelt singing accompanied and inspired but never overpowered by the magical music of outstanding musicians , Rabbinic words that filled one's heart with hope and love, physical embraces of members that surrounded us with genuine expressions of sincerity and concern, and the many moments of meditative silence by which we could touch, even fleetingly, our deepest yearnings and desires. Unlike the conventional synagogue in which the hours drag on so slowly because of lengthy, mechanical and rote-like formulas of prayer , and the passive indifference of worshippers , completely unengaged, who have no focus for their hearts and their attention except for their growling stomachs and the growing parchness in their mouths, ROMEMU has created a holy community and a sacred space of honesty and acceptance in which tears of sadness and joy co-mingled into a fluid of renewed faith.
When the day ends in a conventional synagogue, it is not uncommon for throngs of people to make a mad dash to the doors at the very last gasp of the Tekiah Gedolah of the shofar, fleeing hunger and boredom at the same time. Last night, the final , crackling blast of the Shofar was greeted with exuberant singing and dancing, a celebration of hope for a reunited Jerusalem under the sovereignty of peace that continued for close to fifteen minutes. Then the spices were passed around filling the sanctuary with smells of renewed sweetness and pungent awakening, and the flicker of a Havdallah canadle danced toward the arched ceiling. Hundreds of fingers were raised toward its light, the light of the sacred being overshadowed by the darkness of the mundane and the ordinary; yet, holiness held on as the hundreds who remained in the sanctuary broke forth into another eruption of sacred energy exploding into joyful song and dance.Hunger and thirst were swallowed up in the soaring of the human spirit and the transformation was complete; at the closing heavenly gates this humble host of angels didn't "need" to eat; they did what angels do-they lifted their hearts in praise.
The day had passed like a flash; its light illumined at least one shadowy spot in everyone's soul .

PS I can't wait for next Yom Kippur.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


She was 96 years old. I approached her bed and introduced myself and my son Jeremiah, explaining that we had come to sound the Shofar for her, if she wished, and to bring her New Year greetings. She was blind but her eyes filled with light.
"How happy I am ; happy New year to you; you should have a healthy and happy New Year! " she exclaimed excitedly. Facing my son she said without seeing him: "Remember that when you are little love seems tiny; but love is bigger than the whole world!" Her worn and wrinkled face radiated joy and tenderness, and my heart was filled with the sweetness of this woman's holy presence.
We continued to another hospital room where we found a 94 year old woman at whose bedside sat her devoted daughter. She informed her mother of our presence and when she heard that my son was with me she proceeded to quote Shakespeare:"Sharper than a serpent's tongue are the words of a thankless child" -and continued to recite a soliloquy from Hamlet. " I remember these words from when I attended college over 70 years ago, majoring in English." We exchanged New Year greetings, sounded the piercing notes of the Shofar and left. What a moment of holiday inspiration.
I attended a remarkable service at Romemu-a spiritual renewal synagogue in Manhattan, and derived much gratefulness from the spirited enthusiasm and open hearted ness of the rabbi and all the congregation's participants. It was indeed an uplifting experience.
But my heart was most deeply touched in the quiet encounter with the two elderly ladies in their hospital beds. I realized again that the greatest gift I received this Rosh Hashanah for which I was most deeply grateful was the gift of gratitude shared by those alone and infirm on a festival day. I certainly received so much more than I gave.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


It is the tradition of the Jewish people to mark the beginning of a New Year by engaging in a process of conscious introspection about the year that has passed and consider ways by which to enhance and improve our lives spiritually in the year ahead. This is no easy task and most of us can only pay lip service to this opportunity for change in our lives. So much happens, there seems to be so much that requires change, so much that we are unhappy about! Where do we start? What kind of steps can we take that allow for success and not create the inevitable sense of failure because of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the task? Rabbis and preachers around the world will be addressing this question in the hope of offering guidance to our people to take at least some necessary steps toward a life of greater fulfillment and joy in the New Year.
Allow me to add a modest recommendation and clear-sighted direction as we hopefully move forward along the path of greater spiritual growth in the days ahead.
Each one of us has his/her bundle of hopes and desires, and each "peckel" is unique . I believe however that there are directions that can be followed by all which will bring us closer to our desired destinations of spiritual fullness and peace.You can probably guess what it is that I am going to suggest as a guidline by which to measure your internal movement and growth! For me, a clear barometer that takes the pulse of my spiritual movement is my experience of gratefulness at any given moment of my life. The compass of gratitude points me in the direction
of my journey toward greater meaning, wonder and compassion in life.When feelings of anger, disappointment, envy and discontent fill my heart, I know it is time to introspect, re-evaluate and meditate on the richness of gratefulness as a source of my personal joy and fulfillment. It is time to refocus my spiritual lens and gain a clarity about my life that is perceived only through the prism of gratefulness , thankfulness and the ability to praise.
Again I have no illusions about life's harshness and the myriad problems that confront all of us;
rather than becoming mired in guilt, self-doubt , and cynical rage, my urging for all of us-myself included-is to pursue the path of gratitude in the New Year, and with a sense of gratefulness for all of life's gifts and blessings be energized to respond to all of life with more generosity and kindness, more compassion and love.
May we all be inscribed in the book of life; may we all author best sellers on the theme of gratefulness and goodness, so that the world be rewarded with its most cherished of all prizes, the prize of peace. Amen.

Monday, July 12, 2010


I had a hard time praying this morning.After a sleepless night, I was tired and found it near impossible to enter into the realm of understanding and experiencing the morning service.Usually I make great efforts to transcend the words of prayer and touch on their inner meaning. This morning I felt a different impulse. This time I recited the words slowly and carefully, as if they were components of a sacred poem.This time I let the words themselves do the spiritual driving to a destination of holiness. I listened carefully to the sounds of syllables, to the words' cadences, to the rhyming, rhythm and meter arrangement of the words; I leisurely lounged in the language, immersed in flowing words of the Holy Tongue.
For some mysterious reason, the words were lovely, a form of music rushing through my mind.The words were more than mechanical intonations, magical in their intention. I had no illusion that mere recitation would somehow alter reality , vehicles of incantation that carry magical powers. Rather it was the melody of words, their inherent music and poetry, that captured my attentiveness on this morning of fatigue and restlessness.
I whispered: "Here are the words, God, do with them as You wish. I hope they please You.!"

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


I saw her at the morning minyan ,dressed in black, almost invisible. Her morning greeting was close to inaudible. It was the week of mourning, the shiva period, and she attended services to recite kaddish, the mourner's special expression of praise amidst sorrow.
I noticed how her lips moved carefully but quietly, like Hannah of the Bible, immersed in her devotion to the careful recitation of each word, without the latitude taken by others of slurring over or omitting words in their haste to complete their prayers quickly.
She lagged behind the others whose timetables trounced the poetry of prayer, changing the prayer from words of elevation to wheels of acceleration.
I had the distinct impression that would God reveal Herself at that moment declaring -" I do not exist!"-she would pay Him no heed but continue uttering the holy words as if each one contained the entire universe within its tiny scope.
I stopped my prayer for a moment, and as I gazed upon this image of simple devotion I was overcome by a subtle yet forceful feeling of envy-such faith, such simplicity, such devotion.
There was no trace of cynicism, doubt, anger, or philosophical misgivings. She prayed with utter conviction,each word a magnet that drew in her heart and soul.
I, by contrast, prayed beset by compromise-questions, doubts, feelings of God's elusive presence if not total concealment. Words of the prayer book were meant to analyze, to interpret, to free associate with; before me sat a woman stooped over her prayer book , a giant of humble and simple faith. In spite of my envy, I was grateful for the momentary awareness of such authentic faith. At least it served as a reminder that such faith was deeply recessed in all of us; our challenge would be to invite it back to our souls.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


This morning was no different from any other morning except that I joined the endless caravan of cars inching along Route 46 to cross the GWB into Manhattan. As we stopped and started a myriad of times, I imagined the quiet impatience and frustration of those undaunted spirits who do this every morning of every week ; I was thankful that I did not need to subject myself to this inevitability.
Yet, the slowness of movement afforded me the opportunity to have my breakfast in an unhurried and aware state of mind. I was able to slowly and intentionally pay attention to what I was eating and increase my gratitude for the delicious steel cut oatmeal mixed with strawberries and blueberries in my cup. I was not distracted to the point of not paying sufficient attention to the road or the cars in front of me;having breakfast was certainly less of a distraction than texting or speaking on a cell phone! The snail's pace flow of traffic allowed for a level of relaxed driving that only furthered my general sense of concentration on everything around me-the clear blue sky, the shining sun, the sharp greens of trees hanging over the road, and the delight of my breakfast meal.
Instead of agitation that often accompanies this situation of vehicular tie-ups, I knew that I would not be late to my destination and was able to derive much pleasure from this circumstance of being "stuck in traffic!" I had time that was held in abeyance, awaiting my inner input.There were no external options to entertain-I was alone with only a choice I could make within the recesses of my thinking and awareness.
I discovered a simple way to be grateful for what was and for nothing more.
We often find ourselves stuck in one place or another, by one circumstance or another. When there are no options ,what remains is our mind and our capacity to pay attention and be astonished by even a single strawberry in our cup of life.

Monday, May 24, 2010


My family has just celebrated my son's 27th birthday. It was modest and lovely, and satisfied his expectations.Needless to say, we were all grateful. Yet, curiously, I found it difficult to fully enter into the awareness of gratitude. It remained a cerebral consciousness rather than one deeply felt.
I wondered why.
After much thought and contemplation it occurred to me that perhaps our difficulty with feeling grateful has less to do with not having enough and more to do with having too much, and not being able to properly register or spiritually ingest the fullness and totality of all the gifts bestowed upon us.
When a birthday is celebrated we are thankful for the safe arrival of the celebrant to that moment in one's life. If we stop to analyze all the components that enter into that journey of safety and security, we cannot avoid being entirely overwhelmed. Each moment, each encounter, each exposure, each happenstance, the myriad moments of sunshine and rain, of winter and spring, of work and play, of conflict and cooperation, of regression and progress, of slipping and gaining a new foothold, of new insights and ideas, of feeling the unchanging love and support of family and friends. So much-and thus I begin to understand the words of our Sabbath morning prayer- "Could song fill our mouth as water fills the sea
could our lips utter praise as limitless as the sky,
could our eyes match the splendor of the sun
could we run with gentle grace as the swiftest deer...
Never could we fully state our gratitude..."

The spiritual challenge remains, on every birthday and special occasion and in fact on every day of our lives to pause and peer into the mystery and wonder of being alive and allowing our hearts to say thank you.
Thank you for the countless blessings in my son's 27 years of life.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


It became evident to me this morning that I had omitted another important reason for gratitude associated with the "minyan." Usually, at the conclusion of the service, its members dash away to work or to other required destinations. Occasionally, a few linger.This morning I stayed behind and together with humorous and witty exchanges with some of my "buddies" I asked my professor "Buddy" for some suggestions regarding my work on a Passover Haggadah whose theme is that of gratefulness.In the course of our discussion I grew excited and re-energized: new and creative ideas filled the quiet of the early morning and i realized how grateful I am to have at my fingertips such a wealth of human knowledge, wisdom and creativity. How reassuring it was to know that in the event of some personal or professional challenge or difficulty, the "Minyan'" encompasses resources of such extraordinary value and assistance.
I thank my "buddies" for their interest, their support and their many wonderful suggestions.Indeed, it takes a "minyan" to raise not only a child but an adult as well.
We parted with the Yiddish words echoing in my ears: "a gebensched tog"-have a blessed day.
It certainly started off that way!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


The rabbi of my local synagogue reached out for help with the daily morning minyan, the quorum of ten adult Jews necessary for the conduct of the full morning service and indispensable for reciting Kaddish, the prayer of praise recited by mourners during the bereavement period. I volunteered, fully understanding how crushing an emotional experience it can be for a mourner not to be able to recite the kaddish-the guilt, the disappointment, the feeling of not being able to show one's love and respect for a parent or other loved one.
Time and again the rabbi graciously expressed how grateful he was for my participation.
After having attended for several months, I now increasingly recognize my own sense of gratefulness to him, to the synagogue and especially to the loyal members of this special group of people who , rain or shine, blizzard or gentle breezes, arrive at the synagogue at 7:00 am each weekday morning.
Thankfully I am not a mourner. Why am I grateful?
I am grateful for the blessing of beginning my day surrounded by fellow Jews in prayer shawl and phylacteries-talis and tefillin, who share sacred words and rituals that help me greet the new day with faith and joy.
I am grateful for the new found friends, one of whom not only brings welcome laughter to my heart, but elicits warm nostalgia of a world gone by, the world of Yiddish and the yeshiva that I attended in my youth and challenges my mind with profound insights about Judaism, psychiatry and life in general.
I am grateful for the inspiration derived from the devotion of the minyan's mainstay who at almost 90 years of age never fails to energize its participants.
I am grateful for a connection to a microcosm of my people with whom to exchange concerns about Israel, America and the world.
I am grateful for those who somehow know all there is about local affairs and make this information available to all. A bit of friendly gossip is, after all ,harmless and quite entertaining.
I am grateful for the opportunity to give a little charity-zedakah, for a worthy cause as the puschke, the alms box , is passed around each day.
I am grateful for a setting and community that leaves me happier, less anxious and more hopeful after a brief half-hour of worship together.
I am grateful knowing as long as there is a minyan, I will never be alone.
Literally, the word minyan means "counting."I am grateful that no matter how insecure, inadequate or unworthy I may feel, there is a place where I count-the minyan.
V'al kulam-for all this, modim anachnu lach-We thank You.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


A picture is worth a thousand words-moreover, how can one describe in words the beauty of a flower or a tree? How do words capture the magnificence of a spring day in Manhattan?
Faced with this difficulty, I share with you several photographs of New York in spring in the hope that they will elicit some feeling of gratitude for being alive in the springtime in New York or any where else for that matter.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Mediterranean West
Fort Lee, New Jersey

Mediterranean West

When my wife and I decided to look for a co-op apartment our primary consideration and
rationale was a financial one-why invest in a rental apartment and get nothing lasting in return! The co-op provided some equity for ourselves and our children.Today I discovered a more profound and meaningful reason for becoming part of a co-op arrangement ,if, of course, one has the means to do so.
I just returned from a funeral; the deceased was an elderly gentleman who would exercise in our modest gym almost daily.He always greeted me with glowing eyes and a bright smile, even when his health was failing and the regular exercise routine became too strenuous for him.Irving was always smiling, good-humored, kind and soft-spoken, surrounded by an aura of innate gentleness.
At the funeral, friends and neighbors spoke words of eulogy together with the rabbi and Irving's children.
Had I entered the chapel during the presentations of his friends I could easily have mistaken them for family. In fact, the chapel was occupied primarily by the residents of the co-op. I was struck by the realization that the co-op apartment is much more than an economic investment;
it is a community of people who can evolve into close friends and become virtual members of one's family. As I listened to words of gratitude , sadness and love, I realized what a blessing this community is to so many of its members; how important a role it plays in transforming one's final days into moments of delight , companionship and meaning. I understood how grateful I could be for this gift, in spite of the downturn in the real estate economy which made for significant losses in the value of each apartment. There was only the increased value to the human benefit of being part of this community, a benefit beyond the measurement of money.
It was a sad day for all of us; but in the midst of the darkness of this day I caught a glimmer of light that reflected a source of goodness and gratitude , the light of this kind, gentle man and the light of a caring community.


I spryly climbed the stairs to the synagogue making my way to the early morning minyan, the quorum needed for communal prayer. Rousing me from traces of sleep was a symphony of twittering cascading into my ears from the treetops above. Wild sounds, chaotic chirping, a cacophony of shrill chirping filled the misty morning air. I looked up and the branches were laden with fluttering creatures, abuzz with excited movement, as if declaring to the skies: "We are thrilled to be back-it has been a long cold winter and now we eagerly await the warmth and sunshine of spring!"
I too greeted them with a smile and a feeling of gratitude that their return signaled the imminent return of days without heavy coats, gloves and scarves wrapped around reddened ears.
"Modeh ani lefanehcha"-"I thank You for the new day, a day begun with birds' blessings and praise." I stepped into the synagogue, ready to pray.

The Birds

Monday, March 15, 2010


My fellow residents were not terribly happy this morning. They stood in the elevator in angry silence, self-conscious , receding into the elevator walls; the elevator filled with the fragrances of pungent perfumes and body lotions; it was Monday morning that only partially explained our sullenness.We were without water-the weather had battered several surrounding communities in Northern New Jersey and the New York area, toppling trees, damaging water stations , downing electrical lines and crushing innocent lives within a few unlucky seconds of life's unexplainable randomness.
Bodies unwashed, teeth un brushed, toilets un flushed-nothing to be grateful for. I cannot count the number of times I unconsciously turned on the tap, with the sudden awareness of no water . People dashed to super markets and convenient stores only to breathlessly discover shelves bare of bottled water.
I returned to the elevator.This time, my fellow residents seemed more jovial; the "crisis" created responses of joviality and sharing.Instead of sullen silence, people joked and laughed. It was good to witness such good naturedness.
As time went on, we came closer to the promised time of restored water flow. This too buoyed our moods.
I await the return of water to my home. As I do I realize how grateful I could be for the everyday
convenience of having water arrive at my finger tips without lifting a finger.Unlike the millions of others who walk miles with jars on shoulders or jerrycans in hand to depleted and muddy ponds of water , and for whom places of bodily excretions are located in outdoor spots that harbor minimal privacy, we are blessed with PS&G or CON EDISON, with an advanced and efficient technology and government that shower the gift of water upon us each day, no matter how wet or dry the streets outside.
Today is a good day to again say thank you; adults may need some encouragement; not children who once again can remain in bed snuggled under warm blankets and day dream of TV shows yet to be watched, and friends with whom to hang out all day. All schools were closed -what a gift!

Monday, March 8, 2010


I have just returned from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I was warmly hosted by a colleague and his remarkable family for a weekend experience of sharing my thoughts about gratefulness as a spiritual path. Grand Rapids is a small Jewish community but what it does not have in numbers it certainly more than makes up for in warmth, generosity, dedication and genuine commitment to Judaism.
I was invited to teach but in fact it turned out that I was the student. At each occasion of this kind, I discover that people of all walks of life, of varying ages and experiences, emerge as sources of enriching and inspirational insights and ideas. As they honestly share their struggles with becoming more grateful and how it impacts on their lives, I gain a deeper and broader clarity of gratefulness' depth and scope for myself and as a concept shared by others.
One example will suffice.
Friday night I spoke of the meaning of gratefulness and pointed out its origin in the word-grates-which suggests something we receive freely, namely our very lives. One woman approached me and excitedly indicated that not only is gratefulness a response for receiving something free, but it is an approach to life that makes us free. In other words, the way to freedom is the way of gratefulness. She feels freer each time she is in touch with her ability to feel grateful for her life. Of course I could not help but appreciate that insight in light of the rapid approach of Passover, the season of our freedom. The gratitude of others elicited my own sense of gratitude and I came to learn how infectious gratefulness can be and the blessing it could bring to others.
In the spirit of gratefulness I extend myself freely to have conversations with others about this vital spiritual idea. Invariably, I am handsomely rewarded with deepened levels of gratitude for the privilege of enriching the lives of others.
Thank you Grand Rapids-Blessings for abundant gratefulness in the future.

Monday, March 1, 2010


We are finally digging out! After record breaking snow-fall for the New York area, the roads are passable, electricity has been restored ,we can once again catch sight of the rooftops our our cars, and the economy which lost billions of dollars in non-productivity is humming once again. And of course, to the great delight of parents, children have returned to school.
The weather is a phenomenon of nature that is inevitable, over which we have no control. We can anticipate it, we can prepare for it; we can't stop it! But we can cultivate an inner attitude toward what it is and how it affects are lives.
The snow storm brought much suffering to many. People lost their lives, income, and budget commitments.Dangerous roads and sidewalks caused innumerable accidents; the homeless and unprotected shivered in the snow's wetness, and dreamed of sunny days when the sun's warming rays would once again be free for all to bask in.
On the surface, there was not much to be grateful for.
Yet, what stands out in my memory of this unusual event are recollections that do in fact elicit a deep sense of gratitude for this wonderful gift of nature. The sheer and utter glee of children being informed that the following day school would be closed rang out like the peals of the liberty bell throughout the hallways of my apartment building; the hundreds of children transported to a fairy land of pure white joy, sliding and skating and romping in the snow , filled my heart with a lightness of being that swept away the coldness of the wintry air.
The innumerable kindnesses and courtesies that I encountered reminded me of the basic goodness of people; and the beauty of white's purifying power as the world took comfort and refuge under a blanket of silken flakes, allowed us to hear winter's symphony , the silence of our own pure souls.
In three weeks spring will officially arrive; until then, we will wind our ways through slush, water and mud. White will wash away into shades of brown and gray, until finally the world will explode into a rainbow of colors bringing the message of renewed life and new awakening.
For all of the shades of life, for an-ever changing world of unexpected surprises and unfortold phenomena, we open our hearts and greet it all with "thank you."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


“Watch your step!” “Take your time!” “Don’t need to rush!”
These words accompanied the warm smile that crossed the bus conductor’s face. Passengers anxiously climbed over snow banks, relieved to put their feet on the rubber matted bus floor. “Thank you” echoed through the front of the vehicle as the conductor politely collected each fare or acknowledged each presentation of a bus pass.
It was the day after a snowstorm that buried New York and the surrounding areas in a canopy of cleansing whiteness, one that drew a drape of eerie quiet over a city that never sleeps. Awakening from its rare slumber it wearily shoveled its way back to life, and hundreds of thousand of children grudgingly returned to classrooms after a full day’s gleeful rump in the snow.
As the bus made its way toward the massive skyline of Manhattan, the sky lit up with the early morning sun that had been in hiding for well over two days. The driver attentively watched the roads still patched over with browning snow and ice and at the same time kept his eye out for stragglers who couldn’t quite arrive at designated bus stops on time. Stopping for each one, he patiently awaited their approach to the doors of the bus and greeted them with a welcome and understanding smile.
Perhaps the ride took a little longer than usual. I was unaware of time’s passage but sat gratefully observing an everyday kindness that filled my ride with a renewed sense of joy. More often than not the transit company is deluged with complaints; today it was deserving of praise. Today it represented the possibility of beginning everyday with a feeling of gratitude, knowing that our way to work, school or play is in the hands of conductors who politely smile and extend their competence and compassion to all and in whose hands are the safety and well-being of complete strangers, who for the briefest time, constitute a family of fellow travelers.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Four years ago I ran the New York City marathon. I was one of 37,000 people running a distance of over 26 miles in a little more than five hours.
Yesterday, I experienced a different kind of marathon; I was one of sixteen people whose journey didn't take them along the streets of New York but instead covered the physical space of several square feet of one lovely apartment on the Upper West side but whose spiritual distance was an unending path leading to the greater depth of Jewish spirituality. We didn't use our bodies but our minds, hearts and souls. It was an all-day marathon in Hebrew Literacy, a run towards the ability to read the prayers of the Jewish people in the language of our Torah, Siddur and religious writings.
We began, as I did before the NYC marathon with the blessing of "Shehecheyanu," thanking God for the privilege of engaging in this journey.
For me, the day was one of utter gratefulness . The reasons are many; we were hosted by a most loving and generous individual whose wonderful apartment pulsated with loving energy that enhanced our capacity to move forward the entire day; we were blessed with the constant presence and open-hearted availability of our facilitator who willingly and good-naturedly ran around making sure that we had sufficient copies of our text and delicious food for our lunch and did so always with a smile; in spite of 9 hours of rote-like review of alien letters and words which demanded the gruelling exercise of memorization and an inexhaustible source of patience and support, never for a moment did any one of us experience impatience, hostility or complaints from any of the participants;rather, the room radiated with an an uninterrupted flow of support, genuine caring and concern, and an awful lot of laughter, humor and refreshing fun. Unlike the end of the running marathon at which point I felt completely exhausted and depleted, somehow I was able to maintain an unusually high level of buoyancy and energy until the very last words of our Hebrew review.Perhaps our greatest joy arrived when for the first time in our lives we were able to correctly read a full Hebrew word. As adults who missed such opportunities of learning for so many different reasons, the past, with its discomfort and feelings of alienation was washed away by the gentle and nurturing waters of recognition and awareness in the community of loving companions.Finally ,the treasure of Jewish worship and prayer could be touched with more understanding and open hearted familiarity.
Four years ago, when I crossed the finish line , I recited the traditional blessing -"Hatov v'Hameyteev" - I thank You,Source of the Good, for allowing us to share in Your goodness and beneficence.
Yesterday, at five o'clock in the afternoon, at the end of this extraordinary day of gratefulness,the words of this blessing echoed through the hearts of all my fellow runners. We made it. Halleluyah.
PS When we came to the Hebrew word -ROMMEMU-and read it successfully, we all exploded into an ear-splitting response of applause, shouting and laughter.