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."