Today is my last entry as Before Shabbat goes into summer mode. I’ll be taking several summer weeks away from the blog, though my idea folder will continue to be open and at the ready. I appreciate the weekly rhythm writing establishes for me. I can communicate with you and share reflections, reactions, and responses. It’s almost never difficult to come up with a theme for the week. The days are so long and so busy. There’s always a plethora of inspiration and news: local, international, Israel-related, good, bad, etc. I appreciate in the deepest and most profound way your readership, your comments, your kindness.
Tonight I will be blessing my son, Jonah, and his wife-to-be, Maggie, on the bimah, in honor of their upcoming July 1st wedding. In this quiet time prior to that big moment, I find myself feeling so full of joy and gratitude. Without being too maudlin, let me just say that I grew up without many expectations that I deserved good things.
Now as a man approaching 60, I find that my cup runneth over. It may just be possible that, as it also says in Psalm 23, “…goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” What a turnaround! What a concept!!
Everyone deserves goodness and mercy. Everyone is due good things. It is equally true that there are no guarantees that we will get them. To live is to know suffering and loss and pain. I used to think like Alvy Singer, Woody Allen’s role in Annie Hall. Remember he said that he would only read books with the word ‘death’ in the title.
But there is more. Yehudah Amichai, the greatest modern 20th century poet of Israel once wrote a book entitled, Beyond All This There Hides a Great Happiness. If we can keep our hearts open, if we end up with the right partner, if we can find work that we love, if we can surround ourselves with family and friends whom we honor and who honor us, then we have a fighting chance. There is a great happiness. Have a healthy summer filled with relaxation, great books, good company, and love.
I wrote a poem this past week to honor Ruth Neiterman, a long time Hebrew teacher who tragically died of cancer. I read it at her funeral and several folks requested that I reprint it here.
by Keith Stern
Little Jewish kids are afraid of Hebrew
Who can blame them?
The sharp, scary letters
the gutteral challenge of a chaf
The laryngeal mystery of an ayin or a chet
The unnatural buzz of a tzade…
The blinding smear of dots
Flying across the pages like angry bees from a Hebrew hive
direct the destiny
Of random letters
Sussing or shushing
Being or ve-ing…
And all flowing backwards…
Hebrew spins off
Desiccated parchments and
Old rabbis wrinkled hands
Ancient dust devils
Swirling over the heads of little Jewish kids
Surrounded by dark primal sounds
Panicked by walls of alien symbols
They lift their eyes to the mountains
They say help!
And if they are very lucky
There is a teacher – a Hebrew teacher
A woman of patience and virtue
So much more than an eshet hayil
Who is not afraid of the letters
In fact she loves the letters
And she shows them to the children and she says
No don’t be afraid
Here look you can pet this daled
You can hold a final mem
See! You can do it!
The kaf won’t bite.
So they approach her
They look in her kind face
And the little Jewish kids trust her
They come closer
Pulled in by her gentle wisdom
And they know that this teacher
Will challenge the brightest student
And will wait for every ADHD IEP on-the-spectrum kid
Who’s lucky enough to end up in her class
There are little Jewish kids
Scattered all over the world
Grown men and women now in their 30s and 40s and older
Hundreds – thousands
Successful educated people
And if you ask them
Do you remember who guided them through the thicket of aleph-bet
They will say, it was Mrs. Neiterman
Who loved Hebrew letters
But who most of all