Monthly Archives: June 2014

A Prayer

Sometimes I am just too distracted for my own good. I grab onto a train of thought and hold on, twisting and turning until it feels more like a roller coaster and less like a train… This behavior produces lots of sighs and then I forget what I was supposed to be thinking about. In fact, there is nothing more disconcerting than walking into a room with a purpose and then utterly losing what said purpose was…

Alas: this is the way of the world – so much to and say and consider. There are those who counsel not to read the news; if it’s that important you’ll hear about it. Otherwise it’s just too depressing. I wish I could follow that advice. The thing is, I live in the world. I actually care about what’s happening in the Universe around me.

I know what you’re thinking; we are just dust in the wind, a mote in God’s eye. In the end it’s all pretty much absurdity. So why get too worked up? This is not untrue. I know in the end it all goes away. I know after I’m dead that the world just keeps turning without me. I know entropy is inexorable.

Frankly however, I am not interested in the moment after I die. I care about right now, the moment in which I reside.  This moment is the only thing I have. And so I feel some kind of obligation to know what’s happening around me. Once I learn about what’s happening, how can I remain aloof or disengaged?  How can I not care?

What’s called for here is balance, or at least, some semblance of acrobatic dexterity out here on the tight rope.  It may be that prayer originated on this tight rope. Not the cry-of-help prayer our ancestors offered up when they saw a snaggletooth tiger approaching. I mean instead the “help me care about others and not be overwhelmed by the pain of the world” prayer. I mean the “help me experience the true beauty of the world despite its hideous shambles” prayer.

And so I say the following prayer: Thank you God for these beautiful first days of summer. Thank you for all the blessings you bestow upon me. Thank you for the splendor of the earth in all its beauty. I am aware of my good fortune to be an American Jew living in a world of comfort and prosperity – help me to never forget just how good I have it. Help me remember that there are millions upon millions of people who suffer every day without enough food and shelter. I know I can make a difference even as I know I cannot change the world on my own. Help me to remember that I may enjoy my life without guilt for the infinite injustices of the world. Help me to remember that I must stay committed to eradicating whatever evil I can eradicate. “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it” (Pirke Avot 2:21)

I’m not always sure about the ancient prayers of our liturgy, but this prayer is unambiguous and sincere, challenging me and challenging God. Prayer is the bamboo pole an acrobat depends on to keep from falling.


What can I say? I read my email while on vacation. I read the news while sitting on the beach. I am connected. I am committed.

Of course I will be relaxing. I will be engaged in serious R&R  at Nauset Beach and Pilgrim Lake. You ask what I’m reading this summer? Here’s the list: Peter Heller’s new novel, The Painter (you must read his first novel The Dog Stars), A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Sound of Things Falling, by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, and The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. As I review my list, I realize these are all dark, intense novels… Oh well…

Before Shabbat goes on hiatus with this latest blog, to return in late August. I wish you all health and peace of mind. As Lester Burnham once said, “…[I]t’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life…”

Shabbat Shalom


Naftali Frankel, Eyal Yifrach, and Gilad Shaar: Release Them Now

It is a terrifying world out there, filled with dangerous, malevolent people. The worst of these monstrous individuals – the very worst – are those who prey on children. A week ago despicable people kidnapped 3 Israeli teens.

Whenever I read about such criminals I try to imagine what they’re thinking. I try to discern their logic and their values. I truly wonder what motivates them to threaten young lives.

Try as I might, I can find no entry point to their minds. To peer inside their world is to enter a place darker than a cavern in which illumination is impossible. Their up is my down. Their universe rests on a foundation of self-aggrandizement that clearly sees 2 kinds of people: those who believe as they believe and those who do not. As long as the “believers” dress a certain way and talk a certain way and adhere to the same ideology, all is well. But those who do not accept the same code for their lives are written off as dangerous and worthy of scorn, derision, and violence. That is, the non-believer is an enemy when he/she dares to voice another version of reality.

In the dark world of these kidnappers there is no such thing as an innocent life. And so these three boys are now in danger’s way. We don’t even know who kidnapped them. The Netanyahu government accuses Hamas of the crime and Hamas denies involvement. But no one in fact has stepped up to take responsibility, which is odd. Odd, because terrorists generally kidnap in order to broker a swap of imprisoned compatriots.

We don’t know where the boys are, a fact that is frightening, given Israel’s amazing abilities to use intelligence in the Occupied Territories. There are those who think security tightened too quickly for the kidnappers to leave Israel. Others suggest they were spirited out and may be in Iraq or Syria or even Iran.

Of course there are loads of facts that are all very top-secret. Whatever the military and the government are doing, they have been doing with grim purposefulness. There are a lot of sleepless people in Israel this week.

As I’ve read about Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal, it strikes me how different they are from my sons. Their parents and I probably have differences of opinion on everything from Jewish observance to the legitimacy of Reform Judaism to a two-state solution to the legitimacy of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. It is likely that we would never meet, so different are our worlds and our social circles. Yet for all the ways we are on opposite sides of so many issues, on one we are united: those boys are our children. We pray for their release.

Shabbat Shalom






I’ve been somebody’s father for half my life and a grandfather for almost one year. This fact is an extraordinary part of my identity. It means that I have spent untold hours, awake and asleep, thinking about my children. I have held my children as they slept. The experience of holding one’s son or daughter nestled into one’s chest or on one’s shoulder is beyond description. It is an intimate moment of warmth and connection which dads need, never having carried our babies inside of our bodies or nursed them (a bottle is a very distant second..). Of course I’ve also held screaming babies, be they sick or angry or over-tired… That moment is not one that I cherished, that sense of not being able to gain control. The good news in those moments is when the storm passes. Eventually, they will stop crying. And that’s a good lesson in and of itself

For half my life I have bathed, clothed, burped, kitzled,, and plain old loved my children. I’m not looking for a medal: I know lots of Dads have done this and more. And yes, in the early years I may have said I had to go home to babysit my kids, which I know is not the most endearing phrase, but I said it. I have schlepped my kids thousands of miles for various school, temple, family, and other activities. Some of the time I did it graciously. Other times, not so much.

The truth is that in between all of the big moments there are countless little ones, little moments of meaning. Reviewing homework, teaching how to ride a bike, helping to cook home fries, sitting together on the couch watching TV, and so forth.  I am of the generation that began to take seriously a father’s role in child rearing. We didn’t all have great models of fatherhood, so like many men I made it up as I went along.

As a child it was clear to me that the role of fathers was to, among other things, scare their children. How many of us over age 45 heard the warning “wait until your father comes home!”. Of all the things I’ve done as a father, one of my proudest declarations is that I did not beat them, not once. I may have done some screaming along the way, but I never belittled my children. Perhaps this sounds like a relatively insignificant accomplishment. But for any father who as a child experienced physical violence, getting out of that cycle of responding with violence is no small journey.

Again, I am not expecting a medal nor am I applying for sainthood. But for me, it is an accomplishment for which I am extremely proud. So many of the rules have changed in my lifetime. Some of the changes are so powerful, so life affirming. I am so deeply thankful that my children are not afraid of me.

I am also deeply thankful for the advent of feminism in Western culture. Because without the rise of women in the professional world, without their insistence that men step up to the demanding role of parenting, I think many of us men would still be somewhere in our caves. So to be very clear here on the weekend of Father’s Day, I am endlessly appreciative of the women who’ve helped us become better fathers and, frankly, better men.

My charge to fathers everywhere, Jewish and not Jewish is to give your children unequivocal, unambiguous love and support for who they are and what they want to do. Help them experience your strength without fearing its intensity. Remind them that they are a blessing to you and to the world.

 I really do you remember what it was like to hold each of my children. That such a tiny creature would one day grow and become a mensch, a player in the world, is beyond my wildest imagination. God knows, I had no idea how to be a father. No real mentors or guides. Just intuition and a great parenting partner . I pray that what I did was enough. Though as any parent knows, there’s no such thing as enough.

 Happy Father’s Day.

Shabbat Shalom





Dear Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl,

I truly can’t imagine what these past several years have been like for you. Knowing your son was being held captive by the Taliban, not knowing where he was or the status of his health… I’m sure you haven’t slept well for years. And then this: the anxiety over whether Bowe would be freed (we know there had been similar plans aborted), the thrill of his safe release… and now the firestorm of criticism and hypocrisy.

I’ve never met you nor have I met Bowe. Thankfully I found the Rolling Stone article written by Michael Hastings (who tragically died in a car crash last year). I feel like I know you and Bowe and his situation a little better.

Bowe’s childhood growing up on 40 acres of lush farm tucked into remote country sounds like another world to me, a suburbs boy who’s raised his kids in a fairly insulated and protected environment. Bowe had a whole world to explore on a dirt bike. He loved his bb gun. It sounds glorious and free.

But you tempered his freedom. You homeschooled your kids and rigorously set out a moral system by which they could evaluate their actions. They learned about accountability for their behavior.

Bowe tried to find his balance point between responsibility and adventure. Mr. Bergdahl, you seem to have been a tremendous influence on Bowe, telling him not what to do but rather to do what he thought right. What an honorable man you are. It is not easy to parent a child with so much energy and drive and curiosity, a kid who seemed determined to push the envelope, to become an Olympic fencer or to join the French Foreign Legion or, for that matter, the US Army.

The two of you obviously know a whole lot more than I do, so you may know much more about Bowe’s story and why he left his post. The Rolling Stone article painted a disheartening story about his unit and its lack of leadership and discipline. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere with the kind of chaos that seemed to constantly flare up into trouble must have been mentally challenging and exhausting. The point is, nobody knows yet why he left his post. So why are so many people judging Bowe? He is being pilloried in the press by pundits and politicians who profess to know something. These people use lies and half-truths to turn your son into a shirker, a deserter, a turncoat. It is striking to me that there is no such thing as circumspection, no benefit of a doubt. There is no empathy, no mature sense of propriety. I am ashamed of the way some of our country’s politicians and journalists have spoken, for they truly besmirch the good name of this country, not to mention, of course, your son’s honor. In the Jewish tradition such talk is utterly unacceptable.

So now you are in limbo. Bowe is safely returned to the US, but I would guess you are still not sleeping. You’re wondering what shoe may yet drop. But I know that you must be so relieved that at least you know where he is. I am so saddened that his welcome home ceremony was cancelled. I get it, but that must have been yet another bitter pill to swallow.

I’m sure people have pointed out all of the facts about the prisoner swap that enabled your son to get home. As a Zionist and a Jew, I know that Israel has released thousands of prisoners in order to return Israeli soldiers from captivity. In fact, Israel has swapped prisoners to get dead Israelis back. It’s never easy. It’s always controversial. But in the end most Israeli parents need to know at the end of the day that their children will not be abandoned in captivity.

 Like I said, I don’t know what happened. We may never really get the truth. But this I do know: It doesn’t matter if Bowe had deserted his post or not. The story may end up unfavorably. Your son may be in legal trouble. As David Brooks wrote today: It doesn’t matter if he is a confused young man who said insulting and shameful things about his country and his Army. The debt we owe to fellow Americans is not based on individual merit. It is based on citizenship, and loyalty to the national community we all share. Soldiers don’t risk their lives only for those Americans who deserve it; they do it for the nation as a whole.

I am so sorry for your anguish. I hope you are soon reunited with your son. And if things get harder, if there is litigation and more circus antics in the press, please know that many of us who are parents and grandparents and proud Americans send you our love and support. No matter what, he’s still your boy.