Sitting with Pain in Gaza and Israel

18-1n009-israel2-c-300x300This morning, as I tried to awaken from a fitful night’s sleep, I turned to “Darkness Falls on Gaza,” an opinion piece by Mohammed Omer in the New York Times.

The piece begins,

“Ramadan, when night descends, is usually a joyous time. Friends and family gather to break their fast at the iftar meal. Not this year.”

“Nights are the worst. That is when the bombing escalates. Nowhere is safe. Not a mosque. Not a church. Not a school, or even a hospital. All are potential targets.”

I was hooked. Even if I hadn’t been anxiously following the news out of Israel and Gaza the last few weeks, I would have been hooked by the simple, clear, dramatic yet restrained writing.

You think the day’s long fast is challenging? Think again. You think there’s a feast with family and friends to look forward to at the end of the day? Think again.

We know, those of us who have been obsessively following the news, why this year is different. [Read more...]

Ovarian Cancer and a Circumcised Heart

Unemployment (1909), Kathe KollwitzCircumcise therefore the thickness about your hearts.
—Deuteronomy 10:16

 

Her dying and death circumcised my heart.

For weeks, I knew only this: she’s on a lot of pain medication; she’s hallucinating; she’s in the hospital; she’s home; she has a staph infection; she’s in the ICU; she’s doing better; she’s in rehab; she’s in the hospital; she’s coming home.

How did I know the little I knew? Mother. She conveyed what they, my brother and sister-in-law, wanted others to know.

We knew.

We thought we knew. [Read more...]

Seeing The World As It Is

The Death of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram“My religious commitment: to stay in conversation with Jewish stories.” That’s Nancy Fuchs Kreimer in “The Face under the Huppah: Relating to My Closest Stranger.” The essay is a meditation inspired by a drive with her husband from Philadelphia to Boston. Near the beginning of the drive, Fuchs Kreimer and her husband get stuck in a familiar conflict: a disagreement over whose proposed route is best: hers that is shortest, his that sometimes involves less traffic. They’ve been here before: on this highway, on this trip, caught in this disagreement whose stakes to them seem high.

Given the “circumstances”—their late start, the threat of snow and ice in Connecticut, and the building Friday afternoon traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike—her husband declares that “he will be determining” their route. “Alone.”

How does he get away with simply claiming the authority to choose their route? Fuchs Kreimer doesn’t openly protest her husband’s autonomous action. Rather, she devotes the rest of her illuminating essay to considering her response to him in relation to relevant rabbinic texts and others, including Freud, Levinas, and the Israeli novelist David Grossman. [Read more...]

A Jew Prays in Venice, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

On the pleasant train ride from Florence to Venice, my wife Laurie and I began to piece together a relaxed itinerary for our final days in Italy: the Jewish Ghetto—definitely; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection—pretty sure; the Doge’s Palace—we should (but haven’t we had enough history?); the Basilica di San Marco, the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari—haven’t we seen enough churches?

As it turns out, we did make it into a church (more than one) in Venice, but it was only at Santa Maria della Salute—a church on which we stumbled while rushing to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection so we could see it and have plenty of time for the famous Jewish Ghetto in Venice—where I felt the tenacious need to maintain my separate, external, egotistic will relax.

There was a prayer to be said and I said it in this church built to honor the Virgin Mary for saving Venice from a plague that in 1629 to 1630 killed 47,000 residents; a third of Venice’s population.

In the presence of the Madonna of Healing, my eyes fixed on the sculptures above the main altar, fixed on one sculpted figure in particular: a woman below and to the right of the Madonna, her body turned away from the Madonna, her arms outstretched beyond the “frame” of the sculpture, into the void, in anguish, afflicted, her neck twisted so she could look back and up at the towering Virgin holding an infant in one arm.

[Read more...]

A Jew Prays in Venice, Part 1

In Venice, in the Santa Maria della Salute church, in the presence of Madonna della Salute (Madonna of Health), I sang Debbie Friedman’s Mi Shebeirach, Jewish prayer for healing, quietly to myself.

Before entering the area of the church roped off for prayer only, I hesitated. Should a pretty good Jewish boy enter a spaced designated for Catholic worship?

My wife and I were near the end of our first trip to Italy. In the months leading up to the trip, I had been reading Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, a book I had owned for years but had never read or had read only a little of, probably in my late twenties, and had forgotten.

Grounded in his experiences as a Trappist monk and drawing on his deep interest in Buddhism and other contemplative traditions, Merton’s essays on faith, detachment, egoism, dualism, God, and related topics awakened in me an interest in and openness to Catholicism that I had never before experienced.

“We do not detach ourselves from things in order to attach ourselves to God,” Merton writes, “but rather we become detached from ourselves in order to see and use all things in and for God.”

[Read more...]


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