Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Coal

When I have things on my mind, I like to share.  In general, I'm not much of a talker.  I prefer to listen, but I also like to free associate and go with it.  Yet, today, I wanted to share my thoughts but thought better of it.  Not because what I was going to share was deeply personal or revelatory, but because it was an idea; an idea that needed time to percolate.  Most times I like to share my ideas with my friends and family, seeking input and the like.  This time was different.
I knew it was different and the image of the coal came to mind; not the one mined for and used as a fossil fuel, worthy of a later discussion.  The coal that came to mind was the one that every primitive skills survivalist who has worked on making their own fires without a match or lighter knows intimately.  You see, when you need a fire out in the woods and there is no match or lighter to be found, you have one of a multitude of ways to get a fire going; a bow drill, hand drill, hand saw, etc.  Each of these methods uses friction to produce a coal.  It is this coal, this glowing ember that will create the fire; and without the coal, there will be no fire.  When the coal is made, your job is only part way done; that coal has to be fanned into a flame with the help of a tinder bundle (something that will catch fire) and then this "match" has to now light your fire. 
Our ideas are often like that coal.  If you blow on it too hard, it will go out.  If you don't blow on it hard enough, it will also go out.  If you are careless with it, it will go out.  If you do not prepare the tinder bundle correctly, it can go out.  And so on.  Our ideas need to be treated like this coal; it needs to be given the right conditions, the right energy, and the right circumstances in order for it to be fanned into a flame and then a fire.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Letter sent to Citizen's Voice and others

Dear Wyoming Valley,
Ever since I came to the Wyoming Valley over four years ago, I have been working with my synagogue, Temple B’nai B’rith, on a variety of social action projects to help our community; like helping the Domestic Violence Service Center, working with the Dinners 4 Kids program, community-wide winter clothes drives, school supply drives, winter gift drives and more.  All of these were local projects with a modest scope and dependent on the generosity of the members of our congregation and, once in a while, other local organizations.   We have been working to fulfill the Jewish mandate of “repairing the world,” a religious obligation to continue making the world a better place.
When disasters like Superstorm Sandy come through wreaking havoc, it’s easy to succumb to despair, wishing we could do something to help all of those who have been affected and afflicted.  Wishing it could have happened differently, wishing it never happened at all.  But wishing doesn’t change the circumstances, acting does.  Following the tradition of my ancestors, and working with some very motivated people, we decided to help the people of Coney Island USA, (a non-profit) and the people of the region.  Sonny Myslak, an independent truck driver, who has time and again shown his incredible generosity, responded to the call to help by offering his trailer and his time.  When the word was put out to the Wyoming Valley, the response was overwhelming; truly living up to the name, the Valley with a heart.  And your heart was big and full of compassion forthe victims.  The Wyoming Valley knows all too well the enormous destruction that nature can wreak and how important the generosity of strangers was when rebuilding all that was lost.  
In less than a week we filled a 48 foot trailer and brought it down to Coney Island.  When we arrived, you could see the devastation all around the community.  The water had taken over the first floors and didn’t go away for some time; people lost so much and it was obvious that the toll it took was enormous.  We were able to deliver three quarters of our load to two different organizations in the area.   However, when we tried to deliver the rest of the clothes to FEMA and the Red Cross, they had been so inundated with people’s generosity that they were unable to accept any more.  We searched for other organizations that might be able to take the rest but were unsuccessful.  In the end, the time was getting late, we were exhausted and it was time to comehome.   Our mission was extremely successful even though we did not deliver all of the clothes.
I have since learned that neither FEMA nor the Red Cross in NJ, Coney Island or Staten Island are taking any clothing.  They don’t have the capacity to store or sort it.  Having had some experience with clothing drivesand knowing how much effort it takes looking after just a modest amount of clothing, which includes sorting and delivering, I can’t imagine how overwhelmed these organizations must be.  Sounds not unlike the biblical story of when the Israelites were building the portable Tabernacle and had asked for donations.  Moses, too, had to ask them to stop when their generosity exceeded their need.  Today, however, our generosity has not exceeded their need, just their ability to manage it.  This isn’t failure or mismanagement; it’s simply the situation at hand.  Understanding this doesn’t solve the problem with what to do with the leftover bags of winter clothing and gear.  Certainly we could have brought the bags to local organizations like the Salvation Army and they would have been happy to accept such a generous donation.  However, this wouldn’t have fulfilled the original mandate, helping the victims of Superstorm Sandy.
In conjunction with a few committed members of Temple B’nai B’rith we decided that we could transform the gear into money by having a Rummage Sale.  So, on Sunday, November 25th, Temple B’nai B’rith is hosting a Rummage Sale with all proceeds going to help the victims of Superstorm Sandy.  Your generosity has already helped so many people, now, come by on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, buy some clothing, knowing that your purchase will go directly to helping those tormented communities in Staten Island, Coney Island, Hoboken and so on.  Thank you for continuing to be the Valley with a heart.
Roger Lerner
Rabbi, Temple B’nai B’rith

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Satchel Like No Other

So, I love hand-me-downs.  As the youngest of four, I not only received many of my brother's clothing (and hoping upon hoping that I didn't get too many of my sister's) but also had many of their teachers.  As an adult, I am still very hesitant to throw things away, and love garage sales.  So, I had this pair of jeans that about four years ago became too used to wear but couln't bear to throw them away.  I had originally thought that I might break them down and make paper out of them.  I just never acquired the screen mesh that would have made that happen.  Recently, I was given an ipad as a hand-me-down and didn't like the idea of taking it from place to place without having something to carry it in.  Of course, I could have bought something but I had a very clear idea of what I wanted and was pretty sure there wasn't anything out there that would meet those requirements.   So I went to work, cut some styrofoam to the right size, then cut the jeans, trimmed and sewed.  Bought a zipper and attached it.   I so wanted to use the jean zipper as the main zipper for the bag, but it just wasn't long enough.  Decided that it would definitely need some type of strap and thought about buying one but realized I could make that too.  All I would need would be the clips to attach it to the bag.  The belt loops would work perfectly as the attachment point to the bag.  For the straps, I cut the jeans into four long straps and weaved them together sewing the clips on both ends.
I've since used more scraps from the jeans for bracelets and to make a handle for a walking staff. 
Every time I talk about it, the only way to describe it is as purse.  Though, since I carry it, I like to call it a satchel.  Yeah, it's a man purse and I think I take a little too much pride in it. 

Friday, March 30, 2012


So I was headed to the gym to work out right before Shabbat HaGadol, that last Sabbath before Passover, and was thinking how my workout regimen was designed to reduce that extra puff in my middle region.  Or in other words, remove the chametz from me; the rise in my doughy middle, the stretch in my belt. The Rabbinic mindset has often compared yeast, the essential ingredient in chametz, to our all too human arrogance.  It makes me think that the two are not unrelated.  All too often, we use food as less a means of sustenance and more a means of fulfillment and indeed we get filled, overfilled, stretching out over our waistlines.  Using food in this way is arrogant.  We are so consumed by our own neuroses that we think, even if unconsciously, that food can actually solve a physical, emotional or spiritual problem.  Arrogance, because it is the most available, accessible, transportable and transfigurable property.  Arrogance, because when the evidence is staring us in the face, or blocking our toes from view, we still ignore it.  Passover affords us the opportunity to reevaluate this chametz in our life, in the form of food, body, mind and spirit and to begin to deflate the arrogance that hinders us.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jewish Earth Day

              Tomorrow is Tu B’shvat, once known as a Jewish tax day, has become the Jewish Earth Day.  We celebrate our connection to the land, the earth and all living things.  In psalm 24 we read that, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”  The Rabbis of the Talmud, written over fifteen hundred years ago, felt that this psalm should be recited on the first day of the week (Sunday), since God created and took possession of the Earth on this first day.  Even today, we still recite this psalm on the first day of the week.  How then might this verse be understood?  If indeed God is the owner of the world, then we are but squatters in God’s glorious abode.  We have taken possession of a world that was neither sold nor gifted to us.  Dominion, as some might argue is our title certificate, is not a carte blanch designation to use the world without restriction or without consequence.  Indeed, we must use the resources of the world to live, thrive and survive, but at the same time, unrestricted use of those self-same resources is the key to our destruction.  We take delight in the wonders of the world, we stand in awe over the power of nature, and yet, in our want for comfort and our desire for money, power and prestige we willingly destroy habitats, reserves, forests, mountains and seas in the name of progress, autonomy, and proprietary rights.  The argument for animal rights, land rights, watershed rights, etc. gets lost amidst the din of personal or corporate rights.  It might seem that the idea that the earth must be protected is a relatively new idea, except that it isn’t.  In Deuteronomy, the text argues, sarcastically, “When you are attacking a city don’t destroy the trees … are they human, able to flee into the besieged city (for protection)?”  The Bible teaches that even when at war, we have to guard our actions to ensure the sustainability of the area we are attacking.  If this is one of the rules when one is the aggressor in war, then how much the more so is it important to care for the trees when one is at peace!  In America, we are taught from an early age that we have a freedom in this country like no other and, therefore, have a right to do as we wish, especially when it comes to our own property and our own business.  Yet, even here, we have laws that limit what one can do, especially when one’s personal quest impinges upon another's rights.  Laws that protect the earth are necessary, because, left to our own devices, people would do whatever they wanted without worrying a tittle about the consequences of their actions or the effects it would have on future generations.  Though we may not be able to change the way everyone understands their relationship with the earth, we can set up safeguards that protect it from those who would abuse and destroy it for personal gain.  Personally, if the many who purported to believe in God would change their status from “squatters” to “caretakers,” then, maybe, these laws would become superfluous.