When our granddaughters had their B’Not Mitzvah this past September, I was introduced to the Torah that was very likely used when my father had his Bar Mitzvah. What better honor for me than to collaborate with my cousin, Keshira HaLev to give the Torah a new mantle!
Cousin Sandy’s tuxedo, shirts, hankies, and ties
Uncle Jason’s Greek hats and Tallit bag
Maya and Naomi’s B’not Mitzvah logo
Keshira’s Wedding dress
Sacred garment silks
Tim’s Bar Mitzvah kepah
Cousins’ photo transfers, needlepoint, and embroideries
I know very little about my grandfather, Sam. There was only one picture of him that used to sit at the table near my Nana’s chair in our home.
He was the first of his family to come to Pittsburgh. He opened a bar in Harwick, Pennsylvania. He sponsored his younger brother, Jake, a sister and a half-sister. One sister died tragically in Pittsburgh, the other went back to Europe and died in the Holocaust. Jake took over the bar when Samuel died. He was married to Frances and had three girls. The oldest one, lives in the same building as my oldest daughter.
Sam died of some kind of cancer. Someone told me once it was colon cancer. He was lucky to have a wife with a big family home on Portland Street in the East End of Pittsburgh. It appears from the obituary he went there for treatment and subsequently died there. I wish I knew more.
When there’s much shifting through me, it helps to look to outside sources to help me make sense of myself.
One such viewpoint came by way of a podcast by Tara Brach on gratitude. What an apt view for this holiday season- suggestions on how to awaken our natural capacities for gratitude and generosity though pathways of honest presence and purposeful cultivation. Tara Brach is a gem!
The next influence came by way of a new book of short stories by Nicole Krauss. Each one is more fabulous than the next. The NYTimes explains her writing this way: In each of these moving stories, we feel the weight not only of family, but of history and faith and leaving a legacy, pressing down on every one of her characters.Birth and death, joy and mourning, love and heartbreak — these too animate the collection. But as a writer Krauss is less interested in describing life’s grand explosions than she is in showing how people make sense of the rubble. My, my, my, another gem: Nicole Krauss.
Finally, though this might be a little harder to understand, was the documentary series on Netflix about Ivan The Terrible called The Devil Next Door. The story itself is difficult to watch, scary and horrific with interesting twists and turns until the very last scene when the foreman of the Ford plant explains that most of the men on the assembly line were just like Demjanjuk, undercover, silent, make no waves so as to blend into America’s melting pot, acting as if, proving that the true horror of hidden prejudices and behaviors are right there to been understood and conquered by all who choose to shine the light and look closely.
My goodness it is still hard to talk politics- the win seems so precarious- until things are totaling in motion including the vaccine. Meanwhile, I continue to find the only way to be in the muck is to stitch, stitch, stitch.
I spend the majority of my time listening to podcasts while stitching. The pod cast that brings me the most joy these days is The Promised Podcast by Noah Efron. It gives me, as an American Jew, the clearest perspective on Jewish Israeli life. I can’t say enough about the quality. Noah is honest, thorough, left of center, and the kind of historically religions that I understand and respect. To prove my point, listen to his podcast on Rabbi Steinsaltz.
Another interesting change of perspective has come to me with the Tortoise News. It is English, and another way to see the world, that is progressive, yet thoughtful. They have a podcast and I subscribe to the newsletter, where you get the gist of everything and can explore further to your interests.
My third recommendation is the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson. I know you might thing it is fuffy being Oprah’s book pick- but I can assure you it it the most powerful book you will read this year- and maybe ever.
When the pandemic started, I thought of it as a time to dig deep and create. Now, on my fourth major project, it seems a little ridiculous, but really, its all I’ve got given the craziness of life today.
For this project I am going all out- something that will bring everything together for me. Attributes by color from Kabbalah applied to a 3-dimensional figure. Now I know that makes no sense to you and it shouldn’t, really, but hopefully, the finished piece will enable it to be clear.
It’s hard to rank all of the sad and debilitating experiences during this pandemic, except for the one that is at the very top of my list: my plan to organize and host Steve’s and my granddaughters for their B’Not Mitzvah.
It had been in the planning for well over three years. We were so excited by the amazing possibilities of the strength in our numbers as the blended family of Silks and Roots. We were to meet here in Pittsburgh on Labor Day weekend, 200 strong, to celebrate Naomi Beverly Linera and Maya Elizabeth Silk. But, as the virus would have it, by June it became clear that there was no way to safely hold any kind of live in-person event.
I won’t dwell on all of the bad news around the cancellation, like that I am still in serious negotiation with the Ace Hotel over a huge deposit they are unwilling to refund or that I haven’t been eyeball to eyeball with the girls for almost a year, things that make me first really sad and then very, very angry. Instead, I’m going to give you the overview in list form, of what it takes to transform to virtual with panache!
Envision an alternative that the girls can get their arms around.
Create a theme that relates to their Torah portion and use it to keep Jewish education as the focus.
Engage with the tutor and the spiritual advisor to adjust the learning requirements.
Instead of cancelling the DJ, transfer him to twitch.
Find and hire a technical advisor and learn all you can.
Create online invitations, a website, internet tools that explain and support a virtual event.
Create a participation package for each guest that engages them to support the girls virtually.
Create pre and post virtual events for the extended family.
Encourage early gift giving to increase the event’s normalcy.
Include all of the events, virtually of course, that would have happened, like a Shabbat Dinner, Family practices of Aliyot, and Havdalah.
Ahead of the date, send written materials to all participants that replace the prayer book and help them engage in the service.
Create special souvenirs for the guests to remember the event.
Take advantage of Zoom Record to document the celebration.
Looking at the above list doesn’t quite tell the story. For each of the 12 items listed above, I could easily write a page or two or three. Suffice is to say, having this experience under my belt, I am well equipped to offer helpful advice to any of you who finds themselves in charge of virtual alternatives to previously planned live family events. This is truly one of those times, when you have lemons, your only choice is to make lemonade!
Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies the shape who we are and how we live in the world.
Rev. angel Kyodo Williams is a social visionary applying inner awareness practice to broad-based Transformative Social Change, calling for a paradigm shift that changes the way change is done. Rev angel’s presence-centered social justice movement for personal freedom and just society, forges the healing of divisions of race, class, faith and politic. Amen.
Her Dharma of universal truth embraces:
the dharmic religions where time is held as fundamentally cyclical
the Abrahamic religions that attends to the linear
indigenous and earth-based religions respect for our right relationship with the sacredness of the earth and all its manifestations
the Vedantic as it pursues liberation from cycles of suffering
Judaism’s mending of the world
the path of Buddha based on self-discovery, rather than strict adherence to belief
Jainism with all of life is sacred
the path of Jesus where love is front and center
Baha’i’s unity in diversity where all humanity is equal with appreciation and acceptance of the diversity of all races and cultures
Check out this practice tree to create your own practice that bears witness to suffering and cultivates compassion and taking on wise action to find your personal path to transformative change.
If we want to bear witness to the sea change towards lasting, sustainable, social transformation, we cannot afford to consider doing inner work to be a choice for those that do social work. We must make them synonymous. It is the inner life of the individual that expresses itself through community, and communities give rise to society.
My Uncle Jason lived a long fruitful life, celebrating his 99th birthday in February. He died last week on the Summer Solstice. He was a Shapiro through and through, blessed with that singular soul shining through with 110% chesed, that clear over abundance of lovingkindness.
Jason was the youngest of three brothers. My father was in the middle. Sam was the oldest. Known together as The Shapiro Brothers, they owned and operated National Record Mart. They were famous for their ethical business practices and tireless community work, long before such things had to be discussed and negotiated.
Working at the Record Mart was a family affair. We, children, all took our turns, spending time on the floor beside a rotating system of The Brothers. There are too many stories to recount here, suffice to say, three brothers, three families, one all together when it came to the Record Mart.
When I lost my father in 1998, Uncle Jason, stepped right in as my Dad replacement. We walked, talked, reminisced, and commiserated. We spent our Fridays together giving out money to Jews in need. Memorable times, significantly meaningful for both of us.
Uncle Jason, You are an inspiration, like no other. I love you. I miss you. May your memory be for a blessing. Love, Weezie