The office staff left at 4pm and the clergy team won’t arrive for another couple of hours. I get to help lead Shabbat services tonight, so there’s no point in driving home the hour+ in traffic only to turn around and return. Instead I am standing at one of the tall tables in the Congregation Or Ami foyer, working on an art project, relishing the calm that comes from being alone and quiet in a space so often full of energy and engagement.
The Chesed (kindness) of a Teacher
In a nearby room, our B’nai Mitzvah teacher Diane Townsend works diligently with a Bar Mitzvah student. Over and over again, they repeat the first few words of Gevurot, a prayer honoring God’s strength. Diane plunks at the keyboard she uses to teach the tune: “ba-DAH da-DAH da-da-DAH da-da-DAH.” The student responds: “a-TAH gi-BOR l-o-LAM A-do-NAI.”
They move to the next phrase, and the next. Diane patiently, painstakingly repeats the tune, the student focuses and refocuses. He wants to do it right; I can hear it in his voice. “M-chal-KEL cha-YIM b-CHE-sed.” The words he is reciting translate as “You sustain life through kindness,” and I am suddenly struck by how much chesed (kindness) it takes to repeat the same phrases over and over again and by how much this master teacher must believe in the holy work she is doing.
The Wisdom of a Mother
The doorbell rings; a woman peers through the glass door. She holds a shoe box in one hand and with the other grasps the hand of her three year old daughter, who is wearing bright pink long underwear and kid crocs. I wonder if I will ever get to walk into my synagogue wearing such an awesome outfit. I open the door.
The woman directs her daughter to the display on an easel, with a sign reading “Shoes that Fit.” The sign is covered in foot cutouts, along with a sign-up sheet in the middle. She points at the sheet: “Do you remember who we bought shoes for?”
“Diego,” her daughter responds.
“That’s right. Diego is in 1st grade, just like your sister. And do you remember why we bought shoes for him?”
The girl looks up at her mom and says, matter-of-factly, “He doesn’t have his own shoes.”
They stand there, holding hands in the foyer at Or Ami, talking about what it means to live in a world where some people don’t have shoes. And then mom hands daughter the shoebox, and daughter places it carefully under the sign in the way only a three-year-old can carefully place something she finds monumentally important.
And just like that, they are gone, and I am left feeling blessed to have witnessed this moment of Jewish parenting.
The Curiosity of a Kid
A half hour later, Max arrives early for bar mitzvah tutoring. Diane isn’t finished working with the student currently in her office, so Max begins to wander around the lobby. He stands in the Noshery (kitchen) for a bit, watching the security video screen, then meanders over to snag an oneg cookie from under the napkin theoretically “protecting” the sweets until after services.
And then he stops in front of the yartzeit (memorial) wall. He stands there for awhile, brow furrowed, munching.
“What’re all these names for?” It is an off-handed question, thrown out into the space on the off chance someone wants to engage.
I join him in front of the yartzeit wall. “These are the names of congregants who have died. We remember them by thinking of them every year on the anniversary of their death. See the little lights? The lights are lit up for those people who we’re thinking of this week.”
Max nods. Continues to stand there. He’s thinking.
Five minutes later, he comes over to me. “One of the lights isn’t on,” he informs me. “The day he died is this week, but his light isn’t on.” He sounds concerned. We walk over to investigate.
“Ah,” I say, and my heart smiles at this opportunity for organic Jewish teaching. “That is very observant of you. Did you know that Judaism actually uses a different calendar than the calendar we use every day? It’s called the Hebrew calendar, and when we remember people who have died, we remember them on their Hebrew date of death.”
“So even though he died this week, it’s not the anniversary of his death?”
“Not according to the Hebrew calendar. See how the dates listed next to the people with lights lit up don’t really match each other?”
He takes this in, reading through each of the week’s yartzeit names. I think to myself that this is exactly how I want to be remembered, by a random kid, waiting to head into bar mitzvah tutoring, pondering the differences between the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian one.
Blessed are the Quiet In-Between Hours
Then people begin to arrive for Shabbat services, and I am a bit jarred. I stop – just for a moment – finding blessing in the in-between, to thank God for the quiet calm of the in-between hours:
Hours in which I was privileged to witness the individual attention we put into each student, the time we spend really ensuring that they not only “get it,” but feel confident about their work.
Hours in which I was privy to a mom, comfortable enough with her synagogue community, that she brought her daughter by during off hours and took a few moments to teach her that not all people are given equal opportunities and that we have a responsibility to do something about that.
Hours in which I got to watch a kid get curious, ask Jewish questions, take in Jewish information, and internalize new Jewish knowledge.
Baruch Atah Adonai…
Blessed are You, Source of Life,
who allows us to witness beautiful quiet in-between hours,
when it seems no one is watching.