Tag: love

When Harriet Met Herman

Herman and his granddaughter Stacey

How Harriet and Herman Met
Harriet had nothing to do that evening, when her friends prepared to go out to a dance party. So she agreed to tag along.

It was toward the end of World War II; the dance hall was filled with servicemen of all types, handsome in their dress uniforms. Harriet and her friends danced and rested, then danced some more. As they left the dance floor to rest their tired feet, she noticed that all the chairs were taken.

With a clear sense of purpose but perhaps a twinkle in her eye, Harriet looked over all the servicemen sitting in their seats. She picked out one, the safest looking, who was handsome nonetheless. Approaching him, she asked if she could sit on his lap. Herman said, “Yes.”

They were married 3 months later.

People said it wouldn’t last. That was 46 years ago.

I buried Herman last week, on an overcast day, between drizzling and downpours. Though the day was dreary, the stories about Herman and Harriet were uplifting. Especially this one about how they met.

It is not hard to imagine Harriet approaching Herman or the romance that ensued. Harriet still has that twinkle in her eye, even amidst the sadness of mourning.

More than Just “Old People”
Like Harriet and Herman, in the stories of our own Bubies and Zaydes we are reminded that our current travails, challenges, joys and dreams are simultaneously intensely immediate and timelessly universal. More than just being “old people,” or the deceased being merely names on a page, they point to warm-blooded living, loving, struggling people. Like our Biblical ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, our loved ones sought good times, good fun, comfort in community, and perhaps meaning in a relationship with God.

They Were All Once Young
Sometimes we forget that our older relatives were once young, that those who anchor our families’ histories once laughed and played and were just plain silly. We seemingly ignore the fact that like each of us each of them enjoyed young love, recklessly pursued thrills, and defied the safe for the fun. Our Nanas and Papas, Zaydes and Bubies have seen so much of history and experienced as much and more than any of us have.

Well Herman has returned to the Source of All Life, so his memory carries on in the stories his family tells about him. And his beloved, now 90 years old, still has that same twinkle in her eye and perhaps even the chutzpahdik fire in her belly, that gave her the guts, 46 years ago, to sit down on that serviceman’s lap.

Thinking about Herman and Harriet
Maybe that’s why I keep thinking about Herman and Harriet. Because in the story of these two great grandparents, I see not old people but young vibrant individuals who grew up. May each of us retain those qualities which made us fun when we were young, even as we grow older. And may Herman’s memory be for a blessing, and the memory of their meeting serve as an inspiration.

God Loves Like a Dog

My teacher, Rabbi Jonathan Slater of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality illuminates this week’s parasha by comparing Loving God to Loving a Dog. His first sentence grabbed me so (I’m not a pet person either), and it just got better and better.

I reprint Rabbi Slater’s wisdom here for pet lovers who might find meaningful this metaphor of God’s love. [Reprinted from Selections from Birkat Avraham: Ongoing Text Study Program, The Institute for Jewish Spirituality, on Parashat Bo (15)]

Rabbi Slater Writes: 

I am not a dog person, but I’m watching family and friends who are and trying to understand the phenomenon. I’ve come to feel that part of it is that dogs allow us to express love and attention and never be rejected (and forgive me my mistakes – but the argument is for the sake of our lesson). As opposed to cats, dogs do not turn away impassively, ignoring offers of attention, blasé to expressions of care and concern. They pant, roll over, fall into paroxysms of ecstasy when rubbed just right. Dogs rarely reject the invitation to play, to go for a walk, or be hugged. They are always there for us, and receive our notice with joy.

Loving Like a Dog
From what I’ve observed, dogs don’t make us feel guilty. Sure, they may whine when we leave them. But, they don’t sulk (for long) when we come home – they lavish attention on us, welcoming us back. There is never a “what have you done for me lately”; whatever we are doing for or with them now is received with immense gratitude. And, while dogs do seem to have their own personalities, they mold themselves to their families with great sensitivity and insight. They know what we want from them, and they figure out how to give it unconditionally.

That is hardly the case with our human family and friends. There are always conditions, and the love we may wish to offer is not always accepted. We have decided that it is important to tell others how our needs should be met, and that they are not doing so. We are the ones who fall into and out of love. We are the ones who figure we can fix up our partners, while resenting every suggestion they might make for us to shape up. We allow our egos to get in the way, making our needs and desires, our fears and grudges, more important than the people who love us, more important than loving the people around us.

So, people turn to their dogs for solace, and for affirmation. In offering love to their dogs, and receiving love in return, their hearts find ease. Resentment thins, anger abates, confusion settles down. Dogs, responding with love, meet our love, inviting its growth. Received without judgment or challenge, we can once again allow our love to flow. Their unconditional love allows us to practice unconditional love.

God Loves Like a Dog
God, too, wants to be able to express unconditional love. But, God does not have a dog, only we humans. And we’re just not as good as dogs in receiving God’s freely given love. We think that if God loves us it must be like the human love we know: and so we feel we can tell God how we want to be loved, how our needs should be met, how God is not doing it right.

And we imagine that God, like we, will turn away from us to take care of other business, to watch TV, or play with the family. So, we are resentful, thinking that God wants us just to wait around until God gets back to us. R. Avraham is always inviting us to turn to that unconditional love without conditions, and to trust that it is always there. But, it is hard. We cannot be dogs. We are not programmed like them. We have to choose to give up our agendas, and actually learn to notice what is there. We have to turn to that love and receive it however it comes, whenever it comes.

Waking Up in the Moment to What is True Right Now
We have to let go of what we learned before, what we thought yesterday or last year; we have to recognize what is happening now, the conditions of this moment. Over and over we have to choose to let go of habits of mind and heart and be present to what is happening now, without prejudice or preference. This is what it takes to live our lives fully. That is, this is what it takes to be able to welcome whatever comes, knowing that this is the only life we have, and this is the only moment we have to live it.

We have a Choice: We can be a Cat or a Dog
We can turn away from our lives, looking only for the sunny patches in which to snooze and offer gratitude only when our bellies are full. Or we can be present to each instant, grateful for this moment of attention, delighted in receiving love.

We humans are imprisoned by our confusion, our fear, our pain, our needs; God … cannot force us to receive love. We can be liberated when we learn to connect to each moment, to receive the love offered in this breath, this instant of aliveness. And God will be redeemed when God’s love is accepted by our open, willing hearts.

From a Tube of Toothpaste, I Fell in Love Again

Late one night, I discovered a new tube of Crest Toothpaste sitting on the counter next to my sink. It was the sweetest gift I ever got. And I fell in love all over again.

You may ask, “What’s the connection between a $5.68 tube of toothpaste and love?”

It’s elementary, my dear Watson.

The tube couldn’t have just appeared there. My wife must have bought it for me. That means that…

  • She heard me mention (in an aside) that I was out of toothpaste. Proof that she listens to me.
  • She remembered that I said it. This busy woman, who works, has 3 teenagers, and juggles the crazy hours of her rabbi husband, focused and remembered. Proof she thinks about my needs.
  • Even though I am more than capable of picking up my own toothpaste (I do the Monday morning shopping most weeks), she picked up the toothpaste for me. Proof she prioritized my needs.
  • She chose the regular flavor, old style Crest toothpaste tube, exactly what I like. Not all places carry my flavor. Proof she is attentive to my needs and she is willing to go out of her way to fulfill them.
  • I’m pretty sure that buying that toothpaste was really not a big deal for her. We regularly share the errands. No big deal for me to pick up a prescription or dinner; no big deal for her to pick up the dry-cleaning or a package at the post office. Proof then that she cares even if it’s no big deal.

This tube of Crest Regular Flavor Toothpaste was a loving gift from my wife who listens to me, focuses on what I say and remembers, prioritized my needs, goes out of her way to meet my needs and doesn’t make a big deal about it at all.

If that’s not love, I’m not sure I know what love is.

Pirkei Avot 5:19 teaches: Any love which is dependent on something, when the ‘something’ ceases, the love ceases. Any love which is not dependent on anything will never cease.

Yes, my wife loves me. And while I know that, one tube of regular flavor crest toothpaste reminded me yet again.

The sweetest gift I’ve ever gotten!

Sweetest Bar Mitzvah Moment #2

We were in the middle of the Baraghimian Bar Mitzvah. Child number three was doing a fabulous job leading the service. Parents were schepping nachas (filling with joy); friends and family were enjoying the experience.

Having traveled to Israel with the whole family, including the grandparents, I knew the grandparents were a wonderful couple, unafraid to speak of and share their love. I recall walking down Masada, sharing stories of how we each got engaged.

Now, during the Bar Mitzvah, as I looked over to where Grandpa and Grandma were sitting, I caught them in one of the sweetest Bar Mitzvah moments yet. Without taking his eyes off his grandson, Grandpa reached over, took Grandma’s hand and held on. Grandma wrapped her hand around his. All the while, their eyes never left their grandson.

That’s love. It made my Shabbat!