Tag: death

Four Funerals and a Memorial Day

This week we are burying four people: a young husband/father/brother, four days later his 80 year old father, a woman with significant challenges, and a woman who struggled with dementia. These brief identifiers do little to describe the vibrant lives and loves that animated the people who died. Each life was full; each loss is painful. Each family will remember warm memories as they walk the long paths of mourning.

Mourning Jewish Soldiers among all American Soldiers
As these individual families prepare to bury their loved ones, we as an American nation observe Memorial Day, a day to remember all those who lost their lives in defense of our country. How do we remember them? Countless individuals have given their lives.

Over email, one may receive a listing of soldiers who died each week. It contains sparse information – a name, rank, hometown. The list is lacking the stories and details that animated the person behind the name. Recently, the National Museum of American Jewish Military History published a list of Jewish soldiers who lost their lives in recent conflicts. Perhaps you will pause for a moment and read each name, ensuring that our Jewish brothers and sisters are recognized – a least in our hearts – for their sacrifice.

A Prayer for Memorial Day
The prayer below, written by Rabbi Matt Friedman and originally published on the RJ.org blog last year, may be read as you start or conclude your day.  You might read it before the big barbecue or your trip to the beach.

Let us ask God to protect, heal and comfort those who serve. And let us, by praying, raise our own awareness, sense of responsibility, and appreciation for those who defend our country.

Eloheinu v’Elohei avoteinu v’imoteinu – Our God and God of our ancestors,
Watch over those who defend our nation.
Shield them from harm and guide them in all their pursuits.
Grant their commanders wisdom and discernment
in their time of preparation and on the battlefield.
Should battle erupt may their victory be swift and complete. 

May the loss of life for any of your creations be avoided.
Grant healing to those who are wounded
and safe redemption to those who fall into enemy hands.
For those who have lost their lives, grant consolation
Your presence to those who were close to them. 

We also ask that you stand with our President and all our military leaders.
Guide them in their decision making
so that Your will is implanted within their minds.
May it be Your will that world hostilities come to a rapid end
And that those in service are returned safely to their families. 

We pray that freedom will dawn for the oppressed and
Fervently we hope that the vision of Your prophet will come to be,
“Let nation not lift up sword against nation nor learn war anymore.”
May this vision come to pass speedily and in our day,

Learn more about how you can support the men and women in our armed forces by visiting the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism’s Support Our Troops page.

“You All Are Going to Die,” Said the Rabbi to the 3rd-6th Graders. Appropriate or Not?

You all are going to die!” said the rabbi to his 3rd thru 6th grade students. It was all part of a day of death and dying at Congregation Or Ami’s Mishpacha Learning session.

While Rabbi Julia Weisz walked parents through the Jewish rituals and ideas about death and mourning and Cantor Doug Cotler taught Jewish songs to other students which explored Jewish ideas about life and loss, I – Rabbi Paul Kipnes – had the unenviable task to walking young students thru the realities of life, namely, that we are all going to die.

A Story…
There’s a rabbinic tale about a most powerful king who commanded the community’s rabbi to bless him with Judaism’s best blessing. Began the rabbi, “May you die. May your son die. And may your grandson die.” The king became apoplectic, barking, “How dare you…”, at which the rabbi continued, “…in that order.”

This story articulates three long held truths about death:

  • That everyone will die. 
  • That we hope that the older generation dies before its descendants. 
  • That, while each loss is painful, the death of a child or grandchild is even more painful. 

Accepting (at least for the remainder of the class) that death is inevitable, the students and I shared thoughts about what happens after we die, a theme introduced in Cantor Doug Cotler’s song, Nefesh. We talked about what the nefesh (soul) is or might be. We talked about Jewish ideas about how the soul returns to the Eternal Soul of the universe, what some call “God.” We considered diverse Jewish beliefs, from the belief that the soul dies with the body to the Kabbalist/mystic teaching that the soul is reincarnated (gilgul hanefesh) after death.

Lighting Candles to See into the Soul
We spent much time analyzing Jewish belief that we live on within future generations. I took out a pair of candles. I asked students to watch closely. Using one lit candle to light another candle, I then blew out the first candle and asked, “what happened to the flame?” Most said it disappeared. So I used the lit candle to again light another candle and then blew out the first. “What happened to the first flame,” I again asked?

One student intuited the lesson: “Two things happen at once. The flame disappears, and is gone. But also, the flame lives on in the second candle.” That’s my teaching.

From the flame that disappears, we learn that upon our deaths, part of our soul is gone, returning to the Eternal Soul of the universe. From the flame that continues to burn upon the candle it lit previously, we learn that our soul lives on in the lives of our biological children and our adopted children (Talmud explains that one who teaches a child is as important as his biological parent). Our soul also lives on – in a sense, we gain immortality – through the lives of those whose lives we enriched by our teaching, and those who we help with tzedakah and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness).

Our Soul Lives on After Us
So just as our biology overcomes death when we pass on our DNA to our children, so too our soul passes in part to those who borne to or touched by us.

Heady stuff for kids who can barely contemplate the truth of “you are all gonna die.” We hope these conversations helped the students begin to deal with death, as did the round robin stations created by HUC-JIR interns Lisa Berney and Sarah Lauing, which investigated Jewish mourning customs.

You see, at Congregation Or Ami we strive to teach about all issues, even the most difficult, even when the mere thought of them make us uncomfortable. Because that is what Judaism should be about – helping us face, with courage, strength and holiness, the challenging moments of life.

Suicide, Drinking and Dying: What to Say to Your Children (and yourself)

Suicide, Drinking, and Dying
What To Say to Your Children (and yourself)
Rabbi Paul Kipnes headshotThe news spread quickly, which is to be expected when it involves a pair of suicides of young people and the death of another, allegedly by alcohol poisoning. 
Those who knew the young men and even those who did not, are shocked, scared and anxious. Many are reviewing their interactions with these youth to see if they missed any signs about what the young people were thinking. Others are wondering how someone could be considering such drastic action and they did not know it. 
Some parents are wondering how to help their children deal with this tragedy. Others are wondering if they are missing signs from their own children. Still others are wondering where God is in all of this. 
Our hearts break for their families; we seek to console them, their loved ones, and our loved ones.  What can we say that will be meaningful to our children, to the families of the deceased… to ourselves?
In conjunction with the Or Ami Center for Jewish Parenting, we offer these resources written and/or compiled by Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Cantor Doug Cotler and Rabbi Julia Weisz:
5 Initial Thoughts when Dealing with Teens after a Suicide 
  1. Be with them, let them talk, or cry, or just be. Suicide is confusing and it may take time for your child to open up and begin to talk about it.
  2. While most suicidal individuals give off warning signs, many of these signs are missed by even those closest to them. Scrutinizing past interactions for such signs is normal, brought about by feelings of guilt, sadness or remorse. Listen to your child, don’t dismiss his/her sadness, but remind him/her that even those closest to the person who killed himself did not recognize the signs.
  3. Most adolescents have thoughts at one time or another about suicide. It is NORMAL to have such thoughts. Let your child know that he or she can talk to you about anything. Be prepared not to “freak out” if your child shares such thoughts.
  4. If necessary, and if your child needs it, consult with a therapist who works with youth. I would be glad to refer you to such individuals.
  5. Please do not hesitate to contact Congregation Or Ami (818-880-4880) to talk to Rabbi Julia Weisz or with me. When you call, please let them know it is about the suicides and that this is very important.

Read Facing a Suicide: Talking to Your Kids…, for:

  • Some Statistics and Facts Concerning YOUTH Suicide
  • Six Warning Signs
  • Seven Things to Do: When You Suspect Suicidal Feelings: How You Can Help

Read A Letter to our Teens and College Students: About Safe Places and Safe People… Like Your Rabbi and Cantor 

An Excerpt: …Your rabbis and cantor reach out to our teens after the Tyler Clementi suicide: Whether you are gay, straight, bi or transgendered or just plain confused, Judaism teaches that each individual is created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God.  It does not matter what other people think about you as you struggle to figure out what you think about yourself… If you are feeling sad, angry, scared or any of a myriad of confusing emotions, and you need someone to talk to, please be in touch with one of us. And always remember that you have rabbis and a cantor and a community that care about you deeply and accept you for who you are.  No matter what.

  • Resources for Helping Your Child Cope
  • Deciphering what is on a Child’s Mind
  • Guidance for Talking to Childen of Different Ages
  • How to Comfort the Mourner
  • What to Say and Not to Say When a Child Dies
Read Some Jewish Responses
Finally, pass this onto friends, teachers, and others for whom this information might be helpful.  
In the days and weeks ahead, may you find the courage and fortitude to face the realities of life: 

that some live and some die
that sometimes things just don’t make sense 
that we can chose: 

to hold those we love closer
and to count our blessings. 
Your rabbis and cantor are always here to talk to, to consult with, to listen. Because we care for you.  

Why Do the Good Die Young? Resources for Thinking about Death

Today our community gathers to bury Dean Hilborne, a young 53-year-old man, who leaves a wife and 2 teenage children. We will struggle to find meaning in his death; we will grapple with how to talk about this loss with our children and our loved ones. Here are a few resources to help:

Reflections on Tragic Deaths: Why Do the Good Die Young? A Conversation with God

What a pair of months February and March were last year; so much tragedy. A 13-year-old was killed crossing the street. A vibrant teenager – a student at our local New Community Jewish High School – was lost in a car accident. A 21-year-old rabbi’s son was struck down by a car while at college. A 42-year-old mother – our congregant – died in a snowboarding accident. A 49-year-old “pied piper” of a man – another congregant – dropped dead from a heart attack. Thousands of people came to the funerals.

I noticed that God attended each funeral, but amidst the many tear-filled eulogies, there wasn’t time for God to speak. So God sat quietly at the side – listening, crying. God left quietly after each funeral ended, and almost no one realized that God had been there. I did take notice. Wondering what God might have said had God been invited to deliver a eulogy, I dashed out after the Holy One. Still reeling from these funerals, I wondered if God could make sense of these senseless deaths. I asked if God had time to talk, and God was willing. We strolled through the cemetery, talking quietly.


Man: So God, what did you think of the funerals? (Read more)

When the Responsibilities of Being a Rabbi Begin to Overwhelm

On Monday, I felt the weight of it all begin to seep under my skin. It happens sometimes when the responsibilities of being a rabbi begin to overwhelm. Perhaps that’s just what happens after exhausting weekends like this. Maybe it was the great number of simchas (joyous occasions) to celebrate… Of course it might just have been the sadness of preparing to bury a loving, compassionate 54-year-old woman who left her husband (of 27 years) and two teenagers.

As the weekend began, it promised to be a joyous opportunity to schepp nachas (share the joy) as Congregation Or Ami enjoyed one simcha (joyous moment) after the other. Friday morning I welcomed our two new interns from HUC-JIR who would lead our award-winning Mishpacha Family Alternative Learning program in the coming year. Vivacious, creative and energetic, these grad students overflowed with ideas of how to make the learning engaging and multigenerational. That night, the congregation welcomed Shabbat as we gathered Or Ami’s new officers and board under the chuppah (marriage canopy), symbolically bonding them through marriage to God and God’s gift of Torah. Dreaming about new initiatives for the coming year and excited about the weekend’s other simchas, I fell into a deep sleep.

When the phone rang at 6:15am, I knew it could not be good news. He said, “Its Barry. Felicia’s gone.” Uncharacteristically, I responded, “You’re kidding me! What? Say it again.” “Yes, she had a massive seizure. She died this morning. Tell me what should I do?”

Thus began forty eight hours of mental ping-pong: bouncing between multiple celebrations and walking our dear congregant, step by step, through the process of preparing for the funeral and shiva (the 7-day mourning period) afterward.

The Bar Mitzvah boy Zachary Oschin was impressive; he delivered his d’var Torah from notecards while walking around the room. At some point I had to bifurcate my attention as I stepped out to confirm funeral arrangements with the mortuary. Barry and I spoke regularly on the phone that afternoon between the Bar Mitzvah service and my parenting responsibilities. Emails back and forth with Paul and Shirley, our Henaynu Caring Community chairpeople, confirmed that the Or Ami community was prepared and volunteers lined up to step in for any eventuality – to order shiva food, to prepare the house for the 100s of guests, or to lay out the food trays. After driving my kids to their temple youth group event, I confirmed the shiva arrangements.

I made one last call that night to Barry between my two evening obligations – a Havdala service and dinner to celebrate the upcoming ordination of our second Rabbi Julia Weisz, and a party at which I offered a blessing for Julia Fingleson who is off to Kenya to volunteer at a school for disabled African kids.

Sunday morning, Barry confirmed that the shiva meals were coming together and that he would have a list of funeral eulogizers later that day. Answering his questions, I headed into Wilshire Blvd. Temple to celebrate as six former Or Ami interns and faculty were ordained rabbi. There was special joy as I presented for ordination Rebekah Stern and as my dear friend presented his congregant Julia Weisz. Then driving to new Community Jewish High School’s gala at the Ford Theater provided the empty space to call back David, who reported his father had died but had questions about how a Jew mourns Jewishly in an interfaith remarriage situation.

One more call to Barry, before entering the pre-graduation dessert reception honoring our soon to graduate education interns, allowed me to confirm the time to meet and discuss the funeral. It felt bittersweet speaking glowingly about Joel Abramovitz and Greg Weisman, who after devoting so much energy to Mishpacha this past year, are graduating and moving onto new endeavors. Particularly enjoyable were the moments I spent with their parents, kvelling (joyously boasting) about how talented their children are.

By 9pm, I was on the road to Barry’s home (first checking in by phone with David) to listen, to plan, and to begin the process of counseling toward the future. I learned so much about Felicia that night, about her warm heart and devotion to her husband, about the arduous process that ended as they adopted their two wonderful children and how she lived to love them. Barry talked; I listened. He questioned; I counseled. I made a mental note to retask our Henaynu Caring Community from Shiva meal set up to the next week’s carpool coverage and meal delivery. Notes taken, plans confirmed, I headed home, collapsing into my bed well after midnight.

Sometimes I am not fully aware of how the rabbinic ping-pong plays with my mind and emotions. Usually I can keep it compartmentalized. But every so often, it just seeps in. I usually know that is happening because I receive a multitude of text messages from my wife checking in on me (somehow she knows I am struggling, even before I do).

So how does a rabbi keep the overwhelming emotions at bay? How did I deal with the reality that this weekend’s ping-pong was too intense and this weekend’s death cut too close to home? Stay tuned for the next post…

Omer Day #1: Being Present for Each Other

We count the seven times seven weeks (or 49 days) of the Omer, corresponding with the 49 day journey of the Israelites to Mt. Sinai.  Counting the Omer is a mystical journey, a journey to our highest selves.  This week, we traverse through the sephirah of chesed (kindness and love).

Today is day one, the first day of the Omer.  

I dedicate this first day’s journey to those who are suffering – physically, emotionally, spiritually – and particularly to a young friend who is watching her father slowly die.  With overflowing chesed, I/we answer her – and all who suffer: “I see you. I hear you. I honor you.”  It is about just being there for each other, being present.

Poet/liturgist Alden Solovy offers Witnessing: A Meditation which invites us to pause, to remain silent, and to offer up our precious presence.  (Make sure to check out Adlen’s many, many beautiful prayers at www.tobendlight.com.)

Witnessing: A Meditation 

Have you seen the teen who cuts himself with a blade?
Or the youth who sticks herself with needles?
Have you seen a father force back tears while he buries his son?
Or a mother weeping with her daughter, wailing after an assault?
Do you hear the voices of the hungry, the lost, the shocked and confused
Afraid that they may never return from the darkness? 

Brother, do not say: “I’ve been there.”
Sister, do not say: “I know that feeling.”
Rather, say: “I see you. I hear you. I honor you.” 

Weep with me, not for me.
Pray with me, not about me.
Walk with me, don’t lead me. 

This moment is not yours to repair,
Not yours to sooth,
Not yours to ease with the false balm of words. 

Have you watched your daughter kiss her mother goodbye on the deathbed?
Have you seen your home consumed in fire?
If you have, bless you.
If you haven’t, bless you. 

Have you stood with your sisters and brothers,
Not needing to understand,
Not needing to change the moment,
Witnessing in silence?
If you have, bless you.
If you haven’t, this blessing awaits you. 

G-d of holiness and healing,
Teach us to be present as loving witnesses
On this amazing, glorious and dangerous journey.
Help us to stay awake to love and loss,
To be present for those in need. 

Help me to see, to hear and to remember –
And so to bless –
The lonely and the lost,
The bereaved and bereft,
With compassion and love. 

To stand with them,
As they have stood with me,
In the darkness,
Until I could, once again, face the light.

© 2010 Alden Solovy and www.tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.

Schlepping the Distance to Bury the Dead

I schlepped to the middle of… far away… to attend the funeral of the father of some friends. Traffic was bad both ways. Being on my day off, the funeral cut into the little personal time I would have all week.  Still, I went.

There are no medals for attending someone’s funeral. Like the ritual of shoveling earth on the grave, there are no “thank you’s” for attending a funeral or a shiva minyan. And yet they rank particularly high on the Jewish ritual “must do” list. Accompanying the dead to their final resting place (halvayat hamet) is one of the acts of kindness (Gemilut Chasadim / גמילות חסדים) that the famous Mishnah in Tractate Peah 1:1 lists among the deeds “for which a person receives some reward in this world while the principal reward remains  in the world to come (דברים שאדם אוכל מפירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא).

For this funeral, I didn’t know the deceased. I met him only through the stories his daughter and son told me over the years. A man of few words and fewer expressions of emotion, his being overflowed with artistic talents that bordered on prodigious. A survivor of the Shoah, he struggled with and extended far beyond that darkest of lifetimes. Non-religious, he nonetheless birthed the beginning of a dynasty of significant rabbonim (rabbis). I learned about him and carry on his memory because of their stories and this funeral.

Perhaps that’s why we drop everything to go to funerals:

  • to attend to the communal needs of caring for the bereaved; 
  • to become a vessel of memory for a person we may not have known; 
  • to remind us that the sun does not rise or set based on our particular needs or schedule;
  • to bring the community to the mourners so they will feel valued, cared for, significant; and
  • to goad us into counting our blessings. 

So I schlepped a long distance yesterday to attend my friend’s father’s funeral.

A moment in time. A pause from life’s pressures. A gift to remind me of what is really important.

May Dave’s memory be for a blessing.

May his children and grandchildren find the courage, fortitude, love of family and God’s love to endure the difficult weeks ahead.

Why the Good Die Young

A Conversation with God about 4 Funerals, Illness and an Earthquake in Haiti

What a pair of months February and March were last year; so much tragedy. A 13-year-old was killed crossing the street. A vibrant teenager – a student at our local New Community Jewish High School – was lost in a car accident. A 21-year-old rabbi’s son was struck down by a car while at college. A 42-year-old mother – our congregant – died in a snowboarding accident. A 49-year-old “pied piper” of a man – another congregant – dropped dead from a heart attack. Thousands of people came to the funerals.

I noticed that God attended each funeral, but amidst the many tear-filled eulogies, there wasn’t time for God to speak. So God sat quietly at the side – listening, crying. God left quietly after each funeral ended, and almost no one realized that God had been there. I did take notice. Wondering what God might have said had God been invited to deliver a eulogy, I dashed out after the Holy One. Still reeling from these funerals, I wondered if God could make sense of these senseless deaths. I asked if God had time to talk, and God was willing. We strolled through the cemetery, talking quietly.


Man: So God, what did you think of the funerals?

God: (in a still, small voice) Teenagers died. A young mom, gone before her time. A college freshman hit by a drunk driver. It is all very, very sad.

Man: Which was sad, God? The funerals or the deaths?

God: Both. Two fun-loving kids; so much potential, such bright futures ahead. A beautiful mother, whose vivaciousness was surpassed only by her charitableness. But the funerals were sad, too. The speakers, caught up in telling their own stories, understandably left out Mine. They missed awesome opportunities to speak about My love, My pain, and My hope for your future.

Man: You mean you don’t agree with what the rabbis said?

God: Look, one said Baruch dayan ha-emet, the traditional words of “Blessed be the Judge of Truth,” suggesting that what happened was all part of a plan – My plan – while another suggested I took a boy’s life because he didn’t celebrate Shabbat that week. Some people, I suppose, find comfort in the idea that I have a master plan. Others find direction through religious rituals, which perhaps they believe help them beat the odds of life. If that brings them comfort, they can cherish those beliefs. But those ideas are built upon ancient words, misinterpreted to suggest things I didn’t say and I never meant. It’s neither who I am nor how I work. I don’t pre-plan untimely deaths and I don’t punish those who don’t keep the rituals. I am not responsible for those deaths.

Man: Wait, with all due respect, You created everything– spectacular sunsets, shooting stars and beautiful California coastline – But, you also created poisonous snakes and ferocious lions, as well as earthquakes, hurricanes and deadly diseases. And, forgive me, but You are the One who created the humans who created the automobiles that led to the deaths of three people. Just where do you get off abdicating responsibility for any of this?

God: There you go again! Blaming Me for what you refuse to acknowledge, what you fail to see. Yes, I created it all, each with its own purpose. Some of it blessedly benevolent; some of it potentially dangerous. So I created lions. Leave them alone and they are just gorgeous creatures. Bother them and look out!

Man: I don’t care about the lions? I’m talking about earthquakes and all those diseases –Alzheimer’s, AIDS, and cancerous tumors that ravaged my friend’s body!

God: I see how you might want to lay blame on Me for the creation of all of that because, yes, Creation was My idea and My doing. Call them the dreadful consequences of an imperfect Creation. Call it collateral damage of My desire to create humanity. Whatever you call it, know that natural disasters and unnatural disease were all unintended.

Man: How can you call these awful things, existing in the universe of Your creation, unintended?

God: Listen, each one pains Me. They weren’t in any plan. When I set out to create, I began with exactness and perfection. But when I began creating the universe, I failed to realize that I was creating something that was other-than-Me. And because it was other-than-Me, it was imperfect. All approximations are intrinsically imperfect. Your teacher, Rabbi Isaac Luria, articulated the story of creation well.

Man: You mean, the mystic from Tzfat, who taught the story of repairing the world, that we call Tikkun Olam?

God: Yes. First there was only Me. Everything was God. Ein Sof, Me without end. Then I contracted – tzimtzum – I pulled back to make space for Creation. I created the universe, as vessels, which at that moment were devoid of anything, including Me. Then I poured My light back into those vessels. But my light was too pure and too potent for the creation-that-was-not-Me. So it blew up – sh’virat ha-keilim – the vessel broke apart, sending shards of creation and sparks of My light all over the universe.

Broken world; bad things happen. The earthquakes and tsunamis. Cancer and heart attacks. Automobile accidents and incomprehensible tragedies on the slopes. All the result of a broken world, an imperfect world.

Man: So the imperfections were fundamentally a mistake. And as the Creator of All, they are Your mistake. But now I see that they were not Your Plan; rather they were an unintended consequence of Your desire to create our universe and us. Of Your aspiration to invest the universe-that-was-not-You with Your perfect light. Hmmm, it sounds like a beautiful experiment that sort of blew up. So how do you live with these tragedies, however unintended they may be?

God: I have tried to provide humanity with the ability to lessen their effect. Since earthquakes are unintended but inevitable, I make sure that everyone who buys a home (at least in California) has to sign a piece of paper acknowledging that they will be living near an earthquake fault and that they understand the danger. If I were human, I probably wouldn’t live there. But, given the whole “free choice” component I built into Creation, everyone gets to decide how to live and where to live. So with free choice, you get the freedom to make your own dangerous and foolish decisions.

Man: So if we want free will, we can’t really expect You to step in to protect us. Then we’d just be Your puppets. We get to make the choices and we have to live with the consequences. We shouldn’t blame you then for the car crashes if we have seatbelts but don’t wear them, and know about air bags but don’t insist they be installed in all parts of our cars…

God: But even if you use all this safety equipment, people will still crash and die, or be left brain-dead. Because Creation is fundamentally broken, imperfect.

Man: What about all those diseases, causing children to die young and my friend to suffer so intensely?

God: Unintended but treatable. In a sense, they’re similar to the seatbelt dilemma. I give you humans big brains and teach you to understand science and medicine. Then you must decide whether you will focus your time and research dollars on curing diseases like Parkinson’s and MS, or if you will instead use your God-given resources to build sophisticated smart bombs and laser-guided missiles. Collectively, you humans have the ability to cure all these diseases. Do you also have the inclination to make it the priority?

Man: Are you saying that although you led us to the secrets of building earthquake-safe homes, we freely chose to allow thousands upon thousands of people in Haiti to continue to live in sub-par dangerous housing until it collapsed like a deck of cards when the earthquake hit?

God: Mmm. And don’t get Me started on Hurricane Katrina. The knowledge existed about how to build levees, which could withstand a Level 5 hurricane; I made sure of it. But as a country, you somehow squandered the knowledge and resources. You want to blame Me? You left the poor to fend for themselves! …It pains me to watch you abdicate your responsibility, as you fail to live up to your end of our human-Divine partnership. I cry for each life lost. I cry that you humans are suffering, and will suffer. I cry for the pain that I let into your life the day I decided to pull back and give you free will.

Man: Truthfully God, when I hurt, I don’t always feel that You are close. Where do You go when I’m in real pain?

God: That’s just it. I am still here. By your side. I’m holding you up and making sure you get through the day. Do you ever wonder how you find the strength to get out of bed the next morning? That’s Me. Do you see all those people who came over to your house, to hug and hold your loved ones, to take care of the arrangements so you could fall apart. That’s Me too. I’m making sure you keep getting phone calls and e-mails and all those beautiful memories posted to Facebook. My Friends are your Facebook Friends doing My sacred work. And when you rage at Me in anger, or withdraw from Me in pain, I’m still here, waiting patiently. Still loving. Still helping. It’s the holy work I do.

Man: Okay, but honestly, with the universe so filled with imperfection and bad things that continue to happen, do You regret that you created us in the first place?

God: I wanted to give you life. Like a parent, I brought you into this world so you could love and dream and bring joy to each other and to Me. And I gave you minds to think and hands to work and hearts to lead with compassion. Some of you forget and think you are invincible. Or think it’s only about you. And so you end up hurting yourself and often hurting others in the process. This pains Me.

Man: So God what is it that you want from us?

God: I want you to learn from each loss. Learn to buckle up, to visit the doctor more often, to play safely. Stop sweating the small stuff, and fighting and kvetching. And you should count your blessings more regularly. And to get good grades and do good work, so you can use your amazing minds to repair our world, to create great manifestations of our shared compassion and justice. And I want you to speak truth to power. And speak love to pain. Make sure everyone can be healthy. That everyone has enough. You should go give tzedakah. Go repair your broken relationships before it is too late. And invite Me into your lives by acting humbly, and living ethically, and caring for everyone, whether you know them or not.
And you must remember the teenagers, and the mother and the men. Live up to the best that they were. And comfort their mourners, today, next month and next year, because their pain will continue. And spend time with the ill ones, bringing them comfort amid their suffering. And remember and never forget, that I, the Eternal your God, am always here. Caring, loving, open to listen, to holding you, and to helping you through.

Man: Is there anything else we can do?

God: You can try to make quiet time to meditate and pray. Daily. I do. I pray that the memory of your loved ones – and the teens and the mom and the men and unnamed ones in Haiti and beyond – bring you blessing and joy. And that those who are ill have hope. May you comfort each other, and feel My love, too, and may you find fortitude and courage so that you may endure the inevitable dark times. Remember, there also will be plenty of joy. I love you. I wish for you wholeness and shalom.

That was my conversation with God. Open, honest, thought-provoking. You might find those answers comforting, or you might have different questions or seek different answers. I encourage each of you to approach God with your own questions. God always listens, and often responds back. And of course, you can always come talk with me, your rabbi. Although I am not God, I will gladly help you deepen your own relationship with the Holy One. I hope you will. Now wouldn’t that make this New Year truly a Shana Tova u’Metuka!