A Letter to my Book Club for Liberal Thinkers

I so very much believe in and love the idea of serendipity, or is it synchronicity? Both I believe. I woke up with a headache and feeling so tired yesterday, that I decided not to go to work. I kept having dreams of having to pack and unpack way too many clothes for a short trip and couldn't fit anything and didn't have the time or place to put it all. Anyway, the dreams were troubling and I believe were the result of feeling guilty for not having gone to work. I put the radio on now and again, listening briefly to Morning Edition or Brian Lehrer on WNYC, but found the news also troublesome. I was thinking I had made a bad choice.

Then at about 1:15 PM (yes, I can pass the better part of a day in bed, I'm a bit ashamed to say), I again turned on the radio. Well, let me skip forward to when I left a comment on the WNYC website, the Leonard Lopate page... Comment: Sherril from Morris Planis, NJ
How very serendipitous that I stayed home from work today, and while still in bed at 1:15 PM, I turned on the radio to hear Leonard's interview with Barbara Kingsolver about her newest book,
The Lacuna
Last night I hosted our monthly Book Club meeting and you'll never guess what we read and enthusiastically discussed!

As an aside, Kingsolver, as the audio reader, pronounced Lacuna, with a long u, not the yu sound she used in the audio book; something we mentioned in our discussion; I'm thinking she pronounced it so, only in certain contexts, but I digress. The interview was interesting and it almost sounded to me like they were sparring a bit. I think perhaps Kingsolver is a bit feisty, or maybe it was Leonard Lopate. In any case, they definitely hit upon matters and opinions about which we spoke in our Book Club discussion last night. Take a listen to the interview and see for yourselves.

I also listened to another interview on the Leonard Lopate show, which fascinated me and led me to consequently purchase the Kindle edition of the book (my first Kindle purchase)
My Massai Life
by Robin Wizowaty
. It's a memoir about a young woman who wanted to escape her boring, mundane suburban Illinois life and did so by going to live with a Massai family in rural Kenya.

I kept WNYC on, even after I got out of bed, and went on to listen to and watch on the computer, the program "Sound Check", which was being broadcast at WNYC's new Green Space. The first segment was David Byrne who has recently released an audio book version, of his book,
The Bicycle Diaries
It sounded fascinating and
I intend to reserve it from the library. The next segment was Angelique Kidjo, which I enjoyed so much, I proceeded to buy tickets for her upcoming concert at Carnegie Hall. I will attend the concert with my son for his birthday. The final segment , Phil Collins, was also enjoyable and I bookmarked the new album, "Going Back" to consider purchasing at some later date (I also took notice of his abundance of gray stubble, though he does have children under five years of age (yikes!).

So, all of this to say that I think I was most definitely MEANT to stay home today, lest I would have missed all of the above, and would not have been any the better for it.
Don't you agree?


From your parents you learn love and laughter and how to put one foot before the other. But when books are opened you discover that you have wings. ~Helen Hayes


5771 - For a Sweet New Year

Today is 9/26/2012, 5773, two years since I originally wrote this post. I was reminded of it by a fb friend who messaged me, asking for a little clarification as to my belief in the divine. Rather than respond directly and immediately to him, I decided to revisit and share this post. He was  confused, because he noticed that I had shared many comments on my facebook  page regarding the Jewish High Holy Day Season. I can understand the confusion, which is why I'd written this post in the first place. I think being Jewish is more confusing than being Christian in America. The majority of Americans are Christian and I think, for the most part, they take their religion more or less for granted, perhaps because the American calendar is influenced by the Christian calendar. That is to say, the year is based on the Gregorian calendar, i.e. the "year of our lord" or the time of the birth of Jesus. Also, holidays tend to be the markers by which we define the progression of the year. Interestingly, I assumed that the Christian holidays greatly outnumbered what I call the "All American holidays, but I was mistaken. They are actually equally divided, 6 Christian to 6 All American. I have delineated them by color, All American are red, (white, between the words) and blue and Christian are green:  New Years, Martin Luther King Day, Valentine's Day,  President's Day, St. Patrick's DayEaster, Memorial day, Independence Day (July 4th), Labor DayHalloweenThanksgiving and Christmas. I love the All American holidays and am grateful for them. I think many other Western nations delineate their calendars solely or mostly by the Christian holidays. The fact that whatever our religion, in the United States, we are all very much American and that is one of the things that makes us great. Having said that, it is still noteworthy that much of the year, we as a nation, are celebrating Christian holidays. Which brings me back to the "Jewish confusion".
Rereading what I wrote two years ago, I realize that I could and would write the same thing today, so I am revisiting it. I will concede one thing. Although I continue to consider myself an agnostic, the presence of a divine spirit or the notion of God is more credible to me in these Jewish High Holy Days than at other times of the year, which should be of some solace to my "believing" friends (and you know who you are...wink wink).

Original Post: 9/10/2010
I am Jewish, but not religious, in the way that most Americans seem to define religion. For example, I am an agnostic. I do not capitalize agnostic, because I don't see agnosticism as a religion, nor a confirmed ideology, but rather a belief based on a myriad of feelings and thoughts on the subject. Unfortunately I also find that religion in general divides us rather than unites us as an American people, not to mention how divisive it is in the world at large.

However, in my case, and I believe, in that of many Jewish Americans, I do see my Judaism as a part of what makes me, Sherril, me. Judaism is a cultural thing, an educational thing, a language thing, an historical thing, a minority thing and on some level, a "national" thing. I believe the last "thing" is a direct result of the one before it, which is to say that Jews, having been historically despised and discriminated against as a minority in most every community in which they lived, have needed a refuge from the bigotry, i.e. a homeland in which they could live with the promise of safety and acceptance. Thus, the state of Israel ant the attachment to it is also a part of being Jewish. 

Part of my family's tradition has been observance of what is considered the "High Holy Days" on the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah, rosh=head, hashannah=the year, thus the name means Head of the Year or New Year. The greeting at this time of year is "L'shanah tovah", which means "for a good year", often shortened to simply "Shanah Tovah". This traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting is actually a truncated or shortened version of a longer Rosh Hashanah greeting which is: "L'shanah tovah tikatevu", meaning "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year". Yet another way would be to say

"Shana Tova Umetukah", which means, for "A Good and Sweet Year".

My contribution to the R.H. culinary feast, a "kugel" or sweet noodle pudding.

There was a time that all members of my extended family attended Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at the synagogue, back when my parents were alive, but alas, only members of my immediate family (me, Haim, Rachel and Jeremy) continue to go today, and I must admit, that our attendance is limited, given the many hours of services at our synagogue (Congregation Ahavas Sholom in Newark, NJ).. Still, we make the effort and I give us credit for this.

The Rosh Hashanah service consists of many prayers that are chanted only on this holiday and a small number of them are what gives the service meaning, for me. Most of the service is chanted by the Cantor or other single congregants, mainly because they are numerous, long and complicated. I would be lying if I didn't say it is, for the most part, boring. I spend much of my time either with my mind wandering to more profane matters and/or reading different parts of the prayer book in English, to find my own meaning, where I can. However, there are a handful of prayers that are representative of the holiday service and many of us learned them as children in Hebrew School, and chanted them year after year, so that they became familiar, enabling us to sing them in unison to this day.

One of these prayers brought me to tears this particular Rosh Hashanah. It begins, in Hebrew (transliteration) with "B'rosh ha-shanah yika-teyvun. U-v-yom tzom kippur yey -ha-teymun".
The English translation is: On Rosh Hashanah it is written. And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.

It goes on, and here I will write only the English translation of the prayer....How many shall leave this world, and how many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die, who in the fullness of years and who before; (At this point, the leader and congregation again chant the first line in Hebrew, B'rosh ha-shanah yika-tey'un...etc.,) after which the leader goes on...Who shall perish by fire and who by water, who by sword and who by a wild beast; (the refrain is again chanted and again after every semi-colon) Who by by famine and who by thirst, who by earthquake and who by plague; who by strangling and who by stoning, who shall rest and who shall wander; who shall be serene and who disturbed, who shall be at ease and who afflicted; who shall be impoverished and who enriched, who shall be humbled and who exalted.

It is enough to say that my tears appeared due in large part by a sadness I have been experiencing for the last few months, perhaps making the words, who shall live and who shall die, who in the fullness of years and who before, and who shall be serene and who disturbed, who shall be at ease and who afflicted, felt a little too close for comfort this year. Also, most of the other descriptions like who shall perish by earthquake, plague, fire, water, sword and who shall perish by stoning? Well, if those means of death were not taken out of today's headlines, I don't know what were? Perhaps for the first time, it felt so personal, so present and so powerful.
Another aspect of the R.H. service that maintains significance for me is the blowing of the shofar. The shofar is actually a rams horn. It is difficult to blow in order to make a squeak of a sound and all but impossible to blow in order to make the sounds that respond to the commands given in the Shofar service, which is dispersed many times throughout the RH service" TIKEYAH...SHEH-VARIM...TIKEYAH...TRUE-AH...TIKEYAH GIDOLAH!!! Give heed to the sound of the shofar. It is a moving experience, partially because it is only heard on this holiday (and at the end of Yom Kippur, if you happen to still be around and not already at home "breaking the fast" with yet another feast) and partially because it is considered a mitzvah to hear the shofar blown, a mitzvah, meaning a commandment. I'm not sure why that makes it more significant for me, being an agnostic and all, but it does. Go figure!


It's A Small Small World, Internetically Speaking

Talk about synchronicity and what goes around comes around and what with the combination of insomnia and the wonders of the Internet, you are bound to make connections that could not otherwise be made. Here's how it happened.

I layed in bed until 5 AM and finally said to myself, OK, this is it, I'm getting up. With water bottle in hand, and glasses pasted on my face, I sat myself down at my computer and opened up my email. Ann, my friend who owns a literary travel company, Classical Pursuits, is presently on an adventure of a lifetime. She is walking a 500 mile walk - the ancient pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiagode Compostela. The thing is, though I'd talked to Ann on the phone the night before she left home in Toronto, she never mentioned that she'd be blogging or posting on facebook, so having received two emails, I was just waiting for more. Then today, in the wee hours of the morning, I found the email that informed me of her facebook posts.

Upon reading the posts, starting at the beginning (a very good place to start...but I diverge), I found a response from Kathleen, who is another good friend. So, I replied to Kathy's reply, asking her how she knew about Ann's facebook foray and I did not (I was feeling a bit left out)? I clicked on Kathy's fb profile page to find my reply, so I could basically cut and paste it onto Ann's Classical Pursuits page on facebook. At the top of Kathy's page, I read her comment:"Great evening last night at Starlight. The Producers was wonderful."and was about to respond that I'd seen The Producers. on Broadway and blah, blah, blah. But, before I could submit my post, I noticed something else on her page. Turns out her son, Mitch, is quite a talented photographer, and had been in NYC, and took some amazing pictures, which were posted on his web page, which Kathy had posted on her fb profile page. I looked at the pictures and proceeded to send them to my daughter, who lives in NYC and I was curious to know if she would recognize all of the places, and to my brother who is taking a digital photography class for the fist time in his life, and himself shooting pictures in the city, and I thought he'd appreciate these.

So, now an hour has gone by and I still hadn't read any but one of Ann's posts about the first several days of her 500 mile walk. But, there were more connections to make and people to see. I never did find my reply to Kathy's reply about Ann's "Walk", but I noticed the next post on Kathy's fb page, Best blog on New York Citywww.getnycd.wordpress.com., which I couldn't resist, so away I clicked. It took me to a blog about all things NYC, written by a young woman who lives there. Before I could start reading the most recent post about wanting home cooked BBQ, despite the myriad of culinary choices in the city, I happened to notice the Blogroll on the sidebar which included, among some other 30 or so blogs, one called, Musings from French Life, and this got my attention because I happened to know that Kathy's other child is studying in France for the year. It was, in fact, Kathy's daughter's blog. Of course I had to leave a comment, asking if it was Katie, Kathy's daughter, etc. etc. At this point, I had to return to the "getnyc" blog, to remark about my BBQ experiences in Kansas City, and imply my connections with her connections. I was beginning to feel like the whole world was connected. Hey, maybe it is!

I returned to Kathy's fb page, commented on her son's talent, as well as let her know how her inclusion of Mitch's webpage and the best blog in NYC had taken me on an early morning ride of connections and inter-connections, which is how I got here, to my own blog, Sherril's Myriad of Musings.