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Jewish Family Concerns

A Suggestion for Your Celebration Consideration

Celebrating Wisdom

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

Let me get directly to the point. I would like to suggest a new ritual for you to consider.

It will need some adapting to your particular religious tradition (or lack thereof), but that is okay. I can’t do everything!

As we move to the end of May, the Jewish community will celebrate one of its major festivals, Shavuot. The agricultural origins of this ancient festival lie in the fact that it was the gathering of “first fruits.” Along the way, the historical aspect of the giving and receiving of the Torah was added to the festival’s profile.

I am not concerned with those interpretations here. The festival gets less attention (and knowledge) than the other major festivals in our year and pales when compared to the recently observed Passover. Most Jews today associate the holiday with the ceremony of Confirmation, at which teens affirm their allegiance to Jewish tradition and faith. This comes a few years after Bar/Bat Mitzvah, usually at around 16. It is a very important celebration.

Yet, it came to me that there is another way that this festival can be interpreted. The receiving of the Torah implies the gathering of wisdom. Why not create a ceremony in your synagogue, church, mosque, or spiritual gathering place that celebrates the acquisition of wisdom. I am talking about real wisdom. Not book knowledge, but the wisdom that each of us have after living four or five or six or more decades of life. I would bet that you, at 50, 60, or 70 look at things a lot differently than you did at 13, 16, or 36! Why not institutionalize a ceremony that celebrates the gift of life, recognizes that we have lived, and looks forward to many more years of life and wisdom?

Now, lest you think this is all based on fantasy (not that there is anything wrong with that), let me introduce you to the ceremony of Simchat Chochma, which is Hebrew for the celebration or rejoicing of wisdom. Such a ceremony exists and has been celebrated by people in synagogues around North America in recent years. It has been more private than public, and that is why I am suggesting that each religious tradition takes on this idea and shapes it to its own tradition.

The ceremony can involve the use of classic symbols like water, candles, flowers, and fruit. There is no standard ritual yet in operation. The ritual that I am referring to can be found in a book that discusses how congregations can proactively address the longevity revolution before us (To Honor and Respect, URJ Press, Part of the liturgy used by the woman who celebrated this includes these very wonderful words as prayer: “As today I celebrate my life’s continual unfolding, I am awestruck by the wonder of my being. And so I pray that kindness and compassion may be on my lips, that strength and courage may be with me in my comings and goings, and that I may continue to learn from and to teach those dear to me.”

Let me suggest that the time is right for religious institutions to celebrate the wisdom our generation has gained from the living of our life and to recognize the value of one’s life experience.

I would love to know your reaction to this suggestion and if your religious community would be open to such a new idea.


Where Were You?

The impact of memory

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

I was trolling through the music department of Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago and finally gave in to a long-held desire. I walked out with The Essential Johnny Mathis. Okay, do not laugh. I slipped the disk into the CD player at home and for more than an hour was transported back to junior high school and high school.

Why did I do this? Why do we all do this? Maybe it was because I had just heard on the local all-news radio show some commentator reminding me of the significance of July 2009. You see, 40 years ago this month, men walked on the moon. Forty years! And you ask why I bought a Mathis CD? (I almost wrote album.) And to make things even more interesting, that same commentator remarked that it was the same 40 years since Woodstock. Forty years! No wonder that person in the mirror in the morning looks so strange. Where did he come from?

So, where were you when Armstrong jumped on the moon? July 1969? I was in England. I had just arrived to serve as an interim rabbi in a congregation that decided to use a student from the USA to bridge a year between full-time clergy. By luck, my desire to go arrived the same time as their letter looking for someone to serve. Off I went, all of 24 years and a few months. How strange it was to be in England and listen to BBC explain the moon landing. These were the days way before CNN and the Internet. So, it was BBC, the International Herald-Tribune, and lots of calls to the States. I seem to recall British TV taking the Walter Cronkite feed for a while, but for the most part, I was subject to the reporting of the British press and their take on this historic event. “Jolly good” seemed to be the most offered reaction.

Forty years. A lifetime. A generation and more. I remember the world seemed riveted to the flight and the landing and the return. How strange, 40 years later, that we seem to take it all for granted. Most of us were captivated. We could still remember when we were in grade school and heard of something called “sputnik” and then the excitement a while later, when John Glenn orbited. Remember those black-and-white TV pictures of his silver flight suit? The Twilight Zone was real!

I am sure there will be several speeches and tributes to the Apollo program this month. Rightfully so. We will remember the excitement, the pride of what we were seeing, and thinking that in some small way we were all on Apollo 11. Memory is a powerful tool. We’ll hear Armstrong’s words and think back to where we were and what we were doing. Our generation had so many of those moments, from November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was shot, to the day in 1975 when Viet Nam fell. Assassinations and protests, political upheaval, and a sound track of music that still reverberates in our minds (and many re-issues) today.

I will leave the deep meaning of these events for others. For now, I would only like to reflect on the power of those times and the impact of memory. It is a spiritual thing, for these events really do mark the great passageways in our lives. As powerful as our own personal stories are and will continue to be, it is a strange and wonderful thing to hear or be reminded of an event and see how quickly we stop and think of where we were when we saw this event or heard this news. In that instant, we become that person and just as quickly, we overview our life and wonder, as people have for centuries, where has that time gone? Chances are that many of those memories will be wonderful, wonderful.

But then, it’s not for me to say. While you’re at it, put another few 45s on the record player!