Tag Archives: kibbud av v’em

Bone on Bone

by Linda Albert (Sarasota, FL)

I turned my back on some of your skills

before I really learned them—bridge parties,

lemon tarts with whipped cream piped around the edges,

three-layered tea sandwiches without the crusts—

because of all the hours I judged you’d lost there,

the chaotic kitchen, the clean-ups that always fell to me.

I got rid of your impatience

right from the beginning—

the time keeper tyrant

who kept you running until

it seemed to me you missed your life.

In that, I might have gone too far,

and now I want some back.

Your maxims, I weeded out along the way—

though I confess that job took years.

If it’s true that God will only help the ones

who help themselves, then who needs God?

Airing dirty laundry in public is sometimes therapeutic.

The bed I make is not the one I always have to lie in;

There is no actual law.

But I do cherish your English bone china,

that set of thirty two with the gold rim and green border

you bought from Uncle Jack’s jewelry store in Ottawa

and confirmed at the Sweet Sixteen

luncheon you made for me.

In fact, I think it would please you to know

I use that china every day.

Whenever I take a plate from the cupboard

I share the meal with you. It’s easier now

since you’ve become my guest.

An internationally published poet, essayist, and former theater director, Linda Albert is also a certified Jungian Archetypal Pattern Analyst and communication coach with a Master Certification in Neurolinguistics, and in recent years her work has focused on conscious and creative aging. Linda’s poetry is influenced by her interest and academic training in those areas as well as by her Jewish heritage, the changing roles of contemporary women, and her personal joys, struggles, and insights.

Author of Charting the Lost Continent: Poetry and Other Discoveries (https://bit.ly/ChartingtheLostContinent), her awards include the Olivet and Dyer-Ives Foundation Poetry Prizes and the Atlanta Review’s International Merit Award for poetry. For more about her and her work, visit: www.lindaalbert.net.

“Bone on Bone” first appeared in Voices Israel 2015 Anthology and is reprinted here with permission of the author. 


Filed under American Jewry, Family history, Jewish, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, Judaism, poetry

A Taste of Home

by Tania Hassan (Gilbraltar)

It will be kibbud av va’em,
I tell myself before leaving the little ones behind.

I fly the 9 hours to gain some eternity.
My oldest friend picks me up at the airport. It’s been ten years.

Shehecheyanu for keeping me alive.

I walk out into the pouring rain,
I bless it.

Inhaling the sweet smell of wet cedar and grass into every pore of my being,
We duck into a tiny coffee shop in a Montreal alleyway.

Rich, thick and nutty, that latte goes down like
Abuela’s autumn bean soup.

Vekiyemanu – for sustaining me.

We pass the steel moose cut-outs at every major intersection,
I stop for the requisite selfies.

Later I reflect on the expression on my face;
The way my smile reaches the whites of my eyes.

I embrace my parents,
My father’s Ralph Lauren aftershave,
The nephews I never met.

I never noticed their scattered freckles on FaceTime.

Vehigiyanu Laz’man Hazeh – for bringing me to this season in my life.

I laugh with brothers. Hearty guffaws we have to stifle with anyone else.

The boundaries fade away and I am 13 again.

Honouring my parents is easy when my husband is neatly tucked away at home,
meals prepared in the freezer, and I’m sleeping in my childhood bed.

The baby weight I just about lost,
Was greedily piled back on as my palate stopped pretending it was a cultured European.

Though the height of kavod/honour would have me preparing Shabbat for my parents,
I took a back seat and allowed my mother to serve her traditional Morroccan feasts

Honey and cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and all the love you could cram into five days and nights..

Filling my heart with home.

Five days and not a day longer.

Baruch – A blessing.

Tania Hassan is an ABA therapist who lives in Gibraltar, a 2.2 km squared British peninsula that shares a border with Spain.  Her Spanglish is superb, her British accent less so.  When she has spare time, she writes and pines for Canadian winters. 

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Filed under Canadian Jewry, Family history, history, Jewish, Jewish identity, Jewish writing, Moroccan Jewry, poetry

Caring For Our Parents

by Rena Y. Polonsky (New York, NY)

It is a short, shocking story:

“Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a cloth, placed it against both their backs and, walking backwards, they covered their father’s nakedness; their faces were turned the other way, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.” (Genesis 9:22-23)

Noah becomes drunk and reveals himself, acting in a way that does not seem fitting for a man who is called righteous. And it is Noah’s children who are there to witness their father’s bizarre behavior, and care for him when he is incapable of caring for himself.

This strange story of uncharacteristic behavior and role reversals may sound all too real and true for a person whose parent has Alzheimer’s or Dementia. In what seems like a moment, our parents change before our eyes, doing things that seem incomprehensible for them, and we are left to care for these people we hardly recognize.

Our parents are our first role models. While pop culture and media provide us with idols and icons, our parents are real examples of strong people who do incredible and profound things–even when they are small acts–right before our very eyes.

Our parents are the ones who teach us to care and love. They are the people we expect to have answers and advice, even when we don’t want to hear it. Our parents are who we want to care for us when we are sick. But what do we do when they can no longer care for themselves, let alone us?

What happens when our parents can no longer care for themselves, but instead require us to take on the role that they have longed filled in our lives? What do we do when the parent we know is no longer the person sitting next to us? How do we explain to ourselves that the person we are caring for is still our beloved parent even if they don’t remember us all the time?

Noah revealed his own nakedness. He was intoxicated and shamed himself. Ham merely walked in on his father acting in an immature and disgraceful manner and then reports it to his brothers. The Eerdman Commentary states that “…since Shem and Japheth remedy their brother’s mistake simply by covering Noah up without looking at him, it is unnecessary to posit any acts of sexual intercourse by Ham.”

However, Shem and Japheth’s reactions do insinuate that Ham has done something wrong. Ham leaves his father in the vulnerable state and then reports to his brothers what he saw. Sarna comments that, “Ham compounded his lack of modesty and filial respect by leaving his father uncovered and by shamelessly [gossiping] about what he had seen.”

Ham sees his father in a state that we don’t normally see our parents in. Ham enters his father’s tent and is completely dumbfounded at seeing his father not only drunk, but acting in a dishonorable manner, and responds to the shock by blabbing to his brothers. Ham does not know that even though he has seen his father fall from “hero” to a regular man that he must still treat him with the greatest of dignity. And while, as the Etz Chayim commentary points out, “We lose a great deal if we come to see our parent or teacher as just another person,” we are still responsible for taking care of and honoring our parents, maybe even more so now that they have fallen from grace a bit.

Being a caregiver is never easy. We are constantly being asked to give of ourselves, with little time to take a breath and sort out our own emotions. We are overrun with the big and the little, never knowing which should take more precedence. We feel silly and dramatic worrying about how the health and well-being of another will affect us, yet knowing that it does change our lives. Being a caregiver to a parent only raises the ante on all of these emotions and questions.

When our loved ones are vulnerable, we must help to cover them and learn to accept them as human beings, just as weak and helpless as we sometimes are. Our parents and teachers are still our elders and honorable, even when they are no longer infallible. And, if we try hard enough to accept them as imperfect human beings, we may be able to see them as even greater heroes than we had before.

What’s more is that our parents are just as afraid and unsure of how to respond to their own vulnerability. Noah’s actions seem to not fit with what we know of him. Perhaps he responds to his changing status and his aging by heavily drinking because he does not know how to confront what is happening to him. Just as we must learn to accept our parents’ vulnerability, so too must we help them to adjust.

When we switch roles generously with our parents, when we become the caregiver and care for the one who has always cared for us, we have the potential to bring the greatest honor and respect to our parents.

As Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 reads: “My child, help your father in his old age, And do not grieve him as long as he lives. If his understanding fails, be considerate. And do not humiliate him when you are in all your strength.”

We honor our parents and raise them up, even when they can no longer do this for themselves.

Rena Y. Polonsky, a fourth-year rabbinical student at HUC-JIR, serves currently as the rabbinic intern for the URJ Department of Jewish Family Concerns.

A slightly different version of this essay originally appeared at Jewish Sacred Aging, an online forum for the Jewish community offering resources for exploring the implications of living a long life. It is reprinted here with permission.

You can visit Jewish Sacred Aging at: http://www.jewishsacredaging.com/Home_Page.php

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Walking a Tightrope

by Rachel BenDavid (Peduel, Israel)

Those of us new to observant Judaism constantly balance following the laws as we learn them with being sensitive to the feelings of others–especially parents. In some ways it’s like walking a tightrope,  always trying to make sure that we walk that fine line.

I recall at some point in learning the various halachot, my brother and I realized the upcoming holiday of Pesach might be problematic. The laws of kashrut are very strict when it comes to Pesach, and we both knew that what we thought was acceptable to eat in past years in my parent’s house wasn’t going to be acceptable for us anymore. We also knew that refusing to come home for the Pesach seder wasn’t an option. It would hurt our parents too much.

My brother and I were relatively lucky. Our parents had their “sore spots,” as is natural with parents whose children choose a very different path in life, but they weren’t anti-religious. We knew that with some tact on both sides, we could work things out.

So, my brother and I brought the meat and the handmade Shmura matza from New York City. We had the local Lubavitch shaliach come in to kasher what was possible to kasher. We bought new dishes. (My mother actually enjoyed feeling like a young bride who picks out new things!) And we used paper and plastic where we could.

We thought long and hard about how to organize the seder. My family was using English Haggadot (remember the Maxwell House Coffee edition?)  and we decided that we would all take turns reading aloud, and here and there my brother and I would “casually” jump in with “Oh, I heard something interesting about this,” or “I learned about this just the other week….”

In order to not make too much of a production out of the amounts of matza and maror we had to eat, my brother measured the quantities out ahead of time. So I knew that I needed to eat the amount on the plate he would put right next to me. He decided that he would be official wine pourer, and while he was taking care of everyone else, I would pour for him. (These things relate to some of the finer details about the Pesach seder).

And since a Pesach seder wouldn’t be a Pesach seder without invited guests, we invited my aunt and uncle, who wouldn’t have had a seder to go to if it hadn’t been for ours.

Soon enough all of the preparations were done–the food cooked, the table set, and all of us dressed in our finest clothes. At the appropriate time we heard the knock at the door, and I went to answer it. My aunt and uncle came in, and my aunt gave me a big smile, handed me a foil-wrapped package, and said, “This is for you.”

A number of things happened in the next few seconds, although thinking back on it the seconds seem much longer. My brain processed the information coming from my nose and my hands, and I realized–much to my horror–that the gift warming the palm of my hand was a freshly baked loaf of bread. (Bringing a loaf of bread to the Passover seder–for those not familiar with the laws of chametz–is the equivalent of bringing an expensive bottle of whiskey to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.)

My first thought was “Oh, no, I really hope biur covers this.” (“Biur” is the spoken declaration said the morning before the Passover seder which states that all chametz found accidentally in one’s house is like the dust of the earth, meaning without value).

My next reaction was one hundred percent due to my upbringing.  Long before I became an observant Jew, my parents taught me Jewish values, one being that you treat other people, especially older people, with respect NO MATTER WHAT. (There is a saying–“Derech Eretz kadma l’Torah”–which loosely translated means that treating other people well is a pre-requisite to Torah learning.)

So, although part of me wanted to shriek and throw the bread out of the window, I smiled at my aunt and said thank you. Then, after “casually” putting the bread down on a coffee table, I explained that “there just isn’t an inch of room left on the dining table,” and we proceeded to sit down and start the seder.

The rest of the evening went smoothly, although I couldn’t help being tense. I don’t know what I thought … that the bread would suddenly sprout legs and jump onto my newly kosher dishes? This gift seemed like the elephant in the room, to me at least. My brother must have felt the same way because as soon as my aunt and uncle were out of sight–we checked by peeking through the curtains–he grabbed the foil package and slam-dunked that sucker into my neighbor’s garbage can with a satisfying clang.

That night I had a little chat with G-d. Well, a more accurate description would be to say that I  had a hissy-fit along the lines of “Okay, G-d, what exactly was THAT about?!? Here we were, walking that tightrope and doing just fine, and you send a gale force wind to knock us off!” Needless to say, G-d was silent.

After my initial anger wore off, the really dangerous emotions took over. I started to sing what I call the “Ba’al Teshuva Blues.” Every one of us who has decided to become an observant Jew has probably felt this way once or twice, and some experience this every day. It usually comes after an embarrassing incident, or when all of the details of a new law seem overwhelming, or after you are disillusioned by the behavior of another Orthodox Jew. (“But… but… they aren’t supposed to do that!”)

It goes something like this: “This is never going to work. I will never fit in. Who was I kidding anyway? Is it really worth all of this effort? G-d will love me if I am a good person, do I really have to go the whole nine yards…?”

A lot of these emotions come from feeling isolated, similar to the way a 16-year-old girl might feel after having her heart broken for the first time and who thinks there is no one else in the universe who knows exactly how she feels.

Until you meet others who do know how you feel.

The first time happens when you meet someone who is dressed in full Ultra-Orthodox regalia and looks like he can trace his religious ancestors all the way back to Moses. Then you get to know him and he tells you his story, and it turns out that in the Sixties he was a hippy who partook of every illegal substance known to man. That really blows your mind, until you meet someone else just like him. Then you start meeting others who may look like they’ve been religious for a long time, but they have shared a similar journey to yours.

Then, when you mature some more, you do meet people who have been Orthodox from birth and can trace their religious ancestors a long way back. But you realize that they too have had challenges to face, and that Hashem puts obstacles in their way, just different ones than the ones you’ve experienced.

And you realize, too, that G-d is always forcing us to grow in one way or another, and our own personal problems are as individually designed as our fingerprints.

So you keep going, and you put these feelings into perspective.

Because, all in all, the journey–even if it means walking a tightrope–is worth it.

Rachel BenDavid lives in a yishuv in the Shomron and posts regularly on her blog, West Bank Mama (westbankmama.wordpress.com). This post appeared in slightly different form as “Following the Letter of the Law” in West Bank Blog (an earlier version of West Bank Mama) Oct. 29. 2006, and it’s reprinted here with the author’s permission.

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Filed under American Jewry, Passover