Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Are we really all free? (a post-Passover reflection)

This year I had the most wonderful privilege of having the first-night Seder and meal at the home of my talented former classmate Claudia Kreiman and her husband Ebn Leader, one of the key forces behind the exciting new rabbinical school at Hebrew College (which is getting ready to ordain its first class). I really felt free at their table and among their friends. But one thing has really stuck in my craw from that wonderful night. Someone said, "I think everybody at this table is free" and went on to contrast us "free" people with the many suffering people throughout the world.

Well, I wish this person had just asked me. How did this person know how free I was? How did this person know that I hadn't just suffered some terrible shock like -- as I'm sure happened to many people -- being told just before Passover that I had a fatal disease? Or how did this person know that one of us sitting at the table was not battling drug addiction or enduring the enslavement of being abused by a boss or a family member who it was not so easy -- or risk-free -- to break away from?

This all came into my mind this morning when I read the latest electronic journal entry from the wife of my old rabbinical classmate and dear friend Benny Katz. Some six months ago one of their beloved children suddenly collapsed in cardiac arrest. He survived but . . . well, I won't say, anymore. I'll just share the powerful words of Marlene's latest post about their experience of facing Passover for the first time after their son Zalman's collapse. I hope it will remind you of what it is that is so beautiful about this holiday, especially about how it can remind us about who might not be so free right next door to us. . . . how the unfree might be not just people far away suffering on another continent. They might be people who look and sound just like us. They might even be us. Here are Marlene's words"

We had no idea how difficult it was going to be to get ready for Passover this year until Thursday night when it was already too late to ask for help. I spent some time resentful that no one was offering to help us, recovered from that, panicked, again recovered, and finally with some effort adjusted my expectations and moved forward with a new idea of what was necessary and possible, and I began to look forward to it. As crazy as this may sound, it was difficult to give up cooking for days, and spending weeks cleaning and throwing things out. It was difficult to give up our tradition of moving all of our furniture out of the living room and having a huge Seder. I missed planning the meals and cooking with Zalman so I chose a complicated short rib dish that he would have been wild for, and invited him to join me in spirit in every part of the preparation. Kieffer also joined us in spirit. He was wandering with friends in the desert around Moab, Utah and didn’t come home for Passover. He told us tonight that he had a once in a lifetime Passover experience in Utah. There was a Jewish group camping next to him so on Saturday night he went with his box of matzah under his arm and asked if he could join them for the Seder but not their meal. They told him it would cost him $150.OO and turned him away!!! Our seder was intimate and lovely and lively. All of Malka’s Jewish education and singing lessons paid off. She sang constantly and beautifully. Malka and Ben ended the evening with a duet of Echad Mi Yodea (Who knows One?). It was one of the best seders that Ben has ever led. Now we are in the time when our ancestors were in the wilderness and it feels like we too are in the wilderness. We are quickly approaching the 6 month anniversary of Zalman’s heart attack. The medical world has told us that we can not really expect much improvement in Zalman’s brain function after that point. I can feel myself holding my breath. The medical world and the world of alternative practitioners continue to tell us different things. Zalman keeps looking better and better but all the improvements are very small. We are not sure what we are doing or where we are going. We brought Zalman home believing in the possibility of miracles, and in the possibility of his once again being the one in a million we have always known him to be. We still believe in miracles. We have been living one for the past 6 months as witnesses and participants in Zalman’s struggle for life. At times it is as if we can feel him weighing his options – what would life be like in this body with these limitations? We can feel him feeling and responding to our love and care. In the past week he has seemed less angry and less uncomfortable, but he has also seemed very sad at times. I am still struggling with separating his feelings and reactions from my own feelings and reactions. Last week I felt hopeless for a few days. It could have been me feeling hopeless or I could have been picking up on Zalman’s feelings. I can’t sort it out because at times it makes sense for either or both of us to feel that way. I thought this week about the trust and faith that it took for the Israelites to follow Moses out of Egypt, into the Red Sea and through the desert. We have been on a journey with Zalman for almost 6 months now. Our faith and trust is helping to guide us. Each one of us in our family has our own path that we are following and our own lessons to learn from everything that we are going through. I have to keep being reminded that Zalman is walking his own path in all of this and that though we may be able to care for him and support him it is not within our power to determine, control, or change his path. I have been listening to Zalman’s mix tapes all morning. As I finished writing, the music changed to “Screamo”. I was getting up to skip that track when I looked over at Zalman who seemed genuinely happy to be listening to loud angry musical screaming. That track has finished and now we are listening to 40’s jazz. Yep, definitely on his own path. marlene

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