Sunday, December 06, 2009

Death of a giant . . . who wrote about the Bible and love

I never got to learn with Professor Yochanan Muffs, but I know how deeply his work impacted many other scholars and lovers of the Hebrew Bible. He struggled, and continued to teach, for many years in the face of a debilitating illness, and, in that way, was also a great inspiration to many. So, I was saddened to learn, today, that he had died. Here is the information the Rabbinical Assembly sent out about his funeral and shiva:

We are sad to inform you of the death of our distinguished colleague and Professor of Bible at JTS, Rabbi Yochanan Muffs,z"l. The funeral will take place tomorrow, Monday at 9:30 am at Congregation Ansche Chesed, 100th iSt and West End Ave. in New York City, 212-865-0600.

Yocheved will be shivah at her home, 280 Riverside Dr. At 100th St with minyan Tommorow through Thursday and Motzaei Shabbat at 6:30 pm and Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday at 7:30 am, Thursday at 7:20 am, and Sunday at 8:30 am.

May his memory be for a blessing

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It shouldn't be this hard -- thinking...

It's been a week since I achieved certification as a supervisor in Clinical Pastoral Education. There's been a lot of joy and gratitude as this arduous educational process finally came to an end for me. But there is also an undercurrent of sadness. Only about 60% of the candidates who went up this time were approved along with me. These rejections are a personal trauma to the people who were turned down, but they are also a trauma for the project of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) as a whole -- how can we expect the field to thrive if there is not a steady crop of new supervisors coming up to educate the chaplains and clergy of the future?

Can you imagine being willing to join a field where there's a 40% chance that you will be turned down after a 3-6 year educational process? Few would be willing to do that, which means that the proverbial "best and the brightest" are not very likely to choose our field, and that is a tragedy.

Now, granted, some proportion of that 40% will be approved on a second or third try. But does it really have to be this hard? Is it really worth discouraging people from joining or staying in this field?

I don't think so. We need to do what other fields -- including law, medicine and doctoral education -- have done over the last thirty or forty years. We need to remove much of the uncertainty from the educational and certification processes. Students need to know how long it will take them to finish. They need to be able to feel confident that they know what they need to do in order to finish. Neither of these things are true now.

The place to start is with the committee appearance process itself. A few years ago an association (ACPE) task group created a report that included some excellent recommendations for reform, most importantly that the committee a candidate appears before should be -- as it is in the Phd defense process -- made of people who have an ongoing relationship with the candidate and his or her work. But the ACPE leadership, unfortunately, rejected the most important recommendations.

Another reform I would recommend would be to make graduate education a component of the process. Supervisor candidates are expected to demonstrate substantial competency of theoretical knowledge from the fields of education and psychology. Yet, few supervisory education programs include graduate courses in those subjects. Having had very little previous formal education in these fields, I was forced to engage in a process of self-education with only minimal guidance. Now that I am in a Phd program (I started at NYU's program in Education and Jewish Studies in September), I can really see the difference that learning under the guidance of top-notch professors devoted to your success makes. I did a good job of educating myself to the level required for associate supervisor certification, but did it really have to be this hard? I don't think so, and I'm conscious that I had the advantage of being a life-long autodidact with a strong academic background. What about people who don't have those advantages? Shouldn't they have the opportunity to become supervisors, too?

My doctoral work is just at its beginning and I'm not sure exactly where my research is leading me. But I hope it helps me to make a contribution to the field of CPE in a way that will help it to raise both the quality and quantity of its supervisors. The field has so much to give. I hope to be able to help that tradition grow!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Becoming super – I made it!

One of the confusing things about Clinical Pastoral Education – the main way of educating chaplains and others who provide spiritual care to the ill and dying – is that we don't call the educators in this field teachers or professors. We call them supervisors.

This is because of the educational model we use, one borrowed from medical education where the main part of the learning happens on the job under the supervision of a kind of highly trained professional mentor (see this recent New York Times article, which suggests more use of supervision in training schoolteachers). I am one such professional mentor – supervisor – but I am not yet fully certified (a process that typically takes around five years start-to-finish). But on Thursday I came one giant step closer when I appeared before a committee of senior supervisors in Atlanta and was granted status as an Associate Supervisor.

I am grateful to so many people for helping me on the way, but mostly to Minna for both moral and practical support, especially when I was putting together my written materials for this appearance, and also to my supervisor – a true mentor of mentors – Gregory Stoddard.

At this time the Jewish supervisors who passed this way before me also come to mind. They are a small, but, thankfully, rapidly growing group, each one of them a pioneer. I am glad to join their ranks, not just as supervisors in the chaplaincy field, but as people who have a special voice – a special Torah – to contribute to the education of rabbis and other spiritual caregivers in the Jewish world. With our long tradition of bikkur holim (visiting of the sick) and of aveilut (the caring for mourners), we Jews have a lot of wisdom to offer the rest of the world when it comes to caring for people whose spirits are wounded.

But rest of the world has things to teach us as well. The world of Clinical Pastoral Education has a lot to teach us about the importance of paying attention to the emotions and reactions of the caregiver his or her self when they come into contact with the suffering. And that attention to emotions can also teach us much about how to forge emotional connections between our people and ourpeople's holy texts and holy values.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Just another Secular Sunday

After what seemed like a full month of Sundays devoted to holidays, this weekend finally bought a "Secular Sunday" that was available for _normal_ things like going to the mall or doing the laundry. But Minna and I decided to keep celebrating one more weekend! We did that by taking a little trip together to some great places in upstate New York -- Storm King, one of the best places anywhere to see outdoor sculpture, and Dia: Beacon, a huge former factory that's now dedicated to displaying large pieces of art. It was Minna's first time at Storm King (I'd been there a number of times before) and the first for both of us at Dia: Beacon (I really loved it!).

The pic above is _not_ Minna in front of a rock -- it's a sculpture (Catskill) at Storm King by _another_ Bromberg, Manuel Bromberg.
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

An Xtracyle in New York City!

I was really excited to see this one -- the first Xtracyle I've sighted in New York City -- on my way to school, today. It's a cool one, with room for two (small) passengers. Here's a closer pic of it:

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Leaving Galus -- from Pa. to NYC and back (at the world's B-day)

my four years of hospital chaplaincy and chaplaincy education in a
hospital in Reading, PA, I've often had reason to reflect on the
meaning of exile, and what the possibility for return -- maybe even
teshuvah -- might be. And, in the last two weeks of adding
the pursuit of a doctorate (in Education and Jewish Studies) at NYU to my very busy schedule (now
including a monster weekly commute), I've started to feel something
exciting coming together -- a kind of leaving of exile, galut or galus -- that
involves not forgetting the long exile, but actually embracing and holding onto what has been
meaningful about it so I can use it for my own people and their quest.

Moshe -- who the Christians call Moses and
the Muslims Musa -- has often come to mind amid this. He went into an exile from
his homeland in Egypt -- into a time in the wilderness before he returned to
Egypt to redeem his people out of slavery. But Moshe did not return
empty-handed. He encountered not only God there, but also his non-Israelite father-in-law
Yitro, or Jethro, who would give him much wisdom to bring back to his people about how to live in community, about how to carry out the task of leadership.

It is my dream to also bring back wisdom to my people from my long time in galut. My exile has been in the world of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), a means developed by Christians, mostly mainline Protestants originally, to educate their clergy about ministering to their sick and suffering in the very setting -- the hospital -- where this work is centered. CPE's wisdom -- its Torah -- has to do with understanding how it is that people can be formed into effective caregivers and spiritual leaders. Our tradition of rabbinic and Jewish leadership education has been doing this for millennia. But we're not systematic about how we do it. We have so much to learn from others. And I feel myself now well on the road to that task of learning and teaching. In my seminars at NYU, it's so great to feel like I have returned to the conversation again -- the conversation about how it is we will preserve the Jewish people so that it will thrive, and about how education -- as it has always been for us people who love our books so much -- can, and must, stand at the center of that. It's an exciting place to be.

Tonight begins the time of the year when we blow the shofar, when we celebrate the New Year and the birthday of the world. It is a time of beginnings (even as we contemplate the possibility of our ending), of fresh fruits and new things.

I am so grateful the Blessed Holy One for bringing me to this place!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Baruch Dayan Emet -- sadness at the death of the son of Israel's first astronaut

Bob Tabak, a chaplain at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania who was at the same Israeli spiritual care conference I presented at in May, posted the below on the National Association of Jewish Chaplains list, today. I share his sorrow:

I was at the 5th annual Israel Spiritual Care Conference in May.
The keynote speaker was Rona Ramon, widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan
Ramon who died in the Challenger explosion. She is one of the most
recognized Israeli public figures, and her talk about her search for
spiritual meaning, and struggling with her family after the highly
public loss was deeply moving, especially to our Israeli colleagues.

Her son, Asaf Ramon, an IDF pilot age 24 died this weekend in a
training exercise when his plane crashed. The loss to the immediate
family is shared by the Israeli society. I include a message from
Tiskofet/Life's Door, one of groups organizering spiritual care in
Israel. Our condolences to the Ramon family and to all in mourning.
Hamakom yinachem otam...

--Bob Tabak


פרופ' בן קורן, MD דבורה קורן, MSc

יושב-ראש מנכ"לית

תשקופת ומעגF

Tishkofet and Maagan communities join with our dear friend and
colleague, Rona Ramon and her family on the tragic death of Assaf.

In the absence of words, we offer our deepest feelings of support and comfort in this time of pain.

Prof. Ben Corn, MD Dvora Corn, MSc

Executive Chairman Executive Director

Tishkofet and Ma'agan

Baruch Dayan Emet -- sadness at the death of the son of Israel's

Bob Tabak, a chaplain at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania who was at the same Israeli spiritual care conference I presented at in May, posted the below on the National Association of Jewish Chaplains list, today. I share his sorrow:

I was at the 5th annual Israel Spiritual Care Conference in May. 
The keynote speaker was Rona Ramon, widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan
Ramon who died in the Challenger explosion.  She is one of the most
recognized Israeli public figures, and her talk about her search for
spiritual meaning, and struggling with her family after the highly
public loss was deeply moving, especially to our Israeli colleagues.


Her son, Asaf Ramon, an IDF pilot age 24 died this weekend in a
training exercise when his plane crashed.   The loss to the immediate
family is shared by the Israeli society.  I include a message from
Tiskofet/Life's Door, one of groups organizering spiritual care in
Israel.  Our condolences to the Ramon family and to all in mourning. 
Hamakom yinachem otam...


--Bob Tabak


פרופ' בן קורן, MD                    דבורה קורן, MSc

יושב-ראש                                 מנכ"לית

                                תשקופת ומעגF


Tishkofet and Maagan communities join with our dear friend and
colleague, Rona Ramon and her family on the tragic death of Assaf. 

In the absence of words, we offer our deepest feelings of support and comfort in this time of pain.


Prof. Ben Corn, MD       Dvora Corn, MSc

Executive Chairman      Executive Director

                 Tishkofet and Ma'agan


Death of a street poet -- Jim Carroll

I had recently started listening again to Jim Carroll's great 1980 album, Catholic Boy. It's an album -- with its vivid descriptions of colorful street characters -- that I associate strongly with New York City, so, with my starting to go into New York regularly now for my coursework, it just felt natural to put Jim Carroll on my iPod as I walked that (sometimes!) magical City's streets. Carroll helped me fall in love with New York as a young adult and to see it as a place of infinite possibilities (even amid pain and suffering). So, I was saddened to hear yesterday that he had died on Friday (at the age of only 60). Thank you for everything you gave, Mr. Carroll!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

How does one go to grad school in NYC from 130 miles away?

Step 1 -- schedule your classes on two days a week (so you only need  to overnight in New York one night a week).

Step 2 -- find the smallest hotel room in New York.

What you see on the right is one of the cabins in the new (old?) Jane Hotel, which was originally built for sailors who were in port and for a long time was one of the very last of the rundown SRO (single room occupancy) hotels in New York for the down-and-out. The rooms are _tiny_ and the bathroom is down the hall, but, at $99 a night (plus tax) and with a Greenwich Village location I had to give it a try.

I'll let you know how it goes!

Here are a couple of more pics:

The 4th floor hallway where I am:

Dual-flush toilet in the bathroom down the hall (I had never seen one in the States before; they are pretty common in Israel, and I suppose in Europe as well).

My pillow!

From The Jane Hotel

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Two for the price of one -- repositioning the equipment

I had left my Xtracycle at work, today, and wanted to go back and get it this evening. I had no one to drive me there, so I decided to try riding back to work on my folder and then putting it in the Xtracycle for the "back haul".

It worked! Another car-free day as part of my efforts to be just a little bit kinder to the planet (while getting some exercise, too!).

Here is a front and rear view of the bikes together. Pretty wild looking, no?

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High on the High Line -- dreams can come true

The columns and beams to the right have that early 20th century look of overbuilt steel, complete with the little bumps that are the heavy rivets communicating "I am solid" and "I am steel" about the whole structure.

The stairway on the left, however, communicates nothing lightness with its see-through railing mostly made of thin wire and its stairs full of little holes.

The marriage of the two sharply contrasting structures constitutes something that almost felt like a miracle to me yesterday when I stumbled across it while strolling on the West Side of Manahttan. For years, the older structure was a symbol of the abandonment, neglect and lost potential that seemed to characterize New York City -- especially in the 1970s -- for so many years. New York lovers like myself dreamed that a structure like this -- which once boldly carried freight trains over the busy streets of Manhattan, even sometimes passing through buildings -- could be reclaimed as parks or public transit systems. But, amid the abandonment of spending on public amenities in the United States that began with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, these dreams seemed to be just that -- dreams that would never find reality. It seemed impossible that Americans would ever rediscover the 19th century belief in building parks that gave us such treasures as Central Park, etc.

So you can imagine the joy that I felt on walking up these newly built stairs to find this scene amid yesterday's beautiful weather:

The weed-like plants on the lower right are a reference to what you would have found not long ago if you had been up there on what's now called the High Line -- weeds growing amid abandoned railroad tracks. Now it's been converted into a beautiful walkway. You can even see the mighty Hudson River from up there as the next two pics attest:

From New York walking sept. 1 09
One of the High Line's most dramatic features is that it actually goes through buildings, which you can see in this pic here:

I was in New York for something else that very much related to the possibility of dreams coming true -- a meeting with Dr. Charles "Chip" Edelsberg, the executive director of the Jim Joseph Foundation, which has made a $5 million gift to support New York University's Education and Jewish Studies program. I have the honor of being a beneficiary of that gift, which is providing me with a stipend and full fellowship for the doctoral studies I am beginning next week.

It was a thrill to hear Dr. Edelsberg's passion about the Jewish people and about the potential for improved and more professionalized Jewish education to play a role in sustaining our people and the seriousness of their engagement with Judaism and Jewish identity. I feel privileged to be supported in being a part of that process. In meeting my new fellow students, I also felt privileged to be part of such a group of bright, young, impassioned leaders and researchers.

My passions are about rabbinic (and other Jewish leadership) education and about education around pastoral care. There are so many exciting things going on in rabbinic education these days, especially with the recent founding of two new rabbinical schools -- the trans-denominational school at Hebrew College in Boston (where Minna goes!) and the modern Orthodox program at Chovevei Torah in New York. But in order for the wonder of all this newness to move on to becoming established and sustainable -- as it must for the benefit of the Jewish people -- we must become more professionalized. That means studying what we are doing more seriously and it means learning more about what people in related sectors are doing, so we can bring in their tools and insights. For the last four years, I have been immersing myself in one such related sector full of tools and insights that can help us on the path to sustainable excellence -- the world of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). I hope my doctoral research will help us bring the wisdom of the CPE world into dialogue with the great wisdom of our Torah and of our leaders in the education of rabbis and other future Jewish leaders.

I am not sure yet exactly where my doctoral work will take me, but I had many new thoughts during my time with Dr. Edelsberg and my new peers, yesterday. One was about the importance of continuing education. Only so much material can be covered while people are in school and many things can only really be well understood once somebody gets on the job. CPE is all about educating people about what it is that they are already working on, so there is much that the CPE world has the potential to give to efforts to help our teachers and rabbis continue to grow, especially to grow in ways that will help sustain them in their often highly challenging work, and to help keep them from burning out and fleeing the field.

One of the great things about being in dialogue with leaders in the field like Dr. Edelsberg is it can make you aware of other people who are doing work parallel to your interest. Yesterday, Dr. Edelsberg mentioned teacher induction programs. These programs help formalize and support mentoring relationships for new teachers. This is something that can inform how we do rabbinic education and the education of Jewish educators. Everyone seems to agree that new professionals need mentors, but seldom are real resources put towards supporting the creation of mentoring relationships. If you really want to assure that all of your rabbinical students, for example, find mentors, you need to provide resources to support that. The mentors need to be trained in mentoring. Their efforts at mentoring need to be rewarded and assessed in some kind of systematic way.

And providing mentoring relationships for students is only the beginning. Where new rabbis and new Jewish teachers really need mentors is when they _start_ their new jobs. There have been some programs -- like the recently canceled Star Peer program -- that have provided mentoring and other support for a privileged few of new rabbis, but I don't know of any rabbinical school that provides such support for all its students.

I am so glad to be starting this new part of my learning and Jewish journeys! I hope it helps dreams to come true!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cargo without clunkers

With this being the last weekend for the government's "Cash for clunkers" program to help people replace their gas-guzzlers with more fuel-efficient cars, gas mileage is much on people's minds these days. But what's long excited me is the idea of moving myself and my gear with _zero_ mileage -- moving things with just the power of my two legs.

I had some file boxes and books to move, today, so I attached my "Wide Loader" (see below) to my Xtracycle and got out some straps.

Here are a couple of more shots of the bike loaded:

I heard about a new kind of cargo bike option today, by the way. It's this company called CETMA Cargo that custom builds some very wild cargo bikes and racks like the one in the pic below (not sure how the guy in this pic intends on avoiding obstacles given the visibility issues!)

I'm enjoying what I'm doing, today. True, not the fastest way to move a few boxes, but I'm getting some good exercise in the bargain and having some fun to boot!
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Late adopter

My father, of blessed memory, loved high-tech and made his living working in that field. But, yet, he was no gadget freak -- he needed real convincing that a new technology, whether it be personal computers or email, really was worth adopting.

He's passed the late adopter thing (as well as the love of technology) on to me, so it was only yesterday that I finally took the smart phone plunge -- and at that it was, Minna, not me, who actually made the purchase. We have iPhones!

Late adopting, actually, despite what this guy says, is a pretty rational strategy -- the newest of the new is usually too expensive and too untested, and I've usually regretted the times I was an _early_ adopter (like with mp3 players; I brought one with me on my Israel year and 2000, and it was a real disappointment).

Anyway, I'm feeling pretty good about this iPhone so far. . . . I think I waited just the _right_ amount of time.

Thanks, Minna!

[X-posted to smamitayim]

Sunday, August 09, 2009

First tomatoes

These cherry guys are still green, but we did get our first two ripe tomatoes off of two of our full-size plants, today -- they were delicious!

Yeah, it's a bit late for the first tomatoes, but we got them in the ground kind of late. Well, and not really in the ground, too (as we have no ground). Here they are in their containers:

Some of the leaves, however, are looking a little sad, which had us worried with all this talk about an epidemic of tomato fungus:

I'm trying to stay hopeful, though and am looking forward to these guys turning red!

[X-posted to smamitayim]

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

A light unto the nations?

Murder in the name of a political or ideological cause has always struck me as the worst of all crimes. Yes, I indeed cry for the friends, family and loved ones of those murdered or wounded last night in this horrible shooting last night in Tel Aviv at a center for gay youth. But I cry, too, for all the people Israel and all the citizens of the State of Israel. We have a myth among the Jews. I use the word, myth, here not in its conventional sense (of a story that's not true). I use the word, rather, to refer to a core belief -- a story of faith -- that we tell about ourselves; that we tell to remind ourselves of who we really are: The myth that Jews don't kill Jews. The myth that for all our disputes and grievances with one another, that we settle them (or, more often, just learn to live with them) with words, not guns. NOT GUNS!

I do not know who this person was who, dressed in black and with an automatic rifle, walked into that basement room last night. But the wound left is deep and broad. It is a wound to all that our people have tried to stand for down through the generations -- for a reverence for life, and for shalom.

I still believe in the myth. I still believe we have a gift to give the world, a light to show. . . . But, today, it's harder to believe in it. It's harder to hope.

Oh, Lord, may it be Your will that this horror -- this pain -- will lead us to find a way back to following Your instruction, Your Torah of peace. Please, Lord, let it come now, speedily, in our days.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Memories of Israel

It's hard to believe that we've been back in the States for less than two months now, but it was a nice reminder of our days in Israel yesterday when the photo CD from the Hazon/Arava Israel ride arrived in the mail. I'll be posting some more photos from it soon, but here's one of my faves.


Here's another great photo from the ride (the two of us, plus, Harry, a very cool guy who rode on his folding Brompton!), along with a link to some five dozen or so of my favorites from the pics they sent us.

From Hazon ride 2009 (great pics!)

[X-posted to smamitayim]
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Sunday, July 19, 2009

A "new" X

Last time I posted here (about a month and a half ago -- wow, what a long time) I also featured a pic of this little porch. But some things have changed! The bins that I was then "making soil" in (in part by ripping up cereal boxes into bits) now feature actual tomato plants (with baby tomatoes on them!). And, somehow, the bicycle that was also in that first pic has "grown" in this one. Unlike the plants that needed weeks (not to mention sun and water) to grow, the bicycle did all its growing, today -- I got my Xtracycle kit out of my storage unit, where it had been languishing for over a year now, and used it to stretch my bike another foot and a half and make it so I could carry the 65 lbs. or so of books that are on the back there (with my rabbinic ordination certificate in the cardboard on top of it all!).

Here are all the books, etc., unloaded at their destination and sitting by the elevator to get to my office upstairs. I've never really had a good place to hang my ordination certificate before, but my new office seems like a perfect place!

Here's another view of the bike loaded before departure:

It's so exciting for me to have an Xtracyle, again. True, I've still been able to bicycle commute and grocery shop without it. But shopping with a _regular_ bicycle seems so limiting after you've owned an Xtracycle -- you're always wondering if all the groceries, etc. will really fit, or if you can _really_ carry that large size of bleach home without busting your panniers (I'll never forget the time back in LA when I busted one of my brand new REI "Around Town" panniers the first time I used them by buying lots of large size liquid items at Smart and Final . . . bummer!).

It's not that the Xtracyle has _infinite_ cargo carrying capacity, but it's just so much more than you can hope to get on a standard bike. At K-Mart, today, I didn't even think twice about buying a lamp; it would have been really hard to figure out how to carry it on a standard bike. You can see the box with the lamp in it in the rear of the Xtracycle below, on the right side, along with a the rest of a total of some $110 worth of stuff I picked up at K-Mart and the supermarket.

The bike I _stretched_ is an old Giant Sedona I bought in LA around 2001 or so. I rode it all over LA, including up into the Sepulveda Pass (where my rabbinical school was) and along Mulholland Drive, which could be pretty exhilarating, especially after a rain when usually hazy LA became clear and beautiful. I call it "the junker" because it's in kind of rough shape. But now that I've X-ed it, I'm going to upgrade it some and have ordered about $300 worth of new parts, including two new wheels and a rear disc brake. The disc brake will come in pretty handy when the bike is loaded with a lot of stuff and when it rains. For now, I am getting by with _no_ rear brake. This is not as dangerous as it sounds (contrary to popular wisdom, front brakes are much more effective than rear brakes, especially when you are descending), but it's far from perfect. I have no rear gears hooked up either (turning the bike, effectively, into a 3-speed). This is not by design, so much, as just by practicality -- I'm just not enough of a bike mechanic to do the full conversion in one day. I hope to hook up the rear gears at least in the next few days. . . . . But, who knows if will really find time. . . . It's been a great summer, but one where I've been so consumed by my work (supervising/teaching six student chaplains we have with us for the summer) that not much else has gotten done (witness how I haven't blogged here at all!) . . . . Though, I can't really blame the lack of blogging just on being busy. I think I am a little overwhelmed by all the (good!) things going on in my life right now to be able to step back enough to reflect on them and write about them. Besides all the good times with Minna there is the fall -- when I start a doctoral program at NYU!!! . . . . I am so excited about that program. I've wanted to be doing doctoral work for a long time. And I think this is the next logical step for someone who has the kind of ambitions I do -- I don't just want to be involved in chaplain education (as a Clinical Pastoral Education, CPE, supervisor). I want to be involved in educating other _supervisors_. I want to be a voice in shaping the future of both rabbinic and pastoral education. I want to be able to say something about how people can be nurtured to be more compassionate and to be more effective leaders. I'm interested in that both for clergy and for doctors and other medical staff. . . . So, the doctorate is the place to go. . . So, I'm excited . . . And scared, too!!! :)

At times like this in my life, it's important to find ways to stay grounded. Cycling helps me do that. A cycling that is not just for exercise, but is part of a lifestyle -- a lifestyle that has an intent to be kinder to the earth by burning less petroleum than I would if I was driving just to do errands around town. A lifestyle that helps remind me that food is not something that just magically appears in the supermarket, but starts in soil that comes from the Earth that God gave us. A lifestyle where I do not just toss everything I don't consume into a landfill but where I try and recycle some of it (you can't really see it well, but the leftmost bin in the first pic above is a covered compost bin where we've been putting our food scraps).


Although I think the latest X configuration should do me for a while, but I think my future -- especially if there is a longer bike commute (with more hills) waiting for me -- may hold some serious upgrades. I love the idea of a Big Dummy like this guy has (the Big Dummy is frame purpose-built for an Xtracycle -- no _stretching_ needed, which eliminates the "flex" Xtracycle users know so well). I also find the Stoke Monkey electric assist system for the Xtracycle to be a fascinating concept. . . . . Yeah, I know, electric _assist_ sounds like cheating. . . . But I find pretty compelling this way that the Stoke Monkey folks answer that criticism:

Most electric bike products are designed for people who don’t, won’t, or can’t ride regular bicycles, even without passengers or cargo. Stokemonkey is different, designed for avid bikers who will continue to ride on their own power most of the time, but want a more capable car alternative some of the time. We don’t believe in replacing human power with electricity; we believe in replacing cars for work that even the strongest cyclists seldom if ever choose to handle without a car. Developed in a car-free household, Stokemonkey is for fellow riders who want to become more completely independent of cars in their daily lives.

Now if Stoke Monkey didn't cost nearly $2,000 maybe I would already have one! :)

[x-posted to smamitayim]

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Making soil

One of the most beautiful ways to get in touch with the never-ending miracle that is God's act of creation of our world is to engage in the acts of creation that God has gifted us with the opportunity to participate in. Years ago, I used to garden some, mostly vegetable gardening -- tomatoes and green peppers and such. I haven't had access to land to do that for a very long time. I still don't, but now I have access to the little back porch above and I spent some hours today preparing containers for tomatoes and herbs. I realized that I hadn't bought enough potting soil for the containers, so I went in search of other organic matter to give the soil some bulk and maybe some nourishment and water-holding capacity for the plants, too. First, I threw in some vegetable scraps we had been saving with the idea of starting a compost bucket. Then I went in search of cardboard and paper and tore up every bit of unnecessary food packaging we had hanging around (why does breakfast cereal come in boxes, anyway?). Above you see me tearing them into bits and pieces.

It felt good to be taking things that would go into a polluting, land-consuming landfill and to try and put them to a productive purpose. It reminded me of how much I love the earth. . . . And the God who gave it to us.

Have a great week!
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Here is a closer-up view of the cardboard on its way to "becoming" soil (along with a pic of me "in the act").:

And here is how things looked when we were a bit closer to done planting:

In case the last pic made you think Minna _can't_ smile, here she is smiling!

[X-posted to smamitayim]

Sunday, May 31, 2009

And in his house of worship, too

I just can't believe that some people actually think God approves of them violently taking life like this. I am so deeply saddened by this news. . . . . May it be the will of the Blessed Holy One that peace should come to us. Soon. Speedily. In our days.

Doctor Who Performed Abortions Is Shot to Death - "WICHITA, Kan. — George Tiller, a Wichita doctor who was one of the few doctors in the nation to perform late-term abortions, was shot to death on Sunday as he attended church, city officials in Wichita said.

I passed!!

Less than a year-and-a-half after making candidate as a Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor, my theory position papers -- one of the biggest hurdles in the process for full certification as an educator of chaplains and other spiritual caregivers -- have been approved by a committee of three APCE supervisors!

I am truly overjoyed to have reached this milestone: much of my time and energy over the last year went into writing these now-approved papers, and it is an especially joyful thing to have learned this weekend that they have been approved -- on Monday I begin supervising my second summer unit (I have six wonderful chaplain students coming to spend 11 intensive full-time weeks with us!). Knowing the papers are behind me means I will be able to focus my energies fully on my new students and their learning.

I am especially proud that my papers were approved on the first submission, and that the committee did not think they needed any revisions.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Shared hopes, shared learning – a workshop in Israel on spontaneous prayer

Growing up, I think I thought of prayer itself – certainly offering a spontaneous prayer out loud off the top of your head! -- as something inherently Christian (and not Jewish). I never even imagined I could become comfortable doing it myself. So, it was really exciting for me Wednesday when one of the participants in a workshop I was leading at an Israeli Spiritual Care conference said she had come to the workshop in the hope that I could help her to get over her own discomfort with offering spontaneous prayers!

Offering a custom-made prayer – tailored specifically to the situation and the hopes of the suffering person you are with – can be a powerful source of healing. The greatest pain for an ill person is often not directly from their physical sufferings – it is the loneliness people experience amid their illness. The sense that they are now somehow different than everybody around them and that nobody can (or is willing to) understand what they are going through. The sense, maybe, that they have been forsaken by God.

A unique and beautifully tailored prayer from a visitor of faith coming into their hospital room can help break that loneliness. It can help the person to feel seen, to feel that someone had indeed heard their situation. And that that person is genuinely joining in their hopes and wants their suffering to end. And, finally, by bringing God into the experience, the offering of a spontaneous prayer can help heal a spiritual rift and help the person to feel a renewed relation with (a loving) God, even amid the confusion their sufferings bring.

And, yet, so many Jews – like the participant in my workshop – are reluctant to offer spontaneous prayer, largely because it doesn't “feel” Jewish. That's why it was so important to me to put a Jewish “stamp” on my approach to spontaneous prayer, and to come up with my own framework for composing my prayers. This framework is based on the structure of the Amidah , a central prayer of the traditional Jewish prayer service. My approach – and the Amidah – are divided up into three basic parts:

1) שבח/shevah/Praise (the “approach”) – This is where you address the One to whom you are approaching, and what specific aspect of that Ultimate Reality you want to hear your prayer. By choosing whom you are addressing and what aspect of that “whom” to address, you say something about what your theology is – what you think God (or an Ultimate Reality or Force) is. So, when you're offering a prayer for someone else, you can say something about what his or her spirituality is about in framing this first part of the prayer. If the person has a “Vertical” or “Transcendent” understanding of how God relates to humans – an understanding where God is far above us and directs what's below, you could start by saying something like, “Father above. You are the one who has always directed us and given us strength ...” Or, if the person has a more “Horizontal” or “Immanent” God view, you could start with something like, “Oh, Source of all life. You have nourished the plants and trees around us and we find you everywhere we look . . . “

At the end of this section, I also introduce the person, by name, to God, and say something about what is happening for him or her. Something like, "Dear God, we stand here before you with Sarah. She is frightened about the surgery coming tomorrow."

2) בקשות/bakashot/Requests (the “ask) – This is the heart of the prayer, the expression of what we would like God to grant us. If you're offering a prayer for another person, there are two ways you can approach this. The easiest and most straightforward one is to simply mirror back the hopes the person has expressed to you. A great way to help this process is to ask the person right before the prayer, “is there anything in particular you want me to pray for?”

While I always do ask this question before offering my prayer, I don't think the straightforward approach is quite enough. The experience of doing this workshop – and interacting with the great people who came – helped clarify for me why I want to do something more than simply rephrase the person's hopes. It's because offering a prayer is not just about the words of what I say. I think it's not even just about the feelings expressed along with those words. When you're in a real pastoral conversation with a person – where real pain and real, deep hopes are expressed – something more comes into the room. Something is summoned. Maybe it's called the shekinah. Maybe it's called God. Maybe it's something from all the other people who care. Maybe it's just spirit. But, as intangible as it is, it's real and powerful and a key to true healing. It should not be ignored.

But that “something” can't be truly summoned – or be a part of the prayer – if what is expressed is not something in common, something shared, that was part of the encounter. That's why the number one question I ask myself in composing this part of the prayer is “What do I hope for this person?" Bringing myself into the prayer in this way, allows me to offer a more powerful prayer, one that expresses Shared Hopes, and provides a more complete caring experience.

As you can imagine, however, this kind of a "Use of the Self" in spiritual care is controversial, and the participants in the workshop challenged me about it, expressing shock at the possibility that I might offer a prayer for something that the person I am caring for does not want. My answer to them is that, if you truly take a Shared Hopes approach, that that kind of "contradiction" of the suffering person's hopes is not what happens when you express your hopes for them -- because in a Shared Hopes approach, it's not really my hopes or the person's hopes I express -- it's the shared ones that arose in the "space between us" during our conversation.

There's a theory behind this. It's called intersubjectivity. In short, it holds that communication and the creation of meaning are not things that one person does on his or her own. It's something that is co-constructed by the two or more parties in any interaction. It's an especially influential idea in psychoanalysis, and it provides a theoretical basis for the therapist to use the feelings he or she experiences as a tool for understanding, and caring for, their clients. This theory has freed psychoanalysts from feeling they have to take the kind of cold, detached attitude that Freud did with his patients. Instead, they can become more warm, human and genuine with them. This theory has the potential to free spiritual caregivers in the same way, so that they can bring true emotion, feeling and spiritual depth to things like their spontaneous prayers. [The best expression of this theory in the field of pastoral care is Pamela Cooper-White's book Shared Wisdom .]

3) הודאה/hoda-ah/Thanksgiving (and a wish for peace/shalom) -- This part (along with the first one) is a tremendously important part of my approach to spontaneous prayers that is missing from so many other approaches (which tend to only include "ask" elements). It is a chance to return to a place of humility (after the audacity of asking God for things) and to restate something about what we believe about God and about our wish to be in relationship to God. It is also a chance to take our prayer outside the small, immediate realm of the patient's experience and bring it out into the broader realm of all humanity. And this is a key part of almost all religious practices in the major faith traditions -- to link each individual with the community at large in a way that brings greater power to our effort to elevate our spirits and reach for something higher. Communal experience nurtures faith, as do our acts of caring for others. Thus, I conclude every prayer with a wish for peace, starting with the person before me, but then moving outward. First to wish for peace for the person's immediate family and loved ones, but finally I move on to a wish for peace for all people.

Before I offer this request for shalom, I first, as the Amidah does, offer thanks, and say something like, "Dear, God, we thank you for everything you have given. We thank you for the gift of life, and for all that we have been able to know -- especially the love we have been able to experience -- during our time here on earth."


Another part of a Shared Hopes approach -- one that I borrow from the Jewish prayer tradition -- is to, as much as possible, put the language of my prayer in the language of "we" and to say things like "we pray for you to give her strength, oh gracious God." (Jewish standard forms of prayer -- like the Amidah -- ask for things using the language of "we".)


I was so impressed with the people who attended my workshop. Many of them are already using spontaneous prayer in their work and they shared their experiences with it. One participant shared that sometimes when there is a prayer that appears to have particularly touched a person, he writes it down and shares those written words with the patient.

Another participant shared a four-part framework for composing spontaneous prayer he uses in Hebrew. His approach is very similar to mine, but differs in the last part especially:

ברוך אתה ה' (אלוהנו מלך העולם) ה_____________ ץ
1) This approach begins with the words that start every standard Jewish blessing, "Blessed are You, HaShem our God, King of the Universe, Who ____________." The "Who" part is key here. In the blessing before eating bread, we say "Who brings forth bread from the earth." When we say the havdalah blessing marking the end of Shabbat and the beginning of a new workweek, we say, "the one distinguishes between the holy and the secular." In this approach, the spiritual caregiver works closely with the person to determine which "Who" of God to address here. (This process, I believe, allows the prayer to start, as my introductory section does, by saying something about the person's theology in making that introduction to God.
אתה יודע
2) Literally, "You know". The words following the "You know" are a chance to say something about the situation the person finds his or herself in, and to hold that up to God.
3) This is an "ask" section, just like mine.
אבל אם לא, תן לי כח להתמודד
4) I was fascinated by this final section, because it is not something I have in my framework. It says "but if my requests are not granted, give me the strength to cope."

I think this is a very powerful thing to have in a prayer and it can -- as the participant himself stated -- foster an important humility that can be a key part of a spiritual growth that can lead to better coping. It seems to me to reflect an acceptance that is a key part of a suffering person's coming to a stronger place, one that has room for entering into a positive relationship with God even amid inexplicable suffering.

Here is a copy of the contents of a handout, I created for the workshop. It has some more details about my approach and that of others who have worked in this area before, especially the work of Rabbi Bonita Taylor, a New York chaplaincy educator (Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor) who has long focused on helping her students gain experience with offering spontaneous prayer. The handout, especially, emphasizes the importance of linking a prayer to an assessment. That is, as I said at the beginning, the truly effective spontaneous prayer has to be one that is specifically tailored to the person and the person's situation and hopes. So much of the prayers some clergy and spiritual caregivers offer do not meet this important minimum condition. While they may indeed be said off the top of the caregiver's head -- rather than read from a book -- they are essentially canned words that the caregiver would say for anybody.

It was such a privilege to give a workshop at this pioneering conference and to have some close contact with people doing such exciting work in Israel. I am grateful to have had the opportunity. I pray it will be the will of the Holy Blessed One -- the One who is the author of all knowledge, compassion and spirit -- that I will be able to offer more such workshops in the future and to learn again from students and to continue to grow in my knowledge and mastery in this area. And may it be the Holy One's will that there will be many more such conferences in Israel and that the infant field of spiritual care there will continue to grow and to thrive.

[X-posted to smamitayim ]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bringing professional caring to Israel

The fifth annual Spiritual Care conference in Israel opened today with an emotional and intensely personal keynote address by Rona Ramon (pictured above), the widow of Ilan Ramon, Israel's first person to travel into space, who was killed tragically in 2003 during the re-entry of the shuttle Columbia to the Earth's atmosphere.

It is amazing that this is only the fifth such conference in Israel. This nation of contrasts is, one one hand, a highly modern economy fueled by a high-tech industrial sector that is still thriving amid the world-wide recession. And, in many other ways, it is yet an infant nation, still building institions, like chaplaincy (and environmentalism, as I wrote a few weeks ago), that we take for granted in the United States. I feel so privileged to have a chance to be present among the 150 or so pioneering professionals who attended Ramon's talk this morning and who will be at the conference over the next two days.

As I write this, I am listening to a lecture by a true pioneer -- a woman who is working to not only bring Spiritual Care to this young nation, but to bring it to a relatively new and sometimes challenging population to care for: immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Tomorrow, I will be a presenter, myself, giving a workshop on techniques for offering spontaneous prayer.

I am so excited to be here at the conference at the Ma’ale HaHamisha Conference Center in these beautiful hills on the western outskirts of Jerusalem!

[X-posted to smamitayim]
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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lag B'Omer

It was quite a scene in Jerusalem last night. For more pics/info click here.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Standing at the mountaintop

One of the exciting parts of the Hazon-Arava Israel ride for me was that the riding days of our journey from the Mediterranean to Red seas were separated by one of my very favorite Torah portions: קדושים/kedoshim, or Holy ("you will be; for Holy am I, HaShem Your God").

I love this Torah portion, or parsha, because it stands at the very center of the Torah. Not only is it in the very middle of the middle of the Torah's five books, but it is at the center of the Torah's central narrative: the narrative of a people coming out of slavery to the wondrous -- but also terrifying -- task of trying to be all of everything that God expected them to be. And God surely expected a lot of a people who, as slaves, had never even before been expected to make decisions for themselves. God expected them now to have so much wisdom as to be able to even figure out how to be קדוש/kadosh, to be Holy.

The Torah tells of the many stumbles of the people Israel in their efforts to find their way to becoming what God expected of them as they wandered through the desert. They sometimes complain and wish for the simpler times that were the predictability of the simple life of a slave. But the biggest stumble came just before back in chapter 10 when Aaron's two sons, in their excitement, brought "strange fire" before God, and were destroyed for this mistaken attempt to take part in holiness.

The whole rest of the Torah, beginning here with this parsha, is about the acts of repairing from this mistake -- about the acts of learning how to be Holy. The parsha gives a grand list of requirements for being Holy that is a kind of updating of the Ten Commandments. This list is almost the same as the Ten Commandments, but it has one important addition -- it commands us to take care of the poor and make sure they have enough to eat from the produce of the Land. And this book of the Torah comes towards its conclusion with this specific focus on the land and who may eat of it. It declares that you cannot treat this land as a resource that can just be used constantly with no regard for its limit. In the seventh year, the land must -- as God did on the seventh day of creation -- rest. It must have a Shabbat:

וְהָיְתָה שַׁבַּת הָאָרֶץ לָכֶם לְאָכְלָה, לְךָ וּלְעַבְדְּךָ וְלַאֲמָתֶךָ וְלִשְׂכִירְךָ וּלְתוֹשָׁבְךָ הַגָּרִים עִמָּךְ.
And the Shabbat produce of the Land will be food for you -- for you, and for your servant, and your maid, and your hired hand and for the stranger who dwells among you. (YaYikrah 25:5 )

Rashi, the great Medieval bible commentator, says that the reason the Torah lists all these people who may eat from the food of the Land is to emphasize that in that year -- that special Shabbat year of the Land -- you cannot act like you are a בעל/baal -- a master -- over the Land and the people who work and live on it. You are equals, and you must share in the food of the Land equally.

This, the Torah tells us at the central place that is this great parsha, is part of what it means to be a Holy people -- to be willing to rest the Land when it is the time for it to be rested, and also to be willing to make sure all are fed, and all know what it is like to be treated equally as a human being.

Riding through the desert at the beginning of this week, I thought often about what it means to be Holy. I thought of how precious water is. I thought of the great gift that God has given us in these modern times to be so free of the terrible diseases that for most of human history killed most people in the earliest years of childhood -- to have so much abundance of food that literally billions can be fed every day even with so much food just being thrown out before being eaten. These are the gifts that have come with our mastery of the tools of science, gifts that would not be possible without the intelligence that God has given us.

Yet with such great gifts comes so much responsibility. Being a Holy people in our time means limiting our overuse  of the tools of science. It means not squeezing every drop out of what lies in the ground below us. It means giving the Land its Shabbat in its time. And it means that all among us are able to live full lives and enjoy the benefits of this Land.

We spoke of water so often during the bike ride. How precious it is, and how much we squander it. The experts who spoke to us sought to raise our awareness that the water that we use is not just in the obvious uses that happen when we open a faucet and take out water for things like our showers and our cooking. Every product we use -- the very clothes on our backs -- took water to produce. If we're really going to preserve this precious resource, we need to raise our awareness of all the inefficient ways it is used in the manufacturing and food production that supports us.

This is nowhere more true than here in the Middle East. The shortage of water regionwide is not what caused the conflicts that plague us, but it stands in the way of finding solutions. If there ever is to be peace, a way must be found for everyone to drink, for everyone to have the opportunity to live a full life.

Our speakers told us of some of the amazing things that are happening in Israel to solve the water crisis, things like the desalination plant in Ashkelon, and the widespread use of recycled sewage water for the irrigation of crops. Israel is one of the world leaders in these kinds of technologies. They are not cure-alls -- it takes a great deal of energy, for example, to make desalination work -- but they are wonderful examples of the determination of people here to find solutions.


As I let go of the brake levers on my bike to start that final descent from our position near the mountaintop of  הר יואש/har yoash -- some 2,300 feet above Eilat and sea level only about six miles away -- I thought of how precious life is. I cried with joy inside as I felt the wind whipping by my ears and witnessed the glory of the mountain and hillsides I was screaming by. God was out there somewhere and I was standing -- even as I was rolling rapidly on my two wheels -- before that Lord of my life. I was grateful for what I had been given. And, I promised to do my best to take care of it and thus make it a place where God's infinite and wondrous Holiness would be welcome among us humans here on earth.

Shabbat Shalom!

[X-posted to smamitayim ]

Saving the world with two wheels

Jerusalem is a tremendously hilly city, yet, as our bus plodded its way through some of the city's most crowded neighborhoods on its way to the central bus station last night, I was cheered to see people on bikes -- some of them wearing the kippah that marks the religious, male Jew -- winding their way through the dense traffic on narrow streets.

One thing that makes Jerusalem doable by bike (despite the challenges of the hills, etc.) is it's actually amazingly compact compared to America's sprawling cities. Even Jerusalem's most far-flung neighborhoods are only about six miles from the city center, and most people's commutes are much shorter. Many Americans, on the other hand, find themselves commuting dozens of miles in each direction every day.

This more-compact nature of Israeli cities is just one of the many ways Israel has set itself up in a way that makes a more sustainable, and environmentally friendly, lifestyle possible, and is a reminder that there is much we can learn from the way Israelis approach life.

That is not to say that Israelis are more environmentally conscious than we are. I was reminded of this last Shabbat when we were in Mitzpeh Ramon as part of the Hazon-Arava environmental bike ride trip. I stepped outside the prayer service for a moment to get some air and think alone. It was so beautiful to look out towards the huge desert crater -- an inspiring example of God's works. But below my feet were the cigarette butts and other garbage that Israelis seem to feel free to dump anywhere. As one of the speakers on the trip told us, environmental consciousness is only beginning among the general population in a country where security concerns have long been paramount. He held out hope to us that things are changing, however -- as evidenced by the recent election in Tel Aviv of some environmentalists to city government -- and Israel is growing to be more consciously concerned about preserving some elements of the quality of life, and not just the preserving of life.

I was so glad to have a chance to contribute something back to Israel with two wheels (by participating in -- and raising money for -- an environmental bike ride). The bicycle has never been just a means of recreation for me. When I was a kid, I had a paper route, and I hauled my papers with a bicycle that had baskets on its sides and to which my Dad (of blessed memory) had jury-rigged a folding shopping cart as a trailer. I rediscovered the bike as a means of carrying cargo (groceries and such) while an adult in Los Angeles, and have continued that practice even amid the hills and winter winds of Reading, PA. I try to cast for myself in Reading a life more like the one I am able to have here in Jerusalem, a life where things are only a few steps -- or a few pedals -- away, and I do not have to get into some gasoline-burning and carbon-fume-expelling device every day.

Heschel talked about the glory of Shabbat as Judaism's great solution to the dangers of technological civilization. Shabbat does not ask us to abandon the benefits of technology -- we get to work for six days -- only not to be dominated by it, to be able to live free amid it. Those five riding days from sea to sea and inside the great emptiness of the Negev desert were a reminder that there is another way than living dominated by technology, and of how two wheels can help free us to be able to live free. I was so grateful to be a part of it, and hope to keep learning from it.

[X-posted to smamitayim]

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The fires -- soon!

When we arrived home, today (see here), we found this pile of wood and cardboard in the entrance of the building. Now, just having come back from an environmental bike ride, I am somewhat hopeful it is piled here for recycling purposes. But I know it is much more likely that it is preparation for next week's Lag B'Omer, a holiday that the religious and the secular alike celebrate here by setting bonfires all over the city . . . . . I just hope they move it out from underneath the buidling before they torch it up! :)

[X-posted to smamitayim]
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