Sunday, May 30, 2010

Living large

Like many Americans, I have spent much of my life being larger than is considered to be healthy, and thus searching for a way that works to take (and keep!) off a few pounds. Exercise, of course is part of any successful effort. But "the gym" and other forms of working out for working out's sake are just not for me -- it bores me out of my mind, and doing such things in groups (they call that classes, I guess), which works for so many, is also not for me. So, my search for a good exercise life has always been a search for exercise I can get as part of transporting my body, etc., from place to place, or some other kid of activity that's main purpose is not the exercise itself. So, bicycle commuting, cargo biking (eg, grocery shopping by bike), walking to work, volunteering to help a friend move some boxes, hiking in a pretty place -- those have been the ways I've sought exercise.

The last few weeks, now that we've moved into a small house with a little bit of a backyard, I've been able to reconnect with another by-the-way means of getting exercise -- gardening. Now, gardening doesn't have to involve much sweat, but I double-dug the two plots to the right with a fairly small shovel, and that was a lot of work! Of course, the exercise benefit is hardly an ongoing thing, but I'm really hoping (especially, if we avoid a reoccurred of the late blight fungus that meant we only got a small -- but yummy! -- yield from the tomatoes we planted in containers last year on our small porch in our small apartment) for another benefit: lots of healthful eating in the summer. Lots and lots of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers especially -- that's what I hope for. That would be really living large!

I am grateful to be able to have a chance to grow things, again. Years of living in apartments in in cities have meant I went quite a few years without a place to grow anything. The main benefit of gardening, of course, isn't really either the exercise or the produce. It's what it can do for your soul. The feel of God's earth in your hands. The joy of watching something grow. This year, we even grew most of our tomato plants from seed ourselves -- some of them seeds we saved ourselves from the Mr. Stripey tomatoes we enjoyed so much last year. (That's some of the seedlings, below, sitting on top of our compost bin).


One way of trying to stem off the effects of another possible blight is just to plant a lot of tomatoes of different varieties (last year the blight didn't kill off our plants, but just reduced their yield -- we lost a lot of tomatoes to disgusting looking fungus on them!). Today, I went even farther than before in my search for tomato variety. I had heard about planting tomatoes upside down before, but it was only after reading this recent New York Times article that I started to think seriously about trying it. I followed the instructions on this web page for making upside down planters out of five-gallon paint buckets (about $4 each with the lids at Home Depot). That's me to the left carrying the new containers to their temporary homes -- they live upside-up for about a week to build a root system. Once that's done, we'll flip them over and hang them from somewhere sunny

(You can find more pics of how I handled this task here.)

One thing that made me especially excited about today's plantings is that we found some Purple Cherokee's at the local farmer's market (from this vendor). We had bought one from the same folks last year and really enjoyed the few of its fruits that were not taken by the blight, but we hadn't been able to find any until now -- the first day of the year the farmer's market was open!

We also found some horseradish plants at the farmer's market, which we had been having trouble finding. It's late in the season for planting horseradish, but I'm still hoping to have some of my own homegrown "bitter herbs" at my next seder!

It was a fun day of planting!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mixing work and play in the (post?)modern world

As I prepare to begin another intense summer of teaching pastoral care in a hospital and Minna prepares to make the transition (ordination at Hebrew College on June 6!) from rabbinical student to full-time rabbi, we decided to take a few days to ourselves during which we got to one of Minna's favorite places near her childhood home -- the Morton Wildlife Refuge near Sag Harbor, NY. But work came with us. That's Minna above answering a synagogue-related email on her iPhone (while maybe-not-so-wild turkeys sneak up behind her!).

The challenge of making time for play while still being available, as professionals, to the people and tasks that require us is one that almost everyone seems to face, today. But it's an especially challenging issue for people who are clergy or in related forms of ministry. People -- especially those facing the crisis that is illness, injury or loss -- expect us to be able to be present for them. As Minna's teacher Art Green said in a recent talk in Rome to Catholic sisters, "this ability to be present can only come out of your own spiritual life. To live a life of giving to others, you need to be nourished by God’s presence in your own life. To hold people, in their pain as well as in their joy, you as a rabbi (or a priest, or a sister) have to manifest your own strength, which is really not your own at all, but God’s, in which you are rooted by your own faith."

That's why coming to a place like Morton is so important when we are able to get away. For Minna, Morton is not just a place to relax. It is a place to rediscover what she already knew but that she might have forgotten among all the work and stresses -- who she really is, what she really cares about. For Morton -- for her -- is a place of spiritual centering. A place that makes meaning for her. A place that has been with her as she has made the many twists and turns that have been the journey of her life and her spirit. . . . The value of this _kind_ of self-care is a big part of what I will be trying to share with my chaplain students this summer -- not just time off, but time that nurtures the soul.

The ocean at Morton:
From Morton and such (publics)

Of course Morton, while a place I am happy to be at, doesn't quite have that meaning for me, having one first discovered it (courtesy of Minna) a couple of years ago. I was reminded of that first visit this time -- when Minna fed chickadees who landed on her hand -- as she invited this one to come land on her hand:

From Morton and such (publics)

It was a good time on a too-short trip. But at least I got to ride a bicycle there (Minna snapped this pic of me in the Morton parking lot on her Dad's bike):

From Morton and such (publics)

The Rabbinical Assembly annual convention was also going on in New York during these days and I got a chance to reconnect with some old rabbinical school colleagues, etc., who were in town for the convention. It was really great to see them and my old dean, Rabbi Brad Artson. This connecting with other rabbis -- people who face similar challenges and joys -- is another important kind of self-care.

For all those who have a long (or even a short!) weekend coming up as Memorial Day approaches, may you find true restoring rest -- rest that makes it possible to do the meaningful work you have out in the world!


PS Here's another pic of Minna at Morton. I really like this one!

From Morton and such (publics)

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Religious, but not coercive -- a new kind of faith for Israel

They came ready to listen, but with lots of questions: Israelis involved in trying to establish a real profession of chaplains and spiritual caregivers here met Wednesday evening with a delegation of American chaplaincy leaders -- like Teresa Snorton, above, the executive director of the Association for Clincial Pastoral Education -- to pepper them with questions about how to go about setting up professional standards. But the Israelis heard about more than just professional standards. They were also impressed with the open and diverse vision of spirituality the Americans brought. "It's very religious, but not trying to convert," said one Israeli participant. "That's something that's very rare in Israel."

The concerns and questions the Israelis had were not so different than those Americans tend to have about chaplaincy, but I was impressed by a difference in emphasis. One participant asked if "someone who does not believe in God can qualify to do [chaplaincy] training." And while there are many Americans who do not believe in God, this seems to a much more burning question for Israelis than Americans. I shared my answer -- yes, certainly, but the chaplain student would still be able to talk to others about questions of holiness, about what makes ultimate meaning for them.

A big concern was about the length of the training. The Israelis did not seem too happy to hear about it taking years to become certified as a chaplain or a chaplain supervisor. Rev. Snorton assured them that some other efforts to apply CPE outside the United States have found reasonable ways to handle this challenge.

The Israelis also had questions about whether there was a place in this kind of training for people into "New Age" kinds of spiritual expression.

Admissions criteria also seemed to be a very big concern for the Israelis. My guess is that this reflects a difference in the Israeli scene than what chaplaincy training has come to be in the States. In the States, the high standards bar doesn't come at the beginning -- it comes at "the end," when a student seeks professional certification. I don't think things will end up that way for the Israeli system.

From Israel Spiritual Care Conference, 2010

But, of course, I don't know how the Israeli standards will end up -- that is, as John DeVelder, here representing the United States' CPSP, said when he spoke yesterday, for the Israelis themselves to figure out, to figure out there own way of making an "indigenous" application of Clinical Pastoral Education that is particular to the Israeli scene. Helping Israelis to find their own way -- rather than telling them what to do -- is a main motivation for putting together the American delegation, an effort organized by the National Association of Jewish Chaplains and its executive director, Cecille Asekoff

My hope is to be, like Snorton, a part of helping with that effort -- standing beside Israelis as they find their way forward to making this important work a part of their healthcare system.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The hope – an Israel that’s more free and open (and that’s true to itself)

I started the day, today, at the annual Israel spiritual care conference – only the sixth one – and ended it listening to a group of school kids sing HaTikvah at the dedication of a new building for the Machon Schechter seminary here.

It wasn’t until I heard the words of Israel’s national anthem – HaTikvah means “the Hope” in English – that it came to me what it is that links these two seemingly disparate events: They’re both part of an effort – mostly slow and quiet in this loud and hyperactive little country – to gradually bring the best of the West, the West’s cultivation of a diverse and open society, to Israel in a way that stays true to Israel’s soul.

John DeVelder said it well at the conference: he talked about bringing the best of the well-developed American field of chaplaincy training to Israel in a way that is “indigenous”— so it’s not “American only.” DeVelder, the leader of chaplaincy and spiritual care training at the Robert Wood Johnson hospital in New Jersey, was there representing the CPSP, a smaller alternative group to the larger Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (of which I am a member and certified Associate Supervisor). Teresa Snorton was also there representing the larger group as its executive director. They were there as part of a trip from the States organized by the National Association of Jewish Chaplains and its executive director, Cecille Asekoff. “I want to thank Cecille for having the dream of doing CPE in Israel,” said DeVelder.

Cecille Asekoff From Israel Spiritual Care Conference, 2010

The dream, or hope, is to have a developed profession of chaplains and other spiritual caregivers here. It might be hard for Americans to conceive of what an infant field chaplaincy really is here. I talked to one young rabbi, today, who is pioneering a spiritual care program in a cancer unit of a large hospital here. He told me that Israelis have very little sense that a rabbi can provide any other care than facilitating rituals (like marriage, etc.). The American tradition of talking to a religiously trained person is just not part of the Israeli landscape.

My sense is that’s largely the result of the larger split between the religious and the secular societies here, a split that is much more “black and white” than in the States. Secular people see very little possible role for a rabbi in their lives. But that doesn’t mean Israelis aren’t spiritual and it doesn’t mean that they don’t need spiritual help when they’re hurting, whether it’s from illness or some other source of grief. The effort to bring serious training of spiritual caregivers – that is, Clinical Pastoral Education – here in a serious way is essential if those spiritual needs are going to be met. It’s part of an effort to break down the boundaries that sharply separate secular and religious and instead make a place for an active faith life for all Israelis.

Breaking down those barriers and making a place for an active faith life for all – even those who call themselves secular – is very much what the Schechter Institute is all about. When I was a student there about 10 years ago during my rabbinic training, the new building was just a dream – a vacant lot near the old building. When I was here a bit over a year ago, it had just barely moved up to a hole in the ground. And now a real building is clearly taking shape. The institute has many programs, but one especially close to my heart has been the efforts to train indigenous Israelis – both men and women in this country where nearly every rabbi is a man – to be rabbis who are serious about Judaism and Jewish texts, but who are also open to the reality of what modern life is for most people.

It’s such a privilege to be here right now and to have the honor of seeing leaders like Snorton giving something back – giving Israelis advice on how to create a broad vision of spiritual care training here. She ended her talk by sharing a definition of what spiritual care should be: “spiritual care is the art of meeting people at their point of need, to assist them in making meaningful connections between their current crisis, their faith and their life as a whole.”

I love this country so much and would so much like to be a part of bringing CPE to these shores. May it indeed be the will of the Holy Blessed One!


Here are some more pics from the conference:

Miriam Berkowitz, author of Taking the Plunge, teaches about Mikveh as healing waters:

From Israel Spiritual Care Conference, 2010

Teresa Snorton, executive director of the ACPE, shares her counsel on setting up professional standards (it's so great that you came so far to help chaplaincy in Israel, Teresa!):

From Israel Spiritual Care Conference, 2010

Naomi Kalish -- ACPE supervisor, president-elect of the NAJC (and my classmate at NYU) -- gave a great teaching, using a text from Avot D'Rabbi Natan like it was a verbatim.

From Israel Spiritual Care Conference, 2010

And, finally, here's a picture of the new building at Schechter:

From Schechter dedication, 2010

Monday, May 03, 2010

Getting back to the Land -- care for the caregivers

That's the Mediterranean sea behind those two bleary-eyed (but happy!) faces above. Minna and I were just an hour off the plane at Ben-Gurion in Tel-Aviv. I'm here for the 6th annual Israel spiritual care conference (it's so great to see professional chaplaincy start to get established here in Israel!). Minna came along as part of a long-term ambition for our lives together -- to make coming to Israel a regular part of what we do and not something that only happens every decade or so. I was so excited over the last week or so, thinking about coming here and often found myself daydreaming about walking along the streets of Jerusalem again and hearing the language of the Hebrew Bible spoken out of the mouths of children as their first language. Coming here is a way of my caring for my own spirit.

I'm looking forward to the conference, too, tomorrow and Wednesday. There's a delegation of Clinical Pastoral Education supervisors from the States here for the conference, so this could really be a watershed event for chaplaincy training in Israel, an educational pursuit that is only in its infancy here.

It's exciting!


Here's a view, by the way, of the ocean from where we drank some coffee after we dipped our toes in the sea.

From Israel Spring 2010

[x-posted t0 smamitayim]

Posted by Picasa