Sunday, September 17, 2017

Haazinu: A Rosh Hashanah--Jewish New Year Adaptation for 2017-5778

Haazinu: A Rosh Hashanah Adaptation for 2017

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

                                      Blossom, O Heavens, when I invoke,
                                      Let the round Earth attend to my saga;
                                      We laud the LORD, Maker of Heaven and Earth—
                                      Truly, all of our Universe springs from Him.
                                      We mortal beings are prone to missing the mark,
                                      To fail when we attempt an endeavor:
                                      It is our God’s duty to discern in us Right,
                                      And teach us that sin lacks all benefit.

                                      I could blame the Almighty for all that goes wrong,
                                      I could lay my shortcomings before Him—
                                      Accuse Him of lying in wait for me,
                                      Or sending before me temptation.

                                      God gives us free will and chances to choose;
                                      God loves human beings, not robots.
                                      But our free will needs responsible choices,
                                      Not grabbing at gratification.

                                      Our people lay claim to being Chosen, in truth;
                                      The world looks upon us as models,
                                      And, when a Jew errs, they must speed’ly repent,
                                      For their sin reflects on our People.

                                      While those of us blessed with high station in life
                                      Must accept that this comes with constraining:
                                      Their natural impulses they must dominate,
                                      Or tumble to th’ Pit, as did Korach.

                                      Beloved before God is telling the truth,
                                      And that is the theme of this Season;
                                      A leader who lies is a dysfunctional dolt,
                                      And God will dispose him in due time.

                                      O Israel! Let shine in our precarious world
                                      The deeds you confess, Rosh Hashanah;
                                      Though your deeds be dyed crimson,
                                      God will turn them to snow—
And so may this continue, forever.

Amen. Selah.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Kirby the Shih Tzu Meets Hurricane Irma: It's Not Pretty

Kirby the Shih Tzu Meets Irma: It’s Not Pretty

By David Hartley Mark

Scene: A living room. It is normally comfy and well-laid-out, but this time resembles an explosion in a camping store. Battery-powered lanterns, flashlights, and electric fans lie scattered about, on the coffee table (which properly is called “Kirby’s Klubhouse”), or on the lawn table which was brought in from the yard for safety, standing next to the large gas grill. Two enormous picnic cooler chests stand near the previously non-functional refrigerator, and paper plates cram the trash. In the midst of it all, Kirby the Shih Tzu sleeps, or tries to, in his furry beddy. He snores loudly, as do all dogs with tiny noses and an enormous need to rest.
Dave, his ostensible owner but always friend, enters the room.

Dave: Kirby? You up?

Kirby: Why are you bothering me? I just have to lie here for a bit, and get my nerves back together. This is a crazy house.

Dave: Well, you understand, we’re all kind of under the gun, here.

Kirby: Dave, when you adopted me from “Have U a Shih Tzu?” Rescue Home, you promised the people there that you would shelter and tend to my every need. Now, we’ve had this ridiculous windstorm, which has done nothing for my state of mind. You know how delicate I am—

Dave: Tell me about it.

Kirby: --and now, I’m a nervous wreck. It isn’t fair. Maybe I should go back to the Home.

Dave: Not a good idea, Kirby; I understand that they were slammed, too. This hurricane really knocked Florida and the Southeast all to—you know.

Kirby: The Home, too? My Dog! All my friends—Webster, Sheridan, and Courtney? Poor Old Courtney—she was pretty much of a basket case to begin with—always jumping up on people.

Dave: That’s why we didn’t adopt her.

Kirby: Adopt Courtney? You said I was your Forever Friend. Courtney was a nut job. I, on the other hand, am elegant, soft-barking, and always at your beck and call.

Dave: Please. All you do is chase Mommy around.

Kirby: Is she here now?

Dave: No; she went out grocery shopping.

Kirby: Howsabout you sneak me some people food?

Dave: Um—you’re getting a little chunky.

Kirby: Hey, so are you.

Dave: Never mind. Let’s talk hurricane. What do you remember?

Kirby: Well, long before you humans had even an inkling of Irma, I could sense her coming. We dogs get a whole static electricity thing going, in our fur.

Dave: That’s why you were so jumpy the whole time.

K: Yes: but there was more. How long do you think I can hold in my—you know?

D: I thought dogs could turn off their bladders.

K: Well, yes; but we have limits.

D: Hey, I took you out, plenty of times, there during the tornadoes.

K: Yes, but when you weigh only 16 lbs., Bad Things can happen. Just as I was assuming the position, a huge wind gust from the tornado came along, and nearly lifted me off the ground.

D: I remember: both Mommy and I made a grab for you.

K: Well, that was it for me. My mother didn’t birth me to be Orville or Wilbur. I could have sailed off, over the trees. By-By, Kir-bye.

D: You did look surprised. Anyway, between that and losing power, we figured, once the storm was over, that we needed to get out to a motel for a couple of days. 92-degree heat will do that to a person.

K: Dogs, too.

D: Didn’t you like the motel?

K: Well, yes. But there were so many dogs. Big ones.

D: Weren’t there a couple of smaller dogs, too? You met them.

K: There was a little silky terrier named Cosmo, and I thought we could be friends—he was smaller than I am. But he started barking like a maniac, and lunged for me. I thought he was going to chomp my face off.

D: Yes, he was a sweet little guy.

K: Are we talking about the same dog? Next, I met a couple of yellow labs, who wanted to be my best friends. When they sniffed me front-and-back, I felt a weird sensation running through my entire body.

D: Well, having hot breath on both your face and tush will do that.

K: Then, I’m walking in the hall with Mommy and you; everything is fine. You know how I love a nice carpeted hall for running up and down. Suddenly, there’s this sheep dog—he must have weighed 800 pounds—named Carl. He comes galloping up and almost blows me over. “Tastes like chicken,” I hear him say. Thank Dog that Mommy snatched me up and asked the owner guy to grab Carl’s leash. I could have been lunch.

D: Anyway, finally we made it to the room.

K: Yeah, sure. But on the way up in the little moving room—I remember thinking, “Is this where we’re going to sleep? There’s no room for beds!”—the door opens up, and a couple get on with three gigantic bulldogs. Their mommy is yelling, “They’re gentle! They’re gentle!” Meanwhile, Larry, Moe and Curly slobber all over me.

D: Lots of dogs, Kirb, lots of dogs.

K: So you figured that it might be nice to go to the Sawgrass Mall. That is one big mall.

D: I carried you the whole way, too.

K: Except when Mommy stuck me into a shopping cart, here and there. You guys also thought it would be a good idea to try sticking me in a Tommy Hilfiger bag.

D: Um, that didn’t work out. Carrying you was best.

K: Yeah, well, except that you got me all sweaty.

D: Well, excuse me, Sara Lee.

K: Hey, when you’re little, you have to be careful. In the food court, while you were eating your pizza, these two little girls came over.

D: They thought you were cute.

K: Of course, I’m cute. Cute is my job. But this one little girl—

D: She was only four. Cut her some slack.

K: Slack? How would you like a rug rat yelling in your face, “Nice Doggie! Nice Doggie!” Why didn’t you stop her?

D: Well, her father was telling me about his dogs, how one died at fifteen and the other was poisoned, and his eyes welled up.

K: That’s too darn bad, but he totally ignored his daughter yelling, “Nice Doggie!” and patting me. I had to take matters into my own paws.

D: And you growled at her.

K: It wasn’t a big growl. And she ignored it, too. Thank Dog that Mommy distracted her away. Dog knows, the father wasn’t doing it. Who asked you to talk to him?

D: Well, the father was crying. “I really want a dog,” he says.
“Well, you have kids,” I say.
“Oh, yeah—right,” he says.

K: Idiot. He should have saved me. Then, we walked the mall. We walked and walked.

D: Hey, I was doing the walking and carrying.

K: At least, I had a little slurp of your ice cream, at the end.

D: That’s true.

K: Let’s not do hurricanes any more, OK?

D: I’ll see what I can do….

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Prayer Before a Hurricane, 9/7/17
South Florida, United States of America

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

                                                                                Dear God Who Makes the Wind blow
                                                                                And the Rain fall,
                                                                                Be with us, all of us,
                                                                                As we await the coming of this hurricane.

                                                                                Make us mindful
                                                                                That we are all brothers and sisters,
                                                                                Members of the same family
                                                                                And responsible for ourselves,
                                                                                Our families and loved ones,
                                                                                All sentient beings
                                                                                On our planet,
                                                                                But mostly
                    In our neighborhood.

                                                                                When filling sandbags this morning
                                                                                Surrounded by neighbors I did not know,
                                                                                I was struck by the friendliness
                                                                                And cooperation
                                                                                As all labored for their own good,
                                                                                And the Common Good—
                                                                                People of all colors and creeds
                                                                                Helping their families,
                                                                                And then, each other,
                                                                                Shoveling sand
                                                                                Into bright-orange bags
                                                                                Just feeling good
                                                                                About being there
                                                                                And fighting a common enemy.

                                                                                As we prepare to hunker down
                                                                                And pray for the best
                                                                                While hoping to survive the worst,
                                                                                Give strength and wisdom
                                                                                To our civic and state leaders
                                                                                Guiding us through this crisis
                                                                                As we put aside political wrangling
                                                                                To forge a common bond.

                                                                                Be with our first responders,
                                                                                Who embody the best of our community,
                                                                                Who care for us citizens
                                                                                And will come to our rescue.

                                                                                And finally, God,
                                                                                Help us to realize
                                                                                That all is in Your Hands:
                                                                                Give us strength, courage, and fortitude,
                                                                                And hold us all
                                                                                In the palm of Your Hand.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Kee Tavo: The Lament of the Sexton-Shammes: New York City, 1890

Kee Tavo: The Lament of the Shammes:
New York City, 1890

By Rabbi David Hartley Mark

“But if you do not harken to the voice of the LORD your God to observe and perform all the commandments which I command you this day, then shall all of these curses come upon you and take effect: cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. …The Lord will make disease cling to you, until He has utterly wiped you out from the land you are to possess….”

                                                          --Deut. 28:15-16, 21, The “List of Curses”

          My name is Chaim ben Lazar Negnewitsky. I am thirty-three years old. Five years ago, I came to America from my small village, outside Lvov, Poland. I left behind my dear wife, Chava-Baylah, who was pregnant. We already had three children: our son, Moshe-Aaron, who was seven, and two girls: Chana-Gitel and Masha Esther, five and three. We all cried when I left, but I promised to send another schiffskarte, ship’s tickets, as soon as I earned enough money in the New World. I will never forget how my Chava-Baylah embraced me, as I was leaving, while the little ones clung to my legs.

          When I arrived in New York City—it was wonderful to view the Statue of Liberty, though I was feeling seasick from the rough waters that morning—I sought out my Uncle Meyer on Rivington Street, who let me sleep in his apartment for a week. His wife and children were not happy about this.

          “Will you rent a pushcart and sell sundries on Orchard Street?” Uncle Meyer asked me at breakfast the next morning, “Or would you rather work at a sewing machine in a shop? I have a friend—”

          “If you please, Uncle,” I answered him, “I am used to the open air, and working with my hands. I would like to rent a wagon, and look into buying a horse on credit. I want to start a moving company.”

          Uncle Meyer looked dubious, but he smiled and agreed to help me.

          Alas, things went wrong from the start. The wagon sprang a wheel—it had been improperly mounted—and almost tipped over, nearly spilling me onto the hard pavement, had I not grabbed onto the seat. As for the horse, he was a sickly nag, named Ferdl. I tried to fatten him up on oats rather than grain, but his innards were sickly. One day, I was moving a load of furniture—a sofa and two chairs, along with two straw-filled mattresses—and was hoping for a good profit by day’s end. Ferdl was loping along, with me carefully guiding him between the streetcars and the pushcarts, when his right-front-hoof turned sideways on a loose cobblestone. I heard a loud crack! and my horse was lame.

          So I was out of business. Desperate to send for my dearest Chava-Baylah—it had been nearly a year, and she had given birth to another girl. We had named her after her mother, Yocheved, and my late sister, Rivka. My daughter would be walking and talking by the time I saw her, if ever. And what about my other three children? I needed another job, quickly.

I never thought I would ever become a shammes, the sexton-caretaker of a shul, but I was desperate. This shul, the Bais Medrash HaMefursom, is the largest in the neighborhood—and we have no lack of shuls. Others were founded by members of the same chevra-society: the Young Men of Poinevitch, or Nashelsk, or Podolska. Only in my shul do people from all over the Old Country gather, and our rabbi is the great and learned Rabbi Jacob Joseph himself, Chief Rabbi of New York City. I have been to one of his Talmud lectures, and he is both gentle and wise.

Shmuel Asher, the temple president, interviewed me himself. He is a rich jeweler, and is the first Jew I have met who wears a gold watch and fob, even during the week. When I answered the ad in Der Forvertz, our newspaper, he said no words of welcome, but looked me up and down. My only suit was shiny and torn, even though I had brushed it carefully and tried to remove some of the more obvious stains. My only pair of shoes were down-at-heel, and scuffed; I had brought them from Europe.

Reb Shmuel sniffed as he looked me up and down.

“You can read?” he asked. His diamond pinky ring sparkled in the yellow light filtering through the tall stained-glass windows. My stomach growled: one small cup of black coffee did not go far towards stifling my hunger, and my head felt dizzy in the Bais Medrash, the chapel. It smelled like body odor, old books, cigarettes, and snuff.

“Yes, Reb Shmuel,” I answered, “in Yiddish and Hebrew, and I am learning English at night at P.S. 110.”

“Hm—now, you know what you will have to do—” said Mr. Asher (I was never to call him Reb Shmuel, as he hastened to tell me), and he described my picking up prayerbooks after a service, counting and recording the pennies in the pushka-charity box, cleaning up candlewax, and so forth. “When you put out the Shabbos afternoon shala-sheedis, the snack between mincha and ma’ariv, the afternoon and evening services, you can join in the meal—that will be enough challah bread and arbess (chickpeas) to hold you through the evening, I’ll wager—consider that your Shabbos bonus—a free meal!”

Slim pickings for me, I thought, but smiled and nodded at the temple president. I needed this job. As he rose to leave, so did I.

“Oh, and one more thing—” Reb Shmuel said, “this Shabbos is the ‘Blessings and Curses’ portion, in Kee Tavo. You will, of course, as the shammess, come up to receive the curses.”

“Must I—?” I hesitated. This was definitely a kinnehora, an evil eye, and I did not want any catastrophe to befall my young family, far away in Europe, where I could not help or protect them.

“Of course,” said Reb Shmuel, brusquely, “Who else should take the curses portion, me? Ha! Good day.” And my interview was over.

Now I am uncertain how to proceed. Yes, I do need this job, but not necessarily if it involves voluntarily having curses rained down upon my innocent head by the Torah reader. I am greatly nervous about how this list of curses may affect my family, and have been reading Tehillim, Psalms, all this Friday afternoon to fend off any evil demons or occurrences, God forbid a thousand times.

But I am still nervous, and Shabbos is fast approaching. Should I keep this job, or quit immediately?

What shall I do?