The last three weeks have provided me with plenty of fuel for thought. The death of Lindsay’s mom, Sandy Owen, within eight weeks of her cancer diagnosis, has reminded me of the fragility of life and the need to make every day count: We must do the things we love, take time for the people that we love, and speak words of gratitude and comfort and praise. Sandy was truly the “Sunshine” to our grandsons Ike and Toby, and our time with the boys in the last two weeks has reminded us that children intuitively feel the pain when a family suffers a loss. Sometimes they can articulate their own sense of loss; often they cannot, but they cling fiercely to those around them in a way that indicates their fear of additional loss. Death is not a topic we want to discuss with our children, but we must. Starting with the death of living things in nature as seasons change and progressing to discussion of the death (or possibility of death) of a beloved pet, we need to make our children, even the youngest ones, aware that death is a part of life, with accompanying feelings that have been charted for us by psychologists like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. There are also rabbis who have written about explaining death to children, notably Rabbi Earl Grollman in the 1990s and others more recently. We sincerely pray that our children will not, when they are young, lose grandparents, or God forbid, parents, but we know that many will encounter human death for the first time with the death of a great-grandparent. We need to be sure that they – and we – are ready for the discussions that follow the sad losses. If you are interested in a discussion of talking to children about loss, please contact me or Rabbi Jana. We can also discuss information about Jewish customs regarding death, burial, and mourning.
Also as a result of our travels in recent weeks, we have had opportunities to spend happy moments with our grandchildren. Not only were we in Fort Worth and San Francisco, but also in New Orleans. We loved hearing Billy tell us about the fun he is having in Religious School at Touro Synagogue, and we enjoyed seeing the creative work and play space of Max’s classroom at the JCC Preschool. Both schools, along with the ones that Ike and Toby attend in San Francisco, have given Bill and me lots of ideas about refurbishing our B’nai Zion classrooms. It is my hope that the Federation, together with our synagogues and individual parents, will join me in a new vision for our classroom space – particularly new furniture and rugs, new technology – at least one laptop for each class – and new learning toys for our youngest students. We have great teachers, excellent libraries of books for the classrooms, but we need to also “look like” a twenty-first century school. We don’t have to renovate, as we are doing in the sanctuary, but we do need to spend some money to make our classrooms, our teen room, and our library more inviting and more functional. If you are interested in being on a committee to “re-vision” the space we have, please let me know. I hope we can make a proposal within 90 days so that some changes can occur before the end of this school year.
When we were at a baby naming that took place during Shabbat services in Congregation Shearith Israel in San Francisco, we were delighted to find backpacks filled with quiet toys and games that could keep very young children (18 months to preschool) occupied when they had reached their limit of paying attention to the service. The backpacks are small, animal-shaped, and filled with lacing cards, small “stuffies,” and other small toys. Again, our travels provide us with ideas that we can implement in our own congregation, if you like them.
As you prepare for Thanksgiving and Chanukah, please be reminded of the need for both thanks and dedication in our lives. Life is precious, and it can slip away quickly. We need to make our days count, decide on the legacy we wish to leave, and turn our dreams for “later on” into realities today. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season during this year that puts Chanukah and Thanksgiving in such close proximity.