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(You Gotta) Accentuate the Positive and Eliminate the negative...

Pay no attention to the number by the month.  Here's a good thought for the New Year.  Shannah Tovah. Ron                        ...

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Mafia and Me

Friends.  For whatever reason this entry came to mind today.  It is one of my favorites.  Thought I'd throw it out there again for anyone who might have missed it.
                                                                                                June, 2014
Dear Friends and Family:

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to be invited to Kansas City where long-time Beth Torah Director of education and long-time G.U.C.I. faculty member Marcia Rittmaster was retiring.  I was to be one of the speakers at the Shabbat service honoring her.  It was a great evening for a wonderful person.  There were many current and former campers as well as parents of former campers present.  I was a surprise guest so many wanted to talk to me about camp, retirement, Jewish education etc.  But what usually happens at events like this is that the time of the informal dinner buffet also becomes prime schmooze time.  I talked away the dinner and never got to the food.  (More about that in a minute).   I’m fortunate that people associate me with those positive Jewish experiences their children had at camp.  So the schmooze/camp talk flowed…and I loved it.
  After the formal Shabbat service, the congregation had set up an artificial campfire in the lobby.  Kids and adults sat around the “fire” while Charlene Gubitz led a song session.  In the middle I told a story.  Then more songs.  As the song session was just beginning to wind down a girl, maybe fourteen years old, came up to me to tell me how much she loved camp and that she wanted to, someday, be a counselor and help other kids love camp.  Then, with a bit of an embarrassed smile she said, “But, it’s not G.U.C.I.  I go to camp Schwayder with my cousins from Denver.”  I think she expected me to say something like…too bad you didn’t come to our camp.  I didn't.  Our conversation went like this:

Ron: “Is that a Jewish camp where Jewish kids sing Jewish songs, say Jewish prayers, and have a wonderful time with each other?”  (I knew that it was that kind of camp)

Camper:  “Yes, that’s why I love it.”

Ron:  “Well, if you can help other kids love being Jewish with their camp friends, you will be doing something great for the Jewish world.”

She looked at me for a second, I guess surprised by my comment, and then gave me a great hug.  We finished the song session together and she was gone.  I didn't even get her name.
So I walked out to my car after the whole shebang and realized that I was famished.  I never got to the buffet or to the Oneg food after the service.  On the way back to the hotel I spotted a small pizza place called, “Mafia Pizza.”  I loved the name and I stopped.  I half expected to see pictures of Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, or at least Marlon Brando on the walls.  But quite the contrary, greeting me at the door was a very Middle Eastern looking gentleman who shook my hand and introduced himself as the owner, Mohammed.   I kiddingly asked if Mohammed was an Italian name.  He joked back telling me that it was not, that he was from Ramle in Palestine, but that he knew a few Italians.  That started us off.  When I told him that I had been to Ramle and had lived for a few years in Jerusalem he invited me to sit and have a lemonade with him.  I ordered a cheese pizza to go and sat down.
Enter Mohammed’s cousin, who sits with us.  We talked about Israel (they were quite complimentary as to Israel’s’ great accomplishments in building the country and quite angry with their fellow Palestinian leaders for not following suit), Chicago, where they had lived for several years, Jerusalem, the West Bank, Green line, but all in a very friendly way (this was before they knew I was a Jew).  I took a chance when they asked what I had studied in Jerusalem and told them that I was a rabbi.  Just as we were getting into what that was all about my pizza arrived and I got up to pay and leave. 

“No.”  Mohammed said, “You can’t pay.

“Come on,” I replied, “You already treated me to a lemonade, I’m paying.”

“No!  I can’t charge you.  You’re my cousin.  We’re family.” 

He gave me hug (my second of the night) and handed me the pizza.  I was a bit stunned to find out that I was actually a family member of the Mafia…the Islamic, Kansas City branch of the family.  What could I do?  He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse…kinship.

It was an interesting trip to Kansas City last month. 

Until next time… Arivederci.  Ciao Bambinos.  And Salaam Aleykem.


Saturday, September 3, 2016

(You Gotta) Accentuate the Positive and Eliminate the negative...

Pay no attention to the number by the month.  Here's a good thought for the New Year.  Shannah Tovah.


                                                                                                   September, 2016

Dear Friends and Family:

This morning I sat with the Indiana University Hillel staff, as I do every Thursday morning, and discussed upcoming projects, programs, and various issues.  I love these sessions.  They remind me of Leadership Staff meetings at camp.  In addition to the above mentioned topics we usually compose a blessing to be used at Shabbat dinner the next night.  This week we talked about the Torah portion of the week, “Re'eh.”  The scene is Moses speaking to the Israelites beside the Jordan River.  This is the beginning of Moses’s farewell address.  It's his last chance to impress upon his People the challenges that lie ahead and their responsibilities to follow the commandments.  Moses begins by saying something to the effect of; 'See (pay attention).  I place before you blessings and curses….”  It goes on to encourage the Jewish People to follow God's commandments and in doing so, “Choose life.”

Our Shabbat prayer for this week focused on this notion of blessings and curses.  We called the curses, “Challenges.”  We wrote, “Each week during our time here at Indiana University, we benefit from blessing and face challenges.  We pray that in the weeks to come we have the insight to appreciate the blessings in our lives, and the courage to face our challenges.”  Sometimes, for me, it is easier to identify the curses, the challenges, than the blessings.  It is easy to let the troubles of the world weigh you (me) down.

Look, I never comment on politics but suffice it to say that this is a depressing presidential election year.  Our Democrat/Republican crippled government is cause for despair.  Our conservative - to the point of nearly erasing the separation of church and state -State government is mind boggling.  Brazil just threw out her President and over fifty percent of Brazilians surveyed expressed no faith in the former president’s replacement.  The Olympics ended in a quagmire of US athletes lying to police after they drunkenly vandalized a gas station in Rio.  I could go on and on.

So that's what I see each morning in the paper and each evening on the news.  But this morning's brain storming session with the staff reminded me that I have to open my eyes (Re'eh means see!)  to the blessings all around me.  Off the top of my head...Juca and my family and friends, health, Bloomington, working with Jewish kids on campus, music, humor, jazz and an occasional sail on Lake Monroe.  I could go on and on.  I guess it's just that the blessings are not advertised as well as the curses.  Good news doesn't sell newspapers, someone once said. 

As a Jew, I can't simply not care about the world around me.  As a person trying to remain sane, I have to keep some distance.  So here's my revenge.  I am going to keep on trying to do good deeds, be a good person, and help others whenever I can.  I'll also continue to follow the events of the world even if I can't affect their outcome (except with my vote and an occasional march down Kirkwood Ave. in protest of something or other).  But I'll appreciate that I can sit on my porch on my quiet street in this small city, play my banjo, watch the seasons change, and plan my next class.  There are a lot of blessings in my life.  I could go on and on.


PS.  The High Holidays are coming up.  Time to regroup, refocus, and renew.  Also not a bad time to tally up those blessings and accentuate the positive… (eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don't mess with Mister In-Between.  Thank you Johnny Mercer)