On March 27th, the National Post’s Religion blog ran a piece on Passover songs that had been briefly lost to history. Teens from the Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy recently performed Passover music that had been translated into Latin in the 17th-century by Christian scholar Johannes Rittangel. It’s likely this musical arrangement hasn’t been performed in more than 300 years.
You can follow the path of the music’s revival from the post that captured the attention of Tanenbaum head of school Paul Shaviv, the On the Main Line followup post (with video!) of the music, and the National Post article.
I’m not sure it’s healthy to adore short movies as much as I do. Much like a beloved album, it’s tempting to just play them over and over again. I am prepared to play I’m A Mitzvah over and over again. It’s one of those situations you’d pray would never happen to you: you’re stuck in a rural area of a foreign country, watching over your friend’s corpse for the night. The next day, you’re due to escort their corpse back to America. For the night, you’ve got a jury-rigged kaddish, a cardboard shipping container with your dead friend in it, and a lot of tequila. The film was successfully funded via Kickstarter last year.
Content Advisory: half-naked dead man, multiple graphic photos of a penis, a mostly naked late night swim, kissing.
I grew up watching family and friends die. In a weird, meta-level way I suppose everyone does. But I was watching a grandfather die in his house across the street, his body riddled with cancer. I would watch grandmothers die of cancer. Some of my friends would die of leukemia before I was even out of junior high. My father is chronically ill, as am I. Illness has suffused my daily life for as long as I can remember.
So, I have a lot of thoughts about the mitzvah bikur cholim. Visiting the ill among us, that’s something that’s meaningful if it’s done right. And as much as wading through regulations sometimes makes me want to pull my hair out, I appreciate the guidelines that are set out around the mitzvah. Giving people a template makes it no less hard to embark on the mitzvah, but those guidelines keep us from being lost in the moment. If you visit the sick, you are helping relieve them of some small portion of the misery of being ill. By waiting to visit the ill by a few days, you avoid being part of the initial system-shock of being sick, and all the procedures surrounding an illness. By not being a burden on their caretakers, you don’t add to the stress being experienced by someone who is ill, or that of their family.
I’m not affiliated with a synagogue right now, so my experiences with bikur cholim are centered on family and friends, and those who are ill in their lives who I may not know myself. And I think that it’s important to consider how to integrate this mitzvot into your life when you’re not in a community with a bikur cholim committee. Same goes for congregations where the Rabbi is expected to shoulder much of the energy and thought of the mitzvot for the community at large. Read more »
I will do amazing things in 5774. I will turn 30. I will get married to the love of my life, the person I am immeasurably excited to grow old with. And I’ll continue to pursue a life filled with words. I wouldn’t be alive for those milestones without medication and cognitive therapy. Without help and support, I would have died because of my mental illness. When I attempted suicide, my family and closest friends were a web of support that kept me going. But I never mentioned what had happened to my Rabbi. To any Rabbi. I’ve made friends in the years since then with their own mental health struggles, some of them fellow members of the Tribe.
Having the knowledge that there are other mentally ill Jews out there is at best, an academic comfort. I know so few ‘out’ mentally ill Jews that I still feel out of step with my community. While I was working as a Morah I refused to tell anyone from my temple, because I was afraid I would never be allowed to be a teacher again if the administration and students’ parents knew I had been struggling with depression and other issues for most of my life. To talk about it now means that I am taking that risk, even if my mental health has greatly improved in the last few years.
Medication has helped me immeasurably, by clearing my head, and keeping most of the depression at bay. It’s left me space inside myself to start slowly filling with prayer again. With energy for one of the cornerstones of Reform Judaism: social justice. It has given me a reprieve from drowning under my darkest emotions. Every night and every morning I say the Sh’ma, because my pain has lessened just enough to let G-d in again.
There are still nights where I am crushingly depressed, struggling and crying. But the promise of the next Rosh Hashanah keeps me going, as does the knowledge that when I wake up in the morning, that depression might be gone again. Mornings like that are perfect for the Shehecheyanu. Thanking G-d for my survival has taken on a certain poignancy, in these final days of Elul.
The High Holy days are times of great joy, and repentance.For redemption. I am joyful I am alive. That every day I make the choice to stay alive, and see the many years awaiting me. But at the close of 5773, I feel the need to confess and repent for not being more open about being mentally ill. For not bringing the social justice I work for, for people like me, into temple, into my religious community. I have no good excuse, and there is no reason not to reach out to my fellow Jews, caretakers and fellow patients alike. There is no reason not to put light onto our often silent suffering, and to ask others to apply Bikur cholim to the mentally ill as well. To ask ourselves to apply the mitzvah to the aid and support of the mentally ill in our communities. To extend the mitzvah even to ourselves.
5774 is as good a time as any to help others find help, but to find help ourselves. Among G-d’s Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, G-d is said to be the abundant in kindness, and a preserver of kindness for generations. To embrace Bikur cholim for the mentally ill is to embrace more of G-d’s attributes of mercy into us, and our lives.
This week at speculative fiction publisher Tor Books’ website, an incredible novella appeared. Veronica Schanoes “Burning Girls” is ultimately a horror story, pitting the religious and canny women of a Polish family headed for America against a powerful demon that stalks them. Through sick children, a pogrom, immigration, sweatshop labor and more, the midwife Deborah struggles to hold her dwindling family together in the face of an evil she fears they will not survive. The twists were excellent, and the attention to history did new things with the backdrop of the era, instead of repeating literature that’s come before this. Anna and Elena Balbusso’s illustration is in the end, a heart-breaking match to the tale. It’s a lengthy but worthy read.