Category Archives: Living One’s Values

Coincidence? Or could it be b’shert?

Coincidence? Or Could It Be  B’Shert?

In 2012,  Rochelle and Bill Willner, attended services at Congregation Shalom Aleichem in Kissimmee, Florida. Former members, they were there for the first time in two years to check out the new rabbi. Before the mourner’s kaddish, Rabbi Karen Allen asked if anyone was observing sheloshim, the thirty day period of mourning. A woman whom they didn’t recognize announced that she had recently lost her aunt Yetta Weiner.

Immediately after services ended, Rochelle approached the mourner. “Excuse me,” said Rochelle, “ but Yetta Weiner is MY aunt!”

It didn’t take long for Rochelle and the “stranger” Marilyn Glaser to realize they were second cousins. Yetta was the wife of David Weiner, brother to both Rochelle ’s and Marilyn’s grandmothers.

The coincidences didn’t end there. Both Marilyn and the Willners lived on the same street in Solivita, a fifty-five plus adult community near the synagogue. Rochelle had attended Marilyn’s wedding over forty years earlier when she had gone as her father’s date. Her mother, the originally invited guest, had had surgery. Marilyn didn’t recall meeting her that day, but it was confirmed when the two of them found Rochelle’s picture in Marilyn’s old wedding album. 

Since that night, Marilyn and Rochelle have become  not only cousins but dear friends.  “I speak to Rochelle at least four times a day,” said Marilyn.

How Did This Come About?

What would have happened if Rochelle and Bill hadn’t come that night to check out the rabbi? If the rabbi hadn’t asked for the first time if anyone was in period of mourning? If Marilyn hadn’t announced Yetta’s name? So many coincidences! 

Or where they? According to some Jewish theologians, there is no such thing as coincidences. Hashgacha Pratit , or Divine Providence, is the concept that that G-d is actively involved in each of our lives. American author and inspirational speaker SQuire Bushnell calls it a godwink. “Every so-called coincidence or answered prayer is God’s way of giving you His small, silent, communication,” says Bushnell, “A little wink saying, ‘Hey kid! I’m thinking of you…right now!’

It even has been cited in both historical and scientific context. The German analytical psychologist  Carl Jung coined the term synchronicity to describe meaningful coincidences—the “acausal connecting principle” that links mind and matter and supersedes cause and effect. 

Rochelle choses to call her reunion, b’shert,  a Jewish expression which means ‘meant to be.’ Whatever it is called, sometimes events align in such a way that it feels like God or some universal force is directing the action. 

I believe strongly that some universal force was at play in our decision to move to the same community in which Marilyn  and the Willners reside.  In December, 2014, Larry and I were staying in a Central Florida resort in Kissimmee. A rainy day prompted a visit to Solivita, and the minute we drove through the gates, I felt that this was the place in which we would retire. After looking at new models, a realtor took us to a resale, and Larry and I fell in love with it. Never spontaneous people, we put a bid on it the day we were to fly home to Upstate New York. 

Although the bid was turned down, Larry and I continued to lean towards buying a home in Solivita. S We had been looking at retirement homes ever since my sister Laura had purchased one in Arizona eight years before. Once we returned home, however, we both wondered if it was the right choice. I was always a “second guesser,” and tended to research every major decision ad nauseam and still rethink and sometimes regret my choices. 

The  day after we came back home, I headed to the library to research all Central Florida retirement options, including  reading back issues of Where to Retire magazines. Usually there were at least ten copies, but on this day there was only one issue on the shelf: the May/June 2014 issue highlighting Kissimmee Florida with a cover picture of a happy couple from—yes—Solivita! Inside, Gabby and Joe Thomas recounted finding the “beautiful” community with the help of Gabby’s mother, who bought a house on an adjacent street. “It was all meant to be,” Joe was quoted as saying about their move.

I brought the magazine home and said to Larry, “This is a sign” By the following June, we had sold our house and moved to Solivita. Coincidentally,  I met Gabby within the  first week when we both attended a Weight Watcher’s meeting. 

Did the Stars Align?

Fortunately, moving to Solivita is one decision in which I never looked back. We love it here. And like Joe Thomas, I feel that it was meant to be-b’shert.

Laurie Criden also felt it was b’shert at work when she met her second husband.  In March, 2008, Laurie was still reeling from the recent loss of her father and the dissolution of her twenty-eight year marriage. Her active involvement in Temple Beth Zion, Buffalo, New York’s large reform synagogue, helped her “keep my balance.” 

While meeting with the rabbi to discuss the shul’s Second Night Passover seder that she was chairing, he asked her how she was doing. Laurie jokingly said, “I guess I’m waiting for something better to come along.” At that exact moment, Mark Criden,  the temple’s executive director ,tapped her on the shoulder to let her know that her meeting was about to begin. Although previous encounters had been “polite hellos,” by the time the two of them entered the meeting room, Mark had invited her to join him at a friend’s for the first night seder. They were married a year later and now share their time between Buffalo and Sarasota, Florida.

Was It Chance?

Julie Thompson Berman shared a story of a day filled with too many coincidences to be just chance. Just before she and her husband Bill moved from Maine to Texas, they decided to visit Endicott College, Julie’s alma mater in Beverly, Massachusetts. As they wandered around the campus, they came across Julie’s old dorm, which had been converted into an administration building. 

As chance would have it (or was it chance?), all the doors in the building were unlocked. They climbed three flights of stairs to Julie’s old dorm room which was now a meeting room. There they met current students, who were thrilled to hear about Julie’s experiences forty years earlier. 

The visit brought back a flood of memories for Julie, and she regretted not keeping up with her three college roommates.  “I wanted to  tell them where I was how I was thinking of them. Unfortunately, I had lost touch and no longer had  their contact information,” Julie said. 

  The Berman’s next stop in their nostalgia tour was The Barnacle,  a restaurant  in nearby Marblehead, Massachusetts, where Julie and Bill had shared many special dinners during their college courtship. While waiting for their table, a woman who was already seated walked across the room and asked, “Are you Julie Thompson?”

When Julie answered yes, the woman hugged her. “I am Cherie, your roommate from Endicott!” Cherie and her husband, who lived across the state, were in Marblehead visiting family. The four of them shared a table talked for two hours after lunch and remain in touch. “I still think about that day and all the things that had to line up to make that reunion happen,” said Julie four years later. 

The three stories above represent just three “b’shert” moments. I would love to hear more from my readers! Please share them with me by emailing me  at shapcomp18@gmail.com

Hope for the New Year Revived by Tale of Lamed Vav

The world must contain not less than 36 righteous individuals in each generation who greet the Shekhinah’s presence each day. Jewish mythology

On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the birthday of world, the beginning of a New Year full of possibilities. In the weeks leading up to our High Holy Days, however, I have encountered many events that make me doubt those possibilities. 

Evidence of climate change impacted our summer travels. In Frisco, Colorado, we watched helicopters dump water and flame retardant on a mountain only six miles from my daughter’s home, one of many wildfires burning throughout the West.  In July, Larry and I traveled with a group on land tours of Norway and Iceland. The first country was magical; the latter was other-worldly; both were beautiful. But Norway, like most of Europe, was experiencing the hottest summer in history, and farmers were facing withering crops and dry pastures for their domestic animals. Meanwhile, Iceland had weeks of record-breaking cold and rain that resulted in rotting crops. 

We returned home to the news filled with stories of corruption and indictments at the highest levels of our government, our mailbox filled with contentious election with ads vilifying good people with lies, and, the television blasting information about the latest mass shooting, this time in Jacksonville, Florida. None of this made me feel hopeful for the coming year. 

In the final scene in Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye and his neighbors are gathering their meager belongings to leave their “tumble-down, work-a-day Anatevka” after they are evicted by the Russian government. Motel the tailor suggests to the rabbi that this would be a good time for the Messiah to come. ”We’ll have to wait for him someplace else.” the rabbi replies. “Meanwhile, let’s start packing.” Yes, I agree with that wise rabbi: we could use a miracle.  

I didn’t get a miracle, but thanks to Laurie Clevenson, editor of the Jewish World, I did get a heartfelt lesson in Jewish mythology that renewed my faith. 

In the book of Genesis in the Tanakh, God concedes to Abraham that He would spare the city of Sodom if the patriarch could find just ten righteous men. We know how that ended: Not even one such man could be found. Sodom and its sister city Gomorrah were destroyed, and Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt.

The Biblical passage developed into a Talmudic legend. In every generation, says the sages,  there are thirty-six righteous people upon whose merit the world is kept from entire destruction. The Lamed-Vav tzaddikim, as they are known in Yiddish,  are“humble servants of their fellows,” states an eponymous website, “tirelessly working to dry tears, show compassion, and shoulder the burdens of those who suffer.” 

The Righteous Among Us

Abraham desperately sought just ten such people five thousand years ago; in more modern times, the count is raised to the mythical Double Chai; the number 18 (meaning life) times two. These individuals are hidden, so hidden that no one knows who they are,  not even the others of the 36. When one of them dies, another is secretly “crowned,” waiting anonymously, silently, humbly for his or her call to come forward and help repair the world.

I feel we have examples of  Lamed-Vav tzaddikim in our own history. Abraham himself comes from obscurity to become the father of  the Jewish people. Against all odds, David slays Goliath; Judah Maccabee leads a rebellion against those who want us destroyed. The Lamed Vav website also gives examples of women: Ruth, an ancestor to King David, preserved not only Naomi, but future generations by being faithful. Esther, through her selfless bravery, saved her Jewish brethren from from certain destruction. And Deborah, instrumental in delivering Israel from Canaanite bondage, later served as judge. Each of these individuals came from the shadows to keep Judaism alive.

And we have all known such people in our our lifetimes. I have been fortunate to meet what I consider Lamed-Vav tzaddikim through my writing. Claudia “Clyde” Lewis supported and advocated for her sister Andrea, who was born with intellectual disabilities, resulting in Andrea living a life never initially imagined by those who wanted her institutionalized.  Tony Handler, 79-year-old seven time cancer survivor, has served as a beacon of hope for those who are diagnosed with the dread disease. The sole member of his family to survive theHolocaust, Harry Lowenstein immigrated to America to become a successful Florida, businessmen and the person behind the construction of the Kissimmee synagogue. “I saw a synagogue burn,” said Lowenstein, “and I was determined to build another one.”

I loved the entire process of writing each one of these stories: interviewing each person; researching background information; writing and re-writing draft after draft to make sure I captured their voice in a story in which they would be proud.More importantly, I loved learning about each of these tzadakim, these people who quietly have made their mark on the world to make it a better place. 

 

Three Leave Positive Legacies

In the past month, I believe we have lost three of the 36. Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, not only moved us with her songs and her voice but also was a leader in the civil rights movement. Senator John McCain, the maverick senator from Arizona, was lauded as a war hero, a public servant, and one of America’s great champions. Admired by both sides of the aisle, Senator Charles Schumer stated that his friend was  “never afraid to speak truth to power in an era where that has become so rare.” Hours after McCain’s death, news of Neil Simon’s passing was announced. The Pulitzer prize-winning Jewish playwright had revolutionized Broadway with his funny but biting views of Jewish urban life. Each of them shaped our world with a positive, long-lasting legacy. 

Hope and Mitvahs

In a 2010 Rosh Hashanah article, Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan spoke of “the thirty-six blessed humble souls whose merit keeps society from falling apart,” those individuals whose character and deeds are so exemplary that being around them raises those around them to a higher level.  With billions of people on the planet, she suggests remembering the African saying, “It takes a village.” “If we could develop 36 lamed-vavnik communities,” Rabbi Danan suggested, “we could have the critical mass to tip the balance of human history in a new direction.”

No matter what the number, this beautiful myth offers hope that the morally outstanding individuals can somehow affect the whole world. What can we do? First we need to treat everyone as if he or she is a Lamed Vav, as we never know—despite anyone’s level in life—if that person is a chosen one. Secondly, each of us should strive to be kind, compassion, and a mensch. Maybe one of us is a hidden Lamed Vav Tzadik? And finally, we can each be doing whatever we can to be a positive force in making a difference in the lives of our family, our community, and our world.

Repairing the World

The following is the first essay in my upcoming second book of essays, Tikkun Olam: Living Kind in an Unkind World. Look for it on Amazon soon!

The Shabbat prayer book in our synagogue includes the following meditation: “I harbor within—we all do—a vision of my highest self, a dream of what I could and should become. May I pursue this vision, labor to make real my dream.”

Melting glaciers and rising seas. The threat of nuclear war. The uptick of racist and xenophobic acts. Despite or maybe because of the current state of our world, it is more critical than ever for me to find “my highest self.” I am determined to use my moral compass to point me in a direction that follows my values and helps create change for the better for others.

Until recently, I did not consider myself an activist. I was—admittedly—marginally involved in the Vietnam War protests and the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment fight. Although I have voted in almost every local, state, and national election, I have minimally involved myself in campaigning. 

Recent headlines, however, have inspired me to become politically involved in the democratic process. In 2016, I participated in organized phone calls and mailings to support candidates in whom I believed. Two years later, I continue to be an activist. I participate in a grassroots organization to effect change at a local level. I contact my legislators on a regular basis through phone calls, emails, and letters. In addition, I have met with my United States representative, worked on post card campaigns, written postcards to encourage voter participation in recent off-year special elections, and provided financial support to organizations and publications that support my views. Even though these efforts are often met with defeat and disappointment, at least I have made a sincere effort to make a difference. 

In turn, I work to be more accepting of those whose political views differ from mine. I listen more carefully and non-judgmentally without rushing in with my own opinion. I have expanded my reading to include a wider range of media and publications in belief that my knowledge will help me better understand why people think like they do. Such research also gives me insight as to how the country and the world got to where it is today .Maybe—just maybe—if friends and family members talk and share and communicate, we can encourage our government to take a more bi-partisan approach. 

Finally, I strive to be kind. Whether it be coaching a local Special Olympics track and field team with my husband; extending a smile to strangers, or offering a helping hand to those impacted by recent natural disasters, I believe individual acts of goodness can make a difference. “Not all of us can do great things,” Mother Theresa said. “But we can do small things with great love.” 

Tikkun Olam, the Hebrew expression translated often as “repairing the world” is the Jewish moral principal that states every individual should leave this world better than he or she found it. This is the vision of my highest self. Through my voice, my writing, and my actions, I hope “to do small things with great love”—to make our country and this world a better place for our own and future generations.

Adapted from “Living My Values, The Jewish World, April 5, 2017