January 28, 2009

Blessing for Tamar and Helen

Helen came for lunch today. Earlier, when we had confirmed our visit, she volunteered, "I wrote a blessing. I wrote it for you and me," she hinted.

My friend, the gifted liturgist (she served on Emory University's Candler School of Theology faculty from 1981-1999) arrived bearing a copy of her recent book, "Mother Roots: The Female Ancestors of Jesus" (the opening chapter: "Tamar: A Woman Who Sought Justice"). Helen also brought a copy of the blessing and too many yummy desserts.

When she recited the blessing, Helen spoke the Hebrew word ruakh twice. In this context, ruakh means soul, spirit, essence.

Watch the video (3:57 minutes).

January 23, 2009

From Abby's place: Hail to the Chief!

Abby's evite to the
Inauguration-viewing brunch bunch

The scene: Abby's art-and-book-filled sunny home with to-die-for views.

The crowd:
A merry band of 32 adults, one middle-schooler, and three rescue dogs.

The gifts: One friend brought three vases bursting with yellow and red tulips. Another gave Abby an Obama Action Doll (shown in the photo) that she clutched tightly, posed with, and waved.

The activities:
FOAs (Friends of Abby) mingled, flowed — sometimes seemingly floating, always eating, usually transfixed at the Temples of CNN (headquartered in the living room) or PBS (my religion) in the den.

The mood:
Severally and together, bursts of joy, relief, disbelief, pride, oohs and ahhs, tears, smiles, shouts, laughs, human growls, and doggie speak.

The food: Oh, the food. And, those mimosas.

The call: The day after a national holiday — Happy birthday 2009, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when America inaugurated its first African American President in an astonishing celebration, we were riveted to President Obama's call [transcript and video here] to embrace the hopes, challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities upon us.

Photo credit: Susan Walsh/Associated Press

January 14, 2009

And the "Smile Project" 2009 winner is . . . me

With Bren Bataclan, holding my prizes
at New York City's South Street Seaport

I wish I could say that I have been steadily Smiling at random, from Atlanta to Jerusalem with the Smile Project. In that post, I blogged on my pledge to do so after I spied, then plucked Bren's bright painting of a colorful, happy, whimsical creature atop a boulder in front of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta. Winning the 2009 award (for the best feedback entry) has pricked my conscience, triggering my pledge renewal.

A note taped below the painting read that for the mere pittance of a promise to smile at random people more often, and to send Bren feedback (guidelines here) on where I found it, the painting was . . . mine.

The next month, I brought it to my cousins in Jerusalem, spreading smiles across the ocean.

Feedback from Jerusalem to Boston
Teen cousin, Daniel (shown holding the painting), emailed Bren (through me) the requested feedback (in English, Daniel's second language after Hebrew).

Hi Tamar, How are you? I wrote a feedback [below] to Bren, the man that painted the cute thing... I just don’t know how this sweet creature named. I hope that it’s fine. (There are many words that I’m not sure if they need to be fixed...)

° ° °
"Dear Bren, I was amazed to see your lovely painting. In fact - he coused me to smile. I glad that there are people like you - carring other people like you - carring other people to be happier. — Daniel Zohar, דניאל זוהר"

Then, I invited Daniel to join in a brief Q&A.

Me: Where did you hang the painting?
Daniel: Over the shelf in the living room.

Me: Are you smiling at more people?
Daniel: Yes though I don't know if its because of the picture.

Me: Do others in your family smile at random more often?
Daniel: Same answer... and they express more joy.

Me: How old are you, and in what grade?
Daniel: 15 years old, in 10th grade.

The painting over the shelf in the living room

New friendships, worldwide
While finding the painting in Atlanta has been bringing smiles in Israel, finding it also launched my friendship with Philippine-born, U.S.A.-educated Bren, who began The Smile Boston Project in 2003, his street art project to brighten spirits worldwide.

After months' intense planning and detailed scheduling, last September, Bren (from Boston), I (from Atlanta and Tel Aviv), and Daniel's brother Dear Israeli Soldier, Dear Aviah (from Jerusalem) met in New York City to celebrate The Smile Project and the painting that linked us. (In the photo, an iPod classic with Belkin microphone attachment is capturing Bren's answers to our questions.)

Pay attention
Wherever you go, be alert. The Smile Project might be on your path — a painting and this invitation:

January 05, 2009

Raising high the Israeli flag

Israeli flag facing the highway
north of Tel Aviv, close to Ra-anana

Here is what Karen Alkalay-Gut entered in her Tel Aviv Diary today:

I've dusted off our flag and am getting ready to hang it up on the balcony. It is a strange impulse, born of much debate. The energy we expend debating on ethics is exhausting, but I've finally decided to let the flag speak for us.

The rest of her diary entry follows (I added the links):

A few words with a close friend from the USA last night on the phone got me thinking about it — he assumed the war is unnecessary, and I agree. So here are my criticisms and my conclusions.
  1. I would have been much happier if we had made more direct efforts to speak with Hamas.
  2. Hamas has been sending us antipersonnel rockets for years on civilian targets and trying to kidnap soldiers. Gilad Shalit was in Israel when he was kidnapped. That fact alone is Casus belli [the justification for acts of war]. But we did nothing — except accept their threats, attempts at humiliations, and propaganda.
  3. The world expected nothing from Hamas — no discussions, debates, proposals.
  4. The rockets are still falling on Israel.
  5. The attempt to minimize damage to citizens in Gaza is one of the causes of Israeli soldiers being wounded and killed right now.
  6. While we all seem to agree on the number of casualties in Gaza, Israel and the rest of the world don't quite agree on the percent of civilians lost. Israel says less than 100. Palestinians says most are women and children.
  7. In fact, most of the international news runs counter to what I know from people who are actually activating elements of the war. And as parents and partners and relatives and neighbors we are never ignorant of what's going on.
  8. Though I am constantly aware of the situation of the Arabs in Israel, I really believe they are in much better shape than they would be living in any Arab country, although we have no oil.
So I'm hanging out my flag.

If you're not afraid to, you might want to do it too. Members of my family, by the way, have been getting death threats on Facebook.

January 01, 2009

New Year's Day 2009 | tranquility in your palaces | שלוה בארמנותיך

Peace seeker Mohammad Shibli's dovecote
Shibli, Israel

In her New Year's Eve post on Hard Times, Ronni Bennett, sage and virtual friend (lucky me) wrote: "Hard times. . . We have survived other challenges, some of our own making, and we will do it again this time."

My amen is (deceptively) simple.

יהי שלום בחילך ושלוה בארמנותיך
תהילים קכ"ב
May there be well-being within your ramparts,
tranquility in your palaces.
Psalm 122:6

The scholar Robert Alter, in his notes from The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, writes on his English-rendering of the Hebrew verse, "As in many lines of biblical poetry, there is a narrative progression from the first verses to the second — first the ramparts, then the palaces within them, following the path of the pilgrim coming up to the city."