Rega, a Moment


An occasional chance to take a moment, take a breath, and look at what's around you with Anita Silvert.

Rega, a Moment

A moment to consider...roller coasters

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I don’t like roller coasters. I don’t like roller coasters so much that I close my eyes during that movie theater video game-like promo, urging me to go buy pop and popcorn.  (“Is it over yet?”)

But I’ve been on one the last few weeks, and I have to admit I don’t like it in real life, either. There have been a lot of wonderful moments lately: I got to be part of a wonderful cohort with ELI talks. I gave my 12-minute talk, it went well, and I met some astounding new friends, who have important things to say about the Jewish community. (This round of talks will be up later this summer; keep checking the website.)

I opened in a new show, and there’s no happy place like my theater happy place. The show, “Cabaret” was powerful and relevant, and my part was challenging and meaningful. I met new, wonderful, talented people. And if ever there was a time to hear its message of the danger of intolerance and hate, and to heed the warning of waking up too late, it’s now.  Oops – here we go, sliding to the down-side of the roller coaster. I hold my breath.

I knew the show was going to close on Sunday afternoon, and I was ready for the slow decline on the roller coaster.  But then there were the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, in Orlando.  The roller coaster took a drastic, stomach-turning dive.  We still had to go onstage, which brought the car up a bit – we were saying important things about apathy toward hate, and the audience felt it.  The show closed, which took me a little further on down the roller coaster, nothing drastic, and expected, of course.  Then, after our last matinee, the cast and crew watched the Tony Awards together, which took the car up to the sky again. And then….the details started coming out more and more about Orlando.  The roller coaster car hurtled toward the ground, leaving my heart out of my body, and taking away my breath.  

But rather than waiting until the grieving and sorrow recedes, I want my roller coaster car to start climbing again.  Not to the top, I can’t get there yet.  But I need to get moving, letting the grief and anger spur me on to act, speak out, raise my voice and scream, “Enough!”

I really don’t like roller coasters.  

A widow’s journey

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We’ve been on the road for almost seven straight weeks, and we’re almost at our destination. We, the Jewish people, that is. We, the virtual community that every year around this time, sees ourselves as if we not only left Egypt, but arrived at Sinai and witnessed the giving of the Torah—for reals.

The Israelites were about to transition from a wandering, rag-tag group of ex-slaves, following one determined fellow out into the wilderness, into a cohesive unit that experienced a miraculous event at the foot of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Something happened out there in the wilderness, something that was so powerful as to hold sway over us till today. We keep telling those stories. We ourselves are transformed by them, from individuals who wander around in the world by ourselves, unattached, to becoming part of a people united by a common narrative.

That was some event that happened at Sinai.

Shavuot, the holiday that comes exactly seven weeks after Passover, is the culmination of that journey. We camped at the foot of a mountain and became a nation, with a set of rules and guidelines and foundational values that would form the core of our entire history, simply by telling our stories.

It’s traditional to read the book of Ruth on Shavuot. It’s a great story; it has life and death, perseverance and passion. It’s the story of a young widow and an old widow. The old widow, Naomi, lives far from her hometown of Bethlehem, and wants to go back now that her husband and sons are dead. Three times Naomi tells her to return to her own people, that she has no future with her old mother-in-law, but Ruth won’t obey.  Right at the beginning, Ruth makes a bold choice. “Do not urge me to leave you…For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” (Ruth 1:16-17)  From life to death, Ruth chooses her future. No longer a helpless widow, she begins to take her fate into her own hands, and is transformed by it.

Ruth follows Naomi home, proceeds to find food and shelter for her, and ultimately finds a man to secure both their futures, (this is, after all, ancient Israel) from whom  will eventually birth the family of David, King of Israel. Pretty dramatic change in status, from rootless foreigner to King David’s grandmother.

Some say the reason we read this story during Shavuot is because Naomi and Ruth arrive back in Bethlehem during the time of the summer harvest, at the time of Shavuot. There is something else happening here, a true transition in Ruth from the beginning of the story through to the end. She is often called, “Ruth the Moabite;” her identity is one of an outsider, and the text doesn’t let us forget it. But whereas she begins the story as a destitute Moabite widow with nowhere to go, by the end of the story she is a bold provider for herself and her mother-in-law, an Israelite, and a woman of high status.

Ruth is a story of a profound transition, one that resonates with us still. Indeed, it is Ruth’s words that echo in our hearts, as people choose Judaism and join the community. Simple, transformative, declarative words that show how a heart has turned towards the people of the Story. Our whole community’s history was changed by that one person, a person whom we welcomed in. Her transformation became ours. 

See you at Sinai.

A moment to consider...well, there’s no time

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Seriously, on this particular date, there’s nothing to consider except getting ready for Passover.  Cleaning, cleaning, (like every year, this is when I curse my particular style of housekeeping), and more cleaning.  Shopping, planning, it’s pretty all-encompassing, which you know if you’ve ever done it.

But, in and amidst all these “-ing” verbs, I can add a few others that are very happy.

One – listening, as in listening to my middle daughter plan for her own Seder.  She called me for advice on making the chicken soup, and that was very sweet.  She called me to let me know how many people are coming, and we laughed about making the floor its own Seder plate, since that was going to be the only place to fit everyone in her very little apartment.

Two – studying, as in spending time with my weekly Torah group, looking at Deuteronomy/Devarim  Chapter 20 and finding Pesach everywhere.  In the language, in the references, in the rhythm and flow of the words.  Always a joy, always a joy.

Three – rehearsing, as in I just got into another show, and crazy as I am, I’m rehearsing every night this week.  It’s insane, but there are fewer places where I am happier, so it’s worth it.  Singing, blending  song and script, bonding actor and dancer and singer.  These are happy connections.

Once all the planning and cooking and cleaning, and all the other  “-ings” are done, there is the moment when we all sit together.  We tell the story.  And frankly, that’s what connects all the things I wrote about here.  Listening to your child plan for her own Seder – that’s continuing the story I started, and it’s found a place in her heart.  Studying the text is exactly that: telling the story.  We grapple, engage, disagree and relish the story over and over, making it live.  And rehearsing/performing lets me tell a particular story for a short, sweet time.  

We tell the story.  Wishing you a sweet and loving Passover.

A moment to consider ….that phone call

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“Everything’s all right now, Mom”

That phrase, word for word, is required in my family for when something has happened, but no one has died. No kidding. Required to say that before you even say hello. That’s the rule in my family, and my mom is the one who started it.  It doesn’t matter if you’re calling someone male – you say, “Everything’s all right now, Mom.”

I got that phone call yesterday, from Mom herself.  Actually, it was a voicemail, because I was on the phone for work and couldn’t grab her call.  She was taking a cab to the ER (which, as awful as that sounds, was actually faster than it would have been if she had waited for me to get there), and I should meet her there.

Darn that breathing anyway, it’s a pesky little habit, and when you can’t breathe, people get ornery.

She’s fine, stable, being well taken care of, but in one moment, all the logistics of life started to turn, like the tumblers of a lock.

I had signed up to make a meal for a family that was sitting shiva, to serve it and clean up after the shiva.  Luckily, I had made the entrée the day before and shopped for the salad.  My husband agreed bring those to the hospital ER so I could go from there to the shiva house.   My sister, who had just moved back to the area, agreed to stay with Mom after I left, but that I would take over for her if needed, after shiva. This morning, after all the cousins and siblings had been contacted and reassured, I headed back to the hospital, contacted my daughter, with whom I have plans tonight, to adjust and rearrange. We’re still on, because sister-in-law or husband can take a shift tonight, and I brought the change of clothes for where we were going.  

In the meantime, son was feeling under the weather, but it was his first opportunity to vote, so his dad agreed to handle that moment, while I went to the hospital. Have computer, will travel, of course, so my office is now set up with laptop, phone, chargers, and understanding colleagues.

The logistics of life are complicated at best, and when that phone call comes, everything is reevaluated in a split second. Neighbors are sick, friends are hopping planes to be with parents that are worse off than mine, and I really do bless the social web that keeps us together.

May your days be less complicated, and your phone calls less serious.

A moment to consider...the calendar

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I have to look at my phone to remember what day it is. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this. There are layers and layers of things going on, for any given day; there are layers and layers of my brain that get engaged…..or not.  

One of those layers is balancing the “regular” calendar and the Jewish calendar.  It’s not just a matter of what day it is, but what week’s parasha (Torah portion) it is.  I write a regular Torah parasha commentary, true, so I’m always thinking a week ahead.  And, I write a column for JUF News, and usually tie it to a Torah portion, but that’s a month ahead, due to the publishing deadline.  And I study with a Torah group weekly, so on Tuesday mornings, I find myself deep into the text of wherever the class is – right now, it’s Devarim (Deuteronomy) which we’re not “in” now, but there are sections of that book that refer back to other books, like Exodus, which is where we are in the actual weekly portions, but not exactly. Confusing, huh?

And now we add another layer, which has threatened to send me over the edge.  I am currently finishing production in a play that depicts both a Shabbat dinner (wait, it’s not Friday!) AND a Passover Seder. I’ve been going through a Seder for months now, in rehearsal for, and now in production of, the play. Plus, to help out, I’ve been making charoset and fake horseradish, eating matzah, and dipping a little parsley, and making kugel for the Shabbat dinner scenes.

Chopping apples and walnuts when it’s February (it’s February, right?) can really mess with your mind.  I feel like it’s the ultimate balancing act, remembering when it’s Presidents’ Day, Valentine’s Day, bank holidays, school's off/on, is there mail today …and… this whole Jewish calendar thing.

We always think that calendars are the most predictable things of all. Tuesdays always follow Mondays, April always follows March.  Even in the Jewish calendar, when we think that dates change, but not really (after all, Rosh Hashanah is always the first of Tishrei), they do on the secular calendar.  So, both calendars are predictable, it’s just the juggling juxtaposition of the two.

Of course, when my play is over, it really will be almost Purim, which means it’s 4 weeks til Passover, and then the real cleaning and cooking begins.  


A moment to consider...the sukkah

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Moving, moving, lots of moving going on in my house. No, we’re not packing up and leaving where we live. But in the last month or so, our last child left for school, I had three days of “empty nesting” and then my sister moved in with us. She had been in Israel for almost 20 years, and was finally coming back. Her Israeli spouse got here a week ago, and the time in between was all about getting a space ready in the house for them. They’ll be welcome here as long as it takes for them to get settled, find work, and fine a place to live.

I work at home, and taking advantage of the opportunity of all the kids’ bedrooms being unoccupied, I took over the smallest one as my new office space. This meant moving of another kind: Hauling a desk, filing cabinets, moving files, (which of course, had to be gone through, culled, re-organized), schlepping supplies one or two stories upstairs and beds downstairs. Then there is the satisfying time spent arranging one’s new living or work space. My sister was doing this also, two stories below. 

As I sat in my new room, with real window light coming through, and the music I liked playing, I started thinking about how we move into new spaces, how we get acclimated.   

We are now a family of all adults, of which two are immigrants. After all, my sister has been in Israel for so long that much of American life (and prices, both high and low) are a shock to her – to them both, really. They were urban; we live in the suburbs. They are used to open-air markets; we have grocery stores, and the farmers’ markets are pretty much done for the season. They’re used to bringing their dog (yes, there is a dog, too) into stores and people’s homes as a matter of course and running off the leash, and that’s not the case ‘round here. The list goes on and on.

My sister arrived in time to help us put up our sukkah, and we were all able to share a meal in it. It’s time to take it down. It’s a fragile thing, as all sukkah structures are. We have to pack it up, store it, and have it ready for next year. 

Maybe our family/guests feel like our house is as fragile as a sukkah, wondering how long it will be the roof over their heads. Immigrants all over the world feel like that. A hundred years ago, 50 years ago, yesterday, millions of immigrants arrived here and if they were lucky, they stayed with relatives until they got America solid under their feet.  

The world is again filled with terrified migrants, wanderers looking for a safe place, no matter how fragile, to exhale and begin to think beyond the moment. I wish everyone who has the opportunity to help them would remember the sukkah. A fragile, impermanent home makes us grateful for the ability to come inside where it’s safe and warm. Those who wander deserve no less.  

A moment to consider…routine

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I love routine. As I have said before, I think change is overrated. Back in the (oy!) 80s, I used to go to aerobic studio workouts. I have the leg warmers to prove it, but now I keep them around to make my kids laugh. And I loved that we did the same workout routine every time. I knew how many leg lifts and jumping jacks to do and all that. I was very comfortable in the routine, and yes….I looked better, too.

I find comfort in other routines. Coffee and the paper every morning, doing the crossword in pen first, just like my grandfather did it, and how my mother still does, and then reading the rest of the paper. Do not ever suggest to me that reading it on a screen is even close being okay.

It’s not that I can’t handle change. I’ve proven I can, over and over. That doesn’t mean I like it, it just means I can do it. Routine, for me, is the soft ground I can land on when I get bounced around by change.  It’s both feet on the ground when I need to feel grounded.  I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t like living where there are no seasons. (Hello, California.) I like the predictability (don’t laugh) of the weather changing as we move around the year. It will be spring. It will be summer, and it will be fall.  Yes, it will be winter, too, but that’s okay, because spring comes after that.  

Routine in my Jewish world is comforting, too.  I was raised in a very traditional synagogue, where I learned how to daven, to pray.  I learned the words, at least, really really well.  And now, though there is much that I eschew about the traditional language when translated, I prefer a more traditional service.  I love some of the new prayer books, new liturgy translations,  new poetry and such. And I can forgo cantor repetitions, happy to do so.  But I don’t like changing it up.  Well, that’s not exactly true – I do like to change it up sometimes, as long as I know it’s coming. (Anita? Your therapist is on the line.)  The Hebrew I have known so long is so familiar to me that I can lose myself in it, finding new layers to it. I can focus on a word or thought here or there, because I know next week, the whole prayer will be there and I can focus on another word or thought. I know for others, it’s too much. Some days, it just doesn’t click, and I just stop.  Some days it does. But I keep at it, just the same, until it clicks again.

There is routine in Jewish life, and for that I am routinely grateful. We read the Torah in the same order, each year. We greet the same ol’ portions like good ol’ friends we can tangle with, struggle with, embrace, recognize, and then find something we hadn’t seen before. We celebrate the same holidays, mark the same seasons, acknowledge the passing of time the same way each trip around the sun.  It is this that gives the routine meaning, I think. It is the familiarity that breeds not contempt, but comfort.

Wishing everyone a Judaism they can feel comfortable in.


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