Thursday, March 26, 2020

Schedules!

I have seen pictures on facebook, what’s app chats, and in the background of zoom with everyone’s schedules. And all I can say is Oy!  We have our own schedules of course.  In the beginning, in order to balance all of our slightly variant schedules we had to have it broken down in 15 minute chunks.  We had to squeeze to get it to be on the same page.  Here are my three thoughts on schedules

  1. Schedules are deeply Jewish! Our entire system of mitzvot prioritizes keva set times.  In fact, if you search the internet for zmanim you will get a detailed list of various times for halachic purposes. Perhaps all of these schedules can help us connect to our Jewish schedules too. 
  2. Our history is also full of those rebelling against all of the keva. The original hassidim were rebels fighting against all of the extra set prayers and observances and hoping to be out in the world with people.  Our movements of today are all various responses to a world of freedom and a restrictive Jewish schedule.  Or as my college professor said to me when i told her I would be out for Simchat torah “again! Another holiday!.” Perhaps all of these schedules are a reminder to push past the set times and still find time for spontaneity and newness. What are you doing each day to break those tentative schedules to find something exciting that was unplanned!
  3. God, (and I use the word with its full weight) Please let it be soon that we go back to someone else making up the majority of our schedules.  I have new respect for all of the things that must be balanced, squeezed in, and taken into account.  I miss school and regular work sooo much!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Stop. insert name. It's all Good

Stop. insert name. It's all Good

Last night I was texting with the co-chairs of a task force in the synagogue.  these two are outstanding lay leaders and they were texting me with how we could possibly go forward in this crazy time.  It came to the end and there were two jobs for the three of us.  The person who wound up without any responsibilities was feeling bad and the person who took up one of the responsibilities wrote back "Stop. the person's name. It's all Good."  Here is one thing for each of these gloriously brief, deep, and beautiful sentences.


  1. Stop.  It's a whole sentence. It's a way of life.  So often the negative parts of our life are because of inertia. We allow ourselves to get caught in a cycle or a paradigm that we could break out of if just said to ourselves, "stop." 
  2. your name!  I am a lover of fantasy books.  In every world that has magic one's name has intense magical powers.  Indeed, in real life it seems the same.  People could be talking all around you and you not hearing a single coherent word until someone says your name.  Let your name have the power for good! let it shake you, let it give you power over you life. 
  3. "Its all Good." my favorite part about this short sentence is that its a total lie! By any objective measurement it is not "all good." The world is a giant mess! However, the greatest truth and secret of the universe, the greatest law of nature, the truest form of being is "fake it till you make it." Smile because it will remind your body to feel happy.  say "it's all good." because it will let you see the blessing hiding amidst all the brokenness.  It is not "all good." but by God we can try and live like it is.  
Stop. You! It's all Good.

Monday, March 23, 2020

I just found out I know people who have tested positive for coronavirus.  By and large, thank God, they are okay. They are quarantined. It put real faces on this graph and numbers story I've been watching.  It reminds me of a classic version of the "trolley" conundrum.  If you are standing at the trolley switch and it is headed straight for ten people you don't know what do you do? If you pull the lever the trolley will change tracks but on the other track is one person you know well.  who do you save? In other words, why does it matter if you know the person? Isn't a life a life.  Here are my three thoughts.

1. Maimonides makes clear that it is a mitzvah commandment of the highest importance to use every effort to extend someone's life, even for a few breaths.  If a building falls on shabbat and you think maybe someone is under he argues you have to violate all of shabbat on the hint that maybe someone is there. This might seem obvious to some of you reading this but to the rabbis this is a radical declaration.  Shabbat is one of the ten commandments explicitly laid out in the Torah. From this I learn that it should not matter if you know the person or not. 

2. OF COURSE IT MATTERS! All of western civilization, every movie that I love, any one's moral compass tell us that you save the one you love first. That putting a personal face on a problem makes the problem real and visceral in a way that affects how we act.  From a Creation standpoint this is a terrible way to create people.  Shouldn't God have made us equally compassionate for all? Yet there is something essential to human existence that we pick people to be our people, and that we stick up for them over others. 

3. It seems to me if you focus only on one or the other you get lost.  If you completely focus on the collective you will lose your sense of humanity.  You are the general that callously orders soldiers to their death without understanding the terrible sacrifice.  but, if you are the person that only looks out for your people and everyone else be damned you help create a system of those who matter and those who don't.  Yes, it makes the virus more real, but I hope it only reminds me how important the big picture is.  I hope I can hold onto the idea that the overall plan and saving the whole society is what matters but that I can doubly share myself and my heart with those that I know.

Kol Tuv,
RJF

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Shabbat

This past shabbat WJC chose not to do any live digital programming.  we did a kabalat shabbat service that ended before shabbat started. We created a shabbat packet for shabbat at home experiences.  Heschel refers to Shabbat as a palace in time.  He means it is a way to use time to set aside a different world. To create a world that's better than the one of the week.  Ahad ha'am is famous for saying "The Jewish people haven't kept shabbat. Shabbat has kept the Jewish people." In a world where everything is disrupted, is it possible to build a palace in time? In a world where shabbat as we know it is changed can we let ourselves be "kept" by shabbat? 


Here are my three thoughts on a whole shabbat without any kind of shul.


  1. It was nice, the weather was a little chilly but not so much we couldn't go outside but our family had all three meals together.  I led two gym classes (look at an earlier blog post for more on that) and we played a family game of soccer.  It was a welcome breath of air after a very hectic week.  Jessie teaches on zoom, the kids learn on zoom, i'm doing minyan on zoom, facebook live, and youtube programming.  it was nice not to be connected out and only connected in. 
  2. It was really sad.  I missed my community.  I missed the ability to share shabbat even for a little while with others.  I felt a real absence.  It made me ask the questions that we aren't supposed to ask like, "when will this end?" or "what will normal be like after this is over?" 
  3. I have no perfect answers but a challenge and request.  the challenge is to myself and others.  As we try to preserve our sanity, our tp supplies, and our health can we carve out some space to also preserve shabbat?  The request is to share below your difficult or wonderful corona shabbat experiences.  Let's share with each other after shabbat even if we weren't during. 
I feel like I have to end this one with, 
Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, March 20, 2020

Where is God during a Pandemic?


A congregant Brian Forman sent me the following "script."


Society: What about my plans?!

God: My plans for you are always better than your own. Don't worry. I'm going to work this all out for your good.

Society: We're not going to get anything done!

God: That's the point. You know how you keep spinning your wheels—always working, moving, doing—but never feeling satisfied? I've given you permission to stop. I've cleared your calendars for you! Your worth isn't tied to busyness or accomplishment. All you have to do is take care of each other.

Society: What does this all mean?

God: It means I'm in control. It means you are human and I am God. It means I've given you a wonderful opportunity to be the light in a dark world. It means you are going to learn to rely on me.

Society: What are we supposed to do when we can't leave our homes?

God: Rest. You are always so busy and overwhelmed, crying out to me weary and exhausted. Can't you use a break from your fast-paced and over-scheduled lives? Go ahead and rest. Pray. Love your families. Be still and spend time with me.

Society: You mean we're supposed to stay home with our kids all day, every day?

God: Yes. And you're going to be just fine. This time together is a rare gift. The rush of daily life has come to a halt. Play games. Bake cookies. Work on projects you've never had the time for. Teach them kindness and grace. Show them how to endure difficult circumstances and steer them toward me.

Society: We better start hoarding anything we can get our hands on!

God: Prevention, yes. Precaution, yes. Preparedness, yes. But after that, it's time to put the needs of others before your own. When you see someone in need, help them. Offer up what you have. Do not worry about tomorrow! Haven't I always taken care of you? Now, go take care of someone else.

Society: Why is this happening?

God: To remind you that I'm in control. To bring your attention back to me. I'm bringing you together as families and neighbors. I'm showing you patience and perseverance. I'm reminding you of your purpose and priorities. Now is the time to learn and teach your children what this life is really about.

Society: We don't know who to believe.

God: Believe in me. Trust me. Ask me for wisdom and I will surely give it.

Society: We're scared!

God: I've got this and I'm with you.



Here are my three reactions

1. This concept of God is exactly what we need right now! In WJC's new zoom minyan in the mornings we have taken out tachanun and added in Avinu Malkeinu.  It's a prayer in which we call God "Our Parent, Our Ruler." It is God who is the Master of All.  That is the God you pray to when life feels out of control.  It is the God you look to when the burden is too heavy to bear.  This "script" is a beautiful articulation of the God who spoke and the world came to be.  The God who said "it is good."  May we all have the kind of strength that allows us to see the world through these eyes.

2. On the other hand... I find this unsatisfactory.  People are dying, people are seriously ill.  Healthcare workers/first responders are pushed to their limits and beyond.  We are having conversations that involve questions like, "do we have enough ventilators in the whole country?" I just heard a story from a doctor at a hospital.  He had to perform an emergency appendectomy on someone who tested positive for the virus.  He had to perform the surgery in full hazmat gear! That does not sound like a world in which God says "I've got this and I'm with you."  It makes me want to write a different "script" in which we scream at God and demand better, demand mercy, demand a world without suffering.

3. :) On still, the other hand... The world is always full of suffering.  People say things like, "don't worry its just a flu and the flu killed something like >50,000 deaths this flue season." that means the status quo is tens of thousands of people dying from a virus.  That is before you get to the fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, mudslides etc. and that is without even adding in the war, terrorism, hatred, and plain stupidity.  the world is a dark and broken place and we could get caught only seeing the shadows and pain.  This "script" is a reminder to "teach your children what life is really about." to "not worry about tomorrow... go take care of someone else." This view of God is exactly what we need to confront the darkness, not to avoid it or pretend it isn't there but to face it and to find the light.  This shabbat, I hope each of us can look at this broken, problematic, suffering world and still find the blessing and joy. 

Shabbat Shalom all,
I'll be back on Sunday
Rabbi Fruithandler

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

On Parenting during Social distancing

I have discovered that I rely a lot on other people to help raise my children.  I, always knew that intellectually, but now I know it in my sad, tired bones.  And its only day three!  With my wife and I trying to work full time and help our kids stay in school remotely, (nothing but serious props to Solomon Schechter Long Island btw, they are doing a fabulous job!) we had to create a schedule that was in 15 minute blocks! oy! Anyways, the reason today for this particular post is a job I never (and i mean never!) imagined taking up.  I have become the kids gym teacher.  Here are three things I have learned/am thinking about gym class.


  1. I always used to hate the "drills" portion of gym class.  can't we just play the game. that's what we're really here for.  Yet, in order to both have some active time but also take some more time out of our day I have started plumbing the recesses of my mind for drills and guess what! even in just the last three days I have seen improvement in myself and the kids.  they are catching better, kicking smoother, dribbling longer, its awesome.  Bottom line, as per usual, my I-probably-don't-need-to-do-the-work attitude was wrong in a real way!
  2. I am constantly stunned by the extreme lack of desire to be physical before it starts and just how amazing it feels afterwards! Why can my brain not hold on to that positive memory? why does it feel like lifting a mountain for something that will make me feel markedly better!  Why can't I feel this way about ice cream! (oy, now i want ice cream)
  3. There is a famous talmudic dictum im ein kemach ein torah if there is no flour there is no torah.  It means you need to earn a living, you need to be able to afford a home and eat meals in order to have the brain space to study torah.  These last three days it has me thinking that it means more.  In order to get kemach flour you have to work your body quite hard.  Each step of raising the wheat, separating the chaff, and gridining the seeds is intensely difficult. I think if we don't work our bodies we also won't have the headspace for torah. Here's to exercise, pushing ourselves, and a few endorphins in these difficult times!
thanks for reading!
share your surprise parenting jobs, or even better what you're doing for home gym class below!


Tuesday, March 17, 2020


RJF’s three things- silver linings
The Mishnah teaches us to dan lchaf zchut to judge the whole of a person favorably.  It has a lot of layered meanings but for today it is a reminder to look for silver linings.  In this case I’m applying it not to a person, but to coronavirus.  Three benefits to coronavirus
  1. I had to figure out how to use facebook live! That’s been on my todo list for years! I am being challenge, in a good way, to expand my digital repertoire and look for new ways to engage people.  When this is all done these will be tools I hope to continue to use. 
  2. There have been some great meme’s and jokes.  In true “three” tradition here are my current favorite three jokes and favorite three memes. 
    1. Have you seen coronavirus.  You might know it by its aol screenname covid-19?
    2. Rabbi, what is the best food to feed someone with covid-19?  Matzah! But, rabbi, will matzah help? Not at all!  Then why is it the best food?  It slides easily under the door!
    3. Matzah is the best food for the current crisis – It fills you up and that toilet paper shortage will suddenly matter a whole lot less. 
    4. Memes:  


Humour can relieve stress and although many may not like the idea of making fun during tough times like world under the COVID-19 attack.

 Image result for my god this meeting could have been an emailImage result for kadesh urchatz joke


  1. This disease is obviously a disaster on so many levels.  We will be recovering from the financial and societal implications long after our medical professionals are able to get this virus under control.  In addition to that truth, and since I am currently healthy, it is an enormous opportunity for reflection.  The disruption in my life is a moment to ask myself is this the life we want? What really matters?  My normal schedule gives me so many “have to’s” things I don’t spend too much time thinking about but that I say “sorry, I have to go to this meeting/program/event/whatever.” Now I’m asking do I need to? 

Please post your own silver-linings, reflections, and jokes below!