One year ago and today

Today is a very strange day for me.

A year ago, I was doing chaplaincy work in Poughkeepsie, NY. In truth, I had no desire to leave my home that day. My kids were home with my wife in Newburgh, NY. The low temperature was -2F and the high was only 15 degrees. Being at the hospital that day, I would never be outside above 5 degrees. It was truly freezing. No one wanted to go outside, to do anything besides watch disney movies. Over the course of the day, I checked facebook in between patients, in between traumas, in between the incredible paperwork/charting that is a modern hospital. My feed transitioned from new year greetings to shock, mourning, sadness. From NY to California, Florida to Israel, I saw friends posting about the Weiss family. I did not personally know Mitch, Hannah or Ari, but after the first dozen posts I realized I did know Leslie. Leslie was one of the people I had spoken to at CBI. She had welcomed me, answered my questions, shared incredible enthusiasm. With her fabulous co-chairs and search committee, she had made me realize that St. Petersburg would be the ideal home for my family. We had scheduled an interview for Shabbat Shirah, for Parshat Beshalach. I would be meeting her in person, changing her from a voice on the phone, a face on a screen, to a flesh and blood human being.

When that day came, when I first came to Congregation B’nai Israel of St. Petersburg, I was able to see the incredible building, to meet so many warm, friendly faces, to walk in the sun, to feel the holiness which with this kehillah is imbued, something was missing. Someone was missing. An entire family was missing. The loss of the Weiss family was still raw, still new, the wound was fresh. It was strange talking about the future, dreaming of a better life for my family and for St. Petersburg, while mourning the loss of people I KNEW would have worked with me for my dreams of CBI.

That morning I shared these words:

One way we become a nation is through our song. Today we sing! We heard the songs of Moses and Miriam in our parsha. We hear the song of our Cantor throughout the service. In Musaf, we will hear the sounds of the CBI choir. As we sing today, I am reminded of a very important lesson I learned about the power of holding multiple emotions. As I stand here, as we sing, as we praise the Holy One, I am so happy to be here. Yet, I am so terribly disappointed, so terribly sad that the Weiss family are no longer with us. Leslie asked me such great questions during my Skype interview, showed such warmth and kindness during a challenging and emotional process. I knew her but a moment, yet I still mourn. Standing here I think about legacy and memory and the power of one individual. I think about the meaning we draw from our brief lives and the Torah that we share. . .

As I stood on the bimah at CBI, I knew that I had found my spiritual home. Of course, I still had more interviews and CBI had to agree.

Today, I am sitting in my backyard, under a beautiful tree with green leaves. The sun is shining. The laundry is in the dryer. A book is beside me. My day included minyan, coffee with some congregants, brunch with others. I have found friends, companions, partners at CBI. The last few months have been incredible and exhausting.

In six months, we have become Florida residents, started dozens of new initiatives, met thousands of people (no exaggeration), found and renovated a home, enrolled the children in school, and were welcomed over and over again. We were welcomed by CBI, by members, by non-members, by church and civic leaders, by very flattering newspaper articles, by the warmth of St. Petersburg. We have established ourselves here and are firm in our commitment to the future of CBI and St. Pete. Yet of course, no success comes without loss. We miss our friends in NY. We tried fostering a remarkable baby boy and did not emerge unscathed from having to return him to a broken system. A minor surgery is on my near horizon, although as anyone says, “minor surgery is what happens to other people”.

As I sit here, preparing to unload and reload the dryer, beginning to wonder what I should eat for dinner, I think of Mitch, Leslie, Hannah and Ari. I wonder what it would be like to have truly gotten to know them. Their hearts are forever in our courtyard (the memorial sculpture having been installed although not yet dedicated). What would Leslie say about my sermons? Would Mitch join me for coffee or welcome me to teach Torah at Morton Plant? How would our USY chapter look with Ari’s leadership? What Torah would Hannah read and teach when she came home? What environmental initiatives would she push at CBI? Would we be considering solar panels or electric car charging? How much more recycling might we be doing? What new ideas would she bring from JTS? What conversations would we have about her professors? What schools would Ari be considering?

Sitting here, there are so many what ifs that will never be answered, so many paths untaken. Yet amidst this loss, I feel such joy. I am grateful for the influence, seen and unseen that they had upon my life. I am grateful that Leslie invited me to find my home. I am glad that I can share wisdom from JTS, from my professors, from Hannah’s professors. I am glad that I am back in Hanegev and cannot wait to participate in USY events across the region. Seeing Hannah and Ari honored at International Convention online was amazing, but it will be better in person. USY--I want to staff Yom Universal this year! I am glad that we have found our home. I wish that the Weiss family was here to share it with us, and I am so grateful to be in this community, where their influence lives on so strongly.

One year ago today, I could not imagine the blessings (and losses) that this year could hold. Today I am grateful for these memories, for these opportunities, for these hopes and dreams. Most of all, I am grateful for the gift of Torah, of Judaism, of Gd. We have had a structure, shiva, shloshim, and yahrzeit, to elevate their neshamot, their souls, to praise Gd even amidst our loss. We have been blessed to stand together as a Jewish community, at the times when we might otherwise collapse alone in grief. I am grateful that our faith demands cooperation, community, and even hope when are bereft. As the parent of Daniel Tiger loving children, I am also grateful that our tradition reminds us of Mister Roger’s powerful lesson “we can have more than one feeling at the same time.” On this day I am so profoundly grateful and also so profoundly sad.

I cannot wait for the blessings of tomorrow.  I cannot wait to celebrate my installation at CBI the weekend of Feb. 22-24, with special program on that Sunday with some of my favorite Jewish musicians!

Me with the artist, Donald, who created the incredible Weiss Memorial Sculpture