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The Philadelphia Jewish Voice

The Delaware Valley's Progressive Alternative

Volume 1 - Number 2 - August 2005

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Living Judaism


The "Living Judaism" feature in each issue is focused on Jewish Spirituality, Meaning and Activism with invited columns written by Rabbis belonging to the various movements of Judaism.

As coordinator of the Living Judaism column, I am pleased to announce Rabbi Lewis Eron will be next month's guest author. 

Last month's Living Judaism was entitled Loving and Listening: Mezuzah Consciousness.


Jewish clergy interested in writing for Living Judaism are most invited to make contact with me via email to judaism @ pjvoice.com .

Rabbi Goldie Milgram directs ReclaimingJudaism.org. Author and internationally acclaimed teacher of Torah and Jewish spiritual practice, her new book is Meaning and Mitzvah: Reclaiming Judaism through the Daily Practices of God, Prayer, Torah, Mitzvot, Hebrew and Peoplehood (Jewish Lights). A Mt. Airy resident, she is also author of Reclaiming Judaism as a Spiritual Practice: Holy Days and Shabbat (Jewish Lights) and Make Your Own Bar/Bat Mitzvah: A Personal Guide to a Meaningful Rite of Passage (Jossey-Bass). 

What Kind are You

Rabbi Goldie MilgramThis flight from Philadelphia to San Diego could be interminable were it not for the middle-aged woman sitting to my right reading a copy of Oprah Winfrey's magazine… which I am reading over her shoulder. Seeing I've finally awakened, she offers me some banana cake. I decline and she inquires if my doing so is because I follow kashrus. How did she guess? Beside her is a very elderly, relatively deaf man for whom she cares with great affection and humor. When he reaches for her raisin packet, she exclaims, "Oh no, you're not having my chazzarai! You've already eaten your own!"

Odd. Her accent has a Spanish lilt with a hint of the islands; her appearance is African American with perhaps some Puerto Rico. But her pronunciation of kashrus and chazzarai is pure New York Jewish. As this mystery lady slips off to the bathroom the elderly Caucasian man beside her, who looks for all the world like my own grandfather (of blessed memory), pinches her butt and with twinkling eyes says to me, "My wife is one in a million." As he retracts his hand I clearly see the half-star and the numbers on his forearm characteristic of concentration camp survivors. 

He sees me taking this in, meets my eyes with a kind, calm, intensity and says, "Auschwitz."

Just then she returns, inquiring: "What are you writing about?" I reply, "As it happens, mikvah spirituality, the idea of the mikveh as a cosmic womb and how, underwater, we are rebirthing ourselves, offering freedom to emotional shmutz from the week so we can emerge a radiant Shabbos bride." 

She sighs. "I was so sick on the day scheduled for my mikveh, and the water heater at the facility was broken, so I felt I was certain to get pneumonia. But, instead, I emerged new, healthy, and so happy to be a Jew." 

During our often three-way five hour chat it emerges that she and I had met over twenty years before. When I was a Jewish Federation executive, she'd come into my office to drop off some Holocaust-related documents for the community archive I was staffing. No doubt I'd thought she was someone's maid, thanked her politely for the delivery and not engaged in any further dialogue. 

This time the hours fly by as we share stories about our lives. My father was wounded in his Signal Corps capacity upon entering Auschwitz. She, now an expert and activist in helping Holocaust survivors navigate life, also fills me in on the whereabouts and evolution of dozens of survivors whose depositions I had once taken on videotape. He listens and interjects to declare he is "Jewish for life" but realizes there is no "caring Papa G-d," but clearly "there is a Creator." 

How did they meet? Thought you might be wondering; I sure was. They met at work, ten years after his first wife died while birthing his daughter and only child.

All the while we are talking, inside I feel grief at my class, race and religious assumptions, amazement at the synergies between us and awe at their kindness and generous outpourings of life wisdoms. Her background includes Scottish, Irish, Spanish (from the time of the Inquisition), Native American and more. "57 Varieties" she calls her lineage, like ketchup. 

The week before, when I was at Elat Chayyim Retreat Center in the Catskills, there was posted an announcement of an upcoming week on Jewish diversity. The poster showed faces of Yemenite, African, South African, Oriental and numerous other types of Jews. My thought had been, "Now why is that necessary? Jews of every background, race and class already come here." 

Not a week later the answer is provided by this encounter with fate above the clouds. We parted with hopes of reconnecting in a few weeks in the Philadelphia area.


As the Philadelphia Jewish Voice develops, along with the trajectory to the next major American election, many of us may be increasingly challenged not to label or categorize folks and treat them based on our assumptions about their category. The work of forging a future where the potential of every relationship is revealed, where people are neither white and black, blue or red, but connected in passion for a better world, this often takes grounded spiritual practice to help sustain our higher selves. 

This column will appear just after Tisha b'Av, the holy day where we mourn many horrific persecutions. The initial one, the Babylonian exile, was made far worse by the murder of the regional Jewish governor by another Jew, causing the Babylonian overlords to intensify the magnitude of expulsions and punitive torture and executions. In the Talmud we read: tzarikh sheh adam mamtin ba-din, "it is imperative that a person be deliberative (gradual/cautious) in judgment." How can we advance this quality and others in our selves?

Reb Mendel of Satanov offered an approach that might be useful to renew in this regard. He called it Heshbon HaNefesh, an "accounting of the soul." Reb Mendel invites us to look at thirteen personal qualities, notice how we are doing with them and embrace the opportunity to cultivate one more deeply in our lives. When that one feels in balance, then move on to another. He recommends journaling your noticings and progress, which seems just right. Here is my interpretation of his list. (His book is available in most Jewish book stores.) 

  • Equanimity. Ability to live in balance.
  • Tolerating Discomfort. Growing pains lead to knowing gains.
  • Orderliness. Allocating time for living life fully with integrity.
  • Decisiveness. Acting promptly when your reasoning is sure.
  • Cleanliness. Modeling dignity in your ways and space.
  • Humility. Know you will always have much to learn and more opinions than answers.
  • Righteousness. Conducting your life such that you are trusted and respected.
  • Economic Stability. Safeguarding enough resources for yourself to live without debt.
  • Zeal. Living with gusto focused on purpose and care.
  • Silence. Listening and receiving. 
  • Calmness. Giving your needs and thoughts gently while being respectful and clear.
  • Truth. Speaking only what is fully confirmed in fact.
  • Separation. Focus on each strand in its own time, avoid multi-tasking.
  • Temperance. Eating and drinking, creating, serving, working, loving and worshipping in healthy measure. 
  • Deliberation. Pausing before acting, considering consequences, integrating heart and mind wisely.
  • Modest Ways. Eschewing crude, lewd and boastful mannerisms and practices.
  • Trust. Living in the spirit of knowing there is abundance in the universe, you were born for a reason, and you are in the Flow of All-being.
  • Generosity. Finding satisfaction in making much possible for others.
Which category calls to you? Feel free to reframe the meanings to your world view. Sit with the attribute that calls for your attention. Notice waves of associations that arise within. Welcome them without judgment. Inquire, what do you need? Trust the kol dakka v'd'mamma, "the soft subtle Voice" that Ezekiel had to learn to listen for lest his ego guide his prophecy to dangerous realism. 

May we all be blessed to evolve.

Features This Issue: Front Page * Exponent Watchpost * In Their Own Words * Around Our Community * Networking Central * Living Judaism
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