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To Life

October 29, 2018

This has been a difficult weekend. Last night I cooked a simple dinner. I had been craving pasta with a basic Italian-American meat sauce. Not bolognese. Just straight up ground hamburger, tomatoes, and spices. So that’s what I made.

Mrs. Fussy thought the whole thing smelled amazing, and suggested it might be a meal with which we should have a glass of wine.

As it turns out, the wine cabinet was almost empty, which means it’s time to buy another case. So while a pinot noir might not have been the perfect pairing, it filled in just fine. Mrs. Fussy pulled the cork, filled our glasses, and when we clinked them together, I said l’chaim.

Which is finally when I started to feel better. But it wasn’t the wine. It was the words.

L’chaim looks weird when written in English. It’s a common Hebrew phrase which means “to life”, and it includes one of those back of the throat “ch” sounds that so many people struggle to pronounce. Let’s see how well WordPress is able to display the Hebrew letters:


The letter that looks like the lightning bolt on the right, makes the L sound. It means “To”. Life in Hebrew is a four letter word. It starts on the right with the thing that looks like an upside down “U” and ends with the thing that looks like some kind of misshapen square.

Right in the middle are two letters that when combined look like a quotation mark. And while they are the two letters right in the middle of “life” they are also used to denote the name of God. So the rabbis like to say that God is in the middle of life.

You may be familiar with the phrase through the Fiddler on the Roof song. I’ve shared a few lines from it before in the past, but let’s play them again.

God would like us to be joyful
Even when our hearts lie panting on the floor

To life, to life, l’chaim
L’chaim, l’chaim to life

May all your futures be pleasant ones
Not like our present ones

Drink, l’chaim, to life

Surely, by now, you’ve heard of the eleven Jews massacred in their temple by an angry man with an AR-15 in Pittsburgh on Saturday. There were more injured, including some heroic first responders. This hits especially close to home as a Jew living in an America that is getting increasingly hostile towards outsiders. And throughout history, we have been seen as the outsider, regardless of how well we assimilated into a culture.

For example, I only recently found out that Jews were an active part of the German army before World War 2. We served proudly as officers and gave our lives for the country. But that didn’t stop what was to come.

What happened in Pittsburgh wasn’t a random act of unspeakable violence. It seems to be specifically motivated by a perceived Jewish involvement in the caravan of immigrants traveling currently through Mexico who are seeking asylum in the United States. So a fellow who thought that our current president isn’t nationalist enough came into the synagogue reportedly yelling “All Jews must die.”

That was Saturday. Shabbat. The day of rest. So we took a break from our plans, to explain the situation and its gravity to our kids. Sunday, I had to bring my daughter to our own synagogue for religious school.

There is nothing materially different about the congregation in Pittsburgh from the one I attend regularly in Schenectady, or for the one I used to attend in Berkeley, or the one I grew up with in Miami. And sadly, there is nothing new about a misplaced hatred toward our people. Which is perhaps why we identify with, and support others in our community and around the world who are also marginalized.

Tonight, I’m proud to say, there is service at 7pm tonight at Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady led by Rabbi Matt Cutler and Schenectady Clergy Against Hate. It is an interfaith association of religious leaders and this isn’t the first time they’ve come together.

I can’t remember precisely the first time I felt concerned for my safety and the safety of my family when attending religious services. But it goes back for decades. Long before September 11, 2001 and back to my elementary school days. For a while, there were bullet holes in the stained glass windows in the sanctuary where I became a bar mitzvah.

But you can’t let the threat of violence stop you from living your life. Living life requires a certain amount of bravery, and it takes more than a little faith. What it doesn’t require is more guns.

Little Miss Fussy is amazing. I asked her about whether or not she was scared at religious school on Sunday. She wasn’t. And when I pressed her on the matter, I got a very unexpected answer. She explained that we found out about the tragedy within an hour of it happening. And that this couldn’t be that bad of a world if everyone was treating the matter so seriously.

Life goes on. Find and hang on to those joyful moments.
Turn off the inflammatory news shows and the echo chamber of the internet.
Read two newspapers, ideally from different political viewpoints, to find the truth in the middle.
Get out into the community and talk to people face to face.
Embrace our shared humanity, and our mutual desire for a better life.
Speak with sincerity. Listen with compassion. Be open to forgiveness.
And don’t forget to vote. Even if you think it won’t matter. You never know.

Tomorrow, you’ll get the results of the donut tour. But this had to be said.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2018 10:53 am

    I’m sorry. Thank you. L’chaim

  2. October 29, 2018 6:09 pm

    Thank you. and thank Miss Fussy. Some very good advice.

  3. October 29, 2018 10:42 pm

    So sorry to you and all your community. I pray that LMF is correct.

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