Friday, February 5, 2010

Remembering Rachel

My friend Dr. Rachel Gilligan died at the age of 45 just the other day. The initial report is that the stress of legal charges pending against her which had something to do with substance abuse allegations shocked me because no one was less likely to be in trouble with the law than Rachel. She was a Mobile Veterinarian, an incredibly competent and compassionate woman, a high-level well-educated professional and a well-respected active member of the community. Rachel was the long-time love of Lee Nigel Godden, drummer for the Bill Grisolia Band (the eponymous ongoing musical project of my former fiance and lifelong friend) and the innermost of the innermost inner circle we ran with in LBC during the 2002-2007 era known as the Golden Age of  Long Beach.
What am I remembering about Rachel today? First, the way her hands looked while examining my dog Sammy, a tiny Shih Tzu in medical distress - competent, cool, calm, careful, deliberate and effective. She showed up at my home minutes after receiving a tearful late-night call from me and upon more than one occasion took care of injuries, diseases and other maladies. It was in her arms our cat died after a horrible accident, it was her mobile med kit (locked and double-locked, always securely stored) that comforted and cured. 
I wonder now how much that mobile med kit had to do with any other problems she may have been having. I remember seeing her overwhelmed by caring for others and almost too exhausted to care for herself. I remember partying with her and the rest of the band members and their significant others - me and Bill, Lee and Rachel, Chap and Julie...and upon occasion, Rachel moving in and out of consciousness quickly and unexpectedly, almost as if she was seizing from a single glass of wine. Lee would caretake. The show must go on.
Feeling the sadness of knowing a great light has left this world. Her luminosity was always extraordinary, her ability to rise from exhaustion and carry on like a radiant queen, the goddess of healing, the vessel of boundless compassion ... did that weaken her heart, did it give way in the end because she gave it all to everyone else, all the time, without saving anything for herself?
Remembering Rachel.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Poem for Moishe on Shlomo's Yartzeit

For Reb Moishe Geller - my fellow "Decemberist" upon the occasion of Shlomo Carlebach's 15th Yartzeit . . .

It's raining in Jerusalem
It's Shlomo's yartzeit
You are missed

I got angry only moments after waking up today
Smelling foul, stale cigarette smoke emanating from my son's room
My son cusping on 25, who desires neither to live nor to die
My son who stays inside, inside, inside his immense, painful body
My son's body which speaks to no one in words, but screams its misery silently
You are missed

People smile at me, I smile back
When I'm exhausted and feeling my lowest
People say the stupidest things to me, like,
"You look radiant," and "You've never looked better!"
Idiots, gevalt.
Am I really that invisible, or is everyone just blind?
Or - worse yet - is my facade SO effective it completely masks my truth?
You are missed.

It's raining in Jerusalem
It's Shlomo's Yartzeit
I never knew him
But I know you
You are missed.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fear Not, Thou Worm Jacob!

This Shabbat we heard "Lech Lecha," whose accompanying Haftara includes Isaiah 41:14, "Fear not,  תולעת יעקב (Worm Jacob)". Rather unpleasant, being called a "worm," yet Rebbe Nachman says the power of a Jew is in his mouth, like the power of a worm is in it's mouth. A worm can eat away a mountain. The verse continues "I will make you like a new, sharp threshing iron with many blades, you will thresh and pulverize mountains, you will make the hills like chaff." How so? Through the power of our mouths - we open up our lips and our mouths declare the praises of The Lord, the power of The Lord, the promises of The Lord, and The Word of the Lord. This is Jacob's power and why he is called a "worm" in this verse, in which HaShem gives us the Secret of Jewish Success, our holy weapon which crumbles mountains, destroys enemies, brings down blessings, lifts up prayers - our mouths, made to devour deceit, speak the truth, give praise and thanks, and ask to receive the desires of our heart.

Monday, September 21, 2009


...On Rosh Hashanah it is written. On Yom Kippur it is sealed.
Who shall be pierced by envy, and who shall be torn by resentment;
Who shall be tormented by the fire of ambition, and whose hopes shall be quenched by the waters of failure,
Who shall hunger for approval, and who shall be stuffed with selfishness:
Who shall be content with his lot, and who shall wander in search of satisfaction;
Who shall be poor in his own eyes, and who shall be rich in Mitzvot;
Who shall be serene, and who shall be distraught,
Who shall stand out as a Jew, and who shall grind for grades;
Who shall be open-minded, and who shall be tight-fisted;
Who shall be interdependent with others, and who shall be independent and alone;
Who shall be truly alive, and who shall merely exist.
We are flesh and blood. Our origin is in dust and our end is to be dust, but we have been created in the divine image.
Implanted within us is the ability to pray, The urge to do right, the power to repent. The door is not yet closed. We can yet change the decree. For we are a people that does not resign itself to fate. We can annul the decree. We can re-open the future. We can reclaim our lives. We can change the future by changing ourselves....

(Thanks to my friend Eddie Friedman for sending this along)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tshuva Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry

To blatently re-purpose the signature quote from "Love Story" ("Love means never having to say you're sorry") - Tshuva, the return to the root truth of one's own soul, means never having to say you're sorry.

On the surface this would seem odd, especially as in popular English-language culture the notion of Tshuva is commonly understood to indicate the word "repent." After all, what's more Elul-ish than repentance? The problem with repentance is the connotation of condemnation, and few things (if any) are less loving than condemnation.

Tshuva is less about repentance than it is about return - returning to one's original pure self, the essence of which remains untouched even when covered with the dirty schmutz of sin. To disconnect from the world of falseness, self-deceit and ego gratification, to sever the connection to knee-jerk negativity, to change one's default setting from self-pity to loving gratitude - this is Tshuva. Tshuva means never having to say you're sorry - no apologies needed here, the gates are wide open, the Everlasting Arms are spread wide to receive us, the Healing Wings of the Most High are unfolded to shelter and shade us from harm - especially the harm we do to ourselves with our negative self-talk, punishing perfectionism, and lack of compassion.

If anyone deserves an apology, it is our own precious Soul against which we sin by denying our own truth, negating our own power, diminishing our own light, subsuming our own passionate truth, being anything less than completely authentic. But the Soul does not want to hear plaintive platitudes. Actions speak louder than words. Your Soul longs for your embrace, not your rejection.

Return again, return again to your Soul ... with deeds, not mere words.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Status Updates I DIDN'T Post

Some people obsessively update their FB status, Twitter or Twoozer accounts, and even MySpace Moods, micro-documenting even their most mundane & ubiquitous moments. Here are the last 25 Status Updates I DIDN'T post for the sake of peace on earth & all humanity.

1) Lorelai Kude hates standing behind FSU people at the ATM, being downwind of stale vodka is never fun.

2) Lorelai Kude isn't your girlfriend, and most importantly - you are not her boyfriend. Got that?

3) Lorelai Kude is having a dental floss emergency.

4) Lorelai Kude is going to de-friend you for pilfering her Friends List and sending creepy messages to her single girl friends.

5) Lorelai Kude ... "Don't fuck with me, gentlemen!" (Joan Crawford, "Mommie Dearest" - Joan's response to the PepsiCo Board of Directors when they try to ease her out after the death of her PepsiCo CEO husband).

6) Lorelai Kude is recruiting candidates for the Pharmaceutical Exchange Program. What do you have a Script for?

7) Lorelai Kude loves Moroccan men. Period.

8) Lorelai Kude does not look both ways before she crosses.

9) Lorelai Kude ... Live recklessly but take precautions.

10) Lorelai Kude ... don't bogart that joint, my friend!

11) Lorelai Kude needs new bathroom reading material.

12) Lorelai Kude ... freestylin' with Rebbe Nachman

13) Lorelai Kude needs fresh blood.

14) Lorelai Kude is running for Prime Minister on the Health & Safety Ticket. 1st act upon taking office - revoke all Israeli drivers licenses & not reinstate until mandatory anger management courses are completed.

15) Lorelai Kude wants some credit for never, ever, EVER mentioning or alluding to her 11-week marriage & divorce experience in a social networking environment. Oops!

16) Lorelai Kude misses her children every day, whether they like it or not.

17) Lorelai Kude's impact upon Frum Fashion is reflected in the Bloomers as Outerwear trend currently in vogue on the streets of Jerusalem!

18) Lorelai Kude is not a stalker, no matter what eccentric billionaire Paul Allen might think.

19) Lorelai Kude's date exclaimed, "You are not a kitchen woman!" after watching her attempt to dress a salad. "You are so right my friend, the kitchen is not my room of expertise."

20) Lorelai Kude wonders why the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi are not equally popular.

21) Lorelai Kude is pirating your wireless connection - thanks, bro!

22) Lorelai Kude can type 90 wpm in a coma.

23) Lorelai Kude wonders if a married guy says his wife doesn't mind if he sleeps around and he won't give me his wife's phone number so I can verify that, is this a sign he's lying?

24) Lorelai Kude's phone is on vibrate.

25) Lorelai Kude has a fallafel hangover.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Gates Not Entered

"In Elul the important thing is, I am doing tshuvah for all the gates that were open to me and that I didn't enter." - Reb Shlomo Carlebach, zt"l
This is a picture of Ala, the Jewish Temple Mount policeman who (somewhat relentlessly) accompanied me all over Har HaBayet on Tisha b'Av this year. Here is is standing in the doorway to the gate where Jews are asked to exit the Temple Mount (if they can be permitted to enter in the first place, after enduring delays, humiliation and all sorts of patience-trying indignities inflicted simply because they can).
Ala made a big impression on my as he confided the only way he can do his job, day after day, of harassing Jews who eventually do make it up to Har HaBayet by preventing them from praying and hustling them off the scene as soon as possible, is by closing off his own heart.
"I must close my heart, every day, or I can't do my job," he said to me. "What would happen if you opened your heart, to your own people and your own Jewish soul?" I asked with tears in my eyes, seeing the suffering he denied even to himself. "I would die," he replied simply. "And I would lose my job," he said as an afterthought.
What gates are open to me - literally and figuratively - which I didn't go through myself this past year? What parts of my own heart must I close on a daily basis, simply to be able to survive? What chances did I let pass me by, what connections went unmade, what moments of intimacy were possible which slipped away simply because I was afraid I myself would die - die to my own status quo, die to to my own comfort zone, to my sense of autonomy, to my own ego?
What are the gates that are still open, even a crack, before me - even now? Is there an "Ala" in my heart, blocking the way, keeping me disconnected from my own truth?
"Open to me the Gates of Righteousness, I will enter them and thank G_d" - Psalm 118