Friday, March 27, 2009

A Sticky Place

New York is a sticky place.

It seems like every time I go, I end up having to rush to get out of there.

This week, three people I know (one was yours, truly) had trouble getting out of New York.

Why is it so hard to leave?

I was in New York at the invitation of a friend to visit a certain rabbi who was visiting from Jerusalem. Does that seem like a lot of time and effort to visit a famous rabbi?

Back in 1972, when Rabbi Grossman had initiated his special program for rehabilitating convicts, he held a Chanukah party with the prisoners. During the course of the celebration Rabbi Grossman approached one of participants and kissed him. A week later he received a post card from the man with the words: "I am the prisoner whom you kissed last week. I would like you to know that since I have been born, this is the first time I have ever felt that someone has really loved me". Rabbi Grossman was so touched by the note, realizing that there are people who have never received love. He came to the conclusion that if we took good care of these people and showed them love, embracing them in warmth and sentiment; they could grow to become people we could all be proud of.

This incident inspired him to establish one of the world's most successful programs for rehabilitating "youth at risk".

Rabbi Grossman's life story sounds like a constant string of "coincidences". As we were departing, he told us what happened to him the day before.

"I was in Miami, driving through slow traffic. There was a policeman who saw me and pulled me over. He asked me, Is it permissible to cremate someone? I told him that Jews don't do this, it is an ancient and sacred rule. He then told me that his brother had died two weeks earlier in New Jersey, but remained unburied because no one in the family had the money for the funeral, and they were going to cremate him the next day. I told him, Wait, don't do anything until I call you! It so happens that I know someone who runs a Jewish Burial Society in New Jersey and I was able to arrange for a proper funeral for his brother. You see, we're all connected and everything is arranged for us, but we must seize the moment!"

For those who are running a Passover Seder this year...

Everyone wants to leave Egypt. But some of us are so stuck there that we need help. The Seder is your opportunity to help us leave our personal Egypt.

For it to work, we need it to:

- start on time
- be well organized
- engage our minds.

For the latter goal, have a list of Passover questions that you are ready to ask at each turn (you could use my Art of Amazement Haggada - email me for a copy). And do whatever you can to get people, young and old, to ask questions. Like covering the seder plate, uncovering it, removing it from the table, bringing it back; offering nuts or toys for each sincere question asked.

The Seder is like a dramatic performance, and everyone at the table is an actor. To get into the role of "slavery to freedom", it helps to have fancy dishes, lots of wine or grape juice, pour those glasses to the brim, and so on.

One last tip: the food you serve at the meal part of the Seder is less important. It should be nice, but if you start the Seder on time (after sundown), it's pretty late for everyone to be eating a huge meal, especially after all that matzah and wine.

For those who are attending a Passover Seder this year...

If the Seder is starting on time, i.e., after sundown, you don't want to be hungry, so make sure to have a good snack around 6:00 to tide you over. Remember, you are attending a Seder, not a dinner. Once a year, minimize the focus on food and maximize the focus on message.

Come prepared - bring your own Haggada that has perspectives and questions that other people won't have. That will keep you busy and engaged even through the slow spots. (For recommendations on Haggadas for different personality types, send me an email.)

One of best ways to get yourself and other in the mood for Pesach is to get everyone involved in the preparations, the cleaning, the shopping and the planning. The clock is ticking! You can still order supplies, but by this time next week many stores will have run out.

Shabbat Shalom

PS – After 18 months away from his family in Iraq, our friend CAPTAIN SHULMAN is being sent back to Baghdad to run the seder there – he is need of supplies! If you can send anything today it might get there in time, email me and I’ll send you his wish-list. If you’d like to send greetings to the Jewish soldiers stationed there, I’m sure that would be appreciated too!
326th ASG
Garrison Chaplains Office
ATTN: MSG George Hopkins
Camp Victory
APO, AE 09342

(Please write "ATTN CH Shulman")

PS – can’t let you go without some Passover music and fun:

(my only gripe is he didn’t fill the cups to the brim)

Not sure how to characterize this one:

Sam Apple is still the one to beat:

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