Where I’m From Right Now

I am from it’s the season of Dad stressed sermon-writing and Mom making brisket and freezing applesauce and baking Marian Burros’ plum cake.

I’m from red and blue Flair pens for editing with lots of marks between the lines of those sermons and the Foley Food Mill coming out of the closet, three turns forward and one backward so it doesn’t get stuck when making the applesauce.

I’m from meeting Grandma and Grandpa with Dad and Jackie at Mountain Station when the Erie Lackawanna train, dusty and brown, chugs in so they can emerge gently down the big step with their valise, and with the chopped liver wrapped in fourteen layers of waxed paper and foil, and cookies from William Greenberg bakery in their hands. 

I’m from everyone getting dressed for temple and Dad leaving very early wearing a white shirt of course! for yontif and Grandma telling me I need pearls with that.

I’m from Rosh Hashanah lunch of brisket and that applesauce and plum cake with family friends of a lifetime on a table set with Mom’s timeless Royal Copenhagen white china and break fast that’s just us exhausted at the table with bagels and Nova and chive cheese because company is just too much for Dad after a day on the bimah.

I’m from coming home Yom Kippur afternoon and Mom going back to temple for Yizkor – “What’s that?” we kids wondered – and then us for Neilah with other kids for the final shofar sounding.

I’m from rabbinic student pulpits in interesting places but away from families and eating holiday meals at Luby’s in Forth Smith or with friends on the Upper West Side.

I’m from ordination that brings me to Chicago and away from family more and learning to create my own ritual, like those break fasts in Lakeview that had fifty people in my small apartment some of whom I’d never met and which were “the” social event of that holiday season.

I’m from becoming a parent and worrying about sermons and children’s tights and socks and dress shoes at the same time, and picking up chocolate chip challah rolls for after school snacking before getting dressed for temple.

I’m from taking over someone else’s grandma and aunt’s family tradition when the time was nigh and somehow making it mine with grace and a whole village of helping hands.

I’m from yes I do work holidays and while I finish writing, I hope to remember to order the challah and get kind family, friends and babysitters into my house to meet the food and set the tables because I too want to have a holiday meal at home.

I’m from missing Mom coming to town with a cooked frozen brisket in her suitcase and making applesauce in my kitchen and Dad in retirement still wearing a Brooks Brothers blue blazer with those flair pens in the pocket now used for editing my words and critiquing my homiletic endings.

And I’m from the hands of my parents that used those Flair pens and the Foley Food Mill in their preparations, the tools I now handle with love to channel their sacred work of ritual and inspiration.


With gratitude & inspiration from Neil Rigler & the 2023 NSCI Selichot writer-speakers & the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon: http://www.georgeellalyon.com/where.html.


Dad & Nancy Drew at the cemetery

Dear Dad:

I love cemeteries. It’s all your fault. Yes, I am fascinated by the names, history and stones, but, it’s more than that. When I was about 10 – it was the mid ‘70’s – you pulled me out of religious school early and headed to an unveiling. You were driving that horrendous orange Buick that you bought used, in beige, and had painted your favorite color. What you were thinking?! I don’t know. But that’s beside the point. Continue reading


My daughter answered the phone. Her voice went up an octave, and her face forced a smile, as if the caller could see her and she needed to convey welcome. Translation? She had no idea who she was talking with. But, a well-trained clergy kid who can make small talk with the best of them, she chatted with whomever was calling her grandmother. I watched from Mom’s kitchen, trying to guess the caller’s identity while Mom slept in the living room, unawakened by the ringing phone.
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A brief moment at the kitchen counter, shoulder to shoulder, cheese and apple slices by their elbows. I poured coffee and watched silently, as if invisible. They consulted on snacks and temperatures, assembled backpacks and lunchboxes, chatted in peace, and were out the door, walking in step down the block. I gasped quietly.

Was I not just maneuvering a bulky red double stroller down the block, toddlers with sippy cups bouncing along walking their sister to Kindergarten, first and second grades? Weren’t a small boy and girl just flipping their coats from the floor, putting small shoes on the sometimes right feet and wrestling with backpacks that hit the backs of their knees? Weren’t they just carrying lunch boxes bigger than their tiny heads? Fighting about walking together, heading off in different directions to meet friends? Was it yesterday that I picked out outfits and backpacks contained small stuffed animals, predecessors of Airpods, calculators and other signs of growing teens?

How many times did we walk down the block, hand-in-hand, side by side? How many skipping steps and anxieties hit the pavement? How many Pinocchio-nose seed pods stuck on our noses? How many times did I stand outside the schoolyard fence, urged to stay but be invisible, my eyes focused on children to give silent backup comfort while these two, the smallest bodies of their classes, navigated lines and social dynamics? How many times was I asked to stay ‘til the bell rang?

Today they are out the door to the last weeks of middle school, shoulders tall, cautious anticipation and masks on their faces. A different first day after a different year. The permissions and bans have changed. A kiss on the head or hug?! Instead I kiss my hand and unsuccessfully reach out to touch heads nearly at my height. After countless school days lollygagging in the kitchen and at the dining room table, the two descend the porch steps with determination, calling “No!” to the the requisite first-day picture. “Tomorrow,” I am assured. But with no guarantees of capricious teen will, I catch the moment, two backs moving down the block in stride, not caring that loud consequences will result from a photograph taken. I waited and watched for this day of return, I know I did. But now…be still my heart.


At the shore of the sea

At the shore of the sea long ago what did they really think?

I sit at my closest sea up the street and wonder, 

watching rare white water, ocean-like waves,

and note that even Michigan is invisible.

How did they do it — 

imagining the guts it took to walk into that water 

without seeing across.

New beginnings are like that,

limited vision, water up to our necks, 

and the need to drop fear to the bottom

so that we can lift our feet to get across.

And wasn’t Miriam exhausted on the other side?!

Yet she had the bandwidth to gather and dance.

Soaring freedom doesn’t come without challenge. 

Easier said than done after a zoomed-out year.

The sea is splitting, I’m sure of it,

but we’re not yet across.

Oh, is it time to get there, already!

(27 March 2021, Erev Pesach)

Walk your block

I watched the red tail lights move down the block until they turned East at the end of our street. The dark was that of night, but the traffic was less at 5.40 am. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a couple walking down the middle of my street, following in the path of those lights. “What a peaceful time to walk,” I thought, and then remembered the hour. Continue reading