Monday, June 18, 2007

Graduation Day

My twin boys Akiva and Hillel graduated in June. Graduation is a rite of passage, a moment for these 6th graders take stock of their educational achievements. But it’s also a rite of passage for parents. We marvel at how the toddlers we just dropped off at kindergarten are already at the cusp of maturity.

So please indulge me as I write out of naches!!

Rites of passage are important. In Judaism, a child who turns Bat and Bar Mitzvah is considered personally responsible for his or her actions. (The public celebration of Bar Mitzvahs is a medieval German innovation; the garish celebration of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs is a 20th century North American mutation.) By necessity a birthday is the dividing line, arbitrarily declaring that the child is now a responsible adult.

Like Bar-Bat Mitzvahs, graduations are arbitrary dividing lines. But far more important than ceremonial graduation days are the unexpected moments that test the character of a young adult. These true graduation days always arrive unexpectedly.

David, a young shepherd, visits his older brothers at their army camp. There, he sees Goliath, a Philistine warrior, mocking the army of Israel, challenging any soldier to fight him one on one. As the soldiers cower, David the shepherd offers to fight Goliath himself.

David is ridiculed by his brothers, and even King Saul refuses David at first, saying:

"You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth."

But David, (already anointed to be a future King), insists on fighting. David’s battle against Goliath marks his true graduation day.

A true graduation day is the day when a young person rises to the occasion. Being anointed with academic degrees means nothing until one has passed real life tests.

Tony Benetatos graduated in just a few hours. A “probie”, (a new firefighter), the 21-year-old Benetatos was assigned to Manhattan's Duane Street firehouse, located seven blocks from the World Trade Center. French Filmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet were filming Benetatos for a documentary, hoping to see how the “boy turns into a man in nine months”. They follow Benetatos in his first days on the job, as senior firefighters haze him and break him in.

Then 9-11 occurs. Every man in the fire station is pressed into service. Firefighters fight on the front line, risking their lives to save the lives of others. Along with his fellow firefighters, Benetatos shows remarkable courage and compassion. On 9-11, Benetatos becomes a hero.

Benetatos passes his true graduation day with honors. As Jules Naudet puts it at the end of the documentary (aptly entitled 9-11) , “we wanted to watch a boy become a man over 9 months; turns out, the boy became a man in 9 hours.”

Every child, on the road to becoming an adult, has to pass a true graduation day. On that day there won’t be any caps and gowns, there won’t be celebratory parties, but on that day, like King David and Tony Benetatos, the boy will become a man.

I am proud to watch my children graduate, and I am proud of what they have achieved. And my blessing, to Akiva, Hillel, and all of the graduates, is that when their true graduation day arrives, they will pass with flying colors.

Mazel Tov!!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Yes, I've Posted Something This Week!

I'm sorry I didn't get to post anything on this blog this week. It was a busy one.

But I did write two posts on my other blog.

One, a dvar Torah on next week's Torah reading. The other a piece on my trip to Ottawa.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Love Isn’t the Sizzle, It’s the Steak

“Love is….” Bookcases full of poetry have tried to complete this sentence. Love seems too fantastic to be experienced in daily life, too remarkable to be found in everyday gestures. To the romantic, if love is anything, it is spectacular. As the famous poem by Elizabeth Browning declares:

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight….”

What a beautiful description of love! In the poet’s hands, love is sublime and infinite, soaring as high as the lover’s soul. Indeed, this powerful image is so beautiful, it’s misleading.

Marketing 101 reminds us to “sell the sizzle, not the steak”. The sizzle is excitement itself, and people like excitement a lot more than they like steak.

Poets are the marketers of love. They are inspired by the “sizzle” of love, the drama of two hearts beating as one. They write intoxicating poems, and we are swept off our feet. And then we forget to eat the steak.

Love requires lots of small, unromantic, acts of kindness. The Mishna, when talking about true love, says:

.…any love that does not depend upon some ulterior interest will never cease….

This is setting the standard for love rather low! According to the Mishna, all one needs for true love is simple selflessness.

The Mishna is teaching a simple but profound lesson: Keep your eye on the steak, not the sizzle. Yes, love can (and must) be dramatic and sublime at times. But most of the time it’s the little things that nourish relationships. The smallest act of selflessness is a gesture of eternal love.

Love can at times be enchantment and adventure, but most of the time it’s saying thank you and taking out the garbage.

Love can be sublime and majestic, but most of the time it’s smiling and walking the dog.

Love can be passionate and dramatic, but most of the time it’s plain old admiration and sympathy.

Love can be the sizzle, but most of the time it’s the steak.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Article About This Blog!!!

There was an article about this blog in this week's edition of the Jewish Independent (Vancouver).

It was written by Dave Gordon, whose website is here.

(All of this promotional activity is part my "extra 1% of effort" in publicizing this blog.)