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Sukkot 5783 Day 2

10/11/2022 11:00:00 AM


Sukkot 5783 Day 1

10/10/2022 11:00:28 AM



10/08/2022 11:30:00 AM


Yizkor Yom Kippur 5783: Your Life, by Train

10/05/2022 12:00:00 PM


Very few people know, at least until right now, that I am a lucid dreamer. This means that when I am asleep I am aware that I am dreaming, and when I wake up, I remember everything that I’ve dreamt. 55% of people have had a lucid dream once: only 1 in 5 adults have them on a regular basis. Needless to say, I think Joseph and I would’ve been good buddies.

It’s also why I can tell you that for the past ten years, I’ve had a recurring, lucid, dream that only recently I’ve begun to understand.

My dream always begins the same way. I am walking in the middle of a pastoral valley at sunset. To my right is a small town. Organ grinder music is playing from a carousel. The town is full of holiday lights and laughter.

Only I decide to walk past the town. I look to my left, and reach a raised train platform. Each time, a train is parked, waiting to leave the station.

The first few times that I dreamt, I ran quickly past the small town to get to the train. I managed to get as far as the bottom of the steps. A few years later I made it to the top. One time, I watched the doors open, only to wake up before I could see inside. Only about a year ago, that all changed. I made it to the train. I ascended the platform. The doors opened. My mother is sitting inside of the car. Each time I have this dream, she is as beautiful as I remember her: with knitting needles in hand, her legendary smile, arms wide open, waiting to embrace.

This summer, after six seasons, the blockbuster television program This is Us came to the end of the series. The penultimate finale was watched by nearly 6 million people. If you didn’t watch it, I am going to ruin it for you now. But if you did watch it, you are probably already sobbing uncontrollably before I even talk about it. Rebecca Pearson, the main character played brilliantly by Mandy Moore, is dying, suffering with terrible alzheimers. Yet in her mind, in her dreams, in her final moments, she too boards the train. Gone are all signs of age and decay. She is gorgeous and wearing a stunning red cocktail dress. Throughout the episode she walks from car to car, where in a series of flashbacks, in each car, she encounters everyone she has touched in her life. Eventually however, she arrives at the final car of the train. She opens the door. There is a bed. She lies down. She sees her husband who died in a tragic accident years earlier waiting for her. His arms are wide open like my mothers. Waiting for her at the end of life’s long journey.

For Jews living after the Holocaust, the idea of a train somehow serving as a metaphor for a pastoral place of transition seems to be at odds. And yet, as French Jewish publishing house owner, Adam Biro writes, trains are the places where life’s greatest stories unfold and journeys take place. They are the moments when we reach the crossroads, and with time to sit and think, are the moments where we look back and reflect. Great Jewish stories, he writes, never begin with the words “once upon a time:” they begin with two Jews kibbitzing on a train. “[The] train [is] a place of conviviality, of meetings, of exchanges, and happenings… [because] all the world’s pain, and all of the world’s wisdom,” expresses itself on that train.

As I thought of that line about all of the world’s pain and wisdom, I remembered Israel poet of the Holocaust Dan Pagis’ brilliant poem called כָּתוּב בְּעִפָּרוֹן בַּקָּרוֹן הֶחָתוּם. It means “Written on the Walls of a Sealed Train Car.” It is only 22 words.

Here, he writes, in this train car כָּאן בַּמִּשְׁלוֹחַ הַזֶּה

I am Eve
With Able my child
If you See Abel my child
Tell him that I.

I first learned that poem in ninth grade as a student at Akiba Hebrew Academy. There is a lot to unpack. But for me, it comes back to the train. The author could have used many Hebrew words for the word train. He could have used the word rakevet. But uses the word mishloach, from the word shelach, that means to be transported somewhere else. The train in this poem isn’t the express: it is the train of Adam Biro, it’s the local, in which all of the world’s wisdom and pain are shared. It is the train of Rebecca Pearson and no doubt will eventually be all of our trains too. On this train, we read in the poem that Eve attempts to scribble down her story, a legacy, a poem onto the wall of the car, in the hopes that her son Abel will find them. Only the words are unknown to us, because in the story of creation, Eve’s voice is missing. Like Eve in her train car, this Yom Kippur we too have words that are missing, words of regret, words we left unsaid: words that we planned to say until it was too late, and all we could do was to scribble words on a train car at the end of the journey and hope for the best. The words on our car might have been words of forgiveness for an offense that we were too stubborn, too caught up in our own egos to ask for. They might have been words expressing our regret at having done something on the journey of life that caused a relationship to derail like a train. “Tell him that I…” Each of us begins to tell a story for the next generation never to finish, as we are transported to the next phase of our journey, carrying our pain with us, onto the train.

In his book The Station, Robert Hastings writes that tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision in which we see ourselves on a long journey that spans the continent. It is our life. We are traveling, he writes, by train. “Out of the windows we drink in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, [...all of these amazing things…] but [for some reason], uppermost in our minds is the final destination. We say that when we get to the [end of the ride] that our dreams will come true. We will say “when I’ve paid off the mortgage.” “When I put that last kid through college.” “When I reach the age of retirement I shall live happily ever after.” In reality, however, if we live our lives this way, we will forget that life is the conviviality of Aaron Biro, the pain and the wisdom that comes from the journey itself. Life, the Unetane Tokef reminds us, is but a fleeting shadow, and if we run by the fair and the lights and the organ grinder music as fast as we can to get to the platform, we will have forgotten the age old truth that life is about the journey, and not the destination.

What is Yizkor? Why are we here? Why does this moment continue to resonate? Why is it so holy, so powerful for so many of us?

Some of us are just beginning to dream. Today, we are here because we are passengers in the station, looking at the journey of someone else’s train that passed us, a train that either recently or long ago reached its final destination. We are not thinking about ourselves, but we are thinking of someone else whom we miss very much. Yizkor is the moment when we reflect not on the destination, but on the journey of another and the indelible impact it had on us. We can’t see inside the car yet, but we can imagine what it is like inside. The lives that were touched. Some that we’ve never even met. We think of their smiles. Their embraces. Knitting needles. We think about the words that they left for us inscribed on the wall of a train car for us to find, and perhaps sadly, the words that were left unsaid between us. We remember words that we did not understand when we were younger but that resonate with us now. We feel love that they gave us, palpably, like wearing a tallit draped around our shoulders on Yom Kippur.

Yet for others of us, at this moment, Yizkor, quite wisely, is that moment when we take the time to think about ourselves and our journeys. Especially, if we’ve had a dream or even an inkling of what awaits us at the final destination. On Yom Kippur, Yizkor forces us, whether we want to or not, whether we’ve dreamed about it or not, to confront our own mortality. The words of the Unetane Tokef, Mi Yamut U-Mi Yichyeh, who will live and who will die, are no longer abstract, but very real. Perhaps, as we sit through this service, we will realize that we have spent too much time focusing on that destination and bolting through the journey. We realize that on Yom Kippur it’s not too late to share a word of affection, or a word of regret. We can say “I love you” one more time. It never hurts. We don’t have to wait to pay off the mortgage to take that lifetime trip. We can, to quote Robert Hastings,“stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles.” We can “climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers […] for that station will come soon enough.”

Yet still, for others of us, when we approach Yizkor, as we get into our sunset years, this moment may be a realization soon enough that our train will be calling us to board. Yom Kippur, our day of atonement and self reflection, becomes that moment when we may now envision what it will be like when we board the train and see our lives and our choices in review like Rebecca Pearson. Whom have we touched? When did it matter? When did it not? For years, to paraphrase my favorite rock band, U2, we saw time as a train with the future and the past, and we may have once been pressed against the glass looking at someone else’s train: but soon it will be we who will be walking in between the train cars and seeing the impact we have left. Yizkor grants us permission to ask what we still have to accomplish in our golden years. Contemplating that we are closer to the end of destination, with the journey long behind us, we will think about what words that we leave on the wall for others to find. It challenges us to ponder what relationships we still have to mend. We must think about what words we still have yet to say, so that we will never be left scribbling the words “Tell him that I…” on the side of a train.

In the Babylonian Talmud of Masechet Berachot, our rabbis teach that Shabbat is one-sixtieth of the World to Come; sleep is one-sixtieth of death; and that a dream is one-sixtieth of prophecy. I honestly don’t know where I am in my dream or my story. I’d like to think that perhaps, like Moses, I have at least 81 or so more Yamei Kippur until I get to the end of my dream and board my train. And yet I can’t help but think that while that would be wonderful, that the oldest person living right now is only 118 years old, and since at 39 years old I eat like a teenage boy, I am not sure I am going to get there.

However, what I can tell you is this: It’s now been ten years since my mother boarded her train. It’s been ten years since I’ve had my dream. In the meanwhile, as we approach Yizkor, I can’t help but be reminded that this day will come. So here is what I am going to do: I am going to not miss a single moment to make the best of my journey. I am going to stop at that carnival with the organ grinder music, look at the joy that I have in my life, and not run past it, but embrace it. I am going to help others, like you, make the most of your journeys, wherever you may be, and remind you, year after year at Yizkor, to slow down, look around, to share in the pain and wisdom that makes life worth living.

So that when my time comes, I will be ready to walk through my Valley, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, fearing no harm, ready to take a seat on the train, to embrace my mother as long as I can, and move into the great beyond.

Kol Nidre 5783

10/04/2022 09:00:17 PM


Fri, January 27 2023 5 Shevat 5783