On My Mind
March 26th, 2013 by Julie Silver
On October 19, 2008, Mary and I were home watching TV. We had just put Sarah down for the night and I was getting ready to fly to New York the next morning.Â A commercial for Prop 8 popped up and, like we do with most commercials, we muted the sound. Despite not hearing a single word of it, we knew this ad was suggesting that if Californians were to let gay and lesbian teachers marry, school children would be forced to know about these weddings and possibly even attend one.
Mary and I looked at each other in silence. Sarah was fast asleep, dreaming in the next room. This was it. We decided at that very moment to get married while we were still legally allowed to do so.
Like the Hebrew slaves upon learning they were allowed to leave Egypt, we were suddenly forced to improvise and scramble just to be free. I wouldâve made a terrible Hebrew slave.
My plan (which was discussed for about 38 seconds) was to race over to City Hall and get married with our daughter in tow.
Mary gently turned that ship around and I reluctantly agreed to plan a small, interfaith ceremony and only invite very close friends and family.
Originally, Mary and I had planned to wed later that year in July on Cape Cod. We had a guest list of almost 300 people (mostly Maryâs side of the family) and wanted to make it easier for everyone by holding the ceremony on the east coast. But that was not to be.
Me: âMary think about what weâre doing here! This is too much. We need a florist, a videographer, a reception room and a space to hold a ceremony. How can we hire a photographer on such short notice? And donât forget the music, Mary.Â Who will sing us down the aisle? Whoâs going to hold our chuppah and where are we going to find a chuppah? And what are we going to wear? We have to plan a ceremony and send out invitations and find two maids of honor, Mary.â
While I was worrying myself into a full-on panic attack, Mary calmly and easily took out a notebook and began planning our wedding
Nothing stops her.
Mary: âIâm not sure my Dad is going to want us to get married without a real ceremony or reception and I know heâs going to want to be here for it,â
Me: âYouâre kidding me, right? Nobody is going to fly across the country with six days notice, Mary.â
Mary: âAnd your parents are going to want to be here, tooâ
Me: âOh wow, Mare. You gotta call my parents. I canât do this to them. They usually plan their travel 6 or 8 months in advance and they might not be able to come. You call âem, Mare.â
Mary: âYouâre out of your mind if you think your parents are going to miss this.
I fell asleep on the Active Girl (no La-Z-Boys for us), waving my rebel fist in the air. That might have been when Mary started making calls.
The next morning I left very early for LAX, called Mary from the taxi and woke her up. I asked her again to please call my parents and tell them we were getting married the following Saturday night, October 25th.Â âTell them they do not have to come,â I stressed.
âI know, I know,â she yawned. âThey plan their travel 6 to 8 months in advance. I get it.â
By the time I was seated on the plane, deep into my Sunday New York Times Crossword puzzle, the phone rang. It was my mom.
âCongratulations!â she said. âMary just called.
âI know itâs short notice. Donât feel like you have to come. Itâs not a big deal. Weâre just doing this for legal purposes. Itâs not a big deal. Donât push yourselves to get here.âÂ My mom just listened.
âWeâre arriving Friday.â she said.
Five minutes later, my sister Robin called sounding like she had won the lottery.
âWeâre arriving on Friday!â she yelled.
The message was clear. Our friends and family were more excited about this wedding than I was. I was too exhausted from sleep-deprived months worrying about the future of my family as our rights were about to be taken away to be excited. I simply couldnât get beyond my resentment at having to plan a shotgun wedding.
By the time we landed at JFK I had already told the woman seated next to me, and the flight attendant our plans to marry. They were both quite moved. The story seemed to really resonate with the flight attendantâhe was in tears.
Heading out of JFK into the city I called Mary.Â âWhat happened with my parents when you called? How was your Dad about the whole thing? Is everyone freaking out?â
âI told Vinnie we were planning on having a small, legal wedding at City Hall and he wants us to have a religious ceremony and a party.Â And then I called your parents to tell them and–SURPRISE!–your mom said âThis Saturday? Well, we usually plan our travel about 6 or 8 months in advance…â but she was thrilled and they insist on coming.”
Most of the details were taken care of while I was walking the streets of New York City in a daze, wondering if we could pull off a wedding with so little time. Mind you, Mary produces a one-hour talk show every single weekday afternoon so it was pretty ridiculous of me to doubt her ability to, ya know, find a florist.
On the flight home to LA, it dawned on me that I had to get on board with this wedding as a joyful bride and not a reluctant participant.
It might be worth noting that our first dance was to The Theme From “The Odd Couple”.
One more thing. The day before the wedding, I ran to the lumber-yard in Santa Monica to purchase four plain, wooden chuppah poles. Then I went to Sears and bought a flat sheet and some fabric markers.
âHere,â I said, tossing the items to Sarah who at the time was almost 4 years old.Â âSpread this sheet out on the driveway and decorate it with these markers. We’re running out of time. Iâll explain everything later.â
And one day, I’ll explain all of it.
March 10th, 2013 by Julie Silver
In the last couple of years, our family has gotten to know a homeless woman named Amy who stands at the corner of PCH and Sunset every morning, asking drivers for food.Â Sometimes she walks up and down the lines of traffic, and sometimes we see her at the bus stop in front of Gladstone’s with her friends.Â The traffic light there is a long one, so there’s plenty of time strike up a quick conversation. Amy has been more than willing to share her life’s story with us. She has 12 grandchildren. She’s from Atlanta. She has a sweet tooth. She wants to get back into the good graces of her family.
Last year at Christmas, Sarah decided she wanted to give Amy a care package including among many things a bag of dog food for Amy’s little dog and a handwritten Christmas card. We carried the bag in the car with us for days without seeing Amy which made me worry, but which appeared to give Sarah a bit of hope: “Maybe her kids came and picked her up,” Sarah would say “so she’ll have a nice place with her family to celebrate Christmas.”
“Maybe, Sarah.Â Maybe.” I replied.
Sitting at the light, staring at sparkling waves in front of me, I started to believe it myself.Â Maybe she IS somewhere better than this place.Â Maybe her family HAS found her.
On the morning we headed out to the airport to fly to New York for Christmas, we decided we had to give the care package to someone on the corner, anyone who might be able to get Sarah’s gifts to Amy. We gave the bag to a homeless man, with Sarah yelling directions at this poor guy from the back seat, “That’s for Amy and her dog! Make sure she gets it before Christmas!”
We drove off. Sarah asked, “Do you think she’ll get it, Eema?”
“I think so, Sarah.”
But of course I was dubious. I figured the guy would eat the food, drink the water and toss the rest. After all, I’ve been around the block. I know how these homeless people operate.
Cut to yesterday. I took a walk down to the water and ran into, you guessed it, our friend Amy from Atlanta whom we haven’t seen since November.
She popped up from the sidewalk where she was sitting with her little dog and another woman who was wrapped in a blanket and ran to me.
“Hey hey hey, it’s you! I’ve been lookin’ for you!Â I gotta show you somethin’! I’ve been hopin’ to see you and that little girl of yours. He gave me the bag. He said it was a little girl with long hair and he said he didn’t remember but I knew it was your little baby Sarah I just knew it. Tell her I got the bag. Oh and I gotta show y’all somethin’.”
She reached into her back pocket and pulled out a brown imitation leather wallet. Inside, I saw one or two dollar bills and nothing much else but then she pulled out a worn, graying piece of white paper that looked like it had been hidden in there for years. She unfolded it and showed it to me. It was Sarah’s Christmas card.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe you kept it,” I said. “Sarah is going to be so happy that the bag got to you. May I take a picture to show her?”
“That little girl is a BLESSING,” she said, holding up the paper and posing. “I’m gonna keep this forever. I love that little girl of yours.Â You tell Sarah I kept this and I’m always gonna keep it.”
We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity until I finally said “Well, Sarah teaches me every day how to care about people. Honestly, I didn’t think you were going to get that bag, but Sarah had faith that somehow you’d get it. It’s going to make her day that you still have her card.”
She removed the enormous sunglasses that have been hiding her tired eyes since the day we met and clutched my forearm.
“Honey, this card made my whole Christmas.”
October 7th, 2012 by Julie Silver
Years ago I served as Cantorial Soloist for a beautiful, loving congregation in Southern California. Â What I enjoyed most about this job was officiating B’nai Mitzvah. I was blessed to witness these milestones for seven years and in that time learned much from the students, their families and my Rabbi.
At every Bar or Bat Mitzvah, before the Torah reading, it was the custom at our shul that the Rabbi line up the family and pass the Torah through the generations, from grandparents to parents, ultimately handing the Torah into the capable arms of its youngest recipient. Â Before the Rabbi even brought the Torah to the front of the bima, the sight of the family alone would bring the congregation to tears. Â I would stand to the side and play softly on my guitar and the family would just kvell. It all seemed perfect and right. Â But I must confess something; it never felt right to me that if one of the parents wasn’t Jewish, the Rabbi would take the Torah out of line, skip over them and place it in the arms of the Jewish parent to hand to their child.
So many interfaith families belonged to the temple that watching the rabbi withhold the Torah from a non-Jewish parent became a familiar sight. Â The more it happened, the sadder I became. I remember on more than one occasion seeing the Torah withheld from a non-Jewish parent despite the fact that this non-Jew was the only person making sure the child even went to religious school! In fairness and as of this writing, this temple might have stopped this practice altogether, but I remember standing and experiencing the “skipping over of the non-Jew” with embarrassment, and occasionally a few very privately shed tears.
The very first time I saw it, I thought the Rabbi–with all of the maneuvering and orchestrating of who gets to hold the Torah and who doesnâtâwas joking around.Â I thought, âHeâs kidding.âÂ But he was not kidding.Â And for seven years I stayed silent and never even thought to challenge this powerful moment that appeared to be written in stone, never to be re-imagined or God forbid, changed to include a non-Jewish partner who supports their familyâs Jewish life.
Today, almost 15 years later, I am married to an Irish Catholic woman named Mary Benedict Connelly.Â MaryÂ is lovingly named for her grandmother, Mary Farley, and a nun, Sister Mary Benedict, who was a friend of Maryâs parents.Â Sister Mary Benedict was a woman of service, tending to the most needy people in New York City in the late 1950s.
Mary and I met eleven years ago, brought together by mutual friends. We did not meet in synagogue or summerÂ camp.Â We did not meet on JDate.Â We did not meet at the college hillel.Â We never went on an Israel trip together.Â Â We did not then and do not now work in similar fields. Iâm a traveling Jewish singer and songwriter and she is a television producer.Â On the surface, we are pushing completely different agendas.Â However, we are on the same page where it countsâbeing mothers, trying to be of service and share our blessings, and being role models especially for people struggling to come out.Â Â Growing up, I never imagined I would marry a non-Jew but here we most thankfully are, legally married with two daughters, two dogs, a mortgage and a hamster.
Like my sister who is married to a Jewish man, I would have loved to have gotten married in front of 300 friends and family instead of frantically racing to do it six days before the 2008 presidential election, fearful of Prop 8 passing and denying us the chance to marry legally.Â I would have loved an auf-ruf, hearing “Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov” sung to us while getting pelted with sweet candy.Â I would have loved all of this the way many of those non-Jewish Bar and Bat Mitzvah parents wanted to embrace the Torah but were not allowed to fully participate in the ritual.
I am a life-long Reform Jew, but for several reasons our family belongs to the shul down the road, Kehillat Israel, aÂ Reconstructionist shul that adheres to the teachings of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan. One of Rabbi Kaplan’s most famous quotes is âThe past has a vote, not a vetoâ.Â We like that.Â Much like my Reform Judaism, the tenets of Reconstructive Judaism resonate with us:Â Judaism is not about belief but about belonging.Â Reconstructionist Judaism defines itself by being a movement that opens its doors to everyone.
As I perform and teach in Jewish settings around the world on so many weekends, it is usually Mary who takes Sarah to Religious School and it is Mary who picks her up.Â It is Mary who insists on us going to services even when I am so happy to have a Friday night without work and in town.Â It is Mary who fills our car with food for collection at the Temple. Â In truth, it is often Mary, my Catholic wife, who carries the weight of our Jewish family life and she does it with grace and love.
A few years back on Simchat Torah, the festive celebration marking the conclusion of the cycle of Torah readings, Mary and I spent the evening dancing, singing, reading and celebrating the Torah at our shul.Â The celebration went on and on, like the Torah itself, without end.Â I have been dancing and wrestling with the Torah for my entire life, so when the Rabbi placed a Torah in my arms and circles upon circles began dancing around me, it was a very familiar feeling.Â Later, when I turned around and saw the Rabbi place one of the Torahs in Maryâs arms, I was overcome with the strongest emotions I have ever felt inside a sanctuary. Did the Rabbi just hand one of our sacred Torahs to my wife, Mary Benedict Connelly?
I could barely breathe. Within moments I began to sob. Mary held on to the Torah as we held her in the middle of our circle of dancing and singing. I lowered my head and wrapped my tallit tightly around myself as my tears formed a small pool on the sanctuary floor.Â Â Concerned someone might slip, I wiped them into the wooden floor, back and forth with the sole of my shoe until they were gone.
If youâve not been marginalized or “skipped over”, you might not truly understand what it means, even for a brief moment, to be welcomed into the community with such fullness and joy.Â When any person is “skipped over”, we all are diminished. Â When we include those who might not be Jewish but who nevertheless help us to move our faith forward, we are better.
My tears have long dried since that night, but in the most important ways they are still there, along with the tears of our ancestors, sealed into the hardwood floor of our faith.Â I pray for a time when we all feel free to sing a new song, to hold the Torah close to our hearts, to dance on our tears with nothing but joy.
September 12th, 2012 by Julie Silver
I met David Garber in 1998 while moving into a one bedroom apartment on the corner of 2nd and Idaho in Santa Monica. I was alone, and I made the mistake of loading my arms with way too many cassette racks, hauling them from my car to the elevator, straining my back and nearly dropping them all onto the cement floor of the parking garage. Like an angel, Dave Garber showed up, introduced himself and took the entire weight of those cassette racks off my hands.
I was dressed in cargo shorts, hiking boots, a fanny pack, possibly a man’s head on a stake at my side, but that didn’t stop Dave “I Can Turn This Lesbian Away From the Dark Side” Garber from trying to hit on me.Â It was only after we boarded the elevator together and he beganÂ looking through the artists and titles on the cassette tapes in his arms that he became visibly crestfallen. There was every album the Indigo Girls, Laura Nyro, Holly Near, Chris Williamson and Joan Baez ever recorded. I watched his eyes fill with tears. “It’s just elevator dust, I’m fine, really…” he said as we ascended together to the 3rd floor. There goes another casualty in my very real war on straight men, I thought.Â But he seemed like a nice guy.
Turns out he was a very nice guy.Â The nicest, in fact.Â I was reeling from a break-up, cursing the fact that I had to move to a new place and start over again, but that day, after meeting Garber for the first time I knew I was going to be OK. This stranger could’ve just brought the tapes upstairs and left me to finish moving and unpacking by myself.Â I mean, we didn’t know each other.Â It was a beautiful beach day. I tell you, he helped me move my stuff upstairs until my car was empty.Â Who “pitches in” like this, I asked myself.Â The answer: Dave Garber.
It turned out my keys fit the lock to the apartment right across the hall from his. Within days (OK, minutes) we were a sitcom in search of a network.Â I became his Mary Richards and he became my Rhoda Morgenstern.Â It was as if we needed to find each other. I had healing to do, and so did he.Â We lived in that corner together, our doors wide open, our circles of friends intertwining, our lives becoming inextricably linked, for years. We shared meals together, went to afternoon movies, watched Six Feet Under and The Sopranos together, borrowed books and music from each other, and talked and laughed through everything together. I critiqued every woman that crossed his threshold and took no prisoners. You know, I sometimes refer to Garber as my “husband” and we laugh about it, not because I already have a wife, but because he really is the guy you want in your life, through sickness and health, for richer or poorer, forever. I guess in a way he’s the brother I never had.
I could go on and on about Garber. How well-read, even tempered and insightful he is.Â How kind he is to my family. How optimistic and interested he is.Â How he can talk to just about anyone about anything.Â He was the first one at the hospital for the birth of our daughters.Â He installed Sarah’s first car seat.Â When he visits our house, he never tries to wake me up when I fall asleep in my TV chair after dinner.Â Garber flew to Boston to be my “wing-man” when I sang the National Anthem at Fenway Park last summer. Back in the day and on more than a few occasions he woke up early, sometimes after working until 3AM to answer the door (wearing only a bathrobe or, if I was lucky, only the sports pages) just to let me hang out on his couch, watch TV and do the crossword puzzle.Â And when the time came, back in 2001, he lovingly steered me in the direction of Mary Connelly who is now my wife.Â (She gained a husband in all of this, too, ya know.)
A few months ago, Garber left his full time job to volunteer for the Obama campaign in Nevada. Is there a worse place to be walking the streets, canvassing, ringing doorbells, standing outside grocery stores, registering voters than in the state of Nevada between June and November?Â Could the volunteer job be any more thankless?Â Just imagine the difficulty of all of it?Â Uprooting, volunteering, not knowing whether it will all pay off.Â Would YOU do it?
I didn’t think so.
But were we surprised when Garber told us he was packing up, paying his own way and heading to Nevada to help turn the state blue for Obama?Â Not in the least.
David and I talk every couple of days. He has no idea of what is going on in the news, the polls, and he rarely sees the divisive, unimportant political posts that all of us are guilty of sharing from time to time. He likely didn’t even watch the convention.Â He works 14 hours a day with a water bottle in one hand and a pen and clipboard in the other, registering voters, He falls asleep every night in a tiny rented room with a shower curtain for a wall that he has to pay for himself. I find myself tearing up when I think of the hard work he is doing on our behalf.
This morning, Mary and I took a Shabbat family walk through this neighborhood we love so much.Â Two dogs, two daughters, two moms, meeting friends on the way, laughing it up, enjoying the ocean breeze and sunshine.Â I thank God for the freedom Mary and I have, for the peace we find here, for the future we want to provide for our girls, for everything we have and all of the progress that has been made in our lifetime.Â When we got home, the phone rang. It was Garber calling from Nevada.Â He was on his way to register voters at a Las Vegas Gay Pride Parade.
“I’m on a bus, heading to the Pride Festival!” he said. I actually think I heard the sound of glitter falling around him.Â “Jesus, Garber would you just come home?Â Enough already. You’re not even gay!” I selfishly replied.Â I do miss him terribly. I miss our lunches at Real Food Daily and our 6 mile walks and how he fits so nicely into our family.Â But he’s doing good work, and like the guy I met almost fifteen years ago, he won’t stop until the task is completed.Â Who pitches in like this, I asked myself as I hung up the phone.Â The answer will always be the same: Dave Garber.
August 25th, 2012 by Julie Silver
As an economist by degree, a mother, a Jew, a lesbian and a former Massachusetts resident, it is beyond clear to me that Mitt Romney is in no way a better alternative to what we have in place right now to become the next president.Â This is also clear to the GOP as well.Â Remember that practically every one of those Republican candidates at one time or another led throughout the primaries and that the party still doesnât rally around him except as a way to express their disdain for the Trespasser In Chief.
So letâs put aside the fact that Romney was a bully as a kid, and surprise! He’s a bully as an adult.
The next president will likely seat two supreme court justices
The next president must be open-minded, experienced and meet face to face with foreign leaders.
The next president will make decisions on taxes.Â Romney has promised to keep in place the Bush tax cuts that have so devastated this country and have made the rich isolated, self-serving and protective of their wealth and unwilling to part with any of it no matter how this country is sinking into financial ruin. Along with two unpaid for wars, extending those tax cuts will continue to lead us faster and further towards economic collapse.Â Romney is a flip-flopper and a liar and itâs clear heâs not going to go back on the promise to keep taxes low for the rich and high for the rest of the country. So long, middle class, it’s been good to know ya. And how about a transvaginal ultrasound for the road?
The next president will have to serve as a leader and inspiration to the new, growing majority in this country who are non-white, as well as the majority of non-males, all who have been historically marginalized and demonized by power driven elected officials and their constituents. As a direct result of their racist, sexist, divisive policies, they SUFFER DISPROPORTIONATELY MORE, earn less than their white male counterparts and are rarely represented in this country.
The next President cannot be gaffe prone and brazenly inaccurate in front of people who too often appear to celebrate their own ignorance. He must raise the level of discussion and not blow with the wind as Romney has demonstrated he does with great consistency. The next President must have some kind of a connection to the middle class–which at this point Romney does not–and at the very least APPEAR to care about the poorest and most vulnerable in our midstâwhich he also does not. He often becomes tongue-tied and laughs nervously around these topicsâhuge red flags.
As a woman and a lover of Torah, Iâm disgusted that the GOP vows to eliminate Planned Parenthood on biblical principles and will, for example, require a woman to carry a fetus conceived through rape to term. There are 31 states in this country that allow visitation and custody arrangements for RAPISTS.Â Did the Democrats invent these laws and prohibitions?Â Romney has said heâd be âdelightedâ to reverse Roe v. Wade. The money our government spends on Planned Parenthood is beyond worth the health benefits and economic freedoms it brings to men, women and their families.
The GOP endorses an extremist platform that affirms rape is, at best, inevitable (just relax and enjoy it) and at worst, just another way to become pregnant (the âmiracle babiesâ conceived through rape). They back up this belief by publicly stating as fact the most inaccurate, out of touch and insulting things about womenâs bodies and healthcare, throwing gasoline onto the fire of insults and victimization women and girls suffer on a daily basis. Planned Parenthood services, mammograms, abortions, contraception, healthcare must remain available to every woman in this country who has been in one way or another sold down the river, raped, beaten, sexualized, victimized, objectified and shit upon as a result of the insatiability of a few powerful men.Â Women who vote forÂ republicans at this time and with this platform staring at them in the face are being raped along with the rest of us. Of course, legitimately.
And do we need to mention the amount of money we spend on our nationalist endeavors which history will most assuredly show have been complete folly?
Are we kind to the strangers, to the “others” in our midst? The potential VP Ryan has drawn up a budget that doesnât lower the debt and Romney has called it âmarvelousâ. Â Does it encourage anyone to feed the hungry, help the poor, or house the homeless as the bible these men choose to follow verbatim when it suits them instructs us so lovingly to do?Â The middle class can no longer help the poor in this country. If that fact doesn’t cause us heartache, what will?Â Policies that help people do for themselves and get government out of the way are ideal. We all want less government, but policies that discourage the middle class from helping, even privately, the poor are criminal.
As a married lesbian, I can’t pay taxes to a Romney/Ryan government that enthusiastically endorses a platform that leaves my wife and me without as much as a civil union and tosses us around like a political football. I have children so I too can become a “mama bear” when it comes to their perceived value in this country and how society is encouraged by its elected representatives to define them. Â Will it be with kindness, tolerance and acceptance? Â We have evidence that under the GOP it wonât.Â They have said and done as much.Â Do they think that the numbers of LGBT families that wish to be part of the fabric of this society are shrinking? Or do they possibly believe they can insult, bully, and âpray us awayâ? They have been doing so and have promised to continue on this hateful path.
The truth is we know almost nothing of what Romney plans to do once he gets the keys to the castle and what we do know about him is beyond frightening. I’m on board with Obama for at least another four years because I agree with him on most issues and because I think he is doing the best he can with this do-nothing congress. In my opinion, Romney is the problem, not the solution. Before Obama took a breath as president, the GOP vowed to make him a one term president and they have played obstruction politics at every opportunity, showing they care more about their power, and position more than they care about the promise of this country and its people. They do not want the president to succeed and they never did.
We are calling out for better, both from and for ourselves, weeping in our exile from prosperity and healing in large part because the richest among us are desperately clinging to life and will do anything to get this half black non-American Muslim out of the white house. Itâs personal for sure. But as an educated economist, a believer in science, a woman, a lesbian, a mother, a Jew and a human being whose sole duty on earth is to repair the shattered fragments of this world, lift up the fallen and free the captive, I will not rest until Obama can get back to his good work and Mitt Romney and his perfectly lovely wife go quietly back to wherever they came from.Â I donât need to see a birth certificate to prove where that is.Â Just go back there.
April 5th, 2012 by Julie Silver
The Torah teaches us that our freedom from slavery came only after ten harsh plagues were visited upon Pharaoh and the Egyptian people.Â We recite this list out loud at the Seder table, and with each drop of red wine that we spill, we are reminded of the cost of making the journey from narrow, confined places into freedom.
This is the story we reread each year, how negative consequences and harsh punishments moved a hard-hearted Pharaoh to, begrudgingly, let his slaves go free.Â And this is a good story, but my question is: what about the positive things?Â Can we take a moment to remember some of the good things we do that lift us out of slavery and into freedom?
Here’s a list of âTen Passover Possibilitiesâ which I’m introducing at our Seder this year. Feel free to use these as a âjumping offâ point to discuss all of the good you bring to the world, because you DO BRING GOOD TO THE WORLD.Â As always, I encourage you to write your own list of possibilities.Â How do you act in a way that brings freedom to others?Â Â How do we march side by side with people whom we will never meet but to whom we are so inextricably linked?Â I know that we canât erase the past, but a list of âTen Passover Possibilitiesâ might just embolden the people at your Seder to work towards eradicating some of the present-day plagues with which we are all so sadly familiar.Â Here’s my list:
1.Â Helping and asking for nothing in return
2.Â Asking for help even when itâs difficult
3.Â Agreeing to disagree
4.Â Rising to a new challenge or obstacle
5.Â Having faith in strangers
6.Â Giving away things that you no longer need
7.Â Telling your story no matter how hard it is to do so
8.Â Â Hearing someone elseâs story
9.Â Â Creating from dreams
10. Singing your gratitude to the source of creation
Now go write your own.Â And have a liberating Passover!
August 4th, 2011 by Julie Silver
As part of The Greensboro Airport Marriott breakfast buffet, at the very end of the line next to the toasters, there’s a neatly stacked pile of sandwich bags filled with homemade granola.Â Now I enjoy a hearty breakfast buffet as much as the next guy, but homemade things served in public aren’t for me.Â Where did this food come from?Â Was the bearer of this food wearing gloves when she prepared it?Â Was it possibly made in a methamphetamine lab?Â You see where I’m going, don’t you?
I have a memory of trick or treating around my neighborhood as a kid.Â There was one house down the street where the couple always gave away odd shaped popcorn balls instead of wrapped candy.Â And they always had these creepy smiles, as if to say “Go ahead.Â Take one.Â We might appear quiet and weird and our front yard might be overgrown with nondescript bushes but go on.Â Take two.”Â Where are the milk duds?Â Where is the Snickers Bar?Â Will these people come after me if I don’t reach out and take a moist, exposed popcorn ball?
Years later, I’m just old and damaged enough to decline the offer whenever someone offers me homemade food from an unknown source in a public place.Â I’m picturing an overly zealous Wetzel’s Pretzels server, standing in the hot sun in an apron holding free samples of cinnamon pretzels with dipping sauce every time I walk down the Third Street Promenade.Â Just…don’t.
I returned to the breakfast buffet on the second and final morning of my stay in North Carolina, and here’s where our drama begins.
There was that same stack of granola in plastic bags, quietly calling out to me.Â It dawned on me while IÂ stared unblinkingly at the toaster so that my bagel wouldn’t be the least bit over-singed, that I could use a bag of granola in case I get hungry on my flight to LA later that day.Â You should know that I’m one of those people who thinks of the film “Castaway” at odd moments during any given day and usually (appropriately) before getting on a plane.Â Every time I see a mini flashlight or a small pup tent, I turn into Tom Hanks and say, “Take this in case you get stranded on a deserted island.Â You’ll need it.”Â So, I took this as another “Castaway” moment.Â “Take the Granola.Â You’ll need it for the flight back to LA.”Â Against my better judgment, I picked up a bag and brought it back to the table.Â How dangerous could this be, I thought.Â It’s not like the dishwasher is filling these bags between shifts with his bare hands, is he?Â As I tossed the granola in my shoulder bag, my friend Beth Schafer looked up and said, “Oh my God, you’ve become THAT person.”
“What?Â I have a flight,” I answered defensively, “I’m gonna get hungry and I’ll need it.Â Plus, remember the movie Castaway, Beth…”
Interrupting me, she reached for a packet of Sweet-n-Low sitting in the white ceramic holder at the center of our table.Â “Take this, Grandma. You’ll need it.”
What?Â I don’t use Sweet-n-Low.
I got to the airport and was delighted to learn I got an upgrade to first class.Â Cue the fireworks.Â If you really want proof of how the world has turned into a huge race to the bottom, just compare your 1991 experience of flying first class with your 2011 one.Â But in an effort to suspend reality just a few moments more, let me tell you it was so elegant and excessive in First Class, so fancy, clean and joyful that I forgot all about the bag of granola I had taken from the buffet.
But that little plastic bag of granola did escort me all the way home and I am delighted to tell you that I just finished a bowl of the stuff and I am ready for seconds.Â It was crunchy and nutty and made with a hefty serving of sweet sweet love.Â I want to KICK myself that I almost didn’t try it out of my irrational fear of homemade items.Â It was the most delicious reminder of the Southern Home Hospitality I experience every time I travel south of the Mason Dixon.Â And had I ended up shoeless, befriending a volleyball on the shores of a desert island, I know this granola would have made it all better.
If you ever EVER have the privilege of eating breakfast at The Greensboro Airport Marriott, do yourself a big favor and take as many of those clear bags of love that can fit in your fanny pack.Â You’ll need it.
October 25th, 2010 by Julie Silver
Until very recently, my father, who is completely color blind, had been wearing the same brown leather belt for thirty years. And unless you are browsing the gently worn shops or the Salvation Army store, you would no longer be able to find this particular style of belt for sale. On a fashion scale, it fell somewhere between what one might have worn to a groovy 70s wife swapping party and what Gordon Lightfoot probably wore while he was inhaling bong hits and composing âThe Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgeraldâ. My hard-working father would not have been physically involved in any of these scenarios, but in a romantic way, this two and a half inch thick belt buckled him to a time and place, despite keeping both at armâs length.
Dad got dressed in the earliest, darkest hours of the morning and it always looked like an ensemble that he hadnât merely thrown together. He tended heavily toward plaid. As a student anxiously picks the perfect outfit on the eve of a new school year, I imagine my father laying out his old blue jeans lengthwise and draping them on the bedroom chair next to one of the many, many plaid shirts he had held up next to the jeans to see what worked. He wore plain white undershirts beneath plaid shirts. This combination made me feel warm and protected as a child, embarrassed as a teenager, and finally comforted as an adult. With the belt, he looked like he should be holding a hatchet and standing next to an ox named Babe.
In our tony little suburb of Newton, Massachusetts where professionals dressed like professionals, my Dad went his own way. While other kidsâ Dads shopped at The Menâs Wearhouse on Route 9, my very own lumberjack of a father looked more like he drove the hard highways of Northern New England, shaking hands and looking people right in the eye, selling equipment to other hard working men, and maybe even chopping down a tree or building a fire. And while other kidsâ Dads looked like they were going to an office, my Dad looked like he was going to a log-rolling competition.
Not once in my childhood did I ever go shopping with my Dad or hear him say things like âI need a new _____â, or âLetâs go to ____ to buy some ____â. I never saw my Dad spend money on himself. I only saw him earn money. In 1974, my mother who handled the household finances gave my father a blank check to use in an emergency. Any time he opened his wallet to give me a few bucks, I would see that old check from 1974, ink fading, edges tattered, waiting in vain to be filled out and signed. But it was never to be. The unused check had taken on the smell of cash and the bend of his wallet, which had left an equally permanent outline on the back pocket of my fatherâs old blue jeans, confidently held up by that brown belt.
During the Spring of 1978, my mother took a rare trip by herself to see her parents in South Bend, Indiana. I was 11, my sister was 13, and my Dad was 38. No one was really on their A-game for the ten days my Mom was away. She had only been gone a few days and the house and family were already showing signs of neglect. Chores had been ignored, dishes were dirty, food was scarce, morale was low. One Saturday my Dad took my sister and me to a Woody Allen film, âInteriorsâ, a film so dark that it ends with the mother committing suicide. My Dad fell asleep while I ate milk duds and memorized dialogue, barely blinking.
The one thing I appreciated about having my mother in another state was the fact that she couldnât monitor my clothing choices. I was a tomboy, but my mother wanted to dress me like the girl I simply was not. Every morning, I would get dressed, walk downstairs in my ripped up jeans, high top Nikes, and hooded oversized sweatshirt to a loving look of disappointment. Youâre wearing that, my mother would say as she poured herself a cup of decaf. No Mom, Iâm not wearing that, I would mutter under my breath as I climbed the stairs towards my daily morning wardrobe change.
I wore my hooded sweatshirt almost everyday while she was gone. One particular day, I wore my favorite football jersey to school: The Patriotsâ quarterback, Steve Grogan, #14. I was in heaven wearing that jersey. My Dad slowed down the car to drop me off at school that day. (Having my mother in Indiana was beginning to take a toll on him as well.) I ran to my classroom with the confidence of a starting quarterback running onto the field for her first team huddle. Then came the blitz. My best friend, Terry Hassol saw what I was wearing, ran up to me and yelled, âItâs picture day, Julie. Youâre wearing that?â She was wearing a cocktail dress. I felt like I had been sacked in the end zone.
Recovering from the hit, I ran against the rush to the office and called my Dad who had just arrived home from dropping me off at school. “Dad! Itâs picture day at school. I am wearing a football jersey. You have to help me. Dad, you have to pick out a different shirt for me, OK? And then bring it here now!” There was silence on the other end of the line. “Go to my room, Dad, and pick out a nice shirt,” I hollered. My Dad had no choice but to comply. I was panicked. “Dad, pick any color shirt you want but it has to be here now.” “Jesus Christ, alright already,” he said. “Iâll be right there.”
The school secretary laughed into her attendance rolls as I hung up the phone. I ran to the front of the school and paced for ten minutes before I saw the station wagon pull up to the school. My Dad did not get out of the car. He made the hand-off and sped away. I looked inside the wrinkled brown bag to find an old, faded light blue turtleneck that to this day I believe he found in a pile of dirty laundry.
I see that 6th grade picture of myself every time I visit my old school. There is a wall of group photos that go back to the 1950s, and itâs interesting to see the changes as you walk down the long hallway. There I am, the only girl in my class wearing a wrinkled, pale blue turtleneck. I stare at that unshowered, eleven year old girl, wishing for just that day she had dressed like one. I would have looked better in plaid.
October 14th, 2010 by Julie Silver
In 1974 I was eight years old and unable to ride a bike without training wheels. It was the source of much embarrassment. To make matters worse, anticipating that this would be the year I would finally balance myself on two wheels, my parents bought me a brand new bike. It was a beautyâthe coolest bike I could never ride. It was purple, with a long banana seat covered in colorful power flowers. The handlebars were curved and set so high they forced your hands to rest above your head. Kickstand down, I would sit on that bike for hours in our darkened garage, dreaming of one day riding it on the streets of my town.
It stood there for weeks, teasing me, taunting me, whispering, get onâride off into the sunset with meâleave a trail of rusty metal training wheel parts in your wake. Next to my untouched bike stood my old bike with training wheels. Like everything else I owned, it had belonged to my older sister. It was dull red, rickety, with a bent fender and plain, worn handlebars.
It was springtime and the days stayed lighter later. After work, my Dad would throw my old bike and a wrench into the back of our family station wagon in the evenings after dinner and drive us to the junior high school parking lot. He would not allow me to learn how to ride on the new bike. Learn on the old one, ride on the new one, heâd say.
I was a slow learner and my Dad was a patient man. In fact it would be on this same parking lot that, years later, my Dad would teach me how to drive a car. I ruined three orange parking cones and crushed countless tin cans during those lessons. Dad kept whatever frustration he might have felt inside, God bless him. By the time I got my driversâ license, my Dad had gone completely gray.
One evening after pushing me off, running beside me and cheering me on, I rode–with a great deal of difficulty– the length of the Meadowbrook Junior High School parking lot without training wheels. I fell off my bike at the end, but I could hardly contain my excitement. It was my first taste of freedom, of independence, of tangible forward movement. That night we came home and told my mom the great news. âWeâll go back tomorrow,â he said plunging his spoon into a celebratory ice-cream sundae. âProud of you, kiddo. Proud of you.â
And so it made perfect sense that I would wake up the next morning at the crack of dawn, run out to the garage, grab my new bike, all shiny and purple and calling out to me, and without hesitation ride it down our steep driveway, then turn left down our even steeper hill.
The wind blew through my helmet free hair and that feeling of freedom hit hard. Nine seconds later, I found myself lying on my back on Parker Street, a major thoroughfare in my neighborhood, with my brand new bicycle by my side. The bellowing sound of a truck horn and then a symphony of screeching brakes tore through the morning air. When I propped myself up on my elbows, there was a giant truck headlight eleven inches from my face. It dawned on me in an instant: I was inches away from getting completely run over by an eighteen-wheeler. Shaking, holding back vomiting, I pulled up my bicycle and got to the sidewalk. The wildly angry driver of the truck yelled from his cab but I was so stunned, so shocked I couldnât understand anything he said. He wore dark glasses and had a moustache that resembled the handlebars on my bike. The truck made a loud exhaling sound as it drove forward, the driver yelling and pointing an angry finger at me the whole time.
I ran up the hill with my bike and got it back in the garage before my family even knew I had left the backyard. I never told a soul what happened.
I spent that day at school in a fog, tasting vomit in the back of my throat, biting my fingernails and reliving the short but powerful trip I had taken that morning.
On the way to my riding lesson that evening, Dad spoke in excited, hopeful tones but I heard almost nothing, only sentence fragments: forget about those training wheelsâŚproud of you, kiddoâŚnow the whole familyâs on wheelsâŚwe trust you, kiddo. I couldnât tell my biggest cheerleader about my near miss that morning. It will almost kill him, too, I thought.
October 4th, 2010 by Julie Silver
Let me begin by saying Iâm Jewish. This means that whenever the home phone rings, it is more than likely someone has died. Or worse.
Very early Tuesday morning, the phone rang. I knew it wasnât going to be good news. From the bedroom, I heard Mary answer on the 2nd ring as I pulled the covers over my head and closed my eyes. As soon as I heard Mary say âAnd what hospital is she inââ I knew it was my sister Robin and I knew, at that hour, she had to have had a bike accident. My eyes opened wide as I mentally sorted through my closet and picked the outfit I was going to wear to her funeral. For a split second before my warm feet hit the cold hardwood floor, I became worried that I wouldnât fit into that outfit. On the short walk down the hall corridor, I said a prayer of gratitude that I had her as long as I did and wondered out loud how it had taken 17 years for her to finally crash into a tree and kill herself.
Mary was still on the phone when I walked into the kitchen, a look of concern on her face. She made a motion for me to step into my office so we could talk away from my daughterâs young ears.
Robin had indeed fallen during a long, early morning bike ride and had broken her clavicle, her pelvis, several ribs and sustained a concussion. All of her injuries would heal. Mary gave me the phone and although Robin was a bit incoherent, it was clear that she could still use her voice, her cell phone, her morphine button, and nobody’s opinion.
Nevertheless I sat and cried over my big sister falling off her bike for about 5 minutes. Hysterical, wet, snotty, loud, sobbing cries until my daughter came in and asked me what was wrong. “Oh, nothing, Sarah (snort). Eema just stubbed her big toe (sniff)”. Given my history, I was sure she would buy it. She didnât.
OK, sheâs alive, I thought. Now Iâm pissed. Why must she ride that bike for that long at that hour on that pair of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen twin tires? âMy sister! Jesus fucking Christ are we even related?â I whispered loudly to Mary as I put that fabulous black cocktail dress back in the closet. Then I got online to find a flight to Boston. Oh, I wasnât going to be angry in Pacific Palisades. Not a chance. Have you seen my view? No, I was going to pay a small fortune and take a direct flight to bring my anger directly to Robin the very next day.
Did I tell you never to trust a ringing phone?
Now if flying to Boston to share your anger means being at your sisterâs beckon call for three days and nights and doing 18 loads of laundry, then yes, I flew to Boston to share my anger. But I also shared three wonderful days with my older sister, Robin. I watched in awe and admiration, as only a little sister can, a constant stream of visitors, friends, family, neighbors, rabbis, fellow riders, fruit baskets, pies, apples, casseroles and various gadgets to make the next 6 to 8 weeks a little bit easier for Robin, pour down onto her house like a waterfall.
That’s the thing about never leaving the town in which you were born. Get hurt, and people you’ve known for 40 years show up to offer comfort, a laugh, a meal, or easy conversation. They heal you. My sister has lived in this community for 40 years so it was a familiar sight, watching her sit back and receive all of this love. She built this community. She maintains it. She passes it on to her sons every day. And if her neighbor fell, Robin would be right there, on hand and knee, picking up the sharpest pieces and working to put them back together. You can count on it.
I left home 16 years ago for Los Angeles and in many ways have lost that feeling of constantly being surrounded by familiarity. And perhaps that was why I left in the first place. More likely it’s why I fly back to Boston so often. But one thing was made clear to me last weekend that has never been clearer. In this life, you’re bound to fall off your bike. Somewhere around the corner, over that hill, beyond the next curve in the road, someone is going to run a red light and it’s not going to go well. In fact, you can count on it. And when you inevitably fall, there’s one thing that can make or break what happens afterwards: Community. Family members who, like firefighters, run right into the crisis and carry you down the stairs to safety. Friends who bake their best pies and offer their tastiest trays of ziti with broccoli. Miraculously present parents and siblings and children who make sure the dishwasher gets filled and then emptied (correctly, I might add) And to know that you have that in your life and can count on it, just like you can count on falling off your bike, is the greatest gift life can give you.
That, and an excellent personal injury attorney.