Archive for October, 2008

Jolene’s silent voice

On Monday, I received a call from my friend, Darren, from Levitt Weinstein Funeral Home, in Boca.  Darren is such a great young man, and when we met, we really clicked.  I was trying to expand my name a bit, especially since I have found that presiding at funerals was amazingly rewarding to me, and I loved being such a source of comfort to the families who needed me most.  But, for anyone who knows, getting funeral homes to “accept” and hire women is a difficult challenge, even today.  But, having hit it off so well, Darren promised that he would call me very soon, with the perfect service.

Well, the day that Darren called, my life was immediately transformed, because I was connected with the most special family.  The woman who had passed away was 56 years old.  She was Autistic.  She died very suddenly, as she had gone into cardiac arrest as a result of an insulin imbalance.  The family was small, a sister and a mother, 2 aunts, some friends, and previous care takers and case managers who cared deeply for Jolene.  Because the mother was in her mid-90s, (as well as were her sisters), it was going to be difficult to hold the service in a funeral home, so it was planned in the mother’s home, for a small group of about 20 people.

I called Beverley, the sister, and we spent 2 hours on the phone.  Beverley told me all about Jolene, and her life, and how her parents had made it their life mission to help not only Jolene, but many other children with Autism.  I was amazed, because 50 years ago, Autism was unheard of, and this family made such a difference in the lives of children with Autism.  I could have listened to Beverley for hours, and when I was done, and I reflected on our call, I was positive that I could feel Jolene’s spirit.  I could almost hear her laugh, and I could feel this family’s pain, as if it were my own.

Sure, I needed this service to be amazing, because I wanted Darren to be so proud of me, but it became much more than that.  I needed to honor Jolene, more than anything, because I felt so connected to her, and felt like I had known her all of my life.  So, I put my funeral service together, and then, I was so moved, I felt I really needed to write a song about her.  Strangely, when Beverley was talking to Darren, and they were speaking about an officiant, she actually mentioned that a woman would be nice, and if he could find someone who played an instrument, who could sing as well, that that would be perfect.  (Boy, did Darren find me the PERFECT service)

So, I brought my guitar, my song, and all the love and compassion I had in my heart, and I created a celebration of Jolene’s life, right there, in her mother’s living room.  The mother, and the 2 aunts were right there in front of me, and inspired me throughout the whole service.  (I want to add – one of those aunts is the mother of someone very famous, whose name I will not mention, because it is completely irrelevant to the subject, but, it just added to that “need to please” feeling I had all around)  And then, I sang….

Jolene’s Silent Voice.  I wrote a song that would have come from Jolene’s heart, had she been able to express herself.  Her family was incredibly moved, but so were her caretakers, all who are very active in the world of Autism.  They gave me such amazing feedback, and honor, that I think that I was moved, even more than they were.  And so, there, in that living room in Lake Worth, my life changed dramatically.  Maybe I realized what I had inside of me, that had been there all along.  Maybe now I could thank God for the gift of always being super-sensitive, which I had always considered a curse.  I just needed to use it in the right way.

Thank You, Jolene, for the impact you made on my life.  Thank You, Beverley, for showing me your appreciation, and Thank You to everyone who was there, who made me feel so special, and so important.  I poured out my heart in that room, but left with my heart overflowing with love, and appreciation.

So, below are the words to Jolene’s Silent Voice.  I hope to be able to sing this song for others involved in the Autism community.  I hope to make a difference to someone, as much as Jolene made a difference to me.

A little girl in a quiet world, with noises all around

You may have thought I didn’t feel, because I couldn’t’ make a sound

But have no fear, I knew you were near, and your loving gave me pride

To always know I had you – right by my side.

I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t show just how I really cared,

I couldn’t even let you know if I was happy, or scared.

Yet somehow in my quiet world, you always understood

Just what it was I needed most, I always knew you would

You might have thought my quiet world was lonely or sad

The less that I could tell you, the more that you felt bad

But deep inside what you don’t know is I always felt your love

And now I’ll be your angel, watching you from above.

Dear Momma, Dear Sister, dear family and friends,

Please don’t be sad, because my silence now ends.

Who could be sad or lonely, and who could despair

With loved ones who always showed me they cared

I’ll watch and protect you, like you did for me,

I’ll be your angel, watch and you’ll see…

I felt your love, I just couldn’t say

I loved you back – every day, every way.

So now hear my song, it’s sent to you with love,

I’m your loving angel, watching you….from above.

Jolene’s Memorial Service


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One of my Bar Mitzvah students, Jared, has decided what he wanted to do for his Mitzvah project for his Bar Mitzvah.  He has decided to create a blog that lists and numbers all of the good deeds he performs.  But, not only that, he is going to recruit other kids and adults around the world, to contribute to his blog, by listing all of the Mitzvot that they do, as well, and hopefully, create a collective consciousness of repairing the world.

So, please go over to my friend, Jared’s blog, and drop him a line about the good deed you have done today!

Jared is bound to change the world with his blog!  Good Luck, Jared!

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Hey Rick – just throwing a post out there to send you a trackback – let me know if this works!


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Before I write my post, I want to say THANKS to my new friend, Rob Cohen, who I have had the pleasure of connecting with, thanks to the internet.  Rob’s recent post about his High Holiday, Haftorah-reading return to the bimah, included a beautiful word of thanks to me for helping him, but above all, gave me the validation to write about something I feel very strongly about – God.

Rob – I love the work you are doing, and I love to help people that are truly pursuing their passion, and trying to make the world a better place.  It was so sweet of you to write about me, and to put a link to my website on your blog, and I know we are going to be long time friends, even though lots of time and miles will prevent us from meeting, at least any time soon.

So anyway, in Rob’s post, he simply volunteered to read the Haftorah for HH services.  That experience helped connect him to me, and then, he felt really great about what he did, and then…suddenly…”things” started happening.  He started to pay more attention to his observance, and things took on new meaning in his life.  Then, a Rabbi just “happened” to walk by his house, and offered to shake the lulov and etrog on Sukkot.  That had never happened before.  Amazing. Or – was it?

Long ago, I had a friend that was an evangelist.  She told me God spoke to her.  I doubted that.  Seriously.  What?  Out of the blue, this thunderous voice just burst out of the sky and called your name?  How did she know God was actually talking to her?  What if she was in a crowded room?  Maybe God’s message was for someone else?  Then, I began my own spiritual path of learning about what I thought God really was, and strangely enough, “things” started happening to me, too.  Then, I began meditating, even though I thought there was no way I would “get” anything to happen for me.  But I was wrong.

I started putting together the “things”, and realized that the more I walked in a righteous path, and honored God, the more “things” showed up in my life.  The quieter I was, the more “things” would enter my brain, and not these loud thunderous voices, but simple messages, almost disguised as thoughts, but ones that held so much validation and truth, that I just knew them to be the voice of God.

I was speaking to someone by phone the other day, and they were telling me of a similar coincidence, and they said “I just love those little God-winks”.  That’s true – those “things” are winks that God is making.  Just enough to tell us that he knows we are  here, and we are in his plans, and that we should just keep on doing what we are doing, because we’re actually getting it right.

So – Rob – those things are NOT coincidences.  They are messages, and subtle voices from God, telling you that you are on the right path.  Mitzvah Art is going to be a big success, as is my Cantorial practice, because we are walking a righteous path, and opening ourselves to the messages we need most.  The more we listen, the more we hear.  The more we pray, the more Rabbis show up in our front yards with Lulavs, literally, and figuratively.  I love the messages and signs that I receive, telling me I did a great job.  I know you did a great job on your Haftorah reading, AND the blessings.  And I’m really honored to be your friend, and thankful that  God put us in each other’s paths.

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Even though High Holidays are over, and I thought I would have a few weeks of quiet and relaxation – it seems that the train just keeps moving on…and, even though I’m a bit tired, and could use some r&r, the busy-ness is again much appreciated, as it just reinforces what I came here for…

So, for my first lifecycles since the High Holidays, I will be officiating my first double-wedding-weekend this weekend.  First, I am officiating the wedding of Sebastian and Moran, a beautiful young couple that I have already learned a lot about life from.  I’m really excited because I have made my own chuppa, just for them (and couples in the future).  After their wedding tomorrow night in Miami Beach, I will drive straight to Jacksonville, FL, for the Interfaith wedding of Lindsay and Ian at the Ramona Pavilion in Jax.

I’ll get a quick chance to spend a bit more time with Lauren, then back home where I definitely will get a bit of quiet afterwards. Tonight – I’m off to celebrate my parent’s 38th wedding anniversary, with my sister and beautiful niece, Lexi.  Shabbat Shalom,

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So, now that High Holidays are officially over, with the completion of Simchat Torah, I really didn’t want to let much time go by without talking about what an incredible experience I had at Temple Beth David, in Palm Beach Gardens.

I must start off by saying thanks to Cantor Ann Turnoff, for recommending me to Rose, the Education Director, at TBD.  Rose is just amazing.  She was so happy, upbeat, and positive, every single time I spoke to her.  I know she is a busy woman – but she always had time for me, and greeted me with a big smile – even over the phone!  The pleasure I received from my HH experience was a direct result of Rose’s passion and enthusiasm, as well as Rabbi Michael Singer, and Cantor Jennifer Kanarek.

First – I was pretty much given carte blance, to create a service that would be fun, upbeat, and engaging.  This was something I’ve been doing for 10 years, but, definitely not for a Conservative synagogue.  I was caught in a conflict between trying to keep my nusach “correct” and making it FUN.  And, even when I thought I had the last draft finished, Rose said – make it a little MORE fun!

So – I cut loose, and created a service that would engage my littlest congregants, as well as the parents.  It was so much fun!  On Rosh Hashanah, the kids acted out the story of Creation.  For the Hakafah, they had about 40 small Torahs, and all of my kids paraded around the room singing and dancing.

On Yom Kippur, we acted out the story of Jonah and the Whale.  We asked questions, and talked about forgiveness, appreciation, and making new promises for the coming year.  In all, I did 5 services, and while I’m still recovering from mental exhaustion, it was the most amazing experience of my life.

I cannot forget to thank Rabbi Singer and his wife and children, for inviting me to their home for both Erev Rosh Hashanah, as well as RH afternoon, on the 2nd day.  Their home was lovely, and it felt so good to be invited, and cared about by them.  Rose invited me to her daughter’s home on Erev Yom Kippur – and that was amazing, too.  Her daughter cooks the BEST challah I have ever tasted!  Her family was lovely, and again, they treated me so well – I felt like this was my family, too!

I also want to say thank you to the many TBD congregants who made me feel like I was at home.  On the second day of RH, after my service was finished, I went in to the main sanctuary, to listen to Rabbi’s sermon (which was also amazing) and they offered me an aliyah!!  That was so nice, and I am so appreciative to each and every one of the members and staff at TBD for including me.  I think the families really appreciated having a venue where they could worship with their children, and I think it’s so important for children to watch their parents worship as well.  Otherwise – how else will they learn?

I am hoping that TBD will become a home away from home for me.  I want to work with them, to help increase their family participation, and attract members with fun and exciting ways to worship.  If watching Rabbi Singer and Rose in action are any indication – we’ll be soaring to new heights, in 5769.

L’Shanah Tovah to everyone at TBD!  Thank you for making my High Holidays such a special experience!

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Return, Again…..

Blogging is tough business.  When I first set out to join the blogging world, I thought it would be a piece of cake, a quick entry here and there, some longer and more meaningful than others – but, then the last month just blew by me, all without a single visit to my blog.  Now, I’m not Steve Pavlina, with hundreds of thousands of readers, but, mine is just as important to me, as his is to him.  I promised myself, that as SOON as Yom Kippur was over, I would get that first blog entry out there, right away.  Well, that was 11 days ago.

I gave myself every excuse in the world.  “I’m tired”, “my brain needs a break”, “I’m not feeling creative”, and every day, the guilt of not “showing up” get to me more and  more.  Until all of a sudden, I just found myself avoiding showing up, because I just didn’t want to deal with more guilt – till I realized, that the only way to get past guilt of not showing up – is to show up.  Here I am, world!

As I reflected on the lessons I took from my High Holiday experience, I remembered Danny Maseng’s song, Return Again, and the words which helped me remember, that no matter how far I go from my path, how far I get away from who I am meant to be, that G-d always gives me the most amazing gift – of time.  How many of us consider time to be our enemy?  Unwanted birthdays that reflect growing older, limited/finite resources of which there never seems to be enough?  But I remember today, that time is the greatest gift of all.

Time lets wounds heal.  It puts the greatest pain of our lives in the past, and someday, presents it as a mere shadow of something that happened, that is no longer prevalent today.  It is a gift that allows us to draw a line in the sand, and as often as we wish – to Return Again.  I heard those words ringing out to me the last few days, as I traveled up and down I-95 and the Turnpike, rushing, rushing, rushing, and I knew, that no matter how bad I felt, no matter how far I had gone from my ideal person, that each minute from G-d, was a gift that he leaves for me to unwrap, and use however I choose.

So here I am.  Returning again.  The High Holidays were amazing.  Stressful, and the most mentally demanding experience I have ever had.  But, the reward was incomparable to anything I have ever done.  I found such an amazing home at Temple Beth David.  The Conservative shul, with a modern day Rocking Rabbi, and an Education Director (Rose) that has a smile on her face at ALL times – makes you want to – you guessed it – Return Again.  Time after time.  And, after all – isn’t that what our faith is supposed to do?

My daughter called me last night.  She’s turning 21, and is very much caught in the turmoil of shedding her juvenile, teenage persona, and working her way into a young woman.  She is realizing that her actions have reactions, and while I give her a lot of credit for her strength of character, sometimes, her “Miss Thing” antics are a bit unbearable.  Well, she got a taste of her own medicine last night, and her antics came back to bite her.  She was devastated.  She’s such an amazing young girl.  As nice as can be, but quite opinionated and self entitled.  I always knew that she would mellow, but in order to do that, she would need a good taste of her own medicine, and it happened.  As she cried to me, and wondered how she could suddenly change the person she had been, to live more truthfully to the person she wanted to be – again – those words rang out.

G-d gives us a gift each morning, heck, each moment of the day and night.  It renews itself minute after minute.  It is the gift to Return Again – to the person we want most to be.  To the rituals we have come to know and love.  To the opportunity to shed a persona that no longer works for us, and put a newer, brighter, shinier, and more comfortable one on – without a single explanation.

Lauren can Return Again.  So can I.  So can we all.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to find the time to write about my month that just flew by, as I have so many delicious and exciting things around the corner to write about, but I will do my best.  Either way – I’m back.

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