A New Year’s greeting- T’shuvah, T’filah, Tzedakah

It is not news that much of Oahu’s Jewish community has been in turmoil lately. The Honolulu Star Advertiser covered some of it in stories that were published last month. As with any conflict, there is a lot more to it than the newspaper reporter can capture or communicate in a few articles.

Recent events have made a huge impact on our family. While my husband and I have much to say and this topic tends to dominate our dinner table discussion and other daily conversations, I am conflicted about what to post. My personal perspective and disappointment leave me feeling a bit paralyzed–not for action, but in finding the right words.

Our actions certainly speak for themselves. We quit our membership at Temple Emanu-El Honolulu. For us, it’s about the process, which was anything but transparent.

It’s about the disparity between control and leadership. It’s about the fact that the leadership made their decisions based on only one perspective and completely disregarded any sense of compromise with or consideration of ours. It’s about zero tolerance for  leaders who resort to bullying and physical abuse to get their way.

The Sunday School deteriorated from bad to worse and they refused to address the issue in a timely manner due to their single-minded agenda in regards to getting rid of the Rabbi. It has not been as amicable as some might suggest.

We will not be a part of the Temple Emanu-El congregation for the beginning of 5772. We will attend High Holy Days services at Aloha Jewish Chapel where my husband and I met over nine years ago. Our courtship was spent celebrating Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the seats of this congregation.  We have returned each year for Shabbat services and holidays. Our family will reflect on the past year and welcome in the new one from those same seats.

I will embrace this time for t’shuvah (repentance,) t’filah (prayer,) and tzedakah (justice.)

I found some cool thoughts on this in “The Torah In Haiku” on an RJ blog and am happy to share it with you.

My friend Toby sent a link to a You Tube video that is worth sharing. It’s a nice new year greeting and the sentiment is warm.

L’shanah Tovah U M’Tukah.

Sharing a piece of Shabbat Shalom

A lot of people who do not go to our Temple have asked me for updates since I posted about our turmoil last spring. All I can say is that the situation has not improved and it is very tumultuous  and stressful, thus not easy to write about. So I haven’t–and won’t—for now.

I will post this beautiful photo that my friend Linda sent me.


She took it during Shabbat services last night at Kakaako Waterfront Park where Temple Emanu-El Honolulu holds Erev Shabbat Services several times during the summer months. We weren’t there, but are happy that Linda shared this wonderful piece of Shabbat.

It reminds me that peace is within our reach and is offered to us every week. I hope that all of our community are embracing it today and thoughts of tomorrow are in prayers for future Shabbat Shalom and L’shanah tovah u’metuchah, not a Temple in pieces.

Remembering my mother on Memorial Day Weekend

Today I am thinking of my mother, Gloria P. Gershun, who died suddenly two years ago today. I think about her every day, today is just a little bit more out loud. I miss her very much.

Two days before she died, she had lunch with her friends and went shopping for a purse at Nordstrom. She was only sick for two days and very alive and kicking every single one before that.

On Thursday, I went to the Searider Productions Awards Banquet at Wai’anae High School and presented a scholarship in both my parent’s memory to a wonderful young man, Mr. Michael Gooch.

On Friday, my family went to Kabbalat Shabbat services at Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu and said kaddish.

Tomorrow Rabbi Schaktman is participating in the Lantern Floating Ceremony on Sunday at Ala Moana Beach Park where he will be floating a lantern on behalf of our congregation which will carry a yahrzeit list. I have added both of my parents’ names. It is a beautiful ceremony and a deeply moving way to remember our loss.

Tonight we have invited a few friends and neighbors over for a barbecue that has nothing directly to do with my mom. We always have a party on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and after thinking about it a bit, I decided that just because it is the anniversary of her death does not mean we have to be sad on purpose. She certainly would not want us to change our plans.

I lit the yahrzeit candle this morning when I got up. Somehow the twinkling flame brings the feel of her presence just a bit us closer to us on this day. I wouldn’t want her to miss the party.

May her memory be a blessing and inspiration to us all.

I would like to share the bio that my youngest sister, boo, wrote about my mom.

Gloria Polsky Gershun, b. August 28, 1929, d. May 27, 2010
Gloria Polsky grew up in the small town of Marfa, Texas with her parents Blanche and Walter Polsky and her younger sister, Barbara. She graduated from high school in Omaha, NE at the age of 16 and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa in 1952. She met Theodore Leonard Gershun at her best friend’s wedding in November of 1947 and Gloria and Ted were married on June 20, 1948.

Gloria and Ted moved to Southern California in 1961. They lived there for nearly 30 years, where Gloria kept their household, volunteered with many community and school activities, and raised three daughters — Martha, Elizabeth (Betsy) (boo), and Lorraine (Lorrie) — in a happy, suburban Jewish home filled with books, food, friends, laughter, an orange player piano, and a ceramic lion’s head which lived in a birdcage.  When the girls grew older, Gloria returned to school, pursuing her lifelong love of books by earning a Masters in Library Science from California State University at Fullerton in 1975.  She re-entered the work force, first as a school librarian and then as a public school administrator for nearly 15 years.

When Ted passed away in 1990, Gloria retired and moved to Kansas City, where she made many good friends and built a full and satisfying life as an active participant in the Jewish community, a committed volunteer, and an avid shopper. In 2004 Gloria met Aaron Rabinovitz, who became her second life partner until her death in 2010. She is remembered for her optimistic approach to life; her lifelong willingness to try new things; her generosity to her community, family, and friends; her deep commitment to sharing her love of books; and her unfailing ability to find the right outfit for every occasion and the right gift for every person.

The blessing of a good book (or two)

A few months ago, Rabbi Schaktman recommended a book to me. Actually, I think he recommended an author and mentioned the title of one of her parenting books. He had recently returned from the Union of Reform Judaism’s (URJ) Biennial Convention where he heard her speak. He said that she was incredibly dynamic.

Always up for some good advice on parenting, I was intrigued and went home to look her up. Her name is Wendy Mogel and after reading about her on the URJ Biennial’s and Amazon’s websites I immediately downloaded both of her books onto my iPad: The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus. I then proceeded to devour each of them. I am still savoring the wonderful framework that she presents for raising my Jewish kids.

If I had to choose between the two books as to which is my favorite, I’d  pick: The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children. Maybe it is because I read this one first. It introduced me to the concept of raising my kids  from a Jewish perspective and I immediately connected. I teach them about being Jewish, but this is different. It is more about being Jewish in the choices that I make in regards to parenting.

I enjoyed the beginning of the book in which Mogel tells the story of how she embraced her Jewish self and chose to study more about Judaism. I’ve been talking to my husband lately about the idea that we don’t have to wait to go to Temple to be Jewish. We can enjoy our religion and culture in our everyday lives at home. I was thinking that we’d celebrate Shabbat and Havdalah and talk more at the dinner table.Reading this book reaffirmed a lot of choices that I make by instinct and encouraged me to understand my children in new ways.

I had no idea how often I embrace what she calls the “Three cornerstone principles of Jewish living….moderation, celebration and sanctification.” Now that she has named it for me, I am able to practice it even more.

Most of the reviews on Amazon are much better than I could write here. They also affirm that it is good parenting advice whether you are Jewish or not. I will simply close by saying that they are the two best parenting books I have ever read. They have made a huge impact on my choices. They make me feel better about being a parent and being Jewish. I wish I had read them sooner. I’d love to meet Wendy Mogel and it would be totally awesome if she came to Hawaii to speak.

Thanks, Rabbi Schaktman, for the suggestion.

On the fourth night of Chanukkah…

Our family came together with the community at the Aloha Jewish Chapel at Joint Base Pearl Harbor…literally.

After several relaxing, peaceful, child free days, my husband picked up our younger girl from Camp Erdman in Mokuleia on the North Shore and drove straight to Pearl Harbor. I brought the teenager from hula practice and we reconvened as a family for Friday night services and Chanukkah celebration.

I met my husband the first time I attended the Aloha Jewish Chapel (AJC) almost nine years ago. My very long time friend Dan Bender who leads the services at the Chapel introduced us. Much of our early courtship was spent sitting side by side at Friday night services. We progressed to marriage from there.

Before I went to AJC I wasn’t  aware that there is a vibrant Jewish community in the military. I didn’t know much about the military in general. It was out of my realm of experience. I’ve learned a lot since then, considering I married a Jewish soldier and am now, among other things, an Army wife.

The Aloha Jewish Chapel was built in the 1970’s and is the first  free-standing Jewish chapel built by the United States government exclusively for Jewish worship. Besides being a special place in terms of history, we like it because our friend, Dan, leads the services.

I’ve known Dan since I was in college in L.A.. We both taught Hebrew at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills and found each other again after I moved to Hawaii over 20 years ago. We go way back.

Our family enjoys Friday night services at AJC and our local Temple Emanu-El, but more often find ourselves at Pearl Harbor due to the proximity to our house and not having to drive in Friday evening traffic to get there.

Last night was a nice community celebration. A mixed crowd of retired military, young active duty couples, various dependents and local guests came together for latkes, dreidle and song.

We were happy to see the Donlins there and I took a picture of the Kamehameha grads with my teenager happy that they are a great role model for my Jewaiian girl.

Rachel Haymer played the ukulele and led us as we sang, “Light One Candle,” “Rock of Ages” and “Not by Might.” Always one to appreciate the meaning in the moment, I was moved by the lyrics that pay tribute to the Maccabees and the “Pain they endured, when their right to exist was denied,” and the call to “Light one candle to bind us together with peace as the song in our heart.”

My spirit is renewed and refreshed by an evening with family and community in common celebration. Happy Hanukkah.

Stand up and be counted

When I signed up to have our family portrait taken to be included in the Temple’s 50th Anniversary Commemorative Pictorial Directory I was just doing it to be supportive. It sounded like a good idea and I wanted to be included.

I also like the idea of being a part of the Temple’s history.

I read the Rabbi’s emails and Temple newsletter article about how taking pictures for this purpose would not be irreverent on a solemn day such as Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It made sense and I agreed, but I didn’t really think too much about it. I had already signed up.

When the article appeared in the Honolulu Star Bulletin on Saturday quoting his thoughts, my husband and I agreed that it made going to take our picture even more meaningful.

The idea of being a “statement of our people’s triumph” filled me with purpose. Our family was going to proudly affirm our lives–our Jewish lives on this day of remembrance.

I figured that if I was going to be a statement, a historical representative of a Jewish person in Hawaii in 2011 that I’d better represent well. I chose everything that I wore with care.

Not only did I want to look good, but what I wore was symbolic. The dress was colorful for our Aloha style in Hawaii. Each piece of jewelry came from somebody that I love. That way I could represent them as well.

You can’t see them in this photo I took before the session, but they are there.

Along with my wedding ring and anniversary necklace from my husband, I wore the earrings he brought back for me from a trip to Texas last year.

I wore the Hawaiian bracelet my mother gave me for my 40th birthday and the pearl ring my father gave her long before I was born.

I wore a bracelet from my mother-in-law and one from Uncle Puppy who passed away just last month.

We enjoyed the photo session. It brought us together, celebrating our family and our place in the community. The young woman from Lifetouch encouraged us to smile for the camera and was patient as we posed.

Thank you to all who organized the photo shoot and the directory. We are a proud family to be included  in what, as Rabbi Schaktman said is, “No greater tribute to those who lost their lives, and no greater repudiation of their murderers.”

The local newspaper finally writes a full article about local Jews!

Check out this article about Yom Hashoah in the Honolulu Star Bulletin.