Abraham, Robert Frost, and Kol Nidre

I’m back! Did you miss me?

First, what have I been doing? Well, the holidays completely wiped me out. Rabbinical classes at IISHJ started up again, and then we moved offices at my job, so it’s been a busy month or so.

Then, last weekend, I went to the board meeting for the Society for Humanistic Judaism. I’m not a board member per se, but was there in my capacity as co-editor for the Society’s journal, Humanistic Judaism. (I’m new–so new, that the first issue I’ll have been involved with isn’t due for publication until January.)

All of this means that I’ve not really done a heck of a lot of thinking about other things. But the Torah portion for this week, Vayeira, actually includes pretty much all of the material I discussed in my sermon in Tucson, Arizona, for the Rosh Hashanah services I led for the Secular Humanist Jewish Circle there. Below, then, is the text I wrote for the sermon. The actual delivered version was not slavish to this text; I might make the audio of it available at some point, though I’m not in a terrible hurry to edit that much audio.

So, here’s the text. You’ve been warned: it’s long. Hopefully I’ll be back soon with other stuff!

….

A little after the shofar’s blasts—those shrill, piercing tones, calling us to hold ourselves accountable for the prior year—we shared a reading of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” It’s a fixture of high school literature classes. And it is perhaps one of the few poems known widely among generations of Americans of many walks of life.

But for all its notoriety, it turns out that the poem has been a little …misunderstood.

The British newspaper, the Guardian, ran a story about four years ago that looked into how the poem came to be in 1913. And I’d like to tell you a little bit of that story.

Robert Frost was a struggling writer who just couldn’t make a go of it in the American literary scene. So he moved to London. Remember, this is before the careers of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Williams, and other 20th century greats. London was, if you wrote in English, pretty much the literary place to be.

While in England, Frost met a poet named Edward Thomas. The two would go on walks in the woods together from time to time.

As it turned out, Thomas was indecisive when he got to a split in the path. He would hem and haw about which road to take. The beaten path?, or, as Frost put it, the road not taken. Keep in mind that it didn’t really matter which way they went. They would always end up at home.

Finding this at once amusing and perhaps a little annoying, Frost wrote a poem jabbing at Thomas’s indecision over this inconsequential choice.

The problem, as it happens, is that the only person who got the joke was Frost.

The poem was published, and Frost rocketed to literary fame. He returned to the United States for a time to do a literary tour and readings at American universities. Largely because of “The Road Not Taken,” people took Frost to be a very serious poet. And they took his poem to be a very serious comment on the importance of individualism.

Moving to London had exactly the effect Frost had hoped for his literary career.

Frost’s fame did not, however, come without consequences. You see, there was one other person who took the poem about Edward Thomas’s indecision very, very seriously.

That person? Edward Thomas.

As it happened, Thomas was more than a little insecure about his indecisiveness generally—forks in the road aside. And by the time Frost’s poem become popular, it was 1915. Thomas was British, and World War I had already begun swallowing millions of men of his generation.

German Zeppelins were already floating over the English Channel. It really was possible for bombs to fall on London.

Thomas was already insecure. And, in the midst of an unprecedented threat to England from abroad, Frost’s perhaps not-so-gentle nudge was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Thomas joined the army.

He was killed in battle two years later.

As we opened our service, we lamented that the year past was over too fast. We feel pressure—so much pressure—to decide now, to speak now, to do something. NOW.

How often do we hear, “Act now—tickets are going fast!”? Or, “I need this now”?

Very much in this vein, Thomas took Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” to be an instruction to choose. NOW.

This Week

It’s been quiet here at the blog. Something that doesn’t get mentioned about the Rosh Hashanah-through-Simchat Torah rush? It takes a toll on the people doing the rushing for their communities. Add onto that some physical relocation at work and various other things happening over here, and I’m pretty wiped out. There’s just not been much extra energy for writing.

And what energy there might have been has been a little bit more diminished watching events in the Middle East.

I have no solutions for that. For various reasons, I’m not going to stake out a position on it here. I trust you can find your own resources, and form your own opinions. I’ll only say, at this point, that I hope we see at least a diminution in suffering soon.

I’m sure I’ll be back with something to say here soon, as always happens when I say I have nothing to say. Until then, wherever you are, stay safe.

Hand completing a multiple choice exam.

“What is religion?” Part 2

Where’s Part 1, you ask? Here, in a post I had forgotten that I had written.

I’m not actually writing a continuation of that. (Deceptive title to this post, isn’t it?) But there was a huge run on that specific post over the last two days. And I can’t help but notice that this is midterm season at most U.S. colleges.

I don’t think it helped anyone answer their midterm exam question on “What is religion?” or on whether humanism, or Judaism, or Humanistic Judaism, or whatever else is a religion. But, in the event it did, I hope you used proper citation!

In other news, with the big cycle of fall Jewish holidays ended, I’ll be getting back to a more regular posting pattern.

Alexander Gierymski's "Feast of Trumpets," depicting taskhlikh, the ritual casting off bits of bread as a symbolic shedding of the prior years' sins. (1884)

The Run-Up to Rosh Hashanah

Alexander Gierymski's "Feast of Trumpets," depicting taskhlikh, the ritual casting off bits of bread as a symbolic shedding of the prior years' sins. (1884)

Alexander Gierymski’s “Feast of Trumpets,” depicting tashlikh (1884)

It’s been quiet here…again. That’s entirely on purpose.

At the moment, in addition to the usual things I do (work, parent, spouse, student), I’m writing a service for the first organized Humanistic Jewish Rosh Hashanah event in Indianapolis…like, ever…writing a sermon for services I’ll be leading the following weekend for a community in Tucson…and planning out a talk I’ll be giving the day after the service in Tucson.

So, you know, busy.

If you’d like to go to the Indianapolis Rosh Hashanah service, you can visit this post for links and more information.

If you’d like to go to High Holiday events in Tucson, you can visit the website for Tucson’s Secular Humanist Jewish Circle for more information.

If you’re looking for Humanistic Jewish High Holiday events in your community, please visit the Society for Humanistic Judaism’s website to find a local group.

I’ll be back. And as I’ve observed before, that probably means that tomorrow, after I’ve resigned myself to not having anything to post about, I’ll see something and feel compelled to write.

Which I guess means, stay tuned.

A Brief Announcement, then Heads-Down for a While Longer

I’ve been in and out of Indiana of late, once for a meeting of the Association of Humanistic Rabbis (because I’m a student rabbi), and once for a class on congregational leadership and management (also because I’m a student rabbi). Thus, limited posting here.

BUT…

Picture of the cover of the journal, Humanistic Judaism.

Humanistic Judaism

I wanted to announce that I’m now one of two co-editors (along with a fellow IISHJ student, Susan Warrow) of Humanistic Judaism, the journal for the Society for Humanistic Judaism. You can read recent issues online, subscribe, and even join the Society if you’re not a member. Who knows? You may even encounter something in the journal that was written by me or others you’ve encountered on the web, like Rabbi Adam Chalom of Kol Hadash Humanistic Congregation in the Chicago area (blogging at Shalom from Rabbi Chalom), Rabbi Jeffrey Falick of the Birmingham Temple in the Detroit area (blogging at The Atheist Rabbi–which is now part of the Patheos network!), or Rabbi Denise Handlarski of Oraynu in the Toronto area (blogging at her personal website), or Rabbi Susan Averbach (blogging at Musings of an Agnostic Rabbi).

Susan and I have been brought on board due to the passing of the prior editor, Ruth Duskin Feldman. Ruth was an amazing editor (there was never something of mine she touched that didn’t improve significantly as a result) and an amazing person. You can read her NY Times obituary here. It’s a little intimidating to step into her place.

Give the SHJ site a visit. Go for the journal, stay for the Humanistic Judaism!

A Quiet Spell

It’s been busy here of late. As I observed to some of my Facebook peeps, that article on dues really stirred up the pot, leading me to conclude that people are either 1) really interested in what I have to say, or 2) really just don’t want to pay synagogue membership dues!

It’s going to be a bit quiet for the next few weeks, however. I have two–two!–trips to Farmington Hills, Michigan (home of the Birmingham Temple) in the next few weeks, including one for a week-long class. Prep for that will be occupying good portions of my time.

In the period between those two trips, I’m lecturing on commercial law on negotiable instruments and payment system for graduate public accountancy students. Reviving all of that material in my brain, preparing slides and group exercises, etc., will take up lots of mental energy. And while I’m certain there are many things I could write about that you’d be interested in, I’m absolutely sure you would not be interested in anomalous endorsements and Federal Reserve regulations on funds availability and check processing. (Okay, well, I know one of you would be, but that person works in banking already.)

All of which is a long way of saying that things will be sedate around here for a few weeks, unless something really grabs my attention.

Never fear, however. As the Austrian Oak would say, “I’ll be back.”

(Tumbleweeds)

All–just a quick note, given my (relative) silence. I’ve not forgotten you! I have five half-finished posts, none of which I’m especially happy with. I think it’s because there’s a core tension that I need to address in a dedicated blog post, and I need just a bit more time to formulate it.

On top of that, I’ve been busy reading for an upcoming seminar, prepping (already) for some High Holidays-related things, doing some of the initial work for building a Humanistic Jewish community of some kind here, and teaching a law class–all on top of my usual work and family commitments.

So it will be a little quiet around here for a week or two. But I’ll be back sooner rather than later.

We Made It!

We made it to Humanistic Jew, Jr.’s eleventh birthday!

I thought I’d have something profound here, but really, I don’t. We made it without another trip to the hospital or another huge emergency. Heck, I had to wake him up this morning, he was so mellow. His big acknowledgement of his birthday today? “Ten is over. First day of eleven!”

HJJ is scheduled to have the following: ice cream cake today at lunch, birthday cake tomorrow night at home with his Bubbe and Zayde and Tante and a few others, and more cake on Saturday evening at dinner out with his Bubbe and Zayde and Tante and still more others.

And, of course, presents. Because birthday!

Whoa!

Wow, I just realized it’s been a while since I posted. I haven’t disappeared–I was reading and doing prep work for a seminar at IISHJ on Jewish Education that just wrapped up yesterday.

Incidentally, the Israeli branch of IISHJ, called IISHJ-Tmura, is ordaining two Israeli rabbis this week. You can find short, English-language biographies of them at the IISHJ Facebook page.

I’ll be back soon with something substantive; in the interim, enjoy your week!

A brief quiet spell

Reader,

At the moment, we’re in a brief quiet spell on the blog–I don’t like to go a week without a little update, so here you are!

These things happen–as it turns out, I’m revising one paper and helping out around the house while Mrs. Secular Jew bounces back from a minor outpatient procedure. Nothing serious–no great illness or anything like that. She’s doing well.

But I can announce that I’ve recently been endorsed as a Humanist Celebrant by the Humanist Society, which is (from where I’m sitting, at least) exciting. And I will be speaking on neurodiversity and ableism at an upcoming Sunday Assembly program here in Indianapolis this coming Sunday.

I’m mulling over a little post tomorrow on this week’s Torah portion; we’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, it’s still Jewish Disability Awareness Month; maybe learn a bit more about inclusion in Jewish communities.