On My Mind
May 28th, 2015 by Julie Silver
A few weeks ago, Mary and I met some good friends who were visiting from out of town for breakfast before their flight home. It was a sun-soaked Santa Monica morning and Montana Avenue was buzzing. We ate and spent an hour at the Blue Plate, but with so many people waiting to be seated, we decided to move the party two blocks east outside of the Whole Foods. On our way, Mary opened her wallet and gave ten bucks to some kids raising funds for their school rowing program. That Mary. So generous. She walked away and I told them to keep the pastry AND the money.
We sat down on metal chairs in a circle. The conversation got pretty deep. Around our small table, Mary gave this friend of ours some sage advice and of course we all sat there in awe of Mary and her calm and soothing words. That Mary. My wife. Getting through just about anything with calm and grace.
We said farewell to our friends as they climbed into their rental car and headed to LAX. I turned to Mary.
“Let’s go inside Whole Foods and get something to make for dinner,” I said.
Yay! 20 minutes alone with my wife in a grocery store without our kids! Pinch me!
We had some fun shopping, laughing, playing Marco! Polo! (but with Mary! Julie!) in the aisle, mocking the sad looking cabbage in the salad bar, tossing fruit between ourselves, and suddenly Mary’s wallet is missing. She can’t find it. She checked every pocket; we retraced our steps, it has vanished into The Organic Whole Foods Air. I felt like I would throw up in front of the chips and salsa if I didn’t spring into action.
(Insert Law and Order — DUN DUN)
“Remember when you opened your wallet to those kids on the corner trying to raise money for their sailing club or some kinda shit whatever that was, Mary?” I figured now is as good a time as ever to turn into the love child of Kojak and Sharon Gless.
“I asked them,” said Mary. “They haven’t seen it”
Not gonna lie. I wanted to hold those sailors with the bake-sale upside down by their ankles and shake Mary’s wallet out of their skin-tight One Direction jeans. I imagined making a citizens’ arrest with hair ties from my backpack for handcuffs as a dozen credit cards and our kids’ school pictures went flying into the Montana Avenue sunlight.
The search and rescue was turning into a search and recovery. And there was no recovery. We drove home with one bag of groceries and a thousand bags of anxiety.
We all know it sucks to lose your wallet. The pain in the ass is just the tip of the iceberg. There were photos, IDs, private things in there. And there were gift cards in her wallet. And all sorts of credit cards and insurance stuff and OUR ADDRESS and holy shit the express train to Worriesville has left the station and I am freaking out on board and I have been upgraded and sitting in my own row at this point but WHO CAN SIT AT A TIME LIKE THIS?
“What if we get to our house and they’re already there?” I said to Mary.
“Who are THEY?” Mary asked.
“Identity theft, Mary! We should call the police! We have to cancel everything! Everything Mary! We need to go home and change our bank accounts and insurance numbers and — “
“Y’know, Jules, I’m just gonna wait. It might turn up.”
Oh. My. God. I wanted to slap the grace right off of Mary’s face. How can she be so calm? Then she said, “whoever gets my wallet must need it more than I do” and suddenly I had this overwhelming urge to strap her down, shave her head, wrap her in a beaded meditation sheet and send her off to Tibet to visit the Dalai Lama.
And I’m breathing and I’m breathing and I’m reminding myself that I was, just two weeks ago, crying my way through concentration camps in Poland. Throughout this brutal experience my mantra was a gentle chant, reminding me, “I’m alive, this is nothing, I can get through this”.
The whole time I was there, I never sang it the same way twice.
“I’m alive, this is nothing, I can get through this,” I chanted to myself.
Breathe. I’m alive
It wasn’t even MY wallet. This is nothing
Mary seems OK so maybe I should follow her lead. I can get through this
We put away the groceries and the house got quiet. In a split second, I sensed something…a sound perhaps…
I raced to the phone to pick it up on the first ring.
Without saying hello, you probably think I shouted into the phone, “Do you have Mary’s wallet? We’re changing the locks and canceling everything! You’ll never get away with this!”
But I did not say that.
Instead, I said “Hello?”
“Hello, does Mary Connelly live there?”
“Yep. Hang on,” I said as I bounded towards my wife, hand pressed to the receiver, “oh my god oh my god Mare it’s gotta be the one! This has got to be the person!” She walked away listening to the woman, gave me a thumbs up, and swatted me away as I began bouncing on my toes, asking too many questions and something about she couldn’t hear what the woman was saying. Whatever.
She called to say “I found your wallet.” But I reacted as if she called to say “The tumor is benign.” I might have some “work to do” as my immediate thought was that we had lived to see another day. This is precisely why I usually don’t go with my immediate thought.
I chastised myself for tossing around the term “identity theft” with such ease when I had just seen with my own two eyes evidence of atrocities that wiped out almost an entire people bound by their identity. Theirs was the ultimate theft of identity: the hair, the shoes, the suitcases bearing Jewish names; mountains of things that had been taken from a people who would soon be robbed of their most precious possessions, their lives. I will never use the term identity theft the same way again, I thought.
I heard the phone knock on the counter and yelled questions to Mary who yelled back the details. Usually Mary isn’t favor of yelling from room to room, but what could be more pressing? This woman found the wallet in Whole Foods…she owns a laser hair removal place nearby…she wouldn’t turn it in to Whole Foods because she was afraid the manager would take the cash for himself and then call to say it had been returned but the cash was missing. (Finally someone’s thinking clearly)
“What’s her name, Mary?” I yelled from the bedroom.
“Enough!” Mary yelled from the kitchen.
“What the hell, Mare? I just want to know what her name is. My stomach is in knots. I’ve imagined some pretty worst-case scenarios. I barricaded the front door and rearranged the numbers on our mailbox and you won’t give me her stupid name?”
“No. I mean her name is Enough”
“What the hell are you talking about? Spell it.” I demanded.
Mary walked into the bedroom with an exhausted look on her face. “I-N-A-F. Her name is Inaf.”
November 21st, 2013 by Julie Silver
This morning I am thinking about Vincent Connelly who passed away exactly one year ago. In the “in-law” department, I truly hit the jackpot. Vinnie was a masterpiece, a gentle cowboy from the Bronx who taught me how to love New York City, Zabar’s coffee, crosswords, cheese trays and Christmas. My father-in-law wore many hats–top, straw, beret, bowler, skull cap, you name it, he wore it on his head with a long white ponytail hanging gracefully past his shoulders. He wore bow ties, neck ties, and bolo ties with equal flair. On New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day, strangers on the street wanted to be photographed with him he’d look so beautiful, so classic.
Vinnie called everyone he loved “poddner”. We had just met when, sitting at a sushi place, I tried to convince Vinnie that Green Tea Ice Cream should be sold in bulk at Baskin and Robbins, that it was so delicious that “normal people would buy it and love it”. He looked up slowly from his tuna roll and said “You’re not normal, poddner.” On Christmas morning, if a sweater he bought for one of us didn’t fit he’d say “It looked good on the dummy.” After receiving something–a gift, a bit of help–anything, he’d say “You’re a sweetheart, sweetheart.”
When Vinnie entered the room, you had to stand up.
He meditated daily, retreating to private places or surrounded by the loving chaos of his growing family, letting the world embrace him as he embraced the world. He loved the writing of Thomas Merton. He recited AA Milne to his grandchildren. On Friday evenings, he played the broadcast of Park Avenue Synagogue’s Shabbat services on WNYC in the kitchen. On Christmas, we listened to Vince Guaraldi on a loop! We would sit on his bed, his command center, listening to Ella, Patsy Cline, Peggy Lee–all jazz. I loved listening to music with him. I loved arriving in New York knowing he’d be home to greet me every time I walked in the door. “I’ll be sitting on the curb waiting for you, poddner,” he’d say.
Vinnie was equally at home sitting at Bob’s Lake watching a glorious Canadian sunset, his laptop connected to a 50 foot power cord running through the woods, or walking the Upper East Side at midnight, to “kick a few tires” and make sure everything was OK on Carnegie Hill. After a White Owl and a stroll, maybe even a visit to Finnegan’s with his pals, he’d come back at 2AM and serve himself and anyone who was awake at that hour cheesecake and fresh whipped cream which he would make right then and there in his dimly lit kitchen. I used to get nervous about him leaving the apartment when we were all about to fall asleep. I never thought the sound of an electric hand mixer at 2AM would ever bring me such comfort. “He’s home,” I’d think, waking up in bed.
To Vinnie, the bigger the holiday party the better. If one could breathe or move about easily in his living room, then the party wasn’t exactly what he had hoped for. There was always room for more people at the table, more visitors, all day every day. He blessed our Thanksgiving meal with wisdom and grace. He gave my wife and me a marriage blessing underneath the chuppah. He was pure love.
I will never forget this man who raised my wife to be kind, generous, to love her life, and I know exactly why Mary says yes when the world says no.
I rise today in gratitude, to remember the man who brought so much faith and joy to the world.
“Again we say, Rejoice!”
October 6th, 2013 by Julie Silver
The sun has barely risen here in the Palisades, and I am looking out over the dark Pacific Ocean, Sally snoring, nestled at my feet, the tea kettle just beginning to whistle. I am so overwhelmed with emotion that I had to write something, anything, that will help me order and clear my thoughts. I am now home in LA, but I arrived into Miami very late this past Thursday night for a show on Friday night. I rented a car and checked into my hotel–nothing new. My concert at Temple Beth Am was booked a year ago, so you can imagine how good I was feeling that the weekend had finally arrived.
Unfortunately and mysteriously, I woke up the next morning and the room was spinning. The floor was actually crawling up the wall right in front of me. Within minutes I became so violently ill I thought I was going to die, right there, alone in a Miami hotel room. “God, help me,” I whispered through my tears. “Why is this happening to me?” I know this probably sounds like a lot of drama–and it was pretty dramatic–but there is nothing worse than being sick on the road.
In a flash of clear thinking right there on the bathroom floor I realized: I have friends in Miami. I managed to find my cell phone by crawling to my backpack and called Rachelle Nelson. She arrived within minutes carrying every over-the-counter medicine under the sun and 10 bottles of assorted beverages. She called doctors, sang to me, wiped my face with a cool cloth and sat with me until Karen Bookman Sobel arrived to take me to the emergency room. I barely remember any of this I was so nauseous but I do know that Karen made sure I got fast-tracked at the hospital. She told me stories about her sons and her travels and she made me laugh. The nurses were wonderful. Finally I was able to sit upright. And somehow–SURPRISE!–I met a nice Jewish doctor in the ER. While I was hooked up to an IV and beginning to get my color back, Susan Shane Linder walked in and relieved Karen. Susan stayed with me for the rest of the day.
Unbelievably, I was able to do the show later that night. And I was able to sing the next morning.
You know, I hear myself saying the words “God, help me” all the time. At a slow checkout line at the grocery, while I’m trying to tie my squirming daughter’s shoelaces, when the Red Sox are losing– when faced with any frustration “God, help me” falls off my tongue like a gumball out of a machine. But it was at minyan the following morning, singing and swaying and wrapped in my tallit and the loving embraces of people celebrating life when I figured out what “God help me” actually means.
I cannot describe how grateful I am that my life’s work–wandering around the world with a suitcase, a guitar, and a tallis (and a bad stomach) has brought me so many dear and loving friends who answer the call “God, help me” for me and so many others. After 25 years, this community reminds me every minute of every day that I am not alone no matter where I am in the world.
I tell you, angels are everywhere. They drop in unexpectedly. They change the scene. And most importantly, they remind me of how much love there is in the world, and how much love I’ve yet to find.
March 26th, 2013 by Julie Silver
On the evening of October 19, 2008, my wife Mary and I were home watching TV. We had just put our almost 4 year old daughter Sarah down for the night and I was getting ready to fly to New York early the next morning. It was election season, an exciting one, and the country was on the verge of electing its first black president. That said, the mood in our home was mixed. California would soon vote against marriage equality and loving couples throughout the state would once again be citizens in an America that would seek to criminalize our behavior, or at best, marginalize us as deviants.
So we’re sitting there and a commercial for this vile Proposition 8 comes up. We muted the TV but we heard the message loud and clear anyway: California is gay enough. Gay teachers will make gay students and gay parents make gay babies.
Mary and I looked at each other in gay 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.
When marriage equality was finally made legal in California, Mary and I had planned to get married in July of 2009 on Cape Cod. We had a guest list of almost 300 people and wanted to make it easier for everyone by holding the ceremony on the east coast where most of our family lives. We were excited to throw a big wedding. We loved each other and we wanted to stand up for it, in front of the world, our world. This was not to be. For the months leading up to the vote on Prop 8, I was consumed with anger knowing that the validity of my marriage would be voted on by the public.
Meanwhile, our gay and lesbian friends were getting married in droves. In many instances, I was officiating at these weddings.
This is always a great honor, to stand under a chuppah, the traditional Jewish marriage canopy, and look into the eyes of two people who love each other and bless their marriage. It’s doubly inspiring to help wed a gay couple. It took falling in love with Mary to know that I wanted to receive that wedding blessing, to be under that same chuppah standing beside her. I wanted to celebrate the shelter I had found with Mary and our growing family. I wanted to invite others into the openness of our chuppah, to hold the poles, to support our couple-hood and dance circles around us.
Mary said we should throw exactly the wedding we want and then suggested the following Saturday for a full wedding but with a handful of guests. Six. Days. Away.
Me: “Mary think about what we’re 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 don’t forget the music, Mary. Who’s gonna sing us down the aisle? Who’s 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.”
While I was worrying myself to the point of paralysis, Mary calmly took out a notebook and began planning our wedding that was to take place in six days.
Mary: “I’m not sure my Dad is going to want us to get married without a real ceremony or reception and I know he’s going to want to be here for it,”
Me: “You’re kidding me, right? Nobody is going to fly across the country with six days notice, Mary.”
Mary: “And your parents are going to want to be here, too” And she’s writing things down and she’s making a list.
Me: “Oh wow, Mare. You gotta call my parents. I can’t do this to them. They usually plan their travel 6 or 8 months in advance and they might not be able to come. You gotta call ‘em, Mare.”
Mary: “You’re out of your mind if you think your parents are going to miss this.”
She is totally ignoring me. But, to be fair, she ignores me with love. She hasn’t taken her eyes off the page she’s writing on and she’s not going to let me or my anger and our government get in our way.
The next morning I left before dawn 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.
“Tell them they do not have to come,” I stressed.
“I know, I know,” she yawned. “They plan their travel 6 to 8 months in advance. I get it.”
I flew to New York, obsessed, panicked, in love, pissed off, reluctant, paralyzed.
I called Mary on the ride into the city. “What happened with my parents when you called? How was your Dad about the whole thing? Is everyone freaking out?”
“First I 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. And then I called your parents to tell them and– SURPRISE!–your mom said ‘This Saturday? Well, we usually plan our travel about 6 or 8 months in advance…’
“I gotta go, that’s my mom on the other line”
“Congratulations! Mary just called.”
“I know it’s short notice, Mom. Don’t feel like you have to come. It’s not a big deal. We’re just doing this for legal purposes. Don’t push yourselves to get here.” My mom just listened.
“We’re arriving Friday.” she said. I could hear her smiling, 3000 miles away.
Two minutes later, my sister Robin called sounding like she had won the lottery.
“We’re arriving on Friday!” she yelled. From the front seat, my cab driver asked if I was OK.
Again, the message was clear. Other people were more excited about this wedding than I was. I was too exhausted to be excited. I was still fighting. I even felt embarrassed I’m sorry to say, and sleep-deprived for months worrying about the future of my family as our rights were about to be taken away. I simply
couldn’t get beyond my resentment at having to plan a shotgun wedding in six days.
I should disclose now that Mary produces a one-hour talk show every day, so it was pretty ridiculous of me to doubt her ability to, y’know, find a florist.
Mary worked on the details while I wandered the streets of New York working on my attitude. But I was also on the phone planning the ceremony with our friend Judy, receiving messages via well-wishers, getting with the program. It was all happening.
I can remember the conversation when we chose the song for our first dance as wife and wife. I was standing in front of a deli on Madison avenue, talking to Mary, staring at the food and people on the inside.
Our first dance would be the Theme Song from “The Odd Couple”.
In fact every time I talked to Mary who was still producing a daily, one hour talk show that same week while planning everything, she would remind me of my own words, words I had confidently spoken to loving couples underneath chuppim over the past few months.
“We stand on the shores of the red sea,” she would say. She didn’t actually use these exact words with me on the phone, but I certainly did.
“Once we were slaves, and now we are free. Free to take that first step into an unknown future. Free to cross waters that might not even part for us. This is us, in love, taking that first step, made even bigger and more meaningful by the marching and loving and
singing and protesting and the pioneers who brought us to this day. Who have given us permission to stand on their shoulders and see farther than they ever imagined.”
Before we even took off, I had already told the flight attendant about our plans to marry. Later, he brought me a glass of champagne and toasted our marriage. I never drank champagne on an airplane before, but today was a new day. And the more I told people about it, the more it dawned on me that I had become a joyful bride to be. Details shmeetails. I’m getting married to the love of my life, the woman who just planned our wedding in six days! I win!
The day before the wedding, I ran to the lumber-yard in Santa Monica to purchase four plain, wooden chuppah poles. Then I raced to Sears and bought a flat sheet and some fabric markers.
“Here,” I said, tossing the items to Sarah. “Spread this sheet out on the driveway and decorate it with these markers. We’re running out of time. I’ll explain everything later.”
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. 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. 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. Maybe.” I replied.
Sitting at the light, staring at sparkling waves in front of me, I started to believe it myself. Maybe she IS somewhere better than this place. 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! 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. 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. 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. 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. I would stand to the side and play softly on my guitar and the family would just kvell. It all seemed perfect and right. 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. 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 doesn’t—was joking around. I thought, “He’s kidding.” But he was not kidding. 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 family’s Jewish life.
Today, almost 15 years later, I am married to an Irish Catholic woman named Mary Benedict Connelly. Mary is lovingly named for her grandmother, Mary Farley, and a nun, Sister Mary Benedict, who was a friend of Mary’s parents. 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 summer camp. We did not meet on JDate. We did not meet at the college hillel. We never went on an Israel trip together. We did not then and do not now work in similar fields. I’m a traveling Jewish singer and songwriter and she is a television producer. On the surface, we are pushing completely different agendas. However, we are on the same page where it counts—being mothers, trying to be of service and share our blessings, and being role models especially for people struggling to come out. 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. I would have loved an auf-ruf, hearing “Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov” sung to us while getting pelted with sweet candy. 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, a Reconstructionist shul that adheres to the teachings of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan. One of Rabbi Kaplan’s most famous quotes is “The past has a vote, not a veto”. We like that. Much like my Reform Judaism, the tenets of Reconstructive Judaism resonate with us: Judaism is not about belief but about belonging. 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. 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. It is Mary who fills our car with food for collection at the Temple. 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. The celebration went on and on, like the Torah itself, without end. 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. Later, when I turned around and saw the Rabbi place one of the Torahs in Mary’s 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. 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 you’ve 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. When any person is “skipped over”, we all are diminished. 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. 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. It was only after we boarded the elevator together and he began 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. But he seemed like a nice guy.
Turns out he was a very nice guy. The nicest, in fact. 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. I mean, we didn’t know each other. It was a beautiful beach day. I tell you, he helped me move my stuff upstairs until my car was empty. Who “pitches in” like this, I asked myself. 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. I became his Mary Richards and he became my Rhoda Morgenstern. It was as if we needed to find each other. I had healing to do, and so did he. 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. How kind he is to my family. How optimistic and interested he is. How he can talk to just about anyone about anything. He was the first one at the hospital for the birth of our daughters. He installed Sarah’s first car seat. When he visits our house, he never tries to wake me up when I fall asleep in my TV chair after dinner. 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. And when the time came, back in 2001, he lovingly steered me in the direction of Mary Connelly who is now my wife. (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? Could the volunteer job be any more thankless? Just imagine the difficulty of all of it? Uprooting, volunteering, not knowing whether it will all pay off. 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? 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. 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. Two dogs, two daughters, two moms, meeting friends on the way, laughing it up, enjoying the ocean breeze and sunshine. 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. When we got home, the phone rang. It was Garber calling from Nevada. 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. “Jesus, Garber would you just come home? Enough already. You’re not even gay!” I selfishly replied. 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. 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. Who pitches in like this, I asked myself as I hung up the phone. 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. This is also clear to the GOP as well. Remember that practically every one of those Republican candidates at one time or another led throughout the primaries and that the party still doesn’t rally around him except as a way to express their disdain for the Trespasser In Chief.
So let’s 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. 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. Romney is a flip-flopper and a liar and it’s clear he’s 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 midst—which he also does not. He often becomes tongue-tied and laughs nervously around these topics—huge red flags.
As a woman and a lover of Torah, I’m 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. Did the Democrats invent these laws and prohibitions? Romney has said he’d be “delighted” 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 “miracle babies” conceived through rape). They back up this belief by publicly stating as fact the most inaccurate, out of touch and insulting things about women’s 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. Women who vote for 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 doesn’t lower the debt and Romney has called it “marvelous”. 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? The middle class can no longer help the poor in this country. If that fact doesn’t cause us heartache, what will? 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. Will it be with kindness, tolerance and acceptance? We have evidence that under the GOP it won’t. They have said and done as much. 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 “pray us away”? 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. It’s 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. I don’t need to see a birth certificate to prove where that is. 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. 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. And this is a good story, but my question is: what about the positive things? 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 “Ten Passover Possibilities” which I’m introducing at our Seder this year. Feel free to use these as a “jumping off” point to discuss all of the good you bring to the world, because you DO BRING GOOD TO THE WORLD. As always, I encourage you to write your own list of possibilities. How do you act in a way that brings freedom to others? How do we march side by side with people whom we will never meet but to whom we are so inextricably linked? I know that we can’t erase the past, but a list of “Ten Passover Possibilities” 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. Here’s my list:
1. Helping and asking for nothing in return
2. Asking for help even when it’s difficult
3. Agreeing to disagree
4. Rising to a new challenge or obstacle
5. Having faith in strangers
6. Giving away things that you no longer need
7. Telling your story no matter how hard it is to do so
8. Hearing someone else’s story
9. Creating from dreams
10. Singing your gratitude to the source of creation
Now go write your own. 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. Now I enjoy a hearty breakfast buffet as much as the next guy, but homemade things served in public aren’t for me. Where did this food come from? Was the bearer of this food wearing gloves when she prepared it? Was it possibly made in a methamphetamine lab? You see where I’m going, don’t you?
I have a memory of trick or treating around my neighborhood as a kid. There was one house down the street where the couple always gave away odd shaped popcorn balls instead of wrapped candy. And they always had these creepy smiles, as if to say “Go ahead. Take one. We might appear quiet and weird and our front yard might be overgrown with nondescript bushes but go on. Take two.” Where are the milk duds? Where is the Snickers Bar? 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. 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. 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. It dawned on me while I 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. 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. 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. You’ll need it.” So, I took this as another “Castaway” moment. “Take the Granola. You’ll need it for the flight back to LA.” Against my better judgment, I picked up a bag and brought it back to the table. How dangerous could this be, I thought. It’s not like the dishwasher is filling these bags between shifts with his bare hands, is he? 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? I have a flight,” I answered defensively, “I’m gonna get hungry and I’ll need it. 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. “Take this, Grandma. You’ll need it.”
What? I don’t use Sweet-n-Low.
I got to the airport and was delighted to learn I got an upgrade to first class. Cue the fireworks. 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. 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. It was crunchy and nutty and made with a hefty serving of sweet sweet love. I want to KICK myself that I almost didn’t try it out of my irrational fear of homemade items. It was the most delicious reminder of the Southern Home Hospitality I experience every time I travel south of the Mason Dixon. 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. You’ll need it.