Elul 5 5775 – August 20, 2015


‘I slept and dreamt that life was joy.

I awoke and saw that life was service.

I acted and behold, service was joy.’

(Rabindranath Tagore)

My cousin M. is an energetic and elegant woman in her 60’s who has survived some serious medical trauma and spends a great deal of her time in the care of others not as fortunate, often people she does not know at all. This is one of the key values I have learned from my mother’s side of the family – German-British Jews, not of the rabbinic type, but always there at the head of the welfare committee or the Hevra Kaddisha, open homes and hearts to communal needs. On our way to the theater last night, my mother points out the building in Bloomsbury that served as HQ for incoming Jewish refugees in the 1930’s. “The more religious ones,” she says, “would be directed to our home at 33 Lordship Park. My parents always had a warm welcome and warm kosher meal and advice and if needed be, a cot or a blanket.”

On day five of Prepent, in this leafy and luxurious London suburb, I am yet again reminded a life that does not include helping others is a life of selfish greed. Jewish life considers acts of loving kindness a priority, but it’s often one we neglect.

What can one do on a daily, weekly basis, to make the life of others who for whatever reason could be more seen, taken care of, dignified, well fed, well loved? What will matter most when it’s time to wrap it all up?


Anne Lamott, in her short volume Help, Thanks, Wow, makes some big assumptions about faith and the Divine, I think, but nails what this is all about:

But where do we even start on the daily walk of restoration and awakening?

We start where we are. We find God in our human lives, and that includes the suffering. I get thirsty people glasses of water, even if that thirsty person is just me…

My personal belief is that God looks through Her Rolodex when She has a certain kind of desperate person in her care, and assigns that person to some screwed-up soul like you or me, and makes it hard for us to ignore that person’s suffering, so we show up even when it is extremely inconvenient or just awful to be there.’

What kindness can I offer a stranger today and what can I commit to doing this coming new year to be part of the joy that transforms a life of doing to a life of doing good?

(For those of you in NYC and already or not yet part of Lab/Shul – join me Fridays starting in September at a homeless senior day care center in downtown Manhattan and/or get on board with our slowly getting there ‘soup circle’ with plans to grow this coming year. Contact me for details.)

A smile to a stranger isn’t a bad start.

– Amichai

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