Archive for January, 2012


Today I thought a lot about the concept of “tolerance.”  If there is a “yin” and “yang,” as it were, then — and I was quite amazed to realize this – –  the opposing force to tolerance is “gaiva” – haughtiness, or egotistical pride.  (Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe ztz”l  of mussar fame, discussed the interconnectedness of tolerance and humility.)  Why is a person intolerant, and what is its root cause?  Because when one is  so sure one knows Truth, therefore, whatever is not true must be false.  If Person B does not share the same concept of truth as Person A, then Person B must be “wrong.”  And if  Person A can see Truth and Person B cannot accept it, even after it’s been presented to Person B as true, then Person B is somehow a “lesser” person.  The fact that Person A thinks of Person B in this way fosters haughtiness.

We are supposed to hate the sin, but not the sinner.  But every person is created of many parts, and when we see a particular aspect of a person that we do not care for, we tend not to look deeper for positive attributes.  Instead one consciously or subconsciously rejects or distances that person from oneself to some degree.  It’s easy to castigate the sinas chinam (gross intolerance and baseless hatred) we’ve heard about in Israel recently, yet do we really have meaningful friendships with people who don’t share our hashkafos (philosophical or religious beliefs/outlook)?

This is not a rhetorical question.  The usual response is that it is simply and practically difficult to relate to a person on a deeper level if their lifestyle is so very different from one’s own.  My response is that if one truly embraces ahavas Yisrael, then it is not only possible to have a meaningful relationship with a person different from oneself, but one will find much to admire and learn from that person.  I’m not saying it’s easy – – I am still far from attaining that ideal myself.

A person who may not keep a mitzva that is important to me (i.e. Shabbat, kashrus, etc) may be much more meticulous than myself about proper behavior in business, or caring for an elderly parent, being mentschlich in interpersonal relations, giving tzedaka, or volunteering for a challenging act of chesed.  We may be surprised when we reach the World To Come to find that Judgement and the methodology for tallying  positive and negative contributions may not be so obvious after all.

Shiva Call

I am back in my home town.  Today I made a shiva call —  to complete strangers.

The deceased was a young Jewish man, age 24, who was a member of the United States Air Force.  He was killed  in Afghanistan on January 5, and was brought home for burial on January 17.  Besides the obvious tragedy – – a son, a brother, and a grandson is dead – – there were so many things that struck me about this loss.

For many blocks leading up to the shiva house, the neighbors had lined the streets with hundreds of small American flags, to honor the young man’s service and to express solidarity with the soldier’s family.  Inside the home, there were many friends and family gathered, as well as veterans who didn’t know the young man at all but wished to express their condolences (“In the military, all soldiers are family,” said one gentile veteran in his 80s).  Unfortunately, the family has had to contend with much grief this year, as the maternal grandfather passed away a couple of months ago, and the paternal grandmother is in hospice, given only days to live.   The soldier’s only sibling, a brother, is gay, so the parents will never merit walking a child to the chuppah, nor know the joy of grandchildren – –  so the enormity of the tragedy is even more profound.

What can you say to such a loss?   All the comments were appropriate, yet  in no way could they console fully nor make it right.   “You must be so proud of your son.”  ” I am so sorry for your loss.”  “Thank you for his service to our country.”   “I am sorry and humbled that he had to make the ultimate sacrifice.”

This particular young man had looked to the military to find his path in life, and it seemed that indeed he had found his calling there.  He was trained to do a specialized task that demanded skill and courage and he performed it with tremendous enthusiasm.  He loved the physical and tactical challenges, the camaraderie with his fellow soldiers, and he truly did believe in the necessity of protecting the freedom of all Americans by fighting for it when necessary.    Whenever he was in contact with his parents from afar, they noted how happy he sounded, and how proud he was to serve in the military.  He wasn’t at it for very long, however:  in the summer he was in Basic Training in Texas, in the Fall he went for additional training in Colorado, and in December he was deployed to Afghanistan, where only a month later he was killed by an explosive device.

What can you say to complete strangers to comfort them, beyond the traditional  “HaMakom Yinachem Eschem B’Toch Shaar Avlei Tziyon V’Yerushalyim: May God’s presence comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem” ?

I came because I’m a Jewish mother.  I came because I’m an American.  I came because I’m a quasi-military mom (my son-in-law is a Chaplain and Major in the United States Air Force).

I came because I’m so glad it wasn’t my child, and am so sad that it is theirs.

A Mazel Tov

6 lbs 6 oz of cuteness - here she is at 9 hours old

We got about 9 inches of snow on Thursday, several inches more on Friday, and currently the evening temperature is -15F (-29F with windchill).  At least that’s what we heard . . . since we returned to our hometown,  just before the snow hit, awaiting the birth of a grandchild.  It’s a girl!  Born motzei Shabbos. Mother and baby are doing well, B”H.

Maine Population Stats

Tonight I had a rather comical experience at the local library, one town away.  As I went to check out some books, the librarian wished to remind me that “next Monday we are closed due to the holiday.”  I am ashamed to admit it, but I simply could not recall what holiday falls in the middle of January.  “What holiday is it?” I asked.  Apparently the librarian was equally clueless.  Flustered, she quickly checked the papers on her desk.  “Martha Luther King Day,” she said (and it was even funnier in a Maine accent, which came out “Mah’thuh”).

According to the 2010 US Census, Maine is America’s “whitest” State, with 95.3 percent of the population claiming itself to be Caucasian.  Additionally, Maine has the Nation’s smallest percentage of young people under the age of 5.  This is especially serious in rural Maine, where struggling townships find it difficult to keep their schools open for the dwindling juvenile population, requiring that local children ride further and further by school bus to reach a different elementary school should their nearest school close its doors. In some cases, schools can’t close because there are simply no other nearby alternatives within an hour’s drive.  Our closest neighbors’ three children travel by school bus (paid by our property taxes) 30 minutes each way to elementary school 2 towns away, and 40 minutes each way to middle school .  Because there is no local high school, the town must pay for them to attend the closest school, which is a  nationally-acclaimed private school called Fryeburg Academy, whose ca. 1792 charter allows locals to attend for free but charges $40,000 annual tuition for foreign and out-of-state students.  On huge, stately grounds, Fryeburg Academy rivals many universities in terms of facilities, dorms, staffing, state-of-the-art resources, equipment, labs, arts center, gymnasium, etc.  It is indeed a fascinating mix of students, with its preppy, wealthy Ivy-League-bound “foreign” students, and locals who may never even dream of going to college and instead follow in their woodsmen fathers’ footsteps.

Maine is also the Nation’s oldest state, with the highest percentage of the population in the Nation of people aged 45 or older.  And when talking about people aged 65 or older, Maine is only 2 percentage points behind Florida’s 17 percent.

What’s interesting is that in our little town, population 238, we have an unusual amount of diversity, which is atypical of the rest of the State.  There are two African Americans, one Asian, several Native Americans, and three Jews.  I think Mainers in general are quite proud yet nonchalant about  their tolerance of “otherness” in general.  Recently there was a discussion in a news forum between someone thinking of moving to Maine who happened to be gay, and a lifelong (straight)  Mainer.  The Mainer wrote in response to his query:  “You seem to be preoccupied with how people perceive you, and I don’t understand why people would care about you in the first place. If you want to come to Maine and live your life like the rest of us (we don’t share our bedroom proclivities with others usually), you can live anywhere in Maine. Maine is pretty “live and let live,” and “You mind your business and I’ll mind mine.” However, if you have a cause, STAY AWAY. You will not be happy here. Maine people will tolerate almost anything and figure it’s none of their business. If you wish to force the endorsement of your lifestyle on everyone else, you are in for a hard time.”

Based on our own experiences here, I would say that sums up the “Maine attitude” pretty accurately.

First Hike of 2012

On today's hike we never got above treeline so we didn't see any amazing views. But sometimes it's just as nice to focus on the smaller picture. Look at the complexity of these fungi! To me they look like semi-precious agates. Another example of the wondrous miracle and detail of Creation. (click to enlarge)

Today was an absolutely wonderful day, mostly because it was so atypical of a January day in Maine.  The sky was brilliant blue; there is almost no snow left on the ground (usually we’d have 3 feet by now); and the sun warmed the woods to the high 40s.  Miraculously, it was an official holiday and my husband had off, so we could actually make the most of this glorious day together!  We opted for a hike, to maximize our exposure to the wonderful fresh air while getting some much-needed exercise.

The bright glare of silvery winter light along the trail (click to enlarge)

Our nemesis, Speckled Mountain, beckoned.  We had no intention of attempting a summit climb; rather, we wanted to scour the many trails that we’ve discovered in our wanderings that aren’t necessarily recorded on our topo map or GPS, and learn which was the most efficient way to the summit so we can attempt a climb this coming summer.  We only walked a total of 5 miles of many steep ups and downs, but we did get better oriented to the various trail possibilities and now feel much more familiar with the terrain.  I was so happy to have finally located the proper trails and avoid bushwhacking.

The faded yellow trail marker on the tree in the foreground helps us stay on the correct path.

These Microspikes crampons slipped right over our hiking boots. The sharp metal protrusions on the bottom provide extreme traction when negotiating icy trails. (click to enlarge)

At the highest point of our climb, we literally ran into a wall of rather unstable ice. Even with the crampons, we didn't feel it was safe to attempt to climb these steep granite cliffs, so we turned back. (click to enlarge)

The only path we didn’t get to explore (now that the winter days are so short, we ran out of time, even though we had been hiking at a decent clip for a few hours) was what appeared to be a snowmobile trail that led off somewhere into the woods, but on our final descent of the day, when our trail merged with this one, we found out from other climbers returning to base that this snowmobile trail was in fact the easiest and most direct way to reach the top!  Based on the other hikers’ descriptions, we could have made it to the top and back in under 3 hours, avoiding the icy cliffs altogether.  We were disappointed we didn’t know about this route earlier, but we are looking forward to a future attempt to the reach the summit!


Postscript:  The following day we returned to hike the shortcut snowmobile trail.  It was about 4.5 miles roundtrip.  We did in fact reach the summit, but it was not Speckled Mountain, it was the much smaller mountain to its left, Adams Mountain, site of the old Evergreen Valley ski resort.  Moral of the story:  There are no shortcuts in real life for the things that matter.