Monday, August 25, 2008

The Olympics

The Olympics are a remarkable sight to behold. Athletes from so many countries compete in familiar and unfamiliar sports. The hammer throw would be my favorite pick for the unfamiliar. What is most remarkable is to watch the precision of the athletes' efforts. Their strokes are picture perfect. Their strides exquisite. Usain Bolt seemed to glide to the finish line in the 100 meter. Michael Phelps' 200 meter butterfly was flawless. As a former college swimmer it was an extraordinary site to watch. I remember the end of my 200 butterfly race. Rarely did I have the strength to pull ahead by a body length in the last lap. I don't know of anyone who has that kind of strength. For most of us, by the end of that difficult race we are just trying to keep it together and not break our form. We are just trying to get to the finish line. That is what is so extra-ordinary about the Olympics and the athletes who compete in its events. They swim perfectly, they run flawlessly, they bike effortlessly. And then many of them break world records with such seemingly little effort. I get on my bike and pedal for an hour and cover less than half the distance of an Olympic bicyclist. I run. I swim. I admire the achievements of these athletes. Their mastery of their sport is an extraordinary thing to appreciate.

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Campers

My wife and I just welcomed our son and daughter back from sleep away camp. My children just spent eight weeks at the Reform movement's camp in the Berkshires, Eisner. It is a remarkable place. It is my children's second home. Their return is an adjustment for all of us. In addition to spending days washing clothes and cleaning out trunks we must find our way back to living as a family. It takes a few days to get the locker room out of my son's vocabulary. It takes a few days for him to stop screaming that he is so bored. Every free minute at camp was filled with pick up games with bunkmates. There is only so many hours I can play basketball--both because my son is in better shape than me and I am terrible at basketball. It takes a few days for my daughter to stop crying about how I don't understand her. Only her friends really understand her. "What do you know about clothes! I need my friends!" It takes a few days to remind them that they can't just go walking out of the house without telling us. Our neighborhood is not camp. Despite these readjustments, despite my daughter's cries and my son's screams, I am a happy man. I love how independent my children have become. I love the self confidence camp gives them. I hope and pray they grow to be independent and self assured adults!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rainbows

This past Shabbat JCB met at Remson Beach in Bayville. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and we concluded our prayers while running to escape the torrential rains. Nonetheless the clouds provided us with a majestic tapestry. The most splendid of all sites appeared in the cloud filled heavens--rainbows. We recited the tradition's blessing for a rainbow: "Blessed are You Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who remembers the covenant, is faithful to His covenant, and fullfills His word." Unlike the other blessings for nature that praise God's creative powers--for making the great sea, for creating beautiful trees, for giving pleasant fragrance to fruits.... this blessing sees instead of the beauty and majesty of nature a sign of the promise made to Noah after the Flood. The rainbow is not about the colors painted across the sky but the promise God made to all of humanity: the world will continue forever, the world will never be destroyed. The rainbow stands against the darkest moments of history. My teacher, Annie, a Holocaust survivor, arrived after the group had recited the blessing. When I pointed to the sky's rainbow I asked if she would like to recite the tradition's blessing. She took my prayerbook and read the blessing. I responded with a heartfel Amen. Thank You indeed! Thank You God for keeping Your word and for sustaining our world. On Annie's lips the meaning of this blessing became even clearer.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Biking to Blessings

Recently I have been thinking about the beauty of Long Island. I have heard the skeptics. I recognize that many people do not think our home is a particularly beautiful place. That is most likely because they spend most of their time negotiating traffic on the LIE. No matter how you might justify it, traffic is not beautiful. But if you venture to Northern Boulevard or even farther north to the rockly coastline of the shore you will find the beauty of this island. As far as I am concerned the best way to appreciate the beauty and majesty of this place is on a bike. This past weekend I took my new bike out for a long ride and made my way back and forth from Target Rock to Eatons Neck. I made my way up the hill to the entrance of Caumsett State Park and rode around one of the most exquisite parks on Long Island. When you venture away from the noise and tumult of the LIE you can see the lines that God drew in the rocks along the Sound. When you go slow enough you can breath in the moist, salty air of the Long Island Sound and hear the sound of God's voice echoing in the gentle lapping of the sea's waves. The choice is yours. You can curse the traffic or recite the blessings for nature. You have to allow yourself time to slow down. Cars are meant to go too fast to recite blessings. A bike travels at the right speed. On a bike the blessings roll more easily off your lips.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Shabbat at Cold Spring Harbor

Last week JCB held Shabbat Services at Cold Spring Harbor park. It is a beautiful park and an extraordinary setting to welcome in Shabbat and its bride. As evening approached boats returned to their moorings after a day of sailing and fishing. A family of ducklings swam along the shore seemingly gravitating towards the songs of our tradition. The sun began to set. The horizon was ablaze with orange and red. The waters of Long Island Sound glowed with the sun's reflective gaze. The words of Maariv Aravim fluttered off of the Siddur's pages: "Adonai, Master of Legions, You create day and night, rolling light away from darkness and darkness away from light. Eternal God, Your sovereignity shall forever embrace us."