Wednesday, November 4, 2015

In memory of Sapphire, a wonderful companion cat

My cat, Sapphire, named for his beautiful blue eyes, passed away peacefully in my arms early Saturday morning.  He was, we estimate, about 16 years old.   We don't know exactly, because he was a stray who showed up in our yard in January 2000.  He was an adult and not kittenish when we found him, so we assumed  he was about 2 years old then.

It was actually my sheepdog, Grett (now deceased) who found him.  When I went out to do chores one morning, Grett kept trying to lead me to the old garage we use as a shed.  He would look back at me, take a few steps, then look back again.  I followed the dog and there was Sapphire, sitting up on a shelf.  He was lost and afraid, also cold, hungry, and thirsty.  I began putting food and water out for him, and soon he came down to greet me each day.  He began letting me pet him, but it was a long time before  I could hold him.

"Brotherly Love Cats"
A favorite photo I took of Sapphire (left)
and his friend Patches (right)
Eventually he did get to where he would come up to the house, then later inside.  From then on, he was a loving cuddle kitty who liked to sleep on the bed.  He was also a "nurse cat" in that he sensed when another cat or a human was sick.  He especially liked to lick and groom the other cats, and was often the first to welcome new cats when the arrived on our little hobby farm.  (We have taken in a lot of strays over the years.).

You may have heard of dogs that can smell tumors and such?  Well, Sapphire kept insisting on putting his head on my wife Caryl's abdomen where she has a hernia.  After surgery to correct this, Sapphire did not do that anymore.  We believe he knew something was wrong.

About two years ago he had what we think was a stroke.  We though we were going to lose him then, but he rallied and recovered.  From then on he was a bit uncoordinated and sometimes confused, so we kept him inside the house unless one of us was outside to watch him.

About a month ago he began to slowly go downhill, eating less, sleeping more, and I knew the end was near.  He slipped n and out of a coma until finally, around 3am on the Sabbath (Saturday), he crossed over.  (It is strange how many of my pets have died on the Sabbath.  Far more than would be mere coincidence.  Perhaps it is because the sabbath is a taste of Eden?)

On Sunday morning, as is our custom, we buried him on our land, marking the grave with stones.  Frost had already killed most of the flowers in the yard, but I found enough to decorate the grave.  He will be sorely missed, and remembered as a wonderful friend.

You can make a donation to the ASPCA in Sapphire's memory at:

Sapphire's grave, November 1, 2015

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Sukkot Super-moon eclipse of 2015

The first night of Sukkot (Feast of Booths) always falls on the full moon of the Hebrew month of Tishri.  This year it was not only a full moon, it was a super-moon, because the moon's orbit brought it closer to Earth than usual.  But even more special, it was also a total eclipse where I live.  All of which made this a Sukkot night to remember.

My wife Caryl and I began eating in the Sukkah around 7:30, when the eclipse was just beginning.  We could see the moon through the natural branches on the Sukkah roof, but after the meal we decided to move our chairs outside for a better view.  The sky was not perfectly clear.  There were clouds moving across the sky, which sometimes obscured the moon.  Each time it appeared through a hole in the clouds, it looked a bit different as the eclipse progressed.  This added to the mystique, I think.

The night itself was perfect.  Not too cold, yet cool enough to be comfortable.  One interesting thing we noticed was that during totality, there were no mosquitoes.  Do they become less active in total darkness?  Normally the bugs are most active at dawn and dusk in the twilight.  As the eclipse came out of totality, there were again a few mosquitoes buzzing around us.  An interesting phenomenon.

 Sitting there together under the eclipse light was a romantic experience for Caryl and me, and we began talking about how long it had been since we had simply sat together in quiet sharing.  Watching the eclipse became a calm, gentle meditation for both of us.

We stayed outside the whole 3.5+ hours it lasted here in Sandstone, MN.  We could not take any photos because that is forbidden on a Jewish holy day, but the beautiful images of the experience are forever saved in our hearts.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Kim Davis and Religious freedom: A Jewish Perspective

Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who is refusing to issue marriage licenses because she does not believe in same-sex marriages, sees herself as a martyr to her faith.  As a religious Jew watching this story unfold, I have another perspective.  Namely, that Christians like her are very new at being a minority, and have not figured out how to balance public and private life.  For centuries in the Western World, Christianity was the dominant culture.   Now that is no longer so, and this is creating a crisis that we Jews already dealt with centuries ago.

In my own life I have also had this struggle, especially around Christmas time, when there is extreme pressure to conform.  I can remember a time when suburban Jews had "Hanukkah bushes" just to avoid being harassed by Christian neighbors.  Ditto for putting up "holiday lights."  If you were the only family on the block that did not, you heard about it.  It was simply assumed that everyone was Christian.

Now the shoe is on the other foot.  Puritan Christians are no longer in control.  And suddenly people like Kim Davis are finding out what it is like to be asked to do something you do not believe in.  Only with a difference.  Because Judaism has a principal called, in Hebrew, dina malchut dina, "The law of the land is the law."  Jews do not insist the whole world live according to our beliefs.  When it comes to secular issues, we obey the laws of the country we live in.  In the case of Kim Davis, as a public official, Judaism would say that she is required to issue those licenses.

I have tried to think of a similar issue for me as rabbi and came up with this:  Jewish law forbids intermarriage between a Jew and a non-Jew.  Many synagogues will not accept such families as members.  That is their right as religious institutions.  But what would I do if such a couple showed up at the courthouse asking me to issue a license, and I knew for a fact it would be a "forbidden" intermarriage?  I would issue the license.  I would not perform the ceremony.  I might not go to the wedding. But in terms of the secular law, I would be required to fulfill my duty.  This would not be a breach of my own faith, since I would be doing it as a public official, not as a rabbi.

Christians need to learn how to make this distinction between public and private.  They need to accept the fact that are not the majority anymore, and they no longer run the whole show.  Kim Davis could best demonstrate her faith by resigning her post and seeking another job.