Posts Tagged ‘terrorism’

Simcha: The Joy Inside My Tears

Monday, April 18th, 2016
by Sam Glaser

Webster’s defines joy, or simcha as the emotion evoked by well being, success or good fortune, or to experience great pleasure or delight. Judaism defines simcha with a bit more nuance.  Joy results from anticipating a bright future.  We are a People whose survival in every generation is wholly reliant on miracles.  By nature we are optimists.  Our national anthem is Hatikvah (The Hope.)  David Ben Gurion summed up our penchant for positive thinking in the famous phrase, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.”  We maintain that simcha is the natural state of being alive.  Just look at young kids who are playful, ebullient, laugh easily and recover quickly when they are hurt.  They are ecstatic simply playing hide and seek, building a sand castle or eating ice cream.  They haven’t yet learned to be morose, critical and pessimistic. Reclaiming joy requires learning to perceive God’s hand in our lives and rediscovering the precious inner child that we all possess.

Happiness is a solo pleasure, joy a group dynamic.  We can mow over each other in our quest for happiness whereas joy is a communal state of flow with the Universe.  Big, fat Jewish weddings are the ultimate joy-fests.  Seeing a great movie makes you happy, doing a great mitzvah brings joy. Want to increase your joy?  Help others in need, dance at a simcha, ponder the great gift of your friends and family.  Do the things you love to do with those you care about.  And if they are too busy, do them yourself!
Tonight I brought home Chinese food for the family.  I battled traffic, waited for a parking spot, spent a fortune and then was rebuked by my daughter for buying things that she doesn’t like.  In her angst she marched off to her bedroom without eating a bite.  That doesn’t make me want to run out to a restaurant next time…let her eat cereal!  The formula is simple: when we acknowledge the good in our lives, God gives us more.  Unfortunately the converse is also true. God wants to give us the maximum pleasure possible!  Gratitude is the key to the simcha treasury.  Our responsibility to respond to the miracle of our lives with joy is a mentioned eighty-eight times in our Tanach (bible.)  The terrible curses visited on the Israelites occur because they didn’t “serve their God with joy.” I’ve heard it said that parents are as joyful as their least happy child.  So too with our Creator.
Joy doesn’t result from events or good news; rather it is a long term pleasure that springs forth from an attitude that every moment is a growth opportunity.  When we expend negative energy over life’s little problems, we make “lack” our focus.  In every situation we can learn to say “Gam zeh l’tova,” (this is also for the good.)  Rabbi Noah Weinberg used to say that joyous people are problem solvers, not problem sufferers.  It’s a glass-half-full thing.  Have you ever set out on an adventure with a complainer?  Oy vey!  It’s not too big a challenge to be a critic, to point out the things that “suck.”  Why rock the joy boat with a snarky remark? A joy connoisseur learns to squelch the temptation to rain on the parade and instead is a ray of sunshine for everyone in his or her midst.
As we mature we accumulate years of hurt and disappointment that render us defensive and
 numb.  We erect filters that keep us from feeling life’s barbs too keenly in order to prevent further emotional injuries.  As a result we slowly grow cynical and become harder to impress.  With the media feeding us a constant stream of bad news, “fact-filled” gossip and clever criticism we can’t help but withdraw further into a stoic shell.  This is the stubborn, invisible barrier that we have to carve away to regain access to that vulnerable inner child.  One of the best ways to get back our joy is to reclaim our ability to cry.
I seem to have inherited my father’s ability to cry.  Any nachas moment results in my father reaching both of his open hands up to stroke his tear-soaked face.  Any mention of his late father whom he lost when he was only thirty-two brings on the same reflex.  He typically claims that there must be smoke in the air. Most of the weddings I play with my band are for total strangers.  I still crymy eyes out at every bedeken when the groom veils his bride and during the chuppah (ceremony under the canopy.)  I’m so moved at the creation of a new “bayis ne’eman B’yisrael” (faithful home among the Jewish People.)  I also relive the sweet memory of my own nuptials.  Seeing me cry turns my kids inside out.  They have to grapple with their own sympathetic tear response and they typically resist with all their might.  I think it’s a good thing that they have learned that big boys do indeed cry.  Robert Frost said: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”
Our family had a beloved elderly neighbor who was like a grandmother to our children.  Evelyn was a regular at our Shabbas table and frequently called me to reset clocks or install new gadgets.  She was strong and sensible until she finally succumbed to congestive heart failure at the age of ninety-two.  My wife and I decided that hers would be the first funeral that our children would attend.  Evelyn’s offspring beautifully eulogized her but focused a dry-eyed list of anecdotes and her accomplishments in the community.  Then I was asked to speak and sing Keyl Maley Rachamim, the prayer for the soul of the departed.  I couldn’t help but sob throughout my short speech, setting off a chain reaction of tears throughout the mortuary.  Even though she lived a full life I was broken at the thought of her leaving us.  Sometimes we need permission to cry.  I will never forget the vision of my children suddenly in touch with their own grief as they sobbed in the pews.
The crying reflex has much in common with intimate relations.  You have to stay in the moment and remain connected.  With tears, most adults train themselves to stifle the flow, to catch the emotion before it gets out of hand.  To reclaim joy we have to fight that tendency!  When we’re in the bedroom with our beloved we have to remain present or we can lose the drive.  It’s easy to psyche yourself out and wreck the moment.  And if you are trying to get your groove back once it’s gone, it may never return.  So too with tears.  Once we squelch that emotion we have missed the opportunity to have that cleansing catharsis that comes only after a crying jag.
It may seem counterintuitive but I believe that the ability to cry is on the same side of the continuum as the ability to feel great joy.  This is what Stevie Wonder meant in his song The Joy Inside My Tears.  This is the LIFE side of the spectrum, where we feel emotions deeply and allow our sensitivity pendulum to swing to the apex.  The other side of the continuum is the DEATH side.  This is typified by aloof behavior, stoicism, keeping it “cool.”  Reaching the “brass ring” in the Joy of Judaism requires heroic efforts to choose life!
Last month I had a powerful reminder of the preciousness of tears and the fast connection between tears of pain and joy.  Israel has always been the land of contrasts: adamantly secular vs. ultra-religious, arid desert vs. verdant swampland, right wing hawks vs. left wing doves.  On a recent trip this dichotomy was never more pronounced.  The people of “shalom,” living within the Land of Milk and Honey is in the midst of what is known as the “Knife Intifada.”  Every day during my trip there was another horrifying incident, often on the very streets where I had been walking.  I arrived in the country to perform, shoot a video and enjoy my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah.  What a gift to be enjoying a simcha in Israel with my extended family.  Just breathing the springtime air was enough to fill my soul with delirious joy.  And then the sobering news, everyday.
I made several trips to the Kotel over the course of my two-week trip.  Of course my prayers were sincere but I never felt that I was truly connecting.  After all, with the ferocious randomness of these daily murders, I should certainly feel the pain of the nation and be crying my eyes out.  But no tears came.  Yes, the onslaught of bad news saddened me but inside I remained unmoved and therefore felt deeply unsettled.

Toward the end of my second week I enjoyed a pre-Shabbat mountain bike ride with my brother and nephew.  After the adventure we quickly rode back to their neighborhood to get into the mikvah just before it closed.  Taking a mikvah has been an Erev Shabbat minhag (custom) of mine for over a decade.  I love the feeling of the sweltering water relaxing my muscles and easing my mind.  I emerge purified and mellow, cleansed and ready to enter the realm of sweet holiness that defines our seventh day.  Typically I dunk multiple times for an extended period, testing the limits of my breath, enjoying the stillness and silence underwater.  This time I felt something shift.  It was a tear welling up; a tiny hint of the emotion that I was hoping would come when I was praying at the Wall.

I immediately felt that visceral response of reclaiming my “manliness” as I choked off the impulse to cry.  This failsafe measure is a vestige of a time, perhaps, when I was chased through the schoolyard as a second grader and then teased when I burst into tears.  Or how I cried through my first and only fistfight.  I won the fight but lost the battle; my peers would always remind me how I cried like a baby while I was swinging.  I know many women that stifle the urge to cry.  I know many more men who have lost the ability completely.
As soon as I went back underwater in the mikvah I felt the tears coming back.  How interesting that as soon as I returned to the surface my mind wandered to happier, more “normal” thoughts.  The third time I dunked I just let it flow.  The tears came hard.  Soon I was screaming underwater.  At the top of my lungs.  I don’t think it was audible in the mikvah chamber but some of the Chassidim were looking at me funny.  Then I went back under and screamed again. Raw, primal, agonized screams.  I screamed in anger for the victims.  I screamed at the senselessness of the violence.  I screamed for the legions of brainwashed souls who believe that killing innocents is a good deed.  Then I screamed even more for the children who as of that afternoon will NEVER have their father back.  They will never see him at the Shabbat table, never get his praise, never share a lifecycle event, never feel his loving hug.  I screamed for the unspeakable damage that will outlast generations.  I cried what felt like a gallon of tears for the widows, for the communities, for the Jewish People.  Only NOW could I walk down to the Kotel and truly feel unified with that remarkably diverse assortment of my beautiful fellow Jews for the Friday night prayers.

My friends, I urge you to become connoisseurs of joy.  We do so by reclaiming the ability to cry.  Feel life deeply.  Let reality rock your world rather than retreating in cynicism, self-medication or avoidance.  Reclaim your inner child by recognizing the layers of filters that you have subconsciously erected to keep you safe.  Focus on your blessings and respond to the myriad gifts in your life with an outpouring of gratitude.  Do something that you love to do everyday.  Participate fully in lifecycle events and increase your quota of communal commitment.  Get plenty of sleep so that you’re not a grouch.  And finally, learn all you can about your heritage so that you are filled with wonderment at your great fortune to be a part of God’s master plan of tikkun olam, the healing of the world.

Terror at the GA Conference

Friday, November 26th, 2010

by Sam Glaser

NetanyahuI had one of the most uplifting weeks of my life.  Such powerful concerts and interactions.  Wonderful audiences in New York, New Jersey and St. Louis.  I finished this leg of the tour at the General Assembly Conference, the flagship meeting of Jewish Federations from around North America, feeling optimistic and empowered.

The host city to the conference, New Orleans, has got the character thing buttoned up.  This is no franchised, gentrified urban setting.  The birthplace of jazz is still nurturing the art form for new generations.  From the reek of Bourbon Street to the stately mansions of the Garden District, this is a town that keeps you moving, grooving and awestruck.  Katrina is still very much in the foreground of the NOLA consciousness but the emphasis is on rebirth and civic pride. My friend who put me up (and put up with me) was a DJ at the classic jazz station WWOZ during his college years.  That makes him an authority on the hottest musicians and the clubs they haunt, to which we hopped to and fro nightly.  I’m not sure if the locals were sober enough to notice that every third guy had a kippah on.

Once in a while I pull off a trifecta on the road.  That is to say, I perform on any given leg of my annual tour in synagogues of all Jewish denominations.  This ten-day rally is the ultimate example of the fact that I may not fit into any one box but reap the dividends of a broad perspective of the Jewish world.  This week I gave a concert at the stately Touro Synagogue, a proud Reform landmark, and then sang for the Conservative to Modern Orthodox crowd at the New Orleans Hebrew Day School.  In New Jersey I led the davening for the amazing Aish HaTorah PartnersJewish Unity Conference, a gathering of 750 black-hatted rabbis and their friends from around the world.  In New York my brother Yom Tov and I gave a concert for Chassidim in Boro Park, then on to St. Louis where I worked with three day schools, led a Shabbaton and a concert at a popular outreach synagogue.  My policy is to sing for all Jews, wherever they may be, and my personal mitzvah, my Letter in the Torah if you will, is to inspire audiences to be more connected with Israel, each other and their Creator.

So you can see why I arrived at the GA all pumped up.  Over 4,000 delegates in suits wandered the vast square footage of the Sheraton and Marriott hotels downtown. For eighteen years I have been performing and speaking at Federation-sponsored concerts and fundraisers and seem to know a lot of the players.  From the frantic exhibit hall to the ad hoc kosher deli in one of the ballrooms, there was an old friend around every corner. The GA is the Superbowl of Jewish geography! One of the highlights of these high profile conferences is getting to sit in on the plenary sessions and hear in person the most powerful speakers in the world.

I was particularly excited to hear Benjamin Netanyahu speak and managed to find an old friend with an extra seat in the front row.  But the Federation mavens weren’t going to let an opportunity pass to motivate this captive audience.  The myriad opening speakers were so dynamic and uplifting that the Israel Prime Minister seemed anticlimactic.  One young man, Moises Lemor inspired us with his saga of growing up in a Zionist family in Peru, making Aliyah solo and serving proudly in the IDF.  I was brought to tears by a young Hungarian woman who found out that she was Jewish as a fifteen year old at her father’s funeral.  One comment in particular touched me so deeply that I transcribed it in my iphone: upon discovering her heritage she then took the opportunity to “unwrap Judaism like a treasure.” It made me wonder if we should deny American Jewish kids any connection with their heritage until they are mature enough to value it, and only then inspire their newfound love affair to blossom.

I hope the previous paragraphs set the stage for my ebullience at this moment.  I was basking in the immense potential of the collapse of the walls that divide us as a people.  Uplifted by powerful prayer, music, great speakers, and great friends from a week on the road.  Jewish unity not just a concept, but a palpable reality.  And then it began.  Netanyahu unleashed a fear mongering speech almost word for word as dramatic and futile as the one I heard at the past few GA’s.  He bemoaned the Iranian nuclear threat, the advancing trend of the de-legitimization of Israel and the difficulty of negotiating peace with a partner that will not recognize the Jewish state.  He pointed to failure of Herzl’s tenuous dream that the rebirth of the Jewish state would end anti-Semitism.  I felt my smile diminish and I was once again in this state of Reuters/AP/CNN induced ennui.

terrorThen the terrorism began.  A young woman just a few rows behind me stood up and started chanting that the “settlements delegitimize Israel.”  She continued to scream while robust African-American guards dragged her a few hundred yards to the back exit.  The other four hecklers timed their nefarious attack with every-five-minute precision.  The leader of the Jewish people could only stand there in silence and frustration.  The crowd attempted to drown out the perpetrators with screams of their own, which only furthered the degree of damage.  I felt like my insides were turned to jelly with pain and outrage at each affront.  It was bad enough that all decorum was lost. But these were young idealistic Jews who didn’t hesitate to resort to deliver such a “low blow” to the proceedings.  I’ve never seen a better excuse to deploy a taser.  We can be our own worst enemy.

After the speech I hung my head low and limped out of the imposing ballroom.  I spoke of my shock to one of my peers in the Jewish music scene.  His response was that while he didn’t like the interruptions, he was glad that the kids had their moment of protest.  Boy, I felt very alone.  The Arabs we can handle.  But a threat from within?  I suddenly felt connected with that peculiar “V’lamalshinim” paragraph in our Shmoneh Esrai prayer.  Composed as the 19th blessing of an 18 blessing suite, it pinpoints the dire threat of Jews that act as informers, that endanger the well-being of the nation, that corrode the integrity of our common Jewish heart.  Yes, at times our nation is deserving of criticism, but to actively sow the seeds of hatred, distrust and revenge among our friends and enemies is folly.  Note that there is no blessing to thwart foreign enemies.  Internal strife is the only thing that can bring us down. “Blessed are You, Hashem, Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners.”

Today I read in the LA Times of another blight on our future.  The movement to boycott top-name artists and ensembles that want to perform in Israel is led by one Ofer Neiman and his fellow Israeli saboteurs.  They protest publicly, picket concerts, launch campaigns on the web and seek to embarrass the acts into cancelling their appearances.  The Israeli government refers to this internal mischief as “cultural terrorism.”  Rock stars that risk stirring up the waters and upsetting fans are quick to cancel.  There have even been anonymous threats against the artist’s children!  Don’t they see that they are emboldening the radicals that plot our death, throwing kerosene on the flames of world opinion, causing irreparable dissention from within?

This is a time of polarization.  If the Holocaust taught us anything it is that doing nothing, just standing idly by, is the root crime.  Elton John, Rihanna, Rod Stewart, Metallica and Ozzy Osborne broke the boycott and performed anyway.  That fact makes me want to go out and buy some heavy metal.  Elvis Costello, Santana, the Pixies and Gil Scott-Heron cancelled.  Red Shoes and Smooth will never sound as good to me.  This is a time to take a stand, to visit Israel, to defend Israel, to buy Israeli products, to support organizations like AIPAC and Stand With Us.

I’m reminded of the old joke about the two elderly Jewishjews on bench men on the park bench.  (I know, many jokes start like this!)  One is reading the Jerusalem Post and he looks over and is shocked to see his friend reading a radical Arab paper.  “How can you do that?” he cried.  His friend replied, “You read about Jews being persecuted, attacked, assimilated.  I read that Jews own the banks, control the media and rule the world!”  The lesson I came away with last week is that in the macro sense we are being brow beaten in the media, face intense threats from our neighbors and are paralyzed with hopelessness on many fronts.  In the micro realm, however, there is room for celebration.  Amazing new organizations are galvanizing young Jews.  Witness the strength of the internet to unite and inform. Birthright, Ramah, Aish, Chabad, Jewlicious, PJ Library, NFTY, Nefesh B’Nefesh.  Want to regain the feeling that anything is possible for the Jewish people?  Don’t watch CNN or read the New York or LA Times.  Don’t get your online news from AP and Reuters.  Instead, try researching the Jewish Community Heroes, the accomplishments of the Joint Distribution Committee, IDF field hospitals, Tomchai Shabbas, JLTV, Israeli High Tech.

Better yet, slip on some headphones and listen to some good spiritual Jewish music.  It will heal your soul and make your heart soar.  Satisfaction guaranteed.