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Life-cycle events for a rabbi during COVID-19

Rabbi Lyle Fishman

By RABBI LYLE FISHMAN (JNS) Countless times I have officiated at funeral and burial services since August 1984, when I came to Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase, Md. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most recent two funerals were unlike all that preceded them. They bespeak our new reality during this COVID-19 pandemic. 

In both cases, the deceased persons—one woman and one man—were over 94 years of age. Their children acknowledged that they had lived long and valuable lives. Through their tears, and their very personal and heartfelt words of grief, they marked the end of their parents’ lives and the beginning of their formal period of bereavement. In those general ways, these services were unremarkable. But under the strict limitations that now prevail, I could not console these mourners as I wanted.

At a funeral at King David Memorial Gardens, the casket was brought to the grave and quickly lowered. That was the way we always proceed. I read Psalm 16, shared a few personal thoughts and then invited the 11 other people assembled to speak. Almost everyone contributed, adding meaningful stories that captured the essence of this woman’s life. In addition, three people spoke from California. Each of us then pulled on a pair of latex gloves, shoveled some earth onto the coffin and then added a few blades of grass to the earth. Those steps were common to our Ohr Kodesh practice.
After we read Psalm 23, the three daughters standing at appropriate distances from one another were joined by their brother from California in reciting the mourners’ Kaddish. We all then walked away from the grave and stood far from one another. At the end of every other burial service, I would approach the mourners with quiet words of consolation and hugs that I hope would let them know that they were not alone. On this day, I could only indicate with my eyes and with my very audible good wishes that I shared their sadness. I had not been able to comfort them sufficiently. They needed personal closeness and the healing that comes from human touch. I walked away hoping that they would remain healthy.

At Mount Lebanon Cemetery, we numbered exactly 10. Again, I read the same psalm and spoke briefly about a man I davened with and taught over several decades. His son spoke movingly and his daughter added her loving thoughts from a great distance. Again, each of us donned latex gloves before we carefully placed earth on the coffin. In an awkward yet sincere way, we spread out in two makeshift lines on the grounds of the cemetery. As the two mourners walked from the grave and through our lines, I thought of the many hours that the deceased and his wife and I had spent together. My words of comfort sounded hollow in my ears.
At Ohr Kodesh, with only one level of clergy—one rabbi and one cantor—and a generally tight-knit community, congregants and clergy have the opportunity to get very close. Yet, years of friendship and shared Jewish experience could not overcome the distance imposed on us as we moved from the grave. I said that we were all sharing virtual hugs to comfort each other. But we were all diminished, and no virtual hugs could help to restore us.
And now, these two families face the daunting challenge to mourn almost alone. I as their rabbi and we as their virtual family of comforters are stripped of many of our familiar tools to assist them. We can call them and text them. We cannot hold their hands and stroke their shoulders to support them. None of us can fulfill the mitzvah of comforting mourners in the desired way.
In these two cases and in so many more, we cannot activate the power of interpersonal caring that distinguishes us as a Jewish community. During this public-health emergency, we have all been advised to practice social distancing. To my mind, the policy is important, but the words themselves are unhelpful because this is precisely the time that we need social closeness. Deaths impose emotional distance, even isolation. In normal times, gestures of lovingkindness help to restore mourners and reintegrate them into their community. I am deeply saddened by these constraints.
And it is not only mourners who are experiencing emotional distancing.
There are many big moments occurring that bring both joy and tug at our hearts. My wife and I were blessed with the birth of a granddaughter the other day. Her parents named her while we watched through a Zoom connection. While we are so thankful that she, her mother, her father and her two older siblings are healthy, we remain apart from her, unable to embrace her and the other members of her family. Our daily electronic visits are helpful, but not satisfying.
And what about elderly and isolated parents whose adult children cannot comfort them if they are ill and/or emotionally at risk. How impoverished are they, and how much are their children weakened in the face of this virus. The basic honor and respect that children extend to parents is short-circuited by COVID-19.
I pray that we can soon resume our loving and healing ways. In the meantime, though, I also pray that we all rely on our different religious traditions and rituals, as well as the decades of friendships we have built to remain mentally resilient and psychologically bonded. I pray that we all keep the most needy among us in mind. And I pray that while it’s necessary to physically distance, we remain spiritually supportive.
The truth is that the core of our strength comes from our inner-connectedness—our brains, our souls, our spirits. Deepening that connectedness is both an opportunity and the sustenance we need during this unprecedented time.
Rabbi Lyle Fishman has served as the rabbi of Ohr Kodesh Congregation in Chevy Chase, Md., for 36 years.

 

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Features

“Ain’t No Grave” – new novel set in Deep South in early 20th century combines interracial love story with searing description of the Leo Frank trial and lynching

Book cover/author Mary Glickman

Reviewed by BERNIE BELLAN In 1975, American novelist E. L. Doctorow made waves with “Ragtime,” a novel that interspersed true historical American figures from the first part of the 20th century with fictitious characters. The novel explored the overt racism faced by Blacks in America at that time, along with the antisemitism that was also prevalent.
Now, with a new novel by Mary Glickman, who has specialized in writing historical fiction centering around Jewish characters in the Deep South of the U.S., the themes of anti-Black and antisemitic prejudice in the South reach a traumatic apex, culminating with the lynching of New York-born Leo Frank in Georgia, in 1915.
But – since I don’t like to read too much about what a novel is about before I delve into it, I really didn’t know to what extent the Leo Frank case was going to play a role in this particular book. I prefer to be surprised. Unfortunately, if you’re also of a similar mind, I’m afraid I’ve already let the cat out of the bag.
The story opens, however, not in Atlanta, which is where Leo Frank was framed for the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan, but in a part of backwoods Georgia known as Heard County, where we meet the two central characters of the book: Young Max Sassaport, the son of the only Jewish couple in his small rural village, and Max’s best friend, an equally young Ruby Johnson, the Black daughter of a sharecropper.
The two children – though from totally dissimilar backgrounds, share a deep bond – which they keep hidden from all around them. Glickman’s lilting prose and her depiction of rural Georgia life reminded me of another wonderful novel, also set in the Deep South: “Where the Crawdads Sing.”
Of course, a relationship between a Black girl and a White boy (and a Jew no less) is bound to come asunder – and even as youngsters, Ruby and Max are aware that they are fated to be split apart. Yet, with the introduction of a fascinating character known as Mayhayley Lancaster, who is described as a “witch,” but who later turns out to be a real person who actually played somewhat of a role in the Leo Frank trial, the children’s fate is foretold. (Again, I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but Mayhayley Lancaster’s transformation later in the novel turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the book.)
As the first part of the story develops – and it becomes apparent that Ruby and Max are destined to take different roads in their lives, one of the interesting aspects of the story for Jewish readers will be what life would have been like for the only Jewish family in a small Southern town. The Sassaports operate a general dry goods store – as did many Jews in rural locations throughout the U.S. and Canada, but their connection to Judaism is tenuous at best.
In time, both Max and Ruby make their way to Atlanta, but with Ruby leaving when she is only 12 years old and Max waiting another six years before he ends up in Atlanta, neither one of them holds much hope that they will ever see each other again.
Max, however, meets up with a reporter for the Atlanta Journal known as Harold Ross (who would later go on, in real life, to found The New Yorker). Ross takes Max under his wing as a cub reporter and it’s in Max’s capacity as a reporter that he finds himself enmeshed in the Leo Frank trial.
As a press release for the novel explains: “1913. The year heart-sick Max travels to Atlanta to find Ruby, his lost love and childhood friend. And the year New York Jew, Leo Frank, is charged with the murder of a child laborer at the National Pencil Factory. Max is Jewish and Ruby’s Black. Their reunion takes place just as Frank is arrested, a racially charged event that sparks an explosion of antisemitism across the city of Atlanta.”
Although I had somewhat of a recollection of reading about the Leo Frank trial, reading about the events surrounding that trial and its aftermath comes as somewhat of a shock. Leo Frank was framed for the murder of a 13-year-old White girl but the degree to which the police and the prosecutor were determined to pursue a totally made-up case against an innocent Jewish businessman is still jarring to read. As well, when one contemplates how comfortable Donald Trump is with telling one lie after another to suit his agenda, it becomes much easier to understand how so many White authority figures in “Ain’t No Grave” were willing to engage in a total frame-up so as to enrage their White base. The role that many newspapers at the time played in stoking antisemitism also provides a salutary experience in how easy it has always been to dupe a huge proportion of the American public though fictitious media reporting. In 1915 it was through newspapers; today, it’s through the internet.
As the book’s press release notes the parallels between what was happening in the early years of the 20th century and what we are seeing playing out around the world today, “With global antisemitism on the rise, “Ain’t No Grave” draws attention to the fact that garden variety antisemitism can be stoked by bad actors and quickly explode into violence. Sometimes, the media play a role.”
The Jewish community of Atlanta in 1915 was so terrified by what was happening to Leo Frank that events at the time led to the creation of B’nai Brith’s Anti-Defamation League.
The juxtaposition of vicious antisemitism and anti-Black hatred in the Deep South with a love story between a White Jew and a Black woman makes for a compelling read. As a member of the Southeast ADL by the name of Sandra Brett noted after reading “Ain’t No Grave,” “Mary Glickman vividly captures milestones in the Leo Frank saga through sympathetic characters as real as the events surrounding them. She deftly intertwines Leo Frank’s trial and lynching with the founding of the ADL, the rebirth of a moribund KKK, and an interracial love story. Meticulously researched, fast-paced, and thoroughly original, Ain’t No Grave is a moving, satisfying read.”
And, as Pat Conroy, author of another best selling novel set in the Deep South – “Prince of Tides”, wrote about Mary Glickman: “Mary Glickman is a wonder.”

Buy this book on Amazon

Ain’t No Grave
By Mary Glickman
280 Pages,
Publication Date: July 2024
Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.


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Features

The environmental benefits of lawn care

(NC) Caring for your lawn isn’t just about aesthetics – it’s about nurturing a healthy ecosystem right in your own backyard. A well-maintained lawn not only adds charm to your property, it also plays a crucial role in supporting a healthier environment. Here are some of the ways that taking care of your lawn can benefit our surroundings.

Enhancing air quality: Your lawn acts as a natural air purifier, capturing dust, pollen and other airborne particles, making the air cleaner. Through photosynthesis, grass absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) and releases oxygen, helping to reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Preventing soil erosion: Healthy lawns are crucial to preventing soil erosion. The dense grassroot keeps the soil in place, minimizing the risk of decay caused by water or wind. Soil erosion not only strips away valuable topsoil, it can also pollute nearby water bodies.

Cooling outdoor spaces: Compared to urban areas filled with buildings and concrete, places with more grass and trees are noticeably cooler. Additionally, it requires less energy to cool a building surrounded by grass than one surrounded by concrete. A lush lawn not only keeps your outdoor area cooler but could also lower air conditioning bills.

Ensuring clean water: Maintaining a healthy lawn contributes to better water quality. The thick grass cover is a natural filter for rainwater, cutting down on runoff and stopping pollutants from reaching waterways.

How to keep your lawn healthy

To keep your lawn healthy, it’s important to focus on three areas: fertilizing, watering and cutting.

Fertilize: Plants need the proper balance of nutrients to grow and stay healthy. Fertilizer ensures your lawn has all the nutrients it needs in the proper amounts to grow. Fertilize your lawn every other month, beginning in the spring when it starts to turn green, and continue until just before the ground freezes to promote thick, healthy growth that can fight off weeds.

Water: Regular watering is essential to maintaining a healthy lawn. Water your lawn early in the morning to reduce evaporation and fungal growth.

Cut: Mowing your lawn correctly can greatly influence its health. Keep your mower blades sharp and set your mower to the correct height for your grass type.

When fall begins, it’s important to continue caring for your lawn to ensure it remains healthy. Fertilizing in the fall helps strengthen roots and provides essential nutrients for the colder months. Additionally, keep up with watering if there is insufficient rainfall and continue mowing until the cold weather hits.

A vibrant lawn isn’t just a patch of green – it’s a miniature ecosystem that offers a variety of environmental benefits. By taking care of your lawn, you’re enhancing your property’s appeal and playing a vital role in preserving our planet’s health.

Find more information on lawn care and environmental benefits at fertilizercanada.ca/lawncare.

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Features

4 things to know about the Canadian Dental Care Plan

(NC) Have you heard about the Canadian Dental Care Plan (CDCP)? It’s a federal government program that helps reduce the cost of dental care for Canadian residents with a family income under $90,000 who do not have access to dental insurance.

Here are four things you should know about the plan.

What does it cover?
The plan helps cover a wide range of oral health services for eligible Canadians, such as examinations, teeth cleaning, X-rays, fillings, dentures, root canals and oral surgeries. Some services may only be available as of November 2024 and will require prior approval on the recommendation of an oral health provider.

When can I apply?
The application process began in stages, starting with seniors. As of June 27, 2024, two more groups can sign up for the plan: children under the age of 18 and adults with a valid Disability Tax Credit certificate.

When will other adults be able to apply?
All other eligible Canadian residents will be able to apply in 2025. Once fully rolled out, the plan aims to help reduce the cost of dental care for up to 9 million Canadians.

Does it fully cover all dental expenses?
The CDCP will reimburse a portion of the cost, based on established plan fees and your annual family income. There are three tiers of coverage that are based on household income.

  • If you have a family income lower than $70,000, 100 per cent of the plan’s established fee for eligible services will be covered;
  • If your family income is between $70,000 and $79,999, 60 per cent of the plan’s established fee for eligible services will be covered;
  • If your family income is between $80,000 and $89,999, 40 per cent of the plan’s established fee for eligible services will be covered.

The plan may not cover the full cost of your treatment, even if you have a family income lower than $70,000. You may have to pay a portion of the cost if the plan’s established fees are lower than what your provider normally charges. Additionally, you may agree to receive treatment that is not covered by the plan.

Before receiving oral health-care, you should always confirm that your provider is accepting CDCP members, that they will bill Sun Life for direct payment and ask about any costs that won’t be covered by the plan.

Learn more about the plan at canada.ca/dental.

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