Maturity in Remembering

Kaddish Prayer

Rabbi Nolan Lebovitz is thrilled to serve as the Rabbi of Adat Shalom in West Los Angeles.  Since Nolan’s arrival, Adat Shalom has presented innovative programming, has welcomed new members and has announced to once again reestablish a new religious school in the Fall of 2016.

Nolan was ordained by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic studies on May 16, 2016.  He began attending Ziegler in 2011 after a 10-year career in the film industry. 

Nolan decided to merge his two passions of Torah and film to make "Roadmap Genesis" - a film documentary that makes the case that the Book of Genesis remains relevant in society today. Interviews in the film range from Gov. Mike Huckabee to Rabbi David Wolpe, from Alan Dershowitz to the late Archbishop of Chicago Francis Cardinal George, and many, many more.  “Roadmap Genesis” was released in 2015 and is currently available through the website and through iTunes.

A grandchild of four survivors of the Holocaust, Nolan was born and raised in the suburbs outside of Chicago.  He grew up at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park and attended Solomon Schechter Day School.  He traveled to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television.  Nolan is married to his wife Blair, and they have three children.

Today marks the end of the eleven month period, in which my mother has said Kaddish (the prayer for mourners) for my Gramma Fay.  For eleven months my mother attended three prayer services daily and stood and publicly recited Kaddish in her mother’s memory.  I had the great honor of being present and reciting it with her at Adat Shalom.  Today to end the process, my parents returned to Chicago where we are all from and attended services at the synagogue in “the old neighborhood” where Gramma Fay’s plaque will be placed alongside my Papa Nathan, for whom I am named.

I thought about my mother’s accomplishment of rememberance this morning during the prayer service as I recited a line in the Tachanun section:

חוסה ה עלינו ברחמיך, ואל תתננו בידי אכזרים.

God, pity us in Your mercy and do not hand us over to foreigners.

My attention was caught by the Hebrew word for foreigners -- אכזרים.  The root of the word is זר (pronounced “zar” in Hebrew), meaning foreign or strange – “un-Jewish.”  In the Torah, two of Aaron’s sons are killed by a strange foreign fire, pronounced "esh zarah" in Hebrew (Lev. 10:1).  The three letters together כזר means “like a foreigner.”  But, if I rearrange the letters it turns into זכר, the Hebrew root for remembrance, the single most Jewish act.

Jews read the complete Torah every year in order to remember the narrative of our people.  The Passover Seder features a scripted book to help us remember the story of Passover.  Jews remember what the world wants to forget.

The two letters that need to be switched are the kaph “כ” and zayin “ז” in order to move from כזר, or behaving like a foreigner, to זכר, behaving like a Jew.  And if you love Gematriya like I do (the belief that every Hebrew letter has a numerical value, meaning aleph is 1 and bet is 2… then zayin is 7 and kaph is 20), then you know that the difference between kaph and zayin is 13, which is the age when a Jewish adolescent reaches maturity and accepts the Mitzvot.

Jewish adulthood means acting like a Jew.  There is no more iconic Jewish behavior than standing in one’s community and remembering publicly, even when it’s personal and painful.  Remembering is Jewish.

Tradition tells us that Gramma Fay’s soul has completed her journey by now and I suspect (and hope) that she is now seated at the card table with the rest of our family, speaking Yiddish, and playing Kalooki for penny and nickel antes in the great Catskill Resort in the beyond.  May Gramma Fay’s memory always be a blessing for our family and for all who loved her.  And may my Mother’s fulfillment of the eleven months serve to inspire all of us to keep a beautiful tradition from the distant past into the infinite future.