Archive for May, 2012

Graduation… teaching our children

Friday, May 18th, 2012

Dear Friends,

I hope you will forgive me if I use this article for a moment of personal privilege. My wife and I recently returned from the college graduation of our youngest child. It was an extraordinary event for so many reasons and both of us felt deep emotion on so many different levels. Maimonides teaches that when our youngest grandchild becomes Bar/Bat Mitzvah, we have fulfilled the mitzvah of v’shinantam l’vanecha, teach your children diligently (taken from the Shema and V’ahavta in the Torah). On a secular level, we both remarked about the significance of this event for our parents. My parents didn’t have the opportunity to graduate from college. My dad never attended and my mother attended for just a short time. Times were different since it was the depression. My in-laws both attained PhD’s and spend a significant amount of their lives (and my mother-in-law continues to spend time) in an academic environment.

We both remarked about the special meaning this day would have had for them. My dad felt it was so important for all my brothers and me to graduate college and I remember the tense conversation about whether I would go for a professional baseball tryout when I was 19 years old. If I went to the tryout and was good enough to be assigned to a team, I would have had to drop out of college which was unacceptable so I did not try out. My mother was always the one who helped with homework and felt very strongly about the importance of a college education. We have been told that if she had been able to attend, she might have enrolled at the University of Chicago because of her academic abilities.

The day following graduation we went from Bloomington, Indiana to visit my mother-in-law in Urbana, Illinois so that we could celebrate this momentous occasion with her. She remarked how special it was to know that all of her grandchildren have graduated from college or are currently attending college. We also visited my father-in-law’s grave so that our youngest could make a connection with the person after whom he is named and so he could in some way share the moment with his namesake.

So…why am I sharing this with you? As we sat at graduation, it was an emotional moment for both of us. I know that my wife was crying and although I would never admit this publicly , I had tears in my eyes. When we thought about how for the last 32 years we always talked about how our purpose was to be able to help our children attend college. Realizing that this phase of life is over (although loans remind us that it really isn’t over yet:-)), we are both excited and in search of new purposes in life. Many of us make significant sacrifices in our lives so that our children can obtain a college education and teaching our children diligently is an important purpose.

As we discuss our “new purpose” in life, we are realizing that “teaching our children” never ends and that as they grow and face new challenges, hopefully sharing our experiences will allow us to continue to be role models and teachers.

Mazel tov to all who are reading this who are either graduating or have family members graduating. Graduation is clearly a very significant occasion in all of our lives and yashir koach (may we all derive strength) from these moments.

If you are graduating and/or are college student, please take a moment to say thanks to those who make your college education a possibility.

Shabbat Shalom and thanks for allowing me to share these personal thoughts. We feel truly blessed at this shecheianu moment in our lives, a wonderful time to give thanks and to be grateful to have reached this significant occasion.

Enjoy a wonderful summer!

Rabbi Bruce Aft
GMU Hillel Rabbinic Advisor

In Honor of Mother’s Day

Friday, May 11th, 2012

Dear Friends,

In a recent item posted by Rabbi Jack Riemer, he was talking about open adoptions which may provide an interesting topic for a future adult education forum. He included a poem in his discussion which I want to share with you in honor of Mother’s Day.

“Once there were two women
Who never knew each other;
One you do not remember,
The other you call mother.
Two different lives shaped to make yours one.
One became your guiding star,
The other became your sun.
The first gave you life,
The second taught you how to live it.
The first gave you a need for love,
And the second was there to give it.
One gave you a nationality,
The other gave you a name.
One gave you the seed of talent,
The other gave you an aim.
One gave you emotions,
The other calmed your fears.
One saw your first sweet smile,
The other dried your tears.
One gave you up—it was all that she could do,
The other prayed for a child–
And God led her straight to you.
And now you ask me through your tears,
The age-old question through the years,
Heredity or environment—
Which are you a product of?
Neither my darling—neither
Just two different kinds of love.”

(The poem is taken from a book called “Serenaid: A Triumph of Love”, published by the Williams Publishing Company of Palm Springs, California).

When I read this poem, I couldn’t help but think of the very special love that a mother provides for a child. I hope that despite the differences that some of us may have had or may continue to have with our mothers, that Mother’s Day on Sunday will provide us with an opportunity to thank our moms for the various ways in which they expressed or express their love for us. I was recently officiating at a funeral where I remembered a phrase which my mom used when she said good bye to me on the phone. She would say “so long” instead of “good bye” or “bye bye.” As I reflected on the life of the woman who had died, I remembered my mother’s words and realized that “so long” as I am alive I will be grateful to her for all the love she gave me and the sacrifices she made for me. I wish I could tell her that even though she died almost 11 years ago which seems like “so long” ago, I think of her every day. The love with which she nurtured me for “so long” and which seems “so long” ago, has inspired me to be able to “hopefully” provide meaningful love for my wife and our children and “hopefully” has helped me provide nurturing and care for many of you throughout the years. Please take time on Sunday to wish your mom, your grandma, your aunt, your sister, and any woman who has shared or shares a special love with you, a Happy Mother’s Day and say thanks. It seems like “so long” ago that I could say thanks to my mom and I hope she somehow is aware of my appreciation and love for her.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce Aft
GMU Hillel Rabbinic Advisor

Lag b’Omer

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Dear Friends,

Today is the 33rd Day of the Counting of the Omer. (The Hebrew letter lamed has the numerical value of 30 and the Hebrew letter gimel has the numerical value of three, hence, the 33rd day) Those who are observant have been in a state of semi mourning since the second night of Passover. Each night we count the omer as we move from Pesach to Shavuot. As we remember, Passover marks a spring planting and Shavuot marks a spring harvest. During the counting of the omer, which is a grain offering, observant Jews will not get married, cut their hair or participate in other joyous events (except on Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of the month) as we commemorate a plague which afflicted students. Lag b’Omer marks the 33rd day of the counting of the omer which was a day on which the plague broke. In Israel there are major picnics, bonfires, and celebrations, and in the Conservative movement and to the left, people can renew joyous celebrations.

The counting of the omer is a way for us to prepare for the revelation at Mt. Sinai which marks a transition from the slave mentality which preceded the Exodus and prepares us for the responsibility of becoming a people in the Promised Land as we receive the 10 Commandments. People often can’t just leave things behind and need a ritual in order to make change in our lives. I hope that we we celebrate today in some way (we are going out for ice cream!!!), we will take this journey seriously and leave behind those things that enslave us and find meaningful ways to celebrate life. One of the ways in which we do this is through study and I hope that you will seek out a Jewish book or study some of the ethical teachings found in Pirke Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers/Ancestors).

Please see an interesting summary of Lag B’Omer below taken from

Rabbi Bruce Aft
GMU Hillel Rabbinic Advisor