Eulogy for James Joseph Orlow z”l

My father James Joseph Orlow z”l passed away on August 23rd,  the 12th of Elul 5778. I had the honor of delivering a graveside Hesped, eulogy,  for him. Seeing that today we did his unveiling it seemed appropriate to share the eulogy today.  I truly appreciate all of the love and support that I have received from my family, friends, colleagues and community members this past 11 months. There is do doubt that this loss will be a weight I will carry for the rest of my life, but with your support it is not at heavy. 

 

As the baby of this large clan and my father’s son “the Rabbi”. I “get to” have to go last and say what has not yet been said.

Named for my father’s father Abram Orlow who died when my dad was just a boy, I always has many questions about the the shoes I was supposed to try to fill. And to be frank reflecting back on my father’s life, my Pa was also a bit of a mystery to me. My dad was a puzzle. This was not shocking for someone that was a member of Mensa, loved a complicated law case, or could win Trivial Pursuit in one turn. Pa always liked a good puzzle.

It was not always easy for me to get him. He was at once self defined as irreligious and yet I have so many memories of him spiritually sitting in his chair reading the Bible. He was a sort of modern-day tormented Rav Nachman.

I have spent a lot of time in the last 44 years trying to figure out the puzzle of my Pa. Since his passing it has been meaningful for us to get together as a family to put the pieces back together- A bit of a jigsaw.

Who was James Joseph Orlow- Yakov Yosef ben Avraham V’Leah z”l?

As the baby brother coming home I can relate to the character of Yosef in the Torah portion of VaYeshev. There we read:  

Eleh Toldot Yakov Yosef ben Sheva Esreh Shana…

These are the generations of Yakov, Yosef was 17… when he went to taddle of his siblings. (Bereishit 37:2)

Interestingly the Torah never actually outlines the generations of Yakov.

And no, I am not here to share a tell-all about my siblings.

But I wanted to share one story. When I was around 17 like Yosef and clearly taller than my brothers. They would often joke that the milkman was also tall.

Seemling on this point Rashi, the premier medieval biblical commentator, provides an alternative reading of VaYeshev. Instead of  reading it as “Eleh Toldot Yakov- These are the generations of Yakov”. Instead he reads it as, “ Eleh Toldot Yakov Yosef- These are the generations of Yakov Yosef “- my dad’s name. Rashi quoting the midrash said:

Yosef’s facial features bore a striking resemblance to those of Yakov. Further whatever happened to Yakov happened Yosef. ( Rashi on Bereishit 37:2)

The puzzle of my father was a puzzle of looking in the mirror. My interest in Halacha and those alienated by it was to emulate his devotion to immigration law. My desire to learn Torah was a reflection of his constant brimming with pithy wisdom. For many of us he was a fount of wisdom. A life filled with my father’s Perkei Avot:

Found in his wallet on Friday was a fortune cookie, “Life is like a dogsled team. If you ain’t the lead dog the scenery never changes.”

Profound work Ethic- “ The harder you work the luckier you get”

“Love what you do and you will never work a day in your life”

Marry up- do not be afraid of a strong and smart woman like your mother. Or as he like to say, “ Don’t marry a woman who is pretty but stupid, because your children will think like her and look like you, you ugly bastard.”- Luckily with Mom and my wife Adina we got both brilliant and beautiful life partners.

Let people share their own good news, “Don’t rain on my parade or I will piss on your’s.” – And look around Dad, it is such nice weather today.

Theodicy- “ We live in a world in which no good deed goes unpunished”

Always be intellectually interested and interesting. One of my earliest memories was giving a mini Dvar Torah  as a rider to his  Dvar Torah in the Chavurah- library minyan. Or later his pushing me regarding the rigor of going to yeshiva in Israel. “Always be curious and confident.”

His favorite belt buckle reads “ Dazzle them with your brilliance or baffle them with your bullshit.”

And there was the profound reflections in actions that often spoke loader than words. Build things (including community) with your hands:

Chop your own wood

The tree house for Beth Hillel Beth El Preschool

The Aaron for the Chavorah

My Shtender

The porch add-on for the cabin in the Poconos

Endless projects in the Berkshires

His deep love of Sukkot.

For him the the Sukkah was never the Aninai HaKavod, he was into the Sukkah Mamash.

Family First- From sailing trips, time at the beach, Poconos, and Bershires

Shabbat Meals, Holiday Meals, so many family meals from clients to St. Michaels.

Eleh Toldot Yakov Yosef

When I look in the mirror I see my father (not the milkman)

Eleh Toldot Yakov Yosef

When I look in the mirror I see a puzzle

Eleh Toldot Yakov Yosef

When I look in the mirror I see the man I am striving to become

Eleh Toldot Yakov Yosef

When I look around I see the generations of Yakov Yosef  

James Joseph’s highest joy was his 14 grandchildren. They will carry his legacy.

As we place Pa into his final resting place. We help him finish the puzzle- putting it all together:

Profound Wisdom and Curiousity

Deep connection to community

Family First

Thank you all, family and friends.

Special thank you to Doda Rachel who has played a critical role in the lives of my parents. We all owe you a profound debt of gratitude.

Finally James Joseph Orlow Yakov Yosef ben Avraham v’Leah

We lay you in your final resting place; a life well lived and a puzzle complete.

 

Other posts in memory of my father James Joseph Orlow z”l

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Seen This One Before: The Border Crisis, the Three Weeks, and My Father

Tomorrow I will headed down to Philadelphia for my father’s unveiling. He passed away 11 months ago and I miss him. My missing him is not just the love of a son to his father. I also miss his expertise from a lifetime of experience as a highly regarded immigration lawyer. I have been thinking how livid my father would be if he was alive to see this administration’s callus expression of xenophobia. At this moment we are deep in the crises of ICE rounding people up, separating families, intentional administrative slow down, and the horrifying abuse at the detention centers. We could use my father’s wisdom and insight at this time.

When he passed away at 83 he was still working. In the week’s that followed my brother Daniel nobly went down to shut down his practice and pack up his office. There he found some interesting piece of art. One of pieces he found was this framed cartoon from 1946:

 

It is sad to say, but we have seen this before. How might we learn from history to ensure that we do better in the future than we have done in the past?

In my work with Jewish camps I have been thinking how we might help them prepare their camp programming in the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av. The refugee crisis is a continually evolving situation, and we recommend reading the most up-to-date information on detention and abuse of immigrants at the US border before this discussion. To supplement that information and provide a Jewish lens to help facilitate discussions around the topic, we offered camp the resources and discussion questions in this attached resource to reflect on today’s events in the spirit of the Three Weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, Check out: Within the Borders: A Text Study & Discussion Guide on the Border Crisis

We have seen this before. We know better. Now, lets make it better.  Miss you Dad. 

Check it out on the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s resource bank :

BORDER CRISIS DISCUSSION GUIDE FOR TISHA B’AV

 

All of Them: Hearing the Question, Adaptive Change, and Parshat Chukat

In Chukat, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the continued travails of the Israelites in the desert. Here we learn the people were kvetching and Moshe struck the rock to get water.  There we read:

The community was without water, and they joined against Moshe and Aaron. The people quarreled with Moshe, saying, “If only we had perished when our brothers perished at the instance of the Lord! Why have you brought the Lord’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place, a place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!” ( Numbers 20:2- 5)

Moshe’s response to their myriad of questions was to come with Aaron to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and they fell on their faces. God instructs him to go and speak to the rock to get water for the people. Instead of speaking to the rock he admonished the people and stuck the rock.  The water poured out and God punished Moshe. There we read,“Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” ( Numbers 20:12) He spent his life to get his people to the Promised Land and just like that he could not join them. The punishment seems to far outweigh the crime. What did Moshe do that was so wrong?

From their herd mentality to only thinking about food and water, throughout the book of Numbers we see the Israelites acting like children. On the simple level in our case they were complaining for water. One of Moshe’s missteps is that he reacts to their childish kvetching instead of actually answering their questions. Yes he does get them water, but their questions linger.

I was thinking about this recently when a friend recounted a story about  Libi, our three-year-old who is about to turn four this week. My friend asked Libi, “How many legs does an octopus have?” As it was shared with me, Libi looks at my friend with indignation as if it was a stupid question and said, “All of them”. All too often we get swept up into the questions that we think people are saying without just dealing with the simple level of the actual questions they ask.

Why did God need them to go into the wilderness and almost die? Why was it important for them to leave Egypt to subside without “grain or figs or vines or pomegranates”? There is some depth to their questions. Why do we suffer? How do we make meaning when things do not go as planned? Surely they were thirsty, and they were also asking questions which could not be quenched by water.

The notion of ever getting to a Promised Land without suffering or issues of theodicy might always be beyond our reach. Moshe gave them a technical solution to what was clearly an adaptive problem.  In words of Martin Linsky, “An adaptive change that is beneficial to the organization as a whole may clearly and tangibly hurt some of those who had benefited from the world being left behind. “(Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading) The Israelites needed an adaptive change which would help them as an organization, but sadly to achieve this Moshe needed to be left behind. 

-It is crazy to imagine fOuRLOW turning four. Happy Birthday Libi. Thank you for reminding us to not lose the question in the process.

Story of My Life: Korach and Rejection

At work they make fun of me for having the listening habits of a 16-year-old girl. What can I say I often get sucked up into the vortex of melancholy lyrics?  This holds true for “Story of My Life” ,a song recorded in 2013 by English-Irish boy band One Direction. I have nothing good to to say about the music or the video, but today I am still thinking about the lyrics.

The song opens with the following lyrics:

Written in these walls are the stories that I can’t explain
I leave my heart open but it stays right here empty for days
She told me in the morning
She don’t feel the same about us in her bones
It seems to me that when I die
These words will be written on my stone
And I’ll be gone, gone tonight
The ground beneath my feet is open wide
The way that I’ve been holdin’ on too tight
With nothing in between

The narrator is reflecting on his life and on the walls he has his memories. He is reflecting back to his younger days and trying to make sense of girl breaking up with him. There is nothing special to remark on a boy-band writing a song about a break-up or even waxing nostalgic about their teen years, so why am I interested in this song today?

I was thinking about this song because of the episode in Korach, this week’s Torah portion, when the ground beneath his feet is opens wide. What if anything does One Direction add to our understanding of the Torah?

Clearly One Direction’s metaphor of being consumed by the ground is Korach’s reality. In a deeper way it is helpful to understand that Korach is acting like a teenager. In his own well curated imagination he should be in charge. It is not that he was not allowed to make a bid for leadership, but he is ultimately consumed by rejection and he holds on too tight and cannot back down from his drive toward leadership. Unfortunately in the case of Korach, the song Story of My Life, and in life we need to make sure that we leave our hearts open even when we meet rejection. We know we will not always be successful, but despite or even because of this fact the story of our lives should be filled with memories of being vulnerable and openhearted. That is what is means to be living a full life.

In or Out: Reflections on Tzitzit and Pride

At the end of Shelach, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the commandment of putting tzitzit (fringes) on four-cornered garments. There we read:

Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God. I the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I, the Lord your God. ( Numbers 15: 38-41 )

When looking at the fringes we remember all the commandments and refrain from following the temptations of the heart. Clearly tzitzit  are meant to be a remind us to choose aspired over desired actions. It is clear that wearing tzitzit is not just for the purpose of inspiring us to keep commandments, but it also keep us connected to our identity as people redeemed by God from Egypt. Even if today we see the Kippah as the iconic Jewish designation, from our parsha and the Torah in general it seems more accurate to claim that wearing tzitzit is the authentic expression of Jewish identity.

In reading an article by Rabbi Dr. Marc D. Angel on the topic of the diversity of Jewish customs I learned that there are different opinions as to the custom to how to practise this commandment. Are we supposed to wear one’s tzitzit in or out? The Shulhan Arukh (O.H. 8:11)  ruled that the mitzvah of the Tallit Katan entails wearing the tzitzit “on one’s clothes” so that one will always see them and remember God’s commandments. On this the Mishnah Berurah comments on this passage:

Those men who place their tzitzit within their pants, not only are they hiding their eyes from what is written [in the Torah], “and you shall see them and remember etc.,” but moreover they are disgracing [mevazin] a commandment of God; in the future they will have to stand in judgment for this. (Mishnah Berurah 26)

It seems pretty clear from both the Sephardic and Ashkanazic authorities that we aught to wear our tzitzit on the outside.

Rabbi Haim David Halevy, late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, indicated that although the Shulhan Arukh called for wearing the tzitzit so that they can be seen, the Ari haKadosh held otherwise, teaching that according to the kabbala, tzitzit must not be worn outside one’s pants. Virtually all Sephardic posekim have followed the opinion of the Ari, not that of the Shulhan Arukh. Rabbi Halevy notes:

In truth, we have never seen even one of the Sephardic hakhamim and rabbis who has removed the tzitzit outside the pants; certainly they took into consideration the opinion of the kabbalists, and the ruling of the Hida whose rulings we have accepted.(Asei Lekha Rav, Tel Aviv, 5738, vol. 2, Orah Hayyim, no. 20)

From this it seems that it is a normative  Sephardic practice to wear the tzitzit of the Tallit Katan inside one’s garments based on a kabalistic notion. But it seems that there were also Ashkenzim who also thought you should wear the tzitzit inside one’s garments. The Mahari Bruna (15th century German Rabbinic Authority) wrote that it is considered haughtiness to wear the tzitzit exposed (siman 96). In the end it seem that the reasons for tucking or not tucking are valid both for Ashkenazim and Sephardim.

I have been thinking about this question of Tzitzit this week not just because of our Parsha, but also because June is LGBT Pride Month. This month we commemorate 50 years since the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969. As a result, many pride events are held during this month to recognize the impact LGBT people have had in the world. It also deserves note the central role Jews have played in the advancement of LGBT rights, equality, and celebration.

Pride Shabbat

In this context it is too easy to see tzitzit as a totem driving people away from their desires or simply to see it as a question of “keeping it in your pants”. Both readings would miss how wearing tzitzit is fundamentally an expression of gratitude for our liberation from slavery. As a person with many privileges it is hard for me to connect with our ancestors’ experience of  being constrained or limited in Egypt.  Seeing what we have achieved and still have yet to achieve in the last 50 years to ensure that our society is affirming of LGBT identities and the LGBT experience, I can better relate to the need to continuing to work for liberation. In or out, gay or straight, Trans, or Cisgendertzitzit is an expression of identity which we should wear with pride.  We take a moment  on Pride Shabbat when we read Parshat Shelach to celebrate our modern heros who gliitter-bombed the world, liberated all of us from slavery, and taught us to never back down or hide an inner truth.  Shabbat Shalom

All in One Place: All of Our Speeches on the Occasion of Yishama Becoming a Bar Mitzvah

We had a great time this past weekend celebrating Yishama becoming a Bar Mitzvah. There were lots of words shared. Here are all of our speeches in one place:

Remember the Name: My Talk to Yishama on Becoming a Bar Mitzvah

It is rare that we take moments to ponder who we are and who we are becoming. It feels like a moment ago we were standing in Bais Abraham in St. Louis at Yishama’s bris explaining the meaning of his name. Notably this will be a different speech then the one given at your bris. I remember vividly,walking back from your Bris when Oma asked me,” Are there any Boys with this name?” I answered her telling her about the prophecy of Jeremiah yadda yadda yadda “He Shall Be Heard”. And my mother lovingly cut me off,”No, are there any boys with this name?”

So, beyond the the comment from my dear friend Aryeh Bernstein who emailed post bris saying“ Mad Props on the Nifal”, what is the meaning of your name?

  • On your Bar Mitzvah, I wanted to share some more reflections on why we gave you such a unique name?
  • Even from the start we had a sense that you would be a unique child.  Check!
  • We hoped that you that you would be a middle child. Check! Check! Thank you Emunah and Libi.
  • We wanted to ensure you would be heard. Your siblings look up to you. Check!
  • And somewhere in there your Mami and I thought that the world needed to hear your voice as well.

As we read in Jeremiah:

Thus said the Lord: עוֹד֮ יִשָּׁמַ֣ע- Again there shall be heard in this place, which you say is ruined, without man or beast—in the towns of Yehudah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man, without inhabitants, without beast—the sound of mirth and gladness, the voice of bridegroom and bride, the voice of those who cry, “Give thanks to the Lord of Hosts, for the Lord is good, for God’s kindness is everlasting!” (Jeremiah 33:10-11)

Although the world might have been desolate, destroyed and ruined, Jeremiah had a vision for a future in which the voice of happiness will be heard. Thus we will hear the multivocality of ק֣וֹל שָׂשׂ֞וֹן וְק֣וֹל שִׂמְחָ֗ה. Yes, that makes me cry at every wedding. That will be the next installment of this talk. The vision of Jeremiah is meting out happiness middah k’neged middah– measure for measure our happiness filling the void of sadness, When we named you we had no idea how broken the world would become. We also had no idea of your immense capacity to fill that void

You are our little philosopher. Your capacity to reflect and commitment to improve is unrivaled. You are all about the grind on and off the court. There is no doubt to anyone who knows you that you will do great things in this world. You are profoundly committed to get the most out of every moment. You are mature way beyond your years. From an early age you knew that life was really about the experiences you would have along the path. You never want to waste a moment.

This reminds me of one of my favorite stories from the Talmud. We learn in Berachot:

It was taught in a baraita that Rabbi Yosei said: I was once walking along the road when I entered the ruins of an old, abandoned building among the ruins of Jerusalem in order to pray. I noticed that Elijah, of blessed memory, came and guarded the entrance for me and waited at the entrance until I finished my prayer. When I finished praying and exited the ruin, Elijah said to me: Greetings to you, my Rabbi. I answered him: Greetings to you, my Rabbi, my teacher. And Elijah said to me: My son, why did you enter this ruin? I said to him: In order to pray. And Elijah said to me: You should have prayed on the road. And I said to him: I was unable to pray along the road, because I was afraid that I might be interrupted by travelers and would be unable to focus. Elijah said to me: You should have recited the abbreviated prayer instituted for just such circumstances. Rabbi Yosei concluded: At that time, from that brief exchange,I learned from him, three things: I learned that one may not enter a ruin; and I learned that one need not enter a building to pray, but he may pray along the road; and I learned that one who prays along the road recites an abbreviated prayer so that he may maintain his focus. (Berachot 3a)

Yishama, your commitment to stay on the path and learn everything from every moment is inspirational. You make we want to be a better person. And the story in Berachot continues, “And after this introduction, Elijah said to me: What voice did you hear in that ruin? I responded: I heard a Heavenly voice, cooing like a dove” (Berachot 3a)  The dove was saying ” And this is why we cannot have nice things” ( this translation/interpretation is my own).

Image result for dove ruins jerusalem

Like Rabbi Yosei, when we allow ourselves to stop along life’s path to reflect we realize that the diversion itself was the journey.
The tangent was the actual lesson. We also realize that beyond the lesson is another deeper lesson. If we allow time to have sacred moments, we can even hear the voice of hope and happiness in a place that would otherwise seem ruined. Like Rabbi Yosei, we can and must learn from everything along the way.

With the meaning of your name in my heart and the image of Rabbi Yosei on the journey in my mind I wanted to share part of C. P. Cavafy’s Poem, Ithaka, as a blessing for you:

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.

Yishama, along your journey, I hope that you stop in many places. If you are open to it, even in places of desolation you will hear the voice of the dove bringing peace and the voices of joy filling the void of sadness. Echoing your Dvar Torah, which you shared so beautifully, our blessing to you is not just that you be open to hearing those voices, but also to step into your role of being that voice. We feel so blessed to have you in our lives. Your striving to live an inspired life is itself inspirational. Speak truth to power, bring joy to those who need it, and keep on inspiring people. In doing so, Yishama- you will be heard.

We are excited for the journey ahead. We give thanks at this moment to hearing your emergent voice and are confident that you will fulfill the vision of your name. Your voice will bring joy to our broken world. Yishama, in thinking about the person you are and your name, its seems only fitting to close by quoting, Fort Minor.

This is ten percent luck
Twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure
Fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name

Mazel Tov Yishama Frydman Orlow, Yishama ben HaRav Avram v HaHazan Adina Devorah. Remember the name.


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