Posts Tagged 'James Joseph Orlow'

More the Stranger: Returning to the High Holidays and Sinai

Yesterday I got a very sweet message from a childhood friend who had recently lost his mother. He wrote:

I am writing to let you know that I am thinking about you these High Holidays regarding spending your second High Holidays without your Abba. It is very hard for me to think that this is the first year I don’t get to wish my Ima a Shana Tova. Please know that he was so proud of you, he loved you so much, and you have been and always will be to your parents, an exemplary son! Love you my friend! Happy New Year!

I called him right away. Between the years and miles between us I realized that I just needed to hear his voice and thank him. Today I am allowing his words to sink in and I think about who I am this year as compared to last year.

I was thinking about this when reading  Nitzavim,this week’s Torah portion. There we see the Israelites standing at Sinai. We read:

You are standing today, all of you, before HaShem, your God: your leaders, your tribes, your elders, your officers … for you to enter into a covenant with the Lord, your God … in order to establish you today as a people to God and God will be a Lord to you … and God spoke to you and as God swore to your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Not with you alone do I forge this covenant and oath but with whoever is here, standing with us today, before the Lord, your God, And with whoever is not here with us today.” (Excerpts from Deuteronomy 29:9-14)

What does the Torah mean by “whoever is not here”? There was clearly an audience to the Torah at Sinai, how could people who are not there connect to the experience. Rashi comments that this means to also include the generations that will exist in the future. Rashi’s comments are based on the Midrash which says:

The souls of all Jews were present at the making of the covenant even before their physical bodies were created. This is why the verse says ‘with us today’ and not ‘standing’ with us today. (Tanchuma, Nitzavim 3)

Thinking about the note from my friend I wanted to offer another reading of what the Torah meant by “whoever is not here”. 

Am I the same person I was last year this time? Last year my father’s passing was all so fresh. Last year was filled with many firsts without him. This year Yizkor will not be a new thing. It is possible that “whoever is not here” is not referring to future generation that have yet to be born, but instead it might be referring to future versions of the people that were actually “standing here today” at Sinai. The covenant was not limited to those people in that state of mind at that moment.

It is quoted in the name of Louis Pasteur, “ No one is more the stranger than himself <sic> at another time”. The nature of the Torah is that we can revisit it throughout our lives. When we learn Torah we continue to evolve in its meaning and demand relevance from revelation. When we return to Sinai we are invited to welcome the inner “stranger” 36 times.

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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

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

 

Non Sequitur : Behar and a Memory of My Father

In this year since my father James Joseph Orlow z”l passed away I have tried to take some extra time to ponder his impact ( both big and small) on me and the world.  I have found myself often quoting his maxims. One of his go-to-phrases was ” Do you walk to work or do you like the color blue?” He really loved a good non sequitur. Much humor can be found in the juxtaposition of two things that do not go together.

I was thinking about this when reading  Behar, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for God. For Six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyards and you may gather your crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for God, your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune. ( Leviticus 25:1-4)

Rashi asks the oft quoted question, ” What is the issue of Shmitah doing juxtaposed Har Sinai?” Or in other words, mentioning this Mitzvah at Sinai? Was not the whole Torah given at Sinai seems like a non sequitur.  While I have explored different answers to this question in the past, for today I am happy leaving it as a question and thinking about my father and the color blue.

Check out some answers to this question:

Thank You Brené Brown

Dear Brené Brown,

I have been meaning to write you a thank you note since my father James Joseph Orlow z”l passes away at the end of August. This past Shabbat when reading Beshalach, that week’s Torah portion, I realized that I really needed to write you. Yes I am an Orthodox Rabbi, so let me explain.

This Torah portion opens with Pharaoh finally relenting after the 10th plague and letting the Moshe and the Israelite slaves go free. After years in bondage in Egypt, that could have been the end of the drama between the nation of Israel and the Egyptians, but alas that was not the case. There we read:

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his courtiers had a change of heart about the people and said, “What is this we have done, releasing Israel from our service?” He ordered his chariot and took his men with him; he took six hundred of his picked chariots, and the rest of the chariots of Egypt, with officers in all of them. The Lord stiffened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he gave chase to the Israelites. As the Israelites were departing defiantly, the Egyptians gave chase to them, and all the chariot horses of Pharaoh, his horsemen, and his warriors overtook them encamped by the sea, near Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-zephon. (Exodus 14:5-9)

It is not the first time that God “stiffened the heart of Pharaoh”, but it surely was the last. This divine constraint compelled the leader of the world to drive his army to the ends of the world to return his slaves. His hardened heart lead him and his people to their deaths in the sea. While it is interesting to contemplate the nature of this compulsion I am more interested to imagine how Moshe interpreted Pharaoh’s actions.

While Moshe was the leader of this slave rebellion, he was also someone who grew up in Pharaoh’s home.  Moshe was someone who had conflicting loyalties. Was Moshe saddened to see his Egyptian friends suffer through the plagues because Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go? Did Moshe resent Pharaoh? How must it have felt  to see Pharaoh coming over the horizon with hundreds of chariots pursuing him and his people?  Did Moshe struggle with having to decide between the death of one or the other of his people? How did Moshe judge Pharaoh’s behavior?

Thinking about these questions I realized that you might have answered them with a simple question you asked in Rising Strong. There we read, “It got me thinking about the people I’ve been struggling with and judging. I asked myself – are they doing the best they can with the tools that they have?” God told Moshe and us the readers that God “stiffened the heart of Pharaoh” so he and we could understand that Pharaoh was doing the best he could with the tools he had. I like to think that Moshe learned this lesson from you so that he would not judge Pharaoh. In this imagination I can also strive to have a positive attitude toward everyone.

So now I can get to the thank you note. The last time I saw my father I went to visit him to talk about getting better support in place for my ailing mother and help him think about shifting into semi-retirement. My mother has many health issues and at 82 it seemed as though it might be time for him to cut back at work. There were many times in that conversation that I found myself completely outraged by his obstinance. Over the day of talking with him there were many times that I almost lost it and wanted to scream at him. Instead of expressing my judgement of his pigheadedness I kept saying to myself, “He is doing the best can with the tools he has”. Repeating this mantra let me maintain an openness to the person he was instead of holding on to the futile imagination of the person I wanted him to be.

My father died three days later.  If it was not for your teaching I am certain that my last interaction with my father would not have been a good one.  I can only imagine the scars in my soul if my last interaction with my father would have been plagued by screaming and judgement. Your lesson softened my heart so I could come to grips with his stiffened heart. Your teaching helped me show up and allowed me to leave space for my father to be seen. I am forever indebted to you. I find your teachings profoundly liberating. Thank you. I wish you many blessings.

Sincerely,

Avi

 

Remembering My Father on Sukkot

Everyone warned me that the High Holidays would be hard this year after the recent passing of my father, but in truth, it was just not the case – until now.

As a Jewish camp alum and professional, I typically associate the Sukkah with camp. Camp – like a Sukkah – is temporary, but the brevity of our time there endows it with a special sense of holiness. Camp is an intentional community we create with our own hands, yet it is a mystical and meaningful place that transcends the physical space in which it’s located.

My father did not especially connect with the High Holidays. He was not a religious Jew in any conventional way, but he was a deeply spiritual person. And while he was a genius and spent an extraordinary amount of his time and energy in his formidable mind, he loved to build things with his hands.

Some of my favorite memories of my father are of his building things. For him, building a Sukkah made more sense than the more abstract Jewish rituals.  This Sukkot, I pause to contemplate anew the nature of the Sukkah, in memory of my father.

When we think of a Sukkah, we often think of a hut covered in branches. While a Sukkah is a tangible physical structure formed by human hands, it is also connects us to experiences we can’t see or touch in a traditional sense: the history of our people, and our metaphysical relationship with God. It’s a lovely paradox that by entering the enclosed space of the Sukkah, we connect to something outside of ourselves. We’re supposed to cover the Sukkah with branches so we can still see the stars, which can be viewed as a reminder that we can always find light in the world, so long as we don’t close ourselves off from it.

While the Sukkah allows us to enter our historical and religious memories, it is also a place we build to spend time with our families. My father found deep spiritual fulfillment in creating a space for his family to meet and be together. He was not just building a physical structure; he was building family connections and cherished memories. When I enter a Sukkah, I not only bring the historical memories of the Jewish people with me, but my personal memories of my family as well. When I enter a Sukkah, I can’t help but think of my father and all the joyful times we shared within its walls. He is there with me.

My mourning has intensified this Sukkot.  I find comfort, however, in the nature of the Sukkah itself. A Sukkah is made up of tangible materials that come from the earth, but it also connects us with the mysteries of heaven and the treasured memories of our communal and personal past. And even in the absence of the earthly structure, the light shines on.

May the Memory of James Joseph Orlow z’l

reposted from FJC Blog

Siyum Mishna for James Joseph Orlow z”l

As part of mourning process for the passing of my father I arranged a group of people to learn the entire Mishnah in his memory.  While Shloshim technically came to an end on Rosh HaShannah, over Sukkot we will mark 30 days since his passing. I wanted to thank all of the people around the world who joined in this noble cause of lifting up his neshama, soul, during this period of time. A full list of the people who joined in this learning project can be found here. Thank you, this effort means the world to me and my family.

During Shiva many people in their community remarked how they really got to know my parents at their Shabbat and Holiday table. While my mother gets all of the credit for inviting the people and cooking the food, my father sure enjoyed himself. While my father was a genius in his field of study, he never let his lack of knowledge hold him back from getting into a rich argument.  As part of this siyum of Mishna in his memory  I got to learn Perkei Avot with Yishama. There we learned:

 יוֹסֵי בֶן יוֹעֶזֶר אִישׁ צְרֵדָה אוֹמֵר, יְהִי בֵיתְךָ בֵית וַעַד לַחֲכָמִים, וֶהֱוֵי מִתְאַבֵּק בַּעֲפַר רַגְלֵיהֶם, וֶהֱוֵי שׁוֹתֶה בְצָמָא אֶת דִּבְרֵיהֶם

Yose ben Yoezer says, “May your house be a meeting-house for Sages, become dirty in the dust of their feet and drink their words thirstily.” (Avot 1:4)

In many regards this captured my father at his best at the head of the table filled with sages. Like his namesake Yaakov who wrestled with the angel, my father enjoyed getting dirty in the dust of their feet ( Genesis 32:25). While he was always thirsty to learn more, like Yaakov he never this these guest get away so easily. At these salons everyone had a voice and everyone needed to defend their point of view. My father always taught us to be curious and confident. We should learn from everyone and know that each of us had a seat and a voice at the table.

Orlow Family Passover Seder mid 1980’s

Thank you again to all those who joined in this Siyum Mishna in the memory of Yaakov Yosef ben Avraham v’Leah.

May the memory of James Joseph Orlow z”l be for a blessing.


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