Yom Kippur 2015 / 5776 Or What Lyme Disease Taught Me About Fasting

Posted on September 22nd, 2015 by

Regular readers of my guest blogs on the Simon Family JCC site will know that I often write about the Jewish holidays as I experience them (again) through my 3-year-old daughter’s eyes. Indeed, my thoughts about Rosh Hashanah last week followed that theme. For Yom Kippur, I am feeling slightly more self-reflective.

The most recognizable component of Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” to the non-Jew is likely the fast. Traditionally, Jewish people fast for the 25 hours of the holiday. This fast is meant to be a complete fast, and the rabbis tell us it consists of abstaining from five things: food, water, washing or anointing the body, sexual intercourse, and wearing leather shoes.

In my memory bank of 38 Yom Kippur observances (and maybe a few lack thereof), I have this deeply rooted understanding that we fast from the sustenance of the body in order to focus all of our attention on the sustenance of the soul. In Seasons of Our Joy, Arthur Waskow writes, “The mouths not used for food were used for chanting praise to God” (p. 33). (Regular readers will by now recognize this as my go-to reference on the holidays.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about that idea—that we are asked to somehow suppress our physical selves in preference to our spiritual selves—because of my experience right before Rosh Hashanah this year.

On the Friday before Rosh Hashanah (which, you remember, began on a Sunday evening), I discovered a growing, hot, red rash that looked much like a bullseye, just above my left knee. It was precisely the same spot where, about 10 days prior, I’d removed a tiny tick. My trip to the urgent care provider confirmed my fear: this is Lyme disease.

color photo of tick species known to carry lyme disease.

Not the most attractive of bugs, is it?

The good news for me is that I caught it very quickly. Once I complete my three-week course of antibiotics, I am likely to have no lasting effects of the disease. Still, it was not an easy experience for me. I had extreme body aches and headaches, swollen eyelids, and what felt like cotton shoved cruelly into the recesses of my skull. The pain-killer provided short islands of tolerable pain in a sea of excruciating pain. Further, I happen to get nauseated when in extreme pain. So in addition to the pain, I was physically ill many times.

I actually was fasting from most of the 5 things from which the rabbis tell us to abstain (I did shower many times, since the hot water gave me small respite from the headaches).

I was not thinking of God. Nor was I praying, unless you count “please, God, let me not throw up again” or “please, God, let me make it the next hour until I can take more pain meds.”

When, after a full three days on the antibiotics, I woke up on Rosh Hashanah day (Monday), with only the slightest trace of a headache, I certainly did say a prayer of thanksgiving. (Though if I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure if I was praying to God or to Alexander Fleming and his miraculous discovery.) The timing of the whole experience made me very curious to see more about what the rabbis have to say about this fast that I—and millions of other Jewish people—am about to undertake. (Though I will not execute a full fast, as I will definitely be ingesting enough food and water to consume at least three capsules of amoxicillin on Wednesday.)

In Leviticus, (JPS translation), we read:

The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Mark, the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: you shall practice self-denial…” (23:26).

The root of the word the JPS translators render “self” (in “self-denial”) is nefesh, a word often translated as “soul,” but may more accurately be translated as “ego” or “person.” Though the JPS’s choice of “self” is certainly more poetic. What I find most interesting about the word choice—in both Hebrew and English—is that the Torah does not say “afflict your bodies” or some other construction that speaks mainly to the physical.

My tick-borne affliction of the body was not one that I chose, and so it did not allow the sublimation of my ego/person/self in place of the greater good that is my community and the divine.

On Yom Kippur itself, from bemas the world over, Jewish people will hear words that will speak to this truth. The Leviticus portion I excerpted above will be followed by a reading from Isaiah (57:14 – 58:16) in which the prophet angrily tells the community that a fast that consists of an empty belly is not enough. In God’s voice he asks, “Is such the fast I desire, / A day for men to starve their bodies?” (58:5).

The prophet goes on to answer his own question:

No, this is the fast I desire:

To unlock the fetters of wickedness,

And untie the cords of the yoke

To let the oppressed go free;

To break off every yoke.

It is to share your bread with the hungry,

And to take the wretched poor into your home;

When you see the naked, to clothe him,

And not to ignore your own kin. (58:6 – 58:7)

The fast of Yom Kippur is not to just to withhold the bread from my belly, but to share it with the hungry. It is not just to afflict the self, but to repair the world. For how can we have compassion for the hungry if we always have a full belly? How can we recognize our own privileges—whether they be full bellies or pain-free mornings or any other host of comforts we take for granted—if we never take the time to acknowledge them?

Once again the ancient voices reach into the present—and, I hope, my future—and surprise me with their wisdom.

For all those who observe, this year I will not wish you an easy fast. Rather, I pray that we all achieve a meaningful fast. Shanah Tovah u’Metuchah, wishing you a good, and sweet, new year.

This post was originally published at http://www.simonfamilyjcc.org/yom-kippur-what-lyme-disease-taught-me-about-fasting/

Tracie Guy-DeckerA blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

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Words and Music

Posted on September 21st, 2015 by

In a recent phone conversation, my sister, the Sahmnambulist, was telling me about the road trip her family took from their home in Indiana through the Midwest.

“When we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” she started to say,

“Oh! Oh! Oh!” I interrupted, “Did you see the Paul Simon exhibit?”

“Oh my god, yes! I can’t believe I didn’t tell you about it before! It was amazing!”

“Em, that exhibit is coming to MY MUSEUM!” I exclaimed, because naturally, five months of employment here makes the Jewish Museum of Maryland, my museum.

We went on to talk about Paul Simon, “The Boxer” and Graceland which, inevitably, led to talk about our dad.

Tracie and Dad

Tracie and Dad

In 1986 when Graceland was released, Emily and I were seven and 10 respectively. That year and the several years following, that album was on permanent repeat whenever we were with our dad. I remember conversations with our grandmother about how diamonds on the soles of your shoes would surely scratch the floor (“Mom, it’s just a metaphor,” dad would say). There were very serious conversations between we two sisters, trying to understand the implications of some of the lyrics, (“but why would Betty call him Al? Is that his name or isn’t it?”). The music video with Chevy Chase was both hysterical and confusing (wasn’t Paul Simon the singer? Why was Chevy Chase doing all of the singing?). And there was nothing better than the three of us belting out the lyrics in the car (back then, kids still got to sit in the front seat. I always got shotgun (thanks, Em!)).

Fast forward these thirty years, and Emily and I are both parents ourselves (my daughter is 3, her sons are 5 and 2), and our dad is no longer with us. It’s bittersweet having the ephemera of this album—the soundtrack to my childhood relationship with my dad—coming to my workplace. Dad’s been gone nearly two and a half years now, yet I find myself regularly thinking, “wow, gotta tell Dad about this!” If he were still living, he’d be getting a copy of the exhibit catalogue for Christmukkah this year. (I may buy myself a copy in his honor.)

Tracie and her sister Emily, outside in the snow.

Tracie and Emily

When Marvin told me about the show (plans were already in the works for hosting this Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit when I started at the Museum back in April, 2015), I quickly started to realize just how much of my life is backed by the sound of Paul Simon’s music.

In addition to the Graceland connection with my dad, Mom used to sing me “Feeling Groovy” as a lullaby. As a result, I, too, sing “Feeling Groovy” to my little one (I change the final stanza so that instead of singing “Life, I love you, All is groovy” I sing “Ruth, I love you.” It blew her mind when the song came on the radio and it didn’t have her name in it.)

Like so many other teenagers, I felt angsty recognition in “I am a Rock” and “The only living boy in New York” (even though I was a girl in Baltimore). And I held a grudge for years against the college friend who scratched my “Rhythm of the Saints” CD.

The subtitle of the Paul Simon exhibit is “Words and Music,” two things I deeply love. I love words when they’re used to express and build feelings, to express and build art. I also love music (though I’m not a musician). It’s no wonder, then, that Paul Simon—the master wordsmith and master musician—holds such a special place in my heart.

Graceland album cover


I’m realizing that he has a similar place in the hearts of a huge portion of Americans. I’m surprised and delighted by the attention that this exhibit is garnering my museum. Whenever I mention that the exhibit is coming, people’s eyes light up—and that reaction seems to independent of race, religion, even age.

And so, as the activity increases and Joanna works with our partners to unpack, arrange, and install the exhibit, I find myself excited and grateful: Excited to see the exhibit and visit with my dad, if only in my own head; grateful to the JMM for bringing me Paul Simon (and by extension my late father) and grateful to Paul Simon for giving more people from all over the region a good reason to come and see what a great resource is here, in my museum.

Tracie Guy-DeckerA blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Celebrate Arts Education

Posted on September 17th, 2015 by

Did you know that this week marks the fifth anniversary of National Arts Education Week? This is something that I recently learned by reading the weekly update of the area arts and culture scene distributed by the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance.  Study after study highlights the importance of exposing children of all ages to the arts in all its many forms. Local families and schools are fortunate to have access to such an incredible variety of museums where the arts come to life in such dynamic ways.

Given this important anniversary, I thought I’d take the opportunity to promote the JMM’s educational programs and resources and to highlight how they foster multidisciplinary connections between social studies, English language arts and fine arts.  While the JMM is traditionally thought of as a history museum, our education team is exceptionally talented at using our exhibits, collections and historic sites as springboards for activities and resources that integrate the arts.

City Spring students participate in a field trip to the JMM.

City Spring students participate in a field trip to the JMM.

This summer, JMM docent Robyn Hughes created an art program for campers with visual impairments from the Maryland School for the Blind in which students toured Voices of Lombard Street and then built neighborhoods out of art supplies.

This summer, JMM docent Robyn Hughes created an art program for campers with visual impairments from the Maryland School for the Blind in which students toured Voices of Lombard Street and then built neighborhoods out of art supplies.

A good example of this is our Immigrant’s Trunk program that explores immigration history through the lens of personal stories. Each of our Immigrant’s Trunk program brings the experience of a real life Jewish immigrant to life through reproduced photographs, documents and objects. The trunks come with a full set of lesson plans that integrate primary source analysis as well as creative writing assignments, storytelling and art activities. Teachers can also opt to schedule living history performances by professional actors who dramatize significant moments from each immigrant’s life.

Actor Terry Nicholetti brings to life the story of Bessie Bluefeld, a Russian immigrant who established Baltimore’s beloved Bluefeld’s catering business.

Actor Terry Nicholetti brings to life the story of Bessie Bluefeld, a Russian immigrant who established Baltimore’s beloved Bluefeld’s catering business.

Some of our programs have strong visual arts components, including a new initiative that encourages middle school students to interpret family history through multimedia art installations. Last year, JMM education director Ilene Dackman-Alon piloted My Family History Project through a partnership with Beit Hatfutsot in Tel Aviv and the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore. As part of the program, students immersed themselves in genealogical research. They then went above and beyond the traditional family tree assignment by creating amazing visual representations of some aspect of their family’s experiences. The student artwork was displayed in the JMM as we hosted an evening reception for families. Everyone was amazed by the creativity and diversity of the artwork on display and how the students incorporated a variety of media as they highlighted something unique about their own family’s history. We are delighted to embark on the second year of this project and Ilene is expanding the initiative to work with additional schools.

An example of the art work on display in the My Family History Project.

An example of the art work on display in the My Family History Project.

Another piece of art created for the My Family History Project.

Another piece of art created for the My Family History Project.

Visual arts, drama, creative writing, storytelling…these are all art forms that can easily be integrated into JMM educational resources. The one medium that has not been as easy to incorporate is music, but I am excited to announce an exciting new educational offering this fall in conjunction with the opening of Paul Simon: Words and Music (on display October 11, 2015-January 18, 2016). Our education team has developed a curriculum that ties in with music education standards and exposes students to the worlds of music theory and the history of folk music. For all the educators out there, this is an opportunity not to be missed. Field trips can be scheduled by emailing our visitor services coordinator, Graham Humphrey at ghumphrey@jewishmuseummd.org.

Click here for more information about these and other JMM educational programs.

So take advantage of the wealth of cultural resources available locally and find time to visit a nearby museum. You’ll be glad you did!

deborahA blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

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