Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Shortest Day of the Year

You may recall that several months ago I wrote a column called "Who Will Say Kaddish for Us" (April 10, 2010), and in it, I asked that we take a look at ourselves and ask ourselves what it means to truly be happy with who we are and with what we have.

After a long summer, filled with many changes, and an even longer autumn, replete with much tragedy and loss, I find myself again asking that we take yet another look at ourselves. This time, however, I ask: Who will say Kaddish for them.

Having spent many an hour in and out of Skilled Nursing facilities and Hospice facilities as a visiting Rabbi, (the key word being "in and out"), (except for an extended period as a patient), I had only done so in my professional role and until this past July, when faced with my grandmother's admittance to a like facility. Sadly, I had never felt that I had a reason for spending more than the requisite half hour or so with the specific patient whom I had intended on visiting, nor did I believe that I had the time to visit others; and even then, I had never allowed myself to become involved with them beyond a quick hello, or to offer a brief Mishaberach (healing) prayer on my way to my next stop in a busy day.

This of course changed in late June when my grandmother was sent to a Skilled Nursing facility following a terrible automobile accident, and my days this past summer were spent almost in their entirety at the facility. There, I visited not only her, but her neighbors and new friends; patients both in and out of consciousness; their families and friends, and of course, deeply rooted new friendships formed with both residents and with the dedicated staff of medical professionals and administrators.

And then, one day in late August, my grandmother died.

Would her neighbors and friends be now again forgotten? What about others in other homes? Who will visit them??

Most of these folks have no family, or what family they do have, rarely visit. Which, then leads me to ask: Who will say Kaddish for them?

The famous sage Hillel was known to have said "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me; and if not now, when?"

Are our friends in these homes and facilities not us? Are they not our grandparents, our uncles and aunts?? Our brothers and sisters??? And, if they are us, as I believe them to be, we owe it to them to visit them while they are still with us; and, we owe it to them to say Kaddish for them once they have passed on to Olam haBa.

For these reasons, I have begun a program of Bikurei Holim; visitation to the sick that encompasses many of the Skilled Nursing facilities in the Los Angeles area. My goal is to reach out to our brothers and sisters in these facilities by providing Chaplaincy services while visiting each patient three times weekly, and Palliative Care Chaplaincy when necessary, even if it means being on-call daily and nightly.

Our program, Mobile Rabbinic Chaplaincy Services will kick off officially on January 1, 2011. Should you be interested in helping us achieve these goals, please visit our website.

At this time each year, the time of the secular holiday season, I find myself often wondering where the "holiday spirit" that seems to be present this month goes almost immediately after New Years Day. I find that even trips down major boulevards bring visions of decorations and light displays them themselves call for us to be kind and gentle to each other, yet, at the same time, this time of year almost always makes me wonder why these feelings of "good tidings" are only present during the period between Thanksgiving and New Years.

Wouldn't it be nice if everyone were just as nice the rest of the year? What might we be able to do to make it so?

Last week, while driving to Los Angeles along the 101 Freeway, sitting in heavy traffic, as is normal for any time of day, I looked to the sky. It was dark; grey; cloudy; cold. It appeared to be ready to open up and rain. In an instant, though, this all became irrelevant, as a large flock of birds flew in a southerly direction in perfect formation. At that very moment I was reminded of the perfection that continues to remain in the world. It occurred to me that no matter the weather; no matter the grim outlook of ongoing war and economic strife and sickness that is all around us, the world is, in fact, unfolding exactly as it should, and that the smile brought to my face by the flying birds can be brought to everyone, by us, by just thinking of those birds, and passing the smile along to the driver next to us on the freeway, or the person crossing the street, or whomever you happen to meet next.

Maybe if we remember those birds and remember to smile a little more, we can keep the feeling of December all year long. It is worth a try, at least, isn't it?

From rainy damp and chilly Southern California, where the sun always shines (in our hearts, if no place else), I wish you Ahavah, uVrachot, Love and Blessings for a wonderful week and Shabbat Shalom.

--Rabbi Alan Abrams

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