Thursday, September 24, 2015

When Is It Over?

A Simple Question; Three Answers: We have just emerged from the solemn holiness of Yom Kippur, only to learn that the great, the incomparable Yogi Berra passed away at age 90 while we were chanting Kol Nidre.

With one Yizkor down and one to go (on Shemini Atzeret, October 5) in this round of fall holidays - plus the description of the death of Moses in this week's parsha, Ha'azinu - perhaps it is a most appropriate time to ask the question

When is it over?

Here are three possible answers to guide us through the remaining, happy, fall holidays.

1. It's Over Before It's Over

Let's start with Roz Chast. Or, more accurately, with Roz Chast's parents, of blessed memory.

Do you know Roz Chast? Here is what Wikipedia says about her.
Rosalind "Roz" Chast (born November 26, 1954) is an American cartoonist and a staff cartoonist for The New Yorker. 
She grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, the only child of an assistant principal and a high school teacher who subscribed to The New Yorker
Her earliest cartoons were published in Christopher Street and The Village Voice. In 1978 The New Yorker accepted one of her cartoons and has since published more than 800. She also publishes cartoons in Scientific American and the Harvard Business Review.
Abq Jew notes with pleasure that Roz Chast is a graduate of Midwood High School in Brooklyn, Mrs Abq Jew's alma mater.

Roz Chast's most recent book, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, is a hilarious (to those who have gone through it) memoir of her parents' first days at The Place and last days on Earth.

As The Wheel of Doom illustrates - in Jewish households of a certain era, sometimes it's over even before it's over.

As Alex Witchel wrote in The New York Times Sunday Book Review (May 30, 2014):
Here is some well-considered advice from Roz Chast on “How to Prepare for Very, Very Advanced Old Age”: 
Make sure to scrimp and save every penny of your precious earnings ... And when your scrimpings run out: 
  1. Go into your children’s scrimpings, and/or
  2. Play and win the lottery, and/or
  3. Apply for a Guggenheim, and/or
  4. Start smoking, and/or
  5. Take hemlock.
If you read this list and laughed ruefully, chances are you have parents who are living (if that’s what you call it) forever, costing a fortune and driving you insane. If not, you are probably young enough to have parents who are white-water rafting, eating Greek yogurt and driving you insane. 
Never fear. Your day will come.

2. It's Over When It's Over

Based upon Yogi's famous saying (which he probably actually said, referring to the 1973 pennant race):

It ain't over till it's over.

This is, Abq Jew believes, the mainstream, middle-of-the-road position, about which it's hard to argue.

3. It's Never Over

But we are Jews, so - even though it's hard - let's argue.

And let's start with Abq Jew's early (2010!), prescient, and now famous blog post, Torah and Talmud and Zombies. In which Abq Jew stated:
When it comes to the afterlife, Judaism (among many religions) found itself in a theological and theodical box:  If we believe that God is just, how do we account for evil in the world?  And how do we account for the misfortune of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked (tzaddik vi'ra lo, rasha vi'tov lo)? 
It is clear to Abq Jew and most disinterested observers that there ain't much justice in this world, so it must be that God's justice is delivered somewhere else - in Olam Ha'ba, the World to Come. 
But how does the World to Come actually work?  Well, you've got two ideas that compete with each other (in the sense that you only need one of them to answer the question): 
  • Resurrection of the Body.  This is the high octane form of the afterlife.  Yes, God has the power to lift us up from the dead, and to enable us to . . . well, exactly what is hard to say.
  • Immortality of the Soul.  This is the unleaded afterlife.  Since we have no need for our physical components, they are jettisoned . . . well, exactly when is hard to say.
Read more here.

On a more practical level, we Albuquerque Jews have institutions and organizations and, most importantly, the Chevre Kaddisha of Greater Albuquerque, to help us approach things with a tiny modicum of sanguinity.

The Chevre Kaddisha is looking for new members!
Please contact Abq Jew!

But to be more practical, we need to talk about ... "things."

Gail Rubin, The Doyenne of Death ®  (based right here in Albuquerque!) has often said

Just as talking about sex won’t make you pregnant,
talking about funerals won’t make you dead.

Here is an ELI Talk by Dr Michael Slater (President of the Board of Kavod v'Nichum (Honor and Comfort), a non-profit educational and advocacy organization on end of life issues) that tests this theory.
Living Jewishly Means Dying Jewishly, Too. 
In much of society today, death is to be avoided at all costs - in polite company and modern medicine alike. Jewish tradition, explains Dr. Michael Slater, has a very different approach.  
In a talk that is part memoir, part history, part communal call-to-action, we see the wisdom of Judaism as not only life-affirming, but death-affirming, as well.

There now ... That wasn't so bad, was it?

Shabbat Shalom, New Mexico!
Good Shabbos, Albuquerque!

Hag Sameach, New Mexico!
Good Yontif, Albuquerque!

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