Saying Kaddish for a Friend

Last week, one of my best friends, Stan Pollan, died. We both moved to Madison around the same time 32 years ago and met a few months after we moved here, when his wife Ellen was pregnant with their eldest son, Henry. Stan’s parents and my wife Sheryl’s parents had been friends for many years before we met and encouraged us to get to know each other when we started living in the same city. Stan, Ellen, Sheryl and I are forever grateful for the encouragement our parents gave us to get to know each other.

About two weeks before Stan died, he asked me to say the mourner’s kaddish for him after he died. Stan was born Jewish, but he was not very observant. We regularly invited his family to our house for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Passover, which they appreciated. However, the only time I saw him in a synagogue was on Yom Kippur, when he would come to my synagogue to say the mourner’s kaddish for his parents after they passed away. So, of course, while dismayed that my dear friend was dying, I was honored to be asked to fulfill one of his dying wishes.

What I did not anticipate was that as Stan’s death drew nearer, his family asked me to organize and officiate at his funeral. I am not a Rabbi and I have never officiated at a funeral, but despite the challenge, I was further honored by this expanded role. I worked closely with Stan’s sister-in-law, Cheryl Siegel, to whom I will be forever grateful for her deep sense of caring for what Stan and his family wanted at his funeral. As she and I both told each other, through Stan’s loss, we each made a new best friend in each other.

It was very important to me that the funeral honor Stan’s wishes, as well as those of his immediate family, so I talked with Ellen and Stan’s sons the day after he died to discern what they wanted. They made clear that they wanted the service to be short, simple and sweet, including some music, and to be sure that any Hebrew was both translated and transliterated so all those present could understand and participate. Over the next two days, working with Cheryl Siegel, Ellen and her sons, Stan’s brother Jim, our friend Jason Garlynd, who did a reading at the family’s request, and the musicians, Jeff Laramie and Bruce Wasserstrom, we pulled the service together. Just an hour and a half before the service started, I picked up the copies of the service we quickly created from the copy shop.

Jeff Laramie opened the service with a beautiful rendition of the Beatles’ song, In My Life, during which some thunder roared. I told the mourners that was Stan applauding. I also made clear to them that I was not a Rabbi and this was my first time officiating at a funeral. Despite that, I have since heard that many people told the family that the “rabbi” did a good job. Someone even asked me for my card after the service. I reminded them that I did not officiate funerals professionally.

Before we got to the kaddish, I led some readings that all the mourners said together. However, since the family wanted Jason Garlynd to do a reading, he agreed to read the following:

Ahavat Olam-Love of the World (interpretive version-Rami Shapiro)

 We are loved by an unending love.

We are embraced by arms that find us

Even when we are hidden from ourselves.

We are touched by fingers that soothe us

Even when we are too proud for soothing.

We are counseled by voices that guide us

Even when we are too embittered to hear.

We are loved by an unending love.

We are supported by hands that uplift us

even in the midst of a fall.

We are urged on by eyes that meet us

even when we are too weak for meeting.

We are loved by an unending love.

Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled…

Ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;

Ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;

We are loved by an unending love.

The next day, we received a call from Stan’s eldest son, Henry, who invited my wife and I to join him and a few friends on a canoe trip the following day. We were honored to be asked so we gladly joined Henry, his best friend Ben, Jason and his son True on the Bad Fish Creek which due to heavy rains had swollen into a raging river. Henry wore his father’s captain’s hat and it made me think back to when Sheryl, Ellen, Stan and I canoed together when Henry was very young. Despite very challenging conditions, including capsizing, navigating logs through rapids and ducking under many branches, we all had smiles on our faces and felt that the blue heron that led us down the river may well have been Stan’s spirit guiding us along the way.

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From left to right, Jason, True, Sheryl, Henry and Ben, at the end of a lunch break.

There is a Jewish tradition that we say, May his memory be a blessing, after someone dies. I truly believe that Stan’s memory is and will continue to be a blessing and through the many memories of his kindness, his life will truly be eternal.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

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Fighting CAFOs & Hi-Cap wells

Last week, in my role as Chair of the Goose Lake Watershed District, I attended a meeting of the Central Sands Water Action Coalition (CSWAC) Steering Committee, which was held in the barn at the Fresh for Life Organic farm in Central Wisconsin.

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CSWAC Chair Skip Hansen runs a meeting of the Steering Committee

CSWAC has been waging a battle to preserve Wisconsin’s precious groundwater for the past few years as huge corporate agri-business interests have pressured Wisconsin’s Governor and legislature to pass legislation allowing those concerns to drain Wisconsin’s groundwater through the use of high capacity wells. Sadly, despite overwhelming grassroots opposition to the legislation, and scientific concerns about how those wells drain Wisconsin’s aquifers and lower lake levels, the legislature passed SB 76 and the Governor signed the bill now known as 2017 Wisconsin Act 10, which among other things allows high capacity well permits to remain perpetually renewed even if a well goes bad or the land is sold.

Undaunted, CSWAC will continue to fight these water draining corporate activities, and is doing so in court. In addition, with its membership of nearly 70 lake and river associations, lake districts and conservation groups, representing over 50,000 members and their families, in a unanimous vote of the nearly 50 members of its steering committee present at last week’s meeting, CSWAC agreed to sign onto a moratorium of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) proposed by Sustain Rural Wisconsin.

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CAFO pictured on Sustain Rural Wisconsin’s website

The moratorium proposal states:

Wisconsin citizens’ right to clean water, clean air and a good quality of life is endangered by water pollution frequently caused by industrial agriculture. Wisconsin’s industrial animal factories generate more manure than crops can safely use as fertilizer leading to excess phosphorus and nitrate levels in the soil and groundwater. As a result, our local streams, lakes, and waterways are quickly becoming damaged beyond repair.

Therefore, we call upon Wisconsin to declare a temporary moratorium on the permitting and construction of new and expanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Before Wisconsin allows new construction or expansions of CAFO facilities, the state must provide a solution for our existing manure overload problem.  No facility should be allowed to pollute local waterways and groundwater without a set enforcement policy addressing the cleanup of contamination if a problem should arise.

Sustain Rural Wisconsin explains the rationale for this moratorium as follows:

Water Quantity – In certain areas of the state, primarily the Central Sands, lakes, streams and wells are drying up due to large-scale agriculture. A solid body of research shows that this loss of surface water is directly related to depletion of groundwater aquifers by high capacity wells. The depletion of groundwater not only impacts water loss but presents a public health risk as drinking water sources dry up and any pollutants such as nitrates and bacteria become more concentrated.

Phosphorus & Nitrate Overloading – Agricultural practices of CAFOs are a significant source of sediment and phosphorus in Wisconsin due to high erosion rates and high phosphorus levels in agricultural soils.  Croplands supply 76 % of the sediment and 65 % of the phosphorus load in Wisconsin runoff. Nitrate is the most widespread groundwater contaminant in Wisconsin and, on a statewide basis, about 90% of the nitrate detected in groundwater is from agricultural sources (fertilizer, manure, and legumes).  Phosphorus and nitrates contribute to algal blooms in rivers, streams, and lakes and have led to hypoxic areas (dead zones) in our estuaries, Great Lakes, and Oceans.

Human Health & Welfare – Industrial agriculture can emit toxins that cause a host of illnesses for neighbors and workers (asthma, headaches, nausea, diarrhea, burning eyes, other respiratory problems) and can cause mood problems (depression, confusion, fatigue, tension) for people living and working near factory farms. In addition, the overuse of antibiotics in CAFOs facilitates drug-resistant bacteria, which is a grave danger to people.

Economic Impacts – Counties with more CAFOs trend toward lower income growth, fewer business, and less commercial activity. In addition, property values can decrease near factory farms resulting in decreased property tax revenue to support local services such as road construction and maintenance, recycling, emergency medical services and police/fire protection.

I will bring this moratorium to the next meeting of the Goose Lake Watershed District to propose that we join the dozens of organizations and communities that have already signed onto it. You can ask your local unit of government or any other organization interested in preserving Wisconsin’s environment to join the CAFO moratorium by signing on here. Individuals can sign on here. After all, if we cannot preserve plentiful clean water for all of us to enjoy, what kind of future are we leaving for our children and grandchildren?

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

There is no Other

This morning, I was proud to join my Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, as President of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, at the public announcement of the formation of the Dane Sanctuary Coalition. Together with First Unitarian Society, Advent Lutheran Church ELCA, Community of Hope United Church of Christ, and Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ, with support from First Congregational United Church of Christ, First Baptist Church, James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation  and Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, our faith communities have joined together to provide sanctuary to immigrants and refugees who are under threat of deportation due to, “immoral immigration policies that threaten families, instill fear in our communities and violate the most basic ethical standards of our faith traditions,” as so eloquently stated by Rabbi Bonnie Margulis.

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When Kelly Crocker, Minister at the First Unitarian Society, with whom my synagogue shares space and thus joins us in offering sanctuary, gave her remarks, she offered a profound way of viewing the world.

There is no other, just a neighbor you haven’t met yet.

Her simple statement resonated with me as I stood behind her this morning. It is among many reasons why my synagogue joined this coalition and why we offer sanctuary in a public manner. We join together in order to build community, not destroy families and the communities in which they live.

Last week, the Dane Sanctuary Coalition wrote letters to local Mayors, the County Executive and law enforcement officials, to let them know that we are publicly offering sanctuary to immigrants and refugees under threat of deportation. We do so at some risk to ourselves and our faith communities. But we are willing to take that risk to help protect our vulnerable immigrant and refugee neighbors from oppression. After all, we are a nation of immigrants and virtually all of us are here because either we or one of our ancestors immigrated here.  We sincerely appreciate that Madison Police Chief Mike Koval responded by stating:

I am always appreciative when constituents step up to make Madison a more inclusive and accessible community for all.

In our congregation’s recent newsletter, which informed our community that our Board of Directors had voted to join the Dane Sanctuary Coalition, our Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman wrote:

As a Jewish community we are called to welcome the stranger and protect the oppressed. Out of a deep sense of social justice, we are responding to the urgent needs of Dane County’s immigrant communities, and we will stand with them in this act of solidarity.

Sanctuary can provide a deterrent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), thus giving the individual an opportunity to plead his or her case in court rather than being summarily deported. Providing sanctuary is a humanitarian act for an individual, as well as an opportunity to raise public awareness of deportations in our community. We are not hiding an individual; rather we are publicizing our action in the media and to ICE. This makes a powerful public statement that we will not stand idly by.

Offering sanctuary is a centuries old method which faith communities have offered to protect vulnerable people from oppression. I am thrilled that in my leadership role as President of my synagogue, we are now part of the growing New Sanctuary Movement which includes over 1,000 congregations nationwide offering sanctuary to immigrants and refugees under threat of deportation.

Providing sanctuary to people under threat of deportation will take a huge community effort, but I am confident that our faith communities will succeed in this effort and I look forward to the day when immigrants and refugees are welcomed in our nation and offering sanctuary is no longer necessary.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.