if i were to speak

I’m not a public speaker. I heard my husband speak once at a community gathering of “movers and shakers” in the small, eastern Washington town of Okanaga. He was starting a conversation about possibly bringing employment to some of their citizens in the form of a call center, where questions could be fielded, and reservations booked for his company. Initially fearful for him, I was soon mesmerized by my husband’s comfortable, conversational style of public speaking. He smiled easily, added small touches of humor, and to my way of thinking, knocked their socks off! He did mine, anyway.

My daughter has also taken to speaking publicly without anxiety. At the end of her ballet company‘s season, the end of April, she and 3 or 4 fellow dancers choreograph pieces, setting them on the trainees. These are dancers hoping to be hired into the company one day. Unfortunately most don’t make it, so they audition elsewhere, or go on to do other things.

It seems my daughter has emerged as the spokesperson for WIP, “Works In Progress.” On the day the pieces are performed for a non-paying audience, she gives a brief introduction about the history of the project, and the choreographers, and the pieces to be danced. Evidently my daughter’s been congratulated by the artistic staff for her eloquence, and ease of delivery.

I’m not sure if I’ve always felt tongue-tied, with a panic attack near-at-hand just before standing, or sitting, to speak before a group, large, medium, small, or tiny. I know I begin to hyperventillate, trying, in the last few moments, to memorize an entire speech which I’d not written beforehand. But, of course, I can only visualize a blank wall, staring back at me.

So if I were asked to give a fantasy speech, for example about blogging, in front of a group of professional writers, here’s how it might unfold.

I’m not as good a speaker as I am a writer. That’s not to say I’m a great writer. It just means I don’t speak as well as I write. But I’m sure I don’t write as well as you all. If I could speak like anyone, I’d like to speak like Colin Firth, not the stuttering Colin Firth, but the tongue-in-cheek Colin Firth. Know what I mean? No, of course not.

I was asked to talk about blogging. Well, I’m only a novice, having started a mere 7 months ago. I can only tell you what I know, which is not a whole hell of a lot. Oh, sorry. Excuse the language. Getting old you know, words just slipping out, just as other things are apt to do in old age. Oh, sorry, sorry. TMI. TMI. My daughter’s words, not mine. Now where was I?

Blogging! Right! Pretty mind-boggling stuff, you know. Couldn’t do it without wordpress.com. Those buggers set the whole thing up, I just “click” wherever they tell me to “click,” and voila! I’m good to go. As long as I’ve got pictures with the directions, I can get most things. But when they start throwing around techy-speak, well I’m as lost as the cow who flew over the moon and never came back.

You want to know the truth? I don’t know why the hell they asked me to talk to writers about blogging in the first place. We’re birds of a different feather. You’re all flamingos, and I’m just a Hawaiian mynah bird.

But you were real nice to listen to me jabbering away about nothing. Mahalo!

i’d say the same about you, dear reader…hugmamma.

“gays,” a rabbi’s viewpoint

Once again I’m reprinting the opinion of another author in my blog. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach interjects a very interesting and compelling argument in support of gays. None of us are experts, but those so inclined can try to infuse some logic and reason to level the playing field for those among us who have been relegated to society’s periphery.

I am familiar with the writings of Rabbi Boteach; I read his book The Michael Jackson Tapes – A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation. A compassionate man, the Rabbi felt he could help Jackson devote his talents to a greater cause than self-aggrandizement, in the hopes that his life would be more personally satisfying. Unfortunately, the two men went their separate ways, as it was difficult for the entertainer to relinquish his life in the spotlight. He returned to his fans, whose adulation forever defined who he was, even beyond death.

And so I commiserate with Rabbi Boteach’s empathy for gays. They should thrive as we do, for they are also the children of God.

My Jewish Perspective on Homosexuality

Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor of New York, sparked controversy this week by declaring in a speech at an Orthodox synagogue that children shouldn’t be ‘brainwashed’ into considering homosexuality acceptable. He later apologized, saying that he supports gay rights but opposes gay marriage. The Rabbi who hosted Mr. Paladino’s speech then retracted his endorsement of the candidate.

Some people of faith insist that homosexuality is gravely sinful because the Bible calls it an ‘abomination.’ But that word appears approximately 122 times in the Bible. Eating nonkosher food is an ‘abomination’ (Deuteronomy 14:3). A woman returning to her first husband after being married in the interim is an ‘abomination (Deuteronomy 24:4). Bringing a blemished sacrifice on God’s altar is an abomination (Deuteronomy 17:1). Proverbs goes so far as to label envy, lying and gossip ‘an abomination to (the Lord)’ (3:32, 16:22).

As an orthodox Rabbi, I do not deny the biblical prohibition on male same-sex relationships. I simply place it in context. There are 613 commandments in the Torah. One is to refrain from gay sex. Another is for men and women to marry and have children. So when Jewish gay couples tell me they have never been attracted to members of the opposite sex and are desperately alone, I tell them, ‘You have 611 commandments left. That should keep you busy. Now, go create a kosher home. Turn off the TV on the Sabbath and share your meals with many guests. Pray to God three times a day for you are his beloved children. He desires you and seeks you out.’

I once asked Pat Robertson, ‘Why can’t you simply announce to all gay men and women, ‘Come to Church. Whatever relationship you’re in, God wants you to pray. He wants you to give charity. He wants you to lead a godly life.’ He answered to the effect that homosexuality is too important to overlook, as it is the greatest threat to marriage and the family. Other evangelical leaders have told me the same.

But with one of every two heterosexual marriages failing, much of the Internet dedicated to degrading women through pornography, and a culture that is materially insatiable while all-too spiritually content, can we straight people really say that gays are ruining our families? We’ve done a mighty fine job of it ourselves, thank you very much.

The excessive concern about homosexuality that is found among many of my religious brothers and sisters–in many Muslim countries being gay is basically a death sentence–stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of sin. The Ten Commandments were given on two tablets to connote two different kinds of transgression: religious and moral. The first tablet discussed religious transgressions between God and man, such as the prohibitions of idolatry, blasphemy and desecration of the Sabbath. The second tablet contained moral sins between man and his fellow man, like adultery, theft and murder.

Homosexuality is a religious, not a moral sin. A moral sin involves injury to an innocent party. Who is harmed when two unattached, consenting adults are in a relationship? Homosexuality is akin to the prohibition against lighting fire on the Sabbath or eating bread during Passover; there is nothing immoral about it, but it violates the divine will.

I am in favor of gay civil unions rather than marriage because I am against redefining marriage. But gay marriage doesn’t represent the end of Western civilization. The real killer is the tsunami of divorce and the untold disruption to children who become yo-yos going from house to house on weekends.

I have countless gay friends whose greatest fear, like that of so many straight people, is to end up alone. Should we just throw the book at these people? The Bible says, ‘It is not good for man to be alone.’ All I ask from my religious brethren is this: Even as you oppose gay relationships because of your beliefs, please be tortured by your opposition. Understand that when our most deeply held beliefs conflicts with our basic humanity, we should feel the tragedy of the conflict, not find convenient scapegoats upon whom to blame America’s ills.

Wall Street Journal, 10/15/10 (Rabbi Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network, a national organization that promotes universal Jewish values to heal America. His latest book is ‘Renewal: A Guide To The Values-Filled Life’ (Basic Books, 2010).)

 hugs for the rabbi…hugmamma.

mother-in-law, life lessons

My mother-in-law, in her 80’s, has taught me much through the 40 years I’ve been married to her son. We all get wiser with age and life experience, she’s no exception. I’m still trying to abide by her favorite piece of advice,  that it’s better not to speak one’s mind in anger, because those words can never be taken back. And she’s followed her own advice, without fail. 

The first encounter with my mother-in-law was when I phoned her son to invite him to a college prom. Shutting myself into a dorm phone booth, I repeated the speech I had prepared. “Hi! You might not remember me, but…” My heart raced in anticipation of hearing his voice at the other end of the phone. When I heard “her” voice instead, my heart stopped and I gulped. Expecting her to refuse my request, I asked for her son anyway. To my extreme delight, she asked me to wait while she called him. Hallelujah! My heart was racing again…

Since that day, my mother-in-law has shown nothing but support and love for my relationship, and marriage, to her son. Her generosity isn’t reserved for just us, it extends to her 11 other children as well, and her many, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She never speaks unkindly towards any of us, or about any of us. She is a living lesson in self-restraint and compassion for others. 

Early on while dating my husband, I learned another valuable lesson from my unwitting mother-in-law. In those days, she was younger and feistier, and given to using a high-pitched, piercing voice when nagging her children about some undone chore or mischievous act. Who could blame her? With 12 kids to care for, I’d have taken a long vacation into the next millennium. I remember once witnessing her storm through the house, screaming the name of the villainous child, who quickly escaped out the back door. Those of us present glanced at one another with knowing smiles. 

That scene often came to mind while raising my daughter. When upset my voice dropped several octaves and my words were measured, as I reprimanded her for inappropriate behavior. The only time I screamed at her, my daughter stood in absolute shock near the kitchen table looking as though she had escaped her body, hovering overhead until the tirade was over. So learning what not to do from my mother-in-law, disciplining my daughter was less exhausting. But then again, the odds were in my favor having only 1 child to her 12. And God bless her, she went on to babysit many of her “moapunas” (grandchildren). I have yet to experience that pleasure. Will I even have the energy?

still learning, from her…hugmamma.