Posts Tagged ‘ Sonoma ’

Huntenpecken

2002.09.01
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Quick post-Shabbat update (apols in advanmce for the typing, as I am too tired to go get my patch from the dining room:

1) Consulted a friend of mine who used to be in th e IDF re: Thiursday’s incident — while he apporeciated my resolve, he suggested fighting the battle (if such is to be in the future) on my ground, not the jerk’s: meaning that I should laugh it off and get the license number. He’s right — while my Support for the Team is huge, I don;t like playing games that others define for me — and though my rabbi told me the same thing, sometimes the who we hear from is more important than the what we hear.

2) Ann & I burned a 23 eLUl yahrzeit candle last night, placing it near our Shabbat candles. The wax from the Shabbat candles leaked into the yahrzeit candle, extinguishing it. I do not attribute causeality or cosmicity, but merely note the occurrence…

3) Be it also noted that our synagogue’s Selichot service tonight featurted a new HHD Torah mantle createdd by one of the three women who created the original mantle a few years ago — white silk (I think) with delicate gold flowers all over it. Absolutely fantastic.

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Think Globally, Fight Locally

2002.08.30
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First, a message from a friend (posted in another forum) which I want to put “out there.” It’s timebound, but also timeless:



From: Micha Berger http://www.aishdas.org
Subject: 23 Elul

Tonight begins the 23rd of Elul.

What is 23 Elul, you may ask?

Last 23rd of Elul, at around the current time of day, I was dodging
peices of building in a thick cloud of smoke in some picture of downtown
Manhattan as portrayed by Dante.

23rd of Elul is the yahrzeit of every person who died last September 11th.

We'll be lighting a yahrzeit candle before my wife makes the
blessing on the Shabbos lights.

Those of us on this list who don't normally light Shabbos candles may
find lighting two candles tonight a fitting gesture. Just a thought.

-mi


In other news: My eye appointment is set for Sept. 5. Thank G-d I still have eyes, however imperfect, and a body with which to use them, and people to love with all three and more…

Oh, yeah ? funny story: While waiting for my ride home from school, I was hassled for the first time EVER about my yarmulke by some beefy 18-year-old jerk in the back of a Ford Explorer who thought he’d impress his pals by calling me “a f—–g Jew.” I advanced on the vehicle and asked him what his problem was; he opened the door menacingly and repeated his opinion of me. We growled at each other in primate language as his friends drove slowly out of the parking lot, with me advancing on him every time they pulled away. As he was incapable of uttering other phrases, I expressed the ultimate in domesticated primate contempt: I flashed him the Universal Digit and turned my back on him, walking away (while listening for the sound of pounding feet behind me). I am not a confrontational fellow, at all, at all, but had I somehow got it in my head that Jews Don’t Back Down From A Public Fight. My wife is proud that I stood my ground, and even advanced. My rabbi and I are engaged in a discussion about the Right Thing To Do. Her argument is that there’s a difference in fighting for self-defense and egging someone on — my argument is that, “Just because he doesn’t know that he’s made in the image of G-d doesn’t mean I have to put up with his crap.”

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Strange Connectors

2002.05.02
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After covering the fire training Sunday, I came home and showered before writing out the sermon/message I was asked to deliver at that afternoon’s annual interfaith Service of Remembrance, sponsored by one of the local hospices. They do a lot of important work, and I’ve written stories about their events every year I was a reporter. Everyone I talk to describes them as “angels of mercy who take over your house and help you more than you’d ever imagine.”

One year, they asked me to represent the Jewish community at the remembrance service by delivering the kaddish. The next year, they asked me to speak a few words at their annual tree-lighting ceremony in Sonoma Plaza (after I had written about one of their client families). Here is what I said this year:
—————————————
D’var Aveilut – 28 April 2002

Today I’d like to tell you about one of the scariest things I ever did.

I write for the Sonoma Index-Tribune. Two years ago, I also began assisting Rabbi Bridget Wynne in her duties at Congregation Shir Shalom here in Sonoma. I think religion and reporting have the following in common: both can make us pay close attention to the world in order to help people make sense of it.

Jewish tradition describes two early stages of mourning, respectively called aninut and shiva. Aninut describes the period between death and burial; shiva encompasses the first seven days after burial, when grief is the most intense.

One of the traditions of shiva to hold the three daily worship services at the mourner’s home, so that they can say the obligatory prayers without having to go out. Judaism is mostly a religion of law, so any community services are required to have at least 10 people, called a minyan, in order to be legal. From a psychological perspective, this also means that, in a shiva minyan, the mourner is never alone.

Last autumn, one of our congregants, Gail Lutolf, died after a long illness. Our rabbi conducted the funeral, but wasn’t available to lead the shiva minyan. So she asked me to do it.

At this point, I had led a variety of services, but never in a house of mourning. But this is one of the things I have pledged my life to do. So with a pounding heart, and a sense of being in way over my head, I drove to Gail’s small but spacious house off Arnold Drive and knocked on the door.

Up to that point I had been arguing with myself over the most appropriate way to conduct the service. I mean, I knew the liturgy inside and out. But I didn’t know what to say to the people inside. What words of wisdom or comfort could I offer? For one thing, I’m not very wise, and for another, words aren’t all that comforting. For this reason, Jewish tradition teaches us that when we visit a mourner, we don’t say anything – we let them say something first, if they want. But when I knocked on the door, that all sounded trite to me — and all I could feel was afraid.

But Gail’s family – her husband, brother, mom, sister and assorted relatives – welcomed me warmly into the house. Some of our fellow congregants were there, too, to help make the minyan. They didn’t seem to know any more than I did what we should be doing. So we did what we thought best – we got out the prayer books and began the service.

I had never met Gail. And after the service, I didn’t speak – I listened. I learned a lot about her that night – her love of dogs and people, of writing, of her husband and family. Her infectious laugh and broad sense of humor. What sort of impression she made on the world of those who knew her – and what sort of hole remained when she left. By turns, we all laughed, and cried, and sat thoughfully, and then finished the service and said our goodbyes. When I went back the next night, it was like meeting old friends. And when I left again, I felt that I too had lost a friend – one that I had never known.

Let’s take a moment to look around the room.

We may not know each other, but we all have something in common. All of us have been touched by someone who isn’t here any more. We can see it in each other’s eyes, hear it in each other’s breathing, and know it in each other’s hearts. We don’t need to speak it in order to know it – we just have to be here.

In that way, I think the lives which touched us individually also touch us as a community. We learned something from these people – we carry them with us wherever we go – and whether or not we’re aware of it, we pass a part of them along to everyone we meet.

As I said, I never met Gail Lutolf. But she taught me two valuable lessons about connection.

The first is that, like an endless chain of relay racers, we are the link between those who came before us, and those whom we ourselves will leave behind. We stand in the center, holding hands with the future and with the past. And this is true whether or not we see it.

The second is that those links are easier to spot than we may think. In fact, they’re as close as the person sitting next to us – if only we learn how to listen.

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Trial By Fire Trainer

2002.04.30
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The first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t see or hear anything. And on top of that, I could barely breathe.

My knees and hands already hurt from the rough steel floor. The hose I was helping to drag weighed a ton, despite that the two other guys in front of me knew what they were doing and were holding up their end better than I was. When I tried to lift my head, my helmet smacked against the top of the airtank cinched on my back, forcing me to look at the floor or squat back on my heels. But I was previously told to stay as low as I could, so that didn’t seem like a good idea. In any case, my face mask was halfway fogged up, so all I could see — and that dimly — was a dull red glow at an indeterminate distance ahead.

The man closest to me, who had previously told me to stay an arm’s length behind him, turned his head in my direction. “Flaghhh! Flagghhn!” he shouted above the muffled white noise of fire and smoke generators and the clicking whine of my airtank.

“What? I can’t hear you!” I replied.

He gestured me forward, then put his mask close to mine. “Flagghn toff the fire!” he said urgently, and crawled forward.

I scooted forward along with him, crawling past a sheet of flame under the stairs to my right and toward the further glow which resolved itself into an upward-licking fountain of fire boiling up to and against the ceiling.

The man in front of him aimed the hose nozzle at the fountain. Through my soaking leather gloves, I felt the canvas tube jerk softly as he opened the nozzle, sweeping it in an arc parallel to the floor.

My breathing became labored and painful. I felt like I was trying to suck the whole airtank into my mouth with each desperate breath. My chest hurt and I fought the urge to claw the constricting mask from my face.

“I can’t breathe!” I shouted.

No one heard me.

I tapped the shoulder of the man in front of me. He leaned toward me, a caricatured shadow against the leaping flame behind him.

“I can’t breathe!” I repeated.

I’m not sure what happened next. I think he managed to hear me, and communicate my distress to the man in front of him, then pointed behind me. Somehow or other, I found myself crawling toward the door by which we’d entered, keeping my right hand on the wall so I wouldn’t get disoriented. The safety officer opened the door for me, and I stood up and outside in one motion, trying calmly but desperately to reach the fresh sweet air millimeters away on the other side of my protective headgear.

Succeeding with careful dignity, I inhaled deeply and walked over to sit down on a low brick wall edging some bushes behind the Valley of the Moon main firehouse.

It was 8:30 a.m., Sunday, April 28, 2002. I had just had my first real taste of structural firefighting, and I felt like a wuss.

Cut to a month or so earlier…

When I first returned to the Index-Tribune and was heartily reacquainting myself with the “fire guys,” I was discussing what I’d missed with a longtime and close contact who had since become the training officer for the entire Valley fire service. He’s one of the local “old-timers” hereabouts, one of four or six with whom I used to chat (frequently and happily) and who exude the quietly confident competence that’s particular to people who have done what they love for so long that it’s first nature to them. The annual Valley volunteer fire academy was just starting up, and as I love to write the stories behind the stories — especially about the fire guys, who before Sept. 11 were commonly perceived to be doing nothing all day except waiting for the alarm to ring — I asked him if there would be anything particularly interesting to tell people about.

“Well, we’ll be having the fire trailer come down here,” he said. “How do you feel about putting on turnouts and an SCBA and doing some live fire training?”

I replied as I usually do (and as he and everyone else in the Valley fire service expects) when a similar suggestion is made.

“Cooooool!” I breathed. “When?”

The arrangements were made, and we spoke again a day or two beforehand.

“Should I bring my yellows?” I asked, referring to the wildland turnouts (Nomex protective clothing), emblazoned “PRESS,” which I wear when covering big grass fires.

“No,” he said. “Structural firefighting is a whoooole different ballgame.”

Something in the way he said that sent a tickle of apprehension through my brain. He asked me if I was claustrophobic and if I’d ever done any scuba diving, then when I said “no,” asked if I felt okay about using a SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus, or airtank and mask) with only five minutes’ instruction.

“Yes,” I said, wondering what I was getting into. Then he asked me for my shoe, pant and jacket sizes, and said he’d also get me some gloves and a helmet.

I arrived at the VOM station around 8 a.m. to find a couple of dozen men standing around the main engine bay in various states of firefighter undress, checking airtanks and other equipment and making small talk. My contact introduced me to one of the fire captains (we both felt we’d met before, but couldn’t tell) who proceeded to suit me up and briefly train me in the art of how to stay alive and breathing inside a burning building.

First I tried on the boots, then the jacket, then took off the boots and jacket so I could pull the boot-tops up inside the pants and put both on in two smooth motions. This is why the protective gear is called “turnouts” — you keep them at the foot of your stationhouse bunk so that when you turn out to answer the alarm at 3 a.m., you can slide into the boots and pull the pants up to your waist, slipping the suspenders (yes, they’re red) over your shoulders. I donned the coat, slipping my thumbs through the loops in the ends of the sleeves which keep the sleeves from riding up and exposing bare arm-flesh to the flame’s tender kiss. Everything fit me as though it had been tailored. I told the firefighters that my wife wanted to know if I could borrow the turnouts for the evening, and they laughed heartily and knowingly.

Next, a white Nomex hood went over my head and bunched down around my neck. The breathing mask went on, held by netting and straps and surprisingly forming a tight seal despite my short beard. Then the Nomex hood was pulled up over my neck and the top of my head, slightly obscuring the edges of the faceplate which had already begun to fog slightly.

The fire captain explained the workings of the SCBA tank — how to turn it on, how to connect it to the mask, how to disconnect it without losing any of its 20-minute air supply. After a quick run-through, we left the bay and walked toward the Mobile Live Fire Trainer parked behind the station.

This was a huge blue semi trailer with a six-foot by eight-foot hut sitting on top, which I later learned was one of the simulator’s three rooms — the upper “bedroom,” connected by internal stairs to a “kitchen” and “hazmat storage area” (think “paintcan-filled garage”) below. Propane jets and peanut-oil burners provided the fire and smoke inside the non-flammable trailer. As explained by the man in charge of the simulator, the captain and I and one other firefighter were to be a team which would go inside the “house,” crawl past a burning wall to knock down the fire in the hazmat area, pull back, climb the burning stairs to quench the bedroom (after passing our hands under the “bed” to check for “victims”), then reverse course downstairs and douse the kitchen.

As narrated at the beginning of this piece, I didn’t do so well. But our team was one of several cruising through the simulator in various rotations, so I vowed to do better on the next session. (The captain and other firefighter, who had completed their rotation without me, graciously told me I wasn’t at all a wimp and asked me if I wanted to be nozzleman on our next attack. I told them I’d think about it.) Meanwhile, I had caught my breath, and walked around doing my reporter thing, talking to some people I knew and a few I didn’t. (I always enjoy that part, and sprinkled with the interviews were quite a few “Welcome back!”s from people I didn’t know I had missed when I was away.)

The next rotation was a slightly different scenario: We were to climb an external ladder to the bedroom, carefully enter it (“There’s a foot-and-a-half drop that’ll knock you on your ass if you’re not careful,” warned the trainer), knock down the flames against the far wall, then proceed down the burning stairs, make a hairpin right into the corridor leading to the garage, douse the garage, then double back into the kitchen and put out the fire there. The captain asked me again if I wanted to be the nozzleman, and I heard myself saying, “Sure.”

I climbed the ladder, connected my airtank to the face mask, and stood waiting while the other members of my team flaked out the hose on top of the trailer. Now that I had been through this already, and had learned of the simulator’s fool-proof safety features, I was a bit more prepared. I realized that my earlier breathing problems weren’t caused by panic so much as ignorance — I had never used an airtank or been in a situation where I had to regulate my breathing, so I took steady, deep breaths as we prepared to go inside.

I pushed open the door to the burning bedroom, stepped over the edge and crouched low on the deck, clutching the hose and nozzle with my right arm and hand while my left grasped the nozzle-release lever. Take that, I thought as I opened the hose.

The water blasted into the base of the flame-wall on the other side of the room. “Sweep it!” came the muffled yell from the fire captain behind me. I slowly swept the nozzle from side to side, quickly dousing the fire.

Wow, I thought. That’s pretty cool.

“Down the stairs!” shouted the captain over the omnipresent din.

I crawled forward and paused at the brink, seeing flames licking a foot or two below me. “Just go ahead!” he shouted, barely audible.

I slowly descended the stairs, dropped to hands and knees, and, waved on by the safety officer sitting in the corner, turned right 180 degrees and dragged the hose with me.

This time I paid attention to my breathing, which while still labored was a lot less difficult. Approaching the flaming garage like Charles Atlas’ reborn 98-pound weakling returning to face the beachfront bully, I braced against the wall to my left and opened the nozzle.

“Closer!” shout-whispered the captain behind me.

I scooted a bit closer, directing the water jet toward what I thought was the base of the flames slightly above the garage floor. But I couldn’t see through the thick smoke! I could see my hands holding the hose, and I could bloody well see the fire, but the water jet might as well have been invisible. I swept it back and forth anyway, but nothing happened.

The captain’s hands reached around me, pulling the nozzle sharply upward. I saw the flames billow back against the aqueous intrusion, nodded, and swept with gusto. The flames flickered, hung on for about 20 seconds, then went out. Gotcha, I thought, shutting off the nozzle.

Then a fresh sheet of fire broke out about three feet above the first, washing the ceiling in lambent scarlet. I swore, then attacked it in calm fury.

When that enemy had been routed, I swore again when the lower bank re-ignited. But I grimly set to the task a third time, wondering if this was one of the unpredictable conditions faced by firefighters when they’re doing this for real.

Slowly, I became aware of a burning sensation at two points on my left cheek. With alarm, I realized it was the metal buckles on my face-mask straps beginning to heat up. If they don’t get any hotter, I’ll be okay, I thought. Uncomfortable, but okay. I continued spraying the burning garage wall.

They began to get really hot. Painfully so.

DAMN IT! I screamed to myself. Here we go again. I continued sweeping the garage wall, and when it was finally out, I motioned to the captain. “My face is burning,” I shouted calmly, tapping my face. “I think I need to leave.”

He nodded, then shouted “Back out and up the stairs!”

I didn’t know he meant that literally. The flames extinguished, I dropped the hose (breaking rule #1, as I learned later) and turned my back on the now-smoking garage (breaking rule #2), headed down the corridor, climbed the stairs and went through the bedroom to the sunny Sunday morning outside.

Postscript: As I told a couple of longtime fire service contacts before I left the VOM station, “I’ve been covering the fire beat for three years, but I don’t think I really understood it until today. It’s one thing to know this stuff from the outside — it’s quite another to be engulfed by it. And even though I’ve pretty much understood why you guys do this, I didn’t understand how. Thanks for shooting my personal learning curve through the roof!”

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Meeting Himself Coming the Other Way

2002.04.12
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Sometimes, to take a step forward, it’s necessary to take a step back.

I’m sitting here having lunch at the desk I occupied for three years as a city, fire, religion and state developmental center reporter. The Sonoma Index-Tribune rehired me on March 26 as a city, fire and police reporter after my replacement resigned and they were stuck without a reporter. I accepted the position on the understanding that my schooling wouldn;t suffer, and that I wouldn;t be around to fix the news if it broke between sunset Friday and three stars on Saturday.

So much for the facts…

It feels REALLY WEIRD to be back here again. Good weird, though. I feel connected again. Important. Not ego important (“look at me everybody! I’m the big man in town”), but NEEDED. Alive. As though what I do matters.

Some of that may or may not be related to the male requirement for status which sets in around 40 years old, which I became on March 22. Mostly, I think it has to do with how my mind grinds itself into mush if I don;t have something to feed it.

Well, back to work. Time to type up the police report.

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The Name’s Panim … P.A. Panim.

2001.03.14
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from a pre-Blogger blog

One of the cool things about being a teacher is watching the students connect the dots I sprinkle, as happened Tuesday.

Our previous class touched on Shabbat observance, and my kids expressed disdain at the possibility of avoiding work (“That would mean you can’t even move a muscle to blink your eyes!” one complained). So this time, I showed the difference between the scientific definition of work (force applied over a given distance) and the Jewish definition (stuff which Torah says we did to build the Tabernacle). We were reading in unison a list of the 39 prohibited labors (melachot), such as dyeing, tanning (“Do you mean like making leather, or lying on the beach?”), combing raw material (“You mean like your hair?” “GROSS! I’m not going to not comb my hair!”) lighting a fire, etc., when one of my students said it was all too much for her.

“There’s too many rules, and I don’t see how you can keep them all or even any of them without being afraid to break one,” L said. “I don’t see why you have to keep all of these just to be a Jew.”

“Aha!” I said. “I hope everyone was listening to L just now, because she made a very important point. This was exactly the point made 200 years ago by the original founders of the Reform movement — the group of Jews with whom our congregation is affiliated.”

“Well, then, I want to be a Reform Jew,” L said to a classmate, F.” “Me too,” F replied.

We then got into a delightfully intense discussion about the Reform stance vis-a-vis observance of mitzvot (sacred obligations) and minhagim (custom), but one which I leavened with a careful respect for those who adhere to a stricter standard — as well as pointing out the joy of trying on various mitzvot before rejecting them all wholesale. (“Billions of people on this planet live perfectly happy, productive lives without saying the Shema twice a day,” I reminded them. “So the question isn’t, ‘What happens if I don’t do that?’ but “What will my life be like if I do?’”)

A good way into this, F asked me with characteristic directness, “Are you Orthodox?”

I wasn’t surprised by her question, since the kids know I wear a kippa (skullcap) full-time and daven shacharit (pray every morning). “Actually, no,” I replied. “I’m just a plain old Jew, who thinks the mitzvot are important enough that I want to keep, or at least try to keep, as many as I can. There are a few that I just flat won’t keep, but I’ll try to understand those too.

“Of course,” I added, “that’s just me. I also think those are decisions that we each have to make for ourselves. But we can only do it by learning as much as we can.”

There was a pause while this was digested. Then F asked, “No, didn’t you say you were some kind of, ‘Reorganized,’ or something, Jew?”

“OH!” I said, remembering our earlier class on the differences between Jewish movements. “Reconformodox?! Yeah — that’s actually kind of a joke. It stands for Reconstructionist, Conservative, Reform, Orthodox. I sort of invented that *, because I think all the movements have something to teach us: whether it’s Orthodoxy’s sense of tradition, Reform’s emphasis on the individual, Conservative’s flexibility, or the Reconstructionist devotion to meaningfulness.” To my surprise, they all made me spell that so they could copy it into their notebooks. L turned to F and said, sotto voce, “I think I want to be a Reconformodox Jew.”

“Me too,” F replied.

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