Tag Archives: Baltimore

The Sanctity of Laughter

A relative anecdote

“Being Jewish has taught me how to laugh! First and foremost, to laugh at myself and at my situation. More important, to laugh in order to act in the world.  This is not to say we are to make fun of someone or make light of our fate. Rather, one is not to take oneself too seriously, but to take one’s responsibilities very seriously. 

Laughter opens the door to hope and healing. It opens up new possibilities. Listen to what’s funny to children and it will reveal a new world and a new generation. The first Jewish child born was called “Yitzchak” (one will laugh).

Laughter- we pack it in our luggage, we season our Friday night soup with it. Often it is mixed with tears.  We have fought despair relentlessly. Laughter is one of our secret weapons.”

-Rabbi Naamah Kelman, first woman ordained in Israel, Hebrew Union College

My father shared the above quote this year at our family’s Passover Seder. Earlier in the day, he told us a story from when he was a boy living in Baltimore.  On Saturdays, after temple, he and his buddy would use their weekly allowance to go downtown for lunch and a movie.  They would catch a street car for a nickel each way. For thirty cents, they could have lunch at the Chinese restaurant, (twenty-five cents for the meal, five cents for the tip.) Afterwards, for seven cents, a matinee at the movie theater. The street car only came every few hours, so if they missed it, they would miss their favorite Saturday adventure. The problem was, it came shortly after temple and the rabbi would walk home right by where they caught the trolley.  Since they were Orthodox, they were not supposed to be taking a street car on Shabbat.  This was the kind of rabbi that would have certainly told their parents and gotten them in trouble. So, if they saw the rabbi coming, they would hide by diving into the hedges where they would pray that the street car wouldn’t arrive until after the rabbi had rounded the corner.  They never missed a movie.  “I guess you could say,” my father concluded, “that was an example of living through prayer.”

My father has taught me how to hold up the essence of what our heritage offers us without being confined by it.  His rabbi would have said he was not taking his responsibilities seriously but my dad grew up to be the most responsible individual I have ever met.  

I intrinsically see and relish universal truths that dance outside the circle of my prescribed faith. Yet, because of my father, I also know that with prayer, you don’t have to miss the matinee.

Year after year, we hear the same story of Moses being hidden among the bulrushes but this was the first time I heard about my dad diving into the hedges. This puts the tradition of gathering together to celebrate our freedom in proper perspective. Emancipation comes in many forms. Sharing laughter with loved ones is perhaps my favorite. I’m looking forward to hearing more about the history of my people.


Empowerment on the road and in the ‘field’.

Julia and I went down to Baltimore for a couple of shows and had a showcase Monday night. Annalise Emerick was also featured.  She is a full time musician from Nashville and with the first word she sang, I knew she was great but felt comforted.  It made me feel we could open with something that had more depth rather than feeling we had to come out just ‘entertaining.’  Afterwards, we all had a great discussion with Jim Patton and Sherry Brokus who performed after us.  Annalise said (essentially) that she was tired of the paradigm where everyone elbowed each other out of the way to get closer to the top. She has decided that helping each other is healthier and provides more sanity and a richer experience on the road.  We agreed, we are out here making music as a way to uplift those around us and encourage more connection.  This lesson was accentuated by Jim and Sherry who offered us a showcase in the convention we are going to in February.  This may have been the reason why we went down to Baltimore and without this positive bonding interaction, we would have missed it.
The next morning over breakfast, one of our gracious hosts, Eric Reisman, talked about his desire to encourage empowerment over cynicism and overcome our social instinct to show we are strong by cutting each other down.  I told him our housemate George experienced this as a stand-up comedian going from an open mic where everyone was performing and no one was supporting anyone else to being in an improve troupe where there was empowerment and validation for succeeding.  This helped him go back to the open mic with a new open confidence that had the others coming up to him to validate that he had been successful that night and was improving. He in turn supported them and the isolation was dissipated.
On the way home yesterday, we listened to Daniel Ingram, who talked about enlightenment and how that entailed opening your mind beyond the thought that there is a central observer; that we are the point of causality but in fact are a part of a field of awareness that can become aware of itself. In Buddhism they call the first stage of enlightenment, “Stream entry” which I didn’t know before my friend Jenny Jennings Foerst turned me onto it a few days ago.  Daniel said once you have entered it is like you are a freshman in college;  yes, you are in college but you still have more to learn and see.  What I found fascinating was there are fetters to escape like greed and hate but there are goals that have no end point such as “How much kindness can you bestow?” “How much can you help to heal the world?” There is always room for improvement and refinement.
Overall, the weekend lifted us out of ourselves enough to cheer us on to the next chapter together.
May your week be enhanced by empowering those around you!
Love you, Ira