Category Archives: Practice

Magnificent Matzah Ball Soup, Vegan, Vegetarian or with Chicken Stock

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Finished Matzah Ball Soup just waiting to make someone’s tummy super happy

Ingredients:

  • three to five carrots cut into small rounds
  • one large onion or two leeks, cut finely
  • one fennel bulb, cut into thin slices or small chunks
  • white turnips (small delicate kind that look like radishes are better, but if you cannot find those, one fresh white turnip, cut into small chunks)
  • one rutabega or parsnip, cut into small chunks (optional)
  • two to three stalks of celery cut into small pieces or slivers
  • three to six cloves of garlic, minced or finely chopped
  • 1/4-1/3 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh turmeric root (finely grated or micro-planed) or powder if you cannot get the root
  • finely chopped fresh herbs (tarragon, parsley, oregano, dill)
  • Matzah Ball Mix (I use a package, and don’t make my own mix, the package version just makes better Matzah Balls than I find I can with my own mixing of plain matzah meal and other ingredients.
  • two to four eggs

In a large stockpot/soup pot heat the olive oil. Add the chopped onion and/or leaks and sauté for at least ten minutes, then you can add the chopped garlic and some freshly chopped turmeric and let that cook together for another five minutes or so, then you can add the carrots, turnips, celery and fennel. Sauté all of these veggies together for ten to fifteen minutes and add a bunch of the freshly chopped herbs. Then add whatever stock you are using, chicken or veggie.

Stocks:

This recipe requires using a good stock. If you are vegetarian or vegan, use my Roasted Root Vegetable stock, or your own version of a robust vegetable stock. If you have cooked a chicken, you always want to save the bones. If you don’t have time to deal with making stock, throw them in the freezer until you do. To make a simple easy and healthy chicken stock, put the chicken carcass and bones and whatever is left over from your cooked chicken into a large pot of water; you will be boiling this for at least an hour or two, so fill the pot to accommodate the fact that the amount will reduce. Then strain the liquid into another pot, and let cool down and refrigerate or freeze the liquid. Once the chicken bones have cooled down you can pick off all the remaining chicken and freeze this too or use in a chicken salad or add to another soup.

Matzah Balls:

I use the mix, as I said earlier, but I amend it, of course. I learned this trick from my brother Paul. Add turmeric, either fresh or ground, freshly and very finely chopped dill, parsley, tarragon, oregano, etc. The turmeric makes these matzah balls a gorgeous color, plus adds yummy flavor. You have to make the matzah ball mixture ahead of time as it needs to rest in the fridge for at least fifteen minutes or more. I also add a few teaspoons of the stock I’ve made in the mix, even though the instructions on the box don’t necessarily call for that.

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Matzah Ball mix with added herbs, a drop of Maldon smoked salt, turmeric, eggs etc. This mixture gets covered and refrigerated for at least 20 minutes before you can use it to make matzah balls.

You also need to have a separate large pot of boiling water handy. Once your matzah ball mixture has cooled down, you will be forming the balls and dropping them into the very hot, rapidly boiling water and covering them. They need to cook in this water for at least twenty minutes or so. I then transfer them to the soup so they gather the flavors. I only do this the day I’m serving it. If you leave the Matzah Balls in the soup, they absorb the liquid and you don’t have so much soup left. If done correctly, the balls will float and be light and delicious. I hope they turn out this way for you.

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Matzah Balls floating to the top of the hot water that has been boiling and covered for 20 minutes.

I do not know how to make a vegan matzah ball, you can try using an egg replacer of some kind or as my friend Bel-Ami Margoles suggests, just make the Vegan version of this soup and have the Vegans throw in some pieces of matzah to their soup. You can get gluten-free matzah as well, so if you are gluten intolerant and vegan or any combination of these you can try that. The soup itself is delicious, whether it has a Matzah Ball in it or not.

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My parents’ table in San Diego, ready for soup to be served once folks sit down.

 

Salmon Croquettes, a delicious Gefilte Fish Alternative

Salmon Croquettes
Finished Salmon croquette on a dish made by Paul Barchilon

I made this recipe for the first time last year in Boulder and learned it from Jessica Hersh at Bonai Shalom. So, really this is her recipe:

1 lb fresh salmon
1/2 lb smoked salmon (any kind)
several green onions, cleaned
neutral oil for frying (like sunflower)
Process the fishes and the green onions in the food processor until you have a thick paste. Form into balls or ovals and cook in a hot saute pan with a very small amount of oil (just enough to oil the bottom of the pan.) Turn until cooked on all sides and firm. Serve either hot or cold.
I served these with horseradish and Mayonnaise Jacques for those who don’t like spicy stuff. Also you can serve with lemon and put these on a plate of Romaine lettuce so they look pretty.
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Mayonnaise Jacques

Shabbat Structure: Simply Sublime Spiritual Technology

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Solo Shabbat in Eire, Holy Hill Hermitage, Ireland, in my cabin named Clare in the Fall of 2016

Simple Shabbat, the basic structure is a phenomenal series of steps and prayers and practices to elevate the soul and align us with the essence of creation. I am writing this piece because a young woman, who was also on retreat, three years ago at the same hermitage as myself in Ireland, asked me about the order of the prayers. I led a few Shabbat ceremonies, both in my cabin and at the main house, for the other people on retreat. I was mostly alone, but there were moments of connection with the other hermits, clerics, and other folks taking sacred space in solitude.

I remember once being told by a dear friend of mine, Stephen Jenkins, professor Emeritus at Humboldt State University, who was getting ready to teach a three-day session on Judaism in his World Religions class, “Wish me luck, Nicole.” I responded with: “I don’t want to wish you luck, I need to come in and teach this part of your class.” I’m not sure those were my exact words, but this was the beginning of my lecturing in his World Religions Class. I have guest-lectured, during the Judaism portion of his classes, for over fifteen years now.

Some things cannot be put simply and survive the stripping down, especially when we are talking about Shabbat or Judaism in a three-day period of time. The mere idea of three days in a class on campus, to cover the topic, made me a little sick to my stomach. It felt kind of like asking me to describe the magnificence of the sunrise or my love for my children or any other sublime and mysterious, historical and elemental quality of the universe. It’s just not a three day or a one minute text or email kind of thing.

So, thank you Chelsea Smith, for asking me this question about the order of the prayers and why we cover the challah. I’m going to try to be brief, completely contradicting myself from the previous sentences. Of course, me being brief, is an oxymoron in and of itself.

When I lead a service I have a basic structure that I follow, which is not my invention and which has changed over the thousands of years that Jewish folks have been observing the Sabbath. I choose from various prayer books I like or I incorporate elements into my practice from those prayers when I am being a little looser in my observance.

You really begin by preparing for the time and setting the space. I clean my home, cook special foods, make challah (a braided Jewish egg bread).  I’ll get my recipe up here one of these days. You then create an altar. When the Beit Ha Midkash/Holy Temples were destroyed, Judaism did not die for many reasons. One of the main reasons is that we took the elements of our sacred service and rites that were observed in the Holy Temple and brought them into our homes and into our dining rooms.

As long as you have light (candles or oil lamps), wine, salt, bread, water, and prayers offered from your heart, you have the elements of the basic service. This means every Jewish home becomes a sacred temple in time and space. No one can say it better than Abraham Joshua Heschel, who wrote a simple short book called The Sabbath. I won’t begin to go where he has, but he describes Shabbat/the Sabbath as  both a Sanctuary and as a Palace in Time.

So, we begin by clearing and cleaning as if to welcome a sacred guest. That guest is the Sabbath Queen or the Shechinah or the Seventh Day. She is likened to a bride, she is always referred to in the feminine. We make special foods. For folks with little time or money, even during the Shoah and times of tremendous ugliness and torture, Jewish folks would hide a crust of bread or save one olive so they’d have two on Shabbat instead of one. Folks keep their best cheeses, oils, foods of any kind, for the three meals that occur beginning 18 minutes before the sun sets every Friday evening and ending when there are three stars in the sky the following night, Saturday. It’s roughly twenty-five hours or so, a little longer than one rotation of our spinning planet.

In Ireland, I couldn’t go buy a challah or get bread from Josh Fox, my favorite local baker, here in Arcata. I needed to make it. My little kitchen in my cabin, didn’t have an oven, so I had to make sure I could use the communal kitchen and arrange a time to be taking it over for many hours. I didn’t always do this, for many reasons, but here’s a picture of two small challahs I made for one of my blissful solo Shabbats.

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Small challahs, one in a traditional three braid form and one shaped like a Jewish Star of David, there’s also that key element SALT!

These Challahs are uncovered here, but they are traditionally covered with a cloth when we recite all the blessings before eating our Friday evening meal. This was the original question from Chelsea, “Why do you cover the bread again?”

We cover the bread because it is the final blessing we say before beginning our festive meal and we don’t want to hurt its feelings. This tiny piece of spiritual technology teaches us that if we are concerned about the feelings of our bread, so much so that we cover it, so it doesn’t know its the last in a long line of blessings, we better be that concerned about the feelings of all those we encounter. The bread thinks it’s the only blessing or the best blessing or the special blessing, because it somehow hasn’t heard or experienced all the previous ones. This seems a little comical, but it’s essential to Judaism. We physicalise our practices in small and large ways to make it not a mental exercise, but to embody the essence of what we are reaching for.

So, once the bread is made, I prepare the other foods and make my home and body ready to receive my guest. I take a bath or a shower, or I do a Mikveh (ritual immersion in living water, see Mikveh Movement and Me). Then I lay the table. I put the candles or oil wicks I am going to light out, I get the wine ready, open it and let it breathe so it is at its best. I make sure I have my prayer books or other readings I want to use, I pick fresh flowers and set the table more beautifully than I do for the rest of the week. It’s truly a special time.

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My Shabbat altar from my window seat in Clare.

Once all is ready, and usually this is minutes before you are required to kindle the lights of Shabbat, if I have time I meditate or center myself and let the week’s events play through my mind and release them. My beloved teacher, May his memory always be a Blessing, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi sometimes used a small cardboard box that he passed around and asked folks to deposit their weeks’ cares, worries, and experiences into. He would then take it and put it outside the room or the house. I sometimes do this with children. It’s a great way to physically demonstrate the practice of letting go.

Then I cover my head with a shawl (creating a sacred space in my body) and light the candles and move my hands over them to bring the light of Shabbat into my whole being, I move my hands over them in a circular motion and bring their essence over my head, eyes and body three times. I then recite the first of many blessings. This blessing is thanking the Divine for instructing us to kindle the lights of the day and to observe the practice of it by resting deeply.

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Photo by Temple Beth El’s President Joseph Hale, from one of my Lay-led Shabbat Services

It’s very hard to talk about even one of these blessings in a short way, but that’s my assignment right now. Arrrggghhhh! Each one of these practices have books and teachings about them that deserve attention. Simple structure, okay, after the blessing for the Sabbath light (remember how light was the first thing created in the Universe?), we welcome the Angels of the Most High (the special Shabbat-only angels). These angels only come down to this earthly realm if they are invited and your space is ready for them. Did you set a space for the sacred guest, did you create a place of beauty for Holiness to hover? We welcome them and ask them to bless us with peace and then we let them depart. They have to go everywhere they are invited, so, they can’t linger. Their blessing though is so magnificent that it imbues the rest of the evening. As angels they can and do move through space and time differently than we do.

This is my favorite blessing, and even if I’m not doing more than just the basic layout, I almost never skip this one. I close my eyes and feel their presence and I am uplifted to the realm of the Holy One, for just a second or a moment, but that’s simply sublime!

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Detail with Angel, sculpture in glass, given to me by a lovely woman who was at Holy Hill for a few days and who was part of a discussion about angels that miraculously occurred and which connected me with the incredible Irish mystic Lorna Byrne who sees and speaks with the angels.

Next we bless the children. This blessing is not just for folks with children, in my way of doing things, but a moment to name all the children in our lives or that we are thinking about. In a traditional setting the parents place their hands over the heads of their children and recite three blessings. One for boys, one for girls, and one for all of the above. I just generally do the all of the above since there are many folks who aren’t identified as one or the other. The prayer said over everyone is the priestly blessing originally offered by the Kohanim, (of which I am one). I like the male and female blessings as well, so sometimes I do all of them and just ask folks to align on the gender spectrum, however they wish, male, female, somewhere in between, or inclusive of it all.

Next is the blessing over wine. This is the VERY modified order of blessings at the table. There are many, many more, but if you do these blessings you are basically covered. The blessing over the wine isn’t just about giving thanks for the wine or grape juice. It’s the blessing that recounts the order of the Holy One’s creating of the universe and ending with the day of rest. It’s a blessing you do while holding a glass of wine, but it’s about acknowledging, thanking and sanctifying the DAY of rest. It’s longer than the other blessings and it’s beautiful!

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Shabbat Table, chez moi in Bayside, wine open and breathing, Challahs covered, salt on the table and right before candle-lighting. Artwork by Thao Le Khac, Joy Dellas, my grandmother Perla Barchilon and some Italian tile maker from a hundred years ago.

After the wine blessing, we do a ritual hand washing with a special two-handled cup. We aren’t cleaning our hands, we are purifying them. It’s a mikveh for our hands. We recite the blessing with our hands raised above our heads after having poured water three times over our right hand and then three times over our left hand and drying them with a clean cloth. The blessing basically says, Blessed are You, Holy One, who has instructed us concerning the raising/lifting/immersing of our hands.

This is crucial. Before we actually eat our meal, we’re almost there (I promise), we raise our hands towards the heavens. I think of this as dipping my hands in holiness and sanctifying them so that they only do good. I want to bring down the honey and love and goodness of the Divine realms and only have my hands be the vessels of that. I never want my hands to be hitting or hurting or tearing or harming others or the earth. No small task, which is why, we need reminding, hence the blessing!

Then we uncover that poor challah, who now is the most rich indeed. We’re hungry and excited, the challah is golden and the light of the sun is gone. We have the glow of the candles and the light reflected off the windows and each other’s eyes and now we give thanks for the miracle of bread. Bread is a miracle. The play of water, salt, yeast, grain and magic that makes it rise is how we too are made. Like the bread, we need to rise. We need time, rest, the right ingredients and balance of earthly elements, sugars and salts and magic to create pockets of air, or lightness so that we are magnificent.

Then we break the bread and dip it in the salt, which represents the promise of the Divine. Salt is a preservative, the original one, way back in the day. It reminds us of the value of commitment, of time moving across millenia, it’s the taste of the moon and stars and the ocean and our sweat and it connects us to our ancestors and life.

Then we eat and share stories and talk for hours. There’s another whole bunch of blessings after the meal….. but I’ll leave those for another day!

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My Papa Jacques Barchilon, enjoying his Shabbat dinner, over a year ago. He’s in Heaven now, where the food and the company far exceed anything I can create here. I miss him so!

Tending to Ending

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My father on Father’s Day, his last awake day, seeing the Pacific Ocean in Trinidad, one of his final wishes.

As I began writing this piece there were four more days of sitting shiva happening in our home. This shiva process has been an incredible blessing for me. I have facilitated and been present for many folks at this time, but never been the one to receive this offering. This last year, my father’s death was always on the table. We all knew it could happen at any time, but his will to live and his longevity, had us all a little fooled.

It’s been hard for my husband and I not to blame ourselves for taking him to the beach on a day that turned cold. It was sunny when we left the house, but by the time we got to Trinidad, the weather was cloudy. Also, it was the once a year fish festival, so everything took a very long time, which really wasn’t good for my father. The excursion to the beach was the equivalent of an aerobic work-out for a man with a weak heart, bound to hasten his heart giving out. I didn’t think this at the time, because my father, even in his slow weakening over the last few months, still seemed so vital and alive. This is not about my guilt, although I have some, which I think is okay. Perhaps he would have died a few days later or we might have had him for a few months more. If I’d been in charge, we certainly would have had more time together in the sun and in our home. I’m not in charge though, the Holy One is. My father’s pull date was never in my control.

It was a good last day of him being aware and enjoying his family and surroundings. As we were walking by the Seascape restaurant on the pier, my father said “wouldn’t it be nice to have some French Fries?” I’d been cooking for days to make a Father’s Day Moroccan dinner for my Papa and my husband, and I knew that French fries would eliminate any chance of my father eating that meal. I motioned for my husband to take him down to the pier and indicated that I’d go procure the fries as a surprise for my Papa (papas for Papa).

It took forever, because the restaurant was packed. I’d never ordered fries from this particular place, but when I finally got them fifteen minutes later they were in a large brown paper sack, that was warm, with grease coming through. Kevin and my father were coming towards me and I handed my chilled father a hot bag of fries. His face lit up, he put his hand in the bag and encountered warmth and grease and took a bite and was so happy. We all tried some and I have to say, I do not think I have ever had better fries in my entire life. I am never going back to this restaurant because they are seriously dangerous and I might only ever eat fries again for the rest of my life. Ethan, Kevin, my father and I just kept reaching our hands into the bag. It was truly a never-ending bag of magic delicious ever-warm fries.

We loaded my father back into the car and decided to take the scenic route home, hoping for some sun over the water. This was a bad choice as well, because the road was bumpy and my dad had to hold onto the handle above his seat to feel secure in some parts and that was effort-full and the sun never came out, so the view was obscured and it was just a long twenty-minute bumpy drive. By the time we got to our home and I got my father in his bed, he was not feeling well and had spiked a fever. This was the first fever he’d had since I took over taking care of him (over 6 months full-time care) and I knew it wasn’t a good sign.

Our beloved friend Ana, one of our care-givers, and her boyfriend, had come over for dinner. Originally my father had wanted to meet the boyfriend and give his approval or not! This was not to be. While my sons, husband and our company were eating the meal I’d prepared, I was with my father, trying to get him comfortable. The Humboldt Hospice nurse and I were on the phone a great deal and I got Tylenol into him and started him on .25 ml of morphine every hour for the first time. Ana, gave me a short break and I had a quick bowl of soup while she held his hand. Then Issac and Ethan took a turn.

I spent that evening giving him doses of morphine every hour or more, but in the morning he was miserable and uncomfortable and told me he was miserable. At this point the nurse was on her way and I asked him to wait a few more minutes before I upped his morphine dosage. I thought perhaps the nurse would advise me to do something different or more. He agreed to wait and our regular nurse Tiffany came to our rescue. She wasn’t supposed to be working that Monday, but the Holy One and the Angels must have worked some magic for us, because she happened to have traded shifts with someone, without knowing at the time, we would need her so desperately.

This was huge for me and my father, because she wasn’t someone he didn’t know. She knew him, us and our situation. She helped me get my father set up better in the bed and told me to increase the amount of morphine from .25ml to .50ml every hour and to let me know if that wasn’t working. It did work and from that point on, my father was not uncomfortable or suffering, that we could tell. She told me to call family and tell them he had a day or a few more hours most likely left. She felt certain that he’d had some kind of episode, and I felt so too, because his hands were shaking a lot and he just never had that happen before. I spoke with my brother in Boulder and told him to come now if he felt he needed to. He and my daughter looked into it, but it was pretty clear things were moving very fast.

So, with the help of my sons, we set up the computer by the bed so he could see them and they could see him and my smart technology savvy sons made it possible for my brother, his partner and my daughter to say goodbye to my father visually. He was still conscious and saw them and could smile, but couldn’t talk. He was lucid until his last two hours and could communicate with me via his mouth. I would ask him if he wanted more morphine or water or chocolate (his favorite thing in the world). “Yes,” would be open mouth, “No,” would be closed mouth, and this worked for us. When the small glass I was using, made by my friend Bryan Raskin of Mirador Glass, no longer worked, he was hydrated throughout his last hours with dropperfulls of coconut water or water. I hate plastic and the feel of the smooth glass was soothing for my father and for me.

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My Papa, Jacques Barchilon, born Jacobo Alberto Cohen, in Casablanca Morocco in 1923. He is pictured here: in his Free French Forces uniform; on the day of his wedding to Judy, the love of his life, at the age of 75. The beautiful woman in the back is his mother Perla Barchilon. The sign translates as “Careful! Mean Dog, Ferocious Master.” My father had a bark, but never a bite and didn’t have a dog, but this sign was on his door. The glass from Mirador that I gave him his last liquids with, his wedding ring, his watch as well as stones to remember him by, (a Jewish thing).

During my long vigil with my father (from Sunday afternoon until Tuesday, early a.m. hours), in the afternoon on Monday, I started getting a Maurice Chevalier song playing in my head. It was from our childhood and the chorus goes: “Paris, je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’aime.” Which means, Paris I love you, I love you, I love you. Now, Paris is where I was born, where my father had the best times of his life with his beloved wife Judy, may her memory be for a blessing. I changed the lyrics interspersing, “Papa, je t’aime….,” with the Paris part. He loved that and smiled. I told my brother and he found the original record we’d listened to as children and he put that on for my dad, via our technology sharing. My papa loved that.

The computer became a hindrance, since I wanted to be holding my father’s hand and he wasn’t really in a visual mode anymore. So, we switched to speaker phone and for the final hours of my father’s life in a body, my brother, his partner and my daughter were present. My mother and Kenny were also able to say goodbye this way and this was very important and a huge further healing/tikkun. We all sang to him and cried with him and told him we loved him and would miss him, but were ready for him to go. He was pretty lucid until shortly before his dying. The last words he heard was my chanting the Shema to him.

I will write more about my father’s final weeks and his coming to a belief in an after-life, after 95 years of avid and strong atheism. This made his leaving, for me, so much easier, because he was finally less afraid and had a bit of hope about joining his wife and daughter, my sister Paula. He took his final breaths in the arms of myself and my son Ethan, with our family present for him across many miles via technology that was truly a gift.

Jacobo Alberto HaCohen, (name at his birth), Jack Lawrence (nom de guerre, inspired by his favorite author of the time D.H. Lawrence, so the Nazi’s wouldn’t know he was a Jew, in case he was caught), Jacques Barchilon (American name), Jacov ben Perla v’Haim (Hebrew name) lived 95 full, intense, painful and glorious years from 1923 to 2018, he will be missed.

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From my father’s home, which I brought back with me to my home, and which exactly describes what he received from my brother and me. “Quand un père chéri, glacé par la viellesse, Reçoit de ses enfants les soins les plus touchans, Il voit le sombre hiver s’écouler sans tristesse, Et s’endori attendri dans leurs bras caressans.” When a beloved father, made brittle and hard by old age, receives from his children the most tender and touching care, He sees the somber winter of his life evaporating without sadness and falls asleep attended by their caressing arms.

 

 

 

Hooray, Heaven-Driven and Heading Home to my Honey and my Hearth

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My Merrily Blooms in May rose from my Rosey friend Theresa J. May

My father has agreed to move to our home in California!!!! I can be at my own hearth and help him and have all the support I need. It’s taken a year of my life and my brother’s life and our families’ lives. It has been extremely trying and deeply painful, but more triumphant and terrific than I could ever have imagined. Caring for all the parties in this story, including myself, has taken all of my being. Really, like the rose pictured above, which by the way is the size of a pecan pie, and smells like heaven, there are layers and layers to something this beautiful and there are thorns as well!

If it’s in the cards and written in the stars and with the will of the Divine we will move my father to our home in California. Since last March I have been here most of the time and home very little. It’s been very hard for me to be away from my husband and my home. It’s also been what needed to happen to help my father recover from his heart-attacks and subsequent heart issues and the death of his beloved wife Judy.

“A person, her days are like grass, She blossoms like a flower of a field. Then a wind passes, V’EINENU, and it is all gone, nothing! Her place on earth no longer knows her. But Havaya’s love stretches from world to world, the Holy One’s sovereignty embraces all life.” ~Psalm 103: 15-19  Rabbi Tirzah Firestone’s translation

It appears that my father is not in danger of dying anytime soon, in terms of how he seems to my brother and me. The  Denver Hospice folks are not so sure. My father is better than he has been in months. We have found the right cocktail of different medications given throughout the day along with an oxygen machine. He still uses his walker some part of every day. He sleeps a great deal of the time but is also awake and telling stories and getting his affairs in order. He has been given three choices.

  1. Move in with Kevin and me in Bayside.
  2. Stay in his apartment with care-givers 6 days a week and Paul one day a week.
  3. Go into a nursing home in Boulder with Paul and Kathryn visiting many times a week.

He is choosing to move in with Kevin and I. He is talking with Kevin regularly and there is a growing sense of him having something to look forward to. Ethan will be home for the summer and will help spell me when I need a break and I’ll hire a care-giver as well. The tricky part will be getting him to our home. Paul and I and the hospice team are working out the details so as to minimize the trauma to my father on his body. He has a medical death sentence, he is not getting better, but he may defy the odds and the statistics which do not account for the kind of care my father has been getting. The food, the massages, the love, the time spent in silence and also the stubborn strong Barchilon/Cohen genetic make-up are just not what most folks at this stage in their lives have.

My grandfather Jaimé, lived to almost a hundred and two. My great-grandfather, the Rabbi of Tangiers, Aaron Cohen lived to be a hundred and four. My father has longevity in his bones.

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Aaron Cohen, Rabbi of Tangiers, my Great Grandfather

There is no way to predict when my father will cross the river Jordan and leave this earth. I can no longer stay in his home caring for him indefinitely, the toll on my body and heart is just too great.

The current plan is that I will head home to California the first week in May. My friend and sister, by choice and love, Terret will fly from Boston to Denver to help me pack up the Xterra and drive it back to Arcata. Terret and my father have a sweet relationship, when I moved away, before he found Judy, he would take her out to dinner regularly. She was my proxy, while she lived in Boulder spending time with him.

Terret will spend two days here in Denver with us and then we will drive to Boulder and I will say goodbye to my mother and Kenny, who are now in Boulder to take up residence at their new condo at the Peloton. They will spend a few months of every year here and perhaps move back to Boulder. My brother Paul and I have been getting the space ready for them, with furniture and stereo systems and they arrived to a mostly furnished home. We will fête Kenny (my other beloved father/beau-père) who will be turning 70 on April 30th.

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My mother Helen Redman and Kenny Weissberg, picture taken by his sister Ellen.

It will take Terret and me three to four days to drive back. My friend and another one of my Holy sisters by love, Tara has already been in touch with the Humboldt Hospice.  When I get home, I’ll start getting the back bedroom and our house ready for Dad and making our home accessible and safe for him. My brother will fly with Dad in early June with a portable oxygen machine from Denver to Sacramento. I will drive down to meet them and we will go to a hotel overnight and let Dad rest there. The next day, we will get on the road and drive two or three hours more and stay at a hotel again, unless Dad is up for another three hours of driving and then we will be HOME!

On a spiritual/emotional/liminal note, I have a sense of how hard it is to leave a body. I’ve spent a great deal of time with folks leaving their bodies in my time as the chair of our Hevra Kadisha/Sacred/Burial society. Please see my piece Encountering Death Consciously if you haven’t already. I’ve attended many bedsides and witnessed folks crossing. It is rarely easy for a person to disengage from the shell/vessel of their bodies.

It takes time and some interesting uniquely personal set of circumstances for each person to be finished with their bodies.

Since my father has no religious beliefs, of any kind, it’s pretty much the end for him, like stepping off a cliff and knowing that’s final. I think moving to our home is sort of a gentle step towards death, a letting go of Judy, of their home, of his life as a professor of French for over 35 years at CU, of all his Free French Forces resistance books and posters and all the stuff of his 95 years of life.

This is where he met and married my mother, this is where my sister died, this is where my brother was born, this is where he was divorced, this is where he worked and lived and where he got together with Judy and married her and enjoyed almost 20 years of love with her. This is where she died and where he is mourning her actively.

Our home is none of those things. It’s full of music, books and great art and the best part is Kevin (who my father, like me, adores). He will be able to sit on my deck and enjoy the flowers and the sunshine and the beauty of the outdoors. He will be closer to the sky and the earth and to a place of expansiveness and grace. So, his coming to us, is like a step away from his life, but not the final one, it’s the next one, bringing him closer to the step out of his body.

Please hold him, my brother and me in your thoughts and prayers as we navigate the next two months of work to make this happen. My father will have been six months with Denver Hospice by May. The statistics for his condition, age and situation say he should be dead very soon. As Mark Twain said though: “There’s lies, damn lies and then there’s statistics.”

We just have no idea what will unfold, but we’re making plans for a shift and hope it will be a gentle bridge to a time of sunshine, Ethan playing Chopin and Bach on the piano for him, Kevin having intellectual conversations with him and telling him jokes, flowers blooming, time on our deck with the birds and my beloved Redwood Tree standing sentinel over Papa and reminding him of all that is beautiful and good and of course, lots of artichokes!

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Chez Papa with my brother Paul Barchilon and his partner Kathryn Taylor. Photo by my cousin Dan Levy.

While my father and I spend a great deal of time in silence, his preference, there are times when he wants to wax philosophical.  I’m sharing teachings with him from the Buddhist tradition, the Jewish tradition and many others. Lovely and meaningful conversations are ensuing and unfolding around all of this.

Here’s one of the teachings from a Buddhist perspective that we read together.

37 Practices: Verse 4

“You will separate from long-time friends and relatives. You will leave behind the wealth you worked to build up. The Guest, your consciousness, will move from the inn, your body. Give up your life—this is the practice of a bodhisattva” ~Tokme Zongpo

“Tokme Zongpo was a 14th century Tibetan monk. After serving as abbot of his monastery, he retreated for 20 years and wrote these 37 practices of a Bodhisattva, seen by many as the core of Mahayana Buddhism.” ~Rabbi Tirzah Firestone

This teaching comes from the materials that were part of a Shabbaton/Weekend intensive I attended, called: (Lighting the Way in a Dark World The Tzaddik and the Bodhisattva). This workshop was given by one of my dear friends, and teachers Rabbi Tirzah Firestone.  My father remarked that the teachings were very interesting and beautiful. No more comment has been made about them, but I know he is processing slowly all of these moments we share. One of the teachings from the weekend really moved me profoundly and my favorite line is at the end.

“He (Rabbi Akiva, born 20 CE) used to say: Everything is given on loan. And a net is spread out over all that is alive. The store is open and the storekeeper extends credit; the ledger is open and the hand writes, and whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow. And the collectors go round every day and exact payment, with or without our knowledge. And they do not act capriciously; their judgments are correct. And everything is prepared for the banquet.” ~Mishneh Avot/Pirkei Avot:

“Commentary: Life is on loan. Receive all that is given, and do not pretend to choice or ownership. You are a knot of God’s infinitely knotted net, never apart from and always a part of the One Who Is All. Reality allows you to do as you will, for good and for bad, and every deed has its consequence.”

~Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Many folks no longer have any relationship to Holiness or any beliefs or spiritual practices, and my father is in that category. This makes me very sad for all the suffering and fear he and others endure around so many things. This teaching by Rabbi Akiva, is one that speaks to my core. I know that everything is being prepared for the banquet. One of my ways of serving the Divine is to try to prepare a banquet for folks now, to offer them beauty, delicious food, kindness, compassion and spaciousness. I do this because I want to help create a pathway, in all those I encounter, to remind them that Olam Ha Ba/ the World to Come is real. Our time here on this earth is an opportunity to practice our table manners for the glorious banquet on the other side of this life.

 

Blue Shabbat Flowers
The Banquet I prepared for the Shechinah, every Shabbat,  in Ireland when I was on my silent, solitary retreat.