Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The 39 I have become

[Post that made me smile today: Telling it like it is, from Jack]

[Warning: Navel-gazing ahead. With apologies to Three Days Grace, but the song fit.]

In the Torah, 39 is always “almost-forty.” Think of the 39 lashes given by a beit din (court), counted in the Torah as 40. Or the 39 prohibited melachot (tasks) of Shabbat, which are counted as "40 minus one." So it’s natural that I think of today as my almost-fortieth birthday.

Technically, I can get away with saying it’s not really my birthday; I was an Adar baby, and so I have a few weeks until my birthday comes up in Adar Sheni. But inside, I know I’m 39 today.

I am happy today. Thank Gd, I have everything I could need in my family and my health. (Dentist said to me last week, “Your teeth look pretty good for someone your age.” Thanks!) My job is crazy, but it provides satisfaction, some personal growth, and a solid income. My kids are in a good school, and while I will always want more for them and from them, they are doing well. So I have no right to complain.

And yet, I complain.

In particular, I’m feeling disappointed today that I didn’t end up having a serious, 40- or 50-year career in a single community.

Part of this disappointment is because I grew up in one community, and I’d like that for my kids. But part of it is professional.

I interned in Englewood, New Jersey. On Shavuos night at the end of my year there, I delivered a shiur as part of the shul’s Tikkun Leil Shavuot program. Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm was there, and afterward he asked me where I was headed after the internship. I told him, and he said something very close to, “That’s good. You’ll make your mistakes there, and then you’ll be ready to move to a bigger shul.”

I was very offended, and not only by the suggestion that I would make mistakes. I wanted to live in one place, for a very long time, have a career that was substantive and whole, see generations of families grow and flourish, and know everyone and be known by everyone and be a part of the community and make a mark that would be real and enduring. I wanted to celebrate birthdays and bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings with the same people, over the years.

Then I lived, and learned and experienced. I wanted to stay in Rhode Island, but that wasn’t realistic for the shul we had. Ditto for Allentown, due to the lack of a yeshiva high school. The moves were the right moves, I believe, but the result is that if I merit to turn 40 next year, it will be in a city of people who just met me yesterday, and not with the people who celebrated 30 and 35 with me.

The only thing to do now, I suppose - in the absence of aliyah for reasons too long for this post - is to make Toronto long-term. That would be good. It’s a late start, and too late to change what has been done… but, Gd-willing, there will be plenty of time to build from here.


  1. My friend you are so old now that you won't remember what you had for breakfast five minutes after eating it. ;)

    So this won't be a problem for you. On a serious note enjoy, enjoy your day.

    Take some of the Monopoly money that Canadians use for currency and get yourself something fun.

  2. Happy Birthday.
    And don't forget Jack Benny!

  3. just one suggestion- give very careful consideration to the statement "The only thing to do now, I suppose - in the absence of aliyah for reasons too long for this post" and how you will feel about it in 20 years iy"h

    good luck

    Joel Rich

  4. Would like to echo Joel's comment: don't we all, even if it's buried deep down, hope our personal situations will change and allow us to make aliyah with enough years left to enjoy living?
    I wouldn't wish any Jew a long life in any one community, unless that community was in Israel, so...may your years in Toronto be short and may your years in Israel be many!
    Yom Huledet Sameach!

  5. Thanks, everyone.

    Re: Aliyah - Indeed.

    And Jack - That Monopoly money is worth more than the greenback these days. Careful, my friend.