A Farewell to Laylabelle

Laylabelle in 2019

As you will soon understand, what I write now has been heavily on my mind for more than three months. A week before our arrival in Marquette, we brought Laylabelle, our standard Poodle, into our Knoxville veterinarian for her regular teeth cleaning. The vet removed a small skin tag from her gumline and said he didn’t think it was anything serious but would still send it off to the pathologist.

A week later, we had just moved into our summer digs and Terri was sitting at the kitchen counter when her phone rang. It was our vet calling to tell us that the pathologist found the skin tag to be metastatic melanoma. That meant that Laylabelle’s lifespan would be measured in weeks rather than months or years. He ran through some medical alternatives which included things like removing part of her jaw followed by chemotherapy. But that would not likely add more than a year to her life, and she would be very debilitated for most of that time.

To say the least, we were in a state of shock. After all these years of planning to have a great summer up on Lake Superior, we were looking at watching our beloved animal companion sicken and die. The skin tag that was removed soon turned into a tumor, and Terri kept track as it grew large enough to impair her eating. At that point, we made the decision to have our Marquette veterinarian remove the tumor although he cautioned us that it would return fairly soon, and with greater force. But it did give Laylabelle an additional month of a happy life up here on The Lake. She also got to go to Milwaukee with us and visit the grandkids and Shoshana and Karl’s beautiful dogs, Jazzie and Dottie.

Five weeks after the surgery, Laylabelle’s tumor was back with a vengeance. Now covering two teeth and bleeding. While Laylabelle continued to walk with a spring in her step and shower us with affection, she lost the ability to eat regular dog food. This week, she had trouble eating soft, canned food and things like the scrambled eggs I brought her from our hotel breakfast.

At 4:30pm today, we brought Laylabelle to our Marquette vet and two vets agreed that the time had come. Not only was the tumor inoperable, but in all likelihood the melanoma had spread to other parts of her body. By 4:45pm, our beautiful puppy of eleven years had slipped away from us. In a few days, her ashes will join her older foster-sister Nina de Amor on the coast of The Great Lake.

Honoring the Memory of Aryeh Seagull

On Wednesday, July 20, 2022, I stepped to the lectern in Congregation Kehillat Israel of East Lansing, Michigan, to celebrate the life of my friend Aryeh Seagull, who passed from this plane of existence a month before. Aryeh’s family asked that I speak on one of his favorite subjects, the rules of etiquette and practice which Jews believe must also be honored by non-Jews. What I hoped to accomplish was to demonstrate how seemingly simple questions about Jewish beliefs can lead to wrinkles within wrinkles, moving seamlessly through time and space, from the Bible to the Talmud to the Rambam, back and forth, motion without end.

The first question I posed to the congregation was, “When someone says that the Torah demands that non-Jews observe Jewish rules, what is your reaction?” After some interesting comments from the community, I noted that it was actually a trick question. The Torah knows nothing of Jews or non-Jews since those concepts developed long after its day. The Torah knows of Israelites and Judeans among other designations of the people living in the land. Other books of the Bible call the people “Hebrews.” But the term “Jew” developed long after the Torah was published. That means that if we are speaking one of the most ancient documents recognized by modern Judaism, we must ask whether that
document demanded any sort of behavior from the peoples who were not the recipients of the Torah according to the Torah’s own worldview.

As always, we are obligated to turn back to the sources. Before I do, let me set one issue aside. Christian theology demands that Scripture be taken seriously, and they have a doctrine which includes a quasi-legal status for this. It is the Christian claim that those who follow Christianity are the “New Israel.” As such, Christians view themselves as the inheritors of the requirements of the Torah. It would take us too far afield to discuss how Christians distinguish between rules that obligate them and those that no longer do. But I would caution my Jewish friends about this “picking and choosing” not to be too smug
about this unless you too want to consider yourself obligated to stone someone
to death. The question before us, however, is not whether Christians have somehow
replaced Jews as this “New Israel” but rather how Israelites and Jews viewed
the necessity of outsiders to obey the rules of the Torah.

Since the Bible is ill-equipped on its own to answer the question, it is natural as Jews that we turn to the foundation of the Jewish religion, the Talmud. And it is there that we will strike gold. One of the earliest documents of the rabbinic era, the Tosefta, contains the following statement (Avodah Zarah 9:4):


על שבע מצות נצטוו בני נח על הדינין ועל עבודת כוכבים ועל
גלוי עריות ועל שפיכות דמים ועל הגזל ועל אבר מן החי

The sons of Noah were given seven commandments: courts, idolatry, [blasphemy,] forbidden sexual relations, bloodshed, theft, and [consuming] the limb of a living animal.


What does the Tosefta mean by בני נח “the sons of Noah”?

This one does have a clear answer. The term ben adam (descendant of Adam)
obviously means “everyone.” But as the Torah lays out the story of the history
of people-kind, b’nei adam lacked a few permissions that would later be allowed; for example, the consumption of meat. Noah represents a kind of second Creation, because according to the account, Noah’s family are the sole survivors of the Great Flood. Therefore, just as everyone is descended from Adam and Eve, so also everyone is descended from Noah. Interestingly from the perspective of our topic, Israelites are also
b’nei No’ah, but of course the difference is that Israelites have a few hundred extra requirements!

There are questions, always questions! What exactly were the commandments given to the
descendants of Noah? The obvious place to look is Genesis 9, where Noah’s
family exit the ark:


1 God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth. 2 The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the birds of the sky — everything with which the earth is astir — and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand. 3 Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these.


4 You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it.  5 But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man! 6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in His image did God make man.


7 Be fertile, then, and increase; abound on the earth and increase on it.” 8 And God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come, 10 and with every living thing that is with you — birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well — all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth. 11 I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 

12 God further said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come. 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant
between me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on earth.  17 That,” God said to Noah, “shall be the sign of the covenant
that I have established between me and all flesh that is on earth

Understand that “all flesh” must include everyone, not just Israelites. What commandments does God require of “all flesh”? Here’s my list:

Be fertile and increase

Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these.

You must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it. [Should this really be 3, or is it part of 2?]

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.


I see 3 or maybe 4 rules that apply to Noah’s descendants, at least here in this most direct
passage. But how do these stack up against the rules we just learned from the Tosefta?


Rule #1 isn’t even included in the Tosefta!

Rule #2 isn’t in the Tosefta, unless you join it to #3, which is definitely there.

Rule #4 is in the Tosefta as it rules that b’nei noah are forbidden from “bloodshed.”


You can stretch rule #4 if you want to include courts of justice by arguing that it would be
hard to enforce rule #4 without them.


Now, I must do a bit of a dodge, just for the sake of our time together. Various other rules, such as the condemnation of blasphemy, are derived from other texts in the Torah–often by torturous manipulation. I’ll leave those for a different day.

Have we ever found a situation where our sources all agree about something? Are there really the same seven everywhere, and are there only seven? The Talmud, tractate
Sanhedrin, picks up the theme:


תנו רבנן שבע מצות נצטוו בני נח דינין וברכת
השם ע”ז גילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים וגזל ואבר מן החי


Our Rabbis taught: The b’nei Noah received seven commandments: [set up] courts of justice; to refrain from blasphemy, idolatry; sexual depravity; bloodshed; robbery; and eating flesh cut from a living animal. (Sanhedrin 56)


Yes, those are the same seven, more-or-less, as we saw in the Tosefta. But wait, there’s more!


תנו רבנן שבע מצות נצטוו בני נח דינין וברכת השם ע”ז
גילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים וגזל ואבר מן החי רבי חנניה בן (גמלא) אומר אף על הדם מן
החי רבי חידקא אומר אף על הסירוס רבי שמעון אומר אף על הכישוף רבי יוסי אומר כל
האמור בפרשת כישוף בן נח מוזהר עליו (דברים יח, י) לא ימצא בך מעביר בנו ובתו באש
קוסם קסמים מעונן ומנחש ומכשף וחובר חבר ושואל אוב וידעוני ודורש אל המתים וגו’
ובגלל התועבות האלה ה’ אלהיך מוריש אותם מפניך ולא ענש אלא אם כן הזהיר רבי אלעזר
אומר אף על הכלאים מותרין בני נח ללבוש כלאים ולזרוע כלאים ואין אסורין אלא בהרבעת
בהמה ובהרכבת האילן


R. Hanania b. Gamaliel said: Also not to partake of the blood drawn from a living animal. R. Hidka added emasculation. R. Simeon added sorcery. R. Yose said: The heathens were prohibited everything that is mentioned in the section on sorcery. For example: There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter to pass through the fire, or that uses divination, or a fortune teller, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with ghosts, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination to the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord  your God does drive them [Canaanites] out from before you. R. Eleazar added the forbidden mixture in plants and animals: now, they are permitted to wear garments of mixed fabrics of wool and linen and sow diverse seeds together; they are forbidden only to hybridize heterogeneous animals and graft trees of different kinds.


How many now? You do the math, it’s beyond me!

Let us now move a few centuries ahead to the time of Moses Maimonides, familiarly known as “Rambam” in Jewish conversation. In hisencyclopedia of Jewish practice (halakhah), he writes:

משֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ לֹא הִנְחִיל הַתּוֹרָה וְהַמִּצְוֹת אֶלָּא
לְיִשְׂרָאֵל. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים לג, ד) “מוֹרָשָׁה קְהִלַּת יַעֲקֹב”.
וּלְכָל הָרוֹצֶה לְהִתְגַּיֵּר מִשְּׁאָר הָאֻמּוֹת. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר טו, טו)
“כָּכֶם כַּגֵּר”. אֲבָל מִי שֶׁלֹּא רָצָה אֵין כּוֹפִין אוֹתוֹ לְקַבֵּל תּוֹרָה
וּמִצְוֹת. וְכֵן צִוָּה משֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ מִפִּי הַגְּבוּרָה לָכֹף אֶת כָּל בָּאֵי הָעוֹלָם
לְקַבֵּל מִצְוֹת שֶׁנִּצְטַוּוּ בְּנֵי נֹחַ. וְכָל מִי שֶׁלֹּא יְקַבֵּל יֵהָרֵג.
וְהַמְקַבֵּל אוֹתָם הוּא הַנִּקְרָא גֵּר תּוֹשָׁב בְּכָל מָקוֹם. וְצָרִיךְ לְקַבֵּל
עָלָיו בִּפְנֵי שְׁלֹשָׁה חֲבֵרִים. וְכָל הַמְקַבֵּל עָלָיו לָמוּל וְעָבְרוּ עָלָיו
שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר חֹדֶשׁ וְלֹא מָל הֲרֵי זֶה כְּמִן הָאֻמּוֹת:

Moses our Teacher did not bequeath the Torah and the Commandments to anyone but to Israel, as it says, “the Heritage of the Congregation of Jacob” (Deut. 33:4), and to anyone from the other nations who
wishes to convert, as it says, “as you, as a convert” (Numbers 15:15). However, no one who does not want to convert is forced to accept the Torah and the commandments. Moses our Teacher was commanded by the Almighty to compel the world to accept the commandments of the b’nei No’ah. Anyone who fails to accept them is executed. Anyone who does accept them upon himself is called a resident alien
[or: convert] who may reside anywhere. He must accept them in front of three wise and learned Jews. However, anyone who agrees to be circumcised and twelve months have past and he was not as yet circumcised is no different than any other member of the nations of the world. [Rambam, Yad, Melakhim, 8:10]


Before I comment on this, we should also look at a similar situation which is found two short chapters later:


שְׁנֵי עַכּוּ”ם שֶׁבָּאוּ לְפָנֶיךָ לָדוּן בְּדִינֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
וְרָצוּ שְׁנֵיהֶן לָדוּן דִּין תּוֹרָה דָּנִין. הָאֶחָד רוֹצֶה וְהָאֶחָד אֵינוֹ
רוֹצֶה אֵין כּוֹפִין אוֹתוֹ לָדוּן אֶלָּא בְּדִינֵיהֶן. הָיָה יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַכּוּ”ם
אִם יֵשׁ זְכוּת לְיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּדִינֵיהֶן דָּנִין לוֹ בְּדִינֵיהֶם. וְאוֹמְרִים לוֹ
כָּךְ דִּינֵיכֶם. וְאִם יֵשׁ זְכוּת לְיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּדִינֵינוּ דָּנִין לוֹ דִּין תּוֹרָה
וְאוֹמְרִים לוֹ כָּךְ דִּינֵינוּ.


As to two idolators [perhaps meaning non-Jews] appearing before you to be judged in accordance with laws of Israel and wishing to be judged in accordance with the Torah, we do so. If one wishes to be judged so and the other not, he is not compelled to be judged except by their own laws. If an Israelite and an idolator appear before us and we can decide in favor of the Israelite in accordance with their laws, we judge them in
accordance with their laws and we say to him, ‘this is your law’. But if the Israelite has merit in accordance with our Law, we judge him by Torah Law and tell him ‘This is our Law’.


וְיֵרָאֶה לִי שֶׁאֵין עוֹשִׂין כֵּן לְגֵר תּוֹשָׁב אֶלָּא
לְעוֹלָם דָּנִין לוֹ בְּדִינֵיהֶם. וְכֵן יֵרָאֶה לִי שֶׁנּוֹהֲגִין עִם גֵּרֵי תּוֹשָׁב
בְּדֶרֶךְ אֶרֶץ וּגְמִילוּת חֲסָדִים כְּיִשְׂרָאֵל. שֶׁהֲרֵי אָנוּ מְצֻוִּין
לְהַחֲיוֹתָן שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים יד, כא) “לַגֵּר אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ תִּתְּנֶנָּה


It seems to me that we do not do this with a ger toshav [resident alien, sometimes translated as a
potential convert], but we always judge him by his own laws. And it also seems to me that we treat gerei toshav with respect and consideration, as we would an Israelite. Recall that we are required to keep sustain him, as it says, “to the stranger who is within your gates you shall give it [meat that Israelites
may not consume], that he may eat.” [Deut. 14:21].


From this discussion, it is clear that Maimonides is using the term b’nei No’ah differently from the other sources we have examined. Here, b’nei No’ah are not all non-Israelites,
but rather the special class of people who are in the process of or have already accepted membership in the community of Israel. Until now, we have imagined that there are two kinds of people: Israelites and non-Israelites. But in the view of the Rambam, there are three: Israelites, non-Israelites, and b’nei No’ah. The existence of a kind of middle group provides reasons for explaining certain principles of the administration of the courts of justice.


We have seen the evolution of a concept, changing and evolving with the circumstances in which Israelites and Jews have foundthemselves over thousands of years. We have only touched on many of the ideas which describe how different generations viewed the need to consider the proper way that nations should interact with one another. Maimonides continues in a way that is so fitting for all of us:


וְזֶה שֶׁאָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים אֵין כּוֹפְלִין לָהֶן שָׁלוֹם
בְּעַכּוּ”ם לֹא בְּגֵר תּוֹשָׁב. אֲפִלּוּ הָעַכּוּ”ם צִוּוּ חֲכָמִים לְבַקֵּר חוֹלֵיהֶם
וְלִקְבֹּר מֵתֵיהֶם עִם מֵתֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּלְפַרְנֵס עֲנִיֵּיהֶם בִּכְלַל עֲנִיֵּי
יִשְׂרָאֵל מִפְּנֵי דַּרְכֵי שָׁלוֹם. הֲרֵי נֶאֱמַר (תהילים קמה, ט) “טוֹב ה’
לַכּל וְרַחֲמָיו עַל כָּל מַעֲשָׂיו”. וְנֶאֱמַר (משלי ג, יז) “דְּרָכֶיהָ
דַרְכֵי נֹעַם וְכָל נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם”:


Our Sages have said “We do not double our greeting, “Shalom” [in other words, we do not say, “Shalom, Shalom!”]. This refers to the idolators, but we do so with a ger toshav [resident alien]. But note that even with regard to idolators, our Sages have commanded us to visit their sick and bury their dead along with Jewish dead and sustain their poor along with the poor of Israel is for the “sake of peace.”


In other words, while some reservation must be made for our relationship to someone who does not honor God, nevertheless, we are obligated to treat them all with common decency.


And he concludes in a way that is so appropriate to our honoring Aryeh Seagull, “We act charitably to all as the Psalmist says, “God is good to all, and God’s compassion is expressed in all God’s
[Psalms 145:9] And Proverbs says [3:17],


“Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her pathways lead to peace.”


No photo description available.

Aryeh with his beautiful bride, Elizabeth

[1] Biblical quotations are adapted from several versions, mostly the New Jewish Publication Society, with some emendation by me.

Student Days at Tel Aviv U

Okay, it’s time for me to reprise my personal favorite story of the Winter season.

It was 1973 and I was a first-year grad student at Tel Aviv University. I entered Israel on a tourist visa, and the Yom Kippur War made a bit of a mess of my various legal status papers. I had to get some sort of U.S. documentation that would allow me to convert my tourist visa to student status. Having already volunteered for the IDF I could have just declared Israeli citizenship, but then there would have been other complications…

Tel Aviv University is not actually in Tel Aviv–it is in a suburb called Ramat Aviv, and it can take awhile by bus to get from campus to anywhere in the rest of the city. I waited for a good time to schedule the trip and then one sunny winter morning, I set out. I took the bus from Ramat Aviv to the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, and then another up the Mediterranean coast which stopped just a few blocks from the American Consulate.

Now, I had been looking forward to this trip for some time because it was well known that the American consulate had a cafeteria open to U.S. citizens which served the best hamburgers in Israel. These days that’s no longer true–Israel has turned into quite the foodie haven and there are lots of places to get great hamburgers. But not in 1973.

After my hour-long journey I trudged up the few steps of the porch of the Consulate and tugged on the door. It was locked! A sign was posted that announced, “Merry Christmas.” Being in Israel, I had forgotten what December 25 might mean to a U.S. Consulate!

Oh well, I had to satisfy my hunger with a perfectly excellent felafel sandwich and start the hour-long journey back to Ramat Aviv. My visa–and hamburger–would have to wait for another day. Closed for Christmas

Retirement in These United States

My annual “Would you like to review your retirement account” message arrived from one of my retirement plans today. This is my cue to post a reflection or two on the state of retirement in these United States. The first thing anyone should know about retirement is that if you’re not dirt poor, you need to have a reliable, as unbiased as possible, financial advisor. For me, that means a person in the employ of my investment company who does not earn a penny in commission from servicing my account. He also happens to know a lot.

The second thing is to wonder why you should pay any attention to anything I have to say. Quite possibly you shouldn’t. But I do have more expertise than most folks. Some of you might recall that when I left grad school at UC-Berkeley, I entered the full-time employ of the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation (Berkeley). They hired me to teach biblical Hebrew part-time, and to fill out the rest of a full-time job, I became their accounting assistant. To do that, I enrolled in courses at a local community college so as to be at least one level better than flat-out ignorant.

The retirement program at Berkeley Hillel was a joke. And not a very funny one. To be fair, it was not unlike programs offered by many non-profits and small businesses. The folks that designed the program operated on the assumption that few people would actually spend their careers with Hillel or B’nai B’rith, so they used a plan where the employee paid nothing and pretty much received nothing in return. Among the exceptions to the notion that employees would not stay for their careers were the Foundation directors, many if not most of whom were rabbis, and that presented a number of problems to the administration because in the USA, clergy who wish to take advantage of tax breaks offered solely to clergy must be independent contractors. B’nai B’rith created a plan which took good care of these “independent contractors” and the rest of us got the sense we should look elsewhere for a career.

My solution to this problem was to create for our local staff our own retirement plan separate from that of the national organization. I received many communications from the national office telling me I couldn’t do this, but as it turned out I could and I did. As part of my job I needed to deal with the fact that our building was not owned by national Hillel, but rather by a local corporation. At the time that I started working on this, the corporation had become inactive. There was no one on its Board of Directors, and I suggested to our Director that this was dangerous because if it were discovered, we could be the subject of a hostile takeover. We repopulated the Board, and then the Board passed a resolution authorizing us to create our own retirement program. The plan we created did not conflict with the one run by the national office, it was supplemental to it. All of our contributions were voluntary to the maximum permitted by law.

As I mentioned, the national office plan was quite generous to the rabbis and a few other long-term employees. So generous that it was forced into bankruptcy in the 1990s and taken over by the Federal government agency which manages bankrupt retirement plans. I left Hillel in 1988 after 9 years of full-time employment. I was “100% vested” in the national retirement plan. To see how little that means, on my separation the pension plan offered me a “buyout.” They would give me $500 in return for releasing them from their obligation to pay me a pension. That’s what 9 years of full-time employment was worth to me. Please keep in mind that 9 years is about 25% of what most people will spend in their work lives. My response was, “Keep your $500, I’ll see what the pension is worth when I reach retirement age.” I actually didn’t expect to collect a dime once I learned of the bankruptcy, but as it turns out, I am receiving that pension. Since I turned 66, I’ve been getting $39/month from the federal agency that bails out bankrupt plans. Now, it’s practically nothing, and it’s subject to income tax even so, but I have already collected a lot more than $500!

In the meantime, the other retirement plan I helped design is doing very well. On separation from Hillel, I turned it into an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) and the principle is sufficient to pay me about $1,000 a month now. That’s because unlike the B’nai B’rith program, my nine years of contributions were allowed to grow like any other investment. And again, in the context of employment that represents about 25% of my work life, that’s a reasonable return on my investment.

When I left Hillel, I became an administrative employee of the University of Michigan, an organization with a very good retirement plan for every employee. As a department manager, among my responsibilities were training new employees and helping existing employees choose the retirement options that would best serve them. Of course that often meant referring them onto the University offices that specialized in employee education, but over my 25 years in administrative service, I did make it a point to stay current on retirement issues.

That brings me (at last!) to the reason I am writing today. One of the most common pieces of advice you will hear about collecting Social Security is that you should wait as long as possible before you file for it. However well-meaning the advisors and columnists might be, this can be very bad advice.

Social Security is a form of annuity. What most people don’t understand about this is that that means it has an end-point—usually when we die. When we die, Social Security pays out a pittance to (partially) cover funeral costs and the following month, it simply ends. This is different from many other types of savings, investment, and retirement accounts. Of course, you are free to purchase many sorts of annuities which, like Social Security, will terminate on death. But most other types of investment have no such end point. For example, if you own a rental property and make use of the rent you receive to supplement your retirement income, when you die, your heirs receive that rental property. If you have your retirement invested in the stock market, you receive both the interest and any gains the stock might earn and again, those shares pass to your heirs if you have not spent them before death.

Social Security rewards you for delaying accepting payment by increasing your monthly check for each year you delay. But the part they and many advisors don’t tell you is that should you lose the lottery and die before your mid-80s, you will actually collect less than you would have had you declared earlier. Suppose your Social Security check would be $2,000 when you turn 62. If you delay to the “full retirement age” of 67 (say), the check will rise to something like $2,500 per month. But remember that you have not collected $120,000 you would have received between ages 62 and 67. The additional $500/month you receive will not equal that $120,000 you have given up for 20 years! Now these are all round numbers and guesstimates, you have to do the math that precisely applies to yourselves to see when you will cross that finish line.

The first clear and convincing reason to take your Social Security at the earliest possible time is if you have good reason to believe that you will not live into your 80s. Possibly a serious cardiac or cancer diagnosis, perhaps just your knowledge of family longevity.
The second obvious reason is because you are unemployed or underemployed and simply need the money to live on. That is unfortunate because that is a case where delaying would give you a better retirement, but in the words of the great sage, “It is what it is.”

The third reason to begin accepting payment, even if you think there’s a good chance you’ll make it into your 90s and even if you don’t need immediately need the funds, is if you have good self-discipline and are capable of investing rather than spending the money. In most scenarios, if you take your Social Security and use it to invest in the markets or perhaps purchase rental property, you will do better—and maybe far better—than if you allow the government to hold on to it.

This is how I reasoned things for myself. My parents both lived into their 80s. I’m not a smoker and other than a bit of high blood pressure I have no significant health issues. Although there are no certainties in this life, those factors argue that I am likely to make it into my mid-80s. Therefore I decided against taking my Social Security when I first became eligible. I figured it would be nice to get those enhanced payments by delaying it. When I reached my mid-60s, I revisited this decision. I had now arrived at what the Social Security Administration terms “full retirement age.” (That was 67 for me, I believe it has now moved up to 68 for people contemplating retirement now.) Still, if I wait even longer (up to age 72) those monthly checks would grow even larger. And because I and my spouse are still working, we didn’t need the money.

But at that point, doing some math, I decided we’d be better off if I started to collect. The reason is not because we need the money for current expenses, but rather because I believe I can find better investments than the annuity represented by Social Security. We already had the usual spectrum of investment accounts held by middle-class Americans, so I bought rental property and I use Social Security to pay down the principle on those rental units. What that means is that when I do finally retire, we will own the rental units which will then be providing a steady income on their own. And as I said above, when I pass on, I’ll have something to pass on to my children.

The proverbial “bottom line” here is not that I made the best possible decision nor that you should do what I did. The advice I am giving you is to set aside simplistic answers from places like the Social Security Administration itself, or your H and R Crock tax adviser. Make sure you find a real expert, and carefully vet the advice you receive. There is no “one size fits all” solution—so make sure you understand the many alternatives that lie before you.

Hanukkah Musings 2021

It’s time for my annual Hanukkah message. I’ve been doing this off-and-on since 1972, when an article I wrote was featured in a Jewish student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin—which seems to be defunct. There was a new Chabad rabbi in town for the new position of any sort of Chabad presence at UW whose name as I recall it was R. Shmudkin. The Hillel rabbi at that time, R. Alan Lettofsky, was going to be out of town, so he invited R. Shmudkin to lead students in reciting the Hanukkah blessings.

I was one of the last students to arrive so there was a bit of a crowd and I stood near the back. R. Shmudkin saw me and raised his eyebrows. He said, “I see that Jack Love has joined us. Jack, perhaps you’d like to excuse yourself as we are about to recite the blessing honoring the Maccabees.” Two things startled me about this. First, that he knew who I was, and second, that he apparently had read my article. I just chuckled and said, “I’ve been lighting the Menorah since I was 5 years old, so I think I’ll keep doing it.” And a brief but lovely service ensued.

My life and career have endured many twists and turns since then, and I suspect that if R. Shmudkin is still around somewhere he is even less happy with my views now than he was then. But I guess he would be happy to know that all these years later I and my family are still delighted to kindle the Hanukkah lights on one of the dozen or so Hanukkah lamps that beautify our home.

What had so disturbed R. Shmudkin is that in my senior year at UW, I had done a lot of research on the ancient history of the Near East. Steeped in the writings of historians such as Victor Tcherikover, Alexander Fuchs, Menachem Stern, and Elias Bickerman I came to understand that a considerable part of the narrative surrounding the origin of Hanukkah was just a fairy tale. In fact, the great devil of the era, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, was not attempting to destroy the valiant God-fearing Jews, he had simply been invited into a struggle among rival factions of Judeans by one of those factions. In other words, it was a civil war and Antiochus decided to intervene on the side of the faction that offered him the most reward. And unfortunately for him, the other side won.

Most modern Jews imagine that we know all about the Maccabees and their struggle because of the preservation of such sources as the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees and the historian Josephus. In fact, the ancient rabbis rejected all those sources and had nothing to do with their preservation. We owe the existence of those sources to Christians. As it happens, the early Church was particularly interested in stories of martyrdom, and as for Josephus, they thought that he had described the era of Jesus and even mentioned Jesus in his Antiquities. The rabbis cared for none of this. But about 1500 years after the Maccabees some Jews also felt that it was important to recall ancient Jewish victories. Having nothing of their own, they plagiarized Josephus, added in a few tales from the Midrash, and published Sefer Yospipon (The Book of Joseph). The conceit was that they had discovered this book written by another of Josephus’ fellow generals in the Roman War of his era. Sefer Yosippon has the same relationship to Josephus as exists between the Gospels and Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

If this is the case, where does our festival of Hanukkah come from? The ancient rabbis faced exactly the same problem that confronted early Christian authorities. That problem was that no matter what they might have argued as religious doctrine, the general populace was not going to be dissuaded from recognizing the change of seasons and most especially, the Winter Solstice. Christians solved the problem by moving the birth of Jesus to a day that is unsupported by their own Gospels. The rabbis composed a tale of the miraculous purification of the Temple by oil which though only sufficient for one day, nevertheless lasted for eight. And this event just happened to coincide with the coronation celebration of the hated Maccabean kings—and so could replace any notion of that in the popular imagination. This tale, by the way, is not recorded in any of the most ancient sources of the rabbis, but rather in the Babylonian Talmud, (Shabbat 21a). The earliest date that could be ascribed to this tale is 300 C.E. and a century or two after that is more likely.

Ultimately, who cares? None of this matters to me as I enjoy the potato pancakes and see the joy in the eyes of my children and grandchildren as they light the candles with us and look forward to treats and toys. Religion is not about history, but rather about what we make of it. History and religion are, as Stephen Jay Gould said, “non-overlapping magisteria.”

About 10 years after R. Shmudkin led the Hanukkah service at UW Hillel, I met the woman who would become the love of my life. We were married on 28 Kislev 5744, the 4th day of Hanukkah, 1983.

Barukh Dayan Emet–Harold Diftler

We learned of the passing this last weekend of a dear friend, Dr. Harold Diftler. Harold and his wife Joyce were among the first people to welcome us to Knoxville.
Harold was one of the most prominent dentists in the region and there are many accolades from his professional colleagues. But nothing tells the story of Dr. Diftler better than the simple fact that he turned no one away over his entire career, and never complained when his patients could not the afford the care.
Harold was a veteran of the U.S. Navy. As a member of the Knoxville Track Club he ran marathons all over the USA. His collections of antique clocks and watches are renowned. He was able to converse about many subjects because he so valued education that he never stopped taking courses–in recent years University courses in history, film, political science, anthropology and music.
Harold is pictured above from our Passover Seder in 2015. May his memory always be counted as a blessing. May his memory be entwined with ours so that he lives on forever through us.
Blessed is the True Judge.

Hanukkah Musings for 5781

Hanukkah 5781 for secular year 2020 is upon us and it is a holiday I always look forward to and treasure. The earliest Hanukkah I recall is one in which I crossed the hall of our tenement to enter the magical realm of my Bubby, my grandmother, who had her family Menorah (lamp, now more properly known as a Hanukkiah) ready for action. Bubby spoke only Yiddish, but we managed to communicate somehow or other, and she taught me how to recite the holiday blessings–in Yiddish, of course. This would have been before I learned to read Hebrew, so it may have been as early as 1957 when I was 5 years old. Whether it was then or a bit later, the warmth of the holiday and love of my Bubby and the joy she felt as I recited those words made an indelible imprint in my memory.

Bubby (Center), Esther and Louie

I was called to the Torah in 1965 and can’t say that I recall many Hanukkah occasions after that until I arrived at the University of Wisconsin. It was in my junior year, 1971, and thanks in large part to our fabulous Hillel House under the direction of Rabbi Alan Lettofsky, that I started paying attention to Judaism and Jewish history–a story for another day.

As a young student (and major) of History, I began reading about the Hanukkah holiday in several volumes that have retained their value and reputation to this day–in some cases more than half a century ago. Elias Bickerman wrote Der Gott der Makkabäer in 1937, the anteroom of the Holocaust. Subsequent accounts of the wars and dynasty of the Maccabees reflected the young state of Israel. Books like Victor Tcherikover’s Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (which became well known after its English translation appeared in 1958, but which was originally written even before Bickerman’s masterpiece in 1930). These were among the first publications to bring modern methods of historiography and analysis to the period of history bracketed by Alexander the Great and the Christianization of the Roman Empire. And for me, it they were the eye opener for me to understand that there was more to the history of the people who venerated biblical literature than the fairy tales I had known from childhood.

In the case of the Maccabees, and the Hasmonean dynasty they founded, there was a practically unanimous conclusion that the surviving historical accounts do not portray some evil “Greek” attempting to subjugate “the Jews.” Rather, what we see is a civil war in which one group of Jews (the term is actually an anachronism, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s use it) against another. As often happens in such conflicts, one of the groups appealed for and succeeded in gaining the support of the ruler of the area–that evil Antiochus Epiphanes, but when all was said and done, the real war was between opposing groups of Jews who all accepted the Torah and other biblical literature, but had all sorts of diverse opinions about things like the calendar and which priests should be given authority over the Temple.

I wrote an article about this for the University of Wisconsin’s Jewish student newspaper because at this time of year, it’s customary to write about the holidays. Hillel would always have a candelabra (Menorah or the aforementioned Hanukkiah) lighting followed by a talk or group sing-a-long, and I headed over for what I thought would be the usual ceremony. As it turned out, Rabbi Lettofsky was out of town, but he asked the brand new Chabad representative (so new there wasn’t even a Chabad residence yet) if he would like to lead the service. I believe his name was Rabbi Shmodken, but memory does funny things over the decades. Anyway, I arrived to find most people already gathered around the Hanukkiah. Rabbi Shmodken apparently recognized me and arched his eyebrows. He then said in loud, clear voice–although with a heavy Yiddish accent–“Mr. Jack Love has entered the room. Jack, perhaps you would like to excuse yourself while we honor the memory of the Hashmonaim?” As I mentioned, Hanukkah was, and still is, a favorite holiday of mine, so I stood my ground and sang the blessings with my congregation.

611 LANGDON ST | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society

The ultimate irony in the good rabbi’s comment is that the original rabbis despised the Hasmoneans and did everything in their power to blot out their memory. They had good reason. The Hasmonean kings by and large supported the Temple priesthood most of whom belonged to the group known as Sadducees. The kings and their allies generally opposed competing groups such as Pharisees and Essenes–and it was the Pharisee sect that developed into the rabbinic group following the Roman war and destruction of the Temple. The Hasmonean king Alexander Janeus was reported to have crucified hundreds of his opponents on the roads leading to Jerusalem–which creates a bit of a problem for those who want to claim that Jews could not have had anything to do with the crucifixion of Jesus–but that is a tale for another day.

The point is that the Pharisees and their rabbinic descendants wanted nothing to do with the Hasmonean kings. They did not copy or preserve either of the books called Maccabees (which were copied and honored by Christians), nor did they copy or preserve the works of the historian Josephus, who also wrote about these events.

But what they did do is tell stories. One of those stories, which appears many centuries after the time of the Hasmoneans, recounts the tale of how the Temple had been defiled by wicked people and required purification. There was only enough oil for one day, but by a miracle, the oil lasted for 8 days. Strangely enough, we have no idea why it was necessary to have a lamp burn for 8 days for this purification to occur. But we do know that by another miraculous coincidence, that 8 day period corresponds exactly to the 8 day festival proclaimed by the Hasmonean kings to celebrate their dynasty.

LoveLees Hanukkah Night 1



On the History of (Jack’s) ColonFiberOscopies

First, I have to begin with a word of caution. This biographical entry contains some materials of a medical nature that might make some people a bit queasy. Best to skip this article if you don’t like hearing about blood or poop.

I’m writing this after my most recent colonfiberoscopy at UT Medical Center, which stirred the memory of how I became about the 3rd person in the United States to be treated with that instrument.

My earliest recollections of serious medical issues involving my guts go back to when I was 8 years old. That’s when I first noticed that there seemed to blood in the potty when I went to the toilet. Although my parents were not exactly the most medically knowledgeable people in the world (an understatement of considerable proportion) they did understand that this needed attention. Our family doctor recommended that they take me to Mt Sinai Medical Center.

There, and at many other times throughout my childhood, I experienced all the diagnostic tools available multiple times: the barium enema, proctoscope, and sigmoitoscope. None could detect the problem, although the presence of blood was confirmed and indeed obvious. In those days, the only thing that might have worked was exploratory surgery and as it turned out, thank Heaven my parents chose not to put me through that. So I regularly found blood, and every few months, there would be quite a bit of it.

In the Fall of 1969 I headed off to the University of Wisconsin, which had and still has one of the finest medical research hospitals in the world. As a freshman living in the dorms I reported my issue to the Student Health Service and they put me through the same battery of tests with the same results. Yes, there is blood, no, we can’t figure out where it’s coming from.

In my sophomore year, I was living off-campus with several guys who have become my life-long buddies. As it happened, our landlord stopped by to chat. He had a brand new powder blue Cadillac he was showing off. I felt some pressure and went to the toilet where I expressed approximately half my blood supply. I staggered out of the bathroom and passed out. I woke up in the University Hospital ER. I learned later that my hematocrit was 18 (42 is low-normal for adult men), so they gave me a transfusion of two units of blood. By then, whatever had caused the hemorrhage had ended, so once again, they were stymied about what was causing this. 

The way I got to the hospital was that the aforesaid landlord, who we thought was kind of a joke, grabbed me and threw me into his brand new car and drove me to the ER. You can never tell how kind and gracious a person can be until you see how they react to unusual circumstances. I never joked about Sid Livsey again. But I have to say that the next time I saw him he was driving a different car–he said, “Well they got the stains out, but they couldn’t get the stink out.” So he bought a new car.

I spent a few days in the hospital recovering and on the day I was to be discharged an impeccably dressed man came to visit me. His name was Dr. John F. Morrissey. Dr. Morrissey had formed a strong relationship to a team of Japanese doctors who had invented a new device which was then called a colonfiberscope in 1969. Dr. Morrissey had used it for the first time that very week and he invited me to become the third patient. He explained that this was a flexible tube that could reach far higher into the intestines than a sigmoitoscope. And, depending on what they found, they could actually use the instrument to fix some sorts of problems. I didn’t need much convincing. So that is how I became patient number 3 for this new device in the US. 

When you hear about this procedure these days, mostly what you hear about is how difficult the “prep” is. Basically, the idea is that the physician using the scope has to be able to see the intestinal wall, and that’s hard if it’s covered in poop. So you have to do something to clean it up. In 1971 that meant not just laxatives, but enemas.

On the morning of the procedure, I arrived at the clinic and was strapped into a chair that could be inverted. When I was upside down, they pumped water into my colon until my bowels were bloated. Then they right-sided the chair and the water poured out of me. They did this three times.

Next, I was wheeled into the room with the instrument. In those days the instrument was much thicker than it is today and you can guess what that might mean in terms of comfort. Of course today, Propofol is the drug of choice and you really don’t feel a thing. But in 1971, as Dr. Morrissey explained, they could not use anesthesia because they needed my feedback (so to speak) on whether the instrument might be causing too much stress. But they did use an I.V. to provide me with valium (diazapam) which made me a bit loopy.

The scope was inserted and at intervals of 25, 35 and 45 cm (about 18″) they found large polyps. The deepest and largest of these was big enough to have produced the hemorrhage that nearly killed me. Dr. Morrissey used the scope to extract the polyps and cauterize the areas. A few days later the pathologist reported that while these were very large polyps, they were benign. For the first time since I was 8 years old I could go to the bathroom without seeing blood in the toilet.

A year later, I returned for a follow-up procedure. Major improvements had already been made and I don’t recall any pain or problems. The scope showed that my intestines remained in fine condition and no new polyps had grown. I was then 21 years-old.

I didn’t have another colonoscopy until I turned 50 when my family physician advised it as part of my regular checkup. As you can imagine, I was astonished by the difference those decades had made. I know it’s an over-used metaphor, but comparatively speaking, it was a walk in the park. On that occasion, they found 2 “diminutive” polyps and now they applied the more technical term “adenoma” to them which is the more dangerous kind because they can become malignant. Mine were benign, but they recommended 3-year follow-ups. So while we lived in Michigan, I went twice more and both times the results were “clean”–no more polyps.

We moved to Tennessee about 9 years ago and when the time came for a follow-up I had an unpleasant surprise. Our GI folks prescribed a “prep” which in it’s own way was as bad as what I went through in 1971. If you’ve had a recent colonoscopy, you know what I mean–a requirement to drink a full gallon of ghastly stuff. There are more palatable alternatives, but many health plans won’t pay for them. So I did what I knew to be the stupid thing and didn’t go.

This year my health plan, it turned out, had authorized the more palatable solution and so I scheduled my visit for today. The prep was awful, but less awful than drinking a gallon. The test itself was, as I said, a walk in the park. They did find three (again) “diminutive” polyps and my GI doc said there’s no chance that they are malignant. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t stupid. I should have swallowed my pride and the prep and gotten the test earlier. I could have as easily allowed myself to get cancer for nothing as have this better result.

Don’t do as I did, do as I say: get the test when the docs tell you to.

Teddy Bear

Today is the 9th anniversary of the passing of my mother, Mrs. Stella Love (as she preferred to be known), pictured here during the 1970s.

In 1958 as I was about to begin 1st grade, I awoke from sleep to the sound of a commotion. I wandered out to our living room and witnessed a cop dragging my mother out of our apartment by her hair. That was the last I saw of her for 10 months.

She spent those 10 months in Rockland State Hospital, my father placed me in a private boarding school. On one of his visits, he brought me a teddy bear my mother had sewn. As you can imagine, that bear became my most prized possession.

At the end of the school year, my father brought Stella home from the hospital and me from the boarding school. Teddy remained with me at all times. Until one day when Teddy disappeared. I looked everywhere. Then my father told me that I was too attached to Teddy, so he had decided to throw him away. I was inconsolable for hours and perhaps days.

My father abandoned our family when I was 15 to move to Israel and my mother and I made do on our own. Two years later I headed off to the University of Wisconsin and Stella stayed in New York earning a living as an office staff person. Then in 1978 she had a relapse of her mental condition and I was forced to make the decision of letting her go to some other hospital or taking care of her–which meant at least temporarily giving up on my PhD. As most of you know, I took a leave of absence from grad school, packed my mother up in New York, and brought her out to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Stella became a fixture in Sproul Plaza, dancing to the music, and visiting Larry Blake’s Rathskeller.

For me, marriage and children followed, and from time to time we had to pack Stella up and move her to a new living situation. Stella’s last residence was the Evangelical Home of Michigan in Saline. At first I was a bit dubious about placing her in a Christian home, but as it turned out there were other Jews there and the non-judgmental love they showered on Stella made me understand that I had made the best choice.

On that final stop, we went through her belongings to see what might be donated to charity, and look what we found. My father hadn’t thrown Teddy away after all, just placed him with Stella for safe-keeping. And he is with me to this day.

Blessed is the True Judge. May Stella’s memories be bound with ours so that she lives on forever through us.

ברוך דיין אמת

Today is the 9th anniversary of the passing of my mother, Mrs. Stella Love (as she preferred to be known), pictured here during the 1970s.

In 1958 as I was about to begin 1st grade, I awoke from sleep to the sound of a commotion. I wandered out to our living room and witnessed a cop dragging my mother out of our apartment by her hair. That was the last I saw of her for 10 months.

She spent those 10 months in Rockland State Hospital, my father placed me in a private boarding school. On one of his visits, he brought me a teddy bear my mother had sewn. As you can imagine, that bear became my most prized possession.

At the end of the school year, my father brought Stella home from the hospital and me from the boarding school. Teddy remained with me at all times. Until one day when Teddy disappeared. I looked everywhere. Then my father told me that I was too attached to Teddy, so he had decided to throw him away. I was inconsolable for hours and perhaps days.

My father abandoned our family when I was 15 to move to Israel and my mother and I made do on our own. Two years later I headed off to the University of Wisconsin and Stella stayed in New York earning a living as an office staff person. Then in 1978 she had a relapse of her mental condition and I was forced to make the decision of letting her go to some other hospital or taking care of her–which meant at least temporarily giving up on my PhD. As most of you know, I took a leave of absence from grad school, packed my mother up in New York, and brought her out to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Stella became a fixture in Sproul Plaza, dancing to the music, and visiting Larry Blake’s Rathskeller.

For me, marriage and children followed, and from time to time we had to pack Stella up and move her to a new living situation. Stella’s last residence was the Evangelical Home of Michigan in Saline. At first I was a bit dubious about placing her in a Christian home, but as it turned out there were other Jews there and the non-judgmental love they showered on Stella made me understand that I had made the best choice.

On that final stop, we went through her belongings to see what might be donated to charity, and look what we found. My father hadn’t thrown Teddy away after all, just placed him with Stella for safe-keeping. And he is with me to this day.

Blessed is the True Judge. May Stella’s memories be bound with ours so that she lives on forever through us.

ברוך דיין אמת


Stella Love
Stella Love in the '70s
Teddy Bear

Of Weddings and Other Odd Circumstances

There are several weddings among my family and friends on the immediate horizon and the fact that we are living through a rather unusual set of circumstances which does affect weddings in a major way leads me to reflect on my own wedding, now some 37 years past.

At the time that I proposed to my beautiful bride I was 30 years old and serving as the Associate Director (AD) of the Hillel Foundation (a service organization for Jewish students) at the University of California at Berkeley. Terri was a post-Doc in Neuroscience at that same University.

Terri relaxing

Terri on the Day, How could I have been so lucky?

As everyone in the States knows, the custom here is that the bride’s family will bear most of the cost of a wedding, but that was not in the cards for us for several good reasons. Most importantly, Terri had been married before which generally releases the bride’s family from further financial obligations. In my case, there was never any possibility that my parents could have helped pay for a wedding. Both my parents lived day-by-day on meager Social Security checks. So we were on our own for figuring out how to do a wedding. Terri found a suitable dress in a local thrift shop. As the AD of Hillel, I had the option of using Hillel as both the chapel and location of the celebration. My boss, Rabbi Martin Ballonoff of blessed memory, happily agreed to perform the service. He, by the way, was getting married himself exactly one week before me, which had some interesting consequences for Terri and me. But more on that in due course.

Marty Ballonoff

Rabbi Martin Ballonoff

One of my Hebrew students, Ms. Cathy Citron, was learning how to be a caterer, so she offered to cook any food we  wanted as long as we covered the cost of the food. And the food she prepared was absolutely delicious! Wedding cakes are very expensive, but Rabbi Ballonoff offered to donate the second sheet of his wedding cake. A few of my students who played instruments added some live music to our event, and my life-long friend Marty Lehrner spent many hours putting together a music tape for us. I had (and still have) two huge Klipsch loudspeakers which we took to Hillel, so the music could be played at deafening levels. My dear friend Ed Starkie and his father John were excellent amateur photographers, and they snapped away throughout the event. No professional photographer needed!

As we all know if we’ve been down this road, there is always the thorny question of guests. My family is very small, Terri’s medium sized by her community’s standards (she has five siblings and untold numbers of cousins). My father was in Israel and couldn’t possibly afford the trip, my sister had just moved from Illinois to Long Island and a cross-country trip for her would have been a hardship. What that meant was that my family would be represented by my mother alone, whom we all loved, but who obviously suffered from severe bipolar disorder. But Stella could always be counted on to dance! Much to my surprise and great pleasure and gratitude, Terri’s parents both decided to make the trip along with one of her siblings and his wife. I first became involved in Hillel as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, and I was thrilled that the man who served as Associate Director (my title at Berkeley) and his wife would travel from Los Angeles for our marriage. Along with my close friends from the Berkeley community, we expected about 50 people.

The Saturday before a wedding is the occasion for the uffruff a tradition in which the groom rises to accept the honor of reading from the Torah scroll. As it happened, a huge storm had rolled in through the Bay Area knocking out power to the whole area. Our chapel was located in a part of the building where there was very little natural light, so I had to read from the scroll in darkness. Terri, who had completed the process of becoming a Jew-by-choice three weeks before, read the prophetic reading of the day in Biblical Hebrew with the appropriate melody (trope). Things were just getting back to normal on the Sunday of our wedding, but Terri decided to make breakfast for all our out of town guests. That means that just a couple of hours before the event, Terri, partially dressed for the wedding already, was running around cooking up a storm for 20 or so people.

And so at last the time arrived and Terri and I arrived at Hillel for our big day. The first thing that was obvious was that something had gone wrong with our guest count. The chapel was completely full and people were waiting outside. Fortunately, the chapel featured a folding wall which could be opened out to the auditorium, and that was done–then people started setting up folding chairs far out into the auditorium. By the time we were ready to get under way, there were about 500 people settled in. Terri noticed that a half dozen or so of my former girlfriends were in the crowd, but I have to say I was pretty oblivious to that. How could all this have happened?

We found out after the wedding that the rabbi had made a bit of an error. He had intended to invite the community to witness his own wedding, which you will remember occurred the week before ours. But he worded the invitation such that he invited everyone to our wedding as well! About 400 of the people crowding in were my current or former students. One of Terri’s few guests, Prof. Irving Zucker, asked her, “Do you know these people?” and Terri replied, “Almost none of them.” Fortunately for us, they understood that they were only there for the ceremony and not for the food and music afterwards–or we would have been wiped out.

The service ran without a hitch, and I’m pretty sure all our guests had a wonderful time. Fabulous food, except for that wedding cake sheet which was quite possibly as stale as actual concrete–but it’s the thought that counts! Great music, being lifted up on chairs for that now traditional Hassidic dance tradition, and all the trappings of a joyful Jewish wedding. It was, like so much of our lives, a bit on the crazy side (Terri prefers the term “unscripted”), but I wouldn’t trade one minute of that experience for anything else.

So my advice for my family and friends fretting through these unsettling times: make the best of whatever circumstances hand you–and the love you feel for the partner you are about to be joined with will carry you through all of it.