I arrive in the sleek Raleigh-Durham airport after a long flight from Boise and my mom picks me up outside. It's good to be here. It has been too long since I've last visited. Great to see Mom and nice to experience the lovely early spring weather here.
Friday, February 17
We start the day attending a classical music class at Mom's synagogue, Judea Reform, here in Chapel Hill. The congregation's new music director teaches the class, and it's terrific. He focuses on pieces that composers have based on earlier composers' works: Brahms' variations on Paganini and Elgar's Enigma Variations. He has a great time playing clips and sharing stories, and he's superb at offering non-musicians some basic music theory that helps us appreciate the works. It's a reminder of how much I love music, of all kinds, and learning more about it.
Mom and I have a lovely lunch together, I work out at the gym, and then Charlie joins us for Shabbat dinner at Mom's house. It is such a pleasure to have Shabbat dinner with my mother, and to not have to worry about running off to lead services myself! I think it's important for clergy to have opportunities to sit in the pews, to be part of the congregation. The service looks and feels so different from here than it does on the bimah. And yet it's the perspective that everyone except us shares all the time!
The service itself features a guest artist, Cantor Linda Hirschhorn. So between her and the music director from the shul, there is a lot of wonderful music. I've always thought the ideal service is sung from beginning to start, without any reading (which, in my view, always diminishes the energy level). This one is pretty close. Cantor Hirschorn tells a terrific story about growing up in an Orthodox shul in New York, how hearing the cohanim (those descending from the ancient priests) offering their blessings awakened a sense of mystery and awe and musicality for her as a little girl watching from the women's section upstairs. And the rabbi, Larry Bach, offers a short, inspiring and insightful d'var Torah. I really like the physical space, which is open, light, contemporary, accessible and egalitarian, and surprisingly warm. It's a peaceful and joyful night, a Shabbat full of shalom.
Saturday, February 18
I drive out to Durham to attend Shabbat morning services at the Conservative Beth El congregation. More often than not, when I'm out of town, I prefer the Conservative service on Shabbat morning. The place is very different from Judea Reform. The building is kind of ramshackle, but the way everything--from the paint on the walls to the wood paneling to the old editions of the Siddur Sim Shalom--is a little worn is comforting to me. It shows the abundant use that comes of love. The service itself is much the same: long, rambling, heimish. The congregants seem like a real community, shmoozing and genuinely happy to see one another. And the rabbi is like the head of the family, sharing little bits of midrash here and there throughout the morning, imparting his wisdom without any arrogance or pretension. It's a nice place to be. The Torah portion, Yitro, is my Bar Mitzvah portion, and to my surprise, unlike many Conservative congregations that follow the triennial cycle, this one reads the entire parshah. The rabbi's brief d'var focuses on the opening, on why Moses' father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro) joins the Jewish people. He quotes different commentators who note that he was drawn to join us because of our history, our love of Torah, and his familial connection. And how different things bind us all to Judaism. For some it is first and foremost an ethnic (familial) tie, for others it is about learning, and for some it is about the history of being strangers and the social justice mandate that flows from this. It was a new take on a portion that I've been reading for many years!
After shul, I took a nap, then helped Mom prepare for a party that we are hosting in the evening. We pick up food at the Mediterranean Deli and it's all delicious: falafel, hummus, pita, kebabs, rice. The guests are great, too. We start with havdallah, then settle in for a beautiful evening. Mom's friends are all smart, thoughtful, politically-engaged. I'm reminded of how much I admire the life that my mother has built here. She came to Chapel Hill almost twenty-five years ago, when she retired. When she arrived, she knew no one. And during the years that followed, on her own, she built a fabulous life for herself, filled with friendships and learning and entertaining. She is always gracious and loyal and remains intellectually curious, learning new things daily as she approaches her 80th birthday. I am a lucky person to have her as my Mom.
Sunday, February 19
Mom and I work out at the gym in the morning. I'm trying hard to do my exercising regularly, so that I'm in decent shape for my forthcoming trek in Patagonia. I've put on too many extra pounds and they come off slowly at my age. Day by day, bit by bit.
We spend the afternoon at the North Carolina Museum of Art. It's a surprisingly large and impressive gallery. The Judaica section is terrific, and there's a visiting exhibit of photos by Ansel Adams. I've seen most of these pictures before; they are iconic. Yet it's different to see all of them in one place, beautifully mounted and framed, and larger than I'd expected. Such a glorious window to the American landscape, and to the range of light that a master's eye and camera take in.
We have dinner at a Thai restaurant, where I order my usual, Pad Prik King with tofu. I get it pretty much every time I eat Thai food, so I'm kind of the King of Pad Prik King. This one is good, and Mom and Charlie also enjoy their dinner. Then home and to bed and off in the morning to my next stop, Buffalo.
I'm so thankful to Mom for her hospitality, and for the warmth of spring and the promise of new life blooming around us.