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More or Less Church

Joanna Depue "DJ/Deacon J" writes original songs and liturgies, does daily Farm office work and records Barbara's eMos on The Geranium Farm. A singer and dog trainer she utilizes healing touch in her private massage practice. PLEASE share YOUR original ideas for worship, special liturgies, prayers, songs, sermons and noteworthy blogs right here.
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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Signs of Easter for Holy Saturday

C is telling me that in Michigan where her parents live - in true form - there has just been four inches of snow. That hasn't happened here, but it was 21 degrees this morning. However I had a few brief moments Tuesday night to go outside, smell the springlike air and take these two photos- one of the pansies my friend Charlotte gave me for Easter and one of the crocus, doing what they do best, pushing their way out and up into the light.

It has been a long Lent this year - in part because I threw myself into the job of doing some interior decoration and spring cleaning - not so much the house kind as the soul kind. Next facing very drastic changes in my work life, home life, economics and future vocational direction.

Lent is a remarkable time for all of this reflection and deliberate soul searching. The impression that stays with me is that the inside job I have been working on will continue... perhaps with less unflinching focus... but continue nonetheless. I will keep working on my own 12 steps toward a healthy life with a healthy focus. I am motivated to do so by the blessings that God has showered me with in terms of the fruits of the spirit that have been cultivated and already bourne fruit.

First the seed must fall to the ground and die..... and after it is reborn, it will produce much fruit.

Today the body of Christ rested, seemingly without life, on a hewn shelf in a tomb. Tomorrow, when the doors of your parish church, quiet as a tomb, will be flung open; there will be remnants of a tomb - the slab (an altar will remain)- but the body will no longer be there. Symbolically, the body will be broken again, the blood will be poured out again, and it will become transformative nourishment for each and every one of us who partake. We will become Christ's flesh and blood - here and now - to walk and teach and heal and pray and show compassion and mercy and forgiveness and joy..... joy everlasting. Thanks be to God!
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Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday - A New Zealand Prayerbook

Gracious and eternal God, look with mery on this your family
for which our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed into the hands of his adversaries
and to suffer death upon the cross; and grant us to rejoice at the benefits of his passion; through him
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.

The prayers

Lord Jesus Christ, as we kneel at the foot of your cross,
help us to see and know your love for us, so that we may place at your feet
all that we have and are.

Lord Jesus Chirst, crucified fo us,
we kneel at the foot of your cross to watch with you.
Help us to see the cost of our forgiveness so that we may be made
new through your love.

Merciful God, creator of all the peoples of the earth and lover of every soul;
have compassion on all who do not know you,
let your gospel be preached with grace and power
to those who have not heard it,
turn the hearts of those who oppose it,
and bring home to your fold all who have gone astray;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Thursday, April 05, 2007

...even this little piggy.... Holy Thursday


Oh, THOSE things one might say. The nails grow brittle or yellow or thick with age. The toes, heck, the whole darn foot swells by afternoon if you haven't put your feet up.

Oh, and there are those toes Some long and skinny, some peanut looking, some cashew looking, some brazil looking, some acorn looking. Oh, those nutty looking toes. In our youth, we women squashed our toes into pointy shoes that (with metal detailing) could be deadly weapons.

But at middle age, OH, look at them NOW. They may not grow longer but they nearly always grow wider. There are calouses and buyons and corns and ingrown toenails that defy the simple nail cutter you once used adeptly (when you could either bend over or could bend them closer up to you). Just one look at a Bulgarian contortionist in the Cirque de Soleil and I know they don't have a problem with a self pedicure.

But let's face it, the vast majority of us would not consider our feet our most alluring body part.

If you've every had the guilty pleasure of watching Family Feud in any one of its many reincarnations on TV, you know that.... when polled as the entire audience that rolled into the recording studio one day and asked what their most attractive body part was, you can lay money that the jovial host, when revealing the top percentile answer did not cheerily warble: "....and the survey says...........MY FEET!"

Unless you have had - in your arms - a newborn or an infant of your own (or on loan) and you gently peel back the blankey to reveal those perhaps puffy, perhaps wrinkly, teeny tiny miniscule extremely small, delicate, beautifully formed miracles with even teenier tinier five curved under little nubbettes at the end of your own beautiful childs' precious body, feet are not something to "oooo" and "aaaaaaaaaahhh" at.

That all being put out there as pedestrian (pardon the pun) fact, let's time travel back to the time of Jesus. You will not see Air Jordans, or Manolo Blahnik Patent leather pumps.

Think more along the lines of bare feet, a leather flip-flop or an upscale simple slipper style. No socks....
and the transportation by in large? By foot. Gives 'being on your feet all day' a more true ring.

After a long day in the carpenter's shop or the fields or the marketplace or the temple you came home, and washed your feet...... that is, if you had no money. If you were flush, your slave or servant - but the lowest, least important one as given the task of washing off your nasty feet for you.... and do a good job of it, too.

Now let's flip forward to the seder we are focused on during Holy Week. The group rented a room - so they had someone wash their feet already. And the feet at that table..... more than half of them belonged to men who - for the majority of their lives had been fishermen. Fishermen. Face it folks, to this day if you bake or fry fresh fish in your house to this modern day - no matter how wonderful your exhaust system or the amount of "OUST" you can pump into the air at 3 minute intervals..... our house reeks of fish for a week and a half.

Peter's feet must have been a sight - a rather ugly sight - bruises, rope burns from the fishing nets, cuts and puncture wounds from knives, cracked- black and blue nails, callouses.... and the cellular residue of fish up 3 inches past the ankle for hours at a time for years, like his father before him. Multiply that by 6 people (12 feet)

During the supper when he instituted the Eucharist a heated discussion broke out (if you read all the Gospels, this was quite a competitive, ego-centric group) amount the disciples on who was the greatest. A hush fell on the crowd when Jesus said (translated to today's vernacular) "Do you want to see what greatness looks like? Do you want to be the greatest among your peers? Do this." He got up, pulled off his tunic, tucked a towel into his waistband, got a pitcher and bowl and came to Peter to wash his feet.

Peter protested - you are the greatest, get up, stop joking with us - I'm not going to let you wash my feet! He finally caved in - in his typical all or nothing manner. Jesus got down on both knees, got his face close enough to see what he was doing (and have a good whiff), took Peter's foot, poured water over it, massaged all the aches, bumps, lumps and injuries then tenderly dried it just as you would a baby's tiny foot, drying each toe, even the spaces in between and repeated the act of love on the other foot.

Jesus did this for each at the table.... washed his hands, put his clothes back on, sat down and said "You've called me Rabbi, Teacher and I have done this to you. If I - whom you have called the greatest - have done this, then you have learned another lesson in love. The greatest one who loves truly among you will be the servant of all".

It's now time for you to show your unconditional love by washing someone else's feet - and show your loving vulnerability by revealing something usually hidden to someone else. Follow the Master's lead - wash and be washed. If you had been at that single table at that seder meal so long ago, he would have washed your feet.... after all, he made each of your toes, regardless of their mileage or shape..... each little piggy on your foot.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Passion Sunday: A dramatic interpretation for congregational or personal use

The Fifth Sunday in Lent is Passion Sunday (yet more often than not, called Palm Sunday) - the Sunday when a Gospel account of the Passion is read.

As I am writing this much later than I expected to either write or post it, may I suggest that you use it as a personal devotion this week

The Passion of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ according to Luke

Narr:When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him.

Jesus:I have waited years to eat this special Passover with you. It is the last meal I eat until after you will see me with new eyes.(taking a cup of wine) Blessed are you, Lord God, King of all that is, who has created the Vine and the fruit of the vine to make our hearts glad. Thank you for this gift. (passing the cup) Take and drink this which has become a part of me: share it among yourselves. I will drink with you again at the appointed time.

taking the unleavened bread) Blessed are you, Lord God, King of all that is, who has created the seed and the grain that we may be sustained. (Breaks the bread) Thank you for this gift. (passing on the matzoh) Take and eat this which has become a part of me: share it among yourselves. I will eat with you again at the appointed time.

Narr: When the bread and wine had gone around the table, each serving one another, they were placed before him. He then ate and drank the remainders of the bread and wine himself as he waited for the others to finish and settle down. He then explained to them the new meaning of the ritual passover tradition they had participated in.

Jesus: A new covenant has come into being with all of you. The wine you drank has become my blood which will be sacrificed, the bread you have eaten has become my body which will be sacrificed. Burnt offerings and animal sacrifice for sin and transgressions will no longer hold the same significance for you. My own sacrifice for you and all who become one with me will be holy and pleasing to God. From now on, Whenever you have this meal do it in remembrance of me.

Narr: Jesus paused as the disciples silently began the rest of the meal and said calmly

Jesus: The one who is to betray me sits at this very table.

Narr: They protested in what they just heard, first quietly,then raising their voices, first asking Jesus if they would be the one to do such a thing, then turning to each other, pointing fingers of accusation and anger at each other, recalling past failings or errors. When it became too uncomfortable to continue this way, each began defending themselves and their honor,justifying their strong relationship to Jesus with examples of their level of responsibility, piety and loyalty to him, and the good deeds they had done, claiming title to be his most prominent and devoted disciple.

Jesus: How is it now you wonder who among you is the the favorite,the most gifted,the most powerful? Do you believe leadership, authority and respect is shown by being served and doted upon by others and not modeling a holy life of gratitude?
If you believe this, than how can it be that I have served and taught you over these years,tending to your minds, your needs and your hearts? I who you call teacher, rabbi. No. True authority comes from the good and the God with you. If you will lead, be a leader by serving - both each other and the stranger who comes to you, without regard to their wealth or position in society. [Pause]

Narr: Jesus continued

Jesus: I entrust you now with an even greater level of authority. As you have been with me thusfar on this journey, I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a place in the Kingdom of the Almighty, all Merciful God,so that you will be with me there to eat and drink at my table in my eternal kingdom.

Narr: They all took some cheer in this statement and began speaking with relief to one another. Jesus motioned for Simon Peter to come closer. Touching him on the shoulder and looking him squarely in the eyes, Jesus said to him in a quiet voice - just above a whisper-

Jesus: Simon, dear brother,listen carefully to me. You will be sorely tested over the next several days. I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; despite your anger, pain,humiliation, fear and despair I pray that once you have embraced your sorrow and understand I have forgiven you, you will return home - back to your community - and be a source of strength for your brothers.

Narr: Peter, in his predictable, direct and unequivocal way blurted out loudly:

Peter: Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!

Narr: The others, with less bravado, offered their assurances of their loyalty to Jesus- who- while the others were still speaking and distracted - looked again directly at Peter and calmly, quietly said

Jesus: Peter, remember this when I say that the before the cock crows in the morning you will have denied that you have ever known me three times.

Narr: Dumbstruck and recalling he had said things that had displeased Jesus in the past, Peter went back to bench where he had been sitting and slowly began eating his dinner. Things had quieted down somewhat. Jesus began to speak- first, it would seem, just to check on the disciples recollection of their earlier attempt at being sent out, two by two, about a year earlier.

Jesus: The time I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?

Discs: [individually, some at the same time] No, not a thing. We had what we needed.

Jesus: Today, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. All must be done that the passage '..And he was counted among the lawless is fulfilled; indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.

Narr: Confused, thinking some things were needed for the group, they replied,

Discs: Well, among us there are two swords.

Jesus: Yes, that is more than enough.

Narr: At that point, Judas left - with the communal purse and a bag. The meal was over. Jesus gathered his things and left the room to go for a walk, as was his custom. He headed toward the the Mount of Olives and the disciples followed him, bringing along a sword.[pause] When he reached the place, Jesus said to them,

Jesus: Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.

Narr: They settled down there, talking quietly and praying among themselves. Jesus continued up a winding path to a group of trees and bushes, about a stone's throw from the rest of them, knelt down, and prayed,

Jesus: Abba, Father: I know that even now that all things with you are possible. If you are willing, remove this cup from me.

Narr: There was only the sound of a light breeze, but Jesus heard no direct response to his request. Taking a deep breath he continued determined and intentionally -

Jesus: ...yet NOT my will, but YOURS be done.

Narr: Moments later, an angelic messenger appeared to him,giving him courage and strength. Despite this, he prayed more earnestly, so much that in his pain and fear,he broke out in an agonized sweat that became like his lifeblood falling down on the ground in large drops. [pause] Having gathered his strength somewhat, he walked down where he had left his disciples and found them all sleeping, exhausted from the unusual passover meal they had shared. In disbelief of their lack of understanding about what was happening, he tried to arouse them, speaking in a loud voice:

Jesus: Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial!

Narr: While he was still speaking, they noticed a crowd came toward them, with the disciple Judas, leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him;Jesus,aware that this was the signal to the temple police within the crowd which one of them it was to arrest, made no attempt to dismiss Judas. [pause] When Judas had kissed one of his cheeks, Jesus spoke into Judas' ear, saying

Jesus: Is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?

Narr: Judas immediately looked down and backed away, slowly at first and then ran out of the garden, becoming lost in the darkness. The other disciples finally understood that Jesus was being physically taken from them shouted,

Discs: Lord!! Should we strike with the sword?

Narr: Without waiting for an answer,one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. Horrified, Jesus admonished them:

Jesus: Stop! No more of this!

Narr: Even in the confusion, Jesus bent down, scooped up the ear, placed it back on the screaming slave's head and healed him. Turning to his captors, the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, he said sarcastically

Jesus: Have you come out with whips and clubs - in the night - as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay even a hand on me. No. You chose this hour, and the power of darkness!

Narr: Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house. But Peter was following at a distance. After the main party took Jesus within the house, the others kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together talking about the success of their mission with Peter among them. A servant-girl, recognizing Peter by firelight, stared at him and said aloud to one of the elders, nodding her head in Peter's direction

Girl: This man also was with that bunch.

Narr: But Peter looked aside and with a dismissive air denied it, saying,

Peter: You're mistaken, I don't even know him.

Narr: A little later someone else, on seeing Peter, said:

Man: Yes, you do look familiar. You are one of them

Peter: What! Side with a servant? It's not true,I am not one of them!

Narr: People came and went, but an hour later still another agreed with the earlier testimonies.

Man: This man has to be in that insurgent group with the troublemaker. Listen to that accent! He is certainly a Galilean!

Peter: How many times must I tell you all. I'm not 'one of them', I don't know who 'he' is and I do not know what you are talking about!

Narr: At that very moment, while the words still hung in the air, the cock crowed. The ranking police brought Jesus out of the high priest's house, hands tied behind him, pushing and pulling him by his clothing. In a space in between the barrier of people and guards, the Lord turned and glanced at the fire and Peter beside it. Instantly Peter remembered the words of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny knowing me three times." [Pause] Peter's heart was torn within him. He left the fireside, the group and the gathered crowd. As soon as he was far enough away, back in the Garden, he became inconsolable and sobbed and moaned bitterly at his lies and denial, feeling the weight of having betrayed the trust of Jesus.[pause]

At the same time, the police and guards who were ordered to guard Jesus began to mistreat him physically and emotionally by beating him. Then, blindfolding him they would poke at him and pull away, disguising their voices, shrieking at him:

Guards: Oh, mighty lord... {thwack} tell us now who has touched you! What is her name? Pour out your wrath on the man who struck you and strike them dead with a simple thought!

Narr: All the night through they tormented him this and other ways, insulting him, his God and his family, laughing themselves to tears in their tortured malice at a man who was unarmed, bound and completely at their mercy. [Pause]

When daylight had come, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they has Jesus dragged into their council meeting. They shouted:

Ch.Prs: If YOU are the Messiah, tell us.

Jesus: (stating his dilemma clearly but quietly)If I tell you 'YES', you will not believe; and if I ask you plainly what you mean by posing this question, you will not answer. Instead,I will tell you that from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.

Narr: Angry, frustrated that they were not able to force him to go against the letter of the Law of Moses they all converged on him asking, in another manner

Ch.Prs: Are you, then, the Son of God?

Jesus: It is you who say or imply that I am.

Ch.Prs: Ha! He admits it! What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!

Narr: Those in authority rose from their seats of honor, gathered briefly to discuss their next move and descended down the steps to the accused and the abusive temple police, motioning at them to turn Jesus around and head, in one body - the sanctified separated from the common people and the accused - and went to the governing hall of the occupying Roman civil authority within Jerusalem. The provincial ruler's name was Pilate.

There began assembling around this unusual party onlookers and curiosity seekers, always attentive to any public foment of the Jews disdain of their Roman overseers. The scribes and priests spoke first, being careful not to touch or go near Jesus who they treated as profane.

Ch.Prs: We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king!

Narr: Looking at the rather pathetic bruised shell of a man before him, Pilate asked Jesus directly:

Pilate: Are YOU the king of the Jews?

Jesus: These words come from your lips, not mine. You say so.

Pilate: [addressing the growing crowd] I find no basis for an accusation against this man.

Narr: Not expecting this reply, the scribes and priests quickly decided to become more animated and agitated, stirring up the crowd in the process. As if to muster more credibility by speaking louder, they became all the more insistent with other accusations.

Ch.Prs: But he stirs up the people by teaching and promoting this protest throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to Jerusalem, this seat of government.

Narr: Pilate was not interested in getting involved in local sectarian matters and disliked getting embroiled in matters outside of his jurisdiction - particularly with local religious figures.

Pilate: Did you say he is a Galilean? If so, I am not the Roman representative you must deal with. Take him instead and let Herod, the proper Roman authority in this matter, hear this case.

Narr: Off the party went, gathering the curious and the rabble rousers,ready for any fight,along the route. Herod was himself in Jerusalem at that time and it wasn't long before the ragtag parade arrived at Herod's temporary accommodations. [pause] There had long been bad blood between Herod's ancestors and the disciples of Jesus. When Herod saw the battered,dirty 'prophet' who was purported to have performed all matter of miracles standing there - submissive before him - he was very glad.

Herod: So, prophet - why are you here? If you are so beloved, where is your loyal following? Have you gotten yourself into trouble and need my puny, mortal help?

Narr: Although he questioned, taunted and harassed Jesus at some length, Jesus made no reply. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him of many transgressions. Lastly, in a stroke of sarcastic contempt, Herod with his soldiers mocked him by covering Jesus in an elegant robe, feigning homage. This insult had no effect. Finally bored, Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate. With this act of contempt Herod and Pilate became friends for they now shared the same enemy. The ugly crowd made its way back to Pilate's place of government. He called all the chief priests, the leaders, and the people together and said,

Pilate: You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of the charges you brought against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. Instead, I will therefore have him flogged and release him.

Narr: When the religious leaders in power saw that they were failing to have Jesus eliminated they had to act quickly. After all, he was within their grasp and they were not about to let him leave alive, able to continue to diminishing their place and power in society by spreading the good news of the empowerment and love of God to women and other outcasts. They appealed to the mob which by now was gathered, starting dissent by passing out coins to bribe them and beginning to chant among them, until it became a shouting roar

Crowd: Away with this revolutionary fellow! Release Barabbas for us!

Narr: This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder. Pilate understood there was some other motivation involved here and attempted to regain the order and release Jesus, but the crowd drowned out his words, chanting, screaming in menacing, ever increasing intensity:

Crowd: Crucify, crucify him!

Narr: A third time Pilate tried to reason with them, repeating the punishment he had earlier decreed.

Pilate: Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; the punishment stands at a public flogging and release from custody.

Narr: The throbbing angry mob kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that Jesus should be crucified; Pilate, hoarse, weary and worried that the mob would spill into mass civil unrest allowed their voices to prevail and granted their demand: the verdict was now death by crucifixion. Pilate released the murderer Barabbas and handed over Jesus to be killed. [Pause] As the soldiers led him away they dragged a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who had come in to Jerusalem from the countryside, laid the cross on his shoulder,and made him carry it behind Jesus. Many women walked along, parallel behind the human barricade that had formed on the path of sorrows. They cried and wailed in pain and grief. Jesus, slowly turned toward them, saying

Jesus: Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed. Wishing they had not known these times, they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us'; and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if this evil can be done to me now - when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?

Narr: The police broke up this interaction and pushed Jesus forward along with two others, criminals who were to be crucified along with him. They walked the winding passage ways up inclines and down again until they were outside of the city walls. Finally they came to the place that is called The Skull, a common site for public humiliation, punishment and execution. The three were crucified: Jesus with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. They were lashed to crosses, then nails forced through their flesh and bones. Jesus, struggling for breath, said

Jesus: Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And the police and soldiers gambled to see who would win his home-woven clothing.

Nar: A small group of people stood by, watching the painful scene; a few leaders among them scoffed at Jesus,saying among themselves,

Lead: He saved others; why can't he save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one?

Narr: The soldiers on duty also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, at the end of a spear saying,

Sold: If you are the King of the Jews, like the inscription above you says, save yourself

Narr: One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding Jesus saying,

Crim1: Are you not the Messiah? DO SOMETHING - MAKE A MIRACLE - Save yourself and us!

Narr: But the other criminal rebuked him, saying,

Crim2: Do you not fear God? We commited crimes and have earned punishment. He has done nothing wrong and is completely innocent. [pause] Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Jesus: You will be with me in today in Paradise.

Narr: It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. As the sun's light failed the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus then, mustering his remaining strength, cried in a loud voice

Jesus: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

Narr: Having said this, he breathed his last. When the Roman centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said,

Cent: Certainly this man was innocent.

Narr: When the groups who had gathered there for this spectacle saw and heard this, they went home, beating their breasts, grieving. But those who knew him closely, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. A good man named Joseph who was a member of the council but had not agreed to pursue a case against Jesus went personally to Pilate to askfor Jesus' body, which Pilate granted. They took the body down, wrapped it in a special linen cloth, and laid it in Joseph's own rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Because the sabbath was falling, they could do nothing more with the body. They returned back to the room and, in the small time allotted, prepared spices and ointments. At the commencement of the sabbath they rested according to their commandment's tradition.

Copyright © 2007 K.L.Joanna Depue and Deacon J on

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Shabbes Goy

This story was passed on to me by Barbara - who had received it from her friend, Ginny - whose sister had become a late-in-life convert to Judaism.

Passover begins today - what a wonderful time to pass on (not over)a touching story such as this.

Thank you to the many hands to pass the story this far, and particular thanks to Mr. Joe Velarde who wrote it originally. Enjoy already.

The Shabbes Goy, by Joe Velarde (a pleasant read in a troubled world)

(NB: Joe Velarde became the fencing coach of Columbia University in the
1940's-50s & was an early advocate of civil rights in sports, eventually retiring to California

Snow came early in the winter of 1933 when our extended Cuban family moved into the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. I was ten years old. We were the first Spanish speakers to arrive, yet we fit more or less easily into that crowded, multicultural neighborhood.

Soon we began learning a little Italian, a few Greek and Polish words, lots of Yiddish & some heavily accented English.

I first heard the expression "Shabbes is falling" when Mr. Rosenthal refused to open the door of his dry goods store on Bedford Avenue. My mother had sent me with a dime to buy a pair of black socks for my father. In those days, men wore mostly black and Navy blue. Brown and gray were somehow special & cost more.

Mr. Rosenthal stood inside the locked door,arms folded, glaring at me through the thick glass while a heavy snow & darkness began to fall on a Friday evening. "We're closed, already", Mr Rosenthal had said, shaking his head, "can't you see that Shabbes is falling? Don't be a nudnik! Go home."

I could feel the cold wetness covering my head & thought that Shabbes was the Jewish word for snow.

My misperception of Shabbes didn't last long, however, as the area's dominant culture soon became apparent; Gentiles were the minority. From then on, as Shabbes fell with its immutable regularity & Jewish lore took over the life of the neighborhood, I came to realize that so many human activities, ordinarily mundane at any other time, ceased, & a palpable silence, a pleasant tranquillity, fell over all of us. It was then that a family with an urgent need would dispatch a youngster to "get the Spanish boy, & hurry."

That was me. In time, I stopped being nameless & became Yussel, sometimes Yuss or Yusseleh. And so began my life as a Shabbes Goy, voluntarily doing chores for my neighbors on Friday nights & Saturdays: lighting stoves, running errands, getting a prescription for an old tante, stoking coal furnaces, putting lights on or out,
clearing snow & ice from slippery sidewalks & stoops. Doing just about anything that was forbidden to the devout by their religious code.

Friday afternoons were special. I'd walk home from school assailed by the rich aroma emanating from Jewish kitchens preparing that evening's special menu. By now, I had developed a list of steady "clients," Jewish families who depended on me. Furnaces, in particular, demanded frequent tending during Brooklyn's many freezing

I shudder remembering brutally cold winds blowing off the East River. Anticipation ran high as I thought of the warm home-baked treats I'd bring home that night after my Shabbes rounds were over. Thanks to me, my entire family had become Jewish pastry junkies. Moi? I'm still addicted to checkerboard cake, halvah & Egg Creams (made only with Fox's Ubet chocolate syrup).

I remember as if it were yesterday how I discovered that Jews were the smartest people in the world. You see, in our Cuban household we all loved the ends of bread loaves &, to keep peace, my father always decided who would get them. One harsh winter night I was rewarded for my Shabbes ministrations with a loaf of warm challah (we pronounced it "holly") & I knew I was witnessing genius! Who else could have
invented a bread that had wonderfully crusted ends all over it - enough for everyone in a large family?

There was an "International" aspect to my teen years in Williamsburg. The Sternberg family had two sons who had fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain. Whenever we kids could get their attention, they'd spellbind us with tales of hazardous adventures in the Spanish Civil War.

These twenty-something war veterans also introduced us to a novel way of thinking, one that embraced such humane ideas as 'From each according to his means & to each according to his needs'. In retrospect, this innocent exposure to a different philosophy was the starting point of a journey that would also incorporate the concept of Tzedakah in my personal guide to the world.

In what historians would later call The Great Depression, a nickel was a lot of mazuma & its economic power could buy a brand new Spaldeen, our local name for the pink-colored rubber ball then produced by the Spalding Company.

The famous Spaldeen was central to our endless street games: stickball & punchball or the simpler stoopball. One balmy summer evenings our youthful fantasies converted South Tenth Street into Ebbets Field with the Dodgers' Dolph Camilli swinging a broom handle at a viciously curving Spaldeen thrown by the Giants' great lefty, Carl
Hubbell. We really thought it curved, I swear.

Our neighbors, magically transformed into spectators kibitzing from their brownstone stoops & windows, were treated to a unique version of major league baseball.

My tenure as the resident Shabbes Goy came to an abrupt end after Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941. I withdrew from Brooklyn College the following day & joined the U.S. Army. In June of 1944, the Army Air Corps shipped me home after flying sixty combat missions over Italy & the Balkans.

I was overwhelmed to find that several of my Jewish friends & neighbors had set a place for me at their supper tables every Shabbes throughout my absence, including me in their prayers. What mitzvot!

My homecoming was highlighted by wonderful invitations to dinner. Can you imagine the effect after twenty-two months of Army field rations?

As my post-World War II life developed, the nature of the association I'd had with Jewish families during my formative years became clearer. I had learned the meaning of friendship, of loyalty, & of honor and respect. I discovered obedience without subservience. And caring about all living things had become as natural as breathing.

The worth of a strong work ethic & of purposeful dedication was manifest. Love of learning blossomed & I began to set higher standards for my developing skills, & loftier goals for future activities & dreams.

Mind, none of this was the result of any sort of formal instruction; my yeshiva had been the neighborhood. I learned these things, absorbed them actually says it better, by association & role modeling, by pursuing curious inquiry, & by what educators called "incidental learning" in the crucible that was pre-World War II Williamsburg. It seems many of life's most elemental lessons are learned this way.

While my parents' Cuban home sheltered me with warm, intimate affection & provided for my well-being & self esteem, the group of Jewish families I came to know & help in the Williamsburg of the 1930s was a surrogate tribe that abetted my teenage rite of passage to adulthood. One might even say we had experienced a special kind of Bar

I couldn't explain then the concept of tikkun olam, but I realized as I matured how well I had been oriented by the Jewish experience to live it & to apply it. What a truly uplifting outlook on life it is to be genuinely motivated "to repair the world."

In these twilight years when my good wife is occasionally told, "Your husband is a funny man," I'm aware that my humor has its roots in the shticks of Second Avenue Yiddish Theater, entertainers at Catskill summer resorts & their many imitators.

And, when I argue issues of human or civil rights & am cautioned about showing too much zeal, I recall how chutzpah first flourished on Williamsburg sidewalks, competing for filberts (hazelnuts) with tough kids wearing payess & yarmulkes.

Along the way I played chess & one-wall handball, learned to fence,listened to Rimsky-Korsakov, ate roasted chestnuts, read Maimonides & studied Saul Alinsky.

I am ever grateful for having had the opportunity to be a Shabbes Goy.

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