The Colorado Journals
Rocky Mountain Chai

During the year I was in Colorado, I wrote a series of journals about the amazing people, places, opportunities to learn and grow I was afforded.  Just reading them over again brought tears to my eyes - what an amazing experience!  Get a cup of tea, and happy reading!


Sept. 19, 2002
In the beginning……

Dear Gang:

Driving to school today, I saw the snow on the Rockies.  Wow - what a concept!  It's still in the 90s at home.  It's early for snow, but they are pretty happy to have any kind of precipitation. The drought here is the worst in 100 years and everyone is being very careful about water.  I was pretty thrilled to see the snow!  It's elk rutting season and the bugling is supposed to be pretty fantastic.  I may head up to Rocky Mountain NP this weekend.  The aspens are glowing a bit early, too - due to stress from the drought.  Autumn..... what a concept!

But, back to the beginning......  I arrived, pretty exhausted, but elated, at 8:00 in the morning the day after Yom Kippur, which went really well. Mark had already driven my stuff up.

My Camry, Bette, (bought for $1500 from my Doc. just a few months before specifically for this year in Colorado) has been fabulous It was in the exact location Mark said it would be, filled with gas.  I drove to the apt. in Lakewood (about an hour's drive) and was shocked and amazed to find that Mark had set most of it up for me, including some beautiful touches like a new computer desk and bookshelves, freshly ground coffee in the freezer and a very sweet and supportive note.  He bought me a tool set and a kitchen garbage can.  He placed golden aspen leaves on the counter. My Shabbat candlesticks were out and prominently displayed.  I cried - it was such a beautiful thing. I talked to my Rabbi, Eliot Baskin, that day and asked him if there was a Jewish expression for making something wonderful happen for another person, even though supporting that something wonderful was affecting you in a difficult way.  We're working on coming up with something in Hebrew or Yiddish, but my sister Vicki in Jerusalem called it "love."

I made a trial run drive to University of Denver to figure out where my class was, meet my prof. and the director of the Center for Judaic studies, and get a feel for things.  Everyone was warm and welcoming and I had immediate Kesher with my professor, Uri Neil, who is a sabra and a chazzan for a congregation in Cheyenne.  Yep, Wyoming - about 2 hours north.

I slept in my very comfy blow-up bed, and since I had forgotten to pack a clock radio, I've been using my cell phone for an alarm.  I went to bed at 9:00 and woke up at 5:30 to the lovely sounds of the dumpster truck picking up the dumpster contents outside my window, Ah, apartment living!

I left very early (7:15 to make a 9:00 class) because the Denver traffic really sucks.  It only took 1/2 an hour, so I parked and headed to Bruegger's up the street.  My Hebrew class is pretty challenging. Although I know a lot of Hebrew, I have no clue as to the grammatical structure of it all. The college students, are great - one of the stars of the DU woman's basketball team is in the class.  She wants to read the Old Testament in it’s original language someday, she says. There's another auditor, an African-American woman named Angela, who is about to become "Bat Mitzvah v'Y'shua."  She's a Messianic Jew - I had never heard that term before. And there are some other wonderful auditors – from all walks of life and segments of the Jewish community. Uri Neil really draws them in.

Today in class, Uri was saying something about fall Texas. He thought I was from Houston. When I corrected him, a student behind me said, "I'm from Austin, too."  It was Drew Bonder, who graduated a year ahead of Jesse, and is a friend of hers. What a hoot!  I was later in Uri's office and had handed him my CD for his long drives (he also teaches Hebrew at University of Colorado in Boulder) and another student came in to talk to him.  He absent-mindedly looked at the CD and said: "I have that CD.  It's in my car right now.  I think Robbi Sherwin's music is just great, you will enjoy that."  I could have caught flies in my mouth, it was so agape.  I turned to him and said, "that's my CD."  He said, "You'll like it - it's lots of fun and OHMYGOD!  ITS YOU!"  You could have knocked us both over with a feather.  His Dad had heard me at CAJE and bought his son a copy as a going away present for college.  The kid, Ayli, is from St. Louis and is the president of the local Hillel.  LOL!

Earlier that day, I went to a hippie-like locally owned, free-trade coffee place, Kaladi Brothers coffee,  and they told me what their specialty was and gave me a cup. Free of charge.  "Welcome to Colorado!" they said.  It's been like that all over, despite the Texas license plates.

Now, the only grey spot:  the Denver JCC, where they not only won't give me a clergy membership, ("only for Rabbis") but there's no reciprocity w/any other JCC, and I have to sign a year contract with a steep penalty if I break it.  I explained the situation - I'm a student, a cantor serving Beth Evergreen, only here until June, etc.  No exceptions he said.  Not nice.  The kid working there told me there were so many JCCs closing, that they had to run the place like a business. I asked him what about running it like a mensch.  I said it nicely.  I will pursue this and let you know what comes of it.  It's an AMAZING JCC - there are 70,000 Jews in Denver.  And a lot of money.  The Arts complex is outstanding.


I have great furniture  - except the bedroom set which will come later when my good friend, Stacey Singer,  - a CAJE connection) has her new set that is being custom-made. Last night, I drove a big rental Ryder truck all over Denver, in the rain, to pick up stuff. The apt. is GREAT.  Two bedrooms - I'm writing this in the study -  clean, remodeled, new appliances, great balcony w/overhanging tree that makes a perfect natural sukkah.  It's owned by a congregant and he gave me a great discount and a monthly lease. I am also very close to my friend for 20 years, Deborah  Buckley, who is outfitting me, since I didn't expect cooler weather quite so soon.

I should start w/Cantor Goldstein next week - in the meantime, the word is out that I am here and I'm starting to get tutoring jobs - I charge $35-40 an hour, and that's how I'll pay my rent.  I have my first service w/Beth Evergreen tomorrow night for Sukkot. It is going to be very busy.  I do a concert in Dallas this weekend, and return to Austin for my first weekend home, on Oct. 3.

So, shalom all - have a great Sukkot - all my phone numbers are working.  After 8:00 Mountain time, if you can't reach my on my home number, my cell has a whole lotta minutes on it and it's a national plan. So, call away!

I miss you all and can't wait for you to come visit! Hint, hint!

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach!
Love, Robbi


Congregation Beth Evergreen
Sept. 25, 2002

I probably won't write this frequently once I delve into all the challenges here, but I wanted to share my experience with my new congregation, Beth Evergreen.

Right before I left, I made my sukkah on my mirpeset (balcony) - just like the Israelis!  In Israel, every apt. home has a balcony, many with retracting lattice-like roofs, so the skhaukh (creative tranlisteration, eh? - greenery) can be placed on top.  My balcony already had the requisite 3 sides (four if you count the railing) and a huge tree that overhangs it.  So I tied my fake fruit (you can take the girl out of Texas, but you can't take the Texas out of the girl........) from the branches of the tree, set up the card table and chairs St. Mark had bought me and had an early meal.  This morning, my friend, Deborah Buckley, is coming over for tea in the sukkah before we go to services at her shul, Kohelet.  I don't have a lulav and etrog, but maybe I can score one.  I left the great pineapple, chili pepper, carrot and other fruit light sets back in Austin, so my sukkah here is "unplugged."  Of course, that would REALLY draw the neighbors attention!

Congregation Beth  Evergreen is located in, well.....Evergreen, a tony bedroom community west of Denver in the mountains.  John Hinckley (assassination attempt on Reagan) was raised here, and Berke Breathed (Academia Waltz, Bloom County) also lived here.  The author and screenwriter of “Ten Rules for Dating my Teenage Daughter” is also here. It is beautiful, funky, wealthy - with an incredible lake that freezes over in the winter and becomes a fabulous ice skating lake.  It's also famous for the Little Bear saloon, a funky biker bar which books the very top acts in folk music.  It's decorated copiously in bras all over the celing. Evergreen was also was noted to be an artists colony, before it was yuppified.

Cong. Beth Evergreen was started in the 70s (it's about 26 years old) in the living room of some of those artists.  Most notably, the author Joanne Greenberg (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden) was a founding member and is still very active in the shul, teaching the B'nai Mitzvah.  They have been meeting, free of charge, in a Methodist church for 20 years.  The hired their first Rabbi, a funny, punny, energetic man from Toronto, just four years ago. He is an HUC (Reform seminary) grad and classmate of  Steven Folberg's. Eliot Baskin is a cantor's dream - open, learned, humorous and very supportive.  We first made a great kesher when I was here for the Colorado Association of Jewish Educators' (CAJE) mini-conference and my friend, Julie Silver, was playing.  She invited me to come sing w/her at this funky congregation in Evergreen, and Steve Brodsky, another Jewish recording artist friend of mine (Mah Tovu) was singing, as well.  I'm not sure what happened that night, but I remember being surrounded by these wonderful people asking if I was available. That was 3 years ago.  A relationship was born.

I made several trips up here since and have led services with Eliot for CBE probably about 5 or 6 times since then.  I really fell in love with the place and the people - they are from all different backgrounds, - and have always made me feel so very welcome.  They have a website:

Last night was Erev Sukkot and they had decided to hold a potluck and service in a sukkah they built on "The Site," which is currently concrete and framing, soon to be a BEAUTIFUL synagogue.  It's all wood and glass and light and of course, has gorgeous mountain views. They are hoping to have it done by next HH days - I would love for it to be done before I return to Texas in July.

The sukkah was nestled into the building and was probably 10' by 10' lattice work.  We arrived at The Site, which was pure dirt, concrete and 2x4s and were greeted by bulldozers, trying to get some work finished for the weekend.  The "Food Chair" of the congregation, Susan, was busy setting up tables, Alan and Cheri Rubin, the Ritual chairs, were helping kids decorate, I was trying to stay warm (the temp drops quickly there and was headed for the 40s) and people were arriving with fabulous food.

I went inside the building and looked out from the basement/ classroom area, saw the sun going down over the Rockies, breathed the fresh mountain air, and looked in amazement as Susan kept bringing out tray after tray of beautifully arranged food, a coffee maker, hot cider - you name it AT A CONSTRUCTION SITE!  As Eliot said later, anyone can do a nice dinner in a social hall - it takes someone special to do it at a construction site!

The bulldozers kept roaring back and forth and I swear it was a scene from a Fellini movie.  Or maybe  Woody Allen on dope.

The meal was great - the Sukkot service included some Hallel, Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" and Pete Seeger's "Turn, Turn, Turn." Almost Kol Halev-ish.  Which reminds, me, CBE is also considered post-denominational, like Kol Halev.  If it affiliates, will probably be Reconstructionist. They use the Recon. prayer books.

The huge harvest/holiday moon rose behind us at the end of the service.  On the way back down the mountain, it was blinding me.

Sukkat shalom,


Sinai calls; Denver-Dallas-Denver

That's hardly sums it up - the last week has been filled with one delight and discovery after another.......

The Sunday before last I headed up towards Guanella Pass, near Georgetown, CO and saw the golden, quivering aspen.  It's pretty indescribable, but gorgeous. That sun-hitting-the-pine-needles scent practically makes me swoon.  I have to promise myself to get to the mountains for recreation more frequently.

I've spent a lot of time trying to beat the traffic - it's a balagan out here. It's a good thing I put a new stereo in Bette - I'm catching up on some music I've been wanting to listen to, but I REALLY miss KUT - my hometown Public Radio station....So, back to the traffic: They have a huge expansion project along the I-25 corridor known as "T-Rex." And of course, I have to use I-25 all the time. Daily.  I leave way early (7:15) for a 9:00 class, head to Bruegger's or this funky coffee shop, Kaladi's, sit/study and schmooze for the hour before class. Today, I ran into a Greene Family Camp kid from Ft. Worth, Heather Chudd, and found out a bunch of GFC alums are also attending the U of Denver! (For those of you who might know... also Erin Finegold and Kara Lampe).

Last Thursday, Temple Sinai, a 1200 family Reform shul, fired their new cantor after her 90 day probation period was up.  I know this congregation and Rabbi well, and today he called and I'm going to fill in as much as I can with my schedule w/Beth Evergreen.  My first set of services are next weekend. It will be interesting being on a Reform bima again - but I'm excited about it and I need the $$!  I love Ray Zwerin, the Rabbi.  It's ironic because I auditioned for this pulpit 3 years ago, but the time wasn't right for me to move there.  The job went to my good friend, the immensely talented Angela Gold, who is now at a congregation in Hong Kong.

So, I get on a plane Friday afternoon and head to Dallas for a big weekend installing my good friend, David Lyon, as Senior Rabbi of Temple Shalom.  I'm picked up from the airport by my one of da Goyles, Carole Robberson, we schmooze with an old friend (Tina Luzzato Epstein - a very well-know ceramicist (sp?).  I get dressed and head to a lovely dinner at a fancy racquet club and am seated by Mike and Lenore Hausman (Parent's of my friend/Dr. Sharon Hausman-Cohen – former owner of my car, Bette) as well as the Leimans,  the in-laws of Rabbi Dunsker in Austin!  All these Austin connections. The installation was a real tear-jerker - it's an awesome congregation - I would join if I was in Dallas. The next day, I did a concert w/Loui Dobin, director of Greene family camp and we had a blast.  We had a 6-piece Klezmer band backing us - they came out in celebration of Simchat Torah.  I hung out with him in the President's Club at DFW, and 26 hours later, I'm back in Denver.

Zipping away in "Bette” my Camry, I head to Beth Evergreen, get caught in traffic (on Saturday at 4:00 in the afternoon!)  and make it in time to do Simchat Torah there, including being backed by a 7-piece Klezmer band!  I sang from 80 feet above sea level to over 8,000 feet above sea level....oy, my head!   My guitar, SB, had problems too.  We somehow made it home and I crashed by 9:00.

So, having a blast in my Hebrew classes, and anticipating my first meetings with the cantors I'll be studying with....I start to get gig offers.  Tutoring...performing...teaching.. more performing... I've been here 2 weeks!! I'm pretty excited and I've even written 2 new songs - a rockin' Michamocha and a very personal one, based on Esa Einai (I lift my eyes to the mountains - from where does my help come? - Psalm 121.)  This song, "I Turn to You," was inspired by a beautiful print that Kelly and David Finkel gave me (including a magnificent wooden frame David made) for my Colorado home. Its print of the mountains, with the Psalm intertwined through them.  Kelly and David are being honored in the community for all they have done for the Austin Jewish Community Day School - this is a present for them.

I really feel the energy crackling here....and oh, by the way, it's snowing and pretty darn cold.  I always have better energy in the winter, and here, they actually have one!

Yesterday, I met with Cantor Regina Hite of Temple Emanuel (Reform - 2000 families) and we were like giggling teenage girls - totally excited about working together.  We're trading voice/cantorial for guitar lessons.  We met for 2 hours, after which she marched me into their very extensive gift shop and demanded they order my CDs.  We also stood in the lobby and sang a new version of Mah Tovu w/two of their Rabbis. 

Today, I met w/Marty Goldstein, the Conservative cantor of the Hebrew Education Alliance.  ("The Alliance  - sounds like something from Star Trek.) Love at first note........WHAT a voice, a presence, a mench-lik attitude.  We also made an immediate kesher. Marty was trained outside a seminary (like me) and Regina is an HUC grad.  They are both EXACTLY my age.  They will both offer unique perspectives to me and I CAN'T WAIT!  I was almost in tears hearing Marty describe our curriculum - I FINALLY get to do this.  I can't believe it!

So, tomorrow, off to Austin - my first weekend home.  Jesse is coming home, too - I can't wait to see the kids and Mark.  I'm going to pick up all my warm clothes, every pair of boots I own and some kosher chicken (It's much cheaper than here!) By the way, except for expensive chicken, it's easy to keep kosher, since I'm lactose intolerant anyway!  I just LOVE my new George Forman grill thingy. Does a fab job on eggplant & onions, too!

See youse in Austin.........and if not, start making plans to visit!!
ove, Robbi

Rocky Mountain Chai – III
October 11, 2002
Wearing a Robe and crying with the Cantors

The high elevations have snow - the lower are green/brown and everywhere else is red, orange and golden - so THIS is what fall is like! The mornings are in the 40s and the days in the 70s, but we're expecting "some weather," so I've ordered all-weather mocs from Lands End today.

Tonight is my first Shabbat with Temple Sinai - a 1200 family Reform congregation with a great soul.  Their cantor - the very first invested cantor they've ever had - didn't work out and they let her out of her contract after her 90-day probation period.  They are scrambling to replace her and I really got here at the right time.  

The service uses the Gates of Prayer prayerbook, (which I know in my sleep after 4 years at Beth Israel in Austin) however, in the Amidah, they don't add the "Imahot" - the mothers of our people, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah & Rachel, along with our forefathers Abraham, Issac and Jacob in this central prayer.  Rabbi Zwerin, a man I've known and admired personally for many years, doesn't believe in changing the text.  I'll get over it - I told him when I interviewed for this pulpit a few years ago, that the "Mothers" were my litmus test - and he failed!  I have a lot of history with this congregation - I first met Rabbi Zwerin when his business, ARE Publishing, a Jewish publishing house/distributor, starting carrying my CD.  He is brilliant and very warm - we've always had a great connection.  ARE is now owned by Steve Brodsky, of the group Mah Tovu, a good friend, and the person I am grateful to for introducing me to this amazing community. (See "Rocky Mountain Chai I")

Sinai has been served by some amazing people musically - one of whom is Angela Gold, who is now wowing the Hong Kong Jewish community.  I'm excited to step into this role, and to be on a Reform bimah again.  Sinai is a "pantyhose shul," (my term) which means everyone dresses REALLY nicely for Shabbat and the clergy (including me) wear robes on the bima for Shabbat morning services.  Although I will be fighting that robe thing.  But, if I succumb and DO  wear a robe, it has occurred to me that I could wear my ripped jeans and original "War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things" t-shirt from the 60s underneath......... hmmmmmm..... I could go braless, too.......probably not. 

It's a great place, but it has it's compromises, though.  Things are pretty much the same week to week and the b'nai mitzvah are EXACTLY the same service all the time.   I hope to be doing one-two weekends a month w/them and some other things, as well.  One weekend a month pays my rent!  I still have to worry about subsisting here - the tutoring helps, and I've gotten some concert gigs, as well.  Beth Evergreen still has "first dibs" on me, they say.  Does anyone know what a "dib" is?

For more info. on some of the history of the Denver Jewish community, I highly recommend reading Samuel Freeman's Jew vs. Jew.  It's an excellent book about American Jewry - past, present and future - it reads almost like a novel and there is a huge chapter in there about Denver, which mentions Rabbi Zwerin and others I am working with.  I have a copy at the house, if someone wants to borrow it.

In my studies this week with Cantor Hite and Cantor Goldstein, I cried in each of the sessions.  I am studying voice w/Cantor Regina Hite of 2500 family Temple Emanuel (Reform) and they were tears of gratefulness that I was able to work w/her.  She also gave me some insight on my voice that I wasn't aware of - the most important thing is that I have a "very healthy instrument."  Thank G-d!  It needs work and I have some bad habits to break, but it's off to a good start.  Regina says that I don't talk like a Texan, but I sing like one!  (Is that like Mel Tillis who stutters, except when he sings??)  She's trying to help me get the "folk" out of my voice and make it more cantorial - for the times when that style is more appropriate.  I don't need the cantorial style of voice often, but I have to learn it for my exams.

With Cantor Marty Goldstein of the Hebrew Education Alliance (Conservative), I cried when he sang something that really stood out amongst the Shabbat morning nusach (the modes in which you sing a particular time/season/holiday in music liturgy).  The melody/nusach he was using for this particular prayer stopped me in my tracks.  When we analyzed the prayer in the Shacharit (morning) service, not only was it incredibly beautiful, but I ACTUALLY UNDERSTOOD IT!  They are using an Orthodox siddur, ArtScroll and I'm "getting" the Hebrew I never truly understood - grammar, structure, etc.  Wow!  What an "Aha!" moment.  I'm not much of a cryer in real life, but the level of commitment and acceptance I am getting from this community is very overwhelming.

I've been attending the morning minyon at the Alliance (it means getting out the door at 6:50 every morning) and last Monday, Marty gave me an aliyah - the honor of reading the blessings before the Torah reading.  When he called me to the bima, he used the title "HaChazzan" before my name.  The term "HaChazzan" (the Cantor) or HaRav (the Rabbi) is title reserved for cantors and rabbis.  To be acknowledged as a cantor in public in this way, with the Torah right there, is an honor and a moment I will never forget.  This community gives me  k'vod - honor - in accepting and embracing my achievements so far.  I may not have the official title of "Cantor" yet, but I'm a being regarded as one.  I'm not sure what I expected here, but whatever it was, in 3 weeks my expectations have already been exceeded.

Last weekend I got to go home - I really miss my kids and Mark.  Jesse popped in from college and I saw her for all of about 10 minutes - she's in love (a nice guy - we met him a couple of weeks ago) and she looks GREAT!  It meant a lot that she came home to see me.  It was a full weekend, with Kol Halev services, a marching band contest (in 90+ degree heat on metal bleachers!), a wedding party and an engagement party.  I was lucky - I got to see a lot of my friends. I had set my cell phone alarm for 4:30, but forgot IT WAS ON MOUNTAIN TIME!!!  It was actually an hour later - YIKES!  I was supposed to walk out the door at 5:30 for my 7:00 flight to Denver!  Luckily, I had done 90% of my packing the night before, and Mark and I made it just in the nick of time.

This is my longest stretch in Denver - 6 weeks - I'll be home in Texas Nov. 21-Dec.1, which will include Katy's 16th birthday on Nov. 23rd (!!) and a trip to Ft. Worth for Thanksgiving/Chanukah with my brothers and parents.  It will be a long stretch - it's pretty crazy here - I'm on my 4th tank of gas in 3 weeks......the traffic is unbelievable at times......and  I miss everyone. I think Kelly Finkel is coming the second weekend in November and Mark is coming up here for our 21st anniversary (and his annual "Wildlife Management Control" read: HUNTING)  trip with his friends) the first weekend in November. So, luckily, the time will be broken up with some special visitors.

So, as I head home -  west -  I see much of the Front Range dead ahead.  I can't stop staring at the Rockies - they center and inspire me.  I'm still pinching myself that I get to have this year, these studies, and this community and my community at home.

Shabbat shalom,

Rocky Mountain Chai V
October 21, 2002
Para-Chaplaincy, Temple Sinai,  Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi,
The Bakers Come to Town, The Cantor's Assembly Sends the Syllabus......

Shalom, y'all!    Sunday, I did an all-day para-Chaplaincy course, where I started the process of learning how to serve the community pastorally - from nursing homes to prisons.  It's a 4-week course. I learned about the brain with Alzheimer's and was shocked at how horribly debilitating it is.  Words of advice to keep your brain active: aside from grapeseed extracts, GO BACK TO SCHOOL! Learn something new - challenge yourself - exercise and eat in moderation. I know some of you have had loved ones with this and other horrible diseases that strike the elderly.  You can help yourself!  I also learned that dementia "hardening of the arterties," etc., was NOT common in the elderly, as previously thought.  We start visiting nursing & assisted living facilities, hospitals, etc. in the future weeks of the course.

Temple Sinai:  I had my first weekend at 1200 familiy Reform Temple Sinai - I told you last time they had "let their cantor out of her contract" after 90 days - it was a balagan.  Not a good fit.  I have know Rabbi Ray Zwerin (see the Chapter in Jew vs. Jew by Samuel Freeman on Denver) for years and had actually interviewed for this pulpit a few years ago.  After having about 3 days to learn "nusach Sinai" (the way they sing their services), I had a great experience and it buttah.  The assistant Rabbi, Michelle Greenberg, is also a sweetheart - she'll be 30 the day before my birthday and we have lots of other things in common, as well.  I've know the educator, Diane Samet, from CAJE, and it is just a wonderful place, despite its size.  They are trying to figure out how best to be consistent and heal from their cantor debacle, and since I'm also with Beth Evergreen, I can't be with them as much as I'd like. They have me doing a concert this week for the "30 and Holding" group (alta-cockers) and I've done some other things, as well. But they really need someone to come in and fill in until July 1, when they hire someone full-time again. Scott Leader is applying for the job, which would be pretty amazing!  I'd love to have him here.

Sunday was Temple Sinai's "Mitzvah Day" - just Sinai alone - and there were over 800 volunteers helping 42 agencies - from Hands on Housing to singing in the hospitals, nursing homes, etc.  Austin does a similar "Mitzvah Day" in the spring - but the numbers here are staggering -  75,000 Jews - only about 10% are affiliated.  Sinai sounds large, but the clergy & staff really have their heads together here - it feels much smaller and is a warm, loving place.

A cultural/weather/altitude aside: The boiling point is much lower - I'm not sure the actual temp - so that means that the beverages cool down much more quickly, as well.  EVERYONE here seems to have high-tech hermetically sealed steel coffee/tea/chai cups. And of course, there's a coffee house on EVERY corner, and not just the "AOL of Coffee," Starbucks.  The dental business here does a lot of whitening...

Kol Halev's Rabbi Kerry and Lynda & daughter Emily Baker came this weekend for the BM  Danny Kramer, who’s parents, Kathi & Steve, started at Kol Halev. They, too, found Sinai to be a great place and it was emotional for me to see Rabbis Eliot, (Evergreen - who was also friends with the family)  Kerry & Rabbi Ray Zwerin - MY three Rabbis - all of who I was currently working with -  together, schmoozing, getting along, bonding.  I told them the only rule was that they could NOT talk about me and I left them.  They laughed.  Lynda had already made it VERY clear to Rabbi Eliot that I was on loan only.   She said: "our loss is your gain - but remember: it's only temporary."  I'm smiling remembering the moment.

I got my syllabus and course work from the Cantor's Assembly.  Very scary.  No wonder they give you five years to complete it!  More on that later - oy, vey!


So, if that wasn't enough of an emotional week - here's the kicker:

Friday, Eliot Baskin took me to an invitation-only shiur (learning opportunity) at the Boulder home of Reb  Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, one of the founders of the Jewish Renewal movement.  Raised in Vienna, a Lubavitcher and  Holocaust survivor, Reb Zalman met Reb Shlomo Carlebach (of blessed memory) in the internment camps in Cyprus. Carlebach has written literally HUNDREDS of melodies for Jewish liturgy - call me and I'll sing you several you will recognize right away. Reb Zalman has worked/studied with the Dali Lama (Read: The Jew in the Lotus by Kammerman), has a doctorate from Hebrew Union College and started a revolution and rebirth in the continued contributions of Jewish seniors with his "From Age-ing to Sage-ing" concept.  I could go on and on about his significance, but I think you get the idea.  When I went to a Kallah (spiritual conference) sponsored by the Renewal movement in  Ft. Collins, CO, many years ago, I sat in his morning shiur sessions with 500 of my closest friends and was mesmorized.  He is a true "Rebbe" - teacher, spiritual guru and very kind human.  He has ordained/given smicha to many Rabbis.  Getting close to him was not even in the cards.

"Invitation-Only" meant clergy from around the west.  In this group with me were Rabbi Jack Gabriel, a renewal Rabbi and friend I've know for many years - also a beautiful singer-songwriter; Rabbi Tirtza Firestone, well-known author.  Rabbi Shefa Gold stops in at times - she lives in NM (writer/scholar/ composer of the MaGadlu/Halleluyah round we sing at Kol Halev), an orthodox woman named Yehudis who is the spiritual leader of her congregation in Boulder, a science/religion professor from CU Boulder, a conservative Rabbi, etc.   They were real scholars with a lot more knowledge than me. 

An aside: my connection to Reb Zalman goes very deeply in another way.  Zalman was the Rabbi who converted our dear friend, Mahima Bracha in Portland.  Mahima and others spent a Shabbat in the desert with Reb Zalman, found an oasis mikveh where he gave her brass kiddush cup with both their intials on it.  Mahima was a massage therapy student who worked on Jesse in utero, along with her partner, Deborah, who was a in chiropractic school.  They were active members of my congregation in Portland, Havurah Shalom, which was Reconstructionist.  When Jesse was born, Mahima & Deb gave her a satin winged heart, the Sufi symbol, which she has hung over her crib/bed to this day.  The greatest thing they gave us though, was when the decided to have a child by artificial insemination, they asked Mark to be one of three donors.  Although Mark declined, before anything could happen along those lines, Mahima had a aneurism and died at 36.  Jesse's Hebrew name, Chava Bracha, is for Mahima.  For her Bat Mitzvah, Deborah gave Jesse the brass kiddush cup.  I have it with me here in Colorado.  Many years later, after Mahima's family finally allowed Deborah access to the things Mahima had left her, I received M's guitar.  It's a classical one, that I named "Mahima."  I've did the majority of my composing for my CD on her.  Deborah is still one of my closest friends, living just blocks from me here in Lakewood.

Back in Boulder....

Reb Zalman spoke of the Torah portion, then delved deeply into the Zohar, the Kabbalah and other mystical teachings - the topic: circumcision.  I have yet to study the mystical teachings, as they say you need to be over 40 to understand - and I now see why.  Just living through the experience of my son's bris brought a much deeper meaning to the text study.  Yes, I'm over 40, but the opportunity to study has not yet arisen until now.  Reb Zalman, who is in his 70s, with a medium-length white beard, wild tufts of white hair and gigantic "Junior Soprano" glasses, spoke mostly English, peppered with Hebrew, German and Yiddish. There were many parables, asides, stories.  Both Rabbi Eliot and Rabbi Gabriel warned me it would be over my head (as it was over theirs - and they're Rabbis!), but I got so much out of it. Eight of us around a table with this man, a REAL Rebbe.  We thanked and I was about to leave...when.....

He called me by name and asked me to stay. We went into his study.  He took off his glasses, looked deep into my eyes and said: "I have a feeling you have a story I need to hear."

He closed his eyes.  I took a deep breath, and with the most control I had, told him my tale of why I was in Colorado, why I was seeking certification as a cantor with the Conservative movement (which is not really my movement), my rejection by the Reform, Mark's lack of conversion and the role it has played in this, Mark's amazing support and our Jewish life together.  I tried not to be emotional - I didn't want to "waste" his time with extraneous details or emotions.  I also knew this was not the time to tell him about my connection to Mahima.  Actually, the last time I had seen him in person, I was in hysterical tears at that Kallah so long ago in Ft. Collins, because Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfeld, a beautiful singer/rabbi, (also given smicha/ordination by Zalman) was singing Mahima's favorite tune to "Ufros Aleinu" a prayer about the shelter of peace.  I remember during the service that Reb Zalman left the bimah and came up to me, and touched me gently.  That was 8 years ago.

It was silent for a few moments.  He opened his eyes and asked me if Kol Halev would accept smicha (investiture/ordination) from him.  You could have picked me up off the floor.  I said, gratefully, that the educational process I am putting myself through really has nothing to do with Kol Halev.  It's about me wanting to be accepted by the mainstream as a cantor.

He gave me a CD which he says has nusach on it that I should learn (the modes/melodies for different times/seasons in the Jewish worship cycle), some writings and said he wanted to see me on a regular basis AND meet Mark when he comes.  He also invited me to be a permanent part of the group on Friday mornings.  He asked me to think about why it was so important that I am accepted by the mainstream .......   and I left.

Every day here is a present - this morning on my way to minyon, the huge moon rose above the mountains and the entire city was bathed in bright pinks as the sun was about to emerge.  Snow is coming this week and my heart is so very full.
love, Robbi


Rocky Mountain Chai VI
November, 2002
Facing the River

10:30 AM – heading North on I-25 towards the Cache de la Poudre River –the site of my drowning and knee-crunching accident 16 months ago:

The song that is in my head’s soundtrack is “The River” by Garth Brooks– sometimes I can’t remember all the words, but I truly know the meaning – “I will sail my vessel, ‘till the river runs dry, like a bird upon the wind, these waters are my sky.  I’ll never reach my destination, if I never try, so I will sail my vessel ‘till the river runs dry.”  It also mentions rapids and taking chances. That song has kind of given me the impetus to go back to the river and face it.  It’s not that I’m angry, or laying blame on the river – I know what happened was a freak accident.  Most of you know I have not had my head under the water since that day – even sitting in the hot tub at the JCC with my best friend Mitzi was a bit scary.  It was time to face the demon and finally close that chapter.

I’ve been here almost 3 months and haven’t taken a single day off – between classes, teaching, tutoring, performing and my cantorial duties here – there  just isn’t time.  But I’m kind of going through a transition here– things have settled into somewhat of a routine, and I’m bemoaning the fact that I am living such a double life  - Denver and Texas - and it’s confusing at times.  Time to head to the river.

In my car already are the things I’ve been told to carry in Colorado winters at all times, especially since I work in Evergreen, in the mountains:  a blanket, a complete change of clothes and toiletries, sleeping bag, extra coat, hat &gloves, maps, non-perishable food items, drinking water, sunscreen, emergency kit and de-icing stuff.

To that I added my "SB," my guitar, tangerines, chocolate (of course!), Quaker Oat squares (I didn’t get to eat breakfast – they make a great snack – thanks to my sister Vicki in Jerusalem for introducing me to them…), extra water and Paul McCartney’s “Back in the U.S.” CD I got for Chanukah from my family.  I also added a change of warm clothes and a towel – I had planned to make a mikvah in the water.  And, bread to  make “tashlich” – the practice of casting grain on flowing waters to help “cast away” our shortcomings on Rosh Hashana.

As I headed north on I-25 toward Ft. Collins,  I had the Rockies gleaming bright white on my left.  I drove past the fields of hops where Mark Harmon, a St. Elsewhere actor I used to love, did his Coors beer commercials.  (Note for future visitors: I live about 20 mins. from the brewery.)  I had called a rafting company to ask where the launch site was and they gave me the location.

I went the entire way up in silence, with my head soundtrack bouncing between “The River” and several songs I have written recently, including “Cast Into the Waters” – the intense song I wrote right after the accident.

I had thought long and hard about who I would take on this trip with me– it had to be someone I completely trusted, as I knew it would be an emotional reunion. I thought I might wait for my dear friend Kelly Finkel to get here, (she arrives on Thursday!) or take Scott Leader, my music partner who moved here two days ago.  Perhaps, as my good friend Miriam Van Raalte in California suggested, I should ask Sam Glaser, a recording artist friend of mine who was there with me at the accident. His was the first face I saw when I came to.  Or Dr. Steve Zimmerman, a chiropractor from South Carolina, also on the trip, who I credit with making sure I had no spinal or neck injuries,  Steve’s quick thinking made the difference after the river guide had to jump on my head to release me from the bottom of the boat.  And he stayed with me throughout the entire hospitalization.  But, in the end, I knew I had to do this alone.

As I drove through Ft. Collins, I passed over a tributary of the Cache de la Poudre River.  Chills came over me and my eyes filled with tears. I found myself at the rendezvous site, where all the buses meet to take people up to the raft launch site, a Conoco station on the corner of State Hwy. 14 and 287.  I headed up Poudre Canyon.

  The farther up I got, the thicker the ice was on the river.  The river was way down. The date of the accident, it had risen 5 inches after a major rainstorm and was to the banks.  Now, it was just a trickle.  It didn’t look scary at all.  About 15 miles up, at around 7000 feet, on a crystal clear, warm (55 degrees) December day, I found the launch site.  I walked down a bit to where I thought the accident might have happened (it happened in the first 15 minutes of a 3-hour trip) and I started  hiking down, bread in my pockets.  I decided to leave my guitar behind –I had to balance myself on those huge rocks, and although SB, is insuredfor a lot of $$, I didn’t feel like leaving him in pieces in the river. I had already left pieces of me there.

  I hopped from rock to rock and sat on a huge boulder in the middle of the river in the sun.  I starting thanking God.  I thanked Her for my family and friends who supported me, for the voice that led me here, for the opportunity to be in Colorado for the year, for my teachers, my students, for just about everything I could think of. I asked for strength and closure.  For every prayer, I sprinkled bread into a very narrow channel cut through the ice, maybe 8 inches wide and 3 feet long.  I watched the bread swirl with the same current that caught me under the raft and then disappear under the thick sheets of ice.  Then ,I said the “Shehechianu,” the prayer for firsts.  It’s said for many things: eating the first fruits of the season, the first night of Chanukah, Passover and other holidays, a baby naming or wedding – many “firsts.”  I thought it appropriate to thank God for giving me my life(back) sustaining me, and enabling me to reach this point in my life with great joy.  It was only after I said the “Shehechianu” that I cried.

I sat there for awhile and then decided it was too cold to strip and make a mikvah.  But I did something else that surprised me.  I tested the ice and started walking on the river.  It was slippery, but held fast.  I walked all over it – and went down on my injured knee and felt its coldness.  In this way, I feel I conquered the Poudre.  It was beautiful – fragrant, with the smell of pine, peaceful, with a very strong undercurrent.  I was no longer afraid.

I went back to Bette (my car) and sat for a very long time. I broke out some chocolate and headed down the canyon.

It still may be awhile before I put my head under water.  But now I know I can hold it above.   Love, Robbi



Rocky Mountain Chai VII

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
February 2, 2002

We had another snow last night. The president of Beth Evergreen called and we had our first "snow Shabbat" - in other words, I was off for the night. Quiet panic set in - "What? A Shabbat on my own?!!" I had no challah, no dinner and wasn't about to spend Shabbat alone. Within minutes, I had three dinner invitations - that's the way things are here - I've never been alone on Shabbat. They came from my friends, the Rubins, (but I wasn't about to head up to their place again - see below....), my Rabbi, Eliot Baskin and his family, and my good friends the Bram-Millers, who live next to a state park and have 6 horses and tons of land near Parker, about 45 minutes away - without traffic (Ha! That's rare in this burg....!)

But I wanted to go to Temple Sinai - most of you know they were talking to me about staying here. I've written about them before - 1200 family Reform - awesome staff - great resources.... and that's where I got Scott Leader a job for the six-month interim between firing their cantor and hiring the new one for July 1. Scott has been here a couple of months now, is dating a really wonderful lady, and I just wanted to be at Sinai. Scott has really found a niche here - he's making a difference, learning a lot, being appreciated - and I'm not about to compete with that. I told Rabbi Zwerin thanks, but I'm officially withdrawing from the process. I wanted him to let Scott stay and continue to be the soloist. Scott has gotten into grad school (Master in Ed from U of Arizona - a one-year accelerated program) but I hope he defers for a year or so. It was a great Shabbat, and Scott and (awesome!!!) Nadine took me out for sushi (yay!) after to celebrate my birthday, which was this week.

It was lightly raining in Denver, but when I returned home, to Green Mountain and the Treehouse, (about 1,000 feet higher in elevation and the "gateway to the Rockies," we had already accumulated about 3" of snow! I'm still like a kid with the snow - this is my third one - and it's such a delight for me. Even though it was midnight, I took a short walk in it - everything was so still and quiet and very bright. The trees are coated and glistening like my favorite scene in my favorite movie - "White Christmas." There are no footprints yet, no plowing, just white stillness. My red wool coat and scarf were dotted with magic. I slept with the blinds open, so I could watch the gentle flakes sailing down when I periodically woke up at night. I wish I had a camera, so I could take pictures of the trees outside my window.

It'll be in the 50's tomorrow, and the snow will slowly retreat into the water-starved land - that's Colorado winter for you.

Stupid Texan Trick:

Last week, I was heading up the mountains, near Evergreen, for a rehearsal for Shabbat Unplugged! created by my buddy, Steve Brodsky, of the great Jewish band, Mah Tovu. I based CKH's "Friday Night Alive!" on this service. I started up a steep, snowy driveway in Genesee, the home of my vice president, Cheri Rubin, and her husband, Alan, my ritual chair. The grooves looked deep enough for me, so "Bette" and I headed up and, of course, ran into a snow bank that my 4-cylinder Camry just couldn't jump over. So, I decided to back down. Mind you, this was a steep, snake-shaped driveway at about 8,000 feet. My wheels got stuck and I started slowly sliding backwards. Inches from a tree, I stopped, completely captured by the snow. I arrived a half-hour early - I wanted to allow for extra time because of the snow. I knew my hosts would be home soon, so I called them, and they had a good laugh on my account. They said the man who plows their driveway will be there within the hour and to just hold tight. Hooting laughter could be heard as the cell phone went dead.

I called Mark - (why? I don't know! What could he do in Austin?) and was just hanging out, completely amused by this adventure. I was in a development (mostly 10-12 acres lots) and could see houses in the distance, so I wasn't worried. I had my "mountain survival" stuff - food, water, extra coat, chocolate, blanket.. etc.) in the trunk. I don't think I could have gotten to my trunk, because the snow was so high, it was close to the windows, but hey, I was just fine. This was kinda fun.

I listened to the radio and played with my Palm Pilot. About an hour later, this nice man, Johnny Hickey (I'm NOT making this up), started plowing the driveway. He looked like a Texan, but around here, you can't tell. Most Mountain Coloradoans look a lot like Texans. By the way - I always say "I'm from Austin" instead of "Texas." It's a psychological thing. People here like Austinites - they don't like Texans. Of course, without Texans, who would develop and their mountain land and abuse their ski resorts and spend all their "oil money" making their shoddy weather-related economy work? Don't ask.....

So, Johnny Hickey plows the driveway- it takes a good half an hour to reach me, gets out and digs around "Bette" and decides he needs to tow me out. ("Whatever you do, keep the car in neutral!" said Mark.) He pulls me all the way up snake-shaped driveway at about 8,000 feet, brushes himself off, and tells me "Next time, stay at home when it snows, Flatlander." He said this kindly, with a twinkle in his eye. I offer to pay him, but he says he'll add it to the Rubin's bill.

Halfway Done

I can't believe that it's mid-February. There is still so much to do and learn! Scott and I have many concerts scheduled, including one with Noah Budin in May, and we're working on the 2nd album, as well. Scott is self-producing and putting together his own CD, which I've co-written and am laying down harmony vocals. He bought a digital system and is doing most of it at his place, but he is flying to LA to have Sam Glaser do mixing and mastering for him. It's some nice stuff - some pieces that will be on both our albums. Scott hopes to release his this spring. Mine will come much more slowly - I want to continue to work with Herb Belofsky and do an analog recording, like my last CD. Also, I'm not soliciting $$ this time, so it might be a couple of years, but I'm okay with that.

Cantorially, my work with Cantors Marty Goldstein and Regina Hite continues to be rich and rewarding. I've had so many opportunities in this town and it has helped hone my skills and knowledge. This week alone I've had a funeral and baby naming. I'm sharpening my life cycle skills, making me more valuable to Rabbi Baker and the Austin Jewish community. I've been asked to do a BM in Vail and a wedding in Cancun. Such a rough life.......

Hebrew classes are the best - I'm now taking one at University of Colorado Boulder, as well as my class at University of Denver. I'm having a hard time memorizing the vowel changes that happen in the different verb moods - binyamin - but I attribute that to age and drug use as a college kid. (Jesse - you didn't read that!!!) Or maybe it's just hard, but I keep plugging away. One of my classmates, Kelly Carwell, is the star center of the DU women's basketball team, and we all continue to go to her games (she gets us center court seats) and cheer her on with signs in Hebrew. She got tickets for my family when they played UNT in Denton - Jesse's school. They all drove up to see her. These great college kids in my class come to my house on Sunday afternoons, where we study and laugh for several hours, and of course, I feed them. They all chipped in a gave me a lovely necklace for my birthday.

I continue to tutor 4 great kids for their B'nai Mitzvah and I am putting an average of 130 miles a day on Bette. It's a big town and I'm all over it. Luckily, my local gas station ($1.75/gallon!!!) is what I've dubbed "Zen Texaco." It's immaculate and plays Native American flute and other types of "earth music", making filling up almost a pleasure. And I fill up that little Camry about every 5 days - and I'm getting 35/mpg!

Everyone here really helped me celebrate my birthday. I got great lunches and dinners, a gift cert. to a toney spa in Evergreen (given to me by some board members and congregants who are asking me to stay and be their full-time spiritual leader. (Ha! I could never do this job on my own, but it was a very, very nice offer....although my "Rebbe", Jack Gabriel, thinks I could do it on my own. That's nice, too.... ) I got lots of chocolate - oy! - and then the Valentine Fairie came in from Austin and I delivered homemade valentines and brownies and stuff all over town for her yesterday. It was a nice way to give back and say thanks.

So, just a bit of tutoring today, a baby naming tomorrow and a choir rehearsal and I'm having a relaxing weekend. I decided to stay in and not go to shul this morning for services. I'll enjoy looking out the windows of the Treehouse and admiring this snow. I'm looking forward to my family visiting here for spring break, seeing Mitzi & John and the gang up here as well, Purim, Pesach (I'll be in Texas) Sam, David & Susan Broockman visiting in April and many more surprises. Thanks for all your cards and emails - I truly felt loved this week.




Rocky Mountain Chai VIII

USAFA - November

16:30 hours: I take off from the Aspen Village Assisted Living Center, where I just finished a Shabbat service for the residents (one of the coolest things I get to do as a Chaplain) and of course, hit horrendous traffic down legendary I-25 to head to Colorado Springs and the US Air Force Academy.

Wow - the  Air Force Academy, or as the cadets call it "USAFA" pronouced like "You suffa" or Mustapha, I'm not sure which.  You don't call it the "Academy" you don't live on "Campus," you are a part of YOUSAhFFA.  I had already scheduled a gig there - a concert w/Scott Leader on April 5.  When working out the details this morning with Rabbi (Capt. USAF - active duty) Don Levy, I asked if I could come down tonight, as I was scheduled to sub at Temple Sinai, but wasn't needed after all.  He said to bring the guitar and it would be good to heal the community, which is reeling from the cadet scandals and allegations.

Since we're now at YELLOW Alert vs. ORANGE alert, things were a bit more relaxed.  I only had to show my ID 4 times "No, Lieutenant, I'm a former AF Brat," ("dependent" we were called, when the meaning was less psychological) and I had to give up my MILITARY ID at 23. I explained - I was clergy, leading a service at the chapel, yada, yada, yada.  After misc. twists and turns and closed ("BY ORDER OF THE COMMANDANT") roads, I made it within .... say ..... 4 blocks of the chapel.  It was blockaded in from ORANGE alert and that's it.  I just had to stop, park on the side of the road and walk.  In the dark, with heels, SB, my guitar, and going uphill at 7,200 feet, a nice cadet stopped and asked me if I needed a ride.

What flew through my mind at that point?  The horrible rape/assault scandals that were making the Navy's Tailhook problems look like Little League? The fact that 54 women have come forward - and we all know that means there are probably 100 more that are NOT coming forward?  Nope, I was thinking about my heels, my guitar, and 4 blocks to go at 7,200 feet above sea level.  I gratefully got in.

He was a senior from Redondo Beach named Ephraim.  They had asked if he would stay a 5th year and be a recruiter.  He said there's no way in hell...."ooops, sorry Ma'am..." (It was my first of about 20 'Ma'ams' I would hear that night....)  There's no way he would do so and he hoped this latest scandal would  close YOUSAhFFA.  If only people knew what REALLY went on here....."  he stopped to answer his cell phone.  "Yeah.  Breckenridge..... By 0h-nine hundred hours  ........  on my way to the chapel to drop off this girl (he said "GIRL")  who was heading up there carrying a guitar ..........  Uh, huh!  Smokin'!"

He hung up the phone and looked at me sheepishly.  "My friend asked if you were hot," he said... I told him you were smokin'....."   It was dark out.  I laughed so hard, I had tears in my eyes.  He was just a kid -   it had made my day.

"Effy," as his friends called him, dropped me with a "Have a great weekend, Ma'am" and I headed to the Chapel.

Many of you have seen the Chapel - it's the tall, white, spired building that is right up against the mountains and is often used as a symbol for USAFA.  It is a magnificent building, with a Protestant, Catholic and Jewish Chapels inside. Between those spires is unbelievable stained glass, as well as mosaic glass - ceIling to floor - 3 stories tall.  It surrounds the entire building and it's a huge building.

The small shul is round.  It's gorgeous - it probably seats 100, is made of wood, glass, brass.  The ark is round, with the ten commandments as ten windows, with brass letters in Hebrew.  It's so hard to describe.  I bet there's a USAFA website that probably has photos of it.  There is art all over the walls - very stylized Biblical scenes.  There is a kitchen off to one side (kosher!) and one entire wall (probably 25 feet across and 2-3 stories tall) is stained glass. I was only there at night, but I can't wait to see it in the daytime.

A bit flustered, I arrived to the warm greetings of Rabbi Levy, and his Israeli wife, Clara, and their two kids, 7  & 8.  Get this - Don Levy and Clara met AT GREENE FAMILY CAMP!  He was a first year Rabbinical student (HUC) on the Ed staff, and she was a nurse.  What an amazing connection!

The cadets were coming in, some in cadet uniform (I found out later that only the freshman had to wear uniforms to shul) and many people from the community, as well.  The Rabbi and I led the service as if we'd be doing it for years together - he and his wife also had great voices and we did lot of nice harmony. The sermonette (and I mean 5 minutes, tops,) was about the scandal, and Rabbi Don encouraged them to support each other, live their lives with integrity and pray that it is resolved soon.  We sang "Misheberach" for everyone who had been hurt in the mess.  It was one of the best services I have ever participated in - everyone sang, clapped, enjoyed the new stuff, embraced the familiar and there was a sense of community there I had not experienced.   Everyone knew each other. They were in the trenches together, literally.

I can now sing "Adon Olam" to the Air Force Theme: "Off we go, into the wild, blue yonder....."

After services, Don & Clara had made dinner for everyone - gefilte fish, hummus and other Israeli fare, MBS (matzoh ball soup) herring, dessert, salad - really lovely.  Everyone stayed and I got to talk to the cadets, who I was a bit in awe of.  Who are these Jewish kids in the military? What drew the women?

I'm a total peacenik who also supports our men and women in uniform.  I think Dubya has inherited the same testosterone that his Daddy failed to control.  I don't want a war over oil - I want a hybrid.  I want everyone to drive hybrids, use air and wind power, take public transport.  There - there's my bleeding heart all over the keyboard.  (OK, yes, Sadam is a madman....he's dangerous, the Iraqi people are living under a horrible regime, Israel's in danger.....I'm not a complete lunatic or blind to the situation!  We ain't goin' to war against North Korea this week, are we?)

So, why was I in nearly in tears the entire evening?

Was it the sight of the Air Force blue uniforms that looked so much like my daddy growing up?

Was it the memories of being an Air Force brat, and trying to find my Jewish identity in small towns?  I wanted to give them the best advice my mother ever gave me:  All those years of moving from small town to small town... Mom told me "It doesn't matter WHERE you are Jewishly, it is WHO you are Jewishly."  I plan to pass that onto the cadets the next time I see them.

I met Josh, from California, who had applied to both the AF and Naval Academies.  I looked at him and said:  "You REALLY want to fly!" and he lit up like a Shabbat candle.  He even looked a bit like Tom Cruise. Actually, they were all gorgeous - the men and the women.

Stephanie, from Rapid City (yes!  I lived there from age 1 1/2 to age 3)  wants to be a Rabbi - they are working on a special dispensation for her to do only 3 years of her 5 year commitment, so she can go right to  Rabbinical school after USAFA (are you saying it right?  YOUSAhFFA!)  Before we get excited, it's the same deal the athletes get if they go pro after graduation.

Stephanie also volunteers for the Women Cadet Crisis Hotline, and was interviewed by the Pentagon last week, about her knowledge of the scandals, which was vast, as she has phone-counseled many of the them.  The women really are afraid to come forward - it's still a boys world here and they truly feel their careers in the military will be tainted.

Mark, from Vermont, wants to go into (OK, here comes the oxymoron, kids....) Military Intelligence.  He looks exactly like David Goldstein (of Candy and David).

Allison, from New Jersey (Exit 105!) said "It's a free education, Ma'am!"  But she wanted to trade places with my daughter, Jesse,  at U. North Texas, anyway.

Each and every one of these kids, and I talked to about a dozen of them, were all incredibly special.  Cadet Ross (I forgot his first name) just made a special freshman air flying team today -  A BIG DEAL! and Mark (above) was going to USC to give a paper on US/Russian military relations. There is a retreat planned between the West Point and YOUSAhFFA cadets soon.  Rabbi Don took 6 of his cadets on the Birthright trip to Israel this winter. They miss their parents. They worry about war.  They worry about grades and washing out.  They worry about what the scandal is going to do to the Academy (Ooops!  I mean USAFA!)

Another cadet, Justin, said that they not only have to represent the US as members of the armed forces, but they have to represent the Jewish people, too. Quite a heavy responsibility for a teenager and amazing insight, as well.

When Scott and I go back on April 5 for the concert, we've been promised a VIP tour.  Brigadier General Falk, from Israel, who is the military attache to the US, might be in attendance for the concert.  I will make sure there are pictures of these amazing young men and women to share with you guys.  How can I respect so much these kids, be so moved by them, and yet be so against what the military is about to do?   The best analogy I can think of is that even though I HATED Reagan (there she goes again... I can just see Andrew rolling his eyes here....) he always said something in his State of the Union addresses that made me cry.   I couldn't stand the situation, or the man, yet, there was hope in his words.  I can't stand the situation in the world now, either, and I would like nothing better for all this war stuff to go away.  Yet, I talk to these amazing young people and I have hope.  I can't wait to go back.

  Shabbat shalom - may this truly be a peaceful Shabbat for us all.




March 13, 2003

The Blizzard of 2003

While in Evergreen this week, I'm going to pick up the official t-shirt:  "I Survived the Blizzard of 2003." On the bottom are the towns of Evergreen & Conifer and the measurement of snow received here: 72-85"

72” 85” inches !!!!!!  I can't even begin to tell you what that looks like, feels like and immobilizes like, but I'll try.......

Although the blizzard was now about 10 days ago, it's taken a while to process it all.  So, here goes.

Monday, March 23rd was an awesome Purim at Temple Sinai - I played Haman in a take-off of South Pacific.  My solo songs were "Mordechai!"  (to Bali Hai) and a duet w/Haman's wife Zeresh to "Wonderful Guy."  It was a blast and extremely well-written by the educator at Sinai, Diane Samet.  I think I'll have to borrow it next year for Kol Halev's Purim.  We had the TV on and the war started.  We decided then and there that this had to be the best Purim EVER - but the stress was evident on all our faces.  It started snowing as we were leaving and was really coming down in Green Mountain, in the foothills where I live, by the time I got home.

Tuesday was a mess, but I still hopped a bus from the park-in-ride to get to DIA and home to Austin.  It was my spring break and I was looking forward to having more than a weekend - I had scheduled meetings w/Kol Halev B'nai Mitzvah families, budget talks with Rabbi Baker and my Presidents, a soccer game of Sam's  - a band concert of Katy's......

The bus ride, usually an hour, took around two.  Not too bad.  I had my emergency chocolate with me and John Grisham's The Partner.  United  employees on the bus kept checking in  -  the rumors that DIA would have to close for only the second time in it's existence were rampant. The airport was jammed - flights couldn't get in or out.  Although there were hundreds in line, I was able to walk right up to the Frontier Airlines counter (I'm an "Ascent" member in their frequent flyer program) and the chaos really began for me.  I was switched and re-routed around 3 other flights, including one to Dallas, when the airport finally closed.  It's a big airport and I was bouncing all around it.  Knowing I'd have a long ride home (that was an understatement), I ate a decent meal and got in line to try to get a bus back.

HUNDREDS of people were also doing the same.  In about another hour, I was able to get a seat on THE LAST BUS to Lakewood/Green Mountain to leave the airport before Pena Blvd, the road that leads to DIA was shut down.  It was completely packed - those who were standing must have been very uncomfortable.  During the THREE HOUR bus ride home, I remember being really into my book (and chocolate - my vice this time of year are those Cadbury's mini-eggs....) and half-listening to a man with some kind of Eastern European accent yammering on incessantly with the bus driver, who was in good spirits and very kind.  The driver had to creatively figure out how to get us to our destinations with practically no visibility and roads closing everywhere.  Even though I had no luggage for him to haul, I tipped him generously and thanked him for getting us here safely. (Heeeeeere's to the bus driver, bus driver, bus driver......)

We're the last stop on the route and when I got to my car, I discovered to my dismay that it was COVERED in snow.  I mean covered - we had had around 3 feet in the 9 hours I'd been gone.  Being a Texan, and therefore, clueless about how to drive in this stuff, (see Rocky Mountain Chai V - The Snow Edition)  I tried to dig around the car and back out, but kept spinning deeper and deeper holes.  I couldn't go either forward or back.  The snow was REALLY coming down and that was it - I started to cry. 

The Eastern European man was in a pick-up truck and came around the corner and noticed my distress.  He called his wife on his cell phone to let her know he'd be a little later and then proceeded to dig me out and expertly maneuver the car to the point where I could tackle the streets and crawl the mile home to my apt.  It turns out he is a PhD Bosnian engineer, who was granted political asylum and is grateful to be in America working as an auto mechanic. Note to self: find a Bosnian charity to give tzedakah to.

As I waded in 3 feet of snow up to my apt (it's hard to drag a wheeled backpack in that!) I was really grateful to be home safely.  I put on the kettle, turned on the TV and was greeted by war and blizzard news.  That's pretty much where I stayed for the next 3 days.

Here are some stats:


Meanwhile......back in the "Treehouse....."

My balcony is 12x6x4 and was COMPLETELY filled up with snow, with wave-like formations from the wind.  I had a gigantic wave-like overhang on my roof and the snow from the balcony and the snow from the roof actually TOUCHED!  My balcony buckled and water leaked into the older lady's home below. I couldn't open either that door or my front door........

I have to admit, being so foreign to me, this whole experience was.... well, kinda charming!  I think, though, that I could do this JUST ONCE.

So, I'm watching the war/blizzard news, eating, reading voraciously, watching the war/blizzard news, drinking lots of tea, watching the war/blizzard news.... trying to get through to Frontier to reschedule my flight and try to make it back home.  I get a flight for Thursday evening, once again take the bus to the airport (only 1.5 hours!) and get on a 3:15 plane, now scheduled to leave at 5:20.....

We sit and sit on the tarmac - there's no captain to fly the plane.  He's delayed by weather, they think he's somewhere in the airport......he's nowhere to be found.  It's 7:30.  They finally grab another captain from the crew lounge, who thanked us because he no longer had to fly to Kansas City, they ply us with free liquor and were on our way.  It was a very friendly flight.

Safely, but exhaustedly at home in Austin, 75 degrees.......bluebonnets & Indian paintbrushes blooming in gorgeous profusion.....I was in my Kol Halev office when I got the phone call.  My apt. manager said that I needed to give them the keys to my car because the tow truck was coming.  What????  The carport had fallen, but my little Camry had an SUV on one side of me and a truck on the other, so THERE WAS NOT A SCRATCH on my car.  For the first time EVER I had left my keys on my kitchen counter and the apt. complex was able to get my car out.

More stats:

Green Mountain got the largest amount of snow in the Denver metro area - 4.5 feet.

400 people were stranded at the Loveland ski area - and it's not a resort - no place to stay.

Denver proper got 3.5 feet of snow.

Life slowly came back to normal last week, when it snowed again - a mere two feet in Evergreen, about 8 inches here in GM.  It seemed like different our perspectives are!

It's sunny today and 65 degrees........but, unfortunately, I'm home with the flu.  Whew!

love, Robbi


Rocky Mountain Chai X

Chapter 1: Cheyenne - April 29

When I was invited up to Cheyenne, Wyoming's capitol - around 2 hours from The Treehouse, I wasn't sure what to expect.  It was a state-wide Yom Hashoa - Holocaust Memorial - program.  My Hebrew professor at the University of Denver, Uri Neil, is a Cantor and the spiritual leader of the Conservative Mt. Sinai Congregation.  I was asked to do the music in the capitol building for the observance.

On the way to the Capitol, Uri and I stopped at Mt. Sinai.  There are about 150 families.  The building is 50 years old and was completely donated by some wealthy Jewish merchants, so there is no mortgage. The stained glass was the most beautiful I have ever seen!  You know how most stained glass has representations of things on it - in geometric patterns? This glass was as if we were looking at paintings - phenomenally detailed and with the brightest colors I have ever seen - not pastels, but rich, vibrant true blues, purples, reds, oranges, browns and blacks. Their Jewish library has just been given a historic designation - there was even a small gift shop!

Nothing prepared me for what I was going to see next.  Cheryl Rapp, an actual Jewish Wyoming native and a lay spiritual leader of the congregation, took me downstairs to the basement. There was a lovely, but empty mikveh. (ritual bath for purification) A mikveh in Wyoming??? When I commented to her that it was devoid of water, she led me to a trap door a few feet away.  Under the trap door, about 6 feet down, was the Cheyenne River, which ran under the building.  She showed me a set of sump pumps.  "When we have need for the mikveh, we pump and heat the water. In this way, we truly bring the living waters up for our needs."  I was speechless - I had never seen anything like it. When the mikveh is no longer needed, the pumps take the water back into the ground.  An entire family was going to convert at the next Shabbat, and they were going to use the mikveh in a couple of days for that.

Cheryl and Uri then showed me a Torah that had travelled to Cheyenne BY COVERED WAGON, over 200 years ago and original tintypes of the early Jewish settlers to the territory.  You could have caught flies in my mouth!  Jews in Wyoming????

We went over to the capitol, where I was seated with Governor Freudenthal (practically the only Democrat in the state - no one's sure how he got in!) on my right and Cheyenne's Mayor Jack Striker (great name!!) on my other right.  We greeted each other - they knew I was from Austin, and then Gov. F. asked me where my boots were.  I said: "I was going to ask you the same thang!"  He laughed and he and Mayor Striker explained that they only brought them out once a year - for the very famous Cheyenne Frontier Days mondo rodeo to impress the tourists.

Many people were gathering - I was introduced to some older members of the community, and found to my surprise that there were concentration camp survivors .... in Wyoming!  The entire time I was in the Rocky Mountain region, people registered their surprise that there were Jews in Austin, Texas. Or anywhere in Texas, for that matter. I found myself on the reverse end of that, assuming that there weren't Jews in Wyoming.

I turned around and saw around 100 children come in. They were all wearing black t-shirts that said "Never Forget."  They were sixth graders from a local elementary school.  The commemoration held many of the same elements I experienced when I do similar programs in Austin - survivors lighting 6 yarhzeit (memorial) candles, songs  (me), speeches & declarations about tolerance from the politicians.  Then a beautiful young girl, Shelby Means, aged 15, got up. Shelby was  accompanied on the guitar by her dad.  The are from Laramie. She proceeded to sing a song by the Jewish recording artist Robbo, about a child caught in the holocaust. She was blond, freckled, Jewish and from Laramie, Wyoming.  Very beautiful and very talented.   A gorgeous voice and presence.  My eyes were already brimming with tears when the 6th graders got up to sing.  The music teacher announced they would be singing "Jerusalem of Gold," and they proceeded shyly to do so.  COMPLETELY IN HEBREW!  I pretty much lost it at that point, and a priest from a local parish handed me a tissue. 

I found out later that the music teacher was not Jewish, nor were any of the kids in the grade. She was a sensitive, loving human being, who felt it necessary to teach her children this song in our sacred language to help them understand the horrors.  In a place notorious for the beating of a young gay man who was left for dead (Laramie) came love, tolerance and true caring.  It was a great lesson I learned that day - yes, we Jews are alone in many things. But there are others who truly respect us and care. Not everyone hates us.  I learned this in Cheyenne, Wyoming on a crisp spring day in April.


Chapter 2: Noah Budin comes to town!  May 1-4

 After our successful and fun concert in Austin last February, Scott Leader and I decided to bring Noah Budin to Denver to do a Cafe Sinai coffeehouse style concert at Temple Sinai. Noah did services with me at 8,000 feet in Evergreen Friday night.  We had dinner with my landlords, the wonderful Jill & Andy Wildenberg first and Noah made me stop the car when he saw his first elk(s) peacefully grazing in a neighbor's front yard.  Poor Jill. She's a gourmet cook and between Noahs' vegetarianism and my lactose intolerance, she was challenged.  But she rose to the occasion and the meal was outstanding.

Noah did an awesome "sermon in song" during an all-music service I led.  We had a fantastic turn out, Noah sold lots of CDs (well, not actually SOLD, it was Shabbat....) but gave them with promises to pay.  We headed "down the hill" that's the term they use here - from Evergreen (7850 feet) to my Treehouse in Green Mountain (6200 feet) and prepared for a big day with the concert ahead of us.

Sinai was also showing a Holocaust film with a special speaker and we wound up switching places for the standing-room-only concert - moving the very expensive sound system the sound techs had set up for hours that day.  It put us back about an hour, but that was fine.  My youth group from Beth Evergreen led Havdallah and we had invited Shelby Means down from Laramie to do a song during the show.  She brought her younger brother, Jacob, who accompanied her guitar with his mandolin and sang a perfect harmony.  Needless to say, they were a big hit!  What amazing kids!  We had people there from Colorado Springs, Boulder, all over Denver, Cheyenne and Laramie.  We were stunned at the turn-out.   It was as fun as the Austin version, and again, we all sold lots of CDs.

The next day, my good friends, Alan and Cherie Rubin took us to Boulder to a  wonderful  Buddist temple-like teahouse restaurant, we toured the Celestial Seasonings Factory and then Alan and Noah went gambling up in the mountains at the Black Hawk casino. Between Scott and Noah I had had enough testosterone for one weekend, so I begged off, rested a bit and went to a surprise going-away dinner for Scott given by his wonderful girlfriend, Nadine.  Alan was going to bring Noah later to dinner and when he arrived, he was green. The altitude had finally gotten to him. I had been forcing water down him for 3 days, but to no avail. All those twisty, winding mountain roads in Alan's TT Sportster finally won.  As soon as Noah was able (about an hour later), I carefully drove him home, where he proceeded to throw up for about 4 hours.  I've had altitude sickness once, and it's not fun, especially at someone else's place.  He kept apologizing profusely, but no apologies were needed. I got a package from his this week, a lovely gift, and his card said: "thanks for taking care of me.  Soon, every Jewish home in America will want to boast: "Noah Budin threw up here!"  He said he felt 100% better once he landed safely on the shores of Lake Erie in Cleveland.


Chapter 3: Durango  May 16-18

Durango is located in the far southwest corner of the state - in what is known as the "Four Corners" area - it's a magical place where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah all meet. It's magical because of the geography, and the spirits of the natives who have gone before us.  Both these elements infuse the landscape with color, unbelievable scents and spirituality.  Durango is on the "west slope" of the Rockies, and instead of lush, piney forests, it's desert mountains that rise thousands of feet. "The sage in bloom is like perfume" was also written about this area of the country.  It was the most intoxicating scent I have ever experienced.


Congregation Har Shalom (Peace Mountain) is 70 active families from all four corners.  There are around 500 Jews living in the Four Corners Area (Jews in the Four Corners?????)  They are all transplants, and many a Brooklyn and Chicago accent was heard that weekend.  Har Shalom brings in clergy monthly for a Shabbaton weekend.  I contacted  their president, Lisa Smith to do services and a concert.  The honorarium was decent, and they were flying me in, putting me up in a B&B downtown and renting me a car.  I jumped at the chance to go!

My United Express (30 seats!) flight from Denver was beautful - we were over the Rockies the entire time. It was bit bumpy with it's propellers, but an adventure.  When I arrived at the 3-gate La Plata County/Durango Airport, they had rented me an all-wheel drive sport JEEP!  The tires were twice the size of my Chrysler van and it was fun to drive.  The Rochester Hotel is a national historic landmark.  It's dedicated to the many, many westerns that were filmed there: “Have Gun, Will Travel,” “Around the World in 180 Days,” “City Slickers,” and each room was a "theme" based on a movie.  John Wayne stayed there. So did Jimmy Stewart, Harry Carey, Jr., and many others.  Just exploring was fun.

I went downtown and was shocked to see my face on posters all over town advertising my concert the next night at a great coffee house called "Norton's."  Har Shalom was calling it "Cafe Oy Vey!" I gave them the name from some concerts Abby Gostein, Natalia Hernandez and I did at Beth Israel in Austin when were were "Folkus." It was a fundraiser for Har Shalom, to continue bringing in special monthly guests.

Har Shalom just purchased a new building - a former Kingdom Hall (Jehovah's Witness). To their surprise, there was no kitchen! At all. Apparently, JW's don't eat.  At least not before, during or after worship.  Aside from that small glitch, it's beautiful, surrounded by farmland in the Animas river valley.  There is a gorgeous stand of aspen trees that borders their property. 

Friday night services were wonderful - everyone sang everything!  The people were incredible!  I went back to my hotel, and decided to take a trip in my Jeep to Silverton, Colorado, the next day.  I listened all the way on their local public radio station, KUTE, from the nearby Ute reservation.

Silverton is an old Victorian town and totally a tourist place.  It's industry was mining, and the narrow-gauge Silverton-Durango railway is legendary.  You are up to 10,000 feet on cliffs.  I did the trip with the kids when they were very little.  The drive up is exquisite - the peaks are still gleaming white from all the late-spring snow.  It was narrow and a bit scary, esp. with the Jeep, which seemed to have a personality all it's own.  It took about 1.5 hours to get there, and I stopped and took photo after photo, gathering sage until I was practically swooning in the Jeep.   I bought some great fudge, called Mark to brag where I was, shopped and got excited when the coal-driven steam train came in from Durango.

I got back in plenty of time to get ready for my concert.  It is the first one I had done without Scott Leader in quite a while, so I was excited, but nervous.  The concert was packed and I was able to do lots of stuff I don't do with Scott, including the very successful  "Adon Olam Challenge."   "Adon Olam" is a  poem praising God that you can sing ANYTHING to - I think I told you in a previous RMC that we sing it to the Air Force theme - "Off we go into the wild, blue, yonder...." at USAFA.  The challenge is for the audience to come up with a tune that I can't sing "Adon Olam" to.  The first request was "the Star-Spangled Banner."  Piece of cake.  Someone requested "Me and Bobby Magee," "Ina Gadda Da Vida" "Wasted Away Again in Margaritaville" and some others.  It was fun - lots of laughter.

I did a lot of the new stuff I have written here, some old favorites, including my "hippie set" (Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Jet Plane and If I Had A Hammer - I knew it was a singing crowd) and it was a really fun night. I sold lots of CDs (they're pretty hungry for Jewish music in the Four Corners) and went walking all over downtown with my hosts afterwards.  Did I mention the weather was perfect - low to mid-70s.? Durango is at around 7000 feet above sea level. Sunscreen was really needed.

The next morning I did a mini-songsession for the Sunday school kids and headed back to the airport.  I can't get over how wonderful this congregation was - many mixed marriages, many backgrounds, all loving and sincere, finding themselves Jewishly and living the good life away from the rat race on the West Slope.  I'm scheduling another weekend with them next year.  They're hoping to bring Scott Leader in, as well.


Chapter 3: USAFA Revisted May 25

When I was asked to sing at the Academy's Baccalaureate service, I was really honored, as I have been all the times I have sung at USAFA.  But this time was different - I was pretty nervous - I knew I'd be singing in front of gods and generals, Pentagon officials and there was a rumor that Vice President Cheney was going to be there.

It had already been a long weekend when I headed down there this morning - I had three students I had tutored for the last 8 months become B'nai Mitzvah this weekend.  One was at Sinai on Thursday, and two were Saturday morning - one at Beth Evergreen and one at B'nai Havurah, an outstanding Reconstructionist congregation.  I sang at Sinai and at Evergreen, of course, but was sorry to miss my kid  at B'nai Havurah. But at least I can chant the Torah portion "B'chukotai" in my sleep.

I picked up mass quantities of glatt kosher deli here in Denver and head back south to USAFA. It had been some pretty hot weather the last couple of days, but today was cool, foggy, misty.  I didn't even get to see Pike's Peak at all, and it's such a magnificent mountain.

We're on Orange Alert, so my car and I had to be searched for remnants of explosive devices and I headed onto the beautiful chapel.  I had special clearance to drive directly ON the grounds of the chapel - like totally around the building on the sidewalks, and I said to the guards on duty that my career Air Force Dad probably  hadn't even done that!

Before the service, I met with a nice lady chaplain, who came from DC, a diminutive, adorable, energetic woman named Lorraine Potter.  Her seminary background was "American Baptist." I was going to make a joke asking her if they called her "Colonel Sherman Potter" (from M*A*S*H*), but I'm glad I didn't. She said she had heard about the female cantor from Texas who had become a big part of the Jewish cadet's lives and asked me why I gave up my free time to be here.  I told her all about my Dad's career, growing up in small towns as the only Jews, the way I felt about the uniform I saw my Dad put on for half of my life, my connection to college-aged kids, with my own daughter their same age.  I told her if I could go on active duty at age 46, I would stay.  She laughed. We talked for about 5 minutes or so, and then it was time to start.

I did a niggun I had written (Niggun Zinger) and Hiney Ma Tov, translating both to the crowd, and then they introduced our first special guest: the head chaplain of all the chaplains: MAJOR GENERAL Lorraine Potter.  I had seen those two stars on her epilets, but didn't put two and two together.

She talked about the importance of religious community in the life of a cadet, and then proceeded to talk about me, my story, my history and what I was doing there.  I was floored.  Her concluding words were "It's dedicated people like Cantor Sherwin" who can make the difference in the life of a Jewish cadet. Her experiences as an Air Force Brat give her the empathy to bring you closer to God as you do holy work for your people, your religion and your country."  I couldn't move. The applause were loud as I reached for a tissue.

The next speaker was Rabbi/Colonel Brett Oxman, the Wing (head) Chaplain at McChord AFB in Washington State.  He's Orthodox and was accompanied by his lovely wife, and two of his four children - one Jesse's age and one Sam's age.  As the highest ranking Jewish chaplain, he was the one called in to make sure that Israeli Astronaut Ilan Ramon's remains were handled halachic-ly (according to Jewish law.)  He stayed for the days it took to find as many of the pieces as possible, and he accompanied Ramon on the plane back to Israel where he was buried.

He was needed in Qatar, at K2 base, Bagram and other points east and was heading over around Thanksgiving, when General Jumper asked him to please bring Christmas trees to the troops stationed in Qatar, Afganistan and Uzbekistan.  As they were living in Washington State, they were able to obtain 3 magnificent trees, with custom-made 20 foot coffin-like containers shipped by AF transport. Chaplain Oxman also purchased some tree lights and headed out.

All along the way he encountered trouble, as the trees were huge and didn't have the right kind of clearance for battlefield cargo. At one point, he tore the chaplain insignia off of his uniform, placed it on the cargo, thus giving it the stamp of approval to complete the mission.

When he arrived at K-2 base, the commander said "where the *#!&$$# did you get those trees ....... and where are the ornaments???"  As a Jewish man, Oxman had never even purchased trees, much less ornaments, and he politely suggested that the troops make their own.

One of the trees was having problems getting to Uzbekistan - both the transportation and clearance were impossible.  In the meantime, the tree was sitting in the hot sun.  A Jewish major in charge of supplies, found a way to water the tree, and get it safely to the troops.  In this way, two Jewish officers made sure the Christian troops had trees for Christmas.

Rabbi Oxman talked about the different minyons he has attended in these desert outposts. At K2, there are almost 25 people per week at  Shabbat minyon, led by an USAFA grad. At Al Udeid, where Special Ops were stationed in prep for the war in Iraq, 11 people came every week, led by a hog-riding Jewish member of the "Star of Davidsons" - Jewish Harley club.

Rabbi Oxman and the wonderful Rabbi/Captain Don Levy, who is the USAFA Chaplain, make up 25% of the Jewish Chaplains in the Air Force - there are only 8.  Rabbi Oxman emphasized the importance of lay leadership among the cadets and the importance of fulfilling their mission to their country and people in a Jewish way......

I barely got through the closing song, Craig Taubman's "Journey." We ate the deli I brought and talked with my wonderful cadets for hours.  I reluctantly left and headed north to my home.  By the way, Cheney didn't show - and he wasn't needed.



No, I never wore a robe at Temple Sinai! Angela Gold returned from Hong Kong and is back on the pulpit as Cantorial  Soloist. She wears a robe.  Rabbi Ray Zwerin retired after 37 years and the creation of Temple Sinai. Knowing him, he's not just rockin' on the front porch!

Scott Leader received his Masters in Educational Administration at Arizona State. Scott's new CD, "Lift My Eyes" came out in May, 2003, and is a huge success. And, of course, Scott was here in Austin many times last year, and is again an integral part of my CD and my musical life.

Beth Evergreen opened their beautiful, new shul in August of 2003. I'm honored I was asked to be a part of the opening festivities.

Rabbi Eliot Baskin left  Beth Evergreen, to continue his excellent work at Jewish Family Services as the Denver Community Chaplain and take care of his amazing sons, Gabe & Jonah. He currently serves Temple Har Shalom in Durango, CO

Noah Budin gave up vegetarianism.  He is now a proud, bone-carrying carnivore.

Chaplain Captain Rabbi Don Levy is serving the servicemen and women of Ramstein AFB, Germany. I am still in touch with my cadets.

Bette, the Wonder Camry, came home to Austin to be lovingly driven by my daughter, Katy.  Bette had endured two break-ins, one in  Denver, one in Austin, as well as the collapse of her carport and tons of snow on her.......with grace and dignity.  Unfortunately, a 17-year old on a cellphone in the rain, totalled Bette and badly injured Katy.  Katy survived and is fine. We mourn the loss of Bette frequently.

My very dear friend, Deborah Shifrah Buckley, z"l, died in July, 2004.  She finally succumbed to cancer after 17 years.  During my time in Colorado, she nurtured me, cared for me medically, centered me, fed me and cheered me on every step of the way. We hung kimonos on the wall, shared fresh elk steaks, shopped at the local health food store, walked her dogs and sang and laughed. A lot.  I've never met a person with such spirit and hope.  We had know each other for 22 years, having met in Portland, OR, before Mark and I were even married.  Jesse's Hebrew name came from her dear friend and partner, Mahima Bracha.  I have dedicated Aish HaKodesh to her.


I have shared only some of the incredible experiences I have had here - as I slowly let go and allow myself to be 100% back in Austin, I will always be grateful for these nine months.  Something in me has been born in during this gestational period - I can't wait to see what awaits me when I re-emerge. Thanks for reading.
Love,  Robbi



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