Add these wonderful offerings to my thankfulness for olive oil and honey …
From F: I am grateful for my union and the extraordinary work the union reps performed to assist their members during the pandemic. Hours were spent on the phone with unemployment to get answers to members' questions and in some cases reps assisted with the filling out of the forms necessary to file. The union made sure members had adequate PPE, negotiated with our employer to keep the cost of our medical insurance down, and for members who were reduced to part-time work, we got our employer to sign up for the Shared Work Program so that our members wouldn't hurt financially. I'm thankful for the ordinary work unions do ensuring that workers get decent treatment from their employers, negotiating contract for fair pay and benefits and just being out there speaking up for the working person.
From N in Roslyn Heights: I am thankful for … John Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things." And microwave ovens, and only for two reasons: Reheating coffee and softening honey when it hardens inside a jar.
MG: I am a Dave Brubeck and Oscar Peterson fan, but Coltrane was tuned into the sounds of the universe. As for microwave ovens; with no evidence and for no good reasons I still think that microwaves zap our brains.
From C: This year I would nominate "science nerds," who are responsible for so many things that have made our lives better. In particular, I am grateful for those scientists and lab technicians who created the lifesaving vaccines for COVID-19 with great speed, using new messenger RNA technology. Science nerds are often the recipient of disparaging jokes, but they are very often behind-the-scenes heroes who work diligently for long hours without accolades. COVID-19 has touched members of my family, including my now 5-month-old grandson who is just recovering. This is a truly wicked disease for which we now have effective prevention measures, and treatments.
MG: I hope they all win Nobel Prizes for their healing work. However, why not broaden your thankfulness to include all so-called nerds. According to the Merriam-Webster website on word origins, in the 1950 composition of whimsy "If I Ran the Zoo," by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel), we have what seems to be the first occurrence of nerd in print:
And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-troo
And bring back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo,
A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker, too!
In October of the following year, Newsweek carried an article about the latest slang that includes the word nerd. "In Detroit," it notes, "someone who once would be called a drip or a square is now, regrettably, a nerd, or in less severe cases, a scurve."
Although many people wear the label of nerd with pride, I believe it is a word of prejudice and derision directed against smart people. Being cool seems to be the opposite of being a nerd and this presents people, particularly children, with a terrible dilemma: Either be popular or be smart. That is a spiritually corrosive choice. Anyway, as a God nerd, those are my thoughts.
From D: My son died this year, but I am thankful for the milkweed he planted that brought the joy of monarchs and other butterflies to my yard.
MG: I am so moved by your ability to find joy in anything during this first year of your grief work. I shall never see milkweed the same way ever again because of your hopeful soul. Your ability to see your son in the milkweed he planted reminds me of the poet Mary Oliver, who also took joy and wisdom from nature. She wrote:
"To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go."
"When will you have a little pity for/every soft thing/that walks through the world/yourself included?"
"I'd seen / their hoof prints in the deep / needles and knew / they ended the long night / under the pines, walking / like two mute / and beautiful women toward / the deeper woods, so I / got up in the dark and / went there. They came / slowly down the hill / and looked at me sitting under / the blue trees, shyly / they stepped / closer and stared / from under their thick lashes … / This is not a poem about a dream, / though it could be …"
MG: May God comfort you on your loss, dear D.
SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.