Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, January 24, 2020 / 27 Tevet 5780
Summary: Here are some reflections on Rabbi Stampfer, as well as information about our communal observance of his sheloshim this Sunday. We will meet in the Isaak Foyer starting at 5:15 pm for light refreshments before moving to Stampfer Chapel at 5:30. Note that another program is occurring in Stampfer that doesn’t end till 5 pm; out of respect for that, please allow them some overflow time and don’t enter Stampfer until 5:20.
This Sunday, we will mark the close of Rabbi Joshua Stampfer’s sheloshim with an evening of prayer, music and learning. I don’t know about you, but for me it seems like a year since he passed and also just like yesterday. Our experience of time is so elastic like that—and so are the emotions, thoughts and activities that have accompanied so many of us over these past 30 days. It’s similar to standing at the ocean’s shore as its sweep and roar extend time, making us somehow feel small and insignificant and simultaneously completely grounded and at home. Have you had that experience?
One congregant shared with me that they had known Rabbi Stampfer all of their lives. So much is contained in that fact. It’s the way that losing a sibling or a childhood friend makes you feel that not only have they died, but that your mutual shared experiences have also ended. Sure, you remember those long ago moments on your own, but there’s no one left to recall those moments you lived together. The memory remains, but the shared experience does not.
Which makes me think back to a month ago. At that time, I reflected on one of Joshua’s many virtues—namely that even at 97, he had this remarkable capacity to look toward the future with joy and expectation. I imagined that this was one key to his optimism.
And then Laura pointed me to the work of research psychologist, Roy Baumeister, who, along with Paul Rozin, created an entire stream of psychology studying negativity bias and negativity dominance—what would get termed the negativity effect. Their research showed how we need four positive experiences to overcome the negativity bias that accompanies one unsatisfactory one. It also highlighted that nostalgia is a key tool to greater contentment and gratitude—by focusing on past experiences that made us happy, we end up increasing our satisfaction in the present and the future.
Those insights made me rethink Rabbi Stampfer’s optimism. While its true that Josh had this amazing ability to look forward, he also enjoyed recalling the past. In fact, part of his charm to so many were the endless stories he would share. Rabbi Stampfer took pleasure in the past, and we took pleasure listening to him do so. A shared experience!
This Sunday, we are called upon to fuse past, present and future. Rabbi Eve and I will offer some words of Torah, Cantor Bitton will lend us his voice, and together we will recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for the last time as a community mourning its senior spokesperson, rabbi and visionary.
Although sheloshim may be ending, the enduring impact of Rabbi Stampfer continues. As one small example of this, his Talmud class has been given fresh vitality; it is now being co-taught by Rabbi Daniel Isaac and Doug Brotz. This occurs on Tuesdays at 5 pm, usually in room 111. New students are both welcomed and encouraged to attend. What a wonderful gift of dedication, as teaching brought him so much pleasure.
I look forward to gathering with you on Sunday.
Shabbat Table Talk
- Did you ever take a class with Rabbi Stampfer? Which class? What do you remember learning from him?
- What are some things that make you optimistic about the present?
If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.