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Baumel Joseph: Be prepared for life

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The Boy Scouts of America trained countless young Americans with one motto: “Be Prepared.” What it actually meant is unclear, but for many, it led to always carrying a pocketknife, which may no longer practical in many situations. But the emphasis on readiness certainly carries significance in all our social endeavours.

I was reminded of that aphorism recently, when our family was in Israel to celebrate our grandson’s bar mitzvah. On one of the days, my son met a wave on a Tel Aviv beach that did not agree with him and he was rushed to the ER. I hurried there from Jerusalem, where I was visiting family for the weekend, with only my backpack. Nothing could have prepared me for the shock I felt when I saw him shivering in a neck brace on a stretcher. I knew that getting him warm was crucial, so I offered him some warm socks.

“Ema,” he said, “there’s no way your socks can fit me.” Smiling, I replied, “I came prepared. I have airplane socks, large enough for any foot.” The mutual delight was instant: mom was prepared and son was warmed. The moral of the story is that you never know when you’re gonna need dry socks. I have no idea why I had put those socks in my backpack, as I did not need them for the weekend. Just extra preparedness or something.

These are lessons that are learned early in life.

My mother always told me to take cash with me on a date: “You never know if your date will turn out to be a dud and you’ll need to take a taxi home.” This was before credit cards, Uber or #MeToo.

Interestingly, much of my education did not prepare me for life. No one prepared me for motherhood, or managing a household. But I was equipped for some aspects of life as an adult Jew. I learned ritual and liturgy. Notably, my education focused on Hebrew and Zionism.

I wasn’t prepared for a career, or for the clash between being female and Jewish. But we cannot be prepared for everything, or prepare our children for it all.

On the other hand, during this season, perhaps we should focus our preparations on our moral and social interactions and relationships.

It is very easy to get lost in the physical realities of the holidays. We may go to synagogue, say rote prayers, host gatherings of family and friends, eat large meals and buy new clothes. All appear to be important forms of ritual and celebrations that inaugurate the new year. We even begin building the sukkah right after Yom Kippur. But in the midst of all this materiality, the conceptual, ethical and moral underpinnings seem to get lost. Preparations for these elements are time-consuming and difficult. They are lonely, so we often shy away from them, or don’t leave enough time for them. Hence, as we sit down to pray or eat a family dinner, we may realize that we are not quite as prepared as we might have wished.


I have no easy solutions for this. I only know that this happens to me time and time again. I want to think about things and “get my dry socks ready.”

But I get disoriented with all the tangible things I am responsible for and then I cease to focus on the theoretical. Maybe reading the prayer book ahead of time will help. This year, I will read some of the wonderful emails I receive from teaching organizations. Perhaps that will set the atmosphere for enhanced reflections. Perhaps I will talk with my children, as they are often filled with insight. What will you do?

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