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“Bitterosity,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

A few years ago, a dear friend shared this story with me that I have recently found comforting. It is about a made up disease called bitterosity. Here it is:

Adam Gopnik, the wonderful New Yorker writer, wrote a phrase coined by his daughter, Olivia, when she was only three years old. Her perception of the universe was clearly beyond her years.

Like many children, Olivia had an imaginary friend. His name was Charlie Ravioli. Olivia, who lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, projected many of the New Yorker characteristics on her dear made up Charlie Ravioli. He ate out frequently, lived in an apartment and arranged his meetings with Olivia. Unfortunately, Charlie Ravioli was a very busy person and often was not available to get together. One day, Olivia reported to her parents that Charlie Ravioli had gotten married to a woman named Kweeda. Little Olivia described the wedding and their honeymoon at a place she concocted called Cornfields.

A few days later, Olivia shared the sad news that Kweeda had died. When asked what poor Kweeda had died of, Olivia responded that Kweeda died of a disease called bitterosity. In his book, Through the Children’s Gate, Gopnik reflected what this horrible ailment might actually be. He wrote: “Bitterosity, born of betrayal and disappointment, jealousy and resentment is a plague we all work at safeguarding ourselves from.” (pg. 180)

I have been thinking a lot about bitterosity recently with all the sadness, grief, anger, vulnerability, and hateful danger swirling around us. I worry how difficult it has become to overcome the bitterness that we feel from the tragic losses and trauma of violence witnessed by the brutal Hamas attacks one month ago perpetuated upon innocent Israelis and taking hundreds of hostages. My heart remains heavy with the continued pain families and friends must hold and deal with. And I share the concern and distress for the tremendous losses innocent Palestinians are enduring amidst the deaths they are experiencing in Gaza.

But, this I know. Salve for bitterosity is in the presence of community where we can and do uncover strength. We need not be plagued by bitterosity. Instead, we find one another at Qabbalat Shabbat as a refuge from the darkness of the day. We are not alone and can discover a path away from loneliness toward comfort. I have felt consolation through being together. I hope you will, too.

Shabbat Shalom!

I continue to value the many comments you exchange with me through these Shabbat Awakenings. Share with me what you think. Your email goes directly to me!

  • We gather at 6:00 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat  on ZoomFacebook Live, or stream on our websiteWe mark the end of the thirty days of Sheloshim following the October 7 attacks.
  • Torah Study gathers onsite or online at 9:00 a.m.
  • Thank Goodness It’s Shabbat gathers at 10:00 a.m. No registration necessary.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m.
  • The Israeli American Council, in partnership with Temple Israel, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Consulate General of Israel to New England will be holding Stronger Together, an evening of remembrance and unity on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Register here

Rabbi Elaine Zecher