As described in Wikipedia, the parabola is a mathematical term specifying the intersection of a right circular conical surface and a plane parallel to a straight line of that surface. Given a point and a corresponding line on the plane, the locus of points in that plane that are equidistant from them forms a parabola.
The Wikipedia entry gives you a nice sampling of parabolic shapes found in the physical world, though they omit my favorite: The artistry of the dispenser who can place a scoop of ice cream on a sugar cone that is perfectly symmetrical, without dripping over the edge. Make it mint chocolate chip, please.
I have a different type of Parabola in mind this evening, an eclectic literary journal published quarterly, subtitled “Where Spiritual Traditions Meet”. Among its many excellent points of intersection, some of my favorite have been essays on the vertices of mind, body and brain by Christian Wertenbaker, an associate clinical professor of neuro-ophthalmology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Dr. Wertenbaker is one of three senior editors at Parabola, and his own pieces have become fewer and far between. My hunch is that his writing became curtailed after the type of family tragedy that none of us should have to confront. I’ve always meant to reach out to him, to let him know how much I enjoy his writing. Christian was seemingly destined to be literary, both his parents having been employed as foreign journalists for Time Magazine in Europe during WWII.
The theme for the Summer 2011 issue is Giving & Receiving, and the piece that caught my eye was written by Joshua Boettiger titled “Spanish Boots of Spanish Leather”. It is a sensitive essay on how recipients view gifts, and on the second page there is a picture of an Orthodox Jewish scribe writing the Torah between 1934 and 1939. Intrigued, I flipped to the back of the magazine which contains profiles of the authors, and Joshua Boettiger is identified for his role in serving as the rabbi for the Jewish community of Bennington, Vermont.
This isn’t a photo of Rabbi Boettiger. It’s a photo of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz who for the past decade has been Parabola’s resident scholar on Jewish spiritual traditions. Rabbi Steinsaltz is world renowned, so naturally I was curious to learn of Rabbi Boettiger’s pedigree, no disrespect intended to the Jewish community of Bennington, Vermont.
Turns out that Rabbi Boettiger is the great grandson of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt. Interviewed about his legacy, Joshua acknowledged the controversy among our people regarding why Roosevelt didn’t do more to rescue Jews from the Nazis, leaving the railroad tracks to Auschwitz intact. Ironically Christian Wertenbaker’s mother, a journalist labeled by the Nazis as a “dangerous woman”, did more to bring awareness of the plight of the Jews in Nazi Germany to the public eye than most elected U.S. officials. In the realm of Giving and Receiving, we can always do more. Here, in the pages of Parabola, where spiritual traditions meet, humanitarians and scholars carve their own niches. The meeting of traditions needs to circulate more widely.