Monday, April 30, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 27 - 3 weeks, 6 days

Today is Yesod she b'Netzach - a day of foundation in a week of endurance.

Like most San Francisco Bay Area bloggers, it's hard not to write about the accident that is reminiscent of the freeway collapse caused by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. For those who might not have heard the news, a gas tanker truck overturned on the southbound Interstate 880 freeway connector, then burst into flames. The heat was so intense that the steel holding up the connector above it which links Interstate 580 with state highway 24, melted and collapsed unto the freeway below. The driver was able to get away before the tanker exploded and because of the early time - 3:45a.m. - no life was lost.

You can see a collection of photos showing the destruction here at the SFGate website. Yesterday morning's accident occurred very near the place where the Cypress freeway collapsed in the 1989 earthquake. I'm almost sure that these new connectors were constructed to take the place of the Cypress. And like the Cypress, it's hard not to image driving those roads with the possibility of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. As I mentioned earlier, this time we were lucky.

You never know what will happen, and you can't live your life worrying what will be. Even on this day of foundation and endurance, the foundation crumbled, destroying a structure that was built to endure. But although it will take months, a new foundation will be created, a new structure will be built, and life will go on. Maybe the lesson for this day is that we need to monitor our foundations, not just take their existence for granted. We need to shore up and fix what becomes broken, create our new foundations. That is the root of true endurance.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 26 - 3 weeks, 5 days

Today is Hod she b'Netzach - a day of humility in a week of endurance.

We're in the second half of the omer period and I've managed to keep the count and the daily blog. This is the first time I've find myself with a complete loss of words for an entry. I plugged the words humility and endurance into the Google images search engine, and found this link to Dr. Seuss on the first page. Why did this come up? Because of this sentence: "Dr. Seuss was described as "the German brewer's kid" and was nicknamed the Kaiser. Yet he overcame, these situations with a sense of humility and endurance."

So, on this day, I give you one of my all time favorites, Dr. Seuss--a man who taught many of us important lessons of tolerance with the humility and endurance he learned as a kid.

Counting the Omer Day 25 - 3 weeks, 4 days

Yesterday was Netzach she b'Netzach - a day of endurance in a week of endurance.

In this week of endurance I seem to be focusing my Jewish community--both my Beth Sholom community and the Jewish community at large. This exposes my deep tribal relationship to my Judaism. I believe that a connected Jewish community is representative of our tribal roots--it ties us to our ancestors and has given us the means for survival throughout the centuries.

In the book by Rodger Kamenetz, "The Jew in the Lotus," a group of Jewish religious leaders from different spheres of Judaism meet with the Dalai Lama. The subject of discussion was the survival of Judaism through such a long period in diaspora. The most important discovery for the Dalai Lama was that the survival of the Jewish people was tied to shared home rituals. There is no central person or persons who participate for others, the rituals are done by the family units.

A community is an extension of family, and the rituals we share bind us together. These rituals support us in both times of elation and times of sadness. Yesterday I participated in the celebration of a bar mitzvah; this morning I was at minyan, supporting those who are in the midst of grief over the loss of a loved one.

As long as we can come together in community, we will endure.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 24 - 3 weeks, 3 days

Today is Tiferet she b'Netzach - a day of compassion in a week of endurance.

Transition periods are always rough. Sometimes you go into them prepared, sometimes not. You almost always hope/wish/expect that they are short. Although you anticipate there will be some pain, you pray it will be a quick jab, not a long, drawn out twist of the knife.

The pain of the Beth Sholom transition is nothing as dramatic as the long twist of the knife, but it is proving to be more than a quick jab. We're coming close to the resolution of our building and rabbi issues--at least for now. But there's still so much uncertainty as to what our community will look like and on what basis will we function. Things are changing, that's for sure--change is necessary for the life of our community.

In Deuteronomy 25:17-19, we are told to blot out the memory of Amalek in response to their attack on the Israelites when we were first left Egypt--an attack that preyed on those who were ". . .famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear." But we are also told not to forget. Some commentators take that as lesson that we should make sure to care for all in our community, not just those in the forefront.

As we move forward on the transitionary path, we should remember that it is compassion that will create a place where we will endure. And that compassion needs to be spread wide to encompass all in our community, leaving no one behind.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 23 - 3 weeks, 2 days

Today is Gevurah she b'Netzach - a day of strength in a week of endurance.

This morning the first of the pre-built forms that will shape the bowl for the new Beth Sholom sanctuary arrived. Once in place, concrete will be poured into the forms to make the structure. You can see all the construction photos at the Beth Sholom blog. And any congregant who would like a site tour should contact the Beth Sholom office. Mark Gunther is happy to be your guide.

With all the issues around having our congregation Bamidbar - in the wilderness - I do gain strength seeing the progress of the construction, hoping we will only have to endure this period until December when we can truly celebrate Hanukkah with the dedication of our new home.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 22 - 3 weeks, 1 day

Today is Chesed she b'Netzach - a day of loving kindness in a week of endurance.

This photo of the Barbie Minyan is from the workshop of Jen Taylor Friedman, artist and soferet - scribe. I've shown other Tefillin Barbies of hers in this post. In addition to making Tefillin Barbies and her other scribe related commissions, she is in the process of writing a Torah scroll, the only woman doing so at this time.

I've also written about the dilemma Jewish women often face when they take on the mitzvah of tefillin (You can find that post here.) Jen Friedman is trying to support women who wish to take on this mitzvah by starting a women's tefillin gemach - a place where women who wish to take on this mitzvah but cannot afford a set of tefillin can obtain one. So if you have any tefillin around that you're not using, go to her website, to contact her.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 21 - 3 weeks

Today is Malchut she b'Tiferet - a day of majesty in a week of compassion.

Today is Yom Ha'Atmaut - Israeli independence day. We added Hallel to the morning minyan service, and I read the "Dry Bones" Ezekiel to the morning minyanHaftarah in English. The prophesy of the time in Jewish history from the aftermath of the Holocaust to the formation of the State of Israel is so clear. An ancient prophesy fulfilled just before I was born. I am in awe.

For my personal commemoration of the day, I'll introduce you to the work of Israeli artist Gilad Benari. His photographic work is visually stunning. Go here to see a gallery of his photos. If you have PowerPoint player you can go to his website - - and download some slideshows that a part of his "A different look at Israel" series.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 20 - 2 weeks, 6 days

Today is Yesod she b'Tiferet - a day of foundation in a week of compassion.

Many visualizations of foundation are seen in images of solidity and firmness--huge, thick tree roots or a dense concrete or earthen slab that serves as a base for a house. These images anchor us to a place, seemingly immobile. But we need to have some give on our path, some bounce to our step as we walk our path of life.

Having a solid foundation of faith is good, but without the softening that comes with tolerance and compassion, that foundation will become brittle and break.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 19 - 2 weeks, 5 days

Today is Hod she b'Tiferet - a day of humility in a week of compassion.

Walking the streets of my neighborhood
I feel the flow of the land beneath my feet
even through the concrete.
I imagine the bare green hills
before the houses were built.

Yesterday a soft drizzle;
today a crisp wind in my face.
These elements feel unsullied.

On this Earth Day
I take these as humble reminders
of my place in this world.
We need to remember
to treat all that lives around us
with compassion and respect.

Counting the Omer Day 18 - 2 weeks, 4 days

Yesterday was Netzach she be'Tiferet - a day of endurance in a week of compassion.

Yesterday was the Shabbat between Yom HaShoah - a day of remembrance for all those lost in the Holocaust - and Yom HaAtzmaut - a day commemorating the 1948 formation of the State of Israel. Because of this, Rabbi Moshe Levin of Ner Tamid chose to change the haftarah that is traditionally read for the Torah parsha Tazria-Metzorah. Instead, the haftarah that we read on the Shabbat HolHamoed Pesach - the Shabbat in the midst of Passover - Ezekiel 36:37 - 37:14, known as the "Dry Bones" story. He felt that reading was much more appropriate to the Shabbat linking Yom HaShoah to Yom HaAtzmaut. Reading that story, I totally agree with him, and think it's a change that should be made at Beth Sholom when we are back together next year in our new synagogue building.

The amazing thing about reading that haftarah this past Shabbat was seeing the prophesy of Ezekiel fulfilled with the survival of Judaism after the holocaust and the birth of the Jewish homeland. The imagery couldn't be more appropriate and the words more direct. Ezekiel tells of his vision in which God takes him to a valley of dry bones. God says to those bones: "I will lay sinews upon you, and cover you with flesh, and form skin over you. And I will put breath into you, and you shall live again" (37:6). And so it comes to pass:
"The breath entered them, and they came to life and stood up on their feet, a vast multitude. And God said to me, "O mortal, these bones are the whole House of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone; we are doomed.' Prophesy, therefore, and say to them: Thus said Adonai, your God: I am going to open your graves and lift you out of the graves, O My people, and bring you to the land of Israel. You shall know, O My people, that I am Adonai, when I have opened your graves and lifted you out of your graves. I will put My breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil. Then you shall know that I, Adonai, have spoken and have acted" (37:10-14)
Read it again and let it all sink in. Hope is gone, dried up like those bones. But just as those lifted from the graves, hope rises from the ashes of the Holocaust as our people are brought to a land that can be called ours - the State of Israel. All our displaced people can now find their way home.

A prophesy written before the common era fulfilled in the 20th century. While I find this somewhat chilling, it also helps me confirm my faith in my Jewish tradition.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 17 - 2 weeks, 3 days

Today is Tiferet she b'Tiferet - a day of compassion in a week of compassion.

For most of my life, I have been one of those thin, never have to worry about gaining weight, kind of people. I've never been a big eater--in fact, my stress mode tends to manifest itself in not eating. And I guess I my metabolism has been on the fast side. Whatever the reasons, I never had to diet or even worry about weight gain.

In December of 2001 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was in the best shape of my life. I was exercising regularly and my yoga practice was in full swing. I looked good and felt good. The cancer diagnosis changed all that. With chemotherapy slamming me into menopause and years of taking tamoxifen, my metabolism slowed and many pounds were added. I wouldn't be described as fat--changing to lots of loose-fitting clothes helped with that perception--but it brought me to a point where I was heavy, with a protruding belly that not just effected my body but also dampened my spirits.

These past ten days I've been on a program to cleanse impurities from my system and burn off fat. The hope was that I would lose 8-10 pounds. By day 6, I could feel the difference. In yoga class that day my balance was better than it had been in years, and I could once again fold forward without any obstruction from my midsection. It really felt good. The next day I decided to try on a pair of jeans that I've been unable to wear for a couple of years. They just sat around, mocking me. One leg in, the other, pulled them up, button, zip--voila! They fit just fine--an exciting moment.

The ten days ended yesterday and this morning I stepped on the scale. To my surprise, I only lost 4 pounds---just 4 pounds!! What a downer. I can see and feel the difference in my body, but the actually number of lost pounds seems so puny. Sigh. I will continue on this road, and I will shed the extra weight remaining. And I need to remind myself not to rely on expectations over reality, and to trust my perceptions, not those of an inanimate object like a scale. It is nice to feel comfortable with how I look wearing a pair of jeans with a shirt tucked in--especially when just months ago I couldn't even zip up those jeans.

On this day of compassion in a week of compassion, I have more empathy for those with weight problems than I've ever had before. I know it's a place where I've been judgmental in the past but now have a better understanding of what it means to be stuck in an overweight body. And I need to remember to have compassion for myself. The difference in how I look and feel is the story, not the number on the scale. The work I put in did make a difference, and that is what I need to take in as I move towards a healthier future.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 16 - 2 weeks, 2 days

Today is Gevurah she b'Tiferet - a day of strength in a week of compassion.

Today is the second Rosh Chodesh day for the month of Iyar (for an explanation of Rosh Chodesh and why it's sometimes two days, click here). On Rosh Chodesh days we add Psalm 104 to the Shacharit-morning-service. It's one of those earth-centered, nature-loving, the world is full and good and we need to remember to appreciate it's wonder kind of psalms.

"You make springs gush forth in torrents to flow between the hills. The wild beasts all drink from them; wild asses quench their thirst. Birds of the heavens rest on their banks and lift their voices among the branches."
(verses 10 - 12, Sim Shalom translation)

Once again, I appreciate this practice that reminds me each month, with joy, to cherish the world in which we live.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 15 - 2 weeks, 1 day

Today is Chesed she b'Tiferet - a day of loving kindness in a week of compassion.

Today is Rosh Chodesh Iyar - the start of the Hebrew month of Iyar. For the "Essence of Iyar" you can check out this page on I never realized that Iyar is referred to as the month of natural healing, something we can use right now on so many levels.

Chodesh Tov!!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 14 - 2 weeks

Today is Malchut she b'Gevurah - a day of majesty in a week of strength.

We end this second week of the omer on a sad note, mourning the inconceivable loss of life that took place yesterday on the Virginia Tech campus. Malchut, majesty, is the sephirah of of the Shechinah, Divine Presence. May all involved in this tragedy who need that presence along with the strength to hold it, find the healing they need.

Zichronam l'vracha - May their memories be for a blessing - and may those memories comfort their loved ones.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 13 - 1 week, 6 days

Today is Yesod she b'Gevurah - a day of foundation in a week of strength.

Although I wrote yesterday that it was Yom HaShoah, that was just a day of many commemorations marking the day. Today is the official Yom HaShoah date.

In case there is any doubt that we need to keep up this remembrance, read this article from BBC News. It seems that some schools in the UK, "avoid teaching the Holocaust and other controversial history subjects as they do not want to cause offence" according to a report from the government-funded Historical Association. The report states, "Teachers and schools avoid emotive and controversial history for a variety of reasons, some of which are well-intentioned." Along with the Holocaust, topics not taught for these reasons include the Crusades and the slave trade.

Without going on a long tirade on this, I will just quote philosopher George Santayana:

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

We need to insure that this horrific event from our past is never repeated in anyone's future.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 12 - 1 week, 5 days

Today is Hod she be'Gevurah - a day of compassion in a week of strength.

Today is Yom HaShoah, a day within this time of counting when we make sure to remember the 6 million of our people who were brutally murdered for no reason other than they were Jews. I wrote two Yom HaShoah posts in 2005, you can read them here and here.

In the Sim Shalom siddur, the prayer book of most Conservative synagogues, there is a special prayer for the day inserted in the Amidah, the prayers we traditionally say quietly to ourselves. It is placed within the lead up to the blessing to God, who hears our prayers.
"Adonai, our God, comfort the remnant of Your people Israel, a brand plucked from the fire. For a cruel enemy arose to destroy us -- to murder every Jew, young and old, women and children, saying: 'Come, let us annihilate them, so that the name of Israel might no longer be uttered.' The waters engulfed us; our tormentors fed us bitter poison. Alas, we are undone, for our Source of comfort is yet far off. Recalling these things, I weep. But You will not forget us eternally."
What struck me this morning was the rawness of these words. But it felt extremely appropriate, for to properly remember, we need to feel the rent in our souls.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 11 - 1 week, 4 days

Today was Netzach she b'Gevurah - a day of endurance in a week of strength.

I often drive some residents of Rhoda Goldman Plaza, an assisted living facility in San Francisco, to and from services on Shabbat and holidays. Some are my friends; some I don't know well but wish to attend services.

Since January, I've been transporting Nathan Mass to and from services when his son is unable to make other arrangements. Nathan is 100 years old and is still quite sharp. Even with a hearing aide in each ear, he's quite deaf, but he knows the service and can sing with the best of us. In fact, we often sing parts of the liturgy in the car--which is good, since conversation can be difficult given his hearing issues.

I get little glimpses of his background each time I see him. He grew up in Europe, and went to cheder--Hebrew day school. He came here with nothing, met his American-born wife here, and raised two sons--one a doctor, the other a lawyer. He considers himself Modern Orthodox, but he loves our service. He remarks on the knowledge and participation of the women of our community. Make no mistake, he is pleased about it, it just never ceases to amaze him.

I would love to know more about him--when did he get to the US, and how did he get here? What was his profession? What was he like in his younger days? I am going to meet up with one of his sons--the doctor, who lives near me--and get some of the answers. But whatever I find out, there is no doubt that he epitomizes this day of endurance and strength.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 10 - 1 week, 3 days

Today is Tiferet she b'Gevurah - a day of compassion in a week of strength.

At you will find Rabbi Jill Hammer's Omer Calendar of biblical women. Day 10 is the day of Deborah, the only woman judge mentioned in the Book of Judges.

My feelings on the place women and the GLBT community have in the Conservative movement's "Big Tent" theory is clear--see this post. My bottom line--the theory doesn't work unless anyone can go everywhere in the big tent, and only straight males have that privilege.

One of the voices who reflect my views is Rabbi Judith Hauptman, a pre-eminent Talmudic scholar and professor at the Jewish Theological seminary, where she has taught since 1973. (If you read this bio from the JTS site, you'll see in the last paragraph that her rabbinical ordination is from the non-denominational Academy for Jewish Religion. Why not JTS, I wonder.......). Two years ago, as the Conservative movement was facing a change in leadership, she wrote this article in The Jewish Week outlining the challenges that lie ahead. Today, in a drash published in The Forward on this week's Torah parasha, Shemini, she continues the theme but expands the challenges to the entire Jewish community. She also outlines changes in Jewish practice regarding women and gays across all denominations. While there is still a long way to go, she reminds us that there has been evolution and there is cause for hope:

"The larger point in this entire debate is that the past 35 years have witnessed the halachic maturation of the American Jewish community. Every one of its segments, in one way or another, has adapted itself to the realization that women are as fully human as men. Every one of its segments is also rethinking its attitudes toward, and its treatment of, gay men and women. We tend to focus on the issue of the moment. If we look instead at what has happened to Judaism over time, we will find it exhilarating: The American Jewish community has restored the ethical impulse to its halachic deliberations. A cause for celebration."

כן יהי רצון Ken y'hi ratzon - May it be so.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 9 - 1 week, 2 days

Today is Gevurah she b'Gevurah - a day of strength in a week of strength.

Kurt Vonnegut died yesterday at the age of 84. I can't speak for other generations, but I can say that he is a seminal writer for my baby boomer generation. His books and stories were social commentary, science fiction, satire, incredibly witty and just plain wonderful to read. If you want to know more about him and his writings, there's a great website, The Vonnegut Web. You can find the NYTimes obit here (although this link may expire if you don't subscribe).

The best thing you can do write now is read one of his books or stories. If you haven't read Slaughterhouse Five, run out right now, get a copy and read it. It's the best way to honor this wonderful writer.

Zichrono l'vracha - His memory will be for a blessing, as he will live on through his writings.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 8 - 1 week, 1 day

Today is Chesed she b'Gevurah - a day of loving kindness in a week of strength.

I started my practice of counting the omer in 2000. I attended a series of three workshops at P'nai Or run by the Jewish Renewal Life Center in Philadelphia. The second of the workshops took place before Pesach. The weekend was centered around studying different aspects of Jewish ritual with Rabbi Marcia Prager, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, and Rabbi Phyllis Berman. It was there that I learnt to count using the sephirot, giving me the spiritual hit that led me to work with this ancient practice in my modern life. Like the study of Torah, it is one of those practices that will sustain me for the rest of my life.

The counting of 2002--5762--had special significance for me. That was the year of my treatment for breast cancer. My chemotherapy started on the first of Nissan. My last infusion was on the 49th day of the omer. The counting that year had an added importance. It allowed me to avoid the tendancy to count those difficult days as a prisoner tracking her time of internment. Instead, I could use the seven attributes to support me through my illness.

It was Gevurah-the sephirot of strength-that resonated most deeply with me that year. So often the symbol of strength is a closed fist. But that year I learned how much strength there is in an outstretched, open palm. It is very difficult for many otherwise self-sufficient cancer patients to rely on others for help. But there are so many people around you at that time who want to help. The ability to ask for and accept the help you need represents a strength as great, if not greater, than any boxer's punch. That is a lesson of Gevurah that stays with me to this day.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 7 - 1 week

Today is Malchut she b'Chesed - a day of majesty in a week of loving kindness.

Today we come to the end of the first week of the counting. Even if we don't use the sephirot to count, the ritual of counting makes us aware of the flow of days and weeks. For instance, the prayer for today's counting is:
היום שבעה ימים שהם שבוע אחד לעמר
Hayom shivah yamim, sh'hem shavua echad la'omer.
Today is the seventh day, making one week of the Omer.

As we continue through the counting period with the sephirot, we become attuned to the daily flow of the attributes. The first five go back and forth, keeping us in balance: loving kindness, then strength; strength, then compassion; compassion, then determination; determination, then humility. Those five come together in the sixth, foundation. With the foundation, we can reach a place of majesty.

Cycling through the weeks reminds us that this flow is ongoing--like the Buddhist Mandala, like the 8 limbs of the Yoga Tree. Each spiritual practice has its tools that enable us to tune our souls and make us aware of the intricacies of life.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 6

Today is Yesod she b'Chesed - a day of foundation in a week of loving kindness.

For most of the past seven years, I have felt comfortable in Conservative Judaism, feeling that it offered me a firm foundation for my Jewish practice. During this past year and continuing through today I have found myself more and more frequently questioning the role that Conservative Judaism plays in my spiritual practice. I have written about this before, in this post and this one.

In the former post, I defined religion as "a set of beliefs accompanied by the practice of rituals that are supported with a community." That is fine in a general way, but gets difficult when dealing in the nuts and bolts of the belief system and the practice, as well as what can be supported in a community.

Judaism is the perfect example of this. From the same set of beliefs and practices, we now have four different defined denominations--Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, with two other less defined but viable community groupings--Renewal and Independent. I think the reality is that each one of us is our own denomination and we just find the community where we are similar enough to practice together.

And that's the point that I'm coming to in my own practice. I want to support and have the support of a community. I think coming together in prayer is a powerful experience. But I am beginning to understand what people are saying when they tell me that they don't believe in organized religion. There is a feeling of judgment, of right and wrong ways to practice that are separate from accepting a specific set of beliefs. I think there is a range of interpretation in ritual that needs to be respectfully acknowledged. I think that as one delves into the texts that are the basis of the beliefs, a interpretations will change, usually deepen. But we need to create a place that is open to acceptance of those interpretations and not judge them harshly.

We need to look at the foundation of our beliefs in the light of loving kindness. If we can do that, many more people will feel welcome.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 5

Today is Hod she b'Chesed - a day of humility in a week of loving kindness.

Love is a strong emotion that we can get swept up in--whether it's romantic love, love of actions or things, or even an altruistic love of mankind. There is an arrogance to love that can lead us to a place of self-importance that excludes those around us. Adding humility to the mix can create the opening that is necessary for true love to flourish.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 4

Today is Netzach she b'Chesed - a day of endurance in a week of loving kindness.

On the plane ride coming back from New York last week I sat next to a young woman who, it seems, was taking a trip similar to one I took 20 some odd years ago. We didn't talk about it, we never spoke at all, but through things I heard and observed, she taking a chance, flying cross country to follow her heart.

Before we took off from JFK, she made two phone calls. One seemed to be to a girlfriend to get some last minute support for what she called "her adventure." I was in that conversation that I got some of the details--she was visiting someone she connected with in New York but who was now in San Francisco. In New York, they were together in her world. In San Francisco, she was going to have to fit in his. The second call was to her guy in San Francisco, arranging her pick up at SFO. In the second call, I could feel her nervousness and her excitement.

The flight itself was uneventful. We didn't speak at all--each of us read, ate the snacks we brought on board, listened to our iPods. Towards the end of the flight, she took out a journal and began to write. I glanced over and read these words, "Am I motivated by love, or am I motivated by the fear of being unloved." That was when I knew I was on the right track. I wished I could share my experience with her, tell her that whatever the motivation, she'll know if it's right. But, of course, I couldn't. I just silently sent her my best wishes for the days ahead.

When counting the omer with the sephirot, the concept of Netzach--of endurance, determination, ambition, drive--is one that seems to me to be out of place in the spiritual realm. But today I thought of that young woman, and the young woman that I was those 20 some odd years ago. We both took a leap of faith. My worked out for the best, and I hope the same for her.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 3

Today is Tiferet she b'Chesed - a day of compassion in a week of loving kindness.

For today's counting, I offer this article from the website. It's about using the seven attributes we are using to count the omer - chesed/loving kindness; Gevurah/strength,discipline; Tiferet/beauty,harmony,compassion; Netzach/endurance,determination; Hod/devotion,humility; Yesod/foundation,connection; Malchut/majesty,dignity - when communicating with children.

I actually think that adults can use these lessons in communicating with each other. If we can learn to speak from those places, we can better understand and connect with all those around us.

On a lighter note, I bring you this blurb from the "Sipping News" page in today's SF Chronicle Wine Section:
Passover palate cleanser

Matzo made a welcome cameo at The Chronicle's wine tasting panel this week. Not that we don't like to mark Passover, but we can't chalk this up to a sudden bout of religiosity. And we weren't hunting for the perfect pairing for unleavened bread. Let's face it: Matzo doesn't taste like much of anything.

But that particular attribute (or lack thereof) happens to make it an ideal palate cleanser for wine tasting, even better than our usual packets of water crackers. It's too early to say that we'll make the switch permanent, but if you see an extra package on store shelves this week, keep this potential use in mind -- especially since stores will be trying to clear their inventory as of next week. And if there's a sudden run on matzo in markets frequented by sommeliers (or in a five-block radius of Fifth and Mission streets), don't say we didn't tell you so.

Keep this in mind when you're looking for a gift for that hard-to-buy-for wine connoisseur.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 2

Today is Gevurah she b'Chesed - a day of strength in a week of loving kindness.

At Beth Sholom, our rabbi search is done. Once the contract negotiations are complete and all is official I will write more about that. I will say that I am thrilled with the outcome, and look forward to this new era in Beth Sholom's history.

Not everyone is as thrilled as I am, but most of those congregants are ready to move ahead and hope for the best. There are others who are not happy about the decision, afraid that their needs will not be met. As a member of the rabbi search committee I am put in a position where those feelings are vented towards me. I try to allay their fears, and talk about all the positive places I see our community heading with our new clergy. These conversations are not always easy, as emotions run deep in these matters. While I remain strong in my support for our new rabbi and the new directions he will take us in, I must wrap that strength in a cloak of loving kindness. This gives me a better place from which to communicate that message, and creates an opening to enable others to hear it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 1

Today, the second day of Pesach, is the start of the period of counting the omer. Each evening a blessing is said as the day is counted. We count 49 days--the time between Pesach and Shavuot. It is a biblical observance--its origin can be found in Leviticus 23:15
"And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering — the day after the sabbath* — you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: 16 you must count until the day after the seventh week — fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to Adonai."
For most Jews these days, this observance has completely fallen away. I don't remember learning about it in Hebrew school 40 years ago. But with the resurgence in the teaching of the spiritual aspects of Jewish practice I now have not only an awareness of this ritual but have taken it on as a way to deepen my connection to Judaism, to myself, and to the world.

This year I will enter a blog post for each day of the count. I will try to write a bit as well, sharing not just my usual life thoughts and observations, but adding some teachings as well. I use the kabbalistic method of counting with the bottom 7 of the Sephirot. One explanation of this method by Rabbi Goldie Milgrom can be found here.

On this day of Chesed she b'Chesed**--a day of loving kindness in a week of loving kindness, I will be helping to lead a third seder at the Sequoias--a retirement community in San Francisco. A Beth Sholom congregant--Hilda Richards, who lives there asked my friend Kenny Altman to run the seder this year and Kenny asked me to lead with him. Spreading some Passover joy with those who wouldn't otherwise participate in a seder is a good way to start this spiritual journey.

*the sabbath in this case means the chag day--the holiday--of Pesach. There are numerous commentaries on this, but that's the simple explanation for now.
**because this is transliterated from the Hebrew, there are many options for spelling--see this post on the different Hannukah spellings. I've chosen to use Chesed here, but you could also use Hesed, and I'm sure there are other variations.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Sharing Passover recipes

Here are two supreme tasting and supremely easy-to-make Passover recipes. Both are family legacies, one from my family, one from my friend Dorene's family. Both will put smiles on the faces of all who taste them, and garner compliments to the chef.

I share these each year with my Jewish community and now spread their fame to the world. One guiding force for these posts is to be able to find them through Google so there is no panic when the written down recipes get lost or misplaced.


Harriette's Farfel Fantasies

I don't know when my mother developed this recipe, but it's been a part of every Passover for as long as I can remember. I can warn you ahead of time that one batch will not be enough. These are a real crowd pleaser, with everyone wanting more.

3 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups matzah farfel*
1 cup coconut
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)
3/4 cup grated chocolate or chocolate chips

Beat egg whites until stiff

While beating, gradually add sugar

Fold in farfel, coconut, nuts, & chocolate

Use a spoon to drop the mixture onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper

Bake in 300° oven until “set” – about 30 minutes

You can experiment with other items to add. I’ve made a chai spice version, taking out the chocolate and adding cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, ginger (mix spices with sugar and beat into mixture.)

*matzah chopped up into little pieces. It is sold in stores but if you can't find any in your area, just chop up your own.

Yvette's Passover Rolls

Yvette Hyman, my friend Dorene's mom, left us far too early and we miss her. She is still present in our hearts.

One legacy she left us was these wonderful Passover rolls. They're easy to make and can be used for snacks and lunchbox sandwiches all through the week.

2 cups matzah meal
1 tsp salt
1 tblsp sugar
1 cup water
1/2 cup oil
4 eggs

Combine matzah meal, salt, sugar

Bring oil and water to boil

Add to matzah meal mixture & beat well

Beat in eggs thoroughly, one at a time

Let stand for 15 minutes

Shape into rolls on well greased cookie sheet; score top with an “X” using a wet knife

Bake at 375° for 50 minutes

Makes approx 12 rolls, depending on size

Chag Sameach Pesach

The cleaning is behind me, the hametz sold, the baking still to be done. A normal state of affairs for the day before Pesach.

My preparation time for this was short, seeing as I didn't return from NY until Wednesday evening. But going to seders is a lot easier than hosting them, so there really was no stress. I went to Tel Aviv Market, one of San Francisco's two kosher butchers/markets, on Friday morning. It turned into a cool Jewish bonding experience one rarely experiences in San Francisco outside of synagogue.

I saw someone I knew from Or Shalom. We talked about the joys of having kosher for Passover Coke made with sucrose instead of corn syrup. I then had a conversation with an elderly Eastern European woman--I couldn't tell what nationality from her accent. This conversation was ongoing as we traversed around the store picking up different food items. We talked about regular matzah meal vs. the cake meal (the cake meal is more finely ground); what is needed for sponge cake; the high cost of the Passover food; which wine should be bought--it's nice to have options for Passover wine that go beyond Manischewitz.

After making my wine decisions I turned to get on the check out line and saw three friends from Beth Sholom. Not only was it nice to chat with them, but I was able to fill my final Torah reading slots for parasha Shemini on April 14. And if that wasn't enough of a present for me, the guys at Tel Aviv gave me a free bottle of wine. Mind you, I spent a goodly amount of money, but still, they didn't have to do this and I appreciate the gift.

I wish you all a Chag Sameach Pesach--a Happy Pesach Holiday. May your 4 (or more) questions be answered and may your matzah balls be light.