Monday, May 28, 2007


Today I started a new family tradition. I decided that Memorial Day would be the appropriate day to commemorate the yarhzeit of my Uncle Eddie. For although we light a candle for him each year on Yom Kippur, we never mark the anniversary of his death. We don't know what day that would be.

For years after my uncle's plane went down my grandfather held out hope that some miracle would find him alive. After all, no body was ever found. A musician--string bass and tuba--who worked many high society events attended by high military brass, my father tells how my grandfather would ask those generals, "please, find out what happened to my son." At some point, a letter came explaining that my uncle's name was found on a list of US servicemen at a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

I never knew my uncle, but I can remember him through his letters and his photos and through my dad, who most hold a piece of his brother within him. And remembering the life of his soul through me, witnessed by members of my community, keeps his memory alive.

In the morning, I recited the El Malei prayer and talked a bit about my uncle, and how that El Malei was not just for him, but for all who didn't come back yet still need to be remembered. In the afternoon I read the blog post I wrote on this day two years ago - words that touch my heart today.

Zichrono l'vracha - His memory is a blessing, and lives through the heart and soul of my family.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 49 - 7 weeks

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

On this final day of counting the omer, as I face a night of learning and teaching full of Torah, I got another sign of why I do this practice and why I share it with others.

This morning I drove Reuben Hollander to school. He came to minyan with his mom, Katherine, who is saying Kaddish for her dad. Since I work at home and don't have to be "on the clock," I can help Katherine out by getting Reuben to school while she commutes to work. Reuben is a second grader at Aragonne Elementary school.

As we got close to the school, we somehow started talking about teachers. In the midst of the discussion, Reuben said, "Well, you're a teacher, could you teach here?" The fact that he saw me in that capacity just made my day.

I may not have official credentials, but I am seen as someone who teaches. I can think of no higher praise.

Even if commemorating Shavuot, the time of the giving of the Torah and the time of harvesting the first fruits, is not in your practice, take a deep breath some time during the next two days to stop and think of your relationship with this world and with others. Honor yourself and those around you.

Chag Sameach.

Counting the Omer Day 48 - 6 weeks, 6 days

Yesterday was Yesod she b'Malchut - a day of foundation in a week of majesty.

I make it through 47 days of writing each day--with the exception of Shabbat, which I covered by two posts on Sunday--and then, just as I get to then end, I miss a day. I counted it, so that's something, I just didn't write anything.

I could say that I now have laid a foundation for next year, since I proved that this practice is very doable for me. I can't say that all my postings have been gems, but there have been some good ones in the mix. If you care to, let me know what your favorites were.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 47 - 6 weeks, 5 days

Today is Hod she b'Malchut - a day of humility in a week of majesty.

This morning we commemorated the first yarhzeit of my dear friend, Hans Gronowski. A gentleman in every sense of the word, he did epitomize this day of royalty and humility.

Zichrono l'vracha - His memory is certainly a blessing to all who knew him, and we miss him very much

Counting the Omer Day 46 - 6 weeks, 4 days

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

During this omer period, I've written alot about how the community is the core of vibrant Jewish life. It is certainly a center for me. The beginning of my path back to Jewish practice was fueled by study I did on my own. That study gave me the desire to go deeper which led to finding environments to study in which led to people to study and practice with which led me to my Beth Sholom community. I have written much about the many ways that community sustains me.

Maybe it's because we're reading the book of Bamidbar while we're Bamidbar--in the wilderness, but these days I've been feeling the difficulties associated with Beth Sholom not having a home base. Our Shabbat morning services are split into two at different locations--one joined with another congregation, Ner Tamid; the other, dubbed Midbar Minyan, in our school building, so those who will not drive on Shabbat have a place to daven.

This situation brings us days like yesterday, where we celebrated a bar mitzvah at Ner Tamid and an aufruf at Midbar Minyan. I was committed to support the bar mitzvah family so I had to miss the aufruf. One more reminder of how our community is fractured - yes, it's temporary, but it still makes me sad.

I can't wait until we once again have our center, and can share in the celebrations of many simchas--the more, the merrier, as long as we're together.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 45 - 6 weeks, 3 days

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

Chodesh Tov!!! Today is the first of Sivan--Shavuot is in 5 days, on the sixth of Sivan.

Shavuot is a major Jewish holiday that has become minor in practice for many Jews. There aren't any extra mandated ritual other than services. There's no communal meal, although there is a custom to eat dairy. There is a tradition to stay up all night and study Torah, getting ready celebrate the receiving of the Torah at Sinai, but that's not an activity that people flock to participate in. Shavuot is also another one of those 2 day holidays in the Diaspora, 1 day holiday in Israel--a tradition I having an increasing hard time with these days.

Shavuot is one of the Shalosh Regalim, the three Pilgram Festivals, when all Jews gathered in Jerusalem at the Temple. The other two festivals are Pesach and Sukkot. In an article about the history of Shavuot on, we learn:
"In all likelihood, then, Shavuot was not celebrated until after the first Temple was built. It is speculated that Shavuot was probably the most difficult of the pilgrim festivals to observe since it fell in the middle of the growing season. Nevertheless, the historian Josephus (first century C.E.) describes large attendance in Jerusalem for Shavuot, and the Mishnah--in the section known as Bikkurim--depicts the bringing of first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem as a gala affair. The Book of Jubilees--which is part of the apocrypha, works considered for but not ultimately canonized in the Bible--adds an additional reason for celebrating Shavuot: to commemorate and renew the pact between God and Noah when God promised never to flood the earth again.
So it seems that even in its early days of commemoration, Shavuot was a hard sell.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 44 - 6 weeks, 2 days

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

My formal, or even informal weekly Torah study has been somewhat disrupted this year and pretty much non-existent during this omer period. However, I have been leyning--chanting Torah--a lot, which gives me a connection to the actual words. For the most part I've been looking at the Hebrew only, not checking the translation as I usually do. I've been using that method to save time--I need to learn the aliyah, chant it, and then go on to the next. Concentrating on the chanting melodies have given me a deeper appreciation for the cadence and flow inherent in the recitation. I'm also finding that I know enough Hebrew and am familiar enough with the Torah cycle to understand generally what I'm reading. I like getting that hit from the words themselves without looking through the filter of translation.

This Shabbat, the start of Bamidbar, I am chanting the counting of those men ages 20 and over who are eligible for war. The numbers are given for each tribe. It is very repetitious:

The descendants of Reuben, Israel's first-born, the registration of the clans of their ancestral house, as listed by name, head by head, all males aged twenty years and over, all who were able to bear arms — those enrolled from the tribe of Reuben: 46,500.
Of the descendants of Simeon, the registration of the clans of their ancestral house, their enrollment as listed by name, head by head, all males aged twenty years and over, all who were able to bear arms — those enrolled from the tribe of Simeon — 59,300.
Of the descendants of Gad, the registration of the clans of their ancestral house, as listed by name, aged twenty years and over, all who were able to bear arms — those enrolled from the tribe of Gad: 45,650.
Of the descendants of Judah, the registration of the clans of their ancestral house, as listed by name, aged twenty years and over, all who were able to bear arms — those enrolled from the tribe of Judah: 74,600. (Num 1:20 - 26)

And so on for all of the tribes......

When I began to practice the chant, I felt some discomfort counting, over and over, the men who could go into battle. At first, the question in my mind was, "Are they the only ones with worth?" I then moved on to, "Can't we just state the total and move on?" But with that thought, something else occurred to me.

This counting is to remind us that the men who go to war are part of our families, they have names. We need to remind our government of that. It is this very counting that reminds us that these soldiers have names, they are real, they are counted now because they might not come back.

Let us not forget the toll of war.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 43 - 6 weeks, 1 day

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

A new synagogue opened today in Tallinn, the capitol of Estonia, more than sixty years after the previous synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis. The Chabad-affiliated synagogue (no surprise here:) will serve Estonia's 3,000-member Jewish community, most of whom live in Tallinn.

Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves cut the red ribbon to open the synagogue. Peres said, ""You can burn down a building, but you cannot burn down a prayer. And we are a praying people."

As Estonia chief Rabbi Shmuel Kot remarked, "For a long time, it was not possible to practice Jewish life in Estonia, there was no rabbi, no kosher food ... no possibility to learn about Judaism ... People will now have the possibility to feel as a Jew."

Today we enter this last week of omer and closer to the celebration of Matan Torah--the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. It is fitting that on this day a part of our population that was decimated now has a new center to study Torah together, in community.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 42 - 6 weeks

Today is Malchut she b'Yesod - a day of majesty in a week of foundation.

Jerry Falwell died today. From the AP wire:
"The founder of the Moral Majority was discovered without a pulse at Liberty University and pronounced dead at a hospital an hour later. Dr. Carl Moore, Falwell's physician, said he had a heart condition and presumably died of a heart rhythm abnormality."
What legacy he leaves is dependent on who's writing the history. Here are some things gleaned from the AP story.

From James Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian Focus on the Family ministry:
"Jerry's passions and convictions changed the course of our country for the better over the last 20 years. It was Jerry who led an entire wing of Christianity, the fundamentalist wing, away from isolation and into a direct confrontation with the culture."
From Matt Foreman, executive director of National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who extended condolences to those close to Falwell, but added:
"Unfortunately, we will always remember him as a founder and leader of America's anti-gay industry, someone who exacerbated the nation's appalling response to the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, someone who demonized and vilified us for political gain and someone who used religion to divide rather than unite our nation."
And there are these actions of his:
"In 1999, he told an evangelical conference that the Antichrist was a male Jew who was probably already alive. Falwell later apologized for the remark but not for holding the belief. A month later, his National Liberty Journal warned parents that Tinky Winky, the children's TV character, was a gay role model and morally damaging to children."

Zichrono l'vracha - His memory will be a blessing to some and an example of the dark side of fundamentalism to others.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 41 - 5 weeks, 6 days

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

The Soprano's television series is about to end its run. Ken and I started watching sometime during Season 2, and have been faithfully following it since. In the last episodes of this final 6th season the violence has definitely been ratcheted up a huge notch. And I am finding that for the first time, I cannot watch it. Last Sunday, about a half hour into the program, I walked out of the living room and away from the TV. I can't even remember what visual triggered this reaction. Yesterday I chose not to watch at all.

I don't think I'm reacting to the blood and guts on the screen. After all, Dawn of the Dead is one of my favorite movies. It's the aggressive evilness of everything--senseless violence to the nth degree. It's the sounds as well as the sights. It all adds up and I feel physically ill, nauseous.

I'm not passing judgement on all of you who are watching this fine series. The fact that I'm so affected shows the quality of this series. I know the writing and acting are superb. I'm sure I will watch those episodes at some time. But for now, I cannot take those blows that seem to touch my spirit and soul. It may be representative of the beastly side of the human condition, but I'd rather not face that reality right now.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 40 - 5 weeks, 5 days

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

I just got back from Mitzi Wilner's 90th birthday party. I wrote about Mitzi a few days ago--you can scroll down a bit to omer day 35, or click here.

It was such a warm, joyful event--you could feel all the love circulating in the room, emanating from the family and friends surrounding her. It was an honor to be included.

Happy Birthday, Mitzi!!
May we continue to gather together with you in celebration.

Counting the Omer Day 39 - 5 weeks, 4 days

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

In the late 1960s, early 1970s, when I was a teenager, I went to many demonstrations aimed at raising awareness of the Jews who were not allowed to practice Judaism in the Soviet Union, nor were they allowed to leave. The hope was that the US government would act to help free the Soviet Jews.

With the coming to power of Mikhail Gorbachev and the thawing of the Cold War in the late 1980s, Jews were more readily allowed to emigrate. Some went to Israel, many came to the United States. What I didn't realize until my association with Beth Sholom is that many of them ended up in San Francisco.

Many of these Russian emigres settled in the Richmond district of San Francisco, which is where Beth Sholom is located. We have a group of elderly Russian men who are regulars at our minyan services. They still have memories of Jewish practice from their childhood. But there are many Russians who came here with their children who never had the chance to practice Judaism on any level. And now those children have children of their own. It is that third generation that now has the chance to learn about their Jewish heritage and to practice their faith.

Last year I participated in a Bar Mitzvah of just such a family. It was the first Bar Mitzvah for three generations. Not only did we witness the first aliyah of a 13-year-old boy, but also the first aliyah for his father. Such a proud and touching moment--there was not a dry eye in the house.

Yesterday at services, we had a baby naming for a little girl whose mother came here as a child with her parents. Both the mother and her parents came up for aliyot--their first ever. While the baby's father is not Jewish, he was there to show his support for the decision to raise their child in the Jewish faith. Another heartfelt, tearful moment.

Sometimes I wonder how Judaism ever survived through the ages. It's time like these that I know why.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 38 - 5 weeks, 3 days

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

I can't write much today because I have to spend a lot of time learning to chant the first four portions of tomorrow's Torah reading. I won't bore you with the details of why I have to learn so much in so short an amount of time--I just have to buckle down and do it.

I'll give you an idea of what this entails. First of all, realize that when I read from the Torah scrolls, there are no vowels on the Hebrew, nor are there any punctuation marks. So I need to know how to say the words correctly plus where the sentences end without any visual aids. Those are the most important aspects of the reading, and something the gabbai will correct if I make a mistake. Then there's the trope--the musical phrases--that are specifically designated and are learned using a book that has the Torah with the cantillation marks. Those markings are not in the scroll, but no one will correct me if I get the chanting wrong. The words and the sentences are what's most important, since the whole reason for this is to have the community hear the Torah being read.

So off I go to study. I'll use the sephirot of this day for support. I need to have compassion for myself, and know that even with some mistakes--okay, a lot of mistakes--it will be fine. When I'm chanting Torah, the foundation of my beliefs, I feel the words in a deep way, and I give others entrance into that experience that can only come with an oral tradition.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 37 - 5 weeks, 2 days

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

I am an Oakland A's baseball fan, and I really like my team. As a loyal fan, I stick with my team through good times and bad, but even though you always remain true to your team, you don't always like the team. But I'm a proud fan these days--and not because of their record.

The A's have a lot of injury problems right now. Currently on the disabled list:
Outfielders Mark Kotsay, Milton Bradley, Bobby Kielty
Starting Pitchers Rich Harden and Esteban Loaiza
DH Mike Piazza
Now, when the Yankees have multiple players out with injuries, they just go buy some more, as demonstrated with the recent Roger Clemens deal, which will cost the Yankees about $26 million. But the A's, due to smart drafting and good trades, can make the most of their small budget by going to their farm teams. We may not get the superstar players, but we get players who have a huge desire to prove themselves in the big league and put their all into the game.

It makes for some confusion when listening to the games on the radio--I hear names like Danny Putnam, Chris Snelling, Jack Cust and I have no idea who they are. But I learn their names pretty quickly, especially on days like today when Putnam goes 3 for 4, including his first major league homer and Cust hits two homers.

When you add up each team's total strength, the Yankees may land on top. But the A's management through the years have built up a strong minor league system as a foundation. They are able to call on players who play with heart and soul. That not only keeps them in the game, but makes us fans really happy as well.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 36 - 5 weeks, 1 day

Today is Chesed she b'Yesod - a day of loving kindness in a week of foundation.
The many transitions we're going through at my synagogue have me thinking once again about the roles and methods of leadership in a spiritual community.
How do you tailor programs to meet each member's specific needs--when those needs are incredibly divergent and at times, at cross purposes?

How do you meet everyone where they are--when they're in so many different places?

How do you treat everyone, always, with respect and compassion, using the guidance of sacred scripture--when there are those who take advantage of the respect given and consistently cross boundaries, concerned only with themselves?

How do you run a service-based business where success is dependent on the state of your customers' hearts and souls?
I've experienced enough of these types of dilemmas to know the challenges they present, but also know the joys when the challenges are met. That is what keeps me on this path to...well, wherever it is my calling is taking me. The days of chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod, and malchut that we will pour into this week of yesod -foundation embody the tools we have at our disposal to make our spiritual communities viable--places where we support and sustain each other.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 35 - 5 weeks

Today is Malchut she b'Hod - a day of majesty in a week of humility.

I subscribe to a listserve sponsored by the Shefa Network. The mission of the Shefa Network is: "To bring together dreamers from within the Conservative Movement, and to give their Dreams an audible voice." The listserve discusses the present state of the Conservative Movement and where it needs to go to survive into the future.

I haven't actively participated yet, but that is about to change. I am working on a post on the need for across the board egalitarianism, seeking an end to the misguided "big tent" theory of present day Conservative Judaism. You can read some of my thoughts on that here. As I find myself writing once again on my love/hate relationship with the Conservative Movement, I question what keeps me there. The answer always comes back to community. This week, going into this weekend, is a fine reminder of that.

Last week, my friend Katherine Hollander lost her dad. It was not a complete shock - he was in the late stages of cancer. But that doesn't stop the heartache that comes when a loved one dies. Katherine is now back from Southern California. The next three nights we will gather at her house for shiva. We will support her in the varying transitions that come with grief as comes to minyan each morning to say kaddish.

This week saw the return of a beloved morning minyan stalwart. Joe Salem has been a part of that minyan for many years. A few months ago, he was involved in a minor automobile accident which left him unharmed but nervous about driving. A proud, private man, he felt uncomfortable about asking for help, so he withdrew. He didn't answer any of our notes or calls. We were finally able to contact his son, who was also concerned about his father's mental state as he drew inward. He was able to help us convince Joe to accept our offer of rides to and from minyan. Having him back this week gave us a wholeness we had been missing. I hope it also can bring him a new lease on life.

On Sunday I will attend a celebration honoring my friend Mitzi Wilner, who turns 90 tomorrow. Mitzi survived the Holocaust using false papers identifying her as a Pole, not a Jew. She had some harrowing times, but managed not to get caught. She is the only one of her family to make it through alive. What is even more remarkable is that she made it through with her faith totally in tact. She loves going to services--the prayers touch her soul, she says. She is a proud Bat Cohen - daughter of a Cohen, and often goes up to the Torah for the Cohen aliyah.

Supporting those in grief; helping those in need; celebrating the joys of life. Those are three of the many things I get from my community--things I cherish, that keep me whole.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 34 - 4 weeks, 6 days

Today is Yesod she b'Hod - a day of foundation in a week of humility.

I admit that I read the "Dear Abby" column in the SF Chronicle each day. It's my warm up to the Sudoku puzzle that is always placed next to it on the page. (Okay, so it's a weak link, but that's my story and I'm sticking to it :) I often wonder about the letters people write--can they be real? Are they serious? Too many times, it's just scary to think that people can think or act a certain way. One of today's letters was in that category.

"Young Mom in Oklahoma" writes:
DEAR ABBY: I have a 4-year-old who tends to act up from time to time. I have tried "time-outs" and even soft spanking and have taken his privileges away. Nothing seems to work. However, I have found that smashing one of his small toys with a hammer works well. Do you see any danger in this form of punishment?
This is hard to take on so many levels. First of all, we're talking about 4-year-old acting up "from time to time." Not "this happens everyday, multiple times a day." Not "this is a constant occurrence and I'm at my wits end." A 4-year-old who acts up occasionally. Sounds like all the 4-year-olds that I know--and I happen to know quite a few.

The mom thinks her disciplinary actions are not working. I'd say they are--again, he's only acting up "from time to time." But since she feels otherwise, she ratchets up the level of her punishment by smashing a toy with a hammer. This gives her the results she's looking for; I guess he stops acting up even less frequently. To me, this signals a bigger problem. Her son watches one of his toys smashed to bits in front of him--something I would expect to send a kid into a bigger frenzy--and he turns inward. What a horrible lesson and a disturbing sign.

At least the mom seems to have some inkling that there could be a problem. She is writing to ask if there could be some danger in her actions. Dear Abby sets her straight:
DEAR YOUNG MOM: I certainly do. Smashing a child's toy with a hammer carries the same message that an abusive husband delivers when he smashes his fist through a wall. It implies, "You're next!" If you continue punishing your child in this way, he could begin modeling his behavior after yours and destroy other people's property -- including yours -- when he's angry.Take the toy away if that's the only way to get through to your son. Tell him that it will be given to a child who has no toys to play with. But do not destroy the toy in front of your child.
It's hard for me to imagine that someone needs to be told that smashing a child's toy in front of him is wrong. It's also hard not to make the association with the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech or the massacre at Columbine. What children perceive early in their lives often manifests itself as they grow into adulthood. Now, I'm not blaming the parents for everything their children do--while I have no children, I am aware of the enormous job and responsibility it is to be a parent. Often there are factors totally out of the control of the most caring families. If you have any doubt of this, read "And I Don't Want to Live This Life", the story of Nancy Spungen, the punk scene, wild child, heroin addict who was murdered by her boyfriend, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. Written by her mother, it chronicles the tale of a family trying to exist with an out of control, mentally ill, misdiagnosed child, and having to cope with the adult she becomes.

There is never any guarantee of how our children will act and think as adults. But we need to give them a strong foundation of love, spirit, and ethics. We need to teach them to treat others with respect, and to have humility concerning their place in the world. With those basics at their center, we have a better chance to see them grow into loving, caring adults.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 33 - 4 weeks, 5 days

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

Today is also Lag BaOmer, which means the 33rd day of the Omer. It is said that this is the day that the plague that struck Rabbi Akiva's students ceased. It is also said to be the day that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar, finished revealing his teachings and died. He wanted his students to rejoice, not mourn, for him.

For those who believe that the counting of the omer is a period of mourning, this is the one day they leave that custom behind. It is a day where they can have haircuts, weddings, and listen to live music--an interesting mix, but the examples that are most often given.

I don't view the omer period as a time of mourning, so Lag BaOmer is just another counting day for me. But because I do feel the spiritual tie to the sephirot, I'm glad to have learned that it also commemorates the spirit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. He was a bit over the top for me - he believed that "one had the right to totally immerse himself in Torah and have complete faith and trust that Hashem would take care of his needs," although he did acknowledge it was difficult for most people to achieve this state.

I need to learn more about this man, but at first glance it seems not only fitting that we celebrate his life on the anniversary of his death, but that it is in the midst of a time when we use his teachings to delve deeper into our souls.

Counting the Omer Day 32 - 4 weeks, 4 days

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

Last evening we went to a friend's house to watch the De La Hoya/Merryweather fight. Part of the festivities included a barbecue, and the host, knowing I keep kosher, was concerned about what I could eat. He is Jewish but hasn't a clue about most Jewish practice. Ken, my non-Jewish husband, had to explain the facts to him. The no pork was a given, but he had to be told that I'd only eat certified kosher meat--with no cheese. Yes, I'd eat fish, but only fish with fins and scales. We settled on salmon, and all was fine. He even kept my fish on a different part of the grill and cleaned the meat off the spatula when he went to turn the fish. That worked for me.

I appreciate the fact that although my friend expressed to Ken that he sees my practice as fundamentalist--with all the negative connotations that word can imply--he did have enough respect for me to make sure I was able to partake of the communal meal. It wasn't very difficult to accommodate my eating restrictions. The same would have been true of anyone who did not eat meat. But it seems, at least in the Bay Area, that people are much more tolerant when you say, "I'm a vegetarian, vegan, octo-lacto . . ." or something to that effect, that when you say "I keep kosher." For the most part, there is understanding for the vegetarian. When you're kosher, the comment is usually, "Why do you do that?" And, of course, the comment comes most often from other Jews.

At least this time it all went well and no one felt put out. Not only did I get to keep to my kosher practice, but having fish and salad enabled me to keep on my diet. Who would have thought that keeping kosher would help someone lose weight?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 31 - 4 weeks, 3 days

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

This week was the quarterly Yoga Sita Immersion. From 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. each morning I joined with a group of fellow students to practice yoga under the guidance of our teacher, Susannah Bruder. It's a great way to delve into the practice. Susannah takes us through a series of asanas - poses. As the week progresses, we become more familiar with the routine and fine tune different aspects of the asanas. Each person needs to adapt each pose for their particular body. Working with the sequence for two and half hours each morning gives each one of us the time to make the poses our own, as well as see how we can go deeper the more we practice. Susannah also shares some of the tenets of Yoga philosophy with us. It is the philosophy as well as the physical aspects of yoga that appeals to me.

Yoga was the entrance to my spiritual journey. Because it is not deity based there was no conflict with my Jewish beliefs. When I studied the eight limbs of yoga, I was impressed that the first rung were the Yamas - the traits that you need to relate to others in this world. The second rung, the Niyamas, are those traits that you need for your personal spiritual observance.

There are similarities between Yoga and Judaism. The main scriptures of both are from an oral tradition, meant to be chanted. Both core languages are challenging, read with no vowels. And as I count the omer with the sephirot, I also see many similarities between Jewish spiritual teachings and those of yoga.

T. Kirshnamacharya, a great yogi who is considered by many to be the father of modern yoga, taught that a yoga practice needed to be adapted to each individual practitioner. As his students moved into the spiritual and meditative aspects of their practice, he encouraged them to look to their own traditions. I am grateful for his teachings, for the study of yoga has greatly enriched my spiritual practice.

I dedicate this day Krishnamacharya, a man who very much embodies compassion and humility. If you would like to see him in an asana practice, go here to see him on film, recorded in 1938.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 30 - 4 weeks, 2 days

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

Yesterday was Pesach Sheni, a second Passover. Why is there a second Passover? In the Torah - Numbers Chapter 9 - it is written:
"Adonai spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, on the first new moon of the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, saying: let the Israelite people offer the passover sacrifice at its set time: you shall offer it on the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, at its set time; you shall offer it in accordance with all its rules and rites." (verses 1-3).
But there is an exception:
" . . . When any of you or of your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a passover sacrifice to the Lord, they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and they shall not leave any of it over until morning . . ." (verses 10-12).
Defiled by a corpse or on a long journey.......I can imagine different ways to be in those states. But it's never too late to heal; it's never too late to return. The matzah and moror will be there, and we'll celebrate together once again.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 29 - 4 weeks, 1 day

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

This fifth week of counting is the week of Hod - humility. In contrast to the week of Netzach - endurance - that just ended, Hod is another of the softer attributes. On the Aish website you can find Rabbi Simon Jacobson's take on Hod. He talks about reaching beyond yourself, recognizing that "When you're filled with yourself and your needs, "I and nothing else", there is no room for more." He defines humility as sensitivity, something that "is silent, but not a void." Hod may fall in the soft category of sephirot, it's not easy to practice. It takes a lot of awareness to bring true humility into your life.

As someone who falls prey to being judgemental, this is a good week for me to ponder why that happens and how I can avoid my judgemental tendencies. In the years of working on that part of my make-up, I have focused on changing my judgement into compassion, for if I didn't care there would be nothing to be judgemental about. I also need to add in more humility, look to empty myself of the all-knowing attitude that comes with judgement. This will make space for the compassion I seek, compassion for others as well as for myself.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Counting the Omer Day 28 - 4 weeks

Today is Malchut she b'Netzach - a day of majesty in a week of endurance.

Today marks the end of the week of Netzach. I have to admit that I'm not sad to see it go. There's a harsh edge to the words that I see used to describe this sephirah - endurance, ambition, drive, perseverance, victory, determination, fortitude, persistence, guts, tenacity. I know all those things are important factors in how we live our lives. These traits are needed to balance the softer attributes - loving kindness, beauty, compassion. I think I may be reacting to thinking about what can happen when those traits are carried out to an extreme. It's hard to overdo loving kindness, beauty, and compassion but even in doing so, I don't see much opportunity for hurt. But going overboard in the attributes of Netzach can bring negative results to those practicing that sephirah as well as those who are on the receiving end.

Maybe the point is to recognize the need for balance. I don't know. Maybe it's another one of those teachings that I need to delve further into in the coming years.