Sunday, May 31, 2009

In with the Old; In with the New

On Thursday night I attended "The California Street Corridor Traveling Shavuot," a series of study sessions sponsored by the JCCSF, Sherith Israel, Temple Emanu-El, and Beth Sholom. We walked from place to place, choosing from a number of teaching sessions at each facility. The evening ended with Marsha Attie leading the 50-60 assembled in song and dance. The three young rabbis who organized it--Micah Hyman, Jonathan Jaffe, and Julie Saxe-Taller--took a chance on this concept, and it worked. And it has the potential to get better in future years.

Rabbi Peretz Wolf-Prusan, an amazingly gifted teacher, held the last session of the evening in the chapel of Beth Sholom. His topic was "Ever Since Sinai: Pirke Avot and the Rabbinic Revolution." He had us look at the beginning of Pirke Avot--part of the Mishnah that contains six chapters of sayings from the rabbis of Yavneh. These rabbis needed to recreate the rituals of Judaism following the fall of the Second Temple.

They created a religion that was centered within each person in their home. There was no longer a homeland, no central place of worship, no priestly intermediary. And that is the Judaism that has survived these thousands of years. It is what the Dali Lama found out when he listened to the presentations of the Jewish leaders gathered to answer the question: How had the Jewish people survived through all these years in exile. (You can read about that in Roger Kamenetz's The Jew in the Lotus.)

When there was no central "authority" the rituals controlling the practice had to balance between the central shared traditions and home practice. Customs were influenced by the different cultures of the lands of exile--these lands that have now become home. The rabbis of each generations in all different places studied the Torah, the Tanach, the Talmud, and other critical writings of sages through the eras. They had the task of transmitting the traditions of this ancient religion to people living totally different times and places. As long as that process continues, Judaism will continue to thrive.

Some of my struggles lately have been with the rabbinical interpretations from past eras that still rule today. I don't mean to just shrug off what doesn't work in the name of modernity, but we need to look at the teachings through the lens of their time, and then bring them to a clearer place while looking through the glasses we wear now. It feels like we're held captive by the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Joseph Caro's epic interpretation of Jewish Law written in the late 16th century. So much of what is called halachah - law - seems stuck in that time, in that document. Why did so many aspects of our living religion become stagnant.

I admit that I'm not sure that I am knowledgeable enough to come to that conclusion. It definitely comes more from my heart than my head. And I know that not all parts of Judaism got stuck there. But the conflicts over practice that too often tear Jews apart from one another seem to stem from there.

Those who want to keep their practice clear from as much as the last 500 years as possible are welcome to do so. But why do they need to exercise so much influence over those of us who wish to live as practicing Jews in this 21st Century world.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Standing at Sinai

היום תשעה וארבעים יומים שהם שבעה שבועות לעמר
Today is the forty-
ninth day of the omer - seven weeks
מלכת שבמלכת

A day of majesty in a week of majesty

This is it, the counting is now complete. Am I prepared for revelation? I'm not sure....

My spiritual struggles seem to be the thread weaving its way through this year's omer posts. I keep looking for balance that seems so elusive at times. I walk the fine line between seeking and acceptance. I'm often not sure what it is I'm looking for; I hope I know when I find "it." But then again, I must remember it's about the journey and not the outcome.

I hope my musings have meant something to the readers who have found their way here. Some of you I know--some of you I don't. I would love to hear from any of you who have followed my journey this year. Feel free to send me an email, or just comment here anonymously. It would be great to share in the connection. I will continue to write, just not every day. So please, continue to tune in :)

And as we approach that moment at Sinai, let me say....

חג שמח
Chag Sameach

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Centering on Torah

היום שמונה וארבעים יומים שהם ששה שבועות וששה יומים לעמר
Today is the forty-eightה day of the omer - six weeks and six days
יסוד שבמלכת

A day of foundation in a week of majesty

In two days we will celebrate Matan Torah--the giving of the Torah. In some ways, I think I should think about this as a kind of New Year celebration--to do teshuvah; to make resolutions. As I noted earlier this week, I keep Torah close. So the creation, this first view of the Torah, is an important beginning.

I've felt a loss of spiritual center this year. I could cite lots of reasons--Beth Sholom "fatigue", the passing of Mitzi and Rabbi Lew in such a short time, issues with advancing to "elder" status, to name a few. But instead of looking at what I've lost, what I cannot change, I realize I need to go back to my basics--looking to what sustains me. Just as I go to the gym weekly to keep my body in tune, I need to study Torah each week to keep my mind and spirit in tune.

In the past few years I have centered much of my Jewish practice on service to my community. I called on the strength of my practice to get both my kahal and myself through those difficult years. I will continue to support my community, but I need to make the replenishment of my spirit a priority.

This is the message of this day of foundation in the week of majesty--this day as we take those final steps that take us to Sinai.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

UP--Thumbs Down

היום שבעה וארבעים יומים שהם ששה שבועות וחמשה יומים לעמר
Today is the forty-seventh
day of the omer - six weeks and five days
הוד שבמלכת

A day of humility in a week of majesty

I just saw the new Disney/Pixar movie, UP. I wouldn't call it a bad movie but, taking the high quality of the animation out of the equation, I thought it was very mediocre.

The plot was pretty standard--an adventure/dream fulfilling/friendship story--yes, I shed some tears, but then again, I'm easily manipulated in that way :) In fact, it seemed that the story was driven by the need to make the cool action sequences, going from one to the other with weak links. The writing wasn't very good; many of the lines predictable. And when it was done, I was left with nothing that stayed with me. It's a movie that is ultimately forgettable.

Yes, the animation is great, with vibrant colors and detail that makes the images pop off the screen. But I need more for a movie to reach me, and this one definitely did not. But a quick look at the early reviews put me in the minority, if this and this and this is any indication.

But I'd rather watch The Incredibles, Ratatouille, or even Cars than UP. And as far as I'm concerned, Wall-E is in a higher class all by itself. You can read my thoughts about that movie here, and here, and here. I doubt you'll be hearing any more from me about UP.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Remembrance

היום ששה וארבעים יומים שהם ששה שבועות וארבעה יומים לעמר
Today is the forty-sixth day of the omer - six weeks and four days
נצח שבמלכת

A day of endurance in a week of majesty

This morning at minyan I once again commemorated the yarhzeit of my uncle, Edward Heiss, a bombardier in World War II whose plane was shot down over Malaysia on January 11, 1945. His name was later found on the roster of a Japanese prisoner of war camp, but he never made it home.

This particular yarhzeit has taken on significance to me that goes beyond the personal. Make no mistake, deep emotions are stirred within me. I feel so connected to this man who I never knew. I mourn for the love and laughter he would have added to our family. I mourn for my father's loss of his brother and mentor; for my grandparent's loss of their oldest son. On this day I channel their grief--tear pour out and my voice catches as I recite the El Malei prayer to honor his life. You can read the words I share here, and reflections of Memorial Day's past here and here.

But on this day that has come to mean the start of summer more than a day of remembrance, honoring the memory of my uncle brings home the reality of the lives lost in war. There are many families who are grieving as my family grieved; in as much denial as my grandfather, who could not accept the loss of his son. It is important to me to bring that realization to my community each Memorial Day, to hold that consciousness in their hearts. We need to remember that war, justified or not, will take its toll--on the living as well as the countless lives lost. And true healing from those wounds does not come from forgetting those lost lives, but remembering and celebrating them.

Zichrono L'Vracha, Uncle Eddie.
Your memory is a blessing to me, and to those who hear your story.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Keeping Torah Close

היום חמשה וארבעים יומים שהם ששה שבועות ושלשה יומים לעמר
Today is the forty-fifth
day of the omer - six weeks and three days
תפרת שבמלכת

A day of compassion in a week of majesty

I am someone who loves to leyn--chant Torah, as well as other books of the Tanach. The patterns of the notes matched with the patterns of the language resonate within me and flow outward, allowing those around me to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing these ancient words.

Being able to leyn is skill that is in demand by Jewish communities--both large and small. I've chanted at Beth Sholom in a sanctuary filled with more than 600 people and I've chanted in a classroom with a small minyan of 15. Yesterday I had the honor of chanting outside in a garden bursting with blooms. When I was done, I returned to my place within group accompanied by the handshaking of appreciation from those gathered to hear the words of Torah. One man complimented me on my reading and then asked, "Are you a hazzan or a rabbi?" I smiled and shook my head no. He paused for a moment, and then said, "you're someone who is close to Torah." My smile grew larger, and I nodded, "Yes."

You don't have to be a cantor or a rabbi to be close to Torah. The messages contained within can be accessed through language or song; academically through study or viscerally through the senses. This ability for everyone to connect to the ancient teachings is something that has kept Judaism alive and vibrant through the centuries. We need to keep these connections going to insure our traditions continue--as we honor the old through the eyes of the new.

Beet Salad

היום ארבעה וארבעים יומים שהם ששה שבועות ושני יומים לעמר
Today is the forty-fourth day of the omer - six weeks and two days
גבורה שבמלכת

A day of strength in a week of majesty

The air was cool but our souls were warmed by heartfelt davening at the services of the Beit Yakov/Gan Aliora Havurah. We celebrated the life of a loved one lost, marking the one year anniversary with remembrances--bringing laughter and tears.

And we shared food, our way of offering thanks to the community around us. I brought my beet salad, a dish that never fails to please--and today was no exception. I had a request to post the recipe so it can continue to be shared with others. I don't use exact measurements when making this dish, and there's a lot of room for variations. Aside from some key ingredients, what goes in depends on what I have on hand. Feel free to use what seems good to you....


First of course, you need beets. Any kind will do, although I prefer the sweet chioggia beets, but the golden or standard red beets will be fine. Cut the tops if the greens are still on and put the beets in a pot and fill the pot with water. Bring the water to a boil, then cover and set to simmer. In about 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the beets, they should be soft enough to easily run a knife through them. Drain the pot and fill with cold water to cool the beets a bit. When they're cool enough to handle, slip the skins off.

Cut the beets into approx. 1" cubes and put into a bowl. Chop 3 or 4 green onions and add that. Chopped red onion is also a good option.

You can then add any number of herbs--either fresh or dried. Today I used a handful of chopped cilantro and a handful chopped mint. Dill and parsley work as well. I often like to add some chopped celery for crunch, or may some chopped jicama. Wondering what to do with that can of bamboo shoots you bought months ago? This is a good place to use it.

I always add some sort of dried fruit--raisins, cranberries, chopped apricots. Add chopped nuts if you'd like.

The key ingredient in my beet salad is the chopped pickled ginger. This is now readily available--you can even get it at Safeway! I try to always have it on hand in my kitchen. Take a big pinch chopped fine and stir it into the mix. Season with salt and pepper.

Then stir in some raspberry vinaigrette. These days you can get this at most supermarkets in the salad dressing aisle. I know it's available at Trader Joes. If you don't have any, use orange juice and some vinegar. There are times I've also added some toasted sesame oil.

As you can see, this is far from a precise recipe. I don't give any exact amounts. Because it just depends on what I have and how it tastes. I tend to cook using the theory I learned from my mother. When you have enough good ingredients...."What could be bad??"

So now that I've given you the basics---just go for it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Jewish Gender Rights

היום שלשה וארבעים יומים שהם ששה שבועות ויום אחד לעמר
Today is the forty-third day of the omer - six weeks and one day
חסד שבמלכת

A day of loving kindness in a week of majesty

I've never considered myself an activist. Yes, there are issues I feel strongly about, but I've always been one who is more likely to compromise in the hope that things will move forward rather than pick a fight that could destroy the foundation of what I'm trying to build. Yet lately, I've found one place where compromise doesn't work for me -- the role of women in Jewish ritual practice.

When I was a girl growing up in the Conservative Movement I didn't have much of a problem with the limited roles I had in Judaism. It wasn't like I was stuck up in the balcony of my synagogue--we didn't even have a mechitzah, a separation of seating between men and women. The truth is that most of the boys I knew didn't participate in services much either--that was left to the adults. All I really wanted was an aliyah, to be called up to the Torah.

I didn't feel the barriers at the many USY--United Synagogue Youth--events I attended. No, I had nothing to do with leading services, but I didn't have those skills anyway. I sang and danced and discussed and argued with everyone--any gender-based ritual differences either went over my head or I just took them for granted. On my USY Israel Pilgrimage trip when I stood up for my right to change out of my skirt into shorts after my Shabbat morning prayers at the Kotel--the Western Wall, it never occured to me to make it a gender issue--how come the boys could wear shorts but not me.

In my adulthood I moved away from much of Jewish religious practice, but still found myself in a male oriented work world. At NBC in the late 1970s/early 1980s, I was one of a handful of women working in the videotape department, and one of an even fewer pool of women who were post-production editors. Actually, the latter group at the time was just two--my friend Dorene and myself. I dealt with a lot of mostly good-natured ribbing even as it was borderline misogynist. For the most part, I took it with a smile and then gave back as good as I got :)

I enter my elder years (gulp/sigh) once again involved in my Jewish practice--the rituals a key component to the spiritual realm I seek. It turns out that much of what I do now, the parts of the practice I'm drawn to, are acts that I had no entry to during the years of my youth based solely on my gender. And I cannot accept anyone telling me these rituals are off limits to me. When I enter as a guest into a community that still follows the customs of separation, I am respectful of their practice. But it pains me to know that the Jewish community that nurtured me as a child--a girl child--has not moved on from that time and does not welcome me in my heart-felt practice as an adult women.

I am lucky to belong to a community the embraces egalitarian principals. I'd like to think that the majority of the Conservatively affiliated synagogues do the same. But it is time for the USCJ to take a stand, to make egalitarianism in Jewish ritual an important part of what defines us as Conservative Jews. Making that stand can only strengthen the movement. Failing to make the stand, I believe, will contribute to the erosion of what was once a pillar of American Judaism.

Very sad......

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Hebrew Mamita

היום שני וארבעים יומים שהם ששה שבועות לעמר
Today is the forty-second
day of the omer - six weeks
מלכת שביסוד

A day of majesty in a week of foundation

One week to go--we enter the final stretch of this omer count. I have some essays planned for this last week combined with some study of the Book of Ruth--appropriate as we're in the lead up to Shavuot, the festival when the book is read.

For now, I'd like to share with you the poetry jam of Vanessa Hidory, the self-proclaimed "Hebrew Mamita", who channels the spirits of what I like to call "women with chutzpah" -- a category that includes Ruth. (with thanks to Dorene for introducing her to me)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Reclaiming our Stories

היום אחד וארבעים ארבעים יומים שהם חמשה שבועות וששה יומים לעמר
Today is the forty-first day of the omer - five weeks and six days
יסוד שביסוד

A day of foundation in a week of foundation

This weekend, feeling the approach of Shavuot, I read some poems and essays from the anthology Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Story. In her essay "Growing Up and Older with Ruth," Sylvia Rothchild mentions that her grandmother would sit in the women's balcony of her Williamsburg, Brooklyn shul, ". . . praying loudly, to help the women around her who couldn't read." Reading that, my mind jumped to Maggie Anton's Rashi's Daughters books in which Rashi's mother, wife, and daughters served that same role in their shul, leading the women in prayer. And then, it hit me.....

For years I've been saying that in a former life, my soul lived as a yeshiva bucher--a yeshiva student. Of course, I had to be a male--there were no women equivalents, as far as I knew. But now I see where I was within my Eastern-European Jewish community. I was one of those women like Rothchild's grandmother and Rashi's mother, wife, daughters. I was the women who lead the others in prayer. I sang loudly, sharing the spirit within me through the melodies.

And so, through my study of Ruth I reclaim my own sacred story. The mantle of the yeshiva bucher never felt quite right, but it was the only place I could go. Now I can feel the flow of my maternal ancestors within me as I continue to share my spirit through prayer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sacred Schleppers

היום ארבעים יומים שהם חמשה שבועות וחמשה יומים לעמר
Today is the fortieth
day of the omer - five weeks and five days
הוד שביסוד

A day of humility in a week of foundation

At the end of this week's Torah parasha, Bamidbar, the Kohathites--descendents of Kohath son of Levi--are given the task of transporting the sacred objects surrounding the Tabernacle--the Mishkan--as the Israelites travel through the wilderness. These objects are so sacred that only the priests are allowed to dismantle them, wrap them up, and take them outside the Tent of Meeting. Only then can the Kohathites lift them up and carry them to their next destination. Twice Moses and Aaron are told to make sure the Kohathites do not come in any sort of contact--physical or visual--with those objects. If they do, they will die. (Bamidbar 4:15-20)

The Etz Hayim Chumash offers two commentaries on this. One, from the 15th century scholar Isaac ben Judah Abravanel, who interpreted this to "express concern lest the clans of Kohath become so fascinated by staring at the sacred objects that they would fall into a mystic trance, unable to do their work." A more modern commentator, the 19th century sage Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch presents the flip side of that--"for him, the Torah's concern is that the Kohathites might become too accustomed to the routine of seeing the sacred objects packed and unpacked: "lest they die" spiritually, losing their capacity to see the tabernacle as holy."

These two opposite concerns represent the balancing act of a spiritual seeker's existence. The structure of our practice keeps our connection to the world, grounding us in a way that lets us work with the sacred and not get swallowed up by it. The joy of the practice keeps our connection to the sacred fresh, reminding us not to take the beauty of the world around us for granted. We strive to live our lives between the two.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Marking Time and Place

היום תשעה ושלשים יומים שהם חמשה שבועות ארבעה יומים לעמר
Today is the thirty-ninth day of the omer - five weeks and four days
נצח שביסוד

A day of endurance in a week of foundation

Just as there are the timeframes that mark the cycles of the year--secular, spiritual, agricultural--there are also the periods of time that mark the flow of life. While the former have a set place and time, the latter are more fluid and subject to change, determined by the life that is marked.

For instance, where I have lived, when I lived there, for how long, and for what percentage of my life marks not only what era I am in, but who I am in that era--as an adolescent, a teenager, an adult, middle-aged, an elder.

At this point, I've spent more years of my life in New York than in San Francisco. The majority of that time was spent in suburbia, but the eight years I lived in Manhattan as a young adult were formative. Even though I've lived in San Francisco for the past 23 years, few people I meet mistake me for anything but a New Yorker.

But the San Francisco years are catching up. As far as numbers go, it recently occurred to me that I have lived in this house longer than I've lived in any one place. And while in San Francisco I am still considered a New Yorker--in New York I often feel very much a San Franciscan.

Two years ago, in a blog post titled State of Origin, I wrote:
Am I a New Yorker or am I a San Franciscan? I suppose I can be both. But I'm still not sure what to answer when asked, "Where are you from??"
I look at that now, and wonder if the better question would be, "Where were you formed?" The answer would still include both, but with the ratio changing as the years go by, my 'formation' is in flux.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Baking Bread

היום שמונא ושלשים יומים שהם חמשה שבועות שלשה יומים לעמר
Today is the thirty-eight
day of the omer - five weeks and three days
תפרת שביסוד

A day of compassion in a week of foundation

Two Fridays ago I participated in a fund raiser for Shalom Bayit, "Home of Peace" a Bay Area organization that was formed to " advocate on behalf of Jewish battered women, to educate the Jewish community about domestic violence, and to promote awareness of Jewish issues within the battered women's movement." We gathered in the house of one of Shalom Bayit's supporters to learn to bake challah in creative shapes from a master challah maker, Eva-Lynne Leibman. Eva-Lynne also is co-owner of the Judaica store Dayenu, located in the JCC of San Francisco.

I had a brief fling with baking bread in the late 1980s. I used the Tassajara Bread Book--a great one to learn from, low on the judgemental scale as far as which utensils to use. I remember being surprised at how easy it was. But baking bread was one practice that quickly fell by the wayside. Remember--I live in San Francisco, where good, locally baked bread is readily available. It's not like the choice is home baked or Wonder Bread.

But I had never baked challah, and the proper braiding adds to the intimidation level of the task. But like Ed Brown, the author of the Tassajara Bread Book, Eva-Lynne taught us the basics while letting us know that we could easily make each bread an outlet for our own creativity. She told us that the dough is very forgiving, so don't worry too much about mistakes. And she showed us different ways to form the dough--just let your imagination flow.

I was inspired, and went home to make my own loaves. In the two and a half weeks since the demonstration, I've made three batches of bread. The first one, made that same day as the class, went well enough to make me want to make more. This past Friday I made two more loaves. This time, because of a scheduling glitch, I needed to lengthen the rising process so I let the dough rise twice. That worked well for me. I don't use a food processor since I don't have a bread blade, and I do my mixing my hand. My theory is that there's less air mixed in when I do it by hand so the second rising gives my bread a lightness it wouldn't have otherwise. It may be a bogus theory, but it's mine and I'm sticking to it:)

Today I branched out even more. I used half whole-wheat/half white flour and added lemon zest, juice of said lemon, and fresh rosemary to the mix. The bread came out just fine. I left one bread as a loaf and braided the other. Thanks to Eva-Lynne, my braiding techniques are working. The key--start from the middle. That makes for a great shape. And it was extra special since the lemon and rosemary came from our garden.

My friend Allison remarked that there is something very satisfying about baking bread--a satisfaction unlike any other you get from cooking. I have to agree. Maybe it's the tie to a time in the past when we were much more aware of where our food comes from. Maybe it's because it's something that is perceived to be so difficult, yet is simple in reality. Maybe it's because we feel able to produce something so basic to our lives, relying on ourselves rather than others.

Whatever it is, it is indeed a great feeling of accomplishment--one I recommend you all try. If you'd like the recipe I used, feel free to send me an email.

Ah, well.......

היום שבעה ושלשים יומים שהם חמשה שבועות שני יומים לעמר
Today is the thirty-seventh
day of the omer - five weeks and two days
גבורה שביסוד

A day of strength in a week of foundation

Not a very strong day that put a crack in the foundation, since I broke my resolve to write every day. I counted the day, so I'll put this here as a placeholder. And as I promised when I started this endeavor, I will not beat myself up over this. I will just note it, hope I do better next year, and write on......

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mad World

היום ששה ושלשים יומים שהם חמשה שבועות ויומ אחד לעמר
Today is the thirty-sixth
day of the omer - five weeks and one day
חסד שביסוד

A day of loving kindness in a week of foundation

The words are not coming to me today. Instead, I'll share my favorite Adam Lambert of the competition--he will win this week....

Want more American Idol videos? Click here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What goes around, comes around . . .

היום חמשה ושלשים יומים שהם חמשה שבועות לעמר
Today is the thirty-fifth
day of the omer - five weeks
מלכת שבהוד

A day of majesty in a week of humility

One September about 10, maybe 15 years ago, I got a call from a producer asking about my availability for an editing job. I looked at my calendar and saw that I had to decline the work. The producer proceeded to get extremely annoyed with me---"What is wrong with you editors?!?" she exclaimed, "Don't you want the work?" A bit confused about her reaction, I asked whom else she called. "I asked Norm Levy," she said, "but he wasn't available either. I had a nice little chuckle to myself and told her, "If you want someone to work those days, you need to find an editor who is not Jewish." As you might have guessed by now, she was asking about work that was to be done during the High Holidays of Rosh HaShonah and Yom Kippur.

This morning I reported to the courthouse on McAllister Street in San Francisco, ready to serve jury duty. It would be inconvenient for me to serve right now, as I am just starting work on a series of videos that need to be done by the end of the month. But with my present work flow in which I work at home on my equipment rather than elsewhere, I can more easily adapt my schedule. So, with the understanding of my clients, the work would get done, albeit at a slower pace.

My name was called with the second group of perspective jurors. We filed into the courtroom, where the clerk handed us a schedule for this particular trial. It was estimated to last 8 or 9 days over a period of 3 weeks. I'm thinking, okay, this would not be the worst schedule in the world for me if I were to be chosen. But then I looked at the list of trial dates, and raised my hand when the judge asked if anyone would have a hardship serving on this jury. For one of the trial dates is May 29--the first day of Shavuot.

I filled out the proper form, my hardship request to be released from serving at this time was approved, and my jury duty was deferred to the end of June. My clients' videos will now get done in a timely manner, unencumbered by the constraints of serving on a jury in a civil trial.

What goes around, comes around. There are those who won't follow any kind of practice--spiritual or otherwise--that seems like restraints on their lives. But restraints exist in living in a world with others--there are always compromises to be made. Sometimes they go the way you hope they will, sometimes not. You cannot worry about those things when choosing your life's path. You need to go more with what will feed your soul---the rest will follow.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Listening is Key

היום ארבעה ושלשים יומים שהם ארבעה שבועות וששה יומים לעמר
Today is the thirty-fourth
day of the omer - four weeks and six days
יסוד שבהוד

A day of foundation in a week of humility

This week I started the edit process for a new series of videos for an educational non-profit group who have become regular clients. One of the producers I'm working with is new to me and she's been consulting with another producer to get up to speed with our workflow. In the midst of an email explaining the process, it was nice to read, "You're going to love working with Marilyn. She's the best editor we use!"

It's not just my visual, creative skills she's referring to with that comment. It's my ability to work well in a group, collaborative effort--whether it's in person or, as in this case, coordinating all the elements in the digital, internet environment. I used to work in an edit room with various production people coming in and out as their input was needed. Now we're all in our own places, often in different parts of the country, with the files coming to our computers to view and share comments.

Communicating well with my clients, be it in person or by email, is a large part of how I've been successful in my profession. I've often said that one of my best skills is the ability to listen to my clients, know what they want to see--even when they often don't--and get it in their program within the time allotted to get the job done. And, of course, I do it with style :)

Maybe that's the real message to me that comes on this day of foundation and humility. The foundation of years of experience that I bring to my work is appreciated; I need to keep the humility that is necessary to hear what those around me are saying.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hair Cut Holiday

היום שלשים ושלשים יומים שהם ארבעה שבועות וחמשה יומים לעמר
Today is the thirty-third
day of the omer - four weeks and five days
הוד שבהוד

A day of humility in a week of humility

Today is Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the omer. You can click here for an explanation of the day, which is considered a happy day of celebration in the midst of a period of mourning. Many of the mourning rituals that are followed during these days are lifted for this one day in the period. Orthodox and Hassidic couples have wedding on this day.

But the most obvious way I see this commemorated in my community is by having a hair cut, something that is not done when you're in mourning. I'm sure there are many Talmudic explanations for why we don't cut hair during mourning and why you do on Lag B'Omer, but I don't need their rationalizations. The point is obvious to me.

Changing your hair changes your appearance, renewing yourself in a way. That action as the ability to change the way you feel, about yourself, about how you present yourself in the world. Yesterday I wrote about transitions--this is another way you can transition from one state to another.

I didn't get a hair cut, but I did change the color. It's now a nice red/purple cabernet color--much nicer than my natural mousy brown twinged with a bit of grey. It puts a smile on my face, and I know it will appreciated by those around me. A good way to celebrate the day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Being in the Moment

היום שנים ושלשים יומים שהם ארבעה שבועות וארבעה יומים לעמר
Today is the thirty-second
day of the omer - four weeks and four days
נצח שבהוד

A day of endurance in a week of humility

One thing I have come to appreciate in my yoga practice are the transitions. Not just the transitions from pose to pose, but the pauses that are the transitions between the ins and outs of my breath. These transitions that are an integral part of the practice teaches us to be in all moments of our lives--stop rushing from one point to another. And if we pay attention in the transitions, we'll be more aware when we get to our destination.

Jewish prayer services have that same respect for transitions, albeit a bit more formalized. As we go from one part of the service to another, we say different versions of the Kaddish, a prayer in which we take a moment to acknowledge the Transcendent Spirit around us. Another reminder to be in the moment, reflect on where we are, before we move on. We also say Kaddish to honor the dead, who are now apart of the Spirit within us.

Meditation practice is all about transitions. Because the main focus of the practice is to be in each moment, you're always in transition--there is no destination, just new moments.

The whole world is in transition as we enter the 21st century. We need to look at where we are, not run away from it or even towards what will come next. We need to live these moments, build upon them to get to the next.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

היום אכד ושלשים יומים שהם ארבעה שבועות ושלשה יומים לעמר
Today is the thirty-first
day of the omer - four weeks and three days
תפרת שבהוד

A day of compassion in a week of humility

The creative juices are just not flowing, so instead of subjecting any of you to incoherant babblings, I give you The Moshav Band with a great rendition of Eliyahu HaNavi---enjoy..

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Pope's mixed messages to Jews

היום שלשים יומים שהם ארבעה שבועות ושני יומים לעמר
Today is the thirtieth
day of the omer - four weeks and two days
גבורה שבהוד

A day of strength in a week of humility

The photo above is from Time Magazine. If you click on the photo, you'll see an article on the seemingly ambiguous relationship the present Pope, Benedict XVI, has with Jews as he embarks on a trip to Israel. It is of some interest not just because of his role as head of the Catholic church, but because he is German who grew up under Nazi rule.

From the article:
" . . . since Benedict's election, his relations with Jews--although similar in broad outline to John Paul's--have been plagued by mixed messages that have caused critics to wonder whether he has botched the opportunity to redress past shortcomings and strengthen the church's ties to the Jewish people. Like John Paul, Benedict came of age in one of the Holocaust's European slaughterhouses, and many expected that the Bavarian, like the Pole, could turn his somber history into a special authority for combatting anti-Semitism and pursuing the pro-Jewish reforms the church enacted at the Second Vatican Council in 1965. But he hasn't done so. Instead, says David Gibson, the (Catholic) author of The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle with the Modern World, 'here's a Pope who grew up under the Nazis, who witnessed this whole thing, a man with such an acute and vivid sense of language and experiences--and yet for whom one of the great dramas of the 20th century is somehow invisible in what he communicates.'"
For instance, Pope Benedict reversed the 1988 excommunication of four bishops of an ultra-traditionalist Catholic group called the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), a group that denies the existence of the Nazi gas chambers. Again, from the article:
"Then an unlikely figure entered the fray: Angela Merkel. German Chancellors don't usually weigh in on church matters, she said. But when the Vatican gave "the impression that it could be possible to deny that the Holocaust happened," she felt compelled to demand that the Pope repudiate the idea, lest it affect relations with "the Jewish people as a whole." In essence, Merkel (a Protestant) was tutoring the German Pope on his responsibilities to the Jews."
It's hard to for me to fathom that someone in such a position in this day and age can still be so clueless as to what it means to even hint at denying the Holocaust--especially someone who lived through that time, involved in the action. And especially someone who's words can make a big difference in healing the rifts that still exist. Maybe on his trip to Israel this week he will find those words.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Chag Sameach Pesach Sheni

היום תשעה ועשרים יומים שהם ארבעה שבועות ויום אחד לעמר
Today is the twent
y-ninth day of the omer - four weeks and one day
חסד שבהוד

A day of loving kindness in a week of humility

Today is Pesach Sheni, a day for those unable to celebrate Passover at its proscribed time of the 15th of Nissan. It is written in Numbers, verses 9 - 12:
(9) And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: (10) Speak to the Israelite people, saying: 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, (11) 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, (12) and they shall not leave any of it over until morning. They shall not break a bone of it. They shall offer it in strict accord with the law of the passover sacrifice.
So what does this mean for us today? We no longer offer any sacrifices, and the only custom for this day is to eat matzah and not offer any prayers of supplication during daily services. offers a teaching from the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, which says:
"it is never too late to rectify a past failing. Even if a person has failed to fulfill a certain aspect of his or her mission in life because s/he has been 'contaminated by death' (i.e., in a state of disconnection from the divine source of life) or "on a distant road" from his people and G-d, there is always a Second Passover in which s/he can make good on what s/he has missed out."
I appreciate the teaching, but I do wonder, why just a Passover Sheni? It would be too much for every holiday to have a second commemoration, but why Passover over any other? Wouldn't it be more important to have a second chance at Yom Kippur?

Something to think about as look you for some matzah to munch on.....

Thursday, May 07, 2009

From Blossom to Rashi

היום חמשה ועשרים יומים שהם ארבעה שבועות לעמר
Today is the twent
y-eight day of the omer - four weeks
מלכת שבנצח
A day of majesty in a week of endurance

Maggie Anton posted on her Facebook page that Rashi's Daughters has been optioned for a movie or TV series by Mayim Bialik.

Who is Mayim Bialik? Well, she starred in the 1980s sitcom Blossom. She'd like to get back into acting, although her life has taken some interesting turns in the time from her early fame to now. Reading this post on Jewcy, I found out:
"She's earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and has undertaken cutting-edge studies at UCLA as one of the top researchers of Prader-Willi Syndrome in the field. (Read more about the disorder here, or sift through Bialik's blog to find out about her work.) She's also testing the waters of going back into acting, with recent appearances on Curb Your Enthusiasm and Bones. And she's also in the middle of another big revival: she's experimenting with being an observant Jew."
The full post has an interview with Ms. Bialik. It's a good interview and I can appreciate her turn towards Jewish learning and practice. What makes me a bit sad is that she talks about davening:
"I haven't done that for about 2 years. It's in conflict with some of what I've been learning, but it's also in line with a lot of what I do as a performer. It's a great honor to daven, and to daven on behalf of a community. My grandfather was a chazzan in San Diego and the Bronx, and I inherited his voice. It takes a lot of learning, and it takes a lot of kavanah [concentration], but it's complicated, as anyone in this line knows.

And there's a reason that, in traditional Jewish circles, women don't lead services. I've been pregnant twice in the past three years. Going to shul has been incredibly different after having one child, and then having, thank God, two children, it's been even more different, and Judaism kind of knows that."
I hope she can find her way back to leading services--it seems like something that called to her. I just don't get the leap from women caring for small children not being able to lead services to no women being able to lead services. And I want to be supportive of women like Bialik's mentor, Allison Josephs, who (from her website, Jew in the City):
"has begun a campaign to change the public perception of Orthodox Jews and traditional Judaism through her videos and blogs. She's also editing an anthology debunking the most common myths and misconceptions people have about Orthodox Jews."
I respect these people, I respect their practice, but it's hard for me to accept a Judaism that won't allow me to participate fully just because of my gender. I don't take it personally and I know it's just a different way of practice---but it still doesn't feel right.

Maybe in the process of making the Rashi's Daughters movie, Bialik will see that the barriers that Orthodox Jews put up to deny women's role in some rituals are not Jewish Law but are custom, albeit custom so deep-rooted that it is considered law. Maybe once again she receive that honor of leading her community in prayer.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Seasonal Fruits

היום שבעה ועשרים יומים שהם שלשה שבועות וששה יומים לעמר
Today is the twent
y-seventh day of the omer - three weeks and six days
יסוד שבנצח
A day of foundation in a week of endurance

My Jewish practice makes me very aware of the cycles of the day, month, and year. Because the origins of the Jewish people have roots within an agriculturally-based society, I'm also aware of the growing seasons. The Shelosh Regalim, the three pilgrimage festivals of the Jewish sacred calendar, are tied to the different harvests: Pesach, the barley; Shavuot, the first fruits; Sukkot, the fall harvest.

Since I've become a farmer's market regular I have another way to mark the seasons--the appearance of the locally grown fruit and vegetables of the season. I've shared my joy at finding the first persimmons of the year. And last year I reveled in eating the first stone fruit of the season.

That time came again this morning, with my first sighting of apricots and cherries at the farmer's market. They may not be the sweetest fruit I'll have this year, but eating them after a long absence is a special treat. It was one of those Shehechiyanu moments, as I recited the blessing for experiencing something new, appreciating the small wonders of the world.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

American Idol in Hebrew

היום ששה ועשרים יומים שהם שלשה שבועות חמשה יומים לעמר
Today is the twent
y-sixth day of the omer - three weeks and five days
הוד שבנצח
A day of humility in a week of endurance

I will admit it---I do follow American Idol, especially in the last couple months of each series. And in my opinion, this year's group is the most talented I've heard. My favorite, like so many, is Adam Lambert. The week he performed "Mad World" was the clincher for me. You can hear his rendition here.

Today on Facebook my friend Rebekah posted this link from Haaretz with a duet Adam sang with the Cantor of Temple of the Arts in LA. I then did some of my own clicking around and found this video from a Tribute to Rabin concert held at University of Judaism on November 29, 2005.

There's some discussion on this Haaretz page of whether or not he's Jewish---but there's no doubt he can sing.....

Monday, May 04, 2009

Hebrew (elementary) School

היום חמשה ועשרים יומים שהם שלשה שבועות ארבעה יומים לעמר
Today is the twenty-fifth day of the omer - three weeks and four days

נצח שבנצח
A day of endurance in a week of endurance

This is the third year that I've "blogged the omer." In the two prior years, I titled each post by its day number, and noted the sephirot combination in the first line. While it was easier to not have to create a title each day, it makes it harder to find a particular post when I want use it for reference.

This year I decided to make up a title so that I can easily tell what I wrote about that day. I put the count and sephirot combo at the beginning of each post, with one more new addition--I've added the Hebrew. It's easy enough to do on my Mac-I just change the keyboard when I want to type in Hebrew. Not only the letters change--it also changes the typing to start on the right and continue left. And while I can have the keyboard set up as I assume it is used in Israel, I choose the QWERTY option, which has the keys for the Hebrew letters correspond to what is a "similar" letter in English, i.e. the Hebrew letter raish - ר - is on the R key. They don't all work as well as that, but I've learned where the anomalies are so that I can type the Hebrew without thinking too much.

The bigger issue is the spelling. Although I know the words I'm typing and they are words I see each day in the siddur (prayerbook), I don't always remember the correct letters. So when I'm not sure of the Hebrew spell, I go for a phonetic version and hope for the best. Yes, I could look them up in the dictionary, and I have done that at times. But some days I just go for it. I do go back and correct some errors, and will probably clean them all up by the end of this year's omer. I do want the archive versions to be correct :)

My struggles with Hebrew transport me back to elementary school (not that I remember that much about that time sooo long ago). It brings back the experience of learning something that has to be visually decoded first before you can even get to the level of understanding. Dealing with that comes with a certain amount of frustration as part of the process. I guess I need to find the right keys to unlock the gate to understanding, or find the right teacher--the gatekeeper who can unlock the gate for me.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A Minyan Moment

היום ארבעה ועשרים יומים שהם שלשה שבועות ושלשה יומים לעמר
Today is the twenty-fourth day of the omer - three weeks and three days

תפרת שבנצח
A day of compassion in a week of endurance

This morning, as is often the case, Jackie brought her two little boys, Aaron and Joshua, to minyan. We (the minyan) first met Jackie when she came to say kaddish for her father about 6 years ago. Her father died a couple of weeks before Aaron was born, and he became a minyan regular as Jackie brought him with her during that year. The whole family, including Craig, Jackie's husband, and of course Joshua when he arrived 3(or is it 4?) years ago, have become an integral part of our Beth Sholom community. Jackie lost her mother 11 months ago, and has been saying kaddish once again, this time often with both boys in tow.

This morning, while Aaron was in the meeting room, probably telling Addison, one of our facility caretakers, some of his newly learned and/or created jokes, Joshua came in to the chapel. He stood on the bench in the back next to his mom and began to focus on the stained glass windows that form the wall in that part of the chapel. There are two vertical banners with some sort of letters, possibly some version of Cyrillic text. (If you click on the photo on the right--taken this past February--you'll see that pane on the right side of the frame.)

Joshua recognized the "squiggles" as letters, and when we were at the part of the service where we pray quietly to ourselves, he began to sing the alphabet song in his sweet, little boy voice.

It was one of those classic minyan moments that will live in the annuls of Beth Sholom history. We all smiled, and before we finished up, I shared with the group the Hasidic story of the child who comes to synagogue with his dad. He wants to join in the prayers, but doesn't know the words. All he knows of Hebrew is the Aleph-Bet, and so he recites that. His father is embarrassed, apologizes to the rabbi for his son's ignorance. But the rabbi, understanding what was coming from the young boy's soul, reassured the parent: "Don't worry, God will take the letters and arrange them into to the prayers that come from your boy's heart."

Many of us felt that Joshua was doing his own davening, saying his prayers, and we were glad he could share them with us. And we need to remember that we all have the capacity to say our prayers, have those conversations with God, with the Transcendent, with that Universal Spirit. As long as the words come from our hearts, they will be heard.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Letting Go

היום שלשה ועשרים יומים שהם שלשה שבועות ושני יומים לעמר
Today is the twenty-third day of the omer - three weeks and two days

גבורה שבנצך
A day of strength in a week of endurance

During the omer count of 5767 (2007) I wrote about the insight I had about Gevurah--the quality of strength. It was something that I learned while counting in 2002 while going through chemotherapy. I wrote:
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.
This year, I'm learning another seemingly counter-intuitive aspect of Gevurah. Within the symbolic icon of the closed fist is the connotation of holding tight, holding strong. But it often takes an equal amount of strength, if not more, to be able to let go. The longer a fist remains clenched the more effort it takes to release. The longer I remain in a rut, the more I hold on to the weights that keep me there.

I need to find my gevurah, my strength to let go of those constraints that are keeping me down. Once I release that heavy load, I will be able to more clearly see the path ahead.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Random Thoughts

היום שנים ועשרים יומים שהם שלשה שבועות ויום אחד לעמר
Today is the twenty-second day of the omer - three weeks and one day

חסד שבנצך
A day of loving kindness in a week of endurance

Some random thoughts on a rainy day......

From Maggie Anton to Aviva Zornberg to a great kick-off session of a newly formed Torah study group--I am filled with inspiration and great teachings. May I continue to process these new thoughts and insights and use them to move forward.


Although I realize that any translation will add it's own meaning to text, I'm finding that I prefer the Artscroll Tanach to the JPS versions. As I use it in study sessions, I find that it is closer to the Pshat (literal) level of study.


More support for my "the 21st century starts now" theory, courtesy of the LA Times:
Last big VHS supplier abandons the business


Reading Maggie Anton's Rashi's Daughters, Books 1 & 2, I'm learning that Talmud students of that time--11th/12th centuries--would memorize the text--Mishnah and Gemara--in order to be able to then discuss them. It makes sense, I'm sure written copies were few and not easily obtained. But in the jumble of my brain, this brought to mind Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, a novel set in a future time when books are being burned. A group of activists determined to save the words recruit people to memorize the books. Although I loved the theory of that solution, I never felt that mankind could pull it off, that we wouldn't be able to keep those writings alive. Little did I know, although with different motivation, in the Middle Ages there were people--dare I say "my people"-- who did just that.

Shabbat Shalom