Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Completing the Cycle

היום תשעה וארבעים יום שהם שבעה שבועות בעמר
Today is the forty-ninth day, making seven weeks of the omer
מלכות שב מלכות

A day of majesty in a week of majesty

The seven week cycle is now complete. I have counted each of the 49 days, and noted each combination of the sephirot. Each day has a thought, a point of view, a story. I've taken the biblical ritual with the medieval kabbalistic layer and made it an expression of my practice.

The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat is Naso. It's a parasha that covers a lot of ground--the sotah, the nazarite, the priestly blessing. The parasha ends with the dedicating of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. We hear about each of the tribe's offerings--which are exactly the same. But the description is repeated for each tribe. Why would this be written in this manner? Couldn't the gifts been listed once, prefaced by "Each tribe gave . . ."?

One easy case to be made is to reference the oral transmission of our sacred texts. The more the words are chanted, the easier they are remembered. The emphasis the comes with the repetition also brings to the listener the enormity of the celebration.

I have my own midrash on this event. Each year--and on Hanukkah--when we read this, I get this image of the uniqueness of each tribal offering, not their sameness. The repetition tells me to image how one tribe brought the offerings with a song, another with a dance, another with a skit. They were presented on cloths of different colors and different patterns for each tribe.

And that is one way to approach a life of practice. We all have the same basic tenets of ethics of how to live together in this world. Taking on a commitment of spiritual practice is a fluid experience--you learn, you ingest, you accept, you adapt, you continue to learn. The best sort of practice is the one that grows with you.

I leave now for my final preparations to "stand at Sinai" -- to study and take in the Torah in commemoration of the time of it's first offerings. May my study be as sweet as the first fruits that we also celebrate. May we all find a way to respect ourselves, each other, all around us, and the world we live in and accept each uniqueness the contributes to the One.

חג שמכח
Chag Sameach

Monday, May 17, 2010

Shavuot - A Festival Ignored

היום שמנה וארבעים יום שהם ששה שבועות וששה ימים בעמר
Today is the forty-eighth day, making six weeks and six days of the omer
יסוד שב מלכות

A day of foundation in a week of majesty

Tablet Magazine - a daily Jewish e-magazine from Nextbook, Inc - posted an article today, "Field Study: Why the holiday of Shavuot is all but ignored across America." This essay looks into the factors that make this the least practiced of the three Pilgrimage holidays - the remaining to being Pesach and Sukkot.
In its earliest incarnation, Shavuot marked a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the sacrifice of the harvest’s first fruits and is one of a historical trio of harvest celebrations, along with Sukkot and Passover, known as the shalosh regalim. According to Paul Steinberg, a rabbi at the Conservative synagogue Valley Beth Shalom in Los Angeles and the author of a series of books on the Jewish holidays, rabbis in the Talmudic period needed to reinvent Shavuot after the Jews left Israel for the Diaspora and no longer traveled to Jerusalem with harvest offerings. So, through what Steinberg calls the use of “complicated mathematical formulas” that were debated for centuries, the sages associated Shavuot with the giving of the Torah. But that interpretive shift, says Steinberg, has not “captured the imagination of Jews in America or anywhere else.”
The article goes on to talk about the custom starting to catch on in more American cities--staying up all night in study sessions called tikkun leil Shavuot. I will be participating in one such event in Berkeley tomorrow night into morning.

One of the comments on that piece caught my eye. While there's a definite snark factor that makes me want to say, "back off Jack," There are points in there that hit home:
Almost all American Jews celebrate and commemorate Passover in some form or another but only the Orthodox by and large celebrate Shavuot.
Another strange American Jewish phenomenon is that while most observe Shabbat by making Kiddush, very few observe Havdala, the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat.
Why are these two Mitzvoth, Shavuot and Havdala, neglected by most
American Jews, and is there any connection between the two?
I believe there is a connection.
Passover celebrates freedom from slavery and exodus from Egypt.
Shavuot celebrates the giving and receiving of the Torah and the Jews commitment to serving HaShem and His Torah.
Friday night Kiddush represents the Sanctity and Holiness of Shabbat.
Havdala repesents the leaving of the sanctity and holiness of Shabbat and the return of the mundane week.
By only celebrating Passover and not Shavuot, the American Jew is celebrating Freedom, but neglecting to commit to serving serving HaShem and His Torah.
By observing Kiddush but neglecting Havdala the American Jew is stating that everything is Kodesh-HOLY- without any distinction between that which is truly holy and that which is actually mundane.
How typically American to try to have your cake and eat it at the same time!
There is something to be said about people preferring the warm and fuzzy liberation/holy stuff and checking out on the commitment to the practice. I don't condemn anyone over this, as the writer of the comment seems to express. Instead, I wish more people would realize the mindfulness that consistent spiritual practice can bring to their lives

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Preparation for Revelation

היום שבעה וארבעים יום שהם ששה שבועות וחמשה ימים בעמר
Today is the forty-seventh day, making six weeks and five days of the omer
הוד שב מלכות

A day of humility in a week of majesty

As Shavuot, the day commemorating נתן תורה - the giving of the Torah - draws near, I am feeling the need for inward contemplation. So instead of my words, I give you the description of the day three days away from the revelation - Exodus 19:1 - 12.

There are some interesting points for study if you so wish. There's the ". . . I bore you on eagles' wings" from verse 4. I noticed the setting of boundaries at the base of Sinai in verse 12 -- something I've never thought of before. And, of course much, much more......

1. In the third month of the children of Israel's departure from Egypt, on this day they arrived in the desert of Sinai.
א. בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁלִישִׁי לְצֵאת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה בָּאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינָי:
2. They journeyed from Rephidim, and they arrived in the desert of Sinai, and they encamped in the desert, and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain.
ב. וַיִּסְעוּ מֵרְפִידִים וַיָּבֹאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינַי וַיַּחֲנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶגֶד הָהָר:
3. Moses ascended to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "So shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel,
ג. וּמֹשֶׁה עָלָה אֶל הָאֱ־לֹהִים וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו יְ־הֹוָ־ה מִן הָהָר לֵאמֹר כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
4. You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and [how] I bore you on eagles' wings, and I brought you to Me.
ד. אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי לְמִצְרָיִם וָאֶשָּׂא אֶתְכֶם עַל כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים וָאָבִא אֶתְכֶם אֵלָי:
5. And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth.
ה. וְעַתָּה אִם שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת בְּרִיתִי וִהְיִיתֶם לִי סְגֻלָּה מִכָּל הָעַמִּים כִּי לִי כָּל הָאָרֶץ:
6. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel."
ו. וְאַתֶּם תִּהְיוּ לִי מַמְלֶכֶת כֹּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹשׁ אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר תְּדַבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
7. Moses came and summoned the elders of Israel and placed before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him.
ז. וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה וַיִּקְרָא לְזִקְנֵי הָעָם וַיָּשֶׂם לִפְנֵיהֶם אֵת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּהוּ יְ־הֹוָ־ה:
8. And all the people replied in unison and said, "All that the Lord has spoken we shall do!" and Moses took the words of the people back to the Lord.
ח. וַיַּעֲנוּ כָל הָעָם יַחְדָּו וַיֹּאמְרוּ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְ־הֹוָ־ה נַעֲשֶׂה וַיָּשֶׁב מֹשֶׁה אֶת דִּבְרֵי הָעָם אֶל יְ־הֹוָ־ה:
9. And the Lord said to Moses, "Behold, I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud, in order that the people hear when I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever." And Moses relayed the words of the people to the Lord.
ט. וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי בָּא אֵלֶיךָ בְּעַב הֶעָנָן בַּעֲבוּר יִשְׁמַע הָעָם בְּדַבְּרִי עִמָּךְ וְגַם בְּךָ יַאֲמִינוּ לְעוֹלָם וַיַּגֵּד מֹשֶׁה אֶת דִּבְרֵי הָעָם אֶל יְ־הֹוָ־ה:
10. And the Lord said to Moses, "Go to the people and prepare them today and tomorrow, and they shall wash their garments.
י. וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵךְ אֶל הָעָם וְקִדַּשְׁתָּם הַיּוֹם וּמָחָר וְכִבְּסוּ שִׂמְלֹתָם:
11. And they shall be prepared for the third day, for on the third day, the Lord will descend before the eyes of all the people upon Mount Sinai.
יא. וְהָיוּ נְכֹנִים לַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי כִּי בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִשִׁי יֵרֵד יְ־הֹוָ־ה לְעֵינֵי כָל הָעָם עַל הַר סִינָי:
12. And you shall set boundaries for the people around, saying, Beware of ascending the mountain or touching its edge; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.'
יב. וְהִגְבַּלְתָּ אֶת הָעָם סָבִיב לֵאמֹר הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם עֲלוֹת בָּהָר וּנְגֹעַ בְּקָצֵהוּ כָּל הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהָר מוֹת יוּמָת:

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Shabbat Minuchah - Rest

היום ששה וארבעים יום שהם ששה שבועות וארבעה ימים בעמר
Today is the forty-sixth day, making six weeks and four days of the omer
נצח שב מלכות

A day of perseverance in a week of majesty

It was Shabbat--and I rested......

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rosh Chodesh Sivan

היום חמשה וארבעים יום שהם ששה שבועות ושלשה ימים בעמר
Today is the forty-fifth day, making six weeks and three days of the omer
תפרת שב מלכות

A day of compassion in a week of majesty

Chodesh Tov! Today is the first of Sivan--six days to revelation.....whatever form that takes :)

I fulfilled the promise made in yesterday's post and dedicated my Rosh Chodesh Torah reading to Noa Roz and the Women of the Wall (WoW). Responding to a message from WoW posted on Facebook, I sent them the photo you see below so they can document the support coming to them from all over the world. I was glad to have my 90-year-old Russian friend Yitzchak in the photo with me. Sadly, because of circulation problems, he can no longer wear his tefillin. But he is proud and happy that I wear mine.

לדור ודור –– l'dor v'dor
from generation to generation
all genders included.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Women of the Wall

היום ארבעה וארבעים יום שהם ששה שבועות ושני ימים בעמר
Today is the forty-fourth day, making six weeks and two days of the omer
גבורה שב מלכות

A day of strength in a week of majesty

Earlier in the omer period, on Yom HaAztma-ut, I wrote about my complicated emotions concerning the state of Israel. That post centered around the Israeli-Palestinian relations--or lack thereof due to those presently governing Israel. That issue is only one part of why, like Jay Michaelson, I find myself in a position where I'm losing my love for Israel.

Another major factor contributing to my angst is the power the Haradi, the ultra-orthodox, have over Jewish ritual in Israel. Because of their stronghold that is legitimized by the Israeli government, I am not free to practice Judaism in Israel as fully as I can in the United States. This is solely due to my gender.

My first visit to Israel was in 1971 with USY Pilgrimage on a Jewish teen tour. This was years before egalitarianism was a part of Conservative Jewish practice, and I had no thought to wearing a tallit. This was still the case in 1980 when I was there on my second visit as a tourist, While I would consider myself a feminist at that time, I was removed from most of my Jewish practice so again, the act of wearing a tallit wouldn't have entered into my mind.

Throughout the past twelve years, I've continually increased my commitment to Judaism and taken on so many rituals that were previously out of my reach--getting an aliyah, reading Torah, wearing tallit and tefillin. It only recently occurred to me that all of that is still out of my reach in most religious settings in Israel--most importantly, at the Kotel, the Western Wall.

This is difficult for me to fathom. For years now, when I imagined myself in Israel, I would see myself wrapped in tallit and tefillin, davening Shacharit at the Kotel. The travails of the Women of the Wall have shown me another story--a tale that tears my soul. Women are being arrested, detained, and assaulted for the crimes of donning tallit and tefillin, carrying a Torah, lifting their voices in prayer.

The assault that happened this week is extremely chilling, for the woman who was attacked could have been me:

MAY 13th -- Noa Raz, a Conservative Jew in her early thirties who lives and works in Tel Aviv, was physically assaulted early Tuesday morning by an ultra-Orthodox man at the Central Bus Station in Be’er Sheva for having the imprints of tefillin (phylacteries) lines visible on her arms.
She had woken up several hours earlier to pray and wrap tefillin, as is part of her daily routine. “I’m very pale, so the tefillin lines are still visible for hours afterward,” she said. While she was waiting for the bus to arrive, an ultra-Orthodox man in his forties stood next to her and stared at the lines on her arms. He asked her twice if the imprints were from tefillin. She ignored him at first, then admitted they were. At that point he grabbed her hand and began to kick and strangle her while screaming “women are an abomination.” She struggled, then broke free and ran to the bus which had just pulled into the station.
There were several bystanders present, though Noa Raz stated that the assault happened so quickly that none had time to react.
Raz arrived in Tel Aviv and sent out a message about the assault on Twitter. Dozens of people responded urged her to go to police to report what had happened. Raz contacted the police the following day, fearing that a similar incident would happen to another woman.
The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) has been working with the Be’er Sheva Police and has insisted they treat Raz’s assault as the hate crime that it is. To this end, IRAC has demanded that the proper resources be allocated in the search for Raz’s attacker, that security camera tapes be reviewed, and that the Chief of Police for Israel’s Southern District be personally involved.
Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of IRAC, stated that the assault on Noa Raz for wrapping tefillin “should not be seen as an isolated incident, but as taking place within an atmosphere of growing violence toward and intimidation of women who seek to pray freely and equally. Too often these acts of violence are tolerated. The fact that this man thought it acceptable to attack a woman for performing a religious act in private is an example of the escalation of violence targeted against women and against religious pluralists in Israel. We at IRAC are pushing the Israeli police to take this investigation seriously.” She added, “Noa, a member of Women of the Wall, is expected to join us tomorrow for Rosh Chodesh Sivan.”

Tomorrow, I will dedicate my Rosh Chodesh Torah reading to this brave group of women who are standing up for the rights of all Jews to practice fully in the land of our ancestors.

כן יהי רצון
May it be so

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Into the Home Stretch

היום שלשה וארבעים יום שהם ששה שבועות ויום אחד בעמר
Today is the forty-third day, making six weeks and one day of the omer
חסד שב מלכות

A day of loving kindness in a week of majesty

One more week to go in the omer count. I do feel that this year, it's done its work. I'm not sure if it's in the marking of the day, taking in the sephirot, or writing the daily post--maybe all three. Or possibly there ar other forces that have nothing to do with the ritual have brought about this change in psyche.

I do see what lies ahead a bit clearer. I have a direction that will guide me along for now, aware that there will always be those forks in the road bringing the need for new decisions to be made. I appreciate this time in the Jewish sacred calendar that helps me process all the life decisions that need to be made. May I always be able to tap into that flow.

With all this talk about roads and forks and decisions, how can I not share one of my favorite poems, Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What does Sacred Space mean to you?

היום שני וארבעים יום שהם ששה שבועות בעמר
Today is the forty-second day, making six weeks of the omer
מלכות שב יסוד

A day of majesty in a week of foundation

On this last day of the sixth week of the omer I finish my first year of teaching at PTBE. I hope I was able to teach my students some Torah and inspire them to think about the spiritual concepts contained within. I certainly learned much from them this year, and will be evaluating what I did this year, looking for more ways to reach them. Some of that processing will happen on this blog--if anyone out there has some wisdom to share, I would appreciate the input.

In honor of this year's students, I will share a poem written today by one of the students in my Sacred Space class. I don't know that I could have come up with this when I was 11 or 12.....


a word
what it means
no one knows
a tree
a house
or any place at all
a breath of air
a beat of the heart
a death
a birth
is a state of mind
is an abstract

Monday, May 10, 2010

Losing a Practice

היום אחד וארבעים יום שהם חמשה שבועות וששה ימים בעמר
Today is the forty-first day, making five weeks and six days of the omer
יסוד שב יסוד

A day of foundation in a week of foundation

We didn't make minyan this morning. This is becoming a more frequent occurrence these days, closer to a weekly rather than a monthly event. More and more, I feel that within a couple of years we will not be able to sustain a daily morning minyan and need to move to a different, part-time schedule. I sincerely hope that I am proven wrong, for attending morning minyan has become a touchstone for me and for my practice.

As Leviticus is the book teaching us the practice, Bamidbar is the book that contains the lessons of bringing the practice into our lives. Participating in morning minyan is one way I am able to do that. I can't help but start my day with thankfulness and mindfulness--the poetry of the liturgy guides me along. The words don't always stick :), but they're there for support when I need them. Just as I am always able to support those who are saying kaddish, the mourners' prayer, for loved ones--those whose grief is still new; those who share cherished memories of friends and family long passed.

Starting your day at morning minyan is one of those hidden gems of Jewish practice. In some ways, it's like having a mini Shabbat each day. Your only obligation--be present. And you're always welcome for coffee and a snack afterwards :)

So to all those of the Jewish persuasion who are reading this, wherever you are--think about finding your local minyan, maybe check it out. You get to support those in your community, and you will be surprised at the support you will get in return.

Sunday, May 09, 2010


היום ארבעים יום שהם חמשה שבועות וחמשה יומים בעמר
Today is the fortieth day, making five weeks and five days of the omer
הוד שב יסוד

A day of humility in a week of foundation

Dallas Braden, pitcher for the Oakland A's, threw a perfect game today. The opposing team, the Tampa Bay Rays, are currently the best team in baseball. It was the 19th perfect game in major league history and the 2nd in team history. Jim "Catfish" Hunter pitched a perfect game 42-years earlier almost to the day--May 8th, 1968.

Dallas Braden has reached a milestone event for his career at the early age of 26. He's proven to have a brash personality, as evidenced by his recent feud with Alex Rodriguez. That's not necessarily a bad thing--if that brashness is tempered with "menchness" and backed up with talent. I wasn't sure if he had either. Watching his performance on the mound, his emotion with his grandmother, his appreciation for the support of his teamates, and his obvious love and honor for the game showed me both.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

A Leviticus Farewell

היום תשעה ושלשים יום שהם חמשה שבועות וארבעה יומים בעמר
Today is the thirty-ninth day, making five weeks and four days of the omer
נצח שב יסוד

A day of perseverance in a week of foundation

We just finished reading Leviticus for this year. Across the globe, many shul-going, Torah reading Jews breathe a sigh of relief. We're done with all the bloody details of the sacrifices, and all the lists of laws and rituals, many of which are steeped in an ancient culture very removed from our own. The only story we get is of Nadav and Avihu and how they are zapped by God when they offer אש זרה – strange fire – that was not requested--a troubling tale in and of itself. So we're all happy to move on with the Israelites, even if it is Bamidbar -- into the wilderness.

But I gained some insights into Torah study as we traveled through Leviticus this year. I began the book with these two concepts in mind: it's a book about practice and we need to look at the contents through different lenses--both the one of that ancient time and the one of our present era. I finish the book with a better appreciation of how the practice works and a way into deciphering the teachings that lie within the words.

And so while I look forward to the next leg of the Torah journey, I am grateful that I have found a way in to taking in this sacred text that can feel so removed from my life. There's still a lot of struggle ahead--I wouldn't have it any other way. It's the perseverance with the struggle that forms the foundation for learning.

חזק חזק ונתחזק
May we be strong, strong,
and strengthen each other

Friday, May 07, 2010

Shabbat is Rest

היום שמנה ושלשים יום שהם חמשה שבועות ושלשה יומים בעמר
Today is the thirty-eighth day, making five weeks and three days of the omer
תפרת שב יסוד

A day of compassion in a week of foundation

This week, in my 6th grade class on sacred space, we discussed Shabbat--what is it, what does it mean, what does it mean to them. (hmmm, sound familiar?) I asked them to write about Shabbat--how have they practiced it, what rituals did they observe, what can they do to bring more Shabbat into their lives.

As we enter into Shabbat, I will share one response--a wonderful example of how much I learn from my students.

Shabbat Shalom
To me, Shabbat is rest. It is living in the moment. This rule, this God-given law, is a gift. Like Buddha gave the people yoga, God gave us Shabbat. Because of Shabbat we have one day where we don't have to worry about money or school or social life or gossip or emotions. On Shabbat we can simply rest. We don't have to work. Never think of Shabbat as a restriction--Shabbat is a privilege. On Shabbat you can unplug your electronics. You can turn off your phones. You can silence the family, calm your pets, turnoff the lights, and find a sacred place to tell God how much you appreciate his gift, and simply enjoy the fact that you are simply there.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

היום שבעה ושלשים יום שהם חמשה שבועות ושני יומים בעמרToday is the thirty-seventh day, making five weeks and two days of the omerגבורה שב יסוד
A day of strength in a week of foundation

I'm watching the returns of the British election---a turning point moment for the country. Will the Conservatives get enough seats for a majority? Will it be a "hung" Parliament, with a coalition needed to form the government? At this moment, we still don't know.

But as interested as I am, that's not what I wish to comment on today. Instead, I want to share this article from The Forward written by Rabbi Amy Eilberg, the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary, the rabbinical school of the Conservative movement. She reflects on the that moment, 25 years ago--what it meant then, what it means now. She acknowledges the challenges that still lie ahead as she pays homage to what has been accomplished:
Surely, many challenges remain. The so-called “stained-glass ceiling” remains firmly in place, although a handful of women have been called to lead large congregations as solo rabbis. The R.A.’s comprehensive 2004 study, “Gender Variation in the Careers of Conservative Rabbis,” demonstrated that women rabbis continue to suffer significant discrimination in the workplace, including lower pay, challenges to their authority and legitimacy, and the usual flow of disrespectful and foolish remarks.
Still, as I ponder the 25 years since my ordination at JTS, I am awed that we have collectively come as far as we have. For younger Conservative Jews, the denial of full equality to women is now inconceivable. Even the Orthodox world is actively wrestling with the question of women’s ordination.
Anniversaries invite sacred reflection. On this 25th anniversary of my ordination, I am deeply grateful for the joy and privilege of participating in this transformative time in Jewish history. My heart is drawn to the Shehecheyanu prayer, in which we thank God for giving us life and enabling us to reach this special moment.

I also say a Shehecheyanu in Rabbi Eilberg's honor, and in commemoration of reaching this anniversary. I am old enough to remember when ritual equality for women was unobtainable, far from inconceivable. I thank you, Rabbi Eilberg, for being one who cleared a path for those like me to follow.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Missing my teacher and his teachings

היום ששה ושלשים יום שהם חמשה שבועות ויום אכד בעמר
Today is the thirty-sixth day, making five weeks and one day of the omer
חסד שב יסוד

A day of loving kindness in a week of foundation

I'm missing Rabbi Lew these days. There are a couple of things I'd like to share with him, and one thing I'd like to ask.

It was Rabbi Lew who gave me a teaching of Jewish medieval sage, Don Isaac Abravanel, that has been formative for me. I have been doing research on Abravanel for a talk I'm giving at Netivot Shalom's after-kiddish program on May 15. I am fascinated learning how he navigated being a financier, a statesman, and a mystic all in one lifetime. The time and place he lived in--late 15th/early 16th century Portugal/Spain/Italy--leading the Jewish community that was expelled from Spain in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella. The book I'm reading, Don Isaac Abravanel: Statesman & Philosopher by Benzion Netanyahu is a thorough biography, but I with I could share my enthusiasm with Rabbi Lew, and I'm sure he would have some tidbits of knowledge that he could share with me.

I also would like to tell him about my teaching, and my participation in the LINK Educator Fellowship program at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. I had talked with him looking for my calling. As with his answer to finding my questions, he said that my calling will find me. I wish he was here to turn to for guidance as I walk towards what I hope will be a path found.

And I wish I could ask him how he came to be a Giants fan, as he grew up a Dodger fan. My friend Robert Rubin is one who decided to remain true to his roots, and wears his Dodger blue with pride--something not so easy in the Bay Area :) Rabbi Lew chose to change his allegiance. This was something I always meant to ask him but never got around to it. There's a story there---one I'll never know.

I will dedicate my talk on May 15 to Rabbi Lew. I will continue to spread the teachings he gave us. It's the best way I can honor his memory. But I will also always feel the loss.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Two Words

היום חמשה ושלשים יום שהם חמשה שבועות בעמר
Today is the thirty-fifth day, making five weeks of the omer
מלכות שבהוד

A day of majesty in a week of humility

A short post today...let's call it a postlet :)

The two words that are popping out to me these days as I daven are שמה -- Listen and אמת - True. There is much that I could say that I won't say now. I will say that I'm keeping those words in mind as I interact in the different spheres of my world. I'm hoping this practice will show me a way I can truly hear people, as well as being faithful to who I am.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Breathing Numbers

היום ארבעה ושלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות וששה ימים בעמר
Today is the thirty-fourth day, making four weeks and six days of the omer
יסוד שבהוד

A day of foundation in a week of humility

I spent the summer of 1971 in Israel with group of teens on USY Pilgrimage to Israel. Along with our American group leaders, we had counselors from Holland and Argentina. It was then that I learned that when a person counts, it will almost always be in his/her native tongue. Everywhere we went, when it came time for a head count we would hear the numbers in English, Dutch, and Spanish. It's one of those things that happens automatically--there's no thinking involved--probably why you revert back to your native language.

I thought about that today during my yoga class. We're trying to gain fluency with the numbers in my Hebrew class and my teacher suggested that we use Hebrew numbers as much as possible. I've been doing things like reading license plate numbers and prices in Hebrew. So when Susannah told us to hold each pose for eight breaths, I started to count them in Hebrew. It was not a good idea :)

I lost my focus on the pose, which meant I lost my focus on the present--an important element in yoga practice. I had to think too much--which number, which tense. It just took me out of the flow of the class. Luckily I realized early in the session that this wasn't going to work, was able to smile about it and let it go. It's hard enough sometimes to push the yoga frustration away--I didn't need to add another layer.

So I need to remember that I may never be able to count my breath in Hebrew--and maybe I am not meant to be able to do that. Then again, as when in yoga, a seemingly unreachable pose sometimes inexplicitly becomes one I do with ease--one day I might just find myself breathing the Hebrew numbers in my breath without another thought.

You never know.........

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Body and Soul are One

היום שלשה ושלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות וחמשה ימים בעמר
Today is the thirty-third day, making four weeks and five days of the omer
חוד שבהוד

A day of humility in a week of humility

I have a habit of grabbing whichever blank-enough notebook is nearest when needing notepaper. I use binders to organize notes, so if I need to make a dedicated volume, I just transfer those pages to their new home.

The notebook I'm presently using for my Hebrew class is the same notebook I used at a Jewish text study group in December, 2008. It does seem appropriate, as these notes contain a good amount of Hebrew. Part of studying Hebrew text is looking at the different meanings and nuances of the words. I need to see the word or phrase in question, not a transliteration. Along with learning to speak the language, I'm hoping to improve my writing and reading skills.

An advantage of keeping the same book for different teachings is that you get to revisit the earlier notes as you leaf through to the new ones. As I started my last bit of preparation for tonight's Hebrew class, my eyes fell on a phrase I wrote during a study of the Shema and it's surrounding blessings:
In Judaism, there's a relationship between the moral and the physical.

This followed notes on the word כבוד - kavod, defined as honor, glory, being present, heavy, liver--the heaviest organ of the body. The ancient sages described the liver as the seat of the soul. There are notes on light - Universal Light, Light of Zion, Light of Torah. There's some discourse on listening as an intent--listening to God through the Torah. And there's the physical and spiritual representation through head and heart.

This direct relationship between tangible and intangible brings the practice it's oneness. It is another way it meshes with my yoga practice, as they both stand on the tenet that mindfulness is a unity of body and soul. Together, they keep a place of Shalom-ness, of Whole-ness, of Peace as a part of my life.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

We should not forget

היום שני ושלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות וארבעה ימים בעמר
Today is the thirty-second day, making four weeks and four days of the omer
נצח שבהוד
A day of perseverance in a week of humility

A few months ago or so, I saw that someone from Pennsylvania had visited this blog when they searched "Edward Heiss Jewish." I noted it with curiosity. Edward Heiss was my uncle, he certainly was Jewish, but he died in January, 1945 when the plane on which he served as bombardier was shot down. I first wrote about him here five years ago, and will commemorate his yarhzeit later this month on Memorial Day, as I have in years past here, here and here. But I couldn't figure out why anyone outside of my family would have any interest in him. This week, that mystery was solved.

This past Thursday I received a letter from a Michael Moskow. He is an amateur historian who is interested in Jewish genealogy and Jewish military history. He found my uncle's name on a Missing Air Crew Report pertaining to his mission. Although there was no record of my uncle's religion or ethnic background, Michael had a hunch about him. His intuition was confirmed when he found my blog.

I spoke with Michael today. He would like copies of some the photos of my uncle, as well as other documents I have that pertain to my uncle's time in the Army. I am so appreciative of of his interest. My uncle's time on this earth was cut short. He had no chance to be a part of any lasting community. His mark in this world is faint. But he lived and he mattered--his memory lives in my dad and in me. And now his name will be marked and honored with other Jewish war veterans--men who should not be forgotten.

Zichrono L'vracha to all those who fought--those who lived and those who died
Their memories are a blessing to us all