Thursday, June 02, 2011


 היום ארבעה וארבעים יום שהם ששה שבועות ושני ימים לעמר
Today is forty-four days, which is six weeks and two days, of the omer
גבורה שבמלכות
A day of strength in a week of majesty

It's time to start thinking what I've gleaned from this year's omer practice.

One thing I've learned is to separate my Facebook count from these blog posts. The count is easy--just sign on and type the information in my status. Doing that, I can keep the base ritual by counting each night, since the start of a day in the Hebrew calendar is at sundown.

The blog posts are more of a commitment and sometimes, neither the time nor the inspiration are there. I can push these into the next day. But still, sometimes, my mind is a blank. Even with the post-it of writing ideas on my bulletin board, the words don't make it to the screen. I fill a post with words from others, or just note the difficulty and move on--an entry is an entry no matter what it says. But I won't put many of those on Facebook--no need to share my writer's block.

Hopefully, I'll be more inspired on my next post.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Loooking for lessons in the Kosher Nation

היום שלשה וארבעים יום שהם ששה שבועות ויום אחד לעמר
Today is forty-three days, which is six weeks and one day, of the omer
חסד שבמלכות
A day of loving-kindness in a week of majesty

Today I received my copy of Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America's Food Answers to a Higher Authority by Sue Fishkoff. It will be the next book in line for me to read. Friends have given it good reviews. But more importantly, I hope it gives me some ideas on how to teach the concept of kashrut to my students next year.

I teach in a Reform synagogue where the laws of kashrut are no longer followed. However, the students often bring up the subject. They are curious about the what and why's of the practice.

I need to be careful how I teach this--after all, it is not part of the culture of their synagogue and unlikely a part of their home life. When it comes up, I talk about mindful eating--being aware of what is in the food, where is comes from, how it gets to the plate. I show them the animated G-dcast for Shemini which gives the kashrut laws in song. I point out that the verses following the laws talk about each of us being holy--a kind of "you are what you eat."

But I'm hoping this book will enable me to bring in a worldly relationship to kashrut that would be in line with the philosophy of the Reform movement while letting me be true to the mitzvah aspect.

I'll post my own review when I'm done and let you know :)

Monday, May 30, 2011

Step by Step

היום שנים  וארבעים יום שהם ששה שבועת לעמר
Today is forty-two days, which is six weeks, of the omer
מאלכות שביסוד
A day of majesty in a week of foundation

It was four weeks ago that I wrote about looking for balance in my life. I ended that post, "Balancing Act," with the observation that sometimes you need to change the placement of the balancing point. As I mark this sixth week of the omer, I realize there has been a foundational shift in my Jewish ritual practice.

My avodah-my service time is in better balance with my prayer time. I've made a conscious effort to step back from many coordinating roles. I participate in and certainly help support my community, but my responsibilities need to be focused on my teaching and my editing work. I need to make my personal practice a priority over that of the communal practice. I have given too much avodah to the detriment of my spiritual well being. I need to recalibrate that ratio in order to better serve both myself and the community.

Five weeks ago I also focused on finding balance. It was the first day of malchut in the cycle, and I wrote:
I wonder whether malchut is the place where all the other attributes meld with each other--like the way all the colors together make white. I can feel it as the union of the other aspects, a reminder of the balance needed to hold them all.
That aspect of malchut has come to the forefront for me this year. I have used each of the attributes to inform my thinking as I've pondered my next directions. One foot in front of the other, I continue to find my way.

On Memorial Day, Remembrance of my Uncle Eddie is a blessing

היום אחד וחמשה יום שהם חמשה וששה ימים לעמר
Today is forty-one days, which is five weeks and six days, of the omer
יסוד שביסוד
A day of foundation in a week of foundation

This morning at minyan I commemorated the yarhzeit of my uncle Eddie. It is a tradition I started about five years ago. Eddie was a bombardier during World War two--one of those who did not make it home. Although I never met him, I feel a close tie to him and need to honor his memory--not just for me, not just for my dad, not just for my family. Each year I share these words with my community so we can remember the reason we mark this Memorial Day.

"Pa - so you thought I forgot your anniversary. Well, at least Ma stood by me. I'm glad you liked the card. . . I received a letter from Seymour on Tuesday and he tells me that he made P.F.C - You can't imagine what a kick I got out of hearing this. I went around and passed cigarettes to the boys just like a father passes out cigars when he gets a baby"

"You ask what's new with me. There is still nothing definite to tell you. We may as well not kid each other - when I finish my training here I will be due to go over. . . Please don't start worrying about me - there is still plenty of time for that. . . I'm not worried about anything except that you are worrying about me. This is a great experience for me and I'm sure I will benefit by it. Why, there must be a million fellows who would do anything to trade places with me and get on a B-29 crew"

Those words were written by my uncle, Lieutenant Edward Heiss, US Army Air Force, in letters to his parents in January and February, 1944. He signed off, as he did all his letters, with "I am feeling fine. So long. Lots of love, Eddie." One year later, on January 11, 1945, his B-29 fell to the ground in pieces somewhere over Malaysia. Of the eleven crew members, only three made it out alive---he was not one of those three.

When I was growing up, a colored version of this photo was on my grandmother's dresser. I was curious who it was, but somehow, never asked. I don't remember when or how I found out who he was. My father has given me bits and pieces through the years. I still don't know much, but I feel very connected to him. I have always wondered how my family's life would have been different if he had come home.

I wonder about this man--the one so often photographed with a smile. The one who, as my father tells it, convinced my dad to go with him to Yankee Stadium one Rosh Hashanah. The commanding officer of his squadron wrote my grandparents, "No matter how fatigued he may have been, or how he felt personally, Edward always had a laugh and a word of encouragement, to cheer the other members of his crew and squadron. . . He undoubtedly was one of the best liked officers in this organization."

My Uncle Eddie received a Purple Heart, posthumously.

I would have rather had him in my life.

On Memorial Day we need to remember that war, justified or not, will always take its toll.

Zichrono L'vracha
His remembrance is a blessing to my dad, to me, and to all with whom I share his story.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

No words

היום ארבעים יום שהם חמשה שבועות וחמשה ימים לעמר
Today is forty days, which is five weeks and five days, of the omer
הוד שביסוד
A day of humility in a week of foundation

It's already late, and I'm at a loss for words. So I mark the day, and humbly realize that sometimes it's better to stay quiet when there's nothing to say. That, in itself, can be a place of foundation.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Shabbat Shalom

היום תשעה ושלשים יום שהם חמשה שבועות וארבעה ימים לעמר
Today is thirty-nine days, which is five weeks and four days, of the omer
נצח שביסוד
A day of perseverance in a week of foundation

On this Shabbat of foundation I share with you Psalm 92 - the psalm of Shabbat - as interpreted by one of my teachers, Norman Fischer, from Opening to You:

It is good to thank you, good to pronounce your unsayable name
With morning's light to remember your kindness
With night's sky to think of your faithful heart
To sing of it with music of the ten-stringed instrument
With the psaltery, with the harp
Because you are at work in what is I rejoice
And the physical world your hands have made
Animates in my body your preciousness
Everything you have made firm is very great
Everything you have coaxed into thought profound
And only someone humane know this, a fool cannot see it
When the crooked spring up like weeds
When he heedless like grass seem to flourish
It is only so that they may be mowed down
But you
Who do not rise up
And cannot be mowed down
What opposed you
And it falls and withers
Scatters and is cast away
Knowing this
My resolve is strengthened
Like ram's horn freshly anointed it glistens
So that my eyes see clearly the greed of those who envy
And my ears hear patiently the confused cacophony of the world
Those who go in accord with you grow fresh as palm trees
Grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon
For they are planted in your house, their leaves rustle in your courtyards
Even in old age they'll flourish, vigorous and covered with foliage
Emblems of your uprightness, your rocklike steadfastness
Sealed and without a crack

שבת שלום
Shabbat Shalom

Teaching & Learning

היום שמונה ושלשים יום שהם חמשה שבועות ושלשה ימים לעמר
Today is thirty-eight days, which is five weeks and three days, of the omer
תפארת שביסוד
A day of compassion in a week of foundation

Yesterday I had four different periods of teaching/learning. I could label each one, but each had elements of both.

Our rabbi has his weekly Torah study session on Thursday mornings after minyan, but yesterday he couldn't stay--his young son was getting his siddur in a ceremony at the day school and, of course, he wanted to be there. The assembled group asked me to lead the study. I have to admit feeling some gratification in the confidence they placed in my ability to do this. I went to the library to grab the Nechama Leibowitz Bamidbar volume--always a good aggregate of commentaries, and led a lively discussion.

Then it was off to the East Bay for my weekly Torah study group. My friend Edna and I have been studying Torah with Rabbi Carol Caine using the Nechama Leibowitz studies as our base. Yesterday, after two years of study, we finished Bereshit. It has been truly wonderful to share in these teachings, sometimes arguing among ourselves but more often arguing with the generations of commentators. We now leave these personal spiritual stories behind and start Shemot--a book of revelation where the Israelites start their journey as an integrated society.

Back over the bridge, I prepared the materials for my new bar mitzvah student and drove over to Beth Sholom for my first meeting with him. The introduction went well. He's an engaging kid and seems ready to take this path with me. He's a sports fan, which always works well in my favor. He's a Giants fan, and had a bit of a mischievous glint in his eyes when I told him I root for the A's. When I told him he gets to choose the color of the streaks in my hair for his bar mitzvah, he said, with a wide smile, "Well, orange and black, of course." We'll see if I can convince him to let me add some blue as well for the Mets--my National League team.

After evening minyan, I ended my day of study with Talmud. Since October I've been part of a small group to be guided through these teaching with Rabbi Avi Novis-deutsch. Avi is an Israeli, a Masorti rabbi, and a great teacher. He doesn't want us to just accept the teachings of the Talmud--he wants us to wrestle with them, to find ways to make them meaningful to us in this day and age. I will miss these sessions, and hope I can study with him in some way next year before he returns to Israel.

A very rich day, indeed. I taught my students, and learned from them. I gained insights from my teachers, I shared my thoughts with them. All good foundations in this foundational week.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Seasons of Fruit

היום שבעה ושלשים יום שהם חמשה שבועות ושני ימים לעמר
Today is thirty-seven days, which is five weeks and two days, of the omer
גבורה שביסוד
A day of strength in a week of foundation

Living in San Francisco, I may not get definite weather clues that reveal the different seasons, but I can mark the time of year with the produce that's available at the farmer's market.

As evidenced by this photo of today's selection, fruit season has begun. The rainier and bing cherries herald the start--their appearance puts a big smile on my face. It's a short run, but a sweet one. This year I'm going to put up some jars of cherry infused brandy, so I'll be able to enjoy their goodness, with a kick, after they disappear from the stalls in late June.

The apricots pop up with the cherries. At first they're a bit hard, a little sour, but I want the taste so much I overlook those flaws. They'll reach their peak in a couple of weeks. and stick around through July.

I wish you could taste the white peaches shown here--incredibly juicy. The different varieties will take me through the entire summer, like the large cling peaches and ultra-sweet donuts.

In California we get winter strawberries, but the ones that come with spring have more concentrated flavor. And I get to match them with the new crop of raspberries with a 2 for $5 deal.

I believe in eating seasonally, which means a limited fresh fruit selection in the winter. But it makes me appreciate those first bursts of summer fruit flavor. So don't tell me we have no seasons here in San Francisco, ours are just defined by a different sense--the sense of taste.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

L'Dor V'Dor

היום ששה ושלשה יום שהם חמשה שבועות ואחד יום לעמר
Today is 36 days, which is five weeks and one day, of the omer
חסד שביסוד
A day of loving kindness in a week of foundation

In a week and a half, my first official Beth Sholom student will commemorate his bar mitzvah. In this past year there were times of struggle--his haftarah is long; the Hebrew did not come easily. But he worked very hard and put in his practice time while juggling school and band and competitive gymnastics.

Today, he could chant his Torah blessings, his Torah from the Torah text, his haftarah blessings and his haftarah. I am so proud of him. I could see by the smile on his face that he feels that sense of accomplishment that is one of the many lessons of this year long exercise. And I store that look in my heart to carry me through those inevitable tough times with future students.

לדור ודור
From generation to generation
we transmit our tradition
with loving kindness
That is our foundation

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Sunny Yard

היום חמשה ושלשים יום שהם חמשה שבועות לעמר
Today is thirty-five days, which is five weeks, of the omer
מלכות שבהוד
A day of majesty in a week of humility

This is our lovely little back yard. A few minutes after taking this photo, I was enjoying lunch in the sun at that very table :)

It's a big deal for us to have that table there. For in that place once stood a large yucca tree. But after a two year process of removal, the tree is now gone.

When we moved into this house 19 years ago this coming August, there were two trees in the garden--the other one was planted in the center of what is now the back stone area. That tree fell in a storm about ten years ago. I can't find any photos of the yard with the trees. It's hard to imagine how they fit in. I wonder why anyone would plant them in that small space

We know they were a fairly new addition to the yard. Below you see a photo from 1927. In the upper left hand corner you see the back of two houses. Our house is the white one, second in from the edge. the yucca trees are not there. If they were, you would not see the back of our house, looking pretty much as it does today, except for the windows.

Castro street 1927

The slope you see is now filled with greenery, there are more houses to the left, and the street is paved. But the neighborhood looks pretty much the same. I love living in this city. It may have its ups and downs--topographically and economically. But it has become my home.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Keep on keeping on

היום ארבעה בשלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות וששה ימים לעמר
Today is thirty-four days, which is four weeks and six days, of the omer
יסוד שבהוד
A day of foundation in a week of humility

One of my elementary-through-high school buddies who I'm now connected with through Facebook  asked this week, after seeing my omer counting posts each day, "How long are you going with this?" Although I responded with the particulars of the ritual, he brought to mind an aspect concerning the flow of the practice I hadn't considered before.

In the framework of the counting of the omer, this fifth week is the first full week over the halfway point of the period. I have to admit, I'm feeling the weariness when I have to force myself to post each day. I'm sure the writing suffers. Even those who just follow the count are getting that "is this done yet?" feeling.

It is these tired moments that are crucial in any practice. Practice is about doing--just doing. You don't have to like doing it, you don't have to want to do it, and you don't have to do it well. You just keep up the practice and see where it leads. Some paths bring revitalization to the practice form, others may transform it into something very different, and there may be circumstances when it needs to stop altogether.

But if it just ends with a tired shrug, then it's not the practice that didn't work, it would mean I couldn't work with the practice. And while that's not necessarily bad, it would be something to be noted.

A foundational thought in this week of humility.

Organized Religion? I think not...

היום שלשה ושלשים יום שהם ארבעה עבועות וחמשה לעמר
Today is thirty-three days, which is four weeks and five days, of  the omer
הוד שבהוד
A day of humility in a week of humility

For the past few years, I've been pondering the statement I hear often from friends, "I don't believe in organized religion." It's often said as part of a discussion as to why I have taken on a Jewish spiritual practice. Sometimes I respond in a joking manner, "Have you read nothing about the different factions within Judaism? There's nothing very organized about the religion :)"

But as I get deeper into my practice in this time and space, I understand that statement more and more as I affiliate with the "official" Jewish organizations less and less. While I belong to a synagogue that is fiercely egalitarian, where women and men have equal footing in ritual practice, the movement it is affiliated, the Conservative Movement, won't take an unequivocal stand on that issue. At the synagogue that I grew up in, located on Long Island in New York, women still can't chant Torah, and if I were to attend their weekday minyan, I would not count as one of the ten needed to say kaddish. Yet they are also affiliated with the Conservative Movement, so my synagogue dues helps support them.

The Groucho Marx line keeps going through my head, "I don't want to belong to a club that would have me as a member." They want me as a member, but I don't fully belong. While some members would embrace me and my practice, others would block me from fulfilling roles important to that practice. And the big organization that is supposed to support me still, won't make a full commitment to egalitarian ritual practice in the name of not upsetting some of their members. I guess I don't matter too much to them, since upsetting me and others like me is okay.

Not a very uplifting message for the day, but one that I must continue to bring up and ponder--not just for myself, but for future generations of Jewish women.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Perseverance, not Rapture

היום שנים ושלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות וארבעה ימים לעמר
Today is thirty-two days, which is four weeks and four days, of the omer
נצח שבהוד
A day of perseverance in a week of humility

While there are times that it seems like the world can't survive much longer, we've made it through today. Maybe the Rapture happened for some, but all was fine this morning as we witnessed the rite of passage of a bat mitzvah.

There's something to be said for perseverance.....

Friday, May 20, 2011

Writing the Torah of Mankind

היום אחד ושלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות ושלשה ימים לעמר
Today is thirty-one days, which is four weeks and three days, of the omer
תפארת שבהוד
A day of compassion in a week of humility

When describing the Daughters of Tzelophchad in an earlier post about the Avivah Zornberg teaching session, I said: "These women, whom I have dubbed "Women with Chutzpah" stood up for their right of inheritance." While this is the only time in Torah where women make a legal claim, Dr. Zornberg makes the point that in its context, it's a relatively minor achievement. Yesterday, she brought to light something else for women to celebrate when studying this story--something far less obvious but very powerful.

After the Daughters state their case, Moshe has no answer for them--he takes their case to God. And God says "Yes" to the words of the Daughters, telling Moshe to give the women their inheritance (Num 27:5-7). And then God takes Moshe up to Har Ha'Avarim, which Dr. Zornberg translates here as "the Mountain of Crossings," to prepare for Moshe's passing.

Why didn't Moshe have a ruling? Didn't he know the law? A midrash says no, he did not--yet the women did. And the Kabbalists say that it is this change in "who knows what," that marks the shift from the absolute Torah of Moshe to the transformational, oral Torah of the Israelite people. It is then that the people began to take the Torah of God and its teachings to create the Torah of Mankind as part of their inheritance.

It is when the Daughters speak, take the risk of standing up in front of all the people, of all the chieftains, when they find their voice and stake their future in Eretz Yisrael, that the world of the Israelites steps into that new era. And so, Dr. Zornberg concludes, the feminist angle of this text is not due to a legal concept, but because it is these women are the first authors of the Torah in this new mode. Moses cannot venture further--it is not his place; it is the women who lead this part of the journey into the new world.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

School Daze

היום שלשים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות ושני ימים לעמר
Today is thirty days, which is four weeks and two days, of the omer
גבורה שבהוד
A day of strength in a week of humility

This evening was the last session of religious school at Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo, the synagogue where I teach seventh and eighth graders. This completes my second year of teaching there. They have asked me back for next year, and I have accepted their offer.

It was far from smooth sailing this year. Some teachings that went over well last year didn't work this year. I had less individual discipline problems, but the group of students in my first trimester core class  at times got the best of me. And for some reason there were more attendance issue this year. It seemed like I had a different group of kids each week.

But these issues made me work harder, look for new ways to engage my students. Through the Bureau of Jewish Education I learned new classroom management techniques. My involvement in the LINK Fellowship at the Contemporary Jewish Museum gave me new insights into curriculum, which led me to better ways to structure my lesson plans. Sometime mid-year I hit my stride, and my last trimester core class went very well. There was lots of active participation during the lessons. And the meditation element that I introduced at the start of each session seemed to resonate with quite a few of the kids. So while it's not easy to figure out how much of this year's teachings reached my students, I know some of them will move on in their lives knowing they have the ability to ground and center themselves when the atmosphere around them is full of stress.

Both strength and humility are important attributes for teachers. Strength is needed to stay on course with kids whose goal is to distract  you; humility opens your eyes to see when those detours can lead to more and sometimes more important learning. The knowledge I gain from my students makes me a better teacher.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Baruch Dayan Emet - Harmon Killebrew

היום תשעה ועשרים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות ויום אחד לעמר
Today is twenty-nine days, which is four weeks and one day, of the omer
חסד שבהוד
A day of loving kindness in a week of humility

Baseball Hall-of-Famer Harmon Killebrew, a great power hitter of the 60s, died today of esophageal cancer. He was 74 years old.

For some reason that I cannot explain, I was a Harmon Killebrew fan. I didn't know much about him, or the team he played for, the Minnesota Twins. As a little Jewish kid living in Long Island, New York, I would have been hard pressed to find Minnesota on a map :) And my baseball heart was with the National League Mets, so I would guess that I rarely watched him play. Knowing the way my mind works, I could have been fascinated with his name. But whatever the reason, I was very aware of his existence, and happy when he made the sports news on the radio.

Appropriately enough for the start of this fifth omer week, NPR ended their tribute to Killebrew with these words:
Besides his achievements on the field, fans will also remember Killebrew for his sportsmanship and humility — qualities that can't be measured in the record books.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Refreshing our Prayers

היום שמונה ועשרים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות לעמר
Today is twenty-eight days, which is four weeks, of the omer
מלכות שבנצח
A day of majesty in a week of perseverance

Tonight I attended another class in liturgy taught by Rabbi Stuart Kelman. It's great to delve into the prayers led by a teacher who has such a passion for liturgy. I shared a teaching of his last year in "The Prayer Experience."  Today's session was on the Prayer for the State of Israel.

Once again, I find myself getting the teaching that I need to hear right when I need to hear it. This year I've been part of a group of Beth Sholom congregants participating in a nationwide program of the Jewish Community Relations Council, "The Year of Civil Discourse." At monthly meetings, we share with each other the difficulties engaging in discussion about our ties and feelings about the Israel of today. From our facilitator, Rachel Eryn Kalish, we learn tools to help us hear and react to differing viewpoints without being so overwhelmed with emotion that we are no longer communicating with each other.

In one session, we talked about our practice of reciting the Prayer for the State of Israel in every service. Although many of us are chanting the same prayer together, each individual's kavannah--intention--may be very different and often in opposition to each other. As we discussed some reasons for this, the idea emerged that perhaps we work together to write a new prayer. The process of writing the prayer could serve as a safe and sacred space where we could discuss these difficult issues.

Tonight I learnt that the Prayer for the State of Israel that we say was written in 1948, just after the founding of modern Israel with the Shoah--the Holocaust--all too fresh in all minds. Sixty-plus years later, the language needs to be updated to reflect the present face of the land. A prayer we all can say, as we can support the existence of Israel as a nation without agreeing with all its policies or politics.

Changing a community's standard liturgy can be very upsetting to its members, even when the new version will will speak more clearly to the spirit of the prayer. After so many years, we can recite the Hebrew with ease. It will be a while before we can recite the new words by rote--and that's a good thing. Refreshing the words will bring new focus to our minds--a focus that can lead to our hearts and souls. And as we chant, we can be linked together rather than be at each other's throats.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Strong Women--then and now

היום שבעה ועשרים יום שהם שלשה שבועות ו ששה ימים לעמר
Today is twenty-seven days, which is three weeks and six days, of the omer
יסוד שבנצח
A day of foundation in a week of perseverance

This coming Thursday I will attend a teaching given by the pre-eminent Jewish scholar, Avivah Zornberg. If you search this blog you'll find posts on other teachings of hers I have attended. Her lectures are very deep but oh so enlightening. The session I'm attending will be on the Torah story of the daughters of Tzelophchad--five of my favorite characters who appear in the parsha of Pinchas (Numbers 25:10 - 30:1). Pinchas is my birth parsha, a parsha that mentions nine women by name--something very unusual in the Torah, which was written within a very patriarchal society. These women, who I have dubbed "Women with Chutzpah" stood up for their right of inheritance. I am proud to have these strong women as part of my personal heritage. I can't wait to hear what insights Dr. Zornberg will shed on the tale of these outspoken women.

As a tribute to strong, outspoken Jewish women, I will once again share a favorite poetry jam of mine--Hebrew Mamita, by Vanessa Hidory. It is a rerun for this blog--I first posted this two years ago. But it is so good, it is worth another share.


Generational Connections

היום שלשה ועשרים יום שהם שלשה שבועות ושני ימים לעמר
Today is twenty-three days, which is three weeks and two days, of the omer
גבורה שבנצח
A day of strength in a week of perseverance

NOTE: Somehow, this post has migrated out of its place--it was written on Wednesday night, May 11

In my seventh grade Torah study class tonight we studied the Torah parsha, Devarim (Deut 1:1 - 3:22). This parsha starts with Moses giving a recap of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. There is a summary of the incident with the scouts (Num 13:1 - 14:44), resulting in the decree that only the next generation of Israelites will be able to enter the land of Israel.

We talked about the difference between the generations in their relationship with the exodus from Egypt. As part of the discussion, I asked the kids about their connection with the Holocaust. One boy has a grandfather who was able to escape from France through Switzerland--he felt very connection. Other kids felt the historical tie, considering this the most major event in modern Jewish history. Some mentioned the need to "never forget" that this happened to us--that phrasing alone, "to us," showing their connection. But one girl stated she had no connection at all to the Holocaust. She didn't know anyone who was affected, and while she gets that it was terrible, she feels no connection at all.

As I continue on my teaching path, I need to remember that girl. Like it or not, the Holocaust is now a part of Jewish identity. It shaped and changed our people. To honor all those needlessly and horrifically lost, we need to make sure the lessons of that time are learnt by the next generations. As we spoke about in class today:

History is not just about what happens to us 
History is what we do with what happens to us*

*Thanks to G-dcast for giving me the tools to lead this discussion.

A walk to the park

היום ששה ועשרים יום שהם שלשה שבועות וחמשה ימים לעמר
Today is twenty-six days, which is three weeks and five days, of the omer
הוד שבנצח
A day of humility in a week of perseverance

In Zen Buddhism, Yoga philosophy, and probably some other Eastern religions, the principle of non-attachment is integral to the practice. While there's nothing I know of in Judaism that would prohibit this practice, I don't thing it's something that's encouraged. There is a tendency to hold on to our traditions so tightly that we sometimes squeeze the life right out of them. We take customs that have developed out of a particular time and/or place and make them a mandatory aspect of rituals now performed in times and places far removed from their origins.

I thought about the concept of non-attachment as I was rushing to get to the Giants/Diamondbacks game on Thursday afternoon. I thought I had allotted enough time to get from my weekly Torah study in the East Bay to the ballpark. But a car stalled at the entrance to the Bay Bridge caused a slow down in traffic as I drove back to San Francisco. That led me to take a Muni train that did not go directly to AT&T park, so I had to walk four crosstown blocks to get there. All of this conspired to make me miss the beginning of the game.

I'm someone who prides themselves as being a first-pitch to last-pitch kind of fan, and this did not sit well with me. As I walked those long blocks, I realized how attached I was to being "the one who is always on time." It's not like I had a client waiting, a job that had to be done. It was a sunny afternoon, I should just enjoy the stroll. The timing of my arrival was up to me, not set by any rule. A fun afternoon watching a baseball game with a friend was the point--fifteen minutes was not going to ruin that goal. But I had to talk myself out of being annoyed and upset with myself for being late. While during the course of the walk I was able to relax, I hope someday I can get to that place more easily :)

Commitment is an important part of practice. Rituals need a structure. But context and meaning also need to be in the mix. Sometimes, in the rigidity of attachment, we lose the essence we're striving for.

Friday, May 13, 2011


היום חמשה ועשרים יום שהם שלשה שבועות וארבעה ימים לעמר
Today is twenty-five days, which is three weeks and four days, of the omer
נצח שבנצח
A day of perseverance in a week of perseverance

In honor of finishing a week of yoga - oneness, I bring you this poem:

Finding Unity 
Those who know do not speak;
Those who speak do not know.
Stop up the openings,
Close down the doors,
Rub off the sharp edges.
Unravel all confusion.
Harmonize the light,
Give up contention:
This is called finding the unity of life.
When love and hatred cannot affect you,
Profit and loss cannot touch you,
Praise and blame cannot ruffle you,
You are honored by all the world
                      ---Lao Tzu

Wishing you a good Shabbos

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sefirot Circles

היום שנים ועשרים יום שהם שלשה שבועות ויום אחד לעמר
Today is twenty-two days, which is three weeks and one day, of the omer
חסד שבנצח
A day of loving kindness in a week of perseverance

Ein Sof and the Ten Sefirot
David Friedman
I love this image of the Sefirot as concentric circles. There is much depth, and the feeling of infinity. There's movement to the center of the round, as well as a flowing outward, making a continuous tube of the Sefirot. The container for this tube is the white  אינ סוף - the Ein Sof, that without end.

This is how I'm beginning to see my spiritual center. For the past ten years, that center was housed in a very concrete place that held the framework of my rituals. My teacher also resided there, bringing deep meaning to the structure of the practice.

That building is still there, helping me maintain the practice. The community contained within will still be there, I hope, to support the practice. But my spiritual center must live within me, moving to the center of my personal circle. And I must travel out through the tube of Sefirot, the tube of life, to find nourishment for my soul, and to help feed others.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Holding Past, Present, & Future

היום אחד ועשרים יום שהם שלשה שבועות לעמר
Today is twenty-one days, which is three weeks, of the omer
מלכות שבתפארת
A day of majesty in a week of compassion

Nine of the fourteen videos I've been working on are now done and delivered. With the decrease in my workload I'm able to participate in the yoga immersion this week given by my teacher, Susannah Bruder, at her studio on Portrero Hill, Yoga Sita. This time it's a group of seven students practicing together each morning from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Along with the physical, asana practice we also spend some time at the end of each session learning and discussion the philosophy of yoga.

This week we are looking at some of the Yoga Sutras, the foundational text of yoga. Susannah has asked us to look at the third chapter of the Sutras which focuses on the capabilities of the mind. Several of the Sutras focus on developing a state of concentration of the mind. In my first read this evening, I was drawn to the sixteenth Sutra of the chapter, which says that bringing Samyama--concentration and meditation--to the process of change and time brings in knowledge of the past and the future. Once again, I experience a convergence of my Jewish, Yoga, and meditation practices.

When I teach Torah, whether it's to adults or adolescents, I always talk about the timelessness of the text and it's teachings. The beauty of true sacred texts is that they are able to speak to each generation in its time. That is how they have remained relevant for thousands of years, and will continue to be relevant for thousands of years to come.

When I teach meditation, I always talk about the importance of being in the present moment. The present moment is a container for all moments, for the time past has a part in this moment and this moment will be a part of the time to come.

It also came to mind on this day of majesty, this day that I am looking at through the lens of leadership,  that a good leader needs to hold the past and look to the future while making the best decisions for the present. A difficult balancing act, but necessary to be able to lead with clarity.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

My Two Trees

היום עשרים יום שהם שני שבועות וששה ימים לעמר
Today is twenty days, which is two weeks and six days, of the omer
יסוד שבתפארת
A day of foundation in a week of compassion

I know this doesn't look like much, but amidst the dry dirt are two tree sprouts. Written on the back of this photo--"My two trees." These are the trees I planted in Israel during my United Synagogue Youth Pilgrimage trip in the summer of 1971. I can still remember the pride I felt, planting them with my own hands.

At that time, Israel was a place where I belonged. When George Wallace was running for president in 1968, I remember very consciously thinking that if he became president, I was going to Israel. I was not going to wait for "them" to come for me. Yes, I was an American, but as a Jew I knew that could be a tenuous connection--the German Jews were German, but ultimately they were considered "other." But as long as there was an Israel, I had a home.

Fast forward 40 years, and Israel is not a place where I belong. It's a sad irony that the one place where it once felt totally safe to be a Jew does not now support my Jewish practice--solely due to my gender. I have huge issues with the government's treatment of Israeli Arabs and the policies regarding the Palestinians.

My feelings towards Israel are so complicated, and for many years I felt alone as I held my thoughts. And then in September of 2009, I read an article in The Forward by Jay Michaelson entitled, "How I'm Losing My Love For Israel." Finally--someone who felt as I did, who understood being squeezed by all sides of the issues, and then needing to factor in those personal, inner feelings of unrest about what is happening and where, if at all, I fit in. As Michaelson concludes:

In my heart, I still love the stones and trees of Jerusalem, even though I know that love is sentimental, problematic and shared with people I mistrust. I am still awed by the tkuma, the resurrection and rebirth of my ancient people. And, yes, I feel like underscoring, I still support the State of Israel, its right to exist and the rest. Most important, it is still, in part, my home.
But especially on this side of the ocean, more and more of those who feel similarly have politics, agendas and overall experiences of Israel very different from mine. What they love is not what I love, and how they love is terrifying. And so while my love endures, my unease grows, and with it, the gnawing sense that this relationship is in trouble.

On this day of יום העצמאות - Yom Ha'Atzma-ut - Israel Independence day, I understand how important it is for Israel to survive as a nation and to guard the heritage of the Jewish people. But as things stand now it can not be my home. Knowing that makes me very sad.


היום תשאה עשר יום שהם שני שבועת וחמשה ימים לעמר
Today is nineteen days, which is two weeks and five days of the omer
חוד שבתפארת
A day of humility in a week of compassion

This is my baby cap and blanket
that my mom recently gave to me.
She saved them all these years.
Because that's what moms do....

Happy Mother's Day, Mom


Saturday, May 07, 2011

Fighters for Freedom

היום שמונה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות וארבעה ימים לעמר
Today is eighteen days, which is two weeks and four days, of the omer
נצח שבתפארת
A day of perseverance in a week of compassion

Today is the "chai," the life, of the count, converging with Shabbat.
On this day I honor those who gave of their lives so others could live in freedom.

Eric Anderson wrote this song to honor the Freedom Riders, who set off 50 years ago this month to work towards righting something very wrong. And whatever problems we still have today, I have to say--updating the last words of these lyrics--"Their song, it did not fail"

On this day of perseverance and compassion, thanks to all of those who continually walked, rode, and fought to make a difference.

Friday, May 06, 2011

One Day ...

היום שבעה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות ושלשה ימים לעמר
Today is seventeen days, which is two weeks and three days, of the omer
תפראת שבתפארת
A day of compassion in a week of compassion

With all that's happened in the world this week, this month, this year,
On this day of compassion holding compassion
I share this prayer...

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Blessing, Breathing, Moving through

היום ששה עשר יום שהם שני שבועת ושני ימים לעמר
Today is sixteen days, which is two weeks and two days, of the omer
גבורה שבתפארת
A day of strength in a week of compassion

The Jewish prayer of "Kaddish" is a prayer of transition. In one form, it moves us through the different section of our services; in another, it moves us through our rituals of mourning. It is a prayer of praise.

I see it as a prayer of pause, like the holds, the spaces between the in-breath and out; the out-breath and in. A moment when the past and future converge in the present. It is no wonder that the following Marge Piercy poem, from her book The Art of Blessing the Day, speaks to me.


Look around us, search above us, below, behind.
We stand in a great web of being joined together.
Let us praise, let us love the life we are lent
passing through us in the body of Israel
and our own bodies, let's say amein.

Time flows through us like water.
The past and the dead speak through us.
We breathe out our children's children, blessing.

Blessed is the earth from which we grow,
blessed the life we are lent,
blessed the ones who teach us,
blessed the ones we teach,
blessed is the word that cannot say the glory
that shines through us and remains to shine
flowing past distant suns on the way to forever.
Let's say amein.

blessed is light, blessed is darkness,
but blessed above all else is peace
which bears the fruits of knowledge
on strong branches, let's say amein.

Peace that bears joy into the world,
peace that enables love, peace over Israel
everywhere, blessed and holy is peace, let's say amein.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Life Recipe

היום חמשה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות ויום אחד לעמר
Today is fifteen days, which is two weeks and one day, of the omer
חסד שבתפארת
A day of loving kindness in a week of compassion

Practice and balance in life seems to be the emerging themes of this year's omer period. One more thing I'd like to add to the mix is being able to stay in the present moment, releasing the baggage of the past--not wishing for nor fearing the future.

One of my favorite writings on presence is in Ed Brown's Tassajara Coooking. He may be talking about planning a meal, but it is a metaphor for life.

Nothing left in the kitchen but a few odds and ends you have to dig out of the refrigerator? Faced with unlimited choice in a market? Either way, you have to take what's there. At first you dread it. Later you come to enjoy it.

Respond to each thing, each vegetable, each situation. More and more, start with what is actually there instead of with some pre-conceived notion. This is how a cook's real creativity and confidence are developed. Learning to tolerate more, to appreciate more, we learn to cook the way we want to, and to cook for others also.

Balancing Act

היום ארבעה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות לעמר
Today is fourteen days, which is two weeks, of the omer
מלכות שבגבורה
A day of majesty in a week of strength

As I start the third week of the omer the count is going well but the writing practice is challenging. I'm in a very busy work period at the moment. Three projects that were slated to happen one after the other all converged to be happening at the same time. I don't want to complain, especially in these hard economic times. But I'm only one person and there are only so many hours in a day, only so many days in a week. I'm managing to keep everyone happy and on schedule, although it is at the expense of my rest time and the time spent on this writing practice.

Which brings up the issue of practice in one's life--how to set priorities, how to find balance. I work in a business that can be 24/7, depending on the specifics of the job. When I began to take on Jewish practice, Shabbat was the first observance I took on. It was interesting to watch my non-Jewish clients be very respectful of my stand to not work on Saturdays, while the Jews couldn't figure out why I was keeping to what they considered to be an anachronistic ritual. But it felt good to stop each week no matter what was happening around me--to make a stand for my time to pray, to rest, to revitalize--body and soul.

This practice of blogging the omer is not as concrete as keeping kosher or not working on Shabbat. It is a practice that is particular to me, not a tribal custom. Yet it has its own importance and needs to be honored. And so I carve out some time during the day to write, time that could and maybe should be spent on other things that would be more productive and/or more lucrative.

Keeping to a practice has its own rewards that are not always apparent in the moment. That is certainly true during this omer period. I can say that I am learning that finding balance is not always dependent on equality of time. It's more like the balance of a board on a point--its balance come from equal weight on each side. But sometimes, when the weight is unequal, you just need to move the fulcrum.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Prayer of Thanks, Support, and Hope

היום שלשה עשר יום שהם שבוע אחד וששה יומים לעמר
Today is thirteen days, which is one week and six days, of the omer
יסוד שבגבורה
A day of foundation in a week of strength

This is an important date to mark--the day President Obama confirmed the death of Osama Ben Laden. It will be known as an historically defining moment for the US--a true "Mission Accomplished," not the one staged by President Bush in 2003.

While I now mark this date in this blog, I have no thoughts to share about what has happened. I have no special insight into what this means in the US, in the World--now, and going forward. What I do feel is the need for a prayer; a prayer of thanks, a prayer of support, a prayer of peace. And I've found a prayer to share in Hours of Devotion, a book of prayers by Fanny Neuda, first published in its original German 1854. In 2007, Dinah Berland these prayers and adapted to verse with heart and soul into English.

Here are two verses of Fanny & Dinah's "For the Leaders of Our Country:"

Bless the honored servants of our country,
The officials and advisors
Who stand at our leader's side,
So that all that passes through their hands
For the nation's benefit might thrive.
Let no turmoil rattle the gates of our land
And let no evil intentions disturb it.
Rather, let only love and trust
Come to those who govern.
Support and further their noble efforts.

May your blessing and mercy
Be with all those who serve our country,
Whether they serve with their might or their minds--
Those who uphold the law, those who spread truth,
Those who further knowledge, those who attend to art,
Those who preserve the peace, and those
Who increase our country's honor and well-being.
Send your heavenly blessing to them all,
So they might receive just reward for their efforts.
May joy and good fortune accompany their steps
And guide the work of their hands for their welfare
And for the well-being of us all. Amen
כן יהי רצון
May it be so

We Are Here

היום שנים עשר יום שהם שבוע אחד וחמשה יומים לעמר
Today is twelve days, which is one week and five days, of the omer
חוד שבגבורה
A day of humility in a week of strength

Today, on Yom HaShoah, I share this poem by Hirsch Glick, written in the Vilna Ghetto. I was drawn to this poem the first time I read it. It wasn't until years later that I discovered these were the words to the song that was a rallying cry for the Jewish Partisans. You can hear it sung in the original Yiddish on the website of the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation. Click on the Explore tab to access a menu, and click on Films. At the end first film listed, "Introduction to Jewish Partisans" The song is at the end but please, watch the film, and share it with the next generations. Their strength is a testament to the fact that yes, despite all odds, "We are still here."

Never say that there is only death for you,
Though leaden skies may be concealing days of blue,
Because the hour we have hungered for is near;
Beneath our tread the earth shall tremble,
We are here!

From land of palm-trees to the far-off land of snow,
We shall be coming with our torment and our woe,
And wherever our blood was shed in pain
Our strength and courage shall spring forth once again.

We'll have the morning sun to set our day a-glow,
And all our yesterdays shall vanish with the foe,
And if the time is long before the sun appears
Then let this song go like a signal through the years.

This song was written with our blood and not with pen;
It's not a song that summer birds sing overhead,
It was a people among toppling barricades,
That sang this song of ours with guns in their hands.
Never say that there is only death for you,
Though leaden skies may be concealing days of blue,
Because the hour we have hungered for is near;
Beneath our tread the earth shall tremble,
We are here!

---- Hirsh Glick(1922-1944)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Invisible, Intangible

היום אחד עשר יום שהם שבוע אחד וארבעה יומים לעמר
Today is the eleven days, which is one week and four days, of the omer
נצח שבגבורה
A day of perseverance in a week of strength

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I teach Torah to 7th graders. We start each class with a short period of meditation. While I teach them the breath centered practice I learnt from Rabbi Lew and Norman Fisher, I will often give them something to think about while they sit quietly. Staying silent is not easy for 12-year-olds, they need help with focus, and "watching" their breathe is too hard a concept for many of them to grasp at this point in their development.

I start with the basic instructions--sit up, towards the front of the chair; plant your feet on the ground; place your open hands palm down on your thighs or on the table; again, sit up with your shoulders back. I tell them that meditation is simply about being in the present moment--not thinking about what happened in school earlier today or about that soccer game tomorrow--just be And then we breathe. Of course there's some giggling--as I said, the silence is hard for them. But each week they have a little more comfort with the practice, and a couple have come into the classroom, eagerly asking, "Are we going to meditate today?"

I end the quiet time--which is usually only a minute or so--with a poem, and then we recite the blessing for studying Torah. I try to read something that has a relationship to what we will study that evening. This week, as a prelude to our discussion about God, I read this poem by Ruth Brin, z"l, that is a favorite of mine. They seemed to feel the beauty of it--I hope you do too.

All the invisible things fill our days,
Music and love and laughter;
All the intangible things affects us,
Words and anger and prejudice.

You are invisible and intangible,
A God of moods and relationships.
Within us, you are the spirit of unity.
Beyond us, You are the guide to greatness.

We pray to You with an invisible, intangible prayer.
You answer with a flaming sunset
And the touch of a baby's cheek.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, April 28, 2011

On the Hebrew trail . . .

היום עשרה יומים שהם שבוע אחד ושלשה יומים לעמר
Today is ten days, which is one week and three days, of the omer
תפארת שבגבורה
A day of compassion in a week of strength

It's now been a little over a year since I once again began my quest to read and speak Hebrew with understanding and fluency. I've never been good with languages, and as languages go, Hebrew is one of the more difficult ones to learn. Sure, I know the alphabet, but for many years read the words with little comprehension of their meaning. In the ten plus years I've spent davening, studying scripture, and chanting Torah I've gained a lot of meaning from the prayers and texts. But I would like to read both the ancient writings and the more modern literature through a clear lens, without the filter of someone else's translation.

I am lucky to have now found a great teacher whose methodology of teaching really works for me. Anat Wolins has started her own school, Yad Moshe, to teach Hebrew to adult students. She knows how to build knowledge, not just rote memory. The vocabulary lessons cycle through different subjects, each round bringing more sophistication to our repertoire. In grammer class, she decodes the patterns, so we can start to think in the Hebrew structure and not get stuck trying to force our English forms on the Hebrew.

She is also a teacher who is able to meet students wherever they are and bring them along. She supports us while she's challenging us; encouraging us to take chances and giving us the opportunity to learn through our mistakes. She is sympathetic to the frustrations that bubble up when the learning is just not sinking in, calming the fear.

Last year, at the start of my studies, I wrote a post called "Breathing Numbers," about not being able to count in Hebrew when timing my yoga poses. While I may or may not be able to do that now, I am able to say the blessings and count for the omer without looking them up in the siddur. I even know to use the male form of the numbers because I'm counting days and weeks, which are masculine nouns.

While this may seem like a small thing, it's big to me. It means I am learning, I am understanding--I'm not just memorizing, cramming words into my brain. I've had my meltdowns in class--I'm an A-type personality, and see myself as the "smart girl." I'm very hard on myself when I feel like I'm failing at the task at hand. But if I can see this progress, however small, maybe I can back off and realize how much I've retained. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is coming closer.

Today represents compassion that lives in a container of strength. I have the strength--and the smarts--to learn Hebrew. I need to add in compassion, give myself the time and space to let the knowledge settle in. Maybe one year I'll be able to blog the omer in Hebrew :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

God in a Mobius Strip?

היום תשעה ימים שהם שבוע אחד ושני ימים לעמר
Today is nine days, which is one week and two days of the omer
כבורה שבגבורה
A day of strength in a week of strength

On Wednesday evenings I teach Torah to 7th graders--12 and 13 years old--in San Mateo, a suburban community south of San Francisco. I use the Torah as a way to teach values and ethics and spirituality in the context of Judaism. At that age critical thinking is just coming into play -- at least for most of them -- and I also want to give them a safe place to discuss those new, sometimes uncomfortable thoughts that aren't based on concrete objects.

Tonight we had the God discussion that I have with each of my classes. I talk them through making a Mobius Strip. It's one way I can show something that's unexplainable--I certainly can't explain how or why it works. It gives me a chance to teach that God lives in the unexplainable, to say that God is the unexplainable. But we continue to try....

I give them a choice of descriptives for God:

Master of the Universe – God pulls the strings and works miracles

Watchmaker – God put the world together, wound it up, then left it running

List Maker – God takes notes on what we do and rewards or punishes us for our acts

Still Small Voice – our conscience, the voice of right and wrong

God is order, gives order – God is nature and scientific rules

Personal God – God is a presence which comforts us and has a personal relationship with us

The most popular description changes from class to class. This class gravitated towards the List Maker, with Master of the Universe a close second--definitely fans of the powerful, omnipotent God. No one went for the science God or the personal God.

I also gave them some words to catagorize their beliefs:

Theism – belief in the existence of God, either Monotheism & Polytheism

Atheism – a view which denies the existence of God

Agnosticism – the view the we cannot know whether or not God exists

Pantheism – God is equated with the forces of nature; God is in everything

The majority of my students relate to agnosticism. I think that's because they are just beginning to think about this and don't feel comfortable making a choice. One term, a girl said, "I'm an atheist and a monotheist." While these are opposites, I understood what she was saying--she's not sold on a belief in God, but if she did believe in God, it would be One God.

This is one of my favorite lessons because there's no right or wrong, yes or no. I just create the space for questions and discussion. Towards the end of the session, I let them all know that whatever they believe now is likely to change within some years, and will continue to change and evolve all their lives. Belief or not in God, in a transcendent spirit, or whatever other language you prefer, the unexplainable will always exist and how we deal with it is always subject to change.

The First Breath

היום סמנא ימים סהם שבוע אחד ווים אחד לעמר
Today is eight days, which is one week and one day of the omer
חסד שבגבורה
A day of loving kindness in a week of strength

The start of the second week of the omer, and on a certain level, the work of this period really begins. For the first week we're involved in Pesach, when we're reminded of our journey each day as we find different ways to make matzah more palatable. Now that the holiday is over we need to rely on our own commitment to the practice with little ritual to guide us.

Once again, in this time, I often think of Rabbi Lew, z''l. As dedicated as he was to Jewish practice, he found counting the omer a daunting task. By his own admission, he often lost the count in the early going. But each year, he would start again, hopeful that this would be the year he would make it through. Inevitably, he would not, but he didn't look at it as a failure. Failure would be not to try at all. To him, the practice was to start each year and go as far as possible. Think of the feeling in the year that would get finished. It's similar to being a loyal sports fan--an analogy Rabbi Lew would certainly appreciate. Ask die hard Boston Red Sox fans or San Francisco Giants fans how they felt when their team won the World Series after so many years of drought. Their joy, I'm sure, was much sweeter than any who joined the bandwagon just in that year. I know how I felt when, in 1987, my New York (football) Giants won their first Super Bowl.

I teach meditation with the same principle in mind. You have the best intentions. You sit on the cushion, set yourself--legs grounded, chest lifted, mind focused on the breath. You breathe in, you breathe out, and before you know it---your mind has wondered off. That's fine. Just restart. That first breathe is the best one--and the one you will have when things are in a tizzy around you and you need that grounded time the most.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Finding the Balance

היום שבעה ימים שהם שבוע אחד לעמר
Today is seven days, which is one week, of the omer
מלכות שבחסד
A day of majesty in a week of loving kindness

The attribute of malchut, which I have chosen to translate as majesty, is the hardest of the ten for me to get a handle on. I'm not sure I know what majesty feels like. It's definitely grand, large--something "fit for a king." But where does kingship fit in with these spiritual, emotional aspects of ourselves?

I wonder whether malchut is the place where all the other attributes meld with each other--like the way all the colors together make white. I can feel it as the union of the other aspects, a reminder of the balance needed to hold them all.

Rabbi Simon Jacobson describes malchut with the words "Nobility; sovereignty; leadership." This year it is the last of the three that jumped out at me. Instead of making the leap to kingship, take it to leadership. Leadership can be big or small, but the attributes needed are the same at any level. And the balancing act mentioned above is where the work comes into play.

I've never studied the sephirot through the lens of leadership--something new to be mindful of this year.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Yes, there is a plan....

היום ששה יומים לעמר
Today is six days of the omer
יסוד שבחסד
A day of foundation in a week of loving kindness

To the right you see my bulletin board. All those post-its tacked up there are thought fragments saved through the year for this very time--this daily writing practice during the 49 days of the omer count. The theory is I can always find a topic to write about, with a phrase or two to get me started. The hope is they will help during those when I'm blocked.

But writer's block takes different forms, I'm finding. Such as now, when I don't lack for material, but can't find enough brain power to push it out. I'm tired, and I need to rest.

So, in keeping with the day, I will simply share this photo which contains some of the foundation of the writings to come -- along with other images some might find interesting :) -- and then have enough loving kindness towards myself to get to bed........

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Spirit is the Struggle

היום המשה ימים לעמר
Today is the five days of the omer
הוד שבחסד
A day of humility in a week of loving kindness

My memory is very vague when it comes to what I learned in my religious school at my synagogue. I can remember some teachings from my time spent in my later teens at an after school Hebrew High School, but those early formative years remain, for the most part, a blank. But there were two messages that came through loud and clear. In Judaism, there are no angels and there is no concept of life after death---period. I suspect I might have some new readers who grew up in the same environment in the same time as I did, and I would appreciate hearing if your experience mirrors mine.

When I told this to my teacher, Rabbi Alan Lew, he was incredulous. "Marilyn, angels are all over the liturgy----'Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh'" he said, quoting from the Kedushah prayer of the Amidah, a section of prayers that is a part of each of the three daily services in Jewish practice. I agree, it's hard to imagine I missed this recounting of the angels praising God, but again, I have no memory of learning anything about the prayers--or even about the Torah, where there is a description of the golden lid of the Ark--with two sculpted "cherubim."

The resurrection issue is the same. Again, it's all over the liturgy, as one of the descriptives of God is that of the one who "brings life to the dead." And in today's haftarah--Ezekiel's vision of "Dry Bones"--those bones are given flesh and receive the breath of life. But in my early years of Jewish learning, belief in life after death was considered to be in the domain of others, non-existent in Judaism.

Part of the problem here is the nature of the times. Friends who grew up within other traditions tell the same story. Any hint of spirituality was stripped from mainstream religious teachings--it seems there was a fear of anything outside the perceived norm. It seemed to many of us that appearance was more important than substance. Questioning, a core of Jewish text study, was not encouraged as much as acceptance.

I am trying to give my students as wide a range of Jewish teachings as I can, while encouraging them to see the lessons in our ancient texts that still speak to us today. I want them to find the questions that are more meaningful than the answers. I want them to know to "see" the angels in our text, to read of the One who brings life to the dead, let them grapple with the unknown. That where the spirituality resides.

It always seem to come down to the struggle. There's a reason we are called the people of Israel--the ones who wrestle with God.........

Friday, April 22, 2011

Personal Practice

היום ארבעה ימים לעמר
Today is four days of the omer
נצח שבחסד
A day of perseverance in a week of loving kindness

Today is the first Shabbat of the omer period. Each year I need to decide how I am going to handle the blogging on the Shabbatot of the omer. It is clear that using my computer, or even just writing the post for the day is not halachically correct. But my practice does not encompass strict observance of the Jewish halachic laws. In fact, one advantage of not being a rabbi is the ability to more easily make my Jewish practice my own, taking on the commitment of following various rituals as I am ready. I can also give myself the latitude to reject those strictures I feel don't make sense for me.

I have no problem writing--on the computer or on paper--on Shabbat. I would not write on Shabbat within the confines of my synagogue, that would be disrespectful. It needs to stand as a place of comfort for all members wherever they stand in the range of observance. My own level is somewhat of a moving target--different rituals have different meaning in different years. I set the rigors of my practice as needed. So this year I will write and post on Shabbat--other years may be different.

Because study is integral to my spiritual practice, I find myself in an evolving process. It's that constant evolution that keeps me on this path. The movement may be slow--sometimes frustratingly so--but as long as I can keep studying and learning, progress is made.

Today we honor perseverance and loving-kindness--two important elements in bringing spiritual practice into your life. Through the lens of loving-kindness you can see what ritual will work for you. Whatever you chose, you need to make a commitment to it--even if it's just for a period of time. Perseverance to the practice is what makes it work.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

More than words

היום שלשה ימים לעמר
Today is the third day of the omer
תפארת שבחסד
A day of compassion in a week of loving kindness

In my 7th grade Torah Study class last week we listed the Biblical holidays and looked at what the Torah has to say about Pesach. While all the kids knew the story of Pesach, I doubt any of they had ever read the text that is the source for the story and for the rituals.

In the course of the discussion, one of the boys volunteered the information that he had every intention of eating whatever he wanted during the week of Pesach. I asked him why. He just shrugged and said something to the effect of "'s too hard...there's not much to you can eat...just because...." At this point, some of the others joined in, although most were not as strident about it. They try to not eat bread for the week, they told me, but it's just too hard.

I agreed with is hard. I actually think Pesach is the most physically demanding of all the holidays. The preparation is hard---all the cleaning and the clearing. Seders go into the night and services are early in the morning--sleep can be at a premium. Just cooking and eating during the week takes extra effort--especially in a town where Kosher for Passover is hard to find.

I think there is a method to this madness that the rabbis gave us as this holiday's rituals. In yesterday's post I made the point that the telling of the story to our children is a core rite of Pesach, since the remembrance is a key to our survival as a people. But for the memory to take hold through the ages, we need to feel it, we need more than words. By setting up this yearly re-enactment of this seminal event in our history--this release from slavery to freedom--we not only remember our own time of liberation, but reflect on the importance of freedom for all people. And we can take positive actions--action that is built into the rituals. We donate the food that must leave our pantries. We find a seder table for any visitors in our midst. Small acts that add up to a greater sum.

I told the kids in my class that I wouldn't and couldn't tell them what to do or not do. They were all going to seders, and that was fine. But the seders represent the communal, social practice. I asked them to try and see if they could not eat bread during the week as a personal practice, something they do for themselves. And use the act of not eating bread as a way to remind themselves to care for those who have none to eat. That way they can see that Pesach is not just a holiday commemorating the past but a way to renew ourselves in the present to help create a better future.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

היום שני יומים לעמר
Today is the second day of the Omer
גבורה שבחסד
A day of strength in a week of loving kindness

At this time in the Jewish calendar we enter a period of remembrance.

Passover is all about remembrance. In Torah, the first two rituals of the yearly rite of Passover are don't eat anything leavened for seven days and tell your children about the exodus from Egypt. And so we have the Haggadah--the Telling, which not only tells the story, but teaches us how to tell our children with the questions of the Four Children--traditionally, the wise one, the wicked one, the simple one, and the one who does not know how to ask. We are taught to tell them the story so that they will then be able the story to their children. Remembrance.

Next week brings Yizkor, a prayer service held four times a year. It is a time we bring close those we have lost. Remembrance.

Sunday, May 1st, is Yom HaShoah. We will honor and bring close the millions lost in that firestorm. Remembrance.

A week after that is Yom HaZikoron, the Israeli Memorial Day. We will honor those lives lost in the struggle for Israel's existence. It is only after this commemoration that we can celebrate Yom HaAtzma-ut - Israel Independence Day. Remembrance.

And this period on the Jewish sacred calendar will conclude with Shavuot, the harvest festival that was transformed into a celebration of the teachings Moses brought to all of us standing at Sinai--teachings that were created to be studied through the ages. Remembrance.

We are a people with a long, deep memory. This may be the reason for the pain we seem to carry with us through the centuries, increasing with each expulsion from lands we thought were safe. But from that pain also comes the fortitude to survive in a world that has often times tried to destroy us. When you look at Judaism in the context of world history, we should have gone the way of other ancient religions, becoming pages in history books with no real presence of note. But our voices are still strong.

On this day of strength, I honor that fortitude of memory that has kept our ancient traditions alive by revealing their relevance for each generation. In this week of loving-kindness, I hope we can go beyond the pain that has fractured us as a people and truly find a way to once again stand together.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Count begins anew....

היום יום אחד לעמר
Today is the first day of the omer
חסד שבחסד
A day of loving-kindness in a week of loving-kindness

As we start this double day of loving-kindness, I need to turn that loving-kindness towards myself and get some sleep. There is a perception that Yom Kippur is the most arduous of the Jewish holidays, but I think Pesach is much more of a marathon. After two long seders, with the addition this year of some kosher for Passover cognac on the first night, I'm too tired to even think about how this year's counting will unfold. But I've got a bulletin board full of ideas, so I shouldn't be at a loss for topics to ponder.

If you're wondering what this all about, I refer you to the start of last year's cycle, which can be found here. Welcome to all, it's always nice to have company on the way.

Chag Sameach!