Monday, May 23, 2016

Testament of Freedom

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

When my own words won't come, I share the words of others.
Here is Ruth Brin's poem for this week's Torah parashah, Behar.

TESTAMENT OF FREEDOM

The people of America read
about the sabbatical year
and the year of the jubilee
as a testament of freedom.

In the beginning they engraved
the words of Leviticus on the Liberty Bell:
"Proclaim liberty throughout the land
unto all the inhabitants thereof"

Generations later, the slaves,
in hopes of their freedom,
sang "The year of the Jubilo"
and "Go down, Moses."

You made us to be free;
ou set the s park
in every uman heart.

Now help us fan the s park to flame,
to light our way,.
Now help us brak the chains,
tear down the walls.

Help us bring freedom at last
to all the world.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Chag Sameach!! Redux

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

As much as I appreciate the big occasions in the Jewish sacred calendar--the festivals and holidays, with the ritual that goes along with them--it's the marking of the small moments, the ones more buried in the practice that give insight into the practicalities of the lives of the ancient Hebrews, while still creating space for a teaching from a modern perspective.

Today is Pesach Sheni, a day for those unable to celebrate Passover at its proscribed time of the 15th of Nissan.
Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people, saying: When any of you who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a passover sacrifice to Adonai, they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. . . Numbers 9:9-11 
Commemorating our liberation from the slavery of Egypt is one of the most important rituals we have--so important that if something has stopped us from doing that at the proscribed time, we get a second chance. And not only do we need to stop to remember, but we are told that those who are with us are to share in the moment.
When a stranger who resides with you would offer a passover sacrifice to Adonai, he must offer it in accordance with the rules and rites of the passover sacrifice. There shall be one law for you, whether stranger or citizen of the country.                                           Numbers 9:14

This celebration is so important, so seminal to who we are and how we view the world, remembering that we were slaves, that we were freed. We need to remember the feeling of liberation and share it with others. There is no looking away from it, making sure we always have empathy for those who are enslaved, and raise our voices to help lead them to freedom.

And what a great excuse to have another seder :) Maybe one year I'll organize a seder sheni for anyone who missed the others. For now, I'll just have some matzah with butter, salt, and pepper--being able to enjoy the taste knowing I can go to bread any time I want :)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Making the Sacred Calendar Count

היום שמונה ועשרים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות בעמר
Today is twenty-eight days--that is four weeks--of the omer
מלכות שבנצח
A day of leadership in a week of perseverance

Yes, another day missed...another opportunity to start again. I think a good way to do that is share the drash I gave at The Kitchen last night.
___________________________________________________

Shabbat Shalom

One of the things I enjoy about tutoring my b’nei mitzvah students are the side discussions I get to have. I will admit, sometimes those discussion have little to do with Torah—there is talk of sports, or shoes. Recently, in the midst of one of an exchange about books, it came to light that I had never read the Harry Potter books. “Well” my student said, “You always give me homework, Marilyn, I have homework to give YOU” And so now I am reading the books as she lends them to me, one by one. (With tears in my eyes, I just finished the fourth book, looking forward to the next.) Not only am I enjoying the writing and the characters and the arc of the stories, I’m seeing so many messages of ethical and social and justice and life lessons that I know I will return to, weaving them into my teaching as I continue to uncover the different layers of meaning that will, may I say “magically” come to light.

In Harry Potter’s world, he often has something in mind that needs to be done and the tools to lead him there, only to find that there was a something else calling him to go another way, which those same objects are able to guide him, albeit in a different manner than expected. That echoes the way I often deal with Torah—thinking I want to study or teach one part of the text, but something else becomes illuminated which turns out to be much more appropriate to the time and space that I’m in that particular moment.

That is what happened on the way to preparing this drash. Months ago, when I asked Noa if I could share a teaching on this week’s Torah Parashah, Emor—I had a very specific teaching in mind that I wanted to share, dealing with the proscribed necessary perfection of the priests who offer the sacrifices, and what that sometimes troubling section says to us in the context of the world today. It’s a good teaching and I hope, someday to give you that teaching---but that will not happen today.

Because as I went to gather my sources, my searches kept taking me to a different part of the parashah, and it soon became clear that was what I needed to talk about, and share. So as I go where some invisible force led me, you will all see why it was where I needed to go this evening.

Last week, in Kedoshim, which is the very center of the Torah, we learned much of the code that gives us a framework for living in community, how to treat each other and ourselves with compassion—which is a definition of being Kedoshim - living in holiness.

In this week’s parashah, we begin a turn to matters seemingly more external—of our relationship with the land and the seasons. One entire chapter is dedicated to laying out the Jewish calendar, when and how to celebrate the festivals of the year.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks pointed out in his commentary on Emor this week, there are five specific mentions of these festivals in the Torah. The first two come in Shemot, Exodus, within first groups of laws we are given as a people. Only the three main festivals are mentioned—Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot— and the emphasis is on the tie to the yearly agricultural cycle. This is a good introduction to these special, sacred times. It serves as an important, concrete connection for an uprooted people in need of some grounding.

That leaves three more accounts. Two of those three come as the Israelites are poised to go into the land. Towards the end of the book of Numbers, we get a detailed description of the rituals involved with the offerings for each of the festivals that will take place at the Temple when it is built. Here we get celebrations of the full sacred calendar—weekly, Shabbat; monthly, Rosh Chodesh, the new month; Pesach and Shavuot; “Yom Teruah,” Rosh Hashanah, a day of “Kipurim” of atonement; and Sukkot. These sacrifice based rituals bring a different kind of understanding of the festivals, with a focus on honoring the One who created this world of living.

Later on, in Deuteronomy, it’s Moses is pouring out his heart and soul to these people he has been leading for forty years, giving his last instructions, for they will now go on without him. It’s about celebrating the festivals as a people, as a society—gathering together at the Temple in Jerusalem, leaving no one out,

ובנך ובתך ועבדך ואמתך והלוי והגר והיתום והלמנה
“your son and daughter, your male and female slave, the Levites, the stranger, the fatherless, the widow”

No matter what gender or status in the world—it is important to maintain the connection to our people, including all who wish to join.

What separates this telling of our celebrations in Emor, in the book of Leviticus, in this book that talks about holiness, from the others is that this telling, as Rabbi Sacks says, is not in terms of the ritual offerings of the sacrifices which we hear about in Numbers, nor about the unifying, inclusive societal aspect of the gathering together—not that there’s anything wrong with either of those. But here we are reminded of the times of internal, spiritual “checking in” with ourselves that are built into our sacred calendar.

The times given here are not just in specific days and months, but described most often using the words “Mo’aid” and “Mikra Kodesh.”

The Mo’ed – is a specific time, a fixed time, but it means more than that. The Ohel Mo’ed, the tent of meeting, is the sacred place where Moses and Adonai meet—a personal meeting with God, with the Transcendent spirit. In the last line of the mystical poem that began our entrance into Kabbalat Shabbat, Yedid Nefesh, we sang “מחר אהוב כי בא מועד” “Hurry, loved one, the appointed time has come”—it’s an intimate time of meeting, like a lover’s tryst. When we enter into Shabbat, we leave the rest of the week behind and make time to meet with ourselves on a different level, connecting to an introspective world.

Mikra Kodesh, echoing the name of this book of holiness, Vayikra, “and he called” Mikra Kodesh, often translated as “sacred occasion,” is to be called to holiness, to be brought close, with affection, with a feeling of intimacy. Each of the occasions mentioned – Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot gives us the opportunity to spend time in that closeness, with ourselves and with others. The Mo’ed and the Mikra Kodesh combine to give us a fixed, holy, intimate moment—almost a stoppage of time, a kind of meditation, a presence that can only happen when we remove ourselves from everyday matters.

We live in secular time, in a material, physical world. The sacred Jewish calendar gives us a way to take off from that world, and help us gain a sense of our inner selves that is not always possible in the hustle and bustle of our lives. It is time we need but don’t always know how to access. The Torah is the instruction manual for how to make this happen.

There is one more important occasion given in this weeks Torah—one that lets us bring a piece of that spiritual intimacy into our everyday lives. That combines the agricultural, the ritual, the societal, and the spiritual into a period of the year. And that is……the counting of the omer.

We are instructed for “count for ourselves” the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot. We count an omer – a measure of grain—for each of those days between Pesach—a commemoration of liberation and freedom; and Shavuot—the commemoration of the revelation of the Aseret Debrot, of the 10 Utterances, know as the 10 commandments.

We follow and maintain a connection to the earth as we acknowledge and track the early harvest of spring to the enjoyment of the first fruits of the harvest—taking the time to be thankful for what has been created, and a reminder to take care of what we have.

And each year, we count for ourselves, taking an omer, a measure of ourselves, taking a-count of where we are, in preparation for what lies ahead. We take the same journey of growth that our ancestors took as they went from the slavery of Egypt, Mitzrayim, that Narrow place—to the celebration of revelation, of how to live with ourselves, together, into a place we can call home.

We count as a people, each of our counting joining with all the others who count with us.

We continue in our lives, yet take a moment to pause and reflect each evening. We are thankful for the Kabbalistic mystics who gave us the intentions of chesed/loving-kindness, gevurah/strength, tiferet/compassion, netzakh/perseverance, hod/humility, yesod/foundation, and malchut/leadership/majesty, that we can use each day to help bring that intimate, spiritual closeness into each day.

I've been counting the omer for fifteen years, with varying degrees of engagement. Fourteen years ago, I counted while undergoing chemotherapy--my first infusion was on the first of Nissan; the final infusion was on the forty-ninth day of the omer. Instead of counting down the days, like a prisoner in a cell waiting for release, I was able to count up, using the Kabbalistic intentions to guide the way. I learned many things that year, not the least of which was that strength does not need to be characterized by a closed fist. You can show strength with an open palm when you need to ask for help.

And if some years, we can’t seem to find our measure; we can’t seem to find the connections, it all seems out of reach---well, that also brings in the beauty of the practice. Unlike Harry Potter, we don’t need wands or potions or spells -- for the cycle is always be there for us each year to tap into.

And brings me here, to this day, and this time to take a breath and continue the journey of this count—stopping to take a-count of where I am, right now, happy to share it with you. 

 So, let’s count….

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Connections in Torah & Prayer

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

An omer post from 2014 - still feeling these connections . . .
__________________________________________

There is a saying attributed to Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, "When I pray, I speak to God. When I study Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) God speaks to me." As someone who does both regularly, I am often asked about my relationship to God. My standard answer is, "Define God."

My reality is that I don't know how to define God. I like to say that God lives in the unknown. Lately, thanks to Rabbi Bradley Artson, I'm thinking that God lives in the connections we have--connections with others, with the planet, with ourselves.

I have been studying Torah regularly for more than 15 years, cycling through the same five books in one way or another. Each year I find not just new teachings, but sections of text I feel like I haven't seen before. That is the "magic" of any sacred writing, and why those texts written in ancient times still speak to people today. I am not so concerned about who authored those writings--some say God, some say people who were God-inspired, some say a combination of deep philosophers with some really good storytellers. I'm in the latter camp, but will respect others' beliefs as long as they respect mine. What's more important than the "who" of the books is the "what" that they have to offer. The teachings I receive from the words of the Torah through the myriad of lenses set out by commentators throughout the ages help me navigate the relationships that make up my life.
That is my version of God speaking to me.

In prayer, through song or words, I seek release from my overactive, wondering mind. The melodies cycle through not just my head but run through my being. I often stand, swaying, dancing in my place with the rhythms. The biblical Hebrew with the tunes from another time and place touch the seed within--the part of my DNA that connects me with my ancient tribe. Reading the liturgical psalms and poems, I get to enter that timeless stream where the past, present and future are one. Those words written so long ago engage me with thoughts of compassion, thankfulness, fullness, and peace. They serve as a reminder that while we may be walking on the edge with stability in question, taking a moment to breathe, letting go of extraneous thoughts can bring in the balance we need.
That is my version of speaking to God.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Midpoint, not Halftime

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


Today marks the halfway point of the count.
We've made it this far,
but the tedium will now start to set in.

The first year I counted on Facebook,
it was around this time that a friend commented:
"How far are you taking this?"

We don't get a halftime break -
it's in the continuation that practice deepens,
supported by this double perseverance day.







Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New Blessing Words--Lost or Found in Translation

היום ארבעה ועשרים יום שהם שלשה שבועות ושלשה ימים בעמר
Today is twenty-four days--that is three weeks and  three days--of the omer
תפארת שבנצח
A day of compassion in a week of perseverance


In the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism's prayerbook, Sim Shalom, the formula for blessing,
. . . ברוִך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו
Baruch atah Adonai elohainu melekh ha-olam asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu . . . 

is translated as "Praised are You Adonai our God, who rules the universe, instilling in us the holiness of mitzvot by commanding us . . .

Whatever issues I have with the translations in this siddur, this prayerbook, this isn't one of them. It's certainly an improvement over the previous siddur, which read:

Praised are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us . . .

They are both literal translations, with the newer one working to deal with the issue of gender and hierarchy that are inherent in the Jewish prayer language that was written in a gendered language in a patriarchal society. I appreciate Adonai instead of Lord; who rules instead of King, instilling holiness instead of sanctifying. It definitely allows for a more inclusive prayer space.

This year, USCJ released a new siddur, Siddur Lev Shalem, It's based on the new Machzor, High Holiday prayerbook they released some years ago, Machzor Lev Shalem.

I haven't davened, prayed, with the new prayerbook yet, but in scanning through it, the translations I've seen are an improvement. Of course, there will always be those who are dissatisfied. And I have a feeling the new translation for blessings will be a target for that dissatisfaction--although I not from me. The new translation reads:

Barukh atath Adonai, our God, sovereign of time and space, who had provided us with a path to holiness through the observance of mitzvot and instructed us to . . .

I'm glad the "commandment" word(s) are gone--it has such an overbearing feel. I think the most controversial wording will be "time and space" instead of "universe." I once used that in a Haggadah, the booklet of the Passover seder, that I wrote, and one of the participants loudly complained, "That's not what it says!" I replied, "it does in my translation :)" I can only imagine what he and others, will think about this.

What's your take?

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Basketballer Rebbe

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

On this day of strength in perseverance, with the Warriors playing amazing basketball and Steph Curry is another stratosphere, it's hard not to miss Rabbi Lew and wish he could experience the resurgence of his team in this wonderfully huge way.

Rabbi Lew was a true and loyal fan, and understood the spiritual nature contained in that pursuit. Many think of him as a baseball fan, a Giant fan--and that was true. Truth be told, he was very judgmental when it came to what he perceived to be the National League's superiority over the American League, shown in his description of my A's as "that junior league team across the bay :) "

In the years that I was Program Director of Makor Or, I met with Rabbi Lew weekly and there was a certain amount of sports talk included in our discussions. I know it was basketball had his heart. He loved the Warriors, and was active on the Warrior's fan boards--his moniker, "the basketballer rebbe." He had the positive outlook at the start of every season that only a fanboy could manage for a team that just was not good. He  It would take him until February to admit that the team wasn't going anywhere that year. Last year and this would would have been the fulfillment of his dreams.

I can't help but smile as I channel his joy.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

It's not a lapse, it's an opportunity

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

As we come to the end of this first day of the week of perseverance, a day of loving kindness, I am reminded one aspect of perseverance--to continue even when there is a lapse.

I didn't write a post for yesterday's omer day. Not even a place-holder, a "I don't know what to write but I can continue my practice by making a post." I simply didn't post. I counted--my "official" count is on Facebook, so anyone who is just looking here can check there. But I did not write, and that is what I have set for my omer practice.

Did I fail? Maybe--especially if I don't continue at all, which is something I have done in previous years. But I don't think of that as failure, since there is another year to pick up the practice.

Part of perseverance is taking in the lapses and folding them into the practice. They will happen. But this day of loving kindness gives me the opportunity to not just continue the practice but in some way, begin anew. 

Rabbi Lew would teach that the mind will often, if not always, wonder in meditation. Instead of seeing that as wrong, take the opportunity to take another first breath---and that first breath can be the most satisfying, and the strongest one that keeps you on the path.

Just keep stringing together those first breaths.......

Friday, May 13, 2016

A foundation of mindfulness

היום עשרים יום שהם שני שבועות וששה ימים בעמר
Today is twenty days--that is two weeks and six days--of the omer
יסוד שתפארת
A day of foundation in a week of compassion


Don't curse the deaf, or put a stumbling block before the blind,
be in awe of your God
I am Adonai

 -- Lev 19:14

This week we read Kedoshim, a part of the Torah that has many laws, many of which deal directly with how we live in this world with each other. The verse above is one that we read, one that I think we pass over with a "yeah, yeah, I know that."

But take another look, expand your thoughts from the physical manifestations of meaning.

There are many kinds of obstacles--spiritual, psychological, as well as physical. Blocks we put in front of others as well as blocks within ourselves.

And while the deaf may not hear the curses directed at them, words can fly in many directions, heard by many years. The much of the harm can be to the one spraying the curses.

The bottom line-----mindfulness is wonderful constant to have in your life.



Thursday, May 12, 2016

The blessing that is Aviva Zornberg

היום תשעה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות וחמשה ימים בעמר
Today is nineteen days--that is two weeks and five days--of the omer
הוד שתפארת
A day of humility in a week of compassion

As mentioned yesterday, I've spent time this week learning from one of the premier biblical scholars of our time, Dr. Aviva Zornberg. It was amazing to be lead through the journey of Moses' life, both within each of the four teaching sessions and on the path from session to session--from his birth to his death. There's so much to absorb, processing the meanings contained in the trajectory of Moses' growth within himself, his complicated relationship with the Israelite people, and his intimate, but sometimes difficult connection with God.

But as special as having this time with this incredible teacher was to also get a chance to hear a bit about her life and how she came to this calling. She had a religious upbringing in Scotland, the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Her father became her teacher from an early age, passing his knowledge and wisdom of Tanach. Aviva admitted that she might have benefitted from the fact that she had no brothers, something that is certainly our gain :) She said she teaches in his lecture style, which is how she is able to take us on these 45 minute journeys in Torah, weaving in so much content but never losing her way. 

I got to ask her if she ever took into account the voice of who wrote the various parts of the Tanach, or the layer that the Masorite scribes added to the writing as they cemented the pronunciations and patterns of the chant. She said no, neither of those factors concerned her. She looks to what the text speaks to her, looking at what is there, accepting its inspired sacredness.

Throughout these teachings with this small group, she gave us glimpses of her life. She noted that, feeling the intimacy of the moments. It was such a blessing to learn from and with her, and it was time I will cherish.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Murmerings

היום שמונה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות וארבעה ימים בעמר
Today is eighteen days--that is two weeks and four days--of the omer
נכח שתפארת
A day of perseverance in a week of compassion

It's the chai day of the omer--eighteen days, חי. Those letters that add up to 18 make up the word for life.

I spent this chai day holding fast to the etz chaim, the tree of life, the Torah with a day of learning from the amazing biblical scholar, Aviva Zornberg. There's so much to process, too much to write about at this point. I will say that this study of Moses and redemption that is the theme of these three days of learning has a sub thread on what it is to be heard, what it is we hear, what we need to hear, and how we listen.

There is much more, but that will be revealed in the days, or weeks, to come.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Self compassion

היום שבעה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות ושלשה ימים בעמר
Today is seventeen days--that is two weeks and three days--of the omer
תפארת שתפארת
A day of compassion in a week of compassion

On this day of double compassion I'm giving myself a break

It's all about the balance


היום ששה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות ושני ימים בעמר
Today is sixteen days--that is two weeks and two days--of the omer
גבורה שתפארת
A day of strength in a week of compassion

A post about balance from 2011. An ongoing issue in my life . . . 
________________________________________

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 08, 2016

The prophesy of dry bones lives

היום חמשה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות ויום אחד בעמר
Today is fifteen days--that is two weeks and one day--of the omer
חסד שתפארת
A day of loving kindness in a week of compassion

A teaching from 2007 that touched me--one I continue to teach today. There are those that think I'm crazy, but I see this prophesy coming alive.

_______________________________________________

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

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

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

Saturday, May 07, 2016

The leadership of my students gives me strength

היום ארבעה עשר יום שהם שני שבועות בעמר
Today is fourteen days--that is two weeks--of the omer
מלכות שבגבורה
A day of leadership in a week of strength

As we end this second week of the omer, I gain strength from the leadership potential of the next generation.


This afternoon I went to see Dance Brigade's Grrrl Brigade perform. "What is that?" you ask.  On their web page, you'll see:

"The GRRRL Brigade is an intensive dance/leadership development program designed to provide high quality dance training, performance opportunities, and a sense of self-empowerment for San Francisco's girls ages 9 to 18. Our goal is to give the girls, their parents, and our audience the inspiration, magic, and hope only evocative dance theater can spark in creating a just and peaceful world."

What I can say is "Wow......" Their expression of the environmental and social impact that climate change is and and will continue to have on our world, on THEIR world, through dance and drum and spoken word, was powerful. These girls have a mindfulness that they are not alone in this world, that we need to work together to create. They use fully use body & soul as their voice to bring this mindfulness to us. As long as their vision stays strong, there is hope.

And then I got an email from a student who is applying for a Jewish Teen Foundation. This touched me on two levels. First, that he feels the pull to participate in the program--connecting the values of the Jewish people with a need to make a difference; fulfilling the precept of tikun olam, repair of the world. At his bar mitzvah, he taught about the need to protect the land. Perhaps that had an influence on his decision to pursue this fellowship.

And then there is the personal level that touched me. He wrote:  ". . . they asked for someone as a reference that could speak about my character. One of the examples they gave was a religious leader, so I put your name down and contact information down." What can I say :)  For all my whining about not being a rabbi, not able to get respect on that level---my students know, to them, I am their rabbi.

A perfect message to end to this day of leadership and strength.



Friday, May 06, 2016

Finding the foundation of strength

היום שלשה עשר יום שהם שבוע אחד וששה ימים בעמר
Today is thirteen days--that is one week and six days--of the omer
יסוד שבגבורה
A day of foundation in a week of strength

In this writing from the omer count of 2007, I wrote of how I began this practice that has become so foundational for me, and how the count and the sephirot and my life converged to give me an important lesson in strength.
_____________________________________________

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

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

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

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Silence is not an option . . .

היום  שנים עשר יום שהם שבוע אחד וחמשה ימים בעמר
Today is twelve days--that is one week and five days--of the omer
הוד שבגבורה
A day of humility in a week of strength


Today is Yom Hashoah - a day we make a point to remember that the Holocaust happened.
A reminder that the perfect storm of an evil demagogue meeting devastating economic conditions within a demoralized population. 
There are many of us for whom this is personal,
and there is the global lesson that must be learned.
We are responsible for others--we must stand up to the bully.
If more people stood up, those 6 million plus would not be lost.
The stakes now may be different....maybe not.
But we all must stand up and not remain silent.

If not now, when . . .



Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Practicing Prayer, Voicing Fears

היום  אחד עשר יום שהם שבוע אחד וארבעה ימים בעמר
Today is eleven days--that is one week and four days--of the omer
נצח שבגבורה
A day of perseverance in a week of strength

The practice of prayer is often hard to connect with, especially when the words are in a language you can neither read nor understand. That is the challenge of Jewish prayer, which has been an integral part of my spiritual practice for more than 15 years. It is a process that involves work, continual work, navigating through the different layers at different moments. That is what makes it a lifetime practice, for it's a ever changing relationship.

Part of the liturgy of the Jewish morning prayer service is the psalm of the day--one more way we, as Jews, measure time. Each psalm can give an intention for each day as we move through the week. What that intention is, like many of our rituals, open to interpretation.

The psalms for Tuesday and Wednesday have spoken to me these past years, giving a voice to my fears for the world:
"How long will you judge unjustly, giving face to the wicked!"Psalm 82:2  
"How long, Adonai, will the wicked - the wicked exhalt!"Psalm 94:3
This year, those fears are intensified for this country, and remaining silent is not an option--we must all raise our voices with these words, or those of our own, to truly live the words that I grew up hearing, that I saw on the wall at Yad Vashem:




Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Donald Trump CANNOT be elected President of the United States

היום עשרה ימים שהם שבוע אחד ושלשה ימים בעמר
Today is ten days--that is one week and three days--of the omer
תפארת שבגבורה
A day of compassion in a week of strength

I'm not ready to spill it all out here, now. I have kept this blog clear so far of the election process--that will not last long. This is what I posted on Facebook today, to be heeded by anyone who comes by here as well.

Donald Trump CANNOT be elected President of the United States. Wherever you stand, please remember where you live. Keep working for your ideals, find ways to take a stand--that is the true American way, born out of revolution. There is a reason we have a three-pronged system, let's not lose site of needing the other legs as well. Because, above all---
Donald Trump CANNOT be elected President of the United States.


Yes....I'm very scared.........





Monday, May 02, 2016

Once a New Yorker . . .

היום תשעה ימים שהם שבוע אחד ושני ימים בעמר
Today is nine days--that is one week and two days--of the omer
גבורה שבגבורה
A day of strength in a week of strength

April 1 was the 30th anniversary of my move to San Francisco from New York City. Three years ago, I shared these thoughts in honor of the occasion.
__________________________________________________

Even after 27 years in San Francisco, I'm still identified as a New Yorker. One of my 6th grade Sunday School students busted me on this the second time I taught the class--"Marilyn, are you from New York?" When I replied in the affirmative, he said, "I knew it--you sound just like my grandmother!" Okay, the grandmother reference gave me a jolt, but I do know what he means. While I'm not sure about having an accent, there's definitely an attitude, a very direct way of speaking that is an integral part of who I am.


I've tried different looks--even went platinum blond for a year or so. With that look, my family, including my mother, did not recognize me. My 90+ year old grandmother thought I looked very Californian. But as you may see in the photo to the right, my New York-ness still comes through.



I think of myself as a hybrid. I'll never shed my New York persona, nor do I want to. It's as much a part of me as my Ashkenazic Jewish soul. And the Californian part of me is pure San Franciscan, which brings its own set of chauvinistic characteristics. I would say that both places consider themselves food capitals, so I'm lucky to be able to claim them both.

So I stand with a foot on each coast, the sum somewhat greater than the whole. No matter which coast I'm associated with, I am definitely a city girl. In San Francisco that means I have acquired some keen parking skills, as demonstrated by the photo below. Yes, I maneuvered into that spot which as you can see, had little room to spare. And both front and back vehicles were still there when I returned. I will tell you that getting out was easier than getting in, but both were accomplished without too much back and forth :)




Sunday, May 01, 2016

Turning point

היום שמנה ימים שהם שבוע אחד ויום אחד בעמר
Today is eight days--that is one week and one day--of the omer
חסד שבגבורה
A day of loving kindness in a week of strength




Reading previous omer writings, I get to connect to thoughts from another time in my life with a perspective of today. Below is a post from May 2011, just before I discovered the existence of The Kitchen. It captures a moment of realization on my path that lead me to where I am today.
___________________________________________________________

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 with which 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 help 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, April 30, 2016

Time and Time

היום שבעה ימים שהם שבוע אחד בעמר
Today is seven days--that is one week--of the omer
מלכות שבחסד
A day of leadership in a week of loving kindness

Pesach ends at the seventh day of the omer.
We mark the day and from now on, the week as well.
A reminder that there are different ways to measure time.



Friday, April 29, 2016

Words of Wisdom

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

This morning, on what is said to be the anniversary of the event, those of us gathered to mark the 7th day of Pesach stood and heard the story of the splitting of the sea. We symbolically walked through that tunnel of water, and sang a song of joy.


My joy was increased by seeing Mira Shelub, a wonderful woman in her 90's, looking as she has for the 15 years I've know her--elegantly dressed with a beautiful smile, warmth radiating from her soul. You can't help but be drawn in when you're in her sphere. She's also an incredibly bright, wise, and strong women, whose family was able to escape to the Polish forest when the Nazi's came to exterminate the Jews in her town. Mira joined the Jewish partisans, waging gorilla war on the Nazi's while creating a community structure to help keep so many alive. She has made it a life mission to share the stories of those times, reminding us all of the importance of resistance.

On this day of foundation in loving-kindness, I share these words of her that certainly fulfill that intention.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Knowing what, and how, to ask

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

An integral text in the seder is the mention of the how to deal with the four "sons" - the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know what to ask. Discussing and interpreting what these children and the answers we give them mean to us today is incorporated into most seders. You can do a search and find much commentary from a plethora of sources--and should, if you're interested, because I'm not going to discuss that here :)

I bring them up because when I saw this post from a 2008 count, the child who does not know how to ask popped into my head. I've come to see this as the need to teach our children, but we shouldn't forget that it's also about communication. Being on the same page; speaking the same language. Overused phrases, perhaps, but in our cultural lexicon for a reason.
__________________________________________________________________

During a discussion with the producer of the editing project that has taken so much of my energy this week, I was taken to task about parts of the work I did. It wasn't that the work was bad, it just didn't conform with some decisions that were made by the production crew--decisions that I knew nothing about. Peter, the producer, asked me why didn't I call him with questions on what to do. My answer was that I didn't realize the questions needed to be asked. It comes down to a breakdown in communication.

There are many times in both our work and personal lives when communication between two people or within a group becomes stalled. We seem to focus on our individual answers when a better path would be to look for the questions--those to be asked and those not asked. Peter couldn't understand why I didn't ask certain questions--it was clear to him the questions needed to be asked. My response was that without certain information, I had no reason to know what questions to ask.

Peter and I are good friends and have worked together for many years. At this point we know how to get through these difficult "discussions" and resolve any conflicts to the benefit of our project and our relationship. But this reminded me of the questions I ask each morning at the start of minyan:
"What are we? What is our life? What is our piety? What is our righteousness? What is our attainment, our power, our might? What can we say, Adonai, before You?"
These are questions that we don't always know to ask, and we may not have any answers. But I believe that by continuing to ask these questions we can open the communication lines within us, to our souls.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Minyan Moments

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

At this morning's minyan, the gathering for prayers, we had one of those "it takes a village" moments. There was no clergy; we made the necessary 10 and a couple more, with a group of core regulars. Because it is one of the intermediate days of Pesach, there are more rituals than a normal Wednesday morning. We sang Hallel, read Torah from two different scrolls, and had a musaf, additional liturgy that is added on these days. There were lots of roles to be filled, and everyone stepped up to make everything work. And as I was not as prepared to chant Torah as I could have been, it was great to know I did not have to read alone, being gently corrected when I mangled the words or started to run through the end of a verse.

At these times, I am reminded that our rituals are meant to be communal, not hierarchical. Our rabbis are our teachers, but each of us has the ability to lead. This is one of the strengths of Judaism, and one of the reasons why we have survived for so many centuries.


And so, on this day of perseverance in loving kindness, I bring you another minyan moment from 2010 when we were able to support those in our community.
_______________________________________________

At Beth Sholom, we ask anyone who comes to minyan to commemorate a yarhzeit--an anniversary of the passing of a loved one--if they would like to say a few words about the person they are remembering. It adds an extra level to the experience when the El Malai prayer is chanted--for the survivor sharing the memory and for those of us standing in support. At that moment, we all hold that person in our heart.

This morning, my friend Katherine shared the connection she felt between working with her son on the chicken coops they're building and the time her dad spent working with her on the Future Farmer of America projects of her youth. It was one way she could pass the love her father had for her on to her children. לדור ודור – L'dor v'dor - from generation to generation.

Another woman, Penny, was there to commemorate the yarhzeit of her husband. She told us they met in USY--the national youth organization of the Conservative Movement. They had 17 years together, were married for 11 years, and this was the 25th anniversary of his death. She shared this knowing we would understand the connections to her youth, to her Judaism. We could share the pain of her loss, no matter how long ago.

In these moments, as I place my hand on each shoulder and chant those ancient words, I feel humbled in the presence of enduring love and am honored to share in the stream of their lives.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ashkenormative

היום שלשה ימים בעמר
Today is three days of the omer
תפארת שבחסד
A day of compassion in a week of loving kindness

Road trips to LA, which I take every 3 months or so, have become opportunities for podcast marathons. WTF with Marc Maron is a favorite, Fresh Air is usually in the mix, and FiveThirtyEight Elections is the seasonal choice. I've also become a fan of Tablet Magazine's Unorthodox.

During an interview with Ladino singer/songwriteSarah Aroeste, Deputy Editor Stephanie Butnick admitted to being, to her dismay, "Ashkenormative." What a great word, one that should be entered in Jewish-American dialogue.

In the US, the Ashkenazic Jewish culture, passed on from Eastern Europe, is what is seen as Jewish. Fiddler on the Roof has somehow become the source of all Jewish tradition, coming from Jews and non-Jews alike. It's become what defines the Jewish status quo. Any other Jewish cultural, ritual, and liturgical traditions are considered outside the norm. Everything is viewed through the Ashkenazic lens.



The recent ruling--and reaction to it--by the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement in America to "allow" legumes, such as beans, and rice and other kitniyot for Ashkenazic Jews really proved the overwhelming Ashkenormative view of Judaism. It made big news in the Jewish world, and even without. I especially love this NPR story, written not by a Sephardi spouse of an Ashkenazi--some would define this as intermarriage :) -- but by a Latina who married into a Jewish family and could now have rice and beans during Pesach.

This brought to my mind that as Jews in this country, we can share the heritage of our ancestors, but we shouldn't be bound or, more accurately, set apart by those demarkations set so many centuries ago. In food, in music, in culture, we are American Jews. We can make our shared, diverse backgrounds the norm.

While not at the top of the issues facing American Jews right now, I think it's time to take off the Ashkenazic filter through which we see American Judaism. At the end of that podcast episode, Stephanie Butnick pledged to try to stop being so Ashkenormative. I join her in that, and I invite you to do the same. The more we open our world, the stronger we'll be going forward.