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


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.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Practice paves the way

היום שני ימים בעמר
Today is two days of the omer
גבורה שבחסד
A day of strength in a week of loving kindness

As part of this year's process, I've made a conscious decision to recycle some old omer posts.

The following thoughts are from 5769/2009 - a couple of years before I found the Kitchen. The years following continued to be tough on my practice--this was only the top of the downhill slide. But I didn't run away, I modified but held on to my practice, and I was able to find someplace to run towards. Now, I get to work on integrating what was to what is into what will be.

Of the many teachings that I received from my teacher, Rabbi Alan Lew, z"l, I think those that came from seeing how he lived his life touch the deepest. Primary of those teachings is the importance of integrating spiritual practice into your life, not looking at it as something apart from your life. A large part of that integration involves commitment to the practice. It is the commitment that brings the rewards--both when the practice is "working" and when it's not.

As one who loves ritual and needs that time and space to process, I have experienced the joy that spiritual practice can bring. But it's now, when understanding what I'm doing becomes elusive, that the commitment is at it's most potent. I am forced to look at what I'm doing from different angles, different views, to find my way. It is the ultimate in processing, for while I want to run away--I cannot, I will not. For ultimately it is within the processing that I will find the guideposts I need.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Journey Begins

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

Tonight, the count begins.
In the Torah we are taught to count 49 days,
starting on the second day of Pesach,
bringing us to the 50th day, Shavuot.
Each day we count a sheaf of grain,
watching the growth from the first buds of Pesach
 to the first fruits of Shavuot.
We travel in time and space,
from the liberation from Egypt
to the revelation at Sinai.
We mark the time as the Kabbalists taught,
with 7 connections to the world around us
one for each day, one for each week,
49 combinations, daily intentions to take in and give out.
Come, join in the journey . . .

Picking up the count . . .

Looks like the writing fell apart early last year.....

That's the beauty of practice, you just take the opportunity to start again.
You get to have an experienced beginner's mind.