Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Count is Accounted for

היום תשעה וארבעים יום, שהם שבעה שבועות ימום, בעמר
Today is forty-nine days, which is seven weeks, of the omer
מלכות שבמלכות
A day of leadership in a week of leadership

With this post, the account of the count of this year's omer is complete.

We take note of the contemplations, of the seeing from different perspectives, of gaining new awarenesses. And when the next reflective time in our sacred calendar comes around--the month of Elul, those days leading up to the spiritual intensiveness of Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur -- we can make them our teshuvah, our returning, as we look for the next guides for our life and our path.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Remembrance - My Uncle Eddie

היום שמונה וארבעים יום, שהם ששה שבועות וששה ימום, בעמר
Today is forty-eight days, which is six weeks and six days, of the omer
יסוד שבמלכות
A day of foundation in a week of leadership

This morning at minyan I commemorated the yarhzeit of my uncle Eddie. 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. Because of records that have now been made public and available on the internet, we now know the date and circumstances of his death. But at the insistence and support of my minyan community,  I share this commemoration and these words so we 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, my grandparents, 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. Once I did, I 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 28, 2017

A Moment a Day

היום שבעה וארבעים יום, שהם ששה שבועות וחמשה ימום, בעמר
Today is forty-seven days, which is six weeks and five days, of the omer
הוד שבמלכות
A day of humility in a week of leadership

When we read and study about the 40 years the Israelites traveled bamidbar--in the wilderness, we usually look at the generation that had to die off before they entered the land. We rarely focus on those who grew up during that time, coming into their own as they enter the land. They needed that time to hear the stories of their people; learn the laws and rituals of their community; receive the teachings of their sages. They also needed that time to process those stories, laws, rituals, and teachings to both make them their own and bring them forward.

We have a chance to go through that process each year as we travel through our "wilderness," counting the daily sheaves of the omer. From yesterday's recognition of the perseverance needed to continue the journey comes humility in the realization that making the commitment, of taking that time to reflect--even if it's just for a moment a day--is what the process is about.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The spiral of our life

היום ששה וארבעים יום, שהם ששה שבועות וארבעה ימום, בעמר
Today is forty-six days, which is six weeks and four days, of the omer
נצח שבמלכות
A day of perseverance in a week of leadership

The day of perseverance falls on Shabbat this year, which gives us the space this week to stop and reflect on what it meant to keep up this count, as that first rush of intention and that second rush of determination wears off.

It's a long journey from liberation to revelation, with twists and turns and sometimes a drop off along the way. But ritual is about perseverance, and wherever we get this year, we can build to the next. The spiritual cycle becomes an integral part of the spiral of our life.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Shavuot Explained

היום חמשה וארבעים יום, שהם ששה שבועות ושלשה ימום, בעמר
Today is forty-five days, which is six weeks and three days, of the omer
תפארת שבמלכות
A day of compassion in a week of leadership

We are getting very close to the milestone of our journey, Shavuot. It is an important biblical holiday; one of the Shelosh Regalim, the three times of the year Jews were to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But with no compelling rituals there is no mass appeal. It is the most major holiday no one knows about.

Thanks to the team at BimBam, here's your guide to Shavuot, in all it's Torah glory.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Strength of Sound

היום ארבעה וארבעים יום, שהם ששה שבועות ושני ימום, בעמר
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 leadership

I spent this day of strength & leadership in song at a workshop led by Joey Weisenberg organized by The Jewish Studio Project. While some of the songs had words, much of the music made with our voices were niggunim--wordless melodies.

Letting go and just creating sounds, blending them with others in harmony and counterpoint, can be a powerful entrance into prayer. It brings deep connections, reaching out in all directions and cycling back within us.

Voice connects us to creation which, in the Torah, starts with, "וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֖ים יְהִ֣י א֑וֹר וַֽיְהִי־אֽוֹ - God said let there be light, and there was light"  And in the text we studied today, led by Rabbi Dorothy Richman, the receiving of  עשרת הדיברות, the 10 Utterances, the 10 Commandments, in the familiar parlance, was preceded by an intensity of light and sound that would rival any over the top rock concert special effects.

Sound has the power to wake us up and lull us to sleep; scare us and soothe us.
Sound can motivate us and block us; hurt our ears, and heal our souls.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wisdom of Age

היום שלשה וארבעים יום, שהם ששה שבועות ויום אחד, בעמר
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 leadership

As I grow older, I'm discovering that my perspective contains the perspectives from younger eras of my life -- and the sum is, as it's said, greater than the whole. Calling up those earlier perspectives, I see the similarities with those who are the age I was at that time and hopefully, acknowledge and be aware of our differences. Taken together, the similarities and differences bring connection as we relate to each other while learning from each other.

The wisdom of age is the ability to bring together these different perspectives of time and culture, helping, with loving-kindness, to lead the next generation into their age of wisdom.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Roman Holiday

היום שנים וארבעים יום, שהם ששה שבועות, בעמר
Today is forty-two days, which is six weeks, of the omer
מלכות שביסוד
A day of leadership in a week of foundation

Once again, the leadership days are just a reminder that we have no leadership in this country.

I will just breath through the day and enjoy seeing Roman Holiday tonight, enjoying the Cole Porter tunes.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Minyan is for your sake

היום אחד וארבעים יום, שהם חמשה שבועות וששה ימים, בעמר
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

Practice has become my theme of this week of foundation. So on this double day of foundation, I honor the most foundational of the foundations of my Jewish practice---minyan. To do that, I once again share the words of my teacher, Rabbi Alan Lew, z"l, who gifted me with this practice.

There have been many times in these past 15+ years, for many different reasons, that I've wanted to just stop going to morning minyan. But each time, I could hear Rabbi Lew in my head, "Marilyn, you can't just give it up because you don't like it now."

Keeping up the practice is the practice. It both renews and strengthens the foundation.

Minyan is for your sake - Rabbi Alan Lew, Nov 1996
Our daily minyan is one of the great treasures of our congregation. It provides our members and people all over Northern California with a place to mourn, to observe yarzheits, or to simply turn to God in the traditional Jewish way at times in their lives when they feel an urgent need to do so. 
But the greatest beneficiaries of the minyan are the people who attend every day. Why is this so? According to the Midrash Ein Yakov, Yehudah HaNasi once asked three of his students, "Mah Hapasuk Hakolel Biyoter Batorah-- what is the most inclusive verse in all the Torah?" Ben Zoma chose the Shema -- "Hear O Israel, The Lord is our God, The Lord Alone!" Ben Azai made another obvious choice -- "Vi-a-havta li-reacha kamocha -- You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Then Ben Pazi, a much more obscure rabbi then either Ben Zoma or Ben Azai, chose a verse which was also much more obscure -- one of the laws of the Temple Sacrifice from the Book of Numbers: "You shall offer up one lamb every morning and one lamb every night."
"I agree with Ben Pazi," Yehudah HaNasi said. His students were dumbfounded. How could he prefer this apparently trivial verse to a fundamental statement of principle like the Shema, or a great ethical concept like the commandment to love one's neighbor. The reason, I think, is precisely because they were principles and concepts. The implicit message of this Midrash is that it isn't principles or concepts which really count-- rather it is what we do every day. "You shall offer up one lamb every morning and one lamb every night." If we express our faith in specific, concrete deeds, and if we do so rain or shine on a regular basis, then we are engaged religiously in a way that mere thoughts and good intentions can never engage us. 
Daily minyan is the modern version of the single lamb our ancestors offered up every morning and every evening. Praying every day we come to know the full range of human spiritual potential; from transcendant exaltation to stultifying boredom; from the frustration of not quite knowing what we're saying to the joy of being swept up in a spiritual energy larger than our own. Praying every day with others we get a very real sense of how difficult it is to join in real communion with others, and how wonderful it feels when we finally manage to do so; praying every day with others we come to explore that tenuous boundary between self and other which is always the real locus of the spiritual experience. 
The holidays are great; they lend a sense of spiritual structure to the cycle of the year. Shabbat is wonderful. Our practice of Judaism deepens precipitously when we begin to take Shabbat seriously. But daily minyan represents another quantum leap altogether. As both Ben Pazi and Yehudah HaNasi affirmed, it's what we do every day that builds a sense of Jewish spirituality into the warp and woof of our lives. And in the Jewish tradition, daily minyan is the principal medium of daily spirituality. 
This is why we have mounted a campaign to get more of you to minyan this year. Not for the minyan's sake; the minyan is doing fine, and will continue to do fine for the foreseeable future. We are mounting this campaign for your sake. We want you to get a taste of what a daily spiritual practice can do for your soul. Judaism, after all, is a religion of life, and life is what happens every day.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

God -- On One Foot

היום ארבעים יום, שהם חמשה שבועות וחמשה ימים, בעמר
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

A couple of months ago, half-way into a tutoring session, my student asked me, "Marilyn, do you believe in God?" And there went the rest of the session :)

As a professional Jew with a firm Jewish personal practice, that question, in several variations, is one that I'm often asked. I don't have a definitive answer. Often I just say, "define God." Do I believe in the picture of God as often presented in the books of my youth--the old guy with the white beard in the sky? Certainly not. Do I think of a puppet master who controls the strings of our lives? Nope, not that. God is not a person, or any kind of being. While God is a character in the Tanakh, in the stories of our people, one understanding I have is that God is a representation of the power of the universe.

אל רגל אחת – al regel akhat – on one foot – my concept of God lies in the unknown. When I talk about God with a class of students, I often start with having them make a mobius strip, a twisted cylinder that only has one side. If you take a strip of paper, put one twist in it, tape the ends together, and start to draw a continuous line, you will end the line where it started. Untape the ends, and the line is on both sides of the paper.  I have no idea how this works, and yet it does. Somewhere in there, for me, is God.

There is a lot of unknowns in the world, lots of places for me to find that transcendent spirit.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Continuum of Practice

היום תשעה ושלשים יום, שהם חמשה שבועות וארבעה ימים, בעמר
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

While my Jewish practice is always evolving, koshrut continues to be the one that is most challenging. I guess it would be easier to just accept the traditional constraints, but that works for neither my practical nor spiritual life. When asked about my practice, I say, "I eat kosher." Sometimes that is just accepted; sometimes I'm asked what that means. I explain that it means I have my own way to follow the constraints of the practice as set out by the Torah and the rabbis who interpreted the laws as given there.

Once, when talking to someone about my kosher boundaries, I was asked, "So, do you get to pick and choose which 'rules' you follow?" I'd never thought about it that way, so it took me a moment to reply, "Well................yes."

The whole idea of a practice is that it is constantly moving as your perspective changes with knowledge and time and place and circumstance. It is the continual mindfulness and awareness and critical thinking is makes the practice. I learned that from my teacher, Rabbi Alan Lew.

There is no goal in my practice, there is just a continuum of thinking and action. It is a form of perseverance that serves as a foundation for my life.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Torah, then to now

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

I think studying Torah is more important than ever during these days of turmoil in our country.

On Monday I had a discussion with a student about the discontent that came from the Israelites the moment they crossed the Red Sea, finally free from hundreds of years of oppressive servitude in Egypt. They so easily lose faith in the power that brought them freedom, with no faith in themselves. They immediately complain, "If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, when we ate our fill of bread! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death." - Ex 16:3.

While the Israelites could be vilified for not looking at the events that just past; not realizing how far they had come; not appreciating the hope that lies ahead; rewriting their history to make the oppression under the Egyptians as an ideal--let's have some compassion for the perspective that they have, created by those hundreds of years of servitude. Looking at the situation through their eyes can bring some understanding of their reality, a place from which to find understanding of their actions.

Then it was time to bring this story to our world today. My teaching to my student was that we can't just dismiss people's perspectives, even as we don't agree. We need to listen and, more importantly, really hear through their ears, so we can find a way to civil dialogue and a find a way to move from conflict to understanding. Something very hard these days, but very necessary.

I need to find the hope that compassion can strengthen the foundation of our country and our lives.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Breakfast at Glide

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

This morning, along with other Kitchen Justice League members, I helped serve breakfast to those who live in the margins and on the streets at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco.

Glide serves three meals a day, not only providing food, but serving each person with respect. And they do so much more--not just in services to help people break the cycle of poverty, but they do it with no judgement. If they just come for the food--fine. If they are ready to take steps for more, they are ready to help. And they are committed to cut through all things that divide us, not just using the word inclusivity, but living in.

I encourage anyone in the SF/Bay area to consider signing up to volunteer--I know I am now going to see if I can make this a regular part of my life.

These people who live on the edge need help to find the strength to rebuild their foundation.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Ray of Hope

היום ששה ושלשים יום, שהם חמשה שבועות ויום אחד, בעמר
Today is thirty-six days, which is five weeks and one day, of the omer
חסד שביסוד
A day of loving-kindness in a week of foundation

As we start this week of foundation, it feels like the foundation of this country is crumbling. Will the checks and balances built into our government system work, serve to support our democracy? Hard to say. Today's appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel for the investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election and possible ties to the Trump campaign brings some hope.

As the saying goes....time will tell.....

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Pray for Our Country

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

Leadership in humility? No, not today.

Our country is in crisis, and all I can do is pray.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Hearing the Words through the Generations

היום ארבעה ושלשים יום, שהם ארבעה שבועות וששה ימים, בעמר
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

I've heard it said that all translation is commentary. That is certainly true when it comes to Tanakh and other Jewish texts. Hebrew is the language of those texts, the language of our liturgy. As one who studies those texts and translates that liturgy, I am keenly aware how much can change with different connotations of words and phrases.

For instance, what is often translated as "obey God" is usually, in the literal translation from Hebrew, a variation of "hear the voice of God." To me, those bring up two different reactions, giving me two different ways to look at the relationship between God and the Israelites in the Torah.

It was pointed out to me by a biblical historian that in the culture of ancient times, "hearing the voice of..." was a phrase that meant "obey." To that I say, fine, but that is not what reads to me. And that is the magic of sacred scripture--that it is how it is able to speak to each generation in its time using the same language.

The Torah is a foundation of my life, and I am humbled by ancients who created it, keeping its messages and stories accessible from culture to culture––from language to language––לדור ודור l'dor v'dor from generation to generation.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

We honor the humility of moms

היום שלשה ושלשים יום, שהם ארבעה שבועות וחמשה ימים, בעמר
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

It seems appropriate that today, Mothers' Day, is a double day of humility. Although I am not a mom, I am humbled by the children in my life that I teach and mentor. I can only image how that is felt exponentially by moms. They give so much of themselves, and give up so much of themselves to their children.

For their selfless humility, as well as so much else, we honor the moms, and those who play that mom role, in our lives.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Cycles of Life are the Secret of Life

היום שנים ושלשים יום, שהם ארבעה שבועות וארבה ימים, בעמר
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

In my teaching at the Federation yesterday on today's Torah portion, Emor, I talked about the holiday cycle of the Jewish year, which is described in this part of the Torah in the context of ritual practice. We discussed the different layers of the holidays--dependence on solar or lunar calendar, agricultural considerations, representations of historical milestones, and influence on the spiritual life of our people.

Having an acute awareness of the Jewish calendar has given me an appreciation of the different ways we mark the cycle of the years. Seemingly small customs have their own way of differentiating the seasons. For example, I know where we are in the year by the state of my plastic bag collection.

I collect the plastic bags I use to hold my produce from the farmers' market each week to recycle their use. In the summer into the fall, the bounty of fruit and vegetables increases each week, and I get more bags than I can use. The collection grows rapidly. With the onset of winter, there is less produce available, and I begin to use more bags than I get. With the start of spring, my stash is visibly lower.

Right now, I have hit the low point in bags, and the first stone fruits have begun to appear. I'm about even in my get/use bag ratio. The scales will start to tip in the get direction, and summer will bring in more and more bags, leading to the overflowing storage bin. The cycle begins again.

As James Taylor teaches of us---the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time---try not to try to hard, it's just a lovely ride.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Mad World

היום אחד ושלשים יום, שהם ארבעה שבועות ושלשה ימים, בעמר
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

Words are not coming today, in this increasingly mad world........

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Torah as Prism

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

I am humbled when my b-mitzvah students take in my teachings and make it their own. This is the strength and the future of our people.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Chag Sameakh Deja vu

היום תשעה ועשרים יום, שהם ארבעה שבועות ויום אחד, בעמר
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

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.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Honoring the source, paying it forward

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

On this day of leadership in perseverance, I honor Enid Roth, who was in the first wave of women in broadcast television; who stood up for the right of women to have equal opportunities. She didn't win all her battles, but her voice was, however reluctantly at the time, heard. Enid was hired at NBC in 1952 as an executive secretary and rose in the ranks to become a news director. She was one of my role models at NBC, and I often think of her as I advise other women.

I also remember Enid's sharp wit, which, as I found out, has not been lost even if her memory is dim. I was so happy to see her at the Peacock North luncheon last week. I went up to her, wanting to tell her how she mattered in my life. I greeted her with, "Enid, I know you won't remember me, it's been 30 years." Still grasping my hand, she looked at me with a wry smile and said, "I wouldn't remember if I saw you yesterday." I told her that was fine, I remembered her, and thanked her for the time she took with me, how I take that time with others now. She was genuinely touched for that moment--a moment she may not remember but I will.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Grounded, not stagnent

היום שבעה ועשרים יום, שהם שלשה שבועות וששה ימים, בעמר
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

Foundation is something that can keep you grounded, something to call on when things are crumbling around you. Foundation's stability does not depend on rigidity. In fact, a foundation that is too rigid will crack more easily, undermining its support.

Foundation within perseverance brings the flexibility needed to survive. Perseverance takes place over time, and time brings change. The core of our foundation remains an anchor within us, while the shape, size, and content will grow from that core with the perseverance of life.

Foundation in perseverance - we can stay grounded while moving ahead.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Bringing the Light to all the Sefirot

היום ששה ועשרים יום, שהם שלשה שבועות וחמשה ימים, בעמר
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

With thanks to my friend Leah M-O, I share this story not only of humility and perseverance, but of all the sefirot, the intentions, with loving-kindness, strength, compassion, foundation, and leadership.

How the Light Gets In . . . 

Saturday, May 06, 2017

We stop so we can go on.....

היום חמשה ועשרים יום, שהם שלשה שבועות וארבעה ימים, בעמר
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

Today is the midpoint of the omer journey--as many days behind as there are ahead. It is Shabbat, of rest and reflection. Let us take a moment to be grateful for our progress so far, and gather our energy needed to move forward.

On this day of perseverance squared, we honor the stopping needed to continue.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Fava Bean Meditation

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

I live in the world of the Gregorian calendar, I practice and work in the world of the Jewish calendar, and I eat in the world of the California agricultural seasons. All three have highs and lows, with predictable patterns that still manage to bring surprises.

One of the joys of eating seasonally is getting those first fruits that mark the season. That will be celebrated in the Jewish world during Shavuot in, as we know from this count, twenty-six days :) But it's happening right now in my farmers' market. Cherries have made their appearance, and for a brief time, there will be fresh fava beans.

Fresh fava beans have a crispness that isn't there when the beans are cooked from dried. They are a commitment to prepare, with a three step process--depod, blanch, peel--needed before starting to work with them. Sometimes I wonder whether it is worth it.

While peeling beans today, memories of time spent at Tassajara Zen Center Hot Springs during guest season floated into my mind. There are many reasons why that is a very special place, one being the food. It's not just the taste of the food and the sharing of the food; it's also knowing that it is prepared by people who are making preparing the food part of their practice.

And that's what I did today. Peeling the beans felt tedious until I stopped and just stayed in the present while I went bean to bean, not counting how many beans left, not thinking, "well, maybe I have enough." I just stayed with the rhythm of each bean until there were no more. It was a form of meditation, a well-needed break from the world outside. And like the students at Tassajara, it integrated my practice into my life. A lesson of compassion and perseverance.

Thursday, May 04, 2017


היום שלשה ועשרים יום, שהם שלשה שבועות ושני ימים, בעמר
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

After today's vote in the House of Representatives, all I can say is I hope we have the strength and the perseverance to resist the injustices that this administration will create. We will need all our energy--physical, mental, and spiritual to survive the next 4 years.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Now, go and study

היום שנים ועשרים יום, שהם שלשה שבועות ושני ימים, בעמר
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

The first partnership of chesed/loving kindness and netzakh/perseverance during the first week of the omer, was about the influence of chesed on netzach, bringing softness to determination. Today we have the flip side, bringing tenaciousness to softheartedness.

There is a focus to true acts of loving kindness, not just words said to appease. How do we get that focus? Sometimes, the universe gives the answer, as I share two teachings that I am about to share with a student.

Rabbi Tarfon and the Elders were reclining in the loft of the house of Nit’za in Lod, when this question was asked of them: Is study greater or is action greater? Rabbi Tarfon answered and said: Action is greater. Rabbi Akiva answered and said: Study is greater. Everyone answered and said: Study is greater, but not as an independent value; rather, it is greater as study leads to action.    ---   Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 40b

There was a famous saying of Rava: The purpose of learning is repentance and good deeds. ----  Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 17a 
There's a lot to unpack there. As Rabbi Hillel would say, "Now, go and study"

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

A Two City Gal

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

I spend the last day of this week of compassion as I spent the first day--in transit between the two places that anchor my identity, New York and San Francisco. My time lived in each city is close to equal. My soul holds the intersection between the two. Not a bad place to be.

Monday, May 01, 2017

On the Timeline of Our Lives

 היום עשרים יום, שהם שני שבועות וששה ימים, בעמר
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 like to share The Timechart History of Jewish Civilization with my students. It's a great visual of the ebb and flow and milestones of our tradition. Major events, movements, monuments, and people are given sidebars and pictures. You zoom in to or out of the time periods to get different perspectives.

At yesterday's Peacock North luncheon, I got to reconnect with people I worked with for 10 years.......30 years ago. We have a lot of history together that is now, in itself, history. It was great to feel and receive such warmth that easily spanned the years. It was great to touch base and catch up and just have joy in seeing these people again.

Those 10 years are a definite era in the timeline of my  life. I'd have to think about what I'd highlight :)

On this day of foundation I get to honor a foundational time in my life.