04 December, 2010

"Chanukkah Song"

The very appropriate Chanukkah song (thank you Adam Sandler for this modern day classic) has been on my mind. 

Applying the ability to look past the פשוט (simple) and finding understanding in the עמק (depth). Learning what might appear to be only facts to develop theories or rather overlay the new facts with historical/childhood myths. Finding how to garner appreciation in light of facts.
Jerusalem is celebrating חנוכה (Chanukkah/Hanukkah/Hanukah/etc--see variants here). Streetlamps are decorated with large lit-up hanukkiot (it's not a menorah which is only found in The Temple), similar to the way streetlamps in the States are with Christmas trees and the like. Walking through neighborhoods, peering inside the houses at the glowing lights, a magical air has emerged in this city. There is a renewed vitality, a feeling of victory.

Like the dreidel has many sides, so too does the story of  חנוכה. The miracle, נס, of the oil lasting for eight days demonstrates an interested, invested, and intimate G-d. A G-d that is on the side of the Jews. גדול, great, can be interpreted as the might it took to defeat the Romans; that after fighting and fighting, the Jews finally won a great battle; a victory of great magnitude. היה, it happened. These things, these wars, keep happening, and so do the Jews. Here we are nearly 2000yrs later, still acknowledging that it happened. The times in our history are not to be forgotten. פה, here, this piece of dirt, this land. In this land. Not in some distant place, not in some place that has been forgotten, but here.

Are there other ways of reading the dreidel? The way of the game has four sides corresponding to four different options for the turn: forfeit the turn, ante into the pot, take half the pot, take the whole pot. I can't help but see parallels to these in other places in life. Each morning we make the decision how engaged we are going to be: not at all, a drain on others, a little, fully. There are four seasons of sun: fall (forfeit), winter (ante up), spring (half pot), and summer (full pot). We are born (ante), we grow up (half), we are adults (full), we die (forfeit).

I am finding this time of Chanukkah a time of light, a time of reflection. Each night more candles are to the hanukkiot around the city and in the home and the brightness is clearly noticeable. Not just because of the candles either.
 חג חנוכה שמח
Happy Chanukkah

20 November, 2010

"Two out of three aint bad"

Meatloaf hit a nerve with his "Two out of three Ain't Bad" (with lyrics) hit.
Relationships are never easy or clear cut or one sided. Nor are they always rational and logical; they are not free of hypocrisy or redundancy. Descriptions of them can be unintelligible. They are complicated and dynamic. This partially describes my current relationship with my home for the moment--Israel. Medinat Israel that is--the State of Israel.
Recent events and personal conversations and lectures have provided me with another lens for this country.
In case the news has gone by the wayside, here's a super short re-cap of the last few military events:
Peace talks in progress (whatever that means); IDF kills high ranking commander, Muhammad J. al Nimnim of the Army of Islam; two weeks later the IDF kills another of their commanders, Muhammad Yassin.
Army of Islam is a organization that even Hamas severed ties with. Retaliation with a couple of Qasaam rockets and a Grad rocket and some mortars into Israel. Israel then fires on selected targets in Gaza Strip. One story here and another here.
As a side note, another trial about to start in which Bishop Richard Williamson will defend his remarks regarding the exaggerated scope of the holocaust; he has hired a neo-nazi lawyer to help with his case.

My blood boils at hearing these things. My heart aches at the prospect of another war here. My soul cries for wholeness and peace (these words are the same root in hebrew שלם.)
I visit places like Tel Laqish which was a military strong hold during biblical times (1000-586 BCE) and I can touch the ruins. I sit on the side of the hill of Jerusalem where there once stood a palace. I look out over the Med sea at Tel Qasile. I marvel that I am able to do these things. That after thousands of years, I am still here saying those were my people. These are my roots.
I love this place, I love the history, I love the symbolism and the realness. I need this place to exist. I do and will support this place and its right to thrive.

And yet, I don't belong here. I don't belong in a place that is 85F at the end of November. I don't belong in place that doesn't sell Wheat Thins. I don't belong in a place where I can't walk down the street in relative peace. I don't belong in a place where I am constantly on the defense.
I suppose to change up Meatloaf's words: I love it, I need, but there aint no way I'm ever gonna want it.

For five months I have been living in this country and my relationship, like many, is still growing. It is not a single relationship I am dealing with however. I deal with the relationship to the collective Jewish past, the Jewish peoplehood. The relationship in the modern era of the State of Israel with other nations. The relationship to the people on the streets and in the grocery stores.  There is such history, such holiness (or perceived holiness, a discussion for a later time), such richness here. There is also dirt, dust, and dinginess.
If I didn't care, or if I abhorred it, my heart wouldn't break. But I love this place. I love this place so much, that all my heart can do is break, over and over again.

25 October, 2010


"Secret" by Maroon 5 (lyrics) is my inspiration this time.
I've got a secret. What is the point of a secret anyhow? Perhaps it is to protect someone (the carrier or someone else); perhaps it is to remain anonymous; perhaps still it is to mull over internally before sharing. So then, why share a secret? Perhaps to seek help; perhaps to find glory; perhaps to make connections.

My secret empowered me today. I held my head higher than in recent days. I walked with more pride and confidence. I owned my secret and treasured it. I did not walk in fear that someone would take it away from me. There were times when I walked in fear that someone would find out however. Constantly checking, and yet smiling, I must have appeared a little off. I'm still working out the practical details, so maybe tomorrow I will be less fidgety.
Today, I wore tzitzit (tallit katan). And I tucked them. So, what does that mean? It means I can walk anywhere and no one knows I am wearing them. It means I have to be really cognizant when I use the restroom. It means I have a secret.

But what does it really mean?
All day long I have felt little knots pressed against my skin. All day long, something has grazed and tickled my leg. All day long I have been reminded of my connections. When I finished eating and was sitting with friends at lunch and had only a few minutes remaining, I got up to go talk to someone else, when I felt them, and I went and benched instead. I was sitting in the library doing some translations for my bible class and I was getting really frustrated because the concordance and the dictionaries didn't have every word from the TaNaKh listed. Over 75minutes I had been sitting there translating a single verse and trying to find it's match somewhere else to no avail. Nearly at my wits end and about to call it a day, I shifted heavily in my chair. Three of the four tzitzit pressed into my leg. I took a deep breath and dove back in. Less than two minutes later I found exactly what I was looking for (still don't know how). On my walk home I heard the usual negative remarks about my kippa (most of the time, the general street comments fall like water on a duck's back) and all I could do was grin because I knew that I also had my tzitzit on. That my relationship to G-d and Judaism was both public and private.

In this world of facebooking, tweeting, blogging, is anything private? Are there secrets that are kept? For as much information exists, there is also another layer. We do not know the person next to us, even when it might seem like we do. Those private thoughts, those private conversations, those private relationships, they are unique to the individual. The impetus, the drive, the motivations, these too are unique.
Sometimes, it is good to let such things out. Perhaps Maroon 5 does it have it right when they say:
"Everyone has a secret/ But can they keep it/ Oh no they can’t."

03 October, 2010

"The long and winding road"

"The long and winding road" by the Beatles gave inspiration this time. [lyrics and youtube]
My kippa wearing has taken on a life of it's own. Not to say that I am detached from it, but rather that I read so much into it and use it as a springboard to further other discussions of my own.
How to act in the diaspora versus Israel. Meaning behind and keeping of mitzvot. Who is this G-d which wearing one gives deference to? How do you spell G-d (in English, in Hebrew)? The good, bad, and down right ugly of society. And many many more. I find that my journey to being a rabbinical student has been long and winding, and my journey as a Jew is following the same path. These questions with no answers, only discussion and the occasional bit of practical behavior.

Today I am particularly touched by my kippa and the emotions I am allowed to experience because of it. I have been feeling a tad under the weather the last couple days and so walking to school just seemed like it would be too much energy expenditure too early in the day, so I rode the bus (not a common activity for me). As usual though, was how crowded the bus was at that time of the morning. Is it paranoid if everyone really is staring at you? I was attentive to this today, mostly because I was standing in front of two different parents, each with a preschooler (no more than 3yrs old). The mother and her daughter were orthodox; the father and his son were not (no kippa or tzitzit or other distinctive clothing). Kids say whatever is on their mind and when they see something out of the norm, they ask, as they should. The little boy was satisfied with the answer 'because she wants to'. The little girl did not receive the same response, but instead was told that 'that lady doesn't know what is right'. This girl was very persistent and was completely unsatisfied and in the usual mode of preschoolers, stopped listening and just repeated the question over and over and over again. The mother tried to shush her, to no avail. They were relatively quiet, but there was no taking that little girl's eyes off my head. It ended with me getting off the bus at my stop. Who knows where it went from there.

I exited on a sour note I have to admit. I was upset that I didn't say something to the girls. I was sad and mad that the mother was teaching her daughter different equals wrong. I could feel myself getting riled up again and I didn't like it. Getting inside the security (literally) of HUC made me relax.

On hot days like today (nobody told G-d that it is October and that there is no reason for 98F days any more) I notice the kippa more because it keeps in the heat and makes it harder to put my hair back into a ponytail. I was ever so aware of it too this afternoon because I needed to pick up a large sum of money from the post office--anything dealing with government workers and Israel is a nightmare, that's all I have to say. As to be expected, the teller saw how much I wanted and then started grilling me on why I was in Israel and why was I wearing a kippa and what does my husband say, etc. He was asking in a non-aggressive way and I was happy to talk to him, my defenses were not up.

An older couple (I'm being generous when I say I'm pretty sure they were in their late 80s) came in and stood right next to me, who needs privacy? They were British and we didn't get into why they happened to be at this particular post office in Jerusalem. While I was still at the counter, the woman was talking to me in fairly fast Hebrew and I was not able to pick out many words, just the usual, kippa, tefillah, lama, isha, etc. Her tone of voice was curious and excited and happy. When I had finished my transaction, I sat next to her and asked her to repeat what she asked in English. She did so and I answered my now customary response 'because I am a Jew'. I don't think she could have smiled more. I was then given the gift of a piece of her story. Her whole life she wanted to be a boy. She wanted to pray with the boys and wear kippa/tefillin/tallit. She wanted to study. She wanted to matter as a woman and as a Jew. This was not her lot in life however and eventually she resigned herself to being fulfilled as a mother and a wife. But she makes her husband study when he can and speak hebrew with her. They were going to a weekly lecture because finally in her life she could sit and listen while others discussed. At one point, she reached for my arm and looked me straight in the eye and said 'you keep doing this'. In those eyes I saw pain and happiness in the tear that was forming. It only threatened but did not spill over.

In this world we cannot think that different is wrong. We cannot let opportunities for understanding go wasted for fear of embarrassment. We must use the challenges presented to us to find commonalities. Each generation has its own struggles to be sure; what they are for mine now or in the future is still unfolding. I must not squander the path laid before me by people who overcame their struggles, on their long and winding road. For all the uncertainties which exist, regrets (by happenstance or by choice) are the most frightening. I will remember this as I travel down my long and winding road to some unknown door.

27 August, 2010

"With a little help from my friends"

"With a little help from my friends" cover by Joe Cocker.
The past couple of weeks have been hard all around and not only for me. The city, Jerusalem, experienced yet another heat wave, reaching over 41C and full humidity. This makes people lose what very little patience they have and essentially eliminates tolerance as far as I can tell. School, really Hebrew ulpan, finished a couple days ago and this last stretch was the hardest. So many people really starting to feel the ache for home; some are able to quench that by seeing loved ones, some not. The anxiety of starting the fall semester, the first of grad school, is palpable on campus.

There have been a couple overriding themes too over the last few weeks. The first is that life goes on. The second is that when the first happens, friends are there.
Relationships start, end, mature. Children are born, grow, change. Health problems develop, subside, overtake. Perspectives solidify, evolve, dissolve. Mental fortitude solidifies, morphs, crumbles. Life goes on.

Conversations spring up in the middle of the night and the wee hours of the morning. They last for hours and outweigh other activities. A simple phone call to say "I'm thinking of you" has more power than one can even imagine. A note on a board letting someone know that they are cared for, a tremendous impact. A text in the morning to say hello from across an ocean, immeasurable. A hug.

In the midst of life happening, so do friends. The reason this journey is bearable and enjoyable: friends. There is another song, this one courtesy NFTY (the Reform Jewish youth group) which has some lyrics:
"Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow
Don't walk behind me, I may not lead
Just walk beside me, and be my friend"
[depending on the version, the next several lines are varied].
One of the things I take from this song, is that just being present, just existing together is sometimes what you need in a friend. Someone to walk with you.

In a lecture this week, we went over some selections from this amazing set of books, titled: יטורי תורה, which I'm going to breakdown and buy here in Israel. We focused only on the last book which dealt with the ימים נוראים, [yamim nora'im] the days of awe, which are rapidly approaching. From the seventh book on the holy days, on page 9, here's a very rough summary of one of the texts:
A man was lost walking in the forest for a few days and didn't know the way out. He happened upon another man who came from a different direction and instantly thought this man knew the way. This second man was also wandering in the forest lost for a few days and could only share the ways he had tried, which clearly did not work. What he said to the first man was this: and now, let us go together, and find the right way.

We may not know the path someone took to get where they are, and they may not know that of us. We can share our experiences and the lessons we were taught through those experiences. We can lend an ear, a shoulder, a hand. We can give what we need; we can be what we need: a friend. Together we will make it out of the forest, as life happens all about us.

07 August, 2010

"The rhythm is gonna get you"

Gloria Estafan's song was the inspiration this week. [side note: I'm kind of really liking the song titles thing, so I'm going to continue it for now].
Yesterday was the start of the Israeli weekend, which isn't really like anything in the States. In Colorado, you had two full days to get things done. Although, arguably, it was difficult to do many things on Sundays because there were a lot of places closed. After work on Friday's it was a rush to get to Shabbat and it took a long time to really feel it. Then it ended quickly and Sunday came as just another day, but a day to do things, not shabbat and not work either. I miss Sundays. Here, in Jerusalem, the feeling is so different than that. People go out and party on Thursday nights and some on Saturday nights too (though they are hurting come Sunday morning).
Friday is all about preparation. Cleaning of the house, doing the laundry, cooking for shabbat, shopping for the coming week, making challah. What's fascinating is that it feels like the entire city is doing this too. This might be a really poor analogy and one that falls apart quickly, but I see it almost akin to Christmas the way people treat each other on Fridays. Pushy and yet courteous, short and yet kind, and when all is done, end with 'shabbat shalom.' But instead of once a year, it's once a week. I digress.

By the time services roll around on Friday night, you're already in the Shabbat mood because you've been thinking about it for hours. You've taken a shower in the afternoon and put on your temporarily-clean, white clothes. The flowers have been set out, the candles ready to go, the book of zimrot (songs) sits on the table. It is a shabbat ready for peace.

And the entire city is this way. It's crazy. For me coming from Boulder/Denver, the difference is remarkable. Walking into synagogue with others also dressed up (all to varying degrees) and ready for services and our voices harmonize, it's incredible. Last night I went to a synagogue with a mehitzah (a barrier between men and women). I've been many times before to this particular shul as well as others which have this separation. Rather than getting upset at the situation (I did go there by choice after all), I found the positives about it. The women were sitting together and I was surrounded by these voices of all generations. You could hear their stories in the way they prayed and sang. There was no competition over attention from men or insecurity over what they thought or other things which distract from prayer, it just was. We could see through the linen (it was lighter than cheese cloth) at the men's side, so hearing them wasn't an issue. It was as if they too were harmonizing on their side and our two collectives were combining to make this sound which is indescribable. Together we met the sabbath bride. After an hour and a half, services concluded and shabbat had fully arrived. The city was giddy with food and wine and friends. Nothing comes close to this experience in Colorado (and dare I even attempt to add anywhere in the world?)

This happens every week. It doesn't wait. Shabbat doesn't get put on hold for one last review of you paper or that last trip to the store. It doesn't pause for you to get ready; you have to prepare yourself for it. You have to be able to plan accordingly, because, ready or not, here it comes. And it's contagious and easy here. I actually start thinking about Shabbat on Mondays. The rhythm of each week is constructed around those 25hours. As it says in the song "No matter what you say, you know it, the rhythm is gonna get'cha" and that is certainly true for Shabbat in Jerusalem.

02 August, 2010

"Come on get higher"

"Come on get higher" song by Matt Nathanson.
Come on get higher, loosen my lips. Today I went shopping. Not for skirts or food or books, but for myself. And that is what I found. I committed last week to buying tefillin, which is not a cheap endeavor. I knew it would be around $200-$250 for the low-mid range set and I was fine with this. Finding a store to selling it to me, a woman, that is a different story. Today I found the store, the place which doesn't find equality or pluralism dirty words. I saw them on the counter, ready to be purchased, as if they had my name on them. There was no choice.

We were actually in the store to look and test out a shofar, traditionally blown during high holy days (which are rapidly approaching in just about 5wks). I have never tried to sound a shofar but have wanted to try. I thought since I had no experience in it, I should start with the small, delicately sized ones. No sound came out. I filled my lungs with air and practiced with just my lips, and yet as soon as the shofar came close, nothing. I graduated to a slightly larger one, though the mouth piece was still small and almost triangular. Same result. Sigh. Maybe I was just meant to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing it sounded, rather than to sound it myself. I'm not one to give up easily, plus it was a lot of fun, even though we were getting light headed, so I kept trying. Nearly at my wits' end, I reached for a larger one, about 2feet long, with two twists, beautiful coloring. It starts out black and then goes to a light brown with lots of gradations in between. I put it to my lips and it just fit. Out came a sound that was akin to a dying moose (or so I'm told). I was just so elated that any noise came out. I kept at it, and I was able to duplicate the terrible noise over and over again. Then I knew it was mine.

A shofar and tefillin, what a shopping day indeed! My spirits are high, my lips are loosened and I cannot wait to implement these things into my life.