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.

28 July, 2010

"Let me be myself"

"Let me be myself" (3 doors down)
As I wrote in my last post, I have been wearing a kipa in Jerusalem, full time. Some days are good, some days are bad, and some days are just ugly. Today was an ugly day. In short, I was told that G-d didn't love me (because I wore a kipa) and neither do men. While the rational thought is to say that they are just ignorant people and it is a pity they are so close-minded, the emotional response is much more raw than that.
Perhaps it's a cultural thing, perhaps some feel like it is their duty to say something, but I just don't get it. What makes a stranger feel like it's ok to walk up to someone on the street and comment on their attire?

These recent encounters have allowed me to really ask myself why I am doing these things. What I have decided after some serious introspection, is I am doing it for me. I wear a kipa because in the torah it says to cover your head in reverence to G-d (I'm clearly paraphrasing). A kipa is a recognized symbol of this mitzvah; a hat is not, a baseball cap isn't either, nor is a scarf. It is recognized in the greater Jewish community and within myself. It is how I see myself when I get dressed and look at myself in the mirror.

I put on tefillin on Monday for the first time in my life. I have been waiting for the honor of putting it on. I knew I had to be ready for it and previously it hadn't felt right. Something clicked that day though and made me say yes. All the books and instructional materials I've read could not have helped me that day. What do you do when the head piece won't stay on your head and doesn't have the ability to tighten? (resourceful answer: take the barrettes holding the kipa and use them on the leather straps to pin to your head). How do you wrap the tefillin around your arm, while still holding it in place? What is too tight or too loose? How do you turn the pages of the prayer book with all that leather in your palm and your fingers nearly immobilized?
These questions will only take a few times of practice before they become second nature and I'll quickly forget those physical stumbling blocks. What will remain is the feeling, the sensation that comes with davening with tefillin. I was elevated to a new level of prayer. I was able to get into 'conversation' faster and stay there longer just by having it wrapped on my arm and head. After I removed them, the imprints from the leather on my skin remained. As I looked down, I felt empowered, I felt connected. For hours this lasted. The next day, same thing (but I used a different set which fit better so I didn't have to worry about it falling off my head).

Once I had a conversation with a friend and they said to me that in order to know what you want, you need to find the void. Is there a gaping hole when in Israel that doesn't exist when in America? (a question I asked when considering aliyah). Do I feel partially dressed without a kipa? Is my prayer and praying as much as it could be without tefillin? And only after experiencing both sides can an answer be attempted. I had to know; today I found my answer--least for tefillin. I cannot wait to buy my own set. I cannot wait to know what it is like to pull the hard leather out of the soft velvet case each morning. Watching over time as the leather starts to soften, starts to show signs that I wrap it the same way each day--this is what has happened to my tallit. Perhaps in 40 years from now, I'll still be wrapping tefillin each morning with the same set and remember this time, remember what it was like to be here in Israel, being me. That's all I ask, let me be myself.

22 July, 2010


"Respect, find out what it means to me; r-e-s-p-e-c-t"
Seven little letters, so much power. What this world could look like if that is the word we had on the forefront of our minds.
Not quite a month have I been living in Jerusalem. This month has been one of exploration, introspection, observation, conviction; it is only the beginning.

Ten days ago I went to pray with the Women of the Wall. Honestly, that experience was more than I can put into words, especially in this forum. I will say that it made an impact on me. And I will be going back next month. Perhaps then I'll feel ok writing on it.

For a long while now, over 2 years, I have contemplated wearing a kipa (yarmukle for the yiddish people). I have thought about how to wear it, when to wear it, why to wear it. I have thought about the different types, the colors, the patterns, the message. I have thought about the practical (how will I wear my hair) to the impractical (will it clash with my outfits). After being admitted to rabbinical school this year, I vowed to myself that I would try it. I also said that I would try it when I was ready. Working as a chemist was not very conducive to wearing one, plus it didn't feel right. I needed a separation from the life before to the life now.

The week I arrived in Israel I went on my hunt to find the perfect kipa. It couldn't be too big, too small, too square or too round. Too dark or too light. It had to be just right. Guess what? It's going to take a long time to find the perfect one. Fine, I'll just buy one that I like. I walked into a store on Ben Yehuda (a very tourist-y street in the city center Jerusalem), I tried a couple of them on, and tried to purchase them. The operative word being tried. I was turned away because the store owner wouldn't sell a kipa to a women that he knew was for her. Lying by saying that it was for someone else was not going to work for me. I left, a little bothered, a little confused, a little in shock. As I wandered around the square, I looked in at shops to see if there were any other kippot which looked good. I found myself in a repeat of the situation just described. It was like de ja vu, but much worse. Repeat the same story twice more, this time in the shuk (usually where they don't care who they sell it to, as long as they are making money; I didn't even try to haggle the prices). I was quite disheartened.
I asked a friend to go with me (male) and we fortuitously stopped into a bookstore and I saw a few that I liked and I didn't hesitate to buy them. I was now the proud owner of 5 kippot! That evening, as I was dressing for shabbat, I included it in my outfit, and it felt like the finishing touch I'd been missing. Every day since then, I've put it on when I wake up and take it off to sleep.
Here's the thing: I've been in public, in Jerusalem, wearing a kipa, as a woman. This is unusual. Not as much so as compared to years past, however, it is not a common or accepted activity. Comments fly, at me, to me, about me; few are friendly, some are inquisitive, many are mean. I hold my head high, not in the face of defiance, but rather in the confidence that I comfortable with my choice. I have felt connected to G-d, to the Jewish people, to the reform tradition, to myself in whole new ways because of a little piece of fabric on my head. While it comes naturally, I love how it feels when I run my fingers through my hair, and find it there. It is a reminder, a very physical reminder, of what I stand for.
And there are days, like today, when I am pleasant surprised. I was already loaded up with groceries when I really wanted an ice cream, so I walked into the corner store on my way home. Went I looked down to get my money, the clerk (middle-aged male) noticed that I had it on. He smiled in happy questioning. He asked why and I said because I'm reform. Two words came from his mouth and landed softly on my ears: aze yofie, it's beautiful.

05 July, 2010

"Let it Bleed" inspiration

"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you find you get what you need". I love music and find that I can relate some song lyric to personal situations fairly often, multiple times a day that is. I am not becoming a cantor because I relate to the lyrics, not the melodies; maybe that is why I becoming a rabbi--the lyrics of the torah. Today the Rolling Stones 1969 song which opened this paragraph was my anthem.

Having been in Israel a whole week now, I am finding there are things I want, that I know I can't have. I can't have my cats wake me in the morning. I can't kiss my fiance goodnight. I can't go to work. I can't read what flavor of Doritos I am buying.

This evening I had the opportunity listen to Rabbi David Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem speak. Before getting there, the topic was unknown to me (and other HUC students apparently). I had been told of the institute by ones of my rabbis in Colorado and figured I should just go, informed or not.

For an hour and a half, I was able to listen to a man so passionate about the Jews, you could see his heart race. So in love with Israel that it brought tears to his eyes. Rabbi Hartman presented us with a text from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrien 97b: "Rab said: All the predestined dates [for redemption] have passed, and the matter [now] depends only on repentance and good deeds. But Samuel maintained: it is sufficient for a mourner to keep his [period of] mourning". He then delved into his analysis of this verse in such an eloquent manner, it can hardly be captured. He postulated rhetorical questions which have left me deep in thought. There were a few things which I disagreed with and a few thing which I didn't understand. And to be perfectly honest, a few things which I jotted down for later high holy day sermon ideas.

I was able to sit in a room full of various denomination rabbis, and some lay leaders, and feel at home with the conversation. I was reminded of why I was in Israel. Why I left CO and everything that is there for me. All the paychecks and hugs and kisses and talks and restaurants, for this. For moments like tonight when I feel empowered, impassioned, invigorated. And for these moments to carry me on to others where I really feel I can make a difference (no matter the size) in a way that would not have been possible if I had continued where I was.

So for all the wants that have been left unfulfilled as of yet, I have found, that I got what I need.

29 June, 2010

Made my way to Jlem

In Jerusalem, finally. I've been here about 36hrs and still very jet lagged. I woke up at 4a today wide awake (7p back at home) and decided to just get up for a few hours, since sleeping clearly wasn't working for me. Jerusalem is quiet and peaceful in the wee morning hours. The hustle and bustle of the day has not yet begun; the palpable tension hasn't yet saturated the tongue; the humidity hasn't drenched the skin. Perhaps when I know this part of the city better and know my way around, when I wake at this time of day, I'll wander over to the Kotel. 5a at the Kotel--few things are more centering in life for me.
When school officially begins, I am sure I will feel differently, but at this moment, I don't believe I am actually here, I have yet to internalize that this is truly happening. Maybe for my classmates who have had this dream their whole lives, being here is different. For me, it's completely foreign. And I don't just mean the language/culture/Israel, I mean the whole concept of being a student, and a rabbinical one at that.
I keep wondering when I have to go back to the lab, what next set of compounds I need to analyze. That part of my life is over. In a few weeks, I'll be inundated with which text I have to read to get homework done and what to plan for shabbat dinner and what to say about that week's parsha.
At this moment though, before classes start and after work has ended, I am in a state of holding, like jello. I am taking this time to take stock: of the house, of the fridge, of myself. Right now, the house is in desperate need of cleaning, the fridge needs stocking (it has a jar of salsa and that's it), and I am covered in random bruises. Things here are raw and at their base state. There is no carpet to cover up the grimy linoleum; there is no stainless steel to hide the dingy white fridge, and there is no make-up to cover me up. Everything and everyone is raw.
In general, I am happy to be here, I am excited to finally start this journey which has been a long time coming; I am ready to begin.

26 May, 2010

31 days and counting

Just over a month and I'll be in Jerusalem...June 28. How is that possible? How is time passing so quickly?
I have the practical stuff nearly done. I don't have a student visa yet, not sure why. And I still need to finish getting the cat taken care of. And next weekend I'll begin the packing process. I have appointments/meals with people I just have to see before I leave. And yet, the time is completely flying by. I feel like I have a million things still to do, but can't enumerate them. The general feeling of being overwhelmed is starting to hit.
I was complaining at work that, well, that I was at work. I made a joke to a girlfriend saying that in six months I'd probably be begging to come to work. She replied telling me that I was going to love every minute of being a student. I tend to believe her. At this point however, it is surreal.
What is it going to be like to studying Jewish texts or Hebrew all day? What will it be like to have a morning minyan, actually with a minyan? For those prayers that I don't know, how quickly will I learn them? Will I be able to lead them competently in a short time frame? But these are just the student nerves which come out. The majority of them are superficial and are essentially place-holders for all the questions without answers.

What will it be like not getting hugs from my 4yr old nephew? Will I be able to find time to schedule to talk to my friends in Colorado; time that isn't the middle of the night for either of us? How will it be not being with my fiance for a few months? Will I make new friends quickly?

I know that I am not unique in asking these questions. I also know that there are lots of other people that I am about to meet in the flesh (as opposed to facebook) who are dealing with similar circumstances. The journey in front of us is exciting and unknown. With unknown comes uncertainty and fear and adrenaline and hyper-activity and a whole host of other heightened emotions. It is glorious and I couldn't be more honored and ready to being this trip. I am sure the next four weeks will just fly by and before anyone realizes it, I'll be calling Jerusalem home. Amazing.

02 May, 2010

It's Official...

I am officially a rabbinical student with HUC. I have been accepted, I have passed my Hebrew test, I am on my way.
So what have I done? I have learned that I am a touch ignorant when it comes to pets. I knew I couldn't use a site like expedia or vayama to buy my ticket because I want to bring my furry friend (Ryno) with me. Fine. It had to be on an airline that took me from Denver to Tel Aviv, with few stops, and the same airline every time. Fine. I had to have loads of paperwork and shots and certificates for him. Fine. Well, it turns out that on Continental met all the requirements; well, I forgot to mention that I am not made of money, so Swiss Air and El Al I cannot afford. I get on the phone with the ticket agent so I can get bulk head seating and make sure there is room for my little buddy (ok, so he's not so little tipping the scales at 16.3pounds). She says I can't fly him inside the plane with passengers to Tel Aviv. I ask why. She says "I think it has to do with that religion or something". I leave it alone, though wanting to say something like, I'm part of that religion and cats are fine and are you really this ignorant? But I don't, I just ask what I can do. She sends me to the cargo people. I talk to this really nice gentleman for about 30min. Ryno is now all set up to go underneath the passengers and sit separated from the luggage in the cargo bay. That's when the news is hurdled at me: $650 for this privilege. My jaw audibly drops. I, silly me, thought this would be free, or minimal cost; I mean I was already paying $1600 for my ticket and he's just a little cat. Can I really put a price on love? After hemming and hawing, I go with my gut and will be taking him, even though his ticket will be way too close to mine.

Roommates have been found too for this amazing apartment. I was willing to sign a lease, sight-unseen. I did eventually get photos before signing the lease, and they far surpassed my expectations. However, sending money to a foreign bank account has proved to be challenging. So much tape to get through. But what has made it even more cumbersome, the time difference and the different days to celebrate G-d. From Friday morning in Colorado until Monday night in Israel, essentially no business can be done. Israel is closed on Friday and Saturday, America is closed on Sunday. Monday morning I can do banking again, which with the 9hr time difference means it is Monday evening in Israel. I am so nervous that the landlord will just say screw it and take the money from someone already in Israel. I am doing everything in my power to make sure that doesn't happen.

What I am really looking forward to though, is school. I can't wait to be in school again. I want to know all about my classes, and my professors, and my classmates. I want to know what I will be learning. I know the majority of my studies will be focused on learning Hebrew, making it my language. Leading services, davening daily with other students, shul hopping in Jerusalem. The potential excitement never ends.

I just received the academic calendar and am planning things for the various breaks I have. More than a week off for Sukkot. Do I hear the north calling or is that the south? Do I go to Egypt and Jordan or maybe Cyprus and Greece? Or do I stay in Israel and find all those nooks and crannies which make the country extra special? So many things to think about.

For now though, I am suffering from a serious case of senioritis at work. I have a little more than 4wks to go; they have been informed that I am leaving. I am finding that I just don't care about the work I am doing. That these deadlines they are setting (which have always been ridiculous) are not worth stressing over. I am ready for the next step; I'm in mid-step as is. I will have to wait 8 weeks more to complete that step.

While I say I am ready, I mean kind of. I am ready to not work. I am checking out of my career. I am far from ready to leave my community, family, friends. And this is where I would prefer to spend my time--with people. I am starting to calendar time in June (when I don't work) with people. Individual conversations that I can't wait for. There are so many songs on the radio these days about saying what needs to be said. I fully agree. Even if it makes me seem sappy or emotional or even a little melancholy/sad. Say what you need to say, because then it is much harder to have regrets.

Rabbinical school here I come. New apartment, new roommates, new everything. Yippie!!!!

15 April, 2010

It's the little things....

We've all read the books "Don't sweat the small stuff", and for the most part I agree. At the same time, appreciating the little things in life really adds quality. Recently there are a few things I have come to appreciate in a whole new way.

The spatula. Detailed shape unimportant; handle, broad flat surface, able to withstand heat. Simple. Necessary. Have you ever tried to make over easy eggs with a fork? Very quickly over easy becomes broken over well if you're lucky or scrambled if you're not. Tried taking undercooked brownies from a pan? With a tupperware lid, only after you've cut off the sides, when you don't have a spatula. Examples abound, trust me.

Immediate showers. During the cooler months in Israel, where there really is no such thing as a water heater, you have to flip a switch, wait 20-30 minutes for the water to heat up, then be prepared to take a quick shower. During the summer, it's immediate, but it's always hot. I mean the name "Dude Shemesh" is kinda cool, and seeing them dot rooftops is interesting at first--but then you have to actually use them.

Stable shower heads. Imagine, you have abut 8min of warm water, and you're trying to shave. But it's a removable shower head, that is permanently removed. Trying to juggle an arm, the shower head, the razor, comical at best, drenched bathroom at worst. The first couple times I did this, I sprayed the water all over the bathroom. All you can do is laugh.

Cheap American candy. There are times when I just want peanut M&Ms or a twix or Snickers. Right now, the current rate is around $2 for any of these. Without a sale, they are $0.75, and usually $0.40 with the abundant sales. Don't even think about getting king size.

Polite drivers. I don't mean to each other, but rather to pedestrians. Granted, everything is relative, and most drivers stay off the sidewalks here, so I guess that's something to be grateful about. Trying to cross the street (in a cross walk of course, I'm not suicidal), takes assertiveness and sometimes aggression. Be prepared, you will get honked at. For the novice, I don't recommend using headphones as you will need all your senses alert. For the pro, absolutely get headphones as it's the only way to block out the horns.

Can of air. The dust in Jerusalem is astounding. All my electronics need a good dusting. After this most recent sand storm, where advisory warnings were broadcast for those with health problems, the dirt literally poured out of my phone--it was never even in the open air.

Carpet. I have yet to walk into a building (other than a hotel) that has carpet. I had no idea I liked carpet so much. Or rather disliked linoleum so much. And for a country where water is scarce, I still can't wrap my brain around the idea that all the floors are washed with an abundance of water.

Dry wall. One might ask, how did you discover your affinity for a particular type of wall? Well, when you go to hammer in a nail into stone, lo and behold, the nail bends and only leaves a dimple in the layers of paint. Forget about pushpins. Everything must be bored into the wall with somewhat large screws and careful placement. Sigh.

It's the little things. Things that are easily overlooked, easily overcome. So small that they are almost negligible. Almost. A few days, no big deal to just get over it. A few years, no big deal to change it. A few weeks? A few months? Too short to change it,,too long to get over it. Just long enough to notice it and feel very grateful and appreciative for the little things.

12 April, 2010

ום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה : Holocaust/heroism rememberance

Jewish holidays in Israel feel different than they do in Colorado. Last night started what is colloquially known as Yom HaShoah. Ceremonies in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem abounded. There is actually palpable remembrance, the air is somber.
This morning, at 10a, the Jerusalem siren went off for two minutes, signaling silence. I was standing outside on the mirpesset (balcony), feeling the wind on my face, hearing the sounds of the city and of nature when the siren first started. The jackhammer from the construction workers to my left first had to pause to hear the sirens, then paused in honor of it. To my right, there was no such pause, and work continued. Nature didn't stop either: the birds kept chirping, the cats kept fighting, the bees kept buzzing, the wind kept blowing. And then nothing. Everything, as though on cue, stopped.
It was in this true silence that the deafening voices of those killed could be heard. Quiet balagan.

Today is also the day to remember heroism. To celebrate those who looked impossible situations in the eye and said "I can and will do my part." Perhaps not knowing that their actions were extraordinary, or maybe they knew; they did them anyway.
Maybe we don't know what action will take when we're called, maybe we don't know it's impact. But today, this day of remembrance,  can teach us that knowing or not knowing, we need to act.

To all those who've been murdered and all who've been heroes--thank you, you are remembered.

11 April, 2010

Almost there (here?)

Jerusalem...again. Apparently while I am in Israel, I have a desire to blog far more so than when I am in the States. Perhaps the latter will change with this one, as this is going to be a lengthy endeavor.

Here I am. More "אני פה" than "הנני", for now. I've come so far it seems, and yet I haven't even made it to the start line. I've made it through the 'I can't believe I want to be a rabbi' decision process, the application process, through the interview process, through the acceptance process, and there is one of the hiccups. I have been accepted (wohoo), conditionally (boo). Turns out, my Hebrew ability, not so great; not quite good enough to have passed the test the first time around, although very close. Such a small thing as language was not going to keep me from this dream. I find myself in Israel right now, finishing up a 2-wk course with Ulpan Or just before I am scheduled to re-take the exam. I am feeling good, a little nervous, but more-or-less confident in my ability. I am perfectly ok if the results come back and say that I should do pre-ulpan. In fact, I would almost prefer that, because being in Israel for longer can only be a good thing. When I get a little down at my Hebrew skills, I remind myself of my personal timeline regarding the language. Honestly, I am proud of how far I've come.

Recently, HUC has set up a facebook page for upcoming Year-In-Israel students, and on it soon-to-be students are writing introductions about themselves. I am appreciative of the intros prior to meeting in person in a couple months. I find that a connection can evolve and the people in this new community feel less like strangers. As I read these introductions, I am a little intimidated by some of the comments. People who are Jewish-study majors, who have been going to and teaching at camp for over 10yrs. People who have been going after this dream since adolescents and have laid all the groundwork for it.
Then there is me. I am a scientist. My first career is as an analytical chemist; a career I have been active in for several years. All the learning I have done with Judaism has been outside of a university setting. I owe a huge shout out to the library (and amazaon.com !), to my Hebrew tutor Eti, and especially to the clergy at Har HaShem, my synagogue. Without them, this transition would not have been possible.

And what a transition! As the transition is still in its infancy, I am bogged down with practicalities. Most of which my upcoming classmates can no doubt relate. Get medical paperwork, for me and the cat. Get visa (just for me, he doesn't need one). Make packing list, cut in half, check, double-check, triple check, cut in half again. Look for apartment in Jerusalem--very different than in America, because in Jlem, neighborhood really matters. Come to realization that I must get a roommate (first time for everything I suppose). Keep up with summer HUC reading. Get overseas or internet bank account. And the list goes on and on and on. First priority--pass Hebrew re-take exam.  It is such practicalities which prevent me from being fully here.

The less tangible, non-object oriented tasks, are much harder. Saying goodbye to family, friends, community, home. That will not be easy (nor should it be). Until my first priority (see above) is accomplished, I will not be starting on this part of the transition.

I sit here, in a room in Rechavia, feeling like I am in a dream. Perhaps I am. For next week I will be back in Colorado, back in the lab, back with my friends and this will be a memory. Rather, this moment is a glimpse into the future. For here I will sit in seven weeks, and it will not be a dream and I will really say "הנני".