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.