37-From Yom Kippur to Sukkot

It’s Sukkot! The Festival of Booths! The Time of our Rejoicing! The Holiday of the Ingathering!

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Sukkot is meant to be marked by outdoor living, by celebrating our ancestors’ sojourn in the wilderness and our [slightly less early but still early] ancestors’ agriculturally-bounded days, by appreciating the harvest.

Here in Philly, it’s 80 degrees, which makes it tough to even think of it being a harvest season, but the trees are slowly beginning to brighten into yellow at their tips and soon enough, the chill will come.

In Woodstock, the trees are already turning. Last week at this time, I was about to head  up there to mark Yom Kippur with my community. I had an incredible experience. I am, and will continue to be, I’m sure, immensely grateful for being a part of this community of vulnerable spiritual seekers. I don’t take such a place for granted.

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The rabbi at Woodstock, the amazing Jonathan Kligler, picked some phrases from holy text that matched the gematria (Jewish numerology) of our new year of 5778. One was from Pirkei Avot: “ובמקום שאין אנשים, השתדל להיות איש–Uvmakom she’ayn anashim, hishtadel lihyot ish— In a place where there are no people, seek to be a person,” or, in more yiddishy terms, a mensch. Rabbi Jonathan encouraged our community to take on the mantle of menschiness, and the community was eager to comply.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past week, and yesterday a song found me. One of my goals for this year of 5778 (in addition to obvious ones, like “finish rabbinical school”) is to really push myself to create music. I don’t know what my style is yet or even if I’ll like everything I’m writing a week or a month down the line, but my goal is to create. So here I am creating.

I wrote the lyrics (which you can find below the movie). Not sure how I feel about myself as a (non-Hamilton parody) lyricist yet.

A lil background: Rabban Gamliel is an important sage. Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) is a book of early rabbinic literature studied by many Jews. The Hebrew chorus is the line about being a person quoted above. The other Hebrew bits are:”zeh asu”– do this, “shamanu” — we heard, and “aleinu”– it is upon us. Those aren’t in Pirkei Avot; I just liked them.

Gamliel said in Pirkei Avot:

“If there are no humans of note,

You know what you must do,

Be the best human you can be.”

Zeh Asu!

 

Uv’makom she’ein anashim, hishtadel lihyot ish.

 

We know the path we must tread,

Yes, there will be challenges ahead

In this world that cries with pain undo,

We’ll be a tribe of mensches.

Shamanu

 

Uv’makom she’ein anashim, hishtadel lihyot ish.

 

In God’s image each of us was made.

We will rise up; we are not afraid.

In this place there’s justice to pursue

We’ll be a tribe of mensches

Aleinu

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38- Rosh Hashanah

Hi friends. It’s…been a while. That 40th shabbat is long come and gone. In fact, 38 shabbats from this Friday ought to be, if all goes smoothly, my first as a rabbi. The final year of school is well underway. I’m juggling class and jobs and my podcast and life in a new neighborhood in Philly.

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I live 2 blocks from Clark Park now! I love it.

Here’s what I’m thinking: I’d still like to write this year. I find writing helpful to my well-being, and some of y’all enjoy reading what I post! So I’m planning on picking the blog back up. This year’s posts won’t be as exciting as last year’s, I imagine, but if the goings-on of an American Rabbinical Student in America interest you, do read on.

My goal is to post once a week, counting “down” from 38 to ordination. Realistically, I’ll miss some weeks. But it’s good to have goals, and the new year of 5778 seems like a good time to make them.

I may at some point write about last summer, but, in the meantime, I’m happy to focus on the present, and that means sharing with y’all the Rosh Hashanah d’var torah (sermon) I offered in Woodstock, NY (where I’ll be interning this year). On the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah, it’s traditional to read the Binding of Isaac, the episode in Genesis 22 where Abraham, on God’s command, almost sacrifices his son. There is so much to say about these verses, but the wonderful rabbi I’m working with this year helpfully advised: “Just focus on one thing.” I took that to heart and settled in on one angle of interpretation. We read this passage every year, so I anticipate being able to pick out many more angles throughout my career.

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The “Tent” where services are High Holiday services are held at the Woodstock Jewish Center. 

I don’t usually write my divrei torah word for word, but I was nervous that I would get nervous and babble on the bima, so for this d’var I made an exception. Without further ado, here is:

Abraham, Isaac, and the Inheritance of Wrestling

וַיֵּלְכ֥וּ שְׁנֵיהֶ֖ם יַחְדָּֽו׃

וַיָּבֹ֗אוּ אֶֽל־הַמָּקוֹם֮ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָֽמַר־ל֣וֹ הָאֱלֹהִים֒ וַיִּ֨בֶן שָׁ֤ם אַבְרָהָם֙ אֶת־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ וַֽיַּעֲרֹ֖ךְ אֶת־הָעֵצִ֑ים וַֽיַּעֲקֹד֙ אֶת־יִצְחָ֣ק בְּנ֔וֹ וַיָּ֤שֶׂם אֹתוֹ֙ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ מִמַּ֖עַל לָעֵצִֽים׃

וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח אַבְרָהָם֙ אֶת־יָד֔וֹ וַיִּקַּ֖ח אֶת־הַֽמַּאֲכֶ֑לֶת לִשְׁחֹ֖ט אֶת־בְּנֽוֹ׃

And the two of them walked on together. They arrived at the place of which God had told him. Abraham built an altar there; he laid out the wood; he bound his son Isaac; he laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  And Abraham sent out his hand and took up the knife to slay his son.

If you aren’t deeply uncomfortable right now, you aren’t listening. It doesn’t matter that we know how this story ends, that we can look down a few verses and see Isaac emerge from this encounter without physical blemish, that we can read a few chapters later and see Isaac marry and have children of his own, live a long life and die an old man.

None of that changes these verses. Abraham picked up the knife to slay his son, and thousands of years later we live with his choice.

For those of us who grew up steeped in stories from the Torah, our early experiences with this story may have been much like our early experiences with the narrative of Noah– a survivor of a tragedy whose trauma we initially learned through peppy songs about animals. My first exposure to the story of the akeda, to the binding of Isaac, did not include a song, but the horror was swept under the rug all the same with the arrival of the ram. “See,” my earliest teachers told me, “Isaac was ok. Abraham proved that he loved God more than anything, so he didn’t have to harm his son.” As a child, I took such words at face value. I didn’t think of Abraham as a bad man, or even as a good man who made a bad choice. Abraham obeyed God, and that was right.

But, then I grew up, and I looked at the story of Abraham and Isaac with increasing upset. How could the patriarch whom I’d been told my whole life was this amazing man be willing to take on such an act? How could he deliver his son almost to the point of death and then not even apologize?

We know how much Abraham and Sarah wanted this son. They wanted a child so much that Sarah forced her servant, Hagar, to be a concubine so that Abraham might have a child even if it could not be her own. Isaac was deeply desired, and we experienced Abraham and Sarah’s joy in yesterday’s Torah portion as he was at last delivered.

But Isaac the child, as a character, scarcely exists. We know that he was born, that he was circumcised, that a feast was held when he was weaned. But the boy never spoke. We are given no indication as to whether he was bright or creative or athletic, whether he was obedient or rebellious, whether he had friends or was a loner.

The first time Isaac acts in Torah, it is to go with his father to Mt. Moriah, the site of his near sacrifice. The second time he acts, it is to carry the wood and walk together with his father to the top of the mountain. The first and only time he speaks to Abraham, it is to take note of the wood and the flint and knife and ask, as any child accustomed to animal sacrifices might, “But where is the lamb for the offering?”

אֱלֹהִ֞ים יִרְאֶה־לּ֥וֹ הַשֶּׂ֛ה לְעֹלָ֖ה בְּנִ֑י “God will see to the lamb for the offering, my son,” Abraham replies.

The French medieval commentator known as the RaDaK tells us that Abraham’s answer is open to two interpretations. In the first, Abraham says that God will provide a lamb for offering, my son. In the second, Abraham says that God will provide the lamb for the offering: my son. At that moment, he tells Isaac that he is to be the sacrificial offering.

We know what happens next. We’re left with relief, of course. Isaac lives. He disappears for a few chapters and comes back into the Torah as an adult ready to meet his wife Rebecca. But Abraham and Isaac never speak again. Isaac’s next and only remaining interaction with his father is Abraham’s burial, when Isaac and his half-brother Ishmael reunite to do their duty as their father’s sons.

On these holiest of days in the Jewish Calendar, we speak of teshuvah- returning to the best versions of ourselves by reflecting upon the past, having tough conversations both internally and externally, and committing to do better in the future. Abraham never made teshuvah — never made atonement– with Isaac.

When Abraham died he left all that was his to Isaac, and Isaac passed it along to his sons, and Jacob passed it along to his sons, and it came down the generations, proverbial or literal, to our own families.

Abraham left a blessing to Isaac, and some amount of wealth, but that’s not the inheritance I’m speaking of. Rather, I’m speaking of the inheritance that remained unnamed for a generation: the inheritance of wrestling. When we don’t make teshuva, we are left with wrestling. We are left rerunning the same moments again and again, grasping at them with sweaty, tiring hands that can’t get a proper grip. We are pinned by our loose ends.

There are many stories about where Isaac went between his near sacrifice and his meeting Rebecca. Some rabbis believe that he spent his young adulthood learning in a great yeshiva. Others believe that he reunited with his brother Ishmael. Still others believe that he accompanied his father home and remained with him. We don’t know, and whatever midrash we have written to fill in the gaps, it is all speculation. From Torah, we know only that Abraham and Isaac never spoke of the incident. Abraham died without making teshuvah, leaving Isaac wrestling with his father’s decisions, with Abraham’s answer to the one question Isaac posed: “Where is the lamb for the offering?” Did Abraham, in his only codified words to his beloved son, lie to him or alert him to his impending end? And how could he have done either of these things? In dying before offering a proper answer to these questions, Abraham flung his son and all who came after him to the mat with no referee to call time.

It seems little wonder that when Isaac had his own children, Jacob and Esau, they were twins who wrestled in their mother’s womb, who were always at odds in their youth. Similarly, it seems no wonder that, when Jacob grew up, ran from Esau, and then returned to make peace with him decades later, he found himself wrestling all night. And that, after those exhausting hours, the name Jacob received from his wrestling partner was Yisrael–Israel– one who wrestles with God. He inherited his father’s loose ends, his lack of teshuvah. He passed them along to his 12 sons, who passed them along to an entire people. That people, of course, is us.

We are Yisraelites. We carry the name of Jacob the God Wrestler, because we, like Jacob, are the descendants of a parent who never made teshuvah. Abraham’s silence travels alongside his blessing l’dor vador — from generation to generation.

Yet we, Abraham’s descendents, have something that he does not: life. We have this time, these precious 10 Days of Awe, to make right what we have wronged, to open those silences that have scabbed over but never truly healed, to dress and clean the wounds we have inflicted as best we can. Such action isn’t easy, but it is necessary.

Soon, this morning’s service will come to an end. We will go our separate ways — to homes near or far, to connect with family and friends over a festive lunch, to dip apples in honey and celebrate the sweetness of this time. And I wish us all much sweetness today and in the year ahead. But I also wish us courage– courage to do what Abraham did not: to acknowledge our mis-steps, to make amends, to seek out the best in ourselves and offer it to those we have wronged. May none of us waste these days before Yom Kippur. May we all begin this year as our best selves and in so doing clear the way for all who come after us to be their best selves. For this too is our inheritance– to look at the year that has passed, to atone, and to walk forward, renewed.

I wish you all a Shanah Tovah Umetukah V’amitzah — a Good and Sweet and Courageous new year.

Shabbos Blessing- Week 39

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I am in Iceland. So far I’ve learned that I think this place is cool, and I like the airport, and someday I’d like to come back here and leave it, and when I’m half-delirious from what’s already been about 21 hours of travel I should not be dumped into a duty-free shop. Although, come to think of it, that’s probably exactly why I (and everybody else) got dumped into a duty-free shop. I bought myself Icelandic yarn, because of course I did, and birch bitters, because I was curious. There were many adorable and enticing things, but I managed to resist most of them. Now I’m sitting here, very perplexed as to the time of day, wondering if I need a coffee or a beer. I managed to sleep a fair amount, so I’m planning to try and avoid more sleeping until I get to California tonight (in some vague sense of that term).

When I was sitting in the airport in Paris for 7 hours this morning, I found myself thinking about just how bizarre they are. I wrote in my journal:

“You know, I’m basically on a moving walkway home now. Airports are airports are airports. People jostle for charging stations, and pay too much for coffee, and appreciate or bemoan the cleanliness of the bathrooms, and try to keep track of IDs and cell phones, and sleep anywhere they can. Airports are spaces outside of time and space. The accoutrement shift, but the overall place is the same. Maybe that’s why I find airports kinda comforting.”

And I do find airports kinda comforting. They’re a place where everyone is locked into more-or-less the same thing, there are huge windows everywhere you look, the signage is usually sufficient to explain what needs explaining, and they’re good at feeding you (however expensively and unhealthily). Don’t get me wrong– I’m very, very eager to get myself out of this airport and on my way to my final destination, but I can’t really complain.

This week’s blessing is the last picture I took in Israel. Behold, my stuff:

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I gave (and threw) a lot away. I left some things behind in the apartment for the next guest. I sent some things home with visitors earlier in the year. And here is what remained when I walked out the door yesterday. I may not entirely believe that I’m going home yet, but that huge suitcase doesn’t lie.

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I don’t think I should be trusted to blog in this state, so I’m going to stop. Shabbat Shalom to all, and I look forward to sharing a final shabbat blessing from America next week.

Burned on the Way Out

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I was so close to making it home without a sunburn.

All semester, I’ve been pretty careful– slathering sunscreen when at the beach, getting to the shade fairly often, and, of course, making sure to hydrate. I’d gotten a tiny bit pink a couple of times, but I was pretty proud of my non-sacrificial tan.

That is…until today.

Today is my last day in Tel Aviv, and today I rented a bike, and today I pedaled up and down the beach, and today I said goodbye to this city and this country, and today, my upper arms turned red.

And, y’know what? That’s ok. IMG_2376.jpg

A lot of the time, when I travel, there’s something of a disconnect between where I’ve left and where I’ve gotten to. It’s a feeling that makes me think of every Yom Kippur, following the Break Fast, when I catch myself wondering if I have fasted at all. I’m used to eating. For Yom Kippur, I fast. When I’m done with my fast, the first few moments of comfort in returning to food quickly fade in favor of a more normative (privileged) thought process of “what do I feel like eating/not eating now?”

I remember when I returned home from my time in rural China feeling an astonishment at America. Years later, when my youngest sister got home after a semester studying in Ghana, I remember watching her face as we walked the aisles of Trader Joe’s in Berkeley. There’s an awe in home, in the good sort of “default,” when you have been away from it. And there’s a sense, accompanying that awe, of disbelief.

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I am sitting on my couch in my apartment in Jaffa. I am listening to the meuzzin at the neighborhood mosque chant the prayers that signal the end of the daily fast of Ramadan. In just a moment, those prayers will end and he will chant the adhan. I’ll hear the adhan once more this evening before I order a cab and go to the airport to begin my very long Friday. Tomorrow at this time, I’ll be boarding a plane in Iceland, I hope. This couch, this apartment, this meuzzin, this neighborhood, this time of my existence will feel disconnected from my present, in the same way that in this moment, the idea of taking my suitcase downstairs and getting into a cab and flying away and not coming back feels disconnected from everything I think of as normal here.

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Like these Ramadan lights

Tomorrow at this time, I will still have a sunburn. It will have faded by then. It probably won’t hurt anymore. But it will be there. It will connect what feels disconnected, connect the “me” of today with the “me” of tomorrow. I am heading into a strange shabbat. It won’t be long before I too walk the aisles of Trader Joe’s and drink my fancy coffee and surround myself with loved ones and feel awe. I am so grateful, and I want to make every effort to link that awe with this reality. I want to be home and know that I have been here.

You’ll hear more from me before I get home. Shabbos Blessing 39 will come from Ben Gurion or from Paris or from Reykjavik. It’ll probably be short, but maybe not, since I’ll have a cumulative 11 hours of layover. In the meantime, I am signing off from this apartment.

Things that Stay and Things that Go- Jaffa Edition

40 weeks became 40 days. 40 days became 40 hours. And now, I am down to even less time than that. Tomorrow night around now, I will be either on my way to or at the airport. Two days from now (“days” being used in the Genesis-Chaper-1-not-necessarily-24-hours sense due to flight and time zones), I’ll be in California. I am more than ready. I’m about 85% packed. There are a few things still out: laptop, aeropress, hammock– the essentials, you know– but most of my things are nestled into a suitcase and backpack and purse. If the people at the bag drop are kind and/or my bag makes the weight cut, I won’t even need to check my smaller bag as a carry-on because it’ll fit snugly inside the suitcase. But I feel like the chances of my bag clocking in at under 20 kg are slim.

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So, harkening back to my packing list from early September, and my updated packing list from my move up to Jaffa, I give you an edited, updated, and probably incomplete list:

Things Packed:

  • Clothes for summer
  • Floppy hat
  • (New) sunglasses
  • Sneakers
  • Chacos
  • Blundstones (aka Israel’s official unofficial shoe)
  • Hammock
  • Water bottle covered in with the remnants of a couple of stickers
  • Big purse
  • Little purse
  • Several knitting projects
  • 1 bag of assorted toiletries
  • 2 1 toothbrush
  • 1 half-used  mostly-used travel-sized tube of organic toothpaste
  • Many A couple 1 half-used tube of burt’s bees lip balm
  • 2 expired epi-pens
  • Many A few hairbands
  • 1 2 boxes ziplock bag of of vanilla sleepytime assorted Israeli herbal teas
  • Aeropress
  • Jedi mug out of which to drink said coffee
  • 1 small bag of za’atar
  • 1 envelope of Very Important Papers/Documents
  • 2 reusable grocery bags
  • 1 siddur
  • Alanna: The First Adventure
  • The Blue Day Book
  • Many Jewish texts
  • Cards and letters from folks back home
  • Notebooks
  • Journal
  • Far too many  Not enough  A few writing implements
  • Kindle
  • Laptop
  • Headphones
  • Phone
  • Many chargers and adaptors
  • Several kinderegg toys
  • 1 small stuffed moose, 1 small stuffed dragon, and 1 eucalyptus pod
  • 1 2 1 tallit, 2 3 2 kippot, and 1 set of tefilin
  • 1 mezuzah
  • 1 set of shabbat candle holders

 

Things sent home with visitor from the States 2 months ago:  

  • Clothes for winter
  • Raincoat
  • 2 sets of tzitzit
  • 1 tallis
  • 1 siddur
  • 1 box of assorted jewelry
  • Hiking boots
  • 1 reusable grocery bag
  • 3-liter camelback not covered in stickers
  • Sleeping bag
  • Many Jewish texts

 

Things Left Behind: 

  • sorta smushed flats
  • flip flops 
  • 2 bags of worn out clothing
  • 1 mostly-used tube of overpriced sunscreen
  • bags of cumin, curry powder, and cayenne
  • PartiallyMostly-used containers of red miso paste, soy sauce, and sriracha
  • 1 barely-used half-used bag of flaxseed meal
  • many toiletries 
  • various chocolate delights
  • 4 oz of ground coffee
  • 1 reusable grocery bag
  • 1 ziplock bag full of ziplock bags
  • Umbrella
  • The Lonely Planet: Israel and the Palestinian Territories 

 

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I’ll have more to say soon– probably tomorrow before I leave, in fact. But at the moment it is relatively late and I am relatively tired, and I have one more night in my Israeli bed to take advantage of. Tomorrow I sleep in the air (and I don’t mean in my hammock, although that would be way more comfortable than my seat on the plane).

Shabbos Blessing- Week 38

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In a week, I will be in transit. My flight leaves at 1 AM on Friday morning, so I’ll actually be heading to the airport on Thursday night. Chances are that I’ll write next week’s blessing in either the Paris or Reykjavik airport. Friday will be very, very long, and California’s shabbat will arrive, God willing, about 20 minutes before I land in San Francisco.

At this moment, it’s Saturday evening (because I am, yet again, posting this a day late), and I am listening to the neighborhood mosque broadcast the special prayer that marks the end of the fast on this first day of Ramadan. I’m so used to the typical call to prayer that hearing this new blessing now, months after arriving here and mere days before leaving, is a little shocking. The call to prayer is comforting– something that reminds me of where I am in time. This new prayer is exciting, and I know that in the time I have left it will likely remain exciting rather than settling into normalcy.

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The loveliest setting for an anti-Trump protest you ever did see– with my poster contribution.

This last week was my last normal week. We finished up classes and then took a trip down south on Thursday and Friday (hence my late post). This week the only “normal” event on my schedule is volunteering at the preschool on Tuesday. Other than that it’s going to be all about organizing, celebrating Shavuot, checking items off of my unofficial Israel Year bucket list, eating hummus, and packing up.

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Judean Desert hiking

This week’s Torah portion is במדבר– Bamidbar– which is the first parsha in the Book of Numbers. Why is it called “Numbers?” Because it starts with a census of the Israelites in the desert. It felt pretty appropriate to come upon this parsha during a week that I’ll be taking a census of my belongings and learnings. It also felt appropriate to find myself, briefly, in the desert. Yesterday morning, I woke up at 5 AM to watch the sun rise over the Dead Sea. It was one of the more spectacular sunrises I’ve seen in my life. The next sunrise I’m awake for will likely be in Paris on Friday when my flight lands at 5 AM.

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One photo of many many many

I’m lucky to have a blessing for this shabbat offered recently by one of the people who knows me best in this world. She wrote:

You’ve dealt with a lot since you’ve been there, far more than you were expecting to have to deal with.

And you’ve done it.  It was a roller coast and nevertheless, you persisted. 

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Going forward, may the wonderful phrase you knit in magic yarn be more than just the epic feminist rallying cry that it already is.  May it also be a reminder to you that you persisted.  Despite people telling you that you can’t because you’re a woman, despite social and political turmoil back home, despite anxiety and loss, you persisted.  If you find yourself in tough times or doubting yourself, may this time serve as a reminder that you are strong and persistent and will not be dissuaded.  

I appreciate this as a charge to take with me when I leave Israel behind. I’m pretty damn eager, honestly, to be able to think about and talk about this year in the past tense. I have so much processing ahead of me, but, for now, I’m trying to embrace this experience’s “lasts.” 6 days to go.

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And, just maybe, have the confidence of this sunrise desert shadow. 

 

 

Thoughts from the Homestretch

10 days. This should feel like nothing. I have been here for so long. I have experienced so much. I am leaving so soon. I’m down to the amount of time of a Birthright trip. Still, 10 days doesn’t feel like nothing.

Here’s how these 10 days look from here:

  • 10 more days in Israel.
  • 9 more verses from psalms to set to music.
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The musical “Emily, you like to write stuff, remember?” countdown is on. Will I share all of these someday? Maybe. 

  • 8 more walks to the beach (I try to get there every day, but realistically I’ll miss a day or two)

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  • 7 more days of counting the omer.
  • 6 more ends of balls of yarn to try and knit something out of since it won’t be worth schlepping them home and I hate wasting yarn.
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Like this charmingly-useful double pointed needle holder. It rolls right up. 🙂 

  • 5 more showers (I’m an every other dayer unless I get sweaty. What can I say?)
  • 4 more ounces of coffee before I run out and start buying a cup every morning instead of buying a new bag of beans.
  • 3 more ounces of bourbon to find a use for (luckily, mint and lemon are both in ready supply these days).
  • 2 more days of class at BINA
  • 1 more BINA overnight tiyyul (trip)– this time to the dead sea for some hiking and swimming and camping, and then to East Jerusalem for a tour focusing on the conflict.
  • 1 more Tuesday of volunteering at the preschool
  • 1 class to teach to English-speaking Tel Avivians.
  • 1 more load of laundry? Probably?
  • 1 more shabbat in Jaffa.
  • 1 probable day-trip to Acre, a couple hours north from here, just for fun.
  • 1 all-night celebration/study session for Shavuot.
  • Several goodbyes.
  • Many hours of organizing and packing.
  • As much walking about as I can manage.
  • 1 cab ride to the airport (or, if I’m feeling truly ambitious, to the train station, followed by 1 train ride to the airport).

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Shabbos Blessing- Week 37

In 2 weeks at this time, barring delays or whatnot, I’ll be on a plane from Paris to Iceland, a little less than halfway through my very long journey from Tel Aviv to San Francisco.

I wish I could say that the proximity of that departure date, that very, very long Friday in 4 countries, has brought me to a place of pre-emptive nostalgia– of urgency to do all the things I haven’t yet done here or to repeat the experiences that I’ve most enjoyed. That’s kinda what I anticipated when I imagined hitting the 2-week mark a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I’m not there yet. I wish my departure was 1 week away. I wish it was 3 days. I have had a multitude of experiences this year, and I am ready for it to end, and it keeps going.

To be fair, I know that much of the academic world is in its “Oh God, why isn’t it over yet?” state of being. That’s what May brings. I’m used to it. And this is such an incredibly chill May compared to most that I can remember. There are no finals. There is no crazy summer job to prep for. I’m teaching a class on Tuesday evening that I need to put more time into, but generally speaking I have more spaciousness in the next few weeks than I’m likely to have at any point… maybe ever… once I get back to school next fall.

This week was significant, as I said goodbye to a number of my classmates from other institutions whom I’ve studied with this year. We had our final Rabbinical School Consortium gathering yesterday. Many students will leave before next shabbat, and I don’t anticipate making it back down to Jerusalem again before they go. It felt very strange to give hugs and talk of future potential visits to Philly and LA and NYC. And, unlike with many other sorts of goodbyes, none of these felt permanent. We’re all going to be rabbinic colleagues one day, and even if we don’t see one another often, the connections will remain. It felt different than graduation from high school or college, when lives can diverge into such vastly different directions. There’s a comfort there, even as it’s sad to say goodbye for now.

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I also bade farewell to my kittens-who-are-no-longer-kittens

Spaciousness for me means time for creative projects. I decided when I hit the 18-days-left-in-Israel mark that it would be a great idea to set one verse from a psalm (using psalms 18-1, just for fun) to music every day. This was pretty easy for psalms 18, 17, and 16. Then, yesterday, I gave the guitar I’ve been using all year back to RRC. I feel confident that I can write without a guitar, but it does complicate things slightly.

I’m also going to be working on a creative midrash project. Some folks think that you can’t write new midrash today, and maybe they’re correct. But reading last week’s Torah portion, and then discussing it with my spiritual director, brought me to a place of realization: I gotta talk to some folks in these texts, and, as a writer, I wanna do it through writing. So, aptly or not, I’m gonna call it midrash and see what I get.

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Finally, I’m going to begin preparations for the project I’ll be embarking upon this summer. I got lucky enough to be given a micro-grant for a podcast focusing upon the positive influences of non-Jewish family members and loved ones in Jews’ lives. I’ll be crafting 4 episodes as a pilot and I really can’t wait. While I’m eager to have this summer as a time to relax and process this year, it’s, well, me. I’m not very good at doing nothing.

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At least now when I’m bad at doing nothing I make things like double-knit potholders to use up leftover yarn.

This week’s blessing comes from a Jesuit mentor. He saw my post expressing similar wistfulness for home a couple of weeks ago and sent along this poem, along with an explanation of its author:

“Chardin was a Jesuit paleontologist, philosopher and theologian. His thinking got him in trouble. But now he is revered.”

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Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”

― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I need those words this week. It does feel as though there’s something of a new spirit forming within me. I feel ready to begin my final year of rabbinical school. I feel ready to put myself into the world more fully than I ever have since childhood. For now, I am impatient of being on the way to something. This shabbat, I wish patience for myself and, really, considering the week the world has had, for us all.

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Shabbos Blessing- Week 36

This post is late again. I ended up traveling up until nearly the moment shabbat began, and yesterday I was thinking too hard to actually write. Here’s why:

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Friday began for me in downtown Bethlehem. It was my second time there, almost exactly 6 months after my first time visiting in December. Much of this trip was the same as my first. I was traveling with the same organization. I visited some of the same sites. I ate some of the same foods.

Yet, it had been 6 months. Not everything had remained constant.

Prickly thistles that were hidden beneath the earth in December were blooming. IMG_1972.jpg

Surrounding the Arab village of Kefar Zecharia, the fields were green instead of grey with cold. IMG_1985.jpg

Along a part of Bethlehem’s border, where 6 months ago had been just a road, was a shiny grey fence– one more piece of the ever-expanding Israeli security barrier. IMG_1974.jpg

My role in this visit was also different, as I shifted from being a participant to being a peer facilitator, preparing and guiding other Jewish-American participants through processing conversations as they encountered Palestinian narratives.

I paid the same amount of attention. I asked more questions. I took far fewer pictures (though, it being me, “far fewer” is relative, as this mule will attest).

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In the last 6 months, I also moved from West Jerusalem, where my environment was almost entirely Jewish, to Jaffa, where my environment is far more mixed. I hear the adhan– the Muslim call to prayer– 4 times a day (fortunately for me, the mosque doesn’t broadcast the 4 AM call), and I hear bells from the nearby churches more often. I volunteer in a preschool with Jewish and Palestinian children. I go to beaches frequented by women in hijab, men with peyes, and secular tourists in shorts. Certain elements of my life here remind me of Bethlehem, but Jaffa is certainly not the West Bank.

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In Bethlehem, I met a young Palestinian woman named Emilie. I have met so many Emilys and Emilies in my life, and here in Israel I have met countless Cohens. But I had never met an Israeli or a Palestinian who shared my first name. She was named for her grandmother. When I was a baby, before “Emily” surged in the US, people commented to my parents that “Emily” was a name from their grandmothers’ generation.

In nearly perfect English (“English doesn’t count,” Emilie said, when I complemented her language ability), she spoke about her experiences growing up in Bethlehem and her luck in getting a job “just because I speak French. Otherwise I wouldn’t have a job.”

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Bethlehem was not a city filled with hope 6 months ago, and it was not a city filled with hope on Friday; if anything, as the security barrier grew taller these last months, hope sank deeper beneath the earth.

Our Palestinian speakers spoke their truth, and their truth was vicious and their anger was righteous, and I felt their words carve a line through hope and shatter it to pieces, and I knew that I could not piece it all back together, and in that moment it felt like hope itself was a privilege that I had not merited.

But I also know that I can’t exist without hope. Their truth is vicious and their anger is righteous and the privilege that I merited was to hear it and to hold it and to share it.

This week’s Torah portion was Emor. 17 years ago to the day, in both the English and Hebrew calendars, I read a section of this portion for my Bat Mitzvah. The section I read was what might be called the “kid-freindly” part, in which the calendar of holidays is laid out in detail for the first time in the pentateuch. I read about when to mark Pesach and Rosh Hashanah and about leaving the corners of one’s fields for those in need. I did not read the section of the parsha about how Kohanim (priests) with “blemishes” could not serve in the Tabernacle. I did not read the section about the man born to an Israelite mother and Egyptian father who blasphemed God and was stoned to death as punishment (and trust me– I’ve got a lot more to say about that particular story).

No. When I read at my Bat Mitzvah, I was 12. I was celebrating the rite of becoming a Jewish woman. I chanted beautiful, inclusive words about our holiday practices. I engaged in ahavat yisrael: the love of  the people Israel and the traditions passed down through the generations from the Torah to the year 2000.

But it has been 17 years. I am nearly 30. Yesterday, I sat in my apartment and chanted the entire portion of Emor aloud, from the laws regarding Kohanic marriage to the laying out of the calendar to the stoning of the blasphemer according to God’s command. I let the justice and injustice in the holy words wash over me, and I let myself be angry, and in that anger I found the pieces of hope that had eluded me in Bethlehem.

I reminded myself that ahavat yisrael can be a foundation not for oppression but for grounded love as we work for a better world for all. I reminded myself that the holy words in our texts that ring of injustice today remind of us of our mandate to seek justice always.

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On Friday afternoon, I left Bethlehem. I got on a bus to Jerusalem, and I got into a shared taxi to Tel Aviv, and I walked the streets of this city where I live to Jaffa. I bought pita and vegetables at a corner store run by Palestinian-Israeli neighbors, and I came inside, and I heard the adhan ring out from the minaret, and I lit my own candles for shabbat.

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17 years ago, in the 3rd verse of Torah that I ever read, I chanted the words:

שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ מִקְרָא־קֹ֔דֶשׁ

On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion. (Leviticus 23:3) 

On this shabbat, I lit the candles, breathing into the weekly sacred occasion, letting myself rest, and that was blessing enough.

Shabbos Blessing- Week 35

So here’s the truth: I’m at the point where every day here feels like a victory. I don’t mean that as a note of some sort of awfulness in my life. Life here isn’t awful at all. It’s fine. I’m lucky to be in a place where I can usually feel safe. I’m lucky to be in a place where I can learn and explore with some degree of comfort and, at this point, familiarity. I’m lucky to have formed significant friendships with colleagues from other rabbinical schools. I’m lucky to enjoy my apartment in Jaffa, my neighborhood, and the ocean that makes up one of its borders.

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But, I’m kinda done. I have been in Israel for a long time, and I am ready to come home, and this is the in between stage where I can’t quite start getting ready to come home, and at the same time I can’t quite feel settled anymore. I’m at the point where when the milk runs out I’ll replace it, but when the turbinado sugar runs out I’ll switch to brown sugar for my coffee. I’m at the point where I still find my classes valuable, but if my classes were to end, I wouldn’t be upset. I’m at the point where if I had a chance to leave tomorrow, I would say “wait a sec,” but if I had a chance to leave in one week instead of in four, I’d gladly take it.

I suppose I have the Israel year equivalent of senioritis. This experience has been valuable. It’s had its ups and downs. It continues to be just fine. And I’m ready for it to come to an end.

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My biggest battle right now is between me and my sense of presence. Two weeks from now, I think it’ll be appropriate for me to feel like I’ve got one foot out the door. I’ll be about to head into my last week of class. I might stop replacing the milk. I’ll be starting the process of organizing my stuff into “take” and “leave” piles. I’ll be preparing to say goodbye to most of my friends here, who will leave before me. I’ll be thinking very deliberately about the places I want to see one more time, the foods I want to eat, the walks I want to take, the waters I want to swim in.

But it’s not time for that yet. Ok, it’s time to plan the Israel year bucket list more deliberately (and I basically have), but it’s not really time for any of the rest. For the next two weeks, I need to keep my brain definitively here.

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Spring is helpful for that. We’re in the thick of it now– the heavy, layered, bountiful, wild green cradling flowers of all colors. Every moment of being outside calls for presence. “Look!,” the trees call with their pink buds. “Look!,” the bushes call with their bright blossoms. “Look!,” the leaves call as I pass beneath on my walks to school and to the beach and to the bus station. I listen. I look. I paused. I breathe. I try to remember that I am here.

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Every day is a victory. Every day is one day closer to returning home. And every day is a chance to be here. So this week’s blessing is a poem by John O’Donohue, offering praise for presence and possibility at once.

I give thanks for arriving safely in a new dawn,
For the gift of eyes to see the world,
The gift of mind to feel at home
In my life, the waves of possibility
Breaking on the shore of dawn,
The harvest of the past
That awaits my hunger,
And all the furtherings
This new day will bring.

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Shabbat Shalom.