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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Shabbos Blessing- Week 27

Even for a blessing, this week’s is special. Most of y’all sent me blessings early on in the year, with a few others trickling in here and there. (On that note, if you’ve thought about it and haven’t sent one yet, this is the time. I’m running real low here. Not to be greedy or anything– if I don’t end up receiving 40, I’ll just start sending my own blessings out to y’all instead– but it’d be lovely to share your words instead of mine.) This week’s blessing came from an RRC classmate relatively early in the year. I don’t remember exactly when, but it was sometime last fall. However, unlike every other blessing, which showed up in a card or an email or a Facebook message or some other form that I could access right away, this one came as a google doc with instructions: Open “at a time where you feel like the task in front of you is huuuuuuuuge and OMG what.”

There have definitely been times over the course of the year where I felt that way about various tasks before me, but I always saved this blessing, until today I felt like I truly needed it.

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The last six weeks or so since getting to Yafo have been so lovely. Maybe that’s why facing down an uncertainty now feels like a more abrupt difficulty than facing down similar uncertainty in Jerusalem. It feels like a bigger shift. Things there were always a little less settled. Things here have felt more relaxed until this new worry came in. I don’t want to talk about specifics right now. Hopefully this will all clear itself up soon. But, right now, I’m balking.

It doesn’t help that I’ve finally shifted from feeling quite introverted to feeling more extroverted…at the exact moment when I’m looking at 4 days straight without class and with most of my friends in Jerusalem while I’m up here. When I’m feeling extroverted and don’t have folks to extrovert with, I tend to get pretty insecure pretty quickly. (At least I know myself.) The next few days are likely to be difficult, and depending how things go I could be entering a longer period of uncertainty. I don’t know yet. I hate not knowing.

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I went for a beautiful walk during a patch of sunshine this afternoon. It’s supposed to be muggy and stormy over the next few days, so I wanted to get a burst of outdoor time. I’ll get more in an hour or two, when I head way uptown to a friend’s for shabbat dinner. I’m looking forward to being with people tonight, and I hope to have the opportunity to connect with folks back home more over the next few days.

For now, I’m just trying to hold a lot of presence and gratitude. This week has also been amazing, and easy as it is to let anxiety crawl over the good so that it’s hard to see, I know I have much to be thankful for. More to come on that count soon enough.

In his google doc blessing, my classmate told a story from his own life and then opened it to meet me. I won’t include all of his beautiful words, but these two paragraphs are ones that I will hold to in the days to come. Interestingly enough, I think they connect as much to the good and new in my life as they do the potentially bad and new:

I wish for you that you embrace that spirit of balking. Of feeling like you’re ill-prepared. Maybe you are in some tangible way, or maybe in some less tangible way. But hell, you’ve got grit and perseverance, and a few more stamps in your passport than most. You know how to stick it out, and make the crazy into the familiar. Balking is part of the process of incorporating new things, finding out who we were, and who we’ve become. This moment before the plunge is shockingly scary, and also a bit sweet. You’re never as well prepared as you’d like to be… but I trust that since you’re smart and wise, you will be as prepared as you need to be. And once things get going, the rest of the way down is observing your surroundings keenly, listening to your instincts, keeping a cool head, and heaven forbid, quick reflexes! 

So Emily, I send you blessings for the moment of balking. I wish for you that in a moment of “what is this where am I omg how am I going to do this”, you find strength in remembering who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and even what you’ve been through. I wish you serenity in feeling ill-prepared, and knowing that you still have a great deal under your belt. I wish you moments of stillness and quiet in anxious situations—I believe that God speaks to our instincts as we pause and just circulate air. Respiration works. True, the Russians may believe that there is no amount of breathing that will make you prepared to pass beyond, but the breath itself is sweet and enough while we’re still here. Let that be its own anchor.

I live on the sea now. I can’t hear the waves from my apartment, but I don’t have to walk far at all to be able to. Every day, the waves drift in and out, sliding with the moon, growing and ebbing in their strength. The waves breathe. May my breath and the ocean’s prove an anchor. IMG_0853.jpg

 

Shabbos Blessing- Week 26

Real talk: I am writing this post as I stuff “oatmeal squares” (you know, the cereal) into my face. This is what happens when I don’t plan meal times properly, I shop quickly (because shabbat is soon) and hungry (because, as established, I don’t plan meal times properly) at a store that stocks some American products, and I get home to an apartment where I have very little in the way of “healthy, immediate, right now lunch.”

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Like this amazing hummus in Abu Ghosh yesterday.

Ok. Having eaten a few large handfuls of supposedly-good-for-you-but-actually-probably-full-of-GMOs-and-definitely-added-sugars-and-generally-processed-and-oh-dear-why-did-I-eat-that cereal morsels, I am now prepared to slow down and offer all 10 of my fingers to the keyboard.

(For those of you who are new to how my brain works, welcome. I generally find it an entertaining place to be.)

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This is a block from me: car and horse in the street, motorcycle on the sidewalk. Ok then.

I wasn’t sure if I would be in Tel Aviv for shabbat this week. I went to Jerusalem yesterday for our rabbinic consortium class, and I stayed with a friend to attend a program there this morning. I had an invitation for shabbat dinner with some lovely people but I decided to come home instead. It’s not that I don’t like shabbat in Jerusalem. It’s a lovely place to be, with great egalitarian davenning options and wonderful people with whom to share meals and company. I’ll be spending at least 2 of the next 4 shabbats down there and look forward to them. But, when it comes down to it, I just wanted time to continue to settle.

I’m not sure what feels unsettled about Jaffa at this point. I’ve been here for nearly a month now. My routine isn’t fully set, but it’s close. I guess what it comes down to is that I’m one of those introvert-extrovert cusps (to the degree that those distinctions mean anything), and this month has been an extremely introverted-dominant one for me. I’ve loved spending time with friends and exploring Jaffa and south Tel Aviv. I have also felt the need for almost as much quiet time at home as I can get my hands on. Soon enough, I’m sure I’ll “reset” to my middle ground norm, but for now, introverted is good.

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Tel Aviv Shabbat– a little different from Jerusalem

I’ll be honest– there’s a lot on my mind these days. The program our consortium took part in yesterday, along with a number of recent conversations, all seem to be connecting to a similar place. That’s going to be its own blog post soon, if I can figure out a way to write it down. For now, I’m going to be gentle with myself and bring in this week’s blessing.

Week 26 comes from the first person I can’t really keep anonymous: my mom. I guess I could have said “my parent,” but, well, there it is. She sent me the lyrics to “Forever Young,” along with this message:

Here is a blessing from me, via our newest Nobel Prize winner, Bob Dylan. It’s one I’ve always loved. When I was young, I listened to Joan Baez’s version until the record was scratched! I love you!

“Forever Young”- Bob Dylan

May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you
May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young.

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early spring at BINA

One of the lovely perks of my place in Tel Aviv is that I have a record player. It’s not the best, and the person who owns this place doesn’t match my tastes much. Still, he’s got some classics like “The Beatles” and Leonard Cohen and, yes, Bob Dylan. There is something that feels different about setting up a record to play as opposed hitting a button on a phone or computer, or even putting a CD or tape into a player. I like the process. I like the gentle way you have to treat the record and the player to bring the music into the space. It’s a good reminder of just how sacred music can be, whatever its source.

On the bus back to Tel Aviv an hour ago, I was listening to an episode of “On Being,” an NPR radio show produced in Minnesota that my mom and I have both enjoyed listening to for a long time. It so happened that the episode, an old one that I never got around to last summer, featured Mohammed Fairouz, a first generation Arab-American composer who’s barely out of his 20s. The episode is definitely worth listening to for its own sake, but I’m thinking of it now because he talked about song lyrics as poetry. In the same way that the lyrics to 19th century German lieder are considered poetry now, he thinks that “The Beatles” lyrics will be considered poetry by future generations. Poetry and prayer are so closely linked, and even though I’ve honestly never been a Dylan devotee, I can definitely see a prayerful poem in his lyrics.

This week, may we all help keep joy in one another’s hearts. May we sing one another’s songs so that none of us forgets our own. And may we all feel young enough to continue the work.

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And may there be cookies for everybody.

Hakol B’seder(?)

I know these streets so well now.

I haven’t been here that long, really. I’ve lived in many places for longer. But in Jerusalem, my feet are my primary form of transportation. In fact, with the exception of school-sponsored trips that require getting on a bus with my classmates, and very, very occasional cab rides, my feet are my only form of transportation.

My “commute” all semester was short but slow. The few blocks between my home and the Conservative Yeshiva where I studied became a nearly daily part of my life. I came to know each cafe, each corner store (most of them, it turns out, not on corners), each apartment building, each piece of graffiti, and, yes, each cat.

A lot has happened in four and a half months. The kittens in the Yeshiva Courtyard have grown from this:

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To this:

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I’ve learned some Hebrew– not nearly as much as I would have liked, but enough to at least be able to do more than point and grunt at the different salatim (toppings) when I order a falafel. My written Hebrew is ok. My spoken is pretty bad. It’s a work in progress.

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I’ve grown from barely being able to keep up with a traditional morning prayer service to leading one at the Egalitarian Kotel last week.

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I came here knowing almost no one, and I’ve made friends. Earlier today, I got lunch with a buddy to celebrate her move across town and my submission of my last paper of the semester. I texted another friend to ask if he and his family could store a suitcase for me for a couple of weeks, and when I went over to drop it off I ended up chatting with him and his family (and giving them a small gift to pass along to a classmate). This evening, I texted another friend to ask if I could sleep on her couch for a night, just before I move to Tel Aviv, when I get back from Europe.

I am so grateful for the people I have come to know, for the organic connections that I have formed with them as classmates and as friends who, one day, God willing, will be colleagues of mine.

Some of the people whom I have come to know have gone home. It feels very strange. I knew, entering into this year, that a number of students were only staying for a semester (or even part of a semester). I also knew that life happens, and that there could be other students whose plans changed and who left sooner than they anticipated, or who ended up not coming at all. Still, it’s strange to walk on the streets that I know so well and to remember that the places where I am used to finding some people no longer host them.

Soon, the apartment in which I am sitting will no longer host me. This is my last night as a resident of Jerusalem. I am mostly packed. This room, which has been mine for the better part of four months, is feeling less and less so as more and more of my things find their way into suitcases. Tomorrow, I’ll go to Tel Aviv and stay overnight at a random AirBnb near the train. On Friday, I’ll fly to Spain. When I return to Israel on February 1st, I’ll spend a night in Jerusalem (on my friend’s couch, as you now all know), and then I’ll move into my new apartment in Jaffa the next day. Jerusalem won’t be far away, and I’ll be down here a lot, but it will no longer be my base. It feels very strange.

One of the local graffiti tags in Jerusalem is a simple Hebrew phrase: “הכל בסדר- hakol b’seder” It means: “Everything’s ok.” I’ve seen the words stenciled onto construction walls, stones, and all other manner of surfaces. On my walk to and from school, on one of the blocks I know so well, there are two versions of this tag, both, in Israeli style, commented upon. The first says: “הכל לא בסדר” (Everything is not ok). img_9729

The second says: “הכל בסדר? טוב,תודה” (Is everything ok? Yes, thank you.) img_9722

At this moment, both of these speak to me. I am in a place of feeling that everything is not ok and at the same time of assuring myself that they are and being grateful for that. It has been a semester, and the semester is over. I have settled into something of a routine on the ark, but now it must shift. The lions are bored with their food. The squirrels have decided to become nocturnal. The corgis want to frolic more than their allotted recreation time allows. The wind has shifted and the ark is floating off in a different direction and I have to adjust to it.

Change does not come easy for me. It never has. I have gotten better, as is the nature (one would hope) of facing the same sorts of struggles again and again, but change remains hard. I made a good choice to go to Tel Aviv but I am still nervous about it, worried about what I am leaving behind knowingly and what struggles, both known and unknown, will come up in my new home.

And I am also excited, eager to experience a new city, to live in my own apartment, to buy a membership to the Tel Aviv-Yafo bike share program and enjoy a slightly longer (and faster) commute to class. I am excited to come to know other streets and to know the people who walk them.

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Shabbos Blessing- Week 12

Twelve is an important number for me when it comes to rabbinical school, because if all goes well I’ll have 12 semesters total of it. During my first semester at RRC, I decided that each of the 12 should correspond to one of Jacob’s (and Leah’s and Rachel’s and Zilpah’s and Billha’s) 12 sons. So far I’ve been through Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Napthali, Gad, and Asher. This semester is Issachar. Next semester will be Zebulon. Then it’ll be onto the babies: Joseph and Benjamin. Dinah, as the only daughter, will accompany me post-ordination. Anyway, twelve. Twelve tribes of Israel, twelve weeks in Israel. I’m well over the quarter-mark now, for which I’m grateful.

And gratefulness seems appropriate, considering the season. Last night, I had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with a number of other American rabbinical-student-orphans (and a few British and Israeli tagalongs). It felt very homey, from the stuffing to the pumpkin pie to the football game on in the living room. At the request of one of our British guests, we even did the “go around the table and share what you’re thankful for” game. I also managed to trick my computer into thinking that it was in America so that I could stream part of the parade.

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The funniest thing about Thanksgiving for me was that my brain didn’t seem to understand what to do with it. I kept mentally batting it around, trying to impose all manner of inapplicable norms. Thanksgiving, you may be astonished to learn, is neither an Israeli holiday nor a Jewish holiday. Yesterday, around noon, I had yet to buy the ingredients for the stuffing I would be bringing to dinner. My brain leapt around in panic: Would any stores still be open? Would they still have mushrooms? Would it take me over an hour to navigate the crazy busy aisles and check out?

My brain checked itself: “Wait, Emily. This is Israel. This is a normal Thursday. There are a lot of American ex-pats here, yes, but the stores are open and they will not be crazy crowded. You’re good.” I bought the things I needed easily and headed home.

In my kitchen, I set to preparing the stuffing. It’s not an old family recipe, per se, but it is the recipe that we use every year. It’s the best. Don’t argue. The last time I was abroad for Thanksgiving, I made it in a wok. It’s supposed to be baked. Here in Jerusalem, not only could I get all of the ingredients (including sourdough!), but I had an oven to bake it in. As I chopped celery and pre-heated the oven, my brain leapt around in panic: How soon was sunset? Would the stuffing be done in time to be kosher?

My brain checked itself: “Wait, Emily. This is Thanksgiving. This is a secular holiday, not shabbat or chag. You can bring things cooked after dark to dinner. You’re good.”

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My Thanksgiving experience fits rather beautifully into this week’s blessing, which comes from one of my rabbi teachers at RRC. I think that this is the first clergy blessing I’ve shared so far, but don’t worry–there are more coming (and if you’re still considering sending one along, please do! I’m not at 40 yet!). She wrote:

I definitely have a blessing for you dear Ereleh: May you experience many moments of belonging and feel what it feels like to be an insider, and may you have many insights available to you as an outsider.

A lot of people here think I’m Israeli until I open my mouth. I don’t know if it’s my looks or how I dress or if it’s just the culture or what, but I get asked for directions a lot. At first glance, people think that I belong here and know what’s up.

I don’t. I am still an outsider here and expect to remain so throughout my 40 weeks. I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. I’m an American. My future is bound up in that land much more than in this one, particularly in wake of the elections. I want to have a good, growthful experience here. I want to develop a deeper cultural and historical understanding of this place. After I’m home, I want to continue to engage in activism related to this place, because this place claims to speak for American Jews as well as Israeli Jews and I therefore feel at least some measure of responsibility to be engaged. But I have no intention of making aliyah. This is not home. I am an outsider.

Yet, I have had many moments of belonging and feeling like an insider. When we shared what we were grateful for last night, I said that I was grateful to have seen that the future of liberal Judaism was so much bigger than just RRC. I have no regrets about choosing Reconstructionism, but being in Philly– even though it’s actually less than 2 hours from NYC– has kept me from feeling tied into the rabbinical school worlds of NYC (and LA on the West Coast). Here, I study regularly with colleagues from JTS, Hebrew College, and Ziegler, and I’ve gotten to know HUC students as well. People have really welcomed me in. Before September, I only knew one of the perhaps 20 people (mostly rabbinical students) I celebrated Thanksgiving with last night. Almost every Friday night or Saturday afternoon (or both!) I am invited to a shabbat meal. I am so grateful to be forming connections with people whom I may one day share close professional ties. I’m eager, when we all return to the States, to stay in contact. We’re going to have so much work to do together.

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Look how big they’ve gotten! Big kittens! Hillary is consoling Kaplan. 

We’re Still Here

“We’re still here,” I said to my best friend. We had been silent skyping. Video and audio were on, but there was nothing to say. The night was over. The race was called. We lost. My mind was everywhere at once. On my college roommate’s infant daughter, the one I met right before flying to Jerusalem, the one who I thought, with such joy, wouldn’t remember a time when a woman had never been president. On my mother, staying with her mother, who was born when women had only had the vote for 12 years. On my grandfather– a wonderful, liberal, social justice-seeking lawyer– who passed away last Saturday and whom I have been holding so close and missing so much and whom I knew would have been so happy to see Hillary elected. On a group of friends, camping together every memorial day weekend, and among them a neighbor whom I look to as a sign that, yes, there is such a thing as a politician in politics for the right reasons. On a group of rabbinical students, gathered in the wee hours of the morning, expecting a party and tears of joy, finding tears for different reasons as an unmarked map began to bleed. On an exquisite dawn with a crystal blue sky as the same rabbinical students stood in a golden courtyard and prayed, as I tried to work up the nerve to sing God’s praises at a time when I couldn’t imagine singing anything, as I said kaddish for my grandfather and for the sort of American progress he fought to forge. On what it meant to be so far away. On what was left. On where the fight was headed.

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“We’re still here.” My Grandpa Ken was born in 1927. He was white and privileged and brilliant. His father was a politician. His lineage in this land went back to the 1630s in New Hampshire, making my sisters and me 13th generation Americans. He could have fallen right into the false nostalgia that Trump champions. The “Good Ol’ Days” when people like my grandfather were openly afforded more respect and more opportunity and more allowance than anybody else. (Of course they still are today, but many people try to hide it now.) At age 17, my Grandpa Ken learned Japanese in less than a year and was sent to Gifu to listen for insurrection right after World War II ended. My Grandpa Ken went to Yale and to Harvard Law. The CIA wanted him, but he didn’t want them. He could have looked at Trump and thought back to his youth and said “It was easier then.” He didn’t. He could have taken the $10,000 dollars my great grandfather offered him not to marry my Portuguese (Azorian) grandmother. He didn’t. He could have been skittish around people of color in San Francisco after a childhood largely lived apart from them in New England. He wasn’t. He was a Democrat. He pursued justice. He wanted everybody in this country and in this world to have opportunity.

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My Grandpa Ken was diagnosed with terminal cancer less than two weeks ago. We expected him to have months to live. Instead he went in a matter of days, passing in his sleep in his own bed in his own home. It has been terribly difficult to be here, away from family as I cope with the shock and grief that I would have in any circumstance but that are amplified by being apart from my loved ones. I am so sad that he is gone. I am so grateful that he didn’t have to experience a long decline that he would have hated. I am so glad that he didn’t have to see what happened this morning. He would have been so excited for Hillary. I don’t know what he would have managed to say about Trump.

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“We’re still here.” I kept thinking it to myself as the map turned red, saying it to myself as I walked Jerusalem’s stone sidewalks, feeling the words cut through the pain and the rage and the pulsing fear for myself and for my communities and for the people who carry less privilege than I do and who have so much more to lose. And it is so hard to be here, away from family as I cope with the shock and grief that I would have in any circumstance but that are amplified by being apart from loved ones. And I am glad to be far from home, because here at least there is no celebration. Here there are not the questions with each set of eyes that I meet of “Did you vote for her? Did you vote for him? Did you sit this out?”

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Last Wednesday I woke early to fight for women to be treated as full people at the Western Wall. This Wednesday I woke early to witness a woman earn full equality in the White House. Last Wednesday my body was shoved about. My breath quickened with anxiety and purpose. This Wednesday my body was untouched but my heart tugged itself inward, crafting a shell from which to peer out into the world. How could the world be as it was? How could the hope and joy and excitement that had been building for months be turned to nothing? I wanted to close my eyes and open them to a new start. But there was no going back.

“We’re still here.” What do we do when it seems hopeless? We remember that our hearts can be safe in their shells but they will never be able to grow there. A heart can only grow if it is free, and anything that is free can be broken, and so we must place our hearts into one another’s care to risk and to thrive. And together, we must offer our hearts to our enemies until our eyes acknowledge mutual sparks of divinity. There is work to be done, and we need to fight, and our fights must be fed with love.

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“We’re still here.” On Tuesday morning, I put two notes inside the Kotel. One was for my Grandpa Ken, who wasn’t a fan of religion but was a fan of me. The other was for all of us:

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I don’t believe in a God that sways elections, but I believe in us. It is easy to feel that our votes did not count, that our voices were not heard, that our work was for nothing. But there is still work to do. This isn’t a time to bolt. It’s a time to buckle down to help those who can’t bolt. We have to hold each other up and we have to be there for those who will be hit hardest. This is not the time to give up. It’s the time to rise up.

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“We’re still here.” We can’t always have our sages with us. My grandfather is gone. His legacy is not. The election is over. The work is not. The sun rose this morning and it was beautiful. It will rise tomorrow. We are headed into the unknown wilderness with the wisdom of what has come before and the hope of what comes after. The Israelites wandered there for 40 years. Luckily for us, we only have 4. May we be the pillars of cloud and fire that show one another the way.

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Sniffling into Yom Kippur

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I really want to sneeze. I’ve been sniffling and sniffling for the last couple days. I don’t know if it’s allergies or a cold or what. The entire time it’s been a drip drip drip kinda thing. I’ve gone through over a box of tissues. I’ve swallowed a dozen cups of ginger tea. I’ve been sleepy. When, once every couple of hours, I actually manage a sneeze, it feels awesome. But, most of the time, I get that itch in my nostrils and I hope and I wait and then…nothing.

In just a couple of hours, the sun will begin to set and Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, will begin. I’ve spent most of the day relaxing, drinking water, eating small meals in preparation for the fast, and trying to sneeze.

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The thing about Yom Kippur, and, well, there’s a reasonable chance that I’ll look at this later and ask myself what in the world I was thinking, but here goes… the thing about Yom Kippur is that it’s kinda like a much-needed sneeze for the soul.

Life is busy. We have our routines, however freewheeling or regimented. Some of us have mindfulness practices where we take a few moments to reflect on things, but many more of us (too often myself included) do not. We sniffle. When things go wrong we suck them up, and when they start making their way out we suck them up again or wipe them away as quickly as possible so we can get on with things. We don’t want to sneeze because that’s a disturbance. People might look at us. We might have to say “excuse me.” They might say “bless you” (or, around here, “לבראיות”- for health). We might have to loudly blow our noses. We might even have to stand up with a hand over our noses and run to the bathroom for a tissue. It’s a disturbance. Afterwards, though, we feel better.

Yom Kippur is one heck of a disturbance. For over 24 hours we don’t eat. We don’t drink. We don’t bathe. We don’t put on lotions or other cosmetic products (some say this extends to things like deodorant). We don’t wear leather shoes. We don’t have sex (or, in some traditions, even share a bed with our partners). In short, it’s unpleasant. Afterwards, though, we feel better.

On Yom Kippur, stuff comes out. The sniffles turn to sneezes as we confess, as a community, what all of us have done wrong in the past year. We don’t confess our individual transgressions to our rabbis but rather confess our collective sins to one another and to God. There’s an accounting, a reminder that no one among us is fully guilty or fully innocent. We share responsibility for our communities large and small.We hold one another up.

Some people think of Yom Kippur as granting a blank slate for the new year. For me, it’s more about taking stock of the previous year’s successes and short-comings. It’s about moving forward into the new year with renewed conviction and perspective. It’s taking a full, deep, uninhibited breath after a sneeze, before the inevitable drip drip drips start up again.

Gmar chatimah tova–May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for good, and may your fast be meaningful.

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PS- In additional to the traditional liturgy, there are some awesome alternative (social justice-focused) confessional prayers out there. Here are just a few for Jews and non-Jews alike: