Presidents’ Day

We sat on blankets in a park, the remains of shabbos lunch spread out amongst us. A lonely piece of sweet potato quiche, part of a pot of quinoa, endless containers of hummus and vegetable dips, a crust of challah, half a loaf of chocolate babka, a couple of cookies, the last few sips of a glass bottle of red wine and plastic bottles of tea and juice. We had eaten very well. Most of us had given up on sitting up and had flopped forward on bellies or back on backs to stare at the still-blue sky. We came from four American rabbinical schools. We were of different generations and aimed for different futures. Some of us had known each other for years. Others of us met in recent weeks. All of us carried privilege in our white faces and high education levels. All of us lacked it in being non-male and non-Christian. All of us were afraid.


A shadowed rose- photographed November 9, 2016

It was the week after the election. Our lunch had been planned as much out of necessity as out of desire. We needed a space to process, to air our concerns, to celebrate whatever we could find to celebrate, and to hear the divrei torah (sermons) of rabbis in the states who would be speaking about the election results that shabbat. Israelis we knew, would have more distance from the election than we did. We needed to be as tucked into our American communities as we possibly could be. We passed around words of comfort, reading a few paragraphs each, some of us fighting tears, others letting them come. We had ideas of what the future might hold, but we couldn’t know.


“I think we’re going to have to be more forward with our politics,” I told my classmate as we walked to class a few days later. “I feel like a lot of people while they’re in rabbinical school try to keep things quieter. I mean, you have people like Jill Jacobs but a lot of us try not to burn bridges. But with this, I don’t know, I think we’re all just going to have to be more forward.”

If all goes according to plan, I will become a rabbi in June of 2018. It will be 5 months before mid-term elections. I will be spending the year prior looking for work. I will want to appeal to synagogues and campuses and anywhere else that might seem like a good fit. My instinct, one that aligns with what I’ve been told by my teachers and mentors, is to be careful. Don’t post things that could be interpreted as inflammatory. Don’t get too political. Don’t put anything on Facebook or on Twitter that you wouldn’t write on a postcard. Get to know your communities before you push them. Listen and do not speak boldly until you have some notion of how people will respond.

All of that makes sense. It’s advice that I’ve generally tried to follow over the years, getting publicly political only when it’s necessary because what’s happening is so right or so wrong. But right now so much is so wrong, and I am not silent, and I am grateful that so many others are vocal and are taking action alongside me.

It’s February 21st. Inauguration was one month and one day ago. Yesterday was Presidents’ Day, and I finished this:


I knitted it with yarn that I originally purchased to make hats for my sister’s boyfriend’s niece and nephew. I also ended up making two pairs of baby booties, another baby hat, and a hat for a toddler. I couldn’t help smiling when I thought of little children wearing the same yarn that’s now shouting out this message. They will grow up in a world where they will have to be taught to persist. Luckily, my people know how to persist. We teach our children words like these, diligently, passing them from generation to generation. We won’t stop now.

Until we have a new president, we will persist. Until we have a better justice system, we will persist. Until we all learn to look one another in the eye and see the image of God, we will persist. Each of us is a loop that matters for our collective future, and without a single one of us the resistance would be incomplete. We persisted. We persist. We will persist.


Shabbos Blessing- Week 20

I am halfway to 40. I am halfway to 40 and the primordial waters are swirling around us. I am halfway to 40 and today, of all days, I am no longer certain that the ark can float. I am halfway to 40 and I have no home in Jerusalem anymore and I have no home in Jaffa yet and I worry about everyone who has a home in the United States and about everyone whose home is impacted by the United States and that means that I worry about everyone. It is the stroke of midnight on the 20th week and it is January 20th and this week my blessing isn’t for me. It goes out to him.


Dear President Obama,

I, like many Americans, first met you in the summer of 2004 on CSPAN. I was about to begin my senior year of high school. It was August. My parents, staunch democrats, were watching coverage of the DNC Convention, and I remember my Mom calling me downstairs to the TV. She sounded so excited. “You have to hear this guy,” she said.

I went downstairs, looked at the TV, and saw you. Barack Obama. State senator from Illinois. Talking about America.

“He’s gonna be president one day,” I thought. I was thinking of 2016, 2020 maybe. You were still just starting out, really. You weren’t known.

November 2004 came along, and on the day of the election I went to school wearing a tie-dye shirt plastered with “Kerry/Edwards” and “Anybody But Bush” stickers. It was so hard to be 17. I understood, at least as much as my 18-year-old classmates, the ramifications of the day. I wanted to take part, but I was 7 months and 18 days short of that magic number.

You know what happened next. The last four Bush years were rough for America. They weren’t so bad for me. I started college, got involved with local politics in St. Paul, and studied history. I pulled for you from the beginning of the 2008 electoral process. In June of 2008, I turned 21, and you were in the Twin Cities on the night that you got enough primary votes to declare yourself the presumed Democratic candidate. I stood in line for hours waiting for you and Michelle and stood on the floor of the Xcel Center, mere feet from you both, cheering myself hoarse.


November 2008 came along, and on the day of the election I voted in a presidential race for the first time. I remember feeling lucky to be in a state with paper ballots. It was powerful to fill in the bubble next to your name instead of just pressing a button. My first presidential vote was for a black man. I felt like there was a possibility of progress.

That night, friends and I gathered. Stereotypical millennials that we were, we had the TV tuned to Jon Stewart, and it was from his mouth, quirked into a suppressed expression of glee, that we heard “And Barack Obama is going to be the next President of the United States.” California’s polls had just closed. It was settled. Still, we couldn’t believe it. We flipped channels frantically (this was before everyone had an iPhone), settling onto a more reputable news source. It was true. You had won.

We screamed and hugged and cried and laughed. It was cold in Minnesota (shocker), but we burst out of the house, shouting our delight, listening to others yelling back their own. People driving by honked and flashed their lights. We ran the few blocks back to campus, which was in a completely ecstatic state. Students swarmed the quad and held raves in laundry rooms.

The next day was Wednesday, which meant the possibility of class. I sat in the music building, staring at the front page of the local paper, which of course featured you and your family walking out to offer an acceptance speech. My classmates sat around me. Our middle-aged teacher showed up. He looked at the paper and then at us. “We’re not going to learn about Beethoven today.” His next words were couched in reverent, hopeful disbelief. “I still can’t believe it. These are the people who are going to the White House.”

You went to the White House. Congress fought you. State governments fought you. You got so much less done than you had imagined. Your hair went grey. Your daughters grew up. You never quit trying. You created jobs. You boosted fuel efficiency standards. You acknowledged institutionalized racism. You brought the vast majority of our troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. You repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell.” You nominated Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, only the 3rd and 4th women ever to serve, for the Supreme Court. You passed the ACA. 

I was lucky. I turned 26 in 2013. I found temporary insurance for six months and was one of the millions of Americans to enroll through the Marketplace as soon as it was available. The website was awful, as you just might remember, but my eventual coverage was good. I am afraid that, very soon, insurance companies will be able to deny me coverage because I have seen a therapist. I am afraid that, even if I do acquire insurance, my premiums will be high because I am a woman of childbearing age. I am afraid that the disappearance of subsidies may mean that I cannot afford to be insured. I am afraid that my body, that vessel created בצלם אלהים– in God’s own image– may be placed under the jurisdiction of others. 

And that’s just for me. I am so scared for so many others for so many reasons. I am scared for people of color who are struggling against a system that is stacked against them in practice and in law and that may be strengthened in the four years to come.I am scared for LGBTQ people and their families and their ability to stay legally and safely as such. I am scared for children who will continue to grow in the next four years in a nation that may not prioritize educating them. I am scared for Jews and Muslims whose places of worship and community centers are being threatened with bombs and fires. I am scared for every one of us walking down our own streets in our own cities who will be at the mercy of anybody able to purchase a gun under laws that are already too lax and are likely to become more so. I am scared for our nation’s allies and neighbors. I am scared for our future.

I imagine that you’re scared too. I imagine that you’re afraid of what your successor will do to the America you have been working to make greater for your entire adult life.

And I imagine that you’re relieved to be stepping back a little, to let your grey hairs rest, to watch your children finish becoming adults without having to look away from your family and to the world every time anything comes up. I imagine that you’re eager to be able to speak your mind a little more. I imagine that on January 21st you will want to sleep in and will instead snap awake terribly early, only to remember that you aren’t president any longer. I imagine that you will watch the steam rise from your coffee and try to think of the good. And I imagine, seeing as we’ve never met, that I am wrong about some of these imaginings.

Today, I saw a video of you and Michelle at the shelter where you donated Malia and Sasha’s old swing set. I saw you do the presidential wave and smile, but I also saw you lean down to speak with a small child and to push her on the swings. There was press filming you, sure, but this wasn’t about re-election anymore. This was just you being a good guy, sending your legacy forward.

You’re a good guy, President Obama. You aren’t perfect. There were things that I wanted from you that you didn’t offer. There were things that I expected from you that you didn’t deliver. But I am still proud to call you my president. I am proud of what you did for America and of what you tried to do. I was a high school and college student under your predecessor, but you are the only president I have known as an adult. I will become a rabbi under your successor and instead of seeing a role model in the White House I will see an adversary, but I will hold up my community and it will hold me and we will continue to push for change we can believe in. 

I am grateful to you, Mr. President– grateful for your words and for your acts and, yes, for your hope. “Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope.” We need that audacity today, and we will need it for the next four years. Thank you for teaching us how to find it.

Blessings, Peace, and Love,



Shabbos Blessing- Week 10

(New to shabbos blessings? Learn more here.)


I’m just going to jump right in, since I think blessings this week are about as necessary as breathing. Plus I gotta keep it quick, because I went on another trip today and shabbat is super early again (as it will be for a good long while). This week’s blessing comes from a choir friend, who emailed me shortly after I arrived here. He sent this link to a song (lyrics are here) and wrote:

A song for your journey: You might already know this song. I heard it for the first time about two weeks ago, and I can’t stop playing it. I find it incredibly beautiful and calming and thought it might bring you some peace and happiness as you continue your journey in Israel.

Bill Clinton came into office when I was 5. At the age when I was playing with dolls, the nation was entering its first democrat-controlled White House since my Reagan-era birth. I came to political consciousness under the end of Clinton and throughout the Bush years. I cast my first presidential ballot for Barack Obama and followed him joyfully through re-election. I have yet to vote for a white man for president, and I’m damn proud of my chosen party for that.

This song is indeed calming, a lullaby sorely needed after this week. It’s incredible how healing music can be. Yesterday I was texting with my Dad, who was excited to be conducting an orchestra he works with in a political piece that would let him get out some of his election-related feelings. And I know I’ve been strumming my guitar and singing quite a lot over the last 48 hours. And listening to quite a lot of Hamilton.


Scene from a “Piano Festival” in Jerusalem a couple weeks ago

Also in the interests of calm, I bought this marvelous chai earlier this week. The milk was so foamy and I accidentally got so excited about drinking it all that I gave myself a cinnamon unibrow that I didn’t notice for hours. It’s important to drink things like foamy chai these days. We need to take care of ourselves to stay woke for the work.


May this first shabbat, this first period of perfection-in-creation since the creation of President-Elect Trump, be a period of calm for you. May you use it to care for yourself so that you can care for others. It’s been 3 days. We’re still here.



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.


“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?”


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.


“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:


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.


“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.


Messages at the Wall



I almost jumped. Caper berries, it turns out, can make quite a noise when they fall over a dozen feet and hit a single sheet of paper.

We were in the midst of selikhot, a set of penitential prayers that form part of the morning service just before Rosh Hashanah and between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Within selikhot, we were in the midst of takhanun.

When I started rabbinical school, I couldn’t have told you what selikhot or takhanun were. Like many elements of traditional Judaism, they weren’t a part of the Reform tradition that I grew up in, and I never came to explore them as a (very) young adult. To be perfectly honest, I still wouldn’t call takhanun an integrated part of my Jewish experience, because it’s not part of the “typical” davenning at RRC. I’m becoming familiar with the words now as I’m becoming familiar with the way that folks at the Conservative Yeshiva daven in general, and I’m learning that takhanun strums a deep chord in the Jewish narrative. As we pray, our foreheads tucked onto our forearms, we admit exhaustion, and we more-or-less beg for God to remember us. I would call this part of the service less a supplication than a heartfelt plea born from centuries of often painful exile. There is a brutal humanity to the words, and although I don’t agree with all of them, I feel power in them.

Yesterday, when I davenned takhanun, I was quite tired. I had arrived home at 11:30 the night before after a choir rehearsal (conducted by a Hebrew-speaking Frenchman to a room of largely British and American Hebrew-speaking-except-for-me expats, where we sang in Latin and Italian). I had slept for a few hours and woken up at 4 to watch the first presidential debate.

Why, you might ask? Because I really wanted to see it live before all of the spin. Because I wanted to feel connected to home. Because I only had class the following day until noon and knew that I’d be able to relax and nap, if needed, after that. Because #imwithher, and if you’re not we should talk.

I finished watching and thought to myself: “I’m glad I get to pray soon.”


At the Kotel, we davenned at the egalitarian section. It’s probably not what you think of when you think of the Western Wall, but right now it’s the only part of the wall where people of all genders can publicly pray together. The Conservative Yeshiva davens there one morning a week. As we davenned selikhot, I tried to think about a world full of communal transgressions and accountability and tried not to think about the (fill-in-the-blank-however-you-like) mansplainer who had filled my wee hours.


The caper berry hit my sheet. I was startled from the words of prayer. A purple smudge marked the word צדיקים– tzadikim– righteous ones–pursuers of justice.

I don’t believe in an intervening God, at least not to the degree of a God who would drop a caper berry onto my selikhot supplement. But I do believe in a God that:

חונן לאדם דעת, ומלמד לאנוש בינה-  a God who “graces humans with knowledge and teaches humans wisdom,” as we say in the amidah. So, I guess you could say that although I don’t believe in a God who made the caper berry hit a word that reminded me to pursue justice, I do believe in a God who endowed an interconnected universe with the smarts to see a smudge as a symbol.

It’s going to be a tough season. Tzadikim are going to be important. Let’s chase justice together.