Shabbos Blessing- Week 13

It’s raining. Not metaphorically this time, as was the case when I first got here. Nope. These are real raindrops, falling from a darkening sky onto a darkening ground. Shabbat starts at 3:55 PM. 3:55 PM. That is not night time. Except that now apparently it is, because this is Jerusalem and it is December 1st and the 2nd of Kislev (in the Hebrew calendar) and this is simply a time when day is short. And it is a time when there is serious rain.

Fall/Winter just all of a sudden showed up here, and the rain came with it. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. On Simchat Torah, over a month ago, we changed a single line in the second blessing of the amidah, one of the central prayers of the morning, afternoon, and evening services. From Passover last spring until Simchat Torah, we said: “מוריד הטל– morid hatal– [God] causes the dew to fall.” On Simchat Torah, we started to say: “משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם– mashiv haruah umorid hageshem– [God] makes the wind blow and the rain fall.” Well, the shift worked.  The rain is falling. The ark is floating even more and animals are getting grumpy about it.

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I’ve always loved the little bits of acknowledgement of the natural world peppered throughout the siddur. Often, in the States, they aren’t exactly accurate. We don’t have a proper rainy season in Philadelphia. Here, though, the weather-related snatches of prayer make a certain amount of sense.

I enjoy thinking of the crafters of our prayers being tuned into the rhythms of the natural climates around them. I enjoy the idea of them asking for rain and expressing gratitude for its arrival. And it’s not even just gratitude. The blessing where we talk about God’s bringing of rain is a blessing proclaiming God’s power. It comes into the prayer between lines about God giving life to the dead (or enlivening all life, depending on your tradition) and God offering lovingkindness. Weather is important. Rain is crucial. Water matters. Rabbi Arthur Waskow and many other teachers have a lot to say about that (and perhaps I will too in another post), but for now, I’m just glad to point out the connection. And to remind myself that, even if I am not having the most fun getting soaking wet walking about, the rain is good for the earth, and global warming hasn’t messed everything up so much already that the seasons are completely off.

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Rainy balcony

This week’s blessing comes from one of my grandparents. I miss my Grandpa Ken every day. Today is actually my Grannie M’s birthday, her first without my Grandpa Ken. I’ve been thinking of her a lot today, as I have every day since his passing. Even as I miss the grandparents who are gone, I’m so grateful to still have grandparents in my life in both tangible and intangible ways. I know that a lot of people my age aren’t so fortunate. 

 May you find in the everyday the transcendent you are seeking.

I just had lunch with a friend from the States who lives in Jerusalem. We sat in a restaurant that, were it not for the mostly-Hebrew being spoken around us and the fact that my club sandwich centered around halloumi cheese instead of turkey or ham, could have passed for a cafe back home. We chatted about all manner of things and it felt wonderfully “every day.”

Yesterday, I went to Women of the Wall to celebrate the turning from the month of Heshvan to the month of Kislev. I felt a transcendence there, particularly in light of the death threats leveled this week at the leader of this organization and the leader of the Reform movement in the USA. The numbers were smaller than last month, and the security check was more thorough– I actually got patted down, and they not only opened every compartment of my backpack but opened my tallis bag– but those of us who were there made our voices heard.

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(I’m in the pink raincoat back there.)

Tonight, I’ll brave the (hopefully) drizzle to go to Nava Tehila, and tomorrow morning I’ll brave it again to c0-lead Reconstructionist services. If any locals/Jerusalem visitors are reading, feel free to join us at 9:30 at HUC-JIR on King David Street. There will be signs, and a dairy potluck will follow. In the meantime, candle lighting is literally 3 minutes off. Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh tov, everyone.

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Kol Haneshama T’halel Yah

כל הנשמה תהלל יה, הלליויה

Let all that has breath praise Yah, Halleluyah!

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Last Wednesday morning, I went to the Kotel.

When a Jewish man goes to the kotel he can go to the men’s section. He can wear a kippah, tallit, and tefillin if he chooses. If he does not have these things, other men will likely offer them to him for his time at the wall. He may pray on his own or he may pray in a minyan, a group of Jews. These minyanim pray aloud, with men leading different sections of the service, and read from Torah. There are approximately 300 Torah scrolls on the men’s side of the wall, which means that it’s pretty easy to snag one if you’re a man wanting to read Torah.

The women, who have much less space allocated than than the men do, have 0 Torah scrolls. Women are not permitted to pray loudly. They are not permitted to read Torah. They are not permitted to wear tallitot or tefillin. They are not even allowed to pray aloud in organized minyanim.

Last Wednesday morning, I went to the Kotel wearing my tallis. Last Wednesday morning was Rosh Hodesh. For over 25 years, the Women of the Wall have been fighting against Orthodox control of the Western Wall, asserting that all Jews have the right to pray at the Kotel. Once a month, on the first or second day of the Hebrew month, they hold a protest at the wall and try to have a service. Their members have been arrested countless times and subjected to intense counter protests.

Last Wednesday morning, for the first time, multiple Torah scrolls were brought into the women’s section. Last Wednesday morning, for the first time, I saw Jews attack a Torah. I saw men with black hats shove a man without one to the ground. He fell so that the holy book his Jewish brothers sought to rip from him was cushioned against his chest.

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Last Wednesday morning, I prayed over the sounds of small boys running around the women’s section with piercing whistles because their rabbis told them to. I prayed over the shouts of men and women who thought that what we were doing was wrong. I formed a barrier with my body to keep women who didn’t believe in the rights of other women from taking our Torahs away from us. I scolded a child who tried to rip my tallis away from me and tried to rip tefillin off of a female classmate. I bent to his level and calmly asked him to tell me what I was doing wrong. He screamed “מספיק נאצי!– enough, nazi!” in my face and ran off.

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Last Wednesday morning, I helped other women who won’t pray with a mechitza– a gender binary-based barrier– to form a mechitza so that women who couldn’t pray without one still felt safe, as male photographers and counter protestors came to the women’s side of the wall. Last Wednesday morning, I saw men standing on chairs on the men’s side of the wall, holding prayerbooks, lending their support through their own prayers.

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Last Wednesday morning, I used my body as a block, locking elbows with fellow rabbinical students to keep counter protestors from taking or defacing holy words. I felt immediate threat to my body as people were shoved into me and tried to shove through me, as they screamed at me for daring to pray. I felt my heart pound with life and with commitment to equal treatment. I felt my voice soar.

Last Wednesday morning, I heard the line “כל הנשמה תהלל יה, הלליויה- Kol Haneshama T’halel Yah!- Let everything that has breath praise God!” louder than I ever have. Last Wednesday morning, for the first time, I felt like a full person at the Kotel.

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(This Wednesday, I had damn well better find out that being a full person while female is still possible back home.)

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Shabbos Blessing- Week 6

(New to Shabbos Blessings? Learn more here.)

Six is my favorite number. Has been since I was six. I really, really liked being six. I loved first grade and my marvelous teacher Mrs. Lacy, who told me to always do my best (something my parents remind me of regularly). I loved going on my first solo plane ride and experiencing Disney World with my grandparents. I loved being a munchkin in a “professional” production of The Wizard of Oz. I loved becoming a big sister (again!) with the birth of baby (ahem–almost 23-year-old) Olivia–whose own blog is definitely worth a click. It was just a good year.

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I don’t have a picture of 6-year-old me, but I do have this marvelous (and still entirely accurate) note from my first grade journal.

It’s my sixth shabbat in Jerusalem, and this week’s blessing comes from a Philly music friend who is NOT a rabbinical student. When I first got to Philadelphia five years ago, I didn’t think I would be able to make non-RRC friends. I was so busy, and I tend to be way too socially shy for my own good. But, I love to sing. Despite my fears, I auditioned for a new chamber choir: PhilHarmonia.

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Here we are rehearsing for our concert last May. We got to sing on a ship. Pretty sweet.

There’s something special about music friends. At some point I’ll dedicate a proper post to the impact that music has on my life as a future rabbi and as a human being, but for now I’ll just say that music opens a deeper place in me than almost anything else, and friends who sing with me have access to that place. I’m glad to have gotten this blessing from a choir friend I couldn’t even imagine making when I first got to Philadelphia. It makes me wonder what things I can’t imagine are waiting for me here.

I admire your pursuit of truth, understanding, and your commitment to community. We need more people like you, and we are cheering for you.

I’m not gonna lie– this one made me blush a little. Yeah, I’m after truth and understanding in my communities. Sometimes I wish that I weren’t. I wish that I were content to sit back and observe and let the world and the people who dwell in it be where they’re at. I’m usually not. This semester, I’ve really been trying. There are so many bits of life here in Jerusalem that push my social justice buttons, and I am constantly stuck on the tug of war rope, not knowing whether to pull, to dig in my heels, or to let myself temporarily stumble a little in the other direction. I am a guest to this land and to this culture and even to the American-based movement in which I am studying. I want to honor that by learning and appreciating both the parallels and departures from my Jewish “home base.” But that can be hard. An anecdote from yesterday:

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(This would be a good moment to explain that Sukkot is coming. It’s the Jewish Harvest Festival, and it’s got some pretty sweet relics of religious syncretism from who knows when. Either that or this ritual was always ours and we’ve just held onto it for ages. For Sukkot, it’s traditional to buy a lulav and an etrog. An etrog is a citrus fruit kinda sorta like a lemon. A lulav is made up of three leafy/reedy plants. As part of the celebration of Sukkot, you wave the lulav and etrog around.)

Yesterday, a bunch of students from the Yeshiva went on a lulav and etrog buying adventure and then proceeded to the shuk, the huge market place in Jerusalem. I was with a female classmate of mine who wanted to buy, among other things, pickles. We went up to the stand and the picklemonger saw my classmate’s lulav sticking out from her cart.

(This would be a good moment to explain that, like many, many mitzvot-commandments- that traditionally must be performed by all men, women are not obligated to shake the lulav. They can, but they are not expected to and in some traditions are discouraged from participating.)

My friend ordered her pickles and the picklemonger (this is now a word, red squiggly line. I don’t care what you say) looked at the lulav and asked: “Is that for you?”

My friend replied with a simple “Yes,” to which the picklemonger responded, chortling, “Where is your kippa?”

(This would be a good moment to that explain that, despite their being no legal Jewish ruling regarding the wearing of kippot by men or women, the expectation here in Israel is that religious men will wear a kippa and religious women absolutely will not. Married religious women cover their hair but not with kippot. In the States, women can wear kippot in many communities, but in Israel women who wear kippot on the streets are often heckled.)

My friend didn’t reply. The picklemonger continued: “Do you know how to use it?” He then proceeded, before she could answer, to mime the proper way to shake a lulav. My friend informed him stiffly that she had learned when she was very little and took the pickles. We headed off.

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What were we supposed to do? We could have educated the picklemonger about practices in liberal Judaism, or we could have told him that we were both rabbinical students and watched his head spin as he tried to understand what that could possibly mean, or we could have just assumed that he meant well and gone on from there. But none of those felt simultaneously worthwhile and authentic. So the interaction has stuck with me. I don’t feel particular emotional investment in it, but it’s yet another reminder of just how icky it is not to be seen for who you are and what you know. There are countless examples of this  within the Jewish world (certainly not only connected to gender) and it’s something we desperately have to work on across the board.

On a happier note, I love the idea of people cheering for me from afar, even if this blessing writer did invoke the royal “we.” I’m very lucky to have this opportunity, and it’s tough, and I’m grateful and sad and excited all at once. At least yesterday’s shuk trip resulted in some excellent falafel (and a six-pack of Israeli brews and a bunch of spices and pecans and challah and pita and hummus and really I can’t complain at all). Shabbat Shalom, folks.

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