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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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:


(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.


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.


Shabbos Blessing- Week 3

(New to weekly blessings? Here’s more about them.)

It’s been a rough week. I don’t want to bore anybody with all the details at the moment, but let’s just say that the metaphorical rain is getting to me. In short, I’m still not 100% better from the food poisoning or whatever that was, I’m feeling a more general loneliness, and even though I’ve only actually been here for a little over two weeks, it feels far longer. Patience and self-compassion aren’t in the greatest supply on the ark. And I’m not even dealing with big cats.


It is clear from looking at his face that if this cat were as big as a lion, he would eat me, and then it would be very difficult to have any patience at all. 

I feel really fortunate to have a blessing to bring me out of this week and into the next one. This week’s blessing comes from another former-colleague-turned-friend. She was a marvelous mentor for me in a job I held in the first half of rabbinical school, and I’m so grateful for what she has to say:

May your studies and experiences bring blessings to you, all in your circle, and radiate out into our world, inspiring all of us to seek the spark of the Divine in ourselves and each other.

To be honest, this blessing is a tall order, especially this week. I’m at that point where my studies don’t feel full of blessings. Right now they just feel hard, and I feel incompetent. That will change with time, but maybe not in the next week.

Experiences are different. I know I can find the blessings, however small, in those.

Here’s one: today, I bought bulgerit cheese. Somebody told me that it was more like American-style feta than the Israeli-style feta I got last week, and so I figured I would give it a shot. I like it! It’s not feta, but it’s yummy and it made my pasta yummy and I had the blessing of a good meal. I also had the blessing of a good walk today. I didn’t go very far at all from school, but putting my feet on new streets felt calming and exciting at once. These things are small, but they are essential, because they are so very normal.


Seeking the spark of the Divine in myself is a constant struggle for me– more-so, most of the time, than seeking the spark of the Divine in others. I’m glad for the reminder to look for it.

Shabbat shalom. I’m headed to Nava Tehila tonight for the first time. I’m pretty excited. May your shabbat (or your Friday night, if you prefer!) be marvelous.