37-From Yom Kippur to Sukkot

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


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.


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.



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



Shabbos Blessing- Week 33

It’s beginning to feel a lot like summer.


Perhaps it’s because I haven’t had class for almost two weeks. Perhaps it’s because the temperature keeps climbing (it’s 85°F right now!). Perhaps it’s because I live in a beach town and in the last week especially everyone in the world seems to have remembered that.


All I know is, it feels like summer.

I still have more than a month of class left. I’ve got some busy weeks and weekends coming up. I’ve got summer plans to figure out and fall jobs and housing to begin to find. I have homework and reading to do (perhaps, y’know, at the beach). IMG_1661.jpg

Despite feeling like summer, it’s not. I just have to remember that long enough to get to Shavuot.

So here’s a cool thing about the Jewish calendar from now until just a couple of days before I go home: ya count days. Between the second night of Passover and Shavuot, there are exactly 7 weeks– 49 days. On the 50th day, we celebrate Shavuot, which marks the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Every night of those 7 weeks, it’s traditional to count the omer. Back in the day, the omer was a measurement that Jews were expected to offer in barley to the Temple. Today, we don’t have a Temple, and most of us don’t grow barley, but we count all the same.

So, every night from now until Shavuot (the night of May 30th), I’ll count up. Every morning from now until June 2nd, I’ll count down. Two civilizations. The enlightened will understand. (I think I just tried to make two kinds of jokes at once and the cross section of people who will get both is very, very small, but I’m entertained, so there.)


So, we come to this week’s blessing, which comes from a wonderful friend from college. She sent me a package way back in December that took like a month to get here, beaten up and held by the post office and chock full of holiday goodies. It also included a card and, within the card, a blessing!

“The harder the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.” Remembering this on the hard days and remember that you’re stronger and more powerful than you know. 

I’ve been really lucky lately. I haven’t had a lot of hard days in recent weeks. I’m sure that more will come between now and the finish, and I am so grateful to have people both here and in America in my corner.

IMG_1689.jpgFinally, last Sunday was Easter, and last Monday, I found myself sitting in my apartment when I suddenly heard what sounded like a drum line. Naturally I went to investigate. A couple of blocks from me I stumbled upon the “Jaffa Easter Parade,” in which Palestinian Christians from all over gathered. It was delightful. So many dressed up people, so many adorable children, and did I mention…bagpipes?!


It was very exciting. I was very happy. I hope you are too. Shabbat Shalom, my friends.

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.”


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.)


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.


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.


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.


And may there be cookies for everybody.

Sunset in Jaffa

In Jerusalem, I felt like I lived with Jews.

Sure, there were Palestinians around. I would see them walking and driving occasionally in my neighborhood and often when I went into the Old City. I came to know a few in my ulpan, which is known to be among the most diverse offered in Jerusalem. But they were not everywhere. They were not a majority. Most women I saw wearing head coverings were Orthodox Jews. Most men I saw wearing long, robe-like garments were Orthodox Jews. It got to the point, over the course of the semester, where I often stopped noticing who had on a kippah and who was wearing tzitzit, because both were so commonplace. I expected to hear Hebrew rather than Arabic almost everywhere I went. I expected to hear the siren announcing Shabbat every Friday night. The neighborhoods in Jerusalem where I might have developed different expectations were largely barred to me. img_9182

In Jaffa, I feel like I live with Palestinians– some Christian, others Muslim. There are Jews here too, of course, but in my neighborhood I haven’t seen many. Jaffa has always been a little more mixed than some other areas, and it has gotten more-so recently as hipster Jews have moved into town. (Case in point: my marvelous apartment here came with a record player and a nice collection of albums.) Some Palestinians are upset about that (the Jewish influx, not the record players), while others view it as a potential for positive relationship building between two often-fraught communities. I have mixed feelings about living here. On one hand, I’m glad to be in a more diverse (and beautiful) environment. On the other hand, I feel a little bit like a gentrifying yuppie.


Three days ago, I got out of the cab and, with the help of a new neighbor, lugged my suitcases up the three-and-a-half floors to my new apartment. I started to unpack, and then, suddenly, heard two people begin chanting over loudspeakers.

I recognized the chant at once. It was the adhan- the Muslim Call to Prayer– emanating from the minaret straight ahead off of my balcony and from others nearby. “God is Greatest,” the muezzin sang. Allahhu akbar.

In the second blessing of the Amidah, the central prayer of Jewish daily services, we speak of Ha’El Ha’Gadol (האל הגדול)- God who is Great (and mighty and awesome etc…).

“I acknowledge that there is no God but Allah,” the muezzin sang. Ash-hadu an-lā ilāha illā allāh.

In the sh’ma, the closest thing we as Jews have to a credo, we acknowledge that Adonai- God- is our God, and Adonai is one.

Not every line of the adhan tracks onto Jewish prayer and practice, and nor should it. But it is beautiful and it is a reminder, I think not only to the Muslim community, but to all of us who are nearby, to be present to something beyond ourselves. I am so sorry, that to some people, this beautiful sound evokes fear and distrust.


Yesterday, as shabbat came to an end, I walked along the small streets from my home to the sea, perhaps 10 minutes away. I passed by Palestinian children– screaming, laughing, arguing, cooperating children– kicking a soccer ball in the alleyway right outside my apartment. I passed by hijab-wearing women having picnics and pushing their little ones on swings in the park next to the water. I passed by Palestinian couples holding hands as they walked. I passed by Palestinian elders sitting on benches and looking out as the sun descended into the luscious, vibrant waves. I passed by Palestinian fishermen trying to catch a last bite before darkness settled over the shore.


I can’t help wondering how the newly-inaugurated American President would react to being in the neighborhood where I live. Could he see the beauty here, the normalcy, or would he only see fear and the potential for violence? I don’t pretend that there are no Palestinians who wish Israeli Jews, and perhaps Americans, harm. But they are not a majority.

In the US, the president is able to look at our Christian community and ignore the percentage that would act to harm others. He won’t do the same for our Muslim community. Thank God for lawyers and judges and for the tenacity of protesters.


I walked along last night, watching Palestinians in restaurants, Palestinians complaining as they climbed long flights of stairs from the sea to the park above, Palestinians stopping at crosswalks so that Palestinians and Jews and anybody else could continue safely. And I heard the call once again as I looked out over the sea. And I thought, I wish I could share this peaceful moment with everyone who is afraid of Islam. I wish I could make the centering, settling nature of the adhan into a balm to rub onto their hearts. But, for now, I am glad to be able to keep listening.

(*Travel post/fuller moving to Jaffa post coming soon. But this was on my heart and I have 700+ pictures to sort through, so for now, there’s this.)

A Jaunt to Prague

Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu melekh haolam, hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz.

Blessed are you adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

To most Jews, that prayer will probably look quite familiar. It’s said around shabbat tables, before meals at camp, and, for many, before every meal that includes bread. It’s one of the very first prayers I recall learning as a child, or, rather, that I don’t recall learning because I internalized when I was so young.

On Friday night, I heard a young girl recite this prayer. She stood holding two small challahs between her palms, while the young rabbi at her side, his tallis wrapped around his thin body, shook salt onto a platter. We said “amen” and she tore the challahs into pieces, passing a tray so that all could take a small piece. The group was small– perhaps 15 or 20 people– and it was intergenerational. There were children, parents, grandparents. They gathered around a table, eating challah and small tomatoes and baguette toasts spread with cheese. A tray of small glass cups, emptied of wine, sat off to one side, remnants of the kiddush from moments before. We were in a basement of a beautiful building, a small space for a small community celebrating a very full shabbat.

On Friday night, I attended Shabbat Services at Bejt Simcha, the only Reform community in Prague. Like most Jewish communities in Europe, Prague’s Jews were decimated by the Holocaust, pulled from their homes and lives to ghettos, concentration camps, and gas chambers. However, Prague’s Jewish quarter remained intact. You might think that was luck, as, indeed, much of Prague remained intact. Instead, Hitler left the buildings and cemetery of the Jewish quarter untouched so that, after the Final Solution was complete, they could be made into museums for “extinct races.”


Among the most chilling things I saw in Prague was this Holocaust memorial– a box filled with tefillin, each set a reminder of a life lost. 

Today, the non-active Pinkas Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter is a Holocaust Memorial, the walls of its sanctuary lined with the names of those Czech Jews who did not survive, its top floor a gallery for the artwork of children killed in the camps.


The wall is not textured– those are all names.

But despite these names and these deaths and this tragedy, the Jews of Prague, and of the world, didn’t go extinct. Today, there are multiple active Orthodox synagogues in Prague, along with one Conservative and one Reform.


Including this synagogue– the Old New — which may or may not have a golem in the attic. 

Bejt Simcha may be the smallest of these synagogues, but it is still a powerful force. It is a message to the fascists then and to the fascists now that, however much they might try to snuff out my people, we will always find a way to rise and to thrive and to act from simcha– from joy.

On Friday night, we concluded our service with what I think of as the “slow, dreary” tune for adon olam. Here, however, in the midst of central Europe, in a small basement with a small group of Jews, it sprang to life. For this community there was nothing slow or dreary about it. It was authentic and it spoke to a future more than to a past. Being present for it was such a gift; I will never think of this tune as anything but hopeful again.


Hey, you’re a pretty cool astronomical clock, clock.

Music was a significant part of my weekend in Prague. The arts there are government-subsidized, which means that cheap seats are actually cheap, not $35 or more! I paid less than $10 for nosebleed seats for the opera (Die Zauberflöte/The Magic Flute) and for the ballet (Krabat).

Prague has loads and loads of classical concerts, and I went to one at St. Nicholas Church my first night. The venue was gorgeous and the musicians were super talented, but they also seemed to get that they were playing for tourists who knew very little about classical music and were thus kinda disengaged. The program should have been my first clue, but I reserved judgement until I heard folks start to clap between movements and had to suppress an urge to go up to the musicians and profusely apologize on behalf of all Americans (just for clapping between movements, because it’s not like we’ve recently done anything else we owe the world an apology for. Right? Oh wait…).

Die Zauberflöte was performed at the Estates Theater, which was where Don Giovanni had its premier back in the day. I had a standing room ticket, which I’ll admit felt rather dashingly Bohemian, as did nipping down a few rows to grab a seat after intermission.


The ballet was a tad more spontaneous. My last night in Prague I’d thought of going to another classical concert but decided not to after the first one, so I went to the box office of the National Theater to ask if anything other than Czech-language plays was being performed that evening. The ballet was the only option, so I went for it and went in totally blind. I’d never heard of Krabat but I really enjoyed it! I kept thinking during the ballet that it reminded me of fantasia and the sorcerer’s apprentice…only to learn after the fact that the ballet and the fantasia segment were both based on the same Sorbian myth.


Another amazing element of the opera and the ballet was the number of children I saw there! I have no idea how much is cultural versus affordability versus these particular events being more child-friendly than your average opera and/or ballet might be, but it was very notable. At the ballet I was sitting two rows up from a gaggle of boys who all looked to be about 8-11 years old and were totally quiet and respectful and seemingly interested the whole time. It was awesome.


Look at all of these swans! So many swans! What is your secret, Prague??

Mostly I experienced Prague through walking. There was so much to see and the buildings and streets were totally enchanting. One thing that made that easy was free walking tours. Well, not exactly free– you were expected to tip– but free enough. I took a couple while I was there and found them to be a nice way to meet people, get oriented, and learn some history.


I also walked around a bunch on my own. The nice thing about staying in a hostel was that I had an easy way to interact with people, but I also had the ability to set my own schedule. I sort of flitted in and out of the hostel crowd, joining a large group for a dinner and a pub crawl but often striking out on my own.


Like my first morning in Prague when I got this apple cake and this gorgeous (and delicious) americano at a local espresso bar. 

I haven’t spent a lot of time traveling solo, and there are things I don’t enjoy about it (mostly, eating, since I feel super shy/awkward about going anywhere with table service alone– although on the other hand getting cheaper, more casual food saves me a lot of money), but on the whole I had a really fantastic trip. I felt like I had a very busy three days, and yet there was so so much that I didn’t get to! I will just have to go back someday.


John Lennon wall

If you’d like to see more pictures from the trip, I put up an album here!


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.



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.


A Jew in the Pew

You know what I’ve learned over the past two days? It can be awfully nice to experience Rosh Hashanah as a civilian.

When I started rabbinical school, I immediately started working on high holidays, which meant that I was lucky to get a single holiday meal that wasn’t dominated by anxiety around upcoming service leading. During this Rosh Hashanah, I went to three holiday meals: a delightful dinner after services on Erev Rosh Hashanah, and two lovely (late) lunches after morning services on both days. By late lunches I mean starting around 2 and ending around 5. I mean, get there and have a seat and eat some dips and some mains and some dessert and drink some wine while you’re at it, because you have nowhere that you need to be. I mean, stroll back on home along with all of the other lunch-goers about the city and have a relaxing evening, because you don’t, in fact, need to review the nusakh for the next day or go over your d’var one more time. I mean, this is kinda awesome, isn’t it?


Awesome like these flowers in my neighborhood.

At the same time, it’s probably a good thing I’m becoming a rabbi, because as happy as I was to be a civilian, I sort of missed leading services. When the hazzanim (cantors) sang the parts of the liturgy that only the service leaders typically sing, I found myself wanting to join in. I wanted to carry the Torah around. I wanted to blow shofar. And, y’know, it feels pretty great to simultaneously love this time of non-leading and look forward to getting back in the saddle next year.

I don’t have pictures from Rosh Hashanah, but I wish that I did. The three places where I attended services (because I was a civilian who got to pick where to go!) were different and wonderful in their own ways, and I wish that I could show you each of them. Instead, I’ll just tell those of y’all who are interested about them.

At Kol Haneshama, a reform congregation, I enjoyed a short and simple Erev Rosh Hashanah service. The rabbi was an American man who spoke largely in Hebrew but also threw out some translations from time to time for us English-speaking folk. We started out with a Joey Weisenberg niggun that brought me right back to the two unbelievably awesome classes that I took with him at RRC. The man is a master of melody, and hearing a tune of his that I knew so well in a place that was brand new made me feel an instant happiness and a deep sense of connectivity. Walking home, I folded in with all manner of Jewish folk traveling from their various shuls to their various dinners. While I didn’t get lost walking to and from Kol Haneshama, I did get lost walking everywhere else I went during Rosh Hashanah, and for the most part I enjoined the ensuing wanderings.


For First Day, I went to Tzion, a  very egalitarian Conservative community that does this amazing blend of ashkenazi and sefardi melodies and has a very nice flow of leadership shared amongst the (female) rabbi, the (male) hazzan, and congregants. Services were held in a basement of a community center, and they were long. I got there at 10, about an hour after they started, and was just in time for barchu. I took a break at 1, when they started musaf. For comparison, the synagogue across the way finished around 1. I don’t think that having long services is a good or bad thing, as different folks like different length services, and I imagine I’ll be back for a shabbat sometime soon.

This morning, I went to Nava Tehila, and, well, it was pretty much perfect for me. Nava Tehila isn’t a permanent institution, so they hold prayer in different locations. Today was in the yard of the Natural History museum, which meant that our “synagogue” comprised a collection of chairs under a canopy of colored cloths. The instrumentalists sat in the middle, with the congregation fanning out. For me, it was a perfect mix of traditional prayer and contemporary song. The prayers included feminist language that I so love and that is often left out here in Jerusalem. The shifting of leadership was beautiful and fairly seamless. The Torah service was especially moving. For one thing, my view of the Torah was partially blocked…by a tree. One eitz hayyim (Tree of Life) connected to another. When the hazzanit paraded the Torah around the congregation, the sun glinted off of it with incredible beauty, and, nature girl that I am, I felt completely whole.

Then came the group aliyot. Since coming to Israel, I’ve written a lot about being here, in this place. The first aliyah today was for everybody who wanted to echo Abraham’s saying to God “הנני– Hineni- Here I am.” I’m often shy about going up for aliyot, but I went up for this one without hesitating. It fit so perfectly into what I want for this year. A number of others came up with me, and since many did not have their own talitot, my tallis was hoisted up to cover several heads so that we could all bless together. I thought of the stains that I still need to try and remove and how, at that moment, they truly didn’t matter– that the tallis was still whole and so was I.

During the shofar service, I felt a similar wholeness. I’ve always found the shofar to be powerful, but during this morning’s service, sounding the shofar outside under the trees, there was something transcendent. I got chills as I thought about the history of the instrument, of how ancient the tradition that we were enacting, of how soul-piercing it remains. I looked around at the congregation– people of all ages, some with eyes shut, some staring rapt, some just contentedly. Even the dogs (yes, there were dogs davening with us) perked up. I was filled with immense gratitude that the shofar hasn’t been lost to time, that it is something I will be able to pass along to my future communities.

We finished the service with Nava Tehila’s rendition of oseh shalom, which is one of my favorites. Everybody sang openly. Smiles were real. It was amazing. I was so very happy. My New Year was sweet as honey. I hope yours was too.