Shabbos Blessing- Week 38

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In a week, I will be in transit. My flight leaves at 1 AM on Friday morning, so I’ll actually be heading to the airport on Thursday night. Chances are that I’ll write next week’s blessing in either the Paris or Reykjavik airport. Friday will be very, very long, and California’s shabbat will arrive, God willing, about 20 minutes before I land in San Francisco.

At this moment, it’s Saturday evening (because I am, yet again, posting this a day late), and I am listening to the neighborhood mosque broadcast the special prayer that marks the end of the fast on this first day of Ramadan. I’m so used to the typical call to prayer that hearing this new blessing now, months after arriving here and mere days before leaving, is a little shocking. The call to prayer is comforting– something that reminds me of where I am in time. This new prayer is exciting, and I know that in the time I have left it will likely remain exciting rather than settling into normalcy.

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The loveliest setting for an anti-Trump protest you ever did see– with my poster contribution.

This last week was my last normal week. We finished up classes and then took a trip down south on Thursday and Friday (hence my late post). This week the only “normal” event on my schedule is volunteering at the preschool on Tuesday. Other than that it’s going to be all about organizing, celebrating Shavuot, checking items off of my unofficial Israel Year bucket list, eating hummus, and packing up.

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Judean Desert hiking

This week’s Torah portion is במדבר– Bamidbar– which is the first parsha in the Book of Numbers. Why is it called “Numbers?” Because it starts with a census of the Israelites in the desert. It felt pretty appropriate to come upon this parsha during a week that I’ll be taking a census of my belongings and learnings. It also felt appropriate to find myself, briefly, in the desert. Yesterday morning, I woke up at 5 AM to watch the sun rise over the Dead Sea. It was one of the more spectacular sunrises I’ve seen in my life. The next sunrise I’m awake for will likely be in Paris on Friday when my flight lands at 5 AM.

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One photo of many many many

I’m lucky to have a blessing for this shabbat offered recently by one of the people who knows me best in this world. She wrote:

You’ve dealt with a lot since you’ve been there, far more than you were expecting to have to deal with.

And you’ve done it.  It was a roller coast and nevertheless, you persisted. 

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Going forward, may the wonderful phrase you knit in magic yarn be more than just the epic feminist rallying cry that it already is.  May it also be a reminder to you that you persisted.  Despite people telling you that you can’t because you’re a woman, despite social and political turmoil back home, despite anxiety and loss, you persisted.  If you find yourself in tough times or doubting yourself, may this time serve as a reminder that you are strong and persistent and will not be dissuaded.  

I appreciate this as a charge to take with me when I leave Israel behind. I’m pretty damn eager, honestly, to be able to think about and talk about this year in the past tense. I have so much processing ahead of me, but, for now, I’m trying to embrace this experience’s “lasts.” 6 days to go.

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And, just maybe, have the confidence of this sunrise desert shadow. 

 

 

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Shabbos Blessing- Week 35

So here’s the truth: I’m at the point where every day here feels like a victory. I don’t mean that as a note of some sort of awfulness in my life. Life here isn’t awful at all. It’s fine. I’m lucky to be in a place where I can usually feel safe. I’m lucky to be in a place where I can learn and explore with some degree of comfort and, at this point, familiarity. I’m lucky to have formed significant friendships with colleagues from other rabbinical schools. I’m lucky to enjoy my apartment in Jaffa, my neighborhood, and the ocean that makes up one of its borders.

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But, I’m kinda done. I have been in Israel for a long time, and I am ready to come home, and this is the in between stage where I can’t quite start getting ready to come home, and at the same time I can’t quite feel settled anymore. I’m at the point where when the milk runs out I’ll replace it, but when the turbinado sugar runs out I’ll switch to brown sugar for my coffee. I’m at the point where I still find my classes valuable, but if my classes were to end, I wouldn’t be upset. I’m at the point where if I had a chance to leave tomorrow, I would say “wait a sec,” but if I had a chance to leave in one week instead of in four, I’d gladly take it.

I suppose I have the Israel year equivalent of senioritis. This experience has been valuable. It’s had its ups and downs. It continues to be just fine. And I’m ready for it to come to an end.

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My biggest battle right now is between me and my sense of presence. Two weeks from now, I think it’ll be appropriate for me to feel like I’ve got one foot out the door. I’ll be about to head into my last week of class. I might stop replacing the milk. I’ll be starting the process of organizing my stuff into “take” and “leave” piles. I’ll be preparing to say goodbye to most of my friends here, who will leave before me. I’ll be thinking very deliberately about the places I want to see one more time, the foods I want to eat, the walks I want to take, the waters I want to swim in.

But it’s not time for that yet. Ok, it’s time to plan the Israel year bucket list more deliberately (and I basically have), but it’s not really time for any of the rest. For the next two weeks, I need to keep my brain definitively here.

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Spring is helpful for that. We’re in the thick of it now– the heavy, layered, bountiful, wild green cradling flowers of all colors. Every moment of being outside calls for presence. “Look!,” the trees call with their pink buds. “Look!,” the bushes call with their bright blossoms. “Look!,” the leaves call as I pass beneath on my walks to school and to the beach and to the bus station. I listen. I look. I paused. I breathe. I try to remember that I am here.

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Every day is a victory. Every day is one day closer to returning home. And every day is a chance to be here. So this week’s blessing is a poem by John O’Donohue, offering praise for presence and possibility at once.

I give thanks for arriving safely in a new dawn,
For the gift of eyes to see the world,
The gift of mind to feel at home
In my life, the waves of possibility
Breaking on the shore of dawn,
The harvest of the past
That awaits my hunger,
And all the furtherings
This new day will bring.

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Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbos Blessing- Week 34

I don’t mean to be repetitive here, but I really can’t get over living by the sea. Maybe it’s just because, despite the number of climates I’ve lived in, I’ve never lived near a beach before. I’ve lived walking distance from lakes, and I’ve lived within relatively close driving distance to the beach, but walking out my door and seeing the surf less than 10 minutes later is amazing. I’m honestly not even that much of a beach person, but there’s something so calming about walking by the water. And I’ve come to make sitting on a towel with my kindle part of my shabbat experience. Last shabbat I went swimming, and the water was clear in a way that I’d never experienced outside the tropics. I could stand where the water was up to my neck and still see my feet.

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Tonight, I’ll get to experience a “Shabbat on the Beach” that a non-denominational group has organized here in Tel Aviv. I don’t know exactly what to expect, but I’m pretty excited to grab a siddur and walk up and enjoy whatever I find.

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This week’s blessing is a few pictures from this morning:

For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, I woke up at 6. I thought about trying to go back to sleep, but I felt pretty darn awake, so instead I got up and went to the roof to watch the sunrise. IMG_1811.JPG

As I watched the sky slowly welcome the sun, I listened to the birds. There were few cars that early, so most of what I could make out was natural. IMG_1830.JPG

The sun popped up but its impact wasn’t yet felt. It was still dim, the light small and concrete. IMG_1846.JPG

Of course, it wasn’t long before that changed and the light ballooned into itself. I went inside and found myself wrapping tefillin, tying the memory of the peaceful morning into my prayer practice.

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu, Ruach ha-olam, yotzeir or uvorei choshech, oseh shalom uvorei et hakol.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Spirit of the world, Former of light and Creator of darkness, the One who makes peace and creates all. 

 

 

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.

Shabbos Blessing- Week 8

(New to shabbos blessings? Learn more here!)

I’m going off book this week.

See, this week included the last holiday for what feels like a very, very long time. Hanukkah isn’t actually so far away– it starts a little before Christmas this year, I think– but after the slew of holidays that have peppered the last month, the notion of a 2-month normal stretch seems pretty crazy.

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After Christmas in the US, people put out their Christmas trees. After Sukkot in Israel, people put out their scakh (the sukkah roofs!)

Simchat Torah means “Joy of Torah,” which is a pretty apt title for a holiday that’s all about saying: “We just finished reading the whole 5 Books of Moses! Let’s start over! Wahoo!” Celebration typically involves dancing about, singing, carrying Torahs around the congregation (and, often, out into the streets), and, naturally, rolling the Torah back from the end of D’varim (Deuteronomy) to the beginning of Bereshit (Genesis). It can be quite the party, and I was excited to experience it here.

At Nava Tehila, we once again prayed outside, and it was beautiful. We circled from Moses’s death at the end of the five books to “in the beginning” at, well, y’know. Anybody in the congregation who wanted to come up was welcomed for an aliyah. We celebrated people in all stages of their lives. Then, with the children seated on blankets in the middle of the congregation, we moved the chairs back and unrolled the entire Torah, each adult holding a small section up, tenderly circling the children with holy words. It was stunning. I’ve been lucky enough to see the entire Torah unrolled on a number of occasions, but it was something else to be part of it in this space outside, under a perfect autumn blue sky that lapped up the golden tan of the parchment, and early afternoon sunlight that nestled the dark ink so that it seemed to shine brighter than ever.

To unroll the Torah in that space and to sing would have been enough. Instead, a member of the congregation walked around from beginning to end and gave more or less a synopsis, lovingly summing up the goings on column by column. At the end of each book, we joined together in chanting the traditional words “Hazak hazak v’nithazak– be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!” That would have been enough.

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Instead, more members of the community entered the middle of the circle and walked around, offering blessings to each and every person who wanted one. To get a blessing, all one needed to do was point to a random verse of Torah. That’s the amazing thing about holding the unrolled Torah. You can maybe, depending on how good your eyes are, read the columns across from your column. You can’t read your own. The angle is all wrong. I had a basic idea of where I was in the Torah (somewhere in Numbers around the priestly blessing), but I didn’t know exactly which verses my own hands were cradling. So, I pointed and hoped.

The blessing-offering woman, who luckily for me happened to be American, looked at the verse for a few moments and then smiled. “This is beautiful,” she said. “Do you know who Nachshon ben Aminadav was?”

Did I know who Nachshon ben Aminadav was? Yes. Yes, I did. For one thing, he shows up pretty dramatically in this Hamilton Haggadah song, so I think of him as being more-or-less Hercules Mulligan. For another thing, at RRC they call my class the “Nachshons.” The RRC curriculum is undergoing a pretty major shift, and my class has been the one to beta most of the new stuff. I could talk about that more, but it’s almost shabbat and I’m trying to think happy thoughts. In any case, I’m used to being the first into things.

So who was Nachshon? Well, according to Torah (Numbers 7:12) he was the first man to bring his offerings to the Tabernacle. But, like many things in Torah, that wasn’t enough information for the rabbis, so we have a great story about him. Nachshon, we say, walked into the Red Sea up to his neck, and only then did the waters part. He took the leap of faith that allowed the Israelites to be freed from Pharaoh.

I could have been holding any column of the Torah and happened to be holding that one. I could have pointed to any verse of the column and pointed there. It’s sorta like what happened at the kotel with the caper berry. I don’t believe in a God that made my finger point to that verse, but I do believe in a God that endowed creation with wisdom to draw connections and feel inspiration when it’s needed. And it was needed.

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The woman giving me the blessing offered me what has carried me through this week, so, like I said, I’m going a little off-book and making this week’s Shabbos Blessing her blessing to me. I don’t know her exact words, but she said something along the lines of:

I don’t know you at all, but this makes me think that you’re like Nachshon. This verse is about a person who is very brave and takes risks for the good of the community. I want to bless you with courage as you take leaps and do things before others as a leader. They might be difficult. May your leaps be for the good and may you feel brave and supported. 

I feel like my entire time in Jerusalem so far has been about deciding when and how to leap and when and how not to. I identify incredibly strongly with Nachshon as a figure in my faith, and he doesn’t show up all that often in Torah, and so it feels like such a gift that I found him on Simchat Torah.

It’s been quite the week and I’ve got more to say, but shabbat is coming earlier and earlier these days, so I think I’ll save some of my other experiences for another time. Shabbat Shalom everyone. Here’s a pile of sleepy kittens to get you in the spirit.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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