Shabbos Blessing- Week 24

“This is a comfortable rain,” I told myself as my socks squelched in my boots and drops from my backpack’s rain cover got into the top of my jeans. “It isn’t too hot or too cold. This is a comfortable rain,” I told myself as I watched my pants and boots grow steadily darker. “This is really good for the plants, and the rainy season will be over soon,” I told myself as I finally got indoors, shaking off my umbrella and momentarily miserable about the lack of heat. “This is a temporary state. I will get dry,” I told myself as I managed to peel off my raincoat and sit. I was wet from the waist down. I had a full day of class ahead. I told myself to be glad, but it wasn’t easy.

Poor Noah.

The ark, after all, can’t really have been dry. Even if it was dry enough to be seaworthy, the humidity alone must have been awful. It wears you down. How did he manage to keep his spirits up as long as he did? I mean, I guess when it comes down to it he didn’t have a lot of choice if he wanted to get through it. Maybe that’s why we tell that story. All I know is that extended rain makes me cranky.  Maybe, if I were somebody who grew up in London or Seattle or another “rainy days are normal days” kinda place, I wouldn’t be so downtrodden, but as things stand, the straight five days of rain this week made me pretty miserable. And, to top it off, sick.

Yesterday, I was supposed to go on a trip to Lod with a bunch of other rabbinical students. Instead, I sat on my couch going through endless tissues and cups of tea. Today, it’s much the same, but my throat has stopped hurting and I’ve started coughing. I know it’s just a cold, but it really does put a damper on things. At least the rain is gone for now.

This week’s blessing comes from a choir friend, and it’s definitely appropriate for a sick day. He wrote:

May you cherish this time on the best days and on the most challenging days, too. May you build strong and lasting relationships with those who are also in this Ark. May you continue to have safety and adventure in your experiences.

It’s not exactly easy to cherish this time when I feel half awake and gross and am nearly out of tissues. Nevertheless, I am trying to get something out of this day. I’m glad for the calm of my apartment and the (at least for today) endless supply of tea. I’m glad that tonight is shabbat and tomorrow is shabbat and therefore I don’t have to go anywhere until Sunday. But, like I said, it’s supposed to be sunny for a while now, and that means that I can be safely PJ-bound for now and adventuresome with my new community in Yafo soon enough!


[Insert mermaid here]


Hakol B’seder(?)

I know these streets so well now.

I haven’t been here that long, really. I’ve lived in many places for longer. But in Jerusalem, my feet are my primary form of transportation. In fact, with the exception of school-sponsored trips that require getting on a bus with my classmates, and very, very occasional cab rides, my feet are my only form of transportation.

My “commute” all semester was short but slow. The few blocks between my home and the Conservative Yeshiva where I studied became a nearly daily part of my life. I came to know each cafe, each corner store (most of them, it turns out, not on corners), each apartment building, each piece of graffiti, and, yes, each cat.

A lot has happened in four and a half months. The kittens in the Yeshiva Courtyard have grown from this:


To this:


I’ve learned some Hebrew– not nearly as much as I would have liked, but enough to at least be able to do more than point and grunt at the different salatim (toppings) when I order a falafel. My written Hebrew is ok. My spoken is pretty bad. It’s a work in progress.


I’ve grown from barely being able to keep up with a traditional morning prayer service to leading one at the Egalitarian Kotel last week.


I came here knowing almost no one, and I’ve made friends. Earlier today, I got lunch with a buddy to celebrate her move across town and my submission of my last paper of the semester. I texted another friend to ask if he and his family could store a suitcase for me for a couple of weeks, and when I went over to drop it off I ended up chatting with him and his family (and giving them a small gift to pass along to a classmate). This evening, I texted another friend to ask if I could sleep on her couch for a night, just before I move to Tel Aviv, when I get back from Europe.

I am so grateful for the people I have come to know, for the organic connections that I have formed with them as classmates and as friends who, one day, God willing, will be colleagues of mine.

Some of the people whom I have come to know have gone home. It feels very strange. I knew, entering into this year, that a number of students were only staying for a semester (or even part of a semester). I also knew that life happens, and that there could be other students whose plans changed and who left sooner than they anticipated, or who ended up not coming at all. Still, it’s strange to walk on the streets that I know so well and to remember that the places where I am used to finding some people no longer host them.

Soon, the apartment in which I am sitting will no longer host me. This is my last night as a resident of Jerusalem. I am mostly packed. This room, which has been mine for the better part of four months, is feeling less and less so as more and more of my things find their way into suitcases. Tomorrow, I’ll go to Tel Aviv and stay overnight at a random AirBnb near the train. On Friday, I’ll fly to Spain. When I return to Israel on February 1st, I’ll spend a night in Jerusalem (on my friend’s couch, as you now all know), and then I’ll move into my new apartment in Jaffa the next day. Jerusalem won’t be far away, and I’ll be down here a lot, but it will no longer be my base. It feels very strange.

One of the local graffiti tags in Jerusalem is a simple Hebrew phrase: “הכל בסדר- hakol b’seder” It means: “Everything’s ok.” I’ve seen the words stenciled onto construction walls, stones, and all other manner of surfaces. On my walk to and from school, on one of the blocks I know so well, there are two versions of this tag, both, in Israeli style, commented upon. The first says: “הכל לא בסדר” (Everything is not ok). img_9729

The second says: “הכל בסדר? טוב,תודה” (Is everything ok? Yes, thank you.) img_9722

At this moment, both of these speak to me. I am in a place of feeling that everything is not ok and at the same time of assuring myself that they are and being grateful for that. It has been a semester, and the semester is over. I have settled into something of a routine on the ark, but now it must shift. The lions are bored with their food. The squirrels have decided to become nocturnal. The corgis want to frolic more than their allotted recreation time allows. The wind has shifted and the ark is floating off in a different direction and I have to adjust to it.

Change does not come easy for me. It never has. I have gotten better, as is the nature (one would hope) of facing the same sorts of struggles again and again, but change remains hard. I made a good choice to go to Tel Aviv but I am still nervous about it, worried about what I am leaving behind knowingly and what struggles, both known and unknown, will come up in my new home.

And I am also excited, eager to experience a new city, to live in my own apartment, to buy a membership to the Tel Aviv-Yafo bike share program and enjoy a slightly longer (and faster) commute to class. I am excited to come to know other streets and to know the people who walk them.







Choppy Waves

Sometimes on the ark things get wet.

I was trying to be responsible. I was trying to pack the night before so that I would have less to do in the morning. The Conservative Yeshiva was heading off to a shabbaton first thing Friday, and the packing list was complicated to cram into my backpack. I managed to fit a dress for services, a swim suit, a towel, a hat, toiletries, a siddur, a tallis, and a book. I also filled my 3-liter camelback, because the desert is hot and dehydration was not on my list of shabbat goals.  All I left for the morning was putting together a lunch and fitting my PJs somewhere. Then morning came. I worked on my last minute packing pieces and then went off to make coffee. Clearly, that was the wrong order of operations.


Qumran- aka Dead Sea Scrolls land! We went on our way to the shabbaton.

When I came back into my room, coffee in hand, I noticed that something was not right. Not at all. My bag was wet.

I moved fast, moving the tube for my camelback from beneath the bag, where there had been enough pressure to cause the leak. I got everything out as quickly as I could, checking to see what was going to be too wet to bring. I griped as I realized I’d need to bring a different dress that would take up more space. I sighed as I set my hat out to dry. Then I opened up my tallis bag, saw the water stains, and almost burst into tears.


See, my tallis is special. My best friend and her mom made it for me right before I started rabbinical school. The atarah, the band around the neck, is inscribed with a verse from Esther, because I found out that I was accepted to rabbinical school on Purim. The four corners nod to my study of Mandarin and my time in China and are embroidered with the Chinese characters for love, faith, courage, and wisdom. I learned to tie tzitzit, the fringes hanging from each of the four corners, the day I arrived in Philadelphia, and I tied them myself. The prayer for putting on a tallis is as follows:

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheynu Melech Ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu l’heetataf batzitzit.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with commandments and commanded us to wrap ourselves in fringes.

When I put on any tallis, I feel wrapped in the faith that I hold and the history that I inherit. When I put on my tallis, kitchy as this may sound, I also feel wrapped in love, held by the many people who have supported me on my journey towards the rabbinate.


I don’t know if I’ll be able to fix my tallis. Maybe I’ll manage to get the stains out. Maybe they’ll become, as my best friend’s mom said, a part of my tallis’s story. Either way, I’m glad I got to it as quickly as I did, and that the tzitzit remained untouched. A shabbos miracle, perhaps.


I found this donkey in the lowest nature preserve in the world, right by the dead sea. I’d have taken him on the ark, but I don’t know where his mate is. I’ll have to keep looking. 

Sometimes on the ark, people get sea sick.

I have gotten food poisoning exactly twice in my life. The first time was in rural China, (chronicled here) and was understandably miserable. That was 6 years ago, and I hadn’t thrown up since. The second time was yesterday. I’ll spare y’all the details, but suffice it to say that it’s been pretty awful. I’m not in class today, opting instead to sit on my couch, drinking the sprite that I managed to very slowly and meekly acquire from the nearest corner store. I tried to find gatorade, but there wasn’t any. Getting food poisoning sucks, and getting it in a different country where you don’t have your normal resources available sucks more. On the other hand, at least I’m not trying to take care of a bunch of animals who may, themselves, be sea sick. Props to you, Noah.

I think it may be raining out there….

Actually, it’s not raining, but it may as well be. Compared to California, Jerusalem is hella humid. Ok, compared to California, most places are hella humid. I hear it will rain in Jerusalem and that, when it does, I will really wish I had schlepped my rain boots from Philly.

“That same day Noah and Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, went into the ark, with Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons—they and all beasts of every kind, all cattle of every kind, all creatures of every kind that creep on the earth, and all birds of every kind, every bird, every winged thing. They came to Noah into the ark, two each of all flesh in which there was breath of life. Thus they that entered comprised male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him. And God shut him in. The Flood continued forty days on the earth, and the waters increased and raised the ark so that it rose above the earth. The waters swelled and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark drifted upon the waters. (Genesis 7:13-19)


In some ways, a plane doesn’t seem so different from an ark. Sure, an airplane floats in the sky while an ark floats in the newly-created sea, but from the point of view of a passenger there isn’t much difference. Once a plane is high enough off of the ground, all that a passenger can usually see, if lucky enough to be in a window seat, is a layer of cloud. The passenger has no control over the weather, over the bumps, over the ability of the pilot.

The passenger floats in a box in the sky. Noah floats in a box in the sea. The box is the invader. The water and the air were there before and will be there after. The box is temporary.

I want to do my best to remember that. My time in the Israel box is temporary. My time in the rabbinical school box is temporary. On a macro level, my time in the life box is temporary. And each box is floating in forces that I know and forces that I don’t.

God shut Noah into the ark, but only because Noah built the ark and welcomed the animals into it. Noah ultimately chose to do as God asked. What would have happened had he refused? Would God have found another servant, another one righteous enough to carry on the human race without hitting a complete reset? Would Noah instead be Clark? Or Duncan? Or Jennifer? Nah, God didn’t much like girls back then. Probably Duncan.

Ultimately, Noah said yes to the ark. I said yes to Jerusalem. And no, obviously I’m not trying to equate my choice to study here as part of my rabbinic training with our mythical ancient seafaring ancestor’s choice to save his life by getting on an ark while God trashed everything else. I’m just noting that both of us made a choice, and that remembering that can offer some strength. Nobody forced me to walk onto the plane in San Jose, or onto the plane in Minneapolis, or onto the plane in New York. For that matter, nobody forced me to get up and go to orientation this morning.


I’m glad that I did get up and go. This has, after all, been such a long time coming. I have known that I would be studying in Israel since I started at RRC– really since I was admitted four and a half years ago. I have had so long to dream and dread this journey. Now, for better or for worse, I am in it. The ark is floating along. And I even found my first pair of animals. IMG_7513.JPG

More to come. For now, jet lag is winning, and I must do my best to thwart it. Tomorrow is a long day.


Welcome to the Ark


God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make it an ark with compartments, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make an opening for daylight in the ark, and terminate it within a cubit of the top. Put the entrance to the ark in its side; make it with bottom, second, and third decks. 

“For My part, I am about to bring the Flood—waters upon the earth—to destroy all flesh under the sky in which there is breath of life; everything on earth shall perish. But I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives. And of all that lives, of all flesh, you shall take two of each into the ark to keep alive with you; they shall be male and female. From birds of every kind, cattle of every kind, every kind of creeping thing on earth, two of each shall come to you to stay alive. For your part, take of everything that is eaten and store it away, to serve as food for you and for them.” Noah did so; just as God commanded him, so he did. (Genesis 6:13-22, courtesy of Sefaria)

Well shit. I mean, you gotta give the guy credit for going with the flow– for dealing when the world was literally (or, well, biblically, anyway) washed out from underneath him.
Noah walked with God. We know that from earlier in Torah (Genesis 6:9, to be precise). We know that he was a good guy, maybe the only good guy, in a time with few redeeming qualities. At the same time, it isn’t as though he was actually that special. Sure, he was a descendent of Adam and Eve, but so was everybody else. Sure, he was blameless in his age, (says 6:9), but in an age full of blame, that might only have gotten him so far.

Really, we don’t know why Noah, of all people on earth during its dark beginnings, was chosen to carry on the human line. God could have started over (anybody remember Lilith?), or God could have plucked out some friends for Noah beyond his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law. God didn’t. Instead, God gave God’s orders, and Noah, the good walker alongside that he was, followed right along.

And on the seventh day the waters of the Flood came upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day All the fountains of the great deep burst apart, And the floodgates of the sky broke open. The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights(Genesis 7:10-7:12, courtesy of Sefaria

It can’t have been easy. Construct a floating box, get in the floating box, make your family follow you into the floating box, collect 2 (or 14– it gets confusing– read Genesis and you’ll see what I mean) of every animal to hang out with you in the floating box, and wait.

Before I started rabbinical school, I spent a year living in rural southwest China, where there was a distinctive wet season. It rained for part of at least 40 days straight. It was tough. I wanted blue sky as much as I wanted indoor plumbing. DSCF3642I felt trapped by the seemingly endless damp that seeped into everything from my clothes to my hair (oh my poor hair) to my motivation to leave my home and connect with the local community. Rain is tough. Hanging out in a floating box while it’s raining is tougher. Hanging out in a floating box during the flood–the mayim mabul (מים מבול) aka “the water that wore out everything, cast everything into confusion, and brought everything down from the heights” according to Rashi— yeah, that’s toughest. God didn’t tell Noah what awaited him in the box or what would await him on the other side. As much as we modern humans  like to complain about God taking a big step back from the old interventionist mentality, we might have the better end of the deal here. Who can say? All I know is that, if I were Noah, the Torah would have needed an extra chapter or two to record my flipping out about the flood, the floating box, and the general uncertainty of everything that would happen as a result of both.

A few weeks ago, I found myself flipping out about something else. As a rabbinical student, you see, I am required to go study in Israel for an academic year. When I tell people this, they often respond with something along the lines of “Oh my goodness, you must be so excited!” or “What an incredible opportunity!” or “Wow, I wish I could go with you!” But here’s the truth: I don’t want to go. It’s not that I don’t see the value inherent in studying there, or appreciate the chance to improve my Hebrew (and hopefully Arabic), or even feel some eagerness to live in a new culture for the first time since returning from China five years ago. No, I don’t want to go because I don’t know what’s coming, and I’m afraid of being alone and of being separated from the majority of my classmates (who, for a variety of reasons, are not being required to spend a full academic year studying in Israel). As this summer has slipped closer and closer to its end, and my flight to Ben Gurion has evolved from an abstraction to something very real happening very soon, I have found myself growing closer to panic. Recently, I sat down at my calendar and counted weeks. How many weeks would I be in Israel if all went according to plan?

40 weeks. I would be in Israel for 40 weeks.

I don’t know how to describe exactly what feeling came over me in that moment. All I know is that I felt a sudden peace with the uncertainty to come. The number 40 matters in Judaism. 40 days of the flood. 40 days of Moshe receiving revelation atop Mt. Sinai. 40 seah of water in a mikvah. 40 weeks of gestation. 40 years in the desert.

40 isn’t just any number. It’s a number that marks transformation, an entry into new existence. Learning that I would be spending 40 weeks in Israel helped me to see my time studying there as a time of transformation in line with that of my literal or mythic ancestors. Israel is going to be my ark, my floating box that will lead me to something new. I am going alone, but I am going with a tradition. In that, there is comfort.


So stick around. I’ll be writing about 40, about Noah, about Moshe, about Torah, about Israel, about Palestine, about being a 29-year-old female rabbinical student who speaks better Mandarin than Hebrew (for now– if that hasn’t changed by June I’m gonna have issues), about baking without an oven–oh, and about Judaism too, I imagine. If you know me in real life, this will probably be your best way to see what I’m up to in the Land. If you don’t know me in real life, I hope this gives you some food for thought in some form or another. For now, time to pack. The ark floats in a week.