Shabbos Blessing- Week 16

(New to shabbos blessings? Learn more here. And don’t forget that I’m trying to get 8 more for the 8 nights of Hanukkah! Happy to accept via comment/facebook/email/text/smoke signal)

I gotta say, these days I’m grateful for my (self-imposed) weekly post. Life gets so busy and having time to write can definitely be a challenge. Still, I haven’t missed a Friday yet and I hope to keep that up! And hopefully to get a chance to actually finish one of the 4 or 5 posts I’ve started and had to abandon over the last few weeks.

Of course, a lot of what’s been keeping me busy is really fun stuff. Last night, I went with a bunch of folks to see Rogue One (no, people who know me well, I don’t know how I managed to wait a week after opening day either).


future JTS rabbi + future RRC rabbi (matching entirely unintentional)

It was my first time at an Israeli movie theater, and I had a blast. Not least because watching a movie about x-wings in 3D IMAX is guaranteed to be fun. img_9168

In the meantime, Hanukkah is coming. Soon! Like, tomorrow night soon! Like, Christmas Eve/Hanukkah Night 1 extravaganza! Here, one gets a little more attention than the other. Since the movie theaters are not decked out with Christmas trees, they get dreidels instead. Very exciting stuff. And outside, we get giant menorahs.


But don’t worry, Christmas! I did find a Christmas tree…at the YMCA.


But most of the decorations up these days look a bit more like this:


Totally pretty, right? Just not what this American-raised kid is used to in mid-December. I’m really excited for Hanukkah here. We’ve got awesome lights and giant menorahs and fun selection of sufganiyot.

This coming week, on Wednesday night, my parents are arriving from California. My dad hasn’t been here since high school, and it will be my mom’s first trip. I’m so excited to show them around and spend time together. It’s crazy to think that this part of my time in Israel is already here. It felt quite far off when I got on the plane in September. Now, I’ve got less than a month left living in Jerusalem.

This week’s blessing relates to time. It comes from one of my first friends in college, a neighbor of mine my first year with whom I shared many a choir tour, music class, and meal at Cafe Mac. I was so delighted to see what she shared, because I find Kahlil Gibran’s writing to be deliciously vibrant and soul-filled. She shared his poem, “On Time:”


You would measure time the measureless and the immeasurable.
You would adjust your conduct and even direct the course of your spirit according to hours and seasons.
Of time you would make a stream upon whose bank you would sit and watch its flowing.

Yet the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness,
And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.
And that that which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.
Who among you does not feel that his power to love is boundless?
And yet who does not feel that very love, though boundless, encompassed within the centre of his being, and moving not from love thought to love thought, nor from love deeds to other love deeds?
And is not time even as love is, undivided and spaceless?

But if in your thought you must measure time into seasons, let each season encircle all the other seasons,
And let today embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing.


That which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.

The words give me chills. I think back to a class most of my friends and I took in college, basically a “Physics for Poets” course. On the last day of the class, our professor, an old Korean man who was on his “last semester before retirement” for at least 5 years, gave a lecture in which he reminded each of us that we were made of star stuff. When I feel the world seeming too closed off or too pained or too terrible, I try to remember that. The makings of everything that once was are in everything that is. We are all tied to one another. As we look forward to throwing more light into the world beginning tomorrow night, I hope we can illuminate the star stuff within each of us.

Today, I’ve got an hour or so before heading off to synagogue where I’ll be helping to do some musical shabbat leading with classmates from Ziegler. For now, I’m admiring the little baby hanukkiah that I bought at the crazy-packed-with-shabbat-shoppers-and-birthright-kids shuk this morning. Come at me, Hanukkah!



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.


39 Weeks

I have been here for a week.


Yes. Here! Where that little dot is! That’s me according to my phone, and phones don’t lie. שׁם (sham) has become פה (po)! Dreidels will never be the same.

I have been here for a week. I’ve been staring at the 40 week countdown for what feels like so long that the very notion of my time here being less than 40 weeks seems impossible. Yet, the countdown has started. I’m in the ark. The ark is floating. And this first week has been all about me getting my sea legs.

So I guess I’m in Yeshiva now? I understand that this shouldn’t be a weird concept. After all, I am learning to be a rabbi. Intensive text study is par for the course. Yet, this feels different. I’ve done 12 hours of Talmud in the last 4 days. I’ll do the same for the rest of the semester. We pray every morning and afternoon. I fall asleep with fragments of nusakh stuck in my head. The learning is intense, and it is good.


Talmud. Isn’t it pretty? I bought it yesterday. 

Grocery shopping in Israel requires more concentration than studying Talmud. There are so many things in the shops, and I don’t know what half of them are, and the things I do recognize or can puzzle out are often not what they seem. A few days ago, I bought a container of what I was very excited to identify as feta. Only, when I got it home, I quickly discovered that it was not like American feta at all. It tasted ok, but it wasn’t really what I wanted. And Israeli groceries are not cheap. In fact, on the whole they seem pricier than in the states, with the delightful exceptions (so far) of hummus, tehina, and bell peppers.

I am also learning that I truly have no notion of metric units. What, pray tell, is a kilogram, and how do I know how many kilograms of apples I am buying? If I can figure this out, I can avoid paying $5 for three apples next time. Of course…it would also be helpful for me to read stickers next time and see that the apples I’m buying are from Washington State. At least they are yummy, even if the locavore in me is griping with every bite. Also yummy? Falafel. I have eaten it twice in the last week and look forward to eating it much, much more in the weeks and months to come.


Walking anywhere still requires google. Walking anywhere is possible. Last week on shabbat I walked to services (at Har El, a Reform synagogue with a good bit of spirit and responsive readings of psalms… in Hebrew), walked to dinner, and walked home. The streets were traveled– not like an American big city where they’re busy and loud. Just traveled. People were out and about. The shops were largely closed. The roads were largely free of cars. It felt nice. It felt safe. It felt like shabbat.


This coming shabbat I’ll be resting with most of the Conservative Yeshiva cohort somewhere down south. I’ll post my weekly blessing before I head out Friday morning and look forward to telling y’all about it when I get back.


Shabbos Blessing- Week 1

Today is my first Friday morning in Israel. That’s not saying too much, considering that I’ve been here for all of 3 mornings, but it still feels significant. For one thing, I slept for over 10 hours straight last night. Oops.

Tonight is shabbat. Tomorrow is shabbat. Sunday morning, school begins in earnest. Here in Jerusalem, the weekend is really Friday/Saturday. Sunday is יום רישון – Yom Rishon- First Day. It’s a rhythm I’ll need to get used to, a rhythm that lines up wonderfully with Torah’s view of the days of the week and that lines up completely differently from the USA’s view of the days of the week. To be fair, I have a little practice, because rabbinical school is sometimes in the middle. My first year at RRC, I had Fridays off but taught Hebrew School on Sunday mornings. I lived in two calendars, in that sense, melding weekend vibes with the workday grind and vice versa. Here in Jerusalem, however, shabbat is most definitely shabbat. I’m excited to experience it.


During my last week in the states, I put out a call for 40 blessings, one for each week that I would be spending here in Israel. It seems like I confused some folks, who thought that I meant a religious, deep, personal prayer. While those are certainly welcome, I really meant any kind of blessing at all– a well-wish of sorts, a reminder of home, whatever! Something like “Eat lots of falafel!” would suffice. 🙂 In any case, I have not gotten 40 blessings yet, but I have received some, and they are lovely. I’ve decided to make Friday morning blessing time, and, just for fun, I’m going to post the blessings in the order in which I received them.

This first one comes from a classmate at RRC, and it does seem entirely appropriate for this first week here:

May you find yourself lost in a country of awe and wonder and may you soak up the generosity of those who help you on your path.

I have already had opportunity to soak up this blessing. Tonight I’ll be going to a classmate’s home for shabbat dinner. I’m pretty shy around new people and places, and as of yesterday I had no shabbat plans whatsoever except to try to work up the nerve to go to services somewhere on my own. At the end of the day, a classmate I had known for all of 30 hours stood up and announced that he and his partner would be happy to host anybody who didn’t have plans for shabbat dinner. I walked over to him, along with a few others, and said I’d love to come. To be honest, I’m still a little nervous, because most of the guests know each other already, but I am attempting to soak up the generosity that is offered and to take advantage of being in this place.

On the flip side of this experience is one that I had my second night here, when I ventured into a grocery store for the first time. I felt more or less illiterate as I wandered the aisles searching for some basics. Some labels had English but many did not, and my food vocabulary is not the best. As I managed to find what I needed, sort of, an older man came up to me and asked in a clearly American accent if I spoke English. It turned out that he and his family were visiting and needed to purchase parve or dairy soup. Like I said, my food vocabulary is not the best, but as I studied the various soup options with them, I realized that they were all labeled “meat” or “parve” in Hebrew. I was able to help them pick out a few parve options and remind myself that, even though there is so very, very much that I do not know, I am not entirely helpless. Perhaps the American visitors thought that I was being generous with my time, but their generosity in allowing me to recognize the (tiny though it is) amount of knowledge that I possess was an incredible gift of its own.

Shabbat Shalom. Thanks for journeying with me.