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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Shabbat Shalom.

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 30

30 weeks.

I’ve been here for 30 shabbats. This shabbat, for the first time, I know when my first shabbat in America will be. I have a ticket home for June 2nd. I’ll be flying from Tel Aviv to Paris, from Paris to Reykjavik, and from Reykjavik to San Francisco. It’s going to be a very, very long day. My first flight takes off at 1 AM, and I get to SFO at 8:30 PM. Only I’m gaining time as I go, so it’s actually some obscene number of hours. I’ll get myself a pastry in CDG though, so I can’t really complain.

I have to say, I’m really glad to be flying into California. I love the idea of my first steps in the USA after 9 months away being in my favorite city and the place that feels most like home. I’m glad to be going through customs there instead of in Chicago or New York or some other hub.

There really is so much to say. It’s been weeks since I offered up a substantial post, and I feel badly about that. A lot a lot has been happening. Mostly very good. Mostly very interesting. Perhaps next week I’ll actually finish one of the several drafts I’ve started.

Generally, my time over the last week has been occupied with revamping the Hamilton Haggadah that my friend Jake and I wrote last year. We’ve been adding bunches of new songs, introducing a baby social media presence, and working away on formatting and the like. We’ve even got a tiny bit of press! Anyway, fun as that’s been it’s meant that my writing brain has been super busy and super not focused on all of this.

This week’s blessing is my ticket home. As excited as I am to get everything possible out of the remainder of my time here, it’s really meaningful to know that, at the end of this stretch, there’s a definite time of return to rest of my life. Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 6.21.07 PM.png

This week, I plan to walk to the beach for erev shabbat (shabbat evening). I’ll stand by the sea and watch the sun drift west. I may bring a siddur (prayerbook) or perhaps I’ll only bring myself. It’s been getting incredibly beautiful these days, and it’s only getting warmer from here. IMG_1122.jpg


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]

Shabbos Blessing- Week 23

It’s my first shabbat in Jaffa. I couldn’t be happier, really. Yesterday, I booked it down to Jerusalem first thing in the morning for a class I take with rabbinical students from my school and three others. It was nice to see friends for sure, and when it comes down to it Jerusalem and Tel Aviv aren’t that far apart. Still, it took about 2 hours door to door for a 2 hour class, and then I had to get back up here, and, frankly, by the time I did I was more than ready to relax and do nothing for a bit. I’ve had a busy week. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but I’m the type that needs downtime, or, well, if not complete downtime at least personal creative time. I need to be able to write (both this and fiction), play music, and get involved in elaborate kitchen projects.

Luckily, until Sunday I’ve got that time. Oh I have homework, and tonight (shockingly enough for a Friday), shabbat begins. But at this very moment, the sun is shining, I’m stocked up on groceries (except for ice cream, which I may make a run for before things close this afternoon), and I am writing this… in my hammock. Which I have strung up slightly haphazardly on my balcony. Next week I hear that it will rain like crazy, but that is a future Emily problem. Present Emily is as happy as a clam who won’t be eaten because everybody nearby keeps kosher.


I still haven’t had time to go through my photos from Europe, so I’ll save my reflections on that for another post. For now, I’ll bring in this week’s blessing. This timing on this one is beautiful, because it’s almost a year ago to the day that I committed to doing a summer unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) at Stanford Hospital. One of my colleagues, a protestant seminarian, sent me a card a while back, with a simple but potent message:

Go you go you! Blessings on your year in Israel with all the cats!

The accompanying card now lives, as all disco cats ought to, on my desk here in Yafo.


Sure enough, there are cats here just as there are in Jerusalem. Yesterday, when I went down to my Jerusalem class, I came across two of my “kittens” who are now getting big enough to really be called cats!


Hillary and Kaplan, soaking up some sun.

And at BINA, where I study here in Tel Aviv, there are a number of resident cats. I am starting to name them and shall continue to over the course of the semester.


Everybody, meet Boba. You can decide whether he’s named for the tapioca pearls or the bounty hunter.

Tonight isn’t only shabbat. It’s also Tu B’shvat, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat, which is known as the New Year for the Trees. This is a relatively minor holiday, one of the three Jewish new year’s celebrations that gets less air time than Rosh Hashanah. Still, I love that it exists, that there is a religious holiday (as opposed to the US’s secular Arbor Day) to celebrate the natural world. There aren’t a whole lot of traditions, but a lot of people here plant trees and have seders (special meals) with different sorts of grape juice, dried fruit, and nuts. Tomorrow night BINA is having a party of some sort to celebrate, and I may go check it out. Most things outdoors entice me, and BINA’s campus is gorgeous and largely outdoors.


In the meantime, I will be getting ready to enjoy shabbat lounging on my balcony, working on some musical pursuits, and perhaps getting in a trip to the beach…10 minutes walk from here. Because I am in Tel Aviv now. The Ark is soaking up sun in between bouts of rain. And everything is just a little bit brighter.


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.


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.


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.


(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.