Friday, November 26, 2010


We were blessed to have my husband's entire immediate family at our home for Thanksgiving. Those of us who were so moved said what we were grateful for, but I always feel at those moments that whatever I say comes out trite- you know, "I am thankful we are all here together."

Well, that was pretty much what I said, but at that moment I didn't feel so trite. My mother in law has had a very difficult year health-wise, and I truly am grateful for the gift of having her with us. To get my husband's entire family in the same house at the same time requires skills rivaled by those in charge of corralling shoppers on Black Friday at the Mall of America, so another thing to be grateful for. I just returned safely from a glorious three weeks in Israel (half of which were spent with the JWRP Transform and Grow trip and half with Cheese Guy and a spectacular cast of characters including family and friends). And those are the big things. To even get started on the little things would take forever.

But I guess that's the point, isn't it? Take forever and be grateful for the little things. You'll never run out of things to be thankful for once you start thinking small.

1. that Julia Child is finally getting recognition from an entirely new generation of young adults (I'm sitting on the couch watching old "Julia Child with Master Chefs" with Cheese Guy).
2. That I don't have to worry about how to stay warm when it's 26 degrees outside.
3. That I don't have to shop at any stores on Black Friday because I can't afford to buy presents otherwise (not that that's why all people shop on Black Friday, obviously, but that's the only reason I could ever be dragged out on such a day).


Friday, November 19, 2010

First Shabbos back home

Jet lag can be crazy, but it certainly lets you get an early start on the day. Here it is before 10 am, and I have challah ready to go into the oven (final proof going on as we speak, so to speak). This morning was a powerful experience. I made a commitment one of the first days in Israel with the JWRP that I would take on the mitzvah of challah (thanks again, Sara Simpser, for all your assistance in Tsfat that led up to my taking on this mitzvah. I pray for your success in all your endeavors as a merit for the mitzvah you performed that day). G-d helped me to arrange it so that I have had the opportunity to make challah every week since then.

This week was the first one on my own. Let me tell you, it was spectacular.

When I recited the paragraph after saying the bracha, I felt this charge go through me. Usually I struggle in the Hebrew, because I don't really knonw what the words mean, but I can read the Hebrew so I do After this week, I am sticking to the English words. I felt every one of them as they came out of my mouth. Until I can feel the Hebrew words as fully as I can feel the English, I will always say the English words as well. Many people have told me that G-d speaks all languages, and I thought I knew that, but this felt like the first time that I prayed someone else's words with my whole heart.

I have a feeling this week's challah will taste special.


Monday, November 15, 2010


We drove from Petah Tikva to Eilat today, stopping off at Mitzpe Ramon, the largest crater in the Negev desert- Israel's version of the Grand Canyon. It was stunning. Unfortunately, the Visitor's Center was closed, so we didn't get the "full experience."

I saw plenty- much closer than my uncomfortable-with-open-heights husband would have liked, but when faced with an incredible view of a huge canyon, what's a girl to do??

Dinner tonight was a delicious grilled Labrak (a type of sea bass), while Patch had the grouper. Both caught fresh locally that day.

If my mother could see me eating whole fish, her eyes would pop out. I have incredibly vivid memories of her reaction to passing by whole fish at a market, screaming, "They're looking at me!!!"
Tomorrow, a lazy day in Eilat.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Uff-Da, Israeli style

It's been a wonderful yet exhausting time in Petah Tikva. Last night we stayed up late talking with my cousin Aviyam (who will eternally be Yami to me, much to his chagrin I am sure) and his girlfriend Ifat. Fun time, but didn't get to sleep until midnight. I thought it was going to be an easy day with my other cousin Galit and her family. A "nature walk" in the Kelah-Gallim nature reserve, then a late lunch at a restaurant in Haifa. Sounds lovely, right? It certainly started out that way. Weather was lovely. The walk was in the valley, down hill mostly. That was what began to give me a weird feeling... if you go down, you have to go up! The walk ended up taking about five hours, and the last 25 % was brutal. I can't even come up with a word that seems appropriate for how punishing it was- "torturous" even minimizes the experience. There were times when I thought literally I couldn't go on. Rock climbing (both up and down, although the down parts weren't so bad), heat, sun, twisted ankles and knees, and muscles that had never seen activity like this, all combined to leave me praying (literally!) that I didn't end up like one of those marathoners that collapses and soils themselves, completely unable to go on.

Looking back at the trail, I'm pretty sure we walked the entire valley!

This look of glee on my face is because I don't have to move my legs for at leat twenty minutes. My cousin's husband went to get our car and drive it back to us.

Afterwards we went to dinner at Douzan, an Arab restaurant in Haifa. I immediately ordered a coffee, because I thought I was gonna pass out in my fattoush (that's a salad with toasted pita for you with the funny minds). Food has rarely tasted this good- maybe because I was so glad I didn't have to be airlifted out of the valley.

We drove back amid the classic Saturday night Israeli traffic, and because we were SO late we didn't even get a chance to shower before we went to Yaffa's house. Yaffa is my uncle Ilan's sister, so even though we're only related by marriage, I see her every time I come to Israel (well, we missed her last time, and I really regret it). So I haven't seen her in about twenty years, and the first thing she says to me upon opening the door, is how much I look like my mother. Wow, right to the heart, that one.

It was a wonderful visit. A great ending to a really hard day. The only pain that remained was the one in my right ankle- it's remarkable how emotional high can heal physical low.


Thursday, November 11, 2010


Two nights ago I sent all my Minnesota women home and met the Cheese Guy at the airport. Happy happy joy joy-- he was not detained or bothered in the least. The only thing that did happen was an electrical malfunction that led to a two hour delay (hopefully he'll get some FF miles out of them for the trouble). It was so wonderful to see him again. My uncle Ilan and the two of us stayed up talking until about midnight- it was a good night's sleep even with a cup of late-night coffee in me.

Yesterday we drove up to Yavne'el, in the north, near Tiberias. My rebbitzen's parents have a place here that has three rental apartments, called tzimmers in Hebrew. We're staying in a lovely one-bedroom that has a great kitchenette, nice bathroom, a sitting room, besides the jacuzzi in the bedroom. We had a drink up on their patio with a stunning view of the Galilee and then had a wonderful dinner with them. It was so unbelievably relaxing, which I really needed after all the go-go-go of the JWRP trip.

This morning I woke up early and had breakfast with Chana before Patch woke up- I was actually in the middle of making challah when he walked in. I am so happy I had a chance to make challah this week. Coming up soon I will blog more about why- but I don't have time right now to explain.

Today we went to the Kfar Tavor winery- honestly, their 2009 Shiraz is the best kosher wine I've ever had. We are going to hopefully ship some home, but of course we had to buy a bottle to drink while we are here. We also got a bottle of Sauvignon BLanc- really good on such a warm Israeli day.

We tried to go to the Tnuva factory, but their tours are all in Hebrew and consist mostly of looking at the machine that puts the plastic over the cheese-- it'd be like visiting the Kraft factory in the States. When they found out we didn't speak Hebrew, they pretty much dissuaded us from going in. Oh well-- we just found a local Supersol and bought a few kinds of Tnuva to taste on our own.

Back at the tzimmer resting, before we go to Decks for dinner tonight. I can't wait to share my favorite restaurant with Patch. I hope he enjoys it as nuch as I do!

Pictures hopefully later tonight--


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wonderful Shabbat

I haven't posted for a couple of days- first, because I spent so much time setting up my photo album on Facebook, and then because it was Shabbat. I kept Shabbat here, and it was beautiful. For those who don't know, we abstain from creating (it may also be thought of as "work" but it's easier for me to remember this way, since as someone said, 'We can move around every piece of furniture in our home, but we can't strike a match, and which one is more work?') on Shabbat to remember that there is a Creator, and as Rabbi Marcus taught us today, to "thin the mask" between us and Him. This is a great concept. For six days G-d created the world, which serves as a mask between us and Him. He does that so that we have the free will to choose to have a relationship with Him. If He didn't, if he revealed Himself to us, then we'd be so overwhelmed with the pleasure of His company, we'd try to attach ourselves to Him and never let go-- but that's not free will. So for six days G-d created, and the seventh day, G-d rested. Rested from creating the mask, so on Shabbat, the mask thins. Every thing we do to keep Shabbat thins the mask and allows us to connect to Him. Every thing we do that doesn't keep Shabbat thickens the mask and makes that connection more difficult. Awesome class.

I was blessed to spend Shabbat in the Old City of Jerusalem. When you're not carrying anything you can almost imagine yourself living there, just running around the corner to your neighbor's house- and I've walked the same streets enough times to almost know my way! I just think for Shabbat it's the most magical place on earth. I guess it's not magical, because magic isn't real.... it's just very, very special. Holy. Praying at the Kotel, seeing every style of Jew come to welcome the Sabbath- even a group of secular Israeli teens shared their song book with T and I and we sang songs with them for a while. We don't speak Hebrew, they didn't speak English, but we were all Jews and that was the only language needed.

I hope I merit to spend another Shabbat in the Old City someday soon. We could all use a little more holiness in our lives.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Happiness, the Old City, and the Kotel Tunnel Tours

We started off the morning with a class on Happiness Principles. Rabbi Zelig Pliskin is an amazing and successful author and teacher who has written MANY books on the topics of gratitude and happiness, and the moment you lay eyes on him, you can see why. The man radiates. His face was made to smile. So full of joy. You can't help but feel happy in his presence and feel like his principles make sense, since they so obviously work for him. I will do my best to blog at another time about this class in more detail (after I return, I mean), because I think it deserves more attention.

I then took a participant to the Terem, the stand-alone emergency room I wrote about last year. Once again, I was privileged to see the fruits of the labor of Dr. David Applebaum of blessed memory (go ahead and Google his name, since I'm guessing few outside of Israel know who he is and his stunning story). I'm beginning to think- "What's a trip to Israel without bringing someone to the ER?" I was sad to miss handing out the siddurim (prayer books) to the women on the trip- I remember receiving mine last year, and was really looking forward to giving them.

I did get back in time to rush a group of women to Mea Sha'arim and back in a couple of hours. It was a bit like herding cats, but only slightly less difficult. My instructions were as thus: "This is not a browsing trip, ladies, this is a power shopping trip. Decisiveness is key. If the item doesn't sing heavenly songs to you as you pass, keep going! Dawdle and you WILL be left behind!" With G-d's help, we made it back with two minutes to spare. I could not believe it. However, I must say, it was a delightful time.

Last stop of the night was the Old City and Kotel tunnel tour. The only downside was that our tour began so close to sunset that we missed a lot of beautiful sights of the Old City. Our tour guide, David Sussman, was amazing. I am hoping to book him for a half day tour of the Old City when Patrick comes to join me. His command of history and how the different civilizations interweaved was so interesting-- too many facts to really file away, they were coming so fast. I think Patrick would really enjoy it.

The Kotel tunnel tour was perhaps the coolest part of the night. There is a part of the Western Wall they have excavated that is directly across from the place where the Holy of Holies (the ark, where G-d's Divine Presence dwelled when the Temple was standing) was located. I put my hand on it to pray and immediately burst into tears. Not completely sure why, and a little freaked out, I just went with it. It was great. The Talmud says the gates of tears are always open in Heaven. I certainly hope so.

We were so exhausted when we finished, we stumbled back to the Mamilla Mall and had a really excellent meal at Herzl (meat restaurant). If you ever get to Jerusalem, I'd recommend it. After that, I'm falling into bed, but it's still after midnight. Up at 6 am for Masada and camel rides tomorrow!! I wish at home I could get by on this little sleep.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Photo Blog for Day 2 in Israel

It is past midnight, so tonight I'm mostly doing some photos. Tsfat was great, but we visited the same amazing spots as last year so I am not going to write about them again. We arrived in Jerusalem at 8 pm, and Joy, Ellen and I walked to Mamilla Mall and had a light dinner and a wonderful chat at Cafe Cafe.

Glorious view of Lake Kinneret from our window at the King Solomon Hotel in Tiberias.

The fabulous Esti Herskovitz, our tour guide in Tsfat and the Kinneret, speaking to us outside the Ari Ashkenazi synagogue

Stained glass window in the Ari Ashkenazi synagogue

Singers after lunch at the Red Khan (the Red Mosque)

JWRP women dancing at the Red Khan

Tomorrow, we tour the new Aish Building! Last I saw it, it was covered in tarps and concrete dust. I can't wait!!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Welcome back!

Such overwhelming feelings being back in Israel, even more so because it was a very eventful trip. Easy flight to New York, lulling me into a false sense of security. Then it went haywire. First, the ticket agent gave my passport away. I had to redistribute some contents between my bags because of the weight limit, and while I was doing that he checked in the woman behind me. When I was done, I asked for my passport back, and he replied that he already gave it to me. I said he didn't, he said he did. This went on for a disturbing length of time, all while I was going through both bags looking for it. Finally, I thought about the woman he checked in- thank G-d (really!) that she was a member of my group. She was a bit confused, but checked in her purse and "lo and behold"- there it was! Clearly the careless check-in agent was not Israeli El-Al, because they NEVER would have given away my passport.

Now the most eventful part of the trip. I loaned my phone to someone so she could take care of some business with her phone, and ........ She lost it in New York.

I didn't find out about this until I was on the plane- I went to get my phone from her so I could turn off the data roaming and the data push and ..... she looked at me helplessly and with tears said she didn't have it. Didn't know what happened to it. Didn't know where it was.

I really don't have words for what went through my mind. I know I should not be too attached to a thing, but my first thoughts went to all that I had on the phone. Final pictures of my beloved pet Lilah, photos of my travels with the Cheese Guy, food shots. Email. Google Maps. Bejeweled Blitz!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oy.

I went to the Lost and Found at Ben-Gurion, and waited for a very long time while, in classic Israeli fashion, the people behind the desk sat there looking everywhere but at me. Finally one guy helped me- mostly in disbelief that someone somehow lost my phone instead of giving it back to me. He kept asking me, "Why didn't she just give it back to you?" I wanted to tell him, "That's what happens when someone loses something!" He took my info, but I need to call back with a contact number so they can get in touch with me. The flight attendants sent a couple of messages back to the gate in NY, but I really hold out no hope of ever seeing Gus again. This way, if I do, it will be pure jubilation. And yes, I did name my iPhone Gus, but that shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me- our cars are named Zelda and Martha, and my first computer was named Chester. I'm a namer. Get over it.

So, now. I'm in Israel, with a (thank G-d!) working computer and modem that has me connected. I've seen my Uncle Ilan, who came and met me at the airport, just so he could give me a hug and a kiss and shlep my luggage cart to the bus. It's 7:25 pm, a little after noon at home. My poor devoted Cheese Guy is left with the task of cancelling my iPhone (I so wish I had the iPhone tracker app right about now) and I get to go back to the amazing JWRP experience. Our bus is on the way to Tiberias, where we will dine at Decks, this phenomenal open-air grill restaurant, and then get to the hotel, where our luggage will be waiting for us. Delicious food, dancing, and a wonderful view of Lake Kinneret (in the dark, as it gets dark at around 5 pm these days) awaits. Love to you all.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

And so it begins.... again!

Finalizing the packing details and keeping myriad lists helps occupy my mind-- it's a good thing, because otherwise the reality of what I'm getting ready for would set in and I might not be able to finish what I need to do! I am not going to be sleeping in my own bed for almost three weeks, and I could not be more excited about it. Never before have I been to Israel twice so close together. It is simply the best feeling to be going back to a place that I "know"-- it's like traveling back to a place you used to live. I find myself remembering what the streets look like, where certain shops are, how it feels to approach the Kotel (the Western Wall). What a huge blessing to be able to share this with a new group of women! I think some will be on my flight to New York, but we'll all meet up in JFK before the flight to Ben Gurion.

Looking forward to sharing my journey with you--


Friday, October 22, 2010

Israel, Round 2

Getting ready to leave for Israel on October 31st, another trip with the Jewish Women's Renaissance Project. This time I am traveling as a madricha (leader, teacher, guide). We will be helpng this new group of women get the most out of their experience. I can't wait, but am a little nervous. Do I have what it takes to inspire them? Hopefully, with Hashem's guidance, I will. I will try to blog this time like I did last, both about my JWRP trip and about my travels with The Cheese Guy when he joins me at the end of the mission. We'll be in Israel and around for another week and a half. Should be grand-- stay tuned!


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Call to Action- VERY LONG POST

This is a partial reprint of the sermon Rabbi Shalom Lewis gave to his congregation Etz Chaim in Marietta, GA on Rosh Hashanah of this year. It is not uplifting, but it is definitely inspiring, and I agree with it. My deepest gratitude to Rabbi Lewis for allowing me to reprint it, "as long as it retains its message." I hope everyone who reads this, Jew and non-Jew alike, finds the message.


Many years ago a Chasid used to travel from shtetl to shtetl selling holy books. On one occasion he came to a wealthy land owner and asked if he would like to purchase a book of Torah teachings. The banker agreed and not only purchased the book, but paid for it with a hundred ruble note. He then began to chat with the Chassid and offered him a cigar, taking one also for himself. The Chassid noticed that the banker proceeded to rip a page from the holy book he had just bought and holding it to the open flame on the stove, used the page to light his cigar. The Chassid said not a word but simply drew out from his pocket the 100 ruble note he had just received from the banker, held it over the stove as well and used it to light his cigar.

This simple, little tale reflects a profound divergence of values. Our sympathy clearly and instinctively is not with the banker but with the pious Chassid. None of us would come to the defense of the banker. None of us would claim moral supremacy for the banker. None of us would justify his boorish deed. As the sages of the Talmud would say – “Pshita – It is so obvious.” Sadly though our planet is immersed in perversity where morality is not so manifest – where the book burner is a hero and the pious one, a villain.

I thought long and I thought hard on whether to deliver the sermon I am about to share. We all wish to bounce happily out of shul on the High Holidays, filled with warm fuzzies, ready to gobble up our brisket, our honey cakes and our kugel. We want to be shaken and stirred – but not too much. We want to be guilt-schlepped – but not too much. We want to be provoked but not too much. We want to be transformed but not too much.

I get it, but as a rabbi I have a compelling obligation, a responsibility to articulate what is in my heart and what I passionately believe must be said and must be heard. And so, I am guided not by what is easy to say but by what is painful to express. I am guided not by the frivolous but by the serious. I am guided not by delicacy but by urgency.

We are at war. We are at war with an enemy as savage, as voracious, as heartless as the Nazis but one wouldn’t know it from our behavior. During WWII we didn’t refer to storm troopers as freedom fighters. We didn’t call the Gestapo, militants. We didn’t see the attacks on our Merchant Marine as acts by rogue sailors. We did not justify the Nazis rise to power as our fault. We did not grovel before the Nazis, thumping our hearts and confessing to abusing and mistreating and humiliating the German people. We did not apologize for Dresden, nor for The Battle of the Bulge, nor for El Alamein, nor for D-Day.

Not all Germans were Nazis – most were decent, most were revolted by the Third Reich, most were good citizens hoisting a beer, earning a living and tucking in their children at night. But, too many looked away, too many cried out in lame defense – I didn’t know.” Too many were silent. Guilt absolutely falls upon those who committed the atrocities, but responsibility and guilt falls upon those who did nothing as well. Fault was not just with the goose steppers but with those who pulled the curtains shut, said and did nothing.

We are at war… yet too many stubbornly and foolishly don’t put the pieces together and refuse to identify the evil doers. We are circumspect and disgracefully politically correct.

Let me mince no words in saying that from Fort Hood to Bali, from Times Square to London, from Madrid to Mumbai, from 9/11 to Gaza, the murderers, the barbarians are radical Islamists.

To camouflage their identity is sedition. To excuse their deeds is contemptible. To mask their intentions is unconscionable.

A few years ago I visited Lithuania on a Jewish genealogical tour. It was a stunning journey and a very personal, spiritual pilgrimage. When we visited Kovno we davened Maariv at the only remaining shul in the city. Before the war there were thirty-seven shuls for 38,000 Jews. Now only one, a shrinking, gray congregation. We made minyon for the handful of aged worshippers in the Choral Synagogue, a once majestic, jewel in Kovno.

After my return home I visited Cherry Hill for Shabbos. At the oneg an elderly family friend, Joe Magun, came over to me.

“Shalom,” he said. “Your abba told me you just came back from Lithuania.” “Yes,” I replied. “It was quite a powerful experience.” “Did you visit the Choral Synagogue in Kovno? The one with the big arch in the courtyard?” “Yes, I did. In fact, we helped them make minyon.” His eyes opened wide in joy at our shared memory. For a moment he gazed into the distance and then, he returned. “Shalom, I grew up only a few feet away from the arch. The Choral Synagogue was where I davened as a child.”

He paused for a moment and once again was lost in the past. His smile faded. Pain filled his wrinkled face. “I remember one Shabbos in 1938 when Vladimir Jabotinsky came to the shul” (Jabotinsky was Menachim Begin’s mentor – he was a fiery orator, an unflinching Zionist radical, whose politics were to the far right.) Joe continued “When Jabotinsky came, he delivered the drash on Shabbos morning and I can still hear his words burning in my ears. He climbed up to the shtender, stared at us from the bima, glared at us with eyes full of fire and cried out. ‘EHR KUMT. YIDN FARLAWST AYER SHTETL – He’s coming. Jews abandon your city.’ ”

We thought we were safe in Lithuania from the Nazis, from Hitler. We had lived there, thrived for a thousand years but Jabotinsky was right -- his warning prophetic. We got out but most did not.”

We are not in Lithuania. It is not the 1930s. There is no Luftwaffe overhead. No Panzer divisions on our borders. But make no mistake; we are under attack – our values, our tolerance, our freedom, our virtue, our land.

Now before some folks roll their eyes and glance at their watches let me state emphatically, unmistakably – I have no pathology of hate, nor am I a manic Paul Revere, galloping through the countryside. I am a lover of humanity, all humanity. Whether they worship in a synagogue, a church, a mosque, a temple or don’t worship at all. I have no bone of bigotry in my body, but what I do have is hatred for those who hate, intolerance for those who are intolerant, and a guiltless, unstoppable obsession to see evil eradicated.

Today the enemy is radical Islam but it must be said sadly and reluctantly that there are unwitting, co-conspirators who strengthen the hands of the evil doers. Let me state that the overwhelming number of Muslims are good Muslims, fine human beings who want nothing more than a Jeep Cherokee in their driveway, a flat screen TV on their wall and a good education for their children, but these good Muslims have an obligation to destiny, to decency that thus far for the most part they have avoided. The Kulturkampf is not only external but internal as well. The good Muslims must sponsor rallies in Times Square, in Trafalgar Square, in the UN Plaza, on the Champs Elysee, in Mecca condemning terrorism, denouncing unequivocally the slaughter of the innocent. Thus far, they have not. The good Muslims must place ads in the NY Times. They must buy time on network TV, on cable stations, in the Jerusalem Post, in Le Monde, in Al Watan, on Al Jazeena condemning terrorism, denouncing unequivocally the slaughter of the innocent – thus far, they have not. Their silence allows the vicious to tarnish Islam and define it.
Brutal acts of commission and yawning acts of omission both strengthen the hand of the devil.

The mystifying litany of our foolishness continues. Should there be a shul in Hebron on the site where Baruch Goldstein gunned down twenty-seven Arabs at noonday prayers? Should there be a museum praising the U.S. Calvary on the site of Wounded Knee? Should there be a German cultural center in Auschwitz? Should a church be built in the Syrian town of Ma’arra where Crusaders slaughtered over 100,000 Muslims? Should there be a thirteen story mosque and Islamic Center only a few steps from Ground Zero?

Despite all the rhetoric, the essence of the matter can be distilled quite easily. The Muslim community has the absolute, constitutional right to build their building wherever they wish. I don’t buy the argument – “When we can build a church or a synagogue in Mecca they can build a mosque here.” America is greater than Saudi Arabia. And New York is greater than Mecca. Democracy and freedom must prevail.

Can they build? Certainly. May they build? Certainly. But should they build at that site? No -- but that decision must come from them, not from us. Sensitivity and compassion cannot be measured in feet or yards or in blocks. One either feels the pain of others and cares, or does not. If those behind this project are good, peace-loving, sincere, tolerant Muslims, as they claim, then they should know better, rip up the zoning permits and build elsewhere.

Let us understand that the radical Islamist assaults all over the globe are but skirmishes, fire fights, and vicious decoys. Christ and the anti-Christ. The Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness; the bloody collision between civilization and depravity is on the border between Lebanon and Israel. It is on the sandy beaches of Tel Aviv and on the cobblestoned mall of Ben Yehuda Street. It is in the underground schools of Sderot and on the bullet-proofed inner-city buses. It is in every school yard, hospital, nursery, classroom, park, theater – in every place of innocence and purity.

Israel is the laboratory – the test market. Every death, every explosion, every grisly encounter is not a random, bloody orgy. It is a calculated, strategic probe into the heart, guts and soul of the West.

As Israel, imperfect as she is, resists the onslaught, many in the Western World have lost their way displaying not admiration, not sympathy, not understanding, for Israel’s galling plight, but downright hostility and contempt. Without moral clarity, we are doomed because Israel’s galling plight ultimately will be ours. Hanna Arendt in her classic Origins of Totalitarianism accurately portrays the first target of tyranny as the Jew. We are the trial balloon. The canary in the coal mine. If the Jew/Israel is permitted to bleed with nary a protest from “good guys” then tyranny snickers and pushes forward with its agenda.

Moral confusion is a deadly weakness and it has reached epic proportions in the West; from the Oval Office to the UN, from the BBC to Reuters to MSNBC, from the New York Times to Le Monde, from university campuses to British teachers' unions, from the International Red Cross to Amnesty International, from Goldstone to Elvis Costello, from the Presbyterian Church to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

There is a message sent and consequences when our president visits Turkey and Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and not Israel.

There is a message sent and consequences when free speech on campus is only for those championing Palestinian rights.

There is a message sent and consequences when the media deliberately doctors and edits film clips to demonize Israel.

There is a message sent and consequences when the UN blasts Israel relentlessly, effectively ignoring Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, North Korea, China and other noxious states.

There is a message sent and consequences when murderers and terrorists are defended by the obscenely transparent “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

A few days after the Gaza blockade incident in the spring, a congregant happened past my office, glanced in and asked in a friendly tone –

“Rabbi. How’re y’ doing?”

I looked up, sort of smiled and replied – “I’ve had better days.”

“What’s the matter? Is there anything I can do to cheer you up?” he inquired.

“Thank you for the offer but I’m just bummed out today and I showed him a newspaper article I was reading.

“Madrid gay pride parade bans Israeli group over Gaza Ship Raid.” I explained to my visitor – “The Israeli gay pride contingent from Tel Aviv was not allowed to participate in the Spanish gay pride parade because the mayor of Tel Aviv did not apologize for the raid by the Israeli military.”

The only country in the entire Middle East where gay rights exist, is Israel. The only country in the entire Middle East where there is a gay pride parade, is Israel. The only country in the Middle East that has gay neighborhoods and gay bars, is Israel.

Gays in the Gaza would be strung up, executed by Hamas if they came out and yet Israel is vilified and ostracized. Disinvited to the parade.

It is exhausting and dispiriting. We live in an age that is redefining righteousness where those with moral clarity are an endangered, beleaguered specie.

How do we convince the world and many of our own, that this is not just anti-Semitism, that this is not just anti-Zionism but a full throttled attack by unholy, radical Islamists on everything that is morally precious to us?

How do we convince the world and many of our own that conciliation is not an option, that compromise is not a choice?

The threat is so unbelievably clear and the enemy so unbelievably ruthless how anyone in their right mind doesn’t get it is baffling. Let’s try an analogy. If someone contracted a life-threatening infection and we not only scolded them for using antibiotics but insisted that the bacteria had a right to infect their body and that perhaps, if we gave the invading infection an arm and a few toes, the bacteria would be satisfied and stop spreading

Anyone buy that medical advice? Well, folks, that’s our approach to the radical Islamist bacteria. It is amoral, has no conscience and will spread unless it is eradicated. – There is no negotiating. Appeasement is death.

I was no great fan of George Bush – didn’t vote for him. (By the way, I’m still a registered Democrat.) I disagreed with many of his policies but one thing he had right. His moral clarity was flawless when it came to the War on Terror, the War on Radical Islamist Terror. There was no middle ground – either you were friend or foe. There was no place in Bush’s world for a Switzerland. He knew that this competition was not Toyota against G.M., not the Iphone against the Droid, not the Braves against the Phillies, but a deadly serious war, winner take all. Blink and you lose. Underestimate, and you get crushed.

Enough rhetoric – how about a little “show and tell?” A few weeks ago on the cover of Time magazine was a horrific picture with a horrific story. The photo was of an eighteen year old Afghani woman, Bibi Aisha, who fled her abusive husband and his abusive family. Days later the Taliban found her and dragged her to a mountain clearing where she was found guilty of violating Sharia Law. Her punishment was immediate. She was pinned to the ground by four men while her husband sliced off her ears, and then he cut off her nose.

That is the enemy (show enlarged copy of magazine cover.)

If nothing else stirs us. If nothing else convinces us, let Bibi Aisha’s mutilated face be the face of Islamic radicalism. Let her face shake up even the most complacent and na├»ve among us. In the holy crusade against this ultimate evil, pictures of Bibi Aisha’s disfigurement should be displayed on billboards, along every highway from Route 66 to the Autobahn, to the Transarabian Highway. Her picture should be posted on every lobby wall from Tokyo to Stockholm to Rio. On every network, at every commercial break, Bibi Aisha’s face should appear with the caption – “Radical Islamic savages did this.” And underneath – “This ad was approved by Hamas, by Hezbollah, by Taliban, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, by Islamic Jihad, by Fatah al Islam, by Magar Nodal Hassan, by Richard Reid, by Ahmanijad, by Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, by Osama bin Laden, by Edward Said, by The Muslim Brotherhood, by Al Queda, by CAIR.”

“The moral sentiment is the drop that balances the sea” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. Today, my friends, the sea is woefully out of balance and we could easily drown in our moral myopia and worship of political correctness.

Our parents and grandparents saw the swastika and recoiled, understood the threat and destroyed the Nazis. We see the banner of Radical Islam and can do no less.

A rabbi was once asked by his students….
“Rebbi. Why are your sermons so stern?” Replied the rabbi, “If a house is on fire and we chose not to wake up our children, for fear of disturbing their sleep, would that be love? Kinderlach, ‘di hoyz brent.’ Children our house is on fire and I must arouse you from your slumber.”

During WWII and the Holocaust was it business as usual for priests, ministers, rabbis? Did they deliver benign homilies and lovely sermons as Europe fell, as the Pacific fell, as North Africa fell, as the Mideast and South America tottered, as England bled? Did they ignore the demonic juggernaut and the foul breath of evil? They did not. There was clarity, courage, vision, determination, sacrifice, and we were victorious. Today it must be our finest hour as well. We dare not retreat into the banality of our routines, glance at headlines and presume that the good guys will prevail.

Democracies don’t always win.
Tyrannies don’t always lose.

My friends – the world is on fire and we must awake from our slumber. “EHR KUMT.”

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jewish in a Non-Jewish World

Today is one of the middle days of a Jewish holiday called Sukkot. Traditionally during these days families do fun activities together. Torah Academy here in town got a special price at Nickelodeon Universe, the amusement park at the Mall of America (Mall of the Universe is what it's called in my family- and I try to stay away as much as possible), so invited all their students and families to get discounted wristbands and enjoy the all-you-can-ride fun!

Not having kids of my own (yet), I took advantage of a free day and scooped up my friend T's kids and took them to the Mall of Consumption. We met three other families and rode for hours- myself, 6 times on the Pepsi Orange Squeak with the smaller kids (who need chaperones if they're between 42" and 47" tall). Did great until the last one, where I felt a bit nauseated.... but I guess that's what made it the last one.

Setting aside how much fun I had running around with the kids, you want to know what the best part was? The entire park was almost empty except for all the Jews roaming and riding around. I mean there were hundreds of us. Tzitzis (the prayer fringes you can see hanging out under the men's shirts), and sheitels (wigs) as far as the eye could see. Little clusters of girls in identical outfits, teen girls in their long black skirts and cute tops over long-sleeved shirts, yeshiva bochers (students) in their kippot and matching white shirts and black pants, we were a swarm, a force to be reckoned with. Not growing up in a frum community (or really in a community where there were any frum people at all), I've never seen this many observant Jews together outside of Brooklyn or Israel. Not to mention the fact that when I have seen them, it's always been either in a religious setting (I mean, no one is surprised to see a huge gathering of observant Jews in Israel, right?) or in an insulated environment- never "out in my world like me." Score another point for Jewish pride and unity.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Power of Gratitude

My good friend's wife killed herself this week. Unbelievable suffering has been created by a woman who dedicated a large portion of her life to alleviating suffering. She was a school nurse, a hospice nurse, owned a coffee house where a community of people found comfort and respite. We will all miss her terribly, my friend most of all.

What can you do with the anger at such a tragedy? I know it's normal, but I really don't like feeling so... icky. The Torah actually teaches us not to be angry. The Gemara says, "There is nothing left for the angry person except his anger " (Kiddushin 40b-41a) There is profound sadness at what she did, but there is also anger at what she left behind. How could a woman who was so kind, compassionate, giving, and loving do something so selfish? That is the true tragedy of a mental illness. Her ability to see her effect on the world and how much others loved her was distorted and warped until all she had was doubt and pain.

One blessing in this situation is that while I am close enough to understand and support, I am distant enough to keep my ability to function. The suffering of her family and friends has been difficult for me to bear this past week. My anger was building, until two nights ago. I was having dinner with her family and her niece said, with a choke in her voice, "She suffered from this for forty-two years. Thank you, Aunt Jean, for sticking it out that long." And in that moment I was transformed.

To find gratitude in your lowest moments gives you a light at the end of the tunnel. It gives you something to cling to when it seems as if the difficulties of life will swallow you up. It is one of the only things that can shift our thinking from something dark and destructive to something uplifting and life-affirming. When we're grateful for everything we have, the magnitude of our recognized blessings takes up all the space in our heart, leaving none for things like anger, envy, and selfishness.

When the first plague was brought about in Egypt, G-d told Aaron to strike the Nile with Moses' staff. Why not Moses? G-d didn't allow Moses to strike the river because it shielded and protected him as an infant, and this was his way of showing it gratitude for saving him. I love that story- it shows us how deep and wide our gratitude can reach.

I'm clinging to that gratitude right now, and I can feel the anger knocking. I don't want to let it in. I keep thinking about it over and over, and this tape runs in my head: Thank you, Jean, for sticking it out as long as you could- long enough for us to meet and for you and your family to become a part of my life. I will be grateful for the time we had together.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Jewnion Label

This is the coolest line of hipster Jewish clothes I've seen in a long time!! I definitely want the Challah Makers t-shirt.

Jewnion Label

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The language of prayer

Whew- almost 2 months since my last post! Not like I haven't had stuff on my mind... but a lot of it is private, or really not my story to tell. I did have a germ of an idea while talking with some friends the other night, and I've been thinking about this ever since:

I rationally know G-d understands prayer in any language. Really, it's not like He could or would ever say, "What's that? I didn't catch what you said. My Urdu is a little rusty." He created all languages, so the concept is ludicrous, really. I know that we can pray in any language- it's important for us to understand what we're praying about, so praying in our native tongue is appropriate. I also know that for Jews, certain prayers said in Hebrew have a certain power to them, an ability to reach Hashem a little quicker if you will.

So why are certain words and prayers in English, in my mind, tied to Christianity? Why do I feel uncomfortable saying things like, "May G-d bless you," to someone in need? I don't want people to assume I'm a religious Christian, so I hesitate. At the hospital where I work, there are biblical quotes written on some of the windows I pass on a daily basis. I wouldn't read them at first, but then I saw that many of them are from Psalms (Tehillim), and that is very much a Jewish text. I have to remind myself that Psalm 23 was a Jewish prayer first! How did English Jewish writings become so closely associated with Christianity? Is it truly a cultural thing, or is it in my head?

I wonder if part of it is the way I was raised. I was raised in a Conservative synagogue (shul), where we prayed mostly in Hebrew. The funny thing is that while I read Hebrew, I don't speak or understand it. How can this be? Well, can you read Spanish? I'm sure you can, even if you don't speak it- you recognize certain letters make certain sounds, but no meaning is associated with them. It's the same way for me with Hebrew. I can read it pretty well but there's not a lot of meaning in the words. The meaning for me came in the congregation, in the tunes used for the prayers, in the soaring of voices, off-key and in harmony, that is to be found in a service. I don't get that from the English. The language is flowery, old-fashioned, and since I heard English prayer much more in Christian society, I have a hard time not feeling that services prayed more in English than in Hebrew are "churchy."

In my head, I pray in English all the time. Those prayers are generally not very lofty- the language is common. I pray for all sorts of things- kindnesses to strangers, healing for friends and family, parking spaces, lost earrings, good meals. That's fine for the everyday connection to G-d, like talking to my best friend, or my beloved husband. They know my innermost thoughts, I can show them the most honest part of me.

When I want the serious prayers, on occasions like Shabbos, or holidays, atoning at Yom Kippur, I need the Hebrew. That's like talking to my boss, or my Dad- I should have more respect, use more appropriate language than I can come up with in my own head. I don't feel like I've prayed formally unless I use Hebrew, and I don't feel like I've shown Hashem the appropriate respect in those situations unless I've prayed formally.

I was lamenting how inadequate my own prayer language seemed, when one of my teachers explained to me that both parts were necessary. She said if we just prayed formally, we wouldn't have that everyday relationship with Hashem, where we asked and thanked Him for everything. If we only prayed informally, we may not achieve the same level of "awe" as we do in a more structured environment. Both parts are needed to have the complete multifaceted relationship with G-d that is the ultimate goal. She is so wise.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Small Epiphany

I had an epiphany last week.

I wrote about the subjugation of my will to Hashem's will as being an important part of my taking on more mitzvos. I titled the post "Because He said so..." For a long time, I have wanted to write a book titled, "Because I Said So!" about raising children. The point is that children need to know their parents' will is above their own, that they need to obey their parents without explanation, that "because I said so" is explanation enough. I always said if children learn that lesson, they are better prepared to be contributing members of society- most of us have bosses we have to listen to, we have to obey laws with which we may not agree, we have to make sacrifices for the greater good.

Turns out I only understood a portion of why that lesson is so important.

Here's my epiphany: That relationship, parent to child, is the mirror of our relationship with Hashem. Thus, how well we prepare our children for understanding that their will is not the ultimate goal, is how well we prepare them for a relationship with Hashem. When we fall down in that area of parenting, we also impair their ability to get close to G-d by following His mitzvos, because they will judge their will with respect to His the same way they judge their will with respect to ours. If we let them get away with not listening to what we say, they will look at Hashem's laws and mitzvos as up for discussion in the same way, say, bedtime is up for discussion in many households. If they can negotiate their way out of cleaning their room, they will negotiate/rationalize their way out of keeping kosher. If they are used to having a sensible explanation for whatever is asked of them, they will also want a rational explanation for all decisions in Jewish life, and it's just not there all the time.

If, instead, we can teach them to understand that as their parents we know what is best for them and they learn to follow what we ask of them simply "because," then they will be that much closer to understanding our relationships with Hashem.... and I believe that is the first step to developing a fulfilling relationship of their own.

Have a wonderful Shabbat,


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Because He said so

One of the most important things I have learned as I have become more observant is the understanding that my will is not the be-all and end-all. Hashem's (Hashem= a common Hebrew word for G-d) will is the true goal. I am not very good about passing that test- choosing what Hashem wants over what I want, but little by little I think my choice box (the part of you where true, difficult decisions lie-- some things are above your choice box, some things are below) is elevating. Not eating pork used to be above my choice box, but for the past 6-8 months, I've done pretty well. Not perfect, but that's not the point. He wants me to make the effort, even when I fail sometimes. The key is to keep trying, keep moving forward, keep making the effort, keep not giving up. Sometimes it's difficult to decide the next step- it all seems so overwhelming at times, but I have to take a moment, realize that it's not an all-or-nothing deal, and that it's both the sincere attempt and the fact that I am taking steps at all that is important.

I think that's one of the biggest fundamental differences between orthodox Judaism and other branches- the belief that Hashem's will is over our will. Growing up, I always learned that we looked critically at the Torah and all its writings, to see if a particular practice or belief resonated, seemed applicable to us in the current day. If it did, we followed it, if it didn't, we didn't. Our will superseded. Without the belief that our will comes second, there's no reason to grow toward a Torah life. Why would you do such difficult and sometimes weird things? Why would you not eat milk and meat together? Why would you not wear clothes that mix linen and wool (I'm not kidding, that actually is a commandment)? It would make no sense- and as I said earlier, that is usually the deciding factor.

Such a difference to believe that Hashem's will is over your own. To believe that the Torah really does have continual lessons to teach us, to this day. It's not a dry, linear history book, rather a spiral that comes back to itself year after year, always slightly different. We are different from year to year, and what we take from the writings speaks to us where we are. When I thought I knew better, I missed a lot of those lessons. I am continually amazed how everything is contained in the Torah- it's not a history lesson to me anymore. The more I study and learn, the more is revealed to me. The more that is revealed, the more courage I have to do the things that are difficult, because I know I am doing what Hashem wants, and that will bring blessings to me and my family.