Today is twenty-two days, which is three weeks and one day of the Omer, in the year 5780. חסד שבנצח, Chesed ShebeNetzach, Covenantal Love of Eternity, Eternal Will.
Traditionally the week to reflect on Enduring Will
In the past, this is the week where I clarify my plans for the coming year and assert my intention to follow a particular path.
Previously, I committed to mindful eating, daily prayer, softening my interactions with other people. All of those things are great and beneficial and I wish good favor to everyone who can follow those paths.
Enduring Will to Survive and Begin to Thrive
Nothing has taken more endurance than being enrolled in five graduate courses while overseeing a Mandarin Immersion first grader’s homework schedule. I barely keep up with my own homework assignments. I lose sleep to escapist streaming television. Rinse and repeat. The days blur together.
I can hardly imagine what this would look like if I had a full-time job rather than the flexibility of being a full-time student. I think about the rhythm of my children; how I had to decline continued snuggles from my four year-old to write this reflection. I do not know if this path is the right one for my young children. All I know is that I was compelled to take this journey. My soul announced its intention, waited six years for my ego to have the courage to follow the dream, and there is no way back.
Still, I wonder about my laser focus on the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom over the past four years. Did I dismiss my responsibility to participate in childhood too quickly? I am not talking about sending the kids to daycare, preschool, and aftercare. That would have happened if I was working. I mean the way it is so difficult for me to be fully present to the whims and wants of small children. Babies make sense to me. Children who can read but are not sure if bunnies have fur are a mystery.
Eternal Connection to the Eternal Child Within
So much healing can occur when we maintain contact with our inner child. When I see her struggles in the light of an adult mind. Endless love for her insatiable curiosity. Connecting to the joy and spiritual grounding that existed before I understood synagogue economics and class dynamics.
Love no matter what
My covenant with myself and my family require me to root my interactions in love. When I fail to temper the sound of my voice or the words I utter, I recoil and return to love.
May we all find the covenantal love that propels us into alignment with enduring will.
Today is twenty-one days, which is three weeks, of the Omer in the year 5780. שכינה שבתפארת, Shekhinah ShebeTiferet, Indwelling Presence of Beauty / Truth.
Mourning our Summer Plans
My family had the distinct privilege of knowing our summer plans before the pandemic, and having the resources to plan a family vacation. More than the specific itinerary, it was the opportunity to spend two weeks with my extended family that I am mourning. Celebrating my father’s 80th birthday with my parents, siblings, niece, and nephews. We are FaceTiming more than we ever have before; but as my six year-old will tell you, it is not the same.
Iguazu Falls, the largest chain of waterfalls in the world, is on my bucket list of places in the world I hope to see. Where do you hope to travel when this pandemic passes?
Divine Presence Guides Beautiful Truth
As I say shalom to Israel Independence Day, I am left with the shimmering presence of the Ground of Being. She is ever-present, always available, constantly nourishing our souls.
The beautiful truth of God’s existence and how to allow Her Sovereignty in my life is incredibly powerful. My life is infinitely better without my ego as the ultimate decider. I align myself with the Good, the Truth, the Beauty; Love and Discernment; Eternal Will; Well-Ordered Space; Foundational Support. I suckle Divine support with every breath I take, every prayer I utter, every kind word I speak.
May you find your way to an intimate relationship with the Cause of Being.
Willian Hludke took the above photograph of Iguazu Falls and made it available on Pixabay. Pixabay is a search engine for free stock photography that doesn’t require attribution. When photographers list Instagram accounts, I try to credit them on my Instagram posts, but I am not consistent. When I list the credit as a caption on the photo, it becomes the preview text for the blog. So, I have mostly left off crediting the photographs in this series. If you search for them on Pixabay, you will find them.
Today is twenty days, which was two weeks and six days of the Omer, in the year 5780. יסד שבתפארת. Yesod ShebeTiferet. Bonding of Beauty. Foundation of Truth. It is also the 5th day of Iyar, which means it is Israel Independence Day, Yom Ha’Atzmaut.
A short meditation
Find the foundation of truth within your life. Do not be alarmed if that foundation shifts. Embrace your people and love them fiercely.
Am Yisrael Chai!
and now for the longer (yet still abbreviated) story of how I became a Zionist…
Such important book ends for me. Peace and Justice Studies, my college major led me to see a women’s peace organization as the perfect landing place for my intellectual and activist pursuits at the end of four years at a women’s college. I learned how the UN operates. How civil society engages with the international apparatus. Most importantly, the limits of holding countries accountable to international law.
For a long time, my life revolved around WILPF. I joined the national, international, and local boards of directors. In 2007, I led a workshop in Bolivia to convince explain how blogging would be a great way to expand our activism on global policy issues. I crafted e-newsletters and formal statements to support the organization’s agenda. I even tried to participate in a capacity-building mission to the WILPF Middle East sections. Potential funders deemed my participation problematic. They saw me as biased and chose to defund the mission. They claimed my insistence on separating the words “Jew” from “Israeli” (especially within the context of activism in the United States) proved a bias in favor of Israel. None of these people who made those statements had observed me engaging directly with women from the Middle East at the WILPF triennial congress in Bolivia.
At the time, I could not see the anti-Jewish bias inherent in the BDS movement. I actually took a paid job at another women’s peace organization after that incident. The organization had multiple campaigns, including BDS. My focus was ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bringing the money home for the needs of American cities. All of my years of peace activism culminated in 2011 with the passage of an anti-war resolution by the US Conference of Mayors.
Providing tools rather than grassroots leadership
My focus shifted again when I went to work for NationBuilder in 2012, a tech startup designed to allow people to harness the power of online organizing to create tangible change in their communities. I let go of my political activism and focused on creating software based on the principals I had learned from my years as an activist.
Formally renouncing membership
In 2017, realizing BDS was no longer a movement I could endorse, I formally separated from WILPF. This included recusing myself from my “lifetime membership.” WILPF was my home for 18 years before I realized I needed to move forward without it. At the time, I wrote the following:
Confronting the antisemitism of progressive spaces is painful and exhausting.
It took me a long time to see past the rhetoric of the left and understand Zionism is the rational, reasonable desire for Jewish political sovereignty. Just as I defend the need for women’s spaces while acknowledging the rights of trans folks, intersex folks, and men, I will defend Jewish spaces.
I know how divisive this issue is within the Jewish community and beyond it. I am not going to stop working for peace and justice. I am choosing more carefully how to do that.
I can no longer ally myself with organizations that support BDS, even if my involvement has nothing to do with their work regarding Israel / Palestine. Therefore, I am giving up my life membership in Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. This won’t mean much to most people. It is the end of an era for me. Shabbat shalom.
Zionism: Jewish self-determination and self-preservation
The hatred of Jewish people and Jewish civilization has been a constant since the Roman Empire. Zionism is one logical way for Jewish people to combat Jew hatred.
Jewish people wanting political freedom is not racism. Yet, many people describe Jewish settlement in Israel “colonizing.” Archaeological evidence proves Jews have a longer continuous history on the soil than any other group.
And yet, it is also true that Israel is a refuge for Jews from around the world. Just as we have been thanking God for thousands of years for making us Israel (one of the traditional morning prayers, using Israel as a collective name of the Jewish people); so too in the modern era have we made a state to support our continued existence as individual humans and as a collective people.
After the pandemic, I pray I will be able to go to Israel
The reality is, I have never been to Israel. Birthright started right before I graduated college. At that point, I had no interest in a propaganda trip. I had already been called a self-hating Jew for years. By the time my understanding changed, I aged out of the free trips. My seminary was designed for mid-career transition. While we are encouraged to study in Israel, it is not required. And frankly, as the primary parent of young children, I have no idea how I would actually spend a summer away from them at Pardes.
Last year, I participated in an inter-seminary student seminar from the Shalom Hartman Institute. I drank from the pools of Ahad Ha’Am in an overview of Jewish philosophy course taught by the incomparable Rabbi Tal Sessler. And I’ve been swimming in Jewish history, first from Dr. Joel Gereboff and now learning details of Israeli history from Dr. Bob Levy. So there is so much more I could write about Israel’s Independence Day specifically and Zionism generally. For now, I needed to provided a bit of an overview of my journey to this truth.
Foundation of Truth: Justice, Peace, and Freedom
Throughout my life, the pursuit of justice, peace, and freedom guided me. Not merely the absence of war, but the development of deep peace. Engaging all people in social and political decision-making. Where all people have their basic needs met. Long before universal basic income there was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted the same year Israel became a state. it guarantees all people economic, social, and political rights.
My journey is a particularly convoluted path. Part of me has a deep fear that my previous activist life will keep me from finding paid work once I become an ordained rabbi. Perhaps this blog will make people wary of employing me. This much is true: writing words into paragraphs and sharing my ideas with the world is an activity that brings order to my world and joy to my soul.
I pray that by sharing my journey with you, you feel a little less bound to the person you are today. May we each take the opportunity to grow into the depths of ourselves. May we be fearless when given the opportunity to overcome the limits of our previous identities.
Today was nineteen days, which was two weeks and five days of the Omer in the year 5780. הוד שבתפארת, Hod ShebeTiferet, Splendor of Beauty.
Meditating into Beauty While People Die
An incredibly beautiful soul gave up her fight with COVID-19 today. Rana Zoe Mungin, 30, was ignored twice before finally being admitted to a hospital. So it took three attempts to receive medical care for this brilliant Black woman to be seen. And then it took the full force of the Wellesley alumnae network to get her experimental treatment to have any sort of chance at survival. But it was too late. The racism she encountered in her fight against this virus took her life.
Nothing tells you more about my privilege in this pandemic than the fact that I can share this story with you, take several deep breaths, and talk about anything else.
Hod: creating a place to meet the Divine
In my imagination, the Divine Mother is not waiting for immaculate living rooms and sparkling bathrooms. She is praying for us to use our eyes to truly see the souls who surround us. The people whom we do not treat as fully human. The animals whom we treat as if they solely exist for our benefit. The earth we are shattering to gather more oil, not even stopping when we cause earthquakes far from the edges of tectonic plates.
Splendor of Beauty: Deep Resilience Honoring the Spark of the Divine within Everything
True art sparkles with the spark of the Divine. Deep love nourishes our recognition of the Divine. The truth of being truly seen showers us with Divine energy. Eternity reminds us that She exists beyond and within all that exists. Discipline gives us the eyes to see the patterns of the Divine flowing through all.
May we honor El Shaddai, embrace the Shekhinah, and always remember the importance and worthiness of each living being. Rest in power, Rana Zoe Mungin.
Today is eighteen days, which was two weeks and four days of the Omer, in the year 5780. נצח שבתפארת, Netzach ShebeTiferet, Eternity of Beauty, Enduring Truth.
Reality in Week 7 of Social Distancing
We are in our seventh week of social distancing. My family has been particularly circumspect in our movements. Our eldest son did not want to watch the CNN Sesame Street Coronavirus town hall, but he was sure it was too dangerous to get in the minivan today to go to a farm. Eventually, I was able to convince him and he went along with his brother and father on an adventure to pick up produce and sundries at Tanaka Farms. This might be our new family adventure — finding other farms that are relatively close for curbside pick up seems to be a good way to keep our car batteries from dying.
I am so proud of how strong my young children have been throughout this. They have not regressed much. Occasionally, I even get to sleep in. Usually, I’m woken up by the youngest climbing into bed and playing with my hair. Today was an incredible day and I had the extreme luxury of sleeping until 8:45 a.m.
Making Time for Eternity
Tonight begins another day (according to Jewish time). Eternity exists and sits patiently, waiting for me to breathe deeply and allow her the space to enter me. I can sit on this precipice and wail my anxiety. Or I can stand and hold a child, re-enacting Lion King.
Enduring Truths of My Life
I can remember that the enduring truths of my life: My call to be attuned to my spiritual journey and the journey of the souls around me. Sacred duties: parent and spouse. The honor to be in a loving family and embracing communities.
My prayer for today
I pray that we each have time today, for a moment, to reflect on the enduring truths that guide our lives.
May we have compassion with ourselves and each other.
Let us experience moments of deep joy and fleeting laughter.
Praying for complete healing of body and soul for all those who are experiencing illness.
May there be an easy passing from this world to the next for all those who have left this mortal coil.
I deeply aspire to creating conscious communities. Yet, in the four years since I first read this book, I realize how aspirational this rubric is. I still think every one should read this book. I just want to be compassionate with myself for not living up to the ideals espoused within it.
Today was seventeen days, which was two weeks and three days of the Omer 5780. תפארת שבתפארת. Beauty of Beauty. אמת שבאמת, Emet ShebeEmet Truth of Truth.
The harmonious, complete integration of covenantal love and judgment: clear-eyed truth, existential beauty.
Truth Exists, Narrative Moves
Existential truth exists. Facts exist. There are many levels to truth and they are all extremely real. We often think if we provide enough facts, the truth of our perspective will be clarified and people will act the way we want them to act. Yet, that is never the case.
Facts do not move people. Stories move people.
Engage someone in a narrative that appeals to their values and they may change their mind. People may accept change when they feel valued.
Paradigm shifts are inflection points that change the world from what it was to what it could be. It is deeply difficult to imagine the paradigms in which people used to live. Blood letting hastened many deaths. Yet, the extremely rational, scientific method for healing people for centuries required blood letting.
The inner logic of conspiracy theories is as solid as the inner logic of spiritual reflection. People are not crazy for believing stories that bring order to their lives.
For the people living within a paradigm, they are as substantial as any factual, scientific truth. This is the reality of the human experience we must accept.
Refractions of the Divine Create Cracks in Our Stories
A dozen years ago, I was new to learning Kabbalah. I had a pediatric understanding of Judaism, and was virtually illiterate in the tradition. Wide gaps remain in my knowledge.
The truths I allowed to sink into my soul:
My past does not have to determine my future.
I can choose how much I lean into the personality I built to defend myself from a chaotic world.
Inner joy and contentment is a choice.
If I am bitter, resentful, or angry with my circumstances I have two choices: learn to live with it or find a way to quit.
Rabbi Finley teaches these core truths at Ohr HaTorah. Every day I relearn them.
When surrounded by whining, resentful children, I can lean into my anxiety at being forced to stay with them 24/7. Alternatively, I can take a break, take a breath, and lean into my empathy for how small their world has become.
By remembering the spiritual truths I have learned on my journey, every day gets a little easier. Physical pain and mental discomfort become easier when I remember that love, justice, truth, and beauty envelop me. Divine love unfolds with every new word my son learns, every new day I am able to refrain (a little bit) from raising my voice, or from saying things I will regret.
Beautiful Harmonious Truth is Bloody Hard
Unfortunately, retreating from the real world to find the goddess within will not transform daily life for long. This is the cold, harsh reality of life meeting the gentle, overflowing nectar of the Divine. I have faith in this path leading me and the world towards wholeness.
Wholeness requires shattering paradigms, revealing truth currently unseen. I pray the world integrates, supporting one another more completely, valuing one another dearly, embracing one another with respect and honor for the dignity and value of each human life.
Today is sixteen days, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer, in the year 5780. גבורה שבתפארת. Gevurah ShebeTiferet. Discipline of Beauty.
Boundaries Focus Art
Penetrating the world through art requires clear boundaries. Rules are the fertilizer for great art. Cherry blossom trees cannot thrive if jumbled one on top of each other. Clear lines creates space for the roots to grow and the trees to thrive. Similarly, limits allow artists to thrive within the structure provided.
I choose to write in the morning and evening because it gives structure to my day. An outlet for my spiraling mind, it clarifies my reason for moving forward in this day. A deep part of me would rather let go and sink into passive consumption of art. If I give into my Yetzer HaRa, my inclination towards destructiveness, I will not be satisfied. The gnawing guilt of all I “should” be doing would not allow me to enjoy the extra hours created by ceasing my own creative output.
Discipline Frees the Soul to Sing
Televised cooking competitions have introduced many of us to the concept of “mise en place,” the set up required to cook with flow. The discipline of a well-ordered work space can lead to a more well-ordered mind and a more productive day.
There’s a reason so many delightful poems are haikus. And Shakespeare wrote sonnets.
This Shabbat We Enter Iyar, Ziv: Radiance and Budding
We begin to heal and transform from darkness to light. Flowers are blooming. The earth is regenerating. Hopefully, moments within this mind-altering isolation provide the opportunity for healing and growth.
If you are overwhelmed with responsibilities, I see you. My words are not meant to imply that if you have not had a transformative experience, you’re surviving a pandemic wrong. Only that it is possible to take this time out of time and refract it for our own self-healing and self-growth. This is why I am reading the Book of Psalms and counting the Omer. Helping myself turn towards my vision of my life, and push away from the shouting, angry, overwhelmed person within me.
Praying for Moments of Depth and Deep Meaning
Flow within the strength of beauty, the discipline of truth. Recognize that I am enough, we are enough, just as we are. God with Breasts, El Shaddai, may the honey from the crag you offer flow freely in our house. May we enter your holy embrace with compassion and grace. Heavenly Queen, wrap us in the awesome flow of your brilliance. Remind us that material reality is only one aspect of life. Brilliant refractions of Divine Harmony, hold us firmly in your loving embrace.
Previous or maybe future incarnations of this day…
Something about the energy of this day reminds me of this book. The book let me know this coworker might be The One. I invited my coworker / boyfriend to a lecture at the Skirball, nervous that maybe he would think I was too Jewish for inviting him to a lecture on the Jewish origins of super heroes. His reply? Oh, hey, that’s a high school buddy of mine giving the lecture.
Today is fifteen days, which is two weeks and one day of the Omer 5780. חסד שבתפארת, Chesed ShebeTiferet, Covenantal Love of Beauty. חסד שבאמת, Chesed ShebeEmet, Covenantal Love of Truth.
The week of Beauty and Truth Begins
The sephira most deeply associated with twin words, Tiferet Emet, Beauty / Truth. Here’s the truth about why I can meditate into the Omer for four years in a row and never say the same thing: the names are place-holders for a constellation of connected ideas. Human words cannot contain Divine reality. The ebb and flow between the left side, the right side, the integration of those sides in the middle column — it’s all a metaphor for the give and take of life.
We are pulled in multiple directions every minute of the day. Whether we are sheltering in place or rushing to work. Choosing a single paradigm and living in alignment with that paradigm brings serenity. This is the draw of fundamentalism.
The transdenominational understanding of Judaism in which I swim honors the reality coursing through all ways of being Jewish. I have chosen a path that works for me. Not because it was sanctioned by a movement, but because it was sanctioned by the transformation of my soul. This is the beauty and truth I honor today: the life-changing, life-affirming experiencing of living in alignment with the Divine. The values beyond me that inspire me to be the best version of me I can be.
Enjoy Art, Relish Beauty, and You’ll Find Truth.
Covenantal Love of Beauty: the beautiful inspiration I find in gorgeously produced landscape photography. How my soul sings when I watch a well-crafted and well-acted play. Or how my imagination soars in community when I gather with strangers to watch the most recent installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
My husband thinks I need to cut that last line. I want to be perfectly clear: pop culture is as beautiful as “high art.” I experience beauty giving birth and placing well-pigmented shadow on my eye lids. We contain multitudes and we should never limit ourselves to the boxes other people have designed.
Eternal Flames of Truth and Beauty
I pledge a covenant with the eternal flames of Truth and Beauty. See something beautiful: touch truth beyond words. Experience beautiful art: understand the truth of the human condition beyond statistics. Truth exists on many planes.
It is painful to accept how some worldviews deny basic factual truth and cling to paradigms unhelpful in a pandemic. The truth that radiates love grounds me in acceptance. People are imperfect mortals; truth is beautiful and eternal.
Tonight, we will welcome the fourteenth day, which is two weeks, of the Omer 5780. שכינה שבגבורה, Shekhinah ShebeGevurah, Indwelling of Strength.
Strength even when Discipline is beyond my grasp
I am struggling daily to finish my own homework. It isn’t the primary parent duties that keep me from completing my work. I simply lack the discipline to stay focused on graduate-level reading for a sustained period of time. There is still much to appreciate about the strength that surrounds me and is within me.
My family’s love is fierce.
We are a tight knit crew of four. My kids can go for minutes, almost an hour at a time, amusing themselves without adult supervision. Sure, sometimes that means they’ve opened and created a mess out of five individual servings of pretzels, but for the most part, this is an incredible gift. I have no idea what to feed them half the time, but I know they will never be starved for human interaction.
My Yetzer HaRa is also strong.
I keep thinking about and hoping to sleep more. Yet, my inclination towards destructiveness, my Yetzer HaRa has incredible strength. She takes over the moment my children are in bed and barely loosens her grip at midnight. I am in awe of her resilience. I hope to talk with her, perhaps reason with her, rather than continuing to pretend she doesn’t exist, or worse, that she is not me.
The call of Jewish wisdom is the Indwelling of Strength in my life.
My High Holiday liturgy class is reading the Koren Sacks Machzor. I learned a new name for my people on Monday:
Yeshurun. An alternative biblical name for Israel, signifying yashar, “upright” (Ibn Ezra, Deut. 32:15).
What does it mean to be upright? For me, it means acknowledging my inner strength and being grateful for my blessings. It means that when I stray from who I want to be, I remember my vows and return to the path I have discerned for myself.
Being upright means having grace towards myself when I yell at my kids; but never becoming complacent and sinking into the yelling.
Reminding myself that my lifetime of poor posture does not need to be my future and choosing to honor the strength of my core.
Moving past my fear and wearing my mask and walking my dog.
Trusting that what I am doing is enough. That I am enough. That the Indwelling Presence of the Divine will gird me with strength to move through this pandemic.
Today is thirteen days, which is one week and six days of the Omer, 5780. יסוד שבגבורה, Yesod of Gevurah, Foundation of Strength.
Fascinated when people cannot define themselves. Spending so much time thinking that I couldn’t imagine not having an answer to the question. And yet, the truth is, it is easy to allow the foundation of our existence to rest on the vagaries of culture, employment, and family of origin.
Human connections: the foundation of human strength
As the day of Remembering the Jewish Catastrophe recedes, ensuring the Jewish future comes into focus. I made a decision early in this shelter-in-place existence that my family is more important than my rabbinical studies. Though I am far from a perfect parent, I know for sure that my daily tickles and encouragement is more important than my assigned readings.
I think a lot about single people, especially people who live alone. My four year-old hugs family members via FaceTime — by putting his arms around the tablet. That gesture seared in my memory as the most heart-breaking aspect of social distancing that I have personally experienced.
And all the people who have to grieve alone. Communities unable to comfort their mourners; unable to grieve as our tradition impels us to grieve. My heart breaks.
Staying distanced will help us survive.
Our strength lies in our ability to pivot. To accept a new reality we never imagined in order to save our own lives and the lives of the people around us. The economy is not more important than a single human life. Normalcy is not more important than a single human life.
The core of my discernment is the vision I have for myself.
Essentially, Yesod ShebeGevurah, Foundation of Strength, the Core of my Discernment is the clear-eyed understanding of who I want to be.
Choosing not to live in fear. Nurturing my ability for deep thinking and consuming written content continuously and thoroughly. I want to be fully present to the people around me and help create a future full of love, light, and soul connections.
Living towards the future. And so, I will continue to be the Tickle Monster, praying for more children to bring light into this world.
May the future continue to burn brightly in front of us, and may we have the fortitude to take the steps needed for all of us to live the tomorrow where we can embrace each other enthusiastically without fear.