Thursday, January 01, 2015

Welcome, 2015!

So it's the secular New Year, a time when lots of people make resolutions. I don't have any new resolutions to share right now. Rather, I find myself checking in with my intentions as of Rosh Hashanah/2014-2015 school year.

This year has been designated as a scaling-back year. The biggest part of that was taking a hiatus from my writing group and, hence, my novel as well. I've done very little volunteering and am taking stock of some questions about my work.

Instead, what I find is I'm settling into inhabiting my life. This has become a major phrase for me. It means

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

11th Remission Anniversary

A very special one this has been so far.

I didn't know how to mark it really. Last year I sort of gave myself permission to stop finding enormous meaning in it. The chagim have just finished so I barely have had time to prepare in any way, and then I got this horrendous cold Friday night, right after Simchat Torah. I thought at first it was from all of the singing, but I was short of breath during some of the dancing in a way that meant more than just overexertion. ND and I were both up much of the night. As much as I rested through the weekend, I had fever Sunday night which is so odd for me! So I missed Monday and Tuesday of work.

Here's where this starts to turn. I spoke to my meditation teacher on Tuesday at 11:30 and as we spoke I went deep deep deep into my vulnerability again. I haven't touched this place much recently as I've been trying to be calmer about feeling illness. I remembered too that I often get sick at this time. I cried a lot. We had a very special conversation that I'm going to keep mostly to myself now.

But beautifully, when I got off the phone, I felt so much more energy! So good that today when I returned to work one of my other dearest friends said I just didn't look sick and said, "Your body always remembers, doesn't it? Now you know though that you can heal."

I got so much today. So many well-wishes, sometimes in the midst of little frustrations. To have someone sincerely wish me "from strength to strength" while I'm wrestling with a copy machine makes me zoom out in perspective rapidly and forcefully.

11 years I saw the ending of a renegade part of me -- a tumor -- tried to grow so fast that it could have killed me. I loved it out of existence (I know that sounds weird, but it was a part of me) and walked into life again. And here I am.

I don't feel fear or sadness or illness, guilt or shame today. Just love.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Throwing In The Towel

Sorry, but I'm just not up for it anymore.

Every year at Hoshanah Rabbah the rabbis tell us that it is a much forgotten holiday, that it has significance, that please please please they'd like us to come to shul.

On days like that what you see in shul is a group of men looking very awkward as they go through this very odd ritual of walking in circles carrying lulav and etrog, then flogging the ground with willow branches. It's supposed to be very very important and must be or else why would they do something that looks so odd.

I try to do what I'm asked to do. I try to listen to my rabbis. I try, especially so soon after the days of awe, to participate as fully as possible.

Our rabbi said once that part of what feels so good about Yom Kippur is that you know exactly what you have to do that day.

The last time I went to Hoshanah Rabbah, though, I was the only woman standing on my side, with no stage directions, no camaraderie. The awkwardness already present in the room was magnified for me by my having no one else to join me. So I didn't know what to do. You tell me one thing when you ask everyone to come to shul. You tell me something else when I'm left all alone.

I "lean in" frequently. I make myself feel simultaneously vulnerable, brave and pushy every time I go to kiss the Torah at shul and no other women do.

Many women have given up. They sometimes might say they just aren't interested, but I have never lacked interest in participating and I suppose many of them haven't either. They feel their presence is not wanted or they can't take the pain of isolation. I refuse to give up in most things. But in this way, forget it. It's just not worth that pain again. So this morning I davened at home and I'm trying not to feel as if I missed something.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

More About Men and Women and Eicha

I wrote last year about the stark contrast between men's and women's expressions on Tisha B'Av in formal readings of Eicha and Kinnot.

This year I found textual proof to back up my impressions. In this morning's Haftorah it says:
…summon the dirge-women and let them come, and send for the wise women and let them come…. Hearken, O women to the word of Hashem and let your ears absorb the word of his mouth, and teach a lament to your daughters, and each woman a dirge to her friend. For death has ascended through our windows, it has come into our palaces to cut down infants from the marketplace, young men from the streets.
And later the text ends:
'Let not the wise man laud himself with his wisdom, and let not the strong man laud himself with his strength, and let not the rich man laud himself with his wealth. Only with this may one laud himself -- discerning in knowing Me, for I am Hashem Who does kindness, justice, and righteousness in the land, for in these is my desire,' the words of Hashem.
 In the shul in which I listened to Kinnot this morning, the rabbi went on to explain that even though this year with concerns in Israel we feel the emotions of Tisha B'Av more acutely, we still need help. He went on to say that even in the time of Yirmiyahu they needed help and that women had the job of leading people towards that says of mourning.

So my simple question is, why don't we do that now? Why was a male rabbi explaining this instead of a woman singing it?

The women's eicha that I attended was by women and for women, but what if all Tisha B'Av prayer was led by women, and was done so for women and men? What if those closest to life and death and those who some claim "are more spiritual" were the ones taking us on that path? Wouldn't it evoke a very real connection to the day, to mourning, to Hashem even? Not the wise man, the strong man, not the rich man, but the dirges of the women be the transmitter of knowledge that we must know Hashem.

Further, what if every culture opened up the voices of women? If all women around the world had a day to dirge and drown out all other sound with mourning for loss of life, for kidnappings, for rapes, for murders, for slavery, for injustice, for pain and for war?

What if authentic women's voices speaking for humanity were the clearest voices all year round? Not the kinds of women's voices that try to sound like men in order to be accepted, but the kinds of voices that come from true binah? What if?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Farm Visit

On Wednesday the first and second graders took a field trip to Green Meadows Farm. It was a special treat for many reasons, one was that since I teach Second and Naomi is in First, it was a rare opportunity to take a trip with her. So yesterday I attended as a parent more than as a teacher.

It had a very big impact on me. The Farm is basically a giant petting zoo and the kids were allowed to not only pet, but even pick up animals like goats, rabbits and full-grown chickens. Even growing up in Corvallis, Oregon and bringing in the eggs from our chickens, I never had held one before. (In fact, I don't think I held one yesterday either, but I did pet a few.) We also petted pigs, emus, horses, cows, puppies and kittens.

It was stunning to watch the reactions both of the children and the adults. Many of the children were a little afraid, although by the end of the day most were willing to go into the pens and touch everything. Some of the adults are terrified to go near anything which made me very very sad. The idea that the connection to animals had never existed or had been severed over time is heart-breaking to me.

Further, I realize that everyone that was with us that day readily eats meat without making the connection. In fact, a child asked as we were actually milking a cow, "Is this Kosher?" On one hand that made me sad, that anyone would want to eat this creature with whom we were interacting. On the other, isn't that exactly how it used to be here and is in other places? Children knew the animals they would eat some day. They excepted the cycle of life and then participated.

I think that the older I get, the more sensitive I become, and so even if it's natural, I am hesitant to participate in this cycle. However, what hurts the most when I consider meat eating, is the thought people do so without connection to where the animals come from and without any idea or acceptance that there may be a sadness involved. In fact, people revel in how much they can choose not to care about animals. ("Oh no, I only avoid red meat for health reasons.") Why this can be attractive stuns me. Don't we want to be around others who have compassion?

I realize this all, ironically, makes me difficult to be around, and it's not an easy way to feel either. I want to just revel in the joy of what I saw without thinking about how lovely those animals were and what will happen to them in a matter of a few short months or years.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014


The stone we placed last year got dirty and broken quickly. That made it clear to us what to do this year to commemorate the sad day.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Yom Hashoah 2014 Part 2

I went to bed after my bumbling post last night wondering what I'd really wanted to say. I said some, I suppose, but there is more.

I think there are essentially two ways to remember the Shoah.

1. To name and learn about specific people who were lost, especially if they were family. 
2. To learn about what happened them -- the horrors, the stories of triumph, the lessons.

The event that I missed last night mostly would have been about the first of those. There are always survivors and survivor families at this event and I appreciate the chance to be witness to them. At the same time, I feel a certain disconnect as my family's particular relationship to what happened in Poland and Germany is a little different. My grandfather was lucky to get out of Germany early, so my family doesn't have the typical Holocaust stories to share about camps or resistance. 

I've had plenty of the second type of learning in my life. It unsettles me considerably and I don't know what to do with it. What is there to be done with the reality that some people were cruel and others suffered in ways beyond our imagination? The feeling and knowledge sits there uncomfortably on the table with no appropriate action. No amount of empathy, guilt, regret or even strength can undo the past. 

For many, the importance of the Holocaust is very much wrapped up in Jewish identity. It should be. It's part of our past. That's why I learned as much as I could about it when I was a teenager and why I know that I have a responsibility to care about it. However, all I can act on, is what I can do today for this world.

One way to do this is to follow mitzvoth and to be a strong Jew. Another is specifically to support and celebrate Israel. 

For me personally, I think I feel my strength most when I try to be an activist in the ways I discussed in the previous few posts because today too there are people who are cruel and there are others who suffer  in ways beyond our imagination.

You don't have to be Jewish to be an activist, and the areas I care about the most are not even specific to the Jewish community, and yet I feel that they do from expectations the Torah has from us as Jews to make a positive difference in the world.

I guess all I'm trying to say is that I hope the things I try to do now to help the world do not exist in a vacuum. Already I question how much impact they have, but what I hope instead is that my actions can be a Kiddush Hashem, and that by living a life of Kiddush Hashem, I can in my own way help smooth over some of the pain from the past too.