Category Archives: Judaism

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

We tell many stories throughout the Jewish holiday cycle. Narratives of our ancestors’ journeys, their accomplishments, and their challenges; historical victories and  devastations – these and more are retold.

Living and telling our story is a central component of Passover. We gather with family, friends, and community for a meal in which we tell (and eat) our meta-story of redemption. We add personal and family stories to the printed haggadah (the seder book itself is called a “telling”) and thus we add meaning and layers.  (Remember the year that we opened the door for Elijah and a stray animal came in the house? Remember the year you were for allowed to drink wine instead of grape juice and how you felt? Remember when…..)

Telling our stories – communal, familial, and personal – is powerful. The weight and impact may magnify for difficult stories. Stories can push us to confront our weaknesses, to address pain, to acknowledge what we need to grieve. Telling may challenge us.

It is when telling challenges us that possibilities are especially potent. Framing a painful family moment differently may bring new understanding. Telling what others need to hear (but don’t want to hear) may bring relief. (Thus is only possible if the environment is safe.)

As we prepare our homes and hearts for Passover, think about what stories you want to tell, which ones you need to tell, and which ones you need to hear.

Act – Engage with Yourself

Today is the second day of Elul. I’m inspired (as are many others) by the writing and teaching that Imabima continues to do, including coordinating #BlogElul once again this year.  I’m not quite sure how she has the time and energy to do this, for she is a full-time mom, full-time rabbi, full-time spouse, and (as she said) things are a “bit rough” in her world.

Phyllis (Imabima) provided the prompt of “act” for today’s #BlogElul, and so I decided to finally act and return to posting on this blog.  Since I have last posted much has changed in my personal life.  I’ve gotten married and given birth to a son.   I have remained active on twitter and facebook over the past few years, but left this blog quiet.

Elul is a month for introspection, reflection, improvement, and preparation.  Each of these elements requires us to take the time and have the courage to engage with ourselves, to look within, be honest, and do the hard work.  It is not easy to do this.  Perhaps we can take courage from the opening and closing words of Psalm 27, the Psalm we recite daily during this month:

“Adonai is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear…” and “Be strong and let your heart take courage.”

May each of us have the courage to act and fully engage in the introspection, reflection, improvement, and preparation which will help us be fully ready for the Days of Awe.

The Mitzvah of Voting

On the way to work this morning, we voted.  To me, voting is a privilege, responsibility, and a mitzvah.  The act of voting connects us directly with our local, state and national society because we are participating.  We say to ourselves and our neighbors that whether we like our choices, we take part.

Far too many people were unable to take part in the past.  Women, minorities, and ex-cons are among the people whose voices have been silenced.  Some are trying to silence voices this year, in 2012.  I believe that we owe it to our personal and communal ancestors to vote, because too many of them were unable to do so.  Can you imagine a conversation with a great (or great great) grandmother and telling her “sorry, I don’t want to vote because of X, Y, or Z?” She herself may have been of voting age in the early 1900s, but she was not allowed to do so as a woman.

Voting is a mitzvah, an obligation/commandment when we study the Talmudic text “din d’ malchuta dina” (the law of the land is the law) found in tractate Nedarim 28a.  This principle, found a number of times in rabbinic text, helps us know that Jews must follow the local law in all cases except where doing so directly contradicts halachah (Jewish law).  While voting is not required in America, it is an important part of participating in the law of the land.

I hope that voting fills you with pride and hope for the future.

Mourning during the Three Weeks

We are about to finish the Three Week period of time when many Jews remember the period of time between the breach of the walls of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. Some Jews choose to follow mourning customs during the weeks, restricting entertainment, music, and celebrations.  (More information in a My Jewish Learning article.)

This year, for the first time, I have been a personal mourner during these weeks. Mourning the sudden death of my mother-in-law has been a challenge.  This loss has been different and harder than any other I’ve experienced. As during previous losses, the rhythms, rituals and concepts of Jewish mourning guide and comfort us.

I’ve felt a bit disconnected with the communal/historical mourning for our losses so many years ago (we mourn not only for the losses of the Temples but many tragedies that befell the Jewish people on and around Tisha B’Av – like the onset of the Inquisition).  Perhaps it is that our personal loss is too consuming right now to have a wider perspective.  Perhaps it is because handling work, moving, grieving, the “work” that comes with a death, worrying about my husband, and the daily stuff of life is enough.  Perhaps it is something else that I haven’t been able to identify yet.

Have you had a similar experience where a personal loss has changed your connection to a communal commemoration or celebration?

From Joy to Sadness

Our family gathered for joy 3 weeks ago as my husband and I were married under the huppah.  Now we gather again, this time to bury my mother-in-law.  She died suddenly and unexpectedly this weekend.

Job’s words keep echoing through my mind, “the L0rd giveth and the L0rd taketh, blessed be the name of the L0rd.” The last time we saw Ma (as I called her) we were beaming with joy, celebrating, dancing, laughing, planning for the future.  None of us imagined that was our last time seeing her.

Thanks for keeping our family in your thoughts and prayers during these difficult days.

A Month of Firsts….and Lasts

Today was the first day of the month of Elul, the last month on the Jewish calendar before the New Year begins with Tishrei. In the northern hemisphere, the month often occurs as it does this year, during the time of the new school year, the approach of fall, the beginning of new projects – – a time when new things dawn. On the Jewish calendar, we enter a month of intense reflection and preparation for Rosh Hashanah (the New Year).

It may seem odd to have a time of beginnings in general western culture be a time of endings in Jewish culture, yet we know that the endings bring us back around again in a month to a new beginning, the start of a new year, 5772.

On the Devastation in Japan

The devastation and destruction in Japan from Friday’s earthquake and tsunami are overwhelmingly unbelievable.   My heart breaks for those in northern Japan, their friends, family and compatriots every time I see pictures, read a news story or watch video.  At times like these it may seem like there is little to do. We can help from near or far by assisting with the relief effort, by reaching out in support to those who are still looking for loved ones, by reaching out to those who have received the terrible news of the death of a loved one and by donating to one of the many organizations collecting funds and goods for the relief effort.

We can also take action at home, wherever we are. We can become more aware about earthquake risks where we are (faults exist even in the the middle of the US of A), we can educate ourselves about what to do in an earthquake, we can reach out to those in need in our own community who may be dealing with quieter struggles that aren’t splashed on the news. We can pray. We can study. We can engage with the teachings of our tradition. We can act on behalf of the environment.

May each of us choose to do what we can to help bring peace, hope, healing and justice to our world.

Closing Days of 5770

As 5770 draws to close, I look back on a year of personal change, growth and many blessings. The year was largely positive personally, yet so many people in the world faced (and continue to face) challenges – war, unemployment, natural disaster, disconnection, abuse, fear and hate.

The shofar, a ram's horn blown during the High Holy Days to call us action, to introspection, to teshuvah.

There is much work to do in our world – many lives to help, many people who yearn for meaning, for connection, for hope. I pray that I can contribute a bit of my part in the days, weeks and months to come. May our world be more peaceful and better in 5771 than in 5770.

Friendship Gets Us Through

I just got off the phone with a dear and close friend. Since I spoke with her last week she has gone through some major changes: moving, helping her kids through changing to new schools, a new commute and a huge personal change. Our conversation was full of all of the stress, joy, anxiety and hope she is feeling. Why blog about this?

The changes she is living seem to be part and parcel of the kind of self-reflection of this time of year. Who are we, what choices do we make? When do we make them? How do we use our support systems?

During these last days of Elul we reflect on our lives and our choices.  I pray that my friend continues to feel the support, hope, courage and strength that continue to sustain her.