Reflections on Rosh Hodesh Sivan with Women of the Wall, 5773 – 2013
Throughout the year I have studied here in Jerusalem, I have learned that the Wall has its own identity crisis. It is part of a larger structure that was built and carried, lost, built again and then destroyed, and built again, and built over again and destroyed again. There are more stages in between of deeper and deeper details. The figurative symbol of complete purity, it was more often an embodiment of utter corruption. The man who inspired the design of the particular Wall before which we stand today was a gifted, paranoid maniac, maddened by grief and riches and conflicting loyalties. The Temple itself, and the Wall it became, changed owners and took on ideologies of shocking variance over the centuries. And yet here it still stands, a testament to physical stability, containing all of its tumultuous history behind the serenity of its stones.
On the first Shabbat I was in Jerusalem, I walked with a group of very new friends into the Old City for the first time. I knew nothing about it except that it was the last of the Temple, a remnant of a Judaism from long ago, one with which I had trouble relating, but that it was “supposed to”, maybe, inspire a surge of feeling within me. Perhaps a feeling of closeness to the Divine? Perhaps an intense unification with the Jewish people? Perhaps bafflement or even, perhaps nothing? I was curious, and determined not to judge whatever feeling arose. Continue reading →
Friday morning was a blur. A scary blur. I didn’t wake up until 6:24 AM when my roommate screamed, “WIESE.” And I jumped out of bed, how could this happen, on a day that was so important to me? Never mind…we jumped in a taxi and I ran down to the women’s section with my bag. I couldn’t even get to the regular spot because there was a sea of light blue shirts of seminary girls from all over Israel. I quickly realized that they had been bussed in for the exact opposite reason I was there. I ran into my dear friend, and later saviour, Melissa. She was also lost. We didn’t know where “Women of the Wall” (WOW) was praying because there wasn’t space where they normally gather. (Smart thinking ultra-orthodox girls…if there isn’t space, maybe they can’t pray at the Kotel. Makes sense.) We went down together into the sea of blue, maybe they were there somewhere. They weren’t. But it was time to daven, so Melissa started pezukei dezimra (the “warm up” blessings, as I like to call them,) while I started to put on my tefillin. It was worse than the paparazzi that normally come to women of the wall. The girls thought they were seeing an alien or the devil…it was true what their rabbi told them, there are women who put on tefillin! They started taking pictures of my and then scuttled away, they didn’t want to be too close, maybe I could contaminate them. Many were already tisking at the action. But then, I pulled out my tallit (I know I should put on my tallit first and then tefillin, but there isn’t a lot of space and it’s difficult, so I reverse the order,) it was like poison. The girls backed away like if touching it would burn them, or something worse. They started making this hissing noise, I have never heard such a frightening/bizarre noise in my life. No one wanted to talk to me, it was too shocking to them. And I was there alone with my tallit and tefillin. I still didn’t know where the other women were. Melissa had finished pezukei dezimra and she looked at me, we knew we had to get out of there. It wasn’t safe. I was already flustered. Melissa, calm and cool, Continue reading →
Don’t count me out.
I’m not young.
In fact, I am rightfully considered to be among the elders of our community.
But I didn’t grow up in yeshivish Judaism, and my knowledge, is how shall we say…
Limited by the circumstances of my origin.
I’m acutely aware of it here, in Jerusalem, at Pardes.
Nonetheless, I am proud of the place I came from: my parents, my grandparents, who taught me to be strong and forthright, to care about other human beings, and to try to make the world a better place.
Do you dare to tell me for one instant that I can’t convey dedication to our shared tradition, Love for G!d, reverence for the power of the calendar, gratitude for existence
to my kahal?
I’ll tell you, “I can”.
I dream of a world united,
A place where hope is realized.
I hear my brothers and sisters singing together.
I think, maybe, maybe, there is an entity that we call G!d, who is happy with my thanks.
I think maybe, maybe,
I can just be, and it is enough
Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 68. What a strange thing to think. Sixty-eight, so young. Such a difficult life, surreal in ways I can’t imagine and in ways I know too well.
My mother was an amazing woman, as you’ve either experienced first hand or heard me say many times. Independent, she left home at 18 to join the Navy against her Jewish mother’s wishes and leaving her 13-year-old sister behind, recently fatherless and alone. My mother worked hard, sent money home, saved, put herself through nursing school, survived boot camp, basic training, and three years of Stateside service during Viet Nam.
She was the first in the family to go to secondary school, the first to own a car, the first to live outside the family’s one-bedroom apartment in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Continue reading →
At Pardes, alumna Malka Landau (Kollel ’00-’02) facilitated a workshop in which the entire student body practiced skills of deep listening, asking open questions, and mirroring, essential elements in constructive dialogue. After the workshop, students broke into discussion groups where they had the opportunity to Continue reading →
As somebody who was raised by parents who self-identify as traditional, ḥiloni Jews, and chose himself to live a life committed to and guided by halakha, I’ve come to expect some form of this question from people in conversations about Jewish faith and practice.
Baal teshuva literally means “master of repentance or return (to Judaism)”. The term has historically referred to a Jew who had not kept Jewish practices, and completed a process of introspection and thus returned to Judaism and morality. In Israel, another term is used, ḥozer beteshuva (חוזר בתשובה), literally “returning in repentance”. Also, Jews who adopt religion later in life are known “baalei teshuva” or “ḥozerim beteshuva”. Continue reading →
Literally running into (or rather, alongside of) DLK‘s team of 10k Jerusalem Marathon route walkers this past Friday morning reminded me all over again of the thrill that was the morning of March 1st – the Jerusalem Marathon. Although I do have to say that as beautiful as the walk must have been a week later on such a glorious day, I was very happy to wake up to a cloudy morning on the day of the race. The chillier the weather, the less chance there is of an unhappy stomach during a run.
As I told DLK and some other listeners by the coffee station last week, I have never done anything in my life about which people were still talking excitedly so many days later. I’ve realized what was so novel to me about this reaction: I do not remember a time where I have been widely congratulated for something I did physically, not mentally or academically.
Eric Brief (Yr. 2008-09)
sent us the following reflection of his year at Pardes
to post on These&Those!
Check out his blog to see his beautiful art
and weekly divrei Torah!
Eric Brief – Self Portrait
If I remember anything about my experience at Pardes it is that I got more than I could have ever imagined. I’m not exactly sure why I decided to go as I look back to when I booked my ticket to Israel just two weeks before Rosh Hashanah in 2008. I had just finished college a few months earlier and right before I went to the Burning Man Festival in Nevada I chose that Pardes was the plan for the next year.
I was a pretty skeptical when I arrived. I had a hard time believing that all these people were uprooting their normal lives to come to Israel and actually study Torah – you know – for real. I kind of felt like a spy – like I didn’t truly belong there. A product of Upper West Side NYC Jewish day school, early on in life I secretly decided that nobody truly cared about learning outside of school – except the future rabbis. At Pardes I found teachers that were extremely passionate about their work, lives, and Judaism in general. The students seemed to catch on to this and Continue reading →
How do I explain how student teaching has been so far? I can offer some emotions that I have been feeling.. excited, nervous, overwhelmed, accomplished, confused, frustrated, proud, awe, happy, tired, welcomed… I supposed this just makes you all picture me a crazy roller coaster of emotions! I will try to be a bit more specific. Saligman is an adorable one hallway school. The students all have close relationships with each other and their teachers. I felt likeI was walking into someones home when I began my time at Saligman. Observing classes all week I began to feel like I myself was back in Middle School. If you looked in my observation notebook you would see my notes interrupted by me trying to get the math practice problems on the board or taking notes on Hebrew grammar. I have learned so much so far from my student teaching. I have been constantly impressed at the level of learning in secular and Judaic studies. My actual teaching started last week. By that time I felt like I knew the students and even had most of the names down (which is shocking for those who know about my name remembering challenge!) I was all ready with my slides and handouts. I was ready to cover my three page handout when all of a sudden the class was over and we had only done one page! I quickly made up a meaningful closer and stood in shock when the students didn’t spring up from there seats at the bell. They were really engaged! I had just taught my first lesson in a real day school! I know the students probably saw my crazy big smile as I said goodbye to them and thanked them for their amazing participation. I was so impressed with the thoughtful answers and detailed questions students asked me during the lesson. (Although some of those detailed questions during the Brit Milah lesson were difficult to answer!) All of my frustrations with details on worksheets and worrying about behavior management and content all was washed away by an immense feeling of self pride and belonging. I knew at that moment that with a lot of work, learning and getting to know the pace of the class I would be more than ok for the rest of my student teaching. I feel very respected by the students, even when I wore my neon green wig for Purim. I can now really picture myself as a teacher in a day school. I am so thankful for this experience and I can’t wait to share more about my wonderful 7th graders with you!.
We went to the Kotel (Western Wall) to pray this morning for Rosh Hodesh Adar. It started last night organizing taxis for everyone from Pardes who wanted to go. This morning, I woke up at 5:30…I made the decision to wrap my arm tefillin and wear my coat over it. I wrapped it until my wrist, so under my coat it couldn’t be seen going through security. I put my Rosh (head) tefillin in my inside jacket pocket.
I met three other people from Pardes at 6:30am to get a taxi to the Kotel. We waited in line at security. They took my tallit and wouldn’t let me enter with it. They also took my empty tefillin bag. They didn’t know that it was already on my body. Honestly, I didn’t want them for protesting. I lay tefillin every morning, and it’s difficult for me to daven shacharit (the morning prayers) without tefillin now. There is a connection that comes with the tefillin. There is also a connection with the tallit, but as I told the reporters after they took my tallit, I want to pray at the Kotel, that’s why I came, so I’m willing to give up my tallit to be able to pray there on Rosh Hodesh. Continue reading →