In Rabbi Meir Schewiger’s Parashat ha-Shavuah (weekly Torah Portion) class, while learning Sefer Shemot (Book of Exodus), we spoke about the desert as a place where one goes to prepare for Torah study. When B’nei Yisrael (Children of Israel) leave Egypt, they flee through the desert and are on the run until they get to Yam Suf (Red Sea) and cross to safety. Even after getting to Har Sinai (Mt. Sinai) and receiving the Torah, they still spend another 40 years in the desert wandering and preparing to enter into the Land. On the festival of Shavuot, we celebrate Zman Matan Torateinu (our receiving of the Torah at Sinai). We have just finished counting the Omer, the period of time from Pesach up to Shavuot and while we have now received the Torah and have celebrated this by a long night of learning and Torah study, B’nei Yisrael is still in the desert. For the rest of this year, leading up to the Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) and Simchat Torah, we will continue to follow them as they travel through the wilderness in preparation for their entry into Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel). I liked the idea of the desert as a place for preparation and when I thought back over the last few years of my life I began to like it even more.
In the fall of 2010, I had been living and working at home in Connecticut, teaching in the Jewish community for a year after graduating college and I was ready for a change. I volunteered with the Kibbutz Program Center and after consulting with friends of friends, was placed on Kibbutz Yahel in the very south of Israel, about a 40 minutes north of Eilat in a region called the Arrava. Arrava means wilderness and this was exactly what I found when I got there. This was the absolute middle of Continue reading →
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 →
What A Pardes Student Thinks About on Mother’s Day
(if they hold by it)
I think about you most when I’m walking around Jerusalem. It is so beautiful- tiny curved streets with antique stone houses. Everything is a little bit smaller and closer together (perfectly sized for me) or maybe it all just seems little and quaint because every building has to be uncovered by your eyes from all of the amazing plants. Tall thin trees, tropical flowers in huge bushes full, palm trees, vines in full like trees themselves all covered with flowers I’ve never seen before.
Walking down the street you’re suddenly overcome by some new fragrance. It’s half amazement at the smell and half curiosity that makes me stop in my tracks and investigate the new color/ shape/ feel of some completely unique flower. I always think how you would love all of the flowers, and I like to imagine in those moments that if you were here you would Continue reading →
Giving my farewell at Pardes last Thursday… It’s been an amazing 2 years.
Here is a written version of the davar I gave last Thursday:
This week we transition from the book for Vayikra to Bamidmar. the first event recorded here is a census taken of all mahane Yisrael (the camp of Israel). Even though the goal here is to know how many adult males are among B’nei Yisrael (children of Israel), individual tribal units are maintained in the counting, each tribe taking its own census. On top of this, each person is counted le-gulgilotam (by his head) – that is, as an individual.
In a drash by Rav Meir Kahn, he relates: “There is no evidence of a nation-wide melting pot creating a homogeneous entity, which suppresses any expression of non-conformity. Bnei Yisrael form a harmonious society, not a uniform one.”
I’m leaving for Israel and my father hands me two bags. “Take these with you. The furrier, Shlomo, your great grandmother’s brother-in-law, left them to me. Find out if it’s meaningful for you.”
The first is black felt, light to the touch, with a golden Magen David embroidered in cord on its front. The Tallit inside is thin, composed of silky white fabric that is shifting towards an aged grey. Blue stripes run along its slender frame while an intricate latticework of linen falls away from the edges only to tangle up with the Tzitzit at the corners. It’s German Reform, classic and beautiful. So light I barely feel its weight when I try it on. So thin and delicate it barely covers my shoulders. It’s not my first Tallit.
The second bag is old and mustard yellow, fine prismatic threading has frayed across its front where it spells out the words “Tefillin” in Hebrew. The Tefillin inside are old with paper caps atop the Shel, each heavy with lacquer. The leather is cracked and aromatic, the black stain no longer present along the edges. The two bags go into my duffel, right next to my other Tallit, but as I put them down one Tefillin fall out of their yellow bag. The paper top tips off and the shin of the Rosh stares up at me like blurred eye still heavy with sleep. I stare back. What do I do with you?
We have built Temples of our bodies, dear
Built them in sweat and groaning
In the saliva that collects in your mouth
when pushed too hard
The dryness in your throat when pushed too far
The burn of muscles over-used
And the shaking relief when we fall, exhausted,
in sprawled heaps of splayed-out limbs
Only to haul ourselves up again
And keep going
Tonight is the night I dread all year. All the ghosts that have been pushed into the shadows (with the exception of the occasional visit) come out. Tonight is their night. Tonight I am the visitor, the intruder. Tonight they will shove me another drink, just to keep me quiet, while they sit around and reminisce. Tonight I will stand, along with every Israeli and Jew in the world, and remember the brave men and women who died for this country, as well as the men, women and children who were massacred in terror attacks over the years. Tonight is the eve of the Day of Remembrance for Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism. Continue reading →