Friday, December 2, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. Single photos - no words - capturing moments from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.






Friday, October 28, 2011

You only see when you hear.


"July, 1967...I have discovered a new land. Israel is not the same as before. There is great astonishment in the souls. It is as if the prophets had risen from their graves. Their words ring in a new way. Jerusalem is everywhere, she hovers over the whole country. There is a new radiance, a new awe.
The great quality of a miracle is not in its being an unexpected, unbelieved event in which the presence of the holy bursts forth, but in its happening to human beings who are profoundly astonished at such an outburst. My astonishment is mixed with anxiety. Am I worthy? Am I able to appreciate the marvel?
I did not enter on my own the city of Jerusalem. Streams of endless craving, clinging, dreaming, flowing day and night, mights, years, decades, centuries, millennia, streams of tears, pledging, waiting = from all over the world, from all corners of the earth - carried us of this generation to The Wall. My ancestors could only dream of you - to my people in Auschwitz you were more remote than the moon, and I can touch your stones! Am I worthy? How shall I ever repay for these moments?
The martyrs of all ages are sitting at the gates of heaven, having refused to enter the world to come lest they forget Israel's pledge given in and for this world:


If I forget you, O Jerusalem
let my right hand wither.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joys.
                                                                                                     Psalm 137
They would rather be without heaven than forget the glory of Jerusalem. From time to time their souls would leave the gates of heaven to go on a pilgrimage to the souls of the Jewish people, reminding them that God himself is in exile, that He will not enter heavenly Jerusalem until his people Israel will enter Jerusalem here.
Jerusalem! I always try to see the inner force that emanates from you, enveloping and transcending all the weariness and travail. I try to use my eyes, and there is a cloud. Is Jerusalem higher than the road I walk on? Does she hover in the air above me? No, in Jerusalem past is present, and heaven is almost here. For an instant I am near to Hillel, who is close by. All of our history is within reach. 
Jerusalem, you only see her when you hear. 
She has been an ear when no one else heard, and ear open to prophets denunciations, to prophets consolations, to the lamentations of ages, to the hopes of countless sages and saints; and ear to prayer flowing from distant places. And she is more than an ear.
Jerusalem is a witness. An echo of eternity. Stand still and listen. We know Isaiah's voice from hearsay, yet these stones heard him when he said... (2 : 2-4)

It shall come to pass in the latter days...
For out of Zion shall go forth Torah,
and the word of The Lord from Jerusalem...
And he shall judge between nations,
and shall decide for many peoples...
Nation shall not lift of sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

Jerusalem was stopped in the middle of her speech. She is a voice interrupted. Let Jerusalem speak again to our people, to all people...
What is the secret of Jerusalem? Her past is a prelude.
Her power is in reviving. Here silence is prediction, the walls are in suspense...
This is a city never indifferent to the sky. The evenings often feel like Kol Nidre nights. Unheard music, transfiguring thoughts. Prayers are vibrant. The Sabbath finds it hard to go away... 
Jerusalem has the look of a place that is looked at... "The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year" (Deuteronomy 11:12). Psalms inhabit the hills, the air is hallelujah. Hidden harps. Dormant songs. "



[Excerpt from Israel: An Echo of Eternity, A.J. Heschel]

the little prince.


"  'The stars are beautiful because of a flower one cannot see...'
I replied, 'Of course' and I looked at the sand dunes under the moonlight in silence.
'The desert is beautiful,' he added...
And it was true. I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet one can feel a silent radiation.
'What makes the desert so beautiful,' said the Little Prince, 'is that it hides a well somewhere.'  "


"I raised the bucket to his lips. He drank with his eyes closed. It was as sweet as a festival treat. This water was something entirely different from ordinary nourishment. It was born from the walk under the stars, the singing of the pulley and the effort of my arms. It was good for the heart, like a gift."  


"It is only with one's heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eye." 






Friday, October 7, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} A friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment i want to pause, savor, and remember. 


If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments section for all to find and see.



Thursday, October 6, 2011

Between the lines.

"Learning is what you do with knowledge that already exists, seeking is what you do for the truth." - Rabbi M. Feuer








"All that is thought should not be said, all that is said should not be written, all that is written should not be published, all that is published should not be read." - The Kotzker Rebbe

Monday, October 3, 2011

Snapshots.

A little bit of life through my eyes...

[afternoon sun]
[jerusalem stones]
[looking up]
[nachlaot graffiti]
[stones and sun]
[shirat devorah girls in the light]
[desert at sunrise]


Some Rosh Hashana Impressions.

I close my eyes and all I see is white. I hear the voices rise up around me and form one, whole voice which then settles down into my core, sending reverberations through my whole body. The melody is haunting, slow, intentional. Coming from that same core place in all those around me. We let out this voice, our voice, a call in hopes of drawing closer. To what? To the divine infinite all around us, to each other, to ourselves. A harmony of yearning.

"I called out from the narrows and you answered me with expansiveness."

And then, silence. Heads bowed. Waiting. Trembling. The shofar sounds, sending shock waves through each member of the congregation until it reaches every corner of the room. The sound travels through us, now one whole, like a wave. Shattering our false pretenses, our exterior shells, exposing our truest selves. We continue to listen, awaken, return to. Surrender to that which is so much greater than ourselves. I hear tears rolling down the cheek of my neighbor. I am still.

When my eyes open, I can finally see. Despite my exhaustion, I am being pulled upward. Growing and shrinking at once, transcending my physical limitations.
And the singing brings me back. This time joyous. The Torah, our ancient and timeless truths all wrapped into one scroll, is carried through the crowd. Our most precious possession. When it reaches the women, the tears start again. But this time I can see them. In my eyes and the eyes of all those around me. Gratitude. Awe. Devotion. All shared. Women dance in the aisle with their infants, grasp hands and sing with their neighbors. The majestic head coverings crowing each woman glisten in the sunlight that shines through the windows. The vision is both ancient and futuristic at once. I close my eyes again and all that I breathe in is light.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Returning to, once again.

Somehow another month has gone by. I actually can't believe it. I know, I know, so cliche to speak of time passing quickly. But there are times where it must be noted.
My life has once again changed drastically since I last wrote. Going from seminary life to being a Madricha (coordinator/counselor) for the program I went on 2 years ago (Livnot U'Lehibanot) has been quite a shift. Full of ups and downs, hardships and accomplishments. My experiences continue to be rich, complex, fulfilling, and challenging, somehow in a whole new way than I had expected. Going from student to teacher, from living in my own cloud of learning and reflecting and processing to serving as a mirror for others to grow and question. Teaching, listening, and questioning for others has been a whole new teacher for me!

Some things I've done in the last month:

Gave an hour long presentation on Kabbalistic concepts of Masculine and Feminine
Danced at a friend's wedding
Sat under a few waterfalls admiring rainbows in water droplets
Stayed up until 3am talking under the stars
Been called someone's spiritual guru (ha!)
Completed a 3 day hike (somewhere near 30 miles) ending in the Mediterranean Sea
Seen a full lunar eclipse
Sang to the Prime Minister's wife
Eaten way too much hummus
Cried at the most beautiful Shabbat sunsets
Been proposed to
Walked through a banana field
Cooked/done dishes for 35+ people
Napped on the side of the road with a group of 30 people


Here are some excerpts from emails and conversations I've had in the last month:
____

i wanted to share something i'm learning about today (in preparation for my final project that will be an hour long presentation on sunday!) this is from the book about kabbalah of masculine and feminine (by sarah yehudite schnieder).

"one of the features of paradox that makes it uniquely suited to this task is its capacity to generate a kind of electric current between its two poles. this happens automatically when the mind focuses in and discovers that it cannot make peace with either side. at the very moment the intellect savors the truth of one statement, the stink of heresy spoils its repose. jolted, the mind scrambles for a solution, which it does find in the other side. but that statement, too, is also no safe haven, for its truth has problems of its own.
back and forth, a reluctant nomad, the mind seeks peace to no avail until...a wonder happens. its oscillation triggers a kind of electric current that adds motion to the system. and once there is motion, there is time. and if the motion is perfectly symmetrical between truth and counter-truth, then there is above-time. now in addition to its static and opposing truths a dynamic element appears that fuses the system into a single coordinated whole that is greater than the sum of its parts and possesses the capacity to hold infinite truth."

it was written in reference to the paradox that god is perfection and yet also perfecting. (the sun and moon, relatively speaking). this reminds me of the israel/nationalism/person of the world dilemma. and religion and god. you and i. in my best moments, i truly believe in the necessity of this 'dance' between truth and counter truth, to find the where they can both be true.

____

i had this great conversation this morning with the couple i've been staying with, hillel and chaya. they're an amazing couple, totally after my own heart. their values and partnership and the vision they have in raising a family is beautiful. we started talking about physics and god and me going home and relating to the rest of the world. hillel has a shiur/class that he gives called "i don't believe in god, i'm not a monotheist, and i'm an orthodox rabbi." i think thats a good summary of our conversation and his orientation. (he's a rabbi, in yeshiva, and teaches meditation in the old city). we talked about the necessity of breaking away from all the empty shells religion has created. how transformation can only happen after a fall. he said he finds that spiritual people (especially scientists) who distance themselves from religion are totally coming from the right place, and a necessary place. seeing through the bullshit and the emptiness and challenging the status quo of big groups of people. this is so much of what i've been experiencing, that i find so hard to give over when i talk to people from home. that the concepts we were taught about what religion and god are need to be shattered before we can make any real progress. that i don't believe in that god either, or that religion that fosters blind faith or empty ritual. but it is so possible to find something greater, once we leave those shattered pieces behind. to realize that the way that we relate to the world, in awe of creation and physics, can be what religion is. then we talked about all these physicists who talk about light and how they concepts are exactly what kabbalah talks about, just slightly different language. and how amazing and transformative that realization is. that science and spirituality aren't separate or contradictory, but only reinforce each other. that oneness. it goes so far beyond god. and even YHVH, because the second we try to name it, we lose some of its essence.

____

the last few days have been such a whirlwind, whoa. going from being the ever questioning student to this new role of madricha/teacher to people on their own journeys is mind blowing. i started getting challenged the second i got here! "why are you wearing long sleeves when its hot out?" "oh, so you're religious?" "well, why?" "wait, you don't TOUCH boys!?!?!" its been crazy. i feel like in a few days i've had to solidify where i stand, sometimes in ways that i'm not even ready to do yet. overall, i feel good. i feel so happy and grateful about where i'm at in my own journey, and also nostalgic for this place that the participants/chevre here are in. i don't think i realized how far i'd come, truly, until i got to see the mirror of others experiences. but it's lonely too. i miss being around my classmates and teachers, to really focus on this journey and process which is still so new for me! i miss being the one who's experience is central in the learning environment. i need to find a way to be here for the participants here (some of whom are having crazy intense existential experiences so similar to mine and asking so many amazing, difficult, questions), but also continue my own growth and learning. so so weird to be back at this place that for 2 years i held in such a high place, as a place that had the key to unlock my spiritually, only to realize that i've outgrown it in a sense. that i now hold my own key more than this place holds it for me.

i had a moment on shavuot (a word on shavuot: one of the major 3 holidays. we've been counting the days between passover and this day (called counting the omer) and it celebrated the day the jews received the torah on mt sinai. a big deal, to say the least. but very lightly celebrated here so as not to freak out the participants or turn them off to religiousness). so, on shavuot, i had this moment by myself where i so distinctly felt god (which is impossible to articulate, but a distinct feeling for me). this feeling i remembered having here 2 years ago that i've had so few times. my time of seeing the "light" (as a teacher of mine would say). i had that same feeling, and instead of being in awe and somewhat scared of it like i was a few years ago, i welcomed it with open arms. i felt like, 'ah i knew you'd come back. and i'm ready for you. for this feeling to come and go, and not be scared by that. to accept god and torah as important in my life, no matter how scary that seems sometimes.' its so undeniably a part of me. so, i had my own mt sinai experience. of feeling god and saying "yes."

the coordinator who i was so close to on my trip, adam, led our first hike the other day. fitting, i thought. he was so interested in where i'm at, how my questions have changed in the last two years. as i was telling him somewhat about where i'm at and shavuot and my process he smiled and was like 'you should see yourself jenna.' i said 'i bet you never thought we'd be having this conversation, huh? after seeing me so angry and confused for those two weeks.' and he said, 'you know, i'm not actually surprised. the people who have the biggest fire, the most burning questions, are often the ones that will go to the farthest lengths to get them answered. and that is exactly what you're doing.' whoa. so true. how special to be able to be here, 2 years later, reflecting on progress and growth, and playing a role to now help others through their own journeys, wherever they might end up.
_____

There you have it. A less than perfect summary, but better than nothing. As for right now, I am trying to regain walking abilities after this insane hike. So ready for a restful weekend. And will hopefully be seeing Matisyahu in Jerusalem next week with some wonderful people! I'm. So. Excited.

Also, I'll be home in less than a month! So crazy.

Love to you all and see you soon :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pendulums



Is it possible that I haven't written in a month!? That seems crazy to me. But then again, time in general kind of blows my mind, so I am unsurprised at my surprise that so much time has passed without a blog posting. SO much has happened, changed, returned, changed again since last time I wrote. It seems silly to try to summarize any of it so instead maybe I'll talk about some events or thoughts that have been more present than most in the past month (from emails, class notes, conversations, etc). Bear with my ever swinging pendulum.

On Kedusha:
"...this relates to something i've been thinking about in the last 24 hours a lot, and that is the concept of kedusha. holiness. last weeks parsha was the one where god said 'and you will be holy because i am holy' and then goes on to list all the ways we are to do so. its a really interesting topic. holiness. what does it mean? what does it mean for us to be holy, or attempt to be? what does it mean to me? so many things. first of all, for most of my life, i had no interest in being holy. in fact, i was very ok with being the opposite of holy (maybe because i didn't like myself so much). but if i'm going to be living and learning here, than i want to really explore what this means, how to live in a way that makes you holy (or substitute whatever word works best for you - present, aware, mindful, awake - all of these are equivalent to holiness for me). but the word kadosh also means separate, which is interesting to think about. that there is an inherent separateness in holiness. this makes me uncomfortable. i thought everything was supposed to be one? god is one and we are one and whatever. so why do we need to be separate to be holy? i understand people's rationale (i don't subscribe to this), that the common person who isn't living according to the mitzvot (or isn't jewish) isn't holy because he doesn't have the kavanah, or intention, to be so. and if we are going to be, then we need to lift ourselves up from that. and the rules of kashrut (kosher) and of shabbat work to separate us even more from those people. make us stand out. make us holy. but i have serious issues with this. when i had my one-on-one with my rebbitzin yesterday i told her that. and she urged me to really read the parsha and see what i think after that and to try to be open to the concept and stretch it so that it means something to me. i appreciate her willingness to meet me where i am and how she would never be like 'well this is the way it, this is what it means to be jewish, and if you don't follow it, you're not.' in the same parsha are all the rules about how to treat others. including, my personal favorite: ואהבת לרעך כמוך (love your neighbor like yourself). so how this all fits together, i don't understand. should we only love our neighbors if they're jewish? because i'm not down.
but i do want to be holy. not because i feel like i am special in god's eyes/in the world more so than others, but because i want to live with kavanah. i want meaning...really, the overall purpose of kedusha to me is to raise up actions that can be done in a totally normal way to a level above. eating, the way you dress, sex, all can be holy acts (marriage being the most holy of all). not because god wants me to or needs me to, but because i want to treat myself that way. that is a beautiful thing to me."

On Practice:Bold
"in talking about religion, judaism and orthodoxy to be specific, we are both struggling to find our place. whether to be fully religious (accept the whole neatly packaged bundle), reject religion entirely (not likely), or to find some way to pick and choose. be in between. and what the consequences of all these options would be.
for one, being fully religious seems like the easy way out. true, it does allow one to get to deeper levels of experience, but at what cost? immersing oneself in the study and practice of judaism has a lot of benefits and is truly beautiful at times, but it is also isolating. for people like us, who want to be out in the world and working with the people who have been cast out of society and given up on, this seems difficult for us. it is also predicated on the unwavering belief that god chose the jewish people, the torah is straight from his mouth, and therefore we must obey it as entirely as possible and then we are holy. i have issues with this because first of all, it is way too literal for me. yes, i believe in a god, or a uniting energy keeping us all together, but do i believe that this god felt the need to write out such detailed rules for how to live to be close to him? that he is angry and vengeful and strikes people down? not really. i think religion, like much of our lives, is human. passed down through humans. and while it is beautiful and intricate and deeply meaningful is still subject to human error and therefore should be open to interpretation. so how does one maintain a connection to this divine presence, be mindful, be part of the jewish community and tradition, yet hold this more humanistic and worldly view?
i value the religion, the structure, the heritage. and i so much appreciate and respect the people who can do it the fullest. we need those people. but to try to be that person wouldn't be honest of me. maybe it is not my place. it would be cutting myself short. so the question becomes how do i exist in a place where in between are not always respected or acknowledged? how do i maintain the awareness and the connection to judaism as well as my own truths as a person of the world? i have yet to figure this out. but i feel good about where i'm at in this exact moment. and i suppose that is all we have, isn't it?"

On Emunah:
(These ideas are from a shiur (class) that I went to yesterday, called "The Logic of Faith")

Emunah is the hebrew word that is roughly translated as Faith in english. But this term is so lacking compared to what Emunah actually means. Faith implies belief in something you can't prove exists (according to my computer's dictionary - "based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof"). But there is no place in Judaism that encourages people to have blind faith. It is the opposite, actually. A religious Jew will tell you that his belief in God is completely based on logic and reason. The story of the Torah is just that to many people. Judaism emphasizes the value of constantly studying, questioning, learning as much as you can, so you can discover the truth for yourself. I'm sure many of you reading this are skeptical. "The Truth!? Well, there is no such thing as truth. And if people are telling you there is, they must be crazy and trying to lure you into a cult." But we all know what truth feels like. Whether it is the beauty of an incredible friendship that has withstood the winds of time, the all consuming feelings of new love, or a really incredible meal (this is a big one for me, as you probably all know :) ). All of us have experienced our own truths in life. Those moments that transcend language, that deep down make so much sense to us that we couldn't even begin to describe them.
So, what then, is emunah? Emunah is faithfullness to that faith in your truth. Confusing, maybe. So let me tell a story to make this point. A man is lost in the woods in the dark, trying to get to his house on the other side. He is making his way, slowly growing more and more panicked at his inability to find his way. He climbs to the top of a mountain and screams to God, "Please! Just let me see the way back to my house!" All of a sudden, there is a huge flash of light. He looks down from the mountain and sees the path to his house completely clearly. But it is not easy. He will need to go 50 feet and then take an immediate left, so as not to go over the edge of a cliff. Then another 40 feet before he needs to duck under a huge branch, then right for another 20 feet until he comes to a stream he will need to jump over, and so on. In this moment of light, it all clicks. He sees the way, no matter how difficult. And then the light goes out.
What is the point of this story? That of course, we will have moments of light. Of clarity. When it all makes sense. And inevitably, we will also go through periods of extreme darkness. The key is to look for the truth in the light, and stay true to the light in the darkness.
This is emunah. Commitment to your light, your clarity, even when you can't see it. Trusting that it is still there. Suffering is, after all, not due to our circumstances, but due to how we react to those circumstances. What if we knew those truths, even when times were hard? With our friends, with our partners, with God. The clarity of hindsight we tend to get at the end of a situation, knowing why we needed to go through it and what we needed to learn, is just as possible in the beginning. Maybe not the details, but that feeling of emunah. Faith. Trust. It's possible in every moment. What will you choose?


Monday, April 18, 2011

פסח

As many of you have been asking me - yes, I made my decision about whether or not to stay in Israel! But before I talk about that, I want to share with you some of what's been on my mind.

Tonight is the beginning of Passover (Pesach). A huge holiday for the Jewish people.
It is a holiday of the journey from slavery to freedom. We are remembering the story of when the Jews were slaves in Egypt (Mitzrayim - coming from the Hebrew word for narrow) for years and years and years, exiled from our true faith and way of life, and how that exodus toward freedom took place over time. The Sedar (the big meal experience we have) is a way for us to not only keep telling the story to future generations, but for the people participating to experience (as much as we can) what our ancestors went through. We do this 1. because it is deeply relevant to our history and 2. because we are still going through it, in our own ways, today.

We don't eat leavened things (hametz) for a week to represent the culture we left behind in Egypt, which represented enslavement to ego. A people who built pyramids to celebrate themselves. Bread, during this time, represents worshipping ego. It is puffed up, full of air. When we do this extreme cleaning of our entire homes, cleaning out every inch of every corner (don't even get me started on how intense this process is!), burning the last of the hametz we find, it is to serve as a cleansing of our souls. Getting rid of whatever is enslaving us. We eat matzah (unleaved bread) for a week to represent this same thing, the conscious freeing ourselves of ego. Matzah is the bread of affliction at the beginning of the Sedar and becomes the bread of our freedom at the end. They say that when you take the first bite of matzah at the sedar, the act in itself is freeing. (It is the only food that we are commanded to eat by the Torah - This is some holy stuff!)

So why do we do all this? Why are we so deeply tied to this symbolic holiday? Well for me, it's an incredible way to be consciously bettering ourselves. Breaking our enslavement to our own egos, our own Mitzrayims. When this happened historically, when the hebrew people (not yet jews) were freed from Egypt, they then started wandering in the desert, trusting this one guy (Moshe Rabinu - Moses) to lead them to freedom. It took weeks before they understood what the purpose of this commitment was, needing to go on faith. Needing to go through many stages of freedom - physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. But after 7 weeks (49 days), Moses went to Mt Sinai, talked to God, got the 10 commandments, and the people entered into a covenant with God. It wasn't an arbitrary assignment, like 'Hey you guys are here, so you're all Jewish. Cool.' They needed to enter into this covenant, to consciously accept God, Judaism as a way of life, before being led to the promised land (40 years later!)

The Sedar, and Pesach, are ways for us to go through our own narrows every year and come out the other side. Not only to keep the story alive for generations to come but to take a light to the corners of our beings, clean out the dust, and arise into something new. Elevated. A lighter being, perhaps. It is said that a new piece of soul comes into us every Pesach. And after the first night, we start something called Sefirot HaOmer. We count for 49 nights, until Shavout, marking the time it took between us leaving Egypt and reaching Mt. Sinai. During these 49 days, we are preparing ourselves for this new part of our soul to be integrated.

Each week has a theme, and each day has a sub-theme. (This process is no joke!) The theme of the weeks correspond to 7 of the 11 kabbalistic components/energies of the soul (see diagram below). The 7 areas (midot) we work on during this time are Chessed (generosity, love, giving), Gevura (justice, knowing, sacrifice), Tiferet (beauty, grace, compassion), Netzach (endurance, trust in God, eternity), Chod (consensus, splendor, acquiescence to truth), Yesod (truth, implementation, foundation), and Malkhut (kingdom, mastery, reflected light). Then the days of the week start with the chessed of chessed, then gevura of chessed, tiferet of chessed, and so on. They say that each of us are rooted in one of these midot but it is still important to do tikun (work, healing) on all of these areas. We don't work on the top 4 sefirot (keter - transcendence, binah - discernment, chakmah - insight, and dat - knowing) during this time because the bottom 7 are the ones most subject to flaw as we go through life.


WHOA that gets complicated. Luckily I have a handy little guide to take me through each of the days with thinking points and such. But hopefully you get the gist. Needless to say, I have a lot to be thinking about during the vacation from classes! Of course, freedom and what it means has been on my mind as I prepare for this holiday, this cleansing process. This process and this story tell us countless things, but I think one of the most valuable is that few of us are actually free. Freedom, the process of becoming free, or exodus, happens slowly. Consciously. (I have met people in prison who are more mentally free than I am, yet live behind barbed wire and metal bars. Go figure.) Figuring out what my personal Mitzrayim is, and how I can free myself has been so valuable. So, I invite you to do the same, no matter how you identify spiritually. Spring is upon us, a time for rebirth. What are you enslaved to? Materialism? Consumerism? Body image? Your own expectations? The past? Relationships? We all have something. And the more aware we can be of these things, the clearer our path to our own exoduses will be.

I can think of many things that enslave me, ranging from lifelong struggles to more superficial concepts. As I was making the decision about whether or not to stay in Israel longer, I wanted to be sure that my decision wasn't influenced by any of these things. That I could get to a place of stillness and clarity so that the decision would arise naturally and it wouldn't feel much like a decision at all. Doing this meant really working out some knots, dealing with feelings of elation and despair, sometimes within seconds of each other. As I was struggling with this one day, I decided to take a nap and I had the most comforting dream. I was walking into the woods and starting to go down this path. It was green and beautiful and the sun was shining through all the leaves in these amazing rays. I felt so happy to be there. Suddenly, I was in front of myself, or rather my conscious self was now separate from my physical self (Or I had two selves? Not really sure. But I was in front. Whatever that means.) And I turned around to see myself walking down the path and I had this huge smile on my face as I hugged myself and said, "Welcome home. You're finally here." And then we floated away. The not-so-unbearable lightness of being. A few days later, I made my decision to stay here for another year, and after some initial freak out about what that meant, I feel like I've returned to the feeling I had in the dream. I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. Free of that which holds me down. For this moment anyway!

So kudos to YOU (especially if you read all of this) and your path to freedom, whatever it may be. Whether we have to wander in the desert for 40 years before we 'figure it out' or if we happen to become truly free tomorrow, I'm just happy to be on the path with you all.

Wishing you a holiday or a season filled with insight and freedom, in whatever ways you need it most.

לשנה הבאה בירושלים

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Decisions Decisions

From a recent email of mine (feel free to leave feedback on this one especially!):

i'm having somewhat of a crisis of faith right now. i absolutely love what i'm doing, learning, questioning, being right now. i think i told you, i feel like i'm exactly where i'm supposed to be. but i really feel like an infant in this spirituality world. my friend said to me the other day, "i'm so impressed with how much you've been processing/communicating about your journey in 4 weeks! it's more than i've done all year." which is a nice thing to say, but i think some of my over processing is coming from a place of insecurity. i'm worried that if i go home in 3 months, this will have just seemed like a dream. i'll go back to secular life and feel this twinge of emptiness and not be able to figure out how to fill it. i need to be writing, processing, talking to people all the time to document that this is indeed happening to me. that this journey is so important for me, no matter where i am.

despite how much i feel this is right for me right now, i still have this very fundamental qualm with god. or not god. my relationship to god? (i'm going to use this word and assume you understand my definition at this point, in order to save myself repeated explaining. i think you can handle it.) i have this huge decision coming up this week. april 15th is the date i definitively hear from grad programs about being offered a spot off the waiting list and it is also the day i need to commit to a grad program (the one i've already been accepted to). i'm also toying with the idea of staying in israel for another year of learning. this means a few things. 1.) if i do want to defer grad school and stay here another year to learn, i need to tell them on april 15th. 2.) if i get offered a spot at one of my top choices, i need to see if they allow deferral. if they do, i have a serious decision to make. if they don't, i guess that answers it for me. so, how does one make these decisions? for most of the people i'm surrounded by, they consult god. they pray. they get an answer. i have no idea how to do that or what i even think of that (initially, it freaks me out to be honest. i'm not familiar with this model of operation. i've never done it.) this is the crisis. how do i know? how much faith do i actually have? if i do have faith, how do i tap into that and let it help me? i have no idea.

so, in the meantime, i'm doing the only thing i know how to do. talk to a lot of people. hear my thoughts/desired out loud to see what i really want (which i don't actually know yet). this kind of decision can't be made with logic. i think this needs to be intuition. maybe thats what faith feels like? trusting your intuition? i don't know. i don't want to make this huge decision by april 15th! this is my crisis of faith. this is why i feel like a child in this world i'm in. i'm so in awe of the people i'm surrounded by and close to and how beautiful their faith is. but will i ever get there? do i even want to get there?

this is where i'm at with spirituality right now. and my derech (path). more on what i've learned jewishly to come (amazing things about the upcoming holidays of pesach and the omer. so deep. i'm so elated to be experiencing these holidays i thought i knew on this level!)

on another note, i just started my pesach break so now i have three weeks off from classes to travel, reflect, be. i'm doing some really exciting things actually. i'll be spending a lot of time in the desert at this place called silent arrow (http://www.silentarrow.co.il/a.asp?p=24948) that my friend verity has a really close relationship with. from there, we're going to go to a few festivals. one dance/movement/creative community called adamah (http://www.adama.org.il/EventsSystem/DisplayEvent.aspx?TypeID=1&eID=488) and another at the desert ashram (http://www.desertashram.co.il/Default.aspx?tabid=81) called zorba (http://www.desertashram.co.il/EventDetailsEng/tabid/93/Article/89/Default.aspx). possibly a hop across the border to the sinai also? i really want to go to egypt. i think we'll also travel up to haifa for a few days and stay with one of her friends. these two girls i've gotten really close to - viktoria and verity - are incredible. such beautiful girls, inside and out. i'm so grateful to have met them and to be learning and traveling with them.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Love After Love




The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

-Derrick Walcott

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Alice in Wonderland

I absolutely love hiking in the desert. I can't quite put my finger on exactly what it is about being there that is so moving to me, but the feeling is unmistakeable. We (my Shirat Devorah sisters and I) went to Eilat this past weekend (the southernmost point of Israel, unfortunately resembling Las Vegas in many ways). The good parts were: our hike, being on the beach, swimming in the Red Sea, getting to spend time with these amazing girls, a wacky Chabad experience, being in hottttt weather (although dressing tzniut (religious modesty) in 95 degree weather was certainly a new experience), going Jeeping (who knew that was a verb?), and going to an underwater observatorium (the humans were in the tank with the fish looking in!). The bad part was that I got a cold and spent a lot of time sleeping and feeling pretty loopy. Which was actually semi entertaining.

I wish I had more to write here but my mind is so active during the day that by the time I sit down to write something, I'm drained. So instead of trying to compose some sort of rational piece, I think will go about it in a totally irrational way and insert some quotes from myself (from notes or emails I've written) and others that are on my mind recently. Some background first: in my classes, we're preparing for the approaching holiday of Pesach (Passover) which most people are familiar with. It has to do with one of the most pivotal stories in Jewish history - the exile of the Jewish people and the exodus out of Mitzrayim (Egypt) into the Promised Land (guess where!) This is an incredible story with so many deep connections that I can't even elaborate on right now. Amazing how I can be gaining so much new insight from a story I thought I knew. Definitely more to come on that topic!
____
the world is sending me crazy signals. i went out for tea last night and there was a placemat with alice in wonderland and this quote:

"would you tell me please which way i ought to go from here?"
"that depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the cat.
"i don't care much where" said alice.
"then it doesn't matter which way you go" said the cat.
"...so long as i get SOMEWHERE," alice added as an explanation.
"oh, you're sure to do that," said the cat, "if you only walk long enough."

(remember that self portrait i did in high school? i totally related to her and feeling lost on a journey)
i was talking to my friend about how i related to the quote and her so much when i was younger. and then today, in class, our teacher referenced THAT SAME QUOTE in reference to the upcoming holiday and us all being on our own exodus's and finding a path. so it was relevant when i was 17 and and its relevant now that i'm 24! and still on a journey! whoa. mamash. thank you universe. i see you! anyway, just a tiny drop in my daily ocean of experience.
____

this is why i'm ecstatic. because i am learning and growing and changing and taking root and reaching for the stars every single day. my classes, teachers, these ladies i'm living and learning with - everyone is inspiring in his/her own way. the friends i've made. the conversations i'm having, the questions i'm asking. i have this incredible feeling that i've rarely felt which can only be described as "i feel like i'm exactly where i'm supposed to be." what more could i want?
____

wow it is so amazing to read this because i would have used almost these exact words a few years ago. totally viewed faith as a psychological tool. and why not! it makes perfect sense. we are highly evolved, we know when we need comfort in something. i was so so skeptical (still am) of my own developing beliefs because they started in a time of serious loss. but does the need for the feelings negate the reality of the experience? what i came to conclude, eventually, was that it didn't matter to me any more. i wasn't, i'm not, searching for absolute truth. for proof. for logic. i'm interested in bringing meaning to my every day life, not an easy escape.

about my own feelings and what i relate to, i love that you said this: "It's recognition of something greater, pontification of the infinite, notions of an incomprehensible layered system that we are simply floating in. That is all very powerful/scary/beautiful and it really does transcend day to day realities. But that can be inverted in on itself, that day to day realities transcend the infinitude of conceptual space and so on. That is a kind of spirituality in itself, seeing the beauty in the menial." yes, I have had the "highs" of religious experience (a limited amount, but significant enough to make me question the very meaning of existence. so pretty worthwhile, in my opinion). what i think is more worthwhile, however, is the day to day spirituality. connecting to the part of yourself that is open to being amazed by the world we live in. whether its a meteor shower or a rock in the desert. the vastness of the universe and the boundlessness what my own experience can be within it blows my mind. the concept of god for me is not about an all knowing, all powerful being who will make everything right, but very much rooted in the feelings of awe in the everyday. god, to me, is not a man or a king, but the connectedness of every single atom in the universe. when the divisions fall away and you have that incredible feeling that everything is one. (this is what the shema is all about!) yes - the feelings of appreciation of incredible food, a wonderful connection with another person, the feeling of sand in between my toes, the heart wrenching feeling of loss. the goal, for me, is not to transcend reality, but to be so in touch with reality (ALL of it - not just the good) that i don't need to get high off god, or anything for that matter. that i can simply breathe in and feel secure in my own awareness, knowing that god is in me and everyone and everything around me. i don't need religious hierarchy to inform me of these feelings. they came to me way before i had a name for them. to me, where religion comes into play is simply giving us a framework, suggestions maybe, about how to live so that we can be reminded of these feelings.

what do i believe? that's so hard to articulate. i believe in oneness. in the good of humanity. the falling away of dualities (if one person is imprisoned then we all are). i connect with this "god" through feeling the wind in the desert and watching sunsets and really knowing another person so well that we can realize we're the same person, that we come from the same place. to be truthful - judaism/religion is difficult for me. this imposed structure. prayer is still something that is incredibly difficult for me not to have an aversion to. my experience is so personal (yet so shared) that is find it hard to relate to words that i haven't written. but i yearn to connect to this practice! to make my faith a part of my daily life, not just an email conversation. it is already so much a part of who i am, what i want to do with my life, how i view the world, people, nature. my journey, path, derech, right now is to figure out how to solidify my spirituality into my everyday life.
___

I had such an incredible day of classes today. I go back and forth usually like 4 times a day about whether or not I can actually see myself going back to the states in 4 months. I just feel like I have SO much to learn, and want to learn. We had a talk from this incredible woman today who is pretty well known in this world (Sarah Riggler) who spent 15 years living at an ashram and devoting her life to spiritual growth and now she's an orthodox woman. I love hearing about people's journeys. Something she talked about that spoke to me so much is the idea that most people who are trying to be spiritual (maybe not most, but a lot) are searching for that 'high' feeling. Those moments when you connect with the infinity of the universe and are totally transported (being at Livnot, for me). But that true spiritual growth and progress doesn't occur from those moments (nor is it possible to live in that space) or in picking a few practices from different places but in devoting yourself to a practice, a being or authority higher than yourself, that you will follow whether it 'turns you on' or not. And that is where the real learning/growth/progress/work occur. It spoke to me a lot today because I think I've taken that approach with Judaism a lot (in the 1.5 years that I've decided to actually be Jewish again, haha). When a belief/ community/practice doesn't seem like something I like, I've shyed away from it. I think "i can be jewish but i wont dress tzniut or be shomer negia or even shomer shabbas. but i can still feel it. no problem." But you're (i'm) really losing something (still trying to figure out what) when you pick and choose elements of a religion or a practice. Granted, I'm not saying I'm not going to be orthodox, but I really see that point. And I think it is part of why I haven't connected to conservative Judaism thus far. Nor have I really connected to wanting to be Jewish and not really having a practice. Although I've consistently felt the void that leaves. Anyway, my mind is racing right now. I can't imagine not immersing myself in this learning.
___

\

Meditation is not to get out of society, to escape from society, but to prepare for a re-entry into society. We call this "engaged Buddhism." When we go to a meditation center, we may have the impression that we leave everything behind-family, society, and all the complications involved in them—and come as an individual in order to practice and search for peace. This is already an illusion, because in Buddhism there is no such thing as an individual.

Thich Nhat Hanh, "The Heart of Practice"

____

i thank you god
for this
most amazing day
for the leaping greenly
spirits of trees
and a blue true
dream of sky;
and for everything
which is natural
which is infinite
which is yes.
e.e. cummings
___




Monday, March 28, 2011

Bombs and Bedouins

Where to begin. So much has happened in the last few days! Between the bombing in Jerusalem, my weekend retreat, and all the learning I'm doing in class everyday, my mind is completely full. I'm loving (almost) every minute of it.
As I'm sure you all know, a bomb went off last week in Jerusalem at the central bus station injuring
many and killing one woman. This is scary on so many levels. First of all, it was the day I moved into the Shirat Devorah apartment (about a 7 minute walk from that bus station). Second of all, I heard the bomb go off from my class/apartment (which happens to be the same place right now!). The class I was in at the time is a writing workshop (which is amazing, by the way) and we were reflecting on our Purim experiences - most of which were filled with simcha (joy). When we heard the blast, our class of 5 girls all got very quiet. We thought of all the possible explanations for the unsettling sound and tried to go back to work. Then the sirens came.
And didn't stop. At this point, we needed to stop class and figure out what was going on. We got on our computers and took out our phones and within maybe two minutes, we were all receiving texts from our Madricha (house mother, program manager) asking us where we were and telling us to stay inside. You know that full body feeling of dread you get when you know something terrible has happened? That totally happened. As our news pages started loading and we scrambled to find a radio station, the shock started setting in. The news came in pieces. Bomb. Bus. School dismissal. Maybe more. Sirens sirens sirens. I've never really experienced this feeling before. It was one made up of fear for my safety and the safety of all those I care about in the area but more than that, there was a deep sadness. My thoughts immediately went to "How is it possible that people can do this to each other? What is this world we're living in?" As we started getting more news and phone calls, it started to set in. I knew this news would make it to America in no time and wanted to contact home and let people know I was ok. The thought of any of my friends/family seeing this news without hearing from me first was terrible to think about. Our phones weren't working, because so many people in the area were trying to make/receive calls. The news wouldn't update quickly enough. We cried. And held each other. One of my roommates realized that had she gone to a meeting she had planned for that day, she would have been on that bus. I realized that I had stopped at that bus station every day for the past week and a half. The idea of our safe space being shattered was so very real. Then the questions. Why are we all safe and others are not? Are we really safe? Why am I choosing to live here right now? What a day. Talk about being forced to bond really quickly! I feel so lucky to have been in this supportive community with these wonderful girls. Our program director and madricha came over as soon as they could. Our hugs lasted so much longer than usual. Our appreciation for seeing each other was so genuine.
After a while had passed and we got more news and had talked to our families, we realized we needed to take our minds off of the news stations and all the possible"what ifs." We ordered pizza and
made popcorn huddled together to watch happy movies. Even though I was so happy to have these girls and this community though, it was the most homesick I've felt since I've been here. My honeymoon period was certainly ended abruptly and I was forced to really examine what my connection is to eretz and am yisrael (the land and the people of israel). To test out my (up until this point) theoretical position of nonviolence and overall belief in the good of humanity. Faith in something greater. If I have all these things, then I won't be afraid, right? I wish it were that simple.
The next day, like nothing had ever happened, we went on a field trip to Tel Aviv. Leaving the apartment for the first time was surreal. Having been locked inside this imaginery safety bubble, with nothing to scare me but my own thoughts, I hadn't really thought about what it would feel like to go back into civilization. Into the center of a city (where I happen to live) that is constantly targeted. I felt this feeling of persecution welling up inside me - one I have tried to separate from my Judaism at all costs. I kept thinking, "Am I going to succumb to this? Live in fear? Breed hate of those who are different than me?" That feeling was more terrifying than any idea of physical danger. Our field trip to Tel Aviv was cold and rainy and all of our heads were elsewhere. It was amazing to watch life keep on moving like nothing had even happened. Israelis are tough. They wont let anything stop them. I
don't know how they do it (although I am starting to think there is a lot of internalized trauma going on...).
While we were on the field trip, my friends/roommates/co-students Viktoria and Verity finalized some plans to go on a Non Violent Communication retreat with Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Nothing sounded more appealing than getting out of the Jerusalem to be in the desert and under any other circumstances, I would have been SO down with that environment. But I definitely hesitated. I was so charged with all these new emotions and trying to sort them and figure out how to process them that the thought of being immersed in an atmosphere where I would have to directly confront these newly informed feelings was definitely scary. I checked in with myself about what my hesitations were, what the reality of the safety situation was (traveling to the West Bank during a time of rapidly increasing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians), and what the benefits would be of staying or going. After probably too much deliberation with myself and my roommates, we decided to go. We met up with Viktoria's friend Yonatan and headed - where else - to the central bus station to start our journey.
The second we arrived to the EcoME village and I took a deep breath of fresh, desert air, I knew we'd made
the right choice. This place is incredible! All the inclinations I had had about this being exactly the environment I needed to be in at this moment were realized very quickly. Let me back up a second. EcoME is a newly established community based on the idea that everyone and anyone is welcome. It is a community that aims to foster peace between people from different places and between people and the environment (compost toilets - so awesome). Since it is relatively new and not in a permanent location yet, it is made up of a bunch of bedouin style tents right now. The people who started it are incredible and beautiful people, of course. As were all the people who attended this workshop. Right - a word about NVC (nonviolent communcation). This is a conflict resolution model developed by this guy Marshall Rosenberg in the 60's. It teaches people how to both express their own and hear others' feelings and needs in order to reach common goals. Makes a lot of sense, but there are certainly drawbacks. I won't go into any detail here but definitely ask me more about it if you're interested (or read more here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonviolent_Communication). I'm very biased coming from being an AVP (alternatives to violence) facilitator because I am such a believer in that model. Nonetheless, I definitely gained a lot more skills and more importantly, made amazing connections with the other people there. I'm still processing the whole weekend (after being immersed in full days of classes starting Sunday) but some snapshots of great moments for me were: lighting Shabbat candles and singing and dancing with a whole group of people from all different backgrounds (Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals) to welcome Shabbat; sitting around a campfire under the stars telling stories of transformative life experiences; being in a role play involving Israelis and Palestinians discussing the recent violence and figuring out ways, together, to talk to people about the conflict and hear each others stories; falling asleep in the sun after eating the most amazing dates of my life; AMAZING organic, vegetarian, meals; compost toilets; having fresh tea during workshop breaks; sunsets; stars; transcending boundaries (whatup goucher) of religion and culture; singing in english, hebrew, arabic; sleeping on the ground and being so happy about it. And so so much more.
Some not great things about the weekend: IT WAS SO COLD. I'm not that great at dealing with cold. Also, it POURED the first night we were there. Is it supposed to pour in the desert? Nope. Was I prepared for freezing weather? Nope. (Although I did wind up wearing all the clothing I brought at once, pretty much. I was still cold.) Also, I had a very unfortunate encounter with some ants/fleas/bugs on the last night in which they decided to eat my face. No, I will not post a picture of it. But picture chicken pox. All over my face. Not cool! And itchy. So not cool. Once I thought I had finally made peace with my disfiguration (which, trust me, was a process unto itself) and we were back in Jerusalem, I went to the shuk Sunday morning to get some breakfast and as I was buying an apple, the guy was like WHATS WRONG WITH YOUR FACE. Oh dear. Only in Israel.
Much more to come about all the incredible mind blowing realizations and connections I'm making to what I'm learning in my classes! And how my hebrew is improving by the hour. And how at this point, it is already difficult to think about leaving in 3.5 months. I have so much more to learn! Until next time...

אהבה


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Soul Bone


Once I said I didn't have a spiritual bone
in my body and meant by that
I didn't want to think of death,
as though any bone in us
could escape it. Maybe
I was afraid of what I couldn't know
for certain, a thud like the slamming
of a coffin lid, as final and inexplicable
as that. What was the soul anyway,
I wondered, but a homonym for loneliness?
Now, in late middle age, or more, I like to imagine it,
the spirit, the soul bone, as though it were hidden
somewhere inside my body, white as a tooth
that falls from a child's mouth, a dove,
the cloud it can fly through. Like bones,
it persists. Little knot of self, stubborn
as wildflowers in a Chilmark field in autumn,
the white ones they call boneset, for healing,
or the others, pearly everlasting.
The rabbis of the Midrash believed in the bone
and called it the luz, just like the Spanish word
for light, the size of a chickpea or an almond,
depending on which rabbi was telling the story,
found, they said, at the top of the spine or the base,
depending. No one's ever seen it, of course,
but sometimes at night I imagine I can feel it,
shining its light through my body, the bone
luminous, glowing in the dark. Sometimes,
if you listen, you might even hear that light
deep inside me, humming its brave little song.

- Susan Wood

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tzfat

This past weekend was incredible. I went to Tzfat, the place I spent most of my time last time I was here, to celebrate Shabbat and then Purim. What a magical place. The whole time I was on the bus ride up there, I was just in disbelief. I couldn't believe I was really going back. The place/people/feelings I had been yearning for! This place is what opened me up to so much. Before going on Livnot and being in Tzfat, I was so closed off to religion and spirituality. I was cynical and defensive. I had so many negative associations. It's taken a lot of work to undo that conditioning, which I couldn't have done without having the experience I had. I've developed so much of my spirituality since being here last. (Clearly - now I am voluntarily enrolled in a seminary!) To return, there in particular, felt so necessary. And a perfect way to spend my first Shabbat in Israel. The place that started it all. Returning to. So fitting.
I spent most of my time lying on this amaaaaazing balcony Livnot has, overlooking this beautiful valley, talking, reading, meditating, doing yoga, and just admiring the sky/mountains/air/birds. The weather was perfect. Sunny with a breeze. It feels like the air is hugging you. You can also sense the antiquity of the area (can you tell I have a thing for old cities?). The Livnot buildings were all excavated, built right into the side of mountains. The energy is unmistakeable.


I keep finding it difficult to accurately articulate what I'm going through here (despite how much I can pontificate), so here is an excerpt from a pretty genuine, non-censored, free association email I wrote while I was at Livnot:
this place. oh my god, this place. there are no words. and too many words. so much beauty, love, complexity. the singing. oh my god the singing. i've missed it so much. it's like a long lost sisters embrace. incredible to compare where i am now versus where i was last time i was here. mentally. i was shell shocked by the experience. i didn't know how to process. and now i can welcome it, with open arms.
the people who are here this week are a funny mix. some older, more mature, pretty cool people and then some spring break oriented people who don't seem to want to be here. the girls i shared a room with were worried about their cleavage, who was hooking up with who, and how to smuggle as much alcohol under their beds as possible (and drink it all day long). SO different than the group i was with here! but there are some gems, of course. i stayed up most of the night friday night sitting out on the street (and later hiking up to the citadel, overlooking the whole city) talking about the essence of life, the nature of man, suffering, contenment, god, and how its all possible.
last night, on purim, i went with some people to this guys house (away from the party happening at livnot that resembled a middle school dance) and we sat, under the full moon, and they played guitar and drums, with candles in the middle of our circle, and we sang. so beautiful. ive never felt like i could sing before. but it just came out of me. and we made the most beautiful music. and we sang hebrew, and prayers, and lalalalas and it was the most beautiful thing ever. i felt like we were singing directly to the moon/god/everything/nothing. my heart was totally opened.
friday night, a few of us hiked to this citadel and went in an old water cistern which is basically a cave. at like 2am. the most darkness ive ever experience. and silence. and stillness. such a fear of mine. but i did it. and i liked it. and we chanted and sang into the darkness and made our own light. i wish i had the words. i really do. ive found everything! and nothing. and its all the same.

After spending the weekend having mind blowing conversations, making beautiful music, and creating new friendships, I am now back in Jerusalem and ready to officially start as a student at Shirat Devorah. I'm moving out of the Abramson house (even though they've basically adopted me as their daughter! so so sweet). I'll be learning in depth about Torah, Jewish laws, and (most importantly to me) where I fit into this world and how I want it to fit into my life. Who would have thought I'd be willingly living an observant Jewish life! I guess I don't really like to do things moderately. If I'm going to learn, I'm going to go all in. Who needs the in between?
I am welcoming each new person, experience, and idea with open arms. Trying to unlearn and relearn. Fall down and get up. How lucky I am to be doing this right now! I can't think of anything more necessary.
Love to all! Know that I'm thinking of you. Xo


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Thread

Something is very gently,
invisibly, silently,
pulling at me-a thread
or net of threads
finer than cobweb and as
elastic. I haven't tried
the strength of it. No barbed hook
pierced and tore me. Was it
not long ago this thread
began to draw me? Or
way back? Was I
born with its knot about my
neck, a bridle? Not fear
but a stirring
of wonder makes me
catch my breath when I feel
the tug of it when I thought
it had loosened itself and gone.

-Denise Levertov

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Ebin's Wedding!


A few pictures from the wedding! Which was, of course, totally magical. Filled with simchas, nachas, and of course, dancing dancing dancing.

Reunited with some wonderful Livnot chevre
Tehila and Shira

The beautiful bride and groom with a hilltop view of Jerusalem behind them

Monday, March 14, 2011

Returning to.

I made it! After almost two full days of being in transit. Whoa. There is a weird time-space phenomenon that happens in airports, I've noticed. Being able to completely lose track of the day/time/week. Its like being suspended in water. I love watching how people handle this. Some try to cling to whatever order they can, frantically checking their watches and phones. Getting work done. And some (like me) totally surrender to the situation and allow themselves to be moved by the current of what's around them. I have to say, I am a huge fan of falling asleep in transit. Buses, planes, floors of airports. In what other kinds of public places is that ok!? So. Awesome.

Just to be clear, I have not gotten nearly enough sleep. I wish I was one of those people who could function on very little sleep, but I'm just not. I get so wacky, as many of you know. Someone said to me today, "Enjoy it! You're probably seeing things that none of us can see right now." Definitely true. I'm also feeling the strongest gravitational pull to just be horizontal. Ah sleep. I can't wait.

So, here I am. The promised land. I had this overwhelming feeling of being right where I'm supposed to be when the plane landed this morning. What a good feeling. I had this flashback of being at the airport when I was leaving Israel after Livnot. I was so so sad. I felt like I was leaving a part of myself behind. I knew I would be back but I didn't know when or how. The feeling of loss was crushing. Like meeting someone new and being forced to say goodbye too soon. But here I am. At last. Funny how life works, isn't it?
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Since I couldn't finish this posting yesterday, I decided to come back to it after I slept (for 12 hours!). I am much more alive now. Now, for some actual news. When I arrived yesterday, I took the train to meet Shira in Modiin and she took me back to her house to shower (so necessary) and to feed me. There, I met another Livnot chevre who is currently coming to the end of traveling the world for a year. I love it how it is so normal to encounter people here who have just picked up and left their lives with no plans except to travel/soul search/find God. Makes me feel less crazy, for sure. After breakfast, the three of us got a ride to Jerusalem where I met up with Tehila, another one of my Livnot Bat Sheruts. Her family lives just outside the city in a beautiful neighborhood called Ramot. We caught up for a while before she urged me to take a nap and told me I'd see her at the wedding tomorrow (today). Let me backtrack for a second. It was SO incredible to see Shira and Tehila again. I was lucky to have seen Shira when she came to visit the states, but Tehila I haven't seen since I was last here. Amazing. Sogreat to have friends who live across the globe who I feel this close to.

After napping, waking up for a few hours, and then sleeping through the night for 12 more hours, I woke up today ready to venture out. I definitely had a moment when I woke up thinking "WHAT am I doing here!?" Shira and Tehila are both at their yeshiva in classes all day and encouraged me to just go exploring. Makes sense. But still kind of crazy. I was only in Jerusalem for a few hours when I was last here and I was with an entire group. So different traveling alone! When I figured out which bus to take (and where to get off), I started wandering around the city. I don't have a map, nor do I really speak any hebrew, but for some reason I decided it would be fine. Based on reading some signs and intuition, I decided to head toward the Old City. A good place to start, I thought. Connecting to so much of what brought me back here. I somehow managed to take a route that I had been on last time I was here (though not intentionally) and walked by two places I had eaten! I knew I didn't need a map :)
For those of you who have been to Jerusalem, I'm sure you remember the richness of this city. So vibrant, full of history, and (unfortunately) so much conflict. It would be impossible to come here and not feel the intensity.

Speaking of intense, this is what everyone is talking about: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/thousands-turn-out-in-jerusalem-for-funerals-of-itamar-terror-victims-1.348895

Only a few hours after arriving, I was having a discussion with Shira about this terrible incident and about growing up living in fear and how a community processes trauma. Although I certainly have opinions about violence and military presence, I can't even begin to understand what it must feel like living here. My goal is to talk to as many people as I can about their experiences, their views, and hopefully, instead of arriving at answers, I will develop better questions to be asking.

Tonight is Ebin's wedding! Another Livnot chevre who I've remained close to. This is a big deal because not only is he getting married, but making aliyah (moving to Israel)! I am so excited that I'm able to be here for this occasion and celebrate with someone so deserving of love and happiness. I also can't wait to see more of the people I know and love. And of course - to dance!

Tomorrow, I'm going to sit in on a day of classes and speak with the faculty/directors of Shirat Devorah (www.shiratdevorah.org) to figure out if I want to spend some time learning there. I can't wait! Now I just need to figure out which bus to take again... When I spoke to the admissions woman on the phone today, not only did we realize we will both be at the same wedding tonight but she said "Welcome home, Jenna." Where else do people say that when you're visiting? (Stop worrying Dad, I'm not moving here.) It is impossible for me not to feel connected to this land and people though, no matter what my political beliefs are. On a pure human level and spiritual level, we all belong.