Tuesday, May 17, 2011


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?


  1. Hey Jenna!
    It's so nice to see you traveling on this beautiful journey. I never had the chance (yet) to study in seminary in Israel (lucky you!) but I became "frum" in college together with my future husband. I wanted it (I actually fell in love with the idea of the mikvah and purity), but for some reason I felt I couldn't do it alone. He came at just the right moment to "hold my hand" and we explored and embraced Judaism together. We were definitely seekers, searching for meaning for a long time everywhere but in our own roots (zen meditation, even LIVED in a Boston Sufi House - him for 2 years, me for 3 months). Then in university did two "Judaism for Beginners" courses offered through the Chabad house and Meor. I was "sold" after experiencing Shabbat with a beautiful family- the harmony in it, the feeling of connection (and amazing food!) and seeing a family together the way I had basically never experienced was so beautiful to me, I knew that I too wanted to be a part of this. Not everything feels right at first, sometimes you have to just do for a while before you understand - like dressing tznius, shomer negiah, covering my hair (once I got married), not biting my fingers on Shabbat and even keeping kosher is a battle when I pass by a Panera or a cute cafe. But I've found that taking it all in, really immersing myself fully in Judaism, without cutting and pasting and picking and choosing, has brought so much light, structure and meaning to my life. I hope you keep yourself open to all that it has to offer.
    Wishing you all the best in living and learning.


  2. Leah,
    I so appreciate this comment! And you being so open about your journey. I think one of the best things I am doing is connecting with people with similar goals of living a meaningful life and sharing our stories. I am definitely keeping myself open, and allowing myself to hold all the complexities of what i'm experiencing and learning. I hope you get to come to Israel and learn here at some point! Isn't it ironic that out of our Ezra class, we were the two non Bat Mitzvahed ones? :)
    Wishing you much simcha and ahava on your derech. And glad to be able to connect this many years later.