Thursday, January 29, 2015

It has to be all of us...

Hey hey,

So I spent last week at Beit T'shuvah, a Jewish residential addiction treatment center. I went with some of my other rabbinical school classmates to learn about addiction. I really learned a lot, and I was also very moved by the residents there and the way they used Judaism and spirituality, so I wanted to talk about it,. Conveniently I was traveling to my pulpit internship at the end of the week, so I wrote a sermon about addiction and Egypt and ourselves... This isn't the most polished, but I want to share it because I think as a future Rabbi we in the Jewish community don't talk about addiction enough and maybe pretend that Jews don't have 'that problem'...

Sermon on Bo for Saturday 1/24:

I spent all of this week at beit teshuva, a Jewish residential addiction treatment center in Los Angeles. I was there to learn about addiction and treatment so I can be a better support as a future rabbi when people come to me who are struggling with addiction. Beit Teshuva which literally means house of repentance/return is a program to help those in their process of recovery. They use Jewish teachings, texts and spiritual practices along with the 12 steps to help people recover from addiction. ,  

This place also takes the Jewish process of teshuvah, repentence and returning to a whole new level. While we hear a lot about teshuvah around the high holidays and yom kippur, beit teshuvah is doing teshuvah in a very real and tangible way every day by publicly admitting to their wrongdoings, and working to make amends and to change themselves. Something I aspire to completely do. And the amazing thing is that this process at beit teshuva really can work—most of the staff there are former addicts and also many are former residents of beit teshuva and now they are using their success and understanding to help others in their place. Even the Rabbis there, both the Rabbi who runs the operation and the Rabbi who we spent most of our time learning from are both recovering addicts and openly and publicly admit to that---I’m not telling their secrets, they’ve both written books about their process.

It was pretty remarkable to see our Jewish texts be used in such a transformative way. Every day all of the residents are required to start off their day at a group Torah study, looking to our tradition for support through their recovery process. I got the chance to sit in on these sessions and study in smaller groups with some of the residents
of beit teshuvah…

 The way we studied together was different from the way we study text in rabbinical school. At school we look at the text and then intellectually pick it apart…what is this text saying? Why does it use the language in a particular way? What does rashi say about it? And we try to say something smart, and hopefully impress our teacher and our classmates…at beit teshuva when we studied Torah we were challenged to look for ourselves in the text and to relate it to our own experiences and struggles. We were challenged to be real. During an early morning Torah session one of us was making an intellectual comment about the plague of darkness and the Rabbi at the front of the room chimed in: I don’t care about that…I want to know how it relates to you.

            Some of the best Torah I have learned in a long time came from my week at beit tshuvah. And I want to share a piece with you. Right now we are reading in the Torah the story of the Jew’s exodus from Egypt, and one woman who has been at beit tshuvah for a few months said: I think of Egypt as my addiction, I worked hard to get free. but the Israelites after they got out of Egypt and were in the desert they kept complaining that they wanted to go back to Egypt, over and over, and I feel like the desert is the recovery period for me, even though I am free I think about going back to Egypt all the time and I want to go back, I want to use again and just get loaded but I know I can’t.

            Now that’s some torah for you. And  I have been thinking about it a lot, because it rang true to me and to my experience of dealing with my own difficulties and shortcomings. Even though I have not suffered through addiction, I can relate to what she said.  Egypt, while constraining, is safe. So even as I work to get out of Egypt and into the desert, it can be easier and tempting to go back to old habits.

            This week we are almost out of Egypt. In the Torah portion this week we read about the final three plagues on Egypt. Locusts, darkness and the death of the first born.  Before each plague Moses asks Pharaoh to let the Israelites go so they may worship God. Just before the 8th plague, Pharaohs advisors complain to him, Pharaoh-how long are we going to keep up with this, the Israelites are destroying us. Let’s just be done, why don’t you just let some of the Israelite men go to worship? Pharaoh agrees, he’s tired. Pharaoh calls to Moses and tells him: Fine Go worship your God, and asks “who are the ones to go”? Moses replies “we will all go, both young and old regardless of social class our daughters and our sons, our flocks and herds.”

            Pharoah is assuming that in order to worship God only some of the men need to go, or just the priestly class. This is what he does with his nobles and court magicians, they are the ones that worship. That is why Pharoah asks Moses about who will be going-Pharoah assumes it will be a sort list of people. Moses tells Pharoah his assumptions are wrong. Moses says the Israelites can only worship and be free if they are all together. All of us have to be free or we are not truly free.
            This week reading this I thought about addicts and recovering addicts. I haven’t heard much discussion of addiction in Jewish life, but there are Jewish addicts and just because we don’t talk about something doesn’t make it disappear.

            This past Thursday night I went to an AA meeting, and one women who was telling her story started: Just like we say ‘I was just this nice Jewish girl’ that got addicted to drugs…She said this as if there is a conception that this can’t happen or won’t happen to the ‘nice Jewish girl’- but it can happen to anyone. Maybe we have personal experience with this and are struggling with addiction, or we have a family member or friend struggling with addiction, it is here.

            When Pharoah says just take some of the men with you to go worship, Moses says it’s not enough. When we are in community and pharoah says, go but leave the addicts behind-- we need to be the voice of Moses who says “no”- it’s either all of us or none of us. We can’t be free if we are still keeping others or ourselves in the dark in hiding and in shame.
And we are not all that different, addict or “normie”- we are all in this process of leaving Egypt. We are all struggling to be free of something, whether that be substance abuse, anxiety, depression, struggling with our health and body image, gambling, relationships, and on and on.

When Moses tells Pharoah either we will all go free or none of us will go free, we can also look at this at an individual level. We are all made up of different parts, of our moods and interests and habits, and maybe there are some parts of us we lfike and are proud of and some that we are not. Or as a beit teshuvah resident said: I  have to learn to accept that I’ll always have a part of me that’s an addict even when I’m not using and instead of denying it I have to embrace it and use it to my advantage.
Or for me If I ignore the part of me that struggles with anxiety or the part of me that procrastinates and try and leave it in Egypt while the rest of me goes off into the desert, I’m not really free.

This Shabbat I want to bless us all with the courage of Moses to stand up to Pharoah and demand inclusion, and also the courage to be ourselves and take our whole selves out of Egypt.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Parshat Toldot: Why me?? Encountering pain in our lives

Hello world,

Well it's been a while since I've written a blog entry...My one sentence update is I am still in rabbinical school on track to be ordained in 2016 (b"h) and I have an internship in scottsdale AZ at a great shul.

I wanted to share the drash (sermon) I wrote to give this past shabbat morning, shabbat toldot.

Here it is if you are interested:

My name is Becca which is short for Rebecca, and I got my name from this Torah portion, this is totally my Torah portion. My parents named me after Rebecca because she is wise and she outsmarts husband….but I'm not gonna talk about that part now, instead we are going to go back earlier in the portion and go back to when Rebecca was pregnant.

Rebecca while she is pregnant with Jacob and Esau is really suffering. As it says Jacob and Esau were fighting in their mother’s womb, and the pain Rebecca was experiencing caused her to cry out. Rebecca said: Im Ken lama zeh anochi, If this is so, why am I? She cries out…why me?? Why am I experiencing such pain?

Rebecca feels alone in her pain and suffering, and she feels she has no one to turn to, so she turns to God and asks God to explain her suffering.

Through midrash on this text we hear more about Rebecca’s experience. Rebecca goes to the other women of the town to ask them about their own pregnancies and if they experienced the pain and suffering she is currently going through. When she asks, all the women tell her no, they did not suffer in that way. Rebecca is alone. The women don’t offer her sympathy they further alienate her by telling her she is different. I would imagine this would only make Rebecca feel worse. At a time where she is reaching out for support she is shut out, And so she cries out to God—why me-- and demands an answer.

Rebecca’s question rings true for many situations. Maybe we are experiencing personal pain and loss, maybe we are suffering alone physically or mentally, or grieving a loved one, maybe we are sick. We ask ourselves: Lamah zeh anochi. Why me? Why this me?

Rebecca’s pain and suffering struck me this week, in a week where I sometimes feel like the world is falling apart. After the terrorist attack in a synagogue in Jerusalem earlier this week, I was at a loss, again. I still have nothing to say about it, but I want to share an excerpt of a letter from the four women who are now widows as a result of this attack. These women wrote a letter to the public Thursday. In their wisdom and grief they are giving us a way to approach our pain.

This is a translation of part of what they wrote:

With tears and broken hearts from the blood that has been spilled, the blood of holy ones, our husbands, the heads of our homes (Hy’d),

We turn to our brothers and sisters, everyone from the people of Israel, in whatever place they may be, to stay united [to merit] compassion and mercy from on High. We should accept upon ourselves to increase love and affection for each other, whether between a person and his fellow, whether between distinct communities within the Jewish people.

We beseech that each and every person accepts upon himself or herself this Shabbat, that it should be a day in which we express our love for each other, a day in which we refrain from speaking divisively or criticizing others.

By doing so it will be a great merit for the souls of our husbands.
G-d looks down from Above, and sees our pain, and He will wipe away our tears and declare “Enough — to all the pain and grief.”

Chaya Levine
Breine Goldberg
Yakova Kupinsky
Bashi Twersky
and their families

These widows are asking us to love freely. Love each other, love our community and other communities.

Unlike Rebecca who turns inward, these women are asking us to turn outwards to comfort each other and perform acts of kindness for each other…and maybe that is all we can do when faced with such a tragic situation.

In regards to more individual experiences of pain, I think a similar idea can apply. In the Talmud we are taught that one who visits the sick is as if they take away 1/60th of the pain. This is not some magical formula, this Talmudic statement is commenting on the power of empathy, when we go to another who is suffering and listen and love, we can help.

There was a great healer in the Talmud named Rabbi Yochanan. He healed many sick men. But when Rabbi Yochanan, became sick, he could not heal himself. His friend Rabbi Hanina came to visit him. Hanina said to him, “Give me your hand.” Hanina took Rabbi Yochanan’s hand and raised him up from his bed, healing him. The Talmud asks: “Why couldn’t Rabbi Yochanan raise himself?” -- “Because,” the rabbis answer, “the prisoner cannot free himself from prison.”

We can’t do this alone. We need each other to help us break out and break free. Rebecca cried out in despair and loneliness, and God comforted her. Like God helps Rebecca to feel free from her prison of suffering by being there for her, we too can take that role of empathizer for each other…

Like in the story of Rabbi Yochanan we can help release others from being trapped, helping to reduce more than just 1/60th of the pain. We can do this through supportive presence, kindness and love.

As a community, I want to challenge us to follow the Jerusalem widows’ request to love freely this Shabbat, with our words and our actions. I pray that we can use this time to connect and to lift up each other. That we can help bring each other out from the narrow places to a place of optimism and hope.

I wish us all a Shabbat of comfort, of love and of peace.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

because we are also the strangers

Hey World,

So I'm having trouble writing this blog post...I want to share an experience I had and some information, and at the same time I feel like I am still in the process of understanding and information gathering. I want to put my experience out there because I think it's important to spread the word, so here it goes:

Last Friday I went on a trip to Tel Aviv with Truah  (a Jewish social justice organization, tagline: "a rabbinic call for human rights") to learn about the asylum seekers in Israel. These people fled their countries for fear of persecution and have ended up in Israel. This population of asylum seekers in Israel are mainly from the Sudan and Eritrea. There are around 55,000 of these asylum seekers in Israel, most of them concentrated in Tel Aviv. Why Tel Aviv? because when these asylum seekers crossed the boarder and made it into Israel many were given a bus ticket to Tel Aviv...and that's where they end up with no food, no money and no way to make a living. Many of these asylum seekers sleep in a large park by the central bus station (where they were first dropped off). The Israeli government has not given them much of anything. The Israeli government has not even given these people refugee status which would give them rights...

Let's step back briefly and explain the difference between an asylum seeker and a Refugee...These definitions are according to the United Nations Refugee convention (and these definitions and rights are used for Refugees around the world). So a Refugee is: "Someone who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself to the protection of that country." (So basically a Refugee is a person who has fled their country because of persecution since they feel they are no longer protected in their own country).

An asylum seeker is: "An individual who has sought international protection and whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined"

To go from being an asylum seeker to a refugee there is a  process where someone (attached to the government of the country) asks the asylum seekers questions about why they left the country, and if it is deemed that they fled because of a "well-founded fear of persecution" then they are granted refugee status. When the system is working like it should this step should not take long, depending on how efficient the system is and also how many refugees are entering the country at a given time...However Israel has not granted Refugee status to the asylum seekers from Africa.

Why does this matter? It matters a lot. Getting refugee status means you have certain rights that the asylum seekers don't have. Most basically you have the right not to be deported back to the country you fled and not to be persecuted for crossing the boarder in a "non-typical fashion." As a refugee you also have the right to work in the country you fled to and some access to government services (like healthcare in Israel).

So this population of 55,000 African Asylum seekers don't have those rights, and it looks like it will be a long time before they do. Israel has not been granting them refugee status so these people are in a country far from home and while they escaped the danger at home they are now living in a place where they have no way to make a life. Some of the asylum seekers have been able to find jobs, but since they don't formally have the right to work the jobs they can get (if they can even get a job) are not great. And while Israel is not giving them the right to work, Israel is also not providing them with services or money or food...

So yes, the crime rate around Tel Aviv has drastically increased in the past few years in conjunction with the refugee problem...which makes sense: If you have no way to get a job and make money and no help from the government then when  you need to eat what do you do??

What is more concerning to me is that Israel, as a Jewish state is acting in such a senseless way towards these asylum seekers. The UN resolution about Refugees was first made in response to mostly Jewish refugees after world war II, and now that there is a Jewish state it seems ridiculous that we should not be kind to the asylum seekers who have fled to Israel seeking safety. I remember learning in history class about Jewish refugees having no where to go because so many countries refused to take Jews in and Israel is doing what so many did to us?

The way Israel is treating these asylum seekers goes against our Jewish values and teachings. Throughout the Torah we are reminded (ohh about 36 times) that "you were strangers in the land of Egypt" so therefore you should be kind to the stranger. I can't think of a more relevant application of this scenario. We were once strangers/foreigners in the land of Egypt...we were once strangers who had no where to go after world war II...and now we have strangers coming to us for help. And what is happening? We are giving them a bus ticket to tel aviv and having them sleep in a park as if they are less than human.

So in addition to learning some of these facts about the situation in Israel, we also had the pleasure of hearing from Mutasim, an asylum seeker from Darfur. He spoke about his life in Darfur and his experience growing up there. For the sake of length I am going to focus on the part of his story where he came to Israel. Mutasim had to flee his home after he finished college (his parents had sacrificed to send him to school so that he would be educated and maybe able to help improve the situation in Darfur). Mutasim first fled to Egypt and was there for a few years as an activist. As a result of that he was imprisoned and tortured in Egypt for three weeks, so now that Egypt was no longer safe for him he had to go somewhere else. He decided to go to Israel because it was close by and because the other countries in the area all had Sudanese embassies, so Mutasim said he would be in danger of being sent back if he fled to those countries. So he enters into Israel and is welcomed by some Israeli soldiers who are patrolling the boarder. They tell him he is safe now and that he is in israel... Next he is sent to a detention center with other refugees where they are not free to leave. He was there for a while, until finally they let him out and handed him a bus ticket to Tel Aviv.

The way he described what it was like when he first arrived in Tel Aviv really struck me: Mutasim said he got off the bus in Tel Aviv and he had no idea how to get out. The Tel Aviv bus station is the 2nd largest bus station in the world and is super confusing (I have definitely gotten lost there). Mutasim described how his only goal at first was to just get outside, and he felt like he would never find his way out of the bus station and that was all he wanted. Then when he finally managed to get out of the bus station he had no idea where to go or what to do. He saw someone who was also from Sudan and he asked the man who directed him to Levinsky park. This is the park where thousands of Refugees would sleep and hang out because they had no other place to go. Can you even imagine?

Mutasim  has been living in Israel for 5 years and still has not gotten refugee status. He has been fighting for it, but nothing has happened. Mutasim said that his life has basically been on hold now for 5 years as he tries to get status. And he is just one of the over 50,000...

Of course there are many more layers to this issue and these stories. Yes, it is complicated for Israel to absorb so many people...but just because it is complicated does not rid ourselves of responsibility towards our fellow human brothers and sisters.

So now what? I'm not sure. After going on this trip I wanted to share what I had learned about what is going on here. If you want to learn more I got some websites that might be helpful for finding out more information: UN refugee agency: and has some more information on this issue and they do some programing too. And another website .

There are some issues that have been taken to Israeli courts and have seen some progress in some areas and not in others, so that is also another facet of this situation.

I will leave with a quote that was shared at the Truah wrap up session. It is a quote from  from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the United Kingdon. He says in his book about Exodus in Covenant and Creation:

" I made you into the world's archetypal strangers so that you would fight for the rights of strangers--for your own and those of others, wherever they are, whoever they are whatever they are andwhatever the colour of their skin or the nature of their culture, because though they are no in your image, says God, they are nonetheless in Mine, There is only one reply strong enough to answer the question 'why should I not hate the stranger'? Because the stranger is me..."

Friday, September 13, 2013

Forgiving God

Well hello again,

It's been a while, I know. I've been feeling inspired to write again, especially thinking about the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur which starts here in Jerusalem in a few hours.

So quick review, Yom Kippur is a holiday where Jews ask forgiveness for the wrongdoings they have committed over the past year. It's a solemn day, but also a beautiful day with even some joy mixed in. So the idea is that through repenting for your past wrongdoings you will be forgiven on Yom Kippur. However this only works for wrongdoings you have committed against God, if you have done something to hurt another person you also have to get forgiveness from them before you can get your clean slate.

There are lots of interesting things to write about forgiveness from other people. But this Yom Kippur I will be thinking about God:

I need to forgive God.

Maybe this sounds a bit arrogant, what does God care if I forgive God or not? I don't know if God cares, maybe, probably not. Who knows?

I've been feeling some anger towards God for a while now, it is not the only emotion I feel towards God, but it can be overwhelming sometimes. This summer aggravated the problem. This summer I did CPE (chaplaincy training) at a hospital. There I had the honor of meeting many patients and provided spiritual care for them and their families. I did have some beautiful and meaningful moments where I really felt like I helped people heal, but not all my experiences were like that.  I had many moments that made me question. I would ask myself: "what kind of a God would allow this to happen?"

I was sent to the room of a dying patient whose family had requested a chaplain. This patient was young and because of some messed up twist of fate he was now dead. Now what do you say to his parents who are witnessing their son die? What do you say to his siblings to have lost their brother? What about the other people that love him? There was nothing to say, and there still is nothing to say. I listened and I stood there as family members cried and wailed and stared in shock and this man, who the day before had been full of life.

As I stood in the room and tried to be a calming and empathetic presence the situation really affected me. It brought up all sorts of emotions and reminded me off a painful loss I experienced a few years ago. And as I stood there I just couldn't come up with a good explanation of "why". Why did he have to die before his time? And why would God create a universe where sh*t like this happens everyday?

So that brings me back to needing to forgive God. Holding on to a wrong that someone has caused you can be destructive because withholding forgiveness can mean that you are still holding onto the wrong someone else did to you. You can be preventing yourself from moving past that event. In my case I need to forgive so that I can have a better relationship with God, and also in the process maybe gain some closure from the many tragic events I witnessed in the hospital.

I've been reading a book called "The American book of Living and Dying" by Richard Groves and Henriette Klauser. It is a book about being a spiritual caregiver to people who are in the process of dying. It has an interesting section about forgiveness. They say, forgiveness (or rather the lack of ability to forgive someone) is the most common cause of spiritual distress among people who are at the end of their lives (and I'm sure also a source of spiritual distress who aren't at the end of their lives). Groves makes a few points about forgiveness that I found helpful...he says to remember that:
"Forgiveness is not denial of our own hurt...
forgiveness in not forgetting real wounds..."

So this Yom Kippur I will fast and ask forgiveness for the wrong doings that I have done this passed year. I have definitely missed the target more than a few times through the course of the year... And I will try to also forgive God, not for God's own sake, but for mine. As Groves points out, this doesn't mean denying I have been hurt in the past, but rather it is about letting go of the grudge looking to the future.  I don't know how it will work, but that is the intention that I want to share with you before Yom Kippur.

So now I ask: have you even been angry/upset with God? If so have you forgiven God? How?

I wish everyone a meaningful day and may you be sealed in the book of life.

gmar chatimah tova

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tell them I'm struggling to sing with angels

I opened up the Reform siddur (prayer book) Mishkan Tefillah and this poem caught my eye (I'd never noticed it before); I saw the word struggle and I decided to read it through. I read it and it really struck me, so I thought I'd share:

Tell them I'm struggling to sing with angels
who hint at it in black words printed on old paper gold-edged by time.
Tell them I wrestle the mirror every morning.
Tell them I sit here invisible in space;
nose running, coffee cold & bitter
Tell them I tell them everything
& everything is never enough.

Tell them I'm davening & voices rise up from within to startle children
Tell them i walk off into the woods to sing.
Tell them I sing loudest next to waterfalls.
Tell them the books get fewer, words go deeper
some take months to get through.
Tell them there are moments when it's all perfect;
above & below, it's perfect,
even in moments in between where sparks in space
(terrible, beautiful sparks in space)
are merely metaphors for the void between
one pore & another.

David Meltzer

It has both the negative and the positive. I appreciate the searching nature of the poem and also the rawness of it. There is such a sense of frustration that embodies the frustration I feel when I am trying to be the person who "sings with angels" and can't quite get there. That in trying to encounter the divine one can get tied down in their earthly roots, in the realities and environments/situations around them. That in trying to become the best rabbi I can become, sometimes I feel I am not doing enough. There is so much out there that is challenging, am I making the right choices? There are many obstacles...And sometimes everything is perfect. There are those fleeting moments of clarity where I feel that I am fulfilling a calling, that I am a part of a beautiful tradition. I am striving towards a goal, and sometimes I feel like I am making more progress than other times. Uncertainty.   Usually poems don't really do it for me, but this one just resonated for me and I wanted to share it.

Speaking of struggling, I have been having a tough time this past year in Rabbinical school. I have learned a LOT, but after a lot of thought and evaluation I came to the conclusion that HUC is not the right place for me anymore and I will be transferring to Ziegler (a Conservative Jewish Rabbinical school at AJU). In my striving to become a rabbi and a rabbi in a way that is authentic to me, I realized I want to study more text and be more involved within the tradition. In my rabbinate I want to be able to use the Jewish tradition  to help add meaning to peoples lives, whether that be in moments of extreme joy or sorrow. We have such a gift as Jews to have the Torah and all the wisdom that comes with it, be it the Talmud or midrash.  I want to be in a place that has more intensive text study so I can add as much text to my arsenal as possible, and that is one of the reasons why I decided to transfer to a different rabbinical school.

The other reason is that I'm not really a Reform Jew anymore. While I will respect peoples choices in terms of their own personal observance, for me I feel a sense of obligation toward the Jewish tradition. I keep kosher, I keep shabbat, I pray and sometimes the way I practice my Judaism comes into conflict with the Reform movement, or with the jobs and roles I hold within the movement. Leaving the movement will be hard. I have grown up in it, and have gained so much from it, but I feel like I don't have a place in it anymore.

While I do feel a sense of sadness leaving HUC, I am also excited about my future school. It is weird to feel happy and sad at once, but I do. I am excited to go to Ziegler and study halacha, and dive back into the world of Talmud and have the opportunity to study with some really great professors. I am excited to have a community that will share more of my beliefs (although I'm sure there is still a lot we will have to disagree about) and observances. I know I am making the right choice for me, it's scary and it was certainly not in "the plan" but I think I will be a better rabbi because of it.

I guess we will see...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Trial by fire OR that time I did a baby naming and a funeral in one weekend

Hello again world,

Well I clearly must be procrastinating something (YESS), so here's another blog entry. I have had a bunch of "Becca becoming a rabbi" moments this year. Having a student pulpit that I go out to once a month really makes a difference because you get real life rabbi experience.

So two weekends ago I was out at my pulpit. I was excited and nervous to go because I was going to do my first baby naming (a ceremony done for Jewish baby girls to welcome them into the covenant/Jewish people and giving them their hebrew name). I was so excited to get the opportunity to be part of such a beautiful and meaningful moment, but of course I'd never done one before so that was nerve racking. Baby namings for girls are more flexible than the bris, the ceremony for baby boys, so I had a while to plan and prepare.

Then on monday or Tuesday before I was going out to Yuma (where the congregation is) I got an email that one member of the congregation's body was starting to shut down. She was 90, and had not been doing so well for a while. I didn't want to start preparing for a funeral because I didn't want to curse her in some way, but at the same time I had never done a funeral before, so the though caused me some anxiety. I am making it sound all about me, which it wasn't of course, but this is my blog so I'm telling you how I felt/events from my point of view. I hoped that she would stay alive, but it seemed like her time had come. It did on that Wednesday.

I was going out on Friday to Yuma to do a baby naming and a funeral. To lead a congregation that experienced so much loss recently, and to somehow try and bring the appropriate amount of joy and sadness to the appropriate times. That was my goal going into the weekend, to bring happiness and enthusiasm and all of the joy that a baby naming deserved on Saturday night, but to also bring the solemnity and sense of loss out during the funeral. I wanted to honor both events and have the congregation meaningfully experience both events (along with some fun shabbat services).

It was almost as if this was predestined, because the torah portion fit so beautifully with life. The Torah portion was Chayei Sarah, the life of Sarah. The portion starts off with Sarah's death, but not much later we have the extreme joy of her son Isaac when he finds his wife (Rebecca) and they fall in love. There was happiness and sadness and Isaac experienced both not one in exclusion of the other. The love he found with Rebecca helped him take comfort after his mother died. It was so powerful to me that these two  events took place within such a short span of time in the Torah portion just like the baby naming and the funeral. I took a lot of strength from the Torah portion going into the weekend. I referred to it many times over the course of the weekend, using different aspects of it both in my dvar torah and the eulogy I wrote.

I was very thankful to be at HUC with so many rabbis around to help me put together a funeral. We haven't quite gotten to funerals yet in our curriculum (it's starting this week), so I knew nothing. What really struck me during the funeral was the responsibility/pressure/honor that I had to represent this woman who died. I hoped that for her sake I did a good enough job, that I gave her a proper send off (to where ever it is that people go after they die). It is such a heavy responsibility, but it is also powerful to be able to help and to use the beauty of the Jewish tradition to bring meaning and comfort, etc to those who need it. Becoming a rabbi is something really special, and I forget that sometimes.

I got really corny in this entry, but I mean it. The weekend was intense and spiritual for me, and I hope that my congregants felt that too. The baby naming was so fun, and the little baby girl was ADORABLE!!! The funeral was well a funeral. And heck now I got two firsts out of the way. I think it will always be nerve racking to do a funeral, but not quite as scary as the first time. I'm grateful for the experience, and I think I did a good job.

How crazy is that??? A baby naming and a funeral in one weekend. It's like one of those stories that you hear in rabbinical school but doesn't actually happen (or at least not until you actually become ordained).

And if you are interested here is a video recording of the d'var (speech) I gave that friday night. I had to record it for a class (I think the delivery was better when I actually gave it on friday night, but you get the idea.

and I'm off...

updating fail...high holiday edition

Well Hello World,

I have been awful about updating. It's not because stuff hasn't been happening, a lot of things have happened that I want to share...I think I just get frustrated with trying to express them in this blog format. Talking is definitely my preferred way to share my experiences (which is probably why I write the way I talk). I have had a bunch of interesting/powerful experiences since the high holidays and during the high holidays, but the idea about writing all of them in blog format is exhausting. I know I'm being kind of a tease and I apologize.

Anyways it feels weird to talk about the high holidays now since they were almost 2 months ago, but I had to write the reflection piece about them for school so I thought I'd share. So here are some of my thoughts on the high holidays and leading them for the first time...

Since the High Holidays I have thought a lot about how I did, and my general feelings on the services I lead.  I know leading up to the high holidays I was super nervous. I prepared a lot, and I stressed a lot. I learned a lot of high holiday nusach (melodies) and spent a considerable amount of time working on sermons.
            Rosh hashana went ok. I was so nervous that it got in the way of me leading the service to some extent. I realized after Yom Kippur and leading everything then how important it was to be confident and composed (or at least appear that way) while leading.  The little things I didn’t do well, like make sure I was projecting and not trailing off at the end of my sentences so that people couldn’t hear them, made a big difference. I think what I will remember most about my Rosh hashana experience was that a woman had a seizure during my sermon. She ended up being fine, but it was a bit jarring.
            Yom Kippur was much better that Rosh hashana. I felt more comfortable leading and that helped me do a better job. One thing that I struggled with on Yom Kippur and whenever I lead services at my pulpit, is feeling spiritual or like I am praying. I had one fleeting moment of awe and spiritual connection over the course of Yom Kippur, which is usually filled with meaningful moments for me. This moment was right before I started to sing Kol Nidre. I had been practicing, but I was nervous because people put so much emotional value on this moment. I felt a bit in awe that I was the person who could lead this for them and enable them to have this moment. I also felt nervous hoping that my words would be accepted somewhere up where all the prayers go.
            For next year I have 2 major improvements or issues that I want to work on. The first is the melodies. I learned a lot of high holiday nusach, but then found it was a barrier to other people who wanted to participate because many of them did not know the nusach. For next year I would ideally like to have a workshop or something to teach some nusach so that more people could participate. What will probably happen because I don’t anticipate having enough time at my pulpit to do that would be to do less nusach. High holiday services are not about me showing off my knowledge of nusach and Hebrew, it’s about how the congregation experiences the services and how I can enrich that experience.
            The next improvement is from Yom Kippur services. In the afternoon/evening service I was running way ahead of schedule and I ended up having to flip back to the “additional prayers” section and do a lot of English reading. I thought it was super boring, and not very meaningful. What I would like to do for next year is do some kind of reflective text study. It would take up time, but not be as dry and boring as reading page after page of English readings.
            I would like to figure out other ways to make the service less dry. I think the Shabbat services I lead are dynamic and fun, but it is hard to do when people are unfamiliar with the liturgy and the tunes, which is the case during the high holidays. I am hoping that the new machzor (prayer book for the high holidays) might help a little.     
Yeah so those were my reflections. What a crazy time that was...I'm glad its over. Although I have had some other stressful experiences at my pulpit, life really knows how to keep things interesting. More on that soon :-)