Shabbat Shuva redux

Erev Shabbat this week started out very stressful for me. My daughters don’t get out of school until 3 p.m., and I have to pick them up from my ex’s mom’s house, which is about 16 miles away.

16 miles away, you say? Not a bad drive – 20 minutes, right?

Try an hour and a half at that time of day. It’s awful. I can’t get there sooner, because the kids won’t be home yet. Getting there later means even worse traffic going back home. Welcome to Southern California.

So I spent most of the morning doing work that I could do: cleaning up the kitchen from the Rosh Hashanah meal the night before, setting up exams for my students (four of my six classes have an exam starting on Sunday morning, and not all of them were up yet), answering emails, doing a gasoline-and-grocery-run with the fiancé now that his check for the week had arrived; the usual stuff. I had one more exam to finish when I left at 2:45 to pick up my kids, and I knew that my fiancé would be at work that evening because that’s how his work runs and we can’t make them let him off for my religious holidays.

I got to their home at 4:15. We took streets home and that was another hour plus, with a stop at the grocery to pick up a couple things I’d forgotten in the earlier grocery run.

We didn’t arrive home until close to 5:30. So I decided that from now on, Shabbat starts when I light the candles, because no way was I going to be able to bake challah AND make dinner before sundown. Daughter #2 helped me make the entire Shabbat meal, and both daughters took over cleanup when it was done.

Shabbat meal, though late, was lovely: raisin-honey gluten-free challah (I made three loaves: two braided-mold and one piped-spiral crown challah); apples with honey (natch), tomato-garlic soup, plain potato kugel (which Daughter #1 LOVED – which is great, because she’s a picky eater), roasted chicken thighs with spices, Kedem grape juice for kiddush, ice water. I had planned on a dessert of apples and strawberries with Greek Gods honey Greek yogurt, but we were all too full! And I cooked for armies; we had enough soup to fill two quart containers, four pieces of the chicken, half the kugel, and even some apples left over.

Crown Challah

Crown Challah

To make the crown challah, I put a little over a third of the batter into a plastic bag and turned it into a giant piping bag, and piped it into a round baking pan in a spiral. I ran out of batter just before I would have been able to make that little spiral on the top, but it was definitely recognizable as crown challah. I was pleased.

The kids also stood with me while I said the blessings, lit the candles, and said kiddush and ha-motzi. We put away one of the braided loaves, and the round loaf for kiddush at temple this morning (about which, more later) but the one loaf we left out disappeared halfway through the meal. I think Daughter #1 got most of it.

I finished putting together the last exam, and then I collapsed into bed and slept the sleep of the righteously exhausted until pretty late this morning. I didn’t wake up until nearly 9 a.m.

The fiancé and I went to temple while the kids stayed home, which was fine. I was running on coffee and a bagel; I didn’t realize that my fiancé was running on short sleep and only a cup of coffee until halfway through the service. He had to get up and leave for a while. It was also not being run by the rabbi; he was with the B’nei Mitzvah seventh-graders at a thing at the park today, so it was the other fellow leading the services. He’s a great guy, but he’s not the rabbi, and my partner’s patience was very frayed due to hunger and headache. It was also awkward when he led us in “I am a Jew because…” as the main prayer and made a point of saying “I don’t want those who are our non-Jewish guests to feel excluded.” Um, dude… that’s only for me to mention, okay? I also wondered if I wasn’t allowed to say this prayer yet. Awk-ward.

No. It was an accident on his part. I am certain there was no malice. But damn it, I’m on the path, I’m not turning back. Sh’esani Israel. I am as Jew-ish as I can be without the mikveh dip. And that will come, hopefully no later than early June (I want it earlier, but that’s going to be up to the rabbi). But it still made me and my fiancé uncomfortable. I may take the man aside after High Holy Days are over and say “I would have been better with it if you had not made a point of it, okay?”

On the other hand, the crown challah we brought with us got a very happy reception when the worship leader lifted the challah cover and revealed not just their usual big loaf of regular challah but our little gluten-free crown loaf. The response was this sort of breathless chorus as it was revealed: “CROWN challah!” to which the worship leader responded by explaining a) it was gluten-free and b) the significance of a round loaf during High Holy Days. Everyone tried it. It was slightly more cake-y than I’d hoped, but it still tasted good. The alterations I’d made to the recipe (increasing potato starch and decreasing all-purpose gluten free flour, adding two more eggs and a half-cup of honey, and adding raisins) really worked well.

I got asked to submit the recipe to the new Sisterhood temple cookbook.

Then we came home to the discovery that Daughter #1 is without her anxiety meds for the weekend. We’re all trying to be patient with her; it must be hell for her. So we’ve all eaten (mostly leftovers) and now we’re at our corners of the apartment, trying to take the day easy.

After havdalah tonight, I’m going to be back on the emails and student work stuff. But for now I’m going to rest. Tonight I’m going to do some grading so that I can start making headway on it and not be wiped out all day Sunday doing nothing but grading. But that can wait until after sundown when the day changes.

Shabbat Shalom, all.

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Meditation for the Third Day of the Days of Awe

Feathers to the Wind

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Meditation for the Second Day of the Days of Awe

Pursuing Righteousness

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September 26, 2014 · 12:01 am

Last post for the New Year – for now.

After the spiritual helicopter, I got myself back together just in time to notice that the Torah reading was going to be split up among several people – people chanting the Hebrew, and then people reading the English translation. I also noticed that there were different siddurim in the sanctuary than our usual weekly siddurim – older, and not nearly as much transliteration available. I stumbled through the Hebrew after the second person started chanting – much faster than I was ready for.

But the interesting thing is that the rabbi called for aliyah in a way that I don’t know if anyone expected. He said “if you have helped the hungry this past year, in any way at all – from working in a food bank or at a food kitchen to helping someone hungry eat in some other way, please rise.”

So I did, because I have. When I see a homeless person asking for money, I try to help them get at least enough food for a meal. It’s a thing I’ve always done. Then he had everyone standing – including me – chant the blessing on the Torah. In response to the rabbi’s call: Barchu et Adonai ham’vorach, we then all sang:

Baruch atah Adonai hamvorach le’olam va’ed. Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, asher bachar banu mikol ha-amim, v’natan lanu et Torato. Baruch atah Adonai, notein ha-Torah.

Then the chanter read the first part of the parshah – the story of Abraham and Isaac and the burnt offering that wasn’t – and then an English translator read it in English. And then those of us who had been called to aliyah were asked to stand again and chant the closing blessing on the Torah:

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, asher natan lanu Torat emet, v’chayei olam nata b’tocheinu. Baruch atah Adonai, notein ha-Torah.

Then we sat down.

The rabbi called four more groups to aliyah: those who had sat with the dying in the past year, those who were military or law enforcement, those who were doctors and healthcare workers, and those who were therapists and counselors. All of the groups got to say both the opening and closing blessings on the Torah.

The rabbinical student gave the sermon. It was a profound sermon, about how we are reminded that death is something we may have to deal with any moment, and how Jewish tradition makes us face death and the reality of our mortality on a regular basis. Then she followed up with how tzedakah, teshuvah and tefillah are what we should practice to make that knowledge less frightening. I complimented her afterwards – she’s going to make a great rabbi.

Then there were more prayers and songs, the Torah scrolls were carried around so we could all kiss our siddur or our tzitzit and then touch them to the Torah – that was profound – and then more prayers, the redressing of the Torah, the opening of the Ark (that part happened several times during the service, but this one was to put the scrolls away) and a closing song. I had been there for about an hour and twenty minutes because of misreading the time on my ticket, but I was glad to be there. I had several chats with people after, including the young choir member I’d met the night before.

On the whole, it was a good Rosh Hashanah at temple. I made a great dinner when I got home, too.

But the rough part of the High Holy Days is still to come. Yom Kippur is going to be a marathon; today was more like a gentle jog. I hope I am able to see it through the way I want to.

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Another Spiritual Helicopter

For a definition of “Spiritual Helicopter,” please go to this link.

Today I was late to Rosh Hashanah services. I mean, I was LAAAAAAATE, okay? I misread my ticket and thought that services started at 11:00. I showed up at 10:40 and they were just getting to the Torah reading.

Oops. Services started at 10. It’s Yom Kippur that starts at 11.

I got into the sanctuary, into the way-back-in-the-back with the temporary seating in the social hall, and tried not to cry. For about five minutes. Beating myself up for making a mistake – again. Beating myself up for being late to shul ON ROSH HASHANAH, of all days.

Beating myself up.

Oh. Wait. Didn’t I say, just this morning, that I was going to stop beating myself up for small mistakes? Was anyone else going to care that I made this mistake except me? Was God really going to be offended because I wasn’t on time when I spent at least ten minutes hunting for parking (there’s no parking lot at our shul), really? Did something this minor really matter?

And that’s when the spiritual helicopter showed up. I swear this is not me hallucinating. It didn’t come in words, exactly, but more of a sense. A sense that communicated this:

My son, the God you were told about when you were a child is not Me. I won’t hit you for making a simple mistake. 

I suppose I’ve been told to put my (spiritual) money where my (spiritual) mouth is, nu?

Because then I did cry. Not much, but I did cry – the tears of someone who’s been under pressure after the pressure is lifted.

I have to remember that God is not a spiritual bully. My mother was, but He isn’t.

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Meditation for the First Day of the Days of Awe

LiveOnStones

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Looking back, looking forward

1 Tishri 5775

As I dip an apple into honey and taste the sweetness of the new year, I am also taking stock of my life for the Days of Awe.

“Dipping Apples in Honey.” From Elana’s Pantry on Flickr: http://tinyurl.com/oav6c9u. Used under Creative Commons license.

“In Judaism, the focus is not on what a terrible person you are for doing something, the focus looks forward to aiming more carefully when you take the next shot.” – Rabbi Adar

Since this is my first Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) as a prospective Jew (and hopefully my last one as a prospective Jew), I have to consider more than just the past year. Whom have I harmed with my words or actions? To whom do I need to make amends, and how do I go about doing that?

The hardest thing about apologies, for me, is that words are never really enough to get my remorse across. I’m always worried that no matter how sincere I know I am, it’s going to come across to the other person as “just words” being said because I have to say them, not because I mean them.

But I know a few guidelines for making an apology real:

“I’m sorry if you felt bad when I…” is not an apology. It deflects responsibility for the problem onto the other person.

Any explanation for bad behavior comes across as an excuse, and thus negates an apology.

The formula that I read about for making a true apology (about teaching little kids to apologize and mean it, of all places) goes like this:

1. Say what you are sorry for. “I’m sorry that I said hurtful things about you/your __________.”

2. Say why you are sorry for it. “It was really inappropriate for me to say those things about you/your _________, and I shouldn’t have done that.”

3. Say what you will do differently next time – and frame it positively, not negatively. “Next time I’ll wait for you to ask my opinion before I give it.”

4. Ask for – but do not expect – forgiveness. “I ask for your forgiveness for what I did.”

But Judaism also requires that we make amends for what we did, if possible. I have been unsure how to make amends for hurtful words and behaviors when the harm done has no physical basis but is emotional and spiritual (which I am guilty of a lot more than I want to be – in fact, it’s the main thing that I find myself realizing I need to apologize for).

I have had people suggest that I ask the person I wronged for suggestions for how I should make amends, so today I tried that.

Today, I sent an e-mail to a former friend who is a devout Christian, whom I’m sure I harmed many times over the course of our friendship due to my antipathy towards the fact that she was religious. I also sent an e-mail to a colleague whose husband, one of my former professors, died this spring, to apologize for not reaching out to her when it happened. In both cases, I concluded with a request: if there is anything I can do to make amends, please let me know and I will do it to the best of my ability.

I may never hear back from either of them, but that’s not the point. The point is that I have done what I can. Seeing either of them in person is not really possible; we live nowhere near each other. Phone calls are difficult because I can’t hear on the phone very well. So, although it’s not ideal, an e-mail is actually the best way to apologize at this point.

I am still struggling over whether I should reach out to my mother. She harmed me, a lot, and I don’t know if I want to put myself in that position again. There are a couple of other people whom I’ve had fallings-out with, but where the falling-out was mutual, so I’m also not sure what to do there.

I have things I need to apologize for to my partner, but that’s between us, and that will happen this week when he’s home, calm, and rested.

But there’s one other person that I also need to make amends with. That person is me. I’ve been slacking on my physical health all year – saying “yes” to the ice cream far too many times, and avoiding the walks that I know are necessary for my health. I’ve also been a bit lax on the whole mental-health maintenance thing. I need to change my aim from the in-the-moment pleasure to the long-term goal.

So that’s what I resolve to do this year. I apologize to myself for putting the immediate before the long-term, and I resolve to do better this year.

Time for reflection on the past year

Time to figure out what we’re doing here

Replace the guilt with inspiration, and everything is clear

Life in the present seems more fun

Easier than regret, what’s done is done

Living in the moment lasts for a moment

Shana Tovah to everyone! 

The Maccabeats, “Book of Good Life”

Depression means living in the past. Anxiety means living in the future. What does it mean when you live in the moment and only in the moment? Recklessness. Time to stop living in the moment all the time. I used to be very bad at this; now I’m way too good at it. It’s time to strike a balance.

Mindfulness is the key, I think. Obsessing over the past (which I cannot change), worrying about the future (which will be here when it gets here) and using the present to hedonistically ignore them both is not working. It’s time for mindfulness.

So this year, in 5775, I will aim for mindfulness. Not obsession; just mindfulness, you understand. Awareness. Observation. And because I’m way too good at beating myself up for even minor mistakes (that merger of a Catholic early upbringing and Jewish guilt can create a perfect storm), I’m going to work on not doing that. It’s counterproductive. Instead of beating myself up, I should be beating a fast path to the door of those I’ve wronged – and for minor mistakes that can’t be fixed, I need to learn to let go of it.

Shanah Tovah, everyone.

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L’Shanah Tovah!

1 Tishri 5775

L’Shanah Tovah, everyone.

It is a new year, and time to be a sanctuary. That’s what the rabbi’s sermon at my shul was about tonight.

So, I make these resolutions for the new year:

… to be a sanctuary to myself, and a safe place to land when things are hard.

… to be a sanctuary to my partner and my best friend, that they might find peace and comfort.

… to be a sanctuary to my daughters, that they might find help and understanding.

… to be a sanctuary to my friends, that they might find companionship and connection.

… to be a sanctuary to my students, that they might find wisdom and knowledge.

And finally, to be a sanctuary to Adonai, that he might dwell beside and within me, and that I might learn the thirteen attributes of mercy in the coming year.

L’shanah tovah tikatevu – May you all be inscribed and sealed for a good year.

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Community and Hallelujah

27 Elul 5774

It’s almost Tishri, and I find myself thanking God for that.

It has been… a rough couple of weeks. Although last Friday I managed not to set the oven on fire while baking, I still managed to forget to bring the loaf of grain-free challah I’d specifically made for kiddush after services to services on Saturday morning. I’ve been facing a lot of whelm (as in, overwhelmed) at work and outside of it, even though positive things are happening. Depression – the clinical kind – has been an inconsistent, but constant, visitor. It’s been hard sometimes to keep my mind on what I’m heading for. 2014-09-19 at 18.38.53

See? And I felt so bad, and so idiotic, for not remembering to grab it on my way out the door.

But… I also got to talk about what this last Shabbat’s Torah parshah (Nitzavim – Deuteronomy 29:9 – 28) meant to me in Shul that morning. I’ll just quote the part that the rabbi had us read, and then talk about the Torah study that our rabbi makes a regular part of our Shabbat morning services, in lieu of a sermon.

 “You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal your God – you tribal heads, you elders, and you officials, all the men of Israel, 10 you children, you women, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water-drawer — 11 to enter into the covenant of the Eternal your God, which the Eternal your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; 12  in order to establish you this day as God’s people and in order to be your God, as promised you and as sworn to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 13 I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, 14  but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Eternal our God and with those who are not with us here this day.

I had tears in my eyes, reading that, for two reasons. I started out with a copy from a website, and then I went and got my copy of the Torah and copied it out here, because the wording matters.

“even the stranger within your camp” and “with those who are not with us here this day” was what brought me to tears that morning. All people who want to be part of it can be. Anyone who wants in, can be in.

I want in. I said that back at Pesach, didn’t I?

Everyone in the shul that morning who heard me say that for me, this was God saying to the stranger and the not-yet-Jew, “You are also part of this covenant,” told me that they were happy I was there and part of their community.

I’ve been going for two weeks. Then I missed a week due to the oven fire. And still, they already see me as their community member. As part of what they are doing and who they are.

I can’t express what that means to me. To already be accepted. To already belong. To be, in some small sense, already a Jew in their eyes.

This part of this parshah also speaks to me as a ger, because those who are not there in body may still be there in soul – as at Sinai, nu? And my soul is being braided into this community, into this place, into these people, with every time I go to shul.

God is in this place, and how could I not know?

Afterwards, I got to talk to J, the man who usually leads song, and asked if he could teach me some of the songs so I could maybe lead sometime when the rabbi asked. He was more than happy to have another singer in the group.

Again, belonging. Perhaps someday, mispachah.

2014-09-19 at 11.43.37

Front of Havdalah candle holder.

I also had my first-ever Havdalah this past Saturday night, and it was more special than I thought it was going to be. I made my own havdalah candle holder and my own bisamim box from crafting materials and acrylic paint over the past couple of weeks, and on Saturday night, they were ready to use for Havdalah. I’m trying to create these items just like my father created so many of my family’s holiday decorations that were so important to us every year.

Back of havdalah candle holder.

Back of havdalah candle holder.

I can’t honor my father in most ways that are religious (although I bought a yarzheit candle for him so I have one when January rolls around), but I’m going to make as many of my own ritual items as I can, and what I can’t make, I’ll purchase carefully.

2014-09-19 at 11.44.07

Bisamim box.

I plan to at least make a hanukkiah and a kiddush cup (I just have to find an appropriate cup). I may draw the line at a Seder plate, though.

I stumbled sometimes, and stammered, and I admit that I didn’t have all the prayers down, but this production from Moishe House Rocks helped me a lot (the song is also really catchy):

I’ve been thinking about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur coming up much faster than I thought they would. For Rosh Hashanah, I can only point to this rendition of Psalm 150 (Hallelujah) by Hillel Tigay and the community of IKAR, in Los Angeles, for the joy that the thought of Rosh Hashanah fills me with.

And finally, although I know I’ve shared it before, sometimes music just speaks for me more than words can. So once again, I give you the Maccabeats and their amazing Yom Kippur song, Book of Good Life.

I am thankful for all these things. I am thankful for you who read my posts. I am thankful for my life and for the people who sustain me.

On Rosh Hashanah, that’s part of what I’ll be singing Hallelujah for.

And as Yom Kippur is coming up very soon, I ask forgiveness. If I have wronged you in the past year, please let me know. I will do whatever is necessary to make amends.

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From Where I Am To Where I Want To Be

Elul 23 5774

Lately I’ve been overswamped and underprepared for the things that have been thrown my way. Between the oven catching on fire (twice!) last Friday and thus denying me a real Shabbat for the second week in a row, my kids not being able to come over because one of them was sick, having to explain to the former rabbi in e-mail that I’d chosen a different (though still Jewish) path, having to exchange my High Holy Days tickets at the synagogue offices for later services because there was a miscommunication about which services I planned to attend, and yesterday just being a day of being pecked to death by ducks, it’s been a rough couple of weeks. I didn’t even manage to make the Friday Feature happen here last Friday.

It’s Elul. It’s the time when we’re supposed to be thinking of what we’ve done wrong and how to correct it, when we’re supposed to think about the 13 Attributes and how to put them into action in our lives. And I’ve felt pretty guilty about not keeping up with my blog as I ought to have done (never mind all the other things I have been feeling guilty about, and trying to decide who I need to reach out to and make amends with).

But I have been reading a lot around the Jewniverse online. I get emails from various blogs written by Jews of various stripes beyond what I read on my WordPress reading page. I’ve also been listening to music that sustains me. So I still have a foot in the mikveh (so to speak). I’ll just share some of the best writing and best music I’ve recently come across before I run off to work for another day, and I’ll try to write about Elul in the next day or so (while we’re scraping carbon out of our oven and restoring it to useful status, so I can actually bake challah for the first time in, oh, three weeks).

Rabbi Josh Bolton muses on how, After All That’s Happened, I Meet God Halfway over at jewschool.com. This is a powerful piece, especially for someone like me, who loves rules because they make decisions easier. I may write one of my own as I weigh which rules are meaningful to me and which ones really aren’t.

Rabbi Bradley Artson at MyJewishLearning.com explains that Judaism is not about being wrapped up in How We’ve Always Done Things. Instead, he says, we should remember that On This Day God Calls To You.

Jenn, at Spark of a Jewish Soul, muses on her second day of Intro to Judaism conversion classes with A Little Jewish Humor.

Finally, I want to share (again) the Maccabeats’ amazing song for the New Year, because it has helped me understand what’s actually expected in this run-up to the Days of Awe.

The Book of Good Life 

The Maccabeats (Lyrics By: Immanuel Shalev and David Block)

Woke up and realized yesterday
Think it’s a bummer end of the summer
Kinda nervous that we’re almost there
At the days of awe

Prayers in a language that I don’t know
Standing for hours and hours more
I wish that someone would please tell me-e-e-e
What it is we’re praying for

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we’ve got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we’re choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Time for reflection on the past year
Time to figure out what we’re doing here
Replace the guilt with inspiration
And everything is clear

Life in the present, the here and now
Easier than regret and planning out
Living in the moment, lasts for a moment
Got my future to think about

When you’re sitting there in shul
Wishing it was over
You gotta take a beat
And let it all sink in

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we’ve got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we’re choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Hopefully
This year will bring us happiness and peace
Hopefully
Sensitivity to others will increase
Hopefully
We’ll open our eyes and think more consciously
Cuz Hopefully
We’ll go from where we are to where we want to be

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we’ve got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we’re choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Oh yeah
Book of Good life
Ooh

Listen
Time for reflection on the past year
Time to figure out what we’re doing here
Replace the guilt with inspiration
And everything is clear

Life in the present seems more fun
Easier than regret, what’s done is done
Living in the moment, lasts for a moment
Shana Tova to everyone!

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