Crowning the King and Knowing Your “Why”

I have been sick and away from my blog while I recovered, but I feel like it is such a huge blessing that I was made to slow down and rest before the High Holidays are here.  I’m coming out of the fog at just the right time now to finish preparing and I was gifted with an amazingly insightful Tanya class this morning that was so timely and so answered questions I’ve been having.

In this class, we compared the story of Channah and her prayers, which are the example of prayer that Jews follow.  Channah was a woman during the prophet Eli’s time who did not have children of her own.  She was deeply sorrowful at her lack, to the point where she was barely eating and so she went to the Beis Hamikdash to daven there.  When Eli saw her davening, she was crying and swaying and he heard no sound and only her lips were moving.  He approached her and essentially asked if she was drunk and she replied that no, she was pouring out her soul and his response was that her prayers would be answered.  As the story goes, her prayers were answered and she conceived and bore a son who she named Samuel and dedicated to the service of Hashem and who, of course, went on to greatness.  In our class, we dug deeper into Eli’s words, which are a little unusual since if he really believed she was drunk, he simply would have had her removed from the Temple.

Digging deeper, we see that it is more that Eli was asking Channah if she was simply davening from her heart, from her own wants and desires.  Her answer is that, no, she is davening from her soul, pouring out her soul.

So…what is the difference?

When we daven for our wants and needs from our soul rather than our heart, following Channah’s example, it isn’t for our own selfish desires, but only so that we should receive those blessings in order to return them to the service of Hashem.  When Channah eventually did bear a son, she immediately prepared him and handed him over to the service of Hashem.  It’s like a person who davened for great wealth, but only so that they could give it all up to great charity or a person who davened for great health only so that they could run to volunteer to help others.  Channah is the perfect example of Jewish prayer not just because of her complete faith that she could trust Hashem to hear her heartfelt prayers and answer them, but also because her ultimate goal was to elevate whatever she was given and return it back to the Creator.  She asked to be trusted to do Hashem’s work in the world.

So, to bring this back to the more mundane world I live in…

I have a friend who is struggling in her conversion process.  She’s a lovely, kind woman who wishes to be a Jew very badly and the conversion process has been difficult for her to understand.  Most often, when I speak with her, she expresses a fear of what the Rabbis think of her.  She speaks of, “Oh, I’d better do this, or I’ll get in ‘trouble.'”  She has been unable to move to a place where she can walk to shul and yet is frustrated that her conversion process seems to have stalled.  She is a mature, lovely older woman, but yet her relationship with Judaism seems to be like a girl wanting to please a stern father and that father is not Hashem, but Rabbis.

I have had trouble articulating what seems amiss with this until today.  The most I’ve done is to ask her, when she was particularly frustrated, “Who are you doing this for?”

The class this morning brought into much stronger relief why her words have troubled me so much.  I can’t say what her reasons for desiring conversion are, but knowing that she is a good person, I assume that they are sincere, but it really does not seem like her reasons for desiring conversion are for the mitzvos alone.  It seems more to be coming from her heart, not her soul.  If it was from her soul, then her focus would likely be much more on how she could do more mitzvos or perfect her observance of the mitzvos she is keeping and less on what a Rabbi may or may not think and being in “trouble.”

To be clear, I don’t mean to sound that I’m in judgment of her.  In fact, I can see where I was in that place earlier in my own process.  I didn’t know exactly “why” I wanted to be Jewish and each year when I was in that space, I probably would have given a different answer depending on what part of Judaism my heart was drawn to.  One year, it might have been the beautiful traditions of Judaism.  Another, it might have been the warmth of Jewish community.  Another year, it might have been the strong, supportive structure that mitzvos make for family life.  This morning, learning more about Channah’s prayers, I realized that it’s only in this year that a very deep shift has happened where I can see that those “why’s” I had before were actually more superficial than I originally thought.  They weren’t reasons that would sustain me through the really tough times.

What if, I had converted when my reason was beautiful traditions and I happened upon a time when I felt separated from those traditions or they lost their luster for me?  What if I’d converted when my reason was the warmth of Jewish community and I wound up in a community that was struggling to show that warmth?  Or, what might have happened if my reason for conversion was family life…and my children had grown up and moved far from me or tragedy had struck my family?  Each of these reasons resonated more with my heart than my soul, even if they hinted at a much deeper reason that my soul kept bringing me back.

Ultimately, I really think the reason my soul wants conversion is simply…to be able to do more mitzvos.  It sounds absurdly simple, but in all honesty, to me that feels like the only reason that makes sense now.  I could exist as a non-Jew and find almost everything else in that list in some other way and those desires are all more about making my life more pleasurable.  Being able to do more mitzvos, though…comes back to wanting to be trusted to partner with Hashem in a way that is unique to Jews, to come before Him as Channah did, davening from my soul for something, but only so that I can return it back to Him.  I’m asking to be trusted to do the Jewish work in this world.

From that perspective, it matters so much less what the Rabbis think than it does that I’m doing my very best to be the best Jew I can be and to keep growing and learning to be better at observing the mitzvos.  If I’m doing that, then the Rabbi is no one to fear, but someone who can help me grow and if He is delaying me, it’s for my good so that I will be ready when I finally am obligated.  He’s not someone I need to impress…it’s Hashem I need to impress and if I’m focused on that, the Rabbi is someone who is absolutely on my side, trying to help make sure I’m ready for the heavy obligations I’m asking for.

It’s a small but huge shift to me and I think it applies to more than just converts, but could apply to anyone preparing for Rosh Hashanah, to again ask Hashem to be our King and to judge this world worthy of another year.  What is our “why” behind this request?  Is it from our heart…or are we, like Channah, pouring out our very souls, asking more to be given more opportunities to do His work in this world?


Minimalism, Hygge, and Chassidic Judaism?

If you’ve been under a rock for a few years, then you might just be unaware that people are increasingly getting rid of their stuff, opting to live in tiny houses, or even RV’s or completely nomadic.  It’s kind of a recent trend in the never-ending quest to simplify our lives.  There is even a Netflix documentary on this as a movement, called Minimalism, and you can find a slew of blogs devoted to it as well.  Our modern lives have more and more demands for our attention and with the stagnation of wages, more and more people are opting for a simpler life of less, from “capsule wardrobes” that pare down our closest, using the “KonMari Method” to declutter our homes, to the bare minimum to attempting to live lives of zero waste to ease the pressure on the environment, less has become the new more.

For those for whom Minimalism feels a little, well, TOO minimal, hygge is the new trend.  It’s a Danish word that essentially means a cozy or pleasant experience and those who have embraced this idea point out that every day we are given opportunities to find moments such as these, whether it’s a soft, warm sweater on a cold day, a simple walk in the park with friends, or slowing down enough to enjoy a cup of tea.  This philosophy is somewhat related in that it focuses on simple pleasures and trying to increase those in one’s life.

So, what does this have to do with Judaism and Chassidus in particular?

The way I see it, at least from my studies, the main purpose of Chassidus is to find the holiness within a simple life.  Early Chassidic stories talk of people living very simple, often poor lives yet filled with holiness and Chassidus itself often deals with finding the sparks of holiness within the mundane around us and elevating them, freeing them from the husks that obscure them so that they can return to the divine source, Hashem.  In fact, Chassidus teaches that this is the very purpose of our existence, to elevate these hidden sparks through mitzvos.

The Torah points to a life lived with intention, where attention is paid to even the rocks we step upon and the foods that we eat, where every detail of one’s life is ordered to a purpose of creating holiness in the everyday world.  Unlike many religions that encourage their adherents to separate from the mundane, to cloister themselves off to a mountaintop or sanctuary to avoid any distractions from the spiritual, Judaism stresses that it is precisely within the mundane that we must search for the spiritual, that we must bring the spiritual into the everyday and by that process elevate it.

To me, looking at these attempts to simplify, live with intention, and to elevate mundane moments into something better…it looks like people are trying to fulfill that basic drive, but are just missing the heart of it all…that the intention and purpose that you simplify your life for should be Hashem and His ways, not necessarily just a “cozy feeling” or “simple pleasures.”

Which leads me to wondering, what does a life pared down to allow a much greater focus on Torah and mitzvos look like?  What is the precise lifestyle that provides the least clutter or distractions from elevating those sparks of kedusha, yet still remains firmly rooted in this world so that I’m most able to find those sparks?

And so, I come back to my own life and where it is now and where it is headed.

Today, I walked to the store from work to find lunch food and I looked up at the mountains that border Anchorage to the east.  For once, the rain had stopped and there were only a few low-lying clouds, so I could see them clearly.  I saw the tundra above the treeline and I noticed that it was changing colors as it does in the Fall here.  There were beautiful reds and yellows and oranges in the sedges, the small stunted plants that live in those harsh places.  I could imagine the scent of wild sage up there, as it often is this time of year.  I smiled and then I felt an ache in my heart as I realized that this is the last autumn that I will see the tundra changing colors for the Fall.  Next Fall, I will be in a city and when I look up, I will see buildings and sky, not mountains.

Here, the sparks are big and easy to see.  They exist in those breathtaking views and the difficulty of keeping mitzvas so far from a larger Jewish community and in a place where sunrise and sunset are so variable.  I don’t have to search far to find inspiration and I also don’t have to go looking for challenges.  It’s all easily brought to me, every day.  But, I must move if I’m to continue growing in my Judaism.  Beyond just conversion, there are limits here to how much I can learn and grow and observe.  I must leave my beloved wilderness with it’s beauty and majesty and instead choose a life that is much more confined.

I must choose a life that is much more grounded in the mundane.

With this life, we’ll also be trading our home for one much smaller and our time will be much less free and instead filled with all the commitments that come with being a productive member of a community.  We will need to choose carefully what we take with us, both physically as well as spiritually and we will need to work harder to find inspiration and not become too casual when kosher food is widely available and shul just down the block.

I think there are greater opportunities to build that kind of life, the kind that has an intentional focus on Torah and mitzvos, but there are also plenty of challenges and ways to build a life that is full of distractions from our real purpose for moving.  There will be so many more choices to make there than there are here.

And sometimes, I look around myself and envy those I will be leaving behind, who have a kind of forced simplicity to their lives just by living someplace this wild and remote.  If it wasn’t for Judaism, I don’t think I would ever leave here, but because of Judaism, I absolutely cannot stay.

In the meantime, I plan on climbing to another mountaintop, to enjoy the view, smell the sage, and contemplate what to take with me.  I have one more winter to gather sparks here and not a moment to lose, but then, my sparks are elsewhere.


Not Punishment, but Medicine?

Right now, the US is kind of a mess.  Texas is still drying out and cleaning up from massive flooding.  A huge wildfire is burning large swaths of forest and homes in Oregon.  Over a hundred small earthquakes have hit Idaho, in an area not used to earthquakes.  An enormous, category 5 hurricane is headed for Florida.  In our own small world, a fierce windstorm knocked out our power this morning.  If you look only at these events, it seems like mother nature is angry, as if Hashem is bringing natural disasters to us for some reason.

And yet, in some ways, this is bringing out bright glimmers of hope.

I was watching a video this morning about the Cajun Navy.  If you’re unfamiliar with them, they’re a group of volunteers from Louisiana that come to natural disasters in that area with all kinds of fishing boats to rescue people in floods.  Apparently, they do a lot more than just that, big as that is.  They feed people, help remove waterlogged building materials and debris, and truck in supplies.  Their history, though, is what was really fascinating.  The Cajun Navy as an organized group was founded after a period of great unrest just a few years ago in Louisiana.  There were riots and shootings, mostly due to racial inequality.  The people were very divided with anger and pain on both sides.

And then, as if things weren’t already bad enough, the flood came.

This flood caught everyone unprepared because it wasn’t connected with a hurricane or massive storm, just rain that fell without stop.  As a result, many people were trapped in their homes and not prepared for the devastation.  People from all backgrounds came together, with boats and food and whatever they had, to help their neighbors.  No one cared about skin color, gender, or any of the other things that had divided them before the flood.  They only thought about trying to help each other through it.  After the flood, they found they had formed friendships across these boundaries that lasted longer than the flood damage.  They began to trust each other again and feel safe to open themselves up to people different than themselves.

This is how the Cajun Navy was born and this is the same growing group of people who now went to Houston with countless fishing boats to rescue people they’d never met.

It occurred to me that what might look to us like a divine punishment, a devastating flood, might just be the bitter tasting medicine a community needs to move past their differences and divisions and come together.  As these disasters have descended upon the US, we’ve seen people forget about political disagreements and ideological divides and instead focus on seeing each other as simply other human beings in need of help.  Sometimes it takes a disaster to shake us out of our illusions and help us find the better part of ourselves.  It’s when things fall apart that we realize that we’re stronger than we thought we were, that we’re more resilient, and that stuff really isn’t that important and neither are our disagreements.

Yesterday, I wrote about this week’s parsha, about blessings and curses.  Today, I wonder at the Kabbalists’ words, that divine punishments are just more goodness, more carefully disguised and I begin to wonder if curses are simply the bitter medicine needed when the promise of blessings has failed to cure us.

May those in the path of these disasters be kept safe and brought comfort and may we all wake up sooner to our better natures, without the need for further medicine.  Thank you, Hashem, for having so many ways to help us be the people You made us to be.



In Search of Jewish Minimalism

I have probably been a minimalist my entire life, before I knew what to call it.  I’ve never been much attached to heirlooms or possessions and I’ve always found a great pleasure in getting rid of things.  Even as a child, when my mother would decide it was time to cull the herd of stuff animals or children’s books in my room, while I might experience a little discomfort choosing what was to go, there was this blissful feeling of freedom once they were gone.  As an architecture student, the spartan lines of modernism spoke to me far more than anything more decorative.  I loved things that were simple, but well-designed.

My minimalism, though, reached a peak when I left my ex-husband, who was coincidentally a hoarder.  I left rather dramatically, by necessity, in the middle of the day while he was busy at work, taking only what I could fit into my truck to my new, empty 2-bedroom apartment with white walls.  For months, the kids and I, along with 2 cats, had no furniture besides our beds.  We ate dinner each evening like it was a picnic and played hide and seek in the emptiness.

That minimalism definitely gave me a profound feeling of freedom that I never again wanted to fill up.

Since then, our family has moved often, but even when we do not, I generally go through the house like a tornado both in Spring and Fall, sweeping up what has gathered up over the past year and sorting through it.  I always feel a great relief when I drop off a pile of donations.  There is little in our home that is purely decorative.

So, this Fall, I’ve begun that bi-annual sweep of the house as I prepare for the High Holidays.  I do my spring sweep as part of my Passover prep and I find that the clearing out of clutter really brings a physical side to the clearing out within I’m doing during each of these seasons.  As they say, “As above, so below,” and as I prepare my spiritual house for these two very important Jewish holidays, I’m usually also busy with preparing my physical home.

This time, as I looked for inspiration for what projects to tackle, I was surprised to find that there is a growing movement toward minimalism among Christians and I began to look for something similar among Jews.  To me, minimalism is a perfect fit with a Jewish lifestyle.  Often, Jewish neighborhoods are tough to find a lot of space in, with smaller apartments or homes.  Families prioritize paying for education and having more children, so it would seem that paring down possessions and simplifying life would fit naturally.  Tzedakah is also a high priority, so donating to charity or gemachs would seem to fit right in.  Spiritually, simplifying what you own and your lifestyle would seem to open up more space for Torah study and mitzvos.

And yet, I really didn’t find the kind of spiritual, minimalist blogs, podcasts, or youtube channels made by Jews that I had seen other people of faith creating and I began to wonder why.

There often seem to be two opposing urges within Judaism, at least from my own semi-outsider perspective.  There is one I very much relate to, the idea that a life lived simply is a spiritual life, perhaps best embodied in Baal Shem Tov stories, where simple, poor people receive great spiritual blessings through simple faith and mitzvahs.  One of my favorite stories is of a couple who can only afford beans for Shabbos.  However, because they are good people with a great attitude, they celebrate as if each course of beans was a feast, which in their eyes, it is.  I think I relate to these kinds of stories because in my own life, I have definitely had those times when just having beans was worth celebrating.  Then there is the other urge, which also comes from a good place, which is to beautify every mitzvah we can, to elevate it when we can.  It’s this principle that tells us that if we can afford a nicer havdalah set or kiddush cup, we should buy it.  Judaism doesn’t embrace asceticism in the way Christianity has, but instead acknowledges that beauty is good.

So…which is right?  Simplicity or embelishment?

I think either can be taken to unhealthy extremes.  There are communities where if you don’t have the correct brand of stroller or the “right” shoes, you will be looked down on, even if you are at shul and working hard on being a good Jew.  There are Jews who go into debt trying to maintain a beautiful facade of success.  Still, there are people who go to far toward asceticism, failing to prioritize the beautification of mitzvahs or becoming too rigid in their stringencies and losing the joy and warmth of Judaism.  I think there is definitely a middle ground to be had and perhaps that is why I don’t see the wholesale embrace of minimalism as a lifestyle by Jews, let alone a rebranding of it as a Jewish ideal.

One of the things that I love about living a Torah lifestyle is that while there is a pretty rigid structure there to help provide support for a good life, there is also some room to personalize what that looks like.  For me, I prefer a simple life that revolves around my family and Torah and I seek few embellishments beyond meat on Shabbos and silver candlesticks and a silver kiddush cup.  What feels like contentment and coziness to me might feel like a denial of life’s pleasures to another.  It’s up to each of us, though, to determine what makes a Jewish home and a Jewish life for us in a way that is within halakhah, but also within who we were created to be.  As I grow and hopefully draw closer to conversion, I find myself more and more comfortable with my Judaism not looking exactly like my neighbors as long as it fits me and the Torah.

Perhaps that authenticity and comfort is exactly the simplicity and minimalism I’ve been yearning for.

Everyday Holiness

One of the things I love most about Judaism is the awareness and intention it can bring to even the most mundane and everyday of tasks.  Growing up, “religion” was something that was always separate from everyday life.  We went to church on certain days and not others.  We prayed only on certain days or at certain times.  Religion was an obligation to be taken care of and THEN you lived your life and in church it seemed like everyday life was inherently unholy and that holiness was something separate that you only touched briefly when you were in church unless you were part of the clergy.  It wasn’t for just any layperson or any day and it certainly wasn’t found in the “worldly” world around us.

This never quite fit with my own personal experience of the world, even as a child.

I felt more connected with whatever that “more is out there” was when I was out in the world, particularly the natural world, than I ever did in the stuffy air behind stained glass windows.  To me, it seemed like the dark wood pews, frowning statues of saints, and stained glass more seemed to keep what I felt was something more out.  I know understand that Hashem was even there because there is no place He isn’t, but as a child it seemed to me that church was the last place I could find that connection.

Judaism is so different when it comes to everyday life and religion’s place in it.

An observant Jew’s day is filled with prayer and almost every aspect of the day is given greater intention, from what we wear, to how we speak, to what and how we eat.  I open my eyelids and, as tired as I was having to wake up extra early for work at 4am, I utter the first prayer of the day, Modeh Ani, thanking Hashem for giving my soul back to me and giving me another day here in this life.  Blessings and prayers are on my lips throughout my day and each day involves some kind of study of Torah.  My faith isn’t something confined to certain days or times, but is integrated into every waking moment.  Even working on a firewall at work can have a greater purpose and intention and should.  We’re asked to elevate the mundane everyday into something greater, not try to escape it.

Perhaps the most perfect and visible example of this is how a Jew eats.  Most people are aware of the basics of kosher, that there are some things a Jew shouldn’t eat and that even the foods that are permitted need to be prepared in very certain ways.  Really, though, that’s only the beginning.  The Jewish table is not a feeding trough, but an altar.  Each meal is a sacrifice, carefully and lovingly prepared.  Just as in the times of the temple when the Priests would eat the sacrifices, both the meat of the animals sacrificed and the meal offerings, so to is each Jew like a Priest offering up and eating a sacrifice.

We bless Hashem before we eat or drink anything, thanking him for our food, but also acknowledging where our food came from.  We have to know if a fruit or vegetable grew on a tree or from another plant or if something was made of certain grains.  It requires awareness of how our food grows.  In addition, there is a blessing that must be recited the first time we eat a fruit each year, which really makes each first time as if it is THE first time I had an apple or a peach.  As I take a fruit in my hand, I have to know where it came from and remember if I’ve enjoyed that fruit already this year or if this is my first peach all year.  Afterward, there are more blessings, again thanking Hashem for creating all this food.

Last night, in a class on the weekly parsha (weekly Torah portion), one of our Rabbis asked a very good question.  If Hashem could create people any way He chose, why create them so that they needed to eat at all?  Angels don’t have to eat and He could just as easily have created humans so that they never needed to eat anything.  The answer was that everything contains sparks of holiness that need to be elevated and when it comes to food, we elevate those sparks back to the Creator by eating it.  There’s a little more to it, though.

If I eat mindlessly, without blessings, intention, or awareness and then I use the energy from that food either wastefully or to do bad things, then I really am not elevating that food or the sparks of holiness within it at all.  If, however, I eat only what I need and do so with intention and awareness and blessings to the Creator of it, then use the energy from that food to make the world a little better, doing acts of chesed (kindness) and mitzvos, then I certainly have elevated the sparks of holiness in that food, returning them to their source, Hashem.

From a Chassidic perspective, that’s the entire purpose of creation, for us to gather the treasure that our Father has hidden in this world and return it to Him.  That treasure isn’t just in special buildings with stained glass and marble, but in everything around us every single day.  It is even within us and every person we interact with.

Even something as simple as eating a piece of fruit can be holy and a deeply, profoundly religious act of sacrifice to Hashem.

To me, this heals a wound I felt as a child, not understanding the duality I was taught which seemed to contradict a greater truth that my heart already knew…that there is no separation between faith and religion and the mundane, that Hashem is everywhere and in all things and that our lives were meant to be filled with that awareness, not just reminded of it on certain holy days.

We are meant to be one as well.

The Fireweed Blooms as the Three Weeks Continue

The Three Weeks is a period of mourning.  You name it and if it was really awful and needed to happen to the Jews, it most likely happened during this period of time, culminating in the destruction of the temple on the 9th of Av.  So, along with observant Jews throughout the world, we mourn.

Alaska, it seems, did not get the memo.

This past weekend was the kind of weekend we dream of as the cold darkness encloses us all winter.  The sun shone in a clear blue sky and wildflowers were everywhere, including our summer countdown clock, the fireweed, its first bright purple blossoms beginning at the bottom of the row of blooms that will eventually go to seed looking like ashes.  We spent this past Shabbos at home due to some engine issues and so we went on several walks to help pass the long Sabbath, noting all the beautiful wildflowers that had popped up in what months ago had just been piles of snow.  When I saw the fireweed, it was with a mixture of happiness mixed with a little sorrow.  Those blooms mean summer is already over halfway over and when the blooms disappear, going to seed in fluff that looks like ashes, it means summer has ended.

Long before any of us came to the area around Anchorage, it was home to a tribe of Native Americans known as the Athabaskans.  In their legends, each individual fireweed represents the soul of a tree that died in a forest fire, which is why they bloom beautifully, then go to seed looking as if they had burnt up.  With Judaism’s emphasis on the sparks of holiness being present in all things, I find this a beautiful idea.

The appearance of these blooms is a reminder of how limited our time in the sun here is.  They prod us to hurry up and finish everything that must be done in our short summers to prepare for the next winter.  They also remind us that this summer…is more like a dream.  It’s  brief reprieve from the real natural state of this land, which must be one of cold and often great darkness.  Without reminders like the fireweed and the chill that has crept into the early mornings, it would be tempting to forget that most of the year is cold.  It would be easy to slow down and just lazily enjoy the warm sunny days as if they would never end.

When it comes to living in exile without the Temple, it is more like Jews have adapted to a long winter and forgotten what the summer could be like.  We’ve gotten used to life without the Temple, to life in exile, like a person who adapts to an injury, but in doing so, actually damages their body.  It’s easy to adapt to what is compared to being able to imagine things being different.

A perfect example is my kitchen.

One of my shortcomings is organization.  I will walk across my kitchen multiple times a day to reach an often-used item without it ever occurring to me that I might just move it someplace closer and save myself all that walking and time.  I’ll work around something that is broken for a long time without thinking to have it fixed or replaced.  I simply accept my kitchen as it is, not stopping to think it could be something better.  This isn’t a uncommon problem.

What is familiar becomes the default setting, like assuming this sunshine in Alaska will last all year, that the measuring spoons must be on the opposite side of the kitchen as the stove, or becoming so used to exile that it feels like home.  The Three Weeks asks us to remember who we really are.  It asks us to question whether exile is really our home and to remember all that has happened to us.  It asks us to remember what we’ve lost, both the Temple as well as countless lives of Jews over so many generations of pogroms, the holocaust, the inquisitions, crusades, and countless expulsions.  It asks us to face the parts of Jewish history that are uncomfortable to face but have so shaped the Jewish people.

As a convert, I feel it’s even more important to dig into Jewish history during the Three Weeks.  I don’t have older family to tell me stories of their own survival as Jews or memories in my blood of generations past who bravely faced all these things.  I try to imagine myself in the histories I read and imagine what it might have been like to be in Jerusalem as the walls were breached by the Romans or leaving everything behind in the Spanish expulsion.  I also keep in my mind that by choosing the chosen people as my own, I also am choosing to be part of this history and choosing it for my children and grandchildren.

The Three Weeks is also a reminder that all these sad days can be turned to joy.  We don’t have to live with the measuring spoons across the kitchen.  We can choose to work together to bring an end to the exile and right the wrongs of the world.  Each and every one of us is important and can help bring Moshiach, but it takes waking up and realizing that our actions now and every day, even the small ones, have such tremendous power.

It’s so fitting that the fireweed would begin blooming during the Three Weeks, telling us the time to act is now, this moment.


Fasting Thoughts

Curving into myself instead of reaching out into the world
My heart feels cavernous, full of a maze
I follow it, feeling along the roughened walls
finding things I’d long lost
the world keeps trying to lure me back
the emptiness of my belly guards, pushing them away

I shake my head, trying to clear it
But I see what is within so much more clearly
when it’s blurry and out of focus
I find lost truths I knew as a child
Unlearning the false stories the world taught me
I keep following the maze deeper

They say every child is taught all of Torah
while dozing in the womb
their eyes fuzzy and focus blurred
They know all
Only to forget it in an instant
The price for being born

I float now in this space outside of everyday
like an unborn child again
My fingertips slip across countless deep mysteries
And even now I know I’ll lose my grasp
I try to repeat one, just one, in my head
I try not to forget

We are all, each of us, so much more than we appear
The tip of an iceberg
But what is seen is barely the surface
We think we are limited
The truth is we’re too focused to see clearly
We are simply a part of the infinite allowed to appear separate