Friday, November 06, 2009

URJ Biennial

I'm in the Toronto airport waiting for the flight that will carry me home to Chicago. I've been, for the last two days, a participant in the Union for Reform Judaism's Biennial convention.

Every other year, Reform Jews get together to celebrate Jewish life, to learn from each other and share music, worship, and companionship. It's a really wonderrful experience, with some of the finest musicians, teachers, speakers and programs.

Some of the highlights of my biennial experience:
- seeing my friends. For me, there's an element of reunion about the biennial. Nothing quite matches the hug you get from a friend you haven't seen in a year or two, and the delight at being surprised by someone you didn't know was coming!

- making new friends and connections. I exchanged a lot of business cards, shook a lot of hands. It was like Facebook in real life :) and I loved meeting friends of friends.

- putting faces to names, blogs, twitter handles. There are many people, particularly rabbis, cantors and teachers, among others, that I only know from their blogs or twitter feeds. How wonderful to meet and be together in real life - how delightful to make a "real" friend out of an online friend.

- the one large session I was there for was really great. Honorees were Dr. Avivah Zornberg, who taught marvelous Torah, and Harold Grinspoon, who has given so much to our camping movement. Dr Eboo Patel spoke and truly held the room, fascinates by his explanation of "theology of the bridge" - the idea that every religious tradition, at its heart, has respect for the humanity that God created. The evening ended with a performance by Josh Nelson and Craig Taubman....always wonderful and uplifting.

- my own session - I led, along with four others, a session on social media. Not a how-to session, but more a "why" and "what". I shared some of my own experiences with Twitter, Facebook, and this blog, and really felt that my words had relevance and resonance for the participants. It was fun, too! We had a large screen with a live twitterfeed following the hashtag #urjbiennial - fun to see live tweets coming from within the room.

And now I head home, the Biennial continues on with Shabbat and all the festive ways in which it's celebrated with 2000 of your closest friends. For me, a quieter Shabbat back in Chicago.

I feel that my cup has been filled up with the human connections, the hugs, the smiles of recognition and the new relationships formed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Prayer in a Twitter World

Prayer in a Twitter World
Rabbi Phyllis Sommer
Yom Kippur Morning 5770

Do you know how long it takes for the giant Chinese bamboo to grow to over 90 feet tall? First, it is planted as a tiny seed. Then the seed is watered and fertilized for a whole year, and nothing appears above the ground. Then the seed must be watered and fertilized for a second year. And a third, and a fourth. Still, nothing happens. Finally, in the fifth year of its care, the bamboo shoots up to the sky – growing 90 feet in just six weeks. The question is – how long does it take for the Chinese bamboo to grow 90 feet? Is it six weeks? Or is it five years…
If the farmer leaves the plant untended, unwatered, for any time during the previous four years, the plant would have died. Can you imagine working on a plant and seeing no growth for four full years?

Another story:

We planted tomatoes this year in our back yard. The day after they were planted, Sam, my three year old, wanted to go outside and get a tomato to eat. I took him out and showed him the baby plants, and explained that it would take a long time for them to grow. Later that day, he asked to go get a tomato NOW because hadn’t it been a long time already?

We are in a society that expects instant gratification. Fast food, fast cars, fast internet connections. If the page doesn’t refresh when I want it to, if the email doesn’t go through right away, if the person in front of me doesn’t hit the gas the minute the light turns green…Every activity has to have a purpose and a goal. A few spare minutes in the carpool line? Send an email! A ride in the car? Listen to an audiobook or a radio program. A chance to have a quiet lunch alone? Read the newspaper! We multi-task our multi-tasking.

I adore the internet. Many of you know that I love to blog, to use Facebook, even to Twitter. I am a product and a child of the Internet age. I love that the world moves fast, I love that I can see what’s going on all around with the click of my mouse or the touch of a button on my blackberry.

One of the reasons people like using the internet is because it “Gets things done” quickly, easily, and without a lot of fuss. Need to know the answer? Google it, of course. Need an answer right away? Send a text message. It helps us get stuff done. But I know that it has its downside. After all, if everything is a “trending topic” – if everything is important enough to share with the 700 or so people I consider “friends” on Facebook, if the news is coming at us constantly, all the time…how do we figure out what’s really important?
I want things to happen quickly, I don’t like to wait for people to check their email. How many of you have followed up an email with a phone call just a few moments later? I don’t like to “sit around and wait.”

And then there’s prayer. The ultimate “sit around and wait activity.” Nothing seems to happen right away, nothing gets done while I’m doing it, I can’t multi-task it.

Prayer is generally thought of as a “non-expedient activity.” What do I mean by this? Praying as long and as intensely as one likes or is able to has absolutely no immediate visible response. Well, as far as you can see or feel at that moment. God may or may not respond affirmatively to the prayer – and either way, a response is not instantaneous. And even over time, it’s not always totally clear if there’s a direct correlation between the prayer I’ve said and the response from God. And to top it all off, the hours we’re spending here today for example – nothing has moved from the in-box to the out-box. No physical goods have exchanged hands. No stocks or bonds went up or down because of what we are doing here.

Let’s face it: our world tends to measure all activities based on productivity. Professional productivity, financial productivity, even personal satisfaction is measured on the same standard! We measure life by what we have accomplished with the time we have spent. We measure each moment of our lives by “what we got done” or “what we didn’t get done.” Even on vacation! How many of us fill our vacation and down-time hours with activities that “get stuff done” – different certainly than the “work” stuff we’re getting done, but equally active and goal-oriented. Even the simple act of driving home from work is often filled with music, talk radio, or phone conversations.

For most of us, this constant need to surround ourselves with stimulation and input means that we do not allow ourselves the time or the quiet to open up ourselves to a connection to prayer and to God.
Prayer does not work when measured by its productivity. In fact, it’s just the opposite – prayer is a total suspension of the other activities and a chance to remove one’s need and one’s desire to be productive at all! Instead, it requires handing over the reins of our lives to Someone Else – opening ourselves up to the potential change that can bring.

Many societies and cultures pray early in the morning. When we first wake up, we thank God for having gotten us through whatever dangers may exist in the nighttime, in the dark, while we sleep. Jewish tradition upholds this as well, with the morning prayers.

Many cultures also have nighttime prayers, asking for protection in advance from the same dangers we were grateful to have escaped in the morning. Judaism also has evening prayers, a set liturgy.

But Judaism has something different from other cultures – we were the first to invent the idea of midday prayer. The prayer service known as Mincha falls in the middle of the day and has a unique requirement – in order to truly pray, one must put down one’s work, right when the going is good. In order to pray the midday service, you have to stop what you’re doing, and in some way acknowledge a relationship to God. Perhaps even say – hey, this connection to God is more important than the productive and speedy work that I’m doing right now. In fact, it is this connection that makes everything else possible. Even if midday prayer isn’t a part of your regular routine, the very idea of taking a pause during the middle of the day can be.

When I first moved to Israel, I was shocked – shocked – by how rude all the store clerks seemed to be. Inevitably, I would walk into a bookstore or clothing store in the middle of the day and the young woman behind the counter wouldn’t greet me or even speak to me. Instead, she would be on the phone, talking in loud Hebrew phrases. When I’d come to check out, she might say “rega, Ima” – hold on, Mom – and take care of me. For a while I was really annoyed by this. Until someone explained it to me in a different way. Israelis see their family as paramount. You never know what each day will bring. Something as unimportant as a browsing customer couldn’t possibly demand putting aside a family member! It changed my outlook and reminds me of the idea of prayer. Just as I answer the phone for my family above all – so do I have to take a few moments each day to stop the work that I’m doing and answer the spiritual phone to connect me with God.

I know that prayer can be a difficult subject for Jews. In fact, I know that most of us cringe when someone says “I’ll pray for you,” or “you’re in my prayers.” It’s not our way of doing things, it’s not our way, necessarily, of thinking. And it’s not a new problem in the Jewish world, let me tell you. You may be even saying to yourself, “Um, yeah, rabbi?…prayer is not my thing.”

But I’m saying – prayer is our thing. It’s a Jewish thing.

You might have heard the old joke about Jews and prayer. Mr. Shapiro sees his two friends, Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Cohen, coming out of the synagogue one morning. Mr. Shapiro turns to Mr. Cohen and says, “What were you doing in there?” and Mr. Cohen says, “I go there to talk to God.” Then Shapiro turns to Mr. Goldberg and says, “and you? I know you don’t believe in God!” and Mr. Goldberg says, “You’re right. Cohen goes to temple to talk to God. I go to temple to talk to Cohen!”

It’s not just about the prayers we say. Sometimes it’s about being there in the first place. Wait, though, do we have to be there at all? Can’t we just “phone it in” or email our prayers, though? Wouldn’t that be simpler? So thinks Alon Nir of Tel Aviv, founder of Tweet Your Prayers, the Kotel on Twitter, a micro-blogging service that allows users to write short bursts of 140 characters or less. He’ll take your most important prayers, 140 characters or less, and put them into the Western Wall for you. Their website’s mission statement explains: “Tweeting only takes a few seconds; it’s substantially easier, quicker and cheaper than hoping on a plane to Israel.”

Maybe it is all those things: easier, quicker, and cheaper. But is that what prayer is really about?
Look, let’s face it, prayer is a long term investment. It’s much more like the Chinese bamboo – years and years of watering without a lot to show for it. And it’s not particularly easy to follow along all the time, is it? After all, we are all relatively accomplished in our lives, we all have skills and abilities, degrees and awards. But prayer doesn’t work quite like that, does it. There aren’t any awards, there aren’t any balance sheets at the end of the day. It’s not even a timed activity!

Prayer is hard work. It’s not at all like texting or emailing. It requires way more interaction between the sender and the receiver. It requires patience, practice and even humility. Doing it “well” means that we have to get used to it – and to sometimes feeling a little awkward, a little uncomfortable or strange at times. It means struggling, sometimes without immediate reward, and sometimes it means finding rewards right away at the beginning. It means that sometimes you’ll feel like you’re growing and sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you’ll feel all of this over the course of one single service! And sometimes it will take years.

Prayer isn’t about “getting it done.” It’s more like undertaking any other rigorous pursuit – learning to play the violin or practicing yoga or perfecting a golf swing. In fact, it’s even more difficult than any of those things. Would you attempt to run a marathon or complete a triathlon without any training? Would you expect to play a concerto after only 2 violin lessons?

I think we have a slightly imbalanced expectation of ourselves when it comes to prayer. The words are all in the book, for goodness sake! How hard can it be? It’s deceptively difficult. It takes practice and training, it takes a regular interaction with the words, with ourselves, and with God, to make it feel worthwhile.
On Rosh HaShanah we gave a sermon that was very much in the here-and-now, in the idea that we could walk out of the sanctuary with a plan, a goal, a direct result of our being in synagogue.

Yom Kippur isn’t quite the same. Today I ask you to consider that there may or may not be any great big change from your experience here today. You may leave the sanctuary feeling the very same as you came into it. But I invite you, I ask you, I might even beg you, to consider that this isn’t the be-all end-all, and it doesn’t need to be the end of your interaction, your connection to prayer and to God. We live in a quick-fix world, and Yom Kippur seems like it would fit in great with that. One day, absolve the sins, wash ourselves clean with a little fasting, and we’re done. It’s tailor made for how we live our lives.

But it’s not, is it.

There is a reading in our prayerbook, attributed to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: Prayer may not bring water to parched fields, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.

Prayer invites God to be present in our spirits and in our lives. Prayer may not change the world, but it does change me and gives me the power and the possibility to change the world. Prayer cannot mend a broken bridge, but it can mend my troubled and wounded spirit.

Prayer isn’t about a one-time deal. Prayer isn’t about fixing the world with one fell swoop, or fixing ourselves and our needs in a quick-and-dirty solution.

But prayer is about finding the time to turn off the cell phone, the blackberry, the email, Facebook and Twitter. Prayer can be mysterious, elusive and also strangely rewarding. The words are there for us in the book or written in our hearts, in the moments of silence between the set liturgy. The music and poetry are a part of our service, the up and the down, the movement and the gestures. We are entirely, for this moment, outside of the rush of the world around us.

As this Yom Kippur draws us near, draws us close, may we find the possibility to continue our work, to continue the practice and the process that is prayer. May we accept that our results may not be chartable or graphable, that our answers may not come today, or tomorrow, or the next…and may we find peace and wholeness in the pursuit, in the time spent, in the wrestling and in the weeping, in the joy and in the delight, in the words and in the non-words…in the prayer that is a part of the very fabric of our lives.

And may it truly be a blessing for each of us.
Keyn yehi ratzon, may this be God’s will.

With gratitude to the inspiration of, Rabbi Adam Allenberg,
Rabbi Barry Freundel, Rabbi David Thomas, Craig C. Roshaven, and Teresa Bell Kindred.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

We're Still Waiting for Gilad Shalit

Last year I posted a similar post on this day.

I truly, horribly, completely wish that I were not writing the same post today.

From this website:

Gilad Schalit was born on August 28th, 1986, in Nahariya and raised in Mitzpe Hilla in the Western Galilee by his parents Aviva and Noam with his siblings Yoel and Hadas. At the end of July 2005 Gilad began his military service in a combat unit of the armored corps. For the two months prior to his kidnapping, he has been on duty guarding and ensuring the security of the settlements around Gaza.

On Sunday, June 25th 2006, in a terrorist attack on an IDF post at Kerem Shalom during which his unit friends have been killed, Gilad was taken captive and has been held since in the Gaza Strip by Hamas.

To this day Gilad didn’t receive any visits from an official faction, including the Red Cross, and there is no reliable information about his well being.

Three years have passed since his abduction. Let's remind everyone that he has yet to come home and demand his quick return.

On June 25th, the three-year anniversary to his abduction, please replace your personal profile picture with Gilad’s picture on Facebook, Windows Live Messenger, ICQ, Tapuz, bona, Mekusharim, news groups and any other social network or blog you’re a member of, and show the world that you are waiting for Gilad Schalit’s return.

Unfortunately, since my post last year, the remains of soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, abducted at the same time as Gilad, were returned to Israel.

We are still waiting for Gilad. Each and every day.

May his return come speedily and safely.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Today at the Holocaust Museum

I cannot begin to express my horror at what happened today at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

From the website of the USHMM:
There are no words to express our grief and shock over today’s events at the Museum, which took the life of Officer Stephen Tyrone Johns. Officer Johns, who died heroically in the line of duty, served on the Museum’s security staff for six years. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Officer Johns’s family. We have made the decision to close the Museum Thursday, June 11, in honor of Officer Johns and our flags will be flown at half mast in his memory.

May his memory be for a blessing.
"A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum stimulates leaders and citizens to confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy."
May we continue to fight against hatred in the world. May the mission of the USHMM continue to be undeterred. 
Let us never forget.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Welcoming New Colleagues

Every year, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion ordains its current class of seniors. It elevates them from their status as "student rabbis" to "Rabbis." All of their training, practice, work, study, learning, and preparation culminates in a ceremony that bestows the title upon them. It is moving, inspiring, and truly memorable.

This year, there has been a lot of media attention on the ordination ceremonies that took place in Cincinnati. A great deal of attention has been bestowed upon a great "first" for the College-Institute, the ordination of the first African-American woman as a rabbi. It was a historic moment for the school, for our movement, for our people.

In many ways, however, it reminded me of the truly marvelous stories that each of these newly-minted rabbis bring to our school, our movement and our people.

I was honored to be present at the ordination ceremonies this year in Cincinnati. At that time, I witnessed the ordination of prize winners and poets, musicians and teachers. They served congregations in Ohio, North Dakota, Indiana, Louisiana, Florida, Michigan, Kentucky. They worked in nursing homes, Hillels and hospitals. They taught children and adults. Some were on the rabbinic path since childhood. Others came to it later in life. Judaism bloomed in their lives early and later. They are both parents and children, pray-ers and do-ers. They were surrounded by loved ones and friends, teachers and mentors. One was the child of a rabbi, one the brother. Their family members stood for their ordination and blessed them personally, as I did for my husband when he was ordained. In a truly touching moment, the father-rabbi took his own tallit and placed it on the shoulders of his son, literally passing on the mantle of trust and love and responsibility.

Each time I attend an ordination (I think I've been at 8), I honestly expect it to be boring. The service is, undoubtedly, long. But each year I am surprised when I am not bored at all. This year, I was instead inspired as I watched the faces of the students as they each stood on the right-hand side of the Bima first, waiting their turn, and then, as their name was called, ascending. And then, watching, as the same student received his or her blessing, a moment usually accompanied by trembling and tears. Finally, the student stood on the left-hand side of the Bima, witnessing the ordination of their next classmate, before descending back to the pews. The ritual repeated, with great care and deliberation, until each had their turn. There is great decorum in Cincinnati, we were reminded by our President, and there is no cheering. But inside we are all shouting, we are all dancing with joy, that one journey is ending and another beginning. Each year we are reminded that the distance from the right side of the Bima to the left side is short - but oh so long.

Each of the newly-made rabbis is worthy of our praise, each is worthy of our celebration. It was truly an honor to be present and to celebrate with these students who I am now honored to call rabbi and colleague.

The Ordination Class of 5769/2009 in Cincinnati, Ohio
Mazel tov to Rabbis
Elizabeth Bandyk Bahar
Katie Bauman
Rachel Crossly Saphire
Lisa Delson
Debra Dressler
Tami Elliott Goodman
Noah Fabricant
Jennifer Frenkel
Marshal Klaven
Anna Levin
David Reiner
Alysa Stanton
Howard Stein
Elizabeth Wood

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Words of Mourning

I am beside myself about this.

From the NY Times article:
WICHITA, Kan. — George Tiller, one of only a few doctors in the nation who performed abortions late in pregnancy, was shot to death here Sunday in the foyer of his longtime church as he handed out the church bulletin.

I am sick at heart that this man who took over his family's medical practice after the deaths of his parents and sister and brother-in-law, who took responsibility for his then 1-year-old nephew, and who began to perform abortions because he learned that a woman had died from an illegal abortion...has now become a terrible victim of horrible violence.

May his legacy remind us that our freedoms must be constantly guarded and may his memory be for a blessing.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Plea for the Future of HUC in Cincinnati

There is a lot of maneuvering afoot in the Reform movement. First the URJ announced its restructuring, which, to be perfectly fair, was in the works for a long time before the current financial crunch. Now the Hebrew Union College is making some major decisions in the wake of serious financial problems.

I know that there are a number of proposals on the table as the Board of Governors of HUC-JIR prepares to meet this weekend. And I also know that some versions of those proposals involve in some way closing the Cincinnati campus.

This is the letter I sent to the President and Board of Governors:

Dear Dr. Ellenson,
I cannot even begin to be as eloquent as so many of my colleagues who have composed letters and emails so far this month. And I cannot even begin to express to you my gratitude and appreciation for all that you do to make HUC-JIR the wonderful institution that it is. Please know that I come to this email from a place of deep respect for the decision that you and the Board are about to make.
I must add my voice, however, to those who have already spoken. I am a Midwesterner, born and raised. I have felt for a long time that there is a sense (on both the East and West Coasts) of the middle of the country as a place devoid of Jewish life. This is most certainly not so! There is a vibrant and marvelous Jewish community in all corners of the middle parts of this country! And these communities are, unfortunately, often maligned, slighted, or otherwise dismissed by the larger communities of New York and Los Angeles. This is unfortunate. There are strong Jewish communities in St. Louis, Houston, Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Indianapolis, and yes, Cincinnati. And there are strong Jewish communities in small towns all around Missouri, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois – not to mention all the Southern states as well. A list is too long to make! Many (if not most in the case of the smaller towns) of these communities are served by Reform rabbis or rabbinical students, most of them from the Cincinnati campus.
I firmly believe that we are remiss as a movement if we isolate ourselves in the “ivory towers” of the large coastal cities and ignore the importance of the “heartland of America” by closing the Cincinnati campus to the rabbinical program. On the contrary, in fact, I believe that Cincinnati is the very best place for Jews to be influenced and to influence. Many of our rabbinical students come from the Coasts, go there for school, and never really gain a true understanding of American Judaism across the country. If the rabbis that HUC-JIR produces come only from the coasts, will we really have a decent and comprehensive understanding of amcha in America? I don’t think so. I think that shutting down the heart of Reform Judaism will only dishearten the “Jews in the pews” in the middle of our country, and I think it will do a major disservice to our rabbinical students to deprive them of the opportunity to experience the vibrancy of Cincinnati’s Jewish community.
Sure, New York is a marvelous place to be a Jew. Wonderful things are happening there that young Jews in particular are taking advantage of. Regular and creative interaction with all that New York City has to offer is key to making sure we are not cut off from the innovative spirit that appears to exist in that great city. But that innovative spirit must have a soul, and I believe that the true soul of American Judaism is all around the country, nestled in its small communities and “flyover” cities as well as the East and West Coasts.
Please don’t condemn Cincinnati to become a relic of our past. Please remember the communities that we serve and honestly consider the importance of all the ways that the Cincinnati campus, in particular, and HUC-JIR in general, serves them.
I wish you and the Board of Governors strength and wisdom as you make your decisions.
Rabbi Phyllis A. Sommer

For more information go here: and read through the powerful letters and links that have been shared there. Follow @savehuc on Twitter or you could always just follow me, @imabima to learn more.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jewish Blogosphere Strikes Again!

Every week the Jewish/Israeli blogosphere produces a weekly blog carnival of posts...on politics, culture, religion, humor and more.

Go over to The Rebbetzin's Husband and read Haveil Havalim #214 - The Radiant Ziv edition.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Welcoming the New Month of Iyar

not Nisan, not Sivan
not slaves and not yet fully free

the month of transition
of transit
not here and not there


where are we?
what are we doing here?

once we were slaves
now we are free.
so what do we do with ourselves?

we move
we keep moving
always moving
where are we going, again?
who’s leading this show?

the month of manna
perfect in its perfection

as we fill ourselves with manna
it fills us with its faith

we are
not here and not there
but we are
full of faith
that we will arrive

The new month of Iyar begins this Shabbat. We welcome the month that moves us from Nisan, the month of Pesach, to Sivan, the month of Shavuot. A month of transition, yes, but a month in which it is said that the manna began to fall from heaven to sustain the Israelites on their way.

A truly incredible feature of the manna was that to each person, it tasted different, and to each person it was delicious. Only enough manna could be collected each day for each person's use; a double portion was collected on Shabbat. Any more than was necessary, any leftovers, rotted away overnight. Each day, the newly-freed Israelites had to renew their faith in their invisible God, each day they had to believe that more sustenance would come their way. What a remarkable way for God to create a bond of trust with these former slaves. Faith can be hard to come by.

We all have manna in our lives...the sustaining elements that help to define us and stir our souls. What is it for you? How do you trust that it will be there tomorrow? How do you keep the faith?

May the new month of Iyar bring blessings of sustenance and peace.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Rabbi Watches YouTube

I'm doing is enjoying this post about the Four Questions by Hadassah. She is looking for the Mah Nishtanah in multiple languages, which is such a fun activity. There's a wonderful book of 300 Ways to Say the Four Questions, which are an integral part of the Passover Seder. My favorite one in there is Pig Latin, which I think is perfect on so many levels for a Jewish event!!!

What I am doing right now, and this is key to any good modern rabbi's life, is browsing through YouTube for all the funny new Pesach videos so that I can be the first to share them with you.

Like this one:

or this

or this one...

Have you found anything great on YouTube lately?
How's your Pesach Prep going? The cold winter-like weather is not putting me quite the right mood yet!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bli Neder*

*no promises

Jewish law codes spend a lot of time on the concept of vows. They are not to be made lightly. This is why you will often hear someone say "I'll do that, bli neder" - meaning, "I'll do it, but I'm very carefully not making a vow." So this post is definitely bli neder!

It is 5:30am Israel time and as I prepare to leave my hotel room to head back to the United States, here is a list of things I want to tell you about from the rest of my trip since my last post:

- my tour of the spice market in Tel Aviv (possibly one of the best tours - we got samples!!!) and walk thru the Carmel Market. I bought Yael a Dora the Explorer costume for Purim!

- our viewing of a performance by NaLaga'at - Please Touch - a deaf/blind theater company.

- my dinner with Robin (and Jay) from - awesome.

- Friday morning's pluralist Beit Midrash at the Israel convention center. We were joined by israelis in a morning of study and conversation. It was really great.

- lunch at Mahane Yehuda at which I was told by the retaurant's proprietor that there was no shakshuka on Fridays, of course.

- buying hot Marzipan chocolate rugelach and eating it right there.

- taking a taxi home because it was hailing.

- celebrating Kabbalat Shabbat at kehillat Har-el and sharing dinner with Rabbi Ada Zavidov (and others) in her home

- attending two Shacharit (morning) services - the first at Shira Chadasha, an egalitarian Orthodox minyan at which 10 men as well as 10 men are required for a minyan. We were early enough that my presence mattered. The second in Mercaz Shimshon, the headquarters of the World Movement for Progressive Judaism, overlooking the Old City. While the service was long and not entirely to my taste, it was really incredible to witness the aliyah to the Torah of Rabbi Harold Kudan, Am Shalom's Founding Rabbi, in honor of his 50 years in the rabbinate. It was also incredible to witness our incoming president, Rabbi Ellen Dreyfus, read from the Torah to accept the mantle of leadership.

- getting into the Old City in driving rain and gusting wind only to find out that the Arab Quarter was on strike and no shops or restaurants were open.

- getting soaked walking down Ben Yehuda shooping for gifts and getting a latte at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Jaffa.

- making new friends amongst my colleagues and re-kindling old friendships. Now we don't really exchange cards - we just say "friend me on Facebook"! Talking about blogging and technology was one of my favorite parts....go figure.

- trying to absorb the constant state of change and growth in eretz yisrael. And wondering if the light rail system which is being built will ever be done...and wondering if downtown Jerusalem will ever feel the same.

- packing to go home after 6 days in which I arrived with carry-on luggage only. Everyone thought we were so laudable to only pack that way....and yet I still overpacked and didn't wear it all and I had to really cram to get it all in the bag to return....oh well, you live and learn, right? I'm all packed and ready for my last breakfast followed by the cab ride to the airport.

Reading back over this post, I realize that I did tell you now, so I think I don't have to worry about revisiting. Whew, I'm safe from the neder :-)

Back to our regular blog programming later this week!!!!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Keyn, anachnu yecholim*

*yes, we can

Today we spent the morning in Tel Aviv, a city that is truly modern Israel's reality. I haven't spent much time in this city, wandering, as I have in Jerusalem. Later we have walking tours that I'm quite excited for!

But back to my headline. I'm quoting Rabbi Meir Azari of the Israeli Reform Movement. "Yes, we can" make Reform a living and vibrant part of the landscape of Israeli religious society. Sitting in Mishkenot Ruth Daniel, a large and beautiful facility in the heart of Jaffa that serves many purposes for the Tel Aviv Porgressive community. One is really able to believe in a living and rich Israeli Reform movement when sitting here.

We heard from Mayor Ron Huldai of Tel Aviv, who was called a great friend of Reform Judaism by Rabbi Azari.

He spoke of the sand dunes of Jaffa, in 1909, when 66 families stood and lotteried the plots of what was to become Tel Aviv. Here now, this major city bears little resemblance to those early years. Sky-scraping luxury hotels line the beach and old blends with new....but how to shape the identity of the Israeli future? Mayor Huldai believes that Reform plays a large part in that identity and that future.

Rabbi Azari also pointed out Rabbi Miri Gold (go sign the petition and join the facebook group) who is the public face of the fight to recognize Reform rabbis by the State of Israel. to a tour of Tel Aviv's markets....

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Women of the Wall

This morning was the 20th anniversary of the Women of the Wall. Today, Rosh Chodesh Adar, the beginning of the month of great joy, we davened (prayed) together at the Kotel, the Western Wall, in quite a large group, Israeli women and many women rabbis from the CCAR convention and also rabbinic and cantorial students studying in Jerusalem.

We stood near the back of the women's section to pray the morning service, including the Hallel psalms, in quiet but proud voices. Many of our male colleagues came too and stood behind the wall, joining our prayer in almost a reverse mechitza (separation barrier). We wore tallitot and kippot. Young girls wearing long skirts stared and giggled and debated what they saw. "They're not Reformim," a girl told her friend. "They are something different."

Policewomen, guarding the "sanctity of the place" shouted and gestured for us to stop. "No singing!" And in typical Israeli fashion, continued to stand and yell even as the praying continued. A male policeman was brought in (why was this ok?) to help quiet us down....but it didn't work and we finished the praying relatively peacefully. (I took video, which maybe I will be able to upload later today or else when I get home.)

Then we walked together to the Southern part of the excavation of the Western Wall. Standing under Robinson's Arch we read Torah, the reading for Rosh Chodesh, sharing aliyot and singing in a loud voice, joined by our male colleagues whose voices mingled with the female ones.

The Torah used by Women of the Wall is carried in a duffel bag (a very holy and sturdy green duffel bag) and after it was placed in the bag it was passed around to kiss before itwas spirited away to someone's car. Many torah scrolls live on the men's side of the Kotel but only this one is used by the women and it is carried back and forth.

I had the honor for a few moments of carrying the Torah in its canvas bag. Its weight felt perhaps even more heavy than a usual Torah scroll, bearing the weight of so many women's years of striving....

Mish'nuchnas Adar marbim b'simcha
As Adar comes in, our joy increases.
And so it was a truly joyous experience.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nir Barkat, Jerusalem's Mayor

Tonight we were greeted by Jerusalem's mayor, Nir Barkat. After he welcomed us home, he shared some of the scary statistics about Jerusalem - it's the poorest city with 50 percent of its children under the poverty line.

People are leaving Jlem in droves. Why? Usually due to the economiv situation, price of housing is high, schools aren't top notch and quality of life isn't the highest here. But he doesn't want to focus on the negative.

He noted that there are four consituencies to jlem - residents, israel, jewish community and world comminity. We are all shareholders in the benefit of Jerusalem.

Two million visitors (tourist) to Jerusalem each year. This is, Mr Barkat explained, paltry compared to other world cities - and we have a 3000 year old "brand" to sell! One of his goals is to increase tourism - through promotion of culture and economic opportunities.

He brings his "business approach" instead of the "army approach." Army works against enemies. Business works for customers. Obviously it would make sense to change away from the army approach and treat citizens like customers. It also gives an opening to shared collaboration....he's built quite a coalition of various viewpoints that will hopefully transcend politics.

He takes only a dollar a year salary. You gotta believe that someone with that much commitment has something going for him....right?

Monday, February 23, 2009

On our way!

We're on our way to Eretz Yisrael. My colleague, Paul Kipnes ( calls this Aliyat haNefesh - a going-up of the soul. I do feel that the chance to reconnect with the land and people of Israel refreshes and rejuvenates me. To be able to travel to Israel regularly is one of the best parts of the rabbinate!

This time, the trip holds a special significance. My husband proposed to me in Israel about 2 hours before the end of our Year in Israel program (literally - as we were waiting for our taxi to the airport!) just about 10 years ago. We left Israel engaged but haven't returned together to the country since. (We've each been separately.) Three kids later, we travel together to make this journey today! I am beside myself with delight.

Also, we are going to be attending the annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, our professional organization. Three hundred friends and colleagues will be there with us and I can't wait to see old friends and catch up with them.

Truly, my travel cup runneth over today as I type this at O'Hare airport....see ya in the Holy Land!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Senate Chaplain, Rabbi Dan Fellman

(The sound is terrible on this clip but it was the only way I could find it....)

This is my classmate and friend, Rabbi Dan Fellman, today on the Senate floor.

Any Senators out there reading? How cool would that be!? Imagine live-blogging a trip to the Senate. I'm available anytime for this gig.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Let's Take it Real World...

Crossposted from my other blog.

I was talking with some folks (as I do constantly) about the matzav (situation) in Israel. I feel a bit obsessed, as I think many of my fellow Israel-lovers and bloggers do, with the news. I can't stop refreshing Muqata and IsraellyCool and I scroll through my tweets looking for the news.

There are so many misconceptions being played out in the mainstream media (MSM). I nearly have an aneurisum each morning as I read my newspaper and I definitely almost ripped the radio out of my car the other day as I heard Jerome McDonnell say "well, there have just been a few rockets sent into Israel, right? and no one's really been hurt by it, right?" as he interviewed an Israeli journalist. (Who responded, wonderfully, by saying "That's like having the doctor say - your 14year old is pregnant but the good news is that she's only a little bit pregnant. There is no such thing as good rocket fire.")

I really believe that I am getting a balanced view. I'm sure there are those who would disagree with me, who would say that all my sources are Israeli in origin so I'm bound to get a biased view of the operation from that perspective. And I suppose that would be true. But I do believe that the MSM seems so biased against Israel, and since I continue (oddly enough) to read newspapers and MSM websites, I feel that I'm getting a pretty good sense of what might be the "Real Story."

(Picture from - of Israelis sheltering from a Qassam missile.)

The thing that bothered me the most this week, however, was the very well-intentioned person who listened to me refute information about the UN "school" that was bombed. (When we think of school, I'm pretty sure you all have the same idea in your head that I do - kids running around, books, desks, teachers, papers, pencils and erasers....but this is not that kind of school. So I feel that it puts the wrong idea into people's heads right off the bat. But I digress...)

Back to the well-intentioned person. She asked in a not-snottty, totally honest and well-intentioned way: "How are those of us who are not as informed supposed to know all of this?"

And I know that she is not an internet user, beyond the email and other tasks in the office. I know that if I asked her to regularly visit Muqata or even she would not really be able to do it. So truthfully, I was a bit stumped and didn't quite know how to asnwer her except to say that I could provide her with a list of sources for her to look at.

But she probably won't.

She'll probably continue, in her kind and well-intentioned and well-informed way, to read the newspapers and watch the 6 o'clock news (which I haven't watched in's still on, right?). And she'll believe, like so many Americans and Europeans do, that the nicely coiffed men and women sitting so officially behind those shiny desks or standing in front of those pretty flat-panel monitors are telling The Truth and reporting The Facts.

When we know they're not always.

So I offer this challenge to you, my dear readers. I am always asking you to blog or tweet or comment or visit. But today's challenge is a little different.

I'm asking you to pick one site or post or picture that you feel is representative of The Truth -- not the stuff being thrown around by the MSM but the stuff that you find to be Real and Right. Start, perhaps, with one of Jack's round ups or one of Jameel's liveblogs, or even just the count from your QassamCount status update.

Print it out. 
(I know, I know, I'm supposed to be all green, but bear with me.)

And share it with the people that you care about most, the people that you think will not be reading it, the people that you think might look at you when you suggest that they log into TwiddleEast as though you're suggesting they jump through the Looking Glass. Share the paper with your co-workers, your friends, your grandmother.

We're all working so hard out here on the Internet. I think the time has come to move beyond that and back out into the Real World, Old School...

Are you with me?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Let us pray....*updated

The ground incursion into Gaza has begun. A news blackout is in place.

All we can do is pray.

Prayer for the Welfare of Soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces

May He who blessed our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, bless the soldiers
of the Israel Defense Forces who keep guard over our country and cities of
our Lord from the border with Lebanon to the Egyptian desert and from the
Mediterranean Sea to the approach to the Arava, be they on land, air or sea.

May the Almighty deliver us our enemies who arise against us, may the Holy
One, blessed be He, preserve them and save them from all sorrow and peril,
from danger and ill.

May He send blessing and success in all their endeavors, may He deliver to
them those who hate us and crown them with salvation and victory, so that
the saying may be fulfilled through them, "For the Lord, your God, who walks
with you and to fight your enemies for you and to save you", and let us say,

As posted by Jameel, who is live-blogging. Stay tuned.

For other updated stuff, go to the IDF Spokesperson blog and see things like this:

(they're so young....)

Thursday, January 01, 2009