Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Erev Yom Kippur thoughts

There is a sunrise every single day. And every single day it feels like a sin if I am not there when the sun is rising, when the sky starts to turn colors, when darkness changes to light, when a new day dawns. I need to see it, to feel it, to experience it, to acknowledge it. I want to spend at least a few sunrises of my life at the shore of a body of water, on a mountain, somewhere where the skyline is not obscured by roofs and trees and the debris of everyday life.

I have a hard time arranging my life in a way where I can voice my needs, have my needs heard, and have my needs met.

I have even harder time with finding like-minded individuals. I am blessed with quite a few friends who have held my hand through fairly major storms, but all of them, without exception, live a very real distance away, so all the hand-holding was done virtually, through phone calls and messages. It is a sin that somehow I cannot manage close and vulnerable relationships without putting a physical distance between us.

I do not know how to atone for these sins.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


I am grappling with these questions:

  • What is the rabbi's role? For clarification's sake,  I mean in an orthodox North American shul. Is he just there to give a sermon on Shabbos and to show up for bris, bar mitzvah and funeral? Is he responsible for the well-being of his congregation? For its safety? For its children's education?
  • What is the shul's role? To be a convenient location to discharge one's obligation of group prayer? A social shmoozing ground? A place of spiritual growth? A place to further Jewish learning?
  • What is the community's role? To nod heads to each other in Kroger? To supply baby and mourner's meals? To have a gathering of like-minded individuals? To have a colorful diversity? To be a beacon of morality? To be insular, and divide the world into "us" vs. "them"?

If I hear another lovely sentiment of כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה followed by "but not like this!" I might puke. So please, give me your real answers. Give me what you think it should be. Tell me what it is. And help me brainstorm how to make it better.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי, אֶל-הֶהָרִים-- I lift my eyes to the mountains
   מֵאַיִן, יָבֹא עֶזְרִי    Where will my help come from?
  עֶזְרִי, מֵעִם יְהוָה-- Help is from G-d
    עֹשֵׂה, שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ The creator of the sky and the earth.

I sometimes wonder what is wrong with me, why do I have to learn the same exact lesson time and again, and why do I not get it the first time around. I keep on relying on other human beings, on people in power, with clout, with position, with reputation, and I keep asking them, help me! Help me with homeschooling. Help me with my non-standard child. Help me run my life with five children. Help me grow spiritually. Help me with carpool. Help me with tutoring. Help me with Shabbos invites. Help me feel welcome. Help me with theological and philosophical dilemmas. Help me find a good educational and parenting approach. These humans are like mountains, towering over me, overlooking me, seeing me, yet looking right past.

Yet when push comes to shove, when it is down to the wire, when I scream, help me feel in control over this aspect of my life, I get a clear message from G-d: you were never in control. You relied on humans again, and again they came up short. Some are simply humans, some are malicious, some are evil, some are clueless, but they do not have the ability to give to you what you are seeking. What you are seeking is Divine assistance, which is beyond the most well-placed human.

I wanted answers. I got answers. Rely on G-d, and do not rely on the community. Do your own thing. Live your values. Be unashamedly who you are. Spend less time looking around and more time on introspection. With G-d's help, it will be alright. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

garden woes

For the third time since moving to the current state, I have planted a garden: cucumbers, squash, tomatoes. We have grown these vegetables back in NY in pre-kid days. For the third time, squash-eating bugs have descended and consumed the vines. I got abundant leaves, beautiful flowers, and even some little zucchini growing. Then the caterpillars and burrowing bugs came and consumed the fruit overnight until only a pulpy mess remained. The stems keep holding out, producing more giant leaves, more flowers, giving me hope, but the insides are rotting. No fruit survives to maturity.
Image result for rotting zucchini
I keep thinking how planting and not reaping a harvest is a biblical curse. A lot of effort, care, maintenance goes into gardening, but a lot of it depends on Divine Providence. Zucchini squash produces only male flowers until it reaches a certain maturity, or the soil is moist enough, or there are enough sunny and rainy days in the precise combination. Most of the advice I got was wait and hope that the weather conditions will be just right for both flower genders to be produced.

Today I had enough of watching giant squash leaves take over the whole garden bed, not producing any fruit while sucking up resources from the soil. Their healthful appearance belied the vines that they grew on, sickly and rotting, consumed from within. I yanked them all out, giving more space and more sunlight to the basil, rosemary, and mint. The garden bed looked empty, while the compost pile seemed covered with lush green leaves as if thrown out by mistake. But I know that in order to plant successfully, you need to weed, and those rotting plants turned into unwanted weeds.

All of this seemed like a metaphor for what's going on in my life. So many things appear beautiful and appealing on the surface, healthy and beckoning, while rotting on the inside. They will never produce fruit, and one is better cutting them off than letting them fester.

I was told by the shul's executive board to either trust their leadership, or to seek utopian shul somewhere else. This was on the heels of being told that the shul is not liable for any wrongdoing legally (nothing happened on their premises), while the protection of children and members "not in the know" is not their concern. I was not even given an opening to discuss my concerns and wishes for the youth program. Funds are being allocated for learning. How it is conducted and what results it produces, and under which conditions is none of their business. It has to look right. When it is rotting from within and you expose that, you must be the troublemaker, because you just do not understand how much effort has been put into tending this garden.

Some gardeners will not have the strength to pull out the plants that have turned into weeds, seduced by their appearance. Some garden beds just need to be walked away from.

As for me, let me know where I can find an utopian shul that welcomes children, takes their safety seriously, and fosters women's learning.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Courage when facing authority

Shemot 4:29

וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ מֹשֶׁ֖ה וְאַהֲרֹ֑ן וַיַּ֣אַסְפ֔וּ אֶת־כָּל־זִקְנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the Israelites.
A few pesukim later, Shemot 5:1
וְאַחַ֗ר בָּ֚אוּ מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְאַהֲרֹ֔ן וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ אֶל־פַּרְעֹ֑ה כֹּֽה־אָמַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל שַׁלַּח֙ אֶת־עַמִּ֔י וְיָחֹ֥גּוּ לִ֖י בַּמִּדְבָּֽר׃
Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Let My people go that they may celebrate a festival for Me in the wilderness.”

The obvious question is, if Moshe and Aaron gathered all the elders of Israel, showed them the signs, and convinced the people. why is it that only Moshe and Aaron are standing before Pharaoh?
Rashi on Shemot 5:1
ואחר באו משה ואהרן וגו'. אֲבָל הַזְּקֵנִים נִשְׁמְטוּ אֶחָד אֶחָד מֵאַחַר מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן, עַד שֶׁנִּשְׁמְטוּ כֻלָּם קֹדֶם שֶׁהִגִּיעוּ לַפָּלָטִין, לְפִי שֶׁיָּרְאוּ לָלֶכֶת; וּבְסִינַי נִפְרַע לָהֶם, "וְנִגַּשׁ מֹשֶׁה לְבַדּוֹ אֶל ה' וְהֵם לֹא יִגָּשׁוּ" (שמות כ"ד) – הֶחֱזִירָם לַאֲחוֹרֵיהֶם (שמות רבה):
ואחר באו משה ואהרן AND AFTERWARDS MOSES AND AARON CAME — But the elders slipped away one by one from behind Moses and Aaron until every-one of them had slipped away before they arrived at the palace, because they were afraid to go there. At Sinai they were punished for this, for it is stated (Exodus 24:2) “And Moses alone shall draw near unto the Lord, but they, (the elders; cf. Exodus 24:1) shall not draw near” — He bid them stay behind. (Exodus Rabbah 5:14)

I taught this to my son this year. I am thinking about how every time one has to face the authority and the consequences, there will be redeemers, and there will be elders, the ones who will stay on the sidelines with perfectly good excuses and see how it all plays out. The elders get punished because staying out of conflict is still making a choice, and that choice carries its own consequences.
המבין יבין

Monday, July 30, 2018

feeling of failure

I have this awful feeling that I'm failing at things before I even start them. 

It is scary to admit this because this mindset will surely keep me behind. I know all about fixed mindset vs growth-oriented mindset. I try to encourage this growth in my children. It is also scary because this mindset of failure was reinforced my whole childhood and I subconsciously transferred it onto my oldest. Don't try this, it's no use long-term. Don't do this, it's not your strength. You're considering this?! Why would anyone do it? For some reason I have lower expectations of other children, not really lower, but different, so I give myself that second of breathing space and I am less likely to see whatever they are doing as aggravatingly unproductive. In that second, I manage to reframe their occupation as useful, unschooling, life-skills. I put a positive spin on it, and voila! In the new light, they can grow.

I keep screaming at myself "You are enough! You have done enough! This is good enough!" But deep down, every completed task feels like "Ok and now what? You could be doing so much more. You should be doing so much more. Why are you not doing so much more?"

Every time I think I made progress in this area, the same feeling of not really getting anywhere hits, and I find myself right back where I started.

And that terrifies me, especially as it will be reflected in the mindset of my son.

Only by being gentle with him, will I learn to be gentle with me. Or maybe I have it backwards, and only when I feel myself to be worthy of gentleness will I be able to bestow it abundantly on all my children. I wonder about hereditary low self-esteem, and how often it is demonstrated by pushing the offspring to accomplish what the parents were not able to do while berating the children for not reaching higher, going further, caring deeper.
Image result for you are enough

Friday, July 6, 2018

When is the right time?

 There used to be this post going around how at different points in life you want different things, but you don't have them when you want them. It was something like you want sleep when you're a new parent, and energy when you're old and money when you're young. It was true but ironic.

I got to the pool today. I ended up bringing only 8 yo and 5 yo which meant that the youngest who still does not swim and who resembles Heihei from Moana will not repeatedly try to drown. There were friends for both of these kids to swim with. I brought my swim cap and goggles. That meant I was all free to swim, right?

At some point in my life, around high school and college, I would have done anything for an opportunity like this. I loved the water, I loved swimming. I felt comfortable. I had half a year of swim lessons/team. All that was missing was free access to the pool, and ability to swim separate from men.

I got in the pool, swam here, swam there. I did yoga earlier in the day, and that was more intense than expected. I still could not work out my breathing. After two rounds across the pool, not even two laps, I was out of breath.

My mom friends offered to go sit near the lap pool so I could swim laps. I laughed, because I had no ability to do those laps.

Here we go, the opportunity was here, but I had no ability to make the most of it.

And then it thundered.
And the kids, who were not done, begged to be taken to the indoor pool. And I had zero desire get into the much cooler water again.

May our opportunities and our abilities match up.