I’m doing the right thing #BlogElul 11: Trust

I don’t put that much stock in fortune cookies, in part because they are so rarely actual fortunes these days.  But last week, after enjoying a delicious vegetarian Chinese meal in Philadelphia, I decided to open my fortune.  Lo and behold, it was actually a fortune.


And an apt one, at that.  In many ways, this year is about taking chances.  The new Sunday schedule and new Judaics curricula and other enhancements to the Sunday learning and community are huge and took much planning and development (which will only continue), but at the same time, Sunday feels relatively easy.

Wednesday has much more risk.  With a new Hebrew curriculum of individualized, self-paced learning and a new format for all Hebrew learning, the new program will be most evident on Wednesdays.  Especially with some of the kids not present during the week.

When those who come weekday will learn in an entirely different environment: With a one room schoolhouse, filled with different kinds of learning, adults to help and guide, a variety of Hebrew engagement opportunities, and student focused learning.  And with an all student prayer related lesson at the end, led by a rotation of our faculty.

The Wednesday model is a risk.  A big one.  The non-synagogue-based model for families that cannot come on Wednesdays is equally a risk, and is an idea that I am constantly evolving until we figure out a way that works best.  It’s all risky.  It’s all taking a chance.  but I think it’s worth it, as I believe it gives us a good pathway towards our kids gaining the skills that they need in order to be active Jewish adults.

I trust the system.  And I trust myself and the committee and the teachers and everyone who had input.  I trust that it will work.  I understand that the exact model we start with will likely be tweaked in order to make the most sense as we try it and experiment.  But I trust that we will navigate from the start towards that model.

I know that this will work–and I trust myself.  And that’s what brings me through my fear.  That’s what helps me to take the chance.

Without risk, we don’t have success.  Risk is scary, but risk is good, when it is entered in a considered, balanced, and healthy way.

May we all have a year filled with calculated risk.

Seeing through a haze #BlogElul 9: Observe

Some days, at least for me, we observe our own lives as if we are outside of ourselves.  Watching us go through the motions.  Doing our best to connect with ourselves, to be present and in the moment.  Getting through what we need to get through as best as we can, but not entirely capable of really being there.

Because our minds are in other places, our hearts are loudly interrupting our thoughts, because our pain–mental, or spiritual, or physical–clouds everything else.

We do our best to be.  But sometimes we are only able to observe.  And hope that we can be more actively present in our own selves tomorrow.

What did you hear today? #BlogElul 8: Hear

At 8:45 this morning,  I heard the sounds of families starting to come to religious school.  The new Gan (Pre-K) students approaching with both excitement and trepidation.  The older students either new or returning, coming to the day and the year, each in their own way.  I heard the music specialist and music madrich (teen assistant) going over the music with the cantor.  I heard the teachers chatting, waiting for me to go to meet with them for our weekly check in, as I was a couple of minutes late, having been checking in with the set up for our opening assembly.

At 9:03, I heard the opening lines of Mikey Pauker’s Hinei Mah Tova song about how good it is when people come together, as our religious school students, families, and teachers joined together with full voices.

Before silent prayer, at about 9:20, I spoke to the group about how dates are interesting and their significance changes, and that on this date in this year, we are coming together to start our year of learning together, and celebrating the start of a year of learning and improving ourselves and considering how we can challenge ourselves to be the best selves we can be–and how in our personal prayers, we can think about how we can all work towards a world that embraces diversity, seeks righteousness, and works towards peace.  I didn’t name the date, but those for whom this date is etched in fire in our memories, we all knew what I was saying.  If it wasn’t already obvious, the multiple catches in my voice as I held back tears made it clear.

It was around that same time 15 years ago that I heard the news.

At 10:05, I was talking with students and their families about the new Hebrew program and answering questions about how the program will enable the students to use their own skills and their own pace to build their learning experience.

At 10:28, I was sticking my head into our new Gan (Pre-K) classroom as the students were starting to be picked up, and saw the joy of new learning and adventure in the eyes of 3 and 4 year olds–and the smiles of satisfaction on the faces of their teachers.  A lovely moment in my day, seeing the start of a new phase of Jewish learning–the sweetness in starting something new.

How vastly different each of these exact moments were 15 years ago.  I’ve written before of my experience on September 11, 2001 and reflections after.  I’ve shared the story many times aloud, in memorial services, in conversations, in teaching, and in my own memory.

It was both easy and difficult to decide what to do on this date in Religious School.  It was easy to realize that it’s the first day of school for the year, and the first day of religious school ever for some of our students–it is a day that must focus on the joy of learning.  Especially with students for whom the events of that day are history (even the oldest teen madrichim were themselves in Pre-K 15 years ago).  But it was also difficult, to decide to not mark this day in a formal way.  For those of us who remember, for the families, the teachers…how can we not memorialize it.  And so I settled on that couple of sentences, not coloring the date for those for whom it’s just a day, but acknowledging the day for those of us who will never forget.

Hearing the shofar sound today at the end of our opening assembly was both evocative of the alarms that went off 15 years ago (literally and figuratively)–and so vastly different at the same time.  My own prayer is that hearing that sound will wake all of us up, to a world that we ourselves constantly renew.






I think I can, I think I can #BlogElul 6: Believe

Belief is a funny thing.  For some it comes easily–for others (myself included) it is a lot more challenging.  It’s hard to take a leap of faith and just believe in something.  To have a sense of knowing something that cannot be proven.

In some ways, this is most challenging when it comes to believing in myself.  Especially at times like this, sitting at the cusp of the future, and hoping for success.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that I do believe.  Sometimes, I look to others to remind me.  Other times, if i say it out loud, it helps me manifest the idea:

I believe that the first day of school will be a success (along with the rest of the year).

I believe that everything will be in place when it needs to be.

I believe in all the changes that we are making and that, while there will be bumps, that we are making the right changes.

I believe that the High Holy Days will be successful, personally and professionally.


I think prayer is a lot like that, also.  If we say these ideas out loud, they can remind us of the world we believe in.  I believe there can be a world of peace and justice.  I believe that the hungry can be fed. I believe in a world that is repaired.

And then, just like in life, we do all that we can to create that reality.

When the stranger becomes a lot less strange #BlogElul 5: Accept

Today, I went to visit the new Mormon Temple in Philadelphia.  While non-Mormons cannot generally enter a Temple, the holiest spaces in the Mormon tradition, because this Temple is new, it has not yet been sanctified, so they have opened it up for a month for tours, before they sanctify it and begin to use it tomorrow.

It was fascinating.

To be able to see a space that I would not usually have access to, to learn a bit about Mormons, and to see an architecturally stunning space with so much amazing detail in the interior design was a rare opportunity.  And one I am glad I was able to have.

Being Jewish, and being there with a friend who is also Jewish, we naturally had questions. A lot of questions.  Asking questions, after all, is what Jewish people do.  We learned pretty quickly during the tour that the folks with whom we interacted during the tour were not very interested in answering them; one man who showed us the baptismal font told us that we should ask our questions at the reception hall at the end and our tour guide (whom we were told we could ask questions along the way–and this was when we were waiting for a part of the group to catch up–sort of answered, but was clearly not comfortable answering (or perhaps, with the idea of questioning).

I actually liked my question to her and would still love an answer–if there is an emergency fix that is needed (say, a pipe bursts), do they need to have only mormons come and fix it, or can they temporarily desanctify the space? If anyone out there knows the answer, please let me know in the comments!!!

After that, we stopped asking along the tour; although we talked about our questions between ourselves and saved them up for the end.

At the end of the tour was a lovely reception hall, where several young people (mostly if not entirely female) on their mission were there to answer questions.  We didn’t think that they’d likely know the answers, but there had been a gentleman with us on the tour who was also from the church, so we asked him if he minded answering some of our questions.

And we had a lovely conversation, in which we were able to hear about his ideology and how he came to become a Mormon and what he believes.

Later on, my friend and I had a great conversation about how rare these moments are–where we are able to talk to someone from a completely different background and belief system from our own.  In which we can ask questions and learn more about something that we will never ourselves believe, but can come to understand.

I believe that it is through such conversations that we are able to accept those who are different.  The stranger becomes much less strange–very different, perhaps, but more human.  More like us.

When we learn about other people as people.  And ask questions to learn more about them and their point of view, I believe we make the world a little bit smaller.  And come a little bit closer to a world less broken.

A Haiku #BlogElul 4: Understand

When I seek to know

To hear thoughts of the other

Then I learn and grow.

We spend our lives looking #BlogElul 3: Search

How much time in a life

In a year

In a day

Do we search?

Looking for a lost item

Looking for meaning

Looking for sense in a sometimes senseless world

Looking for a glimmer of hope

Looking for an extra hour in the day

In the week

In the month


To get done what we need to

To get done what we want to

To get done what we need to do but think we merely want to

Looking to find moments of connection with those we love

To find a way to disconnect from those that repeatedly hurt us

To find a way to allow ourselves to unburden ourselves from the pain of the hurt we have felt

To find relationships with the people around us we don’t yet know

To make meaning out of the meaningless

To find a laugh

To share a tear

To connect with the universe

To connect with anything

Any one

Any moment

 Looking for the words when words don’t suffice

When there are no words

To find answers

To figure out the questions

Looking for a path

For the right path

Especially at those times when the evil of the decree seems more than we can bear

When repentance, prayer, and charity can’t possibly be the only answers

We look for a way to hope that they can

We pray that we can find a way to let them do their best

As we do our best

To keep going

To get through

To keep searching.

Imposter Syndrome and Where It Didn’t Get Me #BlogElul Day 2: Act

Confession time: I suffer from imposter syndrome…I regularly have moments at which I feel like I’m faking it.  Like I don’t actually know what I’m doing and am faking my way through my career; in the darker versions, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop when everyone else figures me out.

Rationally, I know that this isn’t the case.  I know that I’m qualified and that I’m even sometimes good at what I do.  I know that I’m working towards an additional graduate degree to become even more prepared for my field.  But, still, emotionally, I have these moments where I doubt my abilities.  When I feel like I’m faking it.

I know I’m not alone in this.  I know it’s a common phenomenon (it has a name, after all). And I do what I can do shift the tape reels that play on repeat on an eternal loop in the subtext of my brain.  And I’m generally successful.  But that creeping voice also returns.

And so, I do the only thing I can do.  I act as if I know what I’m doing.  I act despite the fear that I don’t.  I do my best and I learn from my mistakes (usually).  I remind myself of my successes.  And sometimes call upon those friends that I know believe in me and will tell me about those successes when my emotional brain won’t let me remember them.

So, yeah.  Like many folks, sometimes I feel like an imposter in my own life.  And when I do, I force myself to continue to act in the role that the world believes me to embody.  Because, then, it becomes a reality.

And perhaps that’s part of the idea of t’shuvah (repentance): to turn within to our true selves, breaking through our doubts, in order to become closer to our true selves, instead of merely acting as them.  And maybe, it is the ability to act these roles despite the doubt, that allows us to realize the vision in the long run.

BlogElul 2016

Thanks to @imabima for this annual project and this text explaining it: The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with prayers of forgiveness, but I like to think of it as a whole-person preparation activity. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I’ll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation.  

If you follow @imabima on twitter, you’ll get to see links to all of the #blogelul posts!

I spent last week on an island #BlogElul 1: Prepare

No, it didn’t travel through either time or space, there were no polar bears, and people seemed to age in a normal way–it was a much more ordinary island.  And it was where I found myself with a long-time friend and her 2 daughters for (just under) a week of camping.  Camping is not something that is in my comfort zone.  It was not my first time, but I think I can count on one hand the time that I have camped.  And it was great.  I’m guessing this will not be the only post this month about the experience.  Being away for a week allowed me to appreciate the world more, to refresh myself physically and mentally, and to return home in a way that was full of renewal.

One thing I learned (which, had I thought about it, I probably already knew, but actually doing this concretized the concept), is that when you’re camping, being prepared is the key to everything.  You need to pack everything you might need–especially when you are camping on an island, and you need to take a boat to get to any other place you might want to go.  And you need to set up your camp so that you can be ready when night falls.  And you need to have emergency items (and know what to do with them).  And you need to remember to take a flashlight with you when you leave your tent in the afternoon, so that you have it when it gets dark.  And you need to plan everything ahead of time.  When it starts to drizzle, you need to prep the area so that you (and your supplies) don’t get too wet.  When you want to cook, you either need a propane stove top or to light a fire (we used both at different times).  And you need to make sure you have enough wood to have a fire that lasts as long as you need it.  It takes a lot of preparation.

But then, time just happens.  We had very little planned schedule.  And sometimes things were spontaneous.  We would do what we felt called to do–going for an afternoon swim, reading, chatting, laughing (a lot), playing games…And sometimes we just sat around and did nothing.  And at night, after the dishes from dinner had been cleaned in the lake (so that we had them for the next morning, and so that they didn’t attract critters), we would eat some smores, put out the fire, and then go star gazing.

I think it is because everything was prepared beforehand that everything was able to just happen that way.  And I think it’s the same with the High Holy Days.  If we prepare, we can let the holidays happen.

Now, I realize that I have more to prepare than the average Jew in the pew–but I’m not really talking about making sure that the services are well planned and that my sermons are written and that my robe is clean and relatively wrinkle-free.  All that, too, but it’s more about the mental preparation.  Which is why I participate in this project each year.

If I focus on myself and my life…If I think about the messages of t’shuvah (repentance) and take part in deep and real heshbon hanefesh (an accounting of one’s life), then when I read the words in the prayer book and hear the music and listen to the sound of the shofar, I already have a sense of where I’m headed.  And my own thoughts won’t get in the way of prayer.  The holidays will happen as they happen–and I can allow myself to get wrapped up in them in a way that doesn’t require as much conscious thought in the moment.

Because I have prepared.  And I am (or will be) ready.

And, like a week of camping let me get away from so much of my usual life, the holidays can enable me to get away in a different way–in order to have a similar sense of renewal.

Thanks to @imabima for this annual project and this text explaining it: The Jewish month of Elul, which precedes the High Holy Days, is traditionally a time of renewal and reflection. It offers a chance for spiritual preparation for the Days of Awe. It is traditional to begin one’s preparation for the High Holy Days during this month with prayers of forgiveness, but I like to think of it as a whole-person preparation activity. We look to begin the year with a clean slate, starting anew, refreshed. All month, along with others, I’ll be blogging a thought or two for each day to help with the month of preparation.  

If you follow @imabima on twitter, you’ll get to see links to all of the #blogelul posts!



Pokemon Go Play and Have Fun

Like millions of other people, I downloaded Pokemon Go onto my phone this week.  I did it partly because I was interested in how technology was being used, partly because I work with young people and feel it is important for me to know their cultural language, and partly because–to be honest–it looked kind of fun.  And, I admit, it is.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, or have heard of Pokemon but don’t know anything about it, here is a good primer.  If you don’t feel like clicking, the game is an augmented reality game, based on a decades old children’s card collection game.  It’s essentially a global virtual scavenger hunt, in which you find collectable creatures in real places through your phone, and make them stronger through training and fighting with other virtual creatures.  Anyone that has heard of this new craze seems to have an opinion on it.

There have been articles on how houses of worship, like synagogues, mosques, and churches, have been designated as poke-stops or gyms–and the essential meaning of that (especially with a description being given of their historical significance, which begs the question of the balance in religion between history and relevance), not to mention how many houses of worship are utilizing this opportunity; articles questioning the safety of the game, both in terms of people not paying attention to where they are walking, in terms of people being theoretically lured into dangerous situations, and in terms of the information that might be digitally shared; pieces about how wonderful it is that people are getting outside, walking, and interacting with each other towards shared goals; much written about how some people are inappropriate in the places that they play and the way they behave; and many opinions shared about the games and its relative place in modern society.

There are those that this it is wonderful, and those that think it is dangerous and indicative of everything that is wrong in society.

What has struck me has been the number of people that have described it in negative terms, not because of its theoretical danger, but because they don’t see it as having a purpose.  I saw one comment on the facebook post of a friend in which the person said, quite bluntly, “Pokemon is for idiots.”  And that’s where I take issue.  Play the game or don’t play the game, but why be judgmental over the choices of others to engage in this particular activity or not.  And, more importantly, when did we, as a culture, lose the importance of fun and play?

Children instinctively know how to play.  It’s one of the first things we do.  But, as we grow older, play becomes unacceptable.  And I think that’s sad.  Play is good.  Play is important. Fun is a good thing, no matter your age.  I think this game and its popularity is a good reminder of that–it’s a vehicle through which people of a variety of ages are remembering how to play a game.  And I think that’s a good thing.

There is even evidence that playing this game is good for your mental health.  And that it can help those who often have trouble socializing to be engaged and social.  But even without that, isn’t it enough that people are enjoying this game?

We need to stop judging people for finding enjoyment in different ways.  Breaks are important (see: Shabbat) and fun is good for us.  We need to remember the glee that we found in childhood through play and recognize that such happiness can be found when we are adults as well.  This is not shameful.  We should not feel shame for playing this game.  We should not shame others for enjoying this game, or any game (that doesn’t harm others) for that matter.  And if we don’t like it, that’s ok too–but then find other ways to play and have fun.  And don’t yuck someone else’s yum.

Let’s bring some fun back into the world.   Looking around the world these days, I think that there is little question that we need it.