#BlogElul 15: Change is Hard, but Change is Good

Today, I had the pleasure of leading the opening faculty meeting for the teachers in our Religious School.  Being new to this position, I’m making some changes. Some because they just make sense to me, some because they are the right choice for this moment in this religious school.  I’m really excited about some of these changes and really hope to see great results.  Even though the changes at the outset are small, I think they are significant.  I truly believe it is an exciting time for our school and our lifelong learning community.

But I also know that change isn’t easy–for us as individuals or in terms of communal change.  Change can be painful and challenging.  Change brings us out of our comfort zone.  Change means that the patterns we are used to look different.  Change means we need to be conscious of the world in a different way.

But change is necessary over time–evolution happens.  And sometimes, the opportunity offered by what looks like a difficult situation becomes the chance to try something entirely new.  And that might feel uncomfortable at first.  But that might also become exciting and wonderful.

And it is a little bit scary to implement change.  For ourselves, absolutely, but also when we are in a position to make change that has an impact on others.  And so, when we have that chance, we do so carefully.  But, we also know that sometimes we are the only ones that can make that change happen.

And sometimes, the change that happens–whether it is change that we influence or change that influences us–causes a shift in our thinking.  And helps us to shape many of our thoughts in new ways.

#BlogElul 11: Trust

I know I’m behind in blogging.  A busy schedule and a summer cold got the best of my writing schedule.  But I’m back!!

One of my favorite aspects of the rabbinate is bringing new people into Judaism.  Working with people who are on a journey of discovery and, with many of them, helping them find their place among the Jewish people. I love being there through the process through which an individual realizes that they are ready for conversion.  At their moment of relief upon finishing the Beit Din (ritual court–a panel of educated Jews, usually clergy, who officially recognize a conversion candidate’s readiness to enter the covenant of Judaism).  At the holy time of immersion in the mikveh.  At the sacred second that they embrace the Torah scroll and receive their Hebrew name and officially become a member of the Jewish people.  I love it.  It brings me so much meaning.

Right now, several individuals in the community I just left are finishing that process and are in the midst of becoming Jews–talking with the beit din, visiting the mikveh, and next week they will have their official ceremony together.  I am so proud of them and so honored to have been there for the start of their journeys.  I’ll watch their ceremony via technology–but I’m sad that I’m not there in person.  But my personal emotion of the moment is just as evocative as if I were.  The hugs I’ll give them may be virtual, but they’re just as real.

And thinking of the end of their journeys brings me back to the very first moment that each of these individuals started their journeys.  For some of them, I remember the first time they came to services.  But mostly I remember the first time they sat in my office, to have a conversation, to begin the exploration, to start themselves on this path towards becoming Jewish.  Even those folks that didn’t finish the path with the choice to become Jewish–even that exploration is a holy journey.

I’m a little bit awed by the trust of those moments.  The trust that they needed to have in me, to guide them and to hear their story and to accept them.  The trust that I had in each of them to believe their intention and to help them to enter the process.  The trust of that first step.  For all of us.

I love helping someone take that step, as much as I love watching them take that final step.  In whatever journeys I take in my own life, I hope that I am blessed with such trust along each step.  And I look forward to watching each step that these new Jews take once they step out of the mikveh and off of the bimah.  I’ve been lucky enough to be there for so many along the steps getting there and the steps after that.  I am so thankful for their trust.  And so glad that I trusted them to take those steps along the journey.

#BlogElul 7 Be: Free to Be ME

One of the harder lessons of life, that I’m still learning, is to be me.  To not try to be someone else.  To not try to live up to standards that have been set by another.  To not try to satisfy the scripts that often run through my brain.  One of my favorite albums as a kid was Free to Be You and Me.  Perhaps I got even then that I needed the lesson:

I have learned to be me and to love me: to love my life and my body and my self and my ideas and my thought process.  But it’s not always easy.  There are so many voices out there offering to change all that for, what they assume, is for the better.  “Let me help you lose weight,” “How can I help you find a boyfriend,” “so you’re doing education–can I help you find a job as a rabbi,” etc.  And really, no.  I have chosen my life and I like my life.

I get that people want to help.  But what if we all learned to accept each others’ lives for what they are and assume that the person beside has made the choice to have that life, unless they tell us differently.

My life might not look like yours.  My life might not look like I may have imagined it would be in childhood.  But it’s what I embrace.  I not only accept it, but I love it and embrace it and choose it.  I choose to be my life.

What if this were a year in which we all were able to be in our own selves…and in which we were all able to not try to impose our own ideas onto the selves that others have embraced. Can we all be and let be?

#BlogElul 6: I Know Things Now

This past winter, I was delighted to watch the new movie version of Into the Woods, long one of my favorite musicals.  I thought the movie did an overall good job with the material, although there were some editorial changes that I wouldn’t have made.  But I especially liked their portrayal of Little Red Riding Hood.  The character of Little Red in the musical as a whole makes overt the metaphoric and moralizing nature of the original Perrault telling of the story: don’t stray off the path, big bad wolf, life is better with granny, don’t go talking to strangers and walking in the woods, red is not a color for proper young ladies, etc.  The musical, of course, sort of turns it on its head, as it does with all of the fairy tales involved, but makes clear that she is symbolic of the early adolescent struggle of losing one’s innocence as one gains experience.

The song she sings right after the wolf incident, is, appropriately called, “I Know Things Now.”  From the original Broadway production:

And as portrayed in the movie:

To me, by casting an actress in the role is of the approximate age that Little Red is supposed to be, the message is powerful.  The recognition of the reality that young people live on that brink between the excitement of new experience and the need to be protected.  Between the fear of unfamiliar feelings and the comfort of what we knew before.  And they are trying to figure out what they like and sometimes have mixed feelings about their experiences. And of the fact that as adults, we cannot entirely protect children.

But the most powerful tool we have to offer is knowledge.  It’s the most powerful tool that any of us have, really.  The more we know, the more aware we are of our world and ourselves, the more ready we are for anything that the world throws in our direction.

As I get our synagogue ready for this new year of learning, that’s the most important question I keep returning to: What are the most important things that I want others to know?

#BlogElul 5 Accept: These Things I Know

I accept that religious school starts exactly 1 month from today.

I accept that Rosh Hashanah is even sooner.

I accept that the first day of school will not look exactly the way I envision it.

I accept that some of those small ideas that I have come up with will not be in place by then.

I accept that there will be challenges that I have not yet imagined.

I accept that some of the challenges I perceive will actually be easy moments.

I accept that some of the things I try will not work and will go poorly.

I accept that there will be ideas that arise that will be better than I imagine.

I accept that there will be people who will not like me–not matter what.

I accept that there will be people who love me–no matter what.

I accept that there will be criticism.

I accept that there will be praise.

I accept that I will make mistakes.

I accept that all of the people around me will also make mistakes.

I accept that it will all be good.

I accept that I will be successful.

I accept that all of these ideas that can be hard to accept–but that they are true.

And I accept that sometimes I need to remember all this.

#BlogElul 4: Understanding and Empathy

Today, I stopped for coffee on the way to work, as I often do, at the local coffee chain (it’s a local chain, not a national conglomerate–it’s the kind of place that still has a local feel.  There was a sign on the door as I walked in that they were taking cash only, due to computer problems.  “Fine,” I thought to myself.  “I’m pretty sure I have cash on me.”  Alas–while I was in line, I noticed that I only had a large bill (not a normal occurrence, by the way, but I had been going through a purse that I hadn’t used for a while and found it in a side pocket just the other day–I hadn’t yet gotten to an ATM to deposit it.

Perhaps, I was meant to come across it in that moment, so I could have the moment this morning.  Sometimes, the universe gives us the messages we need.  If we choose to interpret the universe that way.

I got to the front of the line and ordered my drink.  And apologized as I handed my bill over to the man working the register, because I’ve worked registers and I know it’s a pain to make change for large bills.  He told me that he couldn’t take it.  I looked at him with a look of I’m not sure what feeling my look conveyed…my early morning thoughts were something like, “but….coffee…need…only money I have….” As another woman behind the counter went to take the bill to bring it to the management, as an act of kindness, when the woman behind me in line spoke up.  “Let me pay for it.”

Maybe she was in a rush and didn’t want to wait, but I choose to believe that it’s because she had a moment of understanding.  Of having been there.  Of knowing that I needed something at that moment (a first world problem kind of need, but at that moment, a need) and couldn’t get it and probably having been there in some way.  A moment of empathy.

And a moment that made me smile.  The woman behind me in line gave me the espresso over ice that I needed.  But she also gave me a smile.  And a feeling of having been understood.  And it’s that feeling that I think is what we all truly need in the world: to be understood.

It is up to us to figure out how to understand those around us.  To help them get what they need, whatever it is.  To help them to be heard and understood.  And then to give that feeling, that smile, to another.

#BlogElul 5775 2: Acting through emotions…sometimes

There is so much pressure on us to always act like we are ok.  To smile despite inward turmoil.  To grin, even when we are hurting–mentally, physically, emotionally.  To pretend that we are doing just fine–even when we feel anything but fine.

And yes, that can be helpful.  Sometimes, by choosing happiness we are able to experience happiness.  But, sometimes, it should be ok to not be ok.  To admit that we’re worried or stressed or sad or in pain.  To let people know that today, we aren’t really doing all that well.  We shouldn’t have to always pretend.

It is ok to be in our feelings–to admit to pain that we feel.  To allow ourselves to feel it.  We don’t have to smush it down and pretend it doesn’t exist–that doesn’t make it go away.  And it doesn’t mean that we are automagically ok.  We can hurt sometimes–it’s part of life.  It’s part of the human experience.

I find at those moments when I admit to those with whom I’m close enough to admit these things, that they are grateful to learn that they aren’t the only ones.  And, even though we might put on a public face of being ok–and act like the world is all full of only the wonderful–it’s important to recognize the face that is underneath, as well.  And to know that the person we are looking at–they may be acting, as well.

#BlogElul 1 5775: Prepare to be unprepared

I feel as if all I do these days is prepare.  Having just moved and started a new position, my life is full of preparing: unpacking boxes to prepare a new home and a new office, preparing for High Holy Day worship, preparing a sermon, preparing for a new school year.  There’s a lot of logistics.  My brain is somewhat full of them.

And there are moments at which I am terrified that it won’t all be ready.  That the classrooms won’t have the right numbers of the right books.  That the teachers won’t have the right supplies.  That my sermon won’t be exactly as I envision it.  That the first day of school assembly won’t have everything in place.

And then I realize that, well, in al likelihood, I’m right, to a degree.  It won’t be all ready and it won’t all be perfect–because it never is.  It will be enough.  And it will be good.  And no one else will know that it wasn’t exactly how it was meant to be.  Because that’s how life goes.

Perhaps, if we take this same attitude in preparing ourselves–recognizing that we won’t get it all 100% perfectly right next year, either, we can forgive ourselves ahead of time for being human.  And know that what we are really preparing for is to do our best.  And prepare as much as we can, so that when the unknown happens, we know that all the other pieces are in place.

Changes

I don’t like transitions.  I’m not good at transitions.  I know this as a teacher–it’s my weak point in lesson plans.  But also personally, it’s just not something I’m good at. I don’t like endings.  I don’t like saying goodbye.  I don’t like knowing I wont be able to return to comfortable patterns.  I don’t like that I can’t depend on those aspects of life upon which I’ve come to rely.  Even when I know the end result will be a good one, I don’t like the process of getting there.  I know I’m not alone.

And this transition, leaving a position I’ve loved and realizing that I needed to move on in order to grow, and going to an amazing new opportunity that will give me so much room to learn and explore and succeed…this transition has been really tough for me.

Maybe it’s because I’ve established roots.  Or because I’ve made some really good friends.  Or because I’ve had an impact through my work and, in ways, through just being here.  Or, probably, all of the above and more.  I’ve had a great experience these past years–and I know that many have been influenced by my time here.

But I also know it is time to move on.

And I also know that it’s really, really hard.

I had a spat with a friend earlier.  So many, those I think of as my closest friends and others in the community also, have been so supportive and wonderful through this.  They’ve given me what I needed and what I wanted.  They have been great.  This friend has been, too.  But then I took out all my emotion on my friend because at another moment, that friend couldn’t be there in the way that I wanted.  It was selfish of me.  And it wasn’t fair of me. I know that. I feel bad about that. I even knew that when I lashed out.  But I felt hurt–mainly because of the hurt that I feel upon leaving here.  And I felt anger–not at my friend, really, and not even at the situation–but anger at the fact that I didn’t want things to change in life as I know it before I leave, knowing how much it’s going to change as I drive away tomorrow.  Frustration that the patterns that I had grown used to were entirely broken, before they were supposed to be, without any forewarning.  I lashed out because I had to lash out at change–and so I latched onto the change that was apparent.  I hope my friend accepts my apology.  I hope my friend gets where I was coming from.  And I hope that I’m able to be kinder to other friends as I move through this moment.  I hope that I am given kindness, as well.

But, yeah, transition is difficult. Change is hard.  Even when it’s good change.

And that’s where I am.  I’m sad.  I’m really sad.  And that’s coming out at times in ways that I don’t expect.  And I’m excited.  I’m really excited.  And I’m happy.  I’m really happy.  And I know that amazing things are ahead of me.  I am going to a great place to do great work.  And I know that I will.

I’m just a bit sad getting there.  And I think that’s ok.

#BlogExodus 9 Bitter

How did bitter (the flavor) get such a bad rap? How and when did it attain a negative reputation?

I assume (and please correct me if I’m wrong), that the feelings associated with the flavor and the metaphoric use of it came later than the idea that it was a bad taste.

Do we not like the taste of bitterness because we know that it’s “bad” or does it have a bad connotation because of its inherent nature?

The fact is that the taste of bitterness, on its own, isn’t pleasant.  There are many toxic substances that are bitter, so this is perhaps a piece of the makeup of the universe helping to guide us towards life.  It ultimately comes down to an argument of nature or nurture–do we not like bitterness because we know it’s bad or do do we assign it a negative connotation because it can be bad?

But here’s what’s interesting: bitterness combined with other flavors is really, really tasty.  Bittersweet chocolate, a good gin and tonic, and coffee are all really tasty (to my tastebuds, at least–other bitter combinations may be on your list).  Bitterness works in a complex way, helping to sharpen a flavor experience and offer a unique taste.

And perhaps that’s why we eat bitter herbs during the Passover seder–why we mix it with the sweet charoset, as well as eating it on its own.  Bitterness can transform other flavors–and can become a uniquely pleasurable flavor of its own when another flavor is brought to it.

Like life.  When bitter things happen, when we feel bitter, or when we have a bitter memory–other experiences can help to transform that bitterness into something different.  The sweetness of spending time with a friend, the salty catharsis of tears,  the electricity created by a sour moment, and umami–well umami just makes everything more interesting.

Our bitter times may still be bitter–they may still bite at us through memory throughout our lives.  But we do not have to be or become entirely bitter.  We can transform those times into futures of delicious complexity.

Our slavery in Egypt was  collective time of bitter experience.  As we moved away from it, though, it became an experience through which we tasted freedom–and became a people.