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.

In A World Torn By Violence And Pain

I’m no Lin Manuel

I can’t write sonnets on stage

I can’t free verse my thoughts verbally

Sharing my innermost voice aloud

word by word

on the spot

But my words build up

In my head and pour out

And now and then I write them down

Even more rarely I share them.

And my thoughts right now are unclear

My feelings are a haze of uncertainty

The pain of my soul is a mess of confusion

Combined with the joy of my own life and personal joy

Unsure how to combine the conflict of

Joy and hope and enthusiasm mixed with tragedy and pain.

I want to understand

Those that are so against my beliefs

Those with whom I disagree on each and every opinion

I cannot comprehend how they feel pain like mine from every headline

Yet urge others to vote for the point against mine.

How can someone strive to be good

and yet support what I find hateful

What I see to be so full of dread

That I cannot understand its support.

And it is so hard, near impossible, to enter conversation

To try to gain understanding

To strive for empathetic listening

We are so trained to just disagree and reject.

But then how do we find that moment

In which we can join

And find hope

And yet I continue to hope

And find hope in hope

And even when the others don’t listen

Even when the very questions I ask are rejected

I continue

And continue to ask and to talk and to answer and to give

my own opinions

And listen to those other than mine

Because that is where I believe we find hope.

And that is the only hope

And wherever we vote,

We will be as one in the long run.

And from empathy comes sympathy and I know this

and I try to remember this

And I try to remind others of this

And it remains a challenge to sympathize with those who seem non-empathetic

Even when my own sense of inclusion instructs me

That they are just trying their best

To create a world that is just

That is perfected

That is whole.

And love is love is love

Creeps forth in its own petty pace and overrides

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

which attempts its doom and dread

And yet love and hope and promise must burst forth.

And the light of their candle remains, day by day, signifying everything.

And so I continue

to continue

and continue

To try.

And to build.

And to try.

#BlogExodus Hide

Sometimes, we are reminded that it often the best moments that are hidden throughout the day–scattered about for us to notice them.

Hearing the voices of children singing the Sh’ma; listening to their answers, both profound and silly, of what kind of freedom they want in their lives and the world…and how they can help get there; realizing the blessing of health and celebrating having gotten through past healing; seeing a picture which brings back a rush of sweet memories; hearing steel drums of a collection of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim children and teens from the Galilee; receiving an unexpected compliment from a surprising source; a flower blooming in the grass…

So many moments that often we pass by without noticing.  But like the Afikomen, we need to seek them out and find them in the crevices of life.  And like Moses wandering down a dirt path and seeing a bush that burned and kept burning, we need to stop and see the miracle on the side of the road.

#BlogExodus: Start, Honor, Purify, Grow

I know I’m a bit behind on getting started Blogging Exodus, but I’m excited to take part in this annual project again.  Thanks, ImaBima for organizing this for us this year and each year that you’ve done it!! And here are the first 4 days of Nisan, all rolled into one!

A wise friend once told me that when you notice moments of internal tension, to forgive yourself, and let go.

Internal tension can hurt us–not only mentally, but physically.  And it can block us from moving forward.  It can keep us stuck in the narrow places.  It is only when we notice that it is there, acknowledge it, forgive ourselves for having it (and, perhaps, for not even noticing it before), and then we can let it go and move on.

The Sefat Emet, the great Hasidic sage of the 19th century,  as translated by Arthur Green in The Language of Truth, wrote about Pesach, that the, “Exodus from Egypt never ends.”

How true this is–for the process of noticing, forgiving, and letting go is one that never ends.  No matter how hard we try, we have moments of tension.  The key is to notice them.

And so, we START by noticing; we HONOR ourselves by forgiving ourselves; we PURIFY ourselves by letting go; and then, and only then, do we allow ourselves to GROW.