Field of Unrealized Potential

I so love this time of year. The feelings of possibility, newness, and change that come with the fall have always made it my favorite season. It was only really after I started learning more in Israel that I came to appreciate the cycle of the Jewish calendar and how it so accurately reflects and prompts our inherent needs for growth.

We have entered the Hebrew month of Elul and are approaching the High Holidays – The Days of Awe. I wanted to share a bit of Torah around this time of year from a great teacher of mine, Rabbi Mike Feuer, in hopes that his words and explanation of the potential we can tap into will inspire you as well. This is what I’m thinking about these days.


“But there is another type of field, the quantum field of unrealized potentials, of possible futures waiting to be. It offers freedom of self, identity unbounded by the personality I have constructed to cope with the past and serve me in the present. How is it possible to leave my failings in last year if I don’t know what I look like in the next?

This is our national problem and our personal problem – we don’t know who we want to be. We can’t defeat Hamas because we don’t know what victory looks like, we can’t build a just society because we don’t imagine justice. And I can’t let go of my flaws because I can’t imagine my healthy spiritual self.

Even if we can imagine it, we are afraid to believe in our possible future. We are stuck in a “Newtonian” conception of the universe, and of our lives, which undermines our ability to change. We think we are playing out the inexorable results of initial starting conditions, that what is flows only from what was, and wholly defines what will be.

To enter into Elul is to step out into the field of dreams. To imagine redemption, envision spiritual wholeness, evoke national realization. To touch the prophet within, awakening the purity of connection to Gd and self unleashed at Sinai.”

(Read more here)


 

What would you reach for if you weren’t afraid of failure? Can you envision your highest self?

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Between

“Through a historical catastrophe – the destruction of Jerusalem by the emperor of Rome – I was born in one of the cities of the diaspora. But I always deemed myself a child of Jerusalem, one who is in reality a native Jerusalem.”  Shai Agnon, upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1966


 

Some things will never change. Like how I feel instantly and deeply at home in the crisp fall weather of coastal New England, where the painted leaves line the sky and the smells of wood burning and salt water bring a deep calm to my soul. Like how when I read a street sign here, no matter how many years I’ve read Hebrew, my eyes will always fall upon the English instinctually, following the path of least resistance.

We’ve chosen otherwise. Living a life full of difficulties we never would have faced if we had continued the lives we were born into in America. We have good reasons, which I’ve written about before. It often feels easier to speak of our ideals and hopes rather than our struggles yet when I push myself to write, this topic is always resting just below the surface. Sometimes, more often than I like to admit, our ideological values don’t feel strong enough to withstand the weight of my yearning to feel at home, among the familiar.

I wonder how long it will take my children to notice the longing in me, a result of the two personalities I’ve cultivated. The American Jenna is developed, strong, independent, educated and passionate about big issues. Confident enough to speak about them freely and devote her life to them. The Israeli Jenna, on the other hand, is newly born, shy, reserved, embarrassed to speak a restaurant order in the native language let alone share her views on an important topic. How is it that in my foreign home, my historically accidental home of America, I feel more like me? And yet in my ancestral homeland, where a much deeper part of me has ached to return for generations, I feel foreign and meek, hoping to go unnoticed by shuk vendors and street walkers. It feels like I must be missing some part of the story. I wonder when and if this will ever change.

It hasn’t been long that my family has called America home. A grandchild of immigrants myself, I am part of the first generation that grew up feeling fully American without the weight of my parents or grandparents’ past lives in far away places haunting me daily. Rather, it was a truth I could easily place aside and access when conjured. It is almost poetic that I would complete the cycle, uprooting and returning to the land we came from so many years ago. Almost.

The fact that lingers with me on the days my longing to be near my family wells up and almost overflows is this: Now that I have been opened to this land and my ancestry, to our place in the bigger story, if I were to go back, I would long for Israel and the effortless holiness that lives in her stones. I cannot imagine raising children who don’t start off with Israel feeling like home, like their deeply familiar place no matter where they choose to travel. For now, it seems, I will remain stuck in between worlds. The transitional generation. It is fitting, I think now, that I was born on the water and instilled with a love for the desert, always intended to be missing something fundamental.

She Looked Right at the Heavens

“She looked right at the heavens, prideful, questioning, and that was worrisome indeed.” – Alice Hoffman, The Probable Future


I can remember it in my whole body, as if it happened minutes ago. The phone call that changed my life, shifted my perspective, set off the beginning of the events that would lead me to where I am today.

September 4th, 2008. Having just days before said farewell to my friends from home, I am beginning my senior year of college. Full of hope and the exciting unknown possibility of graduate schools and career options ahead of me. The weather is still warm, though I have packed mostly sweaters in hopes of the brisk, fall air descending upon us soon. I’m catching up with college friends. We’re filling each other in with details from our summers – internships, breakups, travels. Frivolous things fill our minds – our new classes, how much work will we have, who is throwing the first party of the season. I’ve just returned to my dorm room with a friend I don’t feel particularly close to. The last few minutes of unburdened chit chat.

The phone rings. My eye recognizes the number on the caller ID without needing to see a name, a number of someone I couldn’t forget if I tried. I wonder why he is calling, what he could want.

I answer the phone. “Hi, Jenna. Long time. I need to talk to you. Where are you? Are you alone? Can you sit down? I have some bad news…”

And then it struck. Hit me in a core deeper than anything I knew. “Jeremy’s dead.”

I collapse, scrambling to fit the words together. Shattered. We are both crying. Our differences seem silly at the moment in the face of such permanence. I somehow make enough sense of the details to nod and say, “I understand. I’ll see you soon.” The friend who has uncomfortably been observing this devastating moment politely asks if he can do anything before I dismiss him.

When he leaves and I am alone and my mind races in endless circles. I try to dial my boyfriend but only get a voicemail message. Our last words had been unpleasant, taking the space for unimportant arguments for granted. That conversation being marked as “before” in my mind, as all that preceded the phone call would come to be named.

I call my best friend across the country, another friend of Jeremy’s, and am met with no answer. I’ll later find out his phone was lost in a garden somewhere and he went on for another full day unaware of what had occurred. When he finally called me, I screamed and sobbed at him for abandoning me in these moments and made him swear to never die. I tell my parents, my sisters. I call a new friend without knowing why or what to say and she comes over to be with me so that I’m not alone. She would quickly become another best friend and remains so, from across the ocean, to this day.

The separations between the next few days are blurred. I can’t eat, my sleep is fitful and feverish, my dreams full of flames and broken glass. I take a train home and cry the entire way. No one questions me or interrupts my mourning. My group of friends who recently parted ways to start school is reunited, somber, supportive of each other in a way that requires few words and lacks the maturity or experience to do much else. I lose 6 pounds in 5 days. I am led into the funeral with a friend at each side, holding me up for I fear I may collapse under the weight of my brokenness. I am the last the to leave the graveyard after the burial, unwilling to accept that we are leaving him there. The air is cold and the sky is gray, as if all the color has been sucked into the ground with him.
After a few days, I return to school dazed, duller, angrier and begin the steep climb back to normalcy. I am convinced the grief will never lift, that the world will always appear slightly darker. I am furious at no one. Nothing seems important or relevant. I cry uncontrollably at inappropriate times and make those around me uncomfortable. I explain my absence to my Existential Philosophy professor and he apologizes for the content of the class ahead of time, telling me if I’d like to transfer out, he’d understand. I am surrounded by support but have never felt so alone.


This was the beginning, Jeremy. Our friendship, our conversations in your life and death, have led me here. We met when we were young and reckless and knew no bounds. I wonder today, 6 years later, who you would have been if you were still among us in human form.

You had just turned 21, with unbounded energy and potential. Our adventures with our friends during those long summer days – full of parties and questions and heartbreaks and midnight cookies will always be perfect in my mind.

I grasp at memories I have of you yet, over time, I feel them moving farther away. As my grandfather once said after losing my grandmother, loss is like have a song stuck in your head while slowly forgetting the tune.

My entire existence was thrown into question on this day, 6 years ago. I became furious with a God I had previously refused to acknowledge and was eventually no longer satisfied living a life without seeking something greater. To have known you, to have been forced to ask fundamental questions because of your early departure, means to always feel your presence as a grounding backdrop during my life’s most important moments. You were there when I traveled to Israel for the first time, when I stood under the wedding canopy, when I birthed my son. When I feel the soft breeze at dusk in the desert, when I hear my baby laugh, when I cry out in pain. In those moments when I’ve come closest to that endless expansiveness, I come closer to where you are. You’ve lost your boundaries and have touched the infinite and through that journey, have brought us all a little closer with you.


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My Biggest Fear

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I’m just going to say it. I am terrified of speaking Hebrew. Actually, more accurately, I am terrified of sounding dumb, uneducated, foreign, unconfident, shaky, unsure, un-me. For me, this is scarier than the sound of rockets that wake me in the night and the constant threat of war we live with. I’m not exactly sure what it is that paralyzes me when a nice old man tries to make conversation with me in the waiting room or a construction worker/shop owner/secretary comments on how I should be doing something different with Maor (Dress him warmer! He’s boiling in there! He needs more air! Less sun!) or asks me how I like the carrier I’m using/can I believe how hot is is?/does the amber teething necklace actually work? I actually feel frozen, stuck, forgetting all language and social capabilities that I have in those moments (I promise, I actually do have some. Somewhere.) I’ve never spoken to our downstairs neighbors and I’m sure they think I am the most unfriendly tenant whenever I smile and avoid eye contact as we pass by each other on our shared walkway. When an old woman chastises me for making too much noise with my shuk cart early in the morning by simply wheeling it down the street (true story), the comebacks and retorts well up inside me and the poisonous outrage is stuck inside, lacking the necessary vessels to transport them out my mouth and into the world.

The ironic thing is that I am starving for more human interaction (outside of my amazing, english speaking community). In general, it is what feeds me and makes me who I am. In my past life, as I like to call my life up until moving here, I thrived in communication. I had intended to make my career around speaking with and connecting to people, studying the various nuanced ways to do just that. Here, I feel victorious when I successfully make an appointment or buy my groceries with the most minimal amount of questioning.

I even feel embarrassed just writing these feelings into existence (which is why it felt crucial do so), as if it makes them more real or permanent, as if it changes my situation in the least.

Please – resist the urge to give me advice. I’ve heard it all and actually have come up with all the obvious answers on my own. I actually can’t believe when a well meaning person suggests, as if it is a novel concept to me, that I just need to speak in order to feel more comfortable. That once I can speak Hebrew more confidently, I will feel more at home in all areas of my life. And therein lies the problem. This knowledge, the pressure of knowing exactly what I need to do and feeling unable to do it is building in me at every single possible moment of speaking and each time I shy away, give a one word answer, smile and nod, I feel as though I’m getting farther and farther away from ever being able to successfully speak and therefore exist here. As if I can reach a point of no return where I’ve passed up on enough chances and the doors will close. My language privileges will be revoked and I will be doomed to be silenced for the rest of eternity. Sounds a little crazy, I know. But really, if you see me on the street speaking (or not, as it may be) to someone in Hebrew, it’s all happening. The snowball effect of my self-doubt.

And what is the best-case scenario, really? That I get over my ridiculous fear and speak more freely, become relatively fluent but always with an accent, with a clear sign to all around me that I am a foreigner in my homeland (more on that soon). I am different. I will never be from here, understand all the subtleties of language and interaction, comedic timing, puns, and the like. My kids will forever be embarrassed by my attempts. It is a blow to the ego, let me tell you!

I think this is really what it comes down to. Accepting this ideal fate as different than how I’d pictured myself but ideal nonetheless. I don’t need to elaborate now on how strongly I feel about making aliyah (moving to Israel) and our part in history by doing so. And when I think about previous generations and how hard they had it, or people who are actually fleeing their birth places and cannot return, I think, “Toughen up, Jenna. You’ve got it easy! You’ll be fine.” But it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is where I am, at this moment in time (and hopefully not too many future moments) and it is real and hard and some days I’m motivated and make progress but sometimes I feel hopeless and homesick and bitter that I need to work so hard. But I do, and I will. And someday I hope, in my old age, I will meet a new, unsteady immigrant, wondering what they’ve just done and why the littlest things in life seem impossible when all the big things finally make sense and I will smile and reassure them, as I, and all those who have done this before me, are reassuring me now. Baby steps.

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{this moment}

My morning light.

My morning light.

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

Milk and Honey

Today is just like any other day, but different. It is one of those days where the first rays of sun make their way into my morning dreams, warming my pillow and inviting me to come greet the day. I wake up to my sweet baby’s curious face almost pressed up against mine and instead of closing my eyes and making a silent prayer that he will roll over and return to sleep, I am pulled into wakefulness, meeting the early sun’s invitation with curiosity and wonder.

We take our time getting out of bed, my newly crawling and standing boy and I. These quiet moments are becoming fewer and more far between as he excitedly learns to explore his new capabilities and more of the world around him. I am savoring this one like the sweetest sip at the bottom of the mug.

In a departure from the norm, I don’t reach for my phone to distract myself out of this usually uncomfortable, newly awakened state, passively allowing the notifications to fill me in on what I’ve missed since logging off. I wonder if I can sustain this state of gentle intrigue and curiosity a little longer, stretch it throughout the day into the moments where I need that softness, when it’s seemingly all curled up and retreated and all I am left with is the harsh realization of daily struggles and suffering near and far. Is it this easy to change the habit of comfortable despair – making simple choices that change the fabric of our days?

I sing to my sweet baby boy quietly, making my way through morning prayers, reminders of our place in this great universe and all that holds us. He laughs and pokes at my face. We cuddle and sing and dreamily look up and out the window at the quickly lightening sky, wondering what other sparks of refreshing newness the day will bring.

I wonder, perhaps naively, if we can somehow influence our surroundings by making these shifts internally. As I encounter the paradox of living in this holy land fraught with so much suffering and conflict, I strive to remain gentle. If I allow myself to open too much, I fear I will simply harden into another stone in the foundation of this impossible conflict and growing distrust.

The cultivated softness of the morning stays with us as we go farther into this new day. It is not in essence an easier or objectively more pleasant day – in fact my tiny companion is quite miserable with teething pains only soothed by cold pieces of watermelon and clinging onto me as go about our daily chores. Another day made up of similar events, of which we’ve had many, may leave me feeling irritated early on, seeking distraction or longing for nap times when I have a few moments to myself. Inspired by our shared early morning wonder, however, I stay with him, with the crying and clinging and vow, even if just for today, to approach even the smallest of harsh realities with gentleness, presence, and soft touches.

Holding Scattered Moments

I remember snapshots now, fragments of moments that hold together pieces of the last few months in my mind. Seems more fitting this way. It is impossible to hold it all at once and foolish to even attempt. Who am I to give voice to all of this?  Who am I to give up trying?

These snapshots flood me now that I can reflect, exhale, look forward.

Holding our breath while reading the news – the terrible news that keeps on coming. Our boys. Three boys. One family hanging between suspense and hope.

Eyes locking when an air-raid siren goes off – seeing our thoughts reflected in each other’s eyes.

Holding – as we run to a shelter, as we go get groceries. Every moment feels heightened, crucial and mundane simultaneously.

My dentist’s hands shaking in my mouth as he tells me of his son fighting this war. Waiting for no news at all. No news is good news, he reassures us both.

The wind knocked out – after getting the call, tzav 8, report for war. Holding each other, without the need for words.

Waking the baby to say goodbye, seeing the shadows, cast by the streetlight, of the sweetest embrace.

The breath of relief upon a quick return, soon followed by the guilt of our own fortune.

My baby son’s cries at a soldier’s funeral attended by thousands of strangers, family members we haven’t yet met.

More news. Articles, videos, soundbites. Searching for a piece of truth to hold onto, in hope of finding hope.

The suffering is unspeakable. It haunts me in sleep as much as in wakefulness.

The gust of wind during a dusk walk that brings me back to this moment. The paradox of calm existing next to chaos.

We’re getting there – back to something we weren’t aware of when we had it. The status quo, the calm amidst a constantly brewing storm.

All that is unimportant has fallen away. And I long for it. For a quiet that allows me to reflect.

I miss this place I didn’t know, even when.

I was held.

I am holding. We are holding for each other. All of existence mirrored in each fragmented, scattered moment.

A constant seeking for graceful wholeness, within and without.