Liminality and Purim

The holiday of Purim is almost here and so I feel that it is fitting for me to take some time to really connect to what that means. While taking a photography course a few months ago, designed for new olim (people who had made aliyah to Israel), we often discussed the concept of Liminality and how it relates to our lives in transition. I very much identified with the concept then but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. When this month rolled around, however, it seemed like the perfect time to embrace it.

“In anthropologyliminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”[1]) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes… More recently, usage of the term has broadened to describe political and cultural change as well as rituals.[3] During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt.[4] The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.” – Definition from Wikipedia

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ink into water

The cycle of the Jewish calendar is meant to guide us through the year and connect us to various  tikkunim (fixings) that we need to make in ourselves and our intentions as well as allow us to draw down the energies that are available to us in a given month.  As one of my rabbis said, the energies of the month are always surrounding us just like radio waves – the choice is ours whether we want to tune in to them or not.

In this month of Adar, the tikkun and overall theme is happiness. It is said, “When Adar arrives, we increase our joy (Talmud – Taanit 29a).” Why is happiness so important in this month? Because it is when we are truly joyful, especially when doing the most mundane tasks, that we can connect most to G!d. For some people, the moment they enter the month of Adar, the delight is completely felt and embraced. I, on the other hand, do a much better job of connecting to months like Av, a month of decreased joy and lots of mourning. For some reason, this is much more natural to me. I tend to write off the times of year when I am “supposed” to be happy and just say they aren’t for me. But is this really true? Maybe this month is especially important for me because I need to transform my natural disposition, turn it upside down, cultivate folly and embrace the liminality in order to achieve the highest state of Purim. To be able to see the potential for good in everyone.

The story of Purim is one of a battle between good and evil, of overcoming enemies (both internal and external) through hidden miracles (hidden meaning that there is no mention of G!d in the entire Megilat Esther, the story of Purim.) To commemorate this victory, we dress up in costumes, retell this story, and drink wine until we don’t know the difference between good and evil. [Interesting note – the word for “to dress up (in costumes)” in hebrew is להתחפש which comes from the same root as freedom (חופש) and to search (לחפש). Clearly there is a connection!]

I tend to run in the opposite direction of hoards of drunk people (in fact, last year I pretty much hid inside the whole day) but I think in doing this, I miss the point of this deeply holy holiday. Sure, there are people who exploit the chance to party all day but what would it mean if we could truly connect to what is in the air on Purim? The chance to shed our masks (by wearing fake masks) and let our inner light out? The possibilities are endless when we stand at the threshold and let hierarchies dissolve! The real goal of Purim is to flip our routine, our inhibitions, our egos, our judgements on their heads. And maybe, just maybe, when we are all upside down, the illusions of barriers that separate us will fall away and what is usually hidden – our truest, deepest selves – will come forth and we will be able to see the hidden sparks of light  in every one.

May we all be able to connect to the deepest truths of Purim and see the oneness that exists around us every day. Purim Sameach!

If you want to learn more about some of the  Kabbalistic underpinnings of Purim, check out the brilliant Sarah Yehudit Schneider’s teachings here.

In the meantime, enjoy some silly Jerusalem Purim images:

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Through my eyes

There are some weeks that are so full, so rich with complexities and simple truths, that there are no words. Here are some images that have stuck with me:

early morning father daughter light

early morning father daughter light

homemade fudge

homemade fudge (of course)

hey there

funny animals in my neighborhood

good morning

megillat esther made by an incredible woman in nachlaot

megillat esther made by an incredible woman in nachlaot

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yellow and blue

yellow and blue

our nachlaot onebillion rising event

our nachlaot onebillionrising event

finally time for shabbat

finally time for shabbat

Before the end of the week, I like to reflect on all that I am grateful for. Snapping pictures everywhere I go helps to remind me of this. This week, I am so grateful for the deeply meaningful relationships in my life, my ever expanding yoga community and practice (with a new space to teach (hopefully) in two weeks!), a nice reminder of our engagement from Hatunot Blog, the shifting seasons, the waves and depths of emotions I can experience, and the delicious bread from Russell’s Bakery.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom, the ability to face the present moment with grace, and much light!

In Between Spring and Brownies

We are finally tasting the beginnings of spring here in Jerusalem and I am loving it. Longer days, warm sun, fresh air cleansed by all the rain we’ve been granted this winter. Although I know it will be a short lived season and soon we will be in sweltering summer, longing for the cold nights of actually sleeping under blankets, for now I will appreciate the in-between.

There’s something to be said about in-betweens. In a yoga class once, a teacher once directed us to our own internal in-betweens. The brief, easy to miss moment when one is at the end of his or her exhale and before the next breath…and again at the top of an inhale before exhaling. Try it. What happens for you in those spaces? Are they different? For me, at the edge of my exhale, I feel calm, grounded, centered, connected inward. At the top of my inhale I feel full of life, potential, expansive. Almost like Shabbat and the rest of the week. They two paradoxes are always working within us, working in unison. The solid core and capacity for expansiveness need to work together to create the reality in which we live. These days, I am trying to connect to my breath and this notion of awareness in my daily, seemingly mundane tasks. I was reminded of the importance of this by a friend in the neighborhood who wrote: “There isn’t any moment in my day that doesn’t deserve my full attention and when I convince myself otherwise, I wind up feeling checked out and wondering what’s missing.” And look how much I could have missed out on otherwise!

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Speaking of mindfulness, I love food. I should clarify – I love eating food. And mindfully eating good food. You should know, I am not a chef. I didn’t grow up in the kitchen, helping to prepare food, like so many of my friends and my husband (who are amazing chefs) did. I have always loved food and even share a special trait with my Dad of being able to remember a meal from any given occasion in the past (he is much more talented than I in this skill – remember the squid ink pasta in Venice?) Before the days of keeping kosher, I would have easily booked an entire vacation based on food (check out my friend Local Belle‘s recent posting about foodie tourism!) Transitioning from a food lover to a food preparer, however, has been quite a mess. And while I do a lot of this:

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What I really want to be preparing is this:

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So welcome to my recent obsession with brownies. A few months ago it was Oatmeal Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies. Now it is rich, dark, fudgey, brownies. Weirdly enough, although I’m not so fond of cooking, I am loving my exploration into the realm of baking. I want to share with a super simple, fast, delicious recipe that I’ve adapted from Smitten Kitchen incase you want to share in the indulgence. These are perfect for that extra slice of time you have between preparing for Shabbat (or any huge meal) and resting, getting ready, lighting candles, etc, and somehow seem to make it all worthwhile : )

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one-bowl, simple, darkfudgeydelicious brownies

85-100 grams of an extra dark chocolate bar (70-85% cocoa), broken into pieces
115 grams unsalted butter, chopped
1 cup demarara (natural brown) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
(optional: walnuts or extra chocolate chunks)

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Pre-heat oven to 175C (350F). Place chopped butter and chocolate in a bowl over simmering water and stir occasionally as they melt together. Before fully melted, take bowl off the pot of water and stir until fully mixed. Next, mix in the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Add in the eggs and mix well. Lastly, stir in the flour and any nuts or extra chocolate that your heart desires. Pour mixture into buttered or parchment lined 8×8 dish and bake for 25-30 minutes.

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Don’t forget to lick the bowl.

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Somehow I never manage to get a picture before Ben grabs a bite…

Enjoy! And may you carry your own mindfulness with you in all of your endeavors – from walking to baking to breathing. Now time to do some dishes.

Returning, again.

This is my first attempt to publish a blog posting since the beginning of my journeys in Israel in 2011. (For some history, check out these old postings: http://jennagoestoisrael.blogspot.co.il). I came to this land oblivious as to what was ahead of me. A wide-eyed, single girl traveling the world before settling into the coming five years of doctoral work. The world, this land, was my oyster…or should I say matzah ball? My mind, my heart, my eyes were open. I was completely ready to absorb it all, have a traveling experience, and then go right back to my neat and orderly planned out life. So what happened? Everything.

I fell in love, for starters. With the land of Israel, the history of the Jewish people, my own heritage and rich tradition, my (at the time) new boyfriend and now husband. Within a little over a year, I came to this country with no plans, fell deeply into seminary learning ancient Jewish wisdom, met an incredible man with a similar journey, decided to uproot my life in America and settle in Israel, and then had a fairy tale, outdoor, organic spring wedding in the hills of Jerusalem (Thanks Yehoshua Sigala for the amazing pictures!) Today, we are both working, learning, and planting our roots here, in The Holy Land. Happily ever after, right?

Almost. When I look back at the whirlwind of my last few months, I am overcome with more emotions than I know how to verbalize. Gratitude, first of all. Awe, excitement, a longing for the past – the moments before waking that now seem much simpler, the satisfaction of listening to my intuition through adversity, missing my family. Today I am faced with challenges in every-day tasks I never thought I’d find difficult. Striving to maintain my connections to family and friends across the ocean while becoming a part of and embracing society here. I am an immigrant. I am learning more and more Hebrew every day yet it never seems to be enough. I am building a life from scratch, rather than continuing on in a life of privilege. I am humbled by this process every day (some days more gracefully than others). I am a constant student (and now teacher) of yoga – a practice that keeps me grounded and lets me fly. I am an orthodox, married woman. A homemaker. An administrative assistant for an organization doing incredible work in the field of Jewish Personal Growth (shameless promotion for The Shalev Center – check them out). A happy baker and improving cook. I am choosing to connect to and plant new roots in Israel because I believe in this land, in our people’s dream of coming back to our land. Despite all I have seemingly given up in my American life, I am comforted and reinvigorated by the idea that we are investing in our children and grandchildren in hopes that if they choose to follow a similar lifestyle, connecting to Torah and this holy land, it will not be so alien and difficult for them. A jarring, jumble of translations that fall short, foreign land and new culture. This will be their home base, Am Yisrael (the people of Israel) will be their family, no matter where they choose to go.

So this is my journey through Israel, Yoga, Judaism, making Aliyah, marriage and hopefully someday kids that I am inviting you to witness. The concept in yoga that I have come to love so much and relate to in my daily life is what has inspired this blog. Just as when we root deeply into the ground, into the earth, we are able to rise to much greater heights than we even thought possible, I hope that in my return to this land (in hebrew called making “aliyah” – literally “going up”) I am able to raise up my life and the life of my future children to new heights – both spiritually and physically. No matter what each of our life’s journey holds in store, may this concept always help to take you to exactly where you are supposed to be.