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.

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What Keeps Me

Sometimes, I am struck by moments of clear and pure gratitude for the place in which we live.

Where women gather, encircle each other to support each one’s learning, growing, mothering, being. Instead of wedding and baby showers, we rain down blessings and shared wisdom before moments of transformation.

Where among my sons first heard sounds are chassidic melodies and the words of ancient prayers offered up on high as he joins a legacy, a family, of spiritual warriors and scholarly soldiers.

Where it is difficult to leave the house and remain anonymous and alone for even a supposed stranger will strike up a conversation, share unsolicited advice and even ask to hold my baby.

Where our weekends consist of sitting around abundantly delicious tables with each other, speaking about everything from mysticism to policy, inviting in strangers and family alike, sharing all that we have, which always miraculously is just enough.

Where we share and hold both joy and mourning so fully, often simultaneously. Our songs and dance come from places of emptiness and yearning just as much as jubilance.

Where our prayers hold more meaning when said together, stemming from a deeply ingrained message, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Where our shared aching for our first homes across oceans blends with our awe of returning to a much older, yet less immediately familiar home.

Where I fumble and blush through Hebrew interactions, stumble through the disorientedness of feeling foreign and then look around me realize we are all coming back here from somewhere.

Where the weight of responsibility, the threat of missiles and the burden of the unknown leads to an inexplicable feeling of safety felt no where else in the world.

Nothing is accidental or meaningless. Our commitment to being must be reinstated daily, sometimes hourly. Conscious community keeps us going.

We share in living – from birth to death – together. Those of us with family far away are adopted by and responsible for each other.

We are seen, held accountable, challenged to go further, providing a safety net when we inevitably fall and a celebration when we reach new heights.

Nothing is simple or rational, few things are comfortable, yet a deeper, invisible magnetized pull keeps us all here.

A glimpse of the biblical landscape from atop a tall city building leaves me immediately speechless and present. The soft breeze I feel sweeping over us from the nearby desert whispers a timeless secret. To live and cry and birth and die and dance through the tears of yearning and mourning together is why we’re here.

I am a witness, a sister, a daughter, a neighbor, a humble mother to the holy next generation of the children of Israel.

I am because we all are, both near and far.

The fullest expression of what I can be, even in those moments where all of this escapes me.

Jerusalem, 1844 Photographer: Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey

Jerusalem, 1844
Photographer: Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey

Luminary

Welcome, our little big light.

Eight weeks after giving birth to our beautiful baby boy, I realized I needed to start writing again. It’s been nearly a year since I posted anything on this blog and almost as long since I’ve taken any time to reflect through writing. For me, early motherhood is pretty non-conducive to spending precious free-time sitting down and writing yet I have a feeling this makes it even more necessary.

To be honest, I stopped writing in this blog because soon after my last post I found out I was pregnant and I was torn between wanting to write about the incredibly exciting journey we were embarking on and also wanting to be modest about our news for as long as possible. I also felt incapable of and disingenuous trying to write about anything else at the time. I feel a similar tug now between maintaining our privacy in these precious, fleeting moments and yet wanting to share this awe inspiring process. Bear with me as I try to navigate between the two.

Generations: My father holding me next to me holding our newborn.

Generations: My father holding me next to me holding our newborn.

I started writing my home birth story this week because I had the sense that it was both utterly important to remember and yet quickly slipping through my memory’s grasp. There is some magical process of forgetting that happens so quickly after birth. The night I delivered, after we were all settled in and alone in our apartment again trying to sleep, my mind was racing. It wouldn’t let me get anywhere near sleep. I could not stop going over every single detail and moment of the 4 hour labor and home birth experience, as if some part of me was fighting this inevitable forgetting and whispering in my ear, ‘dontforgetdontforgetdontforget.’ I feel somewhat nostalgic already for that dream-like, dimly lit night which existed outside of time and space. The utter rawness and intensity of humanity mixed with the undeniable infinity of divine presence, all bundled into a few moments. A piece of me died that night so another could come to life. That sounds dramatic and it is deservedly so. For the days following this mixture of pure life and glimpse of death, I was both haunted by and in awe of it all. My attempt to verbalize that experience which existed beyond all words was attempting the impossible, and yet it sparked something that is motivating me to continue to try to document this journey of motherhood, living in this holy and deeply complex city of Jerusalem, and finding my, now our, place within and beyond it all.

This is my start, I suppose. A peek into our intertwined, sometimes tangled, and ever-changing lives.

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Introducing Maor Meron

In hebrew, Maor means light or luminary. Meron is a mountain in Israel across from the northern city of Tzfat, where Ben and I met. We spent many evenings watching the sun set over Mt. Meron and falling in love with Israel and each other so we thought it was fitting for our first child’s name to mean “the light of Meron” – the culmination of which resulted in this little man.

Goodnight for now.

You only see when you hear.

“July, 1967…I have discovered a new land. Israel is not the same as before. There is great astonishment in the souls. It is as if the prophets had risen from their graves. Their words ring in a new way. Jerusalem is everywhere, she hovers over the whole country. There is a new radiance, a new awe.
The great quality of a miracle is not in its being an unexpected, unbelieved event in which the presence of the holy bursts forth, but in its happening to human beings who are profoundly astonished at such an outburst. My astonishment is mixed with anxiety. Am I worthy? Am I able to appreciate the marvel?

I did not enter on my own the city of Jerusalem. Streams of endless craving, clinging, dreaming, flowing day and night, mights, years, decades, centuries, millennia, streams of tears, pledging, waiting = from all over the world, from all corners of the earth – carried us of this generation to The Wall. My ancestors could only dream of you – to my people in Auschwitz you were more remote than the moon, and I can touch your stones! Am I worthy? How shall I ever repay for these moments?
The martyrs of all ages are sitting at the gates of heaven, having refused to enter the world to come lest they forget Israel’s pledge given in and for this world:

If I forget you, O Jerusalem
let my right hand wither.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joys.
                                                                                                     Psalm 137
They would rather be without heaven than forget the glory of Jerusalem. From time to time their souls would leave the gates of heaven to go on a pilgrimage to the souls of the Jewish people, reminding them that God himself is in exile, that He will not enter heavenly Jerusalem until his people Israel will enter Jerusalem here.
Jerusalem! I always try to see the inner force that emanates from you, enveloping and transcending all the weariness and travail. I try to use my eyes, and there is a cloud. Is Jerusalem higher than the road I walk on? Does she hover in the air above me? No, in Jerusalem past is present, and heaven is almost here. For an instant I am near to Hillel, who is close by. All of our history is within reach. 
Jerusalem, you only see her when you hear. 
She has been an ear when no one else heard, and ear open to prophets denunciations, to prophets consolations, to the lamentations of ages, to the hopes of countless sages and saints; and ear to prayer flowing from distant places. And she is more than an ear.
Jerusalem is a witness. An echo of eternity. Stand still and listen. We know Isaiah’s voice from hearsay, yet these stones heard him when he said… (2 : 2-4)

It shall come to pass in the latter days…
For out of Zion shall go forth Torah,
and the word of The Lord from Jerusalem…
And he shall judge between nations,
and shall decide for many peoples…
Nation shall not lift of sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

Jerusalem was stopped in the middle of her speech. She is a voice interrupted. Let Jerusalem speak again to our people, to all people…
What is the secret of Jerusalem? Her past is a prelude.
Her power is in reviving. Here silence is prediction, the walls are in suspense…
This is a city never indifferent to the sky. The evenings often feel like Kol Nidre nights. Unheard music, transfiguring thoughts. Prayers are vibrant. The Sabbath finds it hard to go away… 
Jerusalem has the look of a place that is looked at… “The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year” (Deuteronomy 11:12). Psalms inhabit the hills, the air is hallelujah. Hidden harps. Dormant songs. “



[Excerpt from Israel: An Echo of Eternity, A.J. Heschel]

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
-Derrick Walcott

Alice in Wonderland

I absolutely love hiking in the desert. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly what it is about being there that is so moving to me, but the feeling is unmistakeable. We (my Shirat Devorah sisters and I) went to Eilat this past weekend (the southernmost point of Israel, unfortunately resembling Las Vegas in many ways). The good parts were: our hike, being on the beach, swimming in the Red Sea, getting to spend time with these amazing girls, a wacky Chabad experience, being in hottttt weather (although dressing tzniut (religious modesty) in 95 degree weather was certainly a new experience), going Jeeping (who knew that was a verb?), and going to an underwater observatorium (the humans were in the tank with the fish looking in!). The bad part was that I got a cold and spent a lot of time sleeping and feeling pretty loopy. Which was actually semi entertaining.
I wish I had more to write here but my mind is so active during the day that by the time I sit down to write something, I’m drained. So instead of trying to compose some sort of rational piece, I think will go about it in a totally irrational way and insert some quotes from myself (from notes or emails I’ve written) and others that are on my mind recently. Some background first: in my classes, we’re preparing for the approaching holiday of Pesach (Passover) which most people are familiar with. It has to do with one of the most pivotal stories in Jewish history – the exile of the Jewish people and the exodus out of Mitzrayim (Egypt) into the Promised Land (guess where!) This is an incredible story with so many deep connections that I can’t even elaborate on right now. Amazing how I can be gaining so much new insight from a story I thought I knew. Definitely more to come on that topic!
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the world is sending me crazy signals. i went out for tea last night and there was a placemat with alice in wonderland and this quote:
“would you tell me please which way i ought to go from here?”
“that depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the cat.
“i don’t care much where” said alice.
“then it doesn’t matter which way you go” said the cat.
“…so long as i get SOMEWHERE,” alice added as an explanation.
“oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
(remember that self portrait i did in high school? i totally related to her and feeling lost on a journey)
i was talking to my friend about how i related to the quote and her so much when i was younger. and then today, in class, our teacher referenced THAT SAME QUOTE in reference to the upcoming holiday and us all being on our own exodus’s and finding a path. so it was relevant when i was 17 and and its relevant now that i’m 24! and still on a journey! whoa. mamash. thank you universe. i see you! anyway, just a tiny drop in my daily ocean of experience.
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this is why i’m ecstatic. because i am learning and growing and changing and taking root and reaching for the stars every single day. my classes, teachers, these ladies i’m living and learning with – everyone is inspiring in his/her own way. the friends i’ve made. the conversations i’m having, the questions i’m asking. i have this incredible feeling that i’ve rarely felt which can only be described as “i feel like i’m exactly where i’m supposed to be.” what more could i want?
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wow it is so amazing to read this because i would have used almost these exact words a few years ago. totally viewed faith as a psychological tool. and why not! it makes perfect sense. we are highly evolved, we know when we need comfort in something. i was so so skeptical (still am) of my own developing beliefs because they started in a time of serious loss. but does the need for the feelings negate the reality of the experience? what i came to conclude, eventually, was that it didn’t matter to me any more. i wasn’t, i’m not, searching for absolute truth. for proof. for logic. i’m interested in bringing meaning to my every day life, not an easy escape.

about my own feelings and what i relate to, i love that you said this: “It’s recognition of something greater, pontification of the infinite, notions of an incomprehensible layered system that we are simply floating in. That is all very powerful/scary/beautiful and it really does transcend day to day realities. But that can be inverted in on itself, that day to day realities transcend the infinitude of conceptual space and so on. That is a kind of spirituality in itself, seeing the beauty in the menial.” yes, I have had the “highs” of religious experience (a limited amount, but significant enough to make me question the very meaning of existence. so pretty worthwhile, in my opinion). what i think is more worthwhile, however, is the day to day spirituality. connecting to the part of yourself that is open to being amazed by the world we live in. whether its a meteor shower or a rock in the desert. the vastness of the universe and the boundlessness what my own experience can be within it blows my mind. the concept of god for me is not about an all knowing, all powerful being who will make everything right, but very much rooted in the feelings of awe in the everyday. god, to me, is not a man or a king, but the connectedness of every single atom in the universe. when the divisions fall away and you have that incredible feeling that everything is one. (this is what the shema is all about!) yes – the feelings of appreciation of incredible food, a wonderful connection with another person, the feeling of sand in between my toes, the heart wrenching feeling of loss. the goal, for me, is not to transcend reality, but to be so in touch with reality (ALL of it – not just the good) that i don’t need to get high off god, or anything for that matter. that i can simply breathe in and feel secure in my own awareness, knowing that god is in me and everyone and everything around me. i don’t need religious hierarchy to inform me of these feelings. they came to me way before i had a name for them. to me, where religion comes into play is simply giving us a framework, suggestions maybe, about how to live so that we can be reminded of these feelings.
what do i believe? that’s so hard to articulate. i believe in oneness. in the good of humanity. the falling away of dualities (if one person is imprisoned then we all are). i connect with this “god” through feeling the wind in the desert and watching sunsets and really knowing another person so well that we can realize we’re the same person, that we come from the same place. to be truthful – judaism/religion is difficult for me. this imposed structure. prayer is still something that is incredibly difficult for me not to have an aversion to. my experience is so personal (yet so shared) that is find it hard to relate to words that i haven’t written. but i yearn to connect to this practice! to make my faith a part of my daily life, not just an email conversation. it is already so much a part of who i am, what i want to do with my life, how i view the world, people, nature. my journey, path, derech, right now is to figure out how to solidify my spirituality into my everyday life.
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I had such an incredible day of classes today. I go back and forth usually like 4 times a day about whether or not I can actually see myself going back to the states in 4 months. I just feel like I have SO much to learn, and want to learn. We had a talk from this incredible woman today who is pretty well known in this world (Sarah Riggler) who spent 15 years living at an ashram and devoting her life to spiritual growth and now she’s an orthodox woman. I love hearing about people’s journeys. Something she talked about that spoke to me so much is the idea that most people who are trying to be spiritual (maybe not most, but a lot) are searching for that ‘high’ feeling. Those moments when you connect with the infinity of the universe and are totally transported (being at Livnot, for me). But that true spiritual growth and progress doesn’t occur from those moments (nor is it possible to live in that space) or in picking a few practices from different places but in devoting yourself to a practice, a being or authority higher than yourself, that you will follow whether it ‘turns you on’ or not. And that is where the real learning/growth/progress/work occur. It spoke to me a lot today because I think I’ve taken that approach with Judaism a lot (in the 1.5 years that I’ve decided to actually be Jewish again, haha). When a belief/ community/practice doesn’t seem like something I like, I’ve shyed away from it. I think “i can be jewish but i wont dress tzniut or be shomer negia or even shomer shabbas. but i can still feel it. no problem.” But you’re (i’m) really losing something (still trying to figure out what) when you pick and choose elements of a religion or a practice. Granted, I’m not saying I’m not going to be orthodox, but I really see that point. And I think it is part of why I haven’t connected to conservative Judaism thus far. Nor have I really connected to wanting to be Jewish and not really having a practice. Although I’ve consistently felt the void that leaves. Anyway, my mind is racing right now. I can’t imagine not immersing myself in this learning.
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Meditation is not to get out of society, to escape from society, but to prepare for a re-entry into society. We call this “engaged Buddhism.” When we go to a meditation center, we may have the impression that we leave everything behind-family, society, and all the complications involved in them—and come as an individual in order to practice and search for peace. This is already an illusion, because in Buddhism there is no such thing as an individual.

Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Heart of Practice”

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i thank you god
for this
most amazing day
for the leaping greenly
spirits of trees
and a blue true
dream of sky;
and for everything
which is natural
which is infinite
which is yes.
e.e. cummings
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