The Edge

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Three years ago today, I boarded a plane to Israel with a four-month ticket and no plans to speak of. I was terrified, standing on the edge of something so much bigger than I could have imagined. Yet something was pulling me here. It pulled me out my comfort, directly into my fear. I thought I must be crazy. But I jumped right in.

Three years later, I am waking up to these shining faces. I can’t believe I almost didn’t know them.

There are times, I’ve learned, when we approach our edge and need to decide whether to back away or step over it. There is no one-size-fits-all prescription, no mantra that works in every situation. The best we can do is tune into ourselves, that tiny voice of wisdom within who always knows what’s right.

Some days (probably too many days), I think I might have been crazy to get on that plane. I picture the life I could have been leading and fantasize about all the people I could have become, places I could have lived. Sometimes I yearn for things much simpler that aren’t possible here – living down the street from my family, eating blueberries, watching the leaves turn colors in the fall.

I can go on for hours with these games, fill in a million “what ifs.” When all is said and done, however, when I’m honest with myself and that still, small voice inside, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Here’s to you, crazy and brave Jenna from three years ago. Thanks for stepping over the edge.

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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

Yesterday

Yesterday was one of those days. You know, the ones you hear about before becoming a parent. Where the baby is screaming uncontrollably for hours and you, as the supposedly all-knowing Mother, are failing because you don’t know why or how to make him more comfortable. Where your biggest accomplishment is managing to get dressed appropriately enough for the repair man to be able to stop by and not feel embarrassed to be witnessing you in your mess of spit up and baby poop. The kind of day where you just are desperately trying to get your baby to calm down, to fall asleep, and then once he does give in for a few minutes of reprieve and you put him down, you feel empty and miss him and are sure you must be crazy.

The dishes did not get done. Nor did the shopping, the cooking, the unpacking or the countless other errands on my list. I did not figure out how to make my baby sleep better or even manage to return the phone call I’d wanted to all day.

And then my husband came home from a much more understandably long day, with actual, measurable accomplishments and asked, “What’d you do today?” like any caring, interested spouse would and he doesn’t understand why this benign questions leaves me in a puddle of tears.

And then, after hours of feeding, rocking, bouncing, and pacifying, the baby falls blissfully asleep in my arms. I soon follow, crawling into bed in the same pajamas from last night that I’ve been wearing all day at an embarrassing 7pm, leaving the dishes and the cooking unfinished, still adorned by all of the sweat, tears, and spit up from the day. A few hours later, when I’m woken up from my deep sleep by the whimpers of a hungry baby, I sit up and see his perfect face. He sees me and a huge grin spreads over his entire being. My heart melts. I’ve never felt so content. When I put him back to sleep, I’m already looking forward to the morning smiles I know I’ll be greeted with.

Yesterday was one of those days.

Maor asleep

Only in Israel

moving

After Maor was born, we decided to start looking for a bigger apartment. We felt both excited and hesitant to leave the space that had become our home for almost two years but also knew that moving would allow us necessary room to grow. We found our new apartment pretty quickly after seeing an ad posted online. I came to see the place and loved the size (a two bedroom instead of our studio seemed like a huge upgrade!) and how it was filled to the brim with light from three sides of the building. Ben came to see the place the next day and, after comparing with a few more places, we decided this one suited our needs best. The landlord agreed to send us the lease and told us to look it over and made any additions we felt necessary.

When we received the lease, Ben read it over and told me there was something I needed to read for myself. I told him I wasn’t really interested (time to read with a newborn around is very precious and I didn’t much feel like spending it reading legal jargon) but he insisted and pointed me to the end of the lease. As my eyes skimmed over the last few clauses, I did a double take upon reading the word “Messiah.” Sleep deprivation had been setting in so it wasn’t out of the question that I could be hallucinating. I read it again and realized I was not, in fact, mistaken. The clause read, “Upon the coming of the messiah, tenants agree to vacate the apartment within 15 days.” Period. As if this were a completely normal request and subject to appear in a rental agreement! The owners of the property live in America and apparently want to make sure they have a place in the holy city upon the arrival of the messiah. Seems reasonable, right?

At first we laughed at the silliness of two worlds colliding – our religious beliefs and legal contract. The spiritual and physical realms. Then I started thinking about what this could mean. “But Ben, what if Mashiach (the messiah) DOES come and then we have no where to live because everyone is trying to come to Jerusalem? And what does this say about the landlords? That their first act of this messianic era will be to evict their tenants so they have a place for themselves? And what if they belong to some fringe sect and think Mashiach is their cousin’s dog?” It was not comforting, to say the least. We went through many scenarios during the conversation, both chuckling at envisioning this seemingly far off reality and then questioning our own religious beliefs and their applications in our lives. It is what we are praying for, right? A basic tenet of Judaism being that we are eagerly awaiting and trying to bring Mashiach “speedily, in our days.” Honestly, It’s always been too huge a concept for me to wrap my head around I’m embarrassed to admit. One of those massive ideas I’ve come to terms with not fully grasping and deciding to table for the time being. But why not believe it could happen at any moment? This conversation went on for a while.

Finally, we agreed that defining the terms in the lease would make the most sense and set us a little more at ease. We told the landlord that we’d like to add in, just to be sure, that it must be the messiah as agreed upon by Clal Yisrael (the majority of the Jewish people). He laughed out loud and said, “Yes, of course.. come on, we’re not crazy!”

Follow up: Great article by Yehoshua Looks on the legality of the Messiah Clause: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/rabbis-round-table/.premium-1.573886

(click here to get behind the paywall: http://bit.ly/1bMmuYY )

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.

Soften into Freedom

Soften

Photo by James Chororos

A Yogic Experience for Rosh Chodesh Nissan

“The image is a warm spring wind steadily dissolving winter ice. This is meant to teach us that it is through perseverance and gentleness – rather than aggressiveness – that we overcome what is hard.”
– Brian Browne Walker

As you begin your practice, come into a comfortable seated position. Bring awareness to your breath and let your mind begin to settle. Start to take deep, full, cleansing breaths. Take note of any areas of tension or discomfort in your body, without judgement or resistance. As you start to feel more connected to this posture and your body in the present moment, bring the image mentioned above into your mind. Connect to your breath and feel it moving within and throughout your body. Allow the breath to be the warm, spring wind, moving to the areas of tension, melting them away. As you try to soften in that place, visualize the rough chips of ice melting away. Breathe. Connect. Soften. Repeat in whatever yoga poses you come into throughout your practice.

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I love this image, especially for Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the beginning of the Jewish calendar. True, we have more than one new year. While Rosh Hashana, in the month of Tishrei, is thought of as the anniversary of creation of the world, Nissan, most noted for the holiday of Pesach (Passover), is thought of as the anniversary for the creation of Jewish people. Pesach commemorates the Jew’s being taken out of slavery in Mitzrayim (coming from the word for narrow, meaning Egypt) in order to become G!d’s nation. Rightly so, the month of Nisan is full of references to feelings of breaking out of our enslavements – both external and internal. We don’t eat any chametz (leavened bread products) during this time as we associate them with ego, arrogance, and pride – the ways of Mitzrayim from which we’ve broken free. We have a Pesach Seder in order to retell and re-experience our story with the younger generations and in order to experience the transition from slavery to freedom within ourselves each year. We eat matzah both at the seder and throughout the week in order to cleanse ourselves of this negative, prideful ego and, in turn, move toward freeing ourselves.

I could go on for hours about all of the depth and richness of this holiday and time of year. It struck me in a new way today, however, when I was thinking about this warmth melting coldness, the idea of softening in relation to Nisan and Pesach. So often in life, especially in my life in Israel, I feel the opposite reaction happening in and around me – hardening, strengthening through agression, jagged perseverance. I wonder how much more I could progress and persevere in the long run if, instead, I tried to transform that built up agression into softening. Move from slavery into freedom by allowing the ice to melt away to reveal the true strength within. After all, it was enduring inner-strength and a relationship to that which is true that got us out of Egypt.

This idea refreshed me as I walked through the park today with the first warm winds of the season guiding me through the olive trees, melting away any residual winter harshness I was still carrying with me. As the beginnings of this idea continue to steep in my mind, I will leave you for now with thoughts of what it means to soften, release, and free ourselves. What does freedom mean to you? How can we incorporate softening and releasing both on and off the mat? What does it mean to achieve strength and freedom through softening?

May all the physical labor of preparing for Pesach and ridding our homes and ourselves of chametz allow us to leave our modern-day Mitzrayims and connect to our purest, most essential selves. May the breaking down of barriers and experiencing oneness this month leave us humble and whole.