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?

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.