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.

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:

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.