Celebrating the High Holy Days … while entirely missing the point

Sigh … sometimes (lots of the time?) I miss my own point. It takes me a while to get to my a-Ha(!) moment. In this case, having written one very long blog post, I still missed the point. I wrote an entire post about having trouble getting out of bed pre-High Holy Days and it didn’t occur to me until DAYS later that the shofar is our annual alarm clock. Bed … alarm clock … how did I miss this very obvious connection?!

I am thankful that for the grace shown to us during the Yamim Noraim. Every wrong can be made right. Rosh Hashanah signifies not just the beginning of a new year, but a new world where everything can be made right and new.

I hope these days of repentance have been meaningful for you and may we all have an easy fast!


Celebrating the High Holy Days … when you can barely get out of bed

My life looks a lot different now than it did at the time of my last in July. My husband and I moved to a different town in a different state so that he could make a big career change. So I am no longer working for Jewish organization where I have worked the past 3 years.

I left the organization exactly one month before the start of the High Holy Days. When I left, I quietly thanked G-d that I wouldn’t have to administrate another year’s holidays. For the past three years, holidays and Holy Days have been work. For me it was holy work, but it certainly wasn’t a holiday. Last year was the first year of my adult life that I didn’t truly fast on Yom Kippur. I could not have gotten through the work that I had to do if I had fasted. Those were busy and exhausting times during which I contemplating quitting my job roughly 47 times a day. It’s a lot of pressure to be in charge of other people’s High Holy Days experience.

This year, I thought I was being handed a great gift in that I am only responsible for my own High Holy Days experience. It turns out, this is even harder to manage. The pressure is on. Because no one can put pressure on me as effectively and deftly as I can. In short, I’m a good Jewish woman.

My husband recently went through a solid 24 hour period where he second-guessed his decision to move our family for this career change. We learned some pretty disappointing news and it sent us both into a bit of a funk. We talked about it and I admitted that I still feel the exhaustion of having moved to a new place. It’s been a month, but I still haven’t found a rhythm to life here. I like my life here. It’s a great town. I still believe that the changes we made are positive and will continue to be positive. But I still haven’t figured out the little things in life that you have to figure out anew when you’ve moved to a new place. I have to learn how to feed us without easy access to Trader Joes (90% of the food we bought came from Trader Joes). I’m thrilled that I have more time to cook food from scratch for us, but without my trusty grocery store and good stand-bys, we either eat 3 course meals that took me hours to prepare or we eat cereal. There is no in-between for us yet. We are driving more than we like because sometimes we misread the bus schedule and I have to drive my husband to work. I am working from home and … I don’t know what that means, yet. Who am I when I work at home? What is my purpose in a day. What motivates me to get dressed on days when I don’t leave the house? What does it mean that there are days that I don’t leave the house?

I’m not depressed. Life is good. But facing the new-ness in every day is exhausting. And then we got that disappointing news and, OK, I got a little depressed. And husband spent 24 hours second-guessing the changes we’ve made. And I spent almost 24 solid hours in bed.

Here’s the thing about bed in this modern era. You can do a lot from your bed. I worked. I responded to emails. I talked with people. I read books. I watched a little bit of television. It wasn’t like I spent 24 hours starring at the ceiling. I did, however, spend most of the day in bed. Which brings me to my dilemma. You can’t celebrate the High Holy Days from bed. With laptops and cell phones, you can accomplish a lot from bed, but not a lot of celebrating can happen.

You can’t bake round challah in bed. You can’t braise brisket from bed. You can’t get ready to head to synagogue in bed. You can’t attend services from bed (OK, maybe there are services available to stream online, but I am unfamiliar with this, so my premise stands). You probably shouldn’t eat apples and honey in bed, because the honey gets messy. So I guess I have to get out of bed, right?

While the community of Jews whom I love most in the world (they also happen to be the community of Jews who frustrate me most in the world) prepares for Erev Rosh Hashanah, I am preparing to attend services at a building I’ve never been to and with people that I’ve never met. It’s been a long time since I’ve sat in a service with nothing to do, but listen and pray. Here is a humbling thing for me to admit: After three years of kvetching that I never got to just sit and enjoy a service, here I am with the opportunity to just sit and enjoy a service and I am truly lamenting that there isn’t a task for me to perform at the service. When I have a job or task to do, I know where I fit into a community. Without a task, I perhaps feels like I DON’T fit into a community (OK, I definitely feel that way). I’m like a little kid trying to get out of going to school on the first day. I know I’m going to end up going, but I still have this image of my husband dragging me out of here, my fingernails clutching the door frame, while I yell “Don’t make me go!!!”

These are the Days of Awe. On a whim, I looked up the Merriam-Webster definition of awe. Awe : an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred. Sigh. Yep, that sounds about right.

So this morning, really unsure of how to motivate myself, I put on the Maccabeats. I feel like my neighbors might notice if I just listen to Book of Good Life on repeat, so I’ve also been listening to Aleinu, Oseh Shalom, and Adon Olam, you know, just to mix things up.

The lyrics to “Book of Good Life”:

Woke up and realized yesterday
Think it’s a bummer end of the summer
Kinda nervous that we’re almost there
At the days of awe

Prayers in a language that I don’t know
Standing for hours and hours more
I wish that someone would please tell me-e-e-e
What it is we’re praying for

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we’ve got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we’re choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Time for reflection on the past year
Time to figure out what we’re doing here
Replace the guilt with inspiration
And everything is clear

Life in the present, the here and now
Easier than regret and planning out
Living in the moment, lasts for a moment
Got my future to think about

When you’re sitting there in shul
Wishing it was over
You gotta take a beat
And let it all sink in

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we’ve got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we’re choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

This year will bring us happiness and peace
Sensitivity to others will increase
We’ll open our eyes and think more consciously
Cause Hopefully
We’ll go from where we are to where we want to be

Oh put me in the book of good life
I just wanna live the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, we’ve got feelings that we should fight
Make sure that we’re choosing right
Gotta earn my own place in
The book of good life

Oh yeah
Book of Good life

Time for reflection on the past year
Time to figure out what we’re doing here
Replace the guilt with inspiration
And everything is clear

Life in the present seems more fun
Easier than regret, what’s done is done
Living in the moment, lasts for a moment
Shanah Tovah to everyone

This year what sticks out to me most as I listen to the song is “Hopefully.” I may not be full of energy and I may not be full of motivation, but I am full of hope. We moved here, left the town where I’d lived for a decade and our frustrating/dear community of crazy/wonderful Jews, because of hope. We’ve pinned a lot of our hopes on the year ahead of us … no pressure or anything. However, I refuse to be ruled by fear at this time of year. Exhaustion is not the antithesis of this time of year, but fear is. We are meant to ask forgiveness without fear, offer forgiveness without fear, and hope without fear. So hope is what gets my tuchus out of bed and into a synagogue full of strangers, who, duh(!), won’t always be strangers. My heart will be open, because hope allows it to open easily.

I am excited to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar. I am excited that we already know of a pond nearby where ducks gather (for Tashlikh). I am excited to dip apples in honey, while hoping for a sweet new year. I am even, or especially, excited for transformation of teshuvah

And so, after a process that took me a few days, I finally am able to echo “The Book of Good Life” and wish a “Shanah Tovah to everyone!” I hope that 5774 is kind to you and may you be inscribed in the book of life.

PS. The Maccabeats cover of “Brave” is also pretty wonderful. As is Sara Bareilles’ original video. Definitely another song in the spirit of being full of hope for 5774.

Thankful Thursday – 7/11/13

My husband left on July 3rd for a month long training program. He and I have and will continue to have extremely limited communication throughout the month. We have no ability to communicate through email or snail-mail. 8 days into the program, he and I have spoken on the phone twice for a collective 10 minutes or so.

I was very proud of myself because I only cried once the day that he left. Admittedly, he left at 3am, so they were more tears of exhaustion than tears of sadness.

Today, I am incredibly grateful for my wonderful – if absent – husband. I am grateful for this opportunity; it will change our lives for the better and put my husband in the position to pursue the career of his dreams. I am overwhelmingly grateful for the faithful friends who have shown my a lot of attention, care, and grace in the past 8 days.

All of that being said, I really miss my husband. He and I are an amazing fit and a really good team. That’s not to say that we don’t have our faults as a couple, but we are about to complete our 7th year together and – in my humble opinion – over the past 7 years we have grown into a strong, passionate, and very happy couple.

A friend and Rabbi recently gave me a card with Chesed written on. Chesed – steadfast love and kindness. She told me that this was how I loved – loyally. I knew she was right as I read her kind words, but it is always nice to learn the right word to accurately express a feeling. It is a strength that Husband and I are able to be apart for so long. It is because we love each other this way – with loyalty and kindness – that we can continue to love each other and support each other from a distance.

However, that doesn’t change that I would prefer him to be home, if there were a way to have him with me without sacrificing the career opportunity. I miss his making coffee in the morning. I miss his voice; he always says “dinner time” in the same intonation when he brings the rabbits their food. I miss him being affectionate; he’s more physically affectionate than I am and will randomly grab me for a hug as I’m walking through a room. I miss how I feel when he’s around. I feel more complete and my mind is a little bit quieter when he’s home.

But you know what I miss the most as more time passes?

I miss his Husband-ness, the “thing” that makes him uniquely my Husband. I miss his presence. He’s such a quiet and patient soul, but he can rant and rave with the best of them. I miss the cadence with which he approaches a day.

I will be very thankful to have him home again.

Something Cute on the Internet

I love a good love story. However, even more than that, I love it when someone finds their bashert. That’s how I feel about my meeting my husband, but this story gives new meaning to the idea of “destiny.”

Johnson and Gaffey were attending an intensive two-week Guide Dog Training class in Shrewsbury, Shropshire in the UK. Their new guide dogs, Venice and Rodd, were inseparable from the start.

Yes, they were brought together by their seeing-eye dogs. Ahhh, true love!

Tikkun Olam Tuesday: 6/11/13

If you have ever subscribed to the TEDtalks Channel on YouTube then you already know how overwhelming it is to have a constant stream of interesting videos popping up in your subscription feed. It’s impossible and stressful to attempt to keep up with all the brilliant ideas on the internet, but I still try (and fail)!

I have learned so much from TEDtalks. I have been inspired and informed by these talks. However, I finally found a speech that I feel I could have given:

David R. Dow: Lessons from death row inmates

I have said most of these exact words to my husband more times than I can count. 

You thought I was a girl with a cause when you read what I had to say about Animal Testing, but the truth is this is my cause. If I knew how to make people care more about protecting children than they do about punishing criminals – how to get people to want to commit their tax dollars to interventions that spare children from becoming criminals – this is the cause that I would devote my life to solving. But I don’t know how and so today I will just re-post this TEDtalk in a small attempt to promote these thoughts.

Tikkun Olam Tuesday: The Purity Myth

I have already mentioned my love for Rachel Held Evans’ blog, but I have specifically been enthralled by her year-long series about Sexuality and The Church. Many of the books on the reading list for this series didn’t seem like a good fit for me – I would get too frustrated reading them, too focused on hermeneutics, or I feared that they would make me cry. However, Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth seemed right up my alley. Just the kind of thing that this one-time Cultural Studies major would love.

Having finished The Purity Myth, I am beyond frustrated and not sure what I think exactly. I am particularly confused because I expected to fully support her argument/writing from beginning to end. I was cheering Jessica on through all of Chapter 1 and Chapter 2, but hit a wall in Chapter 3.

I love where Jessica began. What I kept thinking as I read the beginning of her argument was that she makes such a good point – counter-culture is just the other side of the same coin that is mainstream culture. You can’t shift paradigms with a counter-culture; large shifts can only be made when one thinks out of the box. If there is mainstream culture and counter-culture, what is most compelling is to think about the 3rd option. This is where I thought she was heading.

But then Jessica got really bogged down in telling the reader not only what Conservative Christianity is doing to set women back a century, but also what their “true intentions” are. It is her value judgments about what Conservative Christian writers/churches/etc “really believe” that I found difficult to wade through.

There were glimmers of what I was hoping she would say and the arguments I was hoping she would make. In Chapter 3 “Forever Young,” p.62-63, Jessica writes

“Bratz dolls, provocative Halloween costumes, and panty-less pop singers dominate public discourse and outrage, while even more obvious (and, arguably, more dangerous) sexualization of girls – like trafficking, rape, and child pornography – isn’t given nearly the same amount of attention. It’s no coincidence that these more serious issues are ones that overwhelmingly affect low-income girls, girls of color, and young women who don’t match the American virginal ideal.”

I was really hoping that she would discuss human trafficking, rape, and the plight of women outside of the United States in more detail. It’s like the story Rachel Held Evans wrote about Zarmina; her experience impacted how Rachel felt about your own experience as a Christian and a woman. What do the stories of women elsewhere in the world tell us (women of any faith or religion) about how we should treat women in the United States? And is the way we treat women in the United States complicit somehow in the way women are treated around the world? If we, in “developed nations,” reduce women to their sexuality, do we and can we have any authority to protect women in the rest of the word from being reduced to their sexuality and suffering because of it? Which is to say nothing about violence against women in these “developed nations.” I kept waiting for her to go in that direction, but instead she spent the bulk of Chapter 3 telling me what was “really going on” at Purity Dances.

Jessica actually echoed the frustration that I was feeling in a footnote in Chapter 3, on page 67,

“When I first came across purity balls, I wondered if my feminism had jaded me too much. Maybe they were just daddy/daughter dances that I was imbuing with sexual meaning. So I showed my father some video footage of a purity ball and asked what he thought. The color drained from his face and he said, ‘Jessica, that’s truly fucking weird.'”

Sigh… perhaps her father wasn’t the best audience for that question? I don’t know.

I can’t speak about Purity Dances with any authority, so while I may think they are ‘weird,’ I can’t speak to what is “really going on” within that particular area of Purity Culture. And, problematically, I just didn’t feel like I could trust that Jessica had any more authority to evaluate Purity Dances than I did. I am so frustrated by my lack of reliable primary sources on this topic. The only place I could think to come from was to compare a Purity Dance to a Bat Mitzvah. While the Bat Mitzvah as an institution is fraught with its own complicated pitfalls – particularly as it relates to the potential cost of the event – as a rite of passage I think it’s focus is good. The process of becoming Bat Mitzvah focuses not only on Biblical education, but also on ownership of one’s own Judaism. There is actually a prayer that the parents say during a Bat Mitzvah, abdicating all responsibility for the child’s ritual life from that day forth. This, when done correctly, is empowering and seems like a much better model for our daughter’s stepping into religious life as young women. However, that doesn’t mean I’m willing to write off any Father-Daughter dance as all-bad. In fact, while I was reading this chapter, Sarah Bessey wrote beautifully about her father taking her daughter to a dance. It would seem that from Jessica Valenti’s writing in this chapter, that she would see no value in any (Grand)Father-Daughter dances. It seems to me that Jessica’s focus, while not entirely wrong, is at least slightly off.

I kept reading the book, rushing through it in fact, hoping that she would revisit the groundwork that she laid down in the first two chapters. And she did at the very end of the book, but only in a footnote! Here is what I was hoping she would say the whole time, but she hid it in a footnote! In Chapter 10, “Post-Virgin World,” on p. 213, Jessica says

“For the record: I think virginity is fine, just as I think having sex is fine. I don’t really care what women do sexually, and neither should you. In fact, that’s the point. I believe that young woman’s decision to have sex, or not, shouldn’t impact how she’s seen as a moral actor.”


(In all fairness to Jessica, this message echoes throughout the book, but I felt like she consistently buried it, devoting only a sentence here or there to this idea. Like in Chapter 4, “The Porn Connection,” on p. 96, when she said “the thing is, naked women aren’t the problem – a woman believing her only value is sexual is what’s dangerous.” Yes, Jessica, Yes! I so wanted her to say more about this. And I just felt like she didn’t.)

I truly felt like this was the message of the book, but it got so lost in her condemnation of Conservative Christian women writers. And yet, I didn’t feel like Jessica offered a flushed out model to replace the specific Conservative Christian model that she spent so much time condemning In Chapter 5, “Classroom Chastity,” on p. 120,

“I believe it’s time to take a stance on sex education that isn’t so passive – young people deserve accurate and comprehensive sex education not just because they’re going to have sex, but because there’s nothing wrong with having sex. Allowing educators to equate sexuality with shame and disease is not the way to go; we are doing our children a great disservice. Not only are we lying to them, we’re also robbing them of the joy that a healthy sex life (as a teenager or in adulthood) can provide.”

So I’m left wanting more from Jessica. In Chapter 10, Jessica discusses ways for women to get involved in pro-women causes and conversations, but I wanted more. How do we teach young women that they are so much more than their sexuality, while also answering the question of what they should “do with” their sexuality? Can a teenager even have a healthy sex life? She puts that claim out there, but where is the evidence to back that up? Just because I don’t believe that teenage or pre-marital sex condemns a woman to a life of poverty/shame/disease, does that mean that necessarily it follows that teenage or pre-marital sex is necessarily healthy and joyful?

I also wish that Jessica had handled with more care the Conservative Christian women writers with whom she disagrees. How do we find a way to support women whose view of sexuality and gender roles is so radically different from our own? Are we really pro-women if we can’t find a way to respect those women who disagree with us? As I have been reading recent news stories about the Women of the Wall and I pray that they will be safe, I can’t stop thinking about how hard it is to be a woman. It should always be safe to be a woman when you are with other women, right? Can’t we at least start there?

Thankful Thursday 5/30/13

It’s hard to tell if time has slowed down or sped up. Either way, I’m ready for June! Summer is easily my favorite season. I work better when I can spend an hour of every day in the sun. A good friend taught me about taking sunshine breaks and I’ve never looked back. I wait all year until it’s warm enough for a daily sunshine break. I’m well known for my love of warm weather and I now hear several different times a day from different congregants saying, “Congratulations, it’s your weather.” Thank you, Mother Nature.

I’m also thankful for marathons of the Food Network show, Chopped. I am in love with this show. It makes me think more creatively about cooking for my own family. It’s a rare show that can keep me tuning in hour after hour.

I’m thankful for this list. #10. A group of flamingos is called a flamboyance. Delightful

I’m thankful for lovely lunches (in the sunshine) with thoughtful mentors.

I am incredibly thankful for a long weekend spent reading Carry On, Warrior by the lovely Glennon Melton. Glennon’s writing feels like freedom. She talks about getting clean and sober and no longer having the confidence to dance at weddings. It occurs to her, watching her family and friends have fun on the dance floor that, “no one can dance for you.” Wise words, Glennon. I definitely take her writing as an invitation to live life more fully and try to do the hard things.

Lastly, and most importantly, I am thankful for all those who answer the call to serve, especially my handsome husband who leaves next month to start his career in the military.