Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sukkot 5774 Dvar Torah

You shall dwell in Sukkot seven days. All citizens of Israel will stay in Sukkot, so that your generations may know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 23:42-43)

The Torah lets us know that Sukkot has great meaning. But it does not tell us exactly what meaning we are to glean from our ancestors’ experiences in the desert. We do not live in fragile booths today. We are lucky to have the stability of a land in which to live and permanent communities of which to be a part.

But I think that the idea of the Israelites together in the desert, living in sukkot that likely were whipped by the wind and rain, is important to us today. I can say that for the last few years, I have been seeking a community where I felt wholeheartedly comfortable in. From my theater and orchestra communities in high school, to my activist circles in college, to my community of social workers in grad school. In St. Louis, I was involved with the Jewish young adult community and felt at home for the first time in a long time. But of course, I left and came to Israel. Last year, while I lived in stable structure, my physical community in Gedera was not my own. I felt that it was temporary because it was, and while I tried to immerse myself in this new community, it didn't have everything I wanted, despite a host family and good friends. Again, I left Gedera and moved to Jerusalem. While I'm still trying to figure out what kind of community I want, and while in each community I live, I can find a support system and new friends, I know that they are all temporary until the time that I "settle" in a community for longer than a year.

In some way, I can completely understand how the Israelites in the desert felt - they just left a seemingly comfortable situation. Yes, they were slaves and had a difficult life, but how terrifying it must have been to be in the desert. Not knowing how to survive, except through the dependency on Moses and his connection to Gd! Don't you think some of the Israelites must have wanted to turn back around and say, I think I might prefer a permanent structure to the wind and rains and hunger in the desert?

Of course, the community moved together and they had each other. Many of us came to Israel with no support system in place. I knew absolutely no one before I decided to make a leap of faith and come to Israel last year. And I think it has been one of the best decisions I've ever made. While we dwell in this and every sukkah during this Sukkot, despite the rain or the wind, we should remember how difficult it was for the Israelites in the desert. Like the Israelites, we must recognize that we may be terrified, but it is up to us to make the best of our situations and constantly search for meaning. I think that the meaning we should glean from thinking about the Israelites in the desert is that we should constantly strive for the community we need, even if we have no idea how to find it. Only Gd knew the exact place that the Israelites should go, physically, spiritually, and ethically, but the Israelites followed Moses because of their faith. We have no idea where each of us will end up, but we must have faith in our own actions and in Gd to get to the physical and spiritual places we may not even know we need to go. Chag Sameach.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Forgiving Myself on this Yom Kippur

Here it is. Yom Kippur 2013/5774. This year's High Holidays sprung upon me somewhat quickly.

This is a tough Yom Kippur. It's been 10 years since my Aunt Rhona died on Yom Kippur in 2003. How has it been so long? This year, I think I have also been very hard on myself. I know I made a lot of mistakes this year. I struggled. I was challenged. I said and did the wrong things.

Yom Kippur is a time when we are supposed to ask forgiveness of others as a way to "wipe the slate clean." The idea is that should atone for any and all sins/transgressions/missteps/and times we missed the mark that are left on our conscious or subconscious before Yom Kippur, so that in the case (Gd forbid) that something happens before Yom Kippur, we will have been absolved of any wrongdoing. I don't abide by the superstitions so much, but I think this is a great time of year to reflect and ask forgiveness of others. It definitely is not an easy thing to do. In the Torah, we are told to "afflict" ourselves - hence, the no eating, drinking, sleeping, or washing. This year, I know I will be afflicting myself.

The most difficult thing I am dealing with for this Yom Kippur is forgiving myself. This isn't something we have spoken a lot about in class or among friends. But it is something on my mind as this Yom Kippur arrives.

How can I go about forgiving myself for my mistakes, my insensitivity, my ignorance, and my self-doubt? What about the self-hate, the gossip I've spilled, and the other bad things I've said? Also, what about the selfishness, the arrogance, and silencing of others and myself? Ignoring people I shouldn't have, not staying in communication with family and friends when I should have, not taking advice when I asked for it, and being false to myself and others? And then there's also the jealousy, indulgence, turning my back on things I should have paid attention to, (unintentionally) embarrassing others, being ungrateful (or not acknowledging when I was grateful of someone), and uncertainty. Among many more.

I think it is much harder to forgive myself this year than any other year. Maybe I'm being more introspective than before, or maybe since I've been learning how to recognize these things in myself, this is the first year I really can explain them. This Yom Kippur, as I daven in synagogue or at home, I will be thinking about Rhona and the 10 years that have passed since her death, and I will also be thinking about the ways I've wronged others and myself. I hope to learn to forgive myself this day and everyday.

לשנה טובה וגמר חתימה טובה

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The New Year in Israel

Last year, I spent Rosh Hashanah in Ra'anana with a family I hadn't known more than a month before the holiday. I didn't prepare much, and I was getting used to being in Israel. This year, I am surrounded by a new set of friends, an amazing partner, and a lot more knowledge about myself, Judaism, and Israel. I cannot be more lucky.

Each year for the last few years, I have taken advantage of a website called 10Q, which provides 10 questions, one each day, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, in order to push you to think more deeply about the year that just happened and the year coming up. Last year, my answers focused on leaving St. Louis, coming to Israel, and beginning an intense journey of self-growth. I am still on that journey, and though I have learned so much about Judaism and Israel in the last year, I have much more to learn. With each year, I become more and more myself, and I experience and learn many new things.

This week, we have been learning about Rosh Hashanah in many of our classes. During one of the Rosh Hashanah holiday learning sessions, we went through 13 questions to help us prepare for the holiday by reflecting on the last year and thinking about the next year. In another class, we talked about the laws concerning a holiday, whether we can cook or shower, etc., and also the laws concerning the blowing of the shofar. In my Social Justice class, we discussed whether humans are the epitome of creation. Rosh Hashanah is supposedly the anniversary of when humans came into being. Reading Genesis 1 & 2, the two creation stories are slightly different. Are humans the epitome of creation or is Shabbat? In other words, was the world made for us to conquer and rule, which aligns with how humans are discussed in the first chapter, or are we here to "till and tend" the world, to work it and guard it, to serve it and preserve it? The meanings of the words used in the text can be translated and interpreted in many different ways. My worldview goes along with the second chapter. We are here to use the earth, but not conquer it. This is what holidays and Shabbat are all about for me. Six days of the week, I use the world in the way I need it to work for me. On Shabbat, I am a slave to the way the world works.

During the next three days, two of which are a holiday and one Shabbat, I hope to reflect upon the last year. I want to do some spiritual learning and of course spend the time enjoying being here in Israel with friends and my partner. I wish you all a happy and healthy new year!