Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sukkot, Unanswered Questions, and Beer by a Wood Stove

So my friends, how are you?  It's Sukkot.  The time of Happiness.  Rejoicing.  Togetherness.  Glamping.  You know, glamorous camping in the sukkah.  The Pagan-like, but definitely NOT pagan, activity of shaking a rain stick.  It's great.  It's actually my favorite holiday.  For many reasons.  One is that you are doing something religious just by being outside.  Almost never do Jews hang out outside and call it Torah.  So BAM!  Hippie holiday!  Next is that my profound love for arts and crafts is welcomed and appreciated.  Stringing up colorful foods and gluing popsicle sticks and pine cones together is not considered childish. SHABAM!  Yeah, Sukkot is definitely my favorite.

This Sukkot we drove up to Albany to spend the holiday with my mom and her husband.  It's a win win.  She cooks and hangs out with my kids; I don't cook or hang out with my kids.  See?  I win and I win.  Plus I happen to be one of those weirdos that actually really enjoys hanging out with my parents.

For Chol HaMoed, Hubby and me decided to dump our two littlest ones with my awesome Mama, and take our oldest boy to New Hampshire to visit a high school friend and his wife who have a daughter my son's age.  It's a 2 1/2 hour drive from here, and it's through Vermont.  I mean, seriously, Vermont!  Fall!  Foliage!  If driving through Vermont in the fall isn't a religious experience, well then, religion has a lot to learn.

Our friends live on 25 acres of rural NH heaven with some pigs, chickens, ducks, rabbits, a couple of awesome dogs and a cat.  As we relaxed by the wood stove, beer in hand, belly full of a kosher feast we took every leniency in the book to make, good friends, and happy hearts, the question, as always, came back to me: Does being an observant Jew make me a good person?

When I ask this question, I am not questioning if Jews should be observant, or if the Torah is holy.  I am simply asking the question, is Torah helping me be the best me I can be?  I think of the expensive kosher food I feed my children, when I could feed them healthier, more environmentally friendly, locally sourced truly good for you food, that isn't kosher.  And it makes me wonder: When did it become so automatic to nourish our children's souls by being kosher, while ignoring their bodies, also gifts from God.  And is it ok that the joy of the chaggim has been replaced by the stress of spending money on that not so good food and sweating and swearing in the kitchen, trying to cook enough for three days?  And instead of spending some quality time with my kids before the holiday, telling them why it's so great, holy and special, I am yelling at them to clean up the house, not eat any of the yontif food until way past their bedtime, and leave me alone so I can get the work done.  So again I ask, is this making me a better person?  Can I do this and still be the best me?

I am not saying I want to give up my religious ways.  When I shook the lulav and etrog in the sukkah, I was overcome a deep feeling of  peace in my being.  Feeling the connection between me and every Jew, all over the world, for thousands of years, who shook their lulavs in their sukkahs.  The four species representing the different kinds of Jews and bringing them all together, as we are meant to be together.  The deeply ritualistic act of shaking them in a rainstick-like prayer for rain.  Because at one time we understood that rain equaled food.  Nowadays rain is just something we curse at for it's inconvenience.

I also don't believe Judaism is just here to make us feel good.  But when it becomes all stress and self hate for all the ways I can't live up to it's standards... And I end up giving up things, like being nice to my family, to try to hold to it's standards... Well, I start questioning.  I have no answers.  I am just questioning.

And writing about it gives me a kind of validation.  Like it's not something I'm doing alone in my closet and need to be ashamed of.  No.  I am questioning because I believe that when I die I will stand before my Maker, and I want to be able to say, "Yes, these are the choices I made in my life."  Not, "I don't know, I did it because I was supposed to."

The Good List

  1. My mama and her hubby being awesome with my kids and welcoming us into their home and letting us trash it while we're here
  2. Hanging out with wonderful friends
  3. My son having a BLAST with his girlfriend and therefor letting me and hubby just BE for 24 hours   
  4. Woodstoves, beer, and a giant mastiff snoring on the hearth
  5. NEW ENGLAND IN THE FALL (Oh how I missed thee, New England, my true home!)
  6. Sukkot
  7. Playing in the Putney river

Monday, July 14, 2014


I haven’t written for a while now.  There has been so much happening in my life, so many changes.  And a lot has been brewing between Husband and me, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, he does not enjoy sharing his inner most private life with the world, the way I do.  Can’t imagine why.  But I experienced something today that I want to hold on to.  No, not hold onto as much as be with, roll between my hands and feel into…
To be frank, I had a shit day.  Bad sleep.  Stress rolled onto my shoulders from yesterday and the day before.  Yearning for the supportive embrace of my husband, but his hands were holding his share of the stress.  I spent much of my day filling out applications for my children’s schools and financial aid.  These applications eat away at my soul.  (Yes I am being dramatic, but what’s the point of having your own blog if you can’t be dramatic?)  Seriously, I HATE FORMS.  They always want a clear, precise answer.  But my life has NO CLEAR PRECISE ANSWERS.  So I am left feeling like a child, taking a test, unable to understand the instructions, therefore feeling my failure before I mark an answer. 
Meanwhile, I let the kids veg out on Netflix, because there was no way I could handle forms AND disarm the angry mob chanting “What can I doooo?” “I’m BORED.”  “Mooooooommmmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyyy.”  The guilt over rotting my kids’ brains, and turning them into shallow culture, media obsessed, instant gratification zombies, was piled on my already heavy load.
And to top it all off, I was living with resentment against the only other human in the house who could offer me adult conversation, logic, comfort.  Because, in his stress, he doesn’t speak nicely.  And I get really hurt, then angry, then resentful, when someone doesn’t speak nicely to me.  And I didn’t care if he was right with anything that he said, because the way he said it to me hurt my feelings.  And yes, I feel like I am 8 years old when I say my feelings are hurt.  And yes, I am 32.  And that’s all there is to say about that. 

Meanwhile, I watch a show, to zombie out my own brain, when I finally finish with the forms.  And on the show is a character who seems to brighten people’s days by being extra nice and cheerful, even when things are tough for him.  I have this thought, ‘I’ll be extra nice and cheery in this world when my husband starts being nicer to me.  Because then I won’t be so angry and hurt all the time.’ 


Yeah, did you feel that?  Because I did.  It was like a wall of water hitting me, knocking me over, washing me over.  Waking me the hell up.  Why?  Why would I wait to be the person I want to be?  Why would I let someone else decide who I am?  If I were angry with someone, why would I then give him total control over me?  It’s madness.  And I know I’m crazy, but I am NOT that kind of crazy. 

So I made a decision.  I filled the tub, put on a bathing suit and told my two little ones to get in.  And I took a bath with them.  Wet, soft, little bodies, giggling, playing, singing songs, cuddling.  Smiling.  I was smiling.  I was getting the comforting touch I craved so much.  But in such a different way.  And I felt their love so strongly, and it filled me in such a deep way. 

All the stresses that were here yesterday, that I woke up with today, they’re not going anywhere.  But maybe I can put them down every now and then.  Stretch my back.  And decide in the moment, Who do I want to be right now?

1.  This experience
2.  The sunsets lately
3.  The blue heron that hung out in our pond yesterday
4.  This blog as my place of contemplation
5.  Fresh summer berries

Thursday, December 5, 2013

In My Thirties

Today I read an article in the New York Times entitled "Why Is It Hard to Make Friends Over 30?" which discusses all the reasons why you have currently all but stopped making friends, and you're stuck with the ones you made in high school or college.  It lists the three main conditions necessary for the making of BFFs (I'm not kidding, they use "BFF" in the New York Times): proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.

Which basically means that I'm screwed as I am homeschooling my three kids alone on a farm.  But really it brings up something I've been contemplating lately.  Once in your thirties, everything takes effort.  I mean everything.  If before you had a job, now you must work on your career.  If before you rented a small apartment, now you're a homemaker with a mortgage.  If before you focused on yourself, now all your focus goes to your children and their needs.  If before you spent time developing yourself, now you have to carve out time for creativity.  If before you davened when you went to shul, now you read board books in the playroom.  If before you stayed up nights, some mornings, and on special occasions, afternoons, being intimate with your partner, now you have to choose between shower, book, dishes or marital time.  And hanging out with friends?  Seriously, who has time to hang out?

If you want your children to become independent, confident, caring, healthy people, you MUST be a conscientious parent who knows the difference between punishing and giving consequences, who feeds them organic food, who gives them the right circumstances for optimal brain development in the first three years of their life, and compensatory therapeutic activities for how you failed them those first three years.

If you want a healthy marriage you MUST make time for each other.  You MUST put in the work to make room for another ego, another point of view, another set of valid needs.  And you must validate those needs.  You MUST keep your intimacy going; Never let it slack!  That is a one way ticket to divorce-ville.

If you want friendships, you MUST make time for them.  You MUST find somewhat like-minded individuals who's schedules somehow work with yours and who enjoy doing similar recreational activities.  You MUST find a way to be vulnerable, but not needy; open, but don't overstep the privacy of your marriage, and if one of you has a lot of money and the other one doesn't, good luck with the awkwardness.  MAKE SURE the spouses all get along.  After-all, if your friend's husband is a douche, there's only so far you can go.  One more thing, nowadays, everyone was raised in a PC society and people take everything personally, so DO NOT offend anyone!  But ALWAYS be honest. 

If you want to continue in your self-development, you MUST make time for yourself.  If as a child you never learned to play an instrument, make art, dance or do other forms of self expression, then I hope you like to exercise, because that's about the only other thing you can do on your own.  (Or you can spend money you don't have on therapy, trying to forgive your parents for never giving you those opportunities for self growth as a child.)

If by now you haven't found G-d in some form or another, it's TOO LATE in life to go to an ashram in India, a pilgrimage to Mecca, or a birthright trip to Israel.  You are too old.  You have a mortgage.  And your cats won't feed themselves.  So, good luck with that one.  If you have found G-d, you MUST pray three times a day, but not at work, while cleaning your house, or watching your children at the playground.  Also, TAKE YOUR TIME, don't rush through the words.  DON'T pray by rote.  MAKE it meaningful.  Each time.  Everyday.  Three times a day.

It's time to focus on your career.  You CAN'T work a dead-end job for the rest of your life.  Find something that you love.  Put in the extra hours, DON'T slack.  No one likes a slacker.  Start at the bottom and work your way to the top, but make enough to pay your bills and put away money for your kids' college tuition and your retirement and bury some gold in the backyard in case the economy collapses.  And DON'T forget, it's not all about money.  It's about job satisfaction.   

Oh and MAKE SURE to prioritize.  You NEED to live a balanced and meaningful life.

And this, my friends, is why I NEED to live in a Jewish Intentional Community.  I don't think there is any alternative way to balance out all of these components in life.  All of the above are MAJOR priorities in my life and I'm not willing to sacrifice ANY of them.  But how can I possibly commit myself to so many things?  I suppose there is some super efficient or lucky person out there who can work from home, have playdates with their kids' friends who are your friends' kids, get intimate with your spouse while doing the dishes and have extra money for spiritual retreats on the weekends.  But I have not met that person, and if I did, I would probably resent them.

In an intentional community setting I imagine many of these coming together harmoniously.  Perhaps I am overly idealistic.  But I would rather that, than give up on any of my dreams.

1. Bedtime without tears tonight
2. My daughter calling automatic toilets 'magic toilets' that you can make wishes on
3. A great article by PopChassid that made me feel a little less alone
4. My awesome hubby for being awesome
5. No more fried food now that Chanukah is over

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Is I Is or Is I Ain't an Observant Jew?

It feels great to be writing again, and even better to be in dialogue with all of you again.  I'm going to post part of a reply someone sent me after my last blog and tell you why I'm posting it.  Here it is:
You are unique, and fitting in to a group is not easy.  I feel that way often.  I should say, I felt that way often.  When with Orthodox Jews, I always felt like an impostor, even during the years I covered my hair, arms and legs.  When around less observant, I'd get judgmental  (read: jealous) about their choices or lifestyle.  (It was actually a warning signal to me that I needed to reassess certain religious choices I was making.). 

Ok, I totally relate to what she's saying.  COMPLETELY.  But it brings up so many questions for me.  For one, "fitting into a group is not easy." PREACH!  It is NOT easy.  At least not for me.  And so my question here is, to what extent do we need to let go of individualism to live in a functioning community, and to what extant do we need to hold onto our individualism so that we don't lose ourselves to the community.  If we are TOTALLY individuals it's hard to see how a community can function when your own needs and freedoms come before the needs of the community.  However, I think we can all agree that a community that comes at the cost of of the individual loses what makes the coming together of people so beautiful and meaningful.  Not to mention that the foundation would be frail and easily broken, in both cases.  There's definitely a balance somewhere in there, but I think each community has their balance somewhere on a spectrum between the two.  And I think that's good.  There is room in this world for EVERY KIND of community.  Example: A hareidi (ultra-frum) community often puts the community first.  This leaves little room for individual expression, but holds a certain container that wouldn't exist otherwise.  On the other side you have communities where individuals' freedoms come first, but I may not want to raise my kids where there is naked gardening.  Extremes, I know.  And honestly, naked gardening sounds kind of awesome, but not really.  

Moving on.  "When with Orthodox Jews, I always felt like an impostor." Hells to the yeah.  I mean, I was, am, doing it.  I dress modestly, I observe basic halacha.  It's not that so much as the fact the I don't know that I totally buy into it.  So while I don't go swimming on Shabbos, part of me is like, Rabbi dudes, I'm not going to build a raft.  I live next to a pond.  It's a hot summer day that lasts forever with my kids.  WHY CAN'T I GO SWIMMING?! Or this one: I've been with my husband for 15 years.  We know ourselves and our limitations.  So when I'm a niddah and feeling crazy emotional and yelling at my kids, and just need damn hug from my husband, WHAT THE HELL? I NEED a hug!   I'm not going to jump him.  I feel like it hurts my relationship to have to distance myself so much for 2 weeks every month.  And the whole Kosher thing?  I keep it for sure.  But in my heart, I don't care if there's a tiny bug in my salad.  I think having 4 sets of dishes (meat, dairy, Pesach) is ABSURD and impractical.  There's no way they lugged all that cookware through the midbar for 40 years.  And 6 hours?!  If the problem is that there might be meat in my teeth, how 'bout I floss?  Like I said, I keep all this now, but I do it with reservation and some resentment.  

Next. "When around less observant, I'd get judgmental  (read: jealous) about their choices or lifestyle.  (It was actually a warning signal to me that I needed to reassess certain religious choices I was making)."  So this is a big one for me.  When I began my religious journey it was definitely with some hesitancy.  But for each mitzvah I took on, I never stepped back.  When I saw other's on their journeys live between worlds, (say, keep Shabbos while in Israel, come back to America for a visit and hit the movies Friday night) I got really judgmental.  And here you should definitely read jealous.  I would've felt like a hypocrite if I did it, but I resented the fact that I didn't.  When I see funky frum Jewish women sometimes uncover their hair, or worse yet, have their hair covered in an awesome tichel wrap, with a flowy shirt and a hot pair of jeans, OH MAN do I get jealous.  They look so COOL, and hip and awesome, and I look down at my jean skirt with my sneakers and my muffin top hat that looks so lame, but doesn't slip off like my tichels and this is a ridiculously long run-on sentence, but MAN I feel that burning jealousy.  How come they can do it and not be hypocrites, but I can't?  

And the second part of that sentence is an even more pressing question for me.  "It was actually a warning signal to me that I needed to reassess certain religious choices I was making."  Here is my question:  Do I insulate myself in a world (community) where everyone holds to similar standards so that I am not tempted to veer from observance?  In the orthodox world, veering from orthodoxy is well, falling off the path.  And it's our choice, who we surround ourselves with, how we spend our time, what we fill our heads with, etc.  Just like an addict shouldn't hang out in a crack house, maybe a frum jew shouldn't choose to live somewhere that holds these temptations.  And are they just that, temptations?  Or is it possible that observancy does not flow with my heartsong?  That to be true to myself as I know me, there is space for me to live with a little less restriction and therefor less resentment and jealousy?  

I am asking these questions out loud as a process of sharing my thoughts.  Maybe you struggle with something similar?  Maybe not.  I know that I am not really looking for advice.  I think this is a personal path and that there is NO RIGHT ANSWER.  But if you feel inclined to share your struggles, choices, victories, I would love to hear.  I am ALWAYS open to dialogue.  Unless it's about what to watch tonight on Netflix.  

1. Hot apple cider on in a cold November rain (please tell me you just sang that in a nasally voice in your head like I did)

2. Make your own pizza night!
3. Beautiful friends that share their journey with me
4. My 2 year-old playing peek-a-boo with his bellybutton this morning
5. My husband giving me time to write this in the middle of the day
6. Waking up before the kids and getting a shower (YES!)  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Guest Post!

Thank you Rachel Love Cohen for sharing this with us!

The Jewish Agency for Israel, Hazon (America's largest environmental group), Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, and Pearlstone Retreat Center joined together this weekend to convene the inaugural conference for a growing national Jewish movement of intentional community building. This speech was given at the first plenary.

My passion for intentional Jewish community building is likely a result of the social isolation I felt in my early years.  I was a child of suburbia.  My mother went back to her job when I was six weeks old and I went off to a babysitter each day.  My father spent most of his waking hours at work.  Both sets of grandparents lived out of town.  My sister was five years younger and, in my opinion, an unacceptable playmate.  We were minimally affiliated Jews.  I went to Hebrew school, but we had no connection with synagogue life. We rarely, if ever, had guests.  What if the house wasn’t clean enough?  The food tasty enough?  We gave cursory waves to the neighbors, offered quick smiles to people we passed in the supermarket, made perfunctory exchanges with gas station attendants and bank clerks.  I observed: be pleasant but detached.  

I felt a loneliness and lack of connection that I could not adequately voice to my parents.  As I matured, I had windows into other people's lives.  Friends whose families took vacations together, my large pack of cousins that all lived in the same distant town, kids that went to one summer camp year after year, families with many children.  These groups were building a shared sense of belonging and I felt envious.
When I was fifteen I worked at a small, rural, Jewish day camp.  For the first time I felt held and supported through a sense of deeper meaning and connection to community. That fall I joined my synagogue’s youth group, and again, felt the tenderness of intimate communal belonging I had never known but so instinctively craved.  As I gently allowed myself to feel relevant and purposeful in these chosen communities, I saw myself defined not just by my own individual qualities, but by who I was in relation to the community.  It was a revelation.  Who I am is directly linked and impacted by who I am to you and who you are to me.  

It took me fifteen years to find that sense of belonging again.  I attended five colleges, nine programs in Israel, made Aliya, left Israel, and was a resident of more municipalities in America than I have fingers to count.  I dragged first my husband Yishai, and then our kids, around with me to numerous conventional communities, gauging the social climate, measuring, calculating, computing, and assessing all aspects of the prevailing social systems and interpersonal patterns.  And over, and over, and over again I was disappointed - sometimes despondent - over the inherent lack of intention and substance.  Yet I could not give up my search.  I was compelled to address the insistent demand I felt within - to belong to something bigger than myself; to define who I was in the context of something greater than my individual experience alone.

Despite finding a handful of secular intentional communities that seemed absolutely perfect for our family, when I seriously considered our ultimate life in one of them, I realized a non-Jewish community could not serve our purpose of social sustainability.  We would not be able to participate fully or authentically in community life without the aspects that define a Jewish community and resonate so profoundly for us.  Regular communal prayer, shared holidays and life cycle events, acknowledgment of Shabbat, awareness and consideration of kashrut, and the collective consciousness of almost four thousand years of shared history are all imperative to me.

Finally, last year, when a seasonal job was advertised with Teva, the Jewish environmental education program, at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, I knew we had to seize the opportunity.  

Isabella Freedman is first and foremost a retreat center, hosting transformative theme-based Jewish retreats and rentals.  But for those lucky enough to find themselves a position there, as staff of the retreat center or Teva, or as participants in the Adamah farming fellowship, it also serves as a Jewish intentional community.  It is a short-term, cyclical community in that most people stay seasonally, for three to four months at a time.  There are approximately fifty people living and participating on-site at any given time, most of whom are single and between the ages of twenty to thirty.  Communal meals provide the setting for powerful relationship-building opportunities.

Yishai interviewed for the position and was offered the job.  We were met with some raised eyebrows and questioning expressions from family and friends.  Were we crazy?  How would we survive on so little?  Where would we live?  There was no on-site housing available for families.  No Jewish day school for our five year old.  No regular synagogue services.  Only three other families with children.

By moving to Isabella Freedman, we have chosen a lifestyle based on ideals.  Despite some very real obstacles, we are more content and fulfilled than we ever have been as a family.  Our children are growing up in a social environment much larger than we alone can provide.  They have many aunts and uncles that love them, teach them, discipline them, and watch over them.  The depth and meaning in the relationships that they are creating is palpable, and the single most important reason we live in community. Authentic access to other human beings is sorely lacking in society today.

We have had to use savings and live frugally, but the rewards have been life-changing. We have opportunities to develop deep, authentic relationships based on shared values such as environmental stewardship, a progressive stance on Judaism regardless of affiliation, Jewish farming, mindfulness and personal improvement, and committment to communal living.  The friendships we grow and nurture with members of our community serve to strengthen and enhance our own identities, interests, and independence as individuals, and ultimately, improve our relationships with each other as family members.

This type of community experience must become available to any Jew that desires it.  In order to proliferate the creation of Jewish intentional communities, my husband and I created New Jewish Communities, an internet forum where ideas and views on Jewish intentional community building can be exchanged for the purpose of 1) connecting people with existing, forming, and conceptualized projects of intentional Jewish community; and 2) establishing the first Jewish Ecovillage in America: an intergenerational community of people who are consciously committed to living Jewishly, in the same geographic location, with the intention of becoming more socially, economically and ecologically sustainable

There has been much support for the agenda of New Jewish Communities.  As a part of a growing global movement for a more sustainable world, these communities will integrate a supportive social environment with a low impact way of life.  They will connect Jews through active and deliberate social participation in a vibrant Jewish context.  They will strengthen and repair the individual, the family, Judaism and society by developing a system of mutual support that is becoming more difficult to achieve in conventional social systems.  In this way, New Jewish Communities will change the face of contemporary Jewish life, and I look forward to being a part of that transformation.


Rachael Cohen is a big-picture thinker, captivated by social systems and social change.  She believes in the process of community building as a means to remedy social disintegration and repair individual well-being.  Rachael has a masters degree in macro social work and community practice, as well as a certificate in nonprofit management.  She is currently working on relationship-based social change through the internet forum New Jewish Communities, and in Falls Village, CT, both at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center and within the local community.  Rachael’s full time job is raising two marvelous daughters.

So guys, if you're interested in being part of the Jewish Intentional Communities movement, or just want to know more, join the facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/mashavecovillages/

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Longing to Belong

Hi everybody.  I don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve written a blog.  A while.  The main reason being that the last blog I wrote I couldn’t publish.  It was about the happenings between my husband and me.  And while I was somehow born with the desire to share ridiculous amounts of personal information with the world while lacking the most basic shame filter, my husband wasn’t.  Therefore, for the past few months I haven’t written because I didn’t have permission to write about what was going on with me at the time.  And I am really bad at writing about anything else.  In summation, my husband and I are working VERY hard on our relationship and will continue to do so, and now I am back because there is more happening in my life than marriage strife. 

Here is what’s trending in the microscopic world of me:  I went to the Jewish Intentional Communities Conference.  I went with my husband and three kids.  And can I just say, I AM NEVER SHARING ONE ROOM WITH MY WHOLE FAMILY FOR 4 DAYS EVER AGAIN!  I love them, they’re great, they don’t smell too bad.  But I am a terrible sleeper and I laid there every night, all night, fantasizing about throwing my kids off the bed and tossing their blankies and pillows after them.  See ya suckas! 

There is much to be said about the conference, the brilliant ideas, the incredible people, the connections, the talent, the fun.  But this blog is about me and my experiences so I’m going to ignore all that and go into my experience of being at a conference with 200 people.  I went from being excited to nervous to confident to insecure to extroverted to introverted and back again.  When we were broken into smaller groups and given a topic, I was able to be fully present, confident, opinionated (in a good way I think), and strong.  But walking into the dining hall with the tables filling up with the various clicks, and my high school—braces wearing—flat chested—squeaky voiced self, smiled awkwardly and scanned the room for a friendly, accepting face.  It’s a painful regression, but one that seems to be on complete autopilot.  The best I could manage was to acknowledge it, remind myself that I am ok, and sit. 

Through the conference we found that the common theme that united us all was the longing to belong.  My friend, Rachel Love Cohen, presented this idea so eloquently in a panel talk and maybe she’ll give me a copy of her speech so I could publish it here, because she said it better than I ever could.  But it resonated with us all.  We want to be part of Intentional Communities because we want to belong to something outside our nuclear family spheres.  We want to contribute and be needed and have a place and an extended family.  We want to live in connection with others beyond fair weather friends.  And since our world is so disconnected that half (or for some unfortunates among us, most) of our social interactions are virtual, we need community life. 

That is where we all felt a commonality.  But here it gets more painful for me.  You would think that at a conference full of Jewish hippie dreamers I would feel right at home.  I didn’t.  I felt that I was on the margin, just like I always feel I am on the margin of any community I’ve ever been a part of.  Because I’m not looking for diversity, plurality, equality.  I’m not a free-spirited hippie who is open to anything.  I am an observant Jew.  At least for now.  (My whole journey with Judaism is ever changing and shifting and I am unsure of exactly where I hold.)  And as an observant Jew, an inclusive community is actually quite exclusive.  I don’t want a community where my children can only eat in certain homes.  I don’t want a community where my desire for basic modesty imposes on your freedom.  I don’t want a community where Shabbos is kept in the shul but not in the homes.  And so, I feel alone. 

And I guess that is what scares me.  I always feel alone.  In a frum community I feel separate because I don’t know where I hold.  Because I question so much and at times need to take space from halacha to discover my heart connection with Torah.  Or sometimes I need to say, connection with Torah is not my priority right now.  And it’s really hard to do that in a traditionally frum community.  On the other hand, it’s hard to say that I want boundaries and rules in a hippie, live off the earth, community. 

Will I ever find a community of people with whom I feel I truly BELONG?  It is such a painful longing held so deep within me.  And of course I could say that as I go deeper within and create a calm and connected center inside, I may not desire it so strongly externally.  But I’m just not willing to wait for inner peace before I find MY community of people.  I want to go on my journey with them!  And be supported as I swerve near and far and be that community for others on their journeys.  And we can all listen to Journey together, ironically, but not, and cry out “DON’T STOP BELIEVING… JUST HOLD ON TO THAT FEE-EE-EE-EE-LING.”

And by the way, I sounded awesome in my head as I belted that out in caps.

And now for my GoodList:
1. My husband who was AMAZINGLY supportive throughout the whole conference
      2. Connecting with some incredible people (some I knew previously, some I didn’t) and hopefully    maintaining those connections
      3. Kosher food I didn’t have to cook for 4 days… and therefor no dishes!
      4. Eden and Ben.  The two awesome kiddos who became my kids’ besties
      5.   Listening to hippies belt out some old school Otis Redding around a campfire with guitars and banjos
      6. Watching my 2 year-old son do alef-bet yoga.  Freakin’ amazing
      7. Being inspired

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Forgetting for the Good

It's not easy, but every once in a while, when I put on a podcast to keep me company, I pass over the favorite entertainments, This American Life, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, The Moth, and I listen to something that's good for my soul.  This time it was a dropbox shiur (lesson) by the incredibly awesome and gevaltic R' Laibish Hundert. 

One of the reasons it is hard to get myself to do this is because I LOVE the escape of mostly mindless podcasts.  I get to escape and feel like an intellectual NPR elitist, which is way better than a mindless reality TV watcher.  These podcasts take away the repetitive, mundane, mind-numbing pain of doing the same chore over and over again.  Like dishes and laundry.  Things you have to do, ALL the time, but no one really appreciates.  So you don't get a whole lot of validation.  And I LOVE validation.  When you garden, you get the validation of everyone who eats your food (wow, you grew this?  It's so fresh!), plus you get food.  And food is ALWAYS validating.

The other reason it's hard is because I usually feel moved, from deep in my kishkas, to change something about my life when I listen to inspiring Torah lessons.  It stirs my soul and and awakens something that I routinely put to sleep with spiritual xanax.  Let's face it, sometimes it is just easier to say that I am angry or upset, or in a rest phase with my yiddishkeit.  I like to say I'm taking a breather.  It's not that I stop following halacha (though I may relax on certain things), it's that I take a break from pushing myself to take on more.  Just for a little bit.  A chance to ask the questions I need to ask.  To let things surface that I had pushed down.  A little break to let myself know that it's ok to be where I'm at.

But then along comes a great shiur, and WHAM! I need to connect to Hashem!  Now!  I need to learn more Torah and daven and do all the mitzvahs b'simchah! (with joy) NOW! 

It's a little manic.  I know.  So I go back to self medicating with a Netfilx movie.  But right now, in Elul, the King is in the field.  Mamesh, He's right here.  And if you've been to my house you know my window looks out over the field so He could be standing by the window, looking in, watching me watch my stupid movie and eat the cupcake I hid in the back of the fridge so my kids wouldn't find it.  And I can't have that.  Because soon it will Rosh HaShana and I will stand before Him and say what?  It's been a busy year, sorry I couldn't spend more time with You?  And He'll say, Nu?  I was watching you watch that movie, Tovah.  For those two hours you could've hung out in the field with me.  And had your cupcake too!  (See, I'm using "field" metaphorically to represent the inner space where my neshama connects to G-d.  I'm a writer so I can do that.)

Anyway, I am not condemning watching movies.  Ok, sometimes I get all self righteous and talk about how Hollywood is destroying our lives.  But then I need to watch the latest Wes Anderson flick.  (I picked something quirky and intellegent so you would think I'm sophisticated, but I couldn't wait to watch Pitch Perfect when it came out and begged my in-laws to let me play it on their on-demand for $4!  They let me 'cause they're awesome.)   But what I am saying is that it's one thing for me to accept where I'm at with Torah and yiddishkeit, which right now is this weird, love/hate, not so sure, but not unsure place where I allow my conflicted feelings to surface.  But it's another thing to avoid the longing because I am starting to accept myself as I am now.  Because with longing for more, can come feelings of judgement that there isn't "more."  That I am not doing more, connecting more.  That I am not more.

So I avoid it.

But like I said, Rosh HaShana is coming, and it's pretty hard to avoid that.  So I need to start my cheshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul) now. 

But in this shuir, R' Leibish said an amazing thing.  He was teaching a Rebbe Nachman teaching, then went to Reb Nosson's Likutei Tefillot on that teaching.  (Rebbe Nachman wrote a book of lessons and his main disciple, Reb Nosson, wrote a book of prayers based on each lesson.  That in itself is an amazing example of real learning.)  And the prayer for this lesson went something like this: Please G-d, as I do this mitzvah, as I say this prayer, let me forgot all my aveirahs (transgressions) and wrong doings and just be in this moment.  Let me do this good deed as though I never did a thing wrong in my life.

Wow.  That is soooo powerful on soooo many levels.  We all have a past.  We all have a list of ways we could've done something better, ways we could be better.  But in THIS moment let it be as though I have no past and I am pure and coming to you with a whole heart.  Because if we see ourselves as bad how can we pray with goodness?  We will be questioning our worthiness.  Who am I speak to You?  Who am I to help another human.  Should I even bother davening today if I haven't all month?  Should I try to be nice to my husband when I've been so bitchy lately?  Should I really pay attention while making this brocha if I always mumble them?


I should.  And for this moment, let it be as though I ALWAYS say my brochas with kavana, pure intention.

And how much can I extend this lesson to EVERYWHERE in my life?  If I try harder to have a more peaceful relationship with my son, let me, in the moments I spend with him, let go of how I see myself as a mother: angry, resentful, impatient.  Let me just be here, as the mother I want to be right now.  Present, open and loving.  So what if I wasn't yesterday.  If I see myself as undisciplined and irresponsible, let me in this moment, while I am preparing to take on a new job, forget that and be this person for this moment.

G-d, as I approach you all month and into the holidays, let me approach you with the intent in my heart right now.  Not the history of failed tries to connect.  Not the disappointment in myself and disappointment in life that I hold deep within.  Let me forget all that just in this minute.   I am calling out to You and I am telling You that I do want to connect.  Now.

And if I go back to avoiding these deep longings tomorrow, that won't stop me from trying to be my best today.

Everybody, the King is the Field.  He is here.  Ready to connect.  If you weren't such a good Jew all year, well for this moment, forget.  Be in the beauty of this moment of connection.  Let your soul be stirred even if you have a history of burying those stirrings deep.  Pray that for this moment you forget the parts of the past that don't serve you.  Because in this moment, you are loved by Hashem.  Now.

  1. Torah podcasts.  Way to use the evil internet for Good!
  2. The clouds outside
  3. The watermelon dripping off my 2 year old's chin
  4. Recent visits of friends
  5. A little bit of homeschooling happened
  6. Learning to make cheese on Sunday!
  7. Discovering spotify.  Life forever changed