Category Archives: Av

Tisha B’Av

So, the temple has fallen down again. Our regular life has been shaken up and we are bereft – there’s a space where the ordinary; the way we connect to God once was, and now we need to reinvent the faith. It was such a big moment in Jewish history, that we reenact it again and again so that we can experience it ourselves. We pile other stories of sadness and realise, that in our own lives, we build temples. Temples in the air, temples in our hearts – temples of structure and normalcy, that we use as our conduits to living a good spiritual life, that we use as our connection to what we call God. No matter whether we are Jewish, have a different faith, or are atheist, there are the elements of our lives that we rely on, that we hope will be there from year to year, that we don’t even always think about or realise the full importance of until they’re gone.

Maybe this is a necessary start to the cycle of introspection and realisation, self-work and refocus, teshuva and a new way of doing things that comes with the High Holidays. I’ve blogged on Tisha B’Av before (and I’m probably getting repetitive because I deliberately don’t look at my previous posts when writing these) but I know I need to do so again. Because this is real, and it is part of my yearly cycle. Every year, no matter how carefully I try to build war-proof temples that WILL NOT FALL, or how much I promise myself no temples at all this year, a temple falls down.

It could be anything – a lost wallet or necklace, an ending to a relationship or even a marriage, a death of a close one, a move, the kids growing up, a school, park, synagogue or other institution not being what you remembered when you were a kid, a fire or break-in, an illness, disappointment in yourself and your ability to achieve your goals, or even brand new goals that disrupt normalcy and are hard to achieve. All of these happened this year to people I know and care for, and possibly, some, to myself as well. Some are minor, some are major, but all reconfigure what is true about life and the way I live it.

So, I start looking at ways I can reimagine my faith. Maybe I stop connecting to God through that person? Do I need a new person as my confidante? Maybe I stop utilising that institution. Is there another one that will work better, or do I break away from institutions entirely? Maybe I just replace my wallet -but this might be the opportunity to get that 3-D spider man one I’ve always wanted.

The temple is gone. Despite my dislike of change, there’s nothing but rubble where once it stood. The new development won’t get unbuilt to give me back that corner of wilderness, and my kids won’t get smaller, move back in and need bedtime stories again. Dead people stay dead. I mourn, because big or small, the losses of this year are real, are legitimate and it’s OK to be sad. I take as long as I need to grieve, because that’s important.

(Explanation of Tisha B’av: Jews occasionally need practice showing emotion. We have days of joy and merriment, but we need a day where there are rules about sadness too. This is an opportunity for us to be sad.We remember all the sad things that happened to the Jewish people – the destruction of our temples, the death of our elders, the pogroms and expulsions, the devastation and despair and loneliness and hopelessness and helplessness and loss. We sit on the floor. We fast. We don’t hug or sing or swim or dance. We don’t distract ourselves with the everyday. We allow ourselves to just be sad.)

But as I eat my eggs at the end of the day, I think about the potential involved in eggs, a cycle of rebirth that is phoenix-like in its glory. The Jewish people used the destruction of the temple to build a faith that can be celebrated in a small corner of a small village by ten people with a book. They built a faith of song and dance and love and fun and rules and order and learning and practicality and story and life. They built something new that was not just good – not as good as the temple, not a replacement of the temple, not a patched up version of the temple – they built something completely new, and as a proud Jewess I can say – something glorious. How can I build some thing new this year? What do I do to make something glorious?

This year, I want to start looking for the glory now, today. I open my heart to possibility, because I know I need it. I say, “I will not be trapped by the patterns of the past that have stopped working.” I stop above all building the negative anti-temples of despair and hopelessness. I reach out to God wherever I can – I reach for glory. I celebrate Tisha B’Av fully, acknowledging the disaster in my life and then, painting the past beautiful but over, I move on to my glorious future.

Because it is definitely time to get a new glow-in-the-dark Dora the Explorer wallet, right?

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11 Av, 5775

I was reading my post for last year’s Tisha B’av. Gosh, was I ever smart! This year, I don’t feel as smart. I didn’t have as many dreams, as many temples in the air this time, so there were less to be shattered by the walls coming down. Oh, don’t get me wrong – I still get expectations in my head, God still finds most of them funny, and I still have a lot to let go of on Tisha B’Av. Still, this year, I have less of them. Today I feel like the its worth exploring what happens after – after the shiva guests leave, after the rabbis have rent their clothes, after the fighting has been over so long that the stories are legends, not memories.

The plants – the hopes, the dreams, – seem well and truly dead. The tragedy has happened, and we’ve accepted that the temple is destroyed, and even found a way to live without it. It’s done now. So, now what? Why remember that broken-ness? Why dig up those pieces of dead dreams – of things I no longer want or hope for?  I’m not building another temple. The constant repetition of, ‘someday, the messiah will come and a new temple just like the old one will be built’ is not my style. “I’ll live with smaller simpler relationships with people and with God, those with less sacrifice, less drama,” I think.

Maybe I don’t need Tisha B’Av anymore? If it’s just a day to be sad on – there are some opportunities for that. Not many, and it’s good to have a day set aside for that, but still – is that enough of a reason to bring up the past? Maybe it’s a day to remember the things that brought the temple down – baseless hatred, the disconnection between people, and to fight against that? Again good, but oddly not enough for me this year.  Maybe it’s a stern message from God to avoid building again – that Temples fall. I picture this…

And reject it. That is not my faith. That is not my God. My God says that faith IS, that love IS, that dreams are possible and real and necessary. My eye is caught not by the horror of the ancients’ loss, but by the beauty and grandeur of what they had before they lost it. I realize once again, reminded by the sheer depth of the horror that this is the world I want – one where you have so much, so very much love and hope and intimacy that its loss is a deep shattering.

I realize that I want to live in a world with grand temples and castles in the air, where the impossible is mine for the taking. I won’t be content with mediocrity. It won’t ever be the same – I know the old temple is gone and destroyed, and frankly, I don’t want another one just like it. I don’t need random sacrifices, strange hierarchies, civil wars and frozen traditions. I do, however, need the beauty. I need sweeping ballrooms and purple and crimson threads and gold and silver and copper, the intimacy so deep that it’s as if God lives here. They are a part of who I am. I will live with the crashes, though they will be emotionally horrifying.

So, I re-embrace my fairy-tales. I say yes to dreams to possibilities of wonder and magic and love and courage in my life. I turn the grieving of Tisha B’Av into inspiration, a push to hope and dream and work. The old temple is destroyed. I’ve even found a way to live reasonably decently without it. Now, I slowly gather my courage, and in the depths of my imagination, carefully and slowly and hesitantly, I begin building anew.

Av 5

You know, words are a special sort of thing for me. I like words. I like writing them. I like reading them. I like playing with them (please come over and ask for a game of boggle any time.) I like working with them.   It’s why I blog after all. So, I like prayers. Prayers, after all, are words that I say to God. They are words worth playing with – the best game ever, really. I like the words in prayers and I like what I hear in them, because it’s something different every time and it’s always exactly what I need.

Take the Shma for example. I’m going to just look at the first line – so much in it. “You shall love the Eternal your God with all your hear heart/mind, with all your soul, with all your might/ strength/ being/ possessions.” So, when I come to it fretting about a person in my life, I hear “you shall love the *eternal your God* – and not a person, so think bigger than so & so and focus on God instead.  When I am uncertain of my next choice of action, I find clarity and simplicity in an instruction to love God and do things that God might approve of. If I find myself depressed and defeated, not feeling like I can get through another day, I see the prayer as hopeful, with an emphasis on the *shall* – not as a command, but as a promise that soon I will be able to. I can simply resonate and celebrate with it, then, when I am feeling positive, hopeful, or optimistic. Yes! I shall love God, and it will be easy to do so!

I turn to the prayer to deal with anger for when I am angry, I remember that I should love God, and the people made in God’s image. It’s a reminder to do tzedaka, for the word m’odekha can be translated as belongings. On the other hand, it can also be translated as physical self or being, reminding me to take good care of my body, for how else can I love God with it? I know, when days are busy, that I need to take time for spirituality – to love God with all my soul. Should I have much work to do – well, mind, body and soul need to be doing it in honour of God, as the prayer says. 

Always, it is a call for balance – too much work, and are you really being loving with all your heart and soul? Take time for study, so that the heart/mind can love God as well. However, don’t spend all day in a library, or your soul and your might don’t get their opportunity to love God. Wherever I am, whatever I’m working on, I can take a second to dedicate it to God, says this prayer. It’s a good reminder, an added spiritual dimension to what I do, and a necessary part of everyday life.

This of course, is just the first line. I can (and have, and do, and will) make the same analysis of each of the others. (In fact, here is a thought for you, my readers and followers – give me your favourite line or prayer in the Siddur, and I will do a blog about it. How cool is that? And no, I’m not smarter than you. If you want to write the blog, I’d be happy to feature it.)

Words – prayers – are fun. That’s why the facebook games of looking at the first line of page 45 of the book closest to you to understand your love life – or putting together your favourite flower and ice cream flavour to find out your magic fairy name (I’d end up being Forget-me-not Sweet cream – try to say that with a straight face) work. Words are powerful and prayers, even more so. As the people of the book, playing with words is our heritage and our destiny. I, for one, intend to embrace it.

Av 4

This is the time of consolation, Tisha B’Av being over and the hefty work of Elul teshuva not yet in full swing (although, of course, you do teshuva all the time, right? I’ll try to be more like that in the future.) It’s also the time when we’re coming home from vacations. It’s been an amazing time of relaxation, of change, of opening up, of expansiveness. That is how I need to find consolation this year. For our vacation, we went camping in the Maritimes. We jumped through ocean waves and walked the ocean floor, hiked through trees, picked wild berries, ate meals overlooking gorgeous vistas of rock and water, saw bears and blue jays, hermit crabs and seals. It was a fantastic, incredible experience, and I loved every minute.

The people were incredible. We made random friends playing in the park and washing dishes. We saw bits of history that made Canada more real and more homey and more funny and more cute. I was connected to my last year of work – and to my childhood memories through forts and historic homes, The interpreters (facilitators? animators? Gosh, I like language in Canada) were interesting and funny and informative.

And God, God was just there. In the waves and vistas, in the berries and fresh local PEI fries (incredible,) in the trees and rocks and water (yay, Canada,) in the bears and hermit crabs, the interpreters and the memories. Each touch, each taste and smell and sight and sound was a little bit of ‘it’s OK.’ There may be things I don’t like in my life and things I feel I can’t handle, there may be challenges and crazy questions, decisions and changes, too much work and too much alone time, too many people and too many responsibilities – but there are also wild blueberries.

A world that has the sun rising over the trees in the morning, that has waves coming up on shore and tiny salamanders – that world is enough. There is enough beauty there to counteract the ugliness of paperwork and broken furniture at work. There is enough stability and continuity to counteract the change that sweeps through my life. There are enough gifts of pure joy to counteract the sneaking suspicion that God gets a kick out of laughing at my trials and tribulations. There is enough in the ocean and the history and the forest and the rocks to say, ‘wow, my problems are tiny.’ This world is fantastic, and I am so, so, so very lucky to have a few short moments now and then in which to enjoy it.

This Av, the world is my consolation, and I will hold the trees and the jays, the bears and the snails, the history and the salamanders in my heart to see me through the challenges of the coming year.

Av 3

When I was little, I went to a Jewish school – but I was completely unobservant at home. We didn’t light candles or eat kosher. We weren’t Shomer Shabbes & I never went to Mikvah. Still haven’t actually – remind me to do so at some point. Once or twice a year, we went to a Shul for holidays. The Shul was, of course, an orthodox one. In fact, the one time we saw some people walking into a nearby Reform Shul, and I asked about them, I was told they weren’t real Jews. “Why, their Shul has a parking lot!” one of the people with me said, with derision. Even then, I noticed something was somewhat odd about all that. I didn’t see why it was better to drive to Shul and park a street or two away, rather than having a parking lot. However, it was explained to me that at least we understood that there were rules, even if we couldn’t follow all of them.

I grew up clear on the concept that I may not go to Shul often but the Shul I didn’t go to was an Orthodox Shul. Then, I fell in love with my wife and I needed a Shul that was all right with that. So, I ended up in a Reform Shul. It was a shock. They had female singers! No one seemed to maintain any of the traditions! The prayerbook had some Hebrew but more English, and the English words weren’t always definitions. There were people there who said words and sang songs with *no* clue what they said. On top of that, while the Rabbi was welcoming, they *still* had trouble with two women being a household (this was 22 years ago.)

Nevertheless, it beat the alternative – being nowhere, religiously. So, we stayed. We found people we could relate to and study with – people who cared for us, and in response, we for them. We learned together, as my partner took a Jewish information class and I learned new tunes and ideas. (The bible wasn’t just given to Moses on a mountain? Are you sure?)

As I stayed, my attitudes changed. They changed again and again and again, and I wasn’t even conscious of them doing so. Sometimes, I found so much to admire in my new-found way of worship. The first time I went up to the Torah and said the blessings, my heart and soul opened and I found myself on an entirely different level of connection with God. It was startlingly beautiful. Sometimes, I laughed at my old ways of thinking – a shul that was exclusionary, that focused on form rather than spirit, that supported prejudice in any way – that became unacceptable to me. Sometimes, I despaired of them ever being the community I wanted. I couldn’t explain why it was a good idea to pray and study weekly to my friends. As my brother chose another direction, and found a modern-Orthodox Shul he was comfortable in, I felt mildly jealous – that could have been me, having people over or being over with the same large group of friends, week after week; prioritising Shabbat, saying blessings at every meal. It was so achingly beautiful too.

Was it possible to have both? Why could I not find tolerance and freedom to grow in the same place as community and strength of scholarship and tradition? Why did opening up have to mean watering down? I was talking to someone new to Reform the other day, and hearing those same opinions I had held 15-20 years ago. The high-pitched singing, the women, the lackadaisical approach to observance, the lack of true community and tradition – these were all so familiar. I realized then and there, however, that in me, enough had changed. I was proud, fiercely proud of where I was. I pointed to the holidays we celebrated together as a family and as a community. I talked about being able to express love for the Torah and for tradition without having to put up with obvious male/female barriers. Our small but mighty study group. Our choir. Our kids, growing up with the morals and knowledge I wanted them to have. I realized this was my home, here in my Reform Jewish community, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of work to do. My brother and I talk about it sometimes. He works to get his community to be more open and more modern – to accept women in more places, to understand why environmental approaches are important, to bring social consciousness into the minds of the people he’s with. Mostly, he does it by his actions – he is a feminist, vegetarian, environmentalist, Orthodox Jew and he’s proud of that.  I try in my own way – to hold holidays with my community, to ask questions about tradition, to participate in and encourage Torah study with the people around me. Mostly, of course, it’s my actions that make the difference – so, I wear my kipa, pray daily, say the blessings at meals, and go to Shul every week, even if that means driving on Shabbat. I am proud to be Reform. I am proud to be traditional. The two are not incompatible – I just have to work at them both.

Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av is coming up. It’s a day to be sad, to ask ‘what happened’, to think about tragedies. The Temples were destroyed on that day. Many Reform Jews don’t mark Tisha B’Av. They say that while the loss of the Temples was hard, it was necessary to build the Jewish society we have today; one in which Judaism does not include animal sacrifice, strict religious hierarchies, or reliance on place. Others do commemorate it, for it is tragic, and many other tragedies (such as the expulsion from Spain) have been tied to this day as well. We do. We fast and we read ‘Aikha’ (the best translation for that remains WTF, excuse the language, though most people know it as Lamentations.) We sit on the floor and we are miserable. We will, this year too.

That means I have to find a way of connecting to those Jews – the ones that had a Temple, a beautiful, clear-cut way to reach God, with a Holy of Holies, and gold vessels, and many rooms and all sorts of details. I have been studying the building of the Mishkan (not the Temple, but a precursor which gives us ideas) this year, so I still hear God’s instructions about curtain rings in my head. Then, someone destroyed it and it was gone. I find myself thinking about the fall of the Temple and matching it to the castles – the temples – in the air that I have built and that have fallen this year.

Those of us with faith, our castles in the air are temples. If God wills, we add. Relationship temples – “and then we’ll be together forever”, family temples – “holding my baby in my arms”, career temples – “and I’ll be the head of the institute”, security temples – “a nice house, and no mortgage” – we build them and then we decorate them. There are gilded vessels (“that’s me, up there, on the podium”) and many rooms with details, including those blessed curtain rings (“after I get married, we’ll need a house with 4 rooms, so we can have one for each of our 3 future children – no 5, my partner will need a studio…”). There is also a Holy of Holies where we can meet God, after proper preparation, not frequently but maybe once in a while. For me, the Holy of Holies in my life is the Divine peering out of another’s eyes. Sometimes, I can look at someone, be it partner or child, friend or student, and see God and know that our connection really does sanctify and bless the world. That spark is what makes everything worthwhile. It is what turns my castles into temples. I love that moment of connection.

And sometimes, the temple falls. Maybe it is destroyed by an enemy or by a careless army which didn’t even notice me, maybe I tore it down through my own sins and errors, maybe an act of God destroyed it. I try to deny it. “It can be patched,” I proclaim. I am the queen of fixes, of repairs. I can retake that test, we can work out that fight, I can reapply for that position – whatever it is, a bit of mortar here and there, some paint; if the Maccabees did it, why can’t I? Then Tisha B’Av comes, and I have to acknowledge that my beautiful temple is a pile of rubble with one forlorn wall standing. I have to see that it is unsalvageable, that there is no Holy of Holies here anymore for God seems to have left, that wild beasts wander through the plowed fields where once beautiful towers stood. That is the sadness of Tisha B’Av.

The work starts there. I need to do that acknowledgement, admit the grief, celebrate the memories without living in them, and find some way to go on. Maybe, like the Jews, I can reconceive my faith and learn to live in the community where I find myself. Maybe I can find God in other ways. Perhaps in time, I can again find the holiness in someone’s eyes, in a connection I make. For now, there is the heartbreak. It hurts. Over and over, year after year, we acknowledge the pain of broken temples – lost dreams, ended relationships (whether by death or distance,) missed opportunities, failed attempts.

That is a day that needs to be marked. On Tisha B’Av, I do my acceptance work, so that I can start the painful process of consolation and rebuilding that I will need to do through Elul to prepare for a New Year. I cry – a lot – and I let go. It’s all that is left to do.

Av 1

Welcome to my blog. I liked blogging, and while the family blog didn’t float, I thought I’d make one of my own and try again. I am looking forward to writing you weekly again, and maybe, I’ll do Elul through the blog too. I’ll probably write on Jewish issues, but not exclusively. This blog is my place – to write my thoughts, ideas, opinions, whatever. I’m open to suggestions, though. If you have an idea, or a topic you’d like me to write about – just let me know.

Today, I thought I’d write about the way I pray. I try for 3 times a day (although usually manage only 1 or 2) and say a number of different prayers in my head, with just my lips moving. It worked for Hannah, it’ll work for me. I say the prayers I learned over my life – prayers of gratitude and surrender, request and admiration. These are the words that I hope will guide my life, my choices and my decisions on a moment by moment basis. I say them. I try to believe them. I try to enact them. I pray God helps.

Sometimes, when I am full up with feelings, I can’t pray. I just am too angry, or too scared – or even too happy, although more rarely. My ability to quiet my mind and repeat words, whether self-chosen or traditional, is low. It is, in fact, non-existent. So, then I scream out my prayers, with tears on my face. They become incoherent expressions of emotion, broken bits of words and sentences, gestures of futility or anguish, jumps for joy. They become much less controlled – and I’m more easily distracted.

“Oh, I didn’t have time to pray today,” I say to myself.  “I was too busy.” It’s not true, though. I’m always too busy. That’s why I pray when I walk or shower, when I wait at stop lights or fold the laundry. So, sometimes I get my prayer out through gritted teeth, forcing myself to string together the bits of words and sentences, interrupting the flow of emotion to repeat formulas that may sound meaningless, but will – I know because I’ve done this – eventually bring consolation and quiet, and enable me to find a path through the anger and frustration, the futility and anguish, the craziness and overwhelmed excitement and to being able to pray freely again. Sometimes, I need to talk about it first – scream at God and at people, write, do breathing exercises – whatever it takes. Eventually, though, it comes back to prayer, to asking God for that help – and when I ask for help praying, I often get an answer.

May God be with me and with you always when we pray.