#BlogElul – Elul 5

Elul 5 – Commit

I should be committed! For thinking I have enough time to get any of this done…which I don’t. We’re moving tomorrow. However, this is one thing I do. I do it every year. It has become a habit, now in its 6th year. I think it’s a good and necessary part of my life.  So, I make time for it – not a lot of time (I’m 3 days behind) but some. I find really tiny slivers of time and write one more line – put in one more concept and ideology.

Otherwise it doesn’t happen. You let something important to you go once, twice and all of a sudden it’s no longer a habit and you’re saying, “I used to do that back when…” It’s hard to maintain good habits – even if they seem routine, it takes work. And to do it when all is chaotic and crazy – that’s more than just work, that’s commitment.

I’ve always been committed to other people. If someone asks me to do something, I try to do it. If we have a regularly planned activity or outing, I try to participate. Doing my part in the flow of everyday is an important part of who I am. It’s been harder to commit to God – keeping up with prayer, with religious observance, with seeing and treating everyone as a reflection of the Divine – and I’ve had more trouble prioritizing that. Hardest of all has been committing to myself.

If there’s one place I need to do serious tshuva for, it’s the way I’ve treated myself. Basically, I either saw my body as a useful tool that did what I wanted, or an annoying piece of malfunctioning equipment that didn’t. I would never treat another person that way! (I know people who do.) So, I must not treat myself that way. Because the consequences have been dreadful. One’s body does not like poor treatment. It gets weaker and less functional. The heavy breathing, the lack of nicely fitting clothes, the difficulty moving, the difficulty sleeping – these all point to a body that needs help.

They make it less likely that I can meet my commitments to God and to others also. I can’t do as much with others if I’m always tired or unable to keep up. I can’t think about God if I’m busy thinking of a comfort or indulgence that will satisfy an incidental craving. Even a tool, to be useful, needs to be maintained. And my body is more than just a random meat sack which I can treat any way I want. In many ways, it’s who I am, it’s where I live. To continue the theme of the month, it’s the temple that houses my soul.

Caring for the physical is a very Jewish character trait. Judaism is extremely physical (I found) as a faith, and the idea is very much to have the body be a holy temple. Eating, sleeping, dressing – everything is supposed to be a holy task. That’s why most of them have prayers for before and after. Now, it’s my turn to do that – not just through adding prayer, but through mindful care for my body.

So, it’s time to commit. To find the time, to make it a priority, to do it for the sake of myself, for the sake of God, for the sake of other people. I commit to eating healthily this year, to fun physical activities, to changing my sleep cycles, to helping my body look good, feel good, and be a holy temple for my soul.


#BlogElul – Elul 3

Elul 3 – Prepare

Well, we’re preparing for a move! That’s exciting. And appropriate – after all Jewish people wander, pretty much by definition, so the fact that we’re on the move is perfect. I, on the other hand, hate moves and change and everything associated with them. God thinks this is funny, and so, I, personally, have moved 32 times so far in my life. This is my 33rd move. Given that I’m 50, that’s less than 2 years a place, on average.

So, I should be prepared for this one. Yet a new environment is always a shock to me. There are little things that not everyone notices. The stairs aren’t where I expect them to be. The windowsills are too big (or too small). This room faces the wrong direction. The sink is on the wrong side of the shower. The bed is against a different wall. It takes me forever to figure out my paths to and from work, to know how long to allocate for putting out the garbage and recycling (important; I’m slow) , to figure anything out. It is uncomfortable and I’m never really ready.

In some ways, every Elul is a move. I’m leaving an old year and starting a new one, and the point of this month is that the new one is supposed to be different. Even if I do nothing, however, it is still different. The schedule for each week isn’t what I expect it to be. People are too close (or too distant.) This aspect of my life is going in the wrong direction. The politicians are on the wrong side of the spectrum. The children’s programs are on a different day. It takes me forever to figure out my paths through work, home, and shul, to know how long to allocate for self-care or for contacting others (also important; I’m lazy), to figure anything out. I’m still uncomfortable and I’m still not ready.

But it happens. No matter how much or how little I want to, I move both in time and in space, I change. So, all I can do is prepare. Look at every item in the house. Do I need this? Really? What about that? Look at every belief system in my heart in the same way. Do I still believe in this? Really? Is that idea still working?

I use wrapping paper to protect things important to me. I use ritual to protect ideals important to me. I appreciate the beauty of items I haven’t seen for a while. I appreciate the beauty of concepts I haven’t used for a while too. I get movers to help lift the heavy things, and I get help from friends to help deal with the heavy feelings. I label and categorize, plan new locations and try different spots. How can this year, this move, this set of changes be incredible? I invest in me, financially and emotionally.

I feel I did a lot of prep for this move. Not that I’m ready – I am, like an excellent book says – completely unprepared. But the move is happening. Elul is happening. All I can do is prepare to the best of my abilities and cope with the results.


#BlogElul – Elul 2

Elul 2 – Seek

(Psalms 27:4) “One thing have I asked of the Eternal, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Eternal, and to seek God in God’s temple.

In my head, I’m always see my daughters singing this to a tune written for them by their Cantor and it makes me smile. The tune is gorgeous and it’s moving and it really helps the words be felt. ’s kind of confusing though, with lots of contradictions. What is this one thing? Because three things are listed. And is this something I’m asking for, or something I’m doing? If I ask for one thing, why am I seeking it? A mess, right? So, how to reconcile it all?  What does this person want?

We’re supposed to read this psalm during Elul, so it’s topical to discuss the meaning of this verse, which to me seems like the best one in the entire psalm (no enemies being murdered.) So, this isn’t supposed to be some other person, this is supposed to be me reading it and so me doing the asking, the seeking, the dwelling, the gazing.

What is the one thing I have asked of the Eternal, then? If I follow the words of the psalm then the one thing is to dwell in the House of God, to seek God there, and to gaze on the beauty of the Eternal. Listed in that way, it’s easier to see it as one thing – and since I talked about Temples in Elul 1, it only makes sense to have temples again today.

What would it mean for me to live in God’s temple and seek God there? I’d always be encountering beauty, wouldn’t I? Temples are beautiful. I’d be doing my best to look for the beautiful and Godly in everything – to change how I see the world so that I’m gazing at the beauty of the Eternal. That would be a way to seek God and to live in a temple of God, to see the world that way.

It wouldn’t be easy – the world can be very ugly and every day living can feel nothing like a temple. For me to be living in a temple means that I see the beauty of the everyday. I can see how beautiful the world is and appreciate it. It means I treat the world the way I would a temple – I am careful and gentle and polite and I participate fully. A temple is a place where I know I need to be engaged. So, I am engaged, interested in the things I do every day.

I am actively working when I see the world as a temple, to be engaged, to perceive the beauty, to find the divine in everything – to seek God. That’s why this is a seeking – it requires work from me. But it is something I pray for too, because I know that I need all the help I can get in this task, so it is what I ask for.

That perspective – the world as a temple – changes everything. It changes relationships, landscapes, activities. It’s the right pair of glasses to wear to see the world with and it’s the one thing I need to help me live happily. I ask for and I seek this perspective this Elul, so that everything I see and do may be my looking for God in God’s house and perceiving the beauty therein.

#BlogElul – Elul 1

Elul 1 – Decide

(Proverbs 24:25-24:26) But to them that decide justly, life shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them. God kisses the lips that give a right answer.

What’s the first step to getting a new dress? A new car? A new life? No, not research. No, not pricing or budgeting. The first step is a decision. My old dress isn’t working. I need a new one. The changes themselves can be as small as going for a 5 minute walk or as big as moving to another country – the point is that once a decision has been made – everything is different.

The car stops being the family car and starts being “that old car, the one we’re about to get rid of.” People start looking at cars on the street to see if one of them will work. The budget is examined and the cost of a new car is factored in. Little by little, the decision is played out until it becomes actual.

So, God approves of decisions that are just, that are right – especially when it comes to our lives. The right decisions even feel different – they make one feel empowered and stronger instead of uncertain or confused. And Elul is an opportunity to decide.

What will I choose today? What kind of person do I want to be? That’s a question that looks like it has no answer – but clearly it does, since if I state the right answer, I’ll get a kiss – God’s touch, strength, joy – all that. (I love that image – God’s kiss on the lips. I know it’s metaphorical, but it’s so beautiful.) For me, Elul is again a chance to try to bring myself closer to what God wants me to be. My correct choice has to be to follow God’s will as much as possible.

I have been making little decisions for myself this month – decisions that look forward, decisions that involve my health – and they’ve been making me happier and they’ve been making me healthier and I think they’re the right ones. Because while the decisions have been a challenge to make – acting on them has been pretty easy. And for someone who’s always struggled with willpower and commitment, that feels a lot like God’s kiss.

Now, it’s Elul, and I am scared. I’m scared that I won’t remember the decision I made, the path I’m on. I’ve forgotten so many times before. Heck, if I had a pencil for every time I’ve restarted, I’d be able to supply every one of the many forgetful students I teach, and that’s a lot of pencils. I don’t want to be just making this decision again next Elul. I want to have moved further – I want to be making new decisions based on the foundations of this year’s. Maybe – I want to be able to build a temple.

Not a third temple in Israel, but a temple of my life, a beautiful sacred life that has strong decisions supported by strong actions. And Tisha B’Av is the time I remember that temples fall, and they need to be cleaned up – but then comes Elul and life temples – they need to be rebuilt. Now, that’s a process that takes time, one that requires cooperation and trust and new ways of looking in the world. Imagine what it would take to build a temple in Israel, without annoying the neighbours? Building a life temple has way less challenges, and they’re on a much smaller scale – but they are there! So, rebuilding is scary, especially knowing that some time during this year, before Tisha B’Av, some of what I build will be knocked down. This decision is a scary one.

All I can do today however, is make my decision, hope it’s the right one, and if it comes – appreciate God’s kiss.

Walking Across Canada 2

I did a second walk – I realize I need to speed up, but it’s been busy. I was very sad when I didn’t go on a hike on July 8th. I’m like – OK, never going to make this goal. But then, on July 10th, I discovered an amazing thing. The Great Trail passes by my house and by my work. So, I figured I’d take a day and after work, I’d walk home. Google said it was 3 hours. I could do that! I packed with care. Water bottle. Sun hat. Baby powder for those places that (sadly) chafe if you’re a bit heavy set. A positive attitude. My cell phone.

I was ready! I think I did a good job. I didn’t go in quite the right direction (I ended up following the Burlington beach instead of turning) and I’m slow and made it to Aldershot only, but I did the walk. And Josh was pretty much with me again, because we had this huge talk about motivation, so yay! I walked 5 more km. That’s a total of 8 km across Canada. This will *totally* happen (some time over the next 600 years.)

I hope to walk through Montreal with Josh again tomorrow, August 6th, by the way. Meet us at 12 or so at Berri-Uqam if you would like to join.

What was the trip through Burlington and beyond like? Good question! None of this is wilderness hiking, but the paths are pretty and even the bits along roads are nice.

Once again, here is a lovely link for all the pictures and maps of where I am.

Travel Blog – Trip 2

Walking Across Canada

This is it. My second of 6 life goals. (I’ve decided my life will include 6 additional major projects, now that my big ones – to raise a family and become a full time teacher – are getting into place.) So, here it goes. I’m going to walk across Canada. Yes, I know it’s a bit big. It may take me a while. (at my current pace, it will take me 200 years, so I might need to speed up, but hey…) Still, I intend to do it. One step at a time, one bit at a time. At the beginning of June, I took my first steps. This blog is about that.

Does this still fit with Anna’s Jewish thoughts? I think it does. I’m Anna, I’m Jewish, and these are my thoughts about Canada – a truly gorgeous country that I happen to live in. I’m sure Jewish values include taking care of body and soul, and should I encounter anything quintessentially Jewish, I’ll mention that. Besides, I’m too lazy to do a second blog. I will aim for one of these posts a month at least, describing my journey so far.

I intend to bus to places, walk and bus home for as long as that gets parts of the trail walked. I then intend to visit people for weekends and walk the trail near them for as long as that keeps being useful. Then, I’ll start planning summer and winter vacations accordingly, assuming it fits into our family structure (but the kids are getting bigger and spending time at sleepaway camps, so I totally think it will be possible). I know it is a massive, near impossible undertaking, but hey – you should see my other life projects. This one will be fun.

About a month ago, I took my first steps on The Great Trail, which spans Canada. The Great Trail maps are from the Great Trail site, an amazing site if you ask me. If you ever don’t know what to get me for a gift, it’s one of the places you could donate to (that and Autism Dog Services for our Archer) that would make me smile. I only walked 3 km on the trail (we walked more that day, but only 3 on the trail) and it was lovely to do so. Next weekend, on July 6th, at about 8:00 am (it has to be early because of the heat), I’m doing my next piece, from behind my house to the Dundas valley conservation area. Want to walk with me? You’re invited.

See the link below for day 1 and pictures – the full blog is there, but it’s easier for me to format elsewhere.

Travel Blog – Trip 1

Omer 49

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day forty nine, which is seven weeks of the Omer. Hayom yom arbaim ve tesha she hem shiva shavuot laOmer.

Today is Malkhut be Malkhut, majesty within majesty, presence within presence.

Today is the end of the Omer. For 49 days, I have counted, written a thing (well, on most of them – I’m caught up now) and tried to think about my character traits. For 49 days I have worked to make a difference – however small – in myself and in the world around me by following traditions that are part of my heritage. The world has kept going – horrible things keep happening around the world, people keep coming over or going away, the to-do lists kept growing and being hard to cope with. Life kept being what it was. So, did this 49 days make a difference? As usual, it’s hard to say. I guess the best that I can say is I did it. I got through it. If nobility, if malkut is just showing up – then I showed up. Thanks for counting the Omer with me – lets do it again next year.

Today, I will keep being noble. I will keep showing up

Omer 48

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day forty eight, which is six weeks and six days of the Omer. Hayom yom arbaim ve shmone she hem shisha shavuot ve shisha yammim laOmer.

Today is Yesod be Malkhut, intimacy within nobility, family within presence.

Today, I realize that having family around makes me work harder, makes me try harder and makes me care more. In fact, that’s what I do it for – for my family, for the people I love and want to spend time with and and care about. That’s what gets me up in the morning, doing the things I need to do. I am noble not on my own, but in the context of a member of my family – my community. Today, I recognise that nobility is something we create through the bonds we share and the connections we make. Today, I affirm the basic meaning underlying my faith. God is love. The love we have inside of our connections is exactly what makes us more Godly – more noble.

Today, I understand that all of these traits – nobility, love, kindness, victory, and on, and on – they are all aspects of God. I access the love I have within me, and share it, thus increasing my closeness to God and so, my nobility.

Omer 21

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day twenty-one which is three weeks of the Omer. Hayom yom esrim ve ehad she hem shlosha shavuot laOmer.

Today is Malkhut be Tiferet, dignity within beauty, nobility within harmony.

So there’s a story about a small Shul. It’s broken down, old, no one goes any more. There are 6 elderly Jews left, and whether it’s Pinchas complaining about how much work there is or Sura chirping about her grandchildren, none of them are all that focused on faith any more. Finally, Rabbi Shmuel knows there’s a problem so he goes to see a wise Rebbe in a distant place. When he finally reaches there, the Rebbe is no help. “I really don’t know what to tell you,” says the Rebbe. “But you know what – I’ll let you know what my deep spiritual insight has discovered. One of you is the Messiah. You don’t even know it yourselves yet, but there it is”

Well, Rabbi Shmuel hurries home and tells this to his congregation. Everyone is confused. Who could it be? Not Devorah who was frankly, too old and thin and ill all the time, surely? Not Moyshe who was much more focused on his back than on his prayers? Not Rachel! She was hardly ever there! But what if it was? It could be!  Rabbi Shmuel? Sure he was forgetful and scattered, but he did know a lot about Torah…

Moyshe was just about to complain to Pinchas about his back when he thought “the Moshiach wouldn’t complain about backs!”. Pinchas was almost ready to tell Surah to talk about anything other than her grandkids when he thought, “what if She’s the Moshiach – those are the Moshiach’s grandchildren. They’d be pretty important.” He listened attentively. “Hmm,” thought Surah, “he listens so well. Maybe he’s the Messiah. He has a lot to do for a Messiah. Maybe I could help”. She set up some chairs and that Shabbat, brough a kugel to kiddush. Devorah settled in with a nice cosy smile. Delicious. And Rachel, who was there on one of her random visits was so impressed that she came the next week!

Gradually, as the six treated each other nicer, prayed with more kavanah and were more thoughtful in their own behaviours, more people came to shul. It started with Rachel, and then Surah actually brought her grandchildren, and then Pinchas brought his, and they had such a good time that their parents came the next week.  There were more people all the time, and the Shul grew and brightened. Thoughtfully, Moyshe hung a plaque that said “the Moshiach’s Shul” and this became the new title and attracted more people yet.

One day the Rebbe heard ot this Shul and decided to see it. “Well,” he said to Rabbi Shmuel, “did you figure out which one of you is the Moshiach?” “The Moshiach??” Said Rabbi Shmuel. “Who has time for that? Our Deborah sisterhood is starting up, our shool needs a new teacher, I hve a lunch planned for Sunday and Wednesday and our Torah sudy is booked for at least three months ahead. I’m not going to worry about the Moshiach! But really, Rebbe, is one of us the Moshiach?” “Well,” said the Rabbi, “the six of you saved something! You saved a Shul. And if saving a Jewish soul is like saving a world – then saving this shul is saving the universe.”

What would I be like if I was the Moshiach? Would I be more careful about that stain on my shirt? Would I avoid sarcasm more and worry less and work just a tiny bit harder? What if my friend was the Moshiach? Would I be more likely to call him up or to do that small favour for him? If I saw everyone as noble – as a Moshiach, a leader of leaders, would I be kinder? Because if I was – that would be beautiful. That would be majesty inside of harmony and nobility – nobility in the everyday.

Today, I recognize beauty and harmony when I see it – in evry face I see, including the one in the mirror. After all, any of us could be the messiah.

Omer 47

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day forty seven, which is six weeks and five days of the Omer. Hayom yom arbaim ve sheva she hem shisha shavuot ve hamisha yammim laOmer.

Today is Hod be Malkhut, gratitude within majesty, humility within nobility.

Today is my day to say thank you once again. Nobility – Majesty – these are impossible on one’s own. You can’t be a teacher without students, a parent without children, a rurler without subjects. Nobility only exisis in relationship and the part we play is defined at least somewhat by the parts other people play. So, today I say thank you – to all the kids who still ask my opinion, to all the students who didn’t drop my class to all the readers who made it through another slightly drippy Omer post (some of them have been drippy – sorry), to all of you – thanks. That I have sparks of nobility is due to you.

Today, I express thanks for those who support my nobility. I try to acknowledge and support theirs.