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#BlogElul – Elul 6

So, wants – we all have them, they’re not needs, most religions agree they should be left to God, or at best sought in moderation. But what I want – at least what I want to talk about in this blog, is what happens when wants clash.

And what happens is anger. We don’t understand why the person we are trying to spend time with, communicate with, or work with in some way won’t simply do what we want. It would, really, be best for everyone. It’s just that they have a similar idea and so poof, anger, conflict, ick.

Now, don’t get me wrong – Anger is useful. It’s sort of like oxidation. It creates energy, sparks change, removes blocks. It’s powerful and effective, or at least – it should be. But oxidation is also rust and fire. It can destroy, slowly, one tiny bit of rusty nail at a time or rapidly in a huge conflagration.

Most people (myself included) are really bad at dealing with anger. We are way more likely to create rust and flames than change and energy. There seem to be two ways of dealing with anger – you can hold it in and keep it to yourself, or spew it out all over everyone. Holding it in – that’s my specialty – and that leads to rust. Soul rust is when the foundations of your dream temples are slowly eaten away, and you are unwilling to build, when you find yourself putting more and more walls on that temple to hide the rusty spots and to keep the collapse at bay. It’s ugly. At the totally wrong moment, the temple – now looking much more like a fortress – collapses anyway and in the process, self esteem and relationships have been destroyed.

Others (and I know them too – and you know who you are) light the world on fire with their anger, making sure everyone knows that they are UPSET. This is not much better, as it not only burns bridges between us and other people, but actually, it’s almost impossible for our own soul temple to not catch on fire, leaving ethics and priorities, courtesy and breath as a pile of ashes.

So what to do? God seems to frown on anger, sending plagues and swallowing people in the earth if they let it out – except when God encourages anger and tells us to fight for this or for that. Confusing. The Pirkey Avot says that they are strong who are slow to anger and can master their own spirit. Hmm. So, the first thing one must do is accept that one is angry – because our wants will not always be satisfied. We’ll get mad. We’re going to have to notice that and slow it down, and not react immediately. Then, it’s a matter of analysis. Is this the kind of case where our anger is due to a misunderstanding, an unhealthy want being unsatisfied, something we can fulfil some other way? Then we find ways to deal with that anger privately, to scrub the rust off the foundations, and do a bit of internal restoration here and there. We could write and tear up angry letters, punch pillows, go for a brisk walk, find a distant and private location and scream, visualize, make art – whatever turns the anger into something productive for us.

If the anger is motivated by something being truly wrong, on the other hand – an injustice, a lack that reflects a need rather than a want, someone’s cruelty or disdain – then we have a responsibility to act. The Torah is big on warning someone who is about to do the wrong thing and rebuking someone who is acting badly. The trick is to do so calmly, to ensure that our goal is improvement and not destruction. Embarrassing a person, using cruel pointedly sarcastic remarks to wound, pointing out flaws in public – these are totally against Jewish precepts. (If you ever were in Jewish Junior High with the Rachels, you wouldn’t know that and would actually think the opposite, but hey…) You need to find a way – a gentle but powerful way to use your anger to create change.

How can we help each other repair our soul temples instead of burning them down?  It’s a daily challenge. Learning to work with anger – to neither swallow it into myself as the earth swallowed Korakh, nor throw it out to destroy others – that’s a challenge for this year. And getting that skill – now, that’s something I definitely want.

#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.


Tishrey 1 – (#BlogElul 25 – Change)

Happy New Years! LeShanah Tovah Tikatevu…may you be written in the book of life. I only got to 24 #BolgElul again, and have no idea if I’ll make it to 29. I hope so. I will try. It will be a change from last year, and this is a time of change.

The year changed (it is now 5778), the school year started (oh, and my students all look so much bigger and smarter and more capable than they were last year), the days are shorter, and the leaves are turning colour. The last of the vegetables are coming out of our garden and the kids needed new shoes. What changes can I make?

As I stood on the Bima in services this year and heard the haunting melody of Avinu Malkeynu, I found myself in that space that Avinu Malkeynu always puts me in – that combination of humility and awe, of realization and yearning. I become aware of how much I need to do, how little I have done, and how I actually have no “good deeds” to offer, how I need God to be compassionate and kind because I come empty handed. It’s both horrifying and lovely and impossible to imagine or describe. The High Holidays are what they are because they break the boundaries of imagination to actually touch the heart. So, can I reach for deeds? Can I come from this place of nothing and try to become?

Nope. I don’t have a lot of willpower. I make promises to myself and break them much the way tiny children make sandcastles. In fact, many sandcastles last longer than my promises. So, I can claim that this is the year where I…but I might not. Notice, for example, that it is Tishrey 1, and I haven’t written the 29th Blog of Elul. So much for promises!

I go back to the feeling that Avinu Malkeynu inspired. It was echoed and amplified, through the Shofar call, by the overwhelming words of the Unetane Tokef (which was beautifully done in Hebrew and in Leonard Cohen in our Shul this morning) For a few minutes there, I had that realization – that knowledge of it not being up to me. That’s when I understood surrendering to God, and having God in the driver’s seat and letting God be in charge and all those other trite clichés that actually stop being trite or clichéd on Rosh HaShana. I saw myself as a vessel, designed to channel God’s light, broken at the beginning of the world. It was amazing.

Then my reality vs. cheesiness regulator kicked in and I realized that I was getting very close to magic mumbo jumbo and crystals and mantras and any minute now, I’d look someone deep in their eyes and tell them they needed more blue in their lives to balance their energy. (Note that if you are someone for whom crystals, mantras and blue work, more power to you. For me, they are mumbo jumbo is all.) Still, I think that feeling may have had something to it. How can I change? Maybe just by getting out of my own way.

I love doing the right thing. It feels good, it is its own reward, it brings me joy, brings others joy and connects me to other people. I don’t get there often, but it’s not hard to recognize. All I have to do is stop interfering with it. If I could just reach for that Avinu Malkeynu feeling any time that I’m trying to decide what to do, I bet that most of the time, I’d do it right. It’s a different goal and it’s not a promise, so I guess that’s a change. I’ll try to keep out of the way of God making the decisions and hope God knows what needs to be done well enough for the decisions to be the right ones.

We’ll see if it works. Whether it does, next year, I hope to be back at shul, saying with complete faith and clarity that “I have no deeds”. The difference is, if I can let God manage things this year, then next year, maybe the fact that I have no deeds will be less devastating.

Now, back to apples, honey, and most importantly, honey cake. We may have no deeds, but we sure have good honey cake!

Elul 14 – Learn

It’s funny. I’m very smart. I expect to be able to look at the pages in a book and to understand them, extract the useful information, and remember it. Very few people can do that with the alacrity and easy I can. I expect myself to be able to sit down and write an essay or article quickly and without much difficulty, and I expect the result to be good. I expect to be able to understand a topic under discussion even if it’s in a field I am relatively unfamiliar and I need to use context to figure out word meaning. I expect to learn foreign language and to communicate, write, and utilize them. Most of the time, I meet my expectations.

On the other hand, when it comes to people, to getting things done, to dealing with emotions or everyday life situations, I’m stupid, stupid, stupid. I still have trouble staying within a budget or a meal plan. I still have trouble turning off that video game or better yet, not turning it on in the first place. I still struggle with basic elements of acting in a kind, honest, respectful way and that’s after years of trying. I have been working on some of these skills my whole life! Surely, by now, I should be a bit more capable in the areas of life I find myself struggling with. A little bit more capable? An iota?

I wish often I could give up! I wish I could stop trying to relate to others, to be honest and straight forward, to be sweet and kind, to be competent and capable. I wish some days it was an option to say “f*** it!” and just be a fat comfortable slob who sits on the couch playing video games. It might not be that different from my life now, and at least I wouldn’t have to grimly fight so hard. It’s funny – sometimes my students will say “miss, you’re good at math; you have no idea how hard this is” and I think “I’m good at math but I have some idea of how hard this is.” I see your twelve attempts at a set of math questions and I raise you hundreds of checklists, journals, meetings, emails and conversations about extra chocolate!

I can’t give up. I have family and friends whom I love, who depend on me to be good at life, not just at books (in fact, mostly, the book learning doesn’t matter much and isn’t good for a heck of a lot). So, I watch my students learn and I try to learn from them. They’re making another attempt? Maybe I should too. This one is seeking multiple sources of information. That one is asking questions. Here’s one highlighting key words. Can I use any of this? Can I learn the way they are, accepting that it may take me as long as that young man who just cannot math, no matter how hard I try – if I was still able to teach him concepts, surely I can learn too.

I listen to the things I say to the kids too. Sometimes my life advice to them is stuff I should take. Try again, I say. Ask questions. Make a diagram. Look for a similar example.  I need to listen to the words I myself am saying and try to do them

Elul is the time to try again to learn the basics of living. As well as listening to my students, to my own voice, to those who are better than me in an area, I can try listening to God. I can do a bit of Teshuva and realize that missing the mark – there’s a simple method for that that totally comes from a book. I read the book, I follow the method, and I try again to learn not just factual information but the spiritual facts of everyday living that I need.

Elul 1 – Act

I didn’t want to do an Elul blog this year. I didn’t even finish last years. It’s a lot of work, no one reads it, and I don’t have time. (I sound a bit like my students – I don’t have many answers for them either, and I’m not even being marked.) I’m a big believer in tradition, though, being Jewish (still balancing on that roof) and I hate change, being Jewish, and so here I am. These posts might be a bit pathetic this year – but they will be written.

Some days I have lofty dreams – the ones where I’m totally going to reorganize the filing cabinet and have all my papers put together and start running each day for health and contact family and friends daily and then be a real leader at work with everything done ahead of time and… then I go back to what I’m doing – whether that’s usefully washing the dishes, or uselessly reading just a bit more of that novel.

It’s like the Elul blog. I have big plans and big ideas until it comes time to put them to paper and then I don’t. I am highly annoyed by that. Oh, I know what to do. Break the task down into painfully small bits. Put it on your to-do list. Schedule it. Commit to yourself and others that you’re going to do it. Visualize it done. Yes, yes, yes. And still, I don’t.

And I doubt very much I will. But this is Elul, darn it all, and Rosh HaShana is coming and this is a time to totally revamp goals, to focus on the ones I really want, to confirm that I’m going to do them, and then to act – to start to get them done. It’s a big task, but isn’t that the point of Elul? To break the cycles that don’t function, to create habits that do, to do the writing and the planning, and the thinking and the breathing that will finally, on Rosh HaShana, allow me to act.

Elul 15

#BlogElul – Change

Ah, change. I don’t hate change any more. I used to. I kept trying for consistency, to hold on to something. I kept wanting to find a place that would be safe. I looked for ways to stay with the tried and true, the known and familiar. God, of course, thought this was hilarious.

“You want stability,” God said, “I think I’ll have you move every 5 years, or even more often! You’ll need to meet entirely new people, build entirely new friends, change everything and create a place for yourself over and over again . Maybe, I’ll make you a substitute teacher so you meet new students every day. Maybe, a contract teacher where your contract is secure for exactly 2 months at a time (on good days).”

When God says, “be OK with change because you have to,” there’s no point hating change. It’s not so much that I see change as a welcome friend, more like on old travelling buddy – ah, change, here you are again, whether I want you or not. I might as well get along with you, because you keep popping up. Over time, I’ve even found some good things about change.

It gives me perspective. I can see the situation I was in more clearly with a bit of distance, and maybe I can grow a bit from it. It gives me opportunity – meeting new people stinks, but making new friends can lead to good friendships and togetherness. It gives me strength. Well, if I can make it through that, I can make it through anything.

It’s hard to find a good Jewish prayer for change, you know. Asking for change isn’t a big Jewish thing. Asking for repentance and redirection, yes. But repentance and redirection to the correct path, the tried and true one! Change? Making something different if it didn’t have to be? AAAAAAAAAA! Why are you switching to the red coat anyways? What was wrong with the blue coat? It still worked! There were years of good service in that thing! We are the old, old religion with laugh wrinkles next to our eyes and wise aphorisms just pouring out. We prefer our writing on old yellowed parchment, and we think tradition keeps us going.

So the best I can do is quote the Torah and appreciate the brevity, simplicity, and encompassing nature of Hebrew. To everything there is a time – Lakol, Zman.

LaKol – to everything. The inclusive nature of it all robs change of the power to scare. A new place becomes just a place, a part of everything. Sure it has differences, but in the context of ‘everything’, those differences are pretty small, compared to the many similarities. It’s on Earth, isn’t it? It’s not somewhere actually, say, different. Like all other places, it has place features – houses, people, love, silliness, work… It turns change into mild variation, a different flavour of ice cream rather than an earth-shattering new way to be.

Zman – time. Again, you have to love it when a saying is just two words that encompass the infinite, one in space and one in time. Today, this minute, I have time. And this change is what is supposed to be happening now in this time. Change becomes cycles, the unfolding of a path I can walk. If there is no pattern, change is a wild plunge into chaos. But what happens when I see the pattern, or at least know the pattern exists and God sees it? Change is just the next piece in a pattern. That’s not terrifying, or disturbing – I know what’s coming up and can plan for it and it’s way better.

As I learn more about change, it’s like change gets a grooming. The wild, tattered clothes get replaced with a nice dress and the medusa-like hair gets brushed. Change becomes something I can cope with and maybe even enjoy.

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?

Elul 15

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free, ’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ’twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,

To turn, turn will be our delight, till by turning, turning, we come ’round right.

I happen to really like that hymn (by Joseph Brackett.) It’s meant to be a description of a dance, with the turning being a dance step that you can take.  I’ve often pictured myself, twirling gracefully and beautifully ending up, in someone’s arms, in the valley of love and delight. That sounded beautiful. The reality is, of course, more awkward, especially since my dancing occasionally involves bumped elbows, stubbed toes and excuse me’s. At the end, the result is being sweaty and exhausted with no valley of love and delight in sight.

And while change isn’t mega big in Judaism, as we like our traditions and work hard on keeping them, there is something about that hymn. It’s a very Jewish concept, turning and changing until we get it right. In fact, the Hebrew word “T’shuva,” which is often translated as repentance actually means turning. We need to turn away from wrongful action and towards doing the right thing. We say the same thing about the Torah – turn it and turn it again for everything is within it. So, change (our changing) can be good.

At this point in my life, I no longer dislike change quite the way I used to. It would be foolish, like disliking air or disliking walking as a mode of transportation. These things are a big part of my life, and there’s no point in disliking something that’s always there. For instance, this year, once again, I have moved. I am in a new place, meeting new people, trying to grow new roots and build new connections. I am learning how to function and find things, to develop routines and achieve successes all over again, starting from square 1. You’d think after so many changes, I’d have gotten good at it – I’d be turning towards right action gracefully, in someone’s arms, and ending up in a valley of love and delight. Unfortunately, the bumped elbows and stubbed toes are very much still present.

There is a difference, though. Change is an expected dance partner now. I no longer dread each change and waste time and energy fighting against it. I may not do it gracefully but I do dance. I accept the need for change and I embrace the changes that come my way and I even, in Elul, try to make changes – to do the turning that I need to dance a bit better towards God and right action.

Don’t get me wrong! I still think this change-obsessed society often throws out the baby with the bathwater, cheerfully dumping traditions, beliefs, patterns and even relationships out the window like old clothing, no longer fashionable. I still prefer tradition to fashion. I hold stubbornly on to what I can in this mad twirling world. I think this is a good thing – not something I need to turn away from this Elul, but something I can turn towards as a piece of firm ground and a goodness.

But change is still there, still something I have to engage with. Over time, maybe I’ll be able to continue the journey I’m on, the one from wrestling with change to dancing through it. If I continue working towards true simplicity, a place where I just do God’s will without shame, without worry or fighting regardless of circumstance, maybe my dancing will become more graceful and the bumped elbows will be less. Eh, this place is a pretty good one. If I continue working on accepting change and embracing simplicity, maybe I’ll realize that this place – this part of my life – *is* the valley of love and delight.

Kheshvan 2

In last week’s parsha, Abraham and Sarah are super welcoming to the strangers and in this week’s parsha, Lot welcomes the angels. Then the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed in part because they weren’t all that welcoming. Being welcoming is a really big deal in the Jewish tradition. You have to make sure your guests feel comfortable – that they have enough to eat, that the attention paid to them is positive, that they are safe. In fact, welcoming guests is one of the lines we read in that bit about ‘these are the deeds whose reward gives you benefit in both this world and the next, which you get from Torah study’. Welcoming guests is considered a big deal for everyone. There are countless stories about rabbis that are welcomed properly or improperly, or even the Messiah being welcomed properly or improperly. It’s a Jewish value. I know because it was listed as a Jewish value in the list of Jewish values that my son had to learn to get his next colour of kippah. (Your son is a red belt in Karate? My son is a red kippah in Jewish values! Sometimes my life is funny.) So, welcoming is a big deal – especially in my current Shul which compares itself to Abraham and Sarah’s tent, which welcomes gay and interfaith couples, which is open and accepting.

OK, complete change of topic. When I was a little girl, the school I daily attended was Orthodox. There, I daily said the Birkot HaShahar, the morning blessings – the ones where we say things like “Thank You God for opening the eyes of the blind” (about our ability to see,) “Thank You God for making firm the land over the waters” (about our ability to stand,) “Thank You God for crowning Israel with glory” (well, there’s a reason to wear a kippah!) Among them was the blessing (for boys) that said “Thank You God for making me a man” and (for girls,) “Thank You God for making me according to Your will/word.” I asked a Rabbi at the time what the reason for the discrepancy might be. “Oh,” said he, “men have a lot of religious obligations and they want to show God how ready they are to do the hard work, so they thank God for giving them all these obligations. Women, on the other hand have it easier, religiously, and it would be obnoxious to thank God for not giving them so much work. So, women just thank God for making them how God wills.” It was a sweet explanation – but it didn’t entirely work for me then, and less and less as time went on. Women had lots of hard work, religious or otherwise, from what I could see, and saying thank you for making someone a man had a feeling of privilege, not acceptance of work.

New topic again! (What is it with this crazy post? It seems to go everywhere!) Interfaith families are a thing at Shul. There are and have been for some time lots of people who have a non-Jewish spouse, parent, child, sibling (yes, that’s possible, think about it,) other relative, or friend sitting with them or at least in the same row. Some people feel that these non-Jews cannot be more than guests at the Shul. They certainly cannot be members – it’s a Jewish community and they’re not Jews. That’s so simple and fundamental, it shouldn’t need mentioning. And yet – it stopped being simple when these guests became our family. They are there. They often sing the prayers with us, frequently much better than I can. They are the ones who drive the kids, participate on committees, pay the membership fees. Yes, they are guests. They are involved guests, though.

One day, sitting in my seat as the Birkot HaShahar came up, I thought about what my family member, the non-Jewish guest sitting next to me, was saying when I said “Thank You God for making me a Jew.” Was that line making her as uncomfortable as “Thank You God for making me a man” had made me many years ago? Of course, it is a perfectly valid prayer, with years of tradition. I could point out that Jews are a minority, and often disadvantaged, not privileged. Also, many non-Jewish guests will just not sing because it’s in Hebrew or sing without understanding, because it’s in Hebrew. It doesn’t say being a non-Jew is *bad* per se, it just says it’s different. In the Aleynu too – it’s just different. It doesn’t mean we don’t like non-Jews when we thank God for making us different from the other nations, and not making out portions like theirs or our having our futures be like everyone else’s. During Havdala – when we separate Jews from non-Jews, light from darkness, holy from everyday – surely we are not even slightly implying that Jews are bright and holy and non-Jews are dark and everyday.

I know all the explanations. I’ve given them. Is it welcoming, though? Is it what Abraham and Sarah, with a tent open on all sides, would have wanted? Would they be OK with it? I am not sure. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with my Rabbi’s explanation when I was a young girl. I don’t see why my non-Jewish friends would be.  I can’t help but think how I would feel if I came to church every week for some reason (it’s been known to happen) and heard a prayer that included “Thank God we’re Christians” and “Praise God we’re not stuck being like those others” and “Thanks for separating us from them.” I might not feel welcome at all. So, for me, prayers need to change. We find ways to praise God for giving us a chosen destiny without denigrating others. I skip these bits in the Birkot HaShahar, the Aleynu, and the Havdala. I stand quiet during these parts and think to myself, “what can I do to be more welcoming?”

Sometimes, only slightly amused at my life, I will even say that prayer I disdained when I was a young girl. Maybe that’s the one we should all say, as it reminds us of the fact that we are all strangers – all guests in someone’s tent. We all need compassion and acceptance, men, women, Jews and non-Jews. “Thank You, God for making me according to Your will.”

Elul 24


There is always grief and sadness

When the Goddess shuts the door

There’s a longing for the goodness

Of the way it was before

But the path winds ever onward

I must follow where it wends

And if I am facing backwards

I’ll miss what the Goddess sends

So although my tears are flowing

I will smile when moving on

Leave the past with nothing owing

Cherish what has come & gone.

There’s a joy within my freedom

And the path looks bright and clear

Though I don’t know where it’s leading

I can walk it without fear.