When Midrash Comes Alive – Sukkot 5778

I’ve heard the midrash, interpretation used to explain Jewish texts or customs, at least one hundred times. It’s the one where Abraham and Sarah’s tent was open on all four sides to welcome travelers from all directions. In the Torah, Abraham even goes as far as to interrupt G-d at one point to welcomes three approaching strangers, who he later learns are angels, and offers them the generous hospitality of his home (Genisis 18). Abraham simply accepts them. That’s important! The rabbis and the interpretation identify this story as the derivation from which one of Judaism’s values – Hachnasat Orchim  (the virtue of welcoming strangers and offering hospitality)– was originated.

In many ways, Abraham and Sarah’s tent and actions are emblematic of, ideally, how inclusive our communities could be and how enthusiastic we should be about welcoming folks we do not know. This example is the standard to which we can hold our own hospitality and measure our intentions and actions. Ideally, every person would be welcomed in the spaces they want to reside without their identities and their “belongingness” being questioned. Although, lately I’ve recognized that so many communities are more divisive and exclusive than united and inclusive. I’ve observed this both within and across the various communities or identities with which I ascribe and align myself. However, one community I am a part of, a social justice infused Jewish community in Boston, is defying this pattern of fractured, inefficient attempts at unity and oneness. Admittedly, we have a lot of work to do, still, to make sure we are accessible to everyone who wants to share our community, but overall, we’re unique in both our efforts and our effect as it relates to welcoming everyone and being inclusive.

Perhaps I can best exemplify this statement with a story…

One recent Shabbat our community shared Shabbat services and stories. I enjoyed the brief moments of peace – which always feel like time is literally stopping – during our service. We all enjoyed the refreshingness of both the natural light and the breeze from the open windows. It was one of the first nice days in a while. The reprieve from the rain elevated our spirits and our voices. Near the end of the service, a new person in the room shared with us their appreciation. Adam said that he decided to take a detour on his way home and follow the sounds of the birds. His meandering brought him close to our house – to our ruach (energy/spirit) and kavanah (intention) – and he decided to come inside. He shared the he wasn’t Jewish but couldn’t resist exploring the beauty that he heard radiating from the house. And, he mentioned that he was so appreciative to be welcomed into our space. Adam stayed late into the night conversing and sharing more songs and energy. At the end of the night, Adam thanked us for welcoming him. He reiterated how beautiful the singing and the evening was for him, and he even said this was the best night of his life.

I can’t stop thinking about this experience. Perhaps it’s because in this space it’s so intuitive for us to welcome people, and it’s something I’ve always felt was so special about our community that I hadn’t seen as explicitly until now. Perhaps it’s because often people do not share, initially, how the feeling of being welcomed impacts them – it’s an incredible feeling. Perhaps it’s because in so many other places, this type of acceptance and irrevocable, unquestionable, immediate inclusion is just not salient or attainable for everyone. Perhaps it’s because it’s so inherently “Jewish” and the best example I’ve experienced of how to embody the values of the midrash about Abraham and Sarah’s tent and the values of Sukkot.

Themes of hospitality reoccur in Judaism throughout our rituals and texts (e.g., at Sukkot and during the Passover seder). Fundamentally, Hachnasat Orchim is a mitzvah (commandment), and therefore could even be considered an obligation of Jewish people.  Therefore, it’s undeniable that welcoming all people, welcoming guests, is a Jewish value that imperatively needs to be capitalized on.  To me, this mitzvah is more significant and relevant now more than ever! We must continue to critically evaluate our spaces both to recognize how we are impacting and including others and where we can continue to improve. Importantly, as we strive to welcome newcomers in our community let us always reflect on whether we’re opening both our doors and our hearts. 

On this Sukkot, I urge you to welcome something or someone new into spaces within which you dwell – your home and your heart.

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What is my intention with fasting on Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur is threatening to smash open the Gates of Heaven and let them crash loudly behind us before we’re even ready. For many of us, there’s a lot of important work that we’ve done to get ready for this moment. Personally, I spent the month of Elul preparing for the High Holidays. I coordinated events and rituals for my community and did some really necessary self-work and reflection in anticipation of the Jewish new year – Rosh Hashana.

For example, I wrote several kavanot, intentions, for myself and my community this past month as I reflected on where I’ve been and what I need. When I started writing, I used the phrase “May you…” as the stem for each line. I tried to separate the “you” from “me” (I felt a little preachy honestly) and then, about halfway through the “you” felt more like I was writing to myself rather than writing to create distance from myself. I started feeling “May you…” a lot during these reflective days both in the imperative sense and in the sense of allowing myself to do what’s best for me.  Through daily writing, I discovered themes in my own ways of being that are holding me back in or advancing my personal growth and relationships. I agreed to let go of things that were weighing me down and make space for moments or experiences where I can be fully present. It was a pretty palpable area of growth!

Even so, as we get closer and closer to Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe dwindle, it undoubtedly feels like there’s never enough time to reconcile all I’ve done that’s been misguided and all the self-work I wanted to accomplish in the last several weeks.

Speaking of which, in some communities that I’m a part of we’re having one specific conversation related to teshuva, repentance, and self-work. Many folks are asking, “What do you do when your grievances with yourself (the things you cast away during Tashlich) are around disordered eating and exercise?” This is because on Yom Kippur, one of the customary rituals for the holiest day of the year, the act of fasting often conceptualized as your last chance to repent, may be misaligned with the important self-work folks who are recovering from eating disorders prioritize daily.

If you Google “Yom Kippur and eating disorders” you will come up with 43,100 results in 0.52 seconds. You can read a lot of interesting articles and personal narratives about how fasting isn’t teshuva when you have an eating disorder, the strange correlation between Orthodox Jewish women and the prevalence of eating disorders, and how you cannot fast (even for religious reasons) if it will threaten your life. One widely-referenced article says, ” For individuals who suffer, or are in recovery from, an eating disorder, eating on Yom Kippur is a holy act. Rather than finding “purity” or “spiritual growth” through denying themselves food, the act of eating itself is an act of teshuva.” And regardless of Google’s consensus or what a rabbi tells you, every person needs to make their own decision about what’s best for their body and their recovery – ideally, with the help of a team of medical and mental health professionals.

I will be fasting this year. One thing that I found that was particularly helpful for me in making this decision was intention setting. Many articles suggest that people who have a history of disordered eating might find it helpful to ask themselves, “What is my intention with fasting on Yom Kippur and can it be achieved some other way?” You could also ask, “What part of me is making the decision if I’m choosing to fast?” Examining your intentions is a good way to judge if it’s a responsible idea to fast and if your rationale is guided by spiritual motivation or disordered eating.

If you’re struggling with food I encourage you to take some time to revisit and evaluate your intentions around fasting on Yom Kippur. For some people “because it’s what we do” isn’t safe or enough of a justification to condone fasting on Yom Kippur.

This year, I’ve done this work for myself and I’d like to offer two intentions that I am holding with me as I anticipate and participate in the Yom Kippur Fast:

Tisha B’Av:

Tisha B’Av is one of the saddest days of the year. It’s the day that we mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Babylonian Talmud tells us,

To not mourn at all is impossible, as the decree was already issued and the Temple has been destroyed. But to mourn excessively as you are doing is also impossible, as the Sages do not issue a decree upon the public unless a majority of the public is able to abide by it.” (Tractate Bava Batra 60b). 

I’m interpreting this to mean that we mourn the destruction of the Temple at certain time periods that are designated for mourning, such as Tisha B’Av. The sorrow we feel on Tisha B’av must necessarily be time-limited – temporary.  However, if we don’t make space to feel the weight of this sadness, our persistent, always present joy risks feeling false or inauthentic. Similarly, an article from Aish mentions, “The point of the [Tisha B’Av] is not to wallow in pointless grief or melancholy. Judaism guides us to always live with a sense of purpose. Take the sadness and use it as a catalyst to rebuild. Replace destructive emotions with constructive actions. Resolve that today will bring us [the] opportunity to realize our spiritual potential.”

Just as we cannot bear the weight of immense sorrow every day, so too we cannot sustain ourselves by fasting interminably. The spiritual intention of fasting on Yom Kippur is time-limited and can be used as a tool to guide our choices in the year ahead. And, since one day of atonement doesn’t feel like nearly enough to rectify all our wrongdoings, we make time each day (e.g., through daily prayer or though apologizing) to be aware of our actions and how others experience us. This one day, Yom Kippur, is symbolic. This one practice, fasting, isn’t meant to be interminable just as the sadness we feel on Tisha B’Av isn’t always weighing us down.

Fully inhabiting your body:

I recently learned with Rabbi Jane Kanarek, PhD at a Sleichot service. Her teaching followed a series of Jewish texts which narrated all the ways (financial and otherwise) that our bodies matter and have worth. With this sentiment at the forefront, she proposed that we reimagine fasting on Yom Kippur in this way: fasting allows us to, momentarily, fully inhabit our body and experience all that it can do in its most depleted state and all that it needs to be its strongest. Only when we’ve understood the full worth of our bodies and realized that we can do so much more if we are dedicated to taking care of them can we do the work of teshuva.  She implied that you must mentally inhabit your empty (uninhabited) body to bring enlightenment and awareness to all that you need to feel strong and whole. This theme of wholeness and returning inward is essential to the High Holidays rhetoric, but in terms of fasting, the wholeness comes from when the fast is broken and you do what’s essential, replenish and fill yourself, to put your best self forward in the year ahead. Your intimate awareness with yourself and your needs demonstrates why this fast is time-limited and why the real teshuva occurs when we move beyond the symbolism of fasting and emerge from behind the Gates of Heaven prepared for whatever our bodies encounter next.

I wonder if any of you can relate to the difficulty of prioritizing this necessary self-work and awareness during the High Holidays when there’s so much to hold and coordinate on behalf of your community, work, family, and friends too. This tension, or rather sentiment, has me thinking a lot about Pirkei Avot 2:16, “you are not expected to complete the work, but neither are you free to avoid it.” That’s how I’m approaching teshuva this year. That’s how I’m facing the seemingly insurmountable task of introspection and yearning for wholeness. It’s also how I’m approaching the necessity to do both community and self-work. They’re inextricably linked and neither can be completed or thrive in isolation – we need our whole self and our whole community now, through the High Holidays, and beyond to be our strongest and to even have a shot at achieving our goals. In fact, the responsibilities are too big for one person to expect to complete on their own. What do you think?

We MUST Build This World With Love

Once a week, I have the privilege of being completely present. Once a week, I’m exactly where I need to be. Once a week I allow myself to notice my body, my breath, and my voice. Once a week I listen, and actually hear.

It’s Shabbat again. Thank G-d!


A week ago, it was January 20, 2017. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I didn’t want to think about the inauguration. I wanted to deny its reality like I had been since November 9, 2016. I couldn’t hide from it even if I tried. I felt like someone was sitting on my chest. It was all I could think of and the exact, only thing I didn’t want to be thinking about. The terror was boiling up inside of me, and I wanted to cry. The mood was somber and quiet all around me, but I wanted to scream! I wanted to shout until everyone, until anyone, heard me say, “I feel scared. I feel alone.”

And then, the sun set and the horrible day faded into a somber, ominous night. It still felt quiet, except now, it was Shabbat. Regardless of the chaos or impending legislation, all around the world, Jewish people stopped their daily routines and gathered to sing psalms of joy and praise – to mark the ritual and literal separation from the work of our daily lives and the commandment of rest. It never ceases to amaze me how Shabbat connects us all! No matter where you are in the world or what tune you’re singing, when you’re celebrating Shabbat you’re home.

When I entered the sanctuary, the energy was hovering timidly above us instead of within us, but soon and easily we all fell gracefully into the familiar melody of Kabbalat Shabbat – the service that welcomes the Sabbath. It was the first experience that day that felt natural. The familiarity was like warmth from the sun shining on my face – something I didn’t know I was missing or needed until I felt it. During one prayer, the Shema, I realized that for the first time all day I could actually hear. I could hear the beauty of our voices rising together proclaiming G-d’s oneness. I could hear the dynamic clashes and cascades of our prayers. I realized that I was exhausted because I’d spent the entire day attempting to not hear, or, better yet, to hear only what I wanted to hear. The act of being fully present, and the ability to acknowledge what that type of inner peace felt like was a blessing in and of itself. I smiled inwardly and committed to hold in my mind that it is necessary to hear – to really hear. The Kabbalat Shabbat service was restorative; it had to be because I knew this was only the beginning!

Around this time in the Jewish year, I find myself reflecting on and finding guidance in Parsha Bo. This section of the Torah narrates the story of the Exodus – when the Jews were freed from Egypt and received G-d’s commandment from Moses to “remember, this day you were freed from Egypt by G-d to go to the land of milk and honey. Remember, this day, for all generations and honor Me…”

In my remarks at my Bat-Mitzvah, over 10 years ago, I examined this portion of Torah. I talked about how the Israelites followed Moses from Egypt to the wilderness without necessarily knowing their fate. They followed with a sense urgency, trust, and purpose – they marched toward liberation. I commented that their march from Egypt was the first of many historical marches to leave a lasting impression. Then, considering that my Bat-Mitzvah was on MLK Jr. Day weekend, I recollected the inspiration I personally derived from two tremendously courageous leaders from the Civil Rights Movement: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. These visionaries marched together in Selma in 1965. They reminded everyone that justice is at the center of G-d’s plans for the world.  I explained that when reflecting on the experience in Selma, Rabbi Heschel proclaimed his, now iconic, statement, “I prayed with my feet.” He demonstrated that marching – protesting – is one of the greatest prayers of all. Rabbi Heschel’s sentiment about mobilizing and impacting change through prayer and action resonates with me deeply.

It’s important that I’m writing this nearly two weeks after MLK Jr. Day, and a week after the largest one-day protest in U.S. history – the Women’s Marches. It’s also International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the Jewish people’s liberation at Auschwitz, and the day the U.S. President (#NotMyPresident) signed an executive order that indefinitely suspends admissions for Syrian refugees and limits the flow of other refugees into the United States by instituting what the President has called “extreme vetting” of immigrants. Our history is filled with these stories of discrimination and vile hatred.  These events remind us both of our past and our very near, unclear future. Consequently, our Jewish tradition tells us that we are obliged to recall each year these stories of our past, and retell these narratives from generation to generation (L’dor Vador) so we do not forget. This responsibility is as important now as it ever was! We cannot forget the massive blemishes of our past. We must use these lessons and our retellings to cultivate strength and energy so we can promote justice and fight to live in a world where “Never Again” truly means “Never Again” – for all people no matter what.

The fight for equity and justice will be absolutely exhausting. And, while our goals are clear, our journey is certainly unpredictable. Regardless, the necessity to show up however and as best you can is beyond evident!

I felt this recently during the Boston Women’s March. However just like Shabbat and amidst the exhaustion and various actions, I was overcome by an awesome feeling. I realized that in that moment, across the world, we were all marching together. I was surrounded by people! The forward momentum in my feet was propelled by the desire to advocate for equal rights, and the strength and support of those behind me and beside me corralling me forward. Our marching was fueled by energy and love. I could feel the urgency in my body, in my spirit, and in my soul. I marched, and sang, chanted, and stayed quiet because I believe that now and forever equality is worth it!

The Torah commands us “You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18)” because in Judaism, we believe that all people are created in the image of G-d.  One of the most important ways we show respect for G-d is by respecting ourselves. Conversely, when we disrespect each other, we’re showing disrespect for G-d. I know what it feels like to feel threatened. I know what it feels like to feel safe. Embodying v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha (loving your neighbor as yourself) requires the adoption of the mentality that we are ALL worth it. We, the Jews, were worth it when others came to our side and marched with us toward freedom. Now we must reciprocate that generosity. Across our various lived experiences and diverse identities, values, and choices, we must remember that it’s our obligation to walk beside folks who are different from us. As a queer, Jewish, woman I have to believe that our uniqueness, beauty, and strength makes each and every one of us worth fighting for. We must continue to fortify and rebuild our world with love for one another. I believe it’s the only material that’s strong enough to nourish and sustain our uncertain, fractured world. 


It’s Shabbat again. Thank G-d!

And, just like last week, the blessings of Shabbat delivered me an absolutely necessary quiet and feeling of peace. Shabbat reminds me that “tonight we pause to catch our breath” and allows me to bask in this truth: “how wise is our tradition to command us to seek rest on Shabbat, and what joy it is for our souls to be refreshed.”  

When I reached Shabbat, I felt calm. I was excited to join the crowd of new and old friends and to pray with all my energy for the hope of a better world. I prayed for healing and strength. I appreciated my community nearby and all over the world. I allowed myself do the work of my heart rather than attending to the fretting in my mind. With my whole body, I thrust myself into the service of Kabbalat Shabbat, and, for just a moment, I sensed what peace feels like.


P.s. I’ve been finding incredible peace and warmth trough music and community these past few days. Here are some of the tunes that have carried me through the last week:

Reflecting on What’s Unsettled, Uncomfortable, Unfocused, and Uncertain – Thoughts for the Jewish New Year

During the Jewish month of Elul, the month preceding the Jewish New Year, we’re asked to welcome introspection. We’re invited to identify what unfinished business, what distractions, are keeping us from living in the moment. This practice compels us to have conversations with our self, grappling with feelings which are unsettled, uncomfortable, unfocused, and uncertain. So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting!

This reflective practice, prepares us for teshuvah. The practice of teshuvah, literally translated to mean “return”, and conventionally translated as “repentance”, helps shape how we experience the challenging truths of ourselves and our lives. After Elul, after identifying our missteps, and realizing where there is room for improvement, the practice of teshuvah compels us to turn outward. We look toward our community, our friends, and our family for their forgiveness and insight about how they experience us. Only then can we come full circle, return to ourselves, and identify how to put our best selves forward in the next year. By doing teshuvah, we make a choice to focus on our flaws, and find the strength, direction, energy, and support from those who are most important to us so we can grow and improve – so we can reunite out body, mind, and soul.

Rabbi Alan Lew, in his book “This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared”, reminds us that “everything we do is an expression of the entire truth of our lives.” He goes on to say that, “The present moment is the only place we experience ourselves as being alive, the only place we experience our lives at all”. In a very literal interpretation, I take this to mean that we must be present without any competing distractions to fully experience ourselves – our constantly, continuously becoming selves. Glennon Doyle Melton describes it this way; she says, “to be human is to be incomplete and constantly yearning for reunion.” I understand this concept to imply that we’re always yearning for reunification with ourselves, and that very often the representation of ourselves that we share with others is not our true, flawed, and imperfect selves.

And so this return, this reunification of body, mind, and soul, is incredibly difficult to achieve especially when I find myself battling so many unsettled, unfinished thoughts. The type of thoughts that creep up on me when I least expect it, and that push into my consciousness no matter what I do to avoid them. It’s much more comfortable to maintain some distance from myself. In fact, Rabbi Lew explains that, “we spend a great deal of time and energy… living at some distance from ourselves” typically because of fear of what we may learn, or perhaps because then the hard work of improvement and self-realization will be looming right in front of us – and that’s daunting. We maintain stories that are no longer relevant because we are terrified of acknowledging the truth of our lives – of our existence. Brene Brown also explains this idea in her work. She says, “There is a narrative that all of us hold on to that we have to retire at some point because it no longer serves our lives or our stories.” This choice, the challenge to either move forward and grow, or remain trapped in the fears and narratives that have limited us in the past, is the cornerstone of the Jewish High Holidays.

And so,  I’ve spent the month of Elul, a Jewish month of introspection considering, yet again, the importance of stories. I’ve asked myself “which stories are holding me back?”, “which stories, which truths, have impacted me in ways that, maybe, haven’t even fully revealed themselves yet?” I’ve considered, “what unfinished business is tearing [my] focus away from the present tense reality of our experience? From the present moment, the only place where we can really live our lives?” And, I’ve participated in Do You 10Q to help me discover more about myself, and make this gigantic task a bit more manageable.


Here are my answers to all 10 questions, in 3 sentences or less:

  1. Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you?

A year ago, I would have told you that I had to exclusively find and sustain strength inside myself, and be strong for my friends – even if it meant pretending (also see this).  Then, I experienced the incredible power of friendship when I was struggling and needed help. Now, I’d tell you I can’t be my best without the support my friends and family; they’re the ones who give me strength and energy – especially in the areas where I still have room to grow.

  1. Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year?

I wish I didn’t think I needed to go through all of life’s challenges on my own. I wish I understood the power in admitting I needed help earlier. I wish I didn’t waste so much energy pretending things were fine, and instead I put energy into doing everything I could to find strength, safety, and calm.

  1. Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?

This year, I earned my Master’s degree in Urban Education Policy. My education, passion, and experiences prepared me to step into my role as a Research Coordinator at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. I learned an incredible amount this year, and now I have a job that I absolutely love!

  1. Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?

One world: Orlando. Earlier this year I started writing about asexuality (among other things) on Ravishly. However, it wasn’t until Orlando that my identity within the queer community felt both salient and threatened; this event made me simultaneously want to be out, and reject any and all queer identities at the same time. [Side note: interestingly this year Yom Kippur coincides with National Coming Out Day!]

  1. Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year?

Read here. And here. I’m constantly craving spaces where the energy is contagious, and where I can be so present, confident, and welcomed that everything else fades away – for me this is often Shabbat.

  1. Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?

I want to be less fixated on food, and weight by this time next year. I realized this is really just a way to feign control when other things feel too hectic. It’s easy to let this line of thinking become an obsession, and get out of control.

  1. How would you like to improve yourself, your life, next year? Any advice you received that could help?

I want to work on being more emotionally intelligent, and giving more attention to how things make me feel. I’ve discovered that if I can identify how I’m feeling in a situation, and allow myself to authentically feel the entirety of my emotions in their context, right when they’re happening, I can be in charge of deciding how to react, and what steps I should take to alleviate the feeling or perpetuate it. My friends have reminded me that my feelings don’t have to feel out of control, and that other things will fall into place when I allow myself to feel whatever emotions are associated with anything I’m experiencing.

  1. Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully next year?

Since I’m a huge research nerd, I want to learn more about research methods, and what approaches resonate with me so I can make an informed choice when I pursue a PhD in a few years. I also want to learn multilevel modeling and longitudinal analysis techniques!

  1. What is a fear that you have & how has it limited you? How do you plan on overcoming it this year?

I am inexplicably afraid of stopping because I’m afraid of what I’ll learn about myself, and I’m afraid that the flooding will be too intense. This “go, go, go”,  do all the things mentality has been both an adaptive coping strategy, and has stifled my personal growth. As overwhelming as it may seem, I’m working to create space to learn more about myself, and let myself know it’s okay to stop.

  1. When you get your answers to your 10Q questions next year, what do you hope will be different about you?

I hope I am able to be more honest with myself both about my strengths, and the areas where I can improve. I hope I’m still relentlessly passionate and aggressive in my pursuit of my goals, but that I’m able to supplement my professional life with a healthy balance of socializing and other activities that bring me joy.

Those are my answers! What are yours?


גמר חתימה טובה – May you be sealed (in the book of life) for good.

Absolutely Necessary

I love great conversations! The best are the ones that keep you thinking, and questioning, and somehow are relevant and applicable in other conversations days later. I really love those mogood-communicationments where you have to stop and think, “Is the whole world having the same conversation as me?” or “did they know I was just talking about this with someone else earlier?” Suddenly, what seemed like a “one-off” discussion becomes so much more than that. And, with each new perspective, each additional layer, you gain insights and ideas that inevitably shape who you are! It makes you think! I mean really think!

Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I linked to “Jew-ography” and I’m still thinking a lot about the important lessons I learned from my time exploring the Jewish community in Cape Town. My experience in Cape Town was iterative of and has been reiterated since then as, during every major transition in my life, I slowly established my Jewish communities and networks. In Cape Town, I was literally moved to tears by the comfort I found once I overcame my apprehensions and attended Shabbat services. It’s crazy how you can be so far away from home and still find spaces that are so familiar and so welcoming. Lately, I’ve been having a lot of conversations about religion. It’s been exhilarating to grapple with my own experiences and learn about others’ connections (or not) to religion and spirituality. This has been especially impactful in the wake of so much tragedy around the world.

When I was growing up, at every bar/bat mitzvah (including mine) there was this song that the choir sang and the lyric in the chorus was “you shall be a blessing”. By this logic, I guess, rather than being blessed you, individually, are the blessing to others (and presumably vice versa). So then, especially when I begin consider all the “adversity” I’ve experienced and also what I know of the experiences of my friends (and generally in the world) and then how I make sense of that ends up making no sense at all (*sigh*). I believe adversity makes us more resilient. Even in the face of adversity we have the opportunity to acquire resilience and find the good, the blessing, in each moment – each interaction.

Lest I digress further, for me, I do a lot of “Jewish things” “just because we always have”. I’m into tradition. I appreciate practices that are a daily reminder of my religion but specifically as it relates to my need for community and connection. It’s the only thing I know (My mom is a Jewish educator (as in runs her own religious school) and my parents met as Jewish youth group advisors). So for example, keeping kosher is super important to me because in the midst of chaos and the hecticness of every day this practice makes me stop each time I eat and reminds me of something that is so fundamentally important to my identity. So the “why” or lack of doesn’t irk me (although I do know why I just don’t think about it every time) because my intentionality is one of community and maintaining a connection to my religion and to other Jewish people. When I was growing up, my mom used to play me this song (I intentionally searched for the silliest recording I could find). That resembled the “connection” piece for me. And so far, it’s been hugely influential and necessary and real for me. For example (as I mentioned), in Cape Town and then again this year, it’s been the Jewish community that has been the consistent, redeeming, allows me to breathe deeply, and smile authentically even if everything else that day sucked, special thing in my life [side note: I realize I’ve written this exact sentence before but, it applies here too].

One essential aspect my experience of Judaism is the music and the associated energy/spirit- in Hebrew we call this Ruach. I’m sharing this (and the above examples) because it reminds me about (and represents) the energy and interconnectedness that what I feel when I pray and when I find that connection – but not always because sometimes it feels like I’m just going through the motions as they’ve been scripted and reiterated so many times before.  Which is why I go each week to services – I fear missing it!

This week, this Shabbat, I definitely didn’t miss it! I was overwhelmingly reminded how absolutely necessary my Jewish community is. The colorful, diverse, emotional, bright, warm, accepting community felt just right. Our voices collectively filled the room with praises and each of us was connected in song and in spirit.

Have you ever stopped to take notice of your body and noticed that you’re smiling so much and in that moment there’s practically nothing that could happen that could make your smile waiver? It’s more than just being content. It’s a sense of belonging. It’s something beyond choosing to be happy. It’s the understanding, the realization, that you’re exactly where you need to be. It’s being so present you don’t even have to remind and refocus your energies to be “in the moment”. I knew I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Even if I have to continually relearn this lesson, I know definitively no matter where I am in the world, no matter how hard I try to “do life” (which apparently doesn’t initially include Judaism) ultimately this one thing, this connection and energy , is a necessity, that simply (or not so simply) reinvigorates me each week and I cannot be without.

This Week I’m Thankful for Shabbbat

Written last night. Revised later.


It’s finally Shabbat! Which means, we’ve made it to the end of the week and a well deserved day of rest. Earlier today, when my friend asked me what my plans were for the weekend I instantly said “I’ll probably do work”. I meant it too. AND I will do work this weekend – I’m a graduate student with four jobs. Every minute counts.

But, something changed for me once Shabbat arrived. Even though I really didn’t want to I pushed down my social anxieties, got out of bed, put on something presentable, and went to Shabbat at the Brown/RISD Hillel. As I was sitting in services, I realized it was the first time all week that I was truly “present”. It was the first time all week I wasn’t running a to-do list through my head, struggling with my perceived inadequacies, recounting or anticipating a conversation, freaking out about my future, or missing UConn. I didn’t dwell on this realization. Instead, I took a deep breath and ceded to this unintended feeling of community and mindfulness.

As the service went on, I found myself stuck rereading one of the interpretations in the prayer book.

“How wise is our tradition to command us to seek rest on Shabbat, and what joy it is for our souls to be refreshed.” 

I read that quote over and over and I kept flipping back to the page to sneak another glance. In most situations, I’m looking forward to what’s next and because of this I usually don’t even acknowledge and appreciate the steps I took to get where I’m currently standing. This is one of the reasons I’m purposely so busy; there’s always something to accomplish next. That’s probably why I never really thought about “resting” as a Jewish value or as a “wise” action. This called for some re-framing!

During the High Holidays I’ve been challenged to reflect, repent, and return to my faith and my Jewish communities both near and far. In the midst of all the change and all the seemingly urgent obligations in my everyday life, I once again, found solace in the familiarity of  the Jewish community.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the paramount theme of returning that we discuss on the High Holidays and how it relates to life. Here’s some background. This past year, I had to learn an important lesson: we cannot know for certain where we’ll be or what we’ll be doing one minute, hour, day, month, or year from now. For example, a year ago I was SURE I’d be going to graduate school at UConn. Some things don’t work out as we’ve planned. Over the course of a year, we may gain some direction in some facets of our life but I think overwhelmingly we’ll miss the mark or end up more lost. This theme of returning, in Judaism we call it teshuvah,  helps us recenter our aspirations and actions. As I struggled to really apply this concept and wrap my head around it, I considered the paradox that sometimes we need to get lost to find ourselves. During the time of the High Holidays we are invited to be self aware, to grapple with our missteps, and recognize or take responsibility for where we went wrong – where we got lost. By evaluating our actions we can return to daily life better prepared for the unpredictable year ahead.

As I was walking home tonight, I was reminded of a favorite poem by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel we used to read each Shabbat at camp.

Tonight is a time to catch our breath.
Whatever we have been doing, making, working, creating
Tonight we pause to catch our breath.

No matter how necessary our work, how important to the world, how urgent that we continue it;
No matter how joyful our work, how fully and profoundly human;
No matter how flawed our work, how urgent that we set it right;
No matter how hard we have worked to gather our modest fame, our honorable livelihood, our reasonable power

Tonight we pause to catch our breath.

So, as I walked with these words in my thoughts I tried desperately (but not anxiously) to recover all the lost breaths and stockpile enough for the upcoming week, metaphorically of course. And as I kept walking (and breathing and thinking) I contrasted this poem with a post I recently shared with my friend from The Belle Jar called “Fuck Busy”. When I shared this insightful, spot on post with her I wrote, “Have you ever read something that is so eerily accurate and it’s like the internet is a mirror?”  [Side note: It’s a great post and I could comment about it for days!]

Here’s the brief version: I know that for me, “busy” is a defense mechanism. If I schedule every minute of every day then I’ll know exactly what to expect. I’m a planner. That’s what happens when you have OCD (for me). I like routines. I like to be able to  anticipate each interaction and mange my time “efficiently”. I realize this is a direct contradiction to what I said earlier, but it speaks to why that lesson was so difficult and necessary for me to learn.

Anyway, I did this busy thing so well in college that I managed to graduate knowing almost nothing about myself other than that I am a hard worker and I am really good at time management. I started to attribute those qualities to my self worth. I found it easy to ignore anything about my life that wasn’t ultimately “productive”.  So, I have a great answer for an interview question some day and some excellent evidence to back it up.

I stay busy intentionally to avoid being “stuck in my head”. I structure my time so I don’t have time to think about me. Which is likely why I struggle each day with impostor syndrome and still can’t attribute my successes to my experience or qualifications (more on this later).  You can probably imagine then how strange it might have been tonight at Shabbat to find myself in a situation that didn’t go as planned but that also wasn’t terrible or accompanied by “flooding”. In the moment  it was really refreshing. Later, I’m definitely overthinking it. [reasons I had to revisit this post the next morning :p]

Part of this project is to become more attuned to myself. The goal is to explore things that make me uncomfortable and rather than avoid the impending discomfort, accept it and learn something. So far, it hasn’t been easy. And, the more I think about what I want to write about and tackle next the more my thoughts race. If you’re sill reading and if you’re wondering where I’m going with all this. I’m getting there. I promise.

So, Shabbat tonight was in the plan but feeling comfortable, happy, mindful, and relaxed was definitely not. I expected to sit through services and watch the clock. I expected to leave quickly after dinner to get back to doing homework, to feeling “productive”. I expected to feel self conscious the entire time and anxious about the conversations I was having. That didn’t happen. Instead, I smiled and took more deep breaths than I have in the last three months. Which is why, when we were asked during dinner to share one thing we’d do differently in the next week I said, “I’m going to try to be intentional about taking time for me”.

I don’t know how it will turn out. I may be totally overwhelmed. I may shut down. I may face more perceived inadequacies. I may make myself so busy so I do not even try it at all. I may like it.

Taking time for me is something I want to be comfortable with not forced to do or reminded about. Too often friends and mentors have uncomfortable conversations with me about “self care”. I’ve been reluctantly having these conversations since middle school. I think moving forward I’ll be more inclined to practice self care once I gain more self-awareness and move into the acceptance and action stages of knowing myself and my needs. Which means, in the coming weeks I’ll likely need to slow down and reprioritize myself in my list of obligations.

I think I’ll start with recognizing and appreciating Shabbat, a built in day of rest and reflection. See how that all comes together?


I touched on a lot here and I realized I didn’t fully unpack most of it. I’ll come back to many of these topics and explore them more as I get more comfortable. Stay tuned!