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Counting Upward, The Spiritual Journey to Shavuot

Shavuot, a Jewish holiday that celebrates the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai, is around the corner but Jews have been diligently preparing for this moment since the second night of Passover.

The word Shavuot (or Shavuos) means “weeks,” and the Torah invites us on a seven-week, soul- searching journey known as Sefirat HaOmer–that’s when we count up to the days of Omer. This 49-day time period is meant to be a workout of the human psyche so that our soul is in better shape to receive the vast wisdom in the Torah that was entrusted to us by God. We count up–not down–because each day we ascend to a level higher of spiritual refinement, each day we take one step closer to becoming God’s chosen nation. Living in a Covid pandemic world right now, we are doing a lot of counting. We are counting 100,000 American lives lost to this virus that we didn’t even know existed a year ago. We count days in quarentine, days until another part of the economy reopens. During this time, more than anything,  we are reminded that  every day counts, every person counts, every act of kindness counts, every growing pain counts, and, every blessing counts.

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Chag Sameach–It’s Yom Yerushalyim, Jerusalem Day!

Jack’s apartment on Shimshon Street, Jerusalem.

Family selfie with our tour guide Yael.

Celebrating Shabbat in Jerusalem.

As Jewish people all over the world come together (virtually) for Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, I reflect on where I was at this time last year. And that was the City of Gold, visiting my son who lived in Israel while teaching English to Israeli children in middle school.

And now, a year later, Israel is just starting to reopen after quarantining for several months because of coronavirus. I may live thousands of miles away in St. Louis, but like many Jews I always feel connected and at home in Israel.

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Eishet Chayil, “Woman of Valor,” The Ultimate Mother’s Day Poem


This Mother’s Day is unusual—every day is unusual—because the covid pandemic continues to separate many of us from our loved ones. For many families, their mothers and children are apart, and social distance parties and Zoom meetings are the next best thing to actually being together physically. This Mother’s Day, I will be celebrating with my husband and our son Jack, who promised to whip up something creative for dinner, maybe a ginger cocktail, deviled egg appetizer, squash salad, and some kind of chicken drizzled with a tzatziki sauce that is all plated like a fine Mediterranean restaurant. I will be missing our younger daughter Sari who is away at pharmacy school studying for finals.

On this Mother’s Day, I am beyond grateful that I am healthy and so is my family, so truly this is the greatest gift of all.  All I ask for, besides a little adulation for holding down the fort during these last two months of quarantine, is a lilac bush planted in the backyard so I can inhale the sweet fragrance with every gentle breeze.

On every Friday night, when we welcome the Sabbath Queen, we have an opportunity to celebrate Mom every singe week–it’s called Eishet Chayil (pronounced aish-et chai-eel or eishes chayil), translated to “Woman of Valor,” and this poem written thousands of years ago by King Solomon pays homage to the matriach of the family like no other words can. Continue reading

From Mourning To Celebration, Israel Teaches Us Resilience

During these challenging times of corona, every day, every hour, is unpredictable. Sometimes fear and sadness seem to overlap with laughter and happiness, all in the same moment. Our resilience is being tested right now. Even in the darkest hour, we have faith that there will be light again. This strength is never more evident than how the Jewish people transition from Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) to Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day), which is April 27 and 28 this year.

In the time span of a week, Israel goes from mourning the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust (Yom HaShoah), to the next week remembering the soldiers who sacrificed their lives , Israel Memorial Day, to the very next day celebrating Israel becoming a state, Israel Independence Day,  Yom Ha’atzmaut. Typically these momentous events draw crowds of people, but during the pandemic lockdown the many ceremonies took place in empty venues and were broadcast online, allowing the world to witness how a nation comes together in solitude in the worst and best of times. This trajectory of lows and highs, our ability to adapt and to never give up, has led to the survival of the Jewish people. And this is the kind of strength that we all need to embrace during the global health crisis.  

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Havdalah Concludes Shabbat, Ignites Our Senses

Many of us are wondering what will life be like post COVID pandemic—first and foremost, will we be alive? Will we be healthy, weak, relieved, scared, safe, ecstatic to have our freedom again? Will we continue to have a greater awareness of what is most important in life, not put as much emphasis on the daily grind, the hustle, the material things that bring only temporay satisfaction? Will we be more understanding, patient, empathetic, loving, and responsible for each other? After living in a bubble for so long, will we continue to live to our full potential, our higher purpose, and will we remember what it feels like to life each other up and that we are all in this together?

When Jewish people observe Shabbat they go through a similar transition on Saturday night when the stars come out and we prepare to re-enter the week, that transition from the holy to the mundane. Our body and soul has been renewed for the last 25 hours, will we carry this renewed energy and deeper sense of purpose into the work week? That is what Havdalah, a Hebrew word that means “separation,” is all about. This special ceremony concludes Shabbat and engages all of our senses so that we remember to carry that beauty forward.

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Modei Ani, Giving Thanks Every Morning

If there is one thing we have learned from the daily, ongoing battle of the novel coronavirus, is that every day we are given is a gift. Some of us are perfectly healthy with no symptoms at all, others are feverish and quartantined in a separate room in the house, many are gravely ill and dying, with their families unable to be at their side. This mysterious, non-discriminating virus has made something very clear: Be grateful, everyday, for being alive.

Be grateful for Every. Single. Breath. Continue reading

After Darkness, There is Light. A Lesson When The Pandemic “Passes Over”

“Why is this night different from all other nights,” will begin my 25-year-old son Jack sporting a thick, shaggy red beard, looking more like Rabbi Yankel. The last time he recited the Mah Nishtanah, the Four Questions, at our seder he was probably around bar mitzvah age. This Passover is different, in so many ways.

Tonight, there are only three of us at the table.  My 21-year-old daughter Sari is away, living in her college town in Kansas while taking online classes and working in a local pharmacy in the thick of a pandemic. Even though I wrote an article on virtual seders HERE,  and have learned some clever ways to social distance during a real life Passover plague, we chose to do our own service this year, just the three of us. I have a collection of Haggadahs, poems, and passages that we can use, and of course I prepared a full course meal, from matzo ball soup to chocolate macaroons. Hoping Sari will join us for the afikomen, at least.

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World’s Chief Rabbis Call Us Home, It’s Shabbat HaGadol

 

Shalom Bayit, “peace in the home,” is a foundation of Judaism. And during this coronavirus pandemic when we are forced to stay in our home, this very principle can save lives.

Shalom Bayit in Hebrew means “peace in the home,” and this is what our world needs right now. These worst of times can bring out the best in us, our middot, good character traits, such as Peace, Harmony, Safety, Love, Nurture, Compassion, Empathy, Humor, Comfort, Forgiveness, Respect, Cooperation…this is what makes a house a home. Shalom bayit keeps us united, calm, and going strong under one roof, together. These important values are everything we yearn for during these times of uncertainty. We don’t have control over many things happening in our lives right now, but shalom bayit, we do. Right now, we have a shared purpose, and our actions directly impact others.

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Shabbat. The Constant Among the Chaos

We made it another week. We found solace in ordinary things. Opened the windows, let the fresh air inside. White flowers burst on a dogwood tree, a red Cardinal bird perched on a branch hidden among the blossoms, contrasting with the color of the bright blue sky. Sidewalk chalk drawings of purple and pink hearts decorate a driveway. Everybody waving to each other, six feet apart.

We have a new routine for when Scott gets home from a long day of work at his food distribution company where he makes sure a chain of grocery stores are stocked with non-perishables, even single rolls of toilet paper. As soon as he walks in the door, he strips down to his undies, throws his clothes in the washing machine, pets our dog Beau who excitedly greets him with wagging tail and kisses, and finally showers before we spread out at the big round kitchen table and eat dinner together. We talk. We breathe. We drink warm water (supposedly one of the many remedies to lessen the chance of getting sick, who knows). Afterwards, if it’s not already dark, we take Beau for a walk. Continue reading

While Pandemic Separates Us, Shabbat Unites Us

“More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Achad Ha’am Continue reading