After the Fire...

As the wildfires in northern California continue to rage, those of us who are connected with URJ Camp Newman have only begun the process of grief and mourning that we feel after learning that our beautiful campus has been destroyed.

With the words of U’netaneh Tokef echoing in our collective consciousness, we mourn the loss of our beloved physical property. For over twenty years, thousands of Jewish souls have walked through the gates of this campus, forever transformed by the awesomeness of our kehillah kedosha (our sacred and holy community).

As a product of several other URJ camps, my relationship with Newman began as an adult when I served as a member of its summer faculty. And while I love this camp and have adopted it as one of my own, it is only through the eyes of my children that I truly understand why this place is indeed sacred and holy ground.

Our oldest daughter, Danielle, was seven years old when she arrived for her first summer as a “day camper.” Although she was not old enough to officially bunk with the eight year olds, we arranged for her to be a part of their cabin during the day, while returning to me in the evenings to sleep in my faculty cabin. I introduced her to her counselors and retreated to my housing unit to unpack. Within the hour, Danielle appeared with her counselor, announced that there was an empty bed in her cabin and that it would make more sense for her to sleep in the cabin with her new friends. She promptly disappeared with her counselor and I did not lay eyes on her for the following two weeks. The camp director approached me and expressed a bit of angst that Danielle was already vying for his position as camp director and that if she didn’t slow down she would surely end up running the camp by the time she turned 10. Danielle has spent almost every summer at Newman since 2005. This past summer she was a celebrated counselor and songleader, and continues to be a fierce and avid supporter of Camp Newman and NFTY.

Avital, our middle daughter, has her own unique relationship with Newman. Many of us count down to the weekend, or to Shabbat, as a marker of time. Avital counts down to camp. There is no place in the world where she feels more in her element, surrounded by her friends and her community. She loved every inch of that campus, only to be surpassed by the love that she holds for the friends with whom she grew up over the many years of her Newman experience. We are thrilled when we camp friends journey to our home over the course of the year to reunite with each other, and we are grateful that her camp connections extend beyond the summer into the rest of her life. Her eyes shine and sparkle when she speaks about camp in ways that can only be imagined.

And our youngest child, Ayal, has been the most profoundly affected by his years at camp, and has blossomed into a young man despite many challenges. Around the same time that Ayal started to attend Newman as a camper (not counting the years that he was a toddler with me in faculty housing) we began to notice that he was struggling with certain aspects of participating fully in the camp community. Unlike his sisters, he wasn’t fully buying into the camp schedule, wasn’t making friends easily, and would often be found half way across the camp instead of with his assigned group. Perhaps at another camp we would have been encouraged to find a more appropriate setting for Ayal (who was later diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder). But Newman was determined to integrate Ayal into the camp community, assigned a member of the faculty to shadow him in order to help him understand expectations, and to mentor his counselors to understand Ayal’s yet undiagnosed issue. Ayal has spent almost every summer of his life at Camp Newman and now truly sees the campus as a second home. There are many children who struggle with special needs who are fully integrated into the camp community—because inclusiveness is a core principle of creating this holy and sacred community of ours.

My children, along with thousands of other campers and staff who reside in our area of the country, considered Newman to be a second home, a spiritual home, a sacred place, a magical, majestic retreat, and an untouchable, eternal womb of divine compassion in a world filled with chaos.

Until this week when we heard the news that almost every building on the camp was destroyed by raging wildfires in the region. Our staff evacuated, and the Torah scrolls are safe. But the campus has been obliterated.

The evening after the fire I spoke to each child individually to gently let him/her know that the physical camp is simply gone. Each one of them responded with hearwrenching sadness as they processed the devastating news.

We are comforted by the understanding that our community extends well beyond the periphery of the physical camp. We are truly blessed that for so many years, we have endeavored to take the blessing of camp with us into the other seasons of the year, often integrating Newman’s traditions into our homes, our synagogues, our relationships. I’ve observed my children with their respective cabin-mates at b’nai mitzvah celebrations, attending movies and concerts on the weekends, and even sitting at synagogue together, thrilled when their favorite camp songs are seamlessly woven into the fabric of the tefillah.

This is a community that lives and breathes far outside the confines of the physical place we call home. This is a resilient community, one that will rise from the ashes and destruction. We are blessed with both professional and lay leadership that are already working tirelessly to bring healing and hope to a community that is in tremendous pain.

As our community begins to grapple with the ramifications of this tragedy, we truly understand that the ties that bind us run far deeper than a simple connection to a physical place. With God’s help, and our persistence and determination, one day we will be blessed to return to that place with renewed sense of appreciation and dedication. During these challenging times, may we who call Newman home remain grateful for the relationships and the bonds of community that make us strong and give us strength.

What I Learned Standing at Sinai

Many years ago when I was a student rabbi, our congregation was chosen to receive one of the 1800 Czechoslovakian torah scrolls confiscated by the Nazis during WWII.

Decades after the war, one by one, these sifrei torah were redistributed to congregations around the world, and we were ecstatic to accept one of these precious scrolls.

On the day of the arrival of the sefer torah, which ironically fell on the week of Shavuot, we drove a dozen kids from the youth group down to JFK, and convinced the airport officials to allow us onto the tarmac to receive torah, quite literally.

In their excitement, the kids pried open the crate as soon as it was carried out of the cargo hold.

But as the sefer was removed from the box we understood that this torah would never be used again. It was damaged to the point of no return—its waterlogged, brittle parchment was so fragile, it was impossible to unroll it more than a few inches.

For a full minute, no one moved. No one spoke. Suddenly, and much to our disbelief, one of the kids leaned over the torah, looked carefully, and realized that the words before him were familiar to him—because he had read them three years before on the day that he became bar mitzvah.

Right there, on the tarmac of JFK, he began to chant from parashat Kedoshim: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.” In that moment, that broken parchment became whole again. In that moment, this verse became everything.

And that’s what I learned standing at Sinai.  

 

From Narrow Spaces to Open Places

From the narrow straits I cried out to God. God answered me and delivered me to the wide places. --Psalm 118, Verse 5

Recently, I made the exhilarating and petrifying choice to break free: I went zip-lining and bungee-jumping. I would have preferred sitting by the pool with a book, but there I was, catapulting myself into a canyon. For the first time, I understood the panic Joseph felt when his brothers threw him into the pit, before they sold him into slavery.

Joseph did not go down to the land of Egypt of his own volition, and his journey led to the temporary relocation of the entire Israelite people to Egypt (Mitzrayim in Hebrew).

Mitzrayim literally means from the narrow places: places of restriction and bondage.

Although the Torah narrative does not expose the drama of the 400 years between Joseph’s rise to stardom (in the Book of Genesis) and Moses’s rise to leadership (in the Book of Exodus), the storyline does note, shortly before the period of slavery began, “There arose a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph…”

Certainly, there was a political reality that led to the enslavement of our people, but was it that simple? Were the Israelites slaves to Pharaoh? Or, did they slowly enslave themselves: misplacing their identity, beholden to fear of the unknown, slipping into a comfort zone of narrowness? When did they officially migrate from freedom to servitude?

I don’t know.

I also don’t know when I started living in the narrow places; it happened unbeknownst to me. Somehow, I lost my creative drive by denying my abilities and potential; I’ve allowed others to make decisions for me that I should have made myself. I stopped fighting for what I believe in, and in fact, I forgot what it is that I believe in.

It’s easier to live in complacency. We make choices that distract us from pursuing our dreams. We blame the people closest to us. We blame our work situations. We blame politicians. We blame our religious leaders. We blame technology for stealing time and energy we might otherwise devote to our passions.

We live in fear of taking the first steps into something new – and possibly failing. We fear being ridiculed or made to feel irrelevant. We question ourselves; perhaps it is too late to make a change?

Slowly and unconsciously, we create our own narrow spaces, hiding within them, hoping no one notices we’ve retreated into mediocrity and the security it offers. Perhaps we ourselves don’t even notice what’s happening.

Just as the Israelites in Egypt gradually fell into their servitude, so do we. We allow ourselves to slip into routine, letting go of our dreams, replacing them with life’s daily grind.

Moses, with the help of Aaron and Miriam, and the strength of God, shook the people from their complacency, reminding them of their eternal bond to the Creator: we are all created b’tzelem Elohim(in the image of God). We are here to partner with God in the continual creation of the earth.

Moses reminded the people of Israel, too, that their lives are worthy of freedom. He fought for their liberation, pulling them (kicking and screaming) through the desert to the edge of the Promised Land.

What will it take to bring us out of our Mitzrayim and reclaim our worthiness? Will the narrow spaces squeeze so tightly that we are forced into the wilderness? Will it be a loved one who pulls us into the open spaces against our will? Or, on our own will we find the courage to step into the Sea of Reeds, navigating the ominous waters into the unknown?

Anthropomorphic references to God in the Torah don’t resonate with me. The story of the Exodus recalls: “And God brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm…” I don’t believe in that God, the one with a body and a voice. Although, when I reflect on my personal exodus from the narrow places, I imagine reaching my hand out into the abyss, lifted into freedom by Shechinah (the feminine facet of the Divine Presence). When I sense overwhelming insecurity, I breathe deeply and connect with my inner strength, which I believe to be God.

God is always pulling me back to myself, to my truth, where all is possible and the narrow places do not exist.

My strength manifests itself in many forms, from sources known and unknown, when I connect and nurture relationships with people who support and guide me. The same is true when I make decisions that are authentic to me, to who I am, not to the person I want other people to see.

This year, I celebrate the choice I’ve made to live in the wilderness of open spaces – where my creative soul can roam free.

You Think Your House is Ready for Pesach? Think Again...

Last year, for the first time in well over a decade, we celebrated Pesach in California. Seder was lovely, the food was delish, and the company was wonderful. But I felt a bit sad--almost slightly depressed—about not being in Israel, where there is nothing sweeter than observing the pre-Pesach preparation fun and games that begin approximately one month before the holiday. Back in our Israeli apartment for the festival, I offer these observations.

1. Israelis have turned Pesach cleaning into a full-on extreme sport. We aren't just talking about deep cleaning. This isn’t about scrubbing the house until it shines. We are talking about a hard-core crackdown...from the outside in and the inside out...dusting every flower in the garden to disinfecting the insulation of each building. If one intends to buy new furniture, paint the interior or exterior of the house, install new curtains, or complete renovations, all such activity must, must, must happen "before Pesach." It's a frenzy that extends to all corners and all Jewish households in the state of Israel. We are commanded that "In every generation you should feel as if you, yourself, personally left Egypt in the Exodus." And here in Israel, it's not a drill. This is serious exodus-ing at its very finest. 

2. Each and every supermarket, restaurant, hair salon and car wash and other retail shop has been packed for over a month with panicking, frantic consumers. Everyone is preparing food, buying gifts, and "making order" so that there will be what to eat and with whom to eat it. I know that we do our very best in the States and in other places outside of Israel to make sure that everyone has a place at a seder. In Israel, the concept of inviting the stranger is engrained into the very heart of this country. Here, no one sits alone for this holiday. It is simply not an option.

3. Today I received a text message on my phone that read "to sell your chametz, dial *8044 and we will be happy to accommodate." (Not included in the text: We are about to charge you an outrageous fee and please don’t bother to read the small print about the fact that the whole idea of “selling” chametz is simply a legal fiction...) Nevertheless, it was still pretty extraordinary to receive that text--just another reminder of why I love this country--the blend of the ancient and the modern--where even technology is harnessed to assist people observe the festival.

Pesach isn’t really about curtains or haircuts or presents (it is much more customary to give and receive presents on Pesach than it is on Chanukah in this country). Rather, it is a holy opportunity to clear out the muckiness, in our homes, in our heads, and in our hearts. I have always contended that the ritual act of cleaning out the chametz was always meant to be a physical reminder of the emotional exercise of breaking free from whatever might be holding us back from true freedom in our lives. There is no place in the world where we have constant, beautiful reminders to do our internal work than here in Israel. 

As I muse, sitting on my balcony looking over the Mediterranean Sea and listening to the calls of chag sameach among the people who live on my street... I'll extend that blessing to you, wherever you may be this Pesach. May your seder table overflow with family, friends and food. May this be a Pesach drenched in the sweet tastes of freedom. And may this be a Pesach that brings us all a physical cleaning and a spiritual healing.

 

“Ten Commandments” for Yoga Practice

Grateful for the opportunity to teach a Creative Expression Lab at the NFTY North American Convention this past weekend in Chicago, IL. I have lost count of how many times I've offered yoga at this biannual event--but this was by far the most memorable and meaningful. Thank you to the 90+ participants and the wonderful group leaders who worked with me to bring this experiential program to fruition... This is one of the handouts that I wrote for the newer yogis and yoginis in the room--I offer it here in hopes that you will find it helpful on your yoga journey--or that it might inspire you to start playing on a mat one day soon. 

 

1.    Solitude in Community

Stay on your own mat, physically, mentally, emotionally. Your experience is yours and yours alone. From the moment you walk onto the mat, imagine that you are stepping into holy space. Imagine as you practice that you are wrapping yourself in a tallit and separating yourself from all of the distractions around you. Concurrently, be grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by supportive and compassionate practitioners who are there with you on the journey.

 

2.    Be Good to your Body

You are the best judge of what your body can do—and what it cannot do. Each one of us brings a unique experience to the mat (injury, natural flexibility, muscular strength). Often, the ego gets in the way of healthy practice, especially when our eyes wander off of our mats and onto the mats of our neighbors.

 

3.    Know Thyself

Understand and accept that your body changes from day to day. One day you might feel stiff and broken, the next day you might be able to bend like a warm pretzel. Simply be aware of how your body feels today and refrain from comparing your practice to what might have been or what you wish could be.

 

4.    There is no “Winning Yoga.”  There is no “Failing Yoga.”

Yoga is not a competition—not with the people around you, and especially not with yourself (your practice might have been easier a day or a week ago). Give yourself a break. You won the minute you stepped onto the mat.

 

5.    Set an Intention at the Beginning of your Practice
Today I would like to….
When I finish my practice today I want to feel…
I want to dedicate my practice to…

(someone who could use some healing or good vibes).
Come back to this intention often during the time you spend on the mat.

 

 

6.    Practice Today So You Can Practice Tomorrow

The right intensity is the one that you can get through without feeling pain or causing injury to your body, while feeling an opening and finding space that you might not have been cognizant of before you stepped onto the mat.

 

7.    Let Go of Expectations  

What happens when you finally learn how to do handstand in the middle of the room? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. (Substitute your “nemesis pose” for handstand here…)  Achieving a difficult pose will not make you a better person, nor will it bring you happiness or emotional fulfillment. The only question to ask is: "Do I feel better in anyway – physical, mentally, emotionally, spiritually - when I leave, as compared to when I walked in?" If the answer is yes, don't analyze the why; just come back and do it again!

 

8.    Yoga Fashion Advice

Wear clothing that is comfortable—not too loose and not too snug. Stretchy fabrics are ideal (so that when you are upside-down your shirt doesn't end up covering your face). Be prepared for the room to be too warm or too cold (layer appropriately). You’ll be barefoot on the mat (socks tend to slip on the mat). Bottom line: your outfit should allow you to concentrate on your practice, not detract from it.

 

9.    Just Breathe

This whole practice is just one big exercise of breath work. The most common type of breath in yoga revolves around breathing in and out through your nose, sealing the lips, keeping the tip of the tongue pressing against the back of the front teeth, allowing the air to pass through the back of the throat. This helps to keep the mind steady. If you have to choose between a pose and keeping your breathing steady, always choose breath.

 

10. Embrace Stillness

When you are experiencing a particularly challenging moment in a pose, remember this mantra: There is nowhere to go, you’re already here. Try to move into poses, commit to the pose, and simply be. Remember: the practice of yoga is simply a series of exercises designed to calm the fluctuations of the mind and allow the body and mind to sink into a blissful feeling of peace and wholeness.

 

And You Are Still a Blessing...

Debbie,

Six years.

At this time of year especially, in the quiet of the secular new year, I find myself contemplating your impact on my life. And this year in particular, your absence from the world is especially poignant.

As with all loss, yours is one that washes over us in waves. In the earliest stages of the mourning process, singing your music was so difficult that I stopped singing it altogether. Though the process of reincorporating your compositions into tefillah has become less painful and even therapeutic, there have been moments when the sadness still hits me like a sharp knife cutting into my heart. I am comforted by the knowledge that I am not alone in my loss, and that in the times when I am unable to sing, there are many others whose collective love bring me back to a place of gratitude for your gifts.

The world of contemporary Jewish music continues to expand and deepen. Even my own daughter has become a songwriter (and a good one). You inspired me to write music many, many years ago, and in the past six years since your death I have forced myself to compose and record again. I’ve returned to a place of grappling with Jewish texts after spending several years practically ignoring them. You planted those seeds within me and others, and you planted them deeply. The moments when I am the most vulnerable, the moments in which I feel that “I am but dust and ashes” I am held and comforted not just by your memory. I am blessed to be part of a movement—part of a holy network—of intelligent, creative, committed musicians who are keeping your memory alive in countless ways. I recognize that my closest friends and confidants are people who were directly influenced during your short time on this earth, and that those seeds of inspiration have only started to blossom into the world.

I have not forgotten your voice. I have not forgotten our profound conversations, our moments of outrageous interactions, the poignant moments that we shared in laughter and in tears. I do not take any of those memories for granted. In fact, this past year, a young aspiring Jewish musician looked at me in the middle of a conversation about you and said, “Wait. You actually knew her??” It was the first time I thought about the fact that there will be a whole generation who will arise who will not know the depth of your impact firsthand. And that it is upon us, those of us who you inspired, those of us who loved you, those of us who continue to miss you terribly, to figure out ways—imperfect as they may be—to maintain your legacy and to continue to shine your light forward for generations to come.

On this anniversary of your yartzeit, I offer you my gratitude. Thank you for the blessings that you bestowed upon all of us: for your music, for your wisdom, for your g’vurah when we needed to hear it, for your unending love, and for your immeasurable impact on our community. You continue to be a blessing in a world that is so desperate for blessings. May the seeds that you planted continue to shoot up from the souls of many, and may your memory strengthen us as we go on our way.

Love,
Lisa

 

Getting Down to the Heart of the Matter...

I’ve been composing again. With intention.

Funny how life comes full circle. A musician whose love of music led her to become a dancer. A dancer whose yearning for more physicality led her to become a devout yoga practitioner. And that love of yoga and philosophy led her back to music, woven together with a commitment to progressive Judaism, always grappling for the perfect blend and balance between modernity and tradition.

When I started to work on this new musical project (a yoga-centric collection of Hebrew “mantras”), my first task was to identify poignant pieces of Jewish texts that inspired me, texts that I thought would speak to others.

This is one of the very first passages that grabbed me:

Create me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 

--Psalm 51:12 (Lev tahor b’rah li Elohim, v’ruach nachon chadash b’kirbi)

Such a magnificent piece of text. On a completely practical level, it met all my requirements. All of the words were (relatively) easy to pronounce, On a deeper level, the message of the text is profound, combining the physicality and spirituality of the heart center.  

Truth: much of what inspires me to compose comes from a place which I don’t fully understand. But often the passages that speak to me do so because of deeply personal experiences. 

So too with this snippet of Jewish wisdom. While I initially connected to it because of its spiritual message, it also served as a poignant reminder that the physical state of one’s heart is of vital importance to one’s ability to serve God. 

I was only eleven years old the first time I visited the cardiologist, and I was diagnosed with a mild but annoying heart condition. Plagued by random bouts of palpitations throughout my childhood and adolescence, I was monitored regularly but continued to remain physically active without restraint, and my doctors insisted that I become even more active than I already was and to focus more on healthy eating.  The high blood pressure didn’t kick in until I was about 36. Luckily, I had already acclimated to healthy lifestyle, and with the assistance of a cadre of medical professionals I managed to stay pretty healthy for a long time. 

Until I got sick.

Until I got scared.

It was a mild episode, but because of my history and relatively young age, the doctors decided to dig deep into my files and order semi-invasive tests. For a while I felt that my whole life revolved around visits to a variety of physicians who never quite got to the bottom of the mystery. 

Ultimately, the results were to simply adjust the dosage of a particular medication, along with strong encouragement to continue to eat well and to maintain my cardio-vascular routine. I was also instructed to reduce stress by deepening my yoga and meditation practices.

I share this information with reluctance. After all, it is not my intention to be perceived as physically broken or damaged. But over the years as I have watched seemingly healthy adults suffer from similar episodes, including some who died in the prime of their lives, I feel compelled more than ever to offer my story. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. Because of early diagnosis and pretty consistent care throughout my life, I’ve attained a higher than average level of physical health despite whatever physical challenges exist. And I think on a grand level, all of these collective experiences have inspired me to engage in mind-body-soul-spirit work in order to help others to acknowledge the undeniable connection between physicality and spirituality. 

The occasion of the secular new year is a fascinating phenomenon—especially for those of us who celebrate multiple new years. Unlike Rosh Hashanah—where we clean our spiritual slate, the secular new year often inspires us to clean our physical beings. The bottom line is that we simply cannot serve God without a heart that is both spiritually clean physically healthy. We are all in search of a “lev tahor”— a pure heart —and a “ruach nachon”—a steadfast spirit. 

There are those among us who use the secular new year to adopt resolutions; perhaps to become healthier, to exercise more, or to make significant spiritual and/or physical changes in our lives. There are those of us who loathe the idea of making such resolutions. My favorite New Year’s meme quips, “I don’t call them New Year’s Resolutions. I prefer the term, ‘casual promises to myself that I’m under no legal obligation to fulfill…’”  

I think I fall squarely between the lovers and the haters. While there is no need to wait for December 31st to make momentous changes in terms of the way we treat our bodies, it never hurts to have a bit of extra motivation, and to be surrounded by countless others who take on the commitment to making more healthy choices. 

As the process of composing this new album draws to a close, I feel especially grateful to continue the journey and to teach Torah through music, words, and movement. I am blessed with the opportunity to develop authentic relationships with those who are also on the path to spiritual and physical wellness. 

May we be all be blessed with pure hearts and steadfast spirits as we move into 2017 together. 

 

Lisa TzurComment
The Nastiest Election Ever

Snark Alert: This Post Contains Sarcasm and was Written with a Heavy Heart

I have a confession. Despite my attempts to remain positive and upbeat throughout this challenging period, I believe the US presidential election is rigged. I believe that this fraud started thousands of years ago. And worst of all, I believe that I might be to blame for everything.

It all started with Torah.

The crafters of the Torah rigged this whole election when they sneakily dropped a whole chapter called the Holiness Code into the middle of the book of Leviticus. After all, the rest of Leviticus is all about blood, guts, gore, and skin diseases. Suddenly, we are commanded to leave the corners of our fields unharvested for the orphan and the widow? We are forbidden to place a stumbling block before the blind (physically or metaphorically)? We are commanded to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, because we are all created in the holy image of God?? It's a fraud. Some freak of nature probably stuck that in there where it has no place nor meaning. Perhaps it’s not too late to just edit the whole chapter out. It’s worthless.

I believe that the great biblical prophets of ancient days rigged the electoral process when they wrote all of those trivial quotes about morality, decency and social justice. Micah taught “God has told you what is good, and what Adonai requires of you: only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). And Ezekiel preached: “Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children.” (Ezekiel 25:17) Anyone who knows anything about humanity understands one thing:  

All of those prophets were losers. Looo-sers.

I believe that if the great sages of the first century were alive today they would totally have been arrested for voter fraud. Hillel? Shammai? Just a bunch of career politicians who cared only about fame and power. Teaching the whole Torah while standing on one foot? Are you kidding me? They were unqualified to teach Torah, or anything, for that matter.

And what about the Talmudic commentators? A bunch of deplorables. Believe me, I know more about Talmud than all of those commentators.

As it so happens, the biggest criminals are my grandparents. They immigrated to this country to make better lives for themselves and for their descendants. They are the ones that instilled all of this ridiculous Torah into my heart and soul. My grandparents are the ones that convinced me in so many ways that Love Trumps Hate. It is truly because of their bravery and sacrifice that this election is totally rigged. If they were alive, we would certainly lock them up.

I am also to blame. I am a member of a traditionally male profession. Together with my female rabbinic colleagues we broke barriers down that could have indirectly led to leading Hillary to believe that she had the intelligence, the stamina, the compassion, and the chutzpah necessary to be an effective world leader. We should truly be ashamed of our crooked selves. We rigged this election and there is no turning back.

And the worst part? It appears that I've bestowed my faulty Jewish value system to my children, one of whom voted for evil Hillary, other elected leaders, and a variety of propositions that very well might destroy the very fabric of our great nation.

God help us all…this is going to be a very long night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lisa Tzur
A New Beginning Is a Precious Gift

 

Beginnings are holy.  

Every year, in this season of renewal, we are given the extraordinary opportunity to begin again. 

We begin again with a clean slate – or, perhaps, a cleaner slate. We return to the narrative of our creation, reading the Torah from its very first words, and imagining the moment when the heavens and the earth were formed, when everything and everyone inhabited the original makom kadosh, the Garden of Eden. 

Like a favorite film we watch over and over again, our chanting of the holy text is illuminated by the human gift of experience; we already know the end of this story. We’ve read, discussed, and debated this tale many, many times. In the end, we simply can’t ignore what we already know: that the perfection of the Garden is temporary, and that the chaos of the human condition will soon overrun the flawlessness of God’s creation. 

In reality, we only get one true beginning – that moment that we are born into this world. Every other “beginning” is simply a type of reset, an emotional reset of that which already exists. 

Yes, we can metaphorically begin again. But we are physically confined to these bodies, and emotionally connected to a lifetime of experience and circumstance. We can lech l’cha (go forth) and physically move to a different home or a different country. We can declutter our homes, empty our inbox, and organize our sock drawers – but we will almost certainly carry with us the baggage of our parents, our past relationships, our physical and emotional burdens, our disappointments, and our regrets. 

Like many of us, I’ve spent years trying to shed much of that baggage. Recently, however, I’ve accepted that I am exactly who I am because of the difficulty. I am who I am because of the struggles. Without those experiences, I would inevitably be someone quite different. Perhaps happier. Maybe more grounded. But without those trials, I would be her – not me.

To be honest, I’ve grown to like me. I am certainly far from perfect, and I am constantly striving to push my own boundaries and to grow. Today, at my core, I am pretty content with who I am.

Still, when I read B’reishit I am reminded that there once was a world that was truly uncomplicated. There was a garden. There were healthy things to eat. We were vegetarians and raw food junkies by default. (This is pre-Paleo Diet.) We had clean air and fresh fruit with no pesticides, and spent our days in a lush playground created by the Ultimate Designer. There were very few rules. 

Actually, it really does sound like paradise. 

The profound lesson lies in the end of the story when Adam and Chava are cast out of the Garden. Many rabbinic commentaries imply that this was God’s plan all along: that we were always meant to grapple with the complexities of our relationships with each other and with God. We weren’t meant to stay in Gan Eden for very long. It was a nest of sorts, a safe place to become strong and to grow wings, not a place to live out our days.

Each year in the long shadow of Yom Kippur – the emotional and spiritual detoxification of the Jewish people, we read the story of our creation. We are reminded that while the essence of our beings does not change, we can radically alter our paths on this journey. In some ways, we yearn for a simpler, easier set of rules – just as they had in Gan Eden – as we navigate life’s journey. But we know that the struggles and the challenges in our lives can be seen as opportunities to grow, to ground, and to be conscious of our place and purpose in the world. We understand that we are ultimately responsible for our environment and how we contribute to the world. 

This is the ultimate lesson of B’reishit. Chava and Adam begin again – this time outside the confines of the Garden, but still under the comforting wings of the Shechinah (the feminine aspect of God). And so, too, can we begin again, when we choose to accept the responsibility and the challenge of that re-beginning, that return to the essence of our creation.

Beginnings are sacred opportunities. May we continue to see the opportunity to restart and renew our lives while embracing our past struggles. And may we recognize these opportunities for resetting and restarting our lives as precious and holy gifts. 

 

Lisa TzurTorah, Beginnings, Creation