Whoever does not see God everywhere does not see Him anywhere.

Raphael Abecassis - Passover

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The title quote I’ve listed is attributed to Kotzker Rebbe. While I totally agree with this ideal, it does not always mean it works for everyone. One of the things I absolutely love about being in the Reform movement is that your spirituality and practice is yours to own to a degree. What I do is on me, and what you do is on you. I am not your judge, I am your sister.

I have taken a liking to the works of Heschel over the last year and I have always been of the philosophy that if you don’t have the best words to start yourself off, seek to those more intelligent than yourself. They have probably said it better well before you.

 Last night we had what is to be one of our last classes, and on that note, I have a date set for my Beit Din and, God willing, my Mikvah and conversion alongside my young son. The amount of reflection in me right now is unreal. Unfortunately it’s been coupled with a great deal of health issues, however, they are beginning to even out. I’ve had to be incredibly careful with myself, which has meant my rationale winning at times over what my heart wishes. Which really brings me to the initial point. The topic for our class was the Judaic ideal of God. We spent the night discussing (with one of my most favorite facilitators of the year to be frank, discussion, banter, and debate in Judaism go hand in hand which I adore) the many different meanings across different movements of Judaism of God.

We talked about the components of God in the world. We explored how many struggle with it, not just in conversion, but as even born Jewish individuals. I mean truly, what a concept! We as humans are built with egos well beyond our own comprehension and sometimes control so at times the idea of the LACK of control over our own lives and destiny and the idea that there is something more powerful, much less something we can’t interact with, that’s a big pill to swallow. Many, grapple with the concept their whole lives, I am certainly in the category of a person who did that for most of my life. That is not to say that I may never go to those mats once more, but for now there is rest, for me. I spoke up some, but as this is my space I want to expand, from my viewpoint, here. Maybe it will help those looking to enter the process, or perhaps those simply looking for some hope or perspective in their Jewish life.

I am an incredibly rational person. I always have been. If you go back and read when I started this journey, conversion was a flatout choice of mine, end of story. I already knew what I was doing the moment I walked into the synagogue my family is now active members of and has made a home at. I put long and hard though and searching into my choice to commit to this. This is not the first time I have made decisions this way and it will not be the last. My belief? This is part of how God plays a role in my life.

You see, I see God in everything. I feel God in everyday life. Be that the amazing milestones my son undertakes that we have waited a very long time to see and watching him and his dad build models together. Or sitting at my dining room table and watching as the sun sets over the hill behind my back deck and waiting with baited breath for the gardenia bush to bloom, ever reminding me of the blessed memory of my mother in law. I breathe in those moments just as much as the oxygen I need to survive and when I do it’s like being lifted up by God. True, I feel just the same when bad things can occur to even still. I feel comfort at times when there is no one there to rightly be comforting me, or my sons small hand will find mine when I cry and say “It okay mama” and I know it will be, and is. I find that strength and I know my strength of will is not just my own. This world rationally is so much larger than is possible to just be. I can’t believe it any other way and I feel otherwise every single day, in every single thing I do. In the music that I hear and sing that touches me so much I can’t help but shed tears.

My husband and I almost weren’t, but we are because I made a choice and I made that choice because I was shown it was the right thing, practically by yellow flashing lights in front of my face. I may not know the big picture and what the plans are and I remind myself of that all the time, but I know that I am not alone. The Rabbi used the word relationship a great deal last night and I couldn’t agree more that it is a relationship. Just as advertised it’s a covenant and you’ve got to work at it, by doing your part to keep things together, in your own life, and the world. You can’t ever give up and give in to settling for good enough, do better, and be better. I spent most of my life turning completely away from that and now that I haven’t my life has been filled with more blessings as has my families than I ever thought possible. Find your way to find God, however that fits for you. You’ll not regret doing so and it will fill your life with more joy to have those people and that covenant in your life than I could ever say if I was given a lifetime of words.

I still cannot fathom that this part of my journey is almost at an end. I have been finishing up some of the books I started this year. Looking into which ones I want to acquire next (There’s one about the first female Rabbi I’ve been REALLY wanting), and making my next plans for continuing my Jewish education when possible. I also need to begin shopping for a Tallit. They are a bit pricey and with our medical expenses I haven’t been able to fit one into our budget, but I dearly want one, especially for the high holidays. Which, I’ll be singing for! On Erev Rosh HaShanah and for N’liah. I’m very excited. What an amazing start to an amazing new part of my life. I’m looking forward to all of the amazing things to come, and watching all the blessings our son will receive in the years to come.

 

 

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The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man. God is not in things of space, but in moments of time.

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A striking individual wrote the words above when speaking of a beautiful day in the Judaic week. Shabbat. Abraham Joshua Heschel, if you’re looking for some deeply interesting reads check out some of his books. In particular I have been reading “The Sabbath” and I have found it intrinsically beautiful. Like touching a part of another individuals pure love of their own Jewish soul.

For some who may be unaware, particularly because it appears so frequently, this day, is above all days the most important. What does it mean? What is Heschel is saying here?

“The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man. God is not in things of space, but in moments of time.” and for that matter, why above all else (save for one day) is this day so important? I have sought to explore this myself.

During my journey I had set a goal in mind to begin alternating the way we conduct Shabbat. Generally we spend our Friday nights immersed with our Congregation. With love, liturgy, community, and light. However, in my process I have met so many that, growing up, missed out on the home experience of Shabbat. Since, for a long time, our little guy at least is going to have to spend his time in the baby sitting room, we decided to alternate weeks at services outside the house and do some weeks at home so that we have home observance too. Myself having never conducted the Shabbat rituals at home before, and ever the perfectionist, wanted to have EVERYTHING in order, and be so well versed it would be shocking. Anyone who knows me wouldn’t be the least bit surprised by this at this point lol.

Of course, none of the things I had planned for the first time I did this happened at all. You know what though? It could not have felt more perfect, save for my husband being with us. I always had this idea in my head that I’d make this incredibly elaborate meal, that we’d have all the things we needed, the right table cloth, and even the havdalah set I have had my eye on to properly finish off Shabbat at it’s end.

Instead it was the first Shabbat after Chanukah. I missed very much the warmth that the candles brought, and the reflection that sparked inside me for those nights I will absolutely never forget. I missed my husband and was exhausted physically from driving around for all the hustle and bustle a Jewish holiday affair like that brings. I needed rest. I needed to stop. I NEEDED Shabbat, and if I’m honest, as my life progresses with Judaism as such an important part of it, I need those spiritual breaks more and more.

That, is why it is such an important day. We need that rest, just as there was rest in the creation of the world. I think even more so in such a weary world where it’s so hard to just rest. We are bombarded with so much all of the time from all directions all week long. It’s really difficult to set aside time to just cease. As a matter of fact, and as a side tidbit, the Hebrew for Shabbat, שַׁבָּת, has the root of three main Hebrew letters that actually mean to cease. I find Hebrew to be such an incredible language so everything about it and the meaning behind it to me becomes more and more meaningful as time goes by as well.

As I turned on music in Hebrew, made up my chicken thighs with their lovely spices filling the air of my kitchen, and my son helped me make the Challah, I stopped as I often do and drank in what was going on. As Heschel said, God is in the moments of time. I have to agree that is true to some degree. I feel God in a myriad of places, but there are many times that I know there is that presence. Watching the Challah rise and bake. Setting the table, lighting the candles, singing, doing Kiddush and HaMotzi, chanting the blessings over my sweet son and eating a meal with him, doing all of these things knowing that as he grows he will have all these as memories. My heart rose to new levels of joy that I’ve never known. I relaxed in a way I’ve never known as well. Shabbat was spent laughing, playing legos and puzzles, reading; both Jewish kids books and my own Torah study, and resting in the most positive ways I could. We marked the end of Shabbat with songs, and in our own way.

One day we’ll have all the right things, one day it’ll be more “proper” but one thing I have learned is it’s not about being perfect. Adonai does not expect perfection. We did all we could with what we had to show and we gave our praise to the one who brought us forth to this Earth, and to this moment, in this place. We will continue to do so at every step. I am so utterly proud of our family. Giving of myself all that I have is indeed probably the most important thing, or at least I’d like to hope so. As we are able, we’ll get better.

Is the Sabbath the presence of Adonai in the world open to us? I’d like to think that we have multiple facets of contact and presence with our creator at any given time. Certainly though, on that Shabbat, and the ones since, I have felt even more of a stirring and closer connection in my heart.

I know that I have my beautiful family, and have. I have lived with a darkness in my past before, and an ever aching feeling that I was alone in this world. I no longer fear the darkness, for I am a child of the light of HaShem and no matter how dark my world my seem or get I am never really alone. I never have been even when I didn’t know.

I end this post to you all with two of my favorite Shabbat songs. Thank you for sharing in my journey.

Don’t look back, There’s only pillars of salt.

I know I,

Have lost my way,

And I know I,

Have seen better days,

The past will fade away,

If I just pray

Lot’s wife is told not to look back at Sodom, for if she does she will turn to a pillar of salt. She was so swept up in the longing for her former way of living that she is tempted into looking, and immediately becomes the pillar.

What a sad thing one would think, such dwelling on what would be considered a tempted and evil life, one doomed to death, why look back? It raises many thoughts to be sure.

While I can say I have probably lived in what you could call evil, I can’t say I’ve longed for it. I have, however, dwelled in it. I have carried it around like an albatross around my neck. I am guilty of letting my past draw me into looking back more times than Lot’s wife ever did or could have. The past few weeks have made me reflect on that. Yom Kippur was a turning point for me. It was the first time I allowed myself to let go of some things. Things I have been holding onto since adolescence. I stood in the sanctuary and I felt pain leave me that I’d never felt able to let go of. Exasperation I had felt, and shame toward myself, feelings that I had finally realized were so utterly misplaced. I finally placed it all where it belonged, for the first time. Also for the first time, I truly atoned. I apologized, for every curse, every ill word, and every bit of blame I ever put on God. In my weakness, there was always strength, it was simply not my own. The proof positive in that is my life. Against all odds, somehow I live on, thought many times my life has been in such close danger of ending.

So Baruch HaShem. I shall no longer look back, for I have no desire to be a pillar of salt.  I desire to be here, now, looking ahead and around. I want to embrace all that I have and am today, NOW. It is time to put the past behind me, and let it fade away. Being hurt and angry, and pained over things that cannot be changed, does nobody any benefit, least of all myself. Finally fully accepting that there are things in this world that were inflicted upon me, that I had no control over, and did not deserve, has made all the difference.

I leave you today with a beautiful song by The Tin Man called “I Know I”, my post title and opening lines come from this song. I heard it early this spring, not knowing what it would mean to me now.

Our Endless Numbered Days, Wisdom Comes In Time

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“There are times that walk from you like some passing afternoon
Summer warmed the open window of her honeymoon
And she chose a yard to burn but the ground remembers her
Wooden spoons, her children stir her Bougainvillea blooms

There are things that drift away like our endless, numbered days
Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she’s chosen to believe in the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from their piles of fallen leaves

There are sailing ships that pass all our bodies in the grass
Springtime calls her children ’till she let’s them go at last
And she’s chosen where to be, though she’s lost her wedding ring
Somewhere near her misplaced jar of Bougainvillea seeds

There are things we can’t recall, blind as night that finds us all
Winter tucks her children in, her fragile china dolls
But my hands remember hers, rolling ’round the shaded ferns
Naked arms, her secrets still like songs I’d never learned

There are names across the sea, only now I do believe
Sometimes, with the windows closed, she’ll sit and think of me
But she’ll mend his tattered clothes and they’ll kiss as if they know
A baby sleeps in all our bones, so scared to be alone”

I cannot get over the symbolism and beautiful undertones in this mans music. I have listened for so many years. A friend introduced me to his music when I was much younger. As I have aged, so has my understanding of things of course. As life continues so to does our knowledge and acquisition of it. I like to believe we become smarter as we age, though I’m not sure that’s true for all people. I have always strived to keep my mind sharper over time, seeking more to feed it. I am seeing every single song of his in a brand new light.

Granted I’m probably the last horse to cross the finish line on this one, though that may be, I’m fascinated. There is so much more substance than I ever knew in some of these songs. Of course “Jezebel” has always been easy to identify.

“Who’s seen Jezebel?
She was born to be the woman I would know
And hold like the breeze
Half as tight as both our eyes closed

Who’s seen Jezebel?
She went walking where the cedars line the road
Her blouse on the ground
Where the dogs were hungry, roaming

Saying, “Wait, we swear
We’ll love you more and wholly
Jezebel, it’s we, we that you are for
Only”

Who’s seen Jezebel?
She was born to be the woman we could blame
Make me a beast half as brave
I’d be the same

Who’s seen Jezebel?
She was gone before I ever got to say
“Lay here my love
You’re the only shape I’ll pray to, jezebel”

Who’s seen Jezebel?
Will the mountain last as long as i can wait
Wait like the dawn
How it aches to meet the day

Who’s seen Jezebel?
She was certainly the spark for all i’ve done
The window was wide
She could see the dogs come running

Saying, “Wait, we swear
We’ll love you more and wholly
Jezebel, it’s we, we that you are for
Only”

That said, it’s somewhat easy to identify that all of his music has ties to theology in some way (from what I read he is formerly Christian, and labels himself Agnostic currently). Thus of course not all of this resonates with me personally story wise being Jewish, but seeing the beauty in the artform is no less amazing. Knowing that a fair few of his songs were based in biblical reference was one thing. Seeing him weave this in such a way that songs I used to believe were simply about a man, woman, and a dress are not so, is quite incredible.

If any of you are unfamiliar with his work (Iron & Wine being the band name, though he does all the instrumentation and vocals) if you have ever seen movies such as Twilight, Garden State, or In Good Company, you’ve likely heard his songs. “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” was used in the Twilight series so it’s pretty familiar to most.

Sometimes things are not always what we first see, and sometimes, moreover, oftentimes, age gives us wisdom to see beyond what we once saw. Listen to music, listen again, read books once, twice, three times, then read them again.

During our last class we spoke of Ecclesiastes and the main question the younger people in class had was WHY is SUCH a sad book included in our reading for such a joyous occasion (Rosh Hashanah)? Now I’m not sure of everyone’s ages. I do know I’m one of the older individuals, and I do know for certain I am one of the only ones with children, I am still green in my years to be sure, though more seasoned than some. That said I felt it was an important inclusion in the readings. I listened intently as the Rabbi explained that the book is important at this time, so as to show us that we will leave this world the same as we entered it. “As he came forth from his mother’s womb, naked shall he go again as he came, and shall take nothing for his labor, which he may carry away in his hand.” Ecclesiastes (5:15). King Solomon realized too late in his life that all the materialistic items in this world would not matter once he had perished. Thus it leaves a depressing tone to the book to be sure, as there is a lamenting to the time lost. There is also a beauty in the realization of what is truly important. For that is the lesson taught. The bonds, the time we have here, the need not to look forward to work toward “what comes next”, the living here and now for those around us, that is the importance of it during Rosh Hashanah and even more during the reflection time coming into Yom Kippur in my personal opinion. In assessing your shortcomings, and the things you wish to improve upon, it is ever important to recall what truly matters in life.

The point I’m making on it is this, go back and revisit things from the past with new eyes. You never know what your new perspective and the wisdom of age will give you. Fresh ears too. As we move forward in life we grow, and that growth unlocks so many things in us. Push ever harder to be a better version of yourself, more giving, more loving, kinder, harder working. Not just during the times of the year we are told to do so, but all of the time. If we all did the world would be a much better place for it. Recall that life is fleeting, we are small in the place that God has created for us, and we return to Earth once we are no longer here. Marvel at the beauty around you. Drink it in. Live in it, while you can, for as long as you are given.

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Always learning, always seeking knowledge

Credit to MyJewishLearning

I am forever surrounded by books! Though I couldn’t be happier about it, we are ABSOLUTELY going to need another bookshelf hahaha. So my journey presses on, and I push forward. Learning Hebrew has been such a treasure. To stop and think of what the letters under my fingers mean as I learn them and recite their sounds aloud. To process in my mind the weight they’ve carried in the past, through generations of Jewish communities. The beautiful and holy words that have been carried in this language that is so utterly complex, but fascinating beyond measure.  It will take an immense amount of study to fully speak or understand everything in this language, but I figure if I could do it to learn German, I can do this over time. Beyond that, German was a hobby and interest based partially on my interest in Judaism in the first place.

The more I learn and immerse myself, the more convinced I become that my life has been a series of necessity. I have always been convinced that the horrible atrocities suffered in my life had been just scathing misfortune. Now more than ever I feel that my life was and has always been a preparatory event for multiple things. Just as people in general were not immediately ready to accept covenant with our creator, neither was I. Nor was I ready to accept the things I have experienced, or the reason for most of them. I am slowly beginning to understand the purpose for them. I fully believe my life as it stand is part of that reason. My family, and the life I am living. Without the experiences I went through and the things I endured, I have never believed I would be the person I am, and I have always said that. I am strong, and I do many things well. I would be ignorant to ignore the hand that I believe played a role in my life from time to time.

I took some classes recently at a learning event and the Rabbi from my Congregation made a point. Throughout history there have been times that the Jewish people have been saved, protected even, when they would have otherwise met with great peril. If any of you know me well, you know my life has been more than perilous. There have been so many times, a great many, that my life could, and should have ended. Somehow though, it did not. I was kept safe. Even when all those who were supposed to protect me had left me behind, I had a hand on me from somewhere. I have always been kept safe, and now, I owe it to everyone in my life, myself, my husband, and child to make the most I can out of the life I’ve been given. I will learn all I can. I will help others as much as possible, and I will be as good and kind as I know how to be. That is what I have, and that is what I am called to do.

With the month of Elul upon us, and my class tonight being about Rosh Hashanah, I have begun spending a lot of time on introspection. Shabbat services last week included the sounding of the Shofar, and the start of Sermon-In-Song which was absolutely touching. Every time I attend it’s like observing a living, breathing, captivating work of art. I can’t help but to begin to shed tears. The depths it adds to the feelings in my heart on my own spiritual journey is something I cannot put into words. They outright escape me, but suffice it to say it’s awe inspiring.

 

Spiritual awakening, the start of my conversion to Judaism.

I would rather think of life of as a good book. The further you get into it, the more it begins to come together and make sense. 

This quote is credited to Rabbi Harold Kushner, I feel like it could not be more relevant to my life, in general, or right now.

When I think over my life there has been a large amount of pain, turmoil, and hurt, but there has been joy, and love, as well as extreme happiness. I searched from a very young age for more. From Catholicism, to Evangelism, Judaism, to even Buddhism. I have learned a great many things about what those around me had believed.

I have always felt there was more in this place than random design. Weather it be anger, sorrow or stubbornness, I have chided away from this in the past. I have gone to churches, tried to feel welcomed and fit. How could I ever find a home in a place where others were hated? Where a good and loving God would cast aside those who were different, and it was my duty, nay, calling to judge them and cast them away from me, or even worse the love of the creator of us all? There was no part of me that felt at home in those places, though my faith and connection spiritually never disappeared. I suppose you could call it a spark inside of me. A light that shone, even if it was dim at times.

This, is about how I came to find a start in my life, a path that I must walk to see where it leads, and where I believe it will lead. I say this, because for some reason I can’t help but feel that my feet already know the steps. I just need the hand to reach out and help guide me. I felt lost, yet not scared, I feel adrift, needing knowledge, yet I know that it will come, when it is time. For the first time in my life, ever, I feel like I have found solid footing in a world that has always felt so uncertain in my mind. Everything around me feels firm and planted.

I feel just as sure about the choices I am making now as I did choosing Zane, falling in love with Zane, and marrying him. There is nothing but clarity inside me. I feel as steady inside as I did in the NICU with Alexandr, knowing that I was his mother, and somehow, we would make it through. So many nights I sat in my glider or on my knees, holding the number to the NICU unit in my hand in the dead of night, crying, and praying, waiting to call and hoping for the safety of my child. I know he was kept safe. I’ve never lost faith, I’ve just never known where to place it, I’ve never known a home to hold that faith.

Next month I will begin a year long spiritually educational journey. A pilgrimage of my own as it were. I will immerse myself and our family fully to the practice and observance of Judaism. Every day I work to enhance my spiritual relationship with God. I will work very diligently to learn all I can and to live as Jewishly as possible, and raise my family this way. This includes following as many practices as we are able, including my fumbling attempts to convert our household to being Kosher (which has been mildly amusing).

I know I’m going to get this question from some, yes, my husband is Jewish. This however is not my reason for conversion. We have been married for some time now. Two years on Valentine’s day as a matter of fact. That said he has been non practicing for as long as I have known him. We are embarking on this journey of spirituality together, and feel it is a wonderful thing for us all, and is the way we want to conduct our home. The idea to convert was actually my own, it has been something I have considered for years. Starting in my teenage years. Sometimes you are just called from within. I believe Judaism called to me and always has.

If I haven’t told you personally about my conversion know that I told my family only directly and felt that announcing it this way was the best way to go about telling others. If you have any questions you’d like to ask me about it, any curiosities feel free to ask me privately, or comment. I am looking forward to this journey, and hope to share in some of it with you. I would love to hear from any of you who have gone through the conversion process, or talk to any of you who may be considering it.

I feel very much like my spiritual heart has found it’s home.

Shari

(The pictures at the top are my Magen David, to commemorate the start of my journey we decided a modest pendant to keep me in touch with my path, and remind me to pray was in order.)