Friday, December 12, 2008

The December Delima

Three weeks ago I posted the below on two different list serves/blog forum sites which are for persons considering or who have converted to Judaism. I found the answers/responses to be very interesting. Some were quick and harsh, others were maternal and empathitic. All comments were helpful to me.

hello all,
it is that time of year again, and I could use some advice,help resources.I am in my second marriage (just got married in April and formally converted just shortly before the marriage) My only child, 20 year old daughter was raised in a religiously eclectic way. Unitarian Universalist with strong emphasis on both Jewish and Christian ritual. He father, my ex, is Jewish but is anti religion.My conversion has basically caused the cancellation of Christmas for my daughter. this has caused some tensions, last year my then soon to be husband and I got a tree.It was his first, he is a fairly observant conservative Jew. It is important to note that for most of my child's life I had strong Martha Stewart/Rachel Rae energies! the decoration thing was something I enjoyed and was a family event. My divorce was the beginning of a transformation of me, that has caused many emotional changes for all of us and my daughter sometimes has felt orphaned because I was not the same...not fair but just the way it is. She has had professional help, but now we are at the center of the change again. Christmas. she wants a tree, has begged for a tree. I feel bad for her, but if left to my own wants, I would not do a tree....I feel split. she has accepted so much, has been there and remained engaged....yet I feel I am betraying my new life if I get it, the tree...HELP

so I came up with the compermise....Katie has a "tree"......

what do you think!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Shinning Light

I entered the mikveh by choice. Thus my connection to Jewish history, and rituals is deeply felt but also informed by intense study. I have no personal Jewish history, my history is Jewish history. I read the stories of heroic women and men, of times of strife and pain, joys and miracles. I struggle with a feeling of bereavement, why had I not found my true home earlier…why was my path so long? Hashem alone knows that answer…I do not spend much time questioning history that has no human answer, I have too much to learn!
I have become aware that I get briefly tearful when I hear stories of childhood memories of candles and challah, but rebound with joy with the help of the collective warmth of our tradition. Lighting Shabbat candles is more than an obligation, a mitzvoth to be adhered to. Lighting the candle connects me to our history, our stories our covenant. It is both a deeply personal meditative experience while it is also my public declaration…” I am a Jew”


“The Yoke of Joy”

I watch you pray
Book in hand
Words tumbling out
In an amazing array of surging song and muttered whispers
Wrapped in the cloth of your father’s father
My eyes fill with tears
Centuries of devotion on my love’s lips
As you gently finger the strands reminding you of who you are
My heart sings along Although I can’t yet form the words.

“Sisters/ Brothers” December 2008

Strangers to me, thousands of miles away
The little boy
The picture of the happy couple
My heart tearing at each updated report
Sorrow and anger dancing in me
I feel the pain of my Jewish sisters, my brothers
The wheel turns once again
The covenant is complete
What the mikveh started blood has finished
I will light the candles, remembering not what is known
But knowing what has been given
Today I am a Jew

Friday, October 31, 2008

Sukkot 2008

"Now I realize my desire to “do” Sukkot will take even more planning than I originally though"
Well desipte my previous musings, I jumped into the holiday spirit and built my booth!

just thought I would share the photos!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sincere Supplication

I have been meditating on/praying in regards to, my relationship to my chosen faith, Judaism. I decided a month ago to try and find my own spiritual understanding/grounding in relationship to the holidays that are about to occur. This bit of soul searching is typical of my expression of faith.
My decision to covert was the culmination of many factors, circumstances and energies. This convergence of fate and intention, which is my spiritual journey, has me feeling a level of intensity currently that I am surprised by. So much of my Jewish journey involves intellectual pursuits, reading, learning Hebrew, and mastering concrete tasks such as learning dietary laws. I believe this intensity which has been triggered by this time of introspection, is my root connection to this faith. I also believe that this intensity is a wake-up call suggesting that I also need to nourish the other aspects of my path not associated with learning and the cognitive processes. Part of this nourishing, has led me to attempt to define my relationship to this theology, with my own experience as my guide. Not an easy task.

I know, but better yet, I feel, that I am a culmination of all that I have experienced, religiously, politically, socially, personally. This diverse set of experiences combined with my deeply felt and earnest exploration of Judaism brings me to the holidays and ultimately to prayer.
My husband and I attended our synagogue’s Selichot Service. For those unfamiliar with Selichot , they are “ Jewish penitential poems and prayers, especially those said in the period leading up to the High Holidays, and on Fast Days. The Thirteen Attributes of God are a central theme throughout the prayers.” In my conservative synagogue’s Ashkenazi tradition, this is done on a Saturday night, as late as possible prior to Rosh Hashanah. Although we engaged in what I am told is a fairly traditional service, they provided a hand out, in which I found the following by Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, a Rabbi in the Reform Movement.

A Prayer for Prayer
My God
My soul’s companion
My heart’s precious friend
I turn to you
I need to close out the noise
to rise above the noise
the noise that interrupts
the noise that seperates
the noise that isolates.
I need to hear You again.
In the silance of my inermost being,
In the fragments of my yearned-for wholeness,
I hear whispers of Your presence-
Echoes of the past when You were with me
When I felt Your nearness
When together we walked
When you held me close,embraced me in Your love,
laughed with me in joy.
I yearn to hear you again.
In your oneness I find healing.
In the promise of Your love, I am soothed.
In Your wholeness, I too can become whole again.
Please listen to my call-
help me find the strength within
help me shape my mouth,my voice,my heart
so that I can direct my spirit and find You in prayer
In words only my heart can speak
in songs only my soul can sing
Lifting my eues and heart to You.
Adnoai S’fatai Tiftach-open my lips, precious God,
so that I can speak with you again.

This writing by Rabbi Zimmerman helps me describe my path into prayer. It speaks to my desire to find that place with mindfulness and intention that sometimes gets lost in all the learning and figuring out what page number I need to be on!

For some, “Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to an experience from moment to moment —without drifting into thoughts of the past or concerns about the future, or getting caught up in opinions about what’s going on. Mindfulness is a practice that helps us to wake up to the truth of our experience.“ (

Mindfulness is often spoken of out of the Buddhist tradition, but is also a key component of the Jewish tradition as well. Jewish prayer mindfulness, is describe by Judaism 101 as follows:

“The mindset for prayer is referred to as kavanah, which is generally translated as “concentration” or “intent.” The minimum level of kavanah is an awareness that one is speaking to G-dand an intention to fulfill the obligation to pray. If you do not have this minimal level of kavanah, then you are not praying; you are merely reading. In addition, it is preferred that you have a mind free from other thoughts, that you know and understand what you are praying about and that you think about the meaning of the prayer.” (

In an article on My Jewish Learning ( the structure and sincerity of liturgy and prayer is explored with the use of rabbinical text in an effort to address sincerity/ kavanah or as I call it, mindfulness of prayer.
“….From all of these we learn that a person’s prayer should be sincere supplication. This means one should be like a person who makes an undeserving request.… But if one’s attitude when one prays before [God] is that it is appropriate that God should provide the request, behold the persolness of prayer. lness of prayer is not entirely dependent on God. Therefore, if prayer is like a burden and it appears that one is acting only in order to fulfill one’s obligation, this is not considered prayer….”

To pray each time with sincerity/mindfully, to not become rote is a challenge as I learn the Hebrew, and all the rest that I need to take in. I am reminded of a conversation I engaged in prior to my conversion with my sponsoring Rabbi about the silent Amidah. I noted how fast it seemed others completed this prayer. I told him while reading the English I only get half way through, if I’m lucky, and when I try the Hebrew…well forget about it! He encouraged me to continue at my speed, commenting that “clock” prayer, rote and uninspired is not what he believes is intended. It is my aspiration during this season of introspection to proceed mindfully and to engage in prayer with the mindset of Kavanah. To block out the noise, so eloquently described by Rabbi Zkimmerman, and to find that inner dialog with the divine, even if I don’t know what page number we are on.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Elul Time

I have been spending my spare time making New Year cards. Although I often joke about channeling my inner Martha Stewart, I must admit this activity is actually a meditative act. As the high holidays approach the concept of preparing oneself is a Jewish imperative. The below linked article from My Jewish Learning is Five suggestions to focus your spiritual preparations for the High Holidays.
As I make the cards, I contemplate what a new year means. I consider all that has transpired for me in this past year. Also By mindfully engaging in the creation of the cards, considering the person I will send the card to, the colors, the actions of cutting, stamping etc… I attempt to deeply delve into the energy and spirit of Elul.

What are you doing to prepare?

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Booth

As I enter into this new Jewish year, for the first time as a Jew….I am attempting to engage in it all as fully as possible. This aspiration is mitigated somewhat by my life circumstances; I am a working person with a new husband, a new blended family and a full life. Clearly becoming the Jew I want to be will take some planning. I wonder….is there a life coach for that?

I have been busying myself with family plans for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I have been deep into channeling my “Martha Stewart” energy, making cards for the New Year and planning how to get my blended family together for a sumptuous holiday feast. Yet I can’t shake my Sukkot ambitions, I want to do Sukkot right! I want to build sukkah. Although many Jewish organizations, synagogues and Jewish community centers in my area have community sukkahs, I want to engage fully in this mitzvot. After checking out the sukkah landscape locally, It appears that many orthodox families in my area engage in this aspect of the holiday while only a few in other denominations actually build their own sukkah.

The Festival of Sukkot aka The Feast of Tabernacles, aka Feast of Ingathering, is celebrated beginning on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Tishri . For those who may still have JCC, Jewish Calendar Confusion (myself included) that is Tuesday, October 14, 2008. Sukkot in Hebrew is called z’man simhateinu — the season of our joy. It Is a Jewish festival of giving thanks for the fall harvest, as well as a commemoration of the forty years of Jewish wandering in the desert after Sinai.

Check out these links for more information

I must admit that prior to my consideration of conversion Sukkot always struck me as fun. I lived near a very large synagogue and their sukkah grew bigger and bigger and more elaborately decorated each year. It clearly appeared to me to be a happening, joyful place. I think I had sukkah envy.

Now I realize my desire to “do” Sukkot will take even more planning than I originally thought. At first it was a bit overwhelming so like everything in my Jewish journey I “goggled” it. As always I have been surprised and delighted by the results. There appears to be a vital commercial community of sukkot vendors. I even found a few used ones on a local Jewish bulletin board site. So now I am shopping for the best cheep, klutz proof, readymade sukkot I can find! Wish me luck I’ll need it!

The Sukkah Project
The Seiger Sukkah
How to build a Sukkah from scratch

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Not a very eloquent and or verbose post...just a news brief to inform anyone who might wander by this blog that I have been added to the Jews By Choice community this point I have not posted there...but I will soon....why don't you stop by and see what a dynamic and diverse community that is represented there......

Sunday, August 24, 2008

World Record Shattered!

Well maybe not a world record, but at least a personal best...This week it only took me 2 hours and 10 minutes to complete my grocery shopping!
I often contemplate the long line of history, and the women who shopped there! While I am standing examining a box for one of the many elusive symbols indicting kosher, I long for simpler times when a chicken was a chicken and pre-packaged food was a novelty!
Not to turn this into a diatribe on consumerism and the gluttony of the western world, but when you actually have to review every single item that goes into the does cause one to pause.
This all has heightened my awareness that in many places in the world one is lucky to have something clean and fresh to eat, and on the kosher front there are many that have very limited if any options. I can not imagine what it must be like to try and keep kosher in Alaska or Mississippi.
I know I am lucky to live in an area where kosher options are abundant, from full size markets and stores which only carry kosher items to butcher shops and bakeries. Yet this abundance does carry a price, and a responsibility. I believe that Kosher is more than just the symbol on the package (see my post on the meat packing plant controversy.)
I also believe that being mindful of the totality of Kashrut is a responsibility and a privilege that we perform for ourselves, our community/planet and our relationship to the divine. I am still climbing that ladder, and I am clearly not totally observant at this point, but I do see this practice as a very deep meditation that transcends food labels.
But hey, if they could just make those labels and symbols just a little simpler that wouldn't be so bad either!
Web sites with lists of kosher symbols

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What's In A Name?... Redux

When I remarried I decided to change my last name...including in my professional life. This is a much more complicated issue than it may appear. As a Social Worker/Psychotherapist changing my name opens up my personal life to my patients, which in many ways can be challenging.

In fact this name change has led to a challenge and another first in this auspicious year of firsts...

My first personal experience with antisemitism.

Does one say a Shehecheyanu for this?

Without divulging any confidential information, a patient has clearly reacted strongly to my new name, this new last name which is traditionally Jewish. The comments have been unmistakeably antisemitic. This is occurring in therapy, so how I proceed is dictated by theory and professional standards, yet it still has been an emotional experience.

After dealing with my initial reaction of confusion and anger I grew to see this experience as a gift. The gift of testing my chosen faith, giving me the experience of being seen as Jewish, if even in a negative way and ultimately heightening my connection with the Jewish people.

So I guess maybe a Shehecheyanu is in order...

Monday, August 11, 2008

When is Kosher Not...Ethics and Kashrut

Fasting for a day has a way of focusing the mind. As my day continued I found myself considering the recent shanda/shame of the Agriprocessors kosher meat plant in Postville Iowa.
I have read much about Iowa situation, illegal immigrants, deplorable working conditions, child labor and other crimes.
I had been a vegetarian for many years. Due to causes and conditions, health,life style etc, I have return to eating meat over the past few years. The Postville situation makes me reconsider the larger implications of what I place on my plate.
I have been somewhat buoyed by the conservative ( I practice as a Conservative) attempts at addressing such dilemmas in the world of Kashrut, yet I am not sure if this is enough.
USCJ site

read a recent Houston Chronicle take on the story:

or the Desmoines Register's latest offering:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Crocs and Other Things Never Considered

This will be my first Tisha B'Av as a Jew. I must admit some trepidation about it. I remember the last Yizkor service, how the tears filled my eyes and threatened to drown me. I often become emotional during holiday services. Everything is new and I experience it with such an intensity it is difficult to describe to someone who has had grown up in the emotional stew of it all.
So being the mindfulness queen that I am, I have noticed that my mind is avoiding the preemptive intensity of this period in the Jewish calendar and instead continues to focus on footwear. No leather......but some how I wonder if Crocs are metaphorically the right thing to wear. I noticed last Yom Kippur they were the shoe of choice of the repenting crowd.

Seeing that I am a "Payless" type of gal....and many of my shoes carry the ambiguous "All man made materials" label, from a strictly custom/Jewish law place they would work....but then I wouldn't be showing an outward manifestation of the suffering and sorrow....or maybe I just wouldn't be in the "in Crowd."
perhaps wooden shoes would work best..... hummmmm

Monday, August 4, 2008

Choosing the Chosen (Part 1)

so a little background...

I was married for over 20 years and to borrow a phrase from my Buddhist experience, causes and conditions did not manifest to keep me married. In the tradition of not engaging in Lashon Hara, or using the Buddhist language, in honor of Right Speech, I will spare you all and won’t go into the details.

Yet the end of my marriage after such a long time ushered in a period of personal deconstruction the intensity of which I could never had predicted. The reexamining of every aspect of my life, the exile from my home town, (due to complicated financial reasons, and emotional distress I ended up being the one who moved…..) and an extreme change in my standard of living caused for many a personal earthquake.

As all the dust began to settle, I tried to date….(at some point I may write about my E-Harmony experiences and dating gone wrong, but not now….) but changed my mind and decided to just get to know the reemerging me. I decided to go to a divorce group. I wanted to meet some divorced women to hang with. Although my married friends were still there, I had so much more free time than they could ever imagine, and bluntly I was just not the same person I had been before.

Where to find a divorce group became the goal….I have experiencing finding help for others…being a social worker by profession. Yet when I tried to find help for me it became clear that there were three types of groups.

1) Born Again Christian Groups
2) Private Psychotherapy Groups
2) JCC Groups

Well the first two types were unacceptable to me. I didn't need psychotherapy, I had engaged in seeking help during this time period, and was psychologically healing, and no comment on the Born Again option! So the JCC was it. This was not as bizarre a choice for me the Buddhist –UU as it may first appear because my ex-husband is Jewish. A non-practicing Jew, but Jewish non-the less. I experienced holidays with his family and feebly attempted to provide a nominal Jewish understanding for my now grown child while I was married.

So there I was at the JCC the only non-Jew in a group of many women and two men. It was while in this group that I realized not only was I mourning all the losses I experienced, I also was deeply feeling the loss of my "Jewish family." I expressed this often in the group.I was "de-Jewed!" I lost the cycle of the year, and a sense of continuity. This was the sprouting of the seeds of my eventual conversion.

for more background see the side bar...Question #22...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What's In A Name?

So the Rabbi asked “and what will be your name?”

I thought Ruth would be the perfect name but seeing that it was also the name of the ex-wife of my husband to be, I quickly banished the thought.

But now what to say?

Rachel sunk into my mind…and with no time left…Rachel it would be…
“Lets dunk Rachel” said the FiancĂ©….”not yet” said the Rabbi….and so the story began…….

Dunking Rachael

Love, Faith and Life