Monday, February 23, 2009

Countdown to Passover

Last year at this time I was engulfed in the planning of my wedding. "Passover?.....I'll clean later...." well the experience of coming home from my wedding (We took a cab, came home and walked the and within a day having to do crazy cleaning to make the deadline; made an impression on me. I vowed not to let that happen again... so a year ago I set various reminders into my Blackberry....the first of which came up yesterday......

"No more food all in the cabinet."

(Actual picture of food cabinet at the time of this posting...

I am too embarassed to show the freezer......)

Last year I "sold" it all to the is my goal this year to not have to pack up so much stuff and drag it to my basement!....I am really interested in knowing how people do this holiday....the timing and planning appears to be key. I get embarrassed having to ask about the most mundane and simple events. But with no family history, relatives or experiences it can be difficult figuring it out. But I am determined to make it work better this year than last.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Honeymoon with 46 People........... or............Why arn't They on the Bus ? Part 1 husband would tell you if you asked, the trip to Israel WAS NOT our honeymoon. He would say it was a gift to me to solidify and amplify my choosing to join the tribe. But in the spirit of compromise the trip WAS almost right after our nuptials. We were married on the last Sunday prior to Passover. Sunday the 13th to be exact. It was such a deal! Non-religious types didn't want to marry on the 13th and the religious would never plan such an event so close to Passover. So right after we celebrated our first Passover as a married couple off to Israel we went.....

1.5 hours in the rain and rush hour on a bus from the synagogue to the airport

13 or so hours New York to Tel Aviv

2 hours of getting off the plane...luggage collecting.... and tour bus finding

45 minutes of rush hour traffic from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

Sheheḥeyanu and sunset overlooking the walls of the old city.....precious and well worth the time

"Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season."

Celebrating Life

I am full of joy this morning. It is Friday and I am looking forward to a lovely shabbat. This is an also an auspicious time of year for me. My birthday, the anniversary of my conversion and my marriage all occur within the next 2 months. The past year has been so chock full of firsts I sometimes can't believe it even though I lived it. I was looking at my blog and I realized that I never even mentioned one of the biggest events of the year...after marriage and honeymoon in Israel. It was an amazing experience. We went with our synagogue on what the Rabbi calls"A Mission to Israel"
Here are a few pictures...I will post more another time...I will let the photos speak!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Looking Back..."What is God?"

I was doing some "pre-Spring" cleaning....and came across my box of pre-conversion notes and research. Prior to my conversion I had engaged in many many spiritual and Jewish learning activities. A major activity was a class held by the The Hillel Institute, a collective endeavor supported by the Conservative synagogues and organizations of Long Island NY.

My then husband to be and I went every week, for both a Hebrew lesson and a lecture. this went on for months....some was interesting, and enlightening some confusing and difficult. At the end of this process there was a written test made by the Biet Din. I can't put into words my initial reaction to the concept of a "Jew" test! First I rebelled "how could they test me!..only god knows what the right answers are" I was worried then dismissive but it all was just because it had begun to mean so much to me. My conversion and subsequent marriage was all I could focus on and this test was the gate keeper.

As I re-read what I had written, I smiled....and thought I guess I will post this! (Another one of the questions is posted on the side-bar of this blog) here it is...

Brief Essay Questions

1) What is God?

A brief essay on “What is God’ appears to my mind to be an impossible task. Mankind has been struggling with this question since the first humans gazed at the night sky, or felt confused by the changing seasons. Many great thinkers, philosophers, theologians, psychiatrists, scientists have struggled with this question. I greatly question my ability to leave a mark on this, one of the greatest unanswerable questions of mankind. Perhaps a more aptly phrased question might be “What does mankind think about God? or “How do the Jewish people perceive God?”

The closest version to a unified code of Jewish beliefs and a definition of “What is God?” that I could find appears to be Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon’s the “thirteen principles of faith.” This is a commentary on the Mishnah, which distilled the 613 commandments of the Torah into a concise list. Within that list, a generalized answer to the question “What is God?” emerged.
God is one and unique, God is incorporeal and God is eternal.
Yet even these basic statements by Maimonides have been debated and disputed and can not be taken as a unified statement of the Jewish people.
In the “Book of Jewish Concepts”, by Philip Birnbaum, a modern philosophical heir to Maimonide’s, “thirteen principles of faith,” (Hebrew Publishing Co. New York, 1964), the “What is God?”question is answered in the following way:
"The attributes of God include omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, eternity, truth, justice, goodness, purity and holiness”
The Chasidism, a sect dating from the 1700’s emphasized other, more personal experiences and mysticism as alternative routes to experiencing and defining God. This sect originated in a time of persecution of the Jewish people when many Jews became quietly focused on studding Torah. The founders of Chasidism felt that most expressions of Jewish life had become too academic and that they no longer had any emphasis on spirituality or joy. Their emphasis on the holiness of all experiences allows for another point of entry into the question “What is God?”
For the Chasidism, God not only encompasses the entire world, but that the entire world exists within God. They state that God existed before the world was created and that God is not changed or affected by the world. God’s existence is completely not affected by the happenings of the world. God never changes but humans do. They indicate It is in the daily expressions, events and activities of man in which God manifests and ultimately is defined by mankind.
Another approach to the “What is God” question is that of Mordecai Kaplan, the American rabbi and founder of Reconstructionist Judaism. He stated that “God is the power that makes for salvation.” Kaplan stressed that God is not personal, and that all anthropomorphic descriptions of God are, at best, imperfect metaphors. Kaplan's theology went beyond this to claim that God is the sum of all natural processes that allow man to become self-fulfilled.
And for my last example, in the kabalistic book “God is a Verb” Rabbi David Cooper writes about God as being a process not an object or subject. Clearly this view of God removes all possibilities of traditional definition.
In the end it appears that the answer to the question “What is God” is a personal answer informed by ones own theology, philosophy, psychology, ancestors and experiences. I do not pretend to have an answer but rather tend to lean towards the experiential definition of God. I believe that God is in our actions, as well as in our intent to do good and to help. God is in our sorrow and our pain, and our empathy for others with the same. I believe that ultimately God is in our ability to transcend hate, and evil with aspirations to find peace in all the moments of our lives.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Anniversary of the Dunk!

What can a girl say…"girl” is being kind to myself…none the less, the first week of April is the anniversary of my formal conversion… Yet what I have grown to understand about my “conversion” is that conversion is an ongoing exploration. It is a way of life, a way of engaging fully and Jewishly (not a word…but it works for me!)

During the dead of January on a day when there was no Bat/Bar Mitzvah my husband and I went to Saturday services. We go most every week, either to the Friday evening or Saturday morning. Well there was hardly anyone there….We often have very full services, but the cold and no celebration left only the hardy few. I love it at those times, I feel most connected and contemplative. When we completed the Shama for the 2nd time I turned to my husband and said “I feel Jewish today.”

Feeling Jewish appears to be a big hurdle in convert circles. More or less I have been feeling more Jewish, but the larger challenge of late was the war. Being a pacifist at heart, (all that Buddhist Meditation truly wore off on me) The pain and suffering of all …and I mean all, weighed heavy on me. Our congregation was very active in rallies etc…but it didn’t feel right to me…I felt like a woman without a home….I felt Jewish and wanted Israel to be safe, but felt sad about the loss of life and hatred all around. My husband and I got into some heated conversations and it was difficult. But what I came away with is I did feel and do feel Jewish. What a gift…..

So now as the anniversary looms ahead of me I am considering what I should do to commemorate the event. Any ideas?

Dunking Rachael

Love, Faith and Life