Modah ani…

I love that Jews start each day with this phrase (or modeh ani if you are a dude), grateful to experience life, all of its blessings and all of its hardships, for just one more day.

Lots of family issues have surfaced this week and it’s been hard to find and truly acknowledge the goods in my life as I struggle in my role as daughter and sister.

But, on this one specific day my compatriots set aside with this specific purpose, I will try to articulate all the people who make this process easier, richer, and oh so worthwhile.

To my G-d, for bringing me home,

To my family, for building my home, and to my friends, for filling it,

To my boyfriend, for building our own.

To meaningful work, to gifts of expression,

To wonder at the world and Creation all around,

But mostly, to life, to all of its potentials and possibilities, to all of its surprises and heartaches, to its opportunities and letdowns.

This is the chorus my heart sings today.

And I wish you all, my readers, a great day, reminiscent of all that you have in your own lives.

10Q Part I

1: Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?

On January 19th, I left home early.  We had an off-site meeting that had increased stress-levels for the last two weeks, and I looked forward to coming home that night and not having to think about what more needed to be done tomorrow.  I picked up my laptop in case we had to access materials for the meeting and rushed out the door.

When I pulled into the driveway that night, there was a police car parked in front.  I walked in the front door to see my mom’s red puffy eyes and our house in chaos.  The officer was taking down my mom’s statement. 

That day, someone decided to slide open the window on our enclosed patio.  To shatter our sliding glass door.  To enter our home.  To walk quickly, grinding the shards of glass into our wooden floors and carpet.  To steal heirlooms passed down from the time of my great, great grand-mother: wedding bands, 16th birthday necklaces, anniversary earrings.  To take laptops, desktops, DSLRs, my high school ring, money from my tzedakah fund.  The house and car keys from my parents’ room.  Gift certificates from the Christmas season that were waiting to be used.  A stack of bills with our names and addresses.  My mother’s shotgun. My Shabbat candlesticks and Kiddush cup. 

When I walked in that afternoon, I wanted to have the same response as my mother: overcome with a sense of violation, upset, confused, tearful, wondering what else, what more we could have done to prevent this. 

But I could not.  I had to be the logical, rational one.  The one that said to call the insurance company.  To get dinner.  To notify my father and uncle.  To specify the clean-up process.  To notify the banks.  To call an alarm company.

My mom didn’t sleep in her room for weeks.  We scrubbed her room as though it were our kitchen before Pesach.  And only then, when all possible traces of the criminal could be vanquished, did she return to it.  Her sense of trust, of humanity’s goodness, of the privacy of her own home is gone, and only now slowly beginning to reappear.

I feel anger.  Not because I had to “be the parent” in this situation—the shock is larger when you discover something yourself.  Not that the shotgun was later recovered on a parole search of some Norteno thug’s house, meaning we have no idea what evil this gun was used for.  Not that I will never get to replace my class ring, nor that my children or grandchildren will never wear the garnet passed down from the 1850s on my mom’s side.

But that scum like this gets to live.  It is probably for the best that no physical evidence was left behind.  I would have no problem shooting this person through the heart.  The damage you caused was more than the $40,000 in goods you took.  I do not care that this is not a Jewish response.

2: Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you’re especially proud of from this past year?

It’s never easy breaking someone’s heart.  But, when you realize that they love you more than you love them, and when you realize that the future you would have with this person is not at all the future you want for yourself, it becomes necessary to stand up for yourself and to release the person from an unbalanced relationship.

I wish I had had the guts to do this earlier, to be honest with myself that it wasn’t working for me, as much as it was working for him.  I adored him, but in the way I do younger cousins in my family.  He was 10 years behind me in life experiences.  He had communication and emotional issues to work through.  I knew this when we got together, but I guess I got comfortable.

What I learned is that you can be in a comfortable relationship because you know exactly what you’re going to do, day after day.  It’s routine.  Non-challenging. A staple.

And then there is comforting because you know that no matter what life throws at you, that this person will have your back.  And that’s adventurous and securing all at once.  Try to surround yourself with individuals such that you can be part of the latter kind of relationships.

3: Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?

My sister’s wedding occurs next week.  The last 10 months of our existence has revolved around it.  The bridal shower took until June.  The cookbook took all summer.  The items to be sewed took until well, today.  Then we have packing, and shopping, and ironing, travel arrangements, seating arrangements, hair appointments.

This is what my sister wants and I am happy to participate in it because she is my closest friend.

But its effect on me has been to push me further into realm of low-key, casual small wedding intentions.

4: Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?

The slaughter in Norway. The declaration of South Sudan’s independence. The death of Osama bin Laden.  The earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  The Arab Spring.  The death of Steve Jobs.  The Palestinian petition before the UN.

All have ramifications and cause for celebration to me.  If I had to pick one, I suppose it would be the Arab Spring.  Three brutal heads of states have been overthrown.  Civil wars have broken out.  Minorities—including Jews—in these countries have been critical to the movement’s strength.  They’ve wreaked havoc on the economy.  They’ve inspired movements in China, the Caucus, and Africa.  Some have labeled it the fifth wave of democracy.

It humanizes the “Arabs”, “the Muslims”.  It brings us one step closer to the long, hard road of self-determination and human rights.  And I am now cautiously watching the outcome of these countries’ attempts to start over.  To form a representative government. 

I am also terrified for Israel.  I do not believe for one second that the Palestinian Authority wants to change its ways, only that it will become emboldened by the international support or cause internal divsion (West Bank vs Gaza Strip leadership) that allows factions to splinter and become extreme, entrenched in their views.  I pray I am wrong.

5: Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year? How has this experience affected you? “Spiritual” can be broadly defined to include secular spiritual experiences: artistic, cultural, and so forth.

I’m not really spiritual, but I am religious.  So, I’ll say that I fell in love with the ritual of mikvah when I converted.  It has encouraged me to find some kind of kallah class available to Conservative Jews and it makes me look forward to immersing again and again in the future.

Work Conversations

Yesterday, we had our weekly staff meeting.

Boss Lady: Okay, and as a head’s up, Mikvah Bound will be out of the office next week on Thursday and Friday.

Coworker 1: Oh, nice, where are you going? Weekend getaway?

Mikvah Bound: No, I’ll be going to my synagogue.  It’s Rosh HaShannah.

[Coworker 2’s eyes grow to be the size of Guam as his face reddens]

Boss Lady: Coworker 2, are you okay?

Coworker 2:  My wife is going to be so mad at me!  She wanted me to ask for that day off… like a month ago.

Coworker 1: That day? [eyes Mikvah Bound suspiciously] Why does he need one and you need two?

Mikvah Bound: I’m Conservative. We do two days.  That’s how we roll.

Coworker 2: My wife and kids go to a Reform temple.  They do one.

Boss Lady: Interesting… so you want Thursday or Friday off?

Coworker 2: Thursday.  Oh, and Wednesday, can I leave early? About an hour?

Mikvah Bound: Ooh, me too.

Coworker 1: Now you’re just being greedy!

Mikvah Bound:  The holiday actually starts Wednesday night, at sundown.  There will be services then, too.

Boss Lady: How long is this holiday?!

Mikvah Bound:   One day.  But Jewish days start at dusk and go from sundown to sundown.  Back in the olden days, people outside of Israel couldn’t determine the correct lunar date with accuracy, so they decided to add one to be sure they celebrated on the right day.

Coworker 1: So what do you do to celebrate?

Mikvah Bound: Go to synagogue a lot.   Eat a lot.  Like most any other holiday.

Boss Lady: Huh, so do some people do it three days?

Coworker 2: No, not that I’ve ever heard…

Boss Lady:  So why does Lawyer Lady upstairs need three days then?

Coworker 2: Ah, her family is Orthodox. Who knows what they do!

Mikvah Bound:  Orthodox do it two days, too.  So I bet her mom is going kinda crazy right now and needs lots of last minute meal help on Wednesday during the day, before sundown.  We can’t cook on holidays—

Coworker 1: So an important part of this holiday is food, but you can’t cook it?

Mikvah Bound: Well, we gotta cook it before and then keep it warm during the holidays, but without starting a fire.

Boss Lady: This sounds… wonderful.

Mikvah Bound: It’s not so bad normally.  But this year we have Shabbat RIGHT after, so her mom has to make three days’ worth of meals, since we can’t cook on Shabbat either.  So three days’ worth of meals all cooked before Wednesday at dusk.

Coworker 1: You people are crazy and masochistic!

Mikvah Bound: But wait, I haven’t even told you about the fast day that was supposed to fall on Saturday, but is being pushed to Sunday this year!

Rosh HaShannah Prep Mode

It has begun.

And it is crazy.

I’ve had baby showers coming out of my ears and Sister’s wedding plans.  Work is crazy and I don’t know what will happen in two weeks.  This means that what I should probably have started three weeks ago… has to be done in a week.  Sounds like fun.  Don’t be jealous.

I’ve ordered some greeting cards.  I’ve started considering maybe doing a “Third Night RH/Shabbat” dinner on the 30th.  Need to ask The Boy and his roommate to see if I can use their place to hold it, however.  But being guys, I think a quick glance at intended menu will tilt them to yes.  Also, if you are in the area and don’t already have a Yom Tov invite, please send me an email and I’d be happy to have you (once I receive The Boy’s permission).

But, what am I most nervous about?  Helping with Children’s Programming at shul.  What would you want your 9-year-old to learn about Rosh HaShannah?  What’s a good physical activity to break up an hour-long child’s service that’s still educational?  How do I ‘teach’ something to a kid when I never encountered Judaism as one?  These are all whizzing through my mind while skimming the materials provided to us.  I’ve taught public school before; why is Hebrew so difficult?!

Tu B’Av

Tu b’Av – A Day of Love

arise from your graves
tonight death is defeated
annihilation and loneliness banished
I’ve borrowed my sister’s white skirt
and left my feet bare for dancing in the fields
perhaps I’ll meet him on the road
or while gathering wood
the one destined for me
from a flood’s time before our births
how will I know him?
he shall fill my heart as full
as this moon above
he will speak to me of queens
and count me in their ranks

Today is Tu B’Av.  So call me a softy, but I’m a Spanish Lit major and I was reading up on this holiday and stumbled upon this poem, which I love and decided to share.  The poet is Jennifer Wallace and her other work can be found here.

To use those pesky SAT analogy constructions, I’ve always thought

 prose:indicative mood::poetry:subjunctive mood

…and man do  I love me some subjunctive.

I also love poetry; I love what it can express more primal-y  than just about any other verbal art, with the freedom to selectively follow the rules of grammar.  It’s empowering and liberating and vulernable.

My understanding is that Tu B’Av is becoming Israel’s equivalent of Valentine’s Hallmark-palooza.  My understanding is that it’s shifted meanings once or twice in the past, but I hope it doesn’t morph into America’s V-Day, corrupting the very sentiment this poem seems to capture: tender, hopeful, purposeful, spiritual, unconditional.  It’s like the epitome of new love.

It also inspired me to share some of my other favorites, the classics.

carry your heart with me – e.e. cummings
i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

i fear

no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Love Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda
I do not love you as if you were a salt rose, or topaz
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
So I love you because I know no other waythan this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Poem IXV – Pablo Neruda

Every day you play with the light of the universe.
Subtle visitor, you arrive in the flower and the water.
You are more than this white head that I hold tightly
as a cluster of fruit, every day, between my hands.

You are like nobody since I love you.
Let me spread you out among yellow garlands.
Who writes your name in letters of smoke among the stars of the south?
Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed.

Suddenly the wind howls and bangs at my shut window.
The sky is a net crammed with shadowy fish.
Here all the winds let go sooner or later, all of them.
The rain takes off her clothes.

The birds go by, fleeing.
The wind. The wind.
I can contend only against the power of men.
The storm whirls dark leaves
and turns loose all the boats that were moored last night to the sky.

You are here. Oh, you do not run away.
You will answer me to the last cry.
Cling to me as though you were frightened.
Even so, at one time a strange shadow ran through your eyes.

Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle,
and even your breasts smell of it.
While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies
I love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth.

How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me,
my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running.
So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing our eyes,
and over our heads the gray light unwind in turning fans.

My words rained over you, stroking you.
A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.
I go so far as to think that you own the universe.
I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,
dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.

I want
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

Yom HaShoah

We begin–with silence.
The silence of death:
the silence after destruction;
there are times when songs falter,
when darkness fills life,
when martyrdom becomes a constellation of faith
against the unrelieved black of space about us.
There are no words to reach beyond the edge of night,
no messenger to tell the full tale.
There is only silence.
The silence ofJob.
The silence of the fourteen million.
The silence of memory.
Let us remember them as we link our silences.

I love the Barenaked Ladies Holiday Album

How lucky are we that we have lights so we can see
Although the day is done
What a miracle that a spark lifts these candles out of the dark
Every evening, one by one
Until the end of Chanukkah, of Chanukkah.

I’ve always considered myself a night owl. It was full of warm beds and good tv and comfortable pajamas. What’s not to like?

It wasn’t until I moved to NY that I learned just how bleak and draining the dark could be. It was where I learned to finally appreciate spring and light, the importance of Yotzer ha-Me’orot to my favored Maariv Aravim.

And now, I’m reflecting on this last year of my life. I had just moved home last year at this time. It was so hard to see the light in my life. I feel so blessed this year, not to have the light, which I always had, but to make the choice to see it. Lighting the candles during this holiday really helps me to count the blessings I have in my life.

A job in these bleak moments.
A boyfriend I am crazy about.
Debt paid off.
Better relationship with my family.
Amazing friends I miss after periods of absence.
A reconnection with my love of reading for pleasure.
Clearer distinction between my wants and my needs.
A stronger faith.

I’m a pretty damn lucky person. And may the light of this season glow in your life in the coming months. Chag sameach.