Community, Spirituality

Alternative Atonement

I really love the word alternative.

A little too much, probably.

When I imagine the word alternative in my mind it’s pure white.

It represents something good, something spiritual, something I can connect too.

Like Yom Kippur.

Like reflection. Contemplation. Healing. Forgiveness. Fasting.

When I let my mind rest, words become colors. And colors become emotions. And emotions connect me to my spiritual side.

What a colorful world it is when I let my mind rest.

This is my pathway to Yom Kippur.

*   *   *   *

Soon I will walk up to the Hannaton Spiritual and Education Center to sit in on a “dharma talk” given by one of the teachers leading a retreat organized by Tovana, an “organization that disseminates spiritual teachings and practices derived from the Buddhist teachings, the Dharma, [to] help us discover a deep inner peace and awakening and a life of harmony and wisdom.” Had I known about the silent Yom Kippur meditation retreat in advance, I likely would have convinced my husband to give me a couple of days off to participate.  But I only heard about it last weekend. And so, I won’t be reflecting, atoning, or meditating Jew Bu style.

Luckily, though,  Hannaton residents are invited to listen to one of the few talks that take place in the middle of the otherwise silent retreat. So this is where I’m going in a few minutes. Before I leave, I will shut down my computer. And keep it shut for the next 36 hours or so. Sitting at a dharma talk — another pathway to Yom Kippur.

When I come home, I will turn off my phone. I will turn off my IPad. I’ll spend time with my children. Time with my husband. Time with my new kitty. Time in my garden (read more about how that connects to Yom Kippur here.)  Time in the synagogue with friends. Time outside the synagogue with friends.

All pathways to Yom Kippur.

It’s amazing, really.

And simple.

White. Pure.

Yom Kippur.

Family, Kibbutz

When the novelty wears off

What to do when the novelty wears off?

This is the question I didn’t realize I have been asking myself all summer.

What happens after you’ve lived in a new country for a full year, a full four seasons? What happens when you’re no longer the hot new family in the neighborhood? The charming foreigners? The intriguing mystery couple in the red rental house?

What happens when the cultural differences are no longer cute? When the adventure takes back seat to the normal every day demands of life?

What happens when you’re life become less about navigating national landmarks and more about homework? Grocery shopping? Haircuts? Conference calls? Birthday parties? Forms? Soccer practice?

What happens when you suddenly realize you live here; and that it’s time you start living here?

What happens then?

What happens is that you get a little depressed. You find yourself frustrated. Then in a funk. Then frustrated again. Then in a funk. Then you spend a few days longing for your old friends; your old neighborhood; your old book club; your old familiar premium natural foods market just down the street. You long for things you hated “back home”: the mall, the post office, the emergency room at the local hospital.

You wonder if you should move back to New Jersey. Back to Arizona. Back to somewhere that has a premium natural food market.

Somewhere that sells kale.

You wonder if you’re really happy at your job.

You consider getting a hair cut. New glasses.

You cry in the shower.

You blog about it.


something magical happens.

You force yourself to go to a community potluck. You look around and you realize you have friends. Not just one or two. But a few friends.  Women and men you can laugh with. And you know exactly which ones you can laugh with!

You realize you don’t have to hide in the corner anymore talking to the one person who will tolerate your pitiful Hebrew. You realize there are a few conversations you could easily interrupt and join. A few people who would be happy you did. A few people who know the right questions to ask you, and care about your answers. A few people who can even smell the funk on you, and ask, “Is everything okay?”

A few people who want to know the truth.

The truth.

The truth is, when the novelty wears off, you find that the sunset over the reservoir isn’t as AMAZING as it was when you first arrived. You find that the smell from the cow farm isn’t really SO QUAINT and AUTHENTIC.  You find that the FARM FRESH eggs actually come from chickens kept in teeny tiny horribly inhumane coops and that despite living on real live farms raised by real live farmers the chickens are treated so poorly they might as well be raised in factories.

The truth is, you realize you didn’t move to a dream. You didn’t move to a Facebook photo album. You didn’t move to a Lifetime movie for women.

You moved to a life.

And one sign that your new life is good is that when the novelty wears off, you’re able to go to a community potluck…and find a friend… and laugh.

Even if there’s no kale.

Culture, Religion, Spirituality


Do you celebrate Rosh Hashana like your parents did? What do you borrow from the High Holiday celebrations of your youth?

This is what I am thinking today on Rosh Hashana 5773, Day Two.

It occurred to me this morning, the second day of the new Jewish Year that we didn’t go to services the day before.

Even writing that statement feels funny. It occurred to me. I’m a little embarrassed; a little ashamed, even.

I accidentally forgot to go to services.

This is particularly ironic since, when I was a kid, Rosh Hashana was one of two days during the year when you could be sure to find me inside a synagogue (or at the very least, on the playground of a synagogue, or in a crowded hallway of a synagogue among other hormonal teenage girls spying on well-groomed oblivious teenaged boys.)

It’s ironic because now I am an adult living on a fairly traditional kibbutz in Northern Israel; now, I go to Friday night services at least twice a month; now, I speak Hebrew and think about God:

Now, is when I forgot to go to services.

Instead of going to synagogue on the morning of Rosh Hashana — and I write “instead” very loosely since there really was no active choice involved; I simply forgot — I hung around my in-laws’ house, enjoyed a nice breakfast with my family, and played with the baby kitten my son befriended in the yard.

It’s not that I forgot it was Rosh Hashana. Certainly not. It’s a state holiday. I dipped apples in honey. I thought about the people I had hurt the year before and made a silent intention to right wrongs. I sent New Year’s greetings to loved ones and blessed my children. I kissed my husband with gratitude. I ate brisket.

But I didn’t go to services.

It only occurred to me once we returned to Hannaton later that evening that we really should go to synagogue. It was Rosh Hashana after all.

I thought back to the High Holidays of my youth. I thought about my young parents; and my childhood home. I thought about sweet kugel at my Bubbi’s house. I thought about the new dress from Botwinick’s my mom and I would shop for and the fresh pair of itchy tights we’d break out of the package on the morning of Rosh Hashana. I thought about my brother struggling into a suit from Fleet’s and my dad in a black nylon kippah. I thought about my mom in high heels. My mom hardly ever wore high heels.

I thought about posed family photographs in the front driveway. Plastic smiles, but pretty pictures.

I thought about making it to synagogue early enough to hear the Torah, but not so early that we were the first ones there (10:15 am). I thought about the challenge to find parking in the neighborhood behind Beth El. And worse yet, on the years it would rain.

I thought about parting with my parents as they made their way to their assigned seats in the auditorium…and in later years to the Main Sanctuary. I thought about the classrooms turned into babysitting rooms; and the small chapel I dutifully spent ten minutes inside.

As I recall the Rosh Hashanas of my youth, I don’t recall prayer. This is certain.

But I recall tradition.

Intentional or accidental, our family had a Rosh Hashana tradition. A custom practiced year upon year and, in some little way, passed down to generations. Customs out of the ordinary that I only associate with the High Holidays.

Last night, when it occurred to me that we didn’t go to services, I suggested to my husband that we take the kids the next morning and he agreed.

Not because I felt compelled to pray. Not for fear of the wrath of God. Not even because I thought it was “the right thing to do.”

I took my kids to synagogue because remembering the boring, overdressed, agitated, sometimes hormonal, often drama-filled High Holidays of my youth opens up my heart.

It’s like playing an 80s video on YouTube.

It’s like reading an old journal entry.

It’s like running into an ex-boyfriend on the street.

It’s like smelling your grandmother’s perfume.

It’s like looking at the pictures of your baby’s birth on his 6th birthday.

This is the nature — and the merits — of tradition.

And I want my children to experience the overwhelm of their hearts opening.

They can’t possibly know it today as they argue over who got a bigger glass of grape juice; as they complain about having to pin the kippah to their heads; as they moan and groan as we walk up the hill to the Beit Knesset underneath the hot sun.

But someday they will remember.

And their hearts will burst with feeling.

And they will welcome in the New Year.

Culture, Family

Seducing Fall

You wouldn’t know it from the digits on the thermometer but we’re a few breaths away from Fall.

Evidence mounts, instead, on friends’ Facebook photos and in the mess of backpacks and lunchboxes thrown haphazardly in my hallway.

A new year of school has begun and our second Israeli summer is almost behind us.

I know I’m adjusting to life in Israel because I inhale the faint smells of Fall with desire and relief.  As opposed to how I’ve always associated summer; here, Fall is the season in which we get to play outside and explore.

The summer heat is oppressive, as are the masses at public beaches and parks. In the fall, on the other hand, the weather and the tourists taper off, and the locals get to play a little. Especially with the Jewish High Holidays smack dab in the middle of our transition back into our “regular schedules.” Government and school holidays from Rosh Hashana thru Sukkot provide many of us with a veritable Indian Summer. Mandatory days off from work. An excuse to slack a little.

While I’ve always been a summer lovin’ kinda girl, Israel — and perhaps age –have created a rift between me and my childhood steady, the Summer Sun. I no longer crave his touch as much as I used to, and when we spend too much time together I bristle from it instead.  For the the first time ever, I don’t think I will have a hard time bidding him goodbye.

And with a more mature, but just as selfish abandon, I beckon Fall instead.