Family, Health, Letting Go

A short reflection on showering

keep telling myself to take a shower. “In 20 minutes, take a shower.” 20 minutes pass and I do not take a shower I do this thing where I look up people I admire on Twitter and see who they admire and then follow them  — half because I want to learn from them and half because I want them to pay attention to me. Not showering yet is evidence that the half that wants them to pay attention to me is diminishing because not taking a shower shows I want education more than I want to be pretty or smell good and so these days not showering is a good sign that the ego (or is it the superego) is deflating.


or the fact that my long hair no longer looks better after I shower so why bother. My hair which used to be the best of me after my breasts but now lies as flat as they do, shower or no shower, is no longer a win-win is betraying me is possibly falling out no not now but possibly soon. I think of my Nini that time I walked in on her adjusting her wig in the mirror at the dresser in her bedroom. This was before the cancer and I confirm it with my father who says “her forties, I guess.”

So I better


What’s Off-Limits When I Die

Who gets to decide what of yours gets published after you’re gone?

Who says that your journals, your letters, your doodles in the margins get to be publicly shared posthumously?

I assume the obvious: Your next of kin. Your estate’s executor.

But I wonder — those of us who read the words of the dead without their explicit permission (The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, The Diary of Anne Frank, Kafka’s The Trial) — do we care whether or not the author wanted the materials published and read? (Kafka apparently vehemently did not. Tough noogies for him.)

Sure, it’s fun to discover that Tolkien had a “semi-secret” talent for sketching. And Jim Morrison wrote psychadelic poetry.

Fun for us.

But for them?

I’m not so sure.

Of course, one could argue that they’re … um… dead. That would be a pretty good argument for why it doesn’t really, truly matter.

But why, then, do we respect the dead in other, superstitious ways? We wear black, hold our breath, cover our mirrors. Shouldn’t we think twice before reading their private journals?

Presumably their material was published in the name of art by someone who had something to gain from the publication: money, fame.

But does this mean we have to read it?

I think about this a lot as I go through my cardboard boxes.

At the end of the day, I save stuff for me. I might think I am saving it for my kids, but I’m really saving it for me to share with my kids. Not for them to discover on their own with no historical reference. No filter. No explanation.

And I wonder, what would I be okay with them sharing after I’m gone?

Anything marked “FINAL DRAFT,” I’d be good with, I guess. All files tagged “SUBMITTED_2_2013” or any such combination of publication name + date, I’d be good with.

But the other stuff? My journals? My notes to self? My letters? My teenage angst poser poetry?

I don’t know if I want those aired out in public by anyone else but me.

I might change my mind when I’m famous. (I’ll let you know.) But I doubt it.

What about you? What are your thoughts about publishing rough work or private writings posthumously?

Community, Family, Living in Community, Love

A woman on the brink of death

(This was originally posted on the Times of Israel)

Sometimes I imagine I am a woman on her death bed.

How else to explain the sense of wonder I have the minute I pull out of my driveway each morning to head to work?

Before I even leave the boundaries of my small community in Northern Israel, my head turns from side to side looking out the car window for a sign of nature’s wonder.

Morning light breaking through a stunning cloud formation overhead.

cloud formation

The sun rising over the Eshkol Reservoir.

sun over eshkol

The first kalanit popping up in the fields lining the road into our neighborhood.


Who else does this but a woman about to die?

Sometimes I catch myself imagining I am her — a woman on her death bed.

I am paralyzed. Frightened.

Could it be true?

What if it was?

And then I laugh with the realization that it is true.

We all are.

We are born to die.

And as much as we fear it, we spend our lives rushing towards it…towards death.

Rushing through breakfast; pushing the kids out the door; grabbing three different bags – a laptop bag, a lunch bag, a pocketbook – and throwing them into the back seat. We drink a to-go cup of coffee on the way. We turn on the radio and scan the words for news. News that will help us make decisions; make us feel right; make us feel wrong.

Get us there quicker.

We breeze by our coworkers; we tweet through our days. Our fingers sore from scrolling, from typing, from pointing.

Who else but a woman about to die notices the teeny tiny wren perched on the tallest branch of a pine tree across the street from the entrance to Rafael?

Who else catches through her passenger side window the hearty laugh of a teenage girl in a bronze glittery head scarf waiting for the bus to Karmiel?

Who else but a woman on the brink of demise notices the blend of hope and fear on the faces of the black men – the ones standing on the side of the kikar at the entrance to Kfar Manda — as she passes them during rush hour?

Who else but a woman about to die?

We characterize our behavior as “living,” but really we are rushing towards death. Getting there quicker, richer, righter.

Until we stop.

And in the moment we stop – in the slow minutes spent behind a tractor trailer chugging up a hill, for instance – we slow down death.

We drink in life.

Drink it in.

annabel bowling

Family, Religion, Spirituality

The emerging Jew in me

(This was originally posted on the blog section of The Jerusalem Post.)

Despite years of being a Jew in a Jewish family, Jewish tradition and, more specifically, Jewish practice often feel very alien to me. Shabbat meals, Shabbat services, Jewish prayers and rituals.  And despite being a bat mitzvah and many years a student in Hebrew school, there is little that I feel confident practicing, and there’s lots that I don’t.

In the past, this ignorance would sometimes surface as fear and loathing when, for instance, I was a teenager at USY events and I didn’t know how to do the Birkat HaMazon (“Grace after Meals”), let alone joyfully pound on the tables at just the right moments, like my friends did (the ones who had been doing it for years at Camp Ramah or Hebrew day school). Or when my college boyfriend took me to a Shabbat lunch at his friend’s apartment at the Jewish Theological Seminary and I was wearing jeans and a tank top, and all the other women covered their shoulders and knees. Or even in recent years, when I found myself in synagogue, standing next to my mother who was saying Kaddish for her father or when we chose a reform Mohel for my son’s Brit Milah, and accidentally offended my in-laws.

What surfaced as fear and loathing back then was likely fear and shame, as I understand it now. Feeling all the time that I was an impostor…stupid…uninformed. That there was something I should have learned along the way, but didn’t. As someone who thrives on information and knowledge (and who shrinks at feeling ignorant), I rejected Judaism. Flat out. I wasn’t interested.

It wasn’t until I got married in a Jewish ceremony that I started considering, even for a second, that there was beauty in Jewish practice and that certain elements of the practice might be accessible and available to me.  It wasn’t until I sent my kids to Jewish preschool that I once again found delight in singing Jewish songs and chanting Jewish prayers, a joy that was familiar to me from childhood, but so distant.  It wasn’t until I moved to Israel a year ago that I started understanding and accepted that it was safe for me to open my heart to Judaism, even though I still had lots of questions and found few answers.

Last week, I traveled back to my home town in New Jersey for my grandmother’s funeral. And for the first time ever, that I can remember, felt comforted by Jewish practice.

In the past, when I found myself in uncomfortable or anxious situations, whether it was a painful experience like childbirth or an emotionally challenging experience like public speaking, I would soothe myself by humming a chant or a mantra I learned in yoga class 12 years ago.

Shri ram, jai ram, jai jai ram

I learned this chant in 1999 at a yoga studio in Manhattan. It stuck and I’ve been humming it for over a decade — I’ve even taught it to my kids and encourage us all to use it when things get a little…hairy…around the house.

But in New Jersey recently, on the way to my Bubbi’s funeral, I found myself humming something different. A nigun we often sing as we enter into prayer on Hannaton for Kabbalat Shabbat.

Laiiiii lai lai lai lai lai

And humming the nigun soothed my nerves and eased me into the Jewish practices yet to come. Mourning and remembrance.

Over the next few days, as I participated in the rituals that followed — Shiva, prayer, Mourner’s Kaddish — I hummed the tune. I taught it to my brother who figured the melody out on his guitar. I’d even say we bonded over this nigun, something we haven’t done for years.

Over five days, I realized that I actually knew so much more “Judaism” than I thought I had. And even more impactful, I understood that it was okay that there were practices and rituals I didn’t know. That I could take from the ones that served and supported me; and refrain from those that didn’t. That there is a time for learning and a time for engaging. That, in fact, I could know absolutely nothing about Jewish practice and ritual…and still benefit from participating in it.

That practicing a ritual you do not fully understand is not hypocritical or stupid or insincere.  It’s okay.

I also realized that once your heart is open, even a little, it may be easily filled by the power of those rituals — the ones you’ve chosen; the ones that fit your needs at that moment.

It’s easy for me to say that living here in Israel is opening my heart to Judaism. That living on a Masorti kibbutz in Israel and participating in its activities have acclimated me more to Judaism. I imagine that’s what it looks like to my friends and family observing the process. That, suddenly, I have “found” religion.
But, it could also be that I’ve entered that time of life when we need the comfort of prayer and ritual more often. Or that my heart has softened after years of marriage and raising children, of losing friends to illness, of losing grandparents to age, of watching my parents age and lose their parents. That my awareness is growing day by day that life is fragile and community is comforting and ritual is soothing.

It may be that my path of spiritual seeking has become more refined or less judgmental.

It may be a mix of all the above.

But, for certain, the key is my opening heart.  And my willingess to let strangers –or strangeness–in.