Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bonna Devora Haberman z"l

When Rabbi Eliezer was excommunicated, the Talmud says that all the plants on the earth wilted and died. I never understood until today. Losing Bonna Devora Haberman​ is such a loss. My heart is truly in pain. Losing a leader, mentor, role model, and friend.

The rosh chodesh that I snuck tefillin into the kotel, Bonna was with me. She saw me, nodded, smiled, moved closer to me. We had danced together before, but we didn't know each other. I knew it was okay, even if I couldn't see HaShem smiling, Bonna was smiling and it was all the reassurance I needed.

The next month, I was sure I would get arrested. But I wasn't the only one with tefillin. Bonna proudly stood with her tefillin on as well, beaming, glowing, only how Bonna did. Whatever the barrier, it was no longer there. We would forever be able to lay tefillin together at the kotel. Although, they told me they were going to arrest me. I asked them not to until after Hallel...and Bonna was arrested instead. Not that she went instead of me, but she was much more brave than I was. She willing went. I didn't want to go to jail, even if I knew I was breaking an unjust law. We never spoke about it. We just kept laying tefillin together every Rosh Chodesh.

Today is my Hebrew birthday, it's not a gift I ever expected, but I am so grateful that HaShem allowed me to be in Israel to say goodbye to Bonna. Tomorrow I am reading Torah at the Kotel. Sefer Torah or not, I can't think of a more appropriate way of honoring Bonna and her memory. 

יהי זכרה ברוך

Friday, November 28, 2014

Going home.

לֶךְ לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ: בראשית יב:א 

"Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you." Genesis 12:1

HaShem tells Avraham to leave his land, his birthplace, his father's home and go to another land. HaShem continues and says that he will bless Avraham in many ways. 

I feel that over the past six years of my life, I have been like Avraham. I left the land I was from, from where I was born, my parents' house, to a land (Israel) that HaShem showed me. I earned a Masters Degree in Middle East Studies, learned Hebrew, and for the past three years studied in the best beit midrash (house of study) in the world at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. At Pardes, I was free to question, change, grow, challenge my thinking, my actions, my way of living. And I did all those things. I changed, a lot. I didn't really have to explain to my parents and family how I was changing. It was just my thinking, but also the way I practiced my religion. I didn't have to explain how I became to feel more identified to Am Yisrael and the Jewish people than I did with being American. I didn't have to explain why I started to keep kosher, keep Shabbat, keep mitzvot. Maybe they saw pictures, or I mentioned something here or there, and they knew I didn't call on Saturdays, but they didn't really know the extent of my changes. Maybe that was my fault, or maybe I wasn't totally aware of the process that I was going through.  Either way, I wasn't the same person I was when I left my parents' home.

But unlike Avraham, at some point, I would be returning home. It happened last August. After five years in Israel, I returned to the land of my birth, to a place near (within driving distance) of my parents' home. I was blessed to receive a teaching position at a Jewish Day School in the midwest. I would be returning to the United States a totally different person than when I left. 

I can understand why HaShem never tells Avraham to go back home. It's hard. It's hard to explain things, it's hard to make demands on my family. It's hard to ask them to buy kosher things. It's hard to ask them to only use dishes that have been made kosher. It's hard to ask my Catholic father to make a kosher Thanksgiving. 

But...that's exactly what happened. 

Kosher turkey almost cooked on a kosher grill.
The weekend before when my parents were in Skokie, Illinois they went to the kosher Jewel and bought lots of things. I brought kosher utensils from my apartment and we cooked everything in those. We didn't use butter...on anything. We made roasted potatoes instead of mashed. And guess what, everyone survived. 

Reading books Thanksgiving morning with my niece and nephew.
And not only did everyone survive, I got to spend lots of time with my niece and nephew. The hardest part about living in Israel is being far away from them. Although I came home twice a year, I feel like I completely missed the first five years of my nephew's life. Both my niece and nephew are so smart, sweet, lovable and kind. By returning to the midwest, I definitely get to be a part of their lives much more. Being able to be with my family, makes all the requesting, explaining, awkwardness, all the ignoring the weird/rude comments, and even sometimes not being able to eat, all worthwhile. 

I remember being at Pardes talking to one of my rabbis and I was expressing my anxiety about going home a year before it was actually going to happen. He said, "you need to communicate." Although, simple, it's not simple at all. Communication isn't easy. But starting as early as possible and being as honest as possible, is very important. My families participation may have come with some complaining and lack of understanding, but they got exactly what I needed and did exactly what I needed to be able to be comfortable in their home...because in the end, our goal was the same. We all wanted to be together. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Judy visits JDS

I was lucky that my faculty check in during student teaching landed right in the middle of my student teaching. It is really easy to get overwhelmed (especially as a second year, in my case third) with teaching, but also interviewing and juggling life. 

Not only was Judy a great observer and gave wonderful feedback after my lessons, she helped me focus and reminded me of my goals I had set for myself before leaving Pardes. Take risks, have fun, learn, experiment, take advantage of the fact that I have a (wonderful) veteran teaching watching my lessons, etc. 

Judy and me in the CESJDS Rabbinics office!
Judy's visit was brief, and while she was at JDS she met with my mentor teacher, the Judaic studies department chair, the head of school, principal of the middle school, and of course, most of the time she was with me. Although I'm sure the interviewing process will only become more stressful, she really eased my anxiety and helped me re-focus.

Besides all the helpful things she did and the guidance she gave, it was simply wonderful to see a friendly loving face from Pardes. Can't believe I'm at the half-way marker! 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

JDS hockey team plays Israel!

Last night, after school, I went with the Director of Jewish Life and her five year old son to watch a hockey game between JDS (the school where I'm doing my student teaching) and Israel. I didn't know that Israel had a youth hockey team, but they were touring DC all the way from Metula, Israel. The team is made up of male and female, Israeli and Arab teens. The stands were packed and it was an awesome match to watch. I have no idea about the skill level as it was the first hockey game I have ever been to, but I thought both teams played well. I was proud of my students and the teens from Israel. 

Israel is in white and JDS is in blue. 
Opening ceremony of the hockey game 

My friend's son with two Olympic medalist hockey players. 

Tshirt from the game.

I was also impressed by how many students, parents, administrators, and community members came to support both teams and came to support Israel. The DC area is a really nice place to be and I'm happy to be at JDS to experience these types of events in America. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

First day of student "teaching"

I put teaching in quotations because even though it was my first day at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (JDS for short) in Rockville, Maryland, I definitely didn't teach. I observed, a lot.

Entrance of JDS (still dark outside when I arrived)
I had a couple of tours of the school, met many wonderful people, half of whom I hope to remember their names tomorrow, and sat in on classes. Besides the Judaic Studies classes I sat in on, I went to a jazz class which was very cool (and impressive). 

After meeting the tennis coach after school, we agreed that I would coach with her until April with the boys team every Monday-Thursday.  

Shabbats are already being planned! This Shabbat Yaffa will be in Maryland and I'll get to spend time with her. Maybe I'll miss Pardes less when we're together. Although, everyone at JDS is so nice and welcoming, it's hard to not love every second and very hard not to be excited about going to "work" everyday.

First day!!! 
My first day of real teaching will be next Monday. Until then I will be doing more observations and prepping my lessons for teaching. (Also, there are a lot of Pardes alumni that work at my school which makes it feel very homey!)

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Best dad in the world.

Today I received an email from my dad. (This is normal, we email a lot.) 

The email said, "i am getting plates and bowls for you, do you need separate silverware? please let me know your dietary needs.  what do you want to eat while you are here?  what can you not eat and how can I prepare for this?  love, Dad

Me, my dad, and my sister
Monday night I am flying to America. My anxiety had been slowly building. I have been observant for a while now, but every time I would visit America, I gave in. But every time I did, it felt worse and worse. I didn't want to impose "rules" on my family or to be a burden. I didn't really know how to explain myself, why I wanted or didn't want to eat certain things, in certain ways, or on certain dishes. It felt bad to request things that I couldn't logically explain, like, "well, after it's dipped in the water, I can/will eat off of it."  

Yesterday, I talked to my dad on the phone and I started spewing all these anxieties and how I was nervous. And he said, "you're also going to have to give in a little." Yes, I totally agree, but I felt like even that is difficult if they can't understand how much I really am giving also. 

I want to be a part of my family. I want to go on family trips, I don't want to be different or outside, or make things more difficult for anyone. I don't want to feel like I can't participate. I really have the best family in the world. They are loving, giving, caring, supportive. They have only encouraged me to follow my own path and to become the person I want to be. 

I could also feel the anxiety lift off my shoulders when I received the email.  I don't know if my dad understands anything about keeping kosher. Probably some, no shrimp, no pig, no mixing dairy and meat. But he's not Jewish, in fact, he's a very observant Catholic. Maybe because his religion is so important to him, it's easy for him to understand why mine is to important to me. 

Christmas 1991 
Or maybe it's really just because he loves me so much, and understands that this is something that I really value and it's how I live my life. My dad (and mom, too, of course) has been providing for my every need since I was born, and so now too, this is a need, and I think my dad really understands that. For me, keeping kosher is a need. 

Thank you, dad, for listening to me and reaching out to me. For understanding the things that I didn't have the courage to explicitly say or ask for. Thank for you being a partner, and of course, like always, thank you for taking care of me. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013


This isn't the first time I have written about The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, and honestly, it probably won't be the last.

Today, Shabbat, Parsha Va'Eira, was very special. There was a Bar Mitzvah of Avi, a son of one my teachers at Pardes, Meesh Hammer Kossoy. I have no idea how many students attended, but I couldn't look into any part of the crowd, and not see a classmate, teacher, dean, rosh yeshiva, spouse, significant other, etc.

Maybe this is normal for an "institute," maybe all places are like this, and they attend celebrations of co-workers and teachers. But, I have never been part of an institute that functions like this. I even looked up the definition of institute, so see if this was normal.

institute - noun : an organization created for a particular purpose

There doesn't seem to be anything explicit to think that this is how an institute would function. So what is it about Pardes that creates an environment that nearly the entire faculty and student body goes to a simcha/celebration of another faculty member? 

I think there is a sense of family that develops very quickly. We obviously all leave our homes to come to Jerusalem, yes, some with spouses, but most come alone. We quickly look up to our teachers/rabbis not just for Jewish guidance, but life guidance. Yes, they are amazing teachers of Tanakh, gemara, mishna, Rambam, Hassidute, etc., but more than anything, they serve as role models. They invite us into their homes to spend time with their children, to meet their wives/husbands. They feed us, they sing with us, they pray with us, they listen to us, they truly become like parents, (or in some cases like older siblings.) 

So, it is no surprise that when one of our beloved teachers has a celebration, we, as family, all want to attend. 

As for Avi, the bar mitzvah, he did an amazing job. He gave a dvar torah that could rival the best any Shabbat morning, read Torah and the Haftarah beautifully, ducked quickly out of the way of flying Hershey kisses, thanked his brother and sister for being the best siblings in the world, and graciously accepted all the mazal tovs he received.  

And as for his parents, they, of course, were exemplary models of loving, devoted parents who were beaming with pride over their son's rites of passage.