Friday, September 28, 2012


Recently, with the help of a teacher and a friend, I have taken on the mitzvah of tefillin. To be honest, I'm not sure when I really started wanting to try it, it's such a personal experience so it's hard to say, "I wanted to have this feeling, so I started to wrap tefillin." But I did want to see what feeling it would give me and if it would enhance my prayer experience. One thing for sure, it helps me focus. When I feel the leather biting into my arm, it brings me back to my prayer and whatever intention I'm trying to have. 

Another part that I really like it seeing the lines it leaves on my arms hours later into the day. I don't know if it's because I have really soft skin, or I wrap too tightly, but the lines stay on my arms for hours! It's a really good reminder of being in that place of prayer and still having that concentration while I'm not "praying" anymore. An hour later when I'm contemplating if I have time to help someone, and I see the lines, I'm like..."yes, of course, I'll help, I just prayed to be a better person!" 

I have only be wrapping tefillin for two weeks, so if I have any big spiritual moments, I'll post more. 
This picture was very Erev Yom Kippur. Naomi and I went to Tel Aviv to do a mikvah in the ocean, and we're praying before we went into the water. It was an AMAZING experience! I felt so pure going into Yom Kippur! 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dvar Torah

I wrote a Dvar Torah (Words of Torah) for our Shabbaton this weekend. So here it is.

Since we’re in the season of teshuva, I wanted to share some a very wise and inspiring Rabbi (Michael Hattin) once wrote, “teshuva is...a gradual awakening of the mind and soul to God’s call, a measured but steady process of self-evaluation and reflection, a plodding and sometimes faltering series of steps that includes dead ends, blind alleys, and even devastating retreats, but once unleashed, the momentum of the process cannot be stayed.”

Now I can definitely say that it is gradual and steady process...but before I came to Pardes I had no idea what teshuva was, I had never even heard the word. But I did want to love G-d. All I knew how to do was try to be a better person. (because surely G-d would at least want this.) I wanted to be a better daughter, a better sister, a better friend, a better citizen, be better to the environment, have a healthier lifestyle. So
I started reflecting, and thinking, and doing self-evaluations. Apologizing to people who I had hurt and making amends, and I started being kinder and more patient.

In this week’s Parsha, Moshe is talking to bnei Israel right before they are going to enter the land. And telling them to keep the mitzvot, and when you do them, G-d will do good things for you. But Moshe doesn’t just say, “when you do the mitzvot” he also says,

כִּי תָשׁוּב אֶל יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשֶׁךָ:
when you return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul.

What does “return” mean? It has the same shoresh as teshuva. Could it be the same teshuva that Michael described about the process of self-evaluation and reflection? I would like to suggest that it is because Moshe continues:

כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹא נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא:

For this commandment which I command you this day, is not concealed from you, nor is it far away.

לֹא בַשָּׁמַיִם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲלֶה לָּנוּ הַשָּׁמַיְמָה וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה

It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"

וְלֹא מֵעֵבֶר לַיָּם הִוא לֵאמֹר מִי יַעֲבָר לָנוּ אֶל עֵבֶר הַיָּם וְיִקָּחֶהָ לָּנוּ וְיַשְׁמִעֵנוּ אֹתָהּ וְנַעֲשֶׂנָּה

Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?”

כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ
Rather this thing is very close to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.

Teshuva is really something that is obtainable to everyone, even to people who may not know what teshuva is. Everyone has the ability to reflect, pursue G-d, enter a process of improvement and awakening, even if it does involve roadblocks and hardship along the way. But honestly, isn’t anything worth obtaining, difficult?

I have a challenge that may help you grow and reflect and start this process if you haven’t. There is a website called 10 Questions,
that for every day between the chaggim, they will send you a question. And then, in one year, they will send you what you answered and you can reflect upon your growth over the past year. And considering that you are just starting out on your year at Pardes and we all have a year of learning and growth ahead of us. I think it’s an amazing way for us to reflect and concretely see our growth.  

I hope, regardless of whether you do the 10 Questions or not. And whether you see teshuva as this intense process; you hear Moshe’s words that this is close to you and it is possible. I want to give everyone a bracha, me too, why not, that in the upcoming days, we take time to reflect upon who we are, right now, today, at this point. Because only from this point, can we move forward and become closer to G-d.

Robert Kraft and Israeli Football

Israeli Football League from Grace Barcenas on Vimeo.

The link is to a video made about the IFL. I am in it a few times, but I am most recognizable at 1:45.


Sunday, September 09, 2012

Honor to host!

 This past Shabbat, Joseph, my roommate, and I had the honor of hosting 10 new Pardes students at our home. We were really excited about the prospect and really went all out.  We had the most amazing evening, and even though we really tried to create a beautiful Shabbat space and atmosphere, I feel like the people really made all the different to the oneg (joy) we felt at Shabbat. There are a few pictures below of the food, and table. (And Joseph, you are an amazing chef!)

Mandelbread, of course...

Beautiful colors, beautiful cabbage salad! 

Joseph made a Persian dish called "Kuku," it's egg, cauliflower, onion, and parsley. It's delicious! 

I carved "Shalom" into a watermelon!!! Everyone loved it! 
This is another watermelon "Shabbat" that I carved last year. Clearly, I should carve these at the same time, but that would really be a lot of work! 

All the craziness with the grass was worth it! Look at how beautiful our Shabbat was!