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. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

A special davening.

There was something very special about this morning's davening (praying) that I don't always feel. But it started way before my friend started to sing pesukei d'zimra (the opening blessings.)

This morning wasn't your average morning, yes, we came early for davening at 7am like other days, but it was difficult. After the Jerusalem snow storm and two days of canceled school, the roads were still ice. My friend/roommate and I slipped and slid our way to school, grabbing on to each other many times in order not to fall. We laughed and took pictures of crazy things we saw on our way.

Gorgeous sunrise, but also note the accident that already happened...
Uh oh....
Sliding down the street! 

I really questioned why I was on the street before 7am to go pray. But...we went. And we made it safely. Only three of us were there after we brought the Torah downstairs (the only place in the building with heat) but we looked at each other with excitement. We were going to pray, and be together and be warm and support each other. When Carolyn started, she said, "you better sing with me!" And we happily did. Soon more women came, and prayed and sang with us.  We were still small, only seven of us, but it felt like a lot. And in a gentle way, it felt strong.

Naomi led shachrit, which I had never heard her do before, and in her soft, sweet voice there was so much beauty. I read the first two aliyot of Shemot, which was exciting in its own accord because everyone at Pardes has been studying sefer Shemot and most classes just finished the first parsha. I felt a lot when I sang it, but not nerves like usual. There was an excitement to read/hear the story and continue our journey through the Torah. I think we all connected to the reading in our own way. Candace read the third aliyah which included Puah and Shifra, the first two powerful and influential women we run into in Shemot.   

Everyone smiled, even in questions, answers, clarifications, and corrections. Everyone was supportive. I felt so good. My dear friend, (who is known to have a bit an anxiety at times) read the bracha for the Torah reading with confidence and not a hint of hesitation in her voice. She made me very proud and I was excited to be the one reading the aliyah. 

I don't think I need to restate how special this morning's women's tefilla was to me. But I do want to say that I feel so lucky to have a community in which it is possible to create such a safe space. I know at the end of the year, I won't be able to take this for granted, as I am already searching for communities in the US for which this can exist and thrive. But for now, thank you, Pardes, thank you, Naomi and Melissa, and thank you, women of Pardes who are always there to support me. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hillel in the snow

There is a very famous story about Hillel, which follows: 

"Most famous perhaps is the incident which occurred before his rise to leadership, when he was not yet a scholar, but had a burning desire to study Torah. At that time, Torah study was tightly controlled and limited only to those of the highest caliber and to those who could pay for it. Hillel, working then as a woodchopper, did not have enough money to pay for entry into the Beit Midrash. On a freezing cold snowy day, he climbed onto the roof of the Study Hall, and lay at the "skylight" listening to the lecture, until he froze. When the scholars below observed his form above, they retrieved him, and changed the policy such that anyone who wished to study Torah could come in and do so."

(Taken from: 

View out the window of the Pardes Beit Midrash. 

Yesterday, in Jerusalem, the snow that had been warned about finally arrived. It wasn't that much snow. But for Israel, a place that isn't prepared to deal with this kind of weather, the city really shuts down. Yet, something very amazing happened. So many Pardes students arrived at school. Many of them very early for mechetzah and egal minyans, and even after, more for classes. Teachers and secretaries showed up, too. Level dalet and hey had nearly 100% attendance. We all braved the cold, freezing, wet, snow, ice in order to come study. Even when school was officially canceled after news of Jerusalem schools also being canceled, many students stayed for hours to continuing studying in the Beit Midrash. 

View inside the Beit Midrash! 

Maybe we are all crazy. Maybe we just wanted to be where most of our friends were already. Maybe we couldn't imagine leaving to go back out into the snow. But I think it's something about Torah. We seem to be addicted. It fills us with something that we would all describe a little differently, but makes us feel good and helps us become better versions of ourselves. And b"h we have a place to study, unlike Hillel who wasn't allowed in, Pardes opens it's doors to everyone and offers Torah to anyone who seeks it. 

So thank you Pardes for being so warm, loving, and open. Because no one wants to be outside in this weather, not even Hillel! 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Being part of the IFL

Beyond my time studying Torah at Pardes, I am in my fourth season refereeing American football in Israel. I have seen a lot of amazing things, bones breaking, players helping each other, Christians, Jews and Muslims gaining respect for each other on a field. But this past Thursday topped all of these things. One of the teams really went out of their way to make one eleven year old's dream come true.

Read and watch the video here.

I'm very proud to work for this wonderful organization. Way to go, Israel Football League.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Why was Rosh Chodesh Tevet different?

This month, Tevet, at the kotel really felt different. Maybe it was logistics. It started at 8am and not 7am. I decided to walk. Someone (from WoW) stopped on their way when they recognized me, picked me up, and gave me a ride. Pardes is on Hanukkah break so I didn't have to run stressfully back to school in fear of being late for my lesson. I went out to breakfast afterwards with four other people who prayed with WoW at the kotel. We relaxed, reflected, laughed. 

I'm sure all of these things contributed to a nice morning. But I really felt that the davening (prayer) itself was nicer than usual. First, there weren't as many people there in general. The summer is gone, the tourists went home, the weather wasn't great. Only the "die-hards," the men and women who always come were there. And really, it was nice. It was intimate, I could here the shaliach tzibur (the prayer leader.) Even though we did a nusach (tune) that I didn't know, we did everything out loud together. It was slow, some of my friends at school would have found it very difficult (they prefer to daven quickly). But I liked it. I knew many of the women (and men) who were there. I was greeted with loving smiles and hugs. What it really felt like what my normal morning minyan (or for people who believe only men can make up a minyan, then I can use the word tefilla.) I like praying in a group of people I know and care about and who care about me. And that's what happened this morning.

From the first moment that the woman picked me up on the street, to the women at the entrance who let me hold the Torah for a few minutes before going into pray, to women coming in around me and rubbing my back to let me know they were standing close (protecting each other from the screams from the other side of the mechetza). From the personalized blessings from Nathalie, the shaliach tzibur, to warm accepting laughter I received when I was standing under the tallit for a blessing and I told the women around me to pray hard because I wanted to find my husband. There were mothers and daughters praying together. Women who could have been my mom. Young women my age who have been empowered to stand up for what they believe. Older women who have seen change and stagnation. Because of all these things, I felt cared about and important. I felt that my prayers were significant to this group and our prayers were rising together. For me, this is why I like to pray in a group and specifically why I like to pray in a group of women. It's safe, it's strong, it's supportive, and it's non-judgmental. I really hope and pray that every woman gets to experience an openness of prayer like this.

Last month contained it's own beauty. It was a success that hundreds of women from all over Israel and America came to pray together. But it wasn't intimate, it was big and successful in celebrating the 25th anniversary. I was happy for those women to be able to come and have a wonderful experience at the Kotel. Something they will remember for the rest of their lives, but they went home. And what was left, were the women who give themselves every month. The women who don't want it to be a show, who will keep coming no matter how long it takes. Maybe that isn't provocative, maybe that doesn't make the headlines, but it's exactly what I want. And talking to these women this morning, I realized I'm not alone. I'm not going to Robinson's Arch. I am going to pray in the women's section, with tallit, tefillin, and one day, one Rosh Chodesh, hopefully soon, I and others will read from the Sefer Torah.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Dvar Torah - Tower of Bavel

I wrote a dvar torah about the Tower of can read it here

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Not just once, but four times!

Like any other normal day, I received an email from the synagogue/beit knesset that I go to every week here in Jerusalem, Mizmor le David. Usually, I delete them because I know the prayer times and have my meals already planned. But with all the chaggim/holidays, I read through the mass email to make sure I didn’t miss anything. There was an announcement that on Simchat Torah women could read from the Torah. It’s an orthodox beit knesset, so I was shocked and excited at the opportunity. Before I knew what I had done, I emailed back to tell them that I wanted to read.

At this point, Simchat Torah was about ten days away. So while sitting in a shiur about sukkot, I picked out the part of VeZot HaBracha (the last reading in the Torah) that I wanted to read. I picked a short one, I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew. I chose the fourth aliyah, it is only four pasukim/sentences. This is what I chose:

Chapter 33

And to Zebulun he said: "Rejoice, Zebulun, in your departure, and Issachar, in your tents.
יח. וְלִזְבוּלֻן אָמַר שְׂמַח זְבוּלֻן בְּצֵאתֶךָ וְיִשָּׂשכָר בְּאֹהָלֶיךָ:
They will call peoples to the mountain; there, they will offer up righteous sacrifices. For they will be nourished by the abundance of the seas, and by the treasures hidden in the sand."
יט. עַמִּים הַר יִקְרָאוּ שָׁם יִזְבְּחוּ זִבְחֵי צֶדֶק כִּי שֶׁפַע יַמִּים יִינָקוּ וּשְׂפֻנֵי טְמוּנֵי חוֹל:
And of Gad he said: "Blessed is He Who grants expanse to Gad; he dwells like a lion, tearing the arm [of his prey, together] with the head.
כ. וּלְגָד אָמַר בָּרוּךְ מַרְחִיב גָּד כְּלָבִיא שָׁכֵן וְטָרַף זְרוֹעַ אַף קָדְקֹד:
He saw the first portion for himself, because there, the portion of the lawgiver is hidden. And he came at the head of the people; he did what is righteous for the Lord, and what is lawful with Israel."
כא. וַיַּרְא רֵאשִׁית לוֹ כִּי שָׁם חֶלְקַת מְחֹקֵק סָפוּן וַיֵּתֵא רָאשֵׁי עָם צִדְקַת יְהֹוָה עָשָׂה וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו עִם יִשְׂרָאֵל:

I practiced a lot. My trope teacher recorded if for me to make sure I was pronouncing all the words correctly. I kept referencing my trope book to make sure I had the notes right. I made my friends and roommates listen to me sing it over and over.

I always think reading Torah is important and a mitzvah, but this seemed extra special and extra important. One, I was going to read on a holiday. A holiday that is all about celebrating the Torah itself. So to read from the Torah on the day that celebrates Torah was extra special. Secondly, on a personal note, this was the first time that I would be reading Torah at an orthodox place that wasn’t Pardes or NFTY. I had read Torah many times for NFTY and the reform movement.  I have the utmost respect for the reform movement and it is one of my deep passions to work for them. I am usually one of the most educated Jews when I am reading Torah, and there are few people, if any, who know when I make a mistake. (I still take it very seriously and practice for weeks before I read for them.) And I also have read Torah a few times at Pardes. This is also nerve wracking, but it is a place where people know that we are students who are learning and people are gentle in correcting others and everyone is supportive. At Mizmor le David, people know what’s going on, they know exactly how it is suppose to be read. It’s serious, it’s a mitzvah.

I arrived so early in the morning, I was the first woman, and there wasn’t even a minyan of men yet. I was nervous. I put on my tallit and felt wrapped up in God’s presence, (I had asked before if it was okay if I could wear it, and they said it was fine!) and I started davening/praying which helped me relax and later we danced with the Torah for hours which also helped me calm down. Finally, it was time for Torah reading. It was already noon, I was ready, (and my amazing friends who came to support me were more than ready as well!) The women went outside and formed a separate minyan. At first I was annoyed, like the women were being kicked out. But I realized it’s too loud for two Torah readings to be going on at once. With the women, ten or men came out to insure there was a minyan.

On Simchat Torah, they read the torah portion many times. They do this to make sure that anyone who wants to do an aliyah, saying the blessing over the torah reading, has an opportunity. The person then receives a blessing called the Mi Sheberakh/May the One Who Blessed. It’s a blessing for healing and good health. It is traditionally read when the Torah is open. So this is a time for everyone to receive this blessing if they want.

It was finally my turn to read. A friend of mine did the blessing, I started, slowly and I tried to be loud. (It was hard to hear the people who read before me.) My friend had given me the advice to breathe and, “give yourself time” he said. It gives you a split second to think, annunciate, and look ahead. So I did. It was good, but the women thought I may be lost and “helped” me a little, even though I didn’t mess up. It was great. The after blessing was said. I stayed up there and did my own aliyah on the next torah reading, and received my own blessing.

Then we started over and I was waved up to read again. The women struggled over the blessing, but did it, and I read again. Perfectly.

There were so many people who wanted to say the blessing, they set up a third minyan in a side room and ten men crammed in to form yet another space to read torah. (In an orthodox setting, ten men are needed to read torah.) They asked me to go into that room because they needed more people to read. There was a man reading most of the portions, but when it got to the part that I knew, I asked if I could read it. They thought I wanted to say the blessing, but I told him I wanted to read the torah, and he asked again, “You want to read?” and again, I said yes, and the man stepped back and I took the yad/pointer from his hand. This time there were only three or four women in the room with the ten men and I was reading for a man who had said the blessing. And...I rocked it. It felt amazing.

I waited for one more read through of the Torah, and when it got to my part, the man handed me the yad with a nod. And I read, didn’t get boring, it was more and more amazing every time. I did better every time. I was more confident with each reading. I became aware that it wasn’t just about my own reading, but that I was truly helping/assisting someone else fulfill a mitzvah. By my reading (four times!!!), they did the mitzvah of reciting the blessing and they received a blessing. I know I already said it, but it was so awesome!

Everyone who wanted to do a blessing did it. It was after one in the afternoon, I was starving, it was time to go home. I went to say bye to the man who I had originally emailed to say that I wanted to read Torah. He was smiling, happy and grateful that I read. He told me that next year I could read two portions! Be’ezrat Hashem/with God’s help, I will.

On my walk home, I was glowing. I felt so alive, so proud of myself. So proud of my own reading and that I helped other people do their own mitzvah. Maybe it was just torah, or maybe it was what torah helped me give to others that made me so happy. I’m not sure. But now that we are starting over on Shabbat with Bereshit, at the beginning of the torah again, I can’t help but think about what this year of torah is going to bring me and I can’t wait to get started!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

NFTY, I'm shaking what?

Sukkot is a holiday that is really about joy. We are commanded to be happy. We build a booth outside in the elements of the weather to show God that we trust and depend on him. We are told to dwell in the booth/sukkah that we made. The rabbis interpreted this to mean that we eat and sleep in it.

So, great, I will build a booth, eat and sleep in it, and be happy. But we all know there is something else that has to do with Sukkah...the four species, or better known at the lulav and etrog. And we're suppose to shake it...

In Leviticus 23:40 the Torah names them these four plants:
  • ets hadar (פרי עֵץ הָדָר ) magnificent trees
  • tamar (כפות תמרים) palm trees
  • ets avoth (עֵץ־עָבֹת) boughs of thick trees
  • aravah (ערבי נחל) willows of the brook

The terms we are more familiar with now come from the Talmud:
  • etrog (אתרוג) – the fruit of a citron tree
  • lulav (לולב) – a ripe, green, closed frond from a date palm tree
  • hadass (הדס) – boughs with leaves from the myrtle tree
  • aravah (ערבה) – branches with leaves from the willow tree*

Why these specific four species of plants and why did God command us to gather them? One thing that is very cool, is that all the plants grow in the land of Israel. By gathering these plants God is taking us through our Jewish history. It's almost the same route that we took this summer on our NFTY in Israel trip. 

We were wandering in the desert, lost and following Moshe. I'm sure you can remember seeing from your bus window all the oases with palm trees in the middle of the desert. Those are the same date palms (lulav) that we use on sukkot. 

When Bnei-Israel (the Jewish people) entered the land of Israel that God gave them, they had to cross the Jordan River.  Not only did we cross the Jordan, we rafted down it. If you would have stopped paddling (or splashing your friends) and looked around, you were have seen willows lining the banks. The same willows (aravah) that we collect and use. 

In Jerusalem we talked about the first and second temples (the first built by Solomon and the second built by Herod.) All of Jewish life was centered around the Temple, and Jews would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem...I'm sure you're catching on by now. On the hilly country sides that surround Jerusalem, it's the perfect place for myrtle (Hadas) to grow.  

After the destruction of the Temple, Jews started to settle in other places. One of those places was the coastal plain region, all the way up and down the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Can remember sitting at the Port of Yafo talking about the geography of the land? I'm sure your guide told you about the delicious oranges that are grown still to this day. But another famous citrus that is grown there is the etrog from the citron tree. 

I'm sure you're amazed! It's really awesome if you think about it. God is reminding us of how He brought us into the land of Israel and how we settled . Another interesting thing, is that all of these plants need a lot of water to grow. And as I'm sure you all remember from your rainless trip, Israel doesn't have a lot of water. So once again we are reminded about how we need God to provide rain for us. 

One last cool thing to think about when you're shaking away. All the four species come from different parts of Israel.
  • etrog (אתרוג) – the west - along the Mediterranean Sea 
  • lulav (לולב) – the south - in the Arava Desert
  • hadass (הדס) – the east - in the Judean Hills 
  • aravah (ערבה) – the north - along the Jordan River
Just like you did, in order to collect these plants, you have to go ALL over Israel. I hope you think a little more about Israel this year when you're holding your four species! HAPPY SHAKING!! 

Group 9 (Summer 2013) in Yafo - I'm sure there were etrogs near by! 


Friday, September 13, 2013

A NFTY Gmar Chatima Tova (A good signing into the book of life.)

During Yom Kippur, we are commanded to "afflict ourselves." "עינוי נפש" The gemara has a very lengthy discussion of what this could mean. Does it mean we don't have sexual relations, does it mean we physically hurt ourselves? No, the gemara concludes, it means that we don't eat or drink. But how do we know that? 

One of the proofs the gemara brings is that we were also afflicted and starving in the desert and it's the same word עינוי (affliction.) And since we were starving before God brought the ma'an to feed us, we know that we don't eat and drink. (Maybe a stretch, but that's what the gemara says.) So how is the desert like fasting? Why do the rabbis in the gemara make this connection?

Any NFTY in Israel alumni knows that there is definitely affliction when someone wanders in the desert. In every NFTY in Israel trip, hike for three days in the Arava desert, we sleep outside, we complain, we moan...this desert is the same desert that Moshe and the Israelites wandered through. 

Why did God afflict us in the desert? God just brought us out of Egypt and out of slavery, isn't it a time to provide for us and take care of us? I want to suggest that the desert is where religious experience begins. We go to a place where you have no where to hide. It's an open, vast, and dangerous place. When we fast and don't have food and water, we become more like animals following instincts of survival. Fasting is about confronting your nefesh/self/soul. One is forced to face the physical side of being.  

The desert is about a journey and so is Yom Kippur. It's not just about the day, or the time in the desert. It's what we take from it and how we grow and become better. From this weak vulnerable state, how do we act, behave, and change? How do we come out of Yom Kippur? I know that all four of my NFTY groups came out of the desert as better people. They all overcame challenges. They were patient, strong, and helped others. I wish all of you the same for Yom Kippur, when you're tired, hunger, and cranky, that you all still have patience and love for one another. That you confront God from not just an emotional and mental place, but also a vulnerable and physical place. And ask God for forgiveness and for a wonderful future. 

So NFTY, if you're sitting in services, and not feeling connected, think about the desert, think about how you grew and changed. You are a better person, probably for many challenges you faced this year, but also because of the times you were most vulnerable and came out triumphant. That's what Yom Kippur is about...going into a vulnerable state to become a better person. Be proud of yourself. 

I wish you all a meaning fast and Yom Kippur. Gmar chatima tova! גמר חתימה טובה! 

 Our not so afflicted selves in the desert this past summer! Happily overcoming challenges together!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thirty Days of Tzitzit

The sunset this evening brought an end to my thirty days of wearing tzitzit. Like any Jewish ritual/mitzvah that I have taken on, I started out by "trying it out." So I thought this was a good approach to wearing tzitzit also. Thirty days, why not? They say that is how long it takes for something to become a habit.

Traditionally, only religious/observant men wear tzitzit. It is commanded in the Torah to wear fringes on your garments. And tzitzit is how it is been interpreted throughout the generations. Wikipedia says:

The Torah states in Numbers 15:38: "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, that they shall make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they shall put on the corner fringe a blue (tekhelet) thread." Wearing the tzitzit is also commanded in Deuteronomy 22:12: "You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself."
Fringes, tzitziyot, today are attached to the tallit and tallit katan. The tallit katan itself is commonly referred to as tzitzit. According to the Torah, the purpose of wearing tzitzit is to remind Jews of their religious obligations. In addition, it serves as a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt (Numbers 15:40). The Talmud equates its observance with that of all the mitzvot. Maimonides (Commentary on Pirkei Avot 2:1) includes it as a major commandment along with circumcision and the Passover offering.
I wanted to see if I too would be reminded of my religious obligations, or as a reminder that I too was a slave freed from Egypt...if nothing else, maybe it would remind me to be nicer to other people.
So a month ago, I bought tzitzit...boy size, it was similar to a t-shirt...and I cut it so I could wear it under my clothes. I'm sure it would look weird to wear a t-shirt under a tanktop. It was right before Shabbat, so I wear them to my teacher's house where I was spending Shabbat. It was exciting! I felt like a had a special secret, that only my roommate and I knew about. I didn't wear them for Kabbalah Shabbat because you could see them under my dress, but I wore them Shabbat morning to pray and all day and that was really nice to have them on. I felt special, maybe it was like wearing a new piece of clothing that you just bought and wanted to show it off, (even though no one could see them, I knew I had them on.) 
I definitely learned that tzitzit are not designed to be hidden under women's clothing. One day, I wore shorts to school. I didn't think they were so "short" and anyone who knows me, knows that I don't wear very promiscuous clothing, but when I tried to tuck the tzitzit into the shorts, I realized that they would come out the bottom of the shorts...was I allowed to cut them? How long did they really have to be? 

Me wearing tzitzit...I get that you can't see them...that's the point.

I didn't want to have to change my entire wardrobe just to wear them. I asked my teacher at school, "if someone would wear tzitzit, how long do they have to be? Could they be cut shorter..." He said the strings have to be twice as long as the knot part. Fair...I asked, "but what if they really don't want anyone to see them, and they are longer than this person's shorts." Without batting an eye he said, "Andrea, wear longer skirts..." Hmm...
So, really, I wore a lot of skirts this past month. It was the easiest way to hide them. I know you may be thinking, "Why does she have to hide them?" Well, I don't like being stared really is a male mitzvah traditionally. I don't know if Jerusalem is ready for girls walking around with tzitzit blowing in the wind. But it would be awesome if the Jewish world was ready for it. 
This past Sunday, my Hebrew birthday, Rosh Chodesh Tammuz...I went to the Kotel to pray with Women of the Wall like I do every month. Because of the violence the month before, when I put the tzitzit on in the morning, it really felt like a bullet proof vest. They were protecting me. Way deep down next to my skin. And at the kotel, I pulled them out. No one in that minyan would be judging me for my religious practices, I was sure of it. 
My favorite time wearing them was in my house when I just had them on and nothing covering them. They have big slits up the sides, so it's definitely not the most modest thing to wear, but in my house it was nice. They were relaxing. 
Most of my relationship with my tzitzit was trying to hide them. I would like someone to design tzitzit for women. Then half the battle of wearing them wouldn't exist because they would lay and fit nicely under clothes. 
Not sure what's going to happen tomorrow...if I will put them on or not. I have basketball in the morning, so I definitely won't wear them for that..but after? I may feel obligated tomorrow...we'll see what happens. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Rosh Chodesh Sivan at the Kotel

Watch the actual video: here

Friday morning was a blur. A scary blur. I didn’t wake up until 6:24 AM when my roommate screamed, “WIESE.” And I jumped out of bed, how could this happen, on a day that was so important to me? Never mind...we jumped in a taxi and I ran down to the women’s section with my bag. I couldn’t even get to the regular spot because there was a sea of light blue shirts of seminary girls from all over Israel. I quickly realized that they had been bussed in for the exact opposite reason I was there. I ran into my dear friend, and later saviour, Melissa. She was also lost. We didn’t know where “Women of the Wall” (WOW) was praying because there wasn’t space where they normally gather. (Smart thinking ultra-orthodox girls...if there isn’t space, maybe they can’t pray at the Kotel. Makes sense.) We went down together into the sea of blue, maybe they were there somewhere. They weren’t. But it was time to daven, so Melissa started pezukei dezimra (the “warm up” blessings, as I like to call them,) while I started to put on my tefillin. It was worse than the paparazzi that normally come to women of the wall. The girls thought they were seeing an alien or the was true what their rabbi told them, there are women who put on tefillin! They started taking pictures of my and then scuttled away, they didn’t want to be too close, maybe I could contaminate them. Many were already tisking at the action. But then, I pulled out my tallit (I know I should put on my tallit first and then tefillin, but there isn’t a lot of space and it’s difficult, so I reverse the order,) it was like poison. The girls backed away like if touching it would burn them, or something worse.  They started making this hissing noise, I have never heard such a frightening/bizarre noise in my life. No one wanted to talk to me, it was too shocking to them. And I was there alone with my tallit and tefillin. I still didn’t know where the other women were. Melissa had finished pezukei dezimra and she looked at me, we knew we had to get out of there. It wasn’t safe. I was already flustered. Melissa, calm and cool, took my hand and started leading me up. We realized the other women were by the flag pole, behind the mechitza (the wall that divided the men’s and women’s section.) I knew what they thought of me, I started feeling showers of spit pouring down on me from every direction. They really couldn’t have thought that I was human. I’m sure their rav (rabbi) told them that someone like me was the devil and desecrating HaShem (God.) But what did they think of Melissa, or us together? Melissa is, for one, a hero and role model of mine, and two, she is religious, and she dresses the part. As in, she wears long skirts, covers her arms, and since she is married, covers her head. She is what these girls would view as religious, more like them than like me. She was holding my hand and helping, saving, protecting me from them. After one girl spit on me I asked her in Hebrew, “Really, you think this is respectful to God? What are you doing?” She was so shocked, one that I knew Hebrew, and secondly, that I talked to her. She seemed really embarrassed and freighted. She hid her face from me, she didn’t want to talk to me and she didn’t want me to address her. But I hope I made her think.

Somehow, through the yelling and spitting, we made our way through the mass of girls. I realized that the Women of the Wall, had been barricaded in and there were police lining the barricade to protect them. There were men and women praying together (which was new) it was forced this way by the Haredim. This isn’t the mission statement of WOW. But I was so flustered by the previous events, it was hard to concentrate on praying. I didn’t want to go into the group of “regulars” from WOW that were praying together up at the front. I didn’t want to be in all the pictures and have cameras in my face. What was happening? We were surrounded by ultra-orthodox men and women throwing bottles, chairs, coffee grounds, throwing bags of excrement, blowing whistles to disrupt the prayers. And screaming. They would rush in mobs against the police is had to use all their might to hold them back.  

Throwing chairs

Police restraining - who knows what they would have done if they got through.

All of it was too much to take in. I found my friends (male and female), and even though I don’t prefer it, it was nice to stand next to them, I felt much safer. We sang Hallel, and I was next to a very dear Israeli friend of mine who is very secular, isn’t religious at all, but he really supports WOW. He didn’t know the prayers, so we shared a siddur, and it was such a wonderful moment for me to be there with him and to pray and praise God (I don’t know if he actually believes in God) together.  I glanced around and saw many smiling faces of my friends and people who I didn’t know, but recognized me, either from the street or the newspapers, or just smiled because we were all in this together. No one was going to let anything happen to someone else.

Me and my friend, Shai, after davening.

There was also a little girl, 12 years old, who read Torah and celebrated her Bat Mitzvah that took place only a week before. Her mother held her on her shoulders and everyone cheered and clapped and sang at the top of our lungs. Despite the disgusting situation, it was so easy to focus on this beauty. The first Bat Mitzvah at the Kotel...maybe ever?

Mazal tov, beautiful young lady, you fill my heart with such joy and hope...

The other amazing thing, four months ago, when I was terrified to put on my tefillin, the only one, the every newspaper, noted in one headline as a “Crack in the Wall;” on Friday there were numerous women in tefillin! This is a common practice. Listen, world, women wear tefillin and tallitot, it’s not a novelty. It is real and happening and it’s happening in Israel, not just the United States.  

Later that day my mom sent me a text message saying that she and my cousin were going to a Women of the Wall demonstration in Chicago. I felt so much pride and courage. My mom doesn’t know so much about Judaism, even though she is very involved in our Temple where I grew up. But there has always been something in her that pushed her to be Jewish. She wanted us to be Jewish even though she couldn’t/didn’t know how to raise us with so much Jewish tradition in our home. So maybe I inspired her as much as she has inspired me. I wish we could have been physically together, either in Jerusalem or Chicago, but maybe in some way we were. I could never be the woman I am without her. She is with me everywhere and in everything I do. Even though she has never worn tallit or tefillin in her life, I know she gives me the courage to do it myself.

Something that I’m still thinking about, and I don’t totally know how I feel about it is how extraordinary it was that thousands of young women came to a protest. I understand that they are on the opposite side and maybe they feel like they are only listening to their rav. And maybe they think I am the devil and that I’m going to hell.  But I see this as an important step. These young women are taking a stand, someone is empowering them. I know this isn’t their rabbis intention, but I KNOW that some of them were thinking for themselves. Some of them realized how different this was. Some of them had to think, maybe there is another way to pray. Maybe there are other ways to be Jewish. Maybe I can also read Torah, maybe I can pray out loud, maybe I could come here by myself. I don’t agree with the spitting, but I do agree with standing up for what you believe in. (maybe they were just following blindly,) but even this is okay. Some of them will get it, something will click inside of them. Women are smart, even if they have been brainwashed their whole lives.

Suddenly, I realized that I had to somehow get out and go home. But how? Surrounded by thousands of ultra-orthodox, the police told me I should wait and not go out yet. It wasn’t safe. Eventually, after much contemplation, I just went for it. My roommate, who is 6’7” was with me. I assumed nothing could go wrong. We encountered more yelling and more spitting, but nothing too serious. Before I knew it, we were at the gate. There, to my delight was my favorite policeman, who just a few months earlier, was instructed to take my tallit away from me. That day he had said that he didn’t want to take it from me and that he really liked when we came and sang. And now, we embraced. I joked with him, “Why are you out here, all the action is inside?” He smiled, I knew his post was near the metal detector. He told me how excited it was that things are changing, “Kol Hakavod, it’s happening!” The police behind him was also excited and said make sure you come back next month, the time is now, the Haredim can’t win! The women have to be strong.

We got into a taxi and drove home, out away from the surrealism that just occurred in our lives. I went to play basketball for three years and ran out all the adrenaline that had built up from fear, joy, terror, and hope. I have to say that I played horribly. But I will use the excuse that there were other things on my mind, there was still human spit on my body. But life goes on, and there will be next month, and the month after. There will be more tallitot, their will be more tefillin, their will be more women, and there will be more prayers. And I know God will answer them.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A heavy responsibility.

This is my fourth summer working for NFTY in Israel. The past three summers I have been in charge of my group and logistics, but this summer I am also going to be the tour guide.  I have been in a course for the past few months going around Israel to learn about the different sites that we take the participants. Our trip also includes a week in Europe at the beginning (and then 4 weeks in Israel.) The trip is called L'dor v'dor, from generation to generation. We also had a trip with the other guides to Europe, to Prague, Krakow, and Warsaw. This was the fifth time in my life I have been to these locations, so the shock-factor wasn't part of my experience. But I did feel a new sense of responsibility, more than just keeping my group safe and on time, I felt a sense of Jewish history and continuity on my shoulders. It is now my responsibility to teach about the Jewish life that was lost and inspire the Jewish life that we have an obligation to continue.

I am guiding in the "Secret Synagogue" at the Terezin concentration camp which is located outside of Prague, Czech Republic. Jews risked their lives every time they snuck into pray. The synagogue was kept such a secret that it wasn't discovered until many years after the war. 

Evalina and me at Auschwitz I. She was our guide at the site. She was born very near the camp in Poland and expressed that she feels it is her responsibility to teach about what happened here. She also feels sad that her country is defined by six years of history, '39-'45, when really there is 700 years of Polish history. She is a very inspiring woman. 

I am excited to meet my participants in June in Prague. I know we will have quite the journey together. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Gefilta fish making!

I am in the US and today with my mom and my great great aunt Eki, we made (homemade) gefilta fish!  I always have a hesitation when coming home because I have become more observant over the past four years in Israel, but today, I felt very Jewish and really proud of my family's Jewish identity. 

This bowl is famous and massive. There is about 15 to 20 pounds of fish in here! 

Me and Eki! You are no idea how bad is actually smells in the kitchen! 

Lots of generations. There is a true Litvak recipe passed down many generations. 

My cousin Larry let us use his kitchen! He helped a lot too! 

It's really gross, when you boil the fish, you use this broth that we can see the fish bones in there...this isn't for the faint of heart. 

Today I really felt a strong connection to my Jewish roots, and it happened in Chicago. It was a great feeling. And of course, wonderful to be with family. I hope you have a wonderful Pesach! With lots of gefilta fish! 

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Dvar Torah

I wrote a Dvar Torah for school. It can be read here!

Enjoy and Shabbat shalom!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Rosh Hodesh Adar at the Kotel

We went to the Kotel (Western Wall) to pray this morning for Rosh Hodesh Adar. It started last night organizing taxis for everyone from Pardes who wanted to go. This morning, I woke up at 5:30...I made the decision to wrap my arm tefillin and wear my coat over it. I wrapped it until my wrist, so under my coat it couldn't be seen going through security.  I put my Rosh (head) tefillin in my inside jacket pocket.  

I met three other people from Pardes at 6:30am to get a taxi to the Kotel. We waited in line at security. They took my tallit and wouldn't let me enter with it. They also took my empty tefillin bag. They didn't know that it was already on my body. Honestly, I didn't want them for protesting. I lay tefillin every morning, and it's difficult for me to daven shacharit (the morning prayers) without tefillin now. There is a connection that comes with the tefillin. There is also a connection with the tallit, but as I told the reporters after they took my tallit, I want to pray at the Kotel, that's why I came, so I'm willing to give up my tallit to be able to pray there on Rosh Hodesh. 

This picture was taken from Rabbi Jason Miller's blog

In the picture above, I am in the green coat with my kippah and tefillin.  I didn't put it on right away. I did pesuki (the "warm up" prayers) but by the time we got to the Shema, I just felt like I couldn't keep praying without it. So I was holding it in my hands, and before the Amida, I put it on my head. I was really scared. I thought at any moment the police would come and take me away. But nothing happened. Nothing at all, it was amazing. 

So when we got to Hallel (an added part of the holiday that is joyous.) it was time to dance! I asked a couple of girls next to me, who were a little nervous, but then I took their hands and led them to the front, and instantly, tons of women were dancing and singing and praising God at the Kotel. It always feels so good to dance during Hallel. 

This was just a bit of dancing at the end. We were all dancing in during Hallel!! It was beautiful. 

As soon as Hallel was over, I took off the Rosh Tefillin. This picture was in the Haaretz newspaper. There were many cameras in my face, so I prayed mostly with my eyes closed because it's very difficult to have good intention with so much distraction.  I was really nervous the whole time I had my tefillin on, but I felt so proud. I also have a spot at the Kotel, I am a Jew, it's also for me. And everyday I pray with my tefillin, so why shouldn't I be able to also practice how I practice at the Kotel? I should be able to! 

In the end, 10 women got arrested. Including Sarah Silverman's sister, who is a rabbi. They were held for a longer time than usual because they didn't agree to not come back to the Kotel for 30 days which is the normal punishment. Also, paratroops who liberated the Kotel in 1967 went to the wall to support the women, it was really amazing to see them there. 

I am proud of the women who went to the Kotel today.  I am confident that the laws of the Kotel are going to change. And it's going to change soon.