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. 

Monday, February 04, 2013

Azkara for Janet Robbin

One thing that is very real lately at Pardes is the Jewish life cycle, particularly, the end. Last week many students traveled to Alon Shvut to support Zvi Hirschfield at the funeral of his father. And just last night, many students are people from the community gathered in the Beit Midrash for an azkara or a type of “remembering” of Janet Robbin.
Janet Robbin was the mother of Sheryl Robbin, Rav Daniel Landes, wife. Rav Landes is the Rosh Yishiva at Pardes. Janet Robbin was also the grandmother of Hannah and Isaac Landes who I have become close with over the past year and a half at Pardes because the Landes’ always invite students to their home for Shabbat and holidays. If you have never met anyone of the Landes’, all I can say is that they are all lovely and unique, each with their own wonderful qualities.

Not that remember someone isn’t important, but my love for this family is the real reason that I attended the gathering last night. It was very simple and elegant. Rav Landes welcomed everyone and introduced Janet and who she was and he talked about her very fondly.
Hannah read Psalm 128 which had a special meaning to the family. For Janet’s 35 wedding anniversary the family had a piece of art work made as a gift. In a ל and ה, which is the gematria for 35, this psalm had been written.
Cheryl talked in great detail about her mother and how her health had deteriorated over the past years, yet she still called her at least five times a week at 4:30 Chicago time. Also, she described how hard her sister, who still lives in Chicago, worked to take such wonderful care of their mother. It was evident that it was difficult for Cheryl to live such a great distance from her mother, but that it was obvious that her life, family, and home are in Israel.  I cried the most when Cheryl talked about how much she loved spending time with her grandchildren, even one day. When Janet knew she wouldn’t like the planned activity, it didn’t matter because it was one more day she got to be with her family, specifically her grandchildren.

One story I really thought was amazing was that WWII, Janet’s husband was stuck in a POW camp. One of his postcards was the only correspondence that made it out during the war and he had written the names of other men who were alive in the camp with him. With this information, Janet wrote to the war department and to all the wives/families of the men whose names were on the postcard to let them know that their loved one was alive.

My favorite part of her stories about her mother, was that they mostly took place in Chicago, or Highland Park. (I am from northwest Indiana, but my mom’s family is all still living on the north side of Chicago) I was thrilled to recognize the names of the streets that she drove on with her mom, the area of the lake that they would visit, or where they took Janet for an outdoor concert. It sounds silly, but I was really happy to have some sort of connection to their family, even if it was insignificant. To me, I felt like I could have been in the same Dunkin Donuts, or the same beach.
To close, Isaac, taught part of Mishnah Bikorim, Zeraim. I learned last week that something people do in remembrance of someone is to learn Mishnah. I really love this custom. Isaac talked about how during the times of the Beit HaMikdash, people would bring their first fruits to the Temple. It was a big to-do, even the cow was dressed up with a crown of olive leaves and gold ribbons hanging from the horns. It was a celebration. Just as the bikorim was a celebration, the azkara felt like a celebration of life as well.
Although I have spent time with Rav Landes and his family. This was really a beautiful evening because they all showed and demonstrated so much support for each other. Each had their own role in the azkara, but every part was from the heart. I really look up to Rav Landes as the Rosh Yeshiva of my school, but now even more, I look up to him as a husband and a father, and a more complete role model.

I am saddened that I have to learn about Judaism through someone else’s pain. But I am grateful to be learning and witnessing how Judaism has set a system to guide people through their most difficult (and also most joyous) times. Everyday I am more amazed by what I am learning and how I am growing.