Archive for December, 2010

Each day is a gift.  Remembering the gift while also realizing that nothing lasts forever creates a sense of purpose.  Life is a humbling experience filled with ups and downs.  Dreams come true; darkness looms too.  With each breath, comes the realization that only now exists.

Tomorrow is no guarantee.  That realism can burn a hole in your soul or it can leave you laughing out loud and dancing your way through life.  The choice is ours.  The metaphors are ours to play with, but in reality, we always have our minds.  Our minds can create positive energy; our visions can generate peaceful and joyous moments even with the challenges that surround us at times.  Approaching life with a positive disposition doesn’t necessarily make you a Pollyanna; it makes you a person who makes the best out of what you have.   For me there is no choice.

My life has included some stark realities.  Medical crisis have scarred me deeply.  I have seen my children profoundly sick; I have watched my parents die; I have been forced to face some of my own demons.  Life is not always easy, but I always have a choice.  I can take a deep breath and move through the muck or I can make the best of life’s trials.  Sometimes I feel like I have seen one too many storms, but each and every one of the storms has also brought me rainbows.

The one thing I have learned through living is that I have no choice but to live life fully.  I love with all my heart and I laughter permeates my being. While I thrive on as a deeply intense person; I also celebrate living fully.  Nothing in my existence is taken for granted.  Each friend is beloved; my family means the world to me.  Tears fall freely, but my smiles are never far behind.  I actively seek inner peace while I strive to reach as high as I can reach.

Growing older has allowed me some beautiful realizations.  I have learned to rest more.  Besides my children, writing brings me more happiness than anything I ever thought possible.  Every person on this universe matters.  The world needs people to care for it.  And taking time to look at people in their eyes can make a difference.  No one should be invisible.  Music soothes my soul.  And mostly, I have learned to trust my need to live consciously.

I am alive because many people have touched my life and allowed me to touch their lives too.  Those I love have given me a foundation that seemed impossible when I was a child.  Today my family consists of many precious individuals; they know who they are.  Each beloved person supports me and motivates me to be the best that I can be.  They also accept that I am a person who will always be a work in progress.  I have many moving parts that need to be oiled regularly; I am humbled that my family and friends care enough to be part of my life.

My life has had so much darkness.  Today I am surrounded by light.  As long as I remember to:

Live life fully

Love the world

Laugh whenever possible


I am blessed to be alive!

Read Full Post »

“Connect us like the oceans;

Returning to the source,

You are the vast life-giver,

Purify us all. . .”

Written, composed and performed by Danya and Eyal Rivlin


The beauty of nature has always encouraged me to connect with the world that surrounds me.  My heart soars when I walk through a desert or in the mountains; my eyes tear when I see a tall redwood standing above me; my breathing becomes rapid when I hear the sounds of children laughing.  I love the world around me; I love life.  Oceans and lakes carry my soul and lead me to believe that each of us are part of the larger world.

Sometimes when I lack the time or energy to actively engage in nature, I wonder if I am merely a useless molecule in the larger world.  Of course, every atom makes a difference; I know that.  In so many ways, I know that I have a vast role in healing the larger world.  Still down deep I struggle to see myself as one who can make a difference.  I am so profoundly aware that my soul is crying to make do something for good.  My heart yearns to be a source of healing in the larger world. Even with my doubts, I must always continue to live my values which will ultimately contribute to creating a more healthy world for others.

Where did my drive come from?  I have no clue.  In truth, there are so many amazing people that I have noticed in the last 10 – 15 years.  I am exceedingly happy to follow in their footsteps, but also find myself wondering if I will ever be able to focus on any one or two causes.  And then I reflect further to realize there isn’t simply one cause that touches my soul.

In June 2010, the Gulf disaster inspired Danya and Eyal Rivlin to write and compose this above chant.  While the chant was actually written specifically for the Gulf Coast, I have actually found myself chanting the words again and again as a reminder that I am part of a vast life force that surrounds me.    I feel such gratitude to the chant that the Rivlins created; it quite honestly touches me at my core.  The words remind me that it is my soul’s work to remain connected to the larger world and also to remember that I am part of more than my little corner of the world.

This past week, as many of us noted the lunar eclipse.  People woke up or wanted to wake up in the middle of the night to experience a moment or a few hours of the very rare lunar eclipse.  My hope is that each of us can find ourselves touched by not only the once in a lifetime experiences, but the beauty of every day life.

Being present and conscious in much of what we do is the single most important way to make a difference in the larger world.  Most activists can’t only focus on one cause; I am no different.  Perhaps I need to focus strongly on one or two causes, but not forget the larger world that surrounds me.  There is so much work to be done.

With tears in my eyes, I feel enormously thankful to the world that surrounds me.  I love those people that have motivated others through engaging in their passions to make the world a better place.  I pray that I am a worthy of following those activists and teachers through my own actions and writings.  Each and every one of us can make a difference.

Hineini, here I am.

Read Full Post »

“How many things are there which I do not want.” Socrates

Life is full of wonder and full of gifts yet to be noticed.

Recently, I was reflecting that I never really shut down.  I rest.  I sleep. I zone.  And through it all my mind continues to embrace life.  I love life.  I celebrate life.  And I spend countless hours reflecting on life’s truths (as I see it).  And yes, even with my love of life, sometimes I go into contemplative spaces that would make others dark.  For me, those spaces are like a cocoon; they allow me the freedom to connect with my inner most thoughts.

Most people would find my mind too cluttered, but not me.  I want to explore every conversation, every thought, and every dream.  In her CD, Word by Word, Anne Lamott explores the role of daydreaming to a writer.  She believes that every writer has to have time to daydream; she probably believes that most of us need time to daydream.  I certainly do.

On any given day at any moment, I contemplate so much.  While I smile on the outside, I am constantly in many places at the same time – that is just part of my being.  I love people. I treasure people.  I also treasure my own mental space.  The good news is that for the most part I have learned to remain present within most interactions.  I manage to stay connected to most of what I am doing.  However, when I am alone within my thoughts – WATCH OUT!  I love my intensity.  I love the way my mind constantly tries to wrap itself around conscious living, conscious choices and my feelings about what is going on around me.  I tend to accept who I am and where I am.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t strive to reach higher or make better connections, but it doesn’t mean that I live in darkness even when there is darkness surrounding me.

In terms of my intensity of late, anyone that has read my writing knows that I am always introspective . . . I have so many blessed moving parts that fill my soul.  Below I wanted to share a sample of what goes on in my mind on a daily basis.  I am certain that I am not alone, but I’d be surprised if most have stuffed minds in the same way that I do.

  1. As a people person and a Jewish Community professional, I am touched by so many lives.  Simply put, many people I care for are going through challenging life experiences.  I love people so their life experiences touch me.
  • A couple of weeks ago, my friends had a little girl born with a serious genetic challenge.  She had surgery last week, but I have heard nothing.  Last I heard she was in NICU; my prayers are with them.  I know that they are overwhelmed and I wish I could support them better.
  • A few friends are dealing with the potential loss of a partner and others have just lost or are coping with the impending loss of someone they love.
  • Another friend is struggling with his partner’s ill health and potential rapid decline.
  • Rachaeli Fier is an 8 year old that lives with Tay-Sachs; I don’t know her family, but I remember them from our time in Atlanta. I am broken hearted by Tay Sachs and how it has touched the lives of the Flier family and their loved ones.  I am thinking about writing an article for the post about it.  Tay Sachs research is making huge strides, so we have hope, not necessarily for Rachaeli, but for future generations.  In the last week, since finding out about Rachaeli, my heart has been full and I have been doing a lot of reading.  Eric, Rachaeli’s dad, was tested for Tay-Sachs and was not a carrier; Nicole, Rachaeli’s mom, was a convert and did not test because you need two carriers for a child to be born with Tay-Sachs.  Eric’s test results were not read correctly. There story is so profoundly sad and yet I love that they are trying to teach others and help others through this challenging process.
  • The list goes on with some people I love being in treatment and sick.  I am blessed with some amazing friends.  The other day, I was laughing sarcastically because it just so happens that most of my of my closest friends are dealing with physical or emotional darkness.  They are unavailable to me and I am personally stretched beyond my comfort zone; I can’t be there for them as I wish and most of them are not asking because they need some space.  The good news is that I am listening to my body, I am not rushing over to care for people; the bad news is that I am not the kindest friend I can be.

2.  In the last couple of weeks, people reaching out to connect with me have touched me deeply.  Some of them are telling me what my kindness meant to them.  Some are sharing their treasured writing. I want to respond to each and every person, but the words feel inadequate.  I am humbled that I touch people as I do.  As silly as that is, I wonder how I could deserve the respect and sometimes the love I receive.  See above, I am not necessarily the best of communicator or friend.  I am close to those I love intensely and to those who can fit into my chaotic life.  I am fiercely private except that which I share in a fairly premeditated way.  And as I say that everyone thinks I am so open.  This I find touching and a little funny too.

3.     My writing is flowing constantly these days and sometimes I am blessed to touch people with the words I weave.  Both realities warm my heart.  I want to write more, sometimes that desire is easier said than done.   Lately, I have been receiving emails from people previously unknown to me that have been touched through my writing; that makes me want to write even more!  Perhaps one day, I will make a difference in the world through my writing.  In truth, I hope that my writing becomes worthy of sharing in a larger way.   The words I wrote when I was 14 years old are still true today.  I wrote:

the song of my heart;
the meaning of my mind;
the feeling of my soul;
Is what makes me ONE.  (sometimes I say Whole).

4.     My spiritual journey is constant; it encompasses my religious journey and the journey of my values.  My goal is to live consciously; sometimes it works, sometimes not so much. I really fit nowhere and I am feeling some angst about that.

I also thought I would be at a place where I could begin my rabbinical journey and yet, I am not certain if I am worthy of it or if I have what to give.  I am also struggling with much of what I see or don’t see in the rabbinical schools that interest me.  I know so much and have connections with much of Jewish ritual and yet I am someone who struggles to fit within any establishment.  For those of you that know me, I am sure that that will not come as a surprise to you.

Recently, I was asked to work with someone who is highly regarded and positioned within the government work that they do. I realized that I don’t have the skills they need, but I found myself contemplating why they believed I could help them in their endeavors.  What do I have to offer?  As I ponder this question, I know this is my challenge.

Am I progressive? Would I fit in a gathering of total liberals that share my beliefs? When I consider that I am yet to be a rabbi, I want to cry because I have felt like it was my calling since I can remember.  Unfortunately the silent voice of unworthiness and belief that I am too limited to succeed sometimes challenges me.  I am blessed to surround myself with really wise and smart people and yet sometimes I feel invisible.  I know that that doesn’t make sense especially because of what I said above, but it is part of my reality nonetheless.

When Aryeh was really sick, I got accepted into GW, where I took course, I realized two things.  One, I really am on a different planet than most other people.  Two, I don’t know that I have the “book smarts” that I need with any graduate or rabbinical work.  Of course, the key here is that I was stupid enough to take a course while Aryeh couldn’t function at all and which ended days before his first surgery.

I am also just sad that my journey is still lacking clarity. I wish that money wasn’t a factor in me making the decision, but it is.  As are some philosophical factors.  The good news is that I am on a journey; I am not silently watching life pass me by.  I am starting to understand that the process is as important if not more important than the actual destination.

5.     I think about everything I buy.  Was it made with slave labor? Were the workers treated fairly?  How about food – Is it organic? Why can’t I make the vegetarian leap again? (I am getting there.)  How much packaging goes into it? Why aren’t I making more from scratch?  Although, I did commit to not buying canned beans, etc any more.  That means I will be making more from scratch!  Yeah.

6.     Israel.  Need I say more?  I love Israel, but I find the country in trouble in so many ways.  The issues are many and sometimes I want to scream, often times.  How can Israel continue to treat Palestinians as they do? How can they not recognize the human right for Palestinians to exist? How can Israel continue to create the pressure cooker as they do? How can “our rabbis” (said loosely) try to ban Israelis from renting to Palestinians?  How can we go into “the territories and destroy their mosques and their homes as we do?  Black and white? I don’t think so, but I also think that Israel repulses me sometimes.  They keep building where they shouldn’t? They keep displacing people from their homes?

Now let’s talk about the intense prejudice that plagues Israel.  People of color are often treated like dirt, Recently an African American family, new converts to Judaism, were harassed terribly by Immigration Inspectors.   The family was physically battered including a pregnant woman.

The Israel of today is troubling.  What I shared is only the tip of the iceberg.   Another source of sadness for me is the hatred that exists for different groups of Jews that are on opposite sides of the table when it comes to the Palestinian question.  It is said that the Second Temple was destroyed in part because of the hatred amongst Jews or baseless hatred (sinat chinam). Sigh.

7.     Conscious choices in all relationships.  My goal is to have meaningful relationships as I refrain from being around those that don’t fill my life in a positive way.  All interactions matter; all relationships are sacred or should be.

8.     Parenting – No details are needed here.  The word parenting says it all.

Change is the air.  The more conscious I have become, the more I want to listen to those voices in my head that guide me towards making healthy choices about everything.  As I grow older, I have become more contemplative about every aspect of my life.  In short I need to continually ask myself:

o   Where I live and how I live in the space I have?

o   What I do with the time I have?

o   Are my friends good for me and I am good for my friends?

o   How I eat? How I shop?

o   Am I loving enough?

o   Do I support my children as they grow into young men?

o   Do I allow the values I have guide my actions and my words?

o   Am I honoring myself in how I live?

Life is full simply because I openly and frequently grapple with life questions.  It is such a gift that I can and that my world allows me the safe space to contemplate the fullness of life. Life choices matter in ever way.  Passion guides my every thought and many of my steps.  I take nothing for granted.  Health, happiness and inner peace are tools that work towards as I move towards and even fuller and healthy life.  Life’s framework should be filled with living at harmony with my physical and emotional environment.

Soul work is what I do! And with that reality, my mind remains full even when it appears that my mind is elsewhere.  As my dad uses to say, “it is what it is.”

Read Full Post »

I love Hanukah!!! There are so many sacred moments and joyful observances that add to making this holiday distinctive.   The symbolism inspires me to look not only at the history of the holiday, but also to look at the modern lessons that evolve from the Hanukah history and observances.  Light illuminating from the chanukiah fills my home with light and my soul with warmth, but that is only the beginning.  And the most precious part of Hanukah is family time!

There are many emergent values that evolve from the story, the different practices, and the interpretations of Hanukah.  Over the past weeks, I have found myself gravitating to reading articles, blogs, and lesson plans about modern interpretations and practices of this unique holiday.

While parts of the Hanukah story, as we have learned since our childhood, are questionable, the lessons can still guide us to living a fuller personal life as well as a more Jewishly connected life.  Many diverse values are found in Hanukah experience that can guide us towards a more conscious life.

Below are just some of the values or ideas that have helped guide me personally and in many cases my family towards a meaningful connection with not only Hanukah, but also life in general.

1.      Recognizing Miracles

  • Hanukah Teaching:  The Maccabee family was able to lead the Jews against the powerful Syrian-Greek army and ultimately win their religious freedom.  While the story is not as simple as portrayed in our children’s books and there wasn’t necessarily a vat of oil that was supposed to last only a day which lasted 8 days, there are still values in the story.
  • Chava’s take – Miracles exist at every turn, it is beneficial to find a positive way to move through the world.  When challenges happen, it is my job to find the miracles of each moment.

2.     Religious freedom/freedom from oppression

  • Hanukah Teaching:  Always complicated, but the overall story allows us to remember that due to the strength of the Macabbees against the Syrian-Greek army, the Jews were able to gain both religious freedom and freedom from oppression.
  • Chava’s take:  The gift of having the Maccabees stand up for our religious freedom, we now have the ability to make a commitment to religious observance.  I can create a Jewish practice that works for me!

3.     Tikun Olam

  • Hanukah Teaching: The Maccabees did an amazing job by making the world a better place for the Jews to live; they helped make it possible for the Jews to live in a way that allowed them to thrive.
  • Chava’s take:  Making the world a better place takes work.  The Maccabees opened a door by working towards what they believed; this ultimately created the safe space for us to do more of what we believed in.  Each step that others take towards making the world a better place helps us to know that each of us can make a difference if we dare to try.

4.     Civil disobedience

Civil disobedience is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power. Civil disobedience is commonly, though not always, defined as being nonviolent resistance.

  • Hanukah Teaching:  Simply put, the Maccabee family and their followers refused to listen to the Syrian-Greeks.  Hannah allowed her sons to be killed as opposed to doing the abhorrent practice that Syrian-Greeks demanded of her.
  • Chava’s take:  Civil disobedience is painfully challenging.  People make choices that could ultimately lead to their death or to significant loss before improvement will happen.   Those that engage in civil disobedience don’t know for certain whether their efforts will make a difference in the long run.  Yet those same individuals pursue their dreams in order to create a healthier world in most cases. Having the courage to move towards creating a better place to live is the gift you give yourself and/or future generations.

5.     Conscious living – Simplicity

  • Hanukah Teaching:  Taking time to stop, light the Hanukah candles, watch them until they burn out.
  • Chava’s take:  This time of the year warms my heart in every way!!!!  Our family makes every effort to be together as a family.  We cook together; we laugh together; we enjoy each other.  It is awesome!  I love the sweet simple contentment that fills our home this time of year.  Hanukah always reinforces our connection to be together because we know we will be enjoying games, stories, and watching the candles burn in the chanukiah. (NOTE: At this point, I want to note that many years ago the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life was the single most significant resource for guiding me towards ways to create a simpler Hanukah.  They seemed to remove what I utilized to help maneuver my family in a more conscious way, but their website has thoughtful options for how to be more conscious.  http://www.coejl.org/~coejlor/Hanukkah/everyone/index.php)

6.     Darkness turns to light

  • Hanukah teaching:  In the Northern Hemisphere, Hanukah comes at the darkest time of the year when the nights are long and the days are short.  Even with that reality, we fill our nights with the light of candles in the Chanukiah
  • Chava’s take:  When life throws me punches, I can choose to lie down and lick my wounds or look for a way to make my situation better.  I find myself always looking for ways “to plant seeds of joy and light” (Rabbi Shefa Gold) wherever I can.  Thriving in the darkness isn’t possible unless you do work to move through it by creating new possibilities within your challenges.  Symbolically, Hanukah reminds us of hope even in the darkest times.

7.     Am Yisrael Chai: The Nation of Israel  and/or the Jewish People Live:

o   Hanukah Teaching:  Jewish Pride continues to flow due to the actions of the Maccabees and their followers.

o   Chava’s take:  I am often touched by what Jews choose to do as a people.  In recent times, I found myself thrilled when J-Street was created.  This allowed me a voice within the established Jewish community.  Only when we, as a people, listen to each other and share with one another will we be able to continue to have hope for Am Yisrael Chai.

Living life with godliness in our hearts allows us to always bring our best foot forward.  Whether or not you believe in the God who performed miracles for the Hanukah story or for our present times, you can still choose to live as someone filled with God-like attributes.

Living life actively allows us to be conscious people.  And the Hanukah story really does allow us a platform for looking at the past in order to create a better present and future.

May you and your families be blessed with the miracle of seeing the light!

Happy Hanukah,


Read Full Post »

We all Came Back

Ok, so my son Aryeh had a really cool idea.  Literally!  He suggested that our family take some of his friends camping in the winter weather.  Well the good news is, we all came back.  And each of the seven participants returned home with 10 fingers and 10 toes too.  So, I’d say it was a good trip.

Now if you asked each person how the trip went, you would hear a completely different story or experience.  But in the end, the trip was brief and successful, we learned some amazing lessons and we were able to gain some insights for what will help us the next time we take such an excursion.  And we will be going winter camping again, perhaps not with Dovi, our youngest son, but we will try again.  Too many lessons were learned to waste it for the sake of an education.  🙂

So below are some of the rules we learned and why:

  1. Borrowing “the right” camping gear helped us tremendously and allowed us to consider what it is we really need to purchase if we hope to winter hike and camp more.  Thanks Schecter/Curry Family.
  2. Don’t assume everything you read.  Check out the information on a website with a human person before assuming that the website for a campsite is speaking truth. 🙂 Because I loved Gifford Pinchot State Park, we were trying to camp near there.  Well that WAS a good idea.  The good news is that Michael found a park ranger that suggested that we camp at another state park nearby that had camping in November.  We ended up going to a fabulous location near the Appalachian Trail, Pine Grove Furnace State Park. We will go back too!  BTW, I am so proud of myself for not sharing what I was thinking when I realized that Michael didn’t think to double-check our plans with a human being.
  3. Don’t bring anyone that isn’t prepared for the excursion.  We did tell the teens, Aryeh’s friends, what to bring, but one of the kids so didn’t listen to our advice or follow our advice once we realized that she wasn’t prepared.  I, not trusting the teens to bring what they needed, brought a bunch of extra scarves, non-cotton socks, layering shirts, and fleece sweatshirts.  The person in question would not take the offerings.  Next time we take teens camping, we will double-check that they have what they need early enough to send them packing or to gather what they do need.
  4. Loved the state park campgrounds!!! Next time we won’t even consider a privately owned campgrounds.
  5. Every experience that I have ever had with a park ranger has been fabulous!  Ranger Fox at Gifford Pinchot State Park was a kind and generous guide as he made suggestions for the remainder of our trip.  Don’t you love the name Ranger Fox?
  6. Slavery is underrated.  Every capable person has to be making the camping trip work!
  7. 24 hours for our first winter camping experience was pure genius; we learned so much and next time we will be able to do it even better!
  8. We could have done with a lot less supplies and better quality layers to stay warm.  Did I tell you that some of us were really cold?
  9. Our schedule for packing up and getting out of the house left a lot to be desired.  Next time, we will:
  • Pack up in the daylight the day before.
  • Leave early in the morning.
  • Plan to set up camp before noon if at all possible (just to make sure we can take advantage of the day better and also be prepared too.)

One of my favorite moments in the entire experience was when Aryeh came into our tent at about 3 AM. Yes, I do know I am somewhat sick for thinking this way.  Aryeh had really pulled some muscles while chopping up the firewood earlier in the evening.  I was so happy that he was in pain, not head pain, just normal discomfort.  I LOVE NORMAL!!!! After three years of watching Aryeh live with traumatic pain, I was celebrating until I realized that this was the first time in about 4 years I didn’t bring Tylenol, Ibprofen, aspirin, and narcotics with us.  Fortunately, I had a little motrin in my first aid kit.  In spite of what my friend Jerry thought, I was prepared.  J

Another precious moment came while Dovi was suffering from the cold weather.  Cold weather has never been good for Dovi.  I was really hoping the camping trip would be different.  In any case, at one point, Dovi went into the tent to go into a sleeping bag and try to warm up.  It worked only marginally.  Well after a while, Aryeh came in and helped me rub Dovi’s feet and hands.  The love and kindness between the brothers made my heart soar!  And after awhile of rubbing, it was Aryeh that got Dovi to come warm his feet/ body near the fire.  Brotherly love at it’s best.

Within an hour or two of returning home, Aryeh and I were off to REI to browse now that we knew more about winter camping.  We found ourselves looking at better quality layers of clothing, new shoes, a sleeping bag for Aryeh since he is a little taller than the bags we borrowed could accommodate.  And Aryeh never goes to REI without looking at knives.   Now that he knows more about camping, he is looking for his next camping tool! What kind of mother let’s their child play with knives?  🙂

Our camping trip was definitely COLD, a new experience, and filled with moments of insight and sometimes fun.  But perhaps the most insightful wisdom came from Dovi when somewhere in the middle of the night, he turned to me and asked, “who’s bright idea was this?” When I told him it was Aryeh’s idea to go camping, he responded, “NEVER listen to Aryeh’s ideas again.” 🙂

As far as another winter camping trip goes; most of our family will try again.  And, all of us agreed that a springtime campout is worth looking forward to.  YEAH!!!!

Read Full Post »