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Archive for February, 2013

Shemati. . . .

 

I used to love the word Shemati, I hear you. . .I’ve heard you. . . I am with you. . .

Chava'sEar

Recently I fell out of love with the word that had once centered me and helped me feel like I was totally present in a conversation that needed no response.  And then came a day, when I really wanted to be heard. I needed my voice to be heard, to be felt and to be listened to.  My feelings mattered; my thoughts were important; and my wisdom was worthy of considering.  And somehow I felt too alone to believe the one word that had once been dear to my heart.

When I said “Shemati”, I was saying I hear you; I am listening.  I meant it with all my heart. . .Shemati.  And in truth, I believe that others meant it and probably still do mean it when they say the word after I have spoken.

Still I am realizing that  something changed. . .

The day came when my heart and my body yearned to be heard deeply.  I needed my tears to be heard; I needed my heart beat to be felt.  I needed to be heard in a way that needed more than the word Shemati.

I used to feel that whatever I was saying was being heard and felt deeply. When others said the word Shemati in response to my words, I felt heard.  And when I said that word as a response to listening to another soul, it meant that I was being fully present in the conversation.

Becoming challenged by the word Shemati probably did not happen overnight.  I believe the first time I struggled with the word was the day someone kept trying to prove a point they were making.  At first I listened and I understood what they were saying even if I didn’t agree.  Each time I said Shemati they became more irate.  The fact that I heard them did not mean I agreed to what they were saying; it meant that I was respectfully listening.

Following that conversation, I realized that I was a bit uncomfortable with a word that was once full of positive meaning.  😦 I loved connecting with people by saying “I have heard you” or I am listening.  I loved feeling the warmth of that connection regardless of what the conversation was.

And then there was a day that I felt painfully alone and I needed to be comforted.  The word Shemati somehow reinforced how alone I really was.

I have grown challenged by the word that had once resonated deeply for me.

Even as I struggle with the word Shemati; I know that it is my job to find the power behind that one word once again.

Listening to others and really hearing what they are saying is the gift we give not only the person who is sharing, but ourselves too.

Debarti – I have spoken

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Prologue

Each of us has faced death at some point in our lives or we will face death over the course of our lives.  Death is a part of life.  Yet with each passing death I have to reach inside my heart and remember that although the person is gone from my physical world, they are with me – always with me.

After my mother died, I needed to fill the void somehow.  At the time of her funeral I was pissed at how her sisters chose to manage her burial.  My mother lived a very tragic life and caused me substantial pain nearly every moment that she was in my life and long after she was gone too.  Yet I felt drawn to Jewish rituals as a structure to manage the period of time directly following my mother’s death;  unfortunately that was not what would come to pass.

My road to healing from my mother’s death came only when I embraced the Jewish Laws of Death and Dying by doing my part to help others navigate this process.

Part 1: Tahara 

Eleven months after my mother’s death I took on doing tahara, a ritual washing and care of a body before burial.  Over time, that one mitzvah or commandment became profoundly meaningful to me.  It was a way I could give without expectation of anything in return.  Spiritually, I felt connected to each and every person that was part of the tahara experience.  The feeling of working with a beautiful group of souls that were doing the tahara with me had a lasting effect.  By doing tahara, I also healed my soul from a tragic and painful loss.  Working with each and every chevra kaddisha, also known as the Jewish Sacred Society,  is a powerful experience because each person on the chevra kadisha gives with an exceptional amount of warmth and kavod (honor) for the deceased.  Even when I worked with chevra kadishas that do things differently than I do, the respect of the body and the warmth of our mission superseded our egos.

After I left the Orthodox Jewish world, I have faced periods of deep sadness because progressive Jews don’t seem to value or even know of the laws of burial.  And while they might not be bound by the laws of burial, the tradition is always profound and has grown to be a meaningful part of life and death for me.

Over the past few weeks, my son Aryeh has expressed how he would like to join me in my love for tahara.  While we would never “work” together because as I woman I always do taharas (taharot is actually the correct reference word for more than one tahara) for women/girls, and Aryeh would always do taharas for men/boys.  At 19 years old, he is touched at the ‘idea’ of caring for a mate, a dead person.  He has seen both of his parents do what they can for others in life and in death; how beautiful is it that he wants to follow in our footsteps.

My hope and prayer is that as time progresses and progressive Jews seek more spiritual practices, that more folks will decide to have taharas for themselves and those they love.

"Gan

Part 2: Burial Plots

A few years ago, I had the honor of going to a Chevra Kadisha conference where I was able to connect with others that worked with Chevra Kadishas all over this country and Canada.  At one point, I learned about a cemetery in Northern California that created a cemetery for all denominations within Judaism.  They described how people that were buried in their cemetery would be buried in the most traditional of ways.

  1. with Tahara
  2. with tachrichim (shrouds)
  3. in a canvas sack
  4. in a cemetery that would include only indigenous plants that did not need watering.
  5. the grave stones would be indigenous and taken from the area of the cemetery.
  6. no vaults would be used in the ground, people would be buried in the soil in a respectful way.

After the presentation, I found myself crying silently to myself.  One of my new found friends and conference participant came over to ask if everything was ok or if I wanted to share something.  With that I had to dry my tears and share my thoughts.  Initially, I had to tell her that I had no plans of dying at that point in time nor was I facing loss of a loved one.  But I was profoundly touched that burial could be so beautiful.  In Maryland where I had lived for many years, each and every person was buried in a vault.  That meant that their bodies could not decompose in the best of all ways.  It felt surreal for me to hear that there was an option that resonated with me.  My lasting thoughts since hearing this presentation is that I want to be buried in Marin County, California.

Of course the decision is complicated by the fact that I always consider my carbon footprint and I don’t know where I will be living when I die.  But if it were to be possible and practical, I would want to be buried at the cemetery that is bound by tradition and walking gently with the earth.

In Closing
We will all die and so will our loved ones.  I love being part of  a tradition that not only honors the living but honors those that have died.  We also have a framework for taking care of mourners as they navigate their losses.

Now that I am in my forties, I have faced the death of many loved ones; I have held my friends who have lost their loved ones; and I have faced the loneliness when someone I love has died.  Doing this within a Jewish framework has strengthened me and helped me navigate what could be a challenging and sometimes painful process.

Reflecting back on my different journeys of life and yes death, I feel a sense of comfort in the blessings that I have experienced.  I have buried numerous family members and some friends, I saw my mother’s body within minutes of death and sung Tehillim (Psalms) to my father days before his death.  Together my brother and I sat with my father as he took his last breath.  Being part of the Jewish community and specifically the chevra kadisha has strengthened my foundation as a human being and a Jewish woman.  Saying good-bye to the physical being that we have loved is challenging, but knowing that there is a sacred group of people that are on this journey with us helps.

May we be blessed with a full life, loved ones, and a community that surrounds us.

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Recently, a good friend, emailed me a photo of Shakespeare.  As I opened the photo, I was curious as to what I would find.  Would it be a fabulous quote by Shakespeare or a photo of the artist himself?  To my surprise, it was neither.  The photo that greeted me was a photo what I believe to be a ghost town somewhere in Shakespeare, New Mexico.

Courtesy fo Bob Carroll

Courtesy fo Bob Carroll

Since seeing the photo, I have been reflective about what perspective means. Each of us perceives the world through our own eyes and our own hearts.  Our experiences help us navigate the world we travel.  One person might face a difficult experience and find moments of light while another person faces that same experience and can’t function.  One person might find rock climbing exhilarating while another person might is brought to tears the first time they try repelling down a mountain.  And now Shakespeare has an entirely new meaning to me.  While I will always look forward to seeing a great Shakespearean play, I am more excited about the prospect of checking out Shakespeare, New Mexico.  Shakespeare has a brand new perspective to me.

Life can be challenging.  Experiencing life fully could mean a plethora of events can impact how you feel at any given moment.  Parenting, my work, my writing, the weather, my dog – any one of these realities can bring my mood up or down if I let it control me.  While moments can be rough, I am a strong believer that I get to decide how I walk in the world.  My hope is that I on most occasions I find the light in dark situations or that I walk gently whenever possible.

To quote a wise man:

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves. ~William Shakespeare 

We really do have the inner strength to control how we walk in this world; we only have to make the choice to use it.

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Sixteen years ago, I had the opportunity of a lifetime when a congregation recruited me to their Education Director.  I remember telling the Rabbi who headed up the search committee that this could be the worst choice of his life.  Little did I know that accepting the decision would be one of the best decisions in my life.

At the time, I had little or no supervisory experience in a school setting; although I had been a unit head at numerous girls’ camps and a lead teacher for a large Religious School in another state.  I was also a mother; with one infant and a nearly four year old.  I was young and the synagogue had decided to replace the education director who had been running their school for over 17 years.  All of the teachers had worked under their director for over a decade.  Let’s just say, I probably wasn’t in the best position to be directing this school.

In truth, I learned more about people in this job than I had ever learned before that time.  Being cocky did nothing to help me succeed or maybe it did, you decide.  Fortunately, I have always been full of ideas on how to propel my programs forward.  Sometimes I have been blessed when committees, staff, parents, and students that join me in this journey, sometimes not.  In this case, the Rabbi and the Education Committee were amazing.  The teachers, loved teaching, but they would have preferred having another director.

After just a few months, I thought I could tell these teachers how to do their work. I must have had serious attitude, but I don’t remember.  What I do remember is the day, I had a staff meeting planned with a tight agenda.   I remember walking into the room to start the meeting when all of the teachers literally crossed their arms and told me exactly how they felt about my presence in this world.  They were not happy with me or my bubbly energy.  They were teachers that were set in their ways and while they weren’t fabulous for the most part, they were loving and still offered their students phenomenal education.  Many of them had been teaching as long as I had been alive or at least a couple of decades.

When I allowed them the space to express themselves (like I had a choice), I humbled by their dedication and their ability to reach out and let me know their thoughts.  And for my part, I listened; I truly heard their ideas, their pain at losing their previous administrator, and their years of experience.  I was awed how they were able to evolve from anger to warmth.  I was willing to do a dance with them; I was willing to hear their words and their wisdom.  In return, they allowed me to bring my youthful bubbly energy into their world.

When I left the position 18 months later, I was profoundly sad to go.  I had learned so much from working with an incredibly talented community full of ideas and spirit; I loved the rabbi, and did not want to move to a new state, but my family was moving, so it was time to move with them.  When I left that position, all of the teachers were crying as was I.  Each had given me a really special gift from their hearts, but my favorite came from my most difficult critic.  One teacher made me the below picture that has stayed with me as a reminder to stay strong, but to always keep sacred space to hear the wisdom of others even as I seek my own journey on the path I am traveling.

Matiisse

To look at something as though we had never seen it before, requires great courage. ~Henri Matisse

As an educator, a mother, a writer, and a human being, I pray for the wisdom and the creativity to navigate the world fuller as the seeker that I am.

With love, light, and blessings,
Chava

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Every day is a birthday; I really believe that.

Deep inside, I truly believe that I should be celebrating life each and every day.  I also believe that I should celebrate the lives of those I love each and every day.  Life should never be taken for granted; life is not a given.

This year, my birthday came without any real fanfare except that Facebook friends reminded me that I matter.  How beautiful is that!  I was also blessed to be remembered by a few friends that went out of their way to text me, send my cards, and call me.  One family even brought me a gift basket that literally brought tears to my eyes.  Another friend made me a gluten free cake which has now ruined my sons ever making me cake again; hers was too good!!!!  One gift that I always treasure is the phone call I receive each year from my brother; this year was no exception.  Finally, I was also able to hang with one friend in the morning and another friend in the evening.  Life is and was truly good!

Spiritually, today was a day of reflection; with reflection comes both gifts and challenges.  Today was a day to think about what I want over the coming year; it was also a day to not only remember the many losses that are imprinted on my heart, but to celebrate my life.  Today was not easy, but that’s ok.  In order to grow, we sometimes need to reflect. Accepting the realities of life and reaching for dreams takes work, hard work.  When you admit your dreams, you are also admitting that there are things you want and areas that you are falling short. Ultimately, reflection can be a gift you give yourself.

Today, with today’s reflections I reminded myself that:

  1. My voice matters and I don’t want to be silent when I have something to say.
  2. Chanting brings calmness to my entire being.
  3. When life is busy, I still need to take time for the things I love.
  4. Family dinners aren’t a choice, they need to be a given on most nights.
  5. Being a good friend means being more present than I have been over the past months.
  6. My body is craving time to move, time to drum, and time to write; I need to do the things that make my soul sing.
  7. If I want to be creative, I have to find ways to embrace the journey of skepticism from not only those that surround me, but from myself too.
  8. Judaism brings me joy, but I have to make time not only to work in a Jewish environment, but nurture my own Jewish soul.
  9. Moving through my short-comings is humbling, but also necessary.
Photo courtesy of Simon Rosenblatt. Being called up to the Torah for an aliyah is amazing, but it is time for me to read from the Torah again.

Photo courtesy of Simon Rosenblatt. Being called up to the Torah for an aliyah is amazing, but it is time for me to read from the Torah again.

I am alive! Living life fully means embracing all the parts of my being.

Today, I lived my life fully according to the way I walk through the world.  My hope is that I always remember the words that my friend Joe Laur always tells his beloved friends on their birthdays, “Dream Big, Dance Hard, Laugh Loud, Love Deep, Live Long!”

Will you join me as I move through the coming year.

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Messages come regardless of whether or not you are ready to receive them.

Doing the dance of life means that my entire being is in a state of aliveness.  Stopping has not been part of my rhythm, but that has to change.  I just can’t keep moving as I have been doing.  I am thinking too much, dreaming too much, doing too much, and generally not being as present enough in each moment.  While I am driven, I also need the rest that comes between the beats.

Those that know me are probably asking me why am I noting these above realities today of all days.  Well the reason is simple.  Today I met an angel; today I met someone who must be a healing force in this world.

While I was driving, I was in my own world.  Dangerous. Yes it was.  I wasn’t texting; I wasn’t talking on the phone; I didn’t even think I was lost in thought, but I must have been.  I am always lost in thought. And then came the moment, the moment when I didn’t note what was going on around me.  In that moment, I ran a stop sign and I hit another car.

Stay Alert

 

I should have been more alert; I wasn’t.

The car I hit went flying flying across the road like a pinball in the games of my childhood; only this was no game.  In the other car was a woman, a kind, gentle woman.  We both rushed out our cars to check on the other driver.  As I had my hand on my phone ready to call 911, she stopped me.  We looked at her car; we looked at my car.  Almost no damage.  My bumper will need some work, her car was well loved and aging.  She looked me in the eyes with a deep kindness and asked if I was OK.  She asked me if I was OK. I looked at her and I wanted to know how she was.  Her well-being was really all I could think about.  I had just caused what could have been an accident with grave consequences.   And she wanted to know if I was OK.  I was and so was she. Miraculous, truly miraculous.

With that, she said, no worries and got in her car and drove away.  As she drove away, I pondered what had just happened and I thanked God and the angels that must have been surrounding me.  It was in this moment, that I realized that I had just met a beautiful angel.

The message was loud and clear; it is time for me to slow down, to stay alert, and to be more present in each and every moment.

Thank you universe for waking me up;  I am alive.

 

 

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The past few days have had moments of darkness, but not for long. . . .

With each deep breath, I have found myself amazed at the gifts that surround me.  I feel felt loved and valued; supported and cared for.  Dark moments have come and gone quickly, while the gifts remain embedded in my being.  Here are the ones that jumped out at me quite easily:

BoysPlaying Backgammon

The Biggest Gift of All!

  1. Aryeh completed two philosophy papers in spite of enormous self-doubt.
  2. Breakfast with a colleague who is fast becoming a friend!
  3. Saving over $10 at Bookman’s because I told the cashier about the concept of “Creative Paying It Forward” https://lightwavejourney.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/another-facebook-journey-2013-creative-pay-it-forward/
  4. A gift of 2 bottles of Hot Sauce from a new friend.  I am still wondering how she knew I haven’t found hot sauce since posting a question on FB.
  5. Dovi’s hands are healing
  6. Maddie
  7. Summit Hut
  8. Friends wanting to know about my upcoming birthday
  9. Night Skies
  10. Time
  11. Learning to let go and to accept new realities
  12. Hanging out at Bookmans
  13. Keep Smiling Cards http://www.thedailysmile.com/
  14. Text conversation that come at the perfect moment
  15. Aryeh’s idea: saving junk-mail for a month as a means of informing others
  16. Louis’ Reality Check card
  17. Finding New Music to jazz my soul
  18. Writing time
  19. Cafe Passe
  20. Watching my boys interact all night
  21. Perspective
  22. Unexpected voice messages
  23. Great books
  24. Facebook
  25. Beautiful weather
  26. Writing a New Chant
  27. Tough moments that are actually easier than expected
  28. Unexpected and positive conversations
  29. Drumming
  30. Looking forward to a day -off tomorrow
  31. Surrounding Mountains
  32. A Good Book
  33. Anticipation
  34. Laughter
  35. Sleep is around the corner
  36. Double-Chai (18×2 = Life x 2)

Over the past year, I have decided that I have the power to decide how I will walk through life’s journeys.  While some moments are tough to navigate, looking a little further has the ability to fill my soul with the fuel it needs.

While I am bone tired, I am feeling invigorated by the awareness that dark moods don’t have remain imbedded in my being.  Gifts really do surround me nearly at every corner.; all I have to do is notice them.

l’Chayim! To Life!

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