My Big Fat Jewban Wedding

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I don’t get the ‘party’ element of a wedding, it is just not in my nature to be excited about a room full of people drinking where the music is too loud to talk and the faces are too many to remember.  I like casual, relaxed, and limited social settings.  I love spending time with friends, listening to their lively rants and sharing some of my own.  I like deep and meaningful relationships and exchanges where I can hear my thoughts and their words.  I like knowing everyone in the room and having the time to have a valuable exchange with them.  This unquestionably expands to my wedding day.  I want a room full of people happy to share the moment with us, a room full of people we know and love who won’t care about the shade of the tablecloth or the temperature of the salmon.  I want laughter to ring louder than the music.

I always thought we would just go down to the courthouse and be married, since I’ve never really understood weddings except for legal purposes.  Furthermore, that way we could avoid the awkwardness of planning a nontraditional and totally uncool reception,  but after a reasonable discussion between two attorneys we reached a reasonable settlement.  If it was to take place, my fiance and I discussed our wedding in similar terms.  We both wanted something small and meaningful and we agreed that the ceremony was the most important part.  We both continually and tirelessly emphasized the importance of the ceremony, of our vow before G-d and our loved ones to be together for the rest of our lives.  Without that, I figured, we might as well walk down to City Hall during our lunch hour and be legally bound.  Still, neither of us knew absolutely anything about Jewish weddings.  I asked Greg, hoping he could be a helpful resource and as far as I can recall he could only offer a chuppah, some wine and the breaking of the glass.  “When do we say our vows?”  I wondered, he shrugged.  “When do we kiss?”  I asked, he googled.  We were hopeless, so I turned to the only resource I could think of: books!

My sister sent me books, my friend who had just gotten married sent me books, and then I rushed to the library for more books (I owe $30 in overdue fees).  Here’s some of what I learned:

The Jewish wedding ceremony is a two-parter, consisting of the erusin and the nesuin. The erusin, or betrothal, was a ceremony that traditionally took place about a year before the second part of the wedding ceremony and it is sort of the equivalent of a modern engagement.  Traditionally the erusin begins with the hakafot, the act of the bride circling the groom seven times to set aside sacred space and ward off evil spirits.  Thereafter the groom says Haray at m’kudeshet li b’ataba’at zu k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael (Behold, you are consecrated to me with this ring, according to the tradition of Moses and Israel.) and then gives his bride something of value (now we use a ring, and halakha states that wedding ring must be a pure, solid band, so that its value may be easily assessed). However, traditionally the groom presented the bride with a coin and not a ring.   Similarly a traditional wedding custom in Spain consisted of the groom presenting the bride with 13 coins known as arras, which represent his commitment to support her.   By following these formulaic steps the woman was thus set apart exclusively for that one man for the purpose of procreation.  Hooray! 

The second part of the ceremony is the nesuin (from the verb “to carry”) and it is in vast contrast from the legal nature of erusin. This is where love, spirituality, and connection to G-d enter the picture with joy and the timeless quality of two people loving each other.  It begins with the sheva brachot, the seven blessings and end with the breaking of the glass.  The latter custom has a plethora of fascinating explanations, from medieval superstitions that the shattering of the glass would ward off evil spirits to the more common interpretation that the shattering of the glass is a reminder of the destruction of the Temple, a reflection that even in moments of greatest joy we remember the sadness and lack of wholeness in the world.  My personal favorites are that a broken glass cannot be mended and likewise, marriage is irrevocable and it is a transforming experience that leaves individuals forever changed and also said to represent that the couple’s happiness will be as plentiful as the shards of glass (or that their children will be as plentiful as the shards of glass).   Traditionally the following song is sung after the glass is shattered: “Siman tov u’mazel tov, mazel tov siman tove (3x) Y’hei lanu Y’hei lanu, y’hei lanu, u’lichol Yisrael (2x)” (It is good and fortunate sign for us and for all Israel).  Interestingly enough it is also an Italian wedding tradition to break a glass when the ceremony is complete and to then count the shards of glass that remain to indicate the number of years the couple will stay happily married. Mazel Tov!

The Jewish wedding ceremony is to take place under a chuppah. According to The Creative Jewish Wedding book by Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer “throughout Jewish history the chuppah has been most commonly interpreted as a symbol of the matriarch and patriarch, Sarah and Abraham. It is said that Sarah and Abraham’s tent was open on all sides to let guests know that they were always welcome to come in. Because both Sarah and Abraham were thought of as having special relationships with God, their tents marked a sacred space where God’s presence could be felt upon entering. So, too, in contemporary weddings, the chuppah serves to create a sacred space, both open and private. It is open for all the bride and groom’s friends and relatives who are present to witness their covenant to each other. At the same time it is private, creating a feeling of warmth and intimacy that surrounds the special couple.”  Another pivotal element of the Jewish wedding is the  ketubah. Ketubah means “writing” or “written” and came to refer to the written marriage contract that is signed and read as part of the Jewish wedding, it traditionally contained the obligations of the husband to the wife, but currently can describe just about anything the couple wishes to include.

The we could be married by one o’clock thought still crosses my mind sometimes on very stressful days, it would be so simple, so fast, and then so over.  Yet, after reading countless books on wedding traditions I can’t help but want to incorporate so much history and meaning into the day we make that forever vow.

Flowers, Platters, & Cakes… Oh My…

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OyWedding Planning is… a full-time job… an overwhelming task… exhausting.  Every time I have started to plan over the last few months I have found something more pressing (fun) to do.  We started new jobs, we got an apartment, and in all of the we-are-all-grown-up excitement we had completely forgotten to plan our wedding… and then we were seven months out with only a ceremony space and an officiant to speak of.  Granted, that’s probably all we really need to be married, but it is not even remotely close to what we need to have a wedding.

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Pinterest had definitely become a close friend, from the comfort of my couch wedding planning seemed like a breeze, all I had to do was ‘Pin It’ and everything seemed to come together.  Then I realized I was totally wasting my time, one Pin at a time.  Sure, Pinterest can be a great resource for ideas, as long as there’s some sort of focus.  However, looking back at my wedding board it was all over the place, and very little truly spoke to what our wedding was about.  So my fiance and I sat down, we talked about our priorities and what would feel both meaningful and comfortable.  Yet, that seemed to be the easy part.  We made decisions, but something generally got in the way.  There were a lot of arguments (not between the two of us) and a lot of strong dissenting opinions (again, not between the two of us).  Our florist shrugged and told us it was par for the course, but why did it have to be that way?  My fiance cared about having a meaningful ceremony, that is what mattered to us both.  Thereafter we wanted to celebrate our union, the blessed event commemorating our great luck in finding each other, with family and friends so close they were practically family, but that seemed inconsistent with the opinions of many who wanted a lavish wedding with an endless invite list.

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As you may know I never really dreamt about a wedding, so I don’t really get all of the hoopla.  I don’t judge anyone who spends hours oohing and ahing centerpieces (okay, maybe I do a little bit), but I just don’t get it.  However, knowing G-d led me to my soulmate and solidifying that commitment before loved ones in our Temple moves me.  I want a deeply meaningful ceremony, a ceremony that reflects who we are as individuals and who we are as a couple, a ceremony which reflects that we make each other better people and that we are better together.   I am eager for that moment, I am eager to look into Greg’s eyes and vow my commitment to him for eternity, to assure him with that one look that I will be with him through all of life’s difficulties.  So I have labored over Jewish wedding books, I have googled wedding traditions from our varied backgrounds, and I have considered what would be meaningful to us both.

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Some days I feel like we have made great progress, some days I feel like we have taken ten steps back, but if I just focus on putting together a meaningful wedding I know that things will fall into place and those near and dear to us will feel the joy in our union and have a great time.  There is a Yiddish saying “No ketubah was ever signed without an argument.”  As Anita Diamant points out in The New Jewish Wedding “[t]he result of all of this learning, choosing, and even arguing is much more than a glorious party.  As rites of passage, weddings clarify and express a great deal about the people under the huppah.  A wedding is a public announcement and demonstration of who you are as a couple.  When you draw on Jewish tradition -borrowing, revising, even rejecting, in essence struggling to create meaning with it- the tradition becomes yours.”

 

 

 

A Long December…

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…it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last…

To the Counting Crows it may just have been a long December, but for me it feels like 2013 has been a very long year.  It has been a year of ups and downs, I cannot recall a more eventful year in my twenty-something years on this planet.  On the ups list I can note passing the bar, moving in with my fiance, getting a job, getting another job, getting yet another job, completing my conversion process, getting engaged, celebrating my grandfather’s birthday by his side.  On the downs list I can note studying for the bar, taking the bar, juggling three part- (but really full) time jobs, still living at home, having my grandfather hospitalized for several weeks, having my grandfather released from the hospital with complications, having my heart inexplicably and unexpectedly broken, still having my grandfather remain in a not-quite-so-great medical condition, my Finch going from fine to paralyzed overnight.

Over the last week this has really taken a toll on me.  It truly has been too much to handle.  The straw that broke the camel’s back was last weekend when Finch had to undergo emergency surgery.  I have been tired, I have been working long hours, and generally spreading myself to thin professionally, but my personal life was okay.  Thursday morning my fiance flew home to spend Thanksgiving with his family and I stayed in Miami with mine.  Everything seemed  fine as we went to have a very small gathering at my uncle’s.  When we returned Finch didn’t want to eat, I figured he was being temperamental since his dad had left him and his cranky grandfather was in town.  I took him for a walk and we all went to bed.   Friday morning, however, he was still down.  I inevitably began to worry, especially when he refused to go for a walk.  My sister and I had planned a fun weekend of wedding planning, but I couldn’t even think about it.  We rushed to the vet and he told us Finch could have some back problems.  He x-rayed his back to be sure and explained something about his discs being close together, but told us that the x-ray would be sent to some sort of specialist.  He recommended 4 weeks of crate rest and prescribed some pain killers, he also gave him a shot for the pain.  I was puzzled,  I never thought Finch had back problems and I honestly believed the vet was wrong.  Finch seemed to be feeling better when we got back, although his right leg seemed to be bothering him.  I dismissively assumed it was numbness from the pain.  That night Finch ate dinner and I happily thought everything would be okay.

Saturday was a nightmare I still expect to wake from.  I woke up with Finch at my feet and greeted him warmly.  He stretched and tried to get up, but it wasn’t working.  I didn’t understand what could be the problem so I carried him down to the floor.  He didn’t stand.  I encouraged him to, thinking his leg may still be numb, but neither of his legs seemed to be responding.  I freaked out.  I have never felt such sense of hopeless panic.  I immediately called the vet.  He wasn’t available.  He called me a few minutes later.  He told me the specialist had looked at the x-ray and that the problem was really severe.  When I told him he couldn’t walk he told me that was a huge problem and that he would need emergency surgery that day.  He told me I could wait until Monday, for a cheaper surgeon, but that he didn’t recommend it.  Instead he gave me the number of a colleague, a neurologist, who would be very expensive, but very good.  I called him immediately.  It was his day off so I had to wait for a call back.  I wept.  The neurologist called me back right away, he explained the gravity of the situation and the expense I would incur.  He was straightforward, which I appreciated, and explained how we could pay for the surgery.  He gave me fifteen minutes to think about it.  I got off the phone and cried.  I cried for about five minutes feeling utterly alone and hopeless.  I couldn’t afford to spend $6,500 on anything, regardless of how much I wanted to (my fiance and I live at home with my mom, our finances are less than stellar, and our school debt is generally insurmountable).  I tried to reach my fiance, but he wouldn’t answer.  I talked to my mom, my dad, my sister.  I took a deep breath and applied for a Care credit card.  It’s basically a credit card for medical needs, the neurologist recommended it as the best option.  My baby is only about three or four years old, I love him more than anyone can imagine, I could not give up or risk his life at the hands of a less skilled doctor.  I got approved and called the neurologist right away.  He asked me to come in within the hour for a check-up and an MRI if necessary.

When we met I was sitting on the floor with Finch.  Finch seemed scared, confused, and frustrated.  I imagine he didn’t understand how he lost his ability to walk overnight.  I couldn’t stop crying, but he talked to me calmly and explained everything thoroughly.  When he told my mom that we would have to leave Finch with him until Wednesday she wept.  Saturday he kept me informed as to everything that was happening.  The surgery took about four hours and he explained that the damage was extensive.  His regular vet checked in with me and told me it was the worst case he’d seen.  I still don’t understand how it happened.

Finch is home now.  He won over everyone at the neurologist’s office.  The receptionist called him “a little rock-star.”  Every single day he seems to be improving.  I can sleep again for the first time in a week.  None of this process has been easy, but it has unquestionably been worth it and I am reminded every time I see him gallop happily, his wide ears flopping in the wind.

If you feel inclined to help please visit www.youcaring.com/fundforfinch.              
Any donation is welcome and greatly appreciated.

A Love Letter to Sicily

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“Although the state wants to protect autonomy, these circumstances and precedent warrant special care and preference for the child’s well being. The state should remember that the focus is not solely on an adult’s ability to live freely but that the child’s interests have been a focus of the courts in the past.”

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It happened in the fall of 2010 during 2L year.  We both registered for and regularly attended the same Family Law class, but sat on opposite sides of the room.  We both randomly chose the same group assignment, Exercise #3, but didn’t meet until a couple of weeks before our assignment was due.  It was a four person group (although once we met it felt like a two person group).  A few days before our Fall Break (generally occurring in October, about a month before Thanksgiving Break) we coordinated by email to meet after class.  I didn’t know what he looked like so I waited for the classroom to empty out.  He did the same. A blue-eyed brown-haired boy stood a few rows across from me and kind of smiled, I smiled back.  He walked over to me and we quickly began to coordinate the details of our assignment, completely forgetting there were two members of the group who were not present.  I had plans to visit my sister in California over Fall Break, so I told him to email me to work out the details.  He made a couple of jokes, closing with something about sending smoke signals.  I laughed.  He nervously gathered his things and left the room.  I was utterly confused.  When I got to California my sister’s wi-fi was not working and I was freaking out.  My outdated Blackberry Curve did not access my email with the ease of my current iPhone and I was expecting his email.  She did everything possible to make it work, but even when she succeeded there was no email.  He never emailed me.

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When we returned from break the four of us decided to meet once again to figure out the assignment.  We met at the Bricks on a sunny South Florida afternoon and the four of us quickly came up with a plan: I would do the research and the detailed outline and he would do the writing, the others would do editing and presentation.  The other two members, satisfied with the discussion, immediately left and he and I stayed behind.  We talked, he tried to make me laugh, and before I knew it the sun had set.  I told him I had plans for the afternoon, but he never let me leave.  We talked for hours about nothing and everything; I ditched my plans and sat by his side, there was just something about him.

What followed was a few days of awkward assignment emails, which turned into a few weeks of very entertaining Facebook and AIM chatting, mostly about the insufferable group project, class, and law school experience. On December 4, 2010 I awoke to what seemed like a relatively harmless message in my inbox, which he’d sent at 3:11am: “Family review session? Reunite the group?”  I definitely was not ready to even begin studying for family law so I tried to say no, but he talked me into it.  We planned to meet on the Bricks the next day and work from 9:00-10:00am.  When I arrived only he was there, but I didn’t think anything of it.  I figured once again our other group members had failed to make an appearance, but in reality he had never reached out to the other two.  I had been tricked!  We “studied” by making each other laugh and getting to know each other until late in the evening, but we were definitely no more prepared for our Family Law final; still, it was well worth it.  We kept in touch, but then the semester ended and he went home to Ohio.  For about a month we didn’t really keep in touch.

The New Year began and classes were about to resume when he reemerged.  He asked if my Family Law was what I expected, I said it wasn’t, but it was sufficient.  We exchanged a couple of messages before seeing each other in school.  I had dropped the Copyright class that he coincidentally was taking, so we didn’t have a class together.   Still, we chatted on AIM during classes and after classes.  He often hinted that I join him at a weekly event held by our school, not knowing if he was asking in some sort of group thing I never went.  Finally, he officially asked me to join him for Beer at the Rat, the weekly event, and I consented.

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The first time I went to meet him for Beer at the Rat he was leaving to get some books, he assured me he would return, but then it started to rain and I left.  The second time we met for Beer at the Rat it was a late Thursday evening in early February and his parents were coming into town.  We met at the Rat and talked forever, it was pretty late when he realized he had to go.  He lived really close to school and had walked there, but I offered to give him a ride back.  As we walked to my car we talked about attraction,  he had some pretty cliched notions about what women were looking for or attracted to, I tried to express my attraction to him in my dissent.  I don’t think it worked.  We talked about Star Wars and having coffee next time.

Friday or Saturday night he messaged me on AIM, I don’t recall the exchange but it led to us meeting for coffee after he dropped his parents off at the hotel.  We walked around looking for something other than a Starbucks, finding nothing we got milkshakes at Johnny Rockets.  When everything in the area began to shut down he asked me to his apartment for coffee, I accepted.  We talked for hours and he eventually even asked for my number.  He walked me back to my car and I was sure he would finally kiss me, he didn’t.  It was about five in the morning and we sat in my car, it seemed we still had a lot to talk.  I didn’t leave until about seven that morning, we had spent almost ten hours together, talking.  I was smitten and confused, not even a kiss?  I had never met someone quite like him.  We spent a few nights texting nonstop, and a few days before Valentine’s Day he finally kissed me.

Fast forward three very happy, very complicated, very eventful, very rewarding years and that very sweet blue-eyed brown-haired boy, who I have seen grow into a confident and admirable man, has asked to be my husband, to share my life with him, to have a family together.  Yes,  I will be very lucky to be his wife, to live, grow, and learn by his side, to raise puppies and babies together, to hold his hand as we walk aimlessly, to never run out of things to talk about, to wake up beside him every single day for the rest of my life.  Yes.

YES

Shabbat Shalom

* First three photos courtesy of University of Miami.

A year of ch-ch-ch-changes: I have to live with a boy!

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So I am getting older.  I know, everyone is getting older, but there is a point in everyone’s life (presumably) when it becomes unsettling and obvious.  I think for me it started a few years ago when I spotted a few gray hairs, soon after I noticed deep lines along my eyes, then my under eye circles got deeper and darker, my skin got weird and my body started to change.  It all felt premature, I am not even thirty!  It made me uneasy for a lot of reasons.

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Of course I hated the idea that shimmery eye makeup now settled in my laugh lines, but I think the real problem is that it also made feel like I was at a point in my life when I expected to be more accomplished.   By thirty I figured I’d have a comfortable career, my own place, kids, a partner, a structured life.  Right it now it looks like by thirty I will probably have one, maybe two, of those;  I have a pretty amazing partner and a job I enjoy.  Still my career has just begun,  I live with my parents, I have a seemingly insurmountable amount of debt.  I can see a lot of possibilities, but it is impossible to concretely see where my life is going.   It is unnerving that at this point in my life, as my hair grows gray and my face wrinkles, everything feels up in the air, there is just no real structure to speak of.

But this has been a year of major changes in my life.  Professionally I have accomplished a lot: I took the Florida Bar, I passed the Florida Bar, I became an attorney, I started to work with one, then two, then three attorneys, I got to stand before judges, negotiate with assistant state attorneys, attend Naturalization interviews, and wing it (not really, but sometimes it feels like regardless of prep I have no idea what I am doing) before hearing officers.  Personally it has been just as fulfilling: I finally get to say I am Jewish, I once again get to spend time with my friends again, my sister and I are working on not being quite as sporadic with our communication, I got the best birthday gift ever (a slow cooker), I started a blog, I attended the wedding of one of my oldest (in time) friends and it sparked my own wedding desires, my relationship with my boyfriend grew, our commitment to one another deepened, we talked wedding and went ring shopping, and now I have to live with a boy (cue Monica’s whiny voice from episode 606).

It didn’t happen the way I imagined.  It was a complex time, it was partly out of necessity and we moved in with my mom (I am apparently reliving my mother’s life).  My parents were amazing about it, and I can add it to the exceedingly long list of things that make my parents amazing.   I honestly expected the worst after watching countless sitcoms and reading a lot of Jezebel posts about the horrifying experience that is living with a boy.  However, looking back on it really wasn’t that bad.   There were issues, but we had already spent a couple of years of being practically inseparable and generally very honest about who we were.  Still, there were adjustments.  I don’t live in a home with much closet space, so bringing in more stuff meant getting rid of stuff.  For as long as I can remember I have been a hoarder, but when I met my boyfriend I was cured (he is also kind of a hoarder).  I happily donated countless outfits and accessories to my young cousins and aunt and thrown out an overwhelming collection of old magazines and useless paperwork.  My boyfriend also got rid of as much as possible, including furniture.  Most of his things found a place in our home, but there are a couple of things still packed in boxes in both of our vehicles (oy).

The only real issues we had were organizational, but we get along really well and he’s an incredible listener so we have slowly been working on it (especially after that time I threw a sock at him because he left it on the floor).  I guess this move takes the romance and mystery out of our relationship to some people, but I am glad our relationship has progressed in the way it has.  I think our choices come with a lot of openness and communication and I love that about us, it feels very adult, very conscious, very together that way.  None of it is just magically easy, it takes work to make our relationship work, our love feels effortless because we take the time to nourish it.  When we wake up smiling on Sunday morning and spend the day happily just being together, even after almost three years, it is because we are living and growing together, not merely cohabiting.  I honestly never expected to be this happy with someone, I didn’t think it was possible, but our relationship has changed that.  Something about us as a couple emanates warmth and love, everywhere we go people comment on how palpable our affection and respect for one another is, and I adore that our partnership can make others feel that way.  Even my mom commented last week that he and I really get along well.  It made me chuckle because we have spent so much of our three years together around my mom.  She has clearly felt that way before, but it still surprises her that it hasn’t changed; after three years together we haven’t run out of things to talk about, to laugh about, to learn.

HappyNow, after a year of changes in both of our lives we are about to embark on another year that will inevitably bring just a few more and I have to learn to make peace with the gray hair and the laugh lines, I will throw my plans and my hangups out, and just be deliriously happy to move forward in the life I have been blessed to have.

(And for the physical concerns, I will take vitamins, eat well, exercise, and continue to use Estee Lauder’s Idealist Illuminator and Advanced Night Repair, because yes, now I buy face creams and yes these are awesome)

Jewban High Holy Days and What I’ve Learned About Sukkot

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My first High Holy Days as a Jewban were not what I hoped or even reasonably expected.  However, to the credit of the old adage ‘everything happens for a reason’  I realize everything went as it should have.   Every action and reaction, every word and moment of silence, every second brought a needed sense of clarity and purpose.  I am not saying it was easy or that I can swiftly turn a positive into a negative, but I can see the reason for a series of unpleasant events.  I am still not over it, in a very human way I am holding on to what transpired, but I can see that it is my choice to turn it into something better.

Sukkot weekend my favorite rabbi discussed, well, Sukkot.  I have to admit that despite my very helpful intro class, I didn’t know a lot about this delicious and quirky holiday, but everything happens for a reason and this is why she popped up on my random google search.  This Saturday she explained that during the High Holy Days we are meant to be in an aspirational frame of mind (seeking forgiveness, making amends, changing for the better, generally connecting with something more than yourself, more than the mundane), but Sukkot forces you back to reality like a sort of bridge between aspirational and practical.  As a result Sukkot is sort of the grounding force following the high of the High Holy Days.

So I decided to read up a little more on this topic.  It was surprisingly hard to find, but as per usual chabad.org had some bits for me to read.  When asked why Sukkot follows the High Holy Days Rabbi Aron Moss explains, “We have all made resolutions to become better people for the new year. But have we really changed? … Often a sincere resolution is forgotten as quickly as it was made. The reason for this is compartmentalization… One part of us truly wants to improve and grow, while other parts of us are lazy and complacent… My soul has good intentions but my body comes in the way. The solution: enter a Sukkah. When we enter a Sukkah, we enter with our entire being — our body and our soul, our heart and our mind… The Sukkah experience is one of wholesomeness. And only when we bring our whole self into a holy space, our resolve from Yom Kippur can be translated into reality.”  Expanding on the body vs. soul idea Rabbi Baruch Epstein writes on the importance of Sukkot for the body, calling Sukkot the body’s Yom Kippur, “Body and soul are an odd couple. Mutually exclusive agendas, no compromises, forced to endure each other… each competes to achieve oneness with G‑d in its way… Think about Yom Kippur. The soul loves it and the body naturally hates it. The soul gets to indulge in all its favorite activities, free from any burdens of the body… The poor body is dragged along… Yet somehow the body makes it through the day and often even finds it enjoyable… But though the body may have enjoyed this day, it gets a bit envious… “And that is where Sukkot comes in.  In the sukkah, it’s primarily about the body.  The mitzvah is to sit in the sukkah, eat in the sukkah, drink in the sukkah, hang out in the sukkah. Like the total immersion the soul experiences on Yom Kippur, the body is treated to its own style of all-encompassing surround-sound G‑dliness… Sukkot is what the soul gives the body after the body gave Yom Kippur to the soul.

I think that’s a very intriguing concept, generally during the High Holy Days I can feel my soul going through a process.  It is not always easy or pleasant, but I feel like in the struggle I find true meaning.  I feel like this year the struggle was greater, the healing was deeper, and I was on the other end of forgiveness.  Much like I believe Yom Kippur is a difficult process so that there is awareness and meaning in that which we claim we want to change, I believe apologies are empty if there is no awareness and change in behavior.  So for once and in very un-Yom Kippur fashion I chose not to forgive.  I decided to hold on to what happened as a sort of lesson for all parties involved, including myself.  Change doesn’t come from continued behavior or from pretending everything is fine and nothing ever happened, change can only come from recognizing and understanding what needs to change and then actively working on it.  This was my progression from Rosh Hashana to Sukkot, I moved from the aspirational to the practical.  It was a difficult and painful process, hurtful words were said and I just didn’t know how to move past it.  By Yom Kippur I felt broken and in my time of introspection I sought solace.  Although I had been trying to put things back together, I couldn’t do so in the same way.  I had all of the same pieces, but they didn’t fit together the way they once did.  This day allowed me to see that, but it also allowed me to see I wanted to put effort into finding a new way for everything to fit.  As a totally coincidental result I spent the days leading up to (and through some of) Sukkot working on the practical end of my journey towards change, and I was happy to know I wasn’t working on it alone.

There is something else I learned during Sukkot.  I felt pretty inspired last Saturday, not only because I found extra meaning in the timing of my personal journey, but also because I learned so much in a few minutes.   It’s always extra special when I feel particularly inspired Saturdays after Minyan, I always feel happy after services, but sometimes the d’rash inspires me.  One of the more interesting and less self-involved lessons I took from the d’rash was the seemingly infamous clouds vs booths debate.  Rabbi Eliezer taught that the booths referred to were clouds of glory, while Rabbi Akiva taught actual booths were constructed.  This would inevitably lead to a debate on not only what “booth” really means, but also what it represents.  Although I like the sukkah and I enjoy/will continue to enjoy my time sharing meals with my Jewish community therein, I really like the idea of these clouds of glory.   Sure, actual physical booths would have served as actual physical protection from the elements, while still keeping a connection to nature since that is what the rules of construction require.  However, and this may inevitably go back to my “everything happens for a reason” kick, it is so comforting to believe that G-d’s protection is like an imperceptible booth around you, protecting you as you go.

I’ve realized in my journey that the moments I feel most connected to G-d are those moments where I am at the right place at the right time, those moments where things happen that have larger meaning than it would seem, those moments where pivotal and serendipitous things are found in my path.  My entire life feels like a series of those moments,  I feel G-d in every second of my life because it all seems to fall into place.  I see G-d in acts of kindness, I feel G-d in shul, but I feel G-d’s involvement in my own personal life in every one of those little moments.  There are hard times, inevitably, seemingly senseless acts and times when I feel broken, but life just goes on and things seem to move forward and work out.  I am no passive character in my own life, I try to work hard and give meaning to my life, but there are many moments greater than myself.  I make choices everyday, but often the repercussions of those actions are unforeseen; the college I didn’t really choose led to my best friends, my in-between job turned into a career, my summer job led to a permanent job with incredible co-workers, my lackluster choice of law school and family law project led to my soulmate, my permanent job led to meeting new people who have breathed new life into my career, and so on.   I can think back to every little choice and how it has led to magnificent things in my life, and it is those moments when I can’t deny the existence of G-d.  It is those moments that make me feel G-d’s presence like a cloud enveloping me.

A very belated (or exceedingly early) shabbat shalom to you all.

Days of I (a Yom Kippur Despojo)

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I feel like lately I’ve been doing a generally terrible job at being human.  I have been trying really hard to be clear and honest, to make amends, to reach out.  Still, time and time again I feel like a failure.  Perfect timing, I thought, to struggle with and address these issues before Yom Kippur.  I feel like this week there is a lot to accomplish, a lot of growth to achieve, a lot to come to terms with.

Let’s begin with the fact that 5774 did not start how I hoped, planned or expected, it actually did not start well at all; the New Year began with a lot of hurt, disappointment, and anger.  These last few days have made me question issues I thought were settled and have created new issues I am not sure how to settle.  Part of me feels guilty for being so helpless, for not being able to move forward, but another part of me is tired of having to figure everything out on my own.  I feel guilty for blaming others, but I feel angry that others fail to be considerate and kind.  So where does that leave me during a period of atonement?  I don’t want to be either one of these women.  I spend a lot of my life making excuses for others, giving the benefit of the doubt, hoping that next time will be different.  These are my own downfalls, these actions cause me to expect a lot from others, often more than they have to give, and in the end I feel hurt and stupid.  Expectations are hard to manage, they are especially hard to manage when I set them so high.  Since Rosh Hashana I have seen people, things and ideas I’d grown to love fall apart, I have seen their true colors, I have seen what I had tried not to see.  Now, only a few days before Yom Kippur I cannot unsee any of it;  I cannot pretend it didn’t happen despite the desire of others that I do just that.  I can choose to forgive transgressions, I can choose to move forward, but I cannot forget,  I cannot disregard the choices others made.

Still, this period seems perfect for such a high degree of introspection, for making significant decisions, for choosing how to move forward in life.  According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashana G-d inscribes the judgment of each person for the coming year into the Book of Life, but waits until Yom Kippur for this judgment to be sealed.  As a result, it is imperative (unless you’re exceedingly smug) to take these ten days to change, to set the tone for a better year and a better self, to recognize our shortcomings and make amends, make better choices.

I value the woman I have become.  I am not always perfect, I make mistakes often, but I try to be better with each passing day.  I value my strong sense of independence, my kindness, my open-mindedness, my authenticity.  Conversely,  I am disappointed by my stubbornness, my insecurities, my silence, my laziness.  So for this Yom Kippur I think my  focus is a little bit different.  Although I have tried to make amends and recognize my shortcomings, I will try to use these Days of Awe to set out the outline for my life, a sort of skeleton structure of what I want the next year to be for me; As G-d seals my fate for the coming year, so shall I.  It’s time to start making major changes in my life, I want to grow and improve, I want to see a clear path toward what my life can become.  I am going to devote my time and energy to worthy causes and people who matter, I am going to work harder, I am going to be more vocal, I am going to be stronger and I am going to be better to myself.  I have hope that some around me will also take this challenge to grow,  I have hope that some of my relationships will progress, but I have no expectations.  I have learned an important lesson this week, I cannot control the behavior of others, but I can control my response and reaction to that behavior.  Where I am in life is greatly due to my choices, I don’t have to continuously work to preserve something that is not worth keeping, I can choose to let it go.  I am choosing to take this opportunity in my life to make necessary changes, despite the growing pains.  I have hope that the outcome will be a life I am proud to lead as a woman I am proud to be.