Friday, January 23, 2015

The Desire for Acceptance

"May the words of my mouth be acceptable to You."
- Hebrew prayer recited before
we begin the central standing prayer, known as the Amidah


We ask God to accept our prayers even before we say them. We ask people to accept us even before we meet them.

In our daily lives, we seek to be seen and heard. We want to matter. Like a child who reaches her hands upward signaling that she wants to be held, we, as adults, long for that attentive act of unconditional love. The fear of rejection begins as a child and carries a lifelong sentence of perfection performance.

I am the second child of my parents' offspring. I am constantly struggling for my premiere place in the world, even as I accept my birth order in my nuclear family. I want to claim my gold position in everything else, and so I work harder to achieve and to get noticed for these same successes. I was the first female in my family to get a higher degree and the top student in my classes from public school to rabbinical school. I was the first cousin who traveled to Israel on scholarship as a college student, and getting to be Queen Esther in the Yiddish fifth grade school play made all my other cousins jealous.

In Judaism, the "bechor," the first born (usually the male heir), has numerous privileges and responsibilities. God’s favor rested on their first fruits, their first offerings.

And yet, as in the biblical Cain and Abel, we learn that to be first was not always a good thing. The rejection of Cain’s offering to God began the saga of sibling rivalry and culminated in the first post-creation murder. The early Genesis stories confound us further by giving the second born lineage over the first-born: Abel over Cain; Isaac over Ishmael; Jacob over Esau.

To be accepted is to be acknowledged for our uniqueness no matter our birth order or status in life. When God accepts our prayer offerings, the Holy One relies on the authenticity of our heart’s desires -- not on the embellishments that surrounds them.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Grand Paris Synagogue

The Grand Synagogue of Paris sits inside the 9th arrondissement on 44 Rue de la Victoire on a narrow cobbled street. This 1874 architectural jewel overtakes the street cowering like a Lion of Judah protecting its cubs.

On a rainy summer day last July, my friend and I ventured from our apartment in Le Marais (the Jewish district) to attend the morning Sabbath services at this oldest and most prodigious Jewish house of worship in France. We handed over our American passports to the guard and emptied our backpacks to reimagine these glorious generations in French Jewish history.

What were the Jews thinking when they built this "cathedral" to their God 141 years ago

Prosperity. Economic security. Demographic growth. Cultural Continuity. Eternal light.

The luminosity inside this 1800 seat, womb-like structure startled my sensibilities.

Dozens of menorahs with nine plastic covered bulbs each circled this cavernous chapel. Chandeliers hung from every corner. Light fixtures on the walls illuminated my way to the women’s section in the downstairs main section. Facing sideways towards the bimah, I could see the men processing their morning choreography in fastidious detail.

The traditional Hebrew prayers sung and chanted by eight educated male songbirds reverberated off the walls and the ceilings without any electronic enhancements.

I was reminded of my own Orthodox synagogue in the Bronx where I grew up in the 1950s. Although much smaller in size and scale, I recalled how the male voices blended into my perfect prayerful past and, now again, into this perfect prayerful present.

I called upon this memory while watching Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Hollande seated side by side inside the Grand Synagogue during a memorial service for the four Jewish victims of a terrorist attack inside a Paris Kosher market the weekend of January 9. I prayed for the harmonies to be grand. I prayed for the healing to be majestic. I prayed for the Lions of Judah to stand up again for her cubs.

Disabled Prayers

I watched my fourteen-month-old granddaughter watching me as she embedded herself on an adult hospital mattress in the pediatric intensive care unit at Fairfax Children’s Hospital in Virginia. A prolonged respiratory virus causing high fevers,consistent coughing, and rapid breathing convinced her parents that it was time to take her to the emergency room.  Four days and three nights of constant medical intrusions and interventions escalated into one traumatic episode for my daughter, her husband, and our extended family. Several times, I was alone with Shoshana Naomi when my daughter took a well-deserved break.  I stared into her dark cimmerian eyes and leaned forward so she could see and, perhaps, feel my deep empathy for her well-being.  I hunched over her adorableness and became absorbed in a moment-to-moment healing ritual of being. I did not speak the words of my familiar prayers. They remained irretrievable and silent.My essentiality and ego faded into the background.  In the foreground was this disconsolate child, my soul’s present priority. Focused and fixated, I recorded every minute movement from her struggling body. Was sheasleep? Was she nursing comfortably? Was her breathing optimal? Was her cough waning?  How might we reduce her tiny tremblings?  I sat and swayed her in a chair that did not rock.  She was my safety and I was her anchor.  We slipped into the harbor together, heading toward the lighthouse of recovery.  But where were the prayers? Where were the Hebrew prayers of my childhood that I know by heart? Disconnected. Disarmed. Disabled. Lost in fear. I remember visiting my late father following his hip surgery ten years ago. Frail and pale, his body sank sullenly into the hospital bed. In an attempt to raise his spirits, I offered him a siddur, a yarmulke, and his well-worn tallit. My devout father, who prayed every morning and evening, refused his personal paraphernalia. “I cannot pray today. I am too weak. Today, God will need to pray for me.” For four days and three nights, not one prayer passed through my mind or mouth. I simply was not able. I was too busy watching my granddaughter watching me.
Could I boldly ask God to pray for my granddaughter? Perhaps you, Papa, with your ever-persuasive prayers, could engage with God for Shoshana’s healing, and also bring my prayers back to life.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Practice Loving Someone

We are given opportunities every day to practice loving someone.


Even when they don’t deserve it.


Especially when they don’t deserve it.


Can you transform yourself into a person who loves anyway, anytime, all the time?


Are you not the person who claims to be kind, giving, honest and noble?


When you are able to experience yourself as kind, giving, honest and noble, you will find that you will experience the very thing you wanted all along: to be loved by someone who is practicing loving you.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Thoughtful Dance

Every day one must dance. Even if only in thought.
-Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810)

The body moves us and we are moved on multiple levels towards our joyful ascent.

Sometimes, the very thought of being in holy movement, lifts us out of the chair of despair into seraphic speculation.

The body works in seamless attunement with our spirits. If every emotion has a physiological response, can we change how we feel if we alter our physical progression?

It is easy to dance and sing, smile and laugh, when we are content.

What takes practice, is dancing and singing, smiling and laughing when we are despondent.

Rabbi Nachman encourages the dance practice as a form of therapeutic resistance to sadness and suffering.

Everyone can dance, if only in thought.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Backward Glance

Observing your life with perspective is unnatural.

We continue cruising constantly.

Until we stop.

We catch a rear-view snapshot of a life running behind us.

An unexpected compliment that highlighted your work.

A friendly stranger who who spoke a truth you needed to know.

An emotion reverberated through your body you didn’t know existed.

And you stopped.

You caught up with your shadow.

The spotlights showered your accomplishments.

You were blinded by the brightness of your backward glance.

A life well-observed is a life well-lived.

He said, she said.

Stop.

Look behind you.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Craving Aloneness

As human beings, we crave being alone.

We carry an entire world inside our own experience. When we are inside ourselves, we possess an opportunity to meditate on the interconnection of soul, God and the Divine without critique from others.


A story told by the Baal Shem Tov about his childhood includes this passage: "I was drawn to walk the fields and the great, deep forest near our village. Often I would spend the night in the field or forest. One morning in the forest I heard a human voice: a Jew in tallit and tefillin, praying with a passion I had never heard. 'Aren't you afraid to be alone in the forest?' the man asked me. I answered him: 'I like the field and the forest, because there are no people . . ."

Ah, to be alone. To pray listening only to my own voice. To concentrate fiercely on all that is uniquely my own. To revel in the peace and possibility of an answer or an insight from Nature’s Universe.

And yet the reverse is also true. To be alone is disquieting. Loneliness and aloneness can be fraught with physical and emotional dangers. Difficult thoughts may discover us.

Chasing our distractions can cause an addiction of discomfort. Instead of an occasion for the Capital Connection, we form deleterious detachments and tentative traumas.

As human beings, we crave our interiority time. The silence within calls us to this open forest of mindful fertility. Feel it, fear it, face it, infuse it into your daily practice.