Friday, December 30, 2011

Measuring Cups

Every new year offers us another opportunity to reflect and rejoice.

These milestones are like measuring cups. The more we measure, the more we can accurately assess our blessings.

May your cups overflow this new year, 2012, with all the pleasures that life offers us.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Maccabeats Miracle

Last Chanukah the world was introduced to the Maccabeats with their runaway hit "Candlelight." This year another song, "Miracles," has entered the YouTube universe.

But it wasn’t the song or their new video that drew me in, but their fundraising efforts on behalf of the Gift of Life Foundation through the website

The Maccabeats are inviting donations of ten thousand dollars a day for each day of Chanukah in the hope of securing much needed funds for Gift of Life, a bone marrow registry organization.

With a personal video narrated by Mayim Bialik and each of the members of the Maccabeats, their call is honest and sincere. As of this writing they have already raised $22,000!

I clicked on the donation button. Suddenly, I was involved in making a miracle for Chanukah -- not just receiving an ancient one. The miracle that the Maccabeats are giving light to is a miracle that keeps on giving life and hope to people with cancer beyond this holiday season.

So can we make some miracles?

Many interpretations suggest that the miracle of Chanukah was that we didn’t give up even when we had no chance of winning against the Greek/Syrians. In spite of the powerful forces that encourage our continued assimilation or disappearance we have survived and adapted to the modern world in which we live in as Jews. We live precariously on the edge while we persevere through a revolving door of constant change. The miracle of the Maccabeats is the miracle of our people.

We have come a long way from the Adam Sandler’s Chanukah song from "Saturday Night Live" in 1994 which centered on the theme of Jewish children feeling alienated during the Christmas season, and Sandler’s listing of Jewish celebrities as a way of sympathizing with their situation.

With the Maccabeats, the traditional and the contemporary merge to create a blend of Judaism and Jewish music that continues to define our communal confidence with viral velocity.

We revel in religious freedom in America. A Yeshiva University a cappella group has reached beyond their ivory tower borders to educate and entertain. We all received the instant messaging. Again, history has shown us, that we are the miracle of Chanukah!

Yes, we can make modern miracles. Click and contribute to a new miracle this Chanukah 5772!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Body as Temple

Our body is our temple from which all else flows.

Nurturing our bodies is a sacred donation to our soul-being.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rainy Day Goodness

"My name is Bill," he told me right before I exited from the cab we had been sharing for the past thirty minutes.

An hour before, while waiting for a cab outside Georgetown Hospital in the torrential rains of the evening rush hour, we empathized with our inability to catch a cab.

Then, suddenly, this six-foot-two stranger leaped forward and said with assurance, "I see a cab: I am going to run after it. Follow me!"

The race was on. I deliberately placed my feet beyond the puddles in order to keep up with his long strides and purposeful gait, but still he disappeared among the multitude of hand-held umbrellas dotting the flooding streets.

"Oh, well," I thought. "He had a train to catch. It’s okay. I’ll just keep singing in the rain until another cab appears. He meant well. Intention is almost everything!"

I clutched my pink polka dot umbrella in both hands, so the winds wouldn’t turn it over, and I patiently walked towards the main street where my hopes for finding a cab soared.

I heard a honk. I turned to see a man waving from the far side of the cab. I moved involuntarily towards him.

"Come on in! We have been looking for you and your pink polka dot umbrella. It wasn’t easy to spot in the darkness of the night."

I slid into the dry, warm front seat next to the cab driver and expressed my simple gratitude, "Thank you so much."

His name was Bill, but to me, he was goodness on a rainy day in the nation’s capital.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Mystery of Lost Things

It happened again. In the space of a week, I lost my keys and Smartrip card, a gift I bought in New York over Thanksgiving, and a new pair of brown fuzzy socks.

A few years ago, my watch disappeared. The mystery of losing it perturbed me for many weeks. Why did she abandon me this time?

A few months ago, my beloved 10-year-old watch turned up under my bed -- but only after I had substituted another watch that looked and acted like its identical twin.

I laughed when I realized that the loss I experienced turned into an abundance of watches!

How we handle these minor losses is a barometer of how we will endure larger losses that cannot be replaced.

The practice of honoring all our losses contains a spark of spiritual equanimity.

Friday, November 18, 2011

For the Love of Life and Writing

It was a week of re-visioning and editing.

A short story, less than ten pages, possessed me.

In the still darkness of dawn, I sleepwalked toward my computer.

At dusk, I rushed into my apartment in search of my Beloved.

The flow of inspiration and perspiration pulsed through my writing and my life simultaneously.

I began the rewriting process with procrastinations and fears of inadequacy.

But once I became the process, everything moved in unexpected directions.

I discovered scandalous scenes and desperate dialogue that propelled me into a land only artists can experience.

Every day held the possibility of a fairytale or a mystery.

This passion for writing taught me a lesson about living.

Use your imagination to drive your actions.

Engage in an uncomfortable challenge without self-judgment.

Go back to knitting the story of your life one joyful stitch at a time.

Do it for the love of it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ten Hours in the Life of a Rabbi Without Borders

Twenty early morning souls relax into the padded cushions that line the basement of the Washington Center for Consciousness Studies. I place myself in the back right corner and lean back into the plump fabric-covered pillows.

My gaze catches the glow that emanates from the room’s interior cavity. A life-sized picture of the host couple’s Indian guru greets me. We engage. His eyes follow me like Michaelangelo’s Mona Lisa and encourage my contemplation.

The dharma is presented by a visiting Hindu teacher. He reflects on the life of his beloved guru, Bhagavan Nityananda, with stories, humor and pathos. He recalls and recites the miracles created by his spiritual mentor. His tales enhance our way of modeling a superior spiritual life.

“The spiritual,” he says, “is about connections and coincidences, the relationship to the One and the flow of the mysterious.”

The chanting occurs in Sanskrit. Several people sing along, while I relax into the rhythmic tones and nest my face into my white pashmina scarf. My breathing is nonexistent to myself. God takes my inhalation and sets my heartbeat into a peaceful pace.

In time, the chanting changes and completes its round. The dimmer radiates more light. The 90-minute meditation session ends with a smooth finish. No one speaks; everyone moves.

Ten hours later, I stand before the Shabbat candles in the corner hallway at the Chabad House in Herndon, Virginia. I hear and embrace the giggling sounds of my four grandchildren and the rabbi’s five children as they relay race down the corridors. I quiet my mind for reflection.

Amidst the joy, I linger in the entryway in front of the gold-framed picture of the Rebbe and a portrait of the late young Chabad rabbi, Levi Deitsch, who died of cancer the year before. The Rebbe, the late Chabad rabbi and the nameless guru follow me into the Friday evening prayers of Kabbalat Shabbat.

Rabbi Leibel Fajnland faces the Holy Ark. The echo of his continuous Hebrew davening wafts through the many rooms of this sparsely furnished one-story school and learning center.

I receive his concentric prayers and whisper the mantra of my silent evening Amidah by heart. I enter into dialogue with the God of my ancestors.

I soften my eyelids. I close my eyes. I see into the light of my early morning soul again.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Going with Growth

We strive towards Oneness.

The Oneness of the Universe and the Oneness that aligns our soul’s purpose with the reality of our present.

Our work is to model an inner strength and a connection to self which is ultimately a connection to all that is within.

When we focus on rebuilding self we set a new course for going with growth.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Staying on the Path

We each have our own personal path to God, even those of us who struggle with defining God, denying God, or embracing God’s presence in the world. The search for something holy and big demands our attention.

Sometimes we look at others and wonder how their pathway leads to a greater sense of satisfaction and pleasure. Is God more present for them than for us? We project that the path of another is easier than our own.

Stay on your path, for it is the path that has been created for you. Navigate the detours and the downhills, but stay on course with your heart.

Stay on your path and this will lead you to a personal truth about God.

Friday, October 7, 2011

One Coin at a Time

Every year, a few hours before the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Lubavitcher Rabbi Menachem Schneerson would enter the synagogue for prayer holding a bag of coins.

The tables were covered with hundreds of charity plates that represented a multitude of causes, from food for the needy and assistance to poor brides, to schools and families in distress.

The “Rebbe” would methodically and mindfully place a coin into each plate. He took care not to skip a single one. Each plate represented a community or an individual who needed help materially or spiritually.

Each charity was significant. The Rebbe took this holy task to be his preparation for his Yom Kippur prayers and reflections.

What will be your holy preparation for your Yom Kippur prayers?

I count each one of you on my Spiritualetters list to be a significant blessing for me. I hope you will forgive me if I hurt you by word or deed, or by omission.

May we all be sealed in the book of life and contentment.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Spiritual Accounting

Life is a braided string of doings. We flutter from goal to goal only to find that our wings are tired of the continual movements necessary to keep flying. Rather, we find our spiritual rhythms in the sacred sanctuaries of timelessness and stasis.

As Jews enter into the Higher Holidays of our spiritual calendar and character, assess your spiritual measurements with these questions: "What has my life been all about up till now? What am I living for? What is life all about for me today?”

Friday, September 16, 2011

Regret and Repentance

Behold I regret what I did and I am embarrassed by my deeds. I promise never to repeat this act again. ~Moses Maimonides, Laws of Repentance

Embarrassment and regret catapults us into the world of change and repentance. The very thing that embarrassed you is the key to an altered lifestyle. Accept your regrets and initiate new strategies for success. Make a pledge to yourself to stay in integrity with all your decisions.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Sea and the Heart

All the streams run into the sea, yet the sea is not full. Ecclesiastes 1:7

There is an expansiveness in life and nature that can never be fully contained or fully completed. Like human wisdom, there are no limits on the ability of the heart to expand and to stretch and to love.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Realizing the Impossible

“Whenever you think something’s impossible, it simply means that you haven’t considered all the possibilities.” ~Sri Gawn Tu Fahr

As I look back on my life, I extract an extraordinary spiritual tool. I recognize the times in my life when the impossible actually happened. With my awareness heightened, I realize that more impossible things will happen if I consider all the possibilities.

Tapping into the wisdom of the past catapults us into the dynamics of the present where the future also resides.

Close your eyes. Meditate on a past achievement. Breathe into the joy of that reality.

Open your eyes. Smile. Dream again into that impossible dream.

P.S. I will be on the pulpit at Temple Micah (2829 Wisconsin Ave NW) this weekend! Please join me tomorrow, Friday, September 2, at 6:00 p.m. and/or on Saturday, September 3, at 10:00 a.m. We will be celebrating "Labor on the Bimah," and all are welcome!

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Stone of Hope

I was 16, living in the Bronx, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his immortal "I Have A Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

A few nights ago my friend and I walked three miles to preview the newest memorial in the nation’s capital where I now reside.

When we arrived at the central entryway to the memorial entitled "The Mountain of Despair," our eyes are drawn upward to the Stone of Hope, a 30-foot likeness of this civil rights reverend. Like the eyes of the Mona Lisa painting by Leonardo da Vinci, Dr. King’s eyes follow us as we walk around the monument.

What is he asking of us? What answers do we have to offer him? Where does justice dwell today? Where is the righteous peace that he dreamt about so many decades ago?

The monumental granite statue of Dr. King revives our deepest desires for justice and equality, democracy and love.

Dare we dream again?

Please note: The dedication, which was to have taken place this Sunday, August 28, has been postponed indefinitely due to the arrival of Hurricane Irene this weekend in Washington, DC. Go to the webiste for more information:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Priority Passenger

A young man with stumped arms and legs wheeled himself towards the priority seating boarding line. The stewardess quickly offered assistance, and together with another crew member the three disappeared down the breezeway.

An Iraq casualty? A suicide bomber attack? An innocent civilian caught in the middle of a battle?

A mother’s son. A country’s soldier.

My mind did not settle down during the fifteen minutes it took me to embark the plane as a number four zone, economy-class passenger.

I entered the aircraft and again encountered the priority passenger seated in the first row, first class, aisle seat. With the precision of someone with ten fingers, my mystery man was typing away on his iPad.

I drifted out of pity mode and melted into awe and admiration.

He deserves every priority on every plane, train and boat anywhere in this world.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Dream and Deed

Dream and deed are not as different as many think. All the deeds of men are dreams at first, and become dreams in the end. -Theodore Herzl, journalist, visionary, Zionist, and founder of the state of Israel

Our daily work is filled with little dreams that get accomplished through a big vision. The dreams of our unconscious longing are embedded in our mind’s third eye and get translated into motions and actions that share the space.  

May your dreams and deeds expand into a reality of your own making. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

I Cried for You

My two-year-old granddaughter woke up suddenly from her afternoon nap.

I rushed to pick her up.

She cried and squealed as she repeated her mantra of the moment.

“I want my mommy." Pause. "I want my mommy." Pause. "I want my mommy." Louder: "I want my mommy!”

I held her. I rocked her. I sang to her. I assured her that mommy would return.

Five minutes passed, and the mantra magnified.

“A popsicle?” I suggested.

It worked. She pointed to the freezer, and we picked out an eight-inch-long squishy green popsicle sealed in a plastic tube.

When mom came back, she asked her daughter, “How were things with grandma?”

“First, I cried for you, mommy. Then grandma gave me a popsicle!”

Friday, July 29, 2011

An Electrical Transmission

Here lies our dear father, a humble and righteous, God-fearing man who busied himself by doing Holy Works. Itzchak Eizik, the son of Joseph, passed away on the sixth of Nissan and was buried the following day on the seventh of Nissan. Isaac Miller, Rabbi of Moodus, Conn. 1871-1939 (translated from the Hebrew)

I read this Hebrew-scripted epitaph of my paternal grandfather at the Ahavat Achim country cemetery in Colchester, Conn., on a summer sun-drenched day in July.

I leaned on the five-foot-tall tombstone with my body and placed my hand on its curved surface. I trespassed on the currents of electricity that reached my grandfather’s soul’s teachings. Tears of loss watered my face.

In a moment of transmission, I experienced his love for Judaism, his love for the Holy One, and his love for me, his only granddaughter who followed his European footprints to become the first female rabbi of the Miller/Mlowdowski lineage in America.

Twenty years ago I came to this family grave site with my now-late father and mother, my eldest daughter, and my first cousin. I remember how my father chanted the Mourner’s Kaddish for each of my four relatives buried here (my grandfather and my grandmother, my aunt and my uncle). I remember how we searched for several special rocks to place on top of the stone as a sign that we had been there to visit. (Even in a cemetery one need not be alone.)

This time I walked by myself from grave to grave and recited the Mourner’s Kaddish for all my lost ones. I searched again for the tiny pebbles that punctuated the cemetery’s lawn. I placed them on top of the four graves.

I busied myself with this Holy Work to elevate my connection to the grandfather I had never met.

I rested in his peace.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friendship Matters

Friendship matters.

I am blessed with friends from around the world

If only I could gather you in one room and take a group snapshot!

I would thank you virtually for your voices that supported me and your hands that held me during the high and low tides of my life.

I reminisce with you and the memories return like waterfalls streaming down my heart.

Friendship matters.

In gratitude for you, my friend!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Searching for Liberty

While standing at the tip of Manhattan Island’s Battery Place Park, I scanned the New York Harbor in search of the Statue of Liberty.

My parents and grandparents journeyed by sea from Eastern Europe with thousands of immigrants seeking safe haven in America in the early 1920s.

I was born and bred in America, a first-generation citizen of the New World. By gazing at the harbor and the boats at sea, the history of my family’s cross-continental voyage was revealed to me. They were part of the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

My Blackberry camera zoomed into Liberty Island struggling to catch a glimpse of the majesty of the golden lamp that metaphorically lightened the sorrow and the burden of many freedom seekers. The sparkling, rippled waters dominated the simple snapshot. In the distance, the diminutive sculpture surfaced, perhaps, as it had appeared for my parents and grandparents 89 years ago.

Give me your tired, your poor.
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teaming shore.
Send these the homeless tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

- Emma Lazarus, mounted on a plaque besides the Statue of Liberty

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sensing God

As I stood facing the lake in the early morning hours of the day, I recognized God’s pulsating energy permeating around me.

Comprehending God may be difficult, but grasping God’s sensors in the universe is only a breathtaking view away.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Ecstasy of Paying Attention

As a writer I pay attention to what is there but is not always seen. I stand watching the details of the moment in an effort to evoke emotion. I stand apart but engaged. I seek to attain an attunement with a focus outside of myself.

When I view the world in technicolor, I avoid a blurring of the senses.

When I pay attention to God’s world, I find ecstasy in my own.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Paper Flowers

Cathy walked toward me breathing with difficulty.

“Could you help me get my suitcase? I just can’t manage everything what with my asthma.”

“Sure. Where is your luggage?”

She pointed to the building ahead in the near distance.

We walked haltingly towards the place where she had spent a mini-vacation at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT. I slowed my footsteps to accommodate her shifting gait.

For nearly twenty years, Isabella Freedman has provided affordable country vacations to urban populations for adults with mental illness. The collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness provides a four-day, three-night program for clients from New York City and Connecticut.

When we arrived at her room, a pink leather purse rested on the floor.

“That is my medicine bag,” she explained.

I picked it up. Prescriptions carry a weighty load.

When we arrived at the main building, I placed her life-preserving satchel next to her black-wheeled suitcase.

“Thank you,” she said. “Wait here: I want to give you something that I made.”

She returned with a celery green paper flower as big as four cabbage heads.

“Do you like it? It’s yours.”

“I have never seen anything like this. I will place it on my bed as my replacement Teddy Bear.”

We hugged. I placed her possessions on the bus to Long Island. She left my sight.

Every night, I take the bouquet from my bed and place it atop the dresser.

Cathy is back home, but the fragrance of her paper flowers continues to intoxicate my being.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Cycle of Seprations

My daughter drove me to Union Station in Washington, D.C., early Sunday morning.

With two red suitcases, a backpack, and a pocketbook, I was sent off to an adult Jewish spiritual retreat center in the Connecticut Berkshire mountains. For two months, I will serve the community at Isabella Freedman.

When she was nine years old, I drove my daughter to the synagogue parking lot where she boarded a bus to her summer camp in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. For two months, she made new friends, learned new skills, and explored and experienced a living Judaism.

Separating from her then and separating from her now had a familiar feel. Although decades have passed, the scenario of separation continues: Child leaves mother, mother leaves child, and the cycle continues.

Love creates the connection and then the separation. Recycling both goes hand in hand.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Summer Transition

Summer is a time for travel and transitions.

We slow down and anticipate the long days of light and lightness.

We discontinue time and connect with the present.

Our physical body rests in quiet repose.

Summer is a time for travel and transitions.

Where will you be when the transition occurs?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Safe and Sound

A few days ago my Gmail account was hacked and a bogus email was sent suggesting that I was in London and in need of money after having been robbed.

I knew of this scam since one of my friends had experienced this most recently.

I wasn’t happy about this inconvenience, but what I didn’t expect were the phone calls and text messages I received from friends and family from across the country concerned about my whereabouts. Some thought it could have happened, given my past history (robbed once in New York and once in Rehoboth Beach).

I heard from some acquaintances who felt an obligation to dispel this technological interference. Etiquette for the internet generation?

I felt obligated to answer each call politely and with gratitude even though I knew its content before the conversation began. After all, they took the time to call. Phone calls are becoming obsolete given our email and texting possibilities. Picking up the proverbial phone has become a last resort for communicating information.

People still care. When people see trouble coming, they offer comfort, aid and practical support without hesitation.

People still care. They thrive on a sense of what is right and what is wrong. They have a sense of fairness and justice.

People still care and for this my heart is glad.

Thank you all for being in my virtual community.
Just for your well being . . . I am back online safe and sound in the comfort of my living room still wishing I had a complimentary ticket to visit the royal couple in London.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Different Dreams

I used to dream of adventure and daily drama.

Today I dream of cloudless skies and dinner with friends.

I used to dream of fireworks and folly.

Today I dream of laughing with my grandchildren and yoplait yogurts.

I used to desire diamonds and emeralds.

Today I desire only to love and be loved in return.

Today is full of the beautiful pleasures of life itself.

I live inside the dream of daily grace and grandeur.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Brief Encounters

Brief encounters of the God-like kind rarely succumb to banalities.

When time is of the essence, conversations find depth-defined indulgences.

Secrets evaporate and truths cascade like waterfalls.

Suddenly a mystical doorway opens wide the soul of another.

Thank God for these brief encounters that shift our senses out of third gear into high drive.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Source

The flow of being is desperately in need of repair.

How can we restore the God-field and open up the channels to compassionate living?

How can I be the water source?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Kaddish by Heart

The eldest son was chosen by his father to say the Mourner’s Kaddish.* Standing at the gravesite of both his mother and father, the son gathered his large black and white bar mitzvah tallit (prayer shawl) and draped himself like a flag. Enveloped in white, he illuminated the cemetery’s grey exterior.

“Two years ago my father told me that I would be expected to say Kaddish for him when he died. The Kaddish was a familiar prayer to me, but could I chant it by myself, by heart? So soon after I came home from my visit with my dad, I went on the Internet to get acquainted with this venerable prayer. I wanted to be ready when the time came. Today, two years later, I am prepared to say the Kaddish for my father.”

He then proceeded to enunciate every vowel and syllable in this transcendent prayer. His voice, confident and grounded, remained steady throughout the upside down mantra-like sounds. No hesitations. No pauses. No mistakes. A solid-gold performance sincere and sacred.

A Kaddish recited by heart from the heart.

*Kaddish is the ancient memorial prayer written in Aramaic and recited by those who are mourning a loved one. In traditional Judaism, it was the eldest son who was obligated to say this prayer three times a day for eleven months to honor his parent and to raise the soul of the lost one to a higher realm. Today, in most denominations, women and men, the eldest and the youngest, chant this prayer in a communal setting. It serves as a therapeutic ritual for the grief work necessary to heal from our losses.

P.S. I welcome your referrals for weddings, baby namings, funerals, and special events! Contact me through my

Friday, April 29, 2011

Praying for Grace

Maybe I should pray for grace

A momentary change in the trajectory of my life

A period of profound awe and connectivity

A flow that foams with nourishment, mystery and awe

Maybe I should pray for grace and

Wait for its revelation.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Quest for the Questions

"From a question, nobody has ever died." - Yiddish proverb

I ask questions all day long.

Some of them engage my students in the world of knowledge.

Others represent my relationship with God.

The remainder are questions I ask myself when I can’t reconcile what is happening in my life with my vision of what my life should and could look like.

I ask why and I ask why not? I ask quietly so no one hears; I ask clearly so everyone understands. I will ask questions until I die. And then, maybe, beyond the beyond. Who knows?

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Solitude of the Soul

There is a time for all things under heaven, including a time for solitude.

Solitude is a requisite for the pursuit of reverence towards self love.

To initiate clarity, endeavor to find the spark of Divine Solitude.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Field of Love/A Dedication

On my right sits the widowed grandfather. On my left sits the stepmother. We await the arrival of the bride and groom. Their entrance will signal a grand applause for this newlywed husband and wife.

"The next time I get married,” the ninety-three-year old gentleman states unabashedly, “I want to have a Jewish wedding. I want you to officiate. Will you?"

"Most certainly," I assert giggling like a schoolgirl. “How long was your first marriage?"

"My marriage with my late wife lasted 68 wonderful years," he reminisces.

The stepmother overhears our conversation.

"I might find you a special somebody," she states unabashedly. "Here’s my card. I am a professional matchmaker!"


The applause begins.

The young married couple takes to the dance floor.

I clap and sigh into the love field that is stretched before and beside and beyond.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Man in the Black Hat

A young man adorned with a black hat, a prayer shawl, and phylacteries offers up his morning prayers in the same library where I study the laws of Passover with my erudite Talmud teacher.

Every Monday morning I infuse my mind and spirit with the laws and insights of the Babylonian Talmud. Three Orthodox male lawyers and me (a post-denominational female rabbi) find delight in analyzing the legal codes associated with voluminous pages of detailed conversations and arguments the rabbis have over a word, a passage, a legality, or ethical dilemma.

This Monday morning I am the teacher’s only pupil. I concentrate on reading the Rashi script (a special typeface named after the outstanding Biblical commentator of the Middle Ages, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki). I enter into the world of Hebrew hieroglyphics as I haltingly decipher the semi-cursive letters.

The man with the black hat paces back and forth in front of the room as he choreographs his prayer dance before God. He moves with quiet determination while he places his black and white
tallis (prayer shawl) over his shoulders. He wraps the tefillin (phylacteries) around his arm and on his forehead. He adjusts his black hat often and deliberately. I see him focusing on his paperback prayer book, but I cannot detect any audible sound.

My teacher, oblivious to the young religious man’s presence, continues to expound on the first
sugya (Talmudic passage). What can we eat the hours before the first seder begins? Why must a poor person drink the four cups of wine at the seder? What is our responsibility towards the poor person? How are we equal on this night of freedom for all?

The man with the black hat is my distraction. Was he offended that a woman and a man were studying holy texts together? If so, why didn’t he take his prayers to another place? Was he eavesdropping on our learning while concentrating on his blessings? Did he find it interesting? Or amusing? Was he surprised at my agility with the Hebrew text, or had he succumbed to the beauty and the brilliance of my teacher’s Talmudic treatises?

I longed to tell him my Yentl story.

My father, an Orthodox Rabbi, had no sons to whom to transmit his passion for Torah learning. Instead, when I entered rabbinical school at the age of 40 and took my first Talmud class, I realized a dream. Every night after class, my father and I studied the subtleties and the incongruities of the Talmud. The intimacy of our reflections opened up more than the secrets revealed on the written page. I immersed myself in the wisdom of my father, the greatest gift of my life.

The thrill of those intimate discussions flashed like lightning into my heart space as I held the Talmud in my hands and ingested the instruction of my intelligent tutor
We have many teachers in life. Some remind us of other teachers not by what they know, but by how they transmit what they know.

The attendance of the man with the black hat solidified the devotion and the dedication that the three of us sustained in the room filled with the books of our people. How could he not have stayed? He soaked up the deliberations of the Talmud just as I had done decades before with my father at my parents’ kitchen table in the Bronx.

Is it permissible to begin your morning prayers while the study of Talmud between a man and a woman is already in motion? According to the man with the black hat, it is permissible and precious.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Write Your Own Storybook

Could it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time rewritten every line?
(from "Memories," written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman for “The Way We Were”)

The past wears rose colored glasses to our untrained eyes.
The “good old” days call forth nostalgia and misty magical moments.
We rewrite our stories to heal our wounds and to assure ourselves that our lives are saturated with meaning and beauty.

But what if you create today as your water-colored memory for your lifetime?
What would your today embrace that would be memorable for decades to come?

Write your own storybook ending and smile!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Road to Resiliance

The road to resilience is paved with real time relationships.

The people who “bounce back” from adversity have nurtured caring and supportive relationships. The literature claims that this is the primary factor in producing resilient people.

As a result of struggle people often learn something about themselves that increases their sense of self-worth, heightens their appreciation for life, and creates a more developed personal spirituality.

Life contains disappointments and challenges. Resilience lies inside ourselves. Pave it with love.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Art of Making Memories

I remember with fondness my visits with an elderly man in the North Carolina hospital where I used to work as a chaplain.

He was frail in body and robust in spirit and stories. I spent wonderful hours with him as he reminisced about his life, his loves, his passions, and his travels. After many encounters he shared this wisdom spark.

Make your memories early, so you will have them the rest of your life

Friday, March 4, 2011

Better than the Real Thing

I recall the taste and smell of a café mocha.

I walk into Starbucks and purchase a tall decaf café mocha sans whip, and I take a sip.

I wait and take another sip. The third sip clinches it for me.

The thought of it was better than the real thing.

How can that be?

We desire something from the depths of our being. We gravitate towards it. We take the actions necessary to fulfill the desire.

Still, the café mocha has no buzz.

Our imagination creates the strongest desire of all.

Like a good drip coffee, let it flow drop by drop savoring the heavenly aroma.

Living into the desire is the real thing.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Birthing

Now that the winter is winding down and the seeds of reflection and contemplation have been planted, what is God birthing for you this spring?

What has been dormant that will spring forward?

What has been crying out in the middle of your darkness that will begin bearing fruits of joy and prosperity?

Imagine God birthing something surprising for you!

Imagine that the heart is in the middle of it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Requiem: 2000 - 2011

For eleven years you carried me to places known and unknown.

Only once did your battery die causing me to be late to a gathering of friends.

I hummed along with the music from your radio as I raced down city streets

Or waited through long traffic lights and highway construction detours.

You never complained. You never faltered. You never tired.

You accepted all of my passengers with a welcome outstretched front seat.

And in the winter, you turned on your heating pad to warm our bottoms and captivate our hearts.

The grandkids came with their car seats and strollers.

You clicked them in their safety belts securely and properly.

You had a special purring sound when driving them from school to home and back.

You didn’t mind the clutter, although you appreciated the vacuuming and the trips to the car wash.

After all, you had your pride!

I will miss your glamorous features.

Your sunroof. Your leather seats. Your high grade audio system.

But, most of all, I will miss the freedom you gave me to be me behind your wheel of adventure-making.

I thank you for carrying me on eagles wings with the gentleness of a dove.


Friday, February 11, 2011

The Essence

Ritual can be the container that envelops the essence of our lives.

Hit the pause button. Capture the memory. Put a frame around the moment.

One single ritual contains a lifetime.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Pursue the Poor

Tell the Israelites: "You shall take for Me an offering from every person whose heart inspires him to do so." Exodus 25:2

God commands Moses to take the donations from the Israelites to build a wilderness Tabernacle. Why doesn’t the verse read that every person should give an offering?

The first charitable act of the Jewish people emphasized that the central aspect of Tzedakah (charity) is not giving to the needy, but taking from the donor.

The primary goal of Tzedakah is to elevate the soul of the giver while increasing kindness in the world.

The benefactors are commanded to pursue the poor in order to maintain their spiritual connection to the holy and the sacred.

The Israelites were asked to relinquish their material possessions for the sake of the greater communal good. When we act with simple generosity we refine our humanity.

Let us take the offerings and build a more generous world.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Commanding Love

And you shall love the Lord Your God with all your soul, with all your heart, with everything that you have . . . Deuteronomy 6:5

“Can God command our love?” I asked my sixth-grade students at Temple Micah, a Reform congregation in the Northwest quadrant of the District of Columbia.

They looked at me in disbelief and bewilderment -- and the ultimate test of listening: a resounding silence.

“Do you love your parents?”


"Do they command you to love them?"

Not exactly.

“How do you show them that you love them?"

Doing things that they want us to do.

“What kinds of things?”

Making our beds in the morning. Brushing our teeth.

“Anything else?“

Sometimes I surprise them by doing my homework even before they ask me to!

“So, how do we as Jews show God that we love the God of our matriarchs and patriarchs?"

They began to unwrap their answers.

By acting in a moral way. By praying thoughtfully. By helping others. By giving tzedakah. By loving your brother and not fighting with him all the time. By doing good deeds on a regular basis. By following in the path of the prophet Micah.

To do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.

One can command actions, but one cannot command feelings. The Ineffable One offers us directions on how to follow a path of goodness. We show our love for God when we perform the mitzvot (the commandments) out of love.

God is commanding the actions (the mitzvot) -- not the love they demonstrate. If we keep these words in our hearts and practice them, in return, our hearts and our souls and everything we have inside of us finds satisfaction and peace.

Monday, January 24, 2011

God is Awesome

The auditorium at the U.S. Department of Energy was subdued, still, and suitable for this annual commemoration honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was escorted to the first row and seated in front of the stage. To the right of the podium, a picture of the Rev. Dr. King decorated the backdrop with a banner that read, “In celebration of the dream he had for all of us.”

An African-American woman wearing a necklace strung with large white pearly baubles sat next to me. She had been asked to sing the national anthem for the first time. Her smile matched her magnificent necklace.

“I just started working here after being out of work for a year-and-a-half,” she volunteered. She turned her eyes towards me as she proudly announced, “God is awesome!” She continued, “I had to give up my apartment and move in with a roommate. After pursuing jobs everywhere, I finally landed this job as a consultant. I now have my own apartment again. At age fifty, living with another person wasn't to my liking. Being here is my dream come true.”

I wanted to tell her that I, too, lost my job a year and a half ago, but I hesitated to disclose this personal information. Instead, I repeated the phrase, “God is awesome, indeed!” as a response to her call.

We walked up to the podium together. Black and white. Singer and rabbi. The color guard marched towards us, and the national anthem began.

I hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.

Isn’t that what the Rev. Dr. King was all about? The truth of God’s awesomeness in perpetual action.

The invocation prayer given on Tuesday, January 18, 2011:

In the presence of the "King" the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. we come together to remember and to restore his worthy vision to our daily sacred work here at the US Department of Energy.

The major drummer for peace and justice and equality continues to guide us towards the path of freedom through non-violence and mutual understanding.

In the presence of the legacy of the King we gather to remember our role in creating amore perfect union for all faiths for all people for all time.

We call upon the Holy One, the Majesty of Majesties, to bless the work of our hands and the dedication of our hearts every day and every time we participate in the service of the "King".