Category Archives: Choosing to be chosen

Grow Where You Are Planted (Or Not At All…It’s Okay. Really.)

I had some plans about what I was going to share from our High Holidays this year.  What I wore.  What we made for dinner.  Fluff and stuff.

The reality is that these high holidays have, like so many other aspects of the first year of parenting, been grueling.  I have worn pants to services so that I could more easily get down on the ground with my child.  I have schlepped across the sanctuary with a North Face backpack-turned-diaper bag on my back, more closely resembling a back country hiker than a worshipper more times than I would like to count. I have more been attending services so that Critter could be passed around to doting family members than to actually pray.  This is such a precious and fleeting time – Critter chewing on programs, batting at faces, looking wide-eyed in awe at the vaulted ceiling. But it was Not Necessarily What I Had Envisioned So Many Months Ago. Not that I actually had something in mind. 

Watching Critter hear the shofar for the first time was a special thing.  As I thought about him participating in this mitzvah with eyebrows raised (where is the sound coming from? why so scary?) I thought about my own Judaism.  I have been attending high holidays seevices for 10 years, but as a Jew, this is only my seventh.

In the Torah, it is written that the seventh year is the sabbatical year.  A year of rest for the land.  A forgiveness of debts.  A chance to find  new ways to embrace our faith in God.  I have found some personal peace in acknowledging that for me too, this can be a sabbatical year.  I don’t have to be doing to be growing.

Even in all of this stillness, there has been newness.

We started our own Nachas List, inspired by this post.  I bought a notebook for us to capture our list ongoing in.  We wrote our proud moments for Critter together, and then we each took a moment to write out our proud moments for one another.  Marcus was initially suspicious of this project, but after we read what the other had to say and the warm, glow-y feelings that followed, this is a tradition that will last.  I have tucked the book away in the cedar chest with our wedding photo album and our book of love notes, to be retrieved at Passover in 2017.

I also saw this blog post from The Times of Israel about how this Yom Kippur, we can engage in Positive Confession.  This really spoke to me this year.  There are easily a hundred different ways that I failed this year, knowingly and unknowingly.  But I think that in the year that I bore a child and embarked on what will be a lifelong journey of raising him, there is so much more Positive that I frankly, am obligated to focus on.  I have done the best hard work.

This year, in 5777 I will be content in where I am, in who I am.  I may not know what my future holds, but I know The One who holds my future.

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The Final Plague

This morning, our washer made two clunks in the middle of the wash cycle (How Ominous, I Know) and then left our home for The Laundry Room In The Sky.  I cannot say that this was totally unexpected as again, like the furnace and the water heater, it was an original-to-the-house appliance.

BUT.

I think we can all agree that there has been quite enough Pestilence.  My father-in-law jokingly called this the 10th Plague and seriously guys, he wasn’t really wrong.  In the spirit of Our Upcoming Holiday, it is only appropriate to recap what has Fallen Upon Our House In The Last 12 Weeks:

My car got a flat tire, my car battery died, Marcus’ car got rear ended, his car’s transmission tried to darken death’s door but was saved by a second opinion, we had to replace our furnace/water heater/microwave, I got an ocular migraine and was subsequently sent to the ER, got mastitis, and I had two moles removed and biopsied.

My mother-in-law’s car was rear-ended in our driveway,  I got a horrific head cold, the furnace people neglected to reconnect our air conditioner which we did not discover until the temperatures were ranging into the mid-70s.  A hive of bees made its home outside of our front door.

The washer died.

Dayenu.

I’m not recapping all of this again because I’m begging to be pitied (though I did actually shed some tears this AM because OMG ENOUGH AND WHY DOES THIS KEEP HAPPENING).  I’m writing it down so that someday, when Little Critter joins our family (a long ways off, to be sure), I remember that all of this super insane stuff happened while Critter was just a wee pup and it all turned out Fine.

Not only did it turn out fine, but at the end of the day, Critter is a healthy, thriving baby boy and that is really all that matters.  All of this is survivable, or merely an inconvenience, as long as he is Okay.  We’ll just keep leaving a wake of destruction and dollar bills and watch the days race by as he continues to grow.

Hanukkah

Chag Sameach, friends!

For those of you who are not Jewish, this means Happy Holidays and this is what we say to one another…for holidays.

Hanukkah started last night.  Marcus was out of town celebrating the wedding of some of our friends, so I lit the menorah by myself.  We don’t have a ton of traditions for the holiday (we have been working on that over the past few years) but we do make sure to light the menorah regardless of whatever else is happening.

Meredith shared this lovely Hanukkah story with me from The Washington Post which I enjoyed reading quite a bit.  I think there’s a message for everyone there, but I know that it meant a lot to me because I remember watching the Passover and Hanukkah at Bubbe’s videos as a little pup.  My grandmother thought it would be confusing to me (and in her defense, I did end up becoming Jewish so she was not totally wrong), but at the time all of it seemed so completely normal.

Hanukkah-time is also the anniversary of my conversion to Judaism.  On the Hebrew calendar, the date has already passed (it is the 21st of Kislev) but on the western calendar, the date is December 8.  To read what I wrote to my family on that day, click here.  It is sort of hilarious to write this since it seems like it has been so much longer than that, but this year marks the sixth since I became Jewish.  I am so happy to say that I was glad in the years leading up to that day and I have been glad in the years since.

But back to the matter at hand, celebrating and traditions!

I really don’t seasonally decorate our house at all.  For any seasons.  Ever.  However, when Eli showed me this twinkle light-garland thing that she made for Christmas, I was all I think that could actually be a seasonally appropriate Hanukkah decoration with some tweaking.

After spending a crafternoon (or really about an hour) on the floor of my living room assembling said garland, I had this.

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What it took: 13 feet of twinkle lights and 32 feet of wired ribbon (this was three spools for me) cut into 8″ strips.

I think that it turned out quite nicely and I am especially proud of the fact that I was able to keep the glitter from the glitter ribbon from overtaking our entire living room.  I also bought this wreath-arrangement at Michael’s so that we could display the holiday cards that we receive.

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It just seems a little bit nicer/more festive than leaving them on a pile on the counter.  The other big pro is that I did not have to do any crafting in order to accomplish this.  There were a lot of other cute ideas I saw that involved ribbons on cabinets (I really don’t want to draw attention to ours) and reclaimed shutters/picture frames (we do not have the space for that), but this is not the right house for those concepts.  So, we’ll see how both of these decorations do this year, and if they’re a hit, we’ll keep them for next year.

Reflections During Yamim Noraim

Right now we are in the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Yamim Noraim.  The Days of Awe.  The Days of Repentance.

Mercury also moves into Retrograde tomorrow.

I never know what will become emblematic of the year past and the year to come until the holidays are upon us, but there are two things that stuck out to me during the time we spent at shul this week.

The first was a bit of commentary attached to part of our liturgy.  It stated that God does not need our prayers for himself, he needs our prayers for us.  While I don’t blog with great regularity about my faith, I am a praying person.  I pray each day.  For myself, for Marcus, for our family, for our friends, and sometimes even for the people that I do not like very much.  I give thanks for our blessings, I ask to understand how to best steward the resources we have been given here on Earth.  I ask for peace in my life.  The strength to get through a difficult day.

So when I read that God does not NEED our prayers, the first thing I thought was How Arrogant!  Of course God needs our prayers!  This is part of the deal!  We bring things to God, and then God brings them back to us!  Prayer is a dialogue!  And just as quickly as I went through that whole line of thought, I was like…Duh, Katherine.

Of course God does not need our prayers.  Our all-knowing Creator, King, and Judge knows his greatness and might.  He knows the concerns and desires of our hearts, the burdens we carry, the joys we celebrate.  Prayer reminds us that we are not in charge.  Prayer reminds us we are not alone.  Prayer reminds us that it is not all about us.  Prayer helps us to, essentially, get our head in the game so that we are able to be the best we can be for ourselves and one another each day.

The second was from Rabbi Olitzky’s sermon on Day 2 of Rosh Hashanah.  He told us that on these days where we are asking God to give us the benefit of the doubt, we need to look at ourselves and whether or not we are giving others the same benefit of the doubt that we are asking for.

That was a pretty humbling moment.  Because where it is so easy to ask for mercy for ourselves, we can sometimes have the most difficulty finding the mercy to show to others in our daily life.  This manifests in the people we are unable to forgive.  The broken trust we do not want to repair.  The relationships we keep at a distance.  And at the heart of all of this, why do we have no problem asking for this thing that we have no problem withholding from strangers, friends, and family alike?

This year, like all other years, we will have to try harder.  We will need to be more gentle.  We will do better than we did the year before.

Our Tu B’Shevat Seder

Tu B’Shevat is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar that has a pretty big place in my heart.  While it is not noted in the Torah, it is a Kabbalistic holiday that celebrates the new year for trees in Israel as well as the rainy part of Israel’s agricultural season.

For a bit of context, the second Shabbat dinner I ever attended was a cross-campus Tu B’Shevat Seder at the University of Minnesota Hillel.  I’ll be honest, for my second Shabbat ever, it was a little bit confusing.  That’s probably why I’m still trying to find my way around this holiday today.

The second Tu B’Shevat I celebrated was in Israel.  Yes, it was very cool.

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Our Birthright group was there over the holiday so we observed it by planting trees with children at a school, and then by eating the seven species of fruits in an empty classroom.

My third Tu B’Shevat was an eight course wine dinner at our synagogue.  So, just a little bit more elaborate than the first two celebrations were.

And this year, Marcus and I decided to observe Tu B’Shevat with our friends Danny and Laura.  For whatever reason, weeknight dinners have just been massively easier to plan with them than weekends and conveniently, the holiday fell on a Tuesday this year.

For dinner, we made it through six of the seven species mentioned in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 8:8.  The species: Dates, Almonds, Pomegranates, Grapes, Barley, Wheat and Olives.  All delicious foods to eat, but it did require just a bit of thinking.

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Our meal: Spinach Salad with Dates, Almonds and Pomegranate Seeds, Grapes, Barley Pilaf with Currants, Olive Chicken and some unpictured Vermont Maple Cupcakes with Maple Frosting (AKA grain) .  Figs will just have to wait until next year.  We also cracked open a bottle of Merlot that I received as a conversion gift just over five years ago.

While we did not set out any sort of readings or order for our dinner, it was an abundant meal shared by four people enjoying a special night in an otherwise ordinary week.

Ki Tisa

18 You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread — eating unleavened bread for seven days, as I have commanded you — at the set time of the month of Abib, for in the month of Abib you went forth from Egypt.

19 Every first issue of the womb is Mine, from all your livestock that drop a male as firstling, whether cattle or sheep.

20 But the firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a sheep; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. And you must redeem every first-born among your sons.

None shall appear before Me empty-handed.

I read from the Torah at our synagogue yesterday.

I technically had my bat mitzvah in Israel on my Birthright trip nearly two years ago.  It took place in the basement meeting room of a hotel in Jerusalem.  It was a very important moment, but being surrounded by my community was important too.  On that day I made a promise to myself that I would read from the Torah at our synagogue.  What  I didn’t think about was the actual execution of the promise.  It was more like, Hey, this is an important thing for me to do…someday.

The reason that I did read from the Torah yesterday and not last month or next year is because we were celebrating Marcus’ cousin’s bat mitzvah.  As a part of her Shabbat service, she also had family and friends reading from the Torah, taking it out of and returning it to the ark, and reading the blessings over it.  We were all participating to honor her.  And she did such a very good job.  She lead the congregation through whole parts of the service, read several Torah portions and the whole Haftorah, and delivered a D’var Torah (sermon).  She was smiling through the entire thing and did not even bat an eye.

I…was not smiling.  I was so nervous as the services started.  As in stomach-turning, mouth-drying anxiousness.  I don’t even get that nervous before the marathon, so after trying every coping skill in the book, I accepted my extremely nauseous fate.

As we were navigating the Siddur (prayer book) and the service, we flipped to a reading that is set apart for Sukkot.  It was an ancient Rabbi discussing how we can carry-out the words of Micah 6:8, which are, Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.  And I took some comfort in that because it is a verse that is well-beloved by my family.  The odds of it appearing in our liturgy on that particular day were so small.

It was a nerve-wracking morning, but it was also an emotional morning.  I guess I hadn’t really dedicated any amount of time or thought to how I would actually feel about reading from the Torah, because I had spent so much time trying to learn the words to my lines of the portion and how to read them and chant/sing them correctly that I was more worried about that.  Anyway, don’t worry guys, I won for Most Emotional Family Member of the day and promptly burst into tears before the Torah Service even properly started.  I had to bring kleenex with me in my sleeve up to the bimah (lectern).  I looked at Marcus and hissed, What if I cry on the Torah.  He assured me that this would not happen.  I was not so sure.

Torah reading is a very involved activity.  I remember in high school when I used to participate in church services as a reader.  You walked up to the lectern, pronounced The Word Of The Lord and then read the selected verses for the week.  Or the Gospel.  Sometimes you read from a sheet of paper.  Other times you actually read from a Bible.

It is not that way with Torah reading.  Someone has to take the Torah out of the ark.  Prayers are read.  We parade the Torah around the sanctuary because it is something to be celebrated.  When the Torah is not being read, it is literally dressed.  The scrolls are covered in fabric.  The handles are capped with silver crowns, a breastplate rests on top of all of this.  So in order to even begin with the reading, all of this has to be removed.  Only then is the Torah placed on the bimah to be read.

It does not stop there.  The Torah is written in Hebrew, right?  But it is written specially.  Where the words of the Torah appear in books, the Hebrew words include vowels.  No vowels appear in the Torah scrolls.  So 2-3 people who are expert Torah readers must stand by the Torah not only to hold the scrolls open, but also to make sure that what is being read is being read correctly.  At the beginning and end of each section of the reading, several other people read a aliyah (blessing).

Why am I telling you all of this?  Because I want for you to be able to imagine that when it was finally time for me to approach the bimah for my part of the reading with my twisty stomach, wet eyes, and cotton ball-dry mouth, seven people (the five people blessing/reviewing plus Marcus and Jacki who were also reading from the same section as I was) were huddled around me and the Torah.

It’s a real production.  And this is exactly how it goes for every reading every Shabbat at every synagogue.  There are no shortcuts.

When you’re running, sometimes you just have to get your feet going in a rhythm and wait for your body to fall into place from there.  So as Marcus’ aunt and uncle finished the blessing over the Torah, I just opened my mouth and let it go.  I honestly don’t know what my reading actually sounded like or what anything else besides the words on the page looked like.

After I finished reading my lines, Jacki stepped in to read hers.  I backed away from the Torah and started to shake.  Marcus’ aunt hugged me and then I began to tear up again.  But praise God, I did not cry on the Torah.  Marcus was right.

When it was time for us to leave the bimah, I attempted to escape the sanctuary through a side door, so that I could have a moment.  I think that we can all agree it was a great idea in concept, until I walked straight into a room filled with 70 people who had joined one of our rabbis for some sort of  study session.

Of course.

What I had yesterday was the community I did not have in Jerusalem.  Which is exactly what I had hoped for when I made that promise to myself, thousands of miles away from home.

 

Preparing for Yamim Noraim

Rosh Hashanah begins on Wednesday at sundown.

I feel like it really should not be quite that time yet, but this is actually fairly late in the year as far as holidays go.  Last year we started our celebrations several days after Labor Day and that was extremely early.

For those members of the group who do not observe, it’s important to note the following: Jewish holidays are always early or late.  They are never on time.

I know that in years past, I have gone to elaborate lengths to sort through outfits, determine what to wear on what day, etc.  This year, my problem is compounded by the fact that we will be celebrating Marcus’ cousin’s bat mitzvah the weekend after Yom Kippur.  So for those of you keeping track, I need 11 outfits instead of seven to be worn over the course of 19 days.  That is six formal (synagogue-appropriate) outfits and five party outfits.

My new goal is to start the week with a clean closet and just see how that goes.  This is me, reaping the rewards of a closet full of business casual and business professional clothing.

For many, Yamim Noraim AKA The High Holy Days AKA The Days Of Awe are a period of reflection and repentance.  If you’re looking for a way to reflect as a part of the New Year (Jewish or not), I highly recommend giving 10Q a try.  I signed up last year at Meredith’s behest and it is a lovely excercise.  They run this project annually, save your responses and then send them to you before the holidays begin.

Another thing to look forward to: I am reading Torah at Marcus’ cousin’s bat mitzvah.  I am incredibly touched that she would allow me to read and it will be the first time that I read from the Torah at our synagogue.  With the help of Marcus’ Uncle John (who provided the recordings of the lines spoken and sung) and Marcus himself, I now have a playlist on my iPhone called Get Your Pray On.  To practice, I listen to the recordings while I read the words on the page and do a sort of sing-a-long.  Every time, it gets just a little bit easier.