Kallah: white spaces

I thought I went to Kallah in order to deepen my practice- or, rather, to connect to Judaism again.

I wanted to find again the joy I used to have in it, before my heart was shocked, frozen, contracted, tight and small in terrible pain. The innocence was gone; I could engage with my mind but simply could not silence the angry-teenager-me who fought and pushed against everything that resembled structure or control in Judaism.

It makes sense now; I did not want to be controlled. I was pushing against Judaism because I wanted to trust myself again.  I had failed to push & stand up for myself against a relationship that controlled me in a way I find horrifying to remember – so Judaism had to stand in for him, and I had to prove to myself that I valued myself enough to fight.

As much as I fought with it, I never thought to leave. I stuck with it. Somewhere under the layers of grief, loss, fear and harm, there was a hard solid core of utter loyalty to Judaism. I’m a little surprised that I did not simply walk away, considering that my first introduction to this religion began with abuse and betrayal- but I couldn’t.

Ultimately, even though my choice to become Jewish has come with some sacrifices, it was a choice that was made from a very deep soul place, a knowing that it was where I belonged.

People often ask me why? Why would I choose this? Why would I do this to myself voluntarily?

I was asked the other night if I would walk away– deny Judaism for a relationship, for a marriage. No, I said – without question, no:  I do not know who I would be if I were not Jewish. Judaism is my heart.  When I became Jewish, it was like I was given an extra piece of my soul.  Though there has been a lot of pain, I live more fully now. I am more awake.

So. I went to Kallah in order to find that again – beyond my first rabbi’s version of Judaism, beyond what he taught me and later betrayed, as though he had held every teaching over the years in one hand and set a match to it with a sly grin –

I wanted to find again the purity, clarity and magnificence of my own heart in Judaism.

And I did find that —

but I found so much more than that.

It wasn’t in the classes, though the classes  were wonderful –

When we read the torah scroll, we focus intensely on the black letters. Especially those of us who are slower in our Hebrew – those curving letters used to bring me to tears – how beautiful they were to me, and how closed! I would focus on them fiercely–Image

but sometimes, we have to remember to pull our focus back, and to see the white spaces around the black letters as well.

In the white spaces – that is where our most unexpected lessons can live.

It was in these “white spaces” at Kallah, outside of the services or classrooms, that the lessons of the heart, not the mind, came to me.

My growth was not from the teachers, though they were incredible and gave much that fascinated me – it was from the other people.

Again I am struck by the thought that one could know Torah even if one never studied it, simply by connecting to, learning from, studying other people with an open heart.

Not just the beautiful moments – the difficult ones, too. That person who frowns, looks you up and down, doesn’t respond to your smile and “good morning,” but rather, looks away with a scowl on their face — very unpleasant feeling, isn’t it ? — the impulse is to flinch away from that, laugh it off or fend off the feelings that come up — but what if, instead, one says “hmm, interesting,” and observes the feelings and thoughts that occur?

That scowling other person has just become a mini-meditation.

Now on to something more pleasant:  the beautiful moments.

The man, Jack- his surname is the name of an angel, and he is an angel to me- walks up to me in the cafeteria.  “I want to say something to you, I don’t know if you can take it in right now?”

he waits while I bring my scattered brain back from cafeteria-crowd-mode, and focus my eyes and attention on him.

“Sitting next to you last night at the concert – was a wonderful experience. You are so beautiful, loving, and kind. It was a gift to me.”

“what a loving thing to say,” I tell him quietly, smiling into his sweet eyes and laying my hand on his arm.

“It is what you are to me.”

The woman in my chanting class who walks up to me before class begins.

“I want to tell you that you are beautiful, and that I love you,” she says, putting her arms around me gently.

My “spirit buddy,” Matthew, who listens to my hurt one morning and then quietly gives me this gift:

“You were not at the cabaret the other day?”


“There was a woman who said: ‘Why am I always early?  Is it because maybe on some level I don’t think I am worth waiting for?”

When someone looks into your eyes and gently hands you a piece of your own puzzle, not because they want something from you, but because they have the desire to give –

that is pretty much the deepest healing.

And so, yes, I did connect to Judaism again. It wasn’t what I was looking for: I will never go back to that initial infatuation, that Maxfield Parrish painting of innocence and magic;

It is better than that. I hung by my fingernails through the barren time, and now I am rewarded – this has deepened into a journey of love. Love that I can trust now, absolutely – love that has given me something I never yet possessed – the ability to look into someone’s eyes and take in the kindness that they are giving.  I always feared that, fended it off.

In fact, I believe that was the one lesson that I could not learn from my former rabbi:

“Can you hear me?” he would say , “I love you. Can you really try to hear that?” he must have said this a hundred times – a thousand. “I never said ‘I love you’ so much in my life.” maybe that was what I was for him – he learned to love.

I could not hear him.  I could love, with all that I was; I could love with every scrap of my being – but I could not be loved.

And so, the deepest lessons from Kallah were not taught to me in a classroom — they were taught in a cafeteria, at the lakeside, and in a “spirit buddy” meeting, or talking to someone else during a service. They were given lightly and easily, with no embarrassment or stories around them, with no need for response or measuring up.

I wonder if these people have any idea that they were soul-teachers to me. Sometimes, i guess, we are blessed to give someone a piece of their own puzzle–but maybe we never even get to know what we gave & how we transformed their lives.  And that is okay… because the healing has been seeded, and it’s going to spread like a mint plant…may I one day have the opportunity to give this kind of healing to someone else.


Judaism on Homosexuality

This small blog post is just the beginning…I’ve been working on this for quite a while – two years, in fact.  My research is not done. I don’t know when it will be done — it’s important to me to have rock-solid evidence that states: Stop supporting bigoted, cruel words and behavior with the Bible, because it ain’t kosher.

So, this is just a post to point out an article I found that is talking about exactly what I’ve been researching. It’s a good article. (it’s at the bottom, if you want to just skip my post and get to the article!)

I’ve grown very tired of people slamming the Torah (Old Testament) and saying that it is homophobic, fostering hate, just look at those verses, etc. We all have seen how people misuse the Bible to cause harm, pointing at verses and saying it’s clear that God “hates the sin..” etc.
No, it is not clear.  And NO, homosexuality is not a “sin.”

(And…really? “God hates” are two words that do not go together. At all. Ever.)

I’ve been doing a lot of research. I’ve been searching for articles, reading books, reading Torah, asking people about this. I began this research two years ago when a gay friend told me he was treated badly in an Orthodox shul. I set out to write him a letter about the many reasons the way he was treated was not a representation of Judaism or any kind of religious behavior, but, rather, a representation of human ignorance and fear and cruelty, plain and simple. (and that he needed to promptly find another shul–I’ve never attended a synagogue in which such behavior would occur–in fact, I’ve never attended a synagogue in which gay marriages were not performed.)

When I set out to write that letter, I had no idea if it was true – I just had my gut instinct and my heart screaming at me, no way could I ever align myself with a religion that discriminated against people and pointed at a verse in an ancient book to justify it.

So, I spoke with a rabbi – my mentor at the time.

He told me to look at the Hebrew.  He told me (basically) what this article is saying.

So. Here’s an article by Reb Jeff that addresses …you know…THAT verse.

It’s a good article. It’s not a pretty article: there are some things in it that might challenge people; it doesn’t gloss over the ugly parts of a rougher time period…

and it’s a very good article.

Would people please spread the word?  Can we stop this ignorant misusage of one of the world’s most beautiful books?  (Even if you don’t revere it as a holy book, it’s got some of the most incredible poetry in it.)

Anytime you hear someone using “the Bible” as justification for discrimination against anyone who identifies as GLBT, tell them to look at the Hebrew. Tell them to think a little. Tell them that there are a lot of ways in which the “rules” in Torah are questioned, in that very same book, by things that occur later on – it happens on purpose, people, because the point is that we are supposed to think!

    I have had someone I thought was a friend point to violent stories in the Torah and say “that’s what Judaism is: a baby-massacre religion.”  (needless to say, this person is not a friend any more.)  That person was (obviously) not only speaking from massive ignorance and narrow-mindedness, but was also violently incorrect. Judaism is not a “rote” religion. The things that happen in Torah are not things we are supposed to emulate and try at home- they are things we are supposed to learn from.

Torah is a mirror – it’s the journey of lives. It is trial and error. It’s a LOT of error.  It is a blueprint for relationships. Torah is also chock full of very powerful metaphor. Sure, it can be taken literally – but there are so many other ways to read it.

But to look at it as an historical document for a second: back then, they simply did not know that people could be made in such a way that they were attracted to, felt romantic love for, people of the same sex.  They didn’t have a word for homosexuality.  Therefore, the verses people misuse are not about homosexuality. They are not about loving relationships.

Even if the verses were as people say and a “rule” were being laid out in Torah against homosexuality for some odd reason, many “rules” that are laid out in Torah are completely contradicted by things that happen later on in the book.  It’s just the way it is – it unfolds exactly like life –  I think the point is that we are supposed to see ourselves in it, in all of our flawed, contradictory, messy humanity;  we are supposed to learn compassion for ourselves and for others.

Torah is transparent.  It doesn’t sugar-coat anything.  It is also not a museum piece – it is a living text;  our obligation is to interpret it as our times require.

There is only one “rule” in Torah that is more important than anything else.
The main rule, the only rule, that is never questioned is : love. Loving kindness. that’s it. You want to sum up the Bible? Love.

So when people are using the Bible as an excuse to discriminate, they are not following the Bible’s precepts in any way,

which means a lot of things:  it means that we can stop blaming religions and God for the things that people do. It means that people can stop feeling like they need to hide if they are homosexual and also very religious.  It means that people can stop using a book – a book that could be a vessel for great healing in this world- as an excuse to cause harm with hateful speech and actions.
So. If you’re gay, bi, transgendered, and someone brings up the poor maligned Old Testament to you, please … please…help heal this world by setting them straight — or rather, setting them on the correct and loving path, whether it’s straight, gay, bi, trans…you get it…

“Also be ready to defend the ideas that there is more than one “religious” way of looking at these questions. From the perspective a Judaism that is willing to change with a changing understanding of God’s creation, the religious reading may be the one that leans on the side of compassion and love.” – excerpt from Reb Jeff’s article, “Judaism on Homosexuality.”


While My Guitar Gently

About two years ago, I fell in love.

You know what that’s like…? Or maybe I’m talking about lust, infatuation, because love is something that incorporates and transcends those things…and lasts, through devotion and work and growth…

So at first, let’s call it lust.  Though this was more than lust, this was sublime – I actually can still feel it.  My heart swoops when I remember the day, the moment that I was overtaken by this ecstatic feeling that raised everything around me along with me to an elevated state – gosh, even the dingy Portland streets shone and gleamed with it .

“There’s someone else, isn’t there? I can sense something.”  My (at the time) long-distance boyfriend asked.

He knew I couldn’t lie; I don’t do that.

“Well…yes. Yes, there is, in a way.”

“In a way?”

“I fell in love today…I fell in love…

with a guitar.”  There was an awkward pause.

“I … I can’t…explain.  A guitar.”  I was incoherent with longing; with the desire to share this beauty but the impossibility of communicating it to him, because he just didn’t understand.

This guitar was …oh… its song was molten honey.  It turned my bones into tuning forks and I had embarrassing tears standing in my eyes every time I heard it; it was like the time I sat in a room and heard Wynton Marsalis play – the notes were thrown out so lightly, to hang impossibly suspended in heart-shattering delicate crystal pure perfection in the middle of the room. The sound didn’t seem like it came from him- it somehow enveloped all of us who sat there… my heart stopped…

that’s what this guitar is like,

even if my teacher was playing scales.

I was in Portland to study Hebrew, and I also took a class in my secret passion – classical guitar.
I can’t hear a well-played classical guitar without tearing up.  It’s embarrassing. My Mom and (ex)boyfriend took me to a restaurant in Jacksonville for my birthday, and there happened to be a classical guitarist (my Mom knows about my kryptonite…it is my kryptonite…) and I sat there with tears running down my face for a while.  My Mom held my hand and grinned at me, with joy that she had given me such a beautiful, absolutely perfect birthday surprise… My boyfriend looked wildly uncomfortable. I just can’t help it. It reaches inside my chest and squeezes my heart so painfully. so beautifully.

It happens even if I’m trying very hard to block it, trying to think about other things, remain sane-ish…

rafael rodriguez


(This isn’t my teacher. This is a Cervantes guitar. oh my heaven…gulp…that guitarrrrrr) 

I still love this guitar. I lust after it. I long for it. I can hear its notes still …

Oh, I’m heavy with longing. To play like that. To play like that.

I can’t even tell you.

I plunk away at Greensleeves or Redemption Song and long , long, long for something I will never touch.

it’s a beautiful feeling, and it reminds me that I am alive….and it reminds me that I am mortal, and that in this lifetime there are some things that are not for me, but that I get to hear and appreciate and love them.
It is so bittersweet.

It stretches me, and challenges me, and sometimes I despair, but the listening is sweetly painful and so it will have to be enough.

This is love.

Talking With Gremlins

I’ve decided to focus this blog on my experiences with coaching and the Maggid program & my women’s empowerment therapy group. I am doing *so* much in the way of growing & healing right now, in fact, that I need to have a place to process it all.  So: here it is.

I’m doing a lot of fighting these days against old dreams. Dreams that used to mean the world to me – things I sacrificed for , worked toward…are feeling hollow.  They are feeling like tight sweaters.

I went across the country to learn Hebrew… drove. then flew back to Portland and lived there for a time. all to learn Hebrew. Maybe one day I will write about that long (and difficult and hilarious) journey.

I fought to be in the Maggid program; dropped other things, made room in my life… I am also teaching hebrew / pre b’nai mitzvah to kids, which was an honor to be asked to do…

but where am *I* in all of this?  I’m not there any more.  The rituals are ringing hollow, and bringing up pain / scar tissue/ resistance.  The connection and living, vital force is simply not there. I am not there.

I am either scared, defensive and small, in “abandoned orphan” mode, with my Celtic fists up and ready to do battle,

Or I’m … elsewhere.  with my heart in the remodeling work, or in the writing that is languishing while I do these other things, or… or.

I am needing to heal from an immense betrayal – from my past relationship – a huge abandonment, manipulation, lie – you name it: that has been left behind me now, but there is still SO much healing to do.

I can’t just walk away, because I don’t want the things he left me with to *ever* come up again. I do not want this person to have power in my life at ALL.  So, I am working , delving, clearing things out before building something new. I have made self-care and healing TOP priority this year.

and what I am finding is this:

as you begin to do the work, resistance comes up more strongly.

When I catch on to my “gremlins,” for instance , they get crafty;  they change voices.  They become projections of what other people are thinking.  It’s always negative toward me, and it’s always in a played-out scene, in these people’s voices.

For instance, one of my Maggid teachers.  “she loathes me,” says my mind:  “she is saying this -”  and my mind goes on to craft an entire scene.  “Geez! I wish that Rivkah would shut up, she’s such a mess, and I am tired of her.”  or “I wish she would quit this course.”
So right now, the answer is to pause, breathe, realize that is the Self-Critic talking, (only it’s gotten very crafty and it’s speaking in a new voice) and it ISN’T REAL. Even if it were real, it would be up to the other person, I think, to communicate with me if they wanted something — their thoughts are not my business, and I am so much happier when I simply…let go.

Lately all my self-critic (or “gremlin” as my awesome life coach Ana calls it) is to do with abandonment – people not wanting me around, etc.  VERY obvious where that comes from. That’s the bewildered and harmed little-girl me.  The Victim. Perhaps it’s time to remember to hug her, and tell her : I will never abandon you.  No matter what other people do or say, I will never abandon you, self. I will never betray you or act against your needs. Not ever again.

Have you ever tried to tell yourself this?

I am beginning to think that people sometimes look for things from others that we can be giving ourselves.  And I’m thinking that is where a lot of pain comes from.  If I start looking around for reassurance, or for support or praise or acceptance or love, even — what about if I give that to myself? I can do that any time. and it’s AWESOME how much happier I am when I do that.