Category Archives: Jewish Holy Days

Nitzavim-It is Not in Heaven

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Dancing with the Torah at my Bat Mitzvah at Temple Beth El, in Eureka, CA on September 15, 2001. All photos in this post were taken by my dear friend and Mussar sister Amanda Devons.

The teaching below is one I gave about the piece of Torah that I was born under. It’s called Nitzavim and reflects who I am. My Bat Mitzvah was four days after 9/11. Some of my family couldn’t come because planes were still not flying then. Other members got in cars and drove for days. The Temple was full beyond capacity with friends and family and the larger community looking for a place to mourn and be together in the face of the horrible events of 9/11. On Shabbat, Jews have the practice, which we’ve maintained for thousands of years, in the face of pogroms and horrors, as best we can of praising and finding good and resting from ugliness and violence on the Sabbath. I remember my mother remarking that perhaps this was why we were still around, because we found a way to have joy and goodness despite everything.

I’ve been following Greta Thurnberg’s massive impact lately and was remembering my sixteen year old self. Back at Boulder High School in 1979. a long time ago, my friends and I started a club called “Students for a Positive Future.” We were trying to do what is happening now. Of course, if our movement along with so many others’ who have been trying to do what is happening now, had been remotely effective, Greta and her generation wouldn’t be facing the horror they are making everyone face up to now. As, many of you know, this issue is not new or trending. Scientists have known about this for over fifty years. Spiritual people, tribal people, dreamers, artists and visionaries have known all of this as well for a very long time.

It is not impossible to make change, it is not too late. Nitzavim written thousands of years ago, states that if we ignore doing the right thing, there will be consequences. When we don’t care for each other and the earth, this action brings about the curses mentioned in the Torah in Nitzavim. When we honor each other and the earth, Blessings will ensue and miracles and change. I wrote this 18 years ago. I’ve been advocating what I shared then about this reality for my entire life. I will continue to advocate this way for the rest of the days I’m granted on this earth.

Lo Vashamayim Hi ~ It is not in Heaven

D’var Torah Nitzavim

by Nicole Andrée Barchilon Frank/Shoshanah Adamah Cohen 

September 15, 2001 ~ Elul 27, 5761

Wisdom, Joy and hope are not in some distant time; they are not in Heaven or across a great stream. We have access to the best in life and we indeed are responsible for infusing the world with Joy, Wisdom and Hope or Misery, Greed and Violence. It is our actions that make the world a Holy Place or not. Those actions if they are to be connected to Heaven or to Holiness must be generated in our hearts and then manifested in our mouths “Ki Karov Elecha, Ha D’Var Me Od, B’ficha U’vilvavecha La’soto.” “Rather, the matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart-to perform it.”

Nitzavim is rich; it has a wealth of beauty and delight in it. I was powerfully moved when I learned that Nitzavim was my Torah portion/Parsha; the one I was born under 37 years ago in Paris, France. My whole life has been a journey towards joining the core of my heart to my mouth and actions. The Torah is not just a book to me, but a Holy Living Presence in my life. My birth Torah parsha reflects who I am and who I can be in this world.  As Rabbi Mordechai Gafni teaches, each of us has a “soul print,” our own unique essence. Nitzavim is one such reflection of my soul, and sharing my Torah here with you, is my invitation to you, into the heart of my soul.

My choices here today are an affirmation of who I am and how I am choosing to connect to the whole of creation in a covenental way. There are many kinds of relationships and ways of maintaining them. My relationship to my Judaism, profound and deep as it has been in the past, is shifting today. In my lifetime, no one person has insisted that I take on this tradition. This lack of coercion has been a great gift, allowing me to enter into my Judaism without prior wounding or dissatisfaction. No one asked me to observe the Mitzvot or to come into this covenant. It has always been a choice, for which I bless my parents. And yet, I hear my ancestors speaking in my heart. I felt compelled to learn Hebrew, I feel connected to my Jewish family in my kishkas. I have needed to touch the Divine in a uniquely Jewish way. To do that, I have had to learn Torah. Today, I share my Torah with you, with my ancestors and with all those who are here in other than physical form. I am making physical my bond, my covenant, my dedication and my commitment to Torah on this 27th day of Elul.

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Receiving a Blessing from my sister by Love/Choice Terret Smith, Rabbi Naomi Steinberg is smiling in the background here.

The great French 11th Century Torah commentator Rashi reminds us, at this point in our biblical story, that we are being bound to Holiness a second time by our presence before Moses on his dying day. Remember that Torah time is different than our time. Moses’ final day was a biblical day. It went on for quite a long time. Rashi quoting Verse 9 states the following about this day:

“YOU ARE STANDING THIS DAY [ALL OF YOU BEFORE THE LORD] –This teaches that Moses assembled them in the presence of the Omnipresent on the day of his death, in order to initiate them into a covenant.”

Moses initiates us into the covenant on his final day. Rashi also teaches that The Holy One is undertaking to make a second covenant with us,

“THAT THE HE MAY ESTABLISH YOU TODAY FOR A PEOPLE UNTO HIMSELF–He undertakes so much trouble (in making another covenant with you) in order that He may keep you for a people in His presence…. because he has promised it unto you and sworn unto your fathers not to exchange their descendants for another nation. For this reason. He binds you by these oaths not to provoke Him to anger since He on His part, cannot dissociate himself from you.”

Not only are we being bound, but also the Holy One is being bound to us. The very nature of creation is woven into the fabric of you and me.

This beautiful weaving is different in Hebrew than it is in English. For many of us it is difficult to connect with the Torah in English. It is only in Hebrew that it has become embodied and exciting for me. Two years of Hebrew studying in between dishes and child-rearing is by no means enough. I’m still a beginner, but a beginner with a deep desire to continue learning. In our tradition, each Hebrew word of the Torah is itself a tree bearing fruit. There is a root within each word and each root has branches. We are invited, once we know these letters deeply, to explore their branches.

The Kabbalists and great Torah Scholars do this all the time. The word Yisrael is often translated as the one who wrestles with the Divine. The Hebrew word Yisrael is often used concurrently to mean the Jewish people or the Holy Land. Shoshana Cooper teaches that if we play with the letters of the word Yisrael, we can get the word Sari-el. She reminds us that our biblical mother Sarah was a priestess in her own time and had the name Sarai prior to joining herself to Abraham’s El. Women today can claim Yisrael as their name too, because it can mean the El of Sarai. This Sarai El for me is part of the word Yisrael. I am connected through my biblical fore-mothers and forefathers as well as through the action of being a wrestler or dancer with the Divine. There are many ways to refer to Holiness in the Torah. There isn’t one word for the Divine Being.  There are feminine words and masculine ones.

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Reuven Moore/Reuven Uri ben David v’Feygela, May his memory continue to be for Blessing, reading from the Torah at my Bat Mtizvah.

The very beginning of this parsha says all of Israel, those who are present and those who are not present, are included for the final binding as they were for the original Holy Sharing at Sinai. The workers and the priests, all of us, those not yet born and those already gone are included. What does it mean when the Torah says all of us are present, even those who are not physically present are included in the covenant? What is this saying about the nature of creation and the universe? The Torah is revealing here one of her deepest mysteries, asking us to enter into a world that is not easily accessible, yet nevertheless present for us.

This task is still not too far away though, “it is as near to us as our hearts and our mouths.”  On one level this is simple. It has been understood by generations of Jews. It refers to a different sense of time, of responsibility and of oath taking.  The time referred to here is both linear, and circular. It extends forever inward as well as outward. It includes the past generations as well as the future ones. This notion of time is difficult to understand because many people still think of time as only linear and forward directed.

The Torah is not only the first five books of the Bible. The Torah is also considered the body of Jewish thoughts, writings and rulings over time and in time. From the beginning of time beyond our ability to know is Torah. In linear time the Torah includes the knowledge and work of several thousand years. Since ancient times sages and students have been wrestling with these teachings. We have brought these words into our hearts through prayer, meditation and deep thought. We have and still do respond and enter into dialogue with the text. This is the fundamental characteristic of a living tradition. However, despite the wide range of Jewish thought, I believe, there is one Divine code for Jews. It is the one pattern, one DNA, one underlying order to our universe. It is the Hebrew Torah.

That Hebrew Torah speaks not only about relationships in time, but also about our responsibilities in time and across time. In his book Of Water and The Spirit, African Shaman Malidoma Patrice Somé talks about his people’s sense of time and obligation. He points out that, in his tribe’s belief system, he must redeem the actions of his ancestors. If his ancestors hurt another person and that hurt was not resolved or healed in the past, it is likely his life will be affected, and he may be called upon to create resolution. This is a radical concept for many.

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Receiving my parents’ Blessings. Helen Redman and Kenny Weissberg jumped in their car and drove up from San Diego to make it to my Bat Mitzvah right after 9/11.

This African tribal belief is like many Native American beliefs about time, responsibility and our place on the earth as well. And let us not forget, as Jews, we are a tribal people. Nitzavim reminds us that if we fail to keep our obligations or we fail to follow the teachings, not only will we pay, the earth itself will become barren.

The Torah can be read as an environmental code book. The land must rest, just as we must. Fruit bearing trees are never to be cut down in acts of war, animals are to be treated with compassion and concern. Lack of foresight, vision and respect for our planet leads to ruin. This parsha both cautions us and guides us. It asks us to be both respectful and to use our hearts as guides about how to live.

If I am responsible for the mistakes and woundings of my ancestors then I have a lot of work to do, especially if they weren’t good people. Likewise, I reap the benefits of their goodness and grace if they were devoted to good works and loving-kindness. Conversely, if my great great grandchildren will be paying for my mistakes, then I really want to be careful about what I do. I want to step gently on the earth and work very hard to do no harm. My children reap pain or grace based on my choices.

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Pictured here are: Ethan, my youngest who was four years old at my Bat Mitzvah, my husband Kevin’s only time attending Temple Beth El, he carried Ethan around for hours while I waxed poetic; my G!d-daughter Aleta was sporting fuchsia hair for the event! My nephews Owen and Soren are also here in the front row with me. Their mom, my sister by Love/Choice, Calryn Aston got in a car from Boulder, Colorado and drove for three days to make it to my Bat Mitzvah in California. They found out on the drive about 9/11.

This parsha describes in detail what will happen to the person who thinks he or she can do lip service to this covenant. In Deuteronomy, Chapter 29: verse 22, we hear of the earth drying up “all its soil devastated by sulfur and salt, beyond sowing and producing.” This is the result of not living correctly. This is not some myth, this is the reality of our planet. Those who study and understand the earth, know we are in deep trouble. Too many of us live out our lifetimes as if it were the only one that mattered.

In our prayer service though, we sing of another way. We sing L’dor Vador “from generation to generation. The first letter of the Torah is a Beit, the last letter is a Lamed. These two letters create the word Lev. On Simchas Torah, what do we do? We read the last letters and immediately follow them with the first letters, so we create the word Lev/Heart. This teaching about Torah being in our hearts is woven throughout. We are nothing without our hearts.

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This photo was taken right after Kevin’s mother gave me a powerful blessing, I call her my Mother in Love (because we have such a loving and good relationship). Luckily, she had come out earlier from Tennessee so she didn’t have to miss out and neither did we!

All of this is very close to us, “exceedingly so.” I found Rashi’s teaching on this fascinating. He teaches that even if it were in Heaven or far away, we would be obliged to go seek it and do it. Why are we obliged to seek out the correct path or teaching? This takes us back to our fundamental crossing over or acceptance of the covenant. Being bound to the covenant means it is a part of us, and if we were somehow separated from a part of us, we would need to go looking for it. This teaching also is about Teshuvah as I mentioned earlier. Returning to our center, our originally glorious soul is the way of Torah. It isn’t far away, yet it can seem impossible to reach. Following the correct path means flowing with the current of life instead of against it. It means walking gently on the earth. Being tender with each other becomes an imperative. By doing this, we find that we are connected to Holiness and that we have chosen Life, the honoring of this uniquely complex and beautiful world.

The Holy One has given us a chance to be partners of a sort. Our ways of speaking and being in the world can either be linked to our hearts and leading towards life-affirming choices. Or we can be apathetic, not actively engaged. As Sam and Pearl Oliner’s research shows this is an unfortunate and all too common path. Being a “bystander” can lead to a lack of caring that promotes violence and all the “isms” in our world. We are being asked in Nitzavim to listen to our hearts and to bind our mouths, our expression of self, to the true knowing of our core. Doing this reminds us that we are responsible and capable and that our actions and words have power.

Learning to recognize the Hebrew words and to chant the trope was a completely terrifying and daunting experience at first. My fear of singing goes back to an Elementary school teacher who told me I couldn’t sing and put me in the “B” choir with one other kid. It was too awful and after a few classes full of her impatience and disdain, I gave up. I found my voice again while pregnant with Shira, determined to sing to my child. My voice has surprisingly undergone a transformation while learning to chant trope. With practice, perseverance and help I’ve felt the beauty and the music of the Divine’s teaching flow through me. It became possible to bind my heart to my mouth. By engaging with my tradition and working on my Bat Mitzvah I made a deep connection that carried through from my Lev to my mouth to you!

When I first heard Hebrew as an 18-year-old woman, my whole being was affected. The moment was timeless, as if I were a gong, which had just been struck, the vibrations have carried me through to this day. In The Book of Blessings, Marcia Falk speaks my heart when she says: “English is my s’fat eym “mother tongue,” but Hebrew is my s’fat dam–the language of my blood.”

So, too for me, Hebrew is my s’fat dam. Learning these letters is a way to encounter the source material of my being. This day is the culmination of years of study, of my blood pounding out a steady rhythm of longing for the Divine, for Holiness and for a language that truly speaks my heart.  Thank you for being here as witnesses to my process. I am deeply grateful for all of you who have traveled far, both physically and spiritually; for all of you who have helped me to get to this moment and especially all of you who continually support me in my life and choices. I am a very lucky and Blessed woman. I pray that all of you will find the language and messages of your hearts and be blessed with people to share with and be supported by as I am by all of you.

Amen

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On the Bima right to left: Arnie Herskovic, Rabbi Naomi Steinberg, Phil Lazzar, Issac Barchilon Frank, Kevin Frank, Shira Barchilon Frank, Nicole Barchilon Frank and Roz Keller.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bibles/Torahs: Kaplan, Rabbi Aryeh. The Living Torah. Jerusalem: Maznaim Publishing Corporation, 1981; Rosenbaum, Rev. M, and Dr. A.M. Silberman et al, Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth & Rashi’s Commentary. Jerusalem: The Silberman Family, 5733; Scherman, Rabbi Nosson Editor, and Contributing Editors: Rabbi Yaakov Blinder, Rabbi Avie Gold, Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz. The Stone Edition, TANACH. New York: Metsorah Publications, 1996.

Other Works Cited: Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume 14: Jerusalem: Keter, 1972,  Fox, Everett. The Five Books of Moses. The Schocken Bible: Volume I. New York: Schocken Books, 1995., Falk, Marcia. The Book of Blessings. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996. Oliner, Samuel P. and Pearl M. The Altruistic Personality, Rescuers of Jews In Nazi Germany. New York: The Free Press, Macmillan, Inc, 1988; Somé, Malidoma Patrice. Of Water and The Spirit. Winkler, Gershon, and Lakme Batya Elior. The Place Where You Are Standing Is Holy. Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1994.

Quotes to put in text: Sherman, Rabbi Nosson & Contributing editors. The Stone Edition TANACH. New York: Metsorah Publications, p. 501; Rosenbaum, Rev. M, and Dr. A.M. Silberman et al, Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth & Rashi’s Commentary. Jerusalem: The Silberman Family, 5733.p. 144; Ibid., p. 144. Ibid., p. 144.;Encyclopedia Judaica, Volume 14: Jerusalem: Keter, 1972. p. 125.; Winkler, Gershon, and Lakme Batya Elior. The Place Where You Are Standing Is Holy. Northvale: Jason Aronson, 1994. p. 21.; Oliner, Sam & Pearl. The Altruistic Personality. 1988; Falk, Marcia. The Book of Blessings. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996. p. xv.

In addition to all of my beautiful friends and teachers at Temple Beth El, I have been  Blessed with so many Special Teachers who have helped me find my way. I can only acknowledge some of them here. I hope you will get the chance to experience their teachings: Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (May his memory be for a Blessing), Frida Kahlo (May her memory be for a Blessing) Devorah Mann (May her memory be for a Blessing),  Emma Goldman (May her memory be for a Blessing) Anne Frank (May her memory be for a Blessing)   Etty Hillesium (May her memory be for a Blessing) Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (May his memory be for a Blessing), Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi,        Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield, Rachel Heller, Malidoma Patrice Somé, Rabbi Gershon Winkler,  Rabbi Marc Gafni, Noam Heller, Gloria Steinem, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, Judith Mohling, June Jordan, Rabbi David Zaslow, Rabbi Shefa Gold,              Elie Wiesel, Fatima Mernissi, Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, Rabbi David Cooper, Marge Piercy,      Marcia Falk, Shoshana Cooper, Alice Walker, Ellen Frankel, Rabbi  Margaret Holub,            Rabbi Jackie Brodsky, Starhawk, Kendra Moshe, Rabbi Marcia Prager, Ross Albertson,        Louise Erdrich, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Rabbi Shawn Israel Zevitt, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Leonard Peltier, Nawal El Sadawi

Not Ready to Say Goodbye to Saying Kaddish

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The Altar I made to mark the eleven months since my father Jacov ben Perla v Chaim Ha Cohen’s death according to the Jewish calendar.

I’ve been weepy the last two days and I just figured out why. My body and heart are always ahead of my mind and brain. In Hebrew the word Lev means Heart and also Mind. So, my heart/mind was knowing something that my brain hadn’t figured out yet. I woke up with pain behind my eyes and a headache, yesterday. It was pretty early in the morning, but my husband woke up to hold me. I know when I have that kind of pain it is because I need to cry. I didn’t know why, but the why wasn’t important. So, he held me and I sobbed and released, still not sure what my tears were for or about.

Before falling asleep last night I thought, I need to check about the Jewish date for my father’s Yahrzeit. This is the day we mark once a year on the anniversary of a person’s death. The calendar for us is a combination Lunar and Solar calendar, so it is different than the Gregorian one used by most folks in this country. I knew that we stop saying Kaddish in the eleventh month from the death and since it was May 9th and my father died June 18/19th of 2018, I figured I better check. The Orthodox website run by Chabad.org is where I go when I need to calculate Hebrew birthdays or deathdays. They have a very easy interface and give you the dates for ten years out if you want.

So, I went to their site and plugged in my dad’s information and here’s what I got:

Yahrtzeit Information
The date of passing for this person was on:

Monday, June 18, 2018 – Tammuz 6, 5778

Observe the upcoming Yahrtzeit on:

Tuesday, July 9, 2019 – 6 Tammuz, 5779

Yahrtzeit observances begin on Monday evening.
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SHOW YAHRTZEIT DATES FOR NEXT 10 YEARS »

Kaddish Information

Kaddish is recited until mincha on the afternoon of:

Friday, May 10, 2019 – Iyar 5 5779

About the kaddish end date:

>Kaddish is recited for eleven months from the date of passing. Even if the interment took place a number of days after death, the 11 months are still counted from the date of passing. However, if the burial was postponed for two or more weeks after death, kaddish should be recited until the end of 11 months counting from the date of the burial.

I burst into tears upon seeing the Friday, May 10, 2019 date as the last time to say Kaddish for my father on a daily basis. I haven’t been saying Kaddish everyday for him for the last eleven months, but that didn’t matter. I have been thinking about him and saying the Kaddish whenever I was in a Jewish setting with a Minyan (ten Jewish folks or any ten loving folks will work for me).

I wasn’t, I am not ready to stop grieving my father. And, of course I don’t need to stop grieving him, but this marker hit me hard and I realized again with waves of tears that I am still very, very sad and missing my father every day. Grief is just not a one time thing you feel and are done with. I have been living it and reeling from it for the last eleven months very intensely. So, in the morning, this morning I again asked my husband for his loving arms and I cried some more and shared stories with him about my father.

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My man and I over a year ago celebrating my Beau Père Kenny Weissberg’s 70th, photo taken by Kenny’s very talented sister Ellen Weissberg Whyte.

I had big plans for tonight’s Shabbat dinner. I was going to cook Iranian Eggplant and make Raita and create a sort of pre-30th Anniversary vegetarian feast for my husband. Instead, after my energy/chiropractic/sound treatment with Sarah Griffith and my healing MAT (Muscle Activation Training) with Jazz and then shopping to get groceries, I found myself in a puddle of tears once I got home, barely able to get the groceries up the steps, for emotional, not physical reasons.

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Close up of altar, with the picture of my father and my sister about three months before she died. The Columbine and Lilac flowers are from my friend and MAT practitioner Jazz’s garden. The Columbine is the state flower of Colorado, and I could never pick it there, but here in California I can, in honor of my father and my sister Paula, whose Yahrzeit is coming up soon this May 16th in the Gregorian calendar.

No fancy dinner tonight. I finished setting up the altar for my father, pictured above and I’ll make a simple salad and asparagus for dinner. I’ll cook tomorrow, if I feel up to it. Today is about grieving and being sad and surrendering to my sadness, honoring that eleven lunar months have passed since my father was in a body. I don’t have to recite the mourner’s prayer for him everyday any more. Instead, I move into the wisdom of the Jewish practices of saying this prayer for him on the anniversary of his death, and three times more a year during the Yiskor service. So, four times a year, I’ll say this prayer for him, until I’m no longer able for the rest of my life.

Standing up when the Rabbi asks: “Is there anyone observing a Yahrzeit or in the first year of mourning, please stand,” has been a very powerful thing for me. I’ve cried every time I was asked for the name of who I am remembering, not expecting to each time. But, the tears, the body/mind/heart knowing cannot be denied or stopped. I have no desire to change that.

At Passover this year, I was in San Diego at my mother and beau-père’s home. When we got to the teaching and questions about why is this night different from all other nights, something strong came through for me. We ask “why on all other nights do we not even dip our greens/vegetables once, but on this night we dip twice?” This refers to dipping parsley in salt water and charoset into horseradish, so two dippings, double dipping that is encouraged. I was inspired to get honest with my parents about something very hard and sad for me, and so I gave them access to my feelings by introducing the subject through this idea of double dipping.

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The Pre-Passover double dipping table in the San Diego home of Helen Redman and Kenny Weissberg

I shared that usually we all avoid our feelings and on Pesach/Passover, we are being asked very clearly NOT to do that. If we think of the salt water as our tears and ourselves as the thing that needs to dip into them, we can see that our first dip is just a small foray into the emotional realm. Oh, there’s my feeling, yes, I know you’re there, that’s enough. We have that choice, most of the time, to stop ourselves from actually deeply feeling the sadness, grief, joy, fear or whatever emotion we are just lightly touching/dipping into. But, if we have the time or are able and have the support to immerse completely into our emotions, to really double dip, then something transformational and intense happens and we are no longer on the outside looking in, we are fully immersed.

So, this is the territory of emotional work, of grieving. It’s a place, where if we are healthy, we can have some agency and choice. I can’t live in this immersed in pain place all the time. Nothing would get done. It’s also not fair to my friends, family and community because I’m really not able to be present for others when I’m fully immersed in my emotional territory. My husband likes to say that I’m due and can take all the time I want. This is just one of the many things I adore about him. My middle son Issac, upon hearing about some of my sadness a few months back, said: “Mom, you’ve done so much for us, for so many people, if you take the next thirty years off to do whatever you want, that won’t even come close to covering it.” Both these men in my life are deep wells of grounding and tenderness in my life. I’m so very blessed by there understanding of my emotional double dipping.

To be fair, neither one of them likes it when I’m sad, but they don’t push me or aren’t upset by my sadness. I don’t feel as if they’ll topple or be hurt by my pain and grief. I trust their own steady grounding.

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My man Issac, able to hold up whatever needs holding up. We take good care of each other, he and I.
The thing about family is that it’s not perfect or fair. Some members are better able to be around and take care of each other than others. Some parts of my family can hold my emotional double dipping better than others. This doesn’t mean the folks who aren’t able to do that don’t have gifts for me and aren’t available in other extremely helpful and important ways. My family is a messy, complex, messed-up and deeply caring for each other family. I think probably, this is true of most families.
As, I let myself be sad today and grieve the passing and end of day to day interactions and laughter and shared toast in the morning over coffee moments with my father, I’m so grateful for all the members of my family still here for me to cherish and honor and love and be loved by.
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My mother Helen Redman, Beau-Père Kenny Weissberg, and youngest son Ethan, cherishing each other!
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Issac and Shira honoring each other.

 

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Maren, my Mother-in-Love (because we are much closer and care for each other much more than the Mother-in-Law moniker makes room for). Maren and I share a deep love for all things flower and here she is cherishing one of her Iris blossoms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My brother Paul and his partner Kathryn and me too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I were to put up all the pictures of my sisters, my many G!dchildren, my bonus brothers and sisters and all my friends and community who actually are also behind what makes me smile, this blog post would never be finished. So, to all of you, not pictured here, please know, deep in your bones that you are in my heart/mind/Lev always and enable me to double dip, to triple dip and to just be all around drippy as well as silly and whole.

Thank you All!

Magnificent Matzah Ball Soup, Vegan, Vegetarian or with Chicken Stock

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Finished Matzah Ball Soup just waiting to make someone’s tummy super happy

Ingredients:

  • three to five carrots cut into small rounds
  • one large onion or two leeks, cut finely
  • one fennel bulb, cut into thin slices or small chunks
  • white turnips (small delicate kind that look like radishes are better, but if you cannot find those, one fresh white turnip, cut into small chunks)
  • one rutabega or parsnip, cut into small chunks (optional)
  • two to three stalks of celery cut into small pieces or slivers
  • three to six cloves of garlic, minced or finely chopped
  • 1/4-1/3 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh turmeric root (finely grated or micro-planed) or powder if you cannot get the root
  • finely chopped fresh herbs (tarragon, parsley, oregano, dill)
  • Matzah Ball Mix (I use a package, and don’t make my own mix, the package version just makes better Matzah Balls than I find I can with my own mixing of plain matzah meal and other ingredients.
  • two to four eggs

In a large stockpot/soup pot heat the olive oil. Add the chopped onion and/or leaks and sauté for at least ten minutes, then you can add the chopped garlic and some freshly chopped turmeric and let that cook together for another five minutes or so, then you can add the carrots, turnips, celery and fennel. Sauté all of these veggies together for ten to fifteen minutes and add a bunch of the freshly chopped herbs. Then add whatever stock you are using, chicken or veggie.

Stocks:

This recipe requires using a good stock. If you are vegetarian or vegan, use my Roasted Root Vegetable stock, or your own version of a robust vegetable stock. If you have cooked a chicken, you always want to save the bones. If you don’t have time to deal with making stock, throw them in the freezer until you do. To make a simple easy and healthy chicken stock, put the chicken carcass and bones and whatever is left over from your cooked chicken into a large pot of water; you will be boiling this for at least an hour or two, so fill the pot to accommodate the fact that the amount will reduce. Then strain the liquid into another pot, and let cool down and refrigerate or freeze the liquid. Once the chicken bones have cooled down you can pick off all the remaining chicken and freeze this too or use in a chicken salad or add to another soup.

Matzah Balls:

I use the mix, as I said earlier, but I amend it, of course. I learned this trick from my brother Paul. Add turmeric, either fresh or ground, freshly and very finely chopped dill, parsley, tarragon, oregano, etc. The turmeric makes these matzah balls a gorgeous color, plus adds yummy flavor. You have to make the matzah ball mixture ahead of time as it needs to rest in the fridge for at least fifteen minutes or more. I also add a few teaspoons of the stock I’ve made in the mix, even though the instructions on the box don’t necessarily call for that.

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Matzah Ball mix with added herbs, a drop of Maldon smoked salt, turmeric, eggs etc. This mixture gets covered and refrigerated for at least 20 minutes before you can use it to make matzah balls.

You also need to have a separate large pot of boiling water handy. Once your matzah ball mixture has cooled down, you will be forming the balls and dropping them into the very hot, rapidly boiling water and covering them. They need to cook in this water for at least twenty minutes or so. I then transfer them to the soup so they gather the flavors. I only do this the day I’m serving it. If you leave the Matzah Balls in the soup, they absorb the liquid and you don’t have so much soup left. If done correctly, the balls will float and be light and delicious. I hope they turn out this way for you.

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Matzah Balls floating to the top of the hot water that has been boiling and covered for 20 minutes.

I do not know how to make a vegan matzah ball, you can try using an egg replacer of some kind or as my friend Bel-Ami Margoles suggests, just make the Vegan version of this soup and have the Vegans throw in some pieces of matzah to their soup. You can get gluten-free matzah as well, so if you are gluten intolerant and vegan or any combination of these you can try that. The soup itself is delicious, whether it has a Matzah Ball in it or not.

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My parents’ table in San Diego, ready for soup to be served once folks sit down.

 

Salmon Croquettes, a delicious Gefilte Fish Alternative

Salmon Croquettes
Finished Salmon croquette on a dish made by Paul Barchilon

I made this recipe for the first time last year in Boulder and learned it from Jessica Hersh at Bonai Shalom. So, really this is her recipe:

1 lb fresh salmon
1/2 lb smoked salmon (any kind)
several green onions, cleaned
neutral oil for frying (like sunflower)
Process the fishes and the green onions in the food processor until you have a thick paste. Form into balls or ovals and cook in a hot saute pan with a very small amount of oil (just enough to oil the bottom of the pan.) Turn until cooked on all sides and firm. Serve either hot or cold.
I served these with horseradish and Mayonnaise Jacques for those who don’t like spicy stuff. Also you can serve with lemon and put these on a plate of Romaine lettuce so they look pretty.
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Mayonnaise Jacques

Shabbat Structure: Simply Sublime Spiritual Technology

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Solo Shabbat in Eire, Holy Hill Hermitage, Ireland, in my cabin named Clare in the Fall of 2016

Simple Shabbat, the basic structure is a phenomenal series of steps and prayers and practices to elevate the soul and align us with the essence of creation. I am writing this piece because a young woman, who was also on retreat, three years ago at the same hermitage as myself in Ireland, asked me about the order of the prayers. I led a few Shabbat ceremonies, both in my cabin and at the main house, for the other people on retreat. I was mostly alone, but there were moments of connection with the other hermits, clerics, and other folks taking sacred space in solitude.

I remember once being told by a dear friend of mine, Stephen Jenkins, professor Emeritus at Humboldt State University, who was getting ready to teach a three-day session on Judaism in his World Religions class, “Wish me luck, Nicole.” I responded with: “I don’t want to wish you luck, I need to come in and teach this part of your class.” I’m not sure those were my exact words, but this was the beginning of my lecturing in his World Religions Class. I have guest-lectured, during the Judaism portion of his classes, for over fifteen years now.

Some things cannot be put simply and survive the stripping down, especially when we are talking about Shabbat or Judaism in a three-day period of time. The mere idea of three days in a class on campus, to cover the topic, made me a little sick to my stomach. It felt kind of like asking me to describe the magnificence of the sunrise or my love for my children or any other sublime and mysterious, historical and elemental quality of the universe. It’s just not a three day or a one minute text or email kind of thing.

So, thank you Chelsea Smith, for asking me this question about the order of the prayers and why we cover the challah. I’m going to try to be brief, completely contradicting myself from the previous sentences. Of course, me being brief, is an oxymoron in and of itself.

When I lead a service I have a basic structure that I follow, which is not my invention and which has changed over the thousands of years that Jewish folks have been observing the Sabbath. I choose from various prayer books I like or I incorporate elements into my practice from those prayers when I am being a little looser in my observance.

You really begin by preparing for the time and setting the space. I clean my home, cook special foods, make challah (a braided Jewish egg bread).  I’ll get my recipe up here one of these days. You then create an altar. When the Beit Ha Midkash/Holy Temples were destroyed, Judaism did not die for many reasons. One of the main reasons is that we took the elements of our sacred service and rites that were observed in the Holy Temple and brought them into our homes and into our dining rooms.

As long as you have light (candles or oil lamps), wine, salt, bread, water, and prayers offered from your heart, you have the elements of the basic service. This means every Jewish home becomes a sacred temple in time and space. No one can say it better than Abraham Joshua Heschel, who wrote a simple short book called The Sabbath. I won’t begin to go where he has, but he describes Shabbat/the Sabbath as  both a Sanctuary and as a Palace in Time.

So, we begin by clearing and cleaning as if to welcome a sacred guest. That guest is the Sabbath Queen or the Shechinah or the Seventh Day. She is likened to a bride, she is always referred to in the feminine. We make special foods. For folks with little time or money, even during the Shoah and times of tremendous ugliness and torture, Jewish folks would hide a crust of bread or save one olive so they’d have two on Shabbat instead of one. Folks keep their best cheeses, oils, foods of any kind, for the three meals that occur beginning 18 minutes before the sun sets every Friday evening and ending when there are three stars in the sky the following night, Saturday. It’s roughly twenty-five hours or so, a little longer than one rotation of our spinning planet.

In Ireland, I couldn’t go buy a challah or get bread from Josh Fox, my favorite local baker, here in Arcata. I needed to make it. My little kitchen in my cabin, didn’t have an oven, so I had to make sure I could use the communal kitchen and arrange a time to be taking it over for many hours. I didn’t always do this, for many reasons, but here’s a picture of two small challahs I made for one of my blissful solo Shabbats.

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Small challahs, one in a traditional three braid form and one shaped like a Jewish Star of David, there’s also that key element SALT!

These Challahs are uncovered here, but they are traditionally covered with a cloth when we recite all the blessings before eating our Friday evening meal. This was the original question from Chelsea, “Why do you cover the bread again?”

We cover the bread because it is the final blessing we say before beginning our festive meal and we don’t want to hurt its feelings. This tiny piece of spiritual technology teaches us that if we are concerned about the feelings of our bread, so much so that we cover it, so it doesn’t know its the last in a long line of blessings, we better be that concerned about the feelings of all those we encounter. The bread thinks it’s the only blessing or the best blessing or the special blessing, because it somehow hasn’t heard or experienced all the previous ones. This seems a little comical, but it’s essential to Judaism. We physicalise our practices in small and large ways to make it not a mental exercise, but to embody the essence of what we are reaching for.

So, once the bread is made, I prepare the other foods and make my home and body ready to receive my guest. I take a bath or a shower, or I do a Mikveh (ritual immersion in living water, see Mikveh Movement and Me). Then I lay the table. I put the candles or oil wicks I am going to light out, I get the wine ready, open it and let it breathe so it is at its best. I make sure I have my prayer books or other readings I want to use, I pick fresh flowers and set the table more beautifully than I do for the rest of the week. It’s truly a special time.

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My Shabbat altar from my window seat in Clare.

Once all is ready, and usually this is minutes before you are required to kindle the lights of Shabbat, if I have time I meditate or center myself and let the week’s events play through my mind and release them. My beloved teacher, May his memory always be a Blessing, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi sometimes used a small cardboard box that he passed around and asked folks to deposit their weeks’ cares, worries, and experiences into. He would then take it and put it outside the room or the house. I sometimes do this with children. It’s a great way to physically demonstrate the practice of letting go.

Then I cover my head with a shawl (creating a sacred space in my body) and light the candles and move my hands over them to bring the light of Shabbat into my whole being, I move my hands over them in a circular motion and bring their essence over my head, eyes and body three times. I then recite the first of many blessings. This blessing is thanking the Divine for instructing us to kindle the lights of the day and to observe the practice of it by resting deeply.

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Photo by Temple Beth El’s President Joseph Hale, from one of my Lay-led Shabbat Services

It’s very hard to talk about even one of these blessings in a short way, but that’s my assignment right now. Arrrggghhhh! Each one of these practices have books and teachings about them that deserve attention. Simple structure, okay, after the blessing for the Sabbath light (remember how light was the first thing created in the Universe?), we welcome the Angels of the Most High (the special Shabbat-only angels). These angels only come down to this earthly realm if they are invited and your space is ready for them. Did you set a space for the sacred guest, did you create a place of beauty for Holiness to hover? We welcome them and ask them to bless us with peace and then we let them depart. They have to go everywhere they are invited, so, they can’t linger. Their blessing though is so magnificent that it imbues the rest of the evening. As angels they can and do move through space and time differently than we do.

This is my favorite blessing, and even if I’m not doing more than just the basic layout, I almost never skip this one. I close my eyes and feel their presence and I am uplifted to the realm of the Holy One, for just a second or a moment, but that’s simply sublime!

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Detail with Angel, sculpture in glass, given to me by a lovely woman who was at Holy Hill for a few days and who was part of a discussion about angels that miraculously occurred and which connected me with the incredible Irish mystic Lorna Byrne who sees and speaks with the angels.

Next we bless the children. This blessing is not just for folks with children, in my way of doing things, but a moment to name all the children in our lives or that we are thinking about. In a traditional setting the parents place their hands over the heads of their children and recite three blessings. One for boys, one for girls, and one for all of the above. I just generally do the all of the above since there are many folks who aren’t identified as one or the other. The prayer said over everyone is the priestly blessing originally offered by the Kohanim, (of which I am one). I like the male and female blessings as well, so sometimes I do all of them and just ask folks to align on the gender spectrum, however they wish, male, female, somewhere in between, or inclusive of it all.

Next is the blessing over wine. This is the VERY modified order of blessings at the table. There are many, many more, but if you do these blessings you are basically covered. The blessing over the wine isn’t just about giving thanks for the wine or grape juice. It’s the blessing that recounts the order of the Holy One’s creating of the universe and ending with the day of rest. It’s a blessing you do while holding a glass of wine, but it’s about acknowledging, thanking and sanctifying the DAY of rest. It’s longer than the other blessings and it’s beautiful!

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Shabbat Table, chez moi in Bayside, wine open and breathing, Challahs covered, salt on the table and right before candle-lighting. Artwork by Thao Le Khac, Joy Dellas, my grandmother Perla Barchilon and some Italian tile maker from a hundred years ago.

After the wine blessing, we do a ritual hand washing with a special two-handled cup. We aren’t cleaning our hands, we are purifying them. It’s a mikveh for our hands. We recite the blessing with our hands raised above our heads after having poured water three times over our right hand and then three times over our left hand and drying them with a clean cloth. The blessing basically says, Blessed are You, Holy One, who has instructed us concerning the raising/lifting/immersing of our hands.

This is crucial. Before we actually eat our meal, we’re almost there (I promise), we raise our hands towards the heavens. I think of this as dipping my hands in holiness and sanctifying them so that they only do good. I want to bring down the honey and love and goodness of the Divine realms and only have my hands be the vessels of that. I never want my hands to be hitting or hurting or tearing or harming others or the earth. No small task, which is why, we need reminding, hence the blessing!

Then we uncover that poor challah, who now is the most rich indeed. We’re hungry and excited, the challah is golden and the light of the sun is gone. We have the glow of the candles and the light reflected off the windows and each other’s eyes and now we give thanks for the miracle of bread. Bread is a miracle. The play of water, salt, yeast, grain and magic that makes it rise is how we too are made. Like the bread, we need to rise. We need time, rest, the right ingredients and balance of earthly elements, sugars and salts and magic to create pockets of air, or lightness so that we are magnificent.

Then we break the bread and dip it in the salt, which represents the promise of the Divine. Salt is a preservative, the original one, way back in the day. It reminds us of the value of commitment, of time moving across millenia, it’s the taste of the moon and stars and the ocean and our sweat and it connects us to our ancestors and life.

Then we eat and share stories and talk for hours. There’s another whole bunch of blessings after the meal….. but I’ll leave those for another day!

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My Papa Jacques Barchilon, enjoying his Shabbat dinner, over a year ago. He’s in Heaven now, where the food and the company far exceed anything I can create here. I miss him so!