Tag Archives: Rabbi Tirzah Firestone

Hooray, Heaven-Driven and Heading Home to my Honey and my Hearth

May Rose from Theresa May
My Merrily Blooms in May rose from my Rosey friend Theresa J. May

My father has agreed to move to our home in California!!!! I can be at my own hearth and help him and have all the support I need. It’s taken a year of my life and my brother’s life and our families’ lives. It has been extremely trying and deeply painful, but more triumphant and terrific than I could ever have imagined. Caring for all the parties in this story, including myself, has taken all of my being. Really, like the rose pictured above, which by the way is the size of a pecan pie, and smells like heaven, there are layers and layers to something this beautiful and there are thorns as well!

If it’s in the cards and written in the stars and with the will of the Divine we will move my father to our home in California. Since last March I have been here most of the time and home very little. It’s been very hard for me to be away from my husband and my home. It’s also been what needed to happen to help my father recover from his heart-attacks and subsequent heart issues and the death of his beloved wife Judy.

“A person, her days are like grass, She blossoms like a flower of a field. Then a wind passes, V’EINENU, and it is all gone, nothing! Her place on earth no longer knows her. But Havaya’s love stretches from world to world, the Holy One’s sovereignty embraces all life.” ~Psalm 103: 15-19  Rabbi Tirzah Firestone’s translation

It appears that my father is not in danger of dying anytime soon, in terms of how he seems to my brother and me. The  Denver Hospice folks are not so sure. My father is better than he has been in months. We have found the right cocktail of different medications given throughout the day along with an oxygen machine. He still uses his walker some part of every day. He sleeps a great deal of the time but is also awake and telling stories and getting his affairs in order. He has been given three choices.

  1. Move in with Kevin and me in Bayside.
  2. Stay in his apartment with care-givers 6 days a week and Paul one day a week.
  3. Go into a nursing home in Boulder with Paul and Kathryn visiting many times a week.

He is choosing to move in with Kevin and I. He is talking with Kevin regularly and there is a growing sense of him having something to look forward to. Ethan will be home for the summer and will help spell me when I need a break and I’ll hire a care-giver as well. The tricky part will be getting him to our home. Paul and I and the hospice team are working out the details so as to minimize the trauma to my father on his body. He has a medical death sentence, he is not getting better, but he may defy the odds and the statistics which do not account for the kind of care my father has been getting. The food, the massages, the love, the time spent in silence and also the stubborn strong Barchilon/Cohen genetic make-up are just not what most folks at this stage in their lives have.

My grandfather Jaimé, lived to almost a hundred and two. My great-grandfather, the Rabbi of Tangiers, Aaron Cohen lived to be a hundred and four. My father has longevity in his bones.

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Aaron Cohen, Rabbi of Tangiers, my Great Grandfather

There is no way to predict when my father will cross the river Jordan and leave this earth. I can no longer stay in his home caring for him indefinitely, the toll on my body and heart is just too great.

The current plan is that I will head home to California the first week in May. My friend and sister, by choice and love, Terret will fly from Boston to Denver to help me pack up the Xterra and drive it back to Arcata. Terret and my father have a sweet relationship, when I moved away, before he found Judy, he would take her out to dinner regularly. She was my proxy, while she lived in Boulder spending time with him.

Terret will spend two days here in Denver with us and then we will drive to Boulder and I will say goodbye to my mother and Kenny, who are now in Boulder to take up residence at their new condo at the Peloton. They will spend a few months of every year here and perhaps move back to Boulder. My brother Paul and I have been getting the space ready for them, with furniture and stereo systems and they arrived to a mostly furnished home. We will fête Kenny (my other beloved father/beau-père) who will be turning 70 on April 30th.

Mom and Ken by Ellen
My mother Helen Redman and Kenny Weissberg, picture taken by his sister Ellen.

It will take Terret and me three to four days to drive back. My friend and another one of my Holy sisters by love, Tara has already been in touch with the Humboldt Hospice.  When I get home, I’ll start getting the back bedroom and our house ready for Dad and making our home accessible and safe for him. My brother will fly with Dad in early June with a portable oxygen machine from Denver to Sacramento. I will drive down to meet them and we will go to a hotel overnight and let Dad rest there. The next day, we will get on the road and drive two or three hours more and stay at a hotel again, unless Dad is up for another three hours of driving and then we will be HOME!

On a spiritual/emotional/liminal note, I have a sense of how hard it is to leave a body. I’ve spent a great deal of time with folks leaving their bodies in my time as the chair of our Hevra Kadisha/Sacred/Burial society. Please see my piece Encountering Death Consciously if you haven’t already. I’ve attended many bedsides and witnessed folks crossing. It is rarely easy for a person to disengage from the shell/vessel of their bodies.

It takes time and some interesting uniquely personal set of circumstances for each person to be finished with their bodies.

Since my father has no religious beliefs, of any kind, it’s pretty much the end for him, like stepping off a cliff and knowing that’s final. I think moving to our home is sort of a gentle step towards death, a letting go of Judy, of their home, of his life as a professor of French for over 35 years at CU, of all his Free French Forces resistance books and posters and all the stuff of his 95 years of life.

This is where he met and married my mother, this is where my sister died, this is where my brother was born, this is where he was divorced, this is where he worked and lived and where he got together with Judy and married her and enjoyed almost 20 years of love with her. This is where she died and where he is mourning her actively.

Our home is none of those things. It’s full of music, books and great art and the best part is Kevin (who my father, like me, adores). He will be able to sit on my deck and enjoy the flowers and the sunshine and the beauty of the outdoors. He will be closer to the sky and the earth and to a place of expansiveness and grace. So, his coming to us, is like a step away from his life, but not the final one, it’s the next one, bringing him closer to the step out of his body.

Please hold him, my brother and me in your thoughts and prayers as we navigate the next two months of work to make this happen. My father will have been six months with Denver Hospice by May. The statistics for his condition, age and situation say he should be dead very soon. As Mark Twain said though: “There’s lies, damn lies and then there’s statistics.”

We just have no idea what will unfold, but we’re making plans for a shift and hope it will be a gentle bridge to a time of sunshine, Ethan playing Chopin and Bach on the piano for him, Kevin having intellectual conversations with him and telling him jokes, flowers blooming, time on our deck with the birds and my beloved Redwood Tree standing sentinel over Papa and reminding him of all that is beautiful and good and of course, lots of artichokes!

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Chez Papa with my brother Paul Barchilon and his partner Kathryn Taylor. Photo by my cousin Dan Levy.

While my father and I spend a great deal of time in silence, his preference, there are times when he wants to wax philosophical.  I’m sharing teachings with him from the Buddhist tradition, the Jewish tradition and many others. Lovely and meaningful conversations are ensuing and unfolding around all of this.

Here’s one of the teachings from a Buddhist perspective that we read together.

37 Practices: Verse 4

“You will separate from long-time friends and relatives. You will leave behind the wealth you worked to build up. The Guest, your consciousness, will move from the inn, your body. Give up your life—this is the practice of a bodhisattva” ~Tokme Zongpo

“Tokme Zongpo was a 14th century Tibetan monk. After serving as abbot of his monastery, he retreated for 20 years and wrote these 37 practices of a Bodhisattva, seen by many as the core of Mahayana Buddhism.” ~Rabbi Tirzah Firestone

This teaching comes from the materials that were part of a Shabbaton/Weekend intensive I attended, called: (Lighting the Way in a Dark World The Tzaddik and the Bodhisattva). This workshop was given by one of my dear friends, and teachers Rabbi Tirzah Firestone.  My father remarked that the teachings were very interesting and beautiful. No more comment has been made about them, but I know he is processing slowly all of these moments we share. One of the teachings from the weekend really moved me profoundly and my favorite line is at the end.

“He (Rabbi Akiva, born 20 CE) used to say: Everything is given on loan. And a net is spread out over all that is alive. The store is open and the storekeeper extends credit; the ledger is open and the hand writes, and whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow. And the collectors go round every day and exact payment, with or without our knowledge. And they do not act capriciously; their judgments are correct. And everything is prepared for the banquet.” ~Mishneh Avot/Pirkei Avot:

“Commentary: Life is on loan. Receive all that is given, and do not pretend to choice or ownership. You are a knot of God’s infinitely knotted net, never apart from and always a part of the One Who Is All. Reality allows you to do as you will, for good and for bad, and every deed has its consequence.”

~Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Many folks no longer have any relationship to Holiness or any beliefs or spiritual practices, and my father is in that category. This makes me very sad for all the suffering and fear he and others endure around so many things. This teaching by Rabbi Akiva, is one that speaks to my core. I know that everything is being prepared for the banquet. One of my ways of serving the Divine is to try to prepare a banquet for folks now, to offer them beauty, delicious food, kindness, compassion and spaciousness. I do this because I want to help create a pathway, in all those I encounter, to remind them that Olam Ha Ba/ the World to Come is real. Our time here on this earth is an opportunity to practice our table manners for the glorious banquet on the other side of this life.

 

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The Banquet I prepared for the Shechinah, every Shabbat,  in Ireland when I was on my silent, solitary retreat.

 

Lost in Bed

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Winter Full Moon, Holy Hill, County Sligo Ireland, January 2016

Under the covers, under the stars, under the radar,  under, under, under, snowed completely under.

Lost in blankets, wholly surrounded. How the hell to emerge? I don’t seem to have an answer and have had to push myself physically and mentally to move outside of my bedroom. The death of a beloved community member and the grief around this also got me up and out to attend to the details that are mine, as Chair of the Hevra Kadisha, to do when someone dies. Being surrounded, in this process, by good people and community, sharing the tasks, holding each other in our pain and sorrow. This, then, becoming the new blanket I want to be folded into.

The blanket of community and shared carrying of the load. My friend, the grieving widow was expressing, on one of the nights of Shiv’ah, how special it was to have people in her home and how she was so terribly sad that it had to happen as a result of her husband’s death. She was expressing her anguish and loneliness and it was raw. We all know this, we don’t go visit folks or make the time, feel too overwhelmed or just have too much going on, we make excuses or just cannot get ourselves to the homes of others.

When there is a death, that drops away and we get there. This, by itself, is a correct and good thing. The stark contrast though between having your house full of folks for seven days after your husband dies and the fact that prior to that and after that your home will again be pretty empty, that is not a correct or a good thing. But it is the territory we are all in. We push ourselves when the need is great, the grief is current. We slide back into old patterns and ways of being as soon as we can.

There is no judgement here. It’s just something I’m living and experiencing and noticing. The cycle of connection and effort and how that unfolds in my community and life. I remember many years ago, when I was very sick and my husband was as well. We were very contagious with MRSA. We were hoping our young son wouldn’t get infected and he didn’t thanks to the help we got. There was a crew of folks coming to my home washing all the sheets every day, bleaching bathroom and kitchen counters, basically disinfecting my home daily. This enabled us to recover and allowed me to navigate my allergic reactions to various antibiotics. I only had to let folks in my community know I needed help and what I needed and BOOM it was there.

Now, I don’t ask for help that often. I’ve done it a few times in the over twenty years I’ve been a member of my congregation. This time, I’ve mentioned above, was one and more recently when my son got hit by a car, which crushed his right foot, last April. I had too much to navigate and needed meals delivered so I didn’t have to cook on top of everything else. My community was there for me, is there for me.

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My cozy bed. Artworks by Alice McClelland and a student of my father’s named Simone. This flower has been over my bed since I was a little girl.

 

 

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Simone, my father’s student who painted the flower above my bed. Simone is painted  here by my mother Helen Redman. My mother’s portraits and colors surrounded me as a child and they inform my life still and always are waking me up.

I attend to my community as I would to my family. I try to be there as much as I can and I also work with my boundaries and knowing that it’s a shared home. This works if everyone in the community is part of the work-force. Not everyone in our congregation or the world is functional or able though, so those folks who need constant help or more help than we can actually provide makes the work a little heavier and harder, because it’s just impossible to actually “fix-it.”

This is where it gets sticky and hard. The feeling of failing, of just not being able to fix or provide enough comfort or help for all the broken things in this world right now, the hopelessness of having someone I cannot bear to look at, or name, be elected President and all the problems I anticipate this will cause. I’ve been telling everyone I know, it’s not going to get easier folks. And, I’m tired, very, very tired of fighting all the battles and extending myself continuously, but the work is not done.

As our beloved prophet Leonard Cohen, may his memory continue to be a profound blessing, says on his last album: “You want it darker, we kill the flame…” It seems extremely dark to me right now, and this song has been a clarion call for me because in the middle of all the darkness there’s the line in this song when Leonard chants “Hineyni/Here I Am.” and then says “I’m ready my Lord.”

These are the words of Abraham and Issac and they are the words of those drawn to service, to the willing offering of everything, absolutely everything, in service to the work in service to the Holy One, even when the territory is full of fog. My hineyni has been whispered lately. It’s been really hard to actually stand up and be heard and loudly proclaim that I am ready to continue serving. I’ve just wanted to be under the covers.

Several things are helping me emerge:

  1. knowing that my hiding will not make anything better
  2. knowing that I am not alone in my feelings
  3. knowing and working always to remember this teaching by Rabbi Tarfonrabbi-tarfon-quote
  4. a recent teaching shared with me by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone that has to do with us being the food for others and not knowing the end of our story, having to trust and serve without knowing outcomes.
  5. This post by Rebelle Society about these times being dark Goddess Kali times
  6. finding comfort in small-scale victories locally, globally or personally
  7. the patience and kindness of my beloveds

I’m a very lucky and resourced person, in the privileged category. This doesn’t mean I don’t have troubles or concerns, but they are manageable. This is not the case for so many other folks. So, I venture out to be food and nourishment to offer these things as well as be these things for those near me. It’s all I can do. I’ve made a new vow to not get into my bed before 9pm at night. So, between 9 and 9, I’ll offer and navigate my world. On Shabbat and during the night, I’ll re-connect to the Divine and get the nourishment that will enable me to emerge.

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My bedroom door with the new “Not before Nine sign” underneath the beautiful Klimt poster that reminds me of my husband and I.

My Mussar assignment this month has to do with creating a fence in front of one activity that takes me over a cliff I don’t want to go over. I identified that getting under the covers wasn’t where I wanted to be, it’s wasteful and not helping anyone as well as causing concern for my husband and friends. It was necessary for me to be in bed for the time I was.

 

I’m not sorry I’ve spent a large amount of time in bed trying to recover—RE-COVER— I just noticed that this word is extremely apt for where I’ve been, lost in bed recovering myself, like re-wombing myself going into a safe warm place to grow into the next phase.

I’m no newborn though, which is good. I’ve got the tools, the friends, the community, the time and the wherewithal to engage more fully, so it’s time to get out of bed!

“Whatever we are doing, however great or small the act, may we remember to take the wisdom of Joseph with us, and the shamanic medicine of  the Baal Shem Tov to help us align ourselves to a Will greater than our own, to become  michyah, life-giving food for the great unfolding.”  —Rabbi Tirzah Firestone

 

 

 

Take Heart

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Purple Poppy with Frilly/Frayed Edges from my deck in California
There is no way to tell this story without lots of tears, mine, yours and the world’s. It’s an old story and one that repeats all the time and is going on now. It’s my story and it, unfortunately, may be yours as well. I begin to unfold it, here and now, breaking years of silence, on my part. I do this for my healing and hopefully for the healing of someone I love, in the spirit of Elul, and because it is time. There will be much more about this in the future….this is just a beginning.

I failed my prime directive as a mother. I did not keep my children safe from harm.

I was young, single, on welfare and living with charlatans, who I trusted. I cannot justify my failure and indeed it is against Jewish understanding to ask forgiveness or try to explain or justify a wrong action when asking for forgiveness. I’m not asking for forgiveness here. Forgiveness, if it is granted, is a private personal process between my children and myself.

Nevertheless, Here, I am/ Hi Ney Ni, turning in the harsh and cold wind of my pain and regret. One of my beloved sisters, by Love, Terret, recently gave me a piece that has helped me understand this territory more. She has been part of this particular story from its beginning, in terms of being present for my children, and being with me since we met when I was eighteen. I became pregnant with my first child when I was nineteen. Terret reminded me that I would willingly have cut off both my arms, if it had meant I could stop the suffering of my child. Cutting off my arms will not stop the suffering, nor will wishing I had been smarter, wiser, seen what was happening or prevented harm from happening.

If there was a sacrifice, of any kind, that I could make so that the pain in my child’s life would lessen, I would have made it a thousand times over. We cannot go back in time and erase what was done to us or those we love. Hindsight is always 20/20. I can and will continue to support healing and hope for there to be a Refuah Shelemah (Complete Healing of Body, Mind, Heart and Soul). I will do whatever I can to make amends, but I cannot change the past.

Just a few days ago, I met with my child’s therapist, with permission. My children are all adults now, but I am wanting to respect their privacy, so I’m not naming them. This man told me to “take heart.” He said that the fact that I was allowed to speak to him meant that there was an inclination, on the part of my child, for reconciliation.

Taking Heart, for anyone who knows me, seems like a no brainer. I’m all about that, I’m all over it, I’m a poster child for it. Nevertheless, it’s not something I have done or can easily do in this situation. So, it was nice to hear those words.

In two weeks I will stand before the Holy One, with my congregation, with my friends and with my teachers. I will hope for renewal and to be granted a new vessel to hold my soul in. I’m definitely due for some renewal!

Rabbi Tirzah Firestone of Boulder, Colorado, passed on this image in a teaching she gave. I don’t remember who gave it to her, but it’s an ancient idea about the vessel our souls inhabit. On Rosh Hashanah, the Holy One grants us a new vessel, clean and vibrant to hold our self in and to pour ourselves out of. If, we have worked on our stuff, looked at our faults and made an effort to turn back to who we truly are in our hearts than we will not only notice this new vessel, but be enlivened by it. Every mistake we make during the year creates a crack in this vessel, big errors, like hurting other people makes for big holes. This means that by the time Rosh Hashanah rolls around, all that might be left of our vessels could be a shard or two; nothing that can hold water or light or love or laughter. In my tradition, if I do the work between myself and others, on Yom Kippur, the Holy One forgives me for the mistakes I’ve made between myself and myself, between myself and the Divine. Only those I wrong can forgive me for the wrongs I’ve done them.

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Vase/Vessel by Paul Barchilon, Table by Shullie Steinfeld, Flowers by Ha-Shem, arrangement by ME! This is the kind of vessel I inhabit, a very colorful, Moroccan one made with love and of EARTH.

Tikkun Olam/Mending the World, and Refuah/Healing are continual processes. Every year of my life, until I leave this world, I will have to look at myself, my mistakes, my leaks and holes. There is no free ride or free lunch when it comes to personal spiritual growth or practice. If you want to serve the Divine and to serve Goodness, you do not ever rest on your laurels. When all people on earth are fed, when all children are safe from harm, when all those whose lives have been broken by hurt are healed, when the planet is free from wanton and grievous pillaging and rape, when we honor and treasure each other in our differences of shape, size, religious inclination, age, gender identity, sexual preference, pigmentation of our skin, income bracket or whether we are human, animal, plant or river, THEN and ONLY THEN can we rest.

This doesn’t mean you can’t take a break. I take a break every Shabbat, and on every Holy Day. We have days for mourning and feeling all the hurt in my tradition. Those are important for me. Most of the time, I live in a state of constant gratitude to the Divine. I am lucky enough to be able to hear the song of the flowers and the planet. I have tremendous support from family and friends. I have a phenomenal husband who has my back in every way imaginable and who has been with me on this journey for a long time.

I will never regret having my children young and alone. This was how they came to me and I chose to keep them and have them, even without support. I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. Their unique genetic blends, their deliciousness and magnificence is something I will forever delight in. Being their mother has been and is the greatest gift the Holy One has ever given me. And then, I was blessed, to have a third child, finally, with a man who loved me. A man who, not only has stayed the course through very difficult territory, but who has held, supported and nurtured all of us.

I am profoundly and painfully remorseful and sorry that I did not protect my children. I am working all the time to make amends for that harm. My husband was our rescuer, the person who brought us all into his heart and under the protecting shelter of his arms. He came into our lives when my children were three and one. Because of him, healing for all of us is possible.

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This photo was taken by my husband, our rescuer. I was 24.
Since starting this post, I’ve broken down and cried several times. This territory is so terribly hard and I feel such shame, pain and grief. I’m listening to Berel Alexander’s music right now, it’s helping me. He’s singing a gorgeous song called “Giving Thanks,” from his album Hooked, and because of him, his mother  Rabbi Naomi Steinberg, my family, my friends, my community, my prayer practice, and my teachers, I am able to hold this much pain and grief. Because I am not alone, I can and will keep trying to make Tikkun in the world and in my family.

I cannot know if there will be a Refuah Shelemah in our lives, but I won’t stop working for it and praying for it. A wound cannot heal if it is kept in the dark and never tended to. Wounds need to be seen and to have the pus drained out. There is no way to do that without pain and without addressing the root causes of the wound. 

The great South African Archbishop, Desmond Mpilo Tutu, gave us the Truth and Reconciliation process/model. With that in mind, I am hopeful. How can anyone think that it isn’t possible to “take heart,” when we have this amazing example of South Africa and their courageous efforts towards healing from the most heinous crimes?

So, I will Take Heart. I hope you will as well, and together, with our very broken hearts, we can come together, each of us, being honest, taking chances, crossing hard territory and trusting that the only way to be whole is if we all are holding hands and working hard to speak truth, being kind, endeavoring to forgive those who have hurt us (if they are genuine in their efforts towards reparations), and even if they aren’t. Forgiveness is healing for us as well as for those we forgive. We still and always must take responsibility for the wrongs we have done and hope and pray to be forgiven.

May you find yourself held and supported as you navigate your own hard territory. You are not Alone!

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Rose and Dew drops by the Holy One, reminding us all that there is more Beauty and Grace in the universe than we can ever fathom. I grew this Rose and she returns every year to remind me of this and she smells like Heaven!

Aligning and Attuning on the First Yahrzeit of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s Passing

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2:22 am, June 23, 2015. Sleep not happening, at least not much, right now. I’m vibrating at a pretty intense frequency. Full of feeling and energy. On this journey from my home and life out to a new solo adventure, I’ve found myself moving backwards across the landscape of my life and across the geology of it as well. I left California on June 14th, nine days ago. I planned for some time here, in Colorado, where I am now. I lived off and on in Boulder from the time I was six months old until I was twenty-two. I’m headed to Paris in thirteen days, where I was born over fifty years ago. Going backwards in time and space and encountering myself in all these places is quite a voyage.

On Sunday evening, June 21st, as the long day of Solstice wound down, I joined with Holy community here in remembering our beloved Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. The fifth of Tammuz, which this year corresponded to the 21st of June, marked the one year anniversary of his death. In the Jewish world, this is called a Yahrzeit. We remember our beloveds on the day they left the earth in various ways, with prayer, with candle-lighting, with stories and gathering together. We say their names out loud in our congregations and stand to say the Mourner’s Kaddish, while the community supports us. We never forget those we love.

When a great teacher dies it is a huge parting and loss for the whole world. A great teacher hopefully leaves behind a legacy of teachings, works, and folks who can carry on the Light and Wisdom that this individual teacher managed to shine on all around them. Our Rebbe, was one of these kinds of teachers. He left behind and empowered huge numbers of people to carry on the work, and still, there was no one like him and he is and always will be missed.

So, we gathered in Boulder at Nevei Kodesh, with Rabbi Tirzah Firestone and Rabbi Mark Soloway for a Zikr in honor of our teacher, Reb Zalman. Zikr/Dhikr is an Arabic word similar to the Hebrew word Zahor, for remember. In a Sufi Zikr practice you chant the name of the Divine and move in simple steps. This practice is a physical way of connecting ecstatically to the Divine. Rabbi Mark shared a teaching about sunflowers and their aligning/turning towards the sun. He spoke about how our teacher was someone whose love-affair with the Divine was so great that it made him shine. This was so true. Rabbi Mark also talked about a Zalman teaching about how all of us are like sunflowers turning towards the light of the Divine in our hearts and souls. Some folks forget this or they do not realize that their purpose is to grow like a sunflower, towards goodness, towards Light, towards nourishing all we encounter.

Rabbi Tirzah, along with a gifted group of musicians, led us so sweetly and beautifully in several hours of chanting and movement to lift up our spirits on this sad day of remembrance, but also to align ourselves with Holy purpose, prayer and connection to the soul of our teacher as he joined and became a luminous link on his ancestral lineal chain. Lineage is something, in the United States and the modern world, we don’t talk about so much. There is a kind of bias here against having a lineage, as if being a free agent without adherence or obligation to our ancestors or the past is some kind of blessing.

Lineage, in a religious realm, is very significant and it isn’t just about your blood or ancestral line. I am now aligned with Reb Zalman’s lineage because he was my teacher, he is my teacher still, even across the territory of death. And, his ancestral and spiritual lineage has merit and meaning. Who he aligned with and learned from, who his parents were and who their parents were back to the beginning is present in him and in his teaching. This is true for all of us and becomes real for us when we remember to engage with lineage and with the meaning of Zahor.

Zachor #44 by Mordechai Rosenstein
Zachor #44 by Mordechai Rosenstein
When I visit and share with child-prisoners in the penal juvenile “justice” system, I often talk to them about the fact that they are the product of thousands of successful heroic ancestral survivors making it across the ravages of time. Most often these children think of themselves as failures and since many of them have been brutalized by their families of origin in one form or another, trying to get them to see or find merit in who they are, at their core, is important. One of the ways I try to do this is to remind them that they are already miracles, just by virtue of being alive.

If you are awake and present on the planet now, no matter where you are, your ancestors survived plagues, wars, ice-ages, volcanoes, tidal waves, epic catastrophes and all kinds of crazy stuff to make it to this moment. It’s extraordinary that any of us are here. If we are here, it’s significant and not something to be wasted or ignored.

We don’t have to reproduce physically to create lineage, we only have to align with goodness and great teaching and embody those things. You can’t help being part of a lineage that you were born from, you can choose which lineage you want to align with as you move through your life. This choosing is a fundamental step in making connection to Holiness. You might be lucky enough to come from an ancestral lineage that is full of great teachers that you know about and have ready connection to.

You might be adopted and not have any idea who your grandparents or great-greats were, but no matter what, you have lineage and you can connect and adhere to the lineage of those you love, those you find home with emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

As we chanted and moved in our Zikr for Reb Zalman, Rabbi Tirzah invited us to concentrate on the world we wished to see and to find a specific prayer to offer up along with our bodies and voices. The merit inherent in this communal practice connected to the Aliyah (rising up) of our teacher’s soul would add ummph and power to our prayers. This was palpable. So, while we all moved and swayed, we also were praying. We were praying for peace on this earth, for healing of the planet, for tikkun olam, for personal well-being or personal familial reconciliations. We were praying with our bodies, breath, hearts, minds and feet. No matter what our individual internal prayers were, we attuned with Heaven in our joining together in honor of our teacher. This practice will help all of us and the world move through our wounding towards healing.

After our movements and singing we said Kaddish for Reb Zalman and then we were invited to visit his gravesite where his headstone was now in place. We were asked to do this after his family had their own smaller private ceremony in the morning. So, throughout the day, various folks gathered at the grave of our teacher. We brought stones and stories, tears and songs, silence and sitting still to listen. There were birds and a bunny that kept hopping by, I saw dragon-flies and so many kinds of birds wheeling about. The fellowship and communion continued for us as we sat on the ground surrounding the body of our beloved teacher. 

 My tears and my prayers continue to flow and I hope align with the millions and billions of others on this spinning orb dedicated to tikkun olam, to mending and working to repair what has been destroyed and what is wounded. I feel so un-alone, so completely held within the lineage of my teacher, the communities I belong to, the family I was born from, the friends I cherish, the people I encounter and all the angels in my life who continue to give me hope and help.

As I move backwards through my life and towards being alone and truly not surrounded by physical community, I am awed, once again, by the Great Mystery of Life, the Ein Sof, who placed me here, in Boulder at this moment of connection so that I could carry this feeling and this reminder with me.

I am not alone, I have never been alone, I will never be alone.

I am and always have been surrounded by the luminous beings whose presence lives in my blood and body and also by all the words and teachings and songs which dance through my heart and mind.

May you find your lineage and connect to it with passion and may if uplift and support you in all the work you do. May you remember how uniquely and magically and wondrously created and beauteous a being you are and may you find a way to know in your bones how truly un-alone you are.

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from http://www.newkabbalah.com/images/ein.jpg
from http://www.newkabbalah.com/images/ein.jpg

Jubilee Part Nine: Coming Home to My Land and Simchat Torah

Photo taken by Frederic Brenner, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.
Photo taken by Frédéric Brenner, courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York. I’m the one holding the far end of the scroll, in the white skirt. This picture was taken over ten years ago.

I am looking out over a sea of yellow, green, red and orange from the fourth story window of my father’s Denver apartment. The Rocky Mountains are visible in the distance and I can even see snow on the high peaks. The sky is blue with clouds. My father (who is 91 and super healthy) and his wife Judy are napping. I am wide awake and feel energized. My time here in Boulder and Denver has been packed so full that even trying to describe one event will take me many pages. I will be finding ways to share parts of this story as slices of a much greater pie.

I was in Colorado in mid-October which coincided with the culmination of the Jewish High Holy Day season of holidays, called Simchat Torah/Joy of and in Torah. We dance around our congregations seven times with the Torah scrolls in the arms of those strong enough to carry them and then we read the very last lines and the very first lines of the Torah. We can NEVER be done with Torah, so we immediately have to read the very first line after finishing the last line. There is a seamless sounding of Hebrew words and Torah between the last letter and the first. There are numerous mystical teachings about this, but the most obvious and frequently shared one is this:

The last word of the Torah scroll is the word Yisrael, and the first word of the Torah is the word B’reishit. The last letter then is an “L” sound, which is the letter Lamed.

Lamed

The first letter is a “B” sound or a “V” sounding letter named Bet or Vet. It is a letter with two names and sounds and considered one letter. It has the numeric value of two.

betvet-h

 

The Lamed has the numeric value of 30. Lamed is the tallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and it reaches up towards heaven. When you put the lamed in front of the bet/vet, you get the word “Lev.” Lev, in Hebrew, means heart and mind or heart/mind. It is not the word for brain. There’s an ocean of teachings in this, but I’ll stick to a strand of seaweed right now.

translation = a pure heart
translation = a pure heart

Our exercise in reading the way we do is to remember and highlight that the entire Torah from end to beginning and beginning to end is about our hearts. It is a journey through the Lev that brings us into relationship with each other, the planet, our teachers and all of creation in a joyous dance of loving-kindness, righteous and just society, goodness, compassion and forgiveness.

Before we read these words of Torah in their completion and beginning, we’ve danced the seven times around our congregations with them as our dancing partners. We form a procession of joyous folks following the scrolls and their bearers around the buildings we pray in. Or, we do seven joyous dances around and around like whirling dervishes for as long as we can. I found myself at Nevei Kodesh, the Jewish Renewal congregation in Boulder, where my friend Rabbi Tirzah Firestone was leading the services. All of us in the Jewish Renewal movement are still in deep mourning for our beloved Rebbe Zalman M. Schacter-Shalomi, may his memory be for a blessing. So, our prayers were laden with tears and honoring of him and it was so wonderful to be with a community of folks all collectively mourning his death, but also celebrating his legacy.

So, in honor of our Holy Torah, we danced for several hours with the two scrolls we had and we were pumped and JOYOUS! The wonder continued beyond my wildest imaginings and became extraordinary as the evening unfolded (literally). Rabbi Tirzah’s community chose to unspool the entire scroll with all of us present. We were instructed to form a gigantic circle, there were between fifty and seventy folks in this large Torah holding circle. Each of us stood shoulder to shoulder with our hands out in front of us and as the scroll was unwound in front of us, we held the top inch of it. We had to be careful not to touch the text and only hold onto the parchment at the top. This is a very intense and rare thing, the scrolls are extremely sacred, fragile and imbued with tremendous meaning. It takes a great deal of trust and faith for any congregation to do this. If a Torah scroll accidentally falls often the entire congregation has to fast and do penance. The Torah scroll is not a book, or a piece of parchment alone, it is considered sacred in and of itself and it feels that way to anyone engaging with it.

In our imperfect human circle, there were gaps where some people were too far apart from each other and places where some folks were closer together. I moved three times, going under or around the scroll to attend to these gaps. I am acutely aware of the Torah, in my body and blood and could not tolerate or hold the place of trust about these gaps in the circle. It was literally impossible for me to not go try and make sure that the tension in the scroll was not too great, behaving as is my nature, and being a Jewish mother to the Torah scroll, not just to the people holding it.

I helped a little boy get on a chair because having him hold our sacred scroll was too awkward from his height and he really wanted to hold onto it. So, we, his mother and I, had to keep moving him, and the chair and asking the people next to us to hold our parts for us while we helped him be able to also participate. This was one of many spectacular moments for me, being next to this little boy and his excitement about being able to participate, which he would not have been able to do if we hadn’t figured out the chair for him to get him up to the right height.

The circle was somewhat liquid at first until it was all figured out, which took about twenty minutes. By the time I was not helping someone or making sure there wasn’t a gap I found myself by the end of the scroll. I was shoulder to shoulder with some very stoned young men. They were very aromatic and smiley. This did not reassure me, but they looked capable and blissful, so I just kept checking in with them. Why did the whole scroll get unrolled? It’s a special thing to just witness, but Rabbi Tirzah and several other Torah readers wanted to give all of us something brilliant. They went around to each person, Torah readers on the inside of the scroll, with us Torah-scroll holders on the outside. We were instructed, individually, to remove one of our hands and point somewhere we couldn’t see in front of us on the scroll. The Torah readers then read for us a few lines from where we had pointed. So, we each got our own unique special Torah reading.

The lines that I got were from Deuteronomy 31:7-9:

“Moses summoned Joshua and said to him before the eyes of all Yisrael. ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall come with this people to the land that HASHEM swore to their forefathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it. HASHEM is the One Who goes before you; He will be with you; He will not release you, nor forsake you; do not be afraid and do not be dismayed.’ Moses wrote this Torah, and gave it to the Kohanim, the descendants of Levi, the bearers of the Ark of the Covenant of HASHEM, and to all the elders of Israel.”

If you’ve been following my Jubilee series, you will understand why this felt perfect for me. I am planning to go away for a retreat and I am actively looking for the right “land.” I know I am not going to do retreat in Israel, but this piece of Torah was telling me to be strong and courageous. To trust and to not fear, that the land will be given or shown to me and that I should not be dismayed. This is amazingly helpful for me. The piece about the Torah being given to the Kohanim (the high priests) and the descendants of Levi and all the elders of Israel resonates as well. I am a Kohen, which means I am a descendant of the Kohanim, and as one of those descendants, who is deeply engaged with this handed down powerful scroll, I find it holds me more than I ever have the chance to hold it.

My several hours of dancing with our Holy Torah and holding it and watching over it were a small fraction of how I am held and danced and dreamed and nurtured by Torah.

To be on the safe side, since interpretation of our Holy text is very complex, let me ask outright for help. In case you happen to know where the Holy One has put that land for me to spend silent retreat away from people on, please let me know. I am moving closer to this place, and like my ancestors, it is not something that is clear to me. Is it over the next ridge or around a corner or at your vacation cabin? This is a place I am coming to and journeying to, but have not yet found.

Please use the contact form here to email me if you are aware of or have the perfect place for me to spend a few solitary, quiet months of retreat and prayer.

May all your dancings and movements bring you closer to your Lev Tahor, your pure heart!