Tag Archives: Teshuvah

Name-Change, Game-Change ~ Embodied Relationship to Who We Have Been, Are and Will Be

Twino Princesses by Marjorie Feldman
Twin Princesses by Marjorie Feldman

Last Shabbat, I completed a process that started a year ago on Yom Kippur. I  changed my Hebrew name. A Hebrew name is normally given to a Jewish person, who lives in the diaspora, who will be known by most people, by a name that is more common for where they live. In Israel, and in Orthodox communities around the world, folks generally don’t have two names, but they often will have a Hebrew name and a nickname.

My parents were not practicing nor even remotely engaged with their Judaism at the time of my birth. They may not have even known about the tradition of Hebrew name giving since their childhoods were both not religious ones. Consequently, I was not given a Hebrew name.

When I first got involved with Judaism, in my 18th year of life, my Chai year I was given a name by my dear friend Kendra. The Hebrew word for life is Chai (pronounced like the word “Hi,” but with a guttural ch sound). In Hebrew all letters have a numeric value/meaning as well as their sound and spoken meaning. Chai equals 18, my conscious Jewish life began then.  Because every word is also a number, or a series of numbers. or a math equation, depending on how you want to look at it, there are folks who read the Torah as they would a complex calculus equation.


Kendra and I met at my high school graduation party, when some of the kids from the “other” high school showed up at my party. She and I pretty much fell in love, but neither of us was gay, so we fell into a profound friendship. I believe we are all on a continuum where our sexual feelings occur, some folks gravitate firmly towards one end of the spectrum. They are “H” heterosexual or homosexual, but some folks really are all over the spectrum. This is also true for gender identity, which is a separate thing from sexual identity.

As I write and meander down one stream about one thing, other rivulets of thought come through. Everything is connected to something else and linkages are always occurring that press themselves forward and insist that I share them.

Kendra and I became friends and were inseparable. She brought me into relationship with my Judaism and took me to my first Shabbat in Boulder, Colorado. I found home in the sounds of Hebrew, in the songs of my people and in their practices. This home wasn’t one I knew I’d been gone from, but the homecoming for me was tidal in proportion. All my searching and seeking for spiritual relationship prior to this time was done outside of Judaism. After connecting with Kendra, who I still call “my Jewish angel,” I was Jewishly “all in.”

I realized that a Hebrew name was necessary. It was used for all kinds of things in our practices and I didn’t have one. I asked my parents if they had given me one that I didn’t know of, but they hadn’t and had no ideas or engagement with this practice. My name for them was exactly as they wished it. Nicole Andrée Barchilon. The  Andrée part of my name was from my sister Paula Andree’s name. Since, she had died right before I was born (See More than One), giving me her name, or part of it, was a way of honoring and remembering her. My younger brother was subsequently named Paul. What’s interesting here is that even though my parents weren’t practicing Jews, they did a very Jewish thing. Naming their children after a relative who has crossed over.

They did not give any of their three children Hebrew names. So, I needed a Hebrew name and Kendra said she would meditate on it and find one for me. I cannot remember how long it took her, but it wasn’t an instant thing. She is a deeply spiritual woman and I trusted her process. She came to me with delight and joy in her heart and told me she had found my name. It was Shoshana Adama Cohen. Shoshana means wild rose, Adama is from the Hebrew word Adam, which is the first human’s name.

From Google Images
From Google Images

Every Hebrew word is linked by its root. Hebrew words come in root pairs of two or three letters that form their core structure. Any words that share roots, share meaning or are connected, even if the words have wildly different meanings. If they share a root, they are linked and it is our job to look at that, also if they share a numeric value.

The word Adam in Hebrew is a mother-lode of meaning: Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav writers: “It is for this reason that man was called Adam: He is formed of adama, the dust of the physical, yet he can ascend above the material world through the use of his imagination and reach the level of prophecy.” The Hebrew word “I will imagine” is adameh, same consonants, same root, different vowels.

Because Hebrew is a consonantal language, the vowels are moveable and by switching them up, you change the meanings of the words. There are NO vowels in the written Torah, only strings of root pairs/consonants. So, you really can change things dramatically by the vowels. We know what the words are because the Torah is an oral tradition and has been passed down across time, it is an ancient thrumming song, the song of my people.

For Rebbe Nachman, the movement (within the same root structure) from adama to adameh is very significant.  Adamah is ground or earth, and it can also be read as adameh, “I will imagine.” Since the vowels are not part of the root pairings, it is the consonants that create the word and you can play with all the vowels.

Also, part of the word Adam is the Hebrew word Dam, which is the word for blood. So, Adam, the first being, who was the complete spectrum, male and female in one body (study your Torah folks!), was not the first MAN. Adam was the first joined being who was made of earth, blood and imagination. We are all ancestors of the first beings made of earth, blood and imagination. And the first task of the Adam was to NAME all of the creation.

All this explanation to say that my middle Hebrew name, Adama means a lot to me. The third part of my name Cohen (is actually my paternal grandfather Jaime/Chaim Cohen’s last name). I am a Cohen. In the Jewish tradition, this has weight, and the name links me to the tribe of the Kohanim (the priestly tribe). This also connects me back through history and time to my ancestors Moses/Moshe and his wife Zipporah. When my father came to this country, after escaping Nazi-occupied Morocco and joining the Free French Forces in WWII, he chose to take his mother’s maiden name, Barchilon, as his last name. (See It’s a Small World posting for more details on this).

My Kendra-given Hebrew name of Shoshana Adama Cohen has worked for the last 32 years. It is a beloved name. When you pray for someone, or they are called up to the Torah, you say their name and the names of their mother and father. When someone is sick, we pray in the name of their mother, when they have died, we switch to calling them by the name of their father. When someone has done Teshuvah/Return/Repented and made amends for a wrongdoing, they can change their name to indicate that they are no longer the person who made that mistake.

In the Reform and Renewal movements, we include both mother’s and father’s name for all things. I still mostly pray for people when they are sick, in the name of their mother and if I don’t know their mother’s name, if they are Jewish, I say their name and then bat (daughter) or ben (son) of Sarah (the wife of Abraham). If they are not Jewish, I say bat or ben Chavah (Eve, the more specifically female part of the Adam spectrum).

So, why am I changing my name? I’m not eliminating any of it, but I am adding onto it. As I move into the next phase of my life, I want a name that fits the next phase of who I am becoming. I want to create that space to flow into. I also am changing in lots of ways and feel like a different person. I want to shed the old dried skin parts of who I have been and embrace the self that is now emerging fully. And, last year at Yom Kippur, my rabbi Naomi Steinberg, encouraged us to think about choosing and taking on a Torah name. I had never thought about doing this, but once she planted the seed, I started dreaming and thinking about it.

My meditation brought me to the name Miriam.

From a program for Tof Miriam Shabbat: http://marlaleigh.com/jewish-programs-2/tof-miriam-shabbaton-programs/
From a program for Tof Miriam Shabbat: http://marlaleigh.com/jewish-programs-2/tof-miriam-shabbaton-programs/

Miriam, as Moses’ sister, could have been my great, great, great……great Aunt. I claim her as family and mentor. Miriam was a prophetess, a leader of her tribe. She was the one who encouraged and nudged her brother Moses to take his place and do the job he needed to do. She was a community activist and agitator. She was fierce and strong. She led the women in prayer and song and dance. She was responsible for water flowing from the desert to the people. As long as she lived, the wandering Jewish tribes had access to water. When she died, there was no more magical spring that bubbled up at her command. Moses, confronted by the thirsty and complaining throngs, in the midst of his grieving, gets water for the people, but he does so the wrong way, causing him to not be able to enter the “promised land.”

The wrong way is the violent way, the hitting the earth and rock way, versus the Miriam way of calling up the water from the underground spring, of singing to and with the earth. Miriam has always been my hero. She’s an older sister, she’s not shy or afraid. She knows what to do and how to do it. My Alpha, Alpha female self really relates to all the stories of her, and I’m a writ large bold kinda gal, so connecting with her for the next part of my life feels really right.

So, before I changed my name, I wanted to call or find Kendra, who I haven’t spoken to in many years. I found a phone number for her and she picked up the phone. We both broke into tears and started apologizing to each other for how long it had been. Then I said, let’s not apologize anymore, we obviously love each other, are connected forever. So, we left apologies behind and talked for a long time.

What is really funny, is that Kendra is in the process of changing her name! We really are twins on some level. I found this to be powerful and significant. She is moving into her new name and I am moving into mine. I had a little ceremony at Temple Beth El, where I am a Lay Leader. It was very sweet and felt so good.

I will now be known, among the tribes of Israel  when I am called to the Torah or for prayers of healing, as:

Miriam Shoshanah Adamah Cohen bat Channah v’Jacob

For the English spelling, I added the letter “H” to both Shoshana and Adama a few years ago. This was because in the Hebrew they end in the letter “Hey” which is one of the letters in the four letter Macro/Super/Ultimate name of the Divine.

When Avraham and Sarah became Jews, they changed and the Holy One changed their names from Avram and Sarai to Avraham and Sarah.


The Hey letter was put into their names connecting them with the Divine. It’s a big long name, my new name. I only need folks to call me that when they call me up to the Torah, or if they are praying for my well-being. I’m still happy here in the Nicole Zone. A new name is very exciting and I’m super excited for it. One last teaching on Hebrew and why it is so powerful for me. This passage by Marcia Falk is excerpted from The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath, and the New Moon Festival (Harper, 1996; Beacon, 1999). Copyright © 1996 by Marcia Lee Falk.”The Book of Blessings by Marcia Falk http://www.marciafalk.com/index.html:

“There is for me a plumbline that drops from the center of my being down to the beginning of my history. At one end, álef, at the other, taf. If human language is, in large measure, what gives us our humanity—allowing me to communicate with you, distinguishing us from other parts of creation—then Hebrew is sign and symbol of my particular human identity, giving me my home as a Jew. Although my first language is English, I cannot imagine myself without the millennia-old language of my people. When I was fifteen, visiting Israel for the first time, an Israeli asked me what was my “mother tongue,” my s’fat eym. English, I replied is my s’fat eym, but Hebrew is my s’fat dam—the language of my blood.”~ Marcia Falk


My s’fat dam is also Hebrew, everything about it calls to me and moves me and even writing these words makes a river of tears flow out of me. I have a BLOOD relationship to it, it runs through my very being. As I go into silence and stillness—my Jubilee retreat is only a few months away now, HEBREW is calling to me.

I want to swirl and sing and dance in it, alone, just me and my s’fat dam. I will be diving into the waters of Hebrew while I am away, working hard to move this language from the underground wellsprings in my being, up into my frontal lobe and language and reasoning centers. I want to read it fluently, I want to be able to look at the Torah or the Talmud and not just have aha moments, but have a continuous flow of delight, questioning and dialogue. As Miriam, I will be able to do that more. I can feel her presence supporting me on this journey and I hear her timbrel calling me to the dance.

Tohu Vavohu

Tohu Vavohu by Marjorie Feldman



Jubilee Part Three: Beyond the Veils of Illusion in this World


Two young Jews, my brother Paul and I, in Morocco, in a Moslem garden, at the inner pool.
Two young Jews, my brother Paul and I, in Islamic Morocco, in a garden, at the inner tiled pool.

I fasted from food and water on Tuesday July, 15, this year.  I don’t always observe this particular traditional Jewish fast day.  For practicing Jewish folks the 17th of Tammuz this year fell on July15th. This is a Jewish day of mourning when we fast and meditate on the destruction of sacred territory and the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem. This is the exact same territory that folks are currently violently hating and killing each other over.

There was a call for a joint fast and prayer vigil between Jews, Christians, and Moslems for Peace. It was open to all peoples who wished to join in, not just members of these three religions. I participated here, in our little hamlet, and joined in spirit with my friends in Israel and Palestine. All over the world there were folks engaging together in this activity, but it wasn’t front page news anywhere. I spent several hours in prayer in the morning and actually went through the older more traditional siddur (Jewish prayer book). It took me two hours to complete the morning prayers. I also cried and did my own personal prayers. The traditional Jewish fast for this day is from all water and food between sunset and sundown. All practicing Moslems observe this kind of fast for the entire month of Ramadan, which we were still in.

This territory of violence and harm seems to be perpetually cycling in the Holy Land and it certainly looks like and feels like it has not really changed despite the several thousand years of time between now and then. And yet it has or it is changing all the time. People are also coming together in love and solidarity across great walls and divides, now and even in the past also. If you study history you know it is not simple and always polarized.

There are shades of color and depth to every narrative. This is true in the past and today. Some people in the world are guided by love, caring, a desire to learn, grow and improve and they work to help and heal wherever they can. There are also people in the world whose lives and hearts are constricted by wounding, fear, violence, poverty, hunger, greed and rage and they create more hurt. Often we are some of both, in fact mostly, we are all of the above. If you only listen to or look at the narratives of wounding, hate and violence you begin to think this is all that is going on, or has ever gone on and you give up hoping and growing.

For some reason we think all the horror on the front-page is the story all the time. We look for the bloody, gory, ugly, painful stories first. We are drawn to them. This may be based on some deep primal self-preservation instinct. We need to be aware of the dangers around us so we can stay safe and keep our families and communities safe. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking emotionally stunts us, makes us anxious, and keeps us looped into a flight or fight pattern. This is well-documented and not just some rambling thought from me. You can read all about this in Dr. Daniel Goleman’s 1995 best-selling book Emotional Intelligence. I consider his book to be a must read for anyone who wants to understand the way the human mind and emotions work.

So, our need to be safe precludes our higher functioning and higher thinking. We jump and run or go right into a fear or anxiety place. This is a human thing to do. If we have been traumatized, and who hasn’t on some level or another, in childhood or in a war, or an illness or any painful hard time, we create a groove, a tire-track, wheel-rut that takes us immediately to that place. This is not the place where we reason, where we breathe, where we remember to call a friend or that what we are feeling is disproportionate to what is going on. This is the pure fear place. When you are actually in a war zone, it is intelligent to pay attention in this accelerated and highly sensitized way, it may save your life or the lives of those you love or who are near you. Living this way all the time takes its toll though and is not good for anyone.

People in marketing and advertising know you need to stimulate folks sexually and/or engage their primal fears. If you are successful in doing this they will buy your product or your story-line. We consume in fear more than we do when we are calm. We hoard and grab and gather in greater amounts when we are worried. So, if you stimulate this tendency in humans with a constant beat of horror and fear around the world you create an atmosphere that lends itself to folks consuming more than they need to and believing the story they are being told everyday. They literally cannot see beyond the blood and sex veil.

For me, and for many others, stepping outside of the circle of news and information is one way to avoid this wheel rut pattern in my mind. When I actually am not fearful or overwhelmed with sadness and grief about the grotesqueness and wrongness in the world, I start to see something different. I cannot do this when the violence and hate speakers are on loud, or if the television or the facebook or twitter streams are jamming my heart and brain.

I can only do this when I push back this veil, this screen that is playing these loud and angry and yes also real picture of things going on. When I manage to do that, something else emerges. I realize that really 99% of the folks I have ever met are GOOD people. The really angry, violent mean people are a tiny percentage of the world’s population. They are powerful and they wreak great damage, but they are not the majority, they aren’t even close to it. We feed the beast by believing it. When we have the courage to reach out towards those who are different or who look like our enemies, something entirely different happens. We no longer want to go shopping or hide; instead we want to think and be still and feel. This kind of shifting is what needs and must happen for peace and love to grow, and the only way I know to do that is to stop walking on the wrong path and to invite others to join me. We just have to turn, to do a Teshuvah. Teshuvah can be translated to mean turning or re-aligning, it is normally just translated as repentance, but the Hebrew  has much more depth and cannot be parsed into a one word translation. Real teshuvah is a game-changer.

Is there any way that my veil parting efforts and path-shifting can manifest in some way to help others get off the misery-fear road? All my prayers start with wanting all the suffering and pain of the world to stop. My prayer and need for peace is cell-deep in me and in most of the humans I have ever met or encountered through their teachings. To answer this question, to see if there is something I can do that is more than just being present for my family, friends and community, I have to get away from this loud and in my/your face constant stream of ugliness. This doesn’t mean I think it is all ugly here. I live in paradise, Humboldt County, U.S.A. in the 21st century. There are hospitals, antibiotics, organic gardens, community, beauty and love all around me. There are also murders, rapes, betrayals, violence, stupidity etc… I try and avoid the latter and if I do engage with these elements it is as a counselor or helper to someone who has been hurt. We can change and grow, switch the channel, and emerge even from extremely difficult circumstances. I know so many folks who have.

So, part of why I need to get away on a Jubilee retreat has to do with wanting to exit the story that most folks on this planet are currently on. I want to see what story exists beyond this one that is currently obvious and playing out on all of our communal screens and minds. Is there some other narrative thread that I can connect to so strongly and so well that I can return from sanctuary and solitude and be able to share it and offer it? I cannot know until I go looking. So, I am consciously turning off the well-beaten path, as so many others have done before me. I am going on a quest to see what is real that is not tainted by someone’s agenda or need for me to eat, drink, be afraid, consume or vote one way or another. My own agenda is something else entirely, and I am sure I will spend a great deal of time having to navigate whatever territory it throws up, but as I turn and align with being fifty I am no longer a novice at looking at my own stuff. I’m ready for this challenge and hungry to begin….to be continued…


Nicole parts the veil from her beautiful home in Bayside, where she has no television and where she does live in a kind of bubble of her own making of good food, love and kindness, she endeavors to stretch the bubble to include all those she encounters and prays every day for us all to live in a bubble bath of Epic and Glorious proportions! She invites you to jump in with her here in these pages.

This article was originally published in the Mad River Union on July 23, 2014, it is slightly adapted here from the original. It is number three in a larger series. Please see My True Heart Opens and Quaking for the Divine if you are just arriving to my site for the first time.

Most Secret

The View from my Most Secret cabin at Sunset
The View from my Most Secret cabin deck September 2012

Breaking down, broken down, into the pieces of self, the shards of who I am. These remnants that I need to explore here and now. My process very personal, but somehow still needing to unwind and offer some of it here in this public space. This place here is pretty perfect ground. I am at the Vajrapani Institute about an hour outside of Santa Cruz. My cabin is named “most secret.” I love it for many reasons, not least of which, is that very little about me has ever been “most secret.” To prove the point, here I am sharing from “most secret.”


I hope you enjoy the humor in this as much as I do. There isn’t much else about this process that is funny. It’s actually been pretty brutal, which feels right. This kind of self-examination and introspection, that anyone on a spiritual path has to engage in, is a fundamental step. It precedes and follows all progression. For me, it is a yearly cycle tied to my community and the religious calendar I am aligned with. I do the work alone, but I do it with several million other Jewishly engaged folks. So, I’m alone, but not really.


All of my faults are faults others have, but they are my unique shards of self. Each one of them has some sharp edges and while looking at them I am pierced and I bleed. I am breathing heavy and crying and working, working and my heart is pumping fast and I feel it pounding against my chest. There is such pain here, especially around the wounds I’ve generated in those I most love. I can’t talk about that here. That content is most secret because it isn’t just mine to share. I can only talk about the things that don’t involve someone else or that someone else has given me specific permission to share.


Or I can talk about this process. I want to scream from the mountain tops and howl and shout and rant and rage: “Figure your mess out, do it now! What are you waiting for? Can the planet take anymore of our obtuseness? Can those we love put up with more of our obliviousness and take one more hit to the heart? Have all the homeless and hungry been fed? Are the wars over? Can’t someone please make it all stop?”


The suffering on this planet, right NOW is so immense, black hole size large. What is one small drop of my self-examination and correction in the face of this? It’s a small offering against the tide of a very large current. Especially, if it is just me making the effort. But, it isn’t just me. Everywhere I go there are people making this effort. Every person who wakes up a little more, who extends a little more, who tries a little harder and who grows their heart muscle a little more is making this journey with me, and we are making a difference.


Even in the random novels I read, the not religious ones, the ones just for pleasure, there are offerings and reminders that link me to this time of truth seeking. This little bit came to me while taking a break from self-examination (as if the Holy One will ever let me off the hook): “Truth is everything. We do not know it, we do not know how to get it, we do not have it in our possession, God will zap it on us like a police warrant as we arrive breathless at the gates, it is entirely beyond us, truth, bloody truth, but it is everything.”¬­on Canaan’s side by Sebastian Barry; Penguin Books 2011. This wonderful novel is one of the “advance uncorrected proofs—not for sale” books that I get from Northtown Books. I highly recommend it. It was very lyric, topical, painful, lovely and so moving. It’s been on my shelf for a year and came out last August, so it should even be in paperback by now and I am grateful I read it.


Then I also read this text: “Our tradition regards regret for past wrongdoing as an essential step on the road to t’shuvah and self improvement. This is why Elul, the month preceding the Days of Awe, is regarded as one of introspection or cheshbon ha-nefesh literally, “an accounting of the soul.” It is this inner examination that leads to regret for those shortcomings that have prevented us from achieving our God-given potentials. This regret, in turn, propels us to make restitution for the wrong we have done, to effectively turn to our higher selves and, hence, behave in improved fashion in the New Year.” A Faithful Heart—Preparing for the High Holy Days: A Study Text based on the Midrash Maaseh Avraham Avinu by Benjamin Levy: UAHC Press 2001


Shards spread out before me, they make a pretty mosaic mess. I have lots of mending to do. The hardest work will require profound changes in how I live my life. It isn’t enough to do this haphazardly or partially, at least not for me, not as I approach fifty, not with the suffering on this earth as it is. I just don’t have a sense of endless time to work with. I know I can’t save the world, despite my always having wanted to. I’m no longer twenty and thinking I can do everything that needs doing. I’m coming up to fifty and looking at what is left for me to do that is doable. I want to be effective, not just effusive.


I’m listening right this second to one of my favorite songs, by Rabbi Jack Gabriel. It just came through my headphones as I typed the previous sentence: “These are the desires of my heart, have compassion, do not disappear, Eyla hamda libi, hosana vi’alna titaleyv.” In the song, the lines are repeated multiple times and it has a quality of longing. This saying is from our prayerbook, and in the original it is a plea for the Holy One to grant us pardon. I love this rendering though.


So, before I disappear, my heart desires compassion.

Compassion writ large!

Another funny moment among the shattered and piercing ones here is that, for the last few years, I have been signing my letters and emails not just “Love, Nicole,” but “Big Love, Nicole.” As I walked in the door to the Vajrapani institute, for the first time, I neglected to notice the sign on the other side of the door. My daughter, who was with me for the first two days of my retreat, pointed it out to me. It was a picture of their founder Lama Yeshe with the words “Big Love” in cursive written across his chest. It is the saying of this place and one of the Lama’s teachings. So, everywhere here, there is the feeling of Big Love.


I can definitely get behind that!!!!


Gathering up the final remnants and making a neat little pile to examine further, there is one last crucial piece. All the rabbis I’ve read agree that it is important to say what you’ve done wrong, to name your mess/your shards out loud. It is not enough to just put them in a journal. Posting them on facebook won’t count either! I am not talking about confessing to another person or restitution here, but the first part, the preliminary part. After you’ve broken down and found your shattered parts, name them and ask for forgiveness out loud from whatever you believe in. If you do this exercise, I promise, profound changes in you will unfold. And, even if you don’t have any specific belief, call out anyway. Practice believing in a force of loving kindness and BIG LOVE that has your back and knows you intimately and has compassion for you. Practice trusting that you can change and that the world will have less suffering. Practice really makes perfect, and the more practicing we do, the more perfected the world will become.



Nicole shares with you from two worlds, her home, and also from her quiet “most secret” cabin in the mountains outside of Boulder Creek, California, in the haven of quiet and Big Love that the Vajrapani Institute created. She sends you strength of purpose and great gobs of love to do your part of the work.


This piece has been adapted but it was originally published in the Arcata Eye, September 26, 2012 ©Nicole Barchilon Frank