Passover Reflections, 2014 – Preparing for Passover #3

A Connection Through Time       

Sunday is coming to a close, and tomorrow night is the first night of Passover. I just finished cleaning our house and I can’t imagine there could be any chametz  anywhere. Chametz is the Hebrew word that stands for all leavened foods forbidden during Passover (wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt and their derivatives). The outer act of cleaning our homes — of emptying our homes from chametz –– is there to trigger the beginning of an inner process of emptying ourselves from our leavened ego, our puffed-up-ness, which will continue to unfold over the eight days of Passover.

Tonight, as the sun sets, I will gather my children around me, and the three of us will walk through the house at the light of a candle to symbolically look for the last bread crumbs that might have escaped my spring cleaning. I always look forward to this moment. It connects me back to my childhood and doing this with my father and brother, like my father did with his father growing up. Generations of Jews have repeated this ritual called b’dikat chametz year after year for the last two millennia, collecting the crumbs in a container to be burnt in the morning (biur chametz.) Lior, my 10 year old son, asked this morning — as he was watching me getting the house ready — why Passover is such an important holiday compared to others? The first answer that came up for me was that, however religious, whatever their belief or lack thereof, Jews all over the world will be sitting at the Seder table tomorrow night, retelling the story of the Haggadah and partaking of the foods of the Seder plate. Perhaps this holiday, more than any other, is one which connects us through time to all the generations that have come before us, a celebration that is foundational to Jewish identity. [Read more…]

Passover Reflections 2014 – Preparing for Passover #2

The Kabbalah of Passover      

A few years ago, at our annual Bet Alef Community Seder, I shared with those in attendance — members and non-members alike — a tradition that has been in my family for, I suspect, many generations. Growing up, I remember looking forward to this ritual where my grandfather (of blessed memory,) at the beginning of the Seder, would come around the table and gently touch the top of our bowed heads with the still untouched Seder plate, while chanting a short phrase in Hebrew. It felt like I was participating in a millennia-old ritual, being blessed through the hands of my grandfather by all the symbols of the Seder plate touching the crown of my head. It was always a deeply humbling moment that never failed to give me chills.

It is only four years ago, when the project of writing a new Haggadah for the Bet Alef Community Seder began, that my studies led me to discover the deep Kabbalistic connections to this family ritual. Who and when in my North African Sephardic family had integrated this Kabbalistic ritual, and how did it come to be a family tradition? I guess I will never know. But I thought I would share it with you as part of these Passover Reflections as it now appears in the Bet Alef Haggadah. [Read more…]

Passover Reflections – April 2014

Preparing for Passover #1

Mah Nish’tanah? What Has Changed?     

This is the time of the year, personally, when I delight in re-opening the Passover Haggadah and in looking inside for more treasures to be revealed. Four years ago I compiled a new version of the Bet Alef Haggadah, drawing from many sources and teachers that have inspired me along the years. I thought, this year, that I would invite you into my own process of preparing myself to meet the holiday, by sharing excerpts from the Bet Alef Haggadah that call to me over the next three days. Here are a few:

Egypt in Hebrew is MitzrayimMitzrayim means “narrow places.” Our Egypts are those places in our lives that have become lifeless — aspects of ourselves that feel constricted, bound up, unable to be expressed. Our Egypts [also] represent our falling into the dullness of everyday life, the deadening routine of an existence where we have lost consciousness. The Haggadah tells the story not only of our Exodus from a physical Egypt, but perhaps most importantly, our exodus from an Egypt of a deadening mindless rut, where things lose their taste and meaning as a consequence of repetitiveness. Delving into the Hebrew for the word “Haggadah” suggests a way out of our enslavement. The word comes from the root “nagod” which means “to oppose”– to go against that which exists within the repetitive banality of our day-to-day existence. [Read more…]

Journey Through Israel 2012 – Hineini

Could you pinch me please? I am having a hard time believing it, but we are here—we are all here—in Israel, ready to embark on a new journey of self-discovery through the landscape and the people of this magical land.

I took a taxi from the airport to Jerusalem on Tuesday just as the sun was setting. It was one of these minibus cabs that sit 10 people. It’s cheaper to take those because all 10 passengers are sharing the costs, but it also means that, unless you are the first one on the route to be dropped off, you could be in for a long ride. I was the seventh. I could easily have been upset—exhausted as I was after a 20 hour flight—about the fact that it took me another two hours to get to my friends’ place instead of the normal 45 minutes it would have usually taken. But how could I be when I was treated to the most gorgeous lightshow. Dropping off one passenger at a time, the cab crisscrossed the many neighborhoods of North Jerusalem and I got to witness the thousands of Chanukah menorahs (or chanukiot) lit in the countless windows of hundreds of apartment buildings one street after another. What a sight! And if you missed the ones in the apartments’ windows, you could see the giant electric chanukiot at every street corner, every city square, every park, and on the roofs of government buildings and hotels, as well as in every little store on the street, from the wine shop to the mini mart, from the hairdresser to the falafel stand. Flickering candles everywhere.

Ahl ha-nisim v’al ha-nifla’ot” they sing here; dedicating their candles “for the miracles and the awe filled times.” And so our trip begins, with the keen awareness of the miracle of this and every moment, the miracle that Israel even exists, the miracle that we are here, the miracle of each day we wake up to no matter where we are on the planet. It begins with a sense of awe; a sense of gratitude and deep appreciation.

The very first stop of our trip, tomorrow morning, comes from a response to an invitation that came through Jana of a woodworker who builds the most amazing Arks, Torah reading tables and other religious artifacts out of wood. I shared with our group how perfect I thought it was that we get to start our journey here visiting with a Jewish carpenter!

Ahl ha-nisim v’al ha-nifla’ot… Hineini – I am here.

A “Days of Awe” Retreat – Day 2

Back to Life, Back to Reality

The Ten Days of Awe between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, are an opportunity to enter into a time of personal retreat, the theme of which is “forgiveness.” The path of forgiveness is one of the most powerful spiritual paths available to us. Forgiving ourselves and others, and even–for some of us–forgiving God, can be a compelling pathway to moving beyond the narrow confines of our ego and finding greater peace within. Forgiving helps us move from our obsessive concerns with our small self and its compelling, mesmerizing stories; and toward our Higher Self, free from stories and obsessions.
[Read more…]

Passover Reflections: April 1 – 7, 2012

A Connection Through Time     

Thursday is coming to a close, and tomorrow night is the first night of Passover. I just finished cleaning our house and I can’t imagine there could be any chametz left anywhere. Chametz is the Hebrew word that stands for all leavened foods forbidden during Passover (wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt and their derivatives.) The outer act of cleaning our homes — of emptying our homes from chametz — is there to trigger the beginning of an inner process of emptying ourselves from our leavened ego, our puffed-up-ness, which will continue to unfold over the eight days of Passover.

Tonight, as the sun sets, I will gather my children around me, and the three of us will walk through the house at the light of a candle to symbolically look for the last bread crumbs that might have escaped my spring cleaning. I always look forward to this moment. It connects me back to my childhood and doing this with my father and brother, like my father did with his father growing up. Generations of Jews have repeated this ritual called b’dikat chametz year after year for the last two millennia, collecting the crumbs in a container to be burnt in the morning (biur chametz.) Lior, my 8 year old son, asked this morning — as he was watching me getting the house ready — why Passover is such an important holiday compared to others? The first answer that came up for me was that, however religious, whatever our beliefs or lack thereof, Jews all over the world will be sitting at the Seder table tomorrow night, retelling the story of the Haggadah and partaking of the foods of the Seder plate. Perhaps this holiday, more than any other, is one which connects us through time to all the generations that have come before us, a celebration that is foundational to Jewish identity.
[Read more…]

Purim 2012

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Chanukah 2011

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Simchat Torah

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