Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Happy spring holidays to those who are keeping track!

I have just returned from a trip to Lithuania, a place I certainly did not expect to travel to when I left for Jerusalem this year.  Lithuania had fallen into the category of "Eastern European countries (that used to have Jewish populations) that I know little about," and when traveling to Israel for the year I was distracted by all the Hebrew that I needed to learn. When one of my favorite professors announced that he was leading a trip there, I jumped at the opportunity.

At the beginning of this year, I heard that Vilnius (Vilna in Yiddish) was called "Jerusalem of Lithuania" in the 1920s. What chutzpah, I thought, for a place that wasn't Jerusalem to name itself Jerusalem! There is only one Jerusalem, and it is in Israel, not eastern Europe.

But learning about Vilna in the 1920s told a different story. Of the 240,000 Jews in Lithuania, 100,000 lived in Vilna, making up 40% of the city's population. There were six Jewish daily newspapers, written in Yiddish, over 100 synagogues and multiple specialized Yiddish schools. Jews were doctors, lawyers, shoemakers, teachers, journalists.... Jewish life in Vilna was thriving, for secular Jews as well as for observant Jews.

Furthermore, Vilna was an unparalleled center of Jewish learning. Two contradicting and vibrant streams of Orthodox Judaism were practiced in Vilna: there were yeshivot (schools) for Chassidic Jews, who believe that the Divine Spark is within all humans, as well as Mitnagdic Jews, who believe that Holiness is achieved through text study. The Gaon of Vilna is the city's most famous resident, and a champion of the Mitnagdic cause.  That changed drastically when World War II started, when Lithuanians as well as Germans took to murdering their Jewish neighbors.

On our trip, we visited three types of sites: museums and synagogues, sites with markers and plaques, and sites with nothing at all. The politics of memory is complicated in Vilna, where many of the site markers blame facism, rather than Lithuanians and Nazis themselves.

View of Vilna from above

Vandalized memorial to a Jewish cemetery in Vilna - the Soviets built a sports arena on the cemetery site, the arena stands today

The site of the founding of the Bund, the Jewish Communist organization (no marker or plaque here)

Old Jewish storefront in Vilna!

Interior of wooden synagogue in Zheizhmir, Lithuania. 2,000 Jews lived here, and 3 families survived. Ludovic, a local who helped feed the 3 families who were in hiding, opened the synagogue for us so that we could have a morning prayer service.

View of the synagogue from the road

Turn 160 degrees from the synagogue, and you see the town church

View of Kovno, interwar capital, from above

Me + Jeremy, our fearless leader. We are happy because we are not at a Holocaust site!

Synagogue in Kovno, still functioning for daily prayers

Signs of life in the Kovno Synagogue

Memorial to victims of fascism at the 9th Fort in Kovno - location of mass grave of 50,000 Lithuanian and Polish people - 30,000 of whom were Jews

Visiting Ponar - forest where 100,000 people were shot into man-made pits such as this one, 70,000 of whom were Jews. The bodies were later burned when the Nazis began losing the war, to erase the evidence. The pits remain.

Memorial in Ponar

There were many moving moments throughout the trip - praying Shacharit services in the wooden synagogue, hearing a survivor of the Vilna ghetto tell her story, reading halachic (Jewish law) rulings on the correct blessing to say before one is killed by the Nazis, reading a letter written by the head of the Kovno Jewish Council (intermediary between the Jewish population and the Nazis) to his children on the day of the ghetto liquidation... In addition to the emotional processing, the question for me is how do I relate to this? As an American Jew in 2015, how do I teach about this? How do I understand my place in the world as a Jew? How does Israel fit in? 

May your spring holidays be filled with liberation,

Thursday, January 29, 2015

January in Jerusalem

Hi all!

It's been a busy January in Jerusalem.  I returned to the city after a refreshing vacation at home, where I got to see so many amazing and kind family and friends.

When I got back to Jerusalem, I was greeted by our version of a snowstorm:

A mid-snow under-bridge party (??)

Me + some Jewish snowmen - the man on my left is wearing a streimel, or a fur hat favored by some Chasidic Jews on holidays

Trying to catch a snowflake on my balcony

Snowy view from my window

The aftermath (an umbrella, a palm frond, snow)

And eventually, bluer skies and warmer days

This semester is starting off with lots of excitement - a new class (the Arab-Israeli conflict), new plans for studying, preparing for my D'var Torah which I will give in February... wish me lots of luck!

Love always,

Monday, January 12, 2015


Happy New Year, family, lovers, and friends!

Sorry for the MAJOR delay in posting.  It's been a crazy semester!

And now here I am, for semester #2, heading back to classes and excited to hit the ground running!

Here are some highlights from last semester... (Not pictured: a wonderful visit from Aunt Annette, Uncle Bob, Phil, Brenda, and Ian!!!!!!!!)

Amazing brunches with friends

A trip to Berlin

A trip to Sderot, 1 mile from the Gaza border - that caterpillar on the playground is a bomb shelter

Hiking Har Shlomo - that's Israel and Egypt behind me

The most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen in the Negev desert

I just can't get enough

A trip to HaPoel Jerusalem - the city's basketball team, and the opportunity to answer press questions

Hanukah decorations with some kids I volunteer with

Plenty of time in the library

XOXO - and more this semester!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

High Holy Days

In light of the spirit of the High Holy Days, it seems appropriate to begin this blog post with an apology: I am sorry for being so out of touch!  I know it's not just on this blog but via email, text, and more. I promise to try to be better in the new year :)

Shanah Tovah!

It has certainly been a packed month since I've last written.  Highlights include:

  • Spending the days after the Gaza cease-fire was signed in the north of Israel on a study field trip. We explored an urban kibbutz, learned about the Israelis who established kibbutzim in the 1910s-20s, and visited the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). For the part of the day that we spent near the Syrian border, we heard explosions every 3-5 minutes: a reminder of the neighborhood in which Israel is located. It was crazy to have my prayer for peace punctuated by the sound of war.
  • Beginning classes. I'm taking: liturgy, 2nd Temple history, Zionist history, an Israel seminar, Hebrew, Biblical Grammar, Bible, and Rabbinic texts. Whew! All of the professors are incredibly knowledgable and kind.
  • Running with friends for sunset views all over the city.
  • Swimming, playing frisbee, and drinking at the beach in Tel Aviv.  
Right now, at the beginning of the Yomim Nora'im, the Days of Awe, I'm thinking about the delicate nature of life.  After a summer of war, a month of preparative introspection, and missing the funeral of my great-uncle Arnie two days ago, life feels especially fragile. The Jewish imagery of these days is of two great books: one for death and one for life; a quill writing names in each on Rosh Hashanah, and sealing the decrees on Yom Kippur. People and angels alike pass in judgment between holy gates. 

The imagery is so powerful because it reminds us that what we do on every day outside of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is what matters. It matters when we act with generosity and kindness. It matters when we choose to recycle instead of throw something in the trash. It matters when we call our family and say hello. It matters when we take the time to get to know our classmates and coworkers. Our actions have immense consequences, and our actions of the past years have made us into who we are today. Today's actions make us who we will be tomorrow.  When we act for life, we are inscribed in the book of life.

I'm excited for this year of study and exploration: of a new city, of my tradition, of myself.  

May we all be inscribed in the Sefer HaChaiim, the Book of Life.

Shanah Tovah,

Thursday, August 14, 2014



So in addition to being super thoughtful about what's going on in Israel/Gaza right now, I've been having a lot of fun too.  Here are some pictures to prove it!

Beach in Raanana

Pre Shabbat selfie with cousins in Raanana 

The beautiful campus in Jerusalem

Selfie with program director and friends on a Biblical History Field Trip

Matching Titans gear + shoes with my friend post 5mile Havdalah run

Grateful that I have a life and home to return to.  

Shabbat shalom!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tisha B'Av

It has been a tough week here in Jerusalem.  I know that as I write this, the cease fire is holding and there is even preliminary talk of a more extended ceasefire. But a few days, we had two terror attacks in Jerusalem, and yesterday we marked Tisha B'av.

Tisha b'Av is the ninth day in the month of Av, a day associated with many great calamities that have befallen the Jewish people, most notably the destruction of the first and second temples in ancient Jerusalem. We are taught that the second temple was destroyed because of the sin of "sinat chinam," translated as "baseless hatred."  On this day, we fast and read the book of Lamentations, making time for ourselves to mourn and look within.

Looking around my world in Jerusalem, this feels extremely relevant. Barely 50 miles away from my beautiful apartment in Jerusalem, two peoples have been at war. In the context of the last 30 days, "baseless hatred" seems like an over-simplication, but in the course of history, it seems to fit.  I cannot confidently take one position about what is going on: this war, this country, this history, these peoples are much too complex.

Everything about the current situation in Israel and Gaza causes me distress. I feel anguish for the young soldiers who face the harsh realities of war, and for their families and countrymen who wait at home for news of their safety. I feel anguish for those residents of Gaza who been displaced from their homes with nowhere to go, and for the significant loss of civilian life, particularly of children. I feel anguish for the citizens of Israel who are constantly on alert for the sounds of air raid sirens, and who then hear echoes of the sirens in the acceleration of a passing motorbike or the murmurs of a refrigerator. I feel anguish for a people who live in a blockaded country, and for the country that creates the blockade. I feel anguish for Jews around the world who face increased violence and anti-Semitic attacks as a result of this war. I feel anguish for the Jewish people, who suffers when thoughtful people disengage from Israel because it seems so hard to understand.

During services yesterday, as we read one of the concluding prayers, I realized something that suddenly seemed so obvious.  As a community, we said together: "Bayom hahu, yih'yeh Adonai echad, u'shmo echad": "and on that day, G-d will be one, and G-d's name will be one." I understood that the actual name of god doesn't particularly matter, and neither does religion. The meaning of oneness is that we treat one another with loving-kindness (gimilut chasidim) and respect, regardless of religion or nationality (or gender or ...)  We can hope for and work toward that day by infusing our lives with loving kindness and respect, and by making space for complexity.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What to do, what to say?

I keep sitting down to write this post and I'm not sure where to begin or where to go.  As I write this, I've read reports of Germans shouting anti-Semitic chantsairlines are canceling flights into IsraelBan Ki Moon stating that Gazans are victims of the "brutal Hamas regime", the death toll in Gaza tops 600, and the UN Security Council has reaffirmed it's commitment to brokering a ceasefire. What to do, what to say?

Physically, I'm pretty safe in Jerusalem. We haven't had rocket sirens in almost two weeks and if you don't look or listen too closely, you might think that Jerusalem is simply a quiet city. But if you do engage, the undercurrents speak volumes. Graffiti around the city reminds us (ironically, perhaps), that "hakol b'seder" - everything is ok, or everything is in order.

Other graffiti asks Bibi (Prime Minister Netenyahu) what the "point", or target is. These words with the image of a young girl in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle are jarring.  Other graffiti proclaims that "girls in Sderot [Israel] and Gaza want to live." Gatherings in large public spaces are cancelled. Shabbat services this past weekend included the prayer for our soldiers and for the welfare and decision-making of the government, and more importantly, mentioned the specific families from congregations that had a relative called up. 

What to do, what to say?

It's not all doom and gloom. This war in Gaza (Israelis have started using the word "war," instead of "situation") is the backdrop of my life right now, fading away as I sit down for hours of Hebrew study or a Biblical history lecture. There's also the city, with cafes and winding roads and alleyways and restaurants that I'm discovering, along with new friends. 

I'm going to conclude with six of my favorite words: 
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ יי אֶחָד
"Sh'ma" - Listen
"Israel" - one who struggles with G!d (or goodness, or human nature, or tragedy, or violence in the divine name")
"Adonai" - G!d
"Eloheinu" - is ours
"Adonai" - G!d
"Echad" - is one

The world is diverse, beautiful, animated. And we all struggle, and we are all one.