Friday, December 26, 2014

A New View

Been back for over a week and I'm still on a high from my very first Jewish Women's Renaissance Project (JWRP) "MOMentum" Trip to Israel. I was one of several "city leaders" for the Baltimore/Etz Chaim contingent of a 200-strong group of amazing women from all over
the United States. (These were 200 of the 2,400 women who have participated in this program in the past nine months alone!)

As much as I appreciate the blessing of being so comfortable and at Home in Israel, I will never forget the feeling of experiencing the Land for the very first time almost 40 years ago. This post is dedicated to some of the first-timers on the JWRP trip who helped me recapture that excitement through their adventure:

To Jenny, who received her Hebrew name (Leeba Tikva) on Masada - along with (left) Nava Chana-Nicole, (right) Michal Emunah-Michon and several other JWRP participants.

To Angela, who made challah for the very first time, and brought the beauty of the mitzvah back to her young daughters in Columbia, MD.
To Laurie (center), who - together with her two best friends, Mandy and Lorren (yes, twins) - was the life of the party.

To Vicki, who didn't let a little blessed rainfall dampen her enthusiasm for everything she saw, heard and did all week long.

To Rhina, from New Jersey, who I met on the very last day of the trip and who impressed me with her story and her smile.

For eight indescribable days we laughed, cried, sang, danced, ate, drank, walked, talked, listened to and learned from excellent lecturers - oh, and we shopped, shopped and shopped! I saw the Dead Sea, the holy city of Tzefat and even the Kotel (Western
Wall) through a fresh, new lens. My sincere thanks go to Etz Chaim of Baltimore for giving me this opportunity, to the incredible-beyond-words staff of JWRP who did everything to make this a truly awesome experience for all of us and to the Almighty for keeping us safe on Land and in the air.
Last but not least, I am indebted to all the wonderful women who allowed me into their lives to share this journey with them. Everyone gained and grew in those eight days. May the MOMentum continue!

I stayed on a bit longer after the trip ended - in the Old City of Jerusalem (thanks to the wonderful hospitality of my dear friend Rena and her husband, David), where I bottled up two nights of Chanukah light to bring back with me.

Quality Chanukah time and super-sweet sufganiyot (Chanukah doughnuts) with my dear son, the yeshiva bochur (student of Torah study) was one of the highlights of my 31 hours in the Land of PO.
Until my next trip, I will Remember Jerusalem through the eyes of Jenny, Angela, Laurie, Vicki, Rhina and all the JWRP women who enabled me to see the Land from a newly inspiring perspective. I can't say it any better than we already do in our daily morning prayers: "Ohr chadash al Tzion ta'ir v'nizkeh chulanu bim'heyrah l'oro." May we all soon merit to see Jerusalem and our holy Land basking in a new and eternal light.
Sunrise over the Sea of Galillee

Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Beloved Har Nof... in tears. And I along with her. The shul that was attacked is right next door to the apartment building that we lived in for nearly three years. The murdered and wounded were our neighbors. Too many people I know are suffering terribly right now. Even just one would be one too many - how much more so the number of people affected by this tragedy.

The ripple effect travels beyond Har Nof through all of Jerusalem, across the length and breadth of Israel and around the globe. I can't begin to put my feelings into words but I will share below some words written with much feeling by others, three of whom I am privileged to be able to say I know personally.

May Hashem heal the wounded, comfort the mourners, give us all strength and bring Mashiach very, very soon. Please Remember Har Nof, Jerusalem. Visit this website and help however you can. Share the link with others. And pray for the quick and full recovery of
Shmuel Yerucham ben Baila (Goldstein)
Chaim Yechiel ben Malka (Rotman)
Eitan ben Sara (Mualmi)
Yitzchok ben Chaya
Yaakov ben Rivka Rachel

From Rebetzin Tziporah Heller (who's son-in-law is among the injured):
...Every day in Eretz Yisrael is a gift and a miracle. I have no pretensions of knowing Hashem's will, but I do know that everything He does is purposeful, and that His compassion that is often hidden from the human eye. Anyone who values human life and reality and the eternal nature of the soul is appalled by the idea of people entering a synagogue and (randomly) killing people who they never met.
Except for CNN. They reported the entire event as an attack on a mosque.
Except for BBC. They reported that the Israeli police killed two Palestinians (they meant the murderers). The victims of Israeli brutality presumably were going on a stroll through scenic Har Nof when attacked by the racist troops….
Please post the truth to whomever you can reach.
Please please continue saying Tehillim (psalms) for Shmuel Yerucham ben Baila and the other victims. Daven that Hashem give strength to the five new widows and 24 new orphans. Most of all thank Hashem that we are not Them, and treasure Hashem's Torah and His Land.
Love always,

From Estee Yarmish:
We are frozen, sitting and staring in a daze no one wants to do anything, we went from funeral to funeral, and then back to the kitchen just sitting and staring... After 12 hours, I finally just told everyone to get up and we are baking and cooking for all the families, and I'm emailing you...

From Yaffa Palti:
There are so many questions...and so few answers. As human beings our mental and intellectual capacities are limited and we don't understand the ways in which God runs the world. We are unable to connect naturally with our spiritual universe while living in the physical one.
But, if we are alive in this world, then there is something we need to experience and learn from everything and from everyone that we encounter. So, although we don't know the WHY, we can try to identify with the WHAT. What is the message here? What can I learn from this?
The answers to those questions are distinctive and individual. But, I'll share with you my own personal moral and understanding. What happened this morning reminds me of (an incident that happened at Yeshivas Ner Yisrael in Baltimore many years ago. Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, zt"l, the Rosh HaYeshiva at that time,) said that violence and bloodshed, and acts of aggression don't happen here. They just don't happen inside our sacred homes and shuls and yeshivas. They exist only in the outside world. And if we see that they are entering our private corners; if the bestiality and brutality is happening inside, perhaps that means we are bringing the outside world, inside. And that maybe, this is the natural result of that.
I will try to find that balance. To live in this world, to use it to my advantage, to enjoy its pleasures, to utilize its conveniences....but yet not to bring the outside, inside.
It's about elevating the good while rejecting the bad.
It's about knowing which aspects of the outside world are nourishment and which are poisonous.
And I will take it even a step further. Am I an internal person, or an external one?
Do I want to LOOK good, or BE good?
Do I prioritize my middos (character traits)? My derech eretz (
treating others with respect and kindness)?
Am I sensitive, compassionate, loving towards others or do I give priority to my reputation? Or my outside appearance? Am I more careful about chumras (stringencies) between me and God than about hurting a human being? Am I judgmental?
Am I counting peoples' inches and measurements on the outside...or am I counting my own measurements (middos) on the inside?
I need to be a person of the inside and not of the outside.
May Hashem comfort these wonderful families, and shower them with blessing and kindness.
And may Hashem protect us all and keep us safe...on the outside and on the inside.

From Chaya Tavin:
As Rabbi Rubin (rabbi of the shul where the attack occurred) said at the levaya (funerals) we must strengthen ourselves in Emuna (faith). We must internalize the knowledge that nothing is by chance, nothing is without purpose and meaning. We must strive in some small way to emulate the kedoshim (the holy men who were murdered) - each so different on the surface but so very much the same; each a true lover of Torah and Talmidei Chachamim, each a true lover of his fellow Jew, each a ba’al chesed (doer of kindness) each a man with true simchas hachaim (joy in life). Each of us must look inward; ask “what can I rectify?” Each one of us must make some small yet powerful change. The families of the kedoshim asked those who came to the shiva to please take on something for Am Yisrael. This is derech HaTorah (the way of Torah). This will give nechama (consolation) to the widows, the orphans. This will be a z’chus (merit) for a refuah (recovery) for the injured. And we can pray that this will be the final chapter in the long and painful history of golus (exile) and will bring the Geula bimheyra biyameinu (the final redemption, speedily and in our time). 


The morning after the attack, the very same shul hosted the bris of a newborn little boy. Mazal Tov to him and his family. Life - with all its ups and downs, twists and turns - goes on in Har Nof and in the Jewish world. May the upcoming new month of Kislev be blessed and peaceful in Har Nof and beyond. May Hashem wipe away every tear and let the sun break through the clouds of sadness that darkened our skies this week.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Removing the Evil Decree

Remembering Jerusalem was pretty easy to do these past few months. No need to rehash why. I spent a good part of the summer praying for the peace of Jerusalem (and the rest of our holy Land). And if you're reading this blog, you probably did, too.

Here, far from the front lines, we did what we could for our brethren across the Sea. We tried to be kind to each other as a merit for their safety, we opened our hearts and our wallets
and we supported Israel in word, action and a plethora of YouTube videos. (Click here for one of my favorites, albeit bittersweet. Hat tip to Cousin Bob for sharing.) We wanted to feel the pain of our brothers and sisters under fire. And we thanked G-d for His many miracles in the midst of the madness.

When my son's flight from Israel was cancelled (along with all the others in late July), the stress took on a different meaning in the context of having my personal life directly affected by the war. His delayed return meant that the seven of us would not be together even once this summer. (Thus, no family photo this year.) That disappointment helped me relate to a far more disrupted summertime in Israel.

One of the well-known verses of the High Holiday service reminds us that "repentance, prayer and charity will remove the evil decree". The war certainly gave us lots of  points in the prayer department. And at least as many for charity.
There were organized campaigns to provide everything from pizza to bulletproof vests for our soldiers and countless individual efforts to offer relief and respite to families most affected by the endless barrage of missile attacks. This poignant letter from the daughter of a dear friend of mine will give you a taste of what life was like in Israel this summer - and provide you with yet another charity opportunity.

The photos included in this post were taken on my winter trip to Israel. These are some of the tzedaka (charity) boxes that appear on the sidewalks of Jerusalem and other parts of the country. They have slots for money, clothing and sometimes even food. Charity is not just during war time. It is of high priority in Judaism in general; in Israel in particular. Volumes have been written on the Jewish way to "give". May we all merit to be "givers" and may the giving remove any evil in the decrees for the new year ahead.

As I type, the cease fire is holding. So what now? We'll keep praying, giving charity, trying to be kind to each other and thanking G-d for His many miracles. And maybe we'll Remember Jerusalem with a bit more love and longing even when all is quiet and peaceful there.

This is where I usually include my Rosh Hashanah poem. As much as I enjoy reflecting in rhyme, I'm thinking it may be getting old. If it's something you look forward to every year, click here and scroll down for the full text of years past. Had I added a new stanza for the new year, it surely would have been something about charity being sent back Home...and protecting us better than an iron dome!

Although there was no family photo this summer, the relatively recent pics below include us all - along with our warmest wishes to you and yours for good health, abundant happiness and true peace in 5775 and beyond.

Warmest New Year Wishes
from (l to r) Berel, Zevy, Bill and Simcha...

Note: Simcha donned his "white coat" when he started medical school last month. Attending his White Coat Ceremony in Florida was what we did on our summer vacation. And the palm trees almost made me feel like I was in Israel. (Almost.)

...(Berel, Simcha)... Shani and Yoel...

...and from Yours Truly (with Sim)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


I've been blogging in my head for three months now trying to pick the right topic, find the right words and choose the right photos for my next post. This morning, in about three minutes, I had it all in this one poignant video. My last blogpost was about unity. It got some heat and led to some very meaningful conversations between myself and friends on both sides of the Sea. Each exchange ended with the shared hope and prayer that we should experience true unity under peaceful circumstances before we are forced into it by outside circumstances.

Alas, we've been forced once again with the kidnapping by Palestinian terrorists of three young, innocent teenage boys. The miracle of technology has enabled me to receive notices about prayer gatherings both locally and halfway around the world. I will continue to participate in them and to include Eyal, Gilad and Naftali in all my personal prayers as well until they are home, safe and sound.

My earliest memories of praying for "strangers" is probably the metal bracelets we wore in high school with names of Soviet refuseniks. Anatoly (Natan) Sharansky, Yosef Mendelevich...their names became household words; prayers for their release from Soviet prisons were said daily. There were rallies and letter writing campaigns on their behalf. Too many more names have become household words since then.

When I Remember Jerusalem, I don't want to have to remember the names of these three young men. I don't want their names to become household words. I want them to become "strangers" to me again. Just three ordinary teenagers waking up each day, going off to yeshiva, having fun with their friends, coming home to their families.... But until they do, I will think of them as my boys and pray for their well being as I would for my own sons.
Please join me in praying for Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim, Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah and Eyal ben Iris Teshura. Psalms 121, 130 and 142 are good for starters. Let me know if you want a longer list.

"Acheinu kol bais Yisrael.... - Our brothers, the entire House of Israel, who are in trouble....May Hashem have mercy on them and bring them out of...captivity to redemption...right now, swiftly, soon...Amen".

Thursday, March 13, 2014

All Together - Now and Forever

Unity. That seems to be the buzz word of the day and the season. From the theme of the upcoming Purim holiday (this Sunday, 14 Adar/March 16) to the HUGE gatherings of Jews
700,000 Strong in Jerusalem on Sunday, March 2
that have taken place around the world in recent weeks and most hugely in Jerusalem (can you spot Zevy in the photo?) to pray and protest peacefully against certain government policies in Israel. In a few hours, on this special day of Taanis Esther (the Fast of Esther), the Baltimore community will add its voice to the chorus, spiritually connecting us to our brethren across the globe and especially in our holy Land.

When I think of Jewish unity, I picture the women at (not "of" or "for" - just "at") the Wall. Women from every walk and way of life sharing a passion for the holiest place on Earth.
On my numerous visits to the Wall during my recent month in Israel, this unity was particularly apparent to me when I looked down at the feet of the women standing side-by-side in prayer.

The spectrum of foot and leg wear made an amazing statement. Where else can one find chassidic women shoulder-to-shoulder with their secular sisters, jeans alongside flowing or tapered skirts, casual flip-flops sharing a square with fancy spike heels, American tourist sitting next to her seventh-generation Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite) sister

and, of course, the ever-present green khakis and army boots of the chayelet (female IDF soldier). All together. All praying for themselves, their loved ones, their People. All turning to the One Who will answer their prayers for the best.
And when I think about those women at the Wall, one song plays over and over in my head - a relatively recent hit on the Jewish music scene: "Am Echad" - One Nation. You've gotta hear it, watch it, sing it, dance it, internalize it. Loosely translated (so that it rhymes in English), here's the chorus:
One nation, one song, come dear sisters, sing along. Take my hand, rejoice and dance. As one person with one heart, I don't want to be apart. Forever, we will all be together.
I can't pass up this timely opportunity to remember an individual who personified Jewish unity and unconditional love for every Jew. Rabbi Meir Schuster, of blessed memory, passed away last month on the 17th of February/Adar I. You can read about my - and Bill's - personal connection to this giant of a man on the website that was created to help raise funds for his family during his long, difficult illness. But don't just read my story - read them all. Each one is an inspirational tribute to Reb Meir and the amazing legacy that he leaves.

Bill and I are eternally grateful that on the very last day of our recent trip to Israel, Bill was able to visit Reb Meir, to thank him and pray for him - just three weeks before Reb Meir's soul returned to its Maker.

One cannot Remember Jerusalem without recalling the man who stood at the Wall for 40 years and with one short, simple question ("Do you have the time?" Or "Would you like to meet a wise man?") brought thousands of Jews home to their heritage.
Rabbi Meir Schuster, zt"l
This blog post is dedicated to his memory and to the hope that we will keep his holy message of unity and love for every Jew in our hearts and share it with our sisters and brothers. Forever.

"Lech k'nos es kol haYehudim..."
(Go gather together all the Jews - to fast/pray for me...)
- Queen Esther to Mordechai.HaTzaddik (The Book of Esther, 4:16)

Wishing you a meaningful Taanis Esther and a joyful Purim!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Parting (for now) Shots

I came prepared on this trip with my longest, warmest winter coat and a new pair of fake Uggs in joyful anticipation of weather that would be described on the radio as "gashum v'kar" (rainy and cold). I didn't get to hear that tachazit (forecast) or wear my gear
until yesterday and rejoiced to see Israel blessed with some much needed rainfall.

My mother, may she live and be well, taught me that April showers bring May flowers. Here, winter rains bring blossoming almond trees.
Indeed, just ten days off schedule (since Tu b'Shevat), I spotted my beloved sh'keydiah porachat! What a wonderful bon voyage gift from G-d! What a wonderful parting shot to Remember this amazing month in Jerusalem!

Now, as the sun sets behind the hills that surround Har Nof, we prepare to depart. But don't worry, I've stored up some gorgeous photos and lots of great memories to share with you from the other side of the Sea.

L'hitra'ot, Yerushalayim!
(See you again soon.)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Simply: Tsfat!

Entrance to the Fiddler's Inn
Being on a "working vacation" has been great for us - but it does have a few drawbacks. Actually, just one: not enough time to visit other parts of our beautiful Homeland. But we did manage to spend a Shabbos in the holy city of Tsfat (Safed). About three hours from Jerusalem via some of Israel’s newest, super-fast highways, we entered another world of steep, winding roads and artists’ alleyways. Our accommodations at The Fiddler's Inn were comfortable and affordable. The Inn is owned and operated by a member of the Simply Tsfat band whose performance in Baltimore several months ago helped hook us on the idea of this wonderful weekend get-away.

Our Shabbat meals with local families (American born but long-time residents of this mystical mountain) gave us the full flavor of what Tsfat – and specifically, its Breslov community – is all about. Warmest thanks to our hosts (you know who you are) for welcoming us into your happy, holy homes and sharing the stories of your lives with us.

The Breslov Shul
En Route to Tsfat
Tsfat is one of the four holy cities of Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). To Remember Jerusalem is, by extension, to remember Tsfat, T'verya (Tiberius), Chevron (Hebron) and every amah (a biblical measurement - approx. 21.25 inches) of Artzeynu HaKedosha, our holy Land.

Come stroll the sky blue city of Tsfat with me and maybe we'll meet in one of her ancient alleyways on our next visit....

Bill's Favorite Alley
One of My (Many) Favorite Doors
A Modest Message to Visitors

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Golden Sun a'Shining

Our Tu B'Shevat Table:
Five-out-of-Seven Species
of Fruit of the Land
I might not get to see a sh'keydiah porachat (blossoming almond tree) today because the Hebrew calendar is early this year, but per the same children's song, "a golden sun is shining" on this Tu b'Shevat.

One cannot help but Remember Jerusalem when consuming the seeds of a pomegranate as large as a small melon, grown in holy soil.

The View from our Table
It's not just about the peyrot and p'rachey ha'Aretz (fruits and flowers of the Land). There is much to be said about the mystical and spiritual significance for Man on this "new year for trees". But I promised just a few thousand words...


A Cornucopia of Color in Fruit Drinks:
Guava, Orange-Carrot, Kiwi-Pear-Apple,
Date-Banana, Mango-Passion Fruit...
Happy Tu B'Shevat!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gratefully Overwhelmed

Yes, by the many birthday wishes.
But similarly thankful for all the sights and sounds of my holy surroundings as our longer-than-usual visit to Israel continues.

I haven't taken many photos (too busy being in the moment) but here are a few, including remnants of Israel's recent snowstorm - sadly, many downed trees
and still a clump of the no-longer-white stuff, even after four full weeks of relatively mild weather.
This is a view from the bus en route to Neve Daniel where I reunited with former Baltimoreans, Marietta and Ruti. Click on her name and get a taste of our delicious lunch together. (Scroll way down to the bottom of her post if you want to see where I fit into the picture.)
On Friday, I put in some quality time with Mama Rochel. (Click here to recall how much I miss her when I'm away.)
Afterwards, enjoyed some hot chocolate with my dear Shani who has joined us from the States for a visit of her own.

I am awed anew at how apparent G-d's Hand is in everything here. The connections and "coincidences" follow me onto the buses I catch and in the people I meet and, best of all, in my efforts to understand and apply the amazing Torah I'm learning from amazing teachers. It's beyond imagination...but not beyond belief and I find myself perpetually and Gratefully Overwhelmed.

May you merit to see G-d's Hand clearly in everything you do, wherever you may be - always Remembering that it's so much more clear here in Jerusalem.

Shavua Tov! Have a wondefully overwhelming week.
P.S. This post is dedicated to the memory of Bill's father, Berel ben Chaim, whose yohrtzeit is today. May his neshama (soul) have an aliyah (rise another level in Heaven) and may he be a meilitz yosher (advocate) for his family, friends and all of Am Yisrael.