The freedoms within (ask me about what I mean)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Passover waves

"Was du erlebst kann keine macht der welt dir rauben" - "What you have experienced, no power on earth can take from you" is something Victor E. Frankl quotes in his book Man's Search for Meaning. As I was on the plane returning from Mexico, where I was lucky enough to spend Passover, that line stuck out to me. I had just spent about 11 days in Cancun, Mexico where I worked as a camp counselor on a Pesach program. I cannot express how lucky I was to go, for I was really taken care of the whole time; the food was absolutely incredible, my co-workers were amazing, the rabbis and speakers there were truly inspiring, and I got to stare out into the ocean whenever I wanted (at least once a day). 


Anyways, it was after the first seder when I first rushed to the ocean to sit and think. My thoughts weren't so clear, but nevertheless..I enjoyed the solitude in nature that I don't really get here in NYC. It was after the second seder though that I really had a very cool experience. I once again ran to the waves to be in solitude and think. I started to remember something my friend told me how the world runs on a somewhat circular energy, and if you imagine a long coil or slinky, that under each time period is the time period from the previous year and previous year, and so on to thousands of years ago. So she said that on Pesach we should experience the freedom that they felt, if you tap into the energy. 

I thought this was cool...but then it really dawned on me...it was two years ago that I started questioning what I was doing with my life. It was at UCF chabad Seder when I felt uncomfortable and not at ease. I wanted something more..I was confused...and for those of you that know me, you know the long story. But to make a long story short, I basically came back one night from a night out and couldnt look at myself in the mirror and it was scary and I decided I needed chance so I called my NCSY rabbi the next morning, and got a dreat piece of inspiration about freedom being inside of you and it was up to me to let it shine etc etc and I went to Israel the following semester (check out previous blogs to read about experiences there). 


Anyways, I knew that my friend was talking about tapping into energy from thousands of years ago, but I started feeling those feelings of inner freedom i got two years ago, and boy did the tears pour. But it felt amazing. There I was standing before the endless ocean my eyes were closed and it felt like I was floating. I can't really explain it, but it was a hitpodidut (form of meditation) moment and it was incredible. 


Some of my fellow staff members and I decided to attend some of the shiurs offered when we had time from the great scholars in residence. After talking about life the previous night, it was almost as if Rabbi Zweig (who gave the shiur was talking to me). He said that the word 'Anochi" the first word of the ten commandments is an Egyptian word. I was puzzled and he posed the question of course we were thinking; why would the first word of the ten commandments be Egyptian? 

He continued saying that there is no Hebrew word for history. The word used is Zechirah, remembrance. The Jews when they were leaving Egypt were not commanded to study the history of what took them out of history in the first place, because history is a closed book. It's said and done, it's permanent. We are supposed to remember what happened, but remember it in a way where it empowers us. We were supposed to take all the bad things that we encountered in Egypt but use them to our advantage when we left! Yes we were at such an unholy level when we left, and yes part of the pesach offering was barely. But what is barely? Barely is an animal feed! But when it came to Shavuot, when we got the torah, part of the offering was wheat! Wheat, the sustainer of life bread!! We went from an animalistic culture acting in unmentionable ways to amazing learned people! But we had to work at it.


And that, Rabbi Zweig said was the essence of what Pesach really is! Anochi Hashem, I am your G-d; Anochi is an Egyptian word because Hashem knows that we are not perfect beings and even if we messed up in life we come back stronger from our past. Why do we sing the song "Avadim Hayinu" We were slaves! Because we are rejoicing in the major inner freedom we achieved as we are learning from our past. Don't close out who you were before, what you have done. Take it and learn from it and spread the wisdom from learning from your past! 


So his dvar Torah spoke to me loudly, and I was set on such a spiritual high, that I'm still feeding off of. And now, as the omer is upon us, I'm very conscious when I count each day, working on the specific sefirot of the day. Not to mention that today is Rosh Chodesh Iyar. The month of light! It can also stand for, Ani Hashem Rofecha - I am Hashem your healer. How perfect knowing that of course I am still unraveling things from my past and trying to work on them and fix them for the future...but Hashem is here for me, for you, for us...it's time to heal - so let the tears flow and rejoicing me upon us - Chodesh Tov and happy omer counting!!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Because that's what Jews do

'What's the biblical Hebrew word for the word hero?'

A few ncsy'ers and I sat pondering...we speak Hebrew but we couldn't just remember what that word was.

'You know why you can't remember that Hebrew word?' Rabbi Menachem Nissel was giving a shiur called "Heroes" during rest time on Shabbat and we decided to sit in on it. He continued 'BECAUSE IT DOESN'T EXIST! There is no concept of a hero in Judaism!'

A little bit puzzled, we were all ears waiting for him to explain his claim. He continued saying that yes, the great things that the people deemed heroes do are amazing-they feed thousands of people in Africa, or jump into a burning house to save the old women inside, etc. But even if you don't do something huge like that, you still have the potential to be an amazing person! A mother that wakes up to nurse her baby and sweetly sings to her child at 4 AM even though she hasn't slept in days is an amazing person. A teenager that goes to visit his grandfather in his nursing home everyday just to be with him is an amazing person. Someone that will make sure they do all they can to make thier college roommate comfortable with their living situation-is an amazing person too. It's the things that you do in private that really count as well. Our greatest examples of some of the biggest chessed moments were when those great people were not in the public eye; Avraham and the Akeida, Yaakov and his experience with the angel, etc.

His point was to show us that being nice to others and being a caring person is what being a Jewish person is all about. That was the theme of the NCSY Central East fall Shabbaton. Being nice to others!

It was my first shabbaton as an adviser and I will admit I was a bit nervous going in. I remember being an NCSY'er and the problems some kids gave adviser's-I didn't want that to happen to me. But I went in with an open mind knowing that whatever comes my way is how it supposed to go.

I'm not going to go over every detail because of how much that actually happened-but I will certainly say this provided the reassurance I needed on why I came back to America.

Amazing bonds were built, emotions were brought out, inside jokes were made, pictures were taken, songs were sang, dancing was incredible, d'var Torahs were given, deep and meaningful conversations were had, and the overall shabbaton I can say was not only a learning experience for the NCSY'ers but for myself as well.

Many of the d'var Torahs given by the NCSY'ers were amazing but I will pick one to repeats. At the end of the Shabbaton an amazingly sweet girl that I got the priviledge to meet talked about the arba minim on sukkot and what kinds Jew's they represent. (Taken from jewfaq.com)
   "the etrog, which has both a pleasing taste and a pleasing scent, represents Jews who have achieved both     knowledge of Torah and performance of mitzvot. The palm branch, which produces tasty fruit, but has no     scent, represents Jews who have knowledge of Torah but are lacking in mitzvot. The myrtle leaf, which has  a strong scent but no taste, represents Jews who perform mitzvot but have little knowledge of Torah. The willow, which has neither taste nor scent, represents Jews who have no knowledge of Torah and do not perform the mitzvot."
She liked the idea but wasn't too happy about the willow branch-lacking both knowledge of Torah and lacking in Mitzvot. So she asked her local rabbi and got the answer that the willow branch is the fastest growing kind of tree-even if you cut it down, it can very quickly rebuild itself. Basically saying the Jews lacking in both categories that even if sometimes it seems so hard for them, they are the ones who can get back up and grow the quickest.



NCSY is an amazing organization and I'm very lucky to have the opportunity to be so involved. I have another shabbaton next weekend for Southern and I couldn't be more excited despite my workload of midterms, school, and work-theirs nothing more that I want then to continue on this amazing path of inspiring to be inspired. Here's to myself and everyone else being a nice and good person and just spreading the love-because that's what Jews do. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Happines Fuel

So the high holidays are over. Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Azteret and Simchat Torah all came at the Jewish people in three day spans-leaving many people spending A LOT of time together. I spent some of the holidays at my families, some with my job, and the last ones with the Center for the Jewish Future Torah Tours.

I look back on a year ago when I was in Ramat Bet Shemesh, when I was with Rabbi Bryks (my NCSY regional director and Bar Ilan program director) for Simchat Torah. I remember it was my first time in a long time celebrating the renewal of the Torah. I remember almost crying just watching the men dance around with the Torah but stepping back and looking away to prevent the tears from falling. I always did that when I was about to get really emotional in high school anytime I encountered something that had to to with Judaism; I pushed it right away.

A line in my journal from 9/30/10 "I love this Jewish life and cannot wait to see what it has in store for me" right after Simchat Torah

But I know that this time last year kick-started an inspirational year that that set my foundation and led me to where I am today and where I am going. So fast forward a year and I found myself in Paramus, New Jersey.

Torah Tours is a project that YU's CJF recently started. YU students sign up (with or without friends) than are put on a team to be sent to a random community (from the local NY congregation to Scotland) to vamp up the communities shmini atzeret and simchat torah. I was sent with two other girls and one other guy to Paramus, NJ to a modern orthodox congregation.

The whole experience was overall great. We gave divrei Torah, interacted with the families, and just brought all around spirit to the holiday. In turn, I learned a lot about my self and other people.

One main thing I learned though is that everyone needs inspiration. No matter how old you are, there will not be in a time in your life where you will not be totally content. You may be happy, but you will need more happiness fuel that I'd like to say is inspiration. We gave a women's program on Simchat Torah when all the men were receiving aliyot and even though I liked my D'var Torah, I liked my friend Judy's more. She in short said that when Hashem told Moses to give over the Torah to the Jewish people, Moses answered that how could he tell it to them, he had a speech impediment, how could people take him seriously? But-he did it anyways and to this day what we heard from Moshe on that day, we still are using to this day. She went on to say that even if we may have flaws (we all do!) we have to look past those flaws, and even use them in our advantage. You have the power to make a difference, in the Jewish world or not, no matter how big your speech impediment or flaw may be.

I also learned that when you begin to judge someone, you have to step back and think what is it that you are judging them about? When you really analyze it, you'll see that you are really just insecure about something about yourself and want to dump that insecurity on someone else. Lets say you think that someone thinks that they know everything and it really bothers you-really whats bothering you is that you think you know everything-it's hard to man up and admit it, but in the end-your judgement of others will always be a judgement on your deepest insecurities.

And lastly, inspire to be inspired. Once I told part of my story to this one women Jackie, she in turn told me her story of how she didn't know anything about Judaism, but felt that she was missing something. Then one day she ended up in a Persian shul on Yom Kippur (she also didn't know anything about her heritage) and heard the cantor singing and broke down and cried. That is what she was missing she told me. As much as we may have given to this amazing community, it was equally received.

The whole time was really amazing-the Rabbi, Rabbi Daniel Wolff and his wife Chaviva and his kids were amazing, the hosts that had us over for meals all had amazing stories, and the all around environment left me on a familiar spiritual high that I had gotten in Israel (something very hard to come across not in Israel). I'm excited to be finally getting into what I temporarily returned from Israel to do-Kiruv and everything alike.
I hope everyone has amazing new year, and finds the happiness fuel  they are need.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are we getting something out of this all encompassing trip?

Rosh Hashana is tomorrow. I literally have to take a deep breath every time I think about the occurrences that took place from 5771-5772.
It was almost yesterday that I was at my public college sick to my stomach at the thought at who I was becoming; I clearly remember not being able to look myself in the eye and as I scanned over my body...I didn't recognize who I was. That was my turning point that landed me in Israel.

And that year in Israel came and went so quickly. Its hard though to imagine all the events that took places, all the challenges, learning, tears, laughs, hugs, questioning, understanding, and ultimately coming close to the concept of oneness, Hashem.

Now being Chutz Laaretz, its hard to even grasp those feelings that I achieved when I was in the land..but I know I am still connected. I picked up my siddur that other day, flipped through the pages and burst into tears remembering my first time re-opening it when I got to the kotel last year.

Now I don't want to sound like I've grown up completely into the person I want to be, because I still feel far from it...but I realize I have to give myself some credit. If you don't give yourself credit for your positive changes..it'll put you back where you started-trust me I've been there.

I'm aware that this writing may seem a bit all over the place but that just puts the theme of being all over the place this past year in place. 5771 was the craziest, spiritually and physically, year of my life. I took in so much and only hope to use those experiences and incorporate into the lives of others.

But here are a few major things I learned in 5771 including (but certainly not limited to)
-You can turn around for the better at any given moment-no two moments in this world are alike
-Everything happens for a reason..bad or good..and if you look at everything with meaning, then you will be happy
-You can't hide from who you feel you are inside-you need to find a balance-or else your emotions will eat you up
-Crying is releasing, and releasing is good
-There is so much in this world that is hard to understand and you just have to accept it
-Israel is my home-and I'm just studying abroad in New York to try and get others to realize that Israel is their home too-I'll be back home soon
-The concept of free choice is very real-you choose the type of person you want to be
-We all came from the same place-an egg-and were all eventually going to the same place-to dust- everyone starts out as a baby...this will help you loose your judgmental qualities and accept people for who they are
-Ultimately, as old fashioned as people may think it is, the Torah is the guide book to life..at first glance it may seem like stories that were made up..but there's so much more too it..you just need to take time to take it in

Of course each one of these things came with much more to it, so I guess you can just ask me about it if your really interested....but for now I want to voice that I'm hoping this upcoming year will be infused with just as much growth, learning, and inspiration that I found in my homeland, in 5771, in Israel.
And that goes for everyone -  take your blessings, meaning take your life, because your life is a blessing and be the best person you can be this year...everyone has the potential its just up to you to find it.

The title of this blog is found in this song-absorb, understand, and be inspired

Sunday, September 11, 2011

How I am inspired

Inspiration doesn't come easy.

I've been in New York for about 2 weeks and have felt a major blow compared to what I was receiving in Israel. Of course, I got the warnings from everyone telling me the reception is just off when your not in the land, and I can fully attest to that. But every beginning is hard, and I know I'll acheive that mindset soon. You just have to search.

I know one way is through being an NCSY adviser. I'm very thankful that I'm beginning a new path in life that will help others achieve happiness and seek out the truth...I  know that when I see people inspired, I am in turn inspired.

I remember my last shabbat with people on my program I saw one of my friends singing with a group of girls at kabbalat shabbat by the kotel. I saw her smiling and happy and it just made me cry..tears of happiness. I love that feeling, seeing people inspired and I hope I can incorporate seeing that for the rest of my life.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The great hall which was revealed to me

"Today is the day I'm finally going to achieve what I have desired so badly in the past two years. I'm breaking out of my element and entering a new world, that will fill me up with many valuable life lessons and experiences. I am truly happy with my decision to go. No matter how many hardships it came with, I am following my heart, and isn't that what everyone says to do?"

On September 20th, 2010 I wrote this first paragraph to my first post on my America to Israel blog. It doesn't seem like almost a year has gone by. I can vividly remember exactly how I felt when I got here. My memory is painted with pictures of everything I encountered since that day in September. I read in my personal journal what I wrote, and its as if I'd be re-living those days over again. I still can't believe that I'm going back to America in a few hours.

So for one final thought, this is what I did today for my last day of my gap year in Israel. Of course, I went to the Kotel. I don't care how many times I've been there this year...but the connection and spiritual energy that flows in the air is a connection you can't get anywhere else. It's like above full service on your cell phone-you are right next to the source of all the service.

So I was walking up to the wall for the last time in a while and I went to the book shelves where all the prayer books are stored. I looked around and tried to find an english/hebrew tehillim. Shelf after shelf I was looking and I just couldn't find one. I almost gave up but then of course the cliche circumstance; on the last shelf on the bottom an english/hebrew tehillim was staring at me. I walked a few steps then sat a little bit away from the wall. I started to read the psalms. One after the next-it was hard for me to connect this way..but I kept on reading. As I was reading, a very religious woman came up to me and told me that it was inappropriate the way I was sitting. A little part of my knee was showing. I kind of just stared at you and she was like 'what do you not understand?' Kind of shcok I said 'yes I understand' but I didn't really move. She walked away only to return with a scarf for me to cover my knees and placed it over them. I didn't really react, but I kind of just sat as she assembled it to cover my knees perfectly.

I started to cry as she walked away - no idea why. But tears just started to flow...At first I was a bit upset that she did that, but I quickly realized this was the best gift I recieved yet. She helped me release my emotions that were built up from everything that had happened this year. The number 66 popped into my mind (since 66 is one of my favorite numbers) and I quickly turned to Psalm 66 and started to read. I will write in easier language how I percieved it:

'Shout to G-d in happiness, sing about how amazing he is, and make what he says glorious. Say to G-d 'How amazing is everything that you do-one day the bad people of the world will admit to you that they were wrong-Everyone on earth will one day realize how amazing this life you give to the world is and will forever praise what you offer.'
Go into yourself to feel what G-d is putting on this earth for you-there's so much more to this life than what you think...Everything that G-d did and does for us, natural miracles; we rejoice in his name. Under the almighty you cannot hide from who you are-you cannot hide from your soul-it is inside of you. Please, everyone in this world, humble yourself and realize we have an ultimate sustainer-make this clear to everyone!
Hashem has kept my soul within alive and didn't let me walk too far away from this amazing lifestyle. He tested me-and then he helped me change my inner thoughts just as if he was polishing silver. He put me in so many tests, they got to me so deeply-you Hashem have made me think and probe my innermost thoughts and feelings on what it means to be a good person. I'm going to do whatever I can to thank you-even though I know its going to be a hard journey.
I am going to spread this to the people-what I learned from being here. I wanted this so badly and through his help I spoke the words saying I will come to Israel for the year to become who I truly want to be. I know I said and did so many things that were not in the word of G-d, but he still was there for me. Blessed is the G-d that helped me through the times of wandering..blessed is the one who didn't leave me hanging...he listened to my prayers and was amazing to me and for that I am so thankful.'

After reading this (this was the way I percieved it) I contuned to cry and then made my way over to the wall. I prayed a mincha so strongly meditating on each prayer slowly. Tears were flowing, I was releasing and letting go and feeling an amazing feeling of what this year brought me. I walked backwards away from it looking for the amazing angel that helped me through this, the woman that told me to cover my knees, but I couldn't find her. So I left.

So in 2 and a half hours I have a cab ride to the airport. This year has been the best year of my life-I learned so much and am so thankful for what it brought me. All I want is to spread this joy to the teenagers that are in the same position as I was-lost and looking for something more. My life goal is to fulfill that dream. We are all connected and theres nothing more that I want than to bring that connection together as much as I possibly can. I will continue this blog as my journey to Stern College continues as it will all stem from my year here, in our land, Israel.
Am Yisrael Chai- The Nation of Israel lives.

Anyone can achieve these amazing feelings I've discovered here. One secret that keeps me going that is written on the back of one of my bracelets is

"Open up for me the size of a needle, and I will reveal to you a great hall..."

Think about it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A reason behind it all

So its official. I have less than 10 days left here. In this wonderful place I now call home. Israel. My home, the home of the Jewish people.

When I was booking my flight, the only thing on my mind was, make sure the travel agent doesn't book my flight on Shabbat. Nothing else was on m mind since I though there was no holidays till later in the summer, so waht could get in the way. I was basing my thoughts off my summers in sleep away camp where the only holiday, Tisha Bav, was towards the end of the summer...whoops.

So my flight is booked for August 8th. The day before Tisha B'av, the 25 hours fast day where the Jews mourn for the destruction of the temple. So of my flight goes as planned..I'm going to get back to Israel 4 hours before the holiday starts. That is if my flight goes as planned. If not..than I'm going to spending the holiday in the connecting city, Vienna, Austria. That's all up to the man upstairs, so we'll see what happens.

Anyways..as much as it pains me that I can't be sitting in the courtyard of the Western Wall, looking straight at the remains of the destruction of the temple..I couldn't think of the timing being any more appropriate. I've been here all year..exploring my inner most self, my soul, reaching out to many people in question, finding answers, connecting to this amazing land in every spiritual and physical way, and ultimately connecting to Hashem. It has been the best year of my life..and it saddens me knowing that this chapter of being in Israel in my life is quickly coming to an end.

Tisha B'av is the holiday where were mouring the loss of the temple.  Taken from aish.com, five major things occured:

• During the time of Moses, Jews in the desert accepted the slanderous report of the 10 Spies, and the decree was issued forbidding them from entering the Land of Israel. (1312 BCE)
• The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. 100,000 Jews were slaughtered and millions more exiled. (586 BCE)
• The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans, led by Titus. Some two million Jews died, and another one million were exiled. (70 CE)
• The Bar Kochba revolt was crushed by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The city of Betar -- the Jews' last stand against the Romans -- was captured and liquidated. Over 100,000 Jews were slaughtered. (135 CE)
• The Temple area and its surroundings were plowed under by the Roman general Turnus Rufus. Jerusalem was rebuilt as a pagan city -- renamed Aelia Capitolina -- and access was forbidden to Jews. 
So we fast for 25 hours, sitting low, thinking low, speaking low, and trying to get to an emotional level of mourning for these events. I personally find it a bit hard, knowing that I wasn't there to expereince all of these horrific events..but I recently heard something that I know will help me with this mouring process. 
On September 9th, 2003 a suicide bombing went off in Jerusalem in front of Cafe Hillel. Two of the victims that were murdered from this event were David and Naava Applebaum, an American-Israeli father and daughter. They were going to Cafe Hillel to have a very special talk. This was the night before Naava's wedding and her father wanted to take her out for a hot drink and chat with her before she took this big step in her life. Just as they were entering the cafe, the suicide bomber exploded himself murdering and injuring many innocent people. Naava's fiance collapsed in the waiting room of the Sharie Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem after learning his future wife did not make it. At the funeral, he placed the wedding ring at her gravesite and muttered 'this was for you'. Her wedding dress was made into a a Torah ark covering and is now used as a covering for the Torah Scrolls in Kever Rachel. Fortunately, Chanan, her fiance, was able to not let this event destroy him for the rest of his life and in 2009 got engaged and got married to another amazing woman, Penina.  
I was talking to one of my amazing friends and dear madricha from my Isralight Inward Bound program, Daniella Strick, and I was telling her how I have a hard time mouring over the temple. I've never seen it, or felt its presence, so I can't exactly cry over the fact that its not there. She than proceeded to tell me this story of Naava and Chanan and added one more thing. There was a recent story about Chanan reported that he was crying. But the reason he was crying was not that he missed his late finace..it was that he was crying over something that never existed, something he never truly got to feel.Daniella told me everyone has a hard time, especially in this day and age, moruing over something we never got to experience before. 
It made a lot of sense to me. I'm going to, along with many other people, mourn over the fact that I don't know what this amazing thing, the Beit Hamikdash, the center of access to Hashem, really truly is. 
It made even more sense to me that my flight was booked back to America the day before this holiday, and that I would be away from my land on this specific day. I'm going to not only feel the pain of not being connected after this whole year of intense connection, but I'm also going to be feeling that extreme lack in knowing what that center of spirituality really feels like. 
Its hard for some people to experience returning home after a whole year in Israel. They dangerously loose the clarity and spiritualty they gained here and return to who they were before their journey began. Of course I fear that this may happen to me, but after learning of this story, and the exact timing of me returning to America-  I couldn't be happier that it is happening this way. Immediately when I get back to my home away from I am going to be hit with an intense 25 hours of thinking of missing the connection the jewish people are lacking. I am literally going to be experiencing this. 
I checked into Israel, and even thoguh I'm leaving, I'm never going to check out. My emotions erupt in knowing I'm leaving..but all I want to do is spread this wonderful gift that Hashem has given me. So I'll go back to American, with a clear head, taking my priorities head on. I see that this flight was booked on this day for a reason...well I see that everything happens for a reason. I hope everyone else can take on this message of missing Israel and missing the temple, the center of spirituality, and can take on that G-d is the author of our lives...everything truly does happen for a reason.
Remembering Naava Applebaum.