The freedoms within (ask me about what I mean)

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
   "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'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 first glance it may seem like stories that were made up..but there's so much more too 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. 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, 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 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.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

the burning connection

Theres nothing more that I want than to remain in Israel. I've never felt so connected to a place before. I mean yeah, I love FLorida because I love being surronded by the ocean, and and I love traveling and seeing old buildings that have countless amounts of stories..but literally, I feel a magnetic pull to the earth everytime I am here.

These trips to Israel like birthright, TJJ, summer programs, etc. are amazing, but truly, the only way to truly experience the land is to be here for a minimal one year..which is barely enough. Theres so much to see, so many people to talk to, and so much to feel as you walk the streets of this historic country.

Just as a flame burns upwards, my soul itches to be higher and higher and to unite with the ultimate oneness.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

discover away

Isralight Inward bound was truly an amazing program. Its title says it all-it touches upon places inside of your heart and mind that you have never explored before. Basically I've gained a deeper understanding that G-d is not some guy in the sky-we don't even believe in that word-G-d-Hashem, the name is actually a oneness.

Not that there is one G-d, but that G-d is ONE. We are all part of the one-aspects of Hashem. A powerful thing that Isralight does to bring us into that state of oneness is singing niggunim. Theres something about hearing the acoustic guitar and the tunes of every one singing together just sends chills down your spine and puts you in a meditative state that is so hard to acheive on any normal day.

Not only did I have an amazing time on Isralight, I also was in the old city (since that where Isralight is) meeting a bunch of people around my age doing the same exact thing that I was doing-exploring their Judaism, trying to find themselves, their purpose, etc..My last night I hung out with them as we watched the sunrise over the kotel.

Tomorrow I'm off to Tzfat to study at Machon Alte, for my first seminary experience.

I can't believe how amazing everything has been for me so far..I am truly blessed. If you get the chance, I HIGHLY suggest studying abroad (especially Israel), joining in on amazing programs like Isralight Inward Bound, and exploring where you're'll never imagine what you can discover..

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Experience and LIVE

So my Bar Ilan program ended. I can't beleive it. It came and went faster than any year I can remember-let alone any program I've ever experienced. In a flash - it was over. Yeah yeah I'm sad its over and everything-I made amazing friends, and amazing connections, and took in a whole new life that I really am in love with - and I found out that this process is actually an ongoing process. That there's no switch that I or you can turn on and off to change who you, the way you think, or the way you view the world... You have to constantly be working on yourself, with constant questioning, and not let life just pass you by.

I got kind of scared, knowing that it was ending; I created a foundation that I was getting very comfortable in. I wasn't sure if I could adapt in a different environment but I knew I had to make something work.

Summer is Israel was my conclusion-I would stay here for a short period of time in different environments figuring out if I could adapt, and act out the things I've learned to act out at Bar Ilan. So here I am writing my first blog from one of the first experiences I am delving into: Isralight Inward Bound .

The first thing we did on the program was unpacking our Jewish Baggage taught by Rabbi Mottle Wolfe. We went through a list of things we hated about Judaism. People said things like conformity, sexism, fear of G-d, Jewish guilt, shomer negiah, long holidays, etc. After that, we talked about the things we loved about Judaism. For example closeness, authenticity, mitzvot, questioning, creating your own path, etc. He explained that it's very easy to make these lists but you come to realize, that the lists cancel each other out. How can you hate shomer negiah if you love mitzvot? Or hate long holidays, but love shabbat? They are the same lists! We create a list of what seems hard to us, which is the hate list, and we create a list of things we aspire to always do, which is the love list. The love list will essentially be what we know could be-and how we view Judaism in our hearts.

Rabbi Mottle also brought up a point that Torah is not just truth. Lets say you are talking to matchmaker and she shows you a picture of a person that you are attracted to, their name,age, height, weight, profession, history, etc-all on paper. You seem ecstatic about this person since they seem perfect and the matchmaker says, OK so the wedding is in three hours! You will probably thing they're crazy! This is like the Torah, on paper it seems a certain way but you wont get to know what it actually is until you experience it. He explains that Torah is not truth, it is LIFE and life is experience. You're not marrying the person because of what they are on paper, your marrying them becuase of the experience with him.

So thats what started off the journey and we continued from there. Pirkei Avot has a line that says the wise man is the one who can see who is going to be born into this world. Our teacher asked us what we thought this meant and we concluded that it meant a person that sets intentions and has goals for himself-is ultimately going to be wise. I thought about this line over and over as the days passed by, and realized that this was the answer to one of my biggest questions! How am I going to continue this inspiring journey I've came across in Israel in America? I realized I have a vision of what how I see myself-my ultimate higher self-and this reoccurring image will keep my strength going! Life is going to happen in front of you whether you like it or not-to know your intentions is a key to a happy life.

Rabbi David Aron-inspiring speaker and author is also one of our teachers here at Inward Bound. His topic that he teaches us in Jewish philosophy and mysticism. I've learned so much from him and can only tell you to buy his books to even begin to grasp what he's taught us. But for now, I'll explain that I've learned that G-d is not some guy in the sky that put 613 commandments on our heads to make us suffer. That is actually idolatry-giving G-d a human form and acknowledging him that way; and if you don't have clarity on what what Hashem really is, than every problem will flow from there. Its really hard to put this in a paragraph, but Rabbi aron made it clear to us that we are all aspects of G-d. You can't see Hashem because he is the source of all seeing, you can't think of what thinking is, because Hashem is the source of all thinking-G-d is the source of all consciousness. "To think of G-d is not to find him as an object in our minds-but to find ourselves in his". You have to realize that we are one-part of the big one, Hashem.

Rabbi Aron Leibowitz, createor of the Shirta Devorah Seminary/Ashrei Yeshiva is also our teacher. A main concept we went over was Lech Licha-Go to you. I took this as the person I don't want to be speaking to the person that I see myself as in the future-telling her to go inside to who you really are-an aspect of G-d-and be G-d like, eventually having the same intentions of G-d, making what I pray for what G-d wants for me too.

Besides classes, we also have been touring around Jerusalem/Gush Etzion/ the north (tomorrow). We get such a different perspective on things-and its truly amazing.

I have pages and pages of notes on what I've taken in, and we still have about a week left! I'm so blessed to be here and hope that everyone gets a chance to experience what I've been experiencing as well. Go into yourself, who you really are, through Judaism, and you will be extremely surprised on what you can find..

Saturday, June 18, 2011

His kindness and his faithfulness

What is considered a normal shabbat meal? A family, a few friends maybe, nice food, relaxed, songs, etc.
Now, imagine that, in a city walking distance from the Kotel (Western Wall), with a large family, serving a meal to 150+ people, starting at 10 PM, in a small living room. It may not sound so pleasant being in a small environment with so many people, but truly once you feel the spirit and the energy in the air, the room just magically expands. Chesed L'orchim organization, is run by the Machlis family. 2 amazing people Mordechi and Henny Machlis, had 14 children; some are married, the youngest one just had his bar mitzvah this year. Together as a family, they eat their meals on shabbat and then start a mini factory with challah, salads, soups, meats, and other stuff flying everywhere. Jews from all over gather here, to either celebrate their first shabbat or join in for a shabbat experience. You sit at a small table and a bunch of people try to squish until you cant even move your elbows.

You'd think that it would be hard to make good food for 200 people on a tight budget every week, but the food is actually exceptionally good! Theres a variety of salads, an amazing matza ball/chicken soup, and then theres two kinds of kugels, chicken, rice, vegetables, and probably 4 kinds of deserts. The environment is also amazing with songs between each courses, along with d'var Torahs from the rabbi and rebbetzin themselves and anyone else who wants to get up and speak words of wisdom.

Really, if you know of any really rich Jew (or person) that wants to do some chesed, but the only way is with their money, or a girl/boy that want to send their bat/bar mitzvah money too-send them to this website. People get the experience of a lifetime here and really see the true colors of a Jewish family that just wants to open up their arms to Jews of the world and inspire them.

I was there Friday night (I've been there before) with 5 of my friends from my program that haven't left for American yet. Well, before that we went to the Kotel, and let me just say that even though I've been there so many times this year, the inspiration and emotion that I get from being there hasn't diminished. I was uncontrollably tearing at one point during kabbalat shabbat because I was remembering on the first day I went to the kotel with our program about 10 months ago. I was equally as happy to be there..the striving Jew inside of me was just itching to release.

I love Israel, I really do...and I really aspire one day to make aliyah and raise a family here. There's something about this place that makes your soul come out and come alive in the best way possible. I'm quoting Ben Packer here (he is in charge of mens heritage house also an amazing organization that allows Jews to stay over in the hostel for either free or the slightest price-another good place to send some money if you're looking into chesed, or just because) but reagrdless, Ben said this shabbat that there are places all over the world that you can be an amazing Jew-but there will always be limits if you're not in Israel. I know that's true. I've seen it, experienced it, and felt it.

We ended off shabbat by singing and dancing to our favorite classic songs: Tov L'hodos, Esa Einai, Acheinu, Shema Koleinu, etc. in the living room of the mens heritage house. The meanings of these songs, to be etched in my memory forever include:

It is good to give thanks to God, and to sing to his name on high - to tell in the morning of His kindness,​ and in the evening of His faithfuln​ess. - Tov L'hodos

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains. From where does my help come? 
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. - Ese Einai

Our brothers the whole house of Israel, who are in distress and captivity​, who wander over sea and over land -- may God have mercy on them, and bring them from distress to comfort, from darkness to light, from slavery to redemptio​n, now, swiftly, and soon. And let us say: Amen. - Acheinu

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bringing in the spiritual-eternally

Shavuot couldn't of came at a better time. I just turned 20, and here I was celebrating receiving the most precious gift, the Torah.

Our program took us too Jerusalem for the holiday and at first I was a little nervous. Shavuot is the holiday where you stay up all night, and this time, at 4 AM, since I was in the holy city, march to Jerusalem. I never had a real shavuot before...I mean I celebrated with my family when i was growing up, eating the festive dairy meal...but besides that, the real staying up all night learning shavuot I did not experience.

So Shavuot came in, and Rabbi Menachem Nissel (he came to be with our program for the holiday-so lucky!) opened up the chag with a shiur. I never heard him before, but knew he came highly recommended, and after he spoke I knew why. What I took from the first time he spoke is the real concept behind the whole dairy custom..(the festive meal is dairy). He explained that when the Jews were receiving the Torah, they were learning halachos as well. They were learning the laws of kashrut and realized that they had nothing at the moment that would make their meat kosher. So at the time, meat was a main meal, and a dairy meal was never really a concept. So here is where the woman came in and decided to get a little creative and make a festive meal, but in dairy form. In short, they took what was on their spiritual plate and used it full force. The Jews absorbed G-d's commandments and put them into action..something that was fairly new to them. So when we eat dairy, we are reminded to take what is offered to us in the spiritual world and bring it into the physical world.

So then we had our amazing dairy meal and then headed back to the rooms we had reserved to learn in all night. 10:45 kicked it off where we Rabbi Nissel speak to us again, and this time about not missing the opportunity. He told us the story of a young Israeli that grew up hating religious people, and after a series of events that included (missing his trip to Thailand after his army, ending up in Tzfat instead, having a few encounters with religious people that ultimately led him to Yeshiva in Jerusalem), he started a journey back to Judaism. After that I attended classes by Rabbi Ari Kahn, Rabbi Tani Prero, and Rabbi Adam siegal, abd in between discussed a book on purity with my friend Elisheva and had a one on one talk with Rabbi Meyer.

I learned so much as the night progressed. I'll share one very important concept though. I approached Rabbi Meyer with a question. What did you mean in your class when you said that once people start tuning into themselves as Jews, they feel alone? With his eyes half open, he slowly glanced up at me. He began to explain that when a person starts tuning into themselves, they become more and more aware that their only ever lasting relationship is with the Almighty. They start to see that everything around them is staged; every person, every action, every step, and everything you do is designed by G-d. He continued saying that everything you do in this world is for one purpose; to get closer and closer to G-d..he admitted to me, even when he is married with children, he still sometimes feels alone, knowing that G-d is the only one that 100% truly understands him.

4 AM came quicker than ever. I was alert the whole night listening to these amazing teachers give it all they have to inspire us just once more before the year ended. I didn't want to stop learning, but I was excited to get to the kotel. So on my way to the kotel, I took advantage of the opportunity to speak to another rabbi, Rabbi Menaged, for most of the duration of the walk to the kotel. I asked him some question, but ultimately our discussion was led to one meaningful thing that I picked up on this year; free choice. He went in depth about it and ultimately helped me realize that G-d is that one that is putting the doors of opportunities in front of is us, our free will, to take the key and open those doors and see what lies behind them and beyond.

We arrived at the kotel, and at this point I lost my friends and in the crowds of tens of thousands of people, I didn't even attempt to find them. It was so so packed, but I stayed behind the railings peering at such a precious place that us Jews hold so close to our hearts. I prayed the most intense morning prayer as the sun rose over the Jerusalem sky asking G-d for the continuation of clarity within me, within my family, within my friends, within the Jewish people..I thanked him as well for putting this door of opportunity in front of me, and for the many others that go on these spiritual journeys as well.

I found my friends and we eventually went to here kiddush and walk back to the hotel.
The whole Shavuot experience was amazing. I learned so much and was so genuinely happy to be learning with the amazing people that were there with us as well. From pesach till now we were counting the omer and I learned in one of my classes at Bar Ilan that the 49 days were a period of reflection and renewal. My teacher, Tamar Weissman, was very right when she said that because Shavuot came around and I could almost see my spiritual journey laid out in a canvas before my eyes. This shavuot set me off into a new year, a 21st year of life, another spiritual journey, and ultimately life of being a committed to Judaism Jewish girl <3

Sunday, June 5, 2011

19 to 20

In a few hours, I am going to transition from being 19 to 20. Its hard to even say whats on my mind. From the last June 6th to this June 6th, so much has happened. Last year at this time I was on birthright. I was so excited because the night we got in Tel Aviv was the night of my birthday. And not going to lie, I had a good time with my birthright group, Mayanot 81-I'll never forget it. But my excitement or realization that this year of my life is coming to an end, is a very different feeling.

My vision was blurred from the truth. I didn't know what Judaism had to offer nor did I have the energy to aspire into seeing what it really was. I just knew that I needed it, but had no idea how I was going to get it. I remember I was on my birthright trip and we were going to Ein Gedi and I just broke down. I couldn't eat nor be around anyone. So I walked away and dad and just cried to him. I was afraid. I knew that after my trip I was to return home for a little bit, and then return back to the Holy Land. My mind was flying wild with thoughts and I trembled on the fact that soon I'd be embarking on something that seemed so foreign to me. Little did I know that this was really the farthest thing from foreign, that it actually is the only clear thing that I held, hold, and always will hold close to me heart.

Right when I returned home, I started dating this guy that I really fell head over heels for. He was attractive, smart, funny, and mature. We spent about 2 months together hip to hip..then I had to leave to Israel. In those two months though I went through countless amounts of fights with my family about him (he wasn't Jewish), ultimately leading to fear, sadness, and a lot of anger. I couldn't wait to leave America and get to Israel already.

So I arrived in Israel and immediately entered into a major spiritual high. I was being spoon-fed amazing concepts and ideas about Judaism I never even knew existed. I was being guided into an amazing world that I will from now on forever be in. People were there for me when I cried over the past, and they were there for me when I asked questions. But ultimately I was happy. I could look at myself in the mirror, and be satisfied-not becuase of how I looked, but because I saw my soul-something I had such a hard time seeing before.

So a few months went by and was accumulating so much information. I admit, I was a bit overwhelmed from it all especially towards finals of fall semester and decided to take a break at home. Home did a few things for me. It showed me one that I really appreciate my families history but two you have to work for something if you want it. I found this out only now reflecting on those few weeks I was home. I didn't pray as much, learn as much, talk as much, and it took a large toll on who I wanted to become. My relationship with G-d that I strengthened so much was being ripped apart as I sat in my room numb to my surroundings.

When I returned to Israel my fire and spark of interest had been burnt out. I walked around like zombie not really taking anything in, and forgetting what I was here for. I 'relapsed' into some old lifestyle activities and didn't have the slightest clue why. So that was a really hard period of time..just walking around clueless to my flame that had been extinguished.

So now here's where I stand. Everyone will always be working on themselves. There is no state of perfection, you must always be getting better...and if you're not getting better than you are getting worse. You also need to exert a form of effort. No one is going to spoon feed you life. You have to always be aware that every moment, after it passes, is never going to come back. Really I learned, that Judaism is the only way I ever was and will achieve true happiness. And no that doesn't mean keeping the Sabbath and keeping kosher. There is so much more hidden beauty and amazing secrets to this religion. It brings out who you are, and helps you feel a sense of accomplishment (one of the highest forms of pleasure) when you fulfill what you were put on this world to do: fulfill your ultimate potential. Also that I know why G-d is hidden-I used to question why he couldn't just reveal his face so I could just beleive-how much easier it would be! But I see now that if that would happen, my free choice would be gone..I would have no choice but to worship G-d becuase he would be there right in front of me at all times. So I get to choose on what I want-I am the ultimate judge on myself-I choose whats right and wrong.

I can go on forever on what I learned but that can be saved for more personal discussion. Basically, soon I will be transitioning into a new age of life. I am happy, eager, and ready to see what it has in store. I can almost feel the lightning bolts of inspiration run through my veins into my heart. This 20th year of life is going to be a whole new journey, something so much different then what I've experienced on this past year. Heres to Civil Twilight for illustrating these concepts in thier song Human:

There’s one way out and one way in
Back to the beginning
There’s one way back to home again
To where I feel forgiven

What is this I feel, why is it so real
What am I to say

It’s only love, it’s only pain
It’s only fear, that runs through my veins
It’s all the things you can’t explain
That make us human

I am just an image of something so much greater
I am just a picture frame, I am not the painter
Where do I begin, can I shed this skin
What is this I feel within

It’s only love, it’s only pain
It’s only fear that runs through my veins
It’s all the things you can’t explain
That make us human

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Meron: everyone worships differently

Let me first say that Bibi Netanyahu's speech was absolutely amazing. He could not have said it better. If you have not seen it yet I recommend that you drop what your doing and watch it immediately!

Now that I've said that, let me tell you about my experience in Meron, Israel for a crazy Lag B'Omer experience. It was out last organized in-shabbat (meaning staying on campus for shabbat) of the year, so many of us stayed to enjoy each other's presence on the Ramat Ef'Al campus for one last time. Lag B'omer was beginning Saturday night and we planned to  head right to Meron as shabbat concluded. Meron, if you didn't know, is the sight of where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is buried (the man of the holiday). Thousands upon thousands of people attend and it is just one huge celebration for what Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai represents.

So we leave the Ramat Ef'Al campus about an hour after Shabbat to head to Bnei Brak where every couple of minutes buses depart up to Meron. 50 shekels later, we got onto a bus (37 of us decided to go regardless of the warnings we got about it being super packed and getting pushed-and to not take the event as a representation of the Jewish people) and we were on our way. 2 1/2 hours later we arrive and we walk up mount Meron together to see one of the largest Jewish dancing crowds ever. There was a na nachman guy DJ playing crazy trance music and everyone was just jumping up and down. It was pretty religious and many more men were dancing than woman (and when we tried to dance a few woman yelled at us), but I didn't really care. The environment was making me feel part of something truly amazing.

We walked a little more to see even more large crowds of people. Then me and a few friends decided we wanted to attempt to enter the actual Kever (tomb) of R. Shimon (despite the masses of people). So we did just that and were exposed to something much more than people just praying towards the Kever. It was like a mob (and this was on the woman's side!) I felt like I was in a sardine can of chassidic woman! People were literally pushing their way through to either A-pray or B-go watch the crazy mob of men dance around the huge fire. Even though there were a few parts of the night where I couldn't breath due to lack of space for my lungs to move, I couldn't stop smiling. People were gathering, and sacrificing their personal comfort all for an amazing purpose. To attach themselves to the bigger picture.

In Meron on Lag B'omer for the sun rise
Lag B'omer is about the story of R. Shimon and how he was in the cave for 12 years, than came out and saw people tilling the land and thought 'how could they do something else other than learning Torah (since he was in the cave for so long only learning) so G-d sent him (and his son) back for 12 months to learn more. The second time they left they witnessed a man carrying two bushels of myrtle. R. Shimon asked him what he was doing and the man answered 'these two bushels are for shabbat. I have two to honor the aspects of Shamor/Zachor!' From this R. Shimon found a way to love this and said something to himself like 'wow! look how the Jews are honoring the Torah!'-basically this was a very short way of telling this story, but the beauty was that he stepped back and realized that every way a Jew honors the Torah is beautiful! He realized this, unlike the other 24,000 students of R. Akiva (he was one of R. Akiva's students) leading ultimately to their death, and ultimately creating the omer to mourn these students. So we take from this to not judge others on the way they are honoring G-d.

Anyways, the whole Meron experience was great-we arrived at 3 AM and left after we prayed to the rising sun around 8:30.

I turn 20 in 11 days, and this program ends shortly after it. I'm going to be writing a reflection of this year soon, but I don't want to yet. I'm still going through crazy life changes every day. For example, I've been challenging myself with an early b-day present to myself to practice being shomer negiah. I've done this before, and unfortunately failed, but I feel like I am stronger this time. I know that this journey, that my 19th year of life has endured has been very long, rigorous, but extremely rewarding. I feel empowered by the life choices I have made and cannot wait to see what my 20th year of life has to offer me.
One extra thing I'm going to add in is that today is the 37th day of the Omer. In kabbalah (Jewish Mysticism), there is a concept called the 10 sefirot. According to,  "sefirah (pl. sefirot) is a channel of Divine energy or life-force. This most fundamental concept of Kabbalah is that in the process of creation an intermediate stage was emanated from God's infinite light to create what we experience as finite reality. These channels are called the Ten Sefirot, Ten Divine Emanations, Ten Divine Radiances, Ten Divine Eluminices, or Ten Divine Powers which are the basic terms and concepts of the inner wisdom of the Torah which is called Kabbalah." ( Each day during the omer you say the sefirah of the day paired with one of the other six or itself (you only use the bottom seven). It is supposed to be a self-help system. For example take Chesed (love/kindness) and Hod (thankfulness) and ask yourself am I being thankful to the people that give to me? the things that G-d provides me? And things along these lines.

I found it interesting that today's was Yesod Shebi-Yesod Foundation and foundation. Foundation is something that has come across my mind a lot lately. This year had been about building some sort of foundation, gaining some sort of knowledge that you can always look back into no matter what happens. Regardless of the mistakes or lessons I learned this year I know that I built an extremely firm foundation. I know what I want in life, I know my goals, I have my visions, and I see my dreams. I've been striving to put these into effect and have so far succeeded in the terms of what I think I am capable of. But I know that I have much to learn and a lot of room to grow-but my foundation, my Yesod, is here and it's here to stay..

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sacrifice and Celebration

I just experience the most meaningful Yom Hazikaron (Day of Remembrance) and Yom Haazmaut (Israeli Independence Day).

Standing in front of the Western Wall
8 PM rang in Yom Hazikaron with a national siren. A few friends and I headed over to the bridge over the highway to witness the cars stop mid-road. The siren rang and all the cars (except the few that have no respect) stopped and we watched many people step out of their cars and stand in silence. It was an eerie feeling with the loud siren blasting, especially when I closed my eyes and felt the vibrations of the sound run through my body. The night continued with our Madrich (dorm counselor) Ira, another madrich Natan, and a fellow student tell stories about 6 separate people they knew (or knew of) that had passed away from serving in the Israeli army. We lit 6 memorial candles in their names a few including: Roe Klein, Michael Levin, and David Kandleman.

The next morning we had a 8:45 AM bus to Mount Herzl, the IDF military cemetery. We got there around 10:30 to see thousands upon thousands of people visiting it as well. Tight security led us barely making it to the national ceremony that began at 11 AM for another state-wide siren. Every stood up right before it began. The siren was so loud this time I imagine since it began right at Mt.Herzl itself. A few important people spoke and than we headed over to the graves to hear stories of fallen soldiers. One noted event, as we were walking over in a large crowd I looked over to my right to see some panic as some soldiers were spring away from something. A few kids then hit the ground and covered their heads. Then people in the crowd began to run. I, being in the crowd grabbed my friends hands as we began to run with the crowd not even knowing what we were running from. A few seconds later a bunch of the Israeli police started yelling in Hebrew 'Run the other way!' So we did, and we kept running. And nothing happened. Just silence and questioning. After 10 or 15 minutes we were allowed to pass through the area. I'm not going to lie, it was a pretty scary experience only when I saw someone hit the ground and cover their heads. Everything happens for a reason so I guess I was supposed to wtiness that.
David's gravesite at Mt.Herzl

We headed over to David Kandleman's grave site. David Kandleman was a student on the Bar Ilan program last year who even though he was not religious, knew he had an important duty to serve for the Jewish people and he did so through joining the IDF. I'm not going to mention how he passed away, but mention how brave he was to just drop everything and walk into the life of a lone soldier in the Israeli army.

Since it was an emotional and hard day our school tried to transition our feelings as we went to go visit the Churva Synagogue and the Western Wall. Unity defined these moments as we all walked freely together through our home, Israel.

The day was coming to end and as night fell the transition of what we sacrifice to have our country turned into a full-fledged celebration of our declaration of our state, Yom Haaztmaut! The night began as me and a few friends headed over to a huge park in Jerusalem to meet up up with our madrich that had the tents and the food to bbq at hand. We got set up pretty late, but it was well worth it since we had fun rolling down hills and playing football with random people! After we gathered fire wood, we began our Mangal (BBQ) with hamburgers, hotdogs, and chicken (all really really good since our madrich is actually a chef). We headed into town in Jerusalem after to witness tons and tons of people gathered to dance around and sing together and support the blue and white colors of the Israeli flag. This defined unity as well as I met so many people, and everyone was so happy to be together! The night ended around 5 AM, even though music was blasting by our tents till around 7 AM.
Out on Ben Yehuda Street in Town

The next morning around 10 we began our day by dropping off all our stuff then roaming around the city of Jerusalem to find random concerts, parties, and food all in celebration of the day. A huge March of the Living concert was going on, and even though you needed a bracelet to get in, a few friends and I acted part of one of the 11th grade groups and snuck into the event. Singing the Jerusalem of Gold song in circles with random kids, and few free bracelets later, we headed over to more parks to find some more familiar faces. Then we headed back over to the western wall to end the day praying to G-d.

The group of us that camped out
My feet were hurting and I was covered in a layer of dirt (and foam since it's custom to spray random people with foam-and I was targeted as a random person :] ) but regardless the whole experience really made me love this place even more. I know that after I finish university in America I will make my way back here since I've never felt so at home than I have here. Am Yisrael Chai always and if you are a Jew, make your way over here fast! This is our home and we are not going anywhere!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Never again

Today today today.

Spurs of emotions went wild in the past 24 hours including Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance day, as well as Osama Bin Laden's death! Being in Israel for the two events makes it both beneficial and scary at the same time.

For one, being in Israel on a day of Holocaust remembrance really brings a sense of community and togetherness. One one that happened is at 10 AM there was a state-wide, yes ALL of Israel, siren sounding. People stopped in their tracks, in the cars, and whatever they were doing to stand up and bow their heads for two minutes. I was on Bar Ilan campus at the time and tried to make my way over to a street because it's really amazing to see people just stop there cars and get out of it.

At first, I was observing my surroundings, watching everyone still, literally frozen in time it seemed like. Chills were going up and down my spine. I then closed my eyes and took in the sounds of the sirens. I started to see images of the Holocaust and I began to tear up. The siren, a terrifying sound itself, since it is used also to alert to run for cover in case of a terrorist attack, just made me feel like I was part of something so much bigger. It almost felt like we were under attack for a moment; I guess I got into a meditative state very quickly. 

Osama's death too?! Well I'm glad it finally happened..but hopefully this doesn't land on blaming the Jews. As in Arab countries blaming the Jews. There's enough going around us all ready with the rumors of the third Intifada starting, I hope this isn't a kick-start for it.

But anyways...I stand by the saying " Never again shall we march like sheep to the slaughter, Never again shall we sit and take orders, Stripped of our culture, Robbed of our name, Raped of our freedom and thrown into the flames, Forced from our families, taken from our homes, Moved from our God then burned of our bones...Never again " by the Wu-Tang Clan. We will continue to DEFEND ourselves and continue to DEFEND OUR land....always.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Maintaining the Journey

Having a one month break in Israel has so far proved to be really really amazing.

First I went to Budapest and Prague for nine days with two of my friends from the program. We had such an amazing time exploring and meeting new people. My favorite part of the whole trip though was for sure to be surrounded by people speaking Hungarian. I know this is odd-but it's really because I grew up listening to my dad speak Hungarian to his mother and sisters and picked up on some of it myself-so it was really funny/amazing to be surrounded by it! I also felt such a deep feeling of connection praying in the Chabad/Hungarian synagogue knowing that many many years before that were my ancestors praying the exact same prayers. It sparked me to probe my family history. Prague was great too. We visited a bunch of touristy sights, met a bunch of people, and flat out had a great time. The most memorable part there was certainly visiting Terezin, a ghetto from WWII. Walking through the streets and seeing the memorials just sent chills down my spine. They had a huge art gallery of a bunch of pictures painted and drawn from people that passed through or lived in the ghetto and it was really touching. My travels to other countries have only just begun...

Passover started once we returned and I spent it with my Israeli family. For the seder I was with my aunt and one of her daughters husband's family (whom since I have met treated me like part of their family as well). It was different having one seder, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Chol Hamoed (the days in the middle of passover) were amazing too. The two girls I went to Europe with, Elisheva and Atara, and I camped out by the dead sea for two days! The first day we soaked up the salt of the dead sea and swam along the shore to find a good mud hole where we could dig up the mud and put it all over our bodies. That night was also really fun since we met a bunch of Israeli's our age. We were just endlessly talked about everything. The next day we spent at Ein Gedi-natural springs in the south. Where we hiked through some springs, up some mountain, to some more natural springs (to bump into our Israeli friends), to hike rock to rock through a river, to another spring. It was really really fun and great to be doing it on our own without a group telling us where to go and what not to do. We slept (or didn't sleep) another night in the tent and headed back to our families to end the holiday.

I spent the last days with my whole entire Israeli family for shabbat and then parts of it for the Yom Tov. Despite me not being to comprehend their Hebrew since they speak it so fast-it was just nice to see everyone happy together. Many families are dysfunctional and hate each other, but here I saw everyone sincerely enjoying each others presence. 

I read a book over the holiday called 'Human by Choice-a kabbalistic path to self help' by Rabbi Eliyahu Yaakov that highlighted your independence, direction, implementation, amplification, and interdependence. I plan on reading it again since it had so much to it, but as for now two things stuck out to me most. First, "It is only when a person forgets about his source, essence, and purpose that he redefines the meaning of the word growth to mean promotion at the office." Unfortunately, a lot of people are under this societal spell where work > family relationships. It scares me knowing that so many people loose sight of who they are. The letters of the hebrew words for forget and darkness (shochech and choshech) can be rearranged into each other. As Rabbi Eliyahu states it 'to forget one's who, what, and why in life is to be living in spiritual darkness.

And lastly, another thing from his book 'It is taught in Kabbalah, no two moments of existence are alike. Each moment has it's own particular purpose, and each of us has our own particular purpose to fulfill in each moment'. He states this in his discussion of the journey back to Judaism. He says 'even if you mess up ten minutes into the journey your record is not 0-1, it is rather 10 minutes worth of moments-1.' (This is regards to holding out for 10 minutes on whatever temptation is driving you to sin). I took this to heart knowing that I myself have messed up some times here in Israel. My mind is in a constant pull and tug of temptation and reasoning proving to be one of the hardest journeys I have ever taken. But versus what life was like before this year in Israel, my record has to be somewhat good.

So many things are constantly suprising and inspiring me here in Israel and I'm sad to know I have only 6 weeks left of the school year (about a month to my 20th birthday too!) But happy to stay I'm staying in Israel this summer to find some more, somewhere and somehow.

Here is a song that recently inspired me:
Baz Lurhmann - 'Everybody's free to wear sunscreen'

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The story of Speech

It was my first Friday night at UCF's chabad house for Shabbat dinner. I was nervous, but was used to the orthodox scene since that how I was raised. I quickly walked in and immediately was greeted by the Rabbi.

'Hello! I'm Jennifer!' I said confidently.

'Hey Jennifer! Have you ever been to chabad before?' he replied.

'I mean I havn't been to chabad but I did grow up religious, so I'm used to this' I shot back.

'So what happened?' he innocently asked.

I felt my confidence within me rapidly dwindle. That tear jerking, overly asked, annoying question. 'It's a long story...' I replied and quickly walked away since I sincerely felt my eyes begin to well up. 'Keep your cool and snap out of it!' I was repeating to myself in my head. I hated these emotions that would come up when I thought about my lost faith of Judaism. I hated them so much that they are what made me decide to go to UCF over Israel for my first year of college in the first place.

A couple months later, being a chabad then going out after Friday night regular, Passover rolled around. I stayed at UCF for the holiday and attended both seders. The seders looked like this: the rabbi and his wife giving everything they have to try and inspire over 200 college kids with the seder service. Many of them though weren't really feeling the atmosphere so were constantly on their blackberries and/or continuously stating how they dreaded the long wait to the meal. And as the meal rolled around, many ate and got their keys and left. I stayed, along with the other few that wanted to finish the seder and and we ended the nights with a pesach fabrengun and some good talks.

Passover ended, and it wasn't long till I was going out once again to satisfy my party cravings. One night, I over drank a bit and entered into the 'Nichnas Yayin Yotzeh Sod' mode (enter wine and secrets leave). I left the bar, my roommate wasn't home, and found myself uncontrollably crying. I was trying to look at myself but I couldn't. I had become disgusted at who I was becoming and knew the emptiness I felt was 100% my Judaism. I luckily still had Rabbi Bryks, my rabbi from NCSY's number and vowed to call him the next day to see if I had any more options.

So I called him, the next day and of course after I asked him if there was any way I could go to Israel the upcoming fall and spring he told me that of course there was. He asked me why, and I began to explain what I was feeling and then he told me something that would be coined within me forever. I remember the d'var Torah (about Pesach) consisted with something that coincided with the phrase 'the freedoms within'. I have stuck with this ever since then and was recently reminded by our Av Bayis, Ari Yablok what this really means.

The coined phrase freedom of speech is overused and abused in many ways. Speech is something that is crazy powerful. It has the power to kill and has the power to, I hate to be cliche but, move mountains. Pesach is all about freedom of speech. Literally if you dissect the word Peh and Sach: Peh means mouth and Sach meaning conversation. When the Jews were in Egypt they were slaves. Not only slaves to build the pyramids but also slaves to not being able to be who they are as Jews-not being able to speak. When they got across the split sea and the waves crashed down on the Egyptians what was the first thing they did? They sang Az Yashir! Coincidentally, singing being the highest form of expression.

Holding on to what is real
When I heard this message I knew I had to put all my thoughts into action. Judaism was constantly swimming around in my thoughts but I refused to talk about it-I knew it was real but I knew coming back would be the hardest transformation ever. You may trick yourself into thinking 'OH since I think all of these things, then I'm ok, I'll save the actual changing for later'-But know that the only way you're ever going to change yourself is if you put those thoughts into actions. Let them exit your mind and delve into the world of reality.

Somewhere in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) it says that you have to speak your true feelings and be who you are-but it goes on to alert you that once you begin doing this, initially you are going to feel very lost and alone. It makes sense since you put up a front of who you think you are and then you just want to change? Of course people are going to look down and judge-but it really is ok if you feel and know that it's right.

Regardless if the sea actually split or not (I personally believe it but many don't and I can understand why since it is a crazy concept), this message had to be delivered one way or another. Better then G-d just writing down 'Speak up', he gave us this amazing experience or story, whatever you choose, to constantly remind yourself to be who you are-no matter how hard it is...Chag Sameach <3

Friday, March 25, 2011

Am I ready?

There is something buzzing around this world creating all this conflict. It's the month of Adar, which is supposed to be the happiest month and here we are mourning deaths by earthquakes and murderers, watching the violence erupt within the Israeli-palestinian world, and witnessing revolution after revolution in a myriad of countries.

I know there are many sayings that the world is ending or the Messiah is coming. Regardless though if any of these events happen, are we going to be ready? Are you ready to die or come back to life or whatever is going to happen and reflect on your life and be happy with it. I know that I am one of those people that have said or still say 'I'm going to do this today and make up for it tomorrow'. What if tomorrow doesn't come?

This was one of the main messages I picked up from Purim, even though there were so many to choose from. Here's how it worked:

On Campus jamming 
Purim began Saturday night. Israel XP, my program headed to a local Yeshiva to hear the first Megillah reading. With many crazy men dancing around and fire crackers being heard in the distance, this could have possibly been marked my most unique Megillah reading ever. After that people were either going out to Tel Aviv or staying on campus to drink with the staff, dance around, play guitar/tarbouka etc. I chose to stay-very glad about that. Listening to Omek Hadavar, our Av Bayit's band's music play we just sat around laughed and we discussed some real concepts. The next morning Megillah was read on campus and then whoever wanted to could go to the hospital to give out Mishloach Manot (baskets of food/candy given out specifically on Purim) to kids in the hospital. I chose to go, which I am very glad about as well. Baruch Hashem there wasn't enough kids at the hospital to give all the Mishloach Manot we made to. After that, the group headed to Bnei Brak (a very religious community) to walk around and give Matanot LeEvyonim (money to the poor). Corner after corner there were beggars as well as countless amounts of people willingly flinging their change into their cups.

After this we were taken to our seudas (festive meals) in Ramat Bet Shemesh. Wine was passed around along with words of encouragment, wisdom, and some funny poems about each girl made by our program director. I don't remember the exact words of mine but I know it was something like: 'at first you said goodbye to mitzvot and Torah and then you came back stronger-I'm happy you chose to come here-I cannot wait to see you as an upcoming leader of the Jewish people'. I guess this was a moment of ah-ha that this is what I was here for..

In Jerusalem Sunday night dancing in front of a Nachman van
Anyways after that, me and a few girls took a bus to Jerusalem. The bus was crazy. There were ten of us in the back singing Jewish songs and playing our tarbouka. It was a 45 minute party bus to Jerusalem-Jew style. I was so spiritually high at that moment since we were singing 'Ani Maamim-Moshiach Moshiach Moshiach!' that I started to tell the people on the bus I was Shomer Negiah (not touching-yes TOUCHING boys till marriage) If that was true or not, I am not sure-hopefully I can reach that goal soon.

Now let me tell you what Jerusalem is like on Purim. Everyone is in costume, everyone is drunk (many for the right reasons, many for the wrong) and everyone is just walking around the streets either spitting Torah or spitting their puke-but regardless of it all, it's a whole city of a bunch of Jewish people celebreating a holiday. I can honestly say I don't ever want to celebrate Purim anywhere else ever again! I spent Sunday night in Jerusalem then returned all day Monday to repeat the festivities since in the walled city, the real Purim is a day after the world's Purim-so basically my Purim lasted me about 3 days.

All this craziness led me to thinking that I am just in love with everything this year is offering me. I've been inspired to one day be able to wake up to a day if the world is crashing down or being resurrected or flying on a eagle to Jerusalem I can say that I will be ready.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The secrets of Purim!

For a week, I was on a week long conference called MASA Building Future Leadership Conference. It consisted of over 400 undergrads and post-grads on MASA sponsored Israel programs that came together to acquire skills in leadership. A participant was put into a specific group which would be home base for the rest of the week; this is where you would do the most of the reflecting on what you had learned. I was in group 6. You would then choose a specific track (I chose Tikkun Olam) where you would have one full day of, and you would choose a skill workshop (where I chose campus entrepreneurship) where you took a few days to acquire some skills in the specific area.

The whole thing was really an amazing week filled with leadership activities that got my mind flowing with new ideas, and put what leadership really is into a new perspective. has the schedule on it if you are interested in seeing the activities. Basically, what I really got out of it, besides a whole new wave of friends, was realizing what I was truly passionate about. In one of our activities, we had to go around and state two new ideas of what we would like to see on campus when we return or go to college. People said new kosher restaurants, more Israel advocacy, Israeli heritage nights, etc. Going into the conference, I thought the idea I was constantly thinking about was un-original, but apparently, it wasn’t.

I stood up, cleared my throat, and said: ‘I want to start at the core and get Jewish kids in public high schools more exposure to Judaism, and I want to find away to make them love Judaism over force it upon them.’ Throughout the week, I had my mind swirling with ideas which hopefully I can put into effect one day. If you want to know more, or want to help me with it, feel free to ask!

Anyways, besides the conference being mind provoking and exciting, I truly did miss the Jewish learning I was doing every day at school. As we all know, Purim is approaching, actually in a few days and my school is not shy of the fact, that besides Purim being a ‘kids’ holiday, it’s got a lot of lessons that can apply to us today.

Go up to the average Jew and ask them what holiday they think is the holiest day of the year. I guarantee you, 6 months ago; I would have said Yom Kippur, the day where we all fast and are forgiven (or not forgiven) for our sins. Really though, in the Torah, Yom Kippur’s real name is actually Yom HAkipurim-literally translated-the day LIKE Purim. Purim is taking the spiritual and elevating it to its highest, by doing it the right way, alongside the physical (with meals, wine, festivities).

Another aspect: what are clowns? Clowns are people that are dressed up and every time something happens to them, they depict their exact emotions. For instance, one slips and falls on a banana peel, so he gets up and cries, while the other one points and laughs. We all find this funny, but really, and ironically, this is exactly how were supposed to act when things like that happen-no matter how ‘cool’ it is to be apathetic and brush everything off.

So what do clowns have to do with Purim? You dress up! Right! .... No. Clowns are showing us what we are really supposed to be like regardless if you think that they are putting on a show! And what does that have to do with Purim? WINE.

There is a saying in the Gemara I believe: Nichnas Yayin, Yotzeh Sod ‘enter wine, exit secret’. We all know that when we drink we either tend to be more loving, aggressive, funny, whatever it may be, we are not who we really are…or are we being who we should really be? So why on Purim do we dress up? Because we are embarrassed of our secrets? Or we don’t want people to witness our true selves…?

Megillat Esther sounds like Gilui Hester-right? And what does that mean? Hidden revealed. Purim is one of the holiest days of the year because the Jews accepted the Torah. I know, you’re thinking wrong holiday, but really, on Purim the Jews had the choice on to either accept Judaism or deny it. But this time, G-d’s ‘face’ or his presence was hidden-the first time around there is a mashal saying G-d had Mt.Sinai floating on top of them saying either accept me, or I’ll drop this mountain on you right now and you will die (even though that is not to be taken literally). This time, they chose it, with their free will to be a part of the choseness of being a Jew.

All summed up: Purim is a day where we dress up because we know that we are going to be real, which our society is afraid of, and we are going to elevate the physical and the spiritual together, and bringing klal yisrael together (which I didn't get to talk about) making it the holiest day of the year. Tying in MASA, and what I learned on the conference, many people, many Jews in the world are not going to get these messages of Purim. I know and I feel that it is our responsibility, as Jews that if you get the message of Purim, or if you understand the concepts of Judaism to transpire them out to the world of where people are not just simply ignorant, where they are truly just unexposed. I’m really really glad that I got the chance this year to have my eyes opened to all these new messages and ‘hidden’ secrets revealed.

I need to express my gratitude to all my Bar Ilan teachers and staff members that have been patient with me as I asked the questions on what Purim is really all about. I hope this sheds a new light for whoever is reading this on this amazing holiday, we all really deserve to know what it really means. So have a Happy Purim, share your wealth, share your love, and be yourself.