Synagogue Life

It’s been a year since Pittsburgh

Our little community has worked so hard to find a balance between security and welcoming. I have said myself, many times, that I would rather err on the side of hospitality…

And then there was that moment. I stood at the Ark ready to remove the Torah so we could dance and celebrate before rolling it back. From the bima I could see my entire community and him.

He was a stranger, standing in the foyer, wearing a black suit and white shirt, his smallish glasses and simple clothes looked almost Orthodox, his lack of kippot indicated that he was decidedly not.

He stood stock still watching us intently as we read the hakafot and danced… It was unnerving. Who was this person? I found myself looking closer, no bulges under his jacket to indicate a weapon. I began to ask others, “Do you know him? Have you seen him before?”

Someone told me that he had come to say Kaddish for his father… Shortly after, Marilyn, who is basically everyone’s favorite bubbe, was in the lobby giving him a gentle hug. When it was time for Kaddish he cried as we recited. After he stayed for kiddush and hamotzi and the oneg.

I left rather late. Just a few people remained and he was one of them. My heart overflowed with joy as I realized that this stranger in need found what he needed in our little community.

It is so difficult to find the balance. I am thankful for our security team who met him at the door and were able to find out enough about him to let him in the building, and who then let the right people know what was going on so that our congregation was able to be at ease with him.

It isn’t an easy thing to be secure and wide open at the same time, but I think we’re doing the best we can.

In other news I had a grand time making this very special challah for simchat Torah.







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Apparently it has been a year…

Gosh, I get inspired by my friend Rachel to post and come here to do so and realize it has been over a year! I guess that is something else I need to do better this year – to write my thoughts.

Coming into 5780 I have made a rather momentous decision.


I’m going to buy new dishes. Well not new. I am going to begin collecting used dishes. First off, I love vintage dishes and second I think using that which already exists is more environmentally friendly. I stumbled on the buttercup (Nurit) pattern and fell in love. The cowslip is on the same blanks so they will be well coordinated but distinct in their use – and I do like a good pun.

So I am going to spend this year scouring eBay and etsy to get the pieces I need then will pack them up for a year before using them. I have not yet decided if I am going fully kosher or not, that is a decision I have time (about 2 years) for, but I am committed to fully separating milk and meat on my plates… so it is a step in that direction for sure.

So how do you like them? Cowslip and Buttercup?

Rosh HaShanah

And then it was 5779

This has been, by far the most impactful and meaningful new year of my life.  I am not sure if it was the commitment to introspection in Elul, the mikvah, the spiritual and musical services or a combination of it all but I feel as if I am on the cusp of great changes.  My prayer to God this New Year was to make good use of me, and to let me live to see 5780.  I am hopeful that with that will come a change of financial fortunes, because I really am not enjoying being poor, but who is to say that is not the plan.

Just before Rosh Hashanah my husband hit a deer and we are currently saving up the deductible for the body work.  Before we could get it into the shop for repairs we began having some significant mechanical issues with it.  We are hopeful that those are related to the accident so that the repair will be covered but, well, we shall see.  For now he is working as much as he can using public transport so income is down and costs are up.  On my side of the equation they changed the way we are given work and during our slower months my income may be significantly less.  On the other hand during those busier months I may have more work than I can do!  So I can feel the change.  I don’t know yet if they are changes that will improve our quality of life or make it worse, but I trust that God is in the process of answering my prayers.  Somehow I will be made useful and that will make it worthwhile.

After our community sukkot celebration tomorrow evening I am off to see my parents for a week (we are renting a car) and will be back just before Simchat Torah.  I am so glad that the trip fit neatly between celebrations.  I love seeing my parents but I hate to miss celebrating with my Jewish family.

In addition to living and being useful, I have some personal goals for 5779.  I really want to learn to read Hebrew more effectively.  I want to do more Torah reading, but I also really want to be able to sight read and to read the blessings in Hebrew etc.  A year should be enough to get a good start.

I want to improve consistency with the ritual mitzvot.  It is hard to do alone at home.  The fact that I am a woman gives me an easy out on much of it, but I want to stop with the excuses and get on with the practice.

I want to improve my physical self, doing my own part in keeping myself alive.  I need to commit to regular exercise, so I am devising a workable plan toward that end.

And so here I am, with a brand new year ahead.  Afraid of the poverty and preparing for the potential of prosperity.  Concerned about leaving too early and planning to do what I can to keep myself around.  Frustrated that I am not the Jew I want to be and knowing what the Jew I want to be needs to do to become.

I wish for you a sweet new year full of hope and peace and completeness.  I wish for you love and prosperity and the desires of you heart.  La’Shana Tova.



Taking the Plunge

kirarmsPhoto credit

After  month of introspection and the celebration of the New Year I find myself here in the Days of Awe, preparing to stand before God on Yom Kippur.  Part of that preparation, for me, includes a trip to the mikvah.

Yesterday I made the trek with 6 of my sisters to the mikvah (it is just over an hour away).  We had a wonderful time as sisters taking turns supporting each other as we practiced the mitzvot of t’vilah.

Many people think of the mikvah as primarily for those who observe the laws of family purity, but it is really so very much more.  Praying while wrapped in the living waters is a deeply cleansing ritual – cleansing for the soul that is.  You go in already very clean!

We used a lot of information provided by  I am so thankful to that site for providing us with the initial format which we were then able to tweak and make our own.

Some of the thoughts we focused on during our mikvah visit…

  • The Waters represent the times of transition, as we pass from slavery to freedom, from womb through birth into our lives, from life through death into the Sea of Oneness or into the embrace of the Beloved. The important thing is not to fear, to know that God’s Presence is and has always been with you… through every transition, through every transformation.
  • Every moment can be received as a point of transition and an opening into a whole new world. As I step into who I am becoming, I need to be washed clean of prejudice, expectation, fear, anger, the scars of previous traumas, disappointments and limited perspective. As I immerse, may I be cleansed and purified, forgiven, and washed clean. Please God, soften and dissolve all my old scars that bind me into old patterns.
  • When I accept each moment as the gift it is, when I live open to the source of Divine flow, then I can enter and dwell in Eden, if only for a short time.

I am so thankful to the local orthodox community for welcoming us into the mikvah and giving us space to pray in our own way.  It is a blessing.



Rosh HaShanah, Synagogue Life

and he answered “Here I am”.

Genesis 22 1-3I have always been impressed that no one goes to read the Torah on their own.  It is not a test of skill or a gotcha moment.  The reader is flanked on the left and the right with the Rabbi and the Gabbi Shamash respectively.  They are there to read along and to help.  Not to judge.  It is very comforting, supportive image to have them there.

This year on Rosh Hashana I was given the very special honor of being called to the Torah, I was asked not only to give the blessing but also to read the first portion, Genesis 22 1-3.  Because my Hebrew skills are lacking at best this took a lot of work to be able to successfully read it, without actually committing it to memory.   I am so thankful for the Chabad Torah Trainer  that allowed me to learn the trope and to A Little Hebrew which allowed me to get the transliterations so I could perfect my words.
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In the end it was all over in the blink of an eye with only one small hiccup.  I think I did pretty OK.  I’ve been told this is MY reading now, and I can do it each year.  I like that idea.

Plus, if I am being totally honest, I love this bit of Torah.  I love the word Hineni.  That total commitment of saying to God.  Here I am, all of me in every way, I am ready for whatever you have to give me.

Elul, Prayer

Consideration, Contrition, Confession

81Vi0PvOePL.__BG0,0,0,0_FMpng_AC_UL320_SR212,320_Our Temple book club has been reading My Jewish Year by Abigail Pogrebin and last night we decided to take her lead on the month of Elul.

I have printed out the list of traits, cut it up and put them in a fishbowl.  Beginning tonight (before shabbat), I will draw one trait and email it toimag2417 our small group of 4 with the time of sundown (Havdalah) the next night.  The idea is for us to consider the trait and how we can improve in that area through the day and then to report on ourselves to the others at night.  I will be posting my thoughts here as well.

Prayer, Synagogue Life


“And it shall come to pass if you diligently hearken to My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and to serve Him with all your hearts and with all your souls: I will give the rain of your land in its due season, the early rain and the late rain…”

91 days of precipitation and 151 days of sun.  These are the annual averages where I live.

Where I grew up the local native tribe’s name translated to “Children of the Sun”.  The average number of days of precipitation is only 51 – that includes a lot of snow and 171 bright, sunny days.  Summers are hot and dry, winters are stark and bleak.  It was a fantastic place to be a kid, I remember so clearly the sharp smell of pine trees in the heat of July and August.  I remember the snow days and sledding on our street.

As I grew older the lure of warmer winters and more temperate summers encouraged me to move.  When I moved here many warned that I could find myself a victim of SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.  With so many days of clouds and rain I risked being pulled into a deep depression.

But quite the opposite is true.  I love the rain in fall as the fog envelops me in my little world creating a coziness that feels like a soft hug.  I love the rain of the winter that is sometimes snow, but only for a day or two at a time.  In the winter months I look out into my yard and I see green plants, birds and squirrels.  It is positively ALIVE.   I love the rain of the spring that brings my yard to bloom so the bumble bees and the birds and the squirrels can enjoy my yard and entertain me with God’s creation…

Then the rain stops.  Summer comes, temperatures rise above a comfortable 75 to the 80’s and even 90’s. I drag myself from bed at 4 am, opening the house to try to bring in as much cool air as possible and then I shut all the blinds and doors for the day trying to keep my home under 80 inside.  It is hot, it is dark, it is oppressive, it is stifling, and I loathe it.  To describe myself as cranky might be an understatement.

Summer also brings a drought of synagogue activities.  While children are out of school people vacation and kids go to camp so we go from 2-3 services a month to just one… and for some reason people like to go outside for that one… Being a rather indoorsy person I don’t join in for hiking and such, finding myself missing the act of praying with my Jewish family terribly.  It seems that I am SO SAD.

I had no such idea that SO SAD was a thing until an article popped up in my Facebook feed.  Summer Onset Seasonal Affective Disorder is brought on by the heat, the financial stresses of summer, the lack of normal routine…  It so clearly represents how I feel from June to September.


The good news is that there is hope just around the corner.  In just 5 days it will be the month of Elul.  Just 29 days after that brings Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – a flurry of synagogue activity to kick off the year.  Before you know it the time will come to clean for Pesach!

I am so looking forward to returning to my routine of attending every service I can.  Communal prayer sustains me like rain on the crops.  I am so looking forward to the rain.

Cooking, Shabbat

Not your Bubbie’s Challah, but maybe HER Bubbie’s Challah…


imag2393I have a general dislike for soft white bread.  In my perfect world bread is crusty and chewy and often a bit sour.

It may seem crazy to bake one’s own bread when the sun is imposing 90 degree temps but that is exactly what I did last week.  I had a Sisterhood Shabbos planned and I wanted to provide a lovely, non-traditional challah for the ladies.

I made a basic rustic loaf using all purpose einkorn flour.  I basically followed THIS RECIPE, adding a tablespoon of molasses and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and increasing the yeast to 1 teaspoon for a faster rise.

Even though my recipe was small enough that I did not have to, I separated the challah and said the blessing.  I mean if you aren’t going to braid you should probably bless… right?

Once my dough was shaped and proofed I put it out onto parchment – I find it easier to move the loaf in and out of the dutch oven that way and I can more easily decorate it.

Using a Star of David Stencil and a razor blade I scored my loaf, then with a second stencil I decorated it with cocoa powder just before popping it in the oven.



40 minutes (very hot minutes!) later I pulled my beautiful, old world loaf from the oven.  It was slightly sweet, crusty but not hard and overflowing with flavor.  It was not only parve but vegan, which suited 2 of my guests who do not eat animal products.  We spread it with hummus, with muhummara and with za’atar infused olive oil.  It was the perfect accompaniment to our shabbos meal.