Friday, November 11, 2011

Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat has become a hugely important time in my week. Taking that break from stress and worry every week is the only thing keeping my hair from going prematurely grey.

I've always been a worrier but in the past few years my anxiety has genuinely become a big problem. I'm not having panic attacks these days but I am no stranger to stress. And instead of becoming an alcoholic i've been trying to throw myself more into Judaism and Jewish study. I've been with this community over 2 years now and what I'm finding is that on Friday nights the songs begin. My head fills with Shabbat tunes like Mizmor Shir or L'cha Dodi and I take a deep breath and just... let go. Nothing else matters but being myself, loving life, treasuring Dave and feeling shechinah.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Not every day do we encounter God,
not every time is opportune for prayer,
not every hour one of grace.

We fail and fail again 'til journey's end.

We turn back only to lose our way once more,
and grope in search of long forgotten paths.

But God, holding a candle,
looks for all who wander, all who search.

~Shifra Alon

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Growing up, I was obsessed with reading. My mother would catch me under the covers with a torch, a toy, anything that would light up, so I could avoid sleeping and just keep reading. I'd devour so many books every year that the library became the only option for my poor mother's wallet.

I'm not sure where that went. Maybe it's because I become so disillusioned with the books I start reading, maybe it's because I have set favourites and like to know I'm going to enjoy it, or maybe it's a lack of time. But somewhere along the line I stopped this constant reading.

I have a large stack of books that I have started and never got very far into. There are books I have started and then filed or given away, as they are just no good. I think the last book I read that I genuinely loved was The Time Traveller's Wife.

And then there's the "jew books". Ever since I started this journey, I have been collecting books on Judaism and reading them over and over, dog-earing the pages that I find interesting or have things on to remember. My Rabbi gave me a list when I met with him in November 2009, and I have been collecting them slowly. Rather than trying to get them from any library, I have been excitedly building up my Jewish Library. (Sadly, I have to try and get these all back to New Zealand someday).

In a few weeks I'll post a list of what I'm reading, what I've read and what I really should be reading. I'll discuss the books as much as I can. Everything apart from one or two is packed away for our upcoming move, but the two I did leave out are:

The Wisdom of Maimonides by Edward Hoffman. I discovered this in a little bookstore in Vancouver last month, and we realised shortly afterwards that we were in a University store. Hence the amazing stack of religious books (I wanted to buy all of them). Maimonides was a Jewish physician and philosopher in the 12th century who wrote fantastic texts such as Wisdom for the Perplexed. Now that's a title.


Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals by George Robinson. This was one of the original books I bought. It's huge and has been read many times and has a lot of flags in it. It's so informative.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Whether you spell it with or with the C, Hanukkah is a fun wee festival, but a minor one. The recent commercialisation of it (largely in America, where the largest number of Jews live) has pushed it to a more equal level to Christmas, but this was not originally the case.

There are loads of places you can find out about Hanukkah on the web, so I'm not going to give you any sort of history. I will however tell you that it has been pretty special for the last two years, being in my small Edinburgh community. We always have a wee party, cook latkes, sing songs and have games for the kids. This past Hanukkah party, I played the piano so that the children had an accompaniment for pass-the-parcel. A simple act, but it was lovely to be asked.

I feel very shy in my shul. I have been with them for 15 months now, but I still feel like a bit of an outsider, and definitely can't go as often as I'd like. I know that I'm not as involved as others, and that does push me to the sidelines, and often people do not remember me. But I'm happy to be involved when and where I can.

Next Hanukkah I'm hoping to celebrate with small presents and greater observance overall. It may be a little festival, but it's so nice to bring light to the darkness in winter.

(Did you have a good break? Happy New Year!)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Candlelight by the Maccabeats


“People tell you what is good, but what does the Eternal One require of you? Only to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Two weeks ago when we met for our monthly discussion group with the Rabbi, our topic was ethics. In Judaism, there has never been a separation between what is ethically right and good and what is required of us by God. Jews are expected to be good people by the concept of mitzvah (largely taken as "good deed" these days, but it actually means commandment), which encompasses what can be seen as ethically good, as well as the ritual observances. “We affirm the Jewish conception of Mitzvah ("Commandment"): that as Jews we are obligated to lead a life of exemplary ethical quality, to work for the betterment of human society, and to practise a devotional discipline of study, prayer and observance.”

The above comes from the Affirmations of Liberal Judaism, which I found rather interesting, but of course unsurprising. In summary:

“We affirm our commitment to Judaism's ethical values, which include reverence for life, respect for persons and property, love of neighbour, practical kindness (g'milut chasadim) and charity (tz'dakah), social justice and peace, the conservation of nature, and the humane treatment of animals.”

Reverence for life: all human life is sacred. No person has the right to end another person's life, only God can do so. But alas, not if you're in big trouble. If a person’s life is in danger, we are commanded to do our best to save them, and “not stand idly by the blood of your neighbour” (Leviticus 19:16). One may kill another person if it is the only way to save oneself, or a third party.
But. One must accept a martyr’s death rather than actively kill another person (Talmud: “Who says your blood is redder than his?”), but one is not obligated to put oneself in mortal danger to save another person (“Who says his blood is redder than yours?”).

Confusing, right? You know what? Just don't kill anybody. Not intentionally, anyway.

This is the point where I clarified abortion with the Rabbi. One of the interesting things about Judaism is that even the most Orthodox of Rabbis will okay an abortion if the mother's life is in danger. Until the head of the baby, ahem, emerges, the baby is considered part of the mother, and the mother is the most important life. Once that baby's head is out? save both! stat! but I guess the priority may shift slightly to the new baby, if in distress.

Love of neighbour: Well. I know everyone thinks this came from Jesus. Sorry, y'all. It's from Leviticus (but I suppose Jesus was a Jew, after all). “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself; I am the Eternal One” (Lev. 19:18).

In Judaism, Love of neighbour does not imply that one must feel love for everyone, but that one should act lovingly and caringly towards them. Hillel famously turned it around and said: "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary, so go and study!"

There is a term l'shon ha-ra, which means the evil tongue. So no insulting, gossiping, humiliating. No slander. (Gosh it must be hard being that perfect, I gossip on an almost daily basis). There is also the concept of fairness. You cannot charge interest on a loan to another Jew, but it was common to charge a small amount to a foreigner, who would not bring back any business to you, etc.

Tzedakah: charity. Supporting others who are not doing as well as ourselves, and not just out of compassion, but out of justice. Liberal Judaism is all about justice and righting the world.

In biblical times, this meant leaving a corner of your crops unharvested, so the poor can come and take it. Collecting on the high holidays for charities is very common as well. This Yom Kippur we collected for 4 separate groups.

Social justice and peace: Again, for those who can't help themselves. Fighting for equal rights, for human rights. A lot of Jews marched with Martin Luther King, which I think is great. Liberal Jews are frequently speaking out against the war and are involved with groups supporting both Israeli and Palestinian families.

The conservation of nature: This is a relatively new addition, but Liberal Judaism is no stranger to environmentalists and all-out hippies. I do find that our shul has those who are fond of tie-dye, hemp and herbal tea, but we also have more conservative members as well, and everyone is conscious of the green effort.

Humane treatment of animals: From the way we slaughter animals to the way they are treated in society. I am a supporter of the SSPCA and I like bunnies and kitties and puppies. But I also like treatments for MS, Parkinson's, and cancer, and enjoy mince. I know a lot of Jews are vegetarians as it's easier re: the kosher laws, but there are a growing number of ethical vegetarians/vegans as well.

Next time? Chanukkah! though I imagine it'll be over by the time I write the post, I'll be musing about this fun but small (and growing over-commercialised) holiday.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I started this blog because I think there are a lack of interesting Jewish blogs around, and because I have a lot of thoughts on this side of things that I'd like to get out, without it taking over my regular blog.

Sometimes I really just want to write about this side of my life a lot, and sometimes I don't. So expect erratic posting (like the others, I guess!).