Sunday, March 5, 2023

2023 - Timing: A Purim Reflection


In the Book of Esther, which is read on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we find that after Esther finds out about the plot to kill the Jews she invites her husband, the king, as well as his advisor Haman to a banquet.  


At the wine feast, the king asked Esther, “What is your wish? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to half the kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Esther 5:6


“My wish,” replied Esther, “my request—if Your Majesty will do me the favor, if it pleases Your Majesty to grant my wish and accede to my request—let Your Majesty and Haman come to the feast which I will prepare for them; and tomorrow I will do Your Majesty’s bidding.”  Esther 5:7-8


On the second day, the king again asked Esther at the wine feast, “What is your wish, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to half the kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.”  Esther 7:2


Queen Esther replied: “If Your Majesty will do me the favor, and if it pleases Your Majesty, let my life be granted me as my wish, and my people as my request. For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, massacred, and exterminated. Had we only been sold as bondmen and bondwomen, I would have kept silent; for the adversary is not worthy of the king’s trouble.”  Esther 7:3-4


One might read this story and wonder: Once Esther had the King and Haman at her table, why did she tell them to come the next night? Why did she wait for the next evening to come out as a Jewess to the king? What made her delay the inevitable?


When we stand at the threshold of opening up about who we are, or about what we need, or about something we need to shift in a relationship, it can feel overwhelming and daunting. In our life, many of us have felt the need to end a relationship, to ask someone out on a date, to share about an illness, to ask for help, to come out in some way. I have noticed that many of us will push these things off way past the time that feels comfortable thus creating tension in relationships. While others will jump in and just blurt it out, thus it comes out as a shock or harsh to the person receiving it. 


How do we find the right moment? The right time? The sweet spot between abruptness and dragging things out?  


We can find some guidance in the Book of Esther.   After that first feast that Esther prepares, the king goes back to his chamber and can’t sleep. He asks his advisors to bring out his Book of Records. They read him the story of the time Mordechai saved his life.   While his advisor is reading from the Book, Haman is outside and the king asks him to come in. The king then advises Haman to bestow special privileges on Mordechai in front of all the people.


The next day – the day in-between these two banquets – is the day that Haman has to dress Mordechai in royal garments and proclaim “This is what is done for the man whom the king wants to honor”.  


Perhaps, Esther invites the king to the first banquet, hoping that she would have the courage to come out to him, to tell him that she is a Jewess. As she looks around the table, she reads the room and notices that it might not be the right time. She knows she needs to do this, but perhaps she also intuitively can sense that this is not the right time. So she asks them to come again the next day. She allows for the Universe to give her some sort of sign, some sort of recognition that what she is embarking on is not only the right thing to do, but also the right time. Perhaps, as she sits, she notices no - not today.  Yes, I am scared, but it is not about that… something else needs to shift before I can do this big thing I am about to do.


The next day when she hears about Haman’s proclamation about Mordechai, she notices that the energy has shifted. That the king now trusts Mordechai too. The next evening, as she sits with the king and Haman, she can feel how things have shifted and notices that this might be the right moment to share about her heritage. So she takes a breath and plunges into the unknown.


When have you known it is time to act, but pushed it off for a later date? What do you keep pushing to make happen but the response, if you listen to your intuition, is “not yet”? How do you step into Divine timing and truly listen? 

May we all be guided by what is in our hearts to do AND trust the timing beyond our control.

Many Blessings


Purim is celebrated this year (2023) on Monday night March 6th into Tuesday evening March 7th.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

2022 - Remembering: A Yom Kippur Reflection

On Sunday afternoon, the Eve of Rosh Hashanah, I found myself driving down to the southern New Jersey cemetery where my maternal grandparents are buried. It is customary to go to the graves of loved ones before the High Holidays, but I rarely actually do this ritual. I have been known to visit loved one’s burial sites on their Yahrtzeit (the anniversary of their death). 


I was not close with these grandparents and in the many years that they have been gone I have only taken the trek to visit their final resting place two other times besides this one.


As I made my way down the NJ Turnpike in the rain, I wondered what I was doing, what was propelling me to go see them. I was angry… hurt… frustrated… and dealing with some childhood wounds. There was a part of me that thought it would be a good idea to go there and yell at them… tell them what they had done wrong… reckon with them… 


I arrived. As I pulled in, the rain stopped. The place was deserted. Mine was the only car in the entire cemetery. It was only hours before the sun set, everyone was home getting ready for the holiday having done this ritual, days or even weeks earlier. 


I drove to the very end of the cemetery where my family’s plot is. I saw their last name and paused. I walked out of the car, still wearing the kippa I wore to an unveiling I had officiated earlier that day.


I circled to the back of their graves, noticing the writing engraved on the back of each of their stones and began to weep. Sobs overcame me. I saw the words in Hebrew. 


On the back of each of each of their gravestones is engraved:


May this stone also serve as the marker for the holy ones who were killed for the sake of the Holy One… 

And a list of the names... names of my great-grand-parents (their parents) my great uncles and aunts (their siblings) etc…. a list of people I never met, whose lives were never mentioned because of the horrific way in which they ended.


The grave of my grandparents, marks not only the place where their bodies are buried, but also serves as a memorial to their family that was killed in the Holocaust. In this their death they shared more with us, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren about their pain then they ever did during their lifetimes.


I cried because they were mere teenagers when the Nazis invaded their homes and they were taken to Auschwitz. 


I cried because their parents, some of their siblings, most of their families were murdered within days of each other (such was the fate of Hungarian Jews). 


I cried because they did not know how to heal from the atrocities they witnessed and survived.  So damaged and desperate by the gravity of the trauma that they cleaved to one another and had four children in a displaced person’s camp in Germany (one of whom is my mother) as they waited and waited to find out where they could go to start to rebuild their lives.


I cried because they lived in abject poverty in the projects of Brooklyn, raising 13 children in a 2-bedroom apartment, and yet were grateful to have a safe home. 


I cried because they and others in similar grief and trauma forged a community of survivors. This community, into which I was born, understandably built a legacy of fear of the outsider. 


I cried for their unspeakable pain.


I cried for their immeasurable suffering.


I cried for my mom.


And for the first time, I cried for the little child in me born into this legacy of such unfathomable woundedness.


As I cried, I was filled with compassion, for myself, my siblings, my parents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins and the community from which I hail.


As I paused and walked to the front of their graves, I felt myself fill with empathy and forgiveness.


“Thank you for setting me free.” I whispered as I walked away.

“Thank you for setting me free.”


Yom Kippur is a day of forgiveness; it is also the day when we recite Yizkor (the remembrance prayer) for loved ones who have died. 


As we enter into Yom Kippur, I bless us to forgive the ones who came before us, to remember their stories, and the reasons they might have behaved the way that they did.  Not necessarily for their sake, but for ours... so that we may be set free.


May we all be inscribed in the book of life

Living fully and authentically 


Saturday, June 11, 2022

2022 - "(Don’t) Be Who You Are": A Pride Reflection

I grew up in a family where we prayed all the time. In addition to my father going to synagogue three times a day he recites both bedtime and morning prayers at home. My mother on the other hand, prays all the time she prays in Yiddish, sometimes in Hungarian her mother tongue and rarely in English. For 15 minutes each morning and on Shabbat and holidays when she goes to synagogue she will pray in the traditional Hebrew. However, primarily my mother prays in Yiddish, a poet at heart, she sings and makes them up as she braids the challah, cooks, cleans, does laundry in the wee hours of the morning before a full day of work. She prays, she asks God for things, she thanks the Divine for her life, she talks to the Universe as if it were her friend, her foe, her savior, her lover… I grew up in a home where speaking to God in any language, at any time was part of the landscape of my existence. 

There was one prayer however, that was directed to me… Interestingly it was directed TO me. My parents and older sibling who prayed numerous times a day to God, a God that I have redefined since then, but God nonetheless, would look at me beseeching sometimes in frustration, sometimes in anger mostly in overwhelm, they would pray to ME and say… “zay nisht vus di bist”  זא נישט וואס די ביסט (don’t be who you are).   

My parents didn’t know what to do with this human that came into their life this person that loved so deeply cared so much, was both male and female, and too big to be contained in the Hasidic community. So, they prayed… they prayed to me… because even to them in the unthought known, they knew that the God of their understanding created me to be exactly as I am.  They couldn’t pray to God to change me, but they could pray to me… “zay nisht vus di bist”  זא נישט וואס די ביסט (don’t be who you are).


I’m not exactly sure when it started, by the time I was 10 it was so ingrained that it, “zay nisht vus di bist” had become my nickname. It would take me many years, in therapy, to figure out that this prayer, this statement was said to me when they realized that the essence of myself and who I was didn’t belong in the binary world that I was being raised in. Many years after these events, when my family was not talking to me, I would sit in therapy stringing together the stories… noticing the connection they all had.   When I fell off my tricycle onto an iron pole and my mother rushed home from work to pick me up and take me to the hospital, her first words as I entered the car were “How many times do I have to tell you not to be who you are” when I taught the boys on the block tricks on their bicycle and raced them down the hill… don’t be who you are… when I came home muddy from climbing trees… Don’t be who you are. When I sat, spoke and walked in a way that was more masculine than their version of female – Don’t be who you are...  


I am both masculine and feminine. Some days I am beautiful and others I am handsome. My body feels different depending on the energy of gender that I embody that day. My children call me mom, and have rarely put a pronoun to my name, way before pronouns were something that people talked about. You see pronouns are complicated for me; I am ALL.  There are days that I stand in the power that is feminine other times in the gentleness that is masculine and more often than not, in the space in-between were boundaries and openness live.  

For over 20 years I called myself androgynous. Now as the conversation of pronouns has evolved, I have been asked what pronouns I use. In the past, I have said, “all or any…use what you wish.” I kept giving my power to others to define me. In my formative years I was told so many times, “don’t be who you are”, it is hard to claim who I am.


Yet, here I am during Pride Month, declaring who I am, who I have always been.  Now, as I step more into ALL of me, I am requesting that people call me simply by my name, Chani. If you need to use a pronoun please use, they / them. I totally understand misgendering, I have she’d myself more than enough times. 
The month of June is Pride. Pride in being who we are, fully and completely. Many of us have been told not to be who we are. Whether as overtly as my family of origin has or in more subtle ways. 
What would it take for you;
To be who you are? 
To step into the fullness of yourself?
To ask for what you desire? 
To honor ALL of you?


Happy Pride.

PS: I am being honored by JQY with the Nachas Award for my work in LGBTQ+ Jewish spaces. Feel free to attend onJune 23rd or donate to this amazing non-profit in my honor: Click here to learn more about JQY.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

2022 - Seeing Possibility - A Passover Reflection:

I was 23 years old when with 3 children I left my arranged marriage.
Perhaps out of necessity, perhaps due to circumstances, I had created a life for myself where busyness and packed schedules were the norm.  I was raising the kids, going to school, working multiple jobs. 
I had this dream… I would be 40 when my youngest turned 18. In my imagination, it would be that moment when I would have time, freedom, ability to do all the things I kept pushing off to do, and I would finally have silence!
Like the saying goes, life has a way of making its own plans.
A few months after turning 40, I suffered a traumatic brain injury, something I am still navigating today.
In addition, my kids didn’t all move out at 18 although there was a lot less I needed to do for them as they became older. Then, my sweet mother-in-law, who had Alzheimer’s, moved in with us.
So... responsibility simply changed.
I thought about this busyness I was living in, the way in which I had enslaved every waking hour of my day, the desire to slow down, the need for quiet.  I realized that there was always going to be something, someone in need, somewhere to be, something to do. I needed to consciously choose and deliberately change the way I was living, otherwise I would be in this cycle of doing and doing all the time.  
About a year ago I began altering my life, I created empty space in my schedule, I structured more time to do the things I had been squeezing in between jobs, or clients, allowing me to slow down.
In January of this year, my mother-in-law passed away. As we grieve her loss, we find our house empty, there is more time, less responsibility a friend of ours called it a “painful freedom”.
Passover is the holiday we celebrate our ancestor’s liberation from slavery to freedom. We spend time asking ourselves - Where are we ourselves still enslaved? How are we enslaving others? What can we do to bring liberation and peace into a world so in need of it?
According to the Rabbis only 20 percent of the Israelites left Mitzrayim (Hebrew for Egypt also translated as: the narrow place). Only 1 in 5 were able to envision a life for themselves beyond what was imagined for them by others, to see past the everyday grind of what needs to get done now and dream of something that has not yet been conceived.
How can we create time for a daily practice of hiking, coloring, praying, meditation, yoga, singing, playing music, exercising, etc. whatever nourishes our soul, that which allows us to dream? How do we put boundaries in place making those times we set for ourselves sacred?  In terms of others, Can we make a commitment to be punctual with friends, acquaintances and colleagues honoring their time and ours? 
May this year bring us all insight on how to free ourselves from our own shackles, to perceive the ways we take away power from others and to act in a way that allows all of us to inhabit a more just world.
Chag Kosher v’Samayach  (Hebrew)
A koshern Freylichn Pesach (Yiddish)
Happy Passover

Saturday, February 5, 2022

2022 - The Sanctuary Within - A Tefillin Reflection:


“Tell me more about your journey with Tefillin*? I want to understand it.” Yael Kanarek asks me in a conversation a few weeks ago as she prepares the Toratah* Tefillin for Jericho Vincent. 


I pause… It is the end of 2006, my child had just been in  a horrible accident, they are still in so much pain, it is before I can leave them with a neighbor to go to work.  Joel, a new friend, comes by faithfully every day. He gently lifts my child out of bed and brings them to the main floor, as it is too difficult for me to do so. Each night he comes by again, carrying them from the main floor a flight up the stairs back to their bedroom.


He and I are having a cup of tea in the kitchen we are talking about how fast kids grow up, that before we know it my 11-year-old son will soon be 13. The conversation turns to Bar Mitzvah’s and since we are both XO (x-orthodox as we were known then) the conversation moves to Tefillin. My desire to try it on, to wear it, to experience it and his ultimate disgust in being forced to wear it day in and day out from the day he was 13 until he finally walked away in his early 20’s.


“I can give you my Tefillin”, he says as a joke. I say “Yes, please. Can you please bring it?” It takes a few months for him to bring me his Tefillin. It is difficult to part with stuff, even items that bring us pain… especially objects that hurt, perhaps even more so because they are the things that have shaped us.


As I hold his Tefillin in my hand, I can sense the absolute repulsion he felt towards them. There is a feeling of loathing coming out of the Tefillin as I hold these sacred objects. I can perceive the many years of aversion that he had with these items. I go out and buy a velvet burgundy bag for the Tefillin and for my burgundy-and-white tallit*.  Still the abhorrence is there. I embroider my name in rainbow colors on the burgundy it doesn’t seem to help at all. I hold the Tefillin in my hand, place it back into its original black velvet bag and put it away.


Flash forward, it is now November 2007, I am attending One Spirit Interfaith Seminary. We are studying Judaism in preparation for our in-person class. I call my dean. I tell her about these tefillin that have been sitting on my shelf for months, how much I desire wearing them, and the hatred that emanates from them every time I go near them.


“You are studying to be an interfaith minister, aren’t you?” she asks, “Why don’t you smudge them?”   Duh!!!


I light a candle, from the candle I light a packet of sage, and as the smoke rises I take the Tefillin out of their original bag, slowly and deliberately I allow the smoke to envelope the leather straps over and over until the energy changes, and then I do the same for the batim*.

The Tefillin are transformed before my very eyes, I can feel them calling to me to engage with them. I put them into the burgundy bag that has my name in rainbow colors, now they are mine. They are wanted! 


I have a friend teach me how to wrap them, slowly it becomes a daily practice, me in my room, wrapping the leather around my arm, my palm, my fingers… placing the tefillin on my third eye… chanting these words from Hosea (2:19-21). “I will betroth myself to you forever, I will betroth myself to you with righteousness, with kindness, with justice and with mercy, and I will betroth myself to you with fidelity so you will know God / Goddess.”  I finish the chant and repeat the word V’yadat (Genesis 4:1) over and over. V’yadat – to know… the way Adam knew Eve -  intimately. 


Tefillin becomes my almost daily practice.  Years later, my partner will propose to me using these words with a ring at the end of a black ribbon that looks like Tefillin. I, in turn will recite these words to her under our Chupah* in our backyard.  


I betroth myself to you… so that I will know me, so that I will know you, so that I will know.. know.. know… all of the many genders I inhabit… all the various ways I am in the world… all the countless ways I break and become whole again, so that I will know… intimately. 


Today, we read in our weekly Torah portion (Exodus 25:8) The Divine asks of us to create a Sanctuary. The Hebrew grammar is a bit messy – “You (singular) make for me a sanctuary so that I can dwell in them.” Our sages teach us that each and every one of us are commanded to create a sanctuary within us, so that Spirit can dwell in us. When I put on my tefillin, something becomes quiet as the sanctuary within me opens up and I remember the Soul that I am. It allows me to connect to that which is greater than myself. 


When I remember, this creation of sanctuary within allows me to walk around as one with the world… gifting others permission to create their own sanctuaries. 


That dear Yael, is how I feel wearing my Tefillin. I conclude my lengthy answer to her question. 


How do you create sacred space? What are the things that help you remember that you already are a sanctuary?


Yael askes that I invite those of you who are interested to attend the first Tefillin to Toratah, (Her Torah) to join us on Sunday at 1pm EST.


Shavua Tov – May you have a blessed week


*Tefillin =phylacteries 

*Toratah = her Torah – The bible in feminine language

*Tallit = prayer shawl

*Batim = boxes that hold the tefillin parchment

*Chupah = Marriage canopy

Friday, January 14, 2022

2022 - Permission to Feel - Desire!

"What if it were ok to feel your desire? to allow yourself to experience the intensity of sexual craving and pleasure?"
The fear that came across my client’s eyes (her face was covered with a mask) was palpable. 
“What are you so afraid of?”
“I am afraid that I would get lost in it.”
“What if you gave yourself permission to fully feel your longing and still say no to sex, to the actual act of doing anything with another.”
Something shifted.
My client is in her early 60’s. Someone who has been taught her entire life that sexual desire is immoral.  As a woman she was conditioned to believe she should not be feeling this way.  At the same time, she was taught through the actions of the women around her, the media and society in general, that she had no right to say no to sex. That if a man wanted her, it was her obligation to please.  In the past she had shared that she felt that she had sex too early, that she didn’t realize that she could have said no. She felt that she was dating him for a long time, and so she did it. We had discussed numerous times that her sexual craving was something she was ashamed of.
Somehow knowing that she had a right to say no to sex while still feeling desire opened and moved something in her, and her entire body relaxed.  Something inside was being transformed.
Many of us in the helping professions are aware that the individuals, couples, families who come seeking help from us, are often our greatest teachers. I sit in session and experience myself being transformed by those who share and allow me to witness them.
One such awareness is happening for me in real time as I have been studying with Yael Kanarek and Tamar Biala, over the past few months. These two women are in the process of re-gendering the Tanach (Old Testament). Wherever there are men, women appear and vice versa.  You can see more of this project here.
My local spiritual community has invited Yael to come and do a Toratah (feminine version of Torah – five books of Moses) study tomorrow with our community via zoom. I will be chanting verses from the regendered Torah portion this week, both in Hebrew and in English as we begin to study the text together. 
I will be chanting how Moshah (regendered Moses) stretched out her hand over the sea, and Tehovah (Goddess) moved the sea by a strong east wind… how the daughters of Tisraela (regendered Israelites) walked on dry land, and as the Metzerot (regendered Egyptians) chased after them into the midst of the sea with all of Par’ah’s (regendered Pharoah) mares, her chariots and her marewomen. 
As I practice chanting the re-gendered version of this sacred and problematic text, I find myself at a loss for words to explain the way that these new pronunciations are impacting my body and feeding something inside me that I didn’t even know I was hungry for.  I desperately want to explain to you all what it means for someone like me who was assigned female at birth, sat behind a mechitzah (physical divider between men and women) for the formative years of my life, to hear this story- this ancient narrative in this new construct- and yet I find myself without words.  Sometimes I don’t know what to do with this incredible reality of listening to the story in this new way, seeing problems in the text that were there before, now looking and sounding very different, but still so challenging, and yet so healing. Sitting with all of it. The discomfort of not having words yet feeling deeply, makes me feel lost in the experience.
I am gifting myself permission to feel my yearning, my desire, my absolute overwhelm with the text and not have to DO anything to fix or change it, or to fix or change me. 
My question to you dear ones, is this: What is the desire that you are afraid to feel because you think you might need to do something about it? What would it take for you to fully be with your desire and gift yourselves permission to just sit with it and FEEL? 
Shabbat Shalom (masculine usually used - translation: Have a Peaceful Shabbat)
Shabbat Shlayma (feminine meaning the same)

Monday, September 6, 2021

2021-The Blessing of Change: A Rosh Hashanah Reflection

I am noticing a pattern:

Usually, this pattern happens in a bubble for individuals, when we experience a severe illness in ourselves or a loved one, or the loss of someone close to us, or a divorce, or a big transition in life. But now, this pattern is happening all over, with so many… it is like a phenomenon. Perhaps it is the pandemic, perhaps it is the natural disasters, the wars, perhaps it is the taking away of liberties here in the states and abroad. Whatever it is…something is changing. Change is here, and we are all feeling it.
People are looking at their lives and asking themselves, does this work for me? Does what I have always done feed me? Nourish me? Allow me to be who I want to be in the world?
Who do I want to be? What do I want to do with my life? With whom do I want to interact? How do I want to show up?
We are questioning - asking - inquiring – wondering - 
Individuals are leaving jobs, changing careers, stepping into the unknown.
Couples are breaking up, moving in together, getting married.
We are shedding some friendships and gaining others.
Mary Oliver asks: “What is it that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
It is something we seem to be asking – collectively.
What is it that WE want to do with our wild and precious life, our incredible world? There is so much broken, so much Tikkun Olam (repairing of the world) that needs to happen. What are each and every one of us called to do? What changes are we being called to make? What are each of us separately and all of us collectively called to make happen in our lifetime?
As we step into this new year of 5782, I bless us to keep questioning, to keep probing, to make time for individual reflection of what is and isn’t working, to create communal conversations about what parts of our past we can do build upon, what parts do we leave behind and what we can do differently? To wonder out loud together and apart and not accept life the way it has always been.
May we be blessed with health, safety, connection, joy, love, and abundance.
Shana Tova U’mitukah (Hebrew, Sweet New Year)
Ah git gebenchta yar (Yiddish, a very blessed year)
Many Blessings, Chani