Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tales From the Psych Ward, Part I

“Suicidal thoughts” was a phrase that was never really at the forefront of my mind. Until it was. Suddenly, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had been depressed for a few weeks at the time, not realizing just how depressed I had become. I had stopped taking antidepressants a few weeks prior after running into trouble with my health insurance and not being able to afford my prescription. As I began my downward spiral, I took a quick trip to NYC. While I was struggling to get out of bed and get to school each day, I knew that I had to be present that Friday night as my best friend became installed as the cantor of his synagogue.
    After an incredibly moving service in which the community celebrated my best friend, I lay wide awake in bed just feet away from someone who loved me like a sibling, feeling utterly alone, and not wanting to be alive. As my soul lay there aching, my mind began to wander, thinking about how best to end my life. When I woke up the next morning, I sadly said goodbye to my friend before heading back to Boston.
    While I physically made it back to Boston after a nauseating bus ride in time to sleep a few hours and teach religious school, I called in to work sick. My boss urged me to find a psychiatrist quickly. Realizing how difficult this task would prove to be, I had a friend bring me to the local ER to keep my safe and get me the help I needed. I had no idea that this was the very beginning of the long and winding road toward mental health wellness.
    I was quickly admitted to the ER and settled into a room where there was 24 hour supervision right outside my window. I got my blood drawn, spoke to several different health professionals, struggled to remember what year it was and worried about what would happen next. As the day progressed and it became evening, my teacher showed up to be with me, bringing me some sense of comfort that I was being taken care of. While I tried to stay calm during my dean’s visit, a man was brought in by the police, clearly agitated and screaming as he was put in the room adjacent to mine. As I settled in for the night, he was involuntarily sedated.
    The next morning another friend came to sit with me as I waited to be moved to the inpatient psych unit. When I finally got settled in to the place I’d spend the next week and a half, I was alone with my thoughts and anxious about what lay ahead. The following day, after attending some groups and adjusting to the daily schedule of the unit, another patient approached me and, after noticing my clothing had some hebrew on it, told me he too was Jewish. And then, he asked me to pray for him. I internally panicked. I was only a second year rabbinical student. I obviously was going through my own stuff. What could I offer him? I offered him the only thing I could- words that I wanted to hear someone tell me. After I ran out of things to ask him, he told me a little bit about his jail time and what else brought him to the hospital. And then he asked me about birthright…
And then I was done talking for the night.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Yom Shabbat: Fight Supremacy! Boston Counter-Protest & Resistance Rally

Like most other Shabbat mornings, my body did not want to get out of bed. I dragged myself into the shower, threw on some clothes and grabbed my tallit before I rushed out the door. Instead of making a left at my intersection to walk to shul, I continued walking to the T to head to the "Fight Supremacy! Boston Counter-Protest & Resistance Rally".

Two nights before, I attended MCAN's Training for Faith Leaders. I watched videos and heard first person accounts of the fear felt on the streets in Charlottesville last weekend. It was hard to get the neo-Nazi chants of "Jews will not replace us" out of my head. The training equipped us with some basic safety tips and opportunities to find out how to get involved with racial justice work after the rally was over. With "Jews will not replace us" still ringing in my ears, I spent Erev Shabbat at Temple Israel of Boston joining the larger Boston interfaith community, and then with Jewish community for Kabbalat Shabbat Services. The next morning, as I rode on the T inching closer to the Roxbury Station watching other marchers with protest signs fill the train, I couldn't help but wonder if this was an ounce of what my ancestors felt as they suffered through the Holocaust.

Outside of the Roxbury Station, I gathered with other young Jews to make kiddush and motzi. Before we started to march, I paused to attach a "Jewish chaplain" pin to my back, and put on my tallit. As I wrapped myself in my tallit whispering a prayer for safety and peace, I took a deep breath and joined with my friends in the march. My nerves dissipated as the crowds around me joined together in chants of unity and a solidarity with the most marginalized folks among us. As we marched through the streets, we were welcomed with cheers and waves from local Bostonians watching from their windows. Volunteers were handing out bottles of water, medics and lawyers were available in case of emergencies and strangers began to get to know the people they were marching with. I was proud to see so many Jews out on the streets, and to see so many visible clergy living out Heschel's idea of "praying with your feet." Prayer needs to lead to action, or else what's the point?

At the anti-climactic end of the rally, my pent up energy needed an outlet. I was so grateful to wrap up the day with IfNotNow, creating a space of reflection and song. As we sang through some of our favorite songs, I was heartened to see strangers walk up to our group, sit down and smile. The universal language of music created a community out of many people who didn't know each other before the march. This is the power of IfNotNow- creating Jewish space in order to show up for ourselves and others.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

הפילוסופיה של קלי

To get ready for my first year of rabbinical school, I've been taking a 6 week intensive Hebrew course this summer. For our final presentation, we have to (in Hebrew) speak about our beliefs as future rabbis.
After spending 3 weeks preparing for this project, I am excited to share my thoughts and slideshow pictures with the world (or those who actually read what I write.)
Fancier English translation follows the simplified Hebrew: 

הפילוסופיה של קלי
(Kelly's Philosophy) 
 אני אוהבת להיות מחנכת בעולם היהודי. אחרי הלימודים, ארצה להנחות את החברים בקהילה שלי לחיים יהודיים בעלי משמעות. במרכז העשייה יהיו לי קשרים עם אנשים, אלוהים, לימוד טקסטים ואת הקהילה. על ידי בניית הקשרים האלה באמצעות מוסיקה, חוויות יהודיות ותפילה, אני רוצה לבנות זהות יהודית לדור הבא. אני רוצה להיות דוגמא יהודית טובה. אני מקווה לעזור לילדים יהודים לאהוב את היהדות שלהם ולהעביר אותה מדור לדור.
I am a passionate Jewish educator dedicated to guiding my learners toward a meaningful Jewish life. At the heart of my teaching are relationships with people, God, text study and community. By building these relationships through music, prayer and engaging experiences I build Jewish identity and creatively engage the next generation. As an authentic Jewish role model, I hope to inspire Jewish youth to embrace their Judaism and pass it from generation to generation.
(Picture of me with my students not posted because of public forum) 
הסיבה שאני רוצה להיות רב היא כי דרך היהדות, אני רוצה לתקן את העולם, כך שהוא יכול להיות רלוונטי ומשמעותי עבור האוכלוסייה היהודית המגוונת שאנחנו רואים בעולם היום. בונים קהילה קדושה על ידי קשרים אישיים. כאשר אדם יודע ומרגיש שיש שם מישהו שרואה אותו ושהוא שם בשבילו, אז הקשר מתחיל. באותה הדרך בונים קהילה. אני רוצה לבנות קהילה קדושה ובית רוחני לכל מי שרוצה וצריך את זה.
The reason I want to be a Rabbi is because I want to use Judaism as a way to heal the world, making it relevant and meaningful for the diverse Jewish population we see in the world today. To build a sacred community, one on one relationships are essential. When someone feels heard and seen, a relationship begins. This is the same for a community. I want to build sacred, inclusive and accessible communities- a spiritual home for all who seek it.
    אני מאמינה שכל האנשים רוצים להתחבר לעצמם ולאחרים. אני מאמינה כי שמירת השבת יכולה לגרום לשינוי. אני מאמינה שמוסיקה יכולה להרים את הנשמה. בשבילי תפילה היא לא רק עם ספר. אני מאמינה שגם לעשות מעשים טובים בשביל העולם, זה גם סוג של תפילה. אני מאמינה שאתה ואני באמת יכולים לשנות את העולם. אני מאמינה שחשוב לבנות קשרים אישיים ומשמעותיים. אני מאמינה שביהדות יש הרבה חוכמה על המצב האנושי.
I believe that all people have a deep desire to connect with themselves and others. I believe that Shabbat observance can be transformative. I believe that music can elevate the soul. I believe in praying with my feet. I believe that you and I can really change the world. I believe that the hevruta relationship is a mirror for the kinds of relationships we should always strive for- to have people in our lives who can push us to be the best that we can be. I believe that Judaism has a wealth of wisdom and insight into the human condition.

   חשוב לי שמה שאני עושה יהיה כמו הערכים שלי. חשוב לי תמיד להכיר את כל מי שאני פוגשת. אני חושבת שלכל אחד יש משהו ללמד אותי, גם אם הם לא חושבים כך. חשוב לי לעמוד על האמונות שלי תמיד להילחם על הצדק בעולם.
It is important to me that my actions reflect my values. It is important to me to always learn from everyone I meet. I think that everyone has something to teach me, even if they are unaware of it. It is important for me to stand up for my beliefs- to fight for justice in every sense of the word.

    אולי זה ישמע מוזר, אבל אני מרגישה שלהיות רב, זה הייעוד שלי בחיים. זאת השליחות שלי. אני רוצה לשרת את העם היהודי לעבוד בשביל הקהילה שנותנת לי הרבה. אני רוצה שהדור הבא של העם היהודי יבין מה יכולה היהדות להוסיף לחייהם, וכדי לראות את הקהילה היהודית כמו בית.
While it is not often considered a Jewish thing to be "called", I feel called to be a Rabbi. I want to serve the Jewish people- to give back to a community that has given me so much. I want the next generation of Jews to be inspired by what Judaism can add to their lives, and to see the Jewish community as vibrant, warm and welcoming.

Monday, April 11, 2016


Kaeley, Heidi and I after leading an interfaith chapel at Union.
         This semester, I am taking a class at Union called “Faith Journeys and The Religious Education of Adults.” We read a memoir a week, and use our class time to reflect and explore themes that each book brings up. As I sat down to begin reading the first assigned book back at the end of January, I felt like I needed a dictionary with me. What was “vocation”? What was “discernment”? These were not words that I had in my Jewish vocabulary. I asked my roommates Kaeley and Heidi to define “discernment” for me so I didn’t look like a fool in class the following week. Neither of them jumped up to give me an answer. From what I understand, everyone defines “discernment” in their own way.
    I will be graduating from JTS next month with a Master’s in Jewish Education. In June I am moving to Boston to begin Rabbinical School at Hebrew College. During my rabbinical school application process this past fall (which might have been considered a process in my discernment?), I had the opportunity to reflect on the path I had taken to get to the point where I felt ready to send in my application.
There were numerous highs and lows throughout this process. My biggest “low” was when I got rejected from the first rabbinical school I applied to. It made me question if this was the right path for me. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a Rabbi? Lots of tears, second guessing myself and conversations with various mentors in my life helped me work through the awful feeling of being rejected, and helped me move to a place where I could focus on my next application. The obvious high I experienced was getting accepted into rabbinical school after having an interview that was so pleasant I almost didn’t want it to end. One of the most rewarding “highs” I experienced was the process of editing all of my admissions essays and preparing for my interviews. Heidi and Kaeley both spent time reading my essays, giving me thoughtful feedback and listening to me practice the sermon I was expected to give at the start of my interview. As Heidi, Kaeley and I have been going through the process of discernment together over the course of this academic year, I have been constantly inspired by their reflectiveness, commitment to their religion and their desire to make the world a better place.
I never expected to get involved in interfaith work. My first time coming to Union was the day I moved into McGiffert this past August. As I’ve become friends with Kaeley and Heidi, I see how much people of different faiths can teach me and add meaning to my life. I know that my rabbinate will include interfaith work, thanks to my year of living and learning with the Interfaith Women’s Residency program. The relationships I have begun to build this year will not only continue as friendships, but will be the foundation for interfaith bridges as we all eventually go out into the world and build our own faith communities.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Pinch me

I feel like I'm dreaming. Yesterday was the first day in my life that I woke up and was able to say that I am going to be a rabbi, instead of I want to be a rabbi.

During my interview at Hebrew College, I was asked to share a Jewish text that was significant to me. I wholeheartedly believe in what I said, and am feel so blessed that an institution believes in me. I can't wait to bring my Torah to the world.

Here is some of what I said:

Right before graduating college, Shalom Kantor, my Hillel rabbi at Binghamton University, gave me a book, dedicating these words to me, really capturing who I was as a person:
אמר רבי אלעזר: כל פרנס שמנהיג את הציבור בנחת זוכה ומנהיגם לעולם הבה.”
(Those who lead the community gently, merit to lead them in the world to come- Sanhedrin 92a)
I have tried to live by these words, working to understand what it actually means to live by these words. What does it mean to lead with gentleness? Being able to guide and not direct. The ability to share conversations and not control them. The ability to listen. Not to rush things. To be careful. To be sensitive. To slow it down and to pause and to reflect. Leading with gentleness implies that a leader’s decisions takes into account the needs and desires of a kehillah. Leading with gentleness may be seen as a challenge to a traditional models of rabbinic authority. Perhaps it is counterculture.
Who are strong examples of compassionate leaders? The first person that comes to mind is Debbie Friedman. Many summers ago, Debbie was the artist-in-residence at my camp. Debbie modeled for me what it means to be compassionate. Debbie was a songleader. She had no interest in a hierarchy of leadership. She saw her role as a democratic leader, interested in a partnership with her community. When she would begin to teach a song, she never had people repeat back lines to her. Instead, she just invited them to sing. I too, want to invite people in a partnership, and to just sing.
Another example of a very different compassionate leader was Abraham Joshua Heschel. Being a student at JTS and living at the Union Theological Seminary, both places where Heschel has taught has inspired me to take his messages to heart. When people think of the great Jewish leaders, charismatic leaders often come into focus. I am drawn to Heschel because he was able to speak powerfully without fanfare. He did not seek notoriety. And yet, his voice was heard. He was able to channel the words of the prophets. Heschel said, “A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.” It is my hope that I can bring my compassion to the rabbinate, using the model of gentle leadership to build Jewish community.




Friday, July 10, 2015

Ze'ev Jabotinsky & Women of the Wall

The view from the top of the Tower of David Museum
Kesher Hadash has ruined me for life. I can't sit through a class, field trip or speaker without over analyzing the way in which material is being presented to me. Am I being told the whole story? What bias does the teacher hold? What voices aren't being heard?

For the last week I've been studying at The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, an incredible place to learn Jewish texts in Jerusalem. I'm taking classes on a wide variety of subjects, all centered around hevruta learning; Intro to Talmud (Nechama Goldman Barash), Women and halacha (Nechama Goldman Barash), Jewish peoplehood (Daniel Smokler ), Rav Kook (Mike Feuer) and Kabbalat Shabbat (Ruth Gan Kagan). The learning is deep, rich and engaging. I've only been here a week, and I am already trying to figure out how and when I can come back.

Tuesday afternoons are spent outside of the Beit Midrash experiencing Israel through field trips. I chose to go to the Tower of David Museum in the Old City. We focused on a newer part of the museum, the Kishle. The Kishle was built in 1884 as a military compound, as well as a police station and prison. Pre-State underground Irgun members were imprisoned in its walls/ During the archaeological excavations that took place there over the last decade a “timeline” of Jerusalem was discovered – finds from the First Temple Period, the remains of Herod’s palace and tanneries and dying pools from the Middle Ages. It is remarkable to see layer upon layer of history right in front of you.

A video telling the story of Jews who blew the shofar at the Kotel on Yom Kippur when it was illegal.
While we were at the Kishle, our tour guide told us a story about how Ze'ev Jabotinsky, in act of civil (religious?) disobedience, chose to blow the shofar at the Kotel on Yom Kippur, knowing that his actions would result in being thrown in jail (Kishle). I couldn't help but think about Women of the Wall, an organization fighting for expressions of all forms of Judaism at the Kotel. Women of the Wall is fighting for religious freedom, just as Ze'ev Jabotinsky was. What's the difference? Ze'ev Jabotinsky was fighting against the British, while Women of the Wall is struggling with its own people.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam, oseh maasei v'reishit.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel speaks of "radical amazement". I rarely feel as if I experience this. Until now. I returned to Israel a few days ago and felt instantly at ease. I was returning to a place I knew. A place I loved. A place that felt like I had a connection with. After completing my first day of classes at the Conservative Yeshiva, I couldn't help but stare wide-eyed at the incredible city of Jerusalem around me as I walked home. It's been a while since I've felt God's presence. It seemed possible today.

My view for the next few weeks


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

All Good Things Must Come To An End

What a semester this has been! In order to procrastinate on all of my end of semester work that needs to happen before Sunday, I've started to reflect on what I'm taking away from Kesher Hadash.
Brilliant teachers- Alex Sinclair, Israel Education; Daniel Moses, Israeli-Arab Conflict; 
      Dave Mendelsson, Israeli History; Michal Ben-Dov (my tutor!); Matan, Ulpan.

Kelly Kossar's photo.
With the exception of Matan, who I don't know very much about beyond his ability to teach     Hebrew in a fun and engaging way, my teachers this semester are all leading scholars in their field. In addition to being Israel experts, I also found them all to be accessible in a way that allowed me to dig deep into their areas of interest.
The desire to keep learning.

Before I came on Kesher Hadash I had a very limited understand of Israel and its history. This semester has inspired me to want to know more. I have always loved to read and have started to add books about this region by non-Jewish authors to my reading list as a way to continue my education about Israel from multiple perspectives.

A real connection to Israel.

I had been to Israel a few times before on short group trips. I had always felt that I had loved Israel because I loved being Jewish. The two came hand in hand. I still love Israel, but for different reasons. I love Israel because it is a country with a Jewish heart that is confusing, messy and complicated. I see a lot of myself in Israel.


I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to visit such incredible sights during this semester, and to have met some beautiful souls along the way. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

East Meets West Jerusalem

One of the classes I'm taking this semester can be seen as a microcosm of the Kesher Hadash experience. "Diversity and Difference in Israeli Society" is a course at the David Yellin School of Education made up of American-Jews, Israeli-Jews and Israeli-Arabs/Palestinians. This class is intended to bring us into dialogue with different populations of Israeli society. For our final project, our class was divided into mixed groups of four representing the different backgrounds of our class. Our task was to introduce each other to our significant places in Jerusalem.

We started out in West Jerusalem at a restaurant near Shuk Machane Yehuda to have a lunch full of delicious hummus at "Hahummus Shel Techinah". We then made our way to Marzipan to experience their sweet rugelach. We rounded out our culinary tour by enjoying tea at "Café Nadi". Finally, we took the light rail to East Jerusalem to walk around Salahadin Street, which was described to our group as West Jerusalem's Machane Yehuda.

Our conversations between each location was what I found most interesting about our afternoon together. At the hummus restaurant, we discussed which culture had the best hummus- Israeli or Arab (American was obviously not a contender). Arab hummus was unanimously voted the best by our group. The culinary connections between Arabs and Israelis is quite significant, although often underplayed and denied. Most Jews think that hummus and falafel are Israeli foods when they are really Arab foods.

I asked our friend from East Jerusalem how she felt walking around West Jerusalem, and I did the same for our friend from West Jerusalem walking around East Jerusalem. They both expressed fear of the other neighborhood. They had never been in each others neighborhoods before today, yet they both lived in the same city just two train stops away. Jerusalem is really a microcosm of Israel. East and West Jerusalem residents rarely interact with each other in a meaningful way, much of which is rooted in fear. I don't know how this conflict will ever be resolved if we aren't taught to see each other as humans. And yet, our discussion over hummus felt like friends coming together to break bread.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Spongebob, Ramallah & Meah Shearim

Hanging out with Spongebob in Ramallah
Several weeks ago we met an awesome guy from Meah Shearim. He was certainly on the fringes of the community, while very much being a part of it at the same time. We heard about how he walks a fine line between his Jewish world and the secular world. When we toured Meah Shearim, another person from Meah Shearim started to fight with our tourguide, yelling at him for bringing us (non-ultra-Orthodox) to the neighborhood. Our tourguide began to defend his right to bring us to the streets of the neighborhood- a public place. After a little pushing and shoving, our tour guide moved us away from this man. That man does not represent my Judaism.

Jump forward to this afternoon. Another girl from my program and I took a bus to Damascus gate and took another bus to Ramallah. I didn't tell anyone in the U.S. where I was going, because I could anticipate the response- fear mixed in with a good dose of racism. In Ramallah we wandered the streets and finally arrived at our destination- Krabby Patty- a SpongeBob restaurant! This was a pretty ridiculous outing on many levels. The food was not so great, but the décor kept us laughing the whole time. At no point during my trip did I feel threatened, afraid or even disliked.

In Jerusalem, the place that is supposed to be the heart of the Jewish people, why is there a sect of Judaism that makes me feel unsafe? The irony was all too present today. I don't know that things will ever change.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

I have no feelings

There has been a running joke in my program, that I don’t have any feelings. Several people on my program outwardly express their emotions on a regular basis. I probably have just as many feelings as my peers, I just don’t express them on a regular basis.

Here is a feeling for you: anger.

I am angry with the community in which I was raised-my synagogue, youth group, camp, etc. How is it that I am a 28 year old committed Jew, and this is the first time in my life I am meeting Palestinians? Why is the word "Nakba" being introduced to me for the first time this semester?

This worries me when thinking about the future of Jewish education  and Israel education. If I am a committed Jew and am finally being presented with multiple narratives about Israel in my late 20's, what happens to all of my peers who went to Hebrew School with me and stopped their education at their Bar or Bat Mitzvah? It is no wonder that so few liberal Jews feel like they have a relationship with Israel. If they don't buy into the Israel of sunshine and falafel, the relationship ends before it really begins.

I did it myself this summer. I did a poor job of facilitating Israel education at camp. I had originally intended for Israel education to be infused in camp. Instead, we had Yom Yisrael- a day set aside to "celebrate Israel". Campers spent the afternoon rotating between different Israel themed activities, the vast majority of which were lacking any significant content. I was asked to lead Israeli dancing. How many Israelis do you know that actually do Israeli dancing? It's similar to trying to find Americans that square dance on a regular basis.

How do so many Jewish professionals continue to portray Israel as a Jewish Disney World, while having a nuanced understanding of Israel? This seems like it is a dishonest form of "education". If we were to teach multiple narratives about Israel at the beginning of one's education, what would happen? One worries that people will reject Israel. This has to be an acceptable decision that someone arrives at. We expect our learners to be critical thinkers in every other area of Judaism. Biblical criticism is widely accepted as a valid form of study. Why do we want people to be uncritical of Israel?

I believe that it is possible to hold multiple narratives, love Israel and struggle with all that comes with a relationship with this crazy land.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

My leadership style

Upon graduation, my Rabbi from college gave me the gift of a book about Jewish mentoring. He knew that I was moving to North Carolina to guide teens on their Jewish journey. I think that this was his way of saying that it was my turn to be a mentor.

On the inside front cover, he wrote me a message along with a quote that has really stuck with me:
"Rabbi Eleazer says, any leader who leads the community gently, will merit leading them in the World To Come". -Sanhedrin
(I don't have the book with me in Israel, so that might not be the actual quote, but it's close).

It has taken me a long time to become comfortable with my leadership style. I am not the loudest one in the room. I do not typically like being the center of attention. I prefer to lead from within, rather than in front of a group. In youth group, camp and similar settings, my introverted nature is often seen as quiet or shy. At times it has been frustrating that my "voice" is not heard, just because I do not enjoy competing for air space.

Since starting graduate school, I have begun to embrace who I am. I no longer feel pressure to be a stereotypical leader. In college when I worked at camp, I found myself not being offered the higher camp positions I wanted. I believe that this may have been in part due to my leadership style, which is often not valued as much in youth settings. This past summer at a different camp was a real test for my leadership style. My position required me to be in front of the entire camp often. I feel that my lack of interest in being front and center contributed to the success of my Education team this past summer. It allowed me to create space for my other team members to lead and grow in their own roles.

While some past supervisors have encouraged me to be more of a stereotypical leader, I think my "gentle leadership" is one of my strengths. I hope that other young people who identify with my type of leadership are lucky enough to have people who see them for who they are, and can help them be heard.

Thank you to all of my mentors who continue to lovingly push me to be the best "me" that I can be.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Taking off my necklace

Graffiti on the separation barrier/fence/wall 

This past Wednesday and Thursday I participated in Encounter, a program "dedicated to strengthening the capacity of the Jewish people to be constructive agents of change in transforming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict". In short, we spent two days in the West Bank hearing multiple Palestinian narratives, and stayed overnight in Bethlehem with a Palestinian family.

Before Kesher Hadash, I had never met a Palestinian person. Thanks to my sources of news in America, I had always equated Palestinians with terrorism. I am making an effort this semester to educate myself on the land I am currently living in. The more I learn, the more my Zionist upbringing is challenged.

Last Sunday, our Encounter experience began with an orientation. We got to know our group and went over expectations. I had no problem with most of the expectations- resilient listening, sharing airtime, etc. One rule of the trip stood out- we could not display external signs of Jewish identity when in public. In my life, I have been lucky that I have never felt the need to hide my Jewishness. I was sad that this was the reality in the Jewish State. On Thursday morning as I was leaving my apartment to meet the bus for my trip, I took off my magen david neckace. I hadn't taken it off since I had gotten to Israel in December.

Quotes from speakers that stuck with me:

"Education is the tool to change perspectives and values".
"No boundaries/separation equals peace. Peace is in your heart".
"Only women can change the future and the conflict (they raise the children and pass down values)".
-Eilda and Nimala, Christian Palestinian co-founders of Beit AShams (House of Sun) for Self Development, a community empowerment center in Beit Jala

"The price of peace is much cheaper than the price of war".
"We want people to be pro-solution, pro-justice, pro-life".
"Israel needs Palestine- it is a gateway to the rest of the world".
"Peace is two truths that fit".
"You don't make pace with friends, you make peace with enemies".
-Ali, a leading Palestinian activist at the forefront of a movement for non-violence resistance, building a center for nonviolence and bridge-building called Judur, or Roots on his family's land in the Gush Etzion area of the West Bank.

"People need to reconcile their past to move on".
-Enas, Communications Advisor for the Palestinian Negotiations Support Project in the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department

"Palestinian neighborhoods are open air cages- movement is controlled by Israelis".
When asked what American Jews can do:
"I'm asking you to be Jewish. Social justice. Why are these values "checked in" in Israel? It's about the here and now".
-Sam, Palestinian-American business consultant and activist and founder of the Dalia Association, a Palestinian community foundation committed to mobilize, invest, and distribute resources according to local Palestinian priorities using community-based decision making".

We met so many incredible Palestinians working for peace and justice in their own way. I didn't always agree with their viewpoints. Their stories were often painful to hear. There were so many stories of lives being ripped apart because of the Israeli government policies that discriminated against Palestinians. I had never heard this narrative before. If there is truth to the stories I hear, then how can I support Israel? How is it okay for one people to kick another people out of their land? And yet, I want there to be a Jewish state.

At the end of March, I will be participating in a similar trip (in some ways) called Perspectives, which will expose us to multiple Israeli narratives. I am looking forward to comparing both trip experiences to gain a better understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Summer of Kelly

I've always loved summer. My most meaningful experience have always occurred during those hot summer days- my summers at Blue Rill, Kutz, BCI, Jacobs. Besides that one summer at BCI, I've always had to be working over the summer. BCI was such a gift. I've decided to make this summer everything I've dreamed of when I thought about a long-term experience in Israel.

As soon as my program ends I am (hopefully, I just applied) spending three weeks volunteering in the Arava building mud huts and living in a tent!

Desert Eco-Building

I've never done anything like it, and I'm really looking forward to the experience (and the peacefulness of the desert)!

(My first taste of desert living at Kibbutz Lotan)

After some time in the desert I will (also hopefully, just applied) be studying at the Conservative Yeshiva for their first summer session in their Nusach intensive program.

After the Conservative Yeshiva I will be studying Jewish text at Pardes, a place that I have wanted to study in since college.

If you want to help me afford my summer, click here!

I'll be back in NY in August to breathe a little before my last year of Davidson!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Can't I just be Jewish?

This is no secret. I'm applying to Rabbinical School next year. I've wanted to be a Rabbi since I was about 12 years old. I'm now 28 years old. Why haven't I applied in the last 6 years? I could have been done with school by now! Many factors have played into my desire to wait- the cost, the desire to be able to articulate what kind of Jew I am to know what Rabbinical school would be right for me, my lack of comfort with Hebrew, etc. The list could go on and on.

I've been thinking a lot lately about why it is so difficult for me to articulate what kind of Jew I am. Can't I just be Jewish?

I feel very much at home in Reform institutions.
I appreciate the halakhic framework of Conservative Judaism.
I like Reconstructionist Judaism's liturgical choices.
I enjoy the spirituality of Renewal Judaism.

I am a shomer Shabbat-guitar playing-egalitarian minded-traditional leaning-feminist Jew. What school fits that definition?

(leading services at the beginning of the semester at Robinson's Arch at the kotel)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

My non-negotiables

My program is leaving for its first Shabbaton tomorrow morning. This past week, my two friends and I facilitated a session addressing pluralism in relation to our Shabbaton. Our biggest challenge was determining what Kabbalat Shabbat swould look like.

I need musical instruments for a meaningful Kabbalat Shabbat.
I can't be in a room with music on Shabbat.
I need a mechitza.
I don't have enough experience to have a strong opinion.
My Shabbat practice is fluid.

There were basically two vocal sides of the discussion. The first was the voice of those who wanted instruments as part of Kabbalat Shabbat. The second was the voice of those vehemently opposed to having instruments be a part of Kabbalat Shabbat because of halacha.

I understand the halacha concerning musical instruments on Shabbat. However, I also identify strongly with those who have musical prayer experiences as central to their Jewish identity. I struggle with deferring to the "frummest common denominator" when it comes to something like this because it assumes that liberal Judaism has no non-negotiables when it comes to Shabbat observance. Additionally, defaulting to tradition, especially in a pluralistic setting where halakhic prayer is in the minority, the message is being sent that traditional Judaism holds more weight than liberal Judaism.

The discussion made me reflect on my own non-negotiables when it comes to prayer. I think that the only thing that would offend me would be to be expected to pray in a space that does not allow for women to lead Jewish ritual.

This Shabbat will be interesting.

I'm curious to learn of other models of pluralistic prayer that actually work. Please send them my way!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

What makes a city Jewish?

Visions & Voices, the trip that serves as an introduction to Kesher Hadash, lays the groundwork for the questions we are exploring throughout the semester in Israel. Towards the end of Visions and Voices, we spent some time exploring Tel Aviv in order to gain an understanding of the "New Jew" and what a secular Jewish city looks like. A really interesting question that someone in my group raised continues to come up throughout my Kesher Hadash experience. What makes a city Jewish?

At first, I thought that maybe it was a city based on Jewish values. After rethinking that, I realized that the majority of Jewish values are universal values. My next thought was that a place living by the rhythm of the Jewish calendar was a Jewish city. On the surface, this makes sense to me. When I dig a little deeper, the idea of something like Shabbat becomes problematic. What does it mean when an entire city (or a country) observes Shabbat? When I think about Shabbat, I think about going to a Progressive egalitarian shul, complete with lots of prayerful singing and guitar. I also think of communal meals, reading, and catching up on sleep. Israel defines Shabbat in very specific, traditional ways. Most public transportation, restaurants and shops are shut down for Shabbat, because in the eyes of the Israeli government, activities associated with these things don't fit into its definition of Shabbat. My last idea of something that makes Israel distinctively Jewish is the Hebrew language. In Israel, Hebrew is a national language. It is taught in schools, spoken on the streets and seen on billboards.

Since Kesher Hadash has started, I've been thinking more and more about the centrality of Hebrew. I have always found Hebrew to be a big obstacle for me. It denies me access to texts, to my Jewish tradition. While most Jewish texts can be found in translation, all translations are someone else's interpretations. I don't want others telling me what to think. I want to interpret the texts for myself and come to my own conclusions. It has been extremely exciting to be learning Hebrew in a place where the language is alive. Twice a week, I get to take Ulpan, building my foundation of grammar and expanding my vocabulary. I then get to live my life in Jerusalem and hear and see Hebrew wherever I go. I get to learn my numbers in Hebrew, and then figure out how much I owe the cashier at a store when he tells me the price in Hebrew. When I'm going to meet a friend on a Saturday night and get lost, I use the directional words I learned in Ulpan to ask somebody for directions.

I don't know if the Hebrew language makes something Jewish, especially after knowing so many secular Israelis who just think of Hebrew as their native language. When proposing the idea of Hebrew as a defining feature of a Jewish country, the concept didn't make any sense to my Israeli friends..

I'm still left wondering, what makes a city Jewish?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What am I actually doing in Israel?

First day of school at Maale!

If you were to explain my program solely based on the pictures I upload to facebook, it might look like all I do is eat delicious food. This is only partially true. I am on a program called Kesher Hadash, the Davidson School of Jewish Education's semester in Israel program. The program aims to expose Jewish educators to a form of Israel education that teaches multiple narratives, and not just the stereotypical Jewish narrative.

There are 10 of us in the program, all with an interest in Israel Education. As a group, we take several classes at the Schocken Institute, a JTS owned building in Jerusalem. We take 2 main classes here:

*The State of Israel: Origins, Early History with Dr. Dave Mendelsson
*Contemporary Israel in Contemporary Jewish Education with Dr. Alex Sinclair

At the Maale Film School we are taking two classes:
*A class to learn about how to critique and analyze film
*A class to learn how to make a documentary film (our final project is a 5 minute documentary!)

At Ulpan Milah I am taking Hebrew (which is going surprisingly well).

There are also mini-courses built into our program focusing on Israel education through the arts, and a specific class on the conflict over the conflict.

A big part of our program is extended mifgashim "encounters" with Israelis. We do this in two ways. We meet bi-weekly with a group of students from Hebrew University to explore different topics about Israel and Judaism. On the alternating weeks, we meet in American-Israeli hevrutot (pairs) to learn together.

Once the Israeli Spring semester begins (March?) we have a second mifgash with a group of students from the David Yellin Academic College of Education. This brings together American Jewish, Israeli Jewish and Palestinian-Israeli students to explore issues of identity, religion and nationality.

We also have various trips and Shabbatonim around Israel. I'm most excited about a trip called Encounter, which happens next month.

To help us synthesize all of the moving parts of our Kesher Hadash experience, each of us is assigned a tutor, a professional in the field of Israel Education to meet with on a regular basis.

When people can't understand why I'm not out exploring Israel, it's because my program keeps me really busy. Thankfully, Kesher Hadash is allowing me to explore Israel through the lens of my program.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I'm here...

I am sitting in my apartment in Jerusalem. I am sitting in my apartment in Jerusalem. I am sitting in my apartment in Jerusalem. No matter how many times I say those words, I can't believe it. I've dreamt about living in Israel since I watched my friends go on EIE (the Reform movement's high school semester in Israel) many years ago. I've only been to Israel as a tourist- first as a birthright participant, then as a birthright staff member, and most recently to attend the Israel Kallah for URJ Camp Educators.
To say I was nervous about living in Israel would be a understatement. Tears, anxiety attacks and the overwhelming fear that I couldn't do a semester abroad consumed me. And then, something miraculous happened. I arrived at the airport to meet my friend Kevin and catch our plane to Israel. I was actually doing this.

Arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv

After we got our luggage, exchanged some money and got our Israeli SIM cards, we headed outside to take a Nesher to Jerusalem. After what seemed like an eternity, we departed for Jerusalem. Along the way we stopped on the side of the road to pick up a random guy. Other than that, it was an uneventful ride to our first "home". This place was complete with bunk beds, sketchy characters to interact with and a tree in the middle of the kitchen. Who could forget the toilet that was in the shower? I don't have the words to describe this place, so I'll just let this picture speak for itself.
We had enough of the sketchy hostel situation after one night, and luckily had a successful meeting with a realtor the next morning. Before we knew it, we were moving into our great apartment in the heart of Jerusalem. We had adventures getting our apartment set up by shopping at the Shuk- one of our favorite activities.
My favorite purchase was shoko b'sakit (chocolate milk in a bag).
After several days of exploring Jerusalem, we headed to the airport to pick up the rest of our group, and I was finally reunited with this character:

The next 10 days challenged and inspired me to think about Israel education in a new light. Watch for my next post to read about my 10 day trip!

If you are following my blog, leave me a comment- I'm curious to know who my audience is!

Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Mental Health and Becoming a Jewish Professional

    When thinking about where I was at the end of last year, I felt excited and energized  (and nervous) by the opportunities I would have over the summer as the education director at URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp. I was conflicted about working in a Reform setting. I had become accustomed to being a part of halachic communities, and was unsure about how I would maintain a level of observance that I was comfortable with, while being the best educator I could be for a Reform camp. I attempted to find a balance between my own needs, and the needs of the community.
    I had a fantastic summer. Because of the camp’s remote location (have you ever heard of Utica, Mississippi?) I was considered the expert on Judaism.  I was surprised by the lack of tefillah education from the college-aged counselors, in particular. Most of the counselors had grown up at camp and are considered to be the elite of the region, yet when I attempted to take a day off I found it a huge challenge to find someone with the ability to lead services or teach during learning time for each unit. What the staff lacked in Judaic skill, they certainly made up for in Jewish pride. The enthusiasm and love of being Jewish was unparalleled to other youth programs I had worked for in the north east.
    I am thankful to have been put in the position to have such a large role at camp. I often shy away from being in front of a group, so this position I held at camp pushed me in new ways. I had to be able to find the Torah reading when the Torah wasn’t rolled to the right spot. I had to lead tefillah every single day. As tensions rose in Israel, I was the person expected to address the camp community in some way through prayer. At the time, the majority of these tasks made me anxious. Looking back on the summer now, I gained a lot of confidence in knowing that I can be a Jewish educator. Everytime I felt the spark of connection between myself and the community, it affirmed that I was on he right professional path.
    I did a lot of  “leading” this past summer, and very little “participating”, especially when it came to tefillah. When I got back to New York at the end of the summer, I expected to feel excited about just participating in Jewish communal life. For a little while, I would say that it was nice to spend Shabbat enjoying services as a congregant. As the semester progressed, I found it harder to stay on top of my work, harder to do anything beyond going to class and work, and harder to meaningfully engage with Judaism. While issues with depression and anxiety are not new to me, having it affect my relationship to Judaism  and my sense of spirituality certainly was.
    It’s pretty rare for me to skip out on prayer opportunities, which was a clear sign that something was off. Instead of embracing Upper West Side Judaism on Shabbat, I, more often than not, turned down invitations to daven with friends and share meals together. My values are still my values- Jewish community, prayer,  and ritual are always ways I can access Judaism. Until now. Even when I can get myself to go to shul or a meal at a friend’s apartment, something is missing and I feel like I am often just going through the motions.
    My disconnection to my sense of spirituality and God (or whatever else you want to call it) scares me. I know what expectations the Jewish community has for it’s Jewish professionals. I’m supposed to feel connected to God. I’m supposed to find prayer meaningful. What am I supposed to do when I am expected to be a prayer leader and role model, and aren’t feeling any genuine connection to what I’m doing? As a rational human being, I know that feelings aren’t permanent and they don’t define me, but it is very easy to feel as if this is not allowing me to reach my fullest potential as an educator.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

#BlogElul: Change

This was a duplicate prompt, so I'll be short and sweet.
Here is what I learned this week:
Change is hard, and I need to be kind and patient with myself.

Monday, August 26, 2013

#BlogElul: Judge

It is REALLY hard to stop yourself from judging people when you first meet them. I mean really hard. I find this kind of funny because I certainly don't want people judging me! Since I'm going through orientation for school right now, I'm meeting a bunch of new people. With the month of Elul and its themes running through my head, I'm trying my hardest not judge anyone and experience these new relationships by staying as open-minded as possible!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

#BlogElul: Ask

Many anxiety filled months have led up to this day- the day I move to New York City. I somehow made it. I set up my living room and kitchen area, figure out how to get out of the building, enjoyed walking through Barnard and Columbia Orientation and found food to eat! I also successfully set-up wireless, something that concerned me when I bought this lovely google chromebook.

Getting to this point has required me to ask people for lots of help. That's not something I'm very good at. Incredibly generous friends helped me (physically and emotionally) get from North Carolina to New York. I learned who I can count on to truly be there for me. It's comforting to know that I have people in my life who I can call at 3am. They know just what to say, the right questions to ask and how to get me laughing again. Being new to a city, I guess I'm going to have to get used to asking for help...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

#BlogElul: Pray

I love prayer. It's actually one of my favorite aspects of Judaism. I've always found meaning in leading services. I think that liturgy is fascinating. I find prayer to be simultaneously comforting, inspiring and challenging. I've been blessed with the opportunity to teach prayer many times. During my time in Greensboro I was a teaching intern in liturgy and synagogue skills classes. I eventually got to teach my own synagogue skills classes. I also taught prayer in the local Hebrew school. I find it especially interesting that I am so drawn to prayer because I struggle with Hebrew- something I'm hoping to overcome this school year!

As much as I love prayer, I've really been struggling with it this past year. I know it has a lot to do with what is going on in my life, but I still want to figure out how to make it meaningful again. I'm moving to NYC in the morning, so I'll have the chance to explore many different prayer communities if I choose to do so!

Friday, August 23, 2013

#BlogElul: Awaken

"Am I awake? Am I prepared? Are you listening? To my prayer?
Can you hear my voice? Can you understand? Am I awake? Am I prepared?" -Noah Aronson

I first heard this song when I met Noah Aronson at NewCAJE a few summers ago. I rarely find a melody that has words that also move me. It's often one or the other. The words and melody are inspiring and uplifting (and I can play it on guitar, which is always a plus). The idea of being awake is prevalent during this time of Elul. If we are awake and in tune to ourselves, we can figure out what we need to do in the following year. One way I try and be in tune with myself is through prayer. The song by Noah Aronson has become a melody that I've used several times to begin t'fillot when I am leading. So much of the song gets at the heart of the hagim. May we all be awake this holiday season!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

#BlogElul: Change

While living with teens for four years, I noticed that girls change their outfits A LOT. I don't remember doing this in high school, but maybe I did. I only remember owning and wearing a lot of shirts with words on them representing my love of NFTY. On a Sunday I once had a conversation with a student who changed her clothes 5 times! That's ridiculous. She had reasons for why she changed so frequently. I guess I don't put a ton of thought into what I wear. For my students, clothes are an extension of themselves, a way for them to individually express themselves. For me, well, I'm usually lucky if I can find something clean in the morning...

One of my better outfits:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

#BlogElul: Learn

Top 10 things I learned while working at AHA (in no particular order)
10. Food makes people happy
9. I can function on very little sleep
8. Parents are usually right
7. It's okay that I don't know everything
6. A hug can fix most things
5. You are never too old for arts and crafts
4. I am passionate about Jewish education
3. I love liturgy
2. Friends can really become your family
1. I'll be a really good Mom one day

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

#BlogElul: Remember

I was going to apologize for writing about the same thing during all of Elul- my move. I decided not to because it's my blog and I can write what I want. Also, this move is a giant transition for me, so it makes sense that it is all that I'm thinking about.

I am trying to remember everything I did when I transferred to Binghamton because that transition was pretty easy for me, and I loved my time there. I don't actually remember my orientation all that well. I remember really liking the people I lived with. Most of us became friends pretty quickly. I felt pretty comfortable in my surroundings surprisingly quickly. A friend suggested that I try and make plans in the city once I get there so I have things to look forward to. I'm having a Binghamton reunion almost every day next week!

I think I have all of the essentials, and for once I'm not living in the middle of nowhere so I can buy what I need when I figure out that I need it. Just 5 more days!

Monday, August 19, 2013

#BlogElul: Forgive

I really have nothing profound to say about forgiveness, to be honest. Judaism says we should all be open to forgiveness, and ask for it when necessary. I think it's really dumb when people post on facebook or send a mass e-mail asking for forgiveness for anything they've done in the past year. Do people actually write back to those things? I doubt it.

If I'm done something to offend you in the past year, feel free to call me...just don't post something random via social media because I'll probably just ignore it.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

#BlogElul: Trust

I've been thinking a lot about trust lately.

I trust that I'm smart enough to do well in grad school.
I trust that I will eventually remember how to study.
I trust that I'll eventually make NYC feel like home.
I trust that I will find a good community of friends in NY.
I trust that I will be able to find a comfortable prayer community.
I trust that I will find a way to continue to improve my guitar playing.
I trust that I will find a fun way to be active.
I trust that I will find a way to make cooking for myself a fun activity.
I trust that I will come to enjoy the fact that for the next three years, I'm really only responsible for myself.
I trust that, no matter how painful this transition is, I am ready for it.