Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Night 8 of 8 VS. hate: Repair the despair


Tonight it's done. All eight candles are lit and the task is complete but is it ever? never.  We are the light at the end of each others tunnel  - and tonight's - it's bright. I need yours and I hope mine has been helpful to you. Here's the final touch:

(For this blog's overall intention:  8vshate:why & how )

I dedicate tonight's fully lit menora to the ongoing intention of adding light to where it's dark: in our hearts and mind, the fears that grip us in the night, tunnel visions of hatred that marginalizes others in the name of religion or dogma or privilege; the acts of violence that enrage and hurt;the greed; the invisibility of loneliness.
Can rituals help? something as silly and symbolic as a candle? I choose to say yes. I choose to name this ceremony of candle lighting as the oldest and newest technology of fighting despair - with repair. Turn on the lights - tonight, every night, little gesture of great possibilities. How else can hate be fought if not with love?

My intention tonight, on this eighth night is that our intentions matter, and the stories we choose to tell ourselves about what matters most and how we can change the world will matter more. Our sacred stories - such as the one of the little jar of oil that could - the triumph of the few against the many - are the victory of hope. Then and always. We are the light at the end of each other's tunnels. 
On this cold night, in the middle of a conference in the UK with thousands of people, strangers and friends, alone together I light with hope for love.

And one last Chanukah gift, the gift that keeps on giving - away to make sure that sacred stories are told with awareness and intention and a radical commitment to change: I donate online tonight - last minute tax free gift - to the community I founded, with hundreds of wonderful people worldwide trained to be storytellers for change, storahatellers for transformation. Help me turn on the lights for good: //Gift to Storahtelling

Lights On. Lights Out. Thank you for joining my journey and lighting my way with your kind comments and thoughts. 

To light! 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Night 7 of 8 VS Hate: Occupy Death


Defiance of death was not what I planned writing about tonight but an hour ago I got a message from Jerusalem: My father's older brother, Uncle Shiko, died peacefully today, in his early nineties, surrounded by his wife, and many children, grand and great children. Baruch Dayan Emet.

Like my father, Shiko survived the Holocaust - he left early and made it to Palestine. Unlike my father, who though religious has many doubts about God - Shiko lived a life full of faith, little doubt in God, a true Hasid, with commitment to the Zionist ideal - he was a big fan and a leader of the settler movement. We didn't see eye to eye on that one, but in the big scheme of things it didn't matter. He also liked to drink, esp. Slivovitz, the plum brandy of champions. 
So tonight, night #7, my intention is to honor his death and to honor all deaths of loved ones in my life and on the planet this past year. I'll raise a glass of Slivovitz in his memory as the candles are lit. Occupy death by lighting a candle - yahrtzeit or chaunkah. Occupy death by living strongly, not afraid of mortality, honoring life, celebrating our now, sending light and love to my father, who will now sit shiva for a brother, as he had not sat for the brother who died in 1942 or for his parents who died in those dark years. 
In the photo attached - the last picture of my uncle Shiko, along with my father - Shiko, fragile in on the left. How how giants are humbled.. May his memory be a blessing to all. 

L'chayim. To life. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Night 6 of 8 VS. Hate: Occupy Violence


This sixth 6th night of Chanukah is another chance to take a deep breath, focus on the flames and make an intention for less darkness and more delighted light in simple moments, more safety, more joy to the world. 

(For this blog's overall intention:  8vshate:why & how )

Tonight's intention: Occupy Violence  - within our selves, and in the world - words and actions, born of hate, lead to death.  Each candle is a memory to victims of violence, a vigil of vigilance. 

What's a Maccabee? someone asked me this morning. It really means 'one who is armed' I had to explain. More specifically - 'one who holds a big mallett' - one of those effective scary weapons of days long ago. And though Judah and co. are named thus for their fight for freedom against religious oppression it is not hard to imagine them described by the Greek press as as dangerous terrorists. Its all a matter of perspective.  sometimes you gotta fight. Sometimes the fight is right. So often it isn't. What can we do reduce the rage within our own selves in the world around us? 

here are six sad facts for the sixth night. Food for thought: occupy violence. 

Fact #1: Every two minutes, somewhere in America, someone is sexually assaulted. 

Fact #2: One out of every six American women have been the victims of a rape or attempted rape 

Fact #3 Of the 6,624 single-bias incidents reported in 2010, 47.3 percent were racially motivated, 20.0 percent were motivated by religious bias, 19.3 percent resulted from sexual-orientation bias, 12.8 percent stemmed from ethnicity/national origin bias, and 0.6 percent were prompted by disability bias.

Fact #4 91.5% of LGBT students in the US report hearing homophobic remarks, such as “faggot,” “dyke” 

Fact #5  90% of 4th through 8th graders in the US report being victims of bullying

Fact #6 Estimated each year in the US 31,225 people are killed due to homicide, suicide and unintentional shooting. This is the equivalent of more than 85 deaths each day, or three death each hour. 

Thank you freedom fighters and activists for a safer world. 


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Night 5 of 8 VS> Hate: Occupy Ignorance


Night 5 of 8 VS. hate. Merry Chanukah! Billions of people are celebrating the power of miracles tonight all over the planet, Christians, Jews and those who love them are publicizing their faith (or at their least love of tradition) with the best of intentions. But what's joy for some if oy for others and sadly so many  choose to focus on what differences we have instead of what we share in common. Intolerance is born of ignorance. This is why is there so much violence and hatred in the name of religions, in the so called name of God.  How can we turn the lights back on? Start with understanding that this hatred comes from ignorance. Ignorance can be fixed. Tonight's intention is to occupy ignorance. 

(For this blog's overall intention:  8vshate:why & how )

Tonight's intention:  I honor all beings, and all faiths, and human paths, and respect all those who are looking for ways to add light to the darkness that descends on our brightest intentions. We will take on ignorance with kindness, one smile at a time.  I honor all those who strive for truth and dignity, and respect all paths, EVEN the ones that I have no patience for or piss me off. (such as the angry man who came up to me tonight, just a bit ago, right after I publicly lit the fifth candle at the Limmud Conference and added the matriarchs - imotineu - to the second blessing, and he was quite cross, in that British way and said how he wished I didn't mess with the original blessing and spoil it for the rest of them. Ahem. Even him.  I get it. changes are never simple. I smiled and thanked him for his feedback and told him how important it is for many of us to honor our mothers and grandmothers and heroines and that times are changing and have a good night.) I will strive to be more compassionate and patient and respectful, while still striving for dignity and honor for ALL humans. 

I dedicate this holy night to my friends in faith who are working hard to minimize ignorance and educate all people about other people' religions: http://www.faithhousemanhattan.org/

Tonight let's be the light in each others tunnel of ignorance. And celebrate the hope of co-existence - the only hope we got. 

Holy Night. High Five. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Night 4 of 8 VS. Hate: Occupy Loneliness


Night 4 of 8 VS. hate. Lighting up the fourth candle of Chanukah and the two candles of Shabbat = sending a ray of light to the darkness of loneliness, where shame lives, and the broken hearted. Every light here matters. 

this blog's context:  8vshate:why & how

Tonight's intention: Hello Darkness my old friend. Mid-way, mid-night over the Atlantic, the cabin lights are off, and only the flickers of small screens light up random faces. In this cozy darkness, with that-kind-of-romantic-drama-that-was-made-to-make-me-cry - I cry. Again. Secure in this darkness of anonymity, relishing the moment. 

Look. I don't know who's reading this, not a whole lot of you if FB likes are any indication so I'll allow myself to follow through with my commitment to go private in public (and thus force myself do this) with 8 nights of shining a spotlight on the spots of darkness that need illumination in my life and the lives of others. So let's be honest here. I'm single right now and I don't like it. I used to. But now it's annoying and the dark truth is that even the lovely gesture of someone putting a hand on the hand of their lover in, say, an airport, reminds me of how it used to be and how I yearn for it again. I am not alone in this single solitude. So many with whom I share this sentiment come out as well - gay, straight, old, young, divorced, widowed, unlucky in love, etc.  Somehow the digital age has given us so many options for connection but is also robbing us of real intimacy. Are we doing enough to help each other find love? Can we strike a match tonight to light a candle and take this match-making ritual to the next level? 

I plan to. Tonight - mid way through Chanukah, lighting among many strangers at a  the limmud UK conference 2011 somewhere in the middle of the UK, I will take a few minutes to think of those in my life who are lonely, for whatever reason and dedicate myself to what I can do about it: a phone call, email, smile, hug - even if to self. I'll think of ONE person who I want to help set up. Please do the same. Seriously, please ACTUALLY take a few minutes to think of one person in your life who is single and then go through your lists and gently kindly offer them a set up. You never know. Not unless we all try. Feel free to contact me for details...; )

My gift tonight is not a donation to a light agent in the world: It's a commitment to honoring the darkness and all and each and every phase of life - while celebrating the power of light and love to change it all for the better. 

Peaceful Sabbath

PS: Lit third candle at JFK, right after security - thanks to Binyamin, a lovely Chabad guy who didn't like that I added the matriarchs to the blessing but agreed that it wasn't the end of the world.. My first chabad of choice positive moment in a very long time if not ever. Sweet. Thank you Binyamin. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

NIGHT 3 of 8 VS. HATE: Occupy Disease


Night 3 of 8 VS. hate. Taking time to focus on the darkness of disease, mind and body and soul, and how to shine a light at the end of these tunnels. 
this blog's context:  8vshate:why & how
The longest night of the year is behind us but for many, long nights are still ahead, in and by sickbeds, and in it for win it and the ongoing noble fight for health and wellbeing.  

one good way to start is by eating mindfully and with moderation during these holy days and nights. Easy on the latkes.
Next, continue by taking a few minutes after the candles are lit to think of who in our lives would need some light right now, and what do we ourselves need to be in better health? 

Which darkness of disease will you light up tonight?

My gift tonight goes to The Children's Tumor Foundation , with prayers and hopes for all our children.   What's yours?

And in the fight for civic and financial health - the comrades are of occupy judaism are in back at Zucotti Park  tonight to light candle#3. 6pm: occupy chanukah

I'll be in JFK this evening, off to the UK. I will light a virtual candle on my iphone and for the first time in my life am thinking maybe it will be nice to have a chabad guy at the airport with tin menorahs and a license to light? 

Gezundheit. To health. To light.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Night 2 of 8 VS. Hate: Occupy GREED


 This is night 2 of the 8 vs. hate Chanukah blog that was started yesterday. read the intro here: http://amichai.me/eight-vs-hatechanukah-2011-occupy-darkness.html
Last night, as the candles met gravity at the third and last of my candle lighting parties I took the time to sit and stare and found myself sobbing, oh, for all sorts of reasons. I was kindly held by a good friend and it helped a lot. 

The darkness, we agreed later, is also beautiful, a chance to 'go there' and note what is the personal/spiritual work we have each to take on so that days and nights are brighter for ourselves - and for each other.

I don't wont to just be the downer this Chanukah - just to take a few minutes out of each night for this fragile focus and fix. Then party on.

Tonight is the second candle. I will light with my children and family, and then with the Storahtelling crew, and gifts will be shared. I didn't grow up on Chanukah gifts - def. not one for each night. And I'm glad that my children aren't getting those either. Excess is greed's sister. We can all do with less of both. 

Tonight's intention: Occupy Greed. Take a moment to think of where in your life is the darkness of economic injustice, need, rage - and where is the opportunity for healing? 
Like many other strong voices for social justice and equal opportunity for all, the Occupy Movement, now worldwide, is fighting the fight of the ancient Maccabees for freedom, dignity and justice.  I choose to support my siblings fighting this good fight tonight here: http://occupywallst.org/donate/

In the fight against greed - what is your cause/action tonight? 

Lighting the Chanukah candles, like with most candles, is about as close as we get to magic: something actually happens and the light in the room really changes. Especially if one makes sure to turn off the lights. While the actual moment of lighting is not the best moment for serious reflection - the 30 min. or so that follow the lighting are ripe for the picking of serious focus, if brief. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Lit the first night of Chanukah tonight at the Educational Alliance's Weinberg Nursing Home in the East Village - Russian-Jewish, Chinese- American seniors - and a bunch of families celebrating a B Mitzvah with Storahtelling in the next year. We sang in Hebrew, English, Russian, Yiddish and two dialects of Chinese.  Tonight's version of Chanukah was about all people seeking freedom and dignity - all over the world and at all times. 

Tonight's intention - be each other's light at the end of the tunnel - combat loneliness and what is so often the lack of dignity of old age in our culture. 

My charity of choice tonight: my friends at The Educational Alliance - a non-profit org. restoring people's dignity all over downtown NYC for over 100 years.  
$18. Here we go. My little gIft to agents of light each night. 

Match me. What's YOUR cause to occupy darkness of dignity worldwide tonight? 

One more candle lighting to go in Brooklyn... 

EIGHT VS. HATE/CHANUKAH 2011/ Occupy Darkness

It starts tonight.
I’d like to invite you to join me, on each of the upcoming eight nights of lights, for a simple intention:
With each of our lights let‘s offer each other a light at the end of a tunnel,  a ray of hope.
Each night, starting tonight, I will post a specific intention for the lighting of the candles and invite your conversation.
Each night offers an opportunity for focus on one form of darkness that we may want to name – and do something about.
Imagine this intention as one that can accompany your lighting of the candles, privately, or in conversation with others.
The goal is to make more meaning of this sacred ritual, rededicating ourselves each night to bringing on more light, with clearer focus and intention.
Scroll down for WHY, HOW,  list of eight intentions, sources and links to real action

To Light!



Candles are the oldest physical – metaphysical technology we got.
The lighting of the candles of Chanukah is about the power of light to diminish darkness.

Darkness has many faces: terror, tyranny, anxiety, depression, despair, illness, poverty, hatred, discrimination,violence, loneliness. Tunnels of darkness.
Chanukah candles are lit publicly, for all to see and remember the power of the possible.
The role of the candles is to remind us to turn on the lights for each other, to be each others’ ray in the dark. a light unto others.
Candles are public smiles.  a single candle defeats darkness with ease just as simple acts of kindness can do so much to
alleviate hatred. The way a smile lights up a face.


1. Each night, light. From one to eight candles or the other way around.

(For basics refresher : How to Light Your Menorah )

2. Once the candles have been lit, take a moment to think of a specific darkness you want to  focus on. (see one list below)

3. What can you do about it?  See list of links below to chanukah and social justice activism, ideas, programs and opportunities 

Consider: An intention, conversation, phone call, email, hug, donation, public call to action.

4. Occupy darkness. discuss, but don’t stay there. It’s a holiday. move on to focus on how the light can change.

5. Repeat eight nights.

MY LIST OF INTENTIONS 2011 (subject to change)
Night 1: The Darkness of Dignity: human rights, human dignity and freedom – where is the darkness that troubles me? who are the sources of light? how can I help?
Night 2: The Darkness of Greed: In this climate of calling for more economic justice – what do I recognize as the darkness, sources of light, and how can I help?
Night 3: The Darkness of Disease: What darkness related to health is on my mind tonight? in my heart? What can I do to help?
Night  4: The Darkness of Love:  When intimacy and love and relationships and sex go wrong – where in my life? where is the light switch.
Night 5: The Darkness of Literacy: What forms of educational darkness do you recognize, and what can you do to help repair?
Night 6: The Darkness of Rage:  Have I come close to violence, abuse, hostilities? In my own behaviour or those I know. What can be helpful to diminish these rages in the world?
Night 7: The Darkness of Direction: Who are our leaders and where are we in the dark? Whom can we support?
Night 8:The Darkness of Soul:  How have so many of our sacred traditions and religious paths become shrouded with dark rags of rage and righteousness? How can we help restore the spirit?



Occupy Darkness – online links

 (thank you Dara Kessler for putting this together. Got more? Please share!)

AJWS Chag v’Chesed

Make this a real season of change. occupy darkness. turn on the lights. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Personal Renewal in a Conservative Synagogue in the Midwest

Storahtelling at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, MI
by Jake Goodman

Emily Warshaw and I just got back from a mega-Storahtelling weekend at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, Michigan.  In just over 48 hours, we presented a whopping six Storahtelling programs:  Setting the Stage, Like a Prayer, a Maven Torah Reading Ritual about Parshat Lech L'cha called "Sister Act," a Havdallah ritual (in collaboration with their fab Hazzan Dan Gross and Rabbi Rachel Shere), a mini-Maven and an educators' workshop called Meet the Maven.  I suppose it was intense, but it was also reenergizing to me in that this hamish, passionate community near Detroit reminded me how important Storahtelling's work is, and how much it can touch people.

After performing "Sister Act" on Shabbat morning, congregants spoke to us about how meaningful and "utterly transformational" the Maven Torah Reading experience was for them.  Without any cues from us, one congregant spoke of how inspired he was, and how we provided "access" to Torah stories, for kids and adults, in ways that he had never seen.  (One aspect of Storahtelling's mission is to "make ancient stories and traditions accessible to new generations," so the fact that the first thing he mentioned was about experiencing "access" to the stories was...rewarding and fulfilling to me!).  Another man saw our Maven in one service and then went to a different service where the rabbi was giving a sermon on the whole of Lech L'cha (if you can believe it), and he reported back that, as he listened, he visualized our telling of the tale as the rabbi was speaking and it was infinitely richer.  A pre-Bat Mitzvah girl told her parents that she wanted Storahtelling to train her for her Bat Mitzvah.  Clergy, educators and congregants all spoke about wanting something this transformative in their community on a regular basis. 

There are so many individual stories to tell, but I'll just leave off by saying that it takes a lot of work to prepare a weekend like this.  I've been doing Storahtelling for awhile now.  While I always believe in the mission, sometimes it cannot help but feel like just another job.  This weekend reminded me that, no, our job is to try to change lives through this sacred technology of translation.  Our aims are very high and, while Emily and I were certainly not perfect this weekend, I do think we were successful.  And I do want to do it again.  I do want to continue being in the business of providing access to meaning - especially when I get to do it with such an extraordinary community.  

Speaking of which.... I am so grateful to Elissa Berg (Director of Education), Rabbi Bergman, Rabbi Shere, Hazzan Gross, Jodi Gross, all the educators - and the entire Adat Shalom community.  (Meeting Rabbi Jason & Elissa Miller was an added bonus.) They really do make up a special, warm, intelligent, dedicated community.  

Please read Rabbi Jason Miller's blog about Storahtelling's visit to Congregation Adat Shalom.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011




This is the last day of this PREPENT journey. The mountain has been
climbed, declimbed and goal achieved: I found more focus, entered the
new year with more clarity, intention, presence of heart and mind, and
more in the body. Check! I'm pleased and proud, and relieved.

Where am I now?
At home in NYC, sitting at my desk, in between building a succah in
the backyard, doing homework for school and getting ready for the rest
of the year.

40 days ago I was in love and in the beginning of what seemed like a
serious relationship but now it's clearly over and the heart is
mending. Lots to learn here.

37 days ago I started Rabbinical School. Going strong.

35 days ago I stopped eating meat and converted to pesactrian - still
happening. Weight lost, feeling's great.

27 days ago Wall St became occupied. Getting bigger.

18 days ago I got an Ipad. Easier on the commute to school.

14 days ago the new year began.

Today, I am here now. Grateful, a little gassy, super busy, but
feeling grounded and ready for the year. I think this PREPENT process
helps. I have no idea if anybody read each day or even many of them
(will you please let me know? thanks! your feedback really means so
much!!) but I'm glad I did it for me. Had there not been the public
duty I would have likely cut out earlier or missed a day or two. Thank
you all, for the encouragement, comments and support. I am so glad
this was helpful to others on the path.

so, to close -

Here is what I wrote 40 days ago, in the first post:

"Ayeka - Where are you?

On a blank screen or a sheet of paper, or anywhere and anyway you’d
like – ask yourself this ancient question and listen to what your soul
says and what is the one primary task ahead of you this year. The
journey begins, like all journeys, with a finger pointing at the map:
’you are here now.”

The 40 days are up, the journey begins, again, right now, with a
finger pointing at the map - where am I now - and where am I going?

See you there.

Shana Tova. Over and out.

Monday, October 10, 2011




A. asked me an excellent question this morning: 'did you learn anything from your PREPENT process'?

I had to pause.

I guess that if one takes 40 days to explore 40 ways in which more focus can be be found, clarity of intention is cultivated and a year is launched into being with attention to detail - learning SHOULD happen, in, at least some way. Otherwise, it's just mental masturbation. But the learning only happens when we really stop to listen to what we now know, or feel, and how it may be different, even with  changes as subtle as smiles.

With one more day to go, with careful time for closure, this is the time to ask this question - as one asks a kid who comes back from school: what did you learn today?

So during this year's PREPENT journey:

I learned to take things slower, much slower, lower expectations, reduce speed, esp. with romance. patience. 

I learned, yet again, to be less dependent on love/feedback from others and feel good about my own achievements. self love.

And I learned that there is a pattern to my failures, becoming more obvious as I take the time to analyze each painful fragment of collapse.  Walk in another street, avoid the same pitfalls. 

And I learned that I can survive heartache.  have faith. 

None of these are new lessons yet each of them is back for more. I guess it's what I have to learn this year, and what is on my plate as I begin this year of new beginning and intentions. 

I know that there are some of you are reading this - have been reading this - and THANK YOU to those of you who wrote, responded, shared intimate learning and thoughts. I invite you to wrap it with me - with a list of three things you learned from this season of atonement, these 40 days of focus-finding and perfection of self. 

Every thing I need to know I already learned in kindergarten, and even then, when I came home, it was hard to answer the question 'what did you learn today'. 

But I'm not a toddler anymore. And I take responsibility for my own good time, and my own hard earned learning, never, I hope, taken for granted. 

what did I learn and how can this make me live better?

One day to go. 

Sunday, October 09, 2011




The day after  anything significant and anticipated is a delicate day, a decompressing zone. I don't get to be in those places too long usually, the next thing comes and grabs my attention.  So it's good to pause. Worked hard and long to get here - yom kippur - 37 days in preparation, as 'soon' ' becomes 'now' and then  becomes 'then'. A powerful, emotional experience, many tears, deep prayers, beautiful singing, promises made, time for real reflections: deadline met - success! atonement! shofar blast! eat something!

Now what? 

how does a spiritual experience translate into a spiritual - aware and conscious - life?

what of the new promises and resolutions and responsibilities - how do I retain, remain connected to the urgency and depth of the commitment to change that I, with so many others, took on this yom kippur, just yesterday?

intentions fade so fast.

Jack Kornfiled wrote this great book "After the Ecstasy,Laundry" - all about the spiritual path and the little ways of cultivating awareness on both the holy days and the simple days of our lives.  He writes about the wisdom of small goals, doable, simple every day moments of intentional  awareness. 

Maybe the challenge is not to ask now what but to just imbue each 'now' with a very clear 'what'. 

The day after yom kippur, with some definite ecstatic moments, I am indeed doing laundry.  quiet time to decompress. 

But then later I'm also starting to build a succa in my backyard. Just got the lumber.  The day after is also the day of prep for next. in a good way.

There's this Jewish custom to start building the succah right after Yom Kippur - as soon as you've broken your fast. I remember Yom Kippur nights in Jerusalem, where within hours of the fast's end you'd hear hammers and aluminum pipes dragged out of storage, late into the night. 

From one religious experience to another, from one symbol to another in this replayed drama of the soul's growth, each season and year, from the courtroom of kippur to the cozy womb of succot, into the shelter of peace. 

Whoever came up with this custom knew something about the 'day after syndrome' and introduced a transformational therapeutic way to channel the powerful energy of kippur into the rest of our lives - build something. A way to make sure a spiritual experience is in some way grounded in the cultivation of a spiritual life. 

Building a succah - a glorified dining room, really - is a commitment to starting this new year of a spiritual life with the friends and allies we want around the table. It's a good thing to build. 

In the now what of post kippur is a process of reckoning and wrapping up, reviewing  goals I set out for myself during this prepent journey to the high holidays- commitments, questions, regrets, changes. Got three days to complete a 40 day pilgrimage,  and build another succah and another year, a better model even yet. 

Saturday, October 08, 2011


Today is the day of at-one-ment. 
we live it with silence, self control, sacred words, soul songs,  tears, smiles, moments of true reflection. 

Barefoot, famished, rehearsing our grand departure from this flesh filled living, wearing shroud-like whites we take the time to highlight, delete, restart our lives.

We ask for change. We stand alone, all together. It is a rare treat. 

Every relationship needs this reminder of why it even matters. Romance must be rekindled. So must our love of self. Of others.
Today is about that. In the mythic liturgy the High Priest enters the holy of holies today, only once a year. That's what love is about, when truly entered, a holy of holies, an intimacy within intimacy. Not just once a year. 

Yesterday on the street I first noticed one sticker on a wall  - it read 'Love Me'. An hour later there was another sticker: "Love Yourself".

Just add a question mark to these two statements and there's today's questions, task and mission. Do I love? 

May this day bring clarity and focus and more love - to ourselves and to all around us. 

Easy and beautiful day. Meet you in the pages of book of love. 

Friday, October 07, 2011




Oh how we say words we don't really mean. 
'im starving' is one of those easily tossed expressions, right there with 'love you' and 'whatever'.

It's not that big of a deal, but when there is real hunger in the world and we just skipped lunch - we are guilty of excess, almost dishonesty. Can we make sure that comes out of our mouth is as wholesome and intentional as what goes into our mouth? 

There is real hunger within us, real starvation - for meaning. 

"We need to declare a moratorium on old, hallowed, and overused words: a linguistic fast... Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian, said that the great words - faith, hope, love, grace, sin and salvation - sometimes become so trivialized and degraded that we need to cease using them for a generation." (Sam Keen)

Yes to the more attention to what we say, and how and what we eat. More control on mouth traffic this coming year. 

This is the busy day in prep for the big day - but it's a big day on its count - the day of finishing unfinished business, and the day of the feast that leads to the fast. 

In chadisic traditions, the eating before the fast is the most important meal of the year. "With the intentional eating on the ninth day of Tishrei" wrote the Sfat Emet back in Poland in the late 19th century, "we fix all the unintentional eating of the entire previous year." 

Fast food, like quick txt messages gets the job done but is low on nutrients. Quick eating - at the desk, on the train, standing up in the kitchen, 'grabbing a bite' is sometimes fun and delicious and all we can handle - but when it becomes a regular habit we are depriving our souls and bodies of true nourishment. 

Let alone eating all kinds of crap. 

So today's intention, in prep for the fast, is focus on the feast. I started this PREPENT journey with a commitment to more healthy eating and so glad and proud to report that it's going great. For the last six days I've eaten nothing but raw fruits and veggies, I think this detox is helping coz my energy is good and I must have lost a couple of pounds. Today's pre fast feast is going to be pomegranate, and mango and maybe some greens. The breakfast is going to be apples. with honey. 

It's not just the what - it's mostly the how. 

Prepare for the new year with good intention, more slow, more focus, more love of self, more feast, more in the here and now. 

delicious feast, easy fast. 

Gmar Tov. 

Thursday, October 06, 2011




"Nothing shapes our lives so much as the questions we ask, refuse to ask, or never dream of asking. " (Sam Keen)

Steve Jobs, of blessed memory, asked hard questions,  challenged the accepted norms and created a new universal language fusing art and science, transforming the way we live. I watched an interview with him once where he said that he only had one question 'how can this be better'? 

Great leaders know how to challenge their communities, asking hard questions that change the collective narrative, sometimes for better sometimes for worse.
Reflective thinkers take time to ask themselves questions that are equally important to their inner lives and growth.

One day to go before the feast and the fast of kippur, and another chance to pause and ponder the questions that guide this journey, which is almost over: How's life? why am I writing (or reading) this?  how can I make life better - for me and all around me? what do I need to learn?  and finally, how do I take these high and holy days and make them truly transformational, meaningful, real? 

This PREPENT process is all about asking real questions.  The answers matter less. At its core, this process of teshuva is all about the courage to challenge the status quo and ask hard questions. Teshuva means 'return' or 'reply' - but first must come the questions, honest and demanding. 

In "The Absence of God", the book by Sam Keen that I've been reading during this journey and quoting from, he writes about the importance of questions. Reading it this morning, on the subway to school, I underlined a passage and added a note:

"The men and women who made an enduring mark in history ignored the accepted worldviews, values, and myths of their time and chose to pursue their own answers to their deepest questions.Here's a random sample.

How we can put an end to suffering? - Buddha
What is eternal and unchanging? - Plato
Of what may I be certain? - Descartes
Why were men born free but are everywhere in chains? -- Karl Marx
What is the meaning of dreams? - Sigmund Freud
How is a woman unlike a man? -- Betty Friedan"

And I add my question  - "papa, can you hear me?"

Not just coz it's Barbara singing, as Yentel, in the over the top super kitschy final scene of the movie, but also because somehow, for me, this question is a deep yearning for what's beyond the here and now.
All of our liturgy can be found here. 
Any body out there? Is there rhyme or reason? Can I find comfort and guidance in the quiet place inside my heart where, maybe, the divine is present? 

What is the one question with which you will enter this day of atonement? 
Perhaps teshuva - the process of finding answers to our greatest questions can happen only we are willing to risk the questions that define our lives, regardless of the outcome? 

Wednesday, October 05, 2011




"We who have been unsatisfied by any traditional religion have spentour lives in quest of a rose, but the closest we ever get is entering a room still redolent with the scent of a rose that was removed before we arrived."

It's unavoidable: the god factor, yes or no or other or what? Yom
kippur is here again and this prepent process, almost over, sends me
back again to probe the big one: does god matter? (and does the no
capital G use matter?)

I'm pretty sure that this entire repentance process can be succesfuly
completed and be totally devoid of theological land mines - virtually
god-free. We take stock of the year that was, focus on what matters to
us now and plan ahead for the future, full of high hopes. Humans
striving to do/be better.
We ask each other for forgiveness, deal with our shame, regret, rage,
responsibilities. We fast because our ancestors used to, we cry when
the liturgy rips at our heart with memory and manipulative poetry, and
god's got nothing to do with it. If we pray we use allegory,
psychological convictions, Contemplative tools. It's not about god -
Creator, source, judge or imaginary friend. If we address anything at
all in our pleas for help or rants of rage or simple thank you's it's
some vague sense of the universe, the life force, nature, or perhaps
our inner selves.


Over drinks a few days ago G. Asks me about god - "does faith give you
comfort"? He wants examples.

The best that I can do is tell him that yes, there is comfort here,
there is a powerful sense of being part of a plan bigger than self, a
plan that is both chaos and cosmos, random pain and intentional
pleasure, all blended up, no sense or rhyme or reason - but real and
larger than life.
I may be fooling myself but prayer helps me; at times of great need
and vast awe I reach out higher and it feels - and sometimes thinks -
important, connected, not alone.

G., ever the journalist does not relent: " do you believe in god"?

I promise him an answer after yom kippur.

And I take these remaining days of prepenting to wrap up as many
unfinished friend related tasks as possible and focus on the g spot
and my relationship with IT circa now.

What's the role of god in whatever form in your life? ( not a
rhetorical question. I'm really curious, dear readers, fellow
prepenters, do tell??)

"We who have been unsatisfied by any traditional religion have spent
our lives in quest of a rose, but the closest we ever get is entering
a room still redolent with the scent of a rose that was removed before
we arrived. We cannot easily locate God in the house of our longing,
yet we remain haunted; God's missing presence echoes throughout the
empty rooms. In the void we hear faint hymns of an ancient faith for
which we no longer have room among the endless quarks, waves and
subatomic particles identified by science. We exist in a God-shaped
vacuum. That which is no longer present (but is not completely absent)
gives shape to our aspirations and longing."

In the Absence of God, Sam Keen

Tuesday, October 04, 2011




Do you find it difficult to ask for help when you really need it? I
do. I need help to be able to ask others for help, esp. with
difficult personal stuff. This is one of my PREPENT discoveries, as I
go through this past year's inventory of actions and behaviours in my
life that need, well, help.

I can go for a long time in a strange city with a map and not ask for
directions, and finally figure it out. Asking for help can be awkward.
I am not the best fundraiser out there - even though I know it's not
about asking for help - its about inviting someone to be a partner in
a great idea. Still.
I'm getting better with those, but it's the real vulnerable sort of
asking for help that i'm focused on. The deep cry of the soul.
Where do I reach out and ask for help when I'm stuck or alone, scared,
sad or confused, or heartbroken. Who does one turn to, and how does
one ask for help when things come undone?

I count my blessings - the friends and loved ones who are there when
help is needed, and hope that I too can hear others when they ask for
help from me. At various difficult moments this past year, different
friends were there for me, helping out, helping in.

And during one of those difficult moments, alone on the street, I
asked for help from God.

Faith or not, this face of the divine or that or all, at times, on my
knees in some puddle, the reach out for help reaches far into all that
can be possibly there to make things better. It's a low place that
knows to rise and needs the help of all that is out there, in here.

A private prayer, an intimate conversation, imaginary friend, alone on
the street, plea for help in rising up, finding focus, finding love,
remaining present. Thank you. Amen.

In class today we examine liturgy and the meaning of prayers, and what
works or doesn't in public worship settings where so much intimacy is
lost. Spoke about the role of prayer in our lives - alone or with
others, why and how and what it is or is not for us. In another class
we studied a midrash about God as the collector of the broken hearted,
whose prayer for help sound sweetest.

I think about that real moment of prayer that erupted for me, out of
need, alone on the street, a need for guidance and help at large.
I think about all these high and holy days when we gather to do
together something so intimate - asking for help together, from a
grander source that we do or dont' believe in. and still.

Learning how to as for help - from friends - from myself - from the
universe - is, for me, still an important lesson in learning. This
period of reflection helps me focus on that, and the experience of the
public prayers, so intense, these high holidays - adds a serious spin.
a lot to work on. I'll need some help.. and I'll hope to know how to
simply ask for it.

Monday, October 03, 2011



It's business as usual at school, homework and tasks and fall to-do's, all the accumulated emails of work and such, and in the middle of all this life - who's got time to do this sacred inner work and truly prep for Yom Kippur? 

Need a time out? Could you use a retreat from the distractions of this overburdened style of life and make room for quiet self examination? Not the time out of errant children, not exactly - more like the time out of errant grown up who choose to take the time alone and figure it out - what can be done better? 

Need it?

I do. Even this PREPENT blog has become a 'to do' task, and the original flavor almost lost inside the mechanics of daily obligation and the looming deadline, real or not. 

So here's my re dedication to a daily practice, just FIVE minutes, morning or night, quietly, alone,  reflection, time out, check in - at least through the end of this 40 day process, till some more focus is found. It's easy to lose sight of the goal so close to the finishing line, but I think this is where I need it most - the boost, the reminder, the time alone to process and prepare. 

My friend and teacher David Wolkin shared with me a 5 step exercise for making more of these ten days of return - a time out for reflection, a reality check:

Imagine if you had to spend 10 days in a room confronted with all of your sins/mistakes/wrongdoings of the past year:


Read David's full text on his blog here: http://wolkin.com/2010/09/1270/rosh-hashanah-has-nothing-to-do-with-comics/

and see the basic 5 questions below:

1. What would that room look like? How big would it be?

2. Who or what would be in this room? Would there mostly be people in that room? Actions? Thoughts? Decisions? Ideas?

3. What what you say to them/what would they say to you?

4. What would it feel like to spend 10 days in there? Could you handle it?

5. What would you do with the time that you had in there? What would you address first, last?

So many ways to check in and make time out work for our souls. I hope this is helpful. 

Sunday, October 02, 2011




Feeling good in your skin? in the body? I am feeling physically better than I have in a long time mostly thanks to the now 30 days long pescatarian diet - but still feel the need to cleanse - body and soul. Detox time. 

This prepent 40 day process ends with the Kippur 24 hour fast - a cleanse for body and soul, a focused meditation on craving and discipline. I think I need a longer version this year. Starting today, thanks to Shira, I'm on a seven day raw fruit and veggie detox diet. It will end as I break the fast on Yom Kippur, probably on a mango. (ok, and then a single malt)

I want to lose the weight of the rage, the heavy fear, the terrible loneliness that tags along to the lack of faith that it will be ok when my heart mends and I don't feel so lonely and left behind. I want to  use these last ten days of teshuva, this manipulated return process to the max.  Sins are sometimes vague and repentance a big word - this feels  simple and grounded in truth - purify, clean, shed. 

I want more clarity of gut feelings, a plumbing job for all that is stuck. 

I started this PREPENT period thirty days ago with the very least intention of change in the form of nutrition upgrade. I took on  a healthier breakfast, a pesactarian diet and more home cooked meals. Check on all three.

I'm pleased to be still on this wagon - but I want also to bring into this journey the awareness of the emotional baggage that has made these days of reckoning so much more meaningful and dreadful than ever before.  Eyes wide open to the pain of disappointment and the fears of being alone. 

If any of you reading this feels like this is remotely interesting - find your own way to focus on food this week, on detox (coffee?) or cleansing in some way the balances mind and body and soul. 

There's this beautiful liturgy for these days: "The soul is yours, and the body is your creation - have pity on all this creation. "

So, detox. simplicity. a harsh, limiting, disciplined matter of self control. One week. Go. 

What should young people do with their lives today? .. the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured - Kurt Vonnegut



I know what Vonnegut is talking about - we all do. Sooner or later we all expeirence terrible lonelienss, for longer or less. Dealing with loneliness - in ourselves and in the lives of others - is a big part of what our culture is about, for better or worse. 

Saturday, October 01, 2011



I didn't get arrested, but it was close. Truth is, I didn't want to. This fight is right - but not all fights are worth the price of freedom - not for everyone, not always.

what would you go to jail for, today? what fight? if any?

Down at the Wall St. protests today,  there to show support and solidarity with the anti corporate greed movement, he winds turned cold quickly and the march on the Brooklyn bridge  gets wild and before we know it there is confusion and commotion and people get pushed and there's yelling and shoving and I find myself out of there before I know it.  The friends I came with are split up. Some stay. we all txt to confirm ok. none that we knew then get arrested - and I decide to leave right away. Can't handle the heat and tension and the noise. Sorry. Been there, done that, not today. I hail my friends who are out there, fighting, reporting, passionate, tireless.

I ended up walking alone for several hours, thinking about what it means to be part of a movement, or a march or a nascent budding moment, like drops of water in a wave, and then what does it mean to separate from 'it' as the wave crashes and become - wanting to or not -  what we are  - I am - ultimately about at the end of the day - alone.  

It doesn't help that the rain came and the first real chill of winter in the air.
The moody lighting of a fading Sabbath sun, sometimes romantic, sometimes mysterious, today was a picture of Gothic gloom.  
It did help that in the context of these days of prepenting I had a framework with which to process this emotional street scene, so different than the summer protests I was part of in Israel this past summer - such a different sense of 'we'. 

Embrace the aimless walking, the slow pace, the temporarily-no-obligation-to-anybody-else situation that you are now in, I say to myself, somewhere between Chinatown and Nolita and I start walking even slower, umbrella in hand, and think about what's worth it in my life - what would do I go to jail for? what would be worth it that much? What change would I fight for with as much energy and determination as to risk my freedom? - this which I have right now as  I walk here, totally free to be whatever I want and make every decision?

Being part of a 'we' - from a couple to a nation, will always restructure the sense of the 'me', of what it means to be an individual - of how it feels to sometimes feel alone. So much of our social structures are built around this notion of support systems so that we are not alone. 

but at the end of the day, aren't we always? 

A question with which to go to sleep, on a rainy night, privileged, dry, home, and safe, and alone, and free. 

is THIS worth it?

ten days to go, finding focus, clarity, within. 

Friday, September 30, 2011



Kids get that line a lot, a cultivation of good manners: did you say thank you?  Grown ups, it is presumed, oddly, remember to pause and thank - a compliment, a gesture, gift, favor from friend or stranger or host or lord of hosts. But grown ups too can benefit from such reminders. I know I can.  On this second day of a new year - a focused pause to make a list of thank you's. to focus on what is. 

And not just pause and thank for the good stuff - also pause and say thank you for the hard stuff - the hard lessons, harsh truths, slaps and surprises, critical words and act of betrayal and transgressions: how else would we grow. 

On the river yesterday, discarding the crumbs of the past into the world,  the kids learn how to make little balls from bread and aim into the water as they shout 'goodbye!' and 'thanks!' and 'shana tova!' 

thanks for all the kicking and screaming? yes. 'one must bless the hardship just as one blessed the goodness' said Rabbi Meir back in the dark days of the Talmud, during one of the revolts. There is this way of cultivating gratitude for all that is, and was, sweet and bitter both, honey and onion.  Lofty goal - be grateful for all. 

Out of the blue, in the midst of crumb throwing, one of the kids turns to me and says 'Thank you for my gift! - six hours after getting it. Never too late to melt some one's heart with joy with a sincere thanks for anything or nothing at all. Great way to start a year. 

Many Thanks.

Shabbat Shalom.

To a sweet year, honey, and onions. and more. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011




boker tov. shana tova!

New contact lenses in my eyes this morning. Out with the old, flush. 
It's a day of replacing old with new, long live the next.

It begins grey today, this new year, thunderstorms expected, rain water coming down from above to meld in nicely with the tears coming down below. I don't know about you but I do get emotional on these days, a lot. Last night, at our beautiful prayers in City Winery, I basically started tearing from the moment the first chord was played, all the way to the end. It felt good, cleansing, releasing, letting some of the pent up emotions go. 

The first day of the new year is about that. Letting go. That's why in the afternoon we go down to the river to shed away the year - not sins exactly, despite the popular belief, but simply, the symbolic trash of our lives. Breadcrumbs are the leftovers of our feasts, the memory of hunger, for more. Each crumb is emotion, hope, regret, mistake, rage, yearning, wrong.

Imagine the flight attendant walking up the aisle with a big plastic bag 'may I take your trash?'

it's the river speaking, the waters of the world, taking our trash, recycling bread crumbs into fish food, into nutrition that will enter our systems and so again. 

The mere act of not just handing the trash over but flinging it, perfect throw, into the water, activates some distant memory of active loss - of determined shedding, of the will to lose this psychic weight and commit to better, lighter, more focused. 

The actual walk to the water - an ancient, pagan, nature driven ritual taking us to the boundary between culture and nature, city and wild, human and beyond. Down to the river, down to where everything begins. 

Like tress in this season of fall, we let our leaves go. Others will grow. And they too will gather. I am the tree, not these leaves, and maybe, maybe not even the tress, just the idea of a being in a bigger dream, inside a river, a single tear drop or a wave crashing into a shore, strewn with the crumbs of the past?

Trash? Shed. 
Tashlich today at a river near you.  (Join me south of Spring St. and the Hudson at about 2pm, rain or shine)
Shed bread. shed tears. Let it go. Start again. 

Shana Tova. Enter in Peace. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011




'I'm sorry' S. said. I believe it. But can I, truly, say "I forgive you?" the most I could - can - say is " I understand'. I can't even say it's OK. It's not. Not yet.

But today is the day of forgiveness - an extra effort at cleaning up the psychic debris, tying up loose ends. 

I want to forgive the hurt. I want to let it go.To open up the options of release, let go of resentment and pain that gets trapped inside when we don't have the words to express raw emotions and hard truths.  
If not fully from the heart - at least in words, in some formulas of release that will help me find more focus, balance, peace. 

"Forgiveness is the final form of love." said Reinhold Niebuhr. 

I want to forgive myself for all the stupid stuff and waste of time and worse. forgive myself for not being more careful, more patient, more kind.
I want to forgive those at whom I'm mad, and hurt by, and haven't for what ever reason confronted yet. 
I want to ask forgiveness from those whom I've hurt this past year, in any form, whether I know it or not.

I want to enter the year with these intentions, even if they are far from being completed. I want to pray for the ability to have more room for forgiveness in my life, and more of it on the planet, in each heart. 

In orthodox circles there is a ritual that happens around mid-day today - rosh hashana eve: its the preview of Kol Nidrei - a private, at home, 'annulment of vows' ceremony. In small groups of three, people gather (it's not co-ed, but women do this too) and recite the 'release from vows' formula, serving as each other's witnesses.  The release from vows is one way to ritualize forgiveness, letting go. There are others. Find yours.

See  link to the full text of ANNULMENT OF VOWS here:

Enter in peace. Shana Tova.