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. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011




The fringes on my prayer shawl are frayed and coming undone. I bought a new set of linen fringes many months ago, with the intention of replacing the fringes - like strings on a guitar - before the New Year. Deadline. A perfect moment for tying loose ends, completing at least a token of my many goals and intentions this past year. 

The last night of a year is a night of completion.  Like before going on a long journey, tying up loose ends. There's already cooking going on for tomorrow night's dinners, and outfits planned and prepared, and a barrage of emails with the latest in clever shanatova vids - the eyes are on the future. But tonight is one last check out on the past: 5771 is  now becoming year filed under 'history'. 

I want to take a few minutes to sit quietly and think of 5 big moments from this last year, 5 postcards, whatever the memory drudges out, and list them, and note, and learn and reflect and thank and file and save and close and move on. 

And after that I want to wrap up another procrastination or two, send out a few of those long overdue draft emails, make that overdue phone call , deal with two debts. Take the time to honor time and the boundaries and benchmarks that are these high and holy days and just get stuff done. Tonight. Deadlines. 

Not everything can be completed tonight, last night of year or not.  Things break and it's never clean and clear and cut in life - frayed, loose ends of conversations and dreams, goals and desires and failures and triumphs, lots of unfinished business - we carry it all across the threshold of time with us, more to do and perfect and change in the coming year. There are always loose ends, and not all can be attended to - physically, emotionally - perhaps not possible, perhaps not now. 

But still, in some symbolic, elusive mythic way, some sort of personal, private closure, slate cleaning, completion and gratitude for the year that was, for our own survival for another whole year! - seems an appropriate gesture for the night. It feels like an act of kindness.  

Maybe in some way, when we wish each other shana tova we don't just make a wish for the future - but also celebrate - despite it all - our past?

Shana Tova. 

Monday, September 26, 2011



Day 25/40

I just checked into 'the heartbreak hotel', far away from Graceland but maybe not that far  from grace. Been here before, may be here again, and, surprise, I am here now, disappointed and bitter and taking it one day at a time. Deep breaths. Deal now, heal later, and maybe figure out what the hell went wrong and what I can do to feel better and avoid this, if possible, from happening again. Is that even possible? 

What's astonishing about heartaches of all kinds is that they actually do hurt  more or less vicinity of the physical heart. I don't know the medical data but I have no doubt that a great many of our physical ills -  including the high rate of heart attacks in the West - are deeply connected to our emotional dis-ease and reflect the hurts, and pains and disappointments that are part of our human diet and modern social reality.  So much loneliness and sadness and rage and quiet despair. 

With two days to go before the new year begins ( I know, GREAT timing) and this PREPENT process under way, my reflection today is on what hurts, and where, and maybe, why. 
And here's what to do with it:
Collect the hurting, the places of pain, list them, name them, thank them, own them - and ask for help in releasing them back into the world. Every pain is a scar - and scars don't vanish - but with time, they hurt less. Nature helps out. 

I don't know who's reading this but I'm pretty sure that being human means collecting scars of all sizes, and hurts of all kinds. 

So to my friends who are reading this I want to suggest that we take comfort in knowing that we are all, in some way, hurting, and that there are, in some way, methods to help us get over it, get better and stronger. 

And one of those ways is asking for help. I don't just mean therapy or a friend with whom to confide, scream, cry and dream. Those are terribly important and I'm grateful for mine. I'm talking about talking with God. If there's ever a time when a one on one conversation is due is when the poop hits the fan and we need answers or at least the excuse to melt down and belt out our woe and needs and pleads and highest hopes. It may just be a glorified and often cheaper form of therapy but I want to suggest that finding comfort in conversation with the unknowable creator with the specific focus of asking for help can be helpful. Not that it takes us off the hook - on the contrary. I take it on myself to do the work (which is what true love and relationship is always about anyway) and commit to being here, ready for the next attempt at love. But I'm not alone, and I can't do it alone, and there is some force in the universe, call it what you want, that is in favor of things working out for the best and happiest and is a source of comfort. I think. Maybe. I hope so anyway.  One of my favorite lines from the psalms is "GOD HEALS THE BROKEN HEARTED AND BINDS THEIR WOUNDS". 

Perhaps it is just about the process of articulating our needs and fears and hurts and perhaps there is nobody out there listening and helping - but even that is a good start - the mere act of conversation, release. So with a heart aching I am getting more prepared for the prayers and liturgies and sweetness (which right now makes me want to vomit) of the holiday, taking stock of all that is hurting in my personal archive - determined to not wallow but move ahead, kinder, stronger, ready for more. 

Poetry, the noble form of prayer, helps a lot too. Here's one of my favorite heartache poems, by the grand lover of soul, Rumi: 

The Guest House 

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. 

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. 

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. 

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent 

as a guide from beyond.

I'm on PBS's short list of NYC’s Hippest Rabbis for the High Holidays. Ha.


Check it out: Too Cool for Shul?: High Holidays with NYC's Hippest Rabbis: 

channel 13's metrofocus on the high-holidays

Sunday, September 25, 2011




Attention shoppers: ready for the holidays? It's customary to start the new year with new stuff: a new flavor, fruit or delicacy for the first feast of the year, something new to wear, fresh flowers, gifts to those you love. Doesn't have to be expensive or fancy - it's about the intention. Less is more. 

But this type of holiday shopping doesn't have to be just about 'stuff'. It can also be an opportunity  for healing our relationship with consuming material goods and how bad that relationship sometimes becomes - excess, greed, impulse purchases that accumulate in the back of our closets, more stuff, more guilt.  Can I take this time to think about being a more conscious, responsible consumer?  Is there a spiritual lesson here waiting to be learned? Can this be part of our prepenting process? prep for the holiday with sacred intention - and a dash of sensible style? 

My oft-morose, quite brilliant second cousin Daphne Merkin may kill me for this, but I think that in her 
fabulous article in the NYT Styles Magazine   published yesterday,  she IS talking about the spiritual dimension of shopping. "The poetics of shopping  sing out a song of eternally replenished beginnings...," she writes, describing her summer in Jerusalem, not a shopping Mecca by any means. For Merkin, this provided an opportunity for reflection on what shopping does, or could mean, to the individual  in search of reflection and personal growth, even in unlikely contexts: 

  " I’ve always thought that the prospect of consumption brings a flash of hope to the grayness of the daily grind even more than actually buying something does, when the possibility of disappointment sets in even as you are handing over your credit card or cash to pay for your purchase. The idea of adding something new to your repertory of belongings — be it as tiny as a modish bottle opener or as large as a cashmere winter coat — seems to suggest by some process of osmosis a change bigger than itself: Life might open up with you in possession of this new item, or you yourself might be ever so slightly revised and adopt a whole new worldview."

So. shopping? I am going for a new white shirt, maybe a tie, new plants for the garden, treats for the kids, and lots of little organic honey jars as gifts for friends.  Plan ahead. Less IS more. more or less. enjoy. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011




happy yet?

The Bar Mitzvah Boy's grandma is crying this afternoon, mascara running, as he stands up to wear his late grandpa's prayer shawl:"I couldn't be happier!", she sobs. 
The boy, too, once his big performance is over and his tie is loosened is proud and pretty happy. 
funny thing, happiness. 
Can you remember the last time you were simply, capital H Happy? Happy enough to pause and say - yeah! I'm Happy. Not necessarily the big moments of life's transitions. Just a mundane moment of happiness?
 Z. tells me of the cupcake he stopped to buy today, after a gruelling morning, took a bite, and smiled: Happy. 

And I guess I'm thinking more about  happiness tonight perhaps because I'm so aware of it when it's absent. Have had a few of those days now, for reasons that make me think of how and when I'm happy or not and how much this has to do with the love I get - or don't - from others, and some others more than others. 

The goal is more happiness. 
But what does that even mean? 

Assuming that 'happily ever after' mostly works out in fairy tales, many smart people have researched the nature of happiness. just try googling 'happy.' (you'll find for instance, this quick how happy are you quiz. I scored 60%, and rather surprised myself.) One of my recent favorite books on the topic is  The Happiness Project with paradoxical tips as corny and correct as "One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself."

For many observant Jews, tonight's Slichot/Forgiveness service, often held at midnight, is the official start of the High Holidays. With Rosh Hashanna less than a week away,  the inner housekeeping is in full swing on day 23 of prepenting, now focusing on more of the big items on the 'make life better' list. The happiness factor is probably on most of our lists. Am I happy?  How happy have I been this past year? what makes me happy, and what doesn't? what factors in my life support or don't this elusive happiness thing, and what can I do about it this coming year?  

Tonight's a good night to think about this, maybe even a short writing exercise:

The short list: 5 things that make me happy and 5 things that make me unhappy.

The question: what's one thing I can change in my life that will help me be happier?

If not ever after, at least day by day? 

starting, let's say, now. 

Friday, September 23, 2011



Uptown at the UN they are still debating, secret talks and public
statements and no compromise. hard lines in the sand, sacred sand
hardened by too many empty words and too much fear and too much blood.
Why is compromise so hard?

Downtown, here, at home, a long painful night of conversation and hard
truths, and finally, at dawn, perhaps, a compromise.

Trying to be together, people or nations, to live, and thrive and grow
together while retaining a strong self - requires that the 'together'
is defined and redefined, again and again. Without losing sight of our
inner most needs - can we learn to also compromise - towards the
greater good that is larger than the sum of our parts?

It means to 'make a mutual promise', to 'promise together'. Why is it
do hard? What can help us negotiate our truths and needs better?

Is there one area in your life where conflict happens and compromise
could help?

I am entering this third Sabbath of this prepent period of
perfection-of-self with a promise, a com-promise, to try a together.
Outcome unknown, but intention solid.

 Uptown in the UN the conflict continues. Please insert your hopes and
prayers for more compassion, courage and compromise among our leaders
and people, and each of us, for the promise of a better future, peace,
dignity, freedom, for everybody already.


shabbat shalom.

Thursday, September 22, 2011



Angry reactions to Ahmadinejad speech at the UN today, angry reactions to Obama's yesterday, online and on the streets- rage against the occupation wars of the middle east and the occupation of wall street - there's an edge in NYC today, an angry buzz. It's like everyone's playing Angry Birds...

Anger comes up all the time for everyone, everywhere - no?  who doesn't need rage management? how I'm dealing  -or not -with my anger says a lot about how I live my life.  I'd like to deal with it better. Past mid way through this prepent journey, with the eyes on the prize of self improvement and honey cake not too far away, it's time to take out the big guns - the transgressions, public and private, that makes it to most people's  'top ten sins' list. Anger is on my list, for sure.

This morning on the subway, a heavy teen boy spreads over three seats with a big bag and legs wide open, refusing to budge, in a crowded car of cranky passengers. It's a long ride and I'm tired, and got reading to catch up on for class, and I ask him politely, but firmly, if he doesn't mind moving a bit as I sit down, and he moves an inch and glares at me, then looks away. I sit, barely, pissed off, and I almost say something nasty to this kid who is sitting so tight next to me I can actually feel his ribs breathing -  but check myself at the last minute, and let it go, mostly because I'm too tired to deal with it, but also because I pause to think - who knows what his story is, what's pissing him off so much that he needs to take this space in some way place where perhaps he, sort of, can? anyway. anger averted. Not for long. An hour later, in the middle of some email exchange on some crisis I send a quick acerbic note and immediately regret it. too angry, too quick? The indignation was, I think, justified, just the tone.. so easily slips to anger, which is so harder to manage as it snowballs on.

"everyone gets ticked off all the time but we just learned how to internalize and smile our way through it," says my Talmud teacher  (Mordy Schwartz)  in class today, "but sooner or later it's gotta be dealt with." We're reading a Talmudic fragment 

that deals with God's anger management problem and offers a solution that may just work for humans, too.

God, apparently, gets angry only once a day - for a nanosecond, early in the morning, but long enough to make things terrible for the world. Can this rage be curbed? There is a solution - hidden in a story - here's my super-short synopsis and loose adaptation: One year, during the terrible wars of Jerusalem, on Yom Kippur, the High Priest  entered the Holy of Holies of the Temple and saw God. "Bless me, my son", requests God, and the High Priest blesses God poetically,  providing us for posterity with this elegant prayer which is actually a four-steps method for dealing with, and reducing, anger:

1. Use your will to allow compassion to overcome anger  2. Acknowledge, with compassion, all your other voices and needs 3. Deal with others with more compassion 4. go beyond strict justice in your dealings with others.

The High Priest's blessing would become, according to the sages, God's very own prayer, because God, according to their mythic imagining, has very serious anger issues, all the time.  We, in the image of the divine, have the same fantastic challenge, and this fable is a reminder that the key to dealing with the anger is the balance of compassion, or kindness, or mercy, or plain good will.  

Anger is essential for change - but it can channeled creatively, powerfully - not just through kickboxing or heavy metal- and sometimes into public righteous indignation and protests for progress.

My friend Justin Wedes, a local activist now down on Wall Street is one fine example of someone channeling anger into peaceful rage - non violent, armed with compassion.Justin got arrested yesterday, was released  and released a powerful statement about free speech, anger free.  I'm not yet sure I understand all that's going on down there yet - but I do know passion when I see it. This CALL TO ARMS video gives one peek into what's happening on Wall Street right now.  

Angry?  Breath. Deal. etc.

May compassion overcome anger tomorrow in the UN, and in NYC, and everywhere, if only for a moment, right now.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011




It takes balls, and enough despair, to ask for money in the middle of a very crowded early morning commute subway train - and this guy had both. 7am on the uptown R train seemed way too early for these sort of social interactions - but here he was in front of me, holding a hat, looking me in the eye: 'got change?' 

I did. we smiled, he thanked and moved on, leaving me with a seemingly simple question that is anything but: got change?

Change is often a stressful factor in our life and we often face the other way, hoping it will just vanish. It rarely does. These days it's looking me in the face, like this guy did.

(I know - I'm once again guilty of taking an innocent phrase from a very specific context and taking it in a different direction. Call it Midrash.) On this twentieth day of a forty days journey towards greater focus, generosity of spirit, more clarity  and positive energy- this beggar/angel shows up to remind me of the core value of this process, these high and holy days: the only constant is change. got it?

Am I ready to change anything at all in my behaviour so that my life is lived better and with more integrity and wholeness? And let's say that I do 'get'  the scope of changes that are needed in order to improve  my life and those of the people I love and care for - how do I go about manifesting the kind of change that is sustainable and solid? 

The only way to make change happen and last, I think, is by being very specific, goal oriented, and disciplined. Also - baby steps, and peer support. 

(My main goal for this PREPENT period, now exactly at half-mark, remains better care of my body - through nutrition, exercise and careful time management. Midterm report? I'm still pescaterian, cultivated a good breakfast routine, cooking often at home, and feeling much better about overall nutrition and wellness. Baby steps and peer support continue to be essential ingredients. I'm not doing  so great on workouts and gym. damm. School hours have been too demanding. Soon I hope to balance better. The over all goal - change how I live so that I can be a better change agent in the world. Nothing less. thanks everyone for helping me do this by reading, responding and cheering on. Hope it's helpful)

One more specific note on the concept of change: In its most literal sense the 'change' that the guy asked about this morning was not a character trait. It was loose change, coins, money, currency, what's left over from big bills, the coins we use for parking meters and cups of coffee and street charity and piggy banks, or in this case - breakfast. The little things that amount to the big stuff. 

What do I do with my loose change? How often do I ignore those in my life who need help? (and with what justifications?)  how can the role of money in my minutia of every day life be treated with more dignity, utmost care, responsibility, kindness? 


Tonight's task: Gather up the loose coins from all over the house and get them ready for daily handout to those for whom it's no small matter. (save some quartes for laundry)  Or maybe it IS time for a new and improved piggy bank that will gather up resources towards bigger goals of worth?  Your call. 

Count your blessings, keep the change. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011



day 19/40

what's in my wallet? I found myself sitting this morning for a full
five minutes with an emptied out wallet, carefully inspecting the heap
and figuring out what of the contents need to go or require attention
and whether the wallet itself is perhaps on its way to the heap of
history.Just a tiny, private housekeeping moment, prompted by a
practical need, but, as I reflected on it later, quickly becoming part
of my PREPENT journey, an active meditation on the effectiveness of
the central finaincial tool that I use, and through that process - the
beginning of some attention and intention on the ways with which money
happens in my life and between us all and how this exchange, like my
wallet, could do a better job.

This focused wallet thinking happened, btw because of really
negligible practical problem, that nevertheless needs to be solved for
maximum elegance and efficiency in my life: This is it: as I now enter
my school building each morning at 7:45am I have to swiftly and almost
simultaneously 1. show the contents of my bag to the security officer
2. scan the id card over the scanner 3. hold on to my hot cup of tea.
and sometimes umbrella. It's a bit of a cumbersome dance, and since I
don't have another hand it requires creative adjustment. The
bottleneck is, I think, my wallet - where the ID card is stored and
takes the longest to get out, wave, return. possible solution: better
wallet. One with those flaps that just pull out with id badges.

of course cleaning out your wallet is a spiritual exercise in
cleansing: in god we trust. there's work to be done here with regard
to our financial dealings - and our fiscal containers. This too is
part of the clean-up crew for kippur.

o the spiritual/existential exercise which is basic personal banking!

what's in your wallet?

Monday, September 19, 2011



I got a lovely email this morning from Reed Hastings,  CEO of Netflix. It started with: "Dear Amichai, I messed up. I owe you an explanation."

I realize of course that millions of Netflix users got the same letter but I still took it personally, opened it, and read it. I think it had to do with his opening line - refreshingly honest. Or at least - compelling. 

Saying sorry and taking responsibility for blame is not easy and is sometimes super hard. I'm learning how to do it better from observing the kids. 

Day 18 of PREPENT wraps up a week of looking closely at the quality of relationships in my life: who is gone, and who is dear, how do i handle the social networks , whom to apologize to and where do I need to be kinder. To be on the safe side and err on the side of excess I recommend reaching out to all within the margin of doubt. If you THINK you need to have a check in with someone and apologize or request a conversation - assume you are not making it up. Just do it.  (And unless you are a CEO and your screw up involves every one of your clients - I wouldn't go with the mass email approach, FYI..) 

Saying sorry gets harder the longer one gets entrenched in one's position of right or wrong. Take Israel for example. Netanyahu's government continues, adamantly to refuse an apology to the Turkish government over the Flottila fiasco over a year ago. Diplomatic channels went public and sore over this issue in recent weeks. Turkish and Israeli politicians were quite clear over the issue: it's about honor and pride. Very Middle Eastern. Israel's refusal to admit that excess force was used and that other solutions could have saved lives is in line with the hard line that defines the Netanyahu/Lieberman regime. Politics aside - and I think it can sometimes be done - this is indicative of a deeply non Jewish and non humane way of dealing with one's past and one's errors. Sometimes, as a sign of strength - you gotta say 'sorry'. To refuse this is to refuse the ability to admit human nature, to block change, to dis-honor progress. 
This is my personal bias of course, but as the world gets ready for whatever happens at the UN tomorrow, hopefully in the favor of more freedom and dignity to the Palestinian people - Israel's stance is on the line, including its official refusal to recognize its role in the escalating violence and terror. 

The British have a soft way  of asking 'sorry'? when they think they misunderstood you. I like the fact that saying 'sorry' can begin with asking 'sorry' - of one's self - where am I responsible for the difficulty? what can I do to help? and go from there.  These days of Elul are all about 'slichot' - the art of saying 'sorry' - to yourself, loved ones, friends and foes alike. 

Always be like a reed, and never like a cedar, wrote the sages in the Talmud. Reeds bend better with the changing winds. Thank you Reed Hastings for this reminder. (and thanks for Neflix!)

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Day 16/40

September 17, 2011

My new school life regime requires a 6am rise 4 times a week, and it's quickly become the daily norm. I still set an alarm, but hardly need it anymore and wake up just before the harp starts to gently play on my iphone. (there's a legend about King David's harp - he would hang it up in his room at a particular spot and it would catch the wind and starts playing by itself at midnight, and David would get up and play the harp and compose the psalms.)

How we wake up and how we wake up others is one of those areas that could always use some more kindness and creativity. We don't talk about it much, but my guess is we could all trade ideas and tricks for turning rude awakenings into what ever the day brings into a better crafted daily launch into what's next. 

There's horrible ways to wake up. In the army they used to just turn on the fluorescent lights. I dated someone who would wake up early to AC/DC. people make odd choices when it comes to the art of crafting our jolt into awareness. 

I may be making more of this than is required, but: What kind of alarm sound you choose to maximise positive morning energy is one good thing to ponder during these days of PREPENT. Am I giving myself the best tools at my disposal to enable a healthy sleep and wake up routine? and - the really big question related to waking: what's the first thing I do first thing in the morning? the first few minutes? I am going  to observe for the few days ahead, note, reflect. (no judgement, but, check out: how long before digital device?)

For the spiritually minded, 'waking up' is about the soul's journey, from the dark nights of the soul to the lighter side: rising up into higher consciousness. In mystical Jewish circles this process is known as 'Hitorerut' - Waking Up - and though it is recommended for year round usage, it's on particular high gear this time of year.  At the heart of the High Holy Days is the invitation for the private  process of Teshuva - Return to Self. It is often referred to as an 'awaneking of the soul' - a private process of perfecting a more awake and aware existence. 

Pious Jews wake up even earlier on these days of Elul and gather to chant the Slichot - hymns of forgiveness.  When I walked by a synagogue yesterday I heard someone practicing the shofar. I paused to listen. If this is the time of waking up then the Shofar is the alarm clock - an ancient spiritual device, howling a hollow primal cry that sends a jolt of recognition through the body. wake up! Tomorrow - Sunday - my friends at the KIBBUTZ ART are launching a Shofar Mob all over the world - I'm taking the kids to Lincoln Center at 2:30pm, shofars in hand. Check out for a location near you: shofar flash mob

And back to the practical side: are you giving yourself enough time to wake up and get up in the morning? Gotta recalculate margins of morning emergence.

(Such as: Reb Roly invited me to join him in the Moroccan Syn. on the UWS at 6am any day of the week before Rosh Hashana - he says it's amazing - and I want to but that would mean that I have to set my electronic harp to 5am which is possible but really pious and super early. TBD. (or as the Talmud would say: Kashya: that's a hard one. TBD.)

Friday, September 16, 2011



Day 15/40

September 16, 2001

Yes. Please.  Delete contact. 

I threw away 1,000 business cards last night, accumulated over a decade in a big plastic folder. No offense - and I'm sure many of yours are in there, but seriously - I'm in touch with those I need to be in touch with and there's databases and address books and I have no room for this folder in my drawers and that's that. 

Next on the agenda - going through my email inbox and unsubscribing from some groups that I somehow once upon a time got on.  Delete. Make room for new.

PREPENT is great for taking stock of what matters most and what's gotta go. Fall cleaning. Finding focus means having to make hard decisions about choices that may not serve the new me as well as they served the old me, just this past year. Meat for instance, or a certain types of language, or some people who are no longer in my life for various reasons. Some passed on, some just slipped out of close proximity. I'm working on the list of the people I care for most and to whom I want to reach out and wish a good year - and by definition that means de-prioritizing others. It's harsh but true, and can and should be done quite privately as each of us begins the reckoning of who we are and how and why. Focus. Delete. Improve. 

It can be cruel. A former lover de-friended me and must have blocked me on FB and changed email addresses and I have no way of contact. It's a rare exception and I guess it's what has to happen so that our breakup, not that long ago, is complete. But I respect his choice and I get it and I wish him all the balance and joy and love in the world. We do a lot of different things so that our souls survives - and thrives. 

I'm getting ready for the third Sabbath of this prep period with fresh flowers and a cleaner home and two big bags of garbage full of past and one more trash can on my desktop - ready to go to where no files return.  


Shabbat Shalom. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

PREPENT5772 DAY FOURTEEN Digital Damage?



Anthony Wiener's wiener pic cost a career and now a tightly held
Democratic Congressional seat. It's just one sad example of a new set
of sins, crimes and social transgressions - the digital do not's.
Guilty? who's not?

Last night at dinner in some diner S. pulls out the iphone half way
through the veggie burger (still pescatarian two weeks later!) and
check out some email or txt or whatever and a full 90 seconds or
whatever later I tap, ungraciously, on the table: 'hello? do you
OK - admit it - have you ever gone to the bathroom in the middle of a
meal with someone just to check your emails?

It's like there's this whole new human category of social sins and
transgressions. When the sages of blessed memory debated the mechanics
of repentance in Talmudic tomes they paid a lot of attention to social
sins. One cannot stand before God on Yom Kippur having not done the
hard work first with the people in your life: make emends, ask for
forgiveness, reach out to those you love, embrace the other and
commit to being a better friend, a better person. People first, then
God. Peace begins within and at home. Wise words. But could they have
imagined the number of people in one's modern digital life and the
magnitude of the modern repentance project? How many people did any of
my grandparents communicate with on a regular basis when they were my
age, back in Poland and England, London in the mid 1930's? How many
people am I contact with now, daily, in one form, tweet, txt or
another? Just the thought of a 'contacts' inventory check is
This multi channeled multi social media lifestyle rocks - and this
very blog is happy proof - but it's also rocking the boat of our
already pretty fragile co-existence. Don't you think? A very partial
list of digital do-not's that have become part of our collective bad
behaviour: email addiction, tagging without asking, multi-tasking
while on a conference call, hitting 'reply all' with a really personal
note, cyber bullying, sending around youtube clips of kittens, messing
with privacy, piracy, just basic crass behaviour - please add more:

I'm taking on a 10 min. focus-thought on digital damage in my life and
if there's any intention or action required to improve.

and then I'm probably going to write it up on my iphone and blog it
out and check, too often, to read reactions, or:

Wednesday, September 14, 2011



"want to be alone?" I am sitting by myself at an empty table in the
quiet JTS cafeteria, early morning pre class, cup of tea, eyes closed.
I open them - R. one of my classmates smiles, indicating an empty seat
across from me. 'actually , yes, I do - do you mind? I need some quiet
time' - I surprise myself and maybe R., with the honesty. "no
problem". He sits elsewhere, I close my eyes for another two minutes
and smile thinking about my newest resolution - more intentional alone

Alone is not the same as lonely, but they are linked. I think that we
are so afraid of loneliness we hardly remember how to approach the art
of being alone.
Part of this PREPENT process for me is figuring out what I need to
improve in my life, what's gotta go, and if so - how. Day 13 is midway
on the quality of relationships in my life. And with all the balls of
obligation juggling in the air - family, home, school, work, friends -
and so little time to 'myself' - I want to focus on a healthy way of
cultivating my aloneness. I know that it is in these precious moments,
even a few, that I find my recharge and nourishment. Quality alone
time. Not easy in a wireless reality. But I have to try. I know I need
it. Even if it can sets up as an occasional sociopath.
On the subway this morning on the way to school I try: don't take out
the assigned reading, don't check emails or work on to do lists or
journal and take the time to just sit and watch and 'space out' (space
in?) I cheat half way through the R train uptown and check my inbox.
Then I repent, close my eyes for a bit, breath. When I get to school I
take those few more minutes in the cafeteria, and when I walk to class
I think - is this is the core of the experience called prayer?
Regardless of God/Faith - is the root of focus the finding/making of
alone time?

And then, surprise: The first class of the day,  Bible in Context, is
about the original alone-time.  Genesis 2, one of the Biblical
creation stories, sets Adam, a male,  alone in the Garden of Eden,
apparently miserable. The Creator notices that something is wrong and,
for the first time in history, identifies something in creation as
'not-good'. 'It's not good that man is alone,' says God, and tries to
pair Adam with various animals. No go. Then comes the first woman.
Success. Aloneness, or perhaps loneliness - the Hebrew word Levado
could mean either, is prevented perhaps, but it remains at the core of
this primal story -and at the core of our human experience.
Loneliness will come and go, more or less, for all of us. But can we
work on the art of being alone to deal with it - and other life
lessons - better?
How do I do this? How much alone time a week, a day is good to combat
the 'not good'? how much is enough?
One good tip comes from the popular 'Artist's Way' manual for creative
living where Julia Cameron suggests the weekly 'artist date' - going
alone on some inspiring solo time for the soul.
It's been a while.. (Does gym count??)
Want/need to be alone?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

PREPENT5772 Day 12 Can We Talk? tags: PREPENT 5772, Joan Rivers

If you see something - say something. But sometimes it's really hard.
I've been biting my lips for the last two days: Gotta say something
important to someone special and don't know if and how. It can rock
the boat. It's my truth about what is difficult for me in our
relationship but the words are hesitant. What to say? how? when? is it
wise to get it out and try and resolve or let it go and let time
deliver the solutions?

Can we talk? It's sometimes a terrifying question. when I get asked
this I know it will lead to a 'serious' conversation that my be
painful or difficult. When I ask it of others I try to sound as
disarming as possible, and smile, but sometimes it's hard and big
issues that have to rise to the surface over-rule smiling and unwisely
over-ride taking a deep breath and trusting in the outcome and the
honesty of heart.

But there are times when the question must be asked. This period of
PREPENT is one of those times, prompting us to ask of ourselves and of
the ones in our lives and deal with the difficult places that are mute
and stuck.

Regardless of this PREPENT process or perhaps encouraged by it and
with more attention to the need to process I am determined to launch
one such conversation today - stop biting my lips. As part of this
week's focus on my 'black lists' and the people in my life I want to
make amends with and improve our relationships - it's gotta be done.

Gulp. Breath. Ask: Can we talk?

It could be an email (maybe a txt msg? maybe FB? not sure) and it's
definitely better as a conversation. you know, TALK. eye to eye. 95%
of our communication is non verbal. This is esp. important at these
serious moments of conflict resolution.

And look - humor is ESSENTIAL here. Take Joan Rivers - the queen of
'Can we talk' - here she explains how she came up with the expression.

Can we talk?

Monday, September 12, 2011

PREPENT5772 Day ELEVEN Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Day 11/40

September 12, 2011

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Christians and Jews from Union Seminary and JTS gathered this afternoon inside a sun lit chapel on the Upper West Side to mark 9/12. 9/11 is already in our vocabulary, said JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen, who opened the ritual - It's time to work on 9/12 - the day after - the day of moving forward and healing the wounds.  We are our brothers' keepers. 

From back in time the hurt is hurling back at us - the first human question in the Bible - Am I My Brother's Keeper? Cain, the first killer, the first to be mortally wounded by lack of love, is watching the blood of his brother Abel spill on the earth. In response to God's question - what have you done - he recoils from responsibility - I'm no body's keeper. 

But yes, he is. And yes, we are.

And most of us, like Cain are finding it hard, so hard, to rise up to the challenge of responsibility for another, for the other, not just the ones we love - but also for the ones we don't. Often our actual siblings, flesh and blood, or our lovers or children or hurt friends. And more often it is the others of whom we know nothing at all, and we are not their keepers. But yes, we are. The stranger in the subway, the victim faraway, as much as our closest friend whom we have hurt, or our parents, or  ourselves. 

9/12 is the 11th day of this 40 days journey to more focus, responsibility, a better life. The first ten days were a lot about our inner angst and yearnings - where we are and who we are and how we greet and what we eat. But the greater part of this PREPENT process is in considering how we are in relationships with others in our lives. Who have we hurt this past year? Who has hurt us? Where do we carry wounds and rages, and what can we do about it? How can we heal? how we can begin a new year with a cleaner slate?

I start tonight to make the black lists. Those I have hurt this past year - start with the ones I remember. There will be more lists - of those at whom I am angry, like Cain, the ones with whom I would like an eye to eye moment of acknowledgment or maybe a hug, a letting go, a moving on. a truce. a reconciliation.  The lists of those to whom I need to say I'm sorry. The ones I ignored. 

Not all will happen, but it starts tonight.

I know the first letter I must write tonight, to one brother, beloved, hurt: I am his keeper. 

9/12 is already a special day of responsibility, a day of interdependence. Check out this brand new 4 min. short vid - a declaration of INTERDEPENDENCE, curated by my friends Tiffany Shlain and Ken Goldberg - premiered today: interdependence: the film

Are your your brother/sister's keeper? 

Start your list. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011



September 11, 2011

Who by fire? And who by water, or  by jumping,  or quietly, or not.
all the old questions came back today, no new answers. 

Over breakfast at a cafe on the tip of Long Island early this morning, we share stories of 'where were you  that day'.  On the flat screens live scenes of the ceremony downtown reveal the hypnotic immense pools of memory, and the ticker-tape roll-call of all the fallen that seems to never end. (one of us asks: how many died that day and since that day and still today, aftershocks and ripples of the terror?)
We talk, then argue about god and what it means  to look or not for 'higher power' in times of crisis; we drive away in silence and I am sad and keep hearing in my head Leonard Cohen's Who by fire
and I remember how, on Yom Kippur 2001, just days after, we sang this  as the sun was setting and kept on singing and it seemed to never end.  

but it did end. everything does. and that's what we are so are afraid of I think - the ends. and why these rituals are so helpful to help us deal with death.
Is that what memorials are there for? tools for helping us cope with the concept of endings? Yom Kippur -  a memorial in time, just as the World Trade Center  is a memorial in space. Each  of them  like other sacred times and places  invite us 'in' for a temporary meditation on the grand themes and usually avoided theme of life and death, a glimpse into our relative place on the  map of history, complete with the meaning and the meaninglessness that is  part of the total package.  

Imagine taking a walk into the grave yard, honoring your ancestors, friends, loved ones, and checking out your own grave. Memorials in time and place are meditations on death. 

Why visit the dead? enter a grave yard, fast, remember? Can these visits to the yards of graves help us better live a fuller life? I think that is the intention. All the liturgies and rituals of atonement, of these days or repenting are there to help us be more here while we are, and better at it. 

Today felt like a visit to the grave-yard. a check in on the big questions, life and death stuff. what is it all about. 
No big ideas, just sad and silent. a still small voice. listen to what is, think of what and who is not any more.

Who by fire? As I drove I started my mental list of  this past year's beloved and  departed - a list that was not as easy to compile as I would have thought and not yet completed. 

I didn't leave any stones on the grave yards, but I did leave a single wooden block, an ode to that day. (scroll down to read   'still small voice' my 9/11 tribute as part of Toby Kahn's exhibit at the Educational Alliance: 
embodied light 9/11 in 2011

9/11 /MY MAP
Still Small Voice
Amichai Lau-Lavie

(Presented as part of Embodied Light 9/11 in 2011)

There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of God; but God was not in the wind. After the wind—an earthquake; but God was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake—fire; but God was not in the fire. And after the fire—a still, small voice. 
(Kings I Chapter 19)

1.     I watch the 1st tower go down from my office window on the 11th floor.  I think of a mastectomy. Confusion.  Orders on the PA system to evacuate the building. I run down the stairs.


Location: 14th street and 8th avenue


2.     I try calling P. but the cell phone doesn’t work and neither do the payphones. People are running in all directions in the middle of 14th Street. I run home, worried. Where is P.? Did he go downtown today?  We parted ways only an hour or so earlier and the sky was so blue. Panic.  Tears.


Location:  14th street and 6th avenue


3.      A crowd gathered on the corner of 10th Street and 5th Avenue – all heads turned south. I stand there with them, looking, silent, when the 2nd Tower topples.  Shrieks. But louder: Still Small Voice.  People start running up the avenue, covered with ashes. I know that this is Kali’s work. The Hindu Goddess of Destruction, dear to me, whose worshippers smear the ashes of pyres on their entire bodies in awe of the power of demise. This, I know, and am terribly calmed, is a creation of Divine proportions.  God is here. Still Small Voice.



Location: 10th Street and 5th Avenue



4.     It’s 5pm, P. and I, and B. who ran to our house in her socks from her Tribeca apartment and a few other friends head out to Ground Zero to try and help. It starts to rain. They tell us to leave, they can’t search for survivors. Rage and helplessness.  I scream at the heavens – why the rain? But I remember Kali and know that the rain is as right as ravage and the voice, still, small, is silent within. In Union Square the first ‘missing’ posters go up.



Location: Union Square



5.     One year later, I sit in the back of a cab and we drive downtown and I notice the new Taxi map and the grey twins are gone and the map is different. The map is the city. But the city is not the map. 



Location: here, now. 



PREPENT5772/Day Nine: Marry Me?

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Day 9

September 10, 2011


Marry me? 

There was a wedding tonight, on the beach, under a full moon, and I remember meeting the couple the day after A. proposed to L. and how happy they were then and how happy now.  We danced all night.

Now I think about the big question – ‘the proposal’ - and the courage it takes to really ask it and the courage it takes to honestly reply – either yes or no or later or maybe.

And I’m thinking that to propose is not just about love or marriage. Asking someone to share a life, knowing full well that 50% or so of such unions fail is a vote of confidence in the possibility of hope and happiness and simple stuff like holding hands.  It’s a YES to the human project, no matter how messy.  It’s a YES to life, the will to risk, the courage to commit: To anything really– a partner, a project, a dream, a 40 day journey towards self.  On your knees in front of a piece of the puzzle that will make more sense of your life: aiming for a reality that is bigger than self –private and public, and rare and precious, and totally terrifying.

What if L. would have said no? 

The thing about this big question is that it isn’t just about love and our hope to not be alone – it’s also about our deepest fear of being left all alone. The more I think about human unions and experience and witness the successes and failures of all sorts of relationships the more I realize how at the core of it is the fear of loneliness and the desire to overcome this fear.   

How many proposals are rejected? Do most people propose when they’re really sure the other will say yes? Or is it often a crazy risky leap of faith? 

I’ve not yet asked and I haven’t asked either.  Yet? I haven’t really thought about it much, which is funny considering how many weddings I’ve officiated and the number of serious relationships I’ve been in. Maybe soon..


Maybe I’m getting less afraid of being alone, and of being alone together. 

In the context of this PREPENT journey to focus, clarity, a cleaner slate with which to start the new year and be happier and more helpful and kind and successful – I think today about the simple ways of courage,  the faith that comes with trust, and the last rays of the sun hitting the ocean as two lucky people look each other in the eye and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the journey continues.


What am I ready to propose tonight? What commitment do I take on with the same fervor and delicious excitement? Or- what proposal am I saying YES to today?

Propose something. Say Yes.

I'm glad L. did.

Friday, September 09, 2011

PREPENT5772/Day Eight: UNPLUG?


Day 8/40


September 9, 2011






I’m probably about 40 emails behind at the end of this ‘summer’s over week’, the important ones anyway, and now there’s homework, and deadlines, and friends in from out of town, and the week’s up, and lots of weekend plans, and crazy though this is I really am going to unplug and de-digitize for the full Sabbath.  Everything will wait.  Unplug.  Really?


Living without an Iphone, even for just 24 hours, is a huge pain in the ass and

Totally interrupts my flow of daily living, heavily digital.  It involves a lot of planning ahead and firm arrangements.  And, besides, I’m addicted.  Then there’s the payoff, true and tried:  slow down, focus, recharge.


Why is it so hard to unplug?  Why do so many of us find it so difficult to turn off phones or computers, even when we get the concept and love the idea, and tried it and love it?  Myself, of course, included. 

I was recently told that there’s even a ‘texting on shabbes’ crisis in some very Orthodox communities – mostly among the teens.


There’s a lot posted all the time somewhere online about what really is happening to our hyper digital minds in this virtual age– and what this is doing to our souls.


I think the Sabbath  - custom made to suit our needs - can help the soul survive the digital divide.


Seriously. There are tons of ways to figure out what unplugging means to each of us, and how we recreate, and plug-in to what this unplugging day is all about. My comrades in the Reboot factory came up with the super useful ten tip guide - the 

sabbath manifesto and with YELP! the rousing hymn to unplugging with a loving nod to Allen Ginsburg’s Howl: “Unplug! I’m with you to cut the umbilical cord of data. To disconnect from the info sphere. Unplug!”





Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

PREPENT5772/Day Seven: WHATS UP?

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Sep 8 2011


Whats up


Early morning walk to the subway and a stranger smiles at me and says good morning and I greet her back, and then without thinking pass it on to the next person coming up the subway to stairs: good morning, what’s up?


Random, casual, lovely communication.



There’s this Semitic demon called ‘Belial’, referenced in the Bible and usually translated as ‘worthless’ or ‘breaker of yoke’. The Dead Sea Scrolls names Belial: “An angel of hostility. All his dominions are in darkness, and his purpose is to bring about wickedness and guilt. All the spirits that are associated with him are but angels of destruction.”


Another way to translate Beli-Al is as ‘none-above’, or ‘the anti-up’. Yesterday’s demons are today’s disorders and moods.


The rabbis associated, and frowned upon, belial-like behavior that included the urge to worship idols, but maybe what Belial is about for us today is the situation in which we forget to look up – attempt to see the bigger picture of reality, the complex paradox, gain perspective, trust?


What’s up is one of them cool greetings, and I don’t know where its from but today I think about it  - as I use it - and I think about the art of looking up, the vast sky, the size of the universe, and humble and bigger than me.


On the subway, take off the headphones, look up and about. Catch people’s eyes. What’s up? Everything.

What’s up? Pause to ask the question and see what comes


Wednesday, September 07, 2011


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Day 6/40

Sep 7 2011


Fight or Flight?


G. is now 5 days smoking free.  Change happens. How?

Changing a habit or owning up to some behavior pattern that actually isn’t good for you anymore, no matter how big or small, takes a fight. G. writes me this morning about his quit smoking project and how this intense 40 day period helps ground it in real terms.  He writes, aware of the complexity:” It’s a war against myself and I intend to win.”

There are gentler  (and perhaps more effective?) methods and metaphors for coaxing ourselves into healthier living modalities and not beating ourselves up for the stupid stuff, no matter how awful. But the vocabulary of combat and warfare as spiritual steps to recovery is a familiar and ancient one, resonating in Jewish sources as well as in many other religious, mystical and psychological traditions.

Spiritual work as a holy war. 

The rabbis of the ancient east portray a similar outline to that of the modern cowboys of the wild west: there’s a good guy and a bad guy and they’re going to fight it out and eventually the good guys win.  In the rabbinic mapping of the human soul, the good guy is the Yetzer Hara our  “Good behavior button, while the bad guy (in the black shirt, and sexier) is the Yetzer Hara – “bad behavior button.”  The name of the game: How do we keep our fingers off whatever it is that pushes our ‘bad’ button?  How do we let our better behavior prevail?

The rabbis suggest a fight. G., not smoking, agrees.

One of these rabbis, Ben Lakish, knows what he is talking about: He was a gladiator in a Roman arena, or perhaps a mercenary solider, before changing his ways and becoming a renowned Jewish scholar.  He is advocating for war on self and provides a four step repentance strategy that was recorded in the Talmud,  “: ‘One should always agitate the good inclination against the bad inclination’ and if one wins, good, and if not – one should then engage in study, then pray, and then think about the day of death.” (BT, B’rachot 5)

For the record, it is possible that he is discussing the specific bad behavior that may happen when one is in bed at night – thus the recipe for avoidance. But context aside – he does suggest taking on a desirable change with the full gusto of confrontation: ‘agitate’ the source of your displeasure. 

“Your evil inclination is your biggest enemy”, said the Keeper of the Good Name – the Beshet, 1,500 years later the gladiator rabbi. “And if you fight this enemy you will not only triumph but also take captives – subjugate the forces of the yetzer hara towards the service of the Divine.” (Can you tell I’ve had two days in Rabbinical School and am privy to great texts already?)

I’m sure there are many modern and ancient wise ways of dealing with this fragile topic of personal change, central to this conversation, this public time.

For me, this year, the fight beckons. What is the enemy and how to go about it is becoming clearer each day.

I was a solider. I can do this.  Focus on careful nutrition, plan ahead, avoid distractions.  I hope G. can.

But to succeed I got to be super focused on what it is I am fighting and why. What’s my fight about?  Watch that bad behavior button closely and learn its ways. 

Fight of flight?

What’s your fight about? IS it a fight?


(And: do you have thoughts about this ‘fight’ metaphor? And any suggestions for questions that may arise during this process? I’d love some ideas. Thank you.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

PREPENT5772/Day Five: What's Working?

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Day 5/40

Sep 6 2011

What’s Working?

It’s been raining all day and the picnic was cancelled. The kids were disappointed but that’s life. Instead we made a mural: a big sheet of paper glued to the wall on which we drew and scribbled the best things we did this summer. There were ice cream cones, and sea waves, and a sea turtle and an airplane and lots of grapes, and kites.

“What about the time I fell off the scooter?” A., almost five, asks.

“Is it something you want to remember?”

She crinkles her nose and shakes her head. The scooter doesn’t make the mural.

This PREPENT season is a mural of sorts, taking stock of what a year has brought and what’s hot, and what’s not, and what’s there to work on and improve and perfect or forgive and forget.  

 It’s so easy and compelling to start with the list of the nays. What’s wrong – what’s ailing me, preventing me from that feeling-good sense of being powerful in the world? This process is based on the premise that there is wrong that may be turned right.


But even before that – what’s good? What is worthy of the mural of memories we want to honor, celebrate, keep, delight in?

No Pollyanna here, I take today to focus on the glass half full, or even more than that. I know what I want to work on and improve – nutrition and wellbeing and better care of self. But I’ll start with the list of top ten things I do RIGHT when it comes to this department in my life.

Top ten things I’m proud of and take responsibility for in my life. Ten replies to the question – what’s working?

There will be time for the list of what’s wrong next. Today, even while it’s raining on the remains of the picnic, we focus on the fun facts.

What’s working for you? Top ten.





Monday, September 05, 2011

PREPENT5772/Day Four: What's The Plan?

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Day 4/40

Sep 5 2011 

What’s the Plan?

Labor Day: a last stretch of leisure before the tans fade and the sleeves lengthen and the year begins for real.  Over brunch I explain this to S., an Israeli who just moved to NY and is getting accustomed to the American way of life, the calendar, the small details that make up reality.  And then we discuss the Jewish calendar, how aligned they are this year, and how today, on both calendars, is a combo kicker to get our ambitious self improvement plans ready and set into motion. Yesterday was the response to ‘are you ready’ and the leap into the ‘yes’. Today is about practical swimming, move by move towards the other side, the destiny, the desired outcome.  So, what’s the plan? 

Plainly speaking: To take the Elul/Prepent challenge seriously one’s got to have a concrete and doable change in mind.  Nothing too ambiguous or vague. Imagine those ‘before and after’ advertisements on late night TV or the back pages of newspapers. What’s the ‘before’ – as in ‘right now’ – and what would ‘after’ as in– ‘I did it!’ look like?

Several have written to me today with  ‘I’m in for the ride’ notes and ‘the water is great!’. I. wrote with a long note about how this process is not about God anymore and that kind of piety but simply our ability to be powerful in our convictions:

“The key struggles we face are distraction and loss of focus, laziness and over-comfortable apathy, and being self-centered to the point of solipsism. In Elul we need to genuinely find the other, invite him in, and rediscover ourselves in the other.”


Yes to finding the ‘other’. But before we do so – in a few days – I want to still focus on the ‘I’, even at the risk of too much self-centered attention.


The plan for change as I see it has four steps, none of them easy though all quite simple:

1.    Identity ONE area in your life that you want to improve on so that your life has more meaning, happiness, balance (private or public form of behavior, a habit, an addiction, a thought pattern, a default routine)

2.    Describe to yourself the ‘Before’ snapshot of what this ‘thing’ is and why you want to change it. What’s wrong?

3.    Imagine what success looks like 36 days from now. Even in small doses of baby steps towards a grander goal.

4.    Make a plan: Write down THREE achievable goals that will get the change to start manifesting in your life within this period. And commit.


My project this PREPENT period, as I already wrote in day one, is nutrition. I need to commit to serious changes in what and how I eat so that I am healthier, happier, in better shape AND in accordance with the new ways of life I have taken on, AKA rabbinical school.


The “Before” snapshot is a pluralistic and vaguely disciplined diet, composed of loosely liberal Jewish norms, low carbs and organic preference. The “after” is a disciplined and responsible dietary system that what is becoming more commonly known as ‘eco-kosher’.


My three (hope so) achievable goals are:

1.    I’m going Pescatrian – mostly veg. and fish only at home from now on. (Def. no meat – but I’m leaving myself the option of eating poultry out at some events/homes and will reconsider again. I’m not quite ready for 100% cold turkey. Ha ha)

2.    Pay attention to breakfast – my nutritional weak link. Come up with 3-4 sustainable options for super early wake up days – which will be most of them this year. Sigh.

3.    Go local: continue supporting the local green markets and cooking more at home. At least two dinners weekly.


This doesn’t mean I don’t have other Elul/Prepent tasks ahead. As I. wrote – there is the attention to the other. There are lists coming up of people I’ve hurt this past year and amends that have to be made. There are things to consider regarding my ethical behavior and spiritual, intellectual and emotional wellbeing. Not just what I take into my mouth but what comes out of it, etc. etc.


But for now, today, there is the PLAN. Simple steps to success.


What’s your plan?









Sunday, September 04, 2011


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Day 3/4

Sep 4 2011





Ready, Steady, Go!

And off they go splashing into the cold lake in the late afternoon sun on the last official Sunday of summer. Some dive, some plop into the water, one stands on the deck, hesitant: ‘but it’s cold…’

He’s finally lured in –‘take a deep breath, just count to three – and when you’re ready – jump!’



Count three and things happen. Change manifests or occurs. Somewhere between magic and math.


I don’t know where the ‘doing stuff on the count of three’ comes from, but it does seem to be a fairly universal formula for getting things started.  It soothes and transitions us into commitment to a task.


The third count gets you grounded, I guess, some rhythmic, mythic, human code that activates us and I’m sure many can google and explore. For me, today, on the third day of this 40 days journey to more focus, the third beat is the call to commitment.  Dive in. Am I really committed to this process, this private-public conversation about change?  Am I ready to walk this talk?  Take time each day to really focus on what change I want and how I will go about it?   Really do this?




And meanwhile, J. writes me today in response to the first two days of this blog and her love of it but also fatigue from dealing with life and not wanting to jump into this mikven – immersion pool of process.  Aware of the potential power of this process, how cold the water can be at first, she hesitates on the deck. 


Come on in at any time, or sit and splash with your feet; there are many ways to dive into this conversation. The first day was the launch, this third the leap of commitment. I trust in the process. I extend my hand to your invitation to dance, say yes to the challenge, and answer today’ are you ready to do it’ with a count of three and: