Finishing Four Years

4 yearsAs Melissa mentioned, she and I were at an event where we got to talk to several rebbetzins in the field. As we sat around the table, I realized, possibly for the first time, that our time as students is ending. Real life is just around the corner.

The rebbetzins spoke about their journeys – the first congregations, where they met their husbands. Most knew already that their husbands were rabbis – unlike us, who came to it already in the relationship. But R graduates in a few short weeks, and we already know where we’ll be next year (more on that to come, I promise), and so my perspective has shifted. The questions about work-life balance aren’t theoretical, but will rapidly become practical.

It made me realize, also, how much time has passed since we started this journey to the rabbinate, and how different (or not) it looked from what I expected. From my computer in Chicago, I had no idea what to expect. I still don’t yet know the day-to-day realities of “rebbetzining” in a congregation. But I know a lot more than I knew then.

In the past four years:

  • I’ve started and finished a graduate school program in Non-Profit Management and Jewish Studies (thanks NYU!)
  • I’ve held several internships and job
  • R started rabbinical school, set to graduate in June
  • R started a master’s in Modern Jewish History at YU, set to graduate in two weeks
  • We haven’t moved anywhere, although the bookcases in the apartment are multiplying (they’ve doubled in the time we’ve been here!)
  • We’ve met amazing, wonderful, intelligent people that we’re honored to call colleagues and friends
  • Almost five months ago, after two years of struggling with infertility, I gave birth to our beautiful daughter. I’ll write more about that journey soon.

So much has happened, and yet, so much will happen in the next few months. R and I both feel like this is the year we become adults – parents and a new career direction. Life changes like this make me introspective, so I have sense that there will be more posts like this. I also have a whole set of posts languishing in drafts. Watch this space.

Reflections and Gratitude

As those of you who have been reading our blog for some time know, we have all had pretty winding journeys. While we haven’t been nearly as prolific as we once were, this blog has been a great source of support on these journeys, and its still an important part of our lives.

Recently, Jessica and I were sitting together (I should have taken a picture!) at a panel discussion with rebbetzins in the field. They spoke so beautifully and touched on many things we have thought about and discussed over the years, and it profoundly reminded me of just how blessed we are to have the community which this blog has generated.

I am eternally grateful to all of you for reading along and for reaching out. Even if no one was reading, I would still write because its how I like to deal with my world, but knowing you are reading encourages me to actually post my musings.

(I keep making plans to post more, and it keeps not happening, but hopefully soon I’ll find a balance again.)

Leading the Exodus

We read this past week about the moment at which three dynamic leaders stood at the edge of the sea, and how different their experiences were surrounding that moment. A mentor shared a bit about something she spoke about and it really made me think about those three leaders – Moshe, Miriam, and Nachshon.

Moshe leads the cause and then stops to pray when he feels he’s unsure of how to move forward – literally and figuratively.

Miriam packed her timbrel, inspired others to pack theirs, and was ready to celebrate the salvation she believed was coming.

Nachshon stepped right into the water and hoped the people would follow and God would provide – the ultimate display of faith.

These three leaders were all necessary, as are their leadership styles today.

We need people who are slow and deliberate and look for guidance along the way. We need people who are optimistic and ready to inspire others with their passion. We need people to boldly step out and take the first risks.

We need modern day leaders like these three to work in tandem to continue guiding Am Yisrael on our journey. It didn’t end when we exited Egypt or entered Eretz Yisrael, in fact it had only just begun.

The Cadence of Kaddish

I have been wanting to write about saying Kaddish for months now, but I always felt like I needed to tell a grand story, to find some way to encapsulate all the emotions and experiences in one cohesive post – and that was too daunting a task. However, this weekend, I had the honor of hearing four women speak who wrote about their experiences for Kaddish: Women’s Voices in addition to the co-editors, and I realized that vignettes are just as important and powerful. So I’d like to share just a few of the moments which stick out in my head the most, on both a personal and communal level.

Early on, I realized my Kaddish had a specific cadence, and that while I tried to match it to the other mourners, it always came out in this very specific way. After some reflection, I placed it – it was my grandfather’s cadence. I grew up sitting next to him in shul and listening to him say Kaddish “for the people who have no one to say it for them” on a consistent basis, and it must have imprinted in my mind.

I love that long after his death, I continue to find ways in which he continues to shape my life.

One Erev Shabat, I was at a shul that was not our regular place and the women’s section is a balcony. As mincha (the afternoon service) was ending, the man who was leading the tefilla (prayers) paused and looked around to see if anyone was saying Kaddish. When no man spoke the starting words, he moved on quickly and finished the tefillot with it being uttered at all. So while my husband who often said Kaddish for me in the days when I couldn’t make it to services myself (five weeks of modified bedrest and a newborn were a bit of a hindrance to that), could have said it for me so that it would be heard, he didn’t even realize until it was too late.

Another Erev Shabbat I was staying with friends who lived in an amazing yishuv in Gush Etzion. I had been told it would be ok for me to say Kaddish, but found myself standing in a community member’s kitchen, removed from the main tefilla in their living room by a wall, and unsure if I’d be heard when the time came. There were again no male mourners saying kaddish, but rather than skip it the leader just said it quickly himself and I said it along with him from my side of the wall. (Though it didn’t feel nice to me to say Kaddish so quickly, I was able to do so.) I noticed he slowed down the next few times and wondered if a man had joined him I couldn’t hear.

After davening, our host mentioned that a mutual friend had told the man leading to slow down because a woman was also there saying Kaddish. I never asked if he knew it was me, or he could just hear a voice – but either way, it was a simple act that was greatly appreciated. And as we walked up the hill, the leader approached us, asked me a few questions, and apologized for not noticing me. Another simple act that was greatly appreciated.

Not saying Kaddish the last month was extremely hard. And it sometimes continues to be. It gave me a concrete space and action to be present with my mourning and my loss, and for both my husband and I to reflect on my amazing mommie. There are still times that I start to say it and have to catch myself – this is no longer my ritual, no longer my place and space.

Without a doubt the most profound Kaddish experience, is this one.

Post by Melissa - Photo Copyright Yitz Woolf

Post by Melissa – Photo Copyright Yitz Woolf

Saying Kaddish for my mother, with the cadence of her father, at the brit of my son who was named for both of them.`




Its my birthday and I’ll blog if I want to

Post by Melissa

Post by Melissa

I’ve started to write a few blogs recently, but feel like its weird to just dive back in after my hiatus without saying hello and giving some closure. So, I figured what better day than my 32nd birthday to do just that!

I had a very difficult pregnancy, then a very intense labor and delivery, and then got to snuggle an adorable baby boy at the end of February. He is quite possibly the cutest giant tiny human on earth (and I’m not the only one who thinks so). At this point, I am planning on not posting his photo or many stories about him on the blog, though I do occasionally post it in semi-public places online, the blog is more public than I’m willing to make his life right now.

In June we left Israel as planned, just days before the kidnapping and the subsequent turmoil and war. It broke my heart to be in CA and not in Israel, but alas – it was what it was.

We mostly spent our summer in CA with my dad, learning Gemara, visiting people and places in San Diego, and getting ourselves reacclimated to life in America. After two years in Israel, it definitely took time to get used to customer service, not bagging our own groceries, and having to check for food being kosher.

Also this summer we had the unveiling of my mom’s tombstone and the whole family was together for that, which is always nice – though I hate it has to be for such sad reasons. We tried to balance the sadness of that by the joy of spending the time with the youngest member of the family and remembering the cycle of life.

We did take some time to sign our lease in NY and then visit our friends and family in Denver, reconnecting with a place that meant so much to us for so long. And we took some amazing family photos and new headshots (as seen above) with our beloved wedding photographer/friend.

Our first Shabbat in our new community was my mom’s first Yarthzeit and yesterday was my first real Yizkor, so I’m now in a new phase post-aveilut. I’m trying to embrace all the things which reminded me of her and were too hard to deal with last year as ways of honoring her memory in the coming years. (This includes recognizing and celebrating birthdays, hence my acknowledging that in this post.)


What now, you ask?

Well, we are finally living the dream.

D (who is now going by his Hebrew name, so shall hence forth be N as in Nachum) is now a first year student at Yeshivat Chovevi Torah (YCT).

I am also a first year student – at Yeshivat Mahara’t! (Surprise! Only not, right?)

When Jessica and I started this blog, N going to rabbinical school was the goal but it seemed far off, and then as life happened it kept getting pushed back – so its crazy to think that its finally happening. And that I’m doing it too.

Not surprisingly, having a high-needs baby and being in my first year at Yeshivat Mahara’t already keep my plate quite full. Yet, I find writing cathartic and good for processing my thoughts – so I’m hoping to post semi-frequently both here and on the JOFA blog, “The Torch,” but I make no promises on frequency or remembering to cross post the ones from JOFA.

I hope you all had a wonderful year, and a rejuvenating Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur. :)

Review: Talmudic Images

Post by Melissa

Post by Melissa

Anyone who has ever learned the Talmud, be it in daily practice of Daf Yomi or a single shiur, knows that the wisdom of our sages is vast and keeping track of the sages themselves is quite a task. This is where Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz comes to our rescue with Talmudic Images, one of the recently released books in The Steinsaltz Library from MAGGID, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

Rabbi Steinsaltz brings the knowledge only someone of his vast learning and teaching experience can to this book, as he chronicles the lives of thirteen of the most often cited sages from both the Tannaitic and Ammoraitic generations. He utilizes the Talmud to paint a picture of the lives of our sages, weaving together stories from different masechtot (volumes) and incorporating bits of history along the way. Having access to the bigger picture of their lives allows us to better understand their positions and approaches to the debates in which we see their names bandied about.

In addition to the fact sharing, Rabbi Steinsaltz elucidates on the reasons for each sage’s particular approach to halacha, based on the information he has pieced together about their lives.  These insights are truly eye opening for the reader, and allow for a much deeper comprehension of the nuances of the positions which are upheld by our greatest sages time and again.

After having completed the monumental task of translating and commenting on the entire Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz is in a unique space to be able to offer such comprehensive overview, while keeping it concise and interesting. He brings enough material on each sage to allow the reader to get a clear view of who they were and the historical context in which they lived, without being overwhelmed by too many details.

This book is not only an interesting read as a stand alone book, it is an essential reference (not to be confused with Rabbi Steinsaltz’s Talmud Reference Guide) for the casual and regular Talmud learner.

Personally, I am excited to be able to have this book in our collection for a lifetime of review, and intend to purchase Biblical Images – a similar piece about the people in TaNaCh, as well.


*Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this honest review, though I did receive a complimentary copy of the book. 

The First Day

Apparently the roller coaster of the pregnant avel continues after the pregnancy ends….


Today is my *first* Mother’s Day.

My first as a mother.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 3.06.51 PM

My first without my mother. 



I have been having anxiety about today for weeks – ever since the first “Mother’s Day is coming!” email arrived in my inbox. I cringed every time I deleted another one. I cried as I entered giveaways on Facebook. I smiled as I looked at the little guy in my arms.

I read this moving piece from my dear friend Esther and thought of all the ways I could honor my mommie. I had grand ideas of what to write and say and do. I thought of the things both big and small that we we used to do together and how to incorporate them into a special ceremonial remembrance.

Then last night I got a text from my dad that said in part “you had a great example of what to do, now just love your child like she did” and I realized that I honor her every day. Every time I tell my son I love him. I every time I snuggle him close. Every time he wraps his tiny little hand around her necklace. Every day, in every moment, just by being the mom which comes naturally after having such an amazing woman as mine.

I realized that I am lucky to have had such an amazing mommie, who without being here to celebrate my first Mother’s Day as an Eema, is no doubt with me in everything I do as a mom every day.