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.

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Stop and think…

Lately the web has been filled with a lot of negativity amongst Jews it just makes me sad.

As we prepare to receive the Torah together, all as one at Mount Sinai, lets take a moment to think about what really matters.  We are small people, and infighting does nothing positive for us in the big picture. If all of K’lal Yisrael could gather together to await Moshe not knowing what they were in for, surely we can find ways to have productive conversations to learn from one another rather than to turn to negativity when things get tough.

In times like these, I often think of these lyrics from Joan Osborne, circa 1995 (not Alanis Morissette though others may try to convince you)

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

What if God really was out there, on the internet, reading us all bashing each other instead of lifting each other up? I’m not one to presume to know what God wants or means, but I feel like its a pretty safe assumption based on things like “love your neighbor as yourself” and “you should take in the stranger among you” that Hashem is more interested in us living peacefully than arring over who is right on any given topic or action.

So I encourage us all to take a moment to think before we speak (or type) and ponder if we would say what we are about to if we knew Hashem was reading along.

Live and Love

This week, I was blindisghted when an integral part of my online world turned out to be a complete and utter fraud.  I suppose she was technically a troll, but because of how intrictate it all was, that just doesn’t seem adequate.  This woman (who I shall call Z for the sake of typing coherently), was accepted into our community with open arms and we all loved and supported her through the roller coaster that is life over the past three years.  When the news broke, we all felt like the earth had been ripped out from under us and sent us reeling and defensive into our real worlds.

I had the opportunity to process it a bit on my own and with some wonderful friends who helped me process it in a way which I felt was important to reflect upon on in greater detail.

We have to recognize that every single thing that happens has the potential to teach us a lesson, and while I could use a ton of cliches here none fit quite right.  At the end of the day, this was a horrible thing to experience, but we are still blessed to have the community and to be the warm and welcoming place it is which was likely part of the attraction for Z.  Also, we are incredibly blessed that while it took a serious emotional hardship, it was not also a financial or physical one.  Z never asked for financial support from any of us nor did she attempt to meet any of us in person.  So no matter how much our hearts may ache, they will heal in time and it truly could have gone very differently.

This translates into real life so easily though, right? How often do we open up our homes and lives to people who have just moved into a community – inviting in people who need a meal or place to stay briefly? As I have mentioned before, D and I do it often, in fact it is probably one of our favorite mitzvot. Our home, small is at may be, is always open to friends, friends of friends, and anyone in need.  I can only imagine that as a rabbinic couple this will increase – putting us in danger of being more physically at risk if something like this should happen in our “real life.”

Post by Melissa

What I realize though, is that it doesn’t matter.   We live and love, and while that comes with the risk of getting hurt in the process – it is who we are and we will continue to do it.  I will be the same open, warm, real person in my virtual and physical communities, because to do anything less would be awkward. I live a life of integrity (or at least do my best to) and that includes being the real Melissa all the time.  I am happy to have made the friendships and connections which being this way have allowed, and I cannot imagine my life any other way.  So trolls or no trolls, heartache or not – I am still here with open arms and moving forward as I did before.  I hope you continue with me along this journey and that we don’t have to circle back to this topic in the future.

Falling in love….

Post by Melissa

This past week, I had the opportunity to house-sit for a close friend who lives in a different neighborhood than D and me.  Within just a few miles of her house are synagogues of every denomination, as well as the Federation, JCC, kosher restaurants, mikvah, and nice parks.  Basically, everything I could want out of life.  Over the course of this week, and especially Shabbat I found myself falling in love time and again.

The first time was early in the week when I learned just how lovely it is to walk to work every day.  I was living about a mile and a half from my office, and even on the bitter cold mornings it was a lively walk and it really jump-started my day. I fell in love with walking to work.

A few days later there was a panel discussion I was interested in hearing.  It featured 6 local Rabbi’s speaking about a semi-controversial topic of inclusion (which I do not want to get into in this post) which was really interesting to me.  Being in this other neighborhood in the evening, I would normally not have been able to attend, however since I was house-sitting I could.  It was so wonderful to meet a friend and walk to and from the event together.  The same day I learned that a rabbi I admire would be speaking about his work at Seudah Shlishit that Shabbat. Luckily, I was already up on the right side of town so I was able to go! It was way too short of notice for me to have made plans to be here, but since I already was – I was good to go.  I fell in love with being able to go to (read: walk to) dynamic events.

On Shabbat we had the opportunity to daven (pray) with two different Orthodox minyanim (prayer groups). Friday night services were dynamic.  They were led by a friend of ours* who has a beautiful voice and there was such kavanah (spirit) throughout the entire room.  From my side of the mechitza, I felt enveloped in the energy of the moment.  This was only more intense with the fuller room on Shabbat morning as I could hear the men’s voices drift over the partition.  I fell in love with the mechitza.  Though what I really fell in love with at that minyan was how strictly everyone takes the no talking policy and how focused they are on their own davening. The kids step outside to talk and women will simply exchange a quiet hello as they come in and go to the back of the room to begin their own davening.

We also had the opportunity to have wonderful meals and walks and talks with wonderful people.  While walking between our various friends places, we also got to say Shabbat Shalom to people we didn’t know who were also out and about, walking through the neighborhood.  There is just such a dynamic Shabbat observant community there, it was phenomenal.  Everyone is out and about, walking to and fro, and enjoying the holy day of rest with whomever they may encounter. I fell in love with the community.

I know this whole post sounds so idyllic, but coming from a great but small community which is very insular, it was a wonderful change. I left the house yesterday, and while it was nice to get home and sleep in my own bed without a wandering dog – I already miss it and am looking forward to the next time I get to spend time in the community.

*A Yid of No Despair in the World (so good to see you A!)

Standing firm in the sand

Post by Melissa

As a Jewish communal professional, my shul is no longer a safe space from the daily grind of work.  I get asked questions about events, people feel they can vent to me about what is going on, and worst of all – I hear the criticisms which I can do nothing about.

As a religious Jew, I need Shabbat to feel like Shabbat. So does my husband.  We wrestle with how to stand up to these people that I will not have these conversations on Shabbat/Chag, without offending them or reflecting poorly upon my agency.  I was told when I took the position that this would occur, I just doubted how fast and furious it would happen. I was definitely not prepared for it to come a mere 6 weeks into the position and on a topic which I didn’t have the authority to discuss in the way these congregants and community members.

While I watched my friends on staff at Hillel and those who are Rabbis face the question of how to make a holiday a sacred space amidst the nature of working in the community – nothing could prepare me for living it myself.  I also know that as a Rebbetzin this will only amplify and that is honestly frightening to me.

As this is still new to me, I ask you dear reader – do you have any insights? What are your tried and true methods for separating the mundane from the holy where there is a line in the community’s sand?   How do you stand firm in the sand, while the tide flows around you?