Redefining Melissa

Over the past week, I have had a series of interactions and experiences which separately may not have done much, but strung together really made me stop and think.

Before diving into the meat of the matter, allow me to recap my subtly inspiring week. Monday the announcement was sent to my colleagues and our boards about my impending move to Israel, which allowed me to share it here and speak about it openly. | Tuesday I had my first learning session with my Partners in Torah chevruta (study buddy) and was thrilled to get to do some serious learning with a great woman. | Wednesday I started connecting about part-time job opportunities for while I am learning, was asked to study the halachot  (laws) of head covering with a friend who is interested in learning them, and had an amazing heart-to-heart with a friend while helping her set up for her son’s Bar Mitzvah. | Thursday I attended the first gala event for a local campus chabad and met my rebbetzin doppelgänger who gave a very inspiring speech about humility, where she asserted that in order to be humble we must embrace what we uniquely have to offer the world. At the same time, I was celebrating the recognition of a good friend, mentee, and future chevruta as the amazing young leader she is. | Over Shabbat, I found myself listening to my husband learning Pirkei Avot on the balcony with a friend (sorry D and A!) and when I finished my book, I turned to Inside Outside, rather than the next novel on my list.


Post by Melissa

So much of my identity has always been built around what I do, as opposed to who I really am.  I have let career goals define most of my adult life, and before then it was other activities I was involved in.  While these are all a part of who I am, none of them alone is me. Melissa is a dynamic person with many hats (literally and figuratively), and being able to transition amongst them and even discard ones that no longer represent where I am or where I’m going is ok, as is boxing them up and taking them down to try on periodically to see if it is time to put them back in rotation. Just as I have favorite hats and scarves because they are comfortable and steady reflection of me, so to do I need to push the boundaries and try something new once in a while.

The decision to learn in Israel was very difficult for me.  The idea of wearing the hat of a student without a degree at the end was extremely uncomfortable. I vacillated more times than I can count between getting a second masters degree (I already have an MSW), learning, volunteering, working, and every combination thereof for the two years we intend to be in Israel.  My close friends and family would ask “So, what’s the plan this week?” when we spoke, and knowing that I was changing my mind constantly.  In the end, I decided to focus on learning torah lishma (essentially, learning for the sake of learning) because it is a once in lifetime experience to learn like that in Israel.  And while I hope to have some part-time work, it is to make living more comfortable, rather than from an inexplicable need to define myself by a job.

So what did the above mentioned events of the week have to do with all of this? I found myself wanting to learn and grow and engage with my newest hat: student without a degree goal.  I am embracing this next step of my life in perfect alignment and timing.  It is as though making it public allowed me to shift and embrace it in a way I had previously been unable (or unwilling) to do. In allowing myself to make a decision and get excited about, it has permeated my life – intermingling with the components which were already present.

I am more than any one part of who I am.  I am a career oriented woman. I am an observant Jewish woman. I am a lifetime student. I am a blogger, a mentor, a relative, a wife, a future rebbetzin, and so much more.  I am all of these things, and yet none of these things.  While none of them completes me, they each add something to who I am. I am creating a new reality for myself, not defined by any one  piece of who I am, but looking to unite those things together. (I know that I mentioned on Monday that my new career goal embraces this type of blending, but it took a bit longer for it to become a part of my bigger picture.)

So while I have a bit of a road to go before I can really redefine rebbetzin, I’m excited that for the time being I can redefine myself instead.


Have no fear, Hashem is here

Post by Melissa

I love change. I accept that the only constant in life is change. I can sing “ch-ch-ch-changes” with the best of them.  But sometimes it is just too much too soon with too little mental preparation.  Thats how I felt throughout this very tumultuous week.  So going into Shabbat, I knew I had to let it go or the anger, insult, and fear that had dominated my life would win and the optimistic Mel would lose.

So, as I lit my candles I took an extra moment to get into the spirit. I prayed that I could find the light in Shabbat and gain a fresh perspective. I knew that I needed to shift over Shabbat, or my “fake it til you make it” was going to fail.

As I read the parsha during Shabbat morning services, three little words struck me “ehyeh asher ehyeh” which translates to “I will be what I will be.”  This is what Hashem says to Moshe when he asks how to tell the people of their interaction at the burning bush.  If that is good enough for Hashem,  it should be good enough for me.

Perhaps these changes are Hashem’s way of helping me overcome my struggle to find a work-life balance.  Perhaps it is a hand up in regaining my focus on the more important parts of my life, instead of only being focused on my career.  Perhaps it is a slight push to help me on my way to being the best future rebbetzin I can be.

Perhaps what is most important in life is to be able to say I will be what I will be and to sit back and watch it fall into place.  To give up the control and the need to know, and just take a seat on the journey that is life.  To trust that Hashem has a plan for me, and I have nothing to fear.

For now, all I know is that giving up and stepping back seems like the best option to be happy, so its what I’m going to have to do. Time to just hand it to Hashem – again.

Be the light

Post by Melissa

One of the joys of working for a Jewish organization is having lunch and learns about the holidays.  We had one before Chanukah which reshaped my entire celebration.

The second verse of the Torah says, “And the land was desolate and void and darkness was on the face of the deep.”  The Mishnah tells us that these four descriptions reflect the four great exiles of the Jewish people.  Desolate and void refers to the Babylonian and Persian exiles which run together just as the Hebrew phrase “tohu v’vohu “ they parallel.  These exiles were brief but very physical. Their end is celebrated by Purim. Darkness refers to the Grecian exile, which was a spiritually dark time in our history. Its end is celebrated by Chanukah.  Deep refers to the Roman exile we remain in today. (IYH, there will be a new holiday to celebrate its end too!)

While Purim has many mitzvot associated with it: mischloach manot, reading megillat Esther, giving tzedekah and having festive meals – Chanukah has just one: lighting the Chanukiah.

We have just one thing to do for these eight days:  To bring light into the darkness.

The chanukiah allows us to let our Judaism shine for all to see.  To take a moment year after year to remind ourselves that Judaism is a unique and wonderful life path.  To reflect upon how that makes us different from the masses.  To stand up and embrace that, rather than to blend in. To stand up and not assimilate, just as our ancestors the Maccabees did. After all, “a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle,” but when a candle burns out, light is lost.

This is what the holiday is all about, lighting for the sake of the light.  To add a little glimmer of hope and light into the world.  This year, I took time to appreciate the light and the fact that it alone was the focus of the holiday.  One whole week with just one small task each night to really commemorate this important moment in history.  Shining our light into the darkness that surrounds us.

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.

Specifically Jewish and Not

JPS Tanakh - Post by Jessica

I just finished my second week of class, and am entirely caught up in the whirlwind that is graduate school. Classes, readings and assignments are enough for a fulltime job, never mind meeting classmates, doing my internship or any kind of recreation activities. Still, it’s been a very good kind of busy, in that I love my classes, my classmates are extraordinary, and I feel confident that I made the right decision, if only I can keep up my momentum and keep going.

Because I’m doing the dual degree (an MPA in Public and Non-Profit Management and an MA in Jewish Studies), my course load this semester is three of the five Core Courses and one Jewish studies class. I spend more than three times as much time right now on the MPA courses than the MA courses, so the difference when I walk into the MA class is pretty stark. Not that it’s better or worse, just different. Part of the difference is that is it my smallest class this semester, but another is something that has been floating around my head for the last ten days or so.

It’s the difference between doing the MPA by itself and what it means to be doing the dual degree. It’s hard to say, since I’m only at the beginning, but each week, I step away from the hustle and bustle of microeconomics, statistics and introduction to management to consider the community organizational structures of the Jewish community. We’ll be going through history at a blistering pace, but it’s still something to spend a class talking about the rise and fall of Saul, David and Solomon. Granted, we’re more interested in the idea that this is what Jews say about their history than that these texts represent exactly what happened, but I’m not complaining. Twenty or so Jews discussing Jewish things for two hours a week, I’ll take any time. Especially when 8 of us go out to Israeli food after class and I get to know more of my amazing cohort.

Outside of that class though, I’m figuring out how steeped in the Jewish thing I want to be. For instance, in a class where we were given a choice of organization to discuss with a partner, I chose the government task force, versus the 92nd Street Y. I don’t know if people understand why I cover my hair (which is fine) but I know why and I think it makes me more conscious of my behavior in class and at school in general, which is definitely a good thing.

There will be inevitable conflation, as well. The times when I’m going to be more stressed out than many of my classmates because I’m travelling home for the holidays randomly or unable to do a lot of the homework on days when it seems like I should be able to, just because it happens to be Sukkot. I’ll face these head on – it’s a fact of life in any academic pursuit outside specifically Jewish institutions. Still, I am intensely grateful for this experience, everything that led me to this place, and excited for what the future will bring!

Be Called to Search

Post by Melissa

This past Friday I have the D’var Torah (literally word of Torah) at our monthly All-Staff meeting.  I was inspired as I awoke of what I wanted to address, wrote it while walking to work, and liked how it turned out.  So, I wanted to share it with you all 🙂


This week we celebrated Rosh Chodesh Elul – the month preceding Tishrei which brings us the Yamim Noraim.

Beginning on the second day of Elul and running right up to the day before Rosh Hashana we blow the shofar every morning (except on Shabbat).  The shofar is a loud and distinctive sound.  It calls to us in a way which we cannot ignore, nor mistake for anything else. It calls us to action.

Does everyone have the sound in their head? Ok, great – moving along.

Many drashot around this time highlight that the Hebrew letters which spell the word Elul – aleph, lamed, vav, lamed – are an acronym for the well known saying “ani l’dodi v’dodi li” commonly translated as “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” This is part of Shir Ha’shirim, which is a love poem said to be between Gd and the Jewish people.

I don’t want to go there though. There are lots of pieces around you can read if you want to on that.

There is something else about the word Elul which strikes me more.  In Aramaic, which was the colloquial language at the time when the months were likely named, Elul means search. So the month of Elul calls us to search.

But what does that really mean?  

On a personal level, I think we all have to decide for ourselves. We all know in our guts what we need to be searching for as we approach the new year – the hard part is to letourselves listen toour internal shofar and act accordingly.

I pray that this month as we begin out individual searches… {I concluded with stuff relevant only to my coworkers and not to the general public, so you get a new prayer below}


I pray that this month, as we begin our individual searches, we can come together as a collective Jewish people and move forward.  We can only do this by each acting in the best interests of the community and putting aside that which divides us in favor of what unites us.  I pray that this month brings comfort, closure, and healing to us all.  May we be guided to fulfilling and meaningful teshuva as we prepare for the new year.

be the change.

Tonight* I had the opportunity to listen to a very inspiring speaker. This woman was living an uninspired life devoid of Jewish connection. She had one project which led her to another and one day while reading the newspaper she had an aha moment. She realized she could no longer wait for someone else to do something. She challenged us to think of what moved us in our lives and what we could do to really effect change. She shared a quote which provides her with ongoing inspiration: “You are the someone, everyone else is waiting for.”

I have never heard a room with ~150 young adult Jews be so silent.

Post by Melissa

I’m still thinking of my thing but want to extend the challenge to all of our readers….

What stirs you at your core? What will it take for you to be the “someone” everyone else is waiting for?

*I was so moved and inspired in the moment, that I wrote this post from my BlackBerry on the way home and emailed it to myself to post. It reminds me of the quote in the photo which I have loved for many years and can only hope to execute half as well as those who have gone before me.