Saturday, August 31, 2013

25 Elul: Family

And the Lord God said, "It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him." - Genesis Chapter 2

Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the Lord, your God, is giving you. - Exodus Chapter 20

Hearken, my son, to the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the instruction of your mother - Proverbs Chapter 1

Family is important in Jewish life.  Jewish spirituality isn't mean to be done in isolation.  Communal prayer is important as is having many children (I didn't add that quote in for many reasons).  

Over time I have learned a family is what you make family.  Family doesn't have to be one mom, one dad and a few kids.  Families can be one mom or two moms or two dads or no kids or no related DNA.  Family is the group with who you feel connected with, with whom you share values and learn from.  You can argue with family and no matter what they will always love you and accept you.  

From my family to yours, may the New Year be filled with Joy, Good Health, Peace and Prosperity.  


Friday, August 30, 2013

30 for 30 Outfit Challenge - The mostly 30 Pieces

It took a few weeks to decide but I finally picked out my items for the 30 day challenge.  I choose to dress modestly, which means knees are mostly covered (appropriate length skirts are hard to find, I make do with what is available), elbows are covered and most of my collar bone (so shirts are probably not quite that, I am ok with that).  I also cover my hair.

Accessories and shoes are not included on the list.

So my items are:

  1. grey dress 
  2. grey skirt from Value Village (I love it)
  3. black/white diagonal skirt from H&M (You may recall how much I wanted a striped skirt)
  4. Brown corduroy skirt from Smart Set
  5. beige straight skirt from Reitmans
  6. Jean skirt from Value Village
  7. Chevron maxi skirt from Old Navy 
  8. Black Pencil skirt from Old Navy (they have since shortened the hemline...doh!)
  9. Basic black skirt
  10. Basic white blouse from Value Village
  11. Basic blue blouse from Value Village
  12. Chambray blouse from Old Navy
  13. Green Blouse I am determined to make work
  14. Red long sleeve top
  15. Purple/black gasp PATTERN blouse from Sears.
  16. Burgundy Corduroy Jacket
  17. Grey military jacket from Le Chateau
  18. Beige sweater thing - hand me down
  19. Yellow v-neck sweater
  20. grey button down sweater from The Gap 
  21. Blue sweater (Lord and Taylor from The Bay, CRAZY sale price.  As similar as I could find here)
  22. Burgundy T-shirt - Walmart
  23. Turquoise (what is that colour exactly?) T-shirt - Walmart
  24. Grey T-shirt - Suzy Shier
  25. Striped long sleeve shirt (which shockingly meets all the requirements and doesn't need a shell!) from Value Village
  26. Mustard long sleeve from Joe (Loblaws) (I like this colour and I want to experiment)
  27. Brown cross top

...the question is, do I add shells to the 30 (one white, one beige and one black) or pick 3 other things?


24 Elul: Infertility

Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had not borne to him, and she had an Egyptian handmaid named Hagar.  
And Sarai said to Abram, "Behold now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing; please come to my handmaid; perhaps I will be built up from her." And Abram hearkened to Sarai's voice.  - Genesis Chapter 16

And Isaac prayed to the Lord opposite his wife because she was barren, and the Lord accepted his prayer, and Rebecca his wife conceived. - Genesis Chapter 25

And Rachel saw that she had not borne [any children] to Jacob, and Rachel envied her sister, and she said to Jacob, "Give me children, and if not, I am dead." - Genesis Chapter 30

And she vowed a vow, and said: to Lord of Hosts, if You will look upon the affliction of Your bondswoman, and You will remember me, and You will not forget Your bondswoman and You will give Your bondswoman a man-child, and I shall give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head. -  (Hannah's Prayer) Shmuel 1 - Chapter 1

He seats the barren woman of the house as a happy mother of children. Hallelujah! - 

The short version of my infertility story is this:  it took two years to get pregnant.   I saw three different doctors, and the third doctor diagnosed my high TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels.  
I had one miscarriage.  Following the miscarriage (or chemical pregnancy if you will), I got pregnant again and thank G-d, gave birth to my beautiful son 42.5 weeks later.  

The emotional story is much longer.  For two years I felt lonely and heartbroken.  For two years, I took on Mitzvot, dropped Mitzvot, prayed and cried to the point I didn't know where I was spiritually.  The Rosh Hashanah before we conceived, I cried and prayed my shortest prayer ever.

I am grateful for my son.  We would like a second child, but after one year of trying, it is clear that infertility is still part of my life and body.   

I am not alone.  There are so many people who have and continue to struggle with infertility.  Please G-d remember them this Rosh Hashanah.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Building my Wardrobe - skirts

I ordered this skirt from Sears.  I think it is such a nice looking skirt.  It even comes with a red belt!  I have seen so many outfits with striped skirts.  I have a diagonally striped flare-y skirt I bought from H&M a few years ago.  I love it!  I figured it's time to update the stripy-ness.

My order came much quicker than I expected.  Yay!  I slipped into the skirt and...womp womp.  Stripes are NOT forgiving.  In a tight fitting skirt even less so.

I admit, I have a bit of a mommy tummy, and with the c-section, ehm, flab?  My tummy will not be so flat for a while.  I can wear some shaper device under the skirt, but still...there will be. Stripes.  Elongated.  Across my lower body.

It wasn't pretty.  I am disappointed.  I have many MANY black skirts.  I have tight fitting ones, and loose fitting ones, cotton ones and polyester ones (I guess it's polyester).  I would like a skirt that isn't all black.  I have a couple of brown skirts, and one with a pattern.  The pattern one is a fancier skirt for Shul (synagogue).

I would really like something I can wear with casual outfits.  I am short though, and as I have discovered with some prints, they make me look sooooo short.  I don't know if it is the shape of the skirt (flare versus tighter fitting) or the print itself (big print versus small).  Any ideas on what I should look for?

I'm 5'2"-ish.  My legs are short.  My torso is short.  I am just short.  But not in a petite way.

Let me know what you think or link up some options in your comments...thanks!

Bye Bye stripey skirt.  You won't be part of my closet.  :(  

23 Elul: King

For the kingship is the Lord's, and He rules over the nations. - Tehillim (Psalms) Chapter 22

On Rosh Hashanah, we reaffirm that G-d is our King.  I think I have always thought as G-d as the King of All Kings.  Since I was a child, I imagined Him high on His Throne keeping track of all our actions.  

It was only more recently that I realized despite G-d being a King, He is also accessible.  We can talk to Him all the time, and pray for what we need (or think we need).  

I think we have remind ourselves about that fact, He is King, but he is also available 24/7.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

22 Elul: Torah

Behold, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil, inasmuch as I command you this day to love the Lord, your God, to walk in His ways, and to observe His commandments, His statutes, and His ordinances, so that you will live and increase, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land to which you are coming to take possession of it. - Deuteronomy Chapter 30.  

I am so glad to be learning Torah as an adult.  I went to Jewish day school from kindergarten until grade 11 (high school in Quebec goes to grade 11) and Torah classes were painful and boring.  

In high school, Torah learning meant reading the text, then reading Rashi.  We'd never get any deeper into the text or pull out some valuable lessons.  

Since 2008, I've taken classes and listened to lectures on line.  The Torah has so many amazing lessons. We learn about kindness from Avraham, and humility and leadership from Moshe (Moses).  

I am looking forward to more Torah learning and more life lessons.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

30 for 30 Outfit Challenge: Statement Necklaces

I think most of the necklaces I own are really more "comment" and much less "statement".

I really like the bubble necklaces.  

I also ike the idea of making my own, and I found two relatively easy ones on Pinterest.  The upcycled tie and the washer/ribbon necklace.  The Pin also suggested using nail polish to jazz up the washers.  I'm not sure if either would qualify as statement, but I think they will make a nice addition to my very limited collection.  I just haven't found any I like in the stores here (yet).  

There is also organizing right now they are all jumbled in a box, and they obviously get tangled.  I really like this idea (also found on Pinterest).  

Do you have any statement jewelry?

21 Elul: Change

And see whether there is any vexatious way about me, and lead me in the way of the world.
Search me out, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.  -
Tehillim (Psalms) Chapter 139

This writing prompt is one of #blogElul,  set up by Ima on the Bima.  

I'm not good with change.  I let myself fall into a comfortable little rut, and if anything threatens it, I feel my body tense up.  Take, for example, my being unemployed.  The thought of actually leaving the house, my piles of laundry and dishes, freaks me out a little.  

I can't imagine why.  It isn't like I adore doing laundry or emptying the dishwasher.  I guess it boils down to a deeper fear of the unknown.  

In mountain biking, you can ride along a trail, and see what is ahead of you.  If the trail drops suddenly, it is actually good practice to check things out and look for the best line through.  Some people can adjust on the go, keep their weight where it needs to be on the bike...I take less risks that way.  

Oddly enough, I also kind of feel that fear when it comes to improving myself.  Who doesn't want to be a better person?  Of course I do.  These thoughts pop into my head...what if people start to expect more of me and I can't meet follow through?  What if I fail (or fall)?  

I remind myself that it is one day at a time, and one step at a time.  It's ok to make mistakes, and it's ok for people to expect more.  If I am never challenged, I will never improve.  Or change.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

20 Elul: Judge

Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his [her] place - Pirkei Avot

This writing prompt is one of the ones for #blogElul by Ima on the Bima

I am guilty of being too judgemental.  I try to avoid it, but as soon as I hear an opinion being formed in my head, bam!  I am pretty sure it's probably judgemental.

I remind myself of the quote above, and similar ones about giving people the benefit of the doubt.  My Yetzer HaRah thinks that the friend who doesn't call is being selfish, but I realize there could be a million reasons they don't call, given they have kids too.

I also remember learning that when we judge others harshly, G-d will take the same position with us.


Sunday, August 25, 2013

30 for 30 Outfit Challenge - Celebrity Style

I have been reading a lot about trying to figure out your own fashion style.  One of the recommendations to take a look at celebrities and see who and what you like.

I am finding the exercise challenging since most of them are tall and skinny, the outfits I might like are outfits not likely to be worn by me.  I have picked a few celebrities that I have liked:
  • Angelina Jolie - she wears it like she means it. 
  • Courteney Cox - She has this quiet confidence about her.  
  • Ivanka Trump - Her outfits on the Celebrity Apprentice always seem elegant and professional.  
  • Sandra Bullock has a few outfits where she seems professional yet relaxed and down to earth.  
  • Sarah Jessica Parker dresses with awesome flair.  I'm not sure I'd wear anything she does, but she does have great style (and hair).  
You can check out my Pinterest board for the Celebrity Styles for some of my favourites.   I definitely like the tighter fitting skirt and the professional look of my picks.  As a stay at home mom, I obviously don't need to dress so fancy, but I think a pencil skirt doesn't have to be dressed up, and can be casual too.  

Which celebrity styles do you like and why?  

19 Elul: Kindness

A kind man does himself good, but a cruel one troubles his own flesh. - Mishlei (Proverbs) Chapter 11

The highest form of wisdom is kindess - Talmud

I pray to G-d asking for His help so that I can be kind, compassionate and generous.  I know so many people who fit that description.  They seem to have an endless supply of energy and resources to give others. 

I feel guilty because I don't feel I have that kind of energy.  I am focusing it all at home.  I guess that means I get to practice kindness, compassion and generosity on a much smaller scale.  It will be worth it, if one day my son gets recognized as a Mensch.   

Friday, August 23, 2013

18 Elul: Gratitude

Give thanks to the God of heaven, for His kindness is eternal. - Tehillim (Psalm) Chapter 136

I am grateful for my son.

I am grateful for my amazing supportive husband. 

I am grateful for the community that has opened their hearts to us.

I am grateful for the house within walking distance to the Shul.

I am grateful for kind neighbours.

I am grateful for kind neighbours who gives my son hand-me-downs.

I am grateful for the Subaru car that drives amazing in any weather. 

I am grateful that on December 31, 2006, I did not die.  

I am grateful that we have a relationship with my parents again.  

I am grateful to the amazing Twitter friends who have been my support crew in rough times.  

I am grateful for the technology we have that allows us to learn and communicate in ways never seen before.  

I am grateful for french fries, pizza, ice cream and chocolate.  

I am grateful for the PJ Library books that come every month.  

I am grateful for how calm I feel after writing a list of things for which I am grateful.  

What are you grateful for today?  

17 Elul: Pomegranate

In a dream: “...seeing small ones portends business being as fruitful as a pomegranate, while seeing large ones means that business will multiply like pomegranates. If, in the dream, the pomegranates are split open, if the dreamer is a scholar he may hope to learn more Torah … while if he is unlearned, he can hope to perform mitzvot ….”

Another symbolic fruit we eat over Rosh Hashanah is the pomegranate.  The fruit is sweet and full of seeds, and we enjoy it on the holiday to represent the hopefully many Mitzvot we will do throughout the year.  

I have always had a hard time peeling pomegranates.  I end up making a mess, seeds everywhere.  I read to peel them in water, but I still end up with bits everywhere.  I think it is worth the effort.  They are a different kind of sweetness. 

Some people have a hard time with the seeds.  Do you crunch them?  I kind of swoosh them and swallow them whole.  I wonder what that says about personalities or how you see doing all these Mitzvahs...

I don't think I've ever made specific recipes with pomegranates.  I just eat them raw, on their own.  I guess after Rosh Hashanah I might add them to some salads.  How about you?  Any interesting recipes?  

by Graur Codrin from

Thursday, August 22, 2013

30 for 30 Outfit Challenge - What I am learning

I am having fun with this new hobby of mine, playing in my closet.  I am learning a bit about my own personal style and here are some random things:

  • I don't think I look good in emerald green or orange.  It could be I haven't found the right items.
  • I think I would describe my preferences in clothing as tailored, modern, maybe dramatic edgy some times. My current wardrobe may not be totally along this description, and I am finding that the pieces I bought that originally looked good in the store, may not have been my number one choice.  
  • I love belts.  Why have I waited this long??
  • I love pencil skirts.  I wish they came a smidge longer.  I may have to find a nice seamstress to add a bit of length to anything I buy because I really don't want to buy a layering dress.  
  • Matching up hair covering will be the biggest challenge for me.
  • I still have a hard time with patterns.  I think I'm drawn to simpler geometric patterns, stripes maybe dots, but flowery...just doesn't do it for me.  I like some animal print pieces, I've seen some nice outfits, I'm just not sure I could pull it off.  Plaid...I have a plaid shirt I love (doesn't fit anymore boo) and I think what I like about it, is the cut, it is more tailored.  
  • I have been recreating outfit ideas that I've Pinned.  I need to learn to figure out on my own too!
  • I need more accessories.  I've been living pretty much minimally, figuring what's the point?  I've noticed that when I put together an outfit including an accessory or two, I feel good and I feel put together.  I feel like it is worth it.  
  • I am loving yellow this season.  
  • I think doing the challenge will definitely help me figure out what will stay in my closet, what will need to be retired and what I would like to own in the future.  

Just over a week to go...starting to feel the pressure!  

16 Elul: Be

This is the day that the Lord made; we shall exult and rejoice thereon. 

Let your eyes look forward, and let your eyelids look straight ahead of you 

This post is one of the #blogElul writing prompts by Ima on the Bima

To be or not to be...

Am I ever fully in the moment?  When I am writing these posts, it is probably one of the few times I ever feel like I am full immersed in a single moment.  Every moment of my day, I am cooking, wondering how much I'll have to clean up later.  Cleaning up wondering how much more I have to do. Keeping my son from climbing furniture to prevent uncertain pains and falls.  I watch my son put together his puzzles, and I wonder if I should send my son to a pre-school.

Worrying.  Planning.  Thinking.  Over thinking.

Even today, when I was returning a dress to the store, the sales lady and the manager were both trying to tell me their policy (which they hadn't mentioned to me when I bought the dress).  I was angry.  I was straightforward when I told them, that if they didn't take the return, I would never shop there again.  They gave me the return.

But now I feel guilty.  Was I rude?  Was I just direct?  I'm not sure, because at the time, I knew I felt angry, I  was thinking that I was about to lose seventy dollars (I really made a mistake on that dress), and I thought I was about to be stuck with a dress that I didn't want.

Had I been fully present, I wouldn't have this feeling of guilt (or maybe I would) because I would remember details in fully clarity.

But as I type, I am fully present.  I feel my fingers touching the keys.  I hear them clicking away.  I am typing what comes into my mind and I'm only focused on this one task.

When I raced mountain bike, I was also fully present.  In mountain biking, if you are not present, you are going over the handlebars.  The presence I experienced with mountain biking was a bit more mindless (does that make sense?).  I was focused on the trail, but in the best of rides, I wasn't feeling or thinking.  Just doing.

I think being in the moment with my son should be different.  I should be taking in all the details and feelings.

I was working on some decorations for our Sukkah.  I noticed how impatient I was feeling.  I was putting each piece together, and painstakingly pulling apart the layers of plastic and it was just taking so long.  I thought, "no wonder I don't do crafts".  It isn't instant.  And maybe that's a good thing.  I thought to myself, "this will force me to practice patience".  My son would take the finished pieces and at first I thought that I didn't want him to destroy them, but then as I watched him line them up in a perfectly straight line, I just appreciated that moment.

I have been putting together a bit of a plan for the New Year (future post).  I want to do a craft a month and I am going to start a drawing journal.  My goal was to work on my creativity, but I think the bonus will be they will also help me be more present and work on patience.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

15 Elul: Apple

As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the sons; in his shade I delighted and sat, and his fruit was sweet to my palate. - Shir HaShirim Chapter 2

Like golden apples on silverplated vessels, is a word spoken with proper basis. - Proverbs Chapter 25

Wow, half way there!  An apple for making it this far :)

We eat apples dipped with honey on Rosh Hashanah, to symbolize the sweetness we hope the new year will bring.  Apples are crunchy and sweet, and maybe there is some connection on working hard to get to the sweetness of life?

I didn't think I would find any Torah quotes on apples, but I guess apples appear a few times in Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs).  Don't forget an apple a day keeps the doctor a way.  And, the apple of my eye.  Isn't there something about bringing an apple for teacher?  In case you were wondering, Adam and Even did not eat an apple and get evicted from the garden of Eden (I think it was an artist's rendition of the whole scene, and ever since...).

If I were to pick the prettiest of fruit, I think I probably would pick the apple.  It comes in so many colours and varieties.  It has a beautiful shine and the shape is appealing.

The apple is perfect snack food for our human hands.  It fits right in the palm of our hand.  It isn't too messy, and it's recycleable ;)

We can make some pretty tasty apple-based crisp, apple pie, apple cake, baked apples...

Apples come into season this time of year, which makes it an obvious choice for fruits in any kind of Rosh Hashanah ritual/tradition.

Image courtesy of creativedoxfoto/

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

30 for 30 Outfit Challenge - The BackGround

The 30 days of preparing for Elul posts is interrupted by a new challenge....

I am inspired by posts of lovely ladies using 15-30 items in their wardrobe, some including shoes and accessories, and building up a month worth of outfits, never wearing the same one twice.  As a stay at home mom and a Jewish woman who chooses to dress modestly, I end up wearing mostly t-shirts with shells underneath, a simple skirt and a hair covering.  Very little thought goes into any my outfits.

The truth is, most of the time I feel frumpy.  Every Shabbat I go through this crazy process of trying on a bunch of things in my closet and end up unhappy with the way I look.

I lack vision.  My best friend has it.  She can walk through a store, pick out a few things and put together an amazing set of outfits.  I want this vision.

I always made excuses basically repeating, I lack vision and creativity.  This (Jewish) year, that will hopefully change.

I need practice, and what better way to practice than to do a 30 for 30 outfits challenge.  (Wow, this will be the second 30 day adventure, I wonder what else I will do??).

I have gone through my closet and surfed Pinterest Pins that made use of similar pieces.  Feel free to check out my Building my Wardrobe board.  I am also adding some other inspiring outfits for future purchases.

Since I'm not meaning for my blog to become a fashion blog (Oh G-d, for whoever thinks THAT is a good idea!!) I will likely only post a week's worth of outfits at a time.

My goal during the challenge is to not wear  any outfit twice (which means I guess I better do a good job keeping track).  Since I am rebuilding my wardrobe, I can't promise I won't buy anything new (but it won't get used during the challenge).  There are a few things I would like to get, like black boots, brown boots, and I need accessories of various kinds.  Value Village is awesome (and cheap) and Ardene has a ton of accessories for super cheap.

My goals for taking on this challenge is to learn to jazz up my wardrobe and figure out my personal style (do I have any??).  I have been practicing wearing long lost items in my closet.  Some items were hand me downs (free is good), some items I bought because hey, it looked cool in the store.  I have learned that,  as much as I like orange, it may not be a good colour for me.  I am liking the use of belts on outfits, something I never thought I would ever do.

Since the weather is still warm, it is a bit challenging for me to pick the right 30 items, but I am practicing with a few pieces in my closet.  (Which is why I am aiming for the official start date to be September 1).

My 30 items will include shells, even though they  are a basic requirement as pretty much everything in stores doesn't cover what needs to be covered (elbows and collar bones).  You will notice that my bottoms are only skirts, which is part of the modest "uniform" (I will say I have chosen, as there are many observant women who wear pants and still dress modestly).

I just bought this super cute dress for the High Holidays.  I guess it's something like an a-line shape.  I LOVED it in the store and convinced myself to splurge.  When I put it on today, definitely had the "what was I thinking"moment.  I didn't feel comfortable in it.  I'm not sure if it's the wrong size, or the shape of the dress or the fact that it can't be belted.  Sadly, it's going to get returned.  Bonus, I will use the money to buy something else!  

September is filled with Jewish holidays and Shabbat days, which means 10 days of synagogue worthy outfits.  It will be a challenge to pick items (that I currently own) that can go casual or business formal.  

If you are looking for some inspiration, these ladies are the ones who inspired me:

There you have it, a bit of background on my sad wardrobe.  I have 12 more days to pick my 30 items, and acquire some missing elements.

image from

14 Elul: Starting

Remember not the first events, and do not meditate over early ones.  Behold I am making a new thing, now it will sprout, now you shall know it; yea I will make a road in the desert, rivers in the wasteland. - Yishayahu Chapter 43

And the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. - Genesis Chapter 12

This writing prompt is one from Ima on the Bima's Blog Elul prompts

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I didn't feel like Rosh Hashanah is really a new time of year.  That being said, it is a time to reset and restart.

Interestingly enough, I have started to think about my outside appearance (funny how I also mentioned changes in wardrobe in yesterday's post too).  I have chosen to dress modestly, I can't really say when I started, but here I am wearing only skirts, long sleeves and I started covering my hair a few months ago.

As a stay at home mom, my daily wardrobe consists almost entirely of t-shirts over shells and a skirt and some kind of hair covering.  I spend Shabbat mornings agonizing over the contents of my closet.  I have many pieces I owned before dressing modestly, and while I could throw a shell underneath many of them, I felt a little blah overall with any of my choices.

A while back, in my Pinterest wanderings, I came across travelling for two weeks using nothing but a carry on.  I then somehow discovered this site that describes ways to jazz up the wardrobe you already own.   I noticed there is very little out there relating to modest dress however.  After much searching I found Ally's website and more ideas.

I've started to apply these concepts and I feel like I've opened a whole new world of modest dress.   The last couple of days I didn't wear my t-shirt/shell combo and I felt...different.  Maybe because I dressed more like a grown up, maybe because I focused on making things a little prettier on the outside, the inside felt a bit prettier too.

I have also decided that in September I will attempt some form of 30 for 30 outfit challenge.  This of course closely coincides with Rosh Hashanah (which starts September 4th).

I originally had been trying to find some new outfits for the High Holidays.  I found one pretty dress that I fell in love with (rare) and I decided it would be my splurge (70$ at 50% off).  The rest of my outfits will come from my own closet, wearing them in ways inspired by the links above.  (As someone who didn't grow up with any kind of fashion sense, this is a major step for me).

I guess this year, I will work on the outside as well as on the inside.

Monday, August 19, 2013

13 Elul: (New) Year

The four new years are:
On the first of Nisan, the new year for the kings and for the festivals;
On the first of Elul, the new year for the tithing of animals;
Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon say, in the first of Tishrei
On the first of Tishrei, the new year for years, for the Sabbatical years and for the Jubilee years and for the planting and for the vegetables
On the first of Shevat, the new year for the trees, these are the words of the House of Shammai;
The House of Hillel says, on the fifteenth thereof.
- Talmud 

I find there are so many holidays in the Jewish calendar that I hardly think of Rosh Hashanah as a New Year.  Sometimes it just feels like just another holiday, another day.  I don't know that I feel there is anything new about it or that we are somehow starting a new cycle.  

I guess maybe that's life as a relatively new parent.  You just keep going.  Another day, another meal, another load of laundry.  Another holiday, another lesson, another reminder to work on the inside as well as the outside (although anyone with young kids knows that tending to the outside can be sorely lacking sometimes).  

The time between holidays is the time to think about the lessons the holidays are trying to teach us.  Each holiday is associated with energy of the season.  For example, the lights of Chanukah comes during the darkness of winter.  It seems odd that Rosh Hashanah that we ultimately celebrate as the New Year comes during the time when plants are starting to die off.  Leaves are changing colour, the tomato plants are starting to die off in my garden.  Yet Rosh Hashanah is associated with Teshuvah and starting over.  

Visibly, nothing seems new, except maybe the slight adjustment of the wardrobe with milder temperatures.  The newness then has to come from inside.  I guess I will have to choose that this Rosh Hashanah will be a true new start to a different direction, or at least an improved one.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

12 Elul: Sweetness and honey

Eat honey, my son, for it is good, and the honeycomb is sweet to your palate. - Proverbs Chapter 24

If you have found honey, eat enough for you, lest you become sated with it and vomit it. - 

A bit of random....

Shanah Tovah veMetukah - A Good and Sweet Year.  Sweet is delightful to the palate but in large doses can be overwhelming.  What does that mean in our wishes for a sweet year?  I think when things are too good, too wonderful, we can forget.  We forget the blessings come from G-d.  We forget to be grateful.  

In the first quote above, honey is referring to wisdom, and we should seek out and devour wisdom.  I think the balance between sweetness and non sweetness applies here too.  Too much wisdom and a person can become judgemental and self righteous.  

Israel is said to be the land flowing with milk and honey.  This is a description of the fertility of the land. (Although the honey here is referring to date honey).  

Honey has an interesting quality in that it doesn't spoil.  Honey comes from bees, an insect that isn't Kosher, yet honey itself is kosher to eat.  

I can't help but think about the number of bees dying because of overuse of certain pesticides.  When we see the golden honey on our table, we should also take the time to appreciate where it came from and remember that we need to treat our little planet with respect.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

11 Elul: Cheshbon HaNefesh

Be not hasty with your spirit to become wroth, for wrath lies in the bosom of fools. - 

My personal thought is that reflection is really more an overview while Cheshbon HaNefesh (Accounting of the Soul) is more specific.

I need to work on my patience.

I need to work on getting frazzled less, taking a breath, saying a prayer and THEN figure things out.

I need to work on being a better mother and wife.

I need to work on letting things go, and enjoying the moment.

I want to add more formal prayer to my day.  (Right now I'm just doing one small piece).

I want to go to Synagogue more often.

I want to do things that are inspiring to others, as other people have inspired me.  I don't want it for honour or awards.  I want to be able to give to the community as others have.  I see this as a responsibility.

I want to learn more.  I haven't listened to as many lectures as I had in the past.  I've signed up for Hebrew classes.  I plan on attending the weekly learning here and I am hoping to get a one on one learning partner as well.

I want to read more.  I seem to remember planning on reading a book a month.  I should get back on that.

I will continue to write in my gratitude journal.

I will continue to do prayers with my son.

I will continue to develop tradition in our family to make Holidays and Shabbat fun and memorable.

I'm sure there is more, but I think I have a good list going here to work on.

10 Elul: Reflection

My L-rd, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare Your praise. - Shmoneh Esrai Prayer

As in water, face answers to face, so is the heart of a man to a man. - Proverbs Chapter 27

Rabbi [Judah HaNassi] would say: Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind. - Pirkei Avot Chapter 2

Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above from you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book                               - Pirkei Avot Chapter 2

Elul is all about reflection and thought.  I am thinking about my relationships with others and with G-d.    I am thinking about my personal and spiritual growth.  I am thinking about whether I feel I am a better person that last year.  I am thinking about the changes I need to make for the new year.  I'm thinking about making Elul a productive time so that Rosh Hashanah is meaningful.

I listened to a lecture by Rabbi Ginsburg and he said something that I found amazing.  He spoke about the line we say as we start the Shmonei Esreh (the first quote above).  In Hebrew, the word for lips, Sfataim, also refers to limits.  We are asking G-d as we start the prayer, to remove the things that limit us so that we can do His work.

I hope G-d will help me to do what I need to do this Elul and help me live up to my potential.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

9 Elul: Charity

Hillel says, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? 
If not now, when?" Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14

"Tzedakah and acts of kindness are the equivalent of all the mitzvot of the Torah" – Jerusalem Talmud

For a long time, I had a hard time giving Tzedakah (charity).  It wasn't that I didn't want to be generous or not part with my hard earned cash.  I felt more untrusting.  Everyone had their hand out and I felt suspicious.  (I know the reasons why, but it is too personal to put in a public blog).  I remember one fundraiser, an indoor cycling event, there was a hefty registration fee.  It just seemed that this fundraiser was raising money for the event to run rather than for the particular organization that needed the help.  

When I started on this spiritual journey and I learned more about Tzedakah, I forced myself to write checks to organizations.  I still felt the twinge of suspicion, but I let it go.  

Rabbi Zechara Wallerstein said in one of his lectures that giving Tzedakah is a lifetime investment and the money is never lost.  Unlike losing money in the stock market, where the money is gone, Tzedakah is forever.  This lesson spoke to me and guides my thoughts on giving.  

Often it's a matter of giving five or ten dollars, in ten years, will five or ten dollars matter to me?  Likely not, so why not give it to someone who needs it now.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

8 Elul: Prayer

 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You, Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer. - Psalms Chapter 19

Hearken, O Lord, to my voice [which] I call out, and be gracious to me and answer me. - 

When my husband and I were trying to conceive, I prayed constantly.  I said Psalms.  I read the prayer for a child from my Siddur (prayer book).  I used my own words.  I begged G-d for a child.   I could think of a million reasons and I shared them all with G-d.  

Rosh Hashanah 2011,  the Rabbi based his sermon, based on the story of Chanah (from whom we learn how we should be praying) and started with the following words:  "unless you know the pain of infertility...".  I felt hot tears streaming down my face.  I don't remember much of what he said after that, I just felt my heart broken.  When the services continued, I covered my face with the Siddur and the only words I had left for G-d was "Please".  There were no other words, just "Please".  


This past May, as I leaned against the stones of the Kotel (Western Wall), I prayed and started to cry, and the experience felt like I was crying in my Father's Arms.  


Every night I do prayer time with my son.  My son and I recite the Shemah and I pray to G-d, admittedly with a list of requests and a list of thank you's.  I feel the connection every night, it's a holy time and one day my son will also speak to G-d in his own way.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

7 Elul: Shofar

Fortunate is the people that know the blasting of the shofar; O Lord, 
may they walk in the light of Your countenance. - Psalm Chapter 89

This article on points out that in the above quote from Psalms, it doesn't say for people to hear the blast of the shofar, but to know it.  This implies there has to be some kind of thought process once we hear the sound of the shofar.  It isn't meant to be enjoyed like music, it is meant as a call to action.  I realized that I haven't felt any kind of connection to the sound of the Shofar because I've only thought of it as a sound, and especially since the birth of my son, the sound is something to rush through.

I haven't forgotten about a lecture I listened to by Lori Palatnik about the sound of the Torah.  I even took notes and I kept the piece of paper, a list of ten things to think about during the Shofar blasts.  This year, maybe, I'll try to keep a few of them in mind.

Here they are (this is by Lori Palatnik):

  1. I want my life to be aligned with your vision
  2. I want to recognize all the blessings in my life
  3. I want to transcend my greatest obstacles to fulfill Your vision for me. 
  4. I want to a walking expression of Your Divine Values
  5. I want all my resources from the coming year to be dedicated to your vision for me
  6. I want to trust that You will always take care of me
  7. I want the world to discover the truth and vision of living according Your vision
  8. I wan to make You King by living myself according to Your plan
  9. I want to be connected to You as the source of live
  10. I resolve that his moment is the dawn of a new era in my life for the good. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

6 Elul: Synagogue

Do not separate yourself from the community - Pirkei Avot

I decided to add this topic as a writing prompt for Elul since we spend so much time in Synagogue over the High Holidays.

I am a member of a Modern Orthodox synagogue.  When I started this spiritual journey, I considered that other Jewish venues may be more open to my situation, but it was the Orthodox tradition that spoke to me.

Overall, everyone at the synagogue has been very nice to me and to my non Jewish husband.  When there was a special meal that required tickets, the receptionist very happily charged my husband the member rate even though he isn't a member (I'm not even sure he would ever be considered one anyway).

I have had some very positive experiences at Shul (synagogue).  One Shabbat, there was a massive Bar Mitzvah lunch for the congregation.  I was hoping to stay for the lunch, but my son was clearly ready for a nap.  As I was walking out the door, the Rabbi's wife encouraged me to stay for the Shabbat lunch or at the very least grab some food.  I paced with the stroller for a little while before everyone was seated and I managed to get my son to nap.  I enjoyed a beautiful lunch all because the Rabbi's wife asked me to stay.

This year though, when the Synagogue renewal form came in, I struggled with the decision to renew.    There are some issues of the Shul that kind of bother me.  As someone in an interfaith family, I don't expect an orthodox shul to accept my husband as a member.  I get that.  What I didn't get is that when my son was born, they only wish me Mazel Tov in the newsletter.  Couldn't they have said Mazel Tov to Hannah and her husband...spouse...partner...anything?

I keep wondering what will happen for my son's bar mitzvah.  Will my husband be required to stand at the back of the room?  Will he not be acknowledged at all during the service?

I brought up my concerns to a couple of very close friends whom I also consider mentors (one is a member, one isn't).  One friend made a passionate case on how despite the issues of the Shul, we need to support it as a community, because one day, G-d forbid, it may not be there.  She also encouraged me to try to be more active in Synagogue life.  Volunteer for an event, or participate in Challah baking and let people get to know me better.  She also sent me the following article from OU.

These two points from the article is what brought it together for me:

  • Membership “gets you” the opportunity to get involved. It allows you to serve on a committee, organize an event, sponsor a kiddush for a simcha or a shalosh seudot for a yahrtzeit so that you can share these events with your community (aka your fellow members).
  • Membership is taking ownership and responsibility for the futur

I sent in my check and my membership form and signed up for Rosh Hashanah challah baking.  I decided to accept the challenge that my friend (ultimately G-d) has set before me.  I will make an effort to go to Shul at least once a month with my son.  I will also make an effort to volunteer for a project or event at the Shul.  

I will work this year on finding my place in the Shul and in the community.