Dance in the Face of Hate

Get ready for dancing! We need it, don’t we? What other people besides the Jews have the audacious spirit to sing and dance in the face of hate and terrorism? This instinct to unite in song and dance contrasts starkly with Israel’s enemies’ crude compulsions. In case you haven’t heard about them, here’s a handy-dandy Hate Fest Round-Up:

GERMANY: The anti-Semitic genie left the bottle as Islamists and neo-Nazis (because birds of feather, etc, etc) united in Berlin and Frankfurt to protest, hurl stones at police officers, and denounce Jews as sub-human animals. [Monday, June 14]

UNITED STATES: Anti-Israel protesters in Seattle screamed anti-Israel slogans and blood libels, claiming Jews kill and eat gentile babies and drink their blood. (More ironic because Kashrut laws forbid Jews to eat any animal blood.) Their unbridled, anti-Semitic spectacle climaxed with a call to destroy the Jewish state, and demonstrated again that anti-Zionism is indeed just anti-Semitism repackaged. So to be clear, they accused Israel of genocide, but in the same breath called for the extermination of the Jewish state. Clearly their continuity person was out to lunch. [Monday, June 14]

No, this isn't in the Middle East. This is Paris, France.
No, this isn’t in the Middle East. This is Paris, France.

FRANCE: A peaceful protest in Paris turned violent when anti-Israel mobs chanting anti-Semitic slogans cornered 200 Jews in a synagogue and hurled stones at them. At least 3 Jews wound up in the hospital as a result.  [Sunday, June 13] This is one of a series of anti-Semitic attacks in France recently that include firebombings and stabbings.

UNITED STATES: Pro-Israel demonstrators in Boston were swarmed by anti-Israel protestors, told to “drop dead,”  and called “Jesus killers.” Some were physically assaulted. [Sunday, June 13]

UNITED STATES: A beautiful pro-Israel rally in Los Angeles turned ugly when four violent Muslims with sticks beat any Jews in their path before police intervened. [Sunday, June 13]

No, this isn't the Middle East, it's London, England.
No, this isn’t the Middle East, it’s London, England.

ENGLAND: Hundreds of anti-Israel demonstrators brought London traffic to a halt by swarming the streets, scaling a double-decker bus, and chanting slanderous accusations against Israel. [Saturday, June 12]

MOROCCO: A popular rabbi in Casablanca, Rabbi Moshe Ohayon was beaten on Shabbat on his way to Friday-night services. The Arab attacker said it was “revenge for Gaza” and committed the assault in broad daylight. Passersby did not heed the rabbi’s calls for help. The Rabbi’s nose and ribs were broken. [Friday, June 11]

AUSTRALIA: A former IDF soldier in Melbourne was attacked from behind, beaten and cut by a knife by several Arabs who called him a “Jewish dog.” [Thursday, June 10]

UNITED STATES: Hundreds of anti-Israel demonstrators in New York City turned their protest into an all-out hate fest by chanting genocidal threats against the Jews. [Thursday, June 10]

UNITED STATES: 300 anti-Israel protesters surrounded 30 peaceful, pro-Israel demonstrators in San Francisco, calling for another intifada and the destruction of the Jewish state.  [Monday, June 7]

AND MORE: Thousands in Japan, Malaysia, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Norway and Indonesia marched in solidarity with Hamas, burning Israeli flags along the way. A popular hashtag trending in anti-Israel circles is #HitlerWasRight.

Think there’s a growing harassment of Jews? Have we entered a time when freedom lovers exercising their freedom of speech and religion risk assault? Will this improve as Islamic-supremacists continue to topple regimes, seize power and weapons, silence dissidents, and populate the West? You decide.

In the face of hatred, the Jewish people sing of Hashem, unity and miracles and let their song drown out the vicious chants of their depraved enemies.

This hatred is what Israel faces. And yet, her people choose to dance. They dance on the front line. They dance at the rallies. They sing of Hashem, unity and miracles and let their song drown out the vicious chants of their depraved enemies.

There’s a lot of darkness out there. But we are the dancers, the singers, the light. So, let’s get to it, ’cause that’s what we do!

My New Favorite Video – IDF soldiers & Breslov Chassids Dance, Face Their Mission in High Spirits with Emunah (Faith)! ♥

Our Brave IDF Soldiers Sing Their Way to the Kotel

Even During War, IDF Soldiers Sing of Faith & Miracles

L.A. Pro-Israel Rally – No Incitement or Hate Speech Here, Only Love

A Beautiful People – We Sing and Dance to Silence Hate

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Jerusalem: There’s No Place Like Home

yom yerushalayim joyish

I’m headed to Israel this weekend. Eeeeee! I can hardly think about anything else. My countdown has begun.

I start my trip in Jerusalem, a city I was privileged to live in several years ago. Although spiritual, I’m not the most religious person you’ve ever met, particularly by Jerusalem standards. And honestly, when I imagined myself in Israel, I always thought I’d be in Tel Aviv with my tush in the Mediterranean as much as possible! But when it came time to go, I asked those who’d gone before me: what’s it like?

“Tel Aviv is amaaaaaaazing!” they’d gush, clearly rooting for that choice. “The beaches, the nightlife—it’s like the best of New York meets the best of Los Angeles.”

“Wow,” I’d reply, not really needing to be sold. “And Jerusalem? What’s it like?”

“Well…,” they’d ponder. “There’s no place like Jerusalem.”

I’d lived in New York. I’d lived in LA. So, much to my own surprise, I wound up in Jerusalem of gold.

Being in Jerusalem is like being in Hashem’s living room. You’re so close to Him, you can feel His heartbeat and along with it, the heartbeat of the Jewish people. It’s unexplainable, irrational, and exemplified by this story: A few years ago, I was a madricha (counselor) on a Birthright trip. I brought twenty-or-so 20-somethings to Israel for the first time. Though Jewish by birth, most of them were otherwise disconnected and non-practicing. The tour delighted them of course, who doesn’t love to travel? But then Friday night rolled around.

We were at the Kotel (the Wailing Wall or Western Wall) for Kabbalat Shabbat. As the sun set, Jews from around the world gathered to pray and sing and dance. They didn’t know each other or each other’s languages, but they knew the same songs and sang them together, arms around one another, stranger beside sabra, soldiers beside religious, Jews beside Jews. The reverence of the day combined with the passion of the songs and the thunder of the dance reached high and deep and beyond. The holiness was palpable.

Too soon, it was time to go. I stood at the back waiting for my group. One after another, the participants returned, their eyes brimming with tears. “I don’t know why I’m crying,” they said. “I just, I was there, and suddenly this!” For a surprisingly large number of them, that evening was the highlight of their trip and the most powerful experience of their lives to date. And it wasn’t because they had strong religious upbringings.

Israel speaks to our souls, and our souls respond.

Yesterday was Yom Yerushalayim or Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the reunification of the capital of Israel. Before the Six Day War, Jerusalem was split, and Jews were forbidden to access their holiest sites. Now under Israeli sovereignty all religions’ holy sites are protected and visitors of all denominations can visit and pray in peace. Incredible moments, like the one above, happen regularly. That’s the power of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is at the heart of Zionism, after all, Zion is the ancient name for Jerusalem. What is Zionism without Zion? What is the Torah without Jerusalem?  Jerusalem is mentioned 669 times in the Tanach (Hebrew bible), we pray facing Jerusalem, next year in Jerusalem! We break the glass on our wedding days to remember the temple in Jerusalem, and if I forget you, O’ Jerusalem, תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי…may my right hand lose its skill!

“Without Jerusalem, the land of Israel is as a body without a soul.”
— Elhanan Leib Lewinsky, Hebrew writer & Zionist leader

I am so grateful to have lived in and to be returning to Yerushalayim where the stones that witnessed history’s most epic events shine gold under its people Israel’s flags; to return to the heart of the Jewish people, and to spend time with Hashem in His home, our home. What’s better than going home?

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A Jewish Definition of Freedom

Image courtesy of Light Matters Studio
Image courtesy of Light Matters Studio

A contemporary definition of freedom, according to magazines and ads might be chocolate without consequences, bungee jumping, or abandoning work responsibilities for a trip to Mykonos.

If you ask the Kardashians, they would say true freedom is the ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want with whomever we want.

Pesach inspired a lot of “freedom” talk, but Judaism relates to freedom as an inside job. True freedom is the ability to choose who you will be in any situation. It’s the ability to behave differently from animals who have no choice but to react instinctively and to instead rise above impulsivity to live deliberately, consciously.

All of us have habits, beliefs and behaviors that happen automatically. Whether it’s blaming others, negative thinking, reaching for a cigarette, checking out, or procrastinating, these reactions or ways of interacting with life can feel beyond our control.

“This is the way I always do it.”
“I must be the best.”
“I must control everything and not be controlled by anything.”
“I must do it all myself.”
“I can’t help it, this is how I am.”

We put ourselves in bondage. We limit ourselves and shut ourselves off from the enormous abundance Hashem wants for us. Freedom is the ability to get out of the way and let Hashem in. It means rising above our impulses so that we are not slaves to animalistic desires, habits, impatience, the past, or fear.

This real freedom lives in the balance between initiative and partnership with Hashem. It empowers us to turn off the autopilot and steer, to lead our own lives. To choose:

“No, I won’t raise my voice.”
“Yes, I will ask for help.”
“Yes, I can change.”
“Now, I will begin.”
“I’m not alone. Hashem is my partner.”

Freedom does not only depend on external circumstances. Free is the man who is master of himself.

Watch out for the self-limiting story you or others have told you that keep you a slave. Freedom starts the moment you truly believe you can be free, the moment you walk into the unknown with faith, the moment you decide who you will be.

And this is holy work. It’s a great mitzvah for each of us to feel that we ourselves have personally left Egypt.

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The Untold Story of Passover

nachshon-joyish.gifNo one ever taught me the “behind the scenes” story of Passover at my Sunday school. The main theme of the Pesach tale was always freedom from slavery—as in, escaping from Pharaoh. But as explained in last week’s post, “Passover Made Personal,” relating to Pesach as a mere history lesson wastes our present day opportunity.

The energy of freedom used by our ancestors to escape slavery remains alive and available to us every year during Pesach. Leveraged properly, we can each escape our own Mitzrayims (Egypts)—aka: our own limiting beliefs and behaviors.

But perfunctory participation won’t render results. Earning the energy of freedom requires emunah, faith. Faith that once the Seder ends, we have all the strength and resources we need to realize our new selves. We learn this Passover lesson from the often-untold story of a fella named Nachshon.

See, thanks to Cecil B. DeMille, most of us imagine Moses raising his staff before the sea, and the water splitting obediently. But, that’s Hollywood magic. In truth, the hero of that part of our history was Nachshon.

The actual scene: The Israelites stood dead ended and terrified on the bank of the sea with the Egyptians hot on their tails. Doubts overwhelmed them. Maybe they couldn’t break free after all! But one among them, Nachshon had no doubts. He had emunah (faith) despite the circumstances, such emunah that he began walking straight into the water.

The water reached his knees, the others looked on. The waves lapped at his navel, he determinedly moved forward. Salt water got into his mouth, nevertheless he persisted. Only when the water passed his nostrils did the water part, allowing the Israelites to hurry through the sea and seal their free future. Nachshon’s faith in Hashem split the sea.

Once we say “Next Year in Jerusalem” at the conclusion of our Seder tonight, we too will be free. But whether or not slavery captures us again depends on our emunah. So, hold your nose and move it, friends! May we each become the hero of our own exodus story and walk forward into our lives with total emunah, forcing our seas to part, enabling miracles and forever securing our freedom. Chag Pesach Sameach!

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When Hashem’s Timeline Doesn’t Match Yours

“How wonderous are your deeds, Hashem.
All of them are done with wisdom.
The heavens tell of your glory.
And the earth is filled with your kindness.” -Tehillim
Art by Yochana Chavah Sandler

There are certain lessons that are particularly difficult to learn. One of the hardest ones for me is acceptance when Hashem’s timeline is different (sometimes dramatically different) than my own.

Example: I wanted my chosen career set by this age, the love of my life by that age, and my summer home in Israel by another age…and these important deadlines have passed.

Admittedly, I’m a big dreamer. Always have been. But never a magical thinker—I’ve also always been a fiercely hard worker (Thanks, Dad!), throwing myself toward my goals wholeheartedly. So, when that hard work doesn’t pay off in the way that I want, or in a way I can see at all, uncertainty rears its ugly head. It challenges my core belief system that hard work must pay off. Right?

Stepping back, I know it does pay off…however, not necessarily in the way I expect. That’s the rub. It will pay off, but 5 years later. It will pay off as I use those skills in an entirely different profession. But that effort and dedication will pay off. You just don’t know how or when. And that. Really. Sucks.

Emunah or faith means believing in what you can’t see. It means believing in what you just somehow know, sometimes in spite of physical evidence that suggests otherwise. Emunah is a choice. There is no challenge to believe when the proof can be written before you. The leap happens when you believe despite what is written before you.

However frustrating, confusing or maddening, the reality is that we don’t want a Gd whose every step we understand, who we can out-think. What good is that?

Moments of doubt build character. Who are you really? Show yourself. A visionary, an upstander, one who is true to his values come what may? Then, what will you do now? Shrink and choose the easy route because the fear is too intense? Or breathe and walk into the unknown remembering, “In the end, it’s all good. And if it’s not good, it’s not the end.”

“.בסוף~הכל טוב
.ואם זה לא טוב~זה לא הסוף”
“In the end it’s all good.
And if it’s not good, it’s not the end.”

At the crux of my conviction lays the idea that Hashem is good, and that the circumstances aren’t just for the good, but are actually for the best. This knowledge soothes me in the face of challengers like time.

Time scares me. I never have enough of it. It races ahead, I always want more, and I measure myself ruthlessly against it. But, underneath my moments of inner pandemonium, I do know it’s working. I do know that ha-kol b’seder. (Literally: it’s all in order.)

I don’t get to see the big picture in real time. That’s the bad news and the good news for the future is determined in the very moment I decide whether to quit, or persist with the emuna/faith that it’s all happening in the most harmonious way for everyone involved.

Today was a day where I didn’t understand Hashem’s process or timeline. Yet despite my frustration and impatience, I suspect I will one day look back and say, “Thank Gd.”

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Now Connecting: Tevye-Style

Sunrise, Sunset in two of my favorite places.
(Left, at my home. Right, in Tel Aviv, Israel.)

Every morning, I have a pow-wow with Hashem. We talk about anything, it’s all fair game. We’re close. I’m pretty sure my picture is on His fridge.

The idea of talking to Hashem in your own words, a Jewish practice known as hitbodedut (HEET-boh-deh-doot) first came across my path via the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Growing up, my parents took my brother and I to New York just about every year for a Broadway theater binge: 5 shows in 4 days. We saw Fiddler starring Topol as Tevye during one of these trips. I was 10 years old and the idea made sense to me.

Throughout the show, the character Tevye candidly converses with Hashem. He pours his heart out, questioning, praying, debating and wishing aloud, in his own words. A two-way street, He asks Hashem questions and listens for answers.

Tevye’s hitbodedut plays a central role in the show because it’s so quintessentially Jewish. One of the few religions in which man engages directly with Gd without an intermediary, Jews have nourished deep, personal, one-on-one relationships with Hashem for thousands of years.

You can see where this is going. I too chat with Hashem regularly, Tevye style, both during my morning connection and throughout the day, formally and informally, about matters big and small.

My hitbodedut shows up in different ways. Some days, I talk aloud (though, usually in a whisper). Other times, I speak silently in my head, the practice taking on a meditative quality. When my thoughts insist on wandering, I write in my journal, often posing questions, and asking Him to answer me through my pen.

Creating time and space for Hashem invites the infinite into the limited. It grants access to what was, what is and what will be. I’m regularly amazed at the insights and answers I receive. The line is always open.

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Purim, Pisces and Perspective

Purim = playing dress up. (My fave.)

The month of Adar (Pisces) = The Month of Happiness.

Together, it was a clear signal that now is the time to launch my first blog, centered around fabulous, Jewish living…according to me. Welcome to Joyish!

The perfect introductory post occurred to me the other day while listening to a class by one of my favorite teachers David Sacks. During his Purim lecture from last year, he shared the anecdote illustrated in my painting below. His story was perfect. Why? Because it very simply explains Judaism. From the questioning, to the humor, to the (all fishiness aside) depth.

Print available on Etsy.

We swim around like these little Pisces fish, la la la, wondering if Hashem exists. We wonder whether or not He’s paying attention and if He’s getting it right, all the while oblivious to the reality that we’re actually completely engulfed, swimming in a sea of Hashem. David shared this anecdote near Purim because the Jews really felt abandoned by Hashem and threatened by the Persian kings at the time. But, Hashem was there, both completely revealed and concealed at once.

That obvious-yet-obscure paradox remains. Not so much has changed, down to the threatening Persian kings! We still doubt and forget and need to be reminded that it’s all working fine. I do. But that’s what makes this a good story and a great opening context for Joyish. Holding onto this Purim perspective helps me swim more easily. I hope you’ll join me. The water’s just fine.

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