Shabbat Shuvah, 20th anniversary Terror Attack in the United States

Last night, I co-led Kabbalat Shabbat services at Temple Beth David of San Gabriel Valley with Cantor Orly Campbell. We tried to hold space for the spiritual meaning of both the Shabbat of Return in the midst of the High Holy Days and the twentieth anniversary of the terror attack on the United States.

Shabbat is not a time of mourning

Jewish tradition tells us to set aside our mourning on Shabbat. That the holiness of the day takes precedence over our personal grief. It is why we do not bury people on Shabbat (or any Jewish holiday). And it is why mourners are asked to leave their homes and attend services at synagogue.

Yet, even though we elevate Shabbat, we do not ignore the reality of death. The Mourner’s Kaddish is included in all Jewish services. Some holidays include a special service in remembrance of the dead, known as Yizkor. We make a point of remembering people on the anniversary of their death, their yarzheit. So, it is meaningful to hold space today to honor the anniversary of the passing of so many of our fellow citizens. 2,977 souls lost their lives that day. As Steve Buscemi elevated, we are approaching the same number losing their lives to cancer caused by helping to sort through the debris from those horrific events.

Attack on United States soil

One thing that can get lost in the discussion of the twenty years since that attack, is the fundamental reason for its significance: we were not in a major war and the United States was attacked by an enemy. While Pearl Harbor has its own place in the history of the U.S. officially entering the Second World War, that was a military target. The 9/11 terrorists were targeting the centers of American capitalism, military, and government. At no other time in our history have we come so close to seeing devastation to the symbols of our institutional coherence.

Flight 93 aimed at the White House. But the 40 brave passengers on board fought back and ultimately took down the plane in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Twenty years is a long time. I remember watching the World Trade Center Twin Towers burn and collapse on the Today Show. But the details are fuzzy. The Washington Post republished their coverage of the surreal day.

Not about a victim count

On Twitter, folks are quick to point out 656,318 Americans died from COVID-19, yet we have not united to tackle the pandemic. So why should the anniversary of people dying in a terrorist attack evoke more collective mourning than the deaths we are currently living through?

This is not only about the 2,977 people who lost their lives to terrorist attacks twenty years ago. This anniversary is about reflecting on the moment when our collective identity fundamentally shifted.

Remember Amalek

Deuteronomy 25:17 demands that Jews remember (zachor) Amalek, the one who attacked us from behind. It is elevated beyond its place in Parshat Ki Teitzei and is read again on Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat of Remembrance before Purim. Haman is described as a descendant of Amalek. The Hebrew Bible connects all of our enemies in the same clan of people.

This is why 9/11 is so important. It clarified for a generation who their enemy is: terrorists. Not simply people with different beliefs, who choose to make women second-class citizens and disparage representative democracy and free market capitalism. These people make it their mission to murder us and encourage individuals to instigate terrorist attacks on civilian targets throughout the world. These terrorists are Amalek.

Islamophobia and the War on Terror

In the past, I was quite reticent to fully acknowledge how life altering this attack was to the American spirit. It was hard to hold space for the depth of pain felt by the families of the victims. Instead, I turned my energy to fighting Islamophobia and challenging the War on Terror.

Ten years ago, I wrote a resolution for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, calling on Congress to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to bring the money home for the needs of our cities. It was the culmination of my activist career. I wrote the resolution in such a way that it was debated by the Metro Economies committee, rather than the International Affairs committee. The resolution became the lens through which the media covered the annual mayors’ meeting.

I chose to step aside from activism because having that as my core identity meant that I never stopped fighting. My goal has always been to help the world become a place that is open to the breadth of human experience and to prioritize life-affirming activities. Now, I tackle those issues from a spiritual perspective.

Honor Difference, Turn Inward, Challenge Amalek

This Shabbat Shuvah, this Ten Days of Return and Renewal, I choose to honor our differences. My Judaism is quite different from other people’s Judaism. I choose not to disparage them. Our disagreements are for the sake of Heaven. My core beliefs are distinct from Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, and countless other spiritual seekers. At the end of the day, my path is not about proclaiming that my way is the only way to be good and experience holiness. We each have a spark of the Divine within us. Our souls connect us across our differences.

My soul cries out for all that we’ve lost. I graduated college in 2000. I am one of the last people who did not experience terror during my childhood or formative years. My international relations courses at Wellesley College posited the end of history and the peaceful future of globalization.

I reflect on how difficult it is for me to physically be around other people. My fear of the Delta variant and my concern for the health of my unvaccinated children is more disorienting than collective memories of a terrorist attack.

Amalek: people motivated by evil intentions, still exist. My patriotism and love of the United States is built on my belief in representative democracy and our collective power to support human flourishing in our country and throughout the world. May we honor the souls around us and gird ourselves for the continuing fight.

Rosh HaShanah 5782: Allowing Grace to Transform Us

I am the rabbinic intern at Temple Beth David of the San Gabriel Valley and I had the honor of giving a sermon today, reflecting on my journey, God’s Grace, and using descriptions of the Divine as a blueprint for how we can live into the best versions of ourselves. L’Shanah Tovah U’Metukah. May we co-create a good and sweet year.

A PDF of the version of this sermon that I delivered at Temple Beth David is available if you click these words.

When you rise, B’ha-alot’kha 5781

On the 18 of Sivan 5781, which is May 29, 2021, we read the portion B’ha-alot’kha, “when you rise.” The beginning of the portion refers to rising to light the menorah. Below is a drash I was honored to share with the Temple Beth Israel Shabbat minyan.

The mouthful word B’ha-alot’kha

One thing is certain about Biblical Hebrew — it can certainly be a mouthful. Our portion is named for the first significant / distinct word in the parsha. This happens to be an infinitive construct with a pronoun suffix. I do not tell you this to wow you with my grammatical knowledge. Rather to commiserate that the word can easily get stuck in one’s mouth and sound like a jumble. The prefix, בְּ, means in or when. הַעֲלוֹת is the Hiphil form of the same root as aliyah, ascent, indicating a rise in spiritual state by returning to Israel. In Hiphil, this root means to rise, elevate, bring up.

And the final ךָ means “you” or “your.” If you remember nothing else, understand that biblical and liturgical Hebrew has words ending with the ךָ sound because the author is trying to speak directly to you. 

Like many American Jews, I learned how to read the Hebrew alphabet without knowing anything about what I was saying. So that revelation about possessive and direct object suffixes was revelatory. I recognize that the text was reaching out towards me with every final ךָ. This reminds me to keep reaching towards Jewish wisdom, across language barriers, time, and other distractions.

So how can we connect with this ancient narrative of wilderness perambulations?

Focus on the triennial reading, the middle third

One way to provide focus for an explanation of this week’s parsha is to focus on the triennial cycle reading. Each portion takes a significant amount of time to chant aloud. So, we have a tradition of reading ⅓ of each portion for three years. We are in the second year of that cycle, meaning that many communities are reading the second-third of each portion this year. For B’ha-alot’kha, this correlates to chapter 9, verse 15 through chapter 10, verse 34. Beginning with the cloud of HaShem covering the tabernacle. Moving forward through HaShem’s cloud surrounding us by day, as we journeyed from the camp. 

Cloud of the Divine journeying before us

It is easy for us to find ourselves completely separated from this narrative. After all, when was the last time you saw the cloud of the Divine journeying before you?

Our tradition challenges us to sort out how we see ourselves immersed in this desert journey. How are we connected to the Jewish people and how are we connected to the Divine? What does it mean to be guided by HaShem? Do you believe in Divine providence? Does HaShem perceives every action that will be taken by humans and allows it to occur? If you do not believe in Divine omnipotence, all-powerful nature, and omniscience, all-knowing foresight can the Divine be sovereign?

If we accept our place in a kingdom of priests, what lamp are we rising to light each day? How are we proclaiming our place amongst HaShem’s people?

Halakha, The Way of Judaism

For me, the brilliance of Judaism is that we do not require our kahal, our community, to be in perfect alignment on the nature of the Divine. Our starting point: fundamentally, HaShem is beyond human comprehension. Thus, we seek to emulate God more than we seek to claim to know the nature of the Divine. How do we emulate HaShem?

Halakha means The Way. Fundamentally, it is The Way to bring Divine Light into every human act. We are all wont to forget The Way. So, we have some unique tricks to remind ourselves not to stray towards our baser inclinations.  First, the fringes on our four-cornered garment. Fewer people wear four-cornered garments, and many who do choose to tuck their fringes into pockets. We also developed the habit of wearing a yarmulke when praying. Some choose to wear it at all times when practical. All of these elements work together to allow HaShem’s Spirit to infuse our thoughts and actions. 

The final sentence of our triennial reading resonates deeply with me. So much of life is beginning to open up again, including in-person davennen with Temple Beth Israel. As we journey from our camps of safety in our homes, how can we remember that HaShem precedes us? What concrete ways can we remind ourselves and those around us that Truth and Goodness light the way on our personal and communal journeys? How can we alight within ourselves the desire to be near the Divine each day?

Focusing on humility, avanah

The Mussar Torah Commentary, published by the Reform Movement’s CCAR Press, suggests that we focus on avanah, the trait of humility. This is not irrational piety. Rather, as Maimonides suggests, it is the middle point between self-abasement and arrogance. Alan Morinis further defines this attribute in his book, Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar. He says: “limiting oneself to an appropriate space while leaving room for others” (49).

I choose to see avanah as a dual command. First, to acknowledge my ego and my proper place in the landscape of human interaction. In my life, when I perceive myself as not having power, I over-extend my presence to compensate for feeling under-appreciated. Simultaneously, I must be constantly aware of the souls around me. Particularly, their need to be seen individually and completely. Acknowledging the healthy space that I inhabit and the holy space I defer to others is the cornerstone. With avanah, I humbly begin to rise towards acknowledging the light of HaShem.

Thus, on a daily basis, I attempt to rise to light my way towards alignment with HaShem. I take stock of myself and stop the internal chatter long enough to see and elevate the souls around me. With avanah we can adjust our sight to catch a glimpse of the cloud of HaShem traveling before us each day.

Shabbat Shalom.


Image by Reijo Telaranta via Pixabay.

Enveloped in the Divine Presence, 49 Days Omer 5781

We entered the forty-ninth day, which is seven weeks of the Omer in the year 5781. שכינה שבשכינה, Shekhinah ShebeShekhinah, Indwelling of Divine Presence. The last night I require myself to create a public meditation into the depths of my reaction to the refractions of the Divine.

Public ministry, personal musings

These meditations allow me to sink into something beyond the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, beyond my health concerns for those closest to me, beyond my own exhaustion at pandemic parenting. Many nights, I lose myself to doubt before I drag another few sentences out of my soul.

Rather than continuing my public reflections following this post, I am going to commit to the inner journey. Building the vessel within. Allowing myself to be available for revelation, consolation, and grace.

Reflecting on these seven weeks, I am a witness to death and a cheerleader of life, personal tragedy and public conflict weigh heavily on me. My soul yearns for communal, in-person prayer as a release for all of the spiritual turmoil within.

May I feel held by the Divine Presence, as She suckles me honey from the flinty rock.

Holding space for ethical mysticism

So many Jews hold fiercely to an agnostic identity that cannot be in relation with the mystical. I pray I can explain myself in words that do not alienate people from the core message yearning to be internalized.

Therefore, let my dedication to ethical mysticism have concrete outcomes. May we serve communities. Let us elevate the ideals that guide us, above the wealth around us. I pray we trust that the connection between us is real and lasts beyond the end of life. Love, Grace, Boundaries, Truth, Beauty, Eternity, Splendor, Humility, Foundation, Presence, and Sovereignty: may the values described in the emanations of the Omer help me live into the best version of myself. May I be a vessel of honest reflection and grounded service.

Previously last days of counting…

Indwelling Divine Presence in a Pandemic, 5780 / 2020.

Completion, Reflection, Expansion, 5779 / 2019.

Moving Towards a Coherent Philosophy, 5778 / 2018.

Acknowledging the Shadow Within, 5777 / 2017.

Core Books for the Journey


Image by kien virak via Pexels.

Foundation of Divine Presence, 48 Days Omer 5781

Shabbat shalom. This weekend, I am not writing for the skeptic within or the cynic beyond myself. I am writing to begin the conclusion of my Omer count in the year 5781. To reflect upon my fifth year of publicly meditating into Jewish mysticism for seven week.

Today is forty-eight days, which is six weeks and six days of the Omer in the year 5780. יסוד שבשכינה. Yesod ShebeShekhinah. Foundation of Divine Presence. What are our foundational beliefs? How do we live into our core values?

Sink into this Shabbat

I chose not to castigate myself for all the ways I fail to live up to the Ideal Rabbinical Student in my head. Nor to dwell on my daily parenting fails. Instead, this season and this day is about appreciate the Creative Flow and Grace surrounding us in every moment.

My beliefs are constantly unfolding and evolving. This is the beauty of Judaism: I can continuously sink into its depths and pull out new ways of centering my spiritual practices. Yesterday, I questioned everything about my path. Today, I know for sure that my soul called me to this journey for a reason.

May we each take the time to sink into the eternity awaiting us in the slower pace of the Day of Rest. May this Temple in Time help us appreciate the people around us and the journey within.

This is Hard

A colleague suggested that I take a break next year and not hold myself accountable to daily meditations for the Omer. Publicly writing about the journey was my way into making the Omer count a daily practice. Otherwise, the ritual alone fell flat for me. Perhaps next year I will riff for a few minutes on video, rather than attempting new prose read by my husband and the dog. Let me know if this has been meaningful to you.

My Foundation: Always Learning

Regardless of the sphere of human interest, whether it is pop culture or makeup application or dense philosophical texts, I enjoy grounding myself in the wisdom of other people. In some ways, it would be better for me to continue reading about the sephirot rather than writing these blog posts. The truth is that other people can provide insights that are much more deeply grounded in the depths of our tradition.

On the other hand, I see my work as rooted in bringing a rational, feminist lens to knowledge. I bristle at the androcentric language of medieval Jewish mysticism. Halakha is not the guidepost to my Jewish journey. Nor does the Bible need to be true for me to find holiness and depth in its pages. Insight into the human condition continues to evolve. I choose to learn from neuroscientists, psychologists, and science journalists as much I learn from playwrights, rabbis, philosophers, and the redactors of the Hebrew Bible and Talmud.

Previously on the 48th night of the Omer…

Yearning for Wisdom, 5780 / 2020.

Removing Veils Obscuring Foundational Truth, 5779 / 2019.

Allowing Space for the Divine Presence, 5778 / 2018.

Persona and Shadow, 5777 / 2017.


Image by icon0com via Pexels.

Splendor of Divine Presence, 47 Days Omer 5781

Today is forty-seven days, which is six weeks and five days of the Omer in the year 5781. הוד שבשכינה, Hod ShebeShekhinah. Splendor of Divine Presence. Is all this talk of God making you run for the hills? Why does mysticism and explicitly making space for God make so many Jews uncomfortable?

Journey beyond skepticism towards our souls

At the end of the day, I’m not here to convince anyone that a particular book is holy. Nor am I upset if you don’t agree with my descriptions of the Divine. What does frustrate me is how easily some Jews dismiss “mysticism” out of hand, as something so esoteric it has nothing to do with their rational, modern lives. Yet, they’re willing to sing Lecha Dodi on Friday night, welcoming the Sabbath bride with a poem written by a Jewish mystic. We seem to be living through a complete disconnect between the words on the pages of our siddurim and the words in our hearts.

These are the metaphors that connect me to my authentic self. I speak of the Splendor of Divine Presence because it reminds me that my anger is an illusion. Honestly, I worry about our mortality. Grief overwhelms me. I miss beloved colleagues, teachers, and family members. I worry about the people of Israel and Palestine. So I try to sink into this poetry to keep me from screaming in anger. Like I said, the anger is a blanket covering deep, unsettled emotions.

Humility on the journey

Today, Splendor, Hod in Hebrew, refracts the Divine Presence. A character trait often connected to Hod is humility. May I have the humility to accept that some people will never be interested in this blog.

Previously today…

Holding Space for the Divine in a Pandemic, 5780 / 2020.

Creating a Relationship with El Shaddai, 5779 / 2019.

Remembering God’s Glory, 5778 / 2018.

Encountering the Eternal Flame of Knowing, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Nick Kwan via Pexels.

Eternal Divine Presence, 46 Days Omer 5781

Today is forty-six days, which is six weeks and four days of the Omer in the year 5781. נצח שבשכינה, Netzach ShebeShekhinah. Eternal Divine Presence. Does the Eternal, Never-Ending, Beginning without End call to you? Personally, I felt lifted out of soul-piercing depression through the Presence and Place of Eternity, Shekhinah and HaMakom.

Spiritual response to depression

To be clear, many people find deep transformation through anti-depressant medication and psychotherapy. This blog is not medical advice and I am not advocating that you avoid your mental health needs by diving into a spiritual journey. Rather, I am sharing part of my journey.

Depression runs in my family. When I was younger, I felt the edges of deep depression and watched as it slowly took over. Several deep dives into that abyss left me feeling broken and alienated from the world. I filled myself with peace activism, hoping to build fundamental social change to alleviate the world’s problems. This volunteer work left me with little time for self-reflection, and an abundance of judgmental self righteousness.

My cynicism, anger, and depression transformed into gratitude, heartfelt pain, and eudaimonia: deep certainty of the importance of each life’s journey. Finding the Eternal Presence, making space for HaMakom in my life, made my transformation possible.

Uncovering the depths of Jewish wisdom

After my Grandma Elsie died, z”l, my Uncle Paul invited me to his synagogue. My eyes were opened to the depth and breadth of wisdom encapsulated in the Jewish civilization. Through Rabbi Finley, I found deeply rooted Jewish ethics, mysticism, rationality, and neo-Platonic ideals. After years of attending his adult education courses and Shabbat services at Ohr HaTorah, I felt the call to become a rabbi myself. I chose to attend the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, the seminary co-founded by Rabbi Finley. Five years into this new identity, my influences have expanded and my gratitude for my professors and colleagues is infinite.

Pain and suffering still exist

I don’t have answers to why humans choose to kill one another. Or why death happens. Nor why pandemics and science-denial co-exist. All I can say for sure is that the Eternal Divine Presence embraces us with comfort and love. May we become vessels worthy of goodness and truth.

Previously today…

Spiritual care during a pandemic, 5780 / 2020.

Rejecting suicide, embracing Eternal Divine Presence, 5779 / 2019.

Words Create Reality, 5778 / 2018.

Breathless embrace of God and Shabbat, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Kyle Roxas via Pexels.

True Divine Presence: 45 Days Omer 5781

Today is forty-five days, which is six weeks and three days of the Omer, in the year 5781. אמת שבשכינה. Emet ShebeShechinah. Truth of Divine Presence. How can we trust the reality of God when so much destruction is done in Her name? Where is God during illness, pandemics, and violence?

God is with us on the journey

The Divine does not cause my actions, nor does She condone violence. The Eternal One is the Source of Life. She breathed life into being. The Essence of Being is the Divine. Imagining the No-Thing-ness, Ain Sof, in human terms creates certainty for some believers. My understanding stops at Presence. She / They / He accompany us on the journey of life. God surrounds us with love and acceptance. God grieves with us, celebrates with us, and doubts alongside us. Wherever we go, She is there.

May We Sink into the Truth of Divine Presence

Let us live as though the Images of God surrounding us matter. Each of us is a shadow of the Divine, B’tzelem Elokim. May each life have equal importance to us. Let us do all we can to preserve life.

Previously today…

Beautiful Divine Presence, 5780 / 2020.

Truth beyond the veil, 5779 / 2019.

Holiness pulses beyond time and space, 5778 / 2018.

Finding the core truth of motivation, 5777 / 2017.


Image by kien virak via Pexels.

Strength of Divine Presence, 44 Days Omer 4781

Today is forty-four days, which is six weeks and two days of the Omer in the year 5781. גבורה שבשכינה, Gevurah ShebeSchechinah, Strength of Divine Presence. Yesterday in Jewish time, earlier today in secular time, I had the distinct honor of hearing the thesis presentations of Erev Rav Jamie Hyams and Erev Rav Deborah Lewis. I continue to ruminate on the breadth of their presentations.

The Divine is Real… does that matter?

My meditations speak towards the Divine that holds sway over my life. Yet, it feels a bit too much like marketing to focus on convincing you that my beliefs are true. Holding yourself accountable to values and refining your interactions with other people can occur without belief.

I suppose I am saying: religion does not matter. Believing in God cannot be the end goal.

These vessels create space within me to attempt to live into my best self. I hear my kids struggle when I raise my voice. I know my best parent days are ahead of me.

Choosing Divine Presence is my way of choosing uprightness and truth. Though this is the path I choose to take, I think we can support one another regardless of how often our paths intertwine.

Strength of Divine Presence

Today I choose to greet the Heavenly Mother with prayers of gratitude. My strength and Her song will be to me salvation.

Recalling that each moment is an opportunity to be born anew, I shall circumscribe my lips.

Relish the love that surrounds me. Reach out to loved ones far away and around the corner.

I shall sink into Rabbi Abarbanel’s wise words:

כי היתה העבודה והאהבה שניים במאמר ואחד במציאות

“Because service and love are two words when you say them, but one in actuality.”

(With deep gratitude to Rabbi Avraham Greenstein’s Hebrew V class for sinking into this gorgeous text.)

Previously today…

Choosing Strong Divine Presence during a pandemic, 5780 / 2020.

The Divine Feminine Radiates Through Us, 5779 / 2019.

Mothers Reflect Divine Strength, 5778 / 2018.

Embracing The Divine, 5777 / 2017.


Image by kien virak via Pexels.

Flow of Divine Presence, 43 Days Omer 5781

Today is forty-three days, which is six weeks and one day of the Omer in the year 5781. חסד שבשכינה, Chesed ShebeShechinah. Flow of Divine Presence. May Her Presence flow through you, filling you with certainty and peace.

The cornerstone of many Jewish lives is not Emunah, Faith. We connect firmly with our people, even when our certainty in the Divine wobbles or shatters. This meditation through the Omer is my attempt to make the reality of the Divine clearly present in the vicissitudes of my life. May the Presence of The One open you to depths of your soul, as She has opened me to the possibilities of my life.

Suckling the Divine honey from the crag

Psalm translations often mute the physicality of Hebrew verbs. In Deuteronomy 32:13 the music comes alive, if we focus solely on the actual meaning of Hebrew verbs.

וַיֵּנִקֵ֤הֽוּ דְבַשׁ֙ מִסֶּ֔לַע וְשֶׁ֖מֶן מֵחַלְמִ֥ישׁ צֽוּר׃

As Robert Alter translates:

He suckled him honey from the crag

and oil from the flinty stone.

It is striking that the verb of this verse occurs in its masculine form, implying that the male God nurses. Or perhaps this is an example of the Divine Feminine being subsumed by the singular male identity. In any event, the Song of Ha’Azinu, is a gorgeous declaration of Divine grace. May we each find the strength to reach towards the depths calling us.

A book to help suckle the depths of Torah

Previously today…

The Divine Presence in a pandemic, 5780 / 2020.

The Divine Mother nourishes us all, 5779 / 2019.

Allowing the Divine Presence a place in my life, 5778 / 2018.

Seeking the Divine Light within, 5777 / 2017.


Image by David Mark via Pixabay.