Enduring Strength, Day 11 of the Omer, Netzach ShebeGevurah

Tonight begins eleven days, which is one week and four days of the Omer in the year 5781. נצח שבגבורה, Netzach ShebeGevurah, Endurance within Strength.

What keeps you going when the waves crash over you? Is your vision clear enough to see you through the storms of life?

Choosing to live into the day

I decided to stop apologizing for not being perfect. There are many ideals in my head, including the super human I expect myself to be. This year, I choose to grow into me. The best way to weather a storm is to ride the waves.

Embodying a wave rider, I choose to lean into joy and possibilities, rather than fear and anxiety.

Approach everyone with humility and compassion

As I continue to re-read Tomer Devorah, I was halted in my tracks by the depth and beauty of the prose. Wanting to sink into the reality of its call towards goodness, I couldn’t continue reading. So, I switched to Twitter and immediately entered a tumultuous sea of vitriol.

Jewish ethical mysticism declares that emulating HaShem is the ideal. Cultivate humility and meet everyone with compassion. Somehow, we’ve lost this thread in our digital communications. Whether or not you agree with someone, ad hominem attacks separate us from the Source of Life.

Jews, social class, and unions

Specifically, Jewish Twitter blew up around a recently published interview with Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Her strident tone responding to Laura Adkins’ questions offended many. Weingarten’s all-encompassing declarations about who Jews are was a grossly simplistic, socialist critique of wealthy Jews. I think she was making a statement about how vocal some Jews in Los Angeles have been in denouncing school closures while Black and Latinx union leaders have been working to support the continued health of their colleagues. Her “pointed response” was laden with outdated assumptions about the ethnic and socio-economic makeup of American Jews.

So, to be clear: I am not defending Randi Weingarten’s choice of words.

Nevertheless, as a parent in a school district that has remained in distance learning this entire school year, I am tired of the relentless attacks on teachers’ unions. I care about human life even more than I care about education. My family accepts the situation we are in this school year. We look forward to our children returning to in-person teaching in the fall. They may not always be willing to do their class work, but they most certainly have continued to learn via Zoom.

There is a larger conversation that Jewish Twitter is failing to have as it falls over itself to attack Weingarten. Many American Jews are wealthy. In Los Angeles, some Jewish parents loudly demand in-person instruction, while teachers seek to not die for the sake of a paycheck. These are the realities Weingarten spoke inelegantly about.

Imagining a future beyond vitriolic divides

Socialist screeds no longer hold any sway over me. Nor does unfettered capitalism. As the mother and wife of Chinese Jews, it would be hard for me to form a sentence that negates the existence of Jews of color.

The public discourse I envision is humble and compassionate. Believing people enter the public square with good intentions, until proven otherwise. Words can cause damage and every human is made in the image of the Divine, b’tzelem Elokim.

All Jews deserve equal access to Jewish communal spaces. Rather than pointed rhetoric, may we approach our political differences humbly and with genuine curiosity for other viewpoints. May we have the Enduring Strength to meet each other with kindness.

Books for the journey

Spiral of 11 Days of Omer

Eternal Judgment, 5780 / 2020.

Enduring Discipline: Clarifying My Vision, 5779 / 2019.

Your Will is Powerful, 5778 / 2018.

Clear-eyed Focus on My Path, 5777 / 2017.


Image by John Callery via Pexels.

Flow within Discipline, 8 Days of the Omer, Chesed ShebeGevurah

Tonight begins eight days of the Omer, which is one week and one day of the Omer in the year 5781. חסד שבגבורה, Chesed ShebeGevurah, Flow within Discipline.

Setting Healthy Boundaries, Flourishing Within Them

Every week, I marvel at how much I learn from my children. When i get overwhelmed, I let go of my boundaries. It is easy to swim in pools of malaise, doom-scrolling or mindless hours of binging streaming television. There’s one boundary that is crystal clear for my young kids: bedtime. I don’t mean that both of them recognize this need, but without fail — the older one will fall asleep, whether in front of the television or tucked in bed.

This is the key lesson I’ve learned in my seven years of parenting: boundaries allow children to truly flourish. Having clear guidance on what is and isn’t acceptable gives one the confidence to explore and become one’s truest self.

Second Week of the Omer: Gevurah / Din: Strength, Judgment, Discipline

Rather than seeing refractions of Chesed, this week we are meditating into the counterpart sephira. She has many names, most often גבורה and דין. Last week, I allowed the Divine emanations to wash over me. Today, I begin to take responsibility for bringing their power into my actions, speech, and feelings.

I marvel at the strength within a five year-old. Determined to learn to read, he followed instructions via Zoom transitional kindergarten and began the process of unlocking knowledge. Similarly, despite preferring graphic novels with scatological foci, my seven-year old kept his own reading an adult-oriented Haggadah. Their ability to move with the Flow of pandemic living and maintain a level of discipline is truly remarkable.

Flow within Discipline: the light touch of holiness

My rigidity has always been my stumbling block. When first learning the Sephirot, I laughed and said I was Gevurah to my partner’s Chesed. Now, instead of castigating myself for not being perfect, or not living up to my highest ideals, I choose to lean into Flow.

Flowing with Divine love and kindness, I accept my own limitations with grace. I lean into the moment and set aside my anxiety about the future. I marvel at the calm completeness within simple routines, like walking the dog.

Prayer for Flow within Discipline

Holy One of Blessing, help me to live into the flow of discipline. May I remember that boundaries help me be the best version of myself. Source of Life, help me remember that refracting my judgment through loving eyes brings deeper clarity and wisdom.

The Spiral of the 8th Day of the Omer

Your rod and Your staff guide me through the pandemic, 5780 / 2020.

Contemplating martyrdom, Lori Gilbert Kaye, HaShem yikom dama, 5779 / 2019.

Discipline rooted in grace, 5778 / 2018.

The essence of discipline is love, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Máté Markovics.

Societal betrayal, androcentrism, and pandemic parenting

In the New York Times, psychiatrist Pooja Lakshmin describes the societal betrayal of mothers during this pandemic. This concept resonates deeply with me. It is the underlying issue behind my four month absence from blogging.

Societal betrayal of mothers

This societal betrayal of the communal need to support raising children led me to reflect more intentionally on Judaism. It left me adrift in the breadth of androcentrism, throughout the history of written Jewish sources. The relentless focus on male lives, separate from familial obligation, is oppressive. My faith shattered and my soul could not imagine completing my intensive jaunt through psalm 25. Severed from the psalm and all forms of piety, I could not write.

Moving beyond biblical androcentrism

My way back to some semblance of wholeness came through my final presentation for a Tanakh course last semester. I realized I am not betraying myself by engaging with the Bible. Those narratives, composed by men, offering deepest insight into men’s lives. Simultaneously, the civilization grounded in the Jewish Bible and worldview transforms me.

Many sources of wisdom have problematic components, whether it be they were outspoken Jew haters, racist slave owners, or misogynists. Do we chuck all of it because they aren’t people we’d want to have dinner with?

Using imperfect sources

Can we separate the true wisdom from the husks? Is it possible to transform received wisdom with our deeper insight into the breadth of human potential?

My goal is to place wisdom into digestible formats for human growth towards the best versions of ourselves.

Towards that end, my next post will conclude my meditations on psalm 25. Then, I’ll try to go back to studying the psalter and writing shorter posts on each psalm along the way. L’Chaim!


Image by Alexas Fotos via Pixabay

My beloved uncle, Sheldon Minster, z”l

left to right: Sheldon Minster, z”l, Linda Minster, Marshall Minster, Phyllis Minster

My beloved uncle, Sheldon Minster, passed from this world to the next this week. He was such a giant, and constant presence, in my life. My Hesped at his funeral did not do him justice.

וַתִּצְלַ֨ח עָלָ֜יו ר֣וּחַ השם The spirit of HaShem gripped him.

Like Samson, Sheldon was born with extraordinary physical strength. He used it to protect his family, especially his little brother, Marshall. It wasn’t easy growing up on the South Side of Chicago.

Sheldon would ask to leave the apartment and his shrewd mother, Elsie, z”l, would always say: “only if you take your brother with you.” Thus, my dad got to go on adventures with his big brother and a life-long friendship was forged.

Sometimes, his dad, Samuel, z”l, would invite him out for tootsie rolls, which was code for getting traif. Elsie kept a strictly kosher home and Sheldon shared Samuel’s taste for pork and cheeseburgers.

There’s something about the way we think of Judaism that claims only bookishness and ritual observance are hallmarks of a righteous Jew. Yet, truly, I have learned more about embodied Judaism from Sheldon than from most other people in my life.

אֲנִ֤י לְדוֹדִי֙ וְדוֹדִ֣י לִ֔י I am my beloved’s And my beloved is mine.

Dance partners for life. Soul mates. Life companion in every way.

Sheldon met the love of his life at UCLA, Linda Sterne Minster. They enjoyed 61 years and 11 months together.

Linda expanded Sheldon’s vocabulary, helping him give voice to the feelings roiling within.

Early in their marriage, Papa Sam became terminally ill with bone cancer. Marshall says that Papa Sam made Sheldon promise to look out for his brother and sister. And Sheldon absolutely did that, through thick and thin.

Linda and Sheldon were blessed with two children: Kenny, z”l, and Sam.

Others spoke about how quiet Sheldon was — yet, he never seemed that way to me. Perhaps because he was always his most gregarious around his best friend, my dad, Marshall.

My mom, Phyllis, recalled the many water volleyball games we played in their backyard pool. It had a sudden drop off to 9 ft deep. Despite having the pool for most of his life, Sheldon never learned to swim. Once, he and Phyllis were walking in the pool and ended up in the deep end, maybe five inches from where she could walk. He grabbed onto her and held on for dear life. Phyllis thought they’d both drown. Somehow they made it to safety. He still didn’t learn to swim, though eventually they filled in the deep end of the pool.

No man is perfect. My sister reminded me how uncomfortable family gatherings could become. She is five years older than me, so has a better memory of these things than I do. What I do recall is that I called out my Dad and Uncle Sheldon a lot — I think because their sense of humor invoked many declarations that they were “male chauvinist pigs.” I learned to spot sexism before I could really articulate what it was.

In any event, as the decades moved forward, so did Sheldon. His ability to change with the times was truly remarkable.

Jacob blessing his sons

Towards the end of his life, in B’reishit chapters 48 and 49, Jacob blesses his ten sons.

In the latter half of his life, that was Sheldon’s role: dispensing wisdom, both to his family and his extensive friends network. He always worried about people and wanted to make sure we were on the straight path, moving towards the best versions of ourselves.

When Sam married his beshert, Lisa, there was Sheldon beaming. And when they had children — Lauren and Shane, Sheldon’s life truly became complete. Being a grandfather seemed to be his greatest joy in the world. I suppose part of him was relishing what he was never able to share with his own father.

Though he tried valiantly to help everyone transform themselves as he had transformed himself multiple times over the years, there were limits to his prophetic voice. Sheldon did a complete reversal of his eating habits when he was diagnosed with diabetes. Unfortunately, his oldest son, Kenny, was unable to follow in his footsteps. May Kenny’s memory forever be a blessing.

Sheldon’s mind was always working on the interpersonal experiences of the people around him. During his long battle with cancer and increasingly frequent hospital visits, Sheldon focused on other people. He dispensed wisdom and continued his support from afar.

Sheldon was fairly quiet in his health battle. I would not have known about one of his last hospitalizations, but Linda called me. She had received two phone calls from the hospital that day: Sheldon worried about my sons. Why was he worried about young children? Because he had seen on the news that Chinese Americans were being targeted at the beginning of this COVID-19 pandemic, and he wanted to make sure they were okay.

Passing from this world to the next

Sheldon never wanted to leave this world. He fought fiercely to stay with Linda and Sam. He took seriously their insistence that he continue being the family patriarch.

And yet, as hard as it is to say goodbye to the towering center of our family, I am so honored to have been a holy witness.

Sheldon Minster, your memory will forever be a blessing.

Read the tribute Sam Minster wrote to the first man he ever loved.

Celebrating Shane’s Bar Mitzvah with cousins, including Jack, center, with Linda and Sheldon, z”l

Rather than elaborate flowers and funerals, Judaism has a tradition to give tzedekah in honor of the recently departed. Aunt Linda suggested the American Diabetes Association or the American Cancer Society.