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.

Indwelling of Compassion, 21 Days of the Omer, Shekhinah ShebeRachamim

Today is twenty-one days, which is three weeks of the Omer in the year 5781. שכינה שברחמים, Shekhinah ShebeRachamim, Indwelling Presence of Compassion.

Shekhinah is the Immanent Presence of the Divine, the Spirit Who nourishes us on the journey through material reality. Traditionally, in the androcentric understanding of conception and divinity, she is a passive receptacle for Yesod, and all of the previous sephirot he represents.

I choose to see Shekhinah as the Daughter of Binah, the Heavenly Mother of Understanding. Gevurah, Heavenly Mother of Boundaries and Strength also provides her vital energy. Shekhinah is the still, small voice within. She urges you to trust your instincts and become the person you were meant to be.

Indwelling of Compassion: Heart of Joyous Community

Today, I have the opportunity to relish how beautiful life is when I make space for compassion to flow through me. I choose to see the world with compassionate eyes. Balancing my inclination towards judgment with the flow of Divine grace and love, I become a conduit for deep community.

Everyone wants to see themselves as elevated and evolved. The truth is, it is very difficult to surmount our habits and obstacles. …

We call to our soul: Come out, my beloved, my friend. Come, let us feely deeply and act accordingly: with faith, with love, with awe.

Conscious Community: A Guide to Inner Work, by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, translated by Andrea Cohen-Kiener. p23 and 27.

It is relatively easy to count 49 days. It is much more difficult to walk forty-nine steps towards spiritual liberation.

This is why we need to gather in conscious community. Let us support one another as we each grow into ourselves. May we have the strength to lift each other up through the struggles of life. I pray we never forget how necessary our souls and our spirits are on this journey through material reality. May the Indwelling Presence of Compassion guide us on our journeys.

Essential books for the journey

Previously today…

Diving presence guiding beautiful truth, 5780 / 2020.

Indwelling of Truth, 5779 / 2019.

Shabbat and clarity, 5778 / 2018.

She whispered truth to me, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Tatiane Herder via Pexels.

Strength within Strength, Day 9 of the Omer, Gevurah ShebeGevurah

Today is nine days, which is one week and two days of the Omer in the year 5781. גבורה שבגבורה, Gevurah ShebeGevurah, Strength within Strength, Judgement within Judgement, Discipline within Discipline.

Not quite as lost as last year

I still do not live up to the discipline in my head. My perfectionist brain castigates me for failing to stay focused on re-reading Tomer Devorah and writing my thesis. Mostly, I don’t listen to her anymore.

Today was a victory because I did not take it personally that my kid didn’t do his homework. I wrote his daily checklist and accepted that this would be another week of slowly catching up to the daily assignments. The younger one went denied he could do his work, thrashing about. Then, as happens most days, he settled down and completed his work. We all took the dog on her afternoon walk. I spent a few hours cooking dinner.

Yom HaShoah is coming…

Tonight I watched the magnificent Jewish Federation of the San Gabriel and Pomona Valley‘s Yom HaShoah presentation. It reminded me how important contextualizing the Shoah, the Catastrophe, is. You may know the Shoah as the Holocaust. I choose not to use that name because I do not believe my Jewish brothers and sisters were burnt completely as a sacrifice to HaShem. Rather, I believe this Jewish genocide proves that evil lurks in every society. Humans are not infallible. Only by turning towards the Source of Goodness and Holiness can we have the prospect of bending the moral arc of the universe towards justice.

The Jewish day of remembrance for the Shoah and Heroes, גבורה, Gevurah, is situated on the lunar Jewish calendar on 27 Nisan, a week after Passover and eight days before Israeli Independence Day. It is during the time of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which began the day before Passover.

The heart of strength is being

In reality, no habit or discipline defines strength. There are many ways to be strong and it doesn’t always come together on a daily basis.

Define your path.

Clarify your values.

Attach yourself to something beyond yourself.

Be a conduit of Goodness.

Meet each day with love-filled eyes and search for hope and meaning.

This is the Being that I hope to resonate today and every day.

Books for the Journey

The Spiral of 9 Days

The heart of discipline during a pandemic, 5780 / 2020.

The lion within pursues me, 5779 / 2019.

Internal battles, 5778 / 2018.

Spiritual discipline and parenting a toddler, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Reynaldo Brigantty via Pexels.

Four Days of the Omer 5781: Endurance within Flow, Netzach within Chesed

Today is four days of the Omer in the year 5781, נצח שבחסד, Netzach ShebeChesed, Endurance within Flow.

Interrogate your story

There is a beautiful explanation of this day in Benji Elson’s book, Dance of the Omer. Elson suggests picking up the rocks, the stumbling points, within your life. Examine each rock with a child’s curiosity. Try to see it from a new angle. Try to create a new version of your story, wherein the stumbles are not roadblocks. Rather, they are stepping stones.

Brené Brown provides clear detail on the power of story and the way in which transforming our stories helps us to become our truer selves in her newest book, Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Perhaps the hardest thing I have ever faced in life is the stranglehold that my internal narrative had on me. Paying respect to the way those stories helped you become the person you are today, holding the rock and giving it permission to sink into the flow of the river — that is deep work.

Prayer for Enduring Flow

Holy Mother of the Universe, Fount of Blessings, I embrace You. I welcome Your Shefa, שפע, Your Divine Flow, into this day. Every moment, I pray to stay connected to Your Enduring Flow. I pray for the discernment to know that cynicism is a trap of the inclination towards destructiveness. May I remember that the child within is neither naive nor helpless: she is willful and determined to be a conduit of Goodness and Holiness, Joy and Inner Wellbeing.

Guideposts for the Journey

The Spiral of Four Days of the Omer

Enduring will to nurture covenantal love: Day Four, 5780 / 2020.

Enduring prophetic love: Day Four, 5779 / 2019.

Choose grace in every moment: Day Four, 5778 / 2018.

Honoring the triumph of enduring love: Day Four, 5777 / 2017.


Image by Kai Vogel via Pixabay.

Two Days of the Omer 5781: Boundaries within Grace, Gevurah within Chesed

Today is two days of the Omer, 5781. גבורה שבחסד, Gevurah ShebeChesed, Boundaries within Grace. The human soul expands beyond its previous limits through spiritual discipline.

This immersive week of flowing within the light of the Divine requires clear boundaries. If you try to only catch the flow, you’re more likely to succumb to a mirage. Far too many people have been lost to the false messiah of hallucinogenic drugs. True freedom requires discipline, strength, and the ability to say no. May you find comfortable limits and gentle discipline to help you expand into yourself.

Spiritual discipline in unprecedented times

To be clear, I am no saint. If you are looking for advice on parenting during a pandemic, look elsewhere. I am treading water as I stumble towards becoming a better parent, and helping my children grow into themselves. Similarly, my spiritual discipline has waxed and waned in the last year. Recently, health issues broke me away from my daily prayer practice and I am struggling to regain my footing.

One thing is clear: I know how to help myself move into the flow. Jewish prayer has always swept me away. Before I understood a single word, the tradition spoke to my soul in a way I have never been touched by human speech or writing, regardless of the number of books I read. Experiencing the flow — whether in daily prayer, daily meditation (which, frankly, my prayer is my meditation), daily yoga, or daily woodworking: that flow is the Holy Mother of the Universe reaching towards us, encouraging us to be our best selves.

Give yourself the gift of recognition.

Choose a spiritual practice

Commit yourself to one spiritual act for the rest of the Omer count (beyond the counting itself). Whether that is conscious breathing for five minutes a day, or mindful stretching when you wake up and when you lie down: choose something. Accept an activity that will require your full body’s attention. Set aside your phone. Ignore the people around you. Choose to Be with yourself and with the flow.

Prayer for strength within the Divine Flow

I pray for the strength to stay within the Divine Flow regardless of what is happening around me. I pray that my resistance will lessen, and I will be able to outsmart my Inclination towards Destructiveness (my Yetzer HaRa). May the Divine Flow speak through me and help my children recognize that discipline is necessary for true joy.

The spiral of this day…

Discipline in Covenantal Love, Two days of the Omer 5780 / 2020

Clear Vision Beyond Existential Anxiety, Two days of the Omer 5779 / 2019

Healthy Boundaries in Love, Two days of the Omer 5778 / 2018

Boundaries in love? (Beginner’s mind), Two days of the Omer 5777 / 2017

Guidance for the journey


The North Platte River in Wyoming, photographed by 1778011 from Pixabay.

One Day Omer 5781 Flowing into Being

Today is one day of the Omer in the year 5781, Chesed Shebe Chesed חסד שבחסד, Covenantal Love within Covenantal Love, Grace within Grace, Loving Kindness within Loving Kindness. The Omer begins with stepping into the Divine Flow and allowing the river of being to engulf you.

As with every single year, I am hesitant to begin. Counting the Omer is one of the most meaningful parts of my spiritual year. Nevertheless, my pandemic malaise / anxiety would rather keep me staring at streaming videos rather than digging into truth.

Companions on the journey

Two new books are with me to help me on this journey. My dear friend, Erev Rav Debi Lewis, gifted me Color the Omer: 49 days of beauty & reflection. Another sister on the road to spiritual leadership, Tamy Jacobs, encouraged me to seek out the book Dance of the Omer: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Transformational Journey of Sefirat Ha’Omer. This book, by Benji Elson, seems to be a spiritual sibling of my journey. It is deeply rooted in traditional sources, a choice that might be off-putting if you are looking for a source that honors the feminine and nonbinary aspects of being as completely as it does the masculine.

Nevertheless, I have not met another book that feels as important to this spiritual practice as Dance of the Omer. I think it is a particularly easy to read primer on the Sephirot generally, alongside their connection to davennen (prayer), meditation, and embodied spirituality.

Flowing into Being

As Elson suggests in Dance of the Omer, today we sink into The Flow. Recognize that who we are is exactly who we need to be. This journey towards ourselves is not actually about changing — it is about letting go of the thoughts, feelings, and actions that keep us from being the best versions of ourselves.

Today, I choose to flow into myself. I will accept my need to let go and sleep and read and be. The path seems clearer than it did a year ago. I am blessed to have an appointment for my first vaccine dose. I am blessed that none of my family members were lost to this virus. Today, I choose to be.

Prayer for Day One, Chesed: Divine Flow within Divine Flow

May I release myself from guilt and anxiety. Circumscribe my speech, softening myself into the Divine Flow. Letting myself play with the people near me physically and spiritually. Oh, ever-flowing river of Divine Love, gently move us away from this plague and towards the future unfolding.

New Books

The spiral of this day…

One day of the Omer 5780 / 2020 / Covenantal Love in pandemic year one

One day of the Omer 5779 / 2019 / A meditation on grace

One day of the Omer 5778 / 2018 / Sink into grace and love

One day of the Omer 5777 / 2017 / Hesitant first steps of public counting

How to count the Omer


Image by Monika Iris from Pixabay.

Entering the first month

Traditional Jewish time recognizes multiple years within a year. Based on the flow of agriculture, spring is the natural beginning of the year. So the first month of the Jewish year is Nisan, which we have just entered. Yet, our spiritual year begins in the seventh month, on Yom Zikhron Teruah, more widely recognized as Rosh Hashanah.

Rather than get in the weeds of how to understand Jewish time, let me offer a pandemic analogy. A day can feel like a year and a month goes by in an instant. Therefore, we need multiple reminders of the journey we are on. The journey towards our core selves, towards deep knowledge and wholeness.

Now we enter the season of physical rebirth. Surrounded by the physical and animal world coming back to life, springing forward into new possibilities.

Personally, I am cautiously optimistic that the coming year will allow more occasions to be together physically than the previous year. My immediate family remains cautious, as we are not eligible for vaccines. Deeply grateful that our parents are fully vaccinated.

May the month of Nisan bring the winds of change into our souls. May we make space for change and may we rejoice in our own rebirths. Taking nothing for granted, reveling in the marvel of being alive, my soul expands into this first month of the rest of my life.


Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay