Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tisha B'Av

Tisha B'Av begins tonight at sunset, and with it the fast starts as well. And with the start of the fast the discussions of what to eat to break the fast some 25 hours later also begin.

I have to be honest, this drives me up the wall and keeps me away from shul tonight and tomorrow. How on earth can someone already be dramatically "staaaaaaaaaaaarving" a mere hour after sunset? Or is it just my years in Mormonism with the strict monthly fasts when during 24 (or more commonly 22-23 hours) the only nourishment one got was a bite of breand and a sip of water during the Sacrament that conditioned me to cherish the fast days without much thought of food and drink?

In fact, Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av are among my favourite days of the year. With all the heaviness of these days I still feel like I have more time and opportunity to reflect on G-d than on other holidays. When we put away the sources of everyday pleausure and comfort, there is only HaShem. Ein od milvado.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Shabbat is Coming!

This video has everything to get ready for Shabbat! Lecha Dodi version 3 (Aharon Razel has recorded two other versions on Redemption Time and Connected To You), mikvah, challah, joy and fiddler on the roof. :-) Enjoy!

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

32°C, sunshine and gentle breeze

The world is good today.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Thoughts by the sea - The Beginning of the Journey

About a month ago I was sitting on the beach, watching the sea, as the waves crashed on the seashore. It wasn't the usual beach in Tel Aviv: it was the beach where I spent many a summer afternoon as a small child. I was home in Ireland.

The air was cool--much cooler than I have gotten used to in the summer during the last 10 years--and it smelled like the sea: salt, water and sand. It was windy and I enjoyed the feeling of the salty wind against my face.

I felt like I was home.

I have felt that in many different places on various occasions, and that might be because I am home anywhere and a stranger everywhere. I have been uprooted so many times in my life that I'm not really sure what country to call home, what language call my own. Filling out the "Hometown" field on Facebook took me 25 minutes and I am still not sure if the answer is correct.

Sitting by the Celtic Sea the pleasant and oh so familiar scent of the seashore was suddenly replaced by a different smell: the freshly lit Shabbat candle, the lingering scent of challah baking and the cork of the bottle of wine used for Kiddush.

I was sure my mind was playing tricks on me. Shabbat candles, challah and wine corks in Co. Cork? But the scent lingered for me. And it was only me, who could smell the scent of Shabbat. The scent of home. The scent that for me, as a child, meant HaShem. Then another flash of scents: clovers and cinnamon: the Havdala spices and I was back to the salty watery reality.

What happened for me was the real beginning of a new spiritual journey. My own sacred moment with HaShem, who used the familiar scents of Shabbat to separate the Sacreed from the Profane as He let me understand the desire in my heart. And that desire is to learn more about HaShem and live a better life wherever I might be, connected to Him, and finally admitting: Ein od milvado.

"I am home anywhere if You are where I am." (Rich Mullins)

Seeing HaShem's hand in things we don't understand - Aharon Razel

Aharon Razel performing his song כשיבואו לפנות את ביתי Ein Od Milvado.

And he t alks about this song and what it all means to him.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Jerusalem then and now

While visiting family members in Israel for summer two years ago, I took my 8-year-old son to Jerusalem, to see the Temple Mount and the West Wall. My elder brother Chalin met us there, which brought back memories from times long gone.

I remember the excitement of my strongly Mormon and Catholic mixed faith adoptive family when visiting Israel--they got a chance to walk where Jesus walked! They made sure to visit all the Christian holy sites. I have to admit, as child the religious significance of the place escaped me. It was the cobblestones of the old streets, the mixing of cultures and languages, the pot-bellied reservist with his gun in the shade of a tree, the scent of roasting lamb, the postcard and religious salesmen at the major sites, the full-bearded Orthodox men praying and the touch of the hot rocks of the West Wall that got engraved in my subconscious.

It was spring break, shortly after my 13th birthday--the last time I was in Israel before this year. My whole adoptive family came, and they were dragging me from one place to another almost non-stop. Luckily one day, at the request of my birth family (with whom we were all staying) they left me with my brother Chalin as they headed out to Nazareth. Around ten a.m. Chalin told me to get ready, wear my best shirt and trousers, we are going somewhere. Chalin at the time was 22, a good friend of mine, recently done with his IDF service, and a fairly recently observant Chabadnik. I loved him probably most of the Cohens, and we are still close.

In the car he gave me a nice package. Wrapped in soft blue and white paper were a tallit bag, a matching tallit, tefillin and a navy blue suede kippah. "You are now thirteen," he said, "and I know you didn't have a bar mtizvah celebration, but you are actually now a Jewish adult, a bar mitzvah." It had been years since anyone dared to refer to me as Jewish--having been raised Catholic and then pretty much forced into becoming LDS with my family--but it sounded fitting. During the 60 km drive Chalin went through some of the prayers with me, honestly surprised that I still remembered what I had learnt as a young boy.

Arriving in Jerusalem he parked the car and we set out towards the West Wall, Chalin quietly explaining to me what I already knew. "After the U.N. decision, East Jerusalem became a part of Jordan, and Jews were denied access to the West Wall. A generation grew up without being able to visit the most holy of our holy sites, up until 1967, when during the Six Day War East Jerusalem was retaken by Israeli forces. That was Grandpa's last and Dad's first armed conflict when they were on duty. You know that famous picture of the three IDF soldiers at the West Wall, right?" I knew that picture and soon started to experience the awe that was reflected on their faces.

Arriving at the West Wall, Chalin and I lay the tefillin, recited the blessings, and soon I found myself facing the wall itself. I touched the side of my forehead to the wall and closed my eyes, laying my hands on the ancient rocks. The coolness of the rock, the touch of generations gone by answering to my touch suddenly brought me to the realization that no matter what I wanted to make myself believe, I belonged there. I closed my eyes and offered a prayer for peace, happiness and understanding.

Now, twelve years later, I told the story of the Temple and the Six Day War of 1967 to my son as we waited for our turn. Told him what this place meant to Jews and even some Christians. I told him about John Paul II coming here years ago, and about my first time there. Then I put on that old tallit, lay that tefilling, closed my eyes and turning sideways I touched my forehead to the ancient stone that radiated heat in the summer. I offered a prayer for peace, happiness and understanding.

At home I showed Craig a recent picture from the Jerusalem Post. You can see it below. It is the same three soldiers: first on the day of entering East Jerusalem, then 40 years later, in 2007, at the same place at the West Wall.