Namaste

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This is for my Mother-in-Law. She asked me to write a blog post and when the MIL asks, the only appropriate response is to comply to her request.

I haven’t been going to Friday night services much lately. Kind of not much at all. Many excuses: the husband has been traveling, so have I, we are tired at the end of the week and don’t want to drive. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it when we go. I love going to services at the Aloha Jewish Chapel. We used to go almost every week. I guess I’m just a little bit lazy these days. We light the Shabbat candles at home, say Kiddush, eat dinner together and begin our rest ASAP.

I stopped going to Shabbat Torah study with Rabbi Schaktman last year when my youngest stopped her Saturday morning sailing lessons. I don’t prefer to drive into Honolulu on the weekends, but the simultaneous scheduling of her sailing and my Torah study was perfect timing. I didn’t stop because I didn’t enjoy it. Quite the opposite. She  found an alternative passion closer to home and then, so did I.

Yoga.

I discovered a Friday afternoon Restorative Yoga practice session and a Saturday morning Vinyasa session  at the Kroc Center nearby.  I enjoy each one very much. On Friday it isn’t really a choice of one over the other. I could go to yoga, shower and make it to services on time. I’m hoping to make that my routine one day soon. The only problem is that it doesn’t really allow for Shabbat dinner with family and that’s super important to me too.

On Saturday it has to be one or the other because they happen at the same time. Torah study or yoga. I have chosen yoga—for now. Until this weekend I reassured myself that it is a reasonable alternative. My yoga practice brings me peace. Besides the physical benefits, it can be a spiritual practice and definitely inspires me to look inward, or upside down or sideways. Today something happened to confirm the story that I have been telling myself. It opened my perspective to find many connections from yoga to Kabbalat Shabbat services.

Our teacher, Min Soo, starts with one of her teacher’s interpretations of the Yogi’s Creed from the Rig Veda. We recited it together. Well, I kind of mumbled along as I don’t really know it.

May we be protected together
May we be nourished together
May we work together for the greater good
May our practice be enlightening
And may there be no hate amongst us
Creating peace peace peace

Usually I sort of zone out at this point since I started practicing yoga for the benefits to my body and figured I’m not into the, “Mumbo jumbo new age stuff.” I went to my first yoga session about five years ago after I was having trouble water skiing and my brother-in-law, Neil, suggested that yoga might help with my balance. I truly believe he was not addressing my mental state, but over the years the breath and stillness have brought some balance to both my body and my mind. Not exponentially, but enough for me to keep practicing.

At first I wasn’t comfortable with prayer hands and bowing to say “Namaste” at the end. Then I learned that Namaste simply means, “I bow to you.” No harm in that. An interpretation I read on the Urban Dictionary website is also nice, “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you.” I can wrap my head around that. We’ve got spirit.

Today I finally listened closely to the words when Min Soo was speaking and it dawned on me that there some strong similarities in these sentiments to my Jewish values. Here are a few of the thoughts that passed through my head with my in and out breath:

  • Yoga is a personal practice, but we do it together. We accept ourselves without judgment. We don’t interfere with the others on their mats, but we soak up the positive energy of our collective practice. Sounds like Shabbat (or any other) services to me—without the Kiddush, Motzi and Oneg. Oh well, nothing’s perfect. We don’t always have to eat.
  • “May we be protected together. May we be nourished together,” sounds to me like the translation of some of our Hebrew prayers.
  • “May we work together for the greater good.” Hello…..Tikun Olam?
  • “Creating peace peace peace.” In Sanskrit: Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. In Heberw: Shalom, Shalom, Shalom. Do I need to explain this one at all?

Talk about finding balance. And at this point it isn’t an act. While I don’t think my engagement in this practice will ever overshadow any aspect of my being Jewish, it can certainly enhance it. These recent observations greatly assuage my Jewish guilt. No judgment there. Baruch Hashem.

Shanti Shanti Shanti
Shalom Shalom Shalom
Namaste

 

 

 

 

 

The story of the unhappy kugel

IMG_3985When Val asked me to make a kugel for this year’s communal Yom Kippur “Break the Fast” at the Aloha Jewish Chapel, I was excited to do so. I immediately thought of the recipe that I have for my mother’s kugel that she served at each of our family’s holiday meals (except Passover) and the memory fueled my excitement.

Her kugel is sweet and simple and incredibly delicious: pecans, butter, brown sugar, eggs and egg noodles. How can you go wrong? While not difficult to make, it takes a reasonable amount of time and a little bit of patience.

Years ago I looked up the meaning of kugel, confused by the different specimens I’ve tasted. I wondered how my mother’s noodle kugel could relate to the potato one served at Passover and the plethora of versions at other people’s holiday tables. Internet sources describe it as a pudding. I am inclined to suggest the word casserole—but not of the tuna variety.

I planned ahead for this one, buying the ingredients on my weekly trip to the commissary the Sunday before Yom Kippur. I set aside time to make it on Tuesday afternoon, before we went out to dinner and to services for Kol Nidre. There was no way I was going to bake a kugel on Wednesday afternoon, the same day I was fasting. Regardless of the fact that it would be inappropriate to cook on Yom Kippur, I knew that the enticing aroma of all of those delicious ingredients coming together in a spectacular kugel would be more than I could bear in my VERY hungry state before Yiskor and Ne’ilah. It would definitely slow the fast.

I timed it perfectly and it was the most beautiful kugel I had ever created. It felt so good to look at it and see visions of all the kugels that had come before at Gershun celebrations. It truly was my mother’s kugel. I finally had the right combination of ingredients, timing and patience to make this great achievement. I left it on the counter, slightly covered, to cool and would put it in the refrigerator when we returned from Tuesday evening services.

When we returned, before putting it in the ice-box, I decided to take a picture of the kugel next to the flames of the burning yahrtzeit candles lit for my mother and father. Maybe I’d post it on Facebook? Or maybe I’d just send the picture to my sisters so that they could kvell with me on this great achievement. Whatever the intent, perhaps it is my hubris that became a tragic flaw and led to the unhappy conclusion of this almost perfect story.

After I snapped a few shots of the holiday kugel (thank goodness I took a picture). I picked up the glass plate on which it rested, turned to the refrigerator, slipped a bit and dropped the whole thing on our stone tile floor. The glass plate splintered in tiny pieces. spraying across the kitchen floor and into the hallway. The kugel plunked straight down, lying in tact on the floor below my feet. It’s golden top sparkled with shards of the pyrex dish and I reluctantly imagined what lay beneath. It became unfit for any palate, let alone a holiday meal. My dreams of the perfect kugel shattered before my very eyes.

The end isn’t so sad. My husband helped me clean it up. The next day I showed Val the picture and told her the story. She shed a tear for my mother’s kugel, but understood. She suggested mac and cheese. No problem. After morning services, I easily whipped up a pan. No memories were invoked as it did not have the familiar delicious aroma to tease me. Services were nice, not too long. We wished each other G’mar chatimah tovah and broke the fast together as a community.

I’m the only one who really missed the kugel that holds so many memories of my mom and dad and the new years and ends of years that our family shared together.

L’Shanah Tovah.

 

If you build it, they will come

When my youngest sister started calling it the ”Beach Mitzvah” a few months before the big day, the new event title stuck and we’ve been referring to it that way ever since.

That is what it was, a Beach Mitzvah. Our youngest daughter became a Bat Mitzvah last month and the service was held under a tent at Paradise Cove in Ko Olina…. and it was fabulous.

Once all of our mainland guests arrived, all of the details were taken care of and we were finally celebrating this significant rite of passage together with our family and community on the lush green grass, under the warm bright sun, along the crystal clear water of one of Oahu’s most beautiful “Secret Coves,” it is hard to imagine that choosing this venue so that our youngest daughter could perform this particular rite of passage was anything but completely deliberate.

In reality it was an act of compromise that turned out to be exactly what we wanted, a Beach Mitzvah.

It is not uncommon for these important events that are usually planned at least a year in advance to suffer a few setbacks. Caterers screw up, teenagers forget their Torah portions, people  get stuck in traffic on their way to the Synagogue.  It teaches us to focus on what is important and why we come together to appreciate the true meaning of these rituals. Ours was no exception. Luckily for us, the bumps in the road happened long before the Bat Mitzvah date.

Due to forces beyond our control and details on which I will not dwell at this moment, we switched shuls in the middle of her Bat Mitzvah study and preparation. Our new congregation, The Aloha Jewish Chapel (AJC,) is located on Pearl Harbor Naval Base with limited public access. So we had to figure out a way to bring over one hundred people, our family and local community, together for a service outside of this military installation.

Combine that with the fact that our Bat Mitzvah is quite the individual, the idea of a typical reception, a Saturday night party with a DJ and dancing, was not her idea of a fun way to celebrate all of her hard work and study. She preferred a beach party so she could swim and hang out with her friends in the cool water of the Pacific Ocean and also celebrate this paradise that we call home. That part was not a problem for us. We also prefer this type of celebration.

It wasn’t easy coordinating all of the moving parts of this particular piece of our family’s Jewish traditions, but once we “settled” on Paradise Cove, everything fell right into place—kind of like Divine intervention!

When we realized the need to hold the service outside of the chapel, it was the Bat Mitzvah herself who immediately made the connection between the Torah portion she was studying and our choice of venue. In her portion of Terumah, Exodus  25 1-16, G-d tells the Israelites to: וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם,  “Make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.”

That’s exactly what we did. We made a mishkan, a sanctuary. We put up a tent with three sides at Paradise Cove. In the front we created a “Bima” by setting a small folding Japanese table that I bought years ago at City Mill on top of a folding 6 foot table and covering each with a table cloth. It ended up creating both a lectern on which to place the Torah and an “Ark” in which to keep it safely covered during the rest of the service.

We placed 120 plastic white chairs under the tent  in a semi-circle facing the Bima, hooked up microphones for sound, brought the Torah from the AJC and voila, G-d was definitely among us.

My sister commented that it’s not very often that the Torah gets to go outside—kind of like a Torah field trip. We decided that it must be enjoying its few moments in the fresh air. We certainly did.  And boy did we celebrate.

In some ways it was not much different than a typical weekend family celebration. We shuttled guests between airport and hotels. We coordinated schedules with 25 out of town visitors. On Friday, we enjoyed Shabbat dinner and Erev Shabbat services with our family at the AJC. On Sunday we had a barbecue at our house  for our family to be together again. And every minute of it was very special.

But I have to say that the Beach Mitzvah was particularly poignant. The pieces of this puzzle transformed so magically and beautifully we couldn’t help but feel the inspiring presence of G-d—in our Bat Mitzvah who’s sweet voice chanting from the Torah reminded us that she chooses to take her place among generations of Jews who have chanted those same words and made similar sanctuaries in their own communities and homes and hearts, in the united pride of parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings and friends and in the sublime paradise of the mishkan we created by the beach on the leeward side of Oahu for our beautiful and wonderful and amazing Beach Mitzvah.

A New Year’s greeting- T’shuvah, T’filah, Tzedakah

It is not news that much of Oahu’s Jewish community has been in turmoil lately. The Honolulu Star Advertiser covered some of it in stories that were published last month. As with any conflict, there is a lot more to it than the newspaper reporter can capture or communicate in a few articles.

Recent events have made a huge impact on our family. While my husband and I have much to say and this topic tends to dominate our dinner table discussion and other daily conversations, I am conflicted about what to post. My personal perspective and disappointment leave me feeling a bit paralyzed–not for action, but in finding the right words.

Our actions certainly speak for themselves. We quit our membership at Temple Emanu-El Honolulu. For us, it’s about the process, which was anything but transparent.

It’s about the disparity between control and leadership. It’s about the fact that the leadership made their decisions based on only one perspective and completely disregarded any sense of compromise with or consideration of ours. It’s about zero tolerance for  leaders who resort to bullying and physical abuse to get their way.

The Sunday School deteriorated from bad to worse and they refused to address the issue in a timely manner due to their single-minded agenda in regards to getting rid of the Rabbi. It has not been as amicable as some might suggest.

We will not be a part of the Temple Emanu-El congregation for the beginning of 5772. We will attend High Holy Days services at Aloha Jewish Chapel where my husband and I met over nine years ago. Our courtship was spent celebrating Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in the seats of this congregation.  We have returned each year for Shabbat services and holidays. Our family will reflect on the past year and welcome in the new one from those same seats.

I will embrace this time for t’shuvah (repentance,) t’filah (prayer,) and tzedakah (justice.)

I found some cool thoughts on this in “The Torah In Haiku” on an RJ blog and am happy to share it with you.

My friend Toby sent a link to a You Tube video that is worth sharing. It’s a nice new year greeting and the sentiment is warm.

L’shanah Tovah U M’Tukah.

On the fourth night of Chanukkah…

Our family came together with the community at the Aloha Jewish Chapel at Joint Base Pearl Harbor…literally.

After several relaxing, peaceful, child free days, my husband picked up our younger girl from Camp Erdman in Mokuleia on the North Shore and drove straight to Pearl Harbor. I brought the teenager from hula practice and we reconvened as a family for Friday night services and Chanukkah celebration.

I met my husband the first time I attended the Aloha Jewish Chapel (AJC) almost nine years ago. My very long time friend Dan Bender who leads the services at the Chapel introduced us. Much of our early courtship was spent sitting side by side at Friday night services. We progressed to marriage from there.

Before I went to AJC I wasn’t  aware that there is a vibrant Jewish community in the military. I didn’t know much about the military in general. It was out of my realm of experience. I’ve learned a lot since then, considering I married a Jewish soldier and am now, among other things, an Army wife.

The Aloha Jewish Chapel was built in the 1970’s and is the first  free-standing Jewish chapel built by the United States government exclusively for Jewish worship. Besides being a special place in terms of history, we like it because our friend, Dan, leads the services.

I’ve known Dan since I was in college in L.A.. We both taught Hebrew at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills and found each other again after I moved to Hawaii over 20 years ago. We go way back.

Our family enjoys Friday night services at AJC and our local Temple Emanu-El, but more often find ourselves at Pearl Harbor due to the proximity to our house and not having to drive in Friday evening traffic to get there.

Last night was a nice community celebration. A mixed crowd of retired military, young active duty couples, various dependents and local guests came together for latkes, dreidle and song.

We were happy to see the Donlins there and I took a picture of the Kamehameha grads with my teenager happy that they are a great role model for my Jewaiian girl.

Rachel Haymer played the ukulele and led us as we sang, “Light One Candle,” “Rock of Ages” and “Not by Might.” Always one to appreciate the meaning in the moment, I was moved by the lyrics that pay tribute to the Maccabees and the “Pain they endured, when their right to exist was denied,” and the call to “Light one candle to bind us together with peace as the song in our heart.”

My spirit is renewed and refreshed by an evening with family and community in common celebration. Happy Hanukkah.

Chag Sameach from the North Shore

We tell our kids all the time, “Chanukkah is not a major holiday in the Jewish tradition. It’s only a festival.” It is a wonderful celebration of bravery and miracles and light, but it has nothing to do with presents. Americans added on that part because of Christmas.

Then we spend 8 nights lighting candles, playing dreidle, eating more than our share of fried food and giving them too many presents. I can’t help it. I love picking out presents for them.

This year we ended up sort of practicing what we preach. We were not together as a family for the first few nights. We have celebrated from different shores. We haven’t given them any presents…. yet.

Not only is this the holiday season, but it is also our wedding anniversary and my birthday. Yes, we got married on my birthday, December 26.

When Chanukkah falls during the later part of December, all of these celebrations converge. My husband and I like to celebrate what we call our “Birthaversary” each year by getting away alone together for a few days. Since we were expecting his mother to arrive next week, we celebrated early, thus missing the first few nights of Chanukkah with our daughters.

The younger girl has spent 5 glorious days at Camp Erdman in Mokuleia. We packed her and some dreidles and some chocolate coins and dropped her off last Sunday. Our teenager stayed with her  grandmother on the West Side enjoying family and going back and forth to wrestling practice in Kapalama.

Husband and I packed our own bags, plus an extra one filled with snacks and drinks and hit the road for the North Shore of Oahu to our favorite getaway destination, Turtle Bay Resort.

It has become a tradition for us to celebrate together in this beautiful vacation spot. Before we were married, he was deployed in Iraq from 2004-2006. He came to Hawaii to spend a week of his R & R leave with me at this very place. We have come back every year since that romantic week in 2005.

It was just as romantic this year. What I love about the Turtle Bay Resort is that it really feels like being away on an outer island without the hassle or expense of getting on a plane or renting a car.

We only spent a few days on the North Shore, but it was enough to relax, disconnect from the demands of daily life and reconnect with each other. I consider that a great way to celebrate a holiday and a minor miracle in and of itself.

We enjoyed the secluded beaches to the North of the resort, walking for a few miles along the coastline, dipping our feet in the water, picking up sea glass and coral and embracing the sun and salt air.

Wednesday morning greeted us with a double rainbow right outside our hotel room window. Talk about a blessing.

Add to that some time for my husband to surf in the challenging waves that side of the island has to offer, while I embraced a relaxing moment in the jaccuzzi, then topping it all off with a dazzling and romantic sunset moment, I have to say that it made for a wonderful holiday celebration.

We returned to Kapolei relaxed and refreshed and began to gather our children back at home for a family Chanukkah weekend (and a few presents.)

Tonight we will join some of the local Jewish community at Pearl Harbor’s Aloha  Jewish Chapel for Erev Shabbat and Chanukkah services, latkes and song. Others will celebrate at Honolulu’s Temple Emanu-El, but we can’t be at two places at once tonight.

Chag Sameach to you and your family and may it’s light and miracles brighten each of our lives on this 4th night of Chanukkah.

Why was last night different than many other nights? Celebrating Passover with a little local style

A seder in Hawaii is much like any seder around the world. We tell the story. We eat the traditional foods. And then there are a few special moments that highlight that we are celebrating in this particular place and possibly nowhere else.

Last night was no exception. The Aloha Jewish Chapel seder at the Hale Koa Hotel was a pleasure. The table was set with a beautiful seder plate and we told the story that Jews around the world had been telling all day long in different time zones.

This particular event has a personal story our family likes to tell. Every year when we attend, we remember that it was at this very seder, eight years ago, that my husband and I had our “Almost First Date.” We have been going every year since–except in 2005 when he was deployed in Iraq.

2006

2007

2011

The seder also has some local flavor, but not in the cooking.

How many seders have you been to where the guest list is a balance of  names such as Watanabe, Fukuhara and Hashimoto?

And then there is the music. Rachel Haymer played the ukulele at my wedding, my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah and at most of our Temple events. The addition of her ukulele and her voice last night was a real treat.

Finally, comes my favorite, and the initial inspiration to write this particular blog entry. When we were singing the four questions, during the part that asks why on some nights we eat either sitting or reclining, but on this night we only recline: She b’chol haleilot anu ochlin bein yoshbin uvein m’subin. Halailah hazeh, kulanu m’subin., both my husband and older daughter changed the word  m’subin-reclining- to musubi which is a spam and rice sushi snack that is so far from belonging at a seder that one can only laugh.

Try singing it.

Only in Hawaii.

Happy Passover.

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