Passover, AIDS, and the Indigo Girls: A 90s Coming Out Story

21 Jun

Pride Shabbat Sermon 2018

During my teenage years, the smells of a chicken boiling, silverware and dishes clanking, and my Mom singing in the kitchen were my wake up calls on the morning before our Passover seder. The preparations during the day often involved a lot of “to dos,” that in my mind now looking back are our family rituals. One of these rituals was the search for all the Passover Haggadahs and my Dad’s messy pile of printed seder supplements.

My Dad always led our seder with a lot of feeling and drama in his voice. Every word he read he believed in. This was his opportunity to teach and preach those words to the people around the table. He really saw and continues to see himself as a part of the sacred drama of the Passover story.

When we would come to the maggid (story) section of our Haggadah, he would dramatically hold up the matza in the matza cover and say these words (with feeling), Ha lachma anya…”This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate while in Egypt.” His teenage daughter, me, would often roll her eyes at his dramatics. Embarrassed and wishing for a life filled with joy and cheerfulness I wondered, why did the Passover seder have to start out with such a downer? And why did my Dad have to emphasize it?

Why do we begin the story of our exodus this way? Why not start on a better note? Our rabbinic tradition prescribes that the telling of the Exodus from Egypt should present a contrast: beginning with disgrace or lowly status and ending with glory and pride. This tradition has been a constant from antiquity until today. As adults, this narrative arc probably resonates. How many times in our own lives have we moved from a place of despair and loneliness to a place of  joy and pride? This motif for better or worse often strengthens us and allows us to feel gratitude and compassion for our journeys.

So, I stand here this evening thinking about my teenage self at those Passover seders. In a place in my life, where I was lonely and filled with despair. I felt fearful, enslaved to anxiety, and the icky feeling of feeling different. I couldn’t see the pride. Perhaps, that’s why I hated that Passover started in such a heavy place. It mirrored  how I was feeling.

In 1994, when I first started high school I realized something wasn’t right…or at least that’s how I saw it. I tried to make myself believe that I liked boys, but the truth of the matter was everytime I said I liked a particular guy to friends at school my mind was preoccupied with a girl. I couldn’t quite figure out… Was this just high school infatuation? Or something else?…something I assumed wasn’t normal.

My freshman year I became friends with a girl who was “out.” And now that I think back on it….how brave! I was glad to be friends with her and also hated being friends with her. Typical teenager. I was glad because perhaps she could help me figure out what was going on with myself and I hated her because, what if I was like her. One thing I learned about her seemed to help me feel better.  She told me her uncle was gay. And my uncle was gay. And so thinking that being gay was genetic made me feel better. If being gay was genetic, then I really couldn’t control how I felt because I was born this way. I want to tell you about my uncle…

My Uncle Russell had the most amazing laugh. If I think really hard I can still hear it in my head. He also wore a bolo tie to my Bat Mitzvah. And I had never seen a bolo tie and I thought how brave to wear a bolo tie to very conservative and a bit vanilla Westport, CT Bat Mitzvah. My uncle had longish dirty blond hair and a mustache and lived in San Francisco. He was a graphic designer and an artist. He made beautiful pillows with crazy cool and eccentric fabrics. He was the youngest of the three Lerner children…my Mom, my Aunt, and then my Uncle Russell and he always seemed to carry that sweet babyface third child energy whenever he was with the family.

In Chicago, in 1983, soon after my sister was born, my Uncle asked my Mom to drive him to the airport. He was going to San Francisco and it seemed that he was not coming back. He told my Mom not to tell my grandparents. My Mom was devastated that her brother was leaving Chicago, their childhood home, where they had grown up and where all our family was living. Though she also knew it was probably good for him to move.

He couldn’t be openly gay in Chicago and San Francisco was the place to be to live a free and open gay life. As my Mom has put it, “He was sowing his wild oats in the San Francisco community. If you wanted to be out and feel safe than you went to Castro street and went to bars and met people.” My Uncle’s first boyfriend that my Mom knew about was Jim. Though no one would admit it, including my uncle. Jim was his “roommate.” He later than met his life-partner Steven. He never officially came out to my Mom. My Mom outed him to her. She told him she knew what was going on. My Mom’s best friend was gay and as a result my Uncle saw my Mom as a part of the extended gay family. He knew she was ok with who he was, so why did he have to come out to her? My grandparents though were another story. He didn’t come out to them  until 1990, when he was diagnosed with AIDS.

He was still living with the disease in 1994 when I started struggling with my sexuality. I thought a lot about coming out to him or at least telling him what I was struggling with so I would feel less alone, but I never felt confident or comfortable enough to do so. I remember going to visit him and Steven during winter vacation of 1994. It was my first time in San Francisco and really seeing gay people living their lives. I remember sneaking into my uncle’s bedroom and seeing a tape with the Indigo Girls on it. My Mom and I learned about the Indigo Girls from him. A long lasting gift from my Uncle Russell because those Indigo Girls became the soundtrack to my life. They comforted me as I struggled with trying to figure out my identity. They were role models for me because they were both gay, out, and living lives that appeared to be “normal.”

Even though I saw my uncle living a “normal” life in San Francisco, everything was the opposite of normal. He was sick. He had pill bottles all over his house. My Mom and him spent most of their time together talking about new treatments they were hearing about. When he came to visit us in Connecticut one of my sister’s friends wouldn’t come over while he was there because he had AIDS. (And get this her parents were both doctors!) Even I nervously wondered if I could catch AIDS from him. Even though it was clear at this point AIDS was passed through bodily fluids I still naively worried. None of this was normal.

During the first week of June in 1996 my Uncle came to Westport for my sister’s Bat Mitzvah. He was incredibly skinny and weak. He couldn’t come up to the bima for an aliya. My Mom took him to New York City and he insisted on going to the fabric district to buy tons and tons of cool fabrics as if he had years left of his life to sew and make things out of what he bought. My Mom believes this is what kept him alive for so long. He never thought he was actually going to die.

A month later in July of ‘96 he died. I was in Israel for the very first time with NFTY. My counselors broke the news to me. My group held a memorial service for him even though none of them knew him and they hardly knew me. I went to the kotel with one of my counselors and I prayed for the very first time at the wall. I can’t remember exactly what my prayers were, but I can imagine I prayed for strength, clarity, and ease and comfort for my Uncle and my family. I never got to tell my Uncle I was gay. He never got to meet my partner Michelle whom I know he would love. A few years ago, she got to meet his partner Steven. They got along so well.

We now recite an 11th plague at our seder. And that is the plague of AIDS. A plague which could have been stopped sooner than it was, if this country hadn’t been filled with rampant homophobia. In  particular, homophobic elected officials in the 1980s. Perhaps lives could have been saved. Perhaps, my Uncle or my Mom’s best friend Brian could still be alive today. When I look back on my coming out story and when I think about my Uncle’s coming out story…Before there could be pride…there was struggle, there was pain, and there was hardship.

Now it’s 2018. And we have marriage equality. And I am an out lesbian rabbi on this bima celebrating pride shabbat with all of you. I pray my Uncle has gotten to catch a glimpse of all of this from a realm beyond this world. It is his shoulders on whom I stand tonight. It is the pain of his generation and generations of LGBTQ folks before me that without their suffering we couldn’t all experience pride.

So how do we ensure pride for future generations? How can we support those coming out today so they can be proud in 25 years from now? First fo starters, let’s take a hard look at how we understand the word “normal.” In many ways, I wish we could eliminate this word from our lexicon. I can imagine that all of us in this room at some point or another have felt abnormal or haven’t fit into the norm. Acknowledging this, might lead to thinking harder about how each one of us reacts to difference. Can we do better at seeing beyond “normal” frameworks?

Using queer theory can assist us in that endeavor. When something is being “queered” (as a verb) it usually means deconstructing a social construct that is dictating normalcy. Its attempting to debunk how we have come to understand what is natural and unnatural. We ask the question, “Why does it have to be that ONE way?” So I invite you all this evening to try and be mindful through a queer lens. Deconstruct what you think is normal particularly when it comes to gender and sex. Take a look at the spaces you inhabit and the relationships you have…how do you reinforce society’s concept of what is normal and how can you choose to act differently? How can you break open the proverbial “boxes” that keep us closed up into categories?

Here in our congregation how can we walk the walk when it comes to being an open and welcoming synagogue? Imagine walking down to the lower level to use the restroom and seeing a sign that says “all gender” bathrooms. Think about the welcoming message this would send to transgender and queer folks who are in our building. What if we had a rainbow flag or a rainbow sticker up all year round instead of just in June? Imagine how inviting it might feel to anyone who identifies as LGBTQ to see a rainbow flag as they are wondering if BHS could be a home for them. I know how happy and invited it makes me to see that symbol when I am out and about.

We should also try and rid ourselves of notions of “normalcy” when it comes to Jewish practice. Jews love minhag…we love tradition, but what aspects of our tradition actually keep us stuck in binaries or in heteronormativity? Every Friday night we are suppose to bless our children separated by gender and the blessing teaches that our boys should be like boys and our girls should be like girls. We say for boys may you be life Menashe and Eprahim (Joseph’s sons). And girls be like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Perhaps we need to expand or change this. I imagine we want to bless our children with qualities we want them to possess, such as kindness, good health, happiness, etc. These are human desires that have nothing to do with gender.

I could probably go on and on. And maybe you have ideas now too. Let’s talk! And let’s really talk. As the more we do, the more we train our minds to think outside of the box. A box that only exists,  because we decided it does.

I want to go back now to that smell of chicken soup and matza balls. To that phrase from the beginning of the maggid section of our passover haggadah…”This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat it with us.” Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks asks a different question about this verse, than I did at the beginning of this sermon. He wonders, “What kind of hospitality is it to offer the hungry the “bread of affliction”?” He offers this response:

Matza was both food eaten by the Israelites as slaves and  it was also the food eaten by the Israelites as they left Egypt in a hurry because they didn’t have time to let the dough rise. So it’s the bread of affliction and  also the bread of freedom. When we eat Matza alone, we only taste the suffering. But, when we offer to share the matza with others we can taste something else: the sense of a freer world that God promised us we can create.

Sharing the matza so it takes on a dual meaning, reminds that when we are suffering, reaching out is often a really good first step to getting out of the darkness. During my first week of college I came out to my freshmen year roommate. She was so loving, so kind, so accepting, so understanding…it was the first time I didn’t feel so abnormal because I was gay. And those experiences continued and continued as I came out and as our world got more and more accepting. My personal narrative began to move towards pride and joy.

I pray that kids who are coming out today don’t know those feelings of abnormalcy that I felt. And I pray that our cities, towns, and homes can all be places where LGBTQ folk can live openly and safely. So they don’t have to feel like my Uncle did…having to choose between his family and being an out gay man. And I pray that we can all open up the boxes we find ourselves in or the boxes we put others in. And look through that opening and beyond, and break free from the narrowness of being enclosed.

Shabbat Shalom.


4 May

Arrival. I arrived from Israel a little over 48 hours ago. My last week in Israel was filled with amazing memories with two of my best-friends, nursing my very tired and somewhat wounded feet back to health, trying to make sense of the fact that I was no longer on the shvil, trying to stay in touch with my Walk About Love group, and of course soaking up every ounce of Israel I could (even though I return in just a few short weeks with my congregation’s 9th grade class.)

I don’t think that I cried this much leaving Israel since my first trip when I was 16 years old. I cried when I was saying goodbye to my Walk About Love friends on WhatsApp. I cried after I hugged my dear friend Nancy Lewitt good-bye in Jerusalem. I cried on the airplane and I cried at JFK. Oh, and then I cried when I got home because my amazing partner Michelle filled our apartment with my pictures from the shvil and then put up shvil signs in the apartment leading me to her.

My tears, I believe are an emotional expression of closure to this amazing journey. I am not upset to be home, rather I think arriving home is like coming down from a beautiful viewpoint. I can’t stay up there forever. Every ascent is not complete without the descent. All journeys require an arrival “home.” The question I sit with now is, “How will I remember to remember all that the shvil taught me?”

There are certain lessons that I think might be engrained in me…my new love of trees and their ability to speak, heal, and offer comfort, my connection with my body and an increased confidence in it’s ability and resilience, and a lot more knowledge about the geography, topography, and the nature of the land of Israel.

Perhaps though, it is some of the deeper lessons…the soul lessons that I hope to keep close. Lessons of gratitude, of compassion, of generosity, of fearlessness, of strength, of self-reflection, of confidence, and of creativity and imagination.

My first day and a half back in Brooklyn I definitely lounged more than I have in about 8 weeks. I’ve been drinking Turkish coffee with hell (a staple on the shvil), Aroma now makes Nespresso pods so I’ve had some of those, I recreated some of my favorite Israeli food, and I’ve been listening to Israeli radio. Today though I realized I needed to reignite some parts of me that were really alive in Israel. So I went to yoga, and took a long walk in Prospect park, I started working on a photo book of my journey, and now I am writing this reflection…

When my sabbatical began I starting reading the book “The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred” by Phil Cousineau. He writes in the last section of his book about coming home, “The art of pilgrimage is the craft of taking time seriously elegantly. What every traveler confronts sooner or later is that the way we spend each day of our travel…is the way we spend our lives.” I took these words to mean that my journey and my home life overlap. One experience doesn’t live a part from the other. All are integrated. All can be integrated. I look forward to sharing that integration with my congregation when I return very shortly from sabbatical and I am blessed that my friends, my family, and my amazing partner has already made space for that integration to happen.

Shabbat shalom and much love from another type of promised land…Brooklyn!

A Walk About Love

25 Apr

Monday was my last walking day. Six weeks and three days later I feel filled up beyond belief. Starting at the very end of the walk on Monday till leaving the group Tuesday morning my eyes continuously welled up with tears. I had been planning this journey for so long, and I am in awe and filled with gratitude for the whole experience. I feel that I met my goals and am gaining so much more than I can even imagine. I’m “walking” away knowing what seems impossible is often more possible than one thinks.

The last few days we walked along the coast and the words from “sea to shining sea” kept popping into my head…I began at the Red Sea and I am ending at the glistening and sparkling Mediterranean. I believe I walked somewhere between 650-700 kilometers. I am leaving about 300 km of the shvil to be continued at some point in my life. Rea, who founded Walk About Love told me three nights ago that “shvil” is an idea, it’s not something you have to finish cause we are always walking, we’ve been walking since we are two. I’m not sure I will ever look at walking the same way. I realize what my body is capable of and what it can endure. How it can walk kilometer after kilometer, how it can sleep outside day after day. I also now feel like I even have a deeper connection to the wonder of having two feet on the ground carrying me from place to place, sometimes with purpose and signs along the way so you know where to go and sometimes you can’t find the signs so you just have to go and trust you will find your way.

I am leaving the trail with a deeper connection to the land of Israel no doubt and I am also leaving having been impacted by the lifestyle of Walk About Love.

There is a culture to walking the shvil with Walk About Love that I have grown so accustomed to that I am definitely feeling disoriented without it. Some core principles are help each other, stick together, and every day is a beautiful day. Other things include: Anytime someone arrives whether from the bathroom or from the day’s walk it is very appropriate as a group to scream, “Welcome!” Also, when it comes to showering and washing dishes you need much less water than you think you need, but when it comes to walking 26 kilometers in the desert you need much more water than you think you need. And finally I am a full believer now that most gatherings are much better done in a circle…food circle, morning circle, sharing circle, etc.

Yesterday morning before saying good bye officially to the group they had a morning circle in my honor and as the tears streamed down my face I shared how this journey was so much better than I could ever imagine thanks to all of them.

This truly has been a walk about love, I’ve walked loving the land, I’ve walked with love for all the people walking with me and helping me to reach the day’s goal each and every day. And now my heart feels open in new ways physically and emotionally, capable of loving even deeper and greater than before.

Sunset on my last day of walking.

My core walking group!

The beach north of Netanya.

My excitement to be at the beach!

Sometimes you just have to take a selfie with a wedding couple you pass by.

Rock love.

Best color combo!

Israel at 70 AND Tel Aviv!

20 Apr

I’ve seen many a “tels” (hills/archeological site)over the past several weeks on the shvil, but nothing compares to seeing TEL Aviv! Over the past two days the shvil has taken us along the Yarkon River. The Yarkon starts at Tel Afek (north of Petach Tikva) heads past Rosh HaAyin and ultimately ends up flowing into the Mediterranean Sea. This morning we walked through Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon Park (which is kind of like the Central Park of Tel Aviv.) We dodged many a mountain bikers, runners, and motor bikes as we walked along our way. Around 1pm we arrived to the Tel Aviv port…6 weeks and we reached the Mediterranean!

For much of the trail last week as we approached Jerusalem it seemed like we passed more sites from biblical and rabbinic times as we made our way to Tel Aviv this week it certainly felt like we saw more sites from the 20th/21st century..really bringing to life along the shvil the feeling that Israel truly is an “Alt Neu Land.” (Old/New land.) We’ve walked past ancient wells and sky scrapers where people are working on cutting edge technology.

Yesterday was a highlight of my trip as it was Yom HaAtzmaut and the country was alive with celebration. As we walked along the Yarkon River hundreds of people were BBQing, partying, singing, and dancing. We were welcomed to join many a parties to which we did not say no. Since our food for the most part has been vegan I gladly enjoyed kebabs, chicken wings, and chicken skewers. We enjoyed a few l’chaims and when we arrived to our night camp there was a dj set up for a party so we danced the afternoon away.

Israel is no doubt a complicated place and its moment of independence is certainly no exception…this being said, I could not have been happier to celebrate this milestone birthday for Israel, a place that I love so dearly.

70 is a number that appears often in our tradition. 70 is the number of Jacob’s family members that travels down to Egypt together as one soul. 70 is also the number of nations that spread out after the Tower of Babel. Even in this number we have complexity…on the one hand it signifies unity and on the other it signifies disunity or separation. The number 70 also pops up in the book of Numbers when a group of 70 elders is elected to help Moses lead the people…so perhaps, being 70 is a good omen for Israel this year…a year of wisdom, leadership, and responsibility to its people.

Shabbat shalom from one of my most favorite cities in the world! Tel Aviv ya chabibi!


17 Apr

At 8:00pm tonight we stopped chatting, singing, and eating and stood up around our campfire as the sound of the siren blared throughout the country to mark the beginning of Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day.) I swear the flames of the fire grew bigger as the siren sounded. I thought of parents who have lost their son or daughter to war and terror. I thought of those in my group who have lost friends and neighbors. At the end of the siren Sivan, a member of our group offered a prayer that no more soldiers be lost. Ken yehi ratzon.

When I was thinking of writing a post today the theme I was thinking would be “angels.” This term gets mentioned a lot because there are shvil angels, people who offer their extra beds and showers to those on the shvil. Apparently there is even a TV show about the shvil angels.

While I have not benefited from these angels I certainly feel like the members of my group are shvil yesterday when Regina carried my pack when my feet were throbbing or when Fima carried my walking sticks cause he wanted to help lessen my load or today when Guy bought me hummus because lunch wasn’t enough and also today construction workers who we were passing gave us cold water and made us coffee. All angelic acts.

When I think about angels I think about those who are willing to be kind, generous, and giving. I think angels can be gifts from the מלאך universe. In Hebrew, the word for angel is malach…not to be confused with the word for salt, mel-ach. Although…angels are the salt of the earth.

So on this Yom HaZikaron I am thinking about those whose “gift” has unfortunately been their lives for Israel. I passed some of their graves these past few days: at Kibbutz Tzuba, as we walked the Burma road, which was the road the Palmach created in order to get supplies to Jerusalem in 1948, And at a cemetery in Neve Shalom, a cooperative village founded by both Israeli Jews and Arabs.

Today I realized angels make the shvil come alive so it is not just a trail we walk, it’s a path filled with memory, kindness from one to another, sacrifice, and love.

Yerushalayim Shel Zahav

14 Apr

After 2,000 years and 5 weeks of longing for Jerusalem, I have arrived! Thanks to an amazing playlist from Michelle featuring only songs about Jerusalem, my friend Sonya and I danced our way up the trail to Tzur Hadassah right outside Jerusalem where we then took a bus to the city. We’ve walked 506 kilometers (314 miles) from Eilat to Jlem!

The arrival was a bit overwhelming as Jerusalem is an intense and busy place particularly right before Shabbat, but once I got out of the center of the city and my taxi pulled up to my favorite address in Jerusalem where my friends Nancy and Ron live I felt completely in awe that just five weeks ago this is where my journey began.

I was reunited with my belongings that I had brought here for before and after the trail. It was strange and yet wonderful to put on jeans, use face wash, put on perfume, etc. I sat across from Nancy at her kitchen table in disbelief at how far I had come also while I wolfed down the most amazing tasting bread, cheese, and grapes.

This was like no other time I had ever arrived to Jerusalem. First, it was by foot and second it was the day after Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).

As a group we observed Yom HaShoah when the sunset on Wednesday evening. We had a minute of silence and then a talking circle where everyone shared what was alive for them at this moment of remembrance. Several of the Israelis in the group spoke about their families survival stories. Others shared about the power of remembering, experiences at Yad Vashem, and the impact the loss of 6 million of our ancestors has on their lives. Towards the end a heated discussion erupted about whether one could compare the holocaust with other genocides. Though it was challenging in that moment to hear the tense discussion it was certainly a reminder how important it is to engage in these types of discussions.

The following morning I was standing on the trail by myself with yellow flowers waving in the wind as the siren went off throughout the country to remember the Shoah. I stood there thinking about Jews who passed away in fields and had to run through fields fearing for their life and had to live in fields and forests for years during the war in order to survive. In some ways the flowers and the grass waving in the wind felt like their memories were being lifted and honored as the siren blared. I also felt sad that so many never got to see such beauty here in our home land, a safe haven for the Jewish people.

So, arrival to this holy city of Jerusalem took on extra meaning as I was so aware of how many before me dreamed of and longed to be in this place.

This past week as we walked up to Jerusalem I was giddy as we passed through places where the prophet Micah preached, where Goliath lived, where Israelites took refuge after the destruction of the second temple, we saw ancient wells, an old Ottoman bridge, vineyards, wheat fields, and the most breathtaking storks flying in the sky.

What an unforgettable week…I sat under a fig tree and near vineyards this past week ( as the prophet Micah envisioned) and I rejoiced in Jerusalem (just as the prophet Isaiah preached) with the words…sisu et Yerushalayim… I am truly humbled by it all.

Shavua tov from Jerusalem of Gold! And tomorrow begins the journey to Tel Aviv…

I saw the sign.

9 Apr

The symbol of the Israel National Trail is white, blue, and orange. If you are walking the shvil from south to north than the white is on top symbolizing heading towards Mt. Hermon, which gets snow. And if you walk from North to South than the orange is on top symbolizing the sand on the beach of Eilat.

While we were in the desert, the trail symbols were often quite easy to spot since they were often the most color we would see with the exception of our clothes and our packs. Now that we are out of the desert and hiking in green pastures and around civilization it’s often a bit of a scavenger hunt (or a game of “Where’s Waldo?”) to find the trail marker. When we do find and see the sign it is often quite exciting. My friend Sonya says she gets a rush of adrenaline each time.

As a result of this, we started thinking about the shvil sign as metaphor in our own lives. During our walking over the past two days we tried to answer this question for ourselves, “What’s the shvil sign in your life?” Meaning what symbols in your life let you know you are on the right path. Sonya reflected that hers is an inner shvil sign. I think mine might be when I catch the clock at 4:11 (the time I was born.) Whats the shvil sign of your life?

Yesterday we traveled through the Yatir Forest into the Meitar Forest and today we left the Meitar forest and walked 26K(!) to a Bedouin compound where we are camping for the night. Today was another memorable day on the shvil.

First, the trail started only a few hundred meters from the security fence. The trail was heading north west towards Jerusalem. Seeing the fence and essentially walking along it was certainly a reminder of the conflict that I hadn’t been thinking so much about during the walk despite trying to keep up with the news. It reminded me yet again of the complexity of this place …a beautiful trail alongside a divisive security barrier.

The trail then took us to Kibbutz Lahav one of two places that raises pigs in Israel! I learned that there is law that pigs actually can’t be raised in the holy land so Lahav built platforms for the pigs to be on so they never touch the ground. (This is a different aspect of the complexities of this country!) As we walked around the fence of the Kibbutz I definitely heard the sounds of the pigs. Poor Wilbur. 😦

We then walked up and down a bunch of hills till we ended up in Devira Forest. Devira had ruins from after the destruction of the second temple in 70CE. Jews fled here to southern Judea. Towards the end of this forest there was picnic grounds with a sign with this wonderful quote from Psalm 96:12, “Then all of the trees of the forest will sing for joy.”

Finally, we arrived to our night camp around 4:30pm (we had been going since 7:45am…oof.) The trucks with our stuff had not arrived yet and so a few members of our group got us invited for tea and coffee with the Bedouins here. They spoke a combination of Hebrew and Arabic and I was a bit tired so I couldn’t totally understand everything. When they heard I was from the states they did say the words, “Obama. Trump.” And then “Dump. Trump.” I also learned they have 200 sheep. They live here between March and October so the sheep can eat grass and graze. And also they get 30 shekels a kilo for lamb. Poor Lambchop. 😦

We are settling into the campsite now and…I built the fire tonight!! See photo below!! I am

beyond proud.

Laila tov from the forest where the trees sing with joy. A good sign I think for a good sleep.

Rest and Ice Cream Cones

7 Apr

I’ve been enthusiastically lounging over the past two days. I envision that this really is how Chag (last day of Pesach) and Shabbat should always be spent…reading, resting, singing, chatting, and enjoying the outdoors.

Some of my favorite things over the past few days have been singing Shabbat songs around the camp fire last night with drumming, searching for the chametz that had been hidden away for the week, chilling out under the big green tarp that Walk About Love puts up on Shabbat, and getting to know my fellow walkers even better. Oh and also getting a lot of practice with my Hebrew!

Over the past 48 hours, Maggie from our group often exclaimed “What a time to be alive!” every time someone would come to visit our group over Chag and Shabbat with food and drink! While we did have food in the truck, which we made good use of including the American classic Matza Brei (which I supervised), we were a bit sick of matza and tehina, matza and chocolate spread, matza and matza. So…it really was pretty exciting (great to be alive) when a bottle of tequila was brought to us, ice cream and ice cream cones, pita, hummus, labaneh, cheese, pastries, kanafe, and baklava!

We are camped at Har (Mt.) Amasa in the edge of the Yatir Forest about a 20 minute drive by car to the north of Arad. Amasa is named for King David’s nephew who ultimately heads his army at the end of Second Samuel. Right near us is a small village also called, “Har Amasa.” They have a room that they leave open for hikers and back packers and have been very welcoming to us who didn’t go back to civilization for the weekend.

On Thursday we left Arad, walked past Tel Arad, and then climbed Har Amasa to arrive here. We passed many Bedouin shepherds as well as a village inhabited by the Falahim who are known for having lived in caves many years ago and unlike their Bedouin brethren who are primarily nomadic the Falahim are committed to agriculture. I am still in shock how green it is everywhere. I really feel like we entered Oz after a long four weeks on only a “yellow brick road.”

Tomorrow we start walking and (Gd willing) by the end of next week we will reach Jerusalem. I can’t believe it! Shavua tov!

Arriving to Arad

4 Apr

I’ve arrived to Arad with mixed emotion. On the one hand, I walked to Arad (from Eilat)! I can’t believe this. On the other hand, the walk to Arad today was the transition out of the midbar (the desert). As I walked the dry yellow mountains turned into green mountains as grass sprouted out from amongst the rocks. I took a moment on the trail and looked back to say good-bye to the desert. I kind of wanted to hug it and say thanks for caring for me and being a rocky road of love.

The Negev is a powerful part of Israel…55% of it! Ben Gurion was smart about a lot, including his love of and vision for the desert. Here a few shades of the desert from the past 3 1/2 weeks:

On Monday, I walked through the last of the craters in the Negev…Makhtesh Katan (the small crater. It definitely felt like the friendliest of all the craterim. It is the most symmetrical and had gorgeous sparkly red purplish sand. The past two days I’ve walked primarily on a Jeep road with mountains on either side.

Today I think I might have walked the fastest I have this whole trip with thanks to my Mom’s Spotify playlist that ranged from two versions of the song, “Thirsty Boots” to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

As I left the desert I believe it was pretty beshert to hear the lyrics of the song, “Thirsty Boots,” particularly as we head towards the end of Pesach…”Across the planes from field to town/Marchin’ to be free…”

This evening as I walked to the night camp my friend Sonya and I embraced whole heartedly our new backdrop. She rightfully said it was quite nice to see so much color! I definitely felt all of a sudden the hills were alive with color and the sound of music. 🙂

This Year in Haifa

1 Apr

I’m on a train heading back down south to meet the Walk About Love group to start the second half of my journey on the shvil. I feel rested, relaxed, and renewed. I felt thankful for every hot shower I took, sleeping indoors on a comfy bed, a bathroom (!), and dear friends. Ok I’ll be honest I definitely even felt grateful for sitting on a couch, digging my feet into a soft rug, and I I hugged my very clean clothes after they came out of the dryer for a long time. It’s amazing how easy it is to take for granted such things and then without them how grateful one can feel when reunited with such pleasures!

I wrestled a lot with how to spend Pesach this year while I was in Israel. Do I stay with the group on the trail and celebrate amidst the desert backdrop at a campsite or do I leave the trail and be with friends and be at a seder that would feel similar to what I am used to at home?

To make my decision I thought a lot about what the words, “next year in Jerusalem” mean at the end of the Haggadah. Originally these words made it into the Haggadah to symbolize ultimate redemption. We will only truly be free once the messiah is here and we are all in Jerusalem. Over the centuries before the state of Israel came to be this phrase also represented the longing of the Jewish people to have a homeland. “Home” being the key word there for me.

As I reflected on what those words meant to me this year, I realized they mean a desire to feel at “home” for the holiday. And since I am not physically home with my family then I had to think about what would feel like the next best thing. And so I was so thankful to be welcome into the home of the Ben-Chorin family…dear friends with an incredibly warm home.

And as I uttered the words “bashanah habah b’yerushalyim” this year I thought about what “Yerushalayim” translates to…yireh – he will see God, shalem – complete or wholeness. And this to me is what is important to me when celebrating and observing holidays…being with people who make you feel whole and complete and feeling a sense of divine presence in the celebration, whether in Jerusalem, Haifa, New York, Connecticut, or Texas!

I definitely wished to have been in three places at once this Passover as it’s hard to be away over holidays, but I am truly filled up and excited to get back on the trail!

Wishing everyone a moadim L’simcha (happy holiday)!