jewish

The Road Between

There is so much that I want from life.

Recently though, I’ve boiled down my prayers to be pretty specific:

If there is one thing I do right in this lifetime, may it be my family.

My prayers don’t end there, certainly not – but each time I turn to G-d I let Him know that that is the key aspect of my prayers. That if He’s unable to grant me anything else I ask for, He still gift me with that.

If nothing else pans out, allow me to still be capable of a loving marriage and raising my children the way I hope.

. . .

I am a spiritual person.

Rosh Hashonah is a very spiritual holiday. Even as a kid, I would look forward to the familiar tunes and prayers said only on Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. That excitement has not faded and has only strengthened through a deeper understanding of what the holidays represent.

Over this Rosh Hashonah, I was deeply connected and focused.

I was rudely awakened yesterday as assignment due dates and to do lists came back into focus, and I was reminded that I am not a spiritual being, I am actually so very human.

Our days are made up of so much, our world is made up of even more, and there is no end to the opportunities and challenges that arise each day.

In the end, our joys and our pains are oh so physical, not so much spiritual.

Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur are nice – and more than that, they are truly truly important.

But they are the spiritual half of our journey, and in a way, the much easier part.

I didn’t forget I was human on Rosh Hashonah – I prayed for all the parts that are human in me. But somehow, on Rosh Hashonah, being human was easier.

And yesterday, as I emerged from the cocoon of prayer and spirituality, it was a startling wake-up call to what being human really is about.

Because our life is not made up of enormous life-changing events, like the ones we pray for.

Our life is not made up of graduating college, getting the dream job, getting married, or having children.

It’s made up of all the tiny things in between, the tiny things that are easy to forget about when you’ve got your eyes on the big picture.

But when you face life, those tiny things are exactly what it is.
I prayed for the big things, because they are easier to pinpoint.

Today, I pray for the small things.

As I transition back into my world, suited up with spirituality, I pray that the small things go right. That our lives are filled with the small things that count.
I pray that the big things are so great that I get to appreciate and notice the tiny things.

. . .

At the end of the day, my prayer still stands – if I do anything right in this lifetime, may it be my family.

Yet I mean that in a thousand ways, as it filters down to real life.

All the roads that lead towards it – may they be brightly lit. May all the roads we take in life be brightly lit and filled with joy.

Because it is the road we’re on that that counts. The destinations are important, but it’s the rest stops that make it better. The music we choose, the snacks we eat, the people we put in our passenger seats.

It’s those tiny things that make up life that make life worth living.

And I look forward to G-d granting me these prayers. That ahead of me, I have a life filled with sticky fingers, dirty kitchens, late night deadlines, busy work days, hugs and kisses, aching laughter, days in swimming pools, and a heart filled to capacity.

On Rosh Hashonah, we pray.

And on Yom Kippur, may it be sealed.
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Blog Post 51/52.

Featured Photo by rawpixel  via Unsplash

To The One Who Made Me

Dear G-d,

In six days, I’ll be standing in synagogue, standing before You, a tiny speck before an all-encompassing, all-knowing creator. Before the big day, I’d like to write to you, so that I can explain where I’m coming from this year.
You and I, we have quite the relationship. I’d like to say it’s mostly reliable. I turn to You on a constant basis, and You respond. I may not hear Your words per-se, but You respond in other ways.
When I’m in a rush, and the lights work in my favor, I know that’s You.
When I wake up in the morning, energized and inspired, excited about my day, I know that’s You.
When the food I’m cooking comes out tasting exactly the way I was hoping, I know that’s You.
When I find things right before I lose them, I know that’s You.
When the concept I’ve been struggling with for a while suddenly clicks, I know that’s you.
When the little things and the big things seem to fall into place, I know that’s You.
Yet.
When life darkens, and things feel trapped, that is still You.
When the pain is greater than the joy, that is still You.
When things fall on the ground, when anxiety is rampant, when lives are taken, when the world seems to be falling apart at the seams, that is still You.
And it’s on those days that hurt the most that I am forced to recognize that the same You that brings goodness and joy to our world also brings pain and misery and mourning.
As a simple human being, I struggle to wrap my head around this, G-d, but the truth is I don’t want to understand.
I just want You to start choosing goodness.
Is there a cup that must be filled with tears to turn the tide? G-d, I am confident that it is overflowing.
You created me, You give me each thought, each step, each new day.
Sometimes I wonder, when You breathed life into me on that very first day, what were your hopes and dreams for me?
What did you hope I would do with the gifts you’ve handed me? What did you hope I’d say with the words you gave me?
And am I doing it, G-d? Am I following the path You painstakingly created for me?
Some days it feels like I’m walking my own path, all alone, so determined to do things differently. You made me this way, didn’t You?
What did You dream for me?
There are times in life, G-d, I just wish You would speak.
I’ll be in synagogue in six days, and G-d, I have so many prayers.
I have countless dreams and wishes for this world, for my future, for the people I love.
I’ll be bringing them all to You, every last one.
I am no saint, nowhere close, and I fail on a pretty consistent basis.
But I am Yours, aren’t I?
G-d, You’ve designed a glorious world. It is filled with natural sights that blow my mind on a daily basis, it is filled with billions of people who do their best every day with what You’ve given them. You’ve given us so much, yet you’ve also taken more than You need, and G-d, I pray that You see us worthy of so much more goodness.
We’re all just doing our best, G-d.
And as the Shofar blows next week, and our prayers are lifted to your doorstep, do Your best.
Do Your best to say yes. Give us our dreams. Give us our wishes. Answer our prayers in the way that we seek for them to be answered.
Please.
Allow the things I only dare dream about become a part of my reality.
Allow the work of my blood, sweat and tears to develop into something more real and more beautiful than I could have hoped.
In six days, I’ll be in synagogue, standing before You, my heart open, my words sincere. My whole self, with my past behind me, and my future that only You know – it’ll all be there.
G-d, You created me. Now You have to deal with me. And being that You created me, You should know better than anyone what that means.

I don’t give up all too quickly.

Sincerely,

Etti

Blog Post: 50/52!

Featured Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

WHEN THE ANGELS LOST

The mood was somber in heaven that day. The angels moved around, carrying out their tasks, but without their usual joy. As they each passed through the various passageways, they couldn’t help but longingly stare at the Torah, being prepared for it’s introduction to the humans on earth.
“I don’t know, I’m kind of excited about this” one angel whispered to another, as they moved past G-d’s chambers.
“Excited? Why would you be excited? I can’t stop crying” her friend whispered back.
“You think these humans are going to be able to do it? G-d will realize very quickly that they’re unworthy. Then He’ll just take the Torah back, and we’ll be the most valuable creations again!”
Suddenly thoughtful, the second angel began to smile again.
“That’s true! I never thought about that. I mean, look at how they’ve been acting since they left Egypt. They’re never happy, never satisfied, always crying and asking for more. There’s no way this will work.”
Both satisfied with this new knowledge, they got back to their jobs with renewed vigor.
The preparation was picking up speed in heaven, and the angels watched in awe as the tablets were being prepared for their big debut.
The tablets had been hidden all this time in G-ds innermost chambers, and the angels had never seen anything like them in heaven or on earth.
The time was finally so close. Ever since the Jewish nation had cried “Naaseh Vinishma, we will do and then we will hear,” two days ago, the feeling in heaven had been one of deep sadness. The Torah that they had the pleasure of studying for so long and never had to share was being taken from them. The arguments heard across heaven were long and loud, but G-d was insistent. This was the plan all along, He said, and it was time.
Now, it was finally the third day. The Jewish nation had been preparing themselves in mind, body, and soul.
But as the angels watched, the mistakes were already starting.
“Why are they sleeping?!” the head observation angel was furious. Every screen in the room was filled with images of sleeping humans, on the most exciting day of their lives.
“According to my data, they believed that when asleep, their souls would access a deeper level of spirituality than they could while awake” one angel explained, looking up from his notes.
“Well, they thought wrong. I’m sure the plans are off. G-d is not going to give the most precious thing ever created to a sleeping nation.”
Heaven was abuzz with rumors and discussion. When would G-d announce that the Torah would not be given today?
But as their certainty grew, G-d entered.
“It’s time” was all He said.
“But G-d, they slept!” cried one angel.
“Are they awake now?” G-d asked.
“Well, yes, but -” spluttered the angel.
“Well then, we will carry on with the plans.” G-d moved towards the Torah, standing in the middle of the room.
The angels couldn’t believe it.
As they watched disbelievingly, the show began.
G-d descended into the world, and began to speak.
The angels crammed together in the observation room, some covering their eyes, unable to watch the Torah being given to these worthless creations.
In an instant, the humans were crying out and begging for it to stop.
“See?!” clamor broke out amongst the angels. “They couldn’t even handle one moment of G-ds presence; they can’t even hear His voice without being completely destroyed!”
Some rushed back to greet G-d as He would surely return, unwilling to give the Torah.
But again, they were left dumbfounded. Rather than canceling the plans, G-d spoke only to Moses who relayed the message.
Finally, accepting the bitter truth to themselves, that G-d completely intended to truly give the Torah to the people, the angels tore themselves away. The relaying of the laws would take most of the day, and the angels already knew the laws. None could bear to watch the unworthy humans receive them.
The next day, the angels gathered around the tablets.
“I can’t believe they’ve been hidden for so long, and now they’re just going to be taken from us.”
“I know. This is crazy. Who has been there for G-d every single day since the beginning of time? Who has never made a mistake? Who has never denied G-ds existence? Us! Who could possibly be more worthy than we?” the angels were furious.
Suddenly, the doors to heaven swung open. They all turned to greet the newcomer. It was Moses.
“What are you doing here, Moses?” asked one particularly angry angel. “Came to rub it in our faces that you’ve taken everything we hold dear?”
“I’m sorry, angels,” Moses responded, looking uncomfortable. “I’ve come to collect the tablets and speak with G-d.”
Several angels burst towards the tablets, unable to watch Moses take them.
A hush fell over the crowd as G-d entered.
“What is going on?” G-d asked, looking over every angel.
No angel could find the words to respond as they looked around in shame.
“Moses, welcome. You have much to learn, and we can not waste a moment.”
For the next 40 days, the angels attempted to make Moses as miserable as possible. They argued with him at every opportunity. They tested him, hoping to make him trip up on the most important aspects of the Torah.
As the end of the 40 days neared, a couple of angels came rushing out of the observation room, pulling in whichever angels they could find.
“You have to see this!”
The observation room filled up with angels, and cries of shock and anger came from all parts of the room.
“Is that what I think it is?”
The head angel nodded sadly. “A golden calf. They’re serving a G-d that does not exist.”
“They just received the Torah!”
“This is unbelievable!”
“I knew they were unworthy.”
“G-d will never let this slide.”
The voices built up and up and up, the clamor growing.
“Does Moses know?” one single voice was heard, causing a hush to fall over them.
Did Moses know? He was currently studying the deepest secrets with G-d, while his people down below were serving a different G-d altogether. Only 39 days after they heard the voice of G-d Himself.
How would he be able to bear the pain?
“At least he’ll hear it from G-d” sighed one angel, frightened at the inevitable upcoming scene.
Sure enough, the next day, as Moses was preparing to descend and return to his people, G-d informed him of their enormous mistake.
The angels inched closer, aching to eavesdrop on this conversation.
“Leave me alone!” roared G-d to Moses.
The angels shrank back.
“I will annihilate them all! They are not worthy. Forget them, I will create a new nation for you, Moses.”
They could hear G-d pacing, back and forth, in His anger.
“G-d! Please!” they heard Moses pleading “You took them from Egypt. Why allow the Egyptians to see you destroy them after so many miracles?”
G-ds pacing slowed.
His voice softer now, Moses continued “Don’t you remember your promise to Abraham? Isaac? Jacob? You told them that You’d build up their nation to be as many as the stars in the sky. You did it. You built them up. Don’t destroy them now.”
The angels moved away, heartbroken in all kinds of ways. They shouldn’t be listening.
After a little while, Moses came out, his eyes tear-filled, his face drawn. The angels avoided him, but couldn’t quite believe their eyes when he grasped the tablets in his hands and took them with him as he left.
G-d had given in, after all.
Almost as one, the angels rushed to the observation room to witness what would possibly happen next.
As Moses descended and returned to Mt. Sinai, they watched his expression fill with unquestionable anger as he caught sight of his nation, his people that he had just fought for, dancing around and serving the golden calf.
In one moment, before anyone could grasp what was happening, they watched Moses flung the tablets with all his might. They crashed into the side of the mountain, the tablets that had been waiting for centuries to be given on earth, shattered into millions of pieces.
All through the night, the angels cried in anguish. The Torah, the tablets, they had waited so long for the perfect moment, and this moment was so far from perfect it was laughable.
How had G-d intended this? How had He seen this nation to be fit to receive the most valuable of gifts?
A few very slow and utterly unbearable days later, Moses was back.
The angels couldn’t bear to look at his face, there was so much pain etched along his eyes.
He was ushered in to speak with G-d.
For the next 40 days, no angel heard from or saw G-d or Moses. They felt time, space, and everything hanging in the balance. Would the universe cease to be?  What would become of earth?  What would become of the Jewish nation?
Finally, Moses came out as well, with G-d by his side. Moses held something wrapped in his arms.
The angels gathered around, unable to hold their curiosity back.
Moses uncovered his parcel, and the angels could barely believe what they saw –
a brand new set of tablets, almost as beautiful and magical as the first.
G-d nodded to Moses, Moses nodded to the angels and left, as if he had never been there at all, taking the new set of tablets with him.
Heaven was silent. The angels stared at each other, unsure of where to start.
“You’ve forgiven them?” one angel spoke up, incredulous.
“No. They will be punished” was all G-d saw fit to respond.
“So that’s it. You’re going to give the most precious thing you ever created to sinners.”

“I am. But you’re wrong, angel. The Torah is not the most precious thing I created. They are.

Blog Post: 35/52

Featured Photo via MyJewishLearning.com

To learn more about the holiday of Shavuot click here. 

Knowing The Plan

This week is my 33rd blog post. Tomorrow is also the 33rd day of the Omer (the count from Passover to Shavuot) which marks the holiday of Lag Baomer.

The coincidence did not escape me.
I’m a connections kind of person. A deeper meaning kind of gal.
I grew up with the concept of Hashgacha Pratis (literally translated to divine providence,) which means that nothing is coincidental or accidental, everything happens for a reason. Every moment, every leaf, and every wrong turn has its purpose and place in the grand scheme of things.
That concept has always given me so much comfort, and more than that, it gives life an air of optimism and mystery.
Life is full of mystery. Honestly, every moment is a mystery, we never know what the next moment will bring.
I like to be in control. I avoid depending on people as much as possible, I like to get things done on my own, I like being the master of my own destiny.
So you can see how allowing G-d to be in control can be a little difficult for me.
Remembering that ultimately, I have no control over what happens in my life is something I constantly struggle with.
But at the same time, I have this deep, deep understanding that G-d really is always in control.
Hence, the connections.
When the subway takes too long at a stop, or I randomly choose a different route to walk, or something happens which forces me to do something I wasn’t planning on doing – that’s when I know G-d is in control.
I know that there is a reason my life is taking this path. It is not random or accidental.
But a moment later…when the reason behind what happened is not revealed to me, my spirits begin to plummet.
See, I’m happy for G-d to move around the pieces in a way that I don’t understand. But when even afterward I still don’t get to see the full picture, I feel a little cheated. When I think the signs that I am seeing are so clear, but then everything they were pointing to falls apart, and I realize how little I know, and how little what I think actually matters to the plan.
See, when I realized that it was the 33rd day of the omer when I would be writing my 33rd blog post, my brain went scrambling for reasons, connections.
I came up with a few.
The 49 days of the omer are meant to be a time of working on oneself, going through the various good attributes we have, and sharpening them.
For 33 weeks, I have been working hard at writing blog posts, each week focusing on something else in my life and my personality. It has forced me to look at myself honestly, and open up.
On the 33rd day of the omer, we have been looking at our attributes for 33 days already. We have been refining ourselves, trying harder, taking notice of what can be done better.
There was no specific reason I chose to begin writing weekly blog posts 33 weeks ago, I had no idea that it would line up this way. Which means – there’s got to be a connection, right?
It’s a little bit far-fetched, I know.
Pretty much everyone I know would chalk this up to a very random coincidence because honestly, it doesn’t really matter.
But it gives me joy to connect the dots. To see the reasoning behind things. To feel like I am part of a plan, to perhaps see the faint outlines of G-ds pen.
Maybe I’m too uptight. Maybe I need to let go a little bit, to learn how to depend on others, and most of all, to learn how to depend on G-d. Maybe to survive through life, one just has to be laid back, and not try so hard to understand everything that happens around us.
But that doesn’t feel right to me. It doesn’t seem like the way I want to live. I’d rather continue to thank G-d when the little things go right, and notice Him in every part of my day, than to loosen up and forget that He’s there.
It’s a difficult balance to find. Like with everything in life, there are pros and cons to every path we take.
There is one thing I know for sure – everything happens for a reason. Everything is connected, and everything has a purpose. The dots are there. But for whatever reason, G-d has chosen to not show me which dots connect to which. He has chosen to not reveal the why’s behind each choice He makes, which has made for some very anger filled prayers on my part.
It’s nice when we get it, but it’s not important for us to get it. The important part for me is to realize that there is a reason – and that’s all.
I will never stop hoping that G-d reveals His plan a little more, that He’ll let me peek, that one day soon He’ll let me understand why I take those wrong turns.
But until then, I will do my very best to unclench my fists a little bit, to trust that He can handle it, that He has heard my prayers and that despite the fact that things seem very scattered at the moment, He has a way of changing things in a moment.

I will continue to pray that my prayers be answered, and I look forward to knowing that they already have been.

I’ll just be over here taking deep breaths and eating chocolate.

 

Blog Post: 33/52


Featured Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash

Am I Tiny?

I was going to write about another topic.

I had an idea as I fell asleep. But when I woke up, I discovered that today is Yom HaShoah, a day on which many focus their minds and hearts on the tragedy of the holocaust. I realized that my idea did not seem right today. It would feel like yelling loudly in a quiet theatre. Rude, unwelcome and disrespectful. So that idea will remain tucked away for another week.
This week, I’ll write about what the holocaust means to me, as a 21 year old, living in America.
I was first introduced to the holocaust by way of my grandmother’s history. As a tiny child, she escaped in the night with her young parents and baby sister. After a terror-filled journey that had seen many miracles, the small family made it to safety. My great-grandmother was the only survivor from her own, yet rather than wallowing in well-deserved grief, she and my great-grandfather built up a family, resulting in my life – one of hundreds of great-grandchildren.
As a Jewish child, in Jewish schools, I learned about the holocaust in various ways throughout my years. I heard stories, I saw clips and interviews with holocaust survivors. It was certainly a real thing in my life, but it wasn’t until I was nearly 18, that I truly confronted it.
On a trip to Israel, I visited Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem. As we walked through the quiet halls, looking at what was left of millions of innocent lives, my heart shattered. The reality of it was so raw and horrible, items of clothing and personal belongings telling their silent story. I looked into the eyes of the victims in the images on the walls, and apologized for not having tried to see earlier. For trying to avoid holocaust films and books. For not being more destroyed by what they had been through.
I always use words, yet there are not enough words in the English dictionary to describe what happened in the holocaust, the wiping out of generations. Cruelty and horror are even too kind. It was more than that. It was worse than that.
I have been knocked down by far, far (far, far, far!) less.
Yet holocaust survivors have built their lives back up, put the puzzle together despite the missing pieces, painted their world with vivid color again. Despite every reason not to.
The other day, I overheard my five-year-old nephew having an existential crisis. He was trying to explain to his three-year-old brother how insignificant we are. “We are really just tiny!”
“Nu uh. We are not tiny” said his brother. “Etti’s not tiny”
“She is tiny. We all are tiny. The whole world is tiny!”
I smiled at the depth of wisdom he held. Perhaps he does not quite understand it all just yet, but he was taking his first steps into the endless wonder of who we are, how we got here, and what we are supposed to do now that we are here.
We are tiny. I am tiny. I am one solitary figure in a world with billions of people.
Often, my small daily decisions and choices seem to impact only me. But I know that despite my “tiny-ness,” I have the ability to affect so many. Holocaust survivors knew that – and they knew it was up to them to re-build a nation so thoroughly destroyed. Like my great-grandparents, so many of them went on to have large families, despite the unimaginable fear and anger they must have felt.
Today is a day that we remember the past – but tomorrow, we focus on the future. I often feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things, yet I have been raised to know that my actions count. That I am here for a reason, and that reason is not to serve myself, but to be there for others, to wake up each morning and figure out how I can do better.
My nephew’s words reminded me that yes, we are tiny. And that is something to remember- something to remain humble about. In the expanse of the universe, I am but a speck, if that at all.
But, it is crucial to still stand with confidence, to know that despite how tiny I am, my life has meaning – and I can and do impact all of those around me.
The holocaust had millions of victims. Millions. It is impossible for any one person to recite all their names, or to truly give remembrance to each one.
Yet every single one of them was a person, a human being, with dreams and hopes. They were never just a name, they were someone that was loved and worried about.
They were in no way just a speck.
I will never, in any lifetime, be able to grasp the magnitude of the holocaust and the idea that so so so many were ripped away from their lives.
But I will try to live fully because they were not allowed to. I will try to remember what they have taught me. I may be a tiny speck, but I am a speck that can change the world.
Blog Post: 30/52

Featured Photo by Mika R on Unsplash

Reclaiming Passover

I want to write a story, but my brain has been too full of to-do lists, too full to be able to fit in characters made out of young men or old women in the times of Egypt.
I want to be inspirational, but my tired fingers don’t have much to say.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the little details, the lists that need to be checked off, the things that go wrong, the scrubbing.
As a kid, Passover was my favorite holiday. I would count down, buy some new exciting outfits, and wait for all my older siblings to come home. I loved all the Passover cookies and meals, the Seder night was a treat, and I’d always fall asleep nearby to the sound of family and friends singing familiar tunes.
But as I grew up, Passover became less and less enticing. The workload involved grew heavier as I became a more responsible adult. The Seder grew more tiring when falling asleep on the couch was not an option. As I began to fall in love with cooking and exploring flavors, Passover represented bland food and limited options. While it still remains an enjoyable time with family, the cons slowly outweighed the pros. The stress leaked out from the 8 days, spreading to the weeks before. Never more than now do I feel surrounded by tired, stretched thin Jewish people, working tirelessly to get to their goal.
What went wrong?
As someone who dearly loves every Jewish holiday and looks forward to each one, even Yom Kippur, it was deeply disturbing to me to realize that a part of me was dreading Passover and all it came with. I pride myself in truly loving my religion, finding joy in the way I live my life, and I was heartbroken to discover this truth.
My social media has been filled with worried, overworked, overtired Jewish women, desperate to be doing it all right.
On one hand, it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful that so much care is being given to such tiny details. It’s beautiful that so much work is going into one holiday.
But on the other hand, it’s hard to see the beauty. It’s hard to see the beauty in cuts and scratches, aching backs and tired muscles, sleepless nights and a never-ending feeling of guilt of not having done everything necessary.
Is this what Passover is about? Is this what any holiday is about? Is this what Judaism is about?
Yes, my religion is about consistently going the extra mile. It’s about pushing yourself, seeing the big picture, and working towards bigger goals.
But when things get clouded, when we lose focus, when we are more concerned about the crumbs than about what the crumbs represent – that’s when it feels like we are losing Passover.
The purpose of cleaning our houses of any leavened bread, cookies, cakes, candies etc. represents removing ego from our lives.
How many times did I think about that as I scrubbed?
Sadly, not much.
How many people have I seen, boasting about how hard they’ve been working, or how early they were able to complete their goals?
Sadly, too many.
I would not hesitate to say that ego is the source of all evil.
This holiday represents finding our essence again, getting to the source, freeing ourselves from outside influences, the boundaries of egotistic behaviors, and our self-made limits.
This holiday is a rich and fascinating one, celebrating the way G-d always has His eye on us, celebrating the way we were once slaves but miraculously gained our freedom.
This holiday is about inviting friends and family to join us, to gather and sing, to eat and to laugh, to speak late into the night about who we are, and how we got this far.
Is this holiday about getting on our hands and knees and scrubbing?
Yes. This is how we prepare, this is how we rid ourselves of our ego, of our self-imposed limits.
Is this holiday about stress and tension, panic and anxiety?
No. There is no such holiday in our calendar.
As the holiday officially begins tomorrow night, and as families across the world gather together and sit down for their Seder, I hope that we can all reclaim Passover. To remember what the purpose is, to remember that the excitement we felt as children should still be at the surface of our hearts.
I can not speak for others, I can not feel for others, but I know I will try my hardest to stop focusing on how long the list is, and focus more on what the list is for. Focus on what we are working towards. Focus on ridding myself of my ego to make room for meaningful thought and true celebration.
It is my 21st birthday tomorrow on the secular calendar, and I yearn to have the easy excitement of my childhood, to marvel at each new thing, to reclaim Passover with the untethered joy of a child.
The content of this article is under the ownership of Etti Krinsky, via ThisPublicDiary.com
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Blog Post: 28/52

Featured Photo by Blaise Vonlanthen via Unsplash

The Night Before

Talya tossed and turned, burying herself under the blankets, as if that could make her mind stop churning.
She heard her son whimper from his bed. She lifted him up and tried to calm him as her hands shook and her heart beat twice as fast.
How could she sleep tonight?
Tomorrow, her best friend since childhood would be sacrificing her life for the sake of the Jewish nation.
Talya had not eaten in 3 days, and she was physically weakened, but the mind games and constant thought had played more of a role in causing her diminished state.
She couldn’t fathom what Esther was feeling, thinking.
Was Esther sleeping tonight?
In that enormous palace, empty of joy, empty of soul, beautiful in all the wrong ways.
Esther’s home for so many years, yet Esther hasn’t been home in so many years.
The baby fell back asleep in Talya’s arms, and she moved to a pillow on the ground. She needed the comfort his small body gave to her.
Shushan was quiet in the dead of the night. Talya wondered how many eyes were still open, staring at the night sky.
It had been horribly long since Esther was taken. Eleven years since that painful day.
Talya had been away at her uncle’s house, assisting with his small children for a few months after his wife passed away, all the way in Persepolis. When she left, she hugged her best friend goodbye, naive, unknowing what the coming months would bring.
When she returned, her best friend had been kidnapped and preparations were underway to proclaim her as queen.
Talya cried for two weeks, unable to leave her bed, feeling a depth of guilt she could not even fathom. Then one day she was forced to go to the market, and as she did, the evil King Achashverosh was showing off his new wife on a escorted stroll through the Jewish area of Shushan. Talya locked eyes with Esther, and Esther’s eyes filled with tears.
Talya knew there could be immense danger for Esther if she dared to express displeasure about being the new Queen, so she made a fool out of herself by comically dropping the pears she held. Several people around her gave her angry looks, but when Talya met Esther’s eyes again, she saw a glint of amusement and the hint of a smile on her lips.
Nobody in the palace knew that Esther was Jewish, and therefore Talya could not soirée with Esther in her lavish new home. But they exchanged letters, sent through Mordechai and Hatach, and whenever Esther was let out of the palace for a brief showing, Talya focused all her love into the one glance they could afford.
She couldn’t imagine the depth of loneliness Esther felt in that huge palace, the lack of warmth, love and Torah that once surrounded her now gone, all taken in one fateful night.
Talya lay the baby gently on his bed and tip toed quietly out of the house, careful not to wake her husband and other sleeping children.
She looked up at the starry sky. It was a beautiful night, the kind of night Esther had loved as a kid.
As soon as the thought entered her mind, Talya forced it out.
“No, this will not be Esther’s last night alive.”
Talya felt the lump in her throat returning, the tears coming again.
Mordechai was so brave, so resilient in his faith. He had visited their home earlier that day, and he had not one doubt in his mind that a miracle would occur.
Talya wished for even an ounce of his strength. But it was so hard, oh so hard, to stop the bad thoughts from coming in.
“Don’t you see, Talya?” Mordechai had cried “this is why Esther has been living in that palace for eleven years. For this moment! Can you imagine that G-d would forsake us?”
Talya shook her head as she continued to pray, unable to do anything else but fast and pray, as they had done for the last three days.
The impending doom of the 13th of Adar was looming, less than a year away. They should been celebrating the Pesach Seder that night, but they were fasting.
Talya’s heart dipped in pain as she bit back the thought that perhaps this was their last chance to celebrate Passover at all.
The door across from Talya opened, startling her from her thoughts. She brushed her tears away as her neighbor stepped out of her house.
“Can’t sleep?” Avigail called softly.
Talya shook her head. Avigail crossed the path and embraced Talya. As soon as Avigail’s arms were around her, Talya’s tears came quickly. She could no longer hold them back.
The two women stood, in tears, their stomachs empty, but full of fear, their hearts trying so hard to believe.
But when life unfolds so slowly, when the future can only be known once it has passed, belief is the most difficult to find.
It had been eleven years since Esther had been taken from their small neighborhood, eleven years since she had been a part of their everyday life. She had laughed with them, inspired them and cooked with them.
For eleven years she had been unreachable, growing less familiar each day.
And tomorrow she would risk death in order to save them.
And nobody knew if the plan would work. It was a plan of desperation. A hope, a tiny fire kindled and strengthened by their leader Mordechai.
And on the night that families should be united around tables, singing songs, drinking wine and eating matzah together, celebrating freedom, some sat alone and some sat together, whispering words of prayer, asking their G-d to split the sea once more.

Blog Post: 24/52


Disclaimer: This story may not be historically, biblically, or anything correct. I used my creative license to give life and emotion to a story we read each year. If you’ve never heard the story, read it here: http://www.chabad.org/holidays/purim/article_cdo/aid/645995/jewish/The-Basic-Purim-Story.htm

 

Behind The Story

Shoshana knelt by the stream, lifting up the water to her mouth with her cupped hands. She re-adjusted the knapsack on her back, wincing at the pain in her shoulder blades.  She could feel the warmth of the crusty bread through the worn cloth the bag was made of. One more gulp of water, a refreshing splash on her face, and she once again began walking along the stream.
She followed the nearly invisible path leading to the hidden caves that housed her father, older brothers, cousins and neighbors. They were living in the caves, following the leadership of the great Yehuda and his brothers, training in mind, body and spirit to battle the enemy. Shoshana froze as she heard a twig crack behind her. She moved silently behind a tree and held her breath. She breathed a sigh of relief as she saw a tiny animal move past her and go to drink from the stream.
She moved back into the path and kept walking.
Shoshana was trusted with this task by her entire community. She appeared to be much younger than she was, giving her an air of innocence. Twice a month, she would make this trek, bringing the men some fresh food, more for the message of support and love than actual nutrition. The wives and children worried back home. Once a man became a Maccabee, there was no saying when and if he would ever return.
On Shoshana’s feet she wore specially crafted shoes made by Tzippa, the old woman down the street. They left almost no footprints in her path, ensuring that no Greek or Hellenist could follow them.
Shoshana’s mind wandered as she walked, following the path from memory.
There had been a fight once, already. The army had been frightened away, and Yehuda and his brothers were taking advantage of this time to better train their soldiers for the next inevitable battle.
Shoshana shifted the bag again.
She thought back to the stories her grandmother shared with her as they kneaded the bread.
Savta had told her about the days when the Beit Hamickdash was fully in Jewish ownership, and the Kohen Gadol was a respectable, G-d fearing, beloved man.
It was hard for Shoshana to imagine a world like that. A world empty of fear, a world full of community. Today, it was dangerous to assume anyone was a friend. Even within your own family, you must first view everyone as a traitor.
Just a few weeks ago, one of Shoshana’s cousins that she had grown up with had confided in her that he was considering joining the Hellenist movement. He said he hadn’t been keeping Shabbat for months anyway, and that his friends from school had joined.
She cried for hours with him, begging him to re-consider. “Don’t keep Shabbat, I don’t care!” she whispered behind her house, “but don’t join the traitorous, evil-doers. We are your people, Shimon. Don’t turn your back on us!”
Shimon had scoffed, flexed his arm and threw a rock into the darkness. It made a muffled sound as it hit the next house.
“Goodbye Shoshana.”
Shoshana’s heart cracked as she watched her cousin saunter away from the house. She fell to the floor, sobbing as the night slowly turned to day. The very next morning, Shoshana was awakened by screams coming from her own home. Bones aching from a night spent on the cold ground, she leaped up and ran into her home. Her aunt had fallen onto the ground, wailing.
Immediately, Shoshana knew that her aunt knew. She had discovered her eldest son missing.
In times as cruel as these, there were only two possibilities when faced with a missing child. They were now on the Greek or Hellenist side, either by force or by choice.
Shoshana wiped her tears as she climbed over the rocks, the memory of that awful morning sitting heavy in her stomach.
She had been the one who had to deliver the news to her uncle. Her uncle sacrificing his life, living in a cave. She had had to tell him that his only and eldest son, whom he had let stay back to take care of the home, had given up everything. Even more than giving up everything, he had chosen to join up with his fellow Jews who had only one aim – to destroy every Jewish community.
Times had become unbearable. Even Shoshana could remember when Shabbat had been a joyful time. Now, it had to be done under the cover of darkness. She missed having her family together at home, safe under one roof. Her heart ached during late nights, imagining her father and brothers uncomfortably laying on the cave ground. She remembered falling asleep to the sound of her parents laughter in the other room, her brothers joking around.
She was nearing the caves, but one unfamiliar with the terrain would never have known. She counted the trees from the stream. Number 6. She pushed through the tiny opening in the leaves, ducked under the boulder leaning against another, lifted up the tree branch and finally caught sight of the cave opening. She took a deep breath. She moved forward, slipping into the heavy darkness of the cave. Using her feet as sight, she maneuvered carefully in the wet cave. Finally, she heard the low murmur of voices.
“Shalom!” She called out quietly.
“Come!” was the response she received. She walked towards the voice, and found a group of men huddled over a small book. Among them was her father and brother Yonatan.
Her father jumped up as he saw her and enveloped her in a tight hug. She squeezed him, as she felt her brother pull on her braid, with a wide smile on his face.
“Shoshana, our little rose. You bring so much light to these caves,” her father kissed her forehead as she slipped her knapsack off of her back.
“How are you feeling? Where is Choni?” Shoshana asked as she pulled provisions from her bag.
Her father took the warm bread and homemade jam from her. “Choni is practicing his sword skills. We are doing fine, thank the Lord above. How is everything at home, Shosh? How is your mother? Your sisters?”
The small, disjointed family settled down on the side of the cave to catch up.
After just twenty minutes, Shoshana knew she had to go. With tears in her eyes, she stood up, embracing her father and brothers once more, holding them more tightly than before.
With each goodbye, the fear grew. They had been so lucky thus far- but war could break out tomorrow. They tried to have as much faith in G-d as their fearless leaders, the sons of Matisyahu had, but it was so, so difficult. With so much real fear and danger all around them, it was almost impossible to imagine a reality in which they could trust completely in G-d.
Her father squeezed her shoulders, tears falling from his tired eyes.
“Send my love to everyone back home, Shoshana. Believe in G-d. He is the only one powerful enough to protect us from our enemy, and our brothers and sisters who have chosen to become the enemy.”
Shoshana bowed her head, the image of her cousin Shimon’s last cruel glance lingering in her mind.
She kissed them all goodbye, put the empty knapsack on her back and left the cave.
It had gotten darker, but she knew this path so well. She knew exactly how much time she had before it became completely dark.
As she neared the village, she could almost imagine that things were back to normal. Lamps were lit, the village was quiet. She slipped into her home almost silently, leaving the worn knapsack on the hook for its next trip.
Her mother looked up from corner where she had been murmuring prayers for Shoshanas safe return. She jumped up and hugged her daughter warmly, grateful to have her back in the safe walls of the home.
“How was your Abba? Your brothers? Did they look okay? Did they seem strong?”
“Ima, they are doing just fine. They are strong, they are healthy. They have G-d watching over them.”
Her mother covered her eyes with her hands, breathing deeply, holding in her tears. It had been three months since she had seen her sons and husband. These moments of Shoshana’s return felt like the closest she could get to them.
Shoshana sat with her mother, sharing the stories and bits and pieces of information she had been able to get from her family in the caves.
Her mother soaked up every word, dreaming of the day she would be able to hear the voices of her sweet children and beloved husband again.
The silence in the kitchen was suddenly interrupted by the sound of Shoshana weeping.
“Shoshana, my love, what is it?” her mother asked, laying a gentle hand on her daughters heaving shoulders.
“Why did they do it?” Shoshana gasped between her tears. “Why did our own brothers and sisters betray us?”
Her mother sighed deeply.
It was so devastatingly painful to think about, let alone discuss.
The entire mess they were in would have been conquerable if it was merely an enemy nation against the Jewish people. Their history was pock-marked with enemies rising up against them. But this time, it was the unimaginable. It was also their own people, brothers against brothers, sons against fathers, mothers against daughters. It was the ultimate betrayal, and that is what made it so terrifying, and so, so hard to bear.
Shoshana’s mother took her hand and cried with her. For in times of searing pain, words of comfort are hardly welcome.
Finally, Shoshana’s heaving sobs faded away. She wiped them with her sleeve, and in a shaky voice she turned to her mother and said:
“When this is over – and it will one day end, for we believe in G-d – I only pray that there will never be a time again that each Jew sees another as an enemy. I pray that the Jewish nation will forever be a family that loves each other so much that the idea of hurting another one is as painful as hurting oneself. That it won’t matter what level of observance one keeps, what name one carries, which ancestor one comes from. That the memory of this painful time keeps them from fighting each other. I pray that they look into each others eyes, remember the destruction they cause when they are divided, and recognize the strength they all carry when they stand as one.”

Blog Post: 14/52


Featured Photo by Ksenia Kudelkina on Unsplash