Welcome to the Garden — Shalom שלום

Welcome to The Garden

haGan    the garden  הגן

You have found the garden where I share my essays, poems, thoughts and sometimes music.  A garden is a place where things grow, die, blossom, hide, surprise, struggle, comfort, and are reborn.  The garden in our yard feels like how I imagine Gan Eden (The Garden of Eden) might have felt like – a place for renewal and resourcing.  I hope you find visiting The Garden a healing place for you, too.

I will share my experiences of joy and heartbreak as I work as a hospital chaplain and rabbi, as well as love and support my partner who is one of the most amazing and interesting woman I know, and, is living with cancer.

I am moved as I accompany people as they explore their spiritual lives, grieve the death of both of my parents (Mom died January 5, 2013, Dad died January 5, 2015), offer my leadership as a rabbi taking people on a Jewish spiritual journey, love my daughter, reduce the stigma of mental illness and suicide, and enjoy the precious moments life gives us.

I will share with you what is on my heart, my anger, what moves me, and the questions that are very much alive within and often spill gently and not so gently out.

I will offer healing thoughts and prayers. I hope to hear yours.  Ultimately, this is all about healing. (You may not have access to sound files if you use Internet Explorer.  Just use a different browser if you have problems.)

You will notice that the Torah/Life Writings page includes all blogs in that category prompted by Torah text.  Torah/Life writings was inspired by  a project of Rabbi Shifrah Tobacman and myself.  To read her poems go to: https://omerteshuvah.wordpress.com/torahlife-writings/

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I Know I Am Not Alone Because

There are dishes in the sink that are not mine.  Because I left dishes in the sink and they are gone, cleaned and ready to be used gain.

Because I feel breathing next to me as I sleep, sometimes it calms me and sometimes I wonder “Who is this person and why can she sleep?”  That starts me thinking.  Thinking is not a good thing to do late at night.

I wander the dark, quiet house, listening to the refrigerator talking, working. I eat half a banana and leave the rest on the counter.  I visit the bathroom. Take a drink of water, clean off the counters.

A quick look at the phone which gets me thinking about the food I need to buy or the person I need to call or a song I need to remember and them I’m singing and writing lists.  All because I know I am not alone.  And the breathing.

I know I am not alone today because I went to weed the garden and the weeds were gone and the plants were happy and I was happy and there was a joke written in multicolored chalk on the sidewalk and it made me laugh.

I know I am not alone because I am wearing Dolores’ shirt and my daughter’s dress and a bra I bought with Julie.

I know I am not alone because I was desperate for a nap, because of the breathing, and I was so careful to turn off my phone and I was awakened to the sound of a phone ringing.  For a long time.

I know I’m not alone because the garage is filled with stuff I don’t recognize or want. And the house is clean and there is coleslaw made in the frig, the colors match the joke on the sidewalk.  The coleslaw makes me laugh.

I know I am not alone because when I did the laundry someone else’s undies and tissues and cherry pits and floss sticks found their way into the pile.  Who would wash tissues and cherry pits?  I never would.

I know I am not alone because there is mail on my step and toilet paper in the cabinet and jewelry from India on my wall.  Adult jewelry.  But I lived in India when I was five and didn’t wear jewelry.

I know I’m not alone because there is a murmuring of voices in the distance, dogs barking, cars honking, babies crying.

I know I am not alone because there are protests all over this world.

I know I am not alone because of the walkers whose job it is to check on the neighbors.  Who is home?  Who has a visitor? How are their plants doing?  Why haven’t they mowed their yard yet?

A smile and wave into our kitchen window.

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Who Knew?

Who knew that I would turn 64 during the “Great Pandemic” and the “Great Revolt”?  Actually, it’s not until next week.   Who will live and who will die is two inches in front of my eyes.  Who suffers and who feels like it’s a vacation? Who dies living Black?  Who is at ease and who is awake with sweaty worry?

Who knew that seeing people with masks would feel so normal, and seeing you on a screen could make me feel I belong somewhere.  On the screen.

Who knew that having a visit in your backyard could feel so unusual, and being alone in my own home could feel so safe.

My daughter said, who knows, we might look back at this time as the “good old days”.  If there is a terrible surge where bodies pile up like they did in New York and New Jersey, or if we have martial law, if one or two or three of us get sick and die, if we run out of food or water.  If we go to jail and get COVID-19.

Who knows?  This could be an opening to a better life or the beginning of disaster the world has never seen. Never.

Who knows? Living in Oakland may become a sweet haven, or like living in a burnt out town of grief.

Who knew I would live to see this day, and more to come, and be blessed with a daughter who lives around the corner and a partner who is alive and well.

Who knew?

Posted in Grief Writings, Healing, Reflections on Love | 3 Comments

Prayer

Peeling potatoes is a form of prayer to you.  To me, it’s just peeling potatoes.

Prayer is waking up slowly and noticing the light in the room.  The first breath and then the next.

Prayer is walking barefoot on the cork floor, support under my toes, knowing today is a day I won’t feel alone.

Prayer is gazing at what grew overnight, asking its name, grieving what is no longer there, always a surprise.

Prayer is the melody lost, and then found, meant for that very specific moment.  The funeral.

Prayer is yes.

Prayer is knowing that I chose the right food to eat: the sweet strawberries, with yogurt and date syrup.

Prayer is the rising of the dough, the smell, the braiding of melody, tears, yearning, into the challah.

Prayer is the scallions, the roasted walnuts, the beets, the lemon, the spices folded together to create memory.

Prayer is chocolate, coconut oil, almond flour and sugar cake every Passover, except this one.

This Pandemic Passover prayer was the tablecloth and the matzah left on my doorstep by a colleague, horseradish, duck eggs, charoset.  Oh yes, matza lasagna was the prayer of hope.

Prayer is wearing a mask even though all I want to do is tear it off and kiss you.

Prayer is walking and walking and walking every day saying hello to those I step away from.

Prayer is sorting the weeds from the plants I want to display, nurture, encourage, accompany.

Prayer is the crow waking us up eating something very loud on the roof.

Prayer is saying no.

Prayer are the bunnies running from their prey, chewing everything in sight.

Prayer is the frog at the bottom of the hot tub who wanted so desperately to swim but forgot it couldn’t swim in hot water.  A prayer for the dead.

Prayer is placing a rock on their grave.  When they let me into the cemetery.

 

 

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There is Too Much Broken That Must be Mended

 

Begin

Take a thread and needle and straight pin

Mend the rip

You will see the fabric will always have been torn

It now serves anew

Plant the seed and water it

Watch what emerges

With sunlight and soil and song

Always a surprise

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“What do you do?”

I am a spiritual midwife: I listen to your words and your body. I ask God to bring me images, sounds, smells and memories of what you are experiencing beyond your spoken words.

I listen even more deeply for the responses that would be most helpful, most healing in the moment. I trust my intuition and the messages I hear.  I honor what comes to me and consider it carefully.  It might be a deep sacred silence, a touch, looking away, inviting prayer, breathing with, singing a song, offering a blessing, inquiring for more, writing your experience as I hear it as your poem/prayer, listening for or inviting an image from the mundane to the divine, or asking for more information…There is no formula.

I am a spiritual midwife.  We co-create rituals that help you deepen and honor the turning moments in your life.  We explore together where you are turning towards that which opens you to something new, or away from something that you no longer need.  Whether it be a child, animal, house, body, moment, or whether it be a separation, a death, a transformation. We honor, celebrate, grieve, deepen.

I am a spiritual midwife, I help you remember your own wisdom, traditions, music.  I help you remember your own poetry, your own words, your own hope.  Your breath.  I help you remember when remembering feels impossible.

I am a spiritual midwife.  We do this all in the name of Healing. Thank you for allowing me to join you during this precious time.

Posted in Chaplain Reflections, Healing, Spiritual Direction | 4 Comments

Trust (revisited)


The group was excited, nervous, energetic to do the exercise our beloved teacher invited our group to do. To fall backwards off a wall into the loving arms of our friends. To bond. Trust, they called it. I looked around. There were about 15 of us. Everyone looked beautiful, shining, dusty, in this rustic camp. The air smelled like pine needles and rock and earth. We were all relieved to be away from family and other things that our teenage lives might be haunting us with. Finding new ways to connect and love and feel. Yes, excited to feel without someone worrying about us. Today my superpower was to trust. Today I knew without a doubt that I would be caught by loving arms and not dropped or tricked. I stepped up. I stood tall on the edge of the wall. I turned away from the group and without hesitation I fell backwards, into the loving teenage arms of the group, finding a trust I had never known.



(I wrote this as an exercise in a writing group to write something using magic or the imagination. I decided that rewriting a difficult moment in life so it ended up the way I had hoped, would be magical. Actually, I didn’t decide, the moment just came to me, so I wrote. The true experience was quite different. I encourage you to rewrite moments in your life. Who knows? It might just be a little healing for you. It was for me….)

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My Teacher during the Pandemic April 2020

Thirty six years ago she was born between my legs with a circle of 13 women surrounding my bed.  In my small, upstairs, sunny bedroom in my North Oakland apartment I disturb my downstairs neighbors with my moaning.  My young, energetic and very sweet doctor/midwife attended to us, helping in the journey that felt eternal.  “What am I going to do?” I ask with desperation.  She responded, “Have this baby.” “Remind me to choose adoption next time.  That is a very good option,” I screamed.  A full head of black hair and eyes that pierced into mine, finally emerged as if to say, “Who are you?”  Life as I knew it changed forever.

As we face the chaos of this time in history, this uncertain, unreal moment, I notice how she embraces each breath of the day.  Her terror that she will lose both of her parents moves her to sob with her whole body.  Inconsolable.  Her anger at the class and race divisions that have been made more palpable by who has to risk their lives to work and who doesn’t haunts her.  Who has to step into a store or a job, and risk their life, and whose primary struggle is finding someone to shop for them to avoid the risks of dying.  As she teaches history to her own students, she invites it all: how they feel, think, and act during a time when tears and fears can easily dominate. Yet moments of planting, growing a garden of our hearts, and on the land, seem even more important to her.

Posted in Grief Writings, Healing, Reflections on Love | 3 Comments