I learned to appreciate the immense joy of building jigsaw puzzles from my maternal grandmother, of blessed memory. I remember spending afternoons and evenings in my pre-teen years around her dining room table, eating popcorn, sharing stories, listening to the radio, and building 2000-piece puzzles.

It’s a pastime that my spouse and I both enjoy, and we are excited that our boys are getting old enough to share it with us. The current project (pictured above) is a 1000-piece picture of Jerusalem called “Shabbat Afternoon.”  Last week, my spouse asked our oldest boy if he knew why I love puzzles so much. He said no, so she explained, “because it all goes together to be one!!”  And it’s true!  There’s incredible joy for me in being able to “fix what is broken,” to determine how the pieces fit together, and to bring harmony and wholeness where there had been only disorder and chaos.

And, if we think of G-d being manifest in all of creation, then creation is like a giant puzzle with an infinite number of pieces, and each of us is a piece of that puzzle. Without each piece, the puzzle could not be complete; and without the puzzle, the pieces would not exist!!

Our “job” while alive is to help G-d move toward completion of the puzzle.  First, we each must find our place in the puzzle — without cramming ourselves somewhere we don’t fit, tearing off a piece of ourselves to try to fit, or dislodging anyone else. Then, once we find our place, we have to help others find their places as well — being careful always not to disrupt the sections of the puzzle that were already completed by others.

Over time, as more of creation is repaired, we will begin to see that we all are part of a single picture . . . a beautiful mosaic in which each of us has a designated spot where we will fit comfortably with those around us and from which we will be able to see the immense beauty in the divine picture that surrounds us . . .

wishing each of you a safe and happy 2014, jen

Divine Light


Sunrise 12-19-13

“Divinity did not really remove itself; it fills being with its light . . . .  Divinity is everywhere; it fills everything.  Everything you see and hear, touch and feel, think and contemplate—all of it is G-d.”

— Hillel Zeitlin, as translated by Rabbi Arthur Green in Hasidic Spirituality for a New Era: The Religious Writings of Hillel Zeitlin (2012) at 81.

Illuminating the World


A few days ago, I ran across a quote from a woman named Rabi’a al-Adawiyya, a Sufi mystic who lived until 801 C.E. She is said to have told a religious man that he should “be like wax and illumine the world and burn yourself. ”

That advice reminded me of Hannah Senesh, a Hungarian-Israeli Jew who was trained by the British Army and then parachuted into Nazi territory during WWII to try to save Jews from deportation to concentration camps. After landing in enemy territory, 22-year-old Senesh wrote this poem:

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns in the heart’s secret places.
Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor’s sake.
Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

After those two quotes, I can’t help but note the recent passing of Nelson Mandela — a man who was a beautiful example of what it means to struggle against injustice and illuminate the world.

And then there’s the upcoming third anniversary of my Granny’s death . . . a woman who didn’t save a nation and won’t be quoted for centuries, but she illuminated my world with her steadfast unconditional love.

Illuminating the World
–by standing up to all forms of injustice
–by “shedding light” on an unaddressed problem
–by giving unconditional love
–by being willing to give of yourself to help others, whether at the price of your own life or just temporary, minor inconvenience

Illuminating the world is not a value that belongs to any one nation or any one religion. Bringing Light was the goal of the Buddha, of Jesus, of every mystic from every faith, of Gandhi, of Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Dalai Lama, of Pope Francis . . . the list could go on and on . . .

And yet, injustice continues:
–there are still people who lack life’s basic necessities
–there are still children who don’t know unconditional love
–there are still people being abused by others in their own homes
–there are still people being wrongly accused, held captive, and tortured
–there are still people bring taught to hate others based on skin color, religion, gender, etc.
–there are still far too many dark places in our World that need to be illuminated.

I’m not suggesting any of us quit our jobs, or abandon our families, or find a cause to literally die for . . . but . . . what if each of us found just one small way each week to bring a little more light to a dark place that we see in our part of this world that we all share?

We may not achieve world peace or be mourned by the entire world when we die. But, to the people whose lives are impacted by the darkness, the light we bring could be just as important as my Granny’s light and love still are to me, and that, my friends, would be nothing short of miraculous.

Zach’s New Mezuzah



At religious school today, my son Zachary made this mezuzah for his bedroom door.  For those who do not know, a mezuzah is the “box” that Jews hang on doorposts to remind us of G-d as we leave and return through doorways.  Inside the box is a parchment that contains special texts from Torah.

Mezuzot can be made from any material and decorated in most any color scheme or style.  Some are very ornate and others very simple, but almost all of them will have a Shin — the Hebrew letter that makes an “SH” sound.  Sometimes a mezuzah has three letters on it, Shin-Dalet-Yud, which spells the word “Shaddai,” one of the 72 names for G-d.  I thought that’s all there was to the story – the mezuzah contains the word Shaddai or has a Shin to remind us of Shaddai . . . until I ran across this bit of information a few months ago:


So, the decision to place Shaddai on the mezuzah, rather than one of the other 71 names for G-d, was not random.  That name was chosen because its letters – being an acronym for “Guards Israel’s Doors” – are the perfect name to place on a box that we affix to our doorposts.

Shavua tov, jen

Experiencing G-d’s Presence, Part 3


Okay, so, I’m going to guess that all of us have been, at one time or another, part of a religious community in which it seemed the “guest-of-honor” wasn’t regularly in attendance.  When this happens, people start looking around for who or what is responsible.  We blame the sermon.  We blame the lyrics or melody of the music.   We blame the liturgy that is out-dated or fails to honor tradition.  We blame the parents of the children who make too much noise or the empty-nesters who no longer attend regularly.  We wonder if it’s the time of the service, the lighting of the room, the comfort of the chairs, and/or the aesthetics of the surroundings.

Then, we start to shuffle all sorts of variables — we fire and hire staff, spend millions of dollars on buildings and decorations, purchase new prayerbooks — all with the hope of finding the right combination to unlock the door that keeps G-d from arriving.

But we never stop and look at ourselves . . . we never quite seem to want to admit that each of us must be the key that opens the door.   What do I mean?

For me to experience G-d alone, I must simply open my heart.

For me to experience G-d in community, I must open my heart in a room full of people.  I must allow myself to be vulnerable by giving up on ‘perfection’ and ‘control’ and by accepting myself and everyone else for exactly whoever each of us is.

When each person who walks into a worship space is respected for the length of the worship service for whoever that person is —

screaming child,
struggling parent of screaming child,
tone-deaf singer,
late arrivers,
woman who knits,
child with a tic,
mourners weeping,
pregnant couple full of hope,
the mystic full of love,
the atheist who just wants community,
the one who sees G-d inside,
the one who sees G-d above,
the one who wants choir and organ,
the one who wants guitar,
the one who wants no music,
those who prefer Hebrew,
those who know no Hebrew,
person whose ancestors founded the congregation,
person who had never before entered a synagogue,
and any other possible distinguishing variable!!

— when each and every one of those people feels equally entitled to be present in the room, and when each one has been welcomed with open arms (or at least open hearts!!) by the others who are in the room  . . .  then everyone will be able to open their hearts and reach for G-d (or peace, or Unity) . . . and the room will fill with Love . . . and everyone will feel that the “guest-of-honor” is present!

And this is why, my friends, each and every one of us bears responsibility . . . because each of us must make sure the space around us invites others to be present and to feel G-d’s presence!!!!  The only thing that any of us can control is ourself, and so each of us must do our part to fill the room with Love!

By saying this, I do not mean to suggest that clergy, staff, a board of directors, etc., do not bear any responsibility — they, first and foremost, are also people who must open their hearts and invite others to be present and to feel G-d’s presence.  They must set a tone that allows people to be real . . . not Perfect, REAL!  They must be the embodiment of acceptance and of unconditional love — not just during a worship service, but 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year — and not just for their friends and fans, but for everyone — because THAT is to only way to create a “safe space” where people know that honest emotion is accepted, where rational explanations are not required, where each person can just BE in whatever emotional space that person is in, as we progress together through a liturgy that touches on a broad range of the possible emotions that we humans might be experiencing as we journey from birth to death.

And all those other variables we shuffle — the music, the time, the seats, the decorations, the prayer book, the theological details — they truly do not matter!! G-d is not a theatre critic for the Times — so the goal of worship cannot be a “perfect performance” in which every cast member hits cues, the equipment works, the lighting is perfect, and all lines are recited beautifully from memory.  Remember, to experience G-d we must give up on perfection and on having control over sounds, lights, other people, etc.!!

Prayer services truly could occur in a cold, damp, dark cave with rocks as seats, no sound system, and bugs crawling around … and if you filled that cave with Love, people would flock to it . . . simply because they would feel G-d’s presence when they were there . . . .

When each of the people “running the show” strives 24/7/365 to genuinely offer Ahavah Rabah, appreciation, and acceptance to every other person with whom they interact . . . including their co-workers, employees, and political “enemies” . . . only then will all the other people in the room understand that they have arrived in a place where every person is safe to open his or her heart and reach for G-d . . . and then, it is time for the rest of us to “step forward,” to open our hearts and fill the room with Love . . . .

Then, my friends, and only then, will the walls shake, the earth tremble, and the mountain appear in our midst, allowing each worshipper to stand in awe of the same mystery and majesty that our ancestors experienced at Sinai . . .

Shabbat shalom, jen

Experiencing G-d’s Presence, Part 2


Okay, so, experiencing G-d’s presence requires only one thing:
Opening Our Hearts.  And THAT can be risky even if we are in a room all alone.

So, what about when we worship with community?

Well, the risk gets only greater!!

Not only can the expression of any emotion in public be awkward for those of us who were not raised to express emotion in the presence of others, but if our open hearts take us to laugher or tears at “socially inappropriate” moments, we also might experience a little embarrassment.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that religious liturgy was designed to take us to a number of emotional “places” – gratitude, love, fear, awe, respect, devotion, grief, hope, etc. – precisely because the point of religious worship is to open our hearts, so that we can feel G-d’s presence as a community.

So, what are we to do?  We must train ourselves to open our hearts in a room full of other people!!

We must find a way to be sufficiently comfortable with ourselves to welcome our friends, our enemies, complete strangers, acquaintances, and (sometimes most frightening of all) our families to sit in a room with us while we allow ourselves to be completely vulnerable to Life: to laugh, to cry, to love, to express gratitude, to feel fear, to hope, and/or to mourn . . . sometimes experiencing more than one of them at a time!!

And how do we get sufficiently comfortable with being that vulnerable?

— We must acknowledge that we are not in control of Life.
— We must acknowledge that perfection is not possible.
— We must accept and love ourselves for who we are.
— We must accept and love others for who they are.

That’s it!

Let go of control and perfection,
and love ourselves and others.

Let go and love.

If we can let go and love, we will allow ourselves to feel G-d’s presence . . . which, of course, is always there, but the fear that closes our hearts stops us from feeling it . . .

Experiencing G-d’s Presence, Part 1


A couple of weeks ago, I posted that I had been thinking about whether we can ever truly feel the warmth of the fire if we aren’t willing to risk being burned.   Since then, I’ve been working on finding the words to share with you what I was thinking about when I wrote that.  By the time I was finished writing, it was too much for one post . . . so I’m publishing my first Trilogy!    LOL!

From time to time, our life circumstances can be such that we wish we could feel G-d’s presence in our lives more frequently or more strongly.

But modern society has organized our lives in such a way, and “rationalized” our lives to such an extent, that many of us feel we are permitted to acknowledge G-d’s presence only . . .

. . . one day a week,
. . . in our house of worship,
. . . if we get a little, warm, fuzzy feeling, without wanting to cry or dance.

But . . .  if we place that many constraints on experiencing G-d, will we be able to feel G-d’s presence in our lives in the random moments when we need or want to feel G-d’s presence?

It would be really convenient.

And I do wish I could say that we could just snap our fingers and feel connected to G-d whenever we would like, even with all those constraints.

But I’m afraid that’s just not how this “G-d-thing” works for most of us!

The truth – at least as I understand it – is that experiencing G-d requires only one thing . . .

. . . but . . . it’s a thing that can be scary for most of us . . .

. . . and . . . it’s a thing that, for most of us, takes practice . . .

We Have To Open Our Hearts!!!

Opening our hearts means we must give ourselves permission to feel whatever emotion we might feel at any particular moment — which could mean laughing with joy, crying in sorrow, or feeling completely overwhelmed by G-d’s infinite love.

And THAT is a risky endeavor because, depending on how long it has been since we last opened our hearts and on how stressful our current life circumstances are, we may have a lot of emotion to release!

But if we aren’t willing to take the risk of opening our hearts, at random times and in random places, to feel whatever is in there to be felt  — because we are afraid that we might get burned by the emotion we find — then we may be unable to open our hearts to feel G-d’s presence on our day of worship or at a random moment when we need to find a strength that is not our own . . .