Shema Yisrael!


This week’s Torah portion contains the central declaration of the Jewish faith —

Shema Yisrael: Hashem Eloheinu, Hashem echad. 

Hear O Israel: Hashem is our Gd, Hashem is one.  

Over the centuries, commentators have found multiple ways to interpret that declaration.   The command to hear could be to the entire community collectively or to individuals.    One could mean “our Gd is unique among the gods that are worshipped” or “there is only one Gd in all of creation.” 

Yet perhaps the most interesting word in the Shema is Eloheinu, which is translated “our Gd,” but is derived from eloheim — a plural noun meaning gods, such that the Shema could be interpreted to mean “Hashem is all our gods and is one.”  

And at this time in the history of human civilization, that seems to be an important lesson that humanity needs — whatever names we call, whatever language we speak, whatever our religious rituals… whether as individuals we most easily connect to The Sacred through music, art, prayer, study, acts of kindness, the beauty of nature, or relationship with others… we are all reaching for, and hopefully connecting with, the singular Unity that is the One mighty and awesome Gd of creation!

This weekend, through all of our experiences, in every moment, may we allow ourselves to connect to the One who hides behind the many.
Shabbat shalom, jen 

Shabbat shalom!!



I took that picture Wednesday evening at the local park where my son meets another synagogue member to practice shofar for Rosh Hashanah services.   It’s hard to believe Rosh Hashanah is only 16 days away!  Between getting back into the swing of school (secular and religious) and planning/preparing for the Holy Days, the last month has flown by. 

At some point in the next 16 days I need to spend more time assessing who I am, where I’m meeting my potential, and where I’m falling short — the annual Cheshbon HaNefesh, or accounting of the soul — so that I will be ready to re-set my priorities for the coming year.   It’s not an easy task (and sometimes it’s not a fun task!!), but the only way we can improve is by being honest with ourselves about who and where we are today.  

But that’s not a task for tonight! 

Tonight I’m going to hit “pause” to stop everything that makes life hectic.   I’m going to play Legos with my kids, race our remote control cars, and maybe take a walk.  I’m going to order pizza for dinner and curl up with them to watch a movie or play a game.  I’m going to stop “doing”… stop “trying”… stop “becoming”…  and instead I’m just going to BE in each precious moment with them, and I’m going to truly enjoy them for who each of them is today. 

If you’ve never tried hitting “pause” to share some time with those you love, I encourage you to try it.   You just might find, as I have, the wisdom in Ahad Ha’am’s saying: “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.”   

Shabbat shalom, jen

Me’chayeih ha-meitim


Me’chayeih ha-meitim

Up on a mountain that was somehow down inside me. Years of climbing that had felt like digging, trying to set my soul free. And suddenly there I stood, face to face with my Gd.

Able to ask the hard questions, dump my anger and grief, but all I could find were joy and relief.  So I spilled out my gratitude, wept as I drown in The Love, finally sensing the Forever that would be enough, righting Creation’s wrongs and setting me free of the demons ’round that mountain and down inside me.

Baruch Atah Adonai,
Me’chayeih ha-meitim.

Me’chayeih ha-meitim is Hebrew for “who makes alive the dead.” Traditionally, the phrase was said multiple times a day as part of The Amidah, or Standing Prayer.

With the advent of Reform Judaism, the phrase was changed to eliminate the reference to resurrection of the dead, so the prayer became instead “Me’chayeih ha-col,” “who gives life to everything.”

Interestingly, however, according to scholars, given the time the prayer originated, me’chayeih ha-meitim may not have been intended to refer to literal resurrection of people who were truly dead. For example:
(1) In the Ancient Near East, Sumerians used the same phrase to praise their deity after a gravely ill person had been restored to health,
(2) The Talmud instructs us to thank Gd for “reviving the dead” when we see someone for the first time in over a year.

The prayer that I shared above was written as an expression of this expanded, figurative meaning of “giving life to the dead,” as Gd’s Love can revive our withered souls, bringing us from the darkness of spiritual exile into the light of redemption.

may Shabbat bring more shalom to all, jen


If anyone is interested in learning more about The Amidah, I recommend My People’s Prayer Book, Vol. 2: The Amidah. Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, Ph.D. (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1998).

And I wonder . . .


The Lord is in me, the Lord is in you, as life is in every seed. O servant! put false pride away, and seek for Him within you.

A million suns are ablaze with light, The sea of blue spreads in the sky, The fever of life is stilled, and all stains are washed away; when I sit in the midst of that world.

Hark to the unstruck bells and drums! Take your delight in love! Rains pour down without water, and the rivers are streams of light. One Love it is that pervades the whole world, few there are who know it fully:

They are blind who hope to see it by the light of reason, that reason which is the cause of separation— The House of Reason is very far away!

How blessed is Kabîr, that amidst this great joy he sings within his own vessel. It is the music of the meeting of soul with soul; It is the music of the forgetting of sorrows; It is the music that transcends all coming in and all going forth.

Excerpt From: Kabir. “Songs of Kabir.” iBooks. 

And I wonder…

if I 

-raised a Baptist, Jew by choice- 

can find holiness in the words of Kabir 

-self-professed child of both Allah and Ram-

… why is there strife between Sunni and Shia??  Muslim and Jew??  any two people based on religious difference??

As Kabir said above, G-d is in all of us.  If we put away our false pride, we will see…


with prayers for peace, jen

The Force… awakens?



Darth Vader’s chestplate with Hebrew inscription

It’s finally here!! The newest Star Wars movie, Episode VII, opens this weekend, and an article in yesterday’s paper assured readers that this is the best Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi!!!

Yes… I AM as excited as my children!!

What’s not to love about following the adventures of characters who can tap into The Force that flows through the Universe and who choose to use their ability to increase the odds that Good will triumph over Evil??

But . . . I’m not sure what to make of the movie’s name — “The Force Awakens” — because it just doesn’t fit with my understanding of The Force.

In my mind, The Force is what creates and animates our entire universe. It is the Unity that is the Eternal my Gd and the Gd of my father Abraham. The Force is the One that was, is, and forever will be. It flows. It binds. It connects everything together in an infinite web of existence.

As such, The Force doesn’t ever pause. It doesn’t hesitate. And it most surely can’t stop . . . or we (and everything else in the known universe) would, in an instant, cease to exist. So The Force simply cannot take a nap from which it would need to “awaken.”

No, The Force is always there . . . waiting . . .

It is us — we mere mortals, made of dust and ashes, yet slightly holier than the angels –who must awaken to The Presence and its energy. Despite living in a culture that encourages us to be arrogant about what we can accomplish “alone,” we must find the strength to submit to a Power much greater than ourselves.

Only then, through the lens of The Unity, can we see the real battles that must be fought and the work that truly must be done.

May The Force be with you!!

Shabbat shalom, jen



ps. I took the photo of Darth Vader’s chestplate a few years ago when my family went to see a traveling Star Wars exhibit at a local museum.  Although I’ve never seen proof, I once read on the Internet that the Hebrew inscription one one costume’s chestplate said “there will be no peace until he turns”  . . . which could be read as a reference both to turning from the Dark Side and to the Jewish concept of “making teshuvah” (turning or returning to Gd)…

Finding Ultimate Meaning


All of us are meaning-seekers. We approach every painting, novel, film, symphony, or ballet unconsciously hoping it will move us one step further on the journey toward answering the question ‘Why am I here?’  People living in the postmodern world, however, are faced with an excruciating dilemma. Their hearts long to find ultimate meaning, while at the same time their critical minds do not believe it exists.  We are homesick, but have no home.

Excerpt From: Ian Morgan Cron. “Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale.” Zondervan, 2013. iBooks.

A couple of weeks ago, Eva –The Aspirational Agnostic who can be found at — recommended “Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale.”  It’s author, Cron, describes the book as a “delicate balance of fiction and nonfiction, pilgrimage and teaching.”  At the heart of the fiction is a mega-church minister who lands in spiritual crisis when life circumstances cause him to doubt his faith in the Gd about whom he preaches but with whom he has no personal connection.  The nonfiction is what readers learn about Saint Francis of Assisi (and his ministry and “brand” of Christianity) as the mega-church minister goes on a pilgrimage to find Francis, Jesus, Gd, and himself.

Once I started the book, I had trouble putting it down because, as a seeker, I could relate to many of the minister’s struggles with faith and religion. I couldn’t wait to see where his Journey took him, what he would experience and learn, and what I might learn in the process!

There are many themes from the book that I may write more about in the future as I ponder what it might mean to live a more “Franciscan Judaism.”  But the theme that keeps popping into my mind most frequently is the idea expressed in the quote above . . . that modern humans “long to find ultimate meaning” but are unable to allow ourselves to believe that “meaning” could exist.

Not too surprisingly, I keep thinking about that theme because struggling with whether and how to believe in Gd and ‘find meaning’ is a big part of my story…my Torah…my Journey…

You see, some twenty years ago, during graduate school, I broke the news to my parents that I am gay, and my parents, well… they did exactly what you would expect socially-conservative Christians in a rural area of a “Red State” to have done in the early 1990s — they freaked out!

First there was denial. Then there was anger… and bargaining… and depression. Somewhere in the midst of their anger and bargaining, we ended up in the office of a Christian counselor who in no uncertain terms told me that my “decision to be gay was a ‘disease’ tearing apart” my family, that Gd did not approve of my decision to engage in sin, and that I would go to Hell unless I changed.

My response was to do exactly what any rational 24 year old (who wasn’t ready to commit suicide) would have done when handed that load of religious guilt and shame — I said “f*ck you” to Gd!!   If Gd couldn’t love me as Gd had created me, then I didn’t much care to believe in the existence of any such Gd.

For more than a decade, I angrily refused to believe Gd could exist — and I gathered as much scientific “proof” as possible along the way — because denying Gd’s existence seemed ‘easier’ than confronting the religious guilt and shame that were eating away at my soul.

During those years of ‘exile’, I converted to Judaism because I wanted to raise my children within a religious belief system and Judaism spoke to my tattered soul without requiring me to affirm a belief in Gd.  At the same time, while I couldn’t bear to read them, I was amassing a large library of books about Kabbalah and Hasidism — branches of Judaism that encourage having an intensely personal relationship with a loving, ever-present Gd.

But then, five years ago, my Granny died, and I “hit bottom,” because she was the last “parent” who had accepted and loved me unconditionally.  Not only was she my last loving parent, her house had been the last place I could go “home.”   Suddenly, the spiritual disconnect that I’d been masking with adamant atheism for all those years turned into a full-blown existential crisis.  I felt completely “untethered” from all of life.

Nine months later, a Rabbi noticed my pain, listened to my story, and suggested reading materials that helped me start to forgive Gd, my parents, and myself.  I cried nearly every day (for longer than I want to admit) as I worked through all the years of anger, grief, shame, and pain.

At some point during my healing process, I expressed that I wanted to pray like I had as a child, to talk to Gd like Gd was the parent that I had always wished I had had (like the prayers of the Hasidim in all those books that I had collected and finally begun reading), but that my mind kept getting in the way, distracting me with rational scientific arguments about how Gd didn’t and couldn’t exist.

The Rabbi looked at me and said, without any hint of sarcasm or condescension — “It’s okay to turn off your scientific brain and pray with your heart.”

And that simple statement . . . that granting of permission to ignore all the scientific arguments against believing in Gd that were bouncing around in my critical brain . . . allowed me to begin disregarding my brain and opening my heart to pray.  Over time, I’ve been able to trade my need to be logically consistent for a deeper relationship with Gd.

Now, after years of exile and homesickness, I’m finally Home . . . believing in a Gd who is more complex and contradictory than even the greatest human mind could ever comprehend, but who nevertheless loves me — exactly as I was created!! — with infinite and eternal unconditional Love.

Somehow, amidst the pain and tears and prayers, I found the ultimate meaning for which my heart longed…

Baruch Hashem!