Saturday, October 26, 2013

Love - Be Kind - Heal - Find Peace

In meditation today, while trying to push away an annoying thought that kept finding its way into my mind, I remembered some wise advice that I was once given - If you can't or are not ready make a decision, then don't.  You will either find the answer for your decision or the universe will provide it for you.  As I found my way back to focused breathing, these words came to mind:

Love yourself and others (so you can)
Be kind to yourself and others (so you can)
Heal yourself and others (so you can)
Find peace within yourself and others.

There is no way that I can live with this mantra in every moment, but I can try.  This doesn't have to be how I act at home, or at work, or at shul.  It should simply be how I act.

It is not easy.  Life, people, traffic, responsibilities, real problems, made up problems and then everything else that gets in the way.

So I decided to use my computer and Iphone for good.  I set an alarm on my phone to remind me to "pause for love" everyday.  I don't always hear the phone when the alarm sounds, but when I get back to my phone, I see the reminder on my phone.  On my computer, I will begin to use the sticky note app to post the mantras for the week so that I can take a moment to stop the spinning going on in my head and allow some peace to take over.

Meditation has helped me in more ways than I expected.  Breathing well helps me focus, produce, accomplish, love, and heal.  It also helps me prepare for what I know is to come.

Take a deep breath, love, be kind, heal and find peace.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Blessing For Our Daughter

One of the gifts our shul gave us was the opportunity to bless our daughter.  Gone is the speech about the baby steps, the funny personality and the parents up all night but it was worth it.   Instead, the Rabbis instituted something new - a blessing that offers something of love, hope and real.  The words we spoke to Maddy that day on the bimah are words we have said to her before.

Here is the blessing that we read to our daughter on the day of her bat mitzvah.  Reading it again today, I have not and will not change a word.

For Maddy,

May your voice always be strong and compassionate.
May you find joy and comfort in your friendships.
May you understand your sadness and not fear it.
May you feel loved every day. 
May you find trust in those who want the best for you and most importantly, in yourself.
And may you use your strength, kindness, intelligence and humor to 
show the world who you really are.

I am glad that Rabbis asked for this instead of a speech,  It felt right and good.  I hope Maddy reads this years from an appreciates our truth and love.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Meditation - What's Your Color?

I did it!  I led my first meditation yesterday.  Inspired by the story of Noah, I used the colors of the rainbow as the sequence to lead our group in a thoughtful meditation.  I began with a chant that I found on Rabbi Shefa Gold's website - 

"Raba emunatekha"
How great is your faithfulness!

As I started the guided meditation, I asked everyone to imagine a storm that has just ended and now you can see the rainbow.  As I guided through each color of the rainbow, I gave some specific examples of objects of color:

Red - apples, pomegranates, red hills, bricks, and roses.

Orange - carrots, flowers, goldfish, pumpkins, the flame of a Shabbat candle

Yellow - lemons, sunflowers, warm sunshine

Green - plants, leaves of a tree, grass

Blue - all the shades of the ocean, beautiful dolphins jumping in the ocean, waterfalls
Violet - lavender, juicy plums, grapes on a vine

To complete the meditation, I asked everyone to select the color that calmed them the most and to wrap themselves in it like blanket.  

 What is your color?  Which color comforts you?  

Following the meditation, I used the text from Rabbi Shefa Gold's Torah Journey's (which can also be found on her website) for our discussion.  Below is her "guidance for practice" which I encourage you to use. 


There is a sacred phrase in the morning liturgy:
"Raba emunatekha"
How great is your faithfulness!

With this prayer, I acknowledge God's profound faith in me.  God's faith in me soothes the trembling in my soul and awakens my own faith.

CHANT THIS PHRASE for a while, directing your heart towards a loving Presence.

AFTER SOME TIME, sit quietly and bring your attention to the soles of your feet. Feel God's loving attention seeing and knowing and loving every inch of your body, moving your attention up to the ankles, calves, knees, thighs... letting yourself be completely seen, known and loved... releasing any shame or hiddenness... allowing every part of you to be accepted by God's loving attention... moving your attention up to the genitals, belly, hips, waist, chest, arms, hands... letting God's gaze touch every wrinkle and crevice with complete acceptance... completely seen, completely known, completely loved... moving up your neck, face, between every hair on your head.

WHEN YOU REACH the top of your head, bring your attention to the breath, and imagine breathing in and out from every pore at once, your whole body alive with God's attention in you.

COMPLETE THE MEDITATION by chanting "Raba Emunatekha"

It was a wonderful experience and I am grateful to our group for allowing me to guide them.  This experience will carry into my week and in case you are curious, my color is blue.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

My Daughter Wants to be More Like Eve

On September 28, 2013, my daughter had her bat mitzvah and gave the following drash.  She wants to be more like Eve.  How beautiful and courageous coming from a 12 year old.  When she was a baby, I thought she had an old soul.  I believe that to be true today.

I asked her today for permission to post her speech on my blog and she said, "of course."  This is as she wrote it and I left in some of the instructions for the speech so one can get a feel for her voice.  Enjoy!


Shabbat Shalom!!!!
Before I begin, I’d like to ask you a few questions…….(PAUSE)  And………. I would REALLY like for you…….. to think about them.  What does PARADISE………. mean to YOU? WHAT is YOUR paradise?  Is it a place??? (PAUSE) Hawaii…………………Israel…….(PAUSE) Could it be time with your family…..........maybe Shabbat dinner with friends???? What makes paradise, WELL, PARADISE? AND…………..when you return, how do YOU bring a lasting piece of YOUR paradise to your own everyday life?

My Torah portion, Bereshit, begins with creation in a place which many of us often think of as a
“paradise.” (PAUSE)……The Garden of Eden. God creates a creature so unique, so different, and so unknown …… God creates MAN. Soon, God notices that Adam is lonely so he gives him a wife - EVE. Potentially, the BEST place on earth, the Garden of Eden DOES come with a catch. (PAUSE) RULES!!!  One of these rules is that Adam and Eve may eat the fruit, literally from ANY tree, EXCEPT for one  (PAUSE)………Etz ha-Da’at Tov va-Ra, the Tree of Knowledge - of Good AND Bad. God explains that if they DO decide to eat from this tree, they will die. After the detailed explanation from God, they do what any good characters in any compelling story would do…….they eat the fruit from the tree.  Eve took the fruit, ate it, and gave some to her husband, Adam. It says in the Torah that, their eyes opened AND once they had realized this, they hid and made clothes out of leaves. God came around and spotted them and asked them why they were hiding. Adam answered with the truth: “We heard you in the Garden, and now we’re afraid. God responds to Adam and Eve, “To the woman, Eve, he said, I will greatly multiply the pain of your child bearing. And to Adam he said, cursed is the ground for your sake; in sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life.”

I TOO, like Adam and Eve have known paradise. My paradise, MY Garden of Eden, is what many of you know as the best place on earth, ……..Camp Ramah. Camp Ramah is my paradise because of: my friends, new and old…….being outside almost all day…..and connecting with God on a daily basis. The thing about Ramah is that I meet friends from all over the globe. I have friends that live in San Diego, New York, Israel, and beyond. And every friendship and friend that I make, stays with me until the next time I speak with or see them. But it’s not ALL about the friends from faraway places. Camp brings me closer to the people who I see every day at school. Some of the closest friends that I have are sitting just a few feet away from me right now. It’s not only about the people from camp who live 2,789.6 miles away, it’s also about the people that live 5 minutes away from me, and I’m lucky to have that. Much like Adam needed Eve, (PAUSE)…….. I need my friends.

Paradise, to me is being outside all day. It helps make me realize that it’s not alllll about the iPad or TV. It’s a welcomed and much needed break from that internet and wifi!!!!!! And I’ll admit, nowadays, wifi is one of the MOST DIFFICULT things to let go of Buuuuuuuuuhhhtttt ….camp’s worth it!!  Being outside all day makes me feel healthier and happier and sometimes I have a feeling that I’m happier simply because I am so close with nature and with God.
Paradise is the connection that I feel to God during prayers. Typically, I don’t feel quite this strong of a connection at school or at home while praying but there’s something special about praying at camp. Maybe it’s the counselors that you’re praying with. Maybe it’s the campers that you’re with or maybe it’s just the tunes that they use. In all, there are so many reasons that I’m so happy to go to services there in the morning.

In my opinion, one of the biggest rewards of camp is the GROWTH. (PAUSE) This year at camp, the theme was #MOG which stands for Moments…. Of….. Growth. Before Eve ate the fruit, the Torah says “And when the women saw that the tree was good for food and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.” To me, this is Eve’s moment of growth. I’d like to be more like Eve at THAT moment. I’d like to have the delight and wisdom of Ramah to last all year. I grew a lot this year in terms of independence. Similarly, Adam and Eve grew a lot and became more independent because they had little choice but to work and to be in some discomfort. They learned that they couldn’t just ask God for something and know that they’d receive it. They actually had to work to get what they wanted. For Adam and Eve, being in the Garden of Eden was indeed a gift and leaving was terribly uncomfortable for them. When they realized that they were going to be working for themselves, quite possibly WITHOUT the comfort of God, they didn’t know what to do. You SEE…………………’s a big change and a difficult transition leaving paradise.
Coping with leaving, AND THEN returning back home was also a huge example of my growth this past summer. Once I got back, I felt like the most miserable person on the planet. I had just spent a month in the best place, with the best people, making the best memories and then….….SUDDENLY…….. I had to leave. Realizing that I had to leave was really difficult and I didn’t know what I would do when I got back home.

Now, back to the question that I posed to you before: (PAUSE) How do we bring a piece of OUR
paradise back to reality? (PAUSE again) The way that I bring paradise back, is by being in touch with friends, and staying………. connected……… to God. But I also like to bring paradise back with the simple things. Like, for example, the prayers and melodies that we used at Camp Ramah. There are times now where I’ll be with my friends and we’ll just start chanting Minchah. Also, I try to stay connected to God and stay in touch with friends by walking home. I walk to school alone and to me it’s such a great way to connect to nature outside AND to God. Then, I like to walk back home with friends because it’s also a great way to get closer to friends that I wasn’t as close to before. Overall, I’ve really learned how to take MY paradise and put a piece of it into MY everyday life.

And now, I return to my other question from the beginning….. (PAUSE)
WHAT is YOUR paradise? My goal for this morning is to open your eyes so that you can know a little more about your own paradise. I want you to know how to take a piece of it and make it part of your everyday life so that you’re reminded of your paradise daily. PAUSE
I would like to thank you, Hillel Tigay, who taught me all of the tropes which I needed to know for my Torah reading. You’ve helped me SO much and thank you for using tunes from camp when teaching me to read Torah and lead t’fillah.

I want to give my deepest thank you to Rabbi Hoffman and Rabbi Kligfeld for helping me with my D’var Torah. You’ve both opened my eyes to the details that make this parashah meaningful.
I would also like to thank my family, who came alllllll the way from Boston and New York, and those who live here in Los Angeles. You’ve taught me SO much about how to love and to be loved. I would also like to say that although my Grandpa Gene and Grandpa Irv aren’t with us today, I know that they would both be so proud of me. You have both opened my eyes to make me realize that love lasts longer than a lifetime. I love and miss you both. PAUSE

Thank you to my ENTIRE family. Elliot………, even though I’m usually ignored because you’re playing Lego Star Wars on the Wii, I still can’t begin to explain how much YOU have opened my eyes to help me realize how to love someone that’s so different from you…. .. .……
You’re SUCH a great brother and I love you SO, SO much.

Daddy, (PAUSE) I know that we can get into a lot of “DISCUSSIONS” about my hair…………myGRADES…………… my sweatshirts,………. homework, and so much more. I want you to know that you’ve opened my eyes SO much and I really appreciate how much work you put in to loving and helping me. I love you.

Mommy…….. (PAUSE) thank you SO much for opening my eyes to what it means to be there, to REALLY be there, for someone you love. You’ve opened my eyes and heart by bringing paradise to my bat mitzvah. I can’t forget to thank all of my friends for being here today and being by my side all of the time. You guys make me laugh….are MORE than just amazing friends….. you ALL open my eyes to the paradise I have every day and I love you all.

Lastly, I want to thank every one of YOU here today for supporting me and being here with me on MY……….. BAT……….. MITZVAH as well as being by my side during my journey in bringing paradise home.  Shabbat Shalom!!!!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Finding My Paradise at My Daughter's Bat Mitzvah

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."
- Mahatma Gandhi

This past weekend, we celebrated our daughter's bat mitzvah.  I am biased; of course, how can I not be.   However, after months of listening to her practicing and preparing, I was still unprepared for the magic that came with her public presentation and commitment.  After she lit up the Torah with the ease of her reading and comfort of chanting in front of 300 people, she gave a d'var torah that asked people to think at that moment and after they left the synagogue.  Focused on the Garden of Eden and the expulsion of Adam and Eve, she simply asked everyone, "What is your paradise and when you are forced to leave paradise, how do you bring it back to your every day life?"

Months before this, we met with Rabbi Yechiel Hoffman to offer us some inspiration for what her D'var Torah could be.  At that meeting, Maddy expressed some thoughts about how she visualized the day.  After their conversation, he asked to speak to my husband and me.  He asked, "What message do you want to deliver?"  This simple question hit us so hard (in a good way).  We had been so focused on our financial responsibilities that the spiritual "what" became a smaller priority.  This question refocused us quickly and from that moment, my husband and I knew that we would create celebration so that not only Maddy's name would be on it, but it would truly have a Tessel family imprint.

Perry and I said from the beginning that we didn't want to do what others did.  We wanted the service to be meaningful and personal and we hoped people would be comfortable to participate.  We also wanted the honors and aliyot to reflect who we are and our gratitude for our family, friendships and community.  As we reflected on the honors and discussed with our family and Rabbi Kligfeld, we made the decision to invite our family and friends who have had and continue to have an impact on our daughter and our family.

Friendship and community were the focus and theme of the bat mitzvah and I am so grateful to all the clergy and community of Temple Beth Am for giving us such an extraordinary experience.  Like a party, an experience is made by the people in attendance.  This is true for what occurred this weekend for Maddy's bat mitzvah.  Led by Maddy, in partnership with all who surrounded her, we were elevated.  We were surrounded by love and we knew it.

Again, as Mahatma Ghandi said, "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."  And as for Maddy's question, this moment in our life will stay with me as one of my moments of paradise.