Monday, June 30, 2014

No Prayer Goes Unheard

The day after tens of thousands of Israelis rallied in the middle of Tel Aviv, joining together in their longing for the safe and speedy return of the abducted teenagers, Israel got their wish. Well, sort of. The fates of the boys were finally discovered. Details are still sketchy, but it seems they were murdered soon after their abduction. Is that a relief? Is the fact it's finally over a relief? Can there be any good from such a confusing and sad situation?

I think the love and concern that poured out of strangers for the well-being of these boys, from all over the world, is one consolation. Those prayers don't just disappear simply because they weren't answered the way we wanted them to. The 18 days of prayer can be correlated to the '18' prayer we say several times a day - the Shemonah Esrey. One of the prayers states that God is 'shomeah tefilah' that He hears prayer. It's in the present tense. Our Sages tell us this means that no sincere prayer goes unanswered. It could be that now is not the right time, but those heartfelt please and tears don't fall on deaf ears. Even if you don't believe in God (כ"ו) the positive energy put out into the universe, the unity and love and longing for things to be good - that doesn't just stop being there. It's there, and it will be used.

And let us not forget, that we don't need a heart-stopping event to remind us that we are all one. The next time you find yourself thinking thoughts that distance you from your fellow human, whether it's bearing a grudge, talking gossip, or being jealous, remember how easy it was to see the best in people when we were all on the same team. We still are, that hasn't changed. And that is a relief. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Don't talk about your feet and other things not to say on a first date

Like death and taxes, dating is often one of those unavoidable things we just have to suffer through until we meet ‘the one’. While it doesn’t have to be a grueling process, it often is.

First dates are exciting, brimming with potential. But the fact that your next first date could be your last first date comes with the flip side: not only could it not lead to marriage (or even a second date), it could be down right unpleasant. I’m a glass-is-half-full kind of person – the crazier someone acts on the first date, the more grateful I am it happened on the first, and not the third, or tenth, date – or after the honeymoon. The sooner I see we are totally incompatible, the sooner I can move on to someone more suitable. No matter how sunny my disposition on dating is, it doesn’t mean I’m not thrown for a loop when dates say things that raise an eyebrow or two. Since I always try to protect the privacy of those I date (hopefully ensuring guys will continue to want to go out with me without fear of becoming the subject of an upcoming column) I crowdsourced my friends for some of the least-expected, and least welcomed, sentences they've heard on a first date.

Think of this as perspective for your next less than great first date – at least he or she didn’t say any of the things below (or if it was something worse please share!).

Things not to say on a first date:

1. "I have written a poem for you on my cellphone while I was on the toilet, would you like to see?”

2. "Did you know you can pleasure a man with your feet?"

3. "Wow, you don't look like you exercise!"

4. "You don't move much, do you?"

5. "I heard she only married me to get back at her dad."

6. "If your phone rings, you can answer it, if my mom calls I'm going to answer."

7. "Did you used to do a lot of drugs, because you talk like you used to do drugs."

8. "When was the last time you had sex? For me it was last night."

9. "The neighborhood I live in is great if you want to make sure women never talk to you."

10. "I haven't told my doctor, but I stopped taking my meds."

11. "I wanted to let you know that I have a platonic relationship with this girl. Every time she's sad she comes over and I comfort her, like we sleep together."

12. "I think Borat is an accurate representation of life as a foreigner in the USA."

13. "I don't want to kill my ex-wife, I just wish she was dead."

14. "My brother is very well off and he took his wife last year to France, that is probably where my Nephew was conceived."

15. "You look tired."

Each phrase has its own curl of wisdom behind why it is so very wrong to say on a first date (or in some cases, ever). We can discuss those at another time. In the meantime, please share your own worst date phrases in the comments, and breathe a sigh of relief if you never heard any of these!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How you can help

As soon as Shabbat went out this past Saturday night, the first thing on everyone's mind was checking the news. We had heard a rumor over lunch that the boys were found just before Shabbat came in, and we were yearning for it to be true. Sadly, obviously, it wasn't. One of my friends began reading from a news site, the only light in the room coming from the computer monitor, all of us so anxious to find out what happened, no one could bother the extra step to turn on a light after Havdallah. I sunk down onto the couch, hearing words, but not understanding. How do we live in a world where these headlines are real and not on some television show? How does the President of the United States send a message congratulating the US Soccer Team on their win in the World Cup, but no words of comfort to the family of the boy with US citizenship?

You could say, it's easy not to care when it's not your family, not your country. At the end of the day, these events have minimal-to-no impact on most people’s daily life. Even when people care, like when the Nigerian girls were taken, the concern only lasts so long. There is some other international tragedy that gets picked up in the news cycle.

I've been trying to find something redeeming in all of this. I'm a glass-half-full everything-has-a-silver-lining person. The Jews have gone through a lot over the past 3,000+ years, and this is bar far not uncommon in our history. So much so, that many hundreds of years ago in Europe, a famous rabbi who was abducted and held for ransom ordered his congregation to ignore the mitzvah of redeeming a Jewish hostage to prevent further abductions of Jews. I found it powerful when we don't give in to despair. When we fight to not be a weak, downtrodden people. Equally powerful are the efforts being made to encourage people to do acts of kindness. I can't explain to you why doing gemilut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness) is the most appropriate response to the brutal abduction of three teenagers on their way home for Shabbat - but it is. It's simply such a beautifully quintessential Jewish response.

I wish we didn’t need such negative events to bring us together, to inspire us in these ways. The unspoken part of going through these things together as a nation is the universal idea that we are one. So how do we temper the suffocating knowledge that people we love are in mortal danger, living in terror? By putting more love and light into the world. It reminds me of Tinker Bell in Peter Pan, if you clap your hands and believe, she will live. If we don't let the evil in this world bring us down, if we push through it and replace it, drown it out with our acts of love for no other sake then themselves and wanting to bring happiness to the world, things will get better.

Which brings me to my request for action, what you can do in the face of this tragedy: Join Curls of Wisdom this Thursday in not speaking any lashon hara negative words about any person. Lashon hara is divisive, it cuts and separates and erodes us as a people. If we can go a whole day without any negativity come out of our mouths, think of how much more positive the world will be on that day. Even the most hardened among us must admit, that one day without speaking negatively about another person can't hurt, and G-d Willing, can only help. Even if you slip up, every time you make an effort to not say something negative, you are changing yourself and the world. We will ask everyone to share their stories with us.

I'm not going to be so chutzpadik as to suggest that not speaking gossip for 24 hours will solve the problems in this world, or even release the hostages. What I will say is that it will make the world a better place, because we will be making ourselves better people. Don't give up hope, step up help.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Straight Talk with Rivkah Naomi - Emuna Gym

Straight Talk with Rivkah Naomi

Emuna Gym

“Sun is shining, the weather is sweet now
Make you want to move your dancing feet”
-         Bob Marley

There is no chidush that during the good times the spirit of hope is awake and moving you forward joyfully. All around the sweetness of the warm sunlight and the luminous moon by night seem poised and placed by Hashem to light, support and delight your way.

You make the bus, receive good news and your soup turns out perfectly. You feel it, all of it. You feel loved and supported by G-d at one with the efforts and flow of the universe.

Confronted by small challenges you access your connection to HKBH. You activate your emuna, you deeply trust that all will be as it should be and you affirm that it is “all good” Baruch Hashem.

Your friends stop by for a schmooze and receive some chizuk. You, of the sunshine dancing feet, are Capital C connected to the divine and generously give a splash of your overflowing emuna to your holy friend. You know that it’s All Good and All for the Good.

So let’s be real for a moment. It doesn’t last. Your receive bad news, 5 dates in a row gone the way of total rejection. Your parnasah is challenging and your room mate moves out without notice and someone steals your wallet, all in the same week and yeah, the dermatitis was a nice bonus touch.

Sun may be shining but all you have are unhappy feet that are opting out, out of it all. It’s too hard and too painful and where is Hashem anyway. You are already having trouble making rent this month, why would you get your wallet stolen and your room mate move out?

This could be A Sign…
You lay in bed with a quiet dread. What is the sign saying to you? And thus an embossed linen invitation is hand delivered to your yetzer hara to please make itself at home, an extended stay.

Maybe you are deserving of a punishment, maybe you don’t deserve anything good anyway. Maybe you are not supposed to be in Israel. Maybe you will never get married. Maybe your room mate doesn’t like you. Maybe you are too short, too tall too thin, not good looking enough. Maybe nothing good will ever happen to you. Maybe everything you do is pointless.

Maybe, Hashem doesn’t love you!

It is so easy to fall from your place of connection into an abyss that is the dark road of the yetzer hara. Let’s be real, you probably can’t maintain those dancing feet highs but also you can’t sojourn to long on strange roads in the dark of night.

What is a holy neshama to do when tossed into this furnace? Channel Avraham Ivinu of course! Just as he was cast in to the idolaters fiery furnace and came out so too you can survive the fiery furnace of doubt and fear and emerge stronger.

Straight talk is about strategy so let’s talk about a plan.

  1. When the sun is shining, move your dancing feet! Breathe in that goodness. Soak your neshama in the sunshine of Hashem and dig life. Bank your connection so that you can access it and the deep knowledge that you are always in Hashem’s zone of protection on the dark road.
  2. Accept that different things happen all the time and sometimes those things feel great and sometimes they feel awful. It does not mean that you are great or that you are awful. You my holy friend are You, perfectly you.
  3. When you build a muscle you strain it to the point that it needs a day or two to recover and rebuild itself. For this pain you receive a nice bicep; same goes for your sweet soul. She needs to be stressed and recover from time to time all to build her strength which allows for a stronger connection to HKBH and to the other lovely neshamot she meets in a day.
  4. Think of your challenges as your own custom fit emuna gym, a very exclusive place designed for your perfection. When a person receives such an amazingly thoughtful gift all you can do is say toda raba! So go ahead and give a big shout out to Hashem for being so thoughtful!

My holy friend, please don’t give up! Recognize the yetzer hara for what it is, a deceiver designed to disconnect you from the source of everything. Use your clarity to fight back and don’t be dainty, throw down some moves!

I’ve always thought that good manners are underrated, so say thank you to your guest and then wish the good traveler a safe long journey to somewhere else. As it turns out you have to invite a new room mate in and 3’s a crowd.

Rivkah Naomi Green
The quintessential wandering Jew, Rivkah Naomi has been on the road for years. She’s lived in beautiful Cape Town, South Africa and in a variety of lovely places in the USA making friends from the West to East Coast. Her yearning search for a home has brought her to, what we all hope, is the final destination, Israel.

Her friends keep her around because she is known to arrive with red wine, laughs and straight talk.

Sunday, June 1, 2014


Anyone who has been to a Passover seder is familiar with Dayeinu. What does this have to do with the holiday of Shavuot? Here is a post I wrote for EmunaDate about Shavuot, reprinted below. 

After 38 consecutive days of successfully remembering to count the Omer, I dropped the ball. I didn't just drop the ball, I punctured a hole in it - two nights in a row I forgot to count. I had prided myself for disconnecting from my cellphone - two whole days away from it! What I neglected to take into account is that it also meant two days away from my alarm reminding me to count. Dejected, I decided to put the whole omer counting thing behind me, and just wait for its climax, Shavuot. After a day or two, something started to gnaw at me - was it really appropriate to just give up? If we spend seven weeks counting up to the holiday, was there still something I could gain from continuing to count, even if it didn't 'count' anymore?

Shavuot means 'weeks', which would seem to imply that on this day we are celebrating the previous seven week count-up - Sefiat HaOmer. During this period the Jews in the Midbar were trying to break free from their slave mentality of the Egyptian Exile. For 49 days they worked on themselves in order to be able to receive the Torah, the wisdom within it, and really become Am Yisrael. As you'll recall from everyone's favorite Pesach Seder song, Dayeinu, it ends with "If He had brought us to Mount Sinai without giving us the Torah, it would have been enough." Every year I'm left skeptical and slightly cynical - after all the work the Jews put in to being able to receive the Torah, it would have been cool if it never happened? In addition, Rav Dessler says that receiving the Torah was not merely a one-time event. Rather, every generation receives the Torah anew. In fact, every person every hour is capable of experiencing their own Mattan Torah. I wasn't sure how to reconcile these two ideas.

Every time we put in the tiniest amount of effort to break free of these habits, we are improving ourselves just as the Jews in the desert were. Whether it's refraining from speaking gossip, passing on that extra cookie, or refraining from lighting a cigarette, we are reminding ourselves that we are in control. It is through these actions that we assert our freedom and our ability to do what is right, even if it's hard.

I finally felt like I understand what it all means. It wasn't the receiving of the Torah that was the main event, it was the effort put into being fit for receiving it. It's about the effort we put into ourselves, not just during the Sefirat HaOmer, but every day of the year. The little changes in our behavior slowly add up, until before we know it we quit smoking, lost 10 lbs, or broke free of whatever vice we were enslaved to. Now, as a non-smoker, we are different people, and as a different person we are able to appreciate the Torah in a different way - to see insights we skipped over before and to otherwise appreciate the same words with a new set of eyes.

I started to think about what it means to work on yourself in order to be fit to receive the Torah. Shavuot isn't given a specific date as other holidays are. It is simply referred to as '50 days after Pesach', further implying that these intermediary days are significant. What is it that the Jews were working on during this period? We've already said that it was to be comfortable with the idea that they were a free people, but anything that has occurred in the Torah is applicable to us today, so I started to think about what that means in modern terms. There are a million ways this could be interpreted, but I like to think it means a remembrance that we aren't slaves to our bad habits and addictions - the things we think control our lives. 

With this in mind, I resumed my count. It's not about the fact that I dropped the ball, it's about having the strength and determination to pick it back up, to keep running until I cross the finish line, even when I know that I'm out of the running (or mixing metaphors). Shavuot is about celebrating the clarity that comes when you know that you're free. With this realization, I finally got that line from Dayeinu - with this freedom it would have been enough. We didn't have to receive the Torah because we accomplished what we needed to, But that fact that we did, well I think that calls for a celebration.