Slider

Shake Off Your Shoes

September 22, 2017



We are in the midst of celebrating the Jewish High Holidays in Japan and to be honest it was actually a piece of our move that I have been dreading. We knew before arriving here that we would be plunging back into the life of a Jewish family living overseas and with that would come the work of finding/building community, the notes to teachers explaining absences, the food adaptations, and the repeated conversations explaining Judaism to Japanese and American friends who have never really known a Jewish family before. And that is exactly what has been happening. 

It's not new territory for us, but the hardest part of it is the loneliness and with this move I knew it would feel even more pronounced since we were leaving behind a beloved congregation in a part of the country where Jewish holidays are school holidays and where challah is available at just about every bakery. As the first Jewish lay leaders on this military base, we started to spread the word that we were planning to have services for Rosh Hashanah but we had no idea if anyone would actually show up. In those anxious moments of waiting to see if we would be the only ones celebrating Rosh Hashanah, I couldn't stop myself from feeling sad. Sad that we were alone on this holiday. Sad that we didn't have real challah. Sad that my kids were sitting in this empty, beige chapel classroom instead of eating Nana's kugel and laughing with cousins. Sad and homesick.

And then the door opened and suddenly we weren't alone. 

Other Jews joined us. We lit the candles, we sang, we prayed, and shared pieces of a sticky Japanese maple pastry. We are not a big group, but there is more than just our little family and that feels good. Yesterday morning we gathered to discuss the Torah portion which meandered into a lively conversation about our diverse roots, Jewish humor, and sacrifice. My favorite moment of every Rosh Hashanah is the Tashlich service and last night's was one of the most beautiful ones I have ever experienced. We tossed bread (symbolic of casting away our sins) into the Nishiki River in the shadow of the famous Kintaikyo Bridge. Herons and egrets hunted along the edge of the water while the pink sun set over the mountains and the illuminated the castle high up on the ridge above us. Hope pulsed through my veins as I held the hand of a tiny two year old who giggled as she tossed rocks and bread crusts into the chilly water. 

The days that I had been dreading had been transformed into a true celebration of faith and community. And that's what I love about this time of year when we enter a liminal state between old year and new year. Regrets and hopes  are entwined. Joy and loss are braided together. We turn inward while still reaching outward. And unexpected happenings occur, like the gathering of Jews on a small Marine base in western Japan. 

We are getting back into the habit of removing our shoes when we enter Japanese homes, but in light of the High Holidays it feels even a bit more symbolic and weighty right now. During these days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are consciously taking time to "shake off our shoes,to give thanks, to forgive, to be forgiven, and to break ground". I wish I could take credit for those lovely words, but they come directly from a song that I heard today for the first time. A song by Sarah Watkins that feels like the perfect song for the Jewish High Holidays. Not a religious song, but definitely a spiritual one. 


Take Up Your Spade
by Sarah Watkins

Sun is up, a new day is before you
Sun is up, wake your sleepy soul
Sun is up, hold on to what is yours
Take up your spade and break ground

Shake off your shoes,
Leave yesterday behind you
Shake off your shoes,
But forget not where youve been
Shake off your shoes,
Forgive and be forgiven
Take up your spade and break ground

Give thanks, for all that youve been given
Give thanks, for who you can become
Give thanks, for each moment and every crumb
Take up your spade and break ground
Break ground, break ground, break ground

May this new year be filled with more ground-breaking moments for all of us. "Shake off your shoes", dip your apples in honey, and Shanah Tovah!

Pausing

September 16, 2017


Swollen joints, achy muscles, a bad reaction to meds, and cabin fever have had me feeling grumpy, frustrated, and anxious. I don't like this disconnect from my body and not knowing if I will be able to do something that was easy for me to do just a few days earlier. I don't like the uncertainty of what is happening and when it will stop. I don't like feeling ill. I don't like a lot of things about this current situation, but I have a good acupuncturist, an interesting assortment of Japanese probiotics, and a daily gentle yoga routine.

The silver lining surrounding this dramatic slow-down is that I have had to be very thoughtful about my daily activities. I haven't been able to do what I normally do when we arrive at a new duty station which is to sign up for an overload of volunteer duties, go on tons of cultural outings, and actively attend every possible social function in an attempt to find new friends. And I think I might actually be letting go of some of the guilt or self-judgement that was an active motivator in the past for pushing myself beyond healthy limits. That's a big shift for me. Is it an age thing? or just being too tired to care? or a sign of some seismic self-care growth spurt? I don't know and I don't really have the energy right now to analyze it too much, but I do know that I adore the reliability of Japanese vending machines and the joy of finding quirky little spots to rest while enjoying a can of Royal Milk Tea. 

Izumo-Taisha And A New Collection

September 6, 2017


 On our way home from a fabulous weekend in Matsue, we stopped at Izumo-Taisha Shrine, the oldest Shinto shrine in Japan. In addition to its age, the shrine is famous for being a spot where all of the gods gather each October and it is home to Okuninushi no Okami, the central deity in Japan's creation myth. He's also known as the god of relationships and when believers approach Izumo-Taisha they clap four times instead of the usual two time. Twice for themselves and twice for their partner (or desired partner). 



Couples come to Izumo-Taisha seeking special blessings for their relationships. Some place special requests onto little wooden placards or little slips of paper which are hung/tied near the shrine. Another way to get a blessing is by having a priest sign and place a special seal inside your temple/shrine book (shuin-cho or goshuin-cho). It felt right to get a shuin-cho from this important shrine which also happened to be the first one we have visited since our return to Japan. We searched for the small building (they are usually on the side of the main shrine or temple) and near the stand that sells the wooden placards and religious charms.



After waiting in a short line, it was our turn and as we watched the young priest use a steady hand to mark the date and location in our book, Camille said it reminded her of our letterboxing book. I hadn't made that connection at all, but I do love it. This idea of having a physical reminder, especially one as beautiful as Japanese calligraphy paired with an official temple seal, to remember our visits really struck a chord with me. Now we will just have to be sure to keep it in a safe place AND remember to bring it with us on our travels. 



Latest Instagrams

© Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish. Design by FCD.