October 17, 2017

I didn't expect to get choked up, but I did. As soon as I saw the word "writer" next to my name my throat tightened, my eyes teared up, and I fought to keep the salty mix of feelings from overwhelming me. I took a risk, I submitted a few writing samples, and I was honored to be ask to join the brand new team of writers for Hello There, Friend (hooray for today's official launch day!). Writing has always been a core piece of my existence and yet, I have never felt brave enough to declare myself to be "a writer". It just felt too big, too risky, and too bold. 

And yet, here it is now in black and white:


Exhilarating, terrifying, and happening at just the right moment in time. 

Fluttering and Swirling

September 27, 2017

I have been walking around with a little bundle of words squirming in my head. The words come from a line in Joyce Carol Oate's novel, "The Gravedigger's Daughter". A few words about the mesmerizing aspect of learning to read and snatching bits and pieces of words as they fly overhead. It was a lovely sentence and my first impulse was underline it, and although I do admit to dog-earing library books, I do not write in library books. That was quickly followed up with the impulse to copy it down in the little journal I usually keep on my nightstand, but that book is still in transit. 

I thought it would be easy to go back and find that sentence again. I was sure it happened in the beginning when the main character was teaching her young son how to spell the word "tetanus", but it wasn't in that section. I have been poring back over early chapters in vain and have come to the conclusion that Oates' tantalizing sequence of words will now taunt me and my inability to grab onto them before they fluttered away. 

So many words seem to be fluttering and swirling in my head these days. A weird hodge-podge of Japanese, English, and random Italian words that sneak in when I am at a loss to find the right phrase. I remember how tired I was the first time I lived in Japan. Crashing onto my futon each night after long days immersed in working and living in a little town surrounded by rice fields and mountains in Fukuoka prefecture. Our current situation is not nearly as immersive, but it is still exhausting and I sincerely wish I had the power to capture phrases midstream so they would be permanently seared in my memory instead of flying away into the sunset. 

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!

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