Category Archives: Ima

Tales from the “Mommy” side

50 Years After Standing at Sinai

50 years ago my Dad entered into the covenant of the Jewish people. 50 years ago he stood at Sinai. But he was there long before that. He was at Sinai with all of us when we received Torah.

This is the blessing I wrote for him to be given to him at Temple Sinai in Denver, as he celebrates his 50th anniversary from when he chose to become a Jew. Thank you Rabbi Rheins and Chazzan Brian Zyve for sharing this blessing with him and being my hands.

On the 50th Anniversary of My Dad, Chuck Williams, Avraham ben Avraham v’Sarah, Choosing to enter into the Covenant of the Jewish People

June 1, 2014

Normally at this point Dad, I would look deep into your eyes and just talk to you. But I’m not able to be there with you tonight, so Rabbi Rheins, Cantor Zive, please look deep into my Dad’s eyes and share this with him.

51 years ago, you and Mom were married by a Justice of the Peace in Georgia. There was no Chuppah, as you were not Jewish. Your parents were not with you, as you eloped. But it was true love and you both knew you wanted to spend the rest of your lives together.

During that first year, you made a decision, fully encouraged by and supported by your Mom, who was Catholic, a religion you never fully embraced. You started learning with a Rabbi in Miami and you completed the conversion process. And on your one year wedding anniversary, you and Mom were married under the chuppah by a Rabbi. Mom was very pregnant with Shelly but you both wanted your children to enter into this world with two Jewish parents.

Dad, this is the Shabbat before Shavuot, when we all stood at Sinai together receiving Torah. We are taught that every soul was present, even those who were yet to be, stood there listening to the words as they came forth from Sinai. You were there; you stood next to me and held my hand.

On Shavuot we read from the Book of Ruth for many reasons, but the greatest, because she was a woman who never left her Mother in Law, Naomi, after the greatest tragedy befell her. Her husband was taken for her and Naomi told her that she should return to her people as Ruth was not an Israelite. But Ruth said, No. “Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and Your God my God.”

Ruth was the first to choose to be a Jew; to embrace Torah and the Jewish people, just like you did 50 years ago.

Dad, you held Torah in your arms, recited the Shema and announced to the congregation then and your congregation now that you are a Jew. That this is your people. Then, you held Shelly and me in your arms and along with Mom promised to raise us as Jews, giving us Torah, bringing us to Chuppah and ensuring that we would do acts of loving kindness. And you held your grandchildren, Dahvi, Mason, Yoni and Anna, and made that promise to guide me and Matt, Shelly and Mark, so that we too may give our children the same gift you gave to us.

It is from your gentle arms and your strong heart and soul that you have blessed Shelly and me, and especially Mom, with a loving Jewish home and a promise that we always know we are never alone. You entered into the covenant of the Jewish people and not only accepted for yourself the gift of Torah, but you gave that gift of Torah for generations to come.

You stood at Sinai with us, I know, you held my hand there. And tonight, you stand with the congregation where you raised Shelly and me and together, we all bless you. As Rabbi Rheins and Chazzan Zive place their hands on your head and bless you with words of Torah, please feel my hands, Shelly’s hands, Mom’s hands, the hands of your grandchildren, and the hands of generations past and future as you are blessed because you Dad, blessed us when you said, “Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God,” you blessed us with the greatest blessing of all, Torah.

With all of our hearts and souls, we love you and are grateful to you and we celebrate with you.

Mazal tov Dad! With love and blessings – Heidi

You’ll Get Through This

As I laid next to JediYeled, putting him to bed, he looked at me and said, “you’ll get through this!”

Does he see the stress on my face and hear it in my voice over these past two weeks since the fire at TBS? Yes, he’s acutely aware of where I am.  So often my little boy knows exactly how I’m feeling.

I looked at him and said, “Yes, I will…we will. This will only make me stronger.”

And then he said, “Chazak, Chazak, v’neet’chazeik – be strong, be strong and we will be strengthened!”

Dang, he’s smart! This Shabbat we finished reading the book of Exodus. And as we finish reading a book of Torah we say, “Chazak, Chazak, v’neet’chazeik – be strong, be strong and we will be strengthened!” I don’t think JediYeled knew we were reading Parashat Pekudei, but he sensed it. And we start a new month, Adar 2. Another ending.  And a new secular month, March.

While there are endings, there are many great beginnings too – a new book of Torah, two new months, and a new future.

JediYeled, I’ll get through this, we’ll get through this and yes, from strength we will be strengthened!

Don’t Forget To Breathe!

Stand tall, feet squarely on the mat.
Feel the earth below your feet.
Breathe in and out slowly.
Let go of the to-do lists and everything that’s in your head.

Wait! I have to let go of what!?!? I need my to-do list. What if I forget to call someone? I have a list a mile long that needs to get done today. It’s my one day off of the week and I need to be productive! If I let go of the list, then what will happen to it?

Then it appears in front of me, a suitcase. It welcomes me to put the list in there. Don’t worry, it will be safe. I put my list in the suitcase, it closes and locks itself. I swear it smiled at me letting me know that it will come back after this hour that is just for me.

As you begin your balance pose, remember to breathe!
We’re not holding our breath.
Breathe in deep from your nose down through your body.
Feel the breath as it courses through you and opens not only your muscles

Feel the breath as it courses through you.

I take deep breaths, trying to hold the balance pose. One foot on the ground, the other crossed over my knee, bending with hands at heart center. Now I know why I had to put everything into the suitcase. I needed to focus on not falling over! And then I realize, I’m supposed to breathe! I’ve been holding my breath. Not just at this moment, but I’ve been holding my breath all week. How beautiful breath is – not just life sustaining, but life affirming. It flows in and out of me. When something is stuck in my head or my muscles, I breathe. Then it loosens itself just enough to move so I can see it more clearly and not let it take a strangle hold on me.

Breath, it is the neshamah, the soul that flows within me. The breath is not only in my lungs, but it is every part of me. Don’t forget to experience it. Don’t take it for granted and dismiss it. Let the neshamah flow.

Savasanah – just lie on the floor and breathe.

Sounds pretty easy, right. Not so much. Savasanah requires us to lie there without thinking about anything. Is my suitcase still there? Wait! Let go! Breathe! And I breathe. And then, the bell – roll on to our sides and come to a sitting position. The hour is over. I’ve stretched and strengthened and my muscles are reminding me of that. I’m grateful for the hour and the reminder to breathe. My suitcase returns and opens itself before me. Yes, everything is still there. But it’s all a little more clear and not so overwhelming.

Breathe! I must remember to breathe all week and honor my body and soul.

Namaste!

Changing my Profile Picture Doesn’t Mean I Forget

Jewish supermanI struggled with trying to find the right time to change my Facebook profile picture. For the past couple of months my picture was one to send love and support for a family and a little boy battling refractory acute myeloid leukemia. But on Shabbat, December 14, Sammy Sommer lost his battle and we lost an amazing little boy who will forever be eight years old and in the short time he lived, he  changed the world.

There are thousands who follow Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer’s blog, Superman Sam.  They invited us to join in their journey-truly a precious gift. They took us through each moment and were never shy about expressing times of hope and tragedy. We laughed and we cried together.

Many others changed their profile pictures to ones resembling Superman. I was excited to find the Jewish Superman logo. It was a common bond amongst so many friends I do know and now friends recently created because a little boy brought us together.

But when do I change my profile picture? If I change my profile picture will it mean I am choosing to let go? No. It does mean that life moves forward and we take Sammy’s memory with us. It means that our work is not yet done and we have to fight with all of our strength to ensure that no child, no family ever endure what Sammy and the Sommer’s have over the past 18 months.

Today, there are those who have changed their profile pics to: 36+ rabbis are shaving their heads for a little known organization called St. Baldricks Foundation – “a volunteer-driven charity committed to funding the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long, healthy lives.”

While I am not shaving my head I am trying to help raise money and awareness in order that we can help find a cure.  Find a cure so that other ‘Sammy’s’ may live and change the world through their actions. Please, click on the link to St. Baldrick’s Foundation and give.

Yes, I’ve changed my profile picture but I have not nor will I forget Sammy, z’l. He’s changed my life in ways he never knew. He brought me closer to so many and for that, I am grateful. Loss is painful and life is beautiful. Now, it’s time to write the blessings for a new tomorrow.

Four Great Words from Camp

This has been a tremendous week at Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of the camp community for a week each summer. To get to know the campers and to experience life here is truly amazing and gives a glimpse to our future Jewish leaders and community.
There were four words shared throughout this week that summarize camp.
Last night, Rabbi David Eschel asked the campers at Hess Kramer what do History and Memory mean? The campers shared thoughts about how one is long standing and will continue for years to come while another might eventually be lost. That history involves the pictures and documents passed down, but memory are the stories that are shared over generations. That both are a part of l’dor vador, and that we are expected to pass them on.
While at Hess Kramer, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Leadership, most especially on the final leg of their leadership hike. For three days, these campers traveled the Santa Monica Mountains, up on to ridges, down into a grotto and sleeping under the stars. On the final leg, a walk along the coast back to camp, this group was not so exhausted that they walked in silence. No, they chanted. Their energy building as they approached camp and the promise of a tradition passed on, to share the adventure with the other campers by literally giving each of them some of the earth they brought back. (All with some help of the mud pit created on Fitch Field).
Last night, Leadership Night, many alumni of previous Leadership years descended upon camp and shared their history and their memories of their Leadership experience. And together, the entire camp and guests sang our closing night songs, Shema and Hashkiveinu/Shelter Us. To hear all the voices together as one created more memory moments.

Throughout the week we also talked about Keva and Kavannah with both camps. Keva, the words of the prayers that we read from our prayerbooks. Kavannah, the meaning we find within the prayers either through word, song, or even art. Todd Silverman, the educator at Hilltop asked the campers what the differences were between keva and kavannah and how they can create kavannah when they pray. How can each individual find meaning in the service that goes beyond the words in the siddur but also in how each moment is an opportunity to reaching out to God and also to ourselves. To recognize and hold on to the moments that each of them create at camp. I led a special t’fillah during which I asked the campers to think about their favorite prayer and illustrate it only with paper and glue sticks. Their creations, filled with kavannah, said so much for how they internalized these words and their connections to God and the world.

Today, I picked up JediYeled from his 8 days of camp and the first thing he said, “I don’t want to leave!!!!” the best five words I could hear! I’m so excited that JediYeled had the opportunity to learn the history of years past and create memories of his own. While the campers sang they not only sang the words to prayers and farewell songs, but the emotions surrounding these moments were amazing!
This is camp! This is the foundation for so many years yet to come. These are moments that will last a life time!
Thank you Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp! Thank you to all of the staff and to all of the campers! You created this! And it is very good!

What I Did On My Summer Sabbatical

The following is an article written for the TBS Kol Sholom.

Since coming to Temple Beth Sholom in 1998, I have been privileged to be a part of each of your lives, both collectively and individually in times of simcha and sorrow, celebrations and milestones in each of your lives. And now, in my 13th year, my Bat Mitzvah year, I am thankful to my congregational family for giving me my first Sabbatical since coming to TBS and my rabbinic career.

This sabbatical gave me the opportunity to do things that during my regular schedule I was not able to do. My summer sabbatical provided me with time to learn with colleagues, personal study and most importantly, reconnect with my family.

The first few weeks at home allowed me to participate in the daily lives of Dahvi and Yoni, something that I don’t regularly get to do. I was able to take them both to school each morning and be there for them in the afternoon. I volunteered in the end of year school activities and celebrated with Dahvi as she graduated from elementary school.

Our family spent a majority of our summer in Israel. During our time there, each of us took the opportunity to experience Israel in a very personal way. While it is always amazing to tour Israel and experience her beauty with groups of individuals visiting for the first time or the fifth, this summer we were able have to experience of living in Israel.

Both kids attended Israeli camps. Yoni attended Ramah Day Camp in Jerusalem while Dahvi spent two weeks at an overnight camp, Camp Kimama, north of Netanya, on the Mediterranean coast. Both of them made new friends from all over the world and thanks to the internet, they will be able to stay in touch with friends from Israel to France, Canada, and even Japan.

Matt took the opportunity to explore Jerusalem with friends also in the country and experience the Israel weekly life rhythm.

I spent time studying with colleagues from not only the Reform movement, but rabbis from every movement and country. From 8:30 in the morning to 10:00 at night, I studied at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Mornings began with the teacher of the day presenting us with a topic and a packet of texts. For two hours I joined in chevruta, small group study with colleagues, deciphering and challenging what the text said in light of the day’s topic. The teacher returned and unraveled the two hours we just spent wrestling with the text and wove it into a new perspective for us to consider and challenge yet again.

The afternoon was filled with more learning, dinner at home and then evening programs discussing the current state of affairs in Israel.

I came home each night from my classes excited about what I would share with the TBS community. And these High Holy Days, I look forward to sharing some of these thoughts with you and beginning the conversation that will take us into this next year.

This summer in Israel was not only in the text that I studied, but also in the text of the land and the people. We traveled throughout the entire country not only to see the places, but to connect with the people and communities. My goal was successfully achieved in creating connections in Israel that I will in turn share with the TBS and Orange County community. At every opportunity, I asked Israelis their opinions about peace, land, and the world. While I was hoping to find more defined answers that would help us understand the issues of the Middle East, I found that it is even more complicated than we can imagine, let alone solve. Yet, the discussion is extremely important and vital, even for us on the other side of the sea.

I also spent time meeting with Da’at Travel, our Israel travel coordinators, in creating a unique and exciting TBS Israel adult tour itinerary for this coming January.

These final weeks of my summer Sabbatical were spent preparing our family for reentry into our year activities: Dahvi going to a new school and preparing for her Bat Mitzvah this coming April. Yoni practicing his reading and gearing up for 2nd grade and his Tae Kwon Do Black Belt test this November. Matt getting ready to juggle the busy Cohen calendar. And me, I have already begun preparing for my High Holy Day sermons as well as looking forward to reconnecting with everyone at my TBS home.

Thank you for this summer. Thank you for these 13 years together. And thank you for the many years we have ahead of us.

 

You never know how a children’s story will be remembered

We were outside this morning getting ready for camp when JediYeled saw the trash truck approaching. “Ima, we need to give him milk and cookies!” JediYeled remembered a story we used to read when he was a toddler and all of a sudden realized that he had to get the trash man some milk and cookies! While it’s hard to drive and eat milk and cookies, JediYeled ran inside and found a cookie bar. He ran out as the trash truck approached our house and called out to him. The trash man was so thrilled that JediYeled ran to give him this treat and JediYeled was smiling from ear to ear!
You never know how a children’s story will be remembered years later.

My Husband Is So Amazing

I have a whole new appreciation for my husband and all that he does. It’s not that I didn’t before, but there is a great lesson in Sabbatical – I get to spend time on his schedule!

As soon as Sabbatical began I was ready to jump into my to-do list. We had two and a half weeks before leaving for Israel so I thought, ‘great, while the kids are in school, I can run around taking care of errands, cook the family fabulous dinners, and be able to drop off and pick up the kids every day.  Oh yes, and I was going to be able to keep the house clean!’

Ah, delusions of grandeur! First off, the last two weeks of school are filled with class parties, softball games against the teachers and other classes, as well as promotion and Girl Scout outings. And of course, not usually being available for any of these activities during the year, I wanted to do them all.

At the end of the day, dinner was thrown on the table from what was in the freezer or left over from the night before (or if Matsui hit a homerun the day before, Salmon lovers sushi), the house was not as clean as I was hoping and I fell into bed each night exhausted! How does he do it?

I always knew that my husband is amazing, but after these last two weeks, I can truly say, he is that much more amazing! I fall in love with him more and more.

Thank you Matt for all you do, not only for me, but our kids and every life you touch. I love you!

A Fish Funeral

I don’t know what it is about our vacations to Colorado, but I feel horrible for the great family who watches JediYeled’s fish and DovLev’s hamster.  So far, the hamster is fairing well.  Although I did warn the wonderful family that he was getting up there in age – three years old!  But JediYeled’s fish seems to not have as good of luck.  This is the second year in the row that we have had to break the bad news to JediYeled that his fish has died.

Last year, when Anakin passed, the wonderful family gave him a dignified burial at sea.  But this year, for Rexi, JediYeled wanted to make sure that he could bury him in the backyard – next to DovLev’s fishes that we killed…I mean died while she was at camp.

After retrieving Rexi from the wonderful family’s freezer (right next to the Chanukah candles), we brought him home and immediately found Rexi’s final resting spot – next to the rubber tree plant and JediYeled’s orange tree.  JediYeled started to dig a hole in the shape of a fish and even let DovLev dig part as well since she did not get to bury her fish last year.

We then gently shook…I mean placed Rexi into the earth and JediYeled covered him up.  Then we stood together being grateful that JediYeled had such a wonderful fish for this past year.  JediYeled then looked up to me and said, “Ima, we have to say kaddish.”

What do you say? Yes, of course. So, together we said kaddish, after all, we are grateful that God created such wonderful creatures to fill our world.  And I am grateful I have two children who care so much about the world and all those who live in it.

Obla Di; Obla Da; Life Goes On….

We are in the middle of the northern Arizona desert when DovLev discovers that she has left her ipod at home! Right as we were leaving, she took everything out of her bag, rearranged it, and then put everything back. But we have discovered that both her camera and ipod are not in the bag.

DovLev: “Why is it that the one time that we don’t turn around because we forgot something, we forgot something and it’s my stuff!!!”

Yep, we made it out of the house and out of the neighborhood without actually turning around. And now, in the middle of the desert, DovLev is sitting on the side of the road VERY upset that she does not have her ipod.

The lesson which fortunately we followed: Make sure to always load up every other ipod with children’s mp3 music. So now, while she may have to use the Grandpa ipod, at least she has her music! And as we are back in the car heading north once again, she sings out: obla-di, obla-da, life goes on, bra, la, la, la, la life goes on! Whew!