Saturday, February 28, 2004

Shabbat shalom, y'all! It's almost sunset in Los Angeles, at which point it will be time for me to say Havdalah and get back to work. It's the time in the term when papers come due, and there is no shortage of things to do.

I've managed to keep Shabbat a "homework free zone" for the past two years, with only two exceptions. I used to think that real Shabbat observance was a very nice idea, but not practical in "real life" -- now it is a part of my real life that I would be loathe to give up. No, I'm not traditionally shomer Shabbat [observant] but I strive to make it a day different from other days: I don't do homework, I let go of worry, I don't nag myself or anyone else, I try to spend more of the day being than doing. On the positive side, it's a day to touch base with friends and family (I talk by phone to the boys, write to friends, connect with people here), and a day to enjoy things I don't often have time for during the week. I go to services, I eat with friends, and some weeks I stay in and sleep.

Now, my weekends at my pulpit obviously are not like that, nor will Shabbat be able to be like that when I am (God willing) a working rabbi. At the moment, though, it is an important part of the week, and makes it possible to work like crazy the rest of the week.

I made a discovery lately about which I am very excited. The Arthritis Foundation offers a variety of support and assistance for people like myself! I had assumed that it was just a fundraising outfit, raising money for arthritis research. But when I contacted them at my doctor's urging I found out that they could help me find exercise programs, support groups, and information about living with arthritis. Like it or not, this disease is beginning to shape my life, and I want to have as much to say about the details of that as I can. So far, I have found it to be both a great nuisance and a great teacher. I think it is up to me to choose which face of it I attend to the most closely.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Today was a very satisfying day. We began the day with Rabbinic Practice, visiting the mikveh (ritual bath) at the University of Judaism. The campus is beautiful: it's up in the hills between L.A. and the Valley, and has magnificent views.

The mikveh itself was quite an experience. I am accustomed to very utilitarian mikvaot, with serviceable dressing areas, grim little rooms to bathe in, and a clean but spare pool. This one is quite beautiful: dark blue tiles line the mikveh itself, and there is a chrome railing all around the pool. The room is decorated in peaceful blue and white, and it does indeed look like it could be "the womb of the Jewish people."

Jews use this mikveh for many purposes: for taharat mishpacha (family ritual purity), for conversion, for marking important birthdays or life transitions, and for healing. The mikveh attendant is a remarkable woman who taught us a great deal about the meaning of this mitzvah.

Then we all piled back into cars to run back to school, in central L.A. In Bible class, we had a visiting lecturer, one of the candidates for the new Bible position. Among other aspects of their interview process, they teach a class to us. It's interesting to see all the different styles of teaching, but sometimes it is frustrating to spend so much precious class time on this!

My discovery for the day was a rabbi's manual from 1917, titled "The Minister's Manual." The Reform Movement has seen a lot of change in the last hundred years!

Monday, February 23, 2004

Another week of school is off the ground. Today we had Midrash all morning, with a break for prayers. We're working on a rabbinic document called the Mekhilta d'Rabbi Ishmael, which is a commentary on part of the book of Exodus. Sounds dull? Not at all.

This morning's lesson had a wonderful little bit in it that I must share. The rabbis are looking at Exodus 18, the chapter in which Jethro, the priest of Midian, visits his son-in-law Moses, bringing the family along. Jethro gives Moses some really good management advice ("delegate, delegate, delegate unless you want to drive yourself and your people crazy.") The order of events in the passage from Torah is a bit hazy; at one point, the redactor of the text says, "What? I cannot tell who is kissing whom!" So nice to know that sometimes even the sages were confused.

One thing I am learning for sure this year: it is hard to read the Bible and stick to the text. There are so many stories with gaps that I'm accustomed to filling in with stories I've been told, so many stories for which I am sure I have "the meaning," so many passages I think I know and I just don't. Try reading anything in Genesis as if you'd never seen it before. Stop at the end of each sentence and digest it before you move along. It's a curious book.

I saw a rainbow this afternoon, and I had a lovely chat with the proprietors of a wonderful used and rare book store (you know the kind: books piled to the ceiling, a nice "booky" smell, all sorts of interesting stuff squirreled away on top shelves.) Arnold M. Herr Bookseller, on Fairfax.

Ok, enough goofing off! Later.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

OK, I confess it: I miss blogging. It was a good way to stay in touch with friends and family, and since I closed the "Year in Israel" journal I've been sorry. The vanity factor worried me, but I'm over that: Worrying about appearing vain is vanity cubed.

"Found objects": Ruth gleaned in the field. The Biblical Ruth found an ephah of barley, leftovers from lunch, and a husband. She took all of them home to Naomi. I'm bringing a few things here to share with friends. Understand, given the fields in which I am gleaning, some of these things may have been laying around for a while. All of them look bright and shiny to me via the miracle of the second-career student: my brain is getting younger by the minute.

So, a quick update: I'm living in Los Angeles. This is my second year of rabbinical school, my twenty-second year of motherhood, and I'm about to have my forty-ninth birthday and begin the fiftieth year of my life. I have only five years of school, one and a half are gone, and there is a lot I want to learn and not a moment to spare!