Dangerous

“I feel most alive when I’m doing something dangerous.” Powerful words, if somewhat concerning when spoken by your then-10-year-old. His middle name is Sage for a reason — no less than Eleanor Roosevelt counseled, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face….You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

I am re-reading Rabbi Naomi Levy’s memoir, Hope Will Find You, a decade after first reading it. In her quest “to learn how to live with less fear,” she attends a Buddhist meditation class, in which the leader drops this doozy: “‘Today we’re going to learn the death meditation.’ [I]t was important to see that we could die at any moment.” The teacher proceeds to list many ways they might die that very day — aneurism, car crash, choking on their post-meditation lunch.

This caused her initial panic, but then Rabbi Levy writes, “Embracing a death sentence was extraordinarily liberating. Small-level fears were beginning to seem inconsequential and irrelevant. I felt free to take risks and to speak my mind. I was more open to change and to trying new things.” Just like my son had known.

“I am not afraid” — words from the Yom Kippur liturgy, Adonai Li — lodged in my head this week. I found myself reverting to an old way to process feelings: I wrote a poem. I am no poet (just ask my cringe-y teenage journal). And I had no intention of sharing it with anyone, let alone everyone. But as Rabbi Levy spoke to me from pages written years ago: Liberate yourself. Take risks. Try new things. A poem may not be the kind of danger my son had in mind those years ago, but going beyond one’s comfort zone can take many shapes. This week, maybe find a way to exceed one of yours?

I am not afraid
of death
I know people who live there

To be clear
(Whomever may be listening)
I am in no rush

Whenever I get there
(early or late)
The party is in full swing
The sounds of a shindig
Favorite songs and longed-for voices
Laughing!

The unmistakable hush
as the guests pause to look
who is arriving
The rush to embrace
The loving reunion.

Confidence

“Confidence is so overrated.”

I am on a zoom gathering of women writers that a guardian angel put in my path in late December or January. The group had been showing up daily since the second week of the pandemic shutdown last March. The idea was to begin their workday with camaraderie and accountability, to counter the isolation of the shutdown, to say “This is what I am working on today” and regroup a couple hours later to report on their progress (even if what is reported is a nap, a walk, a kid’s orthodontist appointment). They welcomed me — a stranger — with astonishingly seamless grace.

I come back week after week because writing takes cheerleaders. And mentors. And role models. I come back week after week to speak into existence a book that has been in process for years, and may be unseen for many more, if not forever. To make it real, like an imaginary friend they can see, too. When I feel stuck or dejected, there are voices saying, “we get it,” “this too shall pass,” and “try this.”

During one check-in, a discussion of “confidence” bubbles up. It can be elusive when what you are working on is so speculative. When thousands of hours could come to nothing tangible.

“Confidence isn’t the driver for me,” one says. “The driver for me is I have to tell this story. It’s passion.”

“Passion beats confidence every time,” another agrees.

Another says, “I don’t think I’ve ever really had confidence, but more a feeling of faithfully knowing I was meant to do something…most of the time I had no idea what would happen at the end.”

Faithfully knowing. This rings some internal bell. Faithfully knowing is stronger than intuition or a hunch, which are sometimes all you get and good enough. It is what guides us as we create — whether an essay, a painting, a meal, a relationship, or a life.

The challenge is to get quiet enough to hear that inner knowledge, and have the faith in ourselves to follow it. Voices shout over it and block it out. Fear. Anxiety. Self-doubt. They are all my voice, saying “Get real” and “Who do I think I’m fooling?” I turn up the volume on my computer and listen to these writers share what they are working on, and get back to work.

More Pandemic Life, and Light, One Year Later

Last Passover I thought the Jews might break the internet. I did not yet know that this “Zoom” thing could handle our bandwidth. Miraculously, it could and did. Some fifty relatives waved at each other from our own homes, believing surely we would be together this year.

That was not to pass. Rather than resume our pre-pandemic mass gathering, our familial organism divided into smaller cells spread across counties and states. Even so, I felt a real liberation from the narrow places of last year: for the first time in a year I was sitting with my parents inside their house, eating at their dining room table, maskless, and vaccinated. We chose to open a laptop to Zoom as our rabbi led a Seder from her home and we joined a congregational family of hundreds. She closed the Seder with “Next year in Jerusalem,” and we affirmed, “next year in Tarzana.” Even this felt like a step forward.

More signs of light? For my 2020 birthday, one month into the shutdown, my friend left a very special gift on my porch, rang the doorbell, then hightailed it to the safety of her car.

My birthday month has come around again, and last night we walked to this friend’s house, rang her doorbell and did not back up but stayed on her welcome mat. Five of us went up to the roof in time to see the sunset, and toast how far we have come; the world isn’t talking about where to source toilet paper, but vaccines! Earlier in the day, I had told my son that I sensed a light coming — though I hedged, acknowledging that my feelings could change in a day or an hour. Last night on that roof, with darkness settling over us, Christopher summarized the sentiment of the moment, saying, “I don’t know what comes next.”

We have never known what comes next. The last year has taught us that. I hold at bay the knowledge that anything could happen still, a fourth wave might crash over us and wipe out plans for summer or even fall. And it might not. I focus on the light streaming through my window right this moment, as real as anything.

Balance

The earth proceeded through the vernal equinox this weekend — the moment when day and night, light and dark, are balanced. Even in southern California, it is definitively spring. The air is cool, the light is new. There is an undeniable feeling of rebirth. We are coming out of a year-long winter, a drawn-out season of anxiety. We are collectively rediscovering our balance.

I learned this weekend that yogis mark the vernal equinox by practicing 108 sun salutations. 108!

Why 108? Well, according to The Wellness Universe blog, the number 108 is auspicious in many religions and wisdom traditions: there are 108 names of Buddha, beads on a Catholic rosary, and 108 is a multiple of “chai” – the Hebrew word meaning both 18 and “life.”

I heard about this equinox practice during a “Zoom Shabbat.” Our wonderful Rabbi Amy Bernstein, who had been put through this practice earlier in the day by our mutual yoga teacher Nicole Sherman, noted an essential lesson she learned from her ordeal of 108 sun salutes: Life gives you hard things; you do them. You don’t have to tell yourself a whole big story about them. You get through them, moment by moment.

Listening to meaning she drew from the experience, I wondered, Could I do 108 sun salutations? What would it feel like? What might I learn? I resolved to try it.

During the 90 minutes it took me to get through them (twice as long, I might add, as our yoga teacher reportedly took), I jotted down the lessons that popped up for me. I wrote them down because I sensed that they would apply as much to life, and writing, as to yoga:

  1. No matter how well you think you can multitask, you cannot. (Don’t think you can keep count in your head.)
  2. Simple tools can help manage your task. (In this case, tally marks saved me).
  3. Take breaks if you need them.
  4. A change of venue can recharge you.
  5. Slow down; pay attention.
  6. Take lots of deep breaths.
  7. Everything is better when you can be present in the moment.
  8. You have the power to re-value something bad into something good (e.g. “I am so freaking tired I can’t keep going” can become “I am getting stronger.” Or, “this draft sucks” can become “I am one draft closer to getting it right.”)
  9. Don’t panic if you get lightheaded.
  10. Notice where things gets bumpy, and try something different next time it happens (and there will be a next time).
  11. Celebrate milestones on your way to a larger goal.
  12. Find new things in the familiar. (When days feel the same, small tweaks can make them unique.)
  13. Get lost in flow.
  14. Find strength in community — other people are on this path with you.
  15. As you near the end, each moment feels more precious.
  16. Drink plenty of water.
  17. Reward yourself for your accomplishments.
  18. Nothing, I mean nothing, beats a hot bath after a hard day.

Wishing you a week of balance and strength for whatever tasks you face.


Book Recommendation!

To bring this piece full circle, I must recommend Claire Dederer’s bestselling memoir, Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, which I recently discovered while taking Claire’s online memoir class offered by Hedgebrook. (Hedgebrook offers many excellent online course, which you should check out here.)

Praise for Poser:

“Poser is a powerful, honest, ruefully funny memoir about one woman’s open-hearted reckoning with her demons.”–Dani Shapiro, The New York Times Book Review

“Why did Claire Dederer take up yoga? Short answer: for the same reasons that Elizabeth Gilbert changed her life in Eat, Pray, Love and to much the same funny, charming, self-deprecating, stealthily inspirational and (quite possibly) best-selling effect.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Funny, well-observed, and ultimately inspiring.”–People (four stars)

“Let me be honest about something: I love yoga, I live for yoga and yoga has changed my life forever — but it is very difficult to find books about yoga that aren’t incredibly annoying. I’m sorry to say it, but yoga sometimes makes people talk like jerks. Thank goodness, then for Claire Dederer, who has written the book we all need: the long-awaited funny, smart, clear-headed, thoughtful, truthful and inspiring yoga memoir. To simplify my praise: I absolutely loved this book.”–Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

Comfort

Close your eyes and let the sound float around your mind. Comfort.

The word itself feels like something. Like the softest sweatpants you have been living in for months, and the fuzzy socks that keep the hard floor and the cool morning air at a cushioned distance. The couch you sink into after dinner with your belly full, blanket pulled over your knees, the sleepy dog coming to nestle against your hip, its head on your lap, your fingers combing fur. Comfort, as a thing, is tactile.

But the action, to comfort, is harder. How to give comfort? How to heal a dear one’s wounds?

When my father-in-law died almost one year ago, we were inexperienced in loss. I tried to drip words like a salve over my husband’s grief, but grief is a place too deep for words to reach. “Tell your wife you need a lot of hugs,” the grief counselor said. The act of comforting is tactile, too.

I have read that it takes 20 seconds for a hug to release oxytocin.

Yesterday my friend held a funeral for her father, and we gathered online to comfort her, to offer the solace of our virtual presence. We could not comfort with our touch, only our faces and the awareness that we were present. But we are adaptive, we humans, and I think over the past year of virtual connection we have learned to imagine that last comforting mile, to bridge the gap between screen and actual togetherness. To feel the effect of connection.

During the virtual funeral, the rabbi read a poem, “Epitaph,” by Merrit Malloy. Maybe you’ve heard it too, this year? The moment came when the rabbi recited these lines,

And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give them
What you need to give to me.

and I leaned against my husband and took his hand, knowing how deeply he wished he could hug his father.

Hugs may be hard to come by in these days of isolation, but there is some comfort to be found in other places: in the sound of a friend’s voice on the phone, much richer than a text. In sorting through old photographs that spur buried memories of your babies’ smiles, a trip with friends, a dance floor moment resurrected. There is some comfort to be be found in playing the song that reminds you of your first kiss, or in cooking the meal your loved one loved best.

There is some comfort to be found in sitting quietly, intentionally, and recalling the of sensation of loving and being loved. In knowing that, although we cannot touch their love, we can feel it.

May we find the comfort we need, and be the comfort for others.

___

The complete poem is lovely, so I’ll share it here.

Epitaph, by Merrit Malloy

When I die
Give what’s left of me away
To children
And old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give them
What you need to give to me.

I want to leave you something,
Something better
Than words
Or sounds.

Look for me
In the people I’ve known
Or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on your eyes
And not on your mind.

You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands,
By letting
Bodies touch bodies,
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.

Love doesn’t die,
People do.
So, when all that’s left of me
Is love,
Give me away.

A Prayer for Leaders from Dr. King.

I do not know what a prayer is, though I have recited my fair share. I know it is more than a wish, or hope, or thanks. It is outward — a conversation with the universe. And inward — uncovering an intimate truth.

P-R-A-Y. Pop of lips, rip of air, long sigh of an open mouth. Pray. Move the air with your breath in the direction of another being. Will they even know you’ve done it? Can a prayer shrink a tumor? Bring success? Repair a country?

Why pray?

Pray because words exhaled together may shift something too cosmic for our animal brains to know or understand.

Pray because sometimes it is all you can do — when you are not the one who wields the scalpel or sews the sutures or bathes the infirm; when you are not the one placing a hand on a Bible swearing to lead a country out of chaos; when you are on the periphery of your friend’s pain, and it means something to her that you promised to do it.

Pray not because it changes the world, but because it changes you,” my rabbi’s answer. Pray because it focuses your intention. Propels your next steps. Rebuilds your strength. Restores your equipoise.

Pray because it is a love offering. Because nothing is wasted. Because it couldn’t hurt. Pray because it is your impulse and that is reason enough.

This week, pray to fulfill the words the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke 65 years ago:

To do this job we have got to have more dedicated, consecrated, intelligent and sincere leadership. This is a tense period through which we are passing, this period of transition and there is a need all over the nation for leaders to carry on. Leaders who can somehow sympathize with and calm us and at the same time have a positive quality. We have got to have leaders of this sort who will stand by courageously and yet not run off with emotion. We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity. Leaders who can subject their particular egos to the pressing urgencies of the great cause of freedom. God give us leaders. A time like this demands great leaders.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Aug 11, 1956, “The Birth of a New Age” Address on the Montgomery Bus Boycott

I do not know how to pray. I cannot proclaim that I believe in its power. I pray anyway. For so much.

Dance with me: a love letter

“Oh very young, what will you leave us this time

You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while.”

– Yusuf Islam

Dance with me: a love letter

This petite memoir is a love story — love between parents and children, husband and wife, grandparents and grandchildren. Between dancers and dance. Between humans and being.

Maybe this is a love story about love itself.

Written it in staggered moments over the three years since my grandmother Lilli Diamond died, it is no accident that it came to completion during a time of isolation, a time when pandemic sent everyone home and took our cherished gatherings away — for me, my Sunday dance class, a place where I felt my grandmother’s presence so vividly.

Today, October 16, 2020, would have been her 105th birthday. Let this be my small gift from the heart to her and to you. Dance with me.

Dance with me: a love letter

Breathe in the New Year

Never have we needed a new year like we do now.

Summer’s blessing of an unhurried pace is already forgotten. We have reverted to our scheduled-beings ways: Wake up. Get dressed. Make lunches. Kiss goodbyes. Go.

Go go go.

In the car, I check the news radio for breathless reports of hurricanes and earthquakes. Over breakfast, I read the L.A. Times’  latest science on earthquake forecasting. I carry the anxiety of the bystander as I prepare for doomsday. I buy gallons of water and canned food. I buy candy, because if you’re eating Chef Boyardee and diced peaches, you deserve as much chocolate and red vines as you can get your hands on. I buy flashlights, and work gloves, and put sneakers in arm’s reach of everyone’s bed.

I need to breathe. I downloaded a meditation app a month ago. Every morning my phone gently reminds me “It’s time to meditate,” and every morning I promptly and consistently…ignore it. Ten minutes? Maybe later.

My kids need to breathe. They’re stressed, beyond the norm. Okay, I put on the app during breakfast as background sounds of trickling water and birdsong plays. We take a deep breath.

Ahh. That felt good.

The Jewish new year is like the app, trying to break through my day and schedule, and “I’ll get to it later’s” — a gentle reminder I have to choose to accept: Take a deep breath, it says.

I do. I will. Ahh, feels good.

Happy new year. Love, Laura

(You can read my new year’s posts from last year , 2013 and 2009, and reprinted below)

 


2016: “The Only Three Words You Need”

Every year I go to Rosh Hashanah services with expansive hope, born out by experience, that some wisdom and truth from our tradition will land softly on my heart and I will take it with me through the next year as comfort and north star.

For me, the wisdom and truth I longed for this year came in a brief comment by our rabbi. She mentioned that the author Anne Lamott has written there are only three prayers: Help. Thanks. Wow. This became my simple and complete prayer. I stood with my eyes closed and silently repeated these words instead of the pages of prayers in my hands. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you.”

There it was, instantly. A physical transformation, a steady flow of peace. Thank you thank you thank you thank you — for this loving, brilliant man standing by my side; for the blossoming young man next to him; for the kind, curious boy at home nursing a cold while watching (inappropriate) cartoons. Thank you thank you thank you thank you. And for the challenges I have to face, Help me help me help me help me.

I do love December 31st, how we light up the darkest night sky with twinkly lights and candles and fireworks. And I love our Jewish New Year’s Eve in Autumn, when there’s still enough light to see the world by, to embrace it and thank it for its beauty, its blue sky above brown California mountain ridges, its temperate Pacific waves tumbling toward me as I gather up my burdens and transfer them to a handful of bread crumbs or shells and let them fly into the ocean.

For all of this, the gratitude and the challenges, the beauty of these people and this earth, the final prayer…Wow.

Sunset 1


2013: “Ancient History and Two Hours Ago”

Dear Rabbi Reuben,

This time of year always gets me. I don’t think of myself as religious, but there I am in services. Liking services. Needing services.

I sing along (mostly) with the Hebrew prayers, even though I don’t understand all of them, even though what I do understand I don’t always agree with. There is something in the familiarity of the rhythms and rhymes, the melodies and memories. Memories call me from when I was twelve, sitting in a row of other 12-year-old girls required to attend Shabbat services as part of our Bat Mitzvah year. I think about my son studying for his Bar Mitzvah now, and I feel peace and wonder knowing that he is learning these prayers not only for one Shabbat morning in February, but for the decades of Shabbats that will hopefully follow. He need not realize that these melodies and prayers will stay with him, guide him, fill him with love and hope whenever he may need it, years from now or next week.

I suppose these prayers were with me before I was twelve. They were there when Rabbi Winokur handed me my pre-school diploma, they were embedded in our three-year-old voices singing, “The animals, they came on, they came on in twosies twosies, elephants and kangaroosies roosies!”

The prayers have been there, if it’s not too time-travel-mystic of me, since my parents were dragged to “make an appearance” in their grandparents’ Orthodox shuls in Boyle Heights and Pico/Fairfax, where they heard unintelligible, unpenetrable Hebrew chanting. And so on.

There are prayers I don’t say. That don’t bring me peace. Like the one that proclaims “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.” I don’t buy that literal God-writing business. But there I am in services anyway, because you add your spin, that these words remind us that all we have is today. That all the good we are going to do in the world should happen right now.

Next we arrive at a prayer listing the traits of God – compassion and forgiveness and kindness and mercy. This prayer sends my mind back two hours, to my younger son’s loss of composure this morning when asked (okay, ordered) to turn off the television because he had already watched a cartoon and it was time to play or get dressed. I think of the heat and anger that consumed him, the words that came out of his mouth directed at me, the stormy damage he caused to his room when sent there to cool down. For some reason today I stayed cool, too, let him settle into whatever books he uncovered in the process of forgetting what it was he was so angry about.

After a little while, I brought him his clothes for temple (he loves to dress up so this wasn’t a problem) and we spoke as though intemperate words had never been uttered. My forgiveness was my not asking for an apology, or bringing up the episode, which he knew was not his best moment. I dressed him and blessed him and his full of passion ways. Compassion and forgiveness and kindness and mercy.

I am grateful that my boys’ ears were in the presence of your words today – that attitude is everything. I hope they heard that everyone feels loss and disappointment, so they won’t feel so alone when it’s their turn. I am grateful for your emphasis on the value of showing up for people, and also what showing up means for participating in life. I am grateful that the sounds and words of our people’s prayers and melodies washed over them, as they sat bookended between my parents. I could turn and see them from a distance, they looked bigger, and my father’s hair grayer, than the images I hold of each of them in my mind. (My mother looked beautiful; that’s a constant.) I am grateful that these words and prayers and melodies were sinking into their depths in ways they may not consciously remember, but which they will no doubt access on some Rosh Hashanah many years from now, wherever their days may take them.

With love and appreciation for all these gifts,

Laura


2009: “Looking for Autumn at Low Tide”

We said goodbye to summer yesterday, again. The first one—the day before school started—didn’t take. My mind was still in pajamas. This goodbye was official. Equinox and all.

As a Sunday of lazing about moved toward evening, Christopher and I decided we’d go to the beach—where else to bid adieu to all things Summer? Our kids refused to come. Even Emmett was adamant: “I’d rather watch football than go to the beach!” he spat. Aaron concurred, disgusted by our proposal: “And I’d rather watch Elmo!”

Like angels conjured from our collective prayer, Grandparents materialized on our front porch, offering their time. I grabbed my flip flops and my man and we ran off.

The tide was low and we walked in wet sand, water gracing our toes. We saw the neighborhood Chabadniks praying the last of Rosh Hashanah, a towel-draped woman in a beach chair raising her martini glass, a toddler in soggy underwear rushing the ocean. All saying goodbye in their way. I stretched my arms wide toward the sunset. I resolved to shake the sand out of my brain and focus. Fall is here, time to hunker down.

It’s hard to tell it’s Autumn by looking out my window this morning. But if I pay attention: I see the sunshine casts its light on the blue tiled table from a longer angle. I feel the tickle in the back of my throat that warns the first cold is coming. I see dark purple leaves scattered on the grass.

I try to forget that this purple plum tree is dying. I know it is, but at least for the next few months its will have company.

 

 

Letting Your Kids Get Hurt, and Watching Them Heal, From a Loving Distance

Disclaimer: As I’ve mentioned other places, I opened up to the idea of Torah study only when I realized that you didn’t have to believe it is the literal word of God, or even believe in God, to get something out of it. When I learned that I could consider it a literary gift from generations before me who wrestled with the big, human questions that I wrestle with now, then I could freely read and see what there might be to learn from it. Some weeks my mouth opens and my eyes tear up at how pertinent it is to me.

So…a little bit of Torah and motherhood, coming up.

***

When I told a friend that my two favorite appointments of the week are CardioFunk and Torah study, he responded, “That’s a good balance.” He’s right. Because balance is not about finding a moderate, static, placid lake to float on and stay there; balance is about sometimes riding the biggest wave, pushed by their power and danger, and other times reclining on the beach with a book.

Where dance class is joyful, fast, breathless, soaring and sexy, Torah study is careful, patient, thoughtful, peeling back layers of meaning, an inner adagio. After dance class, I am spent, dopamine-brained, and mellow, wanting nothing but a shower and a nap. After Torah study, I have learned something, if I’m lucky I’ve had a new insight, however small it might be.

 

This week Torah study was, for a mother of teens and a tween, a lesson in launching adolescents into the world. 

We are at the end of the Torah’s tale, before we re-roll the scroll and start again at the beginning. It’s a story we read at the time of year when we are thinking about the kind of person we ought to be, how we have measured up over the past year, how we are going to try to do better.

In the story, Moses tells the Israelites that he’s not going to go with them into the promised land. He knows they’ll be worried to bits about going without him. So, like a good parent, he tells them (in my words) “You can do it on your own. You will be fine. I trust you. And God (or perhaps that true compass in your gut that guides you) will be with you. You can do it without me.”

I think of the baby I saw a few days ago on the verge of sleep, perched on her father’s lap, her head leaning against his chest, and her little hand resting on his arm. Gently, with two fingers her father stroked her cheek, her eyebrow, over and over, until she let go of wakefulness, content and secure.

I wished I could still soothe my kids with just that touch now. But their world has bigger concerns. Friends can become distant — or worse — without explanation. Teachers can unwittingly be harsh. The world can feel unwelcoming. I stand behind them whispering encouragement. “Go for it. You can do it. I trust you. God is inside you. You are so loved. You are so loved.”

I recite a silent prayer for balance, to be more loving and to let them go without me.

I remind myself that life is filled with hurts and with healing, with hard times and coming through hard times, with celebrating the safe passage to a promised land, and all that is gained in the difficult journey: The confidence born of seeing your own resilience. The dawning certitude that others do not define your worth. That your acts, the ways you treat people, define you. 

I stand back in awe as I watch them walk into uncharted territory, into the world’s hurts and its bounty, with courage, forward motion, sometimes sadness, and ultimately with optimism that they will find the promised land they so deserve.

 

 

 

Behind the scenes of Shelter Us

I thought I’d share some “behind the scenes” of how my debut novel, Shelter Us, evolved from first draft to final form. Today’s tidbit: Torah study.

What’s that? You heard me.

After I had completed the first draft and was working sloooowly on revising, I began attending Torah study with Rabbi Amy Bernstein, at Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation, a progressive and all-around awesome place. (Her podcasts are here.)

Every week in Torah study we read and dissected ancient stories, and found connections to modern human foibles, habits, and yearnings — both personal and universal. What surprised me about Torah study, and what kept me coming back, was twofold: how relevant it was — how much I learned from it as a parent, a friend, a citizen. And how completely beautiful its purpose — to inspire humans toward becoming our best selves, all the while recognizing hey, we’re only human.

So nuts and bolts, how did this affect Shelter Us? Well, the first draft already had Sarah meeting and reaching out to Josie, a young homeless mother. (Obviously, my good Jewish Tikkun Olam training had already seeped into the plot.) But I went back and deepened Sarah’s motivation for doing that, deciding to make her late mother a Jewish convert, someone who often modeled the most important Jewish value: Remember we were strangers; welcome and take care of the stranger.

There more I think about it, the more Jewish values I find infused in Shelter Us, from its title, to the idea of passing values from one generation to the next, to the role of ritual, and even to the biggie: beliefs about God. And the more questions there are to explore.

  • How do you continue to learn and grow, be it philosophy, spirituality or history or something else?
  • Have you found yourself more or less drawn to religion or spirituality as you’ve gotten older?

Thanks for reading. Any questions you’d like answered? Feel free to ask in a comment, or contact me. More to come soon!