California Girl in NY, Week 3: Ki Tavo… coming and going

The Weather – again…
Summer rainstorms?? If the CA “weather paradox” imagery might be skiing in t-shirt, NY’s might be negotiating puddles in shorts, flip-flops and umbrella…

New Yorkers 101
My morning walk is great, mostly because it saves me from dealing with parking near the Yeshiva, a near impossible task. But what about after school, or Sunday?
In order to successfully drive in NY, I have to dig up an almost forgotten ability: my Israeli driving skills. I’m too slow, right now, too polite. In the time it takes me to figure out whether a spot is even meant for parking, I am cut mercilessly by a car that u-turns right into it. Honking is the drivers’ language and I am not sure if mine even works.
To go to “the city” (technically speaking, this is the city too!) I prefer public transportation, and therefore became the newly proud owner of a metro card.
The other day I was the only passenger on the BxM (Bronx-Manhattan bus) and before too long, the driver was telling me all about his life, plans for retirement and – his faith and understanding of scripture. I know, I know, the driver is not supposed to talk with the passengers but so it went. And – it was friendly, not evangelical in nature (I’m sure driving around Riverdale for years, he could tell who’s “team” I’m on). So- maybe that’s just the sort of thing that happens to me (it does), but maybe also, this is just one small example to refute some of the bad rap handed to New Yorkers (I guess I now have a vested interest in improving this reputation!). In that way too, it’s a bit like Israel: if you smile at someone randomly, they’ll likely look at you with a ‘do I know you from somewhere?’ stare, but if you need something, someone will help. So far, the people I’ve run into, whether someone on a street corner offering me help (did I look that lost??); showing me how to add money on my card; how to find things in the store (there’s no kosher section….); or give good advise for my car at a gas station; maybe I’m just lucky but contrary to rumors, people have been super nice and helpful. And some even smile.

Shabbat in Riverdale
There are things for which I don’t yet have all the right words. Central Park is one. Shabbat in Riverdale is another. Wow. More later.

Yoga and Avoda Zara
Last Friday, at a lovely Shabbat dinner, the conversation suddenly shifted from the usual how are you and where you’re from to whether yoga is “avoda zara” (idol worship). At first, I thought it was a joke, but a quick look around the table indicated, it was not funny. It took me back some 30 plus years to when I first started practicing yoga and encountered it universal as well as Hindu sides. The universal – was all over the place with slogans like “G-d is one, names are many; G-d is one, paths are many”. And even the “Hindu” was mild, and felt very “decorative”. It was always very clear that any “idols”, pictures, songs, names – were all just manifestations – just very few manifestations of how is possible to experience – the true Divine Oneness. I remember friends telling me that their parents won’t visit them at the ashram since it is “idolatrous”. My own mother asked me if I’m not “a little uncomfortable”, having grown up with Jewish traditions at home, shul life etc. I explained the whole thing and she said something like, oh. When she went back to Israel, she found a suitable yoga class for herself.
Very distraught over the dinner situation (week 2 in Riverdale and here I am…), I asked my Rosh Yeshiva for help. He in turn, directed me to Dr. Alan Brill, and you can read more here. But the question remains, because it is bigger than anyone taking a moment to stretch and breathe in some yoga postures. It is about our conversation with the world around us. What kind of conversation is it and what guides it? Is it love or fear, trust or caution, happiness or suspicion, and maybe all of these? Where is the line between learning wonderful new things and losing sight of our own path? Is in individual or communal? How do we decide? How do we treat others who decide differently??

Ki Tavo: Coming and Going
It is the season of “coming and going”, said Rabba Sara Hurwitz at a recent event. This can be based on the names of last week’s and this week’s Torah reading: Ki Tetze – when you go out, and Ki Tavo, when you come (in), and also reflects this time of year. To me, it sometimes feels like an extended / mega Friday afternoon – a minute to Shabbat – with everybody rushing about trying to get ready. The “High Holy Days” are here! Soon, we’ll be in shul for millions of hours, beating on our chests and what will be the take away? Starting a new year, is there any one thing to focus on, something new to “take on”, to pay attention to, to try and incorporate more into our lives?
This week’s Torah reading offers a challenge:
יא וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְכָל-הַטּוֹב, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ–וּלְבֵיתֶךָ: אַתָּה, וְהַלֵּוִי, וְהַגֵּר, אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבֶּךָ 11 “And you shall rejoice in all the good which the Hashem your God has given unto you, and unto your house, you, and the Levite, and the stranger that is in the midst of you“.
It also tells us what if not. In the middle of the harsh section about the “consequences, it says:
מז תַּחַת, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָבַדְתָּ אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּשִׂמְחָה, וּבְטוּב לֵבָב–מֵרֹב, כֹּל. 47 “because you did not serve Hashem your God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, by reason of the abundance of all things“;
In Hebrew, there are two words for joy – simcha & sason. What’s the difference? Turns out, the latter, sason, is unexpected joy (finding a treasure) while simcha is a joy one works hard for. If so, maybe it’s no wonder that we can be commanded to be happy. If we’re commanded, that means it is within our power to do so, just like anything else we can and should do.
In one of our classes, Rabbi Avi Weiss asks us to do a fascinating exercise: instead of the usual list of ashamnu, of what we have erred and wronged and been guilty of and bad at, try a list of ahavnu, we have loved. Instead of “dibarnu dofi’ – we spoke badly, maybe dibarnu yofi – we spoke of beautiful things. Hebrew or English, go letter by letter and see what comes up, what have we done well at. Then use this to learn how we can increase goodness, and in turn, joy in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom.

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2 Responses to California Girl in NY, Week 3: Ki Tavo… coming and going

  1. neskama says:

    Todah Michal…Love the suggestion of what we have loved….

  2. Sylvia Zimmermann-Buehler says:


    Glad the New Yorkers have been helpful to you. I think we get a bad rap to often. Enjoy !!!



    Date: Fri, 23 Sep 2016 14:19:13 +0000

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