A Happy New Year wish for blessings, peace, love and health from Beth Am of Buffalo Grove, IL!

I am so grateful to be part of a family that believes in bringing meaning, holiness, joy and good work into this world!  Enjoy our Shana Tova Video Greeting!


Posted in elul, High Holidays, holidays, Love, Shana Tova, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Elul 1

Travel.  No matter how many plans we make, how prepared we think we are, when it comes to travel (and yes, I know, with life too) we never know what adventure lies before us. Recently, after a three-hour wait that should have taken 20 minutes at LaGuardia Airport, the Bellows Family had a high-anxiety full-on-melt-down. Two parents, two tweens and a teenager all ‘lost it’ simultaneously and in public. It wasn’t pretty. The Bellows feud endured for at least an hour until one of us managed to have a moment of clarity and was able to reign us back in from the brink.  The insults, tears, and screaming quieted down enough to hear the lesson that kindness and forgiveness can save us. That the answer for us was not dependent on whether the shuttle bus to the car rental place arrived, it rested on whether or not we were going to recognize that blame is not helpful, that harsh words are more painful than the wait, and that we are bound by love and not fear to each moment and to each other. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for this message to sink in and we could and did regroup. Calm settled in at the middle lane of the outside transportation line at LaGuardia. Kids apologized to their parents and to each other, parents said sorry to their children and to each other as well. It was a perfect reminder (albeit a rough one) of the message of Elul: sometimes we are not our ‘best selves’ and that is normal and stuff happens. To admit this and to say we are sorry can help return us to sanity and to a place of love, which feels so much better than standing in fear, blame and anger.

While I have no idea if a moment of clarity will surface during the next family meltdown, I am sure glad that we had this life-lesson together. #blogelul #blogelul2016

Posted in elul, forgiveness, Gratitude, High Holidays, Love, parenting, Teshuva


More killing, more sadness and insanity. I am outraged and want to get out into the world and change it. Change it now because it is nearly too late, I feel. I feel angry in my gut—that’s where this anger rests or rather pulls. Anger–it leads me to want to serve more, to be more present to this crazy world we live in, to shout and protest, pray and to love deeply. On the day the Dallas police officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa were murdered, the day after Philando Castile was killed, two days day after the killing of Alton Sterling,

I sent a text to my friend Reverand  Julian DeShazier, of the University Church in Hyde Park, Chicago. “Julian!” I wrote, “Where’s the protest? What can I do? Are you preaching on Sunday?” I took my 14 year old daughter to church last Sunday. We listened to Julian with intensity as he preached; “How do we move forward because the  people that call themselves allies and advocates and care providers all have one thing in common, they can leave when ever they want.  That is what privilege is… privilege is the ability to leave…!” He reminds us that we have outrage after outrage at the injustices and ultimately, we can leave. With clarity and conviction he teaches that most of us can leave the very thing it is that causes the outrage. We can leave and go home, shut the door and look at social media, go about our business and after a while, our outrage turns into concern which turns into glancing at the news every so often which shortly thereafter disintegrates into to going about our busy lives at least until the next outrage happens and the cycle of our outrage begins anew.

Rev. Julian is asking us to stay and we can’t stay unless we know why we have to and we can only know why if we feel the pain that racism, injustice and madness creates. Staying requires us to feel our pain and to allow our anger to be felt. I mean really felt, asking ourselves, where in my body is my anger exactly? Yes. I want to feel it and then I want to be quite. Quite. I will be silently outraged until a calmness permeates within enableing me feel. I settle in and settle down so that the feelings may rise to consciousness and I can greet them. I inwardly nod to anguish and sorrow,  piercing feelings, stored somewhere in my unconsciousness that float to the surface of my mind and rest in my soul.  I have a flash of awareness and recall the systematic murder of 6 million brothers and sisters, there is unbearable pain.   Pain and grief. Loss and death. To feel it all is to be temporarily released from the burden of not knowing how to act, what to do, how to handle the madness in this world. Feeling  and then acknowledging my own pain is an answer to the injustice and insanity around us. If we do not feel, we will not remember, we will see our neighbors as “the other” and we will not stay.

I am down on my knees (I know, not such a Jewish thing to do) remembering, feeling and greeting what is within. My heart is aching and the constriction in my stomach has transformed from anger to gut-wrenching sadness. Deep, deep penetrating sadness.

Tears flowing, finally not thinking but feeling and there is an opening. I am witness to the blessing of an opening, a crack in my heart, the tears cease and I recall the Kotzker Rebbe’s teaching “There is nothing so whole as a broken heart.”  This heart-crack of mine—that is where the light shines through.

I slowly get up and am somehow weaker and stronger at the same time.  These moments of settling down and paying heed to the pain will serve me to help the living, to care more deeply and to be present.   I remember Julian’s words, “[p]rivilege is the ability to leave” and I renew my comment to stick around, one day at a time.

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Hearing Loss and Love

I’m a little embarrassed to report that for the past year, I’ve been asking people to repeat themselves in conversation with me. I have been demanding that my kids stop mumbling. While on the bima, I felt ashamed that I could not repeat the comments and questions of the members of the congregation for all to hear. I spent a tremendous amount of energy denying that I was hard of hearing.

I’m embarrassed partly because I would not think twice about encouraging someone else to go see a doctor about their hearing or eyesight. I’d tell them there’s nothing to be ashamed of – these things happen to people. I’d tell them to be grateful that we live in a time when glasses and hearing aids and advances in medical science can allow people the opportunity to stay fully connected to the world around them. I felt like a hypocrite for not heeding my own advice. I hated that I was so fearful of my new reality.

Eventually I told my husband about this loss. Each time I mentioned that I think I might have a problem hearing, he would suggest that I tell my doctor. It took almost a year, but I went to the audiologist and followed up with several more tests and doctors. I have severe asymmetrical hearing loss. Its irreversible and I am so very grateful that there is help.

I just picked up my hearing aid today and the difference it makes is beyond awesome.   It’s a miracle!

The process that led me to the audiologist was a painful one, but it didn’t have to be. I had played a number of mind-games on myself that resulted in self-pity and shame. I assigned value judgments to myself that I would never put on anyone else. It’s like the old saying, “we’re our own harshest critics.”

I know that I am not alone in self-sabatoge, shame and self-criticism. It is part of the human condition, I am sad to say.  Unnecessary worry and inner torment deplete energy and lessen one’s openness to joy and to love.

Don Miguel Ruiz teaches: We try so hard to do whatever we can to clear the voice of our internal judge — we try to be perfect for our husband or for our wife, for the teacher, the guru, the religion, knowing that it is not possible. We all are taught to say, ”We are human, and we are not perfect. No one is perfect.”

We are perfect, but we don’t see that. We are not aware of what we really are because our attention is so focused on what we are trying to be.

Believing that we are perfect without having to do anything or be anything other than who we are is about developing and internalizing humility, gratitude, and acceptance. Ultimately it is the highest act of love and self-care which connects us to the deepest, purist recesses of our heart. It is what allows us to forgive ourselves.  It is what allows us to love ourselves and each other.  It enables us to share our love and kindness with the world.

I tell my kids  before bedtime, “God loves you just the way you are.” I must believe that to be true for myself as well.

To acceptance, gratitude and love!



Posted in Love, Mindfulness, parenting, Uncategorized, vulnerability | Tagged , , , , ,

You Are Loved. Rosh HaShanah 5776 Sermon

When I was quite young, on summer days I would lie on the lawn and look up at the clouds. Those puffy white clouds took on various shapes and scenes in my imagination and I created fantastic stories from the cloud scenery passing over me. I believed that behind the clouds was God and that God was the director of those magnificent cloud shows performing just for me. Those days lying in the grass, looking up at the beautiful blue sky were quite memorable. They were times when I experienced a deep connection with God. Looking back, I see that those moments were imprinted in my mind because they were filled with love. I felt loved and embraced by an unending, deep and beautiful Love. A love I believed was from God: Divine Love.

I never had the conception of God as the old man with a long white beard in the sky. For me, God could not be seen, but the beauty that I witnessed in the world were God’s handiworks. Although I could not see God, as a young child, I felt that God was with me … looking out for me.

In my teen years, that all changed. Feelings of angst about fitting in and finding a place in this world appeared, as self-judgment reared its ugly head instead of turning to God, I distanced myself, convinced that God could never love me. I thought my childhood feelings of Divine love and connection were all a hoax played on the silly mind of a child. My reasoning for this change of heart went something like this: God is perfect. We are created in the image of God and supposed to act like it. Because I am not perfect, I must not be acting as if I am created in the image of God. Therefore, God would not love me or pay much attention to me at all.

It is illogical reasoning and it is sad to think that this teenager, at the time she needed God most, felt such self-rejection and pain, that she decided she wasn’t even good enough for God.

It would take me decades to come to understand the tragic and hurtful nature of such thoughts. And it took years to return to God. It wasn’t until my adult- hood that I realized I was not the only one to lose her childlike love of God and it is tragic that many of us never discover that connection again.

The High Holy days are filled with moments of remembering our imperfections, the times we “missed the mark.” The very purpose of these days is to acknowledge all the wrongs we have done and ask for forgiveness. We seek forgiveness and beg for mercy. We engage in a Teshuva that is more often than not, from a place of fear. Fear of punishment, fear of not living up to expectations—God’s, ours and others, fears about the reality of our imperfect, challenging lives and fear of the consequences we might suffer because of our actions.  We approach God as Judge and jury and we plead for our lives.

But at the same time, our High Holiday liturgy also approaches God as a loving Parent. We call God Avienu~ our parent. We open the ark doors, stand and confess our transgressions, our imperfections to Aveinu~ a loving parent who gives us unconditional love and who forgives us and holds us near.

It is only when we know and feel unconditional love-love with out expectations, limits or conditions, that we can return love to the world. This world is in such dire need of healing, a healing that only love can mend. If we can’t love ourselves, how can we love another, how can we bring love into this broken world? Recognizing and believing that we are loved and working to feel Divine love, might be seen as narcissism, but it is not. Love of self is not at the expense of loving others. Again, if we do not love ourselves, we cannot muster up the capacity to love anyone else.

In a passage from the Talmud, we are taught the lesson of valuing our own life. We read, “Two people were traveling, and [only] one of them had a canteen of water. [There was only enough water so that] if both of them drank they would both die, but if one of them drank [only one] would make it back to an inhabited area [and live]. [Who should drink the water?]Ben Petura taught: ‘Better both should drink and die than that one see the friend’s death,’ Rabbi Akiva came [later] and taught: [it says in Leviticus] ‘Your brother should live with you’ (Vayikra 25:36) – [and so this means] your life takes precedence over the life of your friend’s.'” (Bava Metzia 62a)

The point of this Talmudic teaching, is that if we give up our life to save another, than what does that say about how we feel about ourselves? For God also created us. If, all things being equal, we hand the water to over to our friend so that they may live instead of us, the transgression here is that we do not value our own life as much as we value someone else’s. We are all created equal in the image of God, therefore, it is not only okay, but required, all things being equal, for one to save oneself.

Love of self grounds us and enables us to fulfill commandments; obligations and acts of love and kindness. Love of self is not the end point.  It is the starting place for a meaningful and purposeful life that brings love and joy into the world. The greatest commandment, the Golden Rule, V’ahavta L’recha Kamocha, Love your neighbor as yourself, has two parts: An obligation to love your neighbor and an obligation to love yourself. It is so basic a point—to love oneself that it is a fundamental assumption of Torah. We cannot fulfill the obligation to love our neighbor if we do not love ourselves.

On Yom Kippur, I will discuss love for our neighbor and love for the world, but before we can do that, we need to talk about feeling loved: feeling worthy, secure, desirable, important, and capable of making a difference in the world. Feeling loved means replacing the “I should haves” and the “if onlys” and the self-hate, self-judgment and criticism and with an awareness that we are okay just they way we are.  Allowing feelings of being held, helped and supported by Divine, unconditional love, does not come naturally to most of us. Feeling loved takes compassion, faith and courage.

The compassionate heart is forgiving, loving and kind. Surely to give compassion to the world, we also have to give it to ourselves. The Hasidic masters teach us that rather than fearing our character defects and mistakes, we notice them. Notice and acknowledge. We don’t have to beat ourselves up about them. Notice these things so we can release them and let them go. Rather than push them away or bury them inside our psyche and physicality, devoting precious energy to concealing mistakes or things we are embarrassed about, we can simply notice them and with compassion understand that we are human, we sin and we hurt people. Its what we do, it is not who we are. What no one ever told my teenage self was that we can be both created in the image of God and make mistakes. They are not mutually excusive. At each moment of our lives we live with the yetzer haRah and the Yetzer ha tov, the inclination to do wrong things, and the inclination to do good.

To know this, is to bring love to oneself. Through compassion for our own self we can feel deep connections of unconditional, divine love.

A well-known story, From the Depths of the Heart, makes this point:

One time a Jewish peasant boy came to the big town to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. He didn’t know how to pray. He could not even read the letter Alef. He only saw that everyone was traveling to the synagogues to participate in the holy prayers. He thought, “If everybody is going to town I must go too!”

He arrived at the town synagogue with his father and watched the congregants crying and singing together swaying to and fro. He turned to his father and asked, “Father, what is this all about?”

His father turned to him and said, “The Holy One sits enthroned in the heavens and we pray all year long to God. We especially pray during these days of Rosh Hashanah when the whole world is being judged and each person is being judged for the rest of the year.”

The son responded, “Father, what am I to do since I do not know how to pray?”

His father quickly said to him condescendingly, “All you have to do is be quiet and listen to the other Jews praying. That is enough for you.”

“But Father, if I don’t know what these people are saying how is that going to effect God’s decision? How is being silent going to help me?”

His father became unnerved and blurted out, “Listen, you should be quiet so no one will know you’re an ignorant peasant!”

The son stood still for a couple of minutes as his father and the rest of the congregation continued praying and then – the young boy stood up and spoke loudly.

“I am going to pray to God in the way I know best. I will whistle to God as I whistle to my flock of sheep [and God will understand.]

He began whistling the sweet calling as most shepherds know. His father was enraged. The boy continued whistling with all his might not caring what other people thought.

The prayers of Israel were finally heard. The Gates of Heaven opened and their prayers received. (Nachlei Binah P. 317 #632 Tehillim Ben Beiti, Rabbi Eliezer of Komarno.)

Prayers of the heart are accessed and heard when we show compassion and love to our self. If we need compassion to feel loved, we also need courage.

It takes courage to show up to life, to relationships and to being human because so many times the stories we tell ourselves convince us that we can’t, we are not good enough, that we don’t belong. That we are different. That people see only our flaws.

In Exodus chapter 32:1 we read, “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, ‘Come make us a god who shall go before us, for that man Moses…we do not know what has happened to him.’” So the people made the Golden Calf as a replacement for the love and leadership of Moses. The people were afraid that they had been rejected and they panicked, they were scared to be alone. They did not feel love; they only felt fear. The sin of the Golden Calf was not only their impatience resulting in idol worship, but rather it was the sin of forgetting that God was with them, that they had what they needed to be alright, that they were loved whether Moses was with them or not. In this story, the People were neither compassionate nor courageous. We all fear and have moments where we feel alone and overwhelmed. We can choose how to respond.

I remember when I was a rabbinical school student and preparing for my first High Holiday visit as rabbi in Joplin, MO. I had a chance meeting with Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, of blessed memory, then the President of Hebrew Union College-JIR. He asked how I was doing and my reply was that I was very nervous for my first High Holiday pulpit. His answer to me was a quote from Reb Nachman: Kol Ha Olam Kulo. Gesher Tzar M’od. The whole world is a narrow bridge; the important thing is not to be afraid. To feel loved is a courageous task. It is to come face-to-face with our fears and our doubts and still, cross the narrow bridge.

Divine love is with in each of us. It is not given conditionally. We are holy imperfect. We know it and so does God.

Along with compassion and courage, we need faith. I am not talking about Faith as in a monotheistic belief in God—although I encourage that. I am talking about keeping the faith. Faith that we will get through anything. Faith that is necessary to keep going, returning to Love and believing that we are loved, even on days when we don’t feel like we are.

There are many times a day that we will forget that we are loved. We know this and the Rabbis of the 6th century who composed much of our liturgy knew this too. They composed prayers to begin and end our day, which remind us that God loves us. In both our morning and evening prayers, we are reminded of divine love. We pray in the morning, Ahavah Rabbah Ahavtanu “With a great love you have loved us.” And at night we pray Ahavot olam beit yisrael amcha ahavta. You [God] have loved us, with an unending love! We begin and end our day with God’s reminder to us that we are loved. It is no coincidence that our day is bookended between these two love-prayers. We are not asked or commanded to believe we are loved, we are reminded of it, because it is true.

Through compassion, courage and faith we enter the realm of feeling loved.

Last year in my Yom Kippur sermon I wrote about depression, suicide and the need for all of us to know that Who we are makes a difference. We handed out Blue Ribbons and started a Blue Ribbon Who I Am Makes A Difference Campaign at Beth Am. I am happy to say that as a community, we have given away over 2000 Ribbons this year. This year we will continue to have a monthly Blue Ribbon Shabbat where we are encouraged to give Blue Ribbons to people and to share our reasons why.

But the more I thought about the campaign, the more I realized that it is easier to know that we matter, that we make a difference if we know that we are loved.

So this year, I want to you give you a gift as well. It is bracelet on which it is written, You are Loved. Courage. Faith. Compassion. There are plates underneath the first chair of the aisle. Please pass the plate and take a bracelet. Take one and Put it on, if you choose. It is a gift to remember that you are loved and when you forget that, bring compassion to yourself and keep the faith. Faith that you are loved even when you feel like you are not. Be of good courage knowing that you will be okay as you walk the narrow bridge, crossing through fears, doubts and challenges. May each of us know a year of unending, beautiful and eternal love.

Ken Yihei Ratzon. May this be God’s will.

Sermon Anthem: We Are Loved. Music, Shir Yaakov; Poem: We are Loved, Rabbi Rami Shapiro

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Pictures on the Second Day of School

Yesterday my three kids and I were running late.  It is not uncommon for us to be behind schedule on a school day, but yesterday was the first day of school! I wanted it to be a morning of calm. It was anything but.  Despite the fact that the morning was not going so well, I decided the extra time for a photo shoot was worth it.  For the last 10 years we have had a first day picture and this was not the year to quit! Instead of being present to what was actually happening–the anxiety of the first day, the unknowns each kid was facing, the stress each felt about running late and about school starting, I insisted on taking pictures.  It didn’t work. Go Figure. We got in the car and I drove to school.  Fortunately, no one was late.  Unfortunately,  I had no pictures to share.

On the way to school,  after my eldest finished yelling at me for attempting to take the annual picture, she calmly said, “Mom, you could take the pictures on the second day of school.” Silence.

Yep.  It was that simple.  With her one short sentence imbued with kindness, she said exactly what I needed to hear:

She reminded me that I am not a perfect mother. I don’t have to be and there is no such thing anyway.

She reminded me to pay attention to how people are feeling. The kids couldn’t take pictures and smile because they didn’t feel like smiling!  Their awesome summer break was over and school was starting.

She reminded me to notice that by running late, fighting, forgetting things upstairs, and yelling at each other, we were all coming from a place of fear.  Fear about not being in control, of not being ‘good enough’, of failing and of being alone.

She reminded me to notice that by insisting on taking a picture, I was avoiding my own fears and anxiety about the first day of school and how the passing of time is filled with great joy and also sadness.

It is now twenty-four hours later, a few tears  have been shed and I attempt to refocus on paying attention to WHAT IS.  I wake the kids up with a  cheerful ‘Boker Tov’ (good morning).  There is  calmness in the house and no one is yelling.  There is cooperation and companionship.  We are ready early and I have to say to L who has her backpack on and is getting in the car, “We are too early.  We can’t leave yet.”  To which G said, “Mom, you have never said that sentence before!” We all laugh. We laugh and marvel at this oddity of preparedness and ease going on in the house.

I then suggest we try for a Second Day Picture.  They follow me outside. I take out my camera and they decide to give me a hard time. I fret  again about not getting a school picture. I notice my anxious reaction and I think, “It is what it is. Go with it.” I join in on their fun. It was the best First Second Day-Of-School picture session ever.

It is real. It is mine. 

2nd Day of School PicsIMG_0259 IMG_0260 IMG_0261 IMG_0262  IMG_0264 IMG_0263IMG_0266IMG_0265

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From Mourning to Dancing: Yom HaZikaron-Yom HaAzmaut

On Wednesday, April 22, 2015 we observe Yom HaZikaron, The Day of Remembrance, since the establishment of the State of Israel, four new holidays have been added to the Jewish calendar – Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). In Israel, these holidays are observed as national holidays.

The Israeli Knesset established the day before Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence day) as Yom HaZikaron, a Memorial Day for soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the War of Independence and in other subsequent battles. (urj.org) In recent years we have also included those who have perished in terrorist attacks. My children, who attend Solomon Schechter Day School, wore black and white clothing today, just like they did on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust remembrance day) last week. Yom HaZikaron is a most solemn day. We remember those who fought for Israel’s right to exist and all that we owe to the men and women who protect our country from so many who wish it destroyed. It is a sad day when we understand that a great percentage of the thousands killed through out Israel’s history were young people, in the prime of their lives.  There is no Israeli who does not have a family member and /or friend killed in war or terrorism.

We are a people of hope, the national anthem is HaTivkah: The Hope and the day after Yom HaZikaron, is Yom HaAzmaut, Israel Independence Day. Israel became a State on the 5th of Iyaar, corresponding to May 14, 1948. On Thursday, my kids will put on blue pants and white shirts and will have a day of celebration, study, dancing, prayers and learning about Israel. According to Jerusalem Post, “at the time of the state’s establishment 67 years ago, the population stood at some 806,000 residents; today, that number has grown to approximately 8,345,000.  Ahead of Independence Day, the Central Bureau of Statistics released its annual report with key facts and figures on Israeli demographics Tuesday. The Jewish population stands at some 6,251,000 residents, representing 74.9 percent of the total population. The Arab population is approximately 1,730,000, or 20.7% of the total population. Comprising the remaining 364,000 residents (4.4% of the total population) are non-Arab Christians, members of other religions and those with no religion listed in the population registry.

The State of Israel, holy land shared by many, is a treasure to the Jewish People, a haven and refuge. On this day, whether I agree or disagree with the politics and policies of the Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, and no matter how frustrated I get at the Israeli Ultra-Orthodox establishment who try to enforce their beliefs and ways on all Jews, I dance with Joy and in thanksgiving that there is a Jewish State. May it be a light to the nations!

The back to back days of Yom HaZikraon and Yom HaAzmaut; from mourning to dancing is stark and difficult. Yet also teach us that life is indeed full of challenges and joy and our history teaches us that through it all we are a People who believe, who have hope that “You will turn my mourning into dancing.” (Psalm 30:11). May we find joy in our day, mat our struggles be few. May there be Shalom for all Israel and all the world.

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