Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

introducing Hillel Yitzchak

The fact that we are celebrating together here today is a true miracle. I think that most, if not all of you, are aware of at least some of what we went through to be able to welcome this baby boy, Hillel Yitzchak, into our family. After rounds of failed fertility treatments and an emotional, complicated journey of being approved as a fost/adopt family by Los Angeles county, we were pleasantly shocked when the pregnancy test Marcus has no idea why he insisted I take turned out to be positive. For us, it’s impossible not to see G-d’s hand as the third partner in the creation of this beautiful boy. G-d waited until I had a light semester of schoolwork so that I could handle the demands of school, motherhood, and the fatigue of the first trimester. And G-d waited until Meital was mature enough to be the wonderful big sister she is proving to be – helpful and loving to her little brother.
And it was Meital who first suggested that we name the baby Hillel. As soon as she said it, we knew that we had found the boy’s name. We gave this baby the name Hillel – praise – in praise of G-d’s wisdom in knowing what would really be the right time for us to add a baby to our family, and in thanksgiving and praise for having him in our family and in our lives.
Although he isn’t named after anyone in particular in either of our families, we do hope that Hillel lives up to some of the qualities embodied by the famous sage Hillel. Like the sage Hillel, we hope our Hillel grows up valuing other people’s opinions while still fighting for his own, and we hope he honors and reveres the Torah, Jewish learning, and finds his place in our tradition.
On the day that I found out that I was pregnant, I imagine that my reaction was a bit like our matriarch Sarah’s. I thought I had come to terms with our inability to conceive on our own, and now I was presented with proof otherwise. I was even supposed to attend an optional adoption class that night, but at the last minute, our babysitting fell through. I didn’t quite know what to make of it all, whether to believe I was pregnant and skip the class or rush around trying to find a new sitter in case the test was wrong… But just a couple of weeks ago, as we were sitting in shul on Rosh Hashanah and reading about Sarah’s reaction to the news of Yizchak’s birth, I knew that that was also my reaction, our reaction. Not that people would laugh at us, but that people would laugh with us every time they heard this boy’s remarkable story. So, as is fitting for a boy born during Sukkot, when one of the illustrious guests we invite into our Sukkah is our forefather Yitzchak, a boy whose very existence brings more laughter and wonder into the world, we gave him the middle name Yitzchak.

Hillel Yitzchak, his big sister Meital Ayelet, and his parents, thank you all for coming and celebrating with us, and we invite you all to please eat!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Here are some photos of "Peapod"

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

From Rosh Hashanah 2nd day

A holiday, a new year, is a joyous thing a time when we see all the possibility of a clean slate laid out before us. We start a new school year with new clean notebooks and freshly sharpened pencils and pens full of ink. We read about new life with Isaac’s miraculous birth. But, as Jews, and as people, we know that a new beginning comes at the expense of an end. A new classroom or new school means leaving behind the old familiar one. A new activity means the end of time for what you used to do. And new lives often remind us of those no longer with us.

This is the dual personality of Rosh Hashanah that threads its way through our liturgy, our torah reading, our thoughts, and even our foods. In some ways, all of Rosh HaShanah is summed up in the Unetane tokef prayer that we say during musaf. “Who will live and who will die.” There are lots of ways to interpret what this means:
- Literal/physical continue to live or not
- Physical – who will be born and who die
- spiritual life/death
- somewhat metaphoric/causative – who will cause others to live or die (either literal birth death or by spiritually helping or hurting)
The concept of Rosh Hashanah as time when life and death are determined is further popularized in the image of the books of life and death. We teach children about books of life and death early – there’s even a coloring page on aish.com. Yet, at the same time, we teach children about Rosh HaShanah as the birthday of the world (and they are even having birthday party with cake here at Beth Am this afternoon). Even before that, we teach our children that Rosh Hashanah is about apples and honey and a sweet new year.

But, how can Rosh Hashanah be both about apples and honey and sweetness and looking forward to a bright future and simultaneously a time when we are preoccupied with death and all of the bad things that we do? Even as adults, it’s hard to grapple with death and the problem of why bad things happen. So, the rabbis and others tried to help answer those concerns by saying that bad things/death = punishment for our misdeeds. This way, we take our misdeeds seriously, as we should. If you do something bad, you get written in the book of death. Pretty serious punishment, so you better not do anything bad.

And, if the repetition of the unetane tokef prayer is not enough to get us thinking about death, we have the perplexing story of the Akedah, of Isaac being bound for death by his own father’s hand, as the Torah reading for today. But living always in the shadow of one’s own potential death as punishment for misdeeds is too scary, unsustainable, and condemns people to failure. We can never be perfect, try as we might.

So, as we say in the unetane tokef prayer, repentance, prayer, and charity have the ability to modify the divine decree against us; and as we read in the Torah, G-d sends an angel to stay Avrham’s hand so that he doesn’t actually kill his son. G-d doesn’t want us to “fail”, to be bad. Just as a parent threatens a child with severe punishment to deter the child from doing something naughty, so too G-d threatens us with the book of death; but no parent wants to have to follow through on the threat, nor does G-d. And, as we all know (either from delivering them or being in the receiving end), threats only work so much, and they don’t instill the type of loving relationship that we want to have between children and parents or between us G-d. So we balance the threat of being inscribed in the book of death with the promise of being inscribed in the book of life. We temper the binding of Isaac on the alter with his release. And we teach even our youngest children about both the book of life and the world’s birthday celebration with apples and honey because we know that even they are capable to learning to be ever better people. And we emphasize the hope and expectations we have for the coming year and the way in which we will pursue repentance, prayer, and charity as we eat our apples and honey and focus our energies on being inscribed in the book of life for a bountiful, sweet year.

Shanah tovah u’metukah

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This morning's song

This morning, while playing, she was singing:

"it's raining
it's pouring
the old man was snoring
he went to bed
and brushed his teeth
and couldn't get up in the morning"

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Great Conversation

Abba: Promise me you'll never become a vegetarian.
Meital: Don't worry, Abba, I'll always be Jewish

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Help our cutie win

We entered Meital into a photo contest. Please come vote for her!

Thank you to Batsheva for the great picture!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Good Question

After seeing part of The Wizard of Oz, Meital asked "what are witches made of?" They look like people, but melt in water... So, what are witches made of?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Search & Win

This is a new search engine that I use. I just won an Amazon gift card just from the normal web searches I do. If you join too, you can also win prizes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Give it back!

Me: [person we've never met but with family connections to us] is coming to LA, so my mom gave them our phone number.

Meital: Tell them to give it back!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Dvar Torah Parshat Tzav/HaGadol

One year, our congregation hired a new rabbi with fire in her heart. She aimed to change our worlds. She worked tirelessly, burning the candle at both ends as she sought to single-handedly reinvigorate not only our slowly dying synagogue but all of Judaism. But, no one came to the mind-blowing classes that offered and the soulful services she lead didn’t lift the souls that weren’t there. Slowly, her enthusiasm for Judaism and Jewish leadership dimmed and that fire in her heart burned out. Eventually, she had to leave our synagogue, and I haven’t heard of her or her visions since.
But, if we had heeded one of the most important lessons from this week’s Torah reading, maybe things would have turned out differently for our rabbi. In the days when we still offered sacrifices, the priests knew how to keep a fire burning on the altar day and night, as it says: וְאֵשׁ הַמִּזְבֵּחַ תּוּקַד בּֽוֹ, “while the fire on the altar is kept going on it.” (Leviticus 6:2) Literally, however, the last word of the verse, בּֽוֹ, means “in it,” not “on it.” The Etz Chayim commentary suggests that the use of this ambiguous preposition comes to teach that “the fire on the altar must be paralleled by a fire in the heart of the officiating priest.” The priest, after all, as the one who performed the actual sacrifice for the person, was instrumental in affecting the way that any given sacrifice was received by G-d. The Cohen, therefore, should ideally be someone “whose enthusiasm for the sacred nature of the work must never be lost” lest it come to negatively impact on the very people he was supposed to be helping.
Today, we don’t need priests to perform our sacrifices for us. When the Sages proclaimed that prayer would serve as a substitute for sacrifice, they gave the Jewish people the gift of offerings that each person can deliver to G-d without the need for any intermediaries at all. And yet, even the most learned and most spiritually gifted among us depend upon rabbis and other leaders of the Jewish community for guidance and, sometimes, even intersession with G-d. It is these leaders of our communities whose fire and enthusiasm sustain us both as individuals and as a community.
But, fire that is left untended, like that of the rabbi in our story, will eventually go out. It was only through the hard work of the priests that the fires on the altar burned day and night, allowing the people’s offerings to be consumed. Only by adding wood to fire at regular intervals can it be sustained. The same is true of the internal fires of the leaders of our communities. Only when congregations work together with their leaders to constantly feed their vision and fuel their fires will Jews be capable of continually offering meaningful sacrifices to G-d.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


In this season of miracles, from the hidden ones in the Purim story to the splashy ones in the Passover story, we want to thank all of you for your support of our efforts to expand our family and your belief in modern medicine. As our efforts to reproduce using fertility treatment failed, many of you tried to encourage us with stories of miraculous conceptions, which we downplayed and dismissed as we embarked on our journey toward adoption. But, as a rabbinical student, I should have known better. Miracles happen all the time. And G-d clearly has a plan. So, while we have learned a lot from the process of trying to adopt, we are thrilled to be one of those families to be granted a different miracle instead. Suzanne is pregnant, and is due in early October, right around Sukkot and Meital's birthday!

With love and blessings,
Suzanne, Marcus, and Meital

p.s.We're thrilled that Meital already likes giving the baby kisses and hope that continues!

Thursday, March 12, 2009


How many Snow Whites?

Thursday, February 26, 2009


As we were walking home the other day, Meital, out of the blue, announced, "if we get an octopus, I'll call him Joey."

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Some funny quotes amidst a day of being aggravating

"Well of course I want to go to Munchies [a sweet store], but I have to finish this game first" (said with a wave of her hand)

"Abba, what is your favorite way to do your hair?"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Synagogue Design

If I were designing a new synagogue today, I would want it to be a place where people felt a little bit calmer and more uplifted just by walking in. I know that it can be really hard to avoid having an industrialized feel to a communal space, but I would do my best to make the physical space itself as inviting as possible. I would want to create a space where everyone felt welcome. I would love to have a small study room like the one in the new Wellesley multifaith space. And there would be some type of garden, with comfortable benches and tables and quiet spots to sit and think or have lunch. There would be playrooms, with age-appropriate toys, and a space with couches and cushions for people to hold formal or informal meetings. There would be a multipurpose room with warm inviting colors that could have tables set up for a meal or chairs for a lecture, and in this room there would be cubbies where people could put their tallis bags when they are sitting down to eat. I would want a building where the whole community felt at home, where people gathered both formally and informally to live their lives as Jews together.

The problem with this vision, aside from money to build it etc., is how to keep that warm vibrant feeling there even as the rooms and the furnishings age. A faded carpet is rarely as inviting as a new one. Grubby cushions or stuffed animals don't call out to be smooshed and hued like new ones do. Even dreams get dusty and dried up. It's easier to have enthusiasm for a new project than an old one.

But, the only way to move on to a new project is to be willing to put down the old one. And maybe when we do that, we see how the old has become the new, and we find new sparks inside ourselves that we can pass on to others.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Guide to the Halakhah of Infertility Treatments

One of the many papers and projects that I wrote for classes last semester was a Guide to the Halakhah of Infertility Treatments. It's a bit too long for me to post here in its entirety, but if you would like a pre-publication copy, I would be happy to email it to you.