Singing of His Faithfulness

It was been another blessed and wonderful Pesach. In certain ways the week-long holiday flies by, but in other ways it feels like it has been a relatively long season, as we spend several weeks preparing for the holiday. I find that the preparations add real depth and meaning to the holiday. We prepare both ourselves and our homes to the best of our abilities, so that we are ready for the holiday when it comes.

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One of the evening during Pesach we went to an exhibition of some very special Hagadot, and this is an illustration from one of them.

I have come to the conclusion that for the time being my favorite holiday is Pesach. Like, – what would all the other holidays be if we did not have Pesach?! Pesach builds the base for everything else! We became a People! Our God brought us out of slavery, – to freedom! He delivered us, so that we can live for Him, the lives He meant for us to live when He created us! He has good plans for us, and He brings them about! He is faithful, and we can trust Him as we walk in His ways for us!

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Getting ready for another holiday meal. This one is for the night of the seventh day of Pesach. Fitting with the Psagot-wine from the seventh (Shmita/Sabbsatical) year, don’t you think? 😉

Some of the definite highlights for me from the celebrations have been moments of singing. I absolutely LOVE the Halel part from the hagada and the services during Pesach. It connects with my heart! And as I join in these songs, my soul connects with those of Jews all over the world singing those same songs at this time, and with generations and generations that have sung them before us! We are part of a great chain, and we get to join in building the part that is for our generation to build, – and what a time to be alive!! And what a privilege to live in Jerusalem at this time!

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On one of the days of Pesach we made a trip to Psagot in the Binyamin region. This is text from Amos 9: “Behold the days are coming… And I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; They shall build cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up…”

There certainly are many gems among the halel and the various prayers that we sing and pray during the holidays, but the ones that I connect with the very most at this time, I think are these:

Eli ata ve odecha! Elokai, aromemecha!

Hodu le Hashem ki tov! Ki le olam chasdo!

You are my God and I will thank you! My God, I will exalt You!

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good! For His loving-kindness is forever!

The way the melody helps build up these words, adds a lot to the depth of meaning, and it is just wonderful to lift your voice together with those around you and proclaim these truths!

I find that whatever I am going through, good or bad, somehow these words fit the situation. They bring stability and perspective when times are challenging, and they add joyful thankfulness to times of celebration. I find these words to be great reminders of God’s faithfulness! We belong to Him! He has brought us this far, and He has good plans for us! Whatever the future holds, He will be there with us! We can trust in Him and do not have to worry.

I have read and heard a lot of interesting teachings during this season, and the one I want to share here is part of one that I heard at the synagogue on the last day of Pesach. We celebrated that God brought us through the Reed Sea on that day, and the one who taught on this pointed out that on the one side of the sea we were crying to God to save us. We were desperate. On the other side of the sea, we were singing to Him! This can also be a picture of a maturing faith. On the one side we believed in God, in His existence. On the other side, we had experienced His faithfulness. When our belief is in God’s faithfulness, we can trust Him fully. We know who He is, so we can sing to Him from the depth of our hearts!

Rosh Hashanah Prayer

We have just celebrated yet another Rosh Hashanah, and as we have just entered a new year, I thought I would take the opportunity to start blogging again! 🙂 I had some of those high and inspired moments during the prayer in the synagogue on the mornings of Rosh Hashanah, and I remember thinking afterwards that I should share this on my blog, – so here we go!

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Our Rosh Hashanah table this year

Rosh Hashanah is the first of the Jewish fall high holidays, and it comes after a month of spiritual preparation, where we as a people and as individuals draw closer to God. We hear the Shofar-blows as wake-up-calls to remember why we are here, who we belong to, where we came from and where we are headed.

Then we get to Rosh Hashanah, to the feast of Trumpets. This is a two day holiday which is largely spent in prayer at the synagogues. And there is something so special about liturgical prayers, – it links us all together in such an amazing way! The depth of these prayers, these scriptures and songs, fills my heart and gets me to feel so excited about being alive and being a part of THIS!

At our synagogue we had several services going on simultaneously. Such a large part of Am Yisrael, the people of Israel, come out for this, that we need to expand. So as we came in, some people who had started earlier, were praying downstairs, and we heard their shofar-blows and singing. Later, those of us upstairs split up into two groups, and we went downstairs to continue with the second half of the service there, but we could still hear the prayer going on upstairs.

And then to think of the fact that all over Jerusalem, all over Israel, people are praying these same prayers at this holy, set apart time! And in different time zones in different locations, Jews all over the world are praying these exact same prayers, in the same language on this special holiday! Wow! I am thankful to be alive, and to get to spend my life taking part in these types of experiences!

Just listen to some of these prayers:

Remember us for life, O King who desires life, and write us in the book of life – for your sake, o God of life! King, Helper, Savior, Shield: Blessed are You, LORD, Shield of Abraham!

And so may Your name be sanctified, LORD our God, through Israel Your nation and Jerusalem Your city, and Zion, the dwelling place of Your honor…

In the book of life, blessing, peace and prosperity, and good decrees, salvations and consolations may we and all Your people the house of Israel be remembered and written before You for a good life, and for peace. Blessed are You, LORD, who blesses His people Israel with peace.

AND YOU ARE KING -THE LIVING, EVERLASTING GOD!

Oh, how our voices went upwards together as we cried out:

This day, may You strengthen us…

This day, may You bless us…

To join ones voices together with the ones in the same room, hearing the people above, below, the people in the neighboring synagogue, hearing Shofar-blows all over Jerusalem, – it is a quite heavenly experience! When all these houses of prayer are filled to the brim, with hardly any standing room left even! What a privilege to get to take part in it! To actually have a seat in the midst of it!

And then we prayed together:

As is written: I shall bring them to My holy mountain, and I shall have them rejoice in My house of prayer; their offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted, desired on My altar, for My House will be called a house of prayer for all peoples…

How exciting it is to be alive! And the year we have just entered is 5777. So many sevens! A number symbolizing perfection. And the letter for the number 5 in Hebrew, is Hey, which is often used for HaShem, the God of Israel. He is Perfect, – over and over again! Always! May that be proclaimed wide and far this year!

I find myself having high expectations for this year. May we all faithfully take our parts in the great things that are happening in our time!

 

 

Times of joy and times of sorrow.

As soon as Yom Kippur was over, we entered what is known as “our time of joy”, – and joyful it is! Building sukkot, decorating them, inviting friends and family to come join us in them, and then as the holiday of Sukkot starts, we enter into out Sukkah to live there for a week!

Waving the Lulav after waking up the Sukkah every morning. :-)

Waving the Lulav after waking up the Sukkah every morning. 🙂

We have my two brothers from Norway visiting with their families, and that certainly adds to the joy around here, both for the younger ones and the older ones! 🙂 Also, when you have family who are on vacation here, you end up vacationing with them, and we enjoy Israel and Jerusalem from that side too!

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A special highlight during Sukkot this year, was being part of the Hakel, which takes place only once every 7 years. In Deuteronomy 31, 9-13, we can read about how after a Shmita, the Sabbatical year, we are to gather together the whole people, and hear the Torah read to us. It was such a unique experience! Tens of thousands of people had gathered together, and what stood out to me was how PEACEFUL it all was! The whole area of the Kotel (Western Wall) was very crowded, but there was absolutely NO pushing or anything as people were coming in and going out from the narrow exits and entrances.

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It certainly was special to stand there together and hear a portion of the Torah read out loud. In addition there were blessings and prayers said by many important people both among the more Hassidic group and the ones more connected to the State of Israel, such as the president. I LOVED the strong feeling of UNITY that could be felt very tangibly throughout the program.

When you start thinking about it, – it is so exciting to just take in that this i happening in our days! What was written about thousands of years ago, what was commanded us as a people, we are able to put into practice today, if not at the Temple, so at the place closest to that! I was filled with excitement for what God is doing, and with a strong feeling of thankfulness for getting to be a part of this!

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Another highlight, was our Sukkah party when our community gathers in our Sukkah and we have a big barbecue together, the children play and do crafts and the adults get to sit around and enjoy good conversation over another glas of wine. And the best part was when someone brought out a guitar and we sat there and sang joyful songs of prayer together. It doesn’t get much better than that, -sitting there singing with dear friends, looking around at our decorated Sukkah! Times of great joy!

We had many wonderful people at our Sukkah-party, but here is one of my favorite ones! ;-)

We had many wonderful people at our Sukkah-party, but here is one of my favorite ones! 😉

Then later that same evening we received the tragic news that another family that were on their way home from another Sukkah-party, were attacked by terrorists shooting the parents in the front of the car and leaving the four young children in the back seat to watch their parents die in front of their eyes… In a sense my heart has not stopped crying ever since I heard about this. It is so horrible, we are not even able to fathom it. It is so sickening, we don’t have words to quite describe it.

And yet, we are still in the midst of our time of joy. As a matter of fact, I am sitting in our joyfully decorated Sukkah as I am writing this. And we ask ourselves, – how can we continue celebrating when our hearts are overwhelmed with sadness?! The smells of food-preparations are most definitely filling the air here in Jerusalem. Tonight is Shabbat. Guests are invited. How can we smile and laugh and celebrate together when such evil just hit our people??

This Shabbat we will read through the book of Ecclesiastes, and how fitting it is! To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven… – … A time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance… 

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My new favorite tea-towel, given to me as a gift at the party last night.

And the truth is, so often in life those times get mixed together, just like they do now. We are rejoicing over God’s faithfulness to us, for what He has brought us through, for what He has done and continues to do. And at the same time we are weeping together with the new orphans in our people, with the family that will feel this loss for ages to come, with the community that lost their dear ones, with our whole people who is being attacked just for being Jews in a Jewish Land.

Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach to you all from Jerusalem!

Encouraging Days of Awe

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are called hayamim hanoraim, – the days of awe. They are days of repentance, reflection and making things right with God and fellow man. I already wrote about the slichot going on in our city, and in addition there are various other special events during this time. Yesterday evening we were at a concert called “Singing prayers”, with a strong theme of repentance. 

From the concert with Yitzchak Meir last night.

From the concert with Yitzchak Meir last night.

As I feel this special air and atmosphere in Jerusalem these days, I am very encouraged. While people around the world only hear about violence and terror in Jerusalem, there is also this living and thriving people building something great here!

There are Jews who say that they will come on Aliyah to Israel only after the Messiah comes and makes everything right, – well, I am telling you, it is happening, and those of us who are here get to be a part of it!

A photo from the Slichot-tour. One of those timeless photos.

From the Slichot-tour. One of those timeless photos.

Yes, Israel is a secular state, and there are things we would have liked to see different, but if we just open our eyes to the wonderful processes going on here, we have great reason to be encouraged! Where else does the news-person on the radio greet everyone with “May you have your name written in the book of life”? And where else is one invited to prayer at the supermarket (or at IKEA!)? Where else do tens of thousands come out for prayer in the middle of the night?!

Tomorrow night we start Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the whole year, the Day of Atonement. We fast from both food and drink and Israel takes a 25 hour break from regular daily activities. No radio or TV broadcast. The streets that are normally packed with cars are empty, with the exception of people out walking (of children biking) in the middle of the street. There are long prayer services happening from the beginning of Yom Kippur and basically until it’s end, – and they are very well attended!

Even in anticipation of this holy day, I am filled with awe over the sanctification of this time that God has set apart. And to get to be here in the holy city of Jerusalem and pray at that time… What a privilege!

With this I am wishing all of us an easy fast and a meaningful Yom Kippur!

New year, new beginnings.

We have just celebrated Rosh Hashanah, which many people call the Jewish New Year. But really, we are celebrating the creation of Adam, not of Avraham, so in a sense it is a New Year for all of humanity!

Pomegranats from our own garden.

Pomegranats from our own garden for Rosh Hashanah.

Either way, it is a great time for new beginnings, so I thought maybe I would take the opportunity to start blogging again. I have missed it, and have written many a blog post in my head, that just never made it to the blog… So here is to hoping for a new start! 🙂

Our Rosh Hashanah table.

Our Rosh Hashanah table.

We had a very good Rosh Hashanah celebration. Of course I really enjoyed the preparations too, – there are so many good times involved! Expectation and preparation, cooking and baking, planning and decorating!

Making Challah napkin rings.

Making Challah napkin rings. The round challot symbolize the cycle of the end of one year and the beginning of a new one.

I very much enjoyed doing a several of these things together with my nine year old daughter this year. She really took ownership and wanted to be involved!

Preparing lots and lots of challot together.

Preparing lots and lots of challot together.

And then as we sit around the decorated table, going through all the traditional blessings and prayers, I try to totally LIVE and be present in the moment. To really taste the apple dipped in honey, and to say each blessing for the new year with intent. I take in the smells and the tastes, looking at the sights of the dear ones around me, friends and family, people so dear to my heart. And you know, to keep it real, it is never all perfect, – however much you prepare, you cannot totally plan how people are going to behave and react. Again a reminder of what LIFE is really all about, – a complex mixture of everything, and our goal is to be able to navigate our own ship with wisdom and love along with the ones who we are to travel together with.

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As I look back on this two-day holiday, I have a lot to be thankful for. So many good memories added to the already abundant collection! Good times and conversations with dear friends, along with yummy cups of coffee or glasses of wine. Time to sit back and play with my children. Good food, and plenty of food. As the host I always seem to have a little worry that there is not going to be enough food, especially when there are two-day holidays like this one. My husband reminds me that we always have way too much, but each time anew I have this little thought that maybe this time will be the first time when we will actually run out of food… But again, – we had so much that we had to start giving away leftovers!

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One of the highlights was being at the synagogue and hearing the Shofar-blasts. On the first day we went somewhere where they invite the children to come to the front and blow their shofars. Ours had been practicing a bit during the month of Elul, and it was a joy to see and hear them taking an active part in the holiday in this way. The biblical name of this holiday is really “The Feast of the Trumpets” (shofars), so no wonder they are central! The shofar blast is meant to be a wake-up-call to repentance and a reminder to make things right with God and fellow man at this time, leading up to Yom Kippur.

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Another special moment was doing Tashlich, which we did on the first afternoon of the holiday. We are blessed to live in Jerusalem, and therefore have the opportunity to go the the Shiloah pool, the ancient water source in the City of David. There we pray the traditional prayers and let go of little rocks into the water, symbolizing a new and fresh beginning. Taking part in these kinds of traditions in such special places at such special times are quite unique experiences, which I feel privileged to be able to have together with my family.

So, with this, I wish all of us a really good new year, full of peace and joy, meaningful learning, health and blessing!