Dear friends and followers of my journey,
After my time in my ancestral town of Glubokoe, Belarus over half a year ago, the nature of my journey shifted. Before, I had plenty of time for writing, but then I began moving more frequently, and spending more of my time doing work-exchanges as my travel funds dwindled. In between volunteer work and connecting with the people and places I was in, I managed to write beginnings of blog posts which were left to be completed. I placed priority on keeping up with my personal travel diary, and I sent out the occasional public mini-update through Facebook and Instagram.
I had become attached to my blog looking the way it had evolved to look, with long, detailed narratives that bring the reader along with me. I was ready to give up on it after months had gone by without having drawn out an in-depth narrative like before.
But the stories are still beckoning to be told. Perhaps one day they will be drawn out in writing further. But for now I’m releasing my attachment to the blog looking a certain way. I’m accepting that the nature of this blog is now, and will likely be until the completion of the journey, short mini-posts which give just a flash, a glimpse, a brief snippet of the story.
So here, friends, is a collage of my journey since my last post months ago. I’ve added a bit from before the last post as it was feeling it wanted to be told here as well. Some of it I simply pulled from my Facebook/Instagram posts, as I realize many of you reading my blog are not following me on those platforms and missed out on those mini-updates. The rest is a combination of the posts I began before (I did end up completing the post about my time in Kishinev), as well as some pieces from my personal diary, and recent reflections that tie them together.
I hope this collage still feeds your desire for the stories and instills the inspiration to find and connect with your own roots that many of you reflected the previous stories had done. Thank you to all who’ve been following along, asking for updates, and cheering me on to write more. You are my muses. Blessings to you, your ancestors, and the lands you come from.
Oct, 16, 2017
The Nozyk Synagogue, the one synagogue out of over 400 pre-war Jewish houses of prayer, to have survived the war and Holocaust in Warsaw.
I had the sacred privilege to pray here this past Shabbat with the small Jewish community that has been revived in this city that once was home to the 2nd largest Jewish community in the world.
The torch-bearers here, though few in number, are big in heart and joyous in their spirited song.
Oct 28, 2017
In Berlin. My mother was born in this city shortly after the war because her father was stationed here. He was an officer in the Red Army throughout the war, while most of his family, including his wife and daughter (my mother’s older sister) found safe haven in refugee camps in Uzbekistan. Both his brothers died fighting in the war, but somehow he survived. Six million Jews and eleven million Soviet soldiers died during the war. He was both, and somehow he survived.
He made it through. He made it to Berlin, in the Red Army siege of the city. He was stationed there for a couple years after the war. His wife, my grandmother, came to live with him there when the chaos had subsided. I can’t imagine what a reunion that was, both of them having spent the last few years apart, fearing that they may never see each other again. My mother was conceived in that reunion.
My grandfather relayed a couple of stories of close calls he had during the war, but most of the time when his family would ask him to tell them about that time, he simply responded, “All you need to know is that War is Hell.” He reached the end of that hell in Berlin, and my mother came to life through the ashes. That land fed them while they were there. In a way, that land, ashes and all, fed me life.
So when I came to Berlin, I celebrated life. I danced at as many dance gatherings my legs would take me to. I sang and joked and played games and laughed and cuddled with the new friends I found in this mecca of cultural festivities. I lived to the fullest extent I could, honoring the life my grandfather, and so many others, made possible for me. I danced the dance of life.
Nov, 29, 2017
Today I entered the gate of Worms, or Varmayza as it was known in medieval Hebrew. One of the oldest towns in Germany and the site of one of the first permanent settlements of Jews in the diaspora. One of the birthplaces of Ashkenazi culture. Rashi was here. We were here. We are here. Diving deeper and deeper into this root structure. For a sturdy trunk that can support vibrant branches.
Nov, 30, 2017
The Old Synagogue of Worms. One of the oldest of Europe. Originally built in 1034. It was the ritual center of the Jewish community of Worms, one of the first Jewish diaspora communities in Europe, for nearly one thousand years.
The synagogue was severely damaged/destroyed and then rebuilt on several occasions (during anti-Jewish pogroms, social unrest, and a city-wide fire) throughout its history. It was completely destroyed, along with the more than one thousand year old Jewish community, when the Nazis came to power.
The synagogue was rebuilt in 1960, according to old plans and using original materials, thanks to initiative by the citizens of Worms. The synagogue became active once again in the ’90s when Jewish immigrants, from the former Soviet Union, resettled in Worms.
New life being breathed into the old, the sacred.
Dec 02, 2017
Russian is the new Yiddish. This occurred to me as I sat in the architectural marvel of a synagogue in Mainz, another one of the birth places of Ashkenazi culture. The modern synagogue was built right behind the small ruins left of the historic synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis. I was there on Shabbat, speaking Russian with the elders of the community during the meal after the service.
I read an article some time ago that posed the question of whether ‘Russian is the new Yiddish‘. My time connecting with the Jewish communities in Germany revealed this as a statement. Rather than German, Hebrew, or Yiddish, the majority of the Jews I encountered in community centers and synagogues in Berlin, Magdeburg, Worms, and Mainz were speaking Russian. There are few German Jewish Holocaust survivors or descendants of survivors left in Germany. The majority of those who survived emigrated to Israel. Most of the Jews in Germany today are immigrants who came from the former Soviet Union after its collapse.
I had this odd and exciting feeling that I was experiencing something similar to what my Ashkenazi ancestors experienced. I was in on the game because I can speak Russian. I could speak the language that only those in the Jewish community could speak. The majority on the outside, who spoke the native tongue of this land, were out of the loop. I was in the loop. The loop for Jews in this land use to be Yiddish. Now it’s Russian. Russian is the new Yiddish.
Dec 21, 2017
Swung back around to Eastern Europe to connect with the last place on my list of shtetls my great-grandparents came from. These are the sanctuary ruins in the old Jewish Cemetery of Chisinau, the city my Kohanim ancestors made their home for an unknown number of generations. Felt appropriate to be here during the holiday that honors the sacred fire their line tended for centuries. That fire is still within us and is being rekindled on the outside in various ways. May we bring it even more fully to life and tend it with love, for the health and happiness of future generations.
Jan 25, 2018
My DNA report from 23andMe.com showed trace amounts of Balkan roots. So of course I had to follow my roots there. I followed them to a mountain town in Bulgaria called Kyustendil, and found myself volunteering on a farm just outside of the town. Learning and practicing the old, traditional ways of animal husbandry. Making new friends in the lands of my Balkan ancestors:
Jan 29, 2018
Bulgarians have kept alive many of their folk traditions from their ancient pagan roots. The Kukeri come out in the winter to chase away evil spirits and bring good fortune to their villages.
My heart opened up to the beauty of these old traditions, old ways being held alive, revived in some form or fashion. Integrated into our modern world into this festival form.
There was power in those outfits, those masks, those movements, those dances, those bells. Even as a spectacle, there was ingrained admiration and respect for the old ways, even if it was unconscious for some of those who participated.
Being immersed in the sounds, the movements around, the energy, something moved deep inside me. Especially when the village elders told the stories and sang the old songs of blessing and gratitude for mother nature and all that she provides, and everyone gave them the undivided attention and respect the elders deserve. They are the carriers and the teachers of deep wisdom. When they sang, my heart poured out. This is the way.
Feb 7, 2018
My new happy place: Mount Olympus. Connecting with my (small percentage of) Greek roots. Greeting the ancient mythic ones.
Feb 10, 2018
Ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Where the Oracle opened herself as a vessel to deliver Apollo’s guidance. Pictures do not do the beauty and sacredness of this place justice. It was already a temple before the ancient Greeks built anything here.
Feb 12, 2018
Last night, I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and got swept up by a crowd of Dionysus followers parading around the Acropolis in a ritual paying homage to the god of passion. I asked if it was simply performance or actual ritual. It was ritual. In its traditional form. It was beautiful and powerful, lifting up the energy of the city around them.
This was one of many rituals/festivals they do throughout the year, connected with the various gods of the ancient Greek pantheon and deeply rooted in the cycles of nature, as the ancient Greek calendar was. They are a minority carrying the torch of their ancestors’, keeping the old ways alive, and nourishing their roots in the face of great adversity from the church.
Feb 15, 2018
I’m here. I made it. I landed. In the land of my most ancient Jewish roots. Eretz Yisrael. There is so much complexity here; so much complexity I feel being here. A land I feel deep ancestral connection with, deep joy being in, a land that is deeply sacred for me and my people, a land I praise. And at the same time I feel much grief over this land. Grief over the tension and conflict in and around the land. Grief over the suffering of our Palestinian brothers and sisters who also have deep ties with this land, yet don’t have the same privilege I have to be here. Grief over borders that divide family who could co-exist together instead of fight each other. Grief over trauma being passed on instead of confronted and healed on a collective level. More on that another time.
Landing at the airport felt surreal, almost dreamlike, like I had entered some alternate reality. I got off the plane, walked into the airport, and stepped into some sort of Jewish Wonderland. Jews all over. Russian, American, Arab, African, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, Chasidic, Litvak, Modern Orthodox, Secular. Jews of all kinds, all around.
After spending the last year and a half walking through Eastern Europe, the lands where we (the Jewish people) were mostly erased or fled from, often feeling and experiencing being the minority there, the token Jew, it felt a bit unreal to arrive where I wasn’t exotic anymore. I am just another member of the tribe here (or tribes rather).
I’m seeing this land through new eyes. Eyes that have seen the mass graves and the extermination camps of the Holocaust, the ruins of cemeteries and sanctuaries destroyed, the seemingly endless fields of rich, fertile land that Jews were not allowed to own and cultivate or were thrown off throughout the millennia, the migration routes of a people who were continuously seeking refuge after being displaced over and over again. I’m seeing this land through eyes that do not necessarily endorse, but that understand the Zionist dream. The dream to have a homeland, a land where we have sovereignty and the ability to cultivate and tend the earth. The dream to set down roots and be rooted to a place sacred to us. The dream to have protection and safety. The dream to reunite the tribes and live where our ancestors lived and where their bones were laid to rest.
We were in exile for two millennia, and now we’re back. The tribes have returned. To the land of our deepest, most ancient roots as a people. The land we were indigenous to. The land where we made sense of the world and how to live in it. Where our culture and rituals were birthed to life from our intimate, deeply familial relationship with the land and the cycles of nature tied with this land. The dream was realized.
I wish I could exclaim, I want to exclaim, what a beautiful thing it is that the dream was realized. But it feels to me a grave shame that this dream has to trample on the dreams and lives of our brothers and sisters who also had and still have a dream to live on their homeland as well. Does it necessarily have to trample? Is there another way? Is there a way that our dreams and the realization of our dreams can co-exist in harmony? I pray there is. I believe there is. Walls inevitably crumble. Dreams have the ability to live beyond the walls of separation. May our dreams find a way to weave together and to weave us together in the familial bonds our common ancestors and common connections with the land cry out for us to remember. We are family. May we dream together and live in our dreams realized, together.
Mar, 03, 2018
Purim in the Holy Land. Wow! What an experience! It seemed everyone in the whole country was preparing for it in the weeks leading up. The streets of Jerusalem were absolutely packed. Everyone flipping their worlds upside down. Drinking in a holy way.
I’ve never experienced a Jewish holiday like this. In the states, and everywhere else I’ve been, Jewish holidays go under the radar of the vast majority of society. It feels like being part of a small sect to honor holidays most people know little or nothing about.
But here in Israel, it’s a completely different story. Everyone knows what the holiday is about. Seemingly everyone is celebrating in some way, even if they’re not religious or spiritual. It’s not under the radar. It’s all over the place. It’s ingrained in the dominant culture, in the spirit of the land. You can’t help but swim in it. You can’t help but get drunk with the joy of the chag, whether you imbibe the fermented fruit of the vine or not.
Drink up the Elixir of Not Knowing. It’s such good medicine:
Mar 15, 2018
Magic is unfolding. I found the place I was meant to find. I found the people I was looking for. It seems to me that unseen forces were conspiring to bring me to this place.
I’m living and volunteering on a permaculture farm and nature therapy center for healing on a moshav near the city of Ramla. The couple who runs the farm are part of my soul family. We realized it pretty quickly upon meeting. The other volunteers have also become like family. We are of the same tribe.
It’s quite a special thing to be working the land here. To dig my hands in the soil, sow seeds, plant trees, build a cabin, care for animals, and create a space for people to find healing through connection with nature, here in the land of my ancient Hebrew ancestors. And to do it in collaboration with new friends, soul family, who I was guided to by the will of the stars.
This is a special place and special people. I’m in love.
Mar 27, 2018
The land remembers. She remembers the blood. The blood remembers her. It’s an ancient memory embedded deep within the strands of DNA passed down from generation to generation. It is a memory that awakes and vibrates in every cell, in the bones, in the depths of the heart, when walking upon the land.
It’s like two lovers, estranged unwillingly for two millennia, brought back together in reunion. A reunion of very old souls that knew each other intimately. They still know each other, remember each other, love each other, but are once again getting to know each other anew.
It’s a beautiful and complex courtship. The land has had many lovers over the years, as well as many who tried to dominate her and her children. Now one of her children has become the dominator, as a result of trauma and inheriting the soul wound of the oppressors who abused the child. The child even dominates their siblings, the other children of the land.
But the land still loves her child. She called him/her back to be with her. And she is calling them to heal. Heal the soul wound. To reconnect with their original soul, that of the care-taker, the guardian, the tender of the sacred web of life, connected with the land and the sea and the cosmos and all their relatives. To remember who we are and why we are here.
Apr 01, 2018
You have to go in if you want to go out. Chag Pesach Sameach from Sinai, Egypt!
Apr 12, 2018
Emotional day today. Yom HaShoah. In Israel. I’ve seen in the past, from across the ocean sitting in front of a screen, the videos of the sirens going off throughout the country marking the minute when everything and everyone in the country comes to a standstill to honor and remember. Today I heard the sirens directly. The few of us on the farm dropped what we were doing and stood in silence. Even though I was there and pretty far removed from the mainstream, main groups, main events, I still very much felt the somberness, the grief of the day.
The couple who manages the farm, who’ve become like family to me, shared their families’ stories. Each had tales of family members lost in the bullets or the flames. Both of their fathers were children in the Holocaust, separated from their families, yet miraculously survived. Most whom I’ve met in the country have such stories, such connections.
When the story sharing was complete and everyone retired to their quarters and I was left alone, the grief hit me like a train. All I had seen, all I bore witness to along my journey came rushing back to me. The camps, the mass graves in almost every village I stepped foot in, the synagogues in decay, the cemeteries (including the graves of my own ancestors) in ruins or completely destroyed, the appropriation of our culture (“Jewish” themed restaurants run by non-Jews capitalizing on and perpetuating stereotypes) in cities like Lviv and Krakow where those cultures were mostly decimated.
I went to the ground and wept. And I prayed for the souls, the ghosts I felt in those places. Those still stuck and waiting for someone to grieve them, something that never happened for far too many because there was no one left to grieve for them. Those who were left were too busy trying to survive. El Malei Rachamim.
Many of those who did survive found themselves on a boat to what they were told was their new (and old) homeland. When they got off the boat, instead of getting the healing they needed, they were given a gun and told to go fight for the survival of their new nation. After that, memorials and days of memorial were instituted. But no national days of grieving and healing were ever instituted.
We’re great at memorializing, but not so great at actually healing (collectively that is). Perhaps it’s time. Perhaps it’s time to transform Holocaust Memorial Day into Holocaust Healing Day. Create a culture and atmosphere that allows the country to, rather than stand still in silence, fall apart and weep. Weep for the grief we still feel in our hearts, in our bones. Weep for the souls who were never wept for. Weep until we’ve healed the wounds of the past. Weep it all out so we don’t continue to pass on the trauma to future generations. Let’s fall apart instead of stand still. Let’s replace the wail of the sirens with the wail of releasing our pain. We’ll be able to stand much stronger and with softer stillness in our hearts if we do.
Apr 20, 2018
The slow travel I’ve been doing is a powerful teacher in letting go of what I grow to love. Over and over again, I’ve been finding myself falling in love and then consciously choosing to move on as I feel the road calling me again. I’ve come into so many new, profound connections along the way. I have many new friends, family, soul brothers and sisters. I’ve fallen in love with the lands of my ancestors and the people who inhabit those lands now.
Sometimes my heart is so bursting with love I feel I cannot contain it. It feels like my heart is expanding beyond the boundaries of my chest and I might vomit it up if I try to give it words. To live is to love and let go. Everything is impermanent. This road keeps teaching me that lesson.
A friend of mine was recently at a talk by Stephen Jenkinson, and she relayed something that he said, which she imagined I would connect with. He said that love is different when death is present. That death helps us learn how to love someone without assuming a future together. That it’s a whole new type of love when we don’t rely on future results.
Then my friend said she imagines that the journey I’m on involves many small deaths. Saying hello, falling in love, saying goodbye, letting it go.
Boom, that’s exactly what it is. Many small deaths. Love is fierce when you open your heart and allow death to linger close by.
Apr 23, 2018
Desert wanderings. Midbar contemplations. Prayers entrusted to the wings of the wind. Hello from the Negev friends.
May 23, 2018
This past Saturday night, into Sunday morning, I was in Jerusalem, participating in the millennia old tradition of immersing in all-night study of Torah, to honor, commemorate, and renew the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. It was Shavuot. I tramped (the local term for hitch-hiking) my way to the holy city. I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, so I was already dead tired when I got there at six in the evening, and I had a full night ahead of me. I found a park just outside of the old city, and laid down on the grass under a cedar tree in the hopes of getting in a rejuvenating nap before the all-night teachings began.
I laid there for almost two hours, continually coming ever so close to the serenity of slumber, but being stirred back awake by a growing pulse of energy. It was the excitement of the soul of the city, awaiting the gathering of its tribes, a mother preparing and anticipating the gathering of her children for a great feast.
I finally came to accept that sleep would escape me that night, and mobilized myself for the great gathering. I followed an instinctual pull that wound me through the streets of the old city to the ancient remains of the site where our ancestors tended a sacred portal to the divine, the Kotel. I thought I was simply going to look upon its impressive stones, give my respects from a distance, but that pull brought me all the way to the wall. I laid my heart and my head upon the ancient stone, and found prayers stirring through me which I offered up along with the salt of my tears. When I parted with the wall, I heard a joyous ruckus beginning to stir just behind me. I turned to see that it was a group of Breslovs (of course!). They are always such spirited conduits of the bliss of being alive. I joined them in ecstatic song and dance in front of the wall, singing our hearts out in praise of the gifts and blessings we receive from the divine.
After some time, I made my way to Nachlaot for some Tikkun Leil all-night teachings. I came to Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo, which some friends are connected with and invited me to. The rabbi giving the teaching at 1:00am painted a beautiful poetic picture with his words about how if we look at the story of our lives, we can see hidden within, or not so hidden, the hand of the divine. Everything that has happened, from whom and where we were born to the greatest upsets and heartbreaks we’ve experienced, all happened for a reason. I couldn’t be the person I am today or the person I’m meant to be without all the joy and pain, all the success and failure that I’ve gone through and all the mistakes that I’ve made.
I saw my life in what he was saying. I saw my ancestors’ lives and their experiences bound with my own. I saw the path that led me on this journey, led me to be in this place. I saw the parts I use to regard with regret as exactly what I needed to be who I am. In that moment, it hit me, as morbid as it may sound, that all we’ve experienced as the Jewish people, perhaps we experienced for a reason. Perhaps it was the cauldron we needed to be cooked within in order to unleash our potential to serve this world, as helpers, as healers. The greatest healers are the wounded healers. Those who’ve experienced great hurt and pain and been at death’s door, but came back and healed. That experience gives them power, unique power to support the healing of others. They transform their poison into medicine.
Our hurts, our wounds, our collective pain, can continue to be our curse, or they can be transformed into our gift. We, as a collective, can be the wounded healer. (I want to acknowledge that we are of course not unique in this. Almost every culture, every people on the planet has a history of trauma and pain. We have the potential for a whole world of wounded healer societies.) But it takes healing ourselves first. Just like individuals who suffer great trauma and pain, people collectively have the potential to become abusers, unconsciously passing on that trauma and pain to others, if they haven’t metabolized their grief. Those who’ve been wounded have the potential for either becoming perpetrators of abuse themselves, or becoming powerful healers. Which are we? Which will we be?
Jun 11, 2018
Ramadan. Iftar (the break-fast feast). Sitting at a table in a Muslim household with Arab and Jewish Israelis. Peace activists. Breaking bread together. Sharing stories and jokes and blessings. Laughing together, praying together, remembering and honoring their dead together. Hijabs and kippahs, worn side by side. Hugs, deep hugs, shared through the invisible borders of fear that others try to put up between us. The borders dissolve into oblivion. This is peacemaking here. Sitting at the table together, sharing the essentials of life with each other, sharing our sacred traditions with each other. This is what the future looks like across the land. Inshallah. Be’ezrat Hashem.