Category Archives: Lessons Learned

Lessons I’ve Learned the Hard Way – I’m happy to tell you what I’ve learned so you might be able to learn from my mistakes and avoid learning the hard way.

A Letter for Anaya

My review of the book Akata Witch

By Nnedi Okorafor

(includes spoilers!)

I finished listening to the book. I’m sad. I get sad when good books end. (But there are two more in the The Nsibidi Script Series so…YAY.) I was very surprised that none of our four protagonists died, but also I’m super relieved!

If you haven’t read the book, here’s why you should read it: 1) It’s about being in between or both – She is Nigerian and American. She is Black and Albino. 2) I’m 51, and I’ve been reading about male main characters for a long time. This main character is smart, empathetic, curious, mindful, creative, and female. Her female-ness isn’t the most important thing about her, but it IS important for us all to learn from thoughtful, bright young women.

Favorite parts: I love the nicknames. I love that there is a person named “Calculus” and someone named “Sugar Cream!” Also, I used to have a pal named “Sonny,” so I love that name. I always think about whether someone named Sunny is sunny. In this book, I did wonder if the author named her Sunny also because she describes her skin as “yellow-ish.” I do also know a funny toddler named “Sonny” like Sonny Bono!

Silliest part: I thought it was funny that coins fell out of the sky when they learned. I’m glad we are rewarding learning, but also – the way the coins drop reminded me of a video game.

Sometimes I think about how people with “magical” abilities are supposed to – and often can – hide their abilities. In real life, most people’s disabilities are super visible. For example, everyone can see Sonny’s albino skin. She can’t hide it, and people treat her differently – sometimes very badly – because of it. Now, she can use her beautiful magic, but they demand she hides it. (See also: the way superheroes have “normal” identities.) Also, some people treat invisible disabilities like ADHD or Depression with impatience and sometimes disbelief and rudeness!

Also, sorry – this is negative, but it’s hard to tell the difference (maybe just for me) between a special, beautiful, magical town and a ghetto. In 2022, I try to love Jewish places. Aren’t I really lucky to be in a Jewish place where people “get me” and where people “speak my language” and I can live on Jewish time?! Yay. 

You can read more about this historical issues here – , AND You can see more info about this historical conflict here –

On the other hand, I used to visit a neighborhood of Ethiopian immigrants to volunteer in Jerusalem, but it also reminded me of when European countries and their original home in Ethiopia would restrict where Jewish people were ALLOWED to live and work. Some people told me – it was just a fast way to make sure all the immigrants had safe homes. Regardless, it’s not like that anymore. Here is some background about that neighborhood – Givat HaMatos

Also, it reminds me of the women’s sections in traditional synagogues. So lovely for me to be surrounded by women and girls, but I get MAD when I remember WHY the men created the sections in the first place.

Here are two more motifs I think about a lot:

MOTIF #1a – I don’t like the idea of “Don’t tell your parents.” 

Here is some more info about the difference between a bad secret and a good surprise

I get that – in books and movies, sometimes the kids don’t tell the adults about plans because then the adults will stop them from fighting evil. I get that –  in fiction –  that is an exciting way to set up a cool adventure for kids. In real life, it is the job of the adults who have kids’ best interest at heart to figure out the best way to protect you from bad stuff. 

MOTIF #1b – a corollary – instead of not telling their parents – their parents are dead or gone?! Oy vey.

I know that in a lot of kids’ literature the parents die. I get that in kids’ literature this is a theme. Like Bambi.

Then, the kids are mostly on their own or stuck with bad guardians in bad situations. 

First of all, so sad.

Second, I feel really uncomfortable telling kids not to trust adults! I’m not saying that all adults are great. (They are not.) However, I do not like secrets. I think surprises can be cool, but I think all kids need a few different kind, trustworthy adults to help them get through life. Not just crossing streets when they are little and other stuff like that, but also helping kids see things from different perspectives at different times. And to remind kids that what seems permanent might be temporary. AND ENCOURAGING KIDS! 

I read somewhere but I cannot remember where – probably way back in college – that most kid literature indulges in a fantasy life where the kids are actually part of something bigger and cooler than their regular lives of healthy breakfasts, bedtimes, school rules, etc. That kids imagine they are really princesses or wizards. That kids dream about leaving their parents behind and finding their true, magical, royal, special purpose, but I do also know that Sonny wishes she could know her mother, aunt, and grandmother better. That Sonny wishes that her dad could be kinder and more interested in her life, the way he is interested in her brothers. 

MOTIF #2 – I actually really like the idea that kids have special abilities and can save the universe. AS LONG AS THERE IS REAL TEAMWORK. I love teamwork. 

I love teachers, books, authors who tell kids – You have strength and creativity and ideas that you can use to make the world better – no matter your age!

This motif is part of why I love Stephen King books so much. King loves rescuing kids with special abilities. He loves a group of kids who come together to protect each other (and usually their town and the whole world) from anything bad or evil. 

Stephen King loves kids and magic. He loves bikes and friendships. He loves when kids who are suffering work together to make their world better. He believes that kids can fix bad stuff, and it always makes me feel better.

One of the main things I’ve learned from Stephen King is that some adults can still see “magic.” I used to worry that my ability to connect with kids was weird or bad – as if I am not growing up properly. My dad says that, when I was in 5th grade, I told him I didn’t want to ever have kids. He thought I would change my mind, but I didn’t. 

In the book IT, the adults who didn’t become parents retained the ability to see and conquer evil. I really like this idea. I want to be an adult kids can trust to help them fight their battles against anything evil or scary.

Is Stephen King right for everyone? No. Some people cannot stand horror, and kids are too young to read most Stephen King books – even though I really think that some of his messages would be really healthy for kids to read. For adults who want to read Stephen King and other scary stuff, here is my gift to you!

My tips for the scary/gory parts!!

I used to never read/watch horror, but now I only read/watch horror. I have learned over and over that life is not about happy endings, perfect days, or perfect relationships. So much of the “happy” books and shows feel contrived to me now. Most days, only horror makes sense to me. I am not recommending this life/perspective. However, I have learned a lot that I think might help other people when they encounter scary stuff.

  1. Don’t read in the dark. Don’t read scary stuff alone. If you can look up from your book to a sunny spot or to peoplewatch, the fear can’t really take you over.
  2. Don’t close your eyes (especially if you are reading). Your imagination is way scarier and more detailed/real than anything the movie or tv studios can invent/produce. 
  3. Be curious. While whatever is happening in the book or on screen, if it freaks you out, think to yourself: How did they do that?! Because it’s never really the real thing. It’s never real blood. It’s corn syrup with food coloring! They aren’t really injuries. That’s make-up!
  4. Pretend you are in the middle of writing a review. Note down any good or bad lines of dialogue. Note which scenes work and which scenes look silly or fake.
  5. Sometimes, look away at something normal, like your slippers or your snack. Think to yourself: Isn’t it silly that peanut butter and celery can exist in the same world as this book/movie!?


That is the main thing!


Every once in a while, your rabbi quotes one of your other rabbis, and your heart swells with affection. Yesterday, Rabbi Neil Blumofe quoted Rabbi Paul Kipnes, who was my rabbi-supervisor at Gindling Hilltop Camp in the early 90s (and one of my “big brothers” among the “Pacific Area Reform Rabbis”).

My heart was already full yesterday morning: A) The Torah scroll that was read & lifted yesterday was scribed by a female soferet. B) I was sitting next to my lovely friend Yaira, across from my adorable friend Chris, and looking around a beautiful Jewish sanctuary filled with amazing people. C) I was praying with a Jewish community who loves liturgical Hebrew.

My heart was also broken: It takes me a few days for mass shootings to sink into my brain. At first, Shock – How can there be another mass shooting? How many kids died this time? Again?! Next, Anger – How did no one stop this troubled teen? How is it so easy for a kid to get guns, bullets, and alone time to mount a full-scale attack on a school? Also, Confusion – How is it possible that we live in a so-called advanced society and we don’t recognize the importance of safety for our children? How can we not agree on the most basic of needs for the most vulnerable of humans?

Then, in his sermon, Rabbi Blumofe cited Rabbi Kipnes’ blog:

Two by Two: Saving the Children
From the Storm of Bullets
Raining Down on their Heads
By Rabbi Paul Kipnes

In his poetic charge, Rabbi Kipnes implores all of us to:

Join an organization that reflects your views
Or Send a check to a candidate that reflects your views
Or Attend a rally to reflect your views
Or Make a donation to a group that reflects your views
And then
Encourage two friends to do two by two

So, I wanted to amplify this message and add my two cents.

1. Contacting our elected representatives – I know that postcard parties and sending emails are easier for the introverts than calling. I personally do not enjoy talking on the telephone either. However, everything I’ve read, for example, from INDIVISIBLE suggests CALLING is more effective than mail of any sort. Our mail and email just gets counted and reported as statistics – and we know what conservative politicians do with stats. However, actually CALLING during business hours takes up the office staff’s time. When the staffers report to their bosses, our elected representatives, they report that our CALLS take time away from the rest of their productive work day. That’s GREAT. Let’s do that. CALL. CALL. CALL. Keep a list in front of you. Crochet while you are on hold. Do whatever you can to force yourself to make these calls on the regular. (I’m going to do this awkward thing and link you to a blog post I already wrote about this: A New Resistance.)

2. We were on fire during the first 3 or 4 months of this American presidency. I know that my senators complained about the phone calls we snowflakes were putting in. Let’s get that fire back. If our team can run this marathon of resistance NOW, then it won’t turn into a full 8 years of this presidency. (Heaven, help us.)

Here is a pep talk from

throw them out.jpg

I found this scary drawing (below) on a friend’s Facebook page.

We CANNOT let this be our future.

mass shootings.jpg

Yom Kippur 5778

Many Jews and Muslims are fasting tomorrow. I attached this weird but interesting article about it at the bottom of this post. Also, I ranted below – for a change.
Hineni. Oh, how I love/hate Yom Kippur! I love the liturgy of Yom Kippur. I love Yom Kippur tunes and tropes and traditions. Ki Anu Amechah! I always, always love the shofar and havdallah. But I hate fasting. So. Much. (Yes, “hate is a strong word.” That’s why I’m using it.)
I’ll think of you with love, my sisters, brothers, cousins in faith. I’ll think of your strength, your stamina, your determination, your cotton mouth.
I’ll think of those of you who cheerfully feed small children lunch while your stomach growls and your head pounds. I’ll daydream fondly about the makers of over-the-counter pain killers, starting around 3pm when my familiar YK migraine takes hold.
I’ll try to remember to cover my mouth when I talk to people because fasting breath is the worst breath.
I’ll think of my Beth Am friends who spent one post-Yom-Kippur morning at a Home Depot with me looking at sukkot blueprints and then joyously shopping for sukkot building materials.
I’ll think of my Muslim friends with admiration because they probably think that one day of fasting is a piece of cake compared to a month of fast days and because it’s so cool when our holy days line up.
I always think of the YK afternoon I fell asleep next to a dozing teen-aged RK Rachel Marder in the front row during the afternoon liturgy. I always think of Rabbi Janet Marder politely reminding everyone to take the lessons/intention/tone of Yom Kippur into the parking lot. (And how people behaved rudely in the parking lot anyway.)
I think longingly of Cantor Kay Greenwald‘s voice and of that time 2,000 people sang happy birthday to Rabbi Yoshi Zweiback at Kol Nidrei. (That was totally my idea, you know, my brother.)
I think of my stalwart clergy friends powering through Yom Kippur from the bima – teaching, speaking, chanting, singing, smiling, turning pages, blessing folks, remembering names, blowing shofarot, and, finally, happily welcoming havdallah.
I think of everyone who this year (!) won’t have to explain to work/school why we need a whole 25 hours off and why we won’t be “all there” the next day.
I always think of my grandma and my bubi who made the comfort foods that concluded Yom Kippur with joy and satisfaction and family. I think of my grandpa who washed all the dishes and who remembered the Hebrew blessing for wine, long after he forgot so many other important things by age 89.
I’ll think of you all tomorrow. I already regret not reaching out to each of you to apologize for my forgetfulness and insensitivities and errors this year. I’ll think of what I can do better next year. And I’ll re-dedicate myself to calling/writing/texting/visiting everyone I love.
And tomorrow night, this ordeal of heart/soul/body will all be over, but I hope my new hope and dedication will survive.

A Litany for Black Lives Matter – written by the Church of God in Christ – adapted for the American synagogue.

Leader: Today, we stand together in solidarity with our African American brothers and sisters. We unite with all of those who have lost their lives to the unjust forces of police brutality, racial profiling, and systematic oppression.

Congregation: Together, we will stand. As co-created ones, we affirm that all Black bodies mirror the image of God. (Gen 1:27)

Leader: Together, we will march. In efforts to embody the prophetic command, “Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:24) We will dismantle racial and social barriers in order to stand as one and march to the beat of peaceful protests, until God’s work is done.

Congregation: Together, we will march. Adonai, you have taught us to march for freedom and justice. We will march together like the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. We will learn from the marches of generations past, and we will prepare the next generations to march with us.

Leader: Together, we will remember Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley, Rumain Brisbon, Cameron Tillman, Reneshia McBride, Trayvon Martin, and so many others who have lost their lives at the hands of police brutality. We hear the ringing of the twelve shots that were fired at Michael Brown’s body. We see the horror in Eric Garner’s face as he uttered his last words – “I can’t breathe.” We grieve the unfulfilled dreams of Aiyana Jones, who was only seven years old.

Congregation: We know that we should not stand idly by the blood of our neighbors, (Lev 19:16) and yet we have ignored the graphic images of tragic deaths. We have ignored the cries of victims, their children, their spouses, their parents. With new awareness and humility, our souls lament.

Leader: Together we will boldly name the unjust acts throughout our nation, the unwarranted deaths and shamelessly prejudiced acts. Yet, we are honest enough to also name the reality that resides within these four walls. We too have been unjust. In our ignorance, we too have persecuted. In our privilege, we too have closed doors and silenced voices.

Congregation: Together, Adonai, we seek your forgiveness and the forgiveness of our neighbors.  We have ignored the cries of those whose stories did not beckon the media’s response, whose graves went unmarked, whose bodies remain missing, whose memorials are forgotten.

Leader: Together, Adonai, we refresh our commitment to justice. The Prophet Micah taught us to walk humbly with God and to love mercy. We are also called to act justly. (Micah 6:8)

Congregation: We will walk with humility, and we will love mercy. Our humility and love would be empty without our just action. Together, Adonai, we strengthen our commitment to act justly.

Leader: Together, we proclaim the value of Black bodies. We will deconstruct discriminating stereotypes that have legitimized the death of African Americans, criminalized Black boys and girls, and dehumanized Black women and men.

Congregation: Together, we will proclaim: Black Lives Matter.

Leader: For the parent who grieves a child she will never hold again, we will proclaim –

Congregation: Black Lives Matter.

Leader: For the child who lives in fear because his neighborhood is barricaded by police, we will proclaim –

Congregation: Black Lives Matter.

Leader: For the father who feels compelled to teach his son how to keep his head down rather than hold his head up, we will proclaim –

Congregation: Black Lives Matter.

Leader: For the sister who is doubly-subjugated because her skin is labeled ugly and her gender is less-valued, we will proclaim –

Congregation: Black Lives Matter.

Leader: Throughout our congregations, our cities, our classrooms, our work-places, and our homes, we will continue to declare: All of us are created in the Divine Image. This is a truth older than the United States, a truth that America cannot erase. Therefore, we proclaim –

Congregation: Black Lives Matter. African American Justice Matters. Black Freedom Matters. African American Dignity Matters. Black Lives Matter.


Thank you to the Church of God in Christ for the Black Lives Matter Litany and other powerful, meaningful prayers which respond to current events.

Peace Already. Please.

This post isn’t about loving Israel, though I do.
This post isn’t about a specific cease fire I’m praying for, though I do.
This post isn’t about picking sides.

Today, I read this sad article, which describes the Israeli citizen response to an arson attack on a school in Jerusalem. The school is the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School. Here is their website.

I guess I should be happy that the first thing on the school’s website is a thank you note from the school staff. They thank everyone for the support since the attack and describe how they are progressing in their response and recovery.

A few weeks ago I posted a request on my FB page. I asked for people to post their favorite organizations that brought Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis together. No one responded. I can think of a few projects, but I wanted to know where other people find hope and inspiration. But there was no response, no hope, no inspiration.

This school is one of the most exciting projects out there.

A few summers ago, a camp friend of mine told me about the Hand in Hand school. She is a teacher at the school. (I’m not mentioning her name here because I don’t want to expose her to arson or any stupid internet hate.) The school is so cool. Here are the first words of their mission: “Building shared society. One school, one community at a time. Our Mission at Hand in Hand is to create a strong, inclusive, shared society in Israel through a network of Jewish-Arab integrated bilingual schools and organized communities.” (Read the rest of their mission here.) This school works with students and families of different backgrounds, different religions, languages, ethnicities, etc. Through meaningful education, this school brings people closer together, closer to peace.

And THAT is why stupid racists lit their classrooms on fire.

Now I’m mad. Usually, I try not to get too mad. Anger erodes my ability to think before I speak. But I’m mad now.

What will I do with this anger? I’m not sure yet, but I wanted to make sure that I told all y’all about it. Mostly, I want you all to know about this amazing school. There are awesome people out there working hard to bring Jews and Arabs together in Israel.

About the arson, I’m not sure what I want to do yet. I’m going to find something productive to do about this. I’m sick of racism. It’s dangerous, in America, in Israel, everywhere. We have to do something big, something different, something soon.


A Dream Team – We will work better together.

I’m grateful to have had some amazing jobs and some amazing colleagues. I’ve learned so much about myself and about teamwork in general. Of course, I recognize that all jobs and all teams come with particular frustrations, but sometimes I let myself dream of a perfect team. My dream job includes a dream team of colleagues.

Progress – This Dream Team consists of individuals who want to improve – ourselves and our work. We are dedicated to reviewing the work we do – talking about and recording what worked, what didn’t work, and what we are missing. We don’t take mistakes personally. We work together to make our work and our organization better and better.

Communication – The Dream Team talks things through. We know each other well because we communicate. We support each other when we are sad and happy, which we are aware of because we communicate often.

Planning Ahead – We sit down together regularly to look backwards and forwards. We dream up zany ideas together. Even though we strive to plan ahead, The Dream Team isn’t afraid to follow through on a last-minute plan if enough of us agree that it’s a fantastic idea.

Conflict – We argue, and it’s okay. Sometimes, we argue opposite sides just to consider an idea or a plan from every angle. We respectfully disagree. We handle conflict with respect and openness. We never pretend to agree or hide our opinions. We work together toward resolutions that everyone can get behind. Individuals are allowed to change their minds without worrying about winning or losing an argument. We try to accept each other’s differences, and, if something gets particularly tough, we try to address it within 24 hours.

The Benefit of the Doubt – The members of the Dream Team give each other the benefit of the doubt. We assume that we each want what’s best for each other and for the team.

Vision – The Dream Team has a big picture mentality. We have a shared vision of our goal and our path. When we get stuck on a problem, our team reviews our next steps in light of our biggest goal and our shared values. When we review our successes and failures, we use our goals as a guide to our next steps. Our shared vision and our shared values help us do our best over and over.

I’m hoping that – if I can imagine it, then I’ll be able to recognize it when I see it. And I really hope they will recognize me as the team member they want and need.

Honest – To a Fault

I’m all about honesty. How can we work together well if we can’t have an honest conversation? I believe that we can talk anything through – if we start with honesty.

Unfortunately, lots of people see honesty as rude or inappropriate.

After seven years in Texas, I’ve learned that many people would prefer a gentle change of subject to my honest reaction to their question.

I think Texas has taught me this lesson. Here’s my evidence:

I had avoided talking to her for months, maybe years, because she seemed to twist my words and then spread them around. We ended up in the same place. I felt afraid. I smiled.

She threw her arms around me and gave me a long hug. Then, she told me that we ‘need’ to get together for coffee.

With a big smile on my face, I managed to respond: “I like coffee!”