Kavannah (Intention) For Those Not Ready To Forgive

Some hurts take time to heal. And some of us (mostly women) apologize too much and too fast – to our own detriment. This is for you.


Kavannah (Intention) For Those Not Ready To Forgive

The weight of this season compels us to forgive,

and to open our hearts.

There are many among us who have endured deep hurts,

this year,

and some from many years ago

Some of us are not sure of the path forward

amidst the prayers and pleadings of Yom Kippur to wipe the slate clean and start anew.

For the woman who was violated

and for the man beaten down,

And for anyone with a broken heart or a crushed soul

who might not be quite ready to forgive.

It’s ok.

Take your time,

Sometimes the timetable of the High Holy Days

doesn’t match the rhythm of your heart.

Sometimes our devoted prayers get intermingled with inner voices not quite resolved:

such as,

“maybe it wasn’t all that bad”

“just let go”

“let bygones be bygones”

“be the bigger person” or

“maybe I’m being too sensitive.”

This year,

love yourself enough

to trust

your own timing.

Be patient enough to

stay in the place of

“not yet.”

You commit to the work of resolution,

not being attached to an outcome or timetable.

Trust that you will find your way forward,

that you WILL come to a time

where holding on

hurts more than letting go.

Forgive yourself for not being yet ready.

From that place of total acceptance,

May you have faith that the path will open up.

Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman, October 2016

Begin to Dust Off Your Soul: High Holidays 2016

The month of Elul in which we do the spiritual preparation necessary for the upcoming High Holidays begins SUNDAY September 3.

There are so many ways to begin “dusting off” our souls.  When we do, we join with people all over the world who are entering the river of reflection.

I published this article on Medium that begins with a Rebbe Nachman teaching about judging others with generosity — and ALSO judging OURSELVES with kindness. Here’s how it begins — and please do click over to Medium to read the article (it’s a 3 minute read 🙂  AND – at the end of the article, there’s a link to get my FREE High Holiday Preparation List & Video!

Judge with Generosity: Become a Melody

Photo credit: Nick Kenrick. via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: Nick Kenrick. via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-SA

“You have to judge each person generously…Even one who is completely bad, you need to seek out and to find within that person some small bit of good, that bit where she is not bad. By this means, when you find that bit of good, and judge her generously, you actually raise her up to the level of merit…” Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav*

Rabbi Nachman (1772–1810) makes the bold claim that by being generous in our evaluations of others, we can help raise people up, and restore their souls. Whether or not you believe that we have that kind of power, it is certain that searching for the good in each other is healing for our own souls.



Mindfulness Practice & Tisha B’av

Although this piece takes off about a particular commemoration in the Jewish calendar, I am certain that the lessons are universal. This article was orstones-1372677_640-1iginally published in a collection honoring the retirement of my meditation teacher, Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg. (FYI — Tisha B’av is what’s considered a minor holiday, and a day of mourning.) YET — because it’s about breakdown & restoration and brokenness and renewal, the learnings can be applied to many situations in our lives, no matter what your spiritual practice. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

It usually happens in August. We are still in high summer mode, yet on the periphery of our consciousness, we are aware that summer is waning. The light is changing, the days are getting shorter. And then, like an intrusion comes Tisha B’av.

This “holiday” commemorates the utter destruction of the 1st and 2nd temples in Jerusalem so many years ago. In the riotous bloom that is summer, we are called to remember destruction and breakdown.

We gather with other Jews and chant a soulful melody from the book of Lamentations written by the prophet Jeremiah. He begins: Eichah? How has this happened? It’s an echo that reverberates back to the Garden of End, when God calls out to Adam and Eve, Ayecka (Where are you?)

We are being called to wake up.  TO READ THE REST, CLICK HERE

*** ALSO – I’m offering Coming Home: Spiritual Preparation for the High Holy Days – a 4 session webinar that begins September 8. For more information, click here. The early bird price ends soon so please check it out now: Spiritual Preparation for the High Holy Days 2016

Three Mindfulness Lessons From The Wilderness

It’s usually high summer when we enter the wilderness in the Jewish calendar – by that I mean the book of B’midbar (also known as the Book of Numbers) in the Torah. It’s filled with fascinating juicy stories of rebellions and challenges. It’s like the adolescence of the Israelite people as we wander for 40 years. Here’s an intro to thewilderness piece I published on Medium about lessons from the wilderness:

There is the real physical wilderness which some of us visit from time to time.

And then there is the spiritual wilderness that visits us from time to time — sometimes longer than we would like.

Times of illness or transition or loss of any kind can put us into an existential desert where there is no map and no set path forward.

The only way out is through.

The lessons we learn from spending time in unknown territory are profound and life-changing.

In fact, there is wisdom that can ONLY be gleaned in the wilderness.



What Teaching Are You Living?

What do you know to be true?

What have you learned about how to be a human being in this world?

What has life taught you that you’d want to pass on to those you love?

Taken all together, these truths are your “torah.”  (Torah, in Hebrew, means “teaching.”)

Every person writes a Torah with their life.  It’s a personal collection of wisdom gathered from our experiences and stories.

The great Hasidic master Sfat Emet says it like this:

Every person has his or her own piece of Torah. The complete Torah was given to the Jewish people as a whole. However, each person has a personal teaching, his or her own Torah, inside them. This is hidden within the soul. There is a piece of Torah that can be learned from every person. Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter

As we get ready to celebrate the giving and receiving of our collective Torah on Shavuot, I’m reminded to revisit what I believe to be true. 

I have found it instructive to think about HOW I came to these truths as well. 

My torah is not simply made up of platitudes found in a book.

No, these truths are hard-won, often the result of difficult experiences, trial and error.seedling

Yet – those are the best kind of lessons because gaining wisdom from pain is “wrestling a blessing” like our ancestor Jacob did when he struggled with that man ( the ish.) After that night of wrestling, he gets a new name – he is forever changed.

Here are a few bits of wisdom from my own life. What are yours?

  • In order to grow a beautiful garden, I need to build the soil. And this takes time. I need to assess the state of the soil so that the roots can grow. The invisible is as important as the visible: the microbes and earthworms and minerals need to be tended so that the showy flowers and vegetables put into the soil will be solidly rooted.
    • And how did I come to this piece of wisdom that I have not only applied to gardens, but to relationships and groups  and raising children…?  By failing at my first garden attempt. And then, seeking out books, classes, and experts to learn how to do it right.
  • When I feel unhappy or lonely, reaching out to help someone else really helps me! When I extend my hand to others who are in pain, I’m lifted to a new consciousness. I can’t stay stuck when I am being present for another human being.
    • This insight came to me when I was a freshman in college, going through a spate of depression. I remember distinctly the moment when one of my dorm mates was going through an even harder time. I sat with her, listened and when I got up from that conversation, I felt my own depression fade. And I remember saying to myself: remember this: when I’m in a bad place, reach out to help someone else.
  • Pay attention to how I feel inside when I’m in a friendship. If I find myself judging my words and actions, or feel “less than”, or worry about my value when I’m with another person, I need to re-assess the relationship. Real friends lift us up. Real friends like us just as we ARE and help us remember who we are.
    • I learned this after several friendships in which I did NOT feel good about myself. I stayed too long in some of them. This was such a huge learning for me that I taught my kids when they were little to make sure they checked in with their own hearts when they were in a friendship: did they feel good about who they were when they were with a particular friend? did they feel put down or devalued in any way? If so, that person was not worth their energy.

When I officiate a funeral, I always meet with the family of the person who has died. Essentially, I want to know what that person’s torah was. And so I ask: What did you learn from him or her? What did she stand for? What were his deepest-held beliefs? What legacy did they leave for you?

Each person has a Torah, unique to that person, his or her innermost teaching. Some seem to know their Torahs very early in life and speak and sing them in a myriad of ways. Others spend their whole lives stammering, shaping, and rehearsing them. Some are long, some short. Some are intricate and poetic, others are only a few words, and still others can only be spoken through gesture and example. But every soul has a Torah. To hear another say Torah is a precious gift. For each soul, by the time of his or her final hour, the Torah is complete, the teaching done. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, God Was in This Place and I, I Did Not Know: Finding Self, Spirituality and Ultimate Meaning. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993, 177

And because I can’t help myself – I have to add a few lyrics from the Broadway musical, Hamilton. From Alexander Hamilton as he lay dying: “Legacy. “What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see…” and his question to Aaron Burr: “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?” (lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda)

Please share from your own torah:

What do you stand for?

What are your deepest held beliefs?

When I really got this, it also made me appreciate the torah of others and to hold their stories with reverence.

This Shavuot – find a place to study our collective Torah, and to be in community where our individual torahs are shared.

(Wisdom and Revelation is what we are focusing on this month in Hineni: The Mindful Heart Community. To find out how to join us from anywhere, click here:  http://bit.ly/1Y1ICJy )

Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman

June 8, 2016

Before We Move On: Thoughts About Endings

Usually when we think of the end of the year, we are either talking about December (in the secular year) or in Jewish time, right before the High Holidays in early Fall.

Yet, there’s another time of year that is all about endings: the school or class year.

As human beings, we have many different ways of dealing with endings. Some of us like to slink out the door, hoping nobody will notice, so that we don’t have to feel the feelings of “goodbye” or “I am so happy THIS is over…”  And some of us get super busy with what’s “next” and immerse ourselves in filling the empty time with new activities.IMG_4800sunflower

A mindful way of experiencing endings is to stop, pay attention, notice our feelings (depressed? excited relief?) and register our habitual tendencies when something is over.

Whether we breathe a sigh of relief that the year has come to an end, or feel sad that this year’s learning has come to a close, it’s important to take the time to reflect on the experience of what we have learned and to integrate we’ve learned into our new selves.

Endings give us the opportunity to think about who we are NOW:

  • What difference has this year/class/course made in my life?
  • How am I a better person because of this experience?
  • What did I learn that I most want to remember? 
  • In what ways was the “veil lifted and my soul felt delight?”

One of my favorite poets, John O’Donohue, has a beautiful blessing that I turn to at ending times:

The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline’s longing
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.

As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.

The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.

Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.
The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.

The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.
Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.

We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.

— John O’Donohue (To Bless The Space Between Us/Benedictus)

Rabbi Jill’s Meditation & Mindfulness Booklist

Jewish Meditation & Mindfulness Books (* most highly recommended)

*Meditation App: I use Insight Timer (available on the Itunes & Android app store.)  Come join The Jewish Mindfulness Network group on the app. See you there!

11412229_10153322913526280_3794959904419558428_oBloomfield, Diane. Torah Yoga: Experiencing Jewish Wisdom Through Classic Postures. Jossey-Bass, 2004.

*Boorstein, Sylvia. That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist. HarperOne, 1998.

Boorstein, Sylvia. Happiness Is an Inside Job: Practicing for a Joyful Life. Ballantine Books, 2008.

Comins, Rabbi Mike. A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways Into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways Into Judaism. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2007.

Cooper, David A. The Heart of Stillness: The Elements of Spiritual Practice. Harmony, 1994.

Cooper, David A. God Is a Verb: Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism. Riverhead Books, 1998.

Cooper, David A. Silence, Simplicity & Solitude: A Complete Guide to Spiritual Retreat. Skylight Paths Publishing, 1999.

Cooper, David A. The Handbook of Jewish Meditation Practices. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2000.

Davis, Avram. Meditation from the Heart of Judaism: Today’s Teachers Share Their Practices, Techniques, and Faith. Jewish Lights Publishing, 1999.

Davis, Avram. The Way of Flame: A Guide to the Forgotten Mystical Tradition of Jewish Meditation. Jewish Lights Publishing, 1999.

Falcon, Ted. A Journey of Awakening: 49 Steps from Enslavement to Freedom: A Guide for Using the Kabbalistic Tree of Life in Jewish Meditation. Skynear Press, 2003.

*Fine, Lawrence, Eitan Fishbane, and Or N. Rose. Jewish Mysticism and the Spiritual Life: Classical Texts, Contemporary Reflections. Jewish Lights Pub, 2010.  IMG_2441

*Frankiel, Tamar, and Judy Greenfeld. Minding the Temple of the Soul: Balancing Body, Mind, and Spirit Through Traditional Jewish Prayer, Movement, and Meditation. Jewish Lights Publishing, 1997.

*Frankiel, Tamar, and Judy Greenfield. Entering the Temple of Dreams: Jewish Prayers, Movements, and Meditations for Embracing the End of the Day. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2000.

Freed, Marcus J. The Kosher Sutras: The Jewish Way in Yoga and Meditation. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

*Gefen, Nan Fink. Discovering Jewish Meditation: Instruction & Guidance for Learning an Ancient Spiritual Practice. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2011.

Kaplan, Aryeh. Jewish Meditation & the Bible. Schocken, 1985.

Kaplan, Aryeh. Jewish Meditation: A Practical Guide. Schocken, 1995.

Levy, Rabbi Yael. Journey Through the Wilderness: A Mindfulness Approach to the Ancient Jewish Practice of Counting the Omer. CreateSpace, 2012.

*Lew, Alan. This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation. Little, Brown and Company, 2003.

*Lew, Alan. Be Still and Get Going: A Jewish Meditation Practice for Real Life. Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

*Lew, Alan. One God Clapping. LongHill Partners, Inc., 2009.

Roth, Jeff. Jewish Meditation Practices for Everyday Life: Awakening Your Heart, Connecting with God. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2009.

Shapiro, Rami M. The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness: Preparing to Practice. Skylight Paths Publishing, 2006. pathway2

Slater, Jonathan. Mindful Jewish Living: Compassionate Practice. Aviv Press, 2007.

*Timoner, Rachel. Breath of Life: God as Spirit in Judaism. Paraclete Press, 2011.

*Weinberg, Sheila Peltz. Surprisingly Happy: An Atypical Religious Memoir. White River Press, 2010.

Mindfulness (Buddhist-based, Sufi, secular)

Bays, Jan Chozen. How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness. Shambhala, 2011.

Brach, Tara. Meditations for Emotional Healing: Finding Freedom in the Face of Difficulty. Sounds True, Incorporated, 2009.

Brach, Tara. Mindfulness Meditation: Nine Guided Practices to Awaken Presence and Open Your Heart. Sounds True, Incorporated, 2012.

*Chodron, Pema. When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Shambhala, 2002. Lets Get Started

Chodron, Pema. The Pema Chodron Audio Collection: Pure Meditation:Good Medicine:From Fear to Fearlessness. Sounds True, Incorporated, 2004.

*Chodron, Pema. Unconditional Confidence: Instructions for Meeting Any Experience with Trust and Courage. Sounds True, Incorporated, 2009.

Emerick, Yahiya. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Rumi Meditations. Alpha, 2008.

Kornfield, Jack. Living Dharma: Teachings and Meditation Instructions from Twelve Theravada Masters. Shambhala, 2010.

Kornfield, Jack. A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times. Sounds True, Incorporated, 2011.

Kozak, Arnold. Wild Chickens and Petty Tyrants: 108 Metaphors for Mindfulness. Wisdom Publications, 2009.

Gunaratana, Bhante. Mindfulness in Plain English: 20th Anniversary Edition. Wisdom Publications, 2011.

Gunaratana, Bhante Henepola. Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: Walking the Buddha’s Path. Wisdom Publications, 2001. Jeff M taking a moment

*Salzberg, Sharon. Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program. Workman Publishing Company, 2010.

*Siegel, Daniel J. Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation. Bantam, 2010.

*Williams, Mark, and Danny Penman. Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Rodale Books, 2012.


Self-Compassion, Listening

*Brown, Brene. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Hazelden, 2010.

Guenther, Margaret. Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction. Cowley Publications, 1992.

*Lamott, Anne. Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Riverhead Hardcover, 2012.

* Neff, Kristen. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.

*Nepo, Mark. The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have. Conari Press, 2000. standing on holy ground

*Germer, Christopher K. The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions. The Guilford Press, 2009.

Singer, Michael A. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself. New Harbinger Publications/ Noetic Books, 2007.



Meaningful Quotes on the Sabbath on Pinterest!

Check out the timeless, poetic wisdom of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in bite-size pieces on my Pinterest board. I’ve taken Heschel’s “greatest hits” from his classic book, The Sabbath in the hope of inspiring us all to take time to unplug, be present, and appreciate what is.

Rabbi Heschel’s wisdom is timeless and poetic. He teaches that as human “be-ings”, it is essential to intentionally carve out time where we can appreciate the world that is right in front of us, that exists without our having to do a thing, except to “be.”

We are focusing this entire month in Hineni: The Mindful Heart Community on creating a meaningful Shabbat practice each week AND using the principles of pausing/resting/stopping each DAY.

Creating a Shabbat practice is WAY more than restrictions and “do not’s” (although these are often vehicles for clearing enough of the clutter out of our lives so we can be present in the now) – it’s about the holy space we can open up by being purposeful about how we spend our time.

Israel’s “Secular High Holy Days”

Tonight, May 9, 2016 is Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day. It is a national holiday that commemorates “fallen soldiers” – those that have given their lives for the county. And then within 48 hours, we will celebrate Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, Israel Independence Day.candles

During my year living in Israel for the first year of rabbinic school, we experienced what has come to be known as the “secular High Holy Days”: a series of three holidays/commemorations that follow Passover: Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah), The Day of Fallen Soldiers/Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron) and Israel Independence Day (Yom Ha’Atzmaut.)

The lived experience of these holidays had a profound impact on me – something that could only be felt, not just read about. The entire country expresses the personal and national grief of the Holocaust, the sacrifice of soldiers, and then erupts into wild celebration of the miracle to be in our land.

Here are my thoughts from my 2005 Israel blog:

There are 4 holidays right in a row at this time of year: Passover, followed 7 days later by Yom Hashoah, followed 7 days later by Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and the very next day: Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day).

In the early days of the founding of Israel, it was decided to use the calendar as a way to establish meaning for the new country.  Of course, there was much precedent for this. For example, in the Jewish calendar developed long ago, we mark the time from Pesach, when we left Egypt from slavery to freedom, to Shavuot where we received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. We count the 49 days in-between these two dates – called Counting the Omer.

Likewise, the founders of the State of Israel wanted to make a connection from Pesach to Independence Day with a series of holidays that would be forever commemorated. Knesset members in the 1950’s wanted to link Pesach, with the remembrance of the Holocaust, and then, a day that remembers all those who have died in Israel’s wars (called Yom HaZikaron (Day of Fallen Soldiers), and concluding with the day of Independence, Yom HaAtzmaut.yomhaatzmaut

David Ben Gurion and the other founders of the state of Israel had an additional intention in the creation of these days.

They were trying to unite a very diverse society whose members came from all over the world, spoke different languages, and often had different customs.

The founders knew that the people needed a single focus and it was of the utmost importance to form a unified identity. One of the ways they accomplished this was through the creation of special holidays.

David Ben-Gurion was deeply concerned that the new society could splinter, because of the people’s many differences, but he also did not want these holidays to be linked with religion.

Most of the early Zionists were nationalistic, not religious.

It’s the rhythm of this period of time, as well as the content, which I found so fascinating.

First, there is Passover. Seven days later, comes Yom HaShoah – and THEN, exactly 7 days later, we celebrate Israel’s Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron.)

It was determined that the 7 days between Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron was a collective “sitting shiva” for all those who died.

And in fact, that is exactly what it felt like.

For these 7 days of mourning, the newspapers, television, and magazines are filled with stories of the Holocaust, survivors’ stories, research being done, etc.

The atmosphere is thick with memory, and a silence that falls over everyone’s everyday activities.

The official name for Holocaust Remembrance Day is “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah“–literally the “Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Heroism.”

My professors explained that in 1951, when this holiday was first initiated, the focus was on the people who were “Resisters.”

This is fascinating, for several reasons.

First, the early Zionists, who were working for an independent Jewish state, even before Nazi Germany, had been telling the Jewish people, loud and clear, that they would never be “safe” unless they were in their own country.  They saw the creation of the state of Israel as the only sure-fire way to protect against pogroms and anti-Semitism.

The early Zionists saw themselves as “pioneers” – you may have seen the posters of them depicted as young, strong, working the fields, transforming the desert into a garden.

The contrasting image of Jews in Eastern Europe going like “sheep to the slaughter” was anathema to the vision of the “New Jew”.  The “New Jew” would fight back, stand up, and resist.

Consciously and probably unconsciously, the Zionists did not want to identify with the survivors, the victims.

They “raised up” the Jews who led the resistance movements, the Jews who fought in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and the Jews who fought the Germans from the Allied countries.  These people were the “heroes and heroines.”

It was only later that Israeli society began to feel a greater collective compassion for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust.

In fact, the turning point was the 6-day war of 1967.  In the days leading up to that war, people were already digging graves for the slaughter they were sure would happen.

It was after the victory of that war that the Israeli psyche was able to let in the suffering of the survivors, and the victims of the Nazi death camps.

It was probably the fact that Israel, this tiny nation the size of New Jersey, had all the huge Arab nations surrounding it, assured of its destruction, that allowed in the thought that perhaps simple determination to win against adversaries might not be enough.

It was at this point, our professors told us, that Israeli society turned a corner, and began to listen to the stories of survivors.

There are many survivors, just like in Skokie, where I grew up, who did not tell their children about the horrors they endured.

The survivors who arrived in Israel set themselves about the task of putting their painful past behind them, learning Hebrew, and building a new life. Nobody wanted to talk, and actually, not many people wanted to listen.

In Israel now, there are ceremonies, beginning in the evening, all over for Yom Hashoah. The ceremonies in Tel Aviv and at Yad Vashem are nationally broadcast on television on all the channels.

In the ceremonies, survivors, often accompanied by their grandchildren, and some in uniform, as the grandchildren are now the age of serving in the Israeli army, light candles. There is music, a few speeches, and the reciting of the Kaddish, and Al Male Rachamim, a prayer for the dead.

The next day, is a regular work and school day.  At my seminary, Hebrew Union College, we had a ceremony that the American students conducted with the Israeli rabbinic students.

At the end of the ceremony, people in our own HUC community were invited up to recite the names of people in their family who perished in the Holocaust.

One Israeli student read a list that seemed to go on forever.

Our dean, Rabbi Michael Marmur, told the story of 2 little girls who hid in a cemetery, which was thought to be “safe” place.  A 7-year-old girl took care of the 4 year old.  They had only a bit of food.  In a few days, when it was deemed safe, the families came to get the girls.  The 7 year old was Rabbi Marmur’s mother.  She immigrated to Britain.  The 4 year old is now a dentist in Tel Aviv.

What really affected me was the awareness of how much was lost – whole worlds.  Michael Marmur is one of the most brilliant people I have ever met, and a true gift to the Jewish people.  He has never failed to move me whenever he speaks.  If his mother had not survived, the world would have never had a Michael Marmur.

What about all the brilliance, intellectual and compassionate, that was never to be because of the Shoah?  It boggles my mind.

Seven days after Yom HaShoah, Israel commemorates all those who have died in wars protecting the country. The very next day, the country erupts in celebration of the founding of the state of Israel.

I grew up in Skokie, Illinois, with a large concentration of Holocaust survivors. Our public schools were closed for the major Jewish holidays. Yet, I never in my life experienced what I did in Israel. The entire country mourns and then celebrates together.

What had the greatest impact on my consciousness was the sirens that go off, halting the whole country on both Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron.

At 11 am on Yom HaShoah, a siren goes off that is heard all over the entire country for 2 minutes. Everything stops. Cabs and buses pull off the side of the road and drivers get out of their cars and stand at attention in silence. Everything and everyone stops. And remembers.

Jill Zimmerman 2005 Jerusalem Israel


In Memory of Those Who Dreamed of Kugel: Yom HaShoah

In 2005, as a first year rabbinic student in Jerusalem, I was given the honor of lighting one of the six candles for the Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) commemoration at Hebrew Union College. Each candle represents 1 million lives cut down by evil hatred. 

yomhashoahI decided to dedicate my candle to the women of Terezin:

Kugel, plum strudel, chocolate torte…Recipes from memory, scribbled with broken pencils on tiny scraps of paper survived Terezin concentration camp, even though the starving women who wrote them did not.

This candle is dedicated to those Jewish mothers, who perished in the Holocaust, who fed their souls by sharing recipes of the meals they cooked that nourished their families in better times.

Their food was their Torah – the way they showed their love, passed on family traditions, and sustained Jewish life.

Perhaps their husbands and children smelled their pot roast as they were coming up the stairs to the apartment and knew that their mother or grandmother had been preparing for them all day, with love and attention.

Terezin was a way station on the way to Auschwitz. As the women starved, they talked incessantly about food, and kept their hope for the future alive by sharing recipes from their past.

The snippets of paper were collected by Mina Pachter, a 70-year-old inmate at the death camp. Before she herself starved to death, she was able to smuggle the hand-sewn manuscript out of Terezin in hopes that it would reach her daughter in Palestine.

The scraps of paper eventually made it into the hands of Carla de Silva, who published them in a book called In Memory’s Kitchen by Michael Berenbaum.

As we prepare meals for our families and friends, let us never forget those women. May we always recall their will to survive through their memories of nourishing others.

Jill Zimmerman

May 2005

Jerusalem Israel