Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood

Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood
Celebrating Havdallah

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A special goodbye

People told me being a rabbi was going to be awesome. And, for the most part, I believed them. Most days, it really is great. Other days, it's harder. But some things are truly special, and I try and really treasure the truly special moments as much as I can.

Even though I'm looking forward to being in NY next year (and pursuing my dreams), I will miss Tacoma. I will miss the people, and the community here, and the special relationships that I've created. But a piece of them, just like all congregations I've served, will always be with me.

One of the most special things I got to do, while being here, was totally unexpected. I had a group of kids that were working towards a "Religion" Boy scout badge. They had to accomplish three things (as determined by me, their spiritual leader) in order to get signed off for their badge. One of the kids decided he wanted to talk about God with me and he wanted to create some drawings that reflected his own understanding of God in his life. Sounded like a great plan to me, so we embarked on the journey, together.

Well, little did I know what was in store for us....

Talking theology with children can be so varied, depending on the kid. But this kid...I should have known how profoundly life-changing this kid's words and thoughts were going to be on me. He's a deep thinker. He looks at the world and his environment holistically, rather than discreetly. For his "final project" he produced a series of drawings about God that reflected his theology. Certain and uncertain notions of God in this world. Where and when and how he feels and senses God.
It was, to say the least....POWERFUL. There was such simplicity to each drawing, and yet if you looked at them, exegetically, there was so much more there. I told him how special I thought these drawings were, and how much I loved getting to talk theology with him. When he showed me those drawings, we went through each one and he explained how it reflected his own thoughts about God in this world and in his life, and the questions that always come up for him, about religion and God. I urged him to never throw away these drawings - to hold on to those notions of God and those drawings forever.

Last week, I had to say goodbye to this young gentleman, who was heading off to summer camp. After we hugged, he handed me a book. He and his mother had created a hardback, published version of his drawings called "The God Book." I will treasure it always. On the inside it reads, "Dedicated to Rabbi Wood." Yes, a piece of Tacoma (and of this special guy) will always be with me. And perhaps, I will always be with him, as well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

It's a small world after all...

This weekend, I was in our nation's capitol. While I am a world traveler and have lived in different countries throughout my life and been to many, many different places throughout the US, Canada, and abroad, I had never been to Washington, D.C. before. Shocking, I know. And I call myself an American....

I was there for a friend's wedding, but I decided to stay 1/2 day longer to get in some touristy stuff. The first thing I made sure to do was to go visit the United States National Holocaust Museum. I've always heard of it's acclaim and I wanted to experience it firsthand. Since I was short on time, I opted not to do the tour of the permanent section of the museum, but instead chose two of the shorter exhibits. I went through the Children's exhibit called "Daniel's story" that was geared towards teaching children about the Holocaust from a kid's perspective, who experienced the Shoah. It was, educationally, extraordinary. Emotionally, it was very difficult.
The second exhibit I went to was about the proliferation and spread of Nazi propaganda as an impetus of setting the stage for the Holocaust. When I was in college, I took a course in the Politics of the Holocaust, so I was fascinated by this exhibit and reminded of how much politics really dominated Germany during that time period. It was thorough and interesting, but also very chilling and frightening.

As I left the museum I popped into the gift shop and the first thing I saw was a book that one of my congregants just published! Kurt Mayer's "My Personal Brush with History" was on display in the middle of the store! I was so proud of him, of his book, and of his courage to share his story with the rest of the world. A little piece of Tacoma in DC.

Needing something lighter after the Museum, I decided to walk around the Memorials. I have to say, if you've never been, they are really impressive. The Washington Memorial is glorious and as you walk from that, towards the WWII memorial, past the Reflection pool, and see the White House, the Capitol building and eventually the Lincoln memorial, you feel as though you are a part of living history. It also doesn't hurt that I love history and majored in Poli Sci (I suppose).

It was unbelievably hot and humid, so by the time I got to the Lincoln Memorial I, along with hundreds of others, sat down on the steps to get some shade, a little rest, and look out on the view towards the Memorials. While I was sitting there, I overheard a fascinating conversation. A teenage boy was talking to a group of older teens a few feet away. He was explaining that he was there on a National Leadership conference. And then, he said he was from Seattle! He asked the others where they were from, and one of them said...Israel! I couldn't believe what I was hearing...a genuine dialog between two teens from both of my worlds - the Pacific North West and Israel!!!! Even though they only chatted for a few more minutes, it was beautiful to listen to their interest in each others cultural differences, their lives and experiences, and how they happened to be there at that moment.

It felt too perfect to be just a coincidence. I'm sure this kind of thing happens all the time, but the setting was just so dramatic and it caused me to really reflect on the differences and similarities that people share. More often than not we like to express our opinion, let our voices be heard, and really push our agenda on to others. But, have we taken the time to consider the similarities that we share with others? How often do we just sit back and listen, without a need to interrupt, and truly hear someone else's story? Both perspectives are important, I believe, in order for us to understand how to interact with others in the most effective way possible.

I loved my trip to DC for so many reasons - I was there to experience a simcha (happy occasion), to visit sites and museums I'd always wanted to see, and to have a nice day off. But, my favorite unexpected treasure was the lesson I learned - it is a small world, after all, and there is always much to be learned!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A little birdie told me...

Do you twitter? Send tweets? I know that might be kind of a personal question to ask, but I'm curious. It seems like a lot of people I know are REALLY in to Facebook, but haven't discovered the untapped resource potentials of twitter!

Me, I'm really getting back into it. I started it a little over a year ago and, at the time, I didn't understand the appeal. Who cares what I'm doing? No one (that I knew of) was really utilizing it in a way that compelled me.

Then, about three months ago, I was in San Francisco at a conference where I realized that a LOT of my colleagues were tweeting. And they'd developed all sorts of online relationships and communities. So, inspired by all of them, I decided to give it another shot.

WOW! I have started following all sorts of interesting people around the world who are interested in the same things I am - Judaism, New York, books, news, current events, music, even just plain funny stuff! And people are following me to see what I have to say, too (uh-oh, the pressure is on)!

Over the last three months, it's really made me think a lot more about social networking and the ways in which we, as professionals and as people, reach out to others and let others in. And I've met some great people, developed closer connections with my colleagues, and even found a community that I care about - all online.

I love Facebook, but I've been doing it for over 6 years now. And while it's useful for some things, there are lots of times when you just want to say what's on your mind. Plain and simple. In 140 characters or less.

Follow me on Twitter @lizwood1982 if you dare :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Life and Judaism: Action, reflection, reaction

I don't pay much attention to Valentine's Day...or many other "Hallmark" holidays, as it were. I don't believe in setting aside one day, making it more special than other days, to tell people how very much we care about them. Especially if it means we don't think about them the rest of the year, or don't put in much effort at other times too. I feel the same way about holidays. I don't preach to Jews to take stock of their lives and an accounting of their souls only during the Yamim Nora'im (High Holidays). I want people to be examining their lives and their actions year-round, in a daily discipline.

I say all of this because I believe that the way we treat others, and the way we treat ourselves, should be an ongoing process of action, reflection, and reaction. I also believe this to be a valuable means of engaging with our own sense of Judaism. And, luckily, the two are not mutually exclusive.

Recently, I heard a colleague talking about the dilemma of making everyone aware of all the different organizations that exist in the Jewish world, incorporating all of the different values and concepts of Judaism into daily practice (or, specifically into Religious Education curriculum), and not feeling overburdened by missing any key concepts, philosophies, thoughts, or beliefs. It's a challenge - that's for sure. But it's also not a finite task. We don't usually have only one shot at integrating all the important things about Judaism that we want to integrate. And we also can't consider these to be finite tasks - there should be ongoing reflections of our actions and reactions, in Judaism and in life.

Let me give you a concrete example from life: About a week ago I was at the drugstore and a woman in a wheelchair was in front of the item I needed. I patiently waited until she was done and then grabbed what I was there for. She began to apologize profusely for being in my way, talking about how the chair was too bulky for the small aisles, and that I should have just asked her to move. I told her that the apology was unnecessary and that I would have waited, regardless of whether she was in the wheelchair or not. And then I added that, in fact, it was not her responsibility to move, since I was the one who's mobility was much easier to maneuver. She and I struck up a conversation about the difficulty of being disabled and the way in which one feels like a burden to the non-disabled world.

I must admit that even a few years ago, I'm not sure I could have had this conversation with her. But, recently, my own mother became wheelchair-bound. And it has opened my eyes, my heart, and my mind to a world that was previously unknown to me - the difficulty of existing differently in this world. And I'd like to think that not only do I have a sensitivity to that difference, but upon reflection, my reaction can be to help others who are disabled feel more comfortable in a world that is difficult to maneuver. And I've learned to incorporate this type of reaction into all parts of my life - personal, professional, at the synagogue, socializing with friends, etc. And I don't believe it should be contained to National Disability month or any other specially designated time. These are the kinds of actions, reflections, and reactions that can occur throughout our lives and that become integral to who we are.

So, too, is it with Judaism. Are we being welcoming enough? Are we focusing enough on social action or tzedakah? On outreach and engagement? On learning, knowledge, text? On prayer and ritual? How do we integrate them all without giving one too much attention while ignoring the others?

It's easy to be overwhelmed by it all. But it's even easier to remember that we don't have to do it all at once. We focus on a few key things - act, reflect, and react - and then suddenly they are integral to who we are.I believe the best way we can live our lives is through the ongoing process of living and learning, acting and reacting, and reflecting on the very many important issues that create the fabric of our lives.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mazel Tov - Ordination Class of 5770!!!

Rabbi Wood, Rabbi Dunn(Segal), Rabbi Ross

Today is a very special day. Today is the Rabbinic Ordination of the class of 5770 at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, OH. While I am proud of ALL of the Ordinees (my friends, colleagues) of the class of 5770, I am especially proud of the two ladies that shared so much of the journey with me day in and day out - my old roommates Emily and Amy.

Rabbinical School (as I'm sure Cantorial School will be) is a very intense period of time. You are learning so much - both in and out of the classroom - on what it means to ready yourself for the sacred task of leading the Jewish people. There are very high highs and very low lows. There are moments of solidarity with the community, joys and triumphs. There are also moments of personal grief and hardship. But nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to that moment of Ordination. Standing in front of the open ark, the President's hands upon you blessing you in the ways of our ancient tradition. The journey that has been and the journey that will be all stand still in time, as that moment is sanctified and made holy.

This week, in our parasha, we learn about Moses sending spies to the land of Israel to scout out this Promised Land. What does it contain? Is it dry and arid or is the soil good and rich? What are the people like? What will it be like to enter in to it? The spies return and talk of the great abundance of the land - it is a land flowing with milk and honey.
10 of the 12 spies return and say that they are fearful - there are people there who are giants, and there is no way the Israelites can enter in to the Promised Land without being destroyed. But Caleb and Joshua resist these fears and urge others to resist them as well.

The first time I met Amy was during our Year in Israel, on the beach in Tel Aviv. Throughout that year we traveled around Israel together and became close friends, deciding to live together in Cincinnati upon our return to the states. When Amy decided to take time off from school, I decided to live with another student - Emily. Emily's connection to Israel and love of the Israeli people is so profound and so inspiring. She has taught me a great deal about having a deep and genuine love for the land, the culture, and the people.

This week's parasha speaks to us on so many different levels. There are important lessons to be learned and it contains ideas and hopes that I would like to impress upon this Ordination class. The future is uncertain, and while we'd like to know what lies ahead in our own destiny, we must sometimes proceed fearlessly, with faith in God and faith in ourselves. Resist the temptation to give in to your fears. Know that there may be bumps and challenges ahead, but that there is great reward and that life will be full of a great abundance of gifts and treasures.

To Amy and Emily and the entire Ordination Class of 5770 - May you be a blessing to the Jewish people. May you proceed fearlessly in your rabbinate, full of hope and wonder and excitement for what lies ahead both personally and communally. May this day be a moment in time when you celebrate your accomplishments and marvel in what great abundances lie ahead for you. May you go from strength to strength and always remember your own gifts, talents, and blessings that you bring to K'lal Yisrael. MAZEL TOV RABBIS!!!!!