Nature deficiency disorder

At my previous dwelling, I lived in a very small town of about 2000 people…out in the country, away from traffic. I lived on a country road that received minimum traffic. A cattle pasture was on one side, woods behind the house where I enjoyed a quiet sit spot and a large field and woods in front of the house. It was quiet much of the time and the only sound on summer nights was crickets and frogs singing. I often enjoyed getting up before dawn to walk barefoot on the grass while I waited to greet the sunrise. I spent my evenings watching the abundance of birds at feeders and saying farewell to the sun as I watched it set. In the autumn, it often produced an awe-inspiring glow of various hues of gold, red, and blue.

Now, I dwell in a small apartment with a view of buildings from the front and a parking lot at the back. At first, the noise was almost unbearable and the only quietness I experienced was through the modern technology of noise canceling headphones. At night, all I hear is the thump of music from cars and people talking. I think wildlife is totally void in this place. I can no longer walk on grass barefoot nor witness the sun rising or setting as it is obscured by buildings. I can no longer experience petrichor or the smell of humus…that earthy smell of decomposing leaves I often smelled when I sat in the woods. It seemed to have a natural relaxing effect on me. The place I live now is a nature lover’s worse nightmare.

After two weeks here, I am beginning to experience NDD–nature deficiency disorder. So, the next step is to look around for some woods or weeds even, that I can scurry off into so I can experience some of these things again…even if I have to drive to get to that quiet place again…where I can once again smell the humus.

Personal Tehillim/Psalms 1

This is my attempt at writing my own personal Tehillim.

Tehillim 1

Happy is the one who has a friend to lean on
in times of trouble
Or someone to talk to when distressed
Or can share their thoughts openly with them.
It is a relief from sorrows
When someone can share all their mind with another.

That friend is like streams of fresh water
And their compassion never runs dry
Regardless of the season.
Their love does not fade throughout the years
And their friendship thrives throughout their whole lives.

Not so for those who are alone
And without a good friend.
Sorrow gnaws at the heart
And bitterness overwhelms the mind.

If you have a good friend
Travel the road to visit them often
For the road to isolation leads to sadness and despair.

Vulnerability and isolation

I finally got moved into my new apartment with some good and some…well, not so good.  I feel safer here than I did when I was living in my parents house, which is out in the country.  But the noise of living in close proximity to other people (both beside and above me) will take some time getting used to.

I have been going back to the house to pack up things, going through old pictures, sorting through things, etc.  For the first time in the nine months since my mother died, I broke down in tears.  I think I have not really mourned her lost.  Part of it may be due to the fact that right after this, my father’s health declined.  He was in the hospital for weeks, then needed 24 hour care in a long term care facility.  On top of all that, I have been taking care of his affairs, his property, and getting ready to sell his assets, etc.

Another part of it is I created this false self at an early age (due to long term sexual abuse) and in doing so, I didn’t really recognize what I was feeling, so I discounted them.  At some point I learned along the way “keep your chin up”, “put on a happy face”, “don’t let them see you come apart”, “expressing emotions is a sign of weakness”, etc.  I have engaged in this type of self talk for so long, it seems like I’ve always done it.  But the problem with having a false self is you don’t know your true self which only adds to the confusion.

As I was speaking with my counselor about these matters last week, I said “I think I am still that little girl who’s hiding”.  She responded with “I think you are right.  You avoid anything that you think might make you vulnerable”.

It was easy to isolate myself from the rest of the world.  What’s hard is forming and maintaining relationships with others.   I don’t even know when I began to shut myself off from the world but I know it has happened slowly over years.  I slowly became a loner with no friends…and now my family is fading away…or the family that mattered.  As the days turned into weeks and weeks into years, it became harder and harder to communicate with others or to even be social with strangers.  It has gotten to the point where I no longer want to go grocery shopping, simply because I don’t want to be around people.  (Although, I still go at this point.)  I even moved closer to a synagogue (about 15 minutes away) but it terrifies me to think of going there to be around people.  Something I wanted to do from the beginning and when I have the opportunity, I do nothing.  In order to stop this madness though, I must be okay with being vulnerable.  Hmmm…I am not there yet.

Deficiency and fulfillment

Since my last post, which I can’t even remember now, a lot has happened.

For anyone who is Jewish, especially a convert living outside the camp of a Jewish community, it is extremely hard.  Just in case I have not said that already.  I don’t recommend it and now I understand why Orthodox won’t allow it.

As I may (or may not) have mentioned before, has been my lifeline during times of despair and loneliness.  I have no Jewish friends or potential Jewish partners available to me living out here in this desolate place.  No community…no one to share ideas…no physically available Jew to learn from.  Nothing except the virtual world.

In October of 2017, my father and I found my mother lying in a pool of her own blood at 2am.  She was taken to the hospital and eventually died about a month later.  She was in the advanced stages of cancer and none of us knew.  But I was glad I was able to help care for her in her own home those last few weeks of her life.  In April of this year, my father also fell and has been in a long term care facility ever since.  He will need 24 hour care for the rest of his life…however long that is, since he too is also in the advanced stages of cancer.

I have lived with my parents since 2013, but because my father is in a long term care facility, I will have to sell his house and property…or at least, move out by October or November of this year.  This will be when he can no longer be “private pay” and his properties will have to be sold to care for him.  I have managed to secure an apartment, when it becomes available (which is supposed to be next month) but the emotional stress from all of this threw me into a place I thought I would never be.

Several weeks ago, I reached a point where suicide looked like a real possibly.  I had entered into this state that a Chabad instructor called “atzvut”.  That dangerous, hopeless, “I’m not going to do anything about this” form of depression that slowly eats you alive and you don’t even care.  I had not even engaged in any Jewish learning, davening, lighting Shabbat candles, etc. since before last October.  I gave up on davening around the same time because it seemed meaningless to me.  “This is so stupid saying the same thing over and over” I thought at one point.  I had lost interest in everything but at some point in this hopeless state I remembered a statement from this small book called “Shamati” which I had purchased several years ago…maybe because it was small and I just love pocket sized books.  The statement:  “A prayer is considered a deficiency, and without deficiency there is no fulfillment.”

Around this same time, I had spoken with a penpal via Skype who, unknowingly had given me some practical advice without ever realizing anything about the hopeless state I was in.  I don’t know if she was just that unaware of what was going on or if I was just that good at hiding it.

In any case, I began davening again just to try to get out of this state.  Early during the prayers for maariv, I think I literally laughed out loud.  For the first time, I realized the “prayers” I was saying were not about me.  They were not about the wretched state I was in…no pleads to take it all away…and for whatever reason I had this image pop in my head in which G-d was telling me “enough about you.  I create day and night, rolling away the light before the darkness, and darkness before the light…Mi chamochah ba’alim Adonai, mi chamochah nedar bakodesh?…”  Indeed, who is like Y Continue reading “Deficiency and fulfillment”

Genesis 1.6-27

The story continues…the harmony continues…

  1. Elohim said, “Let there be a space in the midst of the waters, and let it separate between water and water.”

The Hebrew word rakia has traditionally been translated as “firmament” or sometimes as “expanse”.  It is an extended surface.  According to Chumash Etz Chayim (meaning “tree of life”), it “is often used for hammering out metal or flattening out earth, which suggests a basic meaning of ‘extending’… [it is] viewed either as a vast sheet of metal or as a layer of solid ice.”  I prefer the term “space” because it is the space between the water of the land and the waters of the atmosphere.

Elohim continues to shape the earth and form things in a harmonious fashion.  Several times Elohim perceives that “it was good” except for on day two when he does not say this at all and on day three when he said it was good twice. Then in verse 21…

  1. And Elohim created the great taninim… What is a taninim?  In this verse it has been translated as sea monsters, sea creatures, and sea giants just to name a few.  This word is used no less than 27 times throughout the Tanach, either in the plural (taninim) or singular (tannin):  Exodus, Deuteronomy, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeramiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel and Micah.  It has been translated as different things at different times depending on the English translation: sea monsters, snakes, jackals, monsters, dragons and whales.  Today in Modern Hebrew, it is used for crocodile…but back to biblical Hebrew. I could not find commentary on this verse in either the Etz Chayim or Artscroll Chumash.  Strong’s (# H8577 intensive from the same as H8565) states that it is a land or marine monster like a jackal or sea-serpent.  Come on!  That means they do not know what it is since a “sea serpent” is very different from a “jackal”.  Langenscheidt’s Hebrew English dictionary has this information: “great water animal, whale, shark, crocodile, serpent, sea-monster”.  Still no way to know which of these the original authors meant but whatever it meant then, it was significant to be used as many times as it was.  By looking at the other places it is used, you can form your own ideas about what it might mean.  Taninim or tannin is mentioned in: Gn. 1.21; Ex. 7.9, 10, 12; Dt. 32.33; Jb. 7.12; 30.29; Ps. 44.19; 74.13; 91.13; 148.7; Is. 13.22; 27.1; 34.13; 35. 7; 43.20; 51.9; Jer. 9.11; 10.22; 14.6; 49.33; 51.34, 37; Lam. 4.3; Ez. 29.3; 32.2; Mic. 1.8
  1. …let us make man in our image… One midrash state that God is speaking to the ministering angels while Christians say it is proof text for the Trinity.  My understanding is this text is a much older adaption of an earlier Canaanite creation story.  In the ancient polytheistic Canaanite religion, Elohim referred to the gods.  El is the father of the gods (Elohim) and each of his 70 (This will come up later, although in the Bible it will refer to the 70 nations) children will have dominion over a specific area on earth.  In many, if not all ancient polytheistic religions, the people were in the image of their gods and their idols were often in human or animal-like forms.
  1. So both male and female are created at the same time in the image of the gods.  It makes sense to say “gods” because although the text does not state how many humans were created, at least two of them were created…and the gods that created them were at least male and female themselves…or rather, this is how the author of this section of the bible viewed the gods at the time.

In the next segment, I will be discussing a different creation story in which a different god is named.

Until then, l’shalom.

B’reishis (Genesis) Chapter 1:1-5

B’reishis (Genesis) Chapter 1:1-5  My translation and notes.  Words in [ ] are not in the Hebrew.

  1. In [the] beginning, Elohim shaped the sky and the earth/land.

                Elohim (plural).  The Canaanite pantheon of gods was called Elohim.  In the Baal cycle the goddess Asherah (which will come up later in the Biblical text) had seventy sons, each of which was assigned to a particular group of people.  According to Bible scholar and archeologist Israel Finkelstein, the Israelites who later became known as the Jews emerged from within the Canaanite people who were already in the land of Israel.

                Shape. The Hebrew ברא (bara) is a verb which is always connected with divine activity.  It does not mean creating something from nothing.  Rather, it is about shaping or fashioning something from the material which is already available, as we will soon see in the following verses.

The sky.  Why not translate hashamayim the way it has traditionally be translated, as “the heaven”?  Because it does not mean “heaven” in the way many of us think of it today.  It does not mean an unseen, distance afterlife of eternal bliss.  In fact, the verses that follow do not tell about the creation of an unseen afterlife called heaven.  Rather, the verses describe things concerning the sky and the land.

The ancient people responded to their world in concrete terms (by what they could see with their physical eyes) not in Greco-Roman abstract terms (a paradise like “heaven” is abstract) which was developed much later. I cannot find a single verse in which shamayim is not referring to the physical sky in the Biblical narratives.  Later, both Christians and Jews would interpret this differently.

It is also worth noting that the word is always plural (like Elohim) and contains another Hebrew word “mayim” which means “water” or “waters”.

The earth/land.  Ha’aretz can mean either the entire earth or land.  I doubt the ancient writers understood the entire earth as we know it today.  Whether the term “earth” or “land” is used does not matter.  It was the earth as they knew it at the time, which was confined to their local area and places they traveled.

  1. And the earth had been chaotic and empty, and darkness on the face of the deep, and wind of Elohim fluttered on the face of the waters.

                Two things existed: darkness and water, which caused chaos.  So Elohim begins by restoring order…once order is restored, shaping of life could begin.  In fact, the Hebrew word tehom literally means the deep, an abyss and it associated with chaos.  It is equated with the Sumerian goddess Tiamat, the primordial waters of creation.

Wind of Elohim.  Hebrew: ruach Elohim.  Ruach means wind, breath or spirit.  The idea of ruach is that as long as something has breath or wind left in it,  it has life.  Ruach does not mean soul (nephesh).  To the ancient people, something had ruach for as long as it had life.  Later, we will see that Adam did not have life until God blow in his nostrils.

The Bible authors/editors portray Elohim in anthropomorphic (human like) terms.  He walks, talks, makes clothes for people and is very personally involved with his creation.  “Yahweh” Elohim on the other hand, as we will see, is more distant and aloof…and a god of war.

fluttered.  Hebrew: m’rachefet means to flutter, move or shake.  But also ‘’to brood’’ as in the incubation period of bird eggs by their parents.  I try to imagine this fluttering more like a helicopter hovering over a large body of water.  Two things happen:  first, ripples are made on the surface of the water and second, small particles of water are sprayed out everywhere in the surrounding area.  This type of movement…any movement is what is necessary for change.

3-5.  Elohim speaks light into existence.  Once he does this, he separated it (made a distinction) from darkness.  Elohim will make this distinction over and over in the first chapter: light from darkness, sea from land, one species from another, Shabbat from the rest of the week, etc.   This idea of distinction…don’t be like the nations, forbidden and permitted foods, those who are ritually pure and those who are not, etc. will be a recurring theme throughout the Tanach for the Jewish people.

Then something strange happens in Genesis 1.5.  There is sunset and sunrise before the sun is created (which doesn’t happen until day four).  The two Hebrew words used are erev and boker which literally means “sunset” and “break of dawn”.  I cannot explain why these words are used more than once before the sun was actually set in the sky.

In Halacha (Jewish law) all days begin at night.  All holidays begin at sunset, including the weekly Shabbat in which candles are lit 18 minutes before sunset every Friday and lasts until Saturday evening when three stars can clearly be seen…or 25 minutes after sunset.

Philosophically speaking, in our own lives, the metaphorical darkness always comes before the dawn (liberation).

Well that is it for this time.  Stay tuned for more to come…

Learning to read the Siddur in Hebrew

Learning to read the Siddur in Hebrew

A few important things to know first:

  1. Biblical Hebrew and Modern Hebrew are not the same. Often the Biblical Hebrew uses future tense while modern Hebrew uses past tense. The Hebrew letters are not pronounced different between the two though. Modern Hebrew is a mish mash of additional words from all over the world, which Biblical Hebrew does not have. So to be clear, when reading the Siddur, all sounds are pronounced the way they are in modern Hebrew.
  2. Practice, practice, practice. If you want to be able to read Hebrew faster and better, you must practice often. It is best to practice every day. Try to stay with one “prayer” like the very short Modah Ani until you can recite it without stumbling. Once you can do this, move to the next one like the blessing of washing the hands. And so on. Soak yourself in the language, it is how you will learn and remember it. The key word here being soak, not drown.
  3. All kinds of different dialects and pronunciation exists within Hebrew. Some of these are: Yemenite, Samaritan, Sephardi, Ashkenazi and others. There are also different pronunciations within each of these communities. English is kind of a lazy language and we often carry this over when learning a foreign language. The result is the Hebrew becomes an Americanized version rather than a more natural native sound. For someone who wants to be able to read and understand the Siddur in Hebrew, this might not matter much. You can decide for yourself if this is important to you. But just to show the difference: Here is a series of great videos for learning how to pronounce certain Israeli Hebrew letters/sounds that are often challenging for native English speakers. This is meant for conversation Hebrew, not Hebrew reading from a Siddur. But, if you can master these sounds, it will help your Hebrew sound more natural rather than forced.
  4. Do not rely on transliteration to help you practice Hebrew, even in the beginning. If you want to be able to read Hebrew, practice it with the Hebrew letters, not the transliteration. It is very easy to get stuck on transliteration and then not be able to read Hebrew without it.
  5. Once you can do fairly well with reading Hebrew, you can use an Interlinear translation to help you remember the meaning of the words and expand your vocabulary. But it can become overwhelming if you try to do all of this in the beginning. So learn to read first, then expand your vocabulary little by little as you go along.
  6. As you become more fluently with reading Hebrew, begin moving away from those Siddurim (prayer books) which contain an English translation on the opposite facing page. For example, you might begin with an English/Hebrew Siddur, then move to an Interlinear one so you can expand your vocabulary, then finally move to a Hebrew only Siddur.
  7. If you want to become good at reading Hebrew, at some point, you are going to have to spend some money. Whether it is buying CD’s, guidebooks, or getting a personal teacher. It is a very slow process using only “free” methods. You can learn a lot by all that free material on the internet and it can really take you a long way but at some point, you are going to need a teacher to further help you. Your determination and level of active involvement will not only determine your seriousness about learning the language but it will also determine how long you will need to pay for a teacher. For those like me who live outside the camp without a Jewish community, you can find a teacher through These teachers are not only for learning Hebrew but also for preparing for bar/bar mitzvah (even for adults). The lessons are through Skype and I recommend them to anyone who wants to become more fluent in Hebrew or anything else you want to learn regarding Judaism. The great thing about learning with them (or having a personal tutor in general) is that they can meet you where you are on your current level and move forward from there.
  8. Once you learn to read and understand the Siddur, reading Tanach will be much easier since much of the Siddur is taken straight from the Tanach. Beyond this, many of the same words are repeated over and over in different ways so you will see the same words in both the Siddur and Tanach.

Some things I learned from personal experience, while learning to read Hebrew as an adult:

  1. The Hebrew aleph bet: I associated specific letters with specific things I understood. For example, the letter “tet” reminded me of a temple door, one “tet” had a door knob while the other “tet” did not. Gimel looks like a camel. “Dalet”: if the top left and bottom right are connected, then extend a line up from the top right, it makes a “d”. “Someck” reminded me of the sun. “Hey” can become an “h” just by adding one line from the top left, straight up. I continued on and on with all the aleph bet. You can use your own association to each letter but the point is to associate them with things that are familiar to you. By doing this, you will not only learn them quickly but you are more likely to remember them. I did not make any associations with the “vowels” but it didn’t take me long to memorize the sounds.
  2. Practice sound combinations before learning whole words. For a time, I used kid Hebrew practice books by sounding out letter and vowel combinations: “bah, beh, beet, bay, bah-bah, bah-beh”, etc. Some of this material is free on various websites as well. This helped me in the very beginning and I quickly moved from them to pronouncing words.
  3. Practice saying words. I sounded out one word at a time over and over in my head until I thought I had it right and THEN said the word out loud. In the very beginning though, I took a different and unsuccessful approach. I tried to practice saying the word out loud without saying it in my head first and this actually held me at a stage of con-tin-u-ous-ly speak-ing eve-ry sin-gle He-brew syl-la-ble sep-er-ate-ly. You should try to avoid this pitfall as much as possible.
  4. Know your learning style. Many tests abound online for free and most of them can at least, point you in the right direction. Once I discovered I am an auditory learner (with visual coming in a close second), I used this to my advantage by listening to prayers/blessings from the Siddur at every opportunity, even if I couldn’t follow along by having the text in front of me, e.g. while driving.
  5. Try not to switch between different styles of Hebrew text. The block letters can be different depending on which program is used to make the letters. I did not use the on-screen text that often accompanies the audio Hebrew for practicing the prayers/blessings or the transliteration for Hebrew songs on You Tube.
  6. Use the same siddur. I use an actual paper siddur. Find a siddurim you like and stick with that one. Do not use different ones as different siddur have different texts depending on community. For example, a siddur from a Reform community is VERY different from an Orthodox (Artscroll) community. Find a REAL paper one you like and become familiar with it. Once you do, it will become meaningful to you and a part of you.
  7. Know what prayers/blessings to say according to gender. Regardless of your opinion concerning equality for women, the fact still remains that men and women are not the same…not biologically, not psychologically, and not when it comes to halacha (Jewish law). As a woman, I say “baruch Hashem” that not only am I different from a man but I do not have the same requirements as them. So if you are female and worried you might accidently say a “male blessing” in Hebrew, get the women’s siddur from Artscroll. As a woman I should not say “Blessed are you Hashem…for not making me a woman” (which is omitted from the women’s siddur) but rather “Blessed are you Hashem…for making me according to Your will” (which is included in the women’s siddur). Also, as a woman I believe I am exempt (possibly even forbidden) from wearing tallit and tefillin…although some women believe they have the right to do so…you will not find these blessings in a women’s siddur. So, if you happen to be a woman who likes to wear these things, pick a different siddur.
  8. Know that women are not obligated to pray in the same way or as often as men. Women may have other, more important obligations like taking care of her home, tending to children, etc. The Artscroll Women’s Siddur gives some very important guidelines specifically for women at the front of the book regarding prayer. You will be doing yourself a favor by learning those guidelines.
  9. If you already recite sections from the Siddur in English and want to learn to recite it in Hebrew use this example: If you currently recite the Amidah in English every day but want to learn to recite it in Hebrew, recite the first few words or one sentence in Hebrew, then recite the rest of the Amidah in English. Do this every day, adding more Hebrew words at a time until you can recite the entire Amidah fluently in Hebrew. DO NOT try to recite the entire Amidah in Hebrew in the beginning. If you do, you might be standing in one place for a couple of hours or longer and you are more likely to become frustrated with recitation. Not to mention, before you reach the end, you will be so thirsty that you won’t be able to even focus on what you are doing.
  10. Use audio so you can listen to how the words are supposed to be pronounced. I purchased Tefilla Trax from which contains, among other things, the entire Amidah on the CD. Tefilla Trax is also free on Chabad’s website. Tools for Torah also publishes a book to go along with it titled “My Siddur”. This is a wonderful guide as it gives indications as to which prayers or blessings you should recite while standing and which one you can recite while sitting. At the bottom of the pages, it also has the meaning of a few Hebrew words within that text.
  11. There is also an abundance of Hebrew blessings in audio on YouTube that will help you to pronounce the Hebrew correctly. This also helped me to know when to pause and what words to say together so that my reading did not sound like I was reading a vocabulary list of random words. So listening to Hebrew songs, chants, etc. for the siddur or tehillim over and over will help a great deal with knowing how to actually combine words and will sound more like you are reading a sentence rather than reciting a list of words.
  12. Reciting Tehillim. The Siddur contains a lot of Tehillim (Psalms) and most siddurim contain all of Tehillim in the back. So I use Artscroll’s pocket size Schottenstein Interlinear translation all the time. The Hebrew letters are bigger so I can easily read it in Hebrew and it is the perfect size for me to carry around with me to read at any available opportunity. As I mentioned before, Artscroll’s books are well made, so even the paperback version has the pages sewn together unlike many paperback books on the market today. Plus, I like paperback because they are more flexible and since it is from Artscroll, I don’t have to worry about the pages falling out. Erez Yehiel has several audio Tehillim put to music. You can find those on You Tube. I like this version of Tehillim 121 as well as this version. And yet another by Ben Snof.
  13. Other ways to expand vocabulary. I learned to expand my Hebrew vocabulary by listening to the weekly Torah study videos and/or audios (in English) from Chabad. Even though these lessons are in English, they constantly use Hebrew terms in their studies, followed by the English equivalent.

So once you have put all this together, there is one other thing that many Jews, especially those who convert to Reform don’t know anything about…unless has been their lifeline, in which the behavior is can be seen throughout many of their video lessons…even while the teacher or Rabbi in the video is sitting.

  1. To shuckle or not to shuckle. Shuckling comes from the Yiddish word meaning “to shake”. It is a form of ritual swaying that is sometimes used during prayers. Those from Chabad seem to do it at other times too.  Shuckling is believed to help increase concentration. (For anyone who’s  ever been around autistic children with this repetitive behavior can see that they too rock when they are concentrating or as a form of self stimulation.) My own personal experience with this is that it does help me to concentrate better because concentration is extremely difficult for me.   Without it, I can hear all external stimuli. You can decide for yourself if you find it necessary or useful. However, I must tell you to be careful reading from a Siddur and shuckling (while standing) at the same time, especially if you are swaying from side to side, rotating your body only above the hips while keeping your feet still. If you have not done it before, it can cause you be feel a bit light-headed at first until you get used to it.

One final thing: it is worth searching for the magnificent Cantor Yossi Azulai (sometimes spelled Azulay) on You Tube.  In particular, look for his full albums T’filot Prayers I & II.  Also, remember that the Psalms (tehillim), as well as other sections of the Siddur and Tanach are arranged according to the first word or two of that section.  So, for example Psalms/Tehillim 121 is called Shir La ma’alot (please forgive my transliteration), Deuteronomy 6:5-9 is called V’ahavta (the first word of that section meaning “and you [shall] love”) in the Siddur, and so on.

Well, this is all I have for this time.  Until the next one shavua tov…have a good week.



This is a list of resources which I find useful.

Websites for learning: From an observant perspective 

Chabad              Aish

Naaleh            Web Yeshiva

Live Shabbat services and some services through the week.  Use of the internet is forbidden on Shabbat within the more observant communities so their Shabbat services are not streamed live.

Reform Shabbat services

Probably my favorite Reform service comes from Central Synagogue in NY.  I love their music.

Conservative shul live streaming

The humanistic Jewish communities that stream live Shabbat services.   The Society of Humanistic Judaism also has a large collection of learning videos from their perspective.  Videos of SHJ

Kabbalah A Chasidic website.  It gives wonderful insight into the weekly Torah parashas.

Chabad and Aish have a Kabbalah section on their websites.


Kosher foods  They will ship food to you, even meats…all for a price of course.

Learning Hebrew Prayers I use the Tefila Trax audio and “My Siddur” book to practice Hebrew prayers.  This and other liturgy practice tools are available for free on the Chabad website here  It costs money but you can also download the app to your phone and listen to it in the vehicle.  It has a section for “Jewish prayers” as well as Modern Hebrew.

Siddur audio is for following along in the Conservative Siddur Sim Shalom.

I will add more as I think of them or if others recommend them.



Bereishis-in the beginning

I grew up in a non religious home in a small, rural southern town in Alabama…population 2,000.  I became interested in religion while in high school when I was taking a comparative religion class. I studied what I could at the local public and university libraries.  At some point I became interested in Christianity and Paganism but never really made either of them a personal path.

As time went by, (primarily in the 1990’s) I became deeply interested in biblical customs and culture and I studied as much as I could about it.  I would often visit various churches but as mentioned before, I was always somewhat detached from religion in general.  I loved to hear about others beliefs but I didn’t really know what I believed. And to be completely honest, I’m pretty sure I never really searched for my own belief system.

Then in 2001, I moved to Illinois and it was there that I became interested in Judaism.  It was not the same interest I had for Christianity or Paganism.  This was different somehow, although it is unclear, to me at least, what provoked the interest.  I remember learning about Judaism on a website and something just clicked in me.  The next thing I know, I had this strange desire to go and speak to a Rabbi.  I cannot even describe the desire.  It was kind of like when one becomes so thirsty that all they can do or think of is getting that drink of water.  I felt so compelled to talk to a Rabbi that I could not focus on anything else.

When I was finally able to meet with him, I remember only two things he told me: First, he told me about an account in the Talmud (although I had no idea what that was at the time) when a non Jew wanted to convert to Judaism but only if the Rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while the perspective convert stood on one foot.  The other thing was he gave me a book about Shabbat, the High Holy Days, and other basic information and told me to attend services for a year. After which, if I was still attending services, we could discuss possible conversion at that time.

Soon after this though, I had to return to Alabama to help care for my dying grandfather.  I began attending services at a synagogue about 30 minutes away and after several visits, I began asking some members about talking to a Rabbi about possible conversion.  One lady, who was a convert herself, pointed me into the direction of a Reform Rabbi two hours away…or she said you could speak to a Rabbi from Chabad.  You would LOVE Chabad but don’t let their beards scare you.  Oh! And if you choose Chabad, you will have to move there.  Good luck!

I did not want to move for a few reasons…the main one being because of financial reasons. So I chose the Reform Rabbi, although he strongly insisted many times that I move to a Jewish community, he did not require it for conversion.  I was eventually able to take some Judaism 101 classes over the next several months and met with two separated Rabbis and a Cantor on several different occasions.  The whole process took about a year, in which I also had a personal tutor to help me read Hebrew…and I also had to attend services at a synagogue for a year, but I was already in the process of doing that.

Just before my conversion ceremony, I was required to go into the mikveh…I think I had to dip under three different times…well, actually four, because one time, I still had my hand out of the water, holding onto the side when I dipped under…

But anyway, I was nervous and excited all at once up until the ceremony was over and then it hit me…I felt as though I was at a funeral. Grieving the loss of a life that I could never get back.  I didn’t really know how to respond to it so I called a Jewish friend who was kind of like a mentor through the whole process.  She said: You should mourn because you just traded 10 commandments for 613.

Once the mourning period was over for me and I was getting used to it all, I suddenly realized what the Rabbi meant when he told me I should move to a Jewish community.  It was like I was wandering around with no sense of direction.  I had no clue as to what I was supposed to be doing or even how I was supposed to be.  I was clueless about kosher labels on food, how to kosher a kitchen, davening, etc.  Lucky for me, an observant lady who was raised Orthodox became my mentor and guide for several months until her and her husband moved to south Alabama.  I continued to attended Shabbos services at the synagogue 30 minutes away as often as the doors were open but I could not rely on them for any information or guidance as they were pretty much non observant.

Chabad became my lifeline.  Everything I learned about Judaism beyond my 101 class came from the Chabad website.  They have a complete storehouse of guides, how-tos, and classes on any subject imaginable.  Since that is where I received much of my information, especially in the early years when I was still a newbie, it shaped my thinking tremendously.  And its philosophy became my foundational belief system.

Unfortunately, the small synagogue of 30 people that was 30 minutes away from me, closed its doors for the final time in 2010.  I did attend another synagogue in another county about the same distance away but it seems to be heading toward a similar fate as the former one.  Then now open their doors about 10 times a year and fewer than 20 people attend.

So I stopped going and relied on live streaming Shabbos services from the temple where I converted.  Which sometimes causes an internal conflict…should I use or not use a computer on Shabbos for the sole purpose of participating in Shabbos services?  It is forbidden on Shabbos but at the same time, this is being used to celebrate Shabbos…that is a dilemma for another post…

…and so that it how it all began for me.  But the journey after all this?  That was an entirely different story and I would never be the same again…