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From Jill Liflander, Educational Director

07/05/2019 07:35:57 PM


In response to a brewing identity crisis as I prepared to send my daughters away to camp for seven weeks, (If I am not Mom-ing, who am I?!) my therapist suggested the following writing exercise:

In a stream of consciousness style, complete the following sentence: I AM....


I am....

I am… an artist. I am... a mother. I am… hopelessly in love with my dog. I am… a fondler of fabrics in vintage clothing stores. I am…afraid of the cavernous pain of loss....

I am....I am....I am…

For the rest of that week, whenever I had a few moments to spare, I’d jot down some thoughts.

I am… salivating while thinking about a tuna-fish on rye sandwich, with Russian dressing and swiss cheese and pickles.

I am… in awe of the mystery of life.

I am… a lover of soil and grass and trees.

I am… wanting to watch Netflix comedy specials all day.

I am… grateful to be alive.

I am… very sleepy.

Ten “I am…” soaked journal pages later, I arrived:

I am… an infinite speck in a giant unknowable universe.

My pen glided to a halt.




At the Friday night service before Shavuot, singing together in the sanctuary, our melodies blended into a single unified voice. I felt a part of that ONENESS. It’s been happening more and more recently…this new awareness of being.

If I had to explain what’s going on, I’d say, well, it seems like LOVE (love of the people in the room and love of the content) + MEANINGFUL RITUALS= the opportunity to become part of that oneness feeling, which is how I would describe GOD.

I am… alternately blissed out and lonely, missing the girls.

I am… spending beautiful, quiet, connective time with my husband.

I am… painting.

I am… moving through life, with you, with the girls, with it all…with every single Netflix comedy special, tuna-fish sandwich, and dip of the paintbrush into a miraculous glob of color.


05/07/2019 02:04:05 PM




I invited my capoeira friends over to my apartment to celebrate Passover this year. I had a hunch that besides being incredible human beings and lovely friends, bringing capoeiristas, practitioners of a martial art designed by slaves, to celebrate Passover with us, where we reflect on our oppression as slaves and our liberation from slavery, would be just awesome. (And it was.)

Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art developed by African and indigenous Brazilian slaves on Portuguese sugar cane plantations in Brazil about 600 years ago. The martial art part (defensive and offensive movement) is “hidden in plain sight” within the acrobatics, music and dance. The slaves practiced capoeira to prepare for their escape and to defend themselves from slave catchers, while the slave masters thought that the capoeira players were just messing around and doing silly dances. (This resilience and ingenuity definitely resonates with my Jewishness!)

Capoeira is fantastically instrumental, weaving highly percussive and tonal Afro-Brazilian instruments into every element of the art form. We play the instruments (atabaque, pandeiro, berimbau, agogo) and sing songs in Portuguese about fishing, slavery, and freedom, about the beauty of the music and the power of capoeira, while clapping to syncopated rhythms possessing mysteries of their own and “playing” the capoeira game.

If you visited my capoeira class one day, (please do!) you would find people from all over the world: Brazil, Columbia, France, the Philippines, Germany, Jamaica, China, Americans of Irish descent, Haitian descent, from the East Coast, from the West Coast. But I am the sole (and soul) Jewish representative of the group and sometimes this confuses me. “What am I doing? Why am so I into this?” “How can this be my tribe? No one is Jewish.” But then the rhythms begin, and the melodies reach me, we are clapping and singing and moving together. I feel brightness and universal connection. I feel completely alive and completely at home.

I experience that same “alive and at home” feeling when I am in the building at HCS. My love for you all and my love for the practice of Jewish life drives me to dig deeper into Jewish philosophy, liturgy, and music; seeking out the essence of Jewish traditions. I am enthralled by the soulfulness of our Jewish community.

Capoeira taught me how to open and embrace that feeling. It taught me how to listen and how to connect, how to hear the heartbeat of a group of people singing together. I listen in-between the Hebrew words and inside of the notes that we sing together in the sanctuary or at Hebrew school, and I am electrified by our unified desire for peace, solace, continuity, joy, and healing.

Passover was incredible this year. There were a lot of matzoh balls left over, truth be told, and my apple raisin kugel never really wows a non-Jewish crowd. But I soared above the tables like a lover in a Chagall painting, my heart filled with color and light and happiness, grateful to be a part of this tremendous mystery, grateful to be alive, and grateful to be able to rejoice in our freedom.


03/13/2019 12:26:17 PM


A Plate of Rugelach and Moral Guidance

The more I explore life within the Jewish world, the more that I experience how complicated people's relationship is with religion. I would be a very wealthy woman if I had a dollar for every person who, upon hearing that I work at a synagogue, replies, “Uch, I hate religion. It’s the reason for all of the world’s problems. Wars, hatred…It’s the opioid of the masses!”

It’s true that there are a tremendous number of people and cultures who distort religion to further their agenda. And we humans as a species don’t have a terrific track record with acceptance and wide-reaching love. Religion is weaponized to be a divider, a way to separate us into competing tribes, competing for resources, hating generation after generation of our neighbors.

But consider the "Ruggelach Theory!"TM Jill Liflander ;) Stay with me. I learned how to make this insanely delicious Eastern European Jewish cookie last weekend, and baked batch after batch, testing each style on my willing and eager family. Rugelach is incredibly rich and buttery, and If you ate rugelach all day, you would probably contract all sorts of diseases-heart disease, diabetes, your teeth would rot, and you would probably have a perpetual stomach ache and be extremely grouchy and mean to the neighbors when they made noise outside of the window. If you covered your bedsheets with ruggelach, your bed would be crumbly and you would never have a good sleep. If you put ruggelach in your oil tank, your car would break. And so on….

But if you made a batch of with the intension of sharing the sweetness, invited your neighbors over for coffee and ruggies, ate a few as you laughed and enjoyed each other’s company, the rugelach would be a sweet unifier that brings everyone joy and moist, cinnamon pleasure. It’s the manner in which we engage with the rugelach that determines whether the rugelach detracts from our growth, or is a boon to the soulfulness of our existence.

Thus, we find ourselves back at religion. All religions contain a moral exoskeleton that we humans can grab onto to help us find our way back to center. We can use the guidance of religion to help us nourish our “yetzer tov” our good inclinations or our “yetzer hara” our evil instincts (less than desirable traits). We can twist words intended to bring us closer to our brothers and sisters and our best, highest selves, or we can reach to a myriad of sources for guidance on how to be a good person, to manage being a rascally human being. We Jews can look to the moral codes of Torah and the commentary of Talmud, to our liturgy, to our literature and music. We practice tzedakah to pull our base humanness into being open to the needs of others, to constantly look outside of our own existence and to connect with the suffering in the world around us.

Here’s just one small, sweaty example of how religion, aka Judaism, an over five-thousand-year old religion that has grappled with morality and the nuances of chesed (kindness), since its onset, has assisted me recently in not being a jerk:

A few weeks ago, the kids had a late arrival morning due to snow. I sat lazily on the couch doing absolutely nothing in the early morning silence, drinking coffee and breathing in the stillness.

BAM! BAM! BAM! I jumped up in confusion and stumbled to the door where a local police officer in his navy-blue uniform informed me that Mark’s car was blocking a driveway. I hurled a coat over my pajamas and sprinted down the street to move the car, hoping that I wouldn’t also find a ticket on the windshield. The stick shift on Mark’s car is tetchy, and he was parked on a steep hill. I could barely get the car out of the spot without stalling clunkily and repeatedly tapping the fender of the car behind me. Sweat dripped down my neck, my jaw tightened and my head throbbed. I still had to drive around for another ten minutes in the freezing cold looking for a new spot. By the time I finally parked, steam poured out of my ears; I hadn’t even begun getting the kids ready for school. What a horrible way to start the day! Aaaaaargghhhh!!!!!

But I knew (Judaism rolling in from the background) that Mark had simply made a parking mistake. I have made plenty of parking mistakes (That which is hateful to you don’t do to your fellow human…the rest is commentary…Hillel). Even as I was so angered by the situation and wanted to yell and scream and accuse, I thought about how Mark would have treated me if this were my car and my parking fiasco. (Do unto others as you would have done to you…Do unto others as you would have done to you..) Mark treated me with respect and with kindness and I needed to bring myself back down from a fury(That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow human…).

By the time I entered the apartment, repeating Hillel’s Golden Rule over and over in my mind, I was no longer a seething, steaming hydra with hissing snakes above my head, but a compassionate partner who also made mistakes and didn’t want to hurt Mark any more than the hefty parking ticket would. (Later we would learn that a truck had hit Mark’s car on the hill, and that it rolled his car backwards a few feet, thus blocking the driveway. Our ticket was reduced from $150 to $20.)

I could seriously go on and on with incidents from just the past week of how I checked back to the moral framework housed in Judaism for guidance. I choose to feed my yetzer tov because that’s who I want to be. Am I one hundred percent sure that I am always doing the right thing? No, not at all. But I would rather err on the side of chesed and know that I had kindness as my goal, than be right.

Judaism provides a moral and spiritual guidepost that consistently reminds us of how to build upon a foundation of love and kindness in this quirky world. Add in a warm, lively community and a plate of rugelach and I’m all in! (I can feed my yetzer tov and my belly all at the same time.)




01/14/2019 01:07:52 PM


From Jill Liflander, Educational Director:

Joseph On My Mind


Joseph the dreamer has been lingering an unusually long time in my subconscious this winter! He floats through my mind as I ruminate on his behavior towards his brothers. Even though I do own a funky multicolored coat, I long for a technicolor dream coat of my own, that’s sublime, fantastic and virtually glows. I’m singing corny songs from the musical (…children of Israel are never alooooone…) and I’m incredulous every time I think about Jacob’s favoritism towards Joseph. SMH. (shaking my head).

Spending Tuesday afternoons studying with Ruth and the B’nei Mitzvah class, I am becoming more intimately acquainted with the familial structures within the Torah. Observing the repetition of generational mis-steps is mind-blowing, and admittedly reassuring; Perhaps my own family’s mishegas isn’t so unique after all.


Seriously though, how could Jacob pick a favorite son after all that he had been through? Hadn’t he learned from his own life, how his relationship with Esau mangled by deceit and trickery? And how could Joseph have been so arrogant? So daft? Didn’t he know that his brothers would kick his *** after listening to his incendiary dreams, so obviously about his inherent superiority?


It’s all part of a larger story, and each piece has to happen for it all to unfold. I think that’s what moves me the most these days and brings the Torah home. If Joseph hadn’t goaded his brothers with his arrogance, he wouldn’t have been thrown into a pit and sold into slavery… He never would have traveled to Egypt as a slave…One of the most epic sagas of Jewish history would never have been set into motion. Mistake A brings about wonderful experience B, growth opportunity C and then all of the ups and downs to follow, D-Z. I suspect that defining actions as mistakes or missteps could be shortchanging the Divine order of things too. It’s so hard to have a bird’s eye perspective; Perhaps everything unfolds perfectly, the way it all needs to happen for soulful growth.


A dear friend is in drug rehab for the second time in a year. I keep hoping that maybe this reckoning, to be face to face with her bad decisions and the compost of her horrible outcomes, is the fertile ground where she begins to develop into who she is meant to be. Like Joseph in jail, his dream telling abilities finally ripening-the right time and the right place- to be put to good use. I’m trying to look at my friend’s life in a grand view, like all of the people and families in the Torah, moving pieces in a larger saga of connection and triumph, failure and redemption.


Identifying with the Torah and the steep learning curve of the matriarchs and patriarchs makes my own stumbles and blunders seem less maddening. It humanizes our struggles and reminds us that we are human beings on an arc of a path of learning how to be, on a personal level and on a societal level.


Happy 2019! Another trip around the Gregorian calendar, another opportunity to make mistakes, to learn from our mis-steps, and to dream our dreams.





Wed, July 8 2020 16 Tammuz 5780