Rucheli's Writings

Readings, Ramblings, and Religious Rantings

!!הבקעה בעברית (Breakthrough in Hebrew!!) October 20, 2010

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The Building Blocks of Hebrew

“Communication is key.” We hear that over and over and over again in every context… relationships, family time, politics, etc. So what happens when communication is impossible? What do you do when you find yourself (or put yourself) in a foreign country where the language could not be more different from your native tongue? How do you communicate?

Unless you want to stick to a game of charades the entire time you’re there, you have no choice but to learn the language.

It’s not easy, especially when there are sounds that don’t exist in English, practically every word is conjugated as male or female including the numbers, and you really don’t even have much time that you can set aside to studying the language. Now add in the fact that you are expected to be able to read and translate writings from Hebrew into coherent English sentences on an hourly basis, and the frustration can make you crack. Thank G-d, today marks a huge breakthrough for me… one that will (G-d willing) alleviate much of the anxiety I’ve been having in classes so far this semester… (more…)


Shabbos with the Schroeders October 11, 2010

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This weekend was the clash of the titans… Science vs Religion, acted out in a single Shabbos dinner. The setting was an unassuming house just a few blocks from Mayanot, at the home of Dr. Gerald Schroeder and his wife Barbara. While much of the battle was acted out in books that filled his shelves (and mine as well), it was one of the only places in the world where you will hear an observant Jew speak about dinosaurs and evolution at the Shabbos table.

Dr. Schroeder is a personal hero of mine, and if I can follow in his footsteps even a little bit, that would be the culmination of my entire life up until this point. He has his PhD in physics from MIT and has studied Torah for decades, but most impressively he managed to combine the two into a series of books that transforms any preconceived notions about both science and religion of anyone with an open mind.

As an engineer and a born-and-bred scientist, the most difficult part of becoming observant was figuring out what to do with my 18 years of education in the laws of nature. After much bashing of my own ego and humbling of my own intellect, I was able to understand that with our all powerful G-d, anything is truly possible. This doesn’t mean that I resorted to the literally biblical translation of Genesis, with no big-bang, no dinosaurs, and no cavemen. I did have a huge paradigm shift though, and it wasn’t long before I was searching for ways that G-d’s biblical creation and His scientific creation told the same story…

The answers lie in quantum physics.

For anyone unfamiliar with the scientific concepts, I can’t currently explain exactly how it works. But Dr. Schroeder has done a good job of expounding on those same thoughts for those with at least a preliminary understanding of both general relativity and the biblical account of creation. If you’re interested, I encourage you to read at least this article on his website, and if it’s your speed then please by all means, by one of his books 🙂

The fact that I was able to spend a Shabbos dinner with Dr. Schroeder was unreal. Add to that the fact that he was one of the cutest grandfatherly men I have ever met, and that his wife cooks amazing food, and it made for quite the enjoyable evening. On top of that, his son-in-law is the best Jazz composer in Israel (Daniel Zamir), and his wife is the public face of Hadassah International. We were dining in the presence of greatness!

Unfortunately the environment of the meal wasn’t conducive to intellectual conversations… There was a group of about 15 kids right out of high school that were visiting for the Young Judea Year-Course program, so it was never really quiet enough to speak of anything too serious. Dr. Schroeder did however speak a little bit about Carl Sagan and the Cosmos, as well as the verse in creation that speaks of pterodactyls… Yes, you read correctly 😉

I did manage to stop Dr. Schroeder on our way out the door to thank him for having us (myself, Irina my roomie, and Ariela, the other engineer at Mayanot) over for dinner. I also told him that I would really like to keep in touch with I’d like! I can’t wait… as soon as I finish reading his books, you can bet that I will be right back over!


Finding Freedom October 5, 2010

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The Mayanot girls were lucky enough on Sept. 28th to have Rabbi Shmuley Boteach join us for breakfast and Chassidus in the sukkah. If you’ve never heard of “America’s Rabbi”, he has authored several books including the best-seller Kosher Sex and he is also the host of the TV show “Shalom in the Home” on TLC. He is a world-famous lecturer / life coach on all subjects having to do with getting over the broken relationships of your life, whether with yourself, your parents, your spouse, your children, or G-d. He also happens to be one of the most compelling speakers I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.

Last week Rabbi Boteach stopped by with his wife and daughters to take a look at the school. His daughter is joining us here as of tomorrow, so they got the full tour. Afterwards he sat down and said a “quick 30 second thought” for about 30 minutes having to do with the root of all fears… the fear of being insignificant. It really hit home for a lot of us, and it’s true. Every true fear (not talking about phobias of spiders, etc.) that we have in life has to do with the fear of being insignificant. The fear of death, the fear of being alone, the fear of being poor; all of them stem from the insecurity generated by the fear of being insignificant.

The result of this fear is that we spend our entire lives trying to do something to prove our significance to the world. We work hard for good grades so that we can get into the best college to get the best degree to make the most money so that we can “be someone” in the financial world. We sacrifice our family lives in order to work extra hours for that promotion so that we can “be someone” in the company. We give up our own needs and wants to fulfill the needs and wants of others so that we can “be someone” that the people around us want us to be. We spend so much time doing things that we never actually get to just BE ourselves.

Something incredible happened when Rabbi Boteach was telling us all of this… a revelation of sorts about why I’m here. I worked in high school to get good grades and good SAT scores so that I could get a scholarship to go to college. I went to college on this prestigious scholarship and worked hard to get good internships. I held countless leadership positions in countless extracurricular activities to boost my resume. I worked my butt off to get a great job when I graduated so that I could do something with my life.

The time came to graduate, and the job offer that I worked so hard to get came my way. And I turned it down.

People called me crazy. My family worried that I did so much to get to where I was and then I just let the offer sit there; they worried I would never use my degree. My friends couldn’t believe that I was turning down the kind of opportunity that we had all had our eyes set on for the last five years of our lives… longer, 18 years of education! But I said “no thanks, I’m going to Israel.”

Maybe I’m crazy.

Or maybe I’m tired of doing, doing, doing.

So I bought a one way ticket to the other side of the world, to a place where I don’t have to DO anything. Here, I can just BE. I can be myself, I can return to my essential soul, to my natural state of existence. Yes, I’m still learning. Yes, I’m still “doing” things. But the reasons for my actions have changed entirely, because for once I’m not trying to do something in order to do something else in order to get something that society sees as a quintessential part of being significant. Instead, I just get to live.

I think that for the first time, I’ve finally realized what it means to be free.


Inside Camp Gan Israel: South Orlando’s Largest Jewish Summer Camp February 24, 2010

Filed under: Featured,Headline,The Orlando Judaism Examiner — rucheli @ 1:18 pm
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CGI2Every summer, Jewish kids of all ages fly halfway across the country to go to the “best camp ever.” Little do these kids know that the place they’re looking for is right in their own backyard.

Opening this summer for the eighth year in a row, Camp Gan Israel (CGI) – Orlando is a child’s dream. As the largest Jewish camp in the area, they have the staff and the resources needed to fill this summer with memories that kids will cherish forever. Some kids are looking for more traditional camp activities like boating, archery, fishing, trips and nature walks. Other kids may be looking for a more “extreme” experience with things like wakeboarding, ropes courses, and surfing. Since there is something for everyone at CGI, kids have the chance to make the most of each day by picking the activities that they’re most interested in. Long summer days are filled with sports like…

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The Day the Prophet Died: Leadership lessons from the life and death of Moses February 22, 2010

mosesYesterday marked the 3,403rd anniversary of the birth of the greatest prophet of all time, Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses Our Leader. The same day, 120 years after his birth, also marks “The Day the Prophet Died.”

Moses was the human scribe for G-d’s Divine Torah. He was the leader of the nation of Israel. He was the greatest prophet who ever lived. He was G-d’s partner in the salvation of the Jewish slaves in Egypt. So what made Moses great? What can we learn from his birth, his life, and his death?

Rambam, also known as Maimonides, called Moses “the most perfect human being.” Our sages teach us that “The Divine Presence spoke from his throat.” Yet the Torah itself states that Moses was also “the most humble man on the face of the earth.” To discover the true essence of our greatest prophet, and to uncover the myriad of lessons to be learned from him, one must return to the very beginning of his journey on our planet. Yesterday 3,403 years ago, a baby was born that was so special that his parents’ home was immediately “filled with light.” Yet this precious baby boy awaited the same fate as all Jewish boys in the times of Pharaoh… he was given to the Nile river. Protected only by a reed basket, Moses floated through the crocodile-infested river swamps. Already, long before Moses began to fulfill his potential, we can learn a valuable lesson about leadership from our greatest prophet… Leaders don’t just appear as a gift from above; they emerge from among the people. To be a great leader, you have to start by sharing the fate of the people you lead, just as Moses did so many years ago.

We all know the story of Moses’ childhood. He was rescued by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the palace as an Egyptian prince. During his life of royalty we learn another lesson from Moses. After sharing the fate of your people and rising through the ranks, you must never forget where you came from. During all his years as a prince of Egypt, Moses never stops feeling for the plight of his fellow Jews. The first open display of this is on the day that Moses becomes an adult. He went out “to his brothers” and saw the last seconds of an Egyptian beating Jewish slave to death. Moses felt compelled to act and does so by striking down the Egyptian, sacrificing his life of royalty in a single blow. The very next day Moses went back out among the people and witnessed two Jews arguing with each other. He realized that the Jews were not slaves because of Egypt’s great power over them, but rather because of their lack of Ahavat Yisrael, or love for a fellow Jew. If only the Jews could band together, Moses realized, they could rise up and free themselves. With an epiphany like that, you’d think that Moses would act! He should have become the leader of the Jewish people immediately and helped the nation of Israel band together, right? Bu instead, Moses became a shepherd. How could he do such a thing? Why?!

Although at first glance it may be tempting to see Moses as a coward, we shouldn’t ever let ourselves make such a grave mistake. In fact, Moses is actually teaching us yet another lesson in leadership. A leader is not someone who simply defends his people or fights alongside them. He is not just a teacher, a governor, or a preacher. He is also a nurturer. In fact, you could argue that the primary, most important task of a leader is to develop and provide for his followers. And so, in order to become the “faithful shepherd” of the people of Israel, Moses fled Egypt to herd the sheep of Jethro in Midian.

There is a story in the Midrash that tells us of the day Moses was chosen by G-d to be the leader of Israel. It takes place as Moses is tending a flock, and a kid runs away. Moses chased after it until the kid came to a spring, where it began to drink. When others would have been frustrated over having to go on such a chase, Moses simply cried “Oh! I did not know that you were thirsty!” And just like that, he picked up the kid and cradled it in his arms as he carried it lovingly back to the flock. The Midrash tells us that G-d saw this and said, “You are merciful in tending your flock, so you will tend to My flock, the people of Israel.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches us that not only does this story in the Midrash display Moses’ compassion; it also shows that he understood the true reason why the kid ran away. It was not out of malice or ill-nature; it was simply because he was thirsty. This is a priceless lesson in leadership. Studies have shown time and time again that people by nature want to be successful, they want to contribute, and they want to achieve great things. If someone you lead is “running away,” chances are that they are just thirsty. Instead of firing them or reprimanding them, find a way to nurture that person’s thirst to succeed and you will have no problem carrying them back to the flock. Only once Moses understood this was he able to take his true position as the leader of the Jewish people.

After a lifetime of preparation for his task as the leader of Israel, G-d decides it’s about time Moses got on with it. So what happens? G-d reveals himself to Moses from amongst the branches of the miraculous burning bush, and he says to Moses: “I have seen the afflictions of My people, I have heard their cries, I know their sorrows.” He tells Moses to get going. You know the song: “Go down Moses, way down to Egypt’s land. Tel ol’ Pharaoh, let my people go!” And what does Moses say? “Ehhh… I think I’ll pass, but thanks for the offer.” In fact, not only does Moses say no, he refuses to go. And not only does he refuse to go, he sits there and argues with G-d for seven days and seven nights, pulling every excuse in the book. Excuses of humility, excuses of ignorance, excuses of disbelief, and even excuses of speech impediments! And when G-d continues to insist, Moses finally breaks down and begs: Oh please, my G-d, don’t send me! “Send by the hand of him whom You shall send!” But what does this cryptic plea mean?

We’ve already long established the fact that Moses was the greatest of all prophets. He spoke with G-d face to face. He received Divine Visions while fully conscious, no trances or dreams needed. So it comes as no surprise to us that Moses knew the future fate of the Jewish people. He knew that if he took them out of Egypt, it he was the one that brought them to the land of Israel, then it would only be a matter of time before they faced exile again. And so Moses refused, begging G-d to instead send the final redeemer of Israel, the Messiah that would bring about the end of all exiles and the return of the world to the Garden of Eden’s pure state. Moses was willing to sacrifice his very relationship with G-d for the sake of his people. And so the next lesson of leadership to be learned from Moses is one of intense self-sacrifice.

This lesson of self-sacrifice is one that is seen over and over again throughout Moses’ lifetime. Moses continuously offered his status and his very life in exchange for the people of Israel’s forgiveness and redemption. He fought for our forgiveness after the sin of the golden calf. He fought for our redemption the whole of the 40 years in the desert. He never accepted that the fate of the Jewish people was another impending exile. Even on the last day of his life, Moses pleaded with G-d and beseeched Him to prevent further exile, to the point where G-d grew angry and said to Moses, “Enough!” But for Moses it was never enough. Kabbalah teaches us that even though his life on earth ended 3,283 years ago, his fight lives on. The Zohar, the book of Kabbalah, tells us that every Jewish soul has a spark of Moses’ soul at its very core. The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught us that Moses was a teacher, whose job it was to open a small window for the inner knowledge to pour down into the conscious mind. So how do wake up that part of Moses that lies within each of us? By waking ourselves. And how do you wake yourself? By finding someone in whom Moses is already awake. The Rebbe taught us that only the awakened can wake others. This is the final lesson to be learned from the birth, life, and death of Moses, Our Teacher: Awake the Moses within you. If you’re already awake, wake others. When all of us truly connect to the spark of Moses within each of us, only then can his fight for the end of all exiles truly see fruition.

May you all be blessed with the awakening of the spark of Moses in your soul, and with the final redemption of our people with the coming of Moshiach now!


Rewriting the History of Jewish Women January 25, 2010

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rivkaLast semester, I decided to balance out my senior engineering courses with a class from the Jewish Studies department. I thought it would help me keep my sanity, so I innocently signed up for the Women in Jewish History course. As a recently Reformed-turned-Orthodox Jewish woman, and somewhat of a Jewish history fanatic, I thought the class would be cake… and easy ‘A’ to boost my GPA in the second-to-last semester of college. The entertaining thing is that after taking the class, I felt much more confident about my grade in Engineering Systems Analysis & Design than I did about this Jewish Studies course. I know, it didn’t make much sense to me either, but let me explain what happened.

I realized that I was going to be in for an interesting ride from the get-go, when my professor (who shall remain nameless) proclaimed as a statement-of-fact that the Torah is not a divine work, but rather a collection of stories written by many different authors and gradually compiled over a long period of time… the so-called “Documentary Hypothesis.” Funny, since the very word ‘hypothesis’ itself implies that you don’t really know what’s going on. And so from day one I discovered that the “Jewish Studies” class that I thought I had enrolled in was in fact a “Secular Examination of Jewish Stereotypes” class.

Now, if you look at the course as if it was actually a class on identifying the stereotypes surrounding Jewish women, it actually did a fantastic job. During the duration of the semester, we dug up every possible scenario in which Jewish women might conceivably have been oppressed in some way, shape, or form. I sat and watched in horror as the Matriarchs were labeled “subservient” to their husbands… never mind the fact that it says quite clearly in the book of Genesis that G-d told Abraham to listen to Sarah. I watched in disbelief as the Jewish women of Talmudic times were described as “chattel,” or the privilege-less property of their fathers and husbands. We moved forward in history to the Haskalah (Enlightenment) and the class celebrated the assimilation of Jews into the “learned” communities around them. Jump forward again to the waves of immigration from Europe to the US and we recall the “happiness” of the women watching their husbands and sons throw their Tefillin overboard to start a new life in America, “free from outdated laws and traditions.” Another hundred years go by, and the “oppressed” women of Ezrat Nashim are fighting for “the rights” to wear those very same Tefillin. Then comes the first female rabbi, a large leap forwards for the women’s rights movement within the religious community. After all, why shouldn’t women have an equal opportunity to do all 613 commandments? Never mind that men have more commandments and responsibilities because they screwed up, because that isn’t taught in Jewish Studies classes…

Now in modern times, there are plenty of Jewish women to celebrate. We learned the names and stories of countless political activists, leaders, and artists from good Jewish families. We also learned that they were successful “because they assimilated” and left those good Jewish families behind.

Is this really what “Jewish Studies” has come to?! Our college graduates enter the world thinking that in order to be a good Jewish woman you have to act like a man, and in order to be a successful Jewish woman you have to act like a Gentile?!

Now back to the beginning, to the reason why I struggled more in a Jewish Studies course than in senior engineering classes… It’s because I don’t agree.  I don’t buy into this whole “pretend you’re someone else” way of life. I’m an observant Jewish woman, and I fully intend to not only live my life as such, but to succeed as such. And so I disagreed, and I argued, and I raised my hand to tell stories of the Jewish women that are really worth celebrating: the Matriarchs, the prophetesses, Rashi’s daughters, the women of the Moranos, and the observant Jewish women of this day and age who succeed in their careers with their faith intact. I tried to shed light on the real female heroines of Judaism: those who are willing to sacrifice their lifestyles, their wealth, even their homes for the sake of Torah. Above all else, the women worth remembering and celebrating are the ones who have given their lives in the name of G-d. You want to study Women in Jewish History? Study those women… Study Rivka HoltzbergThat would be a Jewish Studies class worth taking.

Author’s note: I ended up getting an A in this class. Due to dissenting opinions, my grades averaged to a B-. The fact that I received an ‘A’ shows just how serious this class was. Jewish Studies in colleges such as mine has sadly become a joke.