Autumn Time

Autumn. Such a poetic season; sweet melancholy, golden leaves and a sense of transition. Times of passage require that we let go of the past and wonder what the future will bring.  Rites of passage offer moments of discomfort and discontent intertwined with expectations and excitement of things to come.

Yom Kippur is an autumn High Holiday. It has nothing of the lightheartedness of summer. It is a time for contemplation and soul searching, asking for forgiveness and forgiving. It is an opportunity to let go and make new resolutions.

Asking for Forgiveness

Images of bodies of toddlers washed to the shore having drowned at sea in search of a sfae haven. Footage of a father holding his dead babies to his chest and refusing tp let them go. Images of terrible destruction, chaos and millions of refugees. Thousands of photos that show the naked horror. Good people providing aid and support to the lucky ones who found temporary shelter. Rare moments of human generosity.

But at the end of the day, no one has done anything to stop the carnage in Syria. Millions of words said and written in the news, in position papers and strategic plans and policy analysis on the “Syrian issue”.

  But at the end of the day, no one has done anything to stop the carnage in Syria.

On good days, we do not look away from the photos; on bad days, we ignore them.

We must ask for forgiveness for our tolerance to human suffering.

Open S(c)ores

New age doctrine tells us to let go; to loosen up our clenched fists that hold long time angers, insults and unfinished businesses. In return, there is a promise of tremendous relief and a sense of well-being to those who take the higher ground.

It is important to let go; to forgive and to dump the unnecessary load of tormenting memories that take up way too much storage space. Genuinely forgiving those who have wronged against us releases us from the burden of pain and anger. Otherwise, they continue to nibble on and rattle our soul.

It is easier for us to forgive those human weaknesses that we see in ourselves: blindness, narcissism, vanity and insensitivity.

Then there are things that are almost unforgivable.

It is so hard to forgive where there is no show of remorse.

It is so hard to reconcile when the truth is not spoken.

It is impossible to let go of what still torments and damages.

There are still unsettled scores, both personal and political.  Forgiveness and reconciliation are still waiting for truths to reveal their faces. Only then can the healing begin.



Mad Cat Max was a simple little fabric doll, a sort of hybrid of a cat and a Panda bear. I won it at a street fair in a far and magical city in Brazil in the summer of 1986. I kept it for many years. It was a source of pride; the guy at the booth handed it to me while trying to hide his astonishment. I often wondered how I managed to bring down the pile of tin cans with shaky hands, eyes out of focus and a rag ball shot out of a toy cannon.

Mad Cat Max got his name and personality a few years later when I presented him to my first-born son, Daniel. He had a thick Argentinian accent, a quick temper, no manners whatsoever and a huge heart of gold. He knew how to make my son smile and laugh and they shared long intimate conversations. Mad Cat Max was what every child needs; a half-imaginary friend or simply a hilarious, crazy, footloose and more effective version of a mother.

I was reminded of Mad Cat Max this morning when my youngest daughter and I walked to school with our dogs, imagining a conversation between them about us. Then she went to class and I returned to my adult tasks, but I could not shake the notion of how important it is to imagine that dogs can talk and make fun of the funny human creatures they live with. I thought of Mad Cat Max who was really my alter ego.

I kept Mad Cat Max for almost 30 years and then I lost him. I still miss him sometimes.

May the year 5777 be good to you. May we create goodness in the world together, as much as we possibly can.


Illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima


Repentance: From the Personal to the Collective

Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance, which start when the moon’s shy face is still hidden and conclude at sunset on Yom Kippur.

During these ten days, atonement and reflection – which should be our daily bread – are more readily accepted. As the Rambam writes, “Although teshuva and pleading are always effective, during the ten days from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur they are especially potent and are immediately accepted, as it says, ‘Search for Hashem when He is present…'”

I am not an observant woman.  Yet, for the past 40 years, I have fasted and prayed on Yom Kippur. I love praying in congregation with my friends and neighbors, in the intimate egalitarian Reform congregation in my community. I love the singing and chanting as they make their way into my  heart. I love this “time-out” from the madness of the daily routine; I love the ritual that beckons towards contemplation and reflection, contrition and resolutions for the year that is upon us.

These rituals repeat themselves every year. But do we really mend our ways in the days to come? What really remains after the catharsis we feel as we conclude our fast and our prayers and listen to the sounds of the Shofar?  If we merely return to our old ways, to our comfort zone, to our complacent, “I will sin and then I will atone,” – then how can we repair the world? From where will change come?

And where, within all these prayers of repentance, atonement, and contrition, can we, as a society, carve out a space for our collective soul-searching?

Some might say that collective soul-searching is political, while Yom Kippur is meant to purify our personal souls.  But if Yom Kippur is not to lose its deepest meaning, the fear and trembling that it is meant to stir up in us as we confront our conscience, then we must engage not only in personal prayer, but also in shared contemplation.  We must face those moral codes that are meant to guide us on the Days of Atonement and throughout the year.

And so, I bring my own, personal,  contemplation before you, together with some suggestions for the requests for forgiveness that have yet to be made:

For What and From Whom Do I Ask Forgiveness:

I ask for forgiveness from the members of my family for each and every time that I allowed my temper to overcome my sensibility and my deep love for them.

For the things I said when I was angry, and then was sorry only a moment later.

For the rage that I took out on them, when I was actually angry at myself or someone else.

For all the times that I pretended to be listening, when I really was not.

I ask for forgiveness from all of my partners and coworkers along the way for all the times that I contributed my part to closing down a conversation in a disrespectful way.

I am sorry for all the demonstrations that I didn’t make it to.  For all the times I was silent when I should have stood up and called out.

And I am sorry for all the moments of blindness and lack of empathy.  For the times when I stood idly by when I should have done something.

I am asking for forgiveness from myself for all the times when I lacked courage; when I allowed my fear of failure to constrain my actions.

And at this time of the new year, I make a commitment to myself to be more present.  To keep looking into the distance while remembering that the best place is here and now.

Forgiveness that We Have Yet to Ask:

From the victims of rape and sexual assault who bravely struggle for justice while facing humiliation and abuse by legal system.

From women who earn 30% less for equal work.

From children who live without nutritional or economic security.

From the victims of hate crimes and their families.

From those whose lands were taken from them in the name of “national interests.”

From those who live on the other side of the fence.

From those whose homes were destroyed in war.

From those who lost those who were most precious to them.

From those who lost their homes and their lives as they tried to journey towards a safe haven.

From those who refuse to ignore occupation, discrimination, hatred, racism, sexism, misappropriation and theft, and are cursed and threatened for their courage.

Wishing everyone Shana Tova and G’mar Hatima Tova. May you be signed in the book of life and peace.

Shine a little light: illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima
Shine a little light: illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima

A woman’s prayer

I will fast on Yom Kippur again this year. Not because I have to, but because I choose so. It is a family tradition since the passing of my maternal grandfather, Shaul Beker z”l.

I will fast and pray at the Dror Reform congregation in my neighborhood, and my daughter, Na’ama, will join me. No, she doesn’t have to, but she, like me, appreciates being part of a community that prays and chants and sings, women and men together, on this day. After the prayers, her father will take her to join her friends to play and ride her bike. And next year she will be free to choose where she wants to be.

I will prepare food for those in my family who do not fast, because a shared family space means each and every one has the right to live and be as they choose.

I will, again, shed tears during the Avinu Malkenu prayer, because 20 years ago this prayer pulled me out from an abyss of pain.

And I will dwell and reflect on what I have done, or didn’t, or should have done differently. I will mind, time and again, the gaps between who I wish to be and how I am, especially towards those I love the most. And I will mind, time again, the gaps between my values and my practices.

And I will break the fast, time and again, with my parents, in their home, and the first thing that will receive me at the door will be the light in my mother’s eyes and her warm “G’mar Hatima Tova” embrace.

I make a personal choice, time and again, how my Yom Kippur will be.


I will pray this year, time and again, in my own way, not to the Almighty, but to a private and very personal presence of spirituality and compassion, of deep humanity that is in the soul.

And this year, when Yom Kippur and Eid al Adha are celebrated on the same day, I will wish all my Jewish and Muslim friends who observe a meaningful holiday, one to be shared with family, friends and community.

And I will ponder on the proximity between the sacrifice of Ishma’el and that of Issac, and how we, the humans of this world, are obligated to celebrate the sanctity of life, and challenge the culture that sanctifies the sword.

G’mar Hatima Tova and a blessed Eid al Adha.

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