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            I know, it sounds like I just sneezed on you, but Ushpizin is an Aramaic word that means “guests.” It refers to a Jewish custom, during the holiday of Sukkot (which we are in now), where we are supposed to not just build a temporary hut/booth outdoors and invite real guests to eat with us, but also invite our ancestors. I knew about the idea of inviting friends to eat in the sukkah, and about our patriarch Abraham’s penchant for inviting dusty strangers into his tent, but I didn’t know about the Ushpizin ceremony until recently.

“Did you say Pee?”

            According to tradition, each night a different exalted guest enters the sukkah, and each of the ushpizin has a unique lesson to teach us based on the Sefirot. The Sefirot, translated as attributes, emanations, or illuminations of God’s infinite light, are seen as the channels through which the Divine creative life force is revealed to humankind (according to Kabbalah). The traditional Ushpizin are meant to represent the “seven shepherds of Israel”: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. Some streams of Judaism also recognize a set of seven female shepherds of Israel, called Ushpizot (using the Modern Hebrew feminine pluralization), or Ushpizata (in reconstructed Aramaic).

            The custom of Ushpizin was established by the Kabbalists in the sixteenth century, and while there’s something a little bit woo-woo about the inviting-dead-people-to-eat-with-you thing, there’s also something comforting about it. It reminds me of how the past Jedi masters returned to support new Jedis in the Star Wars movies, and how Harry Potter got to see his parents, and Dumbledore, when he really needed their support, even though they were gone.

            Especially now, when we can’t really invite our friends and neighbors to eat with us, there’s something magical about being able to invite our ancestors to sit with us instead. But, of course, I would prefer to come up with my own list of guests, instead of being stuck with the biblical characters each night.

            For Day One the divine characteristic is Chesed, usually translated as loving kindness, but generally meaning generosity, compassion, and maybe something like the unconditional love of grandparents. The examples in the Reconstructionist prayer book are Abraham and Sarah, but I would choose my grandfather, for his humor and his good conversation, and most of all for how clearly he loved us. I’d invite him every night, if he would come.

“Can I come too?”

            For Day two, the quality is Gevurah, meaning strength, discipline, and adherence to the law. The examples given are Isaac and Rebecca for some reason, but I think I’d invite Ruth Bader Ginsburg for day two.

            For day three the divine quality is Tiferet, or beauty, harmony, and the ability to see the whole picture. The examples given are Jacob and Leah, which makes no sense to me. Neither of them was known for their beauty, as far as I remember. And Jacob stole his brother’s birthright, while Leah stole her sister’s husband, so, not especially harmonious either. I’d like to pick an artist for day three, but I don’t know which one to choose.

“Oooh! Pick me! Pick me!”

For day fourthe characteristic isNetzach, meaning patience, endurance, persistence, and the willingness to demand justice, even from God. The examples given are Moses and Chanah, and though we all know about Moses persisting in his fight to convince Pharaoh to free the Israelites from bondage, Chanah, or Hannah, is more obscure. She is one of the many women in the bible who struggles with infertility (which was a serious affliction in a society where women were only seen as valuable if they could provide children), and she prays to God to give her a son, promising to dedicate his life to the service of God. She ends up becoming the mother of the prophet Samuel (in the first book of Samuel), and when she hands him over to the high priest she is rewarded with the ability to give birth to five more children. So both Moses and Chanah are good examples of persistence, and worthy of attention, but really, I’d rather have a second visit with Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Netzach, to give me some insight into what it took to fight for women’s rights to be considered valuable whether they were wives and mothers or not. Really, someday, I’d like to be someone else’s idea of Netzach myself.  

For day five the characteristic to celebrate is Hod, or holiness with humility, someone who is powerful but not always announcing her strength. The examples given are Aaron and Miriam, and I think I would like to spend some time with Miriam, if only to get to know her better. She doesn’t get much air time in the Torah.

For day six the divine quality is Tzedek, meaning righteousness and self-sacrifice, and the examples given are Joseph and Esther, though each of them actually received quite a lot of earthly riches for their sacrifices. An alternative for day six is Yesod, meaning “foundation,” with a focus on investing in the foundations of our world and creating connections between people. And that sounds like a parent to me. Like my Mom.

Cricket’s home base – Grandma’s lap.

For day seven, the final divine characteristic is Malchut: sovereignty, leadership and sensitivity to the needs of others. The examples are David and Rachel, and David actually makes sense for kingship, though his sensitivity to the needs of others is questionable. I’d like to meet a leader, or a president, who could lead with sensitivity and compassion for her people. Someone who could give me hope for the future.

There is a lovely idea in the Talmud that all Jews should sit in one sukkah together, living together under a shelter of peace, even if we live across the world from each other, or have different beliefs and different life circumstances. I’d like to think we can expand this concept to all of humanity; that we should act as if we all live under the same roof, because, really, we do.

            There’s a line in the Ushpizin ceremony in the Reconstructionist prayer book that really works for me: May this sukkah, vulnerable to sun and wind and rain, teach us that real peace comes not from an external structure, but from the strength of the community that gathers within.

            May we all feel that strength, within us and between us, even as we live in our own vulnerable bodies, minds, homes, and countries.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Ellie, the Love Bug


The other day, when I was driving home from the drug store, the front of my left foot started to cramp out of nowhere. It didn’t impact my driving, but stretching my toes didn’t help, and even the walk back up to the apartment didn’t make it go away completely. The pain was just annoying enough to make me wonder what I might have done to cause my foot to cramp. Was I doing ballet in my sleep? Have I been pointing and flexing my toes without realizing it?

As soon as I got inside, the dogs were desperate to get outside, so Mom and I leashed them up and followed them out the door. I wasn’t watching the dogs closely, because I was too preoccupied with my own thoughts, about ballet and such, but then Mom pointed out that Ellie was limping and I looked up in time to see Ellie hopping around and then flexing her leg back into an arabesque – her left rear leg. The same foot that was bothering me.

I picked her up and touched her paw, to see if she had something caught between the pads (because Butterfly used to get pieces of kibble stuck in her paw on a regular basis), but there was nothing obvious there. Ellie gave a little shriek when I touched her toes, though, and pulled her foot away. I put her back down on the ground and she proceeded to run, hop, stretch, run, and jump in quick succession. She stretched her left leg back in the arabesque position a few more times but then she put her foot down with her full weight on it. She wasn’t crying as she walked on it, so I left her to finish her dancing and peeing and then led both dogs back into the apartment.

Once inside I figured I could get a better look at her foot if I was sitting down on the couch. Thank God it wasn’t Cricket, because she would have ripped off my hand before letting me touch her foot. Ellie is much more trusting, or at least tolerant. I held Ellie in my lap and picked up her left rear paw to examine it more closely, and that’s when I saw the blood. Some of the blood had rubbed off on the top of her right rear paw, but the wound was clearly localized on the left paw. Mom brought out a damp wash cloth to dab the blood away so I could see what might have caused the injury. I worried that one of her paw pads had gotten cut, or that she had glass in her paw, and I started to catastrophize and plan ahead to calling the vet for an emergency appointment and… Mom calmed me down and continued to dab the paw until I could see more clearly. There was no obvious cut, and I couldn’t see any foreign objects, no glass, or pebbles, or needles, or anything else. Mom found a piece of sterile gauze in the medicine cabinet and managed to wrap it around the top of Ellie’s foot and tie a little knot. Then she suggested that we wait and see if the wound was still bothering Ellie after an hour or two, because Ellie wouldn’t thank me for dragging her to the vet just for a scratch that could easily heal on its own.


“Can I have my paw back, please?”

And mom was right: the bandage came off quickly, and the bleeding stopped even quicker than that. Within an hour, Ellie was back to her usual cheerful self, with no sign of an injury. I kept an eye out for the rest of the day for any possible delayed reactions – severed ligaments, swollen ankles, blood, tumors, etc. – but she was fine.

Which left me time to contemplate the weirdness: why did I have that random pain in my foot right before Ellie had an injury in the same freaking foot? Is this some new form of ESP that psychics forgot to mention? Am I the dog mommy of the year – literally able to feel my baby’s pain? Or was it just a silly coincidence that I should ignore, and maybe make sure to do my foot and leg stretches more regularly?

I have no idea. I prefer the magical explanation (for everything), so I tend to over-compensate and be very skeptical of magical explanations, and try hard to find a rational explanation instead. And there’s always a rational explanation available. But…

I think we are all connected, and I think love connects us on an even deeper, more unfathomable level. And I think, maybe, that this was a sign that Ellie and I have found our wavelength, not just because I happened to be lucky enough to be on a call list when Ellie needed a home; not just because she’s cute and lovable in a generic way; but because we’ve done the work to get to know each other.

me and the girls

Cricket has her very own wavelength.

Ellie has become more and more of her own self over time, sleeping flat on her back with her legs in the air, speaking with her own voice (louder and louder as time passes), and running with her own unimaginable joy as she tries to chase the mourning doves as they escape up into the trees. She is a love bug, burying her head under my chin, leaping up for scratches and hugs when we’re out on a walk, following me everywhere (but especially to the kitchen). She loves me, she loves her Grandma, and she even loves Cricket, who sort of, maybe, tolerates her in return.


This doesn’t look comfortable to me, but Ellie loves it.

I’m not saying that I want this connection to continue to express itself in foot pain, in fact, I’d rather it find a nicer vocabulary in the future. But it means something, at least to me.


“We don’t believe in this…stuff.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Amazon page and consider ordering the Kindle or Paperback version (or both!) of Yeshiva Girl. And if you feel called to write a review of the book on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish girl on Long Island named Izzy. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes is true. Izzy’s father decides to send her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, as if she’s the one who needs to be fixed. Izzy, in pain and looking for people she can trust, finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?



ESP in Dogs


            We have a history of ESP in my family – not big stuff, just little things – like knowing when a relative is about to call (before Caller ID), or knowing when a timer is about to buzz.

            Dogs take these little bits of irrational knowledge for granted. They don’t think it’s strange that they can guess when it’s Grandma’s car driving up in the parking lot, or when, without my saying a word or doing anything significant, they know I’m thinking of taking them for a walk. They accept that there are connections and electricity in the air that carry unspoken information, and they don’t rebel against it as eerie or irrational, the way humans do.

            I read an article that said dogs can track our eye movements to read our intent, so that what we interpret as ESP is just heightened attention to our behavior. And, to a degree, I believe that a lot of what we call ESP is really a heightened version of the senses we already have. Someone who seems to have ESP may simply be very good at collecting the information of their five senses, remembering that information, and interpreting it.

Cricket, the observer

Cricket, the observer

Butterfly prefers to absorb information unconsciously

Butterfly prefers to absorb information unconsciously

            But I also believe that there is a level of energy in the world that is beyond every day life. There is a magic that can crop up between people, and dogs are naturally more attuned to these electric and magnetic fields than humans are.

            One night, a few years ago, a friend of mine was in trouble. I don’t know why I knew or even if I knew that he was struggling. Maybe it was a coincidence that I’d emailed him that day. But when he wrote back, he sounded suicidal. He wouldn’t come out and say that, and maybe he would never have acted on it, but I was worried. I wrote back to him and added a note to his cat that she should keep an eye on him and let me know how he was doing.

            Dina, my temperamental black lab mix, usually slept up in my room, but that night, she slept in front of the computer, and then peed on the floor in front of the hard drive. She was getting older, yes, and in a few months she would be regularly incontinent, but not then, not yet. I choose to believe that she had received a message from my friend’s cat and was doing her best to send her own reassuring message in return.

Dina, feeling the vibrations.

Dina, feeling the vibrations.

            Cricket seems to have ESP sometimes too. I have these episodes, when I get tired, where I can’t speak well. I can hear what I mean to say in my mind, even though sometimes my thinking is also garbled in these episodes. I seem to run out of the air necessary to form words with full articulation. But Cricket understands me.

"Yes, Mommy. I understand."

“I’m listening.”

            I could be saying “I…eh…ugh,” out loud, but she knows that I mean “I think it’s time to take the dogs out to pee.’ And she will stand right up and yawn and stretch and come over to my knee, ready to go. Butterfly hasn’t figured out my gobbledy gook yet, but she trusts Cricket to know best and follows her lead.

We think of ESP as magical because we don’t understand how it works. But maybe the magical element of ESP in dogs is not just that they have different abilities than we do, but that they love us enough to use them to communicate with us. I wonder which idea is more frightening: that dogs are smarter than humans in certain ways, or that dogs love us, whether we deserve it or not.

Peaceful, happy Cricket

Peaceful, happy Cricket