Lisa Gelber
Living Life One Breath at a Time

For The Love of Cheesecake

Yesterday, I walked north of our apartment for the first time in two months. Cheesecake was calling me. Cheesecake? Yes! That morning, I received a note from the Marlene Meyerson JCC informing me that as one of the first 1000 registrants for the Paul Feig z’l Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a slice of cheesecake was waiting for me at Zabar’s. With so many things to do before the onset of the holiday, my copy of Mother Wonderful’s Cheesecakes and Other Goodies would remain on the shelf this year, as would my mix master. Even though the ingredients for a lactose filled Noodle Kugel filled my refrigerator, since dairy is a traditional component of the holiday celebration, I decided to take advantage of this special UWS gift. The certificate said it was only good in the two days leading up to the holiday, so I grabbed my coat, bag and mask and headed north.

Arriving at my destination, I made my way inside and inquired about the cake. Surprise! Apparently there was a mix up and the cheesecake would be arriving Friday or Saturday. OY. So much for the cheesecake. Even for free, our plans for the holy days did not include my trekking to Zabar’s by myself. As I headed home, I thought about my rush to pick up a piece of cheesecake in these final days leading up to the receipt of Torah. For almost 7 weeks, I patiently counted, noticing my inclination towards hesed/compassion for others and when that needed attention for myself. For 48 days, I aimed to open my heart a little more each day, opening to the gifts of on-line interactions – appreciating the ways in which people show up to create sanctuary, hold one another in time and space and celebrate the gift of our lives. Since Passover, I’ve intentionally cultivated the capacity to embrace the PAUSE inserted into our lives here in New York City, even as I’ve worked at full throttle as rabbi, mother, sister, friend and more. With all that practice of noticing, connection and attention to the moment, how was it that I set everything aside for a piece of cheesecake and what would I do now without it?

Here are my learnings:

As much as I’ve tried to remain active at home, my body was craving a long(er) walk. The Torah of that moment was one of new attention to my shifting need for fresh air and sunshine on my bandana clad face.

An unexpected invitation offered a much needed break. Instead of chiding myself for running after the non-existent cheesecake, I’m appreciating the honesty with which I approached the health of my spirit. These days between liberation and revelation are not only about transformation but also the ways in which we come to know ourselves truly, deeply and honestly.

In the past weeks, I’ve received numerous notes about how and what people are learning in these times from me, from others and from themselves. Parker J. Palmer writes, Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. Teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self knowledge-and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject (The Courage to Teach, p.2).

Each of us teaches through our words and our actions, our silences and our inactions. Jewish tradition maintains that teaching another person raises us to the status of parent. Our most authentic teaching, intentional and incidental happens when we are most fully present to ourselves and our motivations. Like Gd, we have the power and potential to connect through awe and compassion, through tradition and change. Today, we stop our counting and stand still, opening our hearts, minds and souls to the Torah of this time, the Torah that will hold and challenge us, the Torah that will carry us forward into the next steps of our journey. May we all merit to receive Torah and maybe even a slice of cheesecake.

@Rabbi Lisa Gelber
May 28, 2020/5 Sivan 5780

About the Author
Lisa Gelber is rabbi, fierce mother, marathon runner, spiritual director, breast cancer survivor, domestic violence advocate and PELOTON enthusiast. She serves Congregation Habonim in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of NYC and earned an Executive Certificate in Facilitation from the Institute for Transformational Leadership at Georgetown University. Her journey to parenthood is profiled in the Emmy nominated documentary ALL OF THE ABOVE: Single, Clergy, Mother.