Practice Makes Perfect II
In August our family spent Shabbat with Sara Wolkenfeld and her 4 kids. They arrived on Friday afternoon after a long journey in a mini van, whose ac broke, and nearly enough perishable food to feed a small village. Throughout Shabbat I watched Sara navigate countless meltdowns, sibling fights, and the stress and exhaustion associated with solo parenting. Despite these challenging moments Sara remained strong in her core. She taught a group of Jewish adults in my parent’s Berkshire community, managed to shower, daven, and enjoy Shabbat in ways that are meaningful for her. Sara is a strong and steady constant amid the windy and often turbulent storm that comes with family life, in addition to being a Torah scholar and educator. Below is her take on the meaning of living a life immersed in ritual and practice:
In theory, I am a person with a lot to contribute to Rebecca's conversation about what it looks like to live a life deeply immersed in ritual and practice. As an Orthodox Jew, the rituals and practices of Judaism are certainly a part of my everyday life. But when I think of a single sustaining discipline in my life, there's no question that everything else - the blessings, prayers, interpersonal interactions, really everything - draws on the spiritual stores created by the time I spend engaged in learning Torah.
I always found the study of Jewish texts to be inspiring, not in an abstract way, but in a very real, personal way. In all the darkest moments of my religious and personal life, learning was the thread that lead me out of the low places. In college, I felt distanced from what I viewed as a closed and cliquish Jewish community, and spent my life feeling “incognito.” In jeans and a t-shirt, I was identifiable only by the tiny gold Jewish star necklace that was a birthday gift from my parents. No one could deduce my religious beliefs by looking at me, but the other students who attended a weekly Gemara class with me- by then, my only real contact with Hillel - knew the truth.
After my father died, suddenly and tragically, a few weeks before my wedding, when prayer felt impossible, studying Gemara was one of the very few constants in my life. (Only in retrospect do I see a connection: Watching my father's chevruta mourn him was one of the saddest parts of losing my father). In the three years that followed, I finished the first tractate of Talmud that I ever studied entirely on my own, outside of a class. I met my bashert chevruta, and entered into a new stage of Jewish learning.
When I was nursing infant twins, unable to participate in the public rituals of Jewish life that had always felt definitional to my sense of self, I felt that maybe I would stop being Orthodox. It was a time of immense strife in the Orthodox community, with significant opposition to advanced Torah learning and leadership positions for women. Somehow in struggling to stay afloat, I closed my eyes to everything else and focused on learning. I covered new topics and stayed in the Orthodox community.
Weeks after my mother died, when I discovered I was pregnant with my fourth child, it was the discipline of daf yomi (the daily study of a page of Talmud) that gave structure to my days. Much like meditation, perhaps (something I've never been good at) it quelled the nausea and allowed me to move forward with my life. And in the weeks after my daughter was born, several of my chevrutot, my weekly learning partners, continued to meet with me at home and we continued our learning while she nursed.
My learning is communal - I love to learn with and around others who are studying Torah - but is also intensely personal, connecting me to my feelings about God, my childhood, who I want to be and what I want to know. When I teach Torah, I hope to inspire others.
Sara Wolkenfeld is Director of Education at Sefaria, a digital library and new interface for Jewish texts. She has previously worked as Director of Education at the Center for Jewish Life - Hillel at Princeton University, where she and her husband David served as the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus Jewish educators. During the summers, Sara teaches at the Drisha Institute in New York City. She holds a BA in Judaica and Comparative Literature from the University of Pennsylvania, and has studied Talmud and Jewish Law at Midreshet Lindenbaum, Drisha, Pardes, Nishmat, Yeshiva University's Bernard Revel School, and Beit Morashah. Sara lives in Chicago with her husband and their four children.
Almond Raisin Scones
About two years ago I decided to ban processed breakfast foods from our house – namely, cereal. The upside to this decision is that I know we are all getting whole foods into our bellies first thing in the morning. The down side: I have to provide the alternative. Best breakfasts in my house are those can be eaten on the go. I usually make some kind of muffin or oatcake. My baking usually features what Odelia calls “secret ingredients”, a healthy spin like flax meal or whole grain flours. This week I decided to try scones.
These scones are delicious alone and even better when warmed in the oven with a bit of jam and butter.
1c. white flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/3 c.flax meal
1/4 c. coconut palm sugar or regular sugar
1 1/5 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. plus 1 tbs. chilled butter
1/3 c. raisins
3 tbl. slivered almonds
1/2 c. milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
a bit of maple syrup
Preheat oven to 375°.
Combine flour and next 5 ingredients in a bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in raisins and almonds
Combine 1/2 cup milk and egg; add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist. (Dough will be sticky.)
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead lightly 4 or 5 times with floured hands. Spoon dough rounds onto baking sheet. Brush with 1 tbl. milk and drizzle with maple syrup.
Bake at 375° for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.