Where I Come From, A Poem

WHERE I COME FROM by Rivka Liron Bat Cohen


I come

from a people

with a warrior gene

a history of victory

a tendency toward miracle

perpetual David

against perpetual Goliath

a nation of soldiers

an enemy of empire

I come

from a people

where peace is imperative,

a beginning and an ending

an idea we work for

shaped by diversity

embracing difference

loving unity

I come

from a people

with a language

concentrated in one country

spread throughout the world

in houses of worship and houses of man

studied in it’s original form

spoken in partnership

with foreign dialects

breathing familiarity in to tradition

decoding, recoding, and recording existence

I come

from a people

of pioneers

inheritors of our own destination, our own destiny

reality builders

risk takers

tilling territory, toiling in history

working old soil with new hands

I come

from a people

with a code

a guide to improvement

a lesson in connection

a written relic

a living document

shaping ethical landscapes

speaking to individuals

addressing nations

I come

from a people

a spiritual nation

an indescribable inheritance

a disputed definition

a tribe of millions

thriving on questioning

seeking out truth

a symbol of singularity

an echo of eternity..


A Good Heart



“It doesn’t matter what’s going on around you. A good person will rise above it”.  My father had always been a good person, but I had never realized the extent of his wisdom. His words were true. The whole world can be on the wrong path, but if you are strong enough, you can rise above it. 

Today in my University lecture, Professor Steven Katz was talking about those who rescued Jews from the Nazis during world War II.  His ultimate message was that their background didn’t matter, what mattered was their character. If you have good character, you’re going to do the right thing.

In the second chapter of Pirkei Avot, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai says  “Go and see which is the good a man shall cherish most.  Rabbi Eliezer said, a good eye.  Rabbi Joshua said, a good companion. Rabbi Yosi said, a good neighbor. Rabbi Shimon said, foresight. Rabbi Elazar said, a good heart. He said to them: I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to your words, for in his words yours are included”

Character is a  quality that can move mountains.  It can cause a person to rise above a negative situation or to fall below what is right.  As we leave Channukah behind this year, a holiday devoted to standing up for what is right, we should all invest ourselves in building beyond our resumes and becoming people that we would be proud of. We should stand up for what we believe in, build on what makes us good people, and finally, do the right thing.  

אהבת אחות Sisterly Love

“The Mitzvah to love G-d is really a conduit to loving your fellow Jew (for God is within your fellow Jew.)” -The Rebbe

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah while the rest is commentary; go and learn it.”- Hillel

“Love every single Jew, without exception, with the full depth of your heart and with the fire of your soul, no matter who he is or how he behaves.”- Rabbi Eliazer



I can still remember the words of my mother in the car as she tried to keep the peace on our way to school.


“There is never an excuse for hitting your brother.”

 But he said this, and he did that, and he won’t stop this.

 Doesn’t matter.  There is never an excuse for hitting your brother.

 We learned early on that the solution was never hate. It was never violence.  For my family to work, we had to get along.

The Jewish people necessitates a similar attitude. We are a family.  Do we really need someone to tell us that there is never an excuse for hitting our brothers?

Lately, the Women of the Wall have been making headlines as they push for reform in Israel.  The Haredi community has also been making headlines for hateful acts toward the activists.

Whether you are for the Women of the Wall or against the Women of the Wall, there is never an excuse for hitting another Jew.  As they fight for freedom of worship, they should not have to deal with objects being thrown at them.  We were all slaves in Egypt, we were all in the Holocaust, and now we are all throwing chairs and water bottles at each other? How does that make someone a “good jew”?Something doesn’t quite fit.

 Rabbi Hillel said that the meaning of the Torah was “love your fellow Jew, and the rest is commentary.” If this is the case, then shouldn’t respect toward another Yehudi override any ideas of tradition? The laws of Judaism exist to teach the value of loving your fellow.   Regardless of what they are doing, whether it be wearing tallit,  donning kippahs, or being annoying on the way to school, there is never an excuse for hitting your brother.

How Shabbat Brings Us Back to Earth

“Shabbos is practice for the world-to-come.  Weekly practice in living in a world that doesn’t need fixing.”

“On Shabbos you don’t have to believe in holiness because you can see it.”

“More than the Jewish people have kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept the Jewish people”



“No one is going to be there tonight…” I told Yitzi as we trudged through snow and wind to reach our final destination.  The Boston streets were deserted. Commonwealth Avenue was a virtual ghost town.  It was Friday night, and despite pleas from parents and friends that we stay inside, Yitzi and I were heading to Chabad for Shabbat dinner in the midst of what Bostonians often call a “nor’easter (a massive snowstorm enveloping the city).

When we finally reached Chabad’s corner of Comm Ave, we were sure that when we walked through the door we would find no other guests. We were wrong. Contrary to our prediction, the house was more full than we had ever seen it.  The tables could not handle the amount of people.  There was talk of wine and challah shortages. Students were on the floors, in the foyer…everyone had come to Chabad.

So why, on the day when it is the most challenging to reach Shabbat services and dinner, do more people come than when walking to Chabad takes little effort? Is it that significant events such as snowstorms remind us that there is something bigger than ourselves out there? Do we crave the one thing that seems immortal in our minds,a Jewish tradition that has lasted for generations? Or do blizzards and city wide tragedies help us to realize that our everyday challenges are nothing compared to the importance of connecting with other human beings?

All of Friday, April 19,2013, the city of Boston was on lockdown.  Residents were urged to remain indoors as a massive manhunt was underway for a terrorist that had set off bombs at Marathon Monday and hijacked a car after killing a policeman.  With the terrorist still at large, the ban was lifted.  My assumption was that upon my arrival at Chabad, I would be the only guest.  There was a dangerous man on the loose. Who in their right mind would leave the safety of their own home for Shabbat?

I was wrong. When I arrived at Chabad, I encountered the same scene I had witnessed during the snowstorm. Tables were overflowing with people, students were on the floors, in the foyer….everyone had come to Chabad.  Candles were lit, wine was served, pieces of Challah were broken, and I realized that without this night, the snow storms and the lockdowns and the shootings and the craziness would dwell in our minds without end and without purpose. Shabbat is there to remind us that there are focuses in life more important than who’s running from police and who’s stuck inside. It reminds us that in the end, the people around you are the things that matter and that Challah, kugel, and a little wine can fix just about anything.

Letter to the People I Love

we are all architects of our own world; we are the kings of our Kingdom. To the extent that you grasp this in your heart, you will be able to not only understand life, but take control over it, and thus achieve your true desires. 

“Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.” 
― Deborah Reber


It is the curse of the good hearted to want to change the world, and the good hearted exist in this group. While this is a blessing when we are accomplishing our goals and bettering humanity, this way of being is a burden when we realize that we do not have the power to control others.
I had to learn this the hard way, and I hope that you all can use my words and apply them to the current situation affecting our posse.

You can not control anyone else. The only person you can truly control in your life is you. 
-Marci Fried

When a very close friend of mine was going through a dark time in her life, these words kept me centered. Before I realized the truth in them, I spent countless hours worrying and countless hours trying to convince her to be happy. My words had little effect. I realized that although I could not change my peer in the way I wanted to, being able to keep centered and control myself was the one way that I could give her the support that she needed at the time.

Regardless of what we think of anyone’s decision, we can not feel guilt of the outcome. You-we- will inevitably feel pangs of guilt. I know this because you are all caring people. You all have so much love in your hearts and it is impossible to avoid pain when you have been blessed with a soul that feels the pain of others.

But this pain should not be from guilt. You have no control over other’s decisions. Nothing you could have done would have changed anything. All that you could have done was exactly what you were doing-to let your friends know that you supported them and loved them and cared about them. Letting others know that you care about them is the one way to help someone that you can otherwise not control.

As I am saying this, I know that I can not control the pain that you all feel-I know this because I struggle to control the pain in my heart I feel from his leaving. But the best thing that you can do for yourself, for your friend, and for the universe is to keep centered, keep positive, and show the people around you that you love them and are there for them, in whatever way that you can express it.

I love you all. More than you will ever know.