Zoo. Pizza. Names. Stuff.

Wow, my last blog post was some time in the middle of 2017!

So much has happened in the past year and half.

Let’s see, in order.

In late October I presented at the ARC conference in Vancouver (my first presentation at one of these things. Holy moly was I nervous. Didn’t sleep for like 3 days before).

Two weeks later I found myself outside of Auckland, New Zeland, teaching at another photographer retreat/shindig. (A Bit More Soul. One of the reasons I haven’t blogged is that each of these occurrences deserved their own post and I just got overwhelmed!)

A day after that I was named one of Rangefinder Magazine’s Top 30 Rising Stars in Wedding Photography (a pretty prestigious reward, shared by pretty much the everyone who’s someone in the wedding world).

Then a month or two later we had a baby boy (child number 6, boy number 5), who is currently adored and pampered by all of his siblings (also deserves its own blog post, duh).

I also started giving workshops on composition, something you’d think I’d write about, you know at least to get people to come…

Later that year (a few months ago) I flew down to Australia to teach at Camp Common Folk, a lovely retreat in the middle of nowhere (4 hours south of Perth which is also fun middle of nowhere), after which I gave workshops in Melbourne and Brisbane.

I’m also like 4 years behind with my “year in review” posts, but I never officially signed up for anything so imagonna pretend those aren’t a thing.  Not to mention all the weddings piled up, just waiting to grace the blog. Because waiting weddings are a thing. Just take my word for it.

And now I finally took the kids to the zoo, so I figured at least that should make it to the blog… Okay, that wasn’t true, I just missed writing and sharing, and the longer I didn’t the more I thought I had to “comeback” with a spectacular post everyone would tell their mom and dog about.

Anyways, as you can tell we went to the zoo, saw some caged animals (always makes me a bit sad) didn’t see a bunch (seriously! The elephant somehow disappeared, rhinos were nowhere to be seen, gorillas and chimpanzees were AWOL…), but we did see lions and some seriously pudgy looking hippos (in a pool full of poop and no grass to be seen). Why do I sound whiney? It was fun! Kind of. 

It was the LA zoo. Aka, somewhere near “the city”. Which means, for us farm dwellers (I can believe what I want, shut up), kosher pizza!

We didn’t want to go to the city itself, because, you know, traffic, and we wanted to try something new. So we did some internet sleuthing (harder than you’d expect) and found this new pizza place/restaurant. But we didn’t realize that the large pizzas were only for taking out and the sitting down area was for fancy food (read: more expensive). So we sat, and the waiters were all milling around, confused when we told them we ordered already. We ended up eating on paper plates (they let us stay!) out of the box while everyone around had pretty food on nice dishes. Whatevs. Live and learn.

I’m telling you all this, not because it’s important, but, actually I have no clue why I’m telling you this.

Truth is I just want to write. For me, for you, doesn’t matter.

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This past week we started reading Shemos, the  second book in the Torah, aka Exodus. Shemos though doesn’t mean exodus, that would be *geulah* (there’s a lovely Israeli song titled Geulah, and I though it was about redemption, but it’s actually about his cat named Geulah, I kind of wish I never knew that, I mean nothing against cats, but they’re not as inspiring as redemption), shemos mean “names”. Whoopdeedoo right? I mean yikes! Whoever was in charge of naming these things was probably just really tired (judge favorably yo!).

But seriously. Everything in the Torah is exact, especially the name of an entire book, so what’s up?

Looking through the book, the most defining moment or event would probably be when the Jews received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Everything was leading up to that point. The enslavement, the redemption, and everything in between. 

About the Mt. Sinai shindig, the Torah says “and he camped there, opposite the mountain”, using the singular term for the word camped. The commentaries explain that they Jews were then “as one man with one heart”. Which, for Jews, is a really big deal. I mean completely and utterly unified? Beating with one heart? Holy moly, that’s legit.

Yet the name of the book, Names, is like the opposite of that. Names are how we are all different. I am Zalmy. You are my mom (and maybe someone else will read this! In that case you’re not my mom). Names are powerful, and it’s often the first thing to be discarded when attempting to dehumanize.

One of the things I love about Torah is that there isn’t one answer. There is no “the” answer. But here’s one (and I didn’t even make it up!).

While the whole one heart thing (no they did not sing kumbaya, please) was amazing, and necessary at the time (when getting something so earth-shattering as the Torah, any ego would have prevented it from being truly assimilated and accepted), is not the ideal.

Not that arguing about a wall on a stranger’s facebook thread is ideal either. (Just clairfying.)

But G-d created us all differently. Unique. Weird, talented, different, imperfect(ly perfect).

And we all have to change the world. Each of us. In our unique way. We need to embrace how we are different, find our talents and run with them.  Fixing the world and revealing the G-dliness within is a creative endeavor, not a mechanical one. 

So (I just wanted to start three paragraphs with the forbidden words, just to see if I get struck by cyber-lighting or something), although the acceptance of the Torah had to be with a complete abnegation of self, the fulfillment of the Torah and it’s directives are only accomplished when we utilize our gifts and talents, not run away from them.

A name is weird. The soul doesn’t have a name, and the body doesn’t. Its only when the two are together that the name serves a purpose. 

And that’s what the Torah is telling us with the name Shemos. The purpose of the Torah and of creation itself is to harmonize the body and soul. To serve G-d in this world and with this world, yet remain G-dly. To take all the lessons and morals of the Torah and use them to change this physical world. To harness each of our unique gifts and quirks, our humors and characters. Because the deepest levels of G-dliness are found not in the spiritual, but in the merging of the physical and spiritual.

The lesson?  I guess don’t run away from who you are. Don’t let it scare you. Embrace it, harness it. But don’t let it control you either. Use it to change the world. Because we all can.

Even you, mom.

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