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October 2016
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December 2016

Exciting news: I'm coming to Williams!

Williams-college_2015-12-01_15-11-26.638Exciting news: this spring, in addition to serving my congregation as their rabbi, I'll have the opportunity of another way to serve -- I'm going to be the interim Jewish chaplain to the College at Williams College, my alma mater!

In 2017 it will be 25 years since I first came to the Purple Valley to attend Williams. One of my first memories of that freshman fall is of going to Friday night dinner and services at the Jewish Religious Center (a.k.a. the JRC).

For the four years I was an undergrad, I was intimately involved with the Williams College Feminist Seder Project. The JRC is where I first met Rabbi David, with whom I now serve as co-chair of ALEPH. I am delighted by the prospect of being able to give back to the campus Jewish community that set me on the path to who and where I am today.

My work at Williams will have (at least) two facets: caring for the college Jewish community (a.k.a. WCJA), and engaging with the multi-faith community on campus. I'm excited about both of these. I'm looking forward to getting to know a new generation of Jewish Williams students and seeing how their Jewish experience at Williams both is and isn't different from the one I remember. And I'm looking forward to working with the Christian, Catholic, and Muslim chaplains on campus -- and with the student faith-communities they serve -- as together we navigate what it means to be people of faith in a multi-faith world at this moment in time.

I will also still be serving Congregation Beth Israel as their rabbi, and that's an honor and a privilege too. I'll still be leading davenen at CBI two Shabbat mornings a month and leading our meditation minyan on Friday mornings, teaching my five b'nei mitzvah students, offering an Introduction to Judaism class on Wednesday evenings, preparing for the round of winter and spring holidays, and offering pastoral care and lifecycle support to the shul community.

I know that there will be challenges in making two halftime jobs dovetail, but I am committed to making it work this spring -- and I'm excited about the possibilities of more closely connecting the synagogue in Northern Berkshire with the campus Jewish community of which I once again get to be a part. 

Waking up again - for People & The Book / The Jerusalem Report


How much of your life do you spend sleepwalking? How much of your life do you spend going through the motions, carried forward by force of habit rather than any particular consciousness or will? Most of us do this, much of the time.

I wake in the morning, make the kid breakfast, get us dressed, pack our lunches, see him safely onto the schoolbus, and go to work, glancing at emails and Facebook messages all the while. Your variation probably looks slightly different, but not that different. Morning routines followed by the workday, evening routines followed by sleep.

There are good reasons why human beings routinize daily acts. Otherwise we'd be paralyzed by possibility. But the danger of routine is that we stop noticing what's beautiful, or moving, or real. Our lives become cookbook recipes from which we never divagate. We forget to add the most critical ingredients: mindfulness and heart. We move through our lives asleep.

This week's Torah portion offers us a striking example of what it might look like to wake up. Jacob rests his head on a stone and dreams of a ladder rooted in the earth reaching up to the heavens, with angels ascending and descending upon it. (Ex. 28:12) He has an encounter with God and when he wakes he is shaken: "Surely God is in this place," he exclaims, "and I -- I did not know!" (Ex. 28:16)...

Those are the first few paragraphs of my latest essay / d'var Torah, written on next week's Torah portion, Vayetzei, for the "People & The Book" section of The Jerusalem Report

Those who live in Jerusalem can pick up a print copy of the magazine; others can click through to read the column at The Jerusalem Post



A crack in everything


I was walking with my son at MASS MoCA on a recent rainy day. He was collecting Pokémon on my phone, and I was letting my mind wander with our footsteps. The asphalt of the pavement beneath my feet was cracked in several places. As in many places, the cracks had been filled in and repaired.

But then I noticed that these repaired cracks weren't quite like the ones I see everywhere else. They gleamed. They were golden. And then I noticed the small plate on the side of building 11 indicating that this is an art piece by Rachel Sussman, part of an exhibition called The Space Between. Here's how the artist herself describes the piece:

Fracture is investigated by Rachel Sussman, who restores cracks in pavement in the museum parking lot by adapting the Japanese art of kintsukuroi. On the ground in the interior courtyard behind the museum’s main building, resin and gold powder fill the cracks on the ground caused by cars and weather. The tiny streams of gold create fractal patterns recalling aerial topographical photographs. The philosophy of kintsukuroi treats cracks as fundamental parts of an object, noting that value lies in accepting change and underscoring the aesthetic qualities of imperfection and use rather than disguising flaws.

I learned the name of the art as kintsugi, and I've written about it before (see From trauma to healing, a d'var Torah I shared for Shemini a couple of years ago.) I learned about it from a blog reader, who told me about it after I posted the poem Find in April 0f 2015. The art, as I understand it, inheres in repairing broken things with gold so that their brokenness becomes a focal point and a locus of beauty, rather than being a cause for shame. 

We all have broken places. Our bodies break -- I became aware of that in a new way when I had my strokes. And even absent something dramatic like a stroke, our bodies all have flaws, and the older we get, the less our bodies match the supposed ideals of youthful slimness that our current culture so prizes. Our hearts break -- we experience love lost or unrequited, seasons of loneliness and invisibility, the personal griefs that we all come to carry. Our minds break -- over time they lose their elasticity, and remembering things becomes more difficult. And our spirits break -- the world is unfair, children fall ill and do not recover, world news can be horrifying and disheartening. We are all broken, sometimes.

It can be tempting to try to hide the brokenness. To put a bandaid on it, or cover it over with makeup, or put on the proverbial happy face and pretend it away. And there are times when pretending at gratitude can help us actually get there. But there are also times when pretending away our brokenness and our grief is a form of spiritual bypass. I think that often authentic spiritual life demands something different: that we feel what we feel, and that we call it what it is, honestly and openly. Sometimes we feel broken. (Sometimes we are broken.) And that's okay. Granted, it doesn't feel good. Nobody wants to be broken. But pretending that we are otherwise doesn't actually change anything. The art of kintsugi offers a different path: paint our broken places gold.

Paint our broken places gold, and embrace them. Recognize that the more life we have lived, the more scars we are likely to have -- visible or invisible -- and that our scars are not a flaw in us, but an intrinsic part of what makes us human. Beyond that: our broken places can paradoxically be a source of our wholeness. The sages of the Talmud taught that if an earthen vessel becomes tamei ("impure," charged-up with spiritual energy in a dangerous way) the way to make it tahor (pure) is to break it and glue it back together. Torah teaches that we are beings of the earth: we too can become pure and whole not despite our brokenness, but in and through it. Or as the Leonard Cohen z"l wrote, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

I'm grateful to Rachel Sussman for adding a little bit of beauty and sparkle to the rain-drenched pavement outside of MASS MoCA, and for reminding me to find the beauty in my own broken places.


Reflections on the anniversary of becoming a mom

4166882213_c88ecdf42d_zUntil I became a parent, I didn't think much about how every person's birthday can (or at least might) also mark a day of transition for the woman who brought that person into the world. I didn't think about how my birthday is a kind of anniversary for my mother. Year after year, my birthday must be for her a reminder of the day in late March when I decided I was ready to enter the world some ten weeks ahead of schedule.

Each year on my son's birthday I remember what it was like to drive to the hospital on the day after Thanksgiving. I remember how it felt to be attached to the pitocin drip that told my body it was time to begin labor, and to move through labor (with expert assistance from nursing staff, doula, and obstetrician). I remember closing my eyes and singing we are opening up in sweet surrender silently to myself when it was time to push.

I remember holding an impossibly tiny newborn on my chest, snugged in a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer. I remember the clarity of mind that accompanied that moment -- the realization that my life had changed in ways I knew I couldn't yet imagine. I remember eating pizza, that night -- we bought several, after he was born, and distributed them giddily to the nursing staff on duty -- and how good it tasted after the work of labor. I remember thinking okay, now what?

I didn't know then that the valley of the shadow of postpartum depression awaited me. I didn't know then that I would write one poem a week during my son's first year of life -- the poems that now make up Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia, 2013). I re-read that collection now and feel a strange combination of recognition and unfamiliarity. Life with a seven year old bears almost no resemblance to what I chronicled then. But I am endlessly grateful for the adventure of parenthood. I'm endlessly grateful for the soul that is in my keeping, this beautiful and thoughtful and goofy and funny human being who I am privileged to parent.

IMG_3754Becoming a parent has changed my relationship with God. I have been blessed to learn deep compassion and empathy in other ways too, not only through the vehicle of parenthood. There are others beyond my son to whom I extend my heart and my care. But I feel a unique responsibility for and to my son, because I grew him from component cells. Because I brought him into this world.

I take the love and compassion and anticipatory grief I feel for my child (who is beautiful, and perfect, and deserving of care, and who I know will experience losses over his life, as we all do) and I magnify it by the number of souls who have ever lived and will ever live, and I glimpse of what God must feel. Ha-rachaman: the Merciful One, the Enwombed One, the One in Whose Compassionate Womb all of creation is nurtured!

And the pride and joy and satisfaction I find in my child (who is kind and thoughtful and surprising) magnified by the number of souls who have ever lived and will ever live... Contemplating that, I have renewed empathy for the cosmic Parent Who weeps with us when we are hurt, and rejoices with us when we are glad, and wants us to grow into all that we can become, as I want my child to grow into everything that he can become. 

Today, as I wish my son a happy seventh birthday, I wish myself a happy seventh anniversary of motherhood. May I live up to the challenge of rearing him to be simultaneously strong and gentle, thoughtful and empathetic, creative and rooted: a citizen of the wide world who knows where he comes from, whose deep roots enable him to spread his wings as he becomes whoever he yearns to be.


Come to the NHC Winter Retreat!

5bd1fd97-46fb-43ab-b377-b2602fab433aEver thought about attending a National Havurah Committee retreat? Next month they'll be holding their annual winter retreat in Palmer, MA from December 16-18.  This year’s retreat will feature a wide variety of ALEPH folks, including me and my co-chair Rabbi David Evan Markus, ALEPH-ordained Rabbi Cherina Eisenberg, ALEPH rabbinical student Carl Woolf, and Rabbi David Seidenberg.

Rabbi David will be teaching a workshop on angels, and I'll be teaching a workshop on writing prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving, and together we'll offer a workshop on the Shema and the mystical ascent of Isaac the Blind. We'll also be co-leading Sunday morning services together, so expect lots of harmony and song. (I'm already looking especially forward to that part.) Here's how the organizers describe the weekend:

Studying Torah and celebrating a musical Carlebach-style Kabbalat Shabbat service begin the weekend together.  Friday evening continues with dinner, singing, and study sessions.  On Saturday and Sunday, take time for spirited prayer, or walk at the lake, study accessible texts, learn and sing new songs, stretch your body and your mind. There will also be a supervised program for children, with time for learning and entertainment as well as play – both inside and outdoors.

Camp Ramah in New England is located just outside of Palmer, MA, a few miles north of exit 8 off the Mass turnpike.  It is about an hour from either Boston or Hartford, CT, 90 minutes from Albany, NY or Providence, RI., and about 3 hours from New York City.

Download the full brochure and registration form!

I hope you'll join us!

New at The Wisdom Daily


When I was younger,
I believed the mystical teachings
could erase sorrow. The mystical teachings
do not erase sorrow.
They say, here is your life.
What will you do with it?

— Yehoshua November, “Two Worlds Exist”

These lines are from the opening poem of Yehoshua November’s new collection of poetry, Two Worlds Exist. When I first read them, they went directly to my heart.

Yes: the great teachings of my tradition often offer me comfort – and there are sorrows those teachings cannot touch. It is childish to imagine that if only I could find the right teaching, the right text, I could erase grief — my own, or that of someone I love. Better to let the texts do as November describes: to let them open up for me the sacred text of my own life and wait for me to answer their question with my choices, with my living....

That's the beginning of my latest post for The Wisdom Daily, which is both a personal reflection and a review of Yehoshua November's latest collection. Read the whole thing: Here Is Your Life. What Will You Do With It?

A sweet Shabbes (and then some) in Michigan

What a gift it is to get to spend a Shabbes (and then some) the way I just did!

On Friday night, Rabbi David and I went to Shir Tikvah in Troy, MI, to serve as the official ALEPH representatives at the installation of our dear friend and colleague (and fellow ALEPH Board member) Rabbi Aura Ahuvia as the new rabbi there.

We spent most of the evening on the bimah with Hazzan Steve Klaper and Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg, the four of us surrounding Rabbi Aura and singing with her in impromptu harmonies. We sang three different "Lecha Dodi" melodies, one of which I'd never heard before. We sang "Yihiyu L'ratzon" and "Oseh Shalom" to the tune of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." I think the highlight of my night was Shir Yaakov's "Higale Na" -- one of my favorite melodies to harmonize to, with some of my favorite people to harmonize with. I know I've said this before, but singing beloved liturgy in harmony with beloved friends who love the liturgy as much as I do is basically my idea of heaven. It was also a particular highlight to hear words from Reverend Bill Kondrath as part of Rabbi Aura's installation -- he was one of my teachers at Clergy Camp last summer.

On Shabbes morning we gathered with the Pardes Hannah community, which is led by Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg (known in the ALEPH world simply as Reb Elliot.) Reb Elliot teaches Hasidut in the ALEPH Ordination Program. I've davened with Reb Elliot before, when I was in rabbinical school, but there's a difference between being with someone in the unique holy container of an ALEPH Ordination Program intensive, and being with them in their own home context, their own home community. I loved getting to see what kind of services he leads when he's at home with his own congregants. I shared poetry interwoven with the morning service, and Rabbi David shared a beautiful d'var Torah on the weekly Torah portion, healing from hurt, and vision.

Part of the fun of the Listening Tour we engaged in over our first fifteen months as co-chairs of ALEPH was getting to daven in so many different ALEPH places around the continent. No two Jewish Renewal services are the same. While both Shir Tikvah and Pardes Hannah use their own homegrown siddurim (prayerbooks), the two siddurim are different. The Shir Tikvah siddur is beautifully designed and thoughtfully put-together. Reb Elliot's siddur is packed full of great poetry (Louise Glück, Mary Oliver) and texts from the Jewish mystical tradition. As a liturgy geek, I love seeing what texts people use when they daven. And as a Renewalnik, I love seeing how skilled leaders of prayer take whatever texts are in their book and bring them alive in a way that brings the daveners more to life ourselves too -- to me that's one of the practices at Jewish Renewal's core. 

After lunch, Rabbi David and I spoke with the room a bit about ALEPH and Jewish Renewal, which led into a rich and thoughtful conversation about Jewish Renewal's past, present, and future. That led seamlessly into some mid-afternoon text study. Reb Elliot had prepared texts from two Hasidic masters, Netivot Shalom and Kedushat Levi, on the week's Torah portion. There was a moment when we were all sitting around the living room with text handouts, and someone made a fabulous point that incisively made the text and its relevance more clear, and I couldn't help beaming, and Rabbi David turned to me and murmured "welcome home." It did feel like a kind of homecoming: to be seated in the house of my teacher and friend, learning with dear friends again, immersing ourselves in words of Torah at the afternoon peak of a prayerful Shabbat. 

And then came Saturday night, a havdalah program called An Evening of Song and Spirit(s) in Detroit. The program was created by Rabbi Dan Horowitz of The Well, and co-presented by ALEPH and Hazon (and supported by the Covenant Foundation; thanks to all of the above.) The event was held in a place called Ponyride, a coworking space and event space located in an old warehouse. Rabbi Dan led us in dance niggunim. Cantor Michael Smolash of Temple Israel led some beautiful niggunim (wordless Hasidic melodies), as did Rabbi Alana Alpert (who chose to bring one of my favorite melodies from Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal community of Jerusalem -- the niggun they call Into the West.) Reb Elliot offered teachings from the Zohar at the intersection of the old week's Torah portion and the Torah portion for the week that was on the cusp of beginning. Rabbi David offered a contemplative / experiential deep dive into portals in holy time. And I shared poems from Open My Lips and from my as-yet unpublished next manuscript Texts to the Holy

Sunday was a day of deep ALEPH conversations with our hosts, Reb Elliot and his wife Linda Jo Doctor (who, like Rabbi Aura, serves with us on the ALEPH Board.) We started talking shop over coffee first thing in the morning and didn't stop  until evening when it was time for the two of us to regretfully take our leave and head for the airport to return home. (And yes, we managed a trip to Zingerman's in there -- which is every bit as fabulous a place as their catalogue had led me to believe.)

A weekend like this one may be physically tiring, but it's emotionally and spiritually restorative. I'm so grateful to our hosts in Troy and Detroit and Ann Arbor for welcoming us into their homes and communities and prayer spaces, and for the opportunity to have my heart and soul enlivened by the feeling of "coming home" into communities where I had never before been.

Michigan, here I come!

On the roadI'm heading to Michigan today with my ALEPH co-chair Rabbi David Evan Markus. We have a few special things on our schedule for the weekend.

Tonight we'll be at Shir Tikvah in Troy, MI, to serve as the official ALEPH representatives at the installation of our dear friend and colleague (and fellow ALEPH Board member) Rabbi Aura Ahuvia as the new rabbi there.

Tomorrow morning we'll daven with Pardes Hannah, the Jewish Renewal / ALEPH Network minyan in Ann Arbor which happens to be led by our dear friend and teacher Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg (who taught both of us Hasidut in rabbinical school.) 

At both of those Shabbat services, we'll both offer some words of Torah: Rabbi David in prose, and me in poetry. 

And tomorrow night we'll be in Detroit at The Well for An Evening of Song and Spirit(s). (If you're interested in joining us, register at Space is limited, so sign up now!)

While we're in the area, we're hoping to see other hevre (colleagues), meet with some folks who are interested in ALEPH, and hopefully make a visit to Zingerman's, since I've been enjoying their mail-order business for years but have never been there in person.

I'm looking so forward to being with friends and colleagues this Shabbat. If you're in Michigan I hope to see you at Shir Tikvah, Pardes Hannah, and/or The Well!

A sweet Shabbat to all who celebrate. 

Standing against oppression

I am proud and humbled to serve, with Rabbi David Evan Markus, as co-chair of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal which just put out this statement and petition. If the President-Elect were to require Muslims to register with the government, we encourage all Americans to register with them. As Jews we have living historical memory of that kind of state-sanctioned mistreatment, and we will not stand idly by if it is perpetrated again. The text of the resolution is below; it's also at where you can add your name.


Standing With Non-Jews Against Oppression



As initially proposed by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal 


President-Elect Trump repeatedly has advocated and expressed his intention that Muslims resident in the United States will be required to register as such with the United States government; and

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution bans state action in respect of any establishment of religion, including tests and other qualifications on the basis of religion; and

Article II of the United States Constitution obliges the President of the United States to take care that the Constitution and laws of the United States are faithfully executed; and

Incitement and intolerance of invidious discrimination on the basis of any religion, ethnicity, race, gender, nationality or sexual orientation cultivates a civic climate that countenances all such discrimination, including anti-Semitism; and

Incitement and tolerance of religious discrimination have no place in any civil society; and

The Jewish people have living memory of anti-Jewish legislation and other official discrimination in Nazi Germany, including civic disqualification and registration with the government, preceding the Holocaust; and

Core Jewish spiritual values teach that one must not stand idly by the blood of one’s neighbor (Leviticus 19:16), and that one must love one’s neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18); and

Principles of deep ecumenism  view all religious traditions as potential paths to the sacred; and

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi  z”l (of blessed memory) professed faith with the Sufis of Hebron to exemplify the spiritual principle that Jews can and must stand in faithful co-religionist solidarity with Muslims;


If Muslims are required to register as such with the United States government, then all Jews — and all other persons in familial or communal relationship with Jews — are urged to register as Muslims immediately; and

All Jewish clergy associations based in the United States — including OHALAH (Renewal), Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform), Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative), Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (Reconstructionist) and Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox) — as well as the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, its constituent organizations, all Jewish seminaries and other institutions of learning, and all other Jewish organizations, are urged to adopt, implement and publicize this resolution by all available means; and

All other clergy organizations and other faith-based organizations operating or having influence in the United States are urged to adopt, implement and publicize corresponding versions of this resolution most suitable to the tenets and contexts of their respective faith traditions; and

If Muslims are required to register as such with the United States government, then a goal is established that every United States resident promptly will register as a Muslim; and

Each ratifying organization will transmit a copy of this resolution to the official government office of Donald J. Trump as of its date of ratification; and

This resolution will be publicized by all available means.


Building the world we want to see


Hope, said Frances Moore Lappé, “is a stance, not an assessment.” But applied hope is not mere glandular optimism. The optimist treats the future as fate, not choice, and thus fails to take responsibility for making the world we want. Applied hope is a deliberate choice of heart and head. The optimist, says David Orr, has his feet up on the desk and a satisfied smirk knowing the deck is stacked. The person living in hope has her sleeves rolled up and is fighting hard to change or beat the odds. Optimism can easily mask cowardice. Applied hope requires fearlessness.

That's from a commencement speech called "Applied Hope," by Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute. I'm struck by his assertion that the person who is living in hope is working hard toward creating a better future. It's easy to imagine that hope is a passive stance, but that's clearly not how Lovins sees it. (You can find the whole speech online if you are so inclined. A friend sent it to me a few days ago and there's much in it that moves me.) Lovins writes:

The most solid foundation for feeling better about the future is to improve it -- tangibly, durably, reproducibly, and scalably. So now is the time to be practitioners, not theorists; to be synthesists, not specialists; to do solutions, not problems; to do transformation, not incrementalism. Or as my mentor Edwin Land said, “Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.” It’s time to shift our language and action, as my wife Judy says, from “Somebody should” to “I will,” to do real work on real projects, and to go to scale. As that early activist St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” In a world short of both hope and time, we need to practice Raymond Williams’s truth that “To be truly radical is to make hope possible, not despair convincing.”

That last sentence really gets to me. "To be truly radical is to make hope possible, not despair convincing." Despair is often convincing, and almost everyone has reasons for despair at least some of the time. Maybe your despair is personal: your own grief or illness, or a loved one who is sick or suffering, or an injustice in your personal sphere that brings you to tears. Maybe your despair is on a bigger scale: Brexit, the American Presidential election, the realities of hatred and xenophobia. I do not deny anyone's reasons for despair. To paraphrase Hamilton's George Washington, "despair is easy, young man: hoping is harder."

I wrote a d'var Torah last month called Be strong and open your heart that explored the question of hope from a spiritual perspective. I wrote, "hope is the quintessential psycho-spiritual move of Jewish life. To be a Jew is to hope toward -- and, importantly, to act toward -- a world that is better than the one we know now." Hope for a better world may seem especially inaccessible to some of us right now. But our spiritual tradition calls us to cultivate hope, and to be galvanized thereby to act toward making that hope a reality. That's the work at hand. That's always the work at hand. 

Returning again to Lovins' commencement address:

So with the world so finely balanced between fear and hope, with the outcome in suspense and a whiff of imminent shift in the air, let us choose to add the small stubborn ounces of our weight on the side of applied hope. As Zen master Gôtô-roshi put it, “Infinite gratitude toward all things past; infinite service to all things present; infinite responsibility to all things future.”

This mission is challenging. It requires you to combine sizzle in your brain, fire in your belly, perseverance rooted like a redwood, and soul as light as a butterfly. According to the Internet, one Michael C. Muhammad said: “Everything works out right in the end. If things are not working right, it isn’t the end yet. Don’t let it bother you -- relax and keep on going.”

I'm not sure I agree with the "don't let it bother you" part. Our world is badly broken, and that absolutely should bother us. But we shouldn't allow it to paralyze us. And what I take from his Michael C. Muhammad quote is the assurance that if the world is not redeemed, then our work is not yet done. If there is still injustice in the world, then our work is not yet done. If there is still bigotry in the world, then our work is not yet done. If xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism, rape culture, and hatred of the Other still plague us, then our work is not yet done. Friends, I have news for you: our work is not yet done. 

Lovins -- like the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks (who I quoted in that d'var Torah I mentioned earlier) asks us to imagine the world as it does not yet exist -- to look beyond what is to what could be. Lovins writes, "Imagine a world where reason, diversity, tolerance, and democracy are once more ascendant; where economic and religious fundamentalism are obsolete; where tyranny is odious, rare, failing, and dwindling; and where global consciousness has transcended fear to live and strive in hope."  I want to imagine a world where the vulnerable are protected, where no one is at risk of sexual assault, where religious freedom is guaranteed and celebrated, where diversities of all kinds are valued. 

Each of us will have her own list of the things that feel most important about the vision of a world redeemed. What matters is that we have the vision -- that we cultivate the vision. This will take work on our parts. We have to dream of the world we need, even when doing so feels vulnerable or scary. We have to imagine the world as we most want it to be, as our hearts ache for it to be. Dream big, and fix those dreams in the forefront of your vision. And then figure out how to take one small step in the direction of those dreams, and another, and another. That's the only way we'll get there. And that's the work we're here in this life to do: to love and to dream, to hope and to build. 


Prayer After the Election


Today mourning and celebration commingle.
Jubilation and heartache are juxtaposed
In neighborhoods where lawns proclaimed
Support for different candidates, on Facebook walls
And Twitter streams where clashing viewpoints meet.

Grant us awareness of each others’ hopes and fears
Even across the great divides of red state and blue state,
Urban and rural. Open us to each others’ needs.
Purify our hearts so that those who rejoice do not gloat
And those who grieve do not despair.

Strengthen our ability to be kind to one another
And to ourselves. Awaken in us the yearning
To build a more perfect union. Let us roll up our sleeves
Whether today we feel exultation or sorrow, and together
Shape a nation of welcome and compassion.

Let ours be a land where no one need fear abuse
Or retribution, where every diversity is celebrated,
Where those who are most vulnerable are protected.
May bigotry and violence vanish like smoke.
May compassion prevail from sea to shining sea.

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat


Written for (and first published at) Kol ALEPH, the blog of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

On grief and moving forward

This morning I presided over a funeral for a beloved member of my congregation. It was hard to shake the sense that many of us were mourning not only that loss, but also the loss of a vision of our nation as a place of hope and inclusion. Even those who are happy with yesterday's outcome may be feeling shaken by the reminder of how stark are the divisions within our nation.

To everyone who is feeling grief today, I say: it is okay to feel how you are feeling. Whatever you are feeling, take permission to feel it. Let yourself grieve.

Take comfort in what you can: the presence of friends or family, whatever sweetness or kindness you can find, a cup of coffee, the fact that the sun rose this morning.

Recognize that grief comes and goes in its own rhythms. So, too, does healing. Be gentle with yourself today and in days to come. Be gentle with those you encounter.

When grief is strong, it can seem impossible to imagine that one will ever feel differently. But this is not all there is. Loss is not all there is. Grief is not all there is.

Jewish tradition wisely instructs mourners to retreat from the world for a week. The customs of shiva are designed to insulate mourners from the hard edges of the outside world. They remind us to take the time we need to tell stories, to remember, and to grieve.

At the end of shiva, there is a custom of leaving one's house through one door, walking around the block, and then entering the house through a different door. We will emerge from our grief changed by the experience of the grieving. We will exit what was and enter into something new.

In this week's Torah portion, Lech-Lecha, God calls Avram to leave his home and go forth into the place that God will show him. The opening words are often translated as "Go forth," but they can also be understood to mean "Go into yourself." Like Avram, we too are called to journey deep into ourselves, to dedicate ourselves to the spiritual work of becoming.

Avram had to leave everything that was familiar. He too must have felt that he had lost his narrative about who he thought he was and what he thought was ahead of him. But somehow he found the strength for the journey, and so will we.

We may need to grieve, but we must resist despair. Despair is corrosive, and it denies our agency and our ability to create change.

We can cultivate hope. We can build a better world. We owe it to ourselves and to those who will come after us to continue trying to build a world of justice and lovingkindness, a world in which no one need fear abuse or mistreatment, a world in which diversities of all kinds -- of race and creed and sexual orientation -- are honored and celebrated. A world in which the vulnerable are protected. A world in which bigotry and hatred vanish like smoke, and generosity of spirit and compassion prevail.

In this moment I don't know how we will do that. I don't know what steps we will take or how they will get us where we need to go. But I know that this is the journey to which we are called, and that we will journey together.



You may find comfort, as I did, in this from Rabbi David Evan Markus: The Day After.

Cross-posted to my congregational blog.

Prayers for voting

Vote_500x279I've shared these resources before, but they bear repeating, I think:

A Prayer For Voting by Rabbi David Seidenberg

A Prayer For Voting by Rabbi Sami Barth

First Step: Lech Lecha -- a Torah poem written eight years ago on Election Day, when Election Day fell (as it does this year) during the week of parashat Lech Lecha

And here's an essay I haven't shared on this blog before (though those of you who follow me on Facebook may already have seen it): Vote Your Privilege by Rabbi David Evan Markus. He writes, "This year I'll cast my vote on behalf of... a politics worthy of everyone – whatever they look like, whomever they love, whether or however they pray." Amen v'amen.

May the results of tomorrow's elections in the United States bring us closer to a world of hope, justice, and opportunity for all.

Take care of yourself as Election Day approaches

Election-stress-americaThe American Psychological Association reports that the Presidential election is a source of "significant stress" for a majority of Americans. I'm not surprised to hear it. Everyone I know is surfing waves of anxiety right now. I don't ever remember an election where the choices seemed this stark, the rhetoric this toxic, and the nation this divided.

Anecdotal conversation with a colleague who works as a therapist yielded a report that she's never seen pre-election anxiety this dramatic in all her years of practice. If you are feeling anxious, stressed-out, and/or afraid of what may be coming, you are not alone.

Take care of yourself over these next few days. 

For some of us self-care might mean pounding the pavement with get-out-the-vote initiatives, or making phone calls to potential voters. Taking action can be a way of asserting some control over a situation that otherwise feels vast and out of our hands, and that can be a form of self-care.

For others of us self-care might mean turning off the television, clicking away from Facebook and Twitter, and resisting the temptation to refresh Five Thirty Eight one more time. Self-care might involve choosing to diminish our intake of the 24-hour news cycle and the constant stream of data and opinions across social media networks.

Do what you need to do to take care of yourself. This goes doubly for those of us who are tasked with caring for others -- our children, our parents, our loved ones, our congregations. It is always okay to engage if that will help you through, and it is always okay to disengage if that's what you need to do. Listen to your body and to your heart, not just to your mind and the narratives your mind spins about what you "should" (or shouldn't) be doing with your time as the election approaches. 

For me, self-care includes ensuring that I get enough rest, cooking foods that I will enjoy eating, pausing to articulate gratitude for being alive and for the food that I have to eat, seeking out small sources of beauty like the red leaves on the bush I can see from my home office window or the bright orange of the pumpkins at our door. Lately it also includes pausing for short stints of contemplative practice during which I recognize the anxiety that the election is provoking in me, and give myself permission to feel what I am feeling, and then gently tell the anxiety that it is not needed and do my best to let it go. 

Most of all it means seeing myself through gentle eyes, and being kind to myself. May you find access to your best forms of self-care in the coming days. 




How news and social media can hurt us, 2014

Salve, 2014

Safe from the storm: a d'var Torah for parashat Noach


This year as I read this week's Torah portion a three-word phrase leapt out at me. It comes after the part about how Noah built the ark, and all the animals that he collected inside it -- between all of those descriptions, and the Flood itself. ויסגור ה' בעדו: "And God shut him in."

Rashi notes that the literal meaning of this phrase is that God closed the door of the ark behind Noah, protecting him from the waters that would rage outside the door. The commentator known as the Radak writes that "God protected him against the chance of even a small hole opening in the ark as a result of the powerful rains." One way or another, this verse seems to be saying something about God protecting Noah and keeping him safe through the storm.

As the cold weather approaches, we -- like Noah -- batten down the hatches. Maybe we tinker with our storm windows, spray insulation into cracks and crevices, put an extra blanket on the bed. If that's true as we anticipate literal storms, how much more true as we anticiapte emotional and spiritual storms. Every life has periods of turbulent waters. As we face those waters, we yearn to be cared-for and tucked-in, to have God's presence securing and protecting us.

I'm not a sailor, but I know that when big storms arise sometimes the only way through is to lower sail and let the storm rage. Often storms move us to new places: as the winds and currents can move a boat into new waters, when emotional currents surge strong they may carry us to places we didn't expect. Authentic spiritual life asks us to weigh anchor and let ourselves be moved, trusting that even when external circumstances are swirling around us we can touch stillness and eternity.

One of the reasons to maintain spiritual practices when the sailing is smooth is so that those practices are there to sustain and protect us when storms pick up. If I remind myself every morning to pause to articulate gratitude for being alive, then maybe when the tough mornings come the habit will be engrained enough to carry me through. If I pause before sleep to try to let go of the day's mistakes and hurts, then maybe I can wake into the infinite possibility of the new day, even when sleep came on the heels of weeping.

How can we feel secured and protected, as Noah might have felt when God lovingly closed the door behind him? Maybe it's a phone call or a text message from a friend reminding us that we're not alone. Maybe it's reading an essay that makes us feel seen and understood in who we most deeply are. Maybe it's putting on a piece of jewelry that feels like a talisman. Maybe it's a session with a therapist who reminds us that our stories matter, or a spiritual director who companions us in our journeying.

Our liturgy tells us that we are loved by an unending love, an אהבת עולם. For me, the presence of that love is what secures the door and keeps me safe from the storm. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of that love in the love I feel for my child, or the love he feels for me. Sometimes I brush up against it in the connection between me and my most beloved friends. Sometimes I feel that love manifest in the extraordinary beauty of creation, in the rise of early morning light over our hills now dressed in November's muted palette or the calliope song of geese migrating overhead at dusk.

What makes you feel seen and cared-for? What carries you safely through life's storms?


This is the d'var Torah I offered at my shul this Shabbes. (Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.)


Entering the empty month


Today and tomorrow are Rosh Chodesh, new moon, the "head of the month" -- the beginning of a new lunar month. On the Jewish calendar, we're entering into the month of Cheshvan. Cheshvan is remarkable because it is empty: aside from Shabbat, which comes every seventh day all year long, Cheshvan contains no holidays. No feast days, no fast days, no special practices, no special liturgy. Nothing at all out of the ordinary. Jewish time is separated into kodesh (holy / set-apart) and chol (ordinary time), and the month of Cheshvan is -- aside from its Shabbatot -- completely chol

I love the Days of Awe. I love the whole rollercoaster: from the low point of Tisha b'Av, through the month of Elul (introspection, inner work, psalm 27), through Rosh Hashanah (day of judgement, birthday of creation), through the Ten Days of Teshuvah, through Yom Kippur (day of atonement, intimacy with God), through the seven days of Sukkot (little harvest house, lulav and etrog, facing impermanence) and Hoshana Rabbah and Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. And by the time we get to the end of all of those special days, with their customs and practices and words, I am wiped out.

Enter Cheshvan, the empty month. On the solar calendar we are moving toward winter in this hemisphere. The days are getting colder, the leaves have largely blown off the trees, the hills are taking on their more sere and muted late-autumn hues of soft purples and browns beneath frequently clouded skies. The outside world feels like a reflection of my internal spiritual landscape. The time for the finery of the Days of Awe is over. Now I cup my hands around a mug of tea, now I sit and breathe deeply, now I let everything that was activated and stirred-up in me by the holidays begin to settle like fallen leaves.

Cheshvan is the beginning of a spiritual fallow season. Just as the earth needs time to rest between harvest and new planting, so too do our hearts and souls. Now we let the ordinary passage of ordinary time work its magic. We trust that the coming season will somehow -- alchemically, mysteriously -- transform the discoveries and emotions of the holiday season into the inner qualities we will most need as we approach the festivals of (northern hemisphere) spring in a few months. We are like fallen leaves not yet ready to serve as mulch for spring's new growth. We are like seeds curled tight, waiting.

We can't know yet what will arise in us after the quiet winter. If we had a telescope to let us look far out to the horizon we could maybe barely glimpse the beacons of Tu BiShvat, Purim, and Pesach in the distance. But there are months between now and then. In the northern hemisphere the days are growing shorter. It's Cheshvan, the empty month. Time to let our hands be empty, let our hearts be open, let the hard work of the holiday season begin to percolate in our hearts and souls. It's Cheshvan, the empty month. Time to hunker down, tend our internal fires, and let ordinary time balm our tender places. 



Seasonal, 2013


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