Feels like coming home

Kallah-2016-postcard1-970Two years ago yesterday I wrote, "Anytime I enter a place where my Jewish Renewal community has gathered, it feels like coming home."

Have you ever heard anyone say "Welcome home to a place where you've never been?" That was how it felt for me, the first time I gathered with my Jewish Renewal hevre. Here were people who cared about Judaism, who cared about God, who blended the passionate God-focus of Hasidism with the kind of feminism and social justice underpinnings I hold dear. I struggle to describe it; ultimately it's a feeling, an experience. I have always been quirky, spiritual, different. From the moment I first set foot in a Jewish Renewal retreat setting, I could tell that I wasn't alone. I knew that I had found my spiritual tribe.

(Read the whole post, written at the start of the most recent ALEPH Kallah: Welcome home to a place where you've never been, 2013.)

Kallah-2016-postcard2-970I know that when I arrive in West Chester, PA, on Friday for Getting It... Together, I will feel the same way.

And it will be true again next summer when I travel to Colorado for the ALEPH Kallah. (Next summer I'm planning to bring our son with me, to the Kids' Kallah -- that will be a first, and one which I anticipate with some eagerness!)

Save the dates of July 11-17 2016 -- we're already hard at work planning next summer's Kallah, and I know it's going to be superb. And to those who are joining us this coming weekend, travel safely and I look forward to seeing you soon...



A delicious mikveh before Shabbat... with a few surprises

As Shabbat approaches, here's one final post about the ALEPH Kallah -- a mikveh story from last Friday...


Mikveh spot, Kallah 2013. Photo by Miriam Charney.

There are few things I love more in this world than a Jewish Renewal pre-Shabbat mikveh, especially when it comes after a dense and delicious week of learning and playing and praying together.

We gather at the lake and shoo away the men and boys; this is our reserved time at this beautiful beach. There are no screens to shield us here (as there usually are at Isabella Freedman), but the beach feels secluded. Anyway, our time is short -- the men will be here in 45 minutes -- so we shrug and get moving. We strip down to wherever we are comfortable: some of us in swimsuits, some clothed, most naked. (Some enter the water clothed and then become naked.) We are old, young, tall, short, curvaceous, skinny, pale, dark. Some of us bear scars, empty spaces where one or both breasts used to be. We are here to immerse before Shabbat, and to emerge ready to welcome and honor the Sabbath Queen.

I walk into the waters, soft sand beneath my feet, until I can barely stand. We are bobbing up and down gently in the dark lake. The waters are as dark as strong tea from the tannins in the pine needles which litter the lakefloor. We sing a chant as more women join us. Our mikveh leader reminds us that when we were babies, someone looked at our thighs and said "what beautiful pulkes!" A ripple of wistful recognition runs audibly around the group. Many of us remember hearing that said to our beautiful chubby babies before they began to crawl. I remember our son's sweet baby thighs and how much I wanted to just kiss kiss kiss every inch of his beautiful skin.

And then she tells us that our thighs are still beautiful, and a rueful sigh floats over the surface of the waters. How many of us are able to truly feel that? And our bellies -- how frequently we wish them away, bemoan their size, agonize over their curves. They, too, she tells us, are beautiful. Our breasts, or the places where breasts used to be: beautiful. Every inch of every one of us is beautiful. Each one of us is a reflection of God.

I wish that it weren't profoundly countercultural to tell a group of women -- ranging in age from twenties to eighties -- that each one of us is beautiful, that we are made in the image of God, that we should cherish our bodies instead of resenting or loathing their "imperfections." But it is. And it's deeply moving to hear these things sweetly said by the rabbi who is leading our ritual. Maybe in this moment, as Shabbat approaches, we can really believe her. We can wash away the decades of learned self-deprecation and emerge from the waters knowing our own beauty.

We break into groups of two and three so that each woman can be witnessed by one or two holy spirit sisters as she dunks. We begin sharing quietly with our sisters what we wish to release on our immersions, what we want to wash away (spiritually speaking) in order to greet the Shabbat Bride with a whole and joyful heart.

And then two police cars pull up, lights flashing.

Continue reading "A delicious mikveh before Shabbat... with a few surprises" »

Five more glimpses of Kallah


Lake; Fourth of July.


The Fourth of July. I choose the morning service which is described as "You've heard of downward dog? This is Upward God! Bring your inner Mahalia Jackson." It's led by two dear friends of mine, Rabbi Jan Salzman and Rabbi Mark Novak. Both have wonderful voices and shining neshamot / souls.

Reb Jan begins by humming America the Beautiful, and we pick up the humming along with her. Once we've hummed it through once or twice, Reb Mark speaks over the top, beginning "I have a dream..." He quotes Isaiah: the rough places will be made plain, the crooked, straight. He describes the prophet's dream of messianic reality, and speaks aloud his prayer that this should be the nation we build together.

And then we begin our morning service by singing "Adon Olam" to that same tune. And my heart opens right up: to God, to my hopes for this country, to this community, to the people sitting in this circle and singing with all their hearts, to purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain.



One of my students comes up to me and tells me that he's been talking with his eleven-year-old son about writing psalms, and that his son totally "gets" it, and that his son wants to write psalms now too. He tells me that he and his wife have brought their sons to Kallah (or to Ruach ha-Aretz, ALEPH's summer program during even-numbered years) since they were six, and that his kids love it here.

It is such a delight to hear that my student is loving my class -- to hear that he's talking about it with his kids -- to hear that his kids are into it, too -- to hear that his young son understands immediately that he, too, can be a modern-day psalmist and can speak the words of his heart to God. To think of a little boy growing up with annual dips into this precious co-created Brigadoon where we learn and sing, play and pray, in conscious community.

That afternoon we work on psalms of "negative" emotions -- sorrow, grief, loss -- and my students really go there with me. It's a deep class and a powerful one. I am humbled by their participation and their trust. Grateful to be here with them.




I walk down to my apartment, change into my swimsuit, tie my room key around my neck, and walk across the street and down the road to the lake. The sky is blue, the trees are green, the water is steeped the color of dark tea from the tannins of countless pine needles.

I slip off my sandals and walk slowly into the water, feeling my way on the unfamiliar sandy bottom. The water is cool, the sun is bright, the voices of people talking and laughing surround me. People are gliding across the lake lazily on bright red kayaks which draw the eye. I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and submerge for a moment. When I come up, the voices and the laughter are even sweeter than they were before. A kind of precognitive echo, a ripple, of the mikveh immersion to come on Friday afternoon.



On my way back to my apartment, I find a duck feather, gleaming at me in the grass. I bring the duck feather to Rabbi Kevin Hale, "the barefoot sofer," who is teaching a class on sofrut and Torah repair this week. My intention is to ask whether he needs more quills for his students. But he has a great big pile of goose and turkey feathers, and my little duck feather is not needed. To my surprise, he says instead, "would you like me to cut it for you?" And then he offers me a tiny vial of ink and a scrap of klaf -- a bit of marginal parchment from a 100-year-old Torah.

I am unaccountably moved. To my sorrow, the piece of parchment disappears sometime during my psalms class -- there was too much commotion in the room, and it must have floated away on the wind -- but I carefully carry the ink and quill to a safe place. I don't know that I will ever learn sofrut, but in even trying to use the tools of that trade, I feel closer to every beautiful handwritten letter of every Torah, everywhere.


Banners in the tent, before anyone arrived to daven and drum.


Friday morning I decide to try the drumming davenen. We're in the tent, translucent yud / heh / vav / heh banners glimmering in the sunshine. Together, Rabbi Ilan Glazer and Akiva the Believer lead us in a morning service with drums. This isn't a drum circle; it's a service, and our davenen follows the traditional mat'beah tefilah, the order of prayer. We will touch on each of the liturgical touchpoints of the different prayers, accompanied by drumming.

When I arrive, my intention is to daven but not to drum. But as the davenen gets going, and I see that there are a few unclaimed drums in the circle, on impulse I get up and grab one. When and where else am I going to try this?

It feels great. I love being part of the music we're all co-creating as we pray. And I'm not as inept as I thought I would be; maybe I've absorbed a few rhythm patterns from twenty years of life with Ethan! As we drum and pray and sing, people get up and dance through the psalms. For our silent amidah we enter into a simple eighth-note beat. First one drummer alone, then two, and then one by one we all take it up. We sustain it for ten minutes. I close my eyes. Are we playing the beat, or is the beat playing us?

After the service, my left arm is striped from my tefillin and my right hand reverberates from the drumming. Marks on my body, sealing and recalling the experience of heart, mind, and soul.

A psalm of amazement (upon studying quantum physics)


upon studying kabbalah and quantum physics


I boast I grew a baby
from component cells. Big deal:

You built the cosmos
from component atoms, and those

have moving parts which shift,
performing particle or wave.

As photons yearn for the void
my heart yearns for You

though when we meet
I disappear.

When I ascend the ladder
I understand entanglement

though when I fall back down
my human brain can't grasp

the endless ein-sof
of Your quantum fields.

for R' Fern Feldman and Dr. Karen Barad

Ein_sofOn the second day of the class I'm teaching (on writing the psalms of one's heart), we worked with psalms of wonder and amazement. After reading a variety of psalms (classical and contemporary) and talking about them, we entered into a generative writing exercise and then wrote our own psalms of awe.

Since I'm taking an extraordinary morning class on kabbalah and quantum physics, that was what came immediately to my mind when I thought about wonder. Anyway: for those who are interested, here's the end result of that 20 minutes of psalm-writing, once again lightly revised from its original form.

Ein-sof means "without end," and is a kabbalistic term for God's most transcendent aspect.

A psalm of praise for an ice cream cone

Img_62011In my Kallah class on Writing the Psalms of Your Heart, we spent our first day on psalms of praise. We brainstormed a bit about what psalms are and how they work, read some psalms of praise (both classical and contemporary), and spent some time in class writing our own psalms and then sharing them aloud.

I decided it wasn't fair of me to ask my students to do something I wasn't also willing to do, so I worked on a psalm along with them. Just for kicks, here's the psalm I wrote, lightly revised since its original creation. Enjoy!


a psalm of praise

Praise for these soft cold curls
of maple walnut ice cream.
Praise for the scent of earliest spring

distilled into pungent sweetness.
Praise for the cold, so shocking in July,
as ice cream meets my tongue.

Praise for the cows who ate the grass
and made the milk, praise for the farmer
who sat on a low stool

in a barn that smelled of manure and hay
to squeeze the udders, or the milking machine
which impersonally coaxed the milk forth.

Praise for the giant mixer
which churned the wet slush of ingredients
with all the grace of a February snowplow.

For the trees which grew the walnuts,
for the maples whose lifeblood was donated
to this worthy cause: praise

to the One Whose abundance flowed
into creation, Who takes pleasure
in my pleasure, now and always.

Gleanings on kabbalah and quantum physics

TardisMy morning class at Kallah this year can be summed up (so far) as: I feel like I'm trying to pack the time vortex of a TARDIS into my head! The morning class I'm taking at Kallah this year is "Infinity, Nothingness, and Being: Running and Returning, An Exploration in Quantum Physics and Kabbalah, and I'm loving it. I want to share some glimpses of the class with y'all, but I find that I'm struggling to articulate the learning succinctly. This kind of learning is almost like a mystical experience -- I grasp it in a flash of joyous insight, and then when I try to describe it, it slips through my fingers! But I'll try anyway.

"I believe that every way in which we meet the universe, it all matters -- not only in the sense of making meaning, but in the sense of making things matter, e.g. making things materialize, bringing the universe into being anew in each moment."

That's Dr. Karen Barad, one of the teachers of this morning class (she's teaching with her wife Rabbi Fern Feldman.) Rabbi Fern is focusing on the Jewish texts and mystical material; Dr. Karen is focusing on the physics. Rather than drawing analogies between kabbalah and physics, they aim to offer a nondual approach. They're not arguing that quantum physics is just now discovering what kabbalists have known for centuries, or that kabbalah can or should be updated on the basis of contemporary physics. "Instead, we're going to diffractively read kabbalah and quantum physics through each other."

The idea of diffraction recurred repeatedly over the course of our first morning. Diffraction, I learned, refers to the patterns that waves make. (I'm one of the people in the class who has comfort and familiarity with the Jewish mystical texts, but only a dim memory of high school learning about the physics side of things.) First we got an overview of the classical / Newtonian understanding of particles and waves, and then the quantum stuff proceeded to complicate and problematize everything we thought we'd grasped!

Continue reading "Gleanings on kabbalah and quantum physics" »

Five glimpses of the start of Kallah


A faculty meeting. The evening before everything formally begins.

It takes about ten minutes to get everyone in the room, to arrange the chairs the way we want them, that kind of thing. In a lot of contexts, we would have spent those ten minutes kibbitzing, or possibly kvetching about our travel experiences or whatever's not going right in our day.

Not here. Rabbi Shefa Gold opens up her sruti box and begins singing a two-part Sim Shalom round. (One of her own chants, naturally.) The music builds as we all pick up the melodies. Soon we're singing it as a round. The melody ripples and swells in the bright and airy room.

By the time the meeting begins -- a good ten minutes later, but no one minds, because the singing feels like prayer -- the energy in the room has shifted and I feel I'm part of something bigger than myself.



Looking at the schedule for Tuesday morning davenen. There are several options: Yoga Shalom (the service interwoven with yoga), Davennen in the Vernacular (davening in traditional nusach -- but in English), Davennen in Nature through the Torah of Metaphor. It's hard to choose.

But what really cracks me up is the juxtaposition of Speed Davvenen ("No time to think; just say the words one after the other, as fast as you can. A popular form of meditation for centuries, Minhag Eretz Yisrael, as practiced in Tzfat...") and ShEmanic Journey ("Are there too many words in your davvenen these days? Let's try working with six. We will explore the many ways the Shma can transport us to davvenen bliss through chant, gently guided meditation, and light authentic movement.")

That's Jewish Renewal in a nutshell right there. Speed-daven all of the words in the siddur as fast as you can, considering it a form of ancient meditation -- or strip the whole service down to the six words of the first line of the Shema. Neither approach has to cancel out the other. Both are ways of approaching the Divine.


I have every intention of going to mincha (afternoon services), but it's a ten minute walk away in the rain, and I stop to say hi to someone I haven't seen in a long time, and then someone else, and next thing I know, I'm too late.

Instead I wind up hanging out with two friends by the bank of enormous windows at the back of the building where the shuk is. One of us starts singing the ashrei, the first prayer of mincha, and next thing I know, we are quietly singing and harmonizing and making our way through the whole short liturgy of the afternoon service.

Around us, people are still wandering, browsing beautiful tallitot and kippot and books and jewelry, chatting, hugging, catching up. And we're davening by the windows overlooking the rain and the lake. I'm reminded of seeing Orthodox men in black davening at airport gates, at the banks of windows overlooking the runway, before a night flight. We would look strange to them, I suspect: we are two men and one woman, me in a tank top, all of us barefoot ("take off your shoes," God told Moshe, "for the place where you're standing is holy ground"), laughing along with our davenen. The interplay of our voices and our spirits is tight and sweet.

Even while it's happening, I know it's something I don't want to forget.



Rabbi David Ingber has chosen to frame the opening plenary as a Hasidic-style tisch, a table gathering in which the rebbe's teaching is framed with niggunim and melodies. After a beautiful ma'ariv service led sweetly by Rabbi Jack Gabriel and a bevy of musicians, we fill the stage in the big tent with musicians of our own and we sing a Chabad niggun.

There is drumming (Akiva the Believer and Shoshanna Jedwab -- my cup runneth over!), there is guitar, there is piano, there is clarinet -- and there is a tent full of several hundred happy people singing. Soon there is spontaneous dancing. It is amazing. It feels like a tent revival. A happy, hippie, neo-Hasidic, egalitarian, feminist, queer-friendly tent revival.

Reb David introduces the notion of the plenary as tisch, and quips that it is a plen-isch -- and since we're Renewal Jews, it's a re-plen-isch. (Get it?) But against all odds, the evening really does feel replenishing. I share poetry and musings. Rabbi Riqi Kosovske shares a classical nursing prayer. Rabbi Ebn Leader sings "Memaleh kol almin, u-sovev kol almin" -- "You fill all worlds and surround all worlds, and without You there is no existence at all" -- so soulfully that I get shivers.

In between our teachings, we sing niggunim to seal the learning into our hearts. And we sing a Shaker hymn, which goes like this:

When you love-not one another in daily communion,
how can you love God whom you have never seen? (2x)

More love (2x)
The heavens are calling
the angels are singing
O Zion, more love, more love.

To close, Rabbi David Ingber tells an extraordinary story about why there is a tiny א in the first word of the book of Vayikra/Leviticus: that after Moshe built the mishkan, the tabernacle, he stood outside it and wondered, is there a place here for me? I did all this work, I made this thing, but do I belong here? And God whispered so that only he could hear: come on in, Moshe. There's room for you.

What a metaphor for us here in the big tent of Jewish Renewal. Come on in. There's room here for you.



In the small chapel space, my dear friend David leads the six-word Shema-focused davenen. We create a sonic tapestry without any plan or intention, and it fills the space, and it is beautiful.

We move through hearing: hearing with our ears, our bodies, our skin as interface with the world. We move through what it means to be Yisrael, standing, energizing our feet, entering into movement. (That's the most challenging part for me, but I try.) We embody the Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh with our bodies, conscious of immanence. We experience relationship with God. We connect with the Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh of transcendence, God beyond us, stretching our awareness beyond our bodies. And we break the final echad, One, into its component letters: forming the aleph with our bodies, rumbling a room full of chets, tasting the Spanish sound of the un-pointed daled.

We chant two different full shemas -- the "Reform summer camp" melody I use at shul (which feels and sounds entirely different to me in this space, accompanied by sruti box) and the triumphal Sulzer chant a cappella. The Sulzer shema comes near the end of the service, and it rings out like a heavenly shofar, energized by our deep explorations.

It's not quite like any other davenen I've ever done. What a gift.

Kol Echad: the voice of the One in the voices of the many

The theme of this year's ALEPH Kallah is Kol Echad. Last night, at the opening plenary session, four New England-based Jewish Renewal voices spoke on this theme and what it means to each of us. I was honored to be one of the speakers, along with Rabbi Ebn Leader, Joel Segel, Rabbi Riqi Kosovske, and Rabbi David Ingber. R' David was the "host" for the evening, and he patterned it on a Hasidic tisch, a dinnertable celebration featuring teaching interspersed with song. In between our teachings, we led the community in some of my favorite songs and niggunim. It was really sweet! Anyway: my remarks follow below.

Reflections on Kol Echad

Kol echad.

If you spell it כל אחד, it means "all is one." If you spell it קול אחד, it means "with one voice."

When I think of all of us speaking with one voice, I think of the teaching which says that when God gave over Torah at Sinai, God spoke with one voice and each person heard according to their abilities and inclinations. The revelation was singular; its reception takes as many forms as there are human souls, as many as grains of sand on the beach or stars in the sky.

In recent years I've been turning my attention to one very particular voice: the voice of my child. His voice awakens me, touches me, inflames me with love, and occasionally evokes my exasperation like no other. Becoming a mother has radically changed my sense of God, and of what it means to say -- as our liturgy so frequently does -- that God is our parent.

I look at our child, I listen to our child, and I see the two of us, his parents, reflected in countless ways. But I also see difference. He is his own being, wholly. (And holy.) He is full of surprises. He has his own desires and yearnings, his own inclinations, his own likes and dislikes. Is this how God feels when She listens to each of us?

We cry out with our many voices, and each of our voices reaches God.

A poem from Waiting to Unfold:


Was God overwhelmed
when Her milk first came in

roused by our thin cries
for compassion?

She'd birthed creation
from amoebas to galaxies

but did She expect to see
Her own changeability

mirrored behind our eyes?
Nothing could have prepared Her

for the shift from singularity
to multiplicity.

And the blank-faced angels
offered their constant praise

without understanding Her joy
or the depth of Her fear.

There is a Talmudic saying that "more than the calf wants to suckle, the cow yearns to give milk." I learned this in rabbinic school as a metaphor for how God relates to the world. God, my teachers taught, is bursting with blessing. Our prayers prime the pump and cause that blessing to flow. Once I became a nursing mother, I had a whole new understanding of what it might feel like to be God, prickling with the urgent need called forth by our hungry wailing.

Continue reading "Kol Echad: the voice of the One in the voices of the many" »

Welcome home to a place where you've never been

Anytime I enter a place where my Jewish Renewal community has gathered, it feels like coming home.

Part of that is the experience of seeing old friends and beloved teachers (many of whom are now old friends, too!) And that makes sense. I spent a few years going to every ALEPH retreat I could afford while I was in the discernment process about the rabbinic ordination program. I wanted to meet teachers and students and deans and ask questions and begin to suss out whether this was the right place for me (and whether they felt I was the right kind of candidate to apply.)

And then there were the five-plus years of fulltime rabbinic school, when I saw these folks at least twice a year for intensive one- or two-week-long residencies, and for programs like DLTI, and in between those times I took classes every week via teleconference (and davened via teleconference for a while, too!) and did hevruta learning via Skype and and and and. Some of the deepest and most intense learning I've ever done, I've done with these friends. These people are an intimate part of my life in all of those ways. The reason it feels like a family reunion is that it is one.

But I've had this feeling of coming-home to Jewish Renewal since my very first retreat at the old Elat Chayyim, back when I didn't know anyone here at all. Probably since the first time I sat down at a meal with strangers, and they smiled at me and welcomed me and wanted to know my story (Jewish and otherwise) and what had drawn me to that place. Certainly since my first Jewish Renewal shacharit service the next morning, in the white yurt, sitting cross-legged in a circle on the floor, learning my first liturgical chants, unaccountably moved at the sight of women wearing tefillin.

NameHave you ever heard anyone say "Welcome home to a place where you've never been?" That was how it felt for me, the first time I gathered with my Jewish Renewal chevre. Here were people who cared about Judaism, who cared about God, who blended the passionate God-focus of Hasidism with the kind of feminism and social justice underpinnings I hold dear. I struggle to describe it; ultimately it's a feeling, an experience. I have always been quirky, spiritual, different. From the moment I first set foot in a Jewish Renewal retreat setting, I could tell that I wasn't alone. I knew that I had found my spiritual tribe.

I remember a conversation with my mother at Pearlstone a few years ago, when I was still a rabbinic student, when our son was an infant and my mother had come with me to a rabbinic student intensive to provide childcare while I was learning. Midway through that week, I remember her turning to me, and saying, with some wonderment, "I think everyone here is a spiritual seeker!" It's most true in the ordination programs, of course; no one goes through the rigors of rabbinic school (or cantorial school, or the rabbinic pastor program) without a powerful spiritual motivation. But I think it's true across the board at Jewish Renewal gatherings, or at least it tends to be.

The Kallah moves around every two years, so each time it happens, it's convenient for someone. This year, it's convenient for me. Two years ago we were in California; this year we're a scant two and a half hours from my house. In assiyah, the world of physicality, I haven't traveled very far at all. But in the worlds of emotion and spirit, I've tessered into that magical space where everyone smiles at strangers, where conversations about prayer and mysticism don't draw a raised brow from anyone, where shouting "Hello, rabbi!" causes people all over the room to turn around. Into this space where, as soon as we're all together again, it's as though we had never been apart at all.


It's almost time for Kallah!

The ALEPH Kallah is almost here! I can't wait.

First and foremost, I'm thrilled to be teaching a class. My materials are prepared and I'm looking forward to meeting the students who are new to me and re-meeting the folks who I already know.

I'm also delighted to be honored with the opportunity to be part of the opening plenary session on Monday night. Four people will share our thoughts on the theme of Kol Echad, "One Voice." (I'll share my remarks here after the fact, so if you're not going to be at the Kallah, stay tuned.)

Most of all, I'm eager to immerse myself in the temporal mikveh of a week with my Jewish Renewal community: friends, conversations, davenen, song, and joy. For those who are joining us in New Hampshire next week, travel safely! And if you're not registered for the Kallah but are still considering coming, you can still register; as this Kol ALEPH post notes:

With over 500 souls registered, this is on track to be the biggest Kallah since Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2007. Over 600 are expected in Rindge, New Hampshire for our lakeside retreat in the shadow of Mt. Monadnock. There is still time to register - right up until July 1st for the full conference, or July 5th for the Shabbaton! But why wait? “Lech lecha”- get yourself right now to the Kallah website and get registered, and get ready to enjoy one of the best weeks of your life. What are you waiting for?


Looking even more forward to the 2013 ALEPH Kallah!

13cover_000 To my amazement, my class at this summer's ALEPH Kallah -- "Writing the Psalms of Your Heart" -- has filled up entirely. I set an enrollment cap at 20 people, never imagining for a moment that 20 would actually register for my class -- and they did. Holy wow! I'm humbled and delighted, and getting more excited about this teaching opportunity by the minute. This is going to be a ton of fun.

Anyway, if you were thinking about taking my class and haven't already registered, I'm afraid that window of opportunity has closed! But there are many other fabulous afternoon classes on the program, including one on the Jewish roots of Christianity (taught by R' David Zaslow), one on Eco-Judaism and sustainability (taught by R' Elisheva Brenner), and one called "A Tzaddik in Suburbia" taught by R' Ebn Leader which I would've signed up to take if I weren't teaching during the same slot.

And, of course, there's a full round of morning classes -- and there will be fabulous food, conversations, davening, singing, meditation, yoga, hikes: everything one might yearn for.

You can download a Kallah 2013 brochure, and can register for the gathering, at the Kallah webpage. Hope to see y'all there!

Getting excited about the ALEPH Kallah

I just received my brochure for the ALEPH Kallah, and it's gorgeous -- I'm getting really excited about this amazing week of learning, davenen, and community. The brochure is also available for download as a pdf:


You can download the brochure at the Kallah website.

The class I'm teaching meets in the afternoon, and here's the description of that class:

Writing the Psalms of Our Hearts

The psalms are a deep repository of praise, thanksgiving, grief, and exaltation, one of our communal tools for connecting with God. In this class, each of us will become a psalmist. We'll awaken our spirits and hearts by praying select psalms together, warm up our intellectual muscles with writing exercises, and enter into a safe space for creativity as we each write our own psalms. After sharing our psalms aloud and sharing our responses to each others' work, we'll close by davening together once more. At week's end, we'll each take home a compilation of our collected psalms.

I'm trying to decide which of the morning classes I want to sign up for. R' Elliot Ginsburg's Sovev U'memalei: The Divine Within Us, Between Us, and Beyond All Our Namings? (I loved learning with Reb Elliot in rabbinic school, and I've missed his Hasidut classes.) Karen Barad and R' Fern Feldman's Infinity, Nothingness, and Being: Running and Returning, an Exploration in Quantum Physics and Kabbalah? R' Jeff Roth's Jewish Meditation Practices for an Awakened Heart? R' David Zaslow's Roots and Branches: the Jewish Roots of Christianity? So many good choices! (And there are many other morning offerings as well -- these are just the ones I personally find most tempting.)

I hope you'll join us in New Hampshire for an amazing week of learning, playing, praying, singing, connecting, and having your heart opened to the divine within and around us.

The Kallah brochure is on its way!

The brochure for this summer's ALEPH Kallah -- the Jewish Renewal biennial -- is at the printers'. And it's also available for download as a pdf if you don't want to wait!


Find it at the Kallah website. Join us in New Hampshire for an amazing week of learning, playing, praying, singing, connecting, and having your heart opened to the divine within and around us.

(And if you're interested in writing psalms, I hope you'll consider signing up for the class I'm teaching, "Writing the Psalms of Our Hearts" -- read more about it in this post from last month.)

Join me at the ALEPH Kallah!

Torah-at-KallahI'm delighted to be able to announce that I'll be teaching a workshop at the ALEPH Kallah this summer in New Hampshire!

The ALEPH Kallah is the Jewish Renewal Biennial -- a week-long gathering which takes place every other year, a magical week of learning and davenen (prayer) and yoga and meditation and terrific programs and amazing teachers. It's a great way to experience Jewish Renewal: to meet people, have meaningful conversations, experience new modalities of prayer, and engage in learning which feeds your mind and heart and soul alike.

If you're able to get to New Hampshire from July 1-7, I hope you'll consider coming -- and if my class sounds good to you, I hope you'll sign up for it!

Here's my workshop description:

Writing the Psalms of Our Hearts

The psalms are a deep repository of praise, thanksgiving, grief, and exaltation, one of our communal tools for connecting with God. In this class, each of us will become a psalmist. We'll awaken our spirits and hearts by praying select psalms together, warm up our intellectual muscles with writing exercises, and enter into a safe space for creativity as we each write our own psalms. After sharing our psalms aloud and sharing our responses to each others' work, we'll close by davening together once more. At week's end, we'll each take home a compilation of our collected psalms.

Aladjem-and-meOther classes scheduled for the Kallah will include one on Jewish spiritual singing, one on quantum physics and kabbalah, one on talking about Israel, one in Torah yoga / movement, a wilderness Torah experience (involving hiking and the great outdoors),  Jewish meditation, yoga, the interconnected roots of Judaism and Christianity, Hebrew chanting, Torah scroll repair / calligraphy, and a terrific class on Jewish and Islamic mysticism (team-taught by a rabbi and a Sufi) which I took two years ago and loved.

The Kallah Website includes a listing of all of the classes, along with information about the kids/teens program, opportunities for artists, and opportunities for practitioners of various healing arts.

I've attended the Kallah a few times before, and have blogged about it here (check out the ALEPH Kallah tag for those posts.) Every time I've attended, I've come away feeling spiritually renewed, filled-up with all kinds of wonderful teachings and ideas. I'm excited to be bringing a Torah-poetry lens to the work of writing psalms, and I'm hoping there will be 15 brave / creative souls who will want to do that with me -- but even if my class doesn't sound like your cup of tea, hopefully another of the offerings will.

The Kallah is great fun. I hope some of y'all will join me there.  For more information visit the Kallah webpage, or contact the Kallah office at kallahajr@rcn.com.

Photos by Ann Silver, taken at the last Kallah, summer 2011 in Redlands, CA.

Kallah 2013: Save the Date!


Franklin Pierce University, site of next summer's ALEPH Kallah.

Save the date for the 2013 Kallah, the Jewish Renewal biennial -- a week of community, learning, davening, singing, connecting, and joy. The 2013 theme is Kol Echad: Connecting With the Divine, Within & Around Us, and this year's Kallah will take place from July 1-7, 2013, at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire -- a scant two hours and ten minutes from the synagogue I'm blessed to serve.

If you've ever been curious about Jewish Renewal teachings or teachers, coming to a Kallah is a fantastic way to get a sense for who we are and what we do. There's no better way to experience Jewish Renewal than to spend a week learning, dining, davening, connecting with other Jewish spiritual seekers. And this year, the Kallah takes place at a campus on a beautiful lake at the foot of Mount Monadnock -- it will be a beautiful and serene place to spend a few days, and the retreat will culminate in a fabulous, spirit-filled, awesome Shabbat.

I've submitted a proposal to teach at the Kallah next summer, and should know by the end of the year whether or not my proposal's been accepted. I'll be there no matter what. I hope to have the opportunity to teach (and I'm excited about the class I've proposed), but I'm most excited about spending that week with so many of my hevre, my friends and colleagues, and about the spiritual rejuvenation which always ensues.

Anyway: all are welcome! For more information, you can contact the Kallah office at kallahajr (at) rcn (dot) com. I'll post here again to announce the course offerings when they're finalized.


(For more, feel free to check out my ALEPH Kallah category on this blog, which features posts about and from the last few Kallot I've attended.)

Interview with Linda Hirschhorn now in Zeek

Two years-and-a-bit ago, at the ALEPH Kallah in Ohio, I had the opportunity to sing with Linda Hirschhorn. While I was there, I interviewed her for Zeek. (I mentioned that in one of my blog posts from the conference that year: Kallah, another day in the life.) For reasons which don't bear exploration at this juncture, the interview has just now been published! Hopefully it's timeless enough to still make good reading.

Here's a taste:

(From my introduction) A lover of Talmud and a college philosophy major, Hirschhorn sees polyvocal harmonies as emblematic of the same kind of diversity-within-unity found in the pages of Jewish sacred texts. She believes that different voices blending together in harmony is not only a metaphor for, but an example of, the kind of coexistence the world needs. And after a few hours singing under her enthusiastic tutelage, I’m inclined to think that she’s right...

LH: Harmony is like drash. Singing a song simply is like pshat; harmonies give you the chance to interpret text. If you hear a lyric, especially sung in counterpoint, the words coming at a different time, you’ll get a different experience of what the words might mean, what’s important. Major or minor, syncopated or lullaby: those communicate so much. It’s important to understand the text, to try to find how my song matches my understanding of the text.


LH: Everybody has some kernel that’s uniquely their own that they can offer. The best of my songs are something which cuts deeper, which looks at a universal experience in a particular way.

Read the whole thing at Zeek: In Song Together.

Seeking and finding (six more glimpses of Kallah)


The labyrinth.


A glorious morning service out on the big quad. The air is cool at this hour and I relish my tallit wrapped around my shoulders. The davenen is led by two of my ALEPH chevre, both cantorial students, and the singing is wonderful: just the right balance between beloved melodies and classical nusach. I realize, at the end of the service, that I ought to have recorded it so I could sing along with it when I daven at home -- but I didn't think of that in time; it can only be what it was, a beautiful hour of prayer which arose and then disappeared like a sand mandala after a wind.



I discover a meditation labyrinth behind one of the buildings where we've been having class. It is painted and carved into the concrete. I put down my backpack and begin to walk. At first I take slow steps as though in a wedding procession. After a while I realize that I have walked and walked and am still nowhere near the center. The path is longer and twistier than I expected. (What else is new.) Soon I am almost running, my sandals slapping the pavement, keeping an eye on the road ahead step by step but not allowing myself to anticipate where I'm pretty sure I'm going. And suddenly I'm at the middle, the jewel in the lotus, the surprise at the heart of the rose.



Wednesday turns out to be Miraj -- the Ladder -- when Muslims commemorate the night journey taken by the Prophet (peace be upon him) into seven levels of heaven (where God granted Muhammad the gift of the obligation to pray 50 times a day, and Moshe convinced him to return to God and ask for a reduction -- hee!) After hearing this story we move into a meditation in which we enter the seven levels of the heavens of our hearts, the place of light upon light, where everything is One. After that, reading Zohar texts about the cave of Machpelah, and Bawa texts about the infinite holiness in the deepest level of the human heart, feels like returning to a place where, thanks to our meditation, we've already been.



I am sitting with two friends around a small table, outdoors, not far from the dining hall. The sky is blue darkening into grey, but there are no stars yet, which means we can still daven mincha, the afternoon offering. We sing the ashrei with gusto. Another friend walks up and we offer him a place in our davenen, but he's already prayed, so he just keeps us company and offers hearty amens. We sing the weekday amidah, our voices blending and braiding. The sky subtly darkens more. By the time we are done we've attracted a few more friends who join us as we share a drink and talk about the program. When we part, at last, night has fallen. I go to bed with the melodies of prayer in my ears.



We follow a winding path into a tiny Eden, a hidden garden filled with birds and blooms. Sitting beneath a wrought-iron bower laced with vines, we each write our own personal storytellers' prayer. And then we take turns telling the stories we've spent the week preparing. I tell my adaptation of Naftali the Storyteller and His Horse Sus (by I. B. Singer) and as I speak and gesture I can feel the story coming to life. My classmates tell stories which give voice to Bathsheba, to Elijah the Prophet, to the animals aboard Noah's ark. Each time someone steps forward to take the stage we are all rapt with attention. At the very end of our class, Devorah Zaslow tells a story about the power of stories, and blesses us that we might take these skills into our lives and become tellers too.



In the final session of my afternoon class, we read the amazing tale of the Rabbi and the Sheikh, by Rabbi Yitzhak Farhi (d. 1853) as translated by Zvi Zohar. (There's a synopsis of the story here.) It is a beautiful tale about a rabbi and a sheikh agreeing to trade a mystical secret, fasting and immersing and making teshuvah and then entering into a secret garden and into the holy of holies together. It's extraordinary -- not only because it's a stunning story of spiritual seekers across traditions, but also because it was written not by a 21st-century ecumenist but in the late 1700s or early 1800s by a rabbi in Damascus. And in the story, each seeker had some wisdom the other didn't have. Each one learned something about his own wisdom through the other. True wholeness, and the deepest connection with the Holy, was only possible when the two seekers journeyed together. How good and beautiful it is when brothers and sisters learn together in peace.

One Amazing Day at the ALEPH Kallah


Tuesday shacharit.

I wake on my own before the alarm because I'm still on east coast time. I breakfast with dear friends from many incarnations of my Jewish Renewal life: with Bill, who I met during Reb Zalman's last week-long teaching at Elat Chayyim in 2004; with David Rachmiel, who I met for the first time at Shavuot last year and who co-led shacharit on the morning I was ordained; with Lori, who was my spirit buddy at the last Kallah.

I daven on the steps of a grand building, in a service led by Reb David Zaslow. We sing "Ivdu et Hashem b'simcha," serve God with joy; we sing the psalm inviting all of creation to praise God, halleluyah; we sing R' David Zeller (z"l)'s "I am alive." And Who is this aliveness I am? Is it not the holy blessed One?

Spirit buddy time: in lieu of meeting a new spirit buddy before my morning class, I sit on a shaded bench with old friends and we talk about our lives, our learning, our families. And then I dash to a class in Sacred Storytelling: Letting the Sparks Lead the Way with Deborah Zaslow, who begins with a quote from Barthelme: "Technique in art is like technique in lovemaking. Heartfelt ineptitude has its charm, as does heartless skill, but what we all long for is passionate virtuosity." She tells a classic Baal Shem Tov tale about a little boy who plays a flute to connect with God, but recast in her own metaphors and experience; it blows me away.

We talk about storytelling through a four-worlds lens. We pair up and each of us takes a turn telling the other the story we have chosen. And then we talk with each other about why we've each chosen the story at hand -- or, maybe more accurately, why this story has chosen us. I'm excited to tell my story (which originated with I. B. Singer) and to begin thinking about how better I can bring it to life...and in a broader sense, how I can use storytelling in my rabbinate, my teaching and my pastoral work.

The rhythm of Kallah is different now that I'm not a smicha student. I didn't bring half a suitcase full of textbooks with me. When the smicha students' credit classes begin shortly after lunch, I have another luxurious hour of free time. I wander the campus a bit despite the heat (it's not as hot as Texas was last week!) and admire the green quads and big spreading trees and white buildings roofed with Spanish red clay tile.

In the afternoon I begin Uri, Ori!/Awaken, My Light! Nur ala nur: Light upon Light!, a class taught by Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé (a professor at the Graduate Theological Seminary, and a pir in the Chishti Sufi order) and Rabbi Debra Kolodny. Reb Deb received smicha with me; Dr. Farajajé and I had crossed paths in a former life (when my friend Michael and I invited him to Williams to speak about sexuality in 1994) and it is a joy to see him again.

The class begins with zhikr -- Sufi chant; the term literally means "remembrance," remembrance of God. We chant bismillah ar-rahman, ar-rahim, "in the name of God, the tender, the merciful." We dance in concentric circles. The energy builds. Then, seated again, a kabbalistic meditation: experiencing the flow of shefa, divine abundance, through us, enlivening the Divine Name within us. We study texts from midrash, Zohar, and Qur'an about Avraham avinu (Abraham our father) / Ibrahim khalilullah (the intimate Friend of God.) I am so grateful to be here, to be engaging in this dialogue of the devout with people who are interested, as I am, in the places where our religious traditions not only align but are cradled in the common Ground of Being where all is One.

After an early supper with my co-panelists comes the New Lights evening program featuring Reb David Ingber, Elizheva Hurvitz, Zelig Golden, and me. Elizheva speaks about her journey and does a shema meditation; Reb David speaks about his journey and about Romemu; Zelig speaks about his journey and about wilderness Torah; I speak about my journey and share poems from 70 faces. There is a Q and A. Afterwards I hang around, sign a few books, listen to part of a conversation about the future of Jewish Renewal (what we do well, what we don't yet do well) and then, when I realize that it is the middle of the night back on the east coast, quietly duck out and head for sleep.

Off to Kallah

There's something a little bit surreal about going from the relative peace and quiet of our small household (well, as peaceful and quiet as a house containing a rambunctious toddler ever gets) to the energy of the ALEPH Kallah. Kallah is just...not like ordinary life. Certainly not like mine, anyway.

Take this past Friday night, for instance. It was one of the Friday evenings when Ethan was making the long drive home from Boston, having attended a conference at MIT (where his new job was announced -- go congratulate him if you're so inclined!) So I listened to my Nava Tehila kabbalat Shabbat cd with Drew and danced him around the room a little bit, laughing with him when he cackled as I spun and dipped him, waltzing during Lecha Dodi. (And we played with blocks and remote controls and board books and the ipad and the cat, because he is almost 19 months old and these are a few of his favorite things.) It was lovely, but solitary.

Next erev Shabbat I'll be surrounded by hundreds of other people who will have spent all day -- all week -- eagerly anticipating Shabbat. Most of us will be wearing all-white as did the kabbalists of Tzfat. I'll be adorned with glitter. I will probably have immersed in a mikvah before the holiday begins, and will bear the invisible but palpable imprint of that sweet and holy experience. And there will be several different Shabbat services to choose between. Maybe Nava Tehila will lead a service again and I'll get to dip into my favorite davenen experience from Jerusalem once more. And then there will be dinner, each table making the blessings together, and probably drumming and dancing late into the night.

In the early years of my involvement with the Jewish Renewal community, I always used to weep at havdalah (the ritual separating between Shabbat and workweek) because havdalah meant the retreat was ending and we were all going to have to say farewell. I love my home; I love my family and my life; but there is something in me which is uniquely sustained by the experience of being surrounded by my Jewish Renewal chevre, and I used to feel as though, if I left that Brigadoon, it might never open up for me again.

These days I know better. These days I have grown accustomed to the ratzo v'shov, the ebb and flow of retreat-time and ordinary time, of life with my wonderful spouse and friends and life with my wonderful community of spiritual seekers scattered around the globe. To balance Shabbat there must be weekday; to balance retreat-time there must be ordinary time. But being apart doesn't sever the connections we've formed -- any more than spending a week apart from my beloved husband and son could sever what binds us to one another -- and though we always have to say goodbye at the end of the gathering, there's always a next gathering to look forward to. And now that next gathering is upon us.

Today I'm off to the 2011 ALEPH Kallah in Redlands, California. I wish safe travels to everyone who is on their way to join me there -- and to everyone, a sweet and holy week, wherever you may be!

From family to Kallah: the whirlwind of this June

Last week I was in Texas: a whirlwind of professional obligations (involvement with two Shabbat services at two different shuls, and the reading with Reverend Mary Earle at Viva Books) and family time (seeing my parents and my brothers and my nieces, and eventually seeing the ganze mishpacha -- whole clan -- at a ranch in the hill country for the weekend.) Next week I'll be in California for the ALEPH Kallah -- the Jewish Renewal biennial -- which will be its own kind of wondrous whirlwind.

Two years ago at Kallah (see First full day at Kallah and Kallah: another day in the life) I was entering the second trimester of pregnancy, though I hadn't yet announced that news here on this blog. My friends and teachers marveled with me at my growing belly. I remember grabbing extra muffins and bananas every morning at breakfast and stashing them in my purse, knowing that by midmorning I would be ravenous and would need a snack. I studied the Baal Shem Tov with my friend and teacher R' Burt Jacobson; I took a class on eco-Judaism with my friend and teacher R' Arthur Waskow; I sang in cantor Linda Hirschhorn's pick-up choir.

This time around I have an eighteen-month-old -- who will not be with me; he had such a tough time navigating the two-hour time change for my ordination that I don't feel right subjecting him to the three-hour time change between here and the west coast. (Also, having just spent ten days away from home, he needs the comfort of his own crib and his own toys and his own routine.) Drew will enjoy a week with his dad and his paternal grandparents and his daycare buddies, and I will savor the chance to reconnect with rabbinic school friends and loved ones who I haven't seen since my ordination -- and other ALEPH friends who I haven't seen since the last Kallah.

There's part of me that can't quite imagine that I'm getting on a plane this coming Sunday. I just got home! The trip to Texas was wonderful but exhausting; I'm tired in all four worlds. I can't help wishing that Kallah were later in the summer so that I could spend a few weeks luxuriating in the cool mornings and verdant hills of Berkshire summer, and, yes, sleeping in my own bed and eating Ethan's glorious summer salads and reestablishing my own routine. (The toddler isn't the only one who gets attached to the familiar!)

But I also know that once I get to Redlands, I'll be completely elated to daven with my dear ones, to have intense conversations at mealtime about what we're learning, to experience again the combination of tradition and innovation which makes Jewish Renewal my spiritual home. The week may be physically tiring (I never want to miss an opportunity to lay tefillin and sing b'tzibbur, in community, even if I'm a little short on sleep) but I know it will be spiritually energizing... and since I'll be coming home to some new adventures here (about which more anon), the spiritual boost of the Kallah experience is coming at exactly the right time.

I'll do my best to share some glimpses of the Kallah here -- and if anyone reading this is going to be there, drop me a comment and let me know.