A very special New York City Shabbat

This coming weekend I'll be in New York city for two very different and very special Shabbat experiences.

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The first is Shabbat By the Sea with Temple Beth-El of City Island. You can read about it in the TBE newsletter. The short version is: 7pm on Friday night at the home of TBE members Ken and Steve Binder, 2 Bay Street on City Island. (If it rains, we'll meet at the shul instead.) I was blessed to be present for Shabbat by the Sea last year (here's their post about it) and it was a highlight of my summer. I can't wait to return and to dance in my Shabbes whites with TBE friends as we welcome Shabbat by the water's edge. There's nothing else like it. 

The second is a Shabbat In The Garden adventure co-sponsored by TBE of City Island and by another Jewish Renewal community called Shtiebl, which will take place starting at 9:45am on Saturday at the New York Botanical Garden (meet inside the main gate, 2900 Southern Blvd). I'll be co-leading a contemplative morning Shabbat service with my friends Rabbi Ben Newman of Shtiebl and Rabbi David Markus of TBE. (Here's the Facebook event where you can RSVP; wear walking shoes and dress for the weather.)

The first time I came to City Island I was delighted and surprised. It feels entirely unlike what I associate with the phrase "New York City" (or "The Bronx"), which just goes to show that New York is vast and contains multitudes and is perennially surprising, maybe especially to outsiders like me. (Though I get the sense even some lifelong denizens of the Five Boroughs don't know City Island either.) I've never been to the New York Botanical Gardens but I'm guessing I will find them equally beautiful. 

The coming Shabbat is a special one. It's called Shabbat Mevarchim Elul, the Shabbat immediately preceding the start of a new lunar month -- in this case, the lunar month of Elul, the month that leads directly to the Days of Awe. The name Elul can be read as an acronym for the phrase "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" -- a quote from Song of Songs that can be understood as an expression of love between human beloveds, and as an expression of love between us and the Divine.

Join us by the water's edge and in the garden of Shabbat. (And in the garden on Shabbat!) Let intimate encounter with the Divine be the updraft that lifts you into heightened readiness to prepare for the High Holidays. Join us as we savor high summer in two of New York City's most beautiful places. Join us as we seek the Face of the Beloved through song, dance, contemplation, and just plain being. I look forward to seeing you there.


A week of learning and togetherness

34933977923_59b899ca49_zWhen I come down to breakfast, I find two friends at the table enjoying coffee. It takes approximately five minutes for us to wind up in a halakhic conversation. It's about the psycho-spiritual, halakhic, and pastoral implications of seeking to speak truth -- with intimates, and with the larger world -- while taking care not to commit lashon ha-ra (malicious speech).

The friend who's making breakfast laughs: the minute you add a third rabbi to the table, halakhic conversations cannot be far behind! Later breakfast conversations (over continuing cups of coffee) include concepts of God through a Four Worlds lens, and how one's needs in briyah (the realm of thought) might be different from one's needs in yetzirah (emotionally, relationally.)

And that's just the first morning. Another morning over coffee we talk about Jewish organizational life and spiritual bypassing. We talk about the Jewish future we want to co-create, and about projects we want to take on, and about who's doing meaningful and innovative work in our field that feels real. We talk about different Hebrew options for same-sex wedding liturgy.

And in between the deep conversations about the Jewish future, we cook meals and spend time together. One afternoon we rent rowboats and go out on the water. One evening we marvel at fireflies and fireworks over a lake -- tiny lights moving and gleaming, juxtaposed with enormous chrysanthemums of sparks that paint the night sky and then disappear into smoke.

We sit with our various machzorim (high holiday prayerbooks) -- Days of Awe, Harlow, Machzor Chadash, Kol HaNeshamah, Wings of Awe -- and sing snippets of melody and high holiday nusach. We share high holiday ideas and questions, talk about things we've done that have worked and things we want to try differently this year in the communities where we serve.

Our high holiday conversations oscillate between tight focus and granular detail (melody choices, when to use nusach, how do you do this prayer?) and macro questions: what does it mean to do "good"? If our souls are pure each morning, why do we need the Days of Awe at all? (We all agree that we do, but some of those whom we serve might not think so: how do we tend to them too?)

We learn with Rabbi Jeff Fox, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat, which is predictably extraordinary. With him we take a deep dive into mussar (ethical and spiritual self-improvement) and halakha around our dining room table. We sharpen our text skills and hone our spiritual responsiveness through deep encounters with text and with tradition, ably guided by his wisdom.

We learn a gorgeous R' Shlomo Wolbe text from the book Alei Shur about the idea that there are appointed times, of closeness to God and of distance from God. The Three Weeks (which begin next week) are a time when we recognize our distance from the Holy One. Far worse than distance, R' Wolbe teaches, is the condition of not even realizing that the distance is there. 

Another beautiful Wolbe text speaks about Torah as the path to shleimut, wholeness. Through Torah study and more importantly through doing mitzvot, he says, we transform our lives into living laboratories. In pursuing Torah learning and service, we become overflowing springs of renewal, we ascend toward holiness, and we become who we're meant to be.

We learn a text from the Maharsha about how it takes 21 days for a chicken to gestate or an almond tree to flower. He riffs on 21 days, exploring two three-week corridors in Jewish time: the Three Weeks (bitter) and the weeks between Rosh Hashanah and Hoshanah Rabbah (sweet), and how both of these can be doorways to God's presence and to purification of one's soul.

And we learn a text from the Afikei Mayim that riffs off of the Alei Shur, the Maharsha, and a few others that we had studied together, exploring the idea that God cries with us, and that Tisha b'Av is a day of closeness between us and God, as is Shemini Atzeret -- though one is a day of rejoicing and the other is a day of sorrow, they're both days of intimate connection. (Wow.)

We study questions of transgender and halakha, delving into texts from Talmud and Rambam, a heartwrenching 13th-century poem by Kalonymus ben Kalonymus, a pair of teshuvot from the Tzitz Eliezer, excerpts from a book by Edan Ben-Ephraim, and more. We grapple with our tradition's various ways of dealing with gender, relationship, and identity over the centuries.

What a profound luxury it is to spend time with chaverim (beloved colleague-friends), diving deep into liturgy and halakha, practice and purpose, for hours on end. Our learning will benefit the communities we serve, but even more than that, it enriches and enlivens our hearts and souls as Jewish clergy (rabbis and hazzan). Truly this is Torah study lishma: for its own sake.

I'm endlessly grateful to The Jewish Studio for creating and sponsoring this fantastic week, and to my hevre for learning with me and davening with me, laughing with me and harmonizing with me, pushing and pulling me toward insights I would never have reached on my own, and for feeding not only my body but also my heart, my mind, and my neshama -- my soul. 


Renewing Judaism

Tallits-135Renewing Judaism happens everywhere. That's one of the things that was affirmed for David and me during the Listening Tour: the renewing of Judaism is, and always has been, bigger than any organization. And that's exactly how it should be. The renewing of Judaism is organic, and multifaceted, and it’s all over the place. Those of us who are ordained in the lineage of Reb Zalman z”l are obvious and visible stewards of that renewing. But the renewing of Judaism is so much bigger even than the growing community of clergy who self-identify as part of that lineage.

Renewing Judaism means spiritual technologies that enliven Judaism. Matching aliyot of Torah with a theme that arises from the text, and offering a blessing rooted in those words and that theme. Making use of chant as a spiritual technology, maybe cherishing melodies from Rabbi Shefa Gold or from Nava Tehila. Offering a meditation minyan or integrating Jewish contemplative practice into our spiritual lives. Practicing hashpa’ah (spiritual direction). These are some of the spiritual technologies that have arisen over the last few decades -- and I can't wait to see what the next ones will be.

Renewing Judaism means liturgical creativity. Davening bilingually. Chanting in English. Interweaving classical liturgy with contemporary poetry. Setting ancient texts to new melodies that open them up in new ways (e.g. “Mi Chamocha” to “The Water is Wide”), and setting new texts to ancient melodies (e.g. contemporary poems in haftarah trope). Exploring the spiritual ramifications of using different names for God (not only Lord and King and Father but also Shekhinah, Source, Wellspring, Mother, Beloved). Passionate use of both words and silence. Praying with our bodies. Explorations and experimentations with liturgy and with prayer that seek to open the heart and enliven the soul. These are (some) expressions of how renewing our prayer lives can renew our Judaism in all four worlds of body, heart, mind, and spirit.

Renewing Judaism flows inside the denominations of Judaism. The renewing of Judaism flows in the Reform movement: my own shul is part of the Reform movement, and is a place where the renewing of Judaism flourishes.The renewing of Judaism flows in the Conservative movement: when we met with Rabbi Brad Artson at Ziegler as part of our southern California Listening Tour stop, we learned that he studies Zohar daily with the aid of his own handmade poster of the sefirot! The renewing of Judaism flows in the Reconstructionist movement: RRC hosted us in Philadelphia on the Listening Tour for a deep and rich conversation about precisely that. The renewing of Judaism flows in Orthodoxy: the existence of Yeshivat Maharat, ordaining Orthodox women, is a sign of renewed Judaism in the Orthodox world. (Indeed, Yeshivat Maharat hosted us as part of the very first weekend of the Listening Tour, back in May of 2015.)

Renewing Judaism flows outside the denominations, too. There are many independent communities and organizations where the renewing of Judaism is unfolding (Rabbi David’s shul on City Island is one of them. So are Romemu in New York City, Kehilla in the Bay Area, and Or Shalom in Vancouver, all of which we visited on the Listening Tour). During the Listening Tour we met with folks from all three of the other trans-denominational seminaries -- Hebrew College, the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York, and the Academy for Jewish Religion in California -- because the fact of pluralistic rabbinical education is part of the renewing of Judaism. Pop-up shtiebls, home-based havurot, innovative projects like Lab/Shul (NY) and The Kitchen (SF), The Jewish Studio (DC) and Judaism Your Way (Denver), all are part of the renewing of Judaism.

Renewing Judaism is a movement, in the sense of “something in motion.” It's the flow of inspiration, creativity, innovation, and change as those manifest in modern Jewish life -- ideally rooted in and balanced with deep love of the tradition as we’ve inherited it. It's both grounded and creative, and constantly re-articulating the right balance between those two qualities, between roots and wings. The renewing of Judaism affirms that Judaism isn’t (and has never been) static or unchanging: change is core to Judaism and core to authentic spiritual life. (After all, as our liturgy teaches, God every day renews creation.) Our task is figuring out how to balance change with constancy. Sometimes that means our Judaism takes new forms. Sometimes it means that we reinterpret or re-enliven old forms. But tradition teaches that every day God's voice continues to sound from Sinai. If we open ourselves to it, we -- and our Judaism -- are constantly being renewed. 

Renewing Judaism is bigger, and richer, and deeper, than any single organization could contain.  On our travels around North America, and our videoconference conversations with people around the world, we sought to hear not only from those who self-identify as part of “Jewish Renewal” as it has existed until now, but also from people outside of that frequently insular bubble. We sought to hear the voices of people who were once connected with ALEPH and for one reason or another walked away. We sought to hear the voices of people who are engaging in the renewing of Judaism by other names: those who are renewing Judaism in ways aligned with ours in spirit and heart, no matter what name they use for what they do. We learned some extraordinary things about what the renewing of Judaism means to you, and about what you yearn it could yet become. Stay tuned: I'll share more about that in the next post in this series.



Today is Reb Zalman z"l's third yahrzeit. I offer these initial reflections on the depth and breadth of the Judaism he helped to inspire in his memory. May his memory continue to be a blessing.


Glimpses of Shavuot 5777

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Isabella Freedman, where I just spent Shavuot.


Back when I first started blogging, I used to write about every retreat I attended. I was so thirsty for connection with Jewish tradition and with God! I kept a paper journal tucked into my tallit bag, and I wrote down everything. When I got home I would type up excerpts from my handwritten notes and turn them into blog posts. Everything was surprising and meaningful and new.

These days it tends to be my job to help to create the container within which the retreat experience unfolds. The teachers whose words I so thirstily drank in are now colleagues, and in many cases friends. And I'm no longer writing things down during every spare moment. All of these shifts have changed my ability to share retreat experiences with all of you. Still, I will try.

The first thing I want to remember from Shavuot 5777 took place before the retreat even began: I was part of the beit din, the rabbinic court, presiding over a conversion. After an extraordinary conversation, we walked together, singing Pure Heart, to Lake Miriam for mikveh. When the new Jew emerged from her third immersion, she was radiant with light.

I want to remember the two nights of davenen in the Isabella Freedman sanctuary where years ago I experienced most of DLTI. Both nights I sat with hevre, beloved colleague-friends, with whom I had the deep pleasure of singing in harmony, guided by Shir Yaakov's gentle presence and beautiful melodies and by Shoshana Jedwab's rich and resonant drumming.

I want to remember the late-night learning on the first night of Shavuot. In the wee hours of the morning I was in the beige yurt, where Rabbi David Evan Markus taught a lesson on how "why" grew up in Torah. And then I taught a lesson on eit ratzon, "a time of will / a time of yearning," and the giving of Torah, and what it means to say that God yearns to give.

I want to remember how it felt to wake, after a three-hour catnap, to daven hallel outdoors by Lake Miriam. I want to remember Rabbi Jill Hammer's's gorgeous Torah service on the first morning, and how she mapped the blessings that went with the first three aliyot to the three mother letters from Sefer Yetzirah, and paired each with a different color / texture of chuppah.

I want to remember the first afternoon of Shavuot: both attending Rabbi David Ingber's beautiful teaching in which he shared classical (midrashic and Zoharic) texts on suckling / nursing and the revelation of Torah, and then going for a walk with two hevre afterwards in the glorious sunshine, and unpacking his teaching and its meaning for us as we walked.

I want to remember teaching after dinner on the second night about the silent aleph and revelation (including that text from the Ropcyzer about seeing God's name in the face of every human being, which I've shared here before, as well as a variety of other texts about the aleph and revelation.) It was so sweet to share teachings that I love and to harvest responses from the room.

I want to remember sitting with three dear friends outside the sanctuary on the second morning of the holiday, arms around each other, singing and laughing through tears. And I want to remember doing "waking dream" work with Reb Eve in the gazebo beside the lake that same morning after davenen was over, and the images that arose for me, and what those images meant.

I'm not sure any of the words I've just written actually capture for you what the Shavuot retreat experience was like at Hazon / Isabella Freedman this year. In a certain way, the holiday retreat experience is ineffable: it's as much about the experience, the melodies and conversations and the early-morning mist over the water, as it is about anything I can chronicle or describe. 

Even if I can't write about it in a way that really conveys what the experience was like for me this year, I'm grateful for the opportunity to take a deep dive into one of the three great ancient pilgrimage festivals, and grateful to have been given the chance to help create the retreat experience for some 250 others, especially in such a beautiful and holy place.

 


Passing the Flame Forward: A Letter from Rachel and David

19333512771_598cf38f7e_z (1)In early 2015 it was announced that we would serve as the next co-chairs of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal.  Today we announce that we are stepping down. Our term will end in July.

When we began, we saw four key goals.  First, to help steward ALEPH through the complex aftermath of the death of Reb Zalman z”l, whose third yahrzeit soon approaches.  Second, to offer hundreds of people around the world ways to express hopes, dreams and longings – and bring their hearts and ideas back to ALEPH for integration.  Third, to support in tangible ways the continuing flow of Jewish Renewal for today and tomorrow.  Fourth, to model a stewardship that saw our roles as temporary and sought our successors quickly.

We did much that we came to do.  Along with Board colleagues and staff, we spent 15 months on the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour, taking stock of who and where ALEPH and Renewal are -- how the renewal of Judaism has spread and matured, what is cherished, what should change and what must never change.  It was a tremendous blessing to journey into those deep places together.  We took hundreds of pages of notes, and brought what we learned back to ALEPH, the Ordination Program and OHALAH (the association of Jewish Renewal clergy).  Some of those ideas are starting to take root now.

Behind the scenes, ALEPH evolved a new governance system aspiring to be more inclusive.  We established an Advisory Council to harness the wisdom of elders, teachers and visionaries across the Jewish landscape to support Judaism’s ongoing renewal.  ALEPH laid the foundation for a Communities Council so that ALEPH Network members -- communities, organizations, and individuals -- could help set a new bottom-up agenda for how to support ALEPH communities in the future.  ALEPH began strategic planning with Reverend Bill Kondrath, a consultant specializing in midwifing faith-based organizations through major transitions, including and especially the death of a charismatic founder.  

In the public realm, the magic of the 2016 Kallah happened at Colorado State University: 37% of attendees were first-timers, and brought the joy and “juice” of Jewish Renewal home with them. ALEPH began planning the 2018 Kallah.  (Stay tuned for more information soon.)  New spiritual communities joined ALEPH – both “new” ones (started from scratch), and existing ones rooted in Reform and Conservative denominational contexts.  New programs and projects sought ALEPH affiliation.  ALEPH was featured in a variety of publications and podcasts.  ALEPH began developing new initiatives, including Clergy Camp and Tikshoret (an education platform to bring tastes of Jewish Renewal to a broad online audience), while also better supporting beloved ALEPH stalwart programs and initiatives.  Finances improved, and funds were invested wisely and securely.

Perhaps most importantly, as co-chairs, we said from the start that we wanted to model stewardship that flows in ways we learned from our teachers.  We created a Nominations Circle, on which we did not serve, and asked that it immediately seek successors for the Board and its leadership.  We felt that, especially in this era after Reb Zalman’s life on this plane, it would be important for many reasons to fulfill this intention to serve with all our hearts while making way for the next turning.  The time for that next turning has now come.

For the confidence, volunteerism, and support ALEPH received during our time of service, we are grateful beyond measure: these are tremendous gifts, and we thank you for them.  We are especially grateful to ALEPH’s executive director Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin, ALEPH’s deputy directors Tamy Jacobs and Steve Weinberg, their predecessor David Brown, Lynda Simons, and Ming Shem-Lu, who have nourished ALEPH and have done the very hard work of bringing ideas and relationships to life.  They are ALEPH’s unsung heroes, and they deserve wild applause for their dedication and hard work.  We are grateful to our teachers, and their teachers, and their students, and the students of their students – both within and beyond ALEPH – for so very much that has come through them over the years.

The work of renewing Judaism, by its nature, is never complete (Pirkei Avot has something to say about that).  The next phase of this ongoing journey now is for our successors, to keep that flame burning bright in ways that perhaps today can scarcely be imagined.  We wish them every success and blessing as they dream and lead forward.

With blessings on this Omer day of chesed sheba yesod (lovingkindness in foundation),

Rachel and David

 

 (Cross-posted to David's website and to Kol ALEPH.)

 


Shabbat, renewal, and you

A d'var Torah offered at Congregation Bet Ha'Am in Portland, Maine. Offered aloud by me; jointly written by me and Rabbi David

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 Welcome home.

Why am I welcoming you home when you live here and I'm the visitor? I don't mean welcome home to Bet Ha'Am; I mean welcome home to Shabbat – or more aptly, welcome home into Shabbat – because Shabbat is a homecoming.

Rabbi David and I are delighted to join you as scholars in residence, or maybe scholars in homecoming. This weekend we hope to share with you tastes of Renewal, starting with the renewal we call Shabbat. For six days we busy in our doings; on the seventh day, we come home to our sense of being human beings. 

When we can "just be," when we really know that we're enough just as we are, we can touch that loving miracle of spirituality that Jewish mystics call the World to Come, right here and now. That's what I mean by coming home.

Now I freely admit to y'all – and I say y'all as a good south Texan transplanted to southern New England, now visiting southern Maine – that not every Shabbat in my life lives up to this ideal of a homecoming. But tonight, singing and praying and being with y'all even for this short while, I feel the supernal Shabbat becoming that feeds my soul – and I feel at home here with you.

This sense of inner homecoming is Renewal – both the lower-case "r" of experiencing the love and joy we call the renewal of spirit, and the capital "R" of Renewing Judaism, and its umbrella organization -- ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal -- that Rabbi David and I call home. And these two Renewals are linked. A Judaism that is vital and vibrant in body, heart, mind and soul – what we call the Four Worlds of Jewish spirituality – is the quest and passion of Jewish Renewal.

Tonight we want to share with you how we see two Renewals as linked with the theme of our weekend together – holiness, for Parshat Kedoshim – and the heart of Parshat Kedoshim, to love our neighbor as ourself / ואהבת לרעך כמוך. How does Renewal relate to holiness and love?

Continue reading "Shabbat, renewal, and you" »


A welcome message to Bet Ha'Am

For those who are interested... here's the welcome video we made to introduce ourselves to the community at Bet Ha'Am, where we'll be Bernstein scholars-in-residence this weekend. Over the course of three minutes, we talk a little bit about Jewish Renewal and the tools we've found there for harvesting joy and meaning in Judaism, and we close with the song that will be our musical theme for our weekend together:

(If you can't see the embedded video, it's on YouTube here.)

To everyone at Bet Ha'Am: we're both driving north today, and hope to make it to you safely despite the projected rainstorms. We look forward to being with y'all for Kabbalat Shabbat tonight and for the weekend to come!

And to everyone else, Shabbat shalom and blessings from our hearts to yours.


Deep Ecumenism and Being a Mixed Multitude

Multitude-WebOne of the things I love about the Passover story is that every year the story is the same, and every year I hear it anew. (This is true of the whole Torah, too, but I knew and loved the Pesach story before I knew and loved the whole Torah.) Every year we retell how we were slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt and God brought us out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. And every year, something different about the story leaps out at me and says pay attention.

This year the thing that leaps out at me is the erev rav, the "mixed multitude" that went forth with us from Egypt. When we left Mitzrayim, tradition teaches, we did not leave alone. A mixed multitude came with us. One tradition holds that some Egyptians chose to leave with us, to strike out toward freedom and self-determination. Another tradition holds that even Pharaoh's daughter came with us, and in so doing acquired a new name: Batya, "Daughter of God."

I imagine us as a vast column of refugees walking together into the wilderness... and in that great crowd of people were people who were born into this community, as well as fellow-travelers who chose to accompany us on our journey toward freedom. Together they redefined identity, so everyone became an insider, not divided by label or practice. This is the story that constitutes us as a people, the story we retell every Pesach, the story we allude to in the kiddush every Friday night and in the Mi Chamocha prayer every single day -- and in this core story, we are a mixed multitude. From the moment of our formation as a community, we are diverse.

Immediately upon leaving Egypt, we came to an insurmountable obstacle: the Sea of Reeds. On Monday night, Ben Solis-Cohen gave a beautiful d'var about Nachshon ben Aminadav, the brave soul who took the first steps into the waters. Nachshon kept going until it seemed that he would drown, and then the waters parted. This is a story about trusting in something beyond ourselves and getting through adversity we didn't think we could get through. Because in and of ourselves, we couldn't. As a theist, I would say God accompanied us, and therefore we became more than we thought we could be. That language may or may not work for you, but what matters is this: when the journey ahead seemed impossible, we found the courage to keep going, and the impossible became possible.

This is the story that constitutes us as a people, and it's not entirely an easy story. After we came through the sea, the waters rushed back in and swept away the Egyptian armies that had pursued us. Midrash teaches that God rebuked the angels for rejoicing, saying, "My children are perishing, and you sing praises?" Both "we," and "they," are equally God's children. The story that constitutes us as a people demands that we ask what price is being paid for our liberation, and by whom. Whose bondage or suffering is the price of our freedom and comfort, and what right do we have to exact that price?

It's our job as Jews to rejoice in our freedom, and it's our job to look at this system, this community, this nation, this planet, and ask how and whether we're complicit in the suffering of others who are not yet free. What is the price of our spiritual freedom, and who is paying that price, and what can we do about that? And considering our complicity isn't enough. It's also our job as Jews to work toward liberation for everyone. Until everyone is free, our liberation is incomplete.

The mixed multitude who left Egypt included people who were not Jews... as our Shabbat dinners here include those who walk on other spiritual paths. On most Christian calendars today is Good Friday. In their tradition, today commemorates the death of Jesus on the cross. In their tradition, the price of spiritual freedom for humanity was the death of the rabbi they call Jesus who was both human and divine.

For our Christian friends, tonight is a dark night that will give way on Sunday to the brightest of new dawns. The emotional journey of going from Good Friday to Easter does for them what the emotional journey of Pesach can do for us. Remembering the tenth plague, the death of the Egyptian firstborns -- remembering the Egyptian army swept away in the Sea of Reeds -- impels us to recognize the preciousness of this life, and to cultivate openness to growth and change.

Following the teacher of my teachers, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z"l, I want to suggest that the best way we can relate to Good Friday is not by trying to be Christian, but by being all the more Jewish. This is what he called "deep ecumenism." From the authenticity of our spiritual practice, we can walk alongside others in theirs, partaking in a universal human journey that has multiple forms. And that journey would be darkened and diminished if even a single one of us didn't take part.

Every religion, Reb Zalman taught, is like an organ in the body of humanity. We need each one to be uniquely what it is, and we also need each one to be in communication with the others. If the heart tried to be the liver, we'd be in trouble, but if the heart stopped speaking to the liver, we'd be in even more trouble! Each community of faith -- including those who identify as atheist, agnostic, or secular -- needs to live up to its own best self, and each needs to be in dialogue with the others.

Humanity hasn't quite mastered this yet... but the rest of the world could learn a lot from Williams campus life. When the Chaplains' Office organizes a multifaith prayer experience after the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and Muslim mosques. When Williams Catholic, or Williams Secular, or the Feast, shows up to cook Shabbat dinner for WCJA. When Feminists of Faith gather on a Saturday afternoon, as we will do here on April 29. This is what it means to be a mixed multitude: not because we're stuck with each other, but because we embrace each other. Because our pluralism is part of who we are.

On Sunday night we'll enter into the seventh day of Pesach, which tradition says is the day when we actually crossed the sea. We'll remember how after crossing that sea, Miriam and the women danced with their timbrels, singing in gratitude to the One Who makes our transformation possible.

That's our job too: to sing out in praise. To cultivate gratitude and joy, without ignoring the things that are hard, either in our past or in our anticipated future. Miriam and the women are my role models in that. They'd experienced trauma and loss, they were on a journey with an unknown destination, they were carrying their whole lives on their backs -- and they danced anyway.

Miriam and the women teach me that no matter what I've been through and no matter what challenges lie ahead, there is always reason for hope and rejoicing. "Look around, look around: how lucky we are to be alive right now!"

This is the story that constitutes us as a people: a mixed multitude, welcoming and diverse -- growing and becoming, taking a leap of faith singly and together -- grappling with systems of oppression -- supporting each other on our various spiritual paths -- aware that transformation is always possible -- with hearts expansive enough to hold both life's adversity and life's joy.

We live into this story through every act of tikkun olam (healing the world) that we do singly and together: in our learning, in our fellowship, in our activism, in our prayer, in our community-building. Each of these is a step on the road to Sinai, a step en route to the land of promise awaiting us all.

 

This is the d'var Torah I offered tonight during dinner at the Williams College Jewish Association.  (Cross-posted to Under the Kippah: Thoughts from the Jewish Chaplain.)

Image: "Multitude," by Sam Miller. (Source.)


Davening: together, even when we're apart

2900184206_c61c8e8622_zMany years ago when I was in rabbinic school I used to daven one morning a week with a telephone minyan of rabbinic school friends. We were all in the eastern time zone, in states scattered across the country. We used a conference call phone line. We took turns leading davenen. It was a gift to me to hear the voices of beloved hevre, not to feel alone in my spiritual practice. Of course, the technology posed some challenges. If we wanted to sing along, we had to mute our own phones, otherwise our voices would cancel each other out. And eventually that telephone minyan came apart at the seams. Still, it was sweet, for a time.

In more recent years I've participated a few times in davenen via zoom, the videoconferencing app we use in ALEPH for Board meetings and other conversations. I have powerful memories of the Monday morning after Reb Zalman died, when the rest of the ALEPH Board was together in Oregon and I was far away in Massachusetts. I joined them via zoom that morning, and davened and sang and wept with them. I remember feeling like we were truly together. Of course, it helped that I knew everyone in the room; we were already a community. I remember being grateful that there was a way for me to be with them from afar.

The technological tools available to us for this kind of virtual community keep evolving. One recent morning shortly after I arrived at work at the synagogue I opened up Facebook to share a piece of synagogue news on my shul's Facebook page, and saw that Shir Yaakov was davening the morning service on Facebook Live. As is usual for me these days, my early morning had not offered me time for davenen. Early mornings in my house, these days, are all about getting myself and my kid fed and dressed, packing our lunches, making sure we both have what we need for the day ahead, and getting him on the schoolbus on time.

But here was one of my hevre davening in a way that I could join. It felt like a reminder from the universe of how I really ought to begin my work day! So I put on tallit and tefillin and sang with Shir. In the chat window alongside the video there was a steady stream of comments from others who were davening too. He asked us to name the places we were in, and the places for which we were praying. I saw the names of friends across the continent, and the names of people I don't know. From time to time a wave of little hearts would flow across the screen as people clicked on Facebook's "heart" button to share their love.

After the minyan ended I found myself thinking about how davenen connects us across places and times. Part of what's meaningful for me in davenen is knowing that others are singing these words too -- or perhaps other words that evoke these same themes -- around the world. As the hour for morning prayer moves across the globe, daveners enter in to morning prayer, together and alone. And there's also a way in which davenen connects us not only across time zones but across time -- some of these words have been recited in prayer for centuries, and will be recited for centuries to come. 

In in the world of assiyah (geographically), those of us who joined this Facebook Live minyan were all over the place. But -- at least for a while -- in the worlds of yetzirah (emotion), briyah (thought), and atzilut (spirit), we were all together. Sometimes when I gather with community in person, we're in the same place physically but our hearts and spirits aren't necessarily aligned. Someone's distracted, someone's focusing on this morning's news, someone's grieving, someone's angry with someone else in the room -- there are all kinds of reasons why we can be disconnected. But at its best, prayer connects us both in and out -- with ourselves and with each other -- and also up

("Up" is a metaphor, of course. As I taught my students last night in our intro Judaism class, Judaism's God-concepts include both transcendence and immanence, the Infinite and the relatable. God is in the vastness of spacetime, and as intimate to us as the beating of our own hearts. My favorite metaphor for God these days is Beloved. The God to Whom I need to relate right now is the One Who sees me and loves me in all that I am. Prayer doesn't always connect me with that One... but as with any other practice, the only way to reach the times when it "works" is to keep doing it even at the times when I feel like it "doesn't work.")

At its best, prayer connects us with our deepest selves, and with our Source, and with each other. No matter where in the world we are. Even when we feel most alone, when we "log in" to the cosmic mainframe (that's language Reb Zalman z"l used to use), we're connecting with the Network that links us all. Prayer can remind us to open our hearts. It can attune us to the subtle movements of soul. And though sometimes when I pray with others I feel that I am still alone, sometimes when I am praying alone I can remember that what appears to divide us is illusory, and what connects us -- always -- is infinite and deep.

 

Related:

Visitation, a tele-davenen poem, 2008


Returning home from a week in ALEPH-land

Colorado

Every year I struggle to figure out how to describe my week with this particular subset of my ALEPH / Jewish Renewal community, and every year my words come up short.

This is even more true than it used to be now that with Rabbi David I am co-chair of ALEPH. This means both that our time here in Colorado is longer than it used to be -- we gathered for a Board meeting last week, before the Shabbaton, which came before the smicha (ordination), which came before the OHALAH conference of Jewish Renewal clergy -- and also that our time here in Colorado is more densely-packed with commitments, conversations, and appointments than it ever was before.

Looking back on the last week, my first thought is that I can hardly believe it's only been eight days. Surely I have been away from home for a month! It feels this way to me in part because each day is so packed (morning prayer, meetings, lunch meetings, more meetings, then afternoon prayer, then more meetings, then still more meetings, then evening prayer, then yet more meetings -- not to mention the impromptu meetings in the lobby, the elevator, by the fireplace, in the meal line...)

There's also a way in which gathering with the same community year after year causes time to telescope -- it shrinks and expands, linking now with then and then and then. Of course every year there are new faces: new students in the ALEPH ordination programs, new members of OHALAH. And every year a few of the faces who used to be with us are absent. Even so, the gathering of this community creates a kind of psycho-spiritual container that is palpably the same container each year.

And time takes on a strange quality inside that container. Is it 2017, or is it 2011, or is it 2006? On the Sunday of this trip I found myself thinking: is this the day I was welcomed in to the community (I remember exactly how I felt as I stood in line to walk beneath that chuppah as a baby rabbinical student), or the day I was blessed on my way out of the community, or the day when I got to be a part of the transmission of smicha? And of course it was none of those -- but it was also all of those, all at once.

The last eight days have been dense and rich and full. They've contained countless conversations about the pace of change, and organizational transitions, and the future of ALEPH and Jewish Renewal. They've contained Board meetings and conference sessions, and learning with this year's keynote speaker Rabbi Benay Lappe. We've shared with the OHALAH community some of what we learned over our fifteen-month listening tour (we're working now on the report from those travels; stay tuned.)

One afternoon I went to the hot tub, surrounded by snow, and wound up talking there with colleagues about real-life ethical and halakhic questions we have faced around weddings, Shabbat, and brit milah. We talked about balancing competing values, about integral halakha, about gender and ritual, about ethics and how we make choices. It was an extraordinary conversation, and afterward we cleansed our palate by singing one of Reb Zalman's niggunim and one of Hazzan Jessi Roemer's melodies.

One night I went to a friend's room and held the space and bore witness as some of her dearest beloveds tied tzitzit and tchelet (blue threads) on the tallit she would wear during her rabbinic ordination. Another night I gathered some of my beloveds in my room and together we tied tzitzit and tchelet on my newest tallit, a creation made just for me by my dear friend Rabbi Shulamit Thiede of Not My Brother's Kippah. On still other nights I sat in the lobby with friends and sang songs until far too late, with joy.

I've been privileged this week to bear witness to the smicha (ordination) of a class of mashpi'im (spiritual directors) -- and also the smicha of a new cohort of clergy, a hazzan and four rabbis. I've been privileged this week to take part in some extraordinary davenen, learning new melodies and savoring familiar ones, singing meaningful words in harmony with beloved hevre who care as much as I do about the words and their meanings and how they can connect us up and in and through.

As a special treat, twice over the last week (once before the Board meeting began, and once on Shabbes afternoon) I made it into the mountains with friends to walk and to soak in the natural beauty. That was a gift too. It's all too easy to come here and never leave the confines of the conference hotel, and while I am primarily here for the community and the hevreschaft, sometimes it is sweet to experience those collegial friendships in the setting of the natural world instead of the hotel halls.

This week I've had countless conversations. I've davened, I've learned, I've taught, I've kvelled. And now I am on my way home, physically exhausted but spiritually uplifted, grateful for this community and for the spiritual gifts they have enabled me to receive.

 


Prayer for the Musmachot

prayer-for-the-musmachot

These are the names of the daughters of Israel
Who came into the womb of narrow unknowing
Each with her household, to be rebirthed anew,

Called by name at the moment of becoming
No less than the stars that shine in their time
By which to count a promised people of light.

Birthing took time, but they’re vigorous in living
And giving life-giving life from essence of soul,
The single point of light that is light before light.

It did not merely appear in your wild and waste:
You saw, daring to turn toward flame of heart,
Standing open to touch and tend the holy,

Hearing your name as never before called from the
Name as never before spoken, becoming in all ways
Within you What is Becoming always within you,

Now ready to shine as never before, for you as the very
Top of the mountain that glowed with the radiance of
Birth herself in truth and love and pain and hope.

These are the names of the daughters of Israel
Come to lead from narrow unknowing to rebirth anew
With eyes wide open – daring to turn aside and see

The flame of heart, to help all of us stand open to
Touch and tend the holy, to hear and become –
Next links in the unbroken chain of always becoming

Now given to their care, placed on their shoulders,
Hearing their names as never before, leaning back into
History’s hands: from where we stand, go forward.

Dedicated with love and blessing to the
ALEPH Class of 2017

Rabbi Rachel Hersh
Rabbi Diane Lakein
Hazzan Jessi Roemer
Rabbi Susan Shamash
Rabbi Jennifer Singer

Rabbi David Evan Markus & Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Co-Chairs, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal

CLICK TO VIEW COMPLETE POEM WITH COMMENTARY

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Off to Colorado once again

Dual
Eleven years ago at this season I made my way to Colorado for my first ALEPH Ordination Programs student Shabbaton and OHALAH conference. I experienced the ritual that welcomes incoming students and blesses outgoing students, on the Sunday morning of the day of the smicha (ordination). After the Shabbaton, I attended my first conference of Jewish Renewal clergy.

I've been back every year since, even the year when I'd just been hospitalized for strokes. The only January gathering I missed was the one when my son was a newborn. (Coincidentally, that was also the only year the conference moved away from Colorado -- that year OHALAH experimented with holding the gathering in St. Louis instead.)

Six years ago this winter I myself was ordained on the day between the ALEPH student Shabbaton and the OHALAH conference. And two years ago I was privileged to participate in the ordination as part of the chain of transmission through which Reb Zalman z"l's legacy flows. Those two experiences of blessing and transformation are highlights of my life.

These days I always go to Colorado a few days before the Shabbaton and conference, because that's when the ALEPH Board of Directors has our annual winter meeting. This year we'll spend that meeting entering into capacity-building and strategic planning with the Reverend Bill Kondrath, with whom I had the pleasure of learning last summer at Clergy Camp. I'm excited about working with him toward a vibrant future for ALEPH and for the renewal of Judaism.

Last year was my first OHALAH conference as co-chair (with R' David) of ALEPH. We discovered that the conference is a somewhat different experience from this vantage. I'm expecting that this year will be similarly booked chock-full of meetings (both scheduled and impromptu), though I'm hoping to make it to at least a few conference sessions, and to get time to connect with a few friends.

If you'll be at the ALEPH Board meeting in Broomfield, or at the Shabbaton that follows it, or at the OHALAH conference of Jewish Renewal clergy, I look forward to learning and dining and davening and harmonizing and simply being with you in the coming days! And if not, I look forward to connecting with you once I return home from my week away. Thanks for bearing with me while I'm on the road.

 


Featured on Greylock Glass

Greylock-nation_FB_timeline_300x300I had the profound pleasure recently of sitting down with Kate Abbott of BTW Berkshires, and with Rabbi David Evan Markus (my dear friend and ALEPH co-chair), for a conversation that was both wide-ranging and deep.

Kate was interviewing us about ALEPH and Jewish Renewal for the Greylock Glass podcast. (Here's her archive at Greylock Glass.)

We spoke for more than an hour: about Judaism, Jewish Renewal, the legacy of Reb Zalman z"l (of blessed memory), the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal Listening Tour, deep ecumenism, and ALEPH's recent resolution that if President-Elect Trump should obligate Muslims to register as such with the government we urge all Jews (and all Americans) to register as Muslims to thwart that nefarious plan. We spoke about the evolution of religious tradition, about the life of the spirit, and about maintaining hope in dark times

This episode of the podcast is about a number of community efforts for solidarity and inclusion. In addition to conversations with us, the podcast includes Nick Cave's exhibit at MASS MoCA, Professor Moustafa Bayoumi coming to speak at Simon's Rock, and four young WordxWord poets reading as part of Othering, the November art show at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts.

Kate is a terrific journalist, and has a gift for eliciting deep answers to incisive questions. It probably also doesn't hurt that I've known Kate for many years (since the days when journalism was my own career, back when I was editor of The Women's Times, before Inkberry and before rabbinical school), and I've known David even longer. It's easy for conversations among old friends to go to meaningful places. 

The podcast episode that arose out of that conversation is now live, and you can listen to it online: Will Call #54: Standing Up Against Othering. (Our segment starts around 47 minutes in, and lasts for about half an hour, but I recommend listening to the whole thing.)


A weekend with NHC

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I spent a lovely weekend at Camp Ramah at the National Havurah Committee's New England Retreat

It was sweet to spend the weekend with people who are passionate about their Judaism. Everyone who comes to a weekend retreat like this one is invested in Jewish life and practice, and there's something restorative about being surrounded by others who care about some of the same things that matter so deeply to me.

It was fun both to reconnect with some of my ALEPH hevre (including Rabbi David Seidenberg of NeoHasid, Rabbi Cherina Eisenberg, and rabbinical student Carl Woolf) and to meet other NHC regulars, many of whom were unfamiliar with ALEPH and Jewish Renewal. It's fun to get to be an ALEPH ambassador and to answer questions about who we are and what we do. It was fun to share poems on Saturday night, to teach a psalm-writing workshop on Sunday morning, and to co-lead davenen (prayer) on Sunday with Rabbi David, too.

We planned Sunday morning davenen with the intention of sharing Jewish Renewal spiritual technologies: some favorite melodies and chants, attentiveness to transitions between weekday nusach (the melodic system standard for weekday prayer) and melodies, bilingual davenen, freeform English prayer on the themes of the classical Hebrew (especially for the bakashot, the "requests" at the heart of the weekday amidah), imagery and meditation, and more. I think our offering was well-received, and it was sweet for me to get to ring in the new week with this kind of davenen b'tzibbur (prayer in community.)

Deep thanks to Mark and Steve for inviting us to be present, to teach and to learn, and to enjoy a beautiful snowy weekend in the woods outside of Palmer! 


Renewing my relationship with haftarah

31456168932_b7025790ef_zAt the shul where I serve, we don't usually read the haftarah, the reading from the Prophets that in more traditional synagogues is paired with the weekly Torah reading. This decision was made years ago, largely for reasons of attention span and time. People don't want services to be "too long," and generally don't have much patience for lengthy chanted texts in a language that's not the vernacular. 

The downside of this is that my community almost never hears the beautiful melodies of haftarah trope.  The only time I typically chant haftarah is on Rosh Hashanah, and on that day I always chant the traditional blessings before and after the haftarah, too. But in place of the traditional haftarah text I chant a contemporary poetic rendering of the reading for that day, in English, set in that melodic mode. 

Chanting English language poetry in haftarah trope is something I learned from my teacher Hazzan Jack Kessler. He's crafted some beautiful settings of contemporary poetry for use in this way -- and not only contemporary poetry, but also other prophetic texts. I've been blessed to hear him chant the Declaration of Independence in haftarah trope when I've been with my ALEPH rabbinical school community on the Shabbat nearest to the Fourth of July. 

I love this practice for at least two reasons. I love the fact that it keeps the plaintive lilt of this melodic system in our hearts and minds -- especially since this is a melodic system that would otherwise be lost in communities like mine where we don't chant the classical haftarah most of the time. The system of the טעמי המקרא / ta'amei hamikra (the markings on the text that denote snatches of melody, a.k.a. trope) is a fascinating one, and I love the way the trope markings serve to give the text phrasing and nuance. I also love how this practice offers an opportunity to lift up texts, contemporary and otherwise, that serve a prophetic function. As a lover of poetry, I am always delighted by opportunities to uplift poems that might speak to people where they are. 

One of this year's b'nei mitzvah students at my shul expressed an interest in haftarah. We looked at the haftarah reading for her Torah portion, and found it not particularly engaging. So I told her about this practice I learned from Hazzan Jack, and invited her to consider whether there is a contemporary poem that speaks to her. I reminded her that she's heard me chant contemporary poems in haftarah trope before -- a setting of the story of Chanah on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, a Marge Piercy poem on the second day.  She did some digging, and came back to me with one of my poems from 70 faces (Phoenicia, 2011) -- the one that goes with her Torah portion. I've set it to haftarah trope, and will work with her on learning it. 

Setting one of my own poems in this melodic system was a moving experience for me. It gave me occasion to reflect on how I phrase the poem when I read it aloud, and how I want the trope marks to "set" the poem musically. And it made me realize that there's no reason for me to limit my English-language haftarah poetry chanting to once a year. I could make a more regular practice of chanting a relevant poem, in the place in the flow of the service where the haftarah goes. I would have to abbreviate somewhere else, of course, in order not to run overtime. Perhaps I'll chant a haftarah poem on weeks when I don't write a d'var Torah, or will shorten p'sukei d'zimrah (the introductory poems and psalms of praise) on weeks when I have a haftarah poem to share. But I love these melodies, and would love to weave them into the consciousness of the community I serve. 

I'm grateful to my b'nei mitzvah student for making this request, which has re-enlivened my desire to renew and reclaim this piece of the tradition in a way that my community can access and enjoy.

 

 

More on this:


DIY Judaism with ALEPH and Judaism Unbound

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Episode 22 of the Judaism Unbound podcast featured Rabbis Rachel Barenblat and David Evan Markus, co-chairs of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. In this live talkback at 8:30pm EST on Monday December 12, join the co-chairs and the hosts of Judaism Unbound for a conversation about "Do It Yourself" Judaism. What does it mean to take Judaism into our own hands and to seek in Judaism answers to the questions of this hour? How are people reshaping and renewing Judaism today? How can we make Judaism our own, and what tools and practices are at our disposal? Come talk with us about all of this and more.

The talkback will take place via Google Hangouts, and will be streamed to YouTube. The YouTube video will stay online even after the talkback is over, so those who aren't able to join us at that hour can watch it later. Shortly before 8:30pm EST on Monday, the Renewal Unbound page on the ALEPH website will be updated with a link to the Google Hangout where people can join us, and we'll embed the YouTube video on that page after the event is over. If you're able to be online on Monday night, join us on Google Hangouts and talk with us about DIY Judaism and the Jewish future you want to co-create! 

(For those who are Facebook users, here's a Facebook Event for the Talkback -- let us know if you can join us, and start thinking about the questions you want to ask...)


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 meetyouatthewell.org/song. 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 change.org where you can add your name.

 


Standing With Non-Jews Against Oppression

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RESOLUTION BY MAJOR JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS ON DIRECT ACTION TO THWART ANY U.S. GOVERNMENT ACTION REQUIRING REGISTRATION OF MUSLIMS

As initially proposed by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal 

WHEREAS:

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;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT:

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.

SIGN THE PETITION!


Prayer After the Election

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.