Jerusalem, city of music

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.