Previous month:
December 2011
Next month:
February 2012


I can measure the last six years in Ohalot (Ohalah being the name both of the association of clergy for Jewish renewal, and the annual conference which that organization puts on.)

2006: I was a new ALEPH rabbinic student, over the moon at being able to name myself so. 2007: I had recovered enough from my strokes to be cleared to fly, but I had no idea what health mysteries might have caused the trauma. (Still don't.) 2008: getting swept up in the whirl of davening Hallel with my teachers and friends. 2009: I miscarried on Shabbat, and my friends cared for me. 2010: the year I stayed home with our newborn son, imagining my beloved friends and teachers far away. 2011: the year I became a rabbi.

And here comes Ohalah 2012. Tomorrow morning, at a painfully early hour, I'll be off to Colorado for the Shabbaton and ensuing Ohalah conference yet again, for the first time as a rabbi. On Saturday night I'll be ordained a second time, as a mashpi'ah ruchanit, a Jewish spiritual director. On Sunday I'll have the joy of seeing several of my friends ordained.

I wonder how it will feel to return to the OMNI hotel outside of Denver, which was new to us last year when we converged there for my ordination. I dimly remember last year's arrival, with a dozing baby in the car seat and my spouse and parents in tow. I remember strolling Drew through the empty hotel lobby at 3am, trying to coax him back to sleep again. This year, Drew will stay home with his dad, enjoying all the comforts of home -- his dear daycare provider, his comfy crib, his house full of toys -- and I will spend five days with my hevre, reconnecting with colleagues and teachers and with God, adrift in the freedom of being temporarily childfree.

And of course there will be experiences I can't quite anticipate. Melodies and harmonies. Meals with beloved friends. Prayer both scheduled and spontaneous. Conference sessions which open me up in surprising ways. These things are always true.

To those among y'all who I'll be seeing in Colorado: travel safely and I can't wait to reconnect! And to those who won't be there, have a lovely few days.

Preparing for 10 Tevet

This post may be triggering for survivors of rape and sexual abuse. If that is you, please guard your boundaries carefully, and feel free to skip this one if you need to.


For many liberal Jews, fasting means the experience of forgoing food and drink on Yom Kippur. Others also observe the custom of fasting on Tisha b'Av, the day which commemorates the fall of both Temples in Jerusalem. These two days are Judaism's major fasts. But there are also five minor fast days on the Jewish calendar. Minor fasts last from dawn until nightfall, and (in the traditional understanding) one is permitted to eat breakfast if one arises before dawn for the purpose of doing so, though one must finish eating before first light.

Of the five minor fasts, one is the "fast of the first-born," observed by first-born males on the day preceding Pesach, in commemoration of the story of the tenth plague and how the Hebrew boys were spared. The other four minor fasts relate to historical happenings, tragedies which still resonate in Jewish memory. One of these falls this week: 10 Tevet (on the Gregorian calendar, this year that's Thursday, January 5), which commemorates the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, a siege which culminated in the fall of the first temple in 587 BCE.

What does it mean to fast in memory of the beginning of a siege 2,601 years ago which led to the fall of a temple some thirty months later -- especially when for many of us, the sacrifices which went on in that temple feel so foreign we can't begin to relate to what they meant? And what might Asara b'Tevet mean to someone who eschews the fast itself, or someone who is perhaps only now learning that this minor fast day exists?

We remember the siege of Jerusalem because it was the beginning of the process which led to our exile from that city and from the place where we knew how to connect with God. And though it can be argued that the exile ultimately led to the flowerings of rabbinic Judaism, of a Judaism which is rooted in the portable connections with God which we create and sustain through study and prayer everywhere we go, the exile was still a trauma. I think there's value in recognizing that.

The essay Walls and Gates (on reminds us that "[a] broken wall means vulnerability, exposure, loss of identity." 10 Tevet is a day for recognizing, and mourning, siege which leads to brokenness and damage. For some, that means remembering the siege of Jerusalem long ago and mourning the shattering of that city's integrity. (For others, it might mean mourning the shattering of integrity indicated by Haredi violence in the Jerusalem suburb of Bet Shemesh in recent days.)

For still others, the commemoration of siege which led to brokenness may suggest another, more intensely personal, form of shattering. If your bodily integrity has been compromised, through rape or other sexual abuse, the 10th of Tevet may offer an opportunity for recognizing and mourning the breach in your safety and your wholeness. This profound trauma exists in every community. For me, there is something powerful about also understanding 10 Tevet as a day of remembering, and mourning, this breach of trust and of wholeness which so many suffer -- not instead of the traditional interpretation, but in addition to it.

Fast days are traditionally considered to be days of teshuvah (repentance/return), turning ourselves so that we are oriented toward holiness and toward God. Whether or not your practice includes fasting on the 10th of Tevet, I invite you to spend this Thursday engaged in teshuvah. And I invite you to spend this Thursday -- the 10th day of the lunar month of Tevet -- in mindfulness. Sit with what hurts: whether that's the memory of the siege of Jerusalem 2600 years ago, or the memory of your own experience of being besieged and broken-into, or the uncomfortable awareness that we allow the suffering of rape victims in our communities to remain invisible. Make a conscious effort to open your heart to this suffering.

May our observance of 10 Tevet, whatever form it may take, align us more wholly with compassion and kindness, and may those who have been besieged find safety and healing, speedily and soon.

A blessing for the new year, from Reverend Howard Thurman

My teacher Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi tells a story about how, when he began studying religion at Boston University, he used to enter the chapel each morning to pray. Shortly after he began this practice, he noticed that someone had moved the crucifix aside and placed the Bible in the center of the room -- in apparent deference to his needs. In entering the chapel a bit early one morning, he saw who was moving the cross -- an African-American man who he thought might be the janitor.

Still, he questioned whether academic study of religion was "kosher" for him, and one day he went to visit the dean -- one Reverend Howard Thurman, the very same man -- he realized -- who had moved the cross to make Reb Zalman more comfortable. Reb Zalman admitted his fears about the academic enterprise at hand: would it shake his faith? Would it cause him to doubt? "Don't you trust the ruach ha-kodesh?" asked Reverend Thurman -- and Reb Zalman realized that he did, and that if God had led him there, surely it was where he was meant to be.

In my commonplace book I recently rediscovered this quotation which I had copied from somewhere. (The quote's source is Meditations of the Heart, though I do not own the book, so I'm not sure where I found it!) I thought it would be a fine way to begin the secular new year here at Velveteen Rabbi.

Reverend Howard Thurman: "Through the Coming Year"

Grant that I may pass through
the coming year with a faithful heart.
There will be much to test me and
make weak my strength before the year ends.
In my confusion I shall often say the word that is not true and do the thing of which I am ashamed.
There will be errors in the mind
and great inaccuracies of judgment...
In seeking the light,
I shall again and again find myself
walking in the darkness.
I shall mistake my light for Your light
and I shall drink from the responsibility of the choice I make.
Nevertheless, grant that I may pass through the coming year with a faithful heart.
May I never give the approval of my heart to error, to falseness, to vanity, to sin.
Though my days be marked
with failures, stumblings, fallings,
let my spirit be free
so that You may take it
and redeem my moments
in all the ways my needs reveal.
Give me the quiet assurance
of Your Love and Presence.
Grant that I may pass through
the coming year with a faithful heart.