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July 2015

Sidewalk havdalah

WineThere are so many moments which stand out from me from this weekend in New York city, the first stop on the ALEPH / Jewish Renewal listening tour. Moments from our davenen at Romemu. Moments from our meals together. Moments from our amazing afternoon and evening and morning of conversations about Jewish Renewal's history, its present, and our hopes for its future.

But right now the moment which is foremost in my consciousness is the experience of making havdalah, the ritual which separates between Shabbat and week, at a little Italian restaurant a short walk from our hotel. We were sitting at a table at the liminal edge between indoors and outdoors. We had enjoyed much terrific conversation and most of a bottle of white wine. And then it came time.

I had brought a havdalah set from home, but it was in the hotel room. So we made do. David sang over his glass of pinot grigio. Shoshanna provided a vial of essential oils for our besamim, the fragrant spices which revive the soul so that the departing Shabbat doesn't break our hearts. We sang quietly. We blessed the table's little votive candle and noted its light reflected in our fingernails.

OilWe blessed the One Who makes separations: between holy time and ordinary time, between Shabbat and the six days of the workweek. We blessed the One Who separates -- and bridges -- all of our distinctions. The One Who transcends and includes. And we poured a drop of wine onto our votive to extinguish it, and sang a good week, a week of peace, may gladness reign and joy increase!

I wonder what the people at the other tables thought of us. Of course, this was New York, and the Upper West Side to boot; many of them were probably Jewish. Anyway, no one seemed fazed. (I suppose it's harder than this to faze New Yorkers.) I wonder what the waitstaff thought we were doing. Had anyone ever made havdalah at this restaurant, at this place on the edge of the sidewalk before?

The moment could not have felt more liminal. There we were, on the threshold between Shabbat and week; between indoors and outdoors; between Jewish Renewal's rich past and the wide-open wonder of our future. This weekend we began a journey of deep listening and learning, a kind of intellectual and spiritual gleaning appropriate to this shmitta (Sabbatical) year. We are poised on the cusp, honoring and blessing our past and opening our hearts to the work which we know lies ahead.

CandleAs we sang there were tears in my eyes. There is something incomparably precious about experiencing Shabbat among my ALEPH hevre, my beloved colleague-friends. Bidding Shabbat farewell is always bittersweet, and it's more so when I have spent it with loved ones who I don't see often enough. But havdalah reminds me to open my heart and not to be afraid of the new week on its way.

One of the things I loved about the ALEPH rabbinic ordination program is how the low-residency format encouraged me (even obligated me) to integrate my spiritual life with my "ordinary life." ALEPH life was always an oscillation: between holy time and regular time; time with my colleagues, and time with my home community; time immersed in Torah, and time immersed in other things.

It was good practice for moments like this one: pausing in our conversation because it was time to sanctify this moment of Shabbat giving way to week, and then returning to our conversation with our hearts opened and our souls enlivened by the few moments of intention, of prayer and song.