Rachel Barenblat, the “Velveteen Rabbi,” is an American poet, rabbi, chaplain and blogger. She is a founding builder at Bayit: Building Jewish, and serves Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, MA. In 2016, The Forward named her one of America’s most inspiring rabbis. She has previously served as co-chair of ALEPH with Rabbi David Markus, and as interim Jewish chaplain to Williams College. In 2013 she was named a Rabbis Without Borders fellow by Clal, the Center for Learning and Leadership. Her blog, Velveteen Rabbi, was named one of the top 25 blogs on the Internet in 2008 by Time Magazine. Rachel has written several books of poetry, and has edited / compiled / contributed to a Passover haggadah, a machzor, and a book of prayers and poems for mourners.
Rachel will be teaching three workshops throughout the week:
- Session 1 – Psalms of gratitude and praise. We’ll talk briefly about what makes a psalm, explore some psalms of gratitude (from Tehillim / the Book of Psalms, and from contemporary poets), and talk about ways of talking to / about the Holy. Our first writing exercise will serve to “prime the pump” and get words flowing; our second writing exercise will invite a stream of words about gratitude. Then we’ll revise / reshape those words into the first draft of a psalm. We’ll share psalms with each other aloud, and close with a niggun to send us on our way.
- Session 2 – Psalms of sorrow. We’ll begin by establishing shared vocabulary around psalms, poems, and spiritual practice. Today’s focus is psalms of anxiety and fear. We’ll explore some of these psalms (both classical and contemporary) and then shift into writing together. Our first writing exercise will prime the pump, and our second will invite words from a place of fear, sorrow, grief, or anxiety. We’ll revise those words into psalms, and those who wish can share them aloud. This session requires particular care because these psalms can evoke or activate difficult emotions. We’ll close this session with a meditative and musical practice designed to help us release our emotions and return to a sense of spiritual safety, and I’ll make myself extra-available after this session for anyone who wants to talk.
- Session 3 – Psalms of wholeness. In this session we’ll explore psalms of wholeness and Shabbat. We’ll enter into Shabbat psalms (both classical and contemporary) and then do the week’s final two writing exercises. The first will prime the pump for our creativity (in a way that by now will be familiar to repeat participants), while the second will invite reflections on a hope for Shabbat or a memory of Shabbat. We’ll reshape those words into the first draft of a new Psalm for Shabbat, and will close with a niggun that evokes Shabbat, now on its way!
Participants will have an opportunity to share their original psalms and poetry with the community during the week.