The Kallah brochure is on its way!

The brochure for this summer's ALEPH Kallah -- the Jewish Renewal biennial -- is at the printers'. And it's also available for download as a pdf if you don't want to wait!


Find it at the Kallah website. Join us in New Hampshire for an amazing week of learning, playing, praying, singing, connecting, and having your heart opened to the divine within and around us.

(And if you're interested in writing psalms, I hope you'll consider signing up for the class I'm teaching, "Writing the Psalms of Our Hearts" -- read more about it in this post from last month.)

Join me at the ALEPH Kallah!

Torah-at-KallahI'm delighted to be able to announce that I'll be teaching a workshop at the ALEPH Kallah this summer in New Hampshire!

The ALEPH Kallah is the Jewish Renewal Biennial -- a week-long gathering which takes place every other year, a magical week of learning and davenen (prayer) and yoga and meditation and terrific programs and amazing teachers. It's a great way to experience Jewish Renewal: to meet people, have meaningful conversations, experience new modalities of prayer, and engage in learning which feeds your mind and heart and soul alike.

If you're able to get to New Hampshire from July 1-7, I hope you'll consider coming -- and if my class sounds good to you, I hope you'll sign up for it!

Here's my workshop description:

Writing the Psalms of Our Hearts

The psalms are a deep repository of praise, thanksgiving, grief, and exaltation, one of our communal tools for connecting with God. In this class, each of us will become a psalmist. We'll awaken our spirits and hearts by praying select psalms together, warm up our intellectual muscles with writing exercises, and enter into a safe space for creativity as we each write our own psalms. After sharing our psalms aloud and sharing our responses to each others' work, we'll close by davening together once more. At week's end, we'll each take home a compilation of our collected psalms.

Aladjem-and-meOther classes scheduled for the Kallah will include one on Jewish spiritual singing, one on quantum physics and kabbalah, one on talking about Israel, one in Torah yoga / movement, a wilderness Torah experience (involving hiking and the great outdoors),  Jewish meditation, yoga, the interconnected roots of Judaism and Christianity, Hebrew chanting, Torah scroll repair / calligraphy, and a terrific class on Jewish and Islamic mysticism (team-taught by a rabbi and a Sufi) which I took two years ago and loved.

The Kallah Website includes a listing of all of the classes, along with information about the kids/teens program, opportunities for artists, and opportunities for practitioners of various healing arts.

I've attended the Kallah a few times before, and have blogged about it here (check out the ALEPH Kallah tag for those posts.) Every time I've attended, I've come away feeling spiritually renewed, filled-up with all kinds of wonderful teachings and ideas. I'm excited to be bringing a Torah-poetry lens to the work of writing psalms, and I'm hoping there will be 15 brave / creative souls who will want to do that with me -- but even if my class doesn't sound like your cup of tea, hopefully another of the offerings will.

The Kallah is great fun. I hope some of y'all will join me there.  For more information visit the Kallah webpage, or contact the Kallah office at [email protected].

Photos by Ann Silver, taken at the last Kallah, summer 2011 in Redlands, CA.

Kallah 2013: Save the Date!


Franklin Pierce University, site of next summer's ALEPH Kallah.

Save the date for the 2013 Kallah, the Jewish Renewal biennial -- a week of community, learning, davening, singing, connecting, and joy. The 2013 theme is Kol Echad: Connecting With the Divine, Within & Around Us, and this year's Kallah will take place from July 1-7, 2013, at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire -- a scant two hours and ten minutes from the synagogue I'm blessed to serve.

If you've ever been curious about Jewish Renewal teachings or teachers, coming to a Kallah is a fantastic way to get a sense for who we are and what we do. There's no better way to experience Jewish Renewal than to spend a week learning, dining, davening, connecting with other Jewish spiritual seekers. And this year, the Kallah takes place at a campus on a beautiful lake at the foot of Mount Monadnock -- it will be a beautiful and serene place to spend a few days, and the retreat will culminate in a fabulous, spirit-filled, awesome Shabbat.

I've submitted a proposal to teach at the Kallah next summer, and should know by the end of the year whether or not my proposal's been accepted. I'll be there no matter what. I hope to have the opportunity to teach (and I'm excited about the class I've proposed), but I'm most excited about spending that week with so many of my hevre, my friends and colleagues, and about the spiritual rejuvenation which always ensues.

Anyway: all are welcome! For more information, you can contact the Kallah office at kallahajr (at) rcn (dot) com. I'll post here again to announce the course offerings when they're finalized.


(For more, feel free to check out my ALEPH Kallah category on this blog, which features posts about and from the last few Kallot I've attended.)

Interview with Linda Hirschhorn now in Zeek

Two years-and-a-bit ago, at the ALEPH Kallah in Ohio, I had the opportunity to sing with Linda Hirschhorn. While I was there, I interviewed her for Zeek. (I mentioned that in one of my blog posts from the conference that year: Kallah, another day in the life.) For reasons which don't bear exploration at this juncture, the interview has just now been published! Hopefully it's timeless enough to still make good reading.

Here's a taste:

(From my introduction) A lover of Talmud and a college philosophy major, Hirschhorn sees polyvocal harmonies as emblematic of the same kind of diversity-within-unity found in the pages of Jewish sacred texts. She believes that different voices blending together in harmony is not only a metaphor for, but an example of, the kind of coexistence the world needs. And after a few hours singing under her enthusiastic tutelage, I’m inclined to think that she’s right...

LH: Harmony is like drash. Singing a song simply is like pshat; harmonies give you the chance to interpret text. If you hear a lyric, especially sung in counterpoint, the words coming at a different time, you’ll get a different experience of what the words might mean, what’s important. Major or minor, syncopated or lullaby: those communicate so much. It’s important to understand the text, to try to find how my song matches my understanding of the text.


LH: Everybody has some kernel that’s uniquely their own that they can offer. The best of my songs are something which cuts deeper, which looks at a universal experience in a particular way.

Read the whole thing at Zeek: In Song Together.

Seeking and finding (six more glimpses of Kallah)


The labyrinth.


A glorious morning service out on the big quad. The air is cool at this hour and I relish my tallit wrapped around my shoulders. The davenen is led by two of my ALEPH chevre, both cantorial students, and the singing is wonderful: just the right balance between beloved melodies and classical nusach. I realize, at the end of the service, that I ought to have recorded it so I could sing along with it when I daven at home -- but I didn't think of that in time; it can only be what it was, a beautiful hour of prayer which arose and then disappeared like a sand mandala after a wind.



I discover a meditation labyrinth behind one of the buildings where we've been having class. It is painted and carved into the concrete. I put down my backpack and begin to walk. At first I take slow steps as though in a wedding procession. After a while I realize that I have walked and walked and am still nowhere near the center. The path is longer and twistier than I expected. (What else is new.) Soon I am almost running, my sandals slapping the pavement, keeping an eye on the road ahead step by step but not allowing myself to anticipate where I'm pretty sure I'm going. And suddenly I'm at the middle, the jewel in the lotus, the surprise at the heart of the rose.



Wednesday turns out to be Miraj -- the Ladder -- when Muslims commemorate the night journey taken by the Prophet (peace be upon him) into seven levels of heaven (where God granted Muhammad the gift of the obligation to pray 50 times a day, and Moshe convinced him to return to God and ask for a reduction -- hee!) After hearing this story we move into a meditation in which we enter the seven levels of the heavens of our hearts, the place of light upon light, where everything is One. After that, reading Zohar texts about the cave of Machpelah, and Bawa texts about the infinite holiness in the deepest level of the human heart, feels like returning to a place where, thanks to our meditation, we've already been.



I am sitting with two friends around a small table, outdoors, not far from the dining hall. The sky is blue darkening into grey, but there are no stars yet, which means we can still daven mincha, the afternoon offering. We sing the ashrei with gusto. Another friend walks up and we offer him a place in our davenen, but he's already prayed, so he just keeps us company and offers hearty amens. We sing the weekday amidah, our voices blending and braiding. The sky subtly darkens more. By the time we are done we've attracted a few more friends who join us as we share a drink and talk about the program. When we part, at last, night has fallen. I go to bed with the melodies of prayer in my ears.



We follow a winding path into a tiny Eden, a hidden garden filled with birds and blooms. Sitting beneath a wrought-iron bower laced with vines, we each write our own personal storytellers' prayer. And then we take turns telling the stories we've spent the week preparing. I tell my adaptation of Naftali the Storyteller and His Horse Sus (by I. B. Singer) and as I speak and gesture I can feel the story coming to life. My classmates tell stories which give voice to Bathsheba, to Elijah the Prophet, to the animals aboard Noah's ark. Each time someone steps forward to take the stage we are all rapt with attention. At the very end of our class, Devorah Zaslow tells a story about the power of stories, and blesses us that we might take these skills into our lives and become tellers too.



In the final session of my afternoon class, we read the amazing tale of the Rabbi and the Sheikh, by Rabbi Yitzhak Farhi (d. 1853) as translated by Zvi Zohar. (There's a synopsis of the story here.) It is a beautiful tale about a rabbi and a sheikh agreeing to trade a mystical secret, fasting and immersing and making teshuvah and then entering into a secret garden and into the holy of holies together. It's extraordinary -- not only because it's a stunning story of spiritual seekers across traditions, but also because it was written not by a 21st-century ecumenist but in the late 1700s or early 1800s by a rabbi in Damascus. And in the story, each seeker had some wisdom the other didn't have. Each one learned something about his own wisdom through the other. True wholeness, and the deepest connection with the Holy, was only possible when the two seekers journeyed together. How good and beautiful it is when brothers and sisters learn together in peace.

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.

Off to Kallah

There's something a little bit surreal about going from the relative peace and quiet of our small household (well, as peaceful and quiet as a house containing a rambunctious toddler ever gets) to the energy of the ALEPH Kallah. Kallah is just...not like ordinary life. Certainly not like mine, anyway.

Take this past Friday night, for instance. It was one of the Friday evenings when Ethan was making the long drive home from Boston, having attended a conference at MIT (where his new job was announced -- go congratulate him if you're so inclined!) So I listened to my Nava Tehila kabbalat Shabbat cd with Drew and danced him around the room a little bit, laughing with him when he cackled as I spun and dipped him, waltzing during Lecha Dodi. (And we played with blocks and remote controls and board books and the ipad and the cat, because he is almost 19 months old and these are a few of his favorite things.) It was lovely, but solitary.

Next erev Shabbat I'll be surrounded by hundreds of other people who will have spent all day -- all week -- eagerly anticipating Shabbat. Most of us will be wearing all-white as did the kabbalists of Tzfat. I'll be adorned with glitter. I will probably have immersed in a mikvah before the holiday begins, and will bear the invisible but palpable imprint of that sweet and holy experience. And there will be several different Shabbat services to choose between. Maybe Nava Tehila will lead a service again and I'll get to dip into my favorite davenen experience from Jerusalem once more. And then there will be dinner, each table making the blessings together, and probably drumming and dancing late into the night.

In the early years of my involvement with the Jewish Renewal community, I always used to weep at havdalah (the ritual separating between Shabbat and workweek) because havdalah meant the retreat was ending and we were all going to have to say farewell. I love my home; I love my family and my life; but there is something in me which is uniquely sustained by the experience of being surrounded by my Jewish Renewal chevre, and I used to feel as though, if I left that Brigadoon, it might never open up for me again.

These days I know better. These days I have grown accustomed to the ratzo v'shov, the ebb and flow of retreat-time and ordinary time, of life with my wonderful spouse and friends and life with my wonderful community of spiritual seekers scattered around the globe. To balance Shabbat there must be weekday; to balance retreat-time there must be ordinary time. But being apart doesn't sever the connections we've formed -- any more than spending a week apart from my beloved husband and son could sever what binds us to one another -- and though we always have to say goodbye at the end of the gathering, there's always a next gathering to look forward to. And now that next gathering is upon us.

Today I'm off to the 2011 ALEPH Kallah in Redlands, California. I wish safe travels to everyone who is on their way to join me there -- and to everyone, a sweet and holy week, wherever you may be!

From family to Kallah: the whirlwind of this June

Last week I was in Texas: a whirlwind of professional obligations (involvement with two Shabbat services at two different shuls, and the reading with Reverend Mary Earle at Viva Books) and family time (seeing my parents and my brothers and my nieces, and eventually seeing the ganze mishpacha -- whole clan -- at a ranch in the hill country for the weekend.) Next week I'll be in California for the ALEPH Kallah -- the Jewish Renewal biennial -- which will be its own kind of wondrous whirlwind.

Two years ago at Kallah (see First full day at Kallah and Kallah: another day in the life) I was entering the second trimester of pregnancy, though I hadn't yet announced that news here on this blog. My friends and teachers marveled with me at my growing belly. I remember grabbing extra muffins and bananas every morning at breakfast and stashing them in my purse, knowing that by midmorning I would be ravenous and would need a snack. I studied the Baal Shem Tov with my friend and teacher R' Burt Jacobson; I took a class on eco-Judaism with my friend and teacher R' Arthur Waskow; I sang in cantor Linda Hirschhorn's pick-up choir.

This time around I have an eighteen-month-old -- who will not be with me; he had such a tough time navigating the two-hour time change for my ordination that I don't feel right subjecting him to the three-hour time change between here and the west coast. (Also, having just spent ten days away from home, he needs the comfort of his own crib and his own toys and his own routine.) Drew will enjoy a week with his dad and his paternal grandparents and his daycare buddies, and I will savor the chance to reconnect with rabbinic school friends and loved ones who I haven't seen since my ordination -- and other ALEPH friends who I haven't seen since the last Kallah.

There's part of me that can't quite imagine that I'm getting on a plane this coming Sunday. I just got home! The trip to Texas was wonderful but exhausting; I'm tired in all four worlds. I can't help wishing that Kallah were later in the summer so that I could spend a few weeks luxuriating in the cool mornings and verdant hills of Berkshire summer, and, yes, sleeping in my own bed and eating Ethan's glorious summer salads and reestablishing my own routine. (The toddler isn't the only one who gets attached to the familiar!)

But I also know that once I get to Redlands, I'll be completely elated to daven with my dear ones, to have intense conversations at mealtime about what we're learning, to experience again the combination of tradition and innovation which makes Jewish Renewal my spiritual home. The week may be physically tiring (I never want to miss an opportunity to lay tefillin and sing b'tzibbur, in community, even if I'm a little short on sleep) but I know it will be spiritually energizing... and since I'll be coming home to some new adventures here (about which more anon), the spiritual boost of the Kallah experience is coming at exactly the right time.

I'll do my best to share some glimpses of the Kallah here -- and if anyone reading this is going to be there, drop me a comment and let me know.

New Lights at Kallah 2011

Will y'all permit me to kvell for a moment? I've been invited to participate in a panel discussion featuring four of Jewish Renewal's "new lights" at the ALEPH Kallah this summer! I'll be speaking / teaching / sharing alongside Rabbi David Ingber of Romemu; Elizheva Hurvich, the former Rosh Yeshiva at Kehilla synagogue in the Bay Area which pioneered Jewish Renewal childhood education; and Zelig Golden, Director of Wilderness Torah. I'm deeply honored to be in their company.

There are many reasons to make the effort to attend the Kallah, but here are the ones which resonate most for me. If you're already part of Jewish Renewal, this is our community's biggest gathering, a wonderful chance to see old friends and make new ones, to connect with (and pray with and sing with and learn with) hundreds of like-minded souls. If you're curious about Renewal, coming to Kallah is a fabulous way to find out who we are and what we do. Sure, you can read books -- I can recommend several! -- but Jewish Renewal is experiential; the best way to find out if it's the right fit for you is to try it on.

Kallah is truly a four-worlds experience. At Kallah you'll find physical experiences including yoga, hikes, and dancing; heartfelt prayer in a variety of modalities, from classical text to creative chant to movement and more; all kinds of intellectual stimulation (the workshop line-up is fantastic this year); and countless opportunities for connection with something beyond yourself, whether that's community or the Holy Blessed One or both. (You can read my posts from the 2009 ALEPH Kallah here in the ALEPH Kallah category.) And oh, Shabbat at Kallah is utterly delicious!

And hey: as a special bonus, if you make it to Redlands, you'll have the chance to see me on stage with Reb David, with Elizheva, and with Zelig. Our panel will feature our reflections on Jewish Renewal (how we got here and why we stayed) alongside poetry (mine), music, visuals, meditation, and more. What an honor this is for me. I can't wait.

Learn more (download a program, register online) at the ALEPH website: Kallah 2011. I hope to see you there!

Kallah 2011: savoring new light

I just learned that the brochure for the upcoming ALEPH Kallah, our biennial gathering of the Jewish Renewal (and Renewal-curious :-) community, is available for download as a pdf file at the Kallah webpage!

This year's Kallah will be in Redlands, California. (Edited to add: it runs from June 27-July 3.) The theme is Or Chadash ("A New Light"), with the subtitle "Enrich, Inspire, and Brighten Your Jewish Path." The course offerings look fantastic, as always... and this time, unlike last time, I have the luxury of being able to take whatever courses call to me most, instead of looking for classes which fit the gaps in my curriculum grid. I'm hoping to do one of the storytelling classes in the morning, and in the afternoon there's a class called Uri, Ori! - Awaken, My Light! / Nur ala nur: Light upon light! which will incorporate Qur'an and Torah texts alongside Sufi, Zoharic, and Hasidic commentaries -- sounds utterly amazing.

The posts in my ALEPH Kallah category chronicle some of the awesomeness of the 2009 Kallah. I sang in Linda Hirschhorn's choir, studied Eco-Judaism and the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, and had all kinds of amazing davenen experiences. (I also went to bed woefully early most nights, missing the evening programming with great regret. Though I hadn't yet announced the news on this blog, I was in my second trimester of pregnancy and utterly exhausted all the time.) I had imagined, then, that I would bring Drew with me to the next Kallah -- but after seeing how difficult the time change was for him when we went to Colorado for my ordination, and how discombobulating he currently finds being away from his home routines, I've realized that the best thing for him is to let him enjoy a summer week at home with his dad and grandparents and friends while I spend a week soaking up the joys of immersion in my Jewish Renewal world again.

Anyway: if you've ever wanted to experience the kinds of learning, prayer, and community that I write about here, the Kallah is a great way to do it. Jewish Renewal is best experienced through, well, experience! Reading about it will only take you so far. Go, download the booklet of course offerings, and see what calls to you! I'd love to see you there.

Moving into Shabbat

On Friday morning, my friends Aura and Shoshanna led an "Erev Fourth of July" (Fourth of July Eve) shacharit, which blended traditional nusach with a variety of American tunes. The first thing that really knocked me out was singing the entirety of psalm 148 to the tune of "The Water is Wide" -- the harmony around the room, and the gorgeousness of the Hebrew poetry combined with the power of the melody, brought me to tears. 

We sang the Shema to the tune of Gershwin's "Summertime," and "Mi Chamocha" to "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." We sang Tom Paxton's "Peace Will Come" and a verse of "Simple Gifts." As our Aleinu, we sang an abbreviated version of "Letter to Eve" by Pete Seeger, where the chorus is a list of words which mean "peace" in a variety of languages. (Our version included shalom alongside pacem in terris, mir, shanti, salaam, and hey wa.)

It was completely extraordinary, and I suspect that it's going to subtly shift the way I feel about Independence Day this year.

I always love Jewish Renewal mikvah experiences. This time we were a group of maybe forty women, of all ages, including a few of the teens who are here this week. I wonder how I would have responded, as an adolescent, to seeing women comfortable like this in our varied and different bodies? I paired up with a mikvah buddy and we spoke quietly about what, from the week now ending, we each wanted to release in the world of assiyah (physicality), yetzirah (emotions), and briyah (intellect) and what we want to release into in the world of atzilut (essence.) We made the bracha for the immersion together as a group. And then, singing the "Woman I Am" chant I learned so many years ago at Elat Chayyim, we all made our way into the water, and sang throughout everyone's immersions. I watched my partner immerse four times, and then she witnessed me, and then we joined the singing circle. At the end, all those who were new to mikvah made their own smaller circle in the middle and we blessed them with a shechecheyatnu and with whooping and song, and then tromped out of the pool so that we could make space for the men's mikvah which would follow our own.

I forgot to bring my little jar of wearable glitter this time around, but even without it, as I moved into Shabbos I felt sparkly.

Of the three Shabbat evening davening options, I chose to daven with Nava Tehila -- no surprise to anyone who remembers my posts about the three Shabbatot I spent with them last summer, all of which were grand.

Continue reading "Moving into Shabbat" »

Kallah: another day in the life

This morning I rode in a golf cart from the dorm where I sleep and eat to the building where classes and services are. My friend who was driving the cart told me he'd only gotten two hours of sleep because he'd been up until 4am singing, telling stories, and sharing Torah with a group of illustrious teachers, and I felt a pang of envy. People were singing and schmoozing and telling teaching stories all night and I wasn't there! But I'm increasingly aware that I can't do everything. If I want to wake up at 6:30 to daven (which I do), then I can't stay up late singing with friends and teachers. Kallah: an exercise in recognizing my own limitations.

I attended Rabbi Jeff Roth's morning service, a sweet chant-based service which consisted of pearls extrapolated from the liturgy. Many of the chants are the same ones I learned from him at my very first retreat at Elat Chayyim back in 2002 (seven years ago -- even before I had started blogging!), so I had a real feeling of having come full circle. He had some beautiful things to say about breath: how God breathed into the dust to create the first human, how we and the trees inter-breathe. Also how God is the breathing-out to our breathing-in, God is the counterpart, the out to our in and in to our out, that which is always before us or opposite us -- which gives new meaning to shviti YHVH l'negdi tamid (Psalm 16:8), usually rendered "I keep God before me always."

Our Torah reading (one short & sweet aliyah) was from the story of Balaam and Balak. It made me chuckle, because two summers ago at week three of DLTI some of my classmates performed a dramatic reading of the Torah text complete with voices and postures -- our Balak wore sunglasses and had a cellphone glued to his ear, our Balaam climbed onto a table and chanted eerily as though she were channeling, and our ass brayed her verses on all fours. I'm not sure that story will ever be the same. (As it happened, my friend who played Balak that year was sitting right next to me during this morning's service, and whispered, "Are you remembering what I'm remembering?" Indeed I was.)

Reb Arthur's Eco-Judaism class began on Tuesday with Biblical texts about the environment, and then moved to Talmud texts about the environment. Today's primary subject was Zionism and the environment. We had a rousing class discussion about the early Zionist paradigm of building the land and being built by it, about whether and how it's possible for the land to become an idol, the interconnection of the Israeli and Palestinian ecosystems, the ethos of development in the era when industrialism was triumphant, and about the question of whether the human race as part of God's creation is willing (and has the good sense) to do the work of preserving God's creation. We also talked about Reb Arthur's Haftarah for the Rainbow Covenant, which sparked a conversation about the difference between primary texts and commentary and what it might mean to write new primary texts today which speak to the big questions. (The text has been translated into Hebrew by Reb Zalman; you can read the English and Hebrew side-by-side in this pdf file.)

I lunched with a friend who's in the process of applying to the ALEPH rabbinic program, and then came to the bookstore to interview Linda Hirschhorn for a future issue of Zeek. I arrived about 20 minutes early, so I sat down on a tiny little couch to read... and fell fast asleep! Apparently even getting a good solid eight hours of sleep a night isn't enough to mitigate the overstimulation of spending time with so many wonderful people, so many conversations, so many experiences rolled into one.

In Reb Burt's afternoon Baal Shem Tov class, we studied an incredible teaching:

Our venerable teacher the Baal Shem Tov interpreted the verse "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) as a commentary on the verse "And you shall love Adonai your God" (Deuteronomy 6:5.) Because each person contains a spark of divinity, when we really see the inner qualities of another person, what we're seeing is the Godliness in them -- so when we love one another, we're really loving God.

His text is framed in particularistic language, which makes sense given his original context. I find that I need to reframe it in universalistic language in order to really access it, but once I do that I find it pretty remarkable. It opened up a terrific conversation about what it means to love God, to love another person, to love even someone who has hurt one or who is difficult for one to deal with, all the way to loving someone who has committed atrocities. Some of us in the room felt that aiming to love someone who has done bad things is either impossible or irresponsible; others felt that this teaching is really valuable and could be personally transformative as a spiritual practice. The class totally energized me, and I sailed through dinner (which I ate with two recent ALEPH musmachim) and chorus rehearsal.

And then I returned to my room, feeling slightly lame for skipping the evening programs but aware that if I fell asleep sitting up on an uncomfortable bench this afternoon, that's my body's way of telling me that I need to rest. Shabbos is coming, after all, and I want to be well-rested enough to stay up late tomorrow night enjoying the singing and dancing... so it's a quiet night for me! Another chock-full day at the 2009 Kallah.

Technorati tags: , , , .

Tefillin davening

I went this morning to an incredibly sweet service led by my friend Simcha. The service was designed to highlight the mitzvah of tefillin, which I first took on when I turned thirty.

We entered the little chapel on the third floor of the student center (big windows painted with stained-glass patterns) to the sound of Simcha and her husband Reb Shawn singing "Kamti ani liftoach l'dodi / I will open to You, my Beloved / Will you open, open to me?" in a beautiful two-part round. Then Simcha spoke briefly about tefillin. She talked about how the line we recite while wrapping around the hand (from Hosea: "I betroth you to me forever, I betroth you to me with righteousness, justice, kindness, and mercy...") is sometimes written in English with a capital-Y You (so: it's us speaking to God) and sometimes written in English with a capital-M Me (so: it's God speaking to us.) The Hebrew, of course, connotes both at once. There's a reciprocity, Simcha said; tefillin call us to awareness of the reciprocal relationship of love between us and the universe.

We looked at some of the traditional texts related to donning tefillin (which you can find in the Artscroll siddur on pp 6-7.) Simcha talked about the texts in the box of the arm-tefillin and the head-tefillin, which remind us of God's unity, of the relationship of love between us, and also of how God brought us out from slavery in order to be in relationship with God. The arm-tefillin are next to the heart to remind us of the centrality of our loving relationship with God. We bind them on the hand to sanctify the work of our hands, and we bind them on our foreheads, near the seat of our consciousness, in order that the soul which is within our consciousness might be aligned with divine will. And after telling a few stories about her own relationship with the practice (and acknowledging that this, like every spiritual practice, ebbs and flows in our lives -- but, Simcha said, tefillin is a practice which calls us back to relationship) we returned to song.

I helped two women put on tefillin for the first time, showing them how I learned to wrap the binding around my arm and hand. Together we recited the blessing. All over the room were little clusters of people like us, gesturing and wrapping amid the buzz of low conversation. And then we davened a short morning service. After modah ani (the blessing for gratitude) we sang a line from psalm 42: "K'ayal ta'arog al afikay mayim, ken nafshi ta'arog elecha elohim (As the deer longs for water, so my soul longs for You)," which is a beautiful expression of longing for the relationship which the tefillin represent. The service itself was lovely; I was especially moved by the chanting of the ahavah rabbah blessing, which speaks of God's love for us. Most of the room chanted one line over and over in impromptu harmony while Simcha chanted the English translation over the top.

After the service I had the chance to chat briefly with a few people, and then came to class, where I spent 15 minutes or so doing "spirit buddy" time (one-on-one connection, talking about where we are and how we're doing) with a friend, and then it was time to begin Eco-Judaism class! From one gem in the setting of the morning to the next.


Technorati tags: , , , , .

First full day at Kallah

The thing that's surprised me so far about Kallah is how dense the schedule is. I'm used to smicha week and to Elat Chayyim, where generally there's only one thing I'm supposed to be doing at any given time. Here the schedule is far more packed: in the morning, there's davening from 6:30-8am, and also breakfast from 7-8am. In the afternoons, I have to miss mincha (afternoon prayer) in order to grab an early dinner at 5:30 so I can make it to rehearsal at 6:30 -- I'm singing in a pickup choir led by Linda Hirschhorn, which is a joy. (The music is gorgeous, it's all a cappella, and she's teaching it without using the piano -- just with her voice. She's quickly topped my list of choral directors I'm glad to have sung with.) And rehearsals run halfway through maariv (evening prayer), too. I've missed several programs, some impromptu art-making, and (I think) a bunch of short films, and it's only day one! It's impossible to do everything here.

Today was the first full day. Breakfast, then a dash to davening (I chose the outdoor service led by the folks from Nava Tehila, the Jerusalem Renewal congregation I love so much), then my morning class with Reb Arthur, then lunch, then I did some homework and took a catnap which I sorely needed, then the BeShT class which lasted for three hours, then a race back to the dining hall for the fastest dinner in known history and I zipped back to rehearsal. And by 8pm? I decided I was done; there were four different evening programs happening, and instead I opted to hang out quietly with a friend. I needed downtime more than I needed more stimulation. Self-care can be tough at a retreat like this -- there's so much going on! so many people I want to see! -- but I'm not a true extrovert, and I need to know my limits if I want to make it happily through two weeks of this intense retreat spacetime.

It's been great to see friends: both folks from the smicha programs (many of whom are here, almost all of whom will be here next week) and folks I've met in other contexts. Yesterday I ran into two good friends from the 2004 Reb Zalman retreat at Elat Chayyim! We haven't seen one another in five years, but it doesn't seem to matter. And I've met some lovely new people, too: applicants to the ALEPH rabbinic program (I spent lunch today chatting about the program with a guy who'd just submitted his application), and other fascinating people who are in one of my classes or another, or who happen to be sitting wherever I plunk down my mealtime tray.

There's a latenight music thing happening now, but I'm not going; instead I'm about to put myself to bed. The alarm's going to go off awfully early tomorrow, after all, and I want to make it to breakfast before I dash to daven. Now I just have to choose which of the four different shacharit options I want to try to attend...

Technorati tags: , , , , .