A New Year's greeting from all of us at Bayit: Your Jewish Home:
May you build with joy, and may you be signed and sealed for a year of goodness.
A New Year's greeting from all of us at Bayit: Your Jewish Home:
May you build with joy, and may you be signed and sealed for a year of goodness.
Over the years I've posted a few different poems that riff on the haftarah (the reading from the Prophets) that tradition assigns to the first day of Rosh Hashanah, which is a text from 1 Samuel, the story of Chanah who poured out her heart in prayer.
I'm delighted to be able to share that I have a new resource to offer this year on that front. This is a revision of one of my Chanah haftarah poems, co-created with Rabbi David Markus, who has also set it to haftarah trope and recorded it.
If you wind up using this in your Rosh Hashanah celebration, let us know how it works for you!
Bayit's summer learning week together begins with Shabbes. We come together from all of our various home places, put on our Shabbes whites, and daven, walking outside with a guitar to welcome the Shabbat bride into our midst. When we gather around the dining table, our kiddush soars, and my soul with it. We feast and talk and laugh and sing the birkat hamazon (grace after meals). We walk to the beach under the just-past-full moon and swoon at the sparkling path of moonlight across the waves.
On Shabbes morning our davenen is long and leisurely. Leadership flows organically: someone picks up the guitar or begins to offer a melody and the rest follow. Rabbi Mike Moskowitz gives over some Torah, and we talk about Balaam, social justice, and when it is and isn't someone's job to educate those who mistreat them. Later we study when one can send a shaliach (messenger) on one's behalf and when it's important to do a mitzvah with one's own hands, and social justice, individual, and community.
There's beach time, text study, singing. There's the indescribable sweetness of spending a full Shabbat with others who care as much as I do. There are long afternoon conversations, and singing around the table as daylight wanes. There's havdalah outside, our hands cupped around the candle so the ocean breeze doesn't blow it out. There's late-night conversation about what it means for our building work to be a tikkun for what has been broken, and even later-night Pictionary with endless laughter.
And that's just the first night and day.
We daven every day, gliding in and out of service leadership, singing in harmony. We dedicate hours to talking about Bayit's mission and vision, about the projects that are already underway, about partnership and collaboration, about what we yearn to build. We cook meals and clean up from meals and walk across the street to the beach and lounge by the ocean and swim and bask in the sunshine. We dive deep into the nature of innovation, systems and structures, how to wisely do spiritual R&D.
We study Ezekiel with Dr. Tamar Kamionkowski from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, diving into difficult questions of theodicy, relationship, spiritual formation, privilege, bypassing, gender, and grief. We study the theology of the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy): how narratives and instructions from earlier in Torah are recast there, and what it means to hear God's voice and study God's word, and immanence and transcendence, and what the Deuteronomic God asks of us (learning and love.)
We study mussar, Shabbat, and medical halakha and ethics with Rabbi Jeff Fox, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat. There's a text from the Nezer Yisrael -- about Shabbat, oscillation between giving and receiving, and how divinity can be manifest in authentic relationship -- that lights me up like a Chanukiyah. There are teshuvot (responsa) and texts that raise big questions about identity, disability, change, personhood, and the halakhic process. We talk and grapple and question and learn.
We spin blue-sky dreams about where we want the Jewish future to go and what we want to build, about curation and collaboration and innovation -- and then we anchor those dreams in six-month and one-year and three-year and five-year plans. We talk about empowering folks to build an accessible, meaningful Judaism now. We talk about governance and publishing and the internet and spiritual seekers and "all ages and stages." Then we set our work aside and immerse in the ocean, with joy.
We begin to brainstorm about how we might re-invent the second day of Rosh Hashanah. What is the spiritual journey of that day, and how is it different from the first day? What do our communities need on that day? What elements ask a new uplift? What is the valance of teshuvah (returning / "repentance") on that day distinct from the day before? What kind of temporal and spiritual runway do we need so our communities can accompany us into the spiritual territory we want to explore that day?
One night we bring folding chairs to the beach and daven ma'ariv with a guitar, accompanied by the waves, beneath the spread of stars. No one has a siddur, but it doesn't matter; we have the words and the matbe'ah (the service's internal structure) by heart. We sing to the One Who placed the planets in their orbit and the stars in the heavens. Because it came up in conversation earlier that day that one of us loves "Hotel California," we close with "Adon Olam" to that melody in multipart harmony.
When Bayit's summer learning and visioning week comes to an end, I'm sad to leave this space of learning and visioning and holy play... and grateful to have such hevre with whom to do the holy work of building together. Deep thanks to The Jewish Studio, our fiscal sponsor, for making this week possible -- and to my hevre, for dedicating their hands and hearts to the proposition that everyone can be a builder, and that a meaningful, accessible, renewing Judaism is ours to build together.
With [some of] my Bayit hevre: building toward the Jewish future together.
This shouldn't be news to me. I've been privileged to work with several fine publishers, from Pecan Grove Press (who published my first chapbook in 1995) to Phoenicia Publishing (who published 70 faces: Torah poems and Waiting to Unfold) to Ben Yehuda Press (who published Open My Lips and Texts to the Holy.) And yet every time I hold a new printer's proof in my hands, I'm always awestruck by how real the volume feels, and how different that is from a PDF on my computer screen.
The volume in question this time is a printer's proof of the first third of Beside Still Waters: A Journey of Comfort and Renewal, the volume for mourners being co-published by Bayit: Your Jewish Home and Ben Yehuda Press. This book contains poems, prayers, readings, and meditations from some 39 people -- including some of the poets, liturgists, and rabbis I most admire. (There's a list of contributors on the book's webpage.) That they entrusted us with publishing their work is humbling.
And I think this book will meet a real pastoral need, and that's a humbling responsibility, too. Beside Still Waters is something that I need as a congregational rabbi who ministers to people throughout the mourner's journey. It's something that I need as a person who will someday walk the mourner's path myself. And I think it will meet the needs of a lot of people, across and beyond the denominational spectrum, in synagogues and chavurot, hospitals and nursing homes and funeral homes.
Mourning is at once deeply personal and -- at least in Jewish tradition -- also communal. The whole custom of shiva minyanim and kaddish is designed to embed a mourner in community. (Many meaningful books have been written about how saying kaddish daily for a year changed someone's sense of self, God, and community.) Beside Still Waters is designed to help individual mourners on the mourner's path, but even more than that, it's meant to be used b'tzibbur, in community settings.
There are still several stops remaining on the journey toward publication. Based on this partial proof we've made definitive choices about fonts and typesetting style. Now the other two-thirds of the book needs to be typeset and designed. There's proofreading and copyediting work to be done, in English and in the transliteration and in the Hebrew (where sometimes nekudot, vowel dots and markings, get subtly shifted as an artifact of file transfer.)
But seeing this partial proof makes the book feel real. I can imagine sharing the "Healing of Body, Healing of Spirit" and "Before Death" sections with someone who is dying. I can imagine leading a shiva minyan with the liturgy we've collected here. I can imagine using the book for yahrzeit and yizkor and times of remembrance. I can imagine this book going out into the world and making a difference in people's lives... and that gives me the energy I need to keep the behind-the-scenes work going.
I'm endlessly grateful to our publishing partner Larry Yudelson at Ben Yehuda Press, and to my hevre at Bayit, and to everyone who contributed their work to this book. I can't wait to bring it into the world and share it with all of you.
You can pre-order Beside Still Waters on the Ben Yehuda Press website. If you're interested in a bulk order for your community, let me know -- discounts are available.
A week of Torah study lishma (for its own sake), hevreschaft (collegiality and deep friendship), dreaming about the Jewish future and how best to empower people to build that future together, visioning and strategic planning for Bayit: Your Jewish Home, and also the beach and the sun and great food and davenen and singing: sounds like olam ha-ba / the World to Come!
It may indeed be a description of heaven. (At least for me -- I can't think of a sweeter way to spend a week.) It's also a description of what I'll be doing on my summer vacation! Bayit's founding builders are renting a house on the seashore during the first week of July, and we'll spend a week together learning, praying, playing, and dreaming big about the things we hope to build.
We're bringing teachers from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Yeshivat Maharat so we can nourish our souls with Torah study. We'll do vision and strategic planning work to support not only the work we're already beginning to do (in publishing, in ritual resources, and in innovation / R&D) but also the work that is as-yet only in the early dreaming stages.
We'll dive into big questions: what does the Jewish world most need? What does genuine innovation look like, and how can it be fostered and shared? What structures will best support the flowering-forth of renewal in Judaism and in spiritual life writ large? I can't imagine more meaningful conversations to be having -- nor better hevre with whom to build on those conversations.
The learning and visioning week will be once again be sponsored by The Jewish Studio, under whose umbrella Bayit is housed. I don't know what I'm most excited about: the Torah study, the seashore, the time with my hevre, the conversations, the vision and strategic planning work... or maybe the integration of all of those, which will add up to more than the sum of their parts.
Maybe you think of action, emotion, thought, and spirit.
Maybe you associate the four worlds with the Tu BiShvat seder, which is often organized as a journey through the four worlds.
Maybe thanks to Tu BiShvat you associate the four worlds with the four seasons of the year, or with the four elements of earth, water, air, and fire.
Maybe you associate the four worlds with the four letters of God's holiest name, יהו׳׳ה.
Or maybe the phrase doesn't mean much to you, or leaves you confused.
The four worlds paradigm is core to Jewish renewal as I've experienced it over these last many years. For a while now I've been wanting to craft a short, (hopefully) clear explanation of the four worlds to share with y'all.
If you're familiar with the four worlds: does this description work for you?
If you're not familiar with the four worlds: does this description make sense to you?
If you have questions, we'd love to hear them. Let me know!
Related: A teaching from Joel Segel on equalizers of heart and soul, 2016
Just in time for Purim, Bayit is releasing something new, created by founding builder R' David Markus.
Here's what R' David wrote about it:
This trope mash-up of Esther and the 2/7/2017 Congressional Record (“nevertheless she persisted” silencing of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren) commemorates Purim and Women’s History Month at a time when society especially needs brave truth tellers to hold back the tide of hate.
Purim affirms Esther’s stand against official silencing, abuse of power, misogyny and anti-Semitism. At first an outsider, Queen Esther used her insider power to reveal and thwart official hatred that threatened Jewish life and safety. We celebrate one woman’s courageous cunning to right grievous wrongs within corrupt systems.
The archetype of heroic woman standing against hatred continues to call out every society still wrestling with official misogyny, power abuses and silencing. For every official silencing and every threat to equality and freedom, may we all live the lesson of Esther and all who stand in her shoes: “Nevertheless, she persisted.”
If you click through to the post on the Bayit Builders' Blog, you'll find a soundcloud recording of the two texts in Esther trope, and also an annotated script in case you want to chant this in your own community. Find it here: Nevertheless, She Persisted: A Purim Tribute for Women's History Month.
...The Talmud draws a connection between children and builders. (The connection relies on a Hebrew pun between two words that sound almost the same.) All of us are tradition’s children, inheritors of richness from those who came before us. And all of us can be tradition’s builders. We have the opportunity (maybe even the obligation) to take up our tools and build the Judaism that the future most needs...
When my colleagues and I came together to form Bayit, we brainstormed not only the kinds of projects we want to take on, but also the kinds of structures we need to build in order to support the work. Our bylaws offer a governance structure that's not quite like anything else I've experienced elsewhere, and I'm super-excited about it (because yes, I'm the kind of geek who gets excited about nonprofit governance!) It also feels emblematic of much that we hope to do and be.
Bayit has a group of Founding Builders. At any given time, we have a board chair and vice-chair, as is standard on most boards of directors. We also have a secretary and a treasurer, and an ethics chair who leads our ethics committee, and those latter three roles last for a year. But the chair and vice-chair roles will rotate twice a year. We all get a turn.
At our December Senior Builder meeting we picked a first board chair, and the next person down the alphabet gets to be our first vice chair. When that term is up, the vice chair will become chair, the next person in line gets to be vice chair, and the first chair gets to be a regular founding builder like everyone else. It's also built into our bylaws that anyone who wants to do so can "pass," so no one is obligated to serve in the chair or vice-chair role if it's not a good time for them to take that role on. But everyone is entitled to a turn. Serving as board chair is something each of us gets the opportunity to do.
Bayit's founding philosophy is that we're all builders. That's core to our vision, both within the organization (in how the founding builders relate to each other, and to the other folks who collaborate and build with us) and in the organization's relationship with those who (we hope) will embrace and use and adapt and respond to the resources we'll provide. We want to live our values and to model mutual empowerment and healthy collaboration. As we rotate board roles, we each get the opportunity to grow in different ways, and to collectively take responsibility for balancing our skill-sets and energetics around the board table and across the organization.
We made this choice with loving awareness of one of the stories people like to tell about Reb Zalman z"l, the teacher of my teachers: the story of the rebbe chair and the Shabbes tisch. (I've told this one before, but it's worth sharing again.) Reb Zalman used to hold a regular "tisch" on Shabbat. A tisch (טיש) is a festive gathering around the table, often featuring food and a l'chaim (a toast) and singing and hearing the rebbe give over some Torah.
At the beginning of the tisch, he'd be sitting in the "rebbe chair" at the head of the table. And when he was done teaching, he'd ask everyone to rise, and all move over one seat, and whoever was then in the rebbe seat became the rebbe, and whatever they had to teach, the table received with the same attentiveness they had given to Reb Zalman. And so on, and so on, until everyone had had the opportunity to sit in the rebbe seat and to experience being in the rebbe role.
A rebbe, taught Reb Zalman z"l, doesn't have to be a singular individual in a position of power. Rebbe can be a role we fulfill for each other, a role into which each person is nurtured and nourished to grow. The person "in the rebbe chair" isn't the permanent vertical top-down leader. The person occupying that leadership role is meant to be a fount of inspiration and collective guidance -- and that inspiration and guidance can, and should, and arguably must, come through each of us in turn. This means it's the job of each of us to honor our own rebbe spark -- and also to let it go so that the flow can come through others, too.
Each of us can be the rebbe, and can honor the rebbe spark in the others around the table. Each of us can be empowered to lead, and to support others in leadership. Each of us can be a builder of the Jewish future of which we dream. That's part of what I understand Reb Zalman's vision to have been, and that's the activating philosophy behind Bayit. So tell us: what do you want your Jewish future to be, and what tools do you need in order to bring that vision to life?
Tu BiShvat, the "new year of the trees," is coming at the very next full moon, the night of January 30. If you'd like to celebrate Tu BiShvat at home with friends or family, it's easy to do -- and it's a beautiful holiday that can open the heart to growth, renewal, and sweetness. Here's what you need:
1) Tree fruits. Ideally, you need at least one fruit in each of the following categories:
You can use fresh fruits, or dried. You can have one fruit in each category, or several. You can opt to try a new fruit that you've never had before, and say the shehecheyanu for trying something new. This can be as simple or as elaborate as you want.
Some also have a custom of sipping a nip of either maple syrup, or etrog vodka, at a certain point in the seder. If either one of those appeals to you and is accessible to you, lay in a supply of that as well.
2) Grape juice or wine, both white and red. You'll need enough for four symbolic cups: one white, one white with a bit of red in it, one red with a bit of white in it, and one red. (Since you'll be mixing the liquids to create different colors in the glass, I don't recommend using expensive wine or juice for this purpose, but that too is up to you.)
3) A haggadah that will walk you through experiencing the four worlds and consuming the symbolic tree fruits and wines / juices that facilitate each step on the journey.
There are a ton of haggadot for Tu BiShvat online, and I've shared several here over the years. Here's the one I'll be using this year, co-created by myself and my fellow Bayit co-founder Rabbi David Markus (it's an update of the one we created and shared a few years ago):
It's a digital slide show, intended to be projected on a screen. If you'll be a small group around a small table, you could just page through the slides on your laptop.
That's all you need! If you want to be minimalist: three pieces of tree fruit, two bottles of juice, and a haggadah. If you want to be maximalist, you can arrange a table laden with tree fruits and even decorations: bare branches representing winter, leafed-out branches from the florist, photographs of trees, whatever calls to your heart.
Living as I do in a place where this time of year is deepest midwinter, I've come to love this holiday as a first step toward the coming of spring. I hope you'll explore Tu BiShvat and see what it opens up for you, emotionally and spiritually. If you do use our haggadah, let us know what works for you and what doesn't -- we're eager to hear. Leave a comment at the Bayit Facebook page or ping us @yourbayit on Twitter and let us know your thoughts!
You can also find this haggadah archived on the Spiritual Resources page at Bayit.
One of the things I'm most excited about in the secular new year is a new publishing partnership between Ben Yehuda Press -- the press that published Open My Lips, and will publish Texts to the Holy this spring! -- and Bayit: Your Jewish Home, the new nonprofit organization I recently co-founded with six colleagues and friends.
The first book published jointly by Bayit: Your Jewish Home and Ben Yehuda Press will be Beside Still Waters: A Journey of Comfort and Renewal, a volume to support the journey through grief and remembrance, and you can pre-order a copy now.
One of the things I'm already loving about working with Bayit is that the Senior Builders span the denominational spectrum. I serve a Reform-and-Renewal shul; one of my fellow Senior Builders comes from the Conservative movement; another serves in a Reconstructionist context; still another comes from Orthodoxy. We have roots in, and connections to, all of Judaism's major denominations -- as well as to the trans-denominational world of Jewish Renewal. I'm hopeful that those roots and connections will help us collectively meet needs that aren't otherwise being met in the Jewish world. We're beginning our work with three keystone projects -- Publications, “Doorways” (a curated lifecycle resource), and a "Builders' Blog" (exploring how real innovation "works" in the Jewish world) -- and there are others in the pipeline about which I'm equally excited.
This Publications project arises out of several things that are important to me: serving as a conduit for the flow of Jewish Renewal texts and materials into the world, and the editorial work that was my passion before I entered rabbinical school. I couldn't be more thrilled about this first book that we're bringing to print, and about the fact that it's coming out in partnership with Ben Yehuda Press. Here's a description of the book:
Beside Still Waters: A Journey of Comfort and Renewal invites a timeless journey both classical and contemporary, spanning illness, death, grief and remembrance. This volume offers individuals and communities an easy-to-use, emotionally real and textually elegant companion for aninut (between death and burial), shiva (mourning’s first week), shloshim ( first month), yahrzeit (death-anniversary) and yizkor (times of remembrance). It includes resonant new translations, evocative readings, complete transliterations, and resources for circumstances often overlooked in other Jewish texts (miscarriage, stillbirth, suicide, when there is no grave, abusive relationships, etc.).
Developed in Jewish renewal’s trans-denominational spirit, Beside Still Waters is crafted for use in synagogues inside and outside the denominational spectrum, in hospitals, chaplaincy and pastoral contexts, funeral homes and home observances.
The volume features contributions from some of my favorite writers, artists, spiritual directors, and liturgists, among them Trisha Arlin, Alla Renee Bozarth, Shir Yaakov Feit, Rabbi Jill Hammer, Rodger Kamenetz, Irwin Keller, Rabbi David Markus, and the teacher of my teachers Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l. (Some of my own work also appears in the volume as well.) The full contributor list is online here (and also at the bottom of our book announcement on FB.)
Thanks in advance for sharing my joy!