Don't miss this digital Shabbaton

June12ShabbatonFinalHavurah Shir Hadash invites all to join their very first live-streaming Shabbaton  on June 12 and 13th with Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Markus, celebrating spiritual connectivity in the legacy of Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (1924-2014), pathfinder and futurist for Jewish spirituality in the emerging digital age.

Register here! (And read on to learn more.)

This year’s Reb Zalman Memorial Scholars are Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Markus, next-generation visionaries and riveting teachers for the next transformations of Jewish life. With music, poetry, spirited prayer with liturgy old and new, mystic visioning, and re-mixing of ancient text, together we’ll bring forward visions for a Jewish digital future worthy of us all. It’s a spiritual future Reb Zalman began to imagine long ago – but left for future generations to bring into being. That time is unfolding before our eyes, on our screens, in our homes, and in a society changing with once unimaginable speed.  Join us for a weekend of depth and height as we surf those changes in the only true way we ever can – together.

Rabbi Markus is the nation’s only pulpit rabbi simultaneously holding a public oath of office.  In spiritual life, Markus serves as rabbi and music director for Temple Beth El (New York, NY), and seminary faculty at the Academy for Jewish Religion.  In secular life, Markus presides in New York Supreme Court as part of a parallel public service career that has spanned all branches and levels of government – from presidential campaigns to legislation to environmental affairs.  Markus has won numerous awards as an “innovator in public service” (Harvard University).

Rabbi Barenblat is one of “America’s most inspiring rabbis” (Forward 2016).  Barenblat serves as rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel (North Adams, MA); her Velveteen Rabbi blog was rated as one of the top sites on the Internet (Time Magazine 2008).  Barenblat is an accomplished poet and narrator of Jewish spiritual life: her collections include Texts to the Holy (Ben Yehuda 2018), Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda 2016), Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia 2013) and 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia 2011).

SHABBATON SCHEDULE

Kabbalat Shabbat & Global Convening -  Friday, June 12, 6:30pm PT

Shabbat Morning Service & Visioning - Saturday, June 13, 10:00am PT

Lunch and Learn: Mishkan Sandbox - Saturday, June 13 , 1:00pm PT

Malave Malkah: Poems of Yearning - Saturday, June 13, 8:30pm PT

#BeALight Havdalah - Saturday, June 13, 9:00pm PT

FRIDAY KEYNOTE – GETTING REAL, DIGITAL EDITION (Rabbi Barenblat)

Today we’re distant from each other physically because of covid-19. At times we may feel distant from community and from God for all kinds of reasons. The answer to that distance is emotional keruv, drawing-near: but how? How can we use the words of our prayers (both those we’ve inherited, and those we remix and create anew) to connect across distance both physical and spiritual? How can we be real with our prayer lives and with each other even when we feel (or are) alone? How can we safely let ourselves feel, even in this time of pandemic, so that we can be spiritually authentic with ourselves, each other, and our Source?

SATURDAY KEYNOTE – THE MISHKAN’S NEXT DIGITAL (R)EVOLUTION (Rabbi Markus)

Since history began, we’ve danced with the sacred in forms that evolved with us. Jewish history of a desert-wandering Mishkan settled in a place, then a Temple, then another Temple, then out to exile. Homes and learning centers became society’s sacred spaces. Eventually synagogues and clergy roles re-exerted centralizing influence. Now with covid-19 hastening society’s digital leaps, what’s next? As sacred gatherings de-center to living rooms and pixels, what will be our Mishkan? How will we build it to channel “me” and “we,” here and there, tradition and change?

LUNCH AND LEARN – MISHKAN SANDBOX FOR THE GENERATIONS

Exactly how can we uplift spiritual connection when we’re physically separated, even sheltering in place? What specific best practices, individually and collectively, can co-create a vibrant Mishkan exactly where we are? Join our multi-generational panel with Rabbis Barenblat, Markus and Zaslow as together we sandbox tangible practices to enliven spiritual life for this digital moment of transformation.

MELAVE MALKAH – POEMS OF YEARNING

Before creation, there was an eit ratzon – a time of yearning.  Rabbi Barenblat will lead us into that eit ratzon through poetry and niggunim. 

#BEALIGHT HAVDALAH – PASSING THE LIGHT FORWARD

Rabbi Markus will lead a #BeALight havdalah, bridging into the new week and rededicating ourselves to building a world of connection, justice and love. 

Register here!


Come and learn in Oregon this summer!

Hello, (US) west coast folks: I'm coming your way in early June! Along with my dear friend and colleague R' David Markus, I'm scholar-in-residence for a Shabbaton in Ashland, Oregon, over the weekend of June 5-6. I hope you'll join us!

Official promotional materials appear below...


Flyer5Havurah Shir Hadash announces a weekend of spiritual learning and transformation with nationally-recognized rabbis Rachel Barenblat and David Markus over the weekend of June 5-6, 2020. The weekend, “Prayer, Poetry, & Politics: renewing the call to bless and repair the world,” will feature spirited, musical and participatory prayer in the innovative style of Jewish Renewal, and opportunities to learn with Barenblat and Markus about public affairs, mysticism, blessing, ethics, poetic liturgy and the ethical path of spiritual innovation. 

Rabbi David Zaslow, the spiritual leader of the Havurah since 1996 says, “This weekend of prayer and learning promises to be spectacular. The gifts that Rabbi Barenblatt and Rabbi Markus will bring are at the cutting edge of the new and emerging forms of Jewish spiritual practice.”

Rabbi David Markus’ perspective on faith in public life reflects his unique position as North America’s only pulpit rabbi simultaneously holding a public oath of office.  His teachings on spiritual channeling will offer ways to give and be a blessing.  Rabbi Rachel’s perspective on spiritual creativity reflects her position at the intersection of professional poetry and rabbinic leadership.   She will teach on balancing artistic authenticity with healthy ethical boundaries, and share some of the poetry for which she was named one of America’s “most inspiring rabbis.” 

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat is known nationally for her writings as The Velveteen Rabbi. She says,  “Religion and spirituality, at their core, are about building a wise, loving, and ethical future together." Rabbis Barenblat and Markus serve together as senior builders at Bayit: Building Jewish (a Jewish innovation incubator).  Rabbi Markus says, “We learned this Jewish path from the legacy of Reb Zalman as a continuing call that our increasingly fractured world especially needs now.”

Rabbi Markus is the nation’s only pulpit rabbi simultaneously holding a public oath of office.  In spiritual life, Markus serves as rabbi and music director for Temple Beth El (New York, NY), and seminary faculty at the Academy for Jewish Religion.  In secular life, Markus presides in New York Supreme Court as part of a parallel public service career that has spanned all branches and levels of government – from presidential campaigns to legislation to environmental affairs.  Markus has won numerous awards as an “innovator in public service” (Harvard University).

Rabbi Barenblat is one of “America’s most inspiring rabbis” (Forward 2016).  Barenblat serves as rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel (North Adams, MA); her Velveteen Rabbi blog was rated as one of the top sites on the Internet (Time Magazine 2008).  Barenblat is an accomplished poet and narrator of Jewish spiritual life: her collections include Texts to the Holy (Ben Yehuda 2018), Open My Lips (Ben Yehuda 2016), Waiting to Unfold (Phoenicia 2013) and 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia 2011).

Learn more and register at the Shir Hadash website.


Come write with me!

I couldn't be more delighted to announce that I've been named in the Liturgist-in-Residence for the National Havurah Committee's Summer Institute 2020, which will be held from July 27-August 2 in Hartford, CT.  Here's the text of their official announcement:

Liturgist-In-Residence 2020: Introducing Rachel Barenblat!

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.

Stay tuned for more information about the roster of classes that will be offered at this summer's institute. For now, save the dates and plan to join us!

 


Making Time Holy - a d'var Torah for Emor

Holytime

There’s a story about three umpires discussing their trade. Maybe you’ve heard it. There are these three umpires, and they’re each bragging a little bit, showing off. They’re each claiming to be the best at what they do. The first one says, “I have a good eye, and I call it like I see it.” The second one says, “that’s nothing -- I have a good eye, and I call it like it is.” And the third one just shakes his head, and after a long pause he says, “it ain’t nothin’ ‘til I call it.”

Why am I telling you this?

מוֹעֲדֵ֣י ה' אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם מִקְרָאֵ֣י קֹ֑דֶשׁ׃

“These are My fixed-times, which y’all shall proclaim, declaring them holy.” (Lev. 23:2)

That’s from this week’s Torah portion, Emor. The verses that follow offer an outline of our festival year in its most ancient form. First and foremost is Shabbat. Time and again, weekday and workday consciousness gives way to Shabbat, which tradition calls “a foretaste of the world to come.” That’s the weekly rhythm, the flow and ebb, built into the fabric of creation. And it serves and supports a bigger oscillation, the annual rhythm of the festival year.

At Pesach, in the emerging spring, we celebrate liberation from narrow places. The Omer leads us to Shavuot, when we receive revelation. At Rosh Hashanah the universe begins anew -- Pesach is the anniversary of our Exodus, but Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of all creation. At Yom Kippur we answer for our souls. At Sukkot we move outside, celebrating the harvest and recognizing impermanence. And then, after a fallow time, Pesach comes around again.

Now, Torah could have just said that God declares certain times to be holy. Let it be God’s job to declare what’s holy and what isn’t, what’s a special time and what’s ordinary. I mean, God speaks the world into being, right? But instead Torah says that we proclaim holy time. We declare its holiness. We have a role to play in making our sacred times what they are. The questions for me are, how and why do we do that? And what happens in us when we do?

Torah and the rabbinic tradition are full of “how” and “why.” We declare a time to be kadosh, set-apart, by lighting candles or blessing the fruit of the vine: kiddush, which shares a root with kadosh. Or we build a sukkah, or wave a lulav. Or we set time apart by not-doing things. On Shabbat and festivals, Torah instructs us to cease our working, our rushing to make and create and do. Or we refrain from eating and drinking, as many of us do on Yom Kippur...

What interests me most is not so much the things we do or don’t do, but the internal dynamics behind the doing or not-doing. What does it feel like to consciously refrain from working? What does it feel like to kindle a candle and feel something internal shift thanks to its flickering light? What opens up in us as a result of that doing and the feeling that flows from that doing? Beyond that, what opens or changes in us when we do and feel those things together?

Because that’s another thing I notice about this verse in Torah: “These are My fixed-times, which y’all shall proclaim, declaring them holy.” Now, I’m saying “y’all” because I grew up in south Texas, and even after 27 years in the Northeast I remain convinced that the English language needs a plural form of “you,” and “y’all” is the plural form of “you” that I like best. But I’m also saying y’all because that’s what Torah’s syntax suggests. This is a communal instruction.

Notice the tension between individual and communal. The how and the why of making time holy are communally-agreed-upon, or at least communally-discussed. The internal dynamics of making time holy -- what awakens in us when we take this work on -- are personal. What happens in me when I kindle candles is not necessarily transferrable. And it shifts over time as I change and grow. Making time holy has a profound impact on who and how I become.

The sage known as the Aish Kodesh teaches that festivals have an innate quality of holiness. (Writing about Purim, he says that even if one is grieving on Purim and can’t fully inhabit the holiday’s requisite joy, the day itself will work its magic. I found that deeply meaningful this year when Purim fell during shloshim, the first month of mourning, for my mom.) He’s not alone in that viewpoint. There’s a strong view in tradition that our holidays themselves are holy.

When it comes to Yom Kippur, our sages teach, the essence of the day itself is what enables us to atone -- together with our acts of teshuvah, yes, but the day itself has a unique quality that helps us get there. And yet there’s also a sense that holiness is something we create. In Heschel’s words, we “learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals.” We consecrate not space but time.

We consecrate. In instructing us to set holy time apart, Torah implies that something happens when we declare holy time. Maybe something happens in us when we set holy time apart. Experientially, that feels true to me. There’s a difference between being handed something, and making it myself. There’s a difference between being told that a day is holy, and making it holy with my actions and words -- and most especially with my heart and my intention.

It matters to me that we do this with our own hands and hearts. The Judaism that sets my heart afire and tingles my toes is a participatory Judaism. It’s a Judaism that doesn’t outsource our sense of holiness. It’s a Judaism that presumes that every one of us has a role to play in building the Jewish future. A Judaism that encourages every one of us to learn enough about the tradition that we can turn our hearts and hands to building the Judaism that comes next.

In Talmud (Brachot 64a) we read, “our children will be taught of God.” And then our sages creatively read “our children” as “our builders,” recognizing that every successive generation has the responsibility and the opportunity to build the Jewish future, rooted in our own encounters with holiness. The life's work of building Judaism isn’t just for “the rabbis.” Building Judaism belongs to all of us, just as sanctifying time belongs to all of us.

There's something profoundly democratic here, in the lower-case-d sense. God gives us the flow of the festival year, but it's incomplete without our participation. Our spiritual ancestors give us a vast library of texts and traditions, but they're incomplete without our participation, too. They're the recipe, but you can't eat a cookbook. It's our energy and attention, our investment of hands and hearts, that transforms the recipe into nourishing food for the soul.

Judaism asks us to balance what we've received, and what the future asks us to build. Sometimes we build in new ways, through new spiritual technologies, new ways of learning, new texts and prayers and melodies to enliven our experience of ancient texts and festivals and practices. And sometimes we build in ancient ways, letting those ancient practices (like sanctifying time) do their work in us as we open ourselves to becoming and to change.

In the instruction to proclaim the festivals, Torah is telling us that even something as fundamental to Jewish life as holy time is a partnership between us and God. Our sacred times have power, and that power is magnified when we make the choice to declare those times to be set-apart and holy. And when we consciously set time apart, we open ourselves so that holiness can flow through us into the future that is yet to be. Shabbat shalom.

Shabbat shalom.



 

This is the d'var Torah I offered this morning at Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo where I am (with Rabbi David Markus) Halpern Scholar-In-Residence this weekend. Deep thanks to the Halpern family for bringing us to western New York!

Written with gratitude to my co-founders at Bayit: Building Jewish.

 


Looking forward to a Shabbat in Buffalo

This coming weekend, Rabbi David Markus and I will be Halpern Scholars-In-Residence at Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, New York. I'm looking so forward to co-leading services on Friday night and Saturday morning, to sharing melodies and Torah and learning and conversations, to teaching on Shabbat afternoon and making havdalah on Saturday evening, and more!

TBZ

Here's the weekend schedule, posted online thanks to Buffalo Jewish Federation (and each event is listed here on Facebook); if you're in or around Buffalo, please join us.

For more on all of this, you can listen to us chatting with Rabbi Jonathan Freirich on the radio: Crossroads with Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Markus


A beautiful newspaper article

I'm deeply grateful to Kate Abbott and the Berkshire Eagle for this beautiful profile of me and my work, both locally (serving Congregation Beth Israel) and on a larger scale (co-founding Bayit: Your Jewish Home). Here's how it begins:

Eagle

At the foot of Mount Greylock, a round building with a wall of windows looks out at the the stone path of a labyrinth in the grass. The center of the room is a sanctuary, and a woman stands taking in the light.

She moves with poised self-command and an undercurrent of laughter. Walking in, a neighbor might hear her singing a prayer to a folk melody on her guitar, or sharing and reflecting a friend's quiet triumph, or talking frankly about navigating a time of pain.

On a Saturday morning, she will welcome in the community, wearing a rainbow tallit, a prayer shawl. Rachel Barenblat is the rabbi and spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel, the only synagogue in Northern Berkshire...

Read the whole story here: One of 'America's Most Inspiring Rabbis,' The Berkshire Eagle, March 30, 2019.


A whirlwind visit to Oberlin coming soon

Oberlin
Next week I'm heading to Oberlin College for a whirlwind one-day visit that will include a lunch with Oberlin College Hillel, an afternoon psalm-writing workshop, and a poetry reading. All three of these are taking place on Tuesday, October 9. 

If you're nearby, I hope you'll join us. The poetry reading is at 8pm on October 9 in Hallock Auditorium and dessert will be provided -- learn more and RSVP on Facebook

Deep thanks to Rabbi Megan Doherty for inviting me! I'm looking so forward to meeting everyone there and to sharing some Torah and some poetry with that community. 


A Vision of Better: now in video

A few folks asked whether there is a video or audio recording of my sermon from Rosh Hashanah morning

Here's video (and audio) -- taken from the synagogue's Facebook Live stream, so the quality isn't fantastic, but I'm happy to share.

 

 

(If you can't see the embedded video, you can go directly to it here.)

May our journey through these Ten Days of Teshuvah clarify our vision and strengthen us to do our work in the world.


A summer Sunday in Rensselaerville (all are welcome)

Slide1-1
I've never been to the First Presbyterian Church in Rensselaerville, NY, but their all are welcome page makes me love them already. I'll be worshipping with them next Sunday, August 5, because I've been invited to preach.

How does it come to pass that a rabbi will be preaching from their lectern? It turns out I'm far from the first to do so. Every summer they they welcome clergy and religious folks of different faiths to bring spiritual sustenance to their community. They've been doing that for more than 100 years:

For a short period in the second half of the 19th century, the village of Rensselaerville was a lively industrial town as the first site of the Huyck Woolen Mills. When mill founder and Presbyterian Church member F. C. Huyck Sr. moved his mill to Albany, he did not sever ties with the village or the church. But as jobs left with the mill so did many of the village residents, leaving the church without enough members to maintain a year-round pastor. The church continued because the Huyck family returned to Rensselaerville each summer to vacation and provided for a pastor during their stay.

F.C. Huyck Sr.’s granddaughter Katharine Huyck Elmore expanded the vision of the summer services, in the mid-20th century, to encompass various faith traditions and invited ministers, rabbis, priests, nuns and other preachers to bring their messages of compassion, social justice and stewardship of the world and community to our pulpit.

Their theme for this summer is "And still we rise" (after "And still I rise" by Maya Angelou), and everyone who's preaching there during the summer season is offering a reflection on that theme.

They asked me a few months ago to give them the title for my sermon. While I often struggle to come up with sermon titles (usually I write the sermon first and then figure out whatto call it), in this case I knew right away that I would call my remarks "Descent for the Sake of Ascent." I will draw on Torah, Hasidic tradition, and the unfolding of the Jewish sacred calendar to offer hope, strength, and consolation appropriate for listeners of any faith.

Worship begins at 11am. If you're in or near Rensselaerville next Sunday, I hope you'll join us.


Two upcoming readings from Texts to the Holy

TextsHappy new (secular / Gregorian) month of May! I'm doing two readings from Texts to the Holy this month in the Berkshires: one in Williamstown on Saturday May 5, and one in Pittsfield on Thursday May 10.

Saturday May 5, 7:45pm, Williams College Jewish Association 

How do we engage the sacred through the written word? Join Rabbi Rachel Barenblat for a special se'udah shlishit (final Shabbat meal) and havdalah (ritual to close out Shabbat) where we'll read and learn from her recently published book of poetry, Texts to the Holy

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams. A widely published author, popular teacher, and spiritual director, in 2016 she was named by the Forward as one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis and most recently is a Founding Builder at Bayit: Your Jewish Home.

All are welcome; FB users can RSVP at the FB event page. This program will harness the unique spiritual valance of Shabbat drawing to its end with niggunim (wordless melodies), poems from Texts to the Holy, a havdalah ritual, and (once Shabbat is over) an opportunity for schmoozing and getting books signed. 

Thursday May 10, 10:45am, Knesset Israel (presented by Jewish Federation)

The Jewish Federation Connecting with Community presents "Two Contemporary Poets Read" with Jean P. Moore, PhD and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat.  The women will share the stage as they read from their newly published books of poetryJean's presentation will focus on her nature poems, largely inspired by her many years spent in Tyringham. Rachel will read from Texts to the Holy, her latest collection. 

This free program is part of the Federation’s Connecting With Community Series and will be followed by a kosher hot lunch. Lunch is a $2 suggested donation for adults over 60 years of age or $7 for all others. Advance reservations are required for lunch and can be made by calling (413) 442-2200 before 9 a.m. on the day of the program.

For more information, see the recent notice in the Bershire Eagle, Pittsfield - Jewish Federation Hosting Contemporary Poets. I'll have some copies to sell at KI and am happy to sign them if you would like.

If you're local to the Berkshires I hope to see you at one or the other of these events!


A glimpse of the Ben Yehuda Press poetry reading in Tarrytown

On Sunday, March 18, I had the opportunity to "launch" Texts to the Holy at a Ben Yehuda Press poetry reading at the JCC in Tarrytown, New York.

The reading was organized by Maxine Silverman, a fellow Ben Yehuda Press poet. To open the reading, Maxine offered a few poems from her gorgeous collection Shiva Moon (all poems that will appear in Beside Still Waters, the mourning-and-shiva volume that Bayit is co-producing with Ben Yehuda). After that, the reading featured me alongside Yaakov Moshe, author of Is: heretical Jewish blessings and poems. (Yaakov Moshe is a heteronym for Jay Michaelson.) Jay read, and then I read, and then we traded poems for a while, riffing off of each others' work, which was neat. 

Larry Yudelson (our editor and publisher at Ben Yehuda) took some video at the reading and has shared some of it online. Here's me reading "The One Who Sees Me" from Texts to the Holy :

And here's "Awake," from the same collection:

 

I think he'll be posting more videos soon of all three poets; follow Ben Yehuda on Facebook, or follow the Jewish Poetry Project on YouTube, if you're so inclined.

Deep thanks to Larry at Ben Yehuda, and to Dr. George Kraus and Maxine Silverman at the Shames JCC on the Hudson, for making the reading happen! (Buy my new collection online here for a mere $9.95: Texts to the Holy / Ben Yehuda Press 2018.)


Texts to the Holy: reading in Tarrytown

J with GeorgeoI shared poems from Texts to the Holy at a handful of readings and events while the volume was being written and revised and prepared for print.

But the first reading from the new collection since it actually came out will take place later this month.

It's part of the "Sundays @ The J with George and Friends" series, and it's a Ben Yehuda Press reading featuring three Ben Yehuda poets: Yakov Moshe (also known as Rabbi Jay Michaelson), author of Is; Maxine Silverman, author of Shiva Moon; and myself. The reading will be hosted by Dr. George Kraus. 

You can read about it on the Shames JCC website: Sunday Poetry: Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Yakov Moshe (Jay Michaelson), and Maxine Silverman. Or, for those who don't want to click through, here are the most salient details:

Sunday, March 18

1:30-3:30pm

Tarrytown JCC

Free for members; $10 non-members

Books will be available for sale and signing after the reading. 

If you're in or near Tarrytown, I hope you'll join us!


Joyful Life As A Religious Minority - on Reports from the Spiritual Frontier

I was interviewed recently for the podcast Reports from the Spiritual Frontier. My episode is live now, and the host -- my friend and colleague Ben Yosua-Davis -- titled it "Joyful Life As A Religious Minority." Here's what he wrote about it:

Artworks_coverJoin us for a conversation with Rachel Barenblat, Co-Founder of Bayit: Your Jewish Home, blogger at Velveteen Rabbi, and Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, MA, as we talk about her experience of life as a religious minority. Hear about the gift of oddity, (9:30) the challenges and joys of being a religious minority (8:30), a more life-giving way to speak into Christian anxieties about Sunday sports, graying populations, and declining worship attendance, (15:00) and what it means to let new generations shape the tradition with their own hands (25:00). Hear more from Rabbi Rachel and other spiritual innovators by visiting us at www.facebook.com/reportsfromthespiritualfrontier or by subscribing to us via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever else you acquire your best listens for your week.

On Facebook he added:

Three reasons why you should listen[...]:

1) She's a calm, deeply grounded presence. If you're panicked about all the change going on in our country right now, she'll help you take a deep breath.

2) If you're particularly anxious about Christian institutional decline, she speaks specifically to our concerns about: worship attendance, money, and graying congregations.

3) If you want a look at how a non-Christian tradition is teaching its young people to "shape the tradition with their own hands."

I'm deeply grateful to Ben for the opportunity and for the fabulous conversation! 

Listen to the podcast here: Rachel Barenblat: Joyful Life As A Religious Minority. (He'll be posting a "B-side" mini-podcast on Thursday, featuring two of my poems from my new collection Texts to the Holy, too.)  And here are all of the episodes.


Rabbi Roundtable: "What are Jews, exactly?"

6a00d8341c019953ef01b7c9380f16970b-320wiThis week's edition of the Forward's Rabbi Roundtable asks, "What are Jews? — a race, a religion, a culture, an ethnicity, a nation….?"

I'm glad to see that many of us rejected the possibility of Jews as a "race," for a variety of reasons. I'm intrigued by how many people came up with the metaphor of a family to describe who and what Jews are (and what connects us across our many diversities.)

Here are our answers: Rabbi Roundtable: What are Jews, Exactly?


Rabbi Roundtable: Is there such a thing as Jewish values?

6a00d8341c019953ef01bb09d934ad970d-320wiThis week's installation of the Forward's Rabbi Roundtable asks, "Is there such a thing as Jewish values?"

Many of us referenced the extent to which our "Jewish values" are universal. Several of us referenced the value of loving the stranger and seeing the inherent worth and dignity in every human being.

I spoke about the Jewish value of change, and the fact that our tradition is designed to continually be renewed.

Read our answers here: We Asked 21 Rabbis: Is There Such A Thing As Jewish Values?


Off to the Academy for Spiritual Formation

Academy-LogoI've participated in a lot of two-year training programs, from my low-residency MFA at Bennington (which I began in June of 1997, more than twenty years ago -- how did that happen?!) to the Davenen Leadership Training Institute while I was in rabbinical school. But I've never taught in one -- until now.

Today I'm on my way to Malvern Retreat House, a retreat center outside of Philadelphia, where I'll be serving as faculty for the Academy for Spiritual Formation. Here's how their website describes the enterprise:

Since 1983, the Academy for Spiritual Formation has offered an environment for spiritually hungry pilgrims, whether lay or clergy, that combines academic learning with experience in spiritual disciplines and community.  The Academy's commitment to an authentic spirituality promotes balance, inner peace and outer peace, holy living and justice living, God's shalom.  Theologically the focus is Trinitarian, celebrating the Creator's blessing, delighting in the companionship of Christ and witnessing to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform lives, churches and the world.

This will be the second week of this cohort's journey together. In the mornings they'll be learning with Rev. Marjorie Thompson. In the afternoons I'll be teaching them about the psalms. Each of us will teach for an hour, and then the students will enter an hour of silence (primed with questions for reflection), and then we'll regroup for half an hour to work with whatever arose for them during that contemplative time. I'll also take part in the week's various prayer and meditation opportunities designed to help cultivate discernment as the participants continue on their journey of spiritual formation.

Each instructor had the opportunity to assign two books in advance. I assigned Miriyam Glazer's Psalms of the Jewish Liturgy and Rabbi Marcia Prager's The Path of Blessing (not about psalms per se, but an excellent introduction to the richness of Hebrew as a sacred language.) I'm looking forward to seeing how those books resonate for them, and what kinds of questions they open up. My hope is to open for them an authentic and devotional relationship with the psalms: without ignoring the substantial differences between our traditions, but without getting bogged down in them, either.

I'm looking deeply forward to learning with and from the students -- and to attending daily prayer in a tradition that's not my own. (One night I'll have the privilege of leading evening prayer, which puts me in mind of when I got to do something similar at Beyond Walls at Kenyon College a few years ago.) I'm fairly certain I will be the only Jew in attendance. I'm looking forward to experiencing how my own spiritual journey will be enriched by walking alongside this group of Christians for a week.

Reb Zalman z"l, the teacher of my teachers, spoke often of Deep Ecumenism -- not merely "interfaith dialogue," but connecting deeply with our siblings of other traditions. One metaphor he used is the image of light pouring through a stained glass window. In order to appreciate its beauty, one has to be inside the building. Just so with spiritual truth: in order to understand what trinitarian theology does for a Christian, I need to be willing to stand in their shoes, to feel as they feel -- without ceding my own spiritual authenticity as a Jew. My Jewishness need not be threatened or diminished by that. On the contrary, it can be enriched.

He taught that we need to transcend triumphalism (the belief that any tradition is "right" and therefore the others are wrong). Instead, we can draw on the wisdom of Rev. Matthew Fox, who speaks of "many wells, one river." We all draw living waters from our own wells, but the source of that water is the same underground river, the same source of flow. (It's that same flow that my hashpa'ah / spiritual direction training gives me tools to discern with, and cultivate in, those whom I serve in that capacity.) May I be a fitting conduit for that flow, so that I can bring openness and authenticity to the awesome task of this teaching.


Rabbi Roundtable: what do we wish Jews would stop doing?

6a00d8341c019953ef01b7c92df7d3970b-320wiThe Forward's latest Rabbi Roundtable is up -- on the question "what is one thing Jews need to stop doing?

Once again they chose to frame their question negatively, which exasperates me a little. (I would have preferred to have answered the question, "What is one thing you wish Jews would do more of?")

That said, it's interesting to see the answers from across the denominational and postdenominational spectrum.... and to see how many of us said some variation on "we need to end our internal triumphalism / stop knocking each other / stop acting as though our own way of doing and being Jewish is the only right way."

Read it here:  We Asked 25 Rabbis: What Is One Thing Jews Need to Stop Doing?


Visions of Renewal in Connecticut

White-1One of the great joys of being an unofficial ambassador for Jewish Renewal is getting invited to share spiritual technologies that have deeply shaped my life and my rabbinate with new communities that may not yet have experienced them.

Over the weekend of November 3-5, Rabbi David Markus and I will be scholars-in-residence at Temple B'nai Chaim in Georgetown, Connecticut!

We'll be there over the weekend of parashat Vayera (the Torah portion is named after its first word, "And God appeared" or, more broadly "And God caused Abraham to see") so we've framed our introduction to Jewish Renewal through the lens of vision. 

We'll be co-leading a musical, poetic, uplifting Kabbalat Shabbat service on Friday night; offering a Torah study on Shabbat morning; gathering with the community at 5pm for se'udat shlishit (the "third meal" of Shabbat, where we'll "dine" on poetry and song themed around yearning at that most poignant time of the week), havdalah, and some learning about angels in Jewish tradition. On Sunday morning we'll offer two short programs on "spirituality on the go" and on the mysticism of ordinary mitzvot.

Here's the full schedule for our weekend, and here's a Facebook event where you can indicate if you're coming. If you're in or near Connecticut and are able to join us, we'd love to see you there!


In humbling company

Os-1495650588-aa4h4pl014-snap-imageAlthough this came out a month ago, it only last night reached my eyes: Judaism Shines Through All They Do: Ginsburg, Sandberg, Barenblat. Written by Haley Codron, this opinion piece ran last month in the Orlando Sentinel, and it puts me in some truly humbling company.

As May is Jewish American Heritage Month, I want to honor three women whose Judaism shines through all they do: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and “Velveteen Rabbi” blogger Rachel Barenblat.

As I contemplate the leadership of Ginsburg, Sandberg and Barenblat, I’m reminded of advice from my parents. They told me what to discuss – or not to discuss – at dinner tables: politics, religion and money. A part of me understands where my parents were coming from; the three topics are flashpoints. But there has to be an element of “picking sides.” Which is precisely why the three women make a difference – a positive difference, and have influenced me and countless people around the world...

Codron writes about Ruth Bader Ginsburg (one of the most extraordinary women alive today, in my estimation), Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (whose book Option B I've been intending to read), and me. I'm honored to be in their company.

You can read the whole piece here: Judaism Shines Through All They Do: Ginsburg, Sandberg, Barenblat.