On Reconciliation, Building, and Bereishit

 

Yesterday was the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, commemorating the painful and tragic legacy of Indian Residential Schools in Canada. 140 such schools operated between 1831 and 1998. Over that time over 150,000 Indigenous (First Nations, Inuit, and Métis) children were taken from their homes and subjected to systematic erasure of their cultures, languages, and for too many, their lives. It is believed that more than 4000 children died. Among those who survived, many suffered emotional, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of their “teachers.” 

Yesterday honoured the memories of the children who died, the survivors of Indian Residential Schools who carry these scars, their communities, and their families. As I stood on Parliament Hill on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory, listening to the moving testimonies and calls to action of survivors of Indian Residential schools and Indigenous community leaders, I took in the collections of teddy bears and drawings, and hundreds of pairs of shoes — intimate and heartbreaking representations of children and childhoods taken away. Overhead, I kept looking up at the construction cranes and scaffolding flanking the Centre Block of the federal Parliament buildings. Their presence seemed especially fitting. 

The Centre Block is currently being taken down to the studs, to its very foundation, to be rebuilt for the needs of the future while maintaining its essential elements. Harmful and obsolete materials are being removed from within the building’s stone walls. It is the most significant renovation since the whole of Centre Block (save its Library of Parliament) was rebuilt after burning to the ground in 1916. It will take at least a decade.

True reconciliation in Canada, for the systemic harms and genocide committed and continuing to be committed against Indigenous peoples, will also take time. The very foundations of our country are in need of rebuilding and renewal. Systems — legal, educational, health and more — need to have their obsolete and harmful elements removed so that they can be rebuilt with the promise of the future.

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary May Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, emphasized the ongoing effort needed to achieve reconciliation:

Reconciliation requires effort every day, and this effort we must carry out for all time, for it has no end date or finish line. 

On this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I urge you to pause and reflect on Canada’s full history. Do it to honour those Indigenous children who experienced or witnessed cruel injustices. Many emerged traumatized, many still suffer pain. 

As we strive to resolve the tensions of the past with the promise of the future, we can stand together and move forward with grace and humility.

Make reconciliation a way of life.

On Parliament Hill, amidst the ceremony and the construction, I reflected on my responsibility to make reconciliation a way of life. My Judaism, particularly the arc of time from the month of Av in the summer through rebirth and renewal in Tishrei, gives me a frame for that.

The most recent events that led to the ceremonies on Parliament Hill were the discoveries of hundreds of unmarked childrens’ graves at various former Indian Residential Schools this past summer. This time corresponded with the months of Av and Elul. Av contains the spiritual low point of the Jewish year. On the 9th of Av we remember the destruction of the Temple, caused by sinat chinam / baseless hatred: the failure of people to see the fundamental holiness in each other. In Elul we focus on teshuvah, literally “returning,” repenting by acknowledging where we have missed the mark and taking concrete steps to correct past wrongs. 

The Talmud teaches that the Hebrew letters of the word Elul אלול represent the verse אני לדודי ודודי לי – I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (Song of Songs 6:3). At the core of the teshuvah process is a focus on connection and repairing relationships, with each other and with God. Yet before we are able to repair relationships and reconcile differences, we must first acknowledge the truth, the emet, of what caused brokenness or rupture in the first place. Only by facing the truth of what we have done can we embark on a journey of teshuvah, reconciliation and repair. 

This year, September 30th coincided with the end of Tishrei: a lived metaphor for how we embed the journey of emet to teshuvah in all aspects of our lives, year to year, cycle to cycle. It also coincided with restarting our Torah cycle with the first parsha, Bereishit, and its fundamental teaching that we are all created in the Divine image — all deserving of respect and love. 

As local Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda emphasized speaking on Parliament Hill, creating space for truth and reconciliation, for emet and teshuvah is ultimately a gift to enable us to heal and grow: “Take this beautiful gift we are offering you; learn, listen and we will walk together to turn this country into a beautiful country for all our children.” Similarly, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 final report calls on us to work together “to transform Canadian society so that our children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace, and prosperity on these lands we now share.”

As I looked up at teddy bears and drawings and shoes and cranes and construction on Parliament Hill, all together, I wondered, will Canada rebuild in a way so that Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and grandchildren can live together in dignity, peace and prosperity? 

Our Sages taught that while it may not be upon us to complete the work, we are not free to desist from it (Pirkei Avot 2:21). It is aleinu, on us, to make that happen. And every year now, during our season of teshuvah surrounding the High Holidays and on September 30th. we will be able to take stock of our rebuilding and reconciliation together.

 

Resources:

 

And from work together this past summer with campers at URJ Camp George:

A land acknowledgment created and prepared by teen campers for camp. Inspired by a local indigenous name for the region, the background of the plaque evokes a glowing light.

a banner, on a background of orange handprints from all of camp, with the text “Every Child Matters” along with a quite from the Talmud (Berakhot 64a:14)- אַל תִּקְרֵי ״בָּנָיִךְ״ אֶלָּא ״בּוֹנָיִךְ״ – “Don’t call them your children, call them your builders,” which speaks to the fundamental role that our youth play in our present and our future. This quote from Talmud also inspired the name and mission of Bayit: Building Jewish!

 

 

Rabbi Dara Lithwick is on the Board of Bayit: Building Jewish. When not at work as a constitutional and parliamentary affairs lawyer, she is active as an outreach rabbi at Temple Israel Ottawa. Rabbi Dara is also chairing a Canadian Council for Reform Judaism group to develop a Tikkun Olam strategy for Canada and is the Canadian representative to the Union for Reform Judaism’s Commission on Social Action. (Find her whole bio on our Board page.)

What our prayer shawls carry

Right now there are 15 tallitot in my house. How did I get here?

One tallit is my son’s bar mitzvah tallit; one is the “girly” tallit I sometimes wear; one is the giant wool tallit I sometimes wrap couples in under the chuppah.  The stories these tallitot tell are clear and known. 

Ok, what about the other dozen? I brought these tallitot (or talesim, or tallises if you like–we can pluralize the word in Hebrew, Yiddish or English respectively) home from our synagogue for some TLC.  We have newer ones at shul now, sponsored by a board member a few years back, but these older, threadbare, sad tallitot were still in rotation.  After over a year of storage due to covid, it was time to take a discerning eye to these talesim.

I brought the Dirty Dozen home and promptly gave them a bath in the tub. I did not want to agitate them in a machine due to the tzitzit and decorative fringes, and my apartment building has only big commercial washers.  The tallitot had a lovely spa day, with all appropriate treatments, carrying away the dirt and stale perfume and stains of all the humans who had worn them.  They emerged, much better than they started…but still shabby.

As I washed the tallitot, I thought about their useful lives.  What prayers had been said, by how many, wrapped in these tallitot?  Prayers for healing; prayers of gratitude; perhaps a baby wrapped up at a naming ceremony is now a grown up; perhaps tears fell on the fabric and I had just washed those tears away.  If only that were how it worked! Wash your tears right down the drain! Was I re-sending those prayers up with the fragrance of soap and humanity?

Well, sometimes a spa day is not enough for a full rejuvenation.  I trimmed the loose threads, and neatened up each tallit as best I could. Even so, of the dozen, only one remained fit for synagogue use.  

A tallis is mostly just a way to wear tzitzit, in fulfillment of the commandment  (Numbers 15:38).

But a tallit should have a discernible front/back up/down. This is often accomplished by putting an atarah, a neckband, on the tallit.  To beautify the commandment (a practice known as hiddur mitzvah), the atarah is often embroidered with fancy metallic thread, and might contain a name of God.  So, both tzitzit and atarah should be handled with respect.  My rabbi said they should go into a genizah, a sacred repository, at the end of their useful life. Many sources suggest a genizah and/or a Jewish cemetery

A little lightbulb went off in my brain and I recalled that the Hebrew Free Burial Association was looking for tallitot for burial of indigent Jews a while back.  I wrote to them, and they confirmed that they would be happy to have 11 shabby but freshly washed tallitot.  So now the prayers bound up after so many years on so many shoulders will go to their rest, accompanying someone who truly needed comfort in this life.  

Is it too animistic to think about the tallitot entwining and remembering the prayers they heard and felt? OK, let me have my little flight of fancy. I’ll focus on that rather than think about kneeling at the bathtub up to my elbows in dirty water. 

If you are the person who is in charge of things like this at your shul, it’s time to give your tallitot (and kippot) a good looking over.  And a sniff. Also, it’s time to take a peek at your own tallis.  Is this the year to buy a new one?  Is this the year to give one as a gift?  The board member mentioned above and I have each given six new tallitot to the shul this year.  

The mitzvah of wearing a tallit is not something I grew up with, but something I am growing into. Every time I touch a tallit, I can feel myself twirling my father’s tzitzit as a tiny child in shul. I like to think that maybe our tallitot do hold things in their threads, including our prayers and our memories.

 

Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz is an associate professor of Communication Disorders and a speech-language pathologist. She serves as a lay service leader and trustee at Temple Beth El of City Island, NY, also known as “your shul by the sea.”

 

Announcing In the Light of Peace!

Mazal tov to Leiah Bowden, Abby Bogomolny, Sally Churgel, Rita Rapoport Rowan, and the Ner Shalom community: this week Bayit is releasing In the Light of Peace, a collection of poetry.

Here’s some advance praise for the book:

In times of loss, ordinary language often fails to reach the cave of the heart. We need a soul language that offers a feeling of companionship to where we are walking. In the Light of Peace is a rich and beautiful gathering of poems to caress the tender heart. Everyone who knows sorrow will be graced by this offering.

–Francis Weller, author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief

These may be spiritual seekers, but for this anthology they are truly FINDERS — finders of river words, wind poems, heart psalms, spirit dreams. This collection reaches far out and deeply inward. It is a wave of words crashing on the shore of consciousness — soothing, startling, sanding down and building up. There is great heft here, and great beauty, great boldness.

– Jan Philips, Speaker, Artist, & Activist, No Ordinary Time

Read more about the book, and buy a copy for $18 on Amazon and its global affiliates now.

Jars of Water – and two practices for washing away a zoom-bombing

Walking home, holding hands, skipping along the sidewalk.  There were jars of water on the stoop as we approached our apartment house.  I looked up at my mommy and asked, “who died?”

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 60s and 70s, in a co-op apartment, there were often jars. Mourners returning from the cemetery wanted to symbolically wash that dirt and energy off before entering the building, with just a hearty dash over each hand.  Co-ops are very New York:  you buy shares in a corporation, so you own your apartment, more or less.  It makes for stability and a sense of shared community.  Our building, and those around us, held a large contingent of Jewish families. 

With 48 families in our building, and 48 more in the building behind us where my grandparents lived, and 48 across the street where my cousin lived, there were jars.  After the jars came the shiva calls.  A small child could usually find some excellent cake or cookies.  A slightly older child might be asked to take out the garbage (to the chute in the hallway) or to put dishes in the sink.  A slightly older child might have a coffee, or a glass of wine on the sly.  If you were lucky, some other kid or cousin would be stuck making a shiva call at the same time.  Perhaps you could even sneak out to play after a suitable interval.  Shiva calls were non-negotiable. We were going.

Aside from the jars, there was the knock on the door.  Someone was collecting money to bring in food for the shiva.  Someone was coordinating the chicken for Tuesday, the deli for Wednesday, the platters coming from the bereaved person’s office, and onwards.  If you knew who was grieving, you had a pretty good chance of guessing who would be knocking.  If you missed the knock, you could go find that person.  Her name (always a woman) was listed on the death notice posted above the mailboxes.  It all ran like clockwork.  Was there a chairwoman of the jars?  Was it a race to get the jars out early and claim the unofficial mitzvah?  The jars were always there when they were required.

When we buried my grandma, I lived in a private house.  It dawned on me to put out my own jars before we left for the cemetery, because lunch after was at my place.  When we buried my dad, I have no idea what happened or who put out the jars.  Probably it was the friend who was at my house starting the big coffee pot and laying out the food.  My memories of that day are kind of swirly, but I do remember pouring water over my mom’s hands, and my children’s.

My building now is much more diverse, although still with a number of Jewish households of varied background.  Once so far (in 9 years), I put jars out for a neighbor.  The mourners were so touched by the gesture and thanked me repeatedly, which felt so strange for such a small thing.  Now, sometimes I don’t find out until after the fact; sometimes there is no notice by the mailbox.  Nobody knocks on my door.  

Yesterday, we buried a fellow congregant.  She was nearing 100 years old; she died at home, peacefully and surrounded by love.  Family members spoke so warmly, as our minyan spread out with our masks on.  She was a remarkable woman, truly. The rest of the congregation, family and friends attended via zoom, broadcast by an iPad on a tripod, deployed by the funeral director.  No shovels are allowed in a pandemic; we buried her with plastic cups full of dirt, or handfuls, until we blanketed her plain pine box.  We formed two lines for the mourners to pass through.  We schmoozed at a safe social distance on the way back to the cars.

It was there that I learned that our service had been zoom-bombed by anti-Semites.  Someone zooming at home had to call the funeral director to eject people from the meeting.  I won’t tell you how ugly it was.  But it was very ugly.

So somebody used their time and energy to find a link to a zoom funeral, solely for the purpose of adding more trauma to it.  Who is that person?  How do I see the spark of God in that person’s soul? Or should I even bother to try?  How can peace rain down on us with that person holding such hate?

A friend and I both stopped at the gates of the cemetery, to wash in the spigot there (often there is one if you look).  No jars, but I turned the garden-hose-style knob for her as she washed, and I washed. This time, though, I had something new to wash off.  So far, it has not left me.

 

Two Practices After A Zoom-Bombing

 

While washing hands at a sink, or while taking a hot shower:

 

May this water wash away the residue of hatred.

May this water cleanse my hands and soothe my heart.

May this water protect me like the waters of the womb before I was born.

May this water be my mikvah, connecting me with hope.

 

While inhaling a sweet scent: havdalah spices, a cinnamon stick, a sprig of herbs, even a teabag:

 

Breathing in, I take in the scent of Shechinah.

I ground myself in this place, and in The Place we call God. I am safe.

Breathing out, I let go of rage and anxiety.

I commit my hands and heart to building a better world.

 

Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz is an associate professor of Communication Disorders and a speech-language pathologist. She serves as a lay service leader and trustee at Temple Beth El of City Island, NY, also known as “your shul by the sea.”

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah by R’ David Markus

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi David Markus. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English. Deepest thanks to Rabbi Juan Mejia for translation.

 

 

Hola mis amigos.  Desde mi corazón en Nueva York al vuestro en Cuba, envío mis bendiciones para esta sagrada temporada de “lo que viene después”.

“Lo que viene después” es nuestra eterna pregunta humana y también es nuestra pregunta espiritual para este mes.  Es una pregunta sagrada no porque este mes contenga fiestas sagradas, sino justamente por la razón contraria.

En nuestro calendario laico, es noviembre.  Escasamente puedo creer que ha sido un año entero desde mi visita a Cuba.  Aún un año después siento cuán viva se sentía Cuba en Noviembre comparado con Nueva York.  El poeta británico Thomas Hood escribió que todas las cosas más bellas terminan en noviembre.

Sin calor, ni alegría, ni saludable facilidad,

Sin sensación cómodo en ningún miembro-

Sin sombra, sin brillo, sin mariposas ni abejas,

Sin frutas, sin flores, sin hojas, sin aves,

Noviembre!

Pero no en Cuba.  Y no sólo por el clima.  Especialmente en medio de la dificultad, la comunidad judía de Cuba compartió  su tesón, su pasión, su espíritu de bienvenida y su propio ser.  Nos fuimos cambiados para siempre.  Parte de nuestros corazones todavía está con ustedes, especialmente ahora en medio de la adversidad que azota a gran parte del mundo.

Así que es especialmente significativo que este noviembre comience en el medio del mes judío de Jeshvan.  Jeshván es nuestro único mes sin fiestas-  sin tiempo sagrado dedicado a nuestros rituales, reuniones, devoción, orgullo, alegría, dolor, ansia y aprendizaje.  Después del intenso mes judío de Tishré, lleno de fiestas como Rosh Hashaná, Yom Kippur, Sukkot y más, súbitamente ya no hay más.

A veces la sabiduría más grande del judaísmo es sutil: el judaísmo nos enseña no sólo a través de las grandes fiestas y proclamaciones sino también a través de lo que el profeta Elías experimentó como la “tranquila voz susurrante” de nuestro interior.

Igualmente con Jeshván.  Un mes entero con una súbita ausencia de fiestas judías nos enseña que la vida judía no gravita alrededor de las fiestas.  Más bien, la vida judía tiene que ver con nuestro día a día, la rutina aparente con la que interactuamos los unos con los otros.  El judaísmo gravita alrededor de nuestra devoción, orgullo, alegría, dolor, ansia y aprendizaje a través de todo nuestra vida, y no sólo en ocasiones especiales.

Sí, las ocasiones especiales son jusatmente eso: especiales.  Son oportunidades especiales para reunirnos y celebrar, especialmente cuando el esfuerzo implicado en reunirnos es física y económicamente desafiante.

En contraste, Jeshván centra nuestra atención en el judaísmo y las mitzvot (mandamientos) de la vida judía en el resto del tiempo, ya que no vivimos sólo para las fiestas.  En efecto, vivimos todos los días. Vivimos para nuestras familias y amigos, para tener oportunidades de aprender, para tratarnos bien los unos a los otros, para buscar y encontrar gratitud por nuestras bendiciones así sean pequeñas, para la alegría de celebrar shabbat cada semana.  Buscamos y, a veces, incluso encontramos lo sagrado en nuestras vidas cotidianas.

Tal vez ese sea el secreto judío para sobrevivir y prosperar a través de los siglos.  Nuestro secreto está en nuestras fiestas compartidas, pero más aún en vivir nuestra identidad orgullosamente, nuestra misión y nuestro credo todos los días.  Que este Jeshván, el mes sin fiestas judías, nos recuerde que el amor, la alegría y el sentido de nuestra vida judía nos aguarda en cada día, en cada alma, en cada lugar y en cada momento.

Hello, my friends.  From my heart in New York to yours across Cuba, I send blessings for this sacred season of “what comes next.”

“What comes next,” our eternally human question, also is our spiritual question this month. It’s a sacred question not because this month brings sacred Jewish holidays, but precisely for the opposite reason.

In our secular calendar, it’s November.  I barely can believe that it’s been a whole year since my community and I visited Cuba.  Even a year later, I feel how alive Cuba’s November felt compared to New York.  British poet Thomas Hood wrote that most everything beautiful ends in November:

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member—
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!

But not in Cuba – and not only because of climate.  Especially amidst hardship, the Jewish communities of Cuba shared with us your resilience, your passion, your welcoming spirit and your very selves.  We left changed forever. Part of our hearts still is with you, especially now amidst continuing adversity for so much of the world.
So it’s especially poignant that this November begins midway into Judaism’s spiritual month of Cheshvan.  Cheshvan is our only month with no holidays – no specially sacred times to focus our rituals, gatherings, devotion, pride, joy, grief, yearning or learning.  After Judaism’s intense month of Tishrei full of holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and more, suddenly there are none.
Sometimes our Jewish tradition’s greatest wisdom is subtle: Judaism teaches us not only in the big festivals and proclamations but also in what Elijah the prophet experienced as “the still, small voice” inside.
So too with Cheshvan. A whole month’s sudden absence of Jewish festivals can teach us that Jewish life actually isn’t about festivals at all. Rather, Jewish life is mostly about our day to day, our seemingly routine of how we treat each other. Judaism is about our devotion, pride, joy, grief, yearning and learning together throughout our lives, not just on special occasions.
Yes, special occasions are just that – special.  They’re special opportunities to gather together and celebrate, especially when the effort of gathering can be physically and economically challenging.
But Cheshvan focuses us on our Judaism, and mitzvot (commandments) of Jewish life the rest of the time, because we don’t live only for festivals. After all, we live each day.  We live for our families and friends, for chances to learn, for treating each other well, for seeking and finding gratitude for blessings however small, for joyfully making Shabbat every week.  We seek and sometimes even find the sacred in our daily lives.
Maybe that’s Judaism’s secret of surviving and thriving over the centuries.  Our secret is partly in our shared festivals, but mostly in pridefully living our identity, our calling and our creed every day.  May this Cheshvan, this month with no Jewish holidays, remind us that the love, joy and meaning of Jewish life await us every day, in every soul, in every place and in every moment.
By Rabbi David Markus. Translation by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Rachel Barenblat

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English.

 

Shalom javerim, 

En nuestro calendario laico es septiembre. En el calendario judío, estamos en el mes de Elul, el mes que nos conduce a las altas fiestas. 

Algunos enseñan que durante este mes debemos reparar nuestra relación con Dios y con la tradición judía, para que en los diez días de teshuvá entre Rosh Hashaná y Yom Kippur podamos reparar las relaciones entre nosotros. 

¡Otros enseñan que durante este mes, debemos reparar las relaciones entre nosotros para que durante los diez días de Teshuvá podamos reparar nuestra relación con Dios!

En ambos casos, esta es una época para la introspección y para discernir cómo debemos cambiar en el año por venir. 

En Rosh Hashaná el mundo vuelve a comenzar.  El nuevo año trae nuevas oportunidades para escoger: ¿Qué persona queremos ser? ¿Cuál será nuestra relación con la tradición judía y con nuestra Fuente?  ¿Cómo serán nuestra relación con los demás?

Las terribles realidades del coronavirus nos recuerdan que las acciones y elecciones de cada persona pueden afectar a toda la comunidad.  Hemos aprendido cuán fácilmente este virus se esparce, aún por personas que no saben que son portadores. 

Mis elecciones y comportamientos no sólo ponen en riesgo mi salud y mi seguridad sino la de mi familia y mi comunidad y la de todos a mi alrededor.  Porque todos estamos interconectados. 

Esta interconexión es lo que me da esperanza al aproximarnos al nuevo año.

Si trabajamos juntos podemos usar esta interconexión para lograr grandes cosas.  Detener la expansión del virus.  Protegernos los unos a los otros.  Ayudarnos los unos a los otros. Compartir y elevarnos los unos a los otros. 

El Talmud enseña “kol Israel arevim ze bazé” “todo el pueblo de Israel es responsable el uno del otro.”  Es decir, nosotros.  Somos descendientes de Jacob, quien se volvió Israel cuando luchó toda la noche con el ángel y recibió un nuevo nombre al alba.  Somos responsables el uno del otro.  Es nuestro trabajo ocuparnos de los demás en cualquier forma que podamos, porque estamos interconectados.

En Cuba, el otoño pasado presencié la fuerza y conexión de sus comunidades. Ustedes no necesitan el Talmud para saber que son responsables el uno del otro: ustedes lo viven, por quiénes son y por cómo viven.

He aquí otra cosa que me da esperanza: la interconexión más fundamental es verdadera, estemos o no estemos juntos en persona. 

Por supuesto que quiero abrazar a mis seres amados distantes en este momento.  He estado extrañando esos abrazos por meses.  Pero el amor que nos tenemos dura aún cuando no nos podemos tocar.  Del mismo modo que mi cariño por ustedes perdura, aún cuando no puedo estar presente con ustedes. 

Todos los días de Elul, hay una costumbre de rezar el Salmo 27.  Al final de éste viene el siguiente versículo: “Confía en Dios, mantén tu fuerza, abre tu corazón y confía en Dios.”

Nuestra tarea en esta época de teshuvá es aferrarnos a la esperanza.  Fortalecernos, abrir nuestros corazones el uno al otro y aferrarnos a la esperanza.  Aún en tiempos de pandemia o dificultad, aún cuando el mundo a nuestro alrededor parece carecer de sentido. 

La palabra hebrea “teshuvá” es muchas veces traducida como “arrepentimiento” y a veces como “retorno”.  Esta temporada nos llama a retornar a nuestro más alto y mejor ser. Las torá nos recuerda que la teshuvá no se encuentra en el cielo o más allá del mar, donde no podemos alcanzarla.  La teshuvá está muy cerca, en nuestros corazones. 

Y nuestros corazones saben que nuestra tarea en estos tiempos de pandemia es cuidar los unos de los otros.  Porque lo que acaece a una persona impacta al resto.  Porque nuestra interconexión nos hace fuertes, nos transforma en una comunidad, aún cuando estamos lejos. 

Que este nuevo año traiga salud, prosperidad, seguridad y dulzura para todos. 

 

Shalom chaverim.

On the secular calendar it is September. On the Jewish calendar, we are in the month of Elul, the month that leads us to the Days of Awe. 

Some teach that during this month, we should repair our relationship with God and with Jewish tradition, so that during the Ten Days of Teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we can repair our relationships with each other.

And others teach that during this month, we should repair our relationships with each other, so that during the Ten Days of Teshuvah we can repair our relationship with God!

Either way, this is a season for looking inward and discerning how we need to change in the year ahead.

At Rosh Hashanah, the whole world gets to begin again. A new year brings new opportunities to choose. Who do we want to be? What will be our relationship with our Jewish tradition and with out Source? What will be our relationship with each other?

The terrible realities of the coronavirus remind us that each person’s actions and choices can impact the whole community. We have learned how easily this virus can spread, even through people who do not know they are carriers.

My choices and behaviors risk not only my own health and safety, but that of my family, and my community, and everyone around me. Because we are interconnected.

That interconnectedness is what brings me hope as we approach the new year.

If we work together, we can use our interconnectedness to do great things. To stop the spread of the virus. To protect each other. To help each other. To care for each other. To share with each other and uplift each other.

Talmud teaches “kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh,” “all of Israel is responsible for one another.” That means us. We are the spiritual descendants of Jacob, who became Yisrael when he wrestled all night with an angel and at dawn received his new name. We are responsible for one another. It’s our job to take care of each other in whatever ways we can. Because we are interconnected.

In Cuba last fall I witnessed the strength and connectedness of your communities. You don’t need Talmud to tell you that we are responsible for one another: you live it, because of who you are and how you are.

Here is another thing that brings me hope: our most fundamental interconnectedness is true, whether or not we are together in person.

Yes, of course, I want to hug my far-away loved ones right now. I have been aching for those hugs for months. But the love between us endures even when we can’t touch. Just as the caring I feel for you endures, even when I am unable to be with you in person.

It is traditional to pray Psalm 27 every day during Elul. At the end of that psalm comes the verse, “Keep hope in God; keep strong, and open your heart wide, and keep hope in God!”

Our task in this season of teshuvah is to hold on to hope. To stay strong, to open our hearts to each other, and to hold on to hope. Even in times of pandemic or hardship, even when the world around us may seem hopeless.

The Hebrew word teshuvah is sometimes translated as repentance, and sometimes as returning. This season calls us to return to our highest and best selves. Torah reminds us: teshuvah is not in the heavens, or across the sea, where we cannot reach it. Teshuvah is as near as our own hearts. 

And our hearts know that our task in this pandemic time is to take care of each other. Because what happens to one person impacts the whole. Because our interconnectedness makes us strong, and makes us into a community, even when we are apart.

May the new year that is coming bring health and prosperity, safety and sweetness for us all.

 

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Why Shabbes Matters… Especially Now

When we “went in” (started sheltering-in-place) for covid-19 in New York, I thought we were going in for a few weeks.  I’ve been more-in-than-out now for five months. 

I am a lay service leader for my congregation, and I typically co-lead one Kabbalat Shabbat each month.  Our little shul is a small but mighty group; a mixed mini-tude.  By March 13 (the first Shabbat of sheltering-in-place), we were ready — more or less — for Shabbat on zoom.  Our Rabbi led us that night, and the following week was my turn.  We have continued to pray Kabbalat Shabbat with Maariv on Zoom since then.  And like most communities, we’re preparing for Zoom-based high holidays now too. (By “we,” I mean our rabbi and rabbi emerita.)

It’s been quite an adjustment.  Although I have joked about buying a t-shirt that says, “you’re muted,” I have not done so yet.  We are working on making services as meaningful and uplifting as can be; we are working on looking into the camera while hitting the right chords on the ukulele; we are adjusting to hearing either one voice or a cacophony, never a harmony.  (By “we,” I mean me.)

As a group, we are finding we like seeing each other’s faces in our Brady Bunch array.  We visit before and after services.  A core group has started to do Havdalah every week, led mostly by me.  It’s a quick service but sometimes we watch a movie afterwards, or just talk. I wrote some new lyrics for a silly Shavua Tov song.  It’s to the tune of the Addams Family (snap, snap).

Associate professors work hard; we are the backbone of every university. In the pandemic, as we shifted to fully online instruction, I was working very hard.  Even without my commute, I felt the days were endless.  Sometimes I zoomed for too many hours in a row and the next day felt half dead.  My eyes hurt; my back hurt; my heart was breaking over and over. I was worried about so many things. The emails were endless and many of them were filled with bad news, confusing instructions, or repeated information.

So, I started a mini-observance of Shabbat.  I shut my work email just before we went into zoom for Kabbalat Shabbat and did not open it again until Sunday morning.  I closed it on my laptop and on my phone.  Just that one action, protecting myself from work for the duration of Shabbes, was a balm.  I took Saturday to relax.  Sometimes I went to Saturday morning Torah study; sometimes I took a walk; in July and August, I relaxed by the community pool, swam a little. I read, I napped. I rested.  

I did not go full-on shomer Shabbes in the classical sense.  I still used the internet and TV.  But after a few weeks, I found I did not want too much news or twitter on Shabbes either.  I did things that are officially on traditional halakha’s list of “work,” like writing.  But I did not make shopping lists, or to-do lists, or write letters to politicians.  I doodled.  I drew. I wrote songs.  I did things that fed me, even if they were officially not Shabbesdik.  They felt Shabbesdik to me.

Did I mention the professor part?  I did not mention the procrastination, though.  Suddenly, in August, I found myself up against a grading deadline.  I had to get the grades to a colleague by Sunday morning.  I could not let her down. As Friday sank into Friday night, I was not done.  I was not even close.  Waiting until after Havdalah would not be an option—there was too much to get through.  My all-nighter days are behind me.  I was looking at grading papers on Shabbat.  Well, I told myself, it’s not like I’m really a sabbath observer…I just have some sort of covid shabbes habit going on.  I’ve graded papers on Saturday before.  It’s not really a big deal.  Right?

It did feel like a big deal.  I was stuck in my chair all day, reading, checking, marking it down, trying to concentrate.  I got the grades done, and I did go to morning Torah class, but by the time Havdalah rolled around, I was realizing that I really missed out on my Shabbes rest. I really felt it.  By Tuesday, I was asking myself, when’s Shabbes already?  

That one weekend of needing to work on Saturday made me realize that my little Shabbat observance is a real thing. I turned off my email for Shabbes and it was the best click of the week.  It  turns out, I really need that rest every week.  Shabbes is a thing.  You should get some.  During the pandemic… and beyond.

 

 

Shari Salzhauer Berkowitz is an associate professor of Communication Disorders and a speech-language pathologist. She serves as a lay service leader and trustee at Temple Beth El of City Island, NY, also known as “your shul by the sea.”

Megillat Covid: Five Offerings for Tisha b’Av

Here are five offerings for Tisha b’Av, each available as its own downloadable PDF. They are intended for both personal and communal use, and can be used singly or all together. Any of them could be read on their own, or as a prelude to Eicha / Lamentations. The final one has been set to Eicha trope.

 

Crying Out by R’ Rachel Barenblat draws on images from the pandemic and asks the question: who will we be when the pandemic is gone? Here is a brief excerpt (you can read the whole piece in the PDF file below):

Lonely sits the city once great with people —
her subways now empty, her classrooms closed.
Refrigerator trucks await the bodies of the dead
wrapped in sheets of plastic and stacked like logs.
Mourners keep a painful distance, unable to embrace…

Along the Lines of Lamentations by R’ Sonja K. Pilz is similar to a cento (a poem that repurposes lines from another poem), as it consists primarily of quotations from Eicha, re-contextualized by their juxtaposition and by this pandemic season. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

We were laid waste (2:5).
We were stripped like a garden;
Ended have Shabbat and festivals (2:6).
Our gates have sunk into the ground (2:9).
Elders sit silently;
Women bow their heads to the ground (2:10).
My eyes are spent;
My being melts away (2:11)….

Jeremiahs without a jeremiad by devon spier offers fragmented lines evoking our fragmented hearts in this time of pandemic. About her contribution, devon writes:

To be used to cultivate an embodied COVID megillah reading that honours the fall of Jerusalem and the ebb and flow of our bodies in the months of the Coronavirus and related social distancing. 

To honour that for those of us with pre-existing conditions (our own frail, flimsy, fabulous humanness, our addictions, chronic health issues, years of unfelt griefs suddenly flung to the surface…each of these), we can wrap our whole selves in the scroll of this weeping day. And we can arrive, just as we are.

I would frame this as a kavannah as lines of ketuvim (lines of poetical post-exilic writings) the speaker can read before beginning chanting to set an intention. Or, the lines of this work could also be read throughout the chanting, as the verses I cite appear throughout the first chapter of Eicha. 

‘V’ha-ikar…” and the essence: Pause for the moments you feel the most human. Feel. And insert the words of this piece exactly where you are. From the lines of this intention and a gentle remembrance on this solemn day where we still face ourselves, our ancestors, our communities and each other, in and beyond, always, with hope: “Jerusalem is me is you.”

Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

lamentations
for those with pages
of unwritten loss
lamenting
Jerusalem
and everything else
they never had
but Are
somehow
we are…

Alas by Trisha Arlin evokes the full journey of Eicha, from weeping for the city in distress to remembrance and the promise of change. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

…Eating, Sleeping, Walking
Alone
TV, Facebook, Prayer
Alone
Coughing, Crying, Dying
Alone

Alas, loneliness!
I am so frightened.
I weep and who will hear me?…

Remember by Rabbi Evan Krame evokes the end of Lamentations, beseeching God to remember us and to let us return. Here is a brief excerpt (the whole appears in the PDF below):

God! Remember what we had? Consider and see our situation!
Our future went to strangers, our houses no refuge.
We are like orphans, without a leader, our mothers worry like widows…

Here also is a recording of R’ Krame’s words sung in Eicha trope, recorded by Rabbi Jennifer Singer.

Together these five offerings make up this year’s “Megillat Covid,” the scroll of our mourning and our search for meaning during these pandemic times. Each is available for download as a PDF file here:

MegillatCovid-Barenblat-CryingOut (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Pilz-AlongTheLines (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Spier-Jeremiahs (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Arlin-Alas (PDF)

MegillatCovid-Krame-Remember (PDF) and audio recording by R’ Jennifer Singer:

 

And here’s a sketchnote of R’ Krame’s words, created by Steve Silbert:

 

Contributors:

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat is a founding builder at Bayit and author of several volumes of poetry who blogs as the Velveteen Rabbi.

Rabbi Sonja K. Pilz, PhD is the Editor of the CCAR Press. She taught Worship, Liturgy, and Ritual at HUC-JIR in New York and the School of Jewish Theology at Potsdam University, and authored one book, some articles, and many poems, midrashim, and prayers. Her work has been published in Liturgy, Worship, the CCAR Journal, a number of anthologies, and online.

Devon Spier is a rabbinic student, an author, and a visual poet theologian (proemologian), who both weaves and teaches others to weave their stories through poems, prose and theology of digital images.

Trisha Arlin is a liturgist, performer and student of prayer in Brooklyn, NY.  She is author of Place Yourself: Words of Prayer and Intention

Rabbi Evan Krame is a founding builder at Bayit and co-founder of The Jewish Studio.

Steve Silbert is the Bayit builder behind VisualTorah and Sketchnoting Jewishly.

 

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Bella Bogart

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Bella Bogart. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English.

 

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah – R’ Bella Bogart from Bayit: Building Jewish on Vimeo.

 

Shalom Javerim,

Es para mí un honor y un placer volver a hablar con ustedes y presentar una corta enseñanza sobre el significado profundo de esta temporada del año en el calendario judío.

Uno de los elementos que une a la gente y a los países del mundo es el uso de un calendario común. Casi todo los países, salvo unos cuantos en África y Asia, usan hoy una forma del calendario gregoriano, ya sea por sí solo (como en los Estados Unidos y Cuba) ya sea en combinación con otro sistema (por ejemplo India, Bangladesh o Israel).

El famoso teologo judío del siglo XX, Rabino Mordejai Kaplan, propuso que el pueblo judío muchas veces vive en dos civilizaciones, con un pie en cada mundo. Nuestro calendario hebreo refleja esa dualidad. Como judíos, somos capaces de celebrar fiestas laicas nacionales y culturales -por ejemplo, el 10 de octubre en Cuba y el 4 de julio en los Estados Unidos- como parte de nuestra cultura y, en tanto judíos, nuestros tiempos asignados, nuestros moadim, fluyen en un ritmo propio. Como nuestros vecinos, nos reunimos para celebrar y adorar, y hay veces que nuestros caminos se separan.

Aqui es útil recordar las formas en las que el calendario espiritual judío es diferente, sin importar donde vivimos.

El calendario laico que la mayor parte del mundo sigue es un calendario solar. Sus fechas están basadas en la posición relativa de la tierra con el sol, y a su vez relativa a las estrellas. Este calendario es de origen cristiano, y fija este año como el año 2020 basado en la vida de Jesús.

El calendario espiritual judío es diferente. En el tiempo judío, este año no es el 2020 sino el 5780, a partir de la narrativa biblica de la creacion, y sus fechas estan basadas en los ciclos de la luna. Dado que los doce meses lunares son ligeramente más cortos que un año solar, ocasionalmente ajustamos el calendario para que las fiestas se alineen con sus estaciones originales.

Ahora, me gustaria hablar de vivir en “tiempo judío” y como los ciclos de nuestro calendario reflejan y promueven el viaje de nuestras almas.

El rabino Jonathan Kliger escribe: “Una forma fabulosa de aproximarse a la sabiduria de la tradición judía es estudiar el ciclo anual de las fiestas y estaciones sagradas. Cada tiempo del año posee un propósito espiritual alineado con los ciclos de la naturaleza. Visto de esta manera, al atravesar todo el calendario judío, nos encontramos con todos los temas de la vida humana experimentando el año entero como una senda espiritual. Esto es lo que llamamos vivir en “tiempo judío”.”

En esta epoca del año, correspondiente grosso modo con el mes laico de julio, los judíos llegamos a un nicho especial dentro del calendario judío. Es un intervalo para procesar la energía de duelo y pérdida, de dolor por la destrucción y la violencia que cargamos con nosotros- antes de movernos hacia el siguiente viaje de curación y renovación de las Altas Fiestas de Rosh Hashana y Yom Kippur.

Este año, Julio comienza en la mitad del mes hebreo de Tammuz y transiciona al mes hebreo de Av. Es durante este tiempo que encontramos el periodo simplemente conocido como “las tres semanas”. Entre el 17 de Tammuz (este año cae el 9 de julio) y Tisha Beav (en este año, el 30 de julio), las tres semanas son tradicionalmente consideradas un tiempo de desventura histórica para el pueblo judío. Muchas tragedias y calamidades se atribuyen a este periodo, incluidas entre otras: la ruptura de las tablas de la ley por Moisés al ver a la gente adorando al becerro de oro, la destrucción de los dos templos de Jerusalén. Más tarde, se añadio a esta lista desventuras como la expulsion de los judíos de España, asi como el comienzo de la Primera Guerra Mundial. Es un tiempo de duelo general.

Mi padre, un refugiado de la Austria de Hitler, solía sollozar y decir: “Oy, shver tsu zain a yid!” (¡Cuán difícil es ser judío!) Yo no me podia conectar con esta afirmación. Y mas concretamente, con relacion a las tres semanas, era dificil para mi encontrar poder o inspiracion en la idea de que el que pueblo judío -o cualquier pueblo- podia ser un imán de tragedia, una victima mundial. De ese modo entendía yo, cuando era joven, lo que decía mi padre.

Mi yo joven sentía que era hora de abandonar esa vieja pesadez, el “fardo” de ese tipo de judaísmo, y en vez centrarme en los aspectos del judaísmo que celebraban y afirmaban la vida. No entendía los ayunos y el llanto, o abstenerse de cortarse el cabello, de afeitarse o de ir a fiestas, solo para lamentar la pérdida de un templo de Jerusalén hace dos mil años. Un templo que muchos de nosotros no querríamos ver restaurado en nuestros tiempos.

Por esto, es un poco sorprendente que con el tiempo haya encontrado un significado tan profundo en la práctica de honrar estas tres semanas. La edad y la experiencia muchas veces nos llevan a nuevos tipos de entendimiento. Este significado profundo es el que quiero compartir con ustedes.

Mi relacion con este periodo de tres semanas en el calendario judío es indicativa de una apreciacion aprendida de TODOS sus ciclos. He aprendido a apreciar como “vivir en tiempo judío” puede enriquecer nuestras vidas. Como individuos y comunidades, hemos sido dotados de un ciclo anual que nos invita a zambullirnos en la amplitud de la experiencia humana. Nos brinda oportunidades de ritualizar nuestras alegrías, al igual que nuestras penas. Al vivir el ciclo anual de “tiempo judío” nos permite sentir y procesar cada año mas profundamente, y a la vez nos conecta con nuestro núcleo divino, con nuestra resiliencia, y tal vez lo mas importante, con nuestra compasion.

Viajamos por el año judío, contando y recontando nuesta historia colectiva como un pueblo judío global, recordando, reviviendo como si todos nosotros estuvieramos en este viaje. ¿Y acaso no lo estamos? Todos experimentamos revelaciones milagrosas, pérdidas desoladoras. Ansiamos nuestra libertad y algunas veces experimentamos redención, revelación. La Torá no es sólo la historia de nuestro viaje colectivo, esta es el mapa de ruta para el alma individual.

Así, cuando observamos, ritualizamos nuestra propia experiencia así como el recordar de nuestro pueblo. Al celebrar nuestras alegrías compartidas y marcando nuestro luto comunitario, entendemos que la nuestra no es una experiencia solitaria. Reconocemos la divinidad presente en los momentos buenos y en los malos. Que la fuente de nuestras bendiciones y dificultades es, últimamente, una y la misma.

Llegamos a entender – no sólo con nuestras mentes sino dentro de nuestros corazones y nuestras almas – que Dios comparte nuestras alegrías y no nos abandona cuando nos sentimos más solos y asustados. Aprendemos y reaprendemos esto para que cuando necesitemos a Dios, sepamos exactamente dónde buscarlo: en Dios y en nuestra conexión global judia.

Que sea así para ustedes. Con bendiciones para todos ustedes.

Shalom.

 

SHALOM CHAVERIM. IT’S MY HONOR AND PLEASURE TO SPEAK WITH YOU AGAIN AND SHARE A BRIEF TEACHING ABOUT THE DEEP MEANING OF THIS TIME OF YEAR ON THE JEWISH CALENDAR.

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT UNITES MOST PEOPLE AND COUNTRIES OF THE WORLD IS A COMMON CALENDAR.  ALL BUT A HANDFUL OF COUNTRIES IN AFRICA AND ASIA USE SOME FORM OF THE GREGORIAN CALENDAR, EITHER BY ITSELF (LIKE THE U.S. AND CUBA), OR IN CONJUNCTION WITH ANOTHER SYSTEM (FOR EXAMPLE INDIA, BANGLADESH AND ISRAEL).

THE FAMOUS 20TH CENTURY JEWISH THEOLOGIAN, RABBI MORDECAI KAPLAN, PROPOSED THAT JEWISH PEOPLE OFTEN LIVE IN TWO CIVILIZATIONS, WITH ONE FOOT IN EACH WORLD. OUR HEBREW CALENDAR REFLECTS THAT DUALITY. AS JEWS, WE ARE FULLY ABLE TO EMBRACE SECULAR NATIONAL AND CULTURAL HOLIDAYS – FOR EXAMPLE OCTOBER 10TH IN CUBA AND THE 4TH OF JULY HERE IN THE UNITED STATES –  AS PART OF OUR CULTURE. AND, AS JEWS, OUR DESIGNATED TIMES, OUR MOADIM, FLOW IN A RHYTHM ALL THEIR OWN. LIKE OUR NEIGHBORS, WE GATHER TO CELEBRATE AND WORSHIP; THERE ARE TIMES THEN WHEN OUR PATHS DIVERGE. 

HERE IT’S HELPFUL TO REMEMBER HOW THE JEWISH SPIRITUAL CALENDAR IS DIFFERENT, ANY WHY THAT’S IMPORTANT NO MATTER WHERE WE LIVE.

THE SECULAR CALENDAR THAT MOST OF THE WORLD FOLLOWS IS A SOLAR CALENDAR.  ITS DATES ARE BASED ON THE POSITION OF THE EARTH RELATIVE TO THE SUN, WHICH THEN SEEMS TO MOVE RELATIVE TO THE STARS.  THE CALENDAR IS OF CHRISTIAN ORIGIN, AND DATES THE PRESENT YEAR AS 2020 – YEARS BASED ON THE LIFE OF JESUS.

THE JEWISH SPIRITUAL CALENDAR IS DIFFERENT.  IN JEWISH TIME, THE YEAR IS NOT 2020 BUT RATHER 5780 (FROM THE BIBLICAL ACCOUNT OF CREATION), AND ITS DATES ARE BASED ON CYCLES OF THE MOON. AND SINCE 12 LUNAR MONTHS ARE SLIGHTLY SHORTER THAN A SOLAR YEAR, WE OCCASIONALLY ADJUST TO KEEP OUR FESTIVALS IN ALIGNMENT WITH THEIR INTENDED SEASONS.

NOW – I WANT TO TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT LIVING IN “JEWISH TIME” AND HOW THE CYCLES OF OUR CALENDAR REFLECT AND SUPPORT THE JOURNEY OF OUR SOULS.

RABBI JONATHAN KLILGLER WRITES: “ONE FABULOUS WAY TO APPROACH THE WISDOM OF THE JEWISH TRADITION IS TO STUDY THE ANNUAL CYCLE OF HOLIDAYS AND SACRED SEASONS. EACH TIME OF THE YEAR IS ASSIGNED A SPIRITUAL PURPOSE THAT ALIGNS WITH THE CYCLES OF NATURE… TAKEN AS A WHOLE, WHEN ONE TRAVELS THIS WAY THROUGH THE ENTIRE JEWISH CALENDAR, ONE STRIKES ALL THE THEMES OF HUMAN LIFE, AND ONE EXPERIENCES THE ENTIRE YEAR AS A SPIRITUAL JOURNEY. WE CALL THIS LIVING IN “JEWISH TIME”.

DURING THIS TIME OF YEAR ROUGHLY CORRESPONDING TO THE SECULAR MONTH OF JULY, JEWS REACH A SPECIAL NICHE CARVED INTO THE JEWISH CALENDAR. IT’S AN INTERVAL FOR PROCESSING THE ENERGY OF GRIEF AND LOSS, AND ANY PAIN OF DESTRUCTION AND VIOLENCE THAT WE MIGHT BE CARRYING – PRIOR TO MOVING INTO THE UPCOMING HEALING AND RENEWING JOURNEY TO (AND THROUGH) THE HIGH HOLIDAYS OF ROSH HASHANAH AND YOM KIPPUR.

THIS YEAR, JULY STARTS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HEBREW MONTH OF TAMMUZ AND TRANSITIONS INTO THE HEBREW MONTH OF AV. IT IS DURING THIS TIME THAT WE ENCOUNTER THE PERIOD KNOWN SIMPLY AS “THE THREE WEEKS.” BETWEEN THE 17TH DAY OF TAMMUZ (THIS YEAR, JULY 9) AND TISHA B’AV (THIS YEAR, JULY 30), THE THREE WEEKS ARE TRADITIONALLY CONSIDERED TO BE A TIME OF HISTORICAL MISFORTUNE FOR THE JEWISH PEOPLE. MANY TRAGEDIES AND CALAMITIES ARE ATTRIBUTED TO THIS PERIOD, INCLUDING AMONG OTHER THINGS, MOSES BREAKING THE FIRST SET OF TABLETS (WHEN HE SAW HIS PEOPLE WORSHIPPING THE GOLDEN CALF), AND THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TWO HOLY TEMPLES IN JERUSALEM. (LATER, FOLKS CAME TO INCLUDE LATER MISFORTUNES SUCH AS THE EXPULSION OF THE JEWS FROM SPAIN, AND EVEN THE BEGINNING OF WORLD WAR I.  SO, IT’S A TIME OF GENERAL SORROW.)

MY FATHER (A REFUGEE FROM HITLER’S AUSTRIA) OFTEN SIGHED AND PROCLAIMED, “OY, S’SHVER TSU ZAYN A YID! ( IT’S HARD TO BE A JEW!) I DID NOT RELATE.  AND, SPECIFICALLY REGARDING THE THREE WEEKS, IT WAS DIFFICULT FOR ME TO FIND POWER OR INSPIRATION IN THE IDEA THAT THE JEWISH PEOPLE — OR ANY PEOPLE, REALLY — COULD BE A TRAGEDY MAGNET, THE WORLD’S VICTIMS. THAT’S HOW I, AS A YOUNG PERSON, UNDERSTOOD WHAT MY FATHER WAS SAYING.  

BUT TO ME, IT FELT LIKE TIME TO SHED THAT OLD HEAVINESS, THE “BURDEN” OF THAT KIND OF JEWISHNESS, AND REVEL IN ITS CELEBRATORY, LIFE-AFFIRMING SIDE. I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND FASTING AND WEEPING, OR ESCHEWING HAIRCUTS, SHAVING AND PARTIES – ALL TO MOURN THE TWO THOUSAND-YEAR OLD LOSS OF A TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM. A LOSS, BY THE WAY, OF SOMETHING A GOOD NUMBER OF US WOULD NOT WANT TO SEE RESTORED IN MODERNITY.

PERHAPS, THEN, IT’S A BIT SURPRISING THAT I HAVE COME TO FIND SUCH DEEP MEANING IN HONORING THESE THREE WEEKS. AGE AND LIFE-EXPERIENCE OFTEN LEAD US TO NEW KINDS OF UNDERSTANDING.  THIS DEEP MEANING IS WHAT I WANT TO SHARE WITH YOU.

MY RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS THREE-WEEK INTERVAL OF THE JEWISH CALENDAR IS INDICATIVE OF A LEARNED APPRECIATION FOR ALL ITS CYCLES OF TIME. I’VE TRULY COME TO APPRECIATE HOW “LIVING IN JEWISH TIME” CAN DEEPEN OUR LIVES.  AS INDIVIDUALS AND COMMUNITIES, WE ARE GIFTED WITH AN ANNUAL CYCLE THAT INVITED US TO DIVE INTO THE BREADTH OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE. IT OFFERS US OPPORTUNITIES TO RITUALIZE OUR JOYS, AS WELL AS OUR SORROWS. LIVING THE ANNUAL CYCLE OF “JEWISH TIME: NOT ONLY ALLOW US TO FEEL AND PROCESS MORE DEEPLY EACH YEAR, IT CONNECTS US WITH OUR DIVINE CORE, OUR RESILIENCY AND, PERHAPS MOST IMPORTANT IN TODAY’S WORLD, OUR COMPASSION. 

WE TRAVEL THROUGH THE RITUAL YEAR, TELLING AND RETELLING OUR COLLECTIVE STORY AS A GLOBAL JEWISH PEOPLE, REMEMBERING, RELIVING… AS IF EACH ONE OF US IS ON THAT JOURNEY. AND, ARE WE NOT? WE EXPERIENCE MIRACULOUS REVELATIONS, CRUSHING LOSSES. WE YEARN FOR FREEDOM AND SOMETIMES EXPERIENCE REDEMPTION… REVELATION.  TORAH IS NOT ONLY THE STORY OF A COLLECTIVE JOURNEY, SHE IS A ROAD MAP FOR THE INDIVIDUAL SOUL.  

SO, WHEN WE PRACTICE, WE RITUALIZE OUR OWN EXPERIENCE, AS WELL AS OUR PEOPLE’S REMEMBERING. IN CELEBRATING SHARED JOY AND MARKING COMMUNAL LOSS, WE COME TO UNDERSTAND THAT OURS IS NOT A SOLITARY EXPERIENCE. WE RECOGNIZE AND ACKNOWLEDGE THE DIVINITY IN MOMENTS, GOOD AND BAD – THAT THE SOURCE OF OUR BLESSINGS AND OUR DIFFICULTIES, ULTIMATELY, IS ONE AND THE SAME. 

WE COME TO UNDERSTAND — NOT JUST UNDERSTAND WITH OUR MINDS, BUT KNOW DEEP IN OUR HEARTS AND SOULS — THAT GOD SHARES OUR JOYS AND HAS NOT ABANDONED US WHEN WE FEEL LOST AND AFRAID. WE LEARN AND RELEARN THIS, IN ORDER THAT WHEN WE NEED GOD THE MOST, WE WILL KNOW EXACTLY WHERE TO LOOK – TO GOD, AND TO THE WHOLE OF OUR GLOBAL JEWISH CONNECTIONS.

MAY IT BE SO FOR YOU.  BLESSINGS TO YOU ALL. SHALOM.

 

By Rabbi Bella Bogart. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Mah Nora HaMakom Hazeh – a chant for (digital) sacred space

One of the challenges of convening a group for prayer over Zoom is shifting gears into sacred space.

How can we sanctify the space where each of us is planted, knowing that as we shelter-in-place during the pandemic, our desks or dining tables or coffee tables serve purposes both secular and sacred? The table from which I’m joining the Zoom call might be the same table where I paid bills an hour ago, or folded laundry, or homeschooled my kid. How can we skillfully make that space feel holy when it’s time for prayer?

And how can we sanctify the placeless place of the Zoom room itself? A Zoom room doesn’t have the comfort or majesty or familiarity of a synagogue. We may associate Zoom spaces with committee meetings and other secular activities, not the sacred purpose of prayer. And a Zoom room isn’t a “place,” exactly, any more than the internet is a “place.” How can we make that “place” holy and fitting to hold a community gathering in prayer?

At a recent digital Shabbaton convened to explore these questions, we used this chant by Rav Kohenet Taya Mâ Shere for both of these purposes. We sang it as a call-and-response. (Participants were muted, but the two of us sang the back-and-forth, inviting the community to sing along with the response half of the chant.) We sang it explicitly to sanctify the physical place from which each of us was calling in and to sanctify the Zoom space.

We used this chant as our melodic and thematic throughline. We sang it at the start of services, during the d’var Torah (The Mishkan’s Next Digital R/Evolution, on this very theme), and again to close the service and seal our time together. The call-and-response linked us together across nine different states and two different countries. And the words reminded us that where we are is holy — where we are in the world and in our homes and in our bodies, and where we are in the space of the internet and our hearts’ interconnection.

 

מה נורא המקום הזה/ Mah nora hamakom hazeh

How awesome is this body!

How awesome is this place!

How awesome is this journey

Through time and space.

 

(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, try going to this post directly at yourbayit.org/makom/.)

 

Chant by Rav Kohenet Taya Mâ Shere. Her albums include Wild Earth Shebrew, Halleluyah All Night, Torah Tantrika and This Bliss; find her music at her website.

 

 

Post by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Markus.