Together, Becoming: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Shavuot 5781

 

New from Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group comes this collaborative compilation of liturgy, poetry and art for this second pandemic Shavuot. Exploring themes of standing together at Sinai (even when we’re apart), the harvest of first fruits, the mountain where we journey and the mountain over our heads, being “ownerless” in the wilderness, and more, these poems and prayers and illustrations are meant for personal and communal use. We hope they speak to you and open you more wholly to this year’s revelation.

(You can find all of the Liturgical Arts Working Group’s offerings on our webpage here.)

The image at the top of this post is by Joanne Fink.

Download the collection:

Together, Becoming – Shavuot 2021 from Bayit [pdf]

 

Here are tastes of what’s here:

APPLES
I will hold you again.
I will see you play guitar.
I will sing next to you.
I will not be afraid to laugh…

— from “Yom Ha-Bikkurim, Day of First Fruits– A Ritual of Renewal,” R. Sonja Keren Pilz

In every generation, we’re told to see
ourselves rising from Egyptian bondage,

gathered at the mountain wholly asmoke
as one spirit, one heart: for just an instant

murmured infighting would quiet
for the whispered whoosh of eagles’ wings.

What wouldn’t we do to ride that updraft,
soaring skyward, weightless and free?…

— from “What Wouldn’t We Do,” R. David Evan Markus

…This year
I go nowhere
except Zoom rooms.
I want to soak in presence
like a hot bath, but
digital is what there is.
This is wilderness…

— from “Hefker,” R. Rachel Barenblat

HaShleimut, Blessed Holy Wholeness
Bless those who got us to Sinai
The ones who fed us
The ones who kept us safe
The ones who healed us…

— from “A Shavuot Blessing For Essential and Sacred Workers,” Trisha Arlin

There’s always some mountain held over our heads.
Here ragged granite thrusts skyward from desert sands,
There petrochemicals punch holes in the ozone layer…

— from “Overhead,” R. David Markus (accompanied by an illustration by Steve Silbert)

This year, did we really need to count the Omer?
Between the election numbers
The popularity polls
The voting
And the dead millions
Haven’t we had enough counting?…

— from “Chag Ha-Atzeret (Day of Stopping),” Trisha Arlin

…suddenly
I am redeemed
like the booklets
of green stamps
my mother gave me
to tend…

— from “Weeks,” R. Jennifer Singer

We have journeyed together;
A journey with no ending;
And yet, after months turning into a year,
We see the mountain top
At the horizon.
Holding our breaths…

— from “An Ending,” R. Sonja Keren Pilz

The collection also features artwork by Steve Silbert and Joanne Fink.

 

Download the collection:

Together, Becoming – Shavuot 2021 from Bayit [pdf]

 

        

Liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Joanne Fink, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz, and Rabbi Jennifer Singer.  Artwork by Joanne Fink and Steve Silbert. Find all of our bios on the Builder Biographies page.

Yearning For Our Plague to End: Lag Ba’Omer 5781 / 2021

New from Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group comes this collaborative compilation of poetry and art for Lag Ba’Omer. The 33rd day of the Omer is understood in Jewish tradition as the final day of a plague afflicting Rabbi Akiva’s students. What meaning can we find in that teaching this year, as COVID-19 continues to rage worldwide even as vaccinations in some of our nations crest toward safety?  Here are poems, reading, and artwork offering some answers to that question.

(We’re also working on a larger collection for Shavuot, and plan to release that soon, so stay tuned! You can find all of the Liturgical Arts Working Group’s offerings on our webpage here.)

 

Download the collection:

Bayit Liturgical Arts Working Group – Lag Ba’Omer [pdf]

 

 

Here’s a taste:

After a month of mourning Mom
I took myself to the beauty shop
for a manicure and a trim

readying myself — mostly —
to enter the world again…

— “Haircuts,” R. Rachel Barenblat

What will be the first thing I do?
Getting a haircut.
Taking the subway down to Sunset Park to get a facial
In a basement beauty shop next to 8th Avenue.
Hugging friends; dropping the mask…

— “The Mark,” R. Sonja K. Pilz

I don’t know anything about Lag B’Omer
Except what I read on Wikipedia
Which tells me a few different things it’s supposed to celebrate,
One of which is the end of a plague that killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students.
And I can’t write about that today, our plague isn’t yet over.

I like to think about Akiva though,
Because I had a crush on him when I was a kid.
Still do, sort of…

— “What I Know About Lag B’Omer,” Trisha Arlin

Day one of the Omer, Chesed within Chesed (lovingkindness). We play outside, celebrate freedom with matzah pizza. Case counts are rising again here, and the new variant is more infectious and severe than last year’s. How worried should I be?

— “Lag Ba’Omer – An Omer Journal,” R. Dara Lithwick

And the image illustrating this post is from Steve Silbert’s beautiful drawing “Ready for the Grief to End.”

Download the collection:

Bayit Liturgical Arts Working Group – Lag Ba’Omer [pdf]

 

        

Poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz. Artwork by Steve Silbert. Find all of our bios on the Builder Biographies page.

Reflections on Color the Omer

Four takes on one page.

 

When Color the Omer came out, we described it as “a tool for counting the Omer with mindfulness and beauty.” We invited folks to color each page while meditating on the text accompanying the image, and then to share a photo hashtagged #ColorTheOmer.

The first week of the Omer is the week of Chesed, lovingkindness. That was definitely our experience of this book’s release. We’ve been gratified and moved by the appreciation flowing our way in response to Color the Omer. So many people are reaching out to us to tell us that they love it and that it’s enlivening their Omer journey. Coloring is a co-creation process that starts with the pairing of words and illustrations and ends with whatever flows from the user’s mind and pen, and we love seeing the culmination of that creative flow.

The second week of the Omer is the week of Gevurah, boundaries, strength, and discernment. Shari remarked in week two that having these illustrations to color has invited new creativity — a perfect example of how gevurah helps creative flow flourish. A blank page reflects limitless possibility. That can be overwhelming. A page with lines to color between (or choose not to color between!) opens the door to a different kind of creative expression. 

The third week of the Omer is the week of Tiferet, harmony and balance. We’re finding harmony in the different ways people are using this book. Each approach to the book brings another note to the chord. 

We anticipated that everyone using the book would post their colored pages on social media. Some of you have been doing just that, and conversations are opening up on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. Some are using the blank facing page as a space for journaling. Some are writing haiku. Some are experimenting with different artistic media for different weeks. Some are adding other texts to the colored-in page, either handwritten or digitally, before sharing. 

Many are drawing associations between each day’s image and the combination of sefirot that our mystics connect with each day. That’s been a surprise because we didn’t lay out the pages with those qualities in mind! Shari laid out the pages with numbered ones tied to their numbers (the crossing of the Sea of Reeds needed to be on the seventh day of Pesach, Lag Ba’Omer needed to be on the thirty-third day of the Omer) and then tried to “sprinkle” the Exodus ones, the swirly ones, the sparser ones, the nature ones, etc throughout the volume.

And — far more people have bought the book and have told us that they’re using it than are posting images on social media. It seems that a lot of people want to keep the contemplative creative Omer experience personal and private. That diversity of use and practice is another reflection of tiferet

We love that people are using Color the Omer differently than we expected. At Bayit we make a point of not holding too tightly to our imaginings of how people will use the tools we put out into the world. Holding that anticipation loosely means that we’re open to what people actually do and need, rather than what we imagined that people would do and need. 

Bayit’s work is rooted in design thinking. New ideas are brainstormed, prototyped, tested, and refined. We’re learning from how people actually use Color the Omer, and what we’re learning now will inform the next contemplative coloring book we release. (Yes, we already have ideas!)

What’s next? First up, the rest of this year’s Omer count — and we can’t wait to see what y’all will create with the remaining illustrations in the book. After that… we have visions of other contemplative coloring projects. We have other books (including a volume of divrei Torah illustrated by Steve Silbert, and an introduction to sketchnoting Jewishly). We can imagine new ways of using Color the Omer next year: book groups, Torah study groups, Hebrew school classrooms, Rosh Hodesh circles might choose to color together! For now, we’re delighted to be on this journey of color and creativity with all of you as we make our way again toward Sinai.

 

By R. Rachel Barenblat, Shari Berkowitz, and Steve Silbert.

Celebrating In the Light of Peace

On Saturday evening there was a digital book launch for In the Light of Peace, Bayit’s latest publication, a volume of spiritual poetry and photography.

For those who missed it, here’s a video of the event — and if you click through to view it on YouTube, there’s a listing of each speaker / reader in the video with timestamps. Mazal tov to editors Leiah Bowden, Abby Bogomolny, Sally Churgel, Rita Rowan Rapoport, and the whole Ner Shalom community!

Learn more about all of Bayit’s publications here on our website.

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.

#ColorTheOmer at ReformJudaism.org!

Jews customarily count the Omer during the seven weeks between the second day of Passover and the beginning of Shavuot, a process dating back to when ancient Israelites would offer an omer (an ancient Hebrew measure of grain) as a Temple sacrifice before consuming any of their crop. (Lev. 23:9-11, 15-16). After the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., Jews began reciting a blessing for each of these 49 nights instead, but for some Jews today, this process may seem outdated or cumbersome.

However, like every aspect of Judaism, there is an esoteric mystical component of counting the Omer that can deeply inspire Jews today. According to Rabbi Daniel Syme, Jewish mystics “[see] the period as joining the Jewish people’s physical (Pesach) and spiritual (Shavuot) redemption.” Shari Berkowitz and Steve Silbert embraced this mystical component by creating Color the Omer, a coloring book filled with illustrations and Jewish wisdom designed to engage Jews during this period with mindfulness and artistic expression.

Shari, Steve, and editor Rabbi Rachel Barenblat spoke with us about their new release and what they hope readers can glean from it this season.

ReformJudaism.org: Where did the idea for this book come from?

Shari Berkowitz: When the pandemic started, I took an online mysticism class with my rabbi, David Markus, and learned about counting the Omer as a spiritual practice. It was hard to keep track of time, and I needed a way to settle my mind, so I printed a grid of Stars of David and started coloring one section a night. That’s where I got the idea for an Omer coloring book.

I brought the idea to Bayit and am grateful that they took on the project. Working together with Rabbi Barenblat and Steve to connect deep text and creative visuals has helped all of us to learn and innovate Judaically.

What can people expect from this book?

Berkowitz: The combination of a focused prompt and accompanying image that pushes creativity will help the colorer connect with the ideas around the Omer in ways that are meaningful to them. The book explains how to count and offers 49 visual and textual prompts, and some of the drawings have 49 elements, like the fish swimming in the Sea of Reeds.

We hope each colorer will find meaning and beauty as they co-create each illustrated page with us by bringing it to life.

What are the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of counting the Omer?

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat: Contemplative coloring is an increasingly popular mindfulness practice, with good reason. Bringing color to a page can focus the mind, calm the heart, and bring joy to the soul. We’ve paired each illustration with kavanot (intentions/questions/thoughts) so that the colorer reflects on a spiritual question that will enrich their Omer journey.

From your perspective, how do self-care and Judaism intersect as a whole?

Steve Silbert: Much like keeping Shabbat is a deep form of self-care, hiddur mitzvah (beautifying a mitzvah) is another. Through contemplative coloring, we hope to bring a taste of Shabbat-like calm to each day of the Omer, and through making each page beautiful, we can practice hiddur mitzvah every day. And if any colorer turns this into a self-care practice that extends beyond the Omer, we will be very happy indeed!

How can this book serve and empower people, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Silbert: Isolation is a real challenge during this second pandemic spring. We hope that Color the Omer helps bring stability and comfort to those feeling isolated by establishing an engaging framework for study, introspection, and creativity.

We invite users to share their colored-in pages on social media with #ColorTheOmer and comment on each other’s work in the hope that we can build and deepen connectivity with each other.

What else do you want readers to know?

Silbert: Shari and I would like to thank Rabbi Barenblat for her editorial skills, but more importantly, for being a great partner in forming and re-forming ideas and visuals. We’re very excited to share this labor of our love of Judaism out in the world! We have ideas for other multimodal projects to bring to life and are already refining them.

 

Reprinted from ReformJudaism.org.

Keep the Fire Burning

During 5781, a group of Bayit builders, led by R. Cynthia Hoffman, is studying the writings of the Baal Shem Tov. First and foremost we’re studying “lishma,” for the sake of the learning itself. We’re also keeping an eye out for short teachings that might give rise to practices, tools, and spiritual technologies.

The italicized lines, below, are from the Baal Shem Tov (Ki Tisa Comment 1); the regular print is our own addition. — The Bayit BeShT Study Sandbox

 

Keep the Fire Burning:

A Teaching from the Baal Shem Tov About Community

 

“They shall give…” (Exodus 30:13

This verse from Torah is talking about how each person, counted in the census, should give a half-shekel to God / to support spiritual community.

Rashi cites a teaching (found in Midrash Tanchuma and Talmud) that God reached beneath the Throne of Glory and withdrew a coin of fire, saying to Moses, “they shall give like this.” 

So perhaps the “giving” isn’t so much about money. Perhaps this is really about some other kind of giving. Here comes a parable to illustrate that:

Once there was a man who learned his art from a smith. After the smith taught him the art, he wrote down for the student a list of the tasks involved — but he didn’t write down that one needs to start with a coal of fire. It’s the most important thing, and he thought it went without saying. But he made a mistake in not writing it down. The most important thing is that there be a spark of fire to ignite the heart. 

No matter what our work, we need to remember what actually fuels us: the “coal of fire,” the spark of inspiration (which hints at holy spirit), the fire of love that ignites the heart. In every mitzvah, there needs to be the fire of love igniting the heart. So too we need to cultivate that holy spark in every action we take to build sacred community.

Without a coal of fire, a smith literally can’t start the furnace. Without the fire of love and inspiration, we can’t do the work of building holy community. Whether at a budget or committee meeting, or taking out the trash, or leading a program, or planning for the future: to build holy community “right,” we need to keep that spark of love burning in our hearts.

Artwork by Steve Silbert, from Color the Omer (buy a copy now before Pesach begins!)

Approaching Our Second COVID Seder

New from Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group comes this offering of poetry, liturgy, and artwork for this second pandemic Pesach. This collaborative collection is available in two formats: as a downloadable PDF (suitable for printing to accompany a printed haggadah), and as a set of google slides (suitable for screenshare for Zoom or other online / streamed sedarim.) Here too are a handful of pieces to mark the seventh day of the festival, when tradition says we took the plunge and crossed the sea.

All of the material for the first night can be a standalone “module” that could lead directly into and through the first three steps of the seder (Kadesh, Urchatz, Karpas.) Or, some of the first night material could be interwoven into Maggid / the storytelling component of the seder. Or, use these materials however they best speak to you and your needs!

What does it mean to approach the season of our liberation when so many of us feel we are still in Mitzrayim / in the Narrow Place of pandemic, economic uncertainty, and global grieving? What do we carry with us on the journey? How will this seder be different from all other seders, even the first pandemic seder we celebrated a year ago? What words, images, practices, and prayers can help us connect with liberation in this season? May these offerings help us reach liberation this year, in whatever ways we can.

Download the PDF: Bayit Offerings for Pesach

Access the google slides: Bayit Offerings for Pesach – Slides

 

Here’s a listing of what you’ll find inside:

Approaching Our Second COVID Seder

Opening: The Passover of this Pandemic Year, R. David Markus
A Prayer to Release Trauma, Joanne Fink
Kindling Lights: Remembrance, Commitment and Hope, R. David Markus
A COVID Seder Plate for This Pandemic Season, ensemble;
illustration by R. Allie Fischman
My Seder Plate 2021, Trisha Arlin; image by R. Rachel Barenblat
A Seder Plate for Covid Times, R. Dara Lithwick
Four Names of Passover: A Liberating Journey, R. Dara Lithwick
Urchatz: Immersing in Sweetness, R. David Markus
Karpas, R. Sonja K. Pilz, PhD; illustration by Steve Silbert
bodies of water, Devon Spier
From Bitter to Sweet, R. Rachel Barenblat

 

The slide deck also includes additional artwork and slides containing the words of kiddush (and, for first night, havdalah).

For the Seventh Day: Entering the Sea

Believe in miracles, Joanne Fink
In the Sea, R. Rachel Barenblat
Fish, illustration by Steve Silbert
7th Day: Water, R. Sonja K. Pilz, PhD
Before and After, Trisha Arlin
The Way, illustration by Steve Silbert

 

Download the PDF: Bayit Offerings for Pesach

Access the google slides: Bayit Offerings for Pesach – Slides

 

   Allie Fischman     

Liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Joanne Fink, Rabbi Allie Fischman, Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz, and Devon Spier. Artwork by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi Allie Fischman, Joanne Fink, and Steve Silbert. Find all of our bios on the Builder Biographies page.

 

How To #ColorTheOmer

So you’ve got a copy of Color the Omer, and you’re wondering whether there’s a “right” way to use it. Here’s an answer from illustrator Steve Silbert:

instructions

If you don’t yet have a copy of Color the Omer, grab one now! Available on Amazon for $13.*

 

 

*About that. We know that some are boycotting Amazon during the week of March 7-14. We support Amazon workers’ drive to unionize: they deserve fair labor practices and meaningful pay. (Here’s a link where you can send Jeff Bezos and the Amazon board a letter about that.) Kindle Direct Publishing (owned by Amazon) is our mechanism for getting this beautiful book out, and we want it to be in your hands by Pesach so you can use it for the full Omer journey. We wish that there were more and better options to allow small / indie publishers and authors to publish and distribute books worldwide, and, right now KDP is what we’ve got. We don’t have answers to this conundrum. If you’re boycotting Amazon this week, we hope you’ll buy the book as soon as the week is out, and it should still reach you in time for you to color all 49 days