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Digital Afikomen: Building the “Seek and Find” Online

Here’s a stellar example of adapting the physical to the digital, right in time for home Passover rituals online.

From R. Lex Rofeberg (Bayit’s newest Sounding Board member, of Judaism Unbound fame) and his mom, Ruth Lebed, comes this digital Afikoman hunt. Of particular note is its inherent interactivity and easy use in collective contexts. Not only does it invite folks to “find” things, but it also asks them to use what they found to create a weblink to a hidden website – multiple layers of seek and find.

Notice the “meta” feel of this digital “fractal.” This spiritual technology asks seder-goers to seek something without assurance that we’ll find it.  From what we find (perhaps together, just like a physical afikoman hunt), we must seek a second time by making order (in Hebrew, literally seder) of what we found.  Then we must use what we found to seek a third time by going online.

Here too, we see a terrific example of not suffering the digital medium but instead using its potential.  One might imagine putting young (at heart) folks on Candid web-Camera as they search for a physical afikoman, but that’s not necessarily interactive and doesn’t map cleanly to the digital medium.  Rather than use the digital medium as a second-best way to depict the more familiar physical ritual, Judaism Unbound re-creates the ritual in a digital context, not only translating but also deepening the essential feel of a search.

Kudos to Lex, Ruth and the Judaism Unbound team. Chag sameach!

For JU’s afikoman search, visit its webpage for Passover 2021.

By Rabbi David Markus.

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Sunny Schnitzer

Bayit offers 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 offering features a teaching from Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer. The text follows the video link, in Spanish and then in English.

Find this month’s video here.

 

Shalom Mi hermanos y hermanas

Purim ha terminado y en unas semanas llegaremos a la Pesaj, también conocida como Zeman Cheiruteinu, la Temporada de nuestra Libertad.

Este año, nuestro Zeman Cheiruteinu adquiere un nuevo significado, ya que muchos de nosotros anhelamos ser libres de nuestro aislamiento. Tenemos la esperanza de que pronto los avances médicos nos permitan estar juntos nuevamente con nuestros seres queridos y nuestra amada comunidad. Nos moveremos de nuestro Mitzrayim, la palabra en hebreo para Egipto que literalmente se puede traducir como “los lugares estrechos”.

¿Cómo pasamos de lo estrecho a lo ancho del corazón?

Nuestra tradición judía nos proporciona un ritual para lograr este cambio. Bajo la luna llena de principios de primavera, compartimos una historia atemporal. Los místicos judíos nos enseñan que la declaración; “B’chol Dor Vador – en cada generación es como si nosotros también fuéramos esclavos en Egipto, es una invitación a contar la historia de nuestras vidas y, a través de la narración, a ganar nuestra propia libertad.

Volver a contar nuestra historia en el contexto de la historia bíblica de la liberación del pueblo judío nos permite recuperar las partes de nosotros mismos que se han perdido o esclavizado. En la imagen gráfica de un místico, “Todo el año Dios camina detrás de nosotros y recoge las piezas de nuestras vidas que hemos dejado atrás”. Este año estamos llamados a reflexionar sobre las piezas de nosotros que hemos dejado atrás y cómo podríamos recuperarlas.

Esto no es tan fácil como simplemente leer las palabras de la Hagaddah de la Pascua. Debemos profundizar para escuchar nuestra historia real y reconocer que nuestras historias reales no siempre son bonitas. Y eso está bien.

Pesaj es el momento en que podemos liberarnos de nuestro propio deseo de editar y falsificar nuestras historias personales.

En la apertura de nuestro seder de pesaj se parte una matzá por la mitad y comenzamos una carrera para contar nuestra historia antes de la llegada del amanecer. Revivimos venir a través de la oscuridad de las dos últimas plagas sobre Egipto.

Cuando termina la oscuridad, comenzamos nuestro viaje hacia un nuevo lugar, un lugar que no habíamos conocido antes. Durante la noche buscaremos lo que se ha roto, el Afikoman. Debemos encontrar esta parte rota que se nos ha ocultado antes de que podamos terminar nuestro seder Esto es lo que debemos encontrar, la parte de nuestra historia que quizás preferiríamos no mirar, la parte que no queremos que nadie vea, especialmente a nosotros mismos.

A medida que descendemos a nuestra narrativa vespertina, mientras escuchamos las historias de opresión y emancipación, enviamos a los niños a encontrar aquello que ha sido roto y oculto.

Y cuando lo encuentran, se lo devuelven al adulto. Este es el niño que hay en nosotros devolviendo nuestra pieza rota al adulto que hay en nosotros. Y quizás lo más importante, cuando eso sucede, el niño que encuentra lo que ha estado oculto recibe un premio.

Nuestra historia de liberación no es solo personal, sino también comunitaria. Este año, sabemos tan bien como nadie ha conocido nunca cómo el aislamiento invernal conduce al descontento y a la formación de, un kotzer ruach, el espíritu impaciente que atormentó a los israelitas en su viaje.Como nuestros antepasados, realmente sabemos lo que es esperar el ángel de la muerte para pasar y, con suerte, perdonarnos a nosotros y a nuestros seres queridos.

Pesaj es una poderosa metáfora de lo que hemos aprendido en este año tan inusual. El seder, más que nunca, tiene el poder de unirnos a todos en una experiencia compartida, incluso cuando no estemos en un solo lugar. Sirve para recordarnos que la liberación y la libertad real ocurren cuando actuamos como una comunidad a pesar de los desafíos de nuestra separación.

Este año recuperemos nuestra historia, preparémonos para movernos de donde debemos estar ahora a donde podemos estar en el futuro.

Feliz Pesach mi Amigos!

 

Purim has ended and in a few weeks we will reach Passover, Pesach, also known as Zeman Cheiruteinu, the Season of our Freedom. Jews have always yearned for liberty.

This year our Zeman Cheiruteinu takes on new meaning as so many of us yearn to be free of our isolation. We have hope that soon medical advances will allow us to be together again with lur loved ones and our beloved community We will move from our Mitzrayim, the word in Hebrew for Egypt which literally can be translated as “the narrow places.”

As King David says in Psalm 118; “I call out from the narrow places – answer me please with the expanses,”

How do we pass over from the narrow to the wide places of the heart?

Our Jewish tradition provides us with a ritual to accomplish this shift. Under the full moon of early spring, with our loved ones, our friends, and also with strangers in our midst, we share a timeless story. The Jewish mystics remind us that “B’chol Dor Vador – in every generation it is as if we too were slaves in Egypt, is an invitation to tell the story of our lives and through the telling to gain our own freedom.

Retelling our story in the context of the biblical story of the liberation of the Jewish people allows us to reclaim the parts of ourselves that have been lost or enslaved. In the graphic imagery of one mystic, “All year God walks behind us and collects the pieces of our lives that we have left behind.” This year we are called to reflect on the pieces of ourselves we have left behind and how we might reclaim them.

This is not as easy as simply reading the words of the Passover Hagaddah. We must dig deep to hear our true story and acknowledge that our true stories are not always pretty. And that is okay. For when we sanitize our life stories we risk turning beautiful lives, imperfect and flawed though they may be, into failures. Wishing to avoid the glare of our lives in the blinding light of truth, we begin to edit, forget, to push whole parts of ourselves into shadow and darkness.

Pesach is the time when we can free ourselves from our own desire to edit out and falsify our personal stories.

At the opening of our pesach seder a matzah is broken in half. As if crunch of the breaking cracker were a starting gun, and we begin a race to tell the story before the coming of the dawn. We relive coming through darkness, known in our Haggadah as the Watchnight of the Eternal. When the darkness ends we begin our journey to a new place, A place we have not known before. During the night we will search for what has been broken, the Afikoman. We must find this broken part which has been hidden from us before we can finish our ritual. This is what we must find, the part of our story that we might prefer not to look at, the part we don’t want anyone to see, especially ourselves.

As we descend into our evening narrative, as we hear the stories of oppression and emancipation, we send the children off to find that which has been broken and hidden.

Those children that we send are part of ourselves, returning to that moment when the world seemed so broken that we began to hide; that moment when our wholeness was shattered and the unseemly was hidden away.

The children go searching for that moment in the hidden parts of the homes we have created for ourselves and our families. And when they find it, they return it to the adult. This is the child in us bringing our broken piece back to the adult in us. And perhaps most importantly, when that happens the child who finds that which has been hidden gets a prize.

Our story of liberation is not only personal, but it is also communal. This year, we know as well as anyone has ever known how winter isolation leads to discontent and the formation of, a kotzer ruach, the impatient spirit which plagued the Israelites on their journey. It is a time of short days and much darkness. Like our ancestors we truly know what it is to hunker down in our homes and wait for the angel of death to pass over and hopefully spare us and our loved ones.

Pesach is a powerful metaphor for what we have learned in this most unusual year. The seder, more than ever, has the power to bring all of us together in a shared experience, even when we are not in one location. It serves to remind us that liberation and real freedom happen when act as one community despite the challenges of our separation,

This year let us reclaim our story, let us prepare to move from where we must be now to where we can be in the future. Let’s go to the promised land.

Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer

By Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer. 

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.

 

Seder for the Seventh Night, by Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Reposting this in 2020 to make it easily findable now: from founding builder Rabbi Evan J. Krame comes a haggadah — not for the first or second night of Pesach, but for the seventh night. Rabbi Evan writes:

The seventh night of Passover – Shevi’i Pesach – is said to be the time when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea. In Kabbalistic and in Hasidic circles, there is a custom to have a Seder and focus on the meaning of Shevi’i Pesach. The night would be spent in prayer and study, exploring the theme of divine revelation at Kriyat Yam Suf, the parting of the Red Sea. And in the Kabbalistic and Hasidic mystical communities, participants were open to the possibility of ongoing revelation and divine intervention.

The liturgy of the Seventh Night of Pesach may be called a “Tikkun” – a text that combines passages from a variety of sources including Torah, Talmud, and Midrash. Supplementing traditional texts are modern commentary, poetry, and humor. This Haggadah (retelling) for the seventh night of Pesach is an attempt to find deeper meaning and greater relevance in the mythic story of the crossing of the Red Sea…

To instigate learning and exploration, seven themes will be presented. Each will relate to a part of the body. The student of kabbalah is encouraged to link these seven with the lower sephirot. We will offer seven blessings relating to the meal and consider the seven clouds of Glory God sent to protect the people in the dessert. What other sevens can you relate to Shevi’i Pesach?

The Seventh Day Passover Seder/Order:

Kol/Voice – Beginning

Ntilat Yadayim/ Washing

Raglayim/Feet – Leaping

Eynaim/Eyes – Receiving

Oznayim/Ears – Believing

Peh/Mouth – Satisfying and

Lev/Heart – Loving

 

Seventh Night Seder – Krame [pdf]

 

New Questions for Seder 2020

For those who can’t read images, or who want to copy-and-paste- a transcription:

How is this night the same as other Passovers in the past or in the imagined future?

What does it mean to experience an Exodus from the Narrow Place when our lives may feel more constricted (by illness, quarantine, economic hardship, or grief) than ever before?

How can the rituals of seder connect us across the chasm between what we’re experiencing now and what was “normal” before?

We can’t physically invite all who are hungry to come and eat. (Then again, we probably didn’t do that last year before the pandemic either.) How can we reimagine that call in this time? What will we do to nourish those in need this year?

Hiding the afikoman reminds us that spiritual life means searching. For what are we searching this year? What hope or healing do we yearn for… and what will we do, during the coming wilderness wandering, to bring our yearnings to pass?

For more Pesach resources, see Resources for Pesach in a Time of Quarantine.

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Sunny Schnitzer

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 Sunny Schnitzer. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English.

 

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

 

¡Hola mis amigos!

¡Los extraño tanto! Tenía la esperanza de venir a Cuba el mes pasado, pero la realidad del Coronavirus hizo que los viajes internacionales fueran imprudentes y difíciles. Los judíos estamos familiarizados con las plagas. De hecho, somos expertos porque discutimos y aprendemos sobre las plagas todos los años. Pero, ¿por qué este año es diferente de todos los demás? Porque este año nos enfrentamos a esta nueva realidad.

Oremos para que nuestra situación actual termine pronto.

Continué cada semana aquí en mi comunidad dirigiendo servicios en Shabat y escribiendo sermones e historias. Estoy particularmente enfocado en escribir sermones divertidos para ayudarnos a olvidar por unos momentos nuestras preocupaciones y problemas.

Recientemente, hice una broma en nuestros servicios de Shabat que molestó a algunas personas. La broma fracasó porque ignoró el consejo que he ofrecido muchas veces a colegas y amigos. “Nunca uses el sarcasmo cuando hable en público”. Decir lo contrario de lo que realmente quieres decir no siempre es entendido por todos tus oyentes. El sarcasmo está lleno de peligros y lleva al arrepentimiento.

Los amantes del lenguaje y las palabras a menudo admiran el sarcasmo. Su uso muestra un agudo ingenio e inteligencia. Pensamos en Jonathan Swift y Enrique Vila Matas, que eran maestros del oficio. Nos reímos sinceramente de los comediantes y actores que nos deslumbran con sus lenguas rápidas. Pero no todos aman a Jonathan Swift y no todos “captan” a Soledad Huete en Siete Vidas. Lo que sale de nuestras bocas no siempre está claro.

Una de las libertades para trabajar durante Pesaj es la “libertad de boca”. Nuestros rabinos ven la boca como la parte más peligrosa del cuerpo. Es el único órgano que puede causar problemas en ambas direcciones: lo que entra (comida y bebida) y lo que sale (habla). Es tan peligroso que es la única parte del cuerpo que tiene dos coberturas: dientes duros y labios suaves. La mayoría de nosotros somos esclavos de la boca, tanto en lo que comemos como en lo que hablamos.

En la noche del Seder intentamos reparar esto. En lugar de una conversación mundana, tenemos la mitzvá para hablar sobre el pueblo judío que sale de Egipto para elevar el habla, y la matzá y las cuatro copas de vino para elevar la comida y la bebida.

La estructura del hebreo utilizada en nuestra “Maggid”, nuestra historia, insinúa el objetivo de “libertad de boca”. La palabra Pesaj se puede dividir en dos palabras: Peh Saj, que significa literalmente “la boca habla”. La gran mitzvá de Pesaj es “le contarás esta historia a tus hijos”. Se nos ordena contar la historia del Éxodo durante toda la noche. Y como está escrito en la Hagadah: “Cuanto más cuentes la historia, más serás digno de elogio”.

La palabra hebrea, Paróh, (Faraón, el perseguidor del pueblo judío en la historia de Pesaj) se puede dividir en dos palabras: Peh Rah, “mala boca”.

Nuestra esclavitud en Egipto se caracteriza en la Torá como Peraj, (trabajo difícil) que también puede leerse como dos palabras: Peh Rach, que significa “boca suelta”.

Creo que todos lo entienden, así que ahora cerraré la boca con una bendición.

Que todos nos merezcamos en este Pesaj para liberarnos de la “mala boca” y superar la “boca suelta” donde entra demasiada comida y bebida incorrecta y se escapan demasiadas palabras inapropiadas. Que nuestras reuniones, incluso los pequeños sederim que debemos tener este año por la necesidad de la situación de salud pública que enfrentamos, sean gratificantes y nutritivos para el cuerpo y el alma.

A Zissen Pesaj – Kasher v’sameaj!

 

Hello my friends!

I miss you so much! I had hoped to come to Cuba last month, but the realities of the Coronavirus made international travel unwise and difficult. We Jews are familiar with Plagues. In fact we are the experts because we discuss and learn about plagues every year. But why is this year different than all other years? Because this year we are faced with this new reality. Let us pray that our current situation will end soon. 

I have continued each week here in my community to lead services on Shabbat and write sermons and stories. I am particularly focused on writing funny sermons to help us forget for a few moments our worries and troubles.

Recently, I made a joke at our Shabbat services that disturbed some people. It failed as a joke because it ignored the advice that I have offered many times to colleagues and friends. “Never use sarcasm when engaged in public speaking.” Saying the opposite of what you really mean isn’t always understood by all of your listeners.  Sarcasm is fraught with danger and leads to regret.

Lovers of language and words often admire sarcasm. Its use displays a sharp wit and intelligence. We think of Jonathan Swift and Enrique Vila Matas who were masters of the craft. We laugh heartily at comedians and actors who dazzle us with their quick tongues. But not everyone loves Jonathan Swift and not everyone “gets” Soledad Huete in Seven Lives. What comes out of our mouths isn’t always clear.

One of the freedoms to work on during Pesach is “freedom of the mouth.” Our rabbis view the mouth as the most dangerous part of the body. It is the only organ that can cause problems in both direction — what comes in (food and drink) and what goes out (speech). It is so dangerous, it is the only part of the body that has two coverings — hard teeth and soft lips. Most of us are slaves to the mouth, both in what we eat and in what we speak.

On Seder night we attempt to repair this. Instead of mundane conversation, we have the mitzvah to speak about the Jewish people leaving Egypt to elevate speech, and the matzah and Four Cups of wine to elevate eating and drinking.

The structure of the Hebrew used in our “Maggid,” our story, hints at the goal of “freedom of the mouth.” The word Pesach can be divided into two words: Peh Sach, which means literally “the mouth speaks.” The great mitzvah of Pesach is “you will tell to your children this story.” We are commanded to tell the story of the Exodus the whole night long. And as it is written in the Hagadah – “The more you tell the story, the more you shall be worthy of praise.” 

The Hebrew word, Paroh, (Pharaoh, the persecutor of the Jewish people in the Pesach story) can be divided into two words: Peh Rah, a “bad mouth.” 

Our slavery in Egypt is characterized in the Torah as Perach, (difficult work) which can also be read as two words: Peh Rach, which means “a loose mouth.”

I think you all get it, so I will now close my mouth with a blessing.

May we all merit on this Pesach to free ourselves from the “bad mouth,” and to overcome the “loose mouth” where too much of the wrong food and drink come in and too many inappropriate words slip out. May our gatherings, even the small sederim we must have this year by necessity of the public health situation we face, be rewarding and nourishing to body and soul. A sweet and kosher Pesach to all.

 

Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer

By Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer. 

Resources for Pesach in a Time of Quarantine

It may be hard to imagine a seder during sheltering-in-place or quarantine. But the Passover seder is a home-based ritual that can be meaningful even when one is homebound. Even the possibility of a solitary seder isn’t new: Talmud teaches that if one is alone at Pesach, one should ask the Four Questions of oneself. Whatever we do this year won’t be “the same” as the kind of seder most of us are used to, but nothing about this year is the same as usual. Maybe the very strangeness of this year’s seder can help us experience the spiritual dynamics of the Pesach journey in a new way. Here are some tools for building this year’s seder:

Building Blocks of the Seder

The core mitzvot of seder are:

  • bless juice or wine (and drink four cups, or sips, thereof) 
  • recount the story of the Exodus in some form 
  • bless and eat matzah 
  • assemble a seder plate, and explain its elements 
  • eat a celebratory meal 
  • read or sing words of praise (traditional psalms – or contemporary poetry?) 
  • eat a bite of afikoman (ceremonial matzah to end the meal) 
  • recline / reflect on freedom

You don’t need a fancy seder plate if you don’t have one on hand; a regular plate is just fine. Here’s a list from the URJ of What Items Go On the Seder Plate. Some also add an orange (representing the inclusion of all genders and sexualities), an olive (representing hopes for peace), a tomato (representing migrant/farm worker safety), and/or other meaningful items.

Blueprints For Your Seder

If you don’t have haggadot at home, here are some free downloadable haggadah options. It’s a good idea to download a haggadah in advance and spend some time with it so you can move through it comfortably when seder time arrives.

Of course, the haggadah is only a roadmap. Your internal spiritual journey will be shaped by you.

A Ritual to Close the Week, Too

Here’s a resource for celebrating a different kind of seder on the seventh day of the holiday (rather than the first or second):

If you experiment with a seventh night seder, we hope it will help you feel that you’ve “come through the sea” and are able to sing out in praise on the other side.

Not Like Other Nights

This year is not like any other year. Whatever seder is for each of us this year, it will probably not be what we’re accustomed to. We trust that the ritual will still hold meaning, even though (or maybe especially because) we’re experiencing it in an unprecedented way. What does it mean to recount the tenth plague in a time of quarantine? What does it mean to seek to experience spiritual liberation at a time when many of us may feel “bound” by anxiety or illness or circumstance? What does it mean to celebrate Pesach meaningfully if we are home alone? We look forward to hearing your answers to these questions as the holiday unfolds this year.

 

Febrero 2020: Palabras del Torá / February 2020 Torah video

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

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, translated into Spanish by Rabbi Juan Mejia. The text follows, in Spanish and then in English.

 

Shalom javerim – Hola amigos!

Desde mi viaje a Cuba en el otoño pasado, la profunda calidez y orgullo que tantos judíos cubanos compartieron conmigo y con mi congregación neoyorquina se ha quedado en mí y en mi corazón.  Sigo inspirado por su orgullo, tenacidad y auténtica dedicación. Ustedes me enseñaron, a mí y a muchos miembros de mi congregación, una parte importante de lo que verdaderamente significa vivir como judíos.

La palabra hebrea javer (amigo) conlleva un significado más profundo, que también conlleva un importante mensaje sobre este periodo del calendario judío. Es algo que tenemos en común a pesar de las diferencia de cómo vivimos y también, precisamente, a causa de las diferencias de cómo vivimos.

La palabra hebrea javer extrae su significado profundo de la raíz trilítera ח.ב.ר. (jet, bet, reish) que significa “conectar” o “amarrar”.  Los verdaderos amigos no son simples conocidos pasajeros, sino que están profundamente conectados, amarrados el uno al otro, tanto interna como externamente.  De esta misma raíz verbal vienen las palabras hebreas para “unir”, “asociar”, y “pareja de estudio”. Estas son la esencia de toda comunidad.

En palabras que no puedo expresar completamente, me siento mejaber. Me siento conectado con los judíos de Cuba, parcialmente por cómo ustedes compartieron tan generosamente conmigo las conexiones entre ustedes.  Inmediatamente me hicieron sentir parte de su comunidad. Ustedes saben, intuitivamente, que construir comunidad es el secreto para la supervivencia y el florecimiento judío a través de los siglos.

Esto también tiene un profundo significado en esta época del año y en las tres fiestas judías que se aproximan, una por mes, en la luna llena del mes de Febrero (Shevat), Marzo (Adar) y Abril  (Nisán). Estas tres fiestas, en su esencia, también tratan de aquello que nos conecta más profundamente.

Primero viene Tu Bishvat.  En el 2020 comenzará en la noche del 9 de Febrero.  Coloquialmente esta fiesta es conocida como el “año nuevo de los árboles”, pero místicamente es un profundo recordatorio de que toda la naturaleza, incluídos nosotros, está unida.  Lo que pasa a cualquier parte de la naturaleza, también le pasa a la totalidad. Lo que le pasa a uno de nosotros, nos pasa a todos. En la luna llena de Febrero, tomémonos el tiempo para observar cómo toda la naturaleza está conectada.  Este año, al mirar a la luna llena, sabré que es la misma luna que ustedes ven y me alegraré en nuestra mutua conexión.

Después viene Purim. En el 2020 comenzará la noche del 9 de Marzo. Los niños judíos conocen a Purim como el “halloween judío”, celebrando la antigua historia de Ester y Mordejai, es un tiempo en el que nos disfrazamos para esconder nuestra verdadera identidad.  Los otros dos significados profundos de Purim que más me llaman la atención tienen que ver con este aspecto de la conexión. El primero es que el destino judío sube y baja colectivamente; estamos juntos en esto, del mismo modo que los judíos persas cuya angustia y victoria la fiesta de Purim rememora.  El otro es que, sin importar qué máscaras usemos en nuestras vidas, qué usemos para ocultarnos, qué hagamos para protegernos de nuestro ser más real y vulnerable, todos compartimos exactamente este impulso de auto protección. Nuestras máscaras, nuestras apariencias, no son lo que somos verdaderamente. Estamos conectados más por lo que somos internamente.

Luego viene Pesaj. En el 2020 comenzará en la noche del 8 de Abril.  Conocemos a Pésaj como la historia eterna de nuestra liberación de la esclavitud- la piedra angular de nuestra identidad judía.  Pésaj simboliza nuestra conexión con nuestros ancestros, por la promesa divina de nuestra liberación y por la celebración del Séder que es increíblemente similar en todo el mundo judío.  También conocemos a Pésaj como un llamado moderno a la justicia. Nuestra propia liberación no será completa hasta que liberemos a todos los amarrados injustamente. Estamos conectados por este llamado judío fundamental a la justicia social, a ayudar a curar un mundo con aún demasiados faraones, aún demasiada esclavitud y demasiada vulneración de la dignidad humana.

Tu Bishvat, Purim y Pésaj.  Son tres lunas llenas consecutivas de conexión.  Son tres oportunidades de celebrar las conexiones entre nosotros, nuestra herencia y nuestra comunidad.  Son tres oportunidades para construir comunidad- el secreto de la vida judía que ustedes bien conocen ya.  Son tres oportunidades para oir el continuo llamado judío a fortalecernos y juntos vivir más enteramente- por nosotros, por la naturaleza y por toda la humanidad.

Les envio bendiciones de alegría en esta temporada con estas tres lunas llenas que nos invitan a conectarnos con la naturaleza, con la comunidad y con la libertad humana.  De mi corazón para el vuestro: Jag sameaj.

 


Shalom javerim – Greetings, friends!

Since my trip to Cuba last fall, the deep warmth and pride that so many Cuban Jews shared with me and my New York Jewish community have stayed with me in my heart.  I continue to feel inspired by your pride, tenacity and genuine caring. You have taught me, and many in the community I serve in New York, part of what it really means to live as Jews.

The Hebrew word javer (friend) encodes a deeper meaning, that also encodes something important about this season in the Jewish calendar.  It’s something we have in common both despite differences in how we live, and precisely in differences in how we live.

The Hebrew word javer draws its deep meaning from the three-letter root ח.ב.ר. (jet, bet, reish), which means to connect or bind.  Real friends aren’t just passive acquaintances: they are deeply connected, bound together both inside and between.  From this same root word come the Hebrew words for “join,” “association,” and learning partnership. These are the essence of community.

In ways that words can’t fully express, I feel m’jaber / connected with the Jews of Cuba, partly because you so generously shared with me your connections with each other.  Instantly you helped me to feel like part of your community. You know intuitively that community-building is a secret of Jewish surviving and thriving over the centuries.

This, too, is a deep meaning of this time of year and its three Jewish holidays that will follow, once per month, at the full moon of each month of February (Shevat), March (Adar) and April (Nissan).  All three holidays, in their essence, also are about what most connects us.

First comes Tu B’shevat (in 2020, the night of February 9-10).  Colloquially it’s the “New Year of the Trees,” but mystically it’s a deep reminder that all of nature is joined together, including all of us.  What happens to any part of nature happens to the whole. What happens to any of us touches all of us. At February’s full moon, take time to notice how all of nature connects. This year, I will look up at the full moon, knowing it’s the same full moon for you, and I will revel in our connection together.

Next comes Purim (in 2020, the night of March 9-10).  Jewish children might know Purim as a kind of “Jewish Halloween” celebrating the ancient story of Esther and Mordechai, a time when we dress in costume as if to conceal who we really are.  Two other deep meanings of Purim that most speak to me are about connection. One is that Jewish fate rises and falls together: we’re in it together, no less than Persian Jews whose collective plight and triumph Purim honors.  Another is that whatever masks we might wear in our lives, whatever conceals us, whatever we do to protect against being most vulnerable and real, we all share exactly that self-protective impulse. Our masks, our outward appearances, are not who we really are.  We are most connected by what’s inside.

Then comes Passover (in 2020, starting the night of April 8).  We know Passover as the timeless story of liberation from bondage – our cornerstone of Jewish identity.  Passover stands for our connection by ancestry, by the divine promise of liberation, and by the seder celebration that is astonishingly similar for Jews everywhere.  We also can know Passover as a modern clarion call to justice. Our own liberation will not be complete until we free all who are wrongly bound. We connect by that essential Jewish calling of social justice, to help heal a world that still has far too many Pharaohs, too much bondage, too much affront to human dignity.

Tu B’shevat, Purim and Passover.  They’re three consecutive full moons of connection.  They’re three opportunities to celebrate our connections to each other, heritage and community.  They’re three opportunities to build community – the secret of Jewish life that you already know.  They’re three opportunities to heed the continuing Jewish call to become stronger and more whole together – for ourselves, for the natural world, and for all humanity. 

I send blessings of joy for this season, these three full moons that call us into our connections with nature, community and human freedom.  From my heart to yours, Jag sameaj! 

 

By Rabbi David Markus. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Using stones for Yizkor

This ritual seeks to connect the Yizkor prayers, recited four times a year, with an embodied experience of memory and connection. The only required element is a basket of stones — smooth river-washed stones are available at landscaping supply stores — which are handed out during the service. The central act is placing the stones together on a central location (often the amud or Torah reading table), in silence, while allowing music and memory to open our hearts.  — Rabbi Evan J. Krame

 

 

  • Opening

In our tradition, we bring not flowers but stones to a gravesite. That’s what Jacob did for Rachel when he created a matzevah (monument), as we read in Torah:

Over her grave Jacob set up a pillar; it is the pillar at Rachel’s grave to this day. (Gen. 35:22. )

וַיַּצֵּ֧ב יַעֲקֹ֛ב מַצֵּבָ֖ה עַל־קְבֻרָתָ֑הּ הִ֛וא מַצֶּ֥בֶת קְבֻֽרַת־רָחֵ֖ל עַד־הַיּֽוֹם׃

Many of us no longer live near the cemeteries where our parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents are buried. We may not have the opportunity to place a stone in remembrance of those who brought us into the world or nurtured us. 

Some of us have siblings or children who have preceded us in death, whose absence is hard to bear. Being far from those graves can be especially painful. 

And even when we live near the graves of those whom we’ve lost, we’re not at those graves now, today, as we recite these Yizkor prayers in memory. But we can still take a stone, and use it as a focus for our remembrance.

 

  • Stones

Take a stone now. Hold it, and think of the person or people you are remembering today.

[Invite people to go row by row to select a stone, or pass stones out row by row. While stones are being handed out, the following instruction may be offered:]

We’ll take silent time for the Yizkor memorial prayers.

After we hear the words of Psalm 23, come place the stone on the bimah, and return to your seats in silent dedication. 

[Volunteers direct the community in coming up, row by row, to place their stones while “Turn, Turn, Turn” is sung.]

 

  • Closing

Remembering and honoring those we have lost, we come together again as a community. Though each of us is remembering someone different, we’re connected in the shared experience of mourning and memory.

We move now into Mourner’s Kaddish and El Maleh Rachamim…

 

Why This Firstborn Will Go Silent Before Passover: The Social Justice Ta’anit Dibbur

Among Passover’s many customs, the fast of the firstborn (ta’anit bechorot) fell into disuse. This ritual fast, commemorating Egypt’s victims of the Tenth Plague’s death of the firstborn, finds little traction among modern liberal Jews. Even most traditionalists arrange a ritual joyous reason to avoid the pre-Passover fast.

The day before Passover, however, this particular firstborn of Israel will fast – not just from food but also from speech. I will go silent – I will observe a total fast from speech (ta’anit dibbur) – and I will decline any excuse that might absolve me.

The reason isn’t virtue signaling. Rather, it’s to remind myself, and invite others to consider, that words and privilege can be as enslaving as iron shackles. It’s to renew my commitment to make space for the voices of all who feel excluded or diminished, whose identities or experiences have denied them privileges I enjoy – including the very privilege to write these words.

A Pre-Passover Fast from Food (Ta’anit Bechorot)

There are many reasons to fast before Passover – and not just make room for matzah! One reason is to mourn the too-high price of freedom. Talmud famously teaches that when angels rejoiced during the Exodus drowning of Egyptian soldiers in the Sea of Reeds, God rebuked them saying, “My children are drowning and you sing Me praises?” (Megillah 10b, Pesachim 64b). If Egypt’s first-born and soldiers died for Israelite liberation, their deaths are not less tragic. If angels had to learn that lesson, then so might we. Just as we spill drops of wine for each plague during the Seder (we can’t drink a full cup of joy at another’s expense), we can fast in poignant memory of the tragically high cost of freedom.

Another reason is to connect with today’s captives of body, heart or spirit. Until all are free, all are unfree. So taught Dr. Martin Luther King from his Birmingham jail cell: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We can fast, as I wrote elsewhere, to spiritually purge for every time co-religionists ever sung praises for another’s degradation. We can fast to rededicate ourselves to bringing Passover’s global message of freedom to the whole globe.

A third reason is to honor this year’s calendrical confluence with Good Friday. Jews need not understand the Jesus of faith as Christians might, but we can understand suffering, grace and redemption in common cause with our Christian cousins as they commemorate their own ritual descent and ascent rooted in Passover.

A Pre-Passover Fast From Speech (Ta’anit Dibbur)

The idea of a ta’anit dibbur (fast from speech) traces from the wisdom of Proverbs 18:21: “Life and death are in the hand of the tongue.” We fast from speech as a practice of purification. By ritually controlling the incessant drive to speak, we can refine the inner impulses they voice.

All the more so before Passover. Mystics re-read Passover (pesach) as the speaking mouth (peh sach), the spiritual liberation that could heal both Moses’ impaired speech and our own. Understood this way, the creative impulse that Jewish mysticism understood as speech – God’s speech, and our speech – can be healed and channeled to liberate the sacred in our world.

Consider the countless injustices and shacklings expressed as speech. Consider the enormous power of words to include or exclude, create or destroy, empower or enfeeble, uplift or suppress, liberate or enslave. Words can wound, or words can heal. Understood this way, any Passover worth its weight in matzah must focus intently on the power of words to help purify our words.

What does this have to do with the firstborn? In its day, primogeniture stood for privilege and societal power dynamics that locked privilege into the day’s reality map. By dint of gender and birth order, the firstborn male held special status legally, politically and ritually. Others were at best second best. And as for the individual, so too the collective: God told Moses to call Israel “God’s firstborn” before Pharaoh (Exodus 4:22). Later, liturgy attributed to Rav Kook, Israel’s first chief rabbi, transformed Israel into reishit tzmichat ge’ulateinu, “the first flowering of our collective redemption.”

We’ve come far since primogeniture’s days, but Passover becomes a mere tasty relic if we rest on past laurels. A living Passover means bringing freedom and equality to all in the flowering of collective redemption. A living Passover means pushing boundaries outward until they include everyone, and feeling deeply wherever boundaries or the call to expand them feels tight. Those tight spots are our meitzarim, our “narrow places” – literally our “Egypt,” the frontiers of today’s Passover ongoing call to liberation.

Understood this way, the “fast of the firstborn” is a radical and evolving call to name and invert today’s social structures that hold people back. The “fast of the firstborn” isn’t mainly about the “firstborn” but rather about the privilege that primogeniture wrongly symbolizes. It’s strikingly beautiful that Judaism can honor Passover – a defining experience of peoplehood and liberation – with this internal hedge against its own imperfect realization of this sacred calling.

Now let’s get personal. I seem like the personification of privilege. I’m the firstborn child – and a son at that. I’m straight and cis-gendered. I hold two graduate degrees, from Harvard, plus a rabbinic ordination. I’m honored with a judicial role and a pulpit. I teach in seminary and I’ve led spiritual nonprofits. I have seemingly unfettered opportunities to speak, write and teach. I’m not just a man; euphemistically I’m The Man! And most who know me know that I can have much to say.

That’s exactly why I and people like me should go silent before Passover – to remind ourselves of the marginalization and subjugation that others experience daily, to make space for them, and to recommit ourselves to that cause as a way of life for all time.

To be sure, I wasn’t born on third base thinking that I’d hit a triple. I’m the son of an immigrant. I did not grow up affluent. I’m the first in my family to graduate from college. I faced and overcame many obstacles both personal and familial along the way. But such is the American experience and, often, the Jewish experience. All the more reason for me to make space for tomorrow’s “me” – whoever and however they may come.

I think of my own mom and countless other moms denied a Jewish education or countless other opportunities on the basis of sex. I think of LGBTQI friends still fighting whether in or out of the closet, denied their rights at tragic costs to themselves and society. I think of people of color, of all backgrounds, whose lives as visible minorities still are fraught 50 years after Dr. King was assassinated. I think of talented people of all ages and stages blocked from leadership by crusty, recalcitrant power dynamics that cling to their own false solidity. I think of Jewish life’s virulent allergy to wise succession planning that shortsightedly robs institutions of healthy and vibrant futures. And I think of many leaders who undoubtedly think they’re doing leadership right but who wield emotional or spiritual authority in ways that are pervasively self-perpetuating.

That’s why I will go silent before this Passover. I will reclaim the ta’anit dibbur as a deliberate space-making practice both within and without. I hope all firstborns, whether literally first out of the womb or metaphorical firsts of privilege, will consider doing likewise. Let’s make space for others starting with one day, then one week, then for a lifetime, for all Jewish life and for all life. Let’s make space to heal speech, to heal power, to heal the world.

When we break our ta’anit dibbur at the start of the Seder, let our first word be Baruch: ”Blessed.” Let that flow of blessing be the purpose of our speech and all speech. And in that merit, may we, all of us, experience a truly liberating and sweet Pesach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Rabbi David Markus