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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.)

New prayers, artwork, and poetry for Rosh Hodesh Elul / the New Year of the Animals

Judaism’s ancient New Year for the Animals — Rosh Hodesh Elul — can remind us that we’re all stewards of the Earth and all her life.  It can remind us that we too are animals, part of the web of life.  It can remind us of the special love we feel for companion animals – a heart-opening love we need as we prepare for the heart journey of Rosh Hashanah. Here are poems, prayers, and artwork for Rosh Hodesh Elul / the New Year of the Animals. May these offerings help us to draw near to our animals, our traditions, ourselves, each other, and our Source.

Available both as a downloadable PDF and as google slides suitable for screenshare.

Elul – New Year of the Animals – Bayit 2021 [PDF]

Rosh Hodesh Elul: New Year of the Animals [google slides]

 

Here are a few tastes of what’s collected here:

 

…I lay a blanket down on the grass.
We lose ourselves eye to eye,
Reflecting face to face like still waters

Restoring just a bit of something that
Sometimes I forget that I’d forgotten…

— “All Life,” R. David Evan Markus

This is a blessing for my old orange cat, Buster,
On the occasion of Rosh Hodesh Elul,
Rosh Hashanah La Beheimot,
The New Year of the Domesticated Beasts…

— “Blessing for Buster,” Trisha Arlin

We will blow the shofar,
And I’ll read Psalm 27
And if we’re lucky we’ll go for a swim together on Lac St-Pierre…

— “On the first of Elul,” R. Dara Lithwick

…I don’t believe in these separations anymore
whatever we do
we do it to you, too
we live on the same planet
we share the same earth…

— “Where We Walk,” R. Sonja K. Pilz, PhD

God is as close now
as blood pulsing in our veins,
that animal rhythm…

— “We are animals too,” R. Rachel Barenblat

…This Elul may our animal friends teach us to live in balance, honouring the Divine
At home with you, Yah…

— “Closing Blessing,” R. Dara Lithwick

Read the full collection:

Elul – New Year of the Animals – Bayit 2021 [PDF]

Rosh Hodesh Elul: New Year of the Animals [google slides]

 

      

Liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz.  Artwork by Joanne Fink. 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.

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.

 

Connections: new liturgy, poetry, and art for Tu BiShvat

New from Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group comes this interdisciplinary and pluralist collection of new work for Tu BiShvat, the New Year of the Trees.

Here are prayers and practices for solitary pandemic celebration, meditations on trees in urban settings, coloring pages for contemplative creativity, prayers looking ahead to the year 2030, and more:

“TU biShvat is an invitation to focus on the natural world surrounding us–and at the same time, it makes us aware of our connectedness to each other, to the flow of time and stories, to the flow of cyclical renewal, to the spiritual worlds. We remove the shells (literally) that protect, obscure, and incubate, step by step reaching toward inner sweetness. We use our sense to internalize those messages–maybe we plant things, too.

This year, connection also is digital–we use a digital ecosystem to supplement a natural one.  

This little machberet (this little “journal”) can be used simply as a reading resource, but it can also become, by means of a printer and a couple of crayons, a source of meditation, coloring, tapping into the flow, and celebrating the playful child in all of us that lies beneath the shells.

We play and draw and read and speak… about the very personal, the sensual, the broken, the sad, the budding, the blossoming, the growing, the changing… the healing. Together, may we root ourselves in connectedness.”

Download the whole collection:

Connections – Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Tu BiShvat – Bayit [pdf]

Contents include:

Introduction

Birthday of the Trees, illustration by Steve Silbert

A Blessing: FOR PLANTING THE FUTURE, R. David Evan Markus

A Blessing: OF BIRTHDAYS, BREATH, AND BLESSINGS, R. Dara Lithwick

Fruit of the Tree, illustration by R. Allie Fischman

INSTRUCTION, R. Rachel Barenblat

A BLESSING FOR A TREE IN THE CITY, Trisha Arlin

A Tree in the City, illustration by Steve Silbert

FOUR TREES, R. Rachel Barenblat

Tree of Life, illustration by Steve Silbert

BREATHING OUT, BREATHING IN, R. David Evan Markus

TREE:  A GUIDED MEDITATION, Trisha Arlin; illustration by Steve Silbert

PREPARING, R. Sonja K. Pilz, PhD

TO 2030 / 5790, R. Dara Lithwick

Those Who Sow in Tears will Reap in Joy, illustration by R. Allie Fischman

ZOONOSIS, R. Sonja K. Pilz, PhD

Connected, illustration by R. Allie Fischman (also seen above)

ROOTING, R. David Evan Markus

MAPLE MY LOVE, R. Dara Lithwick

Maple, illustration by R. Allie Fischman

 

Download the whole collection:

Connections – Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Tu BiShvat – Bayit [pdf]

 

  Allie Fischman      

Liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz. Artwork by Rabbi Allie Fischman and Steve Silbert.