Posts

Tisha b’Av 5781: prayers, poetry, and art for our mourning year

 

 

New from Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group comes this collaborative compilation of liturgy, poetry and art for this Tisha b’Av. Here are poems, prayers, artwork, and readings for Tisha b’Av 2021, looking back on the last pandemic year as we sit with what’s broken and nurture the seeds of hope for repair. This offering is organized through the frame of four stages of mourning, evoking both our own personal losses and our communal journey of global grief. Available both as a downloadable PDF and as google slides suitable for streaming / screenshare.

Use them in community — use them to inform your own Tisha b’Av journey — share them widely — we hope they resonate.

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

Download the collection as a PDF:

9Av 5781 – Our Mourning Year – Bayit [PDF]

 

And/or download the collection as a deck of google slides:

9Av 5781 from Bayit – Our Mourning Year [SLIDES]

 

Here are tastes of what’s here, alongside artwork by Steve Silbert and Joanne Fink:

When my mother died,
I was 3000 miles away
On a teen study trip in England.
I’d said goodbye to her at the airport and never saw her again…

— from “Kria,” Trisha Arlin

So many died in isolation,
intubated, untouchable.
How did the doctors and nurses
bear their despair?
How can we move through the world
when so many are mourning?…

— from “Eicha / How?!,” R. Rachel Barenblat

Stop.
I need to stop. To sit. To feel.
I am not ready to go to a hockey game, or a movie, or a concert.

Not after this. A churban, a destruction…

— from “Shiva,” R. Dara Lithwick

How to hold fear for so long
my shoulders learn a new shape.
How to watch numbers climb
higher, and then higher.
How to hold funerals
and kindergarten
over Zoom…

— From “How To,” R. Rachel Barenblat

We are sitting on the floor
Crawling, playing rattle, monkey, super parents,
Move organizers, breadwinners, challah bakers,
Stroller pushers…
I am sitting on the floor, and the light’s turned off
As night falls…

— From “Rise,” R. Sonja Keren Pilz

Glorious and holy are the possibilities of God.

We’re getting used to the losses
But that’s not the same
As being okay…

— From “Yahrzeit 2021,” Trisha Arlin

Birth pangs can’t hear
The toddler’s first words.
Earthbound magma can’t see
The saplings that will root in ash…

— from “After,” R. David Evan Markus

Download the collection as a PDF:

9Av 5781 – Our Mourning Year – Bayit [PDF]

 

And/or download the collection as a deck of google slides:

9Av 5781 from Bayit – Our Mourning Year [SLIDES]

 

 

        

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

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.

#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.

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.

 

The Lot of One Year: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Purim 2021

New from Bayit’s Liturgical Arts Working Group comes a collection of poems, prayers, and artwork for this pandemic Purim. Here are meditations on (the) last Purim, and on our many-layered losses; poems on our world turning upside-down, on what our masks reveal, on grief and playfulness, on Esther and on Zeresh, on vengeance and its limitations; another new Al Hanisim looking back on Purim miracles that haven’t yet arrived; illustrations (including a printable coloring page that can be turned into a gragger); and more.

Download the whole collection here:

The Lot of One Year – Purim 2021 [pdf]

 

 

Here are tastes of what you’ll find within. From the introduction:

One year ago, our lives changed.
Purim,
holiday of abundant joy, enjoyment, silliness, and care,
marks the watershed moment between what was once—normal—
and what has become our new life…

From “Last Purim 4,” R. David Markus:

…We didn’t know that weeks later, our area would be a covid epicenter with the nation’s highest death rate. We didn’t know that a year later, the building still would be locked – laughter and Esther trope faintly echoing, an empty Corona bottle on the piano, Purim decorations on the walls, frozen in time like a Twilight Zone episode, sackcloth and ashes for millions dead.

From “Hilchot Purim,” R. Sonja K. Pilz, PhD:

Anoint yourself
Take baths and showers
Let no one you love come close
For twelve months
Or more…

From “When Esther Went In,” R. Rachel Barenblat:

…When she went in, she didn’t know
how she would miss the coffee shop
with its all-day backgammon players
and hum of conversation…

From “Purim Poem #2,” Devon Spier:

…My breath smells of wine
My pockets are filled with
Bad long sentences and
Some ancestor I don’t know’s old crumbs…

From “The 9th Chapter: We Won and They Lost,” Trisha Arlin:

So what happens when we win?
Not by much
And in the nick of time
It so easily could have gone the other way
And though there’s more of us
There’s plenty of them
And they are cruel.
What to do?…

From “On Masks and Revelation,” R. Dara Lithwick:

…But once we had skin and sex and then gender and clothes
We organized into roles
That became rigid and unforgiving
All of us, divine light, now hidden, concealed
Under the burden of the masks we wear…

Download the whole collection here:

The Lot of One Year – Purim 2021 [pdf]

 

  Allie Fischman     

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

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.

Great Miracles Happen Here: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Chanukah

Illustration by Steve Silbert

This new collaborative offering from Bayit’s liturgical arts working group comes to bring light in dark times. Here you’ll find new liturgy (including an “Al HaNisim” looking back on the miracles we haven’t yet lived into being, and a “Hanerot Hallalu” for this pandemic year), evocative poetry (on finding light without a chanukiyah, on kindling lights alone, on the windows where we light our lights and the Zoom windows where the pandemic allows us to gather, and much more), and meditations on Chanukah through all five senses, all accompanied by heart-opening artwork. This collection was co-created by Trisha Arlin, R. Rachel Barenblat, R. Dara Lithwick, R. David Evan Markus, R. Sonja Keren Pilz, R. Jennifer Singer, Steve Silbert, and Devon Spier, and is intended for use by individuals and communities across and beyond the denominational spectrum.

Download the whole collection:

Great Miracles Happen Here: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Chanukah [pdf]

 

Above you can see a glimpse of one of the illustrations. Here are tastes of a few of the poems, prayers, and meditations contained in this collection:

From “Hanukkah Poem #1,” Devon Spier:

i figure the day before Hanukkah
is the right time to begin
a new time
in inhuman history…

From “Hanerot Hallalu for 2020,” by Rabbi Dara Lithwick:

This Chanukah we honour those whose light has shone throughout the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the helpers who despite the tohu and bohu, the chaos and confusion, trauma, fear and disinformation have served and continue to serve, illuminating our communities by their commitment and caring…

From “Al Hanisim: Future Miracles Unfolding Now, ” by Rabbi David Evan Markus:

In the days of Stacey Abrams, Jacinda Ardern, William Barber, Anthony Fauci, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Lewis, Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, peoples of the Earth had forgotten Your teachings and transgressed Your ways of justice. Greed corroded truth. Ignorance mocked science. Fossil fuels burned without end, defiling Your temple of nature. Zealotry and corruption flourished, defiling Your temple of democracy…

From “Rededication,” Rabbi Rachel Barenblat:

It’s not like the Temple, sullied
by improper use and then washed clean
and restored to former glory.
This house is tarnished by familiarity…

From “My Maccabees,” by Trisha Arlin:

…This year
My Maccabees
Wore masks
Washed their hands
Kept their distance
Stayed home…

From “Chanukah of Stars,” Rabbi Jennifer Singer:

The year I had no hanukiah
No candles
Not even a match
Because I had let the last cigarettes crumble in a drawer…

From “Second Calendar,” Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz:

There is a Jewish calendar for those who came late.

Until Tuesday afternoon,
One might prolong the shabbes
For all those still in need
Of a second soul…

 

Download the whole collection:

Great Miracles Happen Here: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Chanukah [pdf]

And find all of our liturgical collaborations here: Liturgical Arts for Our Time.

 

    

Liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz, Rabbi Jennifer Singer, and Devon Spier. Sketchnotes by Steve Silbert.

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. Deepest thanks to Rabbi Juan Mejia for translation.

 

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

 

Shalom javerim.  Espero que sus Altas Fiestas hayan sido dulces y significativas.

En este mes, llega la fiesta de Simjat Torá, cuyo nombre significa “la alegría de la Torá.”  Cuando leemos la Torá todos los sábados, leemos todas las porciones de la Torá salvo la última, la cual se llama “Vezot Haberajá”, “ésta es la bendición.”  Esta porción final de la Torá contiene la última bendición que Moisés da a los Hijos de Israel y la muerte de Moisés mismo.  Esta porción no es leída en Shabbat, sino en Simjat Torá.

Y al leerla hacemos algo inesperado: pasamos inmediatamente del final de la Torá al comienzo.  Pasamos de la muerte de Moises a final de Deuteronomio directamente a la creación del Cosmos al comienzo del Génesis.  ¿Tal vez se pregunten por qué?

Una respuesta es que la muerte de Moisés es una historia triste.  La Torá nos dice: “Nunca más se alzó un profeta como Moisés.” Moisés fue nuestro más grande profeta, y ahora se ha ido.  Los sabios de nuestra tradición no querían dejarnos en la tristeza de esa pérdida.  Así que nos instruyeron a seguir inmediatamente con el comienzo del Génesis. Esto nos recuerda que esa pérdida no es el final de la historia– de ninguna historia. Todo final ofrece un nuevo comienzo. 

Otra respuesta es que al conectar el final de nuestra historia con el comienzo de nuestra historia aprendemos algo profundo sobre la tradición judía y sobre la Toŕa misma.

La última letra de la Torá es lamed, la cual termina la palabra Yisrael, nuestro nombre como comunidad y como pueblo.  La primera letra de la Torá es la letra bet, la cual comienza la palabra Bereshit.  “En el comienzo”, o “en un comienzo” o “al comenzar Dios a crear el cielo y la tierra…”

Cuando viajamos del final de la Torá al comienzo de la Torá, la última lamed y la primera bet, forman la palabra “lev”, “corazón”. El corazón de la Torá encontramos el amor.

Esta es una metáfora. ¡Y también es la simple y llana verdad! El verso que aparece en la mitad del libro medio del rollo es “amarás a tu prójimo como a ti mismo.”  Esta es llamada a veces “la mitzvá del Creador”.  Todas las 613 mitzvot vienen de Dios, pero esta ocupa un lugar especial en la tradición porque es, literalmente, el corazón de la Torá.  Esta mitzvá evoca el acto original de creación de DIos – un acto motivado, dicen nuestros místicos, por el amor y el deseo de estar en relación con nosotros.

En Simjat Torá conectamos el final con el comienzo y encontramos “lev”: el corazón amante de la Torá.

Hay amor en nuestros finales y hay amor en nuestros comienzos.  Hay amor que nos conecta con la Torá y amor que nos conecta los unos con los otros.  Hay amor en nuestro ocuparnos los unos de los otros y ocuparnos de nuestras tradiciones.  Como Rebekah Langus nos enseñó cuando visitamos Cienfuegos el otoño pasado, la labor de mantener una comunidad judía es una labor de amor.  Si nos ocupamos de nuestros semejantes y de nuestras tradiciones en soledad, corremos el riesgo de caer en el resentimiento y el cansancio.  Pero cuando nos ocupamos los unos de los otros y de nuestras tradiciones con amor, entonces este cuidado nos eleva colectivamente. 

En Simjat Torá, nos alegramos por el amor por nuestra historia compartida. Nos alegramos por el amor que llena nuestra historia compartida. Nos alegramos en nuestra habilidad de comenzar nuestra historia de nuevo al comenzar un nuevo año.  Y nos alegramos en la habilidad de superar el dolor para poder comenzar de nuevo, del ir del caos a crear algo nuevo con nuestros corazones y nuestras manos.  Esta es la tarea de la vida espiritual, y es la labor que ustedes conocen muy bien. 

Aun cuando comenzamos con ruptura, pérdida o caos, podemos construir algo mucho mejor con amor.  Tal vez ésta sea la bendición a la cual hace referencia el nombre de la última porción de la Torá: Vezot Haberajá.  No importa cuántas peŕdidas tengamos en nuestra historia, no importa cuáles sean nuestros desafíos, siempre podemos comenzar de nuevo, juntos, con amor. 

Que así sea en este nuevo año, para ustedes y para todos nosotros. 

 

 

Shalom chaverim! I hope your High Holidays were meaningful and sweet.

This month we reach the festival of Simchat Torah, whose name means “Rejoicing in the Torah.” When we read the Torah week by week, we read every Torah portion except for the final one, which is called V’Zot Ha-Brakha, “This Is The Blessing.” That final Torah portion contains the final blessing that Moses gives to the children of Israel, and it contains the death of Moses. We do not read this Torah portion on Shabbat. We only read it at Simchat Torah. 

And we do something strange when we read it: we move immediately from the end of Torah to the beginning. We go from Moses’ death at the end of Deuteronomy directly to the creation of the cosmos at the start of Genesis. Maybe some of you are wondering: why? 

One answer is that the death of Moses is a sad story. Torah tells us “Never again did there arise a prophet like Moses.” Moses was our greatest prophet, and now he is gone. The sages of our tradition didn’t want to leave us in the sadness of that loss. So they instructed us to move directly from there to the start of Genesis. This reminds us that loss is not the end of the story — any story. Every ending can also be a new beginning.

Another answer is that in linking the end of our story with the beginning of our story, we learn something deep about Jewish tradition and about Torah itself. 

The final letter in the Torah is the letter lamed, which ends the word Yisrael, our name as a community and a people. The first letter in the Torah is the letter bet, which begins the word B’reishit, “In the beginning,” or “in a beginning,” or “as God was beginning to create heavens and earth…” 

When we move from Torah’s end to Torah’s beginning, the closing lamed and opening bet form the word lev, “heart.” The heart of Torah is love. 

This is a metaphor. And it is also plain truth! The verse that appears in the very middle of the middle book of the scroll is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is sometimes called The Mitzvah Of The Creator. All 613 mitzvot come from God, but this one occupies a special place in the tradition because it is literally at Torah’s heart. This mitzvah evokes God’s initial act of creation — motivated, our mystics say, by love, and by the desire to be in relationship with us.

At Simchat Torah we link ending with beginning and find lev, Torah’s loving heart. 

There is love in our endings and love in our beginnings. There is love in what connects us with Torah, and love in what connects us with each other. There is love in our care for each other and our care for our traditions. As Rebekah Langus taught us when we visited Cienfuegos last autumn, the work of sustaining Jewish community is the work of love. If we tend to each other and our traditions out of duty alone, we may become resentful and depleted. But when we care for each other and for our traditions with love, then that care lifts us up together. 

At Simchat Torah, we rejoice in our love of our shared story. We rejoice in the love that fills our shared story. We rejoice in our ability to begin our story again as we begin a new year. And we rejoice in our ability to move from loss to starting over, from chaos to creating something new with our own hearts and hands. This is the work of spiritual life, and it is work that you know well. 

Even when we begin with brokenness, or loss, or chaos, we can build something better together with love. Maybe this is the blessing referenced in that final Torah portion’s name, V’Zot Ha-Bracha. No matter what losses are in our story, no matter what challenges are in our story, we always get to begin again, together, with love. 

May it be so in this new year, for you and for us all.

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.