See You at Sinai ~ Torah at the Mountain and on the Farm

On Shavuot (beginning, this year, late Saturday evening, May 23rd and continuing through Monday), we celebrate what the rabbis called z’man matan Torateinu ~ the time our Torah was gifted. However, the roots of Shavuot in Torah relate to agriculture, not the receiving of Torah. A holy celebration on Yom HaBikurim ~ the day of first-fruits is to occur at the time of the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot), the images-4completion of counting the seven weeks of the Omer (barley harvest)*. The express purpose of this celebration is gratitude for the abundance of the season’s wheat harvest.

As an agricultural people, the Israelites experienced Shavuot as an opportunity to honor the connection between earth, God and human labor. With the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., our land-based People became dispersed among nations. Over time, Shavuot was “reconstructed” by our great sages to serve as a celebration of the revelation of Torah at Sinai rather than a land-based, Temple ritual that must have Jordana Klein mount sinai - receiving the Torah (1)seemed less relevant to a land-less People.

A great gift of our tradition is the permission we are given to read and reread and interpret and reinterpret Torah, finding the relevance within the wisdom held both in the black letters and the white open space that surrounds them. In this expanse, we receive permission to once again reconstruct this Festival of celebration and gratitude with enough room for BOTH agrarian appreciation and Divine revelation.

In our kehilla and in our neighborhoods and surrounding lands, many of us garden or connect to the earth in a significant way. If we don’t have our own farm, we may attend a farmers’ market and connect with someone who directly sows, grows, and harvests the food we eat or the flowers that beautiful our homes. We are in tune with the rhythms of the environment as we learn, once again, to pay attention, care for, and appreciate the Earth. This is the Torah of the Earth.

In this spirit, we will gather on Saturday, May 23rd from 5:00 to nightfall at the pok choy over the fenceurban farm and home of our own Jodi Kushins in Clintonville. Over the Fence Urban Farm, with its first fruits (and chicks), is the perfect place for us to open to revelation and imagine standing at the foot of the mountain to receive Torah.

Please bring your “fruits” to share with all who gather. In addition to food, you are invited to bring any variety of your “first fruits” to share with the gathered community. A poem, a song, a story, a piece of artwork, or a treasured gift that has inspired you.

See you at Sinai!


*Bamidbar/Numbers 28:26, and first described in Shmot/Exodus 23:16

Artwork: Receiving Torah at Sinai, Jordana Klein; pok choy photo, Jodi Kushins

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Upcoming Celebrations: Shabbat and Shavuot

Shabbat DinnerKabbalat Shabbat/Ma’ariv Worship Oneg

Friday, May 15th ~ 6:15 dinner; 7:30 service ~ Covenant Presbyterian Church, UA

Shavuot Celebration ~ Torah of the Earth

Saturday, May 23rd ~ 5:00 ~ dark ~ Over the Fence Urban Farm, Clintonville

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Ancient Recipes for Modern Spiritual Growth

There is a great beauty and spiritual sustenance in Jewish prayer practice, but the prayers don’t work like some magical incantation. Prayer is a vehicle that requires a driver, or, at siddur
the very least, a co-pilot. When we open heart and soul, mix in wisdom and intuition, and add intellect and feeling into the
ancient formula of Jewish prayer, the synthesis yields spiritual nourishment for our modern circumstances. If the prayer seems dry, perhaps we haven’t added enough of ourselves. The responsibility for finding meaning in prayer is upon usAleinu.

What tools do we need to access prayer? Some reside in our very essence, our soul, our
neshama. We need do nothing more than open to ruach ~ the spirit that bubbles up from within. And some require us to invest in our Jewish learning to gain access to deeper wisdom and meaning freeze-dried within the structure of our sacred liturgy. Our interaction with prayer is the mayim chayim ~ the living waters that reconstitute the book0026lettersnutritional content embedded in ancient prayer practices.

Unlocking the spiritual power in ancient custom is evidenced by the practice of counting the Omer ~ S’firat Ha’Omer. We can utilize this 49 day practice (seven weeks of seven days from Passover to Shavuot) as an opportunity for introspection and self-improvement. Combining the ancient (Biblical) practice of counting agrarian growth (from barley to wheat) and the Kabbalistic practice of moving through combinations of seven sefirot (representing emotional qualities or characteristics of the Source and within ourselves), a metaphorical journey unfolds from the festival of freedom to the festival linked by our sages to the revelation of Torah at Sinai. Counting the Omer is an ancient recipe for modern spiritual growth.

The Little Minyan Kehilla is one of a growing number of faith communities that draws shmitadeeply from Judaic values of Earth-care. As just one of the many tools of Jewish tradition, we utilize the annual opportunity of S’firat Ha’Omer to recalibrate our internal rhythms in harmony
and synchronicity with the natural cadences of the Earth. As an Earth-centered practice, the Omer period can also be construed as a miniature version of the cycle of Shmita (every seven years) and Yovel/Jubilee (seven cycles of seven years). This is a Shmita year – one in which Torah tells us the Earth is to rest. Just as the Shmita cycle is designed to reset communal or societal rhythms to align with the needs of the land, the Omer cycle is a chance to align ourselves with the rhythms of spring and the spiritual freedom represented by our People’s journey from slavery and our receipt of Torah. We continue to value our freedom to choose the ways in which we seek, observe, and celebrate Judaism in our lives.

Tonight, we welcome Shabbat, and as the stars begin to reveal themselves in the sky, we also count the 35th day of the Omer ~ Machut/Nobility in Hod/Humility. As we enter this Shabbat, may we find ourselves standing tall in our dignity and modesty. Humility does not mean making ourselves small and invisible. Rather, when we are feeling the most full in spirit and secure in our value and nobility, that we have the greatest capacity for modesty.

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Shabbat Vayinafash ~ Contemplative Shabbat Morning Worship to Reinvigorate & Re-enSOUL Ourselves

You are invited to join our kehilla on Shabbat/Saturday morning, April 25th, when we  zen shabbatgather for our Shabbat Vayinafash Service, a contemplative approach to Shabbat morning and Torah. Jessica Shimberg will create a spiritual container for an easy flow of Shabbat chant, liturgy, movement and holy conversation. Comfortable attire encouraged, and, if you wish to sit on the floor, a mat, zafu, pillow or blanket.

10:30 a.m. to noon in our worship space at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 2070 Ridgecliff Road in Upper Arlington.

Parsha Tazria-Metzora (Vayikra/Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33), 21st Day of the Omer

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Welcoming Shabbat on the 8th Night of Passover

Join the Little Minyan Kehilla this Friday evening, April 10th,the-shabbat-queen-elena-kotliarker 7:30 p.m., as we welcome this year’s second Shabbat of Pesach. We will be guided in our worship by themes of the season as well as those of Shabbat.

On the first days of Passover and during Chol HaMo’ed – the weekdays of the festival of Passover – we return, in Torah, to read the story of the Exodus from Egypt. At the conclusion of this festival of freedom, we turn to passages in Torah that instruct us on when and how to observe this festival and how to count the days between Pesach and Shavuot.

On Passover we celebrate our redemption (to become a free People) and on Shavuot we commemorate the revelation of Torah at Mount Sinai. We mark the period of seven weeks in between the two celebrations with the counting of the omer (a measure of barleybarley). Biblically, this practice is rooted in our agrarian way of life: You shall count off seven weeks; start to count the seven weeks when the sickle is first put to the standing grain. (D’varim 16:9). In the Rabbinic period, our sages linked Shavuot with the revelation of Torah. Thus, today we count the omer as a spiritual practice of refinement and elevation as we make our way from the initial taste of freedom to the maturity with which we embrace Torah. How will we inhabit our freedom? What parts of our character still enslave us? How will our emotions guide us? What practices will help us to become more liberated? How will we hear Torah? Using Kabbalistic teachings about the structure of the soul, we count the omer using the 7 emotional attributes (Sefirot): 

  • Chesed – lovingkindness, compassionSfirat HaOmer
  • Gevurah – discipline, justice, strength
  • Tiferet – beauty, harmony, grace
  • Netzach – endurance, fortitude
  • Hod – splendor, humility
  • Yesod – foundation, bonding
  • Malchut – nobility, leadership

Each week and each day of each week (7 x 7) is given an attribute creating different combinations of emotional qualities and plenty of opportunity for self-reflection. Materials for counting the omer can be found in our Resources section

Artwork of the ten s’firot by David Friedman,

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Shabbat VaYinafash ~ Contemplative Shabbat Morning Service

A reminder to join our kehilla Shabbat/Saturday morning, March 28th, when we will zen shabbatgather for our Shabbat Vayinafash Service, a contemplative approach to Shabbat morning and Torah. 10:30 a.m. to noon in our worship space at Covenant Presbyterian Church.  Please join Spiritual Leader Jessica Shimberg for an easy flow of pre-Pesach Shabbat chant, liturgy, movement and holy conversation. Comfortable attire encouraged, and, if you wish to sit on the floor, a mat, zafu, pillow or blanket.

Parsha Tzav (Vayikra/Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36), Shabbat HaGadol


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Opening Our Tents ~ Little Minyan Kehilla’s Passover Plans

Sign up TODAY or by March 25th. matzo-houseFor more information, click here.

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Let All Who are Hungry Come and Eat … כל דכפין ייתי ויכל

In our Passover haggadah (telling), each year we read the words “let all who are hungry come and eat ~ כל דכפין ייתי ויכל ~ Kal dichfin yeitei v’yeichul.”*  This phrase follows words spoken about the matzah we eat during Pesach: “This is the bread of affliction ~ matzahהא לחמא עניא ~ Ha Lachma Anya.”  Matzah is one of the many powerful symbols at our seder tables, filled with edible devices to assist in recounting the journey of our People from slavery to freedom. As we raise the matzah, we recall our bondage in ancient Egypt. We remember the emotional, physical, and spiritual impact of being enslaved in Mitzrayim (the Hebrew word for Egypt also means “narrow places”).

It is with this consciousness and “muscle memory” of how it feels to be enslaved that we invite all those who are hungry, all who lack sustenance (whether food or water or freedom or spiritual nourishment or community) to sit with us at our tables.  We invite them not just to eat, but to hear and slavery-still-existstell with us the narrative of a People who extricated themselves (with Divine inspiration and support) from a place of despair and constraint toward a place of hope and expansiveness. We share the “bread of affliction” and the narrative of mustering the holy chutzpah to move out of slavery consciousness and into freedom consciousness.  

Why is the story of Passover still so relevant? Beyond being a central theme of our Jewish narrative, the exodus from slavery to freedom is fundamental to our human narrative. Whether disturbingly literal, as with modern-day human-trafficking, or maar-tomatoslaves608metaphorical, as with our oppression at the “hands” of our electronic devices, the Passover story is extraordinarily real and present in our lives today.  What’s more, it is our responsibility to hear the words of the haggadah as a call to action, a hopeful message of what can be accomplished through the combination of courageous human action and Divine providence and inspiration. 

With this in mind, T’ruah ~ the rabbinic call for human rights, has just released The othersideofthesea-bannerOther Side of the Sea: A Haggadah on Fighting Modern-Day Slavery. Drawn from the well of our ancient texts and voices of modern-day rabbis and activists (including The Little Minyan Kehilla’s Jessica Shimberg), this telling calls upon our drive for social justice and change. Just as T’ruah’s name was selected to remind of us the clarion call of the shofar that rouses us, this haggadah is designed to inspire us to action.

May we we have the compassion, fortitude, and blessing to heed that call!

*This famous segment of the haggadah is Aramaic while the rest of the haggadah text is Hebrew. Aramaic is also the language of the Kaddish (a prayer central to our liturgy). Why use Aramaic vs. Hebrew?  A very practical answer is that Aramaic was the lingua franca at the time these words were incorporated into our holy texts. When we rise for Kaddish (an affirmation of the sanctity of life and the Sacred enormity of the One) as when we invite all who are hungry to join us, it is imperative that people understand what is being expressed. A more spiritual answer is that, according the ancient rabbis, Aramaic is the only language that the Malachim (Angels of God) don’t understand. And when we are truly spiritually “tuned in,” we need not speak with the angels (spiritual intermediaries) for we are communicating directly with God.
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Opening Our Tents ~ Little Minyan Kehilla’s Passover Plans

Collaboration and creativity around Jewish learning and celebration have always been hallmarks of our community. In addition, we are a kehilla that LOVES to prepare, share, and eat healthy, locally-sourced and delectable food.

This year, the 1st and 2nd nights of Passover (when we typically gather in our homes for seder) armatzo-housee Friday, April 3rd, and Saturday, April 4th. So, rather than hosting a large communal seder on a weeknight or on the last night of Pesach, we are creating an opportunity for Kehilla members and friends to connect in homes to celebrate Pesach in a variety of ways.  On the 7th night, Friday, April 10th, join us when we gather as a kehilla to welcome Shabbat. We are trying something new this year in the spirit of fostering community in an alternative fashion to our typical large communal seder. Join us in this delicious and nourishing experiment!

We hope this approach will provide each of us with the Passover celebration we desire and make connections that will enhance our experience of this deeply important holiday. Please complete our Seder Sign-Up form as soon as possible and NO LATER than March 25th. If you have any questions or concerns that are not addressed on the form, please contact Debra Seltzer at

matzahriverAs Passover draws to a close on Shabbat afternoon (Saturday, April 11th), our spiritual leader, Jessica Shimberg, will host an educational program for adults (b’nei mitzvah and up) using the new T’ruah Haggadah – The Other Side of the Sea.  As we end the Festival of Freedom, join us for late-afternoon conversation about modern-day slavery and the journey to freedom for all people. Dinner and Havdalah to follow.

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The Gifts We Bring …

Creating a worship service for and with a 21st-Century progressive kehilla (community) … say, The Little Minyan Kehilla, perhaps … bears a striking resemblance to many of the passages in this week’s  Torah portion – Parshat Vayak’hel.  

vayakhel.sharon binder

Artist: Sharon Binder (from

To begin with, the opening word of the parsha, vayak’hel, means “assembled” and shares with the word we use to describe our congregation – kehilla – the Hebrew root קהל (koof-hey-lamed).  We read that Moshe assembled all of the congregation (et-kol-adat) of the children of Israel (b’nei Yisrael) to remind them of the commandment to keep the Sabbath.  Moshe then tells the assembled community that all those who are “willing of heart” should bring an offering or gift (t’rumah) to God and the collective – that the wise-hearted should create all that makes the sanctuary beautiful and sacred.

The community disperses and then returns bringing myriad elements with them as an offering – “everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit was moved.” (Ex. 35:21) Each person brought something that could be used to add to the beauty and sanctity of their shared sacred space – the Tent of Meeting.

The elements of our Little Minyan worship and its purpose are embedded in Parshat Vayak’hel:

  1. Assembling as a community – a congregation,
  2. Keeping the Sabbath, and
  3. Bringing our offerings, willingly, enthusiastically, and with a loving-heart. 

Although the parsha mentions two master craftsmen, most of the narrative shows that it was the work of the collective community and not a few talented individuals.  Much like our ancients, it is the collective energy of our kehilla that creates meaningful and sacred worship for and with our Little Minyan:

  • some of us bring music (and a guitar, perhaps),
  • some of us offer readings or our thoughts about the meaning of a prayer,
  • some of us guide a meditation or teach a new song,
  • some of us schlep prayerbooks,
  • some of us set up chairs,
  • some of us bring food for our oneg Shabbat,
  • some of us have purchased ritual objects to beautiful our space,
  • some stay to clean up …

vayakhel giftsAll of these offerings have great value. And it is through the pooling of our offerings and the loving intention with which they are offered that we sense the sacred indwelling Presence.


      Join the Little Minyan Kehilla this Friday, March 13th, at 7:30 p.m.                to welcome and celebrate Shabbat.

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