At the Confluence of Shabbat Chazon and Tisha B’Av ~ Destruction and Renewal

Sitting in the hospital at the bedside of a child on Shabbat Chazon reading Torah and preparing for Tisha b’Av feels strikingly appropriate. And although typing does not, it allows words to flow to ease the pain, and that feels “Shabbesdik” (in the spirit of Shabbat).  

This Shabbat we are reading D’varim – the first parsha/Torah portion of the final bdestruction of Templeook of     Torah, later given the Latin name Deuteronomy, “second Torah,” because it summarizes the first four books of Torah in a series of speeches by Moses. This year, Shabbat and Tisha b’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) kiss as stars bring on the evening, heralding the beginning of a fast day commemorating enormous destruction and devastation in the history of the Jewish people.

The 12th sentence of Parsha Devarim and Megillat Eicha (also called the Book of Lamentations because of the nature of its five elegies) both begin with the word איכה (eicha), “How?” This is not the kind of “How?” we ask when we are gathering information to accomplish a task; rather, the “How?” that we wail (externally or internally) when the weight of sadness and despair seem insurmountable … when we feel powerless in the face of great destruction, ugliness, illness, devastation. This “How?” is a total mind-body-soul cry … visceral and deep.Tisha B-'AvJudaism, as well as other wisdom traditions, is designed to help us recover from even this level of dark despair. In the case of Megillat Eicha, the lament is for the destruction of Jerusalem and Judea at the hands of the Babylonians. Our sages tell us that Jeremiah, the author of the elegies, was tender and sensitive, though despised and scorned and sentenced to jail for his prophetic words. He was inspired to warn of impending doom – a society headed for destruction – brought about by corrupt and immoral behavior, and was never self-righteous in his delivery of this unheeded message. In the case of Moses, he is recalling his sense of great heaviness at the responsibility of guiding a generation of whiny Israelites through the wilderness. In Moshe’s case, help comes from Divine inspiration and strength and from distributing responsibility.   Jeremiah’s case is far more tragic, but his faith remains comfort and sustenance.

bluesun the waters by kazuyoIn dark times, how do we persist? Where do we turn for comfort? How do we find the strength to renew ourselves and rebuild our lives? Even the act of identifying these sources assists us in finding the light and moving toward it.

As we journey, in Jewish time, through the darkness of Tisha b’Av and continue through this month to the new moon of Elul, the last month of the year 5775, our Jewish values guide us to begin the process of introspection and self-reflection. As we complete the cycle of our annual journey that brings us, once again, to the head of the year – Rosh HaShanah, may we find comfort and strength, light and love in the process. May the heaviness of despair be lightened by the inner tools and outer relationships that soothe us. And may we, together, rejoice in the value of tradition and the renewal of meaning that guide and gird our Little Minyan Kehilla.  

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The Confluence of Shabbat Matot-Mas’ei and Rosh Chodesh Av

Friday, August 17th on the Gregorian calendar is Rosh Chodesh Av – the first (“head”) of the month of Av on the Hebrew calendar. The Hebrew calendar’s rosh hodesh_0months are based on the cycles of the moon – deeply resonant with human cycles of fertility. Pregnant with potential, the new month appears in the sky with a sliver of crescent light, heralding opportunity and filled with generations of memory and history – both celebratory and heavy with grief. The month of Av is one that our People remember with sadness. On the 9th of Av (Tisha b’Av) we recount the destruction of both Temples – the first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. and the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.. Yet, echoing the divine feminine in the monthly cycling of our calendar, the rabbis called Av “Menachem Av” because the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av begins seven weeks of special Haftarot (readings accompanying the weekly Torah portion) in which prophets offer the mourning Israelites words of consolation. 

Light in the DarknessOne of the jewels of Judaism, and religious traditions in general, is the optimism present in Torah, teachings, prayers, poetry … that even in the midst of destruction and despair there is consolation that comes from hope ~ faith or trust that light resides in even the darkest moments. Life is full of miracles for us to explore and appreciate. Sometimes the miraculous gifts of life are so small that they go unnoticed and some are passed off as coincidental or even “dumb luck.” Jewish prayer and teachings embed gratitude deeply in our daily consciousness to alert us to the presence of the miraculous in the mundane.  

Torah readingThis week’s parsha (Torah portion) is a double portion, Matot-Mas’ei, and begins with Moshe speaking to the heads of the Israelite tribes with the words commanded by the Source. The subject: our words – reminding us, once again, of the power of our speech and the importance of choosing our words carefully and following through on promises that cross our lips.

Parsha Mas’ei is the final chapter of the book of Bamidbar (in the wilderness, in Hebrew), more familiarly known, perhaps, as Numbers. Parsha Mas’ei (marches) is a recounting, a sort of travel journal, of the places through which we journeyed while in the wilderness on our way to the Promised Land. Midrash offers that this review of our long journey is akin to a parent reminding a child of all of the places the family stopped on a long journey when they needed rest and comfort – every oasis that welcomed the Israelites and provided them with food and water was rewarded with a mention in Torah. 


Join The Little Minyan Kehilla for Erev Shabbat this week …

Service at 7:30 p.m., Friday, July 17th in our worship space at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Upper Arlington.

Words by Jessica K. Shimberg, spiritual leader of Little Minyan Kehilla, photograph of light reaching into darkness by Michael Luna, artistic rendering of Parsha Mas’ei bu Laya Crust.

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Mariage Equality ~ Sacred Status Blessed for Years by Clergy Now Recognized by the Law of the Land

On behalf of the Little Minyan Kehilla, a congregation that has ALWAYS celebrated the richness of the fabric of humanity and the boundless nature of love, I express great delight in the news from the United States Supreme Court today.  As an expression of love and commitment and caring, marriage is a sacred status and a blessing to be afforded to all people who wish to join their lives in this way. It is a deep joy to enter THIS Shabbat knowing that marriage is now sanctioned by the State (no matter which state) as it has always been celebrated in our kehilla and in communities across our nation.  Below are words from ALEPH, Alliance for Jewish Renewal, where I am blessed to be both a member of the staff and a rabbinic student.  Shabbat Shalom!

Jessica K. Shimberg
Spiritual Leader, The Little Minyan Kehilla


The Wedding of Tara Polansky and Tayo Clyburn, before their union was recognized throughout the United States, yet was recognized by the State of Massachusetts and celebrated by the constellation of family and friends gathered in Columbus, Ohio on October 13, 2013. Photo credit: Amy Snyder Tannenbaum,

June 26th, 2015

In response to the United States Supreme Court’s historic and groundbreaking decision today affirming the constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry, the Board and Staff of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, released the following statement:

It is with great joy and celebration that we enter the sacred space of Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, knowing that all Americans regardless of sexual orientation can marry. The Jewish Renewal Movement has long stood on fundamental principles of gender and sexual orientation, for each person is created equally b’tzelem Elohim (in the divine image).  We are overjoyed that the U.S. Supreme Court today affirmed these key principles of equal justice under law.  As we declare under the chuppah (wedding canopy) during the sheva brachot (seven blessings of marriage):

שמח תשמח רעים האהובים, כשמחך יצירך בגן עדן מקדם
“God, gladden the hearts of all beloveds committing themselves to each other in love, as You gladdened Your creations in paradise long ago.”

ALEPH celebrates with all couples who commit themselves to each other in love.  We congratulate all who worked so valiantly to achieve this joyous day.

Today we celebrate the ruling on marriage equality. Tonight we may imagine that the Shabbat bride seems a bit more radiant than usual in reflection of this joyful news. And when the new week comes, it will be time to put our shoulders to the wheel and keep working toward the dream of a world free of hatred, free of violence, free of bigotry.      May it come speedily and soon.

Shoshanna R. Schechter-Shaffin
Executive Director

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The Power of Prayer

Recovering from surgery in the hospital, a beloved congregant recently said to me, “you know, that prayer that you have taught us is the ‘bathroom prayer,’* the one about the miraculous nature of our bodies … that really is true!” I smiled broadly at both the great appreciation of her body, and the somewhat novel realization of what prayer (even an ancient Papercut.AhserYotzar.WEB_sone) has to teach us.

As members of a progressive Jewish congregation, Little Minyanites are not alone in our skepticism about the meaning and value of prayer. So many of us were raised with stilted language about the Divine Mystery … God, King of the Universe, Lord, Ruler, Father, Judge … whether in Hebrew or in English, language that generally didn’t jive with our intellect and modern sensibilities.  The very notion of petitionary prayer, asking for God’s assistance in our 21st century world of advanced medicine, technology, science, is difficult to swallow – we who have so many tools at our disposal to control our own fate.

And yet … prayer works! Whether it is the comfort of familiar words that we have said for years and with parents and grandparents, or a new meaning or comfort we find in an ancient prayer because of our particular circumstances, prayer is healing. Intercessory prayer is an approach that has been part of the human reaction to illness since Moshe prayed to God on Miryam’s behalf, “Ana El Na Refah Na La (Please, God, please heal her),” which we just read in last week’s Torah portion. And for the skeptical among us, praying for the health of a person (as we do with our Mi Shebeirach prayer for healing) has been studied and shown to improve health.**

So, whether we are recovering from surgery or waking in the morning or eating a bite of food or viewing a beautiful sunset or watching a child take a first step, there is room for prayer in our lives and a deep value and comfort in it as well.

Artwork by Nechama Tamara Farber

* Asher Yatzar is a blessing that expresses the miraculous nature of our body, its openings and closings and the ability it gives us to move about each day.

** JAMA Internal Medicine, October 25, 1999, Vol. 159, No. 19

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Welcoming Shabbat ~ Friday, June 12th

Join us this Friday evening, June 12th (26 Sivan on the Hebrew calendar) to welcome Shabbat with inspiring worship and joyful music.  

Where are we in Torah, this week? Bamidbar (in the wilderness); the fourth Torah portion in the fourth book of Torah (Numbers/Bamidbar) is Sh’lach, which means to send. Spies are dispatched to scout out this foreign land (Israel) to which the Israelites are journeying. They come back, and most of them report with fear and trepidation about the new land. Once again, the Israelites bemoan their circumstances and wish to return to Egypt. And so … another 40 years of wandering begins …12-spies

… our service will not be 40 years long … come begin your Shabbat with The Little Minyan Kehilla at our worship space in Covenant Presbyterian Church in Upper Arlington.

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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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