Viewing “Interfaith” Family Formation through a Progressive Jewish Lens

Our Little Minyan Kehilla has always been a welcoming home to those of us who wrestle with what it means to be Jewish in 21st Century America. Many of us have both danced intimately, lovingly with Judaism and also found “being Jewish” a dance that can conflict with ideas, people, and activities we value in our significantly secular lives.

Recently, a number of us have found the podcasts of Judaism Unbound to be both an outstanding resource and wonderful fodder for ongoing conversations. As their website explains, “Judaism Unbound … is a project that catalyzes and supports grassroots efforts by “disaffected but hopeful” American Jews to reimagine and redesign Jewish life in America for the 21st Century.” Eleven years after our founding as an independent minyan, eight years after our affiliation with the Jewish Reconstructionist movement, and well into our collaboration and affiliation with Jewish Renewal, Judaism Unbound has created a national forum for the type of Judaism we “do” at The Little Minyan Kehilla. 

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6 yr. old Asa fondly remembers LMK Yom Kippur services held at Columbus Mennonite Church in Clintonville.

Efforts to create regular opportunity for dialogue about the subjects and ideas raised through the podcasts were initiated by LMK member Nina Thomson after listening to three sequential programs on interfaith relationships. Nina and her husband, Jake Boswell, were raised in the same town and with different approaches to religion, and, as is the case with nearly all of our young families, their family is engaged in Jewish communal life as much (and, truth be told more so) because of the efforts of the partner who was not raised Jewish than the Jewish partner. Even with all of the reports of the decline of Judaism (and religion in general) in American homes, and the fears raised by Jewish grandparents and others about the negative impacts of intermarriage, the fact in our admittedly small sample population is that intermarriage can absolutely strengthen a family’s commitment to seeking Jewish community and experiencing Judaism in a very meaningful way.

To be clear, neither Little Minyan Kehilla or Judaism Unbound is “Judaism lite.” Both are committed to connecting people with Judaism in deeply meaningful ways. Whether through rituals steeped in millennia-old traditions or through entirely new LMK.Simchat Torah Sunshineparadigms that ancient Jewish texts could not have imagined, whether one’s Judaism is part of daily practices or a once or twice a year happening, and regardless of how one’s relationship with Judaism is perceived by halakha (Jewish law) or the statements of Judaism’s major American movements, Jewish wisdom tradition and sacred spiritual technologies are as relevant as ever in the 21st century, and as necessary to one’s psychological, intellectual, spiritual, and physical health.

In the spirit of the season, our next gathering on Saturday, December 3, Motzei Shabbat from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m., at the Clintonville home of Beth Conrey and Yutan Getzler will center on these questions:

  • What does a 21st Century “interfaith marriage” look like through a progressive Jewish lens?
  • How does Judaism manifest itself in an “interfaith marriage” in the age of what author Shaul Magid calls American “post-ethnicity,” where many of us are more likely to resonate with “spiritual humanism” than religious specificity?
  • In what concrete and constructive ways can we frame our languaging and practice of Jewish values within our homes and how does that interface with other values we hold dear?

Earlier this year, the Judaism Unbound’s podcast hosts and chief re-imaginers extraordinaire, Dan Libenson and Lex Rofes, explored these issues in 3 different still-jewish-mcginityepisodes (#15, #16, and #17), speaking with Dr. Keren McGinity and Paul Golin, and drawing on scholarship, studies and the lived experience of podcast hosts and guests to re-examine an age-old question. Please listen to the podcasts before you come (we envision this as the 21st century version of a book club). They can be accessed at http://www.judaismunbound.com/find-any-podcast-episode/. Consider taking notes about ideas you want to share or questions/concerns that arise as you listen.

Join Little Minyan Kehilla members for desserts, drinks and discussion at the home of Beth Conrey and Yutan Getzler.  Please note that the discussion is ADULT ONLY, however CHILDCARE will be provided on site with RSVP essential to ninathomson@yahoo.com. For further location information: contact bethconrey@gmail.com or littleminyan@littleminyan.com.

Posted in Calendar, Family, Hagim/Holidays, Lifecycle Ritual, Mini Minyan, Spiritual Seeking, Tikkun Olam, Torah | Leave a comment

Bringing Light into Dark Times ~ Ancient Tradition AND Modern Necessity

An extraordinarily bright and hope-filled invitation from Little Minyan Kehilla member Jodi Kushins to participate in this season of light with our brothers, sisters, cousins of multiple faith traditions which bring LIGHT into darkness when daylight becomes sparse in our hemisphere. Another great example of how to renew and reconstruct ancient ritual to meet 21st century needs is her Light_of_Hanukkah-250x180family’s Chanukah blessing at the end of her post. Whether you use the traditional blessings, modify the blessing language to make it egalitarian or gender neutral, or design a creative blessing like Jodi and Dan did, our blessings bring forth gratitude and celebration of light and legacy, and hope and inspiration to light the darkness.

Jodi blogs at insideoutarted.wordpress.com and is also co-founder, with her husband, Dan, of Over the Fence Urban Farm where you can see many ways in which she actualizes her Jewish values.

‘Tis the Season for Solidarity

Growing up in Great Neck, NY, the “quintessential Jewish suburb” (Goldstein, 2006), December was a time for Chanukah candles, not Christmas lights. Still, I remember the few houses around town that were decked out for that holiday. I loved and hated those lights. I loved to see them twinkling through the crisp winter nights. I hated that they reminded me of this great big and seemingly amazing thing I wasn’t a part of.

Today, I live in Columbus, OH where most of my family, friends, and neighbors celebrate some derivation of Christmas. At times I have felt uneasy participating in their seasonal traditions. Afterall, as the Chanukah story teaches us the Maccabees fought the Greeks for the right to be different, not to blend in.  But, as I’ve written in this space before, I now feel comfortable sharing the joy my friends and family feel at this time of year. (See, for example: “Cultural Responsiveness Begins at Home,” and “Our Craftiest Christmas to Date.”)   In turn, I’ve shared my Chanukah traditions and together, we’ve found light in the darkness.

kidschanukah

Sharing the magic of Chanukah candle lighting with some non-Jewish friends.
(Columbus, OH 2007)

Times seem pretty dark for many of us at this moment in time, and it’s not just because the sun is up fewer than 10 hours a day. Many of us are afraid of the direction our country will go when our president-elect takes office in January.

The appointment of Stephen Bannon as Senior Counselor to the President set a lot of Jews on edge. We fear that with someone like Bannon in the White House, someone who has supported racism through the spread of white nationalist messages on Breitbart “News” Network, prejudice and violence against minorities will not only increase, but be condoned. When the story broke of Richard Spencer’s speech at the white nationalist movement conference in D.C. last month, our worst imaginings seemed even more like real possibilities.

After watching Spencer’s talk and the response from his audience, I had a sickening thought. With Chanukah around the corner, would I feel comfortable setting our menorah in the window per tradition? I voiced this fear to my husband, Dan, who was raised Catholic but does not associate himself with the church any longer. While he is not Jewish, he is supportive of my commitment to my Jewish heritage and my desire to raise our daughter, Cora, with a sense of Jewish identity. Dan assured me we would light the candles and display them for the world to see, and that we would get others to join us. (I really love that guy.)

So, here’s your invitation.

  • IF YOU ARE JEWISH AND HAVEN’T LIT CHANUKAH CANDLES IN A WHILE, PLEASE JOIN US.
  • IF YOU ARE A FRIEND OF JEWS, PLEASE JOIN US.
  • IF YOU WANT TO SHOW THE WORLD THAT YOU ARE NOT AFRAID TO STAND UP FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN PERSECUTED FOR FOLLOWING BELIEFS THAT DON’T MIMIC THE PREVAILING CULTURE, PLEASE JOIN US.

The Jewish calendar is lunar based which is why our holidays don’t fall on the same secular dates each year. This year we’ll be lighting candles for eight nights beginning December 24th. I’m excited by the idea of millions of chanukiot (a name for menorahs used on Chanukah which have 9, rather than 7 candleholders) taking their place beside Christmas trees that night.

There are lots of ideas for DIY menorahs out there as well as well as information about the candle lighting traditions. If you have a Jewish friend or neighbor, they might have an extra one you can borrow.

Dan and I made up the following secular blessing which we welcome you to use if you are so inclined. It speaks to the spirit of the traditional Hebrew blessing, but is something we believe Jews and non-Jews can say without fear of contradicting their own religious or philosophical beliefs.

“THANK YOU FOR BEING WITH ME TONIGHT,
TO CELEBRATE THE MIRACLE OF THE CHANUKAH LIGHT.
PEACE OUT.”

Posted in Calendar, Eco-Judaism, Family, Hagim/Holidays, Holiday Celebrations, Liturgy, Mini Minyan, Spiritual Seeking, Tikkun Olam | Leave a comment

What Being a Jew Means to Me ~ Spiritual Activism and Repose

Just as no emergency room doctor ever hopes for an accident, no clergy person ever hopes for desperate times. And … I cannot help but notice the dramatic uptick in people seeking my spiritual services (both personal and communal) in the days since November 8, 2016.

The offerings I provide as my community’s “rabbi”(as I working and studying toward ordination in January 2018) and as an interfaith communal leader in Columbus tend to be less visibly valued when life is humming along for folks. My peers from other faith communities confirm this apparent apathy (which, I posit, flows much more from our societal norm of “over-busy-ness” than from actual apathy) is not just a “Jewish thing” or the product of our Little Minyan Kehilla’s relatively small size. Even with mounting evidence of less desire for religious spiritual services, those of us in the “business” of teaching, modeling, and bringing forth the Sacred that is always present in our world continue to do the work we do to nourish souls and inspire hearts, within our communities and more Transitionbroadly, regardless of how many people show up. It is truly a calling (as opposed to a career) for most of us. As someone who left a career path promising sustainable income – even prosperity, I am keenly aware that those of us who do this work are called (in a way that cannot be ignore) to serve the soul-needs of what research tells us is a dwindling number of people interested in seeking faith communities to meet “tribal” or affinity needs, explore ancient wisdom, develop intimacy with ritual practices, or cultivate a sense of the sacred tied to any particular theology.

And yet, these are, I believe, basic human needs that we have either suppressed or met in alternate, non-religious ways. And at the same time as Pew research shows a tremendous rise in the “nones” or unaffiliated in our country, it also reports that a 2016 “study of the ways religion influences the daily lives of Americans finds that people who are highly religious are more engaged with their extended families, more likely to volunteer, more involved in their communities and generally happier with the way things are going in their lives.”  

No matter what studies show, I will continue to offer spiritual services in an accessible and progressively-oriented religious context rooted in Judaism. Although, at times, the fear-driven animosity and dangerous rhetoric of the current political climate devastate me, I am encouraged and enlivened by the growing outreach by individuals and groups to one another and the openness of even “secular” gatherings to receiving comfort and inspiration from clergy.

I will continue to spread hope and positivity always, even in the darkest of times and places (and even when it feels like noone is interested) not because “the Bible says so” or because I am an eternal optimist, but because I trust the possibilities inherent in our human ability to CHOOSE GOODNESS, and because I have faith in the ability of hearts and minds to open through shared experience and dialogue. In addition, I know that history bears jks-columbus-unitedwitness to human collaboration accomplishing goals which felt impossibly remote and which, each time, bent the arc of morality toward justice.*

In this light of trust, faith and knowing, I share the words I offered to the gorgeously hope-filled and loving crowd that gathered as “Columbus United” on Tuesday, November 29th at the Ohio Statehouse.

Dear Friends … I invite you to join me in grounding and centering ourselves in this moment in time and space: 

  • feel yourself firmly rooted in this action of unified civic responsibility;
  • bring your attention to your breath;
  • notice your feet planted upon our mother Earth, this land that, long before our ancestors arrived, was home to native peoples – Adena and Hopewell, then Wyandotte and Mingo, tribes of the Iroquois nation;
  • look around and notice who is near you and then expand your gaze across this extraordinary amalgamation of central Ohio’s diverse human beauty. It is both our commonalities and our differences that strengthen the fabric of our shared community here in central Ohio.

It is vital – now more than ever, that we see and engage beyond the borders of our neighborhoods, congregations, affinity groups, to see and meet and really know one another ~ to truly live into the sacred words of so many faith traditions to LOVE THY NEIGHBOR. And I’m not talking about the person who lives next door! I am talking about the person who looks different from me. The person who has a different skin tone than I do, or who can’t afford to buy groceries where I do, or who speaks with an accent, dresses, prays differently than I do. THAT is my NEIGHBOR. THAT is the person I LOVE. 

And, folks, I dare say, that includes the person who voted differently than I did. Let us channel our despair into productivity and progress, and turn our anger into compassion and conversation, even for and with those whose fear motivates them to vote in ways that we cannot stomach.

I am well-aware that I stand with you tonight as a person of privilege.

As a woman and as a Jew, only a generation or two separates me from the bonds of “other-ness,” however, I have grown up and lived comfortably in Columbus, insulated from the daily issues that challenge and frustrate and beat down and even kill my neighbors who were born into a different life circumstance than I. Tonight and as we move forward, I defer to those whose very lives and liberties are on the line as we create the agenda of this movement, and I stand with you in support of your dignity, integrity, and equal right to live safely and securely in our shared community.

Like you, my heart and my conscience called me to be here this evening. When we stand, united, there is a palpable energy that arises. The power of the collective voice, the compassion of the collective ear, the comfort of collective purpose, the strength of collective action, the inspiration of collective belief in basic American values ~ decency, dignity, fairness, justice, and equal rights under the law are what we demand of our elected and appointed leaders.

I can understand pessimism, but I don’t believe in it. This is not simply a matter of faith on my part, but of historical evidence. Not overwhelming evidence, I admit, but enough for hope to thrive, because for hope, we don’t need certainty, only possibility.**

With the pregnant possibility present here tonight, I offer this prayer,

El HaRachaman ~ Holy One of Womb-like Compassion

Let us embrace this whole muddied mess with fresh eyes,

with ears open to listening carefully and completely,

with hearts strengthened by brokenness,

with rhythmic breath deep enough to release narrowness, bitterness, and fear,

and with smiles fortified by new friendships and faith in the power of our collectivity.

“One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul” said poet Clarissa Pinkola Estes. “The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.”

May we take the soul-light of this evening together and share it ~ share it until it illuminates the darkness and brightens the lives of EVERY NEIGHBOR in our city.

* the well-known phrase, “the arc of the Universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” used so poignantly by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was initiated by Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and prominent American Transcendentalist born in 1810 who called for the abolition of slavery. Click here for an interesting literary chronicling of this phrase.

**inspired by a Howard Zinn essay reprinted in his book Failure to Quit. He explained, “I was inspired by my students of the Eighties. I was teaching a spring and fall lec­ture course with four hundred students in each course (and yet with lots of discussion). I looked hard, listened closely, but did not find the apathy, the conservatism, the disregard for the plight of others, that everybody (right and left) was reporting about “the me generation.”

Posted in Human Rights, LGBTQ, Liturgy, Spiritual Seeking, Tikkun Olam, Torah | Leave a comment

Shabbat VaYinafash ~ Rest, Restore, Re-Ensoul Yourself with Gratitude

A remizen shabbatnder to join our kehilla this Shabbat/Saturday morning, November 26th, when we will gather for Shabbat Vayinafash, a contemplative approach to Shabbat morning worship and Torah. We will meet from 10:30 a.m. to noon at a private home in Upper Arlington. Text 614.592.9593 for more information.

Join Spiritual Leader Jessica Shimberg for a gentle flow of Shabbat chant, liturgy, movement and holy conversation around themes from this week’s Parsha/Torah portion, Chayai Sara.  While this parsha begins with Sara’s death, its title is “Sara’s LIFE” rather than “Sara’s death,” and her presence permeates the entire portion. This emphasis is no surprise for those who are familiar with the ways in which we, Jewishly, approach death:

  • emphasizing a great appreciation for the life that was lived, for life in general, and for the Source of Life,
  • remembering the life lived in great detail throughout shiva (the initial period of mourning),
  • finding comfort in continued reflection upon how life does not end with death, but continues in the hearts and memories of those who were touched by the lives of those now gone,  
  • continuing to say Kaddish regularly throughout the year following the death of a close loved one, keeping them close in our hearts as we praise the Source of Life, and releasing their spirit to soar on the wings of Shechina (the immanent, indwelling presence of the Sacred), and
  • returning to our own lives with renewed appreciation for the gift of life and doing honor to those who have died by performing acts of loving kindness and tzedakah in their memory.

May we be blessed to see, especially on this “Black Friday” of conspicuous consumption in the U.S.A., that our lives are enriched by using what we have to do good deeds, to share our truth with love and sensitivity, to grow relationships filled with compassion.  Rather than accumulating possessions, let us ensure to value of our lives by contributing to peace and justice in our world and building a legacy of loving kindness.

*with appreciation to my friend, erev rav Jennifer Singer, for the inspiration for this post; and with deep grief at the loss of life and art, the abstract impressionist art of Yoram Raaman, entitled Dancer, is shared. Although he and his wife are alive, their studio was burned to the ground last night in one of many fires raging in Israel this week ~ another reminder of climate change.

Posted in Family, Lifecycle Ritual, Liturgy, Shabbat, Tikkun Olam, Torah | Leave a comment

A Prayer for Election Day 2016

Our kehilla often talks about how our Jewishness informs our secular pursuits and how the rhythms of our secular lives can be enhanced through the application of Jewish ritual, sacred texts, and our Jewish wisdom tradition. What follows is a prayer written by our spiritual leader, Jessica K. Shimberg, inspired by a sense of relief and hope on this Election Day coupled with a desire to have the events of this election cycle motivate us toward productive dialogue and action to heal and strengthen our country and its inhabitants.

May our nation be blessed with2016-election
hope and healing,
strength and softness,
courage and compassion,
vision and veracity,
fortitude and faith in the political process.
May we feel, in the coming hours and days,
a renewal of hope that calls us to thoughtful action.
May we take the ugliness that was unveiled by the antipathy and derision of this election cycle,
and hold it up to the light
allowing careful examination of the issues that breed discontent
to clear the way for the values that give birth to
justice, fairness, equality, and peace.
Let us turn our own flaws and our judgment of the other’s otherness into our growing edge of respectful discourse and understanding,
leading us to reach for what unifies us in our humanity.
Let us embracing the whole muddied mess with fresh eyes,
and listen carefully and completely
with our hearts and our ears,
catching the wickedness in our mouths,
chewing on it
until it turns slowly to a palatable phrase,
allowing us all to taste new flavors.
And as we breathe in deeply and release
the narrowness, the tightness, the bitterness,
may we be blessed with the grace and spaciousness to
smile
and bear the weight
together.
Posted in Calendar, Liturgy, Spiritual Seeking, Torah | Leave a comment

As we Begin Again … How Does Torah Inform Us in the 21st Century?

This post is based on an essay by Joseph Gindi which is the first in a new series from American Jewish World Service (AJWS) entitled  JustThought. This monthly publication will dive deeply into a key issue or question. For their inaugural post, AJWS examines the very basis of the ongoing dialogue between our globalized world and our ancient Torah.

How can an ancient book of myth and law have something to say about the challenges of the 21st century?

This week, we concluded a long season of Jewish holy days with the celebration of Simchat Torah. This is the week when we begin the cycle of Torah anew. We Little Minyan Kehilla Logoare empowered as we begin again ~ with all of the spiritual soul-searching and re-aiming of Elul and the Yamim Nora’im; with the abundance and experience of impermanence that Sukkot brings; with the prayers and ritual of welcoming the seasonal change of weather leading to the land’s rebirth in spring that come with Shmini Etzeret.  

Many Jews identify the Torah as the scroll read weekly in synagogue. But in rabbinic tradition, “Torah” means much more than that. Torah began with written scripture, TaNaKh (an acronym), which includes the five books of Moses (the Torah), the works of the Prophets (Nevi’im), and other Writings (Ketuvim), such as Psalms and Proverbs. It later expanded to include the Mishnah and the Talmud—the voluminous works of “oral Torah” that serve as the foundation for Jewish law and practice. Over time, as Jewish sages produced more religious commentary and analysis, that too became Torah. 

What makes Torah so powerful is that it is not a static book or ideology—it is a living thing that keeps changing and growing as each generation interprets and builds upon its wisdom. TTree-Torah-Scrolls-300x241he layers of new insight and commentary added each year and in each age are like the rings of an enormous tree ~ appropriate metaphor for Torah which we call Eytz Chayim (a tree of life). In this way, the divine revelation on Mount Sinai, central to Torah’s story and a key theme of our wisdom tradition, reverberates through history and into our time.

How does an ancient text relate to modern-day life? The answer is within us. Each of us is an author of Torah as well as a student. We don’t take all the words of Torah literally or live by ancient doctrine alone. We don’t stand back and only derive meaning from what our rabbis and sages say. We turn to Torah again and again each year with novel questions and innovative interpretations. In this way, the topics contained within the ever-expanding Torah are a reflection of the conversations that we have with Torah itself, with one another, and with people in the many generation that came before us. This is our inheritance ~ to participate in an ongoing conversation with the divine echo from Sinai by interacting with Torah and applying the lessons derived from it to our daily lives.

To read the original essay in its original form and entirety, click here

 

Posted in Eco-Judaism, Hagim/Holidays, Human Rights, Liturgy, Spiritual Seeking, Tikkun Olam, Torah | Leave a comment

Mo’adim l’Simcha ~ Festival of Joy … Sukkot Bounty and Responsibility

Many of us, even those of us who were raised in Jewish homes, did not grow up with a sukkah in our backyards. There was a sukkah built at the synasukka_leavesgogue and we decorated it together, maybe had a festive meal, waved the lulav and etrog, and that was it. We checked the Sukkot box on the Jewish holiday list, and then moved on to leaf raking and leaf pile jumping, football and soccer games, Halloween …

For the past two years, in addition to our annual Little Minyan Sukkot Celebration with potluck and bonfire at the home of Bill and Randi, I have had the great pleasure (thanks to Debra Seltzer for gifting our skhakhkehilla with our very own sukkah from the Sukkah Project!) of building (with great help, of course), decorating, dwelling in, and maintaining (a significant chore on gusty, rainy, or otherwise inclement days) a sukkah throughout this delightful festival. This exercise has made me even more aware than usual of nature’s effect on us when we are living close to the Earth: 

  • the daily cycles (is dinner eaten while there is still natural light,fullmoonthroughclouds or will it be entirely a candlelit affair?); 
  • the ability to view the moon at night or during the day or not at all due to heavy cloud cover (or the time it takes for cloud patterns to migrate from Upper Arlington to Bexley, as a friend and I, both sitting in our respective huts on Erev Sukkot, discovered as we enjoyed a phone conversation and I promised her that soon she would see the moon through the dissipating clouds … 15 minutes);  
  • the effects of a storm on a relatively fragile structure and on those who have nothing more than a fragile structure under which to seek refuge from rain or cold;
  • the disappointment and work involved in repeatedly mending areas of skhakh (the roof of our sukkah, made of cuttings from living plants over bamboo poles that we have not yet learned how best to secure against strong winds from the east)

Of course, there are people who live close to the Earth all year … some choose or inherit this challenge (farmers, for example). Others inherit or are forced into these very difficult circumstances (the homeless, runaways, refugees prior refugee-campto resettlement in a welcoming country). This is one of the most important lessons of Sukkot which we cannot lose amidst the joy and other meaningful traditions and teachings.

Sukkot is both a festival of joy ~ an appreciation of the abundance of the land and the gift of the harvest ~ and an opportunity for Jews to remind ourselves of the fragility of life and the abundance in our lives that is not shared beyond our neighborhoods and institutions. Coupled with the Yamim Nora’im, Sukkot can be seen as an uplifting send-off into the new year we have just begun with renewed focus on our highest selves. In this light, the sukkah is a tangible demonstration of our good fortune and our responsibility to share the abundance of our lives with those in need of our assistance. Sharing through:

  • Tzedakah and other forms of material assistance;
  • Sharing our voices and our bodies in showing up at demonstrations for justice and fairness and in protests against hatred and fear-mongering; andfair food jks1
  • Advocating for the needs of those who don’t enjoy the privilege we have in our multicultural society.

These are the gifts that we can reap during the Sukkot harvest festival ~ the gifts of tikkun olam that start very close to home and radiate out into our cities, our nations, and throughout the communities of inhabitants of our fragile planet.

Shabbat Shalom and Moadim l’Simcha! 

Posted in Calendar, Eco-Judaism, Family, Hagim/Holidays, Holiday Celebrations, Israel, LGBTQ, Liturgy, Shabbat, Spiritual Seeking, Tikkun Olam | Leave a comment

Shabbat Shoftim & Rosh Chodesh Elul ~ At the Confluence of Justice and Love

As we entered Shabbat last weekend, we also turned from the month of Av to the month of Elul on the Hebrew calendar. The month of Elul is the last month before the beginning of the Jewish year ~ Rosh HaShanah ~ and the period of time that we call the Yamim Nora’im ~ the Days of Awe, ten days of deep introspection and reconciling in which we recalibrate our internal compass to ensure that the direction we move in the coming yeJulian.Bar Mitzvahar is toward our highest and best self. Our kehilla had the opportunity to turn in that direction in a profound way with the Mincha (afternoon service) Bar Mitzvah of Julian Weiss. At mincha on Shabbat, we read a taste of the coming week’s Torah portion. Set in a beautiful space surrounded by farmland and trees, on an extraordinarily gorgeous, “humid-less” (a big deal for this central Ohio summer) day, Julian (and the anecdotes shared about him by family and teachers) taught us a great deal about how to live into our best selves, how to treat strangers, friends and loved ones, and what it can mean to pay attention to the God-ness in the world.

During the month of Elul it is traditional to engage in cheshbon ha’nefesh ~ soul accounting ~ an internal audit of our activities and behaviors in preparation for the t’shuvah (turning) that we do during the Days of Awe. Elul also reminds us, with its very name, that at the root of our internal reckoning and reconciling weאני לדודי ודודי לי must place self-love. Elul (spelled, in Hebrew, אלול) is an acronym for ani l’dodi v’dodi li (often translated for wedding rings and ketubot as “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”), text from the Song of Songs (6:3), which one can read, easily, as love poetry between lovers, a very valid interpretation of the text. However, when one reads the text as allegory for the relationship between the Beloved (the Divine Mystery, Source of Blessing, the One, or God) and us (human beings), the message is about an energetic one-ness of unconditional love. אני לדודי ודודי לי becomes an affirmation that I am to my Beloved, and my Beloved is mine. We are encouraged to begin our month of soul-accounting and to continue that work from a place of unconditional love and appreciation for who we are ~ not in our most perfected form (the me that I aspire to be) but exactly how we are at all places and times along our journey. It is just as we enter this period that could be filled with our own harshest criticism and self-disappointment that our wisdom tradition reminds us that we are loved exactly as we are ~ in both our most magnificent, delightful, intelligent, luminous ways of being AND in our darkest, most painful and humiliating moments of personal failure jordans sale (in those times that we are most in need of love and most unlikely to see ourselves as worthy of it).

This is Tzedek tzedek tirdof imagealso the week when we read Parsha Shoftim. In addition to many other ideas, this Torah portion brings us the very well know line: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof ~ Justice, Justice shall you pursue. As Julian shared in his d’var Torah, Judaism survives and remains meaningful in large part because it is about pursuing justice and making the world a better place. “In fact,” shared Julian, “‘tzedek, tzedek tirdof’ tells us that we don’t simply have to live within the rules of society, we actually have to PURSUE justice. To me, that means tikkun olam – a commitment to [actively] repairing the world.” He went on to share his own personal experience with what justice means air max.

During this election, we keep hearing the term “illegal immigrants.” When we think of someone doing something illegal, we think of needing to stop them and perhaps even punish them. But two people that I love very much are here without documents. These two people have cared for me since I was a baby; they never forget to send me a giant present for my birthday, and I have spent many holidays celebrating with them and their family. They are kind, honest, generous, and hard-working. Because I have the opportunity to be close to these wonderful people and know their circumstances, I understand that what is legal is not always the same as what is just. I think Judaism asks us to choose what is just over what is currently considered legal.

Julian worked with these words to find their relevance and meaning in his life. Torah comes alive ~ vibrant, relevant, meaningful  ~ when we wrestle with the text, questioning and appreciating it, “discussing” it with the great sages of generations and with our friends and family. We are not asked to just swallow it as “the truth,” but rather, as, we learn from ben Bag Bag in Pirkei Avot 5:22:

בֶּן בַּג בַּג אוֹמֵר, הֲפֹךְ בָּהּ וַהֲפֹךְ בָּהּ, דְּכֹלָּא בָהּ. וּבָהּ תֶּחֱזֵי, וְסִיב וּבְלֵה בָהּ, וּמִנַּהּ לֹא תָזוּעַ, שֶׁאֵין לְךָ מִדָּה טוֹבָה הֵימֶנָּה

Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it. And in it should you look, and grow old and be worn in it; and from it do not move, for there is no measurement of character greater than it.Kabbalah - Middot

At this time of year, when we prepare to recalibrate our moral compass, our measurement of character, and turn, as we work to do regularly, toward our highest and best selves, let us be blessed to remember that justice and love touch and that, in the world we work together to build, they embrace.

Posted in Calendar, Hagim/Holidays, Parshat, Pirkei Avot, Shabbat, Spiritual Seeking, Tikkun Olam, Torah | 1 Comment

Preparing for and Celebration our Yamim Nora’im 5777 ~ Days of Awe 2016

          Click here to access our full schedule for the Days of Awe 5777                                       The Yamim Nora’im ~ Days of Awe are the 10 days Days of Awebeginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur, that many call “The High Holy Days.” Each year, we are given the gift in the cycle of Jewish time to concentrate and seriously reflect on the person we have become, imagine the person we wish be, and work on birthing the person we will be as we move forward in life’s journey. We are encouraged to engage in deep self reflection during this season of the Jewish year including the month of Elul that precede the Days of Awe on the Hebrew calendar. We review our behavior over the past year, identify mistakes and shortcomings, and consider avenues of repair and improvement. Elul creates a container of love in which to carefully reflect upon our behavior. We engage in teshuvah – sincere turning (from ways that do not serve us or the common good), repair (of wounds and broken relationships), renewal (of our values and intention), and return (to our highest self with a recalibrated way forward).

This reflection and cleansing allows us to re-aim at a meaningful future with renewed purpose and energy. We connect and reconnect with the best of ourselves, with our family members, our friends, and with the Source of Blessing – the One that connects all. Through this process we resolve to commence the Jewish year with a renewed sense of purpose, a clearer vision, less baggage, and greater appreciation for the blessings that fill our lives on a daily basis.

You don’t need a ticket, an invitation, or even clarity of purpose … just an open heart and mind … join us and see. Please do let us know that you are coming, by clicking here and completing a brief form. You can access our complete schedule of event descriptions, times, and locations here: Days of Awe 5777 Schedule. And please remember that contributions of any amount to the sustainability and health of our kehilla and the vibrant alternative we offer the central Ohio Jewish landscape are welcome and greatly appreciated and can be made directly from our website. Just click on the PayPal link in the upper right corner of this page. 

In addition to this website, you can also keep track of the Little Minyan Kehilla on our Facebook Page.

Posted in Calendar, Eco-Judaism, Family, Hagim/Holidays, Holiday Celebrations, Liturgy, Spiritual Seeking | Leave a comment

Speaking to the Rock ~ The Power of our Tone and Body Language in Speech

This week, Chukat, in our cycle of Torah, we remain in the wilderness/B’midbar (also know as Numbers) continuing both the journey of learning “the rules” of behavior and right relationship, and the physical Rocky Mountain Highjourney of travel from slavery in Egypt to the promised land, flowing with milk and honey. I have just returned from traveling both with “my People” ~ B’nei Yisrael (an intense week of study, prayer, and communal living with rabbinic, cantorial, and pastoral students and teachers in the ALEPH ordination program), and, in Colorado’s glorious, vast, and mountainous wilderness. As I read Torah this week, I experience the words of Parshat Chukat through the lens of my recent experiences.

I note how quickly and intensely we learn when we are away from our everyday surroundings and in “the wilderness” (even if that wilderness is a college campus). We are much more reliant upon one another. Our proximity and potency of experience escalates all of aspects of relationship, both good and bad. Our separation from home (literal and figurative) ~ from familiar practices, people, daily rhythms ~ heightens our awareness and sensitivities. We are, in the same moments, more receptive, expanded and open, and more tired, ornery, and likely to shut down, receding into our individual comfort zone’s and our own narratives.

Shabbes at CSUWhen we are in mochin d’gadlut (expanded consciousness) we connect with the sacred within ourselves, between ourselves and others, and within and between all things. We vibrate in right relationship and open even more to giving and receiving.

God’s disappointment with the harsh behavior of Moshe ~ striking the rock (an act of anger) rather than speaking to it (an act of faith) ~ is so great that this act becomes a deal-breaker for Moshe entering the land of Israel despite the quality of his leadership and perseverance. This reaction to Moshe’s display of mochin d’katanut highlights the value placed on the quality of our speech and the powerful, spiritual, and creative nature of our speech. We can use our speech to bring forth such nourishment and abundance, kindness and faith. Or, our speech caP1040012n pour forth with anger, harshness, pain, and destruction.

We are flooded with far too many opportunities to observe the kind of speech that comes from mochin d’katanut (from small, angry places within us) in our communities (real and virtual), and on national and international levels of monologue and dialogue. PIMG_3471arshat Chukat gives us a window into the value and importance of mochin d’gadlut and how, through expanded consciousness, grace and thoughtful speech we can be sustained even in the most difficult of times.

May we be blessed with the insight to know the difference and the practices (middot) and patience to draw closer to expanded consciousness before we speak. And, when we fail, may we have the courage to seek forgiveness for the hurt we have caused and the genuine desire to err less frequently as we evolve.

Shabbat Shalom,

Words of Spiritual Leader Jessica K. Shimberg; photos by Jessica, Bonnie Cramer, and Randall Miller
Posted in ALEPH, Eco-Judaism, Family, Parshat, Shabbat, Spiritual Seeking, Tikkun Olam, Torah | Leave a comment