Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category

#blogExodus–Hide

 

blogexodus5775

 

My son is 2 years and 4 months old.  Last week, we played hide and seek at my mother’s house.  “You hide, and I’ll count to 10,” I said.  I counted and he went and hid.  It was very clear where he was hiding.  I could see him from where I was standing, but I went to “look” for him anyway. 

“Hmmmm…” I said.  “You’re not behind the chair…”

“I’m hiding over here, mommy!” He gleefully shouted.

It occurs to me that we play the same game of hide and seek with G-d.  We are always searching, but G-d is always right “over here.” G-d is in the kindness of friends and family and in the warmth of community.  G-d is in the beautiful sunsets and the sparkling snow.  G-d is in the moment when depression lifts and the world once again appears in color.  G-d is hiding with us, even in our darkest moments.  It’s just that the dark moments are the hands covering our eyes, making it hard to see.  We just have to remember that just because we can’t see something in the moment, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.

I believe in love even when not feeling it.

I believe in G-d even when G-d is silent.

-Inscription found on the wall of a cellar in Cologne, where Jews hid from the Nazis

(as quoted in Siddur Likrat Shabbat)

#blogExodus – Grow

blogexodus5775

Growth is being able to look at a position you once took and be willing to revisit, rethink, and revise.

Here is some of my seder thinking – personal growth in progress, because as you can see, I’m still vacillating:

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post where I spoke about what can be lost when we gear our seders only towards the children in the room. You can read it here: (https://cantorneff.com/2010/03/21/by-gearing-the-seder-towards-the-kids-are-we-cheating-them-out-of-the-best-experience/) Basically, I suggested that our kids are losing out because they don’t have the experience of learning the old melodies and traditions. I felt that in changing the seder culture to make it all about fun, that we aren’t actually succeeding in making it fun (for most people), that our children aren’t learning, aren’t finding it worthwhile, and that we are losing (for both kids and adults) the family and community memory of the melodies and traditions of seders past.

Since I wrote that post, I’ve had to struggle with my words. My own family members whine bitterly about being at our seder. This is a seder that is done almost entirely in English and with finger puppets and masks, but which otherwise sticks to liturgy and music that are traditional for our family. I am not sure that my insistence on sticking to that liturgy has helped the younger generation of my family to learn the tunes and the traditions. I fear that it might actually be the opposite – that I am the old fuddy duddy in the corner, singing the Chad Gadya from the beginning to the end, pretty much by myself.

I had a conversation with my sixth grade class about the issue and listened while they argued both sides, each contradicting themselves in their subsequent comments. In the end, they said it has to be both, but they don’t want a six-hour seder

Every year we are commanded to see ourselves as if we personally had come out of Egypt. If I had been there, I would want my children to know the story, remember the ancient songs and melodies, but I would also want them to want to pass the stories on to their children. For groups where no children are present, the goals are different. But in families with children, “v’shinantam l’vanecha” – you shall teach it to your children is the most important thing. We can’t teach it to them, if we lost them in the first five minutes. On the other hand, what are we teaching them when we allow the old melodies and traditions to be lost? In this, my growth must be ongoing. I am willing to revise and revisit, but I am not willing to lose the essence and meaning of the seder in the process…

A postscript.

I read this really interesting article last night: http://www.challahcrumbs.com/what-disney-world-taught-me-about-seder/. In gearing our seders towards the kids present, we should remember that our kids are still the same kids they were yesterday, even when they are sitting at the table.  So the only way to make the seder engaging for them is to keep them in mind as we create it. We should take a lesson from the four children of the haggadah: the wise, the naughty, the one who does not yet know, and the one who doesn’t know how to ask. Our seder should contain elements that stimulate the wise child, invite good questions and give them an opportunity to show off what they know. The seder should also meet the needs of the “naughty” child – the one who perhaps has trouble sitting still and paying attention – this child is usually not naughty on purpose. The seder should teach the traditions, the melodies, and the history of Passover to the child who doesn’t learn these things in Hebrew school or at home (even if it means playing them off a CD, as I suggested in my original article). And it should be engaging to the special needs child – stimulating, but not overstimulating in whatever way that child needs. We have to look at who is going to be at OUR seder and then make it work.

3 Nisan – Cleanse

blogexodus5775

To do list – Cleanse:

  • Clean.
  • Make a menu plan for the entire week.
  • Shop.
  • Cook.
  • Throw open the windows and let in the fresh spring air (fresh spring air – what’s that?).
  • Through the physical labor of preparing, begin the spiritual work.
  • Play guitar at a beautiful and meaningful women’s Seder of preparation – check!

Well, at least I got one thing done! 🙂

2 Nisan – Bless

blogexodus5775

As a child, I found the formulation of blessing to be a little confusing. Blessed are You, Eternal G-d, who… creates the fruit of the vine, brings forth bread from the earth, etc… Who are We to bless G-d, I thought? Isn’t it G-d who blesses us with these things for which we are giving thanks?

An un-noticed gift is no barely any gift at all. Yes, the food we eat while driving and talking on the phone sustains us, but it doesn’t offer the same degree of blessing as that taken sitting at the dinner table with family or friends. Shabbat comes every week whether or not we choose to sanctify it. When we do not, Shabbat is incapable of serving our needs for rest and renewal – the gift is lost and so is the blessing. When we take the time to bless G-d with our presence, with our awareness, the blessing is returned many-fold.

So this second day of Nisan the theme is bless – and by that, I hope to raise my awareness of the process, the gift that Passover CAN be when we allow it to be not only about the busy-work of preparation, but about its results – the full and set table, family and friends, children. I will try to bless G-d by being present, as I open myself up to receive.

1 Nisan – Begin

blogexodus5775

I love New Year’s.  I love the idea of a fresh start, of imagining who and what I could be, visioning through the process of how to get there and then setting off towards that goal.  I thrive on it, even when I find myself pursuing the same goals year after year.  It isn’t that my past resolutions failed, but rather that I am continually spiraling towards that better person, learning from what didn’t work last time, and coming up with new, refined plans.  If it weren’t for the artificial, and some would say arbitrary date markers of New Year’s, I might be tempted to always continue with what is familiar and comfortable.  New Year’s invites me to think, and re-engage in that process.  Why am I bringing that up now, in the middle of March?  Well, New Year’s is only a month away – time to start thinking and planning.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1b/Liten_askenasisk_sjofar_5380.jpgThere are four New Years’ in the Jewish calendar (plus the secular one) – so many opportunities for self-improvement!  Although most would begin this list with Rosh Hashanah, I’m actually going to start with the New Year of 1 Elul because it leads into Rosh Hashanah, which is only one month later. 1 Elul is the “new year for the tithing of cattle.” Since I am not a farmer, this doesn’t hold much meaning for me. However, the date of 1 Elul does. Elul is when we begin to sound the shofar, and turn our hearts towards reflection. For me, spiritually, 1 Elul is the new year for looking backwards (strange as that may sound), a new year of reflection and cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul, in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. Every psychologist will tell you, that no real change can come without an examination of the past. 1 Elul is the beginning of that process, truly the start of all potential change for the year ahead.

1 Tishrei – Rosh Hashanah is the New Year for the Jewish civil calendar and for the seasons.  I begin to look forward towards the Jew that I want to be in the coming year. Having examined my shortcomings, I can begin to envision how to be a better Jew and a better me. The process is cyclical. As Yom Kippur comes, I will turn again to reflection on my past and with the closing of the gates after Yom Kippur I am responsible to myself to continue to do the work.

Autumn_trees_in_Dresden15 Shevat – Tu b’shvat is the new year for the trees.  Sap begins to rise in the trees in Israel, and it is a sign that the winter will soon end.  I reflect on environmentalism at this time of year.  I remember and consider how to be a steward for G-d’s creation – small things like bringing the canvas bags in the car when grocery shopping into the store rather than using them to keep the carseats warm, bigger things like engaging politically and financially in environmental causes, and trying to be active in nature as much as I am able.

8611563772_5c32ccc506_b1 Nisan – Pesach is the new year for our Jewish people as we mark the celebration of our redemption from Egypt. 1 Nisan is about half way through the calendar year after the high holy days. It’s a great time to remind myself about the promises I made back in September, and to try again to be that better Jew and improved person. In the book, “Preparing your Heart for Passover,” Rabbi Kerry Orlitzky writes, “The rabbis suggest that the leaven transcends the physical world. This leaven, this hametz, also symbolizes a puffiness of self, an inflated personality, an egocentricity that threatens to eclipse the essential personality of the individual. Ironically, it is what prevents the individual from rising spiritually and moving closer to holiness. Thus, what hametz effectively does in the material world is exactly what it precludes in the realm of the spirit. That’s why it has to be removed.”

248048_2054969291815_5382438_n1 Nisan falls at the beginning of spring time. In both the secular and Jewish world, people are throwing open their windows and doing spring cleaning. Passover (15 Nisan) invites us to bring a spiritual realm into our physical labor, to think, as we clean, about the ways in which we have become puffed up, selfish, self-absorbed, or like the things that we are cleaning – the ways that we have become weighted down and inwardly cluttered. As we remove chameitz, dust, clutter, and the residue of months closed up for the winter, we can expand ourselves into our breath of fresh, clean air, look in the mirror and move forward a little lighter.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9a/Machine-made_Shmura_Matzo.jpgFor me, it invites another question. A lot of people love Passover food. Those people obviously have very different taste buds than mine. The holiday demands that we “rejoice in it.” But I will admit that I struggle with that year after year. I don’t like the food, I don’t like the restrictions,… I don’t like cleaning. It is difficult to not have it be a real drag. I challenge myself every year to find the joy in it. This year may be easier as I am hearing my 2 year old son practice the first two of the four questions, and my heart is full. I am beginning to participate in the shalshelet, the chain of our tradition, not just as a teacher, but as a parent, and there is great joy in that. Even beyond that, though, by turning my thoughts to the spiritual cleansing, the renewal, and the fresh start that Passover brings, I hope that I will “rejoice in it.” Maybe part of my spiritual hametz is that I haven’t liked Passover and this year, it is time to remove that and start fresh, envision what Passover can be.

Four New Years. Four opportunities for a fresh start. Four chances to make the same resolutions again and again and spiral myself towards the vision of who and what I can be. Each time I get a little closer, but I will never get there. Life isn’t about arriving. I believe that life, best lived, is a constant process of becoming.

My Guest Post

I was invited to do a guest post for the URJ’s 10 Minutes of Torah liturgy series. You can read my post here:
Psalm 116 Guest Post
Enjoy!

Tisha B’Av

Hello blog readers.  I know it’s been an age…

I did a sermon this past Friday evening on the subject of Tisha B’Av.  It’s the summer, so attendance at worship has been light.  We’ve seen about 25-30 on average at services.  This Friday, however, was the start of the London Olympics, with opening ceremonies due to commence at the same time as services.  We had 10 in attendance.  So, even though Tisha B’Av has come and gone for this year, I thought I’d share my sermon with you.  Enjoy.

 

(Sermon originally delivered at Temple Beth Torah 7/27/2012)

This weekend, Jews all over the world will observe the holiday of Tisha B’av. Tisha B’Av, which literally means the 9th day of the month of Av, is a fast day, and a national day of Jewish mourning. Both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on the 9th of Av – 655 years apart. The holiday primarily recalls those terrible events, but our tradition also teaches that many of the worst tragedies in Jewish history, both ancient and more modern took place on that day. According to the Mishnah, the twelve spies sent by Moses to seek out the land of Canaan gave their fearful report on Tisha B’Av during Biblical times, The Romans crushed Bar Kochba’s revolt, destroyed the city of Betar and killed over 100,000 Jews on Tisha B’Av in the year 132. History also reveals that the first crusade began on August 15, 1096 – Tisha B’Av, Jews were expelled from England on July 25, 1290 – Tisha B’av, Jews were expelled from Spain on July 31, 1492 – Tisha B’av. World War I broke out on August 1, 1914 – Tisha B’Av and on the eve of Tisha B’Av in 1942 the mass deportation began of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka began.

512px-Wailing_Wall_Jerusalem_Victor_Grigas_2011_-1-50By Victorgrigas (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]

Because the main focus of the holiday has been on the destruction of the Temples, its observance has fallen out of favor among liberal Jews – both Reform and to some degree, Conservative. Ismar Schorsch, former chancellor of the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary said that Tisha B’Av has no appeal to the modern Jew who “no longer prays for the restoration of the sacrificial cult in Jerusalem.” He felt that the day’s modern meaning came from looking at the more recent national disasters that we also mark on that day.

We learn from the Talmud (Tractate Yoma) that the reason that the second Temple was destroyed was “Sinat Chinam” – baseless hatred. And baseless hatred is also behind many of the other tragedies that we mark on this day. It seems to me that perhaps the most meaningful way for liberal Jews to think about this holiday is through the lens of the damage caused by humanity’s tendency towards acts of baseless hatred. We see Sinat Chinam in acts of terror such as the tragic ones that we all heard about last week in Bulgaria and in Aurora, but we also see it on a less violent and less obvious scale in our day to day lives.

Earlier this week, I was listening to the podcast, “Freakonomics,” and the host was talking about how our political affiliations can be almost tribal (about 33:50 into the episode), that we often side with a political party, ascribing to their point of view without even fully researching or understanding everything that we say that we agree with. Political affiliation as tribal? A fascinating idea.

How do tribal affiliations make us behave? I think there are two primary feelings that come out of being a part of a tribe – pride and fear. I often get emails from congregants with lists or videos that talk about the great accomplishments of Jews over the centuries. The things that we, as a people, have managed to do that others have not. These are examples of our tribal pride and, to be honest, they always make me a little uncomfortable. A history of Jews in science, sports, or music makes us proud. A similar history that talked about the genetic or cultural advantages of being Christian, African American, or heaven forbid, white, would make us very wary indeed!

Tribal affiliations also make us feel fear and anxiety. We worry about “the other, “and about our persecution. As Jews we fear anti-semitism. As a liberal, I hear about “the war against women,” and countless other things we have to fear from the right. Conservatives too seem to have a great deal to fear from the other side of the aisle – their rights and liberties will be taken away, government will rule their lives, they will be taxed into poverty.

Both our fear and our pride make us want to close our minds and our ears to the other. Have you ever watched a “news” or talk show where political pundits are supposed to be “debating” an issue? Almost invariably they talk over one another to such an extent that the listener can not absorb any piece of the argument from either side. It’s better that way anyway, if we don’t agree with it, we probably don’t want to hear it. This sample is a little dated, but I think it illustrates my point perfectly.

I would not ordinarily think of myself as the kind of person who would not want to hear an argument that I don’t agree with. I believe that I am open minded, that I like to hear all sides of an issue before deciding how I feel about it. To some extent that is true. I do usually research an issue before I formulate an opinion (though I will admit that some of that research will be done on websites that agree with my political affiliations.) I do try to read both sides of the story, though. Once I have decided my stance, it is hard for me to not only revisit the issue, but even frankly, to listen to the other side.

I have this friend on Facebook. We aren’t really friends. We’re colleagues – but Facebook makes no distinctions. We are polar opposites politically and he posts about politics ALL the time. And my blood pressure goes up with each and every posting. I’ve considered “unfriending” him. I’ve thought about blocking his posts. It is the mere fact that I have pondered these things that illustrates my point. It is hard for me to tolerate this person from another political tribe in my friendship circle. His arguments make me angry. And I am sure the reverse is true. Unfortunately for him, I think most of his “friends” are members of my political tribe.

Is it different face to face? Unfortunately, no. A political discussion between friends at a recent barbeque that I attended almost necessitated the calling of the police. One of the people refused to let the other even finish his side of the argument before talking, yelling, standing and towering over, and then almost physically assaulting. And over what? They disagreed politically? Really?

One of the most brilliant things about our American political system is its innate balance. A president has no real power without congress. Congress is elected by majorities in all of the states. The far left and far right are balanced (we hope) through this system. Real work can only happen when politicians put aside, as much as possible, their “tribal affiliations,” and work for the greater good, listening to what one another has to say and working for balance.

The watchword of our faith is Sh’ma – Listen. It’s a harder thing to do than most of us know, but it is the doorway to peace. When we really hear one another, we can disagree, but it’s harder to hate because you can see the humanity in the face of the other. This means being patient enough to hear their entire argument, and being willing in the end to say, “we agree to disagree.” Our tradition teaches that when we argue for the sake of heaven, the presence of G-d dwells between us.

The Temple was destroyed for Sinat Chinam – baseless hatred – a feeling that can only come about with eyes and ears closed. This year as we mark Tisha B’Av let us resolve to bring the essence of Judaism, that listening, into our relationships and our politics. We can mark Tisha B’Av best by donating to organizations that work tirelessly for peace, and dialogue, and by engaging in that work ourselves.

Shabbat shalom.