A dictionary open to the definition of love. Source: Flickr (Il Mago di Oz).

Dear Reader,

Would you be interested in experiencing High Holiday services that combine a Judaism of Love and Justice with deep spirituality? Rabbi Michael Lerner, our spiritual leader, leads our community in a serious teshuvah process (which we understand as both inner transformation and societal transformation). He teaches that the prayers are only cheerleading for the process – the real work has to happen in our own lives in the ten days from Rosh HaShanah (which starts Sunday night, October 2) to the conclusion of Yom Kippur (on Wednesday, October 12th). This combination of services plus engagement in teshuvah is such an extraordinary experience that I’m willing to give you your money back if you attend all the services, do all elements of the teshuvah process that Rabbi Lerner lays out, and don’t feel that it was really amazing and transformative! And please tell your non-Jewish friends about this as well – you don’t have to be Jewish to get a huge amount of psychological and spiritual nourishment and even have a transformative experience by going through the process with us. True, some of the prayers are in Hebrew, but there’s enough English so that non-Jews who have come in the past have told us that the experience was just as powerful for them as it was for the Jews who participate.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, who is leading the services, is not only a rabbi but has also spent much of his life as a psychotherapist, a social change activist, and a teacher of philosophy, and the author of eleven books. (Did you happen to see his talk at Muhammad Ali’s funeral?, If not, just google “YouTube Rabbi Lerner” to watch it. While this will give you a good sense of his passion, because of the confines of time you won’t see the gentle and loving aspects of his teaching or his way of leading you into deep spiritual and self-transformative space.) Lerner opens to us a vision of a Judaism that, in his words, “prioritizes love and generosity, caring for our physical and social environment, caring for the earth and caring for each other – including everyone with whom we have the honor to share this precious Earth.” It’s a far cry from “the world is against us, we have to protect ourselves or prepare to escape to Israel” kind of Judaism that has turned so many Jews away from Judaism, but also far from the kind of spirituality that divorces Jewish liturgy from social involvement.

As Lerner’s mentor at the Jewish Theological Seminary Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, “the liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement.” That means seeking fundamental transformation of our society, not only acts of charity like feeding the hungry and homeless once a week but eliminating poverty and homelessness in the wealthiest country of the world, not only being nonviolent in the way we talk to each other but eliminating the violence of wars and militarism, the racism, homophobia and sexism, and the cut-throat competitiveness of our economic marketplace.

So part of the Tikkun we seek is about changing the fundamentals, – not just comforting the victims of our world, but ending the economic and political arrangements that generate anger, hate, and violence and have led in the 2016 election period to the emergence and legitimization of proto-fascistic movements that threaten all of us. As Rabbi Lerner explained in his national best-seller Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation, Judaism is itself a revolutionary movement, our Torah is all about the revolution against Pharaoh, and our task today is to reclaim the prophetic tradition of Judaism, and challenge the Pharaohs of the contemporary world. They include the economic pharaohs that run many of our largest corporations, the Pharaohs who refuse to make the changes in our economic and political systems necessary to save the planet from environmental destruction, the Pharaohs who deal violently with the Native Americans, African Americans, and refugees, the Pharaohs who rule China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran. We have special responsibility to challenge the Pharaohs in Israel who in this coming year will have finished their fiftieth year of Occupation of the West Bank and continue the oppression and racism against Palestinians – not only because their behavior is ethically wrong, but because in identifying itself as “the state of the Jewish people” Israel has implicitly made us all accomplishes in its oppressive behavior and increasingly turned many younger Jews away from the Judaism that they might otherwise have embraced. We who love both the U.S. and Israel are also obliged to address the ways that they, like all of us as individuals, have “missed the mark” and need teshuvah, a turning back to our highest and most holy possibilities and deepest truths.

The spirituality of the Jewish prophetic tradition is not the feel-good spirituality of making the upper middle class in the US feel good about their comforts and privileges, but about seeking a fundamental nonviolent revolution against the newest pharaohs of our world, starting right here in the parts of the world where we have potential influence. But a transformative movement will never work as long as we are ourselves distorted in various ways, so our teshuvah process is not only about social change but about inner work on ourselves to become more fully the most loving, caring and holy beings each of us can possibly be. Hey – it’s worth trying to be part of the energy that seeks to rebuild this kind of Judaism of love, and the first step is to come to our High Holiday services.

Co-leaders include Cat Zavis (who leads empathic communication trainings for lawyers, psychologists, teachers and psychologists and is now a rabbinic student in the Aleph Rabbinic program), Abby Caplin and Amnon Goodman.

If you are interested in joining us for this extraordinary experience, please go towww.beyttkkun.org/highholidays for more information and to register (which is necessary, please do!). We have a sliding fee scale (though no one will be turned away for lack of money if you register by September 22nd). You can call me at 510 644 1200 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. starting Monday, September 19th(I’m out of the office from September 15thtill then) to register and work out a payment plan that works for you. We are a community of love and committed to a Judaism of love, generosity, social and economic justice, and environmental sanity. Try it out this High Holidays – you won’t be disappointed!!! If you don’t live in the Bay Area, it’s worth the shlepp (people have come from as far away as Israel and Australia in the past).

Warm regards,

Staci Akselrod

Outreach Coordinator for Tikkun, Beyt Tikkun, and the Network of Spiritual Progressives


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