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Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category



From Vacation to Transformation: How Spiritual Retreats Are Changing Judaism

Jun12

by: Adam ‘Segulah’ Sher on June 12th, 2013 | Comments Off

In the summer of 2006, I was teaching eighth-grade social studies in a Seattle public school. I was 26 years old, on a career path, in a long-term relationship, and a new homeowner. Life was good, and it was time for a summer vacation. So I signed up for a weeklong retreat at the Elat Chayyim Jewish Retreat Center in Accord, New York. I thought I was getting away after a busy school year, going on vacation, learning a little, but basically relaxing and rejuvenating. All of that happened. But while I was getting away, I was getting into new possibilities for my work, my ideas, my spirituality, my social connections, and my life. Fast-forward seven years, and I’ve dedicated my work and life to the power and potential of Jewish retreats. I’ve connected with a sense of purpose within the Jewish community and the wider world that places the model of retreat – the temporary autonomous zone designed for transformation – at the center of a vision for how religion and society are evolving today.

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Remembering the Sixties: The Free Speech Movement

May31

by: Maggie Israel Hardy on May 31st, 2013 | 3 Comments »

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Students at a FSM rally at UC Berkeley's Sproul Plaza on Dec. 9, 1964. Credit: Creative Commons/ Sam Churchill.

I walked into Sproul Hall in my fluffy pink sweater embroidered with flowers, and my blue corduroy jeans. In my ears were gold loop earrings, also decorated with flowers. My long dark hair was pulled back in a pony tail. That outfit seems to me now to be a symbol of my innocence, even naiveté.

The Free Speech Movement grew on the Berkeley campus of the University of California in the fall of 1964, culminating in the sit-in at Sproul Hall, the campus’s administration building, and the arrest of participating students on December 4th of that year. It was the first major student demonstration, and is generally regarded as the beginning of the Student Movement, which spread throughout the United States and even to other parts of the world.

I remember walking around campus with my blue canvas book bag in early December, as the tension grew. I bumped into friends who, like me, supported the movement, but for a variety of reasons were not willing or able to take part in the sit-in.

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My Jewish Atheism

May8

by: Dan Brook on May 8th, 2013 | 36 Comments »

When asked if she believed in God, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir responded "I believe in the Jewish people." Credit: Creative Commons/Marion S. Trikosko.

“All the calculated dates of redemption have passed and now the matter depends upon teshuvah and mitzvahs.”
- Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97b

I am grateful to belong to a people, a culture, and a community that embrace a spectrum of religious backgrounds and beliefs. When asked if she believed in God, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir responded “I believe in the Jewish people.” Questioning and struggling with the concept of God are deeply ingrained in Judaism and literally part of the word Israel, the community of Jews, from which the country takes its name. Therefore, atheism is kosher and I am proud to be an “atheist of the book.”

Spiritually and intellectually, I believe that complex questions are almost always better than simplistic answers. Faith, whether in God or anything else, is not necessarily important; what is important is community and action, that is, doing Jewish stuff separately and together, doing good deeds. With or without God, there can be and is Judaism, reverence, spirituality, awe, the sacred, transcendence, radical amazement, mystery, miracles, community, ethics, gratitude, compassion, kindness, education, wisdom, justice, mentshlikhkayt, and so on.

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Sacred Space, at the Corner of Boylston and Berkeley

Apr26

by: on April 26th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

At Boylston and Berkeley, 8:00 a.m., Monday April 22

Two days after the Boston Marathon bombings, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick was asked in a public radio interview if there would be a permanent memorial to the victims of that horrific act. Patrick understandably felt it was too early to speculate about such a memorial – this was before the dramatic lockdown of Boston and surrounding communities. He went further to say that the most fitting tribute would be to return next year with the biggest and best marathon ever.

That surely would be a testimony to the city’s spirit, but it seems the governor, as a good technocrat, was missing the point. Fact is, people were already finding makeshift ways to memorialize the event. And if past atrocities are a guide, they’ll eventually find a permanent space for that solemn purpose.

If I didn’t know this already, I’d have found out just by standing for a few minutes near Copley Square this past Monday morning, at the intersection of Boylston and Berkeley streets.

Boylston, a crime scene, was still closed at the time. But people stood silently on a sidewalk at the corner, leaning against a police barricade in front of a popup memorial. They gazed at the flowers, flags, candles, handwritten notes, and other items left by anonymous people. They stared at three white crosses in the center of that growing memorial – in remembrance of the three who perished in the twin bombings of April 15. The shrine to eight-year-old Martin Richard was teeming with Teddy Bears, balloons, and children’s books.

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Mourning Our Way to Acceptance

Apr11

by: on April 11th, 2013 | Comments Off

For years and years I’ve been mystified by the idea of acceptance. I could point to it as a need on the list that people who study Nonviolent Communication consult for their learning and growth. I could understand, in some general sense, what people mean when they say that they want to be accepted. I even included a commitment called “Accepting What Is” in the 17 Core Commitments. Still, all the same, there was something that simply didn’t make sense. So much so, that I didn’t even know exactly how to talk about it.

The core question that was so unsettling for me is remarkably simple: What does it mean to accept something we don’t like?

One loop I would go into in trying to understand this was the experience of the person who hears, from another, “I want you to accept me the way I am.” What’s the person hearing this to do if they don’t like the behaviors that the other person does? This would come up again and again with couples, in friendships, in groups I was leading. I couldn’t shake off the idea that, essentially, there was some subtle way that the person asking to be accepted is really, deep down, asking to be liked. What is the difference?

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Salvation at the Animal Shelter

Apr9

by: on April 9th, 2013 | 6 Comments »

Salvation. A word I view with suspicion. When I hear “accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior,” I have to hold back a wave of revulsion. Though I know some people’s lives have been transformed for the good at revival meetings, for me, “getting saved” (which I did three times in different churches) brings up bitter anger at the adults around me and disappointment in myself. Each time, my “salvation” meant a child collapsing under intense fear, pressure, and manipulation, abandoning her true self in order to conform and be accepted. My real salvation came through therapy and therapeutic groups.

Lita's cat, Mimi, at her new home. Credit: Lita Kurth

So when the writers’ group at the church I attend gave the prompt, “salvation,” I was stuck. Finally, I decided to write about literal salvation, saving someone from a fire, from an oncoming truck, from death.

The Salvation Story

Ironically, it was a Sunday. We sat on the concrete benches under a dead tree watching the daisies and finding snails until ten o’clock when the shelter doors opened.

The woman behind the desk discussed the cat selection. One prize beast displayed in a prominent glass box was double-priced, highly desirable, and it would go quickly. We glanced. Too large. And walked on.

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Are Passover and Easter Just Celebrations of Violence?

Mar28

by: on March 28th, 2013 | 8 Comments »

Surrounded by the usual code words for these holidays – “freedom from slavery” for the first, “resurrection and new life” for the second – this question may seem at the least silly and at worst an exercise of blasphemous anti-religiosity.

Yet it is actually a serious question. Consider that while freeing the Jews all, yes all, the Egyptians’ first born – from that of the Pharaoh to the Pharaoh’s servants to the Pharaoh’s pet cat – had to die. And consider that Christianity seems to require the suffering and death of an innocent.

That is why some people not under the spell of scriptural sanctity have had critical thoughts. Even as authentic member of the club as Holocaust survivor and extensive commentator on Jewish tradition Elie Wiesel was deeply pained that the liberation of the Jews required the slaughter of innocent Egyptians. And Matthew Fox, originally a Catholic priest and now an Episcopal one, asks comparable questions about what he considers his faith’s over emphasis on sin and death and lack of appreciation of creation and love. Not to mention radical Christian feminists who challenge what they think of as patriarchy’s love affair with violence.

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About Death, II

Mar21

by: on March 21st, 2013 | 5 Comments »

My last blog ended by comparing our lives to a song, and with the reflection: But if we live with awareness and gratitude, compassion and love, we will face the end of the song with grace, knowing that the composer and performer is not us, but forces vastly larger, more creative, and (almost) infinitely more enduring.

I’ve been asked to expand on this thought. What are these ‘forces’? How are they larger and more creative and enduring?

We can start small. Walking my dog this morning through narrow, hilly neighborhood streets, I heard the brilliant “pyou pyou” of a cardinal standing on a tree limb about twenty feet over my head. The bird was only about seven inches long, probably weighed less than two ounces, with a small pointed beak surrounded by quarter inch of black, a tuft of feathers for a pointed crown, and a shockingly red breast and wings. “How does it do that,” I thought, “this tiny thing making a noise that can be heard for blocks? A call louder than the loudest whistle you ever heard from that friend in high school who could put two fingers in his mouth and bring forth a shriek that made people cover their ears and would stop cabs in the street.”

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Amour, Death, Song

Mar15

by: on March 15th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

That was the day of the white chrysanthemums, so magnificent I was almost fearful…And then, then you came to take my soul…
Rilke

For someone way beyond middle age Amour is, as we used to say, quite a trip. To those unfamiliar with this Oscar winning French film, it chronicles the illness, degeneration and death of an aging French piano teacher, who is cared for by her loving, stoic husband. The acting is superb, the writing spare and focused, the pacing almost in ‘real time’ as the camera lingers on the woman’s first stroke, being bathes by an attendant, the husband’s excruciating attempts to get her to eat some oatmeal. In the end the husband, overwhelmed with grief for his wife’s guttural cries of pain, her loss of even a shred of autonomy or dignity, and perhaps also his own exhaustion, frustration, and anger, takes matters into his own hands.

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Forgiveness: A Presidential Example of Spirituality and Pragmatism

Mar13

by: on March 13th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

I must confess that forgiveness is difficult for me.

I think about it, speak about it and write about it. (See: http://justpeacetheory.com/files/Thoughts_on_Forgiveness.pdf) When the time comes for me to forgive, I pray the prayer of Jesus on the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 KJV) I pray this prayer until I am able to say inside my own soul: “I forgive.”

President Obama continues his “charm offensive” this week with trips to Congress to speak with members about a compromise on various important issues – the federal budget, immigration, gun control to name a few. On March 6, 2013, President Obama invited a group of Republican senators to dinner at a fancy Washington DC restaurant at his own expense. He wanted to speak with them in an informal setting about how to move forward on various pieces of legislation that would benefit the country. This is the kind of effort that I advocate in my work on just peacemaking. I say that just peace requires the ethics of commensality, the ethics of the table meal where the bread and wine of communion not only help us to remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but also become symbols of sustenance and joy which are the ethical goals of life.

The senators came from the dinner with good things to say about the evening and prospects for a better working relationship with the president. I trust and believe that this will be the beginning of a less toxic atmosphere in Washington, the beginning of a new and better working relationship between the president and Congress.

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