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Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

Can Liberal Judaism Be Saved from Liberalism?


by: Sigfried Gold on November 4th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

(Credit: CC-BY-NC-SA by Jerusalem Prayer Team)

Is the death of Judaism or liberal American Judaism suggested by the Pew report on American Judaism cause for alarm or remorse or an opportunity for creative renewal? I’ll side with the latter, along with Rabbi Rami Shapiro as he calls for abandoning the American Jewish status quo as a lost cause and starting something new. He lays out a vision he labels “Judaism Next” that embraces the inescapable skepticism and pluralism of our secular age and mixes Judaism’s wiser scriptures and traditions with contemporary philosophy, literature and moral sensibilities (and decorates the result with an avalanche of anarchic philanthropic experiments in Jewish meaning making.) He invites further conversation, asking us “not to argue with my vision of Judaism but to share your own.”

I applaud Rabbi Shapiro’s blunt prognosis and his invitation to creative rebuilding, and I’m sympathetic with much of his vision, but, despite my best efforts, I find myself succumbing to some inner compulsion to argue, even to the point that the presentation of my own vision will have to wait for a future article. My vision is still murky, complicated, not quite articulate, and can’t compete with Rabbi Shapiro’s unless I poke a couple holes in his first and question one of his underlying assumptions.

Well, the hole I want to call attention to doesn’t need to be poked so much as investigated: it’s the absence of faith in Rabbi Shapiro’s program. I can’t tell how intentional this absence is or if it constitutes a real tear in the overall fabric, but I see it in the space between Rabbi Shapiro’s skepticism and his sense of meaning and goodness.


Obama’s Vacation, and the End of Downtime


by: on August 9th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

At a time when too many people are out of work and too many others are holding down two or three jobs just to survive, it might seem a bit frivolous to lament the lost art of leisure. But leisure – restorative time – is a basic human need. And fewer people are getting the benefit of it, apparently even when they’re on paid vacations.

A new Harris survey finds that more than half of all U.S. employees planned to work during their summer vacations this year – up six percent from the previous year. (Email is a prime suspect in this crime against leisure.) Soon enough, all of us will be taking presidential-style vacations like the one starting tomorrow. That’s when the Obamas arrive on Martha’s Vineyard, no doubt just in time for the president’s first briefing on national security.

In my mind, no one has gone to the philosophical and theological heart of this matter more tellingly than the German American thinker Josef Pieper in his 1952 classic, Leisure: the Basis of Culture.


Trayvon Martin and Tisha B’av: A Jewish Response


by: on July 15th, 2013 | 9 Comments »

Protestors gathered in New York City yesterday in response to Zimmerman's acquittal for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Credit: Jay Stephens.

……………  The jury’s acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and murdered the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, was emblematic of the consistent racism and double standard used in the treatment of minority groups or those deemed “Other” in the U.S. and around the world. Where is there justice in a world in which so many people suffer oppression and in which those who choose to use violence as a way to address and deal with their hatred and fear often seem to triumph?

Jewish theology holds that there is a karmic order, so that evil actions will not always run the world. Justice and compassion are both essential to the survival of the planet. Unlike many religions that focus on individual sinners and imagine that they will be punished in some future not currently verifiable – for example in a heaven or hell after life, or in a reincarnation in some form that provides rewards or punishments for how one lives in this world, most of Jewish theology sees karma as playing out on a societal scale, and over the long run.

There may never be a this-world punishment for George Zimmerman. Murderers and other perpetrators of evil too often get rewarded instead of punished. James Comey, who played an important role in approving water-boarding and indefinite detention without trial when he served in the Bush Administration, was appointed last week by President Obama to head the FBI. The Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress in denying NSA surveillance of American citizens, but it is Edward Snowden who is now seeking asylum for whistle-blowing and revealing the extent of that lie. Henry Kissinger who played a central role in prolonging the Vietnam war (causing thousands of deaths) still receives public acclaim. Those bankers and investment brokers who were responsible for the 2008 meltdown of the economy and the loss of homes for millions of Americans received rewards and huge bonuses instead of prison sentences. And corporate leaders who have been responsible for polluting our air, water and land around the planet remain firmly in power while environmentalists are scorned and their message largely ignored by the Obama Administration.

So where’s the justice?


An Easy Essay on Community


by: on June 18th, 2013 | Comments Off

Abbey Church at St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota.

I’m just back from three days at the monastery with a working group on community-pastors, scholars, monastics and new monastics trying to understand what it is we mean when we say we want “community” and how this desire is cultivated and directed toward the common good in our society. One of my great heroes in the American pursuit of beloved community is Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement with Dorothy Day. He was a street teacher who distilled his message into “easy essays.” I’m not sure this is yet 100 proof (as we say in NC moonshine country), but I tried to do a little distilling of what we discussed in our time together.

Toward a Definition of Community

Community is not the crowd where we are together without being known (though a crowd is fine-unless it becomes a mob).
It’s not the club where we commit without encumbrance (though a club is fine-unless it becomes a clique).
Neither is it the clan where we find safety in shared history (though one’s clan is fine, too-unless it becomes a gang… or a military superpower).

Beloved community is, instead, that fellowship in which we know ourselves as we are known in mutual dependence.
It is the membership in which we learn to take responsibility for our future in mutual accountability.
It is the circle of trust in which we know our flourishing depends upon mutual welcome.


From Vacation to Transformation: How Spiritual Retreats Are Changing Judaism


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.


Remembering the Sixties: The Free Speech Movement


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


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.


My Jewish Atheism


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.


Sacred Space, at the Corner of Boylston and Berkeley


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.


Mourning Our Way to Acceptance


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?


Salvation at the Animal Shelter


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.