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Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category



A Prayer of Boundless Love: Extending the Shema to Include All Beings

Jul5

by: Charles Burack on July 5th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

As part of my integral worship each morning, I recite theShema, the central Jewish prayer. The opening verses of theShemaproclaim the People of Israel’s responsibility to affirm the unity of divinity and love the One with all our heart and soul and might. For many Jews, the initial verse “ShemaYisraelYHVHElohaynuYHVHechad” means “Hear, O Israel,YHVHis our God,YHVHis one.” For some mystically inclined Jews like myself, the opening verse means the “Hear, O Israel,YHVHis our divinity,YHVHis Onenessea.”

YHVHis the holy, unpronounceable divine name that traditional Jews replace withAdonai[Our Lord], and that modern scholars designate as thetetragrammaton(Four-Letter Name) and vocalize asYahweh. Various Rabbinic commentators glossYHVHas”the Eternal One” because it appears to merge three singular forms of the Hebrew word for “to be”: was-is-will be (hayah, hoveh, yehiyeh). The Sages also associateYHVHwith the quality of divine compassion (middat ha-rachamim) – which is the “womb [rechem] consciousness” of divinity. Jewish mystics note that the numerological value (inGematriya) ofYHVHis 26, which is equivalent to the sum of the values of the two central concepts in theShema: love (ahavah= 13) and one (echad= 13). This spiritual equation “YHVH= Love + One” implies that divinity is fundamentally unified and loving and that love itself is the primary means for creating and sustaining unity.

While many mainstream traditional Jews understand the divine as wholly transcendent, many Jewish mystics affirm, along with theZohar, that the Infinite One (Ein Sof) both fills and surrounds all worlds (memalai kol olmin v’sovev kol olmin). The divine is in All, and All is in It, and there is no place where divinity is not present.

Like many other members of the Jewish Renewal community, which integrates neo-Chasidism with progressive views and values and honors the insights and practices of other religious and spiritual traditions, I understand theShemaas enjoining “God-wrestlers” to experience the Oneness – of Being, Non-Being and Beyond – as divine. I like Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s translation ofIsrael(Yisrael) as “God-wrestler” not only because the Bible itself explains that it means “one who contends [struggles, wrestles] with God” (Genesis 32:29) but also because this gloss gives the word a more universal meaning that can speak to anyone, whether Jewish or not. Indeed, I am inclined to tell the students who take my Kabbalah courses, “If you are a God- or Goddess-wrestler, consider yourself an honorary Israelite.” Then I quickly add with a smile, “Most rabbis would not agree with that statement!”

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The Hidden Who Uphold The World

Jun30

by: on June 30th, 2018 | No Comments »

 

Rabbi Abraham Heschel, presenting Judaism and World Peace award to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A friend posted on Facebook, sharing the fatigue and demoralization she had been fighting as she sorted through old papers documenting her journey in the last few decades of the progressive movement in this country: the ideas appropriated without credit; the individuals whose own sense of entitlement blinded them to the injuries they inflicted; the surplus ego, the embedded pathways of patriarchy, and more, much more.

She touched my heart in the tender place of my own questioning, and I wrote back:

The challenge of remaining whole amidst the brokenness is formidable. The challenge of holding all these contradictions is fatiguing. It may not be much consolation to be seen as one who helps to shift the energies, inside and out, by speaking these truths, but you are such a one. There is a Jewish legend of the 36 just ones (the Lamed-Vav Tzaddikim) who by their existence uphold the world. It is not given to anyone to know who they are, but we are asked to live as if life itself depended on us, as if we were among the 36. Love and honor to you for answering this call, my friend.

You see, her words brought to mind the legend of the 36 Just Ones – The Lamed-Vav Tzaddikim in Hebrew – who by their righteousness uphold the existence of the world. In Jewish mysticism, the story goes that if at any time the total number of these pillars of existence were to fall below 36, the world would end, as together they constitute an ironclad argument to the Divine that humanity is worth the trouble.


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The Big Lie

Jun23

by: on June 23rd, 2018 | 4 Comments »

What is “The Big Lie” and why is the Present Occupant of the White House so committed and adept at deploying it?

When Hitler coined the expression “The Big Lie,” he meant it as an accusation against German Jews, charging them in Mein Kampf with falsely condemning Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff for losing World War I due to his strategic errors in the spring offensive of 1918, after which he was forced to leave his post.

Ludendorff retaliated by working overtime to blame defeat not on losses in battle under his command, but on Jews and Communists, whom he saw as a powerful internal enemies. As history shows, his Big Lie triumphed in the court of public opinion. As World War II ramped up, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels used the term to characterize the British relationship to public opinion, accusing them of telling a big lie and sticking no matter what.

Mostly, though, we hear the term in relation to Nazi Germany’s own propaganda, as in this characterization of Hitler from the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (predecessor to the present-day Central Intelligence Agency) during the war:

His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.


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REVIVAL Album Spreads Love and Hope

Jun22

by: Robin Kopf on June 22nd, 2018 | No Comments »

Just in time for LGBT+ Pride weekend in San Francisco and New York City, the live folk-rock show, REVIVAL, has released an album as of June 21st.

Part of the spirit of Pride is modeling a world that focuses more on love and less on fear and hatred. REVIVAL‘s story based songs do just this – they send messages of healing, spirituality, joy, faith, and caring for the world we live in.

REVIVAL started out as a performance by singers Lea Kalisch and Julia Ostrov, violinist Samantha Gillogly, guitarist Ugene Romashov, and percussionist Anna Wray, all based in or around New York City. The music and lyrics were written by Kristen Plylar-Moore in the wake of the 2016 presidential election and they began performing the show in late 2016.


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Nine Stops on a Long Road: One Jew’s Journey

May21

by: Judith Mahoney Pasternak on May 21st, 2018 | 8 Comments »

1. The Yom Kippur Transgression

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Religious Jews fast and pray all day, focusing on repenting the sins of the past year.

On the Yom Kippur before my sixteenth birthday, I was at the neighborhood drugstore-soda fountain, probably buying cigarettes.

I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was supposed to be at home, not to fast or think about atoning for anything, but to stand with all Jews by not publicly flouting the Yom Kippur practice.

It was in the decades after World War II. The Jewish High Holy Days were not yet school holidays even in New York State, with its large Jewish population. American Jews were still assimilating. The process had been accelerated by the war and the Holocaust, the genocide attempted and almost achieved by Germany’s Third Reich, yet those same events made us more than ever conscious of our Jewish identity. So it was that my mother, daughter of two militantly secular, even anti-religious, socialist-anarchist Russian Jews, kept her children home from school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as a sign of respect for, and solidarity with, observant Jews. My visit to the drugstore was behind her back, sneaking out for something I needed, which is why I think it must have been cigarettes.

Suddenly, a voice behind me said, “Judy! What are you doing here?” It was a Jewish high-school classmate, and when I said I was getting cigarettes, she added, “No, why aren’t you in school?”

“It’s Yom Kippur,” I said. If I was breaking the rules, so was she.

“But Judy,” she protested, “you look so Catholic!”

She was mixing up religion and ethnicity. She meant I looked Irish, which I did, because I am. Half Irish, also half Jewish. Standing in the aisle at the drugstore, I explained that to my classmate. Then I went home and announced that for my upcoming birthday I wanted a gold Star of David and a chain to wear it on. I got it and wore it for years afterward, wanting never again to be taken for not Jewish.

 

2. My Mother’s Hagadahs

The Hagadah is the account of the Jews’ servitude in Egypt and escape – exodus – from it, traditionally retold during the Passover dinners called seders.

To be precise, I’m half Jewish by matrilineal ancestry, if not by religion, which gets me the Right of Return under Israeli law and would have gotten me death in Nazi Germany. The other half is Irish – my father was born in County Cork – and that’s the half I more resemble. My birth name was Judith Mahoney, and I’m blue-eyed and, through my teens, was fair-haired.

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Israel@70: Fixing the way we pray for the State

Apr17

by: Rabbi David Seidenberg on April 17th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

The traditional prayer for the State of Israel, more literally titled “A Prayer for the Peace of the State,” tefilah lish’lom hamedinah, was written in 1948 by the chief rabbis of what had up until then been Palestine, in a time of war. The state was under direct attack by the Arab armies, and there was little distinction between peace, survival, and victory.

As we approach Israel’s 70th birthday, it is time to make such distinctions. Israel and the Jewish people live in a much more complex reality, a democratic reality. A reality where the strongest military cannot create peace on its own.

This reality is one where the triumph of one party or policy can undermine the flow of justice and reverse the outlook for peace. It is a reality where praying for Israel must include not only praying for the well-being of the Jewish people, but also praying for the well-being of the region, and the well-being of the Palestinian people, many of whom are Israeli citizens, most of whom are in some way under Israel’s control. And it is a reality where praying for the well-being of mutual enemies must include praying that people on all sides be protected from their own hatred, not just from attack.

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Stepping into Leadership: 
the Magic of Self-Acceptance

Mar16

by: on March 16th, 2018 | Comments Off

A Hassidic story tells of a rabbi Zusha who summons his students on his deathbed and tells them that when he gets to the other side, he won’t be judged for not being a good Moses; he will only be judged for not being a good Zusha.

This story captures, for me, one of the most challenging tasks of supporting people in stepping into and developing their leadership. Time and time again, I have found people comparing themselves to me, or to some other admired leader, and giving up on themselves and the path because they don’t “measure up.” Each time, I come back to the basic truth that the only leader any of us can be is based on who we each are. As we step into leadership, we are called to lead with our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses.

This truth, for me, has been both a relief and an exacting discipline. It requires a profound shift in our relationship with ourselves: from judging to observing ourselves, from minimizing to celebrating our strengths, from criticizing to tenderly accepting our limitations, from motivating ourselves with “shoulds” to connecting with purpose and choice about creating change within ourselves, and from hiding to asking for support regarding our challenges.

Each of these shifts challenges the patriarchal legacy and upbringing that almost all of us have grown up with, transcending shame, fear, and the perpetual doubt that we matter. This approach asserts, boldly and loudly, that we do matter, whoever we are.


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Finding My Place as an Anti-Occupation Reform Jew

Dec19

by: Netanya Perluss on December 19th, 2017 | 10 Comments »

This past week at the URJ Biennial, I was blessed to celebrate social justice and my Jewish values, traditions, and songs with 6,000 Jews from across the world. As President Trump unilaterally announced the move of the American embassy to Jerusalem, I was so glad to be with the two Jewish movements closest to my heart: the Reform Movement and IfNotNow.

I grew up in the Reform Movement. I was deeply involved in at my temple, found my home away from home spending summers at URJ Camp Newman, and formed deep and lasting friendships in NFTY. I spent a semester in Israel on NFTY EIE, and found my voice as a songleader at URJ Kutz Camp.

Through all these experiences, from all these communities, I learned to laugh, love, sing, and learn.  But most importantly, I was taught that Tikkun Olam, or fixing the world, was a responsibility of the Jewish people. My Jewish life encouraged me to call out injustices and work to make our world a better place. Through liturgy, songs, programs at camps, youth group events, and sermons at temple, I was called into action, often with a line from the history of our people:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?

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Why A Ramah Counselor Spoke-Out About the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters Last Week

Nov17

by: Sylvie Rosen on November 17th, 2017 | 7 Comments »

Protest of the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters
Protest of the Occupation at Ramah Headquarters. Image courtesy of author.

Anyone who knows me knows that I grew up at Ramah. Without it, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Ramah is a holy community, a Kehilah Kedoshah, as we say. This summer, when a fire burned down our main building, people posted on Facebook, donated money, and reached out to me individually. I felt supported by the entire National Ramah movement.

But where is that same support, community, and strength in our conversations, actions, and education on Israel/Palestine? Although Ramah changes me and lifts me up in so many ways, it fails me every year in one way: by perpetuating lies about the Occupation.

Not once, in my combined ten years at Ramah in the Berkshires and Ramah in the Rockies, did anyone mention the Occupation. We don’t talk about it because we want to pretend it doesn’t exist every summer.

In my three summers on staff, none of our programming ever attempted to address the Occupation. Instead, on Yom Israel in 2016, staff instructed campers to build mock settlements as a fun competition that demonstrated how Jews built Israel from nothing. No one mentioned that people lived on that land before. In our dining tent, we have a map from The Nachshon Project showing where all the famous Biblical characters lived in Israel/Palestine — stealthily laying claim to the idea that only Jews have a historic right to the land. We have maps of Israel across the camp to emulate the Israel Trail, but not one of them outlines the Green Line. This past summer, during our staff training session on Israel, we talked about our feelings and relationship to Israel, but never about the Occupation. The unspoken agreement about the Occupation was: it’s complicated, difficult, and not appropriate for a summer camp.

This is an educational and moral disaster.

Rabbi Cohen responded in Haaretz to our campaign the day of the Speak-Out and Teach-In I participated in last week: “We [Ramah and IfNotNow] don’t differ on the importance of teaching our teens and staff about the difficulties of the occupation.”

But if that is true, then the attempts made have been at best inconsistent and inadequate. In the past I’ve made excuses for Ramah because I want it to be the leader in the American-Jewish community that it claims to be. I told myself that the rest of the work Ramah does outweighs these issues. I was scared to disagree with the place is so central to my identity.

But I can’t maintain this lie anymore, which is why I went to the Speak-Out and Teach-In outside the National Ramah Commission last Tuesday. I joined because I want to see systemic change, and I know our community can do better than individual private meetings that superficially deal with this issue. We have to hold Ramah accountable and we can’t do that in a private setting. We want change for this summer, and we need public support for that. This is why we have invited Rabbi Cohen, to a public forum to talk with alumni and members of the Jewish community.

When I return to Ramah this summer along with 11,000 other people, I want our work and community to truly be holy, Kedoshah, by truthfully and thoughtfully educating campers and staff about the realities of the occupation.

I also want to address how we should educate campers and staff on the Occupation this summer. We must acknowledge the reality that millions of Palestinians live under Israeli military rule. IfNotNow has compiled a list of some resources we can use to teach campers and staff how to think critically about Israel. But this is just a start, it shows that this kind of education is possible and that other Jewish educators are doing it.  We need to upend the idea that Israel education and all Jewish education cannot include discussions about the Occupation. For those at Ramah who are professional Jewish educators, addressing the Occupation is as part of their job as teaching campers how to lead shabbat services — and we must hold them responsible for that.

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Sylvie Rosen is an IfNotNow member and Ramah camp counselor.

This Week’s Torah Portion

Nov7

by: 2017-2018 T'ruah Israel Fellows on November 7th, 2017 | 5 Comments »

Note from Rabbi Lerner:

This week’s Torah portion to be read this Saturday in synagogues around the world tells of Abraham bargaining for a place to buy his wife Sarah. He finally succeeds in purchasing the spot which is now identified as the cave of machpelah in the center of Hebron. It became a holy site for Jews some 2200 years ago, and many Jews went on pilgramage to that site until the Roman imperialists forced Jews out of much of what the Romans named Palestine. When, some 1300 years ago, Muslims conquered the Holy Land, they constructed a mosque on top of this cave, and that became a holy site for Muslims as well who also believed that they, through Ishmael (Abraham’s first son, though not through his wife Sara but from her handmaiden Hagar) were descendents of Abraham. After the 1967 “Six Days War” Israel conquered the West Bank, a group called Gush Emunim, composed mostly of religious fanatics who believed that Jews had “the right” all of the West Bank and Gaza (and some even thinking that God had “given us” all the territory to the Euprhates river in Iraq) settled first nearby Hebron, then in Hebron next to the mosque where they could have immediate access to the supposed graves of our ancestors.They began displacing Arabs living near the cave and this caused friction between the over 100,000 Muslims who lived in this large West Bank city and the settlers. In 1994 a settler entered the mosque and murdered some 19 Muslims at prayer. In response, Israel sent in IDF (Israeli army) to protect the settlers from the anger of the (unarmed) Palestinians, and as more settler arrived and more Palestinians were displaced, anger grew, and so did the presence of the Israeli army, shutting down streets in central Hebron till it felt to many more like a prison than like the center of one of the biggest Palestinian cities.

Below is a note I received from a group of young people studying in Israel this year as the Truah Israel Fellows with the interdenominational organization Truah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights of which I am a member.  Please read it to understand better why Palestinians are so outraged at the Occupation.

– Rabbi Michael Lerner

 

A d’var Torah for Parashat Chayei Sarah by the 2017-2018 T’ruah Israel Fellows

 

Visiting Hebron, one of the first impressions that hits like a sucker-punch to the stomach is of a ghost town. Streets once bustling with thousands of Palestinians are now traversed almost exclusively by Israeli soldiers and settlers. Freedom of movement is squashed. Palestinian doors are welded shut and porches are caged in, ostensibly to protect them from the 800 settlers living in their midst. It’s hard to fathom what life is like when you cannot go out of your front door. This is occupation at its starkest.

But after this shock subsides, a more insidious, creeping form of occupation starts to draw one’s attention. Wherever we travel in the rest of Israel, we see street signs in three languages—Hebrew, Arabic, and English. It’s a recognition of Arabic’s status as an official language and a nod to the kind of coexistence that, at least in theory, Israel strives for. But here in Hebron, a lot of work has gone into painting a different picture.

Here, the street names are in Hebrew and English. No Arabic. Road signs point to Jerusalem and the settlement of Neve Samuel but not to any of the Palestinian neighborhoods or villages. It’s a pretty blatant attempt to cloak the occupation, to erase anyone’s connection to this place but the Jews’.

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