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By Vera Kisfalvi (Montreal) from Fire Island, August, 1998
My tears are salty as the sea as I look out on Your ocean.
My words form into prayer, lost in the sound of the waves.
I cannot fathom the depth of Your creation.
Easy to feel, here, Your presence in the ebb and flow of each strong swell,
In the grey-blue waters that move and bend beyond earth’s gentle curve.
But teach me to know the depth of Your creation
In every stone and grain of sand washed to shore by surf.
Night falls to the rushing sound of waves cast up by the ocean.
Easy to see Your presence here, in each emerging star,
As it weaves itself into a blanket of spinning constellations,
A silent sea of light that flows and brightens high over the waters.
I will always stand in awe of stars and ocean.
But I long to know the depth of Your creation
In each blade of grass, each dry leaf that falls from the tree.
Teach me to know, Shekhinah, the depth of Your creation,
Every day, in every voice I hear and every face I see.
What is Judaism For? Sensibilities, Emergence and the Dot of Goodness
Compiled by Reb Sherril Gilbert, with gratitude to R’ Chava Bahle, R’ Debra Orenstein, & R’ Avraham Greenbaum, Margaret Wheatley; Judaism Unbound podcast; and to Rabbi Hannah Dresner for the spark of the idea.
So there is this passenger sitting on a train and he is watching with astonishment this older man across the aisle who keeps repeating the same behaviours, over and over again. First the old man is mumbling a few words to himself, then he smiles, and finally he raises his hand and stops talking for a few moments.
After watching this strange behaviour for close to an hour, the passenger could not keep quiet any longer, and says, “Excuse me sir, but I couldn’t help noticing what you were doing. Is anything wrong?”
“Not at all,” replies the old man. “You see, whenever I take a trip, I get bored. And so I always tell myself jokes, which is why I was smiling.”
“But why did you keep raising your hand?”
“Oh, that. It’s to interrupt myself because I’ve heard that joke before.”1
"One of the initiatives I have been involved in as the representative of the Toronto Board of Rabbis to the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition is an effort to update labour laws to give protection to precarious workers. It is called the Campaign for $15 and Fairness. The element of the Campaign that has received the most media attention is the effort to increase the minimum wage in Ontario to $15 from the current $11.40. The government has responded positively by tabling Bill 148 the Fair Workplaces Better Jobs Act and Committee hearings were held earlier this month.
This has been a two year effort of collaboration between Unions, community groups and faith leaders. I was active in the effort to mobilize around 200 faith leaders from a very broad range of religious communities in Ontario, 27 of whom are Rabbis and as well 4 other Jewish clergy. The statement is located at http://15andfairness.org/faith-leaders and I invite you to go to it and sign on. This is a degree of Rabbinic involvement in public policy campaign never before seen in Ontario, let alone one pursuing worker and union rights.
This video is from the subsequent community media conference I participated in at the Queen's Park media studio on July 21, 2017 on the last day of the Committee's public hearings."
Originally posted on the Velveteen Rabbi website by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, June 29, 2017
Renewing Judaism happens everywhere. That's one of the things that was affirmed for David and me during the Listening Tour: the renewing of Judaism is, and always has been, bigger than any organization. And that's exactly how it should be. The renewing of Judaism is organic, and multifaceted, and it’s all over the place. Those of us who are ordained in the lineage of Reb Zalman z”lare obvious and visible stewards of that renewing. But the renewing of Judaism is so much bigger even than the growing community of clergy who self-identify as part of that lineage.
Renewing Judaism means spiritual technologies that enliven Judaism. Matching aliyotof Torah with a theme that arises from the text, and offering a blessing rooted in those words and that theme. Making use of chant as a spiritual technology, maybe cherishing melodies from Rabbi Shefa Gold or from Nava Tehila. Offering a meditation minyan or integrating Jewish contemplative practice into our spiritual lives. Practicing hashpa’ah (spiritual direction). These are some of the spiritual technologies that have arisen over the last few decades -- and I can't wait to see what the next ones will be.
Renewing Judaism means liturgical creativity. Davening bilingually. Chanting in English. Interweaving classical liturgy with contemporary poetry. Setting ancient texts to new melodies that open them up in new ways (e.g. “Mi Chamocha” to “The Water is Wide”), and setting new texts to ancient melodies (e.g. contemporary poems in haftarah trope). Exploring the spiritual ramifications of using different names for God (not only Lord and King and Father but also Shekhinah, Source, Wellspring, Mother, Beloved). Passionate use of both words and silence. Praying with our bodies. Explorations and experimentations with liturgy and with prayer that seek to open the heart and enliven the soul. These are (some) expressions of how renewing our prayer lives can renew our Judaism in all four worlds of body, heart, mind, and spirit.
Renewing Judaism flows inside the denominations of Judaism. The renewing of Judaism flows in the Reform movement: my own shul is part of the Reform movement, and is a place where the renewing of Judaism flourishes.The renewing of Judaism flows in the Conservative movement: when we met with Rabbi Brad Artson at Ziegler as part of our southern California Listening Tour stop, we learned that he studies Zohar daily with the aid of his own handmade poster of the sefirot! The renewing of Judaism flows in the Reconstructionist movement: RRC hosted us in Philadelphia on the Listening Tour for a deep and rich conversation about precisely that. The renewing of Judaism flows in Orthodoxy: the existence of Yeshivat Maharat, ordaining Orthodox women, is a sign of renewed Judaism in the Orthodox world. (Indeed, Yeshivat Maharat hosted us as part of the very first weekend of the Listening Tour, back in May of 2015.)
Renewing Judaism flows outside the denominations, too. There are many independent communities and organizations where the renewing of Judaism is unfolding (Rabbi David’s shul on City Island is one of them. So are Romemu in New York City, Kehilla in the Bay Area, and Or Shalom in Vancouver, all of which we visited on the Listening Tour). During the Listening Tour we met with folks from all three of the other trans-denominational seminaries -- Hebrew College, the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York, and the Academy for Jewish Religion in California -- because the fact of pluralistic rabbinical education is part of the renewing of Judaism. Pop-up shtiebls, home-based havurot, innovative projects like Lab/Shul (NY) and The Kitchen (SF), The Jewish Studio (DC) and Judaism Your Way (Denver), all are part of the renewing of Judaism.
Renewing Judaism is a movement, in the sense of “something in motion.” It's the flow of inspiration, creativity, innovation, and change as those manifest in modern Jewish life -- ideally rooted in and balanced with deep love of the tradition as we’ve inherited it. It's both grounded and creative, and constantly re-articulating the right balance between those two qualities, between roots and wings. The renewing of Judaism affirms that Judaism isn’t (and has never been) static or unchanging: change is core to Judaism and core to authentic spiritual life. (After all, as our liturgy teaches, God every day renews creation.) Our task is figuring out how to balance change with constancy. Sometimes that means our Judaism takes new forms. Sometimes it means that we reinterpret or re-enliven old forms. But tradition teaches that every day God's voice continues to sound from Sinai. If we open ourselves to it, we -- and our Judaism -- are constantly being renewed.
Renewing Judaism is bigger, and richer, and deeper, than any single organization could contain. On our travels around North America, and our videoconference conversations with people around the world, we sought to hear not only from those who self-identify as part of “Jewish Renewal” as it has existed until now, but also from people outside of that frequently insular bubble. We sought to hear the voices of people who were once connected with ALEPH and for one reason or another walked away. We sought to hear the voices of people who are engaging in the renewing of Judaism by other names: those who are renewing Judaism in ways aligned with ours in spirit and heart, no matter what name they use for what they do. We learned some extraordinary things about what the renewing of Judaism means to you, and about what you yearn it could yet become. Stay tuned: I'll share more about that in the next post in this series.
Today is Reb Zalman z"l's third yahrzeit. I offer these initial reflections on the depth and breadth of the Judaism he helped to inspire in his memory. May his memory continue to be a blessing.
Fully 36 times, Torah calls Jews to help “the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger.” Refugees of war-torn Syria, fleeing the violence of religious and tribal warfare, are all of these. As Jews, we must help: Jews bear history’s imprint of the homeless refugee, collective victims of political barbarism. For Jews not to help is to betray our history and miss a chance to redeem our history: we are to love these people, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deut. 10:19).
It is doubly incumbent on Jews – who ourselves descend from refugees fleeing war and extermination – to aid our Syrian cousins at this time. Maimonides taught that the highest form of tzedakah (charity) is to help another find a job so that one breaks free of needing charity (Mishneh Torah, Matanot Aniyim 10:7). Maybe even higher than charity that unshackles another economically is charity that unshackles another spiritually – charity that not only meets gripping economic need, but also loosens the grip of hatred and bigotry.
ALEPH Canada is incredibly proud to bring you the first offering of the Integral Halachah Institute. Rabbi Daniel Siegel has just completed the first text of the IHI, called “Ensouling the World – Spiritual Teachings about Shabbat and Shmita.” In this deep and timely offering, Reb Daniel and rabbinic student Esther Azar, with support from Rabbis David Seidenberg and Elliot Ginsburg, explore the teachings of the Netivot Shalom and the Ohr HaChayim which “recognize that the cycles of seven are a healing for the soul and a renewal for the next cycle. This message … contains the secret to our ultimate healing as individuals and as a planet.”
Rabbi Sherril Gilbert
“I’m just helping to get the conversation started…” Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
It’s certain that Reb Zalman, may his memory be a blessing, has provided the spark that started many conversations. We’ve been having a year-long one here at ALEPH Canada. You can probably glean from today’s post from Reb Daniel that the last year has been an active and exciting one for us, with many changes. One of the most fruitful and engaging activities in which we were involved was a pan-Canadian, participatory strategic planning and visioning process that took us from Montreal to Regina to Vancouver. So far (because the conversation is not over – we want to hear from you too!), we have learned that what participants want ALEPH Canada to be is the place to go to for finding resources and making linkages.
A NOTE FROM REB DANIEL:
Canada Day has a special and personal significance for me. It was on the first of July, ten years ago, that I came back home after seventeen years in the States. Seven of those years were spent first, as the Rabbinic Director of ALEPH [Central as we call it] and then as its Director of Spiritual Resources. The ALEPH I left was in serious financial difficulty and had to divert its precious resources to its Executive Director, leaving insufficient funds to support the development of the spiritual resources which really are a crucial part of its purpose.
My first priority on returning to Canada was to incorporate ALEPH here, so that we could play an important role in these changes. You rose to the challenge by channeling your now tax deductible contributions through ALEPH Canada so that I could continue the work of developing resources. This has resulted in more books of Reb Zalman’s thought, including Renewal is Judaism Now! and Integral Halachah. We’ve added two volumes to the Siddur Kol Koreh series, a weekday siddur and a High Holiday machzor, continued cataloging the many sound files of Reb Zalman teaching, and helped to support our ordination students through the Miriam Fisher Scholarship. Canadians have also begun to play important roles within ALEPH, as evidenced by Rabbi Jeremy Parnes of Regina who has recently completed several years as chair of the ALEPH Central Board and Rabbi Dr. Laura Duhan Kaplan who has re-joined the Va’ad which guides the ALEPH Ordination Programs.
From 2005-2007, ALEPH served as the lead agency in a successful interfaith project to incorporate religious and ethical principles in the ways in which we produce and distribute food. Under generous grants from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and The Schocken Foundation, the project brought together religious leaders, faith-based and civic institutions and members of the food industry to improve the quality of our land, air and water, to provide healthier and more sustainable food for our citizens and to improve the lives of agricultural workers.
Launched in July, 2005, the project was housed in ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and worked in partnership with Faith in Place, The Food Alliance, the Islamic Society of North America, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, the National Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and The Shalom Center as well as other faith-based institutions, businesses andnonprofit organizations.
Faith, Food and Our Future
Producing and distributing food is the most central activity to our economy and environment, both domestic and international. More than 1.3 billion people work 28 percent of the earth’s land to grow food. In the United States, nearly a quarter of all workers are engaged in the food industry, with food production affecting the local economy as well as the health of its residents, water and soil. Incremental improvements in the way in which food is grown, processed and marketed can have profound benefits for the environment and human health.
The tens of millions of people who purchase food for their homes and families have considerable ability to effect positive change in the environmental practices of corporations. Those who influence consumer choices are a particularly powerful leverage point. Religious guidance has
proven historically successful in affecting food choices on a mass scale. For centuries religious leaders have given advice on what foods truly represent a sacred path. This advice includes the Roman Catholic tradition of eating fish on Fridays, the halal dietary restrictions of Islam, and the Jewish kosher laws and eating matzah instead of bread during the Passover holiday.
The results of the Sacred Foods Project are resources that help religious leaders to address contemporary concerns about health, society and sustainability that are also a growing focus in the business community.
Sacred Food Goals and Accomplishments
- Improving the purchasing practices of communities of faith through their institutions including hospitals, schools, universities, meal programs, senior and day care facilities.
- Working to incorporate new social, environmental, health and community values into the advice religious leaders give and the certification standards they endorse.
- Hosting an interfaith dialogue to create common understanding about what is truly sacred food.
- Involving food business, faith-based and civic organizations and religious leaders in creating practical steps for improving the ways in which our country chooses to feed itself.
- Educating religious leaders on the social and environmental dimensions of our food system.
- Creating a compendium of scientific research, religious law, practice and the theological underpinnings of holding food as sacred.
With over 500 souls registered, this is on track to be the biggest Kallah since Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2007. Over 600 are expected in Rindge, New Hampshire for our lakeside retreat in the shadow of Mt. Monadnock. There is still time to beat the late registration fee on June 1st, and still plenty of time to register- right up until July 1st for the full conference, or July 5th for the Shabbaton! But why wait? “Lech lecha”- get yourself right now to the Kallah website and get registered, and get ready to enjoy one of the best weeks of your life. What are you waiting for?
To honour the memory of our beloved Reb Zalman and to further his living legacy ALEPH Canada announces
the creation of the Integral Halachah Institute.
Integral Halachah is Reb Zalman’s way of anchoring innovation in the traditional halachic process by adding this new category which goes beyond the classical system while simultaneously including it. It is, in Reb Zalman’s words, both renewing and “backwards compatible.”
In the words of Reb Sherril Gilbert of Montreal, we envision Integral Halachah “as a remedy for engaging with our communities in the sacred work of seriously wrestling with the questions that arise for us about our spiritual practices, ethical standards, and the routine challenges of trying to live our faith. Indeed, I believe that this work can only be done communally.… Indeed, we are the ones being called to create an integral halachah at the growing edge of our spiritual foresight.
Our hope is that the IHI will serve to bridge gaps between generations, between denominations, between communities, and between the affiliated and unaffiliated as we ask and explore the meaningful questions of our time.” Memorial contributions and tzedakah to the Integral Halachah Institute for the Continuation of Reb Zalman’s work may be made by clicking on the CanadaHelps button to the right and choosing the IHI as your designated fund.
Rabbi Sherril Gilbert
Listen to Shirat Ha’asavim ~ The Song of the Grasses, Naomi Shemer based on Rebbe Nachman. Listen on Rabbi David Seidenberg’s website http://www.neohasid.org/audio/shirat_haasavim/ . And for anyone in or around Montreal: Reb David will be visiting B’nai Or Montreal Community Shul on Monday February 2, to share some of his wonderful teachings! Place: YM-YWHA, 5400 Westbury Avenue, Montreal QC. Time: 7:45 pm. Donations of $10-$18 welcome. Also, Reb David will be leading the Tu B’Shevat seder for Mile End Chavurah in Montreal on Wednesday evening.
CHANUKAH 5775/2014 – ALEPH CANADA MOVING FORWARD
Rabbi Sherril Gilbert
Reb Nachman of Bratzlav, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, offers an unusual teaching on the dreidel. He says that the dreidel is a symbol of Creation itself. This is because all existence is like a rotating wheel. Existence is dynamic, and full of movement, always revolving and oscillating, never static! Yet also, just like a dreidel which spins on a single point, all of Creation too, emanates from one point, one root, one Source.
Reb Nachman invites us, as we spin the dreidel on Chanukah, to reflect upon our own lives. Where are we in our own cycles of ascent and descent? Turning and returning? How connected are all our ups and downs? How is holiness moving in our lives, or have we lost the “point”?
The vivid imagery of the dreidel also reminds me of the dynamism of the movement that is Jewish Renewal. The overarching task of our movement is, I believe, to carry forward Judaism’s perpetual process of renewal, “always revolving and oscillating, never static.” And so it is with ALEPH Canada as well. For the past year, our Board and staff have been engaging in discussions, planning, and an active process to understand and learn more about what Renewal has to offer – and could be offering – to the world and ALEPH Canada’s role in making that happen.
In October, B’nai Or Montreal Community Shul welcomed Rabbi Daniel Siegel for a Shabbaton and visioning session. Reb Daniel introduced the Integral Halachah Institute, and highlighted the need for increased multigenerational involvement in Renewal in Canada so that the movement continues to grow and flourish here. I facilitated the visioning session, which was attended by participants from several communities in Montreal and Ottawa. Next, Reb Daniel visited Beth Jacob Synagogue in Regina to facilitate a visioning retreat and continue the conversation. Additional challenges and opportunities were identified such as changing demographics. In January, Reb Daniel and I will be at Or Shalom in Vancouver for another ALEPH Canada-sponsored Shabbaton and visioning session.
Following the Vancouver session, we will be compiling and organizing the data from the three visioning sessions. But that in itself will not suffice for our purposes: we also want to hear from those of you who would like to participate in this promising pan-Canadian conversation. And so we are inviting you to contact us directly with your thoughts and comments on the visioning questions that we are asking, including these:
- Thinking back to your first experiences with Jewish Renewal and/or Jewish spirituality, what were your most positive first impressions?
- What have been the high points of your involvement with Jewish Renewal, and why?
- What are the core strengths and advantages of Jewish Renewal?
- If you had three wishes that would make Jewish Renewal everything you want or need it to be, what would those wishes be?
- What does the world need from Jewish Renewal?
- Imagine that it is three years in the future. ALEPH Canada is now a thriving national organization, and Jewish Renewal is a strong and well-recognized movement in Canadian Judaism. What is different? What changed? Who was involved? What do things look like?
In your responses, please be as specific as possible, and grounded in reality, so that the vision becomes feasible and achievable. For example, “world peace” is laudable but beyond both our mission and what is realistic for ALEPH Canada to attain! We are interested in your thoughts and reflections on actionable programs, practices, outreach, and education; with a focus on spirituality, human rights, environmental concerns, and social justice.
If you’d prefer to have this conversation by phone, please email me (email@example.com) so we can arrange that. Later this winter, based on the responses we receive from you and the data gleaned from the three congregations, we hope to produce a set of recommendations for moving ALEPH Canada forward in accomplishing our mission. We’d appreciate receiving your input by the end of January.
We’d also like to remind you that the end of December is a perfect time to make a donation to ALEPH Canada. Please visit www.canadahelps.org to be included in the donor family of ALEPH Canada. If you have already made a donation, thank you so much!
Wishing you chag urim samayach – a joyous season of light and enlightenment!
*Reb Nachman story adapted from Rabbi Marcia Prager
Rabbi Daniel Siegel
Hanna and I were privileged to attend the bar mitzvah of Reb Aryeh Hirshfield’s twin sons on the Shabbat of US Thanksgiving weekend. It was a powerful experience, full of both joy and sadness, as several communities gathered to honour these two young men and their mother. Reb Aryeh z”l had passed away suddenly some years ago and was among Reb Zalman’s early musmachim and part of the founding of Jewish Renewal in the Pacific Northwest. We who were Aryeh’s friends, colleagues, and family missed him even as we kvelled at the poise, maturity, and intelligence of his sons.
Among many special moments, Rabbi Benjamin Barnett of Corvallis, OR spoke about the word and name Yisra’el. The Torah reading for that Shabbat afternoon was Parashat VaYishlach, in which Jacob struggles with the angel and receives the name Yisra’el as the morning light ends the dark night. Most of the time in Jewish Renewal, we speak of this name of ours as meaning “God Wrestlers,” reflecting the reason given by the angel for this name “for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed” (Gen. 32:29). Rabbi Ben pointed out that the name can also be read as Yashar El, being straight or honest with God. I resonated with this because I wrote something similar when I became rabbinic director of ALEPH back in 1997. In some sense, we are not only people who wrestle with God but also a people who maintain, as best we can, an honesty and simplicity with God, a moral and ethical core to which we are committed.
For many years, I’ve declined to speak publicly about Israel, not because I don’t care about Israel but because I’ve seen no purpose in North Americans debating the various positions on the Israeli political spectrum. These debates only seem to make us angry at each other while having no real effect on the situation in the Middle East. However, in the past three months, I decided to spend more time reading, learning about what is happening in Israel and allowing my love for this country and its people to surface. The first was reading Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land. The second was the decision my son urged me to make to subscribe to the English edition of HaAretz. He reasoned that this is a voice that we need to hear and so we ought to support it by subscribing.
I have learned and continue to learn much from these two decisions and I hope to share some of that with you in upcoming blogs. Here I want only to highlight that Shavit is advocating a kind of secular Israeli Jewish Renewal, urging us to renew the moral core which he believes must be at the centre of whatever else it may be that we think makes us Jews. I think it would be wonderful to connect with him, perhaps invite him to spend some time with us, so that we could learn from one another.
Reb Hanna Tiferet went to a talk he gave in Boston early last month. The sponsor, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, has made this talk available to everyone. I’ve pasted the link below and strongly encourage you to listen to it from start to finish, to experience in full the way he makes the case for a renewal of the Zionism he, and we, hold dear.
What I wrote about the name Yisra’el came from a teaching of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and was part of the proposal I made to ALEPH in the process of becoming its Rabbinic Director. Here is a link to Levi Yitzchak’s Torah and a part of my letter: Yashar El•Sources.
Posted by Rabbi Sherril Gilbert
“In this do I trust,” says the author of Psalm 27.
“For David,” the psalm begins. Is this the statement of authorship as tradition would have it, or could it be a dedication? This one is for you, David, you who nurtured your trust even when you were being hunted, even when you didn’t even have clothes to wear, even when your son betrayed you and your baby died.
I’ve recited this psalm annually for many years, but it was only in the past few that I managed to memorize it (sort of). This has given me the internal space to reflect on its transitions as well as on the verses which have captivated us through melody. “One thing I ask from God, this do I request: to dwell in God’s house all my life and to have visions of God’s beauty while visiting God’s sanctuary.”
The psalmist says that he is not afraid if a host encamp against him, for there is one thing he trusts, namely that all he has ever wanted is to dwell in God’s house. This relieves fear, I’m guessing, because there is no place which is not God’s house and so as long as he is conscious of that, there is no harm that can dislodge his trust and ultimate joy in being alive, nor make him afraid of death.
This coming year may be one in which humanity makes another of those momentous decisions, the kind only we seem to be capable of on this planet. We will decide what the next stages of our evolution will look like when political leaders gather in Paris in 2015. Will we agree to work together as a species and begin to reverse the effects of climate change or will we continue to place the needs of our own tribes and nations ahead of humanity as a whole. Will we continue to waste resources, both material and human, in pointless wars over tiny pieces of land, risking our survival, or will we decide to share those resources more equitably, thus reducing the need for conflict? Will we allow increased levels of education and prosperity to encourage smaller families and even reverse population growth or will we require war and disease to accomplish this?
Most important: can we renew a spiritual, respectful, and ethical approach to life’s decisions so that we can echo the psalmist in saying that we approach our struggles from a place of trust and the knowledge that we are struggling in and for God’s home in this world?
I’m including some sound files of melodies for different parts of Psalm 27. Most especially, I’m attaching one of Reb Zalman z”l which also appears on his “Into My Garden” cd. This recording is less polished and, in some ways, I like it better. It is one of the four niggunim he told me are the ones he would like us all to know (though I don’t understand why there weren’t at least five, since I would certainly have included Bati L’gani) and each of them was the focus of one day of my last Kallah course. The others are Hanna Tiferet’s. All of them are embedded in the pdf files which are Machzor Kol Koreh.
May this year be one of personal renewal and a positive tipping point for humanity.