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The Voice of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Updated: 1 hour 38 min ago

ALEPH Executive Director SooJi Min-Maranda to Attend World Zionist Conference as Delegate from Progressive Hatikvah Slate

2 hours 43 min ago

ALEPH’s executive director, SooJi Min-Maranda, will be virtually attending the 38th World Zionist Congress (WZC) as an official delegate from the Hatikvah slate. The conference will be held online October 18-20, 2020.

SooJi Min-Maranda will join her US delegates, as well as those elected from Israel and around the world for an international “parliament of the Jewish people.” Delegates make decisions regarding key institutions which allocate nearly $1 Billion annually to support Israel and World Jewry (including the World Zionist Organization, Keren Kayemet LeYisrael –Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency for Israel).

In addition, an in-person Extraordinary Congress to be held in Jerusalem will be scheduled between September-December in 2021 or at the latest during 2022. The delegates to the second Congress must be those who participated at the October 2020 virtual Congress.

The Hatikvah slate’s platform is inspired by Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed the State “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace as taught by the Prophets; and will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed, or sex; and will guarantee full freedom of conscience worship, education and culture.” Hatikvah is committed to democracy and the rule of law, believing that all citizens of the State of Israel must be treated equally, and their civil and human rights protected. Hatikvah opposes policies of discrimination, fear, and tribalism. You can view a full copy of the Hatikvah platform by clicking here: https://www.hatikvahslate.net/platform.

For SooJi Min-Maranda,a Korean-American immigrant who converted to Judaism as an adult, the decision to stand up and be counted on the Hatikvah slate is rooted in Torah and Jewish tradition. You can read more about why SooJi decided to join the Hatikvah slate here: https://jewschool.com/2020/02/171925/i-didnt-think-i-counted-in-the-jewish-community-now-im-standing-up-and-being-counted-on-the-hatikvah-slate/?fbclid=IwAR3EWvwrR7PUNNqb8DUlufMi8vY3FGJT0Bd4l375UqUBUMBodh4IflSlStU.

Voting for US representatives to the 38th WZC ended on March 11, 2020. The seven-week US election for the World Zionist Congress garnered 123,575 votes, from American Jews in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and US territories. This represents a 115% increase – more than double – from the turnout of the last WZC election in the US in 2015 and is the highest number of votes since an open election began for the entire American Jewish community 30 years ago.

There were 15 slates, comprised of 1,800 delegate candidates, which competed for the 152 American elected seats at the Congress during the election administered by the American Zionist Movement (AZM).

To see the full list of delegates and alternates, click here: https://azm.org/wp-content/uploads/American-Delegates-%5E0-Alternates-Elected-to-the-38th-World-Zionist-Congress-9.17.2020.pdf.

Rosh HaShana- the Beginning of Change

Wed, 09/16/2020 - 15:33

By Rabbi Natan Margalit

Rosh HaShana, of course, means “New Year” but the Hebrew might also be loosely translated “the Beginning of Change.”* We also refer to Rosh HaShana in our liturgy as “the birthday of the world” – ha’yom harat olam. This doesn’t mean that the birthday happened five thousand or four billion years ago; it means that this is a moment ripe for change, for a new birth—every year. This year it especially feels to me like the primary meaning of Rosh HaShana is a time to focus on change, on birthing a new world.

As we all have experienced, this past year has been like no other. The world as we knew it has literally come crashing down, ground to a halt, splintered and shattered. Yet, within all this coming apart, perhaps we are being offered the opportunity to reimagine our world. There is no “business as usual” anymore.  

Is it really possible to birth a new world? It seems to me that Jewish tradition has answered emphatically yes! We are charged with being God’s partners in co-creating the world. But how do we do such an audacious thing? The answers that have come down from the earliest biblical texts up to the most recent mystical writings have one thing in common: in order to come into our human potential to be creators, we must first accept and deeply imbue our consciousness with the reality that we are not gods unto ourselves, but are, like all our fellow creatures, embedded in a miraculous world of which we are but a small part. We are here first to serve that greater whole and its Infinite Source—and only then can we be empowered to co-create our world.

This year with its cascading crises of disease, social upheaval and natural disaster has literally hit us from all angles. But the thing that I find strikingly similar in all these crises is that they all seem to be showing us, imploring us, to notice our embeddedness in the dynamic interconnected patterns of a living world. This is especially hard for us in the United States because, more than just about any other culture, we have an ideology of individualism which can blind us to that connectedness.

The pandemic of Covid-19 has spread, well…, virally. That is, it caught so many by surprise because it rides on the complex and invisible interconnections between people. Viral outbreaks can only be effectively countered by coordinated planning and cooperative action—each one of us knowing that our mask wearing and social distancing is a vital part of the whole community’s health. But, as we’ve seen in this country, having every state, city or individual out for themselves is a recipe for disaster. This pandemic calls on us to realize our connectedness and work together for all our lives and health. The paradox of all our “social distancing” and separations has been to remind us how deeply we are all woven together.

When we are faced with extreme weather such as the fires raging in the Western U.S., we are tired of hearing that “no one weather event can conclusively be attributed to climate change.”  Yes, it is true that technically no one event can be said to be directly caused by climate change—because in any complex system individual events can’t be determined and predicted—but the larger global climate system is clearly changing terrifyingly fast. Individually, it appears to be chaos, but when we lift our eyes to see the pattern of the world’s climate system, it is clear that we need to change our energy consumption and build a new, sustainable way of living if we are to pull ourselves back from this looming disaster.  

It has been especially hard for individualist America to grasp the reality of systemic racism. The ideology of individualism tells us we are supposed to pull ourselves up from our bootstraps, make our way to the “American Dream” by our merit, our striving, etc. You don’t blame your individual failures on some force or circumstance that held you back, and so on. Robin DiAngelo, in her book White Fragility, points out how this ideology of individualism hides systemic racism from our eyes: it tells us that if a person is in jail they must deserve it, and if a person lives in a poor neighborhood they must not have worked as hard as one who lives in a rich one.  It tells us that a person “is” or “is not” a racist, as if that were strictly an individual trait of the person, instead of the water in which we all swim.  

Yet, when my wife and I bought our home, we were able to borrow money for a down payment from our parents. We didn’t think of that as a racial issue at the time, but we now understand that it is: as white people (yes, even as Jews) we have been able for generations to buy homes, get mortgages, access good education and build wealth in ways that have not been accessible to people of color. My owning a home isn’t all about my own work—I’ve benefited from the racist system that has been in place since the beginning of the country.

We have come to a breaking point and also an opportunity: the crises of disease, race, climate and more are all showing us that we have been ignoring our place in the whole. We have been acting as if we are gods and can manipulate the world for our short-term benefit and convenience. We now see that we can change the world, but if we act blindly and greedily, we change it by bringing destruction on ourselves and the rest of creation. Our tradition has taught us from Genesis onward that we are invited to be creators, to audaciously dare to change the world—but only as co-creators, as parts of the awesome and miraculous creation of which we are one part. This year we are being offered the opportunity to birth a new world, to start on a new course of justice, flourishing and security—and we start on Rosh HaShana by waking up with awe to the way that our lives are bound up with the Life of the world.  Let us all be written into the Book of Life!  

* Actually, that would be Rosh Ha’shinui but its close enough: shana can also carry the meaning of change.   

High Holiday Offerings from ALEPH Network Communities

Wed, 09/02/2020 - 13:17

1. Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation (MD)

Offerings:

  • Rosh Hashanah 1st evening and day
  • Rosh Hashanah 2nd evening and day
  • Tashlich
  • Kol Nidre
  • Yom Kippur morning service and afternoon offerings
  • Ne’ilah
  • Everyday T’shuvah – daily gatherings, morning and evening during the 10 Days

Cost: voluntary contribution

For More Information and to Register:  Go to Adat Shalom’s site or contact rena.milchberg@adatshalom.net 

2. Asiyah Jewish Community (MA)

Offerings: 

  • Rosh Hashanah 1st evening and day
  • Tashlich
  • Kol Nidre
  • Yom Kippur Morning Service and Afternoon Offerings
  • Ne’ilah

Cost: Sliding scale; limited number of free tickets

For More Information and To Register: http://www.asiyah.org

Contact: info@asiyah.org

3. Congregation Or HaLev (NJ)

Offerings: 

  • Selichot (Sept. 12)
  • Rosh Hashanah, 1st evening and day
  • Kol Nidre
  • Yom Kippur Morning Service
  • Yizkor 
  • Ne’ilah

Cost: $150 per adult, $250 per family, Under 21- free. This cost covers admittance to all services. No one will be turned away due to lack of funds or financial hardships. 

How to Register: Contact Rabbi Deb Smith at hineni77@gmail.com for more information and for registration. You will need a zoom number and password to attend which will be provided to you at the time of registration. 


For More Information: https://orhalevnj.org/

4. Or Ahavah (FL)

Offerings: 

  • Preparing Spiritually for the High Holidays, August 23
  • Rosh Hashanah, 1st evening and day
  • Erev Yom Kippur mikveh meditation and dinner
  • Kol Nidre
  • Yom Kippur morning service and afternoon offerings
  • Ne’ilah, Havdallah, and Break-fast

Cost: $360 for everything or what you can afford

How to Register: Contact orahavahtampa@gmail.com for more info, questions or to register

More Information: Services follow underlying structure but are expressed creatively. Significant meditations are interspersed throughout services. Very moving Yizkor service. Essential silence is observed throughout Yom Kippur. There is no experience necessary for these gatherings, only an open heart and mind. 

5. B’nai Or , Renewal of Boston (MA)

Offerings: 

  • Rosh Hashanah 1st evening and day 
  • Kol Nidre
  • Yom Kippur morning service and afternoon offerings
  • Ne’ilah

Cost: $36 per Rosh Hashanah, $36 per Yom Kippur

More Information:  Our renewal services are musical, creative, thought provoking, and neshamah deepening

How to Register: www.bnaior.org

Contact: rabbisuri@gmail.com

6. Ohel HaChidusch (Berlin, Germany)

Offerings:

  • Rosh Hashanah 1st evening and day
  • Tashlich
  • Kol Nidre
  • Yom Kippur morning service, afternoon offerings, and Yizkor
  • Ne’ilah

Cost: Donations are welcome

For More Information and to Register: Contact info@ohel-hachidusch.org or visit www.ohel-hachidusch.org. Services will be in German/Hebrew. We will use the Makhzor Lev Shalem. 

7. Kehilla Community Synagogue (CA)

Offerings:

  • Selichot (September 12)
  • Rosh Hashanah 1st evening and day
  • Rosh Hashanah 2nd day services
  • Tashlich
  • Shabbat Shuva and Healing Service (September 26)
  • Yom Kippur morning service and afternoon offerings
  • Yizkor and Ne’ilah

Cost: We invite you to register for services and to consider making a contribution to help sustain Kehilla.


For More Information and to Register: Visit our site and register here.

The Well {a poem}

Mon, 08/31/2020 - 15:06

by Jena Schwartz

~ for the first day of Elul

Start here is what I hear,
the late-afternoon August light resting
on the green disks of oak leaves.

Where is the well? I ask, half-expecting
an answer, as if a map might fall from the branches
above me, as if directions will land in my lap
telling me which way to go, where to turn,
when to pause, where to watch for danger,
when to sit perfectly still, simply enjoying
the gentle breeze that doesn’t carry a hint
of ash or smoke or hatred.

Of course, no such answer comes,
no map materializes.

It is just me here on this chair, neighbors
chatting one house down, the hours passing,
the weeks, months, and years, too,
knowing that there are fires burning,
knowing there are so many suffering,
knowing that the well is never far
if sometimes empty.

And so what if it is empty?
Tell us about that emptiness, then,
tell me about the time you sat
with a stranger who was also somehow like an old friend,
high up in the trees, dipping into some deeper stream
of time than the one we can see, a shimmer
of golden light that runs like a hidden spring
beneath the places where we’ve covered over
and siphoned off, lost touch – running our hands
where that liquid flows, fingertips tracing
through water, through spirit.

Standing at the well, I find myself
peering, squinting, hoping something
becomes visible to me, reaching for rope,
calling down into the darkness
as if my own voice might be returned to me.

ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal Welcomes Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael as Spiritual Arts Director

Fri, 08/21/2020 - 12:59

ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal welcomes Rabbi Geela Rayzel as our new Spiritual Arts Director. Rabbi Geela Rayzel is an accomplished rabbi, singer, songwriter, author and artist who excels at providing spiritual leadership and vision, guidance and innovation and a master of crafting spirit-filled programs and heart-felt rituals.

In her new role, Rabbi Geela Rayzel will continue to build on some of the magical programming that she has already brought to ALEPH—Zoom Gala Gala, Escorting the Queen Shechinah, Here Comes the Sun Solstice Celebration and Reb Zalman’s Yahrzeit Commemoration. New offerings that will be launched soon include Rosh HaShanah: Inviting in the Sweetness, Sukkot Shazoom, Havdalah Love and more.

“We are so excited to have Reb Rayzel join the ALEPH team as a project director,” says SooJi Min-Maranda, ALEPH’s executive director. “Her innovative programming and creative vision enlivens Judaism in the way that Reb Zalman z”l always envisioned.”

Founded in 1993, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal envisions a contemporary Judaism that is joyous, creative, spiritually rich, socially progressive, and earth-aware. ALEPH brings spiritual vitality and passion into the daily lives of Jews through programs that empower leadership, build communities, and generate powerful experiences and practical resources. We currently have 40 network affiliates/communities located both in the US and abroad.

Today, Jewish Renewal is a trans-denominational approach to revitalizing Judaism. We combine the socially progressive values of egalitarianism, the joy of Hasidism, the informed do-it-yourself spirit of the chavurah movement, and the accumulated wisdom of centuries of tradition.

ALEPH’s strategy is to develop the next generation of leaders and modernize ritual practice to ensure organizational and philosophical stability. Strategic priorities focus on innovation and cultivation of new programming, developing strategic partnerships, investing in the next generation of Jewish leaders, and building a multicultural, multiracial organization. You can learn more about ALEPH at aleph.org.

Rabbi Geela Rayzel received her ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and has smicha from Reb Zalman z”l. She completed a Senior Educator’s program at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Melton Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora; as well as a one-year intensive in Jewish Studies at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. She also holds a MA in Contemporary Jewish Studies from Brandeis University. You can learn more about Rabbi Geela Rayzel’s other creative projects at www.Shechinah.com.

An Elul Beacon

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 12:23
By Rabbi Anne Brenner

I spent the first three days of the Jewish month of Elul polishing a lamp that has hung in the upstairs stairwell of my home for eighty years. I thought that the lamp was made out of cast iron, but discovered, after applying a mixture of abrasive compounds and elbow grease, that it was crafted of shiny brass. Only after finishing the project, did I catch the appropriateness of the endeavor.  For Elul is traditionally a month for polishing the soul. During this time we search ourselves for blemishes. Then, through the process of Teshuva, we polish and refine ourselves. The culmination of this refinement is the fast of Yom Kippur, from which we hope to emerge as shining and radiant as my restored lamp.

The word Teshuva, heard so often during the month of Elul and the first ten days of Tishre, is unfortunately translated as “repentance.” Thus the word carries a harshness that can lead us to feel shame about ways we may have “blown it” during the previous year. Teshuva, however, is more about cultivating compassion than about being held in judgment. Legend tells us that Teshuva was created even before the creation of the world. This suggests that built into the structure of the universe is the understanding that mistakes will be made, as well as the consolation that there is always the opportunity to begin again. Teshuva is as constant in our spiritual world as gravity is in our physical world. Judaism provides this “spiritual technology” for continually acknowledging both that “to err is human” and that we can repair our mistakes.

The first mechanism for this process of renewal (perhaps a more apt translation of the word “Teshuva”) is to cultivate compassion. Compassion is the theme of the chant that we sing over and over during the High Holidays:

Adonai, Adonai, El Rachum v’Chanun, Eyrech Ahpayim, v’rav Chesed, v’emet,notzr chesed lalalfim, notzey avon, v’peshah, vchatah, v’nakay.

Adonai, Adonai, The Eternal, is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in loving-kindness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands of generations, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, and cleaning.”

The Torah teaches that God gave this chant to Moses, following the construction of the golden calf, when God’s rage was so great as to consider the destruction of the Hebrew people. God gave the chant as a protective agent, instructing Moses to use it as a kind of charm should God ever again get that angry with the people. Singing this chant was to insure that God’s attributes of compassion would triumph over God’s attributes of anger and serve as a shield.

I try to keep this chant going quietly in my head at all times. Setting my idle with these words running almost inaudibly in the background helps me to remember God’s presence and reminds me of the qualities of Holiness I seek to emulate. The volume rises whenever I am angry with myself, feeling that I have missed the mark or could have done better. I appeal to the God-like part of myself to be compassionate and not give over to judgment, anger, or despair. I find that in confronting a mistake or disappointment, it is much more effective to invoke compassion than judgment. I am much more likely to change for the better in an atmosphere of loving and compassionate acceptance than in one where I am made to feel shame.

Like all of us, in this year of coronavirus, I draw on all of my spiritual resources to see myself through. I remember times in the past that I have used this chant to see myself through other rough times.  The chant was especially helpful to me in my work as a Red Cross Mental Health worker following Hurricane Katrina, as I watched the changing phases of the Elul moon through the broken Mississippi pines. I chanted to calm my inner responses of horror as I listened to the harrowing stories of survival shared with me in the aftermath of the storm. The words of comfort and compassion enabled me to soothe myself so that I could be a soothing presence for those who had lived the Katrina nightmare. The chant helped me channel raw anger into productive action as I raged at the ineptitude of public officials who continued to fail to provide adequate resources for relief and recovery in the Gulf coast region. Now it helps to quiet me as I listen in dismay to the distortions of the health care debate by those who would do well to take these words of compassion to heart.

When I had cancer this chant calmed me. It made it possible for me to shift my primary identification of self as physical being to a sense of myself as a soul. Aided by my understanding of the soul as part of God and therefore eternal, I took instruction from Psalm XX, which says, “Into God’s hands, I place my soul. God is with me, I shall not fear.” This helped me to face the unknown without fear or judgment.

Now I use this chant in my work as a Psychotherapist and Spiritual Director. I employ it as I listen to people who are being hard on themselves or who are suffering in some way. Listening in stereo, I blend the story they share with the elements of compassion that the chant asserts. Silently humming the sweet words of this chant as I listen to others, I pray that they will find peace, forgiveness, and resilience inside themselves. This is a riff on an aphorism of my New Orleans up- bringing, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Those pesky insects within are more likely to be tamed if a reprimand is sweet rather than acidic. Our High Holiday aspirations for ourselves are more likely realized when we polish our souls with love. My lamp will be hung at the close of Yom Kippur. Having been lovingly scrubbed, it will move downstairs, as if bringing the refined light of above to the lower places in which I live. Hopefully the light that shone above, but was obscured behind the encrustations of tarnish and time will be released to refresh our lives below, beaconing us, during the New Year, to bring light and compassion to each other and into the world.

A Tribute to Rabbi David A. Cooper

Wed, 07/29/2020 - 11:40

by Avraham Rami Efal

Reb. David Cooper, Zen Masters Bernie Glassman and 
Francisco “Paco” Lugoviña during a street retreat, after visiting the Sufi Lodge 
of the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Community, New York City 1999. Photo credit: Peter Cunningham

I owe Reb David Cooper a debt of gratitude, even though I have only spent a long weekend with him during his last year. His life and teachings validate the search of those like me who travel along the continuum of world spirituality and Jewish practice.

In June 2018 I went to Tennessee with Miriam Eisenberger, who is David and Shoshana Cooper’s longtime student and one of the teachers at their “Coopers Retreats.” I met a very tall man with large and piercing eyes, kind and welcoming, and felt the presence of an Atik Yomin. When he heard that I trained with Bernie Glassman, founder of Zen Peacemakers, his eyes grew like a child in a candy store and asked me about Koan study – the unique Zen meditation practice involving whole-body visualization. He was eager to discuss his own moment-to-moment experience of “David-ing,” but what left the strongest impression in me was the transparency, vulnerability, tears, and humor with which he did that. He and Shoshana both spoke of this chapter in their lives – this far into David living with Lewy body disease – with tender humility. That weekend, the veils were very thin.

Born as a secular Israeli, I stepped onto the spiritual path through Zen Buddhism. For four years I lived between a Zen temple and monastery and considered living as a monastic. But after reading about Zen Master Bernie Glassman’s retreats in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the camp where some of my Polish and Hungarian ancestors were killed, I left the monastery and joined Bernie there. For the next six years, I would return to Auschwitz with the Zen Peacemakers. On my sixth trip to that beautiful and tragic land, I heard a small voice – in me? or from a spirit trailing from the camp? – this voice was yearning to reclaim its Judaism. I let this voice lead. One month later, I joined my friend Rabbi Shir Yaakov Feit on the 2018 “Coopers Retreat” at Hazon.

What transpired there was a watershed moment, where that small voice rejoiced and roared in affirmation. My love for silence was well-established after fifteen years of meditation practice. But it was the prayers in Ivrit that broke my heart open, the faces of Jewish brothers and sisters of different Jewish denominations, ethnicities, gender and sexual orientations – but all Jewish – melting the cold ice of self-shame and self-hate that – I then learned – I had internalized. Their voices filled the library, and Reb Zalman’s face kept appearing on the shelf behind the curtain, smiling. One Shacharit, behind my tallit, which was soaked with tears, I thought, “Buddhism showed me how, Judaism shows me why.” Not long after the retreat I applied to the ALEPH Ordination Program.

As I read Reb David’s books and watched his talks, his simple way of speaking of non-dual practice sounds familiar from my Zen monastery days. I appreciate his role in continuing the western legacy of Buddhist dharma in the west – the study of the mind – and continuing the lineage of the Merkavah & Heichalot mystics and prophets.

The streams of Reb David and Bernie, as well as Reb Zalman, intermingle in me. They were all mystics, as well as world-facing Jews. Along with Bernie, Reb David embarked on street retreats in New York City and in Auschwitz-Birkenau, bearing witness to homelessness and genocide. They brought the same depth of care and awareness practice that they cultivated in their meditation to the extremes, the edge of human experience.

In this post-holocaust, Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter era, the “Coopers Retreat” – like Bernie Glassman’s Auschwitz-Birkenau “Bearing Witness” retreat – is not only a container to practice, through silence and prayer, deep-plunging into the unfolding Oneness. It is an important, effective way that those of Jewish heritage like me can go on to reconcile, heal, and unify our complex historical, psychological, and spiritual make-up. All that, so we may emerge as visionaries and leaders into the Olam Haba – “the next world,” this very moment! – a world that demands we show up as multi-faceted, integrated, and dependable allies to our Native American, African American, Palestinian relatives, and others who are underprivileged – and as steward for our organic, living eco-system, the Planet Earth.

May Rabbi David’s soul be elevated and blessed. May his Presence entice me to ever go to essence, to experience life directly, at this very moment, which is none other than Mochin De’gadlot. Sing-ing, marvel-ing, laugh-ing, love-ing, never separate from this glorious and completely mundane unfolding Mystery. Thank you, David-ing.

Avraham Rami Efal is a dharma holder in the Zen Peacemakers Lineage and currently a rabbinic student in the ALEPH Ordination Program.

Lifting Up Jewish Sparks to the ALEPH Board

Fri, 07/24/2020 - 14:37

Judaism is evolving and renewing itself in fascinating new ways. A recent series of panels, featured during ALEPH’s recent virtual board meeting, July 12-14, 2020, highlighted changes coming to Judaism in three key areas: the environment, ritual, and diversity, equity and inclusion. Segments of the greater ALEPH hevra were invited to the hour-long sessions, which were recorded. Together, the panelists revealed a glimpse of the emerging Jewish landscape, and showcased some of today’s Jewish visionaries and leaders. The result was an exciting and fortifying series of events.

The first panel, “Renewing Jewish Earth Connections,” was moderated by Rabbi Natan Margalit, Ph.D., founder of Organic Torah and faculty of the ALEPH Ordinations Program (AOP). The panel featured Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, founder and CEO of Dayenu, founded “to secure a livable and sustainable world for all people for generations to come by building a multi-generational Jewish movement that confronts the climate crisis with spiritual audacity and bold political action,” according to its website. Rosenn, who has twice been named one of the Forward’s 50 most influential Jews in America, previously served as vice president for community engagement at HIAS, as well as director of the Jewish Life and Values Program at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, where she built the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable and the Selah Leadership Training Program.

The second panelist was Shani Mink, co-founder and executive director of the Jewish Farmer Network, which supports the economic, social, and cultural vibrancy of Jewish agriculture by connecting Jewish farmers to resources and community around the world. Mink has studied at the Arava Institute in Israel, worked as a farmer educator at Eden Village Camp, and participated in the Adamah Fellowship, as well as the JOFEE Fellowship.

Finally, Shamu Sadeh, managing director of education at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT, rounded out the panel. Sadeh co-founded and served as director of Adamah, where he currently mentors Adamah Fellows. Adamah is a fellowship program at Isabella Freedman that allows workers to immerse themselves in farming and spirituality. “The program’s alumni have invented some of the most influential institutions in Jewish food, farming and sustainability,” according to a recent New York Times mention.

The second panel, “Renewing Ritual in Judaism,” was moderated by Kohenet Keshira haLev Fife, who heads ALEPH’s Kesher Jewish Leadership Fellows. The panelists were Rabbi Jill Hammer, Shira Klein, and Naomi Less.

Rabbi Jill Hammer, who holds a doctorate from the University of Connecticut and was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, is an author, educator, midrashist and ritualist. She is the co-founder of the Kohenet Institute, and the Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy for Jewish Religion. The Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute is a program in spiritual leadership for Jewish women. As a leader of the Kohenet Institute, Hammer creates and teaches earth-based, embodied ritual and study that transforms Jewish conceptions of prayer and ceremony. The Kohenet Institute holds its trainings in partnership with the Elat Chayyim Center for Jewish Spirituality in Falls Village, CT, and conducts other programming around the country.

Shira Klein and Naomi Less both serve at Lab/Shul in New York City, Klein as Founding Ritual Leader, Director of Worship and Family Education Director, and Less as Founding Ritual Leader, and Associate Director of Raising the Bar Director of Ritual, also at Lab/Shul. Lab/Shul describes itself as “an everybody-friendly, artist-driven, God-optional, experimental community for sacred Jewish gatherings based in NYC and reaching the world.” Building on Storahtelling, it also seeks to redefine the role of sacred gatherings that nourish our thirst for meaning, connection, spirituality and community. Naomi Less also leads a program called TRYMester: Jewish Fertility Journeys Outloud.

The third panel explored “Renewing Judaism Through Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.” ALEPH’s Executive Director, SooJi Min-Maranda, moderated.

Featured panelists were Jared Jackson, Executive Director and Founder of Jews in ALL Hues, an education and advocacy organization that supports multiple-heritage Jews. It also assists Jewish communities and organizations in the creation of sustainably-diverse communities. The panel also welcomed Rachel Faulkner, National Organizer, #Jewish Women of Color Marching, part of Dimensions, a women- and people of color-led nonprofit that provides training and consultancy in diversity, equity and inclusion. Finally, the panel welcomed Arielle Korman, co-founder of Ammud: Jews of Color Torah Academy. Ammud provides Jewish education for Jews of Color (JOCs), by Jews of Color. Ammud defines JOCs as people who are considered non-white in the U.S. by nature of their generational lineage, and identify as such (including Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews). Ammud allows Jewish people of color to access the Jewish education needed to be empowered members and leaders of the broader Jewish community, creating space to celebrate marginalized customs and traditions, uncover lost histories, and (re)build culture.

Segments of the greater ALEPH Hevra were invited to each of the panel presentations: ALEPH’s Network Community members were invited to the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion panel; AOP Alumni were invited to the Renewing Ritual panel, and current Earth-Based Judaism students of the AOP, as well as ALEPH’s major donors were invited to the Renewing Jewish Earth Connections panel.

The ALEPH Board, by unanimous consent, voted at the conclusion of their board meeting to donate a portion of the proceeds raised at Cabaret, the major fundraising event of Kallah (July 19, by Zoom invitation), to each of the panelists’ respective organizations, signaling its desire to join in partnership for the greater good.

Links to the organizations can be found below:

Dayenu

Jewish Farmer’s Network

Adamah

Kohenet

Lab/Shul

TRYMester

Jews in All Hues

Jews of Color Marching/Dimensions Educational Consulting

Ammud

To Be a Mystic Activist by Rabbi Shefa Gold

Thu, 07/09/2020 - 14:05

To be a Mystic-activist…

The question of this moment is not whether, but how to be an activist. Each of us is called to know and find expression for our part in the emerging dance of transformation. We are the vessels for the force of awakening that is flowing through this world. AND we are each invited to consciously participate in that awakening by sourcing each and every expression or action in the knowledge of our interconnected Being.

We all have moments of mystical awareness, moments of remembering how we are all related, how our fates are bound up with one another. Those moments can be small (sharing the beauty of a sunset) or big (witnessing the birth of a child). Those big or small moments of Unity Consciousness come and go, reminding us of something, but often leaving us fundamentally unchanged, as we return to the consciousness of separation. Of winners and losers.

At some point, there is a shift on this journey of awakening when we turn inward, enter into mystical consciousness and live from that unshakable knowing of our Unity; when we place Love at the center; when we realize that we are the visible manifestation of the Infinite Invisible, the channel through which the Divine flows. 

The first time I called myself a “Mystic-activist,” was when I wrote the introduction to In The Fever of Love, a devotional Commentary on the Song of Songs. That name resonated so deeply and still reverberates through my being as a call and a motivating inspiration. Knowing myself in this way is my liberation.

After immersing myself in Shir HaShirim, the Song of Songs, I wrote, “As a passionate mystic-activist, my intention is to return this sacred erotic text to its rightful place at the center of our religious lives. The Song of Songs is an invitation to enter the Holy of Holies at the center of our own loving hearts. When we take that journey to center and finally turn towards the shining face of the One who has been waiting there, then every facet of our lives begins to shine with the beauty of The Beloved.”

I knew that placing Love at the center, changes everything.

To be a mystic-activist means I must close the door of shame , judgement and blame, and instead walk through the door of creativity and imagination. I must live in the light of what I know to be true. Through this light, I must heal the racism that is my conditioning and find the deeper knowing that we are one Being. Self-transformation becomes the doorway to world transformation.

Kohelet 3:11 says, (God) “makes everything beautiful in its time, and also hides the universe in their hearts.” This is an expression of mystical consciousness. I open to the beauty of this precious moment, and let that beauty send me to the infinite source within, where we are not separate, where we are one great Being, a flower unfurling in the light of awareness.

When I witness suffering and injustice in this world, I experience it happening also inside my heart, where the Greater Being that we are resides. Inside my heart, the oppressor and the oppressed live side-by-side, equal and bound up in their suffering. The love that I bring to all- both friend and enemy, transforms the inner conflict into a dynamic dance of awakening. And I trust in this dance, in the beauty of Grace unfolding in its time. 

When this truth touches me, I can’t just sit back and watch that unfolding, because Iam an instrument of that Grace. I let compassion move me to action.

The question that I ask of every impulse to action or expression is, “Where is it coming from?” Mystical consciousness can be a powerful resource that sends me into the world that I know to be sacred. This reverence softens the edge of my outrage, opens my heart, lifts my despair, and shows me the wide perspective. Mystical consciousness allows me to see through the illusions of separateness and then, through my words, actions and healing presence, to become an awakener.

To be a mystic-activist means to dare to leave behind my small self, and step into a larger identity. It means I must face the reality of this moment with all its horror and beauty, and make a commitment to presence, to love, to beauty and to infinite possibilities.