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The Voice of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Updated: 11 hours 56 min ago

New Kallah Shabbat Yoga

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 12:36

Every yoga practice has its own little “shabbat”, savasana – a pose of complete rest at the end of the practice. It might be said that the two words come from the same ancient root “saba or “sava”. The purpose of this resting pose is similar to the purpose of Shabbat – a time to rest, reflect, appreciate and praise. In our busy world, we all need more rest and introspective time. In this Shabbat experience,  we will celebrate six days of creation, and then do a series of savasana based restorative poses to experience the joy and inner peace of Shabbat. Bring yoga props if you have them. Come celebrate life and take a real rest. No previous yoga experience is necessary.

Ida Unger, M.Ed. and Certified Iyengar Yoga Instructor grew up with a Yeshiva education and a love of Torah and spiritual pursuits. She later became a full-time yoga teacher, offering classes at colleges, studios and schools. Her path led her to connect her Jewish roots to her yogic wings, resulting in a deepening of both. She has taught Yoga & Judaism to hundreds of students around Los Angeles and nationally since 1992.

This offering is part of our Saturday afternoon Shabbat Learning Experiences on Saturday, July 7th from 3:00pm – 5:15pm. Please register here. You must be a registered attendee of ALEPH Kallah to participate.

The final week of Omer: Malkhut

Mon, 05/14/2018 - 21:40

Each day I practice
qi gong looking
out the window
into my neighbor’s
garden, apple tree
blossoming, persimmon
still bare, gladioli erect,
roses spilling over,
pink naked ladies
bowing modestly
amidst tangles of greenery,
and above it all,
Tibetan prayer flags
billowing in stiff gusts
of wind off the Bay.

It’s time to lie down
in your own garden,
nose nestled into soil,
and share space with
ants, grubs, and ladybugs.
Put your ear to the
ground and listen
for seismic grunts,
water trickling over
deep down rocks.
Be part of that life.
Know that it’s also
inside you. Let it sing
your flesh, sting
your mind, cling to
your fingers and
knees. Yes, back away
from the mountain,
but stay close to
the ground. This
is how to prepare
for revelation.

Hod sheh’b’malkhut
Humility/splendor within

This poem is part of Rabbi Diane Elliot’s collection of 49 poems, This Is the Day, Ha-Yom Yom, inspired by the ancient practice of counting the Omer.

Aspiring Female Cantors Can Now Sing to New Heights

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 13:57


Philadelphia, PA
May 10, 2018

SooJi Min-Maranda
215.247-9700, x24

Aspiring Female Cantors Can Now Sing to New Heights

ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal is pleased to announce the establishment of an endowment that will fund cantorial scholarships. The goal of the endowment, made possible through a gift from Jonah and Jacob Mink in honor of their later mother, is to support aspiring, female-identifying cantors in their training. The Susan A. Wehle Cantorial Scholarship will be awarded annually to one recipient in the ALEPH Ordination Program. ALEPH will select the first scholarship recipient in the spring of 2019.

Susan Wehle was ordained the first American female Jewish Renewal cantor (hazzan) in 2006. Beloved by her congregation and the broader Jewish and Buffalo communities, Susan served as cantor for Temple Beth Am in Williamsville, NY from 2002 until her untimely death in an airplane crash in 2009. A leader in the interfaith movement in Buffalo, she also helped to coordinate a summer program for Jewish, Muslim and Christian children to promote mutual understanding and connection among all people. Before Temple Beth Am, she was a cantorial soloist at Temple Sinai in Amherst, NY. Susan had also brought her musical gifts to performances in theater companies in New York and Chicago and released a CD, Songs of Healing and Hope. She was the daughter of Holocaust survivors.

In her memory, the Susan Wehle Fund was created with never ending love and enthusiastic pride by her two sons Jonah and Jacob. It is a small family fund supported by Susan’s family and those who love her.

“ALEPH hazzanim are trained not only in the vocal performance aspect of cantorial song and prayer, but engage in graduate-level Jewish studies, and acquire sophisticated pastoral skills so that they can function as clergy with a wide range of capabilities, including as sole spiritual leaders for Jewish communities,” says Hazzan Jack Kessler, Director of the ALEPH Cantorial Program.  “Susan was a musically gifted, luminous spiritual presence. It gives me great pleasure that this fund will keep her memory alive by helping our students,”

“We are so grateful to the Minks for their generosity and honored that ALEPH can play a part in ensuring that their mother’s legacy will live on through the songs of future cantors who benefit from the endowment,” says SooJi Min-Maranda, ALEPH’s executive director.

ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal envisions a contemporary Judaism that is joyous, creative, spiritually rich, socially progressive, and earth-aware. ALEPH is the umbrella organization for Jewish Renewal, a spiritual movement founded by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z”l during the counterculture movement of the 1960’s. 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. ALEPH contributes to Jewish Renewal by supporting new creative efforts that draw upon the rich legacy of Jewish mystical/hasidic traditions and the deep wisdom of Jewish life and practice. Among its varied activities, ALEPH offers an ordination program comprised of four pathways, one of which is the Cantorial Pathway.

An Omer Poem for the Week of Yesod

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 14:59

I retrieve my small
glass table from
the neglected and
overgrown backyard
where it has endured
storms, smog, fog, soot
from the oil refinery fire
beneath the landlady’s
battered canvas canopy,
among the weeds, for
nearly six years, her
promise to clear out
the yard and make it
sweet never kept. In
the kitchen I wash
the table’s dirt-filmed
glass top, its metal
rim and curving legs,
spray them with Windex
and wipe again and again
as if I could wipe away
the neglect, the crazy
disorganization and
broken agreements
with paper towels.
Some relationships are
irreparable, some never
began, and some will never
go anywhere, like a beat-up
old Buick abandoned in a
vacant lot on a dead-end
street. Sometimes you just
have to cut your losses,
take back your table, lug
it up the narrow, weed-choked
walk, ease it awkwardly
through the doorway and
down the hall, make a spot
for it in the garage, under
piles of empty boxes and
old suitcases, releasing hope,
making peace with things
and people
as they are.

Netzakh sheh’b’yesod
Victory/will within foundation

This poem is part of Rabbi Diane Elliot’s collection of 49 poems, This Is the Day, Ha-Yom Yom, inspired by the ancient practice of counting the Omer.

Week of Hod in Omer: A Poem from Rabbi Diane Elliot

Sun, 04/29/2018 - 09:16

This poem is part of Rabbi Diane Elliot’s collection of 49 poems, This Is the Day, Ha-Yom Yom, inspired by the ancient practice of counting the Omer.

I do my first day of
hod chanting practice
sitting on a gray plastic chair
outside the Grand Prix Carwash,
amidst the roar of the drying machine,
the traffic zooming along San Pablo Dam Road,
the tingtingbombabomba of passing cars,
their windows down, stereos booming.
It’s hot. The hills across
the north Bay blur in the humid air.
At my feet, a multi-colored profusion of petunias
surrounds a baby palm tree in a concrete planter.
A miniature twisted pine stands next to
the concrete structure across the driveway
that houses the track along which the cars roll.
They enter, filmed with road grease and fallout
from the Chevron refinery down the hill
and exit dripping water and liquid wax,
gleaming in the thick heat of afternoon.
Is it attention to minute detail,
to the sheer variety of life,
that ignites the inner glow of love,
or is it the capacity for loving
that awakens us to earthly splendor,
to the many forms that Love can take?

Khesed sheh’b’hod
Boundless lovingkindness within

An Omer Poem from Rabbi Diane Elliot

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 10:09

This poem is part of Rabbi Diane Elliot’s collection of 49 poems, This Is the Day, Ha-Yom Yom, inspired by the ancient practice of counting the Omer. This mitzvah, described in the Torah, involved bringing an omer (a dry measure) of the spring barley harvest to be waved by the High Priest in the Tabernacle, much as we wave the lulav during the fall harvest festival of Sukkot: “You are to count from the day after the rest day (Passover), from the day you brought the Omer wave-offering—they are to be seven complete weeks. Until the say after the seventh week you are to count 50 days” (Leviticus 23:15-16). The 16th century mystics transformed this agricultural ritual into a daily mindfulness practice of refining the self in preparation for the receiving of Torah, commemorated on the festival of Shavu’ot, seven weeks plus one day after the second night of Passover. Each day of the practice is an opportunity to examine the intersection of two qualities of the seven “lower” emanations of the kabbalistic Tree of Life, to make an inner repair (tikkun).

What keeps me
going when the
practice becomes
boring? No words
spring to mind,
no inspiration
bubbles up from
within? Then
I can only lean
back into now.
Suddenly I’m six
years old clinging
to a flimsy
sled that’s hurtling
on solid ice,
with no one
steering. I’m eight
years old strapped into
the parachute ride
at Riverview, the
old amusement park,
and it’s too late
to change my mind,
and there’s nothing
to do but trust
the fellow who
runs the machinery,
wait for the
chute to open
and hope the
guy wires hold.
I’m sixty-five years
old, hurtling downhill
through a life
I think I’ve
pieced together
choice by choice,
realizing that
my job is
to relax
at last
because Someone
Else is
definitely steering.

Netzakh sheh’b’netzakh
Victory/will within victory/will


Ode To Joy! From Chazan Jalda Rebling

Fri, 04/27/2018 - 10:03

From Chazan Jalda Rebling
Berlin, Germany
Ordained by the ALEPH Cantorial Program in 2007

For 30 years I have lived across the street from this beautiful Gethsemane Church in Berlin.

I always call it “my” renewal church. It is an amazing, creative place. Sholem Aleichem writes in a story: “a good neighbor is better then a far away relative.”

These 30 years of having this church as my “good neighbor” are full of wonderful stories, starting in the fall of the year 1989.

It was the 9th of October, Yom Kippur. I came out of the shul and went into the crowded church, filled with more than 3,000 people. The winds of change were in the air. Within a month the Berlin Wall would come down and a new era of possibility would begin. We were all filled with so much hope. There in the church I sang Shir haShirim and Dos Lid Funem Sholem, a Song of Peace. In this night the real change in the new history of Germany happened. Our prayers for democracy were heard. But this is another story.

On November 9th the Berlin Wall was breached. In December Leonard Bernstein performed Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in the famous East-Berlin Concert hall, the Schauspielhaus Berlin. I sat in the audience with my middle son, a musician, who was then 13 years young. Lenny Bernstein did something extraordinary. He changed the poetry of Friedrich Schiller’s Ode an die Freude from Freude schöner Götterfunken into Freiheit schöner Götterfunken (Joy beautiful divine spark became Freedom beautiful divine spark).

Remembering this moment I am sitting in tears.

Now to the current story: A year ago, after Peter Steudner – a member of the Gethsemane church – was arrested in Turkey,  a group of people started to revive the “Monday-prayers.” In the last East-Berlin year these Monday-prayers for freedom became one of the sparks that finally opened the borders.

Every single day this group meets at 6 pm for a half hour of prayer for freedom for those Turkish democrats who are in prison. Sometimes people share also their very personal feelings.

Members of this group write letters to the prisoners and to the Turkish government. They are in contact with the families of those who are in prison.

Some of those for whom they pray meanwhile have been set free and they came to visit the group. Gratefully, Peter Steudner is free, but his process in Turkey is not finished. From time to time I join my neighbors. Last Wednesday was such a day, Erev Yom haShoah.

The group chose Psalm 118. They read the poetry in the German Lutheran translation. But I had just had learned from Hazzan Jack a way to sing Pitchu li sha´arei tsedek – Open the Gates of Rightousness – to the melody of Beethoven’s famous choir Ode an die Freude, Ode to Joy!  In Germany this is such a famous melody, a European anthem.

Out of the moment I started to sing! I sang with the group in the Gethsemane church the original Hebrew version of these words with Beethoven’s famous melody. I cannot describe how much love, joy, tears and hope filled the big room! Thank you Hazzan Jack for this teaching!

Chasan Jalda Rebling
April 2018

Spiritual leader of Congregation Ohel HaChidusch Berlin
Gethsemanestrasse 11, 10437 Berlin, Germany
fon x49 (0) 30 44 55 969 / mobile x49 (0) 170 272 54 47 / / /

ESEB Cohort 3 Graduation

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 13:27

Mazal tov to the 2018 graduates of Embodying Spirit, En-spiriting Body, Cohort 3!

Embodying Spirit, En-spiriting Body has been a two-year movement-based Jewish leadership training directed by Rabbi Diane Elliot. Participants discovered the shape and dynamic of the traditional Jewish prayer liturgies by moving them through their own bodies, experiencing the transformative power of inviting prayer to well up from the depths of one’s own being. The work embodies aspects of Torah, Kabbalah (Jewish mystical wisdom), and the sacred cycles of living and dying.

We Are Made for These Times: Moving Forward to Deal with Unconscious Bias and Racism

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 16:02

Renewal Rabbi Shawn Zevit, Co-chair of the Clergy Caucus of POWER Interfaith Justice, Rabbi at Congregation Mishkan Shalom, and ALEPH VAAD member, participated in a viral, nationally-viewed POWER-led action. Rabbi Shawn reports: “We have since met with the founders and leaders of Starbucks and will continue to do so as part of POWER’S efforts moving forward to deal with unconscious bias and racism, moving wages to a living wage of $15/hr, and addressing our own Philadelphia Police Department’s role and response in such matters.”

Another Poem from Rabbi Diane Elliot

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 13:21

This poem is part of Rabbi Diane Elliot’s collection of 49 poems, This Is the Day, Ha-Yom Yom, inspired by the ancient practice of counting the Omer. This mitzvah, described in the Torah, involved bringing an omer (a dry measure) of the spring barley harvest to be waved by the High Priest in the Tabernacle, much as we wave the lulav during the fall harvest festival of Sukkot: “You are to count from the day after the rest day (Passover), from the day you brought the Omer wave-offering—they are to be seven complete weeks. Until the say after the seventh week you are to count 50 days” (Leviticus 23:15-16). The 16th century mystics transformed this agricultural ritual into a daily mindfulness practice of refining the self in preparation for the receiving of Torah, commemorated on the festival of Shavu’ot, seven weeks plus one day after the second night of Passover. Each day of the practice is an opportunity to examine the intersection of two qualities of the seven “lower” emanations of the kabbalistic Tree of Life, to make an inner repair (tikkun).

I carry the bags of khametz
in from the garage—
gluten-free pasta,
flour, sugar, agave nectar,
fruit juice, wine,
organic chicken broth,
pad thai noodles,
cider vinegar, and cooking oil spray.
I empty them
into kitchen cabinets,
determined to fill
each empty bag
with clothing I no longer wear,
shoes that will never be comfortable,
jackets perfect for
the ski trip I
will never take,
socks, T-shirts, three
sweat shirts emblazoned:
“Academy for Jewish Religion,”
pink leggings. The
filled bags sit
in the hallway
waiting to be loaded
into the back
of my Corolla wagon
and ferried to
the Goodwill store
on San Pablo Avenue.
I’ve finally released
that corporate gray
and black-striped wool
suit and the
black wool and
leather jacket I
bought at the
Burlington Coat Factory
in St. Louis Park,
Minnesota, and wore
on my second
trip to Hungary
in 1996, then
shlepped from Minneapolis
to San Diego
to the Bay Area—
four moves, sixteen years—
but barely wore again,
a souvenir of more
carefree traveling days.
The khametz bags,
neatly packed with
remnants of my life,
will flow now into other lives,
bringing warmth, I hope,
and comfort—
the brightness of
a new old thing,
of anonymous kindness,
of an unexpected gift.

Khesed sheh’big’vurah
Boundless lovingkindness within
strength/limitation (the day after Pesach

Statement on Israel’s Independence

Thu, 04/19/2018 - 09:25

On these days that embrace Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, we in the extended ALEPH family reaffirm our commitment to heal the brokenness in our hearts and the world through mitzvot and acts of caring, to heed Torah’s call to pursue peace, justice and care for the earth, and to live our deep love of Israel – praying and working for peace between the children of Yitzhak and the children of Yishmael in the beloved land of our peoples.

“On Israel’s 70th birthday,
let our prayers become prayers of truth.
Let our prayers become prayers of justice.
Let our prayer for peace be a prayer that teaches peace.”

– R’ David Seidenberg

Two Line Torah Tazria-Metzora – The Power of Acknowledgement

Mon, 04/16/2018 - 15:07

It’s pretty easy to get grossed out reading the double portion of Tazria-Metzora, which is chock full of details about postpartum bleeding and skin infections – things that we don’t particularly like to think about. And the fact that these things make you tamei (“impure” or “unclean”) so you have to be isolated, quarantined, sent out of the camp can be even more disturbing to think about.

But as we know, there are times when we bleed, get zits, injuries or bronchitis. Internal shame or external stigma can cause us to feel isolated in the midst of the crowd. Sometimes a serious illness or trauma, mental health crisis or sexual violence, can really send us out of the camp(us), especially if others don’t want to hear about it. Even supporting someone else going through this can affect us.

Ignoring our blemishes, our wounds, our differences, our conflicts, doesn’t make them go away. Tazria-Metzora calls us to look directly at the big and small things that isolate members of our campus communities, as a first step towards health, change and reintegration, with our Hillels as tents providing shelter for those in a tender time.

Provided by Cantor Abbe Lyons, Jewish Chaplain-Hillel at Ithaca College, Interim Executive Director-Hillel at Binghamton

A Poem from Rabbi Diane Elliot’s Omer Practice 

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 09:24

The young man sits
cross-legged on a
curb in downtown Berkeley.
He munches coleslaw
from a deli container,
a plastic offering cup
of coins before him
on the sidewalk.
“Can you spare any
change?” he asks
softly as we
stroll by, discussing
the folk music
we just heard
after a raucous pizza
meal with family
and friends. We
walk past him, I
stop, fumble in
my purse, draw
a dollar bill
from my wallet,
turn back, place
it in the cup.
“Thank you,”
he says, “I
was hungry, this
is the first
I’ve eaten today.”
I murmur something—
“glad you’re eating
now”— move on
quickly. Tears rise
in my throat.
Why should I
weep? He’s the
hungry one, sitting
on Shattuck Avenue,
eating a cold supper
with a plastic
fork. Can such
a tiny exchange,
small act, open
the great door
of compassion? Can
we live there,
all together,
in love with
the world—all
its variety, and
painful beauty? A
person can see
but still not touch,
touch but still not
know. Help us
serve great heart
together, in all
our ways, in
all our moments.

Hod sheh’b’tiferet
Humility/splendor within

From Rabbi Diane Elliot’s This Is the Day, Ha-Yom Yom, which contains 49 poems altogether, one for each day of the seven weeks of Omer counting.

Board of Directors | State of Our Union Message

Mon, 04/02/2018 - 14:02

Shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach!

The ALEPH Board of Directors is writing to share some updates about ALEPH with you.

First of all, please know that we hold each of you as a member of our extended ALEPH and Jewish Renewal family. Collectively we are those whom Reb Zalman z”l hoped would carry on the work of renewing the spiritual vibrancy of Judaism, and lay the foundation for the evolutions to come. ALEPH certainly does not “own” Jewish renewal, but we are the primary organizational manifestation of Reb Zalman z”l’s vision and his efforts. All of us who continually work to cultivate ALEPH’s vibrancy and creativity are proud of the work we do. You are part of that—whether you’ve been a Kallah or Ruach attender, called in for a Tikshoret course, become a member or sustainer, are a teacher, a network community member, an AOP student or VAAD member, an ALEPH Program Director, a Board member… or any of the myriad of other points of connection that brought you into the ALEPH extended family.

We want to be sure to keep you informed with how ALEPH, as an organization, is doing. We have been vigorously re-building the ALEPH Board. Over these past months, several new Board members have joined or re-joined the ALEPH Board, and we are collectively rejoicing in the energy and dedication they bring, not to mention talent. We’ve welcomed Rabbi Jeff Roth, Rabbi Anne Brener, Neil Markowitz, Susan Raskin Abrams and RP Whitmore-Bard, with others coming “on board” soon. These new Board members strengthen ALEPH by bringing a diversity of background, age and valuable experience.

The life of an organization is ever evolving. Our ability to lead rests on our willingness to be honest, thoughtful, kind, cooperative and caring with each other. It depends on good process, and transparency. We know that we cannot create an organization that is better than we are willing to be as individuals. We value spiritual direction, we work with wise consultants, and we keep learning and growing. Although the Board refrains from publicly discussing internal ALEPH governance issues, the Board wants to let you know that we are rebuilding ALEPH with the dedication of amazing people and are truly hopeful that as time progresses, we’ll have new opportunities for productive collaboration.

Significant developments have also taken place at the ALEPH staff level. We officially brought on a new Executive Director, SooJi Min-Maranda, in January. She began to serve on an advisory basis starting in November, so she has been integrating her life into ALEPH for many months. Some of you may have met her at OHALAH. SooJi has a wealth of senior nonprofit management experience, from development and direct service to policy and advocacy. Previous senior management posts include the Executive Director of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health and Korean American Community Services. She is bringing a high-level of professionalism to the office, and to secure ALEPH’s functionality was faced with some difficult staffing decisions early in her tenure. As one result of her restructuring of staff, ALEPH no longer has two Deputy Directors. The position that was eliminated was held by Tamy Jacobs, who was much loved. We are saddened that Tamy Jacobs’ staff role with ALEPH ended but she will always be a valued member of our ALEPH family and the extended Jewish Renewal community.

The ALEPH staff has been hard at work getting Kallah ready. The team includes SooJi Min-Maranda, Steve Weinberg, Stephanie Bello, Lynda Simons, Ming Liu, and in February, Jennifer Evers was hired as our new Kallah Event Manager. Jennifer has a strong background in event management and recently served SheKnowsMedia as their senior logistics manager. She has run operations for conferences with anywhere from 800 to 4,000 attendees. She is getting Kallah in fabulous shape. Registration for 4-day classes and 1-day workshops is live. We’ve already announced both teachers and descriptions for both the 4-day classes and 1-day workshops. We’re also delighted that many of our long-time Kallah volunteers are back on the planning team—Annie Klein, Deb Barsel and Sandy Pond. We know we are in good hands with this dream trio!

With your help, we are diving into the work of growing ALEPH:

  • The relaunch of our ALEPH Network Communities is also in progress. We worked hard to develop new concrete benefits for our network communities, such as the ALEPH Communities’ Listserv, the Communities Advisory Council, and Continuing Education discounts for our network members. SooJi will be convening a virtual Communities Advisory Council meeting pre- and post-Kallah, as well as a session onsite in Amherst in July.
  • We are deepening relationships with new funding partners. The Harold Grinspoon Foundation has made a grant designed to assist local families to attend Kallah. We are still in the early days of our conversations with other foundations whose mission and vision are a match for ours, and we are excited about the possibilities for future support.
  • We’ve issued open invitations to ALEPH musmachim and developing communities and projects to work with ALEPH as a fiscal sponsor, so that ALEPH can be a true incubator of creative new start-ups and innovative ventures.
  • We are exploring strategic partnerships on many different levels, with organizations large and small. These promising partnerships are in the early development stages. More to come on these nascent partnerships.

We are only as strong as the individuals and communities that together are ALEPH. We thank you for being a member of this remarkable ALEPH family. We honor your commitment to renewing Judaism as a vital force in the spiritual life of the Jewish people. Pesach/Passover has arrived. May we all discover new liberatory possibilities for our lives and our world.

Purim | Looking Beyond the Smoke, Mirrors & Masks

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 17:18
Next week, the Jewish community gathers to enter the celebration of Purim, a small Jewish holiday falling this year at a painful time in our nation and the world.

This past week, 17 young people were murdered in another senseless barrage of gun violence; more bombs and explosives rain upon innocent victims of terrorism and war; the refugee crisis swells; we confront daily evidence of terrifyingly routine violence against women and African-Americans that rises to national attention; and we are told that billions of our country’s wealth that could fund hospitals and schools, social security and job training, Head Start programs and healthcare, must be siphoned off to expand the military and build a wall.

Our heart breaks.

Purim is a holiday of masks, a Mardi Gras of hidden realities garbed in false, even if attractive, appearances. It also is a story of heroism and evil undone by goodness.

Purim. The little holiday of Purim invites us to take on a big job. Purim asks us to look behind masks and find hidden truths. Purim challenges us to confront false appearances that show up our lives and in our world. What realities are hidden, and what lies hide them? Can lies become attractive enough that we are distracted from pursuing the truth? How do we even discern false news from true, when we are bombarded with lies?

Yet, by teaching us to look beneath outer appearances, to disclose hidden truths and confront evil with goodness, Purim goes further. We are tasked with an even more difficult challenge. More than identifying political lies and manipulations, with all their tragic consequences, Purim also asks us to look at our own lives and see how we hide behind lies ourselves. Whew. Now that is a challenging assignment.

And—just in case we might think that this is hard enough, Purim says don’t even stop there. Purim’s message demands of us that we confront the biggest lie of all. This is the lie of separateness: the false appearance that we, and everything, and everyone, are not connected. The falsehood that what happens to me won’t affect you and that what happens to you won’t affect me. This is the lie that pits “me and you” against “us and them.”

The false appearance of separateness can lead one to imagine that other people far away are not part of me, and that I am not part of them. Like refugees, immigrants, or the people in Syria, or Democrats or Republicans… or the family across the street or… miles away… or right next to us… or… or….

But we ARE connected. Deep in our hearts, we know it.

This is the deep truth to which religion is supposed to help us. “Re-lig” means to re-connect when we forget: A river of Oneness flows through everything and IS everything. This is the real truth. We don’t just interact, we inter-ARE! The pain and suffering of violence everywhere is our shared pain. And when healing happens and love flowers, this is our shared love.

In Torah, we are asked to love our fellow person as our self. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch said:

When we hear this it is as if we hear God saying:
“I am the personification of love.
I am the creating and vitalizing Source of all beings around you,

I have called them all, like you, to life and well-being.
Love My creation and all beings in it.
Rejoice in their well-being; see in each My work, in each person, My child…
I made you in My image so you can be the instrument of this love!
Don’t you see how this love is the finest flower of your mission?
What makes you above the stone and the plant and the animal? 
If it is anything at all, it is only that you, of your own free will, can devote yourself to the welfare of the world around you!

Let everything you do reflect your love for the world, all creatures and people.
Carry love in your heart; it is this which makes you a human being.”
                                                                                                          (Horeb. Chap.16)

So friends, let this message from ALEPH extend hope for us that we can stand together as ONE at this time. Let us be committed to work hard to end violence and expand love. Let us affirm the best and most loving truth that right now, we can take off our masks and see beyond separateness into a broader view of our real and powerful connectedness. Let us help our lives, and pubic policy too, reflect that truth. Amen!

ALEPH Hazzanim Collaborated in Musical Shabbat

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 17:15

On Shabbat evening, February 9, Hazzan Basya Schechter (ordained by ALEPH in 2016) and ALEPH cantorial student Diana Brewer joined forces with musicians and leaders of three congregations in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts – home of the next Kallah – for a Kabbalat Shabbat service at Congregation B’nai Israel of Northampton.

The collaboration came about when Mount Holyoke College’s Professor of Jewish Studies, Mara Benjamin, alerted the rabbis of four area congregations that Basya would be in the area giving a concert with her band Pharaoh’s Daughter. Rabbis Benjamin Weiner, Andrea Cohen-Kiener (another ALEPH musmach), Justin David, and Riqi Kosovske secured a generous grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and collaborated to bring the communities together for a Kabbalat Shabbat that won’t soon be forgotten.

As many as 400 people gathered from the Pioneer Valley and beyond for this special evening. The “house band” came largely from the Jewish Community of Amherst (JCA), co-directed by Diana, who has been serving as hazzan of JCA for a number of years. This collaboration is not a first for Basya and Diana, who have teamed up before in performances of Shechter’s collection of songs set to Yiddish poems by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel on her album “Songs of Wonder.” Musicians from congregations Beit Ahavah and B’nai Israel also contributed to the musical davvening experience.

“It was a wonderful chance to bring our shared ALEPH learning out into the world together,” Brewer reflected. “I think people really felt that connection.”

Rabbi Benjamin Weiner of JCA said of the experience, “It’s a rare thing in life that a vision turns out just about exactly as you hoped it would, but that was certainly the case for me with this event. Basya had a great time… she spoke of the ease with which we assembled ourselves around her, and referred to the experience of real moments of sublimity in the midst of the service itself.”

Diana Brewer (left), Rabbi Justin David of Congregation B’nai Israel (middle), and Hazzan Basya Schechter (right)

Kallah 2018 February Update

Wed, 02/07/2018 - 09:48

Kallah 2018 | February Update
Immersive. Expansive.Transformative.

What’s Going on with Kallah Planning?

  • The 4-day intensive classes are being finalized. We want you to know that they are awesome! We hope you will be as excited as we are. These classes are being taught by invitation only, with the intention of showcasing an array of offerings that includes familiar teachers as well as teachers whose voices and teachings are newer to our community. We will announce the schedule for 4-day classes very soon, at the same time as the 1-day workshops.
  • The opportunity to propose a 1-day workshops is also now closed. Thank you to the over 100 people who submitted proposals! We are now making sure all submissions are complete and then we’ll will begin the blind reader selection process. We will announce the 1-day workshop schedule at the same time as the 4-day class schedule – soon!
  • YES! Early-bird registration is still open. Click here to register for Kallah. YES! Everyone who registers early will have priority access to all classes and workshops.
  • We are ramping up our committees and working to staff up all the remaining positions.

We Want to Hear from You!
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out. The entire ALEPH staff is working hard to respond as quickly as possible.

We thank Tamy Jacobs for all the hard work & heart she given to ALEPH for the past two years. Even though Tamy is not continuing in her previous Kallah role, she remains a beloved member of our Jewish Renewal and ALEPH family. We bless her with the best success in all her endeavors.

Several Kallah staff and volunteer positions are open, and some are now filled.

ALEPH has hired a new Kallah Event Manager! We welcome Jennifer Evers. Who is Jennifer? “I am a project manager, event planner, social media wrangler, and content creator who can juggle all the pieces of a project at once without dropping a single task, all with a smile that emphatically states: I’ve got this under control.” Jennifer can be reached by email at She will manage and coordinate all the varied strands that weave our Kallah experience together, so that each and every one of us can have the best possible Kallah experience ever!