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The Voice of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Updated: 12 hours 5 min ago

Baruch Dayan Emet Rabbi Shoni Labowitz, z”l

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 16:45
Baruch Dayan Emet
Rabbi Shoni Labowitz, z”l

It is with great sorrow that we in the extended ALEPH family
write to inform you of the passing of our beloved colleague and friend
Rabbi Shoni Labowitz, z”l

Rabbi Shoni was ordained by Reb Zalman in 1987. Along with her husband and rabbinic partner Rabbi Phil Labowitz, she pioneered in bringing Jewish Renewal to South Florida, hosting Reb Zalman for countless teaching engagements and together founding Temple Adath Or, The South Florida Center for Jewish Renewal. TAO remains infused with her light, love and energy under the inspired leadership of their son, Rabbi Marc Labowitz.

Our hearts are with Rabbi Phillip Labowitz, Rabbi Marc and Paulina Labowitz, Galia, Ocean & Kole Kerev, Reb Arik and Aliza Labowitz, Judah  & Noah, and Pierre & Christina Labowitz, Marina & Matthew and the entire family on the loss of their beloved wife, mother, grandmother. and spiritual guide.

May her memory, her legacy, her artistic vision and her inspiring creativity be an ongoing blessing for us all

Funeral and Shiva information can befound here, on the TAO website:

Charitable donations can be made to 
TAO – Temple Adath Or
10200 W. State Road 84, 
Suite #218
Davie, FL 33324

We offer our love, support and prayers to the entire Labowitz family.,

Kavannah for Reading the End and the Beginning of Torah

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 15:12

Introduction: As we approach the final days of this High Holy Day cycle, I wanted to share with you the drash I offered several years ago on Simkhat Torah at Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont California. This is the kavannah for the Torah reading that includes the final verses of the book of Deuteronomy and the first verse of the book of Genesis—the end and the beginning of Torah.

In our community, Cantor Linda Hirschhorn has for many years given a tour de force leyning of the final verses of the book of Deuteronomy, segueing in a single breath into the first verse of Genesis. She includes in her leyning all the different tropes (melodies) that are used to chant Torah and haftarah throughout the year, virtuosically shifting from one to another, verse by verse, musically teaching us how the ending contains the beginning and everything in between.

This is a telling moment in our ritual year, signaling the cyclical nature of spiritual consciousness. My drash also speaks of endings contained in beginnings, beginnings in endings, and perhaps offers some hope for this moment in time, when so much seems to be lost.

Kavannah for Reading the End and the Beginning of Torah
Rabbi Diane Elliot
Simkhat Torah, 5775

V’zot ha-brakhah, and this is the blessing…” We are about to lose Moses, Moshe, the quintessential figure who has guided us through so much of our Torah-year. Reluctant leader, radiant communer with the Divine, narrator and central figure of so much of our Torah story, Moses ascends to the heights, is held deep in the heart of G~d, touched by the Divine voice, the Divine hand, then shuttles back to earth to care for and contain and cajole an errant, fearful, often confused people, sprung unripe into freedom, struggling to understand their place in the world and to shoulder the responsibilities and unfurl the joys of serving the Holy.

That people is us; we surely are that people, as much as the Israelites ever were, needing guidance, needing wisdom, needing at times to have our hands held or some sense shaken into us. We’ve moved through the Days of Awe, stood before the seat of judgment, hoping to exchange it for the seat of mercy. We’ve prayed to peel back the husks, to reveal a clearer, more congruent version of our lives. We’ve sought to unknot the fisted places in our hearts, and we’ve sat in our rickety, impermanent sukkah shelters, leafy boughs above our heads, pinpoints of stars above the boughs, the sweet smell of autumn harvest—pri etz hadar, beautiful, fragrant fruits—in our nostrils, feeling a bit more at peace with our humanness, our frailty, our less than perfect world.

And now here we are, dancing with the Torah, Moshe’s chef-d’oeuvre, whirling in joy, suffused with a love we can hardly contain or name—knowing, all the while, that we’re about to lose Moshe himself.

Doesn’t it seem strange, sad, oddly unsatisfying that at the end of his Torah, Moshe just disappears, like a magician in a puff of smoke? Vanishes between Shabbats, when no one is looking, when we’re all caught up in joyful dancing and release, with no special Shabbat dedicated to the mourning his passing? Maybe it’s just too much in this z’man simkhateynu, the harvest season of our joy, to face the loss of the greatest wisdom figure within our sacred mythology, this humble companion and fierce guide who walks us through so many parshiot. Or maybe it’s hard, so soon after Yom Kippur, to be reminded of the end we humans all must face, cut off at what must always seem midstream, just short of our promised lands.

But perhaps there’s a deeper wisdom here, a profound wisdom about the cyclic nature of life on earth and our humanity, the circlings, the hakafot that connect beginnings to endings and ends to beginnings. Moshe has lived 120, twice 60 years, double samekhSamekh, the Hebrew letter that has a value of 60, is a symbol of wholeness, of completion—a simple round circle, closed, complete, empty, the end present in the beginning, the beginning implicate in the end. One circle of Moshe’s life is lived in unconscious privilege, in palatial insulation in Mitzrayim, Egypt.  A second circle—his mid-life career transition, you might say—is spurred by a sudden awakening to the plight of his enslaved people, and thrusts him into harsh truths of wilderness and human nature, as he struggles through wars, disbelief, cynicism, hunger, and fear to guide an unknowing multitude into the Unknown—protected, guided only by the Invisible Nameless…. two distinct yet interdependent samekh’s, two cycles of fullness, emptiness, completion.

Maybe this is what all our dancing is about—not to deny loss and death, but to joyfully embrace the whole cycle of living and dying, the beginnings in the endings, the endings in beginnings. Rabbi David Ingber has taught that the Torah’s beginning with a Bet, the second letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet, points to a missing, mysterious Aleph, of which we can know nothing. This silent Aleph precedes the Bet of B’reishit and is the ground of Creation, and it is into this Aleph that Moses, kissed by G~d, sinks, disappears—not into nothingness, but into the deep, high, wide, mysterious, unknowable Aleph from which the whole story, the whole cosmos springs. There in the Garden, the snake, the first human beings, the Tree, the Flood, the lives of the patriarchs and matriarchs, this whole world of Ever-Arising Beingness, is Moshe Rabbeynu, Moses our Teacher, whispering, shouting, laughing, crying, teaching—anticipating his own re-birth.

In the beginning, writes the poet and spiritual teacher Mark Nepo,

where I was touched by G~d,

before my tongue had word,

before my mind had thought,

there, in the fire I still carry,

the mind and heart are one.                                                                                                                   


A Jewish Wedding In Uganda and How Shadrach Mugoya Levi found ALEPH

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 10:58

And how Shadrach Mugoya Levi found ALEPH

How does a young man’s dream in a village in Eastern Uganda lead to rabbinical studies, a village wedding celebration with 1,500 guests, securing food for 400 Abayudaya Jews during drought and famine, and forging a deep and loving connection between that young man, his village and the ALEPH world of Jewish Renewal?

The story begins about three years ago, when ALEPH’s world was widened as Rabbi Leila Gal Berner, Dean of Students of the ALEPH Ordination Program, noticed an email from Uganda.  Curious of course, she responded as she always does when a letter of inquiry comes in from a potential student. The letter was from Shadrach Mugoya Levi, who was already serving as the spiritual leader of his 400-member Abayudaya Jewish community in Namutumba, a rural village of Uganda. He was eager to learn what a rabbi must know to lead with knowledge and effectiveness. Much correspondence followed, and many interviews. Impressed with Shadrach’s passion the AOP invited him to begin taking courses in the Rabbinical Program.

Welcoming Shadrach into the ALEPH world has planted seeds that continue to grow. A few months after he began his studies, Shadrach joined AOP faculty and students for the Ordination Program summer residential Intensive Study Retreat. After a year of videoconference classes, he met his classmates and teachers panim el panim for the first time. How exciting that was! Walking in to our magical, musical Erev Shabbat service after an eighteen-hour journey from Uganda must have seemed for Shadrach like entering a new universe. And then dinner!  Food flowed, and nothing like the humble fare in Namutumba. But it wasn’t only new for Shadrach. As new relationships grew, his community has now enriched our ALEPH world immensely.

It had, of course, become entirely apparent that neither Shadrach nor his village had any funds for his studies or travel, and in fact were in dire need of even basic staples. Fundraising was essential. Initially Rabbi Leila raised scholarship funds for Shadrach’s rabbinic courses only. It soon became clear, however, that he and his community were inseparable, and that we urgently needed to find support for this very poor, but Jewishly faithful kahal. With this intention, a separate non-profit (501c3) organization, Ezra Uganda Assistance, was born  OR

Shadrach Mugoya Levi with Rabbi Lelia Gal Berner

Ezra Uganda Assistance has supported the Namutumba community through a dire drought and famine that sadly took thee lives of some members. The fund has also provided curative and preventive medication for sick children, particularly prone to repeated bouts of malaria. Solar energy has been installed in the Tikkun Olam school. Wells have been cleaned, repaired and fenced against animal intrusion. The Namutumba community is rebuilding its synagogue and solar energy will be installed.

Ezra Uganda Assistance is currently raising funds for a new project, “Operation Joseph” — purchasing plows and oxen to enable larger-scale farming so that food can be stored for times of future famine.

All in all, things are moving in Namutumba.  All this grew from the seeds of a passionate and bold young man’s desire to be a rabbi, and ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal’s faith in him!

With this NY Times article, linked here, we have some wonderful breaking news to report. A wedding!

Shadrach and his common-law wife Naomi expressed a desire for a formal religious Jewish wedding under a chuppah, and five other couples in Namutumba joined the request.  Many people, who had come to know the story of our fellow Jews there, came forward to support tis special simcha.  On August 8, 2017, ALEPH musmechet Rabbi Yafa Chase, along with the Chief Rabbi of the Abayudaya in Uganda, Rabbi Gershom Sizomu, who is also a member of the Ugandan Parliament, co-officiated for the six couples with 1,500 guests celebrating! Over two days – drums of jubilation pounded out the heart-beat joy of the couples, with kosher and halal food nourishing the people, as the wedding party included Christian and Muslim neighbors as well as fellow Jews from other villages.

Accompanying Rabbi Yafa Chase and her daughter Ariel to Uganda was Melissa Gerson who wrote the beautiful article that was published in the New York Times.   

Here is the link for you. May it lift your heart and fill your soul with joy!

An Offering For Reflection On Yom Kippur & Sukkot

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 19:29
An Offering For Reflection On The Book of  Jonah

Mincha. It is late afternoon on Yom Kippur. Together we read the book of Jonah, and perhaps struggle to find ways to wrest meaning for our lives from this enigmatic text.

I offer these eight questions to spark introspection, inner probing, and holy conversations. In my P’nai Congregation we engage with these rather challenging questions in small groups after distributing them in a basket. Each person choses only one, sits in contemplation, and then small groups cluster to converse and reflect.

May your journey through these days of teshuvah be rich. I hope this offering is rewarding for you!

R’ Marcia

Eight Questions to Spark Introspection

1) Jonah runs in the opposite direction from his “mission.”  His is just one kind of “running away.”

• What does running away mean in your life?

• Is there something important that is uncomfortable enough that you find yourself running away, whatever that means to you.

2) Jonah rejects his “mission.” He is riding a slew of assumptions, resentments, angers, denials… He is not listening.

• Are you listening to what you should really be doing?

3) Ninveh was one of the greatest capital cities of Assyria – a violent imperialist empire. Jonah hates everything that Ninveh stands for and wishes it to be destroyed and punished, not forgiven.

• What issues around revenge versus forgiveness in your life might this raise for you?

4) In Jonah’s psalm, he says: People who care for false things that have no value abandon their own good. This is the only poem in the whole book, like a song or psalm that Jonah sings to himself and God.

• Does this have any resonance for you in your life?

• What spiritual principles can you learn from this

5) Sometime it takes a terrible experience to open our hearts. Yes, a terrible experience can also shut us down and close our hearts, but does not have to. Then we can notice that running through everything there is a source of profound meaning, and also healing, that we can access. Sometimes this is what we call “God.”

• Has anything like this ever happened to you that has expanded your awareness and opened your heart?

6) The people of Ninveh repent. They do immediate t’shuvah and change their behaviors when they understand the wrong of which they are guilty.

• Can you apply this principle to yourself in any way?

7) The prophet Ezekiel proclaims that “God takes no pleasure from the death of the wicked (33:11).”  But humans do. We do. Jonah would have preferred due punishment for the evil city. He is irate that God would have so much compassion that even a place like Ninveh could be forgiven.

• How are you challenged on the ‘grudge–forgiveness’ continuum?

•Are you willing to forgive, and even take the initiative to make that happen? How?

• Are you willing to believe that YOU can do t’shuvah and be forgiven, even for something you are really ashamed of? What assumptions would this challenge?

8) The book of Jonah is like a handbook on how NOT to be a prophet.

Jonah does everything he can to run away and hold onto a hard-hearted drive for vengeance. He cannot rejoice in the forgiving nature of God, but holds onto his resentments and his pride. But the end of the book is ambiguous. It ends with a question, leaving us to never know whether seeing the change of heart of the Ninevites, and hearing God’s closing challenge to his self-serving priorities, causes any change of heart in him.

• What challenge to your priorities could induce a needed change of heart in your life now?

• What shift would it take for you to really get this and make the shift?

Rabbi Marcia Prager is dean of the ALEPH Ordination Program.

Additional LinksMeditation Practice for Kol Nidre
by Rabbi Marcia Prager – Kol ALEPH
A New Haftara for Sukkot from
Hazzan Jack Kessler (text by poet David Rosenberg)



Shanah Tovah U’metukah

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 08:01

We are delighted to offer you this gift for the High Holidays. Shanah Tovah U’metukah from ALEPH.

This amazing video was created by musician and composer Noah Aronson. Our ALEPH Ordination Program cantorial student Laurie Akers is singing backup on this video.

Noah Aronson writes: I’ve always loved this Rumi poem

“Come, Come, Whoever You Are

Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.”

1250 AD

For this video, I worked with the wonderful, New York based sand artist Lopatnik Zhenya to create a prayer for the Jewish New Year.

May this Jewish New Year afford you moments of reflection, renewal and self care. #newyearprayer

To download the song (free through the High Holidays!), sheet music or chords, check out my website:

Musicians include:
Tali RubinsteinNoam IsraeliTamir ShmerlingEitan Kenner, and Asher Kurtz

Background Vocalist:
ALEPH Ordination Program  cantorial student 
Laurie Akers and Cantor Shanna Zell

Engineered and mixed by Rozhan Razman at Riro Muzik in Brooklyn, NY
Film edited by: 
Joe Duva with Strange Dream Films

ALEPH High Holiday Appeal

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 07:29

Two weeks ago the silver crescent new moon of the month of Elul rose in the night sky. Now it is waxing full, and will soon give way as the new moon of Tishre readies itself to be born. Along with the moon, we too are traversing the month of Elul, leading to the High Holy Days which call us to personal and communal introspection and action.

I am the new Chair of the Board of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, and in undertaking this work I have come to appreciate ALEPH more than ever before, and to understand that it needs my support and the support of all of YOU, ALEPH’s co-creators, to sustain our work, to continue to live the legacy of our beloved Reb Zalman z”l, and to plant the seeds for the future. Our ALEPH programs and projects inspire responsible social action, spiritual transformation, deep connection with humanity and the earth, and a powerfully engaged Jewish spirituality and religious practice that enlivens and inspires.  ALEPH is, literally, Renewal.

Personally, I owe ALEPH so much.  It has given me a Jewish path of personal growth, self-awareness, compassion, celebration and renewal.  ALEPH has opened new pathways of Jewish expression to me, enabling a renewal of my capacity to live my life more richly and fully.  ALEPH created gatherings for prayer and celebration that brought the presence of holiness alive in the room and in my heart.  ALEPH has given me guidance as a spiritual seeker through the practice of Jewish Spiritual Direction. Because of ALEPH I have developed a meditation practice that brings me inspiration and serenity. And, I have found a holy community with you that I treasure.

There are many suffering in our world right now, and many organizations that are in need of our charitable dollars.  As I write these words, Houston is only starting to recover from Hurricane Harvey, Florida and other states are trying to assess the damage from Hurricane Irma and thousands in Bangladesh and India are struggling to recover from devastating floods.  I know that, as compassionate Jews, we will  respond to these needs during this critical time.  But, it is also my hope that you, who know that the spiritual needs of people are as real as their material ones,  will join me in helping plant the seeds of Jewish Renewal as a part of your giving.

We are looking to raise at least $180,000 in the year 5778.  Your support of ALEPH is integral to our ability to continue our holy work of spreading Jewish renewal around the world and furthering the legacy of Reb Zalman z”l.  Please contribute as fully as your financial circumstances allow.

Thank you.  Shanah tovah!  May each of you have a good and sweet New Year.

With Gratitude,



David Daniel Klipper
Chair of the ALEPH Board

Hurricane Prayer

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 18:54

A friend wondered on my Facebook page whether there was a specific blessing to be said after a hurricane has passed.

In Judaism, there are blessings that are recited as part of a Jewish ritual, and those said before an activity (such as eating). And there are many Jewish blessings that are said in response to an event or experience.

While our tradition offers many liturgical blessings that we can use, sometimes we have to go it alone, and create a blessing that fits the need.

Here is the one that I wrote this morning after my friend’s query, with some additions:

Holy One of Blessing,

Thank you for the gift of family and friends.

Thank you for the people who put their own needs aside and worked at the shelters so that others could be safe.

Thank you for the people at the news stations who stayed on-air for hours on end to keep us informed.

Thank you for the police, fire, rescue, and military personnel who protected us during the storm and continue to do so.

Dear God, my family and I are safe, and we are grateful.  And we know that there are others whose lives were changed forever.  Please watch over those who bore the brunt of this storm. Give them strength and courage, and help us help them through this difficult time.

And God, let your light shine on all who are in pain today as they commemorate the anniversary of 9/11.

Rabbi Jennifer Singer

Rabbi Jennifer Singer is a Rabbi of a small and absolutely wonderful synagogue, Congregation Kol HaNeshama (KH for short) in Sarasota, Florida.

She was ordained as both a Rabbi and Spiritual Director by ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal in January 2017, and earned a MA in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2006. Quite a while before then, Rabbi Jennifer Singer earned a BA in communications/journalism.

Caution: Spoiler Alert! by Rabbi Rebecca Kushner

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 15:30

I don’t often go to the cinema, and if I do, my first choice certainly isn’t a war movie.  However last week, urged on by friends who had seen the film Dunkirk, I took the plunge (ouch, that was a lousy pun, given the film subject!).  I can’t say that I “enjoyed” the film, but it was extremely well done and deeply impressive.  Hans Zimmer’s music was awesome.

One of several story threads involves the drama that unfolds upon one of the small private vessels recruited by the British government to rescue as many soldiers as possible from the beach at Dunkirk. The boat is piloted by a Mr. Dawson.  On board are Mr. Dawson’s son Peter, and his young friend, George. During a scuffle, a rescued, shell-shocked soldier accidentally knocks George backwards down the stairs.   He sustains a fatal head wound.   When Peter comes to his aid, George says that he can’t see any more, and then with great difficulty confesses to Peter that he feels that he had never amounted to much.  He hadn’t been good in school.  He had always hoped to be able to do something really great, been a hero of some kind.

Peter realizes only later in the film that George has died.  Soon after that, the shell-shocked soldier asks “Your young friend…will he be all right?”  There is a moment of intense silence.   Peter, swallowing hard, reassures the traumatized soldier that yes, his friend would be all right. The soldier seems immensely relieved.  After they return safely to Britain, Peter goes directly to the local newspaper and initiates an article that describes George as a “hero” in the Dunkirk evacuation.

Two questions arise for me from Peter’s response.  Why didn’t Peter tell the traumatized soldier the truth?  And why did Peter “stretch the truth” when he insisted that the local newspaper portray George as a hero, rather than the victim of an accident?

In his split-second decision, Peter displays both pity and compassion.  He senses instinctively that adding guilt to trauma would smudge out that small flame of self-esteem, that ember of the will to live and to heal, that still existed within this tormented man.  In his moment of hesitancy, Peter realizes that although the accident had happened, and the horrible harm could not be undone, he himself was still able to prevent further anguish from happening.

In our preparation for the Days of Awe, going into the shadowed places of our lives and ferreting out what we want to transform does not mean wallowing in self-condemnation.  There is an indestructible part of our essence that is pure and linked to its Holy Source.

When Peter “stretches the truth” by proclaiming George’s accidental death as an heroic act during warfare, he is honoring not only George’s memory, but (as I see it) also the holy connection that was within George no less than within the man who unintentionally knocked him down the stairs.

Our task in the weeks ahead is to be as merciful as possible with each other and as gently nudging as we think we can be towards ourselves.  The misunderstandings and the hurts between each other are left for each one of us to approach, clarify, and– if possible — to forgive, even if it means compassionately stretching the truth.

With blessings for merciful encounters in this month,

Rabbi Rebecca


Rabbi Rebecca Kushner
“The Prairie Rebbe” received ordination from Aleph and MSJE
from Spertus Institute. She is Rabbi (part-time) in Galesburg, IL and Waterloo IA.

The ALEPH Ordination Program Welcomes two new members to the AOP VAAD and Core Faculty

Tue, 08/29/2017 - 15:22

August 2017

With great delight, the ALEPH Ordination Program welcomes two new members who join our Core Faculty and will sit on the Ordination Program VAAD.

The AOP, with nearly 90 students in 4 schools is now the largest rigorous liberal seminary in the United States. Its Rabbinic, Cantorial, Rabbinic Pastor and Spiritual Direction Programs serve students on several continents, combining state-of the art videoconferencing and residential retreat-based learning. The AOP VAAD is the core administrative and organizational council that directs the seminary, advises students, and designs and coordinates the educational offerings that constitute the curriculum of the programs.

The new members of the AOP VAAD join a group of seasoned educators and spiritual leaders who have devoted their careers to serving the Jewish world by creating an inspirational and spiritually vibrant educational environment that enables gifted future leaders to train as rabbis, cantors, rabbinic pastors/chaplains, and spiritual directors, while continuing to live in and serve their home communities.

The AOP VAAD welcomes:

Rabbi Shulamit Thiede, Ph.D
Rabbi Shulamit Thiede, Ph.D. teaches Hebrew Bible, Judaism and Jewish history, the Holocaust and the history of European anti-Semitism in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC-Charlotte. She was ordained in 2011 as a rabbi and in 2012 as a mashpi’ah ruchanit by ALEPH.  Rabbi Thiede founded Temple Or Olam, the first Jewish Renewal congregation in North Carolina.  Rabbi Thiede has written and published in a wide variety of settings; her current research project focuses on ritual items created by the women of Ashkenaz. Rabbi Thiede has founded two peace organizations, two interfaith organizations, and a chess school. She was the first Jewish member of the Kannapolis-Concord Ministerial Association, the first Jewish religious leader in Cabarrus County, and has served as the faculty advisor for UNCC’s Hillel group and the Interfaith Alliance.   As a member of the AOP VAAD, she will serve as a Director of Studies and Core Faculty in the History Dept. She blogs at


Rabbi Natan Margalit. Ph.D
Rabbi Natan Margalit was raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He received rabbinic ordination at The Jerusalem Seminary in 1990 and earned a Ph.D. in Talmud from U.C. Berkeley in 2001.  He has taught at Bard College, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College. Natan is Rabbi of The Greater Washington Coalition for Jewish Life, in Connecticut.  He is Founder and President of Organic Torah Institute, a non-profit organization that fosters holistic thinking about Judaism, environment and society. (  As a member of the AOP VAAD, he will serve as a Director of Studies and as Chair and Core Faculty of the Rabbinic Text Dept. He lives in Newton, MA with his wife Ilana and their two sons.

Get Up: Some Thoughts About Shoftim by Jessi Roemer

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 15:28

Wake up. And stay awake.

This is the unified command in both this week’s texts.

Since Tisha B’Av, our prophets in the Haftarah have been comforting us – “nahamu, nahamu, ami” (“comfort, comfort my people”) – as we remember the destruction of our ancient Temple and re-mourn the long-ago exile of our leaders. The prophets have been singing to us of a redemptive future, gently promising our shattered people that we will gain a new foundation covered in precious gems, and assuring us that our grandchildren will know peace.

And while there are still two more weeks of consolation coming in the Haftarah, this week is different from those previous: We are encouraged to rise from our mourning, to wake up and shake off the stupor of despair. It is from this week’s Haftarah that the Kabbalist poet Elazar ben Moshe Azikri borrowed the most rousing phrases for his Shabbat poem, “Lecha Dodi”: “Hitoreri, hitoreri” – “Wake up, wake up!” – “Uri Uri” – “Awake, awake” – “Livshi bigdei tifartech” – “Put on your robes of majesty” – “Hitna’ari Me’afar Kumi” – “Shake off the dust and get up!”

The message? Five weeks out from Tisha B’Av, it is time to rise from mourning and exile, to re-join the world of moral responsibility. Isaiah exhorts us: “Sovevu, sovevu, tzu mi sham” (“Turn around, turn around; depart from there”); “Do not touch impurity. Keep pure as you depart from there.” A second Exodus is imminent, he implies, and if we can get with the program, this time we will not leave the land of our oppressors in haste or in flight, but rather with God marching in front of us and guarding our back. It is time to wake up and re-join the living.

This week’s partner Torah portion, Shoftim, also heralds a new coming into consciousness for the People Israel. While the Haftarah has us emerging from a period of mourning and spiritual slumber after the Temple’s destruction, Shoftim telescopes us backward in time to a moment toward the end of our wandering in the desert, just before we are about to enter the land where the Temple will eventually be built. From his deathbed outside the land of Canaan, Moshe is instructing the people how to go about building a civil society once they are settled in one place.

The theme in this portion? Wake up. Act right. Don’t let anyone fall morally asleep — individuals (including, it is specified, non-male individuals), judges, priests, towns, nations, and especially kings. Don’t fall prey to greed, don’t take bribes, don’t worship other gods, respect the authority of civil and spiritual servants. Civil and spiritual servants must not overreach: Priests may not acquire land; kings may not amass riches in excess or lose physical sight of this teaching.

In the first few verses, we hear the command: “Tzedek tzedek tirdof” — “Justice, justice pursue.” This is one of our richest slogans, often used as a source text for the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, our obligation to repair the world and fight for justice.

In the spirit of pursuing justice, Shoftim contains several specific instructions for how to govern fairly — some revolutionary even today, and some surprisingly decent by the standards of the time:

  • Create an undiscriminating legal system;
  • Establish a meticulous process for inquiry in determining guilt;
  • Never rely on the account of one witness alone;
  • Always protect trees, even on the land of your enemy;
  • Take collective responsibility for an anonymous crime;
  • Offer a neighboring city the option of peaceful surrender before conquering it;
  • Do not deploy soldiers who have ambivalent hearts or who stand to die without ever having harvested their land or married their betrothed;
  • Establish and evenly distribute a proportional number of sanctuary cities to the total amount of land possessed by the nation.
  • I repeat: Establish evenly dispersed sanctuary cities throughout the nation, to where accused innocents from anywhere can flee and be protected from persecution.

There is much here that we today find morally just and imperative. But “tzedek,” like “justice” in English, does not automatically imply compassion; Shoftim also contains harsh, heartless laws and inhumane repercussions:

  • The command to slaughter everyone in the area where the People of Israel will live, lest they be influenced by strangers’ ways;
  • The instruction to loot nearby towns, impose forced labor on human beings and take them as property;
  • The insistence upon public stoning for the transgression of worshipping other gods.

In fact, rather than implying a global, moral justice, “tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” in the context of ancient society-building, seems more to mean that the people should steadfastly adhere to a strict system of law and order, cause and effect, transgression and punishment. “Justice” here is pretty much a set of laws defined to maintain the order of monotheism and the political dominance of the People of Israel in the land which they are about to conquer.

Fortunately, the more universal applications of justice and governance – those on the first list – shine out at us across centuries, despite the archaic and brutal context in which they arose, a context in which all the things on the second list were still acceptable. But I don’t advocate glossing over that second list, because it is to the danger of this: a narrow definition of justice, or the execution of it without compassion – the underbelly of tzedek, if you will – that we must also stay awake.

For this reason, this Shabbat I plan to chant the part about public stoning in Eicha trop, the melody of Lamentations that we chant on Tisha B’av. This is how, after reminding myself, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” I will lament the cruel behaviors that are also our human inheritance, and that we still haven’t unlearned, thousands of years later. This is how I will assert that:

We must not only be meticulous in determining guilt; we must be judicious in defining transgression to begin with, create humane structures that don’t funnel people toward incarceration, and make room for as much forgiveness and re-integration as humanly possible.

We must not only claim collective responsibility for crimes on our soil that we did not witness; we must take collective responsibility for the crimes we committed when we first came to this soil, and continue to commit, collectively.

We must not only approach other groups in peace; we must try to change the way we see them until we can see ourselves in them. And we must love ourselves. This way we will not be able to objectify, dehumanize, or demonize anyone.

This Shabbat, I will interpret the call from my ancestors through these pages, and from my predecessors through their essays, their activism, their art, their physical work – to wake up, again and again. And when the week begins, I will try, again and again, to convert that “awakeness” into practice.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dedicated to the life and memory of Marguerite Rosenthal, who loved her musical and activist Jewish heritage, and who dedicated her whole life to waking up and pursuing justice in the global, moral sense. And to her son, Ben, daughter-in-law Nancy, and grandchildren Leah and Ezra, who are this week emerging from their first year of mourning her death. May they be comforted – nahamu, nahamu – and may Marguerite’s legacy live on in us: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.

Ways to Pray With Our Feet

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 13:10

Here are a couple of concrete actions that you and your communities can engage in, and which we encourage you to share with others:

1) Participate in a training that seeks to not only address the rise of Neo-Nazis but also the dismantling of environmental protections and human rights. To respond effectively, we need to understand how we got here and we need a long-term strategy to shift the tide. This training will be led by ALEPH Ordination Program rabbinical student Cat Zavis. Please share it with others in your community.

2) To support the local Charlottesville synagogue Congregation Beth Israel, of which our ALEPH Ordination Program cantorial student Sharon McCord is a member, please donate to this GoFundMe campaign –

The Aleph-affilliated P’nai Yisrael Chavurah which includes AOP graduates and students as leaders and members, needs security provided through the UVA Hillel where they meet, and which can be supported at:

Our Elul Practice by Lucinda Kurtz and Oran Hesterman

Fri, 08/25/2017 - 12:48

We always look forward to the deep, soulful practice we create each Elul to accompany this time of teshuvah. We have a practice that helps us connect to the powerful transformational potential of this month, supporting our commitment to live more in alignment with our soul’s yearning as we prepare for the coming new year.

Whether we are on the shores of Lake Michigan or back home in Ann Arbor, after a brief davvening, we meditate with our feet rooted on the earth, visit our guides and Atik Yomin [the Ancient of Days] and ask for guidance and blessings for the coming day.  Then we chant slowly “The 13 Attributes of God,” before reading a version of Psalm 27.

It is when Oran brings his beautiful shofar to his lips that we most feel the presence of Hashem wash over us.  It is the shofar that is truly the wake-up call to the soul, calling us to a new relationship with ourselves and the One, reminding us of our responsibility to take a stand on those principles we perceive as holy.

An intention for today’s eclipse- from ALEPH Ordination Program Senior Student Esther Azar

Mon, 08/21/2017 - 11:29

Boreh Olam, Creator of Eternity, It is you who allow the hidden to be revealed and the reveled to be hidden. We are living in an age of uncovering, the darkness is coming to the surface. The failing systems are being seen. On this day when the feminine and the masculine will join in this America, where the seeming duality will merge into one,  may the powers of both be joined together to bring harmony and integration to our planet. I choose this time of uncovering to allow for the breakdown of the old so that the new can shine through. It has appeared that we were living in the light but this was an illusion. An illusion that has allowed us to ignore the planet and the people that live upon it. Our fear stories have controlled us in ways that kept us from loving ourselves and following truth. Today this changes-with the emergence of this new beginning I choose love. I choose to bring my fear out of the darkness and into the light.

As the moons darkness crosses the path of the sun may the light that returns be pure. May our fears burn in its path and may we step forward as whole beings to bring your light into the world.




We Pray With Our Feet

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 16:12

ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, denounces in the strongest possible terms, the violence and the hateful speech and violence shown at the recent white supremacist nationalist, neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville.  We send our prayers to the families of those who have suffered loss and to those who have been hurt.  We also acknowledge the wider impact of these pernicious words and actions.

As these white nationalist, neo-Nazis expressed hateful messages targeting Jews and People of Color, we are reminded that we are called to speak out against such hate, to call upon our leaders not to allow examples of hate to go unchallenged, and to reflect upon what each of us as individuals can do.

In Charlottesville, and any Charlottesville to come, let us remember that we are all b’tzelem Elohim, created in the image of God.  Let us remember that none of us are free until all of us are free.   Let us strengthen our commitment to work for justice for all.  May we be guided to be forces for healing and peace.  May we wisely and strongly deploy our resources, energy and faith in service of Tikkun Olam and the Holy One.

Some students from the ALEPH Ordination Program have written a heartfelt and passionate statement that we append below.  We also endorse the organizations whose links appear at the end of the Students’ statement.


We, the undersigned students of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal Ordination Program, the seminary for the Jewish Renewal movement, call upon Americans to join us in condemning the racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism that were on display in Charlottesville last weekend and that are an increasing presence in American life, strengthened and emboldened under the current administration. The white supremacist agenda oppresses and victimizes People of Color and paints Jews as the source of all that ails our country, a myth that has fueled anti-Semitism for centuries.

We stand in solidarity with the people of Charlottesville, whose quiet home was exploited as a theater for the racist agenda of outsiders. And we stand in solidarity with people across the country who are experiencing a level of heightened anxiety, fear, and lack of safety, an experience all too familiar to People of Color.

In addition to threats and acts of violence widely reported in the media, our Jewish brothers and sisters in Charlottesville experienced a level of specific threat to their communities, sacred objects, and personal safety that aroused in them and stirs in us a visceral pain and sorrow that inescapably evokes the collective memory of Nazi Germany.

Neo-Nazi groups attract and recruit people who are in pain, who are suffering, and who are looking for identity, community, and a sense of purpose. It is important that we work to understand these motivations so that we can do the hard, long-term work of healing needed to build a world of love and justice.

We appeal to you to join us in building bridges among vulnerable communities and allies, responding to the needs of the people of Charlottesville, and standing firmly against racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism in all their forms.

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “There are moments when we all stand together and see our faces in the mirror: the anguish of humanity and its helplessness; the perplexity of the individual and the need of divine guidance; being called to praise and to do what is required.”

We are in this moment called to divine service in unprecedented ways. It is up to each one of us to respond to this call. As our teacher, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, said, “God is always present. The question is, how present are we?”

We are:
Caryn Aviv…Esther Azar…Alan Bachman…Diana Brewer…Jennifer Cohen…Elizabeth Cohen…E. David Curiel…Juliet Elkind-Cruz…Shir Yaakov Feit…Laurie M. Franklin…Irwin Keller…Steven B. King…Joseph Laur…Jessica Leash…Chaya Lerner…Cantor Lisa L. Levine…Ariel Tzvia Lippman…Laura Lewis Mandeles…Seth F. Oppenheimer…Lisa Rappaport…Brielle Rassler…Lex Rofes…Charna Rosenholtz…Ken Rosenstein…Janice Rubin…Dr. Laurie Sanford…Nancy Shapiro…Jessica K. Shimberg…Brett Tancer…Sarah Tauber…Benjamin Telushkin…Maggid Ellen K. Triebwasser…Devorah Tucker…Zoe Van Raan…Stephanie Weishaar…Shlayma Zalman ben Mordechai Margolin…Cat J. Zavis


We would like to alert you to a couple of concrete actions that you and your communities can engage in, and which we encourage you to share with others:

1) To support the local Charlottesville synagogue Congregation Beth Israel, of which our AOP cantorial student Sharon McCord is a member, please donate to this GoFundMe campaign – The Aleph-affilliated P’nai Yisrael Chavurah which includes AOP graduates and students as leaders and members, needs security provided through the UVA Hillel where they meet, and which can be supported at:

2) To participate in a training that seeks to address the underlying causes that attract people to neo-Nazi groups, please participate in this training, led by AOP rabbinical student Cat Zavis, and share it with others in your community.


Wed, 08/16/2017 - 18:08

ALEPH: Alliance For Jewish Renewal, denounces in the strongest terms, the demonstration of hateful speech and violence shown at the recent Alt-right ‘protest’ in Charlottesville.  We send our prayers to the families of those who have suffered loss and to those who have been hurt.  We acknowledge the wider impact of these pernicious words and actions.

As the Alt-right ‘protesters’ expressed hateful messages targeting Jews and African-Americans, we are reminded that we are called to speak out against such hate, to call upon our leaders to not allow examples of hate to go unchallenged, and to reflect upon what each of us as individuals can do.

In Charlottesville, and any Charlottesville’s to come, let us remember that we are all created in the image of God, B’Tzelem Elohim.  Let us remember that none of us are free until all of us are free, as we strengthen our commitment to work for justice for all.  May we be guided to be forces for healing and peace.  May we wisely and strongly deploy our faith, spirituality and community in service of Tikkun Olam and the Holy One.

Fantastic Opportunity: Be ALEPH’s Executive Director from Home

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 16:22

ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, is looking for a unique individual to become its Executive Director. This job is an incredible opportunity for the right person. As Executive Director (ED), you will work with brilliant and compassionate Jewish spiritual leaders and teachers. You will help further a trans-denominational movement that has already had profound effects on liberal Judaism and lead its continuing growth. You will have the privilege of making an extraordinary difference for Judaism around the world.

The successful candidate for Executive Director will bring the following qualities:

  • Committed to the work of Jewish Renewal and ALEPH as an organization which enables people to have transformative personal and communal Jewish experiences.
  • Eager to guide and inspire ALEPH as it continues its process of organizational change and growth, following the death of Reb Zalman, z”l.
  • Proven fund-raiser at both the personal and institutional levels – adept at making the “big ask.”
  • Seeker who walks their spiritual path, follows personal and communal spiritual practices and who sees this engagement as holy work.
  • Familiarity with post-secondary education and eager to contribute to addressing the unique challenges faced by the ALEPH Ordination Program, the largest liberal Jewish seminary in North America.
  • Ability to connect with and attract the next generations of Jewish Renewal and to communicate effectively through social media.
  • Practiced administrator able to encourage, affirm, and shepherd the professional staff, project directors and educators. Strong collaborator with boards and committees.
  • Smart decision-maker regarding allocation of organizational resources. Proficiency with budgets, numbers, and Excel.
  • Desires to work at home, anywhere in the continental United States, and be available for occasional travel to deepen stakeholder relationships and cultivate new opportunities.
  • Has a big heart and is committed to servant leadership. Supports and inspires colleagues to achieve personal and professional growth.

Minimum of at least 7-10 years of experience required.

Salary to be determined based on experience. Benefits include health insurance and paid time off for all major Jewish holidays.

Please email your resume and cover letter to Board Chair, Rabbinic Pastor David Daniel Klipper at

A Teaching for Tisha B’Av – Moving from How to What now? By Jason Mann MD, Mph

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 10:59
A Teaching for Tisha B’Av – Moving from How to What now? By Jason Mann MD, Mph Senior Rabbinic Student
Aleph Ordination Program


One of the most useful ways I have found to uncover the hidden wisdom in the Torah parsha is to begin by looking closely at the very first word in the text, as these first words have been placed as a divine invitation or a doorway into the meaning of the text.

On Tisha B’av we read from the Book of Lamentations. The Book of Lamentations starts with the word “Eicha” which in Hebrew means “how?”  This is a very appropriate word to begin a text that is read on Tisha b’Av as Tisha b’Av is a time in our calendar when we mourn many tragedies in Jewish history – Temple destructions, massacres, plagues and expulsions.  The word “how” is a perfect opening word for this text for when terrible things occur in our lives our first reaction to the situation is to ask ourselves “how could this have happened?”  So, it is no surprise that the Book of Lamentations beings with the Hebrew word “how,” which in Hebrew also gives the scroll its Hebrew name.

We ask ourselves, “how did this tragedy happen?” because this is one of the ways we imagine that we can prevent disaster from occurring again. Unfortunately, the answers we find to the question of “how,” are often unsatisfactory because the world is very complex and  no matter how hard we try to understand the etiology of events as a means of protecting ourselves from tragedy, we find that there is always something that is beyond our grasp. There is always some random factor that is beyond our understanding or control.

Perhaps a better question to ask after a tragedy takes place is, “what now?  What now?”  What shall I do next to help me recover from the tragedy and create meaning out of what has happened? There is no perfect answer to this question either, but one response after a tragedy has occurred is to engage in a spiritual practice.

Many people who are trying to recover from a tragedy have found that engaging in a spiritual practice can bring comfort and peace. Spiritual practices persist and flourish in our very secular world because they help us understand that we are not in complete control of our world or our lives. We are each one small piece of a vast and complex world that is beyond our ability to understand and control.

When we begin to seriously engage in a spiritual practice the question “how?” or “why?” something has happened no longer freezes or occupies all of our energies or thoughts. We are able to let go and encounter a vastness that is beyond our comprehension. In moments of meditation, prayer, or walking in nature we can move beyond pain and confusion and discover that within the vastness is a loving energy of the universe some of us call God.

A lesson in my life about all loving relationships is that love can be so sweet, but at other times it is tough love. Of course I give my grandson kisses and hugs, but I also grab his arm and forcefully pull him back to the sidewalk when he runs into the street. Whether it is a kiss or a pull on the arm, everything that I give to my grandson is coming from a place of love. This is the loving energy God provides the world,  a loving energy that is present both in the good times and the difficult ones.

In my lifelong career as an oncologist, and now as chaplain and a soon-to-be-rabbi, I have been present for much sorrow, loss and pain. When tragedy befalls us we sometimes withdraw from our relationships,  our community, and from God. Sometimes we pull back from the very practices and companionships that can support us. But even when the path is tough, we can find love there.

Perhaps this is one lesson we can take from Tisha b’Av, a time of tragedy and sorrow. God’s love is everlasting and enduring. New possibilities emerge even from tragedy. If we ask ourselves, “ what now?”

The penultimate phrase in the Book of Lamentations gives us additional guidance as to “what now?”   We read, “khadesh yameinu k’kedem, often translated “renew our days as times of old.” However, kedem is also the East where the sun rises, and “kadima” means “go forward!”

These words are a reminder of how important it is to renew our loving relationships with each other and with God after a tragedy has befallen us, and find our way forward.

So my hope for all of us is that as T’shav b’Av ends, we are strengthened and prepared to move to what is next and renew our Love with each other and with God as it was and will be, in the best days of our lives.

Kein Yehi Ratzon

Jason Mann is a Physician and a Senior Rabbinic Student in the Aleph Rabbinic Ordination Program.  Since ending his medical practice he has worked as a spiritual care provider and as an educator exploring the connections between spirituality and medicine.

Hands, Hearts, Minds and Souls – An All-School Shavu’ot Program with Rabbi Rain Zohav

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 14:13
Hands, Hearts, Minds and Souls – An All-School Shavu’ot Program
with Rabbi Rain Zohav Live streaming at NewCaje
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
11:00am – 12:30pm PDT

As you move through a choice of stations, you will be engaged in experiencing the idea of “Matan Torah,” the giving of Torah at Shavu’ot, as well as experiencing Shavu’ot as one of the pilgrimage festivals of ancient Israel.

This workshop is designed for education directors and teachers of grades K-8. Stations include experiences with hands-on tzedakah projects, age-appropriate art projects, in-depth discussion, text study focused on the Ten Commandments, stories, customs from around the world, and more!

You will come away with many ideas for your individual classroom, and learn how to organize an all-school event.

Livestream at NewCAJE8!

NewCAJE is offering a select number of sessions at the NewCAJE8 conference that can be viewed by you and your colleagues by live streaming on your computer or mobile device. For a contribution of at $18, you will gain access to 12 sessions conducted by experts in the field of Jewish education. Do NOT miss this opportunity to experience NewCAJE8!

For a list of all 12 sessions and to register please click the link below.

Previously Recorded – Tisha B’av Tikshoret Program “Truth and Shalom Shall Ye Love”: The Deeper Meaning of Tisha b’av For Modern Jews

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 11:30
View previously recorded course Course Description:
Tisha b’av is the day when Jews mark some of the tragedies that we have experienced. Traditionally, it is a fast day. Today, some Jews fast and some do not. But does it matter if we fast? Does God care one way or another? And in general, what does God care about? When the Jews returned from exile in Babylonia, they asked the prophet Zechariah if they should fast on that day. The prophet responded in a surprising way, not answering the question directly and focusing instead on what he considered to be the essence of the spiritual life and where such a life would lead. The prophet’s message is very significant and uplifting for us today. It speaks directly to the true meaning of spirituality, and is relevant for all. Class Name:  “Truth and Shalom Shall Ye Love”: The Deeper Meaning of Tisha b’av For Modern Jews
Teachers: Rabbi Uzi Weingarten

Leynen In English: Haftara in English for Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 14:58
Leynen In English
Haftara in English for Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av a setting by Hazzan Jack Kessler
Director of the ALEPH Cantorial Program

The teaching that follows was developed decades ago, among a circle of us around Reb Zalman. I then further developed it, and it is now taught to ALL our ALEPH Ordination Program (AOP) students as well as through labs at the Davven’n Leadership Training Institute (DLTI).

We teach our Torah and haftara readers to do three innovative things:

1) to leyn expressively, to vocally communicate the dramatic power of the narrative or Torah and haftara, and not just mechanically sing the trop,


2) to alternate leynen in Hebrew and in English directly from the scroll when leynen Torah, and likewise use Hebrew and English for haftarot, staying inside of the drama of the language and the melody of the trop.

and even more radically

3) to develop creative English haftarot, both ones that interpretively deliver the core message of the Hebrew text of a traditional haftara, but also to create new haftarot – especially English haftarot drawn from the growing legacy of modern “prophetic” literature.

In the service of this endeavor, I have created and set to trop excerpts from the most passionate speeches of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, and other poetic and prophetic texts.

It is my intention to periodically offer some of these experiments through ALEPH. Here is a haftara in English for Shabbat Chazon. All interpretive liberties in the translation are my own. Do feel free to adapt for your own needs.

This is not in any way to diminish our hope that literacy in Biblical Hebrew might become widespread. We have been doing this for years, and teaching this widely. We are dedicated to making Torah and haftara reading come alive, and have found that this is working for us and our hevra.

But the experience that people have when the Hebrew and English seamlessly blend, and an evocative translation is happening right in front them – inside the melody of the trop which is such a powerful carrier wave for the emotional power of the text,  is so palpably powerful. The same is true of haftarot, whose Hebrew is often far more complex than Torah Hebrew, and which are often speed-read at a pace that would defy comprehension for all but the most unusually fluent. The power of the prophetic message is important to communicate. Let it ring out!

An article about my work in this field  is here Kerem Magazine: Creative Explorations in Judaism Final Issue: #14English Leyning: Bringing New Meaning to the Torah Service ‎

May this Shabbat of Vision bring us the vision to move closer to the best of what can be.

Hazzan Jack Kessler



Hazzan Jack Kessler directs the Cantorial Program of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and is the author of Leynen in the Fast Leyn. He was ordained as a Cantor at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, and went on to have a twenty-year career serving Conservative congregations. He instructs at the Davvenen’ Leadership Training Program (DLTI) and directs two touring ensembles: ATZILUT– CONCERTS FOR PEACE, a ten member ensemble of Arab and Jewish musicians performing together, and KLINGON KLEZMER, which does Jewish music from other planets.