The Kol Aleph Blog
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.
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?”
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 – https://www.gofundme.com/congregation-beth-israel-cville. 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: http://www.brodyjewishcenter.org/support-us.html.
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. www.spiritualprogressives.org/training
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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
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
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 kerem.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Kessler-Final-PDF.pdf
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.
Registration Is Now Open!
Class Name: “Truth and Shalom Shall Ye Love”:
The Deeper Meaning of Tisha b’av For Modern Jews
Teacher: Rabbi Uzi Weingarten
Dates & Time:
Sunday July 30, 2017
5:00-6:00 pm EST 2:00-3:00 pm PST
Tuesday Aug 1,2017
6:00 -7:00 pm EST 3:00-4:00 pm PST
Cost: FREEThis course will be recorded and uploaded to ALEPH.org
so you can watch at your convenience.
Tisha b’av (Tuesday Aug 1) 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.Registration Online!
University of Massachusetts – UMASS
in Amherst, Massachusetts
ALEPH Ordination Program
S’micha Week and Clergy Camp June 24 – July 1, 2018
University of Massachusetts – UMASS
in Amherst, Massachusetts If you love ALEPH Ruach –
you’re going to really love KALLAH!!
Trip Announcement from long-time Renewal rabbis Geela Rayzel and Sarah Leah:
Dear Women of Jewish Renewal,
The time has come to return the Shechinah to Zion. Reb Sarah Leah and Reb Geela Rayzel, two Jewish Renewal rabbis, have put together an Israel trip to bring to light the path of the Divine feminine. In the origins of Jewish renewal, Reb Zalman respected the contribution of the many female leaders offering their talents and creativity to the emerging new paradigm of consciousness. For many years, hearing women’s voices as full participants in Jewish life was new, and Jewish renewal helped foster and support those female voices.
This trip will elevate the wisdom of those Divine feminine offerings to a “deeper and higher level” in the setting of Israel. We have a four worlds approach to this trip, and will experience the Earth, Air, Fire and Water of the land. By tasting (literally) the many cultures, both Jewish and Arab, we will foster understanding across the divide. The underlying mission of this journey also embodies peace and we will find ways to connect to this holy work of deep ecumenism. Throughout the tour, we will sing Jewish renewal favorites, and bring a heart-felt mission of healing to our tour. Please see the link below for more info:
DISCLAIMER: While some of our friends in the ALEPH Community personally endorse this trip – by posting information about the trip, ALEPH is not endorsing the trip nor has ALEPH undertaken any investigation into the details of the trip, the itinerary or the accommodations being provided.
(Posted with permission from The Little Minyan Kehilla)
In 21st Century America, many of us are acutely aware of living at the confluence of multiple identities. We have increasing opportunities to celebrate and proclaim our overlapping identities, due, in large part, to the freedom that has always lived at the core of the American spirit – the America we celebrate each 4th of July with communal activities, parades, and music proclaiming the ideals of liberty and justice for all. These American ideals, coupled with an awareness that our increasingly global existence is enhanced by diversity, are a recipe for abundance and promise. For example, as a woman and as a Jew, I have witnessed a half century of clear and intentional shifts in societal consciousness, hard-won by generations of American women and Jews, as well as other people at the intersectionality of oppression and discriminatory practices. As a result of when and where I was born, I am a beneficiary of the reduction in gender discrimination. In addition, because I was raised in a community where my “Jewishness” often made me different, and occasionally, viewed as suspect or worse, I am keenly aware of the ways in which my difference is now seen as interesting and appreciated.
In this week’s parsha, Balak (Bamidbar/Numbers 22:2 – 25:9), we read another in a series of stories of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert. Along their journey from slavery in Egypt to the homeland which God promised to show them, the inhabitants of each kingdom through which they travel have varying reactions to the presence of this migrant People. In last week’s Torah reading, Israel sent messengers to the king of the Amorites asking to pass through their land, promising not to “turn off into fields or vineyards,” or to “drink water from wells,” but to cross through the territory along the king’s highway. (Numbers 21:27) However, the Amorites greet the Israelites with animosity, and in the ensuing battle, the Israelites defeat them.
Balak and the Moabites, knowing what happened to the Amorites, begin to make assumptions about the characteristics and motivations of the Israelites out of a posture of fear and ignorance:
וַיָּ֨גָר מוֹאָ֜ב מִפְּנֵ֥י הָעָ֛ם מְאֹ֖ד כִּ֣י רַב־ה֑וּא וַיָּ֣קָץ מוֹאָ֔ב מִפְּנֵ֖י בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מוֹאָ֜ב אֶל־זִקְנֵ֣י מִדְיָ֗ן עַתָּ֞ה יְלַחֲכ֤וּ הַקָּהָל֙ אֶת־כָּל־סְבִ֣יבֹתֵ֔ינוּ כִּלְחֹ֣ךְ הַשּׁ֔וֹר אֵ֖ת יֶ֣רֶק הַשָּׂדֶ֑ה וּבָלָ֧ק בֶּן־צִפּ֛וֹר מֶ֥לֶךְ לְמוֹאָ֖ב בָּעֵ֥ת הַהִֽוא׃
Moab was alarmed because that people was so numerous. Moab dreaded the Israelites, and Moab said to the elders of Midian, “Now this horde will lick clean everything that is around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” (22:3-4)
This posture of fear and ignorance sounds disturbingly familiar today, so strikingly similar to the latest American policies ~ travel bans on Muslims, dramatic reductions in refugee resettlement, treatment of undocumented students, and marginalization and abuse of migrant farmworkers. The country we celebrate this week for her ideals has begun to turn in fear from the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” whom we once welcomed, and, before that, whom we once were. Our government seeks to silence Lady Liberty, Mother of Exiles, who calls to other nations to send “[t]he wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”* Refugees, our world’s modern-day “Israelites,” fleeing oppression and yearning to breathe free, are now being restricted from entering the United States. Despite the fact that we have far more information about refugees vetted to be resettled in America than the Moabites had about the Israelites, our government leads us in actions that grow like a cancer from the same unfounded fears. We have resources to share and ways in which to ensure abundance, just as they have gifts to share, and yet we are practicing the same narrow-minded ignorance as Balak and the Moabites display in this week’s Torah portion.
In our story of the fearful Moabites, Balak “hires” a sorcerer, Bil’am, to curse the Israelites. However, there is a difference between Bil’am and the modern day “sorcerers” who are being employed to do the bidding of a xenophobic demagogue. Bil’am was clear that he was only able to say the words that the Divine placed into his mouth ~ words of blessing rather than words of curse. Balak offered to pay Bil’am enormous amounts of gold and silver; he tried approaching the matter from various angles; he tried different strategies. And when he didn’t like it that things weren’t going his way, Balak yelled at Bil’am, “tweeting” bullying statements …
It did not end well for Balak and the Moabites, but our American story is still unfolding and our ability to live into our American ideals is not in the hands of a king or a sorcerer. Our potential for compassion, kindness, generosity, and welcome is resident within us and is our heritage as Americans. Our ability to channel blessing from the Sacred Source is far stronger than the fear of those who come to curse. On this 4th of July, may we celebrate the America we aspire to be so that tomorrow and for as long as it takes, we actualize the blessings of liberty and justice for all.
*Words from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty
Part Time: 15 to 20 Hours per week
About the job:
ALEPH offers and develops innovative programs that are spiritually rich, engaging, and grounded in the value of repairing the world. We seek an associate to support senior staff, faculty, and students in an administrative capacity as we grow our online learning platforms, promote our non-profit, plan in-person retreats around the country, convene board meetings, communicate with and thank our donors, monitor our website, and bring a professionalism to whatever tasks need to be done.
The position may allow for some telecommuting.
Ideal for someone living near our office who is seeking flexible part-time work.
Our small office is located in Mt. Airy within walking distance of Regional Rail, and serves our constituents worldwide.
We seek from you:
- Excellent communicator and good writer
- Tech Savvy – have used or can learn Moodle, CRM software, and other platforms
- Collegial, Flexible and Independent
- Enjoy mission-driven non-profit work
- Organized and able to prioritize, while attentive to details
- Scribing for board meetings
- Occasional short evening hours handled remotely to set up virtual classrooms
- Preference for long-term engagement
Email resumes to Jobs@aleph.org
by Rabbi David Zaslow
On Friday, December 30, 1994, I drove to Canterbury, a beautiful 48-acre Episcopal retreat center in Oviedo, Florida, to what promised to be a historic gathering between Jews and Christians led by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. It was just months before my rabbinic ordination, so I was especially eager to observe my mentor interacting with Christians in an intimate, weekend-long retreat. Reb Zalman was co-leading with Father Edward G. Zogby, who was vice president of Fordham University in New York City. The retreat was called “Dance around the Midnight Pole; Happy Birthday, Jesus”—a title typical of the wry humor and fearless innovation that Reb Zalman always brought to his work.
On the Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran calendars, January 1 became a special holiday called the Feast of the Circumcision. Count eight days from December 25, the day Jesus’s birthday is celebrated, and you arrive at January 1, the date Christian tradition assigns to Jesus’s ritual circumcision (brit milah). The day we celebrate the secular New Year is actually a commemoration for Christians of Jesus’s first religious ritual as a Jew. Reb Zalman had proposed this Sabbath retreat many months before, planning to use the sacred technology of the Passover seder to enhance the celebration of the New Year at midnight on Saturday. He believed a commemoration of Jesus’s brit milah on New Year’s Eve would offset the secular tradition of a party based on merriment and drinking.
The plan was that on Saturday afternoon the Jews would teach the Christians the structure of the Passover seder: the four questions, the telling of the Exodus story, four glasses of wine, a festive meal, and lots of singing. In this retreat, though, the story told would be about the birth of Jesus, and how the Gospels helped change the world. The four questions would relate to Jesus’s life, and the four cups of wine and festive meal would be integrated into a formal Catholic Mass commemorating the body, heart, mind, and the spirit of Jesus indwelling in every Christian. The Mass itself would begin at midnight, followed by an all-night study, prayer, and meditation vigil in the manner of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The vigil would culminate with a traditional Jewish morning worship service at sunrise led by Reb Zalman.
There were approximately two hundred participants—Jews, Catholics, Episcopalians, and Methodists. After welcoming the Sabbath with traditional blessings over the candles, wine, and bread, Friday evening was spent chanting and singing songs from the Psalms in Hebrew, Latin, and English led by Reb Zalman and Father Zogby. It was magnificent. But after a long day of traveling we retired early knowing that the next day would be mysterious, long, and filled with surprises. We would not be disappointed.
After a morning service of Jewish prayers and Catholic chants, Reb Zalman read from the Torah portion that describes Moses’s intimate encounter with God at the burning bush. This was followed by deep teachings from Reb Zalman and Father Zogby on the Jewishness of Jesus and the birth of Christianity. We were then asked to take some time alone to contemplate how we might overlay the template of the Passover seder onto the story of Jesus’s birth in a way that was authentic and respectful of the key differences in each of our religions. We all sensed the historic nature of the weekend. This was clearly not just a meeting with brothers and sisters of another faith, but an unexpected encounter between ourselves and God.
When we gathered again in the afternoon it was time for the Jews to teach the Christians about the structure of the seder and how we blend rituals and symbols into the telling of the Exodus story. Then the Christians would collaborate with us on how to incorporate the story of Jesus into their own Haggadah (a booklet that tells the story) that would be read that night as part of the Midnight Mass. Of course, the sacred task of creating an authentic Christian seder took many hours. We had a light dinner together and retired to our own rooms for rest, knowing that our Midnight Mass with seder would last until sunrise.
When we came together at 11:30 pm it was with a sense of anticipation and awe. We knew that in the 2,000-year history of the church and the synagogue, no rabbi or priest had dared to create this kind of ceremony. This was not a hybrid or fusion, but rather a “new thing” like the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah had spoken about, lending one religion’s template to the telling of another religion’s sacred story.
We started slowly, easing into the ritual with Hebrew songs from the Psalms, as we had the night before. At midnight Father Zogby, who by that time we were addressing affectionately as Father Ed, began leading the Mass. Our role as Jews was not to participate, but to be sacred witnesses to the ceremony of our Christian friends. At Reb Zalman’s request the Mass was chanted in Latin with line-by-line English translations.
Father Ed: In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The Mass continued with the doxology known as Gloria in excelsis Deo, a powerful ceremony of confession, and then we reached the canon.
Father Ed: Dominus vobiscum. May the Lord be with you.
Christians: Et cum spiritu tuo. And also with you.
Father Ed: Sursum corda. Lift up your hearts.
Christians: Habemus ad Dominum.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Father Ed: Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
Christians: Dignum et iustum est. It is right to give thanks and praise.
Then Father Ed fell silent. He had been leading the service in Latin from memory with no missal (prayer book) in his hands. The silence grew until everyone knew something was wrong; the priest didn’t know what came next. There was a kind of collective bewilderment as we waited for him to recover. It occurred to me since he was now an administrative priest at Fordham, he wasn’t leading Mass on a daily, or even a weekly, basis. This could be a long pause.
Suddenly another voice rang out, “Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum. May the peace of the Lord be always with you.” We all stared as Reb Zalman, sitting next to Father Zogby, smoothly supplied the next line. The Catholics chanted back, “Et cum spiritu tuo. And also with you.” It was as if the whole room let out a breath of relief, and then we all laughed at the wild wonder of this moment.
The evening continued with the reading of the new Haggadah the Christians had created to tell their story. It was glorious and unforgettable, but what stood out most in all our minds was the miraculous instant when the rabbi sang out during the Mass to help his friend, the priest.
Later that night, I leaned over to Reb Zalman and asked, “How did you know what to say?” He explained that decades earlier he’d memorized large portions of the Mass in Latin as a tribute to his deep respect for Catholicism beginning in the 1950s and his personal friendship with Thomas Merton, with whom he used to take summer retreats at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky in the 1960s. With a twinkle in his eye he leaned in and whispered, “Baruch Hashem! Blessed is God! It sure came in handy tonight!” I laughed, feeling grateful again to have this courageous, once-in-a-generation rabbi as my teacher. The weekend ended with a sunrise service in Hebrew, and as we left on January 1, we said goodbye to each other with “Shana tova, Happy New Year.”
From Reimagining Exodus: A Story of Freedom by Rabbi David Zaslow. Copyright © 2017 by David Zaslow. Used by permission of Paraclete PressA Lesson From the Garden
by David and Debra Zaslow
In the early spring of 2000 Rabbi Moredchai Twersky (Sh’lita), known as the Hornosteipler Rebbe, organized a Friday morning service in Boulder, Colorado at the Masonic Lodge. Reb Zalman, zt’l, invited me to tag along as his davvenen companion. During the early part of the service one of Rabbi Twersky’s students led the prayers as Reb Zalman and Rabbi Twersky stood next to each other off to the side. They peered intently out the window, pointing and chatting quietly back and forth as the whirring of a hedge trimmer could be heard outside.
Reb Zalman returned to his seat next to me a few minutes later and whispered, “Nu Duved leiben, so do you want to know what we were talking about?”
Naturally I said, “Of course!”
Reb Zalman said, “Rabbi Twersky was pointing to the gardener outside who was trimming the hedges. He turned to me and said ‘See, Zalman, when you trim too much the hedges don’t look so good.’”
I nodded, intrigued, as Zalman leaned in closer and continued.
“So, I pointed to the untrimmed hedges and said, ‘See Mordechai, when you never trim the hedges the plant gets all choked up in the overgrowth and can’t breathe.’
You know what I’m saying, Duved?”
All I could do was whisper, “Wow!”
Rabbi Twersky glanced over at us as Reb Zalman told me the story. He smiled at me from across the room, winked, and shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Reb Zalman’s got a point!”
I’ll never forget the lesson I learned that morning from my rebbe, the gardener, Rabbi Twersky, and from the hedges themselves. If we trim too much from the shrub of Judaism loses its essence, but left untrimmed it chokes on the overgrowth. Our mindful pruning of ritual practices and prayers keeps our tradition healthy and alive, like a treasured and well cared-for plant. My colleague, Rabbi Simcha Daniel Burstyn, called this “a lesson from the garden.”
Mashivah ha-Ruach u-Moridah ha-Geshem: R. Bonna Devora Haberman and her contribution to and vision for the AOP Beloved Land: Israel and Palestine Through the Kaleidoscope Program
לזכר רבינו ומורתינו בנה דבורה בת שולמית ויעקב הכהן הברמן ז”ל
משיבה הרוח ומורידה הגשם
She who causes inspiration to flow, who brings spirit into—and draws it from — the deepest reaches of earth’s body
Our great friendships mark us. And all the more so when that friend is a rav-haver, at once a blazingly original teacher and a soul-friend, a comrade on the path (also thirsty for God) and a co-worker in the garden of Torah. This is a reflection on R. Bonna Devora Haberman z”l, one of the progenitors of the AOP Beloved Land: Israel and Palestine Through the Kaleidoscope and a teacher to so many of us.
In memory of her vision, passion, and deep love for Israel and this program, we are honored to create a fund in her name that will support the continued development of Beloved Land: Israel and Palestine Through the Kaleidoscope (Bonna Haberman Memorial Campaign Fund). This fund will ensure this program continues to blossom and grow as a way of disseminating Bonna’s vision and deep Torah.
We are proud to announce that we will also be crafting an evening of learning and action (yom iyyun uma’aseh) in memory of Bonna, as part of the ALEPH Ba’Aretz Residential Program in Summer 2018. And participating students will be reading from Bonna’s two books in the spring semester of the telecourse, both ReReading Israel: The Spirit of the Matter and Israeli Feminism Liberating Judaism: Blood and Ink. Join us on the Journey!!
כל התחלות קשות: IT AIN’T EASY TO BEGIN. Four years ago, the Vaad in active collaboration with the Student Board crafted a theme-based Smicha Week (SW) program devoted to the study of Israel: from the history of Zionism and classical ahavat tziyyon to Israeli music; from questions of a two-state solution to the raging politics of BDS. We did so in part because we felt we had neglected a key aspect of our Jewish and Rabbinic education: Israel and Palestine in their historical and contemporary dimensions. The SW program was a worthy start, but only that—a forshpeiz or mezze. As Franz Rosenzweig said on the eve of launching the Lehrhaus in 1920: Zeit ist. It was time for us in ALEPH to go deeper!
Even as the SW Israel sub-committee began its vital work, another sub-committee, composed of R. Ruth Gan Kagan, R. Marcia Prager and yours truly began brainstorming about a residence program in Israel. As that spring and summer unfolded, the vision was catalyzed as my dear friend Bonna Devora Haberman and I joined forces to envision an ALEPH Residential Program in Israel, a beit midrash u-ma’aseh, that would draw on the 4 worlds vision of Renewal. We would dig deep into the Sources and engage burning issues emerging from the Hour and from the Place. We were immersed in that holy work till Bonna’s death, tragically and way too soon at age 55, from ovarian cancer, in June 2015.
THE VISION: Meeting in person and on Skype, Bonna and I envisioned a pilot year program that would create the first steps and infrastructure for a regularly occurring בית מדרש-ומעשה (Bonna’s name and concept), a home for engaged psycho-spiritual inquiry and integrative seeking and living. It was to be a place where the Shekhinah unfolds in the-between: between teachers and students, between all learners, between text and reader, between self and Other, and between the kavvanah and its realization. By being organically rooted in Israel and in Renewal, our learning would address (be it directly or more subtly, בעקיפין, through the backdoor to the heart):
- the place of Place—of Israel and Homecoming, viz., the Zionist experiment; cultural diversity, symbiosis and culture clash; and the place of Land. How, we asked, might we learn with the Land, rather than merely seek to dominate it, in the one spot on earth that has a Jewish majority society? How might we imaginatively “open up” texts with Israel in mind, using it as an interpretive lens?
- The imprint of the Jewish calendar/sacred history on communal life and on the body, learning al besarenu: experiencing distinct Shabbatot, and (given the season) the arc of the Three Weeks culminating in Tisha B’av (bein ha-metzarim) before reaching the consolation of Shabbat Nahamu and Tu B’av, the holiday of love. Most of our AOP students have not had significant experience with this temporal flow in a large-scale, socially legitimated (and publicly shared) setting. We sought not only to enter the printed word but the “text” that is the world: i.e., to experience mimetic learning, where the street/the home/אוירא דארעא/kitchen Judaism becomes the text.
- Holding the clash of rooted Visions, Jewish and Palestinian. We saw ourselves as insider-outsiders, ready to experience, with open eyes and open hearts, the moral dilemmas of the Palestinian-Israeli (Jewish) conflict, the underlying fears and hopes that galvanize (and freeze) both societies. That our homecoming has coincided with the displacement of another indigenous people—the Palestinians — is one of the core Jewish ethical dilemmas of our time. Our love for Israel unites many of us; our complex feelings about its politics also divides (Sometimes each of us, individually, is that familial “us”—each of us olam qatan, a microcosm of the larger divisions.) How, we asked, can we draw on our commitment to Deep Ecumenism, to building bridges between Jews, and between Palestinians and Jews, as we traverse this holy, freighted terrain? How can we dig deeper into Palestinian stories? How can we continue to love those Jews we don’t much “like”? How can we stretch our kelim, expand our capacities to hold this complexity? Our learning would be both anchored in Jerusalem, but extend outside that “bubble,” into the periphery and in the Palestinian territories, in Tel Aviv and at archeological tells. Our learning would be intellectually rigorous, but would also incorporate chant and prayer, silence and hashpa’ah, movement and street theatre: we would open our hearts to receive, begin to integrate, and stretch forth our hands to humbly “offer” and give something back! (I remember a teaching-sharing-theatre experiment that Bonna sketched to be “offered up” to residents in Sderot. And I remember the work she did with a group of high-tech innovators who got together once a week for a year to imagine another world. The premise: The Mashiach has come. Now what?…Bonna, yehi zikhra barukh, could do this daring work, she could pull this off!!) And there was the audacious, raw work of the grass-roots Palestinian-Israeli YTheater, more of which, below. In April 2014, in the full flush of her powers, Bonna received her devastating diagnosis of stage 4 ovarian cancer. There were months when it seems that Bonna would overcome the severe decree, running for several miles and doing daily yoga, continuing to write and raising up students, but by May 2015, the prognosis was becoming ineluctable and bleak. As the strength began to drain from her body, and the tumor swelled, we continued to meet face-to-face in her Jerusalem home, in short spurts. I was committed to downloading elements of her teaching, pledging that I, along with an intimate circle of friends, would each nurture and realize a piece of her multi-tiered, radical vision of Possibility, ha-efshar.
I must confess that Bonna’s death knocked the wind out of my sails. I have never mourned for a non-family member with the intensity that I (and so many others) grieved her passing. It was a body blow, and a hit to the neshamah. We say that certain people are irreplaceable, but in Bonna’s case it was profoundly, achingly true. Who else combined so many worlds? It was only half a year later when Caryn Aviv stepped forward, with her vision of a 4 part-Israel-Palestine program that I was able to see a powerful, worthy way forward. Of that catalytic partnership with Caryn, I will speak another time. Suffice it to say, elements of Bonna’s vision and our work together remain imprinted in the AOP Israel-Palestine Beloved Land program: to give but two examples, in Minna Bromberg’s Torah of the Everyday, תורת היום-יום, and in our commitment to hold complexity and, despite it all, to nurture hope and joy.
THE VISIONARY: So, who is (ok, was) Bonna? A Canadian born yekirat yerushalayim (noble citizen of Jerusalem), an intellectual seeker with a huge heart, a ritual artist, a feminist-visionary Torah teacher, organic gardener and yogini, co-founder of Women of the Wall, a loving mother, wife and mentor to a generation of seekers: unflinchingly honest, with unflagging courage, creative resilience and never-say-die energy. She received her Ph.D. in ethics and education from the University of London, studied Theater of the Oppressed with its founder Augusto Boal, and taught Judaic and Gender Studies at the Hebrew University, at the Harvard University Divinity School and at Brandeis University where she founded and directed the “Mistabra Institute for Jewish Textual Activism” – addressing difficult texts and social problems using performance arts. In addition to her leadership in Women of the Wall, she was an advocate of Religious Pluralism, for nurturing and trumpeting Women’s Voices. And oh yes, she was a mother of 5 exceptional children, and life-partner/spouse to Shmuel. Two quick stories: Over twenty years ago, just after she had given birth to her youngest child (Adir Chai), Bonna ran into Ruth Gan Kagan and Melila. Bonna spoke about her natural childbirth, which, of course (it being Bonna), was devoid of anesthetics and pain relievers. Was it painful? Melila asked. “Painful?” Bonna paused, thinking: “I wouldn’t say painful, I’d say intense.” (If you know Bonna, that story is funny!)
The second story, which I heard from Nigel Savage captures Bonna’s ability to uphold the Rabbinic dictum “ha-lomed mi-kol adam,” that we should learn from all people (and by extension, all creatures). After her third child was born, Nigel asked her, ” Have you and Shmuel decided what to call him?” Bonna answered, “no, the baby will tell us.” Several days later at the brit milah, Bonna announced, “his name is Bezalel – first, because his skin is peeling like a batzal (like an onion); and second, because he is (like the Biblical Bezalel) a builder.” Today, more than twenty-five years on, he’s a budding biomechanical engineer. It turns out that Bonna was indeed able to listen to her baby boy as he told her his name – as she listened, intently, to all her kids, and learned from them, even as she taught them and everyone she encountered simply by her presence.
For all her intellectual rigor, Bonna was a healer: able to bridge —often ‘al besarah-—worlds of Arabs and Jews, with honesty, unblinking clarity, and the open heart. She was a master-teacher, a visionary with feet that danced on the earth, a scholar who innovated both in the academy and beyond its walls, a ritual artist who brought down the shefa (the divine flow) and opened apertures, a bridge-builder (gosheret gesharim) and as noted, co-founder (with Kader Herini) of the community based YTheater Project that brought together Palestinians and Israelis, who did not agree on much, to create art that spanned worlds and three languages: Arabic, Hebrew, and English. Bonna did not whitewash. Bonna did not flinch from being who she was. She did not crumple. She was ohevet yisrael and a Zionist (one who loved the people and land of Israel). She offered (and received) criticism in the most loving way I have witnessed, as an act of love.
She stretched across difference to behold the divinity of the Other. Life, for her, was a series of birthing’s….and she too, was an em kol hai, a mother who gave us all greater Life. To see her was to see the Face of the Shekhinah.
While Bonna had a home in the world of Jewish Renewal, her lineage opened wide, receiving Torah from Nechama Leibowitz and feminist path blazer Helene Cixous, from Rabbis Louis Jacobs and David Hartman, from Reb Shlomo and Reb Zalman. (Indeed, on the day before Reb Zalman died he called Bonna, repeating his delight in giving her smicha.)
Bonna, of course was supremely embodied: an athlete, strong and slim, with no excess weight: while teaching at the ALEPH Smicha Week in New Hampshire nearly four years ago, she would run in the morning and swim across the lake in the afternoon. When other runners and trekkers would toss in the towel, not Bonna. Hence her family nickname: “never-say-die-Haberman.”
The shock then of her passing was devastating. If we are all unique beings, Bonna was the rare irreplaceable voice. I still feel her presence as I walk the streets of the Moshava Germanit in Jerusalem; I still sense her inspiration as I encounter the pomegranate trees budding in her and Shmuel’s back yard, or hear her son Adir Chai give over his Torah. (The rimmon–the pomegranate– doesn’t fall too far from the tree.) Bonna was a spiritual provocateur, who prodded us to our best, largest selves; who challenged regnant orthodoxies with verve but also love. She was a close reader of difficult texts, one who birthed new-old Torah, millin hadtin atiqin. Even in her dying days, she had moments of sheer radiance and pellucidity, her thin frame growing gaunt as a finger, but illumined from the inside out. The wheels were always turning. It is a great if bittersweet joy, to live with her inspiration, and to bring some of that vision into Beloved Land: Israel and Palestine Through the Kaleidoscope.
For those who wish to experience a late teaching of Bonna’s, read A Personal Reflection on a Difficult Journey to Liberation on Bonna’s blog. She ends “I send you blessings for the liberation you seek in this world.” And she has….
Reb Elliot Ginsburg
Please join us in honoring Rabbi Dr. Bonna Devora Haberman’s life, work and spirit with your donation today. Your support of Beloved Land: Israel and Palestine Through the Kaleidoscope ensures Jewish Renewal leaders are empowered to better serve their communities through the immersive study of texts and cultures she so deeply loved, and infused with a passion of social betterment.
Wed. June 21, 2017
ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal is pleased to welcome Rabbinic Pastor David Daniel Klipper as the incoming Chair of the ALEPH Board, joined by Linda Jo Doctor as Vice-Chair.
Said Rabbinic Pastor David Daniel Klipper, “I take up leadership of the ALEPH Board with humility and gratitude. I am excited to work with the ALEPH board to advance the legacy of Reb Zalman by providing support for existing programs, creating new opportunities for current and emerging spiritual leaders, and nurturing the growth of Jewish communities that showcase transformational Judaism. We have a brilliant and talented team of spiritual teachers and staff to accomplish these tasks, and we approach these challenges with energy and enthusiasm.”
The ALEPH Board expresses its deep gratitude and appreciation to outgoing ALEPH Board Co-chairs Rabbis Rachel Barenblat and David Evan Markus for their leadership and creative energy that they brought to ALEPH. Incoming Board Chair Klipper states, “Thanks to their dedicated efforts, as well as the work of Executive Director Shoshanna Schechter-Shaffin, ALEPH today is poised for continuing growth in its mission of creating a vibrant Jewish spirituality that is inclusive and offers a place for many different conceptions of the Holy.” “The outgoing ALEPH Board Co-chairs were nothing short of tireless,” said incoming Vice-Chair Linda Jo Doctor. “It is an honor to be handed the baton of leadership and follow them in this role.”
Rabbinic Pastor David Daniel Klipper, a graduate of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, received his MBA in 1979. After a 24-year career in investment banking, he retired and became a chaplain, Jewish spiritual director, Rabbinic Pastor and a Clinical Pastoral Educator (someone who is certified to train chaplains). He was ordained from the ALEPH Ordination Program in 2007. He joined the ALEPH Board in January, 2015, and subsequently served as Treasurer and on the Board’s Executive Committee.
Linda Jo Doctor brings extensive leadership experience working in nonprofit and government sectors, currently serving as a program officer at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. In this role she has supported the development and growth of numerous non-profit organizations and is a founding member of a funders collaborative. She previously served as Chair of the ALEPH Board and rejoined the board in December of 2015. She is a long-time student of Rabbi David Cooper and Shoshana Cooper and is a member of Pardes Hannah Minyan.
Upcoming ALEPH projects programs include this summer’s July Ruach Ha’Aretz retreat and the ALEPH Ordination Program Intensive Study Retreat, both with record enrollment. Look for the forth coming announcement of the biennial ALEPH Kallah 2018, which will bring 600 attendees to a week of Jewish learning, art, music, spirituality, davvenen’ and creativity, which will be held in early July 2018.
The traditional Torah-reading and prophetic passage for Shabbat Shelach L’Cha do three things in their storytelling that today we would not think conventional or “proper”:
- They use puns and word-plays to reach beyond conventional language, to make a deep religious and spiritual point;
- They treat sexuality not with prudish reserve but with relish, as one path toward a life of love and Spirit;
- They treat living not according to convention but on the edge, at the fringes of our selves and of society, as a sacred path to God.
Try that in most of our synagogues, churches, mosques, temples!
In this Torah portion, Moses sent twelve scouts across the Jordan to tour the land (in Hebrew, “latur“). Ten of them came back scared by the “giants,” seemingly impregnable, they found there. They felt that compared to these giants, they themselves were mere “grasshoppers.”
Only two of the scouts found the land inviting. One of them was the Joshua who shows up in the prophetic passage that accompanies this Torah portion. From the panic of the other ten came thirty-eight more years of wandering in the Wilderness (Num. 14).
The bilingual Hebrew-English pun of “latur” and “tour” helps us to see “latur” as indeed a touristy kind of visit, in which the “tourists” merely glance here and there, never deeply gazing, never getting intimately connected with the Land they glance at. (To this very day, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism uses as its symbol the picture of two ancient Israelites, the scouts Moses sent into the Land, carrying between them a gigantic cluster of grapes, just as the Torah describes them.)
“Latur” is also used in the final verses of the same weekly Torah portion (Num. 15: 37-41) about the tzitzit (fringes) we are to tie on the edges of our four-cornered clothing. There too the verb is used about the danger of just glancing around hither and thither at the world, not really deeply seeing — and thereby whoring (zonim) ourselves after trifles that we erect into false gods.
Gazing at these fringes teaches us to look deeply into the world, not casually like tourists.
How? Because the fringes are threads of connection between each of us and the rest of the world. Our bodies, our hearts, our minds, our souls do not end at a clear, sharp boundary between our own self and the others. It is not good fences make good neighbors, but good fringes make good neighbors.
As we gaze at the fringes of connection, we remember that if we look deeply at these connections, not merely glancing at others as a tourist might, we see the ONE Who connects us all.
Perhaps the rabbis who chose how to divide up the weekly Torah portions chose to connect this passage about tzitzitwith the one about the scouts precisely because they wanted to connect and highlight “latur.”
The rabbis also assigned as the Haftarah (Prophetic passage) to be read with this Torah portion a report on the scouts whom Joshua sent into the Land thirty-eight years later, as the marching Israelites approach the city of Jericho – a high-walled Canaanite redoubt. Joshua sent only two scouts, as if he had learned the lesson long ago: two is good, twelve is dangerous.
These scouts find themselves in the house of a Jerichoan woman named Rachav.
Her name means “broad.” Think of Psalm 118: 5:
Min hameytzar karati Yah; Anani bamerchav Yah.
“From the narrow place I called to God;“God answered me with broad open spaces [merchav, from the same root as rachav].”
And note that “maytzar, narrow” echoes Mitzrayyim, that Tight and Narrow Place of slavery, that Egypt from which the Israelites are still escaping. It is a broad and open woman who opens the Land to them.
Rachav the Broad is specifically called a whore (zonah). She lives really on the edge – for she entertains her guests in the very edge of the wall that itself is on the edge of Jericho.
But there is something different about this zonah. She turns upside down what it means to be a zonah — deeply different from the “zonim” that the Torah portion warns us against, when it tells us to focus on the fringes of the edges of our garments.
For this whore has fallen in love with YHWH, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of all life (for this Name of God can only be “pronounced” by breathing), the God Who has led the Godwrestlers out of slavery.
Rachav knows the Godwrestlers will win because the God Who is the Breath of life has become not a warm and comfortable breeze but the Hurricane of Change. She turns upside down what it means to be a zonah because she knows that God has already turned all history upside down, to free these miserable slaves from the Imperial Pharaoh.
So the Broad who out of all Jericho is by far the most broad-minded, the most wide-open to new possibility, welcomes the two Israelite scouts. She helps the scouts scope out the city.
Now this band of runaway slaves is bringing their revolutionary vision into Canaan, facing a city famous for its walls. She expects the world to be turned upside down – or right-side up – again.
Rachav the Broad asks the scouts she has befriended: “Hishavu-na b’ YHWH — Make an oath, please, by YHWH, that just as I have shown lovingkindness to you, you will show lovingkindness to my family when you take the city.”
But the words for “swear an oath” [hishavu] and “seven” [sheva] make a pun, a word-play. So “Hishavu-na — make an oath, please!” could also mean, “Make a seven, please!”
Make a “seven” for YHWH” — Make the seven creative days for God, the seven days that culminate in Shabbat, the day of open possibility, the day when we do not Make or Do but simply Be. This “seven” of restful self-reflection is what brings down the walls that make our lives narrow, the walls that block our way to a future full of open possibility.
No wonder that when the Godwrestlers did approach the walls of Jericho, they took the advice Rachav had given the scouting party. They made a “seven” for God. They danced seven dances around the walls of Jericho.
No wonder the walls fell.
Rachav the Broad, the whore, knew this wisdom because she lived on the edge like the tzitzit, the fringes on our clothing.
And not only geographically, on the edge of the edge – the edge of the city wall. She was a whore, a “broad.” Broad-minded. Open to visitors, open to the people that itself lives always on the edge.
The Bible is not affirming sexual promiscuity or prostitution. But it is affirming that Rachav has learned how to turn the openness of whoring into a far deeper kind of spiritual openness. She has learned to open herself when it comes to ultimate issues – to open her life to the God of open possibility. She teaches us how to see the deepest truth embodied in the fringey tzitzit, instead of – as the Torah portion warns us — touring and whoring after the false gods of walls, giants, towers, arrogance.
She stands with the Bible’s group of “outsider,” “transgressive” women who have a healing impact on the future (Lot’s daughter, Tamar, Ruth. . .). They challenge the men who dominate most of biblical tradition, which is strongly committed to “insiders” and boundaries. These women were not only transgressive in their own time; their stories continue to be subversive across time, into our own time.
Can we lift up these women in new ways? What would it mean to have a Judaism, a Christianity, an Islam in which they were really models?
The scouts brought tragedy upon the people by looking — like tourists — merely at the surface of the land and at the other people who lived there. Can we look deeply at the land and earth and people, instead of seeing merely surfaces? Can we look deeply enough to heal the earth and air and water, instead of poisoning them to feed our giant appetites for wealth and power? Can we look to see that our neighbors are neither giants nor grasshoppers, but breathing life-forms like ourselves, woven into the Breath of life?
And can we look at our selves and ask – are we still committed to that God of fringiness, the God Who lives on edges, or have we built towers and walls around ourselves, do we preen ourselves on being giants in the land, impregnable – while God is getting ready to turn the world upside down on behalf of runaway slaves?
Puns and word-plays are themselves a kind of fringiness, breaking down the conventional walls and barriers we place between our words, making instead illicit connections that are unexpected, funny. So from the word-plays of this weekly portion can we also learn to pause and laugh at the rigidity we often impose on ourselves in the very name of religion?
We plan, God puns. Not only with words: with life.
Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow is founder of The Shalom Center, a nonprofit organization which seeks to be a prophetic voice in Jewish, American, and multireligious life. Creator of the original Freedom Seder, he is author of several books, among them Freedom Journeys, co-authored with Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman.
Reprinted with permission: https://theshalomcenter.org/node/304
Rabbi Mike Moskowitz
I was approached last week, after a speech I delivered on transgender inclusivity, and was asked if I had transitioned from female to male.
I felt confusion, discomfort, and kinship with all of those who suffer the humiliating injustice that comes from the socially constructed entitlements of others. I wanted to stand with them in solidarity, all children of one God, and somehow help absorb this blow to human dignity.
My initial thought was to respond “Does it make a difference?” instinctively saying to myself, “All lives matter!”. Instead, I replied “No,” because it does make a difference.
The voice of an ally isn’t the same voice as the one who’s been oppressed, marginalized, and struggled against being silenced.
My name is Mike. I’m white, straight, and a cis-gender male. As an educator and rabbi, I have transgender students and congregants. My father is a doctor, as was my grandfather, and I grew up in the suburbs. When I get pulled over by the police, after they see my license, registration, and clergy parking, they often ask for a blessing — and never for me to step out of the vehicle. I also work full time in social justice and, yeah, sometimes it’s awkward, because the systems of oppression that are in place, that we are fighting against, are designed to benefit me, and they have.
I don’t need access to more space and to co-occupy one of vulnerability, especially with preserved asymmetry, can only be offered as an invitation that still requires consent from the one exposed.
I don’t feel rejected when I volunteer to spend May Day swiping a MetroCard for those who find it hard to pay the fare to get to work and am told that I’m not welcomed because I’m white.
However, when people have the resources, power and agency but choose not to extend, expand, and use those spaces for good, I’m offended on a soul level. I perceive it as a perversion of the Divine truth, that God is everywhere all of the time and that everything belongs to God.
God made space for us, and it is God who asks that we echo that holiness by making space for others.
When we see someone or a group of people who are weakened, exposed, and forced into inhumane postures of fragility, this physical weakness gives amplified expression to the screams of their soul — a soul yearning to be held with a respectful acknowledgment of its divine origin. And if we don’t protest this sacrilegious reality, what does our silence reveal about the condition of our soul?
In the Jewish tradition, we offer condolences by invoking a specific aspect of God: המקום ינחם אתכם — Hamakom yenachem etchem (“May the Omnipresent comfort you”).
Of the many different names for God, we use Hamakom (“the Omnipresent”) here as a comforting reminder that no space or circumstance is free from the Divine Presence. By preventing sanctuary, equality, or inclusion, we contribute to the denial of that comfort to humanity.
Spiritual practice demands social consciousness. If a person’s physical, emotional, or mental health is harmed through the denial of human rights or other oppression, then the soul is also limited in its expression. We thereby exclude God from God’s entitled space and ally-ship.
If we want God as our mother, father, parent, then we need to see each other as brothers, sisters, siblings. When we get hurt, we scream out. Not because it helps alleviate the pain, but because if we don’t scream when we are privileged to, then it doesn’t really hurt.
When people are suffering, it is the silence that is awkward.
Rabbi Mike Moskowitz is the senior educator at Uri L’Tzedek, an orthodox social justice organization. He is a vocal advocate for inclusivity for the LGBTQ community, and writes and speaks frequently at the intersection of transgender and Jewish thought.
Rabbi Lori Shaller
I’ve been privileged to have visited and prayed at some of the most amazing holy places in the world. From 17th century churches in England to the Great Mosques in Cordoboa and X’ian; Poseiden’s Temple and Delphi in Greece to the Western Wall of the Temple, Church of the Holy Sepulcher and al-Aksa in Jerusalem; and to the hanging monastery and Buddha grottoes of Datong and Yungang, to name just some. What was true for me in every one of these places was that the ground throbbed, the air was ALIVE. I felt hyper-receptive to a huge variety of stimuli. It was as if all the souls who had prayed in those places over so many generations, all the souls of those who had built those places and in some cases, of those who had been buried in those places, were inhabiting those places with me while I was there. As we read in Torah and Woody Guthrie’s lyrics, in those places I felt I should take off my shoes, for the places I was standing were holy ground. I felt absolutely connected across time, cultural experience and religion to the spirits and The One Spirit in those places. And I often feel this way even in the not so ancient or glorious, the permanent and even temporary sacred spaces in the communities in which I daven or lead davenen here in the US.
In Exodus 25:8 God instructs Israel to build a Temple so that God might dwell among the people. Everyone was expected to participate in the building of the sanctuary. The holiness that would be manifested in space, time and the person would come about only through cooperation between God and every human involved. This suggests a somewhat radical idea: that there is a fundamental democracy in the building and inhabiting of holy space, which is not true, as we all know, in every aspect of Biblical Jewish life. But it’s there with regard to the building of the sanctuary.
Rabbi Perry Netter points out that there are fifteen chapters of the Hebrew Bible devoted to building and furnishing the Temple. He compares this to one chapter on creation and two chapters on the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. The Bible’s authors were meticulous in recording every detail of how the structure, altar and curtains, tables and lamps, and even the rings that would connect the fabrics to the structure, were to be made. Great craftspeople were called in to do the work, people of whom it was said they had “knowing” and “faithful” hands. These too were men and women, all contributing of their skill and knowledge. But it’s the individuals and the community they create and that community’s activity in relationship to Spirit that transform place into sanctuary or sacred space.
In Parshat Naso, we get in similar detail the names of the clans responsible for carrying the tabernacle from place to place and how the parts were to be carried. The Hasidic master, Noam Elimelkh taught a meaning for Numbers 7:9: “To the children of Kohat, he did not give (wagons); theirs is a holy burden, they carry it on their shoulders.” He takes us back to King Saul, who was a righteous leader. Once when God directed Saul to slaughter all the animals of a particular enemy, Saul wouldn’t do it. Noam Elimelkh explains that Saul was so righteous, he wouldn’t even sin for God! He was not successful as a leader, and Noam Elimelkh suggests this is because he was too perfect. Saul couldn’t fundamentally understand the people he ruled, he couldn’t understand their character flaws, because he didn’t have any. Noam Elimelkh teaches us that this verse about the clan of Kohat who were to carry the sacred vessels on their shoulders, (unlike the clans that got carts to carry the stuff for which they were responsible), exemplify the really good leaders, the tzadikim, who bring down the sacred energy, what’s called the Ruach h’Kodesh or sacred Spirit, or the Shefa, the Divine flow, and directs it toward the places that need it in his or her subjects. He turns hard physical work into an opportunity for connecting to spirit and helping others to make that connection.
I think that’s what happens when communities get together to build their sanctuaries. When people get together to work on their sanctuaries, they can bring down blessing. The community built together is what makes for sacred space. This is the feeling that transcends time. This is what we feel when we stand on holy ground.
I used to believe God wanted to free the Israelites from enslavement. I realize now that God is hoping for something much deeper. God’s goal is to take an oppressed people and heal them. God envisions a world where victim and perpetrator are no longer enemies and, rather than cycle between the two, we can put down our swords and welcome in the other. Sefer Bamidbar is a guide for us. It is a tool to teach us what is required to not only free ourselves but to heal ourselves. And it starts with speech. The root of the word midbar, is dalet bet resh: to speak.
In the beginning of this journey, the oppressed Israelites have no voice; the oppression was so great they were silenced. The Netivot Shalom, in his drash on Pesach, describes the Israelites as enslaved down to their essence. Their enslavement had taken over their minds. They had no individual autonomy. They were the fetus, in the womb of Mitzrayim, completely dependent on their mother and they were blind to their own oppression. The Slonimer goes on to teach that God had to come to B’nei Yisrael and helped them to groan. And it is the Peh-Sach, the speaking mouth, that becomes the path out of oppression. And here we are, arriving in Sefer Bamidbar, the book of speech.
Sefer Bamidbar starts off hopeful. Through the book of Exodus, God acts as the good parent. First God helps them to see their abuse and causes them to cry out. Through hearing them and saving them from their abuser, God lays the foundation for trust. Slowly God helps them to develop what is labeled by psychologists as object constancy. With the episode of the Golden Calf, God recognizes that the Israelites are experiencing an insecure attachment, as they quickly come to believe that Moses and God have abandoned them. According to Rashi, God provides them with a transitional object, like a baby blanket, in the form of the Mishkan, the tabernacle, that will allow them to feel God’s presence at all times. God hopes that this will allow them to heal. In Vayiqra God continues to strengthen them, teaching them the tools to develop God’s presence within. The holiness does not have to live “out there”; the holiness can reside within each one of them. God hopes this structure of intentional living will give them the tools to feel connected at all times, deepening their recognition of God’s presence in their lives and creating a sense of object permanence so that they will be able to function in the world without God’s constant presence. But it is not until Sefer Bamidbar that God encourages their autonomy.
This book begins with an individual accounting of the people. The Israelites can finally speak in words and can now develop their individual stories. They are no longer grouped into one category, now they can form personal identities. And although God follows all the steps of a good parent, the children are not ready. Their trauma is too great. Externally they have been freed, they stand in a place of privilege that they have never experienced. They can now identify the injustices in the world but they are still operating from their oppressed parts. The ability to see injustice is a gift of the privileged, that is reserved for the few, and one that the Israelites never experienced while living within the systemic oppression of Mitzrayim. But if the privileged are not healed from their trauma their actions can be dangerous. Ultimately physical freedom is only the first step, to truly heal one must go within. And this might be why Bamidbar also means, In the Wilderness. God recognizes that the people can only come to true freedom if they enter into the unknown, the wilderness of their beings, and find the parts of themselves that were hurt and heal them. God as parent can only do so much, they must now parent themselves, hold those hurt parts, listen to their stories and free them from the internal abuse that lives within.
And yet their trauma is so great they can not look within, they fear their depths. Like the victims of abuse they enter nostalgia, they wish for a return to an imagined past that was comfortable in its constancy, where all of their physical needs were met and they were not allowed to go within. This ability to go within is also born of privilege. The oppressed are struggling for their existence; they do not have the means to examine their inner lives.
Although God attempts to teach them a new way they are unable to do the work required and this is clearly seen in the story of the spies. The spies wear the lenses of enslavement. As they enter the land of milk and honey, all they can see is their own projected fear. They see themselves as grasshoppers in a land of giants. In this moment God recognizes that this people born of oppression, brought into a privileged state, will not be able to complete the biblical journey. When oppression lies deep in the belly, when we believe we are stronger but our unconscious still rules, we are not truly free. This is the greatest danger of all. When we have power born from an oppressive state, we act from fear, resulting in further alienation rather than connectedness or, in its worst form, oppression of others. God recognizes that the next part of the plan can not work unless we are free from our victim mentality. Thus, God decrees that this generation will not go into the Promised Land. This people, that can only look out of their fear stained lenses, and see the giants in the land of milk and honey–this people, that can not see their new reality, can not fulfill the biblical imperative of loving the stranger because they can not see themselves as anything but enslaved.
May we be blessed to wear the lenses of healing that allow us to look within and without so that the stranger is completely integrated into our being and the other is ourself.
Esther is a rabbinical student in the ALEPH Ordination Program who will receive smicha in January 2018. She is currently the Director of Family Engagement at Congregation Shaare Zedek in NY.