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Topic: Holidays

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Od Lo Avdah Tikvatenu, Our Hope is Not Yet Lost

Today is Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, the 74th anniversary of the birth of the state of Israel in 1948. Yesterday was Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Day of Remembrance, a day for grieving the loss of 24,000 fallen Israeli soldiers and 4,000 civilians killed in terrorist attacks over the years. In Palestinian society, Yom Ha’Atzmaut is known as the Nakba-Catastrophe, mourning the 1948 loss of Palestinians’ homeland and the displacement of a majority of the Palestinian people. For me, these days–back to back and inside-out–are the most powerful holy day(s) of the year. And especially in the diaspora, how do we relate to this land, this country, and this time of year? Really, how do we orient to all of this? And not just personally but organizationally – for Hazon & Pearlstone – how do we approach our relationship to Israel, and Palestine? This is just the beginning of a long journey, but I want to take this opportunity to share our orientation to these important questions. Our mission is to lead a transformative movement deeply weaving sustainability into the fabric of Jewish life. We connect people to the earth and to each other, catalyzing culture change and systemic change through […]

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Purim is True

Friends, What is Purim? And Have We All Gone Mad? Purim is everywhere. A masquerade. A feast. A time of drinking and debauchery. Why? The unbridled joy of early spring? Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die? G!d…not mentioned once. G!d’s deafening absence in our first story of Exile. How do we survive in the Diaspora? Well…no one is coming to rescue us. We must keep faith in the darkness. And accept that empire persists. We reckon again with old, old hatreds. Amalek attacks. Grave danger, violence, evil surrounds us. Will salvation come? Purim is everywhere.   Before starting to read the megillah (Book of Esther/Purim story) to the kids at dinner last night, I first read the Torah verses connected with Purim: “Amalek came and battled Israel…G!d maintains a war against Amalek, from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:8 and 17:16). Our son, Shama (12 years old), asked “Where is Amalek now?” Well, one particular dictator comes to mind, but it’s more complicated than that. Yes, Purim is real. In every generation there are those who rise up to destroy us. War rages in Ukraine; people need help. Our Hakhel Co-Directors, Rabbi Aharon Ariel Lavi and Michal […]

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We Are One: Tu B’Shvat and MLK, Sustainability & Justice

Friends, We find ourselves immersed in another dark pandemic winter, a reality we could not have fathomed two years ago. And as the pandemic drags on, our social fabric continues to fray, while the climate crisis continues unabated. Then, into this moment comes the Texas synagogue hostage incident, thankfully unfolding without any hostage injuries or deaths, yet still traumatic for all involved, and for Jewish communities – and our allies – everywhere. It is difficult to avoid feeling overwhelmed and exhausted amidst times like these. Last night, we held an online event with hundreds of people from across the country, entitled We Are One: An Environmental Justice Tu B’Shvat Seder, honoring Tu B’Shvat– the New Year for the Trees – and Martin Luther King Jr Day, our American prophet of racial justice, civil rights, and nonviolent civil disobedience. During our seder, Janna Siller, Adamah Farm Director & Advocacy Coordinator, spoke of Tu B’Shvat as a deep accounting of our relationship with the Trees and with the Earth. MLK Day presents a similar obligation, to undertake a deep accounting of our society.  Such an accounting is called cheshbon hanefesh in Hebrew, an accounting of the soul. Tu B’Shvat demands a new year’s accounting […]

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Hakhel Newsletter January 2022

Dear Hakhel Communities, This week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, is the scene of many incredible miracles that have captured the imagination of countless generations: the splitting of the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape Egypt; the manna that rained down from Heaven to provide them with sustenance in the desert, with a double portion on Friday in preparation for Shabbat; the water that emanated from the stone. Through all of these miracles, we feel the immense, special love and protection of G-d. In your lifetime, have you experienced any acts that seemed divine? What about your community, in what ways has it received love and protection that allowed it to grow and flourish? This Sunday, we celebrate Tu B’Shvat, the birthday of the trees. This is a wonderful holiday to celebrate with your community, as it comes with a unique Seder that is an interactive, sensory experience through the eating of specific fruits and nuts and the drinking of wine. It also carries with it powerful messages from Kabbalah and about our connection to and stewardship of the Earth. Regardless of how you choose to mark the day personally, we hope you will join Hazon in a special virtual […]

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Hakhel Newsletter September 2021

What’s Inside: Sharing Resources | In the Spotlight Shalom,  About 4 months ago Israel announced it had “overcame Covid”, opened everything and life returned to normal, to how it used to be before 2020.  A few other countries were about to initiate similar declarations until reality fought back. With rapidly growing numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths worldwide, it seems like we are doomed to relive 2020 again.  I feel like the optimistic announcement only made it worse. I mean, we sort of learned to live alongside Covid restrictions, and the hope that it’s now over made the backlash even more painful.  But then I thought about the Hebrew cycle. Every year anew, in the month of Elul, we hope and pray and congratulate each other for Shana Tova, hoping for a better year than this one. Not all years are necessarily better, some are worse. However, the mere idea that life is not an endless cycle that repeats itself, but rather that there is progress towards a better future, is profoundly an original Jewish (or actually Hebrew/Biblical) idea.  Along the way, there will be backlashes and pitfalls, but looking ahead and remaining hopeful is not good only for our […]

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Different Jewish narratives in relation to place

Wednesday, April 21, 2021 | 24th day of the omer – tiferet she’b’netzach   Dear All, Tomorrow is Earth Day, and there’s lots happening. I hope you will attend some of the many events that are taking place, including our second annual #SoundTheCall. And tune in this Friday for the first episode of a new 6-part series that we’ve produced with EarthX – Jewish Life & Planet Earth. I wrote two weeks ago about Earth Day as a “secular chag.” My point was that it makes sense for us to use ritual, and to leverage the calendar, to really think about how we live on this planet – and how we change how we live upon it. Last week at our staff meeting I took this in a different direction. There are essentially three different contemporary narratives for someone who (for instance) is Jewish and thinking about relationships to ha’aretz – to the earth. I want to sketch these out, for us all to think about. One is Israel – the land of Israel, and nowadays the state of Israel. It’s where we entered human history. Our synagogues face towards it. Three times a day, we point ourselves in its direction – […]

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The Economy, Krugman, Healthcare, Pesach – and Power, Ethics & Ecology in Late Jewish Antiquity

March 18, 2021 | 5 Nissan 5781    Dear All, The whole world we live in, right now, is “both/and” rather than “either/or.” Everything happens simultaneously. Everything and its opposite is true. Things overlap and repeat, fold in upon themselves. I feel this strongly in relation to the economy, as well as so much else. It is good that the federal government has learned some of the (negative) lessons of 2008, and before that of Herbert Hoover. Paul Krugman has argued repeatedly that it’s wrong to fear inflation in a deflationary environment. If the government were not printing money – had not printed money this last year – then millions and perhaps tens of millions would be out of work, perhaps homeless, perhaps hungry. And it is always those who already have the least who suffer the most. So: printing money is good. And the American Rescue Plan is especially commendable because, for the first time since perhaps Lyndon Johnson, there’s a (somewhat) focused attempt to get the most help to those who are poorest. This is what the Torah enjoins. And yet one other consequence of this is that all sorts of bubbles are developing. From GameStop to the […]

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Purim: Truths Revealed Over The Past Year by Melissa Hoffman

Many of us anticipated this Purim as the approximate year-marker since our lives changed unimaginably. There’s something apt about the holiday that highlights the topsy-turvy nature of life bookending the beginning — and hopefully the beginning of the end — of the coronavirus in the United States.  Purim represents a time of finding happiness and hopefulness amidst great existential uncertainty. It’s also about hidden truths being revealed to us. In the early months of the pandemic, many of us found joy, paradoxically, in hearing tales and seeing images of rejuvenation and rebirth occurring in nature due to the sharp drop in our own activity. With humans in temporary retreat, wildlife proliferated in formerly abandoned habitats and even occupied urban spaces. As motorway traffic plummeted, a dramatic decline in carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions allowed all life to breathe more easily again. We got a glimpse of what it would look like to give the land a long-deserved Shabbat, a respite from our anthropocentric reign. Maybe we caught a glimpse of the truth that’s been drowned out by the busy-ness of our typical, frenetic day-to-day: that slowing down is a good look for the world.  A key lesson we can […]

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Rosh Chodesh Adar, and a preview of the Shmita Prizes

February 11, 2021 | Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar   Dear All, The Hebrew month of Adar, by tradition, “increases joy.” Those who are used to Jewish tradition may take this idea for granted. But underlying it are presumptions that are worth thinking about, not least because they run so counter to contemporary western presumptions. First amongst these is the Jewish idea that we can choose to determine how we feel. In Western life: don’t we just go with the flow? Isn’t it somehow unhealthy to squelch how I’m feeling? In this particular year – of death and sickness and disruption – aren’t we entitled not merely to feel (choose your words) tired / depressed / exhausted / unsettled / lonely / scared / confused or, indeed, just plain slogging-along-and-wondering-if-things-will-ever-get-better…? A contemporary Jewish response would be to say, yes, of course, we should feel what we feel. And in these times especially, it may be important to share how we feel with loved ones, indeed to let it out a little; not be trapped or further bowed down by our feelings. That’s part of it. But the other part is a different kind of Jewish response, sometimes rooted in chasidic tradition. […]

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Thoughts on this Tu B’Shvat

Thursday, January 28, 2021 | Tu B’Shvat 5781   Dear All, One of the questions underpinning the entire Jewish environmental movement is the question: to what end? If we want to make a difference in the world, can’t we – shouldn’t we – just support 350.org, or the Sierra Club? And my answer is that we should – and Hazon, over the years, has partnered with both organizations, and many others outside of the Jewish community. But we’re half way through an 8-part series, learning with Rabbi Yedidya Sinclair about masechet ta’anit, and reading ta’anit closely to develop from it a sense of what a contemporary Jewish climate theology might look like. And in this week’s class, I really did have a deep moment of clarity, which I want to share with you, on Tu B’Shvat. Tu B’Shvat, of course, is “the new year for trees.” This year we’re one of the anchor partners for the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest, and we hope you’ll join us for one or more of the 160+ sessions that are happening from now through Sunday. One can talk – and we have, and we will – about the history of Tu B’Shvat, how […]

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Light In The Darkness

Tuesday, January 12, 2021 | 28th Tevet 5781   Dear All, Tomorrow night it’s Rosh Chodesh Shvat. The beginning of the beginnings. Next week a new president, a new government. The week after it’s Tu B’Shvat and the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest. The almond trees will start to bloom. Then longer days, more sunlight, vaccines… it’s a whole new world. Well – not entirely. Of course we have lives lost, structural racism, pollution and environmental destruction, people still sick from long-Covid. The new president and vice-president are gonna have to clean up a heck of a mess. (Much of it, of course, predating these last four years; too much of it, of course, made worse these last four years.) In any case – we live poised between fear and hope. That is always part of life; it’s just that this last year it has been more so. But the whole point of this season – of all of our new beginnings – is that we actually believe in hope; in an almost theological sense we have the intuition that the first step to recovery, of any sort, is to imagine its possibility. “That’s why vision is so important. We need a […]

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Darkness, and light – from the United Nations

Wednesday, December 9, 2020 | Erev Chanukah   Dear All, First: a huge thank you to every single person who has supported us in 2020. A record number of people supported us on Giving Tuesday. I and we appreciate it. This year we survived, we thrived, we’ve touched people’s lives. And we hope to catapult into 2021 and beyond. If you want to be a stakeholder in Hazon, please click here to give a year-end gift. Second: practically the last thing I did, pre-Covid, was attend a superb Tu B’Shvat gathering in Seattle, organized by Lisa Colton and Rabbi Josh Weisman and a bunch of their friends.  Now with them and with a growing number of partners we’re happy to announce the launch of The Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest, over Tu B’Shvat in late January – one week after the inauguration. Go to the website for info or – better yet – to propose sessions you’d like to deliver. Third: Campus at Camp looks like it’s happening. Registration closes tomorrow. If you want to join us, click here. The remainder of this email I give over to António Guterres – the Secretary General of the UN. He gave a speech at Columbia University last week […]

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Hazon Detroit: Shake Local

Dear Friends, Our rabbis say (Tosafot, Suk. 37b) that when we shake the lulav and etrog on Sukkot, “the trees of the forest sing with joy.” So that got us to wondering, what are the conditions that might allow the trees around us to sing with the greatest amount of joy during this holiday season that just passed? Every year on Sukkot, the US imports upwards of 500,000 lulavim from Israel and Egypt so that we can construct our traditional lulavim bundles using the familiar palm fronds, willow, myrtle, and citron. This combination of species has become so definitional that most of us probably don’t even consider that a lulav could be constructed any other way. But the original text is not so clear. In Torah (Lev 23.40), where we’re first told about the four species, the text simply says: לְקַחְתֶּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הָרִאשׁ֗וֹן פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙ כַּפֹּ֣ת תְּמָרִ֔ים וַעֲנַ֥ף עֵץ־עָבֹ֖ת וְעַרְבֵי־נָ֑חַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵ֛י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֖ם שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים׃ On the first day you shall take the fruit of beautiful trees, fronds of palm-shaped trees, branches of woven trees, and valley-willows, and you shall rejoice before YHVH your God for seven days. Nowhere does it determine, at its linguistic core, the […]

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The fires this time: public goods, the Jewish community, different time horizons

Tuesday, September 15, 2020 | 26 Elul 5780   Dear All, We weren’t going to send an email this week. We figured there’d be enough in your inbox in the days before Rosh Hashanah. But I am prompted by the fires out West to write something I have been thinking about for some while. This isn’t an appeal email, it’s not really a “shana tova” email, but I hope you’ll take a few moments to read it. The fires out west go to the heart of so many of the challenges we presently face, and Covid has provoked its own further re-assessment for us as an organization. We intend that Hazon will come out of this stronger and more focused. But part of that focus is striving to be as truthful as we can about what is possible, what is necessary, and the relationship between the two – for the Jewish community institutionally and for each of us as individuals. What is possible: every single thing we do to help create a more sustainable world is arithmetically close to meaningless. One change in behavior. One fewer plane trip. One donation to NRDC, one vote for the more sustainable candidate. Individually […]

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(A small number of) you are invited to join us for the chagim at Isabella Freedman

Wednesday, September 9, 2020 | 20 Elul 5780   Dear All, These of course will be unique chagim. The shuls and rabbis are preparing hard, and now is a time to send love to every rabbi, to every cantor, to every leader of a minyan, to every leader of a shul. Elbow hugs to everyone. Our own pivot has been parallel. Having trialed small Covid-safe retreats at Isabella Freedman, we are now planning to do small retreats for the chagim. Normally, as you know, part of the essence of Hazon and of retreats at Isabella Freedman is a deep commitment to inclusive community. At Sukkahfest, for instance, there will typically be davening in many different flavors – “orthodox”; “trad egal”; “renewal”; “meditation” and so on. (I use quote marks because each word is only a short-hand and an approximation – often not a very good one – for the davening itself. C’est ca.) This time around – for capacity reasons – we are stacking, as it were, horizontally rather than vertically. So Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat Shuva/Yom Kippur will be liberal orthodox, led by Rabbi Avram Mlotek and Yael Kornfeld; the first yontef of Sukkot will be led by Rav […]

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