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Topic: Holidays

local lulav

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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high holidays shofar

(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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Hazon Detroit: I Am To My Beloved

Dear Friends, When this pandemic began it was winter. You may remember it snowing while we were Safer At Home. Winter eventually gave way to spring, as it does, and life bloomed bright while we remained in quarantine. As the months rolled by, the heat quickly picked up and summer kicked into high gear. And now, with Coronavirus still present as ever, fall is here. Our days are getting shorter while the golden hued sunlight mimics the bashful change of leaves. On the Jewish calendar, these subtle changes in light and leaf mean that the High Holidays are just around the corner. Today we find ourselves squarely in the Jewish month of Elul, a month of introspection and penitence that leads up to Rosh HaShanah. We know that this period is one of intensity and spiritual work. We’re reminded of that each day of Elul, when the shofar (ram’s horn) is blown. We know it’s a time of teshuvah (return) and selichot (repentance), illustrated by the cheshbon ha’nefesh (soul accounting) that we’re instructed to do all month. And many of us attend religious services (virtually, of course, this year) more in the weeks ahead than we do the rest of […]

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carly sugar holds a shofar

Rosh Chodesh Elul, the instinct for joy – and a great short video on blowing the shofar

Thursday, August 20, 2020 | 30 Av 5780 | Rosh Chodesh Elul   Dear All, Today is my grandma’s 17th yahrtzeit. Tomorrow, the first of Elul, would have been my father’s 88th birthday. To be honest, we didn’t realize that this was Dad’s birthday until after he died. But in my grandma’s case, her yahrtzeit has always been significant to me. This is because of the fascinating construction of Rosh Chodesh Elul. It’s a two-day new moon – today and tomorrow – but today is the last day of Av, and tomorrow, which is the second day of Rosh Chodesh, is the first day of Elul. And so tomorrow is the day we start to blow shofar. To me, my grandma’s yahrtzeit comes to remind me, as it were – tomorrow it begins… And by “it” I mean this whole period, from now through to the end of Simchat Torah, with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as the twin apex points, in the middle. “It” is a shorthand for “teshuvah, u’tefillah u’tzedakah” – teshuvah, striving to return to our best selves; tefillah, something about looking both within and beyond, for guidance and with gratitude; and tzedakah, not just in the broader sense […]

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Food, then and now

Thursday, August 6, 2020 | 16 Av 5780 Dear All, This week’s sidra, Eikev, is the week that introduced into English (via the King James version)  “man does not live by bread alone” and “a land flowing with milk and honey.”  It’s the week that lists the seven species – shivat haminim – that are indigenous to the land of Israel, which Bill Slott points out to me every few years as we ride from Jerusalem to Ashkelon on the first day of the Arava Institute Hazon Israel Ride. And it includes the second paragraph of the shm’a, linking our behavior to the climate of the world. Food is a recurring motif. Perhaps that was why Ruby Rivlin, President of Israel, chose this week to spend the day helping Leket pack food for people in need. As Joe Gitler subsequently wrote, President Rivlin wasn’t just doing a photo-op. He’s seriously engaged by the topic and thinking hard – and striving to put the weight of his office – behind new ways to help get food to people who are food insecure. But you don’t have to be President of Israel to make a difference. “Pivot” and “swivel” are words-of-this-year, and they encapsulate […]

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cedars

Mourning Eternity in the Cedars of Lebanon

By Jessica Haller There is one place in the world today where you can touch the grandchildren or perhaps even the sibling trees of the actual trees King Solomon ordered to build the First Temple.  The Cedars of Lebanon still stand in Barouk forest, Shouf Biosphere Reserve South of Beirut – a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The last 17 square miles remain of the Cedars of Lebanon.  They are ancient, tall, wide, amazing specimens. Scientists report that the stand will be extinct by the end of this century. Cutting those trees was Solomon’s first command in Kings 1 when he began instruction to build the Temple.  King Solomon knew the trees – as the wisest man in the world, the Navi says he “discoursed” on the trees – and knew their powers.  Cedars of Lebanon live for thousands of years.  Their wood does not rot, it resists fire, smells wonderful, conducts sound in wonderful ways, and is extremely strong.  The Phoenicians used the Cedars of Lebanon to build their ships, and the Egyptians used it for paper.  Solomon knew the Cedars of Lebanon would stand forever and chose their wood as the floor and walls of the Temple. Walking through […]

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Cancel culture & Tisha B’Av

Monday, July 27, 2020 | 6 Av 5780 Dear All, First: 2020 Vision Rides are proceeding; our first Adamah At Home has just completed, very successfully indeed, and two more cohorts are now planned; and you can book an Isabella Freedman Getaway (again, to our delight, the first guests we have had have really loved it.) And in Detroit our work on the ground to get food to people who need it is proceeding apace, and we were gratified to get a grant from the Oakland County Community Response & Recovery Fund to support this work. Beyond these headlines I want to take this moment, in the lead up to Tisha B’Av (this Wednesday night and Thursday), to say a few words on “cancel culture.” But first, a brief digression: rarely across Hazon’s printed materials will you find the word “Judaism.” It’s a word I strive personally never to use. In its place I almost always speak of “Jewish tradition.” This is because “Judaism,” in its very singularity, seems to suggest one thing – one religion, one perspective, one answer. What we are heir to, in fact, is an almost incomprehensibly huge history. Ten years or more for every year […]

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Out of the Crash

Dear Friends, R’ Benay Lappe, who runs SVARA queer yeshiva in Chicago, teaches what she calls her “crash theory.” Every person and every group has a narrative that defines us and our beliefs, she says. This is called a “master story.” At some point, however, ultimately and inevitably, every master story will one day come crumbling down. On a personal level, this might be a job loss, a divorce, or a tragedy of some sort. On a Jewish communal level, the prototypical “crash moment” was the destruction of the Second Temple, which we will mourn as a community nine days from tonight, on Tisha B’Av. You see, when the Second Temple crashed in 70 CE, the Israelites’ entire way of life crashed with it. For our ancient ancestors, the Temple was their center of peoplehood and practice. It was where they made pilgrimage three times a year, where they spiritually and physically oriented, and where God’s presence – they believed – dwelt most close and most high. When the Temple was destroyed, their entire system was in shambles and the future of Israelite religion was unclear at best. So what does one do when their master story is in peril? […]

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Shiva Asar B’Tammuz

Today is a fast day on the Jewish calendar, known as Shiva Assar B’Tammuz. The Mishnah (a compendium of Jewish oral traditions compiled in the third century) provides five tragedies that happened on this day in Jewish history: It was on this day that Moshe broke the two tablets; the day the tamid, or daily, animal offering was suspended; Jerusalem’s city walls were breached during the Roman siege; a man called Apostumos burned a Torah scroll; and an idol was erected in the Temple. The second “tragedy” – the cessation of the tamid animal sacrifice – is sitting with me this year more than ever as I complete my first year working at Hazon. As I dedicate more and more of my life to asking people to think carefully about the animal products they consume, it’s hard to feel terribly sad commemorating the inability to sacrifice an animal, to see the cessation of animal sacrifice as a tragedy. The name of this particular sacrifice – Tamid – is an important one. The word tamid in Hebrew can mean “forever”, “constantly”, or “routine.” The tamid offering was the mundane sacrifice, the routine one, the one that happened twice a day, every […]

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#SoundTheCall – huge thanks!

Dear All, Well over a thousand participants joined us live yesterday on our livecast, #SoundTheCall, to celebrate the 50th Earth Day. We had high hopes for the event, but as it turned out, they were significantly exceeded. What we were most delighted with is that it very clearly struck a chord with many people. We’ve had the strongest positive public response to this of anything we have done as an organization in recent memory. To everyone who was involved in it – participants, attendees, speakers, singers, staff – huge huge thanks. If you were part of it or viewed it and would be willing to share your feedback by filling out this quick survey we would greatly appreciate that.  We scrambled for this, like lots of things in the world at the moment, and we’ve certainly never done anything remotely like it (people coming in live from 24 locations on three continents, plus two taped segments). In certain ways it was quite scrappy. But we think the reason people most loved it is that, in the end, it manifested Hazon’s values and vision in quite a deep and serious way. People like David Gergen, Amy Larkin, and Bill McKibben were inspiring and strong, […]

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Chad gadya, a raccoon in the park, and a second chasidic story.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020 | 13th Nissan 5780 Please join us for a series of weekly online conversations: “After the Plague: An Omer Conversation Series.” Our first call is noon ET this Sunday with Yossi Abramowitz and Rabbi Susan Silverman. Join us on Facebook Live on Hazon’s Facebook page. Learn more. Dear All, There’s an old chasidic story about someone who fears that the angel of death is coming for them, at a particular place and a particular time. Quickly they change their plans. They go to a different village… and then of course the angel of death is right there, in that different village, waiting to meet them, exactly at the appointed time. And the message of the story: when our time is up, our time is up. I wish for all of us long life, for sure. But it’s not unhelpful to be reminded of our mortality. For most of human history we knew that we were vulnerable, we saw death. We lived without penicillin. Women died far more frequently in childbirth. We died of polio and malaria, we died when the wrong flea bit us, we died of an abscess or a ruptured appendix. Only when I was writing a hesped for […]

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Hazon Detroit: Time to Grow

Dear Friends, I was present once, when a teacher told a full room, “In the years ahead, we will be called to be both the hospice caretakers of the old world, the old structures, and midwives of the new one.” It has stuck with me deeply ever since, as I’ve attuned my senses to a crossfade of sorts, watching the volume of an old way being turned down as the volume of a new song increases. With Passover just a few short days away, perhaps we could think of this crossfade like the mythic Israelites leaving Egypt, escaping the cacophony of slavery while cranking up the volume on liberation. At the crux of that crossfade is the 10th plague, when God vows to kill all Egyptian firstborn (Exodus 12:12). This of course, leads directly to the Israelite exodus across the sea. But this is not the whole story. In that same breath, God also promises to bring judgment on the false gods of Egypt (12:12). According to the midrash (Exodus Rabbah 16:3), the true and lasting liberation comes not only from the physical leaving of Egypt, but from the Israelites’ emphatic refusal to worship the idols of Egyptian rule. Yes, […]

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Next Thursday night — and #soundthecall on April 22nd

Friday, April 3, 2020 | 9th Nissan 5780 Dear All, Seder is one night – in Israel. In chutz la’aretz – ie, outside of Israel – it’s two nights, so next Thursday night is the second night of seder. And for most of the Jewish world, as we know, these two nights are indeed going to be different nights, as we figure out how to do seders by Zoom, or in small (very small) groups, and so on. It will be weird. And there will be lots of riffs on plagues, lots of haggadah supplements to download, and so on. Hazon’s gift to you is a frame for the second night, for Thursday night. Normally, at the end of the evening – with kids running wild, the table in chaos, the meal just finishing, various people conked out because it is so late or they’ve eaten so much or drank so much – right then, we count the omer. No wonder we don’t properly pay attention to it. So our gift to you this year is – don’t bury it. Make it a conceptual focus of your second night seder. The first night – celebrate that you’re alive. That your family made […]

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Freedom You Have Not Yet Known: The Energy of the Month of Nissan

By Rabbi Ora Weiss The glorious energy of the month of Nissan is a breath of fresh air, a time of birth, of new starts, a spring-time for the spirit and soul.  The invitation of this month, which begins this year on March 26 of the Gregorian calendar, has been called “the first of months of the year for you” (Exodus 12:2).  Ramban, the medieval scholar and kabbalist, explains that although Nissan is not the beginning of the year (which is in Tishrei), we are alerted that there is a primacy of this month. Just as we count the days of the week with respect to Shabbat, we are to count, order and orient our year around Nissan.  The reason? It was during this month that the Israelites made their exodus from Egypt, which journey embodies and symbolizes the energy of redemption.1 We are on notice: redemption is the prime directive for our lives.  Redemption is the ultimate freedom.  It is a process, a difficult process, one that most of us have yet to understand, let alone achieve. It is an internal state of being.  We can access this state, even as we may feel trapped by voluntary or involuntary […]

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