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Topic: Holidays

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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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Vayakhel-Pekudei: Preparing for Pesach during COVID-19

by Leah Palmer, Hakhel Administrative Director I generally start cleaning for Pesach around January time, much to the displeasure of those living with me. The cleaning takes the form of taking everything out of the cupboard, cleaning up any dust and crumbs, then putting everything back at right angles to each other. Frankly, I’m not that fussed if it’s accessible or not, just so long as it is tidy. I know that schmutz is not Chametz (leavened products prohibited at Pesach), but the cleaning is a ritual that I really enjoy. It’s a time of year where people ask me a lot “Where did you put the…” and I normally don’t know, because I’m not really paying attention to what I’m putting back in the cupboards, but more the fact that there won’t be any crumbs leftover.  And like pretty much everything in all of our lives right now, that’s changed this year. With childcare canceled, I’ve become a full-time homeschooling Mom for two hyperactive toddlers and I’m constantly looking for things to do with them. So as I’m cleaning, I’m going through every shelf, thinking about what can be repurposed to make a toy, what can be the focus […]

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Noon, Wednesday April 22nd (Please read this.)

Thursday, March 19, 2020 | 23rd Adar 5780 Dear All, First: my heart goes out to everyone. This is unbearably painful. People are in hospital. People are losing their lives. People are losing their jobs. People are losing their savings. People are afraid. And as I wrote last week, Hazon is one of the organizations most directly impacted by this. We are especially exposed because we have had to close Isabella Freedman, our retreat center, for at least two months, and have thus lost all our revenue from the busiest time of the year. We’re reviewing options right now, from a tight place. (We’re writing separately to people to whom we will be returning retreat deposits. Some of you will feel unable to do so, and we will understand that, but to the extent that you are able to donate some or all of your deposits – we would appreciate that enormously.) I also want to let you know that we have begun gathering community resources for both inside and outside activities at hazon.org/stuckinside. We’re curating there all sorts of things to watch, to read, and to do. Check it out and bookmark it.  But as well as coping with […]

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Now’s the time to plan a cleanse!

Thursday, March 5, 2020 | 9th Adar 5780 Dear All, The coronavirus is spreading, and it will get worse before it gets better. Batten down the hatches, wash your hands, follow public safety advice, be considerate to others – and don’t freak out. And the aftermath of the Israeli elections and the ongoing US elections – same advice… But as the velocity of travel, literally, starts to slow, I want to argue that we – you, me, all of us – do a cleanse in the next few weeks. And I get this idea from thinking carefully about the deep lessons from the Jewish calendar right now: First: Purim isn’t an isolated holiday. It comes to help us get ready for Pesach, existentially as well as physically. Purim is “the world turned upside down.” No mention of G!d in the story. Getting drunk. Cross-dressing. Purim comes to shake us out of false certainties. It comes to question the components of our identity, the relationship between inner and outer, the tension between who we are and what we have. And Purim does this because it kicks off an eleven week period from Purim to Shavuot. Seder night is the fulcrum of the whole period. And seder night is the […]

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Engage With the Powerful Energy of Adar: Your Chance for Joy

By Rabbi Ora Weiss The Hebrew Month of Adar, beginning this year on February 26, has great weight and depth, much more so if one is aware and takes advantage of its powerful vertical energy, Source/God energy. There is a circularity to entering this energy. Each year we step in to start another year long circular journey around its vertical energy, potentially moving us toward greater wisdom. With each circle around Adar we have the opportunity to go deeper within the self to draw ever closer to our God-self. At the same time, Adar invites us to do a review of the past year’s circle which is a review of honor: did we do our work in going deeper, in accessing more wisdom. Are we more able to give answers based in wisdom. Are we living with more responsibility for our growing wisdom, are we bringing it forward in our communication with others. We are able to look back upon each of the looping circles for each year of our lives that we circle Adar, and see what wisdom we have gained. Most often, that wisdom is gained through pain, trauma, sorrow. We can ask ourselves, what did we endure, […]

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A Goat Breeder Knows… When Pesach is Coming

By Rabbi Aaron Philmus Pesach is coming, I know because my goat Cinnamon is pregnant and in a few months she will be kidding. In Ancient Israel every family prepared for Pesach by selecting a male kid or lamb, tying it to the bedpost, and taking care of it for four days.  The head of household would then slaughter and roast the whole animal over a fire and they ate the meat with matzah and bitter greens. I am standing out in the back petting the momma goat and she is especially snugly today because she is preparing to mother several kids. I never intended to be a goat breeder or meat supplier but it’s the only way to get milk for yogurt, cheese, and soap. We have a small backyard homestead so we don’t have the room, nor the budget to raise all the offspring, especially virile billie goats. Female goats are easier to sell because people want the milk and can breed them offsite with a neighbor’s buck. In dairy operations, almost all of the  males are sold for meat. When our ancestors left Egypt they had to change their diets. The Nile river delta was rich in […]

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Earth Day, JTree, and Tu B’Shvat

By Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein Hazon Rabbi-in-Residence What is Tu B’Shvat? What is a Tu B’Shvat Seder? Not one, but four times over the course of the year we are called upon to mark a new year, a rosh hashanah. Of these four new years in the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 1:1), it is taught that the 15th of Shvat (Tu B’Shvat) is the new year for the trees. Only one rosh hashanah became popularized as the Rosh Hashanah, when we reflect on our actions, pray for the wellness of the year, and perform teshuva. When the Temple service in Jerusalem ceased, the other three new years effectively went dormant for about 1500 years. The holy kabbalists under the leadership of Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572) created a new Tu B’Shvat tradition with the multi-sensory seder we experience today. Humanity and Trees in the Jewish Tradition Though Tu B’Shvat was paused, trees continued to grow both in reality and on the pages of Jewish texts. In Jewish tradition, a relationship was formed between trees and humanity in the first week (see Gen. 2:9) and it still exists today. In fact, later in the Torah, we are reminded that it is forbidden to cut down a tree during times of war (Deut. 20:19). The […]

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The British general election, Tu B’Shvat and Richard Powers

By Nigel Savage Tuesday, January 28, 2020 | 2nd Shvat 5780 Dear All, What does Tu B’Shvat mean in 2020? It’s a deeper question than it may at first seem. It’s the “new year for trees.” And we indeed associate it with trees and fruits and perhaps a Tu B’Shvat seder. Ok – but beyond that? Answering this involves a certain kind of leap of faith. (It is not for me a theological leap. If I had to make a theological leap I’d barely get across a little puddle…) It’s a leap of faith in relation to the deep wisdom of an ancient tradition, in our unsettled post-postmodern age. We have to assume – and trust – and somehow really believe – that Jewish tradition isn’t just for kids. It’s not about the formal structures of Jewish life or responding to antisemitism or leaning in to Israel or any of those things. Such things may come from faith in the wisdom of Jewish tradition, but they can’t drive it. When they do our soil becomes depleted and we use the equivalent of pesticides or other interventions as a quick fix; and, as we are all learning, quick fixes like that […]

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Ora Weiss

The Month of Tivet: Miracles Large and Small

By Rabbi Ora Weiss The Hebrew month of Tivet, so dark.  Even though the longest night has recently passed, the small increments of light are not yet discernable to us.  The sense of the month is just ongoing darkness, and the cumulative effect is hard for some. Difficult times often push us to change, to seek ways of understanding, or of coping, that in easier times would be rejected outright.  As Hanukah continues into the first days of Tivet, it brings just such a message of change, one which we haven’t fully acknowledged.     Let’s start with a story, my story.  I have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a form of depression that shows up only in the darkest months.  Many people in northern latitudes have some reaction to the loss of light when the nights grow longer: increased eating, increased sleeping, grouchiness.  With SAD, these symptoms are intensified. 20 years ago, for a couple of years, I took antidepressants in the winter months. They worked, but I hated taking them.   The next year, upon mentioning to my spiritual director that I was starting to need the medicine again, she suggested that I first try adding to my morning meditation […]

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Sukkahfest Reflections

By Toby Shulruff My family and I live in Portland, Oregon – which is both geographically and symbolically out on the edges of American Jewish life. My husband and I work outside of Jewish community. Our neighborhood is a little oasis of diversity in the very white northwest –our neighbors are from all over the world, often recent immigrants from Africa, Latin America, and South Asia. I love raising my kids to know all our neighbors, and at the same time, it makes our connection to Jewish life all the more precious. Finding a Jewish community for our family took a long time. Though Portland might sound like the frontier, it actually has more than eight shuls, a Jewish museum, and even an Unshul! But for my family, we want the Torah learning of the Chasidim, with the social justice of Heschel, with a heavy dose of Earth-based mysticism, gender equality and pluralism, interfaith connection, and lots of kids, all in an atmosphere of profound joy and ecstatic music. We have a hard time finding a home even when we are at home. Coming to Sukkahfest at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Connecticut is a return to […]

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What Sukkahfest Means to Me

By Rhonda Greif Upon entering Isabella Freedman you are greeted by a warm welcoming wooden sign “We are blessed by your arrival.” This just about sums up the overall feeling of good cheer that surrounds Sukkahfest from beginning to end and stays with you long after you have physically left the grounds. Sukkahfest is truly a unique experience. After having just returned from #5, I’m excited to share what Sukkahfest means to me and my family.  Five (5) focuses for Five (5) Sukkahfest celebrations: Sukkat Shalom. This is the focal point of the entire stay and is decorated simply but beautifully. From that first evening, you are enveloped by the soft lighting which invites you in and makes you feel right at home.  Farm-to-Table. Food at Isabella Freedman is incredible. A delicious variety of meat, chicken and fish (and vegetarian), tons of amazing vegetables, great soups plus seemingly endless bottles of both red and white wines and yummy challah (don’t forget the honey).  Fall Foliage. The natural beauty of the area enhances the Sukkahfest experience tenfold. One of my favorite activities is just walking on the road towards the Adama farm and the small quaint town nearby admiring the gorgeous […]

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leah palmer

The Ashamnu Prayer in the Year of Environmental Teshuva

Yom Kippur 5780 An Invitation by Leah Palmer, Hakhel Administrative Director The “ashamnu” prayer from the Ashkenazic Yom Kippur service is once of the most iconic moments of the High Holiday prayers. The congregation stands in silence, beating their chests in regret for a list of sins which appear in the book in front of them. A list canonized several centuries ago. A list containing a number of words I’d need to look up in a dictionary- which themselves are a translation of Hebrew words normally considered to be synonyms of each other. Many a rabbi has explained that even if you personally have not committed each of these sins (personally, I’ve not spent a lot of time trespassing this last year, but that’s just me), we are repenting for the Jewish people as a whole. Whilst this is a nice explanation, I know that I’m far from perfect, and would like to spend some time on Yom Kippur repenting for the things that I actually have done.  Whilst reading this prayer in preparation of Yom Kippur I was surprised to find myself relating line after line to by regrets over my poor stewardship of the environment, so I started […]

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L’dor Va’dor: Important Hazon Seal News for Elul

Dear Hazon Seal sites, This month of Elul, as you reflect back, wrestle with personal and communal accounting, and contemplate the future, Hazon is here to support your personal and communal goals for environmental teshuva. What is teshuva? What is environmental teshuva??  All good questions. Read about it here. And don’t miss Nigel’s message at this important time of the year, and at this critical moment in human existence. There’s so much coming up, multiple opportunities to bring your home, your immediate circles, and your communities closer and more connected. We invite you to walk more gently on this earth with respect and appreciation for its fragile balance – and to inspire others to follow you. So ask yourself, and your neighbor: How will your community make 5780 the year of environmental teshuva? Here are some suggestions, and stay tuned for more to come this month. Best wishes and Shabbat Shalom, Merav P.S. Please remember to log into the Hazon Seal Portal at seal.hazon.org to explore resources, make sure you are on top of the program deadlines, and find all program related information.  For any questions email us seal@hazon.org.  September 20: Global Climate March L’dor va’dor: Generation to Generation Protecting Creation Young people around the world have been striking […]

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Hakhel Blog: Leah Palmer

Several years ago, I was in shul on the morning of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and the Rabbi stood up to speak. They opened with: “What is the difference between the Jewish New Year on Rosh Hashanah, and the New Year’s Eve on the 31st of December?” This was apparently the opening to a Jewish joke, but I never caught the punchline because the question itself landed me deep in thought. On both occasions, we reflect on the year gone by, gather with friends or family, overindulge and promise that next year will be better. In my eyes, the crucial difference is that on the 31st of December, we promise ourselves to do better, to make better decisions, to think about others, whatever it might be. On Rosh Hashanah, we promise these things to someone who will hold us accountable. And I think that is a great thing. The days after Rosh Hashanah are Judaism’s response to the January ritual of taking out a gym membership only to never actually rock up. To buying all the gear for starting a new hobby, but never getting around to taking it out of the box. To buying a bespoke planner […]

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