Dear Friends, According to our biblical calendar, we are in the midst of the grain harvest, a season of gladness and growth which lasted seven weeks of seven days. It began with harvesting barley during Passover and ended with harvesting wheat at Shavuot. Forty-nine days the wheat would grow and grow, until it was ready to be cut and harvested just in time for Shavuot, when two loaves of bread would be offered at the Temple. According to our Torah, this honoring and culmination of the growing season is the reason we celebrate Shavuot, and only later did the slightly more mythical aspects of receiving Torah at Mt. Sinai come to coincide with the holiday’s significance. At one time, the flour was the revelation. Nowadays, for each of those forty-nine days, Jews around the world engage in a practice called “Sefirat haOmer/Counting the Omer,” where we verbally bless and count each day that passes. While we may not be carefully watching our wheat crops grow, tending to their needs and supporting their health, we do have an opportunity to do just that for own spirits and souls. We once were slaves and now we’re free. But in order to truly […]
Topic: Counting the Omer
By Nigel Savage Thursday, May 2, 2019 | 12th day of the omer; hod she’b’gevurah Dear All, Today is Yom Hashoah, and the attack in Poway of course remains on my mind. Like many of us, I was inspired by the words and deeds of Rabbi Goldstein, and by the courage of the people in the shul. I feel, as others do, the need to respond to anti-semitism, both on the right and on the left. The world is changing, and it needs us to act, both proactively (challenging bigotry and banning guns) and defensively (increasing security in Jewish institutions). But I want to add this, and strongly: we must not obsess about anti-semitism. History doesn’t repeat, and it doesn’t repeat mechanistically. The very fiber of Hazon and of all that we do is built around the notion of vision, positive vision, and of the need not simply to be against things – anti-semitism, or attacks on Israel, or for that matter bigotry or racism of any sort – but instead to offer a strong and powerful positive vision of the nature of Jewishness in the 21st century. This applies even to the big ticket items that are Hazon’s raison […]
By Nigel Savage Friday, March 30, 2018 | 13 Nissan 5778 Dear All, Sefirat Ha’Omer – the counting of the Omer – is rooted in the Biblical mitzvah of counting the 49 days between the Jewish holidays of Pesach and Shavuot, when the first sacrifices of the barley and wheat offerings were made. The kabbalists of Sefad added their own psycho-spiritual overlay to it. Now, here in 2018, we have the chance to take this ancient tradition and breathe powerful life into it. Counting the Omer is the journey from “freedom from” to “freedom to.” This has never been more salient than in the West in 2018. We have – many of us – the blessings of “freedom from.” From totalitarianism or starvation or civil war. But the question of “freedom to” – freedom to what end; how do we use our freedoms; how do we not hurt ourselves from the cumulative impact of our freedoms… these are the big questions of our era. So Saturday night – second night seder, for those of you who are sedering outside of Israel – is the start of this seven-week period. Let’s make it count. These suggestions are rooted in all of Hazon’s work. Week 1 (April […]
by Jacob Weiss, Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Hazon Parashat Beha’alotcha “Make thee two trumpets of silver; of beaten work shalt thou make them; and they shall be unto thee for the calling of the congregation… And when they shall blow with them, all the congregation shall gather themselves unto thee at the door of the tent of meeting.” Bamidbar perek yud, pasuk bet (Numbers 10:2) I recently recalled to a friend— just after our festival of Shavuot — that I had now been in attendance at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center for all three of the Shalosh Regalim, which are the three main pilgrimage festivals. Shavuot, Passover, and Sukkot all took on very different energies at Isabella Freedman. There remained a constant, though: the spirit, joy, and sheer heart that was poured into those festivals by everyone who attended, and by everyone who worked so tirelessly to make those retreat and community gatherings manifest. An incredible sense of community occurs during Jewish holiday retreats at Isabella Freedman, where I am currently a JOFEE Fellow. After spending the seven weeks of the Omer preparing ourselves, the Jewish people traditionally celebrate the festival of Shavuot to commemorate the receiving of the […]
From Nigel Savage May 4th, 2017 | 23rd day of the omer; gevurah she’b’netzach | 8th Iyyar 5777 Halachah and Aggadah Dear All, Let me start at the end. Shavuot this year falls midweek. It is one of the most glorious times of the year at Isabella Freedman. The sun, we hope, will shine; the goats will parade; much Torah will be learned; and much cheesecake consumed. We have a truly remarkable group of teachers and leaders for this year’s Shavuot Retreat, including Shir Yaakov Feit, Rabbi Dr. Jill Hammer, Rebbetzin Eve Ilsen, Rabbi David Ingber, Shoshana Jedwab, Yael Kornfeld-Mlotek, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Avram Mlotek, Rabbi Mike Moscowitz, and Arna Poupko-Fisher. I was thinking about when JFK hosted a group of Nobel laureates for dinner and began with the famous line – “this is the most extraordinary collection of talent that has ever been gathered together at the White House – with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone…” I say that because we will miss Reb Zalman, z”l, who for so many years led the Shavuot retreat, and his spirit and his memory and his teachings will be with us. And/but this really is a quite […]
by Rachel Aronson – JOFEE / Sustainability and Community Engagement Fellow, Hazon Jews across the world this week commemorated leaving Egypt to become free people for the holiday of Passover. Friends and family sit around the table together for the seder, celebrating freedom with comfy pillows to recline on and lots of kosher wine. Unfortunately, Passover can also represent something else: the holiday of waste. Those who keep kosher for Pesach (Passover) deep-clean our kitchens before the holiday, rooting out bread, tortillas, muffins, crackers, and every other kind of chametz (leavened or yeasted products) that’s sitting around the house. And to ensure that everything is kosher, we switch out our regular sets of dishes with a special set of only-for-Passover dishes. But who wants to keep an extra set of dishes around the house? It takes up storage space. It’s inconvenient. Understandably, many of us – out of convenience, or out of necessity – use disposable plates, cutlery, cups, and more. Ironically, many of us end up celebrating this holiday of freedom and liberation with trash bags full of styrofoam. Thankfully, Passover is also a holiday that reminds us of our ability to make change — as individuals and as a society. […]
Wisdom from Rabbi Shir Yaakov Videography by Deana Morenoff and Michael Arginsky Rabbi Shir Yaakov is a teacher, singer, composer, designer, producer, and “aba” (Dad). He is the leader of an emerging spiritual community in the Hudson Valley, Kol Hai. In addition, he is a lead teacher in DLTI, and he serves both Romemu and ALEPH as Creative Director and is well known as a stage artist and liturgist performing with The Epichorus and Darshan. Working in both Jewish and multi-faith contexts, Shir Yaakov weaves a tapestry of Kabbalistic wisdom, contemporary songwriting and deep personal spirituality to offer a spiritual cultural Judaism that is contemporary, alive, and innovative. He has recorded and released four albums of original music. shiryaakov.com The 7-week period between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot is called the Omer. For each of these 7 weeks, we will be making available one offering per week from 7 leaders of our upcoming Shavuot Retreat. Join us Memorial Day weekend for the Shavuot retreat to go deeper and get higher with these wonderful teachers. (Use early discount code EARLY10 through April 24th for 10% off.) In the meantime, enjoy our Omer experience!
Wisdom from Rebbetzin Eve Ilsen Videography by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal Rebbetzin Eve Ilsen is our featured teacher for this year’s Shavuot retreat. For the past decade she and her late husband Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi זצ׳ל built this retreat into the amazing experience that it is today. Eve comes to us this year still in the first year of mourning for her beloved, and yet bringing an incredibly insighful and inspiring perspective on Life. This week’s video blog offers us a taste of her talents, her presence, and her power. Join us for the retreat and learn with her in person. Rebbetzin Eve Ilsen is a psychotherapist, teacher, storyteller and singer. She has studied closely with mythologist Joseph Campbell, Eutonia bodywork founder Gerda Alexander, and trained for years in Jerusalem in waking dream and the therapeutic use of imagery with Mme. Colette Aboulker-Muscat. Since returning to the United states in 1986, Ms. Ilsen has also worked in tandem with her husband of blessed memory, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi זצ׳ל, co-creating the Wisdom School, co-leading workshops and partnering at holy day retreats. In 2008, she was ordained as a Rabbinic Pastor. These days, Eve is invoking transformative states by performing in concert, […]
Wisdom from Rachel Dewan, Certified Anusara Teacher, E-RYT500 Videography by Deana Morenoff and Michael Arginsky Rachel Dewan, Certified Anusara Teacher, E-RYT500 , is a graduate of the Yoga and Jewish Spirituality Teacher Training. and in addition to a full schedule of yoga classes, has been teaching Yoga Teacher Trainings, Prenatal Yoga Teacher Trainings, Yoga Therapeutics, and a wide variety of workshops since 2004. She has studied many different yoga styles and regularly immerses herself in a range of both Jewish and yogic texts and practices. It is Rachel’s ultimate goal as a teacher to cultivate a sense of community in her classes, bring a sense of fullness and joy to her students by inspiring them to expand to their highest possible potential both on and off the mat, and helping them to strengthen their connection to their own unique and divine nature. Her classes infuse dynamic asana and skillful pranayama (breathwork) and meditation, interwoven with deep teachings of the heart and spirit, designed to awaken the deepest longing of the soul to connect with it’s Source. Read Rachel’s thoughts on yoga and life. The 7-week period between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot is called the Omer. For each of these 7 weeks, we will […]
Thoughts from Rabbi Ariel Burger, Designer of Adult Learning at PJ Library This article is from the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah Blog 13 Ways of Looking At Tiferet 1. It was so beautiful I had to catch my breath. 2. It’s not the blending of kindness and discipline; it’s the tension between them. It is the love and the abyss between a father and a son after the Akedah. It is a feminine word but it is always associated with Jacob. It is untranslatable, not just beauty, not merely glory, a moving swirling river of colors and feelings. It receives in one hand and gives with the other. Imagine a dervish dancing, one hand cupped upward to catch spirit, the other open and relaxed, letting go, sharing. In receiving, giving; in giving, wholeness. 3. He didn’t give up when he saw he didn’t fit in, he had willingness to spare, so he wrestled with the angel until dawn. Yes he was wounded, I know, we all know, but wasn’t he beautiful as he staggered toward honesty? 4. He is the kind of man who stands and stares at one painting in the gallery for an hour. He is the smooth talker who says […]
Wisdom from Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek Videography by Deana Morenoff and Michael Arginsky Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek is the rabbi at Beacon Hebrew Alliance. Before that, he served as the Rabbi in Residence at American Jewish World Service and the Marshall T. Meyer Fellow at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York. He has been recognized by the Jewish Forward as one of the most inspiring rabbis in America, and by Newsweek/The Daily Beast as “a rabbi to watch.” Brent holds rabbinic ordination and a masters in philosophy from the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was the first recipient of the Neubauer Fellowship. Prior to entering the rabbinate, he attended Wesleyan University and worked as a daily journalist in Durham, NC. He lives in Beacon with his wife Alison, a professor of environmental chemistry at Vassar College and their two children, Noa and Abraham. A selection of Brent’s teachings are available here. The 7-week period between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot is called the Omer. For each of these 7 weeks, we will be making available one offering per week from 7 leaders of our upcoming Shavuot Retreat. Join us Memorial Day weekend for the Shavuot retreat to go deeper […]
Thoughts from Rabbi Zac Kamenetz, Senior Jewish Educator at the JCCSF This article is from the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah Blog Once, a young man went beyond the walls of his city, with nothing but his pocketknife, and journeyed out to the tree line toward the horizon, until he came upon a wild jungle. He immediately delighted in the jungle’s overwhelming fructuousness. Stepping on and over mounds of plants vying for more space, the young man marveled at the vivid swirling colors—deep vertical browns, bursts of yellow and purple splashed on soft green, glossy orange and red specks dotting off-white, light sandy wisps poking out of loamy grey. While moving deeper into the jungle, the faint rustling of leaves gave way to a low humming, and as he looked, he saw that every shoot, leaf, and flower was slowly but audibly swelling and growing and pulsating. To the young man, the once-vivid beauty of the wilderness began to look grotesquely chaotic. As the young man looked back toward where he had entered, the low hum of the jungle turned to a wailing howl. Palm fronds turned to the sky and blocked out the little bit of light still shining through, […]
Thoughts from Rabbi Lee Moore This article is from the Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah Blog Chesed is often translated as loving-kindness, but I prefer the term Grace. Chesed denotes a kind of expansiveness that we often do associate with love. Where there is a willingness to open, a willingness to accept, a willingness to allow what was previously wrong be OK –Chesed breaks through. This kind of breakthrough feels like love in the sense that Chesed provides a truly unconditional milieu where connections are forged and closeness happens beyond what one might have thought was possible. We see Chesed at work when we reach the edge of what is possible, and then realize that we can actually go farther, expand our horizons, generate new ideas, forge new connections, embrace new ways of being, and discover new places to be. A realm of opportunity and growth, Chesed displays the kind of love that the world naturally provides, even though the world may not ‘deserve’ it. For this reason, Rabbi Ebn Leader has emphasized birth as a key metaphor for this symbol-cluster. At birth, a being has done nothing to merit its coming into this world. It is freely created with no […]
Traditional Yemenite melody with original music by Aviva Chernick and Joel Schwartz Filmed at the Small World Music Centre, Toronto, Canada Videography by Rodrigo Castro The 7-week period between the holidays of Pesach and Shavuot is called the Omer. For each of these 7 weeks, we will be making available one offering per week from 7 leaders of our upcoming Shavuot Retreat. Join us Memorial Day weekend for the Shavuot retreat to go deeper and get higher with these wonderful teachers. (Use early discount code EARLY10 through April 24th for 10% off.) In the meantime, enjoy our Omer experience!