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Topic: Reflections

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Why go on a Jewish meditation retreat?

by Rabbi Jay Michaelson Wednesday, December 6, 2017 | 18 Kislev 5778 In large part, the answers are the same as to why one would go on a meditation retreat in general: greater awareness of how we thrive and how we suffer, recharging the mind and heart so we can live more vividly and more compassionately, deep insights that lead to profound shifts in consciousness. But there are plenty of meditation retreats – why a Jewish one? Here are a few answers. First, there’s what some people call the “morphic field”: the community, the sense of connection, and the set of cultural practices, ways of being, and traditions of being Jewish. We’re not a traditionally religious retreat, but for our students, that’s not the point. Rather, they feel more comfortable with the Jewish ‘morphic field’ than with other forms, and feel a sense of connection, tribe, heart-opening, integration, or other positive emotions. It helps set the tone. Second, while the core meditation practices we teach are not indigenously Jewish – more on that in a bit – there is a lot about the retreat that is very Jewish indeed. For one, if we believe that experiences of the sacred are valuable (as opposed […]

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“Down To Earth” Judaism | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Chayei Sarah Darya Watnick | Edlavitch DC JCC – Washington, DC  This week’s Torah portion is Chayei Sarah, literally “The Life of Sarah.” The title is a bit of a misnomer, as Sarah dies in the second verse. This portion instead focuses on Sarah’s legacy — specifically Abraham and Isaac, those most influenced by her incredible life. It’s a legacy all about family life and connection to tradition – a story that mirrors much of my work here at the DC JCC as a JOFEE Fellow. Here’s what happens in Chayei Sarah, in a nutshell: Sarah dies at age 127 and is buried in the Cave of Machpelah, in Hebron, which Abraham buys from Ephron the Hittite. Abraham then sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac. In order to find the right woman, Eliezer devises the “camel test”:when he asks for water at the well, which woman will also offer to give his camels a drink. Rebecca passes the test and returns with Eliezer to Isaac and Abraham. Isaac and Rebecca get married. Then Abraham takes a new wife, Keturah, and has six more sons. Abraham dies at the age of 175 and is buried next to Sarah, […]

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Gender Identity, Oaths, and Inheritance in Matot-Masei | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Darya Watnick – Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center – Washington, DC Parshat Matot-Masei This week in the Torah we see a double portion: Matot-Masei. Combining Matot and Masei, the two chapters at the end of Numbers/Bamidbar, allows for the need to start the book of Devarim/Deuteronomy on the Shabbat before Tisha b’Av. Matot and Masei are both rather long portions but in the interest of brevity here’s a condensed summary: We start Parshat Matot (Numbers/Bamidbar 30:3-32:42) with a discussion of vows and oaths and the differences in fulfillment for a man and a woman. Moses and the sons of Israel start a war against Midian. It was a brutal war and many of the Midianites are killed (on Moses’ orders). Reuben and Gad want to stay where they are – rather than cross over to the land of Israel. Of course, Moses was furious that they wanted to tend to their herds instead of going with their brothers. Parshat Masei (Numbers/Bamidbar 33:1-36:13) starts with Reuben and Gad promising to help the other tribes settle in the Promised Land before settling themselves in the land across the Jordan River. Moses apportions the land to the tribes and sets up cities of refuge. […]

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When a Donkey Speaks Truth to Power | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Hannah Slipakoff, Jewish Farm School – Philadelphia, PA Parashat Balak In this week’s Parasha, Balak (Numbers 22:2- 25:9), we read a tale about the ways in which kindness and gratitude contribute to justice and G-dliness, and an allegory relating systemic patterns of oppression to land: King Balak of Moab, a ruler whose name means devastator, empty, or wasting, desperately attempts to curse the Israelites. He despises the Tribe of Jacob so deeply, that he attempts to hire Balaam to damn the Israelites for him: There is a people that came out of Egypt; it hides the earth from view, and it is settled next to me. Come then, put a curse upon this people for me, since they are too numerous for me; perhaps I can thus defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed indeed, and he whom you curse is cursed. ~Numbers 22:5-22:7 Balaam mounts a literal WISE ass (inciteful female donkey) and sets out on his wicked task. The Divine however, has a different plan. G-d sends an armed angel to disrupt Balaam’s path, and each time the donkey attempts to avoid danger, Balaam fiercely beats her. […]

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When It Rains It Pours | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Ryan Kaplan, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta Parshat Chukat “Moses made a copper serpent and mounted it on a standard; and when anyone was bitten by a serpent, they would look at the copper serpent and recover.” Numbers 21:9 As I write this post, I sit in my office in Atlanta with the threat of rain clouds to my left and blueberry waffles, coffee, and a coworker’s copy of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) to my right. Georgia’s summer has been very wet thus far, and the promise of the coming downpour outside my window sets a looming melancholic tone for this week’s cinematic Torah portion: Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1). Much happens in the chapters of Chukat. In the interest of brevity: The wandering Israelites are taught in “the ways of the red heifer” (that is to say, they’re told how to purify themselves after coming into contact with a human corpse); Miriam dies and water becomes scarce; Moses and Aaron fall out of G-d’s good graces after striking a rock in search of water instead of speaking to it; Aaron follows Miriam in death and a 30 day period of mourning begins (up from the normal 7 days of Shiva); a […]

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Walking Behind Kindess: Parashat Naso | D’Varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

Jaclyn Kellner – Coastal Roots Farm; Encinitas, CA “I’d like to go to the fields and glean among the ears of grain behind someone who may show me kindness.” This statement, from Ruth to Naomi in the Book of Ruth, holds so many aspects of what a Jewish Community Farm can provide. This week’s parsha, Naso, spells out the different functions distinct groups and structures had while traveling in the desert. Naso begins by taking census of and detailing the specific duties assigned to each family line of Levites and ends by listing each tribe’s offering for the inauguration of the alter in the Mishkan. This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of co-organizing a Shavuot Festival at Coastal Roots Farm. Over 300 people attended, of all ages, both Jewish and non-Jewish. It was incredible to see an event have such strong Jewish content and influence while remaining a welcoming and accessible festival to all. The festival focused on exploring the story of Ruth and on Shavuot’s agricultural roots celebrating the start of the summer harvest. Participants danced to live klezmer music; learned how to make cheese and tend to their tomato plants; and painted, created, and wore exquisite flower crowns in celebration of the […]

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Old Stones, New Ripples – Reflections on the Close of JOFEE Fellowship Cohort 1 | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Yoshi Silverstein – JOFEE Fellowship Director May 18th, 2017 | 22nd Iyar 5777 | 37th day of the omer | gevurah she’b’yesod 16 Organizations. 17 Fellows. Over 500 programs. An estimated 37,000 participants in Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming & Environmental Education (JOFEE) programs across the country. These are some of the incredible numbers emerging as we look back at our first JOFEE Fellowship cohort, who completed their closing seminar and siyum last week at our sister JOFEE organization, the Pearlstone Center outside Baltimore, MD. Behind those numbers are thousands of people encountering – many for the first time – the incredible power of a Jewish tradition steeped in deep cultural and spiritual connection with the earth, with place, with human communities and our surrounding ecosystems, with our food, and with each other.  A Jewish tradition that recognizes both the limits and abundance of the resources our home planet provides for us. A tradition that says this world is amazing – there is so much magnificence – and yet we have work to do – not to complete by ourselves, but neither to desist from doing our part. And wow did our JOFEE Fellows do their part! Here are a […]

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Halachah and Aggadah

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 […]

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This Passover, Take Action for the Climate – D’Varim Hamakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

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. Nowhere is […]

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Inspiration, aspiration, respiration…

From Nigel Savage   Dear All, In December we had a board meeting and took part of the time to discuss the election. One of our older and wiser board members said, people are moving too fast, right now. We need to let this administration get started, and see what happens. Well, here we are: six days into this administration, with 1,455 still to go. (0.4% of the time has passed, and 99.6% still remains.) Buckle your seat belts. Hazon’s task is not to lose focus, in relation to the vital and good things we are doing, things which at their heart are about helping us to be the people we aspire to be, helping the Jewish community to be the community that it aspires to be. So: a few suggestions and requests: The Hazon Seal of Sustainability. We’re patient. This is messianic. From 2007 to 2014 we did systemic work on the Farm Bill. And we worked to grow Jewish CSAs. And we were persistent in helping to bring shmita back to life. And now we’re in year two of a new seven-year cycle in Jewish life, and the Hazon Seal pilot we launched last year – in year […]

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