by Jacob Weiss, Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, Hazon Parashat Vayishlach This week’s Torah portion — Vayishlach — is jam packed with complex and significant plot lines that the reader can surely glean valuable lessons from. The parsha opens up with Jacob preparing himself and his family for their eventual encounter with his twin brother Esau, who he has not seen in quite a long while. We then read about Shimon and Levi’s attacking of the city of Shechem, followed by Rachel’s passing away, while giving birth to her youngest son Binyamin. I want to further examine the relationship of Jacob and Esau — and how that presents in this week’s parsha — as well as exploring Jacob’s nighttime meeting with the angel. In the first chapter of Vayishlach, Jacob says to God: “Now deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him, lest he come and strike me, and strike a mother and children.” We see here very clearly just how anxious Jacob is in anticipation of encountering his twin brother. Jacob and Esau are the perfect twin foils for one another. Since the time that Jacob came out of Rebecca’s womb clutching onto […]
by Darya Watnick, Edlavitch DC JCC, Washington, DC Chayei Sarah 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, as […]
by Darya Watnick, Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, Washington, DC Parashat 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. […]
by 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. […]
by 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); […]
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 […]
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 […]
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. […]
by Michael Fraade, Jewish Community of Louisville, Louisville, KY Parashat Vayera Editor’s Note: Welcome to D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog! Most weeks throughout the year, you’ll be hearing from the JOFEE Fellows: reflections on their experiences, successful programs they’ve planned and implemented, gleanings from the field, and connections to the weekly Torah portion and what they’ve learned from their experiences with place in their host communities for the year. Views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily represent Hazon. Be sure to check back weekly! P.S. Interested in being or hosting a JOFEE Fellow? Applications for cohort two are now open for both prospective fellows and prospective host institutions and will continue to be reviewed as positions are available. Parashat Vayera opens with Abraham rushing to greet three guests who appear near his tent while he is sitting under a terebinth. “My lords,” he insists, “Let a little water be brought; bathe your feet and recline under the tree. And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves.” He and Sarah prepare bread, milk, and a freshly slaughtered calf for their guests, who soon reveal themselves as angels and inform Abraham that Sarah will soon give birth […]
by Bailey Lininger, Tamarack Camps, Bloomfield Hills, MI Parashat Noach Editor’s Note: Welcome to D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog! Most weeks throughout the year, you’ll be hearing from the JOFEE Fellows: reflections on their experiences, successful programs they’ve planned and implemented, gleanings from the field, and connections to the weekly Torah portion and what they’ve learned from their experiences with place in their host communities for the year. Views expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily represent Hazon. Be sure to check back weekly! P.S. Interested in being or hosting a JOFEE Fellow? Applications for cohort two are now open for both prospective fellows and prospective host institutions and will continue to be reviewed as positions are available. Some days, my job makes me feel like Noah, stocking his Ark full of animals before the flood, the weight of the world’s responsibility on my shoulders. Let me explain: At Tamarack Camps, where I’m placed as a JOFEE fellow, I have the good fortune of being the supervisor of Tamarack’s brand new nature center: The Teva Center. Just finished in June 2016, we’ve slowly but surely been filling with new animal residents ever since. Our goal is a nature center filled with […]
by Danielle Smith, Eden Village Camp, Putnam Valley, NY Parashat Ki Tavo Editor’s Note: Welcome to D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog! Most weeks throughout the year, you’ll be hearing from the JOFEE Fellows: reflections on their experiences, successful programs they’ve planned and implemented, gleanings from the field, and connections to the weekly Torah portion and what they’ve learned from their experiences with place in their host communities for the year. Be sure to check back weekly! P.S. Interested in being or hosting a JOFEE Fellow? Applications for cohort two are now open for both prospective fellows and prospective host institutions! In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, Moses speaks reflectively and instructively to the Israelites as they approach the Promised Land, finally nearing the end of their forty year journey through the wilderness. Here at Eden Village Camp, we may not have spent forty years wandering the wilderness of Putnam Valley (though sometimes the packed days and weeks at camp can feel almost as long #jewishcamptime), but the transition into the fall season is the perfect time for deep reflection and exhalations. It was a fast leap from summer into the slower pace of the fall, and after two months of […]
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by Sarah Chandler Geshem Be’ito (Acceptance of Rain in Its Time) The following essay will be published in the forthcoming book of teachings “Good Noticing” published by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. The rhythms of the Jewish calendar may not coincide with your particular climate. At times, our traditional rituals may range from the impractical to the impossible. For example, in the Northern Hemisphere, calling upon light in the darkness of Chanukah in Kislev/December always resonates, but singing about blossoming trees in Shevat/January may not make sense. How can we stay true to our tradition when the weather doesn’t cooperate? And as mindfulness practitioners, how might we elevate the news of undesirable weather? Those of us who live in the Northeastern United States are usually blessed with bountiful precipitation year-round. Furthermore, our religion is no longer based on the careful balance between following God’s laws and receiving in return enough rain for our crops to survive. The Reform movement even removed the second paragraph of the Shema from prayer books to make the bold statement: we are modern Jews—we do not believe that we can influence God to change the weather by keeping the commandments of our tradition. Recent evidence […]
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