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Topic: Spirituality

Why a Jewish Meditation Retreat?

by Rabbi Jay Michaelson Why do mindfulness meditation in a Jewish context? These days, there are seemingly endless ways to meditate: in secular contexts, like mindfulness-based stress reduction; in a wide variety of Buddhist communities; at yoga classes. So why do Jewish? It’s not because Jewish meditation practices are better, holier, or more effective than any others. Believe me, I’ve studied them for twenty-five years. There are some uniquely Jewish practices that can be helpful for some people – Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav’s hitbodedut comes to mind – but in fact, Buddhist traditions, coming from a tradition which placed meditation at the center of monastic life for two thousand years, actually tend to be more fully developed than Jewish ones, which don’t. That’s why, at the Hazon Meditation Retreat, we tend to focus on Buddhist-derived meditation practices like mindfulness and open awareness, and blend them with Jewish practices like davening and Shabbat. But there are a lot of reasons to meditate in a Jewish context, whether you’re Jewish or not. Here are four. First, there’s a powerful cultural resonance. Whether Judaism is in my genetic DNA or not, it’s definitely in my cultural DNA. Jews have special joys and oys; […]

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Rosh HaShanah for Animals by Rabbi Aaron Philmus

Rosh Chodesh Elul, 5779 By Rabbi Aaron Philmus Temple Torat Yisrael, Rhode Island Sheep, goats, cows, camels and donkeys… Domesticated animals get almost as much air-time in the Torah as people do, yet we so rarely reflect on our relationship with them. We may have a soft spot for dogs and cats, but what about the animals that feed us and clothe us every day? What about the animals that give us parchment for Torah, wool for Tallit, and skin for tefillin? The Mishna tells us that along with Rosh Hashanah for the people and the trees, there is also a New Year for the tithing of animals on the 1st of Elul called Rosh HaShanah La-Behemah. Elul is also a time of cheshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul), so when we hear the blast of the ram’s horn, let us attune ourselves to the cries of the animals who cannot advocate for their own welfare. As I type these words, my goats are crying out for me to take them on a walk in the woods. I can hear my chickens alarming, “buk buk buk buh-GAHK!” When I look out the window, there is a mob of crows dive-bombing […]

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Gratitude… and getting ready…

Friday, August 23, 2019 | 22 Av 5779Dear All,It’s summertime. This email is full of gratitude and the inspiration to strive to do good in the world.Years ago I learned from Anna Hanau this line from one of her teachers – you know you’re on the right track when your solution to one problem solves a bunch of other ones.That’s true of our work in Michigan, epitomized by the Hazon Michigan Jewish Food Festival – and last weekend we held our fourth, the largest and most successful yet, with over 7,000 people. We’re helping to drive change. We’re helping Jewish organizations to become more sustainable, including the now 20 who are in our Hazon Seal of Sustainability program from the Detroit region. We’re strengthening local food systems. We’re playing a not insignificant role in helping to reconnect the suburbs and the city, and the Jewish community and the African American community, and we’re especially proud of the work we’ve done in supporting Oakland Avenue Urban Farm. And we’re doing all this with love and celebration and Jewish groundedness and openness. So: real gratitude. Huge thanks to our staff and funders, to all our partner organizations, to our volunteers and helpers, to all the purveyors and […]

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Eikev and the Seven Species | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Sarah Rockford, JOFEE Fellow Cohort 4, Maine Jewish Food Network at Colby College Center for Small Town Jewish Life – Waterville, ME Parshat Eikev Fourteen years ago I read from parshat Eikev as a bat mitzvah. As I stood on the bimah and chanted my way through the aliyot, I reflected briefly that the eleventh-hour cramming I’d done over the past hours seemed to be paying off, but reading the final aliyah my concentration waivered, and I lost my place in the scroll. I continued to chant the Hebrew words I’d memorized while theatrically moving the lost yad along the rows of letters on the parchment. When I ran out of words in my head I stopped chanting and shot a desperate look at the rabbi—hoping he would reorient me so I could finish the portion. Our eyes met, he smiled, and congratulated me. I’d finished the aliyah from memory without realizing, and no one was the wiser for my mistake. Relieved and full of adrenaline I started to cry as the congregation began to sing Siman Tov U’Mazal Tov. I believe everyone thought I was having a profound spiritual moment, but these were tears of relief. I was just happy the […]

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Endings and beginnings

 Significant staff changes at Hazon… Thursday, August 8, 2019 | 6 Av 5779 Dear All, In the Torah, this is an end, and then a beginning. We’re starting to read the book of Devarim. It’s the last book of the Torah, and a pivot which leads in one direction to the post-Torah books, Nevi’im and Ketuvim (the Prophets and the Writings) and, in a different direction, back again to the Genesis stories. In the Jewish calendar, this is the end of the three weeks. On Saturday night Tisha b’avbegins, and we re-enact our own deaths; on Sunday afternoon we start to come back to life, and in due course it will be Tu b’av, the festival of love, and then Elul and the beginning of a whole new year. And at Hazon much change also. Our strategic plan marks the end of one era, and the start of the next. It represents the belated completion of the three-way merger between Hazon, Isabella Freedman, and Teva. Legally that merger took place on the 1st of January 2014. But it is only now, in a sense, that we are finally committing to weave together the different parts of this organization towards a single clear goal – changing the nature of organized Jewish life, […]

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Harvesting and Baking our Heritage | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Hannah Fine – Hazon Detroit Parshat Shelach In parshat Shelach, Moses sent twelve spies to scout out the land of Canaan and report back to the Israelites. All of the spies returned with the same objective report. It was a land of milk and honey brimming with fruit and sustenance. There were grapes, and figs, and pomegranates which they even brought back to show Moses and the Israelites. The spies also reported that the inhabitants of the land were mighty and intimidating. While all twelve spies saw the same land and shared the same observations, they were split between two opposing conclusions. Ten of the spies were convinced that the formidability of the inhabitants meant certain demise for the Israelites. Doom was a foregone conclusion so it was not even worth trying. The other two spies, Caleb and Joshua, had a different interpretation. They were confident that, despite the strength of the peoples and societies in Canaan, the Israelites could overcome it. Caleb and Joshua contended that the greatness of the Promised Land was worth the challenge.  At Hazon Detroit, we are working to overcome a formidable structure that exists in our land: the lopsided nature Michigan’s grain industry. […]

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Hazon Detroit: The Wheat Harvest

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 […]

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Light In The Dark | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Ilana Unger, Pearlstone Center Parshat Vayeishev In parshat Vayeishev (Genesis 37:1-40:23), lands on the third Shabbat of Kislev, we connect deeply to this Jewish month of actualization and revelation. For example: Vayeishev is the Hebrew word for “and he lived” (actualization) and nine out of the ten dreams that we read in the Torah are in this month (revelation). To recap the many things that happen in this parsha: Joseph is exiled and sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers. Joseph is then falsely accused of sexually assaulting Potiphar’s wife and is sent to the Pharaoh’s prison where he becomes an overseer in the prison. He is joined in prison by the Pharaoh’s butler and baker. They say they have had vivid dreams and are looking for an interpreter. Joseph interprets their dreams and accurately does so, predicting that the baker be hanged while the butler will be restored to his job duties. As Joseph is literally in a dark place in the prison, he is selfless and wants to hear and listen to how he can help the butler and baker. Kislev, which derives from the Hebrew word kesel (כֶּסֶל), means either “security,” or “trust.” Joseph seems to […]

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Turning Yom Kippur into Action

Dear friends — If you’re like me, you probably spent some of your Yom Kippur last week thinking about how to better live up to your ideals — how to be kinder, more just, more in touch with the sacred. Well, here’s an advertisement for how to put that resolution into practice. Having spent twenty-five years exploring spirituality, therapy, meditation, medication, self-help, human potential, sacred sexuality, entheogens, and a dozen or so paths to the holy, I think that meditation retreat has been the single most effective tool in the never-finished project of becoming more alive, more awake, and more invested in pursuing justice. I’m sure this isn’t true for everyone, but it has definitely been true for me and for many of the “spiritual friends” and teachers who have inspired me along the way. In my experience, no awesome spiritual state, no study, and no political action can transform the mind and heart the way that meditation does — and no amount of daily meditation can do the work of a multi-day meditation retreat. That’s true whether you’re suffering and looking for healing, or comfortable and interested in doing more with your one, precious life. Contemplative neuroscience has now […]

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Listen Ya’ll! | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Alex Voynow, Jewish Farm School  Parshat Haazinu [NOTE: Applications for the next JOFEE Fellowship cohort are open now through October 5! Apply today!] In Ha’azinu, Moses sees the Israelites for who they are: humans, scarred by 40 years of impatient wandering and in no mood to listen obediently. Moses is 120 years old and holds so much wisdom; this is the last day before his death, and he has some things to say. He has the story of his life to tell, which in his epic personal union with the Israelite people is also the story of God. He needs them to understand, like the tender, concerned patriarch that he is, how to live in God’s favor so they can blossom into the promised land and not mess up this covenant (fast-forward: oops).   What he has to say is so important that he does something that really resonates with me. Moses speaks language that heaven and earth themselves will understand, and in a language that will more likely move the people: in song. He launches into a 48-verse poem doing his damnedest to sum up his life’s spiritual learnings. I’m not going to get into it because it’s densely […]

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Indigenous Rights and Reconciliation | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Jared Kaminsky, Shoresh Parshat Shoftim The parsha of the week is Shoftim, which means Judges. As Moses nears the end of his life, he wants to ensure there is a system of governance in society. Shoftim gives detailed ordinances on many topics of law, including appointing judges, laws that kings should follow, creating cities of refuge when crimes are committed, and the rules of war. For example, the parsha states that appointed judges are forbidden from taking bribes and there must be two credible witnesses for a conviction. Another ordinance demands that kings must not have too many horses and must always carry around two Torah scrolls to remind them that G-D is above them. The Torah even provides a city of refuge for those who accidentally murdered someone to live in safety! While many of these laws do not apply to modern society, there are some important insights into preventing corruption and treatment of humankind that we can still learn from. Moses recognized that every generation has the obligation to critically examine and apply the laws of the Torah. As Jews we should examine the laws that govern the places we live and work to protect the rights of […]

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The Binary of One | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Sofia Marbach, Wilderness Torah Parshat Re’eh I set before you today a blessing and a curse; The blessing, that you will heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the way I command you this day, to follow other gods, which you did not know. — Deuteronomy 11:26-28 Yikes! The first lines of Re’eh present us with a terrifying binary: choose to follow closely each commandment or consider yourself cursed by God. If we opt out of the choosing, what does Judaism leave for us? The text goes on to list detailed instructions for violence against those who might persuade you to worship the gods of other peoples, and against the idols of those who tended your land before. This is the kind of violence that mirrors and reinforces patriarchal systems of dominance and oppression lived today and throughout history. So how do we grapple with guidelines for patriarchal violence in our holiest book — a violence that divides us into binary understandings of the world? How do we connect to tradition as “People of the […]

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Choosing our History | D’varim HaMakom: The JOFEE Fellows Blog

by Henry Schmidt, Shalom Institute Parshat Devarim The Torah may be our past, but Devarim, the shared name both for this week’s Torah portion and for the fifth book of the Torah, is our history. What is the difference between past and history? Our past is simply a chronology of events, one after another, that bring us to the present. It is what one may observe if they traveled back in time and watched things unfold. History, on the other hand, adds important layers; history is the past we choose to tell and how we tell it. The establishment of history is an inherently political process. Whoever has the most access to public discourse or public thought typically gets to shape the narrative of the people. In the case of Devarim, this power rests solely with Moses. Though he shall not see the promised land and must cede this honor to his successor, Joshua, he still possesses the most powerful role of this period for the Jewish people: he gets to tell them their own story. After all, Devarim translates to “the words,” and these are “the words” of the Jewish people. We already know that the Jews eventually receive […]

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