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Topic: Spirituality

high holidays shofar

(A small number of) you are invited to join us for the chagim at Isabella Freedman

Wednesday, September 9, 2020 | 20 Elul 5780   Dear All, These of course will be unique chagim. The shuls and rabbis are preparing hard, and now is a time to send love to every rabbi, to every cantor, to every leader of a minyan, to every leader of a shul. Elbow hugs to everyone. Our own pivot has been parallel. Having trialed small Covid-safe retreats at Isabella Freedman, we are now planning to do small retreats for the chagim. Normally, as you know, part of the essence of Hazon and of retreats at Isabella Freedman is a deep commitment to inclusive community. At Sukkahfest, for instance, there will typically be davening in many different flavors – “orthodox”; “trad egal”; “renewal”; “meditation” and so on. (I use quote marks because each word is only a short-hand and an approximation – often not a very good one – for the davening itself. C’est ca.) This time around – for capacity reasons – we are stacking, as it were, horizontally rather than vertically. So Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat Shuva/Yom Kippur will be liberal orthodox, led by Rabbi Avram Mlotek and Yael Kornfeld; the first yontef of Sukkot will be led by Rav […]

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carly sugar holds a shofar

Rosh Chodesh Elul, the instinct for joy – and a great short video on blowing the shofar

Thursday, August 20, 2020 | 30 Av 5780 | Rosh Chodesh Elul   Dear All, Today is my grandma’s 17th yahrtzeit. Tomorrow, the first of Elul, would have been my father’s 88th birthday. To be honest, we didn’t realize that this was Dad’s birthday until after he died. But in my grandma’s case, her yahrtzeit has always been significant to me. This is because of the fascinating construction of Rosh Chodesh Elul. It’s a two-day new moon – today and tomorrow – but today is the last day of Av, and tomorrow, which is the second day of Rosh Chodesh, is the first day of Elul. And so tomorrow is the day we start to blow shofar. To me, my grandma’s yahrtzeit comes to remind me, as it were – tomorrow it begins… And by “it” I mean this whole period, from now through to the end of Simchat Torah, with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as the twin apex points, in the middle. “It” is a shorthand for “teshuvah, u’tefillah u’tzedakah” – teshuvah, striving to return to our best selves; tefillah, something about looking both within and beyond, for guidance and with gratitude; and tzedakah, not just in the broader sense […]

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Mourning Eternity in the Cedars of Lebanon

By Jessica Haller There is one place in the world today where you can touch the grandchildren or perhaps even the sibling trees of the actual trees King Solomon ordered to build the First Temple.  The Cedars of Lebanon still stand in Barouk forest, Shouf Biosphere Reserve South of Beirut – a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The last 17 square miles remain of the Cedars of Lebanon.  They are ancient, tall, wide, amazing specimens. Scientists report that the stand will be extinct by the end of this century. Cutting those trees was Solomon’s first command in Kings 1 when he began instruction to build the Temple.  King Solomon knew the trees – as the wisest man in the world, the Navi says he “discoursed” on the trees – and knew their powers.  Cedars of Lebanon live for thousands of years.  Their wood does not rot, it resists fire, smells wonderful, conducts sound in wonderful ways, and is extremely strong.  The Phoenicians used the Cedars of Lebanon to build their ships, and the Egyptians used it for paper.  Solomon knew the Cedars of Lebanon would stand forever and chose their wood as the floor and walls of the Temple. Walking through […]

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Out of the Crash

Dear Friends, R’ Benay Lappe, who runs SVARA queer yeshiva in Chicago, teaches what she calls her “crash theory.” Every person and every group has a narrative that defines us and our beliefs, she says. This is called a “master story.” At some point, however, ultimately and inevitably, every master story will one day come crumbling down. On a personal level, this might be a job loss, a divorce, or a tragedy of some sort. On a Jewish communal level, the prototypical “crash moment” was the destruction of the Second Temple, which we will mourn as a community nine days from tonight, on Tisha B’Av. You see, when the Second Temple crashed in 70 CE, the Israelites’ entire way of life crashed with it. For our ancient ancestors, the Temple was their center of peoplehood and practice. It was where they made pilgrimage three times a year, where they spiritually and physically oriented, and where God’s presence – they believed – dwelt most close and most high. When the Temple was destroyed, their entire system was in shambles and the future of Israelite religion was unclear at best. So what does one do when their master story is in peril? […]

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Hazon Detroit: Time to Grow

Dear Friends, I was present once, when a teacher told a full room, “In the years ahead, we will be called to be both the hospice caretakers of the old world, the old structures, and midwives of the new one.” It has stuck with me deeply ever since, as I’ve attuned my senses to a crossfade of sorts, watching the volume of an old way being turned down as the volume of a new song increases. With Passover just a few short days away, perhaps we could think of this crossfade like the mythic Israelites leaving Egypt, escaping the cacophony of slavery while cranking up the volume on liberation. At the crux of that crossfade is the 10th plague, when God vows to kill all Egyptian firstborn (Exodus 12:12). This of course, leads directly to the Israelite exodus across the sea. But this is not the whole story. In that same breath, God also promises to bring judgment on the false gods of Egypt (12:12). According to the midrash (Exodus Rabbah 16:3), the true and lasting liberation comes not only from the physical leaving of Egypt, but from the Israelites’ emphatic refusal to worship the idols of Egyptian rule. Yes, […]

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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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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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goat turtle

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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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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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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goat chicken

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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