Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Baruch Dayan HaEmet - Reflections on the Loss of a Friend and Colleague

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen


Three days ago, my friend and colleague, Rabbi Debbie Slavitt, passed from this world to the next. Zichrona l''vracha - May her memory be a blessing.

Debbie was smart, warm, compassionate, and insightful. She was a scholar of Greek and Latin, thoughtful, and helpful. She was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, student, teacher, mentor. She had a sense of humor and a kind heart.

But Debbie was more than my friend and my colleague. She was also a member of my beit din, the three-person rabbinical court who stood beside me at the moment when I made the transition from lay person to rabbi.


Pirkei Avot - The Ethics of the Fathers, begins with these words:
Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly.
These words are recited at the Academy for Jewish Religion during ordination, followed by the recognition that the Torah is now being passed to a new generation of rabbis; they were recited as I receive my smicha, ordination. The mantle of leadership continues to be passed down, from one generation to the next, throughout the millenia, to generations that now include women.

Debbie was one of the three who stood next in line before me in the long line of rabbis that extends back to the Men of the Great Assembly, and onward back to Moses, and ultimately to G!d. She stood between me and all of that history. 

Now Debbie has entered that history, taking her place in the powerful line from G!d to the teachers of the future, l'olam va'ed - for all time.

I have lost a friend and a colleague, and a precious one standing between myself and that amazing beginning beside a mountain in the desert, but I have not lost her spirit and I have not lost the connections. Those remain forever.

Thank you Debbie, for all that you have done for me, and for all that you have been, all that you have given, all that you have loved, all that you have shared.

You will be missed.

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network, and a hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in 2005. 


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Tu BiShvat 5776 - Cup 4, Fruit 4, Step 4

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
This is the fourth in a series of four posts for Tu BiShvat.



As we approach the conclusion of our journey, our cups turn totally red, as we experience the full bounty of the harvest, even as we move beyond eating. We partake only of the invisible aromas, the essence emanating from fruits and bark and leaves. We take our fourth step for the planet. We are in the world of Atzilut.

Atzilut represents all that is intangible and invisible. It reminds us of G!d's presence emanating forth from among us and within us as we do the physical work of climate action. Atzilut represents birth and re-birth, and the sacred in our conversations, our actions, our being. Atzilut embodies the moments we meditate on reality with a full and open heart and find ourselves able to hold it. It symbolizes the outcries from the depths of our souls to world leaders to enact their historic agreement and to fully address the ecological debt we owe to present and future generations. Atzilut is the holy in all our efforts to create a better world. Atzilut embodies the dreams we hold for a better future and the stories we tell of a world safe for all inhabitants of this amazing planet.


Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network, and a hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in 2005. 


Friday, January 22, 2016

Tu BiShvat 5776 - Cup 3, Fruit 3, Step 3

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
This is the third in a series of four posts for Tu BiShvat.



We next add a bit more red to our cups and move toward summer and Beriah. We eat fruits that are fully edible. We take a third step for the planet.

Beriah represents creation. We now acknowledge the fullness of creation, and all that comprises that mysterious process. The seeds of the fruits we eat, the bearers of potential, are edible.

Beriah symbolizes our ability to be wholly present to both the pain of climate change and our hope and determination for a better world. This is a time to hold and acknowledge paradox, to stand in the breach between all that is sacred and all that is profane. It is a time to acknowledge the facts of the climate crisis and also to be inspired by the myriad of innovative, effective community-led solutions and alternatives that promote a culture of global solidarity.



Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network, and a hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in 2005. 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Tu BiShvat 5776 - Cup 2, Fruit 2, Step 2

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
This is the second in a series of four posts for Tu BiShvat.

From Assiyah we move to Yetzirah. We add a touch of red to the white wine or juice in our cup, and we move toward spring. We eat fruits with a soft outer portion and a hard inner core. We take a second step for the planet.

Yetzirah represents formation, the growth and development of potential into new reality. We eat fruits with pits that are inedible, but that are also the source of new plants and new growth. The edible part represents our better self. The inner hardness is the resting place of both our less-than-perfect selves and our dark emotions such as fear, despair, anger, grief, and more, which hold the potential for personal growth and transformation.

While Yetzirah acknowledges our inner painful realities, it also declares our ability to transform the hardness in our hearts and souls into compassion, determination, love, faith, and courage and so much more. Yetirah represents the urgent, deep, systemic transformation that climate change demands of us, of our communities, and of our world.


Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network, and a hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in 2005. 

Tu BiShvat 5776 - Cup 1, Fruit 1, Step 1

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen


During a seder on Tu Bishvat, the New Year for the Trees, we drink four cups of wine or grape juice and experience four kinds of fruits, customs that originated with the ancient Jewish mystics. Here you will find a modern twist, with reflections on these sets of four through the lens of climate change and our response, including references to the Four Steps for the Planet people were invited to take prior to Paris COP21 in solidarity with pilgrims walking across Europe and Africa to the climate talks. 

This is the first in a series of four posts for Tu BiShvat.

We begin our journey in the cold and dark of winter, in the world of Assiyah. We fill a cup with white wine or grape juice and our plates with fruits and nuts with a hard outer shell and a soft edible inside. We rise to take our first step for the planet.

Assiyah is actualization, the physical world of doing and acting. The fruits we eat remind us of the hard shells we carry with us, acting as a barrier between ourselves and the outer world. These fruits teach us that the hard outer shell of another may be masking a soft and tender heart. They symbolize the divine spark within each living being.

The hard outer shells also represent the denial of the reality of climate change that we hold onto in order to get through our days, as well as the times we put the specter of climate change aside in order to live in the precious now of our lives. Assiyah also represents the actions we take in an effort to mitigate the impact of rising global temperatures. It represents the changes in our individual and collective lifestyles: the gardens we plant, the letters we write, the rallies we attend, the solar panels we install, and every other action to try to make the world safer for all the inhabitants of the planet. Assiyah symbolizes the ecological choices required to reduce global energy consumption.


Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network, and a hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in 2005. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Exacerbating Climate Change: Why do people pursue evil policies?

by Andy Oram

Is there an evil force in the universe? We frequently undergo the temptation to say so. How can one shake off the gut sense that an evil force is responsible for the Shoah, and the zeal with which ordinary people across the European continent embraced the worst abuses of the Nazis? Regarding the ease with which self-satisfied Americans incorporated slavery, Jim Crow, and the slaughter of native peoples into their supposedly free society is another temptation to view evil as an intractable force in the world. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Human sex trafficking.

And now we have climate change. When one thinks that ordinary people subvert the political process to build up wealth that their grandchildren will not enjoy due to the devastation of the Earth, one is hard pressed to find any explanation except the intervention of a conscious evil.

Jews are familiar with evil in personage of Satan--accuser, in Hebrew--who appears in the book of Job as a servant of God, and is known in various between-the-testaments sources by a number of other names, such as Samael and Mastema). We refuse to recognize a demiurge in the Manichean or Gnostic sense--there is no spiritual anti-deity who vies with God to create evil in the world. Evil was created by the shattering of the vessels during creation, and is an emanation of God. So Satan is less than an enemy of God, but more than a Moishe Oofnik. He entered the snake to cause Eve’s downfall, is credited with the death of Sarah in various ways, and is the cause of much evil.

To understand Satan, I turned to Legends of the Bible, by Louis Ginzberg. There, Satan is one of the greatest of God’s angels, and is offended by God’s command to bow down to Adam (p. 33). The question of his motivation gets subtle (like the snake in Eden). The Christian view of Satan’s fall, as reported for instance by Milton in Paradise Lost, attributes his rebellion to pride, which reflects that trait’s position as a major sin in Christian eyes. In the Jewish legend, Satan balks for more principled reasons. He seems to believe that God is violating his own order (like many a faithful lieutenant, Satan applies the leader's principles more strictly than the leader ever intended):

Satan [complained] “Thou didst create us angels from the splendor of the Shkhinah, and now Thou dost command us to cast ourselves down before the creature which Thou didst fashion from the dust of the ground!” God answered, “Yet this dust of the ground has more wisdom and understanding than thou.”

Note how God refers to the newly being: “this dust of the ground” (of course, the name Adam is associated with the word for “ground” in Hebrew). God’s answer takes us to the core of the evil behind climate change. He indicates that Adam was in touch with the Earth, from whence came “wisdom and understanding” about how to treat it. Satan was a creature purely of Heaven and therefore unaware of the Earth’s necessities.

Perhaps the Jewish tradition needed Satan because in those days no one could imagine people who evolve so far away from the “dust of the ground” that they lose Adam’s wisdom and understanding. In our day, many have lost that connection with the Earth. That is why Satan’s evil is among us in the form of climate change.

Andy Oram is a writer and editor at O'Reilly Media, a leading media outlet in the computer field. He is also on the Leadership Team of the Jewish Climate Action Network and active in other progressive political organizations, and a member of Temple Shir Tikvah of Winchester, Mass. Some of his writings can be found at http://praxagora.com/andyo/fiction.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Hanukkah Night 8, 5776 - Seeing in Detail

Text by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
Photos by Gabi Mezger


Eight lights burning,
sending out light,
sending out heat -
the hanukkiah is full.



May our hearts be full as well,
of light 
and warmth,


allowing us to see
in detail
both the pain
and the beauty


of the world.





Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network, and a hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in 2005. 


Gabi Mezger photographs wherever she goes.