Sunday, August 31, 2014

Earth Etude for Elul 6 - Living with Change

by Rabbi Howard Cohen

The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization. --Ralph Waldo Emerson

With the approach of the season of Teshuvah it is once again time to reflect on our relationship with the earth.  In the past I would have asked myself questions such as ‘did I waste natural resources’; or ‘did I pour unreasonable amounts of carbon into the atmosphere’; or ‘did I speak out against corporate environmental abuse’.  These questions are important but I believe that there is another set of questions equally or more important that we should start asking ourselves.  This year I am asking ‘how prepared am I to live in an ecologically changed/damaged world’ and ‘how am I helping others cope with the environmental changes we fear that are now a part of our reality’.

Humans have already irreversibly and negatively impacted the ecology and environment of the earth.  Perhaps we can mitigate to some degree future damage, but we cannot undo what has been done.  Thus, the most important existential challenge today is how to live in our environmentally affected world.

Sadly, the environmental movement has failed.  This is not because Truth and science are not on its side, nor because it lacked resources or organization.  It failed because it was essentially a messianic movement. Like all messianic movements it focused on final outcomes: If we don’t change our ways terrible things await us (think Jonah and his commission from God to the Ninevites).  But if we change (teshuvah) our ways we can avoid this horrible fate and enjoy heaven on earth.  Alternatively it was messianic because it was built upon the belief that in the end if we do right we can return (teshuvah) the earth and all therein to a time when it was much more like the days of the Garden of Eden.  (Think Shabbat as a taste of the Olam HaBa, that is, in the Garden of Eden). The environmental movement failed because messianic movements always fail.

This is a dark message if we are afraid of the unknown.  This is a depressing message if we do not prepare for the changes scientist are quite confident will almost certainly come.  That is why this year when I reflect on my earth/nature relationship instead of asking what can I do better next year to stop the inevitable changes from happening, I am going to ask how can I live with and help others live with the changes already under way.  Learning to live within a changed environment can be empowering, inspire hope and stimulate creativity.  It is not, nor does it need to be depressing.

Rabbi Howard Cohen runs Judaism Outdoors: Burning Bush Adventures, through which he takes people into the wilderness for an unforgettable experience of God, Judaism, and wilderness,

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Earth Etude for Elul 5 - Giving Yourself an Autumn Break

by Andrew Oram

This time of year always seems a hurricane of activity: coming back from vacation to reams of email, or starting school, or dealing with all the pent-up housework that went blissfully ignored during the easy summer months.

Traditionally, Jews see this time of year very differently. Like typical Americans, this period is for them both an ending and a beginning: a recognition of the waning of life and an invigorating harbinger of new possibilities. But in place of the chaotic hurricane that starts for us after Labor Day, many Jews launch a period of quiet, internal reconstruction four days earlier on the first day of Elul.

Leaving mental space and physical time for self-reflectionand doing it now, precisely because this is such a busy time of year—represents an excellent discipline that can preserve mental and physical health throughout the year.

The change of seasons also teaches about of the amazing balance in the Earth that gives us food, clean air, and all good things. We don't need to lament the end of warm weather and the reminder that in a few months we will be buried in snow. Snow is one of the great blessings of God--not just because we enjoy winter sports, but because it forms the perfect storage medium that, when the climate works right, preserves the water coming from Heaven that is needed months later for the plants that sprang up on the third day of Creation.

We don't have to approach Elul through the traditional obsession with the S-word (sin). We can look back at what we wanted to accomplish during the year, and measure how far we have come. We can recall what unanticipated challenges and woes came up, congratulate ourselves for making it through them, and give a thumb's up to the greater force that might have helped. We can ask why it is (if so) we do more Jewish stuff during High Holidays than the rest of year, and consider incrementing our Jewish practice and thinking year-round. And most of all, we should take a vow to devote part of the year to the preservation of the Earth, so that our descendants can enjoy High Holidays three thousand years from now.


Andrew Oram is an editor and writer at the technology company O'Reilly Media, a member of Temple Shir Tikvah of Winchester, Massachusetts, and an activist in the Jewish Climate Action Network and other local
organizations.

(This is adapted from an article originally published in the newsletter of Temple Shir Tivkvah, Winchester, Mass.)


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Earth Etude for Elul 3 - Let It Rest

by Carol Reiman

Let it rest--
the land that we have worked so hard, the grassy fare for geese now taken by the high tech labs, the water diverted far away to leave the old spot bare, the day diminished by our dense cramming, electronics robbing our eyes of moisture...

Let it rest--
the fish sleep still near the bottom, the standing horse relaxes muscles, the cat stretches and curls...

Let it rest--
the yawn exchanges stale air for fresh, cells grow, the blood flows with its passengers for new destinations, brain pathways renew...

Let it rest--
allow the deep within to reflect that beyond; hear and see, smell, touch, and taste; be in the moment; live...

Let it rest--
the quiet company of presence and reconnection, time for parts to settle, ideas to form, words to fall into place...

Let it rest--
let go the grudge; allow resentment, fear, discomfort to dissolve; accept us all as parts of the Community...

The seventh day, the seventh year, the jubilee--
see what is good, respect Creation, acknowledge the work that has been done, share fairly, come together for next steps...


Carol C. Reiman works as library support staff in Dorchester. She finds support with Somerville and Wayland congregations and with her cat.

Earth Etude for Elul 2 - Anticipation

by Judith Felsen

My King, Your gentle breezes late in Av
are felt as invitations all of which do whisper
of our meeting in Your fields.
The trails we carve of our teshuvah
are the inner journey,
clearings of atonement
cut with our corrections
all paths of prayer
sincerely speaking to our oneness.
Av’s daily sun warms travels of the heart
and strengthens our resolve to come to You.
Your nighttime cairns, all glittering stars
and shimmering moon light nights of inspiration
filled with study of Your Torah
and deep reflection of the soul.
As this moon wanes, anticipation grows
with yearnings for our closeness,
love’s connection, and our rendezvous.
On grateful heels, knees bent in welcome of respect and awe,
our walk to You is coached by words of blessings’ joys
as curses’ cautions, warnings and Your admonitions
also aid and guide our way.
And so the darkened moon does harken our connection
this Aliyah, our meeting in Your fields
which we have sown with our teshuvah,
harvesting correction, change, and Your forgiveness,
farming always with Your love.

Copyright 2014 Judith Felsen, Ph.D. Used by permission.

Judith Felsen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, certificates in hypnotherapy, NLP, Eriksonian Hypnosis , and Sacred Plant Medicine. She is a dancer of sacred circle dance, an AMC kitchen crew , taril information volunteer, trail adopter, and daily student of Torah and Judaism. She is enrolled in Rabbinical Seminary International. She has studied Buddhism, A Course in Miracles, and other mystical traditions. She is a hiker, walker, runner, and lives in the White Mountains with her husband and two large dogs. Her life centers around her Jewish studies and daily application.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Earth Etude for Elul 1 - The Shmita Year

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

In the Torah, we find three cycles of seven that mark the Jewish way of being in the world: Shabbat, a day of rest for humans and animals after six days of work, shmita, a year of rest for the Earth and the community after six years of agriculture and economic interactions, and the Jubilee Year, the end of seven cycles of shmita, the year of freedom.

Does a day of rest each week have meaning to you? For many of us, such a frequent and regular segment of time to set aside for rest can be a challenge. Then what about a year of rest? That is even harder to wrap our brains around! What would it mean in today's world to have a year that is set aside to be experienced differently than the previous six years and the upcoming six years? For the land around us and for the way we interact within our communities?


To give us a start in thinking about this complex idea, here are the Biblical texts* that form the core teachings of Shmita, in some cases set in the context of the verses around it. I invite you to read, to consider, and to process these verses.


1  You are not to take up an empty rumor. Do not put your hand in with a guilty person, to become a witness for wrongdoing.   
2  You are not to go after many people to do evil. And you are not to testify in a quarrel so as to turn aside toward many-and thus turn away. 
3  Even a poor-man you are not to respect as regards his quarrel.

4  Now when you encounter your enemy’s ox or his donkey straying, return it, return it to him.

5  And when you see the donkey of one who hates you crouching under its burden, restrain from abandoning it to him- unbind, yes, unbind it together with him.
6  You are not to turn aside the rights of your needy as regards his quarrel.
7  From a false matter, you are to keep far! And one clear and innocent, do not kill, for I do not acquit a guilty-person.
8  A bribe you are not to take, for a bribe blinds the open-eyed, and twists the words of the righteous.
9  A sojourner, you are not to oppress: you yourselves know well the feelings of the sojourner, for sojourners were you in the land of Egypt.

10  For six years you are to sow your land and to gather in its produce, 

11  but in the seventh, you are to let it go [tishm'tenah] and to let it be [u'nitashta], that the needy of your people may eat, and what remains,  the wildlife of the field shall eat. Do thus with your vineyard, with your olive-grove.  – Exodus 23.1-11


1  The Lord spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai, saying: 2  Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land is to cease, a Sabbath-ceasing to the Lord.
3  For six years you are to sow your field, for six years you are to prune your vineyard, then you are to gather in its produce,  4  but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of Sabbath-ceasing for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord: your field you are not to sow, your vineyard you are not to prune,
5  the aftergrowth of your harvest you are not to harvest, the grapes of your consecrated-vines you are not to amass; a Sabbath of Sabbath-ceasing shall there be for the land!
6  Now the Sabbath-yield of the land is for you, for eating: for you, for your servant and for your handmaid, for your hired-hand and for your resident-settler who sojourn with you;  7 and for your domestic-animal and the wild-beast that are in your land shall be all its produce, to eat.  – Leviticus 25.1-7

1 At the end of seven years, you are to make a Release [shmita]. 2  Now this is the matter of the Release: he shall release, every possessor of a loan of his hand, what he has lent to his neighbor. He is not to oppress his neighbor or his brother, for the Release of the Lord has been proclaimed!...
7  When there is among you a needy-person from any-one of your brothers, within one of your gates in the land that the Lord your G!d is giving you, you are not to toughen your heart, you are not to shut your hand to your brother, the needy-one.
8  Rather, you are to open, yes, open your hand to him, and are to give-pledge, yes, pledge to him, sufficient for his lack that is lacking to him.
9  Take-you-care, lest there be a word in your heart, a base-one, saying: the seventh year, the Year of Release, is nearing- and your eye be set-on-ill toward your brother, the needy-one, and you not give to him, so that he calls out because of you to the Lord, and sin be incurred by you.
10  You are to give, yes, give freely to him, your heart is not to be ill-disposed in your giving to him, for on account of this matter the Lord your G!d will bless you in all your doings and in all the enterprises of your hand!
11  For the needy will never be-gone from amid the land; therefore I command you, saying: You are to open, yes, open your hand to your brother, to your afflicted-one, and to your needy-one in your land!  – Deuteronomy 15.1-2, 7-11

18  You are to observe my laws, my regulations you are to keep, and observe them, that you may be settled on the land in security,  19  that the land may give forth its fruit and that you may eat to being-satisfied, and be settled in security upon it. 20  Now if you should say to yourselves: What are we to eat in the seventh year, for we may not sow, we may not gather our produce?
21  Then I will dispatch my blessing for you during the sixth year so that it yields produce for three years;  22  as you sow the eighth year’s seeds, you shall eat of the old produce until the ninth year; until its produce comes in, you shall be able to eat what-is-old.  – Leviticus 25.18-22


10  And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of Shmita, at the Festival of Sukkot,  11  when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your G!d at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 
12  Assemble [hakhel] the people, men, women, and children, and the travelers within your towns, that they may hear and that they may learn; and they will have awe before the Lord your G!d, and guard all the words of this Torah, and to act upon it,  13  and that their children, who have not yet known it, may hear and learn and have awe before the Lord your G!d, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.   – Deuteronomy 31.10-13

What do these verses inspire in us? What thoughts come to mind? How would YOU want to observe the shmitah year? What kinds of changes would this require?

May we each find the strength, the courage, and the will to make the changes needed in ourselves that will help the world to be a better place, from our hearts to the farthest point on the planet, from our homes to the deepest wilderness.

May it be so.

*Translations are from The Hazon Shmitah Handbook, by Yigal Deutscher, Anna Hanau, and Nigel Savage.

Rabbi Katy Z. Allen is the founder and leader of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope in Wayland, MA, and a staff chaplain at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. She is also the co-convener of the Jewish Climate Action Network and the co-creator of Gathering in Grief: The Israel / Gaza Conflict.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Reflections on Gathering in Grief for Hope and Healing: Israel / Gaza 2014 Conflict

 by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

After the violence began between Gaza and Israel, I felt such pain about the situation, and I didn't know what to do with those feelings. I was upset about many aspects and impacts of the conflict, and I was immobilized.

Then one day something shifted in me, and I suddenly found the strength I had been lacking. I began to realize that there is one thing we all share, and that is our intense grief – grief for those who have been killed, grief at the shattering of any hope that might have been building, despair that the future will ever brighten, and so much more. And it occurred to me that our grief could bring us together. I have led grief workshops in other contexts – facilitating and holding the expression of intense emotions in others are skills that I have. I realized that this was a way that I could do something, here was a way I could make a difference in peoples lives.

I reached out to my Muslim friend Chaplain Shareda Hosein, whom I know and respect from the chaplaincy world. When we spoke, she told me that when she read my email, she felt as though an aching prayer in her heart had been answered.

Shareda and I worked hard to design an environment for deep listening, which we wanted at the core of the program. The two of us clicked – the process was simple, for the planning simply flowed forth without hindrance. We contacted Open Spirit CenterA Place of Hope, Health, and Harmony, in Framingham, where both Shareda and I had previously lead workshops, and they eagerly agreed to host the event. 

Once Shareda and I knew what we wanted to do, we asked other faith leaders to help us facilitate the gathering, six in total, knowing that it would be too powerful for just the two of us to hold, and wanting to include our Christian friends. When the evening arrived, we had no idea how many people to expect, but at least there would be the six of us – Rev. Debbie Clark of Edwards Church and Open Spirit Center, Rev. Fred Moser of Church of the Holy Spirit in Wayland, Nabeel Kudairi of the Islamic Council of New England, Rabbi Matia Angelou, chaplain at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and Care Dimensions Hospice, Chaplain Shareda Hosein of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center and the Association of Muslim Chaplains, and myself, chaplain at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and rabbi of Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope.

When the evening came, people started arriving early. One woman told me that she wanted to get a parking space, and she feared the parking lot would fill up! Slowly people trickled in, in ones and twos and threes. Before long, the parking lot did fill, and we kept adding chairs to our circle.

Debbie welcomed everyone to Open Spirit, and we stated that we were not gathering to solve anything or to blame anyone, but to share what was on our hearts and to hear what was on the hearts of others. We acknowledged that what we had gathered to do was difficult, and that we needed both to be gentle on ourselves and also to hold ourselves to the ground rules we agreed upon.

We began by using ritual to create a sense of safe and sacred space. In the center of our circle we placed a large glass bowl of water. Shareda spoke about the importance of water in Muslim tradition for ritual cleansing, and then about gratitude. Matia gave each person a beach rock to hold, inviting them to squeeze it tightly if they found themselves triggered by something someone said. Fred spoke about deep listening from the perspective of Christian tradition.

Nabeel invited people to pair off and to practice deep listening by introducing themselves to their neighbor and then sharing about something for which they felt grateful. The previously quiet room was suddenly abuzz with voices as people got to know each other. We then took the time to allow each person to introduce his or her partner and to tell what they felt grateful for. A number of people mentioned their gratitude for being present in this gathering. We went around the circle in order, and by the time each person had spoken, the space inside our circle was being framed and held by gratitude. The sense of the sacred was imminent.

We turned then to grief. I spoke about the mosaic of grief: our grief in response to a personal loss is made up of many aspects and many emotions; it is not a single feeling, but a multitude of responses to our days, our environment, and our situation. When we are dealing with communal tragedy, it takes all of us together, with all of our myriad emotions, to create the mosaic of our grief.

We gave people sheets of colored paper and Debbie asked them to write down their feelings and place their papers on the floor. Gradually the floor became covered by paper “tiles” as we literally created the mosaic of our grief. As people finished, we spread out the papers and invited everyone to walk around and read all the comments.

Once we had returned to our seats, then, and only then, did we invite people to speak their grief. The circle of 39 people held all of our intense emotions. It was strong enough and solid enough to do so.

When we had finished speaking, we held our shared emotions in silence.

I spoke about post-trauma growth, and the fact that researchers have found that after a trauma, most people eventually work through it and grow. Our losses can, and do, transform us. We affirmed our dark emotions with a reading from Healing Through the Dark Emotions, by Miriam Greenspan.

We then shifted directions and invited people to speak about hope and faith and trust. Quickly, the positive connections began to flow and to fill the circle, entering into the spaces in the mosaic between the paper tiles of grief and fear and despair.

We took time for prayers from our heart, prayers for peace, prayers for the people of Israel and Gaza, prayers of hope and healing and faith.

The last words from one of the participants were – “We may have come in fear, but we needn't have. This worked. For me, it worked.”

We stood and stretched, with our arms and hands taking blessing into our circle and ourselves, letting it go outward in to the universe. And we concluded with Matia leading us in song, “Peace Will Come,” by Tom Paxton, which ends with the words “Peace will come, and let it begin with me.”

You and I, we cannot change the situation in Israel and Gaza. We can support those with whom we identify with our words and with our dollars, we can go there, we can support those we know who live there, but we cannot create peace there in the Middle East. We can, however, create a little bit of peace here, if and when we are ready to begin with ourselves.

Gathering in Grief for Hope and Healing: Israel / Gaza 2014 Conflict was not an ending, it was a beginning. We hope to build a cadre of facilitators willing and able to bring this program to other communities. We plan to develop follow up programs, to carry forth with the effort to connect with those with whom we may not agree by touching our emotions, and by building faith, and trust, and hope. We hope you will join us.

For more information, or to plan an event in your community, contact Rabbi Katy Allen at rabbi @ mayantikvah.org or Chaplain Shareda Hosein at shareda @ comcast.net.

Rabbi Katy Z. Allen is the founder and leader of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope in Wayland, MA, and a staff chaplain at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. She is the co-convener of the Jewish Climate Action Network and the co-creator of Gathering in Grief: The Israel / Gaza 2014 Conflict.


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Earth Etude for Elul 3 - Let It Rest

by Carol Reiman


Let it rest--
the land that we have worked so hard, the grassy fare for geese now taken by the high tech labs, the water diverted far away to leave the old spot bare, the day diminished by our dense cramming, electronics robbing our eyes of moisture...

Let it rest--
the fish sleep still near the bottom, the standing horse relaxes muscles, the cat stretches and curls...

Let it rest--
the yawn exchanges stale air for fresh, cells grow, the blood flows with its passengers for new destinations, brain pathways renew...

Let it rest--
allow the deep within to reflect that beyond; hear and see, smell, touch, and taste; be in the moment; live...


Let it rest--
the quiet company of presence and reconnection, time for parts to settle, ideas to form, words to fall into place...

Let it rest--
let go the grudge; allow resentment, fear, discomfort to dissolve; accept us all as parts of the Community...

The seventh day, the seventh year, the jubilee--
see what is good, respect Creation, acknowledge the work that has been done, share fairly, come together for next steps...


Carol C. Reiman works as library support staff in Dorchester. She finds support with Somerville and Wayland congregations and with her cat.