Sunday, November 13, 2016

Being Peacemakers

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

We each have the potential to be a voice of peace. We each have the potential to be a messenger of peace. We each have the potential to create three feet of peace and to change the world.

You can read others' stories of how they are finding or creating peace. More importantly, you can create your own stories through your actions in and reactions to the world. 

Here are some thoughts about realizing your full potential as a peacemaker.

1. Listen. Listen deeply, allowing another to be heard. Listen especially to people who are different from you. Ask questions, clarifying, to help you understand.

When we experience being heard and respected we feel safer. When we feel safe we are more likely to be kind and generous.

2. Step back when you need to. If someone posts something inflammatory on your Facebook page or says something that is painful or frightening to hear, step back. Wait before you respond. Give yourself time so that you can answer from a place of stillness and reason.

When we respond to anger or hatred with calm and sensitivity, we start to break the cycle of verbal violence and begin to heal relationships.

3. Counter your fight or flight syndrome. Minimize retraumatizing yourself and others by refraining from reinforcing the dark emotions. Bring positive energy into your being. Interrupt your day with cute puppy videos, moments of meditation, walks in the woods or park, or playing with a baby. 

Our biology is designed to respond to dangerous situations in ways that don't match our 21st century lives. It takes an active effort to counteract that biology and pull us out of fear or anger and into brighter emotions, but we can do it.

4. Take meaningful action. Channel your frustration, fear, anger, despair, grief, or other dark emotion into making the world a better place. Reach out to others in need. Act to protect the planet. Join an organization doing good work and help them extend their reach.

When we turn our dark emotions into action, we can help to raise up someone in despair or heal a broken piece of the world.

5. Be a "gentle angry" person and sing for your life. Sing, draw, dance, write poetry, make music, plant flowers, and otherwise express yourself through creativity. Share your beauty with friends and family.

Finding an outlet for our creative energy relieves stress, deepens our understanding of ourselves and the world, and brings meaning to those with whom we share our efforts.

6. Hug someone you love. Send an unexpected snail mail card to a friend. Call someone just to say hi, you mean a lot to me.

We all need to know we are loved. It makes a world of difference.

7. Hang in there. Don't give up. Stay determined. Keep on working to make the world a better place. It's worth it.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) is not the only outcome from trauma. There is also Post Traumatic Growth. But the process takes time. Solidifying the three feet of peace around us is a lifetime journey.

May the sun shine on your life.
May you raise a mighty voice for peace. 
May you become a powerful messenger of peace. 
May you create a solid three feet of peace around you. 
May you help to change 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 at CareGroup Parmenter Hospice. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Time Is Running Out

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Time is running out.
They tell us that the Book of Life will soon be closed.
We'd better be prepared if we want to be written in it--
so we are told.

Strange idea, this book. It must be awfully big.

On the other hand, maybe the book isn't so strange or so large.
Maybe it looks something like my heart.
Or my soul.

Perhaps the question is actually:
This year, will I be connected to my heart and my soul?

Time is running out
for getting connected--
with myself, with those I love, with God
(which, perhaps, are all one and the same)--
on this one awe-filled day,
this Yom Kippur,
when for some mysterious reason
forgiveness happens.

The forgiveness is what is important,
not so much the book,
except that they are totally interconnected--
by forgiving myself,
I allow God to forgive me,
and once that fleeting moment of forgiveness has swept 
through my heart and my soul,
then I am connected to myself
and to all that surrounds me;
I am, for an instant,
and in that moment
I am written in that mystical Book.

Time is running out.
I have done all that I can.

I have cooked and I have cleaned,
I have spoken and I have written,
I have responded and I have planned,
I have arranged and I have gathered,
I have planted and I have weeded,
I have listened and I have heard,
I have cared.

There is nothing more I can do.
It is time to allow forgiveness to flow.

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 at CareGroup Parmenter Hospice. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Shanah Tovah 5777

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

As you enter this new year
may distance bring clarity

and may the many shades of the forest
be clear to you 
as separate and individual colors
each unique in its own right

may the sky be ever visible to you 
between the leaves

 may you understand
that the leaves
the sky
and the tendrils
are all interconnected

 and when you cry out for help
may your prayer
be answered.

Shanah tovah,
may you have a good year.

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 at CareGroup Parmenter Hospice. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 29: Hope Sprouting

by Rabbi Judy Kummer

When the world is whirling
and despair for the future begins to crowd in
I turn to growing things,
seeking hope. 

The sweet potato plant cutting I made last week,
Bereft of leaves but stuck into a vase to root anyway--
Just in case--
has now sprouted tiny purple and spring-green leaves,
against all odds. 

How did it know to grow, know it could grow?  What
generative force propelled it forward
into a future I sometimes cannot imagine?

In the garden
Swaths of bright blooms
Separate out into  a single glorious flower,
against all odds. 

What force unfurled this flower to look just like its ancestors
But unique and different in its own right?

Peering inside
I see depths
A mandala ready to focus me
If I am willing to stop
Pause and see
Stillness centering
Time paused
The whirling no more
The hope ready to sprout.

Rabbi Judith Kummer is the Executive Director of the Jewish Chaplaincy Council of Massachusetts.  A Boston native, she earned a BA from Barnard College in Environmental Studies and Urban Planning and was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia. Rabbi Kummer is an avid organic gardener, potter, hiker and social activist.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 28: Our Repentance, Prayer, and Deeds of Righteous Action Will Stop Climate Change

by Dr. Mirele B. Goldsmith

This year, as the sun sets on Yom Kippur, our prayers will reach a pinnacle of intensity as we recite the UnetanehTokef prayer:  “On Rosh Hashanah it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.  How many shall leave this world, and how many shall be born; who shall live and who shall die, who in the fullness of years and who before; who shall perish by fire and who by water, who by sword and who by a wild beast; who by famine and who by thirst…   But repentance, prayer, and deeds of righteous action, can remove the severity of the decree.”

The Unetaneh Tokef was written ages ago, perhaps as early as the first century, but it is eerily contemporary in the way in which it describes the life and death consequences of climate change.  Although climate change is a new cause of death, the ways in which human beings are vulnerable, suffer, and die, are timeless.  Death comes by water when floods result from devastating storms and rising seas.  Death comes by wildfire when drought is worsened by climate change.  Death comes by famine when rising temperatures turn farmland into desert.

The solution is in our hands.  “Repentance, prayer, and deeds of kindness can remove the severity of the decree.”  The Gates of Mercy are never closed.  It is up to us as human beings to exercise our free will to change the course of history.  The call to repentance, prayer, and deeds of righteous action, is a personal challenge to every Jew.

Dr. Mirele B. Goldsmith is an environmental psychologist, educator, and activist.  Mirele created the Tikkun Mayim, a ceremony of repair for our relationship with water, and founded Jews Against Hydrofracking.  She directed the Jewish Greening Fellowship, a network of 55 organizations committed to sustainability.  She attended the UN Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen and was a leader in the Jewish mobilization for the People’s Climate March in New York City.   Mirele’s writings on Judaism and sustainability have been published in the Jerusalem Report, Jewish Week, Forward, Shma, and Huffington Post.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 27: Teshuvah in the Garden

by Maxine Lyons

My perennial love relationship with the earth is expressed most explicitly in tending my flower gardens. For me it is spiritual work, a way to respect the earth while feeling more mindful of how growth and change is an ongoing  process and mirrors the major themes of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

The spiritual work of Teshuvah on the Yamim Norayim for me often centers on facing challenges, reviewing the aspects of my life that need changing and seeking new ways that I can re-commit myself to positive actions to bring about those changes. The natural world starts me on this path.  For example, the row of pine trees that form a wide spreading canopy over  my front garden presents a challenge as the shedding of needles change the acidic quality of the dirt; the large and hard roots threaten some new plants and choke others out. In response, I move plants around and encourage new growth and change in more fertile and inviting places. Another gardening challenge is spacing---learning  to place flowers in further proximity to each other and taking better accounting for the spread of  day lilies and others that stunt the growth of the colorful and more dainty astilbes.

Likewise, human growth depends on our own spacing--- how do we create the openness to pursue our activities and relationships that lead to positive  choices for the growth that we seek? Are some relationships choking our growth,  or can some of our old habits retard our ability to change? Are there other influences  to surround ourselves with- the  people who reflect sunshine and who most enrich us?

I see how each plant flourishes differently or perishes on the stem. Through regular watering, dead heading of flowers and moving around those  plants that need shade and others more sun, growth happens. Likewise, people need regular on-going practices to ensure growth and change. I have found that in this years’ approach to Elul- doing regular mindful living practices help me recognize ways  to change my negative reactivity patterns. I am also assessing my responses in times of adversity and challenge so that I can better contribute to the growth potential within me. Teshuvah is my effort to become my higher self, feeling a greater calm enriched by a weekly meditation sangha meeting and home practice that reflect those qualities that I want to cultivate. In Buddhist terms, planting and watering the seeds of compassion show me how to  deal with my own prejudices, flaws, and weaknesses. In specific Jewish terms, learning where I have missed the mark and how to aim more effectively in the right direction.

Teshuvah is a life-long pursuit, just as gardening requires attention and modifications during the planting season, so as I am working for substantial internal change I can also see the earth's capacity to cultivate growth. This metaphor works for me. Even though Rosh Hashanah demands a deeper focus on this awareness toward new change, I believe that adopting practices that nourish my feelings and behavior ensure that I keep on a spiritual track. With hope and resolve, I believe I can acquire more positive turning a little more each year.

Maxine Lyons is an active participant in an interfaith social justice organization, and assists several Jewish inmates who teach her a lot about the challenges of incarceration. She also does spiritual accompaniment with homeless individuals. In all of these pursuits, she is  humbled by and deeply saddened at the disparity between living a privileged life and knowing that many others cannot grow and change to their true potential without meaningful and constant support and positive opportunities for Teshuvah.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Earth Etude for Elul 26: You Were Wrong

by Ben Weilerstein


You were wrong about environmentalism, man, no that’s not what I think no, I’m not really an environmentalist because if I say I am you’ll say in your head I’m saying things you don’t think need to be said, out loud, at all so, no, I’m not an environmentalist and I don’t feel a rush of flight, of my heels lifting up off the ground when I recycle a plastic bottle not like I do when I recite over and over again until it doesn’t leave my head for years,  “stop! the! pipeline!”

or something like that, y’know my voice woven into hundreds and thousands of others because dammit this isn’t about me

this isn’t about me, maybe you can tell I’m tired because wouldn’t it be nice if I could just lie down and rest in a bed of moss like I liked to imagine when I was younger and

I wouldn’t have to keep telling you and them and everybody else that I’m not really into the environment and what even is the environment and I could stand on top of a wind-whipped rainswept mountain up north and let my heels lift higher than I thought they could and god please could I now

maybe I can’t tell you I’m tired because you’re tired of other tired people telling you what to do all day and shit, man, that’s tiring, too


maybe I didn’t listen enough

maybe I didn’t ask you to listen to me enough, not to my words, no, to me, because if I did I thought you wouldn’t want to and then I didn’t know how you would know you were listened to and heard and then I don’t know what you would do

maybe it’s hard to care and nobody cared to teach us how and no matter how high my feet fly it still won’t heal me


I’m writing this on a train after work.

After seeing a replica of my hometown where the football field was the same and the old train station and the new train station were the same and grass clippings still fresh and drying smelled exactly the same and if you just squinted the right way in the right corners the sunset could take your breath away, but those fields and lawns and the bodies among them were deep in a different nightmare where everything was poison,

where the streets were filled with poison and the shortcuts kids took to get to school, or even better, out of it, were covered in puddles of poison as colorful as the graffiti lining our shortcut but so much better at killing,

where many days many years ago a father came home from work at the chemical dye plant sweating in color, his body releasing the poison it absorbed that day,

where everybody knows somebody who died, preventably, of cancer.

I’m writing this on a train after work.

Two people were fighting and then hugging, and crying and hugging. They ran off the train together.


I love you, I think.

I love you as much as any friend anyway

and for the sake of my heels I hope that’s a hell of a lot.

Ben Weilerstein is Toxics Action Center’s Eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island Organizer. Originally from the suburbs of Philadelphia, the Greater Boston area became home for Ben when he studied at Tufts University. There, he spent some of his time completing a BS in Chemistry and most of his time organizing around fossil fuel divestment and other climate justice issues. His organizing experience also includes completion of a Climate Summer internship, during which he helped organize communities in Western Massachusetts to stop a fracked gas pipeline. Ben is currently a JOIN for Justice Fellow. Ben is based in the Boston and Providence offices, where he helps communities organize to protect their health and the environment.