Monday, December 11, 2017

Lighting Our Way to Greater Sustainability: Meditations for Lighting the Hanukkiah

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

To kindle the Hanukkah lights, we need the shamash, the helper candle, with which we light all the other candles. The role of the shamash is vital, enabling as it does the proliferation of physical and spiritual light we experience on Hanukkah. Through the following kavannot, or meditations, the shamash can also help us make connections to the Earth within the context of Hanukkah and give us the strength we need to take action. Each meditation is connected to both a prayer or text from Jewish tradition and one or more of the Dragons of Inaction, spiritual and psychological barriers that prevent us from taking the actions we must take if we want to help preserve a climate suitable for life.



For Lighting the Shamash Each Night:

As I light this shamash, may the light I behold help me to see more clearly and more deeply into my heart and soul and into the world beyond me. May the light of this candle remind me to connect to the Earth, Jewish tradition, family, and community in ways that give me spiritual, physical, and psychological healing and strength. May the light of the shamash renew my will to learn more about climate change and Judaism, the connections between the two, and potential personal and communal actions.

First Night
May the light of this candle inspire me to reduce the carbon footprint of my energy usage by buying my electricity from renewable resources; putting solar panels on my roof; and installing a heat pump. May I find the strength to overcome the dragon of concern about the financial risk of any investment required. May I hear a voice within me telling me to be “strong and of good courage.” (Deuteronomy 31:7)

Second Night
May the light of these candles motivate me to move closer to a plant-based diet by reducing the amount of meat I eat and cutting down on dairy products. May my journey through diet change not be thwarted by the dragon of my desire to justify my comfortable climate-negative lifestyle. With each bite of food I take, may I understand that “the Earth belongs to the Holy One, and everything in it.” (Psalm 24:1)

Third Night
May the light of these candles bring me the strength to reduce my transportation carbon footprint by walking, bicycling, and carpooling more, taking public transportation more often, getting rid of one or more cars, flying less, and/or buying an electric car. May I not allow the dragon of perceived inequity, my desire not to be taken advantage of, and my belief that others may not reduce their carbon footprint to prevent me from taking these actions. May I remember that my actions have consequences and follow the path of goodness and sacred connection. (Second paragraph of the Shema, Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and other passages)

Fourth Night
May the light of these candles move me to divest all my financial holdings from fossil fuel companies and reinvest them in renewable energy. May the dragon of my lack of knowledge of how and where to reinvest my funds not prevent me from making this shift. May I take to heart the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding that are continually bestowed upon me every day. (Daily Amidah)

Fifth Night
May the light of these candles prompt me to write, call, and visit my state and local representatives and urge them to support clean energy and carbon pricing bills, not once, but again and again. May I not get bogged down by the dragon of belief that my voice doesn't matter and that nothing will result from my actions. May I understand in my heart that one who can prevent her household, city, or the whole world from committing a sin and doesn't do it is responsible for their sins. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 54b)

Sixth Night
May the light of these candles convince me to care for my property in a way that will produce more food and sequester more carbon. And if I do not own any land, may I search out a place within my community where I can act upon this matter. May the dragons of worrying that everything I do will take too much time and feel meaningless not cause me to hesitate and refrain from acting. May I remember that my human role on this planet is “to till and to tend” or “to serve and protect” the Earth. (Genesis 2:15)

Seventh Night
May the light of these candles propel me to reduce the amount of water I use and the amount of waste I produce by composting, recycling, reusing, buying only what I truly need, installing a rain barrel, and reducing indoor and outdoor water use. May I not stagnate in my climate activism journey due to the dragon of believing that the easiest actions are the only ones I need to take. May I remember that G!d “gives strength to the weary” each and every day. (Morning Blessings)

Eighth Night
May the light of these candles inspire me to regularly support eco-justice efforts by giving tzedakah and advocating in my local and state governments. May I not allow the dragon of concern about the importance of my efforts to prevent me from acting. May I remember that my actions impact the lives of vulnerable populations now and in the future, and that one who saves a single life, it is as though he has saved the entire world. (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a)

Chag Urim Sameach - Happy Festival of Lights,
Rabbi Katy



Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spiritand is a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the singing at Ma'yan Tikvah.






Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Shanah Tovah - May You Have a Good Year

by Rabbi Katy Allen
photos by Gabi Mezger

As you journey through these the Yamim Noraim, Days of Awe, may you find yourself more able to remain present in the moment, may you find meaning in unexpected places, and my your heart open ever wider.

May you search among the needles for the gifts of seeds.



May you find beauty among that which at first glance seems no longer needed, but which in fact is vital.



May your gaze turn upward toward vistas without end.



May you notice gifts that pop up quickly in unexpected places.


May your eyes and your heart be opened to wonder.


May subtlness strike you as sacred. 



May stark contrasts awaken you to unexpected treasures.


 \
May you greet everyone with a smile.




May you emerge in places where nourishment is unexpected.



May you remain calm in the face of stress and pain.


May you have a good year.
May you find ways to connect with, engage with, and appreciate this amazing planet.
May you find ways to protect, preserve, and honor this amazing planet.

May we all rejoice in the blessings of Creation.

Shana tova,
Rabbi Katy and Gabi


Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spiritand is a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the singing at Ma'yan Tikvah.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 29 - Farmers of Our Souls

by Molly Bajgot

something that the earth knows well
is our attempts to conquer, manipulate, and control her.
in this High Holy season,
in the return to oneself,
we are asked to abstain from the conquering,
manipulating and controlling —
that it may lead to understanding our impulses for doing so: 
to each other, the earth, other beings, and our own soul.

we have a task, this Holy season,
to do teshuvah
to relinquish, however micro or macro we can -
the impulses and ways we farm our subconscious and conscious minds
with seeds that have been handed to us
back in times of vulnerability or fear,
that have since grown thick underfoot,
convincingly planted in the soil of our own hearts,
gone unmarked with sharpie and popsicle stick
to remember them by, as ‘non-native.’ 

As young farmers of our souls,
may we weed out what has been strewn in the rows of our own homes:
the ones that we sowed and so wanted to reap from —
for we heard they would profit.
but those folks were not prophets,
and it turns out our own local weeds are now high on the market.
we can choose to 
reclaim, recultivate, reinvite our main birth crop 
back to our home —choose now to carry it to term,
brilliant and unshaking
and not calling it a weed, but calling it ourselves.

when we give way to this difference —
we’re met with new blooms and potent fragrance 
scents that snap us back to something ancient and unkempt,
so familiar, like our first days of life.

though perhaps now we can perhaps see,
stepping back, taking in our new garden minds, 
how on this planet
we give credence to the monocropped, manufactured seeds
so orderly and pleasant looking
so similar to each other —
so not of our own —

when we look towards ourselves 
this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,
may we seek to identify
what serves to be uprooted and left to dry in the paths
in the last solar days of summer, this season.
may we seek to identify what of our sister heart
we’ve left untended to in this last year of life.

may we rush to her, bolting to term, to save her seed 
in peak of our fall days —
let her be 
carried by wind to the four corners, no,
seven corners of our soul, 
multiplying further, from the tips of our
eyebrows to the tips of our toes,
always whispering to her, "you deserve to be cherished." 

know, young farmer, that this toil is not unmet with merit:
that years from now, after this weeding and reselecting of the seeds of your soul
you will not need any new seed — for she will become again
your natural cropping
blooming time and time again each season,
already harvested,
already sewn,
in to the sleeve of your soul
coming home
becoming whole.

amen. 

Molly Bajgot is a Jewish signer-songwriter currently living in Western Massachusetts. She is a lover of music, healing arts, and the outdoors. When she gets the chance to do these things together, she feels as home. Being in the garden is a place of mystery and metaphor for her. She loves to craft ritual, and to be in community both as a member and as an organizer. She looks forward to molding all these passions together in to a career throughout her life. 



Monday, September 18, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 28 - Another Blue Day

by Thea Iberall, PhD

I have a picture of my mother Helene with Heidi Klum, the blonde supermodel and TV star. We were in Heidi’s trailer on the Warner Bros lot in Burbank watching her prep for a commercial shoot. Heidi and her makeup entourage gathered around my mother who was wearing her “Kiss Me I’m 100” T-shirt. They wanted to know her secret to aging well. My mom laughed and told Heidi about the gin-soaked raisins she eats every morning to ward off arthritis. Then she talked about the raw apple cider vinegar she takes before every meal to overcome gas. And the walnuts and blueberries and probiotics. The classes and crossword puzzles. How she plays bridge and Scrabble. And how she set a world record in swimming when she turned 90 years old.

My mom has lived a life of service, from the Campfire Girls to the National Council of Jewish Women. She tutored Russian immigrants in English as a second language. In 1974, at great risk to herself, she smuggled letters and money to Russian Refusenik Jews in the Soviet Russia. In the middle of the night, she managed to avoid the KGB and find their homes. She met with the scientist Alexander Lerner and also a young Natan Sharansky before he was imprisoned. At one of the apartments she visited, she was asked if she could speak Yiddish to an elderly Russian woman who had not heard the language in years. My mother agreed and they woke the woman up. She was thrilled as my mother asked her where she was from and why she came to Russia in Yiddish. 



On left, Helene Iberall with Heidi Klum; on right, Helene with Natan Sharansky when they remet in 2013
My mom died at the age of 102 at personal peace, but not at peace because of the world. To her, the only life worth living is one steeped in community and family. "Prejudice is the worst thing in this world," she told me. Her mantra was, "Dwell on human kindness." As an Orthodox Jew, this was what Judaism meant to her. She said it to the young and the old, to everyone she met. She also told them about her secret of aging well: about the gin-soaked raisins, the raw apple cider vinegar. About being with the Earth, not against it. And she lived her teshuvah by asking the same question each day of her life, a question from a Thomas Carlyle poem that she had memorized in the 4th grade: So here hath been dawning another blue day. Think wilt thou let it slip useless away?

Photo by Penni Rubin 

Thea Iberall is on the leadership team of the Jewish Climate Action Network. As head of the JCAN interfaith group, she works with other organizations such as the Green Sanctuary Committee of the First Parish UU Church Medfield, Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light, and 350MA.org. Dr. Iberall is the author of The Swallow and the Nightingale. In this visionary fiction novel, she uses today’s world of climate change as a backdrop to help awaken people, reminding us that the visions of Gandhi, religious mysticism, and Native Americans are a more sustainable solution than the patriarchal system under which we live. Learn more at www.theaiberall.com.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 27 - Re-Connecting to the Land

by Rabbi Lawrence Troster

On a recent vacation to my home town of Toronto, as I drove around the countryside and saw the many places I knew so well from my childhood, I reflected again on how the landscape in which I lived affected who I am and how I see the world. I was born in Toronto which is in an area that was covered by glaciers over 10,000 years ago and the land still is shaped by that ancient event: spoon shaped hills called drumlins, ridges called eskers which are the remains of the river beds that flowed from the retreating ice. And lakes: I spent many of my summers at camp in Northern Ontario beyond the glacial till where the major geological feature is the Canadian Shield which has some of the oldest rock in the world: more than 3.96 billion years old and which covers some 5,000,000 square miles of Canada and the U.S. In Ontario, the glaciers carved out more than 250,000 lakes from the Shield and many of my summers were spent in the rock, water and forest of that landscape. In this world, I had some of my deepest and most important spiritual experiences that remain with me still.

When I moved to New Jersey over 20 years ago I became part of a new geological area: the Piedmont province formed of volcanic basalt over 200 million years ago. And now I live in Pennsylvania where I am in a different kind of geological formation: rolling hills and valleys of metamorphic rock formed during the Precambrian period some one billion years ago.

What does all this mean for me? The food that I ate and which formed me, was grown in the glacial soil of Southern Ontario is still, so to speak, bred in my bones. How did this land also affect my mental perspective on the world? I thought of these things as I saw the familiar ridge of the Niagara Escarpment over which the mighty Niagara Falls fell. For the first time in my life I took the boat that brought me close to those falls. I felt the spray and saw the wonder of those thundering waters.

In this month of Elul when we are supposed to take stock (heshbon ha-nefesh) of our lives and actions from the past year, I believe that we should also think about the places where we were formed and where we now live. Forgetting these landscapes is a kind of sin. We must remember the rocks, the soils, the water, the flora and the fauna and what they imparted and continue to impart to our lives in real concrete ways. Each one is different; each one has special qualities that we are mostly not conscious of. So as part of our spiritual accounting we should try to bring these places out of our unconsciousness into our consciousness. Maybe this process will teach us to understand how we are of the earth.
Our tradition often tries to symbolically connect us with the land of Israel which provides a foundation for our identities as Jews. Collectively, it is the land which formed us as a people and where we still live in our collective memory. But each of us also has a place and a foundation from which we came, an actual place where the minerals of the soil, the water we drink and the air we breathe has given shape to our flesh. Let us not forget these places. Let us remember and, ask for forgiveness for the sin of forgetting that place from which we came and to which we will go.

Rabbi Lawrence Troster is the rabbi of Kesher Israel Congregation in West Chester, Pennsylvania and is the Rabbi-in-Residence at the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 26 - Three Levels of Holiness

by Rabbi David Seidenberg


In the Torah, three things are called "shabbat shabbaton" – the seventh day, Yom Kippur, and Shmitah (the Sabbatical year).

Agnon, in his book The Days of Awe, shares a teaching form Rabbi Tzvi Hakohen of Rymanov about this. The rabbi was asked, if both Yom Kippur and the Sabbath itself are called "shabbat shabbaton", how is Yom Kippur more special? And he answered, the seventh day is called "shabbat shabbaton l’adonai" – a sabbath of sabbaths for God. Yom Kippur is called "shabbat shabbaton lakhem" – a sabbath of sabbaths for all of you. On Yom Kippur we don't just reach toward the divine realm, we draw it into ourselves.

When Rabbi Michael Bernstein shared this teaching with me, he added: "By that logic, Shmitah, which is called “shabbat shabbaton la'aretz”, a sabbath of sabbaths for the land (Lev 25:4), draws that holiness into the land. In this way, Shmitah is even more akin to Yom Kippur than it is to Shabbat."

There's a midrash that can explain this idea. The essence of the Shekhinah, the divine presence, was originally in the land, in the Earth. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, breaking God's command and sinning against the tree, the Shekhinah fled away from the Earth to the first heaven. With each successive generation, the Shekhinah fled further, until she was seven heavens away from the Earth. Then Abraham and Sarah came and drew her down to the sixth heaven, and Isaac and Rebekah drew her even closer, to the fifth heaven, each successive generation bringing the Shekhinah down, until Moses finally brought her "from above to below". (Genesis Rabbah 19:7)

But Yosef Gikatilla, the 13th century Spanish Kabbalist, explained that this didn’t complete the process: "Moshe our teacher came and all Israel with him and they made the mishkan/Tabernacle and its vessels. And they repaired the ruined channels, and…they drew living water. And they made the Shekhinah return to dwell /l’shakhen among the creatures below, in the tent – but not in the ground /baqarqa, not in the Earth itself, as she was in the beginning of the Creation."


This is what it means when God says to Moses, “Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among/within them / v’shakhanti b’tokham” (Ex 25:8): God said that the Shekhinah would “dwell in them”, but not (yet) in the Earth. There was one more step to go.

The Shmitah year, when we are commanded to rest the land and to rest along with the land, when we share food and land not only with the poor and the stranger but also with the wild animals, bridges that last step. Shmitah is a shabbat shabbaton "la'aretz", not just "lakhem".

Shmitah infuses Shekhinah into the Earth itself. Of course, the Earth is already filled with Shekhinah. If we have inured ourselves to that, Shmitah can open our hearts. But first we need to make Shekhinah dwell within us, so that our hearts can meet the world "ba'asher hu sham", at the level of holiness that is already there. That's what Yom Kippur
does.

Sabbath, Yom Kippur, and Shmitah represent progressive stages of bringing kedushah/holiness and Shekhinah into this world, from God, to us, to the Earth itself. May we accomplish this goal.

Rabbi David Seidenberg is the creator of neohasid.org and the author of Kabbalah and Ecology: God's Image in the More-Than-Human World (Cambridge, 2015), now in paperback. He lives in Northampton MA.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Earth Etude for Elul 25 - Practicing Teshuvah

by Maxine Lyons

I lost a lot of azalea bushes this past winter. The space looks stark and bare, and I am deciding what to place there to fill that void that a harsh Boston winter destroyed in my garden. The weight of the snowfall broke branches. I was at first very upset looking at the spot where azaleas once flourished in the springtime, and angry that the snow’s destructive force did this when I was not home for two months (to brush them off and relieve the pressure of the snow’s weight). I used a combination of practices from Mussar (using the soul-trait equanimity) and Buddhist mindfulness to focus on a solution and not just to over react to a natural occurrence. I am replanting there to restore that space with color and perhaps a new bush.
Hands for working in the earth and in being open to blessings.
Likewise with teshuvah, I am growing to accept that when I do not turn in the right direction towards the good and compassionate response that both Mussar and mindfulness offer, I create a destructive space that will require attention and effort to fill in the negative areas.

Teshuvah is not a one-time action to elicit change during the high holidays; rather, it involves an awareness throughout the year for a conscious approach to living a more satisfying life with good intentions and purpose. Just as we can perform some actions to prevent harsh outcomes in our gardens and in the natural world around us, so we must also add preventive efforts to develop healthful habits and everyday awareness to achieve the “higher self.”


Which way are you turning this year?? This bird of paradise shows us one way, towards the sun.
I am learning to respond to frustration and adversity with a little more care and balance consistent with the guidelines and dictates of spiritual practices. The process begins within me and then expands out to others as I focus on traits that require much discipline in order to integrate them within me. Moving from the cognitive understanding of what we experience and what we can know is vastly different from regularly and mindfully using our time to reflect and internalize the learning.

I have seen Mussar students who take course after course and still show signs of great reactivity and insensitivity, whereas there are neophytes who can more easily take in the nourishment that these practices provide, digest them and change to more healthful living. You can take endless spiritual courses but if you don’t use it then it limits your growing and ability to change.

Rabbi Soloveitchik asserts that “Judaism has always held that it lies within man’s power to renew himself. In this task, man must rely upon himself; no one can help him…he is his own redeemer.” Conversely, quoting Deuteronomy, "we are called upon to open our hearts and return to God even as we acknowledge that for every turning, we need God’s help…we encounter both the transforming grace of God and an urgent call to repentance.”

I choose to subscribe more to the former rabbinical opinion rather than the biblical dictate. I believe that through extensive human effort, inspirational spiritual centering, conscious discipline and setting a daily intention, people can and do change and transform themselves in small and often large ways.


Maxine Lyons is becoming more and more of an avid gardner, both in the summer months outdoors and in her home (a year round sanctuary for many succulents and cacti to flourish). She is exploring the wonderful resonances between  Mussar and Buddhist mindfulness practices while she enjoys some of her time in spiritual accompaniment with local individuals seeking homes.