Monday, December 31, 2012

Parshat Sh'mot - Heirloom Seeds, our Ancestors, and Friendship

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

My first seeds from the Seed Library arrived in the mail today, part of a gift membership that I had given to myself. Gift packets to my two sons arrived in their mail as well. The packet is artistic, aesthetic, and pleasing not only to the eye, but also to the heart and the soul. Every packet is designed by a different artist. Inside are heirloom seeds, in the one I received are Purple Podded Peas. These are peas that grow 5-6 feet high, have scarlet blossoms, and produce dried peas good for soups and other winter dishes. I am reminded of the scarlet runner beans my father always planted in his garden, also tall pole beans with bright flowers. They were, if my memory serves me correctly, a reminder to him of the garden of his childhood, which was critical to his family for their dinner table all year long.

This week's Torah portion, Sh'mot, begins, "These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming with his household," and then the text goes on to list them.

We are beginning a new book of the Torah this week, and a whole new story. Up until now, in the book of Genesis, we read of the creation of the world and the personal and family stories of our ancestors, from Adam and Eve, to Noah, to Abraham and Sarah, and eventually to Joseph. These were personal stories of struggle and death and survival and connection to the Creator. Now, in Exodus, the story changes. "A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph." The Israelites become a people, they are enslaved by Pharaoh, driven hard by taskmasters, redeemed from bondage, experience revelation at Sinai, and wander in the desert. 

What did Abraham, Rebecca, Rachel, Joseph or any of our other Biblical ancestors know of this story of enslavement, redemption, and revelation? They knew nothing. They had no idea of what the future would bring. But when the story shifts, and a new story begins in this new book, the first thing the Torah reminds us of is all of those in the last generation of the previous story. We begin by naming those who came before us. We begin by remembering our ancestors. And then the story continues.

I shared a lovely pot-luck breakfast with three Transition Wayland friends last week, and we talked seeds. We shared knowledge, dreams, plans, and hopes. We agreed to share seeds. We deepened friendships.
My new garden bed asleep for the winter

And then, today, in my mail, arrived heirloom seeds. Seeds from generations past. These will go into my garden in spring, and along with them will go memories of my father's garden in my childhood, and the knowledge of memories of my grandfather's garden in my father's childhood, along with a memory of my uncle's garden. Planting my newly expanded vegetable garden is physical, but also spiritual. I work my body, I (hopefully!) will feed my body, but I also, with every shovelful of dirt and every seed that enters the ground, nourish my soul and connect myself to all those who have gone before me, whether related or not, who worked the soil, planted the same (or different) kinds of seeds I will plant, and nourished themselves and their families from the Earth they tilled.

As Thomas Berry tells us, we need a new story, the old stories don't work any more. And as  climate scientists around the world tell us, we are entering into a new story (for example), into a new era, an era of runaway climate change, of "peak everything" and beyond, and, like the characters that populate the Book of Genesis, we have no idea what the coming story will be. And so, let us name our ancestors, let us plant their seeds, let us grow friendships together with our gardens, and let us hold in our hearts the faith that if we experience again enslavement, that we will also experience again both redemption and revelation.

May the year 2013 of the Common Era bring you strength, healing, peace, and a story that nourishes your spirit and your soul.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Thinking about Shabbat

Thanks to my friend and colleague Rabbi Anne Heath, I have just been reading a blog by Rabbi Rami Shapiro to a new rabbi. I quote:
Resting on Shabbat matters because working 60-80 hours a week is killing us. Not shopping on Shabbat matters because consumerism is killing us. Pesach matters not because we were slaves to Egypt's Pharaoh, but because we are slaves to the Pharaohs of the military-industrial-financial-media complex.
Shabbat is beginning. What do you or will you do to observe and celebrate this day? Traditional Judiasm teaches us many things that we are traditionally commanded to do and not to do on Shabbat. But in today's world, we are free to find our own way. What makes Shabbat special for you? What could make it special if it is not already? What is it that don't you have time to do during the week? What would it take to set aside time between sundown on Friday and nightfall on Saturday to do / not do what matters most to you?

I invite you, I challenge you, I encourage you -- find a way to make Shabbat a special day for you and your family, a day when your blood pressure goes down notch, a day when you smile and laugh more, a day to help you refresh and renew your body and your soul. And I also invite you, challenge you, and encourage you to give this day a Jewish flavor. Lighting candles on Friday evening can touch your heart. Setting aside a few moments for prayer can touch your soul. Gathering with family and friends can touch your sense of community. There are a myriad of ways to bring a sense of Shabbat and Judaism into your day. May you find one or many, and may you feel strengthened and renewed in the process.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Katy Allen


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Food Challenge Day 7

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Today is the last day of my personal Food Challenge, focusing on and thinking about food and all the issues that came to my mind as a result.

Reflection - action - reflection. This is the process by which I learned the art of being a chaplain. And it is a process that is well suited to learning anything. And so I have been reflecting, and now it is time to turn my thoughts toward action. Yesterday, I spoke about personal actions, at the household level. Each of us can reflect and take action on our own personal food habits and try to make improvements that positively impact us, our community, and our planet. Today, I am thinking about action at the community level. 

Here is my thought. Recently, I learned about Growing Places Garden Project. This non-profit organization, based in Clinton, MA strives 
"to improve the food security and nutrition education of people with limited economic means. We do this by providing vegetable gardens and nutrition education so that people can grow food on their own and become more conscientious about their nutrition.

Our goal is to grow proficient gardeners who maintain their gardens on their own and, through our encouragement and support, continue to grow fresh, healthy food for themselves and their loved ones year after year."
Basically, they build gardens for those struggling with poverty and teach them how to garden. The pluses are many: more food for the hungry, healthy food for them, and gifts to the planet at the same time. It is about giving people a fishing pole and teaching them to fish instead of giving them a fish.

I am newly renewing my efforts and energy at gardening, and loving every minute of it (thanks to inspiration and support from Renee Bolivar of Gardens by Renee and my friends Kaat and Rebecca as well as the resiliency message of Transition). Growing Places Garden Project has a limited geographic area, and Wayland, as well as Framingham and Natick, are outside that area. I would love to find a core group of people who would like to work to get GPGP to extend their project into our area, so that we, too, can help build new gardens, create new gardeners, connect people to the Earth, and feed more people with more good food. 

The words of Rabbi Tarfon come to mind: "It is not upon you to complete the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it." (Pirke Avot 2:21) We do not have to save the whole world, but we also cannot sit idly by, eating everything in sight, eating without realizing how connected we are to the world, throwing away food, and more. Instead, let us understand that eating has the capability of being a form of prayer and strive to make it so. Let us eat thoughtfully and in reasonable quantities. Let us strive to eat in ways that are kind to the planet. Let us engage in meaningful efforts to remove hunger from the world.

I invite you to share your thoughts and ideas about how to help with food issues at the community level, and if you are interested in Growing Places Garden Project or have another idea you'd like to help launch, please be in touch.

Shavua tov -- may your week be filled with many blessings.

P.S. If you want to read one woman's story of her family's summer-long engagement with the Food Stamp Challenge, check out this blog.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Food Challenge Day 6

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

As we approach the rest and letting go of Shabbat, I think of our need to turn our reflections into actions and not to stand idly by when someone / something is needed and important in our community. We read in the Mishnah for Rosh HaShanah, Chapter 1, Mishnah 5 and 6:
Whether the crescent was clearly visible or whether it was not manifestly visible, they (the witnesses) may profane the Sabbath because of it. Rabbi Yose says: If the crescent was undoubtably seen, they must not profane the Sabbath because of it.
It once happened that more than forty pairs of witnesses passed through, but Rabbi Akiva detained them in Lod. Rabban Gamliel sent to him: "If you detain the many, you may lead them astray in the future."
This was about witnessing the new moon, and then, in ancient times, going before the rabbinical court in Jerusalem so that the new month could be announced at the proper time. The entire calendar and the timing of all the holidays depended on reliable witnesses making the effort to do their civic duty. (A little like voting, perhaps?) It was so important that one could violate the laws of Shabbat and travel on Shabbat in order to be a witness in the court. In fact, it was so important, that if 40 pairs of witnesses (two were needed) all went testify before the court, they could all break Shabbat in order to be witnesses. The message Rabban Gamliel is sending us is that if we don't let them all go, in the future, people might just think, "Oh, someone else will go. I don't need to."

How often have we thought this? Bystander syndrome is what it is called today. No one wants to be the first to intervene to help someone. Our ancient rabbis understood this psychology, as can be seen in their understanding that it was better for 80 people to break Shabbat than to take the risk of detaining them and telling them not to go, for the result could be that at some point in the future, no one would go.

The rabbis' message is about personal action, and the need for each and every one of us to take responsibility. So as we rest and renew ourselves this Shabbat, let us consider what we each as individuals can do in the areas of food justice and the environmental importance of how we eat. Personally  I pledge to examine my eating habits, to discuss the options with the other half of my household, and to try to make more of a difference personally. I invite you to do the same.

Shabbat Shalom.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Food Challenge Day 5


by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Gratitude also makes me think about the Earth. I ate tomato and cheese soup and thought about the tomato plants growing in the soil, fueled by the Sun and watered by the rain, and I thought of the cows that ate the alfalfa and oats and drank the waters of the stream and produced the milk from which the cheese was made. I munched on tropical nuts and thought about the trees they came from and wondered where they might be growing. I savored fresh eggs and thought of the farm not far from my home and of the hens that had produced these eggs pecking in the dust. As I ate, I thought about the wheat in my bread and the water that flows out of my tap. These foods and so many others, I eat them and I eat of the Earth, they connect me to the Earth, the Earth I so love, the Earth that nourishes my spirit and my soul, as well as my body. 

The Earth that is hurting.

Sometimes it seems as if I am feeling the Earth's pain.
  
Rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans dirtied by runoff from agriculture and cars and other human waste. Carbon from our cars and homes and factories and planes filling the air and changing our climate. Particles we produce entering the air and making us sick. Toxins from our chemical actions poisoning the soil and all that comes forth from it. 

The pictures are stunning, but so very often behind them are unseen contaminants. 

Do we care enough to pay attention? Do we care enough to act? 

Does it make a difference what we do?

All through this week's Torah portion, Chayyeh Sarah, are camels. Camels that carry people. Camels that drink, and drink, and drink. Camels that connect lovers. Camels as symbols.

If the camels in the story matter, then so do the people. And if the people in the stories I read matter, then so must I.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav taught, "If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix. If you believe that you can harm, then believe that you can heal."

Yes. It does matter. It does make a difference. With every bite, it makes a difference. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Food Challenge Day 4

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Gratitude for what I have makes me think about those who have less. Research shows that we don't respond as well to big numbers as we do to individual stories. But here are some big numbers anyway. In 2011 in Massachusetts, 700,000 people were struggling to put food on the table, and a whopping 10.8 percent of households were food insecure. Throughout the United States, 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, which included 16.7 million children. That was 14.9 percent of all U.S. households! Many of the people in these households were more than insecure about where their next meal would come from, they were just plain hungry. 
 
I don't have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. But more than 1 in 10 people in Massachusetts and 1 in 7 in the United States worry about this every day.
 
These are big numbers, and our human brains do not respond well to such information. This is also a chronic, on-going situation, and it is easy to grow immune to it, especially since it is a problem that is so hard to solve. It doesn't get big press like a hurricane or a flood. It is always just there, in the background - unless, of course, you are living it, in which case it is always in the foreground.
 
So we do a food drive on the High Holidays and are glad to provide meals to hungry children to help them grow better. We pick wild cranberries, nourishing our spirits with the gift of produce from the Earth and being outdoors together for a picnic when we wouldn't normally do so, with a calming view of the reservoir beside us all the entire time. We write a check to help out those in need in a crisis like Sandy.
 
We put our finger in the dike.
 
And then we sit down to a delicious meal. We overeat. We throw away excess food or food that went bad waiting in our refrigerators to be eaten.

Hunger is real, and it is in our backyard. 

Is gratitude just a feeling, or is it a motivator? 
  
I invite your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Food Challenge Day 3

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

I find myself trying to figure out what exactly this challenge is about for me, and the feeling that I keep returning to as I eat is gratitude, gratitude for the many options I have, for the taste of the food, for having enough food, for eating either with others or alone, for the way my food connects me to the Earth and the sky and so many other people. No matter whether I am eating leisurely or am more rushed, whether I am alone or with others, I keep feeling gratitude. There are other thoughts and feelings, but this one is always there. I joined with a family at dinner this evening that is considering starting to express gratitude before they eat. That, together with my own thoughts, makes me think of the many blessings we have in Jewish tradition for before and after eating. My favorites are the two that feel they connect me best with the plants responsible for bearing the fruit or vegetable I am eating: 
For fruits, whether fresh or dried, from trees, such as apples, oranges, and peaches, as well as grapes, raisins, and nuts (except peanuts):
Blessed are You, Adonai our G!d, Sovereign of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the tree.
For vegetables and greens from the ground, peanuts, legumes, and fruits such as bananas, melons, and pineapples:
Blessed are You, Adonai our G!dSovereign of the Universe, Who creates the fruit of the earth.
After eating we also recite blessings. This is the blessing for these same foods:
Blessed are You, Adonai our G!d, Sovereign of the universe, Creator of numerous living beings and their needs, for all the things You have created with which to sustain the soul of every living being. Blessed is He who is the Life of the worlds.
These are the traditional blessings, and they address the core gratitude - G!d, the energy that flows through the universe brings these amazing foods into being, and that same energy, through the hands of many people, bring the foods to my plate. 

Gratitude is a powerful emotion. I have never gone hungry. I have never lacked for options. But I have been known frequently to take for granted what is on my plate and the bounty that is available to me. Gratitude is about not taking it for granted. May it be my will and my practice not to slip back into a state of taking any bite of food for granted. May it be my will and my practice to notice what goes into my mouth and to be grateful for it. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Food Challenge Day 2

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

So many possible directions in which to go with the conversation about food! It is hard to choose, but two images in particular keep rising into the foreground.

First, I am reminded more than once of the times when our bodies don't function normally, and as a result we cannot eat much, if anything. Two people who spoke to me about this in the hospital in recent days stand out in my mind, and those conversations, coming at this time that I am focusing on food, reminded me of my own such experience this past year. When our systems are not working properly, food suddenly becomes very different to us. We may lose our appetite and not even want the choicest of delicacies, we may feel deprived and isolated, we may feel angry at the limited diet our bodies force upon us, we may be frightened by the evidence in our daily habit that all is not well. When even just a few bites refuse to behave properly in our digestive tracts, suddenly food becomes an enemy instead of the object of our desire or our delight. The need to be gentle to our bodies at such a time results in a greatly limited definition of food, a necessity of life, a source of nutrients. I think of the blessing for after using the bathroom:
Blessed are you, Adonai, our G!d, Sovereign of the universe, who formed the human body with wisdom, creating the body's many openings and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your throne of glory that if one of them were to be ruptured or one of them were to be blocked, it would be impossible to endure and stand before You. Blessed are You, Adonai, who heals all flesh, working wondrously.
Thus it turns out that thoughts that began with not being able to eat end up bringing us back not to food, but to our own bodies, their wondrous nature, and our desire that they continue to function properly - in part so that we may eat. We come full circle.

The second thought for today is about eating on the run. How clear it is that rushing through a meal or eating at one's desk or in the car all belie the concept of eating as sacred, eating as prayer, eating as a way of connecting to the Universe, to the Divine. How can I be contemplative with my eating if I'm also working, driving, walking, or just plain in a hurry? The two do not mesh, and in such  circumstances, eating becomes strictly utilitarian. We are getting hungry and we need to / want to eat. So we grab a sandwich, an energy bar, a yogurt, a banana, and we gulp it down and move on. We...yes, I, too, am guilty. We are in this together. It is a battle with the demands upon our time, with the culture in which we live, with the jobs we have, and the commitments we make - whether willingly or not. Altogether, they infringe upon this sacred time of bringing into our bodies the nutrients we need in order to survive from day to day, in order to be healthy, in order to nourish not just our bodies, but also our spirits. Help us, Holy One, to slow down, and to eat, one bite at a time, savoring and appreciating each bite. As we see our food before us, help us to "be still, and know that I am G!d." (Psalm 46:10)



Sunday, November 4, 2012

Food Challenge Day 1

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

So today is Day 1 of my own personal Food Challenge, as opposed to a Food Stamp Challenge. I intend this as a week of paying close attention to what I am eating, what is in my refrigerator, where my food is coming from, how much I am eating, how I am approaching eating spiritually and emotionally, how I am eating, how I respond to eating, my state of mind as I eat, how much my food is costing, and any other thoughts or questions that arise. It will also be a week of recording my thoughts and responses here. (Don't worry - I promise not to give you menu listings!)

As I begin this week, I understand that the only meaningful reason for taking a Food Challenge is to come to some deeper understanding about food, food justice, the environmental meaning of eating, and other broad questions related to food and eating, then to respond. Only if new meaning flows out of my week will it be useful for me, and possibly for you. Better yet will be if some kind of action flows out of it. 

And so, I invite you to journey with me and to post your responses in the comments section below.

Here are some of my thoughts, observations, reflection and questions from this first day.

A sign is up on the electronic communication board at the hospital inviting people to participate in an online support group designed to help participants remain healthy and not gain weight during the holiday season. We need support during this time of overabundance to keep from stuffing ourselves from the amazing and continuous spreads we will be exposed to. What if it weren't all there to begin with? What can we do to make our own restraint meaningful beyond our own health?

The most powerful and pervasive feeling / thought that has entered my mind and my spirit today has been that eating is a holy / sacred act. It is an encounter with the Sun and the rain, the soil and the rocks, and all the myriad hands - from the turning of the soil, to the planting, weeding, harvesting, shipping, packaging (in some cases), cooking, serving - involved in bringing this food from the fields to my fork. I am awed by the thought of the amazing complexity involved, even for the spinach that was grown down the street from me. 

"Who is like you, Adonai, among the gods that are worshiped? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?" It is a wonder, it is majestic, it is awesome and it is splendid that I am able to eat spinach and squash and soup and granola and cookies. Thank you Earth. Thank you sky. Thank you people. Thank you G!d. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Parashat Vayera: Cranberries, Climate Change, and Cheer

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen


I have been thinking a lot about The Food Stamp Challenge. I have found it is interesting that this does not seem to resonate with folks around me, and as I continue along with this idea alone, I find myself modifying my thoughts and intentions about it, in part because I’m still getting food from a CSA and don’t want it to go to waste in the process of trying to get myself to think about others who don’t have enough to eat, in part because it has less meaning to do it alone, and in part because, honestly, it is a little scary. 

I just spoke with a friend whose daughter teaches in Revere and many of her students come to school every day hungry. Revere is near by. Hunger is near by. Then I look at the spreads of too much food that are put out my workplace – and in other locations and situations, including in my own home – for a celebration or a gathering of one kind or another, and, if I want to not overeat, I must be judicious in what I take. And I think about the Earth from which we take this food, and how it is suffering from our damage to it, and I wonder. I wonder why we continue to eat more than we need and to throw out food, when we could be saving the money and using it to find food for those who don’t have enough. I wonder why we continue to eat more than we need and to throw out food, wasting our Earth’s precious resources. 

What would it take for us to change our ways and be more loving to those who are in need and to the planet that sustains us?

And then I always return to a question that often haunts me: Does it matter what I do? I just heard Bill McKIbben telling us that conservation won’t work. We can’t save the planet through our conservation efforts. His new push is getting institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies as a way to influence them to stop searching for more fossil fuels and to try to end climate silence. His global organization, 350.org, is working on this around the planet.

In contrast, there is a new movement to encourage us to calculate our Handprint (www.handprint.org)– as opposed to our Footprint, as a way to think positively about the things we are doing, because (and research apparently supports this idea) otherwise depression sets in and we feel that the world would be better off without us. There is something very Jewish about this way of looking at the world. We are commanded, each and every one of us, to perform every mitzvah, every commandment, ourselves. If we save one life, the Mishnah teaches, it is as though we saved the world. Judaism teaches us that our individual actions matter. And Judaism tells about both things we are to do as well as things we are not to do. In this week's parashah Vayera, Abraham welcomes strangers at his door; they turn out to be messengers from G!d, and from his welcoming of these guests we derive the mitzvah, with us still today, thousands of years later, to welcome guests into our home, to feed them (too much, of course), and give them the comforts they need.

We just put solar panels on our home. We haven’t yet flipped the switch. An individual action yes, but one done in community – the Solarize community. On the one hand, it feels good, like an important step in the effort to slow climate change, but at the same time I understand better now that the process of producing the panels is toxic to the planet, and I still haven’t gotten an answer to my question of how long the panels have to be at work before they “earn back” the energy it took to produce them in the first place.

The questions are complex, but our tradition teaches us not to avoid the questions just because the answers are not readily available, but to keep on moving forward

A disciple, tormented by wavering faith and unable to study, came to see R' Pinchas. The rebbe responded that, as a young man, he, too, had wrestled with questions and doubts. “About man and his fate, creation and its meaning. I was struggling with so many dark forces that I could not advance; I was wallowing in doubt, locked in despair. I tried study, prayer, meditation. Penitence, silence, solitude. In vain. My doubts remained doubts, my questions remained threats. Impossible to proceed, to project myself into the future. I simply could not go on.” Then, one day, when the Baal Shem Tov was visiting his town, R' Pinchas was led by curiosity to attend the gathering. “I was convinced that he was seeing me and no one else. … The intensity of his gaze overwhelmed me, and I felt less alone. And strangely, I was able to go home, open the Talmud, and plunge into my studies once more. You see, … the questions remained questions. But I was able to go on” [140].

The many questions remain, but we can go on, together. One of the ways at Ma’yan Tikvah that we went forward together was by picking cranberries at our annual Cranberry Shabbat, where we welcomed folks from Mosaic Jewish Outdoor Club. We had more than a dozen people picking and picnicking and praying together last Shabbat, and we will deliver the wild fruits of the earth that we picked to a homeless shelter for their Thanksgiving meal. It was renewing and healing for all of us.

Looking to the future, we are having Shabbat services outside tomorrow morning, so join us at Hamlen Woods on Rice Road in Wayland and dress for the weather. We are switching to our winter schedule and starting services at 10:30 AM

We never know when the strangers who suddenly appear in our lives will be messengers of God, as they were for Abram in our Torah portion, and so we ask the Holy One of Blessing to help us keep our hearts and our minds open, and to trust that, as Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav tells us, just as we can do damage, so, too, can we heal.

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Erev Yom Kippur


A Feather from the Sky
by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

A feather from the sky
The text—
open beneath the sky.
The words—
some understood, some not.
The meaning—
difficult.

Dig deep.
Open new wells.
Find new layers
below, 
beneath.

When you wage war against your enemies…
you will take captives…

The words. Understand the words.
Let the meaning go.
Search.
Understand.

The words flow deep.
open new space
deep in the soul.
A feather, 
small, so small,
soft, gray—
drops from the sky,
onto the page,
onto the words
understood.

Here
is the meaning.  


Revisited
by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

A stump beside a beaver pond
at the bottom of the hill—
through the field
kept open by intentional mowing
through the woods
a trail kept open
by hard and intentional work
still not complete
through woods without a trail
with stumps and saplings
and boulders
and mushrooms myriad—
to a stump beside the beaver pond
a quiet moment
damselfly above the water
lilypads still—
no frogs a-rest upon them
sitting together on a stump—
a memory remembered
of a memory told
of a place magical
full of mystery
wide-ranging conversation
chesed
a cabin
beside a pond
on a distant mountainside

arms spread wide
“this is the first bible”
Perhaps.
a different story remembered—
text created before Creation

text of words
text of trees and pond and damselfly
which came first
perhaps the mystics know—
or the astrophysicists

the magic
the mystery
the memory carried forward
now embedded in this Place

sitting on a stump
beside a beaver pond  


נוצה מהשמיים
הטקסט--
פתוח תחת השמיים.
המילים--
כמה מובנות, כמה לא.
המשמעות--
קשה.

חפרו עמוק.
פתחו בארות חדשים.
מצאו רבדים,
 למטה,
מתחת.

כִּֽי־תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה עַל־אֹֽיְבֶיךָ ...
וְשָׁבִיתָ שִׁבְיוֹ...

המילים. הבינו את המילים.
הניחו למשמעות.
חפשו.
הבינו.

המילים חודרות עמוק.
פותחות מקום חדש
עמוק בנשמה.
נוצה,
קטנה, כל כך קטנה,
רכה, אפורה,
נופלת מהשמיים,
על הדף,
על המילים.
הבנה.

הינה
המשמעות.

ביקור חוזר

גדם על יד אגם של בונה
בתחתית הגבעה--
דרך שדה
שמור פתוח עם כיסוח מכוון
דרך יער
שביל שמור פתוח
עם עבודה קשה ומכוונת
עדיין לא גמור
דרך יער בלי שביל
עם גדמים ועצים רכים
וסלעים
ופטריות בשפע--
לגדם על יד אגם של בונה.

דקת דממה
שפּירית מעל למים
שושני מים שכיכות--
אין צפרדעים שנחים עליהן--
יושבים ביחד על גדם
זכרון מוזכר
של זכרון שסופר
על מקום קסום
מלא תעלומה
שיחה מקיפה
חסד
בקתה
על יד אגם
על צלע הר רחוק

זרועות נפרשות למרחב
"אלה כתבי הקודש הראשונים"
אולי.
סיפור אחר מוזכר
טקסט נברא לפני הבריאה

טקסט מילולי
טקסט של עצים ואגם ושפירית
איזה היה ראשון
אולי המסטיקנים יודעים--
או האסטרופיזיקאים

הקסם
התעלומה
הזכרון הוביל קדימה
עכשיו נעוץ במקום הזה

יושבים על גדם
על יד אגם של בונה




Saturday, September 15, 2012

Earth Etude for 29 Elul

May We Open
Photos by Gabi Mezger
Text by Rabbi Katy Allen

May we all unfold and open our hearts. May we bloom and blossom in colors vivid and energetic. May we find butterflies in our midst, seeking our sweetness.




















Thank you for traveling through Elul with us. Thank you to all those who wrote and all those who read.

Shanah tovah u'm'tukah l'chulam.
May you all have a good and sweet year, and may it be filled with unexpected blessings.
Katy and Gabi

Rabbi Katy Z. Allen is the founder and spiritual leader of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, and a chaplain at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. She shares her home with Gabi Mezger, who is happily retired and enjoying the sun and the flowers and books and the beach.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Earth Etude for 27 Elul


The Known and the Unknown
by Rabbi Anne Heath

I celebrated my first Hanukkah amongst my siblings and their children celebrating yet another family Christmas. We had gathered for winter break in Santa Fe, NM, at our brother's home, glad to be together after travels of varying distances and difficulties.

My lengthy, made-it-in-one-day drive from St. Louis culminated in a wondrous night sky display.  My younger daughter and I approached Santa Fe well after midnight. The cold, crisply clear night made for perfect night-sky viewing, too good to be just an out-of-the-window-on-our-way-somewhere experience.
I stopped the car. We got out, glad to be standing. We stretched our road-weary limbs, all the while looking up in awe. We both agreed that it almost felt as if the sky were falling because the sky was so full of constellations and planets. The area's elevation made everything seem just that much closer.

Upon awakening late the next morning, we discovered that the bright, clear sky of the night before had been replaced by low-hanging gray clouds and occasional fog. Disappointing? Yes, but not nearly as problematic as what I perceived as "wrong" with the area's trees, grass and dirt/soil. The pinion pines were short and stubby. There wasn't much grass - green or otherwise.  The dirt/soil was sandy clay. Nothing like the tall trees in St. Louis, nor the prevalence of lawns and dark, rich soil there. Nothing like the wide variation in flora in St. Louis - even in winter.

The brilliant night skyscape seemed "just right" immediately.  The "wrongness" of the Santa Fe landscape didn't turn into "maybe this is OK" until almost the end of our visit, eleven days later.

I wondered on the drive home if my feeling of no longer fitting in at family holiday celebrations might have colored my feeling of not feeling at home in the Santa Fe physical environment.

I continue to wonder why I can get so stuck in needing my environment to be one that is comfortable and familiar.  The push and pull between the lure of the new and the ho-hum-ness of the everyday is a recurring theme in my life.

In the lead up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this year it will be worthwhile for me to revisit the question of balance between the security of the known and the insecurity of the unknown, especially when the unknown represents new growth, renewal and health for my relationship with myself, with G-d and with others; and even more especially when a trek off into the unknown represents a running away from what's difficult in the midst of the known - something which needs healing.

If this is your experience, I pray that 5773 will be a year in which a clarity as brilliant as the cold winter night sky outside Santa Fe illuminates your path.

A member of both the Rhode Island and Massachusetts Boards of Rabbis, Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath (Academy for Jewish Religion-NYC 2007) is beginning her tenth year of service as the spiritual leader of Congregation Agudath Achim and the Jewish Community House  – a 100-year-old progressive, independent congregation in the heart of Taunton, MA. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Earth Etude for 26 Elul


Hashem's "Gaslands"*
by Judith Feldstein

My Lord, You sent us not a burning bush, but Your flaming water;
a fire that lives in gas and is not drowned in H2O,
with flames that are not quenched, and danger not consumed until we
hear and live your will and love Your home as part of You.

Last year You gave us Elul with the kiss and aftermath of Your Irene's
with all the might of ordained winds and rains and floods.
You offered us tsunamis to remember as the earth was shaken,
and our towers crashed and crumbled while our people fled or died.
Our forests burned, our wildlife trapped in Your inferno met a scorching death.
All this as icy continents with lands of snow and glaciers melted by Your will
and slipped into adjoining seas, becoming salty tears of grief in witness of neglect
as polar bears, Your beasts of white bewildered watched and waited
as we watched and waited and did nothing and did not enough.

Our forms of peor and asherah with our golden calves were once Your gifts
which we in recklessness and without thought have turned to idols as we did in Sinai,
while we burn Your treasures in our homes and use Your wealth to run our cars
without regard to You while we feed our bellies irresponsibly.

It seems we have amnesia for the memory of Mt. Sinai held on high and overhead by You.
It seems that we have missed or disregarded, then blocked out Your signals now and then
so that perhaps in our denial we are now awaiting Purim.

This month in retrospect and prophecy, we hear Your will for us through Moses
and review the stories of his life and ours,
from burning bush as invitation and Your call to us;
through mizraim with its plagues and detox;
Death and outstretched arm at midnight;
Your splitting seas and closing them;
Your sustenance as manna, dew,and springs, and fowl;
Your clouds of glory and Your pillar of fiery light;
and so much more.
Do we recognize our gallus now or have we chosen to remain in Egypt?
Are we here to choose the blessing or the curse and will we cross the Jordan
to the Promised Lands our earth as healed and living as Your home?

When we turn our faucets on tonight will we ignite the flame from our ignited match?
And when will we remember all this comes from You?
We are friend or foe of earth, Your dwelling place and ours, but are not both.
Today, tonight and from now on may we all hear Your shofar call us to Your burning bush,
Your will and love and care to help us repair earth so that Your rivers, seas and lakes
are fired by Your love alone and nothing more.

*Gasland is the name of a documentary on fracking.


Judith Feldstein is a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, a Certified Hypnotherapist, a Neurolinguistic Programmer, an Eriksonian Hypnosis practitioner, a Sacred Plant Medicine apprentice, and practices Sacred Circle Dance. She is also an Appalachian Mt. Club trail adopter, an Appalachian Mt. Club trail information volunteer, and enrolled in Rabbinical Seminary International. She is a hiker, walker, runner, student and teacher of A Course in Miracles, a student of Buddhism, a student of Gnosticism and mystic paths, an eldercare provider, a wife and a “mother” of several canine rescues (currently Shepherd and Neufy).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Earth Etude for 25 Elul

Rocks in my Life
by Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein

They say that Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world. It is an opportunity filled with new beginnings. Everything seems fresh and new. So much more so out in G-d's glorious creation, singing psalms that express that majesty. Many Rosh Hashanah mornings have found me at Plum Island before sunrise or a Walden Pond trying to figure out in Thoreau's words, "I went to the woods to learn to live deliberately"

They say that G=d is a Rock, capital R, Adonai Tzuri, G-d is My Rock. When I was first learning Hebrew this was the only word I knew for rock or stone. The Israelis laughed when I tried to use it to describe the beautiful Jerusalem stone. Tzur is only for G-d, they told me. But sometimes people get closer to G-d sitting on rocks. Jacob uses a stone for a pillow, had a dream and woke up saying, "G-d was in this place and I knew it not."

Recently I was sitting on the rocks on the Marginal Way in Ogunquit, ME. In Maine they even have an expression for this. The original tourists, rusticators, those summer people who came to places like Ogunqiuit and Bar Harbor by steamer, stage coach or train, would sit on the rocks for hours just looking at the ocean, thinking or painting. They called it rocking. As I sat there I was thinking of  all the times I have sat there. Many major life decisions have been made sitting on those very rocks. My husband and I decided to have a child sitting there on a cold February morning. One April I rocked to decide whether I could finish rabbinical school, despite some overwhelming obstacles. One July I rocked and debated whether to accept a position as an educational director after ordination. More recently I returned to Ogunquit for my birthday all by myself to walk the beach and the Marginal Way, to sit on those rocks and to figure out what my vision of the rabbinate is. I completed my application for Congregation Kneseth Israel in my hotel room that night. I was impressed with their vision process. It seemed to mirror mine.

Now I am leaving those rocks. I will become the rabbi of Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin, Illinois. My last trip to Ogunquit, was a bright, sunny day. The ocean was a deep blue against the sky. It was breathtaking. When I stepped out of the car, I said to myself, "how can I leave this place?" I even called my daughter then in New York and said I couldn't leave. Then I sat there. I realized that those rocks will be there.They are eternal.  I can return to them. Again and again. The high holiday liturgy says that we can return. Sitting on those rocks helps me prepare. Sitting on those rocks is a real concrete (pun intended) form of teshuva, return. To the Rock. To the rocks. To sit and meditate again. They say that Rosh Hashanah is the birthday of the world. Now where is that more apparent than where the rocks and the water meet. May we all return. 



Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein is the rabbi of Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin IL. www.ckielgin.org. She blogs as the Energizer Rabbi at http://www.theenergizerrabbi.org/. While in Massachusetts she honed her love of water at Mayyim Hayyim where she served as a mikveh guide and educator. Shabbat afternoons will find her out in nature or at a beach somewhere walking.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Earth Etude for 24 Elul


MEDITATION on ELUL

by Richard H. Schwartz

Elul is here. It represents an opportunity for heightened introspection, a chance to consider teshuva, changes in our lives, before the “Days of Awe,” the days of judgment, the “High holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The shofar is blown every morning (except on Shabbat) in synagogues during the month of Elul to awaken us from slumber, to remind us to consider where we are in our lives and to urge us to consider positive changes.

How should we respond to Elul today? How should we respond when we hear reports almost daily of severe, often record-breaking, heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods, and storms; when the previous month, July 2012, was the warmest month in the U.S. since records were kept in 1895; when nine of the ten warmest years since records were kept occurred since 2000, and 2012 is on track to be the warmest of all; when polar ice caps and glaciers are melting far faster than the worst case projections of climate experts; when some climatologists are warning that we could be close to a tipping point when climate change could spiral out of control with disastrous consequences, unless major changes are soon made; when we appear to also be on the brink of major food, water, and energy scarcities; and when, despite all of the above, so many people are in denial, and almost all of us seem to be “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as we approach a giant iceberg”?

It is well known that one is not to shout fire in a crowded theater. Except if there actually is a fire. And, the many examples of severe climate change indicate that the world is on fire today. Therefore, we should make it a priority to do all that we can to awaken the world to the dangers and the urgency of doing everything possible to shift our imperiled planet to a sustainable path. We should urge that tikkun olam (the healing and repair of the world) be a central focus in all aspects of Jewish life today.
We should contact rabbis, Jewish educators, and other Jewish leaders and ask that they increase awareness of the threats and how Jewish teachings can be applied to avert impending disasters. We should write letters to editors, call talk shows, question politicians, and in every other way possible, stress that we can’t continue the policies that have been so disastrous.

The afternoon service for Yom Kippur includes the book of Jonah, who was sent by God to Nineveh to urge the people to repent and change their evil ways in order to avoid their destruction. Today the whole world is Nineveh, in danger of annihilation and in need of repentance and redemption, and each one of us must be a Jonah, with a mission to warn the world that it must turn from greed, injustice, and idolatry, so that we can avoid a global catastrophe.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal our Imperiled Planet, and Mathematics and Global Survival, and over 150 articles and 25 podcasts at JewishVeg.com/schwartz. He is President of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) and the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV). He is associate producer of the 2007 documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World.”  

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Earth Etude for 23 Elul


Returning from Forgetting
by Alexander Volfson

Elul, I’m told, is “a time to return to our best selves.” Upon reading these words this time, something struck me: what if we, every year, are perpetually returning from the same forgetting? We would do a greater justice to G-d and ourselves if we took the time to deeply understand why we turned away in the first place.

The truth is that the most compelling explanation for why we turned “away” is that, in fact, we turned toward something else. In reflecting, then, let us first observe, carefully, not only what we’ve done (that we now regret), but what celebration of life (for surely, it was something, some need that) led us to do so in the first place. Every mis-step was once just “a step.” What compelled us to do it? Or, conversely, what compelled us not to do what we told ourselves and others we wanted to do? If we can understand what led us astray, we can truly return to our now-slightly-better-than-before best selves.

My dear friend (and activist), for example, installed a composting toilet in her home not long ago. The joys of taking responsibility for all the human waste that would normally go out to the ocean and recycling all those wasted nutrients were awesome. However, they were not enough to balance the real time costs of managing the composter and regularly emptying it. And so, in connecting with both her deep love of Mother Earth and her desire to pursue other activities at this moment in her life, she installed a flush toilet. She made a small turn away from sustainability and personal resilience in a thoughtful, intentional manner.

In our paths, be they toward sustainability or along other dimensions, we will certainly have setbacks. There will be weeks, months, and even years that are difficult. But by being honest with ourselves we can make better decisions going forward: if we skipped biking to work because it rained, can we find a way to make biking in the rain doable? If we neglected a home garden, can we find a way to allocate the necessary financial or temporal resources? If we put off an alternative energy investment, can we still find meaningful ways to be resilient?

Often enough, creative solutions allow us to answer “yes”. And in those instances where we answer “no,” it will at least come from a place of understand what was really at stake. If you’re looking for a community of support along the path to sustainability, you might want to talk to Transition Wayland if you live in Wayland and for other paths consult your nearest religious institution or guru.


Wishing you an Elul with bountiful self-reflection.

Alexander Volfson, a humanist and Earth-ist, is working toward a just and sustainable world for all living beings. After washing bike grime (from fixing bicycles) and dirt (from the permaculture garden) off his hands, Alex seeks to turn financial flows back into local communities for social and sustainable enterprises. He's started right in his hometown, Framingham, with a repair business and as one of the founding organizers of the Framingham Sierra Club and Transition Framingham

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Earth Etude for 20 Elul

One Sky
by Nyanna Susan Tobin


"We are all a family under one sky, a family under one sky." Malvena Renolds wrote and sang this song in the 60's. It had a life of it's own and has travelled around the world.

I didn't always see the sky. Earthly chores, right of passage, short term goals, shopping, fitting in.....

Now I sit on a dock at Lake Cochituate. My eyes can scan the blue waters far away to a thin band of dark trees and the Route 30 bridge. The sky is big and open, a mirror of the lake without edges. I feel small, until I am aware of small fishes circling at the dock's edge. 

The view is full, smooth, serene, and I feel at peace. Then I pat the head of my small dog. Like a new child, he reminds me of feeding schedules, playtime, the vet appointment. What if I could see the lake, this view, from his perspective? Living in the Now, the moment. No next time or reflections of past journeys. Like him, I am an earthly creature. But I have forgotten to look up at the sky, and recognize the huge blue lake above. 

As a new year, 5773, approaches, I intend to attend more to ground, sky and wild creatures. I bring an awareness that we are all a family under one sky. I believe that my small actions can make a difference, if only for a moment. Every year, I ask myself if I am honoring my role in repairing the world. When my sister and parents, bless their souls, left this realm, I felt alone. Today, I can sit on this dock, feeling that I belong here, in a family under one sky.

This new year is an opportunity to ask others for forgiveness. And to ask myself for forgiveness for what I may have unknowingly done, that tuned out the frequency of connectedness. I need to remember that we are all a family under one sky, a family under one sky.

Intentions of 5773:

Buy dog food from a small family owned business. Grow more food and support my local farms. Harvest edible weeds. Live outside more than in. Be thankful for the abundant gifts of nature around me. Tell the stories that connect me to this place on Earth. Celebrate the peacefulness of travelling and discovering new smells with a small, brave, dog. And of course, sing as if my life depended on it. 

May our intentions flower and make deep roots. Shalom. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Earth Etude for 19 Elul


Personal ethics in the face of climate change
by Susie Davidson

In his master work "Walden," Henry David Thoreau wrote, "We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us." Thoreau, who is largely credited as a forefather of the environmental movement, was issuing a dire warning that progress can, ultimately, lead to enslavement. He sensed that for all the conveniences that new modes of transportation, farming, communication and manufacturing could provide, we would ultimately become, for all intents and purposes, mere cogs entwined in our machinery. As the Industrial Revolution in his 19th Century America followed that of Great Britain and Europe, his fellow citizens were excited and empowered by the thought of being able to control their immediate environment and society. But visionaries like Thoreau far preferred to remain closer to the world in its natural state. One wonders if he could even have foreseen the detrimental effects of industry we have come to know - increased pollution, overuse of finite resources, and even global warming.

I could not help but think of Thoreau's quotation when I heard the new report by government scientists naming this July officially the hottest month in the recorded weather history of the contiguous United States. This came as little surprise to many, given the current drought affecting two-thirds of the country and the generally scorching conditions across the continent. Indeed, three of the five hottest months in the history books have been recent: 2012, 2011, and 2006. It is no wonder that NASA scientist James Hansen has declared that we are now in the midst of climate change.

In Midrash Kohelet Rabbah 7:28, we read: "When G-d created the first human. he took him and showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him, 'See my works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. And everything that I created, I created it for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy my world - for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.'"

It is sadly ironic to consider that humankind's pursuit of industry, powered by a cavalier desire to control one's surroundings, may in fact lead to a situation of humankind's own making that is, in fact, uncontrollable. Thoreau somehow sensed this. In light of our biblical teachings, we must nonetheless continue to respect the earth even when we feel we are but a tiny cog in the wheel of humanity. As stated in Pirkei Avot 2:21, attributed to Rabbi Tarfon, "It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work [of perfecting the world], but neither are you at liberty to desist from it."

Susie Davidson, who coordinates Boston COEJL, is a poet, journalist, author, and filmmaker who writes regularly for the Jewish Advocate, the Jewish Journal, the Jewish Daily Forward, JointMedia News Service and other media, and has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, the Eagle Tribune, the Boston Sunday Globe, and the Boston Herald. She has also authored four books and made a film on local Holocaust survivors.