Friday, September 18, 2020

Shanah Tovah!

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

The world is on fire,
laying waste to forest and city.

G!d is my life-force and my wholeness: whom would I fear? (Ps. 27:1)**

May we remain ready and willing to engage with the world.

The ice sheets are collapsing, 
and the waters are rising.

G!d is my fortress of strength for my life, whom would I dread? 
(Ps. 27:1)

May we always keep our feet firmly planted on the ground.


The injustice is overwhelming,
    killing too, too many black and brown, indigenous and Asian peoples.

When...attitudes of fear and separation rise up within me to eat away at my energy and physical being, it is they, my thoughts of separation and feelings of being in the narrow straits, that will fall. (Ps. 27:2)

May we not succumb to fear.


The plague is unceasing,
    bringing poverty and despair along with death.

I ask of God oneness, wholeness. (Ps. 27:4)

May our sense of integration with the Universe ever increase.

 

The storms are raging,
    wreaking destruction along their way.

Hear, God, my voice when I cry, and show me grace and answer me. (Ps. 27:7)

May we know that we are never alone.

 

The deceit is rampant
turning to truth in the hearts of some.
Do not hide Your face from me, don’t turn aside from Your servant in anger; 
You have ever been my help.  (Ps. 27:9)

May we always be willing to seek help.


The democracy is crumbling,
    leaving ideals struggling for survival.

Do not forsake me, do not abandon me, G!d. You, my wholeness. 
(Ps. 27:10)

May we ever retain the vision of Eden before us.


The New Year is upon us,
    May it be sweet - 
please G!d!


    May it be healthy - 
for everyone!


 May it bring justice - 
for all!


Among the rubble and the ashes, 
the lost votes and the powerful winds,
may we find unexpected blessings.


May we, indeed, have a good year.

Shanah tovah!

Rabbi Katy and Gabi

** Translation of Psalm 27 by Rabbi Ora Weiss


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 Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. She is a board certified chaplain and a former hospital and hospice chaplain and now considers herself an eco-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.

  

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 29 - Elul Unmasked

by Judith Felsen, Ph.D.
 
In rendezvous with You
dare I reveal, 
express the self
behind the mask,
the one not dressed in Yom Tov finery,
but quarantined instead in tattered garb,
clutching remnants of protection
combat refugee within and out,
who journeyed through the year 
bracing challenge, tasks You offered?
 
Might I share my truth, not wishful fantasy,
my doubt, uncertainty and fear,
brokenness and grief,
contained in fragile self 
sustained by You, 
deprived externals
nourished by Your hidden sparks
embedded in each tear?
 
Might I share in darkness 
impetus for sight otherwise unseen
ex nihilo 
path to see true self
no blocks, defenses,
broken, open, transformation
of perception
struggle birthing vision 
You arise to meet me
when barriers are whittled down
 
This rendezvous with You
adversity has left me broken, 
open hearted seeking, 
seeing You 
this year of Torah journey cracked the walls, 
the light is there
as I see You in all 
 
In the field this year 
I am unmasked 
we are One
 

© J.Felsen, Ph.D. 8/10/20

Judith Felsen, Ph.D. is a N.Y.S. Licensed Clinical Psychologist who resides in Bartlett, N.H. at the edge of the White Mt. National Forest. Judith is a lover of and advocate for nature and all life, a hiker, walker, dancer, meditator, poetess, volunteer, gardener, wife and dog mother of two rescue dogs. She offers consulting upon request and spends time practicing and studying various treatment and healing modalities. She is on the board of the Bethlehem Hebrew Congregation, the Mt. Washington Valley Havurah and Neskaya Center for Movement Arts. Since Covid-19 Judith and Jack, her husband, have lived in Long Beach, New York where she practices, walks the beach, boardwalk and delights in the garden Jack cultivated. Judith participates in virtual services and is active in the Jewish community of both New Hampshire and New York. This year, Judith and her husband were awarded the JFNH Shem Tov Award for work on Holocaust and Genocide Education, related studies and offerings to the public and other organizations and audiences. Judith and Jack are second generation survivors and work to enhance the end of genocide for all.


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 28 - Dying. Birthing.

by Rabbi Robin Damsky

Burning. I am consumed by the burning. I lived in Santa Barbara and other parts of California for about 20 years. I remember the Painted Cave Fire in 1991 that started on “The Pass” – the way we Santa Barbarans referred to the San Marcos Pass that led up into Los Padres National Forest. Santa Barbara is typically a dry, high chaparral, but in the last three plus decades it has faced many years-long running droughts. Lack of water led to restrictions in watering lawns, bathing and flushing toilets. “If it’s yellow, leave it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down,” was a slogan in many a restroom. Drought of this kind leads to fire.

We are reading now in the news and talking with loved ones whose bags are packed, those who’ve already been evacuated, those who lost homes, those whose lives were taken. In California, in Oregon, in Washington, in Colorado, in New Mexico. 

Too many fires. I remember that the Painted Cave fire did something unusual in its day – it jumped the six lanes of the 101 Freeway. That had formerly been unheard of. Now the power of that kind of fire is overshadowed by fire tornados and millions of acres being burned to the ground. 

I’ve lived through earthquakes – a couple of bad ones, and hurricanes, blizzards and more than one polar vortex. Yet nothing scores my heart the way that seeing fire take down the Creator’s trees does, seeing wildlife scamper for shelter and struggle for food in the aftermath. To see and smell the ash that lingers over everything, forming a carpet of grey inside and out, in one’s lungs and over the earth. The blackness of trees – now twigs – charred to the ground, and the earth that sprouted them baked to a crisp. It is the most pain I have experienced from natural disaster.

It just seems a time to grieve. There are writings on prevention and controlled burns. Things that we can do – could have done. So much prevention is yet in our hands while leaders are willing to wrest the last drop of beauty and life from our planet for the sake of their pockets. 

The earth cries.

I can never find my way to wholeness around this loss. It has torn a hole in my heart. When the earth sprouts again, reminding me of her vitality and her fierce will to bring forth life, I cry the sob that has been held within. And I hope for greener tomorrows. 

As I write, my daughter texts me: “There is a snake out front. By the trash.” I join her outside as we watch a young copperhead sit in the road. Watching us, watching her. “What should I do?” my daughter asks. “Walk slowly and around, just give her space. She’s probably as afraid of you as you could be of her.”

We watched, took a few photos and videos in the growing dark. I told her that this is the season for hatching new copperhead babies. 

I always feel blessed when wildlife reveals itself to me. It is a holy gift. 

Perhaps this is the fuel of renewal.

© Rabbi Robin Damsky

Robin Damsky is the founder and executive director of In the Gardens: http://inthegardens.org. She brings organic, permaculture garden design, mindfulness, meditation and movement to communities and individuals to cultivate spirit, mitigate hunger, support our planet, and to nourish healthy relationships with self and others. She serves part time as the rabbi of Temple Israel in Gary, IN, and lives in Chapel Hill, NC.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 27 - Speaking Through Underground Networks

by Rosie Rosenzweig

At my land’s end, the Burning Bush began an early blush this past July

when its bright green leaves were to be made bold by summer.
It, like me, is aging quickly towards some end not yet in sight.
Now, only the hydrangea tree blooms. Gone are the fulsome stalks 
of my ever-blooming ones, fading into brown from their new-born white lace. 
I sweltered at the end of August when, weeding my yard to give my plants more life,
I sought to do the same with the lingering debris hidden in me.

When will that arise? In the middle-of-the-night when seasonal dreams 
are sent to examine my life? Will a sudden memory infiltrate
when I watch some intense family drama on the stage? 
            Once, in Nova Scotia, 
over 50 years ago, my eyes seized on a bald eagle, rarely seen then at home,
flying above our tourist boat. Beak curled, talons ready, 
floating aloft on motionless wings, he glided for miles to nest in Canada for safety.
I wondered at his flight, and yearned, in vain, to see him again. 
At my backyard feeder, I see only the local finches, cardinals for color,
black-capped chickadees, and the brief sojourn of a rose-breasted grosbeak. 
This morning parade with breakfast is a meditation in itself.
Just yesterday, a hummingbird admonished me mid-air with the reminder
that I once filled a window feeder with sugar water just for him. A memory, 
as invisible as his wings, flickered by my mind, hovered, and flitted away 
elusive and quick with the faint buzz of his spheroid flight. 

I’ve read that trees have a secret language speaking through underground networks
to share water with their roots when drought attacks their sap. Hearing 
when a virus will strangle the earth, they know when pandemics creep the globe.
I pray they speak to me, warn me as they sing their eulogy of leaves, 
and help me know which wrong to pound from out my heart. 
Today, all I can do is water them with what I have.

A resident scholar at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center, Rosie Rosenzweig just published her poetry book Bring Me into Flesh, as well as Emergence: the Role of Mindfulness in Creativity.  Her memoir, A Jewish Mother in Shangri-la, describes her travels to meet her Buddhist sons' teachers in the U.S. France, and Nepal.


 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 26 - Why Is This Elul Different from All Other Eluls?

by Joan Rachlin

During the Passover Seder we ask “Why is this night different from all other nights?” and we then spend the evening answering the four – and more – questions. Reciting the plagues, remembering enslavement, identifying with the “other,” and rising up against abuse of power are four pillars of Passover.

The four questions and search for answers provide a relevant framework for this year's Elul reflection. As I engage in teshuvah, the ritual of stock-taking in advance of the high holidays, I ask myself many questions as I seek to find and return to my best self. The questions are uncannily similar to those of the Seder. Among them:

  • What can I do to help repair the Earth after the plagues of fossil fuels and environmental degradation?

  • How can the memory of enslavement in Egypt fuel my commitment to fighting systemic racism?

  • What can I do to help lessons learned from Covid lead to strategies for fighting the disparities in healthcare?

  • How can I fight political chicanery and the degradation of our democracy?

Each question gives rise to many more: 

  • Isn’t it too late to repair the earth? 

  • How will something as entrenched as racism ever be eliminated? 

  • Aren’t healthcare systems always going to give the needs of the wealthy priority? 

  • What can I, one white-haired senior citizen, do to help rebuild our broken and divided country and heal our battered and burning earth?

The answer is “something”... I can do something. I must do something! If I am to find and return to my best self, I cannot be who came out of Egypt in April and forgot about it by September. I must remember that I, too, am “other” and act on the resultant thirst for justice, equality, and peace. 

I know what I cannot do. I am not prepared to risk my life like those “Righteous Among the Nations” non-Jews who risked—and often lost—their lives in order to protect Jews during the Holocaust. But I can work to ensure that my higher self wins a battle over my sluggish and scared one.

  • I can participtae in Dayenu’s Chutzpah 2020 Campaign and support and help seed Roots and Shoots chapters, part of the Jane Goodall Institute. 

  • I can decide to which of Ibram X. Kendi”s suggestions for building a more just society in How to Be An Anti-Racist I can commit. I can support Black Lives Matter. 

  • I can support institutions like Boston Medical Center, Boston Healthcare for the Homeless, Pine Street Inn, and Health Care for All. 

  • I can be part of “The Rising.” I can write post cards as part of the “Reclaim Our Vote,” and other campaigns. 

  • I can work to elect candidates up and down the ballot who are committed to addressing these issues.

In this strange and surreal year, I will work toward a teshuvah that’s more than words. Elul 2020 finds us engaged in an epic battle for the soul of our country. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “We are not all guilty, but we are all responsible.” I pray that I can rise to my responsibilities and “Get into trouble. Good trouble. Necessary trouble.” I’ll try, Congressman Lewis, I’ll try. Ha'levai.

Joan Rachlin is the executive director emerita of Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research, an international bioethics organization. In addition, she practiced law for many years, specializing in cases involving women’s health. Following her retirement, Joan has focused on climate change education and advocacy, including founding and chairing the Green Team at Temple Israel, Boston, and serving on the Steering Committee of the Higher Ground Initiative, a national organization that provides the Jewish community with information on sea level rise and environmental issues more broadly. 


 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 25 - "If the world is created for my sake..."

by Rabbi David Seidenberg

According to tradition this day (the 25th of Elul) is when the Creation of the world began - six days before Rosh Hashanah.

According to the Mishnah, every person should believe, "the world was created for my sake". (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5)

But what does this mean? That we can do whatever we want with the world because it is ours, or that I can do whatever I want because the world is *mine*? On the contrary, says Rebbe Nachman. He explains, "Since the world is created for my sake, I need to see and look in every moment into repairing the world (tikkun ha’olam), and to replenish what the world lacks, and to pray on their behalf." (Likutei Moharan 1:5)

Imagine the holy chutzpah Rebbe Nachman had, to take one of the most anthropocentric teachings in the whole of rabbinic tradition and turn it into a teaching about humility and service! That’s the kind of chutzpah we need now to face the pandemic, and the kind of chutzpah we need to meet the challenge of global climate disruption. 

Yechiel Mikhel ben Uzziel (d. 1730), gave us a related teaching about the world being created for “my sake”:

The purpose of Creation was for the sake of the human being to have free choice, in order that there be punishment and reward. And the reward and the punishment are not from the perspective of whether one has benefited the Holy One, God forbid, as if there could be some usefulness or harm to God from the actions of a person... rather it is from the perspective of benefiting the world and settling it (tikkun ha’olam viy’shuvo), for the righteous benefit the world (m’taknim ha’olam) through their actions, while the wicked are destroying it and turning it back into chaos and void, and limiting the flow of divine abundance (shefa). (Nezer Hakodesh 53a)

Here is more holy chutzpah: if you think that the world was created as a test for you, know that that the test is whether you live your life to benefit the world. And the measure is this: are your actions increasing the abundance of Life-energy available to the world and all its creatures? 

Maimonides also teaches us to have holy chutzpah. Imagine, he says, that the whole world stands in the balance between merit and guilt, and that your actions will tip the scales to the side of merit or the side of guilt. (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot T’shuvah 3:4) 

These three teachers each tell us to re-center ourselves: if all the world is created for my sake, then it all depends on me, on my next choice. How will you choose?

Rabbi David Mevorach Seidenberg is the creator of neohasid.org and the author of Kabbalah and Ecology: God's Image in the More-Than-Human World. He has completed groundbreaking research on many issues, including not only ecology but also tikkun olam and animal rights, and is well-known as a liturgist and translator. He has smikha from both JTS and Reb Zalman. David lives in Northampton MA.



Saturday, September 12, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 24 - Adamah V'Shamayim (Earth and Heaven)

by Rabbi Louis Polisson

I sit and look out over the green grass

The grove of trees just in front of me, to the left
I sing
Adamah ve-shamayim [earth and sky]
Ḥom ha-eish [heat of fire]
Tz’lil ha-mayyim [sound of water]
Ani margish zot [I feel this]
Be-gufi [in my body]
Be-ruhi [in my spirit]
Uve-nishmati [and in my soul]

But do I feel
The pain
The suffering
Of my fellow human beings, children of Eve
Children of Eden
Children of Earth

Teshuvah, returning, then

Is back to Eden, yes
But also back to Gehinnom
Where bodies were sacrificed
To false gods 
Of hate and fire

May the rain of the 8th day

Come swiftly
Wash away the hate
Extinguish the flames

May the Earth and the Sky

Be renewed and renew us
Forgiving us our sins

May the Sovereign in the field

Return us and we will return
Renewing our days as of old


אדמה ושמים

מאת הרב לואיס לב שלום בן אשר זעליג ז׳׳ל וטובה פוליסון

אני יושב וצופה על העשבים הירוקים

חורש העצים לפנילשמאל
אני שר
אדמה ושמים
חום האש
צליל המיים
אני מרגיש זאת
בגופי
ברוחי
ובנשמתי


אבל האם אני מרגיש
את הכאב
את הסבל
של בני אדם עמיתיםבני חוה
בני עדן
בני אדמה

תשובהחזרההיא
לשוב לעדןכן
אבל גם שוב לגיהנום
שבו גופים הוקרבו
לאלים כוזבים
של שנאה ואש

יהי גשם שמיני עצרת

יבא מהר
לשטוף את השנאה
לכבות את הלהבות

יהי אדמה ושמים

יתדחשו ויחדשו אותנו
סולחים את חטאתינו

יהי המלך בשדה

ישיבינו ונשובה
מחדש ימינו כקדם

Louis Polisson serves as Rabbi of Congregation Or Atid of Wayland, Massachusetts. An up-and-coming Jewish musician, he was awarded a grant from the Hadar Institute of New York to record and produce an album of original Jewish and spiritual folk songs with his wife, Gabriella Feingold, released in November 2018. Click here to listen. Rabbi Polisson is also a student and teacher of Jewish meditation and spiritual practices. On special occasions, he writes Hebrew and English poetry.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 23 - Day of Atonement

by Carol Reiman

The river sings to you, the voice of clear water, of ripples, of force over stones. Listen further, to sounds of children splashing in the great heat, where the flow is sullied from the waste of carelessness and greed. The gasping of those weakened by asthma in the droplet laden pandemic air. How, how did it come to this? Who did not see, who looked away?

Stand by the tree, its massive trunk reaching into the sky, underground its community of roots. See the developers who come to remove the living growth, uproot its foundation, separate its life from its kinfolk. Who did not offer another plan, not delay the construction, not stop the bulldozer?

The man speaks to you in tones rich with meaning, of his work, his family stories, of what he has seen, his dreams for the future, his hopes for his children. See him taken down, his neck constricted, his breath choked out. Who saw and did not cry out, not shove aside the knee, not prevent this, again and again?

Stand before the gates, your chance this year to say what you did and did not do. If you still have life, you must protect the lives of others. What do you now know that you must say and do, for the river, the tree, the man, the breath of life that moves in you and those still living? You may not live til all is as one, but you must do the work as long as you have breath.

Carol Reiman tries to connect details with bigger pictures, to breathe, and to let others breathe in peace.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 22 - Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li

by Daniel Kieval

The Hebrew letters of "Elul" are said to spell out ani l'dodi v'dodi li -- I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.

I invite you to listen to this song as a message of love being sung uniquely to you -- perhaps from the Divine, perhaps from the Earth, perhaps from your own Inner Beloved. You might try listening with each of these lenses and seeing what happens.

Whoever the singer is, they are continually and faithfully offering their love and the possibility of relationship. Will you reciprocate? "I will be for you; will you be for me?"


Ani l'dodi v'dodi li

I will be for you
Will you be for me?

Hoping for you I wait
Turn my heart to this simple state
I will forgive
So you may live
With love in every breath I give

Ani l'dodi v'dodi li
I will be for you
Will you be for me?

It is your face I seek
My gentle fingers upon your cheek
And in your eyes
I see surprise
As holy sparks in you arise

Ani l'dodi v'dodi li
I will be for you
Will you be for me?

And when we burst into light
In the darkest of the night
Then you will see
We can be free
If you will come back home to me

Daniel Kieval is a musician, naturalist, and educator living in western Massachusetts.


Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 21 - Of Fences, Barriers, and Trees

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

לְדָוִ֨ד ׀ יְה ׀ אוֹרִ֣י וְ֭יִשְׁעִי מִמִּ֣י אִירָ֑א יְה מָֽעוֹז־חַ֝יַּ֗י מִמִּ֥י אֶפְחָֽד׃ 

Of David. Adonai is my light and my help; whom should I fear? Adonai is the stronghold of my life, whom should I dread? (v.1)

Of David, God is my life-force and my wholeness: whom would I fear? God is my fortress of strength for my life, whom would I dread?  (per Rabbi Ora Weiss)

In Elul, we begin reading Psalm 27, and continue through Yom Kippur and to Shmini Atzeret.

During Elul, I am thinking about fences and trees. Fences being put up, and trees being taken down.


I'm feeling fences and trees. Wondering why it isn't fences being taken down and trees being planted.

Fences and barriers of all kinds, the rejection of connection, out of fear or anger or hatred. 


Mostly fear, I'd say.

Trees, the embodiment of connection. Under the ground, out of sight, connecting to every other tree in their neighborhood, supporting them, building true community.

Sometimes we humans do need fences. We can't handle the connections. 

Introvert, loner-self that I am, more often than I sometimes like to admit.

Yet, like trees, we can't live without each other. 

But we want to limit “each other,” rather than including everyone. 

Denying the reality is that we are as connected as the trees.

We are part of something larger than ourselves, and literally dependent on all of it.

We are all in this together, barriers or no, people we like or not, agree with or not. 

That ALL is really hard to admit to. No matter where we stand.

We all breathe the same air. 

Though for those less privileged the air is less clean.

We all need to breathe to survive. 

No matter our color.

Trees know this better than we.


In this time of fences and barriers - visible and invisible - 

in this time of teshuvah,

what does it mean for me to return to G!d? 

What does it mean to seek forgiveness for my need to be alone?
For my fears?

For my desire - my need - for fences and barriers?

How do I forgive the fences and barriers of others?

The felled trees? 

The suffocated people?


Should I? Must I?

קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְה֫וָ֥ה חֲ֭זַק וְיַאֲמֵ֣ץ לִבֶּ֑ךָ וְ֝קַוֵּ֗ה אֶל־יְהוָֽה׃ 

Look to the LORD; be strong and of good courage! O look to the LORD! (v. 14)

Wait for God, be strong and strengthen your heart and wait for God. (per Rabbi Ora Weiss)

O G!d, I am looking to You. Please help me find the strength and courage to figure out the fences and the barriers, both mine and others'. Help me figure out felled trees. Please help me, today, and again, as I wait, tomorrow and tomorrow and every day. 

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 Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. She is a board certified chaplain and a former hospital and hospice chaplain and now considers herself an eco-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.