Sunday, March 20, 2022

Meditation on Being Made in G!d's Image

 by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

One in a series of meditations on selected Jewish prayers 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה האֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשַֽׂנִי בְּצַלְמו

Baruch atah Adonai Elohenu melch ha-olam sheh’ah’sa’nee b’tsalmo.

Blessed are You Eternal our G!d, Holy One of the universe who made me in your image.

Sh'asani b'tzalmo

Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.

Taking your time, recite the bracha to yourself, and as you say these words, envision millions of molecules of oxygen leaving the leaves of nearby trees and bushes and herbaceous plants coming into your body through your breath and entering your blood stream.

Continue breathing slowly, and envision millions of molecules of carbon dioxide leaving your body through each breath and entering the leaves of nearby trees and bushes and herbaceous plants.

Think back through the past night and day, 
the past weeks, and months, 
perhaps several years of breathing in and out, 
exchanging gases with the trees and bushes 
and herbaceous plants near you 
and know,
that in that time, every single atom, 
in ever nook and cranny of your body,
has been replaced.
You are totally new.
All the new atoms in your body 
came in through your breath,
and your eating,
all of them from the other living creatures 
around you.

You are new. 
Made from atoms from all the other living things 
and the non-living things 
around you.

Baruch atah Adonai, sh'asani b'tzalmo.
Blessed are You, Holy One, who made me in your image.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Essay

 by Lois Rosenthal

The essay on beauty

looked down on a forest

full of rounded green shapes 

and found them pleasing to the eye.

It said we love the trees in their beauty,

love the web of nature

that sustains them and relies on them.

It said their beauty draws us in

and makes us part of that web.

Nowhere did it say 

how to protect ourselves

from the sight of beauty being consumed by flames,

how to keep the ghastly red image from burning

through our eyes straight through to the soul

reducing our sense of hope

to ashes.

Does anyone know?

If so please tell us

that we may again

believe in renewal.

Lois Rosenthal is a resident of Winthrop MA. Her educational background is in the physical sciences. At Temple Tifereth Israel Winthrop she has been a Hebrew School teacher, lay leader of services, and Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutor. She is also a member of the local CREW chapter of MA Poetry Society.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Tri-State Trail and Framingham Community Farm

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Have you ever heard of the Mid-State Trail

I've known about this trail for many years. It runs 92 miles from the Rhode Island border to New Hampshire, through Worcester County. I've always wanted to hike it. 

Now, at the age of 70, with a nagging back and a body weakened by numerous very annoying but not life-threatening health issues, I've decided to walk this trail. It's now or never. And Gabi, closing in on 79, has decided to come with me.

To make our project more interesting and more meaningful, we are turning our effort into a fundraiser for the Framingham Community Farm, a volunteer farm on the campuses of Edwards Church and First Parish of Framingham. This small farm donates all its fresh, organic produce to A Place to Turn food pantry in Natick, providing delicious fresh vegetables to hungry families in the Metrowest area throughout the summer.

Our goal is to raise $3000 for the Framingham Community Farm, to be used to add five more beds to the gardens at Edwards Church / Open Spirit, set up a drip irrigation system for the beds at First Parish, and enrich the farm by adding raspberries and blueberries.

This project feels like a totally crazy thing for us to do, and also exactly the right thing. We invite you to join us on our adventure through a donation here, either as a lump sum or a per-mile amount, to spur us on. 

We also invite you to join us on the trail for a day or two or more. We have no set schedule, but hope to walk a section of the trail at least one day a week. Just keep in mind that if you walk with us, you have to be willing to meander at our tortoise pace and listen to us wondering why we ever entered into this unexpected endeavor. And if you live near the trail and would like to host us overnight to make it easier for us to hike two days in a row, we'd love to spend time with you!

We promise nothing whatsoever except that we will start and we will try. Once significant snow flies we plan to pause until better conditions arrive. Life may get in the way and slow us down or stop us. Or we may walk all of those 92 miles during the coming months.

We'll post updates and photos on Facebook and Instagram. Please share our journey and spread the word. Thank you for your interest and participation. Hope to see you on the trail or volunteering at Framingham Community Farm!

Katy and Gabi

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Hidden Treasures

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

I've had a delicious crop of raspberries this fall. 

It's obvious, of course, that growing your own fruit means you need to take the time to harvest it. So, every morning since late August, I've been picking raspberries. I eat them with my breakfast granola. What a tasty treat I enjoy!

This year as I've been picking raspberries, I've noticed something I never paid attention to before, though surely it was also true in the past. I've noticed that I need to look carefully. When I first approach the raspberry patch, plump red berries hanging over the wire beckon me, and I eagerly pull the first bright beacons of scarlet I see off the canes.

Yum! I think to myself as I pop them into my container. 

And I go on to the next berries, also readily visible.

I'm about to move on down the row when I tilt my head a bit and another flash of crimson catches my eye.

Then I move my head again, and again, looking from above, from below, and from the side. Each time I change my position, I find more ripe berries to take home for breakfast.

What a delight!

As the days of picking go by, I begin to acknowledge that a message is coming to me from the raspberries: It isn't enough to look just once, from one angle. In order to achieve the full potential of joy and yumminess from my raspberry patch, I need to look from every direction. I need to seek. I need to regularly change my perspective.

Over time, I realize there are actually two messages in the raspberries. 

One message is the reminder that different perspectives view the same thing in different ways. People looking at the world differently than I do see something different, and it is just as real and just as "delicious and pick-able". Sometimes this reality is very hard to live with.

The other message is that there is always more than initially meets the eye. That it's important to expend energy, to "turn it and turn it, for all is in it, and through it you shall see" (Pirkei Avot 5:22). Sometimes this one is hard and sometimes it is easy.

There is wisdom in the raspberries. Letting the spiritual fruits of my picking enter my heart takes time and effort, just as does picking fresh fruit for my morning meal. 

May I, and you,  always find time for both.

Enjoy your fruits!

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva. She is the founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and 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.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Two Stories in One

by Rabbi Katy Allen

Note: This post was written for the project Midrash HaZak, Torah Wisdom by 70 Over 70, created by Rabbi Susan Elkodsi.

I remember when I was turning 60 thinking that this was going to be a productive decade for me. I had a good feeling about it. I remembered that for my own mother, her 60s had been a decade overflowing with creative output. I hoped that I might be able to match her. I think I did pretty well. Those were rich years for me. Overall, they played out well.

Not so long ago, I turned 70. I find myself looking toward this next decade with a different perspective. During my 60s, I did a lot of creative work that involved working with other people, building organizations, making things happen. Now, I find myself much more interested in doing internal creative work, bringing forth from within me what needs to be shared from my learnings during life’s journey, allowing my wisdom and understanding a home in the world.

Which brings me to the question, “How can I live until I die, and how can Torah help me to do that?” I’m thinking about my response to this question in relation to Parashat Bereshit, and the beginning of the Torah. Which feels like a perfect match for me. After all, the first few chapters of Genesis are all about creativity! The super-important beginning we read in the Torah is all about bringing into fruition the yearnings of the heart, in this case, G!d’s heart. But we humans, I think to myself, are meant to follow in G!d’s footsteps, to be partners with G!d in the ongoing task of creation, so it’s really about us, too.

I imagine in my mind the first Creation story, each section ending so poetically, “And there was evening, and there was morning, Day 1 (2, 3, 4, etc.).” This whole first narrative feels like a story meant to be told aloud, or a lyrical poem. It has never felt to me to be a scientific statement of how the world came to be. It is a dream, a soft and inviting watercolor painting, a multi-colored quilt, a grand dance. It is a beautiful myth.

The second Creation story, about Adam and Eve, for all its mythological content, feels more real to me, perhaps because it contains actual people and conversation, and an edge of fear. There are limits. We can’t do whatever we want. There are consequences to our actions.

And then, before we know it, Adam and Eve’s offspring are killing each other. The pain of the world outside my door has intruded into the lyricism with which the Torah began.

Taken together, these two stories provide the warp and weft of all that is woven into my life. To dream, I must. To experience poetry, lyricism, grand dance, and the soft blending of hues in the watercolor painting of life are crucial to my survival. This is the message from Elohim, G!d, in the first story. But to ignore all that is outside my door, to ignore the reality of limits - including the length of my days - is to bury my head in the sand and not be fully human. To try to pretend that I can live in Eden is to deny my own humanity and prevent my growth and development as one created b’tzlem elohim, in the image of the Mystery, as one member of the species homo sapiens. This is the message from Adonai, the Ineffable Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey, G!d, in the second story.

The Biblical historian can explain the origins of two separate creation stories. The scientist can give me facts and figures. But only my heart, working together with my mind and my soul, can bring together an understanding of both Elohim and Adonai in my life. Only my heart, working together with my mind and my soul, can decide that it is worth living until my body says it is time to die.

Ken y’hi ratzon, may it be so.

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva. She is the founder and founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and 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 7, 2021

Shanah Tovah - Reflections

by Rabbi Dorit Edut

Sun-speckled lakes
Gaze upwards at stone titans
Jagged profiles
Reflections of eternity.

Pine-scented paths
Through emerald thickets
Where life cycles

Breathe in - breathe out
We align with transcendent rhythms 
Azure heavens
Pondering partnerships with Creation.

Shanah tovah!

Rabbi Dorit Edut grew up in the city of Detroit and has a deep commitment to its revitalization. Eleven years ago, she brought together a diverse group of clergy and civic leaders in Detroit to find ways to help revitalize the city of Detroit with a focus on its youth. This resulted in the creation of the Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network (DION) where religious and civic groups share their projects and gain support from this network. DION has also holds a series of interfaith services and social/educational programs every few months to spiritually uplift Detroit and bring people from city and suburbs together. The group has also created programs for career exploration, conflict resolution, literacy, and arts and cultural awareness, and monthly supplies food, hygiene items, and clothing for youth and families in Detroit, working with several Detroit schools. She is also an executive board member of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metro Detroit.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Shanah Tovah!

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Such we are commanded each week.

Stop taking from the land!
Such we are commanded each seventh year.

Why bother stopping?

Perhaps to see.
Perhaps to notice.
Perhaps to discover if we care.

Stopping draws us in.

Opens us to new life.

Deepens us to death.

Reveals to us G!dness.

Brings us home.

Shanah tovah!
May you have a year rich with wonders.

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 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. 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.


Sunday, September 5, 2021

Earth Etude for Elul 29 - At the Hoh

by Thea Iberall

The Amazon Rainforest is the most biodiverse region on Earth and provides shelter to three million species of plants and animals. Billions of trees absorb tons of carbon dioxide every year and produce 20% of earth’s oxygen. It’s been called the Lungs of the Earth.

But I read something most disturbing. The Amazon rainforest is now emitting about a billion tons of carbon dioxide a year. From its role as a carbon sink, the lungs of the Earth have become a carbon source. Deforestation by fire of thousands of square miles a year is killing off trees. On average, 137 species of life forms die out every day in the rainforest. 137 species.

I remember visiting the Hoh Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Though smaller than the Amazon Rainforest and with different kinds of trees, it’s an eerie sensation to stand in such a rich wet environment. 

Heart of the Ancient Rainforest, by Linda Lundell

I followed a trail deep into the Hoh and looked up. A Western redcedar pulsed upward in front of me. The forest floor was carpeted by epiphytic moss and Pacific oak ferns. An old Sitka spruce lay on the ground—now a nurse log birthing new trees and insects. A stand of western hemlocks and coast Douglas fir guarded like shomrim, reaching to the sky. I could hear the chirp of chipmunks running to my right. The whistle of a golden-crowned kinglet songbird broke the air as the rising sun layered the copse in purple and yellow light.

Plants and animals don’t grow in a vacuum. It’s all connected. Without forests, the birds can’t survive. Birds disperse seeds so that forests grow. They pollinate flowers. Many eat beetles that would otherwise decimate the forest. It’s their job. This is their office. We all have our jobs to do. It’s a delicate balance. 

When a species dies out, no one does its job. It’s like what happened in New York City in 1968. I had just started college. The city was exciting, alive. And then, there was a garbage strike. The sanitation workers wanted more money and for nine days, garbage began lining the streets. Egg shells, coffee grounds, milk cartons, orange rinds, and empty beer cans littered the sidewalks. 100,000 tons of trash in huge smelly piles reaching to the level of my chest. The smell was sharply disgusting and unavoidable. The city was grinding incoherently to a stop. It was like the municipal cycle was stuck on an inbreath with a needed clothespin on its nose waiting in idle for relief.

It’s all connected.

What we are doing to the rainforests, to me, is a sin. We’re destroying the birds’ office—the very thing they built in the first place, the very thing that’s providing us with oxygen to breathe. I am grateful for JCAN’s voice which helps educate people about the problems caused by unthinking use of resources. In this time of Elul, we reflect on returning to spirit. We must all change and let go of beliefs that support an unsustainable lifestyle. A little thing is to not drink sun-grown coffee which kills trees and birds. A bigger thing is to stop eating red meat. Even bigger is making your own environment sustainable. Even bigger is to educate and advocate. This change in the Amazon rainforest is a tipping point. It is time to return to a true compass and work together. This is the heartbeat of life; this is the heartbeat of a planet.

Thea Iberall, PhD, is on the leadership team of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. Iberall is the author of The Swallow and the Nightingale, a visionary fiction novel about a 4,000-year-old secret brought through time by the birds. In this fable, she addresses thereal moral issue of today: not whom you love, but what we are doing to the planet. Iberall is also the playwright of We Did It For You! Women’s Journey Through History – a musical about how women got their rights in America, told by the women who were there. Along with her family, she was inducted into the International Educators Hall of Fame for creative teaching methods. In her work, she bridges between heart and mind and teaches through performance, the written word, poetry, sermons, workshops, and storytelling.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Earth Etude for Elul 28 - The Waterfall and the Pebbles

by Rabbi Michael Birnhotz

It's not novel or unique. Judaism is built on riding the energy of oscillations between values and experiences. From every day to holiness or transcendence/ein sof to shechinah/immanence or sadness/tsuris to joy/simcha, we flow from one state of being or perspective, generating energy as we move. One of these oscillations takes us from the big picture to the small detail and back again. 

We each have illustrations of this very motion, experiencing it in different times and places. In this Elul, in this time of reflection, I will carry a recent trip to Yosemite National Park in my heart and mind. On one afternoon, my family and I hiked to the base of the Lower Yosemite Falls. As we walked up, we could see the incredible thousands of feet of the full falls pouring down from the cliffs above.  Taking in this magnificent, expansive sight, we could sense the age of this place, as the water cut into the granite, and the scale, as we could feel the height of the walls of the canyon and the power of the water rushing down into the river before us. Shortly after taking in the view of the falls, we followed the trail past a cluster of boulders and went down to the river bank. We delighted to take off our shoes and rest our feet in the cold glacial water. As the water rushed past, I reached down and scooped a handful of pebbles from the bottom of the river.  I turned them in my hand, seeing the colors and shapes of these tiny pieces of rock, shaped over time by so many forces. From the immense size and power of the falls, here I was looking at these individual fragments of the mountains surrounding me. 

For me, during this season of reflection, this experience of the falls and the pebbles embodies the work I need to do. Take in the big picture, whether looking back at the past year or ahead to the approaching year of 5782. Then, narrow my focus. From that wide view, finding one detail or component that needs my awareness or attention. I must remember that it is not just seeing the two perspectives, its also gathering energy from the act of shifting back and forth. I can't settle on one but need both the dilation and contraction to make my way from one year into the next.

Rabbi Michael Birnholz arrived at Temple Beth Shalom in Vero Beach in 2002 following his ordination from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Over the almost 20 years that Rabbi Birnholz has been in Indian River County, he and his family have had a chance to grow in body, mind and spirit right along with Temple Beth Shalom. Rabbi Birnholz enthusiastically shares his ruach and koach -spirit and strength - with the many diverse generations and facets of the Jewish community. From the biblical garden to tot Shabbat, from Men's club breakfast to adult learning while making challah, Rabbi Birnholz is proud to be part of vibrant and meaningful life of his congregation. Rabbi Birnholz has also enjoyed his wide variety of community opportunities to teach and preach Jewish values and wisdom. His hope is to build Temple Beth Shalom into a House of wholeness, harmony and peace and see these efforts spread caring, compassion and justice to the whole Treasure Coast and beyond.  

Friday, September 3, 2021

Earth Etude for Elul 27 - At the Edge of the Sea - על שפת הים

by Rabbi Louis Pollison

At the edge of the sea
On the sand, on the stones, on the shells
I stand
In prayer
But where should I look
What am I supposed to see

I want to contemplate
The sea
The reflections of the sun in her waves
Illuminate and entice my eyes

But the obligation of the East
Onward, eastward
Arises in my mind
And draws me
To turn away from the sea
To turn around
Facing the sun

I long 
To believe and to witness
The day when the sun and the sea
Human and nature
Will be as one
On the same side
Without directions
No East or West
Unified in the bond of life
In God's image

On that day
Heaven and earth
The supernal above and the mundane below
Shall be one
In experience
In Divine Being

And as for me, in my prayer
I simply seek to fulfill my obligation
But slowly, suddenly
I know
That I am standing in prayer
On the beach
At the edge of the sea
At the edge of truth

על שפת הים

על החול, על האבנים, על הצדפים

אני עומד


אבל לאן עלי להביט

מה אמור לראות

אני רוצה להתבונן

על הים

בָּבואות החמה בגליו

מאירות ומפתות את עיני

אבל חיוב המזרח

קדימה, מזרחה

עולה בדעתי

ומושך אותי

לסור מן הים


פני השמש

אני נכסף

להאמין ולצפות

יום כשהשמש והים

האדם והטבע

 יהיו כאחד

באותו צד

בלי כיוון

אין מזרח או מערב

מאוחד בצרור החיים

בצלם א–לוהים

ביום ההוא

יהיו השמים והארץ

העליון והתחתון




ואני בתפילתי

מחפש פשוט לצאת ידי חובה

אבל לאט, פתאום

אני יודע

שאני עומד בעמידה

על חוף הים

על שפת הים

על שפת אמת

Rabbi Louis Polisson serves as rabbi of Congregation Or Atid of Wayland, MA. He received rabbinic ordination and an M.A. in Jewish Thought with a concentration on Kabbalah and Ḥasidut from the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in May 2018. Rabbi Polisson is also a musician and a composer. In 2017, he was awarded a grant from the Hadar Institute to record and produce an album of original Jewish and spiritual songs with his wife, Gabriella Feingold, released in November 2018, available at Rabbi Polisson also studies and teaches Jewish meditation and spiritual practices and is passionate about connecting people to Judaism, Jewish community, and the Divine.