Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Earth Etudes - Shanah Tovah!

Renew us in the book of life for a sweet new year

We have come to the end of our Elul journey together. We at Ma’yan Tikvah are grateful to have shared it with all of you – all who have written, all who have read, all who will come to read.

It has been a month of study and self-examination, a month of remembering earthiness in boulders and the color green, in the sound of the ocean and in fields of grain, and a month of new commitments to lighten our weight on the earth. It has been a month of forgiving others, ourselves, and G!d. It has been a month of learning in our hearts and bodies as well as our heads to do teshuvah – to do the hard work of turning toward others and saying I’m sorry, and the even harder work of turning closer, ever closer, to the One toward whom we must re-turn.

After this month of teshuvah, we hope we each have found our own returns, wherever we needed them, and now rest at least a little closer to our true selves - the holiness of earth and spirit we are made of.

It is the new year! It is the birthday of the world!

What is sweeter than that the earth be renewed? That the cycles of rain and sun, winter and spring, earth feeding earth continue?

What is sweeter than for us to be renewed, as we gather together to eat apples and honey, and offer praise and thanks?

What is sweeter than the Breath of Life, that is renewal?

Thank you for gathering with us for this time. We hope you will continue to work, play, and daven (pray) with us in the coming year. Please join us for services, study, earth stewardship, and nature chaplaincy events; new friends and family are always welcome. Together we can rememeber the sacredness of the created world as we stand in its midst, and experience the joy and healing this brings.

May the Holy One of Blessing renew us, all peoples, and all creatures of this earth, for the sweetest of new years.

- Shanah Tovah from Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Earth Tude for 30 Elul

Here’s to health, peace and Good New Year!

In this world of concealment
Bounded by constricted light
We perceive ourselves as separate
Although molded by Your might.

In Your sight we are united
We have never left Your home
All that’s here is but illusion
All we know is merely foam.

This is good and also scary
As we cling to what we think
In the end it makes no difference
As we ascend Your heavenly link.

What we see is just one level
What we are is something else
In Your light we are eternal
Our souls connected in a wink.

In these coming days of Elul
We repent for deeds gone wrong
As we hear the Shofar blowing
We recall Your heavenly song.

Reading Psalms and words of Fathers
Learning over what we’ve known
We are blessed with a reflection
Of Your kingdom, our true home.

This life is like a summer rental
Filled with joy and worldly grief
Our connection with Your kindness
Is in fact our true relief.

As this summer turns to Autumn
As this Av becomes Elul
We reflect on months of passing
Structured by Your thought and rule.

We consider what we are
And we reflect on what we’ve done
In our query we remember
All here passes under this sun.

Words are good and actions mighty
All done with an open heart
In the end we are united
With You, as always, from the start.

Days of Awe, High Holidays
Are a sign that you are here
As we chant and pray for mercy
Here’s to health, peace and Good New Year!

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).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Earth Etude for 29 Elul

Return Again, return again, return to the home of your soul.

A lot of Re’s come to play as we move into the High Holiday season.

Repentance. Responsibility. Retribution. Renewal.

My encounter with Bill McKibbon’s Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, has made me think of a different genre of Re’s :

Reduce. Recycle. Reuse. We all know the routine by now. As good citizens we intend to take responsibility as we try to navigate the impending environmental crisis.

But intentions don’t always jive with reality. That is why, of all the issues I could address in this year’s sermons, nothing seems as reasonable as the environment.

Recycling those plastic bottles is not enough, We must redirect our priorities and instead of opting for the convenience of a handy bottled drink; buy by the jug, pour a drink and wash out the mug!

Our hope lies in renewable sources of energy, McKibbon reminds us. Our job lies in reshaping societal values, realigning our priorities, because if we don’t we won’t be able to recover.

There is a verse in the 2nd paragraph of the Shema that used to disturb me tremendously:

“Take care lest you be tempted to stray, and to worship false god For then Adonai’s wrath will be directed against you. God will close the heavens and hold back the rains; the earth will not yield it’s produce. You will soon disappear from the good land which has been given to you.” (Deut 11:15) I am not one to believe that ill fortune is a ‘punishment from God. But reading this passage through he lens of today’s Re’s … we have strayed, we have abused the good earth which was entrusted to us, and now we are reaping the results as we read ever more frequent in the news, of unnatural natural disasters.

This is the year to rededicate ourselves to this cause, not just with words and lip service, but with real action.

Suri Levow Krieger is the Rabbi of Kerhonkson Synagogue, in upstate New York, and Chavurat Bet Chai in Westchester, NY. She also teaches at University of Bridgeport and Sacred heart University. Her mission includes building bridges between communities and peoples of different faiths by learning, singing and doing together. It includes pushing the creative Jewish envelop, fostering alternative liturgy with spiritual resonance, challenging the traditional text until it yields current meaning, and working proactively towards tikun olam.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Earth Etude for 28 Elul

I went to the woods to live deliberately

I went out to the woods to live deliberately, so said Thoreau in his opening to Walden Pond. What does it mean to live deliberately? I think he was talking about something very Jewish--to live with intention, with kavanah, maybe even with simplicity. As we approach Rosh Hashanah where we review what we have done this past year, I often think about Thoreau in his cabin living with intention. With luck and good planning I even get to visit Walden Pond and do my own reflection, my own walking meditation, or sometimes sitting with a journal. If the weather is warm enough I might even take a dip--my own personal, outdoor mikveh so that I am ready to begin the new year fresh.

Why is mikveh something I gravitate towards? I think I have always had a love affair with water. I grew up in Michigan where you are never more than six miles away from a natural body of water. I swam at the neighborhood pool. I was a life guard at camp. I loved watching sunsets over Lake Michigan waiting to see that green flash of light. I am still drawn to the water. It cleanses and renews, purifies and refines. It calms me--whether I am swimming laps, dipping in the mikveh or watching the concentric circles after I have thrown a pebble in. Many of my most important life decisions have been made sitting by the water--Lake Michigan, Reeds Lake, Johnson Lake, Walden Pond, the Merrimack River, or the Atlantic Ocean--at Bar Harbor or Ogunquit. I am not alone in this. Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods makes the point that we do not allow our children enough time to play outdoors. It is a powerful argument. Every now and then activists fight to protect Walden Pond and the adjacent woods. I do what I can to help. Walden is a precious legacy for the next generation. Protecting it is part of what my Rosh Hashanah and my desire to live deliberately is all about.

Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein is the principal of Congregation Beth Israel in Andover, MA. She is also the president of Starpoint Consulting providing marketing strategy for technology companies. When she is not working she can be found outdoors in nature, hiking, biking, walking near the water with her husband. She blogs at the "Energizer Rabbi."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Earth Etude for 27 Elul

Running toward the Holy One of Blessing

Halfway to Chicago, as I drove south on Interstate 90, I started to feel panicky. I had to get off the highway. I didn’t know why, but something pushed me to continue to my nephew’s home on local roads. I turned eastward on Illinois 173.

As I drove along straight, flat roads between cornfields of northern Illinois, I began to understand. I wasn’t running away from something, I was running toward something. I had felt it earlier in the week when I had taken my mother to her favorite Nature Conservancy site to nourish her spirit. The memory of that day came back – a need to reconnect to the wide open spaces of the Midwest, my childhood home, a connection I couldn’t make barreling along on the Interstate. Ideally, I needed to pedal or walk across the land, or to sleep beneath the wide open sky. But circumstances hadn’t allowed any of those, and this was the next best thing. As I drove along, something inside me slowly shifted into place. I felt more whole.

Later, I pondered the matter of fleeing from vs. running toward. From the outside, the actions may look the same, and often, as I did, we may feel some wordless need to get away without realizing that what we really need is to move toward something.

During Elul and the Days of Awe that follow, we are enjoined to do teshuvah, to return – to re-turn – to G!d. We are not told to run away from something – rather we are told to run toward the Holy One of Blessing, to move closer to G!d, to become more connected to our innermost selves, and through this process, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, to find forgiveness. As we end this month of preparation, may we feel our eyes and our ears and our hearts opening to better understanding, better seeing, and better hearing that toward which we are turning.

Katy Z. Allen is the rabbi and spiritual leader of Ma'yan Tikvah.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Earth Etude for 25 Elul

The Edge Effect

In the Talmud the rabbis raise the question of what is meant by the statement found in the Mishnah “One who does a fixed prayer does not do prayer of supplication.” One explanation given is that our prayer lacks true supplication when it is not done “with the reddening of the sun.” While on one level the rabbis may be referring to the need for one to be earnest in one’s prayer in order for it to be supplicatory, there may be a deeper level to their words.

It seems that here the rabbis are also emphasizing the importance of being awake to the daily moments of transition, of remaining grounded in ourselves through the discomfort of not knowing what will come next and the fear of no longer being rooted to where we once were. Like the gradual shift as the sun reddens and night gives way to day, praying at this transitory time may be being offered as a daily practice for us to remain present, conscious, and grounded through life’s changes.

What is so special about praying at the border between dark and light? Evidence of the power of the edge between two things is visible every moment in our environment. The “edge effect” is found at the boundary between two ecological systems where we find the highest levels of synergism, biological activity and diversity.

May our prayers and introspections during this time of Elul be a gentle call to us to remain conscious through the challenge of transitions in our lives. As we spiritually prepare to for the High Holy Days, may we be lifted up by the incredible energy, synergy, and beauty of the in between places. And, during this auspicious period, may we embrace our time between boundaries, staring out over the edge of endless possibilities.

Adina Allen is a 4th year rabbinical student at Hebrew College and a current Wexner Fellow. She is an active urban homesteader, a certified yoga instructor, and an alum and current board member of Adamah: the Jewish Environmental Fellowship. Adina teaches and speaks about engaging the Jewish community in reimagining the world we want to live in by combining text study, innovative ritual practice, and sustainable living skill development.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Earth Etude for 24 Elul

Opening a Psalm

Consider the first part of Psalm 24. Notice the traditional parallelism wherein the second half of the verse repeating in new language the thought of the first half. Determine if this text from our tradition awakens the preparations of Elul for you.

Psalm 24

1. A Psalm of David....................Might this be a Psalm I could sing/write?
The earth is the Lord’s, and all that fills it;....Do my actions demonstrate this truth?
the world, and those who dwell in it. ...........I dwell on the earth; am I the Lord's?

2. For He has founded it upon the seas,........Do I act as if the Lord founded the earth?
and established it upon the rivers. ..............What is foundational about seas and rivers?

3. Who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord?....Do I ask if I may ascend?
Who shall stand in His holy place?..................How would I describe "His holy place?"

4. The ones who have clean hands, and a pure heart;.............How is this true for me?
who have not taken My name in vain nor sworn deceitfully..Do I, can I, refrain from these?

5. They shall receive a blessing from the Lord,.........What blessing shall I receive?
and righteousness from the God of their salvation....Is God the god of my salvation?

6. This is the generation of those who seek him,........Of which generation am I a part?
who seek your face, O Jacob. Selah..............................How do I seek God's face?

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Earth Etude for 23 Elul


The other day I was flipping through a graphic design magazine that had made its way onto our dining room table. In between glossy advertisements for computer software, design contests & conferences, and showcasing new packaging designs, I saw an ad that caused me to stop and think.

It was a promotion to use more paper. The idea (stated more eloquently than I can remember) was that using paper creates a demand and a market that supports farmers to plant more trees and prevents them from having to sell their land for development.
At a time when a lot of attention is being given to food purchasing choices, and emphasis on buying locally, I think the strategy of encouraging people to consider their purchasing choice is on the mark.

On so many levels we can think about the impact of our buying. Vote with your dollars! As someone who regularly deliberates in the produce isle between the conventional local apples and the organic Chilean ones, I know there are no easy answers. There is no “right” product or market. Our actions have consequences for people we will never meet. As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, and Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), let’s consider our actions and the impact they have on others in deep and holistic ways. By pausing to think about our purchases, we offer respect to the individuals and resources that have made our choices possible.

- Leora Mallach recently co-launched Ganei Beantown: Beantown Jewish Gardens and has been amazed at the positive feedback and momentum! When not creating new paradigms in the Jewish community, she can be found doing batik artwork or coordinating Youth Conservation Corps programs for teens around Massachusetts.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Earth Etude for 22 Elul

Elul Greetings

When I prepare to meet my Host in the fields
how will I greet the Holy One of Blessing?

Will I offer my Lord a calloused hand,
weathered from toil at the till of my soul?

Will my back be bent by ceaseless digging
into the soil of my character?

Will my gardens of responsibility
be weeded, pruned and watered to nurture
G-d’s beauty?

How can I let this privilege slip by unattended?

How can I not prepare my self, soul and earth
for this teshuvah,
the chance for reclaimed purity,
worthy of serving and joining my Creator?

Today I lift my till, hoe, and vessel with joy
to embark on my assigned clearing,
in the service of G-d.

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).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Earth Etude for 21 Elul

The Many Shades of Green

It is forbidden to live in a town that does not have a green garden.
(Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 4:12)

Funny how cities, the predominant sign of societal progress, are largely overgrown with concrete, glass and stone. Not so in Ireland where I recently spent my summer vacation.

The greens of Ireland come in all different shades, visually and symbolically. Spanning every rugged hillside, they range from deep dark evergreen to lemony moss. To top off the greens, the verdant landscape is peppered with an endless variety of wild flowers. Even in the cities, of which there are relatively few, gardens, parks and flower tiers are found at every turn.

I was also struck by the cleanliness. In the city streets, gardens dominate over graffiti. R ecycling depositories are prominent in every town and village. SUV's are noticeably absent, and destinations of choice are often Garden Centers and Natural Heritage Parks.

My summer reading included Bill McKibbon’s Eaarth, {Earth with one “a,” according to Mc¬Kibben, no longer exists. We have carbonized it out of existence} I have become highly sensitized to the environmental hazards threatening our petro guzzling world. Coming from Metropolitan New York, where suburbia consists of town upon town, connected by strip mall after strip mall, and a Super Mega Mall for accent, I was presented with quite a contrast in Ireland. Instead of town after town, it was green after green, with an occasional village between. There wasn’t a Mall or bill board for hundreds of miles in any direction. For that matter, there weren't many roads wider than a truck width either. Smokestacks and pollution do not mar the horizon. On the other hand, Wind Turbines are making such a noticeable appearance that, ironically, there are those who are concerned that these new clean energy machines may themselves become an eye-soar to this natural green paradise.

Build yourselves houses and dwell in them, plant gardens and eat the fruit of them.
(Jeremiah 29:5)

From Ireland I went to Israel. Quite a contrast! Green is not the dominant color of Israel.

At first I was disheartened by the many ways in which Israel has yet to go green. Plastic is everywhere, littering streets and open spaces. Recycling exists but is lax. Pollutant standards are embarrassingly low.

The dominant color is tan to brown to concrete gray. Until one takes a closer look.
North of the Negev, forests have revitalized the hillsides devastated during the years of Roman occupation. In the South, the desert presents its sandy border … but, lo and behold, it is in bloom!

Dunes have made way to thriving hothouses filled with bell peppers, cucs, tomatoes and eggplant. I was fortunate to take a tour of organic hothouses plunked down on vast stretches of tan. Agricultural high tech masterpieces, these acres and acres of hothouses yield produce almost year round with their state-of-the-art computerized drip irrigation, fertilization, and temperature mediation systems.

Just as impressive are the recycled water treatment plants imbedded into the landscape. A significant percentage of sewage water in Israel is treated through a stringent process of detoxification, and then recycled for agricultural watering purposes.

Israel is not as naturally blessed as Ireland when it comes to precipitation, which explains it's less than green out look. But the net effect of this condition is Israel's successful reliance on creative innovation to develop greenery through a unique synthesis of hi-tech agricultural invention, and sacred spiritual intention. The latter is expressed through our daily prayers for rain, in acknowledging the Grand Creator:
Mashiv ha’ruach u-moreed ha’gamshem … Who makes the winds blow and brings forth the rains
Moreed haTal … who settles the dew upon the earth

My two summer destinations provided insights on the many shades of green. If we can color some of our global environmental issues with the innate greenery of Ireland and the innovative green of Israel, perhaps we will be able to live up to the dictum of the Rabbis … that long into the future, we will continue to be able to live in cities blessed with gardens, in many shades of green.

Suri Levow Krieger is the Rabbi of Kerhonkson Synagogue, in upstate New York, and Chavurat Bet Chai in Westchester, NY. She also teaches at University of Bridgeport and Sacred heart University. Her mission includes building bridges between communities and peoples of different faiths by learning, singing and doing together. It includes pushing the creative Jewish envelop, fostering alternative liturgy with spiritual resonance, challenging the traditional text until it yields current meaning, and working proactively towards tikun olam.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Earth Etude for 20 Elul


Gratitude. Gratitude was where this amazing woman had landed three days after learning her cancer had spread throughout her body and nothing more could be done. Gratitude – not fleeting, as she had experienced it previously, but minute-by-minute gratitude for all the goodness in her life. Gratitude with full awareness of all the difficulties.

I had gone for an early morning walk. When I reached the open meadow of the conservation area and the dew on the spider webs caught my eye, I felt it – gratitude. I thought of the words Jewish tradition teaches us to say first thing in the morning: Modah/eh ani lifanechah – I give thanks before You… What a powerful way to begin the day!

Jewish tradition also requires us to say 100 blessings a day, to praise G!d 100 times every day. Through recitation of the thrice daily prayer services, blessings before and after eating and after using the bathroom, one can easily accomplish this goal. But what if, instead, we were to say a blessing at regular intervals throughout the day. In 24 hours, that‘s a blessing about every 15 minutes. But most of us are not awake 24 hours a day (Thankfully!). Doing a little more math, if I sleep 8 hours (for which I am grateful) that leaves 16 hours, or 960 minutes. 960 ÷ 100 = 9.6. If I say a blessing every 9.6 minutes during 16 waking hours, I will say 100 blessings a day.

That is almost constant praise and blessing for the gifts bestowed by G!d - close to constant gratitude.

What would take for me to come close enough to G!d to feel constant gratitude? Must I be dying? I certainly hope not!

May this month of Elul, of closing in on the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, bring us all closer to a constant sense of gratitude.

Katy Z. Allen is the rabbi and spiritual leader of Ma'yan Tikvah.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Earth Etude for 18 Elul

Plastics & fruit

I’ve decided to decrease my exposure to plastics, and increase my consumption of fruit. But what’s the link between them? During Elul, we can turn, as always, to the Torah for guidance on the thoughtful use of each of these earthly components. Plastics are petroleum-based, carbon-intensive, and contain harmful chemicals. Fruits are loaded with healthful vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. And we should waste neither. “Fill the world and capture it” is G-d’s instruction in Genesis 1:28. Genesis 2:15 then cautions that we are to “work it and guard it.” Therefore, the world is ours to use, but we must use it wisely.

Deuteronomy 20:19-20 is often cited by those of us with environmental leanings. If a city is invaded, the army cannot cut down useful fruit trees as battering rams. But if the tree is damaging other trees, it can be felled. Thought should go into the use of everything on our planet, and into destruction and disposal as well. This is the essence of Bal Tashchit, a mitzvah our sages referred to regarding these Torah principles on avoiding wastefulness.

I hope that during Elul and beyond, more people will, along with me,we will all mindfully preserve. We can use cloth bags. Fill jars with filtered water. Re-use cosmetic glass bottles for toiletries. Bring toothbrushes, light bulbs, plastic bags and wine corks to Whole Foods’ specialized recycling containers. Carry your paper and plastics around with you, until you we arrive at your known recycling places. Buy in bulk. Reduce – reuse. Our sages would have it no less.

Susie Davidson, a local journalist, is the Coordinator of the Boston chapter of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Earth Etude for 17 Elul

Shehechiyanu moments

Given the choice, I would much rather commune with God through nature as I walk in the woods or meditate next to a natural body of water, than inside a synagogue turning the pages of a prayer book. Whenever I’m outside, be it on a walk, riding a bike, or even driving a car, my observations sometimes appear as a magnificent sunrise or sunset, as a raptor gliding effortlessly above the ground circling for its next meal, or as a herd of deer standing majestically in a field by the side of the road. These are my “Shehechiyanu moments,” when I am grateful for the present and the gift of life bestowed upon me.

During the month of Elul, as we approach the New Year, I never cease to be amazed by our ancient ancestors who developed a remarkably complex set of calculations used to create our unique calendar. Their ability to ascertain precise dates within our calendar, based purely upon decades of lunar observations and seasonal changes, is nothing short of miraculous. In a cosmos over which they had no control, paying attention to patterns of heat and cold, light and dark, rain and drought was literally a matter of survival.

The rabbis teach that this month should be a time of introspection and mentally mapping a course of self-improvement for the coming year. So, I will think about the most precious and important aspects of my personal life: my wife, my children and my grandchildren. If I can continue to improve upon being a better husband, father and grandfather, then I will be blessed with riches well beyond material wealth. I will continue to try to teach my grandchildren, the importance of acts of kindness, respect of others and helping those less fortunate, and respect for all living creatures. I will try to emphasize not just the awesome mysteries of nature and our universe, but how fragile the balance between human and nature can be. Hopefully, they will grow into adulthood with the knowledge and appreciation of what God has given us and the desire to protect and preserve our planet for their descendants.

- Joel Feinberg is a husband to Marilyn for over 43 years. He is a father of a son (Eric) and a daughter (Heather) both of whom reside with their respective families in Chicago, and grandfather to Talia (6), Ava (4) and Asher (17 mos.) He is trying to retire, but still working as an entrepreneur in his own business. Avid sports fan, bike rider and cook.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Earth Etude for 16 Elul

The Sound of the Shofar

Elul is the month of return when we gather our thoughts and think about what we did during the past year and how we can do better in the coming year. Many years ago, I went to Mexico City and when I first landed there, I immediately noticed the difference in air quality. In fact, it was so bad that when I got off the plane, there was a stinging sensation in my lungs. As well, when I lived in Los Angeles as a college student one summer, I remembered that they had smog alerts during the days that would be especially cloudy when the air quality would be very poor due to a combination of smoke and fog.

One week this summer, it was very rainy all week. I had picked up a cold and it settled in my chest. The dampness due to the extreme rain that we had got into my lungs and made it difficult to breathe. I have an 80-year-old friend who has COPD. She said I sounded just like her. She also told me that many older people in her building go around with oxygen tanks, particularly during rainy days when the air is bad. It makes me sad that the quality of our air is deteriorating and that few people are talking about it. What are we doing to our planet? Are we poisoning ourselves slowly and can we ultimately survive this process of gradual deterioration of our air quality? What kind of a world do we want to live in? The sound of the shofar reminds us to wake up before it's too late.

Joel Richard Davidson is a self-employed private attorney practicing social security, real estate and estate law in Quincy, Massachusetts. Joel also serves as organist for St. Brendan Church in Dorchester, Massachusetts and is taking courses towards his Certificate in Jewish Liturgical Music at Hebrew College. He serves as Cantor for the High Holidays at Congregation Keshet Yam in Manchester by the Sea, Manchester, Massachusetts under the direction of Rabbi Judith Epstein.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Earth Etude for 15 Elul

Working regularly in my garden since June, weeding, planting two additional new gardens in our front yard, enjoying my planter boxes on our wonderful deck where we eat our meals and celebrate Shabbat into the early fall, tending our tomato, chard and kale plants-- all of this makes me feel so connected to the earth and its potential. I welcome the worms wiggling around nourishing the soil, and delight in seeing the spread of colorful blossoms that appear every morning to greet me.

Just as the physical plants in my gardens grow, blossom and change, I feel the connection to teshuvah many times during the calendar year and note my efforts at making meaningful internal changes. Many internal efforts help me feel more whole and connected as I journey through the Jewish year. One is to not reserve the opportunity to make teshuvah a conscious internal/spiritual goal for change only during the Yamim Noraim. Others are to take the time to reflect, to become more mindful of my behavior within myself and in relation to others,, and to seek ways to grow and stretch spiritually so that positive change can occur to enrich my life and those important to me.

Likewise, I find that reaching out to others as a way to add color and "spiritual blossoms" to those in need is an important part of my life. This past year I have again gained nourishment by connecting to Jewish inmates with whom I have been an active pen pal for years, lost souls who need affirmation, contact , and most of all, hope - knowing that they are not forgotten helps them not wither on their own depleted spiritual vines. When I support individuals through interfaith work locally or contribute to those in need in conflict areas in the world, I also find new meaning in my life.

As I journey through Elul, I am reminded that making changes for a more peaceful me, turning to do good, and acting more mindfully and tangibly to assist others all have the effect of integrating teshuvah into my everyday life as I gain a deep appreciation for the natural and spiritual worlds and my place in them.

Maxine Lyons, retired community educator, currently CMM board member and co-facilitator of CMM's RUAH Spirituality Programs, co-leader of Discovering Balance Programs through Discovering What's Next (revitalizing the next life phase for "seasoned citizens"), international folk dancer, member of Temple Beth Zion, Brookline, joyful wife of 34 years and mother of two accomplished and wonderful thirty somethings.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Earth Etude for 14 Elul

I stepped into the nighttime garden half a continent away from my own home. I looked up at the stars – there just above the rooftop, in the same relationship to this roof as it had been to the roof of my own home a few nights earlier, hung the Big Dipper. Bemishmarotiehem ba’rakiya kiretzono. “In their arcs in the sky according to His will.” Words from the evening prayer service. I felt in my soul the solid constancy of the universe, knowing even as I felt this that it is changing. I, too, have changed.

A knock at the door the next afternoon brought the gift of reconnection – my best friend from early childhood! It must be 50 years since our friendship was torn apart by my family’s move. The joy of the hug we shared touched something deep in my soul and our brief conversation confirmed my heart’s knowledge that our friendship as little girls had been more than the coincidence of living on the same street.

I thought of the stars and the sense of constancy they had given me. Here, now, was another constancy, my sacred inner core, the part of me that had never changed, exhibited through the connection of kindred spirits and the knowledge that as little girls we had shared true friendship. The friendship I had lost had been rekindled with a single hug.

Bemishmarotiehem ba’rakiya kiretzono. Words that have been said for hundreds of years – constancy; stars – constancy; the inner sacred core of being – constancy; friendship – constancy. Life is about change, and even that is constant. Every year at this time, we focus on change, trying to be better people, trying to be closer to G!d. In this month of Elul, may the constancy of the stars, the words, my sacred self, and the connections between souls help me change, help me get closer to G!d.

Katy Z. Allen is the rabbi and spiritual leader of Ma'yan Tikvah.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Earth Etude for 13 Elul

On this day of national attention, our prayers and actions for peace go to all those affected by the events of September 11, 2001, and with them go our deepest hopes for lasting peace, human and ecological, among us all.

Blessed are You, Holy One, Who spreads the shelter of peace upon us, upon all of the people of Israel and Palestine, upon Jerusalem, upon all warring individuals, peoples or nations, and upon all the creatures of this earth.

- from Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Earth Etudes for 11 Elul

Glittering Litter

As I prepare to greet my Maker in the field,
Will I recognize Your glittering litter?
Each piece of unresolved garbage, a tiny tinsel of potential teshuvah.
Will I notice that every discarded item of trash
Irresponsibly thrown aside
Is an opportunity for repentance of damage to Your garden.

Will I respond to the privilege to clear the landscape for Your arrival?
All toxic waste, all noxious gases are an invitation
To undo the barrier of denial between us;
To remember that we are one.

Glittering litter is a Divine reminder
A wakeup call from heaven.
Each bit of plastic, glass, tin or paper
Contains a prayer of invitation to a homecoming
As we decide to steward our earth,
Your home,
Return home to Home.

One piece of glittering litter
At a time.

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).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Earth Etude for 10 Elul

Holy Ground

"The place on which you stand is holy ground..." (Exodus 3:5) Even the great leader Moses needed to be told to pause and note the sacred in the world around him.

I have come out to wander in my garden in the freshest time of day, pausing to perch between orderly rows of eggplant, corn and pepper plants and my haphazard broccoli patch, where taller silver-green plants stand guard over tiny sprouts from last year's broccoli gone to seed. Squash plants, rampant, have burst out and flung themselves over hostas edging the walkway; profuse, they mix and twist with gourd vines storing sunlight as color for sukkot glory. Nearby, my improvised bean tower looms, lush and green, and several volunteer tomato plants arch in the bright light. The sun is warm on my face, the air indescribably fresh and the earth crumbly between my fingers. The greenery around me and even the soil give off heat they have banked. Time, it seems, has finally stopped. Late summer is breathing in, spilling out, and breathing in again.

And yet, even while I pause for this lovely moment in the middle of my garden to bask in the sun and the warmth and the bird-song fluttering through the trees overhead, I am aware of how very quickly this summer is winging by. "Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon," the poet Mary Oliver asks. How very hard it is to hold my attention on this garden moment, to keep the spotlight of my mind's gaze fixed firmly on the sproutlings at my feet. How hard to remember the warmth and bird-song overhead, even while I am still under their canopy. How much easier it is to allow my mind to jump off in another direction entirely, to worry over concerns for next week, next month, a half-year from now. I think of Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, un-anchored in time and place. I wonder why "there" seems so much more an appealing concept to the mind than "here, and now." If even Moses needed to be reminded of the sacred surrounding him, what hope is there for the rest of us?

I wonder at times if it is an especially Jewish sensibility not to trust that a moment of delight will last. Could it really be that this pleasantness, these sweet times, might continue? Doesn't the image of a cosmic foot ready to land at any moment hang fairly consistently over our Jewish heads? Does a people's historic experiences of repeated brutality -- slavery, expulsions, inquisitions, pogroms -- indicate future outcomes and conditioned responses?

As an educator, I have learned that what we remember ultimately from any experience is what we were inspired to think and to feel. In the end, will these emotional responses to collective tragedies be what will remain in our collective and individual memories? Will that cosmic foot of doom hang over our heads for all time?

As the new Jewish year approaches, I wonder if perhaps this year I might consider myself worthy of the best possible present: a sense of presence. I think of this in several senses, both in being in the present moment, allowing my soul to savor and trust in delight, and also in being aware of the Presence, the sacred and the miraculous, that can be with us at all times, if only we will allow it. Then, perhaps we can truly look towards a Shana tova, a good and a sweet year to come.

Rabbi Judy Kummer serves as Executive Director of the Jewish Chaplaincy Council of Massachusetts, and is an organic gardener and social activist in Boston. She delights especially in the richness of her compost and her relationships.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Earth Etude for 9 Elul

Turn, Revisit, Return

The burbling of the Frog Pond water comes into my ears as rhythmic catharsis. In the midst of searching for a place in which to meet my deadlines, I have found respite in my fondness for urban nature. As I catch sight of the shimmering purple-blue on otherwise brown birds, I have the chance to recreate myself in what I see anew.

So much in this scene speaks to me of what I love. As the evening lengthens, I remember how I would keep sitting with my mother to admire the Triborough Bridge lights elongating their reds, greens, and whites on the dark river ripples. Now I enjoy space on my wooden park bench while having a front row seat for a mix of languages and faces, as well as the rich fur of the squirrel attracted by hazelnut cookies in my bag.

Especially refreshing is the familiar feeling of support from my surroundings—the relationship that I acknowledge, accept, and create with the world that is larger than myself. Here are other beings—human, animal, plant—going about their business of existing. I am free to find myself, gathering the energy to sustain myself and go forward.

As the year progresses yet again to the next season, change and continuity intertwine. There is the opportunity to see a different set of our “first fruits,” to expand our feelings on hearing the sound of the Shofar, to add dimension to our insight as we revisit each Torah portion, to set aside what hinders us so that we may go forward in this year. One may turn with the tide, turn again for a different perspective, return to what one loves. For me, this year the outdoors is calling.

Carol C. Reiman cares for six feral cats outside her home, is involved in her synagogue, and works with library books at a local university.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Earth Etude for 8 Elul


Take a trip with me on my morning commute. This crisp summer morning, there's an apple lying on the road. A child's delight, discarded half-way though. Intentionally tossed? Accidentally dropped? It lies upon a fresh bed of asphalt which uselessly attempts to assimilate this foreign object. The half-eaten apple on asphalt is Garbage. Asphalt has no use for apples.

Imagine a slightly different commute, through a forest. A half-eaten apple here doesn't sit for long. All manner of living species feast of its bounty: bacteria, insects, worms, birds, chipmunks plants, trees and fungi. No waste. The apple is a wonderful part of the ecosystem.

The difference between these two trips: Connection. In the first, disconnection abounds. In the second, connection is fundamental. What if we look at ourselves, which pattern do we fit?

Food comes from distant farms and continents, it's leftovers to be shipped away or flushed with water that itself comes in from distant springs only to be processed and released somewhere more distant. Water that falls on the house is quickly lead away as well. Each household with separate habitants coming and going in separate directions to separate activities returning only to eat separate meals and relax. Separately.

Only the abundant energy of ancient sunlight made this possible. While the conversation about how we will Transition off our fossil fuel addiction is long overdue, we are, at this very moment, left with the ideal opportunity to reimagine what a connected, self-reliant, sustainable community could look like. This month of Elul, when we engage in introspection in preparation for the Days of Awe, is a perfect time for us to get together and start walking down that path.

Alexander Volfson, a humanist and Earth-ist, seeks to apply his existing(and future) skills toward the creation of a just and sustainable world for all living beings. After bike grime (from fixing bicycles), waste vegetable oil (from biodiesel processing), and dirt (from the permaculture garden) have been washed 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 used vegetable oil collection business; as one of the founding organizers of the FraminghamSierra Club; and with his involvement in the Transition movement.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Earth Etude for 7 Elul

The persons I am lucky enough to claim as friends and family will tell you I have never been the type to take things at reasonable pace. My life is at best, a whirlwind. I somehow always find myself operating at breakneck speed, a cacophony of voices all vying for my attention and passions. The very real danger,however, of this kind of momentum is glance behind and a realization that a sense of self and awareness have been lost.

I was told as a child that our desires, at least in their most distilled and honorable form, were in fact the internal compasses guiding us towards a greater, God-given plan. Perhaps that explains those times in our lives, when not engaged in what brings us balance and fulfillment, we also feel farthest from God.

This is where the idea of t’shuvah - a chance to return and realign oneself with the idea of god and true purpose - applies for me on my journey. I have always done this through the sweetness of the earth around me, in fact it figures strongly into what constitutes my personal sense of spirituality. There is a sort of unwordly peace that inhabits my body when I am in the thick of the biological world. I slip my kayak into the same water that has cycled through an ancient earth, and am engulfed in the joy of God, the newness of the day, and a bold sense of possibility.

Carrie Schuman is a "Mainuh" and a very busy little bee working at a phytoplankton culture collection, and enjoying the vast amount of pristine Maine coastline. She is currently re-assessing her future, so felt writing this etude was a timely exercise.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Earth Etude for 6 Elul

I have been feeling “out of sync” with the High Holidays this year, feeling that I am going in to them unresolved about many aspects of life. I do not at all feel ready to start a new year due to not being finished with the old one. The reading of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy brought all this on. The very end of the Commandments says, “not to desire…” and “not to covet…” How can we be commanded not to feel something? A feeling arises spontaneously! One can become aware of it, acknowledge it, and decline to act on it. But we can’t honestly not feel it. That insight brought me to the larger picture of being not ready to engage in teshuvah or the High Holidays in a real way.

As I thought about all this, I realized that there are many places in the Torah where an action is prescribed or proscribed. Some of those commandments we can follow just because they are the correct thing to do. Others must be held as an ideal that we may not be entirely able to do. This includes the “not to desire/covet” commandments and the High Holiday tradition of reflection on the old year and going on to a new and improved one. I now am seeing these commandments as statements that these things are potentially available to a human being. We can work toward not coveting and not desiring. And maybe that is enough to give us hope that things may not always be unresolved. Even if it is not possible never to covet or desire, it is helpful to acknowledge the possibility, the potential.

Lois Rosenthal is affiliated with Temple Tifereth Israel in Winthrop. She particularly enjoys teaching bar and bat mitzah students there, to transfer to them her appreciation of Judaism.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Earth Etude for 4 Elul

For six weeks beginning in Elul, Jews engage in introspection. “Elul” - taken as an acronym: I and my beloved - introduces the principle that teshuva is about relationships: with self, others, God, and as well the Earth. The season is not completed until we return in the Torah cycle to the beginning, Beresheit (Genesis), and the story of Creation.

Understanding and coming to grips with the physical universe in which we live is an integral part of the process of teshuva. It gives us perspective on who we are, where we came from, where we are going, and God’s plan. This is why the Torah begins with what, as Rashi astutely notes, is a seemingly irrelevant story. But if we cannot appreciate the Earth and cosmos in which we live, then we cannot fully understand the web of relationships and obligations that bind us.

About 13.7 billion years ago the universe as we know it exploded from an infinitesimally small point in a creative event dubbed “the big bang,” and has been expanding ever since. The original description was the cumulative result of decades of mathematical thinking and meticulous observations that culminated with Edwin Hubble’s 1929 observation that other galaxies were systematically moving away from us, in accord with Einstein’s then recent theory of relativity. Four hundred years after Rashi, the Kabbalists of Tzefat offered their own perspective on the lessons of the Torah’s beginning. The Kabbalists weave an intricate account of an expanding universe, layers of light emanating from a primal point, but with a reason beyond the simple physics: humanity has a role to play in this cosmic drama. Tikkun olam is humanity’s task – to heal the breaches and injustices of our society, imperfections that were reflected in the very fabric of the newly formed cosmos. Caring for the Earth is one of these tasks. G’mar Chatimah Tova.

Howard Smith is a senior astrophysicist at Harvard and the author of “Let There Be Light: Modern Cosmology and Kabbalah, a New Conversation between Science and Religion.” He lives and in Newton with his family and davens at the Newton Centre Minyan and Shaarei Tefilla.