Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Erev Yom Kippur

A Feather from the Sky
by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

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

Dig deep.
Open new wells.
Find new layers

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

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

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

is the meaning.  

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

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

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

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

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

sitting on a stump
beside a beaver pond  

נוצה מהשמיים
פתוח תחת השמיים.
כמה מובנות, כמה לא.

חפרו עמוק.
פתחו בארות חדשים.
מצאו רבדים,

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

המילים. הבינו את המילים.
הניחו למשמעות.

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


ביקור חוזר

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

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

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

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

הזכרון הוביל קדימה
עכשיו נעוץ במקום הזה

יושבים על גדם
על יד אגם של בונה

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Earth Etude for 29 Elul

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 14, 2012

Earth Etude for 27 Elul

The Known and the Unknown
by Rabbi Anne Heath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Earth Etude for 26 Elul

Hashem's "Gaslands"*
by Judith Feldstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Gasland is the name of a documentary on fracking.

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Earth Etude for 25 Elul

Rocks in my Life
by Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 10, 2012

Earth Etude for 24 Elul


by Richard H. Schwartz

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Earth Etude for 23 Elul

Returning from Forgetting
by Alexander Volfson

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you an Elul with bountiful self-reflection.

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

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Earth Etude for 20 Elul

One Sky
by Nyanna Susan Tobin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intentions of 5773:

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

May our intentions flower and make deep roots. Shalom. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Earth Etude for 19 Elul

Personal ethics in the face of climate change
by Susie Davidson

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Earth Etude for 18 Elul

A Broken Sewer Pipe
by Maxine Lyons

One might inquire-- How can a broken sewer pipe help elicit responses relevant to Rosh Hashana  holiday themes? 

When our sewer pipe broke under our home directly affecting our front gardens and lawn, and a crew came in to excavate nine feet down to access it and repair it,  fillers from the earth's bowel began to surface - tons of rubble, debris, clay, stones and brick. I felt  incredulous, How can this be happening as we were adding final touches to our lawns and gardens in our front yard  and simultaneously renovating our large back yard lawn all in time for my son’s wedding celebration with our local Boston family and friends in two weeks! What bad timing at  a great cost and unnecessary distraction from the important issues of a wedding.

After the initial shock and disgust with the torn up yard and the putrid waste, I started to reflect on this milestone event. How can I regain my focus on this marriage as I leaned over on bended  knees removing the runaway stones and clay pieces in my garden? I soon noticed that the ground could rejuvenate quickly once I cleared the debris, added new loam and nutrients and marveled at how forgiving the earth could be. The reality became less serious despite the large output of money and time.  I found several young men to assist me in the digging, removing debris and replanting, and saw that they were taking some delight in helping in the landscaping--and the turns started to occur.

Slowly I felt some changes within myself, the recognition of the parallel spiritual regenerative energies happening so that by adding enriching soils, grass seeds, and colorful flowers, these beautifications  corresponded to the inner cleansing and nourishment that I also needed to ensure my own new growth.  I imagined the wedding festivities and the goals of marriage alongside the spiritual work I needed for my Teshuvah work for the high holidays.

Songs began resonating in my head --- “return again, return to the land of your soul” and with many turns of the soil came an awareness of turning to new and more lofty thoughts, those small discoveries which are the guideposts along the way for doing the more serious work of spiritual renewal. Each turn offered a new perspective as I continued to re-landscape my garden and re-seed my spiritual thoughts for the new year. Teshuvah for me means accepting life’s many challenges as a way of  “turning” toward the positive and  relinquishing the negative habits and behaviors. I welcomed the turn toward  a more elevated place in which I could form my prayers, giving new shape to my hopes and dreams for a more loving, caring attitude toward the earth, toward myself and others, and toward holiness and the meanings of my son's upcoming marriage.

Finally I read a Marcia Falk poem --- Be who you are and may you be blessed in all that you are and felt the warm flow of resolution and repose. The earths’ turning and the turning of my internal process were in synch. I could participate in this much anticipated wedding event with smiles.

Maxine Lyons, retired community educator, is currently CMM (Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries) 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.