Tuesday, September 22, 2015

As We Approach Yom Kippur

Refugees are streaming into Europe from Syria and beyond. Can we, today, imagine what it feels like to flee for our safety? As we enter into the holiest day of the year, seeking to make our way forward into the new year  in a manner at least somewhat better than we did last year, let us keep in mind all those whose plight is less fortunate than ours. Let us acknowledge our privilege. Let us seek to open our hearts and minds to those who fear for their lives. 

Let us open as well, our wallets, and help the refugees. Here are the organizations recommended by American Jewish World Service: 

·         The Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief is collecting donations and will be making quality grants. This is a trusted coalition, and AJWS recommends donating to it without hesitation.
·         HIAS, which is also a member of the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, is responding both with aid and a call to action to demand that our government do more to welcome refugees here in the United States.
·         Human Rights Watch, who is working with Syrian Refugees in Central Asia and Europe to document efforts to block access to asylum and deprive asylum seekers of rights to a fair hearing of refugee claims, among other important work.
·         International Medical Corps, who is setting up mobile medical units to provide primary healthcare, treat respiratory infections and provide surgical care to refugees in the region and throughout Europe

It is the least we can do, an act of humility and compassion, and an acknowledgement of the pain in the world.

G'mar chatimah tovah - May all of us, all the inhabitants of this Earth, both individually and collectively, indeed have a good year, a year that is better, safer, more compassionate, and more aware.

Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as a Nature Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion

Monday, September 14, 2015

What Is a Human? Some Thoughts on Rosh HaShanah

What is a human? (Ps. 144:3)
by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

What am I?

I am insignificant.
One alone
in a sea of humanity
inhabiting every corner of the planet,
a planet filled with pain--
human and beyond human,
all of it profound 

What can I do?
A great difference
for certain
I will not make.
Always there is more to be done,
and more,
and more,
and more.
I cannot do it all.
I can barely begin.
I am just me. 

Here, now,
I sit on the beach,
listen to the waves 
waves powerful 
silencing voices around me.

I stand at water's edge;
the waves pull me seaward,
push me shoreward,
almost knocking me over.
Around my feet 
the waves toss stones shoreward,
then drag them back into the water,
a dance of stones that began 
before I arrived
and will continue
after I leave. 

With time the water, the sea, the waves,
they change the stones,
transforming them
from jagged to smooth,
from boulders to stones to pebbles,
and eventually,
to sand--
the sand beneath my feet. 

The waves, the sea, the water –
What are they?
They are more
than they may seem,
they are myriad upon myriad water drops,
each one separate and unique.
Not a single drop,
but one drop, and another drop, and another drop, and another drop--
all individual, 
each unique,
almost indefinitely,
almost without end,
almost like G!d,
like Ayn Sof,
yet all bound together.

And if everything – 
the Heavens and the Earth and all they contain -
if, indeed, they are created in G!d's image....
Perhaps I am like a drop of water in the sea,
Perhaps I am a drop
in the sea of humanity
and perhaps
what I do
has the power to change
the stones
has the power to change
the world.

מה אדם? ת. 144:3 

מה אני?

אני חסרת חשיבוּת.
אחת לבדה
בים האנושית
המתגורר בכל פינת כוכב-הלכת,
כוכב-לכת מלא בכאב,
אנושי ומעבר לאנושי
כולו במידה ניכּרת

מה אני מסוגלת לעשות?
הבדל גדוך
לא אעשה.
תמיד יש עוד להעשות,
אני לא מסוגלת לעשות  הכל.
אני בקושי יכולה להתחיל.
אני רק אני.

הינה, עכשיו,
אני יושבת על חוף הים,
מקשיבה לגלים
גלים רבי עוצמה
בלתי פוסקים,
משתיקים קולות סביבי.

אני אומדת על שפת הים,
הגלים מושבים אותי לים,
דוחפים אותי לחוף,
כמעט מפילים אותי.
מסביב כפות  רגליי
הגלים שוטפים אבנים לחוף,
אז מושכים אותן בחזרה למיים,
ריקוד של אבנים שהתחיל
לפני שהגעתי
אחרי שאעזוב.

עם זמן המיים, הים, הגלים,
הם משנים את אבנים,
הופחים אותן
ממחוספסות לחלקות,
מסלעים לאבנים, לחלוקי אבנים,
החול תחת כפות רגליי.

הגלים, הים, המיים--
מה הם?
הם יותר מאשר מה שהם נראים,
הם טיפות מיים לאין סְפור,
כל אחת נפרדת ויחודית.
לא טיפה יחידה,
אלא טיפה אחת ועוד טיפה, ועוד תיפה, ועוד טיפה--
כולן בודדות,
כולן יחודיות,
כמעט לנצח,
כמעט בלי סוף,
כמעט כמו אלהים,
כאין סוף,
אך כולן צרורים ביחד.

ואם הכל--
השמיים והארץ וכל צבאם--
אם הם באמת נבראים בצלם אלהים...
אולי אני כמו טיפת מיים בים,
אולי אני טיפה
בים האנושות,
לְמה שאני עושה
יש הכח לשנות
את האבנים
ויש הכח לשנות
את העולם.

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as a Nature Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Earth Etude for Elul 28 - Shana Tova!

text by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
photos by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen and Gabi Mezger

May your new year be filled with

peaceful rest...

amazing vistas from high places...

glory and grandeur...

emerging from tight places...

living off what is available...

climbing ever upward...

constancy amidst change...

the ability to frame...


seeing the small and the holy, with friends... 

Shanah tova!

Rabbi Katy and Gabi

Friday, September 11, 2015

Earth Etude for Elul 28 - Spirals and Rings

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

Days are like scrolls: Write on them what you want to be remembered. --Bahya ibn Pakuda

A Torah scroll is a spiral, when stretched out it forms one continuous stretch of parchment. Its handwritten text is complex, not easy to decipher and commented on throughout its history by those who seek to understand and find wisdom.

Inside a tree, rings form one around the other, in concentric circles. They cannot be unraveled, but they, too, together form a complex text, telling the story of the life of the tree and its environs. One who understands about tree rings can learn much about the life of an individual tree by reading and studying its rings, if it has been felled by a saw.

Spirals. Concentric circles. We humans contain both. Our hearts and our souls and our bodies contain the stories of our life. Each life is hand- and soul-written, complex, difficult to understand.

Sometimes we seek to stretch out the spiral to be able to read our inner text. Sometimes we are felled by a painful event, and the rings inside us are exposed to the outer world, giving a view into who we are.

Our days are like scrolls. Our years are like tree rings. May we unroll them and open them up at this season, for our own introspection and learning, to help us learn to be better human beings.

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as a Nature Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Earth Etude for Elul 27 - Who Will Live and Who Will Die?

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

I have been visiting hospice patients and their families, and at each visit, I speak aloud the fact that Rosh HaShanah is only a few days away. From the secular to the more observant, the impending juxtaposition of the holiday to the loss of their loved one strikes a painful chord in their hearts. The day has powerful meaning.

I think of the words of the traditional liturgy, "Who will live and who will die?" In reality, this question is before us every day. When we wake up in the morning each day, we could be asking, "Who will live and who will die on this day?" Mostly, we don't ask. We get up and go about our business. We don't want to question to present itself in our lives. It carries too much potential pain.

On the other side of the planet, refugees are fleeing Syria, where death is so much more likely, putting the question of who will live and who will die front and center. People are fleeing other countries, too, many in search of a livelihood beyond poverty. 

People are fleeing their homelands in numbers not seen since World War II, since the flight of the Jews and all others in fear of their lives at that time.

Today, one in seven people on the planet is on the move. It is as though the surface of the earth was alive, like moving tectonic plates, like shifting sands of the desert, like mountains upon mountains besieged by avalanches, like flood waters overflowing riverbanks and covering neighboring fields and plains. The world is alive with movement, human beings in search of safety, security, and survival.

From outer space, in daylight, the Earth looks the same as always. Inside its molten core, it looks the same. Only on the outer surface and in the thin layer of atmosphere above it, are the changes apparent. 

The moon is waning. Rosh HaShanah is near. We begin to wonder, who will live and who will die. Who is on the front lines of war and climate change? Who is safe in places of peace and away from rising seas? Who will live and who will die? We do not want to ask the question. But our liturgy asks it, and we read it, and - perhaps - we wish the question were not there, we wish it would go away. We want that we all will live, in good health and well being.

Life is difficult and the end will come, for each of us human beings, and for all living beings.

Is the Earth a living being? Will it, too, die one day?

It is too soon to know, but nevertheless, our liturgy, and at times our hearts, will ask the question.

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as a Nature Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Earth Etude for Elul 26 - Weeding Fields

by Judith Felsen, Ph.D.

There is much weeding needed
in the fields now overgrown by chemical abuse
and steadily polluted with our toxic waste.
Will we still meet amidst our tainted crops?
My King, I come to greet You with a glad and saddened heart,
my knees now bent and resting  on the lands we have destroyed.
With willing hands and humble heart I work on wounded lands
to bring teshuvah to our sullied soils
and restore the bounty we once knew.
I cannot seek for anything but Eden,
I cannot want for anything but Home.
Each piece of earth and drop of water now restored
with conscious care to purity,
gives hope that time will come
when we  converse in fields of heaven’s gifts
and not our devastation.

May this Elul harvest both our callouses of conservation and active prayers of restoration
as we farm Eden once again while gladly sharing  toils of teshuvah in our healing fields with You.

Judith Felsen, Ph.D. Copyright 2015

Judith Felsen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, certificates in hypnotherapy, NLP, Eriksonian Hypnosis, and Sacred Plant Medicine. She is a dancer of sacred circle dance, an AMC kitchen crew, trail information volunteer, trail adopter, and daily student of Torah and Judaism. She is enrolled in Rabbinical Seminary International. She has studied Buddhism, A Course in Miracles, and other mystical traditions. She is a hiker, walker, runner, and lives in the White Mountains with her husband and two large dogs. Her life centers around her Jewish studies and daily application.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Earth Etude for Elul 25 - Work for the Sake of Life and Work

by A. D. Gordon 
translated by Katy Z. Allen

I feel that life,
it is narrow like Sheol,
and my soul is within it
as within a press,
crushed, broken
my life is frothing also
within my soul,
and causing havoc within me,
I shake myself violently
with all my strength
shake off from upon myself
and from within myself,
that life.
I begin everything anew,
everything anew.
From the very beginning I begin life,
and I do not change anything.
I do not fix anything,
but do everything anew.
The first thing,
which opens my heart to life,
which I knew was like it,
is work.
Not work for the sake of living,
and not work in the name of being commanded,
rather, work for the sake of life and work,
which a new light touches upon it,
such I saw,
and here it is one of the portions of life,
from its roots that are even deeper.

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as a Nature Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is the President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion

Monday, September 7, 2015

Earth Etude for Elul 24 - Clouds

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen


always moving...

 constantly changing...



and also impactful...

...like life.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Earth Etude for Elul 23 - On T’shuvah and Leapfrogging Through our Lives

by Moshe Givental

I have had the privilege of spending a lot of time outside this summer at the sacred grounds of Pickard’s Mountain Eco Institute. In my deep yearning to reconnect this one Adam (Earth-ling) with Adamah (Earth) I have tried to listen a bit more deeply than usual, and take R. Hiyya’s advice in the Talmud (Eruvin 100b) to learn something about how to live from our animal friends. The frogs greeted me with quite a croak the first night here, so I took that as a cue to pay extra attention to them.

I don’t know about other people’s natural associations with frogs, but mine are not easily positive. I generally think they’re slimy and cold and ehhh! However, as I sat, listened, meditated, and watched, day after day, I began to notice some things. Frogs have this incredible capacity both to sit and to leap! They share this with grasshoppers as well as deer and many others. They are also incredibly patient. They can sit and sit, and watch and watch, long time. We humans can be quite impatient. We get bored easily. On the other hand, when we do act, many of us want to be methodical, intentional, and maybe even cautious. I know I err on this side. Frogs, on the other hand, have an amazing capacity to outdo us (and certainly me) on both fronts. They can both wait longer and leap further, every time.

The central reference to frogs in our tradition happens during Passover (one of our other New Years). The sages comment on the fact that frogs filled every house, bed, AND oven (Ex. 3:28). They wonder about the frogs willingness to die, to jump even into the oven, to sacrifice themselves to get us out of slavery. The Yalkut Shemoni adds that it was the frogs who taught King David his greatest Psalms (Psalms 150, section 889). The frogs have Chutzpah. Can you imagine teaching David to sing? Have you ever heard frogs sing? They’re loud, but hardly beautiful, at least in that ordinary sense!!

So what does any of this have to do with Teshuvah? I’m trying to take a cue from the frogs this year. I want to suggest that a frog’s ability to sing and leap, and to sacrifice itself have something to teach us about change. I’m not recommending anyone go jump into an oven, literally or metaphorically, but I want to nudge us to leap much more than we’re usually inclined to. Don’t do it blindly, sit, listen, reflect, maybe even longer than you’re comfortable (like the frog), but also be willing to leap, leap and maybe even sing! What might doing that look like in your life? Please join me, and let me know how it goes!

Moshe Givental was born in the Soviet Union and immigrated to the US in 1990. He dashed his parents' hopes of becoming an engineer like his older brother and father, and instead pursued a career as a psychotherapist before enrolling in Seminary to become a Rabbi. These have been natural expansions of his circles of care, from the one-on-one work of a therapist, to the communal work of a Rabbi, to the necessary global work of an Eco-Activist. Moshe is fascinated by the tiniest of wonders, falling in love with all creation, struggling, singing, playing, and learning to leap.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Earth Etude for Elul 22 - Help Me Be

by Carol C. Reiman
Help me be as steady as the oak, 
ocean, owl's gaze; 

Flexing as the bird's wing,
cattail in the breeze,
stream 'round the stone; 

Patient as the long daylight,
path to the horizon,
journey to my core;

Gliding back and forth,
inner, outer,
values mirroring my mien. 

As I tire, fresh start,
spiral ever out afar; 

Treasuring earth's teaching,
voicing its protection,
seeing to its keeping,
as I work to seek my own. 

Carol C. Reiman juggles making a living, caring for family, and keeping ties with communities of human and non-human species.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Earth Etude for Elul 21 - Be Like Water

by Rabbi Katy Allen
photos by Rabbi Katy Allen and Gabi Mezger

Water breaking

Water vast

Water quiet

Water reflective

Water pounding

Water connecting

Water powerful

Water contemplative

Water focused

May we be like the water

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Earth Etude for Elul 20 - Saluting all who stand tall in the face of "Climate and Carbon Pharoahs":Rabbinical activist plans eco Yom Kippur services at Lincoln Memorial

By Susie Davidson
This article was first published in the August 27 issue of the Jewish Journal of the North Shore.

On June 18, Pope Francis released his long-awaited, climate-centered encyclical, “Laudato Sii,” which translates to “May the Creator Be Praised," and is taken from a prayer of St. Francis of Assisi acknowledging Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and all other elements of Creation.

To enthusiastic worldwide reception, the encyclical stated that humans were morally bound to protect the planet for future generations, and especially for the vulnerable among us.

But the next day, by one deciding vote, the Senate Appropriations Committee effectively gutted the EPA's first-ever plan to implement limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.

And at the end of June, the Supreme Court granted the coal industry a reprieve from the Clean Air Act's mandatory curbs on mercury emissions. Coal-producing states and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are reportedly preparing a suit against the mandates expected to end up back before the Supreme Court.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell urged governors to refuse to carry out the rules.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder and Director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, has labeled these foes of the environment "Climate Pharoahs."

On August 3, U.S. President Barack Obama, undaunted by the Climate Pharoahs among him, unveiled a revised Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from US power plants by nearly a third.
"We are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change, and the last generation to be able to do something about it," he said.

Who is the Jewish counterpart to the Pope, and ecologically active leaders such as President Obama? Where is our Moses, our King David, our David ben-Gurion, to lead us to victory against fossil fuel defenders and enablers?

In our day, I nominate Rabbi Arthur Waskow.

Waskow, whose numerous books and writings include "Torah of the Earth: Exploring 4,000 Years of Ecology in Jewish Thought" (Jewish Lights, 2000), "Trees, Earth, & Torah: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology," and “Jewish Environmental Ethics: Adam and Adamah,” in Oxford Handbook of Jewish Ethics and Morality (Dorff & Crane, eds.; Oxford Univ. Press, 2013), is consistently in the forefront of Jewish leadership climate actions, such as June 12's Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis, initiated in anticipation of Laudato Sii.

To date, 414 rabbis have signed on against fossil-fuel extracting practices such as fracking, off-shore Arctic drilling, and oil trains, and their disproportionate impacts on low-income communities and communities of color. “'Carbon Pharaohs' producers... endanger human beings and bring plagues upon the Earth," the rabbis write.

A longtime climate activist who has been repeatedly arrested at protests against pipelines and other earth-damaging energy technologies, Waskow holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and was named by the Forward newspaper in 2005 as one of the "Forward Fifty" leaders of American Jewry. A founding member of the stewardship committee of the Green Hevra, an association of Jewish environmental organizations, Waskow is on the coordinating committee of Interfaith Moral Action on Climate.

He continues to be active despite past throat cancer treatment and the arrival of his 80th year. He has traveled to Boston at least twice recently, for an environmental forum at the Boston Synagogue and a Jewish Climate Action Committee (JCAN) convention earlier this summer at Hebrew College co-organized by Rabbi Katy Allen of Ma'yan Tikvah of Wayland.

This High Holiday season, Waskow is promoting speakers on Eco-Judaism (including Allen, who commissions a series of "Earth Etudes," such as this essay, for Ma'yan Tikva's blog each High Holiday season) to Jewish schools and institutions, for engagements to coincide with Pope Francis' Sept. 22-27 U.S. visit.

Past High Holiday environmental series at the Shalom Center have included 2008's "Clouds, Yom Kippur, & Climate Crisis in the Balance."

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, the Shalom Center is sponsoring a Yom Kippur observance, including Kol Nidre, at sunset at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, to fall just before Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress on the climate crisis. (Those interested may contact  Rabbi Mordechai Liebling of the Center at mliebling@rrc.edu.)

We can all be grateful to Pope Francis, President Obama, Rabbi Arthur Waskow and his staff at the Shalom Center, and to all eco-defenders who act individually, as leaders, and/or as members of organizations to protect and safeguard natural life on Earth, now and for years to come.

A sustainable Shana Tova to all.

Susie Davidson, a local journalist, author, poet and filmmaker, is the coordinator of the Boston chapter of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL). She writes for the Jewish Advocate, JNS.org, the Jewish Journal, the Jewish Daily Forward, and other media, and has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, the Boston Sunday Globe, and the Boston Herald. She coordinated the OccuPoetry series at Occupy Boston. She is also an active board member of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA) and the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow (AHT).

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Earth Etude for Elul 19 - Movement Building and the Body

by Janna Diamond

I invite you to sit up tall. Relax your shoulders. Soften the muscles in your face. Inhale and exhale. Tune in to where you are. 

Did you know that movement in the body does not repeat itself? Even the most subtle motion. Each gesture is an expression of exactly where you are in space at a given moment. Movement is information. Sensation is knowledge. Every second is a discovery. You are here. 

The body is our environment. The environment is our body.

Let us become fluidly adaptable beings, softening to ourselves and those around us. Generating authentic expression. Naming what we see and feel. Allowing sadness, fear, and hope to surface. In the face of incredible uncertainty, let us focus on how the physical body literally roots us in the perilous social and ecological conditions of our time. 

We must acknowledge that all bodies are not considered equal. We are seeing Brown bodies deemed illegal, Black bodies criminalized and brutalized, and all bodies, especially poor bodies, poisoned by the destructive consequences of capitalism.

How are we relating to the body? How do we care for our home?

We can embody change once we recognize that systemic transformation comes from our ability to connect to ourselves, each other and life around us. If we act from a deep sense of awareness and empathy, we intentionally practice that which we want to become and act according to our vision and values.

We can overcome fragmentation and detachment. We can connect the dots between one another. We can draw connections from the issues at hand to the social movements working for justice. Let us join forces with greater clarity, purpose and power. Only then can we fundamentally disrupt the unjust systems that threaten our existence.

Elul readies us for turning, returning, and change. We are made to change. Change is possible and inevitable. Change is our nature.

In the face of all that is here and all that is to come, let us turn toward our relationship to our body. To thank it for holding us up. To allow it to express in real-time. For renewal and resiliency. For healing. For moving forward and moving towards wholeness.

Janna Diamond is a movement builder and activist. She spent years as a professional dancer in New York City, shifted gears to focus on social justice and communal healing, and now seeks to bridge these languages. Janna works at HIAS, the Jewish global non-profit that protects refugees. She is deeply drawn to issues of forced migration, displacement, and the emotional and psychological effects they have on a population.