Tuesday, September 22, 2020

On the Mysterious Grace of Waking

by Maggid David Arfa 

From Campo dei Fiori by Czeslaw Milosz, 1943

I thought of the Campo dei Fiori // in Warsaw by the sky-carousel // one clear spring evening // to the strains of a carnival tune. // The bright melody drowned // the salvos from the ghetto wall, // and couples were flying // high in the cloudless sky.

At times wind from the burning // would drift dark kites along // and riders on the carousel // caught petals in midair. // That same hot wind // blew open the skirts of the girls // and the crowds were laughing // on that beautiful Warsaw Sunday. *

I arrived nearly 10 years ago to perform at Poland’s International Storytelling Festival. On our drive to Warsaw, we passed a green road sign with white letters OSWIECIM. My breath stopped and my hair stood on edge. Oswiecim is the Polish word for Auschwitz. Just the actual place sign carried horrible power. 

Later that night, I thought, is this what Native Americans feel in my home region of Amherst and Turners Falls? After all, Lord Jeffrey Amherst ordered mass murder through the perverse ‘gift’ of small pox infected blankets. Captain William Turner led a massacre of native women, children and elders. For the first time I shuddered as I imagined passing this Polish road sign as part of my daily routine, or living in a town named ‘Hitler’. Upon reflection I see how this experience added urgency to my allyship and also distanced me from my inner bystander. 

My guide wanted to take me to Warsaw sightseeing. My grief, horror and caution already activated, I told him, “I can not enter the city casually. Warsaw is the cemetery of my ancestors and I need to visit slowly, with intention”. We went instead to the new shopping district. 

We passed an art gallery where a giant painting was displayed in the window- a painting of three Jewish men wearing black suits with white shirts draped with tallitot. They had small bead eyes, grotesquely large noses, and were gleefully ogling over a table overflowing with gold pieces, jewels, rings and necklaces. My guide just laughed and said “people buy those pictures because they want good luck in business”. 

Further down the road, I noticed little figurines of men in black and white striped concentration camp uniforms mixed in with dancing klezmerim, figurines with little violins and clarinets. Then, a mourning dove dropped dead from the sky and missed me by less than an inch. I jumped back, eyes wide, heart racing and looked up and saw 4-5 terraces above and not a person in sight. I couldn’t help but wonder if my Yarmulke was the target. 

Later in the week, after the storytelling, I visited the memorial for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I could not find it from the map. A police officer led me through an apartment complex iron gate into an enclosed courtyard where the memorial lives. There were candles on a stone shelf in the wall; I lit a candle, prayed, remembered and grieved. When I was ready to leave I discovered the gate I entered was locked. I searched for over 15 minutes and could not find my way out. I had to force myself to breathe as I battled panic, desperation and fear. Finally, someone appeared with groceries. Again, with laughter, they showed me the electric switch which allowed me to exit. 

That night at the hostel, other Jews found me and we shared stories; found words for our emotional days immersed in painful history. One story was eerily similar to mine: she was at a concentration camp, walked through construction, entered a room with crematoria and the door stuck shut behind her. She had to kick and push with all of her might to be released. 

We wondered how the other tourists could innocently ignore such violence crying out all around. Someone shared the poem “Campo dei Fiori” by Czeslow Milosz, written in 1943, and we despaired that people could be so morally disengaged that they could actually ride the tall ferris wheel for fun while ‘salvos’ (rapid gun-fire) occurred down in the Ghetto below. 

Once home and back to my routines, I read the book Amazing Grace which took me to the poorest county in America, the South Bronx. As I read, the Shofar’s blare grew louder inside my heart and became deafening, I threw the book down! I screamed and howled as my complicitness was unveiled. Author/educator Jonathan Kozol introduced me to the kids, their families and the school life of that place. Their schools have too few textbooks and desks; broken heaters, leaky roofs, overflowing bathrooms. The kids can't play outside after school because gang members are in the park and drugs are being abused. Their homes are homes of poverty, often without enough food or any books, games or toys- just a TV. 

I was grief stricken, ashamed. I immediately saw myself like the bystanders who ignored the Shoah. My suburban highschool was less than 10 miles away from downtown Detroit where similar places exist. Our abundance of not only books and desks, but also a swimming pool, a weight room, and a state-of-the-art science lab made me complicit, like one who is sleepwalking, riding the ferris wheel next to the ghetto! 

For so long, my suburban naivete (aka white racialized identity as taught by Robin Diangelo) blinded me from connecting what I learned about poverty and structural racism, to my immediate life. In my everyday experience, I wrongly and conveniently protected myself by believing that racism was limited to individual perpetrators who exhibit ugly and mean bigotry. I recognized how my utterly segregated life in suburban Detroit made these harsh disparities disappear. My deep fears of traumatic victimization and primal terror of annihilation, primed by a lifetime of good, solid post-holocaust Jewish education and life, shocked me out of my complacency. But truthfully, the intensity was so painful, I went back to sleep; I moved my attention away, seduced again by the amusement of the ferris wheel. 

What to do? How do I stop sleepwalking and ignore the many amusements that are placed before me?

Lo and behold, Elul wisdom from South Warsaw offers Tikkun, repair for these wrongs we hold tight against ourselves with chains of guilt and shame. Our Rabbi, the Sfat Emet, teaches that in these moments of gazing deeply, we must remember to bring self compassion to ourselves. He teaches that our compassion holds power- the very power that stimulates God’s compassion for us. We are encouraged to reach for compassion for ourselves because we all have our limits, and we all carry an inner spark of holiness,

This compassionate forgiveness does not allow for continued ignoring of wrongs. It frees up action in the present and future; it addresses the paralysis of shame that can overwhelm. Here, when I reach for self compassion, I find hope renewed and new strength for activism. I remember I am part of a multi-generational story and I do not have to be perfect and carry the burden of actually completing all the work of the world. I do not have to walk through the desert, on my knees for miles, all the while chanting repent. 

When I allow self compassion to soothe my past inaction, I'm freed to remember I can always pay it forward and begin again. My compassion for my past mistakes and deeds I’ve left undone allows me to sing out loud and clear, without hypocrisy, ‘Wake up everybody no more sleeping in bed’. May we all find ways to awaken, rise up and be fully ready for what this new year may bring. **


** https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZPusIeehQo; Contemporary version of ‘Wake Up Everybody’ to encourage voting. 

Maggid David Arfa is currently a full time health care chaplain with a specialty in trauma informed care.  One aspect of this journey has taken him deep inside the new integrative field of ‘interpersonal neurobiology’ which collects the science reminding us that not only are mind and body one, but as the Kabbalists and Ecologists have taught, we truly are interconnected.    

He has also produced two storytelling CD’s, "The Birth of Love: Tales for the Days of Awe", and the Family Choice award winner, "The Life and Times of Herschel of Ostropol: The Greatest Prankster Ever To Live".  His full-length storytelling performance, "The Jar of Tears: A Memorial for the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto" won the Charles Hildebrandt Holocaust Studies Award in honor of its artistic excellence, depth of vision and technical mastery.  To view other writing and programs, please visit www.maggiddavid.net.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Shanah Tovah!

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May we not succumb to fear.

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

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

May our sense of integration with the Universe ever increase.


The storms are raging,
    wreaking destruction along their way.

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

May we know that we are never alone.


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

May we always be willing to seek help.

The democracy is crumbling,
    leaving ideals struggling for survival.

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

May we ever retain the vision of Eden before us.

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

    May it be healthy - 
for everyone!

 May it bring justice - 
for all!

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

May we, indeed, have a good year.

Shanah tovah!

Rabbi Katy and Gabi

** Translation of Psalm 27 by Rabbi Ora Weiss

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. She is a board certified chaplain and a former hospital and hospice chaplain and now considers herself an eco-chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in  Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the.singing at Ma'yan Tikvah.


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 29 - Elul Unmasked

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

© J.Felsen, Ph.D. 8/10/20

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

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 28 - Dying. Birthing.

by Rabbi Robin Damsky

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

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

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

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

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

The earth cries.

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

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

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

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

Perhaps this is the fuel of renewal.

© Rabbi Robin Damsky

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

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 27 - Speaking Through Underground Networks

by Rosie Rosenzweig

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, September 14, 2020

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

by Joan Rachlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each question gives rise to many more: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, September 13, 2020

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

by Rabbi David Seidenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 12, 2020

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

by Rabbi Louis Polisson

I sit and look out over the green grass

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

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

Teshuvah, returning, then

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

May the rain of the 8th day

Come swiftly
Wash away the hate
Extinguish the flames

May the Earth and the Sky

Be renewed and renew us
Forgiving us our sins

May the Sovereign in the field

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

אדמה ושמים

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

אני יושב וצופה על העשבים הירוקים

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

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

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

יהי גשם שמיני עצרת

יבא מהר
לשטוף את השנאה
לכבות את הלהבות

יהי אדמה ושמים

יתדחשו ויחדשו אותנו
סולחים את חטאתינו

יהי המלך בשדה

ישיבינו ונשובה
מחדש ימינו כקדם

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

Friday, September 11, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 23 - Day of Atonement

by Carol Reiman

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 10, 2020

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

by Daniel Kieval

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

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

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

Ani l'dodi v'dodi li

I will be for you
Will you be for me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

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

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mostly fear, I'd say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all breathe the same air. 

Though for those less privileged the air is less clean.

We all need to breathe to survive. 

No matter our color.

Trees know this better than we.

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

in this time of teshuvah,

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

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

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

How do I forgive the fences and barriers of others?

The felled trees? 

The suffocated people?

Should I? Must I?

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

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

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

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

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA. She is a board certified chaplain and a former hospital and hospice chaplain and now considers herself an eco-chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in  Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the.singing at Ma'yan Tikvah.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Earth Etudes for Elul 20 - Elul 2020

by Judith Felsen, Ph.D.


Is this You? 
Your eyes behind the mask
search lights beaming, 
bridging gaps of social distance,
gazes merge in glances 
momentary soul connection 
Is this You? 
Body wracked
breath ventilated
clinging to existence
space suited team in rescue
heroism humbly shared  
facing of death
Is this You? 
Twisted pain contorted reason
human armed,
weapons fired in hate
murder of resentment
revenge, retaliation
mind and deed in separated state

Is this You?

Marching, bannered, shouting, chanting,
claiming, presence, voices heard
constructing deconstructing 
challenging our history 
standing firm
creating our tomorrow
Is this You?
Planet ailing, melting, dying,
groaning for a consciousness
ending of abuse
pleading for a chance to live  
supporting life tomorrow
Is this You?
A country split, divided, torn apart
conflict without resolution
language hijacked 
Babel’s fate in modern times
reaction without reconciliation
union shatters, grief presides
Is this You? 
In terror, plague and hate
thirteen qualities 
revealed, requested or expressed 
attributes of You 
hidden or displayed
expression and constriction
creation and destruction
must be You

Is this You? 

Is this Your invitation,
our meeting in the field 
destination in our daily lives 
path to transform pain for good 
converting deeds of hate to acts of mercy 
meeting daily in the  field
bringing Sparks 
seeing You in all 
our journey home 
with You

© J.Felsen, Ph.D. 7/29/20

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

Monday, September 7, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 19 - A Tomato, A Single Tomato

by Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein

Six months

Inside, a cocoon

Finding my authentic self

Learning and relearning new skills

Baking challah

Chanting Torah

Painting seascapes


Herbs for more flavor

Cucumbers for pickles

And tomatoes

I’ve never done well at gardening

But this year 

This year


There, right there

It is right there.

A tomato

A single tomato


Ready for harvesting


Dew glistening on its fire engine red skin

One perfect tomato

Not like from the store

Not like a winter tomato devoid of flavor

This one.

This very one.

Cocooned against the cucumber leaves

Resting and gathering strength like me

An authentic, real tomato.


One bite

One single tomato

Symbol of this pandemic.

Last year for Earth Etudes I wrote about our community garden at Congregation Kneseth Israel. I also spoke about it as part of Gail Borden Public Library’s Earth Day videos. I filmed it before we planted this year. Even before everything was shut down and programming went virtual. I don’t usually do much hands-on work in the garden, but it is doing really well at CKI. We have been feeding the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the marginalized since May. Kale, spinach, carrots, radishes, tomatoes and lots and lots of cucumbers. Our neighbors love them, especially the cucumbers. And it is a perfect example of “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I’ve lost count of the number of deliveries that Congregation Kneseth Israel has made to the soup kettle at Holy Trinity Church, right across the street. It really is Unity on Division Street. 

This year I decided I would try my hand at home. I have been writing lots, trying new skills and polishing up old ones. In the middle of a pandemic I was trying my best to lead an authentic Jewish life, for me. It fit with what I was doing for Earth Day, the fact that my husband has an agriculture degree from the Michigan State and suddenly I had, in theory, more time. So we planted. The container herbs have seasoned our food all season. The cucumbers produced nothing (but we did make pickles from cucumbers we bought at the farmer’s market). But the tomatoes? Every week we get one or a handful of perfect, flavorful, ripe tomatoes. 

Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein is the rabbi of Congregation Kneseth Israel, in Elgin Illinois. She blogs as the Energizer Rabbi and serves on several local boards. She helped the City of Elgin plan this year’s 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, the programming all of which went virtual. She is the author of two books, Climbing Towards Yom Kippur about the 13 Attributes of the Divine and Enduring Spirit about the cycle of the Jewish year. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 18 - A Meditation in Nature

by Rabbi Susan Eldoski

At a retreat two years ago, I was inspired by Rabbi Katy Allen's "walking in nature" Shacharit meditation. I believe there's power in being in nature, as Rabbi Nachman said, but it has been difficult for many during this pandemic. These photos were all taken by me and bring me comfort when I look at them.

Rabbi Susan Elkodsi is the spiritual leader of the Malverne Jewish Center in Malverne, NY. She received ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in May of 2015, and prior to that served student pulpits in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. In 2019 she received a Rabbinic Certificate in Gerontology and Palliative Care from the Wurzweiler School of Social work at Yeshiva University. Her goal is to create relationships with Baby Boomers and older adults to help find meaning and purpose in their lives with the context of Jewish tradition and teachings, and as part of a Jewish community, in whatever way each individual sees him or herself. Rabbi Elkodsi and her husband, David, have two adult children.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 17 - The Mask as a Symbol for Life-Sustaining Vision

by Chaplain Rabbi Dr Leslie Schotz

 On this journey of life our 2020 vision 

Forced us to look above our reflections

And mask the face we present to the world. As walking treepeople of the earth we were called to acknowledge the microcosms of life and death staring us into our focus upon breath. 

Beyond our collective comprehension of 2019 the year 2020 brought a vision which called us to see a larger picture of collective responsibility. The world of people were unified in fear and longing for life. Yet we isolated our bodies and nurtured our souls as we continue to heal and connect to the gift of life on earth as our souls learn a new perspective for 2020. May we hold each other in virtual kindness and compassion as the earth heals and people share hope for the future of humanity. A light springs eternal. Can you see it? Can you feel it? Can we be together collectively in our unique destiny for the future of the earth and all its life seen and unseen...... We shall see. We will believe. We long for a loving peaceful  survival.


Chaplain Rabbi Dr Leslie Schotz is a Board Certified Chaplain who works as a chaplain in a psychiatric hospital and also at a nursing home as a hospice chaplain. Rabbi Schotz is the author of two books. One is entitled Spiritual Direction for Jewish Children. The other is Congregational Guide to Jewish Meditation. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Earth Etude for Elul 16 - Harmony of Colors

by Rabbi Robin Damsky

The fingertips of Hurricane Isaías brush the skylights of my sunroom and drench the woods around my house. Tomorrow the guts are expected to touch down a few hours from here. I expect we’ll see the just his shoulder, nonetheless yielding flash floods, downing power lines and trees, with potential tornado winds. The house is well protected. I feel safe

Yet I don’t feel safe in general. The world is reeling from an insidious disease completely preventable. As the icebergs in the polar caps melt, exposing bacteria frozen for hundreds of millennia, as species of plants and animals disappear at an alarming rate, continuing to upset the delicate balance of Creation’s ecosystem, as toxic industry ruins our earth, water, air and soil, we have paved the way for disease to run rampant. 

The disease of the Earth translates into dis-ease for her people. Not only are we dying from COVID-19, we are dying from lack of food, lack of potable drinking water – which is expected to lead the next wave of refugees and immigration, causing more hardship and strife, lack of income and a dearth of earth-friendly business. 

But what we are really dying of is lack of love. Lack of compassion, lack of kindness. 

The human thread that holds us all together, and that binds us successfully to the planet that nourishes us, is severed in so many places. To feel the wounds borne of hate and injustice, to see the violence bleeding out of hearts hardened to simple human decency is the most heartbreaking dis-ease of them all. 

We have to find our way home. Home to gentleness and care, to kindness and tenderness. We must first feed these foods to ourselves. We must hold our own hearts as we grieve, mother and father our own brokenness to help us rise up; stand up straight. And as we learn to treat ourselves with love and care, we nurture the seeds growing inside us – the seeds of healing the planet and all those who reside in and upon it. 

This is what the pandemic is teaching me. That I must go in to my own wounds, many of them old – ancient seeming – and hold them in my arms to permit them to heal. As I sit in the pain I see light. Possibility emerges. It is anew and yet it is the re-emergence of something old – a way of living in harmony with all earth’s creatures and tides. A way that sings with interconnectedness and with beauty effervescing from all of our colors intermingling in harmony.

It’s good work for this Elul. May we find healing light for ourselves, enough to radiate it outward to others and our beloved planet.

© Rabbi Robin Damsky

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