Monday, March 23, 2020

You Shall Love Your Neighbor

by Rabbi Katy Allen

We are settling into an altered life. And as this happens, I have been thinking about the Jewish imperative to love your neighbor: 
'וְאָֽהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי ה
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Lev. 19:18)

The rabbis tell us that this commandment is a fundamental principle of Torah, meaning that many other commandments depend on it. For example, we won't steal from others if we think about loving them as ourselves. We won't hurt them or cause damage intentionally to their property, and so on.

Loving our neighbors is what we are doing now, as we stay at home, as we distance ourselves physically but not emotionally or socially from others, as we reach out to those more vulnerable than ourselves.

By telling us to love others as we love ourselves, this imperative implies that if we don't love ourselves, we can't love others. So, in order to get through this time of containment, we need to remind ourselves - and others - that it is OK and necessary to take care of ourselves. It's OK and necessary to take down time, to scream at G!d, to cry and cry and cry, to find a way to be alone. It's OK and necessary to do whatever we need to do to keep ourselves whole.

What are our tools for resiliency? Taking time to identify them, and then to reformat them for today's reality, can help us on our journey toward deeper peace. Remembering the old adage, one day at a time, can help us slow down and remember that we don't need to rush. We have time. And so it continues.

There is already grief, fear, anger, despair, and there will be more. And as Miriam Greenspan reminds us  in her book Healing Through the Dark Emotions, each of these and other dark emotions is an indicator that we care, we love, we are compassionate, we are aware, we are human. Each of our difficult emotions is saying something good and positive about who we are.

Now is a time to do our best to find a new depth of kindness, not just for others, but for ourselves. Now more than ever we need to remember that if we are going to truly love others - and care for them and support them and be kind to them - then we must also, or perhaps primarily, love ourselves.  If we are to love ourselves, then we need to take care of ourselves. And then, when we love ourselves, we will be able to give to others from a place of wholeness and strength, and from that place, our giving is sustainable.

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. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Beyond Coping - to Transformation

by Rabbi Katy Allen
[Note: This essay was first published on the Hebrew College website here on March 3, 2020.]

We live embedded in a web of many kinds of sacred texts. The texts of our tradition are sacred. But so are the “texts” of our lives and the “texts” of the Earth. So are the “texts” of our communities.

A childhood memory of playing with friends in a stream. The experience of sitting beside a loved one as their life draws to an end. A stone. A song. A beloved book from childhood, shared deeply and intimately with family members over the years.

All these and so much more are sacred texts. And when we pull these text out into the light, notice them, take time to turn them and turn them again in our hands, our minds, or our souls, and when we then weave them all together, suddenly something new emerges. Unexpectedly, a new story, a new vision, an insight, a fresh way of understanding takes shape, and with it comes deepening wisdom and an opening of the heart.

Over the years, I have discovered for myself the power of interconnections, that reciting the Shema outdoors is a totally different experience for me than indoors. Connecting a Jewish text to a story of my family deepens the meaning of that story, bringing with it the power of transformation.

It is this power of interconnection, bringing sacred texts to family stories, that decades later enabled me to finally grieve my father, who had died when I was 25, in a meaningful and healing way.

Today, the communal losses are constant, overwhelming and increasing. We are living not only with our inevitable personal losses, but with all the devastation happening around us, at an ever-increasing speed. Australia is burning. Pacific island nations are vanishing from the map. Refugees around the world and at home are fleeing drought or flood. Lyme disease, EEE, coronavirus – dread diseases appear and spread. Dictators are thriving. Injustice is rampant. The existential threat of a non-livable planet looms.

The situation, globally, nationally, locally, and personally, calls us to explore and develop new psychological and spiritual tools.

What is a person with a heart supposed to do? How can we remain compassionate and open to the pain of the world without becoming immobilized by despair or fatigue? Eco-despair, eco-depression, eco-anxiety, and eco-grief areall real. There’s even a new word, solastalgia, to describe our lived experience of environmental changes we perceive as negative. With so much happening around us, how do we not succumb to despair?

We all have tools for coping and growth. Most likely, we have found strength in a time of personal loss or trauma. Now is the time for us to examine those, bring them to our forefront, and transfer our existing processes to the communal losses and trauma we are experiencing today.

I’ve designed a course, Loss and Transformation: Maintaining Hope when Optimism Is Elusive, to help participants understand and employ their existing spiritual and emotional tools for maintaining strength, courage and hope, as well as to build new ones.

Our lives are filled with mystery and with numberless texts. I invite you to join me on an exploration into that mystery and those texts.

Note: I will be teaching the course “Loss and Transformation” beginning March 19, 2020 as part of Hebrew College’s Open Circle Jewish Learning program. This class will be online. Register here. Cost is $60.