Dance Partners

My blog this week is coming to you from the UJUC website.  It’s the last of my vacation-inspired writings… at least until the Holy Days.  🙂

See if I can convince you that Jewish and Hawaiian spirituality intersected at some point. 🙂

http://ujuc.org/dance-partners/

Dance Partners

Rabbi Diane Rose
Those of us who are part of progressive spiritual groups and participate in interfaith activities often speak of the belief that all religions are here to serve the same purpose in different ways. Whether we are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu… aren’t we all searching for answers, working toward peace, and living our lives according to a structure that reminds us to connect to our communities and to our inner-worlds? I believe the answer is yes.

We cannot deny, however, that our Books and Teachers don’t always preach this. Yes, we can stay safe and quote Leviticus:

“The stranger that sojourns with you shall be as the home-born to you, and you shall love him as yourself.”

Or Hillel:

“What is hateful to you do not do to your fellow man.”

Or Jesus:

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

or the Quron:

“We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.” (Surat al-Ma’ida, 48).

But we can just as easily point out the opposite from each religion. The Israelites were not to adopt any rituals from their neighbors and in fact were to destroy their altars, pillars, and sacred trees. The Gospel of John has some not-very-nice things to say about Jews, and the Quron outlines some serious doom and gloom for non-believers.

But I still hold on to my belief that all of our religions have been dancing with each other since humanity first asked the question, “Where did we come from?” I hold on to the idea that our goals are (or at least used to be) the same, and that we have learned and borrowed from each other since we first searched for a God. So it is really refreshing when we find those undeniable interconnections between religions or cultures. Think of the incredible similarities between the stories of Gilgamesh and Noah, or the many religions with creation stories that begin with the world being a dark, watery emptiness.

Well, I may have a new one, and I learned all about it at… a Luau.

“Ha” in Hawaiian means “the sacred breath of life.” When we think about common Hawaiian words, many include “ha.” Alo-ha, Ha-waii, O-ha-na, Ma-ha-lo. These words aren’t just about a greeting, a place, a family, and a thank you. They are infused with the idea that when we speak to one another, our sacred breath is acknowledging the sacred breath of the other.

I find it interesting that in Judaism we have S-ha-lom which not only includes a “ha” but also closely matches the meaning of Aloha. Aloha is known as hello and goodbye, but it also means love, compassion, warmth, and friendliness (think of when people say “the spirit of Aloha”). Shalom similarly means hello and goodbye as well as peace (as any kid who had a Jewish education can tell you), but the root of Shalom, Shin-Lamed-Mem, means complete. Shalom is the completion of the soul… the way to peace. Doesn’t Shabbat Shalom mean a lot more than just a peaceful Shabbat? Two complex words at the center of Jewish and Hawaiian spirituality.

Of course, we cannot discuss “ha” without talking about Avram. In the Torah, God gave Avram a “ha” and Sarai an “h” (hey) as well when God blessed them as God’s own and promised them they would be the parents of a peoplehood. Their names were affected by God, the sacred breath of life now infused in them.

Maybe this is a stretch, but even just the word “ha” in Hebrew (which means “the” ) could have a spiritual connection. Everything definite has the letter hey in front of it. Each item, person, place, even adjective, with the “h” sound is as sure and true and real as our breath. Maybe not connected to Hawaiian language, but I like it anyway.

I wish the Hebrew word for breath/spirit was Ru-cha instead of Ru-ach. If it was, I’d be doin’ a mic drop. Maybe it’s close enough that we have to flip the letter chet and the “ah” vowel so it at least looks like Ru-cha?

Now, I don’t know if Hawaiian culture and Jewish culture ever danced around one another early enough to affect each other in these ways. It would be fascinating (for someone smarter than I am!) to find out if the trading and emigrating communities ever ended up in the same place at the same time. But even if they didn’t, I am going to add a little extra “ha” to my Hebrew and infuse the sound with my belief that we all share the same sacred breath of life.

And with that I say, S-HA-lom and Alo-HA to you. 🙂

Life is Like a Box of Matzah

Life is like bread.

Sometimes our lives feel like a crusty loaf of French baguette right out of the oven from a tiny bakery on the Ile Saint Louis…  inviting, warm, delicious, and just slightly exotic.  Maybe those baguette days take place at weddings or during vacations or even when we decide to spend the whole day in our pajamas watching movies and eating pizza.  Those are good days.

Sometimes our lives feel more like a piece of matzah just pulled out of yet another box of factory made unleavened bread… flat, flavorless, cold, and if we eat too much of it, it forces our bodies to stop flowing as it should.  😉

Of course we all wish for a majority of our days to resemble baguettes, but how do we reach those glorious days?  Most of us don’t get to the vacation without first having to work hard to plan it and afford it.  We don’t meet the person we want to marry without first going on a bunch of dead-end dates.  And we don’t usually get the career promotion without first making the extra time-consuming effort.  It takes a heck of a lot of labor to get to a “Promised Land.” 

In our Passover story, the unleavened bread was our traveling companion.  It wasn’t exciting or delicious, but it accompanied us on our journey from A to B.  Similarly, we have to get ourselves from A to B, from less ideal situations to more ideal ones.  What accompanies us on those journeys?  It may not be matzah, but it may be feelings that are just as cold, flat, and tasteless.   We might feel that our lives aren’t moving forward, or in the right direction, or quickly enough.  We might believe we will never find true love.  We might be frustrated with all of the mundane or even unpleasant activities we must bear while doing our best to keep our eyes on the prize.

So, most of life is a bit like matzah.  But that’s okay, because matzah (and our journeys) don’t have to be so intolerable.  Last weekend, I took part in a Passover cooking demonstration with my community, Cool Shul, and Chef Danny Corsun from Culinary Kids.  There my feelings about matzah were changed forever.  We made our own… flour, water, olive oil, and no more than 18 minutes in the oven to make sure it was still technically matzah.  And you know what?  It was warm and flavorful and delicious!  We dipped it into a freshly made pesto and charoset with pomegranate seeds, and rather than being a lifeless culinary experience, matzah became something kind of divine.

So, maybe we can re-think those laborious days of our lives the way I got to re-think matzah.  Maybe there is a way to make our daily journeys more flavorful.

Let’s remember that while we were slaves, we were also well-fed.  I’m not so sure we remembered to have gratitude for that little blessing.  Then, when we were free, we were hungry and afraid and really struggled with holding on to our beliefs and to thankfulness for our new position.  This means the “negative” places we are may have some positives if we look hard enough, and that the hard-won freedoms we are looking forward to may come with a cost.  So, perhaps we can do our best to treasure the small triumphs and notice the positive things hidden in our day to day journeys.  Maybe we can be mindful enough to be present with with the mundane or even the painful rather than focusing on the fact that we aren’t already in better days. 

Let’s pack some freshly baked matzah in our sacks (no more boxes of Streitz’s!) and walk boldly toward the possibilities of tomorrow without losing sight of the challenges that will come with “arriving.”   Let’s enjoy our baguette days, but also never forget that every life will include more matzah days ahead as well.  It’s partly up to us whether or not we find the blessings in those flatter moments.

Hope you will join me and Cool Shul at our Community Seder on April 15 in Temescal Canyon.  Click here for more info

Jewish Guide for Stressful Times

Al sheloshah d’varim        Upon three things

ha-olam omeid.                  The world stands.

Al ha-torah,                          Upon torah,

V’al ha-avodah,                  And upon prayer,

V’al g’milut chasidim       And upon acts of loving kindness.

—Pirkei Avot

These are stressful times. Whether you are fearful about the future or regretting the past, whether your stress stems from politics or health issues, whether your worries are about your parents, your children, yourselves, or the planet (or all of the above), it seems few of us are relaxed these days. We don’t know which way to go, which way to turn, what to fund, what to sign, whom to support, and whom to condemn. We are lost in a sea of news and social media, all while needing to keep up with the strains of every day life. No matter what we read on Facebook, Twitter or the New York Times, there are still sick children and parents.  There are still groceries that need to be purchased, homework that needs to get done, bills that need to be paid, and career woes that need to get solved. Lately, it seems many of us wake up in the middle of the night finding we’ve been grinding our teeth and sweating through uncomfortable dreams as our subconscious works through its agitations. We find ourselves a little more testy, a little less patient, and a little less thoughtful.  We feel afraid and alone.

But Judaism offers a simple statement that can carry us through, if we listen, one day at a time…

Upon three things the world stands. Upon torah, upon prayer, and upon acts of loving kindness.

In some ways, this quote from Pirkei Avot is all we need to guide us. It won’t solve our problems, but it is a three-step road map to action and to inner-peace if we follow it, and for now, that will have to do.

My old Rabbi and mentor used to talk about big T Torah and little t torah. Big T is for the text of the Torah scroll itself. Little t moves beyond those Five books of Moses to all forms of learning, teaching and study of wisdom, Jewish and otherwise. So, the world first stands upon knowledge: spiritual, scientific, social, political and personal wisdom. The world stands upon learning our personal truths and the truths of the universe.

How does this relate to feeling stressed and out of control? Let’s all choose one element (I suggest just one to start when we are feeling like there are so many issues to face) of what is worrying us, and learn, study, and understand that issue. Let’s get the facts (oy, please let’s not be part of this “post-fact” world we keep hearing about!), rather than rely on hearsay or headlines or word of mouth. Let’s gather truth, and whether these truths are about the world’s problems or about what a doctor or teacher may have reported about a loved one, let’s make sure we are as armed with wise, factual information as we can. That’s step one.

Ready for step two?

According to Pirkei Avot, the next thing the world stands upon is prayer… well, only sort of. The Hebrew word for prayer actually means “work” or “labor.”  So, this means that the world doesn’t only stand upon prayer but stands upon our efforts. It means the actions we do can be prayerful.  So, let’s act! Let’s put some effort towards improving the situations about which we just educated ourselves. This may mean going to meetings or therapy, donating to a cause, or marching, demonstrating, or volunteering. You decide what the right action is, but they key is that there is action. The key is doing. Let’s not sink into a sense of defeatism over what crushes us, but get up on our feet, “pray with our legs,” and get out there, even if the action itself seems small… even if our efforts will only make a difference to ourselves, knowing we gave it our best shot. 🙂

Finally, we are told the world stands upon acts of loving kindness. G’milut is actually a giving, it’s charity. And chasidim? Boundless kindness and love. G’milut chasidim is giving away boundless kindness.

So here we are at step three. While we are improving our knowledge, and going into action, let’s try to remember to be full of endless kindness as we do. After all, a big part of the knowledge we seek is to understand what and whom we don’t already understand. So, let’s look into opposing eyes with openness. Let’s face dissenting voices with strength wrapped in grace. Let’s stare into the depths of illness and issues and fear, holding ourselves tall. Let’s allow our power to filter through kindness with every encounter, no matter how difficult it is. Remember what our first lady said, “When they go low, we go high.”

Knowledge… Effort… Boundless kindness… Three simple Jewish ingredients for spiritually surviving trying times. This road map won’t solve everything, but we will be bathed in truth while marching toward resolution with grace in our hearts. Maybe that is enough for us to gain control over what appears to be out of control.

So, the next time we feel ourselves spinning, let’s remember this post. Let’s learn, act, and do our best to offer boundless kindness as we take it one step at a time, one day at a time.

B’shalom (with inner-peace),
Rantor Diane

stress-image

If Only Bannon were Abraham

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. – Hillel

An aged Abraham, recovering from his circumcision, is sitting at the entrance of his tent with the hot sun gleaming above him.  When he looks up, he notices three men standing near.  As soon as he sees them, he runs to greet them.  He bows to the ground and offers them food, water, shade, and to bathe their feet.

Think of this man, nearly 100 years old, with searing pain between his legs, running toward strangers.  Why run?  Why not walk gently and calmly?  Could he sense that they were messengers of God?  Or did he simply not want to lose the opportunity to do the right thing… to offer some travelers food, water and shade on a hot day, even when he, himself, was suffering?

We all, but particularly those of us (Jews, Christians and Muslims) who are the descendants of Abraham, have an opportunity with this week’s Torah portion to be inspired by him, and to run, not walk, toward what we think is right, even when it’s painful.  And if we are paying attention, we will not miss that Abraham is running toward strangers… not after they asked for help, but simply to do something that might make their lives a little brighter.

There are many ways we can interpret who our “strangers” are.  But for now, let’s consider those we think of as strangers because they hold on to different ideals than we do. It is essential that we take the opportunity to try to understand those with whom we do not agree, even on the most fundamental issues.  This does not mean we have to alter our own opinions.  But it does mean that our compassion and willingness to listen must reach beyond our comfort zones.  It means we try to stand in another person’s shoes.  It means we never forget that they have journeys full of love and pain and disappointment that brought them to their place, and that we, too, travelled through love and pain and disappointment to get to where we stand.  But we share some common experiences, and so we don’t walk toward this conversation, we run toward it.

That being said, we also have to run toward conflict when we believe human decency is at stake.

Now, as a spiritual leader, I try to stay out of public politics, and I never, ever told my community for whom to vote.  In fact, my community is centered around acceptance no matter who you are, who you love, or what you believe.  But we are also committed to protecting those individuals.   So what I’m about to say isn’t about party lines or politics.  My disgust has nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats or Independents.  We need to talk about the basic human rights we treasure in this country and that we can’t have an America where we believe anyone who isn’t exactly like us is a stranger to avoid or harm rather than run toward with good will.

I’m lookin’ at you Steve Bannon. 

You seem to think the opposite sex are the “strangers”:  Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy (title from Breitbart News article).

Anyone with color to their skin is a “stranger”: There’s little question that Breitbart has regularly published materials designed to stoke fears about African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and other groups, and to explicitly normalize white-nationalist and white-supremacist beliefs (New York Magazine).

Those of other religions are “strangers”: Mary Louise Piccard said in a 2007 court declaration that Bannon didn’t want their twin daughters attending the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles because many Jewish students were enrolled at the elite institution.  “The biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend,” Piccard said in her statement signed on June 27, 2007. “He said that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews,” Piccard wrote (NY Daily News).

A loving relationship you don’t experience yourself is “strange”: That’s why there are some unintended consequences of the women’s liberation movement. That, in fact, the women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children. They wouldn’t be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools up in New England (Bannon quote as reported in Cosmopolitan Magazine).

And in case that isn’t enough for you, my dear readers, check out this guide to Bannon and Breitbart News’ “alt-right” language in the LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-pol-alt-right-terminology-20161115-story.html

This is not my America, or Obama’s, or Bush senior’s, or Bush junior’s, or Regan’s, or even Paul Ryan’s.  Don’t tell me this is politics.

But, you know what?  Even with all that, I stick to what I wrote.   It is my responsibility as a Jew, as a child of Abraham, to welcome someone I don’t yet know or understand.  And so, Mr. Bannon, I invite you to come to California and speak to our Jewish communities.   Explain to all of us how these quotes and reports don’t define you. Explain to us whether or not we should accept sexist, racist, homophobic, anti- diversity attitudes in the United States of America.  Help us explain to our non-Christian, non-white, non-straight family and friends why they should not be afraid.  Help us understand what you feel when you look at the statue of liberty and read these words written by a female, Jewish author, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

We will welcome you if you come, Mr. Bannon, in fact run toward you as our “stranger” with open arms, and offer your food, water, shade, and an opportunity to be understood.

But we will also run, not walk, toward human rights, human dignity, and caring for one another if you can’t. 

strangers-image

After Election Day

Whether you wore a hat with an H or one that ordered you to make America great again,

Whether you are pro-choice or pro-life,

Whether you live in rural Texas or urban Los Angeles,

There is one thing we can all agree on…

This country is divided.

People wept at the thought of their candidate losing, or maybe more to the point, at the thought of the opposition winning, unable to imagine how the people of their country could possibly elect the other.  In the backs of some minds, we wondered if the sun would even still rise if our candidate didn’t win.

I can relate. I was one of them.

But the sun did rise, and it rose for ALL of us.  Children got ready to learn and teachers got ready to teach.  Hurrying parents ran out the door with coffee cups and toast in their hands. Restaurant deliveries were made and babies were born, in red states and blue.

Whether your candidate won or lost, your world kept going.

When we feel disoriented in a divided country, a divided community, or a divided home, it’s essential to find places to come together and find peace, even if it’s just for a moment. You might find it in a yoga class, a book club, a card game, or a spiritual community, but I hope you find it somewhere.     

I find this comfort in my spiritual community.  Now, spiritual institutions aren’t always without their own personal struggles. Goodness knows we have all experienced communities that are suffering with some sort of divide of their own.  But my community was created to get away from all that.  It was our hope to be small, intimate, caring, and supportive even when the going gets tough.  It’s a place to come and leave your worries at the door. A place to be lifted when you are down, and a place to lift others when you are up. We even wrote conflict resolution into our bylaws for any time drama may arise (but so far, so good, no drama 🙂 )!

So, whether your candidate won or lost last night, find a safe place to navigate this divided country of ours. Let’s create safe environments for ALL of us to share and rejoice and weep. If nowhere else on this planet of ours, let’s be together in our churches, synagogues and mosques, with an eye toward the future, an eye toward peace, and a helping hand for those who need us.

For those of you in Los Angeles, I’ll see you Friday night at Cool Shul for our spiritual getaway. Let’s focus together on all for which we are grateful (red or blue).  New adventures are coming, our students are becoming men and women, and we are fortunate enough to be able to supply the items needed for the boxes YOU will put together for Operation Refugee Child.  

I think we can all agree that all of that is worth celebrating.  

Be with us.

Evite to Shabbat

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Device Free Dinners (and a goat)

This is Gertie:

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We made her. 

She’s a goat (okay, she’s a goat mask pulled over a box) and she eats everything.

You’ve heard of a scapegoat, haven’t you?  But did you know that concept came from Torah??

In the section of Leviticus read by some communities on Yom Kippur it says:

Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man.  Thus the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.

Well, I’m not sure how I feel about assigning our sins to a cute furry animal and sending it out into the wilderness to probably die, but I do like the idea that we give our regrets to a goat.  After all, a goat will eat anything,  Maybe it will even eat our “I’m sorry’s”.

So, at our Yom Kippur services we did an exercise.  We all got 3×5 cards to write down (G rated!) actions which we regretted.  Then we collected the cards, shuffled them up, and redistributed them so that each community member could stand and read a “sorry” that didn’t belong to him or her.   We had to hear our regrets come from another voice into the community.  Then (this part was optional, but everyone did it) we could go to Gertie, and feed her the regret card.  Of course she ate them all.  She eats everything!  🙂

What was so amazing was the recurring themes we heard as each person read… Not spending enough time with children, not better understanding children, not being more present for those around them.  And the kids mostly focused on awareness… awareness of their bodies and their actions.

Hmmm.  Seems like presence is an issue all around these days.

So, what can we do? 

Thanks to one of our community members, two wonderful organizations that are sponsoring “unplug” programs have been brought to my attention.  Cool Shul is getting actively involved in both and we invite you to get involved as well. 

Let’s face it, that handheld device (that I bet you are either reading on right now, or is in your pocket or purse beckoning you) is part of what is pulling us away from awareness.  Our devices are part of why it is so difficult to be present with our minds and our bodies or to give our families the attention they deserve.  And I’m no innocent.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard my son say, “Mom, I’ll be right back… don’t get on your phone.”  And you know what?  I bet I sneak a peek to see if that email came through while he’s out of the room most of the time.

Well, I’d be a lousy spiritual leader if I didn’t give myself the same challenges that I give you, so here is our first for you and for me.  Each week for a few weeks, I am going to encourage us to detach from our digital worlds for Shabbat in different ways.  Let’s see if we can do this!

Click here to see the family guide to Device Free Dinners from Common Sense Media (which, by the way, is also a great resource the next time you can’t remember if Pretty in Pink is appropriate for your 10 year old). 

This weekend, let’s all commit to device free dinners.  Find a bowl or a basket.  Have everyone put their devices in the basket at mealtime (the arrow that comes with the kit is fun!).  NO peeking!!!  Fill out the commitment and hang it on your fridge.  I’m going to do it in my house, and maybe we can comment at coolshul.org or Facebook to tell each other how it went AFTER THE MEALS!!!!  I’d ask you to send a picture, but I know you’ll grab that phone to take the pic during dinner, so just a lovely description will do.

Okay, maybe just for Shabbat buy maybe beyond, no devices at mealtime.  That means  at least dinner Friday night and Breakfast and lunch on Saturday… NO DEVICES!  And of course you can keep going on into Saturday night, Sunday, and beyond if you like if you like it. 

Let me know how it goes!!!  Imagine.  Three meals a day with no distractions (except, of course, to read this blog)!  🙂

Shabbat Shalom y’all.

Rabbi Diane