Calm in the presence of coronavirus

 I am not calm.  

Like all of you, I’m a mess… facing the possibility of school closures, trying to figure out what to do at Cool Shul, and trying to help my kids whose sports and speech and debate seasons are over, with a senior wondering if she is going to get to have a graduation.  I know some of you are planning Bar/Bat-Mitzvahs, graduations, or weddings, and now everything is up in the air. It is understandable if you feel nervous and uncomfortable about health or simply about all of this uncertainty.  

So, let’s take a deep breath together (well, virtually together), and see if we can create some calm in this storm.

I talked to my class of middle schoolers yesterday about the fact that many traditions acknowledge an aspect of light within dark and vice-versa.  In our prayer book, we thank the universe for the coming of day AND the coming of night.  We acknowledge these cycles, and understand there is no light without dark.  My rabbinical buddy, Walter, always said in class, “Don’t be so sure dark is all bad — there is magic in the stars and beauty in the unknown.”  So, here we are, definitely dealing with a time in history some may label as “dark,” but it is our job as spiritual beings to find the magic in the dark, and uncover the light shining through as stars.   

So, yesterday, I asked my students what light we could create from this scary time. Here is what we came up with: 

  • Appreciate the little things.
  • Be less stressed about small problems
  • Although it sounds “fun” if school is closed, enjoy the parts you love because you will actually miss school if you can’t go.
  • Hope that medical advancements that come from this will help generations to come.
  • Hope that new habits such as washing hands and being respectful of other peoples’ space lasts so that we will have better health for our lifetimes and teach this to our children.

Our challenge is for ourselves and for our children, to go find the light.  If you must be at home for awhile, enjoy the simple pleasures of curling up on the couch, snuggling with the family, watching a dumb movie you never would watch under normal circumstances.  Step into your yard or your balcony, or even just open the window (they say fresh air is good!) and breathe in the freshness.  Enjoy the spot of sun coming through and touching your face.  Pet your dogs, your cats, your birds, your chinchillas, whatever pets you may have, and allow the natural stress relief wash over you of caring for them. If you live alone (or not), find a neighbor or friend to chat with, maybe even invite them for a cup of tea (as long as everyone feels healthy!).  Laugh together, and feel what laughter can do to relieve worry.  And when you catch yourself finding relief in these moments, say Modeh/Modah Ani.  I am grateful.

Just a few times in each of our lives, the universe demonstrates to us how connected we all are.  The whole world is concerned, and that makes us One.  For at least this moment, we are one people, as we should always be if humanity was vulnerable enough to allow itself to acknowledge it.  Let’s bring light from today into the future, that perhaps this can be one of those moments that changes the course of history.  Maybe this is the moment when we truly all start caring for one another, no matter what.

Every morning, I sing that Modeh/Modah Ani, a Jewish chant of gratitude, to help me manage my own anxieties.  Today, I sing the Shema, where we declare “Hear this, everyone, Adonai is One!”  For me, Adonai is the potential for connection, hope, love, and yes, a little bit of fear and awe in the understanding of how delicate the balance of the world is.  This balance lives in all of us, and we live in it.  So we are all One.  We are in this together as one humanity.

Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.  Hear this Israel. Hear this Humankind.  Adonai is in all of us, and we are all called One.

Here is our Shema.  Andy and I hope that if you choose to play it, and sing along with it in your times of worry, it will help you find the light.   

Listen below or click here if it didn’t come through.

I’m here to talk as needed.

Rabbi/Cantor Diane

Leaders Don’t Lead Alone

I’m not ready.

Taking a walk today, I started to feel an overwhelming sense of unpreparedness for the Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah is just a few days away, and yes all of my music is in order, yes I have prepared everything I’m going to say, yes the choir and musicians have been rehearsed, and yes our Torah chanter is amazing (she really is!).   The “me” that is the hardworking, organizing, “CEO” of Cool Shul is definitely ready, but what about the me that is a wife, mother, daughter, friend, and spiritual leader?  Is she ready?  Am I as prepared inside as I am on the outside?  The answer is no.

Who am I to think I could or should lead others?  Who am I, so full of flaws and stress and worries, to think I have any business telling others how to process their own? Here I am, full of doubts and fears as it relates to personal and career matters, the earth’s wellness, and (of course!) national and international affairs.   I don’t have any answers, much less all of them!  I’m as confused as the next guy (ok, gal).  So, what profound thing am I supposed to say at the Holy Days that hasn’t already been said about Charlottesville or the hurricanes or the government or the world, when here I stand without any prescriptions for remedies?  Who the (bleep!) do I think I am to lead anyone? 

Maybe I’m weak.

Or… maybe I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

We know what it’s like when leaders forget that their roles are to serve the people and not vice-versa.  We have all experienced occasions on which people in powerful positions, be they teachers, clergy, bosses, or (gulp!) politicians, are no longer humbled by their opportunities to lead and make decisions to benefit themselves more than others (even if they can’t see it).  I suppose it’s healthier to be nervous about my ability to lead than overconfident.  So, maybe I’m perfectly hesitant, right where I should be.

At the Holy Days, the Cantor chants Hineni, a text in which we spiritual leaders admit that we are not strong enough to take on the responsibilities of the community.  We admit that we are afraid in the face of our leadership.  We cry out loud that we are here, but that we are humbled before the task at hand.  I suppose that is just where I am.  And that’s okay.  I have always thought that Rabbis (or any other spiritual leaders for that matter) aren’t supposed to be expected to (or act as if) they have all the answers.  We are simply humans with positive and less positive traits.  We search our tradition for our own answers, but we truly can only share with our communities where we are in our own learning. We don’t have all the answers (and if we say we do, run!).  So, Hineni, here I am, humbled before the task to lead my community through these days, but ready to share what I have discovered.  Nothing more.  But also nothing less.

These Holy Days, I will be honored by each and every presence before me who invites me into their spiritual realms.  But I will also ask you to lead too. Every educator knows that students often teach as much as they learn.  I promise to try to lift my community up and share a thing or two, but I hope you will also do the same for me and the person sitting next to you.  Let’s all teach and share.  Great leaders don’t lead alone, and I can’t wait to hear about your journeys.

Join me, either in person or online these Holy Days.  We will be in Temescal Canyon, inspired by the trees peeking through the windows of Cheadle/Woodland Hall.

Reserve a place at our Holy Days Here. http://www.coolshul.org/event/highholydays

Become my “friend” on Facebook so you can see our live stream here. https://www.facebook.com/diane.o.rose.9

A special thank you to my friend who delivers meals for Meals on Wheels with me every week and who inspired this blog.  Today she led me. 🙂GREAT_LEADERS

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

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Time to Reboot

In case you didn’t read my blog last week, I challenged you all to have Device Free Dinners as part of a movement by the organization Common Sense Media to put our phones and other devices away from the table while we eat.

This week, I offer you a new challenge offered by the organization Reboot.

Ready?

Go to http://www.thefridayapp.com/ and download their FRIDAY app.

Yes, we are going to use technology to inspire us to stop using technology.  🙂

Now, what does the app do and why should you put it on your phone?

Just before sunset every Friday, no matter where you are in the world, the FRIDAY app reminds you that it’s time to slow down, and the phone goes into a “sunset” mode (don’t panic, you can reawaken it any time).  Why Friday?  Well, because that’s the start of Shabbat, of course.  But this FRIDAY app is by no means only for Jews.  Reboot is using Jewish tradition to make life better for ALL people.  Something this Universalist Rabbi really likes.   Under the heading WHY FRIDAY? on the app, it doesn’t even mention Judaism!  It says:

As long as there have been workweeks, there have been sighs of relief on Friday evening.  Think of Friday night as a time to press pause, and this app as a very shiny pause button… Maybe this app will help you quiet the noise for 15 minutes.  Or maybe you’ll make it all night long without sending a single text.  It kind of doesn’t matter.  Either way, it’ll be time well spent.

I love these guys.

So, hopefully you still have your Devices-Go-Here sign from last week pointing to a place where all devices go during dinner to make sure your family connects, or you connect with yourself (yes!  even do it when you’re alone!).  But let’s add this to the mix.  Let the device that grabs our attention most remind us to unplug tonight and every Friday night.

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

And if you are in the Los Angeles area and won’t be elsewhere for Shabbat next week, join us at November 11, 6:30pm, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Santa Monica where we will have a pre-Thanksgiving Gratitude Shabbat, celebrate with a new Bar-Mitzvah, and make hope boxes for refugee children for Operation Refugee Child.  We’ll be so busy you won’t have time to even think about looking at your phone.  🙂

See you there!  See the evite to Shabbat Nov. 11 here.

friday-image-2

“Harvester” (one of Diane’s sermons)

Blessings and Prayers…

Oh boy! There is nothing more exciting to a group of Jews than a sermon about blessings and prayers.   🙂

But I really do want us during our Holy Days together to think about opening ourselves up to the structures of Blessings and Prayers.  It’s difficult, I know.  I find it difficult too.  We say a bunch of words and kind of wait for something emotional to happen, and it just doesn’t.  But, honestly, isn’t it naive to think that we live in a kind of Harry Potter world where we can simply say a few words and expect some kind of spiritual magic to happen to us?  Like anything else, spiritual connection takes practice and a willingness to be a full participant in the activity… just like painting, writing, or math, even becoming the first string Quarterback for the LA Rams (lookin’ at you Goff). 

Of course, over the Holy Days we get lots and lots of practice saying blessings and prayers.  But the openness to the experience is what I suspect we may continue to need to work on. And, believe me, I speak to myself as much (if not more) than I speak to you.   Finding a connection to Blessings and Prayers can truly be a frustrating task.

So, why do we think prayer is so difficult?  It is because we feel pressure to believe in something or not believe in something?  Maybe, so I’m going to invite you to live in the unknown, to embrace the ambiguous.  Connecting to a blessing or a prayer does not actually require belief in anything as we will see.  So, if you feel like you aren’t ready to commit to a belief structure of any sort, don’t!  But also don’t assume that blessings and prayers are beyond your reach, because they aren’t.

Perhaps part of our hang-ups is the ancient language, the prayer formula, we use in Judaism: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam,  Blessed are you, Adonai our God, King of the Universe…  The Masculine forms of the words Blessed, You, and of course, King make God male.  That can give some of us pause.  So, maybe we switch it to the feminine?  Baruchah At Shechina, Eloheinu Malkat ha-olam?  Sure, that’s kind of nice.  And now God is in the feminine.  But then we have excluded half of the population again, and we have lost the connection we feel by uttering the same formula that has been used since Talmudic times.  Perhaps it isn’t even the gender of God but this image of God as royalty ruling over us.  Many of us don’t relate to that image.  But, literal understanding of these words is not necessary or even encouraged to connect to prayer.  Our ancient authors likened God to the most important human form they could come up with, not because it was to be taken literally.  So, let’s move beyond the formula and know they did the best they could.

Maybe we just reject the words Blessing and Prayer on their own.  Maybe they call up too many uncomfortable memories from negative experiences in a synagogue or a church or with some insensitive clergy.  Maybe those words make us feel old or from another time.  Plus we are back to the start of this conversation about belief.  After all, if we’re not sure what we believe in, who the heck are we praying to?? 

We all struggle to varying degrees at different phases of our lives to get beyond all of these words and find a way to own them in authentic ways.  And there is no way I can solve this issue for all of us during these Holy Days.  But I do want to at least attempt to open up our minds a little bit, beyond word formulas and hang-ups, and I’ll start by showing you a photograph…

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This is a photograph taken by the photographer Erik Castro, of a worker right after he finished his day in Sonoma County picking grapes at a winery, now set to return to his home in Mexico.  This is one of many photos of Sonoma County grape-pickers taken by Castro and shown in his exhibition called “Harvester.”

I came upon this series of photos in the LA Times when it was reported that Governor Jerry Brown passed legislation that would gradually, by the year 2022, require farmworkers to receive overtime after an 8 hour day rather than after a 10 hour one, or after 40 total hours per week.

But what does this all have to do with prayer and blessings?  Well, I figured, in an attempt to practice opening ourselves to prayer, we could start with one of the most well known and widely used blessings, the blessing over wine.  Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, borei p-ree hagafen.  Blessed are You, Adonai, Our God, Sovereign of the Universe, creator of fruit of the vine.  Easy enough to say.  Harder to find a true spiritual connection to it.   But when we say that blessing, we are blessing ALL that went into the cups in our hands.  We are blessing the earth, the sky, the sun, the wind and the rain.  We are blessing the soil, the seeds, and the many generations of seeds that came before.  We are blessing the owners of the land and all that went into their being alive and able to own and cultivate that land.  We bless the machinery, the drip lines, the tractor, the baskets, the stakes in the ground, and all that went into creating those supplies.

And, of course, we are blessing the hands that picked those grapes as well as the eyes and hearts and souls that belong to those hands.  We bless their parents and grandparents who sacrificed for them, and we bless the spouses and children who miss them while they are away from home. 

THIS is what a blessing is all about.  THIS is what prayer is all about.  It’s stopping time for just long enough to connect to an understanding that we will never, ever be able to appreciate enough every one, every thing, every accident, every happenstance that led to that single moment…. be it a moment of nourishment or drink or lighting candles or wearing a tallit or praying to the Unknowable.  We are losing ourselves in gratitude and finding humility in this Great Dance.  We are Blessing God as the source of all that got us to this time… so your God can be a king or a queen… or an energy, or light, or nature, or love, or space, or luck, or a dance… God is however you define the Source of that experience.

So, I’m going to invite you to view many images of those workers who head north from Mexico to Sonoma County to pick grapes so that the bottles of wine we bless may exist.  While you look at each image, hear the blessing over the wine ringing in your ears.

May these faces find better working conditions with this new legislation, and may we think of  them the next time the words Baruch Atah Adonai emerge from our lips.  Let’s practice feeling how deeply a blessing can go.

View Erik Castro’s collection “Harvester” here.

Join Cool Shul for Yom Kippur by going to our High Holy Day page.