Reboot

Look up.

I’m not kidding.  Stop reading, go outside or peek through the window, take a deep breath and…

Look up.

Look at the sky.  Is it gray or blue?  Is there a bird flying by?  Leaves wiggling in the wind? Notice the slight changes in light as a cloud passes over.  Allow yourself to be filled with the wondrous possibilities that exist in the “up,” be they spiritual possibilities of a guiding light or scientific possibilities of 7 new planets.  Be open to inspiration…

Recently I was taking my son to school, and while at a red light, I noticed something kind of sad about human focus.  Most of us spend all of our time only considering the “down.”  As people drove past me in the opposite lane, I took note that the first driver was still looking at his phone as he drove.  “I wonder how many in a row will be looking down?” I asked myself.  So, I counted.  1… 2… 3… 4… 5!  I seriously got to the 6th consecutive car before I saw someone who had his/her attention completely on the road, who was looking “up.”

Now, this is not going to be lecture about texting while driving (though we shouldn’t) or about the dangers of technology.  I love my iPhone, and I’m as guilty as the next guy or gal of squeezing in a text at a red light.  My concern is about focus.

Our vision is narrowing.  Our news, communication, work, interests, and social lives increasingly exist within the borders of a teeny, tiny screen (yes an iPhone 6s is still too small).  Too often our joy and anger are released into that rectangle.  Our opinions are formed there, our disappointments are aired there, and all of this digital interaction keeps our heads pointing down.

Again, I’m not saying there isn’t a place for those energies moving toward the “down,” but there is also a big, wide world out there that we cannot forget exists.  Information being packed in a minute package does not have to mean that how we perceive humanity, how we connect to nature, and how we view the world also has to be contained in such a tight space.  Our perspectives need to be way out there too, with the stars and the distant mountain, or we will lose our ability to think big and to think outside the box.   And if we don’t think big and outside the box, how are we ever going to get ourselves out of the messes we are in?  We need to think simultaneous large and small.

It is not only healthy, but absolutely necessary to take a break from the constant information feed and find time to recharge and look up.  In fact, in the workshop we had a Cool Shul last week about processing anxiety in trying times, Dr. Feldmann emphasized that it is absolutely NECESSARY for our long term health and well-being to take a break… to do something purely fun and frivolous… to forget about our worries and fears for a moment.  That is how we survive stressful periods in our lives without burning out.  In other words, we need to put away those phones and tablets and allow ourselves, just for a few hours, not to know what was just tweeted or posted.  We need to give ourselves permission not to engage and instead to

get our nails done,

or go for a cell-free walk on the beach,

or watch a silly movie (on a big screen please!),

or…

PLAY BOARD GAMES!

This Saturday, in association with the organization Reboot, Cool Shul will be hosting an unplugged Shabbat afternoon.  From 12-5pm, we will have board games everywhere, and phones will be left at the door.  We will have pizza for all.   Unplug with us for a few hours, and please invite your friends.  This is not a religious event, so invite anyone who might be interested!  I promise we won’t try to turn them into Jews.  😉

Click here to register.  We ask for a $20 donation per person to cover food and table rentals.  But if you can’t swing that, just leave a smaller donation when you come.  Email me at diane@coolshul.org and let me know you are planning to join us.  The flyer is below.

We all need this.  We all need a little time to Reboot.

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Be a Community Organizer

I opened my computer this morning to write a blog about President Obama’s farewell speech, and to invite my readers to Cool Shul’s MLK Shabbat and Farewell to Obama this Friday. I wanted to talk about Obama as a community organizer, and I wanted to encourage others to become community organizers themselves (for I can tell you, as someone who runs a community, organizing one is no easy task!). I hoped I would write an entry that would be elegant and eloquent enough to inspire all of you to (quoting POTUS) “…lace up your shoes and do some organizing… grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.”

And yet, as I sat down to start writing, I spotted this blog that said everything I wanted to say with more elegance and eloquence than I ever could.

Please read this amazing article by Erika Davis which starts with a quote by Frederick Douglass that is often attributed to Heschel:

I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

Read the blog, and after you read it, come to Shabbat this Friday at Cool Shul at 7pm. Let’s celebrate the inspiring words of Martin Luther King and our outgoing President and choose how we want to change this world together.

Read Erika Davis’s blog here: http://werepair.org/praying-legs-2017/

Evite to Cool Shul Shabbat is here: http://evite.me/8U3ahV7yTP

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.

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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

Argue with the Torah!

Sometimes it’s hard being Jewish, and even more difficult being a teacher of Judaism.

What do I tell my Bar and Bat-Mitzvah students when we read in their Torah portions that the God we pray to washed away all of human and animal kind except for one family?  Or opened up the earth and swallowed not just rebels but their households?   Or didn’t just save the Israelites but made the Egyptian army get stuck in the mud so they would drown?  These portions can send our students running, and I must say it’s hard for me not to run too.

So, what do we do?  Well, we follow the advice of the author and Torah scholar George Robinson who said, “To fully understand the Torah as given, we would need to fully understand the world into which it was thrust.”  So, I ask my students questions such as: Who do you think wrote the Torah?  Why do you think the people were meant to be afraid of God?  What is the essence of the lesson we can take with us in a modern context, now hopefully evolved enough not to have to be frightened into action?  

You’d be surprised by the wisdom hiding in a 12 or 13 year-old’s mind. 🙂

Well, last Shabbat, we had a portion that is full of text that is easily loved.  After all, the ten commandments are there, the Shema the first paragraph of the V’ahavta are spoken, all pointing us in the direction of living spiritual, noble lives through a filter of love. 

And yet… at the end, we have something that trips me up, especially as a Universalist Rabbi.

Moses is speaking to the people of the many nations they are to defeat once they enter their promised land.  He says, “… and you shall strike them; then you shall utterly destroy them: you shall make no covenant with them, nor favor them; neither shall you make marriages with them; your daughter you shall not give to his son, nor his daughter shall you take to your son.  For he will turn away your son from following Me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord burn against you, and He will destroy you quickly.  But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their sacred trees, and burn their engraved images with fire.”

Now, I became a Rabbi through JSLI, and I chose to be a part of the Jewish Universalist movement because I believe deeply in the Universalist ideals.  On the UJUC website (www.ujuc.org) it states, “JU teaches that one’s religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth and that God equally chose all nations to be lights unto the world.  We reject the concept of a G-d who would choose among G-d’s children… JU embraces Interfaith Families and unconditionally welcomes all people to participate in our Jewish worship and rituals.”

Imagine if today we, as Jews, entered a new land, completely destroyed all non-Jewish religious houses, shrines, and articles and burned it all to the ground.  What if we acted as the Torah suggests here, as if our religion was to be the only one and refused to spend even a tiny bit of energy finding ways to leave peacefully side by side with other religious practices?  What if we denied their right to exist? 

Doesn’t sound very Universalist, does it?

And what about the refusal of interfaith marriage?  Now, I know that many Jews still do not approve of interfaith marriage, but again, this directly goes against the doctrine of Jewish Universalism.  I was taught, and I believe with every fiber of my being, that when an interfaith couple seeks me to officiate their wedding, my role is not to judge them or tell them a set of requirements they must meet in order for me to be satisfied that the couple will be “Jewish enough.”  My job is to create the most loving, embracing, comfortable, meaningful Jewish experience I can for them.  My job is to create a sanctuary of sorts for the non-Jewish partner to explore his/her spirituality without fear within this Jewish experience. My job is to help both members of the couple leave my presence knowing that Judaism can be a nurturing, understanding, flexible framework, and that choosing to live their lives within that framework  could and should feel like falling into a large embrace.  My job is to honor and acknowledge the non-Jewish partner, not frightened him/her away with a judgmental, Rabbinic glance.

Anyone who has ever worked in a synagogue with interfaith families can tell you that very often, it is the non-Jewish parent who volunteers for the Chanukah party, runs the Purim Carnival, brings the family for Shabbat, and makes sure the child studies for her Bat-Mitzvah.  By making sure Judaism’s umbrella is large enough to cover all of us, Jewish or Jewishly curious or related to Jewish, we are better ensuring the survival of this most amazing peoplehood than if we shoo them away or treat them as secondary citizens.

I understand that in a different time, when the Jewish peoplehood was in its infancy, that we may have had to behave in a certain way to stay together.  But in this time in history, teaching that all religions have a place in this world is what I, and the Jewish Universalist movement, are all about.  The lesson of this Torah passage isn’t to fear or destroy the unfamiliar.  The lesson is to hold on to the beauty of our faith, share it with others, and learn from others with open hearts.  If Judaism has wisdom to offer, it will survive not out of fear, but out of its own merits.

coexist

What the (bleep) is Tisha B’Av???

What is Tisha B’Av? Is it the birthday of the trees?

No, that’s Tu Bish’vat.  Sounds similar, I know.

Does it have something to do with the Torah?

No, that’s Shavuot, the other holiday that lands during summer vacation so kids don’t learn about it and adults don’t remember it.

So, what is it?

Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning in remembrance of both destructions (which happened on the same date) of the two Ancient Temples in Jerusalem.  It has become a day of mourning for all kinds of tragedies (some of which also happened on the 9th of Av), from Jewish expulsion from England and Spain to the Holocaust to even the tragedies of 9/11. It is observed with chanting the Book of Lamentations to haunting descending musical motifs and with fasting. 

Tisha B’Av is not a happy holiday for sure. But I’m feeling kind of psyched for it.  Weird, right?  Well, here’s why…

I recently finished reading the book THIS IS REAL AND YOU ARE COMPLETELY UNPREPARED by Rabbi Alan Lew.  It’s a wonderful book about the Holy Days, and for Rabbi Lew, Tisha B’Av is the start of those days.  For this is not only a day to start facing our mortality and the loss of our ancient spiritual center.  This is also a day for letting go of attachment, for setting down our baggage, for embracing (rather than fighting) the impermanence of life, for facing the past and the future… the themes we encounter during the Holy Days.

When the Ancient Temples were destroyed, the Jewish people had no choice but to adapt and evolve.  Without a Temple for sacrifices, new methods of connecting to God had to be created.  If the Temples hadn’t been destroyed, there would be no private prayer, no synagogues, no Rabbis or Cantors, no personal relationships with God, no Jewish communities around the world.  Those things were all created out of necessity because of the destruction.  And for many of us, a return to the ancient sacrificial days is not what we are hoping for, so as much as we may mourn the loss of the old Temples, we also don’t necessarily yearn for their reconstruction.   This is why so many of us don’t fully observe Tisha B’Av… because we don’t want to return to the sacrificial cult.  Judaism has grown, changed, and evolved, and we like where it is going (thanks, by the way, to one of my teachers who posted a great article about this from Times of Israel.). 

There is even a theory out there that the creation story (yes THAT creation story) of the Torah was written DURING the Babylonian exile.  Imagine this: the people are without their Temple, the place they believed was the earthly resident for God, and they don’t know if it’s possible to reach that God anymore.  Their future as a peoplehood is at stake with no center for their religion.  So, what happens? Maybe a story was created… a story that connects the Jewish God to the creation of the universe itself.  With this story, if God, in fact made everything, God must be everywhere.  God must be Universal.  God must be able to find us wherever we are and live inside and beside us. The people no longer believed that they needed a tabernacle or a Temple to reach God.  With such a story, the people had the faith to carry on, and one of the most well-known pieces of spiritual literature may have been born because of destruction.

Once upon a time we built a house for God.   Now we build houses for ourselves.  What if they disappear as that one did? What if all of our expectations become knotted or broken? What if we lose our jobs or have to move to new neighborhoods or have to leave communities we love?  What if we are faced with illness?  What if our lives don’t turn out as planned?   What do we do then? 

Well, we do as our ancestors did.  We keep putting one foot in front of the other.  We find new ways to have as joyous as lives as possible.  We try to hold the memories of lost realities and lost people, places, and things in our hearts, but not allow those memories to keep us from attempting wholeness again.  We build new things.  We start new trends.  We bend, but we don’t break.

I have never really observed Tisha B’Av before, but I’m thinking that maybe this year is going to be the first year that I do.  Not to mourn the temples or to wish for the “good old days” but to celebrate the opportunities that come from letting go, from adapting, from obstacles becoming opportunities. I may fast not as an exercise of mourning but an exercise in clearing myself out (mind, body and soul) of my expectations, of my attachment to all of the “stuff” in my house (thank you George Carlin), to what my career should look like, to the house itself.  I will fast to remind myself that life keeps evolving, that I must be like water and move with the tides.  And I will fast as a reminder that if I have to lose some thing or even many things, if it is only the building, the stuff, and the career, but not those I love, I will be just fine.

Tisha B’Av is the “opening ceremony” for the Holy Days, for as we start this journey of turning and returning to who we know we could and should be, we must leave our “stuff” at the door.  We can only find our true selves, our inner peace, our most magnificent goodness, if we entertain the notion of the house falling down, and still finding light.

Join us for a Cool Shul Shabbat and an honoring of Tisha B’Av this Friday, August 12 at 6:30pm.  Click here for the evite:  http://evite.me/n1hGzQNUjg