Are We Home Yet?

Close your eyes…

Oh, wait.  If you close your eyes you won’t be able to read this. Okay, read this, try to remember it, and then close your eyes.

Imagine you are standing before God.

Pause!  I heard that.  Those voices in your head that say no to the idea of God just spoke up.  Those knee-jerk reactions that tug at our hearts and minds and wrinkle our brows with dismissive contempt just woke up.  That intellectual side (you know, that side loves Bill Maher), just hollered that it’s silly to even entertain a notion such as God.  And that internal conflict recalling every zealot and extremist who has ever used the word “God” to his/her advantage just flared up.  Yes, they are all there.  Let’s acknowledge all of those voices and try to let them go.  Let’s put down that baggage and live lighter for a second.  I’m not going to tell you in this posting that God is “real” anyway, so relax and go back to the exercise…

Imagine you are standing before God.  Allow yourself to fully accept this Presence before you.  Don’t change the word God.  Stay with it for a moment.  Exist within belief.  Keep your eyes closed and don’t worry what God looks like.  Just sense this Energy as light and heat, warming your skin, illuminating your thoughts, activating every cell of your body.  This presence isn’t frightening or threatening, but comforting.  Free-fall into this promise of peace.

Now…

Are we “home”?

When we were in the womb, we were completely warm and supported without worry or care.  From the moments of our births, everything changed.  Now we are searching, fighting, wanting, needing, worried, stressed, busy, fearful, hungry (just to name a few!).  And as we grow up and become educated (or not), choose mates (or not), have children (or not), and live in one place (or another), we keep making choices following the human desire to make life better for ourselves. There is a constant seeking for more… maybe more money, maybe more love, maybe more peace, maybe more fight, but our commonality lives within “the more.”  But what are we really looking for?  Isn’t it, in some ways, to find home, wherever and whatever that it?  Aren’t we desperately hunting for a way to again be completely warm and supported without worry or care?  To return from where we came while still being alive?  To find an inner-understanding that feels like home.

In Rabbi Alan Lew’s book, This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared, he says, “The dream of the lost home must be one of the deepest of all human dreams…  And this dream is the basis of that most profound expression of the American psyche, the game of baseball, a game whose object is to leave home in order to return to it again, transformed by the time spent circling the bases. And that famous shortstop Odysseus also played this game, propelled around the world by the same dream, of returning home in the end, transformed by the journey and healed by it as well. And the truth is, every time we come home, home is different, and so are we… We spend most of our lives, I think, in this strange dance— pushing forward to get back home.”

When I studied music, we talked about song and sonata form in the same way.  We hear a section of music and are pulled away from it to something other, and then we are returned to the familiar but we don’t experience it the same way the second time.  I recall my music professor saying, “It’s like going to college.  You leave for school, then come home for the summer.  You are standing in the exact same same room you stood in for 18 years of your life, but now it is totally different because of your experiences.”  In this scenario, home is oddly unsatisfying.

Maybe all of the running around we do in our lives is simply to find “home.”  We all know it doesn’t matter how much money we have or whether or not we have a wonderful marriage or even amazing children or an interesting, lucrative career.  We can have all of that and still be searching, searching, searching.  There is no perfect place to be home or perfect situation to call home.  Home is internal.  Home is a practice.

And this is where God come in.

Those of you who know me know I do not care whether or not God exists.  But I do believe that life is more three-dimensional when I can imagine that God is real.  When I can pretend to be standing before that Presence.  When I can feel that inner-knowing, and in that frame of mind, ask myself, “What’s next?” 

If, for a little while, we could truly believe in God, and truly connect with that energy, what would we think about ourselves?  Would we still judge ourselves so harshly?  How much compassion would we have for our spouses, our children, our parents, our enemies? What apologies would we realize we owe?  What would we regret saying or posting or suggesting? 

Discuss this with God.  Debate and argue with God if you must, but at least give yourself permission to “believe” for a minute or two.  Give yourself permission to define yourself and your surroundings as you believe a loving God would.  Give yourself permission to “go home.”

It doesn’t matter if God is real.

I’ll be searching for my way “home” this Friday at our Cool Shul Shabbat (click here for info) and again this Saturday morning online through Sim Shalom (click here to join in).  Come on by on Friday or visit the stream on Saturday.  I’d be honored to be a part of your journey toward home.

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image from: http://www.happynews.com/living/home-energy/home-energy-efficiency.htm

Who Needs Ritual? Uh, me!

There is a blue and white NASA sip-top cup in my cupboard.  Every time I see this cup it reminds me of when my son was very little.  Every night after dinner, my husband or I would fill that cup with milk (okay, it was rice milk… but I didn’t want to be that LA mom who was watching his dairy… milk sounds much more “normal”) and take my son upstairs to start his bedtime ritual:  Bath, pajamas, sipping the milk while we read three stories, brushing teeth, one more story, then music on and lights off.

Parents of young children are always very concerned with night-time rituals because we want to get the kids off to sleep and have a minute to ourselves.  We are hoping the ritual aspect, the things we do outside of ourselves, will provide the impetus needed for an internal change… in this case, sleepiness.  However, we adults, often overlook the fact that we need rituals too. How many of us follow the recommendations ourselves for a good night’s sleep?  Things like… decluttering our bedrooms or turning off electronics a couple of hours before bedtime?  We need rituals too to cue our inner changes and be as healthy as we can be.

Religion is very much based in ritual.  Sometimes we realize that those rituals are there to inspire an inner change.  Sometimes we just do them because we are “supposed” to or because it “feels weird not to.”  But truly, our spiritual rituals are there to do exactly what the night-time ritual did for my son.  They are external actions intended to start an internal change… an inner journey, an inner acceptance, an inner realization.

Take the Passover seder, for example, which many of us will be taking part in during the coming week.  This tradition is chock full of ritual.  We eat and read and sing in a specific order to affect personal change. We eat matzah to remind us of the hardships that many used to feel, still feel, and will feel in the future, and to remind us that sometimes we have to act right away even when we don’t feel quite ready.  We eat fresh vegetables and eggs in honor of spring and rebirth and the fragility of all life.  We eat horseradish to snap ourselves out of our normal states and awaken ourselves to the pain of a life enslaved.  We pour wine onto our plates to remind us that we should never fully celebrate our good fortune when someone else was harmed for us to have it.  All of that is part of the seder to lead us to gratitude and acceptance of the here and now and inspire us to be the change the world needs.  And that’s just the beginning.  There is so much more.

Now… we can all sit through a seder and eat and read and listen and only allow the experience to live on the surface, but doing the ritual isn’t the point of the ritual.  Each action and story is there to point us in the direction of truly being the people we would like to think we are.  I mean, how often do we really stop and ask what life would be like if we weren’t free to make our own choices and then remember to immerse ourselves in thanks?  How often do we admit that sometimes we feel like we aren’t free to make our own choices?  Do we try to either have more autonomy or accept that those choices really were ours (see my last blog on that!)?  How many of us know what it feels like to be enslaved by something other than true slavery, such as our work or our worries or our egos, but are afraid to admit it or do anything about it?  How often do we complain and kvetch about the little things, but deep down we know that one tiny tragedy would turn all of that upside down and inside out?  Do we remember to be in gratitude for a tragedy-free day?  The seder is here to help us connect and re-connect to all of that.  But we have to invite the experience in.  We have to be active participants in taking in the words and songs and tastes and smells, and moving them beyond the surface into our souls.

Whether you are Jewish or not, plan to be at a seder this year or not, consider the importance of ritual in your life.  We don’t need them.  But sometimes the candles burning on a Shabbat table, the wafer on the tongue in a church,  the sound of the call to worship in a mosque is exactly what we need to remember to be the change.

Join us for our ritual Saturday, April 23.  Today is the last day to sign up for our Cool Shul seder.  Click here:

http://coolshul.brownpapertickets.com

seder plate image

“Suffering” in Rubber Gloves

I have pink rubber gloves on as I scrub a pan. The chugging of the dishwasher and the rumbling of the washing machine are a duet in the background. My son, sick with the flu for the 6th day, sleeps in the next room.

It is Monday after spring break, and we just returned home from a family trip to the east coast. My son got sick there, but we had to fly with him anyway in spite of our efforts to switch flights. Now he’s missing his first day back at school, and I’m home with him. I have a giant pile of career-related things that have to get done but aren’t getting done (including writing an over-due blog… what should I write about?), and because of a miscommunication, my housekeeper is not coming. So, in spite of sick child (luckily he is sleeping), in spite of work, I am scrubbing surfaces and sanitizing door handles and running laundry and changing sheets.

In my head there are sounds that remind me of what Yosemite Sam sounds like when he’s really, really frustrated with Bugs Bunny.

But wait! I think this may be a spiritual moment… a spiritual opportunity. I just know it is.  Let’s check in with two of my favorite Rabbinic authors and see what they have to say.

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (I know, I quote him a lot) talks about tension in his book Jewish with Feeling. He wrote, “If there is a tension between what we know in our minds and what we feel in our hearts, then let’s stay with that tension.” He also wrote, “… allow the tension of contradiction without seeking to reduce it.”  Rabbi Alan Lew (who was a deep student of Zen Buddhism and later became a Conservative Rabbi) in his book Be Still and Get Going said, “The amelioration of suffering in not the central imperative of Judaism. The central imperative of Judaism, I believe, is to recognize and manifest the sacred in everything we do and encounter in the world. …I think we can safely assume that if we realized the sacred in the moment, we would be rather less inclined to wish that we were in some other moment.”

Well now!  Some may think living with one’s tension or frustration or suffering is only a very Buddhist thing to do, but apparently it is actually a very Jewish thing to do too.

So, while I’m certainly not experiencing “suffering” today, I am having a woe-is-me moment after so many days of being the nurse, wanting to get back to work, and just wishing someone else was here to do the stupid laundry and disinfect the place (as my friend would say, “first world problems”). But maybe this is a moment for me not to think about where I wish I was or what I wish I was doing, but simply own this task at this time in this place as the right thing for right now.   In fact, this is what I am choosing to do.

How often do we choose something but grumble about it along the way? I had a teacher who used to say to me, “Diane, are you willing or unwilling? If you’re willing, do it, and do it well. If you’re not, don’t do it and stop talking about it.”  I use that line of thinking with my students all the time. 🙂  In this situation, I am actually very willing in spite of the pull to be somewhere else. So why am I grumbling? I need to stop that Yosemite Sam voice in my head and instead find peace in the pan I am scrubbing, peace in the sheets I am changing, peace in the sparkle of the wiped down faucet.

So, let’s try this again. I am going to listen to Rabbi Lew and bring the sacred into everything I encounter. There is something glorious about watching your child sleep, knowing you are there for him. There is something holy about taking it upon yourself to make sure your home is clean. There is comfort in hugging those toasty towels from the dryer. And I know everyone will feel gratitude tonight when settling down into fresh sheets at bedtime.

I sound like a Buddhist monk going about my daily chores, but truly, this is the being-in-the-moment of parenthood. And doing this, I am expressing my Jewishness as described by Rabbi Lew. Tomorrow I can express my Jewishness by being a Rabbi and Cantor. Today, being a mindful Jewish mother will do.

Want a seder but don’t want to cook?? Cool Shul will be having a catered Community Seder for the second night of Passover. Please join us and invite your family and friends.  All ages welcome.  Click here for information: http://coolshul.brownpapertickets.com

Rabbi on a Mountain Top?

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Judaism has been described as a “householder religion.”  What does that mean?  It means that although we have synagogues as centers, a great deal of Jewish expression takes place in the home.  Think about it.  What gives Judaism its flavor and makes it as much a cultural expression as a religious one?  It’s all of the traditions that live and breathe within the family walls.  From Shabbat candles on the dinner table to Chanukah candles in the chanukiah, from the ketubah hanging on the wall to the mezuzah hanging at a gentle angle on the door frame, from the braided challah on Friday night to the crunchy matzah on the seder plate, much of what we all do Jewishly has nothing to do with Temples or services or Rabbis.  They have to do with family.

In the book the Jew and the Lotus, it is suggested that this “householder” status is why Judaism has survived so many trials and tribulations.  No matter what was going on “out there,” whether families were being taken from their homes, or synagogues were destroyed, or wars were being fought… there was always Judaism taking place “in here.”  If there was a morsel of bread, there was a blessing.

Thinking of Judaism this way renews my desire to hold it close.  Even if we are not traditionally observant, every day holds opportunities to live more beautifully, more peacefully, more sumptuously, and Judaism in the home can be, if we allow it to be, the medium through which we reach these global goals.  As I told my students: It’s not that we are saying that only Jews are supposed to live this way, but for us, Judaism in how we remember to live this way.  So, if we choose a blessing to remind us to be thankful, then we we just used Judaism for the universal goal of gratitude.  If we choose candles to remind us to bring our personal sparks into the world, then we just used Judaism for the universal goal of contributing to the greater good.  If we eat matzah to remember to fight for those who are enslaved, then we used Judaism for the universal goal of working toward freeing those who are captive.  Now, I know we can be grateful, be global contributors, and be freedom fighters without Judaism, but keeping this householder religion near and dear makes it a little easier not to forget.

There is a challenge, though, that comes with this householder nature, especially for those of us who are teachers of this evolving tradition.  Rabbis don’t sit upon mountain tops contemplating the universe, nor do we live in seclusion, dedicating ourselves to the pursuits of knowledge and understanding.  We are men and women who are often married, often with children, paying bills, getting child care, doing the dishes, throwing in the laundry, and cursing when we realize the car won’t start.  We are “householder” Rabbis… not separate from our communities, but right in the middle of the storm beside them.

Part of me wishes we could go sit on a mountain top and contemplate God instead of running to the grocery store.  We’d get a step closer to spiritual mastery for sure.  But wouldn’t we lose our connection to the worries of our communities?  I’m glad that when one of our students got sick in class and threw up, I (as a parent) barely flinched at needing to clean it up (in fact, my co-teacher said Cool Shul’s slogan should be: Cool Shul… Where You’re Rabbi Will Clean Up Your Puke).  I’m glad that when I encounter families with issues with spouses or children, I understand both the pain and euphoria of those family relationships.  And you know what?  I may be a Rabbi, but I, too, find that days can pass, and in the flurry of busy-ness, I forget to plug into my householder religion.  So If you are struggling with finding time for spiritual expression, welcome to the club.  Me too.  I’m no different.  I’m the same trench as you are.

So, I’m starting to think this householder-religion-spiritual-leader thing may actually be more of an opportunity than an obstacle.  If Rabbis were to be above worldly struggles, dedicated completely to spiritual pursuits without the day-to-day complexities, then wouldn’t we be asking too much of all of you if we ask you to try to elevate to such a spiritual level while holding on to those day to day complexities?   Like home and job and traffic and finances and family?  But if Rabbis have to struggle right next to you, then maybe we can use our training and understanding to help discover with you the biggest spiritual secrets.  Such as how to live, love, and act more like the holiest versions of ourselves while… getting two cranky, tired kids washed, dressed, brushed, fed and out the door for school on a Monday morning after winter break.  When we have THAT answer, THEN we will have spiritual mastery!!!   🙂

I look forward to being in the trenches with you.

Please join Cool Shul for a Purim Shabbat celebration and pot-luck dinner this Friday, March 18 at One Roof in Venice, CA.

Click here for the evite: http://evite.me/y4v2D3qJb7

Click here for the sign-up for Friday for supplies needed for the homeless: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/30e0945afad2fa13-blessing

Am I a “Member of the Tribe”?

Bob Dylan is just like Judaism.

Yes, I know Bob Dylan is Jewish, but that’s not what I mean.  Appreciating Bob Dylan is kind of like appreciating Judaism.

Let me explain.

Looking for something different to listen to this morning, I stumbled upon a playlist of Bob Dylan covers.  Now, I’m not one who often listens to Bob Dylan, but I certainly love many of his songs. So, I clicked on the playlist figuring it would be a wonderful education in all of the music I probably know and love but have no idea were written by him.  I heard Adele, Rod Stewart, Miley Cyrus, Duran Duran, Natalie Cole, Sting, Maroon 5, U2, Billy Joel, Kesha, Dionne Warwick and Wyclef Jan.  Like any of of those artists?  No?  Well, how about Rage Against the Machine, Patti Smith, Johnny Cash or Patti LaBelle?  The list of artists who have sung a Bob Dylan song goes on and on and on.  We can appreciate him through the lens of hip-hop, grunge, R&B, pop, and country.  The result?  People with different tastes with different opinions can all have a favorite song by the one and only, Bob Dylan.

So Bob Dylan is just like Judaism. One can experience, appreciate, even adore Bob Dylan in a myriad of ways, and one can experience, appreciate, even adore Judaism in a myriad of ways too.   We can enter through doors framed in Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Humanist, Post-Denominational, Ashkenazic, Sephardic, contemplative, ecstatic, traditional, even now Jewish Universalist flavors, all heading toward the same Jewish sanctuary. In a way, each movement and tradition is “covering” one artist… Judaism.

Fortunately for Bob Dylan, not too many people get into fist-fights or call each other names over who likes Bob Dylan more or who’s cover of “Forever Young” is the best.  Unfortunately for the Jewish people, we can’t say the same.  We do get into constant battles over who is more Jewish or who’s version of Judaism is more legitimate.  Some Orthodox point at the modern, progressive movements and claim they are not even Jewish.  Some progressives point at the Orthodox and claim they are backward or crazy.

Instruments on Shabbat?  — Never!

Not egalitarian?  — Forget it!

Altered liturgy?  — Are you nuts?!

A Jewish Universalist?  — No such thing!

Jews of Ethiopia or Uganda or India?  — Are they really Jewish?”

This is where I think some Jews have lost their ways and why I have always struggled with the term, “Member of The Tribe.”  Once there is a fence that keeps members “in” or “out” we have a problem.  Who is the Head Rabbi of this Tribe?  Who is it that decides if what I am and what I do is Jewish enough? Who decides with whom I can pray and with whom I cannot?  Who decides if a conversion is legitimate or not?  Who gets to say that a child raised Jewish without a Jewish mother isn’t Jewish?  And what if I come from a community that doesn’t quite fit into the traditional Judaism of any of those movements?  Is my community “in the tribe” or “out”?

The website and non-profit Bechol Lashon (In Every Tongue) is an amazing resource for understanding diversity within Judaism.  According to their site, a 2002 study showed that there were approximately 435,000 Jews living in the U.S. who identified as non-white. That was 7.3% of the Jewish population.  And yes, some of those people are Jewish because of conversion or adoption or an interfaith/interracial marriage, but there are also many whose families have been Jewish for as long as anyone can remember.  Their communities may or may not look and feel like typical American congregations, but they live as Jewishly as anyone else, and boy do they have amazing stories to tell about what it is like to not only be a person of color, but a Jewish person of color in American society.

Please celebrate diversity in Judaism as well as Black History Month by joining Cool Shul for Shabbat this Friday, February 19, for an amazing evening with Rabbi and Professor Walter Isaac.  He will be joining us via Skype to enlighten us about the history of African American Jews and the Black Israelite community.  I guarantee we are going to learn a few things, consider some things we’ve never considered before, and hear some wonderful stories!

Click here for the evite.   http://evite.me/f6FMDjg2Xq

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New Year’s Resolution? Here I am!

Hineni

Hineni.  Here I am.

When God called to Abraham, Abraham answered, Hineni… Here I am.

When God called to Jacob, Jacob answered, Hineni… Here I am.

And when God called to Moses, Moses answered, Hineni… Here I am.

Well, at least that’s how the story goes…

They say that one doesn’t just decide to be clergy, but one is called to be clergy. Well, gosh, in just a few weeks, I will be traveling to Florida for my own Rabbinic ordination.  I’m already a Cantor, so I guess I’m already clergy (don’t tell my husband; he always says, “Who wants to go to bed at night next to clergy??!!”), but this Rabbi thing is a whole other level.   To be a true spiritual leader means watching my own ego and never getting too impressed with myself.  It means listening to the needs of the people who invite me into their lives rather than placing my needs upon them.  It means being there for beautiful events such as weddings and b’nei-mitzvah and baby namings, but it also means being there when there is fear, tragedy, sadness, illness, and death.  It means being available for guidance when asked, and it also means being wise enough to step away when space is needed.  This clergy thing is no easy task.  But I don’t really feel like I was “called”.  I never heard the voice of God like those guys mentioned above.  I never saw a holy light or a burning bush or heard rolling thunder speak my name, or even felt a tap on the shoulder.  I just kind of kept putting one foot in front of the other and somehow found myself here.

I guess there were moments in my journey that I could interpret as the Universe guiding me along a particular path, but I’m also open to the idea that I saw meaning in those instances because this was the path I desired deep down.  I’ll never know which it was, and I don’t think it really matters.  I think all any of us can to do is keep our eyes and ears open for those moments that are either themselves imbued with meaning or that we infuse with meaning, reflecting our own hearts’ desires to ourselves.  It is possible that Abraham, Jacob and Moses, didn’t hear a literal voice but heard an internal “knowing”.  It’s possible they were calling themselves.  Maybe that is all we must ask of ourselves too.

It’s interesting that the Torah portion Shemot (the one in which God calls to Moses and Moses answers with Hineni) will be read during the Shabbat after New Year’s day this year.  While Moses is being “called”, here we all are, making our usual New Year’s resolutions… to get back into shape, to spend more time with family, to make more money, to eat healthier, to finally lose that 15 pounds.  But maybe the lesson we can grab from this New Year’s Torah portion is that we can forget all that stuff. Maybe we don’t have to “observe” the New Year with promises that we probably won’t keep and will feel guilty when we don’t.  Maybe we can just say to the world, “Hineni!  Here I am!  Whatever this life calls upon me to do this year, I won’t hide!  I’m right here, and I’ll give it my best shot!”   With this, we prepare ourselves to be flexible, to face challenges, to move like water as we encounter the unknown twists and turns that lie ahead in 2016.  If we are able to achieve this, we may find ourselves doing something very, very difficult… living in the moment.

When I return from Florida, my Kehillah Sababah, my “Cool Community” will celebrate with me and for the first time, call me “Rabbi.”  To my Cool Shul readers and community… Hineni.  Here I am.  Thank you for spending a little time with me.  I don’t know where the “call” to learn and grow and share with you came from, but I am grateful for the call, and I am going to do my best to be beside you as you navigate your lives.  Thank you for being with me as I navigate mine.

May 2016 be a year in which we all listen to the internal and external voices that guide us and remind us of our “callings”.  And may we be like water, ready to move with the tides.

Cantor (Soon to be Rantor) Diane.

And now, a bit more…

  • With just a couple days left for you to squeeze in your last donations of 2015, please consider donating to Cool Shul.   A dream needs dreamers, and we hope you will dream with us.  To make a tax-deductible donation please click here.
  • We are going to be starting a book club (for adults) that will meet once a month from January through June.  We will be reading books about the meeting of a group of Jewish leaders with the Dalai Lama, learning about meditation from a Zen Conservative Rabbi, exploring the simplicities of Jewish life with the grandfather of the Renewal Movement, diving into an ironically funny memoir of being raised Orthodox, sinking our teeth into some Chasidic tales, and preparing ourselves for the coming back around of the Holy Days.  If you would like more information or to sign up, click here.
  • Please save the date for Shabbat evening, January 22.  We will have a unique Shabbat experience with some special guests and will celebrate my Rabbinic ordination.

Happy New Year!!!!