Sleep to Dream

By: Rabbi Lisa Delson

sleepAs we head into the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial weekend, the words “I Have a Dream” and “We Shall Overcome” ring in my mind. These words carry such power and weight even though I was not alive to hear them. Nor did I experience the pain and suffering that brought them to light. Our prophets guide us to increased action and care with which we deal with others.  Yet, there is still so much work to do. Inequality between races, sexes, and religions still prevail. We are still talking about the need for living wages and eradicating institutional discrimination. Dr. King’s dream is stalled 51 years later. But slowly, slowly portions of the dreams are coming true just not fast enough.

As a mother of a five month old, I think about sleep a great deal. I have not slept for more than six hours straight in 23 weeks. People like to ask me how my son is sleeping in a variety of ways. “How did he sleep last night?” “Does he sleep through the night yet?” “What kind of sleep training principles are you using?” My answer is usually that he sleeps enough and I am functioning just fine. Whether my son sleeps for five hours at a time or 12, when I sleep, my dreams are filled with thoughts, hopes, and prayers for the future:

I dream that he grows up knowing the love of family.
I hope he learns that life is sweet with bits of sour thrown in.
I pray that he recognizes every opportunity that comes his way because of those who came before him.
I hope he never experiences hatred because of his religion.
I dream that he sees the suffering of others and does not shy away from it but runs toward it with open arms to help in whatever way he can.
I pray that his Judaism forces him to step out into the cold to do for others what has been done for him.
I dream that he knows a good life but without his help, the world is not good enough.
I hope that there will be equality on all levels in his lifetime.
I offer these words in prayer for my son.

Our prophet, Micah, spoke the words that I hope to emulate for my son in order that he does it too:

“Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Dr. King showed us how to do those three things. Let us all sleep in order to dream for equality and peace and wake up ready to do the work.

Image Source: http://www.examiner.com/images/blog/EXID25417/images/sleep.jpg

Rabbi Lisa Delson serves as Assistant Rabbi and Program Director at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You can find more of her writing at www.rabbilisadelson.com

Rethinking Women’s Commandments

By Rabbi Lisa Delson

Today, in honor and celebration of Rosh Chodesh Sivan, traditionally regarded as a women’s holiday, I thought we might consider what it means in liberal circles that there are specific commandments for women. Traditionally, women are not beholden to the time- bound commandments, like praying three times a day. However, there are three commandments that women are required to do, light Shabbat candles, prepare challah and immerse in the mikvah maintaining the family purity laws.

As a female Reform rabbi, these three laws seem very far removed from how I live on a weekly basis. Working six days a week, maintaining a social life and a marriage, there are plenty of Jewish rituals and commandments I do and many that I do not follow according to halacha. Even though I may not follow these halachot exactly, I do see how they have been recreated in my life. Each Friday, I arrive at the synagogue in time for Tot Shabbat at 5:30pm followed by Tot Shabbat dinner at 6, a service for elementary aged kids and their families at 6:30 and the “traditional” Shabbat service at 7:30. There is little room for home-baked challah, a quiet moment before lighting Shabbat candles or even sitting down to eat a proper meal. But this is the life of a Jewish professional who loves her job.

Instead of lighting the candles myself each week, I facilitate and invite members of the congregation up the bima to light them for the rest of us. Watching single women, mothers and daughters, b’nai mitzvah students and anyone who wants to, light Shabbat candles, have a moment of Jewish pride and a sense of belonging gives me joy and allows me to feel as though I have fulfilled the mitzvah myself.

ZingermansChallahChallah is a different story. I often tell people that challah is my favorite part of Shabbat. There is something so visceral about breaking open a freshly baked challah. This is something I wish I had the time and skill to do on a regular basis. Last week, I attended a challah baking workshop offered by Zingerman’s, a household name in Ann Arbor. I signed up with two friends who also wanted to learn the basics and variations of making delicious challah. We arrived at the Zingerman’s sparkling demonstration room that already smelled like freshly baked bread. The instructor showed us the three types of challah we were going to have the opportunity to bake, a regular six stranded challah, a Moroccan spice challah with anise, fennel, and sesame seeds and a round rum-soaked raisin challah. For the next four hours, we mixed, kneaded, watched, and talked about what this challah means in the Jewish context and how spectacular a vehicle it is for French toast. Even with the recipes filed away for future use, making challah last Thursday night was as close to home-baked challah I am going to attempt in a very long time. The experience taught me that even though I cannot make it a habit to prepare it every week, I do connect to this traditional women’s commandment on my own terms.

The last law of family purity is not something I personally wish to discuss on a public blog but as a rabbi I do tip my hat to the ritual. Springtime is wedding season and I have had the great pleasure of officiating at quite a few weddings in recent months. Meeting with couples ahead of their wedding does provide a sense of creating a family ritual. We discuss what it means to have a Jewish home, how the couple might handle adversity in marriage and how children may or may not fit into the picture of their relationship.

As female rabbis we have the opportunity to re-imagine these commandments as they fit into the way we live, at least for this one does. As our friends and colleagues gather this morning to celebrate the new moon at the Kotel wearing tallit and tefillin, singing in unison, and reading from the Torah, all traditionally male commandments, may they have the koach, strength to continue the tradition of recreating Judaism into a meaningful experience.

Rabbi Lisa Delson serves as Assistant Rabbi and Program Director at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Springtime

By Rabbi Lisa Delson

“My beloved spoke to me, “Arise my darling; My fair one, come away! For now the winter is past, The rains are over and gone. The blossoms have appeared in the land, the time of pruning has coming; the song of the turtledove is heard in our land.” (Song of Songs 1:10-12)”

tree

Reading the Song of Songs on Passover this year was kind of a disappointment for me. Living in the mid-west, at the end of March, the grass was still brown, the trees were bare and the birds were not yet chirping. The love poetry between God and Israel (or between two people) did not resonate as much as it would have this week. It seems that the earth has come alive once again. Everything from the redbuds, to the tulips, to the growing grass is a cause for celebration and awe. As we move ever closer to Sinai through the counting of the Omer, we are reminded of our connection to the world around us and the role is plays in our lives. With one week left of our spiritual travel from the exodus to revelation, let us take in the beauty that surrounds us and rejoice in the arrival of spring.

Rabbi Lisa Delson serves as Assistant Rabbi and Program Director at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Yes

By Rabbi Lisa Delson

Since last Juneasb, I have been thinking about and planning a Teen Alternative Spring Break for kids in my congregation. Over that time, details of the trip morphed and changed and eventually I set the final itinerary. We were going to Detroit, just an hour from Ann Arbor, and we were going to run a spring break day camp for kids in a poor neighborhood with the guidance of Repair the World. Once I decided on the main portion of our work, I was able to build the rest of the trip around it. We ended up staying in an apartment in downtown Detroit and then the headquarters of an organization called Summer in the City. I arranged learning sessions with a local Detroit Jewish educator. I chose the restaurants, the fun activities and made sure that we had a meaningful Shabbat experience at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue. While planning this five-day four-night trip, I tried to imagine what the participants would like the most and what they would take home to their families and our congregation. Mostly, I hoped they would not be bored. I imagined they would feel a sense of warmth from the relationships they made playing with the kids in Delray. I anticipated they would talk excitedly about cooking Shabbat dinner at the Downtown Synagogue with cool 20 and 30 year olds. And I thought they would have a good time getting to know each other better. What I did not anticipate was the time the teens and I had to talk about life in general.

They asked me questions and I asked them. I asked them what they thought about the meaning of having friends, was it better to have one best friend or a group of friends? How do club sports differ from varsity sports? What are the differences between the street we are driving down with burnt out houses and no grocery stores within 4 miles and their own neighborhoods? What does it mean that the kids we were playing with could not bring their own food for lunch and had to eat unappetizing pizza three days in a row? Could you imagine being one of ten children like the girl in the spring break camp? What does privilege mean and how can we reconcile that we only live an hour away from Detroit but it feels like a different state? For the most part, they answered my questions and asked many more in follow up discussions. They had the chance to entertain what life would be like had they been born forty miles from where we currently live.

As special as those moments were when I was asking them questions, what really moved me were the questions they asked me. I was playing basketball with one of my participants and a group of fifth graders. My participant asked me when I knew I wanted to be a rabbi and my answer was when I was her age. Another question was what is my favorite part of my job and my honest answer was hanging out with them and meeting with b’nai mitzvah students. The question that carried the most weight for me though was during Shabbat services. I had my eyes closed for the Shema and afterwards one of the girls tapped me on the shoulder and asked why I did that. I told her why I do it. Then the girl on the other side of me asked the follow up question with some trepidation, “Do you believe in God?” My answer was, “Yes, but I didn’t always.” I know for a fact that this young woman is struggling with what she believes, as many 15 year olds do.  We had built a level of trust and acceptance over the few short days that we spent together that I felt comfortable telling her exactly what I thought. I am not sure how she took my answer but I knew she trusted me enough to ask me.

Looking back on ASB 2013, I realize that wading through all of the details, worrying about the budget and anticipating hiccups in the schedule was part of my job but not all of it. The itinerary really did not matter; it was the opportunity for these high school students to spend time thinking and asking questions in a place outside of their comfort zone and trusting that I would be there for them. And I was. I was their rabbi and they taught me so much.

Rabbi Lisa Delson serves as Assistant Rabbi and Program Director at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is currently recovering from five, long days with special Jewish teens.

Connor O’Neils and a Torah

By Rabbi Lisa Delson

What do Ann Arbor, Michigan and London have in common? Not much, other than a pub named Connor O’Neils and a Torah.

In December, I had the great opportunity to take a short vacation to London. In just five days, we saw the intersection between old and new and loved every minute of it. Among the fabulous sightseeing, Shabbat was coming closer and it came time to choose a place to spend Shabbat. Since most of our time was spent in Central London, we chose the Westminster Synagogue. Not only was it close to our home base, it also has a connection with the synagogue that I serve in Ann Arbor.

Last year our congregation celebrated the renewal of our Torah scrolls and with that we researched the origins of our four scrolls. The scroll that we use all the time is a Westminster Scroll, one that had been rescued from the Czech Republic in the 1960s. Our scroll is originally from the small town Volyne in Bohemia. No Jewish people inhabit the town anymore and the old synagogue is now being used as a disco. Our scroll made a stop with over 1500 other Torah scrolls between Prague and Ann Arbor, and that was at the Westminster Synagogue in London. A wealthy philanthropist and the original rabbi arranged for all of these scrolls to be moved to London for further cataloguing and distribution to congregations all over the world with one eventually ending up in Ann Arbor.

As we arrived for Shabbat we were greeted by a small group of congregants. Rabbi Salamon was extremely welcoming and interested in how we chose to join them for Shabbat. We told him about our Torah and we were immediately invited back for Shabbat morning services and a tour of the Westminster Museum and Trust. In the morning, we arrived and were led upstairs with another couple to the museum. We learned of a philanthropist in the congregation who was approached about rescuing the scrolls that had been preserved in a warehouse. Originally they only thought there were a few hundred scrolls. In reality, there were over 1500 scrolls catalogued and delivered to the Kent House (the building that houses the Westminster Synagogue today). As the scrolls arrived in 1964 they were laid out on the marble hallway and they had to answer the question of what to do with this wealth of Jewish life. Rabbi Harold Reinhart and the congregation decided that they did not want all of the scrolls at the synagogue, instead they wanted their stories to remain alive and decided to set up the Trust for other congregations around the world to be used. All but 160 of them have been distributed around the world for congregational use.

Shabbat morning continued with services and a Kiddush. Even now, thinking about this experience it is so powerful that Torah scroll led me to a place and made me feel so welcome. All of the stories and all of the connections came down to a scroll with the words of our tradition, written in the same Hebrew and read in unison in every synagogue around the world each Shabbat. Torah certainly is a tree of life that brings people together making us all of one people and one heritage.

Rabbi Lisa Delson serves as Assistant Rabbi and Program Director at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

By Rabbi Lisa Delson

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Chanukah, the holiday of rededication and renewal, can sometimes seem like a parade of blue and white, gelt, latkes, parties, and a heavy dose of guilt (because of all of the oil and chocolate). This holiday demands that we recognize the miracles in our lives and also challenges us to see where assimilation gets the better of us. For women who are rabbis the Chanukah candles burn brightly but often at both ends.

As Jewish professionals, we want to be deep thinkers on issues of Jewish import and make an impact on the community we serve. We want to work for equality of all people and also desire for ourselves to be seen as equals. We strive to be excellent teachers by explaining difficult aspects of Judaism in an understandable way. We thrive on Torah Lishma, learning for its own sake. We counsel people in times of grief and pain while also embracing them in times of joy. These are the job requirements, these things are what fills our days.

Yet, on top of all of those sacred tasks we are also challenged with the assimilation of ideas that in order to be heard we must be beautiful. Not in the everyone-holds-beauty kind of beautiful but beautiful by the standards set by society. Not only do we have to be smart but we also have to look smart or we are not taken seriously. A few pounds gained here or there causes a few minutes of chatter by the people we serve day in and day out. One morning you forget to don the ever-present make-up and someone asks if you are coming down with a cold. We have to be effortlessly gracious and charming in addition to being intellectually challenging.

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!

Edna St. Vincent Millay speaks so much truth in her 1920 poem called, “The First Fig.” Our candles do burn at both ends and eventually they will be extinguished but all the while they give off a radiant light. As rabbis, working hard and attempting to look good are the reality of the times in which we live. This is not inherently a bad thing, in fact I enjoy wearing make-up and wearing nice clothes. It only becomes a problem if on the days that we do not prioritize looking our best we are still known to be quality teachers of Torah that we are.

On this Chanukah let us see our inner light shining brightly. And may this holiday give us hope and strength to extinguish the societal pressures of physical beauty over intellectual beauty.

Rabbi Lisa Delson serves as Assistant Rabbi and Program Director at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

 

Broken Glass

By Rabbi Lisa Delson

Jewish weddings often begin with the phrase from Psalm 118 “zeh ha’yom asah Adonai, nagila v’nismecha vo” “This is the day that God created, let us celebrate and rejoice in it.” Throughout wedding ceremonies, the officiant reminds the kahal or congregation about the joy and gladness that comes from two people uniting their lives together in love and blessing, hope for the future and an honoring of the past. Family members and friends gather to wish the couple well on their journey together as married people. The couple is showered with words of blessings during the sheva brachot, the ketubah is read and then finally at the end, one or both of the newly married people, step on a glass, everyone shouts Mazel Tov and the party begins. Breaking the glass, a custom of unknown origin is the most recognizable aspect of a Jewish wedding. Interpretations abound for this simple act of destruction. One is a prayer for the couple that as long as it takes them to piece the shards back together, that is how long they will be married. Another is a remembrance of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. And a third, among many more, is a recognition that even with the happiness of this moment there is work to be done as a couple in making the world a better place and working toward tikkun olam, perfecting the world.

While November 9, 1938 in Germany and Austria was also a day created by God, it was not one of celebration and happiness. It was a day that recognized for its infamy rather than its joyousness. This day or more aptly, night, known as Kristallnacht, night of broken glass, represents the unofficial beginning of the Holocaust. As tensions grew and laws tightened for Jews living in Germany, this night came as a surprise to those living there as well as the rest of the world. Lives were shattered along with the glass that littered the streets. Fires blazed and 96 Jews were killed. Nazi burned more than 1,000 synagogues, almost 7,500 Jewish businesses were destroyed, cemeteries and schools were vandalized, and 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps.[i] Throughout all of the destruction, the sound of broken glass filled the night and defined an era.

There is something so powerful about the idea of broken glass. It represents the sharpness and the harshness of life. It reminds us of the fragility of a material so clear and strong. A wine glass serves as a vessel that holds sweetness and one that dashes dreams. A window allows us to look from the inside out and see from the outside in. Glass provides us with opposing metaphors in Jewish life and history, one of immense joy and one of immense sadness, creation and destruction, life and death.

In the height of joy at a wedding or the depths of sadness of remembrance, we seek wholeness and peace. Kristallnacht, a night that we imagine happened so long ago, yet exists in the lifetime of others, we see and understand the need to continue to make the world a better place. We see the need for tikkun, repair, of ourselves, of our communities, and of our world.

Rabbi Lisa Delson serves as Assistant Rabbi and Program Director at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, Michigan.