About ravlinda

Linda Joseph is the rabbi of Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation in Ashburn VA, a dynamic and growing congregation outside of Washington DC. Storytelling, silk painting, making art, listening to music, playing with her dog Ben Bag Bag and her cat Kuzari are some of her interests.

Let’s Demand A Jewish Adult Revolution

By Rabbi Linda Joseph

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The Australian heat was over 130 degrees in one of those hottest-days-on-record. The synagogue had no air conditioning and the ceiling fans whirred softly in the background. The small sanctuary was full of heated bodies. Light shone through the ribboned stain glass windows at the front. I was dressed in a red and white gingham pinafore and a white shirt with matching gingham buttons (don’t judge, that was stylish in the 70’s) which I had sweat through before the service even began.

I knew the service really well and felt fairly confidant as we were almost weekly attendees at Temple. The rabbi (who I adored and studied with privately) had encouraged my tutor not to have me chant Torah or Haftarah. He said I did not have the voice for it but instead had encouraged me to study the text deeply with him. The rabbi also could not find my Torah portion and I read from a different section of the Torah. To this day I do not know what I exactly read on my Bat Mitzvah, but it did end somewhere near the final verses of Mishpatim. My mother had made her regular chocolate and vanilla slab cake for the Oneg Shabbat and I am pretty sure there was fruit and dip.

As I re-enter again the week of the anniversary of my Torah portion, I think of all the things which made my Bat Mitzvah memorable in my mind. I reminisce about the family time spent in synagogue before and beyond Bar/Bat Mitzvah. I value the love of Judaism that was instilled into my every day, my Sabbath observance and Jewish holy days. I think of the warmth of relationships and community which inspired me to keep Judaism in my life which eventually led to my becoming a rabbi.

I wonder, what will my Bar and Bat Mitzvah students recall as they look back on their Bnai Mitzvah? What are the treasured details that will stick out for them? What will inspire them to continue on the explorations that this Jewish journey can take them?

Will they have fond memories of studying the service and chanting of scripture with their individual tutor? Will they recall the fun their families had studying their portion with them, and the laughter and struggle around creating a Davar Torah presentation with me? Their Mitzvah project? Their time in the Temple Youth Group? Will they remember the meditation and family blessing in my office before the prayer service? Will they think about the shtick that I bring on to the Bima during my Bar/Bat Mitzvah charge? Will they treasure the wimple they made for their Torah portion? Or the letter they wrote two years before the day about their hopes and dreams for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah? Will they feel nostalgia at being blessed in front of the open Ark? Or fondness for the Wegman’s cookies, that more often than not are bought for Oneg by our families?

And then I pause, because in many ways I think my synagogue is on the right trajectory in the measures and experimentations that the URJ Bnai Mitzvah Revolution encourages.  There is relationship, creativity, family involvement, a rabbi who knows their name, a compelling program and teacher in the years following, services that are enjoyable.

I ask myself, on this journey with these families, how much of their Jewish identity  is shaped alone by what I do as a rabbi, or the tutor, or their teachers, or my synagogue which prides itself on being a warm house of friends?

There is another half of the equation which made my Bat Mitzvah and Judaism so meaningful to me. It was my family’s commitment to being Jewish not just for their 13 year old’s “event” but in the everyday as a lifelong endeavor. This week, at an Education Committee meeting, a thoughtful and expressive parent said to me: “It is so hard to justify to my kids why they need to attend synagogue and do Jewish things, when other Jewish parents do not demand it of their children.”

Rabbi Jonathon Omer-man, whose son I once tutored for Bar Mitzvah, used to say to me – Judaism is not a religion for children. One of the questions we need to be asking in the Bnai Mitzvah revolution, is how, when it is not already, do we make Judaism relevant to parents that they wish to pass on more than a cultural legacy to their children?. How do we touch our adults in such a way that they prioritize Jewish-being for themselves and their families when they have, for whatever reason, found themselves estranged or distanced or apathetic to Judaism? How do we encourage them to be our partners, to model, as our synagogues model, the vibrancy and importance of Jewish life?

Indulge me in one more Bat Mitzvah memory. My Bat Mitzvah ended with a luncheon for family and friends in our backyard. The first thing we kids, and many adults did in the heat, was put on a swim suit and jump in the pool to cool down. But that was not the end really. The love my family had for Judaism and Jewish life never cooled down. My Bat Mitzvah was successful not because of revolutionary ideas alone, but because it was part of an evolution, a family and synagogue joint venture,  that makes me and my brother committed to Jewish life today.

Let’s not call just for a Bnai Mitzvah revolution. Let us demand a Jewish adult revolution. So that the majority of our children are shown the pathway to a Judaism of meaning for their lives and the generations to come.

La’asok B’Divrei Torah: Soaking Oneself In Torah

Dan Nichols’ sings la’asok b’divrei torah is as sweet as honey on our tongues. The ending of the traditional blessing for Torah study is translated in our prayer-book  Mishkan T’fillah as: “to engage in words of Torah”. We also might translate it as busying ourselves, or working with Torah. But most of all, I love Arthur Waskow’s wordplay: “to soak” (la’asok) in words of Torah. Torah for me is like taking a warm bath. It adds a comforting glow, provides a focus or refocus, so that I can approach the world with new vitality.

A confession: Torah for me has become an addictive regular habit. Every Wednesday at 1pm half-a-dozen women congregants gather in my office to become my study partners for an hour. This year we are slowly reading Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath.  The structure I have struck with these ladies is the same one that I have with my other Torah enablers, my one-on-one rabbinic study partners, the ones with whom I tackle Zohar or Hasidic Commentary or Talmud.

Such study is very different to “teaching” in the congregation, where I might be viewed as the “guide” or “expert” in the subject matter we tackle. That learning takes preparation and is goal oriented. Study is different.  I have fixed guidelines for study which have allowed me through the years to make this endeavor part of my daily routine.

My study rules are as follows:

  1. Study should be done in true partnership.
  2. Partners should agree on a topic to study that has an equal amount of unfamiliarity to all.
  3. Study is time limited to a regular hour or hour-and-a-half on a specific day of the week.
  4. Study should be viewed as a non-negotiable appointment, and the only reason not to study is in the case of a true emergency or vacation/conference time.
  5. No partner should pre-prepare to enter this sacred time. All learning is done there and then.

In study, we are all journey-folk , learning from one another, wrestling with the text and gleaning from its pages. Study in such a way means letting go and making struggle part of the process. The immediacy allows for first-time revelations and insights. The unprepared but open study table allows the text to speak to us and through us. The text becomes the direction and guide and a mirror.

I share this, because so often I hear from folk that they wished they had the time for Jewish learning. They lament they cannot because life feels more urgent.  Or they feel time poor. They are discouraged by the enormity of the task or their lack of expertise.

But all you need is an hour. A partner. A commitment. An openness to struggle. A willingness to learn.

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Today while studying Heschel with my half-a-dozen partners, we read a midrash depicting an old man, who engaged in the work-a-day world, also could find the time to greet the Sabbath with myrtle (a Jewish love symbol) in his hand. Of this balancing act Heschel comments, in reference to Shabbat, that it is for us, “not to flee from the realm of space; to work with things of space but to be in love with eternity.” Shabbat for Heschel is a time-out to fall in love with eternity.

For me, a rabbi whose Shabbat is often filled with spiritual labor, and running from one Shabbastik activity to another, soaking myself in Torah, helps me fall in love over and over with eternity.

Sefardim, Chanukah and Ocho Kandelikas

My father’s family, both the Joseph and the Lazarus side, have family trees that root them directly back to the Jewish community of Spain. Somewhere between their sojourns in places like the tropics of the New World and England, their free settling and convict immigration to Australia, and their secularization and acceptance into Australian society, alas, our Sephardi family customs were lost.

I have no Ladino or special Jewish foods, or customs that would tell me about the journey of my heritage. However, the knowledge that we were Spanish Jews was passed on from generation to generation. Because of my lack of ritual inheritance, as a Jew and rabbi, I have always been fascinated by the customs of various Sephardi communities and have “tried them on”. I always wonder: Is this something my family would have done?

This year, my soloist Stacy (whose family comes from Turkey and is also of Sephardi heritage) and I have decided to teach Flory Jagoda’s wonderful Ladino Chanukah song “Ocho Kandelikas” at services. But we needed a story to go with the song’s teaching… and my over-active imagination set to work. So here is a new story for Chanukah, evoking the wonderful Sephardi customs of the Jews of Aleppo, to teach a popular Chanukah song based on the memories of a Sephardi Jewess of Bosnian origin.

This story is for my Sephardi grandparents z”l, for my Nana Bobbie, who hated to cook and my Papa Keith who made her try. For Flory Jagoda whom I have now met twice since I have lived in the DC area who has dedicated herself to making sure that the Sephardic heritage lives on in her music and memories, and who is always gracious. And for Stacy, my soloist, who inspired me this week to write this story.

Sara Sasson adored Chanukah. She loved the stories her Syrian grandmother, her Nona, would tell about the marvelous women heroines of the Chanukah story. She was impressed at how brave Hannah was, for she watched her seven sons die because they would not worship the Greek gods. And she loved hearing of heroic Judith, who cut off the head of the cruel Greek General, causing his soldiers to run away!

Because of Hannah and Judith, and because of everything the Maccabees did, Papa would sing the blessings and light the oil lamps that made up their family Chanukiah. One oil lamp for the first night, two oil lamps for the second night, three oil lamps for the third night, four for the fourth night, five for the fifth night, six for the sixth night, seven for night-seven and eight for night-eight.

Then her Papa would light two special Shamashim. One lamp stood watch as the Shammas. It was for the family to see by, as the other lamps burned down.  A second lamp was lit to say thank-you to the town of Aleppo which had allowed many Jews to settle in her midst after they had been expelled from Spain, so, so many years ago.

Sara Sasson loved watching the lights of the oil lamp Chanukiah grow stronger and stronger during the eight nights of Chanukah and to sit by the light of the Shammashim. All the women in her household would stop work. It was as if the special celebration was just for them. Ah ! Beautiful Chanukah is here, eight candles for me!

Hanukah linda sta aki, ocho kandelas para mi,
Hanukah Linda sta aki, ocho kandelas para mi. O…

Una kandelika, dos kandelikas, tres kandelikas,
kuatro kandelikas, sintyu kandelikas,
sej kandelikas, siete kandelikas, ocho kandelas para mi.

By the light of eight lamps and two shamashim, Sara’s family and their guests would sit around and tell fearless fantastical family stories of how they had escaped from Spain and settled in Aleppo. They would talk of how in medieval Spain, like the Jews at the time of the Maccabees, they would have to hide the Jewish things they did so they were not punished for being Jewish. And they remembered being as brave as Maccabees as they travelled by ship from the coast of Spain to the port of Aleppo where the family had lived now for many generations.

By the lamp light, special Chanukah songs in ancient Hebrew and Ladino, the language of the Jewish of Spain, would be taught and sung. Some of the songs were special for Chanukah. But Sarah’s Nona also loved the many Ladino romance songs, and as she and Papa got carried away by the music, often these songs would sneak into their Chanukah parties.

In addition to the stories and singing there was so much laughter! Sara Sasson’s family had lived through hard times in Jewish history, but they had never lost their sense of humor and their ability to be joyful.  As Nona reminded them – their last name Sasson meant “joy” – so it was their inheritance to laugh! Their parties were filled with teasing and hugs and kisses. Ah! So many parties were held, with joy and with pleasure.

Muchas fiestas vo fazer, con alegrias i plazer.
Muchas fiestas vo fazer, con alegrias i plazer. O…

Una kandelika, dos kandelikas, tres kandelikas,
kuatro kandelikas, sintyu kandelikas,
sej kandelikas, siete kandelikas, ocho kandelas para mi.

Sara Sasson loved everything about her family’s Chanukah parties, but thought that the best part, really, was the special food! After all, as Nona would say:“We Jews love to eat! “

Sarah’s Nona would make and fry special treats made with milk and honey. She would explain that these were to honor Judith, who charmed her way into the Greek camp using a basket of cheese and wine. She shared the cheese and wine with the Greek General in his tent, and when he finally slept, stomach heavy with the rich food, Judith killed him, winning the war for the Jews! Sara Sasson wondered every time she heard this story if she could ever be that clever and brave?

And…  Sara thought, on the topic of wisdom, how clever Nona was at making such delicious food!

There was Atayef, stuffed pancakes filled with ricotta cheese and fried, then soaked in a honey-syrup flavored with orange-blossom water. Nona would dip one side of the sticky pastries into pistachio nuts. Mmm… Mmm. Sarah’s mouth would begin to water just at the thought of these treats.

She also loved Zalabieh, which was a fried ball of dough soaked in honey glaze which she would pop into her mouth as she listened to the stories and the songs.

And  delicious!  — Pastelikos: these cheese filled turnovers during the rest of the year were part of a savory dinner —  but at Chanukah, Nona made them special with a sweet filling of cheese decorated with almonds and honey. She would put them on the table and say: “Ah! We will eat Pastelikos with almonds and honey.

Los pastelikos vo kumer, con almendrikas i la myel
Los pastelikos vo kumer, con almendrikas i la myel. O…

Una kandelika, dos kandelikas, tres kandelikas,
kuatro kandelikas, sintyu kandelikas,
sej kandelikas, siete kandelikas, ocho kandelas para mi.

Such was the Chanukah celebration in Sara Sasson’s house from the time the eight oil lamps and two shamashim of their Chanukiah were lit, till the time the lights extinguished. After all the guests and partying and stories and songs, after all the delicious food, Sara Sasson, like the lamps which burnt down and fizzled out, would herself grow a little weary.

On the first seven nights after she had put herself to bed, she would think so happily in her between-wake-and-sleep state, of the next night when the festivities would start again! And when it came to the eighth night of Chanukah, once the whole celebration was almost all over, she would dream happily of  a joyous Chanukah next year.How they would begin again, all the celebrations and candle lighting — one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight — ocho kandelis para mi!

Wishing everyone a Chag Chanukah Sameach! A joyous festival of Chanukah! 

A Biblical Thanksgiving Story

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to think about thanking other people for what they have done for us, or to be grateful for what we have. Thanking the other or appreciating our lot, is an essentially human thing to do.

Think about it: as much as you love your cat, does she ever say “thank you”? As much as you adore your dog, does he ever express in words gratefulness for your care of him? Even birds and rabbits and horses and iguanas do not have a way of saying thanks!

But we humans do. In every language and in every culture: Thanks, Gracias, Todah, Danke, Merci, Kansha, Efcharisties, Tak, Spasibo….

Thinking about this got me to wondering: when and where was the first “thank you”?  And, of course, as soon as I began to ponder that, I felt a midrash coming on…

Adam and Eve lived in this wonderful garden known as Eden. There was much to be thankful for in this luscious garden.

An abundance of fruit trees—apples, oranges, figs, bananas, coconuts, cumquats and more–  their ripe colorful fruit hung from the branches, between the fresh green leaves.

There were vegetables that popped up from the ground – carrots, broccoli, parsnips, brussel sprouts, cabbages and more.

There was, all in all, so much plentiful produce in the garden, always there, anywhere, anytime!

Both Adam and Eve, and all the animals that lived in the garden ate at will. Whenever they had a rumble in their tummy, they would just go take from the produce that sprung up around them.  Because the fruit and vegetables  were always there, as far back as anyone could remember, they just took it for granted that it would always be there.

Adam never said “thank you”. Eve never uttered the word “thanks.” And the animals, well, they too did not express thanksgiving for the sustenance that surrounded them.

Now, there were two trees in the garden that was forbidden for Adam and Eve and all the animals to eat from. For our story, one of them is really important.

It was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  To get why the fruit of this tree was forbidden, you have to understand that everything at the beginning of creation was “good” or “very good.” God had made it and proclaimed it so.

The danger of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was that it would cause good and evil to become all mixed up. Ugh. That would make living life so much harder, because you would have to always make a decision between being good and being bad.

Well…  you know what happens:

 A snake cajoles Eve into eating from this Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. And Eve convinces Adam to eat some fruit from the same tree. Oy!

Suddenly God realizes that good and bad which was once separate in the world, is beginning to merge.

God speaks to all the animals, the doves, the zebras, the platypuses, the elephants, and all  the others, and sees that their souls remain pure. They were not the cause of good and evil coming together.

So God calls out to the people created in the garden, to Adam and Eve  — “Ayecha? Where are you? “

Adam and Eve were hiding. If it could be said, God had a sinking sort of feeling in the pit of the stomach.

Finally when God found the humans, they suddenly seemed to know stuff! Like they had no clothes on —  and they found that embarrassing.  Adam blamed Eve for their misbehavior rather than taking responsibility for his own actions. Eve blamed the snake rather than admitting her wrongdoing.

It became really clear in God’s mind, that within the human beings, good and evil had begun to merge.  They were the source, of good and evil in this world comingling, now and forever and ever.

God determined to give them consequences for their actions. Eve and women after her would experience pain in childbirth. Adam, would have to work the land, to create food to feed humankind. And both of them  would have to leave this miraculous Garden of Eden.

Now, since good and evil were now all mixed up, good things could come out of this wrongdoing.  One of these good things, is that Adam and Eve could no longer take for granted that the food would always be there, or things would come easily for them.

Before they left the Garden of Eden forever, God taught them the word “thank you” so they could appreciate the things they had and when someone did something nice for them.

That’s why we humans have in every language and in every culture: Thanks, Gracias, Todah, Danke, Merci, Kansha, Efcharisties, Tak, Spasibo and so many other words to express our thanksgiving.

Thoughts on Simchat Torah and on Parashat Noach: WHY ARE THERE NO DINOSAURS ANYMORE?

Simchat Torah:

It is time to begin rewinding from end to beginning and revisit  retell rethink the stories of the Torah. The words of the Torah have not changed, but we have, and every year we bring something new to our understanding of the text.

One of the profound ways that I revisit Torah with my community is challenging myself to write or tell a new story every month. Stories can reach the soul and teach in such a deep manner, too often in a way that a direct statement cannot. And let’s face it… who does not love a good story?

Rabbi Ben Bag Bag would say of the Torah “Turn it, turn it, for all is in it. Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don’t turn from it, for nothing is better than it.”

Sometimes I feel when I turn to Torah and turn out a story, I learn something new that I had not even known myself about the text.

This story is dedicated to the pre-schooler several years ago who asked me the important question: “Why are there no dinosaurs anymore?”  Here is my story answer. Is it true? Maybe not. Does have it truths? Read it and decide for yourself!

Noah stood by the huge Ark that he had built. He was helping all the living creatures aboard.

God had told all the animals that they would need to get onto the Ark in twos. And many of them were good at following God’s instructions.

Noah let into the Ark a lion and lioness, a ram and a sheep, a male robin and a female robin. Two tigers, two eagles, two cranes, two of each kind of butterfly and two lizards and…

Along with all the pairs, a whole big group of noisy dinosaurs came up to get ready to get onto the ark. Yet the dinosaurs were not so good about following God’s instructions.

“Wait!” cried Noah. “I see you all there!” You can’t just slip onto the Ark!”

“Why not?” grumbled the dinosaurs.

“No creature can come onto the Ark without a proper pair or partner,” said Noah.

“Why not?” asked the dinosaurs.

“Because that’s the way God has planned it,” explained Noah. “Find your partner, line up nicely, and I shall let you into the Ark.”

Well dinosaurs are very argumentative animals. They are always disagreeing.

When the Allosaurus male went to speak with Allosaurus female she flipped her tail and turned away.

When the Baryonyx female went over to the Baryonyx male with a big smile on her face he just sneered back at her.

The male Tyrannosaurus Rex wouldn’t even approach the female Tyrannosuarus Rex – they’d been in a bad temper with each other for years.

So the dinosaurs who were fighting among themselves, started trying to match up with other kinds of animals that were not of their kind.

“Will you be my mate?” the Hesperornis asked the gazelle.

“I have a mate,” said the gazelle, “she’s flying behind me!”

“Will you be my partner?” the Tenotosaurus asked the rabbit. The rabbit just looked at this big tall dinosaur, laughed and hopped away.

The dinosaurs were getting more and more worried. For now so many animals were boarding the Ark. Each had a partner, and they could not find their own partners.

As they got more worried, they became more unruly, and even nastier to each other. They picked fights. They punched. They hunched. They hit. They bit.

While this was all happening God looked down on his creatures fighting and began to cry because this is not how God wanted the animals to act towards each other. God cried big tears. It began to rain… drop by drop.

Still no dinosaur had found a suitable partner.

“Make up and be nice to each other!” cried Noah. Find your pair and enter the Ark!”

But the dinosaurs were so busy being naughty and nasty that they did not even hear Mr. Noah. They did not even notice God’s tears falling faster and faster all around them.

The rain began to fall harder and harder, louder and louder. The flood was starting just as God had promised. And Noah was forced to close the door to the Ark with all the pairs of animals on Board.

Only one type of animals was missing…. The many different kinds of dinosaurs.

As the flood covered the earth, the dinosaurs were still fighting with each other. Slowly they were covered by the water until they were completely gone.

So forty days later, when the flood stopped, there were no dinosaurs on board the Ark. There were no dinosaurs anywhere to be found.

The Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, and all the animals in their pairs got off the Ark, to start new lives. But no dinosaurs.

That is why now we only have bones and stories and drawings of dinosaurs. We do not see them in zoos, or at animal parks or wandering the earth with us!

God’s Helper. A New Story for Rosh HaShanah

I am delighted to be able to share with you this story I have written for the children’s service of Rosh HaShanah.It is based on Genesis 1, midrashim, texts, folk tale motifs and my imagination!

The Ziz was a creature that you could not help noticing.

First of all it was very colorful. Its feathers of red and yellow and purple made it stand out vibrantly against the blue-grey of the sky or the green-brown of the forest or the pink-orange-yellow of the desert.

Secondly, the Ziz was more than huge, it was gigantic. When the Ziz stood in the ocean, the water only reached his ankles and his head topped the edge of the sky. Once when a ship was sailing in the ocean, the sailors saw the Ziz standing so tall, and thought: “Mmmm… the water must be shallow, what a great place to dive!” But a voice cried out from the heavens and warned them: “Don’t go diving there… once a child dropped his toy off a boat at that very place, and it still has not reached the ocean’s bottom.” It must have been very, very, very deep.

Third, when the Ziz’s spread out his wings, that they were so, so, enormous that they were able to block out the sun.  Under the Ziz’s wings wide spread, day would look like it turned to night, a dark, dark night with no stars in the sky or moon in the heavens.  All you could see was the hint of cloud like feathers floating through the sky.

They were some mighty huge wings.

Yes, the Ziz was a creature that you could not help noticing!

Not only was the Ziz King of the birds, he was also God’s special helper. In the beginning, God wanted to make a world. God didn’t have a really good idea what that world might look like. But that did not stop God from trying.

First of all, God created a world filled with just day and night.

Sometimes it was light. Sometimes it was dark. Light. Dark. Light. Dark. Light. Dark. Light. Dark. Light. Dark.  There did not seem to be a point to this world. God looked at this world and said: “Mmmm… this world does not look good enough. Yet how do I begin again and create a better world?

Right then and there, the Ziz was flying by in the heavens of heavens and overheard God thinking this thought out loud.

“Can I help you God?” asked the Ziz.

“Perhaps,” said God, “I made this world however it does not look very good. There is no space to begin again.”

“Oh, I can help!” said the Ziz. And with one swoop of the Ziz’s large wings, the Ziz knocked the light/dark world out of the universe. And suddenly, there was space to begin again!

Second of all, God created a world  of light and dark, sea and sky.

God looked at this world and said: “Mmmm… better… but this world does not look like a comfortable place. The water is very, very wet. The sky is very, very high.  But it just looks like one big empty place. This world does not look good enough. Yet how do I begin again and create a better world?

Right then and there, the Ziz was flying by in the heavens of heavens and overheard God thinking this thought out loud.

“Can I help you God?” asked the Ziz.

“Perhaps,” said God, “I made another world but it does not look very good. There is no space to begin again.”

“Oh, I can help!” said the Ziz. And with one swoop of the Ziz’s large wings, the Ziz knocked the light/dark/sea/ sky world out of the universe. And suddenly, there was space to begin again!

Third of all, God created a world  of light and dark, sea and sky, and land and trees.

God looked at this world and said: “Mmmm… better… The land provides a nice color contrast to the water and sky. The trees are a pretty green and I like the colored flowers on the bushes and shrubs. There does not seem to be a point to all of these things. This world does not look good enough. Yet how do I begin again and create a better world?

Right then and there, the Ziz was flying by in the heavens of heavens and overheard God thinking this thought out loud.

“Can I help you God?” asked the Ziz.

“Perhaps,” said God, “I made another world but it does not look very good. There is no space to begin again.”

Oh, I can help!” said the Ziz. And with one swoop of the Ziz’s large wings, the Ziz knocked the light/dark/sea/ sky/land/tree world out of the universe. And suddenly, there was space to begin again!

Fourth of all, God created a world of light and dark, sea and sky, land and trees, with a sun, and moon and stars.

God looked at this world and said: “Mmmm… better… sun and moon and stars provide a nice light show. Yet who will watch them in the sky? They make it all a little more interesting. There does not seem to be a point to it all. This world does not look good enough. Yet how do I begin again and create a better world?

Right then and there, the Ziz was flying by in the heavens of heavens and overheard God thinking this thought out loud.

“Can I help you God?” asked the Ziz.

“Perhaps,” said God, “I made another world but it does not look very good. There is no space to begin again.”

Oh, I can help!” said the Ziz. And with one swoop of the Ziz’s large wings, the Ziz knocked the light/dark/sea/ sky/land/tree/sun/moon/stars world out of the universe. And suddenly, there was space to begin again!

Fifth of all, God created a world of light and dark, sea and sky, land and trees, with a sun, and moon and stars, and sea animals like fish and seahorse and Leviathan, and air animals like bats and doves and an earthly image of the heavenly Ziz.

God looked at this world and said: “Mmmm… better… these water and sky animals make the world more exciting. The sea and air seem to have a reason for being now. Those fins and wings really help out in making the world a better place. The land however could use some help. There does not seem to be a point to it all. This world does not look good enough. Yet how do I begin again and create a better world?

Right then and there, the Ziz was flying by in the heavens of heavens and overheard God thinking this thought out loud.

“Can I help you God?” asked the Ziz.

“Perhaps,” said God, “I made another world but it does not look very good. There is no space to begin again.”

Oh, I can help!” said the Ziz. And with one swoop of the Ziz’s large wings, the Ziz knocked the light/dark/sea/ sky/land/tree/sun/moon/stars/wings/fins world out of the universe. And suddenly, there was space to begin again!

Sixth of all, God created a world of light and dark, sea and sky, land and trees, with a sun, and moon and stars, and sea animals like fish and seahorse and Leviathan, and air animals like bats and doves and an earthly image of the heavenly Ziz, and earthly creatures like giraffes and kangaroos and the great Behemoth.  Just for good measure God added man and woman, humans that would walk on the earth but one day also would be able to sail the seas and fly in the sky.

God looked at this world and said: “Oh! So much better! Everything has come together so nicely. Now there are animals on land, earth, sky and an eco-system where creatures and plants co-exist and help each other. Human beings can explore everything I have created, try their best, begin again and in the end,  learn to take care of it all as my partners. This world looks very good.

Right then and there, the Ziz was flying by in the heavens of heavens and overheard God thinking this thought out loud.

“Can I help you God?” asked the Ziz.

“Perhaps,” said God, “This time I made a really wonderful world. I am now thinking how I might protect it.”

“Oh, I can help!” said the Ziz. And with one swoop of the Ziz’s large wings, the Ziz enwrapped the world with care and love, so it looked like the world was a gift wrapped in God’s presence.

And this world we live in is very, very good!

Listen to the Language

by Rabbi Linda Joseph.

There has been a lot of evolutionary/revolutionary writing and initiatives in Reform Judaism of late. Ideas and projects are being designed, developed and bandied about —  a Campaign for Youth Engagement, a Bar Mitzvah Revolution, a URJ New Paradigm, etc. etc.

The gist of these investigations on a movement level is how do we make our movement and its’ member synagogues stronger into the 21st century? How do we ensure the vitality of our synagogues and our stream of Judaism? How do we reach out to our members (short and long term) to strengthen us?

Listen to the language.

It is about US! This is the language of me, Me, ME! The angle is that of egocentric enquiries and experiments. The parlance is not about meaningful Judaism and Jewish practice or the survival of the Jewish people. It is not about the Divine or spirituality (whatever that means to you).

It is about synagogue survival (read: membership)! It is about the survival of a movement (read: turf).

So hear me out with some radical thoughts: Could it be that this is the wrong angle? Are we speaking the wrong vocabulary? And by being self-centric – are we missing an opportunity to really reach out and include?

We are living in a world that is increasingly characterized by less limitation. One of my study partners, Rabbi Mitch Chefitz, shared with me a discussion he attended on the creation of a new Mishnah for our era. The panelists were asked the question: “What categories would you create for organizing this work?” Their reply: “There is no need for categories – the new Mishnah could operate with a simple search engine, using key words.”

No need for categories. What if we let down our boundaries – movement boundaries, synagogue boundaries, turf boundaries, clique boundaries – and we focused instead on the key words of being Jewish, making it meaningful, connecting to God in people’s lives?  What if we focused on the Jewish neshama (soul)?

Many of us are familiar with the Jewish folk story of the King with a damaged diamond. He called throughout the land to see if there was some artisan who could fix the blemish on the stone. No one would touch the diamond, deeming it irreparable through conventional means. Only one man dared try, and in doing so he carved a rose through the blemish, creating something beautiful and new.

If we wish to be chart new territory for 21st century Judaism, then let’s start an open discussion on the means by which to get there.

My take – we need to start speaking and designing with the big picture of Am Yisrael (the people of Israel) and Yisra-el (the ones who struggle with the Divine). Less talk of ME. The small picture approach. More talk of COMMUNITY. The big picture approach.

Let us make it our mission to become, bottom-line, vehicles to strengthen the identity of Jews and Judaism and Jewish life. Let us measure our success, not by affiliation, but by Jewish roots and Jewish wings.  Let us kvell when our students/congregants emanate their Judaism in what they do,  whether it be with us, somewhere else in the Jewish world, cyberspace, (the moon for that matter) or the secular community.

I theorize, if we were less concerned about retaining members through programs or incentives or having engaged kids, (not that those are bad things or would not be things we do under a new paradigm) if we were less concerned about ME, then we might design more compelling Jewish centers (call them synagogues if you like) to captivate Jews loyalty and to strengthen their individual souls and the soul of Jewish life.

What do you think?

Discussing the Public Domain and Private Arena

The Australian orthodox synagogue I grew up in half-time till a year or so before Bat Mitzvah, taught that the Jewish public domain was the province of men and the Jewish private arena was the realm of women. Each gender had their specific role in a world that was separate but equal. Although my family eventually transferred their allegiance entirely to the progressive synagogue, partly because they believed in the equality of women, it occurs to me then as now, that the nature of true equality, where men and women are regarded as equal partners in the public and private of life is still an evolving entity.

Much has been written and discussed – rightly so – on the public achievements and challenges of women as rabbis on this 40th anniversary celebrating the ordination of Sally Priesand. In many ways the public realm (traditionally male) was the key focus of revolutionizing towards equality.  As much as we laud the changes and lament the resistances of the public arena, our discussion should not forget to focus on the private realm (traditionally female). In what way has the presence of women in the rabbinate altered the private lives of rabbis, for the good or not-so-good, and what are the issues that we need to continue addressing?

In our private realms, testimonials about the lives of men and women in the rabbinate speak of how the presence of women in our profession has opened the doors to re-prioritization of family, the effort to maintain a work and life balance, and the allowance of career breaks. Women in the rabbinate and their concerns have elevated the status of the private realm in the lives of professionals. This is true for many other professions that have opened their doors to women. Equally true is that these private struggles for living life differently than in the past have become ongoing questions for which many of us have not found an equilibrium or resolution.

In our private realms, women rabbi’s natural female relational tendencies can be hampered by our public personas. How do we court true friendships and relationships where our social life can be tied to our professional commitments?  Is it possible to avoid transference or projection on how folk think clergy should behave/be when forging new connections? Is it appropriate to tell our congregant or local friends about our bad day or our difficulties at work? And if we cannot let off steam with our friends – is this the true nature of friendship?

In our private realms, from the beginning of women’s rabbinic time there has been a debate over suitable attire or lack of attire, not just for our professional lives, but also our private time. Can we wear a revealing bathing suit? On a date can we show legs or cleavage?  Is it appropriate for a woman, and especially a woman rabbi, to breastfeed her child in public? Should our professional persona have a say on our private attire? How much does our community’s perception of modesty affect our private covering and clothing?

Forty years on from that life-changing moment when an institution ordained the first woman rabbi, we have come so far, yet we are in so many ways still wandering in the wilderness, still to reach the Promised Land. Forty years on and we debate the public issues and challenges of women rabbis in the hope that our talk will inspire a better world in the communal arena. The public is easy to debate – it is public! Yet let us not forget forty years on we must also keep the private domain on the discussion agenda , for only by articulation of our many personal struggles and concerns,  will we begin the path to change and resolution, in both the public and private worlds that make up the fullness of our lives.

 

Rabbi Linda Joseph