Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Getting to the Heart of Yom Kippur by Rabbi Vicki Tuckman

Ed. Note: This cross-post comes from the URJ's email series entitled "Ten Minutes of Torah". The email comes daily and provides a one-page e-mail on a topic of Jewish interest. To sign up for the daily email, visit the URJ's web page.

Rabbi Tuckman has given TBS permission to repost her email on a new ritual her family has created for Yom Kippur on our blog. Rabbi Tuckman is Assistant Director / Director of Jewish Life for the URJ's Camp Harlam. You can read more about Rabbi Tuckman on Camp Harlam's web page.

Last year I introduced a new ritual into my family’s observance of Yom Kippur. I was determined to observe this most holy of days in a meaningful and active way. Yom Kippur is a long and challenging day, even for the seasoned Jew who spends the month of Elul and the “days of awe” in preparation. The normative Yom Kippur rituals (i.e. fasting, prayer, personal and communal atonement) are not necessarily engaging or developmentally-appropriate for children or pre-teens. Even teenagers (and adults) can be overwhelmed by the length of services and miss the point of fasting if they do not understand the true intent.

With that said, there is no doubt that the message and teachings of Yom Kippur are appropriate for all. All people – from preschool on up – ought to be practicing reflection, atonement and forgiveness. At each stage of our lives we can and should seek to fulfill the sacred duties of this day.

Rabbi Gunther Plaut writes the following about “The Day of Atonement” in his Torah commentary:

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of Yom Kippur in the life of the Jewish People. Even the religiously indifferent respond to its call and crowd the synagogues...It speaks to each human being and seeks to bring each person into harmony with others and with God. (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, page 858)

Rabbi Plaut goes on to explain that when reading the original Torah text from chapter 16 in the Book of Leviticus, with follow-up passages in chapter 23, we learn about an animal sacrifice system meant to connect humankind to God. In biblical times Yom Kippur was observed as a well-choreographed ceremony by those highest in power, with the Israelite people primarily observing the day as “passive spectators.” The modern Jew, however, is left searching for a more inspiring message and not a discussion regarding “a complicated sacrificial service performed by the High Priest.” (Plaut, page 858)

It was for this reason that a different Torah passage was chosen by the leaders of the Reform Movement; one that would fulfill the ultimate charge of the day - that being a sacred call for each person to take responsibility for one’s words, actions and behaviors. In Deuteronomy each and every member of the community is called forth. No one is exempt from standing before God and our fellow peers in judgment, as well as forgiveness.

“You stand this day, all of you, before Adonai your God – your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from the woodchopper to the waterdrawer – to enter into the covenant of Adonai your God.” (Deuteronomy. 29:9-11)

This article began with a reference to a “new ritual” that I started with my family this year, cognizant of a Yom Kippur teaching I wish my own children to imbibe. After a beautiful morning t’filah at our synagogue, we ended our day not in front of the Aron HaKodesh for Neilah, but simply the 5 of us standing in a circle in the woods near our house. With an ode towards the tashlich ceremony of Rosh Hashanah, we stood by a pond and read parts of the Neilah liturgy. Even though our prayers told us the “gates of Heaven were closing” - we discussed the importance of keeping our hearts open. Open to growth, open to forgiveness, and open to change. And whether one is 6 or 60 – living in ancient Jerusalem or modern America – this message has remained constant since our ancient words were eternalized in our Torah. As we will read on the morning of Yom Kippur in Reform synagogues in North America and around the world:

“This Instruction… is not too baffling, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, neither is it beyond the sea… No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

Friday, August 19, 2011

My New Passport

By Cantor Marcie Jonas

(Photo Credit: M. Jonas, Grand Tetons taken from the Snake River)

This summer, I was given a new passport. Not the kind that you need for international travel; rather this passport is solely for travel within our country and only to specific locales. It is my Passport to Our National Parks. This passport book, created by the National Parks Service, is divided into nine geographic travel regions throughout the country. Whenever I visit a National park, I have my passport stamped with a cancellation mark. Each cancellation mark records the name of the park and the date of my visit. It is a keepsake of our domestic travels.

This summer, through our family travels in Wyoming, we received a few cancellation marks in our passports. For me, there is no question that the National Parks in the great state of Wyoming contain some of the most breathtaking views. The Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone, are host to bears, bison, elk and moose, as well as the famous Old Faithful Geyser (and some of it’s less-reliable cousins nearby, which we also got to see erupt, however, sporadically). I’ve heard many describe this part of our nation as “G-d’s country.” It is breathtakingly beautiful, with nothing to obstruct the 360-degree view of mountains, lakes and streams.

Even on our flight and the approach to land in Jackson Hole Wyoming, the conversations on our airplane turned to the gorgeous land below. Even those passengers, who call Jackson Hole home, were awestruck as our pilot navigated through the Grand Tetons, and flew over Jenny Lake. The snow-capped mountains set against the deepest blue sky took our breath away.

I knew that experiencing the terrain of this part of the country would be a gift for our family.

There are moments in our busy lives where we forget to stop and look around us, at the beauty of our natural resources. Driving through the state of Wyoming, there was nothing to see except our natural resources, and this new perspective really helped to restore balance in my life. Our senses were heightened while in Wyoming, taking in the views of the glorious landscape, the smells of pine, the feel of the crisp morning air, and the sounds of the rushing Snake River. This is not to say that these beautiful vistas don’t exist here, for they certainly do, only that sometimes we need to look a little harder to see them.

After a week out west, we returned home. As we drove home from the airport we noticed how the foliage in the state of Massachusetts is different from that of Wyoming. We noticed how it has changed even from a week or two earlier primarily due to imbalance of rain and sun. The familiarity was beautiful. Coming home always feels good.

Sometimes we need to step away from what we know so well, in order to see it and embrace its beauty. I was reminded of this one day on our trip. I was getting ready to photograph the Grand Tetons off in the distance but what struck me as most beautiful was in the foreground of my viewfinder…my family.

I am reminded of a stanza from a song from the musical group Lonestar. It’s called My Front Porch Looking In. A section of the song lyrics state:

I've traveled here and everywhere
Following my job
I've seen the paintings from the air
Brushed by the hand of God
The mountains and the canyons reach from sea to shining sea
But I can't wait to get back home
To the one He made for me
It's anywhere I'll ever go and everywhere I've been

Nothing takes my breath away
Like my front porch looking in

As the summer winds down, my wish is that we still find moments for front-porch-sitting, and vista viewing. But also know that the view looking in can be more beautiful than the view looking out.

[This post originally appeared in the August 19, 2011 Shabbat Shalom email]

Monday, August 15, 2011

Shayna Reed's Sinai Statement: Celebrating Confirmation and An Individual Relationship with G-d

Ed Note: The fourth in our series of our Confirmand's Sinai Statements comes from Shayna Reed. Shayna writes about her individual relationship with God and how her learning in the Confirmation Year has encouraged her to find her own personal relationship with belief as part of the ongoing Jewish journey.

I’ve been going to Religious School for a really really long time, and in the process I have formed many opinions on all sort of topics like prayer, the Jewish relationship with Israel, and the best kind of hamentashen filling (definitely poppy seed). However, one topic that has been harder for me to process and form opinions on is my individual relationship with G-d. I went into this year only knowing what I don’t believe about G-d. I do not believe G-d controls our world and our destinies completely. I do not think G-d is wholly uninvolved in our lives. I don’t believe G-d is so involved as to keep records of our every action and rewards or punishes accordingly, and I do not believe that G-d is our conscience. As a biology geek I tend towards believing that G-d is the order found through science because I see something majestic in the way our world is organized; however, I don’t think that science encompasses the entire nature of G-d or how we lowly humans can relate to G-d. As beautiful as science is to me because it explains our world, some things simply cannot be explained and therefore suggest divine presence.

Obviously, judging from the hardly comprehensive list of ideas I have already rejected, G-d is different for everyone. The one conclusion that I can draw about my own views from our G-d discussions is that I greatly respect the Jewish faith’s command to constantly question G-d in serious ways. As the people Yisrael, even our name reflects our constant struggle with G-d as it literally means “one who will struggle with G-d.” This struggle means that we must constantly re-evaluate what we have learned and always seek more knowledge and reflect on our experiences and the teachings of others. I feel comfortable with Judaism because I am not forced to believe in one ideology, and my understanding of G-d can change as my understanding of life does. I don’t agree with everything our religion tells us but I love the discussions and insights that are stimulated by questioning it. G-d is confusing and ultimately unknowable. However, I know that I will always struggle with G-d, as Jacob and all the Jews before me have.

by Shayna Reed

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Social Justice in the Social Media Age - A Crosspost from eJewish Philanthropy

Ed. Note: Today we feature a cross-post from eJewish Philanthropy, a daily newsletter focused on the Jewish Philanthropic world.

This post, written by Florence Broder, Chief Operations Officer for israelgives.org, explores how the use of social media is shaped by your community. She uses the backdrop of the current protests in Israel as a case study on the successful use of social media.

What do you think about the challenge the article lays out for us? In what way can our community at TBS embrace the vision of using social media "to reawaken the complacent into action"?

Special thanks to Florence Broder for permission to cross-post her article to the Temple Beth Shalom blog.

When Allison Fine was in Israel in May, she said Israelis have so much to say, it can’t fit into 140 characters. Yet Israelis are a population that live for text messaging – it’s even how they pay their parking meter. I constantly try to make sense of the disparity between the two Israels: one being the hi-tech center of the world; the other, a country not that can’t use the tools to communicate. During June’s Israeli Presidential Conference, everyone applauded the great coverage on Twitter, but I couldn’t help but ask why was it all in English? Where were all the Israeli Hebrew tweeters?

However, the developing protests in Israel paint a different picture. The need to communicate has made tweets a catalyst for change and a revolutionary spirit. Empowered by social media, the Israeli public has been galvanized in the quest for social justice, the mantra of the movement. The Tent Protesters quickly launched a WordPress site designed by Code Patuach that has the elements that we all want – a social, interactive site, with a clear call-to- action, and consistent branding.

The site homepage offers you photos, videos and blogs. If it’s community you are looking for, there is a Hebrew and English Twitter feed and you can follow the #J14 hashtag. (In case you were wondering, it’s J14 because the movement began on July 14th, which is also Bastille Day.) There is a Facebook page which allows fans to identify with the movement by offering them badges and other opportunities to get involved. Want to leave a comment about a newspaper article? You can do it right from the homepage. There is even a live chat feature so you can talk to protesters right on the spot! And if you want to support the movement financially, the is a clearly labeled donate button.

The protesters have been so successful because they have been strategic in how they have empowered the public to get involved. They have created clear and consistent messaging to propel the public forward. They have leveraged social media to give a voice to people who thought they were voiceless. They have created community for people who felt alone in their plight. As the movement grows, so does the reawakening of the Israeli public who are starting to actually believe that they can effect change and re-envision a different future for Israel.

As you consider issues in your own community, reflect on the success of social media in bringing together Israelis from all walks of life. Think about how the tools can do the same for your community. Take a fresh look at your organization’s website and think about how you too can integrate social media into your website to reawaken the complacent into action.

By Florence Broder

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sam Moller's Sinai Statement: Celebrating Confirmation and Tikkun Olam

Ed. Note: The third in our series of our Confirmand's Sinai Statements comes from Sam Moller. Sam talks about his views on Tikkun Olam and how his trip to the RAC during his confirmation year has helped shape these views.

Throughout my life I have always been drawn to perform Tikkun Olam, the Jewish principle of repairing our world through acts of social justice. Throughout my time at The Rashi School, I was under the impression that most of the people in our society were involved in social justice projects. After my trip to the Religious Action Center this winter my impression of Tikkun Olam completely changed. I realized from my trip to the RAC that very few people participate in social justice projects or have a clue about the injustices in our world. The trip also showed me that people should give back to their community and the people who have given to them. As Judaism says “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.

On the trip we covered many different social issues that have a great effect on this country, such as poverty, LGBT rights, America’s relationship with the State of Israel, family abuse, global warming and many more. By going into deeper learning around these topics I realized that there are more than one or two common views on these matters. There are hundreds. The phrase, “Two Jews, Three Opinions”, came into play on the trip countless times.

After I returned from our time at the Religious Action Center, I reflected on my experience and I realized that besides the friends that I made, I discovered a strong passion for the social justice projects that we worked on during the trip. I then came to the conclusion that I want to pursue a career in bringing greater justice to our world. Some people have come up to me since the trip and have asked what I want to be when I get older, and I have responded to them that I want to work in social justice. Some have said that, that it is very commendable, however the majority of the people have responded in saying that, my thought about my career is foolish because there is no money involved. Yes it is true that working in social justice is not a “get rich quick” occupation, however the enjoyment that I get from doing good is priceless.

--Sam Moller