Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Tent of God

These days Yadid is a big 14-year-old who likes his alone time, but a few years ago he used to smother his sister Emunah with love.  I remember distinctly one time he asked me if I would let her sit with him on the ground. He proceeded to spread a blanket on top of her. Not having any of it Emunah pulled the blanket off of her head. But Yadid was not deterred so he asked his sister to join him in the  “Tent of God”.

I was thinking about this tender image when reading BaMidbar, this week’s Torah portion. In Torah portion we read about the census of the Israelites, the priests’ duties, and their configurations of tribes as they broke down camp to move.  The Tent of God was at the center of their world. We learn with a lot of detail how they encamped and traveled around the Tent.

Image result for encampment israelites

 

Even if they might smother each other at points, it is thrilling to imagine my children’s relationships evolve over the years. I would like to think that at the center of that will be an abiding love and desire to be close to each other throughout life’s journeys.

Advertisements

Invitation to Belong: Emor’s Recipe for Community

This week’s reading, Emor, discusses the laws which pertain to priests and the high priest, and various laws which relate to sacrifices. These are followed by a lengthy discussion of the festivals. The portion concludes with the story of a blasphemer who was put to death. It is interesting to me that if you look at all aspects of Emor as a composite we see a definition of community. We have a clear definition of the leadership of the community during the time of the Temple. We have the regulations for convening at the Temple. We even get to see the limits of the community with the story of the blasphemer.

This reminded me of the book Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block. In this book Block encourages a shift in our way of thinking about community so we can bring about the qualities of an authentic sense of belonging. There he writes:

The key to creating or transforming community, then, is to see the power in the small but important elements of being with others. The shift we seek needs to be embodied in each invitation we make, each relationship we encounter, and each meeting we attend. For at the most operational and practical level, after all the thinking about policy, strategy, mission, and milestones, it gets down to this: How are we going to be when we gather together? ( Community: The Structure of Belonging)

Block understands that creating and sustaining a sense of belonging is fundamentally about the experience of community, not about it’s formal structures and mechanisms.

The leader is the convener of these moments of belonging. It is amazing to look back and see how we evolved over time.  What is described here in Emor worked in the time of the Temple. It evolved into something completely different during the Rabbinic period of Jewish life. And as Rabbi Yitz Greenberg argues, we are transitioning into the next epoch in which we will need another kind of leader for us to cultivate the experience of belonging. Rabbi Greenberg puts forward a compelling argument that this next epoch will be defined by lay leadership.

In order for us to be successful in our third phase we will need to follow the Emor recipe.  We will need to define the role of these leaders. We will need to put forward a plan for our regular occasions to convene as  a nation. And yes, even if it seems painful. we will need to define our limits. If we do all of these things we will find a sense of belonging. You are all invited.

Listen to and watch Rabbi Greenberg on the 3rd Epoch of Jewish History

U’Rechatz: Our Matriarchs, #metoo, and Purification

Just after we start our Seder with Kiddush over the first cup of wine we do U’Reschatz– we wash our hands. While it is Jewish law to wash one’s hands and say a blessing before eating bread, or Matzah in our case, in this situation it is not the case. We are not about to eat the Matzah and we do not make a blessing. In the time of the Mishna it was common practice to wash one’s hands before eating moist food. That said, why should the Seder be different from all other nights that we would bring back this blessing-less hand washing?

I believe that on a mystical level the opening of the Seder is a reenactment of our entering the Temple to perform the Passover sacrifice. In some ways this hand washing speaks of this transition into holy time and space. Similarly in the time of the Mishkan when the Cohen would enter he would find the Kiyor, the Laver or Wash-basin, with which he would wash his hands and feet before performing the Service. At the end of the book of Exodus in Parshat Pekudei we learn about the construction of this Kiyor. There we read:

He made the Kiyor of copper and its copper stand from the mirrors of the women who gathered at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” (Exodus 38:8)

What is with these mirrors? Why did it matter that it came from the women? Rashi quotes the Midrash Tanchuma to answer both of these questions. There we read:

The Israelite women owned mirrors, which they would look into when they adorned themselves. Even these [mirrors] they did not hold back from bringing as a contribution toward the Mishkan, but Moshe rejected them because they were made for sexual temptation. The Holy One, blessed be God, said to him, “Accept [their mirrors], for these are more precious to Me than anything because through them the women set up many legions [i.e., through the children they gave birth to] in Egypt.” When their husbands were weary from back-breaking labor, the women would go and bring them food and drink and give them to eat. Then the women would take the mirrors and each one would see herself with her husband in the mirror, and she would seduce him with words, saying, “I am more beautiful than you.” And in this way they aroused their husbands desire and would copulate with them, conceiving and giving birth there, as it is said: “Under the apple tree I aroused you” (Song 8:5)…(Midrash Tanchuma, Pekudei 9; Num. Rabbah 9:14)

In this magnificent Midrash Moshe objects to using mirrors to make the Kiyor because the mirrors  were lascivious. God responds that this is his most precious gift because it lead to making another generation. Amram and Yocheved are two of these slaves who conceive Moshe under the apple tree. The most fascinating part of this Midrash is that God does not deny that the mirrors are sexual. God just rejects Moshe’s premise that being sexual is a bad thing. Positive sexual encounters are the inception of liberation. These sex toys were exactly what God wanted him to make the implement that will be used to cleanse the Cohen as he prepares for the sacrifice.

In the era of #metoo it is important to pause at U’Reschatz. As we are entering into the conversation of liberation we need to think deeply about the misuse of power. Our society is long overdue a deep reflection on the insidious and nefarious use of power for sexual gratification. How might we cleanse ourselves of this evil?

If sex is about coercion, submission, and is not mutually enjoyable it is lascivious and dirty and has no place in the Mishkan. This kind of interaction seems like slavery. But if we learn the lessons of our matriarchs in Egypt sex can be mutual, consensual, sensual, and playful. Sex can be liberating, purifying, and take a central space in the Mishkan. Slavery made the Israelite slaves forget how to look at each other. Like the leaders of the #metoo movement, our matriarchs had to teach their partners how to engage as equals. This act of intimacy led to their liberation and ultimately to the divine encounter at Sinai. On a deep level revelation is the highest form of intimacy.

The central commandment of Passover is that in each and every generation we are obligated to see ourselves as if we went out from Egypt ( Pesachim 116b). This year when my children ask me about U’Reschatz I will not talk about sex toys in the Mishkan. And at the same time if I ignore the issues brought up by #metoo I will not fulfill my pascal obligation. Firstly I will take the time to share with them the wisdom of all of our matriarchs. When take the time to share stories of our male and female role models it is easier for the next generation to value  mutuality and respect. I will also take the time to talk about the centrality of consent and the importance of being playful with those you love. We all need to be liberated from unwanted touching and lascivious behavior. I have no doubt that this conversation will be a purifying.

-Inspired by article by Rabbi Tamara Cohen in EJP

 

Jewish Camp is a Gateway

Recently I had the honor of speaking at a dinner at the Foundation for Jewish Camp‘s Leaders Assembly 2018 in Baltimore. It was a wonderful conference. Unfortunately the sound was not really working during my speech so well so I figured that I would post the speech.

With Passover soon at hand I wanted to share with you a special story about leaving Egypt, but not the one from our Seder tables.

In sixth century BCE, when building the Second Temple in Jerusalem, a  man named Nicanor set out to attain a special gate for one of the doorways of the Temple. We learn in the Gemara in Yoma:

Nicanor went to Alexandria in Egypt to bring the doors, on his return a huge wave threatened to engulf the boat. To save themselves the ship’s crew took one of the precious doors and cast it into the sea, but still the sea continued to rage tossing the boat around. When the crew prepared to cast the other door into the sea, Nicanor rose and clung to it, saying, ‘Cast me in with it.’ The sea immediately became calm. He was, however, deeply grieved about the other door [lost to the sea]- mitzta’er al haverta- literally- he was saddened about its friend. As they reached the harbor of Akko, the door broke through and appeared from under the sides of the boat.  [Yoma 38a]

Nicanor  teaches us the lessons of grit and determination, selflessness and reward. Just like my mama told me, ‘The harder you work the luckier you get’. Nicanor was willing to give of himself  because for him “Good enough was simply not good enough”. He really wanted these special doors to be in the Temple.

Often when we think about the utility of a gate we think about who it is keeping in or keeping out. That was not the case for Nicanor. He went back to Egypt —  a place of our bondage –for a gate that would adorn the experience of coming and going at the holiest communal space. Like our camps, these doors would house much more than simply people, but holy memories and experiences that form our personal and national identity.

Tonight we come together as a community to celebrate the people who, like Nicanor, really have given of themselves and inspire us with their grit and determination. Camp professionals sacrifice sleep, personal resources and free time in order to go above and beyond in the pursuit of providing meaningful Jewish experiences that shape people’s lives. The Jewish knowledge and experiences we gain at camp give us access.

Jewish camp is a gateway.

Jewish camp is a gateway to make friends for life.

Jewish camp is a gateway to learn valuable skills for our future careers.

Jewish camp is a gateway to get the building blocks for making a Jewish family.

Jewish camp is a gateway to belong to a Jewish community.

Tonight we celebrate just a few of these extraordinary professionals whose hard work and dedication to excellence deserve recognition. Mitzta’er al haverta – We would be at a loss without you friends. First, we will acknowledge some monumental milestones in our field. These are the people who have made the long journey. We are blessed in this room to have people who have been working with generations of campers and staff members, impacting entire communities. 

Next,  FJC, with the support of Avi Chai Foundation, is proud to recognize three early career Jewish camp educators. Though closer to the start of the journey, these professionals  have already inspired their camps with their creativity and commitment to opening up Jewish life to the next generation. Each will get a generous investment of $3600 to be used for continued education to support them in their journey.

And then Genesis Philanthropy Group will recognize one camp that has   made great strides in accessibility for Russian Speaking Jews in our community and the iCenter will recognize two camps which have gone above and beyond to reimagine Israel education.

Tonight we express Hakarat HaTov– gratitude- to people who have clung  to the gate to ensure that Jewish Life is accessible to our community. Each of our honorees shows us that the harder you work the luckier we all get. Their efforts have ensured that more campers, staff members, and their families pass through our gates and connect to the majestic experience of  Jewish camp. They are inspirational.

I also want to take a moment to express my Hakarat HaTov– gratitude to Julie Finkelstein and the rest of the FJC team who have really clung to this Leaders’ Assembly to make it everything thing it is. We all appreciate your self-sacrifice for excellence. And I can see the second gate coming out of the water now.

Thank you  

Welcome All to Leaders Assembly

Here at Foundation for Jewish Camp we are excited and gearing up for Leaders Assembly 2018. We are thrilled to welcome close to 800 leaders in the camping community to Baltimore to see how we might move the field forward.

This week we start reading the book of Leviticus. It is fraught with information about sacrifices that can seem meaningless to the modern experience. In our Torah portion we read that when a leader sins, he brings a he-goat as a sacrifice (Leviticus 4:22-26). This is in contrast to a commoner who is charged to bring a she-goat or a lamb in the same circumstance (Leviticus 4:27-35). What is the purpose of the commoner and the leader bringing two different offerings? What is the reason that we allow the commoner to bring either a goat or a lamb?

To explain, I wanted to share with you a great custom I heard a couple of years ago quoted in the name of Danny Siegel. Synagogues put out two color cups for their Kiddush receptions after services. The Rabbi announces that all new comers are invited to partake of the blue cups, so that all of the people with the white cups know to whom they should introduce themselves. This custom allows the community to be welcoming without forcing the newcomers to feel like outsiders; you are always welcome to pass and take a white cup.

Similarly, in our week’s portion, we read that the commoners had the option of which sacrifice they wanted to bring. In either case, the priest would know they were outsiders, but that information need not be public. The outsiders could choose to pass and bring a goat.

All too often, when we make an effort to bring people in, it has the reverse effect of indicating them as outsiders.  Camp is an amazing gateway for people to experience belonging to the Jewish community. I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones this week in Baltimore. I have no doubt that together we will find new ways to make people feel welcome in our community. Surely, there is no great sacrifice in making our community more inclusive.

Shabbat Shalom!

WE CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU IN BALTIMORE. #LEADERS2018

-Also posted on Jewishcamp.org 

The Best Kind of Gift

Have you ever had to go shopping for a gift for someone you love? For that special someone you have to actually go to the store and walk around thinking what does this person really need? And what if that person is blessed to have everything they need? Then you are left just trying to get them something that they might want. In that case it seems that you are left trying to get them something that appropriately expresses your feelings for that person. So, even if they do not like the gift they appreciate the sentiment.You do not need to worry that this was a ploy to get a belated birthday gift. Rather, I believe that this is a good explanation for the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Terumah. We read that God tells Moses to tell the Israelites, “Let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivated him you shall take My portion“(Exodus 25:1). What do you give to a being that created everything and gave it to you? For God, isn’t everything by definition a re-gift?

The Israelites were so close with God that they knew in their “hearts” exactly what to get God. It is hard for me to imagine being that close to God and knowing how much to spend. I love my wife and live with her and I still totally freeze up even thinking of what to get her for her birthday. But the Torah portion goes on to list many details about the construction of the Sanctuary that the Israelites build for God. God either tells them what to give God or God is gracious enough to accept what ever they give.

To better our relationships with the people in our lives we should try harder to tell them what we need and what we want. This is the beginning of better communication. We also should strive to understand the intension of the gift even if we have limited use of the gift itself. In so doing, surely we will make space for them in our lives.

Wake Up Rage: MLK Today

The other day I went into my sons’ room trying to wake them up. I found myself singing the chorus from Rage Against the Machine‘s song Wake Up. The lyrics discuss racism within the American government and the FBI. A portion of the song is taken from an actual FBI memo in which its director J. Edgar Hoover suggests targets for the suppression of the black nationalist movement. The song makes references to prominent African-American figures targeted by the government such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., and goes as far as saying that the government arranged their assassinations.

 

In memory of Martin Luther King Jr. I offer you to listen to this song and read the lyrics.

Rage Against the Machine sing:

‘Cause all these punks
Got bullets in their heads
Departments of police, the judges, the feds
Networks at work, keepin’ people calm
You know they went after King
When he spoke out on Vietnam
He turned the power to the have-nots
And then came the shot

It is clear that the assassination of King was a wake up call. While there are still large forces of racism a live in this country, on this holiday we need to also remember the King who “spoke out on Vietnam”. Now more than ever we are living in a time when we are turning the power away from the have-nots.

What will be our generation’s wake up call? I sincerely hope that it does not take a shot.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,425 other followers

Archive By Topic

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: