Uncertain Certain Joy

sukkah-Aaron MI don’t like uncertainty. I doubt that anyone does.

Lately, though, I’ve been swimming in it. In early July, I had the incredible opportunity to study for two weeks with the Jewish Renewal movement. I immersed in community life; met smart, dedicated, and interesting people; and took classes on holy relationships, Hasidic stories, and medieval philosophy. I was there to learn, but also to evaluate…and be evaluated. Continue reading

Love Sustains: How My Everyday Practices Make My Everyday Activism Possible

“We do this because the world we live in is a house on fire and the people we love are burning.” —Sandra Cisneros

heartWe do this — the work of tikkun olam

Because the world we live in is a house on fire: Racism. Hunger. Economic Justice. Climate. Education. Domestic Violence. Poverty. More.

And the people we love are: Oppressed. Attacked. Desperately poor. Sick. Afraid. Hungry. Vulnerable. Suffering.

Burning. The people we love and the world we live in are burning.

Sometimes, this is how it feels — like the world is on fire — and in the face of systemic racism, climate change, or the widening gap between rich and poor, it’s difficult to see what difference my individual actions could possibly make. Continue reading

Three Holidays and a Bar Mitzvah

zeke-studying-for-bar-mitzvahAs I write this, the first of the Jewish High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah, is less than two days away—and (to paraphrase Rabbi Alan Lew), I am completely unprepared.

The month of Elul, now rapidly coming to a close, is meant to be a time of preparation. During this month, we sound the shofar every day—its blast meant to rouse us from the slumber of our lives, to shake us into awareness and cause us to reflect: How am I living in the world? What relationships need attention and repair? Am I on the right path? How can I make better, more conscious choices in the new year?  Continue reading

Walking in the Fields during the Month of Elul

elul-fieldsIn the Jewish calendar, we have entered the month of Elul—a month of preparation that leads into the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Elul is a time to reflect on our lives, actions and choices over the last year. It is a time of increased prayer, careful review, and gentle sifting.

In Jewish prayer and liturgy, God is often referred to as “the King”—language and an image that, for me, can seem aloof and distant. But during the month of Elul, tradition has it that the King goes walking in the fields.  Continue reading

Speaking of Israel

in-hebronMore than one of my politically and religiously liberal friends, when I told them I was converting to Judaism, gave as one of their first responses, “What about Israel?”

Good question. What about Israel?

I’ve understood all along that committing to the Jewish people and tradition also included coming into relationship with Israel—but the history and the issues seemed so complex that I have been reluctant to say much, to anyone, about anything related to the “Jewish State.”

Partly, this silence stemmed from a feeling that I didn’t know enough of the history, the politics, the people, and the issues to be able to speak with any authority. Partly, my place as a new Jew gave me pause. Partly, I saw how divisive the “Israel issue” is both within the American Jewish community and among people of other religious traditions, with whom I work.

It is safer not to speak. Continue reading

A Journey Stey-by-Step: Counting the Walk

sinaiWe are walking now. Together, in the wilderness, walking. It’s hot, and dry. Sometimes there’s no water, or the water we find has a bitter taste. We haven’t always known where our next meal will come from. Some people wish we’d never left Egypt, and there’s a lot of complaining. Some days are really hard.

In these days in-between Pesach and Shavuot, between the Jewish festivals of liberation and revelation, we walk—and we count. Beginning on the second night of Pesach, we count each day between escape from Egypt and the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai. This practice is called “counting the Omer.” Each night we say a blessing, thanking God for the commandment to count the Omer. Then we count the day: “Today is ten days, which is one week and three days of the Omer.” We do this for 49 days, until the festival of Shavuot.

This year, I really appreciate the counting.  Continue reading