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Posts Tagged ‘Torah’

My entire being has grown raw.

50 dead!

And we are now starting are next political crisis. Progressives vs Conservatives. Both defending their views while hundreds of children, partners, and loved souls are no longer alive in this world.

AGAIN!

One man causes terror in the name of his radical beliefs and many are ready to condemn all Muslims.

I am so sick to my stomach. 50 dead. 50 people who were tragically murdered. 50 human beings who never got to say good-bye to their loved ones. And thousands of people, hopefully millions are now mourning for 50 now dead souls.

Tragedy strikes again.

This is not ok!

 “AR-15 Rifle Used in Orlando Massacre Has Bloody Pedigree. it was used to slaughter first graders at Sandy Hook, murder Batman fans at Colorado movie theater, kill county workers at a holiday party in San Bernardino.

Now the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle has the dubious distinction of being the weapon of choice for a homosexual-hating gunman” CORKY SIEMASZKO

Something has to be done.

This afternoon Aryeh lit a candle in honor of those lost to this brutality and to the beautiful soul that opened up this bar in honor of her brother’s life journey.

Tomorrow I will go to a vigil. There I will hopefully meet the right person, the person who will open the door to my activism around making sure that an aggressive bastard has no legal ways of carrying a gun or rifle of any kind!

My heart is breaking. So many people lost in the name of mental illness, radical beliefs, or simply because of some of their deep seeded desires.

Years ago, my friend Susan Windle referred to me as a Spiritual Warrior. It is time for me to birth the Warrior’s spirit and better learn how to sit down at the table with those who have different roles so that we can really stop the massacres that keep happening.

And to my friend that shared the horrific rhetoric of one Muslim shiekh, I want to say that I have heard some repulsive words come out of both rabbis and other faith based leaders. In fact there are those people that firmly stand with the following Judeo-Christian teaching that is found in the bible. It says in Leviticus 20:13, within the Judeo-Christian Bible, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” Sometimes religion sure focuses on narrow minded thinking. I am so happy to stand with those that seek understanding and healthy ways to interpret or maybe re-frame some of the difficult texts that our part of all faith based traditions.

Without modern day interpretations or a respect for when ancient texts were written, all of our teachings can lead to darkness. The reason I left Orthodox Judaism so many years ago was because I did not believe the Torah was written or inspired by God.  I see the Torah as our guide to life. And like any good book, we learn to synthesis the information and then grow as we study. As a progressive Jew, I think of our Torah as the Living Torah, it is my job to find meaning in the teachings and practices. It is my guide and I treasure it. But do I believe all of it’s teachings are just? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Before I understood the complete ramifications of prejudice, there was a persOne_race_human_eV2on in my life who was extremely prejudiced. For the first time in my adult life, I encountered someone that repulsed me because of their  core beliefs, so I found passive aggressive ways to cope. While this wasn’t a fabulous way to move forward, it felt right at the time. One thing that I did was to engage in conversations so that I could enlighten this man. As you can imagine, that didn’t go over too well. And then one day, I found the most wonderful t-shirt. And thanks to Google images, I found it again. I don’t know who made this, but I do know it was the final way that I knew, at that time, to cope with hatred. Until it fell apart, I wore it every time I saw this person. My guess is that he wondered if I owned any other t-shirts. 🙂

I am now a little wiser than I once was. With that in mind, I realize that it is time to navigate the very real realities that exist and do my part to help things evolve. Lighting a candle was introspective, going to a vigil is supportive, but perhaps I need to connect with some of the organizations doing good work with gun violence issues. Here is one important link, I know I have a few friends that have worked with Everytown for Gun Safety, http://everytown.org/act/.

50 human beings dead, let’s not pause any longer.

There are so many layers to taking care of the human race. Let’s make connections with one another and  do our part collectively. We can make a difference.

“If you want connection, it’s because you are connection. Be what you want, and then it happens all around you. If you want love, be it. You’ll have more love than you know what to do with. Whatever you are inside, you receive a thousand fold on the outside.” ~ Adyashanti

Onward – Now & Always,
Chava

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Honor Yourself

Courtesy of Terri St. Cloud of BoneSighArt.com 

One of the most powerful transformations that I have made since the fall Jewish holidays has been learning Torah twice a week with two groups of passionate woman (by coincidence). Both have become the highlight of my professional and healing journey. I am processing life with others and the Torah is fully becoming my guide to living more fully. Simply put, I have found a new way to honor myself differently than I ever have before now.

Last week in my Thursday afternoon Torah Study, we spoke about Jacob’s devastation over the loss of Joseph, the son who who he loved “best of all”.  While I don’t understand what it means to love one son over another son or to have one of my children die, I do understand that losing a child is perhaps the worst kind of loss that any of us can imagine.  So after Joseph learns that his son was devoured by a beast, his reaction is totally understandable:

Jacob rent his clothes, put sackcloth on his loins, and observed mourning for his son many days. All of his sons and daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, saying, “No, I will go down mourning to my son in Sheol.”  (Genesis 37: 34-35)
The conversation that followed our reading of the above verse was heartbreaking and enlightening.  One person understood such a loss and allowed us a window into her experience and I finally understood more clearly why in traditional shiva houses, houses of mourning, we do not supposed to reach out to the mourners until they initiate a conversation.

Going to Sheol after learning of a death of someone you adore makes sense – always. Even if we are surrounded by loved ones, we are also feeling desolate and alone. And with that discussion came an enlightening discussion about mourning practices within the traditional Jewish world. Torah came alive.

Today’s Torah study was a fountain of flowing energy that ignited my soul – it always does. While we explored the difference between being a sage and showing discernment, we grew to understand what it means to have knowledge and the ability to impactfully work with others.  We also spoke about our health journeys and how we need to take care of ourselves. We also spoke about the mourner’s kaddish and the problem with how many progressive congregations do it today. How can we support mourners when we all rise together? We spoke about the options.  Finally, we wrapped up with how we say perhaps the holiest prayer in our tradition. We spoke about how we say and teach the Shema, our communities proclamation that we have One God. (Note: In Progressive Judaism there are many ways to see God and Godliness. What I LOVE about our tradition is that even if some of us see this a little differently, the Shema is a central prayer for all of us.)
Woven through every discussion was a thread of knowledge that came from the way Joseph interpreted dreams and how he, his father and his brother lived their lives. There is so much to learn from the tangents that are all part of Torah.
Each and every time I learn Torah my heart feels broken open differently than it was before we started.  My Monday morning Torah Study has strengthened my connection with five people. I can not imagine this connection ever fading. For one hour women from all corners of the United States talk Torah, education, and life.  Individually we are broken vessels that somehow emerge more whole when we grow/learn together.  Another way that my friend and study partner Iris Koller articulated our experience was that, “We each bring our fragments of lights that shine through”; our time together creates one of the most beautiful rainbows that I have ever seen.
On a side note, it has only been in the last 15 or so years that I have developed close connections with women. Before that time, I was rarely close with more than a couple of women at a time, but now I am so much more balanced because of the many soul sisters that have touched my life. Wow – I feel blessed.  I find myself thinking and opening up different that I ever have and it makes me want to cry.  I love that Torah is coming alive as it is.

There is so much holiness that comes alive when the two groups of women I study with bring our many moving parts together            in order to study together. The learning of life’s lessons through our study of Torah is making me more whole.

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Note: I will be Counting the Omer for a total of 49 days, from Passover to Shavuot or from Slavery to Freedom. For many, this is simply the Counting the Omer; for others, it is a tool for exploring the kabbalistic teachings in an organized way. For me, it is a time to actively reflect on my Journey Towards Wholeness. The more I am whole, the more free I will become.  [http://t.co/dBPYjDxSGj . . . .]

Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation -  Sanctuary Bethesda, Maryland

Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation –
Sanctuary
Bethesda, Maryland

Rambling Musings of Going Home-to Adat Shalom

Yesterday I went home.

I didn’t go to the place I was raised; I wouldn’t want to go there.  Instead I went to the spiritual community that raised me as an educator, pushed me as a human being, and nurtured my soul when I needed it most. I went to Adat Shalom Reconstuctionist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland.

From the moment I drove in the parking lot, I knew I was returning home. With a sense of overwhelming joy, I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was to be visiting my old stomping grounds. As soon as I got out of the car, I met with one of the most beautiful souls that welcomed me into her home on numerous occasions without question whenever I wanted to gather my Rosh Hodesh Girls. (This was a group of tweens and later teens that celebrated the new month together.)

While all loving connections are complicated, Adat Shalom was the community that empowered me to grow as the person and the human being that I am today. For six years I worked at Adat Shalom. Each and every day I was stretched, watered, and even pruned. There were moments when the growing pains were intense and other moments that my soul couldn’t stop singing.  And looking back, I can clearly see how deeply this Makom Kadosh, holy place touched my life and does to this very day.

The clergy and the community taught me how to be the most authentic me I could be. Each and every day that I came to work, I felt loved and respected. On the bad days, I knew I had some growing to do; on the good days, I knew I was far from becoming the best educator I could be. Through working with such thoughtful leaders, lay people, and families, I learned the power of discernment.

Looking back, I see that I worked with soul workers. The clergy, the teachers, Sheila Feldman (our executive director), and the staff. The lay leaders and the members were passionate and wise. While I sometimes struggled, I was also deeply in love. Leaving Adat Shalom was painful, but it was the right thing to do at that time in my life. And I will forever feel a sense of loss that I am no longer there.

The community was passionate about the world they live and those that live in it. It was at Adat Shalom that I started to understand individual rights and our collective responsibility. It was at Adat Shalom that I began to seriously (and with decisive information) to contemplate our impact on the environment and how we could make a difference for good. And it was at Adat Shalom that I found my voice. I became more thoughtful and conscious of my responsibility as a Jew, a woman, and a human being. I had a lot of work to do and I welcome the fact that I will always be doing the work.

When my child’s life hung by a thread, it was the loving energy of such a caring community that gave us the strength to navigate and ultimately survive the years of trauma.  Both strangers and friends brought us food, offered their prayers, and even visited us during the nightmares that nearly took my son’s life.

As soon as I walked into the sanctuary, I knew exactly where I would sit. Seeing my beloved friend sitting by himself, I was thrilled to totally surprise the person who I had lost track of. Years before he and his loving wife were traveling on the west coast when we were preparing to what would become a 22 hour brain surgery in Los Angeles. Even today, Aryeh, my son, who remembers little of that time in our lives, remembers our friends going out of the way to comfort him. BTW, it worked.

I love that I had Aryeh with me yesterday. He has ALWAYS loved our Adat family as much as I did. We have both missed our Adat Shalom community.

What no one realized yesterday is that my son wore a tallit that I made for him. The words on the atarah, the collar, said I am still alive. In Hebrew, the words remind us that in spite of what many believed would be his death sentence, my son is still alive. At one point during services, I rested my head against his arm and he quietly said, “It feels so good to be here wrapped in this tallit and at Adat Shalom.” My son is very much alive and I think it is the Adat Shalom community and his relenting spirit that gave him (and our entire family) the strength to soar.

Towards the last moments of the service, Aryeh decided to rise for his first time to say Mourners ‘Kaddish, for his father’s father, his grandfather who had died two weeks earlier. No one at Adat Shalom knew that he was mourning a significant loss in his life, but it was at home that my son was given the space to cry and to feel the full impact of his loss. It didn’t matter that no one knew, it was at Adat Shalom that my son felt safe to stand and mourn.

There are many that come to Adat Shalom with their own Jewish journeys. I love that I learned so much about what it means to honor each individual’s spirit during my time there. I wish I could thank EVERYONE that crossed my path so that I could personally thank them.

Being called to the bima, stage, by Cantor Rachel, my childhood friend and colleague, literally took my breath away. As I stood on a bima that I had been on many times before, I saw the faces of so many beautiful souls. While I didn’t get a chance to connect with each and every person individually, I felt like the luckiest person in the world at that moment. And then carrying the Torah around the sanctuary made my heart sing. It was during my time at Adat Shalom that my entire relationship with the Living Torah evolved and was given wings that had been clipped earlier in my life. It was with this community, that my relationship with the world grew to beautiful heights. It was this community that I learned that everything is Torah.

Yesterday, I went home. I can’t wait to do so again in a couple of weeks before I move to Houston to what I believe will be a beautiful taste of what I had at Adat Shalom. Wow, I am so blessed.

May each and every one of find Makom Kadosh, this holy place within ourselves and within the communities that we call home.

With love, light, and blessings,
Chava

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Note: I will be Counting the Omer for a total of 49 days, from Passover to Shavuot or from Slavery to Freedom. For many, this is simply the Counting the Omer; for others, it is a tool for exploring the kabbalistic teachings in an organized way. For me, it is a time to actively reflect on my Journey Towards Wholeness. The more I am whole, the more free I will become.  [http://t.co/dBPYjDxSGj . . . .]

Photo courtesy of Simon Rosenblatt. Being called up to the Torah for an aliyah is amazing, but it is time for me to read from the Torah again.

Photo courtesy of Simon Rosenblatt. Being called up to the Torah for an aliyah is amazing, but it is time for me to read from the Torah again.

How I LOVE learning Torah!!!!

Being whole means doing things that jazz my soul. fuel my being, and nourish my body. When I am doing these thing, it means that life is good.

While any one thing may not be enough to keep me happy, doing the things that have the capability of making me more whole can only lead to being a better me!

Early this week, I was going to cancel doing a D’var Torah (Torah Talk) at a local chavurah (group that gathers together).  At the time, I was realizing that I had really missed the opportunity to daven (pray) with this group while living in Louisa, Virginia and I wasn’t sure that what I had to offer would touch them.  Upon further reflection, I realized that this group was one of the most holy groups I have been privileged to daven with. With that in mind, I started the holy work of preparing to lead a Torah study.

The particular parsha (Torah portion) was initially not the easiest one for me to conquer, but as time progressed, I found a way to navigate that made my heart sing. And through the learning, I found the perfect chant to lead into the honoring of this portion.

In Parshat Emor (The Torah Portion called Emor), I learned that while practices may often feel harsh and judgmental, it is important to look deeper at the wisdom and the person before you.

הינך יפה רעיתי
Hinach yafah rayati, hinach yafah!
H
ow beautiful You are, my friend, how beautiful are!
– Song of Songs 1:15

Often times, I see the blessings and the gifts for things that I originally saw as difficult or even ugly. But some times I need the reminder to dig for a deeper understanding. The Torah challenges us to look and explore the wisdom even when it makes no sense.

When you look at what many of us refer to as the Living Torah, you can find real tools for leading an ethical life. Sometimes, the initial lesson may inspire us to live differently than what we perceive the written word to be saying. But when we give ourselves the time to deeply examine what is being said than we may find something altogether different. This is what happened to me this week.

I am blessed with wise friends and teachers that inspire me to learn and who share their knowledge freely. And I am surrounded by books and wisdom of many people throughout all ages.

The blessing of this particular parsha is that I learned to see the Torah through different eyes and to treasure the many offerings that I understand and even some that I don’t yet understand. And the most beautiful teaching that I received was in learning the power of digging deeper.

Each of us are beautiful. Each of us have our own unique gifts to offer. Each of us are part of what makes the world exactly what it is.

May we choose to impact the world with beauty and acceptance for all. May we find value in the gifts that each unique person brings into our world.

Sending you love, light, and blessings,
Shabbat Shalom,
In chant,
Chava

PS – After Shabbat, I will share a version of my D’var Torah.

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Note: I will be Counting the Omer for a total of 49 days, from Passover to Shavuot or from Slavery to Freedom.  For many, this is simply the Counting the Omer; for me, it is a time to actively reflect on different middot (character traits) that will lead me to my own rebirth.

Middah (character trait) focus: embracing change – it is a process

Middot (character traits) are Torah terms that refer to the positve Jewish character traits that we aspire to have.  In my current Counting of the Omer, I have broadened the tent in some ways.  My guess is that each and every aspect of my personality can be put into a specific middah category/box if that is your need, but I need to break out of the box.  As someone who grapples with the constraints that exist, I am feeling empowered to do the work of moving forward and away from so many of those constraints.

Embracing change -it is a process reminds me that all change is a process, healthy changes can’t happen overnight.  Work needs to be done.  Moving from slavery to freedom is a powerful metaphor for what continues to transpire in all aspects of life from nature to personal development from the political to the non-political.  Life constantly evolves.

As I type this blog piece, I am embracing so many potential changes; all are changes I want, some need to evolve at a quicker rate.  On the other hand I am blessed to be able to transform in a multitude of ways and in my own time.  It really is ok if transformation takes place in it’s right time.

Just one flower is greeting me. . . .

Just one flower is greeting me and then. . . .

Now three open flowers welcome me every afternoon. . . .

Now three open flowers welcome me every afternoon. . . .

Every morning three closed flowers welcome me and then open as morning progresses. . . .

Each & every morning three closed flowers welcome me and then open as morning progresses. . . .

 

 May each of us find the tools we need to evolve and manage a  healthy process as move forward.

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For so many years, my son, Aryeh, sat incapacitated and barely able to lift his body, let alone a book.  With that in mind, I am touched beyond words that on Simchat Torah, my son lifted the Torah.  Tonight, the entire weight of the Torah rested on the right side of the Torah Scroll and Aryeh was able to do what seemed like a dream at one time.  He lifted the Torah in front of our community.

Photo Courtesy of Gary Tenen

Photo Courtesy of Gary Tenen

Nearly a lifetime ago, when my now 20 years old was barely 14 years old he suffered a debilitating illness that ultimately led to two brain surgeries.  With each breath his life often seemed to wane.  For nearly three years, we prayed for his survival with a hope that he would one day thrive again.  Life was not a given for my beautiful son.

Dreams can really come true.

For what seemed like a lifetime, Aryeh  barely lifted his body out of bed or off the sofa and fora couple years after that he scarcely left the house.  Today is a very different story.  After many years of struggling for health, he has emerged from his desolate life.  Today, my son is a vibrant young man who loves Torah nearly as much as he loves his own life.

As Aryeh lifted the Torah for what is called Hagbah, I was transformed to a time when Aryeh was at death’s door.  A tremendous feeling washed over me as I saw him do what could have only been a dream several years ago.

Photo courtesy of Gary Tenen

Photo courtesy of Gary Tenen

The blessing of today is that nightmares can be transformed into beauty.  With that reality racing through my brain, I will weep happy tears.

I can’t believe my son is alive….Halleluyah!

(Note: Torah is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torah)

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Every day is a birthday; I really believe that.

Deep inside, I truly believe that I should be celebrating life each and every day.  I also believe that I should celebrate the lives of those I love each and every day.  Life should never be taken for granted; life is not a given.

This year, my birthday came without any real fanfare except that Facebook friends reminded me that I matter.  How beautiful is that!  I was also blessed to be remembered by a few friends that went out of their way to text me, send my cards, and call me.  One family even brought me a gift basket that literally brought tears to my eyes.  Another friend made me a gluten free cake which has now ruined my sons ever making me cake again; hers was too good!!!!  One gift that I always treasure is the phone call I receive each year from my brother; this year was no exception.  Finally, I was also able to hang with one friend in the morning and another friend in the evening.  Life is and was truly good!

Spiritually, today was a day of reflection; with reflection comes both gifts and challenges.  Today was a day to think about what I want over the coming year; it was also a day to not only remember the many losses that are imprinted on my heart, but to celebrate my life.  Today was not easy, but that’s ok.  In order to grow, we sometimes need to reflect. Accepting the realities of life and reaching for dreams takes work, hard work.  When you admit your dreams, you are also admitting that there are things you want and areas that you are falling short. Ultimately, reflection can be a gift you give yourself.

Today, with today’s reflections I reminded myself that:

  1. My voice matters and I don’t want to be silent when I have something to say.
  2. Chanting brings calmness to my entire being.
  3. When life is busy, I still need to take time for the things I love.
  4. Family dinners aren’t a choice, they need to be a given on most nights.
  5. Being a good friend means being more present than I have been over the past months.
  6. My body is craving time to move, time to drum, and time to write; I need to do the things that make my soul sing.
  7. If I want to be creative, I have to find ways to embrace the journey of skepticism from not only those that surround me, but from myself too.
  8. Judaism brings me joy, but I have to make time not only to work in a Jewish environment, but nurture my own Jewish soul.
  9. Moving through my short-comings is humbling, but also necessary.
Photo courtesy of Simon Rosenblatt. Being called up to the Torah for an aliyah is amazing, but it is time for me to read from the Torah again.

Photo courtesy of Simon Rosenblatt. Being called up to the Torah for an aliyah is amazing, but it is time for me to read from the Torah again.

I am alive! Living life fully means embracing all the parts of my being.

Today, I lived my life fully according to the way I walk through the world.  My hope is that I always remember the words that my friend Joe Laur always tells his beloved friends on their birthdays, “Dream Big, Dance Hard, Laugh Loud, Love Deep, Live Long!”

Will you join me as I move through the coming year.

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