Shabbat Shalom

 

Ana Becoach, or Ana Becoaj, is a Kabbalistic prayer invoking the power of the Divine Name.  The prayer is seven lines of six words each, the first letter of each word spelling the 42 letter name of the Almighty.  Written in the  second century by the Kabbalist Rabbi Nehonia.  It is traditionally sung before Lecha Dodi during Kabbalat Shabbat.

The phrase “untie the knot” may refer to exile in both its physical and spiritual sense.  As we enter Shabbat we hope to begin experiencing its expansiveness.  The plea reflects the mystical view that the forces of judgment, constriction, and negativity should not have power or authority on Shabbat. ( Siddur Lev Shalem, p. 22)

Shabbat Shalom

Celebrate vs. Participate

Christmas raises the perennial questions in the American Jewish community: Can we be part of holidays that are not our own? Natalie Portman demonstrated a way for our interfaith families to do it as she explained to Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show, November 29, 2016 (the 28th or 29th of Cheshvan, depending).

We Jews invite others into our tent all the time. The Jewish sense of hospitality is to welcome the stranger, without regard to their particular beliefs. We welcome everyone into our Sukkah; the Shabbat dinner table is open as well. So what happens when the tables are turned? How do we accept the mitzvah of their hospitality, even when particular beliefs do not coincide with our own? When the Jewish world meets other faiths or traditions, there are borders and boundaries that need to be navigated.

How might we participate if we are not able to fully celebrate?

American Christmas begs this question. The basis for the holiday is, of course, the Christian belief in the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a powerful and beautiful message of God’s love and hopes for the world. But it is not our theology. However, the commercial interests in our country have continued to secularize the holiday and as traditional boundaries between religions have become more porous, Christmas has permeated the American landscape. All in all, a holiday dedicated to “peace on earth” and “goodwill toward men” is not a bad thing to embrace and arguably the real problem with these sentiments is that they do not endure throughout the entire year. Furthermore, although many Jews have spouses that convert to Judaism, Jews are intermarrying. Both of these realities create a space in which non-Jewish family traditions and beliefs come up against Jewish traditions and beliefs. And in an increasingly open culture, many Jews would like to enjoy the spirit of the holiday.

Christmas has become an American holiday for many, including many American Jews. The theology has been all but completely stripped away for many, and for the others, the theology is greeted as something non-threatening. The question for us is whether we engage. And if we engage, how do we do so while keeping our own sense of authenticity. For couples that come from different faith traditions, such as Natalie Portman’s, she shows us how to honor our birth families and celebrate together. Although Ms. Portman’s husband, Benjamin Millepied, converted, his family has not. The two of them have respectfully brought the two families together without sacrificing their chosen identity. For some Jews, this is not a conversation in which they care to engage. But for those of us who live in this space, and those numbers are steadily increasing, it is incumbent upon us to find ways to connect, build bridges, and find common ground. If we do, the possibilities are extraordinary.

Happy Holidays!

Shabbat Shalom

 

We start Kabbalat Shabbat with the song Yedid Nefesh, a piyut (poem) dating to the 16th Century, attributed to Eleazar Azkiri as a love song to God.   “You who loves my soul”.  I share the first and Fifth verses of the translation by Reb Zalman Schacter Shlomi z”l  (Shared by the Open Siddur Project):

You who love my soul
Compassion’s gentle source,
Take my disposition and shape it to Your will.
Like a darting deer, I will flee to You.
Before Your glorious Presence Humbly, I do bow.
Let Your sweet love
Delight me with its thrill
Because no other dainty
Will my hunger still.

Help, my Lover, spread
Your canopy of peace.
Enfold all human beings
Give all pain surcease.
Your presence on this earth plane
Do make known to us
And we shall respond then
With song and with dance.
Rush, my love, be quick,
The time for love is now,
Let Your gentle favor
Grace us as of old…

Shabbat Shalom

A Young Man teaches something important on the Basketball Court

ariYesterday I went to the Wells Fargo Center to watch some kids play a pick-up game of Basketball. It was not your typical basketball game, however, but not because they were playing on the home court of the Philadelphia 76ers. This was a game involving students from Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood and the Al Aqsa Islamic Academy of North Philadelphia, the Bar Mitzvah project of  a young man named  Ari.

Kids got together to play ball. The kids played on blended teams. So this was not a competition between schools or even religions. It was a pickup game of basketball.

I met Ari and his mom, Meirav, and chatted about how amazing this was. I then spoke with my friend Rabbi  Cooper, Senior Rabbi at Beth Hillel about this extraordinary achievement who was spending far more time teaching court-side than coaching.

It was an extraordinary achievement indeed. No, they did not create world peace nor did they resolve the Mid-East conflicts (any of them). They played basketball together and met each other on the court to play and then perhaps to talk and begin the process of getting to know one another. This is one of the most amazing things that we can do: play together, talk together, see an opportunity for a relationship with someone we had not considered before.

It is ironic that the kids played on the court without problems, but persistent condensation issues afterward forced the professionals to cancel their game for that evening. What might the message be in this?

I can only hope this game has legs; that the conversations that began on the court yesterday continue. Meirav, Ari’s mom, told me that her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah project in two years would be another such game. We can only pray that the message of coming together continues both on and off the court and we do everything we can to support it.

Mazal Tov Ari, on your Bar Mitzvah and this wonderful event!

For those who did not see the press report, here is a link:

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20161130_For_this_bar_mitzvah_boy__Jewish-Muslim_friendship_is_no_long_shot.html

 

Giving Tuesday- The day-after Challenge

givetuesday_700xOn Giving Tuesday, almost everyone in the philanthropic world asked for your financial support. Giving money is extremely important, but enduring change requires great effort we cannot relegate only to others. Permanent change requires each of us to roll up our sleeves and get involved.

I remember when I decided to get back into shape; buying the treadmill was not enough, working out on the treadmill created the change I sought. Learning the piano required time at the keyboard learning and practicing, not merely buying the instrument. Dieting required a fundamental change in how I approach food, not simply a weeklong restriction on the intake. Philanthropy is likewise.

To create real change in the world, we need to give money to the causes we believe in but also help to implement the changes we hope to see. For too long we have sloughed off the real work of change to the professionals. By providing the financial support we thought we had fulfilled our responsibility. However, there is more to do. Success comes when change becomes the new normal. This is an organic process, from the bottom up. Change is rarely sustainable when it is imposed from the outside. The new normal only happens when we all embrace it as our own.

So I hope you gave generously on Giving Tuesday because your financial support makes the work possible. Now commit to giving of yourself as well to that cause you believe in so the work becomes a reality. We are the change we want to see. It cannot happen without each of us.

 

Shabbat Shalom on a special Shabbat

 Shabbat gefilte

This Shabbat is a specially designated Shabbat. On the Jewish calendar it is Shabbat Mevorach, the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh. For American Jews this is also Shabbat Gefilte (stuffed), the Shabbat after Thanksgiving.

Last night Naomi and I had the great joy of being with my sister’s family and friends. The company was wonderful; I do not get to see her or her great family nearly enough and her friends were lovely. We gathered around a festive table and feasted on all kinds of delicious food. Great conversation great food. It was a Thanksgiving filled with blessings.

Today I am hitting the exercise room hard. And tonight I will welcome Shabbat. I hope that each of you were able to have a meaningful Thanksgiving.  Wishing everyone Shabbat Shalom.

Happy Thanksgiving

thanksgiv-dayA simple Thanksgiving message

I invite us all to take a moment to express gratitude this Thanksgiving Day for the blessings we share.

Eat a lot, watch the parades, watch football, and be with family and friends.

Our country remains among the greatest on earth. We still have much work to do to bring the full blessings of America to all Americans. Now is the time for each of us to figure out what we need to do to make this a reality, to roll up our sleeves and rededicate ourselves to the values that make America great. Perhaps, Black Friday is the day for us to do that. But on Thursday, take the time to enjoy and share with others.

Happy Thanksgiving!