Showing posts with label shabbat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label shabbat. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Jumping in the Lake: Blessing the Campers

This past erev Shabbat (June 20) our congregation invited our youngsters who would be attending Jewish summer camps to put on their camp t-shirts when they came to services. Our rabbi, Evan Schultz and our cantor, Sheri Blum were joined by one of campers on guitar and a CIT on the tof (drum) as they led the service. Over 20 campers (going to Eisner, Crane Lake and a number of other area overnight and day camps) and their families joined us for Kabbalat Shabbat outside as the sun began to set. This is Evan's drash. Enjoy!

Rabbi Evan Schultz and I with our campers and counselors
Camp Shabbat 2014

There I was – 14 years old, standing on the dock of the lake, or the agam, as we called it, at Camp Yavneh in Northwood, New Hampshire.

Friday afternoon, the cool breeze of the afternoon swimming across the lake.

I looked around, my bunkmates all standing there, peering towards the water which, even on the hottest day, always seemed freezing to us.

Our counselor, David, brought us out to the lake before Shabbat try something wholly new to many of us, to take a dunk in the mikveh, the Jewish ritual bath.

Many Jews, to symbolically cleanse themselves before Shabbat arrives, jump into this body of fresh water, to ready themselves for the Sabbath.

David, who was kind of a hippy Orthodox Jew, with his scraggly beard, sidelocks, and big yarmulke, asked our bunk if we wanted to jump into the lake before Shabbat, and of course we replied with an enthusiastic, “heck yea!”

That’s what’s great about camp – everyone is up for a new adventure, there’s a willingness to try something new, because your bunkmates are there by your side, and your counselor wants to share with you something special about the world that you may not have the opportunity to experience at home.

I remember that sound of our bare feet walking along the metal dock on the lake, walking toward the water, David attempting to teach us the blessing that one says upon dunking in the water.

We were excited – while the rest of camp was off showering and getting ready for Shabbat, we were going to the lake.

I stood there for a moment, everyone around me quieted down, and then we jumped – one orchestrated huge splash – the water was as cold as I thought it’d be – but something was different about it.

It wasn’t the same water from our morning swim lessons or afternoon free swim – there was a different peacefulness to it – as I went underwater I felt this surge of what I can only think was God, surrounding me in that moment, energizing my spirit and my body , cleansing me with Jewish Clorox, I felt happiness, I felt like I was in a holy space, with my closest friends, like I was at home in that lake, I still remember it so vividly.

From that Friday onwards, our bunk had a tradition of jumping in our lake mikveh every Friday afternoon before Shabbat – nobody ever missed it – it became our group ritual, our unique way of bringing in Shabbat – and that memory has stuck with me ever since.

We each learn so much at camp, about ourselves, what we’re capable of, we are fully immersed – it’s like a mikveh – just as I was surrounded by the water – I was surrounded by friends, counselors, staff, all kinds of people all the time who helped to create this unbelievably transformative space.
I recently read an article in Tablet magazine entitled, “Camp Puts Jewish Values to the Test—That’s Why Camp Friendships Endure” The author of the article, Marjorie Ingall, talks about this immersive nature of camp, she writes,

“Because overnight camp is an immersive, shared experience, it feels hyper-real and intense. You’re with your friends 24/seven. You see them in multiple contexts: You see what they’re good at and what they struggle with; you gain insight into your own accomplishments and struggles. You and your bunkmates fight and you make up, because the intimacy of camp means you can’t (and don’t want to) fight indefinitely. “An hour in camp is like a month in the outside world,”

Camp is a beautiful mikveh – you jump in and just can’t anticipate all the feelings and emotions and rushes that you’ll feel, but you know something special and transformative is going to happen.

So with that, I want to call up all of our campers for a special blessing as you are about to make this journey:

Dear God:

We offer a prayer for this children going to camp this summer
As they jump into this mikveh, this immersive experience
May they be surrounded by amazing friends
Counselors who will open their eyes to new possibilities
Senior staff who ensures their safety and well-being

May each of them discover their unique talents
Gain insights into their own special core
And look around each morning
and every night to see the spark of the divine

Give them energy to be present in each activity and program
The will to be open to new people
and new ways of seeing the world

Please make sure they rememberto take a shower every once in a while

And of course it would be great for them to return home
with at least some of the stuff they brought with them

May they each return with a story, a memory, that makes them smile
Friendships that last way beyond those two months of summer
And may that dirt of camp never fully wash off.


Monday, July 15, 2013

What is this thing we call fear?

My friend Richard
One of my dearest friends is Richard Walden. Rich is a member of our congregation and has served on the board for several years. Before that he and his wife both taught Hebrew on Sunday mornings (Susan is coming back to the faculty this year!) He studied the classics and ended up becoming a banker. But every Friday, he boards an early afternoon train from New York to be back in time for our 6:00 p.m. Shabbat service. He is back in the morning for our 8:00 a.m. service. He is generous and an all around mensch. I am biased, but I dare you to find someone to disagree! 

Several times a year, he volunteers to read Torah at our service when there is not a 14 year old reprising their Bar or Bat Mitzvah parshah. And when he reads, Rich also likes to give the D'var Torah. This past Shabbat was one of those days. Rich nailed the chanting - he is not a musician but he has a deep resonant voice that brings the emotion of the text right off the page and into your kishkes. And here is his D'var Torah. I felt the need to share. Yasher koach Richard!

What is this thing we call fear? It is an incredibly complex emotion that is woven into Torah in many ways and has been with us from Eden right on through our 40 years of wandering. So what is fear? Is it lack of courage? Is it all about rational or irrational phobias?

This week is parashat Devarim, the opening of Deuteronomy, the book in which Moses retells our journey. In this section Moses recalls the spies who are sent to check out the land promised to us by God. As luck would have it, I met them just a few weeks ago when I stood in as Rabbi for the Friday night service at parashat Shlach. Well, I am with the spies once more and we are getting ready to cross the Jordan. Once again we go out and once again we learn that the land is indeed flowing with milk and honey. Oh but we silly, silly spies. We never learn, and we return, still filled with fear about the giants who live there.

Once again God is angry with us, and sure enough, God punishes us for not trusting—40 years of wandering in the desert AND no one but Joshua will enter the promised land.

So, what is FEAR in Torah? After eating from the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve hide their nakedness from God in fear (Gen 3:10). God tells Abraham to “fear not” when he is sent on his journey in Lech Lecha (Gen: 15:1). At the shores of the Red Sea we are told not to fear Pharaoh’s army (Ex 14:13) and endlessly elsewhere it seems we are told to have no fear.

Does God want us to have the ability to look physical or emotional stress in the eye and say, ‘no big deal, I can take it’? We are tough, we don’t fear anything? We are told in this week’s portion that the spies Moses sent to reconnoiter the promised land “have taken the heart out of us, saying ‘we saw there a people stronger and taller…large cities with walls sky-high.” (Deut. 1:28). Is that what fear is, lack of courage in the physical world?

Well wait one minute. That can’t quite be it. Throughout Torah we are absolutely told to fear God. Later on in Deuteronomy we get the classic turn of the Ve’ahavta to love God “with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might”—but FEAR “lest the anger of the Lord your God blaze forth” (Deut. 6:4). We were told directly in Leviticus “you shall fear your God: I am the Lord” (Lev 19:14). It would seem that just as many times as we are told to have no fear, we are told also to be very, very afraid.

Maybe fear is more about a lack of trust. Is that what Torah is getting at? We should have complete confidence in God without any need for evidence or support other than ‘God said so’. If we learn to truly trust God, we will have no fear. We do see this theme regularly in Torah. Think about when Moses is told to talk to the rock to bring forth water, but instead, hits it twice. He is punished for this and we are never told why, but it would seem to be because Moses did not trust in the words and needed that physical manifestation of power.

Torah gives us some interesting juxtapositions about fear, courage and trust. Should we have blind faith in God and complete trust only in the divine? Or, is there some level of human free will that plays a role in any enterprise? Where do the physical and divine worlds of trust and fear meet? We still need to drive our cars, we can’t trust in God to steer a car. It would be unheard of in Judaism to substitute prayer for medical assistance—work to save a life is expressly permitted on Shabbat—even if we believe in prayers of healing. Torah recognizes human action and free will, even while demanding trust in God.

Ok, so let’s recap. We need to stand in awe of God and fear God, but we need to trust completely and have no fear, because if God is on our side we shouldn’t fear. But we need to be responsible for our own actions in the world and can’t rely on God to fix things even if we have complete trust and no fear of God. Got that? Simultaneously we need to be fearful, trusting and courageous and take action into our own hands but leave everything to God. Is that it?

For me, the epitome of this amalgam of emotions and actions is the image of Abraham with his knife raised over Isaac, that moment in the Akedah when he is prepared to sacrifice his son at God’s request. He knew very well that to swing down would end his son’s life, yet he has complete trust in God. That agonizing moment just before any movement of the knife he must have been living all those emotions of fear and courage and trust in that same crazed mix that Torah demands of us. The razor’s edge that is the balance between all those values and commandments…and after all, God did send an angel to Abraham at the last moment.

Ok, if that is what Torah says and means, what do we think of it? How can we possibly have this quantum mechanic ability to maintain completely opposite positions at the same time? What is this idealized state of trust and fear balancing against one another?

In that characterization it doesn’t feel much different than all the other themes in Torah. We are always balancing darkness and light; male and female; kashrut and treyf; Shabbat and work; one God versus idols; destiny and free will; Egypt versus the promised land. All of our stories and lessons from Torah are about that cutting edge where all these things exist and don’t exist, all those places and moments where we are all and none.

The archetypal moment is of course Shabbat. The pause after and before everything. That space between that bridges us from trust to courage or from this world to the realm of the divine. Remember, God is not in the noise and rush of the storm on the mountain, but in that pause just after.

Do I really fear God? Do I really trust God? I am sure that at moments I have had both emotions held in limbo simultaneously, but the sad truth is that most of the time I am just working my way through the world and can neither fear nor love, neither trust nor think of God. Clearly Shabbat is important to me, I keep coming back erev and boker looking for some divine connection. What I find is respite from work, the pleasure of a Jewish community, a little learning and every now and then something divine. Maybe the moments in which we are simultaneously fearful and courageous, trusting and doubtful are meant to be few and fleeting. Perhaps instead, we are meant to keep working at it. The balance is found on the journey not at the destination.

The spies only got one chance and they focused on the wrong aspect—they only thought of the destination and forgot that God was on the journey with them. Unlike the spies, we get endless chances to reach out and find those magic, fleeting moments when we can be one with the divine, or even just one with a fellow traveler. This Shabbat, let’s not be spies feeling like grasshoppers with giants ready to crush us. Instead, let’s see if we can take one moment of trust, or one moment of courage and turn it into something divine, our own personal promised land without fear. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A gift for Shabbat - Digital Detox

And we're back.

Like many of you, I have a SmartPhone welded to my hand. The folks at an organization called Reboot have developed a group digital detox. It is from sundown to sundown on Shabbat, one week from this Friday. They are not advocating becoming Orthodox or Amish. Just setting devices aside for a day. Keep the car, the stove, the TV (if you must) even your land line phone! Just disengage from the internet (and re-engage with the world around you, family and friends)!

The text below is from their site. What do you think? - Ira

Do you have multiple cell phones? Take your ipad to the beach on vacation? Ever find it hard to get through a conversation without posting an update to Facebook? Is your computer always on?

We increasingly miss out on the important moments of our lives as we pass the hours with our noses buried in our iPhones and BlackBerry’s, chronicling our every move through Facebook and Twitter and shielding ourselves from the outside world with the bubble of “silence” that our earphones create.

If you recognize that in yourself – or your friends, families or colleagues— join us for the National Day of Unplugging, sign the Unplug pledge and start living a different life: connect with the people in your street, neighborhood and city, have an uninterrupted meal or read a book to your child.

The National Day of Unplugging is a 24 hour period – running from sunset to sunset – and starts on the first Friday in March. The project is an outgrowth of The Sabbath Manifesto (see the ten principles at left), an adaption of our ancestors’ ritual of carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and connect with loved ones.

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Finding God in my Phone"

This was written by friend and colleague Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin. She is Congregational Educator and Director of the Religious School at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, CA. It was written for the members of the congregation on their Synablog, and it draws some wonderful lessons form the recent NATE conference.

Every Friday, Jonah Bryfman lights Shabbat candles with his grandparents.  They always make it a point to be together as they say the blessings and welcome Shabbat. His father David explained that due in part to this weekly ritual, Jonah's grandparents played a significant role in fostering Jonah's powerful connection to his Jewish identity. 

Here's the catch: Jonah's grandparents live in Melbourne, Australia.  David and Jonah live in New York.  Their Shabbat tradition takes place over videochat on the computer.  Despite the distance, grandparents and grandchild are able to share this simple moment together from thousands of miles away.  Does the fact that they have only met in the flesh a few times lessen the power of their connection?  Does it make their bond any less real?

I spent the last week at a conference for the National Association of Temple Educators, and the theme was technology.  While I was a fairly young digital immigrant, I am not nearly as tech savvy as most of our students at Temple Emanuel.  The topic posed a fair challenge, and I went in skeptical about the degree to which recent advances to the digital landscape will really impact Jewish education.

But I came out of the conference changed.  I was reminded of the ways that I myself have been part of virtual communities that have been different from the norm, but still meaningful. For example, so many of us were deeply impacted by the music, memories, and sense of togetherness shared at Debbie Friedman's funeral, even though we were only able to attend via the streaming internet broadcast.  May we learn from this that there are times when we can extend the power of our prayer at Temple Emanuel to include those who are limited by the boundaries of physical space? 

Recently at Temple Emanuel we have seen our prayer and our learning enhanced by Rabbi Aaron's beautiful and thoughtful visual components of Shabbat B'Yachad.   In the future, perhaps our students will also learn to interpret ancient prayers through this kind of contemporary visual artistic expression.  The ways that technology can enhance our Jewish experiences are limited only by our own imagination.

As Jews, we are the people of the book.  It's true that we resonate with scrolls and pages, pens and ink.  But as our lives expand to encompass the mobile realm, so too can our sanctuaries.  Not only does God dwell among people who study together from across a table, but God can also dwell among people who light candles together from across an ocean.  The screen does not have to devalue our ancient words and texts.  Rather, there are times where it may have the power to make holiness even more accessible to those who are as adept with the flick of a finger across the surface of a smartphone as they are with the flip of a page in a book.