How we are still a havurah.

by Margo Schlanger
Margo Schlanger

Margo Schlanger

As co-chair, this was my congregational welcome on Yom Kippur this year:

L’shanah tovah. I am Margo Schlanger; I am nearing the end of my time as board co-chair for the Ann Arbor Reconstructionist Congregation, which has been a very great privilege. It’s also my privilege to welcome both members and friends to this service, whether you’ve been a part of our community for its full 23 year history, or are new to us today, or something in between.

This is a community that is very dear to me, and I want to tell a little story that captures a small part of why. It’s about our ner tamid, our eternal light. You may notice – we don’t have one. That’s because we don’t have a stationary ark. Our ark travels; it lives in our closet at the JCC, and comes out for our Torah services. So how could we have a ner tamid? Well, it turns out that ours is far from the first travelling ark. And so, many learned rabbis have debated the question: how do you fit a ner tamid to a travelling ark. They’ve come up with the sensible answer that the ner tamid needs to be out, and lit, with the ark – but it need not be out or lit when the ark itself is put away.

So for our ner tamid, we realized we need something that can be out, and lit, for something between an hour or two at minimum, but about a day, at maximum.

AARC started as a havurah – a lay-led fellowship. Volunteer solutions are in our DNA. On this one, it turns out we have a great amateur electronics maven, Dave Nelson. So Dave figured out a way to run a battery-chargable LED light for a day at a time. This took considerable experimentation and adjustments to the electronics, but Dave finished that a few weeks ago. And now comes the fun part: we can, as a community, create a sacred object. Like our Ark, Torah Table, Tapestries, Yad, Torah Cover. All are created by members, inspired by their aspirations for what our community means. The ner tamid will be the next such object, and like the others, will symbolize our Jewish community as well as the objects it depicts. Many people will have a hand in making it. Some will pay for precious materials; some will do work; some will kibbitz about design. We’ll all together enjoy the result.

LED light that Dave has made into the guts of our Ner Tamid

LED light that Dave has made into the guts of our ner tamid

Another synagogue's portable ner tamid.

Another synagogue’s portable ner tamid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And as you must have expected, here’s the point; the ner tamid is real. But it’s also a small metaphor for our community as a whole. We need many people to have a hand in making it, and we need everyone to bring both their talents and their resources to bear. This is a transitional year for us, as we hopefully bring our rabbi search to a close. If you’re a member, and have already renewed your membership, thank you. If you’re a member and haven’t done that yet, thanks for doing it very soon. Either way, please think about how you can help enable our community to flourish, so it can give you and others what it is they need. And if you’re not a member, please consider yourself welcome to all our events, and please consider joining us more officially. It’s easy, and we’re very nice people. Or, if you prefer, consider supporting these ticketless open services. There are donation envelopes at the welcome table out front. Please support this community—your community—as generously as you can.

L’shanah tovah!

 

Teshuva: Averting the “harshness of the decree”

Nathan MartinErev Rosh Hashanah dvar Torah by Rabbi Nathan Martin

Shana Tova and Gut Yontif,

I first want to say what an honor and privilege it is for me to be celebrating Rosh Hashannah with you this year. When I started out my job in Ann Arbor in 2006 at the University of Michigan Hillel, I remember the feeling of having left a vibrant Reconstructionist Rabbinical College community and assuming that I would just have to settle for “less” community. And I remember the delight and surprise I felt when I started coming to the AARC.

  • There were God-wrestlers–people who thrived on challenging contemporary notions of Jewish theology trying to find their own unconventional theological path into the tradition
  • There were Jewish learners–people who simply wanted to soak up the various parts of Jewish tradition and find meaning in the voices of our ancestors
  • There were God Seekers–people who sought to integrate traditional and innovative Jewish practice to develop a meaningful Jewish path
  • There were Community Builders–I called these the “doers,” the folks who simply stepped up and made programs and community happen
  • And most of all, there was warmth and welcome. Without fanfare people stepped up and helped me and my family feel at home.

This Jewish diversity within the AARC is what makes you the strong and unique community you are. And my first blessing for the new year is that you continue to draw from these many strands to continue to build a caring and Jewishly diverse community for the future.

Rosh Hashannah is a powerful moment in our Jewish calendar cycle. We are stepping back to assess our past behavior and seeking to re-set our intentions for the coming year. We draw from the metaphor of rebirth–hayom harat ha-o’lam, today the world is born–to see if we too can renew ourselves.

Alongside the process of renewal is the time we take to recognize our own fragility. This is the essence of the “unetane tokef” prayer which we will be reciting tomorrow, a meditation on the fragility of life. The prayer confronts us with images of judgment and the uncertainty of what lies ahead. And then it takes an interesting turn with the words, “uteshuva, utefillah, utzedakah ma’avirin et roa’ hagzerah” –“teshuva, tefillah, and tzedakah avert the harshness of the decree.”

What does it mean to have the harshness of a decree averted?

teshuvah

Let’s focus tonight on the first word of this phrase: teshuva. While translated as “repentance,” the root of the word for teshvua has the meaning of “shuv” to return. I often translate “teshuva” as “returning to our best selves.” Rosh Hashannah and these ten days of repentance are a time when we try to reach for our best selves and imprint this behavior as a guide for the coming year. Often this work is done in the negative–at least liturgically. We recite litanies of mis-steps that we have done personally and as a community. But, the personal reflection moves beyond the liturgy. We each have our own personal spiritual curriculum for improvement. Here’s a personal example for you.

I have a habit of leaving my books on the dining room table–thinking that in the few free minutes I might have between dinner and bedtime I might do some reading. (Usually an overly-optimistic scenario.) When my partner Abby the other day said in a somewhat sarcastic tone “are you planning on leaving your books on the table again,” I could notice a variety of feelings come up that included: defensiveness, “Well I may read something;” guilt, “oy, she caught me;” shame, “I know I should have moved the books and I feel bad and embarrassed that I didn’t.” And, sometimes perhaps even humor, “Oy, there’s Nathan forcing his foibles onto the family.”

The smallest details of our lives can be challenging and worthy of introspection. The more we stop and look, the more we realize that we are constantly falling short of the ideal human being that we would like to be. This may be in the ways in which we take care (or don’t take care) of our bodies, in our lack of attention for those we care about, and the list goes on. But one thing I realized: when I dwell in my guilt, shame, and embarrassment on the ways I come up short of my ideals, I become both the judge and implementer of the “harsh decree” mentioned in the unetane tokef prayer. An important part of the teshuva process is also figuring out to how let go of the strong internal critique we carry that distracts us from refocusing our minds on healthier behavior and choices for the future.

The moment we are able to name and face that we are falling short–that is a moment of lessening the severity of the decree. The moment we are able to name for ourselves and others the person we would like to become–that too is a lessening of the decree. And of course, the moment we are able to translate these personal insights into repairing our important relationships with our friends and loved ones–that too is a lessening of the decree.

As I conclude my remarks tonight and we prepare to move towards the close of the service I want to invite you to think about the notion of bringing someone in close with you as you do your teshuva work this year. What would it look like to invite a teshuva hevruta, a close friend who can help you hold the best picture of yourself, into this important spiritual work? This hevruta could be someone who you could share your “teshuva list” of those who you want to reach out to and apologize to. You could even debrief how it went. This hevruta could be someone you could share your personal spiritual growth curriculum for the coming year–and you could even set up times to check in periodically how the work is going.

As my comments indicate, rather than seeing the world and ourselves being reborn anew in an instant in Rosh Hashannah, we can rather hold onto the metaphor that we are at the beginning of the year’s journey of growth and transformation and an ongoing teshuva practice. Thus, each day when we say the blessing in the daily Amida, “selach lanu avinu ki chattanu” “forgive us our Sovereign for we have strayed” we could actually have our teshuva curriculum in mind as a focusing point for our work.

May we use this time of the next day and during this week to wake ourselves up to new possibilities, define our personal curriculum, and deepen our relationships to support each other in this important work.

Wishing you blessings and sweetness–and growth–in the coming year.

Refugees and Returning to Our Best Selves

deb-fieldYom Kippur talk by Debbie Field

The Avodah service during the afternoon of Yom Kippur has its origins in an ancient temple ritual where the high priest sacrificed a bull to atone for the sins of himself, his household, and the world as a whole. In a radically reconstructed version of this service, I want to talk to you about a project of mine that engages all three levels of the Avodah: self, community, and world.

But before I describe that project, I want to reassure everyone here on two accounts. First, I am not going to talk about sins, but about atonement. And I am using the understanding of atonement that Rabbi Nathan provided in his talk on Rosh Hashanah; that is atonement as teshuvah, as a return to our best selves. Second, I have not redefined myself as high priest, and I am not speaking from an exalted position of holiness. Instead, I want to frame this talk with the line from Pirkei Avot/Sayings of the Fathers that many of you know: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work of creation, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.” So, I’m speaking to you simply as somebody trying not to desist.

I’m going to start with a story. I teach at a small college a little south of here. I have a very nice colleague in the chemistry department who is originally from Syria. One day a few years ago, he stood up in the faculty meeting and asked us all to pray for his country. And everybody said, oh how sad, how sad and then we went back to our lives.

But as the news got worse and the refugee crises began to intensify, I kept thinking about his plea for our prayers. There are lots of different kinds of prayers and ways to pray; for example, when Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel got back from marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, he was asked if he had had time for prayer and he answered, “I was praying with my feet.” As Jews, we are obligated to help refugees: in the Torah there are 36 separate reminders that we must help the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt. So, as a feet praying kind of Jew, I asked myself how I, as an individual, could pray for my colleague’s country and the people escaping from it. I also wondered how I could engage my campus community.

My first attempt was to suggest that our college house and feed a refugee family, as campuses around the country have started doing as part of a movement called Every Campus a Refuge.  I wrote a proposal that met with a curt refusal, so I redirected my energies. Eventually, the solution I came up with was to design a new course on Refugees in Modern History, which I am teaching this semester. The class includes a service learning component through a fledgling nonprofit organization called Paper Airplanes Tutoring. My students are tutoring Syrian refugees now living in various countries using Skype and Facebook. The goal is to help the Syrian young people improve their English so they can pass the language exams required for university admission. But Paper Airplanes Tutoring, and my class, also have broader goals.

According to the UN, there are 6.6 million refugees internally displaced within Syria, and over 4.8 million refugees outside of Syria, totaling over 11 million Syrian refugees. The United States has taken in just over 10,000; by contrast there are 2.7 million in Turkey. Last November after attacks in Paris, a Bloomburg News poll showed that 53% of Americans were against admitting any Syrian refugees, with an additional 11% saying they supported admitting only Christian Syrians. In the face of this huge refugee crises and our country’s opposition to helping, my aspiration is to change attitudes.

I have learned through many years of teaching that you can’t change people’s minds by railing at them. But through reading, discussing, and the investment in teaching one particular refugee, I hope that my students will see Syrian refugees as products of particular historical circumstances not of their own making, like the other refugees we have been studying in class: Jews and Palestinians, Vietnamese, Somalis, and Bosnians. More importantly, I hope my students will make individual human connections with their tutees and that the sympathy and understanding that results will ripple outward as they talk about their experiences with their friends and their parents and their communities.

I think this has started to happen. In her teaching log, one of my students described how surprised she was at how much she had in common with her student and she admitted she had assumed his culture would be alien and backward. She wrote: “We are so quick to judge others even though they are so much like ourselves; usually it is a mere difference in circumstances. I wish more people could see things this way, but I am glad that this opportunity of talking with my tutee has provided me with the human element to reevaluate my beliefs and change my current assumptions about other groups of people.”

What I’m doing is quite small. It comes out of my own desire to pray, if not with my feet, then with my syllabus, so that what I do every day can be part of repairing the world. There is so much broken in the world, but this Yom Kippur, I am trying to hang on to hope that my small, individual, pedagogical teshuvah is reaching outward to campus, community, nation, and world.

paper-airplanes-logo

Humility/Sovereignty by Anita Rubin-Mueller

by Anita Rubin-Mueller
Humility/Sovereignty: Rosh Hashanah Drash, 2016

anita-rubin-muellerBeing asked to talk about humility in the context of recognizing God’s sovereignty returned me to my spiritual roots, Al-Anon, 1981. In the 12 steps there is a clear relationship between humility and God. Step 1, admit we are powerless. Step 3, make a decision to turn our lives and our will over to the care of God. Step 7, humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings. And isn’t that exactly what this time of year gives us the space to do? Beginning with the new moon of Elul and culminating as the gates close on Yom Kippur, we are invited to deeply know ourselves, the whole truth of ourselves, and bring that truth before the Holy One of Being, whom our prayer book calls “author of creation, teacher of truth” whose sovereign power hopefully empowers us. Humility is about being in right relationship with ourselves and thereby being in right relationship with God.

There are many ways to approach this time of searching within. Sometimes we set out determined, with a particular structure of meditating, journaling, sharing. And sometimes awareness arrives in the midst of our pain, our suffering our challenges. And that can feel like a gift or a curse.

Here’s the story: I can’t remember what happened before, but if you were peeking in on us in the moment of the outburst, it would have appeared that my husband and I were fighting over something to do with a box of crackers. Whatever it was that was really happening, the result was an emotional explosion on my part that had me leaving the house in anger at 9pm to take myself on a walk.

For a while the anger stayed and my thoughts were oriented towards “he does this, and he does that, and it will never change, etc.” Then I remembered myself. That is to say, I realized that this angry, resentful woman was not the person I wanted to be. I remembered the soothing power of self-compassion and placed a hand on my heart as I walked and gently noted my pain. And then I got curious.  Why did this hurt so much?

In her newest book, Rising Strong, social work researcher and TED talk celebrity Brene Brown describes a 3-step process meant to guide us in rising from our fall, overcoming our mistakes, and facing our hurt. She gives a name to what I went through when I went for my walk after the fight with my husband: The Reckoning. Her name for the next step, The Rumble, is indicative of the wrestling that ensues when we are opened in curiosity and compassion to explore our self-justification and habitual stories and find what is really going in our mind and heart and soul.

As I settled into this calm and curious state, a wiser awareness arrived: this was about my 5 year old. Again. Often when I know that I am hurt, instead of feeling angry I am brought there: to the child needing loving attention, to the child needing to know she is lovable, to the child wanting to be held. Recognizing her presence then gave me an opportunity to soothe her and to listen more deeply to myself. I so desperately wanted to be “big” enough to go home, apologize to my husband and move on. But as I continued walking, I realized that my awareness could not yet translate into skilled words and that the best I could do was to say calmly that I didn’t have words yet, and helplessly go off to the basement couch to sleep.

One of the ways I experience humility at this time of year is recognizing that what I release into the river at Tashlich tends to repeat itself. So, as I awoke the next day I was quite aware that last year at this time I had vowed to love my husband as best as I could and for sure this meant giving up the idea that he should do what I do, want what I want, value what I value.  And that introduces the other player in this tale, the self -righteous teen who pops up to protect against the hurt, the sorrow and disappointment of the 5-year-old feeling unloved. She has always been harder for me to embrace, but at least the embrace does come.

To quote Brene Brown again: “The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness – even our wholeheartedness- actually depends on the integration of all our experiences, including the falls” She calls her third step in the process of coming home to ourselves “The Revolution” and describes it as being able to write a new ending to your story based on the learnings from the process of  The Rumble.

So I awoke to find Roger and my words.

In a letter from the Ramban to his son, quoted by Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs, he writes of humility: ”Let your voice be gentle and your head bowed. Let your eyes be turned earthwards and your heart heavenwards. Let every man seem superior to you in your own eyes. God alone knows the true worth of a man.”

As Roger and I took a morning walk and I tearfully shared my apology and realization, my pain and my hope for a different outcome, I could feel my whole being soften, lean in to this man that I have loved imperfectly for 30 years. And without asking, he shared his insights as well and we came to better understand the dance we have done for so long of triggering each other’s vulnerabilities and acting protectively in response. There is a saying in the Tai Chi principles: 4 ounces displaces 1,000 pounds. When I am corrected during morning practice it is often minuscule, but feels like a miracle, a small adjustment creating a significant shift.

I was sure this shift was here to stay, but “never again” are not the words of humility. Just last week I had yelled at my husband “I need you to meet me halfway”  and found myself heading for the basement couch again, where I looked up the Biblical definitions of humility and found this: “the quality that lets us go more than halfway to meet the needs and demands of others.” I picked up my pillow, returned to our bedroom, and snuggled in, grateful.

Humility is knowing that no matter how hard I try I will never be perfect. It is trusting that the Holy One of Being will have a lot more patience with my repeated mistakes then I tend to have. It is finding lessons mysteriously delivered in unexpected places.

I end with the wisdom of folksinger Steve Earle from a song called “God is God”

God, in my little understanding don’t care what name I call.
Whether or not I believe doesn’t matter at all.
I receive the blessings that every day on Earth’s another chance to get it right.
Let this little light of mine shine and rage against the night.
I believe in God and God ain’t us.

 

Our Yom Kippur Workshops in the Washtenaw Jewish News

As is our tradition at AARC, between services on Yom Kippur we have several workshops where we can together study, meditate, and discuss. This year, there will be three sessions.  From 2:15 to 3:30 pm Barbara Boyk-Rust will lead “Soul Nourishment: Meditation and Sacred Chant for the Quiet of the Day” and Ellen Dannin will lead “Yonah – It’s Much More than Just a Whale.” From 3:45 to 5 pm, Margo Schlanger and Ronald Simpson-Bey will lead a conversation about the modern experience of imprisonment, and what kind of conditions–physical and programmatic–create the best chance of t’shuvah.  All are welcome to join any of these workshops, whether or not you are attending services with us.

Thanks to Jonathan Cohn for writing this up for the Washtenaw Jewish News:

wjn-oct-16-web

The Thing with Name Tags

Me with my new name tag

Clare Kinberg with new name tag

One of the first tasks I was assigned as Events and Communications coordinator for AARC was to make name tags for new members, including teenagers who had would soon become bnei mitzvah and therefore full-fledged members of the congregation. And for Rosh Hashanah, I make replacement name tags for members who’ve lost theirs over the course of the year.

Now in my second year of working for AARC, I see the annual “Name Tag Check” as an important part of “taking stock,” preparing for the High Holidays. Over this past year, I’ve made four new name tags for bnei mitzvah and I’ve made five for new members….and this week I made 27 name tags for members who have lost theirs, including one for myself. Members: When you come to services for the High Holidays, be sure to pick up and put on your name tag. And put it back when you leave.

What’s with all this name tag business? Besides gently helping with our sometimes over-taxed memories for the names of people we know but just can’t pull up at the moment, name tags are an important part of reminding us of our responsibility toward welcoming others who are newer to our community. Our High Holiday services are open to all; many people come to pray with us once a year, and others who are considering joining a congregation come to check out the feel of the community. Our community is informal and pluralistic, welcoming to newcomers from a real diversity of backgrounds. If you are new to services, or attending as a non-member, I hope you will talk to people wearing AARC name tags. And members, let your name tag remind you to strike up conversations with someone you don’t already know!

I know my Name Tag Check next year will include several bnei mitzvah. I hope it will include many new members, too! (And if you lose your name tag in the middle of the year, no need to wait till High Holidays for the replacement; just let me know and I’ll make you a new one.)

Shana tova

New this year: AARC Children’s Services for High Holidays

Melanie Rivkin

Melanie Rivkin

This year, AARC High Holiday Services will include services for children–special time and space for kid-centered communal prayer and learning. Our AARC Children’s Services during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will each be an hour long; they will be abbreviated but full services, with extra movement, singing and a story. The service is geared towards elementary-age children, but all (including parents) are welcome!

The Children’s Machzor (High Holiday prayerbook) we will be using is based on a lovely service created by Congregation Agudas Achim in Attleboro, MA; it will include songs and melodies familiar to AARC’s young congregants. These services will be a great way to introduce new families to our congregation.

Melanie Rivkin, a second year student in the Jewish Communal Leadership Masters Degree Program at the University of MI School of Social Work, will lead the services, along with Beit Sefer director Clare Kinberg. AARC member and parent Debra Gombert will assist with many songs and prayers. Services will be from 10:30 to 11:30 am on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Melanie grew up in Cherry Hill, NJ near Philadelphia where her family were members of a Reform congregation. She has a BA in Judaic Studies from Binghamton University and has explored Judaism in Israel and around the U.S. through various non-profit fellowships, including Adamah, a Jewish farming program in Northwest Connecticut; Repair the World: Pittsburgh, a community service and social justice program; and Masa Israel Teaching Fellows, an English second language teaching program. While in JCLP, Melanie has had field placements at the Anti-Defamation League (Michigan Region) and the Education Department of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. Melanie is really looking forward to leading egalitarian, musical and fun services for our kids!

Childcare is available before the children’s services if needed.  And after, the littlest kids can go to childcare while the tweens and teens who don’t want to join the adult services will have organized indoor and outdoor games and activities let by Aaron Jackson, a long time area religious school teacher and youth coordinator. (Please sign up here for either childcare or the kids’ activities.  Both are free to members and low-cost for others.)

Yom Kippur Workshops 2016

It’s our Yom Kippur tradition at AARC to have several afternoon sessions where we can together study, meditate, and discuss. This year, there will be three sessions; two from about 2:15 to 3:30 pm, and one from 3:45 to 5 pm.

One of the 2:15 sessions will be guided meditation, led by our member, Barbara Boyk-Rust, who writes:

Soul Nourishment: Meditation and Sacred Chant for the Quiet of the Day.
As we fast and pray on Yom Kippur we are asked to be in more direct contact with our spirit and with our connection to God than any other day of the year. While we move toward this during the evening, morning, and late afternoon services, what assists us during the spaces between the services? A walk, a nap, a quiet conversation? Each may be of help. A different way of prayer is also fitting. It is a time of day when we may be longing for sustenance. Together we will create a form of soul nourishment through meditation and offering up a few sacred texts in chant. May this time augment and amplify the expression of our soul on this holy day.

Our member Ellen Dannin will facilitate a conversation about the Book of Jonah:

Yonah – It’s Much More than Just a “Whale”: We will share reading the story of Yonah / Jonah, with time for participants’ contributions, questions, thoughts. Feel free to bring your own texts.

At 3:45, you can choose between a walk, a chat with a friend, or whatever else moves you, and a session that uses Jonah, again, as a starting off point a conversation about solitary confinement. We’ll start with some materials from this T’ruah study guide (which is based on a Yom Kippur d’var member Margo Schlanger gave at AARC in 2013).  But we’ll move fairly quickly into the modern experience of imprisonment and examine the question, What kind of conditions–physical and programmatic–create the best chance of t’shuvah?  Our leaders for this session will be member Margo Schlanger and Ronald Simpson-Bey.

Ronald Simpson-Bey, leading Ann Arbor Yom Kippur workshop

Ronald Simpson-Bey

Ron is the Alumni Associate for JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), part of the steering team of the newly formed Collaborative to End Mass Incarceration in Michigan (MI-CEMI), and co-founder and advisory board member of the Chance For Life (CFL) organization in Detroit. He served 27-years in the Michigan prison system, where he founded many enrichment programs rooted in transformation, redemption, and self-accountability.  In the course of that time, he spent two years in solitary confinement. He was a jailhouse lawyer who got his conviction reversed by the courts and got himself out of prison.  He attended Eastern Michigan University, Mott Community College, and Jackson Community College, and he has worked as a staff paralegal at the former Prison Legal Services of Michigan.

On this day of atonement, join this workshop to better understand American imprisonment, and what kinds of change we need and can help with.

Your Story Adds to our Shofar Service on Rosh Hashanah

Cover of Rachel Barenblatt's machzor/high holiday prayerbook

Cover of Rachel Barenblatt’s machzor/high holiday prayerbook

Deb Kraus is looking for several people to tell 3-5 minute personal stories as part of the Rosh Hashanah day (October 3, this year) Shofar Service. Deb offers some explanation and background:

The Shofar Service, which happens in the later part of the Rosh Hashanah Service, is divided into three parts:  Malchuyot (majesty/sovereignty), Zichronot (remembrances) and Shofarot (call to action). For the last few years, AARC congregants have offered short 3-5 minute personal stories to introduce each section of prayer. This has been a really meaningful way for our members to participate in communal leadership and share an important part of themselves with the community.  For example, in past years, Kevin Norris shared about a health challenge (Shofarot) , Dina Kurz talked about higher power (Malchuyot), and I talked about hiking in the alps (Malchuyot) and (another year) how my daughter Molly and I shared memories of our old house in an attempt to get it sold (Zichronot).  Last year, this is where Clare called us to welcome Jews of all colors (Shofarot). So,  do you have a story to share? Contact me (drdebkraus@gmail.com) with your story idea, and I’ll try to fit it into the service.

In this blog on her site, the Veleveteen Rabbi, Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt introduces each section of the Shofar Service with a poem, directing our hearts to open to the prayers. Another resource on the Shofar Service is offered by T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, with these kavanah/intentions for Malchuyot, Zichronot, and Shofarot. These may help you get started on finding your story.

Mishkan/Sanctuary: Encountering the Sacred in Space and Time

Yom Kippur talk by Carole Caplan

sunsets-over-farmThe day outside is cool, but the bright sun filters through the trees and warms me every now and again. I can hear the rustle of the wind in the branches above, and the call of something further away, maybe a loon, making its way to more hospitable winter accommodations. The crackling of the leaves under my feet step after step, make it clear to me that out of nowhere and all too soon, fall has arrived.

Baba walks ahead of me, and my soul, battered and bruised from the turnings of seasons before, struggles to keep up with this wise man in every way. “I tend the path,” is all he says to me, and I wonder, if I am here to learn from him, how or why or when. We walk quietly together, yet completely alone, for a long time, step after step.

The woods grow deeper and I can smell the moss on untouched earth in this old wood forest that has stood here longer than I will even be alive. Baba moves a tree limb that has fallen in our way. Come this way he motions, and without words I hear him say, “I tend the path, Carole, for you.”

Step after step we make our way along the edge of the forest to an opening that overlooks a large field. Its expansiveness holds the possibility of future crops, of dreams, of desires, of growth, of success, of nourishment, of failure, of disappointment, of need, of drought, of lack; of death. I sense that all of these have happened here in this field before. Is it knowledge or preparation that makes the difference? Is it repentance or punishment? Is it chance or luck? I hear no answers, and quickly retreat back to the woods, overwhelmed by the acknowledgement that so many things will always remain outside of my control.

How is it that I have found myself here…here in this place…following a monk through the woods? I know I am searching. I know I am completely lost, yet I know I am somehow exactly where I need to be. Truly, this must be grace cradling me in her strong and loving arms.

My soul, that which time has completely walled off and simultaneously entirely exposed, begins to soften. I feel compelled to stop and lean against a tree too big for my arms to wrap around.

I watch as Baba walks ahead step by step. And then it happens. Through the deafening silence and the tears streaming down my face, I hear clearly and loudly what I never even knew I had been longing to hear… “I tend the path, Carole—and it is enough for me to do just that.” It was a simple but elusive validation. A much needed directive, urging me on. It is enough just to be. It’s not about how much you can do. Enough just to walk. Not to always be striving, struggling, hurrying, worrying to get somewhere. Not about what you can produce. Enough just to tend that which is in front of us on our path with our time, our talent, our hearts, and yes, with our broken souls.

Baba and I turn to head back to the others making lunch at the central house. In a wordless flash, I recognize this as a magic moment−a door through which I have passed and will have been changed forever. I don’t know how it is that I have found myself here in these woods, but I do know that here I have somehow found myself renewed.

So, this I know: I am here to tend the path. The path that has led me to a farm outside of Ann Arbor where I tend the gardens, and know it to be “enough.” The soil there outside my door holds the seeds that become the plants that provide the fruits that adorn the tables that I am being called to set–and this cycle nourishes every part of me. I hope you will visit me sometime. You see, there is a path there that wanders through the growing things that turn with the seasons. And perhaps once there, you’d like to join me, step-by-step, for a walk.