Entries Tagged 'holidays' ↓
November 20th, 2012 — holidays, meditations, musings
There is a built-in sense of indebtedness in the consciousness of man, an awareness of owing gratitude, or being called upon at certain moments to reciprocate, to answer, to live in a way which is compatible with the grandeur and mystery of living. – Abraham Joshua Heschel
One of the reasons I love holidays is because they schedule reflection into my calendar. During the month of Elul, I reflect on my year and do my spiritual accounting. On the Days of Awe, I work on forgiveness. During the eight nights of Chanukah, I make dedications and look for light.
Thanksgiving may not be on the Jewish calendar, but it’s on mine.
Yes, of course, everyday should be a thanksgiving. We should all be writing in our gratitude journals, but we forget or our pens run out of ink or we’re too lazy or we don’t even know what a gratitude journal is or whatever. But then, we get to see windows decorated with turkeys and insane sales on weird electronics and marked up cranberries, and we remember: Thanksgiving! The time to be thankful. That day we spend with family and friends and loved ones. We get to be reminded of our traditions, relationships, dysfunctions, the messiness and the sweetness. It’s all there, and that’s something to be thankful for. We’re here, and that’s a reason to give thanks.
In Judaism, everyday is set up to be a thanksgiving, because the first words out of our mouths are a prayer: Modah Ani (or the masculine Modeh Ani), Thankful am I. The full sentence: Modah ani lefanecha melech chai vekayam, she-he-chezarta bi nishmatee b’chemla, raba emunatecha, translates to “I am thankful before You, living and sustaining ruler, who returned my soul to me with mercy, Your faithfulness is great.” Waking up with gratitude and starting each day with thankfulness is a beautiful practice. I love that last part of the prayer, too, “Your faithfulness is great.” To me, that means it’s not just about us and our faith. I like the idea that each morning I express my gratitude for being alive and acknowledge that the world wants me to be here.
So, a question: what if you don’t wake up with gratitude? What if you don’t wake up in a fairy tale with the sun shining and birds singing? How do you say this prayer if you’re not waking and bursting at the seams with thankfulness? I’ve been taught that you do it anyway. You say the words, maybe not with a heart of gratitude, but with an intention of gratitude.
The practice of gratitude: say thank you.
This Thanksgiving (or right now, as you’re reading this) consider adding the practice of gratitude to your day. One exercise to try is to wrap your breath around the words of prayer:
On your inhale, think/say/imagine “modeh” or “modah,” and on an exhale, “ani.” Breathing modah ani, the first words out of our mouths, gratitude. Try this for a few breaths. Breathing in and out gratitude. Feeling thankful and thanking with each breath.
A Simple Thanksgiving Practice for around the table:
1. Ask everyone to settle into their seats. Remind yourself, this is what it feels like to sit together. Pay attention to your body, feel your bottom on the chair, feel the boundaries of your skin and your clothes, feel your inhale and an exhale.
2. Invite everyone to close their eyes for a moment and see if they can locate some gratitude. What are you thankful for?
3. Go around the table and ask each person to share something for which they are grateful. Listen to the thanks giving.
4. Take a moment to let all of that gratitude sink in around the table. Take at least one breath together, as a family, whether related or not. Remind yourselves, this is what it feels like to sit together in and on Thanksgiving.
5. May the blessings of Thanksgiving and the swell of gratitude carry us throughout the year. May each day be a thanksgiving, and may each of us give thanks near and far. May any blessings of thanksgiving shared at this table not just stay with us and on this day, but may they radiate out in to the world, through our thoughts and our words and our actions. May our thanksgiving be a blessing to the world.
September 15th, 2012 — holidays, musings, stories
During Labor Day I was thinking a lot about the idea of labor and what it means to work. I kept coming back to the fact that we’re in this preparatory period, the month of Elul, leading to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and it’s so much work! This time is all about teshuvah, meaning “to return,” to God, ourselves, each other, the kind of life we want to live. It’s intense.
Before I learned about the month of Elul and about the wind up to the High Holidays that includes time for reflection, accounting of the soul (cheshbon hanefesh), offering and asking for forgiveness, evaluating our missteps and recalibrating our aim, I was always struck by how insane it is to show up to synagogue (for many the only time during the whole year) and try to cram all of this soul searching and prayer and thoughts about life and death into a few hours, communally. Most of us read from a book that often doesn’t speak our language and doesn’t feel relevant. The whole process used to feel lacking. I wanted to believe. I wanted to feel something. And, I never did.
For the past few years, I’ve made it my work to mine my tradition for meaning. A few years ago I read everything I could find about preparing for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, traditional and not, and the practice of kapparot kept popping up. If, like me, you have never heard of it, I’ll explain: the day before Yom Kippur people used to (and apparently lots of people still do in Israel and even in certain areas of Brooklyn) take a live chicken, swing it around their head, and offer it to God in exchange for their own lives, sort of a sacrificial atonement, another kind of scapegoat. After this, the chicken is slaughtered and given to a poor family for their pre-fast Yom Kippur meal.
After reading about this, I started doing some research because I was horrified by my own visions of screeching chickens, blood, and feathers. I knew this wasn’t a practice I would ever do, and I veer towards metaphor when it comes to sacrifices, in general. In my search for more information, I heard a great story. I can’t find a source anywhere, so I’ll just write it as I remember it:
A young student also wants to learn more about kapparot. He goes to the chief Rabbi and asks to watch him perform the ritual, because although he’s heard of it, he’s never seen it done before. “I’m so honored that you want to see me practice this mitzvah,” says the Rabbi, “but to tell you the truth, my practice of kapparot is not that exciting. You should really go see the innkeeper do it.”
The student goes to the innkeeper’s house the day before Yom Kippur and finds the innkeeper sitting in a chair in front of his fireplace. On the table in front of him are two tattered notebooks, each labeled “book of repentance.” The innkeeper opens the first book. He reads it carefully out loud, and begins to weep. The book is filled with mistakes and misdeeds that he committed in the past year. After he finishes reading from the now tear-soaked pages, he swings the book around his head and tosses it into the fire.
He takes a deep breath and picks up the second notebook. The ritual repeats, with him weeping and reading. This time, he reads an even longer list. And this time, he’s reading all of the mistakes and misdeeds hat God had committed in the past year. After reading this list out loud, he continues to cry, and he swings the notebook around his head and throws it into the fire.
Pretty good, minus the chickens, right? I got excited about this story, because this is personal. I love that the Rabbi in the story recognized and shared with his student the power of personal prayer, individual spiritual practice, and truly heartfelt work. It’s a nice reminder that there’s no “right” way to return, to repent, to practice.
Also, this story speaks directly to the fact that we’re not alone in this hard work of returning and repenting. In a poem that I reread all the time (Gods Change, Prayers are Here to Stay), Yehudah Amichai writes that “even solitary prayer takes two,” and it makes sense to me that personal atonement is only part of the whole of teshuvah.
Maybe returning to ourselves isn’t quite complete without acknowledging our own disappointments and sadness about the world, in God, about things that were not even our responsibility. When we fully feel that broken-heartedness, let ourself inhabit that place of disappointment and sorrow, voice it, swing it above our head, and then let it go, something opens up.
If we can recognize that all of this pain is not ours to hold alone, we figure out that we’re in a partnership within ourselves, with other people, and with God. This knowing that we’re working together to realign and find our place in the world alongside everyone else who’s doing the same thing can be a comfort. The ritual of kapparot is bizarre and interesting, and the innkeeper’s method is a sweet reminder that we can do it our own ways, too. This year, on the day before Yom Kippur, I’m going to sit quietly and reflect on the past year. I’m going to write my own lists, and maybe weep, and then I’m going to swing them above my head, and then let them go. I don’t have a fireplace, so my version will probably include the recycle bin, which feels like a good teshuvah.
April 12th, 2012 — holidays
This week, we are stepping away from the weekly Torah portion to focus more closely on the Passover, or Pesach, holiday. As my connection to Judaism and spirituality has grown, changed, faded, and then evolved entirely, so has my understanding of Passover and how it relates to my modern day life. Such is a struggle with many seemingly outdated traditions and Jewish customs.
The story of Passover takes us to Egypt, where the Jews were enslaved by the Pharoah. After G-d inflicts ten horrific plagues on the people of Egypt, sparing the Jews in captivity, the Pharoah finally has no choice but to free the Jews, allowing them to return to their homeland. Naturally, the Jews were thrilled to be released from bondage, and they ran. Quickly. So quickly the dough they had prepared for bread didn’t have time to rise. Hence, matzah.
Passover is traditionally welcomed with a seder (or two for Jewish communities outside of Israel), which is the Hebrew word for “order.” The seder includes a very specific set of rituals performed in a very specific order, which all retell the story of the Jews’ struggle to free themselves from slavery in Egypt and return to the homeland. Personal liberation symbolism abounds.
One part of the seder mentions four children, all of whom, in one way or another, just want to know what’s going on and why they should care. There is the wise one, the wicked one, the simple one and the one who does not know how to ask. I want to focus on the simple child, as I have seen him described as simple and indifferent, implying that his simplicity is due to apathy.
However, I see it differently. I view this simplicity as a form of innocence and progress; a freedom from distraction. In our busy, hectic, hyper-stimulated lives, we tend to overanalyze, over think and over question everything.
Shortly after I graduated from college, I lived in Israel, where I spent some time in the Negev. This experience, years later, is still one I remember as pivotal. Prior to my first trip to the desert I was in Jerusalem, exploring Judaism with a closer eye than I ever had before. Almost everything in my life came into question: my relationship with and understanding of G-d, religion, the people around me, and myself.
Two days out of Jerusalem, I found myself sleeping in a tent in the middle of the Negev. No electricity, no city bustle, just pure silence. It was almost instantly that I felt myself at ease, free from the urban noise (both literal and metaphorical) that had so forcefully weighed down on me up until that point in my life. I was free from distraction. I was the simple one.
It was during this time that I connected deeply with people who would become very important to my personal growth during my journey through Israel. The connections were natural, as though they were just waiting to happen. Without the urban commotion I was used to, I was able to relate more honestly to my newfound friends and, perhaps most importantly, to myself. I began my personal work of finding out who I was and how I wanted to be in this world; doing so in a gentle and tolerant way. I was asking myself questions I had never asked before, and connecting with my surroundings in a way I had never experienced. The desert provided the perfect backdrop by which to simply exist.
So I offer up this kavanah, or intention, for this week of Passover. As we prepare to sit, may we focus on simplifying our thoughts, creating a more compassionate and tolerant self. How can this simplicity allow us to confront ourselves and others with the questions that we truly need to ask? How can these simple and unadorned thoughts bring us greater clarity and mindfulness in our meditation practice and in our daily lives? And how, despite the urban hustle and bustle by which we may be surrounded, can we use simplicity to bring us closer to ourselves?
April 4th, 2012 — holidays, musings
I have to admit I’ve avoided writing this for a long time. Not because I didn’t want to write about it and not because I don’t love the topic – as a long-time meditator, longer-time Jew, Jewish Meditation Center Board member and sit leader in my local community, I’m pretty involved. It’s just that when it comes to my own process as a Jew, and (eek) writing as a Jew? Let’s say I’m pretty ambivalent.
But I’m also a mom and a birth doula, and when I was asked to write about Jewish meditation and birth, too many of my identities were wrapped up too neatly for me to say no.
So, why the ambivalence? I’d trace it back to my beginnings; as the eldest daughter of a first generation New York Jew and a converted Presbyterian from the Midwest, identity was always a bit fuzzy for me. My mother’s mother is a lifelong church-goer and card-carrying member of the Daughters of the American Revolution; my father’s mother is a Modern Orthodox Holocaust survivor. We took the Christmas tree down and up at least three times one winter when both sets of grandparents happened to be visiting at the same time. It’s not an unusual story these days.
When Jewishness is both of you and not of you, claiming it, speaking for it, is a strange process. I began a meditation practice as a teenager, but have never felt as at home in it as I do in Jewish meditation sits. Yet, even today as I lead JMC-style sits in my home town of Beacon, I don’t have a particularly great response to the persistent question: “So, what makes this meditation Jewish?” Sylvia Boorstein has the best answer I’ve heard yet; at a retreat I attended she said folks would ask her, “Why Jewish meditation? Why not just meditate? Why complicate it with Jewishness?” Her answer: “Because I am complicated with Jewishness.”
So, I am complicated with Jewishness. Complicated being the operative word. Jewishness, it seems, has that affect on many of us.
And what does this all have to do with birth? Nothing? Everything? These are not rhetorical questions. Some more thoughts:
When you’re as obsessed with birth as a person needs to be to work with laboring women, birth metaphors are everywhere. And in many ways, the process of pregnancy, labor, and delivery are the ultimate metaphor, combining so many of humanity’s deepest tropes – the endless patience, sacrifice, and waiting of gestation, the utter lack of control and surrender of it all, the deep adventure into the unknown, the vulnerability. The endurance, strength, power, and struggle of labor and the breakthrough of delivery. The profound transformation of the woman as she becomes a mother, as her body, heart, and mind are changed forever, and the profound transformation of nothingness into everythingness: a new human life.
Because the Jewish calendar operates with the moon, many of our most important holidays fall on the full moon. Many pregnant women also go into labor on the full moon. At 37 weeks, I felt what I thought were my first labor pains on the second night of Passover. As I drove to our community seder, I called my doula to let her know. “Maybe I’ll name my child Moses,” I thought, as I sat through the seder, pretending nothing was happening. I sat with the story of the final plague – the slaying of the first born – in a different way that night, and I giggled as we talked about freedom from mitzrayim: the narrow passage.
As it turned out, my daughter – who is not named Moses – waited for the NEXT full moon, and after a short labor and a long two hours pushing through our own little mitzrayim, she was born on the 31st day of the Omer: Tiferet in Hod. The simple translation of that day would be the inner balance in beauty and multiplicity. Sound familiar?
And what does that have to do with meditation? Nothing? Everything?
At the last meditation sit I led, a participant asked, “What’s the goal here?” We talked about the goals each of us bring to our practice, and I closed by reminding us that some meditation teachers would be horrified by the idea of having a goal at all. I’m all about goals for pretty much everything, but it is incredibly important to have the right kind of goal. This is the same advice I give to clients who are preparing for birth. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment with a goal you very well might not achieve, whether it be enlightenment, forgiving a difficult person, or an epic vaginal delivery where all you feel is love in your heart. One of the greatest lessons birth has taught me is that we are not in control of anything but the lens we use to see the world. And one of the greatest lessons meditation has taught me is how to know and use that lens. I’ve always liked the idea of Passover as a birthing story: we labored, the water parted, we passed through, and were born as a people.
May we use this Passover as an invitation to bring the lens of birth and rebirth to the journey from mitzrayim and find liberation.
March 28th, 2012 — holidays
Passover starts next week… Click below to get in the mood for the Passover holiday:
From the JMC Blog Archives:
Passover as a birthing story by Jessica Simkovic
Zissen Pesach/Gut Yontif/Chag Sameach/Happy Passover! by Shuli Passow
Between Chametz and Matzah by Moshe Berko
Let Your Pharoah Go by Alison Laichter
JMC’s Passover Haggadah Inserts:
Freeing Your Inner Pharaoh
Download it, print it, and use it at your seder.
Four New Questions to Liberate Your Seder
Please share it with your friends and family!
Click here for instructions and download
On the Internets:
MAROR (BITTER HERBS)
A Passover short by Hanan Harchol that is beautiful and deep
Tweet the Exodus
It’s this year’s “What if Moses had Facebook”
Joan Nathan’s Matzo Balls
The New York Times offers a new and exciting way to prepare matzo. (spoiler: in soup!)
Passover Night and the Kabbalah
Rabbi Shlomo Jaffe delivers a capitaving lecutre
Pesach in Cancun!
Looking for the story of Exodus, shadow puppets, and klezmer all in one video? Look no further.
Shalom Sesame’s Les Matzarables
Go ahead, sing along.
The Passover Seder with the Four Sons
G-dcast does Passover!
Judith Shulevitz’s 2010 article on Tablet examines the Seder’s Greek origins
March 6th, 2012 — holidays, musings
Purim is near, and we have some links to share with you to help get you dressed up in the holiday spirit.
From the JMC archives:
Our 2010 edition
Masking and Unmasking
A JMC Purim Writing Meditation found on our website’s resources page
From around the Web:
February 3rd, 2012 — holidays, meditations, musings
Tu B’Shvat is coming… get ready with some of our favorite links across the world wide internets:
From the JMC Blog Archives:
Shana Tova Trees! by Alison Laichter
From around the web:
Tu B’Shvat: A Beginner’s Guide
Judiasm 101 de-mystifies the “Jewish Arbor Day”
A Tu B’Shvat Haggadah
G-dcast does Tu B’Shvat!
Rebirthing the Tree/s of Life: Four Teachings for the Four Worlds of Tu B’Shvat
The Shalom Center offers a kabbalistic discourse on Tu B’Shvat
The Four Worlds of Tu B’Shvat
A freaking mindblowing chart that associates different kavanah with different foods and elements
Aish’s Tu B’Shvat Seder
With four cups of wine + meditation, your soul can’t afford not to do this.
Eating a Fruit on Tu B’Shvat
Why do we eat fruits on Tu B’Shvat? MyJewishLearning.com answers your questions.
Four Types of Tu B’Shvat
Ari Elon argues that there are not one, but four, Tu B’Shvats. Count ‘em! Four!
Reminisce with a photo album of last year’s JMC / Brooklyn Jews Tu B’Shvat Seder
December 23rd, 2011 — holidays
From the JMC Archives:
Chanukah – 5771 – 8 days of practice by Yael Levy
Honoring Two Sides of the Same Moon with Faith by Brian Kaye
Come Light the Menorah... by Alison Laichter
JMC’s Getting in the Mood… for ChanukahWritingMeditation
From around the web:
Defining Hanukkah: Spiritual vs Political
Seeking inner light at the darkest time of the year
G-dcast does Chanukah!
Tablet reviews Hanukkah recipe books
Hanukkah and the Olive Harvest
The holiday’s secret “roots” as a harvest festival. We apologize for the pun.
Hanukkah meditation from Ritualwell
For when eating chocolate money just doesn’t cut it
The Unbearable Dumbness of Dreidel
Tablet’s reconsideration of the philosophical, aesthetic, and moral underpinnings of the ancient past time
A Mystical Message about Hanukkah from Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi
Tuning in to the miraculous order
Hanukkah 2011: Dates, Customs, History
HuffPost’s Hanukkah slide show
Rabbi Zachary Shapiro at RJ.org helps interfaith families navigate the holidays
Is There a Right Way to Spell Hanukkah? Chanukah? Hannukah?
Inquiring minds demand an answer!
Bonus link: TheLeeVees exist.
Trust us on this one.
December 19th, 2011 — holidays, musings
As the moon arcs its cycle from new moon to full moon, we can notice our own cycles of darkness and light. The moon has guided our ancestors in the planting, sowing and reaping of their crops and we can be inspired to observe and honor the same cycles which connect us to the natural ebb and flow of life energy.
During the period of a new moon, the sky is dark and we can meditate on emptiness and the fertile ground in which seeds take root; focus on new plans and write them down. What seeds can you plant to begin the process of moving toward light? We anticipate the coming of the full moon to see our seeds grow and blossom. Full moons symbolize completion and fulfillment, the realization of the seed, and they are times of celebration.
The story of the Maccabee’s entering the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem and finding only one cruse of specially prepared olive oil, which would only burn for one day, was not long enough for the seven days required to make the weekly batch of purified oil. Eager to rededicate (the word chanukah means “dedicate”) the Temple by lighting the menorah, they lighted the one cruse of oil and miraculously, the oil burnt for seven days, the necessary time to make more oil for keeping the menorah lighted. We begin the holiday by lighting one candle and add an additional candle each night until we have eight candles glowing in the dark; this process is reminiscent of the cycles of the moon as it moves from new to full. Each day of the holiday, strengthens us to have more light and clarity; similar to the ‘miracle’ of one cruse of oil lasting for seven days until a weeks worth of oil could be prepared,
Often, we believe that when confronted with darkness, we don’t have the resources to persevere through the darkness and reach light. What darkness are we holding that prevents us from moving toward the light? Write what you believe to be your obstacles to reaching the light you seek. Just as the Maccabee’s were certain that the prepared oil would not last, begin to recognize that your ‘certainty’ that you may not have the resources to move through the ‘darkness’ toward the light may be your lack of faith in your abilities. Similar to the moon moving from new to full, we can take the time of darkness to plant the seeds of commitment and change that we desire and know that as a new moon is followed by a full moon, we may discover that we do have the resources to move toward the light.
One of the beauties of light is that it unfolds to push the darkness away. Through meditation we can cultivate our light to bring more to the world. What light will you share with the world?
October 12th, 2011 — holidays, musings
Sukkot starts soon… Click below for some JMC recommendations to help get us in the mood.
From the JMC Blog Archives:
Sukkot: Rejoicing in Vulnerability? by Ri J. Turner
Rejoicing in Our Broken Houses by Yael Shy
Impermanence: Jewish Style by Len Moskowitz
Revisit Last Year’s Sukkah City and Union Square’s High-Concept Sukkahs
A reminder that there is no one way to build a Sukkah
Sukkot: A Time for Joy
A talk offered by Jewish Meditation teacher Norman Fischer
Sukkot Back to Basics
G-dcast does Sukkot!
How to Build a Sukkah
Moishe House’s video gives the basics on what makes or breaks a sukkah
Buying a Lulav and Etrog for Sukkot
MyJewishLearning.com’s video takes us to Crown Heights to see the market behind the customs
Healthy, Sustainable Sukkot Resources
Hazon lists ways to make your Sukkot more healthy and sustainable. Meditation made the list!
In the Sukkah: Reflecting on Impermanence
An article about using Sukkot to think about impermanence, with reflections and writing prompts
An account of a Sukkot meditation and another interpretation on the four species
Found something awesome online for Sukkot? Leave a comment with link.