Saturday, November 27, 2010

Women's Torah Project - celebrating a 'first' in the Jewish world.

On October 15,2010, the Women's Torah Project, the joint work of 6 sofrot - 6 female Torah scribes - from all over the world, was brought together and completed for the Kadima Reconstructionist congregation in Seattle, Washington.  Below, a short video tells the story of this wonderful project.

Women's Torah from Sasha Perry on Vimeo.

The full story of the Women's Torah project can be found at  On their website is the following poem to mark the culmination of this wonderful achievement:

The Torah Completed by Women

Together we worked,
Embellished it all,
Together, we wove, many pieces;

Together we joined,
The parchment -- each line,
Accurately, singing its praises;
That moment in time,
His-tory was changed,
By her work, which was honored and cherished;

To set a new stride,
Carried forward by one,
Whose insight was never daunting;

That beautiful sight,
Not fathomed before,
Was ordered by deep emotion;

And witnessed by many,
Like on Mt. Sinai,
Proclaimed -- by the spirit, there, present;

A dream that was high,
We knew its dear meaning,
Much more, than just fulfilling;

With love and affection;
The pinnacle reached:
The contract with G-d -- Unbroken!

So let it be told --
In words very Bold --
The Torah -- Completed -- by Women!

by I. Penn, Oct. 2010
Sisters of the Torah Siyyum Oct 13 – 17, 2010
Seattle, Washington, USA

Kol hakavod!  What a wonderful achievement!

Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz (with thanks to Judith Lessler at B'nai Israel for sharing this)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

#Epicthanks - Happy #Tweetsgiving 2010: Turning Thanksgiving into Thanks-living

Last November, when I was still a newbie blogger, only 2 months old, I came across a wonderful project from a group called Epic Change.  From their website, they tell their story:

Epic Thanks is a global celebration that seeks to change the world through the power of gratitude. Founded in 2008, the original TweetsGiving celebration was imagined and implemented by six volunteers in six days, and quickly became the #1 trending topic on Twitter as thousands of grateful tweets from across the globe filled the stream.
But the truth is TweetsGiving was never about twitter or social media. It's about the gratitude in our hearts, and the transformative power our thankfulness can have when we share it with one another. It's about cultivating a deep sense of those remarkable souls who create hope in our world. That's why this year, TweetsGiving becomes Epic Thanks.
Over the past two years, from the gratitude of thousands, this global event has built two classrooms and a library in Arusha, Tanzania, where the twitterkids, led by local changemaker Mama Lucy Kamptoni, learn and grow at one of the best primary schools in their country.
Epic Change inspired me to write a blog for Tweetsgiving last year, and I shared a brief meditation for Thanksgiving.  This year their Epic Thanks site goes live at 12pm on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving (the same time that this blog is set to post, as are many more who are on board this year's project).  Using Social Media, the project encourages everyone to spread some gratitude around by tweeting, posting on Facebook, and blogging on what you are thankful for.
President John F. Kennedy said "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them", and Matthew Henry, C17th pastor taught: "Thanksgiving is good but thanks-living is better."  The traditional Jewish prayer that we wake up to is 'Modeh Ani lefanecha... Thankful am I before You, Living and Eternal God, who has restored my soul to me in mercy; great is Your faith.'  Sensing that God has entrusted our soul within our bodies, we are inspired (literally 'breathed into') as human beings to do something purposeful with this gift of life.  
If you are blessed with the ability to sit down for a good meal, among family or good friends, this Thanksgiving, add to the bounty with some 'Thanks-living'.  Make a donation to Epic Change, or another cause dear to your heart that will make a real difference in the lives of others.  Share the things you are thankful for with those around your Thanksgiving table, but also on your Facebook page or on twitter (and use the #Epicthanks or #tweetsgivings tags when you do!).  Commit to doing one act of kindness, one deed of giving in your local community, in the coming week.  
(Congregants of B'nai Israel - we are still collecting for our 'Kindle a Light' program, and your gift of a Stop and Shop card of $10 or up will be distributed to the elderly in need in the community.  You can drop them in at the Temple office any time next week).
Happy Thanksgiving
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

Monday, November 22, 2010

Let's do the Time-Warp Again? A Response to Bruce Feiler

This past weekend's 'Style' section in the New York Times contained a couple of thought-provoking Jewish-themed pieces.  I'm leaving the one about Bar mitvah studies on the Web to our Director of Education, Ira Wise, who has written a great blog response here.  The other article that caught my eye was 'Time-Shifting Holidays', written by Bruce Feiler.
In this latter piece, Feiler confesses that, having brought the family together for Thanksgiving, which they celebrate a day late, they then conclude '...the following day when we celebrate all eight nights ofHanukkah in one madcap afternoon.'

Feiler acknowledges that he has heard the disapproval of a Rabbi who critiques this pragmatic decision because it makes the family dining room the hub of Jewish life instead of Jewish community in the wider sense.  Toward the end of the article, the Rabbi gets to speak again, this time somewhat acknowledging the good intentions of bringing a seasonal Jewish festival into the home at a time when the extended family is present to share the celebration, but encouraging the individual elements of that family to seek out a community where they can also celebrate at the appointed time back in their various home towns.  I rather like that answer (although I might not have been so begrudging in the way I would put it).  

But it seems to me that there is much of importance that is left unsaid.  That a Jewish family wants to take advantage of the hard-to-find opportunities to be together to acknowledge and celebrate the Jewish in their lives is important and admirable.  Jewish organizations and community professionals can be thinking of resources that we might provide to help families make these festival celebrations meaningful in their home settings.  For those who live far from a synagogue community, there are other models of creating Jewish community with non-family members (the chavurah - a smaller, less structured gathering of families from a geographical area - being the most obvious model), and there is value in doing so.

What struck me about Feiler's piece, and the other piece that highlighted the use of technology to facilitate bar and bat mitzvah training without the need to be part of a Jewish community (although, as Ira shares in his blog, the technology is valuable in many ways within the context of synagogue community life too), is how little was conveyed about the purpose of being part of a larger Jewish community.

Too often I hear critiques of the kind expressed in these articles where the argument 'but you  are separating yourself from the community' is presented as a fait a complis - it is assumed that everyone knows what that means and that those who make an active choice not to join a community are either woefully ignorant about the centrality of community in Judaism or are intentionally choosing a scaled-down, privatized (and implied is often 'selfish') version of what our faith has to offer.

I assume neither of these things.  I think that articles like these provide wonderful opportunities for synagogue communities and Jewish professionals to think more deeply about what makes being part of a Jewish community meaningful in the lives of Jewish families and individuals.  And then to think about how to get better at conveying this meaning to those who haven't 'drunk the Kool-aid' yet.  That's not just those who are not yet affiliated with our communities, but also those who are affiliated but have done so with the narrow agenda of giving their children a Jewish education through to the end of middle school and who haven't been adequately exposed to the far greater potential that exists for their entire family in engaging with the community in a more holistic way - one that will continue to be meaningful when their children have grown up and left home.

How we do that is not something easily conveyed in a brief, sound-bite blog answer.  Its something that is experienced more than described, so the first step is about getting better at sharing the experience, so that others will want to have that experience too.  Congregants who have fallen in love with celebrating, doing social action, comforting, learning, and sharing life's transitional moments (birth, weddings, bar mitzvah, funerals of loved ones etc.) in the context of community are some of the best ambassadors of meaningful Jewish community life.  I love seeing members of our congregation post something on their Facebook about their anticipation of a community event, or sharing the pleasure of having just returned from one; if I'm seeing it on their wall, then so are all their other Facebook friends.  When that leads to a trail of comments and 'likes', the feel good of Jewish community life can become infectious.

I recently heard about a wonderful email sent out by one person to a group of others about our Young Families Chavurah - a great opportunity to start experiencing meaningful Jewish community life while our children are still very young, which meets at B'nai Israel every Shabbat morning from 9.15 a.m.-11 a.m.  This young mother hadn't had an opportunity to attend with her children since the program started, but she'd heard such great things about it that she was looking forward to her first opportunity to do so, and hoped other families would join her family in tasting this experience for themselves.  There is no flyer and no email that the professional staff of our synagogue could have created to better convey the potential of participating in the chavurah than this one mother's email to her peers.

We've still got plenty of work to do at B'nai Israel, but one of the things we've learned is the importance of putting the structures and means of communication in place so that everyone in our community can access community living, and be a part of sharing that experience with others.  This blog is just a little slice of communicating that message and, if you're looking for your way in to the experience of being a part of a vibrant, Jewish community, I hope we can help you find the gateway that is right for you.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz