Thursday, August 29, 2013

#BlogElul: Connection to something larger #takeaseatmakeafriend

One of the challenges of our traditional liturgy at the High Holydays is the medieval language of our liturgy, compounded by the fact that most of us are reading these poetic passages in translation. It's a bit like trying to navigate your way through Chaucer's English. And some of the God images that I can get stuck on are the ones that seem to engender a feeling of fear. But in Hebrew, yirah can be translated as fear or as awe. I don't connect with a God that is feared. That relationship does not convey the loving, compassionate energy that I want to feel connected to when I seek a sense of greater Presence.
But a God that leaves me in awe... that is something that I can completely connect to. When I try to wrap my head around the reality and complexity of the connections that exist between us all and all life, that is truly awe-inspiring.  My mind can't grasp it all, but if I can do my own, small piece to contribute to fostering connections that are truly loving and compassionate, then I'm participating positively in the flow of giving and receiving in that infinite and intricate web of connection.
That, for me, is the meaning of feeling the awe of God.
And, as Brene Brown puts it that, indeed, brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to my life.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

#BlogElul: Sharing our Secrets #takeaseatmakeafriend

The video presentation above (if you are reading this via the email feed, click on the title above to be able to view the video on my blog) deeply touched my heart. So much shared humanity to be found on a website of people's secret sharings. Then I had a thought. When I take quiet time to sit on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or the days inbetween, how honestly do I reflect on my own self, and my own stuff? Sometimes I can get there, but sometimes I, as I'm sure we all do, just barely scratch the surface.

So how about this as an exercise this year. Take a little stack of postcards. Or it could be post-it notes. Imagine that the destination of what you write on those cards is a place where no-one will ever know that it was you who wrote the message. And then think about the 'secrets' of your own life that could be shared. They may be things that cause you embarrassment. Or perhaps it is something that is painful. Maybe its a little cute, if not altogether the highest expression of humanity. And maybe its something that you haven't been willing to own up to ... until now.

Whether you choose to submit your secrets to the project website or not, take a look at what you have written throughout the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What can you learn from them? How might you inspire someone else who read them? If you shared them with God, how might this lift the weight, instigate a change, or lead to a reconnection with someone in your life?

If you want to post on Frank Warren's site, go to or follow the site's postings on Facebook at

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

#BlogElul: Every person is my teacher #takeaseatmakeafriend

It's easy to learn from the people we like. What about the people that we find more challenging? It is a spiritual practice to do as the quote above proposes to us. It is hard to do such a practice consistently. But sometimes I learn something about myself. Why are my buttons being pressed? Sometimes, if I open myself to listening with greater compassion and less judgment, I come to know something about a person that underlies the behaviors that I find challenging. My heart opens a little more.

There is a concept in Jewish thought - tikkun. You may be familiar with the phrase tikkun olam, which is often mistranslated as 'social justice.' Indeed, social justice is one way of acting in the world that brings about tikkun, but the word means much more. It is literally a 'repair' - to repair the world. To fix, or repair can happen on many levels. When I hear someone more deeply and a challenging relationship is turned into something more understanding and more loving, that is a tikkun.

When I think back to interactions in my life that have been transformed in this way, I recognize that these moments have contained within them some of the most profound teachings in my life.

Monday, August 19, 2013

#BlogElul: Seek connections and you will find them #takeaseatmakeafriend

There is something very powerful about contemplating all the ways in which we are connected to everything and everyone else. What arises as we start to trace all the lines? Responsibility, empathy, patience, dedication, determination, desire, awe ... ?

We live in a society that emphasizes independence, liberty, individual choice. But, like the story of the man who drills a hole under his own seat in the boat and cannot understand why his fellow passenger complains... no one is an island. Everything is connected. Meditate on this. Grasping the profound implication of this Truth can transform us.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

#BlogElul: Community connecting in the service of others #takeaseatmakeafriend

Our volunteers who provide food, cook, and serve at Northborough meals do a wonderful service to the community. They are also a wonderful example of the power of a congregation to bring together people who otherwise may never meet, in the service of something greater. Parents volunteer with their children, setting a wonderful example and enabling our children to gain greater awareness of the needs of people in their own communities. Long-time members see their volunteering as a meaningful expression of living Jewish values. Brotherhood and Sisterhood members take a turn to organize and reach out to other congregants, encouraging them to take a turn and gain the experience of bringing just a little social justice to our local community. Whether you've volunteered just once or many times, it is easy to step up, join in, help out. And you will are guaranteed to meet wonderful people when you do - both fellow congregants who are helping on the same day as you, and those you are serving.

When I've spoken to our students who have volunteered, they always have a wonderful story to tell about something that they experienced that was unexpected. They may have arrived with some trepidation, but they came away enriched and inspired, and hoping for an opportunity to make a difference again.

If you've volunteered, here or elsewhere, what surprising stories can you share?
For the next opportunity to volunteer at Northborough meals with fellow congregants - on October 2nd - please see the September bulletin for contact info. to get involved.

Friday, August 16, 2013

#BlogElul: Try something new for 30 days #takeaseatmakeafriend

30 days from now will take us past Rosh Hashanah and not quite to Yom Kippur (so that will allow for a few days of 'misses'). Is there something you'd like to try to make a habit? Is there a habit you'd like to leave behind? There's no better time to give this a go. And Matt Cutts makes it sound like so much fun! I've got some lazy habits at home. I can think of one or two that it would be good to break. Matt says you can do anything for 30 days, right? Right!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

#BlogElul: Transforming the ordinary #takeaseatmakeafriend

One of our congregants posted this charming quote and image on their Facebook wall and, in this month of posting relationship and connection-related thoughts, ideas, and videos as our congregational theme leading up to the High Holydays, this one fit right in.

Here's a few examples I can think of in response:
  • I remember the interfaith Spring cleanup that we did in a park in Bridgeport, CT, where Muslims, Jews, and Christians hauled trash out of the woods together.
  • Unloading a huge load of watermelon from a truck. The watermelon was donated by the farmer to the church hall being used to feed people and provide a base for volunteers helping to rebuild a town in Alabama after two tornados had uprooted a community.
  • Sitting silently in a room. The room was our sanctuary, hosting the local Hindu community for a meditation teaching led by their Guru from India.
  • Greeting a stranger. Something that happens any week that someone new walks into our building. Each and every one brings with them a different story, experience, hope and desire.
What ordinary moments are not so ordinary when you stop and think who you have shared them with?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

#BlogElul: Let's Dance! #takeaseatmakeafriend

It is all a matter of perspective. I can dwell in frustration that I'm not reaching my goal more quickly, or I can choose to notice what is happening in this moment and enjoy the fullness of it. I'm trying to lose weight. Sure, I'd love the pounds to come off more quickly. But I've been making steady and pretty consistent progress, and I've loved the interactions with my trainer and fellow exercisers at my three-times-a-week program. I have a vision of what I'd like my rabbinate to look like. Perhaps it will always be a work in progress (I should probably worry if I should delude myself that I've 'arrived'), but focusing on each shift, development, 'aha!' moment shared with our team of leaders... creates and energy and excitement and new possibility.

Perhaps you know people (or perhaps you are someone) who are/is working incredibly hard at something that you intensely dislike. Perhaps it is wearing you down. But you've told yourself that you have to keep doing it until you've earned enough to not worry about what comes next. And there's something practical and pragmatic about that. Sometimes that is what we need to do for a while. But sometimes we box ourselves in. If we changed some of our other goals, or expectations about what we really need, we might access a deeper kind of joy today instead of waiting until some of the best years of our lives have passed by. If we focused on each step of the dance, rather than a destination that we've constructed in our own imaginations, what might we discover about ourselves, about others, and about our world?

Saturday, August 10, 2013

#BlogElul: The feeling of being truly heard #takeaseatmakeafriend

There are many walks of life, many leadership development programs, and many other opportunities to come into contact with exercises that are designed to make us better listeners. Deep listening is, in my opinion, a spiritual practice, that can and should be practiced and nurtured. But I also believe that one of the best ways for us to recognize what truly deep listening is comes from reflecting on our own experiences of times when we have felt truly listened to. When did you know that the person listening understood what you were saying? How did that feel?

I'd like to be able to say that it feels wonderful; that my heart feels full. And, in fact, that is often the kind of feeling that I get when I feel truly listened to. But here's another thing that I've learned about deep listening. It happens so rarely that it can actually be a bit unnerving when you truly have the experience. I used to run a program to bring Christian, Muslim, and Jewish teens together to learn from and about each other. In the preparation I would do with my Jewish students before our first gathering, we did an exercise in deep listening. Some students reflected the discomfort that came from someone really listening and being able to reflect back what had been shared. They were much more used to a more superficial kind of communication, and friends talking over one another. Why did deep listening cause discomfort? Perhaps, when we realize that someone is really trying to know us, we recognize feelings of vulnerability. Do we worry about whether they will like who we are? The truth is, we can only make deep connections with others by being willing to be vulnerable. The reward is the foundation of trust that can bond people together, and the incredible feeling of support that can come from those around us.

What does a listener do or convey that makes you feel understood? How does it feel?

Friday, August 9, 2013

#BlogElul: What lies between the pages? #takeaseatmakeafriend

What book has made a profound impact on you? In what ways?

In recent years, I think that one of the books that has made the most profound impact on me, especially in the context of my work as a Rabbi, is a spiritual memoir called 'Devotion', by Dani Shapiro.  I shared something about this book in an Elul reflection posted here in 2010.

What was so profound about Dani's memoir was the intensely honest reflection on a spiritual journey that did not fit neatly into preconceived definitions and boxes. This is, in fact, the case with any personal spiritual journey. Dani's memoir demonstrates so powerfully how we can gain deep spiritual insight from the close examination of our own lived experiences, as she also explores a variety of spiritual practices that can help us to pay attention in new ways.  Truly allowing ourselves to probe deeply into these experiences requires us to permit ourselves to be vulnerable. And to share these questions, observations, and insights with others can take courage. Dani doesn't preach; she simply shares her own story and asks her own questions, and leaves you to make up your own mind. Perhaps you, too, will be encouraged to reflect deeply on your own journey. Dani's experiences taught me that I could best share Jewish wisdom and spiritual practice with others by truly listening to and helping to guide people on their journeys, and only then offering the resources that our rich heritage can provide to meet the specific needs, hopes, and questions of the seeker.  I'd like to think that it has helped me to be a better Rabbi.

So, What book has made a profound impact on you? In what ways?

#BlogElul: Take a Seat, Make a Friend

Each year, our wonderful colleague Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, puts forth a daily theme for the Jewish month of Elul - the four weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah. There are many others who are participating in #BlogElul with quotes, images, and thought pieces. It is wonderful to read multiple interpretations of the daily theme by different writers on their blogs and via their tweets.

This year, I will also be blogging through Elul, but I'm going to be departing from the common themes of the #BlogElul project. It is a little chutzpadik on my part, but I'll be continuing to label my postings with the #BlogElul moniker to connect with the larger community who is engaged in reflection during this preparatory month.  Traveling with my own congregation, connecting with community, and specifically relationship-building between congregants, is our larger theme for this coming High Holyday season and beyond.

I'll explain more in a just a moment.  But first, I invite you to take a few minutes to watch this wonderful, heart-warming video to set the scene:
  And here are some excerpts from the message I shared with my congregation on the 1st day of Elul, to launch our own 'Take a Seat, Make a Friend' experience over the coming 7 weeks and beyond:

Four people, sitting in kayaks in the middle of a lake, strike up a conversation. It is not a hypothetical - it is what happened when two of the families who came to our Summer picnic at Hopkinton State Park just a few weeks ago met. They discovered that they have a great deal in common. Lesley and David learned that they'd grown up in the same town, and even belonged to the same temple. David and Jim learned that they used to work at the same company, and David has done business with Jim's new boss. Jim and Lori discovered that they were both Industrial Engineers by training. But, as Lesley put it, more than the specifics, it was the overall sense of connection that was important - it created a warmth in their hearts and a feeling of being 'home'. Just as our teens speak about Chai School being a place where a sense of common identity is felt by how friends just 'get each other', so that sense of connection is something that we all deeply hope to find in community.

This is what happens when you take a seat and begin to talk. It can happen on a kayak, in a ball pit, at a coffee table, at an Oneg, and anywhere that two people begin a conversation that scratches beneath the surface.

We all yearn for that kind of connection. And we want Congregation B'nai Shalom to be the kind of community where you can find it. This year we will be especially focusing our energies on creating the kind of gatherings and opportunities that will enable more of us to have those meaningful conversations and deepen relationships among the members of our congregation.

There will be many opportunities to experience this during the High Holyday season. However, there is no time to start like the present. While the core work of relationship building happens in face-to-face interaction, the next four weeks - the Jewish month of Elul - is traditionally a time of preparation. During this month, I will be posting inspirational quotes and videos on themes of connection and relationship, along with questions on our Facebook page ('like' the page to receive the feed on your wall). If you are not a Facebook user, you will find the same reflections on my blog (where you can also sign up to receive new postings in your email inbox). I invite you to engage, comment, and share when you can. Our online sharing and interactions with each other's comments will enable us all to get to know each other a little more. If you prefer, you can choose to share anonymously on the blog and, if you wish to do so on Facebook, send me your comment and we will post as 'CBS' with your thoughts.

In addition, I am inviting congregants to contemplate some of the questions below and send me short responses in the coming weeks. I will weave these responses into our High Holyday services this year and, in this way, we will co-create our liturgy together, getting to know each other a little more deeply in the process.
  • Share something on your bucket list? Why this?
  • Who or what inspires you?
  • What is one experience that changed your life?
  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What do you have faith in?
  • What is most precious to you?
  • Who do you miss? How did they impact your life?
So... let the conversations begin.