4.7.17 "Regardless"

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Wishing you and your loved ones a meaningful seder and a good holiday.  
May you let go of your personal "chametz" (all that weighs you down) so you can continue to move through life with compassion and grace.
It continues to be a privilege and a pleasure to be on this journey with you.

In blessing and friendship,
Laurie and Daphna

Most people, REGARDLESS of the label we assign or don't assign to ourselves; Jewish,   connected to a Jewish household, religious, non-practicing, athiest, socialist, Reform, cultural, Conservative, human being and the list goes on, we will attend a Passover seder.  Hundreds of thousands of people (could be an "alternative fact" but it's good for my case 😊) have already entered "date, time and location" of the seder they will be attending.  Some will be hosting, wondering if there will be enough food and enough room at the table. Others will be hosted, bearing gifts and wondering who else is coming.  The evening will begin with hugs and an exchange of pleasantries; "Hello darling!"  "How are you sweetheart?"  "What's up handsome?" and once all of the guests have arrived everyone will find their place at the table and the seder will begin.

REGARDLESS of the length of our seder, we will rotate around the table sharing the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  REGARDLESS of the language we read, we will retell how the Israelites went from slaveryt to freedom.  We will drink wine, dip bitter herbs and eat matzah.  REGARDLESS if the meal is vegetarian, vegan or filled with beef and chicken, We will sing and exchange stories.  

Passover is the holiday that connects us REGARDLESS of everything that creates a divide.  Passover highlights the most imporant aspect of our existence; we are all human.  We were all born and we are all living and we will all eventually die.  How we choose to spend our time in life, is up to us.  The story of the Exodus does not contain Jews.  It is the story of the Israelites - "Yisrael", the ones who wrestle with "El" (with God).  Passover is our opportunity to commit to the wrestling for another year.  IT is the story about human beings moving from slavery to freedom in body, mind and soul. Passover is our opportunity to claim (and reclaim) our path towards a full freedom for ourselves and for others.  

The Haggadah ends with "Next year in Jersalem."  The author ends on a note of hope and aspiration.  The author ends with the place he/she/they want to be most. Jerusalem can be the city itself.   It can also represent the place where the true lessons of Passover are fully realized.  "Jerusalem" is the place "where all who are hungry" CAN eat.  "Jerusalem" is the place where the other is welcome.  "Jerusalem" is the place where we love the other as our friend.  "Jerusalem" is also the place where we love ourselves and where we embrace our full self.

REGARDLESS of how we label or don't label ourselves we are all human.  We can each do something to honor and demonstrate gratitude for our freedom.  We should all do something for the other and for ourselves to honor and demonstrate gratitude for our freedom.  Make the list and choose.  

We will attend the seder and do all the "sedery" things.  But, let's make a pledge to continue the teaching of the seder until Passover 2018.  Let's each make a commitment to honor the fact that we are all human.  Let's wrestle!

What will be different this time around?

  • Take a little time (or a lot of time) and think about HOW YOU WANT TO PASSOVER THIS YEAR?  Make a decision to do something different than you usually do.  
  • Ten Lessons from the Haggadah for Jewish Activists                                   (Even if you don't see yourself as an activist, these are great suggestions that can be applied on a small or large scale.  They can impact your home, your school, your neighborhood and beyond.                                                  By Joseph Gindi and Leah Kaplan Robins
    1. Fuel up to fight for freedom. The Passover Seder is modeled after a Greek symposium, a long discussion centered around a meal. The Greeks and the Rabbis knew that you can’t be present when your stomach is growling, so, they included appetizers (karpasmarror and matzah) to kick off this epic feast. Next time you organize, rally or protest for change, follow their example and make sure you have the fuel to focus on freedom.
    2. Generosity leads to justice. We begin telling the Passover story by pointing to the matzah and saying, “This is the bread of affliction ... All who are hungry come and eat.” Although all we have is the meager matzah, which represents the deprivation faced by our ancestors, the first thing that we do is share it with others. Be generous with your time, resources and hope. This will bring freedom closer for all.
    3. Remember, we’re part of something bigger. In the Torah, Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt; but in the traditional Haggadah, Moses isn’t even mentioned once. Instead, it stresses that God brought out the Israelites “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” The Haggadah teaches us that the fight for freedom is bigger than any one leader. When the struggle is hard, when we feel discouraged, we can gain strength by remembering that we are not alone. Look to a higher power or to fellow activists for inspiration to carry on.
    4. Meet people where they are. The Seder introduces us to four children, each of whom has a different relationship to the Exodus story. Just as the Haggadah addresses each child with an answer they can relate to, when you organize for social change, find out what motivates people and tailor your approach accordingly.
    5. Know who came before you. The Haggadah begins the Exodus story long before Moses said “Let my people go.” It begins many generations back, when Abraham went down to Egypt and came back out. Perhaps the Haggadah is telling us that Moses gained strength in his mission from knowing that Abraham succeeded before him. Follow suit by getting inspired by those who have fought these same fights before you.
    6. There’s power in numbers. According to the Haggadah, the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites because they feared the small tribe would band with others and become powerful. “Come,” Pharaoh said, “let us act cunningly with [the Israelite people] lest they multiply and ... join our enemies against us.” The solidarity the Egyptians’ feared is one of our greatest assets: Join forces with others to amplify your power to bend the arc of history toward justice.
    7. Balance righteous anger with peaceful tactics. There’s a debate within every Seder about the use of force. The Haggadah revels in the power of the plagues to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. And yet, when we recount these violent acts, we pour out some of our wine in remembrance of the suffering they caused the Egyptians. The lesson? Harness your indignation to influence others, but be careful not to do harm.
    8. Get moving. The Israelites didn’t have time to finish baking their bread, but the Exodus had begun! They threw the raw dough on their backs and began their journey. If they had waited for the bread to rise, they would have missed their chance to move from slavery to freedom. Taking a cue from the matzah-bakers, plan your campaigns carefully, but recognize when it’s time to stop planning and start taking action.
    9. Celebrate small victories—Dayenu! This famous song proclaims that we would have been satisfied even if God hadn’t taken our people all the way to freedom. Had God punished the Egyptians but not taken the Israelites out of Egypt—it would have been enough. Had God taken them out of Egypt but not brought them out of the wilderness, it would have been enough. But, of course, this isn’t so. What good is it to punish evildoers, without actually rescuing the vulnerable? What good is it to escape bondage only to wander without a home? In the spirit of Dayenu, embrace each small victory with gratitude, even as you continue working for the freedom of all.
    10. Believe that change is possible. The Seder celebrates transformation: the bitter marror is sweetened by the sweet charoset. The matzah, which begins as the bread of affliction, becomes the afikoman, the bread of freedom. As activists, the payoff in our work is the knowledge that we can transform the world. Just as we end the Seder with the taste of the afikoman on our lips, we must savor the feeling that we are making a difference.

    Joseph Gindi and Leah Kaplan Robins co-authored the new social justice Haggadah by American Jewish World Service: Next Year in a Just World. 
  • AND...

  •                Mark your calendars NOW! 

  •                      SHABBAT BEINEINU(now there are 2 options)                                                                                and UNDER THE BRIDGE 

  • Shabbat Beineinu Upper West Side - 4.21
  • All Angels' Episcopal Church - 251 West 80th Street 
  • Celebrate Shabbat with music, food and friends!
  • Click here for details and to RSVP.

  • BRAND NEW: Shabbat Beineinu Chelsea - 4.28
  • German Lutheran Church of St. Paul - 315 W 22nd St, New York, NY 10011
  • Celebrate Shabbat with challah baking, music and friends!
    Click here for details and to RSVP.

2.17.17 Prayer for Peace

A poem about peace:

O God!  Set a Light in My Heart

O God!

Set a light in my heart
And a light in my tongue
Set a ligh tin my ear
And a light in my eye
A light behind me; and a light in fron of me
And set a light above me

O God!
Give me light.
(From the Muslim Tradition, Al-Ghazali,  Ihyd, Ulum al-Din, Part 1, ninth book. Translated by Shira Elqayam)

Mekor Ha'Chayiim, Source of Life, as we move into Shabbat may we be mindful or the capacity of our inner light.  May we use our light to bring light and love to others.

Shabbat shalom,

2.10.17 Who decides? Pharoah? God? You & me?


Join the HIAS MARCH this Sunday:
HIAS, the refugee agency of the Jewish community, is rallying on Sunday, in Battery Park, 11:00am-1:00pm, to demand that America's doors are reopened to refugees fleeing violence and persecution. In the shadow of the Statue of Liberty we will honor a symbol of freedom and welcome for many generations of immigrants.
The NYC rally is the flagship action in a national Jewish Day of Action for Refugees. Click to find information about other actions around the country.
Let's talk about power.  It seems to be on a lot of people's minds.  It might even be accurate to say it's on the minds of our whole country.  A lot has been happening over the past couple of weeks and it's likely that a lot more will continue to happen.  Regardless of where each of us falls on the political spectrum, regardless of the labels we choose or intentionally don't choose to identfy ourselves, regardless of our beliefs, we can and should (I rarely use "should"), get involved in the conversation of power.  Who has power?  Who doesn't?  What support power?  What challenges power?  The questions around power are endless.

This week's Torah portion, B'shalach is a fantastic launch pad into this conversation.  We find ourselves at the end of the Egypt saga.  Pharoah, no God, no Moses - one of them, or is it all of them, has finally released the Hebrews from bondage and 600,000 people are now fleeing the land where they have been enslaved for 400 years.  600,000 Hebrews are following Moses to somewhere.  Their first stop, the Sea of Reeds.  They come to the edge of the waters and immediately panic and begin shouting at Moses for taking them out of Egypt.  "Why did you take us out of Egypt, only to die in the desert?"  This will happen over and over and over again.  God comes to the rescue, this too will happen over and over and over again, and parts the Sea with the use of Moses' staff.  The waters split and stand at attention like two ginormous (it's a word) walls.  The Israelites begin to cross.  At the same time, Pharoah changes his mind (Or did God finally release the grip on Pharoah's heart?) and commands his entire army to chase after them and bring them back.  

The Israelites are now half way across when the Egyptian soliders enter the dry land of the Sea.  The moment the Israelites step out of the dry sea onto dry land, the walls of water tumble down hard and consume every Egyptian soldier and horse.  They all drown.  The Israelites watch this and at that moment the price of freedom is confirmed. They begin to sing a song recapping the events that unfolded in the Sea and then turn and begin a celebration of their freedom. FINALLY!

There is no denying that in the Torah, God has ALL of the power.  God has ALL of the power OVER everyone and everything.  God has ALL of the power and is NOT shy about using it.  God determines the fate of everyone and everyting.  Commentators from centuries and even hours ago have debated the Why?  What?  and When? of God's power.  You and I are also entitled to evaluate and interpret for ourselves.  That is a powerful and beautiful part of our tradition.  That was then.

Today, things are different.  Today, we have ALL of the power.  We/humanit have ALL of the power OVER everyone and everything.  Of course not all humans have equal power.  Some have more than others.  Some have none. But, human beings have the responsiblity of caring for and determining the fate of the OTHER.  We can choose to include an element of that which is holy, larger than us, God or not.  We live within contemporary society - layered into the fabric of America - separating "Church and State".   We work, play and live within the laws and enjoy/benefit from all of the freedoms.  For this I am grateful.  This past week I began serving on a jury and am realizing that this role illustrates the shift from Torah to now more than any other situation.  A jury determines the fate of the OTHER, not the attorneys and not even the judge.  A jury holds power over the OTHER.  It is initmadating and awe full.  

Mekor Ha'Chayiim, Source of life, as we move into Shabbat, may we all be mindful of the power we have over the OTHER.  May we always be mindful of using our power with care, integrity and grace.

Shabbat shalom,

2.3.17 BE KIND

be kind
It's simple.
be kind
It's easy.
be kind
It's free.
be kind
It (can be) fast.
be kind
It matters.

That's the whole Torah.  "The rest is commentary."*

*Famous quote from Rabbi Hillel in response to a man who challenged him by asking; [You think you are so smart Rabbi], "Tell me the whole Torah on one foot."  Full quote:  "Love your neighbor/other.  The rest is commentary."

CHECKING IN:  have you taken on the "3 a day challenge"?  3 acts of kindness every day (at least 2 for people you don't know)

PURIM IS COMING. It's going to be GREAT!
DON'T MISS THE PARTY!(scroll down for details)

1.27.17 THREE A DAY

Our Torah opens with the story of creation.  In fact there are 2.  The main difference between them is that in the first story human beings are created last and in the 2nd, human beings are created first.   

In both, God places the obligation of caring for all creations and continuing creation on humanity.  God starts the process and then gives us the responsiblity and privilege for the rest of time.  God moves form the center to margins, making room for the tremendous capacity human beings have acquired. From then, until forever, we are charged with the weight of being the caretakers of the other - all other.

"Lo alecha ha'melacha ligmor..."  Our tradition teaches that we are not obligated to fix everything, cure anything or care for everyone.  But, we are not permitted to abstain from doing something to fix, cure and care.

There are so many things in our world and in our country that are broken.  Things are starting to feel more and more uncertain around immigrant rights, a woman's right to choose, affordable health care, protection of our environment and the ability to provide complete information and treatment around HIV (just to name a few). Every day, incidents of hate are occuring throughout the country and aroud the world.  Regardless or personal beliefs and political leanings, we cannot accept acts of hatred and violence towards anyone.  

Today is International Holocaust Rememberence day.  We know the horror, the trauma and the devastation of 10 million people; 6 million Jews and 4 million others who were deemed less than human because of their physical limitations, sexual ortientation and religion.  We know the consequences when people stand by and do nothing; millions and millions and millions of people are murdered.  May their memories be forever a blessing through the stories we tell and the lives we live.  

I want to do something.  I want to make a difference.  I often feel helpless and overwhelmed.  I sign petitions, I call my senator, I contribute to organizations that represent my values and my beliefs and I volunteer.  It doesn't seem like enough.

In our tradition, we "halacha", literally "the path".  These are all of the laws, many of which have to do with how we treat the other and our responsiblity to the other.   If we follow these laws then we will lead a life worthy of God's love.  That line works for some but not most. I believe that being mindful of our actions and taking responsibility for the other, treating the other the way we want to be treated is holy living.  And, I believe that any time we are engaging in kindness and love for ourselves and the other, we are bringing forth the presence of that which is Divine - holy sparks flying.  

Some follow the custom of praying three times a day (it's a mitzvah). Most of us don't.  I don't.  I try to spend time every day directing attention and energy towards something mindful (through meditation and silence) but I don't literally pray three times a day.  I just don't.

However, I do believe there is deep wisdom in this mitzvah of praying three times a day. I do believe in the spiritual power of habit and repetition.  

Here's the challenge I am taking on (for the next three months at least)
and I invite you to join me:

-at least two for people I don't know
-holding the door and saying "hello" count, but let's push ourselves to go deeper

-like the subway ad says; "IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING"

Something will happen.  There will be impact.  There has to be.

Shabbat shalom!
In blessing and friendship,

SUNDAY, JANUARY 29, 3 P.M. to 8 P.M.

details at:  mjhnyc.org


be kind
be compassionate
be generous
be gentle
be respectful
be peaceful
be true
be present
be aware