At Home and Far Away

To alight in peace, safety and joy in a troubled world – was such a gift. Blessed are the peacemakers!

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United Religions Initiative Delegates and Friends at the Tayelet Promenade in Jerusalem. June 28, 2010
United Religions Initiative, URI, delegates and friends at the Tayelet Promenade in Jerusalem. June 28, 2010. My godson, Lev Hirschhorn, is seated in front of me and a Peace statue is behind us.

Earlier this week, my godson, Lev Hirschhorn, and I were fortunate to  attend a peacebuilders event in Abu Tor, Jerusalem.  The invitation came from my dear old friend and colleague, Jerusalem Peacemakers co-founder, Rodef Shalom, Eliyahu McClain with whom I taught Hebrew School at Beth Chaim in Danville, CA, some sixteen years ago.  

Eliyahu is a remarkable person who has spent more than a decade working in Israel, Palestine and around the globe doing critically important and needed peace building in the interfaith community.  These efforts are so needed during these difficult times and Eliyahu has modeled for all of us a way to do this important work with grace, unflagging commitment and joy.

This evening’s gathering took place at the Abu Tor, Jerusalem home of Tzvi and Elena Rozenblum who warmly hosted an enormous group of guests on a scorching hot day – feeding and watering us with food, kindness and generosity.  The gathering was convened to welcome and to celebrate with a delegation of URI, United Religions Initiative, an organization that promotes peace through dialogue among religious leaders to foster an end to interreligious violence. 

The guests, many of whom had just come in from Jordan where they were celebrating the 10th anniversary of URI, included visitors from many countries and religions:  Buddhist (from the Himalayas), Christian (from Ethiopia, Brazil, the UK, Israel and the US), Muslim (from Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories), Jewish (from Israel, California and the UK), and Hindu (from India and elsewhere), etc. 

I was surprised to learn (but why be surprised at all, anymore) that the main URI office is located in San Francisco, CA, at the Presidio!  Hence, more connections upon which to build upon when I return home. 

After the walk, noshes and drinks, blessings and greetings, prayers and invocations of many traditions were offered in multiple languages.  Then came the sharing of the missions of the various represented peace and co-existence groups and each attendee (possibly as many as 50 of us included 8-10 youths) introduced him or herself and spoke a word or phrase that described their present experience.  I heard Lev say, “at home” and I was warmed by the knowledge that he had found a place in Jerusalem where he could truly feel this way.

Following the sharing more food and drink, animated conversation and networking ensued. The evening ended with a remarkable musical collaboration – including the extraordinary talent of Biswadeb Chakraporty, URI staff member from India and world class tabla player!

To alight in peace, safety and joy in a troubled world – is such a gift.  Blessed are the peacemakers!  May they be strengthened and may their efforts be amply rewarded with good.

No Place for Hate

I had written an article about the need to for Jews to remain integrally involved and engaged with the greater community – to keep a place at the table in public discourse. Jews have been stigmatized and targeted throughout history; especially during the middle ages and during WWII. Coalition building, developing strong allies, and making powerful and supportive connections are critically important. This is why I became involved and continue to remain engaged with the San Francisco Interfaith Council, SFIC, and the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council, JCRC. I really appreciate these folks and now have greater respect for the important work they do in making our world, our global village, a safer and kinder place.

Thanks to my friend Sue Fishkoff of The Working Group for reminding me how critically important it was to spend the morning of my only day off at an organizing meeting of the San Francisco chapter of Not In Our Town, NIOT. She put alot of love and cajoling into getting me there – for all the right reasons!

A week prior, I had written an article about the need to for Jews to remain integrally involved and engaged with the greater community – to keep a place at the table in public discourse. Jews have been stigmatized and targeted throughout history; especially during the middle ages and during WWII.  Coalition building, developing strong allies, and making powerful and supportive connections are critically important. This is why I became involved and continue to remain engaged with the San Francisco Interfaith Council, SFIC, and the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council, JCRC.  I really appreciate these folks and now have greater respect for the important work they do in making our world, our global village, a safer and kinder place.

Having attended the NIOT meeting, a few days later when I learned that the Westboro Baptist Church / Phelps family was targeting our community, I immediately reached out Victor Hwang (Assistant District Attorney of San Francisco whom I sat next to at the NIOT organizing meeting), Theresa Sparks (SF City Council Member who sat directly in front of me) and the Rev. Michael Pappas of the Interfaith Council to ask for some practical support in helping us respond to this sensationalist Hate group.

I am grateful for what the folks are building at NIOT and am glad to now be part of it. I pray that our collective effort to  eliminate hatred in our community be for good.

It was exciting to attend the spring 2010 launch of the NIOT website in San Francisco at the Bay Area Video Coalition, BAVC. They are doing amazing work.  Check them out!

What is Sacred Hebrew Chant?

A form of individual Jewish spiritual practice and communal worship, the repetitive chanting of simple biblical Hebrew verses from psalms or other sections of siddur is being incorporated into congregational worship services and the pratices of contemporary Jewish seekers alike.

 

Jammin at Kehilla.
Jammin at Kehilla.

A form of individual Jewish spiritual practice and communal worship, the repetitive chanting of simple biblical Hebrew verses from psalms or other sections of siddur is being incorporated into congregational worship services and the pratices of contemporary Jewish seekers alike.

Accessible and Participatory

For Jews and other seekers who have minimal or no traditional or religious Jewish background but want to embrace a Jewish spiritual life and practice, sacred Hebrew chanting is simple and immediately accessible. The repetition of short, individual Hebrew verses renders liturgy far more approachable than lengthy Hebrew prayers that fill the traditional siddur (Jewish prayerbook). Shorter prayers that contain single themes make it easier to maintain kavannah, spiritual intention during prayer.

Rather than being overwhelmed or intimidated by the liturgy, those who lack basic Hebrew fluency can quickly learn the meaning of the Hebrew words and the pronunciation of these verses. While initial experiences of Jewish communal worship may feel daunting or inaccessible, chanting simple Hebrew verses in sacred community offers an opening to the larger world of Jewish spiritual practice.  These chanting services are therefore much more participatory. Everyone’s voice is invited into the mix and the blend create a harmonic chorus that envelopes the group and shapes everyone’s prayer experience. A sense of connection and spiritual community is felt immediately as each individual’s experience is enhanced by the group.

Melodic, Harmonious and Rhythmic

Traditional nusach, melodic scales for reciting long Hebrew prayers are employed less frequently in communities where congregational singing of prayers and guitar and keyboard accompaniment has become more common. But songs written in the folk or rock style, or classical choral pieces do not appeal to all worshippers. New musical compositions bring a revitalizing and energizing dimension to communal and private prayer. Exciting chants often used in sacred these services have been composed by Rabbi Shefa Gold, Yofiyah, and Rabbi Andrew Hahn and others. These chants fill the worship space with layers of harmony and rhythm. As was historically true of Jewish music, some of the new chants borrow from musical worship of other cultures and spiritual traditions, such as kirtan, a Hindu form of musical worship which utilizes a pattern of call and response. Accompaniment by drums and other types of percussion makes chanting services more celebratory and uplifting.

 Embodied, Contemplative and Integrated

Some sophisticated spiritual seekers may have already explored movement forms from zikhr or Dances of Universal Peace from Sufism or the ananas and flow sequences of Yoga. These seekers want a less “heady” and more “hearty” spiritual practice. Inviting the embodied self into prayer makes chanting more spiritually fulfilling. Those who are accustomed to contemplative practices like meditation and mindfulness will appreciate the periods of silence that follow extended chants with dramatic rhythmic and harmonious waves of sound. The balance of active ecstatic outpourings of song (with or without accompanied movement) with periods of quiet receptivity allows time for integration and reflection.

Join us at Congregation Beth Israel Judea in San Francisco, at 7:30 PM on the fourth Friday of each month, for our Erev Shabbat of Sacred Hebrew Chant and Drum Service. Please bring a treat for the Oneg Shabbat Shmooze that follows. Check http://wwww.bij.org for more details.

“Eagle Poem” by Joy Harjo – from In Mad Love and War, 1990

“Eagle Poem” by Joy Harjo – from In Mad Love and War, 1990

Clearwater Beach, FL - July 2009.  Photo:  Rabbi Rosalind Glazer
Clearwater Beach, FL – July 2009. Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

To pray you open your whole self

To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon

To one whole voice that is you

And know there is more

That you can’t see, can’t hear

Can’t know except in moments

Steadily growing, and in languages

That aren’t always sound but other

Circles of motion

Like eagle that Sunday morning

Over Salt River

Circled in blue sky

In wind, swept our hearts clean 

With sacred wings 

We see you, see ourselves and know

That we must take the utmost care

And kindness in all things

Breathe in, knowing we are made of

All this, and breathe, knowing

We are truly blessed because we

Were born, and die soon within a

True circle of motion

Like eagle rounding out the morning

Inside us

We pray that it will be done

In beauty

In beauty

Selichot for the Earth

How relevant this story is as we witness the disastrous consequences of the continuously gushing oil-rig in the gulf of Mexico! How helpless and angry we feel as the days pile up and we consider its terrible impact on the health and lives of countless individuals and creatures! After watching so many important films like the March of the Penguins, An Inconvenient Truth, Wall E, Avatar and others, we wonder whether we’ve been positively changed or simply entertained.

Oak tree in Olema, January 2010 Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer
Oak tree in Olema, CA. January 2010 Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

A young boy had a special relationship with his favorite tree. He played in its leaves and enjoyed its shade. This made the tree happy because it had much to give. As the boy grew older he climbed its branches and built a fort inside it. The tree was glad to provide joy and pleasure for the child. When the boy grew up the tree gave its fruit to the young man to sell. It also gladly offered its branches for the young man to build himself a home. Several years passed and the tree surrendered its trunk for man to build a boat. When, as an old man, he came seeking one last gift from the tree, only a stump remained. So the he sat down on it, and rested.

Shel Silverstein’s familiar children’s story, The Giving Tree, has always been disturbing to me. Perhaps the author’s intent was to get us to consider our habit of excessive consumption. Perhaps he meant to get us to question our default-setting in how we humans, relate to the earth. Perhaps he meant to jog our conscience so that we would remember how deeply we really do care about our fragile little blue planet. We live most often on auto-pilot, but in our heart-of-hearts we want neither to consume the earth’s resources to depletion nor poison it beyond repair.

Gazing out from Lands End, December 2009, Photo:  Rabbi Rosalind Glazer
Gazing out from Lands End, in San Francisco, CA, December 2009. Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

How relevant this story is as we witness the disastrous consequences of the continuously gushing oil-rig in the gulf of Mexico! How helpless and angry we feel as the days pile up and we consider its terrible impact on the health and lives of countless individuals and creatures! After watching so many important films like the March of the Penguins, An Inconvenient Truth, Wall E, Avatar and others, we wonder whether we’ve been positively changed or simply entertained.

Our ancestors described two models of relationship between human beings and the earth. In Genesis, man is given contradictory commands in relation to the planet–to be consumers and to be stewards. As the “crown of creation” man is at once called upon to subdue the earth and conquer it while also being warned to guard it and protect it. These opposing messages are confusing, yet we know that both inclinations exist within each of us, pulling us daily in both directions.

In the midrash, our sages tell a story about Honi the Circle-maker who planted carob trees for future generations. He responds to a passerby who comments on the uselessness of his endeavors saying that it did not matter that that particular tree would not bear fruit in his lifetime. Nevertheless he felt obligated to plant it because his own grandfather, and his before him, had also planted to benefit future generations.  How can Honi serve as a model for us in sustaining hope for future?  How can his example boost our sense of responsibility and connection to the earth and help us to renew our commitment to leaving a leave a legacy for those who will come after us?

Waimea Canyon, Kauai, July 2008.  Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer
Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii, July 2008. Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

How well are we fulfilling the mitzvah being stewards for the earth?  The first stage of selichot is awareness. Only then can we articulate our insights by ‘fessing-up.  Then comes responsible action, teshuvah.  What teshuvah do we need to do in our relationship with creation? 

During the final days of Elul, 5770, we will gather at BIJ on Selichot night to watch a timely film and contemplate what teshuvah (self-correction) we need to make in all our relationships, including our relationship with the natural world. We will consider and discuss whether we are prepared to organize our community to build a culture of sustainability for the future. Perhaps the time has finally arrived to call for an end to our dependency on fossil fuels. Will we use this moment of crisis to write and visit our congress people?  Will we implore them to support the building of an economy that will sustain life on our planet by capping and reversing the effects of this global crisis?

I look forward to hearing your perspectives and sharing thoughts on this important issue.

Talking about Talking about Israel

For millennia our prayers and our thoughts as Jews have been directed toward Israel. The establishment of the state in 1948 and daily news about Israel undoubtedly increases our awareness and concern for the Jewish state. Many of us have a more personal relationship with Israel after having visited or lived there, or because of close relationships with Israeli friends and relatives. [Yet]…as proud Jews who support the state of Israel, we do not have a community forum in which to engage in regular, open dialogue about our feelings about Israel or in which to exchange ideas about what it means to support the Israeli state. We do not all think alike on this nor on any other subject, and as a people we cannot afford to avoid the most challenging and important Jewish conversations of our time.

 

Moshav Yad HaShmona in the Judean Hills, April 2010
Moshav Yad HaShmona in the Judean Hills, Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, April 2010

This timely article was originally published in the BIJ Bulletin in the Fall of 2009 / Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur 5770. 

For millennia our prayers and our thoughts as Jews have been directed toward Israel. The establishment of the state in 1948 and daily news about Israel undoubtedly increases our awareness and concern for the Jewish state. Many of us have a more personal relationship with Israel after having visited or lived there, or because of close relationships with Israeli friends and relatives.

At these past Yom Kippur services I shared my concern for my sisters’ families in Israel; in particular a concern for my sabra nieces and nephews who have either completed or are anticipating service in the IDF. I spoke publically of my Israeli family partly to explain why my prayers for and conversations about a lasting peace in Israel do not derive merely from my rabbinic duty. My prayers, talks and efforts toward peace in Israel are also very personal. They are direct plea that the day of shalom be upon us soon, bimheyra b’yameynu, speedily and in our day; and they are dedicated on the behalf of my nieces and nephews so that they may be spared the obligation of having to fight to defend their country.

In my Yom Kippur sermon I included the reading of a letter by Israeli POW Gilad Shalit who was captured in Lebanon in 2006 and who remains in captivity today. The moving letter was addressed to his beloved family and expressed the challenges of sustaining hope. I then shared a tearful piece written by Gilad’s mother about all that her son has meant to her since his birth and her struggle of knowing that all her efforts to protect him have left her powerless in this situation. As a call to action, I urge you to complete and mail the postcards that I have included in this bulletin. Addressed to our congressional representatives, they demand that unrelenting pressure be put on Gilad’s captors in order to secure his immediate release. Your effort on Gilad’s behalf is the fulfillment the mitzvah, pidyon shevuim, freeing the captives, a mitzvah we worked so tirelessly to fulfill some 20 years ago different in freeing Soviet Jewish refusniks.

Kibbutz Revadim Memorial to Fallen Soldiers in the IDF
Kibbutz Revadim Memorial to Fallen Soldiers in the IDF, Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, Yom Hazikaron 5770

Here at BIJ we are not afraid to express our love for Israel. From time to time I speak about Israel issues from the bimah and I often meet with congregants to discuss their personal concerns on the subject. We’ve hosted speakers from the New Israel Fund, from AIPAC and from the local Israeli consulate. We’ve attended fundraisers as a community and have raised tzedakah for an Israel Emergency Fund; we’ve bought thousands of Israel Bonds. As a community we’ve attended Israel in the Gardens to celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, and we hosted a community wide ‘Israel at Sixty’ celebration in partnership the Israel Center.

Yet sadly, as proud Jews who support the state of Israel, we do not have a community forum in which to engage in regular, open dialogue about our feelings about Israel or in which to exchange ideas about what it means to support the Israeli state. We do not all think alike on this nor on any other subject, and as a people we cannot afford to avoid the most challenging and important Jewish conversations of our time.

This past fall the Northern California Board of Rabbis hosted Rabbi Donniel Hartman from the pluralistic Orthodox Shalom-Hartman Institute of Jerusalem. Rabbi Hartman shared the complex feelings of a father whose son was in active duty in the IDF while simultaneously expressing concern about the IDF’s treatment of Palestinian families. He spoke of the enormous challenge Israel faces as a ‘normal’ nation that must also live up to expectations that it be ‘light unto the nations.’ He shared his appreciation for the support of American Jewry for Israel, while identifying problems in the way we express our support. And he laments the absence of open and civil dialogue in the American Jewish community about Israel. He insisted that there must be a range of discussion that avoids the polarities of either mudslinging or silence and supports a more broad and nuanced dialogue like that which one might hear in a café in Jerusalem.

Hartman, who was born in the US and lectures frequently to American Jewish audiences speculates that the decreasing rate of affiliation in the American Jewish community, particularly here in San Francisco Bay Area, is due in part to the inability of the established Jewish community to allow diverse views and perspectives on Israel. Could it be that our fluctuations between divisive speech-as in the letters to the editor in the j. Weekly regarding the controversial film ‘Rachel’- and the avoidance of the topic is responsible for a shrinking Jewish community? “Israel is more of a liability than an asset to the American Jewish community,” said Hartman. Whether you agree or not, his theory is certainly worth considering!

Last year, a self-selected group of Rabbis from the Northern California Board of Rabbis, seeded a task force which has since named itself, ‘Rabbis for Respectful Dialogue’. We have met several times and the fact of our existence will soon be published in the local and national Jewish media. To a person the rabbis and professionals who sit on the task force have expressed deep sadness over the lack of candid and respectful dialogue about Israel in our individual congregations and also within the larger Jewish community. We all agreed that this is serious problem that we are committed to tackling.

Kibbutz Revadim: Achreological Exhibit of an Ancient Philistine Street, Photo:  Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, April 2010
Kibbutz Revadim: Achreological Exhibit of an Ancient Philistine Street, Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, April 2010

In our first meeting, the most interesting notion was that the two camps in the Israel debate are divided not between pro and con but between the one that is willing to engage in dialogue as a matter of principle and process for the purpose of greater understanding, and the one that ceases to dialogue at the moment the position runs counter to deeply held feelings and views of the right way to support Israel. As a greater Jewish community we know that we simply have to learn how to discuss Israel with civility and respect. During the time I was interviewing at BIJ, I was in training as a facilitator with the Jewish Dialogue Group, based in Philadelphia. I had also been hired to facilitate Israel conversations at Swarthmore College, but soon after that I decided to take the position here. In my training I learned that in order to be successful in the long term, dialogue requires serious preliminary reflection upon the reasons we take each take the issue so personally. This can only happen safely when a dedicated group of individuals agree to respectful exploration of deep concerns and issues. Undoubtedly we all hold deep feelings for and about Israel. But only when we commit to understanding and appreciating one another’s experiences and perspectives can we work together to develop effective Israel advocacy. I believe this is possible and have seen it in action. And I agree with Eleanor Roosevelt that if we wish to make a difference in the world, “Each day we must do the thing we think we cannot do.”

During my first three years at BIJ I have dreamed of the formation of an Israel dialogue group and I am now seeking for partners who are interested in being part of such a group. Please contact me if you are interested. Meanwhile, as s a start, on Sunday morning 2/21/2010 I am convening a conversation for parents and other adults on the subject of our complex and ambivalent relationship with Israel. That will be followed by a 3/21/2010 workshop on and, how to speak about Israel with our young children and grandchildren. Please join us!

A Place at the Table: Interfaith Community Relations

In a Medieval tale the Pope challenges a small town rabbi to a theological duel. The stakes are the highest imaginable; the loser shall be put to death. Each succeeding question is more nerve wracking than the previous – yet the clever rabbi answers them all with aplomb and his life and that of his community is spared.

This article was originally published in the BIJ Bulletin January-February 2010 / Tevet-Shevat 5770.

In a Medieval tale the Pope challenges a small town rabbi to a theological duel.  The stakes are the highest imaginable; the loser shall be put to death.  Each succeeding question is more nerve wracking than the previous – yet the clever rabbi answers them all with aplomb and his life and that of his community is spared. 

This fictionalized story tells a version of real events that took place far too often in every place where Jews lived and in almost every historical period. The Jewish community in Diaspora has endured periods of great danger, including the Babylonian exile in which the story of Esther is set, and from which we derive the joyful spring holiday of Purim.

As contemporary Jews who live in a place and time of relative peace and safety we find ourselves in a remarkably fortunate situation. Yet knowing our tumultuous and painful history we cannot take our good fortune for granted!  Therefore, our Jewish community needs to remain perpetually committed to and fully involved in interfaith community relations. 

As a rabbinical student I attended Seminarians Interacting, a program of the National Conference for Communities and Justice (NCCJ), and the experience reverberates as a profound influence in my rabbinate.  Formerly known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the NCCJ is the organization in which the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel met and marched arm-in-arm for civil rights in Selma, Alabama and Washington DC.

As Jewish San Franciscans we can take pride in our Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) for its tireless effort in keeping Jews safe, visible and engaged in important civic affairs.  The JCRC educates government representatives and business leaders about the remarkable accomplishments of the State of Israel and was also instrumental in the establishment – 20 years ago – of the San Francisco Interfaith Council (SFIC).  It is comforting to know that Jews continue to serve among the Council’s most prominent leaders. 

At the seder table - Photo:  Glazer Family Archives
At the seder table - Photo: Glazer Family Archives

I was introduced to the SFIC during my first year at BIJ when I spoke on an interfaith panel discussing our respective faith perspectives on the religious obligation to alleviate hunger.  Since then I have had the great pleasure of representing BIJ at many SFIF events including disaster preparedness symposia, interfaith meetings at St. Mark’s Cathedral, a monthly Women Faith Leaders group, the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast (at which our Cantorial soloist David Morgenstern joined me this year) and San Francisco’s Annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service. 

Whether addressing hunger, poverty, marriage equality, homelessness, worker’s rights, health care reform or a myriad of other social concerns, working and serving with clergy and lay leaders of diverse faiths helps us build communities of understanding, increase tolerance for diversity, and aids us in fighting xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism.

At a recent videotaping by our teens in our History Alive project, long time member Arthur Becker, who turns 98 on January 4th, told of a 1958 meeting with his brother Charlie Becker and San Francisco Mayor George Christopher. That momentous meeting resulted in the name change of Stanley Drive to Brotherhood Way and forever sealed our fate and that of our neighbors as preservers of religious diversity in San Francisco.  How fortunate we are to be the Jewish community presence on Brotherhood Way and to have BIJ members sitting on the Brotherhood Way Committee. May all of our interfaith community efforts always bear the fruits of Shalom!