Happy New Year!!!!

ב׳׳ה

 

I’ve started putting my seventeen years as a professional writer and editor to use as an editor of High Holiday sermons for a Rabbi that I know.  She pays me in my favorite “currency” . . . BOOKS!!!  🤗  She’s collecting a stack for me at her house, and these four arrived from Amazon in the last two days.   

I feel spoiled!!!!   Not only am I learning more about the topics of her sermons, I’m also getting to study the source texts with her and learn more about the sermon-drafting process.  I’m accustomed to writing for readers, so it’s interesting to see how writing for a listening audience is different.  

It’s been a great learning experience AND I’m getting some reference books that I’ve been wanting for a while . . . definitely a Happy New Year!!

I led a 45-minute Rosh Hashanah service for children and their families at my synagogue yesterday morning.  Approximately twenty adults and fifteen kids between ages one and nine attended.  I feel really blessed to have been able to lead the service!   I’ll paste my “sermon” below, for those who care to see what lesson I taught the kids in about 10 of the 45 minutes.  

 Shabbat shalom to all!!!  May you be sealed in the Book of Life for a healthy and happy year,  jen

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Rosh Hashanah 5778 (2017)

Come on up, kids! Let’s have a story and discission!!

 I’m so happy and excited that our calendar has brought us back to the first day of another new Year! And I thought it might be fun to talk a few minutes about some truly awesome things that we should look for in the New Year… does that sound like a good idea?

All right, well, let’s start at the beginning… the VERY beginning… five-thousand seven-hundred seventy-eight Jewish years ago. Can anyone tell me what happened on the VERY FIRST Rosh Hashanah?
On the day we consider the first day EVER?

Yes! Gd began creating the world!! Gd separated the Light from the dark and the water from the sky. Gd removed the water from dry land, put plants and creeping things on the land, put the sun and moon and stars in space, put fish in the water and birds in the sky, and finally created all the animals that live on dry land, including humans. On Rosh Hashanah 5778 Jewish years ago, Gd started the process that led to the creation of me and you and you and you and everyone who is here today. Isn’t that amazing?!?!?

And this ongoing process of creation contains some really awesome Wonders that I thought we could read about today.

[READ WONDERS OF NATURE]


What other things have you seen in Nature that made you say “Wow! Look at that???”

Those are great examples!!!

If we are looking, we can find things in Nature every day that make us say “Wow!”, and each time we see one of these Wonders… our Jewish tradition tells us we should say a blessing.

Who remembers the special phrase that is at the beginning of all our blessings? We’ve already said it a few times here today, and we say it before we have juice or challah…

Right!! Our Blessings begin with “Baruch Atah Adonai” … and this book tells us the blessing for seeing Wonders in Creation is: “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Mekech Haolam, oseh ma’aseh b’resheet” which means “Thank you, Gd, for making this process of creation!!”

So this year, when you see a pretty flower, I want you to say “Thank you, Gd, for making Creation.” And when you see a colorful sky, I want you to say “Thank you, Gd, for making Creation.” And when you see a rainbow or the Ocean, what will you say?

Good! What if you see a really ugly creepy bug that kinda scares you?

And when you see yourself in the mirror???

What about when you see someone in your family?

Do you think you can do that this year?

Great! Because the more blessings you say, the more blessings you’ll begin to see… and you’ll have a happier year…

Now, to help you remember to say thank yous every day, I have a little surprise for you. Who can tell me what this is?

Yes, its a Yarmukle or Kippah. And each of you can take one from the bowl. I want you to keep that kippah in a place where you’ll see it every day — like your bedside table, or your chair at the dinner table, or in your backpack — so it can remind you to say Thank You for all the awesome Wonders you find in Creation.  Okay? 

Now. One last note about your kippot… please bring them back on Yom Kippur, because we are going to learn together why they are so white in the middle! Can you do that for me? Great!  Thank you!   You can go back to your parents now.  

A Beautiful Shabbat!

ב׳׳ה


This has been the best Shabbat!!   

My boys and I spent about six hours playing in our neighborhood swimming pool, and this morning I spent a few hours coordinating a synagogue program for families with young children — and those happen to be two of my very favorite activities!!  It’s been a Shabbat full of joy, love, and spirituality, and has reminded me how very good life can be.  I hope all of you had a great day too!!!

shavua tov, jen 

The miracle of parsley… and life

ב׳׳ה


When we taught the religious school kids about Tu Bishvat a couple of weeks ago, we had them plant parsley seeds in little cups because it’s entirely too cold here to plant anything outside.  I brought the extra seeds home and planted them in a spare pot that I had, and the picture above shows their growth so far.   

I can’t even begin to tell you how much joy I’ve experienced this week watching the green growth unfold from the brown dirt!!   The green sprouts remind me:

  • that spring, with its warmer days and new green leaves, is coming soon; 
  • that every seed’s germination into a plant, like every child’s birth, truly is a miracle;
  • that, really, all of nature . . . our entire way of life on this planet . . . required a series of events that were improbable individually, making their combined occurrence nothing short of miraculous!!

This Shabbat, may we each find a moment to be humbled at the miracle that is Life, and may that realization make us more grateful for our blessed (though sometimes imperfect) existence… 

Shabbat shalom, jen

the richest person in this world

ב׳׳ה

What could have more value, at any moment in time, than the light and love of others who see the truth of who we are and who encourage us to climb, so that we might reach the potential Gd planted deep within?

When I stop and remember to measure my life by that standard, I’ve no doubt that I must be the richest person in this world!!! 

Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter: whoever finds one has found a treasure.  Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth.
Apocrypha: Ben Sira 6:14-15.

 with a heart full of gratitude, jen 

blessed with everything 

ב׳׳ה

Friday night, the Rabbi of my small congregation was out of town for Thanksgiving, and I was honored to be allowed to lead Erev Shabbat service with our song leader. It had been quite a few years since I’d led an Erev Shabbat service, and leading the service in my own religious community really was a nice experience! 

Being the geek that I am, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about the week’s Torah portion!  So I did some studying last week and drafted the sermon below. It’s not earth-shattering, but it coordinated well with the baby-naming that we had during the service. After my words, I asked our song-leader to play and sing “Return Again” by Neshama Carlebach, and I’ve attached a YouTube link for it below.

Here’s my sermon:

This week’s Torah portion is Chayyei Sarah, a portion in which we learn: First, that Sarah has died, which leaves Abraham weeping and mourning; and second, that Abraham has to send a servant to find a wife for Isaac, because Isaac — the son through whom Abraham is to become a great nation –- is 37 years old and unmarried.  When I think about how Abraham must have been feeling in the midst of these circumstances, I imagine Abraham would not be in the best of emotional spaces . . .

And yet, the Torah tells us, in one simple verse dropped between these two stories– “Abraham was old, advanced in years, and Adonai had blessed Abraham with everything.” Genesis 24:1.

When I read that verse, I immediately wondered – “Everything???  If a man who just lost his wife and has no chance of grandchildren has been blessed with everything . . . what is everything?”

I checked my Torah commentaries and found one from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who said Abraham had been blessed with everything because he “attained peace.” (1)

Rabbi Nachman further explained the verse tells us that Abraham was both old and advanced in years because the Hebrew word for “old” (zaken) is not just a reference to someone’s age; it also implies a person has “obtained wisdom.”  Abraham had “delve[d] deeply into [Life’s] mysteries and deepen[ed] his understanding of Godliness.” Through the heavenly wisdom that Abraham thereby gained, he obtained peace … and, thus, was blessed with everything.

And Rabbi Nachman explained one more thing about Abraham’s wisdom: It “devolves” or flows from “a person’s imagination and faith.”

imagination and faith…

When I think of imagination and faith, I think of children . . . . Unlike adults, young children see the world around them without a filter of pre-conceived expectation and judgment. They are not self-conscious or anxious. They simply live in each moment with emotional honesty and integrity – they are themselves, and they don’t feign being anything or anyone other than who they are.

And this, I think, is what Rabbi Nachman was saying about Abraham’s wisdom and peace flowing from his “imagination and faith” . . . that Abraham was an adult who, like a small child, was present in each moment and lived with emotional honesty, so that he could look at the world with a sense of wonder and awe, and was open to experiencing the miraculous.(2)

This mindset – this “living in the presence of Gd” – brought Abraham peace, even as he faced life’s challenges — and that, indeed, is being blessed with everything!

May we each strive to be more like Abraham, to be present in each moment and see the world through the eyes of a child, so that we may obtain supernal wisdom and live with peace…

Neshama Carlebach Return Again

(1) All the Rabbi Nachman explanations and quotes are from Rebbe Nachman’s Torah (The Berkowitz Edition), Genesis at 197-198 (Breslov Research Institute 2011).
(2) Phrasing based on language by Rabbi Marcia Prager, The Path of Blessing, page 31 of 231, Jewish Lights e-book (“When we look at small children, we see their sense of wonder, their openness to the miraculous.”).

P’nai Or Philadelphia 

ב׳׳ה

screenshot from P’nai Or website
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Saturday, I celebrated Shabbat with P’nai Or Philadelphia, a community affiliated with the Jewish Renewal movement. It was a truly wonderful Shabbat unlike any other I’ve ever experienced!!

The congregants were warm and welcoming. The atmosphere at Torah study was so calm and respectful that, as layers of the ancient text were unpacked, individuals could unpack a bit of themselves to connect more deeply to the story.  And the prayer service . . . it certainly wasn’t the same service I’m accustomed to attending in the Midwest!!  There were percussion instruments, uplifting melodies, vocal harmonies, and an insightful (and practically-useful!!) d’var Torah from one of the congregants.

If you want to learn more about P’nai Or or Jewish Renewal, you can find information on P’nai Or’s website…

http://pnaior-phila.org

I feel very blessed to have spent time with them, so …if you ever find yourself in Philadelphia for a weekend and have interest in experiencing a spiritually-moving service designed for progressive Jews… I recommend you stop by to pray with them!!

shavua tov, jen

Shavua Tov!!

ב׳׳ה

I arrived home last night to find a new two-volume set of Torah commentaries in my mailbox.  They were sent by a friend with whom I study telephonically, so I wasn’t expecting these particular books to arrive.  It was a very happy surprise!!  

The surprise was made even sweeter by the fact that the commentaries are based on the writings of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev (d. 1810) — who just might be my favorite Hasid.  He was known “for his ability to see the best in people and for his intimate relationship with God, whom he saw and experienced everywhere.”  Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Intro at xxxv, Hasidic Tales: Annotated & Explained (Skylight Paths Publishing 2004).   Here is the English translation of a song the Berditchever Rebbe is said to have sung in his native Yiddish:  

Where I wander –You!
Where I wonder–You!
Only You, You again, You always!
You! You! You!
When I am happy–You!
When I am sad–You!
Only You, You again, You always!
You! You! You!
Sky–You!
Earth–You!
You above!
You below!
In the beginning–You!
In the end–You!
Only You, You again, You always!
You! You! You!

Rabbi Shapiro, Hasidic Tales at 177.

shavua tov -a good week- to all!!  May we, like the Berditchever Rebbe Levi Yitzhak, be blessed with glimpses of The One as we reside here amongst the many, jen