Heshvan:A Breathing Space

Traditionally, this month’s name, Heshvan, was often preceded by the word mar, or bitter making its name known to all as mar Heshvan. The month is deemed bitter because of the absence of celebrations, holidays and reflections. Before our ancestors began celebrating Hanukkah or Purim, there was no guarantee that once the Festival of Sukkot ended in the fall, that they would see each other in Jerusalem six months later for Pesach/Passover.

Today, we live in a different world, so in many ways, I see Heshvan as a breathing space - a month to let all that has transpired integrate into our very beings. Certainly there is never a dull moment here at Mishkan Shalom, and there will be much happening in November.

Yet, it is a different intensity in the year cycle.Into this space I offer you some thoughts about the very foundations of our communal endeavor which emerged over a quarter of a century ago as Mishkan Shalom. We are a proud part of the Reconstructionist Movement, in its sixtieth year, functioning as a network of communities and a school of thought shaped by the passionate writings of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan.

Kaplan spoke of God as the Process that makes for the fulfillment of our human potential. Holiness, lovingkindness, meaning and purpose can manifest through the approach and content of our caring for each other, our activist stance for justice for all, our commitment to life-long learning across all ages, our prayerful, ritual and cultural practices. This process makes for “Salvation,” in Kaplan’s terms, as we move towards an agreed-upon outcome that ideally brings our communities into greater self-realization. Our mission has not been to build a Judaism where “anything goes,” but one in which so much is possible.

In the world of 21st century Reconstructionism, “truth” is certainly in flux. For example, as the book Exploring Judaism suggests, we are more questioning of the authority of the sciences than Kaplan was, even as we contend with staggering new scientific and technological advances. We are more questioning than Kaplan of the values of American society, and we feel ourselves being shaped by a multiplicity of identities and civilizations beyond the “living in two civilizations” credo. In light of the Holocaust and the never-ending eruption of brutal wars around the world, we question more vigorously than Kaplan the human capabilityfor achieving peace and “salvation” through politics, education and technology.

The hunger for meaning and purpose in our increasingly globalized world and Hubble-enhanced universe has moved us beyond the discussion of Kaplan’s day about theism and atheism to a discussion about how to live more Godly and religiously authentic lives in a culture that champions individualism and personal happiness over communal commitment and peoplehood. Our embrace of egalitarianism since the founding of our movement has meant not only inclusion of women’s voices and feminist concerns, but a need for Jewish men, as well as those for whom gender constructs are limiting or not defining.

We strive to find a meaningful role in contemporary congregations, and a way to support GLBTQ Jews, interfaith families, non-Jews committed to Reconstructionist communities, and Jews of multicultural heritage.

I want to highlight two offerings this month where we will explore a mindful and meaningful Reconstructionist approach to Jewish living.

We are beginning our third year of Pause and Refresh Your Soul that Rabbi Simcha and I host at our home Saturday afternoons from, 4:30 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. We gather for reflection, study and song that blend Shabbat afternoon tradition and reflection with text study, contemplation, prayer and spiritual practice, all connected to this year’s theme of engaging with Jewish living and moving towards greater consciousness in the four worlds of Jewish mystical understanding -- physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

The other is Engaging Judaism: A Mindful and Meaningful Approach to Jewish Living with Rabbi Yael, Julie Benioff, and me. Over 8 sessions, we will study some of the foundational aspects to living a dynamic and conscious Jewish spiritual life. Combining creative contemporary Reconstructionist perspectives with Jewish tradition, we will study and explore through text, discussion, practice and creative expression: Shabbat, Prayer, Jewish Mysticism and the search for God-connection, kashrut, the Jewish year and lifecycle, text and tradition, and more!

Here’s to a remarkable month ahead for all of us - one filled with opportunities to grow stronger together and engage more deeply with our very lives. Whether it is exercising our precious right to vote on Tuesday, November 8; rejoicing at our two wonderful B’nai Mitzvah simhas; participating in a life-long learning class, tikkun olam activities, at congregational school or a Shabbat service offering; or spending meaningful time with friends and family over Thanksgiving - we offer gratitude for life and sustenance at months end- and all moments in-between.

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