Musings on the Month of Heshvan

Heshvan has been traditionally called mar Heshvan--a bitter month because of the absence of celebrations, holidays and reflections. For our ancestors, pre-Hanukkah and Purim, there was no guarantee, only a deep hope, that we would see each other in Jerusalem (having flourished after the rains--if they came) six months later for Pesah.

However, we live in a different world than our ancestors. 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 Mishkan Shalom (as part of the Reconstructionist Movement, now in its sixtieth year) shaped by the passionate writings of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan.

For all of the diversity of personality and practice within our 100-plus affiliates in North America and Europe, Mordecai Kaplan's core ideas of religious naturalism, egalitarianism, democratic decision-making, and an empowered rabbinate and membership have produced dynamic and creative communities. These communities share many important characteristics: gender equality, shared leadership, a welcoming atmosphere, lifelong educational practices, liturgical and ritual creativity, a serious embrace of tradition, a commitment to tikkun olam, and a conscious search for meaningful, sustainable lives as Jews and as human beings on the planet.

Our community continues to grow; we have more children in our school than last year and nearly twenty households who have joined us or are on their way since the summer. Some of you (new or long-time members) may not be well versed in Kaplanian thought or Reconstructionist principles, even as you are proud and active participants in our community.

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 of 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 us 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 by Rabbi Rebecca Alpert and Rabbi Jacob Staub 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 capability of 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, to find a meaningful role in contemporary congregations, and a striving to support GLBTQ Jews, interfaith families, non-Jews committed to Reconstructionist communities and Jews of multicultural heritage.

As we move more deeply into the second century of a multi-streamed contemporary approach to Jewish Life, intellectual rigor, emotional honesty and spiritual creativity will enable us to continue to evolve with a deep relationship to our Jewish tradition, to our congregational and movement’s foundational ideas, and to global issues of environmental, political, economic and spiritual sustainability.

Here’s to a remarkable month ahead for all of us--whether it is when we exercise our precious right to vote, celebrate together on November 14, rejoice at wonderful b’nai mitzvah simhot, gather at the POWER assembly on November 19, when we offer gratitude for life and sustenance at month’s end- and all moments in-between.

A Thanksgiving Prayer:

Hakol MiKol Kol

The All in the All in the All

Within, around, beyond

No-thing, Know-ing

Unfolding, Life-Force

Longing of all worlds

Creation expressing as us

Construct we have created

In our longing for meaning, purpose

Life that is- this Isness

Thank you for this time

And for the opportunity to share in the abundance

Of connection, caring and sustenance as we each are blessed by.


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