Roots and Branches- MLK, Jr Weekend and Tu B’Shevat: The New Year of the Trees

Image relating to [title]


Blessings for this new secular year. With advent of 2018 (5778.5) we continue to keep our eyes on life-  staying spiritually awake, emotionally open-hearted and mindfully activist, especially at the one-year mark of a new administration that challenges so many of our shared values and our mission in the world.

We also continue to experience peaks and valleys in our own community. Fifteen of our members have lost parents or siblings in the last few months. Some have sustained injuries in accidents or have medical needs that require special care and healing. We have rejoiced together as our young people took their place as adult members of our community, as new and ongoing members have brought new babies to be named or celebrated their own rights-of-passage, weddings and anniversaries. In our third straight year of growth we have already welcomed twenty-eight new member households into our Sanctuary of Peace and Wholeness (Mishkan Shalom).

Showing up to share in all these moments of joy and sorrow is part of being in a covenantal community, whether we know someone well or not. I want to offer special appreciation to our g’milut hadasdim- acts of caring team: Gene Bishop, Stephanie Shell, Chris Taranta and Lisa Mervis, some of whom had their own losses, who have been providing sustained support together with Rabbi Yael, member clergy and myself..

If you are not a regular prayer, join us and experience what we have been building these last few years. If you have wanted to learn and study, make the time and register for one of the many life-long learning classes starting this month through May.

 We are not sitting passively as a community waiting for events to unfold. We are organizing for change and against intolerance and injustice.

This is one of the main motivations for Brian Walt, our founding rabbi, and our founding members coming together as Mishkan Shalom in January of 1988. This is why we sought a spiritual home to house our mission and values, which we will celebrate Shabbat morning January 6th with Rabbi Yael on the sixteenth anniversary of coming to Manayunk/Roxborough.

Our current ReGeneration 30 Campaign to help sustain our sacred community is crucial in the times we were made for- to stand for inclusion and diversity, life-long learning and traditional/innovative spiritual practice, a commitment to the well-being of our Greater Philadelphia community, mutual self-determination, security and peace for Israelis and Palestinians, just action and lovingly caring for each other.

These issues are part of our ongoing tikkun olam initiatives, including our membership in Interfaith Hospitality Network, and our membership in Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light, a new Mishkan Shalom refugee support collective. All of these initiatives are led by our inspiring members, with Seth Horwitz as our board representative for tikkun olam efforts. Many of us are also interested in re-engaging with education and issues around Israel and Palestine. Please be in touch with Seth or I if you’re interested. It is also an important Jewish value of our community that tikkun includes  g’milut hadasdim- acts of caring- and not a separate value from activism in our world.

To plant seeds for the future and live sustainably now, we are re-energizing our Green Team as part of our participating in the HAZON Seal of Sustainability this year under the leadership of Julie Meyers, Billy Linstead Goldsmith, Alan Tuttle, Rivka Jarosh, Meredith Barber and her daughter Gabrielle Schwagger. Please be in touch with Julie or Billy if you want to get involved.

On MLK Weekend we will gather Friday night January 12th to begin our weekend of prayer, service and action. We will welcome artist Debbie Zuchman who will speak during services. Her exhibition, "Peace in Pieces," is coming to Mishkan Shalom Sunday, January 28th, 2018, and includes a group of paintings and poems that were created when her son was in the Marines detailing war from a mother's point of view.

Shabbat morning January 13th will offer a cornucopia of offerings all morning, with a focus on Racial and Environmental Justice in our second Shabbat Hebrew school of the year, teen leadership group, and guest speakers during our Shabbat service. We will honor and highlight our members and areas of justice/tikkun olam active in our community and individual lives. While there are many activities throughout the city, we will be participating as a member congregation of POWER in a major rally and teach-in, Monday, January 14th from 1-4:00pm.

 Grounding ourselves in our values and praying with our feet on MLK Weekend we move to the elevated celebration of what was once a minor Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat, the ancient Jewish New Year for the Trees, on Tuesday, January 31. One of four historical “New Years” in the Jewish calendar- the 15th of the month of Shevat is a reminder for the need to honor the cycles of nature and the living trees that we inter-breathe with, reconnect with the earth we are extensions of and have impact on, and look at the Tree of Life as a guiding metaphor for relationship. This year’s Tu B’Shevat Seder will, once again, be led by Rabbi Yael and I, in a combined A Way In/Mishkan Shalom program.

We call our Torah “Eytz Hayyim”, the life-giving tree. I look forward to commemorating and celebrating MLK weekend and Tu B’Shevat together with you in the month ahead, as well as continuing to plant and reap the bounty of what we are nurturing together in shared conscious community in all our moments of connection, prayer, study, activism and acts of caring.


4101 Freeland Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19128 - ph: (215) 508-0226 / Site map