Roots and Branches-Rabbi Brian Walt’s Return, MLK Weekend & Tu B’Shevat

Blessings for this new secular year. With advent of 2019 we continue to keep our eyes on the good- where we need to live, learn and lead from our Jewish values and convictions. Staying spiritually awake, emotionally open-hearted and mindfully activist is especially prominent for us as a Jewish community this month when Rabbi Brian Walt, our founding rabbi will join us for MLK weekend, a variety of activities around racial, economic and environment justice will be underway and the ancient “New Year for the Trees” or Tu B’Shevat are coinciding.

The weekend of Jan 18-21, will offer a cornucopia of opportunities along with Rabbi Brian’s visit and our annual Tu B’Shevat Seder, led by Rabbi Yael, others and myself. We begin with a veggie potluck on Friday night to welcome Rabbi Brian back, followed by a Kabbalat Shabbat service that will feature freedom songs, where we will here Rabbi Brian reflect on our founding and evolution as a community. Shabbat morning January 19th is our second Shabbat school of the year and teen leadership program and joining our school and services will be our own members Jackie Jonas, Ali Michaels and David Love, who will help us further our dialogue, awareness and action in response to racism, bias and white privilege. Rabbi Brian will join us again at Mishkan Shalom, Saturday evening where we will share Havdallah with him and hear his thoughts on Jewish identity, Israel-Palestine and Jewish life as it is unfolding in our times. While there are many activities throughout the city, we will be participating as a member congregation of POWER/MLK Dare coalition of dozens of organizations on Monday Jan. 21st beginning at 1pm.

 At the same time, we are not expecting one weekend to deal with every concern or provide answers to systemic and ongoing justice issues. Our Torah demands of us “tzedek tzedek tirdof”- organize for change and actively respond to intolerance and injustice. All our tikkun olam 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, and racism, bias and white privilege and we have established two listservs devoted to these issues. Please be in touch with Seth or I if you’re interested in participating on these listservs or getting more involved in future activities and dialogue. 

 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 Sunday, January 20th at 7pm. 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. Please pre-register as there is limited space.

The overall health and well-being of our ecosystem is fragile and resilient. Paying attention to the nurturing of the parts, while attending to the whole is one of the ecological messages of this holiday, both in terms of trees themselves and the sustenance they offer and need, and also in the macro-spiritual template of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Here the sephirot (or spheres of Divine energy) are only compatible and ultimately sustainable if the web of connective tissue, the “partzufim” or face-to-face relational dynamics connect the spheres. Without this interdependent web of connectivity, the whole structure decays, withdraws and ceases to grow. As for the single tree, so for the forest- as for the individual, so for the community.

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.

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