“We Can Be Heroes, If Just For One Day”

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Happy double dose of Adar! Adar II - the Jewish “leap year” which adds an extra month of Adar every two to three years keeping the Jewish calendar in sync with Pesah in the Spring and It gives us an extra opportunity for practicing joyful countenance as winter becomes spring. In the midpoint of another ambitious programming month, Purim arrives!

Purim means “to cast lots”. We read the well-crafted drama of the Purim story from the Hebrew Bible, Megillat (The Scroll of) Esther; celebrate with a festive meal/seudat Purim; give tzedakah directly to those in need- mattanot l’evyonim, not through third parties and give mishloach manot- deliver festive goodies to friends. We are encouraged to connect deeply with the Purim story, dress up in masks and costumes, hiding as it were, just like Esther did until her Uncle Mordechai challenges and supports her to reveal her true Jewish identity. Even the Talmud discusses the practice of drinking “spirits” on Purim to the extent we can no longer tell who is good and evil, and are less able to make these internal distinctions in order to reveal our true selves.

In gematria/Hebrew word count associated with letters in the alphabet, the Hebrew word for secret “sod” and wine “yayin” have the same numerical value of seventy. Our tradition teaches that wine releases the secret! Esther’s name is derived from the word for that which is hidden or “nistar”. We enter the story, inhabit the roles, claim our true heritage and identity, then celebrate and release our tightly wound self-image.

There is also the shadow side of the Purim story. The book of Esther ends with our people being given the authority by the Persian king to defend ourselves against those who were going to wipe us out and we do- by killing many. We run the risk of characterizing other people in harsh terms, becoming triumphal ourselves and identifying other peoples as “out to get us”, or ultimately hiding behind new masks.

At the same time, there is a historic playfulness and frivolity that developed around Purim, often in troubled times. We try on masks of shadow and light, explore our own stories without being too defined by them and in the process reveal more about our essential selves. We can each step for a moment into what a different persona or costume might express, celebrate and also lampoon our own foibles and loosen the grip of self-judgment. Esther’s journey (like God who is not named and is the “hidden one in this book”) moves her from obscurity to secrecy to revealing her true self and taking a stand for her people at great risk.  Her story can inspire us as we respond to many issues that we try to tackle for the sake of justice in all areas of life and for the wellbeing of our precious planet.

Each one of us can be a heroine or hero in our own right. Since the death of singer/artist David Bowie in January, I have been pouring over many videos, interviews and lyrics that illuminate the use of masks and images he used to challenge and explore his own identity, gender assumptions, and the human journey. I have even integrated some of his music into Shabbat services the last few weeks and I think his song “Heroes” could be added to the lexicon of modern Purim songs, the chorus of goes:

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be Heroes, just for one day

Thanks to modern Jewish feminist thought, Vashti, King Ahashverous’ wife has been claimed as one of the champions of the story, as she risked and lost her own standing by saying “No to the King” as our own Rabbi Margot Stein sings in her co-written Purim song.

I embrace the continuum of my interest, enjoyment and ambivalence (in true “VAV consciousness” style) as I approach the Purim story. To me, this is actually in keeping with Esther’s own journey towards self-revelation and values-clarification, and what we as Jews, partners and allies wrestle with as we do the dance of being safe enough to hide out and be loved for our patterns and viewpoints, and strive to grow and unmask our surface presentation.  Together, we discover the deeper Divine potential locked in each of us. To this end I look forward to what we will discover as we cast our lots (pur) together and unroll the scroll of our own stories and our people’s stories for all to hear once more. Hag Purim sameah- looking forward to celebrating with all of you at our multiple events this month.

"More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews."
Ahad Ha'am (Asher Ginsberg, poet, philosopher, 1856-1927)

These months invite us to feel gratitude for shelter, warmth and connection. We may even pull back and look at what is essential to our daily routines, especially when winter challenges our mobility or regular, driven schedules.

Since our powerful Yamim Noraim this past fall, I keep thinking of the VAV consciousness we explored as it relates to Shabbat and the rest of the week. Rabbi Yael and I have been looking at our own personal and communal Shabbat practices and are examining Mishkan’s minhagim (norms and policies) with the Spiritual Life council, Mishkan board, Education committee and others. We have even begun a conversation about when we hold Hebrew school, which was originally offered on Shabbat for most of Mishkan’s history and is now held on Sundays. What is gained and what is lost when Shabbat and our own shared customs become fuzzy, unknown to most, are unobserved and is, at times, similar to all other days of the week?

The Talmud (Shabbat 10b) states that Shabbat was a precious treasure gifted to us. We know from Bereysheet/Genesis 2:1, the Day the “Generator of Creation” paused to re-ensoul and integrate all that had been created. Shabbat was dedicated to building a relationship with the Divine, and reconnecting with the spiritual after a week of laboring in the physical world. One of the greatest benefits of Shabbat has always been family and community.

Two different words, Shamor V’Zachor (Keep and Remember), were used in relation to Shabbat the two times the Ten Commandments are written in the Torah. The Sages teach that this directs us in both commitment and spiritual discipline (Shamor)  as well as staying connected to Shabbat as a universal dynamic for balance and well-being(Zachor). Younger generations of Jews have developed an annual unplugged Sabbath, which is a creative project designed to slow
down lives in an increasingly hectic world. Others are advocating in a creative and egalitarian context for the deeper value of Shabbat as it makes for a healthier and more connected life.

Rabbi Yael and I recently met with our Spiritual Life Council, chaired by Steve Jones with support from Board Member Alan Tuttle, to review our Shabbat minhagim (customs around Shabbat practice and services), which have existed unpublicized for a number of years. Our intention is to re-engage our community in the ideas, practices, and customs of Shabbat in our communal setting.  These will be updated and posted on the third floor, website and other locations.

There are also a number of Shabbat policies we developed as a community over the years which are public on our website, and articulate the process and values-set behind our policies. Please take a look and familiarize yourself with them.

Here at Mishkan Shalom, all our services are participatory and egalitarian. We hold Shabbat and Holiday services year-round and Rosh Hodesh Celebrations September through June, with summer Shabbat-Under-the-Stars. We offer our soul-centered, musical Kabbalat Shabbat, held every other Friday evening at 7:30 pm unless otherwise noted. Once-a-month Community Potluck Dinners begin at 5:45 p.m., preceding Kabbalat Shabbat services.

Torah Study is held every Shabbat morning from 9:00 - 10:00 a.m., led by clergy and members of the community, organized by Mishkan member Eugene Sotirescu. Seasoned Torah study facilitators and first-timers alike are all welcome to lead! For more information, or to sign-up, write Eugene at torahstudy@mishkan.org.

Shabbat Morning Services begin at 10:00 a.m., led by myself and/or Rabbi Yael Levy, our rabbinic intern Julie Benioff and additional service leaders throughout the year. Dynamic, engaging services mix and alternate a grounding in Jewish liturgical tradition with music, meditation, chant, study, issue-oriented guest speakers, b'nai mitzvah and special themes. 

Tot Shabbat is a twice-monthly service for children under 5 and their grown-ups, offered by Rivka Jarosh. Tot Shabbat begins at 9:00 a.m or at other times on Shabbat. Shabbat Family Program, once-monthly, from 11:00 a.m. to noon, during the Torah service or during Kabbalat Shabbat potluck or services on Friday evenings, actively explores relevant lessons of the week's Torah portion and select Shabbat prayers with movement, imagination, discussion, art and music. For parents and adult caregivers along with their children; led by Rabbinic Intern Julie Benioff. Celebrations! offers family education workshops designed for children who have special needs, their parents and siblings, meeting on ten Shabbat mornings throughout the year with additional gatherings for holidays.

Spiritual Direction Circles are offered monthly, promptly from 9:00-9:55 a.m., led by trained Spiritual Directors Andrea Madden and Meredith Barber. We have also added a monthly Shabbat afternoon study and ritual gathering “Pause and Refresh Your Soul” that Rabbi Simcha and I host in our home that has been received with energy and consistent participation. There are occasionally life-long learning opportunities on Shabbat, or a prayerful nature walk with Steve Jones, and additional ideas percolating for celebration, spiritual life, and connection.

I invite you all to engage in the discussion of what Shabbat is for you in your life, your home, here at Mishkan Shalom and what Shabbat consciousness and practice might be for you. I would be happy to talk with you about what these thoughts and questions raise and support you in your personal and household journey toward a meaningful Shabbat experience. I experience the idea as well as the observance of Shabbat in any form, as one of the most powerful offerings we bring to the world as a Jewish community, especially in the times we live in. I leave you with a short video as a taste of Shabbat  for any day of the week! Hope to see you on Shabbat soon!

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