Thursday, August 21, 2014

I Learn Something Old Every Day

I know that Carolyn is a longtime Middle East peace activist. Until this week, I had no idea she had been a journalist, too. The death of reporter James Foley affected her personally, and I would have realized that if I'd known her background.

I learn something old every day.

Sure, there are new social media platforms to try out and techniques to learn. Scientists make new discoveries about what goes on inside the brain and outside the galaxy. New books come out and demand to be read. New pop phenomena spring up and dry out like summer lilies in the fall.

Often, though, it's the old stories we should listen to most urgently, and the old realities we should try to understand. The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri at the hands of a police officer is this week's news, but it's a very old story.

To understand it, we have to know about the history of Jim Crow, and of slavery. To evaluate the media coverage, we have to remember--or find out--how various white-owned media have covered racially marked stories, from the OJ Simpson trial to the Clarence Thomas hearings.  We need to know black media covered them, too, and how that created a divide between our perceptions of what actually happened. (Just as important, we need to know what stories we haven't heard.)

Yes, that's a lot to find out. Yes, the quest to understand will never end. But if we are going to be able to look our neighbors in the face, let alone live and work together, we must learn something old every day.  (And when I say "we," I start with myself.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Jewish Holy Day Calendar, 2014-2015

Dear colleagues,

Here's a guide to scheduling around the Jewish holy days that I thought you might find useful.   I didn't write it, only edited it slightly and updated it each year, but I vouch for its accuracy.

Category I.     MOST JEWS PARTICIPATE.  Please do not schedule meetings around
these dates.

ROSH HASHANAH (Jewish New Year) begins at sunset Wednesday, September 24, 2014 and continues through Friday, September 26.

YOM KIPPUR (Day of Repentance) begins at sunset on Friday, October 3 and
continues through Saturday, October 4.  While Yom Kippur is a fasting day, meals
are prepared in advance for the breaking of the fast at the end of 27 hours.

Typically, even some of the least religiously observant members of the
Jewish community do not work on Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah.   Please keep
in mind that even though the holy day may begin at sunset, these are
home ritual centered holy days, so a great deal of advance preparation is
required.  In other words, please don't schedule a meeting for the afternoon
preceding Rosh Hashanah because I will be cooking!

PASSOVER (Celebration of Freedom from Slavery in Egypt) begins at sunset
on Friday, April 3, 2015; continues through nightfall on Saturday, April 11.   THE FIRST TWO DAYS (through Sunday evening, April 5) require refraining from work.    LOTS of cooking and preparation before this holy day.

Category II.   Many observant Jews refrain from work.  I count myself as

SUKKOT (Festival of Booths, or Tabernacles) begins at sunset Wednesday, October 8, and lasts through Wednesday, October 15.  THE FIRST TWO DAYS traditionally require abstaining from work.

SHMINI ATZERET (Eighth Day Assembly, ending Sukkot) begins at sunset on Wednesday, October 15, and lasts through Thursday, October 16.

SIMCHAT TORAH (Rejoicing with the Torah) begins at sunset on Thursday, October 16, and lasts through Friday, October 17.

The LAST TWO DAYS of PASSOVER begin at sunset Thursday, April 9, 2015 and last through Saturday, April 11.

SHAVUOT (Festival of Weeks, or Pentecost) begins at sunset on Saturday, May 23, 2015; continues through Monday, May 25.

TISHA B’AV (fast day marking the destruction of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem) begins at sunset on Saturday night, July 25, and continues through Sunday, July 26.

Category III. Observance doesn't require refraining from work.

(Festival of Lights) begins at sunset on Tuesday, December 16 and
continues through nightfall Wednesday, December 24.  Every night, candles on the
Hanukkiah (eight-armed candelabra, sometimes called "menorah") are lit.

PURIM - Begins at sunset on Wednesday, March 4, 2015; continues through Thursday, March 5.

And a few other seasonal and historical holy days that I won't mention, because enough already!  If you want to know more about the meaning of these holidays, you might consult or the book Seasons of Our Joy, by Arthur Waskow.

Typically, if you ask a Jewish man if the afternoon preceding a holy day is an acceptable time to have a meeting, he will say yes, because what most Jewish men do is show up at the dining table, fork in hand.  For women, the two days preceding each holiday are incredibly intense because of the cleaning, preparation and food preparation that takes place.  We look forward to the day when these tasks will be more equitably

A final note which I thought worth adding from my own experience: Even if someone (who might even be Jewish) tells you "It's no big deal" to schedule meetings and
conferences on these days, doesn't mean that that's true for all Jews.   People maintain different levels of observance, and a more secular Jew may work on a day when I would not.   When in doubt, please ask!   I can't speak for other Jewish consultants, staff, board members, and interns, but I know I always prefer to be asked.

Thank you!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Day that God Mourned

Today in synagogues around the world, it was Shabbat Hazon, the Sabbath of Vision. We read Isaiah's vision of the coming destruction and rebuilding of a holy city. This haftarah always comes just before Tisha B'Av, and my fellow congregant at Temple B'nai Brith, Caroline Chauncey, explained how the vision and the holiday are related.

On Tisha B'Av, beginning this Monday night, Jews will read the book of Lamentations and mourn  the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. I have been explaining in previous posts how this was not merely a cultural catastrophe or a political defeat.  It was the shattering of a cosmic context in which the Jewish purpose-to repair and perfect the world-would be achievable.

Caroline noticed that the keyword "Eichah" which begins Lamentations and is the book's Hebrew name, also occurs in today's haftarah. "How (eichah) she has become a whore, the faithful city that was filled with justice." (Isaiah 1:21) It's also traditional to chant the haftarah with the mournful tune that's used for Eichah/Lamentations.

Why are these days twins?

In Lamentations, we, the Jews, mourn what has happened to our people and their land because of the terrible things we have done. In the haftarah, Caroline says, God mourns for us and what we have brought upon ourselves. "Why do you seek further beatings, that you continue to offend? Every head is ailing, and every heart is sick." (Isaiah 1:5)

And this is where we meet: in our common grief. And this is how we reconcile: in changing our destructive and self-destructive ways."Zion shall be rescued in justice, and her repentant ones, in doing the right thing." (Isaiah 1:27)

Welcome to My World: ...and Beyond?

It would be much easier to dismiss Tisha B'Av from duty on the Jewish calendar and stop mourning the destruction of the Temple if history had come to an end. So comforting it would be to believe that the Judaism we have is the ultimate goal of a long dialectical process and that what is, is permanent.

We know that history goes on, however.  So please read Welcome to My World: ...and Beyond?:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Opening Ourselves to the Pain of the Other

I've been brought to a halt in my Tisha B'Av reflections by the ongoing death and destruction in Palestine and the emergency in Israel.  Rabbi Jill Jacobs speaks for me when she calls on us to practice "radical empathy."  At the very least, we can stop repeating slogans that dehumanize our fellow children of Abraham.