Tonight, the Jewish community will begin Shabbat by reflecting upon the themes of Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11; Isaiah 40:1-26) which contains the central affirmation of faith of the Jewish people, known as the “Shma”: “Shma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad”, and which means, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G!d*, the Lord is One”, which is traditionally recited twice a day by religious Jews. Today, Jews also celebrate the holiday of “Tu B’Av” which can be compared to Valentine’s Day- it is a celebration of Love. Indeed, the verse immediately after the Shma, is the “V’ahavta”: “V’Ahavta et Adonai” = You shall love the Lord, your G!d*, with all of your heart, with all your soul and with all of your might…. From this we learn that the fullest expression of faith is our ability to love.
From a rabbinic perspective, the Hebrew word “shma” which can be translated as hear or listen, is a reminder of the importance of being open and receptive. Even if we think we know everything, there is always more to learn. The more we train ourselves to listen, without judgment, without preconception and without our ego’s need to focus on what we are going to say next rather than on what is being said, the more likely we are to expand our understanding, and in the process, expand our faith in the One who is present everywhere. It can also help with the spiritual practice of patience, if we are tempted to let our mind wander while someone else is speaking. Today’s Jewish holiday of Tu B’Av is a reminder that true love is only possible when we listen and experience one another- without agendas, fully open, walls down… And that, in our love for one another, we encounter the Source of Love…
Our organizational culture concept for this month is “listening” and we are reminded to pay attention to our levels of listening, from non-listening to listening to the message that is beyond the words, and to always work to expand our ability to listen to one another and to listen to our patients. Many of the world religions remind us of the sacredness that comes with true listening. If one believes that we are all created in the Divine Image, then listening to one another’s experiences expands our understanding of the One Who is Beyond Understanding. The BBC recently launched The Listening Project: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00p1klj which is intended to help people learn to listen to one another’s understanding of faith, inspired by NPR’s “Story Corps”: https://storycorps.org/listen/?s=religion. Working in a hospital that is committed to diversity, we have a similar opportunity, every day, when we encounter our patients and our co-workers… to listen, to learn and to love…
This coming week, let us take time to stop and listen… Let us focus on learning to listen to those we are most tempted to tune out… Those with whom we disagree, and those whose language or speech is difficult for us to understand… What can we learn, if we stop focusing on the stories we tell ourselves, and instead, listen with our hearts open, trusting that they have a sacred wisdom to teach us, if we could only hear past ourselves… If we find ourselves wishing someone would be quiet, or we notice that we are telling ourselves that we already know what is being said to us, let us try to stop the chatter of our mind and the deafening drone of our ego… and instead become curious about why we are not able to stay present to the person in front of us? What are we repressing? Who does the person remind us of? What can we learn? How can we deepen our ability to have patience and humility, love and compassion, when we expand our capacity to listen to one another…
And in honor of today’s Jewish holiday of Tu B’Av (because you can never have enough reasons to express your love, regardless of religious belief or background), may we pause today to express our love and appreciation to all of our loved ones…. May we ask for forgiveness for the ways we have not helped them to feel heard, and forgive them for ways they have failed to help us feel heard… may we share with one another, listen to one another, assume positive intent anytime we have difficulty hearing… and may the love we share make this world a more loving place for all people…
(note: * Jews traditionally do not spell out the Divine Name, even in English, as an affirmation of faith that the infinite magnitude of the Eternal Creator is greater than all of our finite, limited and human words, languages, theologies or understandings. The exclamation mark in the way I spell G!d is an expression of reverence, humility and an acknowledgement of the awesome mystery that is faith.)
Originally from Montreal, Canada, I studied in Jerusalem at several Orthodox yeshivas, prior to beginning my studies as a Reform rabbi at Hebrew Union College. I am a second generation Holocaust survivor, and early on, wanted to do whatever I could to build a world where hatred and prejudice would never again have the upper hand.
For me, studying Judaism from traditional perspectives was crucial because “it was important to understand what we are reforming”. I believe in making educated choices from the rich set of resources provided by Jewish tradition, in order to ensure that every ritual and prayer is meaningful. I was a founding board member of the Society of Classical Reform Judaism (now Roots of Reform), due to my unwavering commitment to advocacy for interfaith families and the creation of inclusive Jewish communities that are unconditionally welcoming of all spiritual seekers, regardless of their religious background, relationship status, identity or Hebrew speaking ability.
In addition to nearly two decades working in synagogues, teaching, counseling and participating in life cycle events, I am also a social worker, psychotherapist, mediator and trained as an interfaith chaplain. I worked with the American Red Cross after 9/11, providing counseling and support at the family assistance center, Ground Zero and the morgue. My doctoral research was focused on burnout and compassion fatigue, as part of my years of work in hospice and palliative care. My life experiences have taught me hope and how to cultivate resilience and wisdom.
This blog reflects my attempts to distill rabbinic wisdom into insights that can speak to all people. I have dedicated my life to healing and spiritual alchemy. I first began the writings that formed the basis of this blog as part of my role as Vice President of Mission for KentuckyOne Health, an interfaith hospital system that brought together Catholic, secular and Jewish hospital systems, in order to bring wellness, healing and hope to all, including the underserved. I began my weekly reflections on the Torah portion, in order to share some of Jewish Hospital's heritage and values with staff that may not have known much about Judaism. These reflections were then shared by staff with others who asked to be placed on my blind copy list, as well as by the system mission leader of Catholic Health Initiatives to his own reader list, along with his own reflections.
I have been profoundly humbled by the reactions to these writings, and as more people have asked to have access to them, I eventually worked to overcome my discomfort with the internet in order to publish them online. I realized that Jews and non-Jews were drawn to my inclusive interpretations of the biblical text, and my reflections on how to apply these in our every day. I believe that, much like the Sufi teaching that describes all the religions of the world like different prayer beads, with the same string of truth that runs through each of them, so too can these ancient spiritual and mystical teachings can come to life, when we reflect on the echoes of other world traditions and by contemporary psychological theory.
As my professional journey has continued to evolve, and I have found myself transitioning from pulpit rabbi to community rabbi, to who I am becoming as I seek to move beyond all labels, I have found that this site remains an important way for people to get to know me, and understand my theology.
I am fundamentally committed to the sacred act of translation- seeking to discern the Divine through text and life, and to translate those words of Torah and wisdom into reflections that can speak to people of all faith traditions... and in so doing, hopefully encouraging others to do the same. We are all created in the Image of G!d, and as such, each of us has our own unique understanding of the Sacred. In the same way as the rabbis teach that if even one letter from the scroll of the Torah is missing, the entire Torah has lost its sacredness (is no longer kosher), so too is this world diminished so long as people silence themselves. For too long, organized religion has been used as a weapon, to keep people silent and to teach shame... my quest as a rabbi, and indeed, as a human being, is to work to translate religious teachings into redemptive and healing truths, to seek to liberate s/Spirit and to work toward "tikkun olam" (the healing of the universe).
My current rabbinate is dedicated to teaching and mentoring other rabbis, and working with interfaith families, as well as those traditionally marginalized from mainstream Judaism. In the same way as the holiness of the Jewish prayer shawl (tallit) can be found in its fringes (tzitzit) so too do I believe that the most important contribution I can make to the Jewish people is "Keruv" (helping people find their way home), and to the broader world is "shleimut" (helping people to find wholeness). I also serve G!d as a social worker, doing what I can to work for justice for all people.
It is my prayer that the insights in this blog will bring healing and insight to others, and encourage others to find their voice and path. Thank you for your time reading my work.
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