Contributed by Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

An Invitation for Summer:  Going to the beach?  The mountains?  A get-away trip for relaxation, refreshment and rejuvenation?  Why not take some time to express your own personal theology.  Wrestle with it by yourself or with others.  Regardless of your religious tradition and heritage, I think we all incorporate our life experiences and learning into a theology that is “operational,” that allows us to live in the world day-by-day, making decisions and direction our actions. What might yours be?

Here’s a reflection with some of my own ideas.

Revelation:  Torah—in its broadest sense—is the dynamically evolving product of the Jewish people’s ongoing encounters with God. For all of the Torah that has been written, printed, bound, cataloged, distributed and studied, there exists still more Torah struggling to be born within the Jewish people. Our encounters with God never cease and only need to be recognized as such for God to permeate our lives. We construct rituals, symbols, words and worlds wherein we seek to let God in, to come face to face with the wholly Other.

Religious Authority/Commandedness:  We are 100% commanded. We are 0% willing to be commanded. The intervening increasing/decreasing percentages represent our dialogue with God, our effort to discover how actions unfold God for us, and our eternal hope for meaning in this life. We confront how our unwillingness to live other than just for ourselves leads to death and destruction for others and ourselves. We confront how our being commanded requires action before comprehension. We confront how our turning back (repentance) and our circumcising our hearts bring us more health of body, mind and spirit—how they bring us closer to God and how they provide direction for us.

The Nature of God:  We cannot know the nature of God. We can be in relationship with God, through which we discover God. Harold Schulweiss’s critical question for what he terms “predicate theology” is “not ‘Do you believe that God is merciful, caring, peace-making’ but ‘Do you believe that mercy, caring making peace are godly?’ (Evil and the Morality of God, p. 122 as quoted in Sonsino/Syme, Finding God, p. 156).  Revelation within the Jewish community over long centuries continually speaks to the point of discovering what is godly—resting on the cornerstone of the prophet Micah’s dictum that God requires us to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.”  We are observing God’s commandments when we are doing godly things. We can know what godly things are through God’s past, present, and future—God’s ongoing revelation to the Jewish people – individually and communally. The nature of God beyond this is speculation which deters us from the task at hand—bringing more people to an understanding that doing godly things brings peace and wholeness—sh’leimut.

Evil:  We and others who live close to the 0% bring about evil. When we answer to the voice of self-interest and no other, we endanger everyone around us. The larger the voice of self-interest, the larger the danger. We concentrate often on preventing great evils and we ignore the small evils which change lives more directly, resulting in a culture of pain and despair, leading to more evil ꟷ Free moral choice skewered and impaired by the actions of others.

Suffering:  It exists. Why me? Why any of us? Why not me? Why not any of us? Responding to being commanded means doing godly things to ameliorate suffering on an individual, communal and world-wide level while at the same time discovering and repairing the underlying evil which is responsible for human-engendered suffering. Does God cause suffering? No. Has God created a world in which suffering is possible? Yes. Will God abandon us? No. Can God stop all suffering? No. Who/What can? In partnership with God, much suffering can be alleviated. Beyond that, we do not—maybe can not—know. We live, hope and pray that with God, doing godly things, we repair the world and bring about the messianic age. God—think global—act local!!

Tree of Life – Pattern for Friendship

Contributed by board member, Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

Looking for a kinesthetic spiritual practice?  How about this . . . create a Tree of Life pillow that can find a favorite spot in your home . . . or maybe in the home of someone whose life, whose spirits, need an uplift. Art and craft as spiritual practice.

In addition to the project as shown in the photo, you might create the pillow as a memory pillow by writing the names of various family members and friends on each of the leaves using various colors of permanent fabric pen/marker.

It could become a conversation starter as in “Oh, I didn’t know you had an Uncle Harry, too” or “How did you ever meet Lois Jackson? I didn’t know you were friends!” or “Lareesa – what a beautiful name!”.

One reason I appreciate this pattern is that it’s hard to “get it wrong” – a concern that often plagues people who enjoy using their hands to make something but are afraid that the end result won’t “measure up”.

Another reason I appreciate this pattern is that it lends itself to group work.  Yes, it can be completed by one person, but with a group you can enjoy selecting the leaves, figuring out where to place them and how to annotate them.

There’ll probably be at least one person who can manage the assembly sewing. Everyone else can focus on just organizing the leaves. This project can foster conversation and also memory, along with the joy of sharing, both at the time of its creation and as it is displayed in someone’s home.

Another reason I appreciate this pattern is that it can be used to encourage the practice of gratitude.  What if you were to make this pillow, by yourself or with others, and instead of writing names on the leaves, write a quality or action (brief couple of words) that the recipient brings to mind.

For example “1974 New Baby” might be just the phrase to trigger the thanks you want to express to the recipient about the weeks she helped you out when you could barely get out of bed to care for your new baby, let alone yourself and everything else being a mom and wife entails. If done by a group, then a grateful person’s name could be included “Susan: 1974 New Baby”

Any aspect of this work might be considered the “spiritual practice” . . . arranging with a group of friends to make it with you as a gift for someone OR finding that someone special who could use some one-on-one time with you while making it together for him/her OR quietly making it for yourself while keeping in your mind and heart and prayers those included as “leaves” on this Tree of Life both at the time of its construction and in the future as you gaze on the names.

Done with intention and focus, the creative joy – quiet or infectiously rambunctious – brings the Creator into our midst as the scraps of fabric, which for many might just have been tossed into the trash, become the means for our own creating.

Where might YOU find odds and ends, scraps, or bits and pieces that don’t seem to belong anywhere and craft them into an expression of love, affection, gratitude and friendship?

And, if we can search out the scraps and bits and pieces of material things for a project such as this, might we not remember, too, that there are people in our neighborhoods who feel like their lives are just scraps and bits?  Can we not search them out as well, bringing them together and creating a stronger human community?

The Tree of Life awaits.

Click HERE for the full instructions from Cluck Cluck Sew.

The Power to Shape Our Experiences

contributed by board member, Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

For me, settling in my chair for a “day at the beach” brings forth texts from the Psalms that shape my experience of the moment. Remembered verses from biblical texts join with the remembered experiences of past days at the beach and increase my expectation of delight throughout the day and refreshment upon my departure.

Psalm 95:3-5. For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the mountains are also his. The sea is his, and he made it; and his hands formed the dry land.

Psalm 96 1,11. O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. . . . Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea roar, and all that is in it.

Psalm 104: 24-25. O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. So is this great and wide sea, where there are innumerable creeping things, living things, both small and great.

Yet for others a “day at the beach” is really, well, not “a day at the beach”. The beaches of the Mediterranean may bring physical relief to those who reach them as they transit across the waters from dangers in their home countries, but the desired economic and social relief may never materialize. D-Day and Normandy Beach (among others) saw thousands killed.

Indeed, Job’s metaphor (6:2-3a) rings true in these instances: Oh that my torments were thoroughly weighed, and my calamity laid on the scales! For now it would be heavier than the sand of the sea.

My day at the beach changes with the somber recognition of other experiences of “beach” than my own current one. My worries about having enough sunscreen or needing water shoes to soften walking the rocky shoreline into the surf or getting sand in my lunch shift to deeper thoughts.

Job 28:12-14. But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its price; nor is it found in the land of the living. The depth says, “It is not in me”; and the sea says, “It is not with me”.

Job 38:1-11. Then the Lord answered Job from the stormy wind, and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now your loins like a man; for I will demand of you, and you will answer me. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?’ Declare, if you have understanding. ‘Who determined its measures,’ do you know? Or ‘who has stretched the line upon it? Upon what are its foundations fastened?’ Or ‘who laid its corner stone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?’ Or ‘who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth, as if it had issued from the womb, when I made the cloud its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, “Thus far shall you come, but no further; and here shall your proud waves be stayed”?’”

My “day at the beach” becomes a lesson I hadn’t sought, a sobering reminder that this “day at the beach” is no such thing for me, either. The words and texts I learned and remembered “way back when” have the power to shape my experience in the present in multiple directions. The seriousness of life I sought to escape found me, and, I hope it was for the better.

Been to the beach this summer?  How was it for you?


Somber Jewish Summers

2016 17th of Tammuz Three Weeks Destruction and Renewal

Tammuz 17 and the Three Weeks: Destruction and Renewal

Submitted by board member, Rabbi/Cantor Anne Heath

Observance of the minor fast day of the 17th of Tammuz (July 24, 2016) begins The Three Weeks of Mourning leading to the most somber of fast days, the 9th of Av (Tisha b’Av, August 14, 2016).

Included in The Three Weeks are The Nine Days – from the first day of Av until Tisha b’Av itself.  Both periods have increasingly focused mourning practices with a minimization of joy, celebration and even everyday comforts.

On the 9th of Av/Tisha b’Av we mourn the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews during the times of the destructive loss of our spiritual center, the Temple in Jerusalem, which occurred not once, but twice: 586 BCE by the Babylonians and 70 CE by the Romans.

A full sundown to sundown, 24+ hour fast, extensive additions to the morning prayer service in the form of penitential prayers, chanting of the Book of Lamentations, and songs of lament/kinot are all a part of Tisha b’Av mourning practices.

We come out of the dark sorrow of The Three Weeks and Tisha b’Av into the hope of restoration expressed by our prophets. Each Shabbat/Sabbath between the end of Tisha b’Av and the Jewish New Year/Rosh Hashanah brings words of comfort from the prophets as part of these seven Shabbat morning services.

MyJewishLearning.com is good source of information about the background and traditional observances of these commemorations. Click on the following items to learn more:

The 17th of Tammuz
The Three Weeks of Mourning
Tisha b’Av

In regards to spiritual practices over the centuries and into today’s Jewish world, Jay Michaelson “beat me to the punch” with his article on Fasting from a Functional Perspective.  I’m not as wise or articulate as he and am glad to have his insights to share with you.

Listed at the bottom are additional links, should you be interested in exploring more aspects of what makes Jewish mid-summers somber.

At the heart of the matter for me this year comes the intersection between the particular – my Jewish observance – and the universal – the state of the world today.

I want to encourage you not to suffer alone from the pain that national and international events bring, but to find a community of people with whom to mourn the now all-too-regular tragedies.

If you are out of words, I share these from my tradition, hoping they might prompt words of your own.  They come from one portion of the lengthy traditional prayers for fast days – Selichot – prayers asking not only for forgiveness, but for mercy and for a way back from the depths of despair – a mournful cry of a mythic-historic despair that remains real for me and many others.

As you start with the prayer pattern below, find a way to make the words your own. From my faith I can speak them. Maybe you cannot. Adjust them to voice your soul’s longing to be answered. Find your community. Make a community. Say them out loud. Sing them out loud. Hear one another. Share the pain to lessen the pain, then turn from the pain and move into the “what’s next.”

ANEINU – Answer Us

Answer us, Lord, answer us.
Answer us, our God, answer us.
Answer us, our Father, answer us.
Answer us, our Creator, answer us.
Answer us, our Redeemer, answer us.
Answer us, You who seek us, answer us.
Answer us, God who is faithful, answer us.
Answer us, You who are ancient and kind, answer us.
Answer us, You who are pure and upright, answer us.
Answer us, You who are alive and remain, answer us.
Answer us, You who are good and do good, answer us.
Answer us, You who know our impulses, answer us.
Answer us, You who conquer rage, answer us.
Answer us, You who clothe Yourself in righteousness, answer us.
Answer us, supreme King of kings, answer us.
Answer us, You are supreme and elevated, answer us.
Answer us, You who forgive and pardon, answer us.
Answer us, You who are righteous and straightforward, answer us.
Answer us, You who are close to those who call, answer us.
Answer us, You who are compassionate and gracious, answer us.
Answer us, You who listen to the destitute, answer us.
Answer us, You who support the innocent, answer us.
Answer us, God of our fathers, answer us.
Answer us, God of Abraham, answer us.
Answer us, Terror of Isaac, answer us.
Answer us, Champion of Jacob, answer us.
Answer us, Help of the tribes, answer us.
Answer us, Stronghold of the mothers, answer us.
Answer us, You who are slow to anger, answer us.
Answer us, You who are lightly appeased, answer us.
Answer us, You who answer at times of favor, answer us.
Answer us, Father of orphans, answer us.
Answer us, Justice of widows, answer us.

Additional lines follow in a new pattern – in the manner of “The One who answered *****, answer us” where the ***** represents historical figures from Abraham through Ezra to the “so many righteous, devoted, innocent and upright people.”  We conclude with

Loving God, who answers the oppressed: answer us.
Loving God, who answers the broken-hearted: answer us.
Loving God, who answers those of humbled spirit: answer us.
Loving God, answer us.
Loving God, spare; Loving God, release; Loving God, save us.
Loving God have compassion for us now, swiftly, at a time soon coming.

Kein yehi ratzon – Thus may it be so.

Additional Links with Information, Points of View and Practices

From the Meaningful Life Center 

Aspects of Jewish law related to the 17th of Tammuz and The Three Weeks

An adult education lesson plan related to Tisha b’Av from the American Jewish University in Los Angeles

About The Three Weeks, from the Velveteen Rabbi

A “passionate colorful totally imperfect mother of 8” – Rivka Malka writes of The Three Weeks and Healing the World Through Love

A journalist writing of her path through one year of Jewish holidays, festivals, memorials and commemorations.

Prayer translations taken from the Koren Sacks Siddur. Any typing errors are mine alone.