Category Archives: Bayit

Our job: to uphold and increase the light

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” וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם אֶחָֽד / And there was evening, and there was morning: a first day.” (Genesis 1:5)

This poetic account of the beginnings of creation — from the first verses of Bereshit, the opening of the Torah that we read each year at this season — is the reason why Jewish days begin at sundown. When God began to create the heavens and the earth, there was chaos. God hovered over the face of the deep like a mother bird. And then God spoke light into being, and saw its goodness, and separated it from the darkness. And Torah teaches that “there was evening, and there was morning: a first day.”

On the secular calendar, each new day begins at one minute after midnight when our clocks move from PM to AM, which is technically “morning.” (I suspect that most of us think of each day beginning when we wake up in the morning.) But on the Jewish calendar, a new day begins with sundown. Erev Shabbat comes before Shabbes morning. Kol Nidre comes before Yom Kippur morning. Every Jewish “day” begins with evening. As in today’s Torah verses, night comes before day.

There’s always something poignant for me about reading these words as autumn approaches. I love the long days of summer and everything that they represent. I brace against Seasonal Affective Disorder as the days grow shorter. And every year Torah reminds me with these verses that night is part of the natural order of things — and that it is the precursor to day. Dark will give way to light every day. Dark will give way to light in a bigger-picture sense as the round of the seasons continues to turn.

One of my spiritual tasks right now is cultivating faith that dark will give way to light in a psycho-spiritual sense, too. But psycho-spiritually, we can’t count on the planet’s natural orbit to bring us from darkness to light. We need to make that turn happen ourselves. God set the planets and stars on their paths of time and season, and the earth will continue to orbit the sun and to shift on its axis no matter what we do or don’t do. But the task of increasing the world’s spiritual light falls to humanity.

It is easy to feel, these days, that we are living in dark times. Every day brings a new outrage. (I could list them for you. I expect each of us could make our own list.) Faced with injustices both large and small, it would be easy to despair.

Our task is to resist that impulse toward despair. Instead we’re called to kindle and nurture light in the darkness: the light of integrity, the light of hope, the light of justice.  Because unlike the light of the sun, which will return no matter what we do, the light of justice needs our protection and our effort. The light of justice can easily be hidden, or diminished, or even extinguished. Our job is to protect it as it burns, and to ensure that its shining can reach every place that’s in need of its radiance.

And every place is so in need of that radiance.

Today is Shabbat. Today we live in the “as if” — as if injustice and corruption and cruelty and prejudice and despair were things of the past. And tonight at sundown when we begin a new day, it will be time to take action again, in whatever ways we can. Tonight at sundown it becomes our job again to build a world of greater justice and hope and compassion. Tonight at sundown it becomes our job again to nurture and protect justice and integrity. When the world around us is dark, it’s our job to be a light.

Later this fall, Bayit: Your Jewish Home will launch a new initiative we’re calling #BeALight. We’ll invite participants to make havdalah, kindling the multi-wicked candle that evokes our souls coming together in community. And we’ll invite participants to emerge from Shabbat’s restorative sweetness by taking a concrete step toward building a better world. Though that project hasn’t officially launched, I invite us to think about what we could do tonight after havdalah to bring more light into the world.

In this week’s Torah portion everything begins again. In a sense that’s a once-a-year phenomenon. But it’s also a weekly phenomenon, as havdalah gives us the chance to start each week anew. It can even be a daily phenomenon: in Mary Oliver’s poetic words, “Every morning the world is created…” As our liturgy teaches, every morning our souls are given back to us, clean and clear for the new day. So what will we do with our souls, with our selves, with our hearts as we begin again and again?

Tonight at sundown we’ll begin again, and the work of kindling and protecting the light of justice will be in our hands. What will we do in the new week to uphold and promote and share that light?

 

This is the d’varling that Rabbi Rachel offered from the bimah at CBI this morning. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

Image source: eagleinthestorm.

 

A week of learning, vision, and building with Bayit

Dear CBI members and friends,

I’ve just returned home from my annual rabbinic study week. This year I spent my study week with my hevre (study partners / colleagues / friends) from Bayit: Your Jewish Home, the new nonprofit organization that I co-founded last year along with Steven Green and several other wonderful folks. If you’ve ever wondered what kinds of things I do on my rabbinic study week, here are some glimpses… and I look forward to bringing some of this work into completion in a way that will enliven and enrich Jewish life at CBI!

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

 

A week of learning, vision, and building with Bayit

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Bayit‘s summer learning week together begins with Shabbes. We come together from all of our various home places, put on our Shabbes whites, and daven, walking outside with a guitar to welcome the Shabbat bride into our midst. When we gather around the dining table, our kiddush soars, and my soul with it. We feast and talk and laugh and sing the birkat hamazon (grace after meals). We walk to the beach under the just-past-full moon and swoon at the sparkling path of moonlight across the waves.

On Shabbes morning our davenen is long and leisurely. Leadership flows organically: someone picks up the guitar or begins to offer a melody and the rest follow. Rabbi Mike Moskowitz gives over some Torah, and we talk about Balaam, social justice, and when it is and isn’t someone’s job to educate those who mistreat them. Later we study when one can send a shaliach (messenger) on one’s behalf and when it’s important to do a mitzvah with one’s own hands, and social justice, individual, and community.

There’s beach time, text study, singing. There’s the indescribable sweetness of spending a full Shabbat with others who care as much as I do. There are long afternoon conversations, and singing around the table as daylight wanes. There’s havdalah outside, our hands cupped around the candle so the ocean breeze doesn’t blow it out. There’s late-night conversation about what it means for our building work to be a tikkun for what has been broken, and even later-night Pictionary with endless laughter.

And that’s just the first night and day.

Visioning

We daven every day, gliding in and out of service leadership, singing in harmony. We dedicate hours to talking about Bayit’s mission and vision, about the projects that are already underway, about partnership and collaboration, about what we yearn to build. We cook meals and clean up from meals and walk across the street to the beach and lounge by the ocean and swim and bask in the sunshine. We dive deep into the nature of innovation, systems and structures, how to wisely do spiritual R&D.

We study Ezekiel with Dr. Tamar Kamionkowski from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, diving into difficult questions of theodicy, relationship, spiritual formation, privilege, bypassing, gender, and grief. We study the theology of the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy): how narratives and instructions from earlier in Torah are recast there, and what it means to hear God’s voice and study God’s word, and immanence and transcendence, and what the Deuteronomic God asks of us (learning and love.)

We study Shabbat and medical halakha and ethics with Rabbi Jeff Fox, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat. There’s a text from the Nezer Yisrael — about Shabbat, oscillation between giving and receiving, and how divinity can be manifest in authentic relationship —  that lights me up like a Chanukiyah. There are teshuvot (responsa) and texts that raise big questions about identity, disability, change, personhood, and the halakhic process. We talk and grapple and question and learn.

We spin blue-sky dreams about where we want the Jewish future to go and what we want to build, about curation and collaboration and innovation — and then we anchor those dreams in six-month and one-year and three-year and five-year plans. We talk about empowering folks to build an accessible, meaningful Judaism now. We talk about governance and publishing and the internet and spiritual seekers and “all ages and stages.” Then we set our work aside and immerse in the ocean, with joy.

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We begin to brainstorm about how we might re-invent the second day of Rosh Hashanah. What is the spiritual journey of that day, and how is it different from the first day? What do our communities need on that day? What elements ask a new uplift? What is the valance of teshuvah (returning / “repentance”) on that day distinct from the day before? What kind of temporal and spiritual runway do we need so our communities can accompany us into the spiritual territory we want to explore that day?

One night we bring folding chairs to the beach and daven ma’ariv with a guitar, accompanied by the waves, beneath the spread of stars. No one has a siddur, but it doesn’t matter; we have the words and the matbe’ah (the service’s internal structure) by heart. We sing to the One Who placed the planets in their orbit and the stars in the heavens. Because it came up in conversation earlier that day that one of us loves “Hotel California,” we close with “Adon Olam” to that melody in multipart harmony.

When Bayit’s summer learning and visioning week comes to an end, I’m sad to leave this space of learning and visioning and holy play… and grateful to have such hevre with whom to do the holy work of building together. Deep thanks to The Jewish Studio, our fiscal sponsor, for making this week possible — and to my hevre, for dedicating their hands and hearts to the proposition that everyone can be a builder, and that a meaningful, accessible, renewing Judaism is ours to build together.

 

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With [some of] my Bayit hevre: building toward the Jewish future together.

 

 

Originally posted at Velveteen Rabbi.

Bayit: Your Jewish Home and CBI

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

I’m writing to share with you some news about a new endeavor in which I am involved that I think will be terrific for CBI!

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Bayit: Your Jewish Home is a nonprofit organization I recently co-founded with several colleagues — including CBI’s own Steven Green! The word Bayit is Hebrew for “house” (hence the tagline “Your Jewish Home”), and we want to help people feel “at home” in their Judaism in renewed and renewing ways. Our goal is to give people the tools they need to build the Jewish future, and to empower everyone to take their Judaism into their own hands. I’m deeply excited about Bayit, and about bringing the tools that Bayit creates “home” with me to CBI.

Bayit’s initial keystone projects include a few things that I think will directly benefit CBI. We are diving into the world of Jewish publishing, collaborating with Ben Yehuda Press to release a volume for mourners called Beside Still Waters. That volume contains materials for before death, for the time between death and burial, for shiva (the first week) and shloshim (the first month), yahrzeit (death-anniversary) and yizkor (times of remembrance), and more. I’m looking forward to using that book in our community as we accompany and comfort those who mourn.

Bayit is also launching an Innovation Pilot Program that will entrain 10-20 congregations across the continent and across the denominational spectrum. We’ll create innovative community experiences, and seek responses from participants to discern “what works.” Assuming that the Board approves, CBI will be one of the participating communities. Bayit’s offerings will be keyed to the Jewish festival calendar, and participating communities will get to offer feedback to help improve these rituals, practices, and experiences — participating in meaningful spiritual R&D.

There are other projects on Bayit’s to-do list, among them a website of curated resources for lifecycle transitions, a website of curated resources for spiritual seekers (think The Jewish Catalog, updated for the 58th / 21st century), and more. And: we want to know what you most need. What tools would best help you feel like you have ownership of Jewish tradition and practice? What resources do you most need in your Jewish life? What can we build together with you that would help you feel more “at home” in Judaism and in your spiritual life?

I think the work I’m doing with Bayit will facilitate a variety of ways for me to better serve you as your rabbi. I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds.

Bayit doesn’t yet have an email list, but we have a website, and we’re on Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to follow us in any of those places. And tell us what you want to see us build! (Our doors are always open, and given that two out of the seven Founding Builders of Bayit are CBI members, y’all have a particular “in” — nu, reach out anytime.) I look forward to bringing Bayit’s resources and programs here to CBI to enrich and enliven our practice, and to helping all of us at CBI feel “at home” in our Jewish lives and in the life of the spirit, now and always.

Blessings —

Rabbi Rachel

Reprinted from the March CBI Newsletter.