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December 2019 Newsletter
Kislev/Tevet 5780

 

 


What’s Jewish about Meditation?

 By Rabbi Lee Moore

At 5:30pm on Tuesday December 3rd at BAJC I’ll be leading an experience of Jewish Meditation -- for seasoned meditators, newcomers to the practice and anyone in between.
 
The terms ‘Jewish’ and ‘meditation’ may seem like an odd combination. Isn’t meditation found primarily in Eastern contemplative traditions, not in synagogues? As those practices -- and their recent derivatives, like Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction – gain more popularity, more Jewish environments are also conducting meditation instruction and sessions.
 
Versions of what might be called meditation were practiced in Jewish communities since the birth of Hasidism in 18th century Eastern Europe, from the Kabbalistic community of Tzfat in the 16th century and some more esoteric practices from 12th -13th century Spain, curated by figures like Maimonides and Abulafia.
 
And yet, the most common practices of ‘Jewish meditation’ occurring in today’s synagogues and JCCs are not those.  For a variety of sociological, historical and spiritual reasons many of the Jewish meditation sessions and retreats offered today are primarily using Buddhist techniques wrapped up in Jewish contexts, perhaps with a short Jewish chant or teaching before or after the practice. With much creativity from especially Jewish Renewal rabbis, new forms of meditation based on Buddhist practices are emerging with a distinct Jewish flavor.
So, on the one hand Jewish meditation is not a new thing; on the other, the version of it that is spreading fairly quickly to Jewish communities today is definitely syncretic, or a blatant fusion of practices from different traditions.
 
In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with this. For millennia, Jews have borrowed from the traditions of the peoples around them, for example animal sacrifice in the Ancient Near East or praying in large buildings with pews in 20th century United States. We have encountered practices like these, tweaked them slightly and then within a few generations ‘made them Jewish.’ In fact, it can be challenging to dig into our history to find practices that have not to some degree been influenced by an encounter with another culture. I see this as one of our best, if hidden, survival strategies throughout time.
 
Embracing a style of meditation that enables us to do two important things – to focus and to relax (as many of the Eastern practices do) – is arguably one of the best ways we will keep Judaism alive as we evolve along with these changing times. Our current culture of cell phone addiction and disconnection from nature results in serious socio-emotional challenges. Practices that can help us return to the present moment are not only necessary for our sanity and survival. In my theology, they are actually ways of staying connected to God, who can only ever be experienced in the present moment. When we are distracted from being present ourselves, how can we expect to meet with the Presence of the Divine?
 
When both Abraham and Moses were approached by God, their response was the same – hineini which means, ‘here I am.’ The degree to which we can truly show up – for each moment, for ourselves, for our loved ones – is the degree to which we can invite a sense of holiness and connection with the Divine into our lives. This takes practice, as our natural tendencies and many forces around us lead us toward distraction.
 
Jewish prayer and chanting certainly also help us become more focused and regulated, more open to having that Divine encounter. Still, there are few practices that are as effective and powerful at helping us become present than those which take our attention to the breath or to a single point of focus.
 
This being said, as some of you know I have been working for the last several years on a project with my rabbi and a few colleagues on uncovering particular Jewish meditations that are described in The Tanya, by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. One of these forms of hitbonenut, or active contemplation, I mentioned during my Yom Kippur sermon.
 
When we meet on December 3rd to practice some ‘Jewish Meditation,’ I will be offering from each of these styles of practice for people to choose from, as well as a period for Q and A. If you have any interest, I recommend that you join us that evening; if we have a group of people who want to practice together we will continue meeting throughout the winter, as well. Hope to see you there!

President Column

Local Love Brigade

by Co-President Laura Berkowitz


This past Saturday, members of the Jewish Community opened their hearts with beautiful pictures and deeply felt sentiments.  Below are some of the stories of individuals or groups who received our messages of love and caring.  If any of them move you, join us to share your love after services (at about 12:15 p.m.) at our shul on Dec. 7th, 14th and 21st.  This event is open to the public.
A 17 year old student, in this country for three years was speaking on his phone while riding a trolley in San Diego.  A 26-year-old sat down beside him and asked what language he was speaking.  When the young man answered “Arabic” the adult punched him in the face three times yelling racial slurs.  No one on the trolley came to his aid.  Although the attacker was not a fellow student, the young man is so traumatized and disillusioned about America that he will be homeschooled for the foreseeable future.
Former mayor of Rutland, Chris Louros, (who lost his job as mayor due to his plan to welcome 100 Syrian and Iraqi refugees to Rutland) just lost his son to a violent death last week. 
Middle school students at the Christa McAuliffe Charter School who were terrified by a Snap chat group that was created by their peers called Kill the Jews.
A US citizen from Peru, Mahud Villalaz had acid thrown on his face while racist comments were made to him at a Mexican Restaurant. In addition to writing to the victim, lots of love was sent to the waitresses who were traumatized by witnessing this attack.
A BAJC member’s daughter who is now living in Pennsylvania and is struggling with Anti-Semitic bullying at her new school.

TREE OF LIFE 

For a donation of $250 you can have a leaf engraved on our Tree of Life in memory of a loved one, in celebration of a Simcha, in recognition of an achievement (yours or someone else’s), or with your own name or the names of other contributors.  Each leaf accommodates one to four lines of engraving, in English and/or Hebrew. The Tree of Life was donated by Pamela and Elliott Greenblott as a fundraiser for the BAJC building fund.  Contact Faith with information about what you would like engraved on a leaf. 

Feeding the Hungry

With Fall in the air, gratitude for our homes takes on extra poignancy. For those who don’t have a home, the Brattleboro Seasonal Overflow Shelter provides evening meals and nightly beds for local homeless people at the Winston Prouty Center on the Austine Campus. From November to May, BAJC has the privilege of preparing and serving meals once a month for SOS residents. 

To offer a practical kindness where a brother or sister has a physical need is to be an agent of hope in a hope-hungry world. Psalm 119 declares, ‘Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord.’, ‘Open my eyes that I may see wondrous things out of your righteous law.” Here’s a great opportunity to feed the poor. BAJC’s dates for preparing and serving home-cooked, belly-filling, heartwarming meals are the first Thursday of each month, plus the special dinner on Christmas Eve (a Tuesday). Saint Rosner will be sending a sign-up link very soon. In the meantime, if you have questions or want to reserve some dates, you can contact Saint, the project chair, at saintrosner@gmail.com.
You can Sign up at:  
https://www.signupgenius.com/go/8050948a8ae2ea46-overflow3

Hebrew School 
 
The Synagogue is busy on Sunday afternoons with students and teachers learning and celebrating together.  On one special grey afternoon at the end of Sukkot, everyone gathered with enthusiasm in a circle outside to sing and beat willow branches against the ground in a traditional Hoshanah Rabah practice. Since it’s traditional on this day to pray for rain and think globally, we sang the song ‘Adamah v’Shamayim’ and turned our attention to ecological wholeness.  

Now students have started a new unit to explore Shabbat themes.  They’ll be learning about Jewish ideas of rest and prayer, practicing Shabbat songs and rituals, and even exploring the idea of prayer in nature. 

A school Chanukah party is planned for December 15th. Anyone who’d like to help with this celebration should email diane.shamas@gmail.com. There will be no school on November 24, and school will also be closed December  22 and 29. Class will resume on January 5.
Photo Credit Stephan Brandstatter
Chanukah Party!

Join us for our annual Chanukah Party on Friday December 27th at 6:00.  We will aim to light a record number of Menorahs or Chanukiahs so we need you to bring yours along.  It will be the 6th night of Chanukah, so it promises to be a BRIGHT celebration! We will have lots of latkes you can slather with sour cream or applesauce or a combination of the two!  There will also be traditional jelly donuts called “sufganyot” made by baker extraordinaire, Chelsa Roy and, for those of us who crave healthy fare, there will be some delicious salads to round out the meal. If you are paying close attention, you know there will also be a Shine A Light event this same evening, but you CAN DO BOTH because Shine A Light is a brief celebration, which begins at 5:30.
                              
Shine A Light for Social Justice

Community members, local businesses and the public enthusiastically embraced BAJC’s Shine a Light for Social Justice project last year which grew out of a single ad hoc Social Action Committee meeting where Laura, Alyssa Landis and others brainstormed it into being.   The Social Action Committee is happy to announce the second annual event which has been shared with congregations throughout the state of Vermont.  We expect to see it replicated in towns large and small.  Chris Mansfield, Kate Morgan, Rick Gordon and Laura Berkowitz have brought some fresh ideas this year that we hope will make the event even more accessible and meaningful.  Please help us shine a light for social justice during the eight nights of Chanukah at 5:30 at the locations below: 

Sunday December 22nd  - Sam’s Army/Navy - Religious Freedom
Monday December 23rd – Centre Congregational Church - Climate Crisis
Tuesday  December 24th - Brattleboro Food Co-op - Mental Health
Wednesday December 25th - Latchis Theater - LGBTQ rights
Thursday December 26th - Elliot St. Fish ‘n Chips - Equality for Women
Friday  December 27th - Mitchell Giddings Fine Art in the Brooks House Atrium - Homelessness 
Saturday December 28th  - Gallery in the Woods - Racial Justice
Sunday  December 29th  - Everyone’s Books - Immigrant Justice

We need lighting leaders for every one of these events. Lighting leaders have the opportunity to represent the Jewish community by saying the prayer, lighting the candles and sharing something about the meaning of Chanukah.  Lighting leaders may also lead the group in the singing of songs or in other activities and offer the opportunity for participants to discuss the theme of the evening. The entire program should last between 15 and 30 minutes. Please contact Laura Berkowitz at options@myfairpoint.net if you would like to be a lighting leader.


BAJC Undertakes Major Building Improvement Project

 

 You may have noticed construction work on our synagogue property. This is an exciting initiative to improve the property by building a new entryway that is not only more attractive, but also safer for all, with a roofed handicap-accessible ramp leading to the front of the building protected from snow and icefall.  Designed as a wraparound porch leading to an entry facing the road, this project restores the building to its historic configuration and will improve the flow into and out of the building. There are many other benefits to the new design, including reducing moisture problems with the exterior and basement, making the area all around the building more accessible throughout the year, and saving money over time on maintenance costs.

 

Thank you to the BAJC building committee—Dan Savel, Raphael Rosner, Deb Schiller, chaired by the amazing Andrea Watkins— for all their work developing plans, working with architects, putting the project out to bid and selecting the contractor, Mindel & Morse.  Special thanks Patrick Kitzmiller, a BAJC member and a certified architect, who volunteered to do all the architectural planning. The project cost is estimated at $50,000, which has already been covered, thanks to a very generous anonymous donor and to funds in our Stahl- Rosen building fund. We’re hoping to fund three upgrades to complete this project with the high quality we would like to see:

       o Traditional tongue and groove floor $6,000

       o Finished ceiling $5,200 (easier to light, reduces chance  

       of insect or other animals nesting in the structure,   

       possibly reducing framing costs)

      o Traditional looking, more durable posts $600

BAJC welcomes contributions dedicated to this major capital improvement project—the first we’ve undertaken in many years.  Donations of any amount can be sent directly to BAJC at PO Box 2353 Brattleboro 05303 or you can now donate through Paypal by clicking on the donate button at our website https://bajcvermont.org/.

      

The new entry ramp will make the whole building more inviting and accessible for a variety of uses. It is heartwarming to see how we’ve grown into the Greenleaf property over the years. This project continues the evolution of the property into an even more welcoming and attractive home for BAJC activities. 

 
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