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 November 2019 Newsletter

Regenerative Creation: Relating to Aliveness

by Rabbi Lee Moore

 

Several BAJC folks have asked me to share my Rosh Hashana dvar Torah. Here is an attempt at a summary:

Rosh Hashana is considered the birthday of the world, a remembrance of Creation. For some Jewish mystics, Creation is not a historical event that only happened once and then stopped.  It’s happening all the time. I relate to this when I think of the way that cells regenerate, the way DNA replicates. I walk around thinking I am a body, but in fact there’s just a pattern embedded in my cells that has instructions to keep creating over and over again. Every seven years most all of our cells are replaced. I recently learned that if you take the number of cells in this body that have my DNA pattern, there are actually 10 times as many cells that contribute to this body that do not have my DNA at all – microbes, bacteria of different sorts – like those that enable us to digest our food.   So in strictly physical terms, my body is way more – 10x more - not me than it is me, and all those life forms work together to enable me to be a person. I am more of an ecosystem than I am a self.

This I learned from the emerging field of Ecopoetics, which teaches that how we speak about life -- the building blocks of this Creation process – is critical.  For example – we think that when I eat, my metabolism burns calories like fuel, right? As it turns out, that’s just a metaphor. Nothing is actually on fire inside of me. To say it’s burning is just a word, a construct. Why was this one chosen? Our approach to “biology” developed around the same time as the industrial revolution, and the metaphors it uses privilege a mechanistic way of imagining what’s going on.

Another perfectly valid set of metaphors uses the language of love and belonging – metaphors that are possibly closer to the truth of how life actually works. To describe the same process, I might say: I long for food. I have a strong desire for other life-forms, like plants. Then, I encounter them. I put them into 

my body; I touch them and they touch me. We merge. Their energy becomes available to support my life force and then I have more energy to move through the world to engage with other life forms and processes. I’m not a machine that burns fuel. I’m alive! My cells – all cells – are not machines.  They are mini-ecosystems with elements that both cooperate and compete to keep the life force going.

All life, seen in this way, is relational. From the quarks that swirl around each other to protons and neutrons that swirl around each other to the insects and fish and the mammals to the waterways carving out the riverbanks to the moon circling around this planet, to our circling around the sun – nothing alive exists in isolation from other alive things. We are constantly engaged in, swept up in, this swirling symphony of relationships where everything is connected to everything else. And in its multiplicity and dynamism, it’s all One big swirl. Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.  Yes, I see Creation and its processes as inextricably linked to the Creator, the One Life Force that fuels all of this, The Divine Mystery Unfolding. As the Sufi poet Hafiz says, ‘Sweetheart – you are just God in drag.’

My desire to de-industrialize and de-colonize the way I understand life systems and the life force is not only because it seems to be a more accurate way to understand reality. To me, this is also about getting closer to the Creative force behind it all, the Causer of the big bang, the Mystery who started this and continues to live through it. According to Jewish mysticism, God conducted this crazy act of Creation because God wanted to be known. Which puts our human role at a premium. We evolved from single cell organisms to something that has the consciousness we do … we actually can complete this project and know God. The way I see it, to ‘know God’ means being in relationship with aliveness.

Thankfully, there is wisdom in our tradition to help us align with Creation by understanding it and ourselves in it, which I believe is one way we can contribute toward solving the massive, systemic dilemma we face of climate change.  First beracha, awareness of how blessing flows, has never been more important. Just now, it’s not about getting more land and having more babies.  It’s about how we might open ourselves to an exquisite relating to this life force to channel massive amounts of creativity into our thinking and relating. This and other Jewish practices can help us stay connected to our own aliveness and connect to aliveness around us, which is one of the most important things we can do to start having the kind of systemic mindset we will all need to have in order to navigate the challenging times to come.

My quick, incomplete list of Jewish practices that can help us stay connected to aliveness:

 1. Yizkor - Remembering our ancestors. Their DNA is your DNA. This pattern you are playing out came from them, from all of them. The emotional terrain we struggle through often has way more to do with their life experiences than ours. Know them! Our tradition has 4 times a year set aside to ritually remember them. Their story is your story. Relish that story, because it’s part of you.  This is not about being nostalgic; it’s about understanding who we are – which is always in relationship to other beings.

2. Shabbat/Shmittah/Yovel: we are human beings not human doings so we must take time to be and not do. This is hard to do, so we must help remind each other by inviting each other to Shabbat dinners and walks in the woods. Life regenerates if you leave it alone for a while, like the field we are instructed by our holy Torah to let lay fallow once every seven years. Can we do it? Can we just let things be without trying to optimize them? Life force is not efficient. Its power comes from another place.

3. Berachot – every time we say a blessing it’s an opportunity to remember that we are connected. The Jewish system of saying a blessing before we eat forces us to think about where our food came from – was it a tree? From the earth? In that split second we have the opportunity to connect the dots of our experience to this life-form we are about to merge with. And then, the blessing after the meal is a three part mini-meditation. After I’ve merged with this other life-force I remember the Torah’s instruction of v’achalta, v’savata, u’verachta. You shall eat, you shall be satisfied and you shall bless.  Did I eat? Check. Am I satisfied? This is the important part – I take a moment to actually feel the satisfaction that this eating has brought to me. How often in our lives do we allow ourselves to be satisfied before moving on to consume the next experience? Then, the third part – how can I today be a blessing?

 4.   Shema: Can we remember that all is One? Can we remind each other to listen to that Oneness? All things are related, connected.  So we must learn how to relate to everything, including ourselves.

 5. Minyan: our sages understood that for certain prayers, we need to be in each other’s presence. Regularly. Our nervous systems are wired to know we are safe by means of social interaction.  Three things especially help cultivate this sense of safety, and they all happen with other people - eye contact, hearing the sound of a soothing voice and touch. Touch can be tricky, because many of us carry generations worth of trauma in our bodies. We only exist in relationship with others and most everything in our culture would have us believe otherwise. So – if we’re not coming together to pray with each other daily like we did in the shtetl, see each other daily when we had that level of social density and togetherness that most humans have had always in every era of history … we have to prioritize seeing other people more regularly into our lives.  We think it’s optional and it’s really not.

 6. Start every day with Modah Ani: Practice gratitude regularly – it’s helpful to have an actual thing to say in the morning to remember this. Our tradition gives us one. Am I grateful to be part of this donation of sunlight? Do I see the potential for blessing in my life’s circumstances?

 Being part of the evolutionary process is our birthright.  Can we rise to the challenge and reframe what ‘success’ looks like in how we bring creativity itself into this world?  Retraining our habits to align with the life force will help us in facing our challenge of climate instability. We don’t all have to be scientists. But we do have to begin thinking systemically in everything we do.  The most powerful way to act systemically is to shift our paradigm around what life is and how we relate to it. Jewish tradition is not surprisingly a great place to start … as the only ancient near eastern culture that is still around.

This year we wish to be written in the book of life … may we also recommit ourselves to aliveness itself – to that sunlight providing all life to this planet, to the way our emotions can show us what’s important, to trusting ourselves that what enlivens us is relevant, to cherishing our food, to recognizing when we feel satisfied and have had enough.  May we choose life this year. 

 

This Month's Top Stories

President Column

Seeking Forgiveness
by Co-President Stephan Brandstatter

This is an abridged version of my Rosh Hashana devar:

Gut Yom Tov. This past August 15th marked the 50th anniversary of the original Woodstock Peace & Music festival. If you weren’t born then, you may have heard about it and wish you had been. I was there and for me it represented a significant chapter of my life and a major milestone in the evolving political, social and spiritual climate of the times. Over 400,000 people from varied cultural, racial backgrounds, of different faiths or no faith, and many lifestyles converged on a huge cornfield with the objective and intention to enjoy the music in harmony and community. Then the rains came and people  looked after their neighbors, rested in tents, or just survived in the mud, sharing what little food and shelter there was. It was a peaceful few days that included the blessing of the birth of a baby or two. Countless people came away from this experience knowing that it’s possible to live together in harmony and peace when we take time to be mindful and acknowledge we all are of one humanity, making amends and asking forgiveness when called for.

 In my youth, High Holiday services were presented as the most solemn of our religious customs,  which for me carried little if any meaning. As I grew older, I discovered the essence of them—community. It’s exhilarating being among other Jews praying together —  similar to the Woodstock nation where we all prayed for and chanted NO RAIN!! NO RAIN!!

 All Jewish holidays are inextricably tied in both a physical and metaphysical construct to the cycle of recurring seasons. Rabbi Asher Resnick’s article “An In-Depth Analysis on the meaning of Rosh Hashanah” states “This is the significance of the Jewish holidays. They serve as signposts on the spiral of time to teach us which specific quality has been embedded into that particular season. Whatever historically occurred reoccurs every ensuing year, thereby affording us a “metaphysical window of opportunity.”

 I love the four seasons; Spring’s blossoming, Winter’s crisp air, animals preparing for winter while we engage in a month of connectedness from now to Succot and Tu’bishvat. It’s a time when our community merges to honor each other and our traditions.

 On these High Holy Days of Awe, known in Hebrew as Hayamim Hanoraim we ask for forgivenesses of our transgressions and we make amends and atone for them. In the words of Rambam, “whether one repents or does not repent, the essence of the day, atones.” “Atonement is not simply averting punishment, but also purifying the soul— kaparah is an expression of ‘scrubbing,’ the dirt of sin.” The “essence of the day” accomplishes two things: canceled punishment and removal of “stains” and “dirt.”

How can we define Rosh Hashanah? Aside from its meaning as the start of a new year, it’s also referred to as the "Day of Judgment.” Every Jew throughout the world is judged individually on Rosh Hashanah. “The Talmud tells us that three different books are opened on Rosh Hashanah: The Book of Life – for those judged to be completely righteous, the Book of Death – for those judged to be completely wicked, and the Middle Book for all who are judged to be in between.”

 As we seek to forgive ourselves and our offenses toward others,  first each of us must search deep into our hearts, being honest with ourselves in assessing the past year’s behaviors toward others. Then we can seek forgiveness and emerge as better human beings. It’s essential to be as authentic and “awake” as possible so we can ask in earnest for absolution and forgiveness. I think that seeking to forgive ourselves is tied to promises to G-d since disappointing one’s self is to disappoint G-d. 

 Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin says, “One grand lesson of Rosh Hashanah is not that we have to be perfect, but that we are, and can continue to be, very good. It is sufficient if we strive to achieve our potential. It is only when we fail to be the fullness of who we are that we are held accountable.” 

 Rosh Hashanah themes and theology are expressed in a number of ways, such as eating apples and honey for a sweet new year which by its nature symbolizes a spiritual exercise of self improvement, and  pomegranates. full of seeds, symbolizing our wish for a plentiful year and representing the number of mitzvot we hope to perform during the year. Lastly we have the round challah symbolizing life’s cyclical nature and the shofar call, sounding a “wake up from your sleep” for every one of us to initiate introspection. Jewish tradition teaches to atone for deeds committed against others you must approach them directly and apologize.

 In the spirit of that tradition and of Woodstock Nation, I prefer to believe that nations in conflict can approach this same level of self analysis,  focusing on peace and harmony as Woodstock did but not without having an open heart and mind, being prepared to listen, and acknowledging that fundamentally we  all seek the same ideals and have the same dreams, hopes and wishes for our children, despite our cultural differences, traditions and ethnic histories. It’s not a perfect world and there will be resistance, but a first step would be to ask for forgiveness and reciprocate equally. Reach out to G-d and humanity and the spirit of Adonai will find you. May we all be receptive, compassionate and responsive to forgiveness and experience a very sweet year. L’shana Tova.

 

Safety Training

 
Michael Knapp, Susan Auslander, Cara Benedetto and Stephan Brandstatter (security committee) have been working with the Brattleboro Fire Dept. on our Emergency Preparedness Protocol project. A couple of things we identified that are lacking or maybe could use refreshing are familiarity with, and ability to use, the defibrillator and also how to perform CPR.  Captain Keir will schedule a training session at the Brattleboro Fire Station on Elliot Street, for the Board, the Security committee, others who are frequently in the synagogue, and any BAJC members who wish to acquire CPR skills at no cost.  We will set a time for the training at the fire station that will be convenient for most or all interested members. Space is limited to first 20 people. We have five signed up already. Please reply with preferred weekday and time. Evenings are recommended. The training lasts 2-3 hours. Please respond to Stephan (getmusic@sover.net or 802-380-9795) about your interest and availability, or to get more information. 

 

The Welcome Center Event

On Thursday, October 10th the Brattleboro Area Jewish Community hosted a “Coffee Break” at the Vermont Welcome Center on I-91North. For ten hours we welcomed hundreds of visitors traveling to our beautiful state, offering them delicious prepared and homemade goods donated by generous local businesses, BAJC members and friends. There was a delicious variety to choose from, including hand-pressed apple cider, fresh-squeezed lemonade, hot coffee, hot chocolate, apple cider donuts and other varieties of donuts, oatmeal, cheddar cheese, made-to-order tuna salad and egg salad sandwiches. There was also cider, bottled water, soda, chips/pretzels, granola bars, just-picked apples, pita bread and hummus, bagels and spreads, jams, brownies and cookies galore, plus Gluten Free items. Almost every traveler we spoke with said it was the nicest coffee break they’ve ever been to. 

  The Coffee Break committee—Stephan Brandstatter, Susan Auslander, Deb Schiller, Wendy Bayliss — extends sincere gratitude to the  people who volunteered to help with organizing, working shifts, baking, shlepping supplies down and back, supplying ice chests, sign-making, publicity and much more.  Among the planners, preparers, servers, and cleaner-uppers were the committee (of course!) along with Brian Cohen, Diane Shamas, Steve Holmes, Faith Schuster, Marion Shapiro, David Levenbach, Andrea Watkins, Cara Benedetto, Fran Dryer, Verandah Porche, Laura Berkowitz, Janet Athens, Norma Shakun, Linda Hecker,  Amit Shemesh, and Rabbi Lee Moore. In addition to these efforts, Norma, Wendy, Linda, Diane, Verandah, Deb, Brian, and Janet also provided baked goods and other items to add to delicious edibles from Alice Charkes, Hilary Frances, Marianne Rigatti, Judith Reichsman, Robin Rieske, Tova Malin, Felicia Tober, Sue Lederer, Kate Tarlow Morgan, Jennifer Mazur, Selma Schiffer,  Orly Hasbani, Eileen Deutsch, Elaine Gordon, Janet Hulnick, and some anonymous donors who left food but not their names. We apologize if we’ve missed any person’s name because of somewhat harried record-keeping, but each and every person’s contributions were appreciated and helped make the event a success.

  An extremely important contribution was made by more than two dozen generous local businesses that donated products and supplies.  Please consider visiting the following local businesses and tell them that you appreciate their support for BAJC’s fundraising event: Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, Against the Grain, VT Country Deli, Walmart, Market 32, Holiday Inn Express, Irving Gas, Hannaford, Green Mountain Dairy, American Legion, Elks Lodge, VFW, The Marina, Green Mountain Orchards, Grafton Village Cheese, Bruegger's, Pepsi Leader, Delightfully Delicious, Susan Tondreau, Allen Bros, Harlow's, Sidehill Farm, Cumberland Farms, Dunkin Donuts, Mocha Joe's, The Works, Yalla of Vermont, One Stop Pet Supply, Windham Humane Society, Cafe Services, UNFI, Rentals Plus, Cafe Loco and Dutton Berry Farmstand.

  Thanks to the enthusiasm and support of so many community members and friendly travelers, we  raised over $1600 dollars!!! Eighteen percent of that is going to the One Law Fund and the rest will support activities and special events of BAJC throughout the year. In addition to the financial success, the Coffee Break event was a fun activity and a great community-builder!  Thank you, one and all, for your participation and support.

 

Image result for lgbtq
The Nathan E. Cohen Lecture Series Presents
LGBT Rights in the United States:

A Retrospective 50 Years after Stonewall
Speaker: Dale Rosenberg Sunday, November 3rd at 3PM
Admission is free and all are welcome
at Congregation Ahavas Achim

The riot at a gay bar called The Stonewall Inn, in New York’s Greenwich Village, in June of 1969, is often marked as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement.  Certainly life for LGBT people in the U.S. has changed a great deal in the fifty years since then.

In 1969, police raids on gay bars were commonplace and before Stonewall, those who weren’t able to run away in time generally went meekly with the police arresting them.  Gay men and lesbians lived clandestine lives for the most part, and being found out to be homosexual was disastrous. Lesbians and gay men routinely lost their jobs if their sexual orientation became known.  Homosexual sex was criminalized in all but one state of the United States in 1969. Women found to be lesbians routinely lost custody of their children in divorce. Perhaps most devastating to ordinary LGBT people, homosexuality was rarely discussed in general society.  Young gay men and lesbians often thought they were alone in the world, that there was no one else like them.

The 50 years since then have brought huge changes.  LGBT people throughout the country have fought to obtain equal rights, and had great successes, along with significant setbacks.  The AIDS epidemic increased homophobia but also made gay men, in particular, more visible. Gay celebrities – whether in the closet or out – made variety in sexual orientation more visible.  Well known transgender people brought the issue of gender identity to the forefront. The fight for equal access to military careers and equal marriage rights made the struggle visible nationwide.

How did LGBT people achieve the rights they’ve won?  Who were their allies and who were enemies? Who switched sides along the way?  How has the Trump Administration tried to roll back LGBT rights and how successful have they been?  What has the role of organized religion been, on both sides of this struggle?

Come to this Nathan E. Cohen Lecture on November 3 as Dale Rosenberg, Jewish Educator and sometime LGBT activist, weaves recent history and personal experience together to illuminate the struggle for equal rights since Stonewall.

This Month's Notes

 


Legacies of Trauma

November 12, Tuesday, 7 p.m. 

at the Brattleboro Museum 

 

In this lecture, Dr. Henry “Hank” Knight will focus on the concept of “historical trauma,” the cumulative emotional harm experienced by an individual or a generation due to a traumatic event, even if they themselves did not experience the event. The Holocaust and other genocides provide an opportunity to examine the lasting legacy of trauma on entire groups for generations beyond the tragedy itself. 

This lecture is presented in conjunction with the exhibit Fafnir Adamites: Interfere (with). Adamites’ work largely focuses on intergenerational trauma and the emotional turmoil inherited from past generations. Her feltmaking, weaving, and papermaking act as a meditation to work through past traumas.

Dr. Knight retired in May 2019 after 12 years at Keene State College, where he directed the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and was recognized as the 2018 Distinguished Teacher of the Year. He is co-chair of the biennial Steven S. Weinstein Holocaust Symposium, which he and Leonard Grob co-founded in 1996, and he serves on the Church Relations Committee of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Knight earned his B.A. in English from the University of Alabama and his M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from Emory University.                                                              ADMISSION: Free


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
 

HONORABLE MENSCHEN
 

Donations were received during October from:

Sue Lederer to the rabbi’s discretionary fund 

Richard Michelman to the cemetery fund

Pal Borofsky and Selma Schiffer to buy supplies for the Welcome Center Coffee Break fundraiser on October 10th

High holiday donations from David Levenbach, John and Jane Katz-Field, Kim Effron, Norbert Stahl, Toni Ortner,  Myra Wapner. Fran Dryer, Robin Shore and Laura Moskowitz

 

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