Saturday, May 14, 2016

Reflection-Christian Stereotypes about Judaism that I find annoying



"I don't believe in God I do believe in God.I do believe in ethics,morals"-Edgar Bronfman,Sr

During this conversion process and living with Christians I notice a lot of Christians at times really make over-arching statements in a very matter-of-fact way regarding Judaism.I thought it would be fun to name a few for better self-awareness:

All Jews are kosher as the bible says-This statement which I hear a lot is not exactly fact.The Rabbis through time and custom expanded upon the biblical laws at times adding things based off the custom of the time.This form of Kosher or Kashrut is what you find commonplace within some grocery stores. a Alot of Conservative Jews I know will follow the biblical kashrut instead of the Rabbinical.Besides these two forms of Kashrut there is Eco-Kashrut that departs from the rabbinical in favor of choosing businesses that are known to treat animals and workers ethically.Than there are some jews that don't keep kashrut seeing it as an arcane practice.So the statement "All Jews are Kosher as the bible says" does not witness to the nuances that I have witnessed within the Jewish community on this.Right now I'm considering going biblical Kashrut but have not made a decision.

All Jews keep keep all the 613 commandments of the Torah-In many ways I think that this one is a given that it is wrong.Some of the mitzvot(Commandments) cannot even be observed without the temple such as not to extinguish the fire on the altar(Leviticus 6:6)There is no altar because there is no temple how can that even be observed?Maybe in metaphor by keeping holiness in one's heart but literally no.There are also many different ways the mitzvot are interpeted and even expanded upon.Such as with no temple how are the sacrifices done?Well they don't happen but what takes their place?The prayers.So to the "All Jews keep all the 613 commandments"Could not be farther from actual truth.

Jews are very legalistic-To this I must say no Jews are about doing that doesn't exactly make them legalistic. Halakhah or Jewish law is interperted differently across the movements and even some of the Orthodox don't exactly follow the exact letter of halakhah. Judaism does employ Beit Din or Rabbinical Courts to settle disputes between individuals .These to me are no different than the Canon Courts and discernment groups that many Christian denominations employ the only exception they work with rabbinic law not Canon or Christian texts.So are Jews legalistic?No more than some Christian groups.

We should treat Jews special because they are chosen-Most Jews I know rarely speak about being chosen and if I ask one of them the response usually chosen for what?It just doesn't at times seem like the biggest thing.There are even nuances to the belief of choseness and some Jews reject the idea totally.Most Jews I know just want to live normal lives.

We should support the State of Israel because the messiah will come back there-Not exactly a stereotype but more of a way I feel the Jewish community is exploited for the means of Conservative Christianity.I find using the Jewish community in such a way does not witness to genuine faith.Israel is also a multi-party state witnessing to the very many nuances and opinions held within Judaism itself.Would you support a party blindly in Israel just knowing it ruled Israel if it did not speak to your Christian values of compassion?

These are only a few stereotypes I have noticed I'm pretty sure there the important is we are called as human beings to take all people at face value and not to judge.

Questions to ponder:

Have you found yourself employing these stereotypes?

What do you think it means to take a person at face value?

An Affirmation:

May we all strive to be a light to all not forgetting the Jerusalem within all.






Dedication:

I dedicate this to all my Christian friends that have accepted me as I am especially Megan Hering who loves every human being equally.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

D'var Torah Kedoshim-The Modern sin of Adultism



"For any person that curses who curses their father or mother shall be put to death"-Leviticus 20:9

"In the statutes of your ancestors do not walk and do not observe their observances,and do not defile yourselves with their idols"-Ezekiel 20:18

"If we want to be successful in our work with young people,we have to tackle the pervasive existence of adultism.We use the word adultism to mean all those behaviors to mean all those behaviors and attitudes which flow from the assumption that adults are better than young people and entitled to act upon young people in a myriad of ways without their agreement"-John Bell,Founder of YouthBuild USA

Torah Portion:Leviticus 19:1-20:27
Haftarah:Ezekiel 20:2-19

After reading the Torah portion which speaks of standing in the presence of your elders(Leviticus 19:32)to equating honoring one's parents with the very nature of God(Leviticus 19:3) that I would find in the haftarah this verse:

"In the statutes of your ancestors do not walk and do not observe their observances,and do not defile yourselves with their idols"-Ezekiel 20:18

Within Society today the focus is usually put upon those younger being the "evil" generation or one lacking in respect being the younger generation but it seems as though Ezekiel is offering up a different notion that even the generations that come before can themselves be wicked and even idolatrous.I know this sounds like something unheard of before but it's right there in black and white.That even the elders themselves can be "evil.How in our day can our elders be "evil" well being a young adult I can witness to some very bad things that seemed almost idolatrous in their very nature that in many ways degrade those you are younger than them for example:

Neopotism-Promoting those who are directly related to those whom the older people are used to.Not recognizing the abilities or experience of the younger person in their midst.

Dictating age as wisdom while at the same time not exercising understanding-This is witnessed in the saying "I am older than you therefore I have more experience than you".Age and experience does not equate with understanding the younger person around you especially when it is dictated.Wisdom and understanding go hand in hand.A dictator does not understand their people they exert an authority won through fear.

Not recognizing the younger voice and only giving attention to the older voices-I have seen this happen where the younger person or persons are not even acknowledged to the point of being passed over to those who are much older in the room.If you as older person illustrate that the younger person has no voice aren't you in fact denying the revelation that could come from the next generation?

All of these idolatrous actions fall under the modern sin of adultism which is simply the prejudice that those who are older are entitled to exert an unhealthy authority upon those who are younger them.This modern sin is pretty grievous.It takes away the hope of the future held within the next generation.If those of the younger generation choose to call it out we are mean with the red letter of D for disrespect.

I think this atrocity needs to end and I think it ends simply with  an understanding that each generation has something to offer up to another.That one generation no matter how much think they are better than the other they are not.That our wisdom is not passed down exactly in a linear fashion but through a circular notion.If we are all B'tzel Elohim literally Temples of God standing in front of each other surely we must realize that each and everyone has something to offer up.My generation may have technical knowledge and a communitarian sense of humanity to offer up while the "greatest" generation may have a greater sense of family to offer.Each generation can give one to another I call this solution L'dor Va'dor from the verse in the morning kedushah "L'dor Vador nagid godlecha" meaning "To all the generations we will declare" each of us has a message from that Eternal Source to give to each other if only we will listen.Let us go forth and listen to each other,let us glean the Torah that Torah that is written upon each of our hearts and see that each of us is an example for every generation !!!!Amen.

Some Questions to ponder:

How might you be practicing adultism in your life?

Do you think with the biblical idea that if all of us are created in the image of God than why can't we recognize that which is of God in each generation?

What do you think your generation declares?

An Affirmation:

Each of us our gifts,blessings,history and hope let us celebrate this together as one let us proclaim L'dor Va'dor !!!




Dedication:

I dedicate this D'var Torah to all young people who struggle to be heard.Your voice deserves to be heard and you declare your own truths celebrate that.



Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Passover Reflection-My Haggadah of grief and freedom.




"Remember this day when you went out Egypt,from the house of bondage,for with a mighty hand God took you out of there"-Exodus 13:3b

"The Seder is not really about the reexperiencing of the slavery and redemption of the Hebrews.As we see below,We all have our own Egypt to leave and we do leave "Egypt" It is not a reexperience,which cannot really be,but an experience,it is not theater but life"-Edward Greenstein

This Passover I'm reminded time and time again through the Haggadah to "Respect the Stranger" and not to "Oppress the stranger".I find during this time of Passover I am stranger to myself through my grief.The person that I was before tended to be much more outgoing now I find myself not so much so,some of the things that I enjoy like a walk outside I don't so much enjoy anymore.I find myself experiencing this as my own Haggadah the grief being my own Egypt,my narrow place I'm trying to journey out of and I want to share part of this Haggadah with you all that is my mourner's path.At times this Haggadah may be sad at times it times it may be joyful but we all have a journey to liberation this is mine at the moment.Journey with me.

Something I find in this Haggadah of grief is a lot of questions.The four that stand out mostly to me are where do I go from here?Why not me?Why couldn't I have been more present in my sister's life?and How can I make the most out of the life given to me.My grief counselor has assured me these questions are all normal.Yet in some ways I want answers to them now.I don't think I will though.My grief counselor has assured me that feelings of guilt are nrmal but I should not let them hold sway.Still though I rest in the questions right now.

Another thing is instead of saying dayenu-it would have been enough.I find myself my life is not enough right now without my sister.I am mad at times,I do get sad never depressed.Some days I'm low and some days I have only what I could call Shalom a complete.I love the days of Shalom dread the low days.I have to accept kicking and screaming that a void will always be there that doesn't exactly mean I like the void.I have no other reality to accept but that void is there.In the exile of this void I realize though I am finding more of who I am.I can say sincerely and at times bluntly where I feel on things.I embrace this yet at times my bluntless has hurt others which I feel really bad about at times.This  though is life right now.

This Haggadah is not all dismal  for the Haggadah is a journey of freedom.Even though I find myself in the maggid portion of this Haggadah I find myself approaching that great banquet to follow.I see within me something new being birthed not only in becoming a Jew but a new person itself is being birthed.I returned to my Egypt of old in going back to Florida.Than in coming back to Chicago realized my life has went full circle.That this event itself was a part of my own journey to Sinai as I await for those waters to part,that celebration of myself joining in that covenant I already feel much a part of . I find myself celebrating in within my prayers.My Halleyu is louder,my Elohai N'shema reverberating and the Mourner's Kaddish said with a faith in that trancendent oneness that I thought I never could have.I am free within even though at times it may not feel like I am.I affirm I experience a freedom.My bread of affliction has became my suestance and I can't await until this mourning turns into dancing.Amen.

Some Questions to Ponder:

What Haggadah are you writing this Passover?

What in the Seder service of your life is enabling you to journey towards a greater liberation?

If you have experienced a tragic event around this Passover season or before it what freedom are you finding in your grief?

An Affirmation:

This song by Shlomo Carlebach has become kind of my mantra as I go into that Israel that is my soul as I struggle with myself and God to understand this event within me.I return to that which matters most.Who I am becoming and who I am meant to be.Who that person will be I have no idea but await joyfully for his arrival when I least notice it.










Thursday, April 21, 2016

D'var Torah-Ahare Mot:A Covenant Relationship



"I am God your God"-Leviticus 18:30b

"We affirm that the Jewish people is bound by an eternal covenant as reflected in in our varied understandings of creation,revelation and redemption'-From A Statement of principles of Reform Judaism,Central Conference of American Rabbis,1999

Torah Portion:Leviticus 16:1-18:30
                        
Haftarah Reading:Amos 9:7-15

Throughout this portion up until the end this beautiful affirmation is found throughout "I am God,your God".This affirmation denotes an exclusive relationship with that transcendent oneness that the people Israel has.A Covenant relationship..What exactly is this covenant though?What does being a part of it entail?and most importantly what does this covenant relationship mean to me?

To begin with what exactly is this covenant relationship?The answer to that is not exactly easy to answer I think some might say it started at Sinai when all present responded with:

"All the words God has spoken we will do"-Exodus 24:3

Yet some might some might say it began with Abraham in his affirmation of monotheism.In a time there were many gods he himself chose to affirm an ethical monotheism which in turn Judaism promoted to the world this was definitely affirmed by the early Reform Jews as expressed in this statement from the Pittsburgh Platform of the Central Conference of American Rabbis:

"We recognize in every religion an attempt to grasp the infinite,and in every mode,source or book of revelation held sacred in any religious system the consciousness of of the indwelling of God in humanity.We hold that Judaism presents the highest conception of the God-idea as taught in our holy scriptures presents and developed and spirtualized by the Jewish teachers in accordance with the moral and philosophical progress of their respective ages.We maintain that Judaism preserved and defended amid continual struggles and trials and under enforced isolation this God-idea as the central religious truth for the human race"-From The Pittsburgh Platform,1885

I affirm both of these and I think of this covenant to as something very intimate not just something made up of a laws or a philosophical belief.The Covenant is a relationship God says "I am God,Your God" my own best response to what this covenant relationship is I find within the Emet or Ge'lu'lah affirmation held within the siddur which in itself seems like a response to God's "I am God,Your God":

"True is this eternal teaching to us-beloved and precious,awesome,beautiful,and good.The God of the universe is truly our sovereign,the Rock of Jacob,Our protecting Shield,O God,You endure through all generations;Your name persists;Your throne is firm;Your sovereignty and faithfulness last forever.Your words live and endure,faithful and precious for all eternity.
  From Egypt You redeemed us,freeing us from bondage.For that,Your beloved sang praise,exalting you.Your dear ones offered hymns,songs,praise,blessing,and thanksgiving to you as Sovereign,the living and enduring God.High and exalted,Great and awesome,God ever humbles the proud,raises the lowly,frees the imprisoned,redeems the afflicted,helps the oppressed,answering our people when we cry out.Praise to God Most High;Blessed is God and deserving of blessing ! In great joy Moses,Miriam and Israel responded with song to you"

In responding to that covenant is found within the Emet Affirmation I also find within it a guide to what this covenant entails

True is this eternal teaching to us......The God of the universe is our sovereign"

This verse reminds me that this covenant entails affirming one God amidst all those materialisms of life that become gods themselves.A worship of parts of that transcendent oneness not that great totality that is,was and will be.

Your words live and endure,faithful and precious for eternity

Torah means simply instruction or teaching.That transcendent oneness teaches me daily through the Torah that comes from life.How I deal with the harsh word of another or the beauty that is held in a single blade of grass.Of these things God teaches me through they are Eternal.Part of this covenant to me means paying attention to these daily words from God.

From Egypt you redeemed us,freeing us from bondage.

The word for Egypt in Hebrew Mizrayim also means narrow place.I can say from those narrow places in life. Those hard times that God was there redeeming me from such which I stand eternally grateful for.I think recognizing that even my own narrow places those exiles of life God was there and saved me is a prerogative in being a member of this covenant.

Your dear ones offered hymns,songs,praise,blessing,and thanksgiving to you as Sovereign

In knowing I have freedom and that freedom came from God.I must in turn be thankful for it and show my thanks as one of the dear ones of that Transcendent One.How do I that?Well prayer is a good way another way is studying the written and oral Torah seeing how the Jewish people have responded to God in every age.

God ever humbles the proud,raises the lowly,frees the imprisoned,redeems the afflicted, answering our people when we cry out.

I believe as God does so must we as humanity do.If you notice that the first part of the sentence in this verse is very all-encompassing not just speaking of one person or group but all.It is incumbent upon every human being I think to remind the prideful they will soon crash in their egos,to raise those up experiencing lowliness to the same privilege we possess,freeing those unjustly imprisoned and helping those needing redemption from the abuses that affect their life.Within the end of it denotes a special calling to Jews in this or those like me who are making the choice to be jewish. God answers our call when we cry out.Crying out does not always mean the physical tears it also means the inner tears I might have for the other recognizing the pain of another's state and making it your won I think is a order within this covenant.Not only crying out through words of praying or Torah study but making those things a part of my very movements.Affirming those affirmations through actions.

Moses,Miriam and Israel responded with song to you !

In knowing what this covenant relationship entails I can celebrate it.How do I celebrate it?Just by living it out.That simple.

Last but certainly not least as one approaching closely conversion and as we all approach Passover.I have to say this covenant relationship means a lot to me .My life through time has affirmed it.I as a person believe that not only does that Transcendent Oneness say to me "I am God,Your God" but I also respond "You are God,My God the one who has freed me,delivered me and encouraged me in my own freedom and redemption you have brought to exemplify that freedom to others.You intimately work in my life and allow me to celebrate that intimacy I have with others through praying and recognizing how daily you are teaching me through that Torah of daily life".

Questions to Ponder:

What exactly do you think the Covenant is?

What does the Covenant entail to you?

What does the Covenant mean to you?

An Affirmation:

God sees us all through the eyes of heaven in having this Covenant can we see others through Heaven's Eyes?









Thursday, March 31, 2016

D'var Torah-Shimini:Your Tzaddik Potential



"Approach the altar and perform your sin offering and your burnt offering,atoning for yourself and for the people"-Leviticus 9:7

"It is written the tzaddik is the foundation of the world"-The Tanya,Chapter 1

In humanity certain people have stood out as exemplary through their own sense of what is right they have encouraged us all.We all know their names whether they be social reformers such as Jane Addams or those we don't know so much about but still that profoundly make a difference like your first grade teacher who taught you how to read.Judaism has a term for these individuals it is Tzaddik. Loosely translated Tzaddik means righteous one or saint.Sometimes we think these saints of human existence seem far from who we are but I don't believe so I think each of us as individuals has the potential to become these very people which we cleave to as examples within our society and the answer on how we do that is held within Moses advice about the communal sin offering to Aaron that being to approach,perform,and atone.


Approach

First of all if we want to be a tzaddik we must approach that altar that is humanity seeing the sacrifice that humanity has made over a sin.A transgression that has so bothered society that it must finally come to our higher place to be recognized.We like Aaron must recognize the plaguing issue whether it just be someone's struggle with prayer or the fact that a law clearly segregates an innocent branch of the tree that is our shared life.

Perform

After recognizing the sin offering we must do something about as Aaron offered it up we too must realize that we must light the fire and bring attention to that which may be destroying the society the Reverend Martin Luther King,Jr summed it up well in this quote:

"There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe,nor politic,nor popular,but they must do it because conscience tells them it is right"

There is a time for talking that was the altar than there is a time to act.A time to do.We must let the fire that is born from the spark of our being attest bringing attention to that issue that has brought all affected so down.We must as Aaron choose to act for our people.

Atone

There is a beauty I find within the tzaddikim not only does the end of an issue become a fad for them it becomes their whole life.In some way both the dissolution of the issue and the very life of the tzaddik become mixed together.I witness this in the life of Rebbe Nachmann the founder of the Breslov Chasidic movement.Rebbe Nachmann taught that joy should infuse every aspect of one's Judaism.He taught if one is mourning they should seek to recognize but find joy in the fact that God is consoling them.In his life though he experienced much disease suffering from tuberculosis,losing both two sons and daughters in infancy.Rebbe Nachmann had every reason to be miserable in life yet he chose to say such misery does not define his relationship with the Eternal but he would choose something happier joy.in experiencing such suffering he in away atoned for all those things that may cause people not to have joy.I see this in my vision for the homeless union that those of us who have experienced homelessness or who are can witness to a hope in what people may see in a dark time.

We all have the potential to be tzaddikim it's simple I think.We should not shirk the great responsibilities to change the world nor deny them.We must do first than believe the power of their outcome.Let us claim the sanctify of our being and stand with Aaronn,Ghandhi and others and be Tzaddikim !!!

Questions to ponder:

What issue do you see plaguing society that might be worth recognizing?can you do something about it?Even if it is 1/100 chance it would work?

Why do you think you distance yourself from those in our society that have made a substantial difference when they were really just common people that saw something needed and done it?

An Affirmation:

Let us dance knowing that oour potential to become like those we admire is really not far from us






Friday, February 26, 2016

D'var Torah-Ki Tisa:Breaking the higher idea of self and realizing the true self



"Moses' anger was kindled and he flung the tablets from his hands,shattering them at the foot of the mountain"-Exodus 32:19

"Hew for yourself two stone tablets like the first ones.And I will inscribe upon them tablets the words that were on the first tablets,which you broke"-Exodus 34:1

Torah Portion- Exodus 30:11-34:35

Haftarah Portion- First Kings 18:20-39

In this week's Torah portion we read of God creating tablets for Moses to bring down to the people but as he comes down he notices the people are worshiping the golden calf and what does he do?he breaks those tablet in his anger.These first set of tablets stand out to me in this portion.They were made by the hands of God yet they were broken.They were in many ways God's gift to humanity.These tablets make me think of how we all get sometimes we at times think we are God's gift to humanity.We take a delusional view of yourself thinking we are something higher than we actually are.Sometimes we like these tablets need to be broken and what does it take to be broken a Moses in the form of those around us.Last year I had an idea of who I was.I got prideful and had to be broken.I didn't want the truth.After I realized right my life changed.I was liberated but it took those others.i think an answer lies in the recreation of tablets it took both Moses it was that which was higher working alongside that which was human yet was written with the figure of the Eternal.We have the writing of the Eternal in us we need not think of ourselves just as something we already are something.We just have to rest in our being.We are transcendent.We are like the second set carved out in our humanity and stamped by something greater than ourselves.Let's embrace that and not see ourselves as teh Eternal Source but part of it.

Question to ponder:

Do you think of yourself greater than you actually are?

An Affirmation:






Wednesday, February 17, 2016

D'var Torah-Tetzavh: All are Consecrated,all are good




"And consecrate them to serve me"-Exodus 28:41

"And the Eternal saw all created,and found it very good"-Genesis 1:31

  Torah Reading: 27:20-30:10
   
  Haftarah Reading: Ezekiel 43:10-27

In contemplating my sister's death and having a conversation with a friend of how in the past I  have looked at sexuality led me to the realization that all that exists,has existed or will exist is in fact like Aaron and his sons consecrated to a good and noble end.Does this mean that I don't believe evil exists at all within the world?Obviously I do a lot of evil things have happened in my life but I do believe at the ground of all existence all things are essentially virtuous.Let me share with you how I was brought to this conclusion.

First of all my sister's death allowed me to think more of what are human purpose is which I spoke of in my last d'var Torah that being striving for holiness by connection with all.I realized in contemplating the human condition we seem as a species to always seek good in all and each other .I saw this in my family despite our struggles we could had at that moment Shalom Bayit a house of peace.Good was the goal.Why do we seek out this good?Why did my family seek out the good?It was not just because of a funeral I believe in Genesis it says the Eternal found creation good that affirmation was never recanted.The Torah speak speaks of humanity choosing to grow in wickedness but it just doesn't seem to me it is in our condition to be wicked but to be good we always seem to want to seek out the best for another w may have a bad idea of what it that is but good seems to animate the character of our lives.I saw that shining sun of benevolence in my family in going to Florida and I feel this good is our first nature.

Second growing up I was taught that my body itself was sinful because Adam ate the fruit in the garden we all were destined to sin and I was also taught to hate my sexuality.As time has went by things have happened to me that have drew me away from such thoughts.I became a part of a Naturist group in seeing myself as well as others in the skin that made up who they were it allowed me to see my own image flaws as something divine.Each and every human being has a difference it taught me.In witnessing this I realized that my body was not a sinful thing but something I should respect it was good,consecrated.The other thing my sexuality in coming out I have realized how much happier I am.I have the freedom to be myself resting simply in my being which in itself is good.

With these experiences I cannot help but say we are all something holy as the priests.We are holy so let us choose the goodness we are called because all was created good and it is still good.

Some Questions to ponder:

Do you recognize that we have within our beings the impulse first to do good?

In knowing our human consecration how can we better witness to the good we are?

What things do you find good about your existence?

An Affirmation:

Let us walk in the light of the Oneness that enraptures our existence