Wilderness Maggid

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Yom Kippur Reterat 5768


Here is an experimental flyer for a proposed Yom Kippur Retreat this year in Oregon. The Rabbi's name who may facilitate with me has been withheld pending his decision to participate.

(But Blogger is not cooperating-- so you'll have to wait to see!)

Monday, December 18, 2006

"Defining Liberalism" from Tziporah's View


Friend Tzipporah has posted an excellent article on "Defining Liberalism" here:


Monday, December 11, 2006

Silent Moments


Silent Moments

One notable thing that stood out for me in the parasha this last week was Yaakov's silence when he heard the news of Dinah's abduction and rape. The brothers have a lot to say, but Yaakov says nothing-- until after Simeon and Levi take matters into their own hands and collectively punish the entire town of Shechem. This injustice he speaks to, but the tragedy of his own child calls forth no words, no thoughts, nothing for us to ruminate on as a reflection of our own tragedies except silence.

Where else in Torah do we see a grieving parent unable to bear witness except through silence? Aaron, at the deaths of his sons Nadav and Avihu. This horrendous thing happens to them in front of their father and the whole assembly of Yisroel, and what does the Torah say? "Aaron was silent."

Sometimes, Torah is telling us, our grief is so overwhelming, the shock and tragedy is unspeakable. There are no words for these moments. Silence itself is the loudest statement. Where then do we go after the silence? Simeon and Levi take silence as a failure to action and channel it into anger and rage. Aaron has no choice in his next actions and is obligated to anoint his younger son and continue the priestly rite. What after that? He is never the same again, and neither is the priestly mantle he conferred on his lineage.

Perhaps in learning to speak through the silence, or in its aftermath, we will become more able to carry the light of Torah into the world. Perhaps this is part of our mission to become a nation of priests, where each and every one of us must speak the truth of our silence, and in so doing help elevate those struggling around us. This is a large part of the narrative process. A communal gleaning of our shared wisdom as we struggle individually (yaakov) and collectively (yisroel) to come to healthier mechanisms within our self and the people. Silence for a moment gives space and time for absorption. Silence as a practice breeds isolation and imbalance internally and externally and creates a system in which others tell us how to process the reality of our lives and community.

Part of what draws me to the maggidic process, is that it encourages the individual and communal narrative to come up out of silence and form a critical interexchange of wisdom and experience. Through the maggidic experience of Torah we have the opportunity to be vitally human beings and vitally divine all in one fell swoop, and to do this as a rich and healthy people.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

struggling alongside yaakov


Shabbos for me was difficult. Led services, but couldn't get my energy up. Most of the peppy regulars including kiddos were missing for various seasonal reasons, so it had to be all me, and due to melancholic mishegas with (things I can't speak about publicly,) could not get into shabbos light and services reflected this. In Hassid world someone else would have taken over, but in liberal world, we are performers as much as leaders, so no one else to do, or will. Can only be where I am, and no where else. Several times in service actually stopped and was quiet for a few moments while I found myself again-- and scrapped my whole d'var on the moment and spoke spontaneaously about struggle/yaakov/parasha of week/darkness,lightness, time of year/ and chanukah. Was an excellent drash actually, but not exactly high bright shabbos energy. Dark. Again, can only stand where we are, eh? Reminded myself that we do this week after week and that over the long haul the community will come with us, as we come with the community, traveling together.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Yaakov in the World


This week I was thinking, how interesting that Yaakov buries Devorah under the Oak that weeps, in the hebrew it is plural and so by implication weeping for two– for Rivkah as well; then after this weeping HaShem names him Yisroel; and also states, I am El Shd-i. It occured to me that since Sarah died shortly after Yitzhak’s almost sacrifice on the mountain, Yaakov grew up without a maternal grandmother figure. Who then would have served this role? Devorah, the intimate figure in Rivkah’s life would have been his grandmotherly figure, so to lose both at the same time, what a loss, what a grieving. And yet, it is the growing point necessary for Yaakov to finally mature into himself, to walk the Yashar, the straight path to G-d (sometimes)(when he’s not still being Yaakov) and to warrent the addtional name Yisroel that is conferred on him. He is ready now to inherit and pass along the spiritual lineage of the people, but he is also on his own. Or is he? HaShem reminds him– I am El Shad-i, the nurturer, the sustainer, through me will you be held and cared for in the world.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sukkot in the Woods


Spent Sukkot with housemates up the Mckenzie River-- Lulav, Etrog, and everything. Still trying to figure it all out-- Hag on raging river, that is...

Painted Drum Round 2


Blessings to you all!

thoughts on training up maggidim...


A friend and mentor maggid asked me to write up my thoughts on requirements for training maggidim. As it is relevant to the conversation of just what a maggid is, and how maggidut differs from rabbinics, I'm posting it here. Some editing has been done to protect issues of confidentiality. All comments welcome!



(--------), shalom shalom.

In my reply to your email I suggested that the first place to start for maggidic requirements is the ability to define what a maggid is. I wasn’t being funny. This is so important, without it I think a maggid is really dead in the water (so to speak.) In this reemerging field of maggidut there is a wide range of opinion about what exactly is a maggid, with each teacher/ school claiming its own definition. Storyteller? Rabbinic Pastor? Facilitator of Sacred Autobiography? Outreach Worker? Melamed? Personally, I think they are all true, since maggidut, like rabbinics or hazzinut, is A PROCESS. This is a very important statement, so important I’m putting it right up here at the beginning. Maggidut is a process that constantly informs the way that a maggid operates in the field. Understanding this from the start is crucial, as it also informs the way that a maggid learns the tools of the trade. When I study rabbinics, I am doing so through the eyes and needs of the maggid. I am learning (and teaching) the material from a different perspective than I would if I was studying to be a rabbi or a hazan, or possibly even a rabbinic pastor in the sense that institutions like ALEPH define that role. (Keeping in mind that there is a tremendous amount of crossover between the roles of rabbi/ hazan/ maggid/ pastor… and that the best rabbis are also maggidim, eh?)

What does this mean? A maggid’s primary job is to “Relate” to the people. To Relate. Everything must come through this perspective. When I am learning new material, I am constantly thinking about how to apply it in the field. Maggidut is not about performing, as can be the case with cantorial soloists, and not about executing, the case with rabbis who must form and hold the communal structure. The maggid must be a general practitioner whose skill sets and ability to perform on demand legitimate the maggid’s presence as a spiritual teacher and act as a vehicle for teaching. The maggid’s skills are not an end in themselves, but are vehicles to a higher end—being a relational mechanism between HaShem, the Jewish spiritual path/ tradition, and the everyday reality of people’s lives.

Am I making sense? I’ve been working on this line of thought for a long time, I call it maggidic methodology, but this is my first attempt to articulate these things in writing. Please do prod me for clarity if need be, as It will help me pull this stuff out of my head and into the world. The most important piece of all of that is that maggidut as a teaching mechanism can not wait until the end of the curriculum—it must be integrated into the learning process from day one.

As for necessary skills, the maggid as rabbinic pastor obviously needs to mirror the basic skill sets of the rabbi and hazan, but with less emphasis on classic texts (clearly more learning is better). More midrash, less halacha. Basic working knowledge of liturgy and hazzinut, both traditional and at least one other modality (renewal/reform/carlebach, etc…) *** The ability to craft liturgy/life cycle/ and adapted ritual spontaneously and on demand—a maggidic specialty!!*** (Seriously, I do more spontaneous, in the moment teaching and ritual than I can possibly tell you. It’s a major hallmark of my experience as a maggid)

Some level of Hebrew proficiency is required—and the ability to teach it at some level. This is an absolute requirement that should not be overlooked or shortcut under any circumstances. Having said that, what level of Hebrew proficiency and what kind of teaching can vary wildly and should be approached on a case-by-case basis.

Hassidus. How anyone can be a maggid today and not be studying Hassidus, at
some level, I don’t know. Working knowledge of the Hasidic masters is a must.
Who are they, where did they live, what were the hallmarks of each one, and then of course, the teachings and texts themselves. Which teachings and which texts, I leave to you. Myself, I would require ongoing Baal Shem Tov studies supplemented by Nachman’s Likutay Moharan and as many stories about the Berdichever as possible. More is better, but this is a minimum. I highly recommend students read Buxbaum’s Bescht book cover to cover, as it is not only scholarly and well written, but in between the lines of these simple anecdotes is a textbook manual in maggidut. I’m developing an entire course for maggidim using this book, and I think people will be amazed at how much depth is hidden beneath the surface of this book’s simplicity.

If you don’t know something about Kabbalah, just the basics, you can’t be a
maggid today. Period.

Storytelling/Music/Outreach/Community Organizing, etc, etc, etc… Clearly every maggid has areas of sub specialization. I don’t think I need to explain this one to you. Again, these tools are learned as teaching mechanisms—even entertainment, dancing, and churning up a raucous smicha are teaching events… especially so! Every single person watching Daniel sing his happy song at the wedding learned something about being Jewish that day, I guarantee it. Once you get maggidut into your system, you can’t ever not be a maggid—people see this and respond to it from their very souls. I have found that there is no better teaching mechanism than being awesomely, joyously present. People tell this to me all the time, so I know it to be true. If we can do that through storytelling or music or ecstatic davening, all the better.

On a more practical level, maggidic students should have some guidance in class development; teaching strategies; dealing with boards of directors, head’s of school and maggidic-rabbinic relations. These things have to be addressed or else we are tossing people out into frontier territory to fend for themselves, which isn’t right.

Maggidic students should be fully immersed in the life of a spiritual community, be it a single shul, a minyan, or as in the case of Berkeley, with the extended Chevre. How can you learn to lead community if you’re not participating in community? This has to happen. Paired with this, of course, is the cultivation of a personal spiritual practice, including elements of mussar and taking on midot. People will look to the maggid as a living example, so we must be just that and make sure that we do things like having mezuzot on our doors, among other things, eh? This is especially true of the maggid, because many people see the maggid as being more accessible, more approachable than the rabbi. The living example of the maggid is somehow more tangible to their lives than the living example of the rabbi. This is really important. Really, really important. Again, in this way, a maggid is teaching often just by being present in the environment. So many spiritual teachers don’t grok this, and so they miss the thousand and one teaching opportunities that arise from the fact of their presence. Being present is everything.

And finally, for now, I highly recommend some amount of pastoral counseling
education. If a maggid can do a one or two year program, that’s best. But
even some workshops would help. As you know, the issues that come up in the
field around spiritual development; crisis management; grief counseling; visiting the sick; etc, etc, etc… and on and on and on—these issues are legion. To have no training whatsoever is not only going to limit the maggid’s job performance, it’s outright dangerous. I’ve seen just about everything in the last four years of working in the field, and I’m still young and new at this. People need to be prepared to encounter these things, it just has to happen by some means.

Blessings to you friend for a healthful and prosperous new year.

With love and Blessings, M'Sarah Etz Alon

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Paint on Drum


A friend was going to paint a drum for me-- been almost five months now so figured this was HaShem's way of telling me to paint my own drum. But with what design? Clearly I'm no pretender to super secret kaballistic/ shamanic symbols and incantations. So what then? Finally I settled on French Curves. How they became "French" I don't know, but from these three simple curves, all other curves can be reproduced. (Although it sometimes takes a bit of creativity and patience.... especially if you're trying to produce a circle! How fitting!)

Here it is:

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

New Youngster in the Community


Congratulations to friends Aaron and Sarah on the birth of their son, Gabriel. From the look of him in his first picture, he is beautiful-- as expected!! Can't wait to see him in person. Blessings for health and longevity and wholeness of spirit. May he never know need and may he be filled with the light of the love of those around him. Mazel Tov to the whole family on their Simcha. What a Joy!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Emergent Conversations


I'm Having a VERY INTERESTING and noteworthy conversation with working partner and chevrusa Maggid Joel Rothschild (Yoel Natan) and Shawn Landres of Synagogue 3000. Currently there are two main comment threads going with other "tributaries" out there... we are working the tech stuff out on how to present a thought stream like this cohesively so that you don't have to keep searching and reading individual links, but for now ind. links is all I've got for you-- here they are:

Moshav HaAm


Monday, July 31, 2006

Tisha B'Av is for Redemption Too!


Just to remind us, in these troubling (horrific) times, that Tisha B'Av is for Redemption Too-- here are two photos of me visiting the grandparents in Utah, where we are having a most excellent visit together. (actually, we are ranting and weeping and very heavy hearted... but also having joyous family time together-- so true to my birth parashot (this week) our time together has been about destruction and redemption.) OY!

Anyrate, in this particular photo moment, we have just gotten out of an excellent performance of "The Music Man" at the Utah Festival Opera. I know, I know, we're inside of the three weeks (and this was shabbos too) but while I tend toward Orthodoxy, they are Reform and the one time a year I visit I just have to bend-- it's the only honorable thing to do. Here we are:

Donations needed for ZAKA and other Relief Orgs in Israel


Civil Support Coalition Providing Medication
And Aid To Over 30,000 Residents In Northern Israel

ZAKA volunteers have joined together with volunteers from Meir Panim soup kitchen and EZRA youth group to form the Civil Support Coalition which is providing over 30,000 residents in northern Israel with food, medication, toys and host families on a 24-hour basis. This assistance is being given in addition to ZAKA's daily tasks of helping the injured and dealing with those killed as a result of Hezbollah attacks.

Since Hezbollah attacks began on July 12th, the Coalition has provided support for the people of Northern Israel affected by Hezbollah attacks in the following way:

Over 3000 people have been provided with vital medication
Over 2000 items of medical equipment have been distributed to citizens who are mainly in bombshelters.
Over 5,000 hot meals are being distributed daily
600 packages of food have been provided to families which will ensure they have enough food for the next 10 days
400 children are being hosted daily in Day Camps with care services being provided for children with special needs
7000 packs of nappies are being distributed
Over 2000 families have been hosted by people living in the southern parts of Israel
ZAKA volunteers have also made thousands of visits to bomb shelters to help raise morale and assist anyone with special needs requirements.

After visiting the volunteers staff headquarters, Major General Jerry Gershon Cohen, in charge of Home Command, commented: "I was astonished by the number of calls being received and amazing at the instant response and support given by volunteers."

The Mayor of Safed, Yishay Mymon, added: We always knew that if ZAKA were in the field, we could rely on them."

Dudi Zilbershlag, Director of ZAKA, said: We cannot underestimate the severity of the current situation in northern Israel. People are without food, without electricity, without shelter and without vital medication. ZAKA volunteers, together with the other Coalition members, are doing everything we can to ensure that the needs of Israel's citizens are provided for during this difficult time. Any additional support we can be given will be much appreciated and I can't thank our volunteers enough for the tireless 24 hour service they are currently providing – we are indebted to them."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

prayers for deliverance


"My friend Ethan spent the first half of Shabbat trying to comfort a friend whose girlfriend works at Federation and who was missing until she turned up at the hospital with injuries from jumping out of a second-story window into a dumpster to escape the shooting. Then on his way home he walked past a big "No More War for Israel" banner and he wanted to cry."
"Some 37 children were among the dead in the IAF strike early Sunday on a building in the southern Lebanon town of Qana, Lebanese police said. Several houses collapsed and a three-story building where about 100 civilians were sheltering was destroyed, witnesses and rescue workers said."
"...while the evacuation of southern Lebanon has been heavily covered by the Western news media, the equally large evacuation of northern Israel is barely a story to the rest of the world. An estimated 500,000-700,000 people have left northern Israel to relocate to the centre and south. The remaining population, mostly the elderly, poor and new immigrants who don't have the family or financial resources to leave, is hunkered down in bomb shelters. The streets are empty. Factories and businesses are shut down. Restaurants and stores are closed. Fruits and vegetables are rotting in the fields. The entire north of Israel has become devoid of life and activity..."

Oh G-d, help us. Help us. Help us.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Telling a story at Friend Ben's


Monday, July 24, 2006

Dancing Tzitzit


On the other hand, I just got back from walking the dog and I'm telling you, I'm out there in my jeans and birks, tallis katan under my favorite big orange shirt, and it's a windy day-- all kinds of wind, and it was awesome. AWESOME!! I had the best time, my tzitzit were flying and dancing for joy, swept up in all that wind. I was really having fun with the whole thing. So you see, this is what it means to struggle with joy. When we get to a time when all our struggles are like flying and dancing in the wind, then we will truly be in a time of peace.


Diving into Feminist Hot Water


Continued from comments to circumcise your heart post:

As for Tzitzit, I am partnered with fringes for life, so no worries there. The question for me isn't whether or not to wear tzitzit, but in what manner and when. I've never felt comfortable in a man's traditional tallit katan. Everytime I put one on I feel like I'm telling my breasts, you have no place here. It's not a very womanly thought, so it bothers me and inhibits the meditative process of tzitzit for me. The first set of tzitzit as tallis katan that I wore was a set I made myself that was more like an apron (a double apron, front and back, a skirted garment). This set of tzitzit was extremely comfortably and felt a lot more feminine to me. In fact, it enhanced my sense of being a woman and was a hugely positive meditation to be immersed in. So I'm going back to exploring skirted options for women's tzitzit.

Meantime, what about the when of wearing tzitzit? The experience I gave in the posting "Circumcise the foreskin of your heart" was just the beginning... fearing backlash from my feminist friends and also trying not to out a romantic interest prematurely I didn't give over the whole experience, but here it is now, because I think it's important to this discussion.
In fact, I'm going to create this as a new blog post-- see you on the main page!

Okay, so here we are now back at the main page and I'm going to do it-- I'm going to dive into Feminist hot water and none of you can stop me!

If you remember back a few posts (Circumcise the foreskin of your heart), I was explaining an experience I had at Jerusalem Camp which called me to question whether or not I wanted to continue wearing a tallis katan, and if so, how and when. (I could restate that more positively like "had an experience that empowered me to rethink my relationship to the mitzvah of tzitzit") There's more to this experience though, and I know I'm going to get myself into trouble, but here goes...

If you recall, on my second night in J-Camp one of the brothers offered me the tzitzit off his back, a gesture that touched my heart deeply enough to satiate my need, in that moment, to wear tzitzit, because the moment itself was tzitzit.
There's more though, that next day this same brother asked me if I had laid tefillin yet, to which I replied "I don't know how to lay tefillin..." I'm certain that had I asked, he would have taught me on the spot. It was another great moment of compassion from one soul to another that cut through gender and denominational lines as if none of that stuff mattered or existed. Only a little blip of a moment, but highly transformational. After that, when I would look over and see this person wearing his tzitzit, I felt like I was wearing tzitzit. And when I looked over and saw him laying tefillin, I felt like I was laying tefillin. I don't know how, really, to explain this, but I began to understand how it is that male and female Jewish spiritual expression intersect, even merge together in an immersed Jewish community. I began to understand how it is that gender differentiation of spiritual expression in the community can be an incredibly holy vehicle and how the foundation for that vehicle is the coming together of woman and man to create a Jewish family.

I know to many this will sound a lot like "If my husband is wearing tzitzit, then I don't need to...If my husband is wearing tefillin, then I don't need to...If my husband does whatever, then I can be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen...etc etc..." This is not what I am saying at all, and I hope that those of you who know me understand that this is never what I will be saying. What I am saying is that I've discovered a very deep integral spirituality between male and female jewish spiritual expression, and particularly between wife and husband in a Jewish household. I'm not doing this revelation justice, so you just need to trust me that this is deep, deep stuff and not to be dismissed lightly.

There are, of course, all manner of spin off topics, every single one of which gets me deeper and deeper into F.H.W. (feminist hot water)-- mechitza, seperate prayer services for men and women, women's torah services, shomer negiah (or not), issues of tamei and tahor, and the use of the mikvah in general. All of these are areas where I am religiously pushing the ritual boundaries, always I am out working in these frontier zones. But at the same time I am deepening my appreciation for the boundaries and am seeking to work with them within the context of being a 21st century global human being.

None of this negates my ability or desire to wear tzitzit and lay tefillin, but has changed my perspective about why I engage these mitzvot, and how I choose to do it. Personally, I think all of this makes me more of a feminist, not less, but whatever the label, I am what I am.

Thanks Ya'll for the prodding and encouragement both.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

A few Highlights from J-Camp


Some J-Camp highlights courtesy of Zev. More to come, Brachot!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Circumcise the foreskin of your heart


Many of you know that I've been wearing tzitzit for years. Tallis Gadol, Taliis Katan, traditional, renewal, men's styles and women's styles-- I'm a woman of many fringes to be sure. But recently my thoughts on women and tzitzit have been shifting and I'm not so sure I need to be wearing them all of the time anymore. Something that happened a few weeks back at Jerusalem Camp/Rainbow reinforced this shift and now I find my self back out again in women's ritual frontier land, struggling as always, but with joy!

From Jerusalem Camp at the National Rainbow Gathering 2006
On my second morning in camp one of the brothers was asking if anyone had an extra tallis katan that he could borrow as his had become unusable. No one did, but since I am not obligated to wear fringes and he is, I offered him the set I was wearing. This all worked out briliantly except then I had no tzitzit, which was strange, like being naked somehow. I went up to a friend of mine and asked him if he knew where extra tzitzit were and he offered me the set off his back, and I mean literally off his back. It turns out his tallis katan was way too big for me, wearing this garment would have ridiculous on my part, but as I handed his tzitzit back to him I discovered my frenetic need to wear tzitzit satiated by the moment, as if the moment itself was tzitzit. Since then my need to wear tzitzit has greatly diminished because the memory of that moment inscribed itself on my heart and is there indelibly for permanent reference.

I still wear tzitzit, but as a meditative device. I find myself shifting shifting back into my tallis gadol and continuing to explore women's styles of tallisim, but the traditional tallis katan-- I think it needs to be for the guys!

Thanks Fellas for all of your support!!


Sinai Has Its Own Realities


First Jerusalem Camp Posts En Route--
mostly wrote the first posts for J-Camp but still need some editing-- stay tuned!

Monday, June 26, 2006

Wilderness Maggid Website Up And Running!


Finally, Baruch Hashem, my new website is up and running. Haven't posted any substantial content yet, but the basic construction and inner navigational links are up, as well as my calendar, credentials, and photo gallery. This is exciting new territiory for me-- thanks all for getting me here, and especially to my web designer for his endless patience and support.

Here it is:


If you can't remember that, then maggidsarah.com will take you there as well.

Blessings to you all!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Jerusalem Camp Needs Our Support!


My dear friends and supporters, Jerusalem Camp at the National Rainbow Gathering desperately needs our help. Every year Jerusalem Camp and it's Kitchen, the "Circle K" offer sanctuary, rejuvination, and a spiritual home for thousands of young Jewish souls. In addition, the kitchen feeds over ten thousand people during the week, many of whom have brought no source of food for themselves (rainbow mythology has it that you can show up with nothing and have all your needs met... a scenario which results in tens of thousands of half starved, sleep deprived, sun drenched young people who are essentially stuck at the gathering until their rides go home at the end of the week.) There is no way to describe in words the overwhelming act of compassion toward humanity that Jerusalem Camp's Kitchen represents. I've been there and seen the grateful starving masses and I'm telling you, this is tikkun olam at its best.

Beyond that, Jerusalem Camp represents one of the largest gatherings of Jewish people outside of the Land of Israel, and is probably the largest gathering of "alternative" community Jews in the Diaspora, maybe in the world. Something really important at the level of Peoplehood is happening there which must be supported. You can't go to Jerusalem Camp and not feel like you're at Sinai again. While heavily influenced by "traditional" Judaism, Jerusalem Camp is welcoming to Jews and Jewish expression from across the Jewish Spectrum. Two years ago this wild tzitzit wearing woman was encouraged to Daven, to leyn torah (from a chumash-- this year, Baruch HaSh-em we will have a sefer torah) and to be awesomely present in my yiddishkeit. This is an environment where religion isn't pushed on anyone, and secular Jews as well as non-Jewish spirit friends are welcome. Shabbos and Havdalah attract thousands of participants, and the post havdalah bonfire music jam can go way into the wee hours of the morning.

Rising Gas prices are putting the crunch on this essential Jewish experience, both in terms of gas to get there and the added cost of gas/shipping to all goods purchased for the kitchen. Please send money now! Donations can be sent to the link below, or, if you know me personally, can be funneled through me and I will send a collective check to Zev. Jerusalem Camp is a registered non-profit and all donations are tax deductable.

I thank you friends, and pray to Hashem that you be blessed with all of your needs.

With Peace, B'Shalom U'Vracha,
Maggidah Sarah Etz Alon


Make a donation by check:

Make checks out to JerusalemCamp and mail to:
Jerusalem Camp
2887 College Ave Suite 305
Berkeley, CA 94705

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Mezuzah/Amulet Crafting on Taos Peublo


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Now that the shoes on the other foot...

Until this week liberal judaism was hanging out on it's own suffering under rules of non-acceptance by the chief rabbinate of Israel. Modern Orthodoxy thought this was just fine until their (our) rabbis also became disqualified. What next? Are we coming into an age where only jews born in the land of Israel will be recognized as legitimate jews? Maybe we should discount the Babylonian Talmud because it was written outside of the Land? What fundamentalist snobbery will we see next?

From Haaretz:

Rabbinate's ruling on overseas conversions riles U.S. rabbis

By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz Correspondent

NEW YORK - "This is deliberate harassing of the modern Orthodoxy that was conceived and born in the United States," one New York rabbi said Wednesday in response to the decision by Israel's Chief Rabbinate not to recognize conversions by Orthodox rabbis abroad.

The rabbi, who does not serve in an official rabbinic capacity but is viewed by colleagues and the religious-Zionist public in the U.S. as a model modern Orthodox rabbi, said he had trouble choosing between two labels for the Rabbinate's decision: "horrific" or "folly."

By contrast, Rabbi Basil Herring, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) downplayed the impression of a crisis in relations with the Rabbinate in Israel. "The report in Haaretz was too sweeping," Herring said. "It isn't a matter of not recognizing all Orthodox conversions, but rather not recognizing them automatically."

Herring, whose organization is home to some 1,000 rabbis across the U.S., said he had no problem with someone in Israel saying that new standards for conversions needed to be put in place, but "you don't do that without consulting us and without informing us in advance."

Herring said that following Wednesday's report in Haaretz, he had been flooded by calls from European rabbis demanding explanations of the Rabbinate decision and from reporters seeking comments.

American Orthodox rabbis interviewed on Wednesday commonly expressed shock and feelings of frustration and anger. The differences in style and degree depended only on the extent of the speaker's dependence on the Orthodox rabbinic establishment and their obligations as rabbis of congregations.

Rabbis affiliated with the Orthodox establishment made a concerted effort to show restraint and temper their displeasure with a measure of hope that the issue of recognizing overseas Orthodox conversions will be resolved through mutual debate.

Rabbis active outside the Orthodox mainstream were more outspoken, though some asked to remain anonymous.

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, former president of Yeshiva University and a prominent figure in modern Orthodoxy, told Haaretz on Wednesday that the approach of Orthodox rabbis in the U.S. was always to accept the will of the Rabbinate in Israel.

"Now that the Chief Rabbinate is taking a step that indicates it does not recognize us as authorized rabbis, we will have to review and reassess our relations with the Rabbinate in Israel," he said.

Rabbi Shraga Schoenfeld, a former president of the RCA, also expressed dismay at the Rabbinate's decision. "I don't understand what happened," he said.

"We always recognized the Chief Rabbinate as a halakhic authority and suddenly they decided they would not accept American Orthodox conversion unless it has the official seal of the Chief Rabbinate. Something went wrong there in Jerusalem."

Sephardic Chief Rabbi and president of the Supreme Rabbinic Court, Shlomo Amar, categorically rejected the wave of protest from U.S. rabbis. According to Amar, "the rabbis and dayanim (religious arbitrators) overseas who were recognized until now continue to be recognized. We are saying only that new rabbis and dayanim who wish to perform conversion or rule on divorce matters will have to take an exam."

Amar said that a body of three dayanim was appointed to administer the exams. "I instructed them to conduct a special and easy exam," he emphasized, but acknowledged the inconvenience of taking the exam in Israel. "I am prepared to consider an orderly proposal to administer the exams for rabbis in America," he said. "But I do not promise to accept it."

Friday, May 12, 2006

What is a maggid (as sarah?)


Serving the Eugene Jewish Community informally as a maggid since January 2003, I recently received maggidic smicha (ordination) from Reb Maggid Yitzhak Buxbaum, authorizing me to teach and preach in Jewish communities. While the role of the maggid goes back into Jewish history as far as the Jews do, it is the Chasidic model of the maggid as teacher, preacher, and storyteller that most appeals to me. When working in the field I find myself leading prayer services, teaching classes, tutoring adults and children in Hebrew, trope, and Judaism 101, leading song nights, telling stories and playing music, facilitating torah study, giving d’vrei torah (preaching), speaking on behalf of the community at interfaith events, offering peer counseling, grief support, and crisis management, mentoring B’nei Mitzvah students, participating in family education, designing liturgy and life cycle ritual… and anything else that helps people relate Judaism to the reality of their everyday lives.

Born in the sleepy Deep South town of Gainesville, FL, I enjoyed a Tom Sawyer/ Huck Finn childhood until moving to Malibu and the California life when I was 12. Los Angeles was a great place to be a teenager, it had every kind of person, every piece of humanity you could imagine, and it taught me to be present with people, and to honor that the place where they are standing is holy ground. Bored with high school, I left early to attend UCLA and Santa Monica College, where I majored in American History and Astronomy until transferring to a combined BA/MA program at American University in Washington, DC. While studying at American University I discovered peace and conflict resolution studies, added that to my major, and went to work as the student coordinator of peace and justice ministries at our interfaith chapel on campus. This was an extraordinary time for me, as I became immersed in the progressive spiritual worker community—working and learning from the heart of the Latin American liberation theology and literacy movements. The value systems of these movements heavily influenced me and show up in my teaching today as I stress democratic processes on the pulpit and in the classroom. The more people that are empowered in their humanness, in their yiddishkeit, the happier I am.

Since leaving my University studies I have held a lot of jobs, in every kind of trade a person can have. I’ve managed construction sites for Habitat for Humanity, worked on a marine research vessel, trained service animals for people with disabilities, wrangled cactuses, taught classes for the Red Cross, gone on search and rescue missions, and managed horse barns. I’ve also held tedious jobs as a retail clerk, restaurant manager, sporting goods department manager, record store buyer, and clerk on Capital Hill. Like my teenage years in L.A., the decade in between my university and maggidic life exposed me to all manner of humanity, lending me a richness of experience from which I draw constantly in my role of spiritual teacher. Beyond that, this great sea of humanity I’ve been swimming in has taught me to be patient and forgiving with people. So very, very important.

At the end of 2002 I decided that I needed to make some changes in my life. After many years of floating through the world I settled down in Eugene and engaged my Jewish studies with commitment and purpose. Since then I have been immersed completely in the life of the Jewish Community in Eugene, and in Klal Yisroel. I find myself voraciously studying anything Jewish I can get my hands on with particular emphasis on liturgy, hazzinut, midrash, aggadah, trope, music, storytelling, chumash, halacha, and chassidus. I love working with community and teaching torah. I love it. I’ve worked in a lot of professions, but this being a maggid is the first career I could see myself doing for the rest of my life—in fact, I love this work so much, I can’t imagine not doing it. (I’m totally sold, can you tell?) Meanwhile, over the past several years I have become an enthusiastic and competent leader of shabbat and holiday prayer services, can mentor b’nei mitzvah students, teach in religious school, tutor adults, teach Judaic classes, counsel those who are ill or in mourning, offer spiritual guidance, participate (and facilitate participation in) community events, work with the kids, and generally uplift the life of the community. In addition, I’ve become an increasingly skilled liturgist and crafter of life cycle ritual, with experience in naming ceremonies for babies/teenagers/adults, mikvot, and shiva minyanim. I feel confident that I could officiate a brit milah or a funeral, should need arise. Like my work experience, my Jewish upbringing and learning comes from all over the Jewish spectrum, a fact I try to utilize as I draw on these many traditions to create a ritual experience that fits the spiritual needs of those present. Sometimes this looks more traditional, sometimes more liberal, but always I am aiming for awesomely Jewish. Ultimately, if the community is healthy and people have joy in their jewishness, then I feel pretty good in my life as a maggid.