Make a Window in the World

September 8, 2016 from Rabbi Hannah Dresner via her Rabbi’s Without Borders Blog

wyczolkowskiwiosnaMy favorite Hasidic teaching is a teaching about prayer couched in a homily on Noah’s Ark. God tells Noah to make a window in his ark. Teyva, the word for ark, means container. Teyva is also Hebrew for letter, or word, containers of meaning.  Thus, the teaching on prayer is: make a window in the word.  This means that our prayers should not be confined by the “box” of conventional liturgy. Rather, our words should be openings through which what is in us can flow out the window of the word, reverberating through our bodies and our imaginations as it expands into the universe, free in expression, free to rise up to the God on High, or sink deep into the God within us.Loving this teaching, I am always looking for the window, wanting to open it for myself, as well as for those whose spiritual lives I am tending. And the converse is true: I am always looking for multiple points of entry, seeking avenues of access, particularly during these Days of Awe when we flock to the synagogue because we believe our choices matter, that our sins actually have ripped at the universe, and that our repentance really does count.

The rivers of words that are our traditional liturgical poetry, coupled with the powerful musical modalities of traditional davening (praying) affect many of us, carrying us on a hypnotic wave of prayer. But even this is a window in the words, for we are not as involved in the meaning of line after line of language as we are in the overall flow of the prayer-song, leading us back to our essential selves.

Some of us need an expansive silence to contain our mindful awareness. Some of us return to our authentic selves bodily, kneading the dough of our round challot, or metaphorically sending our sins adrift on the water of a running stream. Some of us hear a call in the shofar’s sound, dance our authenticity and sing our longings or play them on our instruments. We gravitate to stories that resonate with our own truths and wrestle with texts to puzzle out the important questions. We, alternately, take comfort in the large community and want to crawl into the solitary womb of the holy day to do our own private work, emerging renewed. And we are not consistent; we might flit from portal to portal, choosing the modalities that suit us as we wrestle with ourselves, strengthen our cores, and realign with what feels truest.

As a congregational rabbi, I see it as my job to multiply the variety of opportunities available for captivating our High Holiday minds and dreams. So at Or Shalom in Vancouver, we will begin with challah baking, challot in the form of small birds, to song in the year, to soar with our aspirations. We’ll experiment, sounding the shofar, we’ll meld Hasidic melody with jazz improvisation in praying Selichot (prayers of repentance) and we’ll foreshadow the holiest of prayers, playing them on clarinet and saxophone. On the evening of Rosh Hashanah we’ll engage in story-telling, a story by the enigmatic Reb Nachman of Bratslav, whose themes are of being lost and being found, and of going back to a time before time in the great spiral that moves us forward by way of the backward glance of self-awareness. We’ll see the story danced, hear it told, and see it danced again. On Rosh Hashanah we’ll raise our voices in a collective drone of longing into which the shofar will be blown, and on Yom Kippur a member of our community will sing the words of the High Priest as she bows to the ground, repeatedly enacting the ancient ritual of atonement.

We’ll break to study Talmud and to process our Yizkor memories in small group, and we’ll chant at the gates before the final Neila prayer. All this, in the context of the traditional davening, both the core and the sacred container that holds the multiplicity of voices and creativity.

I think of each of these points of access as a tiny point, indeed, a point of possibility that, if entered, has the potential to blossom into great sanctuaries of understanding and teshuvah – restoration.

Joining Or Shalom for our High Holydays? Look here for schedule and events.

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Preparing for Yamim Noraim – Jazz Selichot

Prepare for Rosh Hashanah in a new way this year. Rabbi Hannah and guest  jazz saxophonist Rabbi Neil Blumofe will meld Chassidic melody with jazz, accompanied by a fine band of local musicians.

Mark this date for Or Shalom’s first Jazz Selichot – you won’t find anything like this!

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Arrived: First of Our Long Awaited Refugee Families!

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Planning meeting to welcome refugees at Or Shalom

from Rabbi Hannah:

Here is what I posted, this morning, on the Rabbis Without Borders Blog at MyJewishLearning.com. Let us allow Tisha B’Av to sensitize us, all the more, that the refugees we sponsor, and the new citizens we accompany as they resettle, are exiles of worlds lost to them forever. They will surely blossom as their lives are transformed, and they will grieve.

Or Shalom, Vancouver’s East-Side Shul, the synagogue I serve as spiritual leader, is a community of 200 households that has raised funds and the volunteer enthusiasm to sponsor four refugee families, including eight children. Three Kurdish Syrian families remain in harms way in Turkey and Northern Iraq, but one family, an LGBT couple from Iraq, has finally, finally arrived after a long journey from Beirut to Cairo to Toronto to Vancouver. Our sponsorship is the result of a fundraising effort that quickly and easily raised more than the synagogue’s annual campaign total, and a great deal more in in-kind donations, from embroidered pillow cases to used cell phones to furniture to reduced residential rent, as well as donations of time. A resettlement team has formed around each family.

The poignancy of greeting our first couple at the airport was powerful, and I understood that we were making history. These two men are free, safe, secure, no longer under threat of persecution, no longer refugees, but citizens of Canada. Last Shabbat, as our new couple settled into their apartment, we celebrated with an aliyah to the Torah for leaders of our refugee initiative. Their aliyah was the last in the book of Bamidbar, which means “In the Wilderness.” The wilderness wandering of two brave men had come to a close.

The community is kvelling, but as my lens shifts from images of milk and honey in a new homeland to the advent of Tisha B’Av and related emphasis on loss of homeland, I realize that our new Canadian citizens, and the three families yet to arrive, are also exiles; they have gained Canada, but they have lost homes that have been decimated and desecrated by civil wars. Iraq and Syria, cradles of civilization, centers of great culture and learning, may never recover. And the dream of what’s been lost in the shift of paradigms that war and flight has imposed will be a source of lasting pain for these peoples, as it is for us – Jews still lamenting the destruction of a world we will never return to, still holding images of Zion as an ideal, as an axis mundi.

Crisis forces us to grow and change. Our tradition teaches that it is when we are most broken that healing is possible. That is why Tisha B’Av marks the beginning of the period of our Days of Awe, and the return to truest self we aspire to on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. In Jewish history there is a correlation between crisis and transformation, repeated exiles catalyzing the evolution of Judaism. We’ve packed our households and hit the road, opening new chapters in countless lands, largely flourishing in exile/new homelands. Perhaps this is why we have such faith that these families from Iraq and Syria will succeed, indeed flourish, in the promised land of British Columbia. We have a core of optimism.

But I think it will be wise to also remember our story of pain, our own shocks and devastations, our own sense of dislocation, the challenges to our security, the fear of loosing our traditions to assimilation. As a people, we understand the power of memory, even the power of lament. We know what it is to make space for expression of loss. It’s our understanding of the balance between inconsolable loss and opportunity for new flourishing that will enable us to be of particular support to the new citizens of Canada we have welcomed into our community, and of support to the families that will follow.

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What is Jewish Renewal?

Probably most Or Shalomniks face this question from friends and family at some time, namely – what denomination is Or Shalom? Are we Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist?

The answer is complicated – none of the above, and a little of all the above. ALEPH co-chairs Rabbi Rachel Barenblat and Rabbi David Marcus explain it well in this podcast from Judaism Unbound.

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