You Shall Pursue

October 18, 2012

First thoughts on pulpit work

Filed under: Jewish Communitty, Rabbinical School, Spirituality — marleyweiner @ 7:57 pm

I really really enjoy working with children. So much so, in fact, that I spent this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur leading children’s services. I had the kids for two and a half hours, and wanted to provide them with meaningful, engaging, and fun (whenever possible) prayer experiences.

Something that I learned while doing services this year, is that I am really going to have to work on the balance between creating a spiritual experience for myself while at the same time working really hard to create a spiritual or learning experience for students or congregants. Serving others can be a very specific type of spiritual experience, but I never want to get to the point where I am so focused on the needs of the people that I am serving that I begin to neglect my own needs.

This is something that every rabbinical student struggles with. We join the rabbinate often because we find deep meaning in performing ritual and praying. However, immersive experiences are really good at causing burnout. When your life revolves around something, even if that something brings you joy, it can be a struggle to continue doing that something without needing a break. I consider it a high priority to stay spiritually engaged during ritual, and there is a difference when working with kids between having fun (and I had a BLAST) and carving out spiritual space. This is especially challenging on days like Yom Kippur, when I am traditionally able to turn my focus entirely inward.

October 5, 2012

An Open Letter to the Yom Kippur Jew

Filed under: Jewish Communitty, Spirituality — marleyweiner @ 3:42 pm

Earlier this week, some of my classmates and I were talking about Jews who only go to synagogue on Yom Kippur. And what came up for us was the disconnect between how we experience Judaism, which is a very joyful, celebratory religion, and how some people that we know seem to see it as a religion of obligation. And so I wanted to tell Jewish people who do see Judaism that way a little bit more about what I see, during Yom Kippur and the rest of the year.

Every week, I get a chance to pause. I take Friday and Saturday as priority time to see family and friends, to eat good food, to read, to take walks, to dance, to enjoy myself. I use services as an opportunity to reflect back on the week that has passed, and offer up my feelings, thoughts, and fears to God. I understand that, if your model of Shabbat observance is a long list of can’ts, that is not going to be appealing. I think of the day as food for my soul. Anything that is not soul nourishing, whether that is vacuuming or homework or checking email, I give myself permission to not do it, to save it for the rest of the week. And carving out that time to not worry about anything is tremendously valuable to my self-care and stress levels.

And then there are the unambiguously joyous holidays. Simchat Torah, where you go to the synagogue and dance with the Torah until you are exhausted. At Columbia, we would dance and sing until we were sweaty and exhausted, high on Torah and the joy of celebrating as a community (and Manischevitz). Then we would walk to the library plaza clutching our Torah scrolls, and sing our final blessings before turning in for the night.

Or Purim, a delightfully backwards holiday that I don’t think is celebrated nearly enough by adult Jews. It is Halloween, Mardi Gras, a Masquerade Ball, a drag show, and deep theology all rolled into one. If you want to see truly joyful, raucous Judaism, you should go to an Israeli club somewhere during Purim.

Or Passover, which for me, means arguments, delicious food, and the Prince of Egypt. A few years ago at the family seder, I threw out the recitation of the Exodus story all together in favor of a series of discussion questions about the troubling parts of the story. The family loved it. Last year, the seder that I hosted included Lemony Snickett, an original reading from one of our guests about the beauty of parent-child relationships, and extensive discussions of queer and feminist theory. Seders are supposed to be fun, and it pains me deeply that the most commonly used seder is the one from Maxwell House, which is unengaging to say the least.

The thing about living within Judaism as a system, rather than just synagogue on Yom Kippur, a little bit of Hanukkah, and a seder that is as short as possible, is that it covers a remarkably full arc of human emotions and needs. One does not need to be a Torah scholar to appreciate the beauty of stars shining through the roof of a sukkah, or the glow of the Shabbat candles. And, if you incorporate Jewish practice into your life in ways that fit with your life and personal theology, religion and ritual can become sources of comfort rather than tedious obligation. You are looking for it, otherwise you wouldn’t show up to synagogue on Yom Kippur at all.

Yom Kippur is a holiday of penitence, sure. It is an opportunity to sincerely promise to come closer to my better nature in the year ahead. But I genuinely dedicate the time doing just that, which, oddly, frees me from guilt. God and I are old friends, we talk every week, and God is used to hearing what is up with me. Instead of spending the time worrying about how to be a better Jew, I come to shul on Yom Kippur aware that it is one day to celebrate my Judaism in one particular mode, rather than the only day that must sustain me throughout the year. This is how it should be. A religion built on guilt cannot sustain through an individual life, and certainly not through generations.

October 2, 2012

Quick Post: in which I am a Kaplan Fangirl

Filed under: Choosing Life, Rabbinical School, Social Justice — marleyweiner @ 7:00 pm

In honor of the recent High Holidays (which I will talk about in a minute) and in honor of diving back into my schoolwork, I’d like to leave you with two quotes:

Religion must no longer betray the hopes of men for the abolition of poverty, oppression, and war on this earth by regarding these evils as mere “trials and tribulations” or “chastisements of love,” for which we shall be compensated in another world. It must cease waiting for an act of miraculous intervention to remove these evils “in the end of days.” It must encourage men with faith and hope to apply human intelligence and good-will to the removal of these evils in the achievement of the social salvation of mankind.

-Mordechai Kaplan “The Meaning of God”

To be sure, they seek Me daily, eager to learn My ways. Like a nation that does what is right, that has not abandoned the laws of its God, they ask Me for the right way, they are eager for the nearness of God:
“Why, when we fasted, did You not see? When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
Because on your fast day you see to your business and oppress all your laborers! Because you fast in strife and contention, and you strike with a wicked fist!
Your fasting today is not such as to make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast I desire, a day for men to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrush and lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast, a day when the Lord is favorable?
No, this is the fast I desire: to unlock the fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke. To let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to ignore your own kin.

– Isaiah Chapter 58

Some things remain the same, and some things we need to hear over and over and over again, in different words in every age, because they are JUST that important.

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