This past July, every Tuesday at 2p, I would sign into a zoom call and land in a beautiful circle of parents facilitated by an educator in Jerusalem who had just put her own children to bed. Each week for an hour, we'd step back from our daily routines of parenting and focus on who we each were becoming as parents.
We spoke about souls - the souls of our children, the souls of our partners, and the souls that make us our unique selves. We grounded the conversation in Jewish wisdom, and shared stories about the struggles, challenges, and profound moments of accompanying our children through life.
The meetings were transformational, and after the summer series ended, I missed the weekly ritual we had created. So I signed up for the next series on love, and am looking forward to the May meetings on presence. Most of all, I am very excited to share the same Becoming a Soulful Parent curriculum with you starting next month (more details here).
With everything going on in the world around us - the Coronavirus spreading, the Democratic candidates debating, the Russian bots and trolls looming, and the snowless winter confusing our internal clocks - I become overwhelmed, and I know many of you do, too.
Then I take a breath, and remember: With everything going on in the world around us, making space to consider and refine how we are bringing ourselves to the enormous task of raising the next generation is crucial. Now is the time to focus on the preciousness of human souls, our core characters, and the divine sparks within that make us feel most grounded in life and connected to others.
The world needs us to be more human than ever, and I think that starts with soul speak.
Our ancient ancestors employed one Hebrew word nefesh to describe our throat and neck (that allow for breathing), breath itself, a living being, one's personality, and one's center of feelings and perceptions. Our best attempt to convey this range of meanings in English is to speak of the "soul." One practice for hearing what our soul has to say involves sitting quietly and breathing, and then speaking honestly about our experience of life.
More often than not, we have to help the soul open up. It's not always easy to hear. If music is what stirs your soul, we're experimenting with a House Concert this Saturday (details here - you can pay at the door, but we still need you to RSVP!). If nature is your ideal sanctuary, we're doing a winter walk earlier in the day on Saturday (details here), and aiming to have more outdoor experiences this summer into next year. If your children have engaged new parts of your spirit, then Becoming a Soulful Parent may be a great place for you.
May our souls speak loudly, and may we be wise enough to listen.
Happy Tu B'Shevat! Tu B'what?
2020. This year always seemed so far away, and now look, here we are!
My onramp to 2020 included a few trips:
Trip #1: I traveled to Chicago where I had the honor to present at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Biennial conference. In a very larger gathering of about 5,000 people, it felt significant (and a bit subversive) to teach about the power of small groups and one-on-one dialogue.
I was also thrilled to hear the messages coming from the top leadership of the URJ. President Rabbi Rick Jacobs called on the Movement to keep expanding our metaphoric ‘Tent.’ He modeled how meeting the spiritual needs of our increasingly diverse community begins with really listening and learning about people’s lives.
VP Amy Asin asked: How can we start experimenting with change in a big way? She lifted up the importance of staying "laser focused on mission," taking risks, and intentionally disrupting our current models of Jewish communal life.
To my ears, and I hope to yours, it sounded like the largest movement of American Judaism was asking for more communities like Sanctuary. And that was a wonderful message to hear!
Trip #2: Two weeks later I was on the slopes of Butternut in Great Barrington, MA. My family loves to ski there over Christmas. It had been a quiet week, and then on Friday, the crowds descended. The beginner area was full of young children on skis for the very first time. It was quite a sight to see.
Still adjusting to the helmets and boots, children skied down the slope, embodying that fine line between control and chaos. They fell down, cried, and also smiled. Their form was not pretty, but inspiring: From head to toe, they modeled a willingness to take risks, embrace something entirely new, learn from others, and have a (mostly) great time while doing it. It felt like the ideal mindset for entering a new year and new decade.
Trip #3: One of our first adventures of 2020 was an outing to an actual movie theatre for a screening of Frozen 2. I went for my daughter, but I can’t stop thinking about the film. The creators took on so many contemporary issues! And the song I keep hearing on repeat in my head is entitled, Into the Unknown.
That feels like the theme song of 2020: We are heading into the unknown. We know the changes we need to make; we know what lies beyond our control; and we know how uncertainty can take hold.
In this year ahead, my hope is that we can embrace the blessing and challenge of the unknown:
Last Friday was a great day of building Sanctuary, and the common theme of all the conversations and gatherings was this three-word refrain: Here All Along.
The day began with two morning meetings at a local cafe. That's how I approach community building - one person, one conversation, and even one cup at a time.
Conversation #1: Over a cup of tea, we planned a new Circle that will bring together adults who haven't really studied Judaism since age 13, those curious about becoming Jewish, and parents figuring out what they want to teach and model for their children when it comes to Jewish practice.
In many ways, we've all become Jews by choice, and having thoughtful companions and accessible resources to guide all the choices can make a big difference. There is actually a new literary genre that captures this very moment in American Jewish life: After feeling a limited connection to Judaism as children, more and more adults are exploring Jewish wisdom later in life and finding themselves delighted and often surprised by what they discover. Luckily for us, some of these people are accomplished writers who decided to document their journeys in book form.
The most recent contribution to this genre is "Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life - in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There)," written by Sarah Hurwitz, the former head speechwriter for First Lady Michelle Obama. Relatable and well-researched, Hurwitz's book will provide the structure and core reading material for this upcoming Circle.
Conversation #2: Next I met with a local parent who shared many wonderful ideals for the kind of Jewish community he wants for himself and his family. In addition to the importance of integrity and openness, we spoke about honoring how Judaism lives in people, not in a building. We need to remember and rejoice in the reality that we carry Judaism within us every day. It's been here all along.
Conversation 3#: An hour later at our Yoga Circle, we experienced Shabbat as an invitation to pause and take some deep breaths. Doing so can slow us down, ground us, and connect us to the Source of all Breath. Since we spend most of our days ignoring our breath, Shabbat reminds us to pay attention to this powerful tool for spirituality and insight that we carry with us every day. It's been here all along.
Three distinct conversations with the same conclusion. Why do we need Sanctuary? Because we need to create space and time to be curious about the sources of wisdom that have been here all along. Giving them our attention invites new sources of grounding, inspiration and healthy debate into our modern lives.
Sanctuary officially opened last weekend, and it was good!
It’s always challenging to decide when to start something new. Sometimes it’s smart to wait until we feel ready, and other times we need to push ourselves to jump in.
When I saw that we would be reading the opening words of Torah at the end of October, I grabbed onto those dates. The week when we relive the wonder of creation “in the beginning” felt like the exact right time to begin a new, exciting project like Sanctuary.
Each gathering of the weekend embodied a different aspect of creativity, and collectively they formed the genesis of this spiritual startup:
1. The creative process involves making separations: “God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness” [Gen. 1:3-4].
Differentiation adds much-needed texture to our lives, and at our Shabbat Dinner Gathering, we all felt the benefits of creating space and time in our week to truly be with one another. We sat around the table, enjoyed delicious food and wine, talked about our lives, and really listened to each other. The evening felt special, because it felt separate from the rest of the week.
2. The creative process involves an element of surprise. When God said, “Let there be light,” God didn’t know exactly what would happen or how it would turn out. Only after taking the risk did God see (perhaps with a sense of relief) “that the light was good.” At our Family Gathering at Sheldrake Environmental Center, we practiced paying attention with all of our senses, and personally, I was surprised – and moved – to see how bright and beautiful the foliage had become.
3. When we intentionally stop, that can be the most creative act of all. “On the seventh day God finished the work that God had been doing, and God ceased” [Gen. 2:2]. When God paused, that completed the work of creation. At the Friday afternoon Yoga Circle, we spent an hour pausing with our bodies, holding poses for longer than we’d choose on our own. Taking a weekly pause is essential not only to our productivity but also to our happiness, and the yoga practice helped us internalize this ancient message.
4. The creative process is ongoing. Sanctuary is committed to bringing Jewish wisdom into dialogue with modern life, and gathering in community around what we care about deeply: food and cooking, political activism, meditation, music, nature, and more. Along these lines, we are eager to reimagine the path to becoming b'nai mitzvah, and here to support families through other life cycle events as well.
We are just getting started!
Rabbi Bethie Miller writes periodic reflections on the state of our world and the Jewish project. She also writes about creative ideas for combining Jewish wisdom with our modern lives. Here are links to previous ones:
Looking for Hope at the Seder Table (4/13/22)
Happy 9th Night of Hanukkah (12/6/21)
The Healing is in the Return (8/18/21)
Time to Pray (11/2/20)
The Secret to At-One-Ment (9/27/20)
Taking a Sharp Left Turn into 5781 (9/15/20)
Waking Up One Day At Time (8/31/20)
This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared (8/18/20)
The Day is Short (6/16/20)
Spiritual Mountain Climbing Without Leaving the House (5/14/20)
Shabbat Peace, Love & Light (3/20/20)
Sources of Connection as We Practice Social Distancing (3/16/20)
Purim Has Never Felt So Resonant (3/9/20)
The Miracle of Chanukah (12/20/19)
To Be Jewish is To Be Grateful (12/2/19)
What I Learned During the High Holy Days (10/16/19)
New Year, New Project - Welcome to Sanctuary (10/3/19)