Spread Your Love & Kindness

031016-farmworker-hearing_01

Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert Kennedy, addressing the Coalition of Immokalee Workers – one of the organizations that we are partnering with during November’s Mitzvah Month

Check out one of my previous blog posts on Judaism and Halloween!

I am not a fan of Mitzvah Days. Every single day we should strive to do our part to heal the world. Our tradition urges us to do this by embracing the mitzvah of Gemilut Hasadim – performing acts of love and kindness. We should all be engaged in ongoing activities that allow us to roll up our sleeves, lift up our neighbors and help improve our community. I worry that Mitzvah Days have the potential to incorrectly teach folks that we can limit the acts of love and kindness we engage in, to one day. There are too many individuals, causes and issues that need our love and kindness. We can’t possibly fulfill the mitzvah of Gemilut Hasadim in one day. It’s an ongoing, never-ending task that all of us should be engaged in.

The month of November, the month in which we celebrate Thanksgiving, is a perfect time to affirm our commitment to Gemilut Hasadim. And so throughout November, we’re offering several ways for us to spread the love and kindness. Yes, we’re calling November “Mitzvah Month.” However, it’s my hope that none of us limit our ability to make a difference to a month. For some, our upcoming Mitzvah Month will simply be a continuation of the acts of love and kindness you’re already engaged in. It’s my hope that for others, our Mitzvah Month will jump-start a meaningful and ongoing desire to heal the world.

Here are some of our Mitzvah Month opportunities (please note, due to limited space, you must RSVP for each of these opportunities by emailing diane@ramatshalom.org):

Sunday, November 6: Craig’s Pantry – Join us at Craig’s Pantry (100 South Pine Island Road) at 9:00AM as we prepare and deliver monthly food packages to pantry clients. Craig’s Pantry works with close to 200 local individuals and families who struggle to put food on the table and rely heavily on the pantry’s monthly deliveries. This is a great opportunity for families.

Sunday, November 13: Coalition of Immokalee Workers – Performing acts of love and kindness is not just about giving to others. It also involves learning about the challenges others face. If we don’t understand these challenges, we can’t truly help them. Many of us are unaware of the fact that right here in Florida, migrant farm workers face tremendous struggles as they harvest the food we eat. We must educate ourselves about their struggles and learn how we can help them. We will do just this by traveling to Immokalee, Florida (about a 90-minute drive; we’ll arrive at 9:00AM and stay for a few hours) to meet with, learn from and work with migrant workers who work in Florida’s tomato fields. This is a unique opportunity to come face to face with a crisis that has made headlines and continues to make lives miserable for many. Just last week, the James Beard Foundation, with the help of Robert Kennedy’s daughter, Kerry Kennedy, honored the Coalition of Immokalee Workers with its prestigious Leadership Award for its “innovative work in forging a new human rights model in the food industry supply chain.”

Sunday, November 20: Broward Partnership for the Homeless – Providing shelter to those who don’t have a roof over their heads is one of the best ways to share your love and kindness. We are grateful to live in a community that has wonderful organizations like the Broward Partnership that works tirelessly to help the more than 2,000 men, women and children in Broward County who have no shelter. Join us at the Broward Partnership on November 20 at 10:30AM as we prepare and serve brunch for the residents. Space is extremely limited and you must be 16 or older! Don’t forget to RSVP to diane@ramatshalom.org.

Throughout November, there will be other opportunities to share your love and kindness. Check Instagram and Facebook for more information!

The Jewish Circle of Life

596_a_torah_b13a0621_jsp

Our 2013 Simchat Torah Celebration – Photo by Josh Prezant

This Sunday night, as part of our Simchat Torah celebration which begins at 6:30PM, we dance with our Torah scrolls. At the conclusion of the dancing, we take one of the scrolls and completely unwrap it so that it surrounds the sanctuary. Many of you will help hold up the parchment of the Torah as others, including lots of our kids, will gather inside the unwrapped scroll. The entire ancient Jewish story will be completely visible to us all – from the Garden of Eden to Mount Sinai to our ancestors’ journey through the desert and on to Israel. We’ll read the last few lines and the first few lines of Torah – officially starting the biblical reading cycle all over again as we have done for centuries.

While many ask why we read the Torah all over again year after year, when you join us Sunday night, you’ll discover first hand that Torah really has no beginning and no end. Torah is a circle, an infinite loop that shares new lessons and insights every time we allow ourselves to connect to the storytelling process that has been part of our people’s history for generations.

At 6:00PM Sunday night, before our Simchat Torah celebration begins, many will gather for Yizkor and think about those who are no longer physically with us. We’ll lean on each other as we remember and weep. But, our grief will be limited. Immediately following the 30-minute Yizkor service, the sanctuary will be flooded with children getting ready to sing and dance with the Torahs as part of the Simchat Torah celebration. This transition from sadness to joy epitomizes the circle of life that is celebrated as we unwrap the Torah.

Whether it be moving from a memorial service to a joyful festival, from one story in the Torah to the next or from the end of our ancient story to the beginning once again, Judaism teaches us that life doesn’t stop. It’s a never-ending process that carries us all along for the ride. Along the way, we welcome new souls and miss those who pass on. We learn from our experiences and we use what we’ve learned to teach the younger generations. And as life carries us along, our Judaism, our heritage, our rituals and our legends are there to give us meaning, unite us and inspire us. Yes, we reread the same stories and repeat the same rituals that define our faith. But, hopefully, in time, we begin to notice that when we find ourselves rereading stories and repeating rituals, the circle of life gives us insight, wisdom and clarity that we didn’t have the last time we engaged with our Torah and tradition.

Sunday night, we start all over again. Seamlessly, we finish reading the Torah and immediately begin rereading it, starting with Creation and the Garden of Eden. The Jewish story continues. Life continues. On the surface, things might seem repetitive. It’s the same Garden of Eden that we visited last year. But, we’re all different than we were when we visited last year. Join us as we come together Sunday to comfort each other, celebrate our story and discover the lessons that the circle of life continues to teach us.

Rosh Hashanah Day 1 Sermon

My apologies for being quiet on here! The Jewish holidays have kept me busy. Below, please find my latest article on The Wisdom Daily that captures a lot of what I spoke about on the first day of Rosh HaShanah.

 

6029968524_e4f5eb5eeb_b

THE UNEASY BALANCE OF HOLINESS

I got a message on my blog a few months ago that shocked me. It was in response to a fun story that I wrote and shared on the blog on Mother’s Day. The story is a creative spin on the biblical creation story, one that describes how mothers came to possess a special spark created by God.  You can read the entire story here.

The shocking message that I received was from a woman who thanked me for my story explaining that it deeply touched her, so much so that it caused her to cancel an appointment she’d made to end her pregnancy. The woman, who was six weeks pregnant, said that my story showed her what she was about to give up. “I want to be a mother and share that spark with my child…I am going to have this child thanks to you.”

The fact that my story had such a life changing impact on this woman made me really uncomfortable. I wanted to share with her that I support a woman’s right to choose. I wanted her to know that I would be happy to speak with her about her decision and wouldn’t look down on her if she chose another path. I tried to reach out to her. But I never heard back.

Today, the woman is at least 6 months into what I hope is a healthy pregnancy. I’m still troubled that my story had the impact that it did and I know that to some this might sound terrible. And so I’ll add the confusing reality that I also feel good that my story will lead to the birth of a baby in a few months and, hopefully, this baby will lead a wonderful life. I feel good and, at the same time, disheartened by the fact that by feeling good, I’m identifying with the other side of what remains a painful issue in our country.

To read the rest of the article, please click here.