Writings

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Dear Friends,

Happy Rosh Chodesh / New Moon and new month of Nissan. This is the month when we feel the transition into springtime and celebrate Passover.

At the seder meal we ask, "how is this night different from all other nights?" This year, we have many more answers than we normally do. Everything feels different. Many of us are filled with anxiety and uncertainty, scarcity and fear around health concerns and financial (in)security. It seems hard to wrap our minds around having a joyous feast when so many of us just trying to make sure we have our basic needs met and are trying to stay healthy or care for loved ones. We will experience Passover in a new, pared down, simpler way. Rather than celebrating with traditionally large groups and large meals, we’ll be home with immediate family or alone, perhaps connecting over Zoom. We'll make do with the food we have. It will be very different this year in so many ways, but Passover at its core will still remain.

Our Passover symbols and themes are complex and hold contradictions, fitting for a time like this. At the seder we hold space for and embrace the dualities of slavery and freedom, confinement and expansiveness, life and death, bitterness and sweetness. Matza, the flat dry unleavened bread we eat at the seder meal is both the bread of affliction and the bread of freedom and redemption. The charoset, the sweet mix of nuts and fruits, is delicious yet symbolizes the mortar with which the ancient Israelite slaves built the pyramids. The sting of the marror, the bitter herbs, is combined with the sweetness of the charoset. The karpas, the fresh greens, are a sign of spring, are dipped in salt water, a symbol of our tears. Beitzah, the roasted egg symbolizes both rebirth and sacrifice, the cycle of life and death and the life that goes on even after death. And so on...

I believe that in every generation, the Jewish community has had to find ways of celebrating Passover in times of scarcity and uncertainty. This is not new, even if it is new for us individually. Every year we read the Torah and experience the holidays through the lens of our own lives and whatever we are going through. This year, these themes take on new meaning in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Celebrating Passover in difficult times and circumstances has always been an act of resilience and hope.

I am holding space for all of these emotions and feelings, all of these themes and symbols, all of these dichotomies and contradictions. I pray for the health and safety of all people. I offer gratitude to the health care providers, care givers, delivery people, grocery store workers and everyone who is at risk as they are helping others. I offer my virtual support to those trying to work from home and take of their kids at the same time, to those stuck in quarantine in an unsafe situation, and to those struggling from the economic and financial blowback of the pandemic, and sympathy to those whose loved ones are sick or dying.

If you're looking for resources for hosting a virtual seder this year and experiencing Passover during the Covid-19 pandemic, check out:

https://18doors.org/additional_passover_resources/

With wishes for a Shabbat Shalom, peace, health, and safety.

Rabbi Sarah

The Talmud teaches that when the month of Adar arrives, joy increases. (Taanit 29a)

This is such a curious statement. Does this mean that Adar is automatically a more joyful month that any other month? Does it mean that any challenges or difficult things we've been going through will just automatically transform in to joyousness? I don't think so. The sages teach that one meaning behind joy increasing in Adar is because of the holiday of Purim that falls during Adar and that we start preparing for Passover in Adar. The increased joy refers to Purim and Passover, our spring holidays. Both Purim and Passover are holidays of redemption, survival and freedom - and thus in the minds of the sages, these are joyous holidays, and in celebrating or preparing for them joy increases.

However, both Purim and Passover are complex holidays - yes they are joyous but the stories of both holidays are also violent, cruel, and complicated in some ways. So I prefer to focus on a different understanding of why and how joy increases in Adar.

I see the notion that our joy increases in Adar as a challenge -- an opportunity to become more aware of joy and to increase our chances of experiencing joy. I also believe that the main mitzvot or commandments of Purim can help us increase our joy - if we think about them in an expansive way.

1. One of the mitzvot of Purim is to send sweet gifts to friends or family called "Mishloach Manot". Often kids in religious school make little bags of hamentaschen Purim cookies and a piece of candy or fruit to give to classmates or family. Or families send them to their neighbors. I didn't grow up with this practice but I think the intention behind it - the concept of a sharing something sweet with those you care about - is really important. Even if you do not do the traditional mishloach manot, think about taking some time this month to reach out to those you care about. Send cards or notes or call the people who are important to you and give them a sweet message and see how joy it brings you and the other person. If you don't celebrate Valentines day, maybe this is a nice way to send some love.

2. A "Purim Seudah" or festival meal is another one of the mitzvot of Purim. Even if you don't have a traditional Purim meal, think about setting some time aside this month for some special meals with friends or family. Maybe you eat something sweet together, or cook together, or just have tea and share your news or reconnect. Having a sweet moment together, reconnecting with those you love, and making sure that the people who are important to you know you appreciate them is a beautiful way to increase our own feelings of gratitude and satisfaction.

3. One of the other mitzvot for Purim is called "Matanot Le'evyonim" which literally means gifts to the poor. This comes from the statute that you must make sure that even those poorest in your community have enough to have a Purim feast or meal of celebration. Even if you do not know who the people are in your community that are in need, this is a good reminder and opportunity to think beyond ourselves. Take some time this month for increasing acts of service or charity, or making a donation to an organization that provides for people in your community. Recognizing our blessings and sharing with others can be another beautiful and sacred way to increase our own gratitude and joy this month.

4. The fourth mitzvah of Purim is hearing the Megillah (scroll of the story of Purim) read aloud. To me this is problematic in a lot ways because not only because not everyone can hear but also because the book of Esther that is read on Purim is more actually more Brothers Grimm than Disney fairytale and doesn't really inspire joy for me. However, an expansive way to think about this is to learn or read for the sake of personal growth or pleasure. Maybe there is a favorite book you had a child that brought so much joy. This is a great time to find that book and re-read it. Or maybe there is a book you've been wanting to read for your own edification or to learn something new. The value of learning is one of the most important Jewish values. Or maybe you love to read for pleasure and haven't had much time so perhaps this month you make some extra time just to get cozy with a mug of your favorite warm beverage and get out that book you've been wanting to read.

5. The last one I will add is not one of the traditional mitzvah associated with Purim but something else I will encourage you to do this month to increase your joy. Tap into your creative side! Think about the ways you might have really enjoyed getting creative or messy as a kid and let yourself experience that again. Or maybe there is a new medium you've wanting to explore. See what can happen with you give self a chance to express yourself in new ways! (Of course, there are lots of ways to be creative with both Purim and Passover from costumes to performances and writing your own songs to act out the story).

There are many other ways to increase our joy. What are the ways in which you might find more opportunities for joy this month? How might you increase your awareness of joy or share it with others?

Wishing you a meaningful celebration of Purim no matter how you celebrate and month of increased joy!

Rabbi Sarah

For the Month of Shevat, not only did we have a wonderful Align: Art & Spirituality session but I also had the opportunity to teach a session for FedPro, the professional conference for Jewish Federations of North America which gathered hundreds of Federation staff and leaders from around the country.

I led a session called Planting Seeds in Shevat, which was a chance for participants to engage in mindfulness meditation, reflection, creative visioning and sharing with a chevruta partner about an area of personal or professional growth they are focused on for the next few months. Rather than setting long term goals, I encouraged them to focus on a short/medium term intention for the season, something they could nurture and nourish so they would see the growth this spring.

Want to try this creative visioning exercise for yourself? Check out my Tree of Vision exercise in At The Well project's Monthly Moon Manual for Shevat!

May the seeds that are planting in the month of Shevat (in winter) bloom in the month of Nisan (spring time!).

Warmly,

Rabbi Sarah

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Rosh Chodesh Tevet (the New Moon of the month of Tevet) always coincides with the very end of Hannukah.

When the new moon that arises just as Hannukah ends it is a reminder once again that the light comes back.

The month of Kislev is an auspicious month. As we head closer to the Winter Solstice, the days are growing shorter and the nights are continuing to get longer and darker. In the Jewish calendar, we are heading towards Hannukah, the festival of lights.

Unlike other Jewish festivals that fall on a full moon (Passover, Sukkot, Tu BiShevat), Hannukah always starts on the 25th of Kislev as the moon cycle is waning and winding down towards to the new moon. Futhermore, Hannukah falls closest to the new moon nearest Winter Solstice, when the night sky is the darkest in the Northern Hemisphere.

According to Jewish wisdom traditions, Kislev is a month for rekindling dreams and finding healing and rest through sleep. Dreams that we have while we are asleep and dreams we have while we are awake. This seems a perfect time of year for this. As plants and animals are hibernating, we may also find ourselves needing more sleep or cozy time to relax and recharge. Additionally, each of the Torah readings that fall during the month of Kislev had a dream sequence (Jacob's dream of the ladder, Joseph's dreams, and Pharaoh's dreams). As we tuck into bed at night, consider how you might pay more attention to your dreams this month. Maybe write them down in the morning and look them over. Take some time think about the dreams you had as a child and what happened to those dreams. Think about your dreams for the future. How can you nurture those dreams and visions?

Since Hannukah always begins on the 25th of Kislev, the new moon of Tevet always falls at the end of Hannukah. In the Northern Hemisphere, Hannukah, like many other festivals of light in different cultures at this time of year, celebration of light, hope, faith, and dedication in time of year when it can hard to feel those things.

Hannukah lasts 8 nights, and each night we add another candle to grow the light or to ascend in holiness (according to our sages). Just as the moon is waning, and the sky is darkest, we add and additional candle each night to the Hannukah menorah.

After Winter Solstice, sunset grows a little later each day, just as the flames of the Hannukah candles grow brighter each night. The return of the new moon that always falls at the end of Tevet is a symbol of renewal and a reminder that the light will return again, coinciding with the all 8 candles burning.

This year, the first night of Hannukah falls on December 22, the night after Winter Solstice, which is also the first day of winter. How might the symbolism of the returning light help you throughout the winter? What intentions might you set for this season?

The word Hannukah means "dedication" and invite you to consider how you might want to dedicate some time for yourself this Hannukah and this season. What dreams, visions, wishes or best practices to you need to dedicate some time and space for this winter? How might you take some time for yourself this Hannukah to dedicate for your own self care or spiritual practice or just to check in with yourself?

Wishing you a bright, beautiful, cozy, and warm Hannukah and Winter Season!

Rabbi Sarah

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Chodesh Tov and Blessings for Thanksgiving!

This weekend we rolled the clocks back to end Daylight Saving Time. We gained an hour today but now have one less hour of light in the late afternoon just at the time year when it's already getting darker an hour earlier than it was a couple of months ago. This video from John Oliver sums up my feelings exactly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=br0NW9ufUUw

I have a really hard time with this every year. I The earlier sunrise doesn't help me. I've struggled with SAD/ seasonal affective disorder for years and it's real.

I'm not looking for suggestions but if you experience this too or resonate let me know.

Even in the face of this, I find a gratitude practice to be important and valuable. This week I'm grateful for a lot:

-a wonderful Align workshop and WellBodies session last week

-seeing J.S. Ondara in concert at Sixth & I on Wednesday night

-Joining my friend Elana Premack Sandler and her family for trick or treating and dinner

-Great colleagues and collaborators I feel lucky to work with (Naomi Malka Jodi Jacobson Balis Jane Shapiro Melanie-Prejean Sullivan)

-Thoughtful wedding couples and families I get to guide and officiate life cycle events

- Excitement and support for my upcoming workshops in my hometown and friends will attend (and the retreat having so many advance sign ups we need a wait list!)

- a supportive husband who knows when I need I need extra hugs and funny gifs

-parents who enjoy brainstorming with me and hearing about what I'm teaching

-an awesome program assistant Steph Black

-and much much more

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This week we welcomed the new moon and Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan. After the whirlwind of the past month of Tishrei, with one holiday after another, we find ourselves now in a month with no other Jewish holidays except for Shabbat. Because of this, Cheshvan is a chance to take a deep breath and exhale, and get back to our regular schedules.

Like the new moon, Cheshvan is an empty vessel, full of potential. Cheshvan is a chance to mindfully get back into our daily and weekly routines, hopefully bringing some of the holiness from the new year with us. Without all of the festivals in the Jewish calendar like we had in Tishrei, Cheshvan gives us a chance to actually take the time to look back at the goals we set for ourselves at Rosh Hashanah and start to make plans for how to live those intentions.

In the ayurvedic calendar, we are also in the Vata season, which is associated with the element of wind. As the leaves are falling and blowing and we begin to feel a chill in the air, we can deeply feel this season of Vata. It's important to balance this out with warm, grounding practices, and seasonal foods to help you feel rooted. It's also cold and flu season so be sure to take care of yourself. What are your favorite seasonal foods or beverages for autumn? What are your favorite practices that help you feel grounded, supported, and cozy? If you need help figuring out what practices to incorporate at this time of year, or to integrate some mindfulness techniques to your routine, be in touch.

To welcome Cheshvan, we gathered for our first Align session of 5780. It was a beautiful workshop that included meditation, making vision boards in our journals and sharing our intentions and blessings for this coming month. Additionally, we had our second WellBodies program at the Adas Israel Community Mikvah program this week which was an exploration of Creativity through movement led by Robert Bettman. Join us for our upcoming Align sessions and WellBodies programs (info below).

In a few weeks, I'll be heading to my hometown of Louisville, KY to be a Shabbat Scholar at Congregation Adath Jeshurun on November 23 and to lead a retreat for Spirit of Sophia on November 24. I am really looking forward to each of these programs and am grateful for the opportunity to bring my Torah - my spirituality and creativity - to these communities in Louisville.

Chodesh Tov and Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sarah

In the intermediary days of Sukkot, I took myself to one of my favorite places, DaySpring Retreat Center in Germantown, MD for a Quiet Day. Early in the day, I walked around outside on the beautiful grounds and by the pond, I just started speaking outloud to God. This is a chassidic form of meditative prayer called Hitbodedut, in which one speaks aloud spontaneously, offering the words of the heart.

Though it was a Quiet Day which is a mostly silent retreat, I felt I needed this time out in nature to just to give voice to what was on my mind. Through this process, I found great wisdom in also hearing what God might have to say or teach me or make known to me.

What I realized was that I needed to stay in the present moment. I had some fear and anxiety about things that might happen or could happen but I had no way of knowing if those things would come to be or not. And so the best thing I could do, really the only thing I could do, was to stay in the present and not get caught up in all of the what ifs. This was such a simple realization but also such a profound gift that came from my inner spark, my intuition and from God. And maybe each of those things are one and same.

It started raining as I finished my prayers and I headed back to the lodge where I spent the rest of the retreat journalling, drawing, and meditating by the fire. I was grateful for this time.

Dear Friends,

I hope you had a meaningful Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, however you celebrated. Whether you observed in a synagogue, at home, or in the woods or by the water, whether you fasted or not, whether you recited the words of our liturgy or the words in your heart, I hope that the high holidays provided an opportunity for "at-one-ment."

I had the pleasure of leading the family services again this year at the New Synagogue Project, which was an absolute joy. This allowed me the chance to lead services in the morning and also to join the main services as a participant in the evenings for Kol Nidre and Neilah and I am grateful for that balance. Our services were filled with song, movement, breath, and time to share our hopes for the new year those around us. A huge Yasher Koach (great job!) and thank you to Rabbi Joseph Berman and the NSP High Holiday Team for their countless hours of preparation and effort making sure everything went so well. And thank you to William Rivlin, who played guitar and co-lead family services with me!

The Jewish holidays don't end after Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Sukkot starts this Sunday night followed by Hoshana Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret and finally Simchat Torah. Sukkot falls the 15th of Tishrei, which is always a full moon, filling the night sky during the week that we eat and dwell in the sukkah to celebrate the fall harvest season. I invite you to consider: what are the blessings in your life that you are harvesting at this time?

I look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks at our next Align: Art & Spirituality session, our monthly gathering integrating seasonal wellness, Jewish spirituality and creative expression. Consider giving yourself the gift of a full year or half year membership to the Align series which will also support the work of the Tasman Center with your commitment.

If you aren't able to join us in person for the Align series or if you're looking for more personalized sessions, I have openings for monthly spiritual coaching & private Jewish learning which can be done over video conference or phone from anywhere in the county or in the world. Learn more at https://www.tasmancenter.org/ or email me to schedule.

May the full moon of Tishrei herald sustenance, abundance, assurance, and illuminate the days and weeks ahead.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Sukkot,

Rabbi Sarah

PS - Have you enjoyed learning with me or been inspired during a Tasman Center workshop or retreat? We would love for you to give us a recommendation or 5 star review on the Tasman Center Facebook page or on our website. Not on social media but want to give a testimonial anyway? Send us an email and let us know how you've been impacted. Thank you for your support!