Writings

As we move into 2021, we also have another new year right around the corner. We welcome the new moon and month of Shevat In the Jewish calendar and the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat is Tu B'Shevat or the New Year of the Trees. Though we are in the midst of winter, Tu B'Shevat marks the time when the first almond trees begin to blossom in Israel. Though I am not a fan of making "new years resolutions", I find that setting intentions at the start of each season is meaningful practice. If you're looking for a visioning exercise for Tu B'Shevat to help you set some intentions and goals for this season, check out my Tree of Vision exercise.

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Just as each tender seed and sapling needs soil, sunlight, water, and nutrients to grow up strong, so do each of us in our own ways. Deuteronomy 20: 19-20 says, “for every person is like a tree of the field.” We each need our own kind of fertile ground, warmth, and energy of the sun, life-giving force of mayyim hayyim (living waters) and the nourishing support of parents, mentors, friends, lovers, and collaborators in order to grow. Our roots go back further than we can see or know but influence us in undeniable ways.

In her book Kabbalah Month by Month, Melinda Ribner teaches “that the month of Shevat is a time of conceiving new projects, planting new seeds, and beginning anew.” A beautiful mystical teaching says that the seeds that are planted in the month of Shevat (winter) bloom in the month of Nissan (spring time). We must do what we can to till the soil, water and nourish those seeds so that they truly can blossom forth!

Visioning Exercise Creating Your Own Tree of Vision for Shevat

Take some time to reflect on following parts of the tree and how they relate to each element of your vision. Then, using any medium you choose, paint/sketch/collage/sculpt your Tree of Vision.

1. Roots or the seed are the kernel or source of your vision, dream, hope or goal. Think forward to springtime, and identify one intention or a goal you want to bring to fruition. That’s the root of your vision.

2. The trunk is the support you already have in your life to realize the intention or goal you’ve set. Identify your skills, passions, and resources. These will provide the strength and energy you need to grow.

3. The branches are the connections, help, and collaborators you can reach out to. Identify those people in your life by name. What kind of help will you need to grow your vision?

4. The flowers, leaves, and fruits are the fruits of your labor – what you will achieve? Identify the joy, sustenance, sweetness, and nourishment that will come forth. What will bloom when you’ve achieved your goal?

Dear Friends,

I hope you and your families are staying safe and healthy. The past few months have been an intense time of transition for me - and I am sure for many of you as well. We welcomed a baby back in September just before Rosh Hashanah and Griffin is now 4 months old. I can hardly believe it. I am back from maternity leave and navigating all of the joys and challenges of being a full time new parent, a spouse, rabbi, coach, mentor and business owner. At every stage of life, we all juggle different roles and responsibilities. What matters is how we approach these changes - acknowledging the joys and challenges, asking for help when we need it, and being kinder to ourselves. If you're navigating a change or transition, and looking for more support and guidance or want to mark this time in a meaningful way, please be in touch with me about working together. I have openings for new private clients now and would love to work with you.

At our annual New Year's Day Art & Visioning Workshop this year, I shared about my intentions for mindfully transitioning into 2021. For all of the relief and excitement that 2020 is over, those feelings are tempered with the knowledge that we are still in the midst of a pandemic, political divides, racial injustice and antisemitism. 2020 brought all of these things bubbling up to the surface, and many are still feeling the trauma and exhaustion of what we've been through in the past year. I live in the Washington, DC area, and many of these things seem to permeate the air we breathe. Last week, the insurrection at the Capitol brought things to a new level I hadn't seen in my lifetime. And yet, while these things are very much present, this past year brought with it an unprecedented amount of creativity and resilience from colleagues pivoting to offer opportunities online and reimagining what community building looks like. I'm grateful the Tasman Center has been nimble enough to adapt easily and swiftly and for the support of our team, especially Valerie Brown, our Community Educator, while I was on maternity the last few months.

In the spirit of creativity and inspiration we have some amazing programs coming up this season. Join us on Sunday February 21, 2-3:30pm for a special program on the Art of the Mezuzah with guest artist and soferet (scribe) Lizzie Sivitz of Nireh Or for a program we're hosting with MyZuzah. As our houses and apartments have become our defacto work spaces and prayer spaces this year we'll have a chance to add some beauty and sacred ritual to blessing our homes in this program.

I will also be teaching an upcoming course for Hebrew College Open Circle Jewish Learning called Cycles and Seasons of the Jewish Year. The course meets Tuesdays 1-2:30pm on March 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, April 6, 2021. This class will combine ritual, experiential spirituality, seasonal wisdom and mindfulness practices.

Can't wait to learn with you this Winter!

Warmly,

Rabbi Sarah

Dear Friends,

In my grad school program this week we've been celebrating Hanukkah a little early with a Mystery Maccabee gift exchange. In a busy week, it has felt so sweet to receive a small gift each day and bring a little joy to someone else.

Obviously, Mystery Maccabee has been coopted from Secret Santa. I always believed that Hanukkah had been conflated with Christmas in the modern era, but it turns out that the dichotomy of Christmas and Hanukkah goes back about 2,000 years. We'll be learning more about this and how it might frame our celebration of Hanukkah together this Sunday during our Align: Tevet event. Register to join us here!

Rabbi Sarah will be leading a gathering on Zoom on the last night of Hanukkah - Thursday, December 17th - to share some light and community. The event is free, but let us know you're coming by registering here! Looking forward to seeing you.

Happy Hanukkah - hope you find so much to celebrate,

Valerie Brown

Community Educator

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Dear Friends,

The new month of Kislev feels like it's coming at the perfect time. As the days get colder and shorter, I'm realizing why we have the impulse bring warmth and light into our homes with holidays like Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. Like everything this year, our ability to pivot and make meaning on a smaller scale will be essential to our enjoyment of the holiday season.

Kislev is also a good time to think about miracles. Oil lasting for eight days might not seem like a miracle, but I actually think the real miracle is the person who noticed the oil hadn't run out. Imagine the surprise of finding the lamp still lit, and then the hope that would build over the course of the week. Each day, looking to the lamp, maybe expecting it to have gone out, and being surprised that it had lasted. And then finally - the realization that it would last long enough for more oil to be retrieved.

We'll be continuing the conversation about warmth during winter days and noticing miracles during our Align: Kislev session this Sunday, November 22nd at 2pm Eastern. You are invited to join us!

Chodesh tov - best wishes for a good month,

Valerie Brown

Community Educator

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Dear Friends,

On Sunday evening, you'll see a new moon rising in the sky, bringing with it the Jewish month of Cheshvan.

I always feel exhausted after the month of Tishrei, with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah all in quick succession. And, it coincides with a burst of end of summer/beginning of the school year activities. Naturally, these bring a myriad of expectations: how I'll be a better student, a better friend, a better partner. Whether we used the High Holidays as a reflective opportunity or not, we all have ideas of how we're going to improve, promises to ourselves of who we're going to be.

Cheshvan, the only Jewish month without any holidays, is the time when those promises have to be put into action. Instead of long, relaxed days of sunshine, we settle in to school and work as the days get shorter and brisker. If we don't take time to pause and set routines to accomplish our goals, our Yom Kippur promises will fall by the wayside.

Judaism has a lot to teach us about the structure of our day and week. This month's Align session, on Sunday, October 18th, will be about just that: how we can build intentional space to accomplish our goals. Establishing routine and rituals is especially important to give structure and meaning to our time as we're working or learning from home. I hope you'll join us to think and learn more!

Chodesh tov - best wishes for a good month,

Valerie Brown

Community Educator

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Dear Friends,

I just started a new school year, pursuing of my Masters in Jewish Education, and I'm already feeling overwhelmed with all the things I want to get done this year: personally, academically, and professionally. And of course, all my human habits that get in the way of being the productive robot person who can do it all.

Then, a teacher of mine shared this quote from chapter six of Rabbi Alan Lew's This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared:

"To forgive ourselves, we must be willing to give up our ideas about how we might be better. We need to give up one of our most cherished beliefs--that there is something wrong with us, that we are bad, inadequate, somehow defective and lacking in goodness. Disciplining ourselves, beating ourselves, leads us further away from this goodness, not closer to it."

It reminded me about this teaching from Rabbi Sarah: the Hebrew word for year, shanah, is connected to the verb l'shanot, which means to change, but also to repeat or renew (Hebrew is a great language that way). Rather than focusing on all the things I want to change, here are some things I'm hoping to continue this year:

  1. Being open to new experiences - a new school year, being in lockdown, taking on new leadership roles
  2. Taking breaks when I need them
  3. Embracing mistakes not just as learning opportunities but as a way to connect more deeply with others
  4. Channeling the creative energy I've found during lockdown toward new projects

I hope that you find some time in the coming days to reflect and embrace habits you want to maintain in the new year. If you identify things that you might adjust this year, I hope that alongside setting goals you also remember to show yourself kindness.

Shana Tova u'metuka - best wishes for a good and sweet new year,

Valerie Brown

Community Educator

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Everyone says it, but time really has moved differently for me since the pandemic started. This summer has been especially strange - I was supposed to be in California, working as the Jewish Educator at a summer camp. Instead, I've been in Jerusalem, with a patchwork of babysitting and odd jobs, studying Hebrew, working on some creative projects. Without a regular schedule it kind of feels like I'm working or thinking about work all the time, and the week is constantly slipping away from me. Especially on Fridays, as I'm getting ready for Shabbat, I look back at my week and think - there's so much that didn't get done!

The month of Elul starts this week, and it brings with it a heightened sense of the approach of the High Holidays. Elul is kind of like a Friday afternoon, but times ten. And rather than reflecting on our to-do list, it's about something much bigger. I think Elul pushes us to ask ourselves - Do I feel connected to something larger than myself? Does my day-to-day reflect my values? Am I the person I want to be?

And wow, as I read back those questions, I feel anxiety growing right above my stomach. Where do I even start, especially this year? I've been so focused on getting through the day, getting through the week, counting my blessings that my friends and family are healthy.

So, while I can't offer any easy answers to these questions (wish that I could!), I'm glad to be able to offer a space for us to consider them together. On September 6th, I hope you'll join me for Illuminating the Jewish New Year: a special Elul/Pre-High Holiday virtual retreat. I've prepared some intriguing texts and creative prompts that I hope will help us approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with a sense of perspective and purpose.

Hoping this month brings you time to pause and take stock.

Chodesh tov - Happy New Moon and month of Elul!

Valerie Brown

Community Educator, The Tasman Center

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Big news! We are so excited to welcome Valerie Brown as our new Community Educator for the The Tasman Center! Valerie will be working remotely and teaching our Align Series via Zoom and managing our social media and content while she pursues her Masters in Jewish Education at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem in partnership with Hebrew College.

Stay tuned for more details about Valerie's classes and more ways to connect with The Tasman Center!

Learn more about Valerie on our Meet Our Staff page or check out her website: valerierbrown.com

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On the 9th day of Av, we mourn tragedies and loss that have befallen the Jewish people at this time of year, including the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Additionally, we are reminded of the many tragedies of the pandemic, racial injustice and systemic inequality that have befallen our communities.

In what ways do you hold space in your heart for losses that have affected generations before you?

How has loss built resilience for us as a people?

Think about a loss in your own life. How has it helped you build resilience as an individual?

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Happy new moon and new month of Av.

This can a hot and difficult month as we commemorate the destruction of the Temple. But the energy of the month shifts from mourning into joy with the coming of the full moon and holiday of Tu B'av (Jewish valentines Day) which celebrates love.