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loss

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Homelessness/ Loneliness: What does Tisha B’av have to do with it?

On Tuesday August 9th, the Jewish people observed Tisha B'av. In all honesty I’ve never been to a Tisha B’av service, and only have a brief understanding of what the holiday is all about. But I do know it is about mourning for the literal and metaphorical destruction that has been caused and looking forward to “olam ha’ba” the world to come.

So I’m gonna try to unpack this holiday a bit for myself and hopefully for you. Here goes….

In our lives: Each year my close friend sends a very personal message in the spirit of Tisha B’av on her own challenges that are acting destructively in her own life and reflects on how to turn these challenges into a positive light. Each year I’m able to learn about her current struggles and am pushed to see the world through her eyes and reflective process where she finds the good out of the bad and continues to strive towards building this positive energy.

As with Yom Kippur it is tradition to fast on Tisha B’av since you are consumed in a full day of prayer and mourning. Fasting reminds us of physical pain which to me represents the pain that our people have felt each time there was further tragedy on this historic day of tribulations.

Reflecting: For me, the destruction of the first and second temples and the expulsion of Jews from Spain and England all of which occurred on the 9th of the Jewish month of Av symbolize a greater feeling of homelessness. Here is a full list of the losses on Tisha B’av (the 9th of Av). Homelessness doesn’t necessarily have to mean without a physical home for prayer as it may have meant for the Jews in 586 and 516 B.C.E. it can mean many things. It can mean feeling alone, or left out from your family, or community. When we feel like we don’t fit in we may feel physically and spiritually homeless, or uncomfortable. Loss in our lives can create this feeling as well whether actually losing a home, a job, a parent, family member, or a friend we mourn that which we no longer have. Our home which once was is no longer and our morning consumes us.

Where to go from here: I think a good amount of reflection on our lives and the ways we interact with others allows us to grow spiritually. If we continue to live our lives without a healthy self-check and evaluation of where we are and where we are going we can wind up being very distant from even ourselves. Tisha B’av is about morning communal loss. But you can choose to bring that closer to home by evaluating the ways in which you have been destructive to your home, your family, your friends, your professional relationships. Are you working on building the new “metaphorical” temple or are you tearing down the walls around you? Where do you turn towards home? Do you feel homeless or at a loss for what once was? On Tisha B’av the Jewish community mourns with those who feel alone and defeated. But the next day we pick up and begin to hope again for the beit hamikadash (house of the holy).

“I think it's important to recognize that we can't just hope. We can't just have faith that mashiach will come. We have to be proactive. We must examine who we are, what we're doing, and what we need to do to be worthy and meritorious of the next step in our cycle.” Cindy Kaplan Tisha B’av thoughts 2010.

So whether you feel lonely or without a home, or whether you are grateful to have a life where you feel uniformly whole we each could gain something from reflecting on destruction and rebuilding within our lives. Don’t just mourn take steps towards repair, and then we truly will live in a holy world.

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Reinventing Rituals: Memorializing our Soldiers and Loved Ones


When we think about rituals, we often think about traditions that have been handed down over generations. However, this isn’t entirely true. All rituals were at some point brand-new and have caught on because they have brought meaning into the lives of those looking for a concrete way to mark the passage of time or an event in their lives.

There are common rituals in Judaism that we observe at lifecycle moments such as a bris (welcoming a male baby into the Jewish covenant), bar mitzvah (entering Jewish adulthood), wedding, and death. And then there are ceremonies that have developed over time. Many liberal movements began to incorporate similar ceremonies for women such as a brit bat (Hebrew naming ceremony) or a bat mitzvah. More recently, we’ve begun to see ceremonies which mark different challenges in our lives such as healing services or prayers for a new home.

As our religion evolves with our society we can question where there are moments in our lives that we can turn to ritual to find comfort in an occasion where we mourn or celebrate. Was there ever a moment in your life that you wished you knew what to do to either reflect or pray for what was happening? Those are times when a ritual may have been helpful. Rituals can act as something tangible to hold onto, like ritual objects, or serve as a way to come together around communal prayer in order to bring peace and significance to a certain moment.

As part of a new series on the Pursue blog, I will be examining the reinvention of rituals in our lives. How do we as young Jews either embrace traditions and/or start our own? Whether buying a new car, shifting into a new job, hearing of a natural disaster or experiencing a miscarriage, there are moments in our lives where we may not know where to turn and how to pray. For these times we can create meaningful rituals for ourselves which incorporate our own practices of Judaism with the reinvention of rituals.

Ritual #1: In honor of Memorial Day let’s examine how we honor and memorialize those we have lost in our lives, both the known members of our own communities and the unknown members of our global community. Judaism has several rituals when it comes to honoring the dead. We may choose to name a new child after those we have lost, or purchase a book plate, plaque, or seat in a synagogue we belong to. Those are all tangible items through which we can show our appreciation and memory for the lost individual in our lives. For an ongoing ritual, many people observe a Yartzeit or annual anniversary of the death by lighting a memorial candle and saying Kaddish in synagogue to show that we continue to be in mourning regardless of how much time has passed since our loss.

Memorial Day is often regarded as the start of summer rather than a meaningful national holiday. On a day where we rejoice in the extra day off from school or work and bask in the outdoors and at barbecues, how do we reflect on all of those who gave their lives for our country? How do we “memorialize” them? Both personally and communally we have losses in our lives that are greater than we realize and greater than the rituals we currently maintain for them.

I often find the easiest way to reinvent a ritual is to break it down first in order to discover what it is I’m marking. This way the ritual I create can be most meaningful to me for the particular occasion I’m observing. On a personal level, this July I will lead the graveside service for my uncle’s unveiling (one year Yartzeit) and will have to discover what it is that is meaningful to say for my particular family. On a communal level, this week I will reflect on the lives lost by American soldiers engaged in wars overseas and what I pray for their future.

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives in Brooklyn led a workshop for CBST’s (Congregation Beit Simchat Torah) Transforming Beitecha Conference last month in which we discussed developing Jewish rituals. She taught the group a good technique to use to determine if rituals still apply to the needs of today’s Jews. You can use a formula to ask questions of what the ritual is about and then determine who it is for and who is being left out. This way when you look to re-invent a ritual you will have a clearer understanding of the initial goals.

Let’s break down Yartzeit and its meaning in our lives (you can do this for yourself with whatever ritual you want to break down):

Case #1
Yartzeit is defined as: annual memorial for loss of a loved one
Who: the mourner observes a day of memory for the deceased
What: a symbolic candle is lit
Where: at home or in synagogue Kaddish is recited three times
When: on the Hebrew date of death annually
Why: to remember a loved one
How: alone or communally candle is lit and prayers are said

Then take a moment to decide what your personal goal in observing a ritual may be, since this may decide how you observe the ritual. When I observe Yartzeits in my life I like to spend the day remembering what that person brought into my life and the positive memories that I still have of them. I also like to have tangible objects like pictures or clothing that remind me of them close by so I can find comfort in their continued presence in my life.

Does Memorial Day have a Jewish connection in your life? Why do we celebrate Memorial Day? What are rituals we can create to better understand our link as Jews and as Americans to this historic day of honor and memory?

This Memorial Day I invite you as American Jews to think about how those within your own community have honored our country. Maybe your father, grandfather, great-grandfather served in either World War II, Vietnam, or the Korean War. Maybe you know someone who is serving now, a friend or peer. What does this connection to people who fight for America mean to you? Whether they are close to you or not, whether you believe in our current wars or not, what does it mean to have people give their lives for your safety? And how do you show your appreciation and honor those who put their lives at risk by protecting and acting for a more just world? This year I will reach out to my peers who I know have served and express my gratitude as I continue to pray for peace. For me, ritual is finding meaning in and expressing my gratitude for the things I have and the people in my life. Other goals may be to read about or share stories with those who have fought as American soldiers or to attend an event that honors the men and women who fight today.

What actions will you take? And how will you remember those whom you personally have lost and whom our country has lost this year?

You can find this series on "Reinventing Rituals" cross-posted at Pursue:
http://www.pursueaction.org/rituals-renewed-memorializing/

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ּבשלח (Exodus 13:17-17:16) B'shalach- Are Miracles always good?

The Text:
This week's Torah portion highlights the miracles that occur as the Jews leave the land of Egypt. Mainly, this miracle refers to Moses parting the red sea in order for the Jews to safely cross out of Egypt. We often use the word miracle when taking about something unexplainable, or supernatural. As my niece cited "we use (the word) miracle when we talk about hope." What she meant by this is that we pray for miracles, hope, change; all positive occurrences. Is the word miracle ever used to highlight a negative change? Or, when something negative happens and since we view it as "for the best" we say it is a miracle? This miracle, which assists in the final step of the Jews exodus, is sung about at every Friday night Shabbat service. When we sing the prayer Mi Chamocha, we say, "Who is like you Eternal one, among the Gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?" As Jewish communities sing the Mi Chamocha they do so to show praise for a God that performs amazing, and unexplainable miracles that we can only continue to hope will happen in our lives. Some people spend their entire lives waiting for a miracle or the near impossible to occur. When we sing this prayer we are showing that we believe in God's ability to perform these miracles. What isn’t talked about in this particular miracle is that after the red sea is closed thousands of Egyptians drowned. Do we turn an eye to these Egyptian murders because their deaths 'miraculously' saved the Jewish people? While we are taught 'you shall not kill', does this not apply when perhaps the death itself is 'for the best'? Or when it is in self-defense?

The Implication:
There are very few "miracles" that occur in our lives anymore. A miracle is more than a happy occasion; it is trying to explain the unexplainable. Something that is still miraculous in our lives is the creation of people. Scientifically we know how cells multiply and how babies come to be as growing organisms but the fact is that the creation of human life is still miraculous. As is the body's ability to heal itself. This week I found myself in conversation with a friend in medical school who is currently doing an ob/ gyn rotation where seeing the ‘miracle of life’ is a daily occurrence. However, this particular conversation was different. This week a young pregnant patient of his lost her baby at the end of her second trimester. In other words, if the baby had been born s/he would have had a high chance of survival at this stage. While miscarriages occur statistically with some frequency, when it is personal, and you're dealing with people experiencing this loss first hand it is nothing but tragic. There is an association with new life of being a time of happiness and joy. But, when this expected happiness is coupled with tragedy we often find ourselves at a loss of how to react. However, what if this loss is also a miracle? What if it is in some ways ‘for the best’? What if there were abnormalities in the fetus which would have caused a life of hardship? How do we psychologically come to terms with the loss of something we never had or got to experience? How do we wrestle with this unexplainable loss? How do we as a community act in a supportive way to those who have experienced pregnancy loss? As we see in this weeks Torah portion sometimes miracles are intertwined with extremes, and result in both positive and negative outcomes. Do we then redefine the term
miracle
?

The Application:

Whether it be a miracle or a loss we turn to our community for support in times of need. We share stories, gather for meals, and remind ourselves that it is people who will always be there. In our technological age it is easy to forget that when it matters most we rely on our family, and friendships. For those experiencing a life changing moment it is imperative to be able to be embraced by a caring community. Whether you're praying for a miracle or have either experienced a health related miracle or loss, it is important to figure out ways you can ask for what you need from those around you. Additionally, while being in need may not be something currently pertinent to your life, have you thought about how to be available to those you care about who may currently or in the future face such challenging times? Do you reflect on how to be a good listener, and express appropriate empathy? As well as figuring out when to step up and lend a helping hand so that it isn’t up to one person to bear the full burden after something monumental in their lives has happened? Sometimes our cards of life are dealt and we have to figure out how we will respond to situations which may arise in our own and others’ lives. What if we were to think of how we would react to such a tragedy as if were our own, would this strengthen our ability to feel empathy. Whether it be a miracle or a loss that we will have to deal with throughout our lives it is up to us to figure out how to be grateful for what we have and how to be ready for future trials. There are different organizations who have done the work of figuring out how to help people be supportive to their friends and family in need even regarding unthinkable topics such as pregnancy loss, read resources below. Click for other related posts on loss or how to be supportive.

Take a minute to think about how fragile our lives are and what miracles you are currently praying/ hoping for. How could you be better supported? How can you better help those around you? Do those you care about know that you are there for them? Are we paying attention and remembering to be grateful for the miracles which occur in our own lives?



A Jewish response to helping clergy and community respond to pregnancy loss that hits close to home
My cousin has documented the life of her one year old Mazzy in the best blog I've ever seen- mommyshorts.com
Velveteen rabbi poems about miscarriage
Expecting Adam - A great read, a book about one womans supernatural experience when carrying a baby with down syndrome

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