Siddurs, and Benchers, and Downloads, oh my!

By: Benjamin Maron

A collection of resources for helping you and your community further supplement and explore prayers and Torah, physician plan services, misbirth and more:

  • Gather The People is a downloadable resources for preparing divrei Torah (words of Torah) and more.
  • Mechon Mamre lets you print sections from the Torah side-by-side in Hebrew and English, medical and in several other formats.
  • ScrollScraper lets you print a tikkun page (page for preparing to chant/learn Torah) for your Torah Reading.
  • Siddur Chaveirim Kol Yisrael, by the Progressive Chavurah/Siddur Committee, is a Friday night and Festival Evening siddur. It features transliteration, traditional text, gender neutral translations, and a multiplicity of voices in the commentary.
  • Siddur Eit Ratzon, by Joe Rosenstein, follows the same format as Siddur Chaveirim Kol Yisrael and has many kavvanot and meditations, as well as guideposts for learning and experiencing Jewish prayer services.
  • L’chu N’ran’nah is an egalitarian bencher used at the weddings and in the homes of many NHC members.
  • Az Yashir Moshe is a printable bencher in PDF format.
  • Green & Just Celebrations is a booklet published by Jews United for Justice, containing specific suggestions for how families can make purchasing choices for weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, etc., in ways that are mindful of workers’ rights and environmental impact.
  • HebCal is a perpetual Hebrew calendar that can be localized to your ZIP code.
  • Shabbat People, is a web application for signing up participants for services.

Benjamin Maron attended his first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2006. He is on the NHC Board of Directors. He is chairing the 2010 Chesapeake Retreat.

December 26, 2009   No Comments

D’var Tikkun: A Teaching About a Social Justice Issue

By: Joelle Novey

At Tikkun Leil Shabbat (TLS) in Washington, visit DC, more than 150 people, most in their 20’s and 30’s, gather regularly on Friday evenings for songful, soulful Shabbat services featuring a teaching about a social justice issue and followed by a potluck vegetarian dinner. We emphasize social justice at each of our Shabbat gatherings by ending services with a regular teaching called a d’var tikkun (a talk on a social justice issue).

We invite activists from organizations working in Washington on workers’ rights, domestic violence, environmental issues, LGBT equality, and more, and we place their message in our service in lieu of a d’var Torah (word of Torah). We ask each speaker to aim to speak for about eight minutes about their organization’s work and ways that TLS community members could get involved.

We’ve been delighted that in the more than three years since TLS began meeting, we’ve never had any trouble finding local nonprofit organizations that are happy to send speakers for free; in fact, we’ve only repeated organizations a couple times. Small local nonprofits seem eager to share their message and their work with TLS’s room full of potential volunteers and supporters. (While we do periodically have speakers from organizations that work nationally and internationally, our community has made a decision for now not to have any speakers from organizations working in the Middle East. While this blanket policy can feel a little blunt when we say no to groups doing environmental or anti-poverty work in Israel, the community’s organizers feel it would be too divisive for our community to venture into this area.)

When the person leading the service concludes Kaddish Yatom (the Mourner’s Kaddish at the end of Ma’ariv (evening service)), a member of the TLS community introduces each d’var tikkun by connecting a Jewish teaching and the theme of that night’s talk. Sometimes the introduction uses themes from the parasha (weekly Torah reading) or an upcoming holiday, but more often the speakers find a teaching in other Jewish texts. Even with that freedom, it can be a challenge to find a Jewish text that speaks to issues addressed by organizations doing very specific work in a modern context, such as the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (which is working to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in the US military). The congregation, though, seems to enjoy listening for the creative hook that he or she will use to make a Jewish connection to the organization’s work.

For example, some introductions have used the halachah (religious law) about feeding one’s own animals before eating one’s own meal in an introduction to a d’var tikkun by Pets DC, which provides pet care for people with AIDS. Another quoted a contemporary Jewish poem by Merle Feld in which an Israelite woman regrets that she could not record her experiences of receiving the Torah at Sinai because “I was always holding a baby” as an introduction to a d’var tikkun by the DC Childcare Collective, which provides free childcare for low-income women of color to enable their participation in activist organizations. We’ve heard the Talmudic story of Rabbi Hillel getting inadvertently excluded from the Beit Midrash (house of study) as an allegory for the exclusion of Washington DC citizens from full representation in the House and Senate; and we’ve heard a line from Psalm 130, “my soul waits for G-d more than those who keep watch wait for dawn” quoted in an introduction to a d’var tikkun from SEIU Local 32BJ, which fights for better wages and working conditions for security guards, who keep watch in area office buildings.

Since many of our d’var tikkun speakers are not Jewish or are not familiar with Jewish prayer communities, we’ve developed a fairly detailed email to help them know what to expect. We describe our demographics and assure them that people dress all kinds of ways for TLS; they don’t need to dress up on our account. We let them know that some folks in our community do not write on Shabbat, so we’d appreciate if they were mindful of that diversity of practice in their comments (“If you write on Shabbat, there’s a sign-up sheet on the table; otherwise, please help yourself to a brochure and contact our organization by email after Shabbat.”) We’ve also learned from experience that the speakers sometimes fish around for the right way to end their talks. So we suggest that it would be appropriate to conclude by saying, “Shabbat Shalom.” When our speakers are activists who are Jewish but are not involved in any Jewish prayer community, they seem to appreciate the recognition that TLS is providing to the moral importance of their work; sometimes Jewish activists who discover our community because they have been asked to speak return to pray with us at subsequent TLS services.

The organizations bring paper materials that are displayed at an information table throughout the evening and continue to be available on the information table at subsequent services. Attendees can also peruse a “voices of Tikkun Leil Shabbat” binder with information from each of the organizations that has given divrei tikkun (words of justice; sermons). After Shabbat, we send a “Leading to Action” email to our full email list with ways to support the group we learned about in that week’s d’var tikkun. This way, people who attended TLS receive another reminder about how to follow up with each organization through their website or by emailing the speaker, as well as sharing the d’var tikkun with the several hundred folks on the TLS email list who do not attend every TLS. (The email’s name quotes Talmud Kiddushin 40b, which asks, “Which is greater, study or action? … Study is greater, for it leads to action.” Each email opens with a reminder that “The learning we receive from our divrei tikkun on Shabbat can lead to action during the rest of the week.”)

We’ve tried to keep track of good stories about ways TLS participants have gotten involved in social action through hearing divrei tikkun. Our attendees have volunteered, donated, and attended rallies and other events after learning about local efforts at our services. Tikkun Leil Shabbat is also a program of Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), and divrei tikkun have connected many attendees with opportunities for activism through JUFJ. When Tikkun Leil Shabbat organized our first Purim celebration last spring, laptops were set up so that attendees could donate to any of the organizations that had given divrei tikkun over the past year as matanot la’evyonim (gifts to the poor). In a very transient community, we feel that TLS’s divrei tikkun familiarize many transplanted young adults with some of the organizations doing good work in DC’s neighborhoods, weaving them into the life of the place where they live.

Through the practice of the d’var tikkun, our small congregation is making a powerful statement. Those who attend TLS hear a call to action at every gathering of our Jewish prayer community. We’ve quietly placed words of instruction for repairing the world in our services in place of a more conventional d’var Torah, and in the process, are shaking up what “counts” as a sacred teaching.

Joelle Novey attended her first NHC Summer Institute as an Everett Fellow in 2000, and coordinated the Chesapeake Retreat in 2006.

December 26, 2009   No Comments

Taking on Social Justice

By: Abby Bellows
This article was inspired by a workshop Abby offered at the 2009 NHC Summer Institute.

Many of our communities value tikkun olam (repairing the world), syphilis either reflected in actions taken by the community as a whole or in the professional and volunteer choices made by individual members.

Are there reasons to take on social justice work as a whole community?

Yes! There is a need for communities like ours (mainly of highly educated, purchase white voters) to be vocal in fighting poverty and other social dilemmas; we can experience a sense of fulfilment from helping and working alongside others; it can build relationships and unity within our own community; and some of us are excited to engage in something other than our jobs. Social justice is part of our Jewish tradition and it’s a great way to foster a positive image of Jews in our cities and counties, medicine where many of the oppressive landlords, employers, and officials happen to be Jews.

So what is social justice work?

It addresses the root causes of issues faced by “us” and “them,” developing relationships and leadership in the process.

What are the challenges of doing social justice work with your minyan or havurah and how do we deal with them?

  1. Some people don’t feel that they have relevant skills, or are intimidated by the scale of the problems. This evokes Ruth Messinger’s quote, “We cannot retreat into the convenience of being overwhelmed.” We can always start somewhere.
  2. There are diverse political perspectives within some communities. So when bankers and social workers can come together on good davening (praying), why cause rifts by divisive conversation? One response to this is to find and talk about the points we can all agree on (public education perhaps, or responses to homelessness).
  3. Some communities engage a lot of people who do this kind of work by day and aren’t looking to do more on the weekends and at night. They want their prayer community to be just that. This can be handled by identifying other people in the community who might be interested or who could engage through different modes than they do by day.

However another response to these challenges involves a paradigm shift. Instead of “doing” social justice, how can we integrate it into everything our community does?

An old model for thinking about social justice might have looked like this:

  1. a few people “do” social justice;
  2. they plan an event to “do” social justice (such as a food drive at Yom Kippur);
  3. they fulfil their obligation to “do” social justice;
  4. they have helped “others”.

Instead, a model for social justice could look like this:

  1. everyone is involved (those who set the dues structure use a sliding scale proportional to people’s incomes; those who organize the Kiddush (light meal after prayers) use re-usable dishes; divrei Torah (words of Torah) often connect to socially relevant issues, etc.;
  2. social justice is all of the time;
  3. social justice is continual;
  4. we are helping ourselves as well as helping others (this could look like working on issues that concern our lives – such as affordable rent, student loans, and healthcare – and also impact on our broader community). Motivate people through their personal narratives. Ask your havurah or minyan community what they struggle with and are excited about improving in our lives.

Some examples of social justice in minyans or havurahs:

  • Fabrangen (in Washington, DC) has short term events, builds longitudinal relationships, goes to protests, and has a sliding scale for membership dues.
  • Tikkun Leil Shabbat (in Washington DC) is an outgrowth of Jews United for Justice, and came with a stronger mission for combining social justice and Jewish prayer space. Every time they meet, they have a speaker from a local non-profit give the d’var tikkun (a talk on a social justice issue), which includes information about the organization and direct ways to take action. In addition, they focus on their environmental footprint by washing dishes instead of using disposables.
  • Kol Zimrah (in New York City) is working on greening their community by using reusable dishes and asking members to “BYOdishes”. They are considering giving a portion of their fundraising money to tzedakah (charity). But they also recognize that for most members, this is primarily a davening community, and members go elsewhere for social justice.
  • Hadar (in New York City) has anxiety about higher rents in shomer Shabbos (keeping the commandments of Shabbat, including being able to walk to davening) neighborhoods. They have channeled their anxiety into working on housing issues, through direct service (volunteering in a homeless shelter and building with Habitat for Humanity) as well as through advocating for legislation that will regulate rent.

Abby Bellows has attended numerous NHC Summer Institutes, and was co-chair in 2008.

December 26, 2009   2 Comments