Posts Tagged ‘Jews’

Thoreau’s Sukkah at Walden Pond

April 16, 2012

Looking for Thoreau’s Sukkah at Walden Pond?  Click here. 

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We Were Slaves: Avadim Hayinu

March 30, 2012

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Passover: The Holiday That Comes with Its Own Text Book

March 30, 2012

Passover — “the holiday that comes with its own text book” —  starts on Friday night, April 6, 2012.    Here are a couple of my favorite haggadot:

Breslov Haggadah coverBreslov: The cover photograph of a close-up of matzah crumbs is what first caught my eye years ago when I was a guest at a friend’s seder.   I went out and got my own copy, which has occupied a special place on my haggadah shelf ever since.  The commentary and stories by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov will spark your imagination and your spirit.  This is not your average Maxwell House haggadah.


Holistic Haggadah coverHolistic:  As a guest at another friend’s seder I first heard this one before I saw it.  The hostess read aloud from one of its “holistic” commentaries and I was immediately hooked.   The suggested meditations really get to the heart of the matter.  I had to go get myself a copy of this one, too.  The yin/yang matzah on the cover is just the beginning.

Passover Links

April 17, 2011

A couple of my favorite haggadot:

Breslov Haggadah coverBreslov: The cover photo is what first caught my eye when I was a guest at a seder many years ago.  The commentary by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is very spiritual and not to be found in your average Maxwell House haggadah.



Holistic Haggadah coverHolistic:  Another great haggadah I discovered thanks to being a guest at someone’s seder.


Count the ‘Omer with Rabbi Simon Jacobson.  Sign up for his email reminders and start counting on the second night of Passover (Tuesday, April 19).

The Alef-Bet Song

February 8, 2011
First four letters of the Hebrew alphabet

First four letters of the Hebrew alphabet

Click to watch a three-minute music video about the Hebrew alphabet: The Alef-Bet Song.

Music by Debbie Friedman (z’l).

Tu biShvat 5771

January 17, 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011, 7:00-8:30 PM

“Celebrating Tu biShvat: Birthday of the Trees” – an interactive program with Natasha Nataniela Shabat, Biblical Hebrew Teacher. Everyone is invited to participate in this annual birthday of the trees during which we will explore the significance of trees and our relationships with them — in the world, in Jewish tradition, and in the history of Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Please bring a poem or writing that reflects your own appreciation of trees; readings will also be provided. This celebration will also include traditional Tu biShvat nuts, fruits, and juice. Mount Auburn will open just for us on Wednesday evening; come share the enchantment of the trees.  Seating is limited. Preregistration is required. Admission: $5, members; $10, non-members.

Last Night of Hanukkah: “These Candles”

December 8, 2010

Finally, a translation of “hallalu”!

It means “these.”

In traditional Jewish practice HaNeirot Hallalu is recited immediately after lighting the Hanukkah candles.  The first two words of this paragraph-long prayer — which occur twice there in the exact same form — are usually translated as “these candles.”

That second word, hallalu, is tantalizingly similar to Hebrew words meaning things like “shine brightly” and “sing praises.”  However, as we discussed in my Advanced-Intermediate Hebrew class last night, the word doesn’t fit grammatically with these meanings, or with any Hebrew verb or adjective.

According to Klein: halah = m. & f. pronoun THAT. [Formed from the definite article ha… plus the deictic element …l. Compare with hallalu.] So “hallalu” is the plural pronoun, translated THESE.

Question: Why doesn’t the prayer use the more common plural demonstrative for “these,” i.e., “ha-eileh”?
Answer: I don’t know.

Still, it was extremely satisfying to find the correct translation.  It was fun looking up the English word “deictic,” too.

After lighting the candles and reciting the blessings, and also after reciting HaNeirot Hallalu, it is traditional to sing songs such as Ma’oz Tzur, Mi Yimaleil, S’vivon, etc.

Tishrei 30: Everything You Do Matters

October 8, 2010

Have you ever stopped to think that everything you do matters?

Today is the last of our 60-day spiritual journey.  Today’s theme for contemplating, journal writing, and awareness, is “Everything You Do Matters.”  Quoting from Rabbi Jacobson:

“In Jewish mystical thought, space, time, and matter are understood to be forces of Divine energy — sparks that fell to earth at the time of Creation, which became embedded in all aspects of existence; these sparks must be elevated in holiness for the world to achieve perfection as per the Divine plan.

This is why the little things you do in life are sometimes more important than the big things — the journey is sometimes as or more important than the final destination: going to work, people you meet on the way there, the cup of coffee you drink while waiting for the bus, the piece of paper you throw in the trash can — all are changed by your actions.”

I wish I could remember this wisdom more constantly.   It’s not that I don’t believe it — it seems powerfully true.  But sometimes when things are hard, or I have to make difficult choices, I forget that everything I do matters.  When I’m fortunate enough to remember (or read about it!), life feels better.  More complicated, perhaps, but in a good way.  It really does require stopping to think about.  I hope it matters that I’m posting this today.

It’s a new moon.   Tishrei is over.  Heshvan is beginning.*  Time to move on, and try to remember: every little thing matters.

Hebrew vocabulary:

*Heshvan = a month of the Jewish calendar

mar = bitter

This new month is sometimes called Mar Heshvah, which means “bitter Heshvan,” because it has no holidays in it.

(or Mar Heshvah, which means “bitter Heshvan, because it has no holiday

Tishrei 27: Four Days Left in the Journey

October 4, 2010

Finished-off sukkah after post-holiday storm.

The setting of this evening’s sun ushered in the 27th day of Tishrei, which means there are four days left of our 60-day spiritual journey through the months of Elul and Tishrei, including the Jewish High Holidays.  Perhaps your sukkah was vulnerable enough to be destroyed by a post-holiday storm.  The mahzorim (High-Holiday prayer books) have been packed away, the Torah rewound back to the beginning.  Winter’s coming, it’s time to get back to work.

But don’t let go of your spiritual travels of the past two months!  It’s not too late to reflect on the Eternal Moments you may have experienced, even record them in writing.  The task before us now is to draw in all that Divine energy we felt during the holidays, let it fill us, and turn our inspiration into action.  There are blessings to be said, people to be loved, Hebrew to be learned, a broken world in need of our help.

Judaism teaches us not to abandon the material world or separate ourselves from it, but rather to transform every “mundane” thing into a holy one.

Sh’mini ‘Atzeret: Remember, remember!

September 30, 2010

As if Gd is swirling around inside the sukkah, saying “Remember, remember!”

The seasonal, agrarian rhythm of the Jewish festival holidays is based on the weather and climate of the land of Israel, not New England.  I know this.  Nevertheless, in seven years of annual dwelling in my own sukkah, it always seems so windy on Sh’mini ‘Atzeret.

As if Gd is swirling around inside the sukkah, saying “Remember, remember!”

Because this is our challenge today: to distill all our new insight and energy into the rest of the year, now that the Tishrei holiday season is almost over.  To take the spiritual shelter of the sukkah into ourselves, and remember.

Remember the soul-searching of Elul, the wake-up call of the shofar. Remember the Melting Heart of Tashlikh, remember teshuvah, the return to our Purist Selves.  Remember Forgiveness.  Remember Joy.  Remember getting back together, with Gd and with each other.

The flimsy structure of the sukkah, with its skhakh-roof  full of holes, reminded us of our vulnerability in life, that even our solid-seeming homes can’t ultimately protect us.  As we read in Kohelet (the Hebrew name for the Book of Ecclesiastes), “Ha-kol havel!” Everything is vapor, vanity, futility.  As if to underscore this point, the electric power is going on and off, my digital clocks are all blinking.  Wake up!  Pay attention!   The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory for the Boston area.    There’s rain and thunder and a dramatic WIND.

The season is changing.  The energy is shifting.  Remember, remember!