July 22, 2009
The recent ALEPH Kallah at Ohio Wesleyan University opened with a special evening program. Rabbi Hanna Tiferet Siegel had invited faculty members and “founders” to share a piece of their “how-I-discovered-Jewish-Renewal” story with all those attending the Kallah. Each speaker was given five minutes (though most did not adhere to that time limitation!), so the stories had to be radically excerpted, or distilled. I volunteered to share my offering as a “dance story,” still an unusual modality within the larger Jewish Renewal world.
Many folks involved in the genesis of Jewish Renewal spoke about the early days, including Rabbi Burt Jacobson, who told of his wild and woolly psychadelic adventures with fellow JTS student Arthur Green, and the folks who founded haavurat Shalom in Boston. Joyce and Lev Friedman, owners of Kolbo Judaica in Boston and founders of the B’nai Or Havurah there, talked about the creation of that community, still going strong. Joyce, I later discovered, grew up in Congregation Solel under Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, my early mentor in that congregation outside Chicago where I was confirmed. Like me, she spent many summers at the Union Institute Reform camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin ¬– also the birthplace of the phenomenon known as Debbie Friedman. Although Joyce and never knew each other – she is several years younger than I – I distinctly remember her brother Richie, who was in my confirmation class, and very cute!
So it was for this occasion that I wrote the poem below. Rabbi Nadya Gross read it while Rabbi Shawn Zevit accompanied on guitar. Many folks later told me they found this danced story/poem quite moving, so I share it here with you. It’s amazing what memories surface when we reflect upon what has moved us forward in our spiritual journeys – those truly transformational encounters, those holy days or summers. Often, the images and people that bubble up into consciousness are not those you’d expect – though sometimes they are.
As we move into this season of introspection leading to Tisha B’Av, the commemoration of the First and Second Temples’ destructions and the loss of our people’s sacred center, both literally and metaphorically, I invite you to reflect upon the key places and events, the inspiring people and moments, that drew you into Jewish Renewal. Perhaps in the genesis of our own spiritual quests – viewed not as nostalgic vignettes, but as the significant initiation points of our each of our unique journeys toward G~d – we can discern the potent seeds that have blossomed into our present lives, still defining our paths, sourcing the garden that beckons passersby to rest with us in its fragrant shade.
Blessings on your way,