Letter from Eryn Kalish


Dedicated to the blessed memory of Alison R. Bermond (z”l) who helped show the way.

Building Our Community: An Attack Free Zone?


I have been thinking about writing this piece for awhile. There have been several incidents lately in which I have experienced or witnessed hurtful patterns of behavior surfacing among our community. I don’t think it is helpful to get into specifics nor do I wish to commit lashon hara. It is enough for me to say that often I have sensed very limited options: writing about this or keeping my distance from this community I have loved so much. This seems to be the choice everyone in a volunteer community has: do I get more involved and work to change what doesn’t work? Accept what I cannot change? And do I have the wisdom, through my hurt, to know the difference?

I was just in Arizona for a week seeing old friends and family and doing a silent retreat with my cousin Rabbi Marti. It was wonderful, in the wake of my mom’s recent passing and my brother’s 5th yartzeit, to revisit the place I had lived for four years with my first husband, and left 25 years ago because I was passionately called to live on the east coast. After my move to Boston, I still spent many years visiting my mom and my brother there, in what became a beautiful gathering spot for our extended family, until my mom sold her home and returned to Denver full time when I moved to the Bay Area 16 years ago.

Having been in a deep, dark place of grief for the past few months, the week in Arizona helped me reclaim a time in my life that was filled with vision, hope, positive possibilities. I made a commitment back then that I would never give up listening to the divine call, the evolutionary call, of transforming our organizations, our community, our world, into something so humane, loving, effective and efficient, seeing no contradiction in the capacity to work hard and smart while caring for the Beings in our midst, seeing the Divine in each person. This was my way of surrendering to G~d and playing my small role in tikkun olam, and would take me to places far and wide to support a deepening of the shards of light always present, as our tradition teaches.

Yet so many lessons and losses later, I know how hard it is to actually live this commitment. It is gritty and challenging to allow ourselves to be changed, let alone have a positive impact on those around us and our communities. I know how deep our wounds can be. I know how hard it is to let go of power and to trust that others can do things better and yet still feel that we are valuable. I know how in the thick of grief, anger and angst other people can seem like obstacles to our healing. And I know how hurt we can feel when our caring efforts are rebuffed by someone even more hurt than we are. I know the pain of being called naïve by those who think human nature is doomed to ugliness and violence. And I know the place in me that has needed to fully inhabit those ugly and violent places in myself in order to understand them. I also have had plenty of time swimming in resentment, feeling embittered or angry at the pace of change and the cost to change agents, while feeling I was sometimes no better than the worst dictator on earth. I know, too deeply, as an old friend says that “we all have all the parts,” as any of us can get “triggered” into reacting in ways that keep us in our pain and/or evoke pain in another, rather than help us to live our highest, our B’Tselem Elohim.

On my two day silent retreat in the hot dessert last week I prayed my heart out to find a way to want to go on in the face of so much loss and fear about the future. How do I face the world without the love and support of my soul mate sibling and my mother? Our journey~ hers and mine~was so bound up in our commitment never to leave the fire of our relationship, no matter how hard things were at times. That fierce love is precious and I can feel how rare it can be even in a community as passionate and family-ish as ours.

So it was beautiful when I felt G~d’s presence guiding me gently back home, back here, showing me that there is still work to be done, that we as a community and a society are not yet finished and neither am I.

And then I was gifted with a vision. A simple vision, built on decades of work, so elegant in the way that “ahas” always are. To simply invite our community to participate in a new minchag that would bring our love, our vision and our healing intentions into action. To take what Rabbi Diane is teaching and bring it forward in our daily connections. So I extend this invitation to all of us~to bring a new level of chesed to our encounters. Perhaps these steps will speak to you, too. Perhaps you will craft something better and will share your ideas with the rest of us. Wherever we are on the healing path I beg us to be mindful of the tenderness we each carry beneath whatever defenses may be operating. Here are some steps that came to me and to which I am committing:

  • 1) Before giving anyone feedback or discussing a high intensity issue do what we need to center ourselves and calm our triggers. Pray, breathe, walk, do the powerful Heartmath practice of Freeze Frame. Whatever our practice, before speaking to anyone about something bothering us I invite us to commit to center and de-trigger.
  • 2) Next, take a few minutes to really see the being before us. See the yud~hey~vuv~hey of this soul. What is their story? What is their wound? What is the essence of their being? What might be their suffering? What gives them joy? I invite us to commit to seeing the soul before us.
  • 3) And third, reflect, through prayer or our own inner questioning, whether this person is ready and able to hear what we have to say? And are we ready to hear them? If so, we proceed. If not, find another time, place and/or way to tell our truth. I invite us to commit to finding the words and time and place to speak our truth and listen from our hearts.
As Jews we can carry a lot of trauma. This often can come across as some form of “if you don’t see it my way we might all die!” which can include personal attacks, intense judgments, and even shunning. What if we changed this unconscious inner message to a conscious message: “if we come together in sacred community we just might all live?”


This shift in our capacity to really hear and see and honour each other~to hold the sanctity of the soul before us~could truly fulfill what I have always understood our tradition’s vision to be and help us all in these difficult times to feel loved, held, and cared for as we navigate the tides of great change around us, bringing us that much closer to living maschiach consciousness in our everyday lives.

B’shalom v’chesed.

Rachel Eryn Kalish, May 2008