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imagesA few times a year, I am contacted by a couple looking to find two officiants to marry them, usually a rabbi, and a priest or minister of some stripe. The idea is such a complicated and multi-faceted one, I have written this blog post as a way of offering a fuller, “all you could ever want to know” on this topic.

If you are thinking you want two officiants for your wedding, let me start by asking a question back. Why? Why do you want TWO officiants? Your reasons matter, because they determine whether it is really worth the extra effort and expense of having two officiants.

A few things to consider:

* Hiring two officiants is going to cost you double the price of hiring one officiant. Why? Because you are hiring the time of two people, not one. Unless Daddy Warbucks is financing your wedding, this probably means you are going to try to negotiate prices with both of your officiants that is considerably less than what he or she would be earning if they were doing the ceremony on there own.

* From the officiant’s perspective, this creates a quandary, for both of them! Leading half of a wedding is actually MORE work, not LESS work, because it involves trying to coordinate with an unknown other person who may or may not be easy to work with. The officiant’s travel time is the same and their monthly marketing costs are unchanged. (Mine are over $300 a month, in case you were wondering!) It especially creates a dilemma if your wedding date is in a busy month, like May.

If, for example, I were to accept a co-officiation gig for May 8, at half my normal fee because I’m one of two clergy — and then I get a call for a typical one-officiant wedding on the same day — I’ve suddenly missed out on hundreds of dollars! This is very painful for your officiant because weddings are a hugely cyclical business. There are about 6 months out of the year when we don’t officiate any weddings at all (but we’re still having to pay our website advertising fees.)

* Fortunately for me, I don’t truly have this dilemma because the rabbinical assembly I belong to does not allow me to co-officiate. So, my short answer when people call and ask me to co-officiate is to say: “Sorry, I can’t. I’m not allowed to.” You will find this is true for a majority of rabbinical school graduates. This is why people often have a hard time finding the rabbi-half of a co-officiation equation.

Rabbis ordained in the Reconstructionist, Reform or Conservative movements are prohibited by their rabbinical assembles from co-officiating. (The reasons for that decision are another story). Such grads make up perhaps 80% of all rabbis in America. Orthodox rabbis make up another 15%, and they definitely won’t co-officiate (they won’t even allow intermarriage.) That leaves you with about 5% of ordained rabbis who even have the permission of their ordaining institutions to consider your request (regardless of their personal feelings on the matter).

Also, buyer beware. Every “rabbi” is not created alike. There are handful of rabbinical groups out there that are not respected in the field. They aren’t quite as bad as “Internet ordination” but their programs demand about 2% of what a traditional rabbinical college demands of its students.

Legitimate rabbinical programs to look for (which DO allow co-officiation) are Aleph (Renewal movement) and IISHJ (International Institute for the Society of Humanistic Judaism). Aleph and IISHJ grads are allowed to co-officiate and I can personally vouch for the legitimacy of their training programs. Contact the colleges and ask for a list of their graduates and their locations.

***chuppah2

Let me pause here and clarify a few terms: Co-officiation means having two clergy of two different faiths jointly conduct the ceremony. This is different from a simple interfaith ceremony, which has only one person officiating, but has both faiths being honored and incorporated in some way. Only about 5% of all ordained rabbis are allowed to co-officiate.

But many many more can officiate an interfaith ceremony (as the solo clergy member). Conservative rabbis still cannot officiate interfaith ceremonies (weddings with a Jew and a non-Jew), but Reform and Reconstructionist, Renewal, and Secular Humanist rabbis all can do so (their rabbinical assemblies leave it up to the individual rabbi).

So, in other words, you have many more rabbis to choose from if you are looking for a straight interfaith ceremony with only one officiant, versus trying to orchestrate a co-officiated two-clergy-person ceremony.

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All that said, let’s get back to what you said you want: co-officiation. Let’s say you DO find a rabbi you like, willing to co-officiate. Now let’s get back to my question: Why do you need two people? If the goal is to have some Jewish elements in your wedding, then a savvy minister or priest, educated in pluralistic values, can create a genuinely interfaith ceremony w/o a Jewish clergy present. Alternately, if your goal is to just have a Jewish “figure” as part of your wedding, you can invite an elderly grandparent, for example, to come up and recite the Kiddush over wine. He would delighted by the honor, and you don’t have to pay him anything.

It works the same way in reverse. If you hire a rabbi to do your interfaith wedding, the right rabbi knows all the things to do to make the service comfortable and meaningful to both Christians and Jews. And, to compensate for the “official Christian presence” issue, you can invite a family member to come up and do a reading from Apostle Paul, Book of Corinthians, for example, to add a specifically theistically Christian flavor to your event, if that matters.

Why is Co-Officiating Difficult?

chuppahCo-officiating a ritual is tricky because you basically have two people trying to jockey the job of one person.  It is the role of the officiant to meet with the couple, present you with a variety of readings and ritual options, and then to let you, the couple, come back with your decisions. The variety of readings and options that I, for example, would give you to review contain BOTH Christian and Jewish traditions — as well as many secular readings on love and life. This is standard practice for any interfaith officiant who knows what she is doing.

In the end, this is what you are paying for when you hire an officiant — you are paying for someone who has combed the world’s literature and can offer you a wide range of options; you are hiring someone’s expertise and experience working in interfaith groups. You’re hiring a person who will be able to make every person in the room, no matter their faith tradition, feel “heard” and “represented”.

By adding another chef in the fire, you then have two people basically playing tug-of-war over who writes what section, who reads what section, etc.

* What happens if one clergy wants to do or say something that the other clergy believes will make part of the audience uncomfortable?

* What if one of the pair refuses to show their half of the ceremony to the other officiant?

* Who gets the final “read” or “say” on the whole ceremony? Do you really want to get involved in that, and NOT have the words and blessings of the ritual be fresh and be a surprise on your wedding day? (Most couples like that element of surprise and mystery.)

* If you ask each officiant to do a part, how do you ensure it flows together? How can you be sure that the ritual has a range of quiet, speaking and ritual, and that it doesn’t come across like chopsticks, words and rituals just piled on top of each other?

Conducting a wedding is like conducting a theater show. Would you hire a director to do Act I and another director to do Act II? Of course not. That would be just … odd. It could potentially be disjointed and jerky. … That’s often what it’s like to have two ceremony officiants.

Yes, a wedding can be done with two people and, sometimes it works, depending on the officiants involved. And, I’ll be honest, I’ve heard stories. Sometimes, it’s a nightmare.

Let me leave you with two ideas, which may or may not be provocative to you:

1) Trying to hire two people for a job that can easily be done by one person might be an indication that you don’t have faith or confidence in any one person you spoke with to do it right. If that rings true to you, then I encourage you to keep looking. There are people out there who are masters at weaving multi-faith ceremonies; I’ve seen it done, and I’ve done it myself.

2) Your desire for two officiants could also be an indication that you two, as a couple, have not fully processed how you are going to live a blended faith home together. If any part of that idea rings true to you, I implore you to go back and start talking about it, perhaps with a clergy person or a couple’s therapist, to facilitate the conversation. Your feelings need to be aired NOW, before the wedding day, and before the first baby comes! If you are both really solid and confident about how your family is going to blend your faith traditions, then I think you will feel much more comfortable hiring just one officiant.

More Than Just the Officiantpisa cake

One final thought to consider: Interfaith weddings are about much more than just who does the officiating.

When I get a call asking me to co-officiate — and then I find out the wedding venue is in a CHURCH, I confess, it leaves me slack-jawwed. A church? Are you kidding? Could you really not find a more neutral wedding venue than that?!? If your wedding is in a church, you’ve made the decision that your family’s primary religious identity (as a unit) is Christian — which is fine — but it also means you should hire a Christian to officiate your wedding.

The same thing applies to a synagogue. If you goal is to create an interfaith home, you should avoid having it at a synagogue. If you book in a synagogue, I would say your goal is not to raise an interfaith family. Your goal is to raise a mainly Jewish one, maybe with a few Christian holidays sprinkled in here and there that “Daddy” (or whomever) is technically celebrating. That’s OK, that’s your choice, but be courageous and acknowledge it from the get-go by hiring a rabbi to officiate! Don’t begin your married life with a bunch of mixed, contradictory messages.

Create a wedding ritual and wedding day that reflects the future home you intend to build together.

Here’s another way of framing the question: Are you sending your future children to Hebrew school or Sunday school? Because they both happen on Sundays, and you can only chose one. How you answer that question might help you answer what kind of officiant you hire for your wedding.

I hope some of this helps! Good luck!

And, if you have any questions, I’m always happy to talk these ideas over with people (at no charge), so just drop me a line.

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Today, thanks to the wondrous connectivity of Facebook, I was led to a blog post called “What I Want For Mother’s Day.” It is written by a site called The Little White Lion.

I don’t know who the Little White Lion is, or what her reason for blogging might be. Judging from her website’s ad by my favorite yoga clothier, Vickerey, the one thing I do know is that Little White Lion has done a far better job monetizing her website than I have! (Ha ha ha!)

No matter. I so love what this writer had to say, I’m re-posting it here, with some major tweaks of my own. The end result is part Little White Lion, part me, Your Jewish Mother.

dutch

Dear Children: Mother’s Day is coming up, and I thought I should tell you what I want. This way, there is no guilty, panicked, last-minute purchasing of flowers or bric-a-brac at the closest convenience store. There is no need to spend money (which you probably didn’t earn) to buy me something, which I will then have to dust, move, and schlep around with me until my dying days.

No thanks. This is what I want instead.

By the way, since I am your mother, I feel like I have a blessing from the universe to voice this wish out loud, and without hesitation. In case you have forgotten, I’m the person who spent 11+ months uniting your little embryonic cells in a fertility lab; I’m the gal who spent 16+ months hauling your growing limbs and intestines about, each step more painful than the one that had come before; I’m that lady over there who had a career, who had success and who had a whole lot of fun before you two came along. Now, my “career,” my “success” and my “fun” – well, it’s defined differently.

Daughter and son, here is my Mother’s Day wish:

I want you to be a mensch, a decent human being.

I want you to be who you are, but don’t be an asshole.

I want you to work hard at everything you do, because life is too short to not try your best.

I want you to ask for help when you need it.

I want you to notice when others might need help, and offer it without them asking.

I hope you can be proud of your successes, and yet always aware that your inate gifts come from a place outside of yourself, and hence, you cannot take credit for them.

I want you to learn how to cook, do your own laundry, live within your means, do things when you say you’ll do them, and show up when you say you’ll be there.

I want you to know how to clean a bathroom. I don’t want to ever hear you say that it is “someone else’s job.”

I want you to realize that laundry, cooking and cleaning is your job in every home or plcabinsace you ever stay in, including your parents’.

When you screw up, and you will, I want you to embrace it, because screws-ups serve as a lid for our egos.

I want you to travel, because the world is huge, and you are a tiny crucial part of it.

I want you to know that even when we hate each other, I will never stop loving you.

Once you’ve grown up, I want you to subscribe to The New Yorker magazine, and never stop reading.

I hope you will always know that everything you do, and everything you don’t do, has an impact on this planet. To someone or something.

I want you to gain financial and emotional independence; plan for the worst, but hope for the best.

I want you to be more interested in other people than you are in yourself.

I want you to know that you are flawed, and you are extraordinary. There is no one else like you.

I want you to know that I would lay down my life for you in Lily Potter fashion any day of the week.

I want you to speak and act like a person who is aware of the immensimagesCANP7078e privilege you have inherited by simple virtue of being born in this time, country, and family. You didn’t earn this gift; so you don’t have a right to squander it. Your luck is one in a billion.

I want you to never lose your soul connection to nature, animals and the natural world. These concrete jungles we build are devoid of almost everything that matters.

I want you to know that even in the darkest of times, you can choose happiness.

This Mother’s Day, and on that Mother’s Day when I am no longer here to hold your pint-sized hands (or when your pint-sized hands have outgrown holding,) humankind hopes for the gift of your smile.

                                                                                                                                                 Love,

                                                                                                                                                      Your Mamma

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Magohany bimah with sand flooringWith only one synagogue operating in the Caribbean, it’s easy to imagine why a Jewish destination wedding to the Caribbean gets quickly cut off the list.

I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, destination Jewish or interfaith weddings can offer fabulous, unique, never-to-forget events at prices you can’t begin to approximate in the U.S.

You do, however, need to start curacao mapthinking creatively.

In exploring the question “Can you can a Jewish wedding in the Caribbean?” I will also share with you what happened to me, when I tried to plan such a wedding.

With a little research, you will learn that the only functioning synagogue in the Caribbean is on the island of Curacao. The congregation, called Mikvé Israel, dates from the 1650s, and was founded by Spanish and Portuguese Jews from the Netherlands and Brazil. In the 19th century, there was a breakaway Reform community (Emanu El); the two merged to form the present community in 1964.

curacoThe synagogue (pictured at the top of the post) is built in the Sephardic style, which means it has 360-degree seating with the bima in the center, from where the rabbi or hazzan recites the prayers. The best part is, the synagogue’s floors are made up entirely of sand. Imagine – what a photographer’s delight! As you can see in the picture above, some of the main “cities” in Curacuao look like a quaint, beautiful seaside villages.

Jewish Pirates of the CaribbeanFor you history buffs out there, you might love reading Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean; Curacao made an appearance, as did many other of my favorite Caribbean haunts!

But back to your wedding: Here’s the problem. Actually, there are a lot of problems … The synagogue hires a cantor, and when I asked for more information, they sent me a list of “rules” that looked like they had been copied straight from the Middle Ages.

1. For starters, no intermarriages. That’s right, if you are one of 60% of American Jews marrying outside the tribe, you are a second-class citizen who can’t use their building.

2. The cost to rent the facility and hire their cantor is $2,500. That is perfectly fair. Maintaining such an exquisite building in such a hot climate has got to be expensive, and the community surely relies on the infusion of off-shore funds to keep the place running. But what upset me is that we didn’t need their officiant. As a rabbinical student, I had a whole cadre of rabbis and would-be rabbis on my guest list. I wanted to work with a rabbi whom I have a close bond with, and who would frame things and say things in the way that I would want them said.

They were okay with that — but they were still going to charge the $2,500! Their fee was their fee, no matter how much or little we asked them to do.

star of david3. Then, number 3, they require couples  to exchange wedding rings that are solid gold bands. The rings, they said, can’t have any jewels or stones of any kind, or any engraving on them.

For my partner and me, that rule ended the discussion right there. We didn’t have rings with stones; but we did resent some synagogue committee intruding its opinions on our fingers and telling us what we could and couldn’t wear on them! Any Why exactly is it their business?

I have nothing against a solid gold band. But with so many beautiful rings out there now, why would anyone want to limit themselves to that?

Yes, it is a Jewish wedding tradition to exchange rings that are not “broken up” by stones. The idea is that a couple’s love is continuous, and a solid band symbolizes that. It’s a lovely tradition, and it is also just that: a tradition. There are good 100 other Jewish wedding traditions and most couples do not choose to follow all of them, either. Talk about arbitrary.

4. Then there was the issue of dress. The Curacao shul requires that all women have their shoulders covered in the interest of tsniut = modesty. Meanwhile, all the men have to wear formal attire. Yes, you read that right: Ties and SUITS … in a tropicial paradise whose humidity level probably tops 110!

What is the value we are communicating here? It seems to me the value they are communicating is this: “We wish to convey a certain sense of decorum in our holy space. We define ‘decorum’ using the standards that the occupying white culture imposed on native island people 400 years ago. We don’t define ‘decorum’ based on contemporary values of gender equality, or based on the environmental/temperature realities of where we are standing today.”

Let me just say it: That is annoy annoy annoy annoying.

I offered what I thought was fair middle ground. How about I arrange a tour of the synagogue earlier in the day, as an “outing” for my guests, for which their building and cantor would recieve a fee? We would do the ceremony the way we wanted, with the officiant and the sentiments we desired, overlooking the ocean, in the clothes we felt were climactically appropriate, over at a hotel?

That was fine they said. But it would still cost $2,500. And they wouldn’t help us coordinate with the hotel.

All things considered, we concluded that getting married in the only functioning synagogue in the Caribbean just wasn’t meant to be. If these restrictions don’t bother you, Curacao might be a perfectly great option for you.

If, however, you want more ritual freedom, there are plenty of other ideas you might consider:

Looking Beyond Curacao

curaco marriot resort1. First off, Curacao is still a beautiful place and judging from this picture I found from the Marriott Resort in Curacao, their hotel knows how to build a chuppah for a Jewish wedding! Hire a rabbi and bring him/her with you, and hold your wedding at the Marriott hotel. Your guests can choose to tour the synagogue as one of many excursions they have to choose from on the island.

2. Curacao isn’t the only island with great beaches. And really, the only two things you need to make a wedding “Jewish” is a Jewish officiant, and a chuppah. You can bring the officiant with you, and small, lightweight handheld chuppahs can be made for under $200. (Email me; I can help you figure out how.)

My fiance and I briefly entertained a wedding in Jamaica. I have several friends who married there, and the island’s hotels are great at putting together package vacations. Their beaches are amazing, and the temperature of the ocean feels like bath water! They also offer resorts that cater to families with small children who are not yet potty-trained — a big issue for any guests you may have coming who have very young kids. (Look at Beaches and FDR resorts for starters).

Ritz_Dove_Mountain in TucsonAnother idea I wish we had thought was one a little closer to home: the Ritz Carlton in Tucson. I recently officiated an exquisite wedding there replete with hiking, majestic views and 5-star vegetarian fare all rolled into one.

Whatever “destination” you consider for your “destination wedding,” most hotels offer wedding packages with discounted room rates for their guests (which you don’t have to pay for). Many resorts outside the U.S. offer all-you-can-eat buffets for meals.

For another $1,000 bucks or so, resorts also provide photographers, videographers, and even a cake. I wish I could get married over and over again, just to have reasons to go to beautiful places like Turks & Caicos, the Bahamas, and a diver’s paradise, Bonaire!

ritz_carlton_dove_mountain_marana_arizona-mainResorts that offer wedding packages always include a local minister or pastor to officate the ceremony itself. There are, no doubt, great officiants out there, but if you are looking for something Jewish, or something theistically unconventional (such as –secular or nontheistic), you probably need to bring an officiant with you.

For a few nights stay at the hotel, a daily honorarium and a plane ticket, you can find a rabbi or rabbi-in-training who would be happy for the opportunity to enjoy a taste of paradise along with you! Even with this added cost of bringing your own officiant, you will still save considerably less money by having a destination wedding than you would hosting a wedding on your home turf.

Congratulations on your engagement — and if you had a destination wedding of your own, write me here, in the Comment field, and let me know how it went!

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Martin S. Jaffee offers the following definition of ‘religion’ in his book Early Judaism.

“Religion is an intense and sustained cultivation of a style of life that heightens awareness of morally binding connections between the self, the human community and the most essential structures of reality. Religions posit various orders of reality and help individuals and groups to negotiate their relations with those orders.”

You may have noticed that this definition does not focus on beliefs or rituals. This may surprise you. Jaffee argues that the idea of religion as a collection of beliefs about divine beings expressed in moral behavior, prayers and various forms of communal worship is actually an idea that emerged out of Europe in the 16th century. It was advanced by philosophers, politicians and theologians struggling to define the role of the Church in the emerging national states of Europe. For that time and place, that definition served a useful purpose: to create societies in which Church and State had separate and distinct spheres of life, enabling citizens of different religious beliefs to coexist as relative equals in society.

This particular definition of religion however, has not been reflective of the many ways in which non-European and non-Christian peoples have constructed their own conceptions of the role of holy communities and their institutions in the larger social and political order. Thus, he offered that alternate definition of religion, broad enough to explain human religious behavior across civilizations and millenia.

According to Jaffee, religious patterns of behavior encourage human beings to interpret themselves as moral beings whose destiny is bound with others in a project that brings them into relationship with the fundamental reality of things. In religious systems, the self identified through personal, autobiographical memory tends to be enlarged or enriched as it is interpreted in contexts well beyond personal experience. Personal identity includes a conception of how all these relationships are connected to generations of the distant past and the far-off future, as well as to the forces and powers that are held to account for the world as it is. (page 7)

Certain types of Buddhism, and even, Judaism come to mind. What all religions share, though, is the desire to participate in the essential structures of the world — to those spaces beyond our immediate world where “God” or “enlightenment” or “consciousness” reside. The ways we conceive of these alternate worlds differs from religion to religion. But constant among all of them is the tendency of religions to puncture the apparent solidity of mundane experience and to privilege intimations of other worlds at more profound levels of being.

I don’t know about you, but I love this way of describing religion. It’s like what Rabbi David Wolpe said: “Life is not an intellectual puzzle. Life is a precious one-time chance to grow. We grow not by solving riddles but by creating meaning.”

I wrote the title on this entry in jest, but it is not entirely a joke. It’s answer all depends on your definitions. Is it possible to be a religious atheist? Well, if you take Jaffe’s definition of religion (above), as opposed to a fundamentalist definition of God (an omnipotent, authoritarian entity invervening in human affiars) — then yes, you can be. And you most certainly can be an “atheist” or a “theistic agnostic” and have a wedding that is decidedly Jewish.
For more on Jewish weddings, please see some of my other posts:
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Where’s a Good Yenta When You Need One!? No need to sulk; The Matchmaker Rabbi is in! To see Joysa’s columns for Jdate, visit here. Her forthcoming book on dating in Jewish suburbia is being represented by Red Sofa Literary Agency.

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In my pastoral counseling class for rabbinical school, we’ve been reading on the nature of loss in all its forms: loss of love, loss of health, love of future and its potential.

These readings hit home for quite a few people in my class, particularly in my own home, where we have been struggling with one setback after another for two years.

A year ago, right after our baby was born, my husband was crippled by the searing pain of an L4-L5 disc herniation; it was eventually repaired, but pain and other symptoms still linger. Meanwhile, I developed my own popourri of woes attributed to hypermobility syndrome — a condition whereby one’s joints become too flexible, because my body’s collagen is being manufactured incorrectly.

These experiences have given me a powerful lesson in what it means to “mourn.” I had always thought of mourning and grief as things that happen when a person you love dies. Arthur Frank, in his book At the Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness,offers a much broader perspective from his experiences battling cancer. This excerpt, from the chapter “Mourning What Is Lost,” flies open the doors to just how broad mourning and grief can go. He explains it like this:

The loss that accompanies illness begins in the body as pain does, then moves out until it affects the relationships connecting that body to others. My awkward attempts to avoid commitments I was not sure I could fulfill only made people think I was distancing myself from them. I acted not from lack of freiendship but because my body was taking me out of their natural flow of plans and expectations. I lost my sense of belonging … The inability to make specific plans is only the beginning of the loss of belonging. … Loss of the future is complemented by loss of the past. …

Middle age insinuates itself slowly into our bodies and lives. It is the time when on a good day you can still kid yourself into thinking you are as young as ever. Several nights before my surgery, I looked myself in a mirror. My body I saw was not the body I had had at 22 or even 30, but it retained for me a continuity of those bodies. The changes, the deteriorations, had been gradual.

That night I knew that after surgery, I would never be the same. It would irrevocably break my body’s continuity with its past. When you say goodbye to your body, as I was going that night, you say goodby to how you have lived. … Other losses went beyond the body. Cathie and I had always hoped that if the worst happened, friends and relatives would respond with care and involvement. Some came through. Other disappeared. We now find it hard to resume relationships with those who could not acknolwedge the illness that was happening, not just to me but to us. Those relationships were lost.

Together, Cathie and I lost an innocence about the normal expectation of life. At one time it seemed normal to expect to work and accomplish certain things, to have children and watch them grow, to share their experiences with others, to grow old together. Now we realize that these events may or may not happen. Life is contingent. We are no longer sure what it is normal to expect.

… These losses of future and past, of place and innocence, must all be mourned. We should never question how another person chooses to mourn. I was fortunate to have a wife to share my mourning. Sharing losses seemed to be the gentlest way of living with them.

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Several hundred years ago, a great rabbi, the Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, scripted his own prayer for these moments of loss. Here are his words from The Gentle Weapon: Prayers for Everyday and Not-So-Everyday-Moments. I have chosen my own translations for his use of the word “God”:

Dear Soil From Which I Come,

suddenly I am alone; I am in pain.

As I search for some source

of comfort

the world –

the world so full so bustling –

seems so empty now.

It’s cold

and it’s frightening

in this hollow that is me –

in this hollow that once brimmed

with confidence and joy.

Creator, pull me back –

back to the world of the living,

back to the life of action

and human relationships.

(LM 1:277)

It’s a beautiful prayer that brings relief to simply read.

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced a loss that makes Frank’s or Nachman’s words resonate? I’d love to hear your stories or reactions.

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Where’s a Good Yenta When You Need One!? No need to sulk; The Matchmaker Rabbi is in! To see Joysa’s columns for Jdate, visit here. Her forthcoming book on dating in Jewish suburbia is being represented by Red Sofa Literary Agency.

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Out West where I come from, there are many Jewish communities that are small, and can’t afford their own building. When that’s the case, the community’s first choice is usually to find a Unitarian Universalist church to sublet space from.

Why the Unitarians? One answer to this question comes from an unlikely source: The Rev. A. Powell Davies (1902-1957). In 1944, he gave the following sermon at his church. Substitute the word “church” for “synagogue,” and I think he captured a crucial contemporary sentiment of liberal Judaism completely!

In his eloquent speech, the Rev. Davies gives several reasons for coming together to davven (pray).

Do we pray because God needs us to? No. We pray because WE need to.

Let me tell you why I come to church.  I come to church—and would whether I was a preacher or not—because I fall below my own standards and need to be constantly brought back to them. It is not enough that I should think about the world and its problems at the level of a newspaper report or a magazine discussion. It could too soon become too low a level. I must have my conscience sharpened—sharpened until it goads me to the most thorough and responsible thinking of which I am capable. I must feel again the love I owe my fellow men (and women). I must not only hear about it but feel it. In church, I do.
I need to be reminded that there are things I must do in the world—unselfish things, things undertaken at the level of idealism. Workaday enthusiasms are not enough. They wear out too soon. I want to experience human nature at its best—and be reminded of its highest possibilities, and this happens to me in church. It may seem as though the same things could be found in solitude, but it does not easily happen so.
In a congregation we share each other’s spiritual needs and reinforce each other. In some ways, the soul is never lonelier than in a church service. That is certainly true of a pulpit, for a pulpit is the most intimately lonely place in the world—yet it is a loneliness that has strength in it. Perhaps this is because the innermost solitude of the human heart is in some paradoxical way a thing that can be shared—that must be shared—if the spirit of God is to find a full entrance into it.
We meet each other as friends and neighbors anywhere and everywhere, but we seldom do so in the consciousness of our souls’ deepest yearnings. But in church we do—in a way that protects us from all that is intrusive, yet leaves us knowing that we all have the same yearning, the same spiritual loneliness, the same need of assurance and faith and hope. We are brought together at the highest level possible. We are not merely an audience, we are a congregation.
I doubt whether I could stand the thought of the cruelty and misery of the present world unless I could know, through an experience that renewed itself over and over again, that at the heart of life there is assurance, that I can hold an ultimate belief that all is well. And this happens in church.
Life must have its sacred moments and its holy places. The soul will always seek its nurture. For religious experience—which is life at its most intense, life at its best—is something we cannot do without.
Source: from “On Going to Church” by Rev. A. Powell Davies, as reprinted in Without Apology: Collected Meditations on Liberal Religion by A. Powell Davies edited by the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church.
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Where’s a Good Yenta When You Need One!? No need to sulk; The Matchmaker Rabbi is in! To see Joysa’s columns for Jdate, visit here. Her forthcoming book on dating in Jewish suburbia is being represented by Red Sofa Literary Agency.

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Recently, doing some research for a curriculum project on Jewish values, I stumbled upon these delightful excerpts from the Talmud (redacted circa 500 CE). They really made me laugh.

Keep in mind, they were written in a culture (Babylonia) where there were no trade schools or formal educational institutions. All skills and knowledge were passed down person to person. So … to refuse to ever teach another person seems like it would be the ultimate “f*#k you” gesture to your neighbors – and the ultimate act of selfness and sabotage against your own community.

What hilarious and vivid images they invoke!

1) From B. Yoma 38b

Hygros ben Levi excelled in the art of singing but would not teach others. It is told of him that when he was about to make a high trill, he would put his thumb into his mouth, place his index finger between the two parts of his mustache, and produce all kinds of sounds at such high intensity that, to a man, his brother priests would be thrown backward.

2) Also from B. Yoma 38b

Our masters taught: Ben Kamtzar would not teach [his art] of writing. It is said of him that he would hold four pens between his five fingers, and if there was a word of four letters, he could write it in one movement. He was asked, “What reason have you for refusing to teach [your art]?” The others mentioned earlier provided an explanation for their refusal, but Ben Kamtzar provided none. To the former apply the words “The memory of the righteous shall be for a blessing.” While to Ben Kamtzar and his like apply the words “But the name of the wicked shall rot.”

… In other words Don’t Be A Jerk!

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Where’s a Good Yenta When You Need One!? No need to sulk; The Matchmaker Rabbi is in! To see Joysa’s columns for Jdate, visit here. Her forthcoming book on dating in Jewish suburbia is being represented by Red Sofa Literary Agency.

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