We ask for an annual $36 contribution to count you as a member. Your membership helps build our power, our reach, our joy, and our connection. It makes this community, and each other, yours. This is modeled off the economy of the ancient Israelites who paid a half shekel to be counted in the while-wandering-in-the-wilderness census. This flat tax enabled no member of the community to be “greater” than any other - we are all members of equal footing. This vision fit well with Kadima and the current model was adopted 3.5 years ago by a vote of the membership at the time. The ancient mishkan would not ever have been built, though, if the half-shekel was the only income stream for the Israelite 501cGimel. Nor can our sanctuary, our holy community, survive with only the contributions from our $36 membership contributions. Just like our ancestors who were freed from Egypt, we ask those who have paid into the census and made themselves counted, to also contribute a gift of Nadiv Lev - literally “generosity of the heart,” translated into today’s world as “a meaningful gift.” And we all depend on this. Today, Nadiv Lev as a category, added up with all the half-shekels, is how Kadima’s board thinks of your contribution as other Jewish communities would count “dues.” As a concept, though, Nadiv Lev is your financial expression, relative to your means, of how much you are able to stretch your agency in supporting our collective existence and thriving. Contributions should be based on your ability to give as well as your inspiration to do so - not because of what you get for your money. It is not a transaction, but a statement of acknowledgement that each of us are responsible for the whole of us. And whatever amount we collectively reach is the one way we determine what we are able to do together. Recent Kadima history tells us that membership contributions PLUS Nadiv Lev contributions will in fact not sustain our budget on their own, yet. Thus, we still also collect HH contributions, set up an End of (Secular) Year Fundraising Campaign, charge school tuition, ask for cost sharing for catered meals, charge an occasional cover at parties, workshops, and events, and, spend a great deal of effort and time designing a super fun fundraising event to come at winter’s close. (Mark your calendars now for Leap Day, February 29th, 2020!) Together, these income streams make up this year’s $225,000 budget, which still cuts a fair number of things we know we all want. On one hand, if each membership household - shooting for 150 this year - each figured out how to give $1500 to Kadima - that’s $125/household/month - we would make budget without needing a single other income stream. No fundraisers. No school tuition. We would just be done, and then maybe we would set some growth goals. On the other hand, we take a few things into consideration when we dream of this. 1) The kind of oppressive capitalism that exists now has created income and wealth inequality while keeping us isolated and more wasteful with time, money, and resources. We know that amount is not possible for a lot of you. 2) Jews and money have a dirty history that is none of our faults and swims in lies and conspiracy. Antisemitism has set us up to feel shameful about money because of roles vis a vis the rest of society that we were backed into and because of lies about us and our ancestors that were perpetuated to shield the ruling classes. All while the truth is that we are and have been resourceful, brilliant, geneous and of high integrity, using whatever means we could, in the face of awful situations, to persist and survive. And, a third consideration: Money is seasonal. So, while we would LOVE to count on 150 committed monthly donations of $125 not as transactions, but simply as “meaningful gifts,” we are not there yet. So, we will lovingly remind each other throughout the year, from season to season and from time to time - may they be full of gladness and joy - that your Jewish community desires to sustain, and even thrive. We have your sustenance and thriving in mind each time we provide another opportunity to give with Nadiv Lev - generosity of the heart. The High Holidays are such a time when we remind you of the opportunity to support the thriving of Kadima. It takes all of us to build this vibrancy together. So, whether by increasing your monthly Nadiv Lev pledge, or making a separate contribution in honor of the chagim, we ask you to spend some time this season reflecting on your financial place in this puzzle. What could “generosity of the heart” look like now, and how might you make or adjust your meaningful gift by the end of Sukkot? And then, the next time we ask, consider it an opportunity to continue supporting you.
Gmar tov, everyone. I am going to share some thoughts about the readings this morning, chanted so beautifully by so many from our community here. The main question I have coming into this season is, you could say, based on the title of a book about the High Holidays by Rabbi Alan Lew - zichrono livracha. His book, called “This is Real and you are completely unprepared” reminds us of the perspective: this 10 Days of Awe stuff is for real. And if they are really real, then I must not stop asking: how can I change? How can this time, I really change? How can I finally overcome the patterns that haunt me year in and year out, that seem ingrained, that, no matter how much I have grown and healed and made attempts at shifting, they continue to persist? While most of my life I focused on particularly those faults that impact others in negative ways, I am now - as a dad in my 40s - understanding that even my faults that have seemed to hurt “just me” also have a negative impact on others - most notably my children and my co-parent. For I want to be alive and healthy for as much of my kids’ lives as possible. I stand here today on Yom Kippur pleading to be sealed in the book of life.
So, how can I change?? How can I, how can anyone, make the changes necessary to elongate and enliven our days?
To consider this question, I went to how our tradition often frames reasons for doing mitzvot. But first, a quick word about the word mitzvah. Modern Liberal Judaism, following the lead of the Reform Movement, in which I grew up, has done a doozy on the word. “Mitzvah” does not, in fact, mean “good deed.” The word mitzvah means “obligation.” “Commandment.” The acts we need to do in order for everything to go well around us. Ben Oron famously called them, upon becoming bar mitzvah: “life pro-tips.” They are not “charitable acts” as the Reform definition might have us believe, but those things that must be done for our society to holistically work - for everyone. Ya know, justice.
Our tradition has much to say on “why do mitzvot” - ever since the earliest surviving texts of Medieval Judaism from Saadia Gaon, who lived in today’s Egypt, Palestine, and Iraq in the Abbasid Caliphate in the 10th century. Writing in Arabic as well as Hebrew, Saadia Gaon split up the mitzvot into two categories teaching that some fall into a category ‘of reason’ and others into a category ‘of revelation.’ He attempted to rationalize them all. Those he categorized as “of reason” he defined as acts that prevent harm of one’s self or one’s neighbor. Stretching, for the commandments he categorized as ‘of revelation’, though, he regularly reminded himself and the reader that humans simply cannot fully grasp G-d’s intent. So, we are left, perhaps, with “do what is required because it is good for us, or at least because God told us to.” And for some of us, this may be enough. It is black and white - follow the rules of justice because they are good for us and because they are rules for justice. If this is enough to make you act, I envy you to some extent.
Saadia Gaon’s categories map well with our torah reading this morning. Each commandment or set of commandments is concluded with “ani adonai eloheichem” or “ani adonai” in other words: “um, it’s me God telling you these things!” - reminding the reader this very simple reason to do any of them.
Now, over 800 years after Saadia Gaon’s reasoning, the Polish chasidic rebbe Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, known as the Sfat Emet, (or the Sfas Emes), pointed to 2 reasons of his liking for doing mitzvot: fear and love. Commenting on the verse we chant in these High Holy Day services: Hashiveinu adonai eleychah v’nashuvah, the Sfas Emes tells us that this verse from Lamentations teaches that there are 2 kinds of teshuvah: teshuvah from fear and teshuvah from love.
Fear, yira, shares a root with the Days of Awe - Yamim HaNora’im. This “nora’im” can certainly be translated as “awe” but it is also the word for “fear.” Picture something so momentous, so grand, that while we are totally humbled by it, we might also be intimidated, or truly fearful of it. This is the kind of “awe” that the High Holy Days could be - days of intimidation. Days of humility. Days of consequence. For some, this may be the right motivation to change one’s ways. There are dire consequences for your actions, so quit it. (Or, start doing it, as the case may be.) Perhaps this is also heard in the consistent reminder of “I am God” in the Torah reading: remember the almighty is asking this of us! But this sentiment is also heard in the cries of Greta Thunberg and the thousands of young people who have joined her call for a Climate Strike: “I don’t want your hope, I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel everyday. I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” While I can certainly be moved quickly to action out of such fear, I also know that sometimes I find it demobilizing, frozen by the fear.
It is the love, then, that I want to close with. I find myself a bit flustered when considering what it is to do teshuva from love, and then I remember my kids. That love be my guide as I seek to do what is right, to actually change in the ways I still need to. And I am glad that we read not just the torah, but the haftarah as well. I find a loving God, even in the chastisements, in the words of Isaiah, for our reading today closed with the call to return to Shabbat...to consider its delight. To turn away from “profaning the precious hours,” as Isaiah calls for, not because something terrible will happen if we don’t, but because something amazing can happen if we do. Delight. Oneg. The realization of the brokenness repaired, the removal of oppression, of scorn, and of speaking with malice. Justice, healing, and glory.
Whatever it is that spurs us to action these days, I find the words of Rabbi David Teutsch, former president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and my teacher, fitting. In a note in the machzor about Yom Kippur, he wrote: “This is preparation for the challenge beginning tomorrow.”
Let us find what moves us, let us move, and let us find the ability to say of the year ahead that we did not indeed “profane the precious hours” we have been gifted today. Let us say we were up for the challenge. Gmar chatimah tovah. An easy and meaningful fast.
A central theme of the Days of Awe is forgiveness. On Rosh Hashanah we have the remarkable custom of Tashlich; we forgive ourselves as we symbolically cast away our regrets for the year into moving water. During the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we ask others for forgiveness and we forgive. And when all of that difficult foundational work has been completed, beginning at sundown tonight as a community, collectively, we acknowledge our shortcomings and seek forgiveness from however we conceptualize the source of life, of ethics, of humanity. For six of the last eight years I’ve spent most of Elul, the thirty days preceding and preparing for the Days of Awe, in Spain.
In her Havdalah, poet Marge Piercy tells us we are a “quilted people. . .a varied people braided into one.” My mother’s father was a Lanienter, my father’s mother was a Lanienter. The name became Lantor in the US. For at least 200 years, perhaps as many as 500, the Lanientor/Lantors have insistently taught their children the same genealogy, the same difficult-to-document oral history: We left Spain in 1492 for Italy. A family feud, the cause long-since forgotten, sent the family moving again, from Italy to Poland then to the US. The earliest immigrants to the US (my great grandmother’s family) went South.
Each year during Elul, I walk the medieval streets of what was once the Jewish Quarter of León, Spain, streets named after the artisans who once lived there: Calle Zapaterias, the street of the shoemakers, Calle Plata, silversmiths, Calle Azabacheria, jewelry makers. An even older street, Calle Prado de los Judios, the Meadow of the Jews is just outside the medieval wall because early on, Jews were not afforded the protection of the city walls after dark. How should I feel about these streets, this history? For the past 20 years, in early September León has participated in what are known as the “European Days of the Culture of the Jews.” Not to put too fine a point on it, having eliminated most their Jewish population, the apparent goal is to recover, acknowledge, celebrate Jewish culture. Over the years, we have seen truly touching performances, for example, as non-Jewish musicians earnestly work to recover Jewish medieval music and the instruments that would have been used to play it. Other aspects of Spain’s relationship to Jews are more troubling, and others downright horrifying. There is much to admire in Spain’s attempts since the 500th anniversary of the expulsion (in 1992) to come to grips with its history and essentially to atone. Historians across Spain have studied the Jewish history of 21 cities and produced a beautiful large-format book of text and photographs. The Jewish Museum in Seville is staffed by young people trained by quite knowledgeable and responsible historians. And then there are the other things. In 2017 a Christian Choir showed up in robes for an advertised Sephardic music concert in León only to announce counterfactually that since no one knows what Jewish music was like in the period, they would just sing their usual Christian program, “which is what the Jews would have heard at the time.” A visiting friend quipped, “when would they have heard it, while they were being tortured?” And there are horrifying things. In Granada there is a “Museum of Torture.” Two floors display instruments of torture from the Inquisition, a third is an exhibit of everyday Jewish life before the expulsion. This year, as part of the 20th Jornadas Europeas de la Cultura Judia” León mounted two evenings of lovely concerts of Jewish music. The following day there was a street theater performance on the history of Jews in León. It was Saturday afternoon; lots of people showed up with children for this walking performance through the barrio. There was a primly dressed narrator and then foolish performances for the groundlings (think Shakespeare). The fools were Jews. They spent their time cheating people out of money and, after a money changing table was overturned, crawling on the ground yelling, “My money, my money.” The play ended with a reading of the full Edict of Expulsion. It was pretty disturbing. Our local UW program director confirmed that that is how people see (learn to see) Jews. After all, he said, “on Easter, when we go to a pub, we say we’re going to ‘kill the Jews’,” and each time someone drinks a shot, they say they killed a Jew.
So.... Here we are in the Days of Awe. Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch teach that, in most instances, we are obligated to ask for forgiveness only three times. Surely Spain has done that. They’ve offered citizenship to descendants of those expelled in 1492. (This is not unproblematic; you have to be certified as Sephardic, preferably by a rabbi, and a non-Sephardic rabbi will not do.) But still let’s call that one. Spain has supported Jewish cultural events (two). And they have retrieved and tried to live with their history. Throughout Spain, a quite beautiful brass marker of stylized Hebrew writing of the word “Sepharad” is placed in the pavement at sites of Jewish importance (that’s three). In Jewish tradition, after three earnest attempts to acknowledge wrongs and seek forgiveness one is considered to have atoned; the sin then rests upon the person who refuses forgiveness. An orthodox ask-the-rabbi website [dinonline.org] says, “Our sages teach that whoever forgives the faults of others, will have [their] sins pardoned by Hashem.” This is not to say that all wrongs must be forgiven. Our tradition is quite clear about this. Some transgressions do not have to be forgiven, may be unforgivable. Abuse of a child by adults, for example, is not something one has to “get over.” And that abuse can take many forms.
Here I am going to step out of the frame of Spain for a moment to our recent shared experience. I am haunted by the words of Greta Thunberg these days. In her speech to the UN on climate change she was very clear: “If you choose to fail us, we will never forgive you.” “We will never forgive you” rings in my ears. She is right. This is a form of abuse of succeeding generations that does not have to be, perhaps cannot be, forgiven. In our machzor, the Marge Piercy Amidah tells us “Bless . . . what never frees us from the cost of knowledge, which is to act on what we know again and again.” The cost of knowledge. The High Holidays mark the birthday of the world. And we have almost come full circle. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of Knowledge and are banished from Eden. Today, many refuse to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and we are destroying Eden, and the
world. We must not fail Greta’s generation and those that hopefully follow.
Greta tells us that climate inaction, destruction of the planet, is unforgivable. This might be a yardstick for the unforgiveable. Returning to Spain: Are torture and expulsion unforgivable sins? Or is Spain a model of repentance, consistently struggling to live honestly with its history, even if it is not always successful, even if not all Spaniards are (at least yet) on the same page? And what does it say about me/us if we are not able to forgive? What more do we ask of people? We can recall a pre-rabbinic debate from the time of Hillel: Is this a let-those-who-are-without- sin-cast-the-first-stone moment? I walk the Spanish streets and wait to hear the voices of the ancestors. But they are silent; this is on me. I am left only with questions. In these Days of Awe and the ones that follow, whom do we forgive? For all that governments do in our name, whom do we/can we/should we forgive?
HELLO! This is Shelby, this is Maia.
We have had the chance to be each other’s Chevruta in Queer Talmud Study and a number of other projects and are thinking about this D’var as a kind of outloud-unfinished Chevruta study of this parsha. This D’var is also a poem--in that poems are good multivocal texts and there are many voices here other than ours--and it is a letter...to Sarah.
Here are the bones of what we just read--with all it’s silences and troubling euphemisms: Sarai has become Sarah (Abram, Abraham) and they are having trouble getting pregnant. Before we become slaves in Egypt, we are slave owners: Sarah owns an Egyptian woman named Hagar. She decides that Hagar will have the child she cannot with Abraham. Ishmael is born. Then when both Sarah and Abraham are in triple digits, “God remembers Sarah” and she gets pregnant. Both Sarah and Abraham laugh at the news. Isaac is born and circumcised eight days later. Isaac and Ishmael grow. When Isaac is weaned there is a feast day and when Sarah sees Isaac and Ishmael playing she tells Abraham to “cast out” Hagar and Ishmael so that only Isaac will be Abraham’s heir. We are told that this troubles Abraham, but God tells him to do whatever Sarah says.
I had a question reapproaching this text: How does the way we read our texts ritually--meaning generously and critically--allow us to read each other (ritually) into a kinder community?
Partially inspired by other burgeoning Jewish and Queer spaces of study and ritual (in which our Chevruta-ing began), I wanted to know: In what ways does learning to read our texts and our tradition generously and as fiercely ours (in the sense that we belong to it and it to us no matter what myriad kinds of machitzas of history have tried to take it from us) allows for an important kind of generosity with each other? I have found that in rigorous, joyful, egal spaces of Jewish learning people are able to encounter one another who might have otherwise written each other off.
This is a challenging text in this regard that often feels that it pushes back against the season it is placed in.
Ruth Behar, Cubana Jewess anthropologist names this parsha “a story of women wronging women.” and goes on to ask why we read this story on Rosh Hashanah? The text hands us so many broken relationships as we are coming to a season where we want to put energy into repair. Behar quotes Renita Weems writing that we read this story at a time when we want: “‘to risk loving again those who have wounded us’ and [want to be] ready for ‘others to trust us to try again despite the fact that we have broken their hearts.’”
Ruth Behar pointed us to two other voices we wanted to share with you:
“What woman here is so enamored of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint upon another woman’s face? What woman’s terms of oppression have become precious and necessary to her as a ticket into the fold of the righteous, away from the cold winds of self-scrutiny?” --Audre Lorde
“We are not only descendants of slaves, but we are also the descendants of slave owners…just as we have had to struggle to rid ourselves of slavish behaviors, we must as ruthlessly eradicate any desire to be mistress or ‘master.’ –Alice Walker
Behar goes on: “I bring the full burden of the procreative weight that rests on the shoulders of Jewish women to bear upon the story of Sarah and Hagar because it is not at all easy to feel compassion for Sarah, yet we must feel compassion for her if we are to inherit something better from this foremother than self-loathing for ourselves as women and as Jews.”
We wondered what that meant? We didn’t think it meant forgiving Sarah, we did think it meant wondering about her...as her whole self inside and outside this parsha. So, we asked you-all what questions you had for Sarah! And Shelby wove those questions into a letter to Sarah:
So many daughters are here today, sitting quietly, listening, bearing your name. If I asked them to raise their hands, would you see the constellation of palms that came both from your body and the bodies you exiled? What wounds did they and we inherit that we don’t speak of?
How are we all related to you and not related to you at all? Is our connection imagined, chosen, textual, blood, cursed, blessed? All of the above?
Can we read you “generously” or is it violent to even attempt to imagine why you did what you did? To Hagar. To Ishmael.
How could you, Sarah? How could you.
How could you be okay with throwing out a child to die?
How could you be okay with this? What sort of God sets such a person up to be the primogenitor of His people?
And yet, here you are again, Sarah, in front of us, doing what you did last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.
Sarah, do you listen to us as we ritualize the barbed banishment you demanded?
Sarah, this room swells with the expansiveness of what being a Jew means for us, in our own time. As we look to your story and thread it into our now now… among the complicated “us” gathered here today, we are the cast-out and the cast-ers, we are you and not you and both at once. We’re not one thing. And yet, we gather, a fraught lineage with you at the mouth, Sarah.
Could you imagine us? Did you try?
Do you see us now? Some days we pick at the scabs of stringency you left behind.
Audre Lorde asked, “What woman here is so enamored of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint upon another woman’s face? What woman’s terms of oppression have become precious and necessary to her as a ticket into the fold of the righteous, away from the cold winds of self-scrutiny?”
Sarah, what contracts for supposed safety did you sign and what did you barter off in the process? Did it seem inevitable, everyone playing their parts? Some of us had our hands forced over ink too, and some of our mothers did, and grandmothers. But what is the difference between force and complicity? How could you have found agency in your context? How can we?
Sarah, what did your mother teach you about your body?
Did your hips crack, your brittle bone, when Isaac slid from you?
How does the cruel centering of fertility warp our relationships to the value of bodies beyond what they can “produce”?
Were you actually on board with Abraham’s hospitality or did it cross a boundary you didn’t know you got to name?
Did you need to find someone to make the villain so you would not be the crone made enemy? What was your relationship to Hagar really like, as a fully realized human, not an allegorical stand-in?
Does your story show us a shift from the matrilineal to patrilineal tradition?
What's hurting you? What are you scared of?
What fed you? And were you ever full? Where did your enoughness live?
Did your jealousy singe your throat as you spat out exile for Hagar and Ishmael?
Did you have more in common with Hagar than with Abraham himself?
Did you ever apologize? If so, why did that not get written down?
What did you need? Why didn’t you ask for that instead? Did you ever sit beneath a cedar and yearn for wholeness?
What other wells might you have found, if you unwound yourself from the awful myth of scarcity?
Sarah, what do you want to ask of your namesakes now, of your descendents? What can our power look like if it is not a weapon?
Were you real? Are you now?
Have you sought repair? Justice? Healing?
If so, how did you do it?
How do we wrestle with whatever shadows we each inherited? How do we move towards becoming more whole without hiding how we are capable of harm or that we’ve been harmed or both?
Sarah, how could you transform after what you did?
This year, how can any of us?
This morning, dew chandeliers every smiling blade
Kadima members and friends share their personal experiences, insights, and beliefs.