Shavout is HERE! Shavuot Sameach!

On Saturday night, June 8, 2019, Coffee Shop Rabbi is sponsoring an ONLINE celebration of Tikkun Leil Shavuot, the late-night/all-night study session to celebrate the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai.

This FREE event will take place via Zoom software – all you will have to do is click on the link I will post on this blog Saturday afternoon, and you can attend via your home computer or your smartphone. The schedule of teachers from 7-11pm Pacific Daylight Time:

7-7:55 pm – Rabbi Deborah GoldmannCongregation Shaareth Israel, Lubbock TX. “Who Was Standing at Sinai?”

8-8:55pm – Student Rabbi Meir Bargeron, MSW, MAHL, Hebrew Union College Los Angeles, “Doing Unto Others: Compassion in Judaism.”

9-9:55pm – Jehon Grist, Ph.D., Lehrhaus Judaica, “The Divine Feminine in the Biblical World.”

10-10:55pm – Rabbi Ruth Adar, Coffee Shop Rabbi, “Stories of Springtime: Visions of Jewish Life in the Spring Holiday Cycle.

The event is free. You need not speak a word of Hebrew. You don’t even need to be Jewish! You can log in from anywhere and celebrate Torah with three wonderful teachers and myself.

Please share this link with anyone who might enjoy it: lovers of Torah, Jews who cannot attend a local event, people curious about Judaism. The link to the Zoom event will be posted here by 6:30pm Saturday evening.


Tikkun Leil Shavuot, 5779 (2019): An Online Event!

Image: Logo, Tikkun Leil Shavuot, on a background of mountains, with a flame.

Tikkun Leil Shavuot is one of the ways we celebrate the festival of Shavuot. It is an all-night or late night Torah study session on Erev Shavuot, in honor of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

The holiday this year begins on Saturday, June 8, at sundown.

This year Coffee Shop Rabbi will host an online Tikkun Leil Shavuot from 7:00 until 11:00pm Pacific Daylight Time on June 8. If you have access to local study, I encourage you to take advantage of it – there’s nothing like gathering for study with your community. But if you are, like me, unable to get to a local Tikkun Leil Shavuot event, I’m hosting one here online!

So far, the lineup of teachers looks like this (times are Pacific Daylight time):

Rabbi Goldmann, Student Rabbi Bargeron, Dr. Grist, and Rabbi Adar

7-7:55 pmRabbi Deborah Goldmann, Congregation Shaareth Israel, Lubbock TX. “Who Was Standing at Sinai?”

8-8:55pmStudent Rabbi Meir Bargeron, MSW, MAHL, Hebrew Union College Los Angeles, “Doing Unto Others: Compassion in Judaism.”

9-9:55pmJehon Grist, Ph.D., Lehrhaus Judaica, “The Divine Feminine in the Biblical World.”

10-10:55pm – Rabbi Ruth Adar, Coffee Shop Rabbi, “Tzedakah as a Spiritual Practice.” Rabbi Adar is a contributor to The Sacred Exchange: Creating a Jewish Money Ethic published this spring by CCAR Press.

The program will be FREE to all comers. I will post the link for the Zoom room in a post in a new message on this the blog on the afternoon of Saturday, June 8. All you have to do is look in here, click on the link, and bingo! You will be in our session room. If you have friends who might enjoy joining us, please pass the word to them.

Passover’s End: Rest, Reflection and Prayer

Image: Girl hiding her face behind two pieces of matzah. (Reznik/Shutterstock, all rights reserved.)

After a few days, the newness wears off. Matzah is pretty boring stuff when it’s the only choice. Sure, we have spent thousands of years figuring ways to make it interesting – but by the end of the week, almost everyone is longing for pasta or pizza or just a nice piece of toast.

Passover runs for a week, and unlike Sukkot, it is a week with limitations. It lasts long enough for us to tap into the feelings of the ancestors new to freedom, for whom freedom was delicious, but matzah got pretty old. (The manna didn’t start coming until they complained.)

Part of the wisdom of our tradition is that Passover doesn’t just fade out in a whisper of matzah crumbs. At the end of the week the Torah prescribes another chag [day of solemn celebration] and then, for those who observe a second day of chag, it repeats. We slow down again, to really feel the holiday. If we are observant, we rest, we reflect, we consider the miracles and the journey ahead.

For a great and readable explanation of why some Jews (Orthodox and Conservative Jews in the diaspora) observe two days of chag, see this article in Judaism 101. Reform Jews in the United States do not observe the second day of chagim. If you are wondering what you should do, check with your local Jewish community, and do whatever will keep you connected with them.

I like the fact that Passover ends with rest, reflection, and prayer. The days leading up to the first night are rushed. There’s a lot to get ready, cooking and guest lists and preparing the house. Just as with the Biblical Passover, there’s no time to think: we have to act. Once launched into the wilderness, there’s very little other than matzah crumbs and time to reflect: that’s good too.

I wish you a holy conclusion to this challenging holiday. May the final days be as meaningful as the first ones.

The Best Jewish Calendar?

Image: logo superimposed on an old fashioned wall calendar.

Every Jew needs access to a good Jewish calendar. There is a prodigy somewhere who can keep track of all the ins and outs of the nineteen-year cycle of the Jewish year, but the rest of us need a little help.

My favorite Jewish calendar is an online calendar: (The builders of the calendar say it’s pronounced HEEB-kal dot com.) It is free and fabulous: their description:

We offer a powerful custom Jewish calendar tool that lets you generate a list of Jewish holidays for any year (past, present or future). Also available are a Hebrew date converter,  Shabbat candle lighting times and Torah readings(both full kriyah and triennial system), and a page to look up yahrzeits, birthdays and anniversaries.

— “About Hebcal”

If you find that you use the calendar often (or all the time, like me) remember to support it with a donation, so that Michael Radwin and Danny Sadinoff can continue to provide this labor of love.

If I could have access to only one site on the entire Internet, this one would be it!

The Challenge of Mindfulness: Counting the Omer

Image: An Abacus (Image by Alicja from Pixabay)

We’re in the time of counting the omer. It is a mindfulness puzzle. The omer is a measure of barley, a special daily sacrifice made at this season in Biblical times. Problem: we haven’t made any sacrifices since the destruction of the Temple in the year 70.

How can you count something that doesn’t happen? And why would you want to?

It’s based on a commandment in the Torah:

And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the LORD.

Leviticus 23:15-16

This passage comes at the end of the verses describing the Passover sacrifices. It directs the Israelites to count off the days and weeks (shavuot) from Passover to the festival of Shavuot. No reason is given.

The time we mark connects the Passover (God delivers us from Egypt) to our acceptance of the Torah (We accept our responsibilities as God’s people.) These are not entirely separate events: in the Torah narrative, the first is God doing something for the Israelites, and the second is the response of the Israelite people to God’s help.

In modern times it is a deceptively simple mitzvah. Every evening, after sunset, there is a little blessing to be said that finishes with a count in weeks and days:

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with commandments and commanded us to count the Omer. Today is [number] week, [number] days of the Omer.

Do that from the second night of Passover until Shavuot, 49 days. It looks easy – what could be easier? – but if your life is like most American lives, good luck. This is where the Omer comes into its own as a long term mindfulness exercise. You have to remember something tiny, something that doesn’t really do anything, and you do it for 49 days running. If you forget until the next day, you can keep going but not with the blessing. No skipping, no missing. (Well, yes and no. See Oops, I Forgot the Omer.)

If you need help (I always do) there are smartphone and computer apps that will help you remember. Even with those, counting EVERY day at the CORRECT time takes attention.

There are also wonderful journals and meditations on the Omer that I can recommend, like Omer: A Counting by Karen Kedar. The core of the practice is the count; there are many beautiful ways to embellish and enrich it.

This is the season of paying attention. We have been called from Egypt, out into the wilderness. That’s all we know, until we get the Torah. So we pay attention.

Pay attention. I dare you.

Passover Blues?

Image: Handmade matzah. Sometimes “bread of affliction” is the right description. Photo by Yoninah.

The seder table is a roll call for some families and groups of friends. We gather every year, sit around the table together, and from Passover to Passover things change. Couples seem eternal, sitting in their accustomed spots. The kids grow up, go to college, come home again, bring their beloveds. Elders go from being a source of lore and recipes to being a frail treasured presence, and then it happens. Someone dies, and that place at the table is empty this year.

That’s one kind of Passover blues.

Then there’s the year that you’re in a strange town, all alone, and you intended to find a synagogue, but you didn’t, and you intended to find a seder, but you couldn’t, and now the calendar says it’s Passover and the matzah box stares accusingly. Nothing tastes right, and you’re lonely.

That’s another kind of Passover blues.

There’s the year that the baby is teething and the table didn’t get set on time and WHAT is wrong with the matzah balls? Where is the roasted shankbone? And what’s the burning smell? To top it off, Cousin You-Know-Who decided to tell you what she really thinks of your cooking, and all you want to do is run off and drink wine and cry.

That’s another kind of Passover blues.

Maybe you’ve had one of those years this year, or maybe you have a different sort of Passover blues. Be gentle with yourself, please.

So what can we do? How to fight back against the Passover blues?

  1. Let reality be real. If there is a specific grief ruining your holiday this year, it may be that all you can do is accept it. Feel the emotions, don’t fight them. Be honest with anyone who asks. Stay away from people who demand cheer from you and hold close those who understand your particular pain.
  2. Count your blessings. Especially if the issue is more diffuse, notice the good things in your life. Instead of holiday cards, write thank you cards. Tell the people who have been good to you specifically why you are grateful for them. Choose to notice what’s right, instead of focusing on what’s wrong.
  3. Look outside yourself. Focus on what you can do for other people. Soup kitchens and shelters need extra volunteers on holidays, so that those who celebrate those days can do so with their families. Call around, and see who needs volunteers. (Remember, the Christians are celebrating Easter about the same time we celebrate Passover.) Say kind words to people who need kindness. If you have money, share it. If you have food, share that. Looking outside ourselves can break cycles of destructive thoughts.
  4. Take care of yourself. If you have health issues, do what you can to take care of yourself. Be sure to eat and sleep – but don’t live to eat or sleep. If you need to see a doctor, and that’s possible, then see a doctor. If you can’t afford to see a therapist, remember that the Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. For those who are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call 1-800-799-4889. It’s OK to call: You are the person they are waiting to help. And yes, if you take medications of any sort, take your meds!
  5. Take a chance. If there’s something you are sort of looking forward to and sort of not, take a chance and go. Reframe “it could be awful” as “it could be ok.” Then give yourself an out: it’s OK to leave quietly if it makes you miserable.
  6. Get some exercise. Move more than you have been moving. For some that might be a walk around the house. For others, that might be a six-mile run. Choose something do-able that will push you a bit. You will sleep better and feel better.
  7. Put on some happy music. Put on some music that YOU like. Maybe dance to it (see #6 above.)
  8. Meditate. When did you last try meditation? The website offers a nice primer for beginners which lists several ways to meditate. Meditation is good for body and soul; for some people, it’s like a “reset button” in their day. Even if it hasn’t worked for you in the past, what do you have to lose?
  9. Pray. One of the great resources for Jews, and for Christians as well, is the Book of Psalms. There are 150 of them, and they address every emotion of which a human being is capable, from quiet happiness to rage. Dig around in there and see if you can find words that express your feelings. Naming a feeling is powerful. Praying that feeling is even more powerful.
  10. Go to services. Unlike the High Holy Days, you don’t need a ticket for Jewish services in springtimes. See what the prayers have to say to you. Listen to the Torah portion (if it’s a daytime service) or the psalms in the evening service. Sing any songs you recognize, even if you are not a singer. Breathe with the congregation.
  11. Keep Shabbat. And keep on keeping it. Part of what happens to us with holidays is that we build up those expectations and load them onto one day, or one week a year. Then, as I pointed out above, they are doomed to fail. However, Shabbat comes to us every week with its warmth and light. Figure out what “keeping Shabbat” means to you, and practice it faithfully. Some weeks will be wonderful and others will be “meh.” Some may be a bust – but there’s another Shabbat right around the corner, there to give you rest.
  12. Seek good advice. If you have suffered a terrible loss and would like some advice on walking that path, I recommend a blog called On Grief & Recovery by Teresa Bruce. She is a wise woman who knows grief from the inside out.

I hope that you find some relief, and that you are able to receive it. May you find your way out of this particular Egypt soon, or if the journey is a long one, companions along the way.

My Favorite Seder

Image: The Temple Sinai Seder, 2014. Photo by R. Ruth Adar.

There are a number of favorite seders in my memory, but the one I look forward to every year is the community seder put on by the synagogue where I’m a member. It’s held on the second night of Passover, and led by one or two clergy in the congregation, this year by the cantor. I’ve led it a couple of times – that’s fun, too.

There are lots of old people, and lots of young families. There are regulars: the people who’ve been around for years, who are stalwarts on committees. There is a healthy sprinkling of people who found us through some directory, just looking for an open spot at a seder.

The seder is a journey, and we are a mixed multitude, just like the ragtag crowd in Exodus. A few minutes in, and I grow impatient: this is going to take forever, why do we hand that microphone around for the readings, augh! the haggadah is not a funeral! — and then I settle down for the ride, and enjoy myself thoroughly, listening to the familiar voices as the microphone circles the room from reader to reader.

It’s a fairly raucous crowd, never quite quiet, but we sing along enthusiastically with each song whether we know it or not. Some people are table-bangers, and others are clappers, and some people try to harmonize with mixed results. We sing the four questions, and the Great Jewish Earworm “Dayeinu,” and all the other familiar tunes.

Miracles happen. The matzah starts as the bread of affliction and turns into the bread of freedom. The horseradish looks innocent and tastes incendiary. There are enough vegetarian entrees for all the vegetarians. We talk about the well of Miriam and the cup of Elijah and the little kids keep starting up a chorus of Dayeinu at odd entervals. An old lady falls asleep for a while, and then wakes just as we reach the point (Shulcan Orech) when it’s time to eat and the caterer is miraculously ready. The flourless chocolate cake is always flawless.

Somewhere along the evening, I am overcome with mushiness, and reach over to pat my wife’s hand. “I love you,” I say, “And I love this place.”