Fire Season

Image: Sunset over San Francisco Bay.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area we are in the midst of another fire and weather emergency. Another fire burns up in Sonoma County, to the north. A dry, hurricane speed wind is lashing us all over the region. Because of that, the utility company has turned off the power to many homes, including mine.

Frankly, I do not begrudge the power outage. It is inconvenient but if it can lower the likelihood of a firestorm in my neighborhood, I am grateful.

Don’t worry about me. My family and I are ok. There are thousands of people displaced by the fire, and a number who have lost their homes. There are firefighters putting their bodies on the line, fighting the Kincade fire. They are the ones who need our support and our prayers.

I’m posting using my smartphone, and I need to conserve power. I will post as I have the power to do so.

Advertisements

Prayer for the Environment

Image: A field after haying, with cloudy skies above. (Pexels/Pixabay)

And God saw every thing that God had made, and, behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Genesis 1: 31

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who created our world and saw that it was tov me’od, very good.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who said, “Let there be light.” You separated the day from night.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who separated the heavens from the waters upon the earth: both of them blue and beautiful, clean and bright.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who separated the waters of the earth from the dry land, so that grasses, herbs, and fruit trees could grow on the land, and be watered by the rain.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who organized the heavens, who set the sun and moon in their appointed places, and set all in harmonious motion. You set in motion the cycle of years and months and days, the orderly seasons which allow all living things to thrive.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who filled the water with swarms of living creatures, and set flocks of birds flying in the air. You told them to be fruitful and multiply, and they have done so.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature after its kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after its kind.” The earth was filled with living things of all descriptions, which live according to the laws of nature. And again You declared that it was good.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who has put human beings in the midst of these wonders: the heavens and the earth, the sea and her treasures, the earth and its bounty. Give us wisdom to use your gifts with care, so that all may thrive. Give us intelligence to look for solutions when things fall out of balance. Guide us when we have been unwise; help us when we seek new answers. Give us the courage to admit when something has gone wrong, and to seek a remedy, rather than seek someone to blame.

For all the world is Yours, O God, all the world is of Your making. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, who saw the world and said, “Behold, it is very good.”

Amen.

Pittsburgh Yahrzeit: How You Can Participate

Image: Tree of Life Memorials (White House Photo)

A year has passed since the murders of Jews in Pittsburgh. I was glad to hear that the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) has come up with a way for those of us who live far from Pennsylvania to participate and honor their memory.

The JFNA are calling on all Jews and allies to take a moment to pause on this coming Sunday, Oct. 27 to mark one year since the Tree of Life Congregations shooting in Pittsburgh, Pa. Eleven people were murdered there on Oct 27, 2018.

Use this link to sign up to participate.

We will remember their lives and their families in a virtual service around the world. Anyone signing up will receive a text at 5 p.m. Eastern Time (2 pm Pacific Time) with a video reading of a prayer for mourning and the names of the 11 individuals who were killed. Following the prayer, subscribers will be able to tune into a live stream of Pittsburgh’s public memorial service and submit a message of support by text.

Business Ethics, On One Foot

Image: Girl holding pitcher in front of lemonade stand (Hurst Photo) All Rights Reserved.

I’m teaching a class on Jewish Ethics of Money at Temple Sinai in Oakland this month and next. The next classes will meet Nov. 3 and 10.

This week we talked about the ancient rabbis’ notion of the Worst People on Earth: Anshei Sodom, the Men of Sodom. I covered that set of midrashim in a another post, A Modern Day Sodom?

Then we moved on to talking about business and consumption, and the Jewish ethics attendant to each. I got to share one of my favorite quotes:

Everyone who does business honestly, such that people feel good about them, is considered as though they have fulfilled the entire Torah.

– M’chilta D’Rabbi Yishmael 15.26

That is a lot of merit to attach to “doing business honestly, so that people feel good about them.” It may seem on first glance like a low bar: “if people feel like Levi is a businessperson who can be trusted, then it is as if they have fulfilled the whole Torah.”

Think about it, though: it’s a very high bar. Our hypothetical good businessperson did business in such a way that they have a reputation for utter honesty and trustworthiness. There are no unresolved disputes, no ongoing feuds, no dissatisfied customers.

It also suggests, as do other quotes from the rabbis, as if they regard the area of business to be particularly fraught with obstacles to living a good life. Someone who navigates that successfully, leaving nothing but good feelings behind them, has indeed accomplished something. They have paid their bills and their workers on time. They have sold a good product, or provided good services. When there is a complaint, they work it out with their client until everyone is satisfied.

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Seems to me that’s what the rabbis are driving at with “such that people feel good about them.”

Do you do business with anyone like that – anyone who leaves you feeling like it’s a pleasure to go in their shop or their office, because you know you will be decently treated? Tell us about them in the Comments, please!

A Final Mitzvah, as the High Holidays Close

Image: Sunset. Photo by Ruth Adar.

The fall holiday cycle is almost done. We have Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah to go, and then Jewish life will settle down for a bit.

FYI: Your clergy are almost certainly exhausted from the past couple of months. This is a great time to write them a note about the sermon you liked, or the beautiful music, or something that went right. They have worked very hard and any expression of appreciation will be a blessing. Email is fine, but I know a couple of rabbis who save written thank-yous in a box, specifically to help them keep going when things are tough.

The big thing is, if you’re happy about something to do with synagogue life, this is a great time to let your clergy know. They wonder, sometimes, who notices things, and who cares. They hear about what went wrong but they rarely hear “thank you.”

I am not a pulpit rabbi – I’m a Jew in the Pew. I will be writing my rabbis with my own thanks.

I just thought some of y’all might want to know when letters of appreciation are particularly welcome. The expression of gratitude is truly a mitzvah.

A Sukkot Treat: The Orionids!

Image: A night sky, with meteors. (Pixabay)

A proper sukkah has holes in the roof that allow us to see the stars. That’s particularly handy this year, since the rest of Sukkot lines up nicely with a waning moon and the peak of the Orionid meteor showers.

Every year between roughly Oct 2 and Nov 7, the Earth passes through debris left behind by Halley’s Comet. We experience that as a meteor shower, a show of “shooting stars.” The peak of the Orionids falls just after Sukkot ends (Oct 21 – 22) but if the skies are clear you may still get a nice show – keep your eyes open!

As for Halley’s Comet itself, we won’t see it again until 2061, or in the Jewish calendar, 5822.

Basic Jewish Books: 5780 Edition

Image: A bookshelf with several of these books.

Every year I take a hard look at the list of books I recommend to the Intro to the Jewish Experience students. This year’s list omits some oldies and adds a few new books. No one needs to own ALL of these – I offer this list as a browsing list for your next step in growing your interest in specific Jewish topics.

*Books with an asterisk are those I strongly recommend to my Intro students. If I weren’t so concerned about their budgets, I’d require them.

General Introductory Texts on Judaism

*Settings of Silver by Stephen Wylen. (The only text I require for Intro to the Jewish Experience)

Here All Along: Finding Meaning Spirituality & a Deeper Connection to Life in Judaism After Finally Choosing to Look There by Sara Hurwitz. New and highly recommended.

What is a Jew? by Morris N. Kertzner. Another good basic text.

Living a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant. 

Jewish Literacy by Joseph Telushkin.

Judaisms: A 21st Century Introduction to Jews and Jewish Identities by Aaron J. Hahn Tapper (A college text, a little more challenging but a truly wonderful book.)

Jewish Bibles

*Every Jewish home should have a Tanakh, a Jewish Bible. Most Reform and Conservative synagogues use a JPS Tanakh. (JPS is the Jewish Publication Society.) 

If you are curious as to how the Jewish Bible is different from the Christian Bible, read Beginners’ Guide to the Jewish Bible. For a discussion of the various translations of the Tanakh available, read Which Bible is Best, Rabbi?

If you would like to own a commentary on the Torah, a book with footnotes that explain things in the text, I recommend any of these:

The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, ed. Tamara Eskenazi and Andrea Weiss

The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. Gunther Plaut (in many Reform synagogues)

Etz Chaim: Torah and Commentary, ed. JPS (in many Conservative synagogues)

A Torah Commentary for our Times, ed. Harvey J. Fields

About the Bible

Jewish Study Bible by Adele Berlin An excellent one-volume resource for text study, no Hebrew required.

What’s In It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Jewish Narratives by Stephen Fuchs  This little book is helpful for those who wonder what a collection of old stories and rules has to say to modern Jews today.

Who Wrote the Bible?, by Richard Elliot Friedman is a basic, readable explanation of the “documentary hypothesis,” the idea that the Torah is a blend of several different voices.

*Haggadah

Every Jewish home should have at least one copy of the haggadah, the script by which we lead the seder every year at Passover.  There are many to choose from, from some rather uninspiring free haggadot to very expensive art books. Some of the best fall in between those two extremes. The best way to find one is to go to a bookstore during the month before Passover and browse them until you find the one that speaks to you. Some households write their own haggadot; that’s a project that’s best done after you’ve been to a few seders.

Jewish Holidays

Seasons of our Joy by Arthur Waskow. 

Guide to the Jewish Seasons editor Peter Knobel. 

*The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel (Specifically has to do with Shabbat.)

Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days: A Guided Journal by Kerry M. Olitzky and Rachel T. Sabath

The Days of Awe by S.Y. Agnon (High Holy Days)

This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation by Alan Lew (High Holy Days) 

My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays and One Wondering Jew by Abigail Pogrebin

Keeping Passover by Ira Steingroot 

Jewish Home

How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg

The Jewish Home: A Guide for Jewish Living (New Edition) by Daniel B. Syme

*On the Doorposts of Your House, CCAR Press (also in .pdf format) This book includes very detailed explanations of home rituals, from hanging a mezuzah to lighting the Chanukah candles.

Jewish Lifecycle

Mourning and Mitzvah by Anne Brener (A superb guide for mourners)

Gates of Mitzvah: A Guide to the Jewish Life Cycle by Simeon Maslin

The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant

A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort: A Guide to Jewish Bereavement by Dr. Ron Wolfson and David J. Wolpe

Jewish Parenting

Nurture the WOW by Danya Ruttenberg

Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness by Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Michelle November, MSSW

How to Raise a Jewish Child by Anita Diamant

The New Jewish Baby Book by Anita Diamant

Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah by Salkin, Lebeau, and Eisenberg

Conversion to Judaism

Choosing a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant (conversion)

Choosing Judaism by Lydia Kukoff (conversion)

Jewish Thought

*Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas: A Brief Book for Seekers by Rabbi Arthur Green

*Finding God: Selected Responses by Rifat Sonsino and Daniel Syme. Clear and simple approach to the question, What do Jews think about God?

The Book of Jewish Values by Joseph Telushkin

Jewish History

Your choice of history book will depend on your taste and preferences. Choose the one that works for you. *Do read at least one of these!

The Story of the Jews by Stan Mack (graphic novel format but quite good, an excellent choice if you are ambivalent about fat volumes.)

Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews by Chaim Potok Potok is a great story teller. 

My People: Abba Eban’s History of the Jews by Abba Eban Eban was Israel’s first representative to the United Nations, and he was a major player in the foundation of the State of Israel.

A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson An outsider history of the Jews, very well done. Strikes a balance between scholarship and storytelling.

A Short History of the Jewish People by Raymond Scheindlin A shorter history, good if you want “just the facts, ma’am” history.

Israel

Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert A detailed history of Israel from 1862-1997. Predominantly Zionist in its point of view.

Israel is Real by Rich Cohen Very readable. There are a few minor errors, but it is remarkably clear-eyed about the complexity of Israel and its emotional connection for American Jews.

A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time by Howard M. Sachar A scholarly approach, staunchly Zionist.

The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements 1967-1977 by Gershom Gorenberg. Gorenberg is an Israeli journalist. If you are curious about the roots of the current situation and the occupation of the West Bank, this is a good choice.

The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, 7th Edition by Walter Laqueur A reader of primary documents. Better if you already know a little bit of the history of Modern Israel.

My Promised Land: The Triumph and the Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit. The writer is controversial, but the book is excellent and centrist in stance.