What Are People Saying About the New Sabbath Project?

“It’s very rare a single event or a group of people create a paradigm shift in my life, but Friday night certainly did”.

“I don’t have words to thank you for one of the most exquisite evenings ever…Like out of a movie which one had not expected, before walking in and sitting down, that it would blow one away. The whole of yesterday we still felt all drunk from the intensity of the encounters with a round of absolutely extraordinary people”.

The New Sabbath Project is a destination for people interested in inclusive, pluralistic, and yes, spiritual conversations — about community building, culture and citizenship. It is an extension of our ever-growing, roundtable-like, Friday night dinners that are doing just that. Please share your links, thoughts, blogs, experiences and recipes so we can continue to grow this New Sabbath Project.

Breaking Bread and Building Community, Culture and Citizenship

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My Leap of Faith

Originally Published in the Hamilton Jewish News

There is an argument to be made that certain points in life require a leap of faith. Some would say a leap into faith in yourself, others argue that we require faith in the good intentions of others and finally for some there is the notion that we must give ourselves up to a higher power and leap into the mystery. I understand that mystery to be an essential element of our journey together. Living, as we do in a rational age, we often shrink from mystery. At times we relegate it to the realm of the fairy tale, in the pejorative sense.

I was once invited to a dinner being held by a publisher friend at a swanky restaurant in the bowels of the financial district of Toronto. The Guest of Honour was the atheist writer Richard Dawkins. He was touring to promote his bestseller The God Delusion. I was seated beside Mr. Dawkins. He had taken a leap of faith. His belief was that science was truth and religion was a fairy tale that only the infantilized could appreciate. I asked him what made him believe that science was truth. He looked at me with what can only be described as a look of pity and proceeded to explain that the laws of nature were immutable; that religion had done nothing but turn us on each other and that the sooner we rid ourselves of this irrational nonsense the sooner we would save ourselves from this delusional and frankly feeble mindset.

I asked him why he believed science was truth if science itself is constantly being reshaped by new discoveries, new thinking and never before discovered possibilities.

To me science is how we attempt to articulate God. God is the eternal creative force that gives birth to the cosmos through a cycle of creation, transformation, death and rebirth. God is unknowable and worthy of our humility. Dr. Dawkins, it seemed to me, would be loath to bend his knee to God or the waiter serving our table for that matter. He, I think, saw the mystery as a puzzle. A Rubik’s Cube that some of us can figure out and others, the simpler of us, cannot. That dinner was many years ago and I was in a different place in my life. Since then I have left broadcasting, created and accepted new opportunities, and soon will be an ordained spiritual director. All have required a leap of faith.

I speak occasionally of my leap role model, Nachshon. He is part of the Exodus story. Moses brings the people to the shores of the Red Sea. Pharaoh has hardened his heart and has given chase. He will slaughter the Israelites rather than set them free. As Moses prays and the people panic Nachshon enters the sea, and here the question becomes, was he pushed or did he walk in to the water. I like to think that the answer is irrelevant. Sometimes our leap is self-propelled and sometimes we need a little nudge. So be it. What happens next is what to me embodies the ruach, the courage, the spirit that can bring meaning and deep intention to our journey. Nachshon walks in to the water, up to his knees, he does not falter; up to his hips, he carries on, next his chest and as Moses prays/begs God to save his people his inner voice says turn and see what Nachshon has done. By then Nachshon is almost completely submerged and Moses calls for the people to follow. The Red Sea parts inside of us when we make ourselves available to the truth that this life is not rehearsal. That we have a Pharaoh deep inside us, a Mitzrayim that is the tight space that makes our lives seem small. We must choose our liberation, make ourselves available to the ever present wonder of creation and, as a recent guest to our Shabbat table said, come to the realization that we are all just walking each other home.

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The Recipe: A Psalm, some Kabbala, inspired by Jewish renewal

The Psalm is a foundational piece of spiritual architecture. I’ve played a little hip hop riff on the psalm here, mixing the four worlds of kabbalah with the flow of the psalm narrative. Resonate if you will. Every life is a prayer.

Assiyah-The world of action
Yetzirah the world of heart
Beriyah-The world of the mind
Atzilut-The world of the divine

Assiyah-The silence stretches into yearning

Within it I rest, awaiting you.

Small rip of tension strains against the weight

The wait, The crush of love, The weight.

Yetzirah-You run, we run together

Away from me, from you, from all That I am, That I am.

No arrival can come before you after you without you

First word. Last tear. We are midwives to your never ending birth.

Beriyah-Oh God the crack I hear, I think, I hear

Prove God, Prove love

If X is Y /and why is X /then why, why?

The mystery that rushes towards me brings the

Crushed humility of the bended knee.

Atzilut-My arms are crossed, open crossed.

The truth takes hold, takes flight.

The light-strikes my eyes-my heart

My Heart My Heart

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Taking the Plunge – Beshallach

Ralph’s most recent dvar torah which begins with a guided meditation and is informed by his recent work in the Jewish renewal movement and his current training in Spiritual Direction.

Lets all get comfortable for a second and if you wish you can close your eyes. Let’s take a few cleansing breath’s together and begin to imagine that we are not here on this cold winter day but instead it is warm outside. Now let’s arrive at a body of water, the edge of a lake, an ocean beach, the edge of a cliff looking out over the red sea perhaps. Usually we just stand and look out across the waves to the horizon, but today is different. We must walk in to the water. There are any number of reasons why but suffice to say we cannot stay at the shore line any longer. It’s not safe. Someone is coming. Now take a step into the water, feel you feet entering the water, keep walking, feel the water lap against you shins. Is it cold or warm. What can you hear and smell. Take another step, now feel the water rush around your thighs, envelope your pelvis and touch your waist. Do you want to turn back, or go forward. Keep walking let the water touch your ribs and as you find yourself holding your breath , let go. Keep walking till the water reaches your neck, your chin, your nose. Now realize that the ground beneath has not given way. Keep walking and feel the water recede, past your mouth your neck and your waist. Keep walking and find yourself again on solid ground. Imagine singing a soft sweet song of gratitude as you carry on with gratitude. So here we are together with Beshallach.
Meditation Ends.

There is in this Parshat like so many in the Torah a lot to choose from. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart the pillar of fire, the manna from heaven. All are so rich in narrative and meaning. Today I am drawn to the moment when the Israelites and their fellow travelers are at the shores of the Red Sea and Pharaoh and his army are in hot pursuit. All they have is the Sea in front, and behind, a force bent on revenge and destruction breathing down their necks. There is no way out. After all they have been through, centuries of bondage, prayers left unanswered and faced with a journey into the literal unknown, this is to be their fate. To be slaughtered. Trapped like fools.

How did they react? I’ll leave it to the Lubavitcher Rebbes to pick up the story from here.
The Midrash tells us that the Jewish people were divided into four camps. There were those who said, “Let us throw ourselves into the sea.” Let us plunge into the sea, they say—the sea of the Talmud, the sea of piety, the sea of religious life. Let us sever all contact with an apostate and promiscuous world. Let us build walls of holiness to protect ourselves and our own from the alien winds which storm without, so that we may foster the legacy of Sinai within. A second group said, “Let us return to Egypt.” This Exodus thing was obviously a pipe dream. How could we presume to liberate ourselves from the rules and constraints that apply to everyone else? To be G‑d’s chosen people is nice, but let us not forget that we are a minority, dependent on the goodwill of the Pharaohs who hold sway in the real world out there. A third faction argued, “Let us wage war upon the Egyptians.” The Fighting Jew strides through life with a holy chip on his shoulder, battling sinners, apostates, Jew-haters, un-Jewish Jews and non-fighting Jews. Finally, a fourth camp advocated, “Let us pray to G‑d.” Ours is the world of the spirit, the world of the word”. “So, basically, your approach is to do nothing,” they counter. “Again, you are employing the standards of the material world,” answers the Praying Jew, “a world that views spiritual activity as ‘doing nothing.’ But a single prayer, coming from a caring heart, can achieve more than the most secure fortress, the most flattering diplomat or the most powerful army”.
But the answer that comes is simpler than that. Yes there are times when any of the four paths mentioned could be employed but superseding any of them is the divine directive that Moses hears. “Go forward”
So here is where my point of entry begins. It begins with the story of Nachshon.

According to Midrash when the Israelites were trapped between the Sea of Reeds and Pharaoh’s army, and while Moses was praying to God for help, Nachshon decided to take matters into his own hands and leaped into the sea. Then Moses hears that voice within, that mysterious wisdom voice and it says. Why do you cry out to me? Speak to the Children of Israel that they should move. Only then does the path clear so that the Israelites can cross. Nachshon for those who don’t know was a prince of the tribe of Judah. He was the brother-in-law of Aaron, the high priest. When everyone else hesitated, he jumped into the swirling sea. He was Nachshon, the son of Aminadav. The obvious teaching seems to be that we can muddle about and agonize over the right course of action, we can even drop to our knees and pray for divine intervention but in the end the right thing to do is to go forward. Basically God won’t help us if we will not help ourselves by engaging in this world. We are responsible for Tikkun Olam.

Rabbi Michael Cohen once suggested that perhaps Nachshon was pushed and didn’t jump intentionally into the sea. Really he’s just a poor schlub who becomes a hero despite himself. Today Nachshon’s name has become synonymous with courage and the will to do the right thing, even when it’s not popular. So let’s talk now about his leap of faith — our leap of faith. Whether intentional or as a result of being pushed. Anne Lamont, the American non-fiction writer has written extensively about spirituality. She says “My coming to faith did not start with a leap but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another. Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me up while I grew. Each prepared me for the next leaf on which I would land, and in this way I moved across the swamp of doubt and fear”.

Inspired by Nachshon, King David wrote in Psalms, “I have sunk in muddy depths, and there is no place to stand; I have come into the deep water, and the current has swept me away . . . Let not the current of water sweep me away, nor the deep swallow me, and let the well not close its mouth over me.”15
There are many things that require a Leap of Faith. Coming here to this little shul is a leap of faith, if we want it to be. Otherwise it can simply be a comfort where we can reside in the familiar, and in a many faceted sense of tribe.

Often people ask me about my belief in God. They want me to prove it. We after all live in the age of Reason. Where the rational empirical destination is held high on our collective shoulders. We are not primitive, or infantile. We are reasoned and civilized. I often respond by saying, prove love. We can’t. But we continue to build our lives around getting love, giving love and measuring the distance between the two. Dr. Vicktor Frankel in his masterpiece, Man’s Search For Meaning, tells the story of attending to a dying inmate in the Concentration Camps. He writes “This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. “I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard. “she told me. “In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.” Pointing through the window of the hut she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through that window she could see the one branch of a chestnut tree and on the branch were two blossoms. “I often talk to this tree,” she said to me. I was startled. I didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. “Yes.” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here-I am here-I am life eternal.”

Hi Nei Ni. I am here. There is a meditative practice called Hitbodedut. Basically, this is about making a space in your life to have a talk with God. Now I know that this has been a confusing statement for me throughout my life. How can I talk with something that is unknowable? In fact lately I have come to realize that there is, for me a God of a thousand faces as the Hindus say. Each facet is another side of the diamond. There is the universal divine. The cosmological God of 500 billion galaxies and counting. That is the God that I stand and sit and stand and sit in awe of on a Saturday when we come together here. But that truth is so immense that I must also have the ability to particularize my relationship. To have a one on one as it were. This I feel in my interactions with people, places, and that still small voice that Evangelicals speak of, that inner wisdom.

This is where that Hitobedut practice comes in to play. One day I was walking in the woods at a retreat centre taking a break from my work to become a Spiritual Director and I asked, Where are you God, why is it so hard to feel your divine presence in my life. What came as I looked at the redwoods surrounding, hearing the river flow, and taking in the relentless pulse of life all around was simply this. The question is not where is God, it is, where am I? How available am I to the mystery that is always present. What can I do to go forward? To show respect for the miracle of life. Nachshon unlike all around him, did not retreat to Egypt, he did not leave it up to the divine, he did not fight and he did not throw himself in to the Sea in hopes of disappearing. He went forward. Up to his kness, his chest , his nose. He took a leap of faith.

The Christian mystic, Mesiter Eckhart says, “Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world, by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart form the world. Rather, we must learn an inner solitude wherever or with whomsoever we may be. We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.” He also says, “I pray to rid me of God.” He wants us to be free of human projections of God to the real thing. Matthew Fox an excommunicated Catholic Priest and leader of the Creation Spirituality movement asks “Are there human projections you need to let go of: perhaps of an all male God, a God of Judgement and condemnation? A God that spreads division, class oppression, homophobia, sexism, excessive nationalism. Did Nacshon jump or was he pushed? Does it matter? Either way he went forward.
Philosopher Harold Whitman says. “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

We have arrived here at this synagogue at our 100th year and many things have changed in that time. So what do we do now? Do we pine for a simpler time? a retreat to the status quo? Rest quietly without Ruach on our traditions? Do we harden our view towards the other and see our path as a fight to survive? Do we dive into the spiritual world and leave the bigger material problems of the day for others to engage? Or, like Nachshon do we take a leap of faith together and go forward?

A few weeks back we spoke about the Israelites having fun with scrolls; how Pharaoh forbid it. I’ve been thinking about that notion of fun. Perhaps the way to the divine is neither fun nor serious. Perhaps it is better seen as a dance of joy and sorrow in which we break open our hearts. Perhaps we can renew our ways and go forward with a kavannah, an intention that includes all the tears the laughter and the soul connection that coming together offers us.

I was at a service recently where two things struck me. First, was how aliyahs were done or performed. They would start by taking an essence of the pisuk that would come next in the Torah reading and then asking that anyone who resonated with the central message of that pisuk please come up for the Aliyah. Then by touching each others shoulders all the way from the torah to the last person they recited the blessings together. It was for me to see, a leap of faith, or perhaps it’s better to say it was a leap over habit. It was heartfelt. The other piece was around Kaddish. Just before the mourners stood we were asked “If anyone wants to stand for those who have no one to say Kaddish for them please do so”. I did and my eyes welled up as I thought of all those in the world, Jew and non-Jew alike who have died alone with more loneliness than they should have had to bear. I have come to think that for Nachshon, for any of us to move forward we must break open our hearts and be available to the greater wisdom that surrounds us.

Yes we can fight, retreat, beg for the ‘good old days’ of slavery, or leave it up to God. But our religion is grounded like so many others in action. The Sikh serves lunch everyday to those who come to the Gurdwhar, the Catholic is called to service, to wash the feet of the poor. Nachshon slipped in to the water while those around him, even Moses dithered. Rabbi Shefa Gold writes this in her meditation on Beshallach:
“We have all made miraculous crossings in our lives. Recall a time when you took a leap of faith, when you took a chance and crossed over into a new way of being in the world. Remember a time when you left the slavery that you knew and set out into the unknown. If you made a crossing and did not stop to celebrate, to sing your own Song of the Sea, and to call the women out to dance with their timbrels, then you have not been properly ‘sent’”. This song of celebration isn’t optional. It is necessary to the journey. This song will carry us into the wilderness. This dance will energize us for the journey.

That is the joy I was talking about. I think we are being asked for more than our memories; more than our special status. I believe we are being asked to break open our hearts to each other and ourselves; to have the courage to sing louder, talk more openly and embrace the other. To love the stranger and ourselves a little more. So let’s end not with Nachshon but with Moses. After all the narrative of this book of Torah, The Exodus story, is often seen though the eyes of Moses. We have seen the burning bush and soon the unknowable will work through him to deliver the ten commandments that even today provide the basis for our notions of right and wrong. Perhaps the journey of Moses explains how hard it is to live our faith. How hard it is to walk in to the water and keep walking when all around us say, “Stop! Don’t be a fool. Come back”.

It is so hard to make that Leap and to hold that knowledge dear to us.

Yehuda Amichai the Israeli Poet says
“Moses saw the face of God just once and then forgot.
He didn’t want to see the desert, not even the Promised Land, only the face of God
In the fury of his longing he struck the rock, climbed Mount Sinai and came down again, broke the tablets of the Law, made a golden calf, searched through fire and smoke, but he could remember only the strong hand of God and His out stretched arm, not His face”.

Moses was like a man who tries to recall the face of someone he loved, but tries in vain.
He composed a police sketch of God’s face and the face of the burning bush and the face of Pharaoh’s daughter leaning over him, a baby in the ark of bulrushes. He sent the pictures to all the tribes of Israel, up and down the desert, but no one had seen, no one knew. Only at the end of his life, on Mount Nebo, did Moses see and die, kissing the face of God. So let us have one more thought on the Leap of Faith, the engaging of the the mystery. This again from Vicktor Frankel: “What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms”.

Like Nachshon, may we all have the strength to go forward.
Shabbat Shalom

“Fear less, hope more, eat less, chew more, whine less, breathe more, talk less, say more, hate less, love more, and good things will be yours.” – Swedish Proverb


In Israel there is a numeracy initiative that blends Israeli Arab and Jewish students. It’s called the Nachshon project. It to is a leap of faith and like what Nachshon did it was a call to action that had to be followed though.

It was during Operation Nachshon that the Deir Yassin massacre took place on April 9, where around 107 Palestinian villagers, including women and children, were killed by Irgun and Lehi fighters.
There are two practices for Beshallach.
BRING YOURSELF BACK TO A MOMENT of miracle that was not fully acknowledged. It is not too late.
WE CELEBRATE THE MIRACLE of this crossing with a song and a dance that become the force of “sending” (beshallach). The power of the song and the magic of the dance propel us into the wilderness. The song lays out a formula for Salvation. My strength, “Ozi,” and the Song of God, “ve-zimratYah,” will be my salvation.(Exodus 15:2) The blessing of Beshallach comes in the balance of these two aspects.
Ozi is the force of will that I bring to this crossing — the place inside me that desires freedom and truth, and will do anything for its attainment. Ve-zimratYah is the part of me that knows how to surrender that opens to the rhythm and melody of God’s Song and gives itself unconditionally to “what is.” The blessing comes in the balance of will and surrender.

With too much will, I isolate myself from the flow of Divine Grace that moves the world. With too much surrender, I become passive and abdicate my responsibility for full partnership with God in the work of Liberation. Too much will or surrender, and I might have drowned in the sea. In the marriage of my strength of will and a surrender to the God-song, the sea of confusion splits open and the dry land appears beneath my feet.

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Sabbatical, Shmita and Climate Change

I wanted to share a recent article I read that combines ancient notions of sabbatical with climate change. While we may not all see the connection between religious or spiritual teachings and the environment, I think particularly in this case, we can take our Green cues from a timeless biblical notion that every seven years we are to renew the land, ourselves and our relationships.

The Article is as Follows:
As the Land of Israel enjoys a shmita year of rest, Simhat Torah allows us to take a critical look at how we might be able to positively affect ever-encroaching climate change.

‘After creating the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said: ‘Look at My works! See how beautiful they are, how excellent! For your sake, I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil or destroy My world – for if you do, there will be no one to repair it after you.’” (Midrash Ecclesiastes Raba 7:13) A month after 400,000 people marched in New York, and around 2,000 other climate demonstrations took place worldwide in advance of the UN Climate Summit, Jews return to our sources and roll back to the beginning of our story.

Our journey begins again with the majesty of creation, the transformation in Eden and to Noah, and God’s near destruction of the world. These universal stories with timeless lessons brought together the large multi-faith contingents who marched together in New York to save the planet yet again from rising waters.

This year is different from all past ones, for it is the last observance of shmita – the sabbatical year for the environment – before extreme climate change becomes irreversible. Price- WaterhouseCoopers has just released its latest Low Carbon Economy Index, with the damning news that the major economies are falling further and further behind meeting their carbon reduction goals.

Israel, which has much to offer the world on climate change, was distracted this summer by Operation Protective Edge and did not prepare sufficiently for the UN Climate Summit. While most countries sent their prime ministers and presidents to represent them, Israel fielded Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz. Most major democracies today also have senior climate advisers to their foreign ministers; Israel does not. Great Britain fields 80 climate officers throughout its embassies worldwide and France is about to do the same. It is time for Israel to name a senior climate adviser and integrate a climate plan into its foreign policy.

Positioning Israel in the international arena as a positive player against climate change is not only in our national interest, it is a global Jewish imperative.

The liturgy we just read for the Days of Awe was haunting: “Who will live; and who will die?” Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which killed more than 6,300 people 10 months ago and made another two million people homeless, was super-charged by the warming waters of the Indian Ocean and the higher sea levels due to the melting of the ice caps. Who by water? The severity of the droughts across sub-Saharan Africa threatens millions of lives. Who by thirst? And even California is suffering its worst water shortages and wildfires.

Who by fire? The economic devastation alone of climate change – prices for water, food and energy will go up for billions of people – coupled with the unprecedented loss of human life, is like no other physical and moral challenge that humanity has ever faced.

Israel is uniquely suited to provide leadership on this issue. We are converting our coal-fired plants to natural gas, cutting power plant emissions by half.

Start-Up Nation is innovating when it comes to energy storage, a prerequisite for using solar power at night. While we failed with our first attempt at electric vehicles, there are lessons to be learned to help economies make the transition from gasoline in transportation to a cleaner electric future. And we are expert at risk management, which enables us to develop renewable energy projects in Africa and other remote locations.

Our own solar program, however, has been frozen for two years, and most solar energy companies have either left the country or folded since the government has not approved new solar quotas.

Within the Torah is the secret to beating climate change. If for one day each week every world religion and every country would celebrate Shabbat the way the Jewish people do, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1/7th, at least from transportation and industry. A 1/7th reduction in carbon emissions would bring the earth back into balance. During this year of shmita, it would be appropriate to promote a true day of rest each week worldwide when the generators and engines would fall silent.

Last month, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and 50 other mainstream foundations announced they were planning to divest from oil and coal and instead invest in green energy. Jewish federation and foundation endowments, with total assets of roughly $60 billion, should this shmita year divest from all carbon-intensive businesses, like oil, gas, and coal companies. Every Jewish institution and family can calculate their carbon footprint and offset it by planting trees via the Jewish National Fund or other carbon offset programs.

Nigel Savage, of Hazon, challenges us to become the first carbon-neutral people on the planet.

And finally, the Jewish people can offer hope. We are an ancient biblical people who have miraculously returned to our homeland after 2,000 years. We have overcome incredible odds and rejuvenated our people and our land, bringing back to life the language of the Torah.

Recent international conferences meant to fight climate change are speaking more and more about how to only mitigate the negative impact of climate change. With the exception of Sir David King, climate adviser to the British foreign secretary, and a handful of Jewish energy pioneers, few believe we can win the ultimate climate battle and that defeat is inevitable.

Yet those of us who had the good fortune to grow up in the Soviet Jewry movement are very familiar with the area in front of the United Nations. We know what it means to conduct and win an unprecedented global, ethical campaign. We know how miraculous it is that we are still reading each week an ancient scroll that has previously launched ethical revolutions across several religions. The Jewish people is at its best when we represent the value of hope in history.

This is our gift; this is our responsibility.

And when it comes to climate change, time is running out.

Named by CNN as one of the six leading Green Pioneers on the planet, Yosef I.Abramowitz is a co-founder of the solar industry in the State of Israel and serves as CEO of Energiya Global Capital, a Jerusalem- based developer building solar fields in Africa and elsewhere. He can be followed on twitter @kaptainsunshine.

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Sabbath Reboot

We were recently contacted by someone who had read an article by Mardi Tindal in the The United Church Observer — a United Church publication. The article was about our New Sabbath Project — the weekly practice of breaking bread and building community, one meal at a time and also the spinoffs such as this blog, our work with a Kenyan Pastor who approached us after seeing our blog and our radio show on CIUT. We appreciated hearing from this reader because it reminded us that we really must return to this beautiful weekly ritual. In truth, we have had such an overwhelmingly busy year that some of the most important things we do for both our physical, spiritual and mental health, took a back seat to other demands. The Sabbath ritual is one we hope others will adopt and adapt to strengthen their communal and family lives. Maybe the year would have been easier for us if we shared the joy and a little bit of prep and hosting duties with a deeper network of sabbatical fellow travelers. Sharing helps.

We thought we would share Mardi Tindal’s article (link is also above) with you. Enjoy and feel free to respond and share on our site and theirs.

Soul Work
The invitation: Mark Sabbath in your life

By Mardi Tindal

Thomas Merton provocatively described activism and overwork as “a pervasive form of contemporary violence.”

In the book Sabbath, author Wayne Muller quotes the 20th-century monk and then prescribes Sabbath time as a means of healing from this violence. “Sabbath,” he writes, “is more than the absence of work. . . . It is the presence of something that arises when we consecrate a period of time to listen to what is most deeply beautiful, nourishing, or true . . . honoring those quiet forces of grace or spirit that sustain and heal us.”

Whether or not you think of your busy life as a form of violence, we all need to take time for reflection and to honour the perspective it brings.

Jewish friends have taught me much about the spiritual practice of Sabbath. Friday evening’s Shabbat meal (itself the model for the Christian eucharist, or communion) marks a day of rest, remembers God’s creation and looks forward to God’s shalom.

My own family for generations has enjoyed a tradition of Sunday dinners — not a formal liturgy, but gathering, pausing, giving thanks.

Sabbath traditions are more complicated these days. Our families aren’t all within easy reach, and many embrace differing traditions. How then to practise Sabbath?

Ralph Benmergui and Cortney Pasternak, two communication professionals raising their children with respect for his Jewish spirituality and her humanist values, decided to renew the ancient tradition within their busy lives. Their New Sabbath Project involves inviting people to share a Friday-evening meal and a blessing. It’s a practice they describe as “breaking bread and growing community.”

“We have to build spiritual bridges toward each other, between people who love each other and people who don’t know each other,” Benmergui explains in a recent conversation. “Having a meal together is creating a community one meal at a time.”

The practice is an informal reflection of the traditional Shabbat meal. It begins with lighting candles and sharing wine and bread. Then Benmergui and Pasternak invite their guests to offer blessings. “Whatever blessing you want,” says Benmergui. “Just say it. I don’t care if you’re blessing your goldfish.”

Of course, no one takes the invitation lightly. And their reactions testify to how deeply we need these opportunities.

“We saw the relief in them — that they could do something sacred, just that simply,” Benmergui observes. One guest turned to his spouse and said, “I just want to bless my wife, because we’ve been so busy lately, and I just want her to know how much I love and appreciate her.” The wife was almost in tears, and Benmergui realized, “This isn’t rocket science. This isn’t hard to do.”

Following a Sabbath practice allows for “a sacred space to be created, a container in which we can locate the love and the unity that’s actually present every moment anyway,” he says. “It’s sort of like when there’s a blackout. You kind of wish there were more of them (in warm weather, for a few hours every week), because everybody talks to their neighbour and nobody has a machine to look at, and you really feel your presence on the Earth. It’s kind of awkward, but it’s kind of beautiful. So there’s a way of doing that.”

Benmergui and Pasternak have offered a guide to creating your own Sabbath project on their website, newsabbathproject.com. They were delighted to hear from a Masai tribesman who’s also a Christian missionary. He came across their guide and has been holding Shabbat dinners in his Kenyan village ever since.

There is no one right way, they emphasize, to experience Sabbath. Which leads to the question: what are your Sabbath practices?

Mardi Tindal is a facilitator and mentor with the Center for Courage & Renewal and a former United Church moderator.

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Can YOU say the “G” word?

I guess you could say I’m Religious.

I was just re-reading a little book that American author and public intellectual Chris Hedges wrote a while back called I Don’t Believe in Atheists. It is a brilliant and passionate refutation of absolutism regardless of it’s ideological underpinnings. Now on the face of it that would seem obvious but when applied to the arrogant musings of folks like British Scientist Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens it provides a healthy inoculation against those that claim that their total rejection of religious faith is somehow superior to the reductivist and cartoonish image that they claim all religious pursuit represents.

Hedges is relentless in his critiques and brings an admirable lack of ‘need for affection’ and careerism to the task that holds so many of us back from articulating a much needed and clear eyed analysis of what a world without non-rational modalities looks like. Many times I have found that saying that I am ‘religious’ has placed me across the divide. If one is religious they must be an extreme anti-intellectual at worst or naïve and misled for those who see themselves as ‘understanding’ of my condition.

Hedges deals with the need for non-rational ways of seeing and the rituals and traditions that can foster the nurturing of those elements of the human condition that lack scientific definition: Love, sorrow, beauty, evil et al. It is through religion that I encounter and am humbled by my imperfection; that I place in myself in an unimaginable and breathtaking universe. It is my weekly nod to my smallness and the rituals in which I partake bring me closer to the wonder and awe that people like Creation Spirituality founder Matthew Fox speak of.

Recently I had a friend over for one of our weekly Shabbat dinners. He is a good and kind man — an atheist and scientist. We sparred good naturedly about our differing beliefs as all around the table friends, new and old, gave blessings for the meal and reveled in each other’s company. The evening, as all of our New Sabbath Project Shabbats seem to be, was warm and meaningful. He argued that all can be explained through science and that we are responsible to each other to be moral and ethical, not to some magical being. Only after he left did it occur to me that science has given us so much but science could not have given us Shabbat. It is through the ritual and practice that religion obligates us to convene to show gratitude and to connect.

I’ll end with an excerpt from Chris Hedges and I Don’t Believe in Atheists: “Religion is our finite, flawed and imperfect expression of the infinite. The experience of transcendence-the struggle to acknowledge the
infinite-needs to be attributed to an external being called God…God
is, as Thomas Aquinas argues, the power that allows us to be ourselves. God is a search, a way to frame the questions. God is a call to reverence… What are we? Why are we here? What, if anything, are we supposed to do? What does it all mean?”

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I Am Not a Taxpayer

I am not a taxpayer. I am a father of four, a husband and a member of several communities of common interest but I refuse to be reduced to a financial transactional unit. I’m not being taxed to death, in fact my taxes and yours thank you very much, have directly contributed to keeping me alive and well, through several deep illnesses and on a day to day basis as I walk through this life assuming that the police, fire and other emergency professionals will keep me safe.

Our taxes, and yes I’m willing to use the T word are how we share our wealth to make sure that we take care of each other. That’s what citizenship is about. It’s a commitment to the common good.

In an age where as Oscar Wilde wrote “we know the price of everything and the value of nothing” that government is not the customer service desk at Walmart, which by the way still pays poverty wages. It is the an expression of our common values and ethics.

The more we fear for our economic future the more we must guard
against cutting each other loose. In Spain where the financial paradigm
has crumbled there is a restaurant where half the clientele pay full price for their meal and half work for an hour or two to receive the same meal with dignity.

Our lives are lived in a fleeting moment in time. If we are fortunate
enough to reflect before leaving it is only what we have done to create
and cultivate loving relationships that will have mattered.

I am not a taxpayer. Not everything is about being a “customer” or a consumer. I am a citizen and nothing less will do.

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Devotional Music in a Post Modern World

It has been described in some literature as an Experience of Devotion – a PROCESS of generating an aesthetic feeling as opposed to creating musical “product” per se – as a way of connecting with the divine. A process that involves rhythm, repetition, music and gestures. But when many of us think about devotional songs in our society – we often think of musical songs, chants mantra, hymns, meditations. Church hymns often come to mind. In the west, devotional songs were founded in the Roman Catholic Church, Russan Orthodox Church, Greek Orthodox Church and others. But we know that devotional songs have a rich and diverse history outside the church as well – though certainly the devotional songs from the church were and are important. In India, devotional songs in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Carnatic, Malayalam and many more languages were composed and sung by different singers. Sufi Devotional songs were also very famous in this part of Asia. In fact, Sufis in other parts of the world – continue this tradition in the face of persecution in some areas. On this week’s show on CIUT radio 89.5 FM we speak to a couple of musical artists who have both more recently begun journeys into devotional music, one of whom has brought his traditions with them from Morocco to help him through the often lonely and difficult journey as newcomers to Canada.

You’ll hear my conversation with Moroccan born Hassan Al Hadi. He has been in Canada for more than 15 years – playing Arab-fusion music as an oud and guitar player based out of Montreal and putting out several albums. But lesser known than music on the albums he’s put out is his devotional music. It’s a spiritual tradition he brought with him from his community and family near Marakkesh Morocco where they regularly engaged in the Sufi tradition of devotional songs and chanting. Al-Hadi finds great comfort in the devotional songs of his family and community from back at home.

You’ll also hear my conversation with the lead singer of the award winning, world music, fusion based band Jaffa Road. Aviva Chernick only more recently delved into devotional Jewish music. We talk to her about her experiences and her journey here in Canada.

Hope you’ll join us and write in to join the conversation at newsabbathproject@gmail.com. You can also join in under my name at Twitter or Facebook.

Be well and take care of each other.

If you miss the show on CIUT 89.5 Sunday at 2, you can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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Culture and Memory: To Learn from or Repeat Mistakes

When we look back at some of the genocides and other atrocities that scar the history of the world — in the name of one thing or another — we realize that the role of “memory” is incredibly important. We can cope by choosing to forget or we can take the harder path of remembering and taking responsibility. That memory manifests in different ways for victims, survivors, perpetrators — entire societies. Historians and other scholars have written much on memory and culture and the influence of one on the other — and with good reason. If we eradicate memory, we are not able to see the gathering clouds — think of intolerance, racism,antisemitism and so on. It is only with our ability to remember collectively, that we can inoculate ourselves against them — or so we hope.

On the New Sabbath Project this week on CIUT on Sunday at 2PM artists and playwrights, authors and educators share their ideas around culture and memory through artistic and literary expression. Tom Dugan, Actor/Playwright and LA Drama Critics Circle Award-Winner talks about his one man play “Weisenthal-Nazi Hunter” and Opiyo Oloya talks about his book Child to Soldier: Stories from Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

Hope you’ll join us and write in to join the conversation at newsabbathproject@gmail.com. You can also join in under my name at Twitter or Facebook.

Be well and take care of each other.

If you miss the show Sunday at 2, you can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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Forcing Sabbatical on my Busy Busy Life

Various religious and spiritual scholars have written about the crisis of work, sabbatical of some sort and the spiritual disconnect brought about by our very busy lives. In one recent audio transcript found online people in contemporary society are compared to horses in a cavalry charge — moving forward so fast and just going through the motions, thus preventing them from thinking about the important things in life — including their enslavement to work. The idea is to make them so busy – that they can’t pause to think.

A part of this same audio file transcript reads “We become enslaved to the wrong path in life; we can’t even get our priorities straight; we can’t see the bigger picture”…and our spirits are low.

One way I think to free ourselves and reconnect to the things that matter is to literally force ourselves to stop doing what everyone else around us is doing, take a step back and think — but also to use that time to do something positive. Now I get that people stuck on that treadmill may say “Nice idea — but who’s got the time?” Getting off that treadmill takes tremendous courage and often lots of time — to say nothing of disposable income or a good savings.

Several years ago, American journalist Po Bronson wrote a book titled “What should I do with my life?” The book chronicled the experiences of a number of people who had either left a professional life they found unfulfilling or unsatisfying to pursue their passions. Think here for instance – a big city, high paid hot shot who decides that what he really wants is to become a chef and open a bakery. Or people, who due to circumstances like raising children , give up on their own professional dreams, only to pursue them later — somethings in their 60s, when their partners are ready to retire. Or others who have these powerful but rare spiritual “epiphanies” that come with forced sabbatical, silent retreat and meditation — quiet space and time to actually think.

I’m convinced these epiphanies or whatever you’re comfortable calling them are about more than just pursuing professional dreams. This is about a spiritual deficit where the individual reigns over community; where even the lowest paid — to saying nothing of the highest paid — jobs, want all of you — 110 percent — so there is nothing left for anything or anyone else. And then, hey, in case you’re tired, burnt out or stretched to your limit — the message is shut up and be grateful. There are 100 other people in line for the job.

On this week’s New Sabbath Project Radio Show on CIUT, we’re talking My Busy Busy Life. We’ll be speaking to two fantastic people – Molly Finlay and Richard Pietro of Citizen Bridge– who left big jobs and big careers in the search for meaning. Hope you’ll join us and write in to join the conversation at newsabbathproject@gmail.com. You can also join in under my name at Twitter or Facebook.

Be well and take care of each other.

If you miss the show Sunday at 2, you can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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