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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Sexing Religion

It’s become more than a cliche to say that “sex” is everywhere in contemporary, Western society. Hyper-commercialized notions of sexuality – and usually heterosexuality — saturate our public space — from advertising to music to infotainment programming parading around as news. Forget being tall enough to reach the porn magazines — sexual suggestion is insidious — at the makeup and so-called “fashion” magazine counters at the drug store. I’m reminded here of my seven year old, who I caught giggling recently at the magazine stand as I was at the checkout. I called over to him asking what he was laughing at. He pulled out a “fashion” magazine with little more than a woman’s cleavage on the cover. Completely normalized right? He told me he was laughing because he couldn’t believe they were (his words here) “putting this on the cover to try to sell us a magazine.” I was surprised and impressed by his analysis.

It’s no surprise then, that some of the world’s oldest religions and religious institutions have something to say about sex. But their response, perhaps predictably, is inundated with deeper ethical concerns where sex is inextricably linked with morality — both personal and communal.

On this week’s New Sabbath Project Radio Show on CIUT, we’re talking Religion and Sexuality. 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.

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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Celebrity Worship and Sacrifice: Religion by Another Name

On this week’s New Sabbath Project Radio Show on CIUT, we’re talking Celebrity Worship and Sacrifice. Hope you’ll join us and write in to join the conversation.

Years ago I read a lovely book by Tom Robbins called another Roadside Attraction. In it Jesus comes back to us. Yes it’s true…the second coming happens. Thing is no one seems to take it very seriously. You see if I remember correctly, and this was ages ago for me, the only way that anyone could treat this ‘miracle’ was to turn it in to a shallow pop culture experience, a freak show. Jesus had to be reduced to the flavor of the month and as all flavours go so goes the lord. He is humiliated and disposed of, just like David Lee Roth, Paris Hilton, and countless political middleweights.

In Joseph Epstein’s writings on ‘Celebrity Culture’, he writes that fame is something one earns while celebrity is something one cultivates. In essence Jesus didn’t have a good publicist. He goes on to say that fame is based on achievement, celebrity on broadcasting that achievement.

Why have we evolved in to a state of celebrity worship over time? Are we filling the religious void by turning our eyes away from the transcendent and instead locking them on to the supermarket trashbloids at the check out counter?Tirdad Drakhshani itemizes our obsession with celebrity through the modern day, secular ‘relic’. A lock of Justin Beiber’s hair fetched 40,668 dollars on Ebay Britney Spears chewing gum-14,000. And this is my favourite — William Shatner’s kidney stone-that went for 25,000 dollars.

From relics we move to ritual sacrifice, Richard Pryor the famed comedian literally went up in flames. Heath Ledger died alone in his hotel room at the height of his fame, for that we gave him an Oscar. From sacrifice we have one last station of the cross as it were, redemption. John Travolta is much more interesting post-Saturday Night Fever when he fell put out a few dud’s and then promptly fell off the star-map. He revived his career with Quentin Tarantino’s help in Pulp Fiction. To Hear Tarantino tell it. He ‘remembered’ Travolta and thought he would make a great dancing ‘hit man’ for the film. He called Travolta up and they took a walk in L.A. To his amazement no one recognized the one time star. That just made Tarantino want him in the movie more. The film got made Travolta was back and making twenty million per flick-all was forgiven. I interviewed him around that time.

We were given literally three minutes each on the promotional junket
for a god-awful movie called The General’s Daughter. I decided to ignore the movie and ask him purely personal questions. My last one tickled him, I asked, “What effect has having millions of dollars in that last while had on your ability to form friendships. He leaned forward and said that this had been the hardest thing for him because so many had seemed
genuine and in the end they just stabbed him in the back but the that
the good news was that having been there in back he has always had a
small group of loved ones, disciples as it were, that were there for him
regardless. From rags to riches to rags to riches.

In the end his story is about redemption, and you and I, the little people, get to stand in judgment as we wait to cash out , will he be returned to the pantheon or will we toss him on to the scrap heap of broken dreams. Today we’ll dig around in the rubble of this notion of celebrity worship and why it means so much to us.

Be well and I look forward to hearing from you.

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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A Patient Side to Capitalism?

Hope you had a chance to listen in to our latest New Sabbath Project radio show on CIUT 89.5 FM. If not, tune in online.

This week’s show? Patient Capitalism. We start with this:

I have this little theory that in 2008 Capitalism had a heart attack and landed face down on Wall Street. Brokers, financial instrument designers and rating agency double dippers seemed to just pick up their box of office supplies, bolt through the glass doors and step right over the capitalist system as it lay writhing on the the street.

Next, the government folks showed up to shoo the gathering crowd of citizens along, saying “Nothing to see here folks, keep it moving.” Well you know the rest — the captains of industry and finance who had spent years demanding that government get out of their way showed up on the steps of Capitol Hill, hand outstretched, and with a ‘just jokin with ya’ grin on their faces. Apparently that did the trick as they promptly received enormous dollops of our collective revenues to keep them going to the next payday.

The Occupy Movement sprung from the minds of the Adbusters group and even the middle class found themselves egging on that rag tag army of dissenters. There are outbursts of economic discontent around the globe but nothing seems to be sticking. There is no obligation to protest; no overarching moral imperative pushing us out of our living rooms and into the street. The cow is still being fattened just enough it would seem.

Five years later we are all paying down that debt. The so-called
developing world in the meantime can be viewed as collateral, fiscal damage at best and growth in must-grow economies has stalled out. It would appear we’re just a wee bit lost — kinda between economic ‘ism’s’. The unanswered question is what’s Plan B?

Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just capitalism or bust. Well maybe that’s not entirely true. Microcredit has emerged over the last decade. Social innovations like crowdsourcing have emerged. Prosperity without growth is a legitimate economic school of thought and in the last little while, the notion of Patient Capitalism has emerged as a new lens on the entrepreneurial landscape.

I’ll talk to some people in this edition of the New Sabbath Project who can bring this idea of “Capitalism with a Heart” or compassionate capitalism into focus. It’s the 7th day. Time to reflect, re-new and heck why not…re-invest.

Be well and I look forward to hearing from you.

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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The New Sabbath Project Hits CIUT Airwaves – Sundays @2

New Sabbath Project on Radio – 89.5 FM Toronto
Listen at:
www.ciut.fm

A little while back Ken Stowar, the man who makes CIUT hum and of whom I’ve always been a fan, got in touch with me and asked me if I’d like to have a little corner of his radio station in which to putter around.

Now, I love radio but my work these days goes in a mighty different direction — as Executive Advisor to the President of Sheridan College. The job in post-secondary education has captured my imagination and really energized me and I wasn’t sure if there was much I wanted to talk about with folks on the radio.

But then I let it rumble around inside me for a while and along with
my partner Cortney Pasternak we decided that there were some things worth airing as it were. You see we do something called The New Sabbath Project. It’s our way of building community — one meal at a time. We do it on Friday nights and we invite all kinds of people to join us. Some are old friends, some we barely know and others we’ve never met — they just contacted us through our site and because of articles they read and asked to join. Dinner is a feast and our guests are expected to bring some food and drink along with them.

We begin our sabbath / shabbat celebration by gathering round the wine and cheese, dip our bread into homemade Hummous and slowly draw the curtain on our workaday lives and enter the architecture in time that is the 7th day. Some who come are secular, some are not. It doesn’t matter. When we sit to eat we light the candles as is the tradition I come from and say the blessing over them. Then we ask everyone to say a blessing over anything they like. I’m always amazed at how heart-felt and moving the simplest of blessings can be. Some mention God, most don’t. I’ve always thought I should do a show called “God or whatever.”

Anyways, after the blessings we raise our glasses, bless the wine, toast each other and break bread, literally. You see the Moroccan tradition that I grew up in meant that you took the Challah — the Sabbath, sweet egg bread and tore pieces off, dipped them lightly in salt to remind us of the bitterness and proximity of all that can enslave us and then the host throws the bread across the table starting from the oldest participant down to the youngest.

I’ve gotten pretty accurate over the years although occasionally it does end up in someone’s glass of water. After that we eat and drink and talk. The amazing thing is after we have done our blessings there is an intimacy
that seems to bring out the best in us; the passion; the sincerity; the big talk and soft hearts. For six days we do and for one day we are allowed to just be — with each other. This is what the 7th day brings, if you let it.

On the inaugural New Sabbath Project radio show, we’ll talk about the Sabbath as a day of reflection, an act of courage and, for those committed to — gasp — unplugging — an act of political and environmental resistance. Next week who knows? You may try tossing some bread around yourselves.

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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Sabbath Practice as Political Resistance? What a Concept…For All of Us!

I ran into a couple of people this past week for the first time since the seasonal holidays began in December. I had assumed these people were “away” on holiday over those few quiet weeks. After all, they were “out of office” and out of reach. I imagined that these friends and acquaintances were off galavanting somewhere exciting or warm or both — enjoying a change of scenery. But no. As it turns out, these high functioning, super-engaged people were just taking a breath — coming up for air — absolutely exhausted by the frenetic pace of work that permits next to no time to recharge and heaven forbid – reflect. Instead keeping it all going with a big, public smile for fear of being pegged as “not quite up to it” or a “slacker“. One particular public figure, who professes to enjoy his work, lamented quite publicly that he simply could not find a way to incorporate such “breaks” or what we here call “sabbatical” into his life more regularly — but that he wishes he could. He is not alone. We, in Western society now take our lack of work-life balance — our inability to find or better yet make time to stop, rest, relax and reflect – as a given — an inevitability. We just don’t know how to wiggle out of this deep mess we’re caught up in — and our physical and mental health as well as our families are paying the price. But what if we looked at self-imposed, regular sabbatical from all things work, as a form of liberation instead of chains that tie us down?

American writer, preacher and activist Ana Levy-Lyons weighs in on the issue, comparing the weekly Jewish Sabbath Practice as “political resistance” in a recent Tikkun article. Levy-Lyons draws from Jewish Scholar and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Revolutionary Socialist and Philosopher Karl Marx to illustrate shared insights about “time” as the “ultimate form of human wealth” in our lives — showing that this idea of sabbatical transcends religious lines — crossing into the secular.

The problem she sees and I agree, is that in societies like ours, so-called “free time” is viewed as wasted time — a guilty pleasure even. I think we all have friends or colleagues (or maybe it’s us) who brag or laugh about skipping holiday time — worried in part about how it will appear to their bosses but also claiming that they are just too busy to make a holiday work. Further, as Levy-Lyons and many others have argued — far from freeing up our time, communication technology has had the opposite effect. She draws from Marx here writing “any surplus time created by labor-saving technology is immediately sucked back into the system to create more value — more money, more goods, more innovation”. Ever notice the times attached to some of those work related emails?

Imagine if, as she argues in refering to Heschel who said that precious time is stolen from us, the Sabbath is “a reestablishment of a primordial birthright…(For 25 hours once a week) We get to light candles, linger over meals, take aimless walks through town” and so on. How about just finding time to talk about things that matter? Engaging in community building or critical, creative forms of citizenship? We recently asked a progressive, Toronto area Rabbi why he thought our New Sabbath Project isn’t spreading more when people love the idea in principle and certainly love taking part. He explained that without buying into the idea of obligation, that it simply wasn’t sustainable. Talk to most secular people about the notion of obligation and the reaction won’t be a positive one. Who can blame them? Between the obligations (read demands) of work, paying bills and keeping up with housework and possibly family needs — who wants to add one more thing to the list?

How radical is the notion of reclaiming time? We’re not talking about simply the once or twice a year “holiday” or periodic unplugging — but a more regular (even ritualized?) and therefore purposeful or even conscious practice. Indeed Levy-Lyons writes that we must not confuse the idea of a weekly, ritualized sabbath (whatever that may look like to you) with simply a nice holiday away from work. The truth is we can’t wait for a revolution in the workplace to give us permission to make it happen — one that requires serious courage to change our outdated ideas about “work” and “productivity” and the impact of such notions on our families, our communities and our mental health. Heschel speaks about creating cathedrals of time and speaks of the ritual that accompanies obligation as the frame over which we can stretch the canvas of our lives. How we choose to fill that canvass is the challenge and opportunity that free will provides to us. Sabbath/Sabbatical/Shabbat – whatever you’re comfortable calling it –can be the seed that we plant from which community, reflection and connection can be nurtured and grown. Imagine creating a zone of personal prosperity – free of marketing, work in all it’s forms and (often mindless) consumption. Just 25 hours, just once a week, just to connect and give those we love and care for a chance to love us back.

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Sharing Circle, Dinner Circle-Guest Blog on New Sabbath Project

“As Leonard Cohen says you must build a fence around the sacred if you want to protect and nurture it in your life. Our New Sabbath Project is a step in that direction.” — Ralph Benmergui

This was how recent social innovator and community builder Craig Carter-Edwards recently began his guest blog for the New Sabbath Project. He was quoting Ralph who was paraphrasing Leonard Cohen from an interview he did with Cohen many years ago. We thank Craig for his contribution and we urge you to read his blog by clicking on the link above, visit his site, then visit ours. Please retweet and repost. Let’s build community and spread the word.

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You say Shabbat — We say New Sabbath

A woman wrote to us recently. She was Moroccan like me and she was pointing out that though our newsabbathproject was admirable in it’s intent, she believed that a more orthodox approach — a Jewish orthodox approach was necessary.

There are those who believe that theirs is truly a divine code and format that, if followed to the letter with a kavanah (intention) will reap the most that the Sabbath has to offer.

I have often wondered, having come from a traditional home and having many orthodox relatives, what deepening of experience I could reap by unplugging completely for 25 hours every week. I, as a Green, have often imagined what benefit we could all gain by powering down and living more acoustically as it were. Imagine if we used almost no electricity, got out of our cars and focused our energies to what we can walk to, and who we connect with, in our community and our families for one out of every seven days.

All this to say that I appreciate what the purists version of Sabbath has to offer but I believe that that we as Jews have a golden opportunity not just to do Sabbath but to take it and offer a pluralistic, humanistic version of it to the world. An inclusive offering that helps us all to pause, reflect and engage with each other.

Something that has always concerned me about my own faith and observance as a progressive Jew is that we hold too jealously to our most precious attributes for survival and preservation of thousands
of years of collected wisdom. We can be stronger than that. Sabbath is our best export and we can gain strength by giving it away. I have never believed in a personal God that serves as overseer and life coach. Free will is what makes this journey so breathtaking — so profound.
Who are we are to say what “God’s will” is? Our business, it seems to me, is to become ourselves, to celebrate the universe and bow in humility to the creative force behind it
all.

Let us build community with everyone-one meal at a time.

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Feast Friday…It’s Time.

I’ve been trying to understand why more and more people are showing
an interest in our New Sabbath Project. Why they are coming up to us and
saying, “I saw your blog” or I read the article about you at http://
www.jewishtribune.ca/features/2012/04/20/shabbat-goes-universal

and we think what you’re doing is lovely. We’re mystified that the concept
seems so revolutionary but happy that people are ‘getting it’. You see, the
simple but profound idea of opening your home to others and taking a few
moments to show gratitude and bless those in our lives who could really use
a blessing or two — well that seems to be resonating.

As we build a small fence around the sacred and challenge the idea that
every day is just like every other day we adjust the journey of our lives,
take a course correction as it were and pause just long enough to light some
candles and perhaps light the way to gaining a bit more of community.

By opening up your home to the world around you — not just your relatives, not
just to other Jews — but to the neighbour who just arrived from another city,
the co-worker who you find so nice to work with and to those who we find
so little time to be with like lifelong friends
that you promise you’ll get
together with real soon but never really do.

Author Judith Sulevitz writes in ‘The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time’, that she likes anthropologist Victor Turner’s use of the word “communitas”, referring to the kind of “group life that emerges at the edges of society, not in the middle of it, where people search for something – meaning, solace, truths that the larger society doesn’t seem to offer”.

The Sabbath and the idea of rest from all that propels us through our daily
life is not a retreat but a re-focusing
. After six days of doing we are allowed
at least a night if not a whole 24 hours of being. On May 11th we are twinning with and others to host friends and acquaintances, Jews and others in our homes — feasting in celebration of weekly sabbatical to help reconnect with others and grow community. We hope you will consider doing the same. The meal can be modest or grand, it matters little. It can be pot-luck or cordon bleu. We hope that you will want to do the same, invite some neighbors, friends and co-workers to break bread and grow community.

In our home we spend a good hour on appetizers and getting to know each other or catch up with old friends then we come to the table where we sing some traditional blessings over the candles, go around the table to hear each others’ personal blessings (please see website Tool Kit Page at www.newsabbathproject.com), bless the wine as we toast each other and then bless the bread, my wife’s delicious egg loaf Challah, that we dip in a little salt and then, in true Moroccan style, toss a piece of salty, sweet bread to each person starting from the oldest to the youngest. After that, some chicken, a few side dishes that friends bring and great conversation about the things that really matter to us — community, culture and citizenship. This is our way but not the only way but we do find the personal blessings in particular, act as a great equalizer.

It’s all quite simple, but in some small way subversive. If you have thoughts on Sabbath, are inclusive, and looking for pathways to the same end, let us know. If you have the time to contribute something to our blog we are always looking for contributions as well.

I’ll end with something from Judith Sulevitz again from The Sabbath World,” The Sabbath is a ritual, not an artifact. It is not an object built in space; it is a performance enacted in time.

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