My Leap of Faith

My leap of faith (first published in the Hamilton Jewish News), Summer, 2016

There is an argument to be made that certain points in life require a leap of faith. Some would say a leap in to 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 in to 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 swank 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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Moving…but the New Sabbath Project Remains Universal

Thrilled to be starting (ever slowly) our New Sabbath Project in Hamilton — our home of the last year and a bit. Here’s a bit more about it in the Toronto Star.

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The High Holidays and The Broken Heart

I look forward to hearing your feedback to my editorial for the Hamilton Jewish News. It appears on page 10.

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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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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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Stop the Excuses — Just do it!

A really nice woman I’d never met walked up to Ralph and I on the street in another part of the city today as we were out on a small outing with our children. She told us she had been reading our blog and the article written about the New Sabbath Project and wanted to start one in her own home. We hear this a fair bit – and quite frankly are always pleasantly surprised since we never know who’s reading the site.

So back to this woman — she wanted to start a New Sabbath Project herself but hadn’t done it yet. What we heard from her is not uncommon. There was a hesitation around how to actually get started. What did we cook? Simple or complex? Did we really have total strangers come into our home? Did we really do it every Friday? In other words — “this all sounds really overwhelming and more than I can probably manage.” The result? Instead of just doing it — even sometimes — many of us end up NOT doing it — at all.

Following that conversation I decided to revisit the blog written for our site by guest blogger and writer Luke Murphy.

Luke uses the laws of physics to describe the difficulty associated with just getting something like this started — he writes …“it takes more effort to start something moving than to keep it moving.” He continues by writing “So it is with anything we do: the hard part is overcoming the inertia of an object at rest, which means getting off the couch and committing to the job. Once you’ve defeated the fridge-sized fire-breathing lizard that is the Coefficient of Static Friction, his cousin, the Coefficient of Dynamic Friction, will seem like a sleepy gecko on a hot day.”

The New Sabbath Project is a community building exercise – simply by having people over for dinner — a few extras included of course that deepen the experience. I’ve had guests call it a salon and dialogue over dinner. It’s all accurate. Luke is right when he writes “putting on a dinner is one of those things like working out regularly…you know you ought to do it but today’s not ideal…Those excuses are the Coefficient of Static Friction sitting on your chest, his scaly haunches pressing you into the couch. Static Friction likes you to keep things theoretical, aspirational, potential – anything other than real. Static Friction cannot be reasoned with, bargained with, or met half way. He has to be pushed aside and flung into the dark corner where you lost the battery cover for the remote. His greatest fear is action…When you know you need to put on a dinner – not a theoretical some-day-we-must dinner, but a real event with real people – the best first step is to email or phone your first choice of guests and ask them.”

I am thrilled to report he and his amazing partner Isabella have indeed begun hosting larger dinners and I’m equally thrilled he calls on others to do the same when he writes “Host a dinner. Invite a combination of friends and newcomers. Ask the guests to bring some food: it’s less work and less cost for you and gives them something to take pride in. Repeat, whenever you can.”

Finally, Luke writes and we concur: “One odd characteristic of the Coefficient of Static Friction: he gets lighter the more often you fling him off your chest.”

If you’d like to know how you or someone you know could host one without completely stressing out, get in touch and/or check out the website.

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