I spent months hiding inside my home after Covid-19 was declared a global health emergency. During that time, the Talmudic description of evil spirits resonated with me. It was certainly how I felt, surrounded by invisible threats just outside my door. Since I am a children's author, I channeled these fears into a picture book featuring a supernatural spirit.
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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) in the U.S. This year, the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) chose the theme of #Every1KnowsSome1 to highlight how common domestic violence is. Each of us may (or likely) knows someone, either in our Jewish community or our secular communities, who has been impacted by or is a survivor of domestic violence.
As we look out from the pulpit, we know there are good reasons that some faces that were familiar before March 2020 are now missing. We have embraced technology at every opportunity. The quality of our livestreaming worship, even in smaller synagogues, is excellent. Many congregants have grown accustomed to praying from the comfort of their couch.
This time of year, we hear again and again about how much emphasis Judaism places on the nuances of how to address harm of all kinds. I am convinced that the steps of repentance and repair outlined by the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides make sense not only in our individual lives when we harm our coworkers, friends, family, and intimate partners, but also in reference to the communal, cultural, and national levels.
Judaism encourages us to awaken each day with thoughts of gratitude. I recite the Modeh Ani each day to thank the Divine for returning my soul. I was recently asked where our soul goes while we sleep. This poem is my response.
After two years of teaching remotely and watching far too many movies and television series on Netflix on the same computer screen I use to interact with these students, I wonder if I feel less connected to these "virtual" students than the hundreds of young people I taught in person over the past decades.
As a graduate of both Tougaloo College and Jackson State University, the recent bomb threats to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are personal to me. Since January 2022, over a dozen HBCUs have received bomb threats; several of those threats were received on the first day of Black history month. The continuous attacks on institutions of higher learning; places of worship and individual attacks are a direct threat to our everyday existence.
On Tu Bishvat we celebrated trees and a season of new growth. I've been doing lots of thinking about trees, as I frequently do, and the role they play in providing oxygen for the planet. At the Union of Reform Judaism, we provide oxygen to our communities by creating compassionate spaces for our participants to grow and thrive. We can respond to current and future challenges by fostering resilience that reflect our Jewish values.
As I thought about what would be involved if we did our own Tu BiShvat seder, it seemed interesting and fun. Tasting lots of fruits? Marking a time to appreciate, mindfully and respectfully, trees and the earth? Drinking wines and grape juices? Yes, please.
New Year's Day and the traditional resolutions that accompany it invite us to take stock of our lives. Are we living our lives to the fullest? Can we imagine a future in which the commitments we make for ourselves (e.g., healthier habits around eating and exercise) actually come true? What will it take this year to really change?