Hoping and Weeping

Last week we entered the Hebrew month of Av.  The first nine days of Av are the darkest time in the Jewish calendar when we mourn the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem.  Today on Tisha B’av we fast and grieve and read the lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah: “How has she fallen so alone?  The city that was teeming with people has now become a widow.”

What is the tone of our mourning on Tisha B’av?  What are we supposed to be thinking about?  I recently read a commentary called Netivot Shalom (Paths of Peace) by Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky who spoke passionately about Tisha B’av.  There he describes two types of mourning.  The first is a weeping over the past, over the tragedy that befell us, over missed opportunities, mourning what was.  That is not our goal on Tisha B’av.  There is a second type of weeping—it is the yearning and longing for our future.  A longing for what can be.  That’s the note we are asked to strive for on Tisha B’av: a weeping for what can yet be.

As the rabbis tell us in the Talmud, when we die and face judgment in the heavenly tribunal we will be asked these questions:

1.    Did you set aside time to study Torah?

That seems like a good practical question.

2.    Did you conduct your business affairs in honesty?

That too seems like a reasonable question.

But then comes an odd question:

3.    Did you have hope?  Did you hope for better days?  Did you long for, pray for, work for the world to improve?

That’s the mourning of Tisha B’av and that’s our longing and our challenge during these dark days right now.  Are we falling into anger or despair?  Are we descending into in fighting?  Are we grieving what was or what could have been?  Or are we weeping with deep longing for what we believe can still emerge even when all hell is breaking loose.

This is a difficult weeping to strive for.  It’s so much easier to become depressed, cold, callous, fanatical and vengeful.  But that is our challenge and it must be our mission:  To somehow see with new eyes.  Perhaps this Tisha B’av we can catch a glimpse of Ohr Haganuz, the supernal hidden light, and by that light we can be given the power to see the world not as it is, but as it can be.

I recently returned from Israel.  During my first week there, before things heated up in Gaza, I spent my days interviewing Holocaust survivors for a book I am working on.  I met with men who had been liberated from Buchenwald as young children who are now in their eighties.  I spoke with men and women who were liberated from Buchenwald as teenagers who established Kibbutz Buchenwald, which now goes by the name Netzer Sereni.  They have lived out their lives building this vibrant kibbutz, raising children and grandchildren and great grandchildren there.  I was struck by the beauty of what these survivors achieved, the miracle of the horror they came from and what they built and made of their lives.

And then the days in Israel grew darker: air raids, sirens, rockets, bomb shelters, iron dome.  And in the midst of all this, the group of rabbis I was with (a progressive rabbinic AIPAC mission) was granted permission to visit the national archive of Israel.  The archive is in Jerusalem, but if you try to mapquest the building you will be given the wrong address.  There is no address and no signage for this national treasure.  When you enter it feels like the opening scene of the TV show “Get Smart” with one door opening into another set of doors and then another.  And when you finally enter the actual archive it looks like the last scene of “Indiana Jones” –a warehouse full of cardboard boxed piled from floor to ceiling as far as your eyes can see.

Yossi, our archivist, led us to a room that looked something like a chemistry lab.  And there on the table before us I saw the original document declaring the birth of the State of Israel signed by Ben Gurion and Stephen S. Wise and Golda Meyerson (as she was called back then) and so many other luminaries.  Next I saw the original Camp David Peace Accord signed by Begin and Sadat and Carter.  And then before me I held the hand-written poems of the Hebrew poet Rachel expressing so much promise and longing and soul.  And then sitting there on the table in front of me was the gun that was used to shoot Yitzhak Rabin.  As you know he was murdered by a Jew who couldn’t stomach Rabin’s longing and readiness to make peace…

So much light and so much darkness.

The rabbis tell us the second temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred between Jew and Jew.

When I returned home from Israel I was bedridden for several days with a raging sinus infection.  My doctor told me to stay in bed, so I did.  But I was bored and I couldn’t concentrate because my head was pounding and I don’t watch much TV and I had no desire to binge watch House of Cards on Netflix.

So instead I found myself reading Facebook.  I’ve got 3,000 “friends” and I began reading their posts.  All of my friends condemned Hamas, viewing it as a terrorist organization.  They all condemned the rockets fired at civilian populations and the terror tunnels.  But as I dug further I saw that half my friends are staunch supporters of Israel who fully support the ground operation and the bombing of Hamas arsenals and tunnels.  And the rest of my friends are also lovers of Israel but they want to see an end to the conflict and believe there will not be a military solution to the ongoing conflict with Hamas, only a political solution.

My “friends” are all well-meaning passionate people, but they are talking to one another in shockingly hateful, vengeful and disrespectful ways.  I dream that one day the Jewish People can become a community that can be a safe haven for lovers of Israel to pray and hope for better days and a better world.  We may have different beliefs about how to get there, but we can only get there together.

Perhaps today on Tisha B’av we will be granted the ability to see things with a bigger vision, beyond what the facts are on the ground.  Where we can dream beyond what our minds tell us is impossible.  Where a light from another world instills a huge vision in our very souls and we start believing and dreaming and prophesying about what is possible so we can begin taking the steps to achieve it.

We are so far from where we want to be and that hurts.  We want an end to terror.  We want an end to violence.  We want an end to radicalism in Islam and in Judaism.  We want an end to in fighting.  We want an end to war.  We don’t want innocent women and children to die in Gaza.  We want peace.

Last week a little baby girl was born in Israel.  Her parents are Ethiopian Jews.  She is the first baby to be born of a fallen soldier in this conflict.  The baby girl’s father, Ksahun, was killed when Hamas terrorists emerged from a tunnel in Israel planning an attack on Kibbutz Nir Am.  The baby girl’s mother, Gleito, named her child “Tal Or” “The Light of Morning Dew,” meaning a promise of happier days to come.  She added, “I named her Tal Or because I hope she brings us light.”

The baby’s uncle, Nissan, said: “Maybe I’m naïve, but I am hopeful that peace will come and that there will be no more war here and that Tal Or will never have to hold a weapon.” (I have quoted and paraphrased Tal Or’s story from this article in Jerusalem Online)

On this Tisha B’av let us hope for better days.  Let us stand together in our differences and may Tal Or and all of us know peace soon in our day, Amen.

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A Prayer for Peace in Israel

God, our Strength and Protection, we pray for Israel. Watch over Israel, spread Your shelter of peace over the land and over all our brothers and sisters who live there. Shine your light upon Israel’s leaders, officers and advisers. Fill them with Your wisdom. Fill the men and women who defend Israel with wisdom and with Your holy light. Watch over them, God. Hear their prayers. Hear the prayers of innocent civilians in Gaza who share our longings for an end to this conflict. Bring peace, God. Let it rain down from the heavens like a mighty storm. Let it wash away all hatred and bloodshed. Peace, God, please, God. Amen.

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Peace Peace

Rachel is crying for her children
She refuses to be comforted
From beyond the grave she cries
Through the centuries
Her tears flow
Hagar cries too
From beyond the grave and
Their tears intermingle
The tears of the mothers
Grieving over dead sons and daughters
Weeping over war
They try to shake us
Wake us
They see our promise
They prophesy our hope
From the place of eternity
Our mothers whisper
Peace Peace
Shalom Salaam
Can you hear it?

by Rabbi Naomi Levy


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Newton, MA

Rabbi Naomi Levy will be speaking at Temple Emanuel in Newton, MA this Shabbat.  If you’re in the Boston area come to services this Shabbat morning 1/22 (services begin at 9:45 AM) and to a book talk on Hope Will Find You on Sunday morning 1/23 at 9:15 AM.  Temple Emanuel 385 Ward Street
Newton, MA 02459
(617) 558-8100  http://www.templeemanuel.com/SisterhoodShabbat

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Sisterhood Shabbat

Title: Sisterhood Shabbat
Location: Temple Israel, 4901 Providence Road, Charlotte, NC 28226
Link out: Click here
Description: “A Michael Meiselman Legacy Event”

January 15, 2011 at 9:30am

Rabbi Naomi Levy will be our guest speaker at Sisterhood Shabbat Services.

Topic: ““Taking the First Step …How Seas Can Part Before Us”

January 16, 2011 at 10:00am

“When Life gets Confusing: Hope will Find You”

Join us for a complimentary breakfast and conversation with Rabbis Naomi Levy and Murray Ezring.
Start Time: 10:00
Date: 2011-01-16

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Two Mothers’ Journeys: With Rabbi Naomi Levy & Elaine Hall

Title: Two Mothers’ Journeys: With Rabbi Naomi Levy & Elaine Hall
Location: Storyopolis Book Store, 14945 Ventura Blvd. Sherman Oaks, CA
Link out: Click here
Two Mothers’ Journeys: A special reading and book signing with Rabbi Naomi Levy, author of Hope Will Find You and Elaine Hall, author of Now I See the Moon

Dessert Reception to follow.

RABBI NAOMI LEVY shares her journey and the wisdom she gained as the mother of a child with special needs in a book filled with invaluable lessons for living in the present and for opening the door to an extraordinary future.
…ELAINE HALL’S profound bond with children has been the defining force of her life and has led her to the successive miracles she documents with grace, humor and heart in her memoir that movingly describes raising a son with autism.

Moderated by: SALLY WEBER, Director of Jewish Community Programs & Director of Special Needs Programs Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles Dietary laws will be observed.


Both books will be available for purchase–portion of proceeds go to support HaMercaz.

To RSVP and for more information, HaMercaz: (866)287-8030, Hamercaz@jfsla.org or visit www.hamercaz.org

Program sponsored by HaMercaz, Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Service.
Start Time: 07:00
Date: 2011-01-11
End Time: 9:00

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Academy for Jewish Religion, California

Title: Academy for Jewish Religion, California
Location: Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA, 574 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024
Link out: Click here
invites the public to join us for a special program on
Rabbi Milton Steinberg’s book The Prophet’s Wife

“The greatest voice of the American pulpit reaches out to us from the past.
The discovery of a new work by Milton Steinberg is a gripping and wondrous event.”
— Rabbi David J. Wolpe, author of Why Faith Matters and Floating Takes Faith

A discussion with

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Director of the Sephardic Educational Center
and AJRCA Professor of Talmud


Rabbi Naomi Levy, Acclaimed author and spiritual leader of Nashuva,
a groundbreaking Jewish outreach congregation

Moderated by Monica Osborne, PhD

The late Milton Steinberg z”l is the author of As a Driven Leaf, first published in 1939 and still regarded as a major influence on contemporary Jewish life and thought. Steinberg died in 1950 while working on The Prophet’s Wife, which is now in print for the first time. Set against a backdrop of unrest in ancient Israel, the book is a stirring portrait of the biblical prophet Hosea, his passionate and free-spirited wife Gomer, and a people seduced by the lures of power and idolatry to betray their faith. Left unfinished by his death at age 46, the 440-page typewritten manuscript sat in the American Jewish Historical Society archives for over forty years before Behrman House began the process of finishing the work. Through trial and tribulation, it was artfully developed into an artistic and intellectual collaboration between Steinberg and a triumvirate of important contemporary writers—Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, Ari L. Goldman and Norma Rosen.

Sunday, January 9, 2011, 5:00 pm*
Academy for Jewish Religion, California
Spiegel Auditorium, 3rd Floor
Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life at UCLA
574 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024
There is no charge for this event.

*Please arrive early in order to park as we will start promptly at 5 pm.
Parking is available at UCLA Lot #2 (corner of Hilgard and Westholme).
Parking fee: $10
Start Time: 05:00
Date: 2011-01-09

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Skirball Cultural Center, Lecture

Title: Skirball Cultural Center, Lecture
Location: Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90049
Link out: Click here
Description: ADMISSION:

FREE; advance tickets recommended

How can I get my life off hold? When will my life really begin? To those struggling to move forward Rabbi Naomi Levy has often offered spiritual guidance. Yet when she learned that her daughter had a fatal degenerative disease, Levy’s own insights could not prevent her from unraveling. Be there as Levy reads from and discusses her new book, Hope Will Find You, in which she describes with humor and honesty how she survived this time of uncertainty and learned to stop waiting for life to begin. A natural and engaging storyteller, she fills the book with invaluable lessons for living in the present and opening the door to an extraordinary future. A book signing follows the program. Presented in association with Stephen S. Wise Temple.

Naomi Levy, author of the national bestseller To Begin Again and Talking to God, is the founder and leader of NASHUVA, the Jewish spiritual outreach movement. Named one of the fifty top rabbis in America by Newsweek magazine, she was in the first class of women to enter the Conservative rabbinical seminary.

Start Time: 02:00
Date: 2011-01-09

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Nashuva Freedom Shabbat, in Honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Title: Nashuva Freedom Shabbat, in Honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Location: Brentwood Presbyterian Church, 12000 San Vicente Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA
Link out: Click here
Description: This Shabbat we celebrate a new secular year, a new Hebrew month of Shevat which marks the very earliest budding of spring and prayers for nature’s renewal, and the fight for freedom, justice and equal rights for all people as we honor the great Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Rabbi Naomi Levy and the Nashuva band have set many of our …Hebrew prayers this Shabbat to freedom songs and spirituals. They will be leading us in a transformational Shabbat experience with music and prayers designed to lift us higher and higher.

Please take a moment now to think of your friends who may never have had a Jewish experience quite like Nashuva. People who may be turned off to Judaism, or who haven’t found their place in Judaism. Make the effort to personally invite them to join you at Nashuva this Freedom Shabbat.

Of course, please join us for an amazing Oneg after services! Please try to remember to wear white in honor of the simple holiness of Shabbat.
Start Date: 2011-01-07
Start Time: 18:45
End Date: 2011-01-7

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Happy Chanukah!

Chanuka Lessons:

1. Don’t give in to darkness, create light.

2. When you feel spent, remember a little oil goes a long way.

3. Life is as unpredictable as a dreidel. Enjoy the good, expect to face bumps, know they too will pass.

3. Miracles do happen, expect them, look for them ,recognize them.

4. Stand up and fight for what’s right.

5. We have the power to rebuild, to pick ourselves up and illuminate the world.

Happy Chanukah!

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