A piece of Goya’s Those Specks of Dust depicting an a ceremony of judgement before execution during the inquisition

My great grandmother, Menya would go to shul every Shabbat of the year — except Shabbat Korach, which is this weekend. I never met her, so I can only speculate as to her reasons. It seems pretty straight forward when you hear the story:

Korach, one of the Levites, gathers a group of followers and approaches Moses:

You have gone too far,” they say, “For all the community are holy, all of them, and the LORD is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the LORD’s congregation?

This question is too much for Moses, and he falls…

Modern day Levites Eden Bareket, Eran Fink, Ran Livneh and Samir Langus performing at the Kumah Festival

A couple weeks ago at his Bar Mitzvah, Henry asked us the following question: Do we owe God anything for passing over the firstborn of our ancestors on the night God killed the firstborn Egyptians. It’s a provocative question, but a curious one. First of all, while some of us take this story to be true, it’s far from a piece of history. The idea that we would owe anyone anything based on a story seems tenuous until you look at the myriad of fictions we base our lives upon. There are borders we agree upon simply because we’ve etched…

Isolated Rock, Gustave Courbet

During these last 11 days of fighting I have found myself turning to the Book of Psalms. I was looking for emotional support, for insight into the nature of humanity, for echoes of the eternal in the current turbulence, for the poetry of justice. The verses that made me stop, reread, wonder, were those dealing with speech and silence, like these from Psalm 38:

וַאֲנִ֣י כְ֭חֵרֵשׁ לֹ֣א אֶשְׁמָ֑ע וּ֝כְאִלֵּ֗ם לֹ֣א יִפְתַּח־פִּֽיו׃

וָאֱהִ֗י כְּ֭אִישׁ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹא־שֹׁמֵ֑עַ וְאֵ֥ין בְּ֝פִ֗יו תּוֹכָחֽוֹת׃

I am like the deaf, who cannot hear,
like the mute, who cannot speak;
I have become like one who does not…

Artwork by Suzanne Tick, Voodo Fe’ and Cody Umans

A decade or so ago I had the honor of performing the Bar Mitzvah of Griffin Lear-Katz, the grandson of the great Norman Lear. Shortly after delivering what was perhaps the greatest grandpa speech ever, Norman spoke words to me that have become a piece of my raison d’etre: “It’s time to reclaim religion in this country.” This evening at our sixth event of the Kumah Festival, we will attempt to reclaim one word that lies at the heart of religion, the word redemption.

Reclaiming it is easier than you might think. Even though like words such as “religion,” “God,”…

The moment I truly grasped the meaning of the phrase “Do not cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk” was during my son, Ezzy’s infancy. Being in the continuous presence of breast feeding, with all the love and sustenance it exudes, clarified to me what the Torah is talking about here. A baby is given life by his mother’s milk; Physical life through the milk itself, and spiritual life through the comfort and love she receives from her mother, as expressed in the act of breast feeding. The milk is not only a symbol of the physical life, but…

Sarah Chien and Davalois Fearon

The Floyd family, and the events of this week have filled my mind with beautiful questions about the nature of prayer. I watched many different family members react to the verdict, and every one of them spoke about prayer. George’s brother, Philonese was described as sitting in the courtroom throughout the entire trial “in prayer.” Another brother, Terrence said: “I believe because of prayer, we got the verdict we wanted.” Speaking about prayer, a cousin of George’s said that over the last year the family was flooded by so much love coming their way that she doesn’t know whether she…

The Jordan valley this morning. Photo by David Shulman

Dear friends,

Something extraordinary happened this week. 280,000 people gathered from across the universe, most of them from Israel and Palestine, to mourn those killed on both sides of the conflict. The joint Israeli Palestinian memorial ceremony, hosted by Combatants for Peace and the Bereaved Parents Forum, and sponsored by dozens of organizations including The New Shul, is laying the ground for a different future. In a time when most Israelis are vaccinated and almost no Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are, the ability of people to transform a day of mourning those the other side have…

While on a trip to Germany and Poland with FASPE (Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics) in 2016, I found myself praising God in the sweetness of the afternoon sun while standing on the Grunewald station train tracks from which Berlin Jews were sent to death camps during the Holocaust. The following is an attempt to understand that strangely positive moment in the midst of darkness.

It was our third stop at a Holocaust-related site on that long, heavy day. First we had been to the town of Brandenburg an der Havel, where some of the first…

Eden Bareket, Eran Fink, Ran Livneh and Samir Langus performing Boulila.
Eden Bareket, Eran Fink, Ran Livneh and Samir Langus performing Boulila.
Eden Bareket, Eran Fink, Ran Livneh and Samir Langus performing the Gnawa song, Boulila

Dear friends,

Tomorrow night we begin a seven-week journey that will attempt to lead us from doubt to acceptance, from possibility to actuality, from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai. We begin our Kumah Festival learning from the former black slaves of Morocco how to transform their Boulila, their chains, into Hamdulillah, praise, through music.

Gnawa, the musical form we will enjoy a concert of, is a mystical Moroccan Muslim tradition, with roots in the pre-Islamic faiths of the Sub-Sahara, where the black slaves were taken from beginning in the 11th century. Like the slaves in our country, their song…

From PHARAOH at Theater for the New City, 10/2019. Photo by Gili Getz

Dear friends,

We have some live virtual theater coming our way tonight, so I’ll begin with a line from a play:

PHARAOH: When you finally get this freedom, Moses, what are you going to do with it?

That line from my play, Pharaoh (that’s him in the picture above) which was scheduled to open a year ago, keeps coming back to me these pre-Passover days. We are used to thinking about this holiday as a story of slavery to freedom. The deeper story though, might be about after freedom is achieved. …

Rabbi Misha Shulman

Born and raised in Jerusalem, Misha has been working at the cusp of religion, art, activism and education for over twenty years. Rabbi of The New Shul and SCJ.

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