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. …

Without the prayers the Western Wall would just be a wall.

This week’s Parasha is perhaps the most New Shul of them all. Its hero is Bezalel Ben Uri, the artist who builds the Mishkan, the travelling desert temple. But before he appears, we learn of another bunch of heroes who allow him to do his work. These are, well, most, if not all of the Jews.

Take from among you a donation to God: whosoever’s heart moves him, let him bring an offering of the Lord;”

Moses isn’t asking for money. Instead perhaps they have:

Gold, silver and bronze; 6 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair…

Bat and Bar Mitzvahs have been special during pandemic

Bnei Mitzvah ceremonies during pandemic are unique, often surprisingly beautiful events. Each of those I’ve conducted have had a tinge of sadness for the fact family and friends can’t gather to celebrate in person, which over the course of the ceremony seems to get absorbed into the pride and joy of the young person in question and their parents, and the love and excitement that somehow cuts through the screen from those not physically present. That sense that we have all witnessed something important take place inevitably fills the space; what I sometimes call the arrival of God, and other…

Ezzy and the ocean on the first day of Adar

Dear friends,

The month of Adar, month of joy in the Hebrew calendar, began for me one week ago with a sighting of a few families of dolphins swimming happily in the frigid ocean. I am spending a week by the rather stormy Atlantic, and despite the weather have been able to watch large birds fly over the water, medium birds fly high and plunge down into the water, and small birds with long beaks run into the very shallow water, all of them in search of fish. I am a human, and as such can only see the surface…

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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