The Mukhtar of the Bedouin village Dir A-Tin and Rabbi Arik Ascherman on Tisha B’Av

The great disaster has finally passed. The people can gather once again. New leaders have emerged, new thinkers, new poets, new attitudes. They come together in the streets to see what the ancient wisdom has to offer. The language of the ancestors is chanted. Those who understand the words explain them to those who don’t. The dancers move their bodies to express the secrets hidden in the depths of the words. The musicians blow their horns and strum their lyres, grasping at the truths conveyed. The priests speak the people’s language, uncovering the layers of the ever-present past.

A feeling…

The South Hebron Hills in Palestine

“I was lying there in the coffin with Ben Zakai,” Danny opens, “and they drove those swords through the coffin to make sure we were dead.” Danny, whose family built the first streets of Tel Aviv, tells me how after he was smuggled out of Jerusalem in the first century with Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai in a coffin, they came in front of the Roman ruler. “The governor offered him a wish. Ben Zakkai asked for Yavneh, a small town where the Jews could restart their lives after the Romans destroy Jerusalem. I just kept my mouth shut. …

There are six Hebrew words that almost all Jews, no matter how rebellious, ignorant or God hating know: Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai Eloheynu Adonai Echad. We’ve heard or spoken this line almost every time we’ve been to a synagogue. Some of us have heard our grandmothers instinctively exclaim the first two words of the phrase whenever they hear something scary. Some of us love the ritual of closing or covering our eyes when we speak the words. Lots of us know that it appears in the morning prayer, the evening prayer, the prayer before we go to sleep and other places…

From The Chronicles of New York City by JR

Man is the playground for the unpredictable emergence and multiplication of needs.

These words of Abraham Joshua Heschel echoed as I looked at my pile of laundry this morning and wondered at the tremendous amount of clothes I own. In the bible a set of clothes was one of a person’s most valuable possessions.

We usually fail to discern between authentic and artificial needs” Heschel continues, “and, misjudging a whim for an aspiration, we are thrown into ugly tensions.

Reading the Book of Nechemiah this afternoon I found myself wondering about the connection between what we consider our needs, and…

A beautiful summer Niggun by New Shul musical director, Yonatan Gutfeld

Israel’s attempt at a local Bob Dylan is the late Meir Ariel. He sang of night watches on the Lebanese border, of kibbutz nastiness, of life as the shed skin of a snake. Late in his career he added a classic which I often sing my boys to sleep with, especially in those times when I can suddenly feel summer calling:

זרעי קיץ נישאים ברוח
מעירים זכרונות
מעוררים ערגונות
זרעי קיץ באים בנחיריים
ורומזים איזה קיץ
הולך להיות

Seeds of summer carried in the wind
Stirring memories
Waking up little longings

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…

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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