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…

Killed at Battle of Gettysburg by Ronda Mann

Dear Friends,

Willow, a bright twelve-year-old student answered my question in a way I had never heard before. “Why do you want to have a Bat Mitzvah,” I asked. “Tradition,” she said, “should be something we think of every day.” The reason Willow is right is simply because tradition is something we live with every day of our lives. The Jewish tradition is one piece of that. The particular traditions of our families past, present and future is another. And then there are the traditions that go beyond our family, our people, our faith.

I thought of these traditions this…

Manu in front of the Halleluyah Tree

Dear friends,

Smack in the middle of Prospect Park stands a majestic tree with dozens of dancing arms and an enormous protective lump jutting out at eyes’ height. Its chunky roots sprawl out and cover the area beneath its branches all around its fat trunk, far too wide to hug. I’m not the only one attracted to it, which is evident by the dollops of paint in different colors that people have left on that protective lump, in the way that is done to holy trees in India, or the Jerusalem mountains. …

Jerusalem born and raised, lured west by the New York theater scene, and called to the gods of justice, art and community, Misha is the rabbi of The New Shul, and the director of the School for Creative Judaism.

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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