Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Havdallah Twist

     Havdallah is one of those ceremonies that I have found enriching, fun and in little need of change.  It's a quick ceremony marking the end of Shabbat with all of the hallmarks and symbols of a ritual embodying a full sensual experience, allowing the sacredness of Shabbat to flow into the regular week.  The wine, the spice box, and the twisted candle bring the tastes of Shabbat to all of the senses.  So, when a congregant of mine asked me to participate at her son's bar mitzvah party by leading the Havdallah ceremony, I was grateful for the opportunity to bring this sacred ritual to the bar mitzvah party as the capstone to a powerful day. 
     As is often the case, after I was asked to participate, she then tentatively asked if I minded if they changed a few things.  After I passed the "uh oh" moment, she allayed my fears when she suggested that everyone participate in the Havdallah ceremony by having sparklers.  We had the wonderful idea that our bar mitzvah boy, with Havdallah candle in hand would go around lighting each sparkler.  Well, when the time came, it took much longer to light the sparklers and, boy, were we happy that everyone took the initiative to light their own sparklers using the tiki torches.  Amazingly, it had a wonderful effect. 
     After we talked about including the sparklers, she then broached the spices dilemma; how to allow everyone to participate in the spices part of the ceremony.  We tossed in the idea of having little spice bags for everyone, but quickly nixed it.  Then my congregant in all her creativity came up with the idea of a candied orange peel for everyone to enjoy a piece.  Far from traditional, this isn't your mama's spice box, it became an extraordinarily inventive twist on spices, both sweet and savory to the nose and mouth. 

Below is the link to the recipe for the candied orange peel:

     When navigating between the sacred and the joyous, the prayers and the parties, we must encourage, support and leave space for those sparks of creativity and ingenuity to spill over and mix with each other while not subsuming the gravitas of these milestone events.
     In an age where the bar mitzvah ceremony and party are often relegated to two different universes, it was really amazing, awe-inspiring and humbling to see that chasm bridged by a family willing to engage in the narrative of Jewish life and make it their own.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Looking to the 41st century

     As a sci-fi junkie, I enjoy many of the new dystopian movies and books out there.  Each author, producer, etc. is looking for new and interesting ways for humanity to be destroyed, while like the Phoenix, a remnant rises from those ashes.  It's an easy slippery slope to glide down and this type of thinking we have engendered from millennia. 
     In preparation for tonight's sermon I was reading Rabbi Prouser's take on this weeks portion (b'har & b'hukkotai) through the online publication of Torah Sparks put out by the United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism ( and the writings found on, as well.  The common theme for much of the portion was the environment as the seven year sabbatical of the land is mentioned as is the Jubilee.  I was also reading in the paper two opposing articles on the environment; one that highlighted a town's negative reaction to the possibility of more gas wells being dug there and another that was excited about America's emergence as an energy leader for the next hundred years or so, with the idea that fossil fuels were reemerging as a not so limited resource. 
     The oft quoted phrase reminding us that we may inherit the earth from our parents, but what we bequeath to our children and grandchildren is up to us, made me wonder what was going to happen 1,000 years from now, one millennium.  Yet, maybe that's not enough to convince people of the need to find alternative resources for power, maybe we need to take it to the next millennium, the forty-first century, 2,000 years from now.  Though I don't think it's possible for our limited resources to power us for another thousand years, what is the generation of the 41st century going to do for power? 
     What an absurd question!  So many people continue to think that we are going to destroy ourselves over and again, year after year.  They prophecy our doom, an Armageddon that would make this discussion moot.  They give us a glimpse into the power and greed that could turn the earth into a wasteland.  Their concerns are valid, but I believe that a change of perspective is imperative.  As important as it is to learn from the past and live in the present, we must start preparing for this distant future.  Indeed so many people are boarding the technological fast train and making leaps and bounds in our technical, medical, energy abilities, but sometimes we get shortsighted.  I read earlier in the year that one of the most abundant elements in the universe, helium, is becoming rare on earth.  In fact, scientists have determined that we will lose helium as a resource in about 100 years. Helium is not only used for fun birthday parties, making funny voices, but also in critical medical equipment (it can also be mixed with oxygen to create heliox which makes breathing easier and can help save new-born babies).  Helium is mined from the earth as a byproduct of the radioactive decay of elements such as uranium or thorium.  When helium is released into the air, it is then lost forever. (
     This is then my prescription.  It is the 41st century we must start looking toward.  Dare I make the analogy that we are none too different than the ivory hunters of Africa, killing the elephants for their tusks without concern for the repercussions.  We lay waste to our wetlands, rainforests and natural resources with little concern.  We have firmly accepted the fact we may do as we wish without consequences.  It is a conquerors' mentality that has continued to pervade all aspects of society.  In general, the Native American understanding of their relationship to the land should instruct us.  When they would hunt, they would harvest and use every part of the animal, not just the meat and hide but also the bone, sinew, stomach, etc. for tools and the like.  In a recent conversation with a funeral director, I was informed about the extent that hospitals will utilize an organ donor's body.  He said, that the cadavers are coming in without most of their skin, for skin grafts!  Though, I admit my first reaction was quite visceral, being a little disgusted by the image and when and where I was being informed.  However, in retrospect, as an organ donor myself, I'm glad that my body parts won't go to waste.  What better way to do a good deed than to help the living when I'm no longer alive to do so.     
      We need to make this kind of conservation an integral part of every aspect of our lives.   Whether its transportation, food, wrapping, music, etc. the status of recycling needs to be elevated to critical.  Two thousand years ago when the Second Temple was destroyed our ancient rabbis transformed Judaism away from the sacrificial cult it was into the praying, studying, social action oriented religion it is today.  We now need to start looking 2,000 years ahead to that 41st century, imagining what we might become and setting the foundation for that, today.