A YEAR OF KAVANAH
By Laura Horowitz
One of the great treasures of Judaism, and one that is often taken for granted, is the Jewish calendar. For this we can thank the rabbis, who understood completely what God wanted the Jewish year to look like. Torah gives us dates for our major holidays (chagim), but it doesn’t tell us how to design a calendar. Should it be lunar, solar, some combination of the two or something else altogether? The rabbis had to decide how much should we be ruled by natural cycles and how much should we rule them. If they allowed the moon or sun to govern our year, the chagim will rotate around the calendar and end up falling in different seasons over time. The dates, however, are not changeable-God decided those. But the rabbis were up to the challenge, and, in their usual immensely clever way, came up with the perfect answer.
Our calendar is a wonderful microcosm of Jewish thinking. It shows the desire to balance competing forces without losing the essence of any of them. There is little in life that the rabbis were prepared to condemn altogether. They felt that God’s creations (even the yetzer ha’ra, the evil inclination) serve a purpose. In Judaism, the balance between nature and human is crucial. We are to transcend our natural selves to become more Godly and thus fulfill the purpose of our creation. But we are never to forget that we are part of nature, utterly dependent on it and bound to respect and care for it.
Our chagim combine the awareness of nature that characterized our pagan antecedents and the call to nurture the divine in ourselves that is the heart of Judaism. They are designed to take place during specific times of the year so that we can experience them with all of our senses as well as our minds and souls. So Pesach is to take place in the spring, and its themes and rituals echo the idea of rebirth and new growth. And the beginning of our year is not in the dead of winter, but in the fall. One might think that Pesach and Rosh Hashanah should be reversed so that the new year would occur during the re-emergence of life in the earth. But our rabbis were brilliant enough to see why God set the holidays as they are commanded in Torah.
When do we feel most alive during the year? When do we feel the most energized, most focused, most ready to take on new challenges and return to the old ones with greater dedication? For me, it’s not in the spring. Then, my body and mind are looking forward to the delicious lassitude of summer. No, I agree with the rabbis-the fall is when it feels to me that the year is about to begin. As the weather cools, I feel sharper, more aware and filled with a greater sense of purpose than I can summon during the warmth and dreaminess of spring and summer.
When we are filled with that feeling of purpose and focused energy, we are experiencing kavanah. This is the Hebrew term for intentionality. In its most literal meaning, it applies to the state of mind we are to bring to prayer. We are meant to say the words in our prayer books (siddurim) with utter sincerity and dedication, truly feeling the words in our souls. In contemporary times, the compilers of siddurim recognize that sometimes the traditional words are not what we need to say and feel, and so these writers provide alternative readings or encourage us to create our own prayers. The words themselves are less important than the kavanah we bring to them, because that will drive us to realize the dreams and desires about which we pray. It is kavanah that brings meaning to our thoughts and actions. It is kavanah that makes our lives Jewish. We have a multitude of opportunities every day to choose to act Jewishly. Every choice we make, from what we eat to how we dress, from the kind of words we use to what kind of cars we drive and how we behave behind the wheels of those cars-all of these can be informed by Jewish belief and practice if we decide to bring that intention to our acts.
Kavanah is such an important Jewish concept that the JWC board has decided to adopt it as our theme this year. We will be presenting out usual calendar of events, including all of our favorites, but with a twist. We’ll be asking some questions at every program that are designed to heighten our kavanah regarding the month and the topic presented. What happens during this Jewish month to make it particularly Jewish? How does it interact with the rest of the calendar? Why did we choose the topic we did for a particular month? What can we take away from the program that will help us maintain our awareness for the rest of the month?
When we walk out of the Ne’eilah service after the last shofar blasts on Yom Kippur, there’s a feeling of energy and commitment that is unlike anything else that happens during the year. We have come through the Days of Awe feeling cleansed and refreshed, and we are full of intentions to be better people and better Jews in the coming year. But…well, we all know what happens then. The daily struggles and problems we face wear down our energy and distract our attention. It’s inevitable. But now and again during the year we miss that energy surge, that feeling of being filled with kavanah. During this year, we hope to give you a chance to recapture those feelings at our monthly Rosh Chodesh programs and the other events we have scheduled, including our Sukkot pot luck, annual fall retreat, Jewish Women’s Readings and more. Come and refill your Jewish energy supply as we learn, create, explore and enjoy the company of other Jewish women. We hope you’ll plan to join us for a year of kavanah!
The next meeting of the JWC book group takes place on Tuesday, September 28 at 7:30 PM. The group will be discussing The Gilded Chamber by Rebecca Kohn. This is a novel-length midrash about Queen Esther. If you enjoyed The Red Tent, you might want to check this one out. It’s a new book, so it’s easily available at bookstores and libraries. The book group will meet at Lynne Feinberg’s home, 2229 Delaware Avenue in Swissvale. Please RSVP to the JWC email or by phone to Lynne at (412) 242-6601.
Put November 4th from 6-10PM on your calendar for the second annual Shop to Stop Domestic Violence at the Galleria. This is a VERY fun evening during which the Galleria in Mt. Lebanon is closed to everyone except those attending this fund raising event for the Greater Pittsburgh Women’s Center and Shelter. There will be great free food from Galleria and Waterfront restaurants, free drinks, music, prizes, and all the shops are open and giving up to 25% discounts so people can do some holiday shopping. Tickets are $50. If you’re interested, contact Pat Cluss at email@example.com and she’ll get in touch with you when tickets are available.
On Sunday, December 5, 2004, the UJF of Greater Pittsburgh presents a program on domestic violence in the Jewish community. Breaking the Silence: a Domestic Violence Community Program takes place in the Katz Auditorium at the Squirrel Hill JCC from 9:00 a.m.- 11:30 a.m. It will include a dramatic presentation of “Not So Happily Ever After…the very real stories of some American Jewish families”, a panel discussion including experts from the Greater Pittsburgh Women’s Center and Shelter, NCJW’s Silent Witness Initiative, Jewish Family and Children’s Service, and personal stories from women in our community. The program is sponsored by a consortium of Jewish women’s groups and agencies providing services to victims of domestic violence. The JWC is proud to be a co-sponsor of this event. For more information, please contact Kristen Brown at (412) 994-5204 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you liked The Ladies Auxiliary, you’ll be happy to see that Tova Mirvis is back with another novel. The Outside World again explores the Orthodox community, this time in Brooklyn. Mirvis shows us that the outsider’s view of Orthodoxy as a monolithic group is quite wrong. In fact, it contains many variations in tradition and practice, and of course, this creates conflict and controversy. The Ladies Auxiliary presented both the shortcomings and the rewards of Orthodoxy in a deeply sympathetic way, and we can anticipate another enjoyable read when we visit The Outside World.
Estelle Frankel is a psychotherapist and a longtime teacher of kabbala. She has studied under Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and has taught meditation and spiritual guidance practices here and in Israel for thirty years. Now Dr. Frankel brings us Sacred Therapy: Jewish Spiritual Teachings on Emotional Healing and Inner Wholeness. She uses familiar Jewish concepts, such as the exodus and the brokenness of the Torah tablets, as paradigms for ways to unify the psyche and the spirit in a Jewish context. The book contains ideas for guided meditations and rituals that will help the reader attain what Frankel calls tikkun nefesh, the healing of our souls. This sounds like it was made for the JWC! And it also sounds like it would be a wonderful book to read as we start the new year.
And on the web:
Here’s a chance to practice our kavanah skills right away, and do a mitzvah at the same time! If you click on
http://myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Rosh_Hashana/Overview_Rosh_Hashanah_Community/Sounding_Shofar/HowToShofar.htm, you can hear the shofar as it calls us to awaken our souls for the work of return and renewal in which we engage during this holiest of seasons. The site not only features the sounds of the shofar, it also explains the meaning of the various calls and tells us the history of the tradition of shofar blowing. By learning why we blow the shofar, we can bring true kavannah to hearing it.
We were privileged to have Stephanie Flom of the Persephone Project as a speaker this past Rosh Chodesh Iyar. The Persephone Project is an innovative endeavor to make gardening in our public spaces a new kind of art, thus encouraging creativity in a non-traditional medium and promoting public appreciation of the environment. If you would like to learn more about the Project, visit their website at http://www.persephoneproject.org/PersephoneProject.html. We’re lucky to have this kind of cutting-edge work going on here in Pittsburgh (pardon the feeble gardening pun). Anyone up for a field trip to the Project sites?
If you have recommendations for this column, please send them along. We’ll be glad to share them with the JWC membership.
Mazal tov to Paula Engel on the birth of her new grandson, Desmond Moses, born June 5. - 8 lbs 15 oz. Proud parents are Richard Engel and Jennifer Bannan. Desmond was 8 pounds 15 ounces and is named for his maternal great-grandfather Moshe…Lois Rubin’s grandson Kai was born on July 16. He was 7 lbs. 3 oz. and was welcomed into the world by, among others, his mother Beth and his big sister Maya Devorah, age 5…Pat Cluss has been elected to the Board of Directors of Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh…Barbara Shuman was recently elected to the Executive Committee of the new Agency for Jewish Learning, and will serve as secretary on the initial board…Michael Jones, Melissa and Steve’s son, spent 3 weeks in Baghdad for his job facilitating economic development for small businesses in developing countries. He works in the Iraq reconstruction team for U.S.A.I.D.and was in Baghdad to facilitate loans to small business owners. We’re happy to report that his trip was productive and that he returned safely…Eli Horowitz, Laura and Mike’s son, was named to the Dean’s List both semesters of his first year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst…Our condolences go to Elizabeth Gordon on the recent loss of her brother-in-law.
If you have news about yourself or a family member that you would like to share with the JWC, email it to me anytime, and it will appear in the upcoming newsletter.
Last year, we tried a new way of raising funds for our annual tzedakah project. In addition to collecting tzedakah at our programs, we added a line on our membership form to allow you to add a donation to your membership fee. The response was phenomenal! We were able to send Women of the Wall over $500. This year, our project is the Haifa Women’s Crisis Shelter. The shelter serves as a clearinghouse for the other battered women's shelters in Israel, accepting women for short periods of time and then referring them to long-term battered women's shelters or alternative housing arrangements. More information about the Shelter will be available in our next newsletter, but we would like to give you the opportunity to support it now when you renew your membership. Watch your mail for your renewal letter. If you’re not currently a JWC member and would like to make a donation to the Shelter, we would be happy to forward your check. Just send it to us at PO Box 81924/Pittsburgh, PA 15217.
This is from CLAL, the Center for Learning and Leadership. CLAL does great work, including producing a weekly newsletter that is well worth reading. It can be found at www.clal.org. This is a slightly edited version.
Our tradition teaches that we can have a direct and active role in changing our fate for the coming year. While our desire to change our lives is particularly strong during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we can choose to make important changes all year long.
Help me to take a good look at my life and give me the courage to make changes I want to make. Guide me on my journey as I strive to make good changes, in myself and in the world I live in.
During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (or any time at all!) take an active role in changing your fate in the following five ways:
Tzedaka-Changing the world.
Use your talents and resources to create more justice in the world. Decide: What can you do this day…this week…this month…to make an immediate difference?
You can cry out about all that's unfair in the world, but you can choose other equally effective ways, such as letters, petitions, social action, and prayers or words and prayers of tears. Strategize: how can you increase the possibility that your most pressing outcry is heard?
Shinui hasheim-Changing your identity
Altering some aspect of your identity, you expand beyond the way others define you in your relationships and in your work. Ask yourself: How could a small adjustment in the way you and others identify you allow you to recognize your own personal dreams and aspirations?
Shinui ma'aseh-Changing what you do
You can break some old, familiar patterns of behavior, such as the way you relate to family, friends or colleagues. Decide: If you were to commit yourself to establishing a new pattern of behavior at home, at work, or in the community, how could you increase the possibility that it becomes habitual?
Shinui makom-Changing your environment
While you do not have to literally leave where you are (though you could!) you can make small adjustments in the places you live and work in order to change your feelings and sense of purpose in the places you're in. Commit to making such changes as: placing a photo on your desk, placing a mezuzah on your door post, opening your doors to others, adopting a kitten, building a ramp so all can enter…
As you meditate upon the change you will make and take active plans
May we all be remembered and recorded in the Book of life, blessing, sustenance and peace. (from High Holiday liturgy)
Rabbi Isaac said: Four things change a person's fate, namely: tzedaka, crying out, changing one's name and changing one's conduct…And some say: changing one's place. (Babylonian Talmud: Rosh Hashanah 16b)
Will your hear our regrets? Will you release us from being prisoners of habit? Will you accept our prayers…and tune in to our heart's intent? (from Kol Nidrei service)
Because the world is a different place each moment I am alive, there is unlimited potential for change. (Olitzky and Sabath, Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days)
Turning, prayer and deeds can change our fate.
Pat Cluss made this for last year’s retreat, and it was fabulous.
BUTTERCUP HOMINY STEW
(from Cooking Light)
2 tsp cumin seeds 2 cups water
1 T vegetable oil 1 cup chopped red onion
1 tsp sugar ˝ cup chopped green bell pepper
2 T all-purpose flour Ľ cup minced fresh cilantro
1 T chili powder ˝ cup plain yogurt, if desired
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups cubed peeled buttercup or other winter squash (about 2 pounds)
1 can (15˝ oz) yellow hominy or whole kernel corn, drained
1 can (10˝ oz) beef broth or substitute vegetable bouillon
Cook cumin seeds in a large saucepan over medium heat 1 minute or until toasted. Remove seeds from pan. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add 1 tsp. toasted cumin seed, chopped onion and sugar; sauté 5 minutes or until onion is lightly browned. Stir in flour, chili powder and garlic. Add squash, water, hominy and broth; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Uncover and simmer an additional 10 minutes or until squash is very tender and stew thickens. Serve, with sides of roasted cumin seeds, bell pepper, cilantro and yogurt as toppings.
Yield: 4 servings (1 ˝ cup each)
And what’s a good hearty bowl of soup without some warm, crusty bread to sop up the last drops? Here’s a recipe I found in a mystery novel. The protagonist of this series owns an herb shop, so the books all have creative recipes using herbs, spices and edible leaves and flowers. Yum!
3 c flour 2 tblsp. sugar
4 ˝ tsp baking powder ˝ tsp garlic salt
˝ tsp onion salt 1 tsp dill seed
1 ˝ c (1 12-oz. bottle) beer, room temperature 2 tblsp.minced fresh dill
Spray or lightly oil a 9” X 5” loaf pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, stir the dry ingredients together. Add dill seed, fresh dill and beer, and mix well. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool for at least 5 minutes before dividing into 8 slices. If you like the bread crustier, put the slices under the broiler and toast lightly.
Susan Wittig Albert
A Dilly of a Death
JEWISH WOMEN’S CENTER of PITTSBURGH
P.O. BOX 81924
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
A YEAR OF KAVANNAH
CALENDAR OF EVENTS FOR 5765 / 2004-2005
Tashlich Sunday, September 19 Chatham Pond*
Sukkot Potluck Sunday, October 3 6544 Darlington Rd.
Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan Thursday, October 14 LZC**
Fall Retreat Saturday, October 23 Miri Rabbinowitz's Home
Rosh Chodesh Kislev Sunday, November 14 Panera Breads
Jewish Women’s Writings 10:30 AM 3401 Blvd. of the Allies
Rosh Chodesh Tevet Sunday, December 12 LZC
Rosh Chodesh Shvat Monday, January 10 LZC
Tu b’Shvat Seder Tuesday, January 25 LZC
Rosh Chodesh Adar I Wednesday, February 9 LZC
Rosh Chodesh Adar II Friday, March 11 LZC
Family Kabbalat Shabbat 6 PM
Ta’anit Esther Wednesday, March 23 LZC
Rosh Chodesh Nisan Sunday, April 10 LZC
Women’s Pesach Seder Thursday, April 28 LZC
Rosh Chodesh Iyar Monday, May 9 LZC
Rosh Chodesh Sivan Tuesday, June 7 LZC
Annual Meeting 7:30 PM
Rosh Chodesh Tammuz Do-It-Yourself via email
Tu b’Av Sunday, August 21 TBA
Women’s Picnic Brunch 10:30 AM
*Meet in the Tree of Life parking lot, Wilkins at Shady Aves.
**The Labor Zionist Center is located at 6328 Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
JWC MISSION STATEMENT
The Jewish Women’s Center is a community of women of all backgrounds that provides educational opportunities and spiritual experiences rooted in Jewish values and feminist ideals. The JWC is a supportive environment for broadening our knowledge and involvement in Jewish life. The programs and resources of the JWC create opportunities for Jewish women’s learning, leadership, spiritual growth and ritual practice.
I prefer to receive the JWC newsletter ___by email ___by U.S. mail.
Membership Level: ___$18 ___$36 ___$50 ___$75 ___other
Membership contributions are tax-deductible. Choose the level that works best for you. Membership at the $36 level or above allows us to maintain our financial base.
Would you like to make an extra donation to support this year’s JWC tzedakah project, The Haifa Women’s Crisis Shelter? If so, please indicate below and write one check for both membership and tzedakah.
I have included my donation of $ ____ for the JWC tzedakah project.
Please return this form with your check to:
Jewish Women’s Center of Pittsburgh
P. O. Box 81924
Pgh., PA 15217
Barbara Baumann Program
Pat Cluss Program
Melissa Jones Program
Lynne Feinberg Program
Malke Frank President
Elizabeth Gordon Publicity
Laura Horowitz Communications
Larissa Myaskovsky Membership
Julie Newman (ex officio) Rosh Shira
Mimi Reznik Treasurer