Va'etchanan: Remembering who you are

Each week Rabbi Ariana sends short reflections on the week’s parsha (Torah reading) to members. They are posted a week later on the blog. Sign up to be a member here, and receive these reflections before Shabbat each week.

It is easy to forget who you are.

The rush of each week's obligations, the chronic illness, the disease, the messages you get from others claiming they are the ones who know who you really are. 

It is easy to forget who you are. In your brilliant weirdness, gentle shyness, particular brand of gorgeousness.

It is easy to forget who you are, inheritor of deep and wide traditions, full of shining light and frustrating tautologies, deep commands to work for a better world, for all, now.

It is easy to forget who you are, a loving, compassionate person, when self protection tries to demand your hard shell.

This week’s parsha, Va’etchanan, calls on us to remember.

רַ֡ק הִשָּׁ֣מֶר לְךָ֩ וּשְׁמֹ֨ר נַפְשְׁךָ֜ מְאֹ֗ד פֶּן־תִּשְׁכַּ֨ח אֶת־הַדְּבָרִ֜ים אֲשֶׁר־רָא֣וּ עֵינֶ֗יךָ וּפֶן־יָס֙וּרוּ֙ מִלְּבָ֣בְךָ֔ כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֣י חַיֶּ֑יךָ וְהוֹדַעְתָּ֥ם לְבָנֶ֖יךָ וְלִבְנֵ֥י בָנֶֽיךָ׃ 

But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live. And make them known to your children and to your children’s children: (Devarim 4:9)

Moses calls the people to remember, because it is easy to forget. Miracles that were so clear before us, the fire from which the voice of G!d came pouring forth, the mountain that shook and trembled...we get complacent. We settle where we have been journeying, and we forget the miracles we swore would be embedded in our hearts and the doorposts of our homes forever.

So, we must be reminded.

By the Torah, which retells us our foundational stories of trust, fear, and liberation.

By our calendar, which scoops us up into the flow of the seasons, reminding us to notice the earth, and ourselves.

By each other, when our friends, lovers, children, call out and ask, “where have you gone?”
By our world, when we are called to witness and act on behalf of the stranger, the widow, the orphan.

We are now firmly in the season of remembering ourselves, this 7 week period before the High Holy Days, kicked off after Tisha b’Av. In this period of preparation for the New Year when we are called to account, let us call our attention to the realness of who we are, what we believe, and how we want to move through the world.

Between now and Rosh HaShanah, my Shabbat messages will include a prompt for introspection to prepare for the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. I invite you to reflect on it, write about it, make art about it, talk about it at your Shabbes table, dream on it, and ask other questions on top of it. May this time of preparation bear fruit, and offer us chances to find ourselves again, that when we run into that new year, it is with full presence of self and heart.

This week (one of seven):

What are the core values that shape you? How do you act on them?
How have you acted on your core values this year? How do you want to do so in the year ahead?

May this season bring comfort, may it bear fruit, may it call us back to ourselves and each other.

Tisha B'Av Never Again Action

Rabbi Ariana Katz of Hinenu and other members of the civil disobedience team refuse to turn their backs on people imprisoned in the Howard County Detention Center in the closing moments of the Tisha B’Av Never Again Action.

Real and Enduring

Rabbi Ariana gave the following sermon on June 29 on the occasion of her installation.

Shabbat shalom! It is an amazing thing, the view from here. Let’s do this again soon!

First of all. My deep and enduring thanks to our installation committee, who worked for months to plan this beautiful weekend. Harriette, Michele, Liz, Miriam, Evan, Aimee, Jon, Joseph, Danny, Sarah R, Ever, Noah, thank you for your planning, creativity, and secrecy. We have all been blessed by your offering of sweat and emails and 8am conference calls (!) and belief in our shul, and in me. Thank you.

To my teachers, especially Rabbi Linda, and all the others who have traveled from Philadelphia to be here--Rabbi Jacob Staub, Reverend Marvin Marsh and Terry Marsh, and those who are cheering Hinenu on from afar--Rabbi Vivie Mayer, Rabbi Liz Bolton, Rabbi Marjorie Berman, Rabbi Elisa Goldberg. 

Thank you to my dearest hevrutot, my classmates, and collaborators Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg, erev Ravim Eli DeWitt and Nora Woods, for seeing Hinenu on from the earliest tears and google doc seeds to these moments. 

Thank you to all the KT’ers and Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari of Kol Tzedek, our sibling/parent shul in Philadelphia! Thank you to my new colleagues in Baltimore, Pastor Emily Scott, Seminarian Atticus Zavaletta, Brother Merrick Moses,  Pastor Ken Brown aka Analysis, Kerry Lessard, Zainab Charudry, and those who have traveled including Rev Kentina Washington-Leapheart, Rev Naomi Washington-Leapheart, Rabbi Joseph Berman and our friends at the New Synagogue Project in DC. Thank you to the Friends of Homewood meeting for sharing your home and community with us!

I am grateful to my beloved family, on whose shoulders I stand, who taught me to show my devotion to people and text through arguing and singing. My parents, Alex and Linda Katz, my siblings Mendel and Shannon Katz-Dean + faraway Duncan Wilkinson. To my godparents, Andy and Helaine Schattner, and godsiblings Danielle, and Lia and Matthew; Uncle Joe and Anna-Louise; Sarah Stephan and Shahrzad Noorbaloochi.

To Ever, my beloved, intrepid, risk taking partner, who a year and a half before I would sign a contract with Hinenu and we would up and move here said, “ok, so it sounds like it’s time to study for the Maryland bar exam.” Ever, your labor behind the scenes making copies, buying Yizkor candles, market testing my sermons, and in front of the shtender leading our community in the final Yom Kippur Neilah prayers, convening our Conversion Circle, and holding any baby that you get close to, is a blessing for this community. I am so proud you are my partner, and our rebbetzin. 

Hinenu, I am grateful for you. I am grateful for the joy that pulsates out of this room, the laughter that erupts erev Shavuot when we’re pitching classes to each other at 10pm, or when you turn one of my sermons into a collaborative homiletical experience. I am grateful for the Torah that flows from you, in Torah study or on my porch or between hauling boxes of High Holy Day prayerbooks. I am moved by how you practice care work in caring for our space, and showing up for one another (and for my family!) I am inspired by your strength to mobilize in the face of fear, when we encounter interpersonal struggle, and when we imagine, and respond to, political and environmental violence. These early years have felt like decades. Imagine what more we will learn, what ease we can find, and what truths we will uncover together. B’ezrat HaShem, with all the help we can get.

I want to share with you a teaching that has been fundamental to my life, and my rabbinate, who would have thought it. Asher Tzvi Hersh Ginsburg, aka Achad HaAm (“One of the People,”) was a Hebrew essayist and foremost pre-state Zionist thinker, known as the father of cultural Zionism--I know. Stay with me. He wrote on many issues related to myth making, as well as modern Hebrew language and secular Jewish civilization in Israel/Palestine.

He wrote in an essay on Moses, in 1904 that included the following:

And so it is when learned scholars burrow in the dust of ancient books and manuscripts, in order to raise the great men of history from the grave in their true shapes; believing the while that they are sacrificing their eyesight for the sake of "historical truth." 

It is borne in on me that these scholars have a tendency to overestimate the value of their discoveries, and will not appreciate the simple fact that not every archaeological truth is also an historical truth. 

Historical truth is that, and that alone, which reveals the forces that go to mould the social life of mankind. Every man who leaves a perceptible mark on that life, though he may be a purely imaginary figure, is a real historical force; his existence is an historical truth.

See, it does not matter if Moses really walked this earth. If he truly crossed the Red Sea or even stood on a molehill giving some new rules to his 4 friends. We have constructed civilizations precipitated on the fact that he lived, made it through a split Sea, brought down Torah from Sinai. And more importantly, we have constructed myth and archetype, derived deep personal meaning from the leadership, humility, and passion of Moshe Rabbeinu, Moshe our Teacher. 

We must recognize today that there is a reality in which Moses is just a very, very good story. One told around campfires of hungry people needing heros to hold on to, the idea that we might actually be able to talk to G!d, that the powerful nation of Egypt could be outsmarted by a group of wily Israelites. That there is no actual archeological evidence to prove our Exodus.

We must recognize today that there is a reality in which Moses was real. Saw the back of G!d, fought for and often against his own yelling people, watched the Sea part before his open arms, got his people free from bondage, took direct action against a slavedriver, found safety as he floated down the river. Achad HaAm wants us to understand all that is true--regardless of whether it is fact. 

You are real, because you know yourself to be real.

Many things can be true at once. Many things can be true, even if they are forgotten, and myth can be created like cotton candy whirling in a sticky machine, thin fibers of the ineffable catching on one another until it is something you can see, fluffy and pink and so real.

Stories are true because they have become true in our lives.

There is no objective truth--we live in a world of myths we choose to put stock in. The scientists here know better than I that science is really just a set of really good guesses strung together that make facts. So too, tradition. So too, Torah. 

Acknowledging many truths at one time is both Jewishly familiar and fundamental for our collective survival. To acknowledge many realities is to mark that even in these moments of joy, heat, and peace, there are revolutions rising and being quashed around the world, concentration camps at our borders.

Realizing operating myths--that being the myths we take for granted and base our thinking on, might diverge is how we teach each other, move the other (especially when their myths are harmful.) Understanding our operating myths and beliefs allow us to soften towards operating myths we don’t share. How we uncover hard truths of harm and accountability, and make repairs. Admitting that many things can be true all at once is how we win, you see. I have to believe and act, as if environmental collapse is imminent, happening, worsening. The choices I make with my life, the way I spend my time, must come from this core understanding. And I have to believe, and act, as if the solutions are here, implementable, and I am a fundamental part of it. Knowing many realities might be true is how we win.

The text chosen for the front of our beautiful Torah cover, designed by Annie Sommer Kaufman with our community’s input, comes from Beresheet, Genesis, 1:2:

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃

The earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep; the breath of the Divine hovered over the surface of the water.

The image of the Divine hovering over the surface of the waters, not breaking the surface, but imperceptibly close, is my hope for our congregation. Many Truths coming close to this world, inspiring our choices.

Bamidbar Rabbah (which is midrash, which is---? Jewish fanfiction on the Torah!) explains that there are shivim panim l’Torah, seventy faces of Torah, seventy ways to explain Torah. This is multiplicity and variance in the ways we might come to interpret, or know, text, and the Divine. This is many truths being able to be found in any one sacred text. Perhaps that underlines your fear of eisegesis--that we are reading into the text only what we want to find is true. Or perhaps it is underlining that our subjective experiences, just like our neighbor’s, are holy. What do you lose, what are you losing right now, if a RIGHT WAY is taken away?

Water can take on an infinite number of shapes, is multifaceted, each is holy. So too, is Torah. I was so moved by this midrash on the Song of Songs, it lives on the back of your handout, for future reading. Hinenu-ites (and all my teachers) know that I can’t resist putting too many texts somewhere! This beautiful text explains all the ways that Torah and water are the same, including:

Just as the water has many voices, so too does Torah have many voices.

Just as water originates in tiny drops and accumulates into mighty streams and rivers, so the Torah is acquired word by word today, verse by verse tomorrow.

Just as water is not pleasing to a person who is not thirsty, so too Torah not appreciated unless a person [has struggled with it enough to be] tired from it.

Just as a scholar is not embarrassed to ask a student, ‘pass me some water,’ a scholar is not embarrassed to learn from a student a chapter, a verse, a word, or even a letter.

We inherit a mutli-vocal, multi-agenda’d cannon. We together bring all our life experiences, all our family and cultural traditions, all our values and biases and dreams, and weave together a collective myth. We saw it today in our installation ritual, all the threads of who we are as individuals into a collective story. As we act on it a collective myth, it becomes true.

Beckoning Us Forward

What is beckoning us forward, Hinenu? What do the years ahead hold, and what will they ask of us? What are the facts of this lifetime, and what are our ancestral myths that help us understand it? 

Hinenu has been gestating and growing for years now, and I’ve been a part of it since 2016. Now that we have finished our first year, that I am installed, as your rabbi, our Torah is dressed, and we have a full and clear image of our values, what do we do with it? We are no longer becoming, though we are maturing. We can no longer rest on the joy of even having made it this far--we must be propelled forward by that joy. 

What lies ahead? The years ahead will be full of great blessing, joy, beauty, and art. The years ahead may be full of unexpected suffering. Sickness, death, challenges and attacks on what we know to be most true.

What beckons us forward? That this community should be a site of healing. A place for people to name their alienation from the Jewish world for being too left. Too multifaceted. That we should be a site of healing on the journey for those bearing hurt from religious community. A place for healing created by and for all of us multifaith families,  all of us trans and queer people, all of us Jews of color, all of us people with disabilities. 

What beckons us forward? That this community should be a site of resistance. To the violence of gentrification and displacement, to homelessness and hunger. To xenophobia and the horrors of militarized borders and detention, to Islamophobia. To abelism, to transphobia, and the horrors white supremacy. That our resistance begins with words, but ends with creative, collaborative, dynamic action.

What beckons us forward? A collective responsibility to care for this holy makom, this holy place, to tend gently to this growing root system, to ease into a reality in which we are here--and we are not going anywhere, and to build on that foundation. 

What is beckoning us forward? A yearning to be together, to make something out of this lifetime. 

What is beckoning us forward? A world in which we are all truly in our excellence. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if G!d hears our prayers to make the rain fall, or Esther really did save us from disaster, or Moses walked this earth. We are building civilization together, here, with one of many histories, believing it did. May our myths guide us. May we be so blessed to know ourselves as real, reflected in the faces of our community around us. Keyn yehi ratzon.

Hinenu Supports the Hopkins Sit-In

This week, the Board of Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl voted unanimously to support the sit-in taking place at Johns Hopkins University’s administration building to protest Hopkins’ plans to create a private police force and Hopkins’ ongoing contracts with ICE.

As part of Hinenu’s support, Hinenu members will join protestors at the weekly West Wednesday and Hopkins Sit-In rallies and other times as called upon by organizers. In addition, this Saturday after Shabbat services, Hinenu Rabbi Ariana Katz will lead community members to join the sit-in at Hopkins’ Garland Hall for a session called “Songs of Liberation and Solidarity.”

From its founding, Hinenu has been guided by the Biblical call to pursue justice (“lirdof tzedek”). As Hinenu’s website says, “We are a Baltimore community committed to pursuing justice and to acting in fierce solidarity with our neighbors.”

The sit-in leaders and their supporters are Hinenu’s neighbors, and they are resisting the presence of a private police force that is unaccountable to the representatives elected by Baltimore residents. We believe this is deeply unjust. Further, as Jews we find the criminalization and imprisonment of refugees to be unconscionable, and any Hopkins cooperation with ICE the same. As we say, “we were strangers in Mitzrayim [the Narrow Straits].”

Many Hinenu members have a personal stake in the sit-in. Many Hinenu members live in Charles Village and the surrounding areas. We worship at Homewood Friends Meeting House on Charles Street. Many Hinenu members work, go to school, or are alumni of John Hopkins University. For some Hinenu members, increased policing and ICE presence makes their lives or the lives of loved ones more frightening.

May we find the courage this Passover to move boldly together, taking risks to cross the Sea, a place where access to learning, joy, and safety is possible for all of us.

Please contact Hinenu Communications Chair Evan Serpick with any questions.

Parsha Playlist — Ki Tisa

Parsha Playlist — Ki Tisa

Here are the songs for this week’s parsha in order of the narrative of the story, with a little explanation of how these songs help illuminate the people Israel’s flirtation with idol worship, Moses’ acquisition and subsequent destruction of the tablets, and the rekindling of the covenant with G-d through the revelation of G-d’s face, manner, and name. Enjoy + Shabbat Shalom!

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Deep Joy and Tidying Up

Rabbi Ariana delivered this sermon January 26/20 Shvat Shabbat morning for Parshat Yitro, at Homewood Friends.

I want to tell you a story, (as told by Eliezer Steinman.)

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement in the 18th century, was once asked: "Why is it that chassidim burst into song and dance at the slightest provocation? Is this the behavior of a healthy individual?"

The Baal Shem Tov responded with a story:

Once, a musician came to town—a musician of great but unknown talent. He stood on a street corner and began to play.

Those who stopped to listen could not tear themselves away, and soon a large crowd stood enthralled by the glorious music whose equal they had never heard. Before long they were moving to its rhythm, and the entire street was transformed into a dancing mass of humanity.

A man walking a ways away, out of reach of the music, wondered: Has the world gone mad? Why are the townspeople jumping up and down, waving their arms and turning in circles in middle of the street?

"Chassidim," concluded the Baal Shem Tov, "are moved by the melody that issues forth from every creature in G!d's creation. If this makes them appear mad to those with less who cannot understand, should they therefore cease to dance?”

The problems with what this story claims about “sanity” and “wellness,” sometimes the things that bring joy are surprising, hard to measure, unexpected.

Over the past month, Ever and I have been deep in the cleaning of our home. We bought and moved into our house at the end of July, and then a sort of big deal set of holidays came around in September, maybe you’ve heard of them, and blasted a path through the house. Many of you saw our home in various states of this moving in, including one August/Elul song circle where there was a big hole in the wall and we nestled folding chairs between boxes of High Holy Day prayer books.

So this past month, we dug through closets, hung art, and put papers where papers go. We vacuum corners untouched for decades, sorted books, placed dangly earrings in a place reserved for just them.

I will share with you today, before the Torah, Hashem, and our beloved community, that we have an entire box marked “sentimental backpacks.” Yes, that would be a box filled with preschool fish shaped backpacks, a 3rd grade Cal Ripkin backpack, a thrifted army tote with very cool and very punk buttons from high school, a handmade quilted messenger bag that was the subject of a college admission essay. If you ever wondered what a Cancer/Pisces household was like, it’s a box marked “sentimental backpacks.”

And if you’ve turned on Netflix, or been on any corner of the internet over the past month, you may have noticed a new show that has captured America’s New Years Resolution attention: “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” Across the world, people are cleaning their houses, because this professional is showing them how. The ikar, the core message of her work is to:

Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service – then let them go.

This has resulted in a wave of house cleaning, donations to thrift stores, think pieces, memes, and questions about what does it mean to let something go, and how do you know when something “sparks joy.”

Kondo on her website writes:

People around the world have been drawn to this philosophy not only due to its effectiveness, but also because it places great importance on being mindful, introspective and forward-looking.

The show follows Marie Kondo as she goes into American homes, and helps their inhabitants confront the clutter, mess, and overwhelm of life. Sounds familiar, like grandpa Yitro in this week’s parsha, who comes into Moses’ life, sees his overwhelm at a system that doesn’t work, and brings in help from the outside, to establish a system that does work. This week’s parsha shows us two systems of rule--one that a human being tries to shoulder alone and fails, and one that from the very outset is given to the entire people.

Kondo’s demand to let things go was met with derision by many. At one point she is quoted as saying that one should keep only 30 books. “I should only keep 30 books?!” the internet panicked.

Instead, she explained:

The most important part of this process of tidying is to always think about what you have and about the discovery of your sense of value, what you value that is important. So it’s not so much what I personally think about books. The question you should be asking is what do you think about books.

How we structure our days, our homes, is a reflection of our values. When those values are challenged, and we react in anger, we are able to see where we truly stand. Clarify our values.

Marie Kondo’s question, grounded in Shinto teaching from Japan, asks us to see our obligation to each object, acknowledge the identity and spirit in each physical object. “Does it bring you joy” does not demand if an item brings simple pleasure of the immediate, but does it bring a lasting, long-term feeling. So perhaps we start there--that there is something about mindfulness, introspection, and anticipation that are the roots of joy. Joy is a nuanced emotion, with depth, texture, and is not just about being happy.

Margaret Dilloway wrote in a piece for the Huffington Post this Tuesday, “What White, Western Audiences Don’t Understand About Marie Kondo’s ‘Tidying Up’” that core to the practices Kondo describes, thanking objects for the role they play in our lives, if only passing, is rooted deeply in religious practice. Dilloway writes:

Kami are Shinto spirits present everywhere — in humans, in nature, even in inanimate objects. At an early age, I understood this to mean that all creations were miracles of a sort.

She continues:

Kondo teaches that material goods are not a means for attaining happiness and urges people to appreciate what they have, a method she intends to lead to contentment, not burnout.

Happiness cannot be the only element of joy. Long term satisfaction, fulfilling commitments, feeling aligned in our values, connected to the past and the future, are all elements of joy beyond an ecstatic feeling. Happiness is great, sure! But it is not the only pursuit. Joy is a feeling of being in alignment, that flows from a meaningful life. You must not be happy to be joyful.

Take Yom Kippur, for example. That is a joyous day! The most joyful day of the year for the Jewish people, because teshuva, return, is truly possible. It is not a day of fun, of relaxing, but it can still be a joyous day, in which we take stock of our spiritual lives, do a cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting for the soul, do a spiritual inventory.

And take mitzvot, commandments, things we are drawn close to and obligated to! They can bring joy, but maybe not always happiness. That might be ok, actually. There are 39 melachot, 39 kinds of labor forbidden on Shabbat. And our wise teachers drew fences upon fences around those 39 melachot found in Torah to keep us from doing any activity that might be accidentally creative labor on Shabbat.

No creative labor on Shabbat--this translates for some as no cooking food on Shabbat. Meaning cooking happens during the work week, squeezed into free hours.

No work means no carrying on Shabbat--this means like my great Zeide did, some pin their house key onto their shirt instead of carrying it in their hand or pocket, or spend the energy to erect and maintain an eruv, a border wire that permits carrying.

No creation means no making fire--or turning off and on lights, meaning some plan far in advance with automatic timers, or leave certain lights on over Shabbat.

How is this an oneg Shabbat, delighting in Shabbat? What’s happy about all this?!

What if we realized we were obligated to mitzvot not just because they made us feel good? For some of us, our relationship to mitzvot is one of learning, exploring, and taking on the practices that feel like commandments--we opt into to a relationship with mitzvot. For others of us, we feel chiyyuv, obligated to mitzvot, from a force of history or G!d greater than our own moment in time. Regardless of how your approach mitzvot, there is joy that comes from observance, that doesn’t mean you’re happy. You’re in shul on Yom Kippur, or you’re hustling and rearranging your life to make Shabbat morning or a dinner happen. We don’t do mitzvot because they’re like candy, we do mitzvot because we are obligated to them, to other people, to Hashem. If we think we only do things because they feel good then we are doing a cheaper version of what life could be. There must be more to life than just pursuing fleeting happiness.

A core critique I’ve heard in response to Marie Kondo’s Art of Tidying Up is that being able to get to choose what you get rid of is a luxury for the well off. What about when you cannot afford to let go of that which does not bring you joy? What about when you’re forced to get rid of what does? What about when the choices you make are for survival, not your ethical values beyond that? In a piece called “Can You Marie Kondo When You’re Poor” by Keshia Naurana Badalge on Vice, she writes that:

Poverty necessitates a little bit of hoarding, sometimes.”  She explains that “Marie Kondo also mentions to thank the objects you own that you don’t like, for they teach you about what you do like. My issue with this: What if one has little money to buy things they like.

In this piece, the author is not ready to get rid of this philosophy all together.

I agree with Marie Kondo’s philosophy of a clear space giving you a clear mind. But I was constantly hungry and looking for food, and this incessant worry about money is the biggest obstacle to a joyful life.

All people have the capacity to take stock of their spiritual lives, their material lives, and see how their values are playing out, it is a luxury to be able to make decisions based on this information. When we look to the poor to answer for poverty, we are asking the wrong question.

We must eradicate poverty, not the poor.

The question must be instead “does capitalism bring me joy?” The answer is no, of course, because the values you hold are not in line with such a world. This week’s parsha reminds us that a small group of people’s burnout, or suffering, is unacceptable to the entire people. For all to be joyful, all must have the resources space, and dignity to thrive. There is more to joy than it being purely personal. Joy is relational.

And then there are the possessions we keep, the things we do, the families or communities we continue to be a part of though they bring us no joy, but because at one point, they helped us survive. The behaviors we hold on to not by choice, but because they kept us from falling over the cliff. For those things, we account, and we offer gratitude for our cleverness that has allowed us to survive.

The work then will present itself, as it always does, when we are weighed down by relationships, practices, and habits we developed years ago, but no longer serve us. Before we begin to lay them down, bag them up, slough them off, we must show gratitude to the things which have helped us make it to this point, or get to a place of communal learning or practice or relationship repair or whatever it may be. The challenge is to get brave enough to lay it down and to name it is no longer serving you.

Maybe you spent years being pushed away, unaccepted, hurt, ignored in religious spaces, and the tool that helped you survive became “I don’t like to be in religious space, I’m not that religious.” Maybe if you’re now finding places where you are rejoiced in, honored, seen, you are challenged to re-discover your spiritual self. Honor that tool of disinterest that protected you from heartbreak. Maybe you developed a lack of trust to survive a lifetime of violence. Maybe if you’re now finding people and chosen family and places where safety becomes a reality, not a story you once heard, you can begin to re-train, and trust your instincts. Honor that tool of vigilance that protected you from pain.

And after you thank those tools, you make a tashlich. You cast off that which is no longer of service to you, is inappropriate to you, clutters your field of vision.

For the mess, the clutter, the objects we keep and the things we are ready to purge, we must offer up gratitude.Gratitude is fundamental to joy.

I believe it is time to stop trying to be happy. I want to invite you to take a serious, analytical look at your life, your behavior. Take a spiritual inventory, a cheshbon hanefesh. It is your life to look at. Account for the choices you make that you are proud of, the relationships that bring you closer to the person you want to be, obligations you fulfill that enrich your community. And look for that which does the opposite. Find that which does not bring you joy, even if it brings you happiness. What happiness is standing in the way of real joy?

Together we can stop asking the white-washed version of the question, “what makes me happy,” and ask instead, “what makes us joyful?” What is the real work that brings our values and ourselves into alignment?

To close as we opened, another chassidic teaching explaining Psalm 126:2-3:

"...then they will say among the nations, 'G‑d has done great things with [the Jews]' Indeed, G‑d has done great things with us; we were joyous."33

Why has G‑d "done great things with us"? Why have we merited redemption?

Because "we were joyful."

Redemption will only come when we are joyful--meaning our actions are aligned with our values. We begin to prepare to move into the month of Adar, and we will sing about the joy that increases in Adar.

In this season, a kavvanah, an intention:

May our actions match our values,
May we find clarity on the world we wish to see and how we are called to move through it,
and may we come to feel true, deep joy.
Kein yehi ratzon, so may it be.

Evan Serpick: Why I'm Here for Hinenu

At first, I may not seem like a typical candidate for membership in an upstart shul like Hinenu. I’m 43 years old, married with two sons, and—perhaps most notably—I already belong to another shul, Reservoir Hill’s Beth Am, where I am co-chair of the Social Action Committee.
Indeed, Beth Am meets many of my family’s needs: My boys attend Hebrew School there (“The Jewish Discovery Lab”), we enjoy Shabbat morning services in the beautiful, historic sanctuary, and I’ve appreciated working with clergy and fellow members on criminal justice and immigration issues, among others.  

And yet, I am here for Hinenu! 

From the moment I met Rabbi Ariana Katz and the other founding members of Hinenu, I knew I had found another home—who says you can only have one?
In this home, queer Jews, Jews of color, interfaith couples and families, and non-Jews were welcomed and loved like in no other Jewish community I’ve ever known. In this home, values of equity, racial justice, and solidarity were lived, loved, and integrated into every decision we made. In this home, I found a willingness—indeed, a desire—to openly talk about Israel/Palestine and express solidarity with Palestinians in a Jewish context.
As I have watched this community come into existence over the past year, I have become more and more convinced that Hinenu is an essential addition to Jewish Baltimore. While traditional shuls locally and around the country are closing and consolidating, Hinenu represents a new kind of Jewish community, one that allows Jews of all backgrounds to be their full selves, and I am here forit. 

Join us and become a member of Hinenu today. The Founding Membership Drive closes on Friday, August 3rd at sundown!

Whether you belong to another shul or not, I encourage you to become a member of Hinenu. There’s no rule that says we can only have one Jewish home—indeed, Hinenu’s bylaws explicitly encourage members to take the financial obligations of other shul memberships into account when deciding their membership level with Hinenu. So, join us and be here for Hinenu!


Evan Serpick

Don't want to pay membership dues online? Mixed up by the form? Email!