WEEKLY UPDATE- 24.11.16
Dear parents, shnattim, bogrim, bogrot, communities and friends shalom rav,
We hope you are well!
This week, Ady and I visited our lovely Shnat Nof group at Kibbutz Lotan- the four hour drive was definitely worth it! Seeing the shnattim made us really happy and content, and especially hearing that they LVOE Lotan and enjoy this unique experience. As the weekly update by Dan and Tom is very detailed, and as pictures can tell more than a thousand words, I'll let them do the job!
Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom!
Weekly update by Tom Smith and Dan Apter
A piece written by Ayanda Dlomo, an ex- shnatti from SA, who finished the program two weeks ago, for her speech at Shul, Friday 18th November 2016-
Shabbat shalom everyone.
I cannot believe it has been almost 10 months since I embarked on a wonderful adventure called Shnat.
What is shnat, you ask.
Two Sundays ago on our sikkum seminar in Jerusalem we were told to send in a paragraph describing our shat year. I thought long and hard about my year. Then I finally came up with this description:
Shnat is a once in a lifetime experience. You will experience the highest highs, the lowest lows, and even ‘lower lows’. You will grow immensely and turn into a whole new person. You will question everything you know about Israel and about yourself, and develop your own understanding of Reform Zionism and of Tikkun Olam.
Where and how does this all happen in a space of ten months?
It starts off in Jerusalem, at the headquarters of Reform Judaism, in Beit Shmuel, with 32 other netzerniks from America, Australia, England, France and Germany, 13 of whom were in the same flat as I was on the programme called Etgar. The other netzerniks lived at a university campus; their programme was called Machon. The entire shnat group was called maayan which means a natural water spring.
The Etgar programme was 4.5 months long. Within this time my flatmates and I had written and performed a play/musical about a transgender shape that was a square but wanted to be a parallelogram; we had joined the Women of the Wall protest, went on a conflict seminar processed from a Reform Zionist viewpoint, written an ideology for our programme, been on tiyulim, run through fire, led prayer services, wrote a cookbook and our own Haggadah.
The list goes on and on.
Sadly, at the end of these 4 months we went on to the next stage, and said farewell to the people from the northern hemisphere. The Australians and I went on a 3 day hike, 2 days of building a raft, and then sailing across the Kineret. This was followed by a seminar. Thereafter we transferred to the next stage of our programme, Binar, in Tel Aviv.
You remember how I spoke about the highest highs and lowest lows? Tel Aviv was where I experienced my lowest lows. Within 3 days of being in Tel Aviv I was racially profiled and was forced to carry a copy of my passport and visa. Also, there was internal difficulties in the remaining group, with no support being given by ourselves to each other. Despite all the difficulties there were some great memories. What kept me going each day was my volunteer work.
I was working at 2 refugee kindergartens; at one twice a week, and at the other four times a week. The children were from Eritrea, the second most oppressive regime in the world. Some of the kids’ parents were of illegal status.
At the camp where I worked 4 x a week there were around 45 children. 15 of these were from 4 months to 1 year of age, with only 2 women working with them, and sometimes the owner’s 13 year old daughter assisted. These woman worked from 6am to 6pm Sunday to Friday. On Monday to Thursday I and 4 other volunteers took 30 of the children, holding onto a rope for safety, to the park a ten minute walk away. This was a challenge as the children did not always hold on or stay in their places as they should.
But, the joy with which the children greeted us, and the happiness they expressed at going to the park, were the most happiness I experienced. We gave these children 4 hours a day to go outside and have a real childhood in the sun.
I learnt a lot of important things from my volunteering.
I learnt how to look after kids.
I learnt patience.
I learnt how to appreciate what blessings I have in my life.
I learnt amazing leadership skills.
I learnt how to be independent.
On the 21st of August, after 6 hard weeks of volunteering a week of chofesh (holidays) we took a bus ride to the final stage of our programme: Kibbutz Lotan.
Kibbutz Lotan is in the Arava desert right next to Jordan; in fact, from the kibbutz one can see Israel’s border with Jordan. Kibbutz Lotan was the highlight of my shnat year. I was high on life every day, and in the happiest state I have ever been.
The kibbutz is environmentally designed and motivated in its work. The first place we stayed at is called the Bustan. It was a small piece of paradise. We lived in mud domes build by previous shnatties. When we cooked we used either the solar ovens or the biogas ovens. We used composting toilets and ate the vegetables from the small permaculture garden. It was paradise.
Every Monday and Friday we had an education day; the one was run by our madricha and the other we ran ourselves. We learnt about socialism and the meaning of Tikkun Olam, and had lectures on Reform Zionism from Zionist Guru Michael Livni. On the other non-education days people worked in the date fields picking dates, or in the tourism area or in the refet (diary).
For the first 9 days I worked in the date fields, but then, on my birthday, I saw a small Camel spider, and decided it was time to move on!
I then worked in tourism for two weeks and for my last weeks I worked in the refet. I found it really interesting and had a lot of fun despite the fact that I was basically doing poop-related things all day.
In the last week we all painted the building, something I really enjoyed.
During this time our group really bonded and we were the closest we ever were on shnat.
We also made friends with the Israeli shnatties who were staying there for a year, as well as some South African volunteers. We were part of a community. Our group even led a Kabbalat Shabbat for the whole kibbutz.
Kibbutz Lotan really was everything I needed after the hard time in Tel Aviv. I grew connected to and love of the desert, I grew spiritually in my feelings towards prayer and Reform Judaism and fell in love with permaculture.
Sadly, after 3 months of amazing adventure, it was time to leave. We left Lotan and returned to Jerusalem. There we had a two day seminar; after which it was time for me to go. My mom had booked me on the first flight out of Israel at 12.30am on the 9th of November, but, because I had not double checked I missed the last day of shat (I’m not saying this was her fault!).
So on the penultimate day of shnat – and my last day – we did reflection and I handed out letters I had written for everyone, and I received letters they had written to me. When the taxi arrived, I said goodbye, and as I shut the taxi door I started crying; I was leaving paradise and returning to reality.
Since returning home, after this amazing adventure, I have started using the small things I learnt and I have started planning for the future. I want to bring all the amazing ideas, lessons and information I have learnt, to Netzer South Africa.
Within the next 15 years I want to have a Netzer farm, and my biggest dream is to start and own a kibbutz in South Africa.
I have had a really wonderful year. I have found my earthly paradise (at Kibbutz Lotan) and I have found peace within myself. I have found motivation to start things, and to grow the community I have.
I would like to thank this community for the contributions and support for this year. I would like to thank my mom for all the support and parcels and for this brocha. I would also like to thank Netzer and MASA for helping me through this year.
Thank you, and Shabbat Shalom.
Stand against hate by Anat Hoffman, IRAC
Dear reader, Jerusalem is a city of sounds. In Naomi Shemer’s famous ballad, Jerusalem of Gold, she describes the sound of bells ringing throughout the city’s crisp air. In addition to bells and the sounds of chanting coming from Jerusalem’s synagogues, the Mouazin’s call to prayer is also an integral part of the city’s unique flavor. However, some see our diversity as a threat, and they have been trying for years to silence Jerusalem’s mosques. Last week a new bill was proposed by a far right wing member of the ruling coalition that would outlaw the use of loud speakers for religious worship. The law was clearly targeting Israel’s non-Jewish minority, since, at the urging of ultra-Orthodox parties the siren used in Jerusalem to welcome in Shabbat was excluded from the proposed ban. Even if the bill moves forward IRAC is ready to challenge it at every step from the Knesset to the Supreme Court. This bill is only one example of a growing number of bills and initiatives that are trying to legalize discrimination. A law that singles out mosques is an affront to anyone, regardless of religion, who feels under attack by the global rise in racism thriving under the banner of nationalism. Israel’s Declaration of Independence states that the new State of Israel “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions;”. We cannot sit quietly while racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other abuses of individual civil liberties become the new normal. We as Jews know how that game ends. We derive inspiration from people like Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the ADL, who said he would register as a Muslim if a national registry was ever instituted. Also from our rabbinic partners in North America and Europe who now visit their local mosques handing out flowers to their Muslim neighbors before Shabbat to convey to them that their rights and their dignity must and will be protected. This has been a difficult year on many fronts, but for us at IRAC it only means that our efforts to become Israel’s leading voice against racism and for tolerance is the right path. Just as we applaud the Jews, Muslims, and Christians around the world pushing back against the current tide of intolerance; we need your partnership while we work to create an Israeli society whose democracy is strong and respects all the sounds that pierce the cool Jerusalem air. Please donate to our end of the year campaign to help us continue this important work. Yours, Anat
Being Leonard Cohen’s rabbi
by Rabbi Mordecai Finley
Posted on Nov. 16, 2016 at 3:54 pm
Leonard Cohen at the Coachella music festival in 2009. Photo by Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
I last saw Leonard Cohen a few months ago. He had asked me to come to his place. After brief pleasantries, he said to me, “Reb, I am getting ready to shuffle off this mortal coil. I have some questions for you.” He and I had spoken about “Hamlet” more than a few times. I knew the play and especially the soliloquy were close to his heart, and, at that moment, closer than ever. He knew he was soon not to be, at least in this frail frame. I remember thinking to myself, “I have to remember every word we say.” We spoke longer than we ever had before, maybe four or five hours straight. Children and grandchildren genially punctuated our talk. Adam and Jessica popped in, with young Cassius Cohen in tow, commanding the room with a series of pointed questions and comments. Lorca came in. Viva lit up the room. Leonard shed his age and frailty for a moment and took on a mantle of joy.
Rebecca De Mornay, his former fiancée, stopped in. He tried to convince her to come to synagogue. We had some dinner and cookies. He asked me if I wanted to listen to the album he was working on. He played me tracks from “You Want It Darker” from his computer. I particularly remembered the title song, and also “Steer Your Way”:
Steer your path through the pain That is far more real than you That smashed the cosmic model That blinded every view And please don’t make me go there Tho’ there be a god or not
Year by year Month by month Day by day Thought by thought
If you are familiar with Lurianic Kabbalah, and its main heretical interpretation, Sabbateanism, you will understand this album, these two songs, and I think much of his body of poetry and lyrics. I think that whatever drew Leonard to me, for me to be his rabbi these last 10 years, was that for each of us, Lurianic Kabbalah gave voice to the impossible brokenness of the human condition. The pain of the Divine breakage permeates reality. We inherit it; it inhabits us. We can deny it. Or we can study and teach it, write it and sing its mournful songs.
Leonard and Anjani
I met Leonard and his then-partner Anjani Thomas when I officiated at the wedding of Larry Klein and Luciana Souza in August 2006. Larry had produced the album “Blue Alert,” with music by Anjani and lyrics by Leonard. After the wedding, I was seated next to Leonard and Anjani. They interrogated me thoroughly. Leonard listened carefully. He had this slight grin when he listened. He could see the opportunity for wit, either from himself or from a game discussion partner, a mile a way. Leonard was interested in my brand of Judaism, which I called at the time Post Orthodox Neo Chasidic. He chuckled at the acronym.
I called my wife, Meirav, after the reception (she was in Israel) and asked her if she had heard of Leonard Cohen. She almost fainted long distance. “I used to cry myself to sleep when I was in high school, writing poems and listening to his albums.” “Oops” I thought.
I did some research on Leonard that week and was astounded. I bought and listened to several of his albums, got his songbooks. I ordered his books of poetry and sank into them. I listened to “Blue Alert” in enraptured silence, and again when my wife returned from Israel.
I was very, very moved by that album, and everything else. I was deeply touched by him. I realized, ruefully, that I had been in the presence of a Great Man. Oh, well.
I was more than astounded — flabbergasted? — when Leonard and Anjani walked into shul the next Shabbat. Turns out that Anjani wanted to come for more of the spiritual psychology and she encouraged him to come, knowing this was something with which he would connect. Leonard was hesitant about joining a synagogue. They became regulars, attending weekly.
Anjani and Leonard also started attending my Monday night classes, Jewish spiritual psychology dharma talks. I taught Mussar, gave talks on Chasidut and led meditations. I did not know yet that Leonard was a Buddhist monk. I probably would have been self-conscious leading meditations in front of him had I known. He would sit in the front row, shoes off, in his signature suit, tie and fedora, eyes closed, listening, radiant. I asked him what he liked about my teachings. What in particular? “It’s not just the words,” he said. “You are a healer.” I was taken aback.
Leonard and Anjani stayed for lunch after services. Anjani and my wife became close friends (and remain so). Leonard and I became close but never chummy. He actually was much more comfortable around my wife, whom I think he truly loved. He and I only talked about deep stuff until it hurt and we had to stop. We weren’t able to chitchat.
The congregants loved Leonard. He was genteel, even chivalrous. He enjoyed the community — the music, the food and the vibe. I asked him once why he liked Ohr HaTorah and he said, “Because you are not uptight.”
A congregant once said to him she was happy that he had found a place to practice his Judaism. Leonard then pointed over to me and said, “It’s not because it’s Jewish. It’s that man that I come for. I would follow him if he were flipping burgers.” I don’t understand that, but I can tell you what I think. Leonard (he called himself Eliezer and me “Reb”) pushed me hard to explain my take on the kabbalah.
Lurianic Kabbalah sees the breaking of the vessels as the poetic truth that defined the breakage of the human being. When I took over the mysticism class at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, around 2003, I worked my way through Scholem’s classic “Sabbatai Sevi” and saw the inner truth in kabbalah’s greatest heresy. Leonard also had read this heavy tome, and nearly everything on kabbalah that I had read. (He and I both studied from Daniel Matt’s masterful translation of the Zohar.)
We both had seen the terrifying obsidian luminosity. We shared a world of Divine absence, except for a shattered residue. We shared a common language, a common nightmare. I think Leonard finally found a rabbi who spoke the truth from which he wrote. I spoke about it unafraid because I think I was more afraid not to speak this truth. Like Leonard a bit, I guess. I was a good teacher. He, on the other hand, was a great poet. What took me a half-hour to say, he could say in three words.
We often came back to one issue of dispute. By temperament, but maybe more as a professional obligation, I offered a path of repairing the broken vessels. I think Leonard could not accept that suture. Spiritually, I am somewhat equipoised between Neoplatonism and Gnosticism — topics about which we spoke often. Leonard often took the Gnostic turn. He said to me that the human condition is mangled into a box into which the broken soul does not fit. We all chafe, terribly.
After many of those discussions, I told him that I thought some of his poems were liturgy (especially his “Book of Mercy”), liturgy of the breakage. He told me that he thought everything he wrote was liturgy. I was a professor of liturgy, and I considered him the greatest liturgist of our time, and one of the greatest of all time.
Where from? Leonard’s grandfather was a Talmid Chacham, a Talmud scholar. Leonard let me borrow a copy of a sefer his grandfather wrote. A true rabbinic classic — and beautifully written. As far as I know, it remains untranslated and unavailable.
I told him about my tentative connection with Rav Yakov Leib HaKohain, a spiritual descendant of the Donmeh, a self proclaimed Neo-Sabbatean. I broke off but Leonard kept up. I honesty felt a bit nervous learning from a Sabbatean, neo or not. Leonard had no such qualms.
Soul of a poet
Once in an old radio interview in Canada, the interviewer asked Leonard if he had ever considered changing his name. He said, “Yes, to September.” She said, in some surprise, “Leonard September?” and he said, “No, September Cohen.” I think I knew him well enough to know that he wanted to say “Elul” (the month before the Days of Awe). For those afflicted with the bittersweet sadness of the broken soul, Elul is a time of intense inner scrutiny preparing for the Days of Awe.
Often after services, he asked me if I wanted to hear a poem. “Gladly,” I would say. Once, we sat down and he recited a poem, classic darkly luminous Cohen. Short lines. Couplets. Maybe 20 stanzas, perhaps more. Serrated edge of a murder weapon used on a guy who had it coming to him.
After soaking in that one, I asked him how long it took him to write it. I had known him for about a year, so I thought, “A month?” I truly think he said, “Fifteen years.” He also recited for me one time many unpublished verses of “Bird on the Wire.” Like thousands, I guess, I still sing that song to myself. Just another drunk in the midnight choir.
He sent me poetry he was working on (I think I was on a list) until the week before he passed. He wrote me on Friday that he wished he could come to shul to hear my new series of talks on a deep dive into Genesis. He died on Monday.
Once at lunch, he asked a group of people if they would like him to recite a poem based on a sermon I gave. People expected a brief “Book of Longing” kind of gem. This poem also had maybe 20 stanzas. He wrote that one in about a week.
Leonard and the Muse
Even though Leonard and Anjani split up a couple of years ago, most of the time we knew Leonard, he was with Anjani. She brought him to the house. We would prepare meals and celebrate holidays together.
It was sweet and funny to think how ordinary it was. One Thanksgiving, we had Leonard and Anjani and David and Rebecca Mamet over. The women were in the kitchen preparing food and the men were on the back porch drinking whiskey.
Not so ordinary was that we on the porch eventually talked about where our ideas come from, because people always ask us. Fewer people ask me, but people ask me nonetheless.
Leonard said, as he often did, that if he knew where his poems came from, he would go there more often. We all spoke about feeling that we were in the service of the Muse (the Bat Kol). We tried to channel her. We had to be careful around her. I remember we all stopped talking at once, agreeing silently that she did not want people talking about her as if she weren’t listening in. We said enough and stopped and went back to drinking and swapping jokes. Man, I loved his laugh. He would have a visceral experience of pure joy at a punchline. The torment would cease for a moment.
One night when we had them over, Leonard asked Anjani to sing from “Blue Alert.” Anjani sat at our baby grand, Leonard across from her softly singing along with a beatific look on his face. Meirav and I barely dared to breathe. The words, the piano, the voices — I was transported to another world. I had the strangest thought: “Now I understand music.” When Anjani sang “The Mist,” Meirav and I broke into tears. Then they started tearing up. Then Anjani said, “He wrote that when he was 17.”
A giving man
Let me tell you how generous Leonard was. First, after I knew him about a year, he gave me one of his fedoras, right off of his head. Second, when our synagogue was scraping bottom during a brutal remodeling of the dilapidated building we bought, Leonard (with several other families) came to the rescue. He was very generous (always handed his checks in person) and appreciative of the work my wife (the designer and general contractor) was doing. On one of this visits to the building, he spent a full afternoon with Meirav. He delighted in everything we had done, especially the café and the preschool. He visited with the kids in the pre-kindergarten. (The teachers almost fainted.) Got some of the lentil soup that he loved — he liked to call it “Jacob’s stew.”
He often signed his emails “Old Priest” and so I called myself “Old Sarge.” He got a kick out of knowing that I was a sergeant in the Marines a million years ago and hearing some of the stories from my military days. When we talked politics, he would quote a line of his: “Oh, and one more thing. You won’t like what comes next after America.”
A few more things. He aimed to be a vegetarian but made exceptions every time my wife made her Yemenite lamb soup. One Passover seder, he testified to the benefits of yoga and showed us poses, including standing on his head. He loved the music at Ohr HaTorah (handcrafted by our music director, the rebbetzin). One year, he brought all of the singers and not a few of the musicians on his tour to our High Holy Days services. We saw him at one point standing up and dancing. I read from his “Book of Mercy,” and do so every year.
Leonard and Judaism
People asked how could he be Jewish if he was a Buddhist monk. He told me Zen Buddhism, at least the kind that he practiced, was not a religion. It was a tuning fork for consciousness. He was a devoted Jew, a learned, deep and troubled one — a genius. He had candles lit every Shabbat. I received photos of candles lit on the tours.
Once when he was at the monastery with Zen master Roshi up at Mount Baldy, a group of Chabad guys trekked up there during Chanukah to return him to Judaism. They found him in his robes, I think he told me. He told them to shush, took them to his quarters. His Chanukah candles were sputtering. They had brought some whiskey with them. He had plastic cups. And then he told them about his Judaism and his meditative path. The way that Eliezer told me the story, they got mellow, sang and danced. The Chabad guys left a bit drunk, more than satisfied that the monk was still Jewish, and maybe a little chastened.
One day, with his children’s permission, maybe I will be able to write about that conversation that began with “Hamlet.” As I write these words, my heart is too heavy, too broken. I knew Leonard’s soul and feel it in my own. He knew mine. I think he sought me out to tell me his version, and invited me to tell him mine. I saw us as a couple of quasi-Sabbatean Neo-Chasidic kabbalists sharing a thick, dark night in that “Bunch of Lonesome Heroes”:
“I’d like to tell my story,” Said one of them so bold “Oh, yes, I’d like to tell my story ’cause you know I feel I’m turning into gold.”
In the Parashat Hashavu'a corner, we will direct you to the World Union for Progressive Judaism's column "Torah from around the world", where each week another Progressive Rabbi writes about the weekly portion. For this week's portion-
What I love about Kibbutz Lotan
Wishing you all Shabbat Shalom,
Lior and the Netzer staff
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