Saturday, May 8, 2010

Motzi Shabbat in Jerusalem

We took a little walk in downtown Jerusalem after Shabbat got out tonight. We ran into some of my American colleagues from the chaplaincy delegation that is here and one of them was kind enough to snap this pic of us.

Shabbat afternoon we walked to the Old City and to the Kotel (Western Wall). It was kind of on the warm side, but really just beautiful weather. On the way to the Old City, we stopped in Independence Park for a bit and heard a boy of about 9 complain angerly to his parents about their choice of a place for their picnic -- "אתם ממש פריירים! (you are real freiers) for picking such a spot when there is a one with more shade and nice water over there," he cried. Freier is a yiddish word that roughly translates as sucker or rube; some say it is an Israeli obsession to not be a freier.


Before we ran into my friends, Minna got a sugar-free ice cream -- I think she looks like she's enjoying it so much in this pic that she could be in an ad for it!!! (I had a taste and have to admit it was a lot better than diet ice cream I've had in the States!)

From Israel Spring 2010

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Here and there

So far in these few days in Israel, I am enjoying all the things I expected to enjoy: the smell of the jasmine, the papery magenta glory of bouganvillea, the nervous-making challenge of speaking Hebrew and, of course, eating bourekas and drinking cafe hafuch! There are also tangible things I don't quite know how to put into words: the pungent smell of an unidentified plant that rises into the nostrils as the sun heats the soil on the many gravelly paths around Jerusalem, the odd slickness of the paving stones under my sandaled feet.

But one thing that's very present for me on this short-but-sweet trip is that there are lots of things I could do to connect with Israel (and especially with its Hebrew-language culture) from anywhere but find myself not doing. For example, from a technical perspective, there's nothing that stops me from reading Israeli newspapers online from Boston or Reading or one of the many wifi-enabled rest stops between the two. In particular, Ha'aretz has a book review section on Wednesdays that I know I find an especially enjoyable challenge. But, sitting here in Tmol Shilshom (a bookstore, cafe, happening spot here in the center of Jerusalem that I never know how to get to except by wandering around til I find it), drinking espresso, enjoying the other tourists and regulars, I find myself actually poring over a book review in Hebrew for the first time in months.

It's interesting to me that all the technological advantages of being alive today still can't compete with the phenomenon of "out of sight, out of mind." Connecting with Israel and its people still requires the work of setting a kavannah (intention) and also of setting a priority in terms of how I structure my time. For that matter, I could do a better job of keeping in touch with people here. So, the question I leave open for myself is this: Given that --even in the States-- I am much better at paying attention to the people and the tasks that are right in front of me than I am at remembering who and what else exists in the world, how best to find ways to set Israel and Hebrew before me consistently enough that the thread is not entirely broken in the months (and probably years) away?

Can I take comfort in the fact that I am not alone and that Jews who live far from here have often worried about the tendency to forget? When the psalmist writes: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy" (Psalm 137), I hear not only longing, but a real concern about forgetfulness. Knowing my own tendencies, I don't dare make any such vows. But I do want to leave this potential for forgetting open as a place for further inquiry.

I laugh at your parking ticket!

Well, actually, despite Minna's apparent bravado, we just paid it.

In the old days, you had to wait in line at the post office to pay tickets (which is what the rental car people still told us we would have to do), but it turns out that you can just go pay them online.

Minna's been seeing old friends and going to museums while I've been attending the spiritual care conference.

Tomorrow we'll be in Tel Aviv relaxing and then it's back to Jerusalem for Shabbat and then, before you know it, we're back on a plane to the States -- short trip!


Here's Minna, by the way, driving down the streets of Jerusalem (along with a link to some more pics from the trip):

From Israel Spring 2010

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Getting back to the land -- care for the caregivers

That's the Mediterranean sea behind those two bleary-eyed (but happy!) faces above. Minna and I were just an hour off the plane at Ben-Gurion in Tel-Aviv. I'm here for the 6th annual Israel spiritual care conference (it's so great to see professional chaplaincy start to get established here in Israel!). Minna came along as part of a long-term ambition for our lives together -- to make coming to Israel a regular part of what we do and not something that only happens every decade or so. I was so excited over the last week or so, thinking about coming here and often found myself daydreaming about walking along the streets of Jerusalem again and hearing the language of the Hebrew Bible spoken out of the mouths of children as their first language. Coming here is a way of my caring for my own spirit.

I'm looking forward to the conference, too, tomorrow and Wednesday. There's a delegation of Clinical Pastoral Education supervisors from the States here for the conference, so this could really be a watershed event for chaplaincy training in Israel, an educational pursuit that is only in its infancy here.

It's exciting!


Here's a view, by the way, of the ocean from where we drank some coffee after we dipped our toes in the sea.

From Israel Spring 2010

[x-posted t0 abayye]

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Minna's got a brand new bike!

It's a Novara (REI) Transfer -- a slightly retro "urban" bike with a seven-speed internal hub (like the old English three-speed bikes, but with seven gears) and that has a comfortable upright riding position (as well as fenders, a chain guard to keep your pant legs from getting greasy, a rack for carrying cargo and front and rear lights that get their power from the wheels turning so you can ride any time of the day or night).

I actually got to ride it before Minna (the UPS guy came with it while she was at yoga!), and I found it pretty fun.

It was also fun just following Minna around and taking some pics on her first ride. I kinda like this one, too.

From Minna's got a brand new bike

By the way, if you're interested in what's been happening in our lives, I've made a couple of other posts this month over on abayye that tell some of the story:

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Just another Secular Sunday

After what seemed like a full month of Sundays devoted to holidays, this weekend finally bought a "Secular Sunday" that was available for _normal_ things like going to the mall or doing the laundry. But Minna and I decided to keep celebrating one more weekend! We did that by taking a little trip together to some great places in upstate New York -- Storm King, one of the best places anywhere to see outdoor sculpture, and Dia: Beacon, a huge former factory that's now dedicated to displaying large pieces of art. It was Minna's first time at Storm King (I'd been there a number of times before) and the first for both of us at Dia: Beacon (I really loved it!).

The pic above is _not_ Minna in front of a rock -- it's a sculpture (Catskill) at Storm King by _another_ Bromberg, Manuel Bromberg.
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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Late adopter

My father, of blessed memory, loved high-tech and made his living working in that field. But, yet, he was no gadget freak -- he needed real convincing that a new technology, whether it be personal computers or email, really was worth adopting.

He's passed the late adopter thing (as well as the love of technology) on to me, so it was only yesterday that I finally took the smart phone plunge -- and at that it was, Minna, not me, who actually made the purchase. We have iPhones!

Late adopting, actually, despite what this guy says, is a pretty rational strategy -- the newest of the new is usually too expensive and too untested, and I've usually regretted the times I was an _early_ adopter (like with mp3 players; I brought one with me on my Israel year and 2000, and it was a real disappointment).

Anyway, I'm feeling pretty good about this iPhone so far. . . . I think I waited just the _right_ amount of time.

Thanks, Minna!

[X-posted to abayye]

Sunday, August 9, 2009

First tomatoes

These cherry guys are still green, but we did get our first two ripe tomatoes off of two of our full-size plants, today -- they were delicious!

Yeah, it's a bit late for the first tomatoes, but we got them in the ground kind of late. Well, and not really in the ground, too (as we have no ground). Here they are in their containers:

Some of the leaves, however, are looking a little sad, which had us worried with all this talk about an epidemic of tomato fungus:

I'm trying to stay hopeful, though and am looking forward to these guys turning red!

[X-posted to abayye]

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Memories of Israel

It's hard to believe that we've been back in the States for less than two months now, but it was a nice reminder of our days in Israel yesterday when the photo CD from the Hazon/Arava Israel ride arrived in the mail. I'll be posting some more photos from it soon, but here's one of my faves.


Here's another great photo from the ride (the two of us, plus, Harry, a very cool guy who rode on his folding Brompton!), along with a link to some five dozen or so of my favorites from the pics they sent us.

From Hazon ride 2009 (great pics!)

[X-posted to abayye]
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Monday, July 20, 2009

Back on the "X"

Last time I posted here (about a month and a half ago -- wow, what a long time) I also featured a pic of this little porch. But some things have changed! The bins that I was then "making soil" in (in part by ripping up cereal boxes into bits) now feature actual tomato plants (with baby tomatoes on them!). And, somehow, the bicycle that was also in that first pic has "grown" in this one. Unlike the plants that needed weeks (not to mention sun and water) to grow, the bicycle did all its growing, today -- I got my Xtracycle kit out of my storage unit, where it had been languishing for over a year now, and used it to stretch my bike another foot and a half and make it so I could carry the 65 lbs. or so of books that are on the back there (with my rabbinic ordination certificate in the cardboard on top of it all!).

Here are all the books, etc., unloaded at their destination and sitting by the elevator to get to my office upstairs. I've never really had a good place to hang my ordination certificate before, but my new office seems like a perfect place!

Here's another view of the bike loaded before departure:

It's so exciting for me to have an Xtracyle, again. True, I've still been able to bicycle commute and grocery shop without it. But shopping with a _regular_ bicycle seems so limiting after you've owned an Xtracycle -- you're always wondering if all the groceries, etc. will really fit, or if you can _really_ carry that large size of bleach home without busting your panniers (I'll never forget the time back in LA when I busted one of my brand new REI "Around Town" panniers the first time I used them by buying lots of large size liquid items at Smart and Final . . . bummer!).

It's not that the Xtracyle has _infinite_ cargo carrying capacity, but it's just so much more than you can hope to get on a standard bike. At K-Mart, today, I didn't even think twice about buying a lamp; it would have been really hard to figure out how to carry it on a standard bike. You can see the box with the lamp in it in the rear of the Xtracycle below, on the right side, along with a the rest of a total of some $110 worth of stuff I picked up at K-Mart and the supermarket.

The bike I _stretched_ is an old Giant Sedona I bought in LA around 2001 or so. I rode it all over LA, including up into the Sepulveda Pass (where my rabbinical school was) and along Mulholland Drive, which could be pretty exhilarating, especially after a rain when usually hazy LA became clear and beautiful. I call it "the junker" because it's in kind of rough shape. But now that I've X-ed it, I'm going to upgrade it some and have ordered about $300 worth of new parts, including two new wheels and a rear disc brake. The disc brake will come in pretty handy when the bike is loaded with a lot of stuff and when it rains. For now, I am getting by with _no_ rear brake. This is not as dangerous as it sounds (contrary to popular wisdom, front brakes are much more effective than rear brakes, especially when you are descending), but it's far from perfect. I have no rear gears hooked up either (turning the bike, effectively, into a 3-speed). This is not by design, so much, as just by practicality -- I'm just not enough of a bike mechanic to do the full conversion in one day. I hope to hook up the rear gears at least in the next few days. . . . . But, who knows if will really find time. . . . It's been a great summer, but one where I've been so consumed by my work (supervising/teaching six student chaplains we have with us for the summer) that not much else has gotten done (witness how I haven't blogged here at all!) . . . . Though, I can't really blame the lack of blogging just on being busy. I think I am a little overwhelmed by all the (good!) things going on in my life right now to be able to step back enough to reflect on them and write about them. Besides all the good times with Minna there is the fall -- when I start a doctoral program at NYU!!! . . . . I am so excited about that program. I've wanted to be doing doctoral work for a long time. And I think this is the next logical step for someone who has the kind of ambitions I do -- I don't just want to be involved in chaplain education (as a Clinical Pastoral Education, CPE, supervisor). I want to be involved in educating other _supervisors_. I want to be a voice in shaping the future of both rabbinic and pastoral education. I want to be able to say something about how people can be nurtured to be more compassionate and to be more effective leaders. I'm interested in that both for clergy and for doctors and other medical staff. . . . So, the doctorate is the place to go. . . So, I'm excited . . . And scared, too!!! :)

At times like this in my life, it's important to find ways to stay grounded. Cycling helps me do that. A cycling that is not just for exercise, but is part of a lifestyle -- a lifestyle that has an intent to be kinder to the earth by burning less petroleum than I would if I was driving just to do errands around town. A lifestyle that helps remind me that food is not something that just magically appears in the supermarket, but starts in soil that comes from the Earth that God gave us. A lifestyle where I do not just toss everything I don't consume into a landfill but where I try and recycle some of it (you can't really see it well, but the leftmost bin in the first pic above is a covered compost bin where we've been putting our food scraps).


Although I think the latest X configuration should do me for a while, but I think my future -- especially if there is a longer bike commute (with more hills) waiting for me -- may hold some serious upgrades. I love the idea of a Big Dummy like this guy has (the Big Dummy is frame purpose-built for an Xtracycle -- no _stretching_ needed, which eliminates the "flex" Xtracycle users know so well). I also find the Stoke Monkey electric assist system for the Xtracycle to be a fascinating concept. . . . . Yeah, I know, electric _assist_ sounds like cheating. . . . But I find pretty compelling this way that the Stoke Monkey folks answer that criticism:

Most electric bike products are designed for people who don’t, won’t, or can’t ride regular bicycles, even without passengers or cargo. Stokemonkey is different, designed for avid bikers who will continue to ride on their own power most of the time, but want a more capable car alternative some of the time. We don’t believe in replacing human power with electricity; we believe in replacing cars for work that even the strongest cyclists seldom if ever choose to handle without a car. Developed in a car-free household, Stokemonkey is for fellow riders who want to become more completely independent of cars in their daily lives.

Now if Stoke Monkey didn't cost nearly $2,000 maybe I would already have one! :)

[x-posted to abayye]

Monday, June 8, 2009

Making soil

One of the most beautiful ways to get in touch with the never-ending miracle that is God's act of creation of our world is to engage in the acts of creation that God has gifted us with the opportunity to participate in. Years ago, I used to garden some, mostly vegetable gardening -- tomatoes and green peppers and such. I haven't had access to land to do that for a very long time. I still don't, but now I have access to the little back porch above and I spent some hours today preparing containers for tomatoes and herbs. I realized that I hadn't bought enough potting soil for the containers, so I went in search of other organic matter to give the soil some bulk and maybe some nourishment and water-holding capacity for the plants, too. First, I threw in some vegetable scraps we had been saving with the idea of starting a compost bucket. Then I went in search of cardboard and paper and tore up every bit of unnecessary food packaging we had hanging around (why does breakfast cereal come in boxes, anyway?). Above you see me tearing them into bits and pieces.

It felt good to be taking things that would go into a polluting, land-consuming landfill and to try and put them to a productive purpose. It reminded me of how much I love the earth. . . . And the God who gave it to us.

Have a great week!
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Here is a closer-up view of the cardboard on its way to "becoming" soil (along with a pic of me "in the act").:

And here is how things looked when we were a bit closer to done planting:

In case the last pic made you think Minna _can't_ smile, here she is smiling!

[X-posted to abayye]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Dreaming of Jerusalem on a fine day in PA

Already my year in Israel feels a bit like a dream. Images fray and I strain to hold on to their threads. Everything is different here: a wide landscape of green and a light rain on a late spring day. Alan and I wandered into a Kmart on Friday and I immediately felt like a visitor to a strange planet I had only heard of in movies. Everything was shiny and there were gadgets to fill needs I never knew I had (a special citrus peeling device that left me muttering, "Couldn't you just use a knife?"). And I feel slightly like an amnesiac returning to my memories. Yesterday, just as I was about to start pumping gas, Alan remembered that the car (my car!) can't be filled all the way up. And, contrary to expectations, my old cell phone has returned to me. Different number, but the little thing is still filled with all the old contacts. It feels heavy with the weight of numbers I forgot I ever had.

I am worried about how to hold on to what was important to me about being in Israel (stay up on the local news there, keep my Hebrew gains). Don't know whether we'll keep this blog going, but it will certainly be a helpful record for me.

Perhaps, from the perspectives of "Israel educational" and "Jewish peoplehood," the comfort of being back in the States is double-edged, but I am unequivocally happy to be here. Spending the weekend in Sag Harbor, I made sure to visit both the ocean and the bay. Soaked up sweet moments with family. And I feel like I am coming home to myself in some important ways.

Meanwhile, I need to find a place to live....

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Shared hopes, shared learning – a workshop in Israel on spontaneous prayer

Growing up, I think I thought of prayer itself – certainly offering a spontaneous prayer out loud off the top of your head! -- as something inherently Christian (and not Jewish). I never even imagined I could become comfortable doing it myself. So, it was really exciting for me Wednesday when one of the participants in a workshop I was leading at an Israeli Spiritual Care conference said she had come to the workshop in the hope that I could help her to get over her own discomfort with offering spontaneous prayers!

Offering a custom-made prayer – tailored specifically to the situation and the hopes of the suffering person you are with – can be a powerful source of healing. The greatest pain for an ill person is often not directly from their physical sufferings – it is the loneliness people experience amid their illness. The sense that they are now somehow different than everybody around them and that nobody can (or is willing to) understand what they are going through. The sense, maybe, that they have been forsaken by God.

A unique and beautifully tailored prayer from a visitor of faith coming into their hospital room can help break that loneliness. It can help the person to feel seen, to feel that someone had indeed heard their situation. And that that person is genuinely joining in their hopes and wants their suffering to end. And, finally, by bringing God into the experience, the offering of a spontaneous prayer can help heal a spiritual rift and help the person to feel a renewed relation with (a loving) God, even amid the confusion their sufferings bring.

And, yet, so many Jews – like the participant in my workshop – are reluctant to offer spontaneous prayer, largely because it doesn't “feel” Jewish. That's why it was so important to me to put a Jewish “stamp” on my approach to spontaneous prayer, and to come up with my own framework for composing my prayers. This framework is based on the structure of the Amidah , a central prayer of the traditional Jewish prayer service. My approach – and the Amidah – are divided up into three basic parts:

1) שבח/shevah/Praise (the “approach”) – This is where you address the One to whom you are approaching, and what specific aspect of that Ultimate Reality you want to hear your prayer. By choosing whom you are addressing and what aspect of that “whom” to address, you say something about what your theology is – what you think God (or an Ultimate Reality or Force) is. So, when you're offering a prayer for someone else, you can say something about what his or her spirituality is about in framing this first part of the prayer. If the person has a “Vertical” or “Transcendent” understanding of how God relates to humans – an understanding where God is far above us and directs what's below, you could start by saying something like, “Father above. You are the one who has always directed us and given us strength ...” Or, if the person has a more “Horizontal” or “Immanent” God view, you could start with something like, “Oh, Source of all life. You have nourished the plants and trees around us and we find you everywhere we look . . . “

At the end of this section, I also introduce the person, by name, to God, and say something about what is happening for him or her. Something like, "Dear God, we stand here before you with Sarah. She is frightened about the surgery coming tomorrow."

2) בקשות/bakashot/Requests (the “ask) – This is the heart of the prayer, the expression of what we would like God to grant us. If you're offering a prayer for another person, there are two ways you can approach this. The easiest and most straightforward one is to simply mirror back the hopes the person has expressed to you. A great way to help this process is to ask the person right before the prayer, “is there anything in particular you want me to pray for?”

While I always do ask this question before offering my prayer, I don't think the straightforward approach is quite enough. The experience of doing this workshop – and interacting with the great people who came – helped clarify for me why I want to do something more than simply rephrase the person's hopes. It's because offering a prayer is not just about the words of what I say. I think it's not even just about the feelings expressed along with those words. When you're in a real pastoral conversation with a person – where real pain and real, deep hopes are expressed – something more comes into the room. Something is summoned. Maybe it's called the shekinah. Maybe it's called God. Maybe it's something from all the other people who care. Maybe it's just spirit. But, as intangible as it is, it's real and powerful and a key to true healing. It should not be ignored.

But that “something” can't be truly summoned – or be a part of the prayer – if what is expressed is not something in common, something shared, that was part of the encounter. That's why the number one question I ask myself in composing this part of the prayer is “What do I hope for this person?" Bringing myself into the prayer in this way, allows me to offer a more powerful prayer, one that expresses Shared Hopes, and provides a more complete caring experience.

As you can imagine, however, this kind of a "Use of the Self" in spiritual care is controversial, and the participants in the workshop challenged me about it, expressing shock at the possibility that I might offer a prayer for something that the person I am caring for does not want. My answer to them is that, if you truly take a Shared Hopes approach, that that kind of "contradiction" of the suffering person's hopes is not what happens when you express your hopes for them -- because in a Shared Hopes approach, it's not really my hopes or the person's hopes I express -- it's the shared ones that arose in the "space between us" during our conversation.

There's a theory behind this. It's called intersubjectivity. In short, it holds that communication and the creation of meaning are not things that one person does on his or her own. It's something that is co-constructed by the two or more parties in any interaction. It's an especially influential idea in psychoanalysis, and it provides a theoretical basis for the therapist to use the feelings he or she experiences as a tool for understanding, and caring for, their clients. This theory has freed psychoanalysts from feeling they have to take the kind of cold, detached attitude that Freud did with his patients. Instead, they can become more warm, human and genuine with them. This theory has the potential to free spiritual caregivers in the same way, so that they can bring true emotion, feeling and spiritual depth to things like their spontaneous prayers. [The best expression of this theory in the field of pastoral care is Pamela Cooper-White's book Shared Wisdom .]

3) הודאה/hoda-ah/Thanksgiving (and a wish for peace/shalom) -- This part (along with the first one) is a tremendously important part of my approach to spontaneous prayers that is missing from so many other approaches (which tend to only include "ask" elements). It is a chance to return to a place of humility (after the audacity of asking God for things) and to restate something about what we believe about God and about our wish to be in relationship to God. It is also a chance to take our prayer outside the small, immediate realm of the patient's experience and bring it out into the broader realm of all humanity. And this is a key part of almost all religious practices in the major faith traditions -- to link each individual with the community at large in a way that brings greater power to our effort to elevate our spirits and reach for something higher. Communal experience nurtures faith, as do our acts of caring for others. Thus, I conclude every prayer with a wish for peace, starting with the person before me, but then moving outward. First to wish for peace for the person's immediate family and loved ones, but finally I move on to a wish for peace for all people.

Before I offer this request for shalom, I first, as the Amidah does, offer thanks, and say something like, "Dear, God, we thank you for everything you have given. We thank you for the gift of life, and for all that we have been able to know -- especially the love we have been able to experience -- during our time here on earth."


Another part of a Shared Hopes approach -- one that I borrow from the Jewish prayer tradition -- is to, as much as possible, put the language of my prayer in the language of "we" and to say things like "we pray for you to give her strength, oh gracious God." (Jewish standard forms of prayer -- like the Amidah -- ask for things using the language of "we".)


I was so impressed with the people who attended my workshop. Many of them are already using spontaneous prayer in their work and they shared their experiences with it. One participant shared that sometimes when there is a prayer that appears to have particularly touched a person, he writes it down and shares those written words with the patient.

Another participant shared a four-part framework for composing spontaneous prayer he uses in Hebrew. His approach is very similar to mine, but differs in the last part especially:

ברוך אתה ה' (אלוהנו מלך העולם) ה_____________ ץ
1) This approach begins with the words that start every standard Jewish blessing, "Blessed are You, HaShem our God, King of the Universe, Who ____________." The "Who" part is key here. In the blessing before eating bread, we say "Who brings forth bread from the earth." When we say the havdalah blessing marking the end of Shabbat and the beginning of a new workweek, we say, "the one distinguishes between the holy and the secular." In this approach, the spiritual caregiver works closely with the person to determine which "Who" of God to address here. (This process, I believe, allows the prayer to start, as my introductory section does, by saying something about the person's theology in making that introduction to God.
אתה יודע
2) Literally, "You know". The words following the "You know" are a chance to say something about the situation the person finds his or herself in, and to hold that up to God.
3) This is an "ask" section, just like mine.
אבל אם לא, תן לי כח להתמודד
4) I was fascinated by this final section, because it is not something I have in my framework. It says "but if my requests are not granted, give me the strength to cope."

I think this is a very powerful thing to have in a prayer and it can -- as the participant himself stated -- foster an important humility that can be a key part of a spiritual growth that can lead to better coping. It seems to me to reflect an acceptance that is a key part of a suffering person's coming to a stronger place, one that has room for entering into a positive relationship with God even amid inexplicable suffering.

Here is a copy of the contents of a handout, I created for the workshop. It has some more details about my approach and that of others who have worked in this area before, especially the work of Rabbi Bonita Taylor, a New York chaplaincy educator (Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor) who has long focused on helping her students gain experience with offering spontaneous prayer. The handout, especially, emphasizes the importance of linking a prayer to an assessment. That is, as I said at the beginning, the truly effective spontaneous prayer has to be one that is specifically tailored to the person and the person's situation and hopes. So much of the prayers some clergy and spiritual caregivers offer do not meet this important minimum condition. While they may indeed be said off the top of the caregiver's head -- rather than read from a book -- they are essentially canned words that the caregiver would say for anybody.

It was such a privilege to give a workshop at this pioneering conference and to have some close contact with people doing such exciting work in Israel. I am grateful to have had the opportunity. I pray it will be the will of the Holy Blessed One -- the One who is the author of all knowledge, compassion and spirit -- that I will be able to offer more such workshops in the future and to learn again from students and to continue to grow in my knowledge and mastery in this area. And may it be the Holy One's will that there will be many more such conferences in Israel and that the infant field of spiritual care there will continue to grow and to thrive.

[X-posted to abayye ]

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

One more קפה הפוך with bourekas

My bags are very nearly packed (still unclear how all of the stuff will fit into the available space). Our flight leaves in the middle of the night tonight. And I have come to my local coffee shop for one more קפה הפוך/cafe hafuch/(literally "upside-down coffee") cappuccino and two little cheese bourekas. This favorite little breakfast of mine reminds me of Israel's crossroads status: a European coffee with a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean pastry.

Even (or perhaps especially) with all its challenges, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to spend 10 months here. I leave very ready to be back in the States and also deeply hoping to be able to spend more time here in Israel in the future. I am better able to express what I value both about Jewish life and culture here and Jewish life and culture in the Diaspora. My two sentence versions of these views:

- I value Israel primarily as a vital center of Jewish/Hebrew cultural production. Creating (and continuing to create) a Jewish state has allowed for, inspired, and goaded people into expressions of art, literature, poetry, music, and scholarship which are huge gifts not only to the Jewish people, but to the world.

- Diaspora and exile are not 100% overlapping categories; in Jewish history, having a "center" has never meant that "periphery" has nothing to offer. Perhaps because of how I grew up, perhaps because of some deeper constitutional attributes, perhaps for reasons that need not be explainable, I personally have always felt more interested in Jewish life on a variety of "margins" and find myself looking forward to building my rabbinate back in the U.S. of A.

But I will miss this place, the country itself (with all its contradictions) and its people, my neighborhood, and this little place that has supplied warm coffee and tasty baked goods:

And now to finish packing and clean, clean, clean.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bringing professional caring to Israel

The fifth annual Spiritual Care conference in Israel opened today with an emotional and intensely personal keynote address by Rona Ramon (pictured above), the widow of Ilan Ramon, Israel's first person to travel into space, who was killed tragically in 2003 during the re-entry of the shuttle Columbia to the Earth's atmosphere.

It is amazing that this is only the fifth such conference in Israel. This nation of contrasts is, one one hand, a highly modern economy fueled by a high-tech industrial sector that is still thriving amid the world-wide recession. And, in many other ways, it is yet an infant nation, still building institions, like chaplaincy (and environmentalism, as I wrote a few weeks ago), that we take for granted in the United States. I feel so privileged to have a chance to be present among the 150 or so pioneering professionals who attended Ramon's talk this morning and who will be at the conference over the next two days.

As I write this, I am listening to a lecture by a true pioneer -- a woman who is working to not only bring Spiritual Care to this young nation, but to bring it to a relatively new and sometimes challenging population to care for: immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Tomorrow, I will be a presenter, myself, giving a workshop on techniques for offering spontaneous prayer.

I am so excited to be here at the conference at the Ma’ale HaHamisha Conference Center in these beautiful hills on the western outskirts of Jerusalem!

[X-posted to abayye]
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Monday, May 18, 2009

The mighty Jordan, and the tiny North

This little "rapids" is about as mighty as you will ever see the river Jordan -- a waterway that, like the country it flows through, can be so giant in our imaginations and in our hearts, even if it is but tiny in the "real" world. The "kayak" with the screaming children upon it is rental from Kfar Blum, the kibbutz in the northernmost part of Israel where Minna spent a year as a teenager. We managed, as our days dwindled here in Israel, to sneak to the north for a bit, and Minna got to finally show me around Kfar Blum.

Here she is, in front of a statue of the kibbutz's namesake, Leon Blum, who was once the prime minister of France:

The room she shared was on the second floor of this building:

We met this little guy nearby. He was pretty cute, although not too friendly:

On the way up there, we had a chance to stop briefly at Beit Shean, an amazing ruin of an ancient city that, being at the junction of the Jezreel and Jordan river valleys, was on the trade routes between the empires of Mesopotamia (Babylonia, etc) and of Egypt and the rest of the west.

Much of the significance of Israel in the ancient world was due to its being located between these two great groups of empires. It is no accident that the Torah begins its story of the Jewish people with Avraham leaving his father's house in Mesopotamia, and later tells of his journey to Egypt before settling finally in the Holy Land and burying his beloved wife Sara in Hebron -- the basic experience of the ancient Israelite people was the experience of being a little people situated on, and sometimes wandering upon, these roadways between these "giants". Other of our "Avot" -- like Joseph and Jacob -- would make journeys similar to Avraham's in the course of their lives.

In Beit Shean, Minna found this pomegranate tree, and was fascinated by its "baby" pomegranates, still more flower than fruit.

It was glad to see the north one more time!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Minna the instructor

I really like this shot I took of Minna, today. She looks like she's deep into her instructor mode!

Keep on teachin', Minna!
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