Mourning the Temple

I am a self proclaimed word nerd who loves lexicon and has a dictionary in every room.  How language evolves over time and where words and expressions come from is fascinating, especially when shifting context results in differences between modern over original usage.

Commemorating the destruction of the temple, always makes me think of the phrase the body is a temple.  I never knew the phrase’s origin, but like the spiritual imagery that aligns with my ideologies of feeding body and soul and getting out what you put in.  While a quick search attributes the phrasing to Christian liturgy, Judaism also expresses honoring the body in many ways.  Notably, in expressing daily gratitude for the functions of our body and allowing breaking halacha in order to preserve life.  So, during Tisha B’Av, my mourning extends to the destruction of black bodies, which feels like a paradox of prayers like Elohai Neshama and the poetry of Psalm 139.

Yet, there is a lot of beauty in the modern Judaism born from the ashes of the temple, decentralized into each of our families and transferring the holy of holies into our hearts, like a turtle, who is never without it’s home.  Turtles are evoked whenever I see a child hide under their mother’s skirts or inside their own blanket.  I hold this ability to go into my own turtle house when and where, ever I need to.  I want to acknowledge and love the broken parts of myself, whether physical, mental, spiritual or a combination of all three.  To somehow transition from destruction as damage, different from deconstruction.  Re-turning shards in-to a mosaic of beauty.

The idea of mourning AND celebrating is familiar in how funerals can be joyful in their reunion among the living as we mourn the dead.  On this Tisha B’Av, after the fires ignited from the destruction of black bodies across the United States of America, the mingling of mourning and joy is poignant.  Jews dream of rebuilding the temple, but what if each of us were the stones, simultaneously unique yet interdependent with every other stone, in different but important ways?  What if the temple we rebuilt was the world?

I know this may come across as terribly naïve, ignorant of history and completely impossible… but what if it’s not?  What if it’s as easy as a decision?  Maybe the hard part is choosing to do it every day.  As prayer can feel like a chore that detracts from more important things for some and for others is habit from repetition, the work of building the temple is not done when construction is complete.  Building maintenance is a lifelong necessity, that, by habit, can be normal, easy and regular, but if ignored and resisted, one day becomes a crisis, potentially a critical collapse.

Architecture feels an apt language for considering the relevance today of the destruction of 2 temples yesterday, but Torah wants us to explore whatever analogy resonates within, that honors our uniqueness and interdependence.  Find your voice and your light and share it with the world.  Today, we mourn not only the destruction of the temple, but say goodbye to civil justice icon John Lewis, who could have understandably focused on living out his life, but chose to offer one last bit of Torah through the words of Martin Luther King Jr, that “we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice” and in John’s own words, that “ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America” and “answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions”.

The phrase “I can’t breathe” has come to mean more than it’s words, perhaps because Elohai Neshama reminds us that our soul and breath are united.  May we redeem the soul of America through the breath of our unique voice, flowing from the temple of humanity to God and back again, breathing as one.

Shehechiyanu.

Life Cancelled Until April 30, Maybe Longer.

I spent the first few weeks of my COVID-19 mass layoff trying to file for unemployment, reset my PIN, reach a human without the call disconnecting me, write letters to Directors, Governors & Senators to clarify confusing unemployment language around eligibility after missing the noted filing deadline, while cleaning up, researching and installing a new water heater because, what’s one more crisis. I’m glad people are finding creative ways to create community in these quarantined days of coronavirus 2020. I’ve needed the phone calls and texts offering empathetic ears.

I’m in between poor and rich. I live simply and frugally. Monthly internet is not in my budget. The little I used it, before, was in my office after work. Being sent home after the mass layoff, effectively disconnected me, although I’m grateful to have a key and can still use internet occasionally, unlike those who relied on libraries, now closed.

I explored getting basic internet in the hope my old computer would allow video conference connection, and learned “affordable” = $50 per month and may not include wifi, which would allow Zoom by phone without breaking data caps. $100 a month is not unusual.

These expenses add up. For families, the cost per person may not seem bad, but for an individual, it feels prohibitive. Even now, when I really want to Zoom. Does this qualify as a need? Humans struggle to ask for help, and it’s difficult when you know people are much much worse off. Some are dying. But, does that mean I shouldn’t want more?

In the growing conversations around wealth distribution, I wonder how the idiosyncrasies between income and wealth affect how decisions like internet affordability, affect disproportionately. Who can continue to work. Go to school. Register for unemployment. Get information. Have companionship that includes body language and tone of voice that make up the bulk and nuance of communication in the absence of in person gatherings.

Many are saying things will never be the same. In some ways, I hope they won’t be. I want the exposed issues with assistance we thought was there for people who need it and work environments with lipservice of not going to work sick but knowing you better show up no matter what, become conversations we have. If we relish the idea of greater electronic connection, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, but will we choose to find ways to build infrastructure that doesn’t leave people out and also doesn’t force people to forfeit their freedoms to opt in.

The joke this year is that Elijah won’t be coming to uphold social distancing. However, Elijah will be the only person at my seder. I just hope I don’t have to wait all night for their arrival. I love the concept of inviting Elijah, despite the conflict of opening the door at the end of the meal. I’ve taken to inviting Elijah to every gathering. What does it truly take to invite the stranger into one’s home? We think of strangers as people far from us, but sometimes it seems like strangers can be close, maybe even people we think we already know.

Tonight, conversation around moving from slavery to freedom, or the illusion of the abolition of slavery, is definitely going to be different this year. While my seder will ask the questions to myself, I pray, when we can leave our homes, maybe even before, we can have these conversations in ways that don’t pit ism’s against each other, includes us all and where creating an equitable world feels worth it and not like losing. And I pray, we don’t become permanently afraid to touch one another. I am going to need a good long strong hug when this is over.

Chag samech.

Personalizing Ritual

When I was a child, I was always creating. Somewhere, on the way to adulthood, despite going into a creative profession, I left the devising ritual and imbuing meaning to other professionals. While I was taught to think and to question, that was only supposed to go so far before turning to an expert. It sounds strange to say, but I now realize I am the expert of myself and my life and in choosing what moments I want to create ritual and highlight meaning around.

Reading Inventing Jewish Ritual by Vanessa L. Ochs came at the perfect time and helped hone the ritual innovator inside me to more confidently claim ownership over my prayers and new rituals in a subtly different, but deeply profound way. Prayer had always felt meaningful and personal to me, but Ochs’ historical foundation framing of Jewish ritual development created space for me to bring a fuller authentic self to current rituals and helped me to bravely create rituals rooted in Jewish practice for important life moments I want to mark or honor.

I feel there are many lost opportunities to help Jews of Color see themselves through the people of Color in the Torah. One of the foundational reasons I created this forum is to offer a safe space, a sanctuary, for Jews of Color in the Cincinnati and surrounding areas to explore those topics among other Jews of Color craving similar opportunities for chevruta, study and exploration. Our March event topic was Celebrating JOC Ritual and beyond texts pulled from Creating Jewish Ritual, we used one of my favorite texts borrowed from a friend’s article titled Bagels, Lox, and Grits: Defining My Jewish Identity by Yolanda Savage-Narva.

One of the food elements I connect with Rosh Hashanah is black eyed peas, after reading this was a popular African dish to celebrate the Gregorian New Year. This afternoon, I was part of a program that happened in an art studio. I learned a new kiln was being fired for the first time. As as artist who has mourned the loss of pieces which didn’t make it through firing, I immediately offered a simple prayer for a vessel which will bring beauty into the world. Daily minyans and Shabbat are crucial for me, but acknowledging the relevance of art is important to me too. Bringing aspects of myself in that I sometimes feel are pushed aside helps me step into a fullness of myself and my power that is exactly what I believe God wants for me. In the end, the ritual nuances that bring me the most joy are often simple elements. How they find their place is not always easy, but it always feels worth it.

https://reformjudaism.org/blog/2018/07/23/bagels-lox-and-grits-defining-my-jewish-identity

CELEBRATING & CREATING JOC RITUAL – FEBRUARY 22, 2020

7pm – An opportunity to be in Jew of Color centered space and share ways we bring our full and authentic selves to our Jewish rituals.  Feel more confident to explore and innovate nuances to your own existing Jewish rituals, or create new ones as life demands.

7:30pm – Allies of Jews of Color join us to continue the conversation and discuss ways of opening ritual practice to be more broadly inclusive of diverse Jewish identities.

rsvp danserica@gmail.com for location

JEWS OF COLOR, BETWEEN THE COASTS

I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Jews of Color National Convening in New York, and for the first time in my life moved through spaces centered on and occupied by majority Jews of Color. It was life changing.

Jews of Color were present from many places, but it felt like there was a focus on coastal cites, New York and San Franciso (and perhaps LA) in particular. I didn’t meet a single Jew of Color from my state of Ohio, or the Midwest. It was expensive to get to the event. So, I hoped joining organizations like Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) would help connect me with Jews of Color in my region. While JFREJ creates amazing Jew of Color focused content, they primarily operate in New York state.

I wanted to rekindle at home, the kind of energy experienced in Jew of Color affinity spaces and connect with Allies who support this work in Cincinnati, as well as network with Jews of Color regionally. I continued to expand a national network through JewV’Nation, a Jews of Color Leadership Fellowship through the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), and organizing trainings by Bend The Arc and Jewish Organizing Institute & Network (JOIN). Despite Cincinnati having important Jewish infrastructure, I did not find entities working on creating spaces where my identity as a brown woman did not contradict my identity as a Jewish woman.

I realized, I was waiting for something I had been dreaming about for a LONG time, and perhaps I was the person I was waiting for. I began dreaming out loud with friends, mentors and networks. My first attempt to host a Juneteenth Seder in 2019 failed, big. I was disheartened, but encouraged to continue. The revised plan, is to host monthly social events designed to create space for Jews of Color to come together, meet each other, discuss topics we feel important and support each other’s individual Jewish journeys. To take a moment and exhale.

I remember how many times I searched the internet for Jews of Color and what I largely did not find. JOCsanctuary is my first attempt to leave searchable electronic bread crumbs to enable Midwest Jews of Color to find each other and begin to create the kinds of Jews of Color communities and experiences found in other large cities. I believe in starting small and growing organically. Every creation goes through revisions and may experience growing pains. I am grateful to have connected with support along the way. I am taking a leap of faith and hope others will join me to manifest something important I believe is needed by more than just Jews of Color. Right now, I am one person who knows a handful of local Jews of Color. I seek connecting with other Jews who identify as People of Color, explore our common threads and intertwine our voices into the Jewish kaleidoscope. The tapestry is not complete without us.

Join Jews of Color Sanctuary.

tags: “jewsofcolor”, “jewishdiversity”, “jewscincinnati”, “jewofcolorconvening”, “zerotohero”.