Altar Ego Postings 2003
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October 10, 2003
Dear Friends,

I look forward to seeing you tonight at six p.m. at Una Vida to celebrate Shabbat Sukkot service followed by a potluck. If you have questions, please call 992-1905.I’m frank enough to admit that I cannot resist Sukkot, especially in times of fear. Of all our holidays, it is the most joyful and sweet, and for me the most pleasurable. Nothing is quite so restorative and healing as spending a little time in a leafy hut celebrating the year’s harvest. When the wind blows through the sukkah to cause a shiver, our first thought is the big warm house waiting for us a few feet away. While the sukkah is a reminder of how fragile human beings are, it is also the embodiment of what we depend upon for constancy: the natural ordering of night and day, seasons, and years. In fragile times, it is good to rest in the embrace of the natural world.

In the ancient world Sukkot was called HeChag, The Holiday. It was the only time of the year when every Jew could rest for nine long days, including Simchat Torah, in Jerusalem. Known also as Zman Simchatenu, A Season of Joy, we experience Sukkot as a respite brings joy to urbanites by giving us the whimsical assignment of building a rustic hut for dwelling or only meals for eight days, which makes Sukkot the longest of holidays.

It’s become HaMakom’s tradition to build the sukkah at Una Vida, with Jay Zeiger and Bill Lazar as foremen. And then there are: Jurgen, Laura, Leslie, Dianne, and still more to thank. The pleasure of watching its construction extends the holiday. And now the pleasure begins.

Shabbat Shalom!
Chag Sameach! (joyful holiday)

Peace and Blessings,
Rabbi Malka Drucker

The first Weekly Reader of 5764
Dear Friends,

Thank so many of you for making last weekend a sweet beginning of the new year. Your joyful singing presence created a makom (place) where God and God’s images felt at home. On a mundane note in response to inquiries, HaMakom’s board wants you to know that whatever you have contributed for High Holiday tickets applies towards membership.

Kol Nidre, the holiest night of the year, will begin at seven p.m. Sunday night, 5 October. We’re fortunate to have Norton Bicoll, along with Hal Aqua and his gitte neshama (good soul) daughters, Zoe and Annie, provide us with the mystery and majesty of the traditional Kol Nidre music.It is the only evening service where we wear a tallit, so if you have one, please bring it. We have extras if you don’t have one and would like the experience of being wrapped in God’s light. One size fits all shapes, genders, and beliefs.

It is customary to light a yahrzeit (memorial candle) before leaving home for services. Here is a meditation for the ritual:

There are stars whose light reaches the earth only after they themselves have disintegrated. and there are individuals whose memory lights the world after they have passed from it. These lights shine in the darkest night and illumine for us the path.
Hannah Senesch

I light this candle and remember the souls of who have journeyed from this world into the love and eternity of God. I remember with gratitude all I learned from their life, their love for me and their goodness. May these memories live in me and grow in me to make me kinder and more understanding. May God who remembers them in faithfulness, bind them in the gathering of life.

We light the candles to begin the holiday after the yahrzeit candles. (We eat before we light any candles.) It is also customary to bless our children before Yom Kippur.
There is a question whether an e-mail sent to one’s address list asking forgiveness counts. I don’t think so. Here is what we may say to our relatives, friends, and acquaintances. It can even be said to the entire congregation:

“I am sorry if I have hurt or harmed you, by what I have done or have failed to do, by what I have said or have not said to you, since last Yom Kippur. I will strive to improve my ways; and I ask your forgiveness.”

“I’m sorry” may be the two most difficult words to say. If you have people to say them to, you still have time! According to the sages, the world depends upon your teshuvah, prayer, and doing the right thing, so God and I hope to see you this coming Sunday night and Monday.

Greetings for the High Holidays are precise. At the beginning of Rosh Hashanah we wish each each other L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu, May you be written (into the Book of Life) for a good year! As I write this between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I wish you L’Shanah Tovah Taychatenu, May you be sealed for a good year! Sunday night the greeting changes again to Gemar Hatimah Tovah, A final and good seal (in the book life, the book of second chances)!

Peace and Blessings,
Rabbi Malka Drucker

August 28, 2003
Dear Friends,

Listen to the urgency of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in describing the cosmic content of the coming month of Elul: “The summer is drawing to its close. The earth receives the final glow of the sun and its fruits approach their full maturity. Everything that grows and lives seeks to extract the maximum benefit from the last rays of the year. The apple paints itself with its final shade of red, the wine receives its richest sparkle. The ground gives its last sap, the cornstalks grow to their limit. The bee seeks the last drop of honey in the flower before it vanishes. The squirrel drags the last grain of corn to his winter store. The returning swallow carries the last straw to the nest. There is no time to be lost; the end is in sight. The Master will soon call…”

We’ve been an urban people so long that Hirsch’s words remind us that the natural world is our book of wisdom. Careful observation reveals clues as to our own natures, and we grow humble in realizing that everything is our teacher. Nature tells the whole universe in the scent of the late summer’s morning, “Wake up! Life isn’t a dress rehearsal! If not now, when?”

My grandson, Solomon, at 18 months, doesn’t have much use for words. Point and grunt get him the basics, but his eyes speak and seek connection. We too are hungry, desperate for connection, and the Kabbalists tell us that Elul is the month for greatest intimacy with the Holy; it serves as an acronym for “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li (I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine)”. During this month, some of us blow the shofar every day and recite the 27th psalm.

As lovers whisper side by side, so we draw close enough with the One to finally speak our truth, and unlike Solomon, here is where we need words, and this is the time of year to revive them. These are yamei ratzon, the Days of Grace, the time when we seize the moment to connect our mouths to our hearts. Sometimes we use words not to reveal but to hide, and over time the deepest words, like love, can lose their power of meaning.

Jews love words and we have lots of them, maybe too many when we pray. Yet each word, each letter!, in Torah helps us to glimpse the Holy. Out of our verbal ocean, I’ve chosen four words to investigate and discern for High Holiday teachings this year. On Rosh Hashanah I will speak about prayer and blessing. In prayer I wonder why we can’t make it up, why we need the same old words. Is it difficult for everyone to pray? Is a blessing the same thing? What does it mean that we can be blessings to each other?

On Yom Kippur I’ll speak about another pair of interchangeable words, fear and awe. For those of us who like God serving us milk and cookies and singing us lullabies, fear of God is a scary thing. Is it helpful to have fear? The High Holiday season is also called yamim noraim, the Days of Awe. Here are few books that you may find helpful with these words and the season:

My Grandfather’s Blessings by Naomi Remen. Secular book written by a Jewish physician whose Kabbalistic grandfather showed her how important we are to each other.
Entering Jewish Prayer by Reuven Hammer. Inspiring and technical.
Days of Awe by S.Y. Agnon. Classic must-read each year.
Days of Awe: Sfas Emes by Rabbi Yosef Stern. Hasidism at its best.

When we gathered on Tisha B’Av to share the year’s griefs and sorrows, it was the earliest beginning of the High Holy Days. When we face our personal destructions and exiles, we walk through the darkness into the light of a new year that offers promise and hope.

One way to leave sadness behind is to both ask for forgiveness and offer it, even when no one is asking. There are lots of modalities or technologies of healing, and here is our time-tested version of how to shift from darkness to light, sadness to joy, and death to life. On September 20, Saturday night at 8:30, we will gather at Una Vida for Selichot, an evening of forgiveness. We’ll have dessert, celebrate Havdalah, watch a film of a prophet in our time, the late Rabbi Marshall Meyer, and walk the labyrinth.
Please call 992-1905 for more information.

Peace and Blessings,
Rabbi Malka Drucker
August 4, 2003
Dear Friends,

The Jewish calendar offers a spectrum of consciousness that ranges from the highest to the lowest. This Wednesday night, Erev Tisha B’Av, the evening before the ninth of Av, is the saddest day of the year. Unlike Yom Kippur, a white, joyful fast that is begun with the lighting of candles, this day that marks the day when both temples were destroyed, first by the Babylonians in 586 b.c.e., and by the Romans in 70 C.E., is a black fast where the lights are kept dim.

On this day we mourn more than physical destruction and exile, and we remember more than history. We mourn the exile of our ideals and dreams; we mourn the death of hope and possibilities, and we mark our own private Tisha B’Avs. One particular death that has occurred in the last three weeks has taught all of us of the fragility of life and well-being.

So we assemble on this holy day to enter the blackest, desperate place, knowing that only by walking through grief can we get to the other side. We have shiva, then we are commanded to walk out the house and around the block on the last day. A time to devastated and a time to return to life.

On Tisha B’Av we painfully acknowledge our limitations, both external and internal. Our generation especially regrets what might have been. We were close to peace! What happened to the revolution of love and peace?–Why did we lose our focus in our intention to live and teach living lightly on the land? Tisha B’Av invites us to become conscious of our personal sorrows, and after honoring their existence, we also resolve not to give up.

There is a tradition that the Messiah will be born on Tisha B’Av. The great day is born from ashes! We face the unredeemed imperfect world, we forgive it, and begin to turn our energies towards the light and promise of a new year coming. This is the culmination of mourning. Begin to rejoice.

We will gather together on the floor–we sit lower as a sign of mourning, will daven ma’ariv in low, sad song, chant Lamentations in Hebrew and read in English. Let us descend and ascend together. 7:30 p.m. and everyone is welcome. Call HaMakom for directions (992-1905).

Peace and Blessings,
Rabbi Malka Drucker