Altar Ego Postings 2010
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December 24, 2010
Dear Friends,

Families give us a sense of rootedness through the experiences we share together. For many of us in HaMakom, our families live far away and we don’t live within the container that once held us. In the ten years that we have been community, we have witnessed birth, marriages, B’nai Mitzvah, and death together, and in so doing, we have become family to one another.

In a few weeks, we will celebrate one of the most wonderful events in our Jewish community: Yafa Chase will receive smicha and will be called Rabbi.
I am proud to be one o f her teachers and will relive my own ordination when I witness hers. Many members of her family at HaMakom will be with me to cheer her. If that weren’t enough of an announcement, I have another one.
Yafa and her husband, Harley, are preparing to adopt a baby boy from Ethiopia. This has been a dream of Yafa’s since high school. The expense of such an adoption is great and beyond their means.
Because we understand that we all have commitment to raising Jewish children, we want to help Yafa, Harley, and Ariel increase their family by communicating Yafa’s request about ordination gifts.
Some of you have already asked what you may give her. What the family wants more than anything is contributing to the “Chase-Parry Adoption Fund.”

Mail your contribution to:
Yafa Chase
1895 Quemado Street,
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505
payable to Yafa Chase, noting “Chase-Parry Adoption Fund” on the memo line. This gift is not tax-deductible.
If you would like your contribution to be anonymous, please contact call Yael Chaikind at 505.992.6164.
We’ll let keep you informed when the newest member of HaMakom joins us, complete with proud pictures!
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Malka Drucker

December 8
Dear Friends,

Have you ever read a book where you find yourself underlining furiously, nodding, and saying “Yes!” out loud?

That’s what happened to me when I read Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing. He had me from the first paragraph when he described a depression that had come upon him at sixty; a sense of loss and difficulty imagining a good future oppressed him.

Reb Zalman was looking at a world that no longer valued him in its quest for newness and speed. Aging brought no benefit, yet it wasn’t always this way.
He writes, “Elderhood is a time of unparalleled inner growth having evolutionary significance in this era of world-wide cultural transformation. It is a call from the future, a journey for the health and survival of our ailing planet earth.” How much more so now! He envisioned spiritual eldering institutes to teach us how to reach this growth of which he spoke. Fifteen years ago, when he wrote the book, many of us weren’t at an age where these words reached us. Now we understand and we’re ready.
An elder is someone still growing, still learning, and still with potential. Life continues to have promise and a connection to the future. An elder deserves respect and honor, because it is he or she who will synthesize wisdom from a lifetime and turn it into legacy for future generations.
While Reb Zalman’s institutes never happened and we’re still a generation in search of wisdom, I have an idea that takes its inspiration from the women’s movement. Back in the seventies, pioneering women formed conscious raising groups to evolve a new place for women in our society. Only together, by speaking our truth, could we imagine a world where women had the same rights as men. It was in these groups that the new voice and presence of women emerged.
Following the structure of the CR groups, I’m starting a facilitated weekly Sage-ing group that will use the teachings of Reb Zalman and others to explore a new vision for aging. Mary Catherine Bateson in her latest book, Composing a Further Life, observes that we have thirty more years than our ancestors at the turn of the twentieth century to mature into elderhood, and no generation has had access to so much information. Let’s get started!
We’ll begin by reading and studying From Age-ing to Sage-ing to inspire the deep conversation. Guided imagery, journaling, meditating, and chanting will also help us. Just as the feminist groups gathered women who individually felt that something wasn’t working in their lives and they discovered that they weren’t alone, we’ll gather to share how we understand the relationship of time and wisdom, and how we can be a vital force for good in the bonus of years given to us. If you’d like to make the last third of your life the richest and become part of a movement to reclaim the wisdom of time, please join us Tuesday, 18 January at 7 PM.
Peace and Blessings,
Rabbi Malka Drucker
November 24
Dear Friends,

As we celebrate the American fall harvest holiday of Thanksgiving, we discover a radically amazing synchronicity. Here’s how it goes. The Hebrew word for thanksgiving is hodu. A turkey is called tarnegal hodu, or “Indian chicken.” The first celebrants of Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims and the native Americans named “Indians” by the first explorers who came to America, had references to fall harvest festivals. The native Americans celebrated an eight day festival in a long house built for the holiday. The Pilgrims knew about the Israelites and the holiday they celebrated was known as Booths. All this, thanks to the Milsteins, tell us that the turkey we may be eating Thursday on Thanksgiving is connected to Sukkot!

Our Wednesday night Hour of Power Ma’ariv service will include a teaching on Vayeshev, the upcoming Torah portion. While Cindy won’t be with us, we’ll still chant and daven. We have people who are saying Kaddish and we need ten, a minyan, to say it. Please join us!

Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker
November 12, 2010
Dear Friends,

It seems that we were together just yesterday for the High Holidays and now we’re ready to bake rugelach for Chanukah.
The Wednesday Hour of Power has begun again at at 5:30, Rabbi Jack continues to enlighten us with his Talmud class, movies have been screened, and this Sunday we hunt for Judaic text treasures, while sipping wine with Rabbi Jack in his library!

I look forward to seeing you all tonight, along with our new members for our Kabbalat Shabbat service.

How are you doing with the resolutions inspired by the new year? Did you have such a rich time over the holidays that you decided to learn more about yourself and the tradition? Here are a few suggestions if you haven’t gotten started on your promise to yourself and to G!d.

I spoke over the holidays about Spiritual Direction, the relationship between one who seeks to explore life beyond the mundane and to venture into the Mystery within oneself. A spiritual director is a companion who will be with and guide the seeker on the journey. I have been training to be a director and am now available for individual sessions. This is a way to examine how G!d is present in your life, explore how you experience spirit, and to grow it. If you’re interested in this process, you might reread my sermon online and call me: 988.1860.

This Shabbat we study Vayetze, the portion that gives us the perfect image of the spiritual journey, a ladder.

Our Torah cover illustrates this week’s portion, Vayetze, in which a ladder begins on earth and ends at heaven’s gate. Translucent angels ascend and descend.This is the dream of a frightened man who has endangered his life by cheating his twin brother. Esau hunts and Jacob studies. One is purely physical, the other purely spiritual. One is straightforward and simple, the other shrewd and slippery. Papa loves Esau, and Mama loves Jacob.

Vayetze means going out, and Jacob is going into exile, away from the closeness he felt with God. His despair–so much so that he takes a stone, an object often used in death rituals, for his pillow in the wilderness–is two-fold. First, there is his natural fear of the encounter with his brother whom he has wronged, and second, by taking the blessing intended for Esau, he must now leave his tent and take on the burden of acquiring the necessities that his brother had provided.

Torah understands dreams to be divine messages. The dreams tell him that our existence is like the ladder. Our feet must be on the ground, covered with the dust of the physical world; we acknowledge our animal selves. But that which is unseen, our essence that models the divine image, is infinite, beyond imagining. God is everywhere, in the dust as well as the heavens. The dream shouts, “Look! I am with you, no matter what you’re doing. You don’t have to sit and study all day to find me. You can involve yourself in the mastery of the physical world and know that I am with you. If you’re fair and merciful, you will find me. Don’t fear your brother; only do right by him.”

Jacob has been a scammer, a man of deception. The rabbis, in their attempt to defend Jacob, surmised that he was a passionate student because it explains what he was doing in his tent all day; what he was studying is anyone’s guess. Torah tells us of someone who easily steals his brother’s birthright and deceives his father into giving him Esau’s blessing.

He is a conflicted man, unsure of how to live both in the spiritual and physical realms. The answer is simple. When we see in each other the divine Image–who would cheat God?–it’s as good as being a Talmudic scholar, actually better. This doesn’t mean that we’re exempt from study; we cannot see the divine without guidance, and Torah is the guide. Study Torah to learn how to behave, act upon your learning, and your life will be suffused in spiritual light. God is telling Jacob not to worry about coming down the ladder: “Look! No matter how far down you are, I am with you.” Knowing this makes life bearable, even a difficult life like Jacob’s, as we will see next week.

Even if you didn’t make the promise to grow at the High Holidays, it’s not too late! Please join us on any of the paths suggested above.

Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker
September 1st, 2010
Dear Spiritual Trekkers,

“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 its nest. There is no time to be lost; the end is in sight. The One will soon call…”(Collected Writings, Volume II, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch).

Each year as I read these words, I understand them better, and this year the death of my dear 92 year-old friend, Mimi Silverberg, made them even clearer. The coolness of the air reminds us that summer doesn’t last forever, and the loss of loved ones teaches us to treasure each day. Perhaps because Mimi was so sickly as a child that she nearly died, she lived each day of her life with great joy that was infectious. She declared her intention to die in her own bed and she said that if she’d rather be dead if she couldn’t drive. She died at home one day after her driver’s license expired.

This is the end of the eulogy I offered: “Perhaps her greatest gift was in friendship. She had lifelong friends from many worlds and we all felt her abundant love. In her memoir she mused about the eulogy, which means “blessing.” ‘Why oh why,’ she wrote, ‘Do we have to wait until death to tell someone we love them or think highly of them? Why can’t we be truthful to ourselves or our friends? Why are we so afraid to express our feelings?’ We say, “May her memory be blessing.” As we prepare for the High Holidays, we might follow Mimi’s suggestion to eulogize one another while we are alive and say now how much we mean to one another. Let’s take her love and spread it as far as we can to make her memory our blessing.”

This coming Saturday night we’ll gather for Selichot for the annual individual and collective taking stock of ourselves. This year I’ll be thinking of Mimi who did the best she could to make every day count for good, no matter what. Sometimes we bequeath unknowingly. Thank you, Mimi, for this most timely gift with which to go forward after a difficult year. Although Mimi wasn’t religious, she loved all things Jewish, especially the High Holidays that we will celebrate without her. I’ll be praying and listening with extra appreciation, remembering that the season teaches us that “there is no time to be lost.” I invite you to lace up your boots and begin the journey of transformation that comes only when you know that you don’t have forever.

How to start? If you have letters to write of unexpressed appreciation, love, or forgiveness, thank God for email and start surprising people with your notes. Include yourself on the list. On Saturday night we’ll open our Heshbon HaNefesh, (Accounting of the Soul) booklets and take time to listen to the heart’s longing. Although the booklet will take us through Yom Kippur, the journey will continue through the year. Delicious desserts, havdalah, and the concluding Selichot service will help us to make the most of the remaining days of grace in this lovely month of Elul that precedes Rosh HaShanah.

Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker
August 18, 2010
Dear Ones,

If you’ve felt a shift of the heart recently, it may be because we are in the the loveliest month of the Jewish year, Elul. Sometimes understood to be an acronym for Ani l’dodi v’dodi li, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”, Elul is the month of desire and will. God wants us so much that the Beloved leaves the palace to find us in the garden. What draws us near our Source of love is our honesty with ourselves. How are we really doing? We blow the shofar each day of the month to blast away our denials, deceptions, and unconsciousness.
When you begin the process of self-examination, what you uncover may be depressing, and that’s what we have teshuvah for. It is not a leaving of the wrong path, never to return, full of regret, as repentance implies. Teshuvah means return, which suggests that we aren’t leaving but returning to the one we were born to be. Nothing makes you feel more at home than knowing that you’re coming back to your highest ideals and hopes.
To help us in our personal work, we will gather for Selichot, Saturday night September 4th at 8:00 at the home of members Ava and David Salman.
Known as the evening of forgiveness, when we ask God to forgive us, Selichot is a brief, soul-deep service that reminds us that only with a sobering teshuvah will we grow our humanity.
I imagine an intimate evening where we will use workbooks as a beginning journal for the High Holidays. Well begin by asking ourselves what we want to work on between us and God, us and others, and with ourselves. What we discover year after year is, that to this work requires forgiveness in all directions.
To remind ourselves that life is sweet, no matter what, we’ll enjoy desserts to extend the Shabbat and begin our High Holiday season.
Chativah chatimah tovah!
May you be written and sealed for good!
Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker
July 23, 2010
Dear Ones,

I have had to segue into the heartbreaking mood of Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. It marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples and the end of Judaism as it was known roughly two thousand years ago. While Yom Kippur is a joyful fast, this is an utterly mournful one, where we sit on the floor and read Lamentations, one of the most spiritually challenging texts. Oy. I like Rosh Hashanah better.

This morning I’m remembering the joy of last Shabbat. Rabbi Jack’s Talmud study at 9 AM brought 25 passionate seekers and twice as many heard our Bar Mitzvah, Rabbi Leonard Helman, read from the Torah. Sunday, twelve of us entered enthusiastically into imagining death consciously in Dr. Karen Milstein’s workshop. Our tradition encourages the delight of communal prayer and study, yet it knows the human heart. We run from memories of defeat and failure, yet they are part of our truth. How we respond to tragedy makes us who we are.

Tisha B’Av is a day to reflect upon what such losses inevitably teach us. The destructions of the Temples meant the end of animal sacrifices in the one great Temple. Who among us would like a return to that practice of drawing near to God? The shattering shifted the paradigm to a deeper and more evolved practice that called for lovingkindness in place of sacrifices.

Another lesson from history: dark nights end. The falling sun of the mournful day marks the beginning of our rising towards the awesome and sweet High Holidays. Nothing is as whole as broken heart. That’s what I’ll tell myself tonight as I enter into the darkness of a holiday without a light to inaugurate it, with a melody that haunts and chills us with its pitch perfect grief, and with the eternal question: not why did it happen but, could we have done better? Why else remember the day, if not to learn better ways of being?

By the time you read this, we’ll be gladly past the weeks of caution and the black fast, still enjoying the pleasures of summer, and beginning to dream the treasures of the Days of Awe. I wish I could end this letter here. I’ve received, however, a letter from Rabbi Barry H.D. Block, Gay’s son, of vital importance to the Jewish community. Please read it and respond.

Shabbat Shalom! Come celebrate with us on Saturday morning!

Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker

“Dear Friends,

Once a generation, it seems, Jews throughout the world are forced to unite to thwart reckless political activism by Ultra-Orthodox political parties in Israel. Time and again, they have tried to assure that only Orthodox conversions will be recognized by the Jewish State. A Bill before the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) this week supposedly aims to make conversion more available to Israeli immigrants from the Former Soviet Union who are either not Jewish or whom we would recognize as Jewish while ultra-Orthodox authorities do not. In reality, the Bill would concretize in Israeli law the prerogatives of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate (Orthodox) to control all conversions. A very recent article on the matter from the Jerusalem Post may be found at: .

For months, leaders of the Jewish Federations of North America, as well as the Reform and Conservative movements, have been working diligently, directly with Israeli government leaders, to try to prevent this troubling Bill from coming before the Knesset. This week, suddenly and without warning, the Bill has been approved by a Knesset Committee and is headed to the Parliament floor. Jews around the world are stunned that Knesset leaders have not heeded the words of Natan Sharansky, world-famous former Soviet Refusenik and hero to Jews around the world, currently head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, who has been working day and nigh to stop this Bill.

As you scroll down, you will find a letter that I ask you to paste into your own email to send to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asking him to stop this grave potential threat to the unity of world Jewry. The Prime Minister has been an honest broker in this debate so far, and there is no reason to believe that he supports the Bill being brought forward by MK (Member of Knesset) David Rotem. The Prime Minister has heard clearly from leaders of North American Jewry. Now, he needs clearly to hear from ordinary American Jews who love Israel and fear an unnecessary and dangerous break between our American Jewish community and the people of the State of Israel.

Below the suggested letter to the Prime Minister, you will find a letter from Anat Hoffman, Director of the Israel Religious Action Center. As you will see, Ms. Hoffman was arrested in Jerusalem yesterday. Her “crime” was carrying a Torah Scroll near the Western Wall, which a woman is supposedly forbidden to do. (It’s bad enough that women are not allowed to read the Torah at Judaism’s holiest site; Ms. Hoffman was merely carrying the scroll.) Let us heed Anat Hoffman’s plea to assure that this week will be a one in which world Jewish unity is preserved.

Please send your email to Prime Minister Netanyahu today.

Many thanks.
Rabbi Barry H. D. Block”

The Honorable Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of Israel
Office of the Prime Minister
Jerusalem, Israel

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,

We write to request your immediate intervention to prevent passage of the legislation being brought forward by MK David Rotem.

We are deeply concerned about the intention to grant the Chief Rabbinate sole control over conversion in Israel. Such legislation would be an open attack on the legitimacy of non-Orthodox Jewry, which composes the majority of world Jewry.

While we are supportive of efforts to create greater accessibility to conversion courts in Israel, the overall impact of the Rotem Bill will set back these efforts. Should this bill be enacted, it will exacerbate a widening gap between Diaspora and Israel communities, which we are working very hard to avoid.

Therefore, we believe it is imperative that you, as leader of Israel, and as one who cares deeply about the well-being of Klal Yisrael, intervene and urge immediate withdrawal of this bill.

(your name here)

June 25, 2010
Dear Ones,

On the Shabbat before last, my father was taken, at two a.m, to Mt. Sinai Hospital by ambulance for an angiogram. As he was wheeled out of the operating room, he overheard the surgeon say, “He’s got three blocked arteries and has to have a bypass.” At that moment, my father decided he would go for it. without the procedure, he could have a heart attack at any time. Furthermore, shortness of breath and dizziness were distressing him. Why not take the risk and pain if it might bring at least one more life-filled day?

In the end, he didn’t have the choice. My father is such a lovable man that all his caregivers really cared. They so wanted to offer him that one good day that they kept testing him and hoping for different results. The day before they had scheduled the surgery, they had to tell him that he hadn’t passed the last test. At 86, his spirit didn’t match his body; he wasn’t a good candidate.

How did he take the news? He said, “I’m relieved. That would have been a helluva surgery.” If he was disappointed, he didn’t share it. He’s part of that glorious generation that isn’t into kvetching and fear.

I’m grateful to be here in New York with him at this time. We spent a wonderful Father’s Day that included Ivan and Caroline, his Carolyn and her family, as well as my sister, Linda and her family. In a bright yellow polo shirt, he radiated love as his eyes swept over all of us frequently, smiling and beaming.

So it’s hardly a death watch but a life watch here. I’m watching a person who always enjoyed and appreciated life, doing it with even greater gratitude. Every morning he awakens is a miracle. Once easily irritated and impatient with “stupidity”, he is now all-accepting of the humanness that interconnects us. He appears to be in a gentle ecstasy, like a newborn, without claim, meeting the radically amazing world.

My father is experiencing life in a new place, and he is surrounded by many who love him and wish him well. When he returned to the assisted living residence, he was greeted like Henry V at Agincourt. There is sorrow as well as solace in all this, of course. Who is ever ready to let go of pleasure? My father has had a great time and is naturally reluctant to leave the party. But we don’t talk about the next chapter. We don’t even get into intense philosophical discussions as we once did, waving our hands and shouting not in disagreement but in shared passion.

No longer needing to be the quickest extrovert, my father is now being called to know himself differently: Bill Treiber the elder, is the one who is met, not the one who runs to meet. This is not to say that he has become still and quiet. Being active is his way. He’s still bustling about, albeit with a slower bustle. He accepts what must be not with resignation but with a little chutzpah that reminds him and us of who he is. Since I claim this characteristic, it’s been remarkable to observe my father navigating this part of the journey as I probably will.

Many of us in the community either have lost parents recently or are bearing witness to the decline of our once all-knowing, all-powerful parents. If we’ve enjoyed good enough relationship with them, we still miss them terribly.

As I face the bracing reality of losing my father–may it not be soon–I’d like to eulogize my father now, tell him all he means to me, but that’s not our way and we both know how much we love each other. But I want to tell someone and I have you! I cannot see God’s face but I see yours, Heschel wrote. Knowing that I am amidst those who are with me on this journey comforts me. Thank you for your concern.

When I remember my summers in Massapequa, I am walking towards the water with my father after dinner. He lets the dog off the leash in the vacant lot, takes a drag on his Camel and begins to answer one of my questions, e.g. “How do we get over missing people who aren’t with us?” (I only spent summers with him and it was the best part of my childhood. I missed him a lot.) He says that life is so rich that we can find substitutes for what we no longer have. As long as memory lives, so will he. Meanwhile, I’m going to see him on Thursday and maybe I’ll ask him who might substitute for him in my life.

Thinking of you on the fifth floor in a friend’s apartment on the Upper Eastside on a bright and sunny summer’s day.

Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker
PS–I read the above letter to my father to be sure it was all right with him to share. Here is his answer: “When I lost my father, I couldn’t turn to my mother or religion. I found solace in doing things I enjoyed. I went to ball games, I fished….”
“Are you saying that you didn’t turn to another person for comfort?”
He thought a moment and said, “People were there and helped. And I helped myself.”
“I disagree with the word ‘substitute.’ We survive loss because we return to new experiences and because of how we learn from loss.”
“That’s true,” he exclaimed. “I think of Blanche so much it’s as if she never died.” Blanche was a beloved young and fun sister-in-law who died at 36. You’re right, Malk. No one could take her place.”
How lucky I am to be able to finish a conversation with my father 45 years later.

June 7, 2010
Dear Ones,

Now, as the tomatoes ripen, Shavuot is over, and before work for High Holidays, I’m enjoying the luxury of time to absorb the last profound and joyful weeks. The B’nai Mitzvah still carry a glow about them. Let them remind us again that as long as we live, we are here celebrate new days that bring us renewed spirit. Many loved ones-children, grandchildren, parents, siblings, and friends, came from all over the country to be with our community to be present for this life cycle event of conversion and B’nai Mitzvah. In meeting these guests, I realized how many of us in Santa Fe don’t know the extended family of our friends. That so many recognized the sacredness and importance of the effort of our eight students validates our work. Woody Allen says that eighty percent of life is showing up. We hope that our B’nai Mitzvah and their families will inspire others to take their spiritual lives seriously, too.

Last week I was in LA to officiate at the wedding of dear friends. I went to services at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and sat next to Malkah Schulweis, Rabbi Schulweis’s wife. It was a joy to be where, at 25, I first discovered the magic of Torah and the depth of our tradition. Wonderful homecoming that it was, I still missed being at HaMakom.

On Sunday my friend, Belle, whom I’ve know for almost thirty years, married Norman, who just turned 79. Their courtship was decades long and some of us wondered why marriage if they’d been happy without it. When 85 of us gathered for the huppah, it was clear why. We reach a time of life when we often gather to say goodbye. Here we gathered to celebrate love, patience, and hope. Belle and Norman share the gift of loyalty and friendship, too. I saw friends of Belle’s I’d met over the years and one of Norman’s friends had known him for over seventy years. This particularly joyful wedding was also a reminder to celebrate whatever and whenever we can.

Finally, I’d like to invite you to join me this summer at a spectacular summer camp called Ruach Ha-Aretz, Spirit of the Land. Here is a link to the website:

I’m taking the grandchildren for a week of camp for them and learning amidst nature for me. It’s August 2-8, and since we went a couple of years ago, I feel confident in telling you that you’ll have a wonderful time.

Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker
May 21, 2010
Dear Ones,

What a week it has been! The 5770 B’nai Mitzvah class gathered at Ojo Caliente last Saturday evening to begin their spiritual preparation for tomorrow morning, when they will be called to the Torah for the first time. We began with Havdalah under the new moon adjacent to Venus, radiant with love, as we sang around the fire pit. A vision quest and a mikveh, singing, silence, praying, and always, a search for meaning occupied our time. Four became Jews and two who were born Jews took Hebrew names. For all it will be a memory of a ritual that expressed, with words, the tenderness and tenacity of their commitment. They have all have chosen to become part of the Jewish future, and the one who chooses to become a Jew is even more beloved than the one born into it.

The theme of conversion continued on Tuesday night when a robust group gathered for Revelation on Shavuot. Why the entire world wasn’t with us, I can’t imagine, but a few of us stayed up all night to be there for whatever would be revealed besides lightheadedness and fatigue. We talked at length, at about three in the morning, about Ruth, the first who said she wanted to walk with us. She represents pure lovingkindness, and it is her behavior that melts the hearts of others to behave with the same empathy and compassion. This is our only story where the good guys win without anyone dying, and while God’s name doesn’t appear in the Book of Ruth, God appears in the goodness of Ruth and those who follow her example.

Sorry to tell you this but the revelation comes at the end, like basketball. It’s at the moment just before dawn, when a voice within whispers, “What’s the point of this? You’ll feel terrible for two days, and for what?” Yes, even rabbis have such thoughts. And then, the sky begins to shift to midnight blue from black. At that moment you realize that you’re going to make it, you’re OK, and even better. You’ve gotten to behave as if there is no time limitation. We got to learn, share ideas, reveal ourselves, and get to a new place by the long stretch of time that blows away many veils that we wear by day. The wee hours of the morning offer EST-like experience in gaining insight into ourselves. For those who counted each day until this one, the reward was delicious, as delicious as the chocolate cake Deborah Avren brought to fortify us.

Venus and Ruth…maybe the big headline for the holiday and for our B’nai Mitzvah is this: what gets revealed is love. For a split second at Sinai, we all felt such love for everything and everyone. I was God, you were God, God was everywhere and we felt flooded with love. Ah. Maybe that is what the world to come will be. In the meantime, we have eight who showed up week after week to learn prayers in a foreign language, a rich and complicated history, and the core values and practices of Judaism. Tomorrow, Shabbat morning, we will daven with the B’nai Mitzvah who have demonstrated their love by their effort in the last year.

I’m not suggesting that it was only a little voice within each of them that coaxed them along. They had the guidance of the most patient and dedicated teacher in soon to be rabbi Yafa Chase-Parry who nudged, expected, consoled, encouraged, and taught her students with impeccability. She picked the right line of work for a person with a natural inclination towards compassion and a passion for learning and teaching.

Please join us tomorrow for Shabbat morning, and you’ll know that you can experience the holiness of community beyond Woodstock. This is the adult version of falling in love with what you cannot see.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Malka Drucker

Celebrating Life
May 17, 2010
Dear Ones,

I’m home from a training called “Death as Homecoming: Life is the Answer.”

As our small group bravely entered into the profound subject, it began to snow. Even in mid-May, I love snow. The surprise of a foot of snow awakened fifty year-old memories of sledding and snowmen just before I imagined my last day on earth. When I came out of the vision, I looked out the window and met the landscape with a fresh gratitude and awareness of the time when I see my last snow. Dying takes practice and the best way to start is to live with our eyes and hearts open. Without death we might never start, and therefore never live.

Making acquaintance with death by doing a count of what and who gives my life meaning has been part of my preparation for Shavuot, which we will celebrate together tomorrow night at St. Bede’s at 7 PM and then at the Rabbi’s house afterwards. This is the time of final purification, as we come to the end of our traditional forty-nine day self-improvement program of counting each day, and paying attention to certain parts of ourselves with special energy.

We celebrate a mystery at Shavuot. After preparing themselves to be attuned for divine presence, the Israelites experienced a Revelation too powerful even to describe. What was it? The two tablets like the movie? A scroll? We know that each of us who stood there and are still standing there, heard exactly what they needed to hear.

This year I understand the revelation as that moment of contemplating death as I watched the snow and knowing that one day there will be no eyes and heart to witness and rejoice.

I don’t know if you will uncover a fresh truth about yourself this Shavuot, but I do know that it is a great opportunity to look within for what you would like revealed. Sometimes we don’t know what will be shown to us; all we know is that we needed to be together for each of us to get our particular message.

If you’d like to teach, please let me know by emailing me at so we can make the schedule. If you’re coming to the Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, bring pillow, blankie, and wear anything appropriate for an all night study.

And please, bring food, dairy especially to remind us that Torah is milk and honey.

Last year Ellie Edelstein not only brought a gravity chair but H bagels. We also had blintzes and other divine symbols of divinity. It’s amazing how good those blintzes are at dawn!

Sunday morning eight members of the community immersed themselves in the water directly from the rivers flowing from the Garden of Eden in preparation for being called to the Torah this Shabbat.

The mikveh is also a fine preparation for Shavuot. These eight, long past the traditional age of Bar and Bat Mitzvah, reveal to us their longing for connection with God, their people, and themselves.

May they awaken our own desire to know who we are and who we may be.

Chag Sameah! Looking forward to sharing both Shavuot at dawn and witnessing the sacred commitment of our extraordinary eight this Shabbat!

Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker
May 5, 2010
Dear Ones,
Seven weeks, seven days in a week. Seven: a number of power, indivisibility, completion.

God made the world in seven days. Shavuot, which means weeks, takes place seven weeks after Passover. If the children of Israel needed the outstretched arm of God to free them from slavery, they also needed a strong arm pointing them in the direction of becoming complete human beings.

Besides celebrating the summer harvest, Shavuot celebrates our path of partnership with God to perfect the world by starting with ourselves. The holiday celebrates the one time God came close and spoke to the entire people. On that amazing day, God gave us the Torah and we’re still joyfully receiving its milk and honey.

Our Shavuot celebration begins with a wedding on Tuesday May 18 at St. Bede’s at 7 PM. No need to find formal wear, just a willingness to imagine being at Sinai, when two million people each experienced an intimate encounter with the Divine. Who is getting married? Israel and God.

It’s the big commitment ceremony that celebrates the part of ourselves that says Yes! Yes! Yes! I’m in love with belonging: belonging to the world, a cosmic community, and to the Beloved. The ketubah is the Torah, the milk that Aaron and Moses, the twin breasts, gave to the children of Israel.

The evening will continue as a Leyl Tikkun Shavuot, at the Rabbi’s house at 9 PM with an “All Nighter of Study” and there is no final in the morning.

Why all night and why blintzes in the morning? Come and listen Tuesday night, May 18.

We need studious night owls, ie, those who would like to teach any kind of Jewish learning for 45 minutes to an hour. I’m going to teach “What the Book of Ruth Reveals.” Hint: it goes back to the aphrodisiac of Passover.

Anything that you’re passionate about from 9 PM on is what we’re looking for: poetry, music, dance, text, whatever. Please e-mail me at and tell me what your offering will be. (No, I’m not kidding. If you”e never done this, you’ll be amazed at how satisfying it is.) Come just for a little of it to see what this taste of the world to come is like.

Doris Francis began the evening’s teachings last year by telling us how ancient cycads (she brought two) are like the Jewish people, primordial and endangered. Beth Surdut led us into family stories that, like Torah, carry many meanings, some of which take a lifetime to reveal. Susan Marcus, Schia Muterperl, Rabbi Martin Levy and Consuelo Luz continued to enlighten us, and each presentation flowed perfectly into the next.

Despite the challenge of staying up all night for the 2009 Leyl Tikkun Shavuot in our clean living community, seven of us buoyantly and gratefully greeted the dawn rising over Sun and Moon Mountain with blintzes and the Shema, after a profound night of learning, revealing, singing, and meditation.

Why is this Shavuot different from last year? This year we have a community of people who have undertaken the discipline of ‘Counting the Omer’ the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot, to attain a heart of wisdom.

We will come together to witness our transformations.

Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker
April 18, 2010
Dear Beloved Community,

One of the many glories of my work is to witness individuals coming alive as they connect with the tradition. For many, the commitment comes after surprisingly well-spent High Holidays that opened a door into a place that made us curious. We want to know more about Judaism, but not sure what or why. We come to the “Heart of Judaism” class in search of something palpable yet inchoate.

On May 22nd, eight members of our community will be called to the Torah for the first time. For some, it will be a long-deferred moment longed for since the age of thirteen. For others, it will be a return to the tradition into which they were born and are now returning. And for others it will be the beginning of what we hope will be a long and fruitful journey towards joining the Jewish people. While all will be called B’nai Mitzvah, the status traditionally conferred upon a thirteen year-old, what this Shabbat will reveal are adults with youthful enthusiasm and the gratitude that can only come from living long enough to know what is worth knowing. The papers they have written as part of their year long commitment will be on our web site:

Their offerings come from their core, whether they write about God, ethics as a spiritual practice, or why be Jewish. It’s a privilege to read them.

I’m telling you about them because, first of all, you’re all invited to the service. Be careful. It could start the longing in you. I want you to know about their effort that raises all of us a little higher. This is our third adult B’nai Mitzvah, and each group makes us a better community. Our landmark “Continuing Education” program is the creation of Marge Lazar, who was inspired by her experience in studying to be a Bat Mitzvah. Judaism has a future as long as there are hearts that fall in love with Judaism, no matter what our ages.

Secondly, we have an opportunity to express our gratitude by contributing to a special fund for the B’nai Mitzvah class. We are proud of our curriculum which is lengthy and expensive.

These are a few of the things the fund will help pay for: teachers; a lovely Kiddush after services worthy of the simcha; and the overnight retreat to Ojo Caliente (for Havdalah, medicine walk, and mikveh.)
We fundraise so that we can transmit the tradition.

Please contribute on behalf of an individual student or the entire class. When you contribute, the class experience will belong to you, too.

Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker

April 16, 2010
Dear Friends,

Here are four words to bring God closer to you today: blooming forsythia and apricot blossom. I noted their appearance on the fourteenth day of the Omer, a day that reveals, according to Rabbi Min Kantrowitz in her book, “Counting the Omer,” indwelling presence with discernment. The attributes, Malchut and Gevurah, can also be translated as majesty and limitation. I think of the majestic beauty of these flowers and how short-lived their season. It is that temporal limitation that makes their appearance holy.

This year there are legions of us, surely because of Ron Hart’s publishing of Rabbi Min’s book, counting the days to get ourselves a heart of wisdom. On the fiftieth day we celebrate Shavuot to remember the great moment when we got received the Torah, the message for all time. What do you suppose they received? After services, we will gather at our home for the second annual all-nighter known as Leyl Tikkun Shavuot. Everyone in the community is welcome to attend and is invited to offer a teaching about anything Jewish that calls you. Some of us will focus on the Ten Commandments, Torah, and the Book of Ruth.
Tonight at the Kabbalat Shabbat I’ll say more about why this lesser-known holiday is so deep and joyful. If you were among the seven of us still standing at dawn, please come and add your perspective nearly a year later.

Looking forward to seeing you tonight. Shabbat Shalom!
Peace and Love,

Rabbi Malka Drucker
March 25, 2010
Dear Beloved Community,

No child is born without much preparation and long gestation, and when you’re getting ready to celebrate the birthday of an entire people, it’s big, so big that we dedicate the four Sabbaths before Passover to becoming as mindful as a newborn of the blessing of freedom. We prepare by imagining ourselves entering into the newness of spring and becoming part of it. Pesach is about the beginning of our becoming a community and about the rebirth of the natural world. That our community is still here because it continues to rebirth itself and contribute to the world is perhaps the greatest cause for celebration.

Traditionally, the first night of Passover is at home with family. HaMakom’s first night seder began because Gay and I couldn’t fit any more people at our home seder, and we realized that most of our guests were part of the HaMakom community. So our home seder has become the HaMakom family seder; our fifth one!
This year we hope to see you at Vanessie’s.

You may not know about my annual role as mashgiah in making the host kitchen kosher l ‘Pesach. I will channel a portly man with a gray beard in a black satin yarmulke. It is part of what makes this holiday different and I look forward to it more each year.

I’m very glad that Passover and Easter fall close to each other because our matzah brittle is a favorite of the parishioners at St. Bede’s. It delights me to think of matzah brittle at Easter brunches all over town. If you have friends who may enjoy this treat either at the Seder or otherwise, please order now on our website. Only a few boxes are left!

Be sure to look upward on Monday night, to be blessed by the appearance of the magnificent full moon resembling a Jaffa orange on this first seder night.

Hag Sameah!
Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker

MARCH 23, 2010
Dear Ones,

The beauty of the red poppies floating in the fields of the Galillee, the vibration of Sarah and Abraham under my feet, and the faces of our old and new friends, serve as innoculation against the disheartening and difficult news from Israel. When I find anger and despair growing over things about which I can do little and must have humility and patience, I recall the words of my Israeli friends, mostly feeling as I do, and listen for their resolve, courage, and long perspective. Holding love with clear eyes that see into the darkness is something that I’d like to be able to do now that ”ve reached the time of wisdom.

I celebrated my birthday by going to Alice in Wonderland. From the time I got my Viewmaster sixty years ago, I’ve loved the thrill of 3D. (I also like Johnny Depp). I also have always loved falling snow. When I look back on being a child, a young mother, and a student, I sometimes feel it was another person who lived those years. Yet when I see that I am still delighted by that which claimed me from the beginning, I feel the “echadness” of who Malka is.

It is in delight that we transcend the ordinary. When AJ Heschel was asked what it meant to believe in God, he said, “To have radical amazement.” Much of what we aim for at HaMakom is to awaken the palpable experience of feeling such joy and to point to the Source. We do this not only with prayer, song, chant, study, and dance, we do it with Matzah Brittle. Wednesday morning the holy cooks arrived with the Rosha (head chef), Erica Zvaifler, directing the operation of at least one hundred pounds of the seriously addictive Passover treat. By the time they complete their task, there will be probably a dozen volunteers to make the impeccable caramel, crush the nuts, sprinkle chocolate, and bake. May their great effort be returned in abundant blessings.

Despite the snow, the new moon Nisan this past week has me looking at the ground for signs of spring and into the haggadah to discover what I’ve never noticed before. Looking forward to seeing you on Pesach to celebrate the birthday of the Jewish people. Hag Sameah!

Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker

MARCH 2, 2010
Dear Haverim,

L’hitraot, to see you again, is how Israelis say good bye when your visit is over, and they mean it. A taxi driver asked me why I don’t make aliyah, i.e. ascend to live in Israel. Friends asked why our eleven day trip was so short-what’s the hurry? And when you meet the pilgrims on our journey, they will tell you all they did, you’ll be radically amazed to see that they are still standing. And yet, when we held our closing circle Shabbat afternoon, we felt satisfied and knew there is much more to experience next time.

Leaving the village we’d become in our shared experience was powerful and poignant. Seeing Judaism lived here not just by the religious but by secular Israelis gave us a greater undertanding of our challenge to be Jews in America. An example: Shannie, our guide with the looks of Joseph, the soul of David, the leadership of Moses, and wisdom of Solomon, grew up in the desert on a kibbutz. Maybe he’s never been to a synagogue in his life except for his Bar Mitzvah. He used to lead Birthright groups of 18 year-olds.

One of the young women got very drunk on a Friday night. The rule is to be sent home immediately for this transgression. Shannie used “sechel”, his wisdom and told her to do Havdallah. When I heard this, I thought, “What does a twisted candle and spices have to do with girl?” “I told her to spend the day thinking about what she’d done, and why she is here,” he said, “And after that she was a totally different person.”

What a tradition we have that gives us a ritual to turn our lives around!

Purim everywhere in the world is lots of fun. The deeper meaning of the need to have one day where all troubles go into our costumes and jokes have great meaning in a country where you see smooth-faced boys and girls bouncing Uzi rifles on their knees as they groove to secret songs in their ear buds. It’s a day to forget our troubles. Hamantaschen, or Ozen Haman (Haman’s ears) on the El Al plane coming home reminded me of what I was leaving.

While I don’t live in Israel and am glad I’m an American Jew, since 9/11 my trips to Israel have deepened. It’s different to be a Jew in the world today. Try not wincing when you learn the Jordanians have the chutzpah to say the Dead Sea Scrolls belong to them, or that tulip bulbs grown for export go to Holland without their export label on them, because too many countries don’t want to buy from Israel. Or that Laos won’t allow Israelis to visit because they don’t like Israeli politics. To hear our guide’s unabashed Israeli pride in everything he showed us, saying that Israel is a moral country, that we need to be strong, that being continually at war with a people who want us wiped out is not understandable unless you’ve lived here. The separation fence is a ghetto around us, not around “them.” Suicide bombs have decreased almost to nothing since it has been constructed. Most agree it is a necessary evil. We MUST have this protection. And most also agree that Israeli politicians made grave mistakes in some places where the fence separates Palestinian villagers from one another. Just as we in the U.S. so often dislike our politicians’ choices, so do Israelis.

This is a new world for Jews, the world better known to my parents and grandparents who felt vulnerability without a homeland. As I’ve said before, however you may feel about Israel, if you’re a Jew, it is part of your identity, and a place to go where you don’t need to feel a little defensive is a great relief.

For many of us, seeing the odds and what has been accomplished in this tiny land gave us real insight into the Israeli national anthem, “HaTikvah” (The Hope). Jews depend on it, and since we’re among the few that have lived this long, we left with a feeling that if we can find a way to desalinization of water, create a nation that is a world player in just a little over sixty years, we’ll find a way to peace. More personally, there is nothing like sitting with a woman who describes how her entire family was killed in the Vilna Ghetto while she was recovering from an operation, and in the next breath point to her granddaughter with great love and pride. Or hear an old man talk about his memories of boyhood in the Warsaw Ghetto and about the life and family that followed in Israel. Again and again we saw that to be Jewish is believing that you just have to live long enough. Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish people, despite all of it, still live, and we were glad to bear witness to where it all began and where it still is happening.

Our group will be presenting a picture and word show of the journey soon. After we edit everyone’s photos and gather our feelings and thoughts, we’ll share our journey with you. L’hitraot!

Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker

FEBRUARY 25, 2010
Dear Future Olei Regel – Pilgrims,

Let me tell you about our first Shabbat in Jerusalem to feed your imaginal senses and desire to know the land. On Thursday we walked on 100 million year old stone in the Negev desert and felt the presence of Abraham and Sarah through our feet. Friday we climbed to our symbol of courage and fortitude, Masada, and at once understood its importance for Israelis. This country is a refuge, as Masada was, for all Jews. As our young guide and chaver, Shanni, spoke of his love for Israel, we felt gratitude to all who take the trouble to live here. They are the ones who still believe in the earliest vision of a homeland that would open them to the milk and honey of the human heart.

As we approached the holy city around 4 PM, we stopped at a promenade that gave us an expansive view of Jerusalem turning slowly golden. Its limestone facades are the reason it is known as Jerusalem of God, which we sang when we arrived. We blessed the wine from the grapes grown on the land before us, and drank deeply.

We went to Nave Tehilah, a Jewish Renewal community, for Kabbalat Shabbat. We found ourselves amidst two hundred ecstatic daveners chanting, dancing, and singing. As we would hope visitors experience HaMakom, we were welcomed warmly. Back at the hotel we said Kiddush with the wine and challah provided by the hotel, and met a big group from Bangor, Maine, on the buffet line. You never starve in this country.

As we walked down the street, Emek Rafaim, the valley of healing, the next day for services, I remembered the verse from Psalm 92 that we sing on Shabbat: “Mah gadlu…ma’od amku machshavotechah.” How great are your deeds, Yah, how very valley-like Your idea.” I was walking in the valley of God’s idea, i.e. The world with my fellow daveners from back home!

Motzi Shabbat, the leaving of Shabbat, often slips away without a last burst of joy, as our teachers intended. Alice and Moshe Shalvi showed us the right way to enter the week Saturday night with a Melave Malka, the Escorting of the Bride. The meal, following the three meals of Shabbat, helps ease the wistfulness of leaving the wonderful day. As Cindy led us in havdalah, we eyed the olives, herring, garbanzo beans, kugel, and fruit awaiting us.

Delicious as it was, it was their life’s stories that fed us. Alice described what brought her to Israel. She was part of a youth group in England that had planned an afternoon at Cambridge, her alma mater, for Holocaust survivors after the war. They saw nothing but the food before them, a people so starved that they shoveled the food into their mouths with their hands. She would go to Israel and help return humanity to these people, just the beginning of a remarkable career of changing the world. Google them for more information.

Now in their eighties, they possess the peace of mind that comes from lives lived consciously and compassionately. “I’m glad I came here. My friends who stayed in England haven’t had the experiences that or the feeling of being part of something when everyone, for once, all worked together.” She said these words with a wish for that solidarity again. I was going to ask what helped them keep hope, but by the end of the evening, I knew. From a hard soil and a broken people, they helped birth a homeland for Jews that has become a radically amazing country. I pray for the day we won’t need a refuge, and until then I’ll be grateful for Alice and Moshe.

Only in the Holocaust rescuers have I witnessed the peace I found in them. They wouldn’t trade their lives for anything. It comes from knowing that you’re grateful for the life you’ve lived and the decisions you’ve made. As Rob said, “They were part of the birth of a nation!” However we understand faith, hope, and an intention that points to joy, they have it in abundance. They are part of why I love Israel so. On to the north!

Peace and Love,
Rabbi Malka Drucker
February 18, 2010
Dear Ones,
We wish you all were with us in Israel for the great shehechiyanu prayer we offered at the airport when we had all arrived safely!
There are ten of us, a minyan to remind us that we need one another. For six of us, this is a first pilgrimage.
I’ll offer another blessing for having a device –bless the work of my hands!–that allows me to write you on the road Abraham took from Jerusalem into the wilderness of Be’er Sheva.
We don’t have a maximum for the number of blessings each day yet the minimum is 100!
Our first blessing thanked God for keeping our footsteps firm in their approach to Israel, for giving us consciousness of our feet being where Isaiah and Devorah walked.
When we arrive at Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev, we’ll awaken to what is above us, the new moon of the happiest month of the year, Adar.

Time for another blessing!
Peace and Love,

Rabbi Malka
Priestly Blessing for Avatar
January 21, 2010
Dearest Chaverim,

One of the joys of our community is seeing the verses of Psalm 92 regularly demonstrated: “They will still bring forth fruit in old age; vigorous and fresh they will be.” Many have entered our community mature and knowledgeable, yet they are adventurous and have been open to new experiences, including the presence of God. The Holy One has appeared in the wonderful surprise of discovering that, no matter how long we’ve been on the planet, we can still fall in love, make new friends, and find expanded purpose and meaning for ourselves. HaMakom is blessed with youthful sages of all ages.

This is on my mind because I’ve just returned, along with Cindy and Yafa, from the Ohalah retreat in St. Louis of rabbis, cantors, pastoral counselors, spiritual directors, and students. I sang, danced, laughed, cried, learned with ageless people, and I’m grateful to report that I got a strong hit of vigor and freshness from the retreat.

Part of Reb Zalman’s legacy surely will be the creation of ALEPH, the visionary organization that is breathing Jewish life back into Jews. Our tradition is clear about its intention: to love the Beloved with all your heart, soul, and power. Love was palpable during the retreat, including when we wept for Haiti. We sang our way to heaven with whole hearts seasoned by sorrow as well as joy, and through new and old technologies we traveled to the part of ourselves that we know as essence and deepest truth. Loneliness gave way to connection.

I invited a childhood friend living in St. Louis to join us Friday night davenen and dinner. Frank came in a tie and noticed, besides the mashgiach, no one else was dressed that way. “It looks like I’m on the set of ‘Hair'”, he said. Renewal has its own style. Birkenstocks, beards, kippot from Guatemala and Afghanistan, and tallesim Moshe Rabbeinu would envy, illustrate a new way to be Jewish, and it includes ties. My friend tapped his foot and smiled his way into the Shabbat.

Good to be home and looking forward to seeing you.

Peace and Love
Rabbi Malka Drucker