This past week, Kavana has done a lot of what we do best: building Jewish community together, welcoming and supporting a wide range of practices, teaching and learning, davening, celebrating, and finding meaning. From the Book Club to the Baby/Toddler playgroup, from Living Room Learning to Prep & Practice, from Gan and Moadon Yeladim to life cycle events and communal prayer...
This past week, Kavana has done a lot of what we do best: building Jewish community together, welcoming and supporting a wide range of practices, teaching and learning, davening, celebrating, and finding meaning. From the Book Club to the Baby/Toddler playgroup, from Living Room Learning to Prep & Practice, from Gan and Moadon Yeladim to life cycle events and communal prayer... in total 250+ individuals participated in Kavana events in the last week alone! As we move towards Thanksgiving, I will be thinking about how grateful I am to have the Kavana community providing me with solid grounding and with inspiration, particularly at this moment.
Sunday evening's Social Action Town Hall gathering was particularly powerful. Rabbi Sydney Danziger and Brooke Brod led about 50 participants in a high-level conversation about our community's Social Action priorities and commitments -- what we learned from Kavana's fall survey, and what may have changed in light of the recent election. Then, we broke into working groups to dig into some of the proposed areas for further learning and action.
It will take a little time to synthesize the work of the various groups, and you can expect to hear more about this next week... for now, please know that we will be continuing to work on issues that have been priorities for Kavana already (such as refugee resettlement), while also adding some new projects (including a weekend of service around the Inauguration in January, an exploration of potential partnerships, and an increased focus on human & civil rights). There will certainly be opportunities for everyone to get involved at some level on our Social Justice work this year, and we truly hope that you will choose to participate -- we will need as much help as we can get, as the work to be done is both vast and urgent!
One of the top issues that emerged in our discussion Sunday was the need to combat the rise in hate speech and violence. On top of Trump's campaign insults towards women, Muslims, people with disabilities, etc., there has been a sharp uptick in potential hate crimes in the wake of the election... not only in far away red states, but also close to home in places such as Bothell and Bellevue (where we've seen hijab-snatching harassment and swastika graffiti). You may also have seen news reports this week about an "Alt-Right" (read: White Nationalist) conference in Washington, D.C., where the final speaker voiced openly anti-semitic sentiments and was a saluted with "Sieg Heils." Obviously this is terrifying, and the U.S. Holocaust Museum put out a very important condemnation of the event, conveying a simple, but ever-important and profound message: "The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words."
Our Jewish tradition teaches that words have the power to create worlds and shape realities, and of course, we know from experience that words can also mark the beginning of the perpetration of great evil. As we move forward with our work at Kavana, we pledge to choose our words carefully, to make our speech a reflection of our highest aspirations, and also to confront racist thinking and divisive hateful speech wherever we see it.
We will do our best to hold our leaders accountable to the same standards to which we hold ourselves. This won't be easy, but remaining silent is not an option.
Wishing you a meaningful Thanksgiving holiday (and one filled with only words of uplift and hope),
Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum
This configuration rings true to me today. I picture volunteers in my community working shoulder-to-shoulder in the kitchen preparing meals for homeless “tent city” residents or a multigenerational group marching for justice and equality arm-in-arm, like a wall of planks.
In this quiet pause, it's awesome to be able to reflect on the theme of this week's holiday. Thanksgiving isn't celebrated widely in Israel, of course, but it does have a Hebrew name: Chag ha-Hodaya, literally, the Holiday of Gratitude (or thanks or acknowledgement). You might recognize the root word from so many of our Jewish prayers... it's conjugated into forms like "modeh ani" ("I give thanks") or "modim anachnu lach" ("We give thanks to You") or, perhaps most famous of all -- a line repeated during the Hallel service or at a bris -- "hoduladonai ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo" ("Give thanks to Adonai who is good, for God's lovingkindness endures forever.")
Last night, I went to bed with the mixed election results fresh in my mind. This morning, I woke up thinking about a powerful image that appears at the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Parashat Toledot. In last week's reading, Abraham's servant had traveled to find a wife for Isaac, and he had selected Rebecca based on her incredible generosity and compassion (as our Moadon students have learned, she offered water not only to him but also to his camels!). This week, we meet Rebecca again, now pregnant and uncomfortable. She seeks divine intervention, and is told that two nations are struggling in her womb. In the pshat (the simple, plain meaning), this means that she is pregnant with a set of twins. On the level of drash (deeper interpretation), these twins, Jacob and Esau, represent two very different modalities of being, and it is these that are struggling within her.