Divine Your Words

By Alison C. Brown

This week we begin to read the first and only book of the Chumash that it is written in first person. Moses had so surrendered his ego to the Divine that his words were also God’s words, explain the commentators of this week’s parsha Devarim.

“Moses’ utter identification with the divine wisdom empowers our own lesser souls, each of which possesses ‘a spark of the soul of Moses,’ to do the same (albeit on a lesser level): to create of ‘our own words’ receptacles for the divine wisdom,” writes Rabbi Yanki Tauber.

This interpretation strengthens the possibility that we might make our thoughts worthy to ascend the Four Worlds to God, as Kabbalists assert they do. At the meta-level, what we think matters, what we think empowers our lesser souls and the world of which we are one with, not separate from. Our words represent our thoughts and our soul. Words carry more long-lasting, impactful weight than a 140-character tweet might indicate. Ours words are our personal ambassador, just as Moses was God’s earthly ambassador.

“We understand the Hebrew Language to be very sacred,” writes Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer. “According to Jewish tradition, inherent in each letter are electric-like forces that God uses to create the Universe. ‘For when the world was created, it was the supernal letters that brought into being all the works of the lower world, after their own pattern….Jewish tradition maintains that God continually creates day and night.”

“The laws of language are identical to the laws of the universe,” Rabbi Goldhamer adds. The door to my office is made up of the Hebrew letters dalet-lamed-tav. When I touch my door, I am touching the Hebrew letters dalet-lamed-tav. This imagery resonates for me, especially as it compares to what we know from science. “Push your finger down on the table top and it feels solid. But no solids are ever contacted, not for an instant. Rather, the outmost atoms of your skin are surrounded by negatively charged electrons, and these are repelled by the similar electrons in the table. The sense of solidity is illusory; you feel only repulsive electrical fields. Fields. Energies. Nothing solid, ever,” Robert Lanza, MD, teaches in Beyond Biocentrism.

Words, made of letters, have the weight of energy and their energetic motion continues beyond the brain or two in their path. Words create. Moses knew this. He knew that he needed to relay God’s guidance to emphasize that a  Jewish path leads to the marvels of a Promised Land.

An Invisible Bee

Look how desire has changed in you,
how light and colorless it is,
with the world growing new marvels
because of your changing.

Your soul has become an invisible bee.
We don’t see it working,
but there’s the full honeycomb.
– Rumi

 

Human desire, as referred to in Pirkey Avot 1:4, is above all the desire for lifelong learning and growth asserts Rabbi Reuven. Your soul, sparked by the Divine, is an invisible bee. You experience and witness the material world and with a searching desire become aware that you are part of an Divine energy field. Energies are exchanged. When your thoughts and words are light and colorless, ie. kind, your soul becomes one with the energies of others. God creates the world’s marvels anew each day with the Hebrew letters and, Rabbi Goldhamer writes, the 22 Hebrew letters “are codes that allow us to connect the divine principle within us to the divine principle outside of us.” Moses shares this code with us in Deuteronomy. Reading Torah will change you.

This Is What Made Moses Great

by Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

This week’s Torah portion, Hukkat, is always very traumatic for me.  First, we have the death of the great prophetess Miriam, which is described in one sentence, “…and Miriam died there, and was buried there. And there was no water for the congregation…”(Numbers 20:1-2)  Later in the same chapter we experience the death of Aaron, “…and Aaron died there in the top of the mount…and when all the congregations saw that Aaron was dead, they wept for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.” (20:28-29)

But, the most difficult part of this Torah portion for me to understand is that, in this same chapter, God tells Moses that he will not live to bring the people Israel into the Promised Land.  After Miriam’s death, the people complain that there is no water to drink – the well has dried up.  So, God tells Moses “Take the rod, …and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, that it give forth its water; ….And Moses lifted up his hand and smote the rock with his rod twice; and water came forth abundantly…. And the Lord said unto Moses and Aaron: ‘because ye believed not in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.’”(20:8-12)

Why should Moses be denied entrance into the land of Israel because he struck the rock,  instead of speaking to the rock?    Most times I see Hashem as a compassionate being, but at other times, I see God as someone who has no patience for the greatest of all the prophets.

Why is my favorite prophet Moses, “our teacher,” lifted up on God’s highest mountain (Numbers 12), yet when Moses asks Hashem to transform him into a bird so that he can fly over Israel, or into a soldier just so he can allow his boots to feel the mud of Jerusalem, why does God say “no.”  This is the same God, whom King David describes in Psalm 145 as, “slow to anger and of great mercy.”

Imagine being so close to your goal—having led the Jewish people through the desert for 40 years, only to be told that you will not be allowed to cross the finish line, into the Promised Land.  When Moses strikes the rock, he has just suffered the loss of his sister Miriam.  Is he not allowed to feel grief? Is he not allowed to sit shiva for his sister? Is he not allowed to misunderstand God’s direction? Why does God have no patience for his circumstances?

These are the questions I wrestle with every time I read this Torah portion.  And every year, as I study this, I feel frustration for the fate of Moses.  But, perhaps it is because Moses is such a great leader that he has to die outside the Promised Land.  Now, it is up to the rest of the “team,” led by Joshua, to enter Israel.  God and Moses both know that it is time for the people to accept responsibility for themselves.  They are no longer slaves, following directions – but they are free men and women, who will have to build this new land, which has been promised to them.  It is time for the next generation to take charge.

I find solace in knowing that, while Moses is not allowed into Israel, he goes to a much better place – he is drawn next to the bosom of the Lord.  The death of Moses, a true tzaddik, is a terribly sad time, but, it is also a time of rebirth, an illumination of life.  When a child is born in this world, she departs from the world of souls. When a tzaddik dies, he undergoes the reverse – he departs from this world and returns to the other world.  And, perhaps the actions that happen in this week’s Torah portion, have to happen, so that the next generation is empowered to assume new leadership roles, with Joshua at the helm.

The Midrash frequently mentions that the death of a tzaddik atones for the sins of a generation and of the whole world (Exodus Rabba 35:4), because the greater the individual who is taken from the world, the more significant the changes generated by the transition are. Hence, when Moses leaves this world, the void that is created changes the nature of the world forever.  Perhaps Moses has to die, so that this new generation can get a clean slate.

Moses will always be remembered not as an angel, but as a man of flesh and blood who God remembered, not as the Messiah, but as a man, who loved the Lord with all his heart and soul and might. And yet, he was not afraid to challenge the greatness of God when he felt he had to .This is what made Moses great.

Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer is senior rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom, Skokie, and president and professor of Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew Seminary, Skokie.

Ministering to Body, Mind and Soul

This month I interviewed Hebrew Seminary faculty member Rabbi Cantor Rob Jury.

Since your May 2012 ordination from Hebrew Seminary, your career has taken two paths –   Rabbi of Anshe Tikvah in Wheeling and Staff Chaplain at Advocate’s Addiction Treatment Program.  Can you tell us how one led to the other and how your Hebrew Seminary education prepared you?

I see them as one single path with interwoven skill sets. I encounter people with addictions in synagogue life every day. Every synagogue has people facing addictions whether a family member or a close friend. The disease of addiction is everywhere.

Addictions work is all about healing, spiritual healing. The body, the mind and the soul are attacked by the disease of addiction. This is largely recognized by the medical community and the 12-step community recognizes it as a disease of the body, mind and soul.  It just so happens that I studied healing at Hebrew Seminary and I wrote my thesis on Kabbalistic healing prayer.

If we’re honest about it, we are all addicted to something, be it drugs, food, sex, or computer gambling. We all have that thing that we go to when we are running away from the world on its own terms and hiding from God.

Can you tell us more about “hiding from God?”

Adam and Eve knew what they were doing wasn’t right so they hid from God.  Many of us aren’t honest about what we are hiding from but the impact on our soul is the same.

You took pastoral theology at Hebrew Seminary and you continue to explore Kabbalistic healing modalities with Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer.  Can you share a bit about how healing prayer and spirituality guides and supports the people you serve?

I took pastoral theology at Hebrew Seminary from Rabbi Eisenbach and he introduced to us clinical pastoral education (CPE). He encouraged me to take a CPE unit which I did at Lutheran General.  That was my opportunity to apply in a medical setting all the things that Rabbi Goldhamer and Rabbi Eisenbach were teaching me. I later did a one-year, 2,000 hour residency at Lutheran General. At this point I had five units of CPEs which allowed me to work on my day off from the synagogue as a staff Chaplain at a medical site.  I then went through the process of becoming a Board Certified Chaplain with the National Association of Jewish Chaplains and the Association of Professional Chaplains.

One of my more important clinical learning moments was bedside in a hospital. The family had a loved one who was in critical condition. We weren’t going to know their medical status for 24 hours.  One of the physicians said, “This is the time for a miracle. If a miracle is going to happen, this is when it is going to happen. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If in 24 hours the miracle doesn’t happen, it is time for science. Then we’ll have a medical conversation.” When it is the time for a miracle I engage in Kabbalistic prayer with the family and the patient.  When G-d answers yes we celebrate. Sometimes the answer isn’t yes. That’s when we engage in pastoral care.

Rabbi Goldhamer and I are currently focusing our prayer studies on Psalms and the energies of Psalms; how to integrate Psalms into Kabbalistic prayers to give them an energetic boost.

What are your regular prayer and meditation practices? Can you teach our readers a meditation that might be a good introduction to integrating a prayerful pause into a busy life?

I do traditional Jewish prayer every day, three times a day.  In addition to that I do hitbodedut meditation as taught by Rabbi Nachman. You can do hitbodedut for an hour or a minute.  Here’s a short version:

Stop whatever you are doing. Take a deep breath and thank G-d for any two blessings in your life, ask G-d to help you with any two material things, ask G-d to help in any two spiritual ways, ask God to help humanity in any two ways, then say, “Thank You G-d.”

Can you recommend a good translation of Rabbi Nachman’s work on this topic?

Rav Ozer Bergman’s Where Heaven and Earth Kiss

You recently received a JUF grant.  Can you tell us about that?

Anshe Tikva received a $25,000 JUF Breakthrough Grant to research faith-based sober homes and how to open a Jewish sober home.

As part of this research I brought a group of people to Beit T’Shuvah in Los Angeles where members of the congregation were able to see what spiritual recovery looks like and how Jewish spiritual prayer can bring about healing of the soul. We want to have a sober home here to provide the same kind of Jewish environment in a sober home. This Jewish spiritual environment is what Rabbi Goldhamer’s teachings are about, it just looks different in a different setting. Rabbi’s teachings apply to all healing — This is For Everyone.

You are a Class of 2017 Northwestern University Masters of Counseling and Psychology graduate!  Tell us about your career vision.

My vision comes out of Rabbi Goldhamer’s vision to expand people’s access to Jewish healing, with the synagogue being the central access point of Jewish healing.

 

 

Rabbi Cantor Rob Jury lives in Evanston with his wife Rachel, sons Max and Elijah and daughter Anna. He is also a Worship Leader for the Council of Jewish Elderly and Community Rabbi on the Advisory Council of the Jewish Center on Addictions.

 

The Languages of God

By Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

When I was ordained as a rabbi in 1972, there was one person who had more influence on me than any other human being. It wasn’t my wife. I wasn’t married yet.  It wasn’t my mother. She was living in Canada.  It wasn’t God. It wasn’t any rabbi.  The person who had the most influence on my life was a Baptist preacher, and everyone in this room will recognize his name.  I was in my 3rd year of Rabbinical school.  I decided to cut my class on education—too early in the morning. I had a late night date. Anyway, I’m lying in bed in the dorm at Hebrew Union College, and I turn on the TV.  And there’s the man who changed my life. The man who indirectly made my ministry possible—the Reverend Pat Robertson. And I’ll never forget his words. He said, “There are over 40,000 Jewish deaf people. There are no rabbis serving them. We can save them for Christ.”  You may well ask, why were there no rabbis working with the Jewish deaf?

When I told my fellow students that this was my plan—they were outraged.  “Goldhamer, don’t you know what the laws of Torah and Talmud say about the deaf?” The law was quite clear during the time of Jesus that the deaf person, or the heresh, or the person who could not hear or speak—was exempt from all the rules and laws governing Judaism. And why was he exempt?

He was exempt because he did not have bar-deah. He did not have mental competency to assume bat mitzvah or leadership in any temple. He did not have the mental competency to be part of a quorum of 10.  He did not have the mental competency to read a service where there might be hearing people in the service.  The law was very clear, that a deaf person did not have the right to lead someone who hears to fulfill the mitzvah obligation.  Every member of my graduation class, with the exception of the first woman to graduate as a Reform Rabbi—Sally Priesand, was not happy with my choice to become a minister of the deaf.

Over thousands of years, people who are deaf and grew up even in an observant Jewish home got lost because there was no special attention or focus for them and on them.  It’s as if the deaf Jewish community has a present, but not a past.  As a result, many deaf Jews have a minimal identity as Jewish people, or even no identity as Jews.

So, how does a deaf person participate in public prayer? According to most Jewish Halachic rulings, deaf people can be part of a minyan if they can follow the prayers, and with mouth, say Amen.  However, don’t appoint a deaf person to lead prayers.

What about the Shema, the most important prayer of the Jewish faith—it affirms the Oneness of God. “Hear o Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord Is One.”  Does a person have to hear the Shema to fulfill his obligation, or is understanding enough?  At Bene Shalom, we sign this important prayer this way. We sign “Hear O Israel…” We don’t sign Hear, which is this—but we sign understand—because what is most important is understanding.  On Purim the Jewish community gathers to read the Megillat Esther.  But, according to Halacha, you have to hear the Megillah read to fulfill the obligation. But the Deaf do have an obligation to read it themselves. But, they can’t read it for others.

Several years ago I received an email from a woman whose son was fluent in American Sign Language—but he couldn’t speak.  Her son was 14 years old. Because he doesn’t speak and only uses American Sign Language, the Rabbi refused to call him up to say a blessing at his cousin’s bar mitzvah.

In Skokie, at Congregation Bene Shalom, we understand that the deaf person has full parity with the hearing person.  It doesn’t matter if your method of communication is sign language or oral language, we are all one before God.  Every week, we interpret God’s word, using a language of God—American Sign Language, together with Hebrew and English.  And we have a loop system that enables those with hearing aids to better hear the prayers being communicated to God.  The synagogue was founded by myself and a group of 12 deaf families who were members of the Hebrew Association of the Deaf.  Originally the congregation was all deaf—a combination of oral Deaf and Signing Deaf.  But over the years, we have added many hearing members.  But we still make sure that the temple is accessible to everyone–deaf and hearing.  I and my assistant Rabbi are both fluent in American Sign Language.  Our Sunday school has a deaf teacher, who uses her voice when she teaches the hearing children.   It’s especially moving when a deaf girl or boy from our synagogue comes to the Torah and receives bar or bat mitzvah. It is inspiring to see a deaf girl interpret the words of Moses and Aaron in sign language; it is inspiring to see the Torah of Moses read by a deaf boy using his heart and soul and hands to communicate the word of God.  And our hearing children also learn to sign their Torah portion out of respect for their deaf friends.

You know, one of the most moving experiences in my ministry was my study with a deaf man named Steve.  We studied together when he was an adult, so he could achieve bar mitzvah—when he was 13, his parents’ Rabbi said it was impossible for him to have bar mitzvah because he used Sign language. He was also oral, and loved to speak the Hebrew prayers—but his childhood rabbi said he could not have bar mitzvah. So, when Steve was 30 something, we studied together and he not only learned the Hebrew of the Torah and the blessings, but he learned Israeli Sign Language, so he could sign the Hebrew –not just in English transliteration.  He drew the Hebrew characters in the air, and spoke them, “Baruchu et Adonai…”  Every word brought him and us closer to God.  And years later, Steve became one of the first students at the Seminary that I founded, Hebrew Seminary of the Deaf.

Each one of these wondrous happenings of deaf people reading Torah, learning Hebrew, becoming president of our synagogue, achieving bar mitzvah, defies what the ancient rabbis said about the deaf. During Talmudic times, when our religions was being established, the ancient rabbis misunderstood deaf people and deaf culture. During rabbinic times, a little deaf girl was brought before Jesus and the mother of the little deaf girl asked Jesus to heal her daughter. “My poor daughter is deaf.  She will never speak.  She will never hear.  She will never communicate with the world. My poor daughter is deaf.” And so Jesus puts his hands on the little girl’s ears, and the book of Matthew tells us that an ugly and awful sound escaped from the little girl’s ears.  It was the sound of an evil spirit. The girl was healed. The wild demon left the girl. She was no longer deaf. She could hear; she could speak.  “Praise the Lord.”  This was the thinking at that time about deaf people.

During rabbinic times, the rabbis questioned, “Who is a deaf person?”

And they ruled that a deaf person is “Anyone who can’t hear, can’t speak and is mentally incompetent.”  Indeed, the Rabbis at that time said that because deaf people were “lav bene daya neenwho,” they were exempt from all the commandments of the Torah. The deaf are not required to read Torah, put on tefilin, observe the holidays and even pray. Furthermore, a deaf person was not permitted to lead a hearing person in prayer.

Because of his physical impairment, the deaf person was considered mentally incompetent and unable to actively participate in the religious activities of the community.  This Jewish thinking prevailed for 20 centuries.

And then we established Congregation Bene Shalom—we are celebrating our 45th anniversary in May. We founded the only full time deaf synagogue in the world, where deaf boys and girls achieve b’nai mitzvah, where deaf men and women achieve leadership roles in the Jewish community.   Where deaf Catholic and Jewish Senior Citizens come together every month to share lunch and talk together for hours.  Where deaf and hearing people come together as equals in prayer and camaraderie. Where adult education classes are interpreted for the deaf and hearing.  Where the Rabbi preaches using his voice and his hands. Where the signing choir interprets the Hebrew chants of our Cantorial soloist. Where the hard of hearing are totally comfortable because of our loop auditory system.  And all this happens because deaf people are “bene deya.”   In the words of the former president of Gallaudet University, King Jordan–Deaf people can do anything but hear!

And so, 20 years ago, Alan Crane, Joan and Stan Golder and I established the first seminary in the world that trains not only hearing people, but deaf men and women to become rabbis.  There are deaf Jewish communities all over American and Europe—and I have seen that we need deaf and hearing rabbis to serve deaf and hearing communities. Hebrew Seminary recognizes that deafness is a unique culture and part of the Jewish multi-cultural experience.   Right now, we have 10 students studying to become rabbis—and two of them are deaf!  One wants to work with deaf children, and the other wants to start a congregation for deaf and hearing Jews in her community of Englewood.

The ancient rabbis identified speech with thought. The ancient rabbis maintained that the rational soul – that part of us that thinks – is called nefesh mi da beret – the soul that speaks.  Even Greek philosophy used the same word for thinking and speaking, logos.  Even Moses identified thought with speech.  When God chose Moses to liberate the Jewish peole, Moses was dumbfounded and said, “I am a man of heavy speech.” But God recognized there is no correlation between speech and thought. God gives Moses a speech interpreter—his brother Aaron.  Moses confronts the pharaoh and liberates the people from Egypt.

Many Jewish deaf people are unable to do the mitzvah of saying the required blessings—every Jewish person is mandated to say 100 blessing every day. And even though there are two ways to articulate a blessing, with each way being legally legitimate, the deaf person cannot embrace either of these 2 ways.  They could either say the words themselves, orally, in order to do it themselves—which most ancient deaf could not do – or, they could hear the reading of others—aurally —so as to do the mitzvah through listening. However, the ancient Jewish law provides an alternative way of doing the mitzvah. Those unable to say their prayers and blessings with their mouths, should think them in their heads instead. Their thought is accepted in place of the spoken word. This was the way that our ancient rabbis included the deaf into equality. This is the way we include the deaf through two contemporary methods—1. A sign language interpreter who is fluent in her work, or 2 an equally valid method of interpreting—the loop system which amplifies sound to someone wearing a hearing aid.

Our seminary follows the thinking of God, and we know that hearing and debur or speech is not necessary for a rabbi.  The language of signs is exquisite and inspiring. It brings us close to God. It touches our souls and hearts.

I dream that every deaf Jewish boy and girl in America will have bar mitzvah, and will interpret his Torah portion in sign, Hebrew and English, and they will be taught by deaf and hearing rabbis dedicated to teaching our faith.  I have a vision that Jewish deaf leaders will sign Torah in their synagogues, sit on the boards of major Jewish organizations and become spiritual leaders of deaf and hearing congregations, which are fully equipped with loop auditory systems.  I have a vison where rabbis who assume pulpits will make their congregations deaf friendly by introducing sign language in the religious services, using captioning devices, and loop systems, teaching Torah and Hebrew to deaf children in their religious school using sign language and sign language interpreters.  I have a vision where every synagogue in America will be accessible to deaf people because sign language and deaf culture will be part of the curriculum. I have a vision of hearing and deaf rabbis establishing deaf congregations across the country so that deaf people will have a choice of going either to a deaf congregation or a hearing congregation that is deaf friendly. I have a vision of a seminary in America where rabbis and Ph.D. scholar are in daily contact with deaf Jewish men and women and that God’s prophecy is realized, because, through our Seminary, the deaf shall understand even though they do not hear.  It is true that deaf can do anything but hear.

 

Toldot – Hunger and Desire

From the Pen of Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

I am currently supporting a number of people with my Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund.  I thank God that I have this fund so that I might be in a position to help people overcome their hunger pangs. I am just an instrument delivering generous gifts that people give to my fund. And in this year’s economy, we need to help one another.

And yet, in my mission, helping families overcome their awkward situation in life, I am faced with a conundrum. Because I see that at times, being hungry is helpful.  How is being hungry helpful?   In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot is not focused on actual hunger, but on the daily feelings of desire and extreme desire that bring us to a lot of pain and suffering.  In Toldot, Esau experiences not actual hunger, but a deep feeling of craving that seems to bring him a lot of pain and suffering.  Esau experiences a type of hunger that causes him quite a bit of suffering and one day, as he comes home from walking in the fields, he insists that his brother Jacob give him porridge to mitigate his tremendous feeling of hunger. Esau is so hungry that he accepts Jacob’s exchange of a third rate meal in exchange for his birthright.  In Genesis 25:32, Esau exclaims, “I am about to die.  So, why do I need this birthright?”

It wasn’t that Esau faced death.  I am confident that he had eaten the day before.  But Esau felt what many of us feel. Esau felt what so many people who visit me in my office feel – a deep emptiness, a void at the center of their being, a hunger that all the porridge in the world can’t fill. Esau feels a terrible sense of loneliness. I see this, and pray with people who experience this. People who have lost a child or a spouse or a best friend. This can be so painful. Each one of us knows someone who has suffered such a loss.  Rather than steal his birthright, each one of us should try to be an empath, to understand and relate to this person. This is why it is so important for us to feel hunger.  You know what it is to have lost someone very important to you. Visualize that feeling. Don’t bury this hunger that you once experienced in your life—but bring it to the forefront and stay hungry for a short while.  Remember what it felt like to be alone.  I know how loneliness feels.  I was 35 years old, and I was all alone. I didn’t even have a small cat. And so, I prayed to God for a wife. And within half an hour, I met the perfect woman.

In our Shacharit service, each morning, we pray, “V’ani T’filati lecha YHVH, et ratzon.  As for me, my prayer is for You, my dear God. May it be for you a time of desire.”

I felt a deep emptiness, a place where no love could reach me. I reached out to God and instead of porridge, I found Peggy 35 years ago, and we are married happily to this day.

Cantorial soloist, theatrical entertainer, and rabbinic student

This month we meet cantorial soloist, theatrical entertainer,
and rabbinic student Charlene Clinkman Brooks!

 

Charlene, you have been enrolled in Hebrew Seminary’s rabbinic program for a little more than a year now.  As a cantorial soloist at Congregation Bene Shalom (CBS), were this years’ High Holidays any different for you given all that you have learned at seminary?

I’ve always loved to share my passion during services by singing the liturgy and writing songs that reflect Rabbi’s sermons, but this year was different.  People seem to look at me now not only as the cantorial soloist but as a rabbinic student.  This gives me tacit permission not to hold back.  People have responded well to me throughout the years, but this year there was a different intensity and connection to my involvement.

My enhanced understanding of Hebrew and Jewish history has brought me such joy and appreciation for our services.  I feel even more grateful for the opportunity to participate and I feel deeply the blessing and responsibility I have.  I want every prayer to have meaning even if people don’t understand all the Hebrew.  I hope I am able to convey the intention and the passion of the liturgy.  I believe Judaism can be a very passionate religion, and I think people appreciate that through the singing of liturgy.

Rabbi Goldhamer was unable to be at Yom Kippur services this year and people commented that there were three of his students on the bimah this year – Rabbi Shari Chen, Sari Daybook and myself.   I believe we rose to the occasion and we all felt his inspiration encouraging us to reach further into our soul than we ever have before.  The congregants were very receptive to us.

This year you sang a song that brought tears to your eyes and we all felt your connection to the lyrics.  Can you tell us about that experience?

I sang “Feels like Home.”  It has deep meaning for me because this temple is my home and this rabbi is my teacher.  The song touches me because I’ve raised my family here at CBS.  I’ve grown as a human being here; I’ve come from a secular background and now am a student in the seminary.  This temple has changed my life and yes, I’m emotional about it being my home

You are a part of CBS’s Kabbalah services and I sense that you have a real commitment and connection to these practices.  Can you tell us about your experience studying Kabbalah with Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer and how these meditations have touched your life?

Kabbalah is a spiritual, intellectual, and emotional journey.  I have always appreciated its importance, but it means something more to me now.  I intellectually understood the meditations, but as I’ve learned to teach them and incorporate them into my life they have become far more meaningful.  The practice of Kabbalistic meditation is not an easy journey or a quick fix.  In healing meditation Rabbi urges us to feel the Sephirot’s vibrations and that takes practice.  The first time I had an overwhelming experience with vibrations was as we were praying on my leg after surgery.  I was surrounded by our two rabbis, and people I care about.  I felt the vibrations so strongly it actually made me cry.  There was no denying the power and its effect.

Using the meditations that Rabbi Goldhamer teaches with congregants and friends I’ve seen them reap the benefits right before my eyes.  In my own daily life I call upon the chants and the meditations that I feel will help me at different times.  I’ve come to rely on them.  It’s wonderful knowing that there is something available like this to focus and center me.

At difficult moments I will do the Shema chant in my head.  I do the Shiviti chant to give me strength.  I also do the Modeh Ani every morning to start my day with gratefulness.  You can find these meditations and chants here: http://beneshalom.org/sounds-of-shabbat/

Tell us about your career performing as a singer in the Chicagoland area.

I’ve been performing for 35 years.  I started in clubs singing with trios, then with bands and orchestras in a variety of different formats. Then I began doing my own theatrical shows and I’m still doing that.

I’ve had experiences from the humorous to the magnificent.  I traveled for years with The WGN noon show at state fairs all over the Midwest.  I’ve performed before audiences in the thousands and on a stages located by the pigpens at the Illinois State Fair, sometimes w/in the same week.  It’s a very interesting life.

20 years ago I started singing at Congregation Bene Shalom.  I joined with my family as a congregant 22 years ago and a couple of years later became the cantorial soloist.  Coming from a secular background, I got my Jewish education at CBS.  I continue to learn through leading the services and now through classes at the seminary.

You often include personal and historical references to your Jewish background as part of your stage persona.  Tell us about that choice.

I always have a point in my theatrical shows where I include a message.  I find the right moment and it works because they’ve been entertained, and laughed, and shared in some joy.  When I take it to a place where it’s very real, very important to me. People are willing to hear it, it makes me very happy.  For example, I remind the audience to enjoy today.  You never know what’s going to happen.  I tell that to myself and my husband all time.

We worry so about the micro-moments and lose sight of the big picture.  You can’t put off moments with your family until it’s convenient for everybody.  Grab those moments.

My shows are so very different now than they were 10 or 20 years ago.  I think what makes them unique is that I come to them with all my experiences, even if they are not always visible in the shows.  When you sing at the temple you are not just singing, you are singing liturgy with all its meanings.  When I do theatrical singing, I always try to convey the meaning behind these songs as well as just having fun.

Do you have a vision or goal for how your life might unfold once you are ordained as a Rabbi?

There are so many possibilities, although I will say that I want to work with the Rabbi doing healing.  I love working with the congregants.  And, I will always sing.  I find singing the liturgy is a wonderful way for me to share it.  As a rabbi, I hope to work with people in all their simchas as well as funerals.  I have an investment in helping people with funerals.  My parents’ family perished in the Holocaust and none of them had a funeral and this has bothered me my entire life. So helping families rejoice in their loved ones life and show respect to their lost loved ones and their families is one way I can give back.

 

 

The 21st Century Rabbi

I recently asked Hebrew Seminary faculty member Rabbi Laurence Edwards, Ph.D, what areas of Jewish studies do you view as most important to the 21st century Rabbi?

In some ways it might seem that Jewish study for rabbinic students today would be pastoral care, psychology, crisis counseling, and such.  Yes, it is important to know these subjects, but in my view it is most important that a rabbi be a teacher and student.  One must never stop studying and delving deeper into Jewish studies.  That is the only thing that gives the title of rabbi any credibility.  Rabbis need to know the history, the texts, and the literature.  We need to be competent in both text and tradition.  If we don’t have that, then the authenticity is gone.  I don’t feel that I totally live up to this standard, but I aspire to it.

 

Hebrew Seminary invites those considering the rabbinate to sit in on a class during the upcoming fall semester.  Or, better yet, audit a class and experience the learning, capture the connection!  847/679-4113

Fall Semester 2016 – 2017

September 18, 2016 – February 3, 2017

(Breaks: Oct. 2–18; Oct. 24-25; Nov. 24-27; Dec. 25 – Jan. 7)

Kabbalah: Reincarnation – Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Zohar – Rahmiel Hayyim Drizin

Biblical Hebrew – Rabbi Shari Chen & Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis

Talmud – Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis & Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub

Practical Rabbinics: Liturgy for Life Cycle Events – Rabbi Rob Jury

Practical Rabbinics: Weddings & Funerals – Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis

Psychology: Interviewing Skills for Rabbis – Dr. Stephanie Kutzen

 

Become A Channel of God’s Healing Energy Using the Name of God Yah

Hebrew Seminary President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer’s teacher, Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Dresher taught:

“Your lungs expand and contract, responding to the universe.  Imagine the universe as a vast Being that is alive, and that you are a cell in this body.  And you, the cell, are kept alive by the Ru’ach of the universe.  In Ezekiel 36:26, we read, ‘I will place a holy Ru’ach within you.’”  This Ru’ach is the Spirit of God that every living being inhales, this Ru’ach is our breath; and it is through breathing that we focus on the present and not the past or future.  When we are in the NOW, we are alive, filled with the Breath of God.”

Become A Channel of God’s Healing Energy Using the Name of God Yah
as taught by Rabbi Goldhamer:

  1. Go to your mi’at meekdash and sit in a comfortable chair with your back in the upright position, and your feet planted firmly on the floor. Wear comfortable clothing and loosen up your tie or belt.
  2. Breathe in deeply and gently through your nostrils and count silently 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10: this is the numerical equivalent [Jewish Gematria/numerology] of Yod. As you breathe in, don’t try to visualize God’s breath coming in through your nostrils; instead, visualize with your ko’ach dimyon, imagination, that God’s breath or energy is filling your head area.
  3. Without holding your breath between inhaling and exhaling, exhale through your nostrils silently, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: this is the numerical equivalent of Hey. The exhaling should take half as long as the inhaling.  As you breath out, don’t try to visualize God’s breath leaving your nostrils; instead visualize God’s breath or energy flowing from your head into your heart and through your heart into the world.
  4. Repeat this cycle four times, for a total of five times for the entire meditation. When you inhale or exhale, maintain the internal dynamic that you are breathing in the Life Force of God, and that your breath and His breath are becoming One.  Recognize within the depths of your soul that you are becoming one with the Holy Spirit, Ru’ach HaKodesh.  When we breathe in God’s Ru’ach with kavvanah, we create Ru’ach HaKodesh; that is, we become One with the Holy Spirit.