Song of Peace
(This is an article that was published in VoyageMia Nov. 2017 Click here for link to article)
Today we’d like to introduce you to Lee and David Degani.
Lee and David, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Lee and David: If you had told us 25 years ago that we would soon become spiritual leaders of a congregation we would have laughed! That was definitely not part of the plan! But you know that saying…. In this case, it was, “Man and woman plan and God has the last laugh!”
The seeds for Shirat Shalom (Song of Peace) actually began with a class we formed for our second-grade daughter in 1994 to enhance her Jewish education. At first, we just worked with children who already belonged to a synagogue but within a couple of years, we began attracting families who weren’t affiliated.
Lee: I still remember so clearly the lightning flash that woke me up one night. It made me sit right up in the bed! The message was to begin a chavurah (a community) with the unaffiliated families of the children we teach! Ten families joined in the fall of 1998 and we began meeting once a month. We officially became Congregation Shirat Shalom the summer of 1999 with our mission to return to the spiritual and mystical roots of Judaism. Two years later I left my job and became the full-time Cantor and Director of Education. After another two years, David came on board as full-time Rabbi.
Lee and David: Thinking about those early days always brings smiles as we were so radical with our ideas! We were even nicknamed the Rebel Temple! For example, we welcomed interfaith families with open arms, parents had the choice of Hebrew School or a Tutoring Program for their children’s Jewish education and could enroll anytime. Our main focus would be our children. Hebrew School would only meet once a week and would be a fun experience! Remaining affordable was a priority so we never planned on having a building. Of course nineteen years later, these ideas are not so radical anymore and are more accepted
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Just like everyone else we were affected when the economy spiraled down in 2008. After all, people need to pay their mortgage before donating to their congregation! But we are grateful that we were able to get through those few years afterwards and are where we are today.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
Today, we continue to implement unique ideas such as our Online Tutoring Program and even traveling to conduct B’nai Mitzvah ceremonies for out of town or state families. This was initiated ten years ago after one of our families had moved out of state and asked if we would travel to conduct their child’s Bar Mitzvah service. We like to say “Have Torah, Will Travel!” Our Online Tutoring Program is so popular that most of our local students meet us online for their Bar or Bat Mitzvah lessons!
We actually have our own unique way of conducting B’nai Mitzvah services that makes everyone feel included and welcome. People will often say it is the warmest and most beautiful service they have ever attended. Perhaps it is because we have such a close connection with each child and family. And yes, Lee cries at every single ceremony!
Although more rabbis are now performing interfaith weddings we have been doing so for years. Whether it is for a Jewish couple or Interfaith couple, we design our wedding ceremonies with the understanding that we are merging first and foremost two loving souls who may come from different backgrounds. We always receive many compliments that people are so touched Cantor Lee’s beautiful voice and Rabbi David’s authenticity as well as his sense of humor! We ourselves have actually been married 39 years. Each time we conduct a wedding ceremony we feel as though we are getting married again!
Perhaps we are most known for our emphasis on bringing spirituality and the Kabbalistic teachings to our congregants in a way that is easy to understand. For years we have been holding meditation and healing circles and Lee also offers private energy healing sessions. In our Hebrew School, we teach Jewish meditation on a child’s level. We ourselves are blessed and honored to be channels of God’s Divine Light whether we are leading a service, teaching or during a life cycle event.
We have always had a saying that Shirat Shalom leads and we follow. And it has led us to our most unique and radical idea, the Infinite Child Program – Our Crown Jewel Spiritual Training for children of all faiths. But before we tell you what it is about, here is how it came about…
Lee: It actually began with a prayer. As any longtime teacher knows, children learn much differently these days. Although I have always been able to help children become successful who have difficulty learning to read Hebrew, I have even been stumped with some of the children the last couple of years. So I prayed, “Please God, help me help these children!” And the answer came…
David and Lee: The Infinite Child program teaches children focusing and mindfulness techniques while they are wearing a blindfold. As a result not only are children having an easier time learning and reading Hebrew (as one student put it, “it was magic when I had to practice for my Bat Mitzvah the next day!”) but they are also improving in secular school subjects as well as having transformative changes socially and emotionally!
Just to prepare you, the next sentence may be initially difficult to fathom…With training, the children are actually able to see and read while wearing the blindfold. It seems we all have the ability to use our third eye, our Infinite Light Vision. It is just that we were never taught or encouraged to use this sacred gift.
As people learn of our Infinite Child program we receive reactions from utter amazement to total disbelief! We so understand for each time a child reads blindfolded and experiences transformations we too are amazed. Can it really be true? But it is!
We feel so blessed to add this radical new idea to our other ones. Perhaps one day, just like the others, it too won’t seem so radical…
Do you feel our city is a good place for businesses like yours? If someone was just starting out, would you recommend them starting out here?We are living in a time when more and more people are looking for answers and are being drawn to spiritual teachings. Whether it is through Judaism, another religion or spirituality in general, we feel South Florida is a prime area for spiritual seekers. If someone truly feels the calling to be a spiritual leader the universe will lead the way. In the end, we all have the same foundation and that is Love. And as we bring more Love into the world, well, the possibilities are unlimited! Even a World of Peace is possible…
Chanukah by Rabbi David
Chanukah is celebrated on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. The story of Chanukah which took place in the second century BCE, 2200 years ago, is about a Jewish rebellion against the Greek oppressors.
While it is a common belief that originally this rebellion was about the restoration of national independence, it was actually ignited due to religious oppression. At the time of the Maccabee revolt, Greek culture was sweeping through the entire Middle East and beyond, courtesy of Alexander the Great who had established Greek culture everywhere he conquered. The center of his Greek influence was Alexandria, the city he founded in Egypt which bears his name. The Greek influence on the Jews was profound and reached the most conservative circles. In fact, many of our sages in the Mishnah and Talmud, the Jewish masterpiece of legal debates, laws and amendments, had Greek names. Even the leader of the Jewish rebels is better known by his Greek name Mattithias.
Some of the Jewish population was more influenced by the Greek culture then others. This Jewish segment was called Hellenists. The Hellenists were completely immersed in Greek culture. While they were not interested in worshipping Greek idols, they found themselves partaking in Greek idol rituals as part of Greek cultural events in which they participated. This balance between their Jewish monotheistic religion and the Greek culture was fragile. As long as the Greek occupier was not restricting Jewish religious practices, peace was kept in the land. In the second century BCE a ruler by the name of Antiochus changed this delicate balance. He decided that for the safety of his empire and as a means of unification, the Greek religion should be the only one allowed.
In Judea, the reaction to this new policy was mixed. The hardcore Hellenists, of course, accepted it and were willing to forsake the Jewish religion. This segment of the population was fairly large. Although all Jewish religious activities were forbidden including circumcision, Torah study and celebration of Shabbat or any holiday, most of the people were hoping that this policy was only temporary. Most of the people therefore, had a passive attitude and were not willing to fight for their religious freedom.
The Maccabees were a family who lived in a small Judean town called Modiin. The patriarch of the family, Mattithias understood that the Jews were facing dire times. He realized that if nothing would be done, the Hellenists would quickly convert and become Greek. The rest of the population, in the absence of any Jewish life whatsoever would eventually do the same. He and his five sons went from village to village to try to gather an army of rebels, although initially they managed to gather very few people. The group ran to the mountains of the Judean desert and started a raiding campaign against Jewish villages. They forced many of the farmers to join them, threatening to destroy their homes. This tactic worked well. Within a few months the Maccabees had a small untrained army.
Judah, one of the sons who became the leader of the renegades, used a nightly hit- and run tactic against Greek army posts throughout Judea. The rebels gained more experience and their fighting skills improved. As they began to gain more respect from the Judeans, their “recruiting” tactic became unnecessary since many more joined them with the belief that independence from the Greek was actually possible.
Over the course of this three year war, Antiochus brought in huge armies. At times he threw into the war everything and everyone he had. His armies were well trained and well equipped. Judah, however, was a smart tactician . Right from the start he avoided face to face battles and kept raiding the Greek reinforcement units at night, setting their camps on fire. The Macabees quickly became very popular and were joined by a multitude of men.
The holiday of Chanukah is the celebration of Judah’s first face to face major victory which resulted in freeing the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. The cleaning and the spiritual cleansing of the Temple was a major task. This is because the Greeks had turned the holy Temple into a pagan temple. The Temple was filled with filth, Greek statues with pigs and other animals running loose .
In order to complete the cleansing process and rededicate the Temple, the seven branched golden Eternal Light had to be lit. The special purified oil used for that purpose was not available. However, a small oil container was found in the high priest’s chamber. This container had enough oil to last for one day. According to our sages a miracle happened and the oil lasted for eight days until a new batch of oil was ready. This of course is the official reason for the eight days of Chanukah celebration.
After the rededication of the Temple, the Maccabees continued their struggle to free the entire country as the three year war spread from Judea to the Galilee. The number of men in the Judean army was no match to the multitude of Greek reinforcement troops that kept coming to face the Maccabees. The rebels had to split their far inferior army into several fronts. Four of the five brothers eventually died in battle. Brother Simon, the only one left, eventually formed the independent Maccabean kingdom which lasted for about seventy years until it was taken over by the Roman army in the year 66 BCE.
It is also interesting to note that while the Maccabees had a clear victory in Jerusalem After years of fighting with no end in sight, the Greek emperor needed his armies for other urgent “missions” elsewhere. He withdrew from the entire Judean territory and in fact, signed an agreement with the Maccabees. .
As we celebrate Chanukah this year and the determination of the Maccabees, may we rededicate ourselves to bringing the LIght of MIracles into our lives! All is possible...
The general consensus of most news outlets is that it is the wrong time to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and that it should only happen after a comprehensive peace agreement between the Arabs and the Israelis. It seems to me that there is a misunderstanding regarding exactly where the proposed new location of the embassy is.
Many don't realize that Jerusalem is actually divided into two separate cities. There is the new Jewish city, known as West Jerusalem or New Jerusalem, and the Old City which has always been home to four different ethnic minorities; Jewish, Arab, Greek Orthodox and Coptic. While the two were united in 1967 after the Six Day War and are now one city they are nonetheless very different.
The American embassy is set to be moved to West Jerusalem, the Jewish city, which is only about 150 years old. This New City, New Jerusalem, is located in an area that was recognized as Israeli undisputed territory by the UN since Israel's independence in 1948, way before 1967 when the Old City became part of Israel. The embassy is moving to an undisputed Israeli area.
When the US recognized the state of Israel, (the first one to do so among all nations) it recognized the right of the Israelis for self determination. That meant that they can choose their capital to be anywhere they want as long as it is within a recognized Israeli territory. Therefore putting any embassy in West Jerusalem back when Israel became independent in 1948 should have not created any political issues.
So why the refusal to locate the embassy in a legitimate Israeli territory? While the Arab leadership does not claim West Jerusalem to be an Arab territory, they have a problem with any Israeli territory. Despite the fact that West Jerusalem has always been an Israeli city, it still represents by its very name the eternity of the Jewish people and the permanency of the state of Israel. The Arab leadership can't have that!
When Israel became a state, only the undisputed West Jerusalem and not the disputed Old City of Jerusalem were part of the territory. The excuse the Arab leadership gave with their insistence that embassies were to be located in Tel Aviv was that the fate of the legitimate Israeli territory of West Jerusalem should be decided in a negotiation. That means that any Israeli territory is up for negotiation translating to Israel’s existence is up for negotiation.
America and the rest of the world bowing to Arab demands to not locate its embassy inside a legitimate and recognized Israeli territory is not only illegal but also amounts to political extortion. In 1995 Congress recognized this and enacted into law the movement of the embassy to Jerusalem. Our American presidents circumvented the law through a loop hole which allowed the postponement of this decision. The constant circumvention of this law is not the way to respect the decision of the Congress.
By being a part of this travesty, the United States gave legitimacy to an Arab claim that at present Israel has no right to exist and that its fate as a country depends on negotiation with the Palestinians, many of whom in Gaza, Lebanon as well as the West Bank want nothing less then a complete destruction of Israel. This is what the leadership has been teaching their children (or shall we say brain washing them) for the last 70 years.
If the Palestinians want a destruction of Israel why are they willing to negotiate a peace agreement? To begin with, many of the Palestinians in Gaza and Lebanon flatly refuse to negotiate peace with Israel not now not ever. Those who are willing to negotiate live in Judea and Samaria ("the West Bank")
But in order to understand their motive, one needs to understand what for them is not negotiable. They will not negotiate their right to "Return to Israel" which means they want to flood Israel with (according to them) 1.5 million Palestinians "Refugees" as a way to slowly but surely erode the Jewish Majority in Israel.
In other words, it is their long range plan to take over the country without war. The Palestinian emblem is the map of Israel. Their doctrine which they refuse to change is Palestinian control of Israel with a Jewish population as a minority with no influence.
Therefore, the reason the Arab world is so upset with this preeminent decision is because it symbolizes the eternity of the state of Israel. It tells the many fanatics among the Arab countries as well as the Iranians that the destruction of Israel is nothing but a pipe dream.
Mindfulness, a form of meditation, seems to be quite popular lately. With its benefits now widely acknowledged including that it combat stress and helps us to become happier, this practice of being aware of each moment is being taught in classrooms, prisons and workplaces. “Being in the moment” or mindfulness is actually a major part of Jewish practices. One could even say that the observance of Judaism is in itself mindfulness.
The ancient rabbis have given us many tools to practice mindfulness including the recommendation that we recite 100 blessings a day. This fits in perfectly with the secular notion of mindfulness as gratitude is a major component. This approach of the ancient rabbis happens to be one of my favorite practices as it is easy to teach and follow. Each blessing of gratitude gives us the chance to pause, take a breath and appreciate the little things in life. In our busy, rushing, hectic world where there never seems to be “enough time” what an easy way to gift ourselves with “pauses.” It gives us the opportunity to develop a different perspective and appreciate everything around us, our life, our friends, family, things we enjoy doing. When life becomes hectic we tend to take the small details of our life for granted and have limited appreciation for them.
Assuming being awake an average of 16 hours every day, if we commit to 100 blessings a day that translates to one blessing every 10 minutes of our waking hours! While many of the blessings are prescribed and are recited together as part of the daily morning service, there is room for many other blessings to appreciate the small events of the day. In fact, Judaism has formulated blessings for many seemingly mundane as well as rare daily personal and natural occurrences. But we are also told to develop our own blessings.
The significance of this kind of constant awareness goes far beyond the personal level. It leads to other biblical teaching of interpersonal relationships such as love your neighbor as yourself, pursue peace, protect the earth, and to always practice compassion and justice.
In Hebrew School we have been having some fun with practicing mindfulness with the older children by having them eat their challah blindfolded. We begin by asking them to visualize how the challah began as seeds of wheat, recite the blessing and then continue with how it smells, feels on the fingers, on their teeth, when chewed, swallowed etc. Not only are the children integrating a major Jewish value but they are receiving the additional benefit of practicing focusing techniques which aid in the learning of Hebrew.
Judaism asks us to always pause before eating by reciting a blessing with the intent to not only appreciate but enjoy our food. In fact the table where we eat is considered to be a mini altar modeled after the altar in the Holy Temple.
As we continue to instill in our children and also remind ourselves of this beautiful core Jewish value to be in a state of appreciation for our life and everything around us, nothing will symbolize this state of mind more profoundly than the Thanksgiving holiday which we will be celebrating shortly.
Now I wonder what it will be like to eat turkey blindfolded….
May we all be blessed with much to appreciate! And may we all remember to laugh!
There are always glitches at weddings. It may be a lost or misplaced item, a delay in the starting time, late relatives, bad weather, you name it. It just seems to be part of the whole experience.
At our most recent wedding in Clearwater Beach, the weekend after Rosh Hashanah, the weather decided to again have its say. Twenty minutes before the ceremony was due to begin a decision was made to move the ceremony inside. Naturally the bride was devastated. Instead of overlooking the ocean from a sixteenth floor balcony, the ceremony would be in in a room that wouldn’t have enough chairs for all the guests.
I knew that as soon as the bride walked down the aisle and stood under the chuppah, (the wedding canopy) it wouldn’t really matter whether we were inside or outside. For something magical always happens under the chuppah. The Divine Essence that comes is Shechinah, the Feminine aspect of G-d. She transforms the entire space with Her Sacredness and Love.
But it seems there was another glitch. There was no longer a chuppah. The winds were so strong the whole thing was knocked down and it couldn’t be re-erected! Rabbi David and I quickly came up with a plan. We would just make our own chuppah, modeled after the traditional hand held one we often use. It is made with four bamboo poles and uses a tallit (prayer shawl) as the canopy.
I had an extra tallit with me. We just needed something to take the place of the four poles. The hotel came to the rescue and found four tall easel holders. Perfect! It would do! But then there was a further glitch. The groom was unusually tall, too tall for our makeshift chuppah!
Okay, we would have to institute Plan B. Two of the groomsmen would hold the tallit over the couple during the ring exchange. I asked the two tallest groomsmen to practice holding the tallit and yes, the groom just fit underneath! We still wouldn’t have a chuppah throughout the entire ceremony but this would be better than nothing! But even so, I was still like a disappointed bride.
Rabbi David had his own ideas. Right before the ceremony he told me to make sure the people remained standing after the bride circled the groom. He then told everyone we would be creating a Canopy of Love to replace the wind blown one. He asked us all to raise our hands, form an arc with our arms and send Love to create a canopy over the couple.
And a canopy was truly created! But this one wasn’t just over the couple, Rabbi David and me but extended over everyone! The wedding ceremony itself was filled with such Joy and Laughter! The Canopy of Love truly connected each one of us…
On our way home we stopped in Port Charlotte, the half way point between Clearwater Beach and our home in Boca Raton. Our hotel manager told us that the hotel was booked to capacity with people from all over the country who had come to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
My heart was so touched by this!
It seems that a Canopy of Love is everywhere…
Our Tallit Chuppah at my daughter's wedding...
The Bridal Couple under the Tallit during the ring exchange...
Rabbi David's Rosh Hashanah morning sermon
Who We Are
We are living in a tumultuous time, no doubt.
We have just experienced nature's rage and fury first hand.
Some say it’s just a weather pattern cycle, with no connection to man.
To others it looks like man made global warming with glaciers melting, holes in the ozone, millions of cars all over the world polluting.
But either way, Mother Nature as we all know is not happy.
In the last several weeks we have all witnessed just how fierce Mother Nature's fury can be.
Like many of us, I believe that there is an intimate spiritual connection between all living things and Mother Nature. Ask a Native American and he will tell you that earth is a living thing. It is a living entity. It has its own consciousness.
This Rosh Hashanah when we reflect on last year’s events, when we take stock of who we are, it is also a good time to reflect on what we have just experienced with the storms and what this experience tells us.
It seems in the last couple of years and as time goes by, we have been experiencing so many sharp divisions between different ideologies. In certain campuses and cities, rioting and intolerance is spreading like a disease with no shortage of blame everywhere. Opinions have become so emotional that division and strife has even torn apart families and friends. From social media, to certain universities and schools, and public places, and even in certain cities, disagreements are answered with aggression and intolerance.
It seems that we have allowed social, political and racial unrest and even violence to divide us. Even racism is rearing its ugly head.We watch as rioting is taking place in cities across the country. We are silent as certain freedoms, the corner stone of our life are being challenged. We have allowed our differences to painfully divide us. We should never allow ourselves to fall into this cesspool because that is not who we really are. And all this is in the face of so many other issues.
And I know that we, like Americans everywhere, are not willing to accept these kinds of situations. We despise violence because, as we teach our children, violence is never the answer. We all have the Light of G-D within us.
Then came Harvey and Irma.
I don't think there is one person here who was not affected by the epic devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Houston and Hurricane Irma here in Florida and the Caribbean. We all saw the incredible human suffering and misery inflicted on so many of our fellow Americans in Houston and Florida. Especially those who live in the path of those two monsters.The total devastation of flooding and powerful winds caused so many people to lose everything they had.
It must have been a day or two after the storm as they were showing the devastation in the Keys on TV that I saw something amazing. There were several homes next to each other, completely demolished with nothing left.
Yet, on top of the rubble which was once the roofs of the buildings, American flags were either displayed or flown.
And I understood the power of that message.
From the devastation, from the agony, we all emerged the way we really are, strong in spirit, compassionate, caring for each other.
We have seen scenes of rescue unfolding in front of the camera which are difficult to believe. Heroic efforts to rescue entire families from raging waters or from underneath the rubble.All over the Keys and on the West side of Florida, people driving around looking for anyone who needs help or water or shelter. Neighbors helping neighbors, strangers doing anything possible to help.
Rioting in cities across the country are the work of the very few with twisted goals and agendas. Coming together in times of need is really what we are all about.
And I am proud to say that.
So I, with you together, pray today that this spirit of caring and unity, will forever be our true mirror. And we can look at ourselves with pride.
I bless all of us this Rosh Hashanah with a prayer to our Eternal G-D of Israel for a Year of Health and Prosperity.
A Year of Love, Tolerance and Understanding.
A Year of Happiness.
(This was written before the devastation of Maria. Our prayers are with the beloved people of Puerto Rico and all affected by Nature including our neighbors in Mexico)
If you have heard rumors that Rabbi David and Cantor Lee have been putting blindfolds on children, yes, they are true! It is actually part of our new program, the Infinite Child Institute where children are taught focusing and mindfulness techniques. The results of the program thus far are not only interesting but enormously exciting!
Not only are children having an easier time learning and reading Hebrew (as one student put it, “it was magic when I had to practice for my Bat Mitzvah the next day!”) but they are also improving in secular school subjects as well as having transformative changes socially and emotionally.
Just to prepare you, the next sentence may be initially difficult to fathom…With training the children are actually able to see and read while wearing the blindfold as well as perform other activities such as coloring, doing a puzzle or walking around the room! It seems we all have the ability to use our inner eyes, our Infinite Light Vision. It is just that we were never taught or encouraged to use this sacred gift of our inner sight.
As people learn of our work with the Infinite Child program, it has been interesting to observe the gamut of reactions which range from utter amazement to total disbelief! We sometimes think we can in a small way relate to Abraham’s feelings with bringing the idea of monotheism into the world. Not only did he declare that there is only one G-d but this included the difficult perception that this One G-d is invisible!
But Abraham as the first Hebrew (the term Jew wasn’t in use yet) crossed over into a new realm of consciousness, a new way of being. The word Hebrew actually means to “cross over.” For the last 3000 years the Jewish people have crossed over into many new realms of consciousness, bringing to the world revolutionary ideas such as justice for all, caring for the helpless, for animals and for our environment as well as repairing the world through acts of good deeds.
Even Congregation Shirat Shalom when it was first conceived over twenty years ago crossed over from the status quo with our own revolutionary ideas. And one of those ideas was that the main focus would be the children. We somehow understood at the deepest levels that it is our children who will create a world of Peace and Love.
Perhaps they are beginning to create it right now. For as these Infinite Children show us what we perceive as impossible really is possible, we too cross over into a new realm of consciousness. And with this new way of being, of believing our possibilities are unlimited, a world of Peace and Love doesn’t seem too far away!
May it be soon....
Rabbi David and Cantor Lee
Here is a child at the stage of first reading blindfolded.
Infinite Child Institute
Rabbi & Cantor's Messages
In Jewish communities around the world, the entire month of Elul, the last Hebrew month of the year, is considered the month of Teshuva - repentance. We recite Slichot, prayers for forgiveness and sound the Shofar in the morning service. This of course is done as a spiritual cleansing in preparation for the High Holy Days. Although traditionally Ashkenazic communities recite Slichot for the last 10 days before Rosh Hashana, many follow the tradition of non Ashkenazic communities and recite Slichot for the entire month of Elul.
During Elul we all do a "Cheshbon Nefesh", an evaluation of our soul based on our deeds during the passing year. This is a period in Jewish life that is meant to awaken us to our spiritual existence. The first day of this month of spiritual evaluation is so important that it is considered equally important as participating in Slichot services and listening to the Shofar for the entire month.
It is amazing that the solar eclipse happened exactly a month to the day before Rosh Hashanah. Coincidence?
There is an interesting story that happened in the western US in the month of May 1833. A day before the sun eclipse of May 15th that year a few families who were traveling west in search of land to settle were captured by the Sioux Indians. It just so happened that one of the captured men was a novice astrologer and knew about the eclipse that would happening the next day. (An astrologer by the name Dr. Bessel had come up with the basic though somewhat primitive math in 1820 to be able to accurately predict sun eclipses.)
The novice astrologer told his captors that he had power over the sun and the moon and as a warning to them he would hide the sun for a few minutes. If they wouldn’t let their captives go free he would hide the sun forever. When the eclipse happened the next day the Indians were scared enough to heed the threats and release their captives.
Seeing the sun eclipse as a warning or as a sign for some upcoming significant event is not new to us. It seems that as long as thousands of years ago the Sumerians, Persians and Greeks were very much aware of sun eclipses and saw them as omens. Many throughout the centuries believed the same.
This rare sun eclipse fell on the day that many of us were getting ready to recite forgiveness prayers as part of our preparation for the High Holy Days. The official start of Rosh Chodesh Elul (new moon month of Elul) was sundown Aug. 21st just a few hours after the eclipse.
Maybe the "Jewish timing" of the eclipse is a special sign from heaven signaling a very unique opportunity. It is therefore incumbent upon us, who were designated to be a Light unto the Nations some 3,300 years ago to continue to transmute all negativity from the world through our prayers for peace for our country, for Israel, for the world.
Especially with what we have been facing, this High Holiday season will give us the opportunity to come together with our collective spiritual power and deliver a powerful "Message" to the world.
Despite the turmoil everywhere we will stand strong in the face of all adversities. With the Power of Love and Peace we will "eclipse" all evil.
As we were taught by our mothers and fathers we shall remain a Beacon of Hope for a better world for oppressed nations, for the removal of brotherly squabbling in our own beloved country and the elimination of wars and terror around the world.
Who will be that Beacon if not us?
So much excitement about the Solar Eclipse! I still remember the solar eclipse in 1979! But this time I will be doing something I didn’t do back then, well at least consciously that is…
Rabbi David and I will be joining hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of people around the globe who will be meditating or praying for world peace, love and harmony during the eclipse. What a beautiful way to bless G-d for creating the eclipse! And what a wonderful way to become co-creators with G-d to bring peace to our world! We so hope you and your children will join us with your own meditation or prayer!
Praying for peace is as natural to the Jewish people as breathing. As Rabbi David likes to say, it is ingrained in us. In the traditional liturgy we recite prayers for peace three times daily. We also have many beautiful teachings for peace including aligning ourselves with the Divine Light that is within each one of us. The Hebrew words are “Ner Adonai Nishmat Adam.” “The Light of G-d is my Soul.” Proverbs 20:27
In Hebrew School each week when we practice lighting the Shabbat candles we teach our children to become aware of their Divine Light and to send it to those in need of healing. A favorite always is sending our Light to the animals!
We also often focus on bringing Peace into the world. Here is one variation our children are familiar with that you and your children may wish to try also!
1. Light a candle and set the intention to connect to G-d’s Light to bring peace into the world.
2. Feel your feet firmly on the ground. Pretend you have roots growing from your feet that go down into the earth.
3. Hold up four fingers up and look at them. Four is a sacred number in Judaism.
4. Take a deep breath in to the count of four. Exhale your breath slowly to the count of four. Repeat this round three more times.
5. Think or see the color blue which is the color of Peace.
4 6. Breathe in blue to the count of four. Bring it up through your roots into your heart.
4 7. Exhale the blue to the count of four back down into the earth. Repeat three more rounds.
8. Feel or see this blue Light of Peace in your heart and hands.
9. Say or think the Hebrew word Shalom (Peace) to connect to G-d even more and make the Light stronger.
10. Send or radiate the Blue Light of Peace into the world.
11. Stare at the flame of the candle and see people hugging each other, soldiers returning home, your family members getting along, however you see Peace.
12. Thank G-d for being a co-creator with you to bring Peace into the world!
13. Don’t worry if you didn’t do all the steps exactly so… However you bring Peace into the world is Just Beautiful! Thank you!
From Cantor Lee
This year on August 7, 2017 is Tu B’Av, the Holiday of Love! I know, you probably haven’t even heard of this holiday! I certainly didn’t growing up! But yes, we have a Jewish Valentines Day! In Biblical Days the maidens would dress in white and dance in the vineyards of Jerusalem, the idea being to find their soulmate. In modern times we really don’t have rituals to celebrate Tu B’Av so people are creating their own celebrations including community gatherings or just giving loved ones an additional “I love you” during the day.
Love is actually already a huge theme in Judaism. When we follow the prayer book for Shabbat or weekdays, a whole section is devoted to prayers about Love. The prayer, “V’ahavtah,” “You Shall Love,” is inside our mezuzzahs and is traditionally used as a bedtime prayer for children. The Hebrew word for Love, “A-ha-vah” has much power and is used in Kabbalistic Healing. It isn’t an accident that each syllable has an “Ah” sound which is the universal vowel sound for our hearts. What do we do when we see a baby or a puppy? AAhh……… And our hearts open…
In honor of Tu B'Av, I decided I too would create my own personal observance to celebrate the holiday. I asked myself, “How can I connect to the Love energy of the holiday? How can I bring more Love into the world?”
After some thought I decided the focus for my personal observance would be Loving everything that came into my awareness. I already have a mindfulness practice of gratitude and would just add “I Love You.” So for example when walking up steps… I might say, “Thank you feet, I love you. Thank you shoes, I love you, Thank you steps, I love you, Thank you sound of walking, I love you…etc.”
I was quite happy with this idea and called my friend to discuss it. I told her, “Not only will this connect me to the increased energy of Love from the holiday, but it will bring more Love into the world!” (Yes, it really is true that whatever we do personally does energetically affect others.)
My friend wasn’t so sure. “Thank and Love everything? What if you experience someone with road rage or read about something on FB that upsets you” I answered, “If that comes into my awareness on Tu B’Av, I will be very grateful. It just means G-d is asking me to be the instrument to send Love to the situation.”
My friend replied, “That is really a good answer!” I just smiled and thought, “Love is always the answer!”
Happy Tu B’Av! Thank you, I Love you!
From Rabbi David:
The 15th day of the month of Av, Tu B’Av, the Holiday of Love, is a little known yet very significant Jewish holiday. While it does not have any specific religious ceremonies associated with it other than the omission of one particular prayer, it is considered a very festive and happy occasion. It originated during the second temple when Jews returned from their Babylon exile and Judea was just a small province within the Greek empire and later on within the Roman empire.
The holiday is an happy celebration of the first day of the grape harvest as well as a biblical occasion which has to do with celebrating women’s specific biblical marriage rights. It therefore became a happy celebration of love and marriage.
The 15th day of Av, is also the time of the full moon which in Jewish tradition brings hope and festive feelings. It therefore became an antidote to the national yearly mourning day of the 9th of Av, Tisha B’Av, the day the Temple was destroyed which is observed six days earlier.
According to a biblical prophetic description, love and marriage is also a symbol of a national redemption in which Judea will flourish again. “The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will be heard again, along with the joyous songs of people bringing thanksgiving offerings to the LORD , Jeremiah 33:11” The holiday of the 15th of Av combines both the redemption from the disaster of 9th of Av with the celebration of love and marriage, so much so that it is considered the happiest of all holidays.
In modern day Israel Tu B’Av is known as the Holiday of Love and is an auspicious time for weddings and finding one’s soul mate. In Biblical days unmarried women would wear white dresses and dance together in the vineyards of Jerusalem while young men would choose brides for themselves.
So in that spirit , I am inviting all the single young ladies of our congregation to dress in white on the 15 day of the month of Av and dance. Since we do not have vineyards around us, the streets of Boca Raton will do just fine... According to the tradition it would be a great way to find one's True Love...
May we all be blessed with an abundance of Love!
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