Services and Contact

GROUP PROGRAMS:

NEW! All Abilities Tai Chi Chu’an’: This online program has just begun and is designed for every body and ability!

The foundations of the Internal Martial Art of Tai Chi Chu’an–the nurturing of inner awareness, personal energy, and physical body–are taught in a framework of gentle movement, breathing, and visualization exercises designed for all abilities; whether lying down, sitting, or standing. Come have a relaxing and self-rewarding hour!

**Please contact me on the form below for program availability

 

 

© Susan J Katz 2003

Bereavement Support: A facilitated group program providing support and education during the grief and transition periods following loss. This program can be in person or via virtual meeting space.

Writing and Storytelling: I have had the pleasure of creating and facilitating writing programs for mental wellness. My Recovery Narrative, Ink™ programs are designed for small groups as a space to grow and explore with one’s peers, in honest self-expression, as writers-without-labels.

Music and Spirituality: A circle program that engages the natural healing of spirit through listening to and/or creating music and song with others. Available for hospitals, mental wellness programs, faith communities and more.

**Please contact me on the form below for questions and program availability 

SPIRITUAL GROWTH AND CARE:

Spiritual Care Counselling for individuals, takes place in a safe and sacred space, allowing reflection and conversation during times of transition, times of spiritual questioning, and periods of deepening one’s spiritual growth and practices.

Clinical Spiritual Consultation is a good choice when you are in transition and/or seeking new meaning and purpose from within

© Susan J Katz 2019

Together we invite personal exploration through deep listening, perceptive questioning, and compassionate stewardship.

There is no diagnosing or treatment of illnesses, and  thus it is not psychotherapy, although sessions may be therapeutic.

As a professionally trained and insured hospital Chaplain, I provide secular as well as faith-based services to people of all genders and abilities. I am a Member of NAJC, the Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains.

**Come prepared to discover and learn what you already know; from the inside—out!**

Please contact me on the form below with questions, and  for rates and/or program availability:

CONTACT:

 

From Curing to Caring

 
I had long believed that Judaism was historically lacking in the wisdom to heal that so many other faiths and spiritual paths have built into them. This caused me to explore many other modalities of spiritual and physical wellbeing for sources of comfort, wisdom, and healing.
aeonmagazine.com

aeonmagazine.com

When I decided to embark upon the study path of Rabbinic Chaplaincy, one of my educational goals was to seek these sources within Judaism. After all, we’ve been around for over 5,700 years. We must have cultivated some gardens of wisdom in this area.

While studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, I was delighted to find myself in classes that presented this material from Jewish primary sources, eg the Talmud, Mishnah, Pirkei Avoth, etc.

In preparation to entering a year of residency in Clinical Pastoral Education in hospital here in Vancouver, I began to synthesize what I am learning, from a variety of educational sources. Here, as we anticipate the Jewish High Holydays during this month of Elul, is a first integration of my personal and theological understanding of the difference between curing and caring:

enwikipediaorg

en.wikipedia.org

R. Johanan once fell ill and R. Hanina went in to visit him. He said to him: Are your sufferings welcome to you? He replied: Neither they nor their reward. He said to him: Give me your hand. He gave him his hand and he raised him. Why could not R. Johanan raise himself? 11-They replied: The prisoner cannot free himself from jail. (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 5b)

Why bring this story to you as we approach the Yamim Noraim (Jewish High Holydays)? because I see in it much about the relationships and parallels between illness, health, and teshuvah (return to the Source). I am not suggesting that someone is ill because they made a mistake or committed a sin. In fact, we can all think of examples of well-meaning adults and children who experience illness or die, while many seemingly wicked people enjoy good health and long lives. So, that is not my purpose in sharing the above story.

There are two part to the above selection from Talmud that help us understand the nature of our pains or sufferings: notice in the story the question R. Hanina asks: Are your sufferings welcome to you?

Now, take a deep breath, and ask yourself this same question, too, Are your sufferings welcome to you?. Go ahead…ask. And listen for the answer. Are your sufferings welcome to you? are you ready to turn this around for yourself? if so, that is how our Jewish practice of teshuvah can help.

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twilightivewordpresscom

twilightivy.wordpress

THIS SUMMER AT ALEPH’s annual Smicha Week for Ordination Students, I took a course on Teshuvah. Oy, did I learn that we commit avairos, as Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, calls them. These are mistakes, ‘oopses’, some intentional, some we didn’t know we did until we find out later. The practice of teshuvah helps us to reckon with these so they don’t stay stuck to us, like toxic sticky notes, making us anxious or even ill.

Two steps are involved in this teshuvah practice: acceptance and forgiving our self; and, reaching out to another who may have been hurt or hurt us, with acceptance or forgiveness. We are limited creatures; it’s good to remember that sometimes.

The second thing to notice in the Talmud passage is the last line: The prisoner cannot free himself from jail.

democracyandclassstruggleblogspotcom

democracyandclassstruggle.blogspot.com

In creating teshuvah, in caring about ourselves and about others, we recognize that we cannot do teshuvah alone; that having someone to reach out to, to be a mirror, or to give an outside perspective, is needed. In my Clinical Pastoral Education program this summer, one of our lessons about  reaching out was,  ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’.

Sometimes others see the forest while we are too busy being lost amongst the trees. We all have our reasons for wearing blinders or hiding painful or confusing topics from ourselves.

When it was first suggested to me that I should consider using my intuitive skills in a helping career, I balked and said, “No! I couldn’t feel right asking people to pay me to tell them what they already know!”

Well, that was several years ago and to be honest, I have paid the piper to tell me things I thought I didn’t know, too. How long can one spin their wheels or rattle the bars on their self-imposed prisons? Thankfully, we live amongst those toward whom we can reach out, and reach in and hold up those hidden places to the light of day.

Of course, once you know something, you can’t go back and not know it. You can move ahead though, knowing that you have been freed from prison, to find a way to make teshuvah. This doesn’t mean you’ve been struck by magic bullet and a cure; what spiritual care offers is care to go alongside as you work your edges.

IT seems have become too guided towards the expectation of cures, and too far removed from the care once provided by our relationships with family doctors, neighbours and clergy.

Spiritual health is an essential part of physical health. May you be blessed with a year of health, happiness, peace, and long life.
 
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Visiting the Sick, Knowing the Self

Last week I had a series of dreams that I could not remember any details of, except that they all had a dog in them…
 

It is unusual for me to not have recall after I awaken. I have a practice of recalling my dreams, where I find wonderful insights into my motivations and how to approach decisions that await me when I am awake.imgres

 

One of the dogs that came to me is my dog Carlea, who was my companion, conscience, and escort in my many activities and adventures for her first four years of puppyhood and adolescence. When I moved to New York 18 months ago, I knew was not the place for her; she had grown up in rural Saskatchewan and Vancouver, so it was out of the question to bring her into metropolitan Manhattan to be an apartment dog while I ran all over the City taking voice and music lessons, going to seminary, and chaplaining at hospitals. She still visits me sometimes, just a brief breeze of picture memory, and sometimes, like last week, she comes and lays her soft head and long muzzle on my belly while I sleep, my arm wrapped over her silky-bony frame. Maybe she was called because I had felt troubled by some looming decisions that were not yet fully in my awareness and would appear later in the week. Her presence was reassuring and loving.Carlea email

 

If someone were to ask me to describe what pastoral care is, or Bikkur Holim visiting the sick, or being a chaplain, that is how I would answer. Being a reassuring and loving presence, someone who comes, unbidden, to be a comfort and witness when someone feels disconnected or alone.

Our human quest to domesticate everything, including the medicalization of illness, how to be sick and how to visit someone who is sick, has necessitated the development of guidelines. We seem to have lost the natural instincts for what to do. Thankfully, our various ethnic traditions have preserved much of that indigenous wisdom we once had. Our traditions can offer us many tips for being a good visitor: things to say; and also things not to say–my teacher Rabbi Simkha Weintraub would call these, ‘unintended curses’; we have advice on how to offer help;we have the Jewish book of rules, the Kitzer Shulchan Aruch gives us strict details such as when to visit, where to sit or stand, what times of day not to visit, and more. The bottom line though, is to come, like Carlea: as yourself, yet without any agendas.

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This isn’t so easy as its simplicity suggests: we all want to be helpful, and what is helpful can be hard to figure out on your own. In fact, if you do try to figure this out on your own, you’ll be missing the input of the person who is ailing: ask them what they want, otherwise, you are likely only serving your purposes and not theirs. Here are some examples of what people who are sick tell us, in a survey compiled by Rabbi Weintraub:

“Ask me, don’t exclude me or make assumptions about what I need”

“Listen. Don’t try to make ‘it’ better before you know what ‘it’ is”

“Don’t staunch tears. Don’t be afraid of tears or rage; respect them”

“Teach me how to pray—not just ‘nice’ prayers, but prayers that rise out of my rage, my loss, my paralysis”

“End the silence. Bring illness out into the open”

How is it that we have become so detached from someone who is ill that we suddenly start making assumptions about what they want, try to keep everything light, cover up the depth of their illness?

There have been many answers, and bearing in mind that we have all been sick at some time in our lives, it is not a foreign land or unexplored territory for anyone. What is happening then, is that the sick person becomes a mirror that reflects our own mortality, or ‘there but for fortune go you or I”. We want to be close and helpful, yet at the same time we keep our distance or create false lightness as a barrier to accessing our inner fears and discomfort about illness or death.

seagrasshome.com

seagrasshome.com

 

But, that’s okay, we all have that reaction. And, there are ways to be present without raising the shields that disallow the sick person their need for your company and companioning attention. The best solution is to know yourself. Be aware of what your needs are, and stay tuned to what the care recipient is asking from you.

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In Native American tradition, Dog Medicine asks you to understand how much your sense of loyalty or convictions to offer care, are overturned by your need for approval or keeping things safe and comfy for you and others looking in on the situation. The modern practices of Spiritual Health Care do, too. The following questions are guides for you, taken from the shared wisdom of past and present. They offer ways to ask yourself how well you are tracking yourself while you care for someone else:

  1. Have I recently forgotten that I owe my allegiance to my personal truth, or am I seeking external gratification when I help someone?
  2. Is it possible that gossip or the opinions of others have jaded my loyalty to a sick friend?
  3. Have I denied or ignored someone who is trying to be my loyal friend when I am ill?
  4. Have I been loyal and true to my goals to be present for people in need on their terms?

The double Torah portion this week, Behar-Bechukotai, concludes with instructions for how to care for those who find themselves in times of need, widows, orphans, indentured servants. As always, we are reminded to treat them as members of one’s own household, and to remember that we were once slaves in Egypt. What does this tell us? To not lose that God connection, the one that reminds us that because we may be in good straits now, that can change at any moment, and the person you are taking in, could one day be you.

70point8percent.blogspot.com

70point8percent.blogspot.com

Along these lines, there is a saying amongst the community of people with disabilities: they call the rest of us CRABs, “Currently Regarded as Able Bodied”.

photography.nationalgeographic.com

photography.nationalgeographic.com

In an instant, such as an accident or the recent bombing at the Boston Marathon, your healthy bodily capacities can be gone, and you will find yourself depending upon others as never before. In Judaism, we have the Torah to tell us how to respectfully engage people in need, bearing in mind that we were once in their shoes. And modern Spiritual Health Care practice tells us how to look inside and know who we are before, and as we are, offering help.

 

May we be blessed with remembering our capacities to truly who we are, as we companion with and help others.

This Sunday, May 5th from 1-3pm I will be leading a further discussion of Jewish and Modern Traditions for Visiting the Sick at Or Shalom Synagogue in Vancouver. See my Events Page for more details.

 

 

 

Lost and Found

At our last meeting, my Spiritual Director treated me to a story that illuminated how the many threads in my life were not weaving together well as a garment.
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He told me a Chasidic story about a man who cherished the one item left to him after his beloved father died—his father’s gold watch. Every day he would look lovingly at it and then put carefully away. One day, though, he couldn’t find it. He looked everywhere; needing to find it took his whole attention and nothing else mattered. After all, beyond the value of the gold watch, it was his father’s memory that he had misplaced. Finally, in utter despair, he gave up looking for the watch. He completely bared his soul, and beseeched God to help him.

“Why have You hidden the watch from me? My life is nothing without it.” And…then the watch dropped from above right onto the table in front of him.

goldprice.org

goldprice.org

A couple of weeks later, I wrote my Spiritual Director this message:

“Dear DDK,

Shavua tov, I hope you are doing well and found good things, especially to eat, over Pesach…

I wanted to check in this morning, after many thoughts to do so over the past few weeks, after our last meeting. Many things have shifted and I feel I am entering some new territory. I hope this check in is helpful for you too.

When I awoke the morning after our SD together, I recalled the prayer for gratitude and insight we’d closed with. Then, when I got up, I could not find my eyeglasses.images-1 That’s very unusual, there are very few places in my apartment they could be. Right away, everything felt like the story you told me about the man who couldn’t find his father’s gold watch. I sat down and thought about how I may be doing too much and not fully allowing them to register, only the actions and outcomes.

I stopped looking for the glasses and decided that insight was the only way to get answers now. I came back to my centre for a while and waited.

Then I knew: the glasses were not really gone anywhere, maybe it was me. Doing many meaningful things, and naïvely trying to control all their outcomes.

I sat with the not new knowledge that it was once again time to allow myself the grace to let go of the control method of navigating my life, and let God, or insight, or wisdom guide me. Then came a place of calm, much like being in the eye of a storm;

and then the storm also passed. You’ve probably guessed that when I got up from my chair, the glasses were easily found. images-1It was time to let go of the many stuck places I was in, and find better places to be. Suddenly, it was easy to know what to hang onto, and what I could let go of or replace.

Each morning, I’m waking in gratitude, or returning to deep gratitude; and as in the prayer you offered, take each step of the day with the possibility that it may hold insight or guidance, or wisdom.

This is very liberating: I’m finding a context for what I do now. Of course, that means entering new territory. My experience in hiking tells me to take my steps with deliberation and intention at this time, watching for loose rocks and bared roots while enjoying the embracing landscape.”Sue Grand Canyon 08

What have you lost lately…or better yet, what have you found?

 

 

Create-Pray-Love

Here’s what oboes can do:

 

A few weeks ago, I was feeling overwhelmed with too many tasks to manage. You know, those waves of days that are almost nauseatingly filled with appointments to book, appointments to keep, a broken light fixture in a strategic location in my apartment, re-scheduling of broken appointments, friends needing my ears and heart, keeping up with studies and work.

commons.wikimedia.org

“Stop!” I said out loud to my music stand. I sat there, prepared for the step into fantasy that my daily oboe practice gives me; instead, the music scores on my stand said, ‘more work for you!’.

 

“Enough! I’m doing something fun now, and that’s it!” I put the reed into my mouth and started to bop out a few notes. I can do this, I thought, a ditty is about to happen, work can wait! Bum bum bum, bum bum bum, bi da bi da, bum bum bum. So far so good. And out it came. From beginning to end. I was having fun, and it wasn’t work…or an accident.

I notated the music. How satisfying to see a completed composition of my own on paper! It was beautiful. What creative muse got me there? Even if I had cleared my datebook and created a buffer zone of time devoted to creating a nigun, prayer without words, it would have been a struggle to plunk out each note, hours would’ve gone by, and then ending unfinished with, ‘Oy, this is too complicated, I’ll have to look at it some other time, if I can remember any of it tomorrow.’

Grateful for having the divine permission to create it, I put the put my new finished composition aside, and rehearsed my music for an upcoming symphony concert, then practiced my new instruments, the sitar and duduk, feeling all the while satisfied and released inside with having made the new music composition.

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BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! The story is just beginning, because this music came for a purpose…

I just attended the Davvenen Leadership Training Institute (DLTI) at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Connecticut, a prayer leadership ‘laboratory’ for Jewish religious professionals. My ‘team’ for this second week of laboratory was asked to prepare to lead the Kabbalat Shabbat service. We decided to bring not only our training and education in Nusah and liturgy into this most special of services, but also our instrumental talents.

What is Kabbalat Shabbat? Shabbat is the seventh day of the week, the day that God stood back from the week of creating, and knew that it was time to take a break. A real break. Not a day off to get the shopping done, a hair cut, mow the lawn. Shabbat comes from the root for the word to rest or set down, שבת. And Kabbalat comes from the root word to receive קבל; Kabbalat Shabbat is a real and welcomed break away from work.

Mousie by SJK

 

 

How does this Kabbalat Shabbat look then? Isn’t stepping out, filling the nest with new clothes and food, engaging in a hobby, a day off?

 

No, say the first century rabbis who gave the written narrative of the Creation story its depth and accessibility for us. No, real rest means a complete turn away from the work of creation and creating. That means no writing, although you can read and think creatively; no commerce, so no money handling; no cooking, no cleaning. This is the day to get all of that done ahead of time so you can have a full day plus 1-1/4 hours to absorb in wonder and gratitude that you have made it not only one more week, but that you can take stock of where you have come to over the week: For Big Things, like a new job or outfit or a new baby; small things you didn’t have a chance in the busy-ness of the week to pat yourself on the back for, like a new attitude or moment of self-care.images-2

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It’s also a time to step aside from the harshness of life and have a talk with God. Ask, why am I at such a loss now? how will I know my wisdom? and be available to the messages that may appear to you in response.

 

That sounds good, but how does one enter such a conversation with God, with the Ineffable? We’re all gung-ho these days for a meditation retreat, and may even respond like Pavlov’s dogs, going into a lotus pose when a Lycra clad teacher clings a bell from her yoga mat.

How do we enter the right pose for receiving Shabbat? yogapositionsexercise.com

 

Our Davvenen team followed the tradition of the long ago sages of Tsefat in Israel, and saw Shabbat as the Bride, coming to meet God, the Groom. In keeping with this tradition, we knew that our fellow learners would enter the Sanctuary dressed in white, wising to welcome this Bride and Groom with rich and beautiful musical imagery in the prayer service.

 

Here’s where the oboe comes in: Picture the simplicity and poignancy of the sunset wedding parade in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, here the wedding party led to the ceremony by lilting oboe and singing, as davenners entered our house of prayer, and the meeting of Bride and Groom.oboist on the roof

 

We stood at the front of the Sanctuary, oboe playing, guitar strumming along by one of our teachers, my two co-leaders swaying and singing with the kahal (community): bum bum bum, bum bum, bum, bi da bi da, bum bum bum.mit went on and on—and on. I looked over at a teacher and besides beaming at the beauty and success of this wedding assembly we’d created, we had to move the service along!

The auspicious beginning continued. We were filled to capacity, a spiritual direction training program joined us, as well as several dignitaries. Shy as my teammates are in our weekday selves, on this Shabbat, we were The Holy Wedding Emcees.

As for the rest of the service, the ceremony went on and on. Waltzes were waltzed to our music; spontaneous ‘Ameins!’ and ‘Oh Yeah!’s, and ‘Yes Lord!’s were shouted Jospel-style to chanted words from Torah.

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The time ran away with us, the beauty was intoxicating; somehow, with helpful cues from our teachers on how to rein in the energy, to leave out extra items, and keep moving forward with the service, we brought the service to its close, too.

 

A minor miracle seemed to have happened. Somehow the three most shy and introverted members of this DLTI group ended up leading this most dramatically special of the weekly cycle of services, and the fervor went to capacity.

What did I learn? What can I share with you, reader? First of all, the three of us were on a journey of love together. Our love of God, of Shabbat, and the spirit we believe is available to everyone deep inside, brought us together as a co-creative team. Patience, thoughtfulness,  and grace came to one another as we planned. We forgot our egos, most of the time, during our preparations. I wanted to share my new nigun music, Shayndel wanted to share her angelic lyre music, and Dovid wanted to share his love of Jewish liturgy and tradition.

We trusted our inner navigators that told us that we know how to bring in the Shabbat Bride, to be received by a holy assembly of worshippers, and God.

Alone, we each are on the shy side, together, our shared vision came alive.

I enjoy studying, writing and doing my own music studio work on my own. In the end, the reward for the intensity of creation within, happens outside of the studio, from the dialogue created through the communion of artist/prayer leaders and their congregation. At week’s end, after all our creating, we take time to love, celebrate, and rest with God’s Creations, too.images

 

 

 

 

A Canadian at OHALAH 2013

 

A few years ago, as I tentatively began my studies with ALEPH, I was asked, “Are you going to אוהלה Ohalah?”

At the time, an ohalah (tent) did not seem a very substantial place for study and meeting, and I did not go. I now understand what an OHALAH is, Renewal style: every year, the ALEPH talmidim / students and ordained klei kodesh / sacred vessels gather in Boulder, Colorado. It is participation in a true pilgrimage; a convergence to More

In Prayer: Thoughts Astray? It’s Okay!

I am always curious about when to maintain my focus and when to drift…

and how to integrate those capacities better in myself.

 

In his book, Your Word is Fire, Arthur Green examines how the Hasidic Masters explain the meaning, value, and management of stray thoughts during contemplative prayer.

It is important to note, first of all, the emphasis of prayer in Hasidic life. In the Introduction to the book, Green reminds us that the ancient rabbis say that the world rests upon three pillars: Torah, Worship, and Deeds of Compassion (Mishnah Avot 1:2). In the parlance of mussar, which I am also studying, I have come to understand that Torah is God reaching out to us, that prayer is us reaching out to God, and Gemilut Chasidim are how we humans reach out to each other. More

Judaism, Women and Peace

I was a guest speaker, along with several other women, representing the Sikh, Christian, Muslim, and Aboriginal Peoples, at the Ahmadiyyah Muslim Community’s Women’s World Peace Conference today in Surrey, British Columbia.

courtesy cmcnewell.wordpress.com

courtesy cmcnewell.wordpress.com

The Conference was a huge island of hope for World Peace, with 400 women gathered together, childcare provided so they could attend, and a huge amount of speaking and listening from the heart. I was asked to present Judaism’s teachings about Peace. The following is my presentation:  

Judaism’s Teachings about Peace

 Greetings, Shalom,

My name is Susan Katz, and I am here to present to you some of Judaism’s teachings about Peace.

Peace is a big topic! In preparing for this Conference, I needed to ask myself, “What can I choose to speak about that will create a memorable learning for the women who attend the Conference?”

Here’s what I decided:

The word *Shalom* More

Chesed, Anyway You Like

Today I had a very successful audition for a local orchestra. I am very pleased with myself for the hard work of preparing for it, and also for the promise of good times ahead.Image

In case you may have missed this: I love playing my oboe, and particularly I am in love with the process of Chessed that comes with that ability. How are oboe playing, orchestras, and Chesed connected? Well, one way is to think about the inspirational speech from Karl Paulnack (http://www.bostonconservatory.edu/music/karl-paulnack-welcome-address), who summarized to anxious parents of new music conservatory students that indeed, their children as musicians, will heal the world as well as any medical doctor, therapist, or rabbi. What he is saying is that from engaging in one’s own abundance, one finds gratitude that is so overwhelming that it is given as gifts to others. That is the nature of Chesed, gifts of lovingkindness.

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mashable.com

 My first memory of this sort of Chesed giving comes at about age 3. I am visiting my grandparents and I have one of the hard candies that we are allowed after dinner. In my ecstasy of the abundance of having dinner of my favourite foods with my favourite people, I offer my hard candy to my grandmother, insisting that I want her to have it. She grins that mischievous knowing grin that only my grandma and I knew, our secret smile together, and she takes it, unwraps it, all the while smiling at me.

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candywarehouse.com

And she winks as she pops it into her mouth. I remember he telling my mother how lovely and generous her daughter is, and my mother dismissing us both, the 1959 precursor to ‘the hand’—“whatever”, she says.   Image

No, this was not ‘whatever’. This was genuine joy. This was the pure knowledge of abundance, and the best way I could give thanks for that abundance of love and food was to offer my one candy to my grandmother. It somehow made me feel complete, that the cycle of giving contained gratitude and more giving.

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I still feel that way every morning when I wake up. I lie in my ‘sky room’ bed, a day bed set in my enclosed balcony with a panoramic view of the City of Vancouver at my feet. Overhead, clouds drift, as if I am in the treehouse of my childhood dreams. Nothing surpasses this feeling that I have been given the simplest of gifts of abundance; a room to lie in, the sky as my ceiling.

What I want to do each day is somehow come closer to creating this sense of abundance for those who are looking for it. That may take the form of insuring that I am not taking up a seat in the front of the bus where seniors and the disabled need to sit, or making intentional eye contact and say a few words with the clerks in stores I shop at, continue to pursue my studies toward a career in pastoral counseling, and making real plans to begin offering service now, including creating my own music and playing in ensembles and orchestras.

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womenformusic.com

This evening, as I was having a long distance conversation with my mussar chevruta about Chesed, I sat in my treehouse office and watched absently in the window as crows gathered to roost for the evening.

In East Vancouver, this is quite a sight, and especially so tonight. In the ribboning sunset of colours, I observed three different clouds of birds arise from the Arbutus Ridge and begin to rise in a swirl of black bodies. The cloud shifted now left, now right, now up, now back upon itself. What was happening? It felt like I did inside myself, looking for the leader, first one, then another, no one agreeing on the direction, like a school of fish darting about in the sky, confused. They had to move on at some point, it would be dark soon. Eventually, pulled by the need to roost in the Grandview Divide, they flew East and landed. The next two clouds of birds that arose did the same this evening. Confusion. Who was the leader, and what was their ultimate destination? The back and forth was senseless, they would end up in the Divide no matter which bird was chosen, and they did end up there at last.

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graphicleftovers.com

Confusion about who is in charge can make coming home to roost difficult. The nice thing about an orchestra is that there is a conductor, and all that skill and strength of character that each artist brings is channeled into a satisfying performance. In fact, it is sharing of abundance at its best.

With the intentional cooperation of many individuals, musical ensembles become the suppliers of the conduits to our deepest desires and selves. Next time you attend a concert, whether it is an ensemble or a large symphony, recognize the exorbitant individual effort and cooperative giving each player has gifted you with. Perhaps this will open the doors to your desire to share whatever abundance you may find in your life, and pass it on to others in gratitude.

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Remembering Sandy Hook School

Remember the 60’s? I was recently watching a fundraising telethon on PBS of music from that era. When the music was new, I was an American, and just on the cusp of being old enough to grasp what our country was doing in Viet Nam. The nightly TV news report, the litany of how many dead, wounded or missing, was one of the seldom times my family sat tamed of our domestic agitations, and watched quietly together, in awe and touched respect. The sense that this report could turn a tumultuous family away from its turmoil and outward toward the greater tragedy before us, was a formative testimonial in my life.

The outrage and tears I felt, the Jewish ‘veygeshry’ of my mother, and clucking tongue of my father, my brother’s chin quivering just a little, told me that there is always work to be done that is bigger than any one of us. Our smallness was exposed.

I did go with my mother to political meetings, dressed in solidarity with the antiwar protestors I saw on TV. My best friends grew up in Topanga Canyon, not far from the infamous Mermaid Café, hippies abounded in my high school. In Hebrew School, we talked about Civil Rights and created charitable events to raise money for HeadStart and other new programs for inner city youth and families. I was a Girl Scout, and we made Christmas hampers for inner city families.

There was a social consciousness everywhere I turned. The world looked good, our actions were making positive change. I Cycled for Life for cleaner air, chose Biology as my major, intending to help the environment by providing research evidence of how we could intelligently preserve our planet.

Finally, the end of the war in Viet Nam, the withdrawal of troops, came. I remember everyone wept with joy. Peace at last. Perhaps not.

This past summer I was a Chaplain at a Veterans Administration Hospital. One of my offerings was a music program for a substance rehab program. The majority of participants were—Viet Nam war veterans. Yes, still, since 1968, they were just getting support to process the traumas they suffered, and the decades of self-medication by recreational drugs they had all subsisted on since returning from the war.

Here were the men, only one woman came, who I had seen on TV back then, sloshing through rice paddies, jumping from helicopters, slashing brush with machetes, clad in army fatigues and black smudge on their faces. They became the face of the violence in Viet Nam, not the government that sent them there. Returning home, they were neglected and even abused, by their home country. The memories they shared in group, often stimulated by the music we shared, were as fresh as if they had just been in ‘Nam.  We were there for each other, finally. The gratitude always filled the therapy room. I was glad to be with them, even if it was over 40 years later.

How is this tied to the Sandy Hook massacre? The violence goes on: this time with civilian guns. Will it take the large-scale national protests of the Viet Nam era to push the government to put an end to this domestic war that has no declaration except when tragedies like Sandy Hook happen?

Perhaps a return that protest era is the way to go, this time to create a comprehensive gun control law to stop the violence: In the words of Rabbi Arthur Waskow:

“Hey Hey, NRA, How many kids did you kill today?

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18.

Plus 9 grown-ups. Teachers, mostly.

These numbers red for the bloodshed of today.

Hey Hey, NRA, How many kids did you kill today?

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18.

I don’t yet have the names of those children or their teachers yet…

Gatherings utterly committed to nonviolence, which the NRA is not —

Sitting down, sitting in, chanting the names of those 18 children over and
over again, interspersed with the chant above (resurrected from the
nonviolent campaign  against the Vietnam War, which pointlessly killed
50,000 Americans and a million Vietnamese)

Risking arrest — DEMANDING that the NRA publicly and clearly abandon and
reverse its opposition to a Federal comprehensive gun-control law.”

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NYTimes photo

Be horrified, sad, compassionate. Can you take action too?

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Difficult People

I have always been baffled by the complexity of this week’s Torah reading, Vayetze, the story of Jacob and Laban. I’ve heard the tale a million times, beginning in Jewish nursery school, with the Jacob’s ladder dream. Then, I guess as older kids we heard about the trick of giving Jacob Leah as his first wife, and how he had to work an additional seven years in order to keep Rachel, his first love.

Marc Chagall

In my books anyway, that didn’t earn Laban the bad reputation he was supposed to have. The depth of the sheep rearing part of the story wasn’t taught, maybe because the technical details didn’t resonate with my very suburban and later, urban, teachers. Basically then, Jacob had been simply ascribed to be an astute sheep breeder, and that was all that could be wrung from that section.

Upon my reading this week in preparation for Shabbat, I saw it all differently. First of all, I read a new translation, the New Jewish Publication Society’s gender-neutral version. So roles such as shepherd, could be a woman’s job as well as a man’s. What I started to see was two cunning men, tricksters in their own rights, Jacob and Laban.

The story begins with Jacob being sent away to Charan by Isaac after he had tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing of the first born that really belonged to Esau, his older brother. And that came after Jacob had previously drawn Esau into a bargain of giving away his birthright for a cup of soup. How? Esau was starving, and Jacob was a sharp; possibly even cunning as he was, he was surprised that Esau was so easily swayed to pay such a high price for a meal. Weren’t there any fruit trees or nuts or dates around for Esau, and how did he manage to come home empty-handed after a hunting expedition? Anyway, I understand this set up well after living in New York City for a year: I am sure I came close to being sold the proverbial Brooklyn Bridge many times while I was there, trusting honesty while being offered sham goods from desperate people vying for a living alongside millions of others offering the same wares.

leitesculinaria.com

Jacob meets Rachel and Leah in Charan, and their father Laban, who is Jacob’s mother Rebecca’s brother. Laban is also a trickster. He sees Jacob’s love for Rachel the younger daughter, and capitalizes on it. After laboring for seven years in order to marry Rachel, Laban marries him to Leah, only afterward reading Jacob the family fine print: oldest daughters get married first. Ouch. Now Jacob may have Rachel, if he is willing to work another seven years.

How do Jacob, Leah and Rachel feel about their father all these years, I wonder? The two sisters are in an extreme competition with each other now by bearing sons for Jacob’s favour. Laban and Jacob become enmeshed in their own competition, Laban thinking he will outwit Jacob by offering him all the spotted sheep he can breed, and secretly stealing the breed stock. As the sisters up their antes by offering up their hand-maids for producing sons with Jacob, Jacob ups his profits with Laban by using specially mottled sticks to increase the number of spotted sheep he can breed from stock Laban left behind.

danielkolenda.com

Finally, after Rachel, who herself has been barren, bares a son, Joseph, the whole household decides it’s had enough of Laban. It is time to leave.

They pack their things and go without a formal goodbye. They take everything with them. What has happened? After so many years of intrigue and oneupmanship, strife, hurt feelings, and purposeful subterfuge, the plug is pulled. The classic, dysfunctional, co-dependent family begins to be aware of the downward spiral it is in. Somehow, the turning point is when Rachel, who has been barren throughout the whole childbearing competition, has a child. It seems that this has been the fulcrum of the situation, her barrenness and pain was what kept the system going. Once she bore Jacob a son, the spell was broken. They left their tormentor behind.

Interestingly enough, there is one more piece of evidence of Laban’s almost sadistic hold on this family: Rachel takes her father’s household idols when they leave. Why? To show him that he is nothing? That she is taking his power with her, and away from him? One of the most beautifully poignant scenes in Scripture is that of Rachel sitting on a camel bag with her skirts spread modestly around her while her father ransacks the camp and that tent looking for his idols. She tells him she can’t get up because she is ‘in the way of women’, and enjoys watching him rant and panic, while she sits coquettishly on that camel bag she’d stuffed with the objects of his disarray.

bayareabags.com

What does this paraha teach us? It shows us what so many of us fall blindly into, those uncomfortable relationships with difficult people. Can we learn from this story how to recognize that we are in one of these relationship systems, and understand that finding the source of the energy that keeps the system alive will allow the possibility of resolution and freedom?

Laban follows Jacob’s family, insists they should have told him they were leaving, that he would have sent them off with songs and music. In his agitation, he will not leave them be until a pact is made. Stones are erected, this is Jacob’s side, this is Laban’s. They break bread together and then part. As we say these days, clear boundaries have been set with difficult people.

Why did Jacob stay with Laban so long, he could have fled years earlier? He needed to learn something there. In Kabbalistic terms, he needed to do the work to release holy sparks that were trapped in Laban’s household. This sort of repair of releasing lost sparks to their origin increases the flow of shefa, and that keeps us in balance with Unity, too.

When we are somewhere difficult and we don’t know why, perhaps this story will come to mind as a way to know that there is a purpose which we may not see immediately, and will eventually find, when we are ready to see it.

Shabbat Shalom!