Jewish Meditation and the Dislocation of the Journey

Please join us for Jewish Meditation before Shabbat services on Friday evenings, starting August 9, 5-5:30pm (you are welcome to arrive 4:45 to settle in; please be sure to arrive by 5:15 when the doors close for silence).  In these coming weeks we will focus on brief teachings from This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, by Rabbi Alan Lew.

In an article this April, Rabbi Kuhn taught us: “A recent study found that Philadelphia has the highest rate of “deep poverty” – people with incomes below half the poverty line – of any of the nations 10 most populous cities.*  The study found that Philadelphia’s “deep poverty” rate**  is around 12.9%, or 200,000 people.”

Even as we look to the Prophets to inspire us that justice will someday flow like a river and righteousness like a mighty stream, while the homeless are in our midst, they have much to teach us.

One of our congregants recently said: I am grateful for the homeless people in my neighborhood, sitting outside of the Free Library.  They are my teachers.

How is homelessness our teacher?  Begin with the reminder, the in-our-face mandate to fulfill the mitzvot that charge us to save the corners of the field, that the hungry might be fed and treated not with pity, but with dignity.

A friend recently said to me “I’m overwhelmed with the prospect of packing up and moving to our new house.  But I’m okay.  These are Cadillac problems.”  Perhaps the most vulnerable in our society remind us of gratitude for what we have.

Twentieth century Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel would teach that God abides with those on the street.  Perhaps he intended us to learn from the homeless by thinking of God every time we saw someone in need.

How is homelessness our teacher?  Each of us could find a different response that sheds light on the season we now enter in our Jewish calendar.  In his book, This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, Rabbi Alan Lew, of blessed memory, illustrates another lesson from homelessness.  Lew offers the High Holy Day metaphor of spiritual homelessness.

As Elul, the Hebrew month preceding Rosh Hashanah begins (this year on August 6), so does our journey of teshuvah, repentance.  Lew imagines that at the start of this journey, the walls of the great house around us crumble and fall.  In order to experience true teshuvah, we find ourselves estranged, alone in the street.  In these days, the primal sound of the shofar awakens us and sets us forth on our journey.  Exposed, without protection or disguise, we rediscover our truest selves and relationships.

Having delved into the work of teshuvah throughout Elul, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are not the beginning of the High Holy Days, they are the climax.

This year, we invite you to begin an Elul journey guided by mindfulness in the experience of Jewish meditation.  We will strive for a deeper awareness of who we are, the dislocation of our journey and the vulnerability that makes us human.

Similar to our Jewish meditation Friday 5:00 pm Shabbat-prep meditations this past spring, we will continue on Fridays, but this time, continuously on an ongoing basis.  We will meet every Friday beginning with August 9, the first Shabbat in Elul, from 5:00-5:30pm (except for Sep. 13) for a brief teaching and meditation led by me or by one of our lay leaders.  Sessions will be in the Grooms Room on the lower level, and to maintain the silence of meditation, even if you are running a few minutes late, please plan to arrive before 5:15pm.

Meditation sessions for August and September will focus on the themes of mindfulness and repentance and will be inspired from Rabbi Alan Lew’s book, This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation.  Sessions after the High Holy Day season will focus on themes of personal spirituality.

Many thanks to Moshe (Mel) Seligsohn for his leadership in this initiative!

*Philadelphia Inquirer and Temple University Sociologist David Elesh analysis of the U.S. Census American Community survey, Inquirer article March 19, 2013.

**Individuals living at half the poverty line of $5,700 per year – or a family of 4 of $11,700.