Category Archives: Resources

We’ve begun the Resource List with web sites. Now we’re adding books. Stay tuned for more to come!

Awakin Call with R. Moshe Gersht

Awakin Call: February 18, 2024:
No Mistakes in the Universe: Creating A Roadmap for Personal Transformation

Aryae interviews Rabbi Moshe Gersht in Beit Shemesh, Israel on a global Awakin Call. They discuss his journey from yeshivah student in Los Angeles to punk rock star, from punk rock star to Jerusalem to study with Hasidic and Kabalistic rebbes, and from there to becoming an international spiritual writer, speaker and teacher. And his message of transforming the world through universal love, and the practice of living with the belief in our own goodness and the goodness of the universe.

A Jewish Christmas

A Jewish Christmas

I posted these reflections on December 25, 2021, during my involvement with the “8 Candles Sanctuary,” an interfaith group within the ServiceSpace community.

For those of us who grew up Jewish in the U.S., relating to Christmas can be complicated.

——————————-

My Great-Grandparents
For generations of Jews living in Eastern Europe, Christmas — sadly — was a time where they experienced hate and fear from Catholic priests and Christian neighbors who labeled them as “Christ killers.” And on Christmas the emotions and behaviors toward “Christ killers” could be especially strong. People could spit at Jews in public with no consequences. And the Jews would often return the favor, when no one was watching, by spitting at the local Church.

My Grandparents
When my dad was a kid in the 1920s growing up on New York’s Lower East Side, the most important task for his parents, my Grandpa Harry and Grandma Rose, other than putting bread on the table everyday, was learning how to raise their kids to be “real Americans,” so that they’d be able to get ahead and prosper here.

Christmas presented a challenge. On the one hand, they had learned from their parents that it was their sacred duty as Jews to not have anything to do with Christmas.

On the other hand, they also saw it as their sacred duty to become good Americans. And everyone knew that Christmas was one of the most high-profile American holidays. So how to distance themselves from the Christian Christmas, while participating in the “American” Christmas? Or to put it another way, how to celebrate Christmas as Jews here in America?

The answer for them — together with many other immigrant Jewish families on the Lower East Side — take the family out for a Chinese dinner and then go a movie! The Chinese immigrant families, who also were not Christian, would go to work and keep their restaurants open on Christmas. And like the Jewish families, they were not yet accepted as “real Americans,” and were struggling to offer better lives to their children. So they were natural allies.

The custom spread to Jewish communities throughout the U.S., and continues to this day — even as Wendy and I have often enjoyed a Chinese meal with Jewish friends on Christmas, followed by a good movie.  🙂

My Parents
My parents and many of their friends were the visible result of the success of their parents: affluent, living in the suburbs in homes of their own, preparing their children to enter college.

I grew up in an affluent suburban community of mostly white Protestants. There were very few Jews. My parents, Sam and Flo, held two important sets of values for themselves and their children.  First, to be proud of our Jewish heritage, and celebrate it. Second, to blend in with the larger community as loyal, successful Americans.

So when December came around, we would first celebrate Hanukkah, and my brothers and I would get a present each night for eight nights. Not bad for a kid! Then when Christmas came around we would get a Christmas tree, decorate it, and put it in the window, just like all the neighbors. Only we would call it a “Hanukkah bush!” Then we kids got to hang our stockings under the tree on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas morning, like all the other kids in the neighborhood, we’d get to run downstairs with great excitement and see what presents Santa had brought for us. Wow! Not only did we get as many presents as our Christian neighbors, we got even more!

Me
The problem with my parents’ Jewish Christmas was, that by the time I was in my teens, it all seemed pretty hollow and meaningless.

My best friend in high school was Tony. My father was a Republican Conservative Jew. His was a Communist atheist Jew.

When we started school every morning Tony and I had to participate, like everyone else, in saying the (Christian) Lord’s Prayer. And as Christmas season approached, we were expected to join all the other students in singing Christmas carols at assemblies.

During our Junior year, we decided that we’d had enough. We no longer wanted to participate in these activities that didn’t reflect who we were. So we began sitting silently during the Lords Prayer, and during Christmas carols. For a while no one bothered us, and everything seemed okay.

But things came to a head at the French Club Christmas Party. Our French teacher, a crusty middle-aged woman who had grown up in Nazi Germany and came to the U.S. after the War, would often remind us how disciplined and obedient teenagers were in Germany when she was our age.  She required that all French students, if we wanted to pass her class and graduate high school, had to attend her Christmas party. Tony and I weren’t thrilled about this, but we didn’t see any alternative, so we reluctantly showed up.

Somehow we wound up sitting in the front row as the teacher sat down at the piano, sang French Christmas carols, and accompanied herself. And she had made it clear that she expected us to sing along with her, in a good French accent. For Tony and me this was too much. We burst out laughing.

The teacher banged on the piano, stopped the music, and turned around with flames coming out of her nostrils. “Human scum! Human scum!” she screamed. “Out! Out of my class!”

Tony and I grabbed our stuff and ran, laughing all the way. We wound up downstairs, in the men’s locker room, drawing graffiti on the walls that were not very flattering to the French teacher.

Soon the gym teacher came along. “What’s this, men?” he asked. When we finally explained, he insisted on marching us upstairs and watching as we apologized to the French teacher.

“We’re sorry for writing graffiti that disrespected you,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Tony, “and we’re sorry we called you a Nazi bitch.”

The good news — somehow we made it through high school.

Years later when I was living in San Francisco at the House of Love and Prayer, saying the traditional Hebrew prayers three times a day, I came to appreciate the human universality of the longing to connect with the Infinite. Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, Sufis and Sikhs would come visit, and we’d all pray together.

My teacher Reb Shlomo said, “we’re all on the same path; we’re just wearing different shoes.” There was no problem of a Jewish Christmas, any more than of a Christian Hanukah. As Reb Zalman and Matthew Fox together taught, “deep ecumenism” is about each of us learning more about our own spiritual journeys, thru the depth of experiencing something of each others’.

Father John
Fast forward a few decades, and it’s Christmas Eve in Half Moon Bay. My friends Richard and Martha, devout Catholics, invited me to join them for Midnight Mass at their church. As a Jew, I had never been to a Catholic mass before and I didn’t know if it would be right for me to be there. But it was a sacred event that they were inviting me to, and they were good friends and I trusted them, so I said sure.

When we got to the Church, Richard and Martha introduced me to Father John, the priest who would be conducting the Mass. He welcomed me very courteously and made me feel at home. But that was nothing compared to what was to come.

The Mass began, and I was surprised to notice how closely it seemed to track with the traditional Hebrew prayers. I recognized some of the same Psalms, in the same order.

But then it came time for Holy Communion. I knew that as a non-Catholic I could not be included, and would have to sit this one out, while everyone else went up for Communion. Father John picked up the wine cup and said the prayer in Latin. Then, looking into the crowd of worshipers, straight at me, he repeated the blessing, this time in Hebrew.

No one else in the church may have understood what he was saying or doing, but I did. He was recognizing my presence, and honoring me me by including me. It was an act of courtesy that I’ll never forget, a special Jewish Christmas!

Father John and I became friends after that, and would sometimes go up to San Francisco together to go to the movies.

Jesus
Based on recent writings by both Christian and Jewish scholars, I have come to a deeper appreciation of Jesus. Of how Jesus can be seen historically as a radically creative first century rabbi who in his day was teaching Torah — in new ways — to Jews. And how the core values of Torah — love God, love your neighbor, love the stranger — can be brought to everyone.

So a Christmas question that this Jew is holding now: how do I want to relate to Rabbi Jesus?

A Jewish Christmas Now
So this year I’m grateful to my friends in the the Eight Candles Cathedral for holding a “place” where I can celebrate Christmas. And to friends in the greater ServiceSpace community, in the Torah Circle, OWL, and communities everywhere, who are committed to the reality that, in Reb Zalman’s words: “the only way we’re going to get it together, is together.” And I look forward to the new ways of celebrating Christmas, and all of our traditions, that are emerging.

House of Love and Prayer Exhibition

Mapping Jewish San Francisco is a digital humanities project of the University of San Francisco’s Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice. It is curated by Oren Kroll-Zeldin, who interviewed Aryae in 2017 to learn his story of the House of Love and Prayer.

House of Love and Prayer Exhibition


Chapters where Aryae is interviewed:

A Brief History of the House of Love and Prayer

Torah Resources: Web Sites

Torah web sites which we recommend.
Not listed in order of preference.
  1. Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah JourneysAryae
    This page provides links to Reb Shefa’s commentary on each parsha, each of which is also a chapter in her book by the same name. There are also sound files of some of her chants, which are associated with specific parshiot.

    What we especially like is how she leads us to see each story, each law, each piece of Torah as an opportunity to look inward for the guidance that it offers.

    Wendy
    Reb Shefa has Guidelines for Practice with each parsha commentary. You can order her book, Torah Journeys and In the Fever of Love, An Illumination of the Song of Songs as well as her music CD’s, particularly chants, at her website. There is also a list of her upcoming workshops and chant intensives on the website.

  2. Azamra.
    Reb Avraham Greenbaum
    Aryae
    Parsha commentaries from a traditional Breslov Hasidic perspective, delivered in a way that is very accessible to those of us outside the Breslov world. Reb Avraham Greenbaum reaches out to Jews and non-Jews alike with his writings, based on Reb Nachman’s teachings,” on “Universal Torah” and “Torah for the Nations.”
  3. Chabad.org Weekly ParshaAryae
    Updated each week with the weekly parsha text and commentaries. This web site is a rich source of commentaries on the both the parsha and holidays. There are many rabbis involved, with commentaries that range from simple explanations to the mystical, all from a Chabad perspective. We often find material that we find deep and meaningful.

    Wendy
    I very much appreciate the brief commentaries from various sources under In Depth Parsha Overview with Selected Commentaries. There is also a complete holiday section at http://www.chabad.org/holidays/default_cdo/jewish/Holidays.htm.

  4. RavKookTorah.orgWendy
    I asked Rabbi Yitzchak Marmorstein, one of the foremost experts on Rav Kook today, for his recommendation on Rav Kook’s teachings on the parshiot in English. He directed me to this web site which has Rav Kook’s commentaries on the parshiot, holidays and psalms adapted by Reb Chanan Morrison. There are several teachings on each of the parshiot, so I always find some commentary that is deeply meaningful to me.
  5. Reb Zalman Legacy Project

    Wendy
    This website is devoted to preserving the works of Reb Zalman. What we especially like is this statement describing the vision of the project, “We intend to preserve not only Reb Zalman’s body of work, but also his process of renewal, so that his teachings will not become calcified and exist with meaning primarily for our generation alone. Therefore, with an eye to the future, we are building open access- pathways to primary texts, inviting new commentary, and providing new possibilities for spiritual fellowship.” You can find commentaries on the parshiot, holidays, other topics on the Blog Site. (link) You can also purchase Reb Zalman’s books, CD’s, etc at this website. You can also make donations for this very worthy project on the website.

    Aryae
    I especially like the Reb Zalman Legacy Blog, edited by Seth Fishman, which has excerpts of Reb Zalman’s writings plus transcribed interviews and talks on the parshiot, holidays, Hasidus and Kabbalah, Renewal, and all sorts of interesting stuff.

  6. Velveteen Rabbi
    Rachel Barenblat
    Wendy
    I always appreciate a woman who combines feminism with love of Torah. Aleph rabbinical student Rachel Barenblat writes this blog where there is an archive of Torah commentaries and poetry based on the parshiot. These commentaries are instructive, creative, modern, and have a great deal of heart. Reb Rachel’s blog also has holiday resources and writings about other topics.

    There is also a website, www.velveteenrabbi.com has a ceremony archive which includes prayers, rituals, and life cycle events.

  7. The Academy for Jewish Religion/CAWendy
    This website has a Parsha of the Week commentary by faculty, graduates, and students. I appreciate the variety of the different styles of the contributors. There is an archive from October 2008- June 2009. The current year, Sept 2009- June 2010 has a posting for each parsha very close to Shabbat.
  8. Rabbi David Seidenberg
    Neohasid.org

    Wendy
    This is a very interesting and creative website by Rabbi David Seidenberg. It contains Chasidic nusach, niggunim, and teachings by Chasidic masters. There are liturgy resources and wonderful holiday resources as well as resources on Judaism and ecology. We applaud Reb David’s efforts. You can sign up to be on the email list and receive updates.

  9. The Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach FoundationAryae
    Teachings from Reb Shlomo on the holidays, as well as stories and videos. You can find some gems here if you’re willing to poke around and search a little.
  10. Yeshivat Simchat Shlomo.
    Reb Sholom Brodt
    Aryae
    The web site for Reb Sholom’s yeshivah in Jerusalem contains teachings from Reb Sholom and also from Reb Shlomo.

    Reb Sholom is one of my favorite Torah teachers, learned, humble, skilled and emotionally intelligent at making the bridge between the Hasidic and Renewal worlds. He sends out weekly parsha drashes which are a mainstay of my Torah study and usually find their way onto the Torah Circle Blog.

  11. Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Wendy
    We very much appreciate Rabbi James Stone Goodman’s poetry which we have included in the postings of the Torah Circle Blog. You can find his writings on the parshiot, holidays, and other topics on his blog on his website. Rabbi James is also a fine musician. You can purchase his CD’s on his website.

  12. Rabbi Miles Krassen
    Gishmey Brachah- Rain of Blessings

    And if you love gematria, this is the site for you!

  13. Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Wendy
    We very much appreciate Rabbi James Stone Goodman’s poetry which we have included in the postings of the Torah Circle Blog. You can find his writings on the parshiot, holidays, and other topics on his blog on his website. Rabbi James is also a fine musician. You can purchase his CD’s on his website.

  14. Rabbi Miles Krassen
    Gishmey Brachah- Rain of Blessings
  15. Rav DovBer Pinson
    IYYUN

    Wendy
    We first encountered Rav DovBer Pinson on Facebook, and we appreciate his outreach. What first got our attention was Rav Pinson’s short videos of Parshiot
    commentaries: very clear, no wasted words and takes us right to essence. His written teachings continue to delight us. I have included this description about IYYUN, his organization from the website,

    “IYYUN, an organization dedicated to the study and experience of Jewish spirituality, explores the three dimensions of human reality: The Mind, The Heart and The Body.
    IYYUN creates opportunities for people of all backgrounds to deeply examine and understand the intellectual, emotional and physical within themselves in the light of Jewish spiritual teachings and the wisdom of the Torah.
    IYYUN seeks to unify the disparate intellectual, emotional and physical dimensions of the human experience into a complete whole, empowering men and women to realize their full potential and together, build a global spiritual community. ”

    This is a very complete and well done website. You can find online parshiot and holiday teachings as well as many other topics. There are also audio and video teachings and
    a link to purchase books.

  16. Rabbi Gershon Winkler
    Walking Stick Foundation

    Wendy
    I very much connect with Rabbi Gershon Winkler’s teachings about the aboriginal mystery wisdom of Judaism. Reb Gershon makes use of his Orthodox background to create a blend of off the wall humor and profound Torah teachings. He is meticulous about his attributions to our sages, and often highlights lesser known
    teachings concerning the earth and its inhabitants. While his website at this time does not provide specific parshiot or holiday teachings, you can subscribe to
    his newsletter and receive teachings about holidays and various other subjects along with his schedule of workshops and retreats. You can also purchase CD’s and books such as the Magic of the Ordinary on the site.

  17. Rabbi Simon Jacobson
    Meaningful Life Center

    Wendy
    Many of us became familar with Rabbi Simon Jacobson’s Omer counter. His website contains parshiot and holiday commentary as well as classes, a weekly op ed piece, and writings by other teachers. There is also live programing on a variey of subjects.

    Wendy
    This website states, ” The richness of the ancient Jewish tradition of Torah blended with Kabbalah and Hasidsm creates a great dynamic. Come. It is ours to access. Drink and replenish the parched soul”. Rabbi Jonathan Case has included a blog of Torah parshiot that are very interesting and speak to the heart. Some of the postings include Haftarah insights. Also, there is a section of You tube videos by Rabbi Case on the parshiot and some holidays as well as MP3 audiofiles on the Psalms.

  18. JINSIDERWendy
    For those who enjoy a multimedia approach, the JINSIDER website contains videos by many teachers on a variety of subjects including Parshiot and holidays. There are also alot of Jewish culture related videos
    on this site.
  19. American Jewish World ServiceWendy
    We strongly support the work of the American Jewish World Service. So we are pleased to recommend this website. There are commentaries on the Parshiot and holidays by a variety of writers. This is a good site for those who are looking for thoughtful Torah commentaries focused on social action

    For Torah Commentary

    For Holidays

  20. Rabbi Laura Duhan KaplanWendy
    I was delighted to find this website. Rabbi Laura posts commentaries on the parshiot under the heading Philosopher’s Torah. She brings her background as a PhD in philosophy, so the ideas and references are quite interesting yet also reach the heart with everday examples. There are some commentaries on the Haftarah as well. Also on the website are essays on specific prayers, and as a bonus for me, a section called Animal Torah.
  21. Ziegler School of Rabbinic StudiesWendy
    Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies is part of the American Jewish University which is part of the Conservative denomination.You can sign up on their website to receive some fine weekly commentaries from their teachers.