At the delightful Homecoming and New Members’ brunch this past Sunday—exquisitely produced and hosted by Council member Stephanie Brown (thank you, Stephanie!)—Karen Gilman, who has attended Minyan services but isn’t currently a member, came up with a profound image. We’d been talking about the many historical influences, both from the distant and the much more recent past, that have fed into the stream of Jewish spiritual thought and practice we now call Jewish Renewal, and about the Aquarian Minyan’s place in that stream. At the end of the discussion, Karen approached me and Co-Shomeret Abigail Grafton and remarked, “I think of the Minyan as the sourdough starter, what you keep over from year to year to start the bread dough rising, and which just keeps getting better, richer over time.”
When looking back over the span of Jewish history, it becomes clear how the current wave of Jewish Renewal, rising from the ashes of the 20th century Holocaust and enfolding so many streams of development—feminism, ecology, the wisdom of other faith traditions—is but one of many such waves in a thousands-years-long journey, all emerging from the ruins of disaster and often enfolding the sensibilities and practices of other wisdom and faith traditions of the time. And within that stream the Minyan’s role has been so strikingly seminal (or as someone quipped, “ovular!”). This small but influential community has been home to a plethora of liturgical creativity, birthing leaders and teachers, growing and shrinking and growing again, maintaining its pungent bubbliness over 34 colorful years.
Yet the next evening, when about 15 folks gathered for our first High Holy Day planning meeting (thank you Miriam Chaya and Bernie for hosting!), another perspective emerged. We were speaking of the cycles of life and death, many of us having attended the beautiful memorial service for Alison Bermond the day before, when longtime Minyan member Jake Birnberg acknowledged his deep sadness about the Minyan’s current reality: “We have had three funerals this past year, but where are our births, our weddings? Something is really out of balance.” What followed was a deep and wide-ranging discussion our strengths and limitations, dreams and longings, joyful in that we had tapped into a core of emotional truth, expressed in different ways for each individual, yet opening into the vast Unity of the Infinite.
One of the questions we are holding, then, as we think ahead to the High Holy Days, is how we, an eldering community, can and do find our fullness and joy through participation in the full spiral of life, the full cycle, even though we may not now be raising children ourselves. How do we connect and dance with the energy of youth, of middle age, both within ourselves, and in the larger community?
The final image I want to share may speak in some way to that question. I was experiencing some trepidation as my car chugged up the hill to Bernie and Miriam Chaya’s house Monday evening. The Minyan High Holy Days always seem such a massive undertaking—last year more then one hundred people were involved in creating, supporting, and leading the services! That’s a lot of energy to summon forth and shape. I felt my immune system falter, a slight cough and weak feeling in my chest, as if a cold were coming on. Later, I realized that I have often experienced this drop in energy and in strength at Minyan High Holy Day planning sessions and around the Holy Days in general.
A mentor of mine challenged me to ask what might be at the root of this discomfort, this weakness that invades my body. As I sat with it, I realized that at some deep level, approaching the high Holy Days fills me with awe, with yirah, which is more rightly translated as “quaking fear”—fear of the sheer, raw power that is Ruakh Ha-Kodesh, the Holy Power that together we summon. This Power-beyond-the-power of tsunami, of hurricane, of volcano, has the potential to shatter everything in its wake, and we at the Minyan invite it, because we love to dance with It, to be caught up and shaken loose and have our minds blown by It.
And yet, to see the faces of this Power and live, we have to learn how to entice, invite, and temporarily tame it. The true challenge that we have taken on, and which has been carried out into the Jewish world in large part by leaders who have passed through the Minyan, is the skill of channeling this awesome Power in a way that doesn’t shatter all vessels. I believe that from its inception, this community has been engaged in the project of learning—perhaps of re-learning—the wisdom of creating strong yet ephemeral vessels in which to make the Oneness palpable, visible, audible. We are playing with fire fanned by wind. Perhaps it’s no accident that California is burning, is often burning.
So friends, when we get touchy or concerned about the particular forms and contributions we might wish to make to the whole, in whatever context, it’s because the Whole is so far beyond what any one of us, or any group of us, could ever create or comprehend. We’re right to quake, at some level, in our boots. And yet, at our meeting on Monday, there was a lightness, an engagement, a sense of humor, a groundedness, and a willingness to listen, which is exactly what is needed to bring us, in humility and in joy, into and through this holy season, these holy lifetimes. We may never get it right, exactly right, and…we are a learning laboratory.
I bless us all with the fortitude and the laughter to continue to dance together through times of loss and of joy—to grieve fully what needs grieving, to let go where we can, and to appreciate deeply what it is about our community, and about ourselves—each one of us—that is needed, so worthy, so valued.
B’vrakhah, in blessing,