Forgiveness beyond Right and Wrong
Special Yom Kippur afternoon workshop
Workshop sponsored by Romemu
Elul: Repairing our Relationships This program at the Woodstock
Jewish Congregation was free and open to everyone:
I am excited to bring
the skills and consciousness of Nonviolent Communication into Jewish
community and into inner preparation for the holiest time in the Jewish
Jewish calendar, the month of Elul, which arrives with the new moon
on August 10, is the time to
journey inward, to connect, take stock and deepen your intentions for
your relationships, to listen deeply for the still small voice - all in
to create a deeply transformative experience of the High Holidays.
This workshop is an opportunity to welcome Elul with an afternoon of Jewish
mindfulness exercises, nonviolent communication exercises, chant, prayer, study, and group and individual work to
prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
In Judaism, this
process is known as
teshuvah, return, and the central theme of teshuvah is our effort to
relationships and make them more honest and compassionate. Nonviolent
Communication and mindfulness are great guides for this work. Please
RSVP for this
workshop by contacting Roberta at email@example.com.
also are invited, if you like, to attend shabbat services at 10 a.m.and
a light vegetarian pot luck at 12, before the workshop. Or just come
before 1 pm for the workshop.
Glasco Turnpike, just west of Route 212,between Woodstock and Saugerties
Retreat at Elat Chayyim/ Isabella Freedman Contemplating Elul- Inner practices and preparation
leading to the High Holidays. http://isabellafreedman.org/activism In the Jewish cycle,
the month of Elul is an exquisite time to journey inward, to listen
deeply for the
still small voice, all in preparation to creating a deeply
transformative experience of the High Holidays. Roberta Wall will facilitate a daily morning
community as we learn and practice meditation, Jewish mindfulness practices,
chant, prayer, study, group and
individual work to prepare ourselves for the High Holidays.
Roberta Wall leads retreats in Jewish Mindful
Communication and Mindfulness in Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition. She was a
founding member of the Elat Chayyim residential community. Her website
Berlin Jewish Mindfulness Retreats
In May of 2007 and April 2008 I traveled to Berlin,Germany, to lead three day retreats on Mindfulness and Judaism. The 2007 retreat was sponsored by the Thich Nhat Hanh Buddhist community in Berlin. Thich Nhat Hanh (called Thay-teacher-by his students) is a beloved Vietnamese Buddhist teacher who inspired me to look deeply into my ancestral religion-Judaism . He said, "Mindfulness is at the heart of every great religious tradition-that is what makes it a great religious tradition."
I heard this as I sat with hundreds of people from allover the world, under the large linden tree in Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh's monastery in Southern France. My family raised me as a secular Jew. I had no sense of the spirituality of Judaism. I thought of it as a religion, of Jews as an ethnic group, and I had never looked to Judaism for spiritual connection. And so, I wondered, do Thich Nhat Hanh’s words apply to Judaism? Would I find in the religion of my ancestors the deep peace and guidance that I found in Buddhism and in Nonviolent Communication? Thay’s words opened a deep longing in me to connect with the way of practice of my ancestors. I was inspired to begin the journey that led to Berlin.
A few years later, I was staying at Thich Nhat Hanh's community in Vermont. The Jewish holidays were coming- the time so sacred to the Jewish people that even a secular Buddhist like me felt my Jewish ancestors stirring inside. I wanted a Jewish experience that touched me as deeply as the compassion and mindfulness practices of Buddhism. A friend at the Buddhist center told me about Elat Chayyim, a Jewish Renewal retreat center in Upstate New York. I went to several silent retreats there and less than two years later I became one of the founding members of a Jewish mindfulness-based residential community at Elat Chayyim. With many teachers and rabbis we learned ways of practicing mindfulness that are deeply rooted in Judaism. We took many practices from Plum Village, such as Beginning Anew, and from Nonviolent Communication, and brought them to the monthly Jewish new moon practice.
During the years that I developed a daily Jewish mindfulness practice, I continued to travel to Plum Village and to retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh. At Plum Village I helped facilitate healing circles between Germans and Jews. I also was present to support dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians.In this dialogue work, I wanted so much to give people a taste of the beautiful depth of Jewish practice that I had been discovering. I wanted Germans to taste the beauty and depth of what was lost by the violence and genocide. I wanted Jews and Palestinians to join together in prayer and to experience the heart opening essence of the Jewish religion.
In May 2007, I was invited to Berlin, Germany to lead a group of Jewish and non Jewish Germans into the deep beauty of shabbat and Jewish practices to awaken us to life. We spent three days together, digging in the ancestral well of Judaism to open hearts and connect.
Early in the day the retreat in Berlin was to start, I went to the old house on the outskirts of Berlin that serves as the center for Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist community in Berlin. I brought with me six mezzuzot from home and affixed them to six doorways in the center.
Perhaps you have noticed that on the threshold of the doorway into many Jewish homes there is a small decorative scroll. This is a mezzuzah. As a daily mindfulness practice, we can touch the mezzuzah as we stop and pause and take a breath-then we say to ourselves, entering this space (or leaving this space) I connect with divine energy. Or, we may like to stop and breathe and say, I enter this space to listen and to love.
Inside the mezzuzah is a scroll, hand calligraphied by a scribe. The scroll sets forth the words of mindful living spoken by the Divine to the Hebrew people- if you remember to stay connected to your God,to love your Godding, if you remember to teach the divine values to your children, to speak of them and remember them in your coming and going, the rains will be seasonable, you will be in harmony with life. This is part of the Sh'ma, which means listen- listen to the divine inspiration that is always alive within and all around you. So we enter every space to listen and to love, to connect with the divine energy which is the energy we choose to come from.
As I attached the mezzuzahs to the doorways, I chanted the blessing of thanks for bringing me to this moment, for teaching me this practice of remembering that I can stop and re connect with divine energy when I enter a room. When the retreat began, I invited everyone to join me in this practice throughout the weekend. As we did walking meditation throughout the center, we stopped and breathed with the mezzuzah.
After the retreat, with the permission of the hosts, I left the mezzuzah on the front door of the center. My friends tell me this may be the first returning of a publicly displayed mezzuzah in Berlin.
2008 I returned in 2008. The mezzuzah was still on the doorway. Annabelle Zinzer, the head of the center, told me that for the whole year she had taken on the practice of stopping and connecting with the mezzuzah as she crossed the threshold into the center. Annabelle had sponsored the first retreat in honor of her mother and her mother's best friend- a Jewish girl who had vanished one night in Germany in the early days of Nazi power. When Annabelle's mother way dying a few years ago, Annabelle asked her, who was your best friend in life? Her mother said her friend, whom Annabelle had never heard about. We began both retreats by lighting the shabbat (sabbath) candles and bringing into the circle those who couldn't be there with us. A large group of Germans- Jewish and not Jewish- parents, grandparents, so many lost souls- came in with the ner shabbat- the light of Shabbat. ...
I have spent my life
And found nothing better
For a soul than silence Rav
Shimeon Ben Gamliel
This quote from Rabbi Gamliel, one of the great spiritual
teacher-rabbi-warriors ofJerusalem in the years 30-70 C.E, framed our second Jewish
mindfulness retreat in Berlin.
This second retreat was sponsored by Channah Arendt and the Berlin Jewish community, several of whom had attended in 2007 and shared through tears that they never dreamed that Judaism could move them so deeply, so joyfully, so profoundly. And, like the 2007 retreat, the willingness and openness of the German Buddhist sangha to experience the depth and beauty of Jewish spiritual practice brought us to the beautiful center
the Berlin Quelle des Mitgefühls
(Source of Compassion), the German sangha’s urban retreat center on the
outskirts of Berlin.
To prepare for
this retreat, I again arrived early and affixed mezuzahs on the doorways.For this retreat, we took on the practice of stopping, touching the mezuzah and saying, “I enter this space to listen and
love, ” to support our taking mindful steps and staying connected to the
consciousness of love and compassion that we want to cultivate on retreat
and in daily life. Sangha members and member of the nascent Berlin Jewish renewal community brought
challahs, matzos, candles, grape juice and other objects to support our mindful
and devotional Jewish practice. One supporter found a Polish bakery in Berlin that made bobkas-
a cake that is traditionally served in many parts of the Jewish world.
The retreat began as
Shabbat was falling- Friday night, the end of the work week. Shabbat, called by
Abraham Joshua Heschel a “cathedral in time” can be seen as the Jewish day of
mindfulness- a day of complete stopping that is said to be the holiest day of
the Jewish year- and it comes every week! The sacredness of this day is
expressed in the ancient Jewish teaching that all of creation was for the
purpose of creating Shabbat-to experience cessation on the seventh day.
We began the retreat
by entering into Shabbat, stepping into the silence and letting go of all the
projects and worries of the week.Through chant, liturgy, ritual, meditation, silence and group sharing we
step into a time where the tradition is
to stop- to stop even thinking and talking about the time outside of Shabbat;
to stop any creation, hence no cooking, no carrying objects; to stop so fully
that we reconnect with our original nature, returning to the Source. We began by lighting the Shabbat candles,
chanting and nigguning- melodies without words, a way of calling us together to
a place beyond words. With out candles, we brought in those who were not
physically present- parents, grandparents aunts, uncles, teachers, lost in the
Holocaust; supporters along our path, children and spouses. We called in our
stories, our sorrows, and, for some Jews there, an experience of joy in Jewish
practice that was new and unexpected, a release from Jewish experience that
continues to be surrounded by darkness and sorrow.
About half of the 22 participants stayed overnight in theQuelle. In the early morning we sat together
in the meditation hall and practiced walking meditation to Jewish chant. After
a silent breakfast, the commuters arrived and we began the day again with
sitting anda Shabbat service.
The theme of this
year’s retreat was Passover as a door to inner liberation. Passover, Pesach,
can be observed as the liberation teaching story of Moses, the Israelite people
and Pharaoh. Through chant, sharing, mediations
and Torah study, we looked deeply at where Pharaoh, Moses and the Israelite
people were stuck; where they were out of alignment with God or Truth or, as the Buddhists may say, with their True Original Nature.
All three are caught in Mitzrayim-the Hebrew word for Egypt,
which mean, the stuck place. All three are stuck in a narrow place, stuck in
identifying themselves with the states of being that are obstacles to freedom.
The Israelite people are stuck in slavery because their spirits are crushed.
Pharaoh is stuck in total identification with Mitzrayim because his heart is
closed. Moses is stuck because his lips are blocked, he cannot find or trust
his own voice. He can not emerge as a leader until he recognizes the power of
his own voice; until he identifies with the voice of God that he hears, instead
of allowing his self esteem and confidence to depend on whether or not the
People hear him.
The Passover journey is the journey
to freedom from the stuck place. Over the course of the retreat, we each looked
at where we too are stuck- where are our hearts closed, our spirits crushed,
our voices stifled? Where are we so stuck that we are slaves, or so stuck that
our hearts are closed to valuing others-caught in superiority. And where are we
voiceless, not trusting that we can be
leaders? What is our mitzrayim that is blocking our freedom?And
how do we release it so that we can join in the Passover celebration?
Through the practice
of Insight Torah Study, we entered into the text of the story of Moses, the
Israelite people and Pharaoh. I call this Insight Torah study because we study
Torah in the way that Thay teaches us to
listen to a dharma talk- not to see what we agree with or disagree with, but to
create space for insight. Sr Jina told me that when she listens to a dharma
talk she has heard before, she examines her own practice- how she is practicing
the given teachings. The practice of Passover is to hold up the bread of
affliction- the matzoth- and to tell our stories. For Germans, telling your
story to a Jew or a Christian is in itself a deep journey to freedom.
We had many
sharings of our stories, in small groups and in the whole group.One Jewish woman shared that her Mitzrayim
had been being Jewish in Germany.
During Hitler’s rise to power, her Orthodox Jewish family fled the Nazis and
ended up in China,
where she was born. They returned to Germany after the War, to the small
town of her father’s ancestors. As a child growing up in Post Hitler Germany, she
longed to be like everyone else. Her association with Judaism was darkness, filled
with the suffering that permeated the Jewish life of this handful of survivors;
she wanted to go to church, to be like everyone else.Through our practice together she felt hope
for the first time that she could embrace Judaism, and experience joy in Jewish
Another woman had converted to Judaism as an adult. She
shared that she had been tormented byshame for being born in Amalek- Christian Germany. That her heart was
closed to her birth roots. She saw how this tightness was choking her and she
wanted to let go of this right away.She
was ready to release this shame.
The plan of the
retreat was to end with a ritual of burning the chometz. We had written on
paper our stuckness that we were ready to release. In the householder preparation
for Passover, the left over leaven bread symbolizes the chometz-the puffed up, blocked
attitudes or behaviors or energies that we release, leaving only the unleavened
matzoh for eight days.When one of the
Jewish participants heard the invitation to burn the chometz, the inner
stuckness that we wanted to release-she gasped and ran out of the room. She
returned and explained that burning a part of Jews, even this chometz on paper,
couldn’t be done. That in Berlin
we are living and walking everyday on the ashes of the Jews. When other
participants heard her strong feelings, they shared that they too could not
burn their chometz. But other Jews said, no, they wanted to burn the chometz,
that the burning would be a step into freedom. Another Jewish woman, herself a
survivor of the Holocaust, said she wanted to take home what she had written
down, and look at it every day until next Passover.
listening to each others’ needs and through chant and meditation together, we
created a ritual that spoke to everyone’s needs. Some of us kept our chometz
(including me), others burned theirs and others buried theirs in the garden of
the retreat center. We finished the retreat witnessing each other’s practice
and chanting togethera final chant that
celebrated our Oneness with all that is.
The next Jewish mindfulness
retreat will be in Berlin
in April 09. For information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Berlin Jewish community has requested that
meditators and seekers from other countries come to the retreat to support and
hold them in the energy of mindfulness.
Other highlights of the retreat
Three aliyahs (coming up to the Torah) - people in Berlin
had never experienced theme aliyot-as we often do in Jewish Renewal circles,
that anyone who wants a blessing connected to a given teaching in the Torah
portion of the weekis invited to come
up to the Torah.
Dyads: eachof us took a role- Pharaoh, Moses, Israelites.I was surprised at how
many people really resonated with looking at how Moses was stuck in Mitzrayim.
- He couldn’t speak BECAUSE people couldn’t hear him……
At the retreat,
thru chant, prayer, journaling and group work, we each identified how we are
stuck- where our spirits are crushed, where our hearts are closed...
ANA B CHOACH GEDULLAT Y MICHA TATIR TZURAH
We used this chant from my teacher Rabbi Shefa Gold to help
us untie the knots that are clogging up the road to freedom….
Some stories from the retreat:
Jewish Mindfulness practices
Burning the chametz
When I proposed to
burn our inner chametz, and then to compost it- and said a few words about eco
kashrut- a Jewish cantor from Berlin gasped and ran out of the room. IT’S OK TO
BURN THE BREAD CRUMBS-THIS WE HAVE BEEN DOING –BUT TO BURN A PIECE OF
OURSELVES, EVEN SYMBOLICALLY, THIS I CANNOT DO.
Here, I realized how
profoundly we were preparing for Pesach- re living the journey from slavery,
the experience of being slaves, and now of struggling to learn to live as free
people, not haunted by our slavery. We used another chant from Rabbi Shefa -
Nachamu – for support and strength.
NACHAMU AMI TO
COMFORT MY PEOPLE
Praying in German
Before the retreat I
asked one of the participants who chants from the
Torah if she would chant the sections about Moses, Pharaoh and the people in
Hebrew and then in German. She resisted because she said that she has never
been able to pray in German.Then, during
our Saturday morning service in Berlin,
she began to chant in Hebrew and then I realized she was chanting in German!
Another emotional opening to re establishing the aliveness of Judaism in Germany.
One of the greatest fruits of my practice with Thich Nhat
Hanh has been my journey to discover my Jewish root tradition as a wisdom
tradition, as a path to living an awakened life. With the amazing support of
sangha (community of practice) and Rabbi Jonathan Kligler from Woodstock,
NY, where I live, I have been leading retreats
in Jewish chanting, prayer, blessings and other traditional Jewish practices in
the U.S. and Germany
This year, in April,
two weeks before Passover, the Berlin sangha
opened its doors to the Berlin
Jewish community for a retreat on Passover as a door to liberation.
A few weeks before
the retreat, we were surprised to learn that most of the registrants were Jews
who had never practices mediation or mindfulness. The Jews who had attended
last year told me they were disappointed-that last year one part of the retreat
they loved was the energy of mindfulness and stillness they felt from the
sangha members. So we asked on of the sangha members who were coming to send a
letter to the rest of the sangha telling them how the retreat had touched her,
as a non Jewish German.
For A NUMBER OF
YEARS I helped lead Jewish services and practices and celebrations at PlumVillage,
an international Buddhist practice center in Southern. France. The teacher at PlumVillage,
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist master, has always encouraged his students to
stay with their root tradition, to heal with their root tradition, to find the
mindfulness in their root tradition. Over the years, many Jews who practice
with PlumVillage have re connected with their
Judaism and found deep and meaningful ways to weave together Jewish and
I have participated and supported dialog groups between Germans and Jews,
Israelis and Palestinians, and American and Israeli Jews. The retreat in Berlin grew out of a
dialogue circle between non Jewish Germans and Jews from all over the world. I felt increasingly dissatisfied at the
circles because year after year I heard the Germans relating to Jews only in
terms of the holocaust. I wanted them to experience Judaism as a rich, joyful,
deep and important spiritual tradition.This was the first intention of the retreat. It has ended up to be that
plus a deep well of exploration for German Jews.
I am learning so
much about what it is to be an American Jew-the freedom we feel here. To
practice Judaism in a retreat with non Jews was a major challenge and
exploration for the German Jews. And because of the German Jewish experience,
the emotion, the impact, of every practice we did was heightened. When we chanting
Ma Nora- the lines Jacob exclaims in the Torah when he awakens to the presence
of holiness right where he was- the Jews from Berlin wondered, will Jews ever
feel at home anywhere? The chanting was alive with the energy of healing what
was happening in the room, -to calming very potent palpable fears, to bringing
us together from the three different groups-burning, burying, keeping the
chometz, to sooth tender hearts, to hold memories.
We also discovered MATZAH, as THE JEWISH TALKING STICK- holding it up to
tell our stories, as is the tradition, then eating it after having spoken. And the joy on people’s
faces as we chanted to each other to welcome the Shabbat queen, each other- the
lightness and joy in a room full of Jews in Berlin, discovered through ancient Jewish chants.
Sharing a Day of Jewish Practice in Berlini
During the retreat, we began and ended the days with traditional Jewish mindfulness practices. Our first words in the morning, upon awakening, were words of thankfulness- Modah ani lefanecha ruach chai vakayyam. Thankful am I before you, Living Spirit- Thankful am I because with a great love and faithfulness in me You have given a new day to do great things. What am I called upon to do today that is worthy of this great gift? This is how I begin my day, drawing on this prayer to connect with my highest aspirations for myself for this day.
And we ended each day by reciting the bedtime sh'ma, a prayer for forgiveness, the last words on our lips. Bedtime Sh'ma
As we practiced together day by day a community of love and understanding was created, a glimpse into the world where we celebrate and honor and benefit from each others' traditions. Healing the Past
Several of the Jews who joined the retreat told me this was the first time they had ever felt safe and welcomed to practice Judaism and explore their Jewishness in the presence of non Jews. One woman shared that when she was fourteen years old,she fled the Nazis and hid alone in the forest for nine months. I asked her how she survived. She told us that she was from a secular Jewish family and only knew one prayer-the Sh'ma. She survived the nine months by saying the Sh'ma over and over and over.
In our morning prayer service during the retreat I introduced the way of chanting the Sh'ma I have learned from Rabbi David and Shoshonna Cooper- sitting crossed legged we chant the first words- Sh'maYisroel-listen- you God Wrestlers- and bend to the right. Then we bend to the left as we chant the second words- Adonai Eloheynu- the great power we bow down to, our God. Then the third-Adonai Echad- the Great Oneness, chanting it twice as we bow to the center. We repeated this chant over and over, our voices coming together to create a powerful; energy of Unity and Oneness with the Divine Energy. The Sh'ma, the last words on the lips of millions who were killed in the camps, our call, our prayer to everyone to listen deeply to what is and recognize that All isOne. That violence and killing will stop and peace will come when we recognize that we are One before all that is.
I watched our friend who had chanted this alone in the forest for nine months as she chanted the Sh'ma now, with the sons and daughters of her persecutors, with her own son, with Jews who are calling out to plant Jewish seeds in the German soil.
The energy in the room transformed our hearts as we called out together for healing.
Jewish Eating Meditation Before each meal, we silently washed each other's hands, and together recited the Hebrew blessing to the Divine Way that has brought us to this moment in time when we are washing each other's hands, when we are standing togther, raising ourselves up from hatred and confusion to the light of ancient wisdom and truth.Receiving these gifts from earth and from each other's hands and hearts. In silence, we served ourselves the beautiful nourishng food so graciously and generously offered by the German Buddhist sangha. Then, before we began our silent meal together, we said Hebrew blessings over each type of food on our plate. Chewing the food silently, connecting with the source of the food, as the Jewish practice guides us to do, I felt a deep calm and gratitude for all that supports me in this life. As I sat under the brilliant red rhododendrons and roses in the garden, and watched the retreat participants eating mindfully under the sun, I felt hopeful that the Jewish spiritual tradition can offer guidance and support to healing the pain and suffering in the world.