Select Section Jewish Culture & Yiddish: 24JEWISH ALERTS large selection videos and feeds in each section

Zalmen Shneour and Shloyme Gilber


10-11 February 2014

Program hosted by Boris Sandler;

Zalmen Shneour (1886-1959) : Hebrew and Yiddish poet and prose-writer,
Shloyme Gilbert (1885-1942): Poet and playwright with mysterious tendencies in his work

Israel Zinberg, Issachar Ryback, Zemach Shabad


Program hosted by Boris Sandler

Israel Zinberg (1873-1939) Literary-historian, author of the 11-volume “History of Jewish Literature.”

Issachar Ryback (1897-1935) Avant-garde painter, book-illustrator

Zemach Shabad (1864-1935) Famous doctor, respected communal activist in Vilna, editor of medical publications in Yiddish.

VOICES: How Your Home Décor Reflects Who You Are
How Your Home Décor Reflects Who You Are
Adar I 10, 5774 · February 10, 2014

Recently we moved, and I had the opportunity to make our new house into a home. And so, I had fun injecting my personal tastes into my surroundings while I went about decorating. Paint colors, furniture placement, light fixtures, window coverings—from small to big, there were lots of decisions to make.

Being an independent thinker, I had definite tastes of how I wanted my home to look. But I also became aware of a current trend in home décor that I related to.

The popular trend is not to be too “matchy matchy”: that a room shouldn’t look too “staged” by professional decorators; that it shouldn’t look too “perfect.”

The idea is to bring your own personality and life story into your surroundings, and make your rooms reflect who you are. Your home should tell “your story”—not a decorator’s story—of your personal history, your background, your likes, interests and hobbies.

The colors you choose should reflect your moods, not necessarily what’s “in.” The mementos you exhibit should reveal your dreams and past (or current) experiences. The artwork you display is less about flawless techniques or artistic disciplines, and more about how it reflects your inner self and inner world.

So, beauty nowadays, at least in our homes, isn’t about perfect symmetry or perfectly matching decorative pillows, but is more about expressing our own unique individuality.

Our sages describe the purpose of the creation of our world as G‑d wanting a “home here in our physical reality.”

G‑d specifically wanted a home here in the mundane physical world, which is seemingly inhospitable to spirituality, that could be transformed into a place where He feels comfortable, into an environment that reflects His truth.

On the one hand, the physical world is the greatest concealment of divine truth. The physical seems to deny a spiritual reality, or anything other than the very existence of its own material self.

But on the other hand, the very fact that we can take this reality and imbue it with a higher G‑dly meaning makes it the greatest expression of how even something mundane can be sanctified to serve its Creator.

This is the meaning of the “décor” in the Holy Temple. We were given exact specifications on how to build it, including which materials to use, such as gold, silver, copper, and purple- and blue-dyed material. G‑d is telling us to use our “gold,” all our material reality, and build it into an environment that will make Him feel “at home.”

And the same is true with our homes.

So, the current trend advises us, don’t make your home décor imitate the physical tastes of what others consider pretty. Let it reflect you.

Judaism teaches us that our homes can be a mikdash me’at, a miniature Holy Temple, reflecting our inner, spiritual selves.

None of us are picture-perfect. But all of us are unique. Your home is more than a physical structure of wood or stone; it is a spiritual temple where your true self, your inner beauty and soul can feel at home.

© Davora Lilian

Something to think about the next time you select something as part of your home décor . . .

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By Chana Weisberg    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

Chana Weisberg is a writer, editor and lecturer. She authored several books, including her latest, Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. She has served as the dean of several women’s educational institutes, and lectures internationally on issues relating to women, faith, relationships and the Jewish soul.

PARENTING: 10 Tips to Prevent Cyberbullying in Your Child’s Life
10 Tips to Prevent Cyberbullying in Your Child’s Life
Adar I 10, 5774 · February 10, 2014

A 12-year-old girl in Florida recently leapt to her death after she was relentlessly bullied by her classmates. Even after she switched schools, the bullying continued—online.

The brave new world of technology has spawned a monster: the cyberbully. For those unfamiliar with the termcyberbullying, according to the website it is “bullying that takes place using electronic technology . . . Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or e‑mails, rumors sent by e‑mail or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites or fake profiles.”

Cyberbullying is a real and serious threat to the wellbeing of our children. For all the positive advancements and convenience electronic

Even after she switched schools, the bullying continued—online

devices such as cell phones and computers bring to our lives, there also lurks a sinister side to this technology that cannot be ignored. It is beyond disturbing to think that such a device, in the hands of thoughtless youth, can morph into a weapon with the potential to drive another human being to take his or her own life.

The statistics on cyberbullying are alarming. According to, a website for teens that addresses social issues, nearly 43 percent of all kids have been bullied online, 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once, and only 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of the abuse. Most disturbing, as reported on this same website, those being cyberbullied are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider committing suicide.

More insidious and lethal than the garden-variety schoolyard bully of yesteryear, the cyberbully targets his or her victim with e‑mails, tweets and texts, rendering impotent the old adage that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” If the perpetrator’s aim is accurate, striking countless blows to the most vulnerable girl or boy in any social or classroom setting, the words dohurt; in fact, they have the potential to kill.

The Jewish perspective on verbal (and nonverbal) abuse is simple yet eloquent: “You shall not wrong one another, and you shall fear your G‑d.”1 Rashi clarifies: “This refers to verbal oppression (ona’at devarim), namely that a person may not antagonize another, nor give him bad advice in order to benefit himself. And if you were to ask, ‘Who would ever know my secret intentions?’ the verse ends with ‘fear G‑d,’ the One who knows.”

Parents need to carefully consider whether or not to allow the Internet into their home. The Internet can bring a variety of negative influences into the home, of which cyberbullying is only one example. If you do decide to allow the Internet, here are some precautions to take to protect your child from becoming a victim, a bystander, or even the instigator of cyberbullying:

  1. Know your child’s passwords and screen names for all e‑mail accounts, social media applications and electronic devices. Allow your child to have a Facebook or Twitter account only if you can be friends/followers.
  2. Monitor what your child writes on his or her electronic device(s) and the family computer. Regularly check the Internet search history. (The girl who committed suicide in Florida had searched for ways to kill herself, which was discovered later in her search history.)
  3. Learn the current terminology used by youth today when corresponding with each other.
  4. Attend school or community functions where cyberbullying is being discussed. Talk with other parents and your child’s
    Learn the current terminology

    teacher and school counselor if you suspect your child is involved in cyberbullying.

  5. Watch for any sudden or ongoing signs that your child seems anxious, fearful, withdrawn, or uninterested in school or being with former friends.
  6. Demonstrate to your child that you can be trusted with any cyberbullying information he or she shares with you. Explain that you will keep his or her confidence as long as no one’s safety or health is at risk.
  7. Explain that you don’t intend to punish your child for being truthful about his or her involvement in cyberbullying. Keep the lines of communication as open as possible with careful, non-threatening conversation.
  8. Carefully monitor your own reaction if your child reports being cyberbullied. Try to stay calm as you plan your next steps.
  9. In an age-appropriate manner, explain what happened in Florida, or in a similar cyberbullying situation, and your concern that such a terrible thing must never happen in your family or any other family.
  10. Remind your child to treat others the way he or she would like to be treated. Teach your child to never say or write anything about another person that he or she would not be willing or comfortable to say to that person’s face.

Unfortunately, the frequency of cyberbullying is on the rise, especially among middle-school-age students. Because it is every parent’s responsibility to protect his or her child from harm, consider discussing the dangers of cyberbullying with your kids today.

1. Leviticus 25:17.
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By Suzanne Handler    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

Suzanne Handler’s professional background as a classroom history teacher led to a 26-year career as a mental health educator. Since her retirement, she has researched and published a book about the stigma of mental illness in her own family: The Secrets They Kept: The True Story of a Mercy Killing That Shocked a Town and Shamed a Family. Ms. Handler’s essays and articles have been published on numerous sites, including the Denver Post, the Rocky Mountain News, Senior Wire Services, and

A short history of Jewish meditation

A short history of Jewish meditation

Posted: 10 Feb 2014 06:29 AM PST

Buddhistjewishcenterv2-214x300“Would you consider teaching or writing something about Jewish meditation?” a congregant asked me recently. “I think people wonder sometimes whether it’s really Jewish.”

Contemplative practice in Judaism has taken a variety of forms, and bears a variety of names, but it’s been a part of Judaism for a very long time. (“Contemplative practice” is an umbrella term which covers a variety of practices; meditation is one of those practices.) Let’s start here: maybe you know that traditional Jewish practice includes praying three times a day. The traditional explanation for that thrice-daily prayer regimen teaches either that we do this in remembrance of the offerings at the Temple of old, or that we do this in remembrance of the patriarchs (or both.)

We read in Torah that Abraham connected with God in the morning, Isaac in the afternoon, and Jacob in the evening, so we do the same. And in Torah, what form did that connection take? In Genesis 24:63, when Isaac went out לָשׂוּחַ / la’suach in the fields, what exactly was going on? According to the classical JPS translation, that verb means “to meditate.” So one could make the case that from the patriarchs on, Jewish prayer has always had a meditative component.

Later, during the time of the Tanna’im (the 1st and 2nd centuries of the Common Era), Jewish mystics sought to elevate their souls by meditating on the chariot visions of Ezekiel. This became a whole school of contemplative practices known as merkavah mysticism. Some of their practices were re-imagined and re-interpreted by later mystical and contemplative movements in Jewish tradition.

Meanwhile, the sages of our tradition were discussing the proper balance of keva (fixed form) and kavanah (intention or meditative focus) in Jewish prayer. Some went so far as to argue that prayer without the right meditative intention doesn’t actually count. In the days of the Tanna’im, communal prayer frequently took the form of variations on known themes, where a skilled prayer-leader would improvise new words on the existing themes of the prayers. Over time, those improvised words were written down, and by the Middle Ages became fixed in more-or-less the forms we know today.

5348873Kabbalah (the branch of the mystical tradition which began around the 11th century) features all kinds of contemplative / meditative practices. These included visualization practices (imagining Hebrew letters and focusing on Divine Names), letter combination practices (mentally combining and recombining Hebrew letters in order to elevate the mind to a higher plane of consciousness), and practices of contemplating different sefirot (aspects or facets of God) — all of which had the goal, in one way or another, of uniting one’s soul with God in a state of devekut, “cleaving” or union. (This was the subject of my undergraduate thesis, so I can go on about it at some length. I’ll spare y’all the long version, though if this is interesting to you, let’s have coffee sometime!)

There’s a teaching in the Gemara about the Hasidim rishonim, the first generation of pious Jews, who before sitting down to pray the morning service would first meditate for an hour in order to be able to bring full concentration and intention to reciting the prayers’ words — and after the morning service, would meditate for an hour in order to let the prayers fully percolate into their hearts and souls. Two hours of contemplative practice for every one hour of liturgical prayer: holy wow!

Much later in our history, the movement we now call Hasidism, which began with the Baal Shem Tov in the 18th century, inherited those meditative practices along with the kabbalistic aspiration of seeking devekut with God. A variety of contemplative practices arose in Hasidic communities. One is hitbonenut, “contemplation.” In some Hasidic schools this term connotes intellectual contemplation of divinity — particularly in Chabad, the branch of Hasidism whose name is an acronym for three divine modes of knowing (chochmahbinah, and da’at — wisdom, understanding, and insight.)

Another form of Hasidic contemplative practice is hitbodedut, which means “self-seclusion” — for instance, walking alone in the woods and communing with God. This was the practice of the Hasidic master known as Reb Nachman of Bratzlav. He frequently engaged in what we would call “walking meditation,” walking alone in nature, while speaking aloud with God along the way. Here’s a tiny taste of a prayer attributed to Reb Nachman:

How wonderful it would be if we were worthy of hearing the song of the grass!
Every blade of grass sings a pure song to God, expecting nothing in return.
It is wonderful to hear its song and to worship God in its midst!

(That prayer can be found in A Hidden Light: Stories and Teachings of Early HaBad and Bratzlav Hasidism, by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Netanel Miles-Yepez.) This form of contemplative practice tends to be fairly solitary, spontaneous, and unstructured; its goal is to establish a close relationship with God.

In the Mussar (ethical self-improvement) school which developed in 19th-century Europe, contemplative practices were refined and reframed in yet another way. One Mussar meditative practice features focusing on different middot, character-traits or qualities which we can seek to cultivate in ourselves. (These include qualities like patience, lovingkindness, order, humility, and so on.) There are visualization-based Mussar meditative practices, too. Many contemporary Mussar teachers advocate taking time each day to sit in silence and simply notice how one’s mind wanders.

Gse_multipart66229All of this may sound unusual to those of us who are most familiar with the Jewish practice of liturgical prayer, known in Hebrew as tefilah. We may have the notion that meditation is something Buddhists do on their cushions, whereas Jews engage in  something different altogether! Except… I’m not so sure it’s all that different. I think there’s a clue to the meditative quality of Jewish worship in the very word we most frequently use to mean prayer.

The Hebrew word tefilah comes from the root l’hitpallel, “to judge oneself.” The fact that we use the word tefilah to mean “prayer” hints that our liturgical prayer has at least two purposes. One purpose is to help us connect with God (whatever we understand that term to mean); the other purpose is to take a long deep look inside ourselves, to see who we most truly are, to become aware of our consciousness and our thought processes, and to guide ourselves toward becoming the people we most intend to be. Tefilah is meant to connect us both outwards / upwards / God-wards — and inwards / downwards / into our deepest selves. Both of those directions can involve contemplative practice.

As I’ve grown more familiar with our (occasionally wordy) liturgy, I’ve come to love the idea that even our wordiest liturgical prayer can be understood as a contemplative practice. Of course, in order to be able to experience rapidfire Hebrew prayer as a contemplative practice, one needs to know the words so well that they become transparent and flow from one’s lips without effort — which can be a tall order for most contemporary Jews, for whom the Hebrew may be challenging and the siddur‘s ancient metaphors distancing. Many of us who are not able to reach meditative states through speedy recitation of Hebrew prayers choose instead to daven shorter versions of the prayers, bringing greater intention and attention to each word.

If you’ve ever seen a page in a prayerbook dedicated to an image made out of Hebrew letters and words — perhaps an archway, perhaps a menorah, perhaps a tree — that’s another very old Jewish meditative practice. It’s called a shviti, after the verse shviti Adonai k’negdi tamid, “I keep God before me always” (Psalm 16:8.) The idea is to gaze at the words which make up the image and to contemplate the words and the letters as a way of keeping God foremost in one’s consciousness. (I’ve written about shvitis before.) Some people carry a shviti with them on a keychain or on a wallet-sized piece of art, in order to be reminded of God’s presence every where they go.

LtCenterOffersMeditationSome forms of Jewish contemplative practice borrow concepts and terminology from Western mindfulness practices which may be familiar to other practitioners of meditation — such as “following the breath,” “exhaling the tension from your body,” “noticing how the mind wanders.” Others are explicitly Jewish in origin and terminology. For example, letter-meditations featuring the four-letter Name of God, where one inhales on the י, exhales on the ה, inhales on the ו, exhales on the second ה. (That’s a breathing meditation which allows every pair of breaths to be a recitation of the divine name.) Or the shviti visualization meditation I mentioned a moment ago. There are also embodied Jewish meditation practices which map the sefirot (the diagram of divine qualities, usually conceptualized as a sort of tree) onto the human body and direct energy and attention from one to the next.

At my shul, Jewish contemplative practice takes three different forms. At our Friday morning meditation minyan, we spend half an hour consciously entering into Jewish meditation practices. We follow our breath as it comes and goes, rises and falls; we notice our thoughts as they arise, and without judgement let them drift away; and then depending on the teaching I offer midway through the session, we either engage in guided meditation, or contemplate a quality we wish to cultivate, or reflect on the week now ending in order to process its ups and downs and let it go before Shabbat. That’s one way we engage in Jewish contemplative practice.

Sitting-in-a-chair-meditation1A few times a year, I lead an explicitly contemplative Shabbat morning service. That’s a service which takes the form of chant interspersed with silence. We don’t skip any prayers or any of the elements of prayer which are required in order for a person to be yotzei (to have fulfilled the obligation of davening), but instead of reciting each prayer in full-text form, we chant only one or two lines of each, over and over, allowing the meaning of the words to soak in to our hearts and souls. Then we sit in silence for a few moments as the prayer’s meaning continues to resonate and reverberate in us before we move on to the next chant. That’s a second way we engage in Jewish contemplative practice.

And the third form happens frequently during the Shabbat morning services I lead, the “regular” ones which aren’t explicitly contemplative. Every time we reach a kaddish, and I remind us that the kaddish is a doorway in the service from one part of the service to the next, and invite us to pause for a moment, and take a deep breath, and see what we’re feeling in that moment, and then to carry that feeling (whatever it may be) into the next part of our prayers? That’s a Jewish contemplative practice, right there, and that’s a third way that we can enter into this ancient tradition.

Jewish contemplative practice can take the form of Torah study, chanting, sitting in meditation (not necessarily in “lotus position” or sitting on meditation cushions — you can meditate sitting comfortably in a regular chair if that’s what works for you), walking in nature, gazing at names of God (on the printed page or in one’s imagination), focusing on personal qualities we want to cultivate, reciting the prayers in our siddur with deep intention and attention…and more. Many of these meditative practices are as old as our prayers. And all of them have deep roots in classical Jewish tradition.

Meditation4Recommended resources:

If this is interesting to you, don’t miss Rabbi Jeff Roth’s Jewish Meditation Practices for Everyday Life: Awakening Your Heart, Connecting With GodHe’s the founder of the Awakened Heart Project, which has as its mission “to promote the use of Jewish contemplative techniques that foster the development of a heart of wisdom and compassion.” Rabbi Roth’s focus, both in the book and in his organization, is bringing meaningful spiritual practice to life.

For a different perspective, I also recommend Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’sJewish Meditation: A Practical Guide. Rabbi Kaplan is an Orthodox rabbi, and his book explores the deep history of Jewish meditation as well as offering “a guide to a variety of meditative techniques: mantra meditation (with suggested phrases and Bible verses to use as mantras); contemplation; visualization; experiencing nothingness (which he does not recommend for beginners); conversing with God; and prayer.” (That’s from the Amazon description.)

If you’re in or near the Boston area, you might want to check out Nishmat Hayyim (Breath of Life): the Jewish Meditationcollaborative based in Boston.

Rabbi Sheila Weinberg, author of Surprisingly Happy: An Atypical Religious Memoir, is also a good resource for Jewish contemplative practices. You can listen to a podcast of some of her teachings here at the Awakened Heart Project. Speaking of which, there’s wonderful series of podcasts at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, by Rabbi Sheila Weinberg and many others, which draw on Jewish contemplative practice(s).

(I welcome suggestions of other resources in comments!)

to promote the use of Jewish contemplative techniques that foster the development of a heart of wisdom and compassion. Cultivating an awakened heart leads to acting in the world with loving-kindness towards all beings recognizing them as manifestations of the Holy One of Being. – See more at:
to promote the use of Jewish contemplative techniques that foster the development of a heart of wisdom and compassion. Cultivating an awakened heart leads to acting in the world with loving-kindness towards all beings recognizing them as manifestations of the Holy One of Being. – See more at:
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