Thursday, March 26, 2015

Netilat Yadyim (Hand Washing)

3/24/15 Lab 1.0 by Robyn Awend

We began the Lab with Rabbi Davis leading us in a song based on Psalm 145:16 by Rabbi Shefa Gold: Poteiah et yadekah u-masbiah l’kol hai razon – You open Your Hand, I open my heart to his abundance; and all life, all will is satisfied.  After several rounds of this communal singing, we explored various forms of hand washing – purity vs. spiritual preparation (to serve others and G-d):
We discussed excerpts from the following books:

·       Sefer HaHinnukh, Mitzvah 106

We also looked at Exodus 30:13-19 and discussed the holy vessel, the bronze laver, referencing commentary and shared thoughts.  

“Netilay Yadyim can help you raise up your reason for living each day. Instead of just “getting by”in life, you have the chance to take action for a higher purpose, to experience avodah (being of service) – by Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried.

We then set an intention for using our hands and went around the table and completed the following sentence. “My hands are for -----?” Some of the responses included, “creating, giving, lifting, loving, connecting, etc.”

We then read, Bless These Hands by Diann Neu, from EarthPrayers. In closing, Rabbi Davis walked us through the 4 step procedure for washing one’s hands and invited us to join him as we sang the melody by Rabbi Shefa Gold once again.

Following Rabbi Davis, Liba presented us with a table filled with colorful paints and a variety of hand washing vessels. We were invited to take a vessel and begin to make it our own. As the group painted and adorned, we discussed hand washing rituals at our own homes and special traditions that are celebrated during Passover, as it nears. At the end of the session, there was a beautiful variety of hand washing vessels, each one unique with its own story. I look forward to using mine this Shabbat.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Water Rituals

Kos Miriam  sketch by Susan Armington
3/17/2015  Lab 2.0  by Susan Weinberg

What is ritual and why do we do it?

Thus started our latest session of the Artists' Lab led by Rani Halpern and Alison Morse.

It adds structure we replied. It brings things to mind, presents a physical way to tap spirituality. It brings meaning and order to our lives. Ritual marks time, defines our movement from the ordinary to the sacred. It connects us to prior generations, links us to people across the world.

But it can divide too we were reminded.

So what are Jewish rituals that involve water?

Washing hands

Salt water at the Seder

The mikvah

Tashlich-casting our sins on the water at Rosh Hashanah

Tarhara-ritual washing of the dead

Alison led us in a discussion of Tashlich where we cast off the past and start anew at the Jewish New Year. The ritual involves tossing bread in the water to represent our sins. Ideally we go to a river with fish representing that we are caught in a net of divine judgment. Fish have eyes that are always open representing God's eyes always upon us. Sin, like the waters, will move on thus creating a separation, a rupture between past and future.

Alison shared a powerful poem by Peter Cole titled The Song of the Shattering Vessels that speaks to rupture, a theme throughout our discussion.

Building on that theme Rani shared a poem with us from the blog of Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi Blog. The poem titled Firmament/Tearing explores a medieval Midrash based on Genesis 1:6-7. While the passage in Genesis speaks of God dividing the water between sky and earth, the Midrash tells of all the waters ascending and refusing to descend. God extended his finger and tore the waters in half forcing half to descend. Two words come into play, Keri'a which means "tear" and Raki'a which means "expanse". Each is an anagram of the other. The Midrash says "God said, let there be an expanse (Raki'a)--do not read expanse, but "tear" (Keri'a)".

This passage presents an analogy between human birth and God's creation. Each involves a tear in the waters to allow space for independent life.

Keri'a is in fact a ritual associated with death. At one time a Jew in mourning would tear their clothing. Now we receive a krea ribbon which we tear. We enter life with a tear and similarly we leave it with a tear.

Rani referenced the Jewish folklore about how the baby in utero can see everything before and to come. A touch by an angel at birth causes the child to forget and creates that indentation above our lips. Thus something is given up for something that is coming.

As a group of artists we recognized the destructive part of the creative act. Disruption is part of the process of creation.

We turned our attention to Miriam's Well. Miriam is the only female figure in the Torah who is not known as someone's wife or mother. When the Israelites left Egypt, God created a well that traveled with them for 40 years. Water went out from the well to the twelve tribes. It was known as Miriam's well and dried up upon her death. At that point Moses struck the rock for water.

A new ritual has begun to develop at Passover around the idea of Miriam's Well. The Kos Miriam, cup of Miriam, is filled with water as a symbol of Miriam's Well. It represents spirituality, nurturing and healing. While not created as a feminist symbol, some have interpreted it to represent the many untold women of the Torah.

We talked of where in the Seder we thought this ritual belonged. Suggestions included using it to fill water glasses and keeping a little bit within it or alternatively having each person pour some water into it.

We then each experimented with creating on paper a Miriam's cup for use at the Seder.

Alison and Rani left us with the following question to contemplate:

What kind of freedom might you want to help bring to others and/or yourself in honor of Passover? What might you have to leave behind, give up, tear or break away from, in order to help create that freedom?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Capturing Faith

3/10/2015. Joint Lab by Robyn Awend, MPLS Artists’ Lab Coordinator

We welcomed visiting artist Jon Adam Ross to our joint Lab on Tuesday night, a renowned performing artist from New York. Jon recently received on a Covenant Foundation signature grant to support his new artistic initiative, the Inheiritance Project. The Covenant Foundation also funds the Regional Jewish Artists’ Laboratory of the Upper Midwest. The essence of this project is to create a series of five performances in five different cities, inspired by the matriarchs and patriarchs of Genesis, that engages Jewish communities around the country at every stage of the process. Minneapolis/St. Paul was chosen to be the first host community for this national project!

Jon began the Lab with an introduction to his project and to the patriarch Abraham that would inspire our evening and serve as the catalyst for his performance this fall. Jon’s infectious enthusiasm permeated the room as he shared with us the details of his project, its many ambitious moving parts, and the important role that the Artists’ Lab would play in the creative process.

We were introduced to Miranda July’s website, Learning to Love You More, and Yoko Ono’s book, Grapefruit, each filled with unusual, creative and interactive assignments open to any and all.For example, assignment #18 on the Learning to Love You More website invites people to recreate a poster from your teenage years and post it. This is just one of several dozen suggested interactive assignments.

You could hear the creative gears churning as we sifted through these various assignments, excited to apply this inspiration to a similar website being created as part of the Inheiritance Project to engage the larger community in interactive experiences leading up to Jon’s performance in the fall. Jon shared with us some of the key themes that emerged from various prior study sessions and conversations with others in the community surrounding the story of Abraham – hospitality, history repeating itself, joining, etc. We broke up into small groups, explored one topic at a time and brainstormed practical, bizarre, humorous and sensitive assignments relating to each topic.

Some of the highlights that were shared in our large group discussion included:

o Spend two hours decorating a helium balloon and then let it go.
o Keep a journal of all of the lies you tell to avoid confrontation
o Create a map without a journey
o Photograph or artistically capture “faith”

Jon was accompanied by his wonderful traveling crew; Director - Chantal, David - Photographer, Glenn - Publicist/writer, and Ilana – filmmaker, each of whom added something special to our evening.

Jon will be in the Twin Cities through March 19 engaging over 700 people, dozens of demographics and exploring a variety of media. This project concludes with a premier performance the weekend of September 9th, 2015.

The Inheiritance Project is made possible through a grant from the Covenant Foundation and the support of FJC: AFoundation of Philanthropic Funds.

To learn more about the Inheiritance Project,