Archives for November 2011

One The Event – Recap

Inspired by the 10th anniversary of 9/11, thousands of people gathered online and at the Seattle Center on 9/11/2011 to launch a movement in rebuilding our relationships with love and kindness and to celebrate global unity. Rabbi Olivier BenHaim was at Memorial Stadium for the Healing and Forgiveness Ceremony to reflect and lead a prayer.

Here is a short video of Rabbi Olivier BenHaim at One The Event

Watch live streaming video from peacedaytv at


For more information about One The event, please visit their website.


Israel Trip: In The Peoples’ Eyes – Last Days

Our Israel trip is winding down. We have one more day in Jerusalem and, after dinner tonight, we will all drive back to Ben Gurion airport to catch our Seattle-bound flights. We spent the last two days in Jerusalem already, beginning with Yad Vashem—the Holocaust Museum—on our first morning and ending with the holy sites of the Old City yesterday afternoon and evening. These are the kind of days that no words can convey, the kind of experiences that mere sentences cannot contain, express or even reflect.

What stands out for me is the gift that Jana, in her masterful organizing of these trips, allows all of us to receive; the gift to meet the people of the land. We met her Israeli friend Miki on our first dinner in Tel Aviv. Then it was Dudu, the next morning, who owns this most amazing middle-eastern home-style-cooking restaurant in her neighborhood, and the “spice guy” in the Tel Aviv shuk. We met a Druze family in the Galilee, shared in the most incredible lunch there, and got to listen to the stories and history of this unique people. In Jerusalem we walked through the different quarters of the Old City. We spent time in the Arab shuk, ate at one of my favorite hummus places, and had baklavas with mint tea in a little coffee shop. We shopped in different places, listened to the most amazing stories from the shop keepers and overall got a real sense of the life of the people of Jerusalem.

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Israel Trip: An Oasis And a Fortress – Day 6

There is an oasis in the middle of the Judean desert called Ein Gedi. Israelis built a kibbutz there many decades ago and transformed it into an internationally recognized botanical garden where the most astonishing species of flowers, coexist alongside the richest varieties of cacti and palm trees. The whole place is a version of the Garden of Eden by the shores of the Dead Sea. It is warm and beautiful, and it is where we spent the last couple of days. We are SO lucky!

Yesterday, we drove fifteen minutes from the kibbutz to ascend King Herod’s desert fortress of Masada. As our little group was climbing up the steep “snake path” I found myself transported 2,000 years earlier, connected to those who made the journey up endless times, bringing to Herod’s palace the finest mosaic pieces, construction supplies, and dozens of amphorae filled with the best Italian wine money could buy. What Herod had built there, in the middle of the unbearably hot desert, is nothing short of a miracle and an incredible feat of human engineering genius. But history only remembers the end results, only celebrates the accomplishments, and rarely accounts for the human cost associated with them. That is because history is of the mind. History is goal oriented, result focused, legacy preoccupied; and all these are the concern of the mind, of the ego. The ego needs to leave behind a physical proof of its existence as a postponement of its death, an extension of its life into eternity. The cost to others, the cost to the biosphere, becomes simply labeled as collateral damage.

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Israel Trip: Up in The Air – Day 5

The day started in meditation. Our practice was about holding in awareness all of our sensations, emotions and thoughts with love and compassion; to open our heart to what is, to fully receive the moment without resisting it or wanting it to be any different than it is. To receive in Hebrew is Kabbalah. This morning was about practicing Kabbalah, practicing simply receiving, being unreservedly available to what is.

The meditation set the tone for our visit of the Kabbalistic town of Tsfat in the northern part of Israel; the town that harbored some of the greatest Jewish mystics that ever walked the earth. There are a few places in the world that are filled with soul energies like Tsfat is. One of the four holy cities of Israel, Tsfat is associated with the element of air; when Hebron is associated with earth (since our three patriarchs are buried there) Tiberias with water (being on a lake) and Jerusalem with fire (being the place where the Temple’s sacrificial altar was.) Tsfat is air because, geographically, it is the highest town in Israel; and when we drove in, it was still in the clouds. Tsfat is also the mystical soul of Israel when “air” in Hebrew is also ruach which means “spirit.”

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Israel Trip: Out With The Old – Day Two

Tel Aviv is the contrast between the old and the new. In 1909, a group of Jews left the millennia old town of Jaffa where they had resettled decades earlier after leaving their native Europe, in order to build a new city on what, at the time, were only sand dunes by the Mediterranean shores.

Tel Aviv, therefore, expresses the courage of a few—60-or-so Jewish families—to break out of the status quo, to take the risk and follow a vision with fearless courage; leaving behind the comfort of the known, of the established, to create something out of nothing. Jaffa is unique with its cobblestone streets and its ancient homes built to face the 100 degree humid weather of the summer months, the eroding power of the salty assaults of the winds from the sea and the sands of the desert around it. Building a new “suburb” to Jaffa (as Tel Aviv was originally called) on these sand dunes was a feat of untold bravery and dedication to an incredible ideal. Such commitment helps us touch, for a moment, that part of self that is reflected in the courage of these 6o families. We are moved by their story because it is our story. It reminds us that we, too, are capable of breaking through old patterns of habits and comfort; that within us are soul-energies that move us beyond our ego-bound complacency and acceptance of the status-quo, to stir us to evolve and grow beyond the rampart of our own inner old-city.

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Israel Trip: Getting Our Feet Wet – Day One

Greetings from Tel Aviv!!

The whole group is here, safe and sound, and finally got together tonight for the first time. All of us went out for dinner at this restaurant on the Tel Aviv promenade by the beach. Just picture if you can, nine of us trying to order from this poor Israeli server, with me in the middle doing my best to translate everyone’s questions back and forth. Comical! I think we’re going to have a lot of fun on this trip! At some point the poor server gave up and sat down next to me and said in Hebrew “OK, just translate for me what everybody wants and I’ll just sit here and write it down.” But this was mostly a sweet time to share together, a time to reconnect and listen to each other’s stories, especially because we all wanted to hear from those who had been traveling around Israel and Jordan in the past few days. And it sounded like everybody had a terrific time.

My choosing to name this first blog post “Getting Our Feet Wet” is no mistake, as you will understand in a moment. But before I get there, do you ever get the sense that there is a Presence guiding your processes and helping you look at your personal story from beyond the literal level? This is what’s happening to me right now as I am writing. I just thought to myself (not being a native speaker): “I wonder where this expression—‘getting your feet wet’—came from?” So I asked Rabbi Google and here is what I found:

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Torah Reflections: November 13 – November 19, 2011

Parashah (portion) Chayei Sarah – The Legacy of Isaac and Ishmael
Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

Foreword: Since I will be in Israel for the next couple of weeks and won’t be able to write my weekly Torah Reflections, I thought you would have enough time to read a slightly longer piece this time. This was originally an article I wrote for the Seattle Jewish Transcript newspaper which you can still find in its online version here.

A surprising turn of events happens in this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah. We read:

Abraham breathed his last and died in good ripe age, old and satisfied, and was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah… [Gen. 25:8-9]

What are Isaac and Ishmael doing here together? This is the first we hear of them since each of their traumatic experiences at the hand of their father. Some seventy-three years earlier–as far as Ishmael is concerned–Abraham attempted to kill him by casting him and his mother out to die in the wilderness. He and his father had remained estranged ever since. The same holds true for Isaac after the Akedah, his binding and near sacrifice. Despite the fact that an angel intervenedin the last momentto stay Abraham’s hand, Isaac saw that his father was ready and willing to sacrifice him. Arguably, from Isaac’s perspective the angelic intervention didn’t make a difference. Even though the blade of the sacrificial knife never touches him, it may as well have, as their father-son relationship was severed for good. Isaac does not come down from Mount Moriah with Abraham; in fact, there is no record of the two having contact ever again.

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Bet Alef Visits Food Lifeline – October 2011

On October 29th, 2011, 28 volunteers from Bet Alef gathered at Food Lifeline to repack 7,168 pounds of sweet potato fries. In 3 hours, our work contributed to 6,516 meals distributed across the Puget Sound. Amazing!  A special thanks to Richard Hodgin for organizing and leading our group of volunteers.

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Introducing: Our New Greater Community Events Page

You asked for it, you got it! We are excited to announce that there is now a Greater Community Events page on the Bet Alef website.  On this page, you will find a listing of upcoming Jewish and Interfaith events happening around the Puget Sound.  This page is updated regularly, so check back often to find out what is happening in our Greater Community.

Torah Reflections: October 30 – November 5, 2011

Parashah (portion) Lech Lecha – What We Are Called Upon to Do
Genesis 12:1 – 17:27

Ramban, Rabbi Moses Nachmanides (13th century Spain,) comments at length on a verse in the Torah which does not seem to hold much importance in the early unfolding of Abraham’s narrative, as he leaves Haran after heeding God’s “Lech Lecha,” God’s calling, and eventually journeys to the land of Canaan. There, the text continues:

Abram traversed the land as far as the site of Shechem, as far as Eilon Moreh. The Canaanites were then present in the land. [Genesis 12:6]

Why does the Torah record so precisely all of Abram’s stops as he wanders through Canaan? Ramban answers by instructing his reader to take note of a critical principle in reading Torah to be learned from this verse. He writes: “Everything that occurred to the Patriarchs is a sign [omen] for their descendants.” Shechem is mentioned, he explains, because it will be conquered not only by Jacob’s sons in retaliation for Dinah’s defilement, but also by Joshua later on. Eilon Moreh is the region where Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal are located, atop which the Israelites will later pronounce blessings and curses as Moses commanded (Deut: 11:29) as they begin the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 8:30-35.) The mention of the presence of the Canaanites refers to the four-generation delay in the conquest of Canaan because, Ramban interprets, the Canaanites had not yet sinned gravely enough as a people in the eyes of God.

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