Journey Through Israel 2012 – Hineini

Could you pinch me please? I am having a hard time believing it, but we are here—we are all here—in Israel, ready to embark on a new journey of self-discovery through the landscape and the people of this magical land.

I took a taxi from the airport to Jerusalem on Tuesday just as the sun was setting. It was one of these minibus cabs that sit 10 people. It’s cheaper to take those because all 10 passengers are sharing the costs, but it also means that, unless you are the first one on the route to be dropped off, you could be in for a long ride. I was the seventh. I could easily have been upset—exhausted as I was after a 20 hour flight—about the fact that it took me another two hours to get to my friends’ place instead of the normal 45 minutes it would have usually taken. But how could I be when I was treated to the most gorgeous lightshow. Dropping off one passenger at a time, the cab crisscrossed the many neighborhoods of North Jerusalem and I got to witness the thousands of Chanukah menorahs (or chanukiot) lit in the countless windows of hundreds of apartment buildings one street after another. What a sight! And if you missed the ones in the apartments’ windows, you could see the giant electric chanukiot at every street corner, every city square, every park, and on the roofs of government buildings and hotels, as well as in every little store on the street, from the wine shop to the mini mart, from the hairdresser to the falafel stand. Flickering candles everywhere.

Ahl ha-nisim v’al ha-nifla’ot” they sing here; dedicating their candles “for the miracles and the awe filled times.” And so our trip begins, with the keen awareness of the miracle of this and every moment, the miracle that Israel even exists, the miracle that we are here, the miracle of each day we wake up to no matter where we are on the planet. It begins with a sense of awe; a sense of gratitude and deep appreciation.

The very first stop of our trip, tomorrow morning, comes from a response to an invitation that came through Jana of a woodworker who builds the most amazing Arks, Torah reading tables and other religious artifacts out of wood. I shared with our group how perfect I thought it was that we get to start our journey here visiting with a Jewish carpenter!

Ahl ha-nisim v’al ha-nifla’ot… Hineini – I am here.

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.

[Read more…]

Read Rabbi Olivier’s interview in Artocratic Magazine

Rabbi Olivier BenHaim on Nondual Judaism
by Emily Alhadeff

Rabbi Olivier BenHaim heads Seattle-based Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue, where he leads his congregation in rediscovering ancient  Jewish mystical practices that have close analogs within the Eastern nondual spiritual practices and philosophy found in Buddhism and Hinduism. On behalf of Artocratic, Emily Alhadeff set out to discover how Rabbi Olivier could interpret as nondual a religion whose teachings are traditionally based on the idea of separateness. Rabbi Olivier, who after a crisis of Jewish faith began practicing Buddhism, came to Meditative Judaism through Seattle’s Rabbi Ted Falcon. Among his many goals, he seeks to support and engage Jews who have become interested in Eastern spirituality. His embrace of major elements from mystical and Chasidic traditions informs his rather alternative, sometimes radical ideas around such fundamental concepts as sin, the idea of Jews as the “chosen people,” and navigating the moral terrain of absolute and relative realities.

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Bet Alef in The JT News

Bet Alef was featured in this article in the JT News on September 28, 2010.

The Synagogue Chronicles: Bet Alef Meditational Synagogue continues to thrive and grow
Emily Keeler Alhadeff • JTNews Correspondent








Rabbi Olivier BenHaim does a demonstration of the lulav and etrog in Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue’s during a gathering at their sukkah.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Rabbi Olivier BenHaim and six members of the Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue huddled in the community sukkah over hot apple cider and ginger snaps. After leading the group in a few deep, centering breaths and a chant of “shalom,” BenHaim began his talk about the Kabbalah of Sukkot. Read More..