Rabbi's Notes (reprinted from the 2019 Megillah)
I am starting to think about the Pesach seder, and in particular about yachatz—the breaking of the middle matzah. Some of my friends have been writing words for a yachatz ritual, and they asked me to help them edit it. So I have been thinking anew about rituals in which you break things.
Fairly early in the seder, the middle matzah is lifted up and broken in half. The larger half of the matzah is hidden away, to be searched for and returned in the end as the afikomen. Many of us, I’m sure, have multiple memories of someone, maybe a child, triumphantly producing the afikomen and the playfully skeptical seder leader holding it up to the first half to make sure it really fits.
I’ve always loved the symbol of the lost half of the matzah being found, of the broken becoming whole again. The Breslov Haggadah (published by the followers of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov/Bratzlav and following his teachings) gives it this beautiful spiritual spin:
Matzah symbolizes great awareness of God.... Mankind [sic] though is not ready for this overwhelming experience of God…. We must therefore break the matzah; separate this great awareness into fathomable sections. The larger part is set aside for the ‘end.‘ In the End of Days, Man [sic] will rise again to his destined level of awareness.
I don’t necessarily subscribe to the End of Days theology here, but I love the notion of that cosmic awareness, now broken off and hidden away, being restored to us all Someday. In the blissful, sleepy, full-bellied latter half of the seder, the End of Days half, that which was broken is restored. Elijah comes in and has a drink. We all live in a Yellow Submarine....
But wait! The very next thing we do is pass that afikomen around. Everyone at the table breaks off a piece, chews it up and swallows it. It’s not going to come together again in any easily recognizable way. We can say something, I’m sure, about how that Awareness lives in us all, but separated once again, subdivided, spread around.
I think that one of the tasks for the seder this year, in my heart anyhow, is to search for the value of brokenness. This year, when there is plenty of brokenness and division and fragmentation to go around, it occurs to me that maybe I don’t show enough respect for that smaller half-matzah. It is fragile and incomplete and perhaps a little lonely. Unlike the coveted afikomen, it doesn’t even have a name. It got separated from its bigger half, from full awareness of Everything, from having all the answers, and it sits forlornly on the plate waiting for the Great Return.
Just like us! Just like me… fragile, feeling incomplete, wishing I had all the answers and all the power and could make things right. Of course, I should learn more! Give more! Do more! Be more powerful! Live bigger! Be visionary! But I am, we all are, partial and fragile and, relative to the great ALL, small.
What if, to take just one instance, instead of looking at the political landscape and seeing everyone as heroes or villains, I could see all the players as broken pieces of matzah, partial and fragile, trying to find meaning and wholeness in a vastly complex global landscape that no one will ever completely master or apprehend? What if I viewed science and technology the same way? Or my community? Or my family? Or my own soul?
What if I held that smaller half of the middle matzah with tenderness? What if I were gentle with its crumbly edge? What if I saw my own brokenness, and that of every being, as part of our beauty? What if I looked at the part of me that thinks I should be bigger and more whole than I am and felt some rachmones—that beautiful word that means pity in the best sense: compassionate affection?
When we break glass at a wedding, the Machzor Vitri says, “This is done for the purpose of making the people mindful of the great tragedy of the destruction of the Temple….” At the most joyous moment of a wedding, we remember the great shattering. I always thought that this classical interpretation was a little perverse, but today I appreciate it. Serious brokenness is part of life, we know that. Now go ahead and kiss.
Maybe our chisaron—our quality of brokenness, fragmentation and lack—is part of the design of each of us and of the world we share. This year we can perhaps regard with kindness, maybe even enjoy, that part of ourselves, our world, and our seder plate for a moment before we go ahead and kiss. Happy Pesach, dear community!
As always, we hope that people will celebrate Pesach (Passover) at a home seder with friends and family. We know that this isn’t possible for all, and though we want everyone who so desires to be part of a beautiful and loving seder, we will not have a community seder this year because Rabbi Holub has extended her leave through April. However, the MCJC Young Adults are planning seders on the first two nights of Passover.
Under the leadership of student rabbi Paige Lincenberg, there will be a traditional sit-down seder and Shabbat in the shul Friday night, April 15th, and a more earth-based seder and bonfire with all the traditional foods and stories, but with a Mendocino twist, on Big River beach Saturday night, April 16th. Both will start at 7:00 PM and everyone is welcome. There will be a cooking party in the shul kitchen on Thursday the 14th, where anyone who would like to can help prepare food for the seder
The shul seating capacity for Friday evening is 50 people; if you wish to attend the seder, please RSVP to Aviv Steve Kleinman at email@example.com. He can also answer any questions you may have.
At the end of March, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues across the country celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first bat mitzvah in the United States. On March 18, 1922, Judith Kaplan performed her radical rite of passage at the Manhattan synagogue founded by her father, Mordecai Kaplan. Kaplan did not read from the Torah scroll, as modern bat mitzvah celebrants do; instead, she read a passage in Hebrew and English from a Chumash [printed and bound Torah] after the regular Torah service. Rabbi Carole Balin, a professor emerita of history at Hebrew Union College, said that Mordecai Kaplan did not intend for his daughter’s ceremony to be identical to the bar mitzvah: “He thought of it as a corrective to girls’ exclusion from Jewish education over millennia, basically, but he did not see it as its equal.”
Still, Rabbi Kaplan's innovation gained following in diverse synagogues because, two years after passage of the 19th Amendment, women were gaining entry in many forms of American life. As the daughter of Rabbi Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism and the head rabbi at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (now the synagogue is known as SAJ-Judaism That Stands for All), Judith was in the right place at the right time.
In the decades after Kaplan’s bat mitzvah, according to Balin, women began to “demand greater access to ritual roles, and not just access to them but regular participation in them. Then they asked to be on synagogue boards and become synagogue presidents and all the rest.” But it wasn’t until the 1970s that bat mitzvah ceremonies were mainstream in many American synagogues. “We almost can’t imagine a world without bat mitzvah,” said Rabbi Balin, “and yet I think there’s a risk of taking it for granted. We should all know the story of Judith Kaplan.”
Following her ground-breaking bat mitzvah, Kaplan Eisenstein (she married Ira Eisenstein, Kaplan's successor in leading the Reconstructionist movement) went on to a successful career in Jewish music. After studying at the Institute of Musical Art in New York (now Julliard), she attended the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) Teachers Institute and Columbia University's Teachers College, where she earned an MA in music education. She later earned a PhD at the School of Sacred Music of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).
For many years, Kaplan Eisenstein taught music pedagogy and the history of Jewish music at JTS, HUC-JIR, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She also wrote many songbooks: Gateway to Jewish Song (1937), Festival Songs (1943), and Heritage of Music: The Music of the Jewish People (1972).
In 1992, at the age of 82, Kaplan Eisenstein celebrated a second bat mitzvah surrounded by leaders of the modern Jewish feminist movement. This time, she read from a Torah scroll! Kaplan Eisenstein died on February 14, 1996.
The Elders meet every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, 3:00-4:30 PM on Zoom. We will meet on April 12th and 26th. The conversation is always provocative and enjoyable. Link up and share your experiences, thoughts, feelings, and any good jokes you might have heard. People of all ages are most welcome. Use the MCJC Zoom address on the page above. If you need more information, please contact Linda Jupiter (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Joy Lancaster (email@example.com) and they will be happy to fill you in and bring you up to date.
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Have A Cup
Join your friends for a virtual cup of coffee or tea every Wednesday at 10:30 AM. Check in with community members and chat about anything and everything from the weather to the human condition, or from cats to your progeny, to politics, to Talmud to cats. and grands. Leslie Krongold is the host and welcomes your questions and comments any time at email@example.com. Use the Zoom address:
Cat appearances are encouraged, but not required.
Mendocino Theatre Company presents “Visiting Mr. Green,” a heart-warming comedy/drama by Jeff Baron which tells the story of friendship and understanding that develops between 86-year-old Jewish widower, Mr. Green (Bob Cohen), and the 29-year-old American Express executive Ross Gardiner (Gus Mayeno), who is ordered by the court to assist the older man after he almost runs him over in a NYC crosswalk.
The show runs weekends from April 28th to May 29th. Tickets go on sale on April 1st. For more information, please go to mendocinotheatre.org.
Shabbat Morning Services
A Shabbat Shacharit service in held on Shabbat morning with much singing, chanting and silence, Torah teaching and reading, blessings for healing and peace, and an opportunity for mourners to say the Mourner's Kaddish. In late March, we began hybrid services, so come to the shul or Zoom in f from 10:30 AM until about 12:30 PM. In Rabbi Holub's absence, members of the community will lead the service. A member of the community will offer a Dvar Torah. Please check the calendar for the latest information https://www.mcjc.org/calendar.
Members of the community are invited to give a Torah teaching (drash) during a Shabbat service. If you have an interest in performing this mitzvah, or would like more information about what’s involved, please contact Raven Deerwater at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-1099.
MCJC Justice Group
The Justices meet on the second Thursday of each month, in April on Thursday, the 14th from 5:30 to 7:30 PM. If you would like to be on the Justice Group mailing list or attend meetings, please contact Judy Stavely at email@example.com or Nancy Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Everyone is welcome to attend.
Indigenous Connections: Whose Land Is It?
by Adina Merenlender
Mendocino County has long been a destination for people to “return to the land,” but whose land did we come back to? It's important that we acknowledge the tribal communities whose ancestors shaped the eco-cultural systems in which we live and whose culture is integrally tied to the land we now call home. California, including Mendocino and surrounds, supported some of the most diverse human populations in North America prior to colonization. Water is life and every river we draw water from along the coast had a native name, but do we know what they were? Mendocino County has the largest number of tribal communities in California today and yet most of us know very little about and rarely acknowledge them.
Learning institutions in particular are being called upon to acknowledge land history of indigenous people; this acknowledgement inherently involves relationship building and uplifting. The Justice Group is interested in helping to address the injustices endured by the people who have dwelled here for thousands of years before we arrived and continue to live here now. The Justice Group is starting to explore ways that MCJC, as a learning and spiritual community, can venture into this important work.
Some MCJC members are already working to support the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians' pursuit of shared governance for Jackson Demonstration State Forest, navigating increased access by local tribes to their own land, and providing ecological surveys for land, going back to indigenous communities in the North Coast.
We see several avenues leading to Land Acknowledgement work that include learning, relationship building, and allyship. This needs to be done in partnership with Northern Pomo people and will take some time. However, with open hearts and minds, we hope to advance this work.
Jackson Demonstration State Forest
A large group of supporters from the Mendocino Coast, including members of the Justice Group, attended a rally on March 25th on the Capitol steps in Sacramento. Led by Michael Hunter, Tribal Chairman of the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians, and local youth activist Sara Rose, cofounder of the Mendocino County Youth For Climate, the rally’s purpose was to call for an immediate moratorium on logging, respect for cultural and tribal sovereignty and the return of sacred sites to the tribe, unified ecosystem restoration, and the application of environmentally sustainable economics to the Jackson Demonstration State Forest.
We will meet Monday April 25 at 2 pm on Zoom to discuss The Slave by Isaac Bashevis Singer, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Four years after the Chmielnicki massacres of the seventeenth century, Jacob, a slave and cowherd in a Polish village high in the mountains, falls in love with Wanda, his master’s daughter. Even after he is ransomed, he finds he can’t live without her, and the two escape together to a distant Jewish community. Racked by his consciousness of sin in taking a gentile wife and by the difficulties of concealing her identity, Jacob nonetheless stands firm as the violence of the era threatens to destroy the ill-fated couple.
Through the eyes of Jacob, the book recounts the history of Jewish settlement in Poland at the end of the 17th century. There is about Singer a bardic quality that gives The Slave the strength and authority of a timeless folktale. Also prominent in the story is the theme of vegetarianism. Singer himself was a passionate vegetarian and Jacob's attitude toward animals during his captivity and his explanation of his vegetarian philosophy can be seen as autobiographical.
Please contact Fran at email@example.com for Zoom invitations and/or directions to the meetings. Copies of the book are at the Gallery Bookshop; tell them you are a member of the MCJC book club and you get a 10% discount.
MCJC Board Meeting
The MCJC board meets monthly at 5:00 PM, still on ZOOM. The April meeting will take place on Tuesday, the 26th. If you wish to attend part of the meetings, please contact board member Susan Tubbesing at (707) 962-0565, or firstname.lastname@example.org, and she will respond.
Newsletter Thank You
We are very grateful to Nona Smith and Art Weininger for preparing the March Megillah for mailing. Missy and Buster were very helpful too, in their ways. If you volunteer for a future folding, stamping, and mailing project, you can do it in about two very fun and productive hours. And such a mitzvah! Please contact Sarah Nathe at 962-0565 or email@example.com
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