High Holy Days 5774/2013

Weaving the Generations: Mi-Dor le-Door

This year’s theme is (the envelope please), Weaving the Generations, or via our bilingual pun, Mi-dor le-door (wherein the generational interactions become a door of heightened possibility. We ask: how does (1) our specific generational placement, our temporal station in life, and (2) our conversations and deep relations across the generations provide openings to new, more expansive ways of being human. To paraphrase Heschel, the world should be perceived not so much a wall, or opaque surface, but as a door or gate—to  new and hidden worlds.

So as you prepare for the New Year, I invite you to reflect on what it means to see yourselves moving into a new phase of life (e.g., entering a new job or career or position; parenthood, grandparenthood; no longer being such a kid). Or perhaps, you may feel that the sands of time are beginning to grow thin: what does it mean to be entering one’s autumnal years, deep October?  What does it mean to be like one of the meraglim, the spies that Moses sent across the Jordan into the (heretofore) unknown lands of aging/sage-ing/eldering? Wherever we stand: what is our responsibility to our forbears, and to our descendants? When we pose this question (becoming aware of those who came before and will, we hope, come after), how does it affect the way in which we live now, and in the near future?

Some of us are struck by the rapidity of both surface and structural cultural change, which we have experienced several times over in our own lifetimes. Some of us remember dial phones (in black only), transistor radios, Osborne computers, Betamax, even the “Palm Pilot” (so 1999). Or Biafra. Or the late lamented Shaman Drum Book Store. And: some of us don’t remember any of those entities al besareinu, but only through the prism of history.

We live in a society that prizes the appearance of youth. How do we view our accumulating wrinkles, the alterations to our flesh and musculature, shifts in our hair color or its sheer “acreage”? Are these changes to be embraced, or resisted, or covered over, wrestled with and against, or accepted? Do we harbor a sense of our “peak” as though life were a mountain or a cresting wave, an inviolate bell-curve? What about those of us who feel “between”—set between young and old, amid cultural cross-currents—hybrid beings and bridge-builders, gosher gesharim?

What does it mean to miss sounds that are disappearing: tintinabulation from GoodHumor ice-cream trucks, live (not prerecorded) muezzin, or elders’ accents (Yiddish, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic) that we know from our youth but are no longer present in real-time? As we ponder the shifting of generations, we ask: How can we use the time that has been gifted to us in ways that serve or deepen? What can be recovered? What must be recast? Let go?

In our community, we have two large clusters of people who are in their 50’s and 60’s, and another that is in their 20’s and 30’s. How can we learn from each other about music, conflict resolution, loneliness and relationships, about that which is emerging? How do elders “make room” for youngers? How can elders learn from the innovations and questing of youngers? How might youngers learn from/with and honor the accrued wisdom of elders? (How can we remain alive to the wisdom, the challenges, the excitement that stems from being part of a generational cohort, and how can we share those things that emerge just by dint of being unique human beings? I.e., at what point does age cease to matter?)

We live in a Tradition (itself a multi-tiered layering of accrued generational wisdom, an ecosystem of rememberings and forgettings, or constant reconfiguration, but also something passed down.). One of the key watchwords of that Tradition is dor dor ve-dorshav: each generation and its unique interpreters of Torah! How have new understandings of planetary life, of mirror neurons, and intertextuality, and the interweaving of ecosystems influenced our grasp of Torah, of God, of Jewishness? How have the new hybridities, borne of demographic movement, interfaith marriages, more fluid genderings, and global economies influenced our Judaisms? (And what would my father, born in a Ukrainian shtetl, think of the previous sentence?! Gevaaaalt!)

It was Abraham Joshua Heschel who wrote that the most precious gift we can give each other (across the generations) is not so material possessions as the gift of shared time. Not presents as much as presence—when we are attentive and genuinely curious about the other. (How do we do this in our virtual world of texting and tweeting?) It was Freud who said that the younger generation is grasped both as continuation and as supplanter. Some of us may feel threatened by the (1) power; or (2) the promise of another generation. Some of us may feel blocked or displaced, by our elders or our youngers? How can we unpack these fears, and move to more helpful collaboration? For those of us who like to mentor (no matter our age), how can we remain open to learning and change, to receiving even as we give. (There is a great kabbalistic teaching on this that I will share with you, on modes of giving that are not so defended and closed, but that acknowledge that a giving can also be a receiving…Clue: the atbash of tzedqah is tzedaqah. For the answer, come to High Holiday services!) And some of us love being students (at whatever age). What do we think of Martin Buber’s claim that s/he who never ceases to change never really grows old?

As we reflect on the dynamic of life both within and across the generations, it may be useful to reflect more broadly on what I call Borderlands, מה שמתרחש על קו התפר (mah she-mitrahesh al qav ha-tefer), what unfolds at the meeting points, at the places of overlap, of shared terroir, in territory that doesn’t belong solely to any one group. Call it the place of “we,” as distinct from You or I. (Of course, it could also be a site of neglect, of hefqer, but I am thinking more of a place of shared, cooperative presence as opposed to absence.) We might think of the Borderlands in a variety of ways, from the natural to the social to the metaphoric. What is the life that unfolds in the meadow or field between city and forest: who lives there, visits there? What are the places of meeting where we step out of our generational or ethnic/spiritual/religious/intellectual identities. Are rock concerts or pilgrimages those liminal places of meeting? Or Bike rides and Torah Study? Shabbatot and holidays? I might note that Jewish prayer regularly takes place at moments of meeting/transition: at dawn and at dusk—the Hebrew word for evening erev (Evening service: Ma’ariv) meaning the time of mixing/modulation, the even-ing of day and night. As though to say, at moments of transition, Time itself becomes a Door, a Gate for insight. For encountering the Shekhinah, whom the medieval kabbalist David ben Yehudah he-Hasid once called, ha-efshar or ha-efshar shebe-tokh ha-efshar, Possiblity within Possibility.

Or we might stretch beyond the uniquely human realm and ask : what does it mean to engage in a dialogue not only with our fellow homo sapiens but with other species? With rocks, algae, trees and plants? Squirrels and wolverines? (Spartans?!) What does it mean that “we” house several pounds of bacteria that exist symbiotically with “us,” without whom there could be no “I”? I think here of my mother, zikhrona livracha, who lived for years with bronchiectasis that progressively compromised her ability to breath. Was her illness part of her? Or a foreign interloper? How do we relate to the multiple entities that make up our individual biosphere, which is always in “conversation” with a teeming array of other biospheres (themselves in a dance of de- and re-composition)?

As we enter Ellul, we are given the opportunity to reflect on the shape of our lives and our death, and the tenor of our commitments on the scale of a year: to see that (as the midrash has it) ה’ ממית ומחיה בבת אחת (memit umehayyeh be-vat ahat), the divine both gives life and snuffs it out, simultaneously, at every moment. At this season, we are bidden to ask: what is aborning in us (as individuals, as citizens, as Jews, as a people, as creators and mortal creatures, as denizens of the planet) and what is a-dying, a-morphing, frittering away? What do we learn from the passage of time, its gifts and common indignities? To those of us who share community in ways both thick and thin, we ask: What are the structures and moments, the rituals and languaging, that can facilitate deep sharing across the generations? (I suggest that Shabbat and Torah-study are two vital forms that we are heirs to, co-creators of. During Shabbat meals of shared nurture, during prayer and niggun, or while wrestling-with/delighting-in texts, we get in touch with what really matters: and are able to connect on levels both deeper, and more playful, than usual.) As we draw near the Days of Awe, I invite you to reflect, to dream, to embody, and to find ways of sharing with others some of the questions sketched here! And to add your own. (It is amazing what can emerge as we talk with others about these matters; as we listen and are listened to. In the words and the silence, in the mutual witnessing that unfolds in this spiritual frame, we can spur each other on to more honest assessments and insights. That is the gift of havruta, the practice of spiritual friendship. I will address this practice more fully in our upcoming session on Preparing for the Days of Awe.)

Friends/Yedid(ot)ai: לחיים ברכה ושלום: to life to blessing to peace/wholeness. To 5774! May we find deep connections and love this year, may we turn prose into poetry, poetry into song, song into dance, dance into silence….and may we find deep consolation and joy in our being here. Here’s to life (in its many forms), to resilience, to tiqqun ha-lev and  tiqqun olam (healing hearts and worlds)! To enough parnasah (material wellbeing), to good health, strong bones (hilutz atzamot), to knowing what is enough! (Almost there…) To wise stewardship and sharing of natural resources! To productivity and creative boredom, to what is really real, to radical amazement and to flashes of insight and sly, upending humor!! To new names for God! To meetings across divides of enmity and suspicion, across generations, across the aisle, across from us…To living our lives as a work of art.

I hope to see you all over the course of the year, at our Pardes Hannah tefillot/services, and out and about. Much love to you and yours…

לשנה טובה תכתבו

(Rabbi/Reb) Elliot Ginsburg

Some questions to ponder:

  • Where do I stand generationally?
  • When do I feel old, young, in between?
  • What have been some of the most meaningful sharings/encounters with those outside of my generational cohort? (What have I learned? What has rankled? What longing has been birthed in me?)
  • How has the presence of my elders and youngers, those here and those no longer here on this earth plane, stayed with me this year?
  • As I look back at my earlier years: What/whom do I miss? Yearn for?
  • What world/values/things do I wish to leave for my descendants?
  • What is aborning in my life that I could not have envisioned earlier in my life? What are the implications of that insight?
  • What does it mean to live at the Borderlands (between generations? Species? Identities?)
  • How might our generational placement (as Jews, humans, etc.) be a Door or Gateway?