Rabbi Bruce's Blog
For more information on Birthright, see my review of a book about the trip.
Tzimtzum Leadership in Action
I attended a concert of the Idan Raichel Project at the UMASS Fine Arts Center the other night. It was an amazing concert that was enjoyed by the crowd from the first notes until the last encore.
The IRP began when Idan recorded music in his parents basement--inviting an eventual total of 95 musicians from many ethnic backgrounds, musical styles, and languages to contribute to the ever-growing project. The Project's breakthrough single, "Boee," was different than anything on the radio in Israel. It mixed Amharic, Arabic, Spanish with Hebrew lyrics and brought together musical styles from Africa, Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
The roots of IRP are evident at the concert: I had never been to a concert where the headliners did so little headlining.
From the start to the end of the concert, Idan was on the side of the stage (as far from the center as any musician performing with him) with three singers in the middle of the stage. OK, he wandered a bit but rarely took center stage. But the three singers pictured on the right were at the center of the group. This is not accidental. On the IRP website, it makes clear that this is part of the project's DNA:
"From the beginning, Idan saw the project as a collaboration between artists who each bring their own musical culture and talents to the stage. “There would be no front man,” Idan says. “I would sit at the side and watch things and see what occurs. Every song would have a different singer, we would sit in a half circle and each musician would have a chance to demonstrate what they have to offer" (http://www.idanraichelproject.com/en/)At a reception following the concert organized by the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, I went up to him to explain how impressed I was with his leadership style. If I had it with me, I would have shared the famous article by Rabbi Eugene Borowitz entitled “Tzimtzum: A Mystic Model for Contemporary Leadership.” (This is not an exact link but instead a link to an article in Shma that discusses the 1974 article). This article discusses a method of leadership that is not about individual power but about the community empowerment: "leaders to exercise restraint of power in order to “make space” for people to emerge in their full humanity."
Today it may not be as unusual as an idea as it was in 1974 but it is still far from the norm (especially in many parts of the Jewish community). I have never seen as compelling example of this type of leadership as Idan Raichel in his performance (and in the project as a whole). When I mentioned this to Idan (who recently shaved his well-known dreadlocks), he smiled and said "that is exactly it but I have never thought of it that way." He may never have thought in terms of Leadership by Tzimtzum but it is obvious that he is a regular practitioner of it:
"This sentiment is reflected in the decision to name the collective The Idan Raichel Project. Says Raichel, “If I had called the album just ‘Idan Raichel,’ people would have thought that Raichel is the main voice on all the songs. I wrote the songs and I arranged and produced them, but I perform them together with other vocalists and musicians. On the other hand, we are not a group. It’s something in between." To date over 95 different singers aged 16 to 91 years old from dozens of different countries and cultural backgrounds haveparticipated in the Project’s recordings or performances.” (http://www.idanraichelproject.com/en/)What examples of this type of leadership do you see in your communities? Does it work?
How can we better bring this type of leadership to our communities?
How can I be this type of leader?
I look forward to your comments and reactions.
I have been cleaning and kashering (Amherst and CBI first, now at home) and arranging for Seders (two seders at our house plus one at Amherst).
If you are joining us for Passover Seder or meals at Amherst and have not signed up, please do so now.
Starting a few weeks before Passover, I start seeing lots of material on Facebook or in my in-box.
Here are some selections of note:
- The Maccabeats released a Les Mis Passover medley
- Jacob Richman posts educational/entertaining videos for Jewish holidays. Here is this year's Passover list.
- Rabbi Dov Lerner collects Passover material and has downloadable Haggadot for you to make your own at Jewishfreeware.org I have seen this site grow in material and use--it should keep you busy for years of Seders.
- For Kosher for Passover (K4P) recipes and great general Kosher recipes, I suggest Jamie Gellers' Joy of Kosher.
- I use the Rabbinical Assembly Pesah Guide and the Operation Pesach FAQs for information on K4P, kashering, ingredients, etc.
- Last Minute Addition (not for those without a sense of humor):
It is not as though I had no technology access. Our family has three laptops, two iPads, one desktop computer with internet access, and two other smartphones and iPod touches (and a Nook that is mostly used when we go on vacation). I also have a computer in my Amherst office and one in my WNE classroom. I almost always have my laptop and iPad (although if I wasn't teaching at WNE, I would just use the iPad). None of the devices I use regularly have 3 or 4g mobile Internet, so I needed to be in a location with wi-fi to have web access. (By the way, it is a little depressing once I started making that list. None of that includes non-working/old devices).
The problem is that most of my information life is on the cloud--housed primarily at google and Dropbox. This meant that I was always "behind" on email, didn't have up-to-date access to my calendar (yet alone Deborah's), ...
Since I was laid off from Smith in the 2010 budget cuts, I have added a lot of part-time jobs. When working 8 years at Smith and Amherst, I thought it was hard having a full-time job split between two colleges 9 miles apart. It is much harder working at one college 9 miles from, teaching two sections of an academic class 25 miles in another direction, and driving out to camp (45 minutes drive) every week or two for retreats. I spend a lot more time in my car which means I get to hear lots of NPR and other talk radio. Since November I have been at Amherst more as I am Interim Co-Director of Religious Life. In general I spend a lot less time in one place than I used to. Engaging in social media and writing my blog have suffered. Also, I have found that I am reading different kinds of material than I used to read-- a lot about Israeli History, politics, and culture for my Modern Israel course at Western New England. It is not just the kind of reading that has changed, there always seems to be more I want to read. Having a smartphone means I can read a few emails or rss items while waiting or if I arrive somewhere early. It also means I find more to read.
Back to my 10 days relatively unplugged. I found that I paid closer attention to everything around me when I had no phone pulling at my attention. I enjoyed driving more when I didn't have the phone set to Google maps (where I always toggle to e.t.a.). Although I was not sure when I would get there, I got there with a more settled mind. While the cloud helps me have access to data, calendar, phone numbers, etc., it also saps at my attention span (academic studies have shown that there is little or no multi-masking in our brains).
The challenge is figuring out how to learn from this experience. To bring it back to the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit, perhaps technology is like the One Ring--it slowly takes over our lives. At first we notice the convenience and the power but only later do we learn the consequences. Does our (over-)reliance on GPS devices impact our innate sense of direction? (More on this here and here) Phone numbers are much harder to remember since everyone has different area codes (seven digits was chosen in the 1950's because it was the typical capacity of working memory). With cell phones, you don't even have to remember the phone numbers of your close friends and family.
While I hope to add to this in the future, I will start by sharing this selection from Rabbi Rami Shapiro's, Wisdom of the Sages (a modern reading of Pirke Avot):
"Rabbi Judah haNassi said:
What is the right path for a person to follow?
One that honors both self and other.
Be attentive in all you do;
Do not judge one deed small and another great,
for you cannot always know their significance.
Be virtuous, even if virtue is costly.
Avoid sin, even if sin is profitable.
Remember three things and you will not err:
If your deeds shouldn't be known,
perhaps they shouldn't be done.
If your words shouldn't be shared,
perhaps they shouldn't be spoken.
Act with attention, for all your deeds have consequence." (II, 1; p. 22)
An hour after finishing the original draft of this blog, I received an email from Asking Big Questions with this month's discussion guide, How Does Technology Change Us? Great minds think alike.
Sunday March 10th: I received this today from thedailyrabbi.com: UNPLUG: Spiritual Lessons From a Lost Cell Phone.
The Four Chaplains
THE STORY (copied from The Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation)
It was the evening of Feb. 2, 1943, and the U.S.A.T. Dorchester was crowded to capacity,
carrying 902 service men, merchant seamen and civilian workers.
Once a luxury coastal liner, the 5,649-ton vessel had been converted into an Army transport ship.
The Dorchester, one of three ships in the SG-19 convoy, was moving steadily across the icy
waters from Newfoundland toward an American base in Greenland. SG-19 was escorted by Coast
Guard Cutters Tampa, Escanaba and Comanche.
Tragically, the hit had knocked out power and radio contact with the three escort ships. The CGC Comanche,
however, saw the flash of the explosion. It responded and then rescued 97 survivors. The CGC Escanaba circled
the Dorchester, rescuing an additional 132 survivors. The third cutter, CGC Tampa, continued on, escorting the
remaining two ships
Aboard the Dorchester, panic and chaos had set in. The blast had killed scores of men, and many more were
seriously wounded. Others, stunned by the explosion were groping in the darkness. Those sleeping without
clothing rushed topside where they were confronted first by a blast of icy Arctic air and then by the knowledge that
Men jumped from the ship into lifeboats, over-crowding them to the point of capsizing, according to eyewitnesses.
Other rafts, tossed into the Atlantic, drifted away before soldiers could get in them.
Through the pandemonium, according to those present, four Army chaplains brought hope in despair and light in
darkness. Those chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish; Lt. John P.
Washington, Roman Catholic; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, Dutch Reformed.
Quickly and quietly, the four chaplains spread out among the soldiers. There they tried to calm the frightened, tend
the wounded and guide the disoriented toward safety.
"Witnesses of that terrible night remember hearing the four men offer prayers for the dying and encouragement for
those who would live," says Wyatt R. Fox, son of Reverend Fox.
One witness, Private William B. Bednar, found himself floating in oil-smeared water surrounded by dead bodies
and debris. "I could hear men crying, pleading, praying," Bednar recalls. "I could also hear the chaplains preaching
courage. Their voices were the only thing that kept me going."
Another sailor, Petty Officer John J. Mahoney, tried to reenter his cabin but Rabbi Goode stopped him. Mahoney,
concerned about the cold Arctic air, explained he had forgotten his gloves.
"Never mind," Goode responded. "I have two pairs." The rabbi then gave the petty officer his own gloves. In
retrospect, Mahoney realized that Rabbi Goode was not conveniently carrying two pairs of gloves, and that the
rabbi had decided not to leave the Dorchester.
Ladd's response is understandable. The altruistic action of the four chaplains constitutes one of the purest spiritual
and ethical acts a person can make. When giving their life jackets, Rabbi Goode did not call out for a Jew; Father
Washington did not call out for a Catholic; nor did the Reverends Fox and Poling call out for a Protestant. They
simply gave their life jackets to the next man in line.
As the ship went down, survivors in nearby rafts could see the four chaplains--arms linked and braced against the
slanting deck. Their voices could also be heard offering prayers.
Of the 902 men aboard the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, 672 died, leaving 230 survivors. When the news reached American
shores, the nation was stunned by the magnitude of the tragedy and heroic conduct of the four chaplains. "Valor is
a gift," Carl Sandburg once said. "Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes."
That night Reverend Fox, Rabbi Goode, Reverend Poling and Father Washington passed life's ultimate test. In
doing so, they became an enduring example of extraordinary faith, courage and selflessness.
The Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart were awarded posthumously December 19, 1944, to the next
of kin by Lt. Gen. Brehon B. Somervell, Commanding General of the Army Service Forces, in a ceremony at the
post chapel at Fort Myer, VA.
A one-time only posthumous Special Medal for Heroism was authorized by Congress and awarded by President
Eisenhower on January 18, 1961. Congress attempted to confer the Medal of Honor but was blocked by the
stringent requirements that required heroism performed under fire. The special medal was intended to have the
same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor.
Additional material for Four Chaplains Shabbat