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A Suggestion for Your Celebration Consideration

Celebrating Wisdom

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

Let me get directly to the point. I would like to suggest a new ritual for you to consider.

It will need some adapting to your particular religious tradition (or lack thereof), but that is okay. I can’t do everything!

As we move to the end of May, the Jewish community will celebrate one of its major festivals, Shavuot. The agricultural origins of this ancient festival lie in the fact that it was the gathering of “first fruits.” Along the way, the historical aspect of the giving and receiving of the Torah was added to the festival’s profile.

I am not concerned with those interpretations here. The festival gets less attention (and knowledge) than the other major festivals in our year and pales when compared to the recently observed Passover. Most Jews today associate the holiday with the ceremony of Confirmation, at which teens affirm their allegiance to Jewish tradition and faith. This comes a few years after Bar/Bat Mitzvah, usually at around 16. It is a very important celebration.

Yet, it came to me that there is another way that this festival can be interpreted. The receiving of the Torah implies the gathering of wisdom. Why not create a ceremony in your synagogue, church, mosque, or spiritual gathering place that celebrates the acquisition of wisdom. I am talking about real wisdom. Not book knowledge, but the wisdom that each of us have after living four or five or six or more decades of life. I would bet that you, at 50, 60, or 70 look at things a lot differently than you did at 13, 16, or 36! Why not institutionalize a ceremony that celebrates the gift of life, recognizes that we have lived, and looks forward to many more years of life and wisdom?

Now, lest you think this is all based on fantasy (not that there is anything wrong with that), let me introduce you to the ceremony of Simchat Chochma, which is Hebrew for the celebration or rejoicing of wisdom. Such a ceremony exists and has been celebrated by people in synagogues around North America in recent years. It has been more private than public, and that is why I am suggesting that each religious tradition takes on this idea and shapes it to its own tradition.

The ceremony can involve the use of classic symbols like water, candles, flowers, and fruit. There is no standard ritual yet in operation. The ritual that I am referring to can be found in a book that discusses how congregations can proactively address the longevity revolution before us (To Honor and Respect, URJ Press, Part of the liturgy used by the woman who celebrated this includes these very wonderful words as prayer: “As today I celebrate my life’s continual unfolding, I am awestruck by the wonder of my being. And so I pray that kindness and compassion may be on my lips, that strength and courage may be with me in my comings and goings, and that I may continue to learn from and to teach those dear to me.”

Let me suggest that the time is right for religious institutions to celebrate the wisdom our generation has gained from the living of our life and to recognize the value of one’s life experience.

I would love to know your reaction to this suggestion and if your religious community would be open to such a new idea.


To Life, to Health

Religious communities have much to say about health and wellness

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

We are slowly emerging from the recent weeks of religious zeal. No, not Passover and Easter, but the “debate” on heath care reform. Now law, the issue moves on to be one of the battlefield issues for November. How sad that so many people’s health and lives will again be subjects of political folly and fortune.

So much of the political debate missed the very real discussions that need to be taking place on the state of health in our world. To this, let me suggest that religious communities have much to say. Not in a political way, but in a moral and ethical way. It is a voice that has been somewhat silent. So, let me use this little space to suggest that the time is very much at hand for churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious institutions to devote significant effort to creating text-based programs on the value of health and wellness.

My reason for mentioning this really comes from much of what I am seeing in my travels over the last few years. As part of the program on “sacred aging” I developed for the Union for Reform Judaism, I get to travel to many congregations to talk about issues related to aging, religion, spirituality, and baby boomers. Over the last years, issues of wellness and health have increasingly become part of the discussions. More and more older adults find that keeping their bodies moving and active adds to their sense of well-being. Likewise, the spirituality revolution that baby boomers have helped fashion has seen the creation of programs and classes in yoga and tai chi, as well as an increased awareness in how classic texts and traditions can teach lessons on health. Now, no doubt that this is a reflection on the desire to ward off our own aging, but so what!

What this awareness has begun to reflect is a growing appreciation for so many classic texts that, in a holistic fashion, understood centuries ago, the interaction of mind, body, and spirit. Much needs to be done in this area. Curricula must be developed that link basic religious principles with issues of health and wellness. The current “American” diet is killing too many of us. For no other reason than that, health and wellness awareness and education should be incorporated into our discussions.

Think about the possibilities of studying the texts of your faith with an eye to creating a guide for healthy living. Think of how many people can be reached with a new understanding of how relevant texts can be in their lives. Why not consider having this discussion with the leadership of your religious institution? You never know how healthy that may be.

L’chaim! To life! To your health!


You Have to be Taught

Have we lost the ability for civility?

By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin

By all rights, this should be a nice little article on the upcoming festivals of Passover and Easter. After all, by the time this goes up on the site, Passover will have begun and Easter will be right around the corner. So, why not just do an easy column on the linkages between the festivals and the call for love and peace and understanding? (Well, maybe that’s what this piece is anyway!)

I stayed up late last night to watch history. I have a thing for trying to watch events that, for my grandchildren, will be part of their schoolwork. God knows our generation has seen its fill of historical events. So, I watched the “debate” and vote on health care reform. And today, I caught as much postgame reporting as I could. I am left with a sense of sadness and some fear. I am not sad that the vote passed. I am in favor of universal health care for all.

No, I was sad to see the vitriol and hate rhetoric that spewed from so many of our “lawmakers.” Even sadder, and really more frightening, was some of the verbiage disgorged from the mouths of some talk show hosts. It seems we have lost the ability to dialogue. It seems we have lost the ability for civility. Institutions that used to have a sense of respect have been dragged down, and the simple respect of one person for another is, sadly, slipping away. I am sure sociologists and experts can analyze and discuss the why and wherefores of these issues, but I cannot help but remember that song from South Pacific that reminds us “you have to be taught to hate.”

People will not always agree. That is a given. This is especially true when power and politics are involved (and make no mistake that is the underlying issue for so much of what we hear). Points of view will always color how people express themselves, but I just cannot help but feel we have sunk to a level unknown in this country for years, or ever.

You have to wonder how young people who witness the smears and shouts feel about all of this. You cannot help but wonder how this is being assimilated into their psyches. If House and Senate members and talk show celebrities can violate the basic rules of human interaction, respect for personal dignity, and common civility—and even be celebrated for it—well, then why should a young person do any different? I wonder how much those who shout the loudest and are the most personal ever think of how those actions impact a young person.

Maybe it is time for a movement to arise that celebrates civility, dignity, and respect. Reasonable people, acting reasonably, may disagree. The art of conversation, discussion, and compromise has always been taught in homes and schools as part of how a civilized society operates and gets things done. Have we started to fray at the edges of our own society? Is disrespect for others a first step in the gradual decline of our society? One can only hope not.

So, maybe this really is about Passover and Easter. These observances speak about courage, faith, sacrifice, and community. They speak about hope and about being in relationship with a higher power, a power that denies the validity of self-worship.

Here is a simple request: As you gather around the Seder table or Easter supper, remember that you are in the company of others who, like yourself, should reflect the image of God. Therefore, how you treat them, speak to them, and interact with them ultimately reflects your own relationship with yourself and with your God. And, remember, the kids are watching and listening and learning.