Art as a Spiritual Practice

I often find that I want to engage with Jewish values or holidays or texts (all of which are part of Torah, in the biggest sense) but I am unsure where to begin, or how to make the experience meaningful. This summer I committed to reading the Torah portion every week with some friends. We gathered for 3 hours on thursday mornings and spent the first hour drinking tea and talking about the themes of the text. We asked each other questions, noted what was confusing, what was surprising, what we found beautiful and what we disagreed with. Then we would put the books down and take out a piece of paper (or a rock, or any other surface you want). The first task is to write an Intention. This is a statement in the first person, present tense that states yours goals or intentions for your art-making session. (For Example: “I want to stop thinking about lunch and focus on what the Red Sea looked like when the waters parted.”) Your intention can be related to what you read, but it does not have to be. The most important thing is to be honest and to follow your desire (aka, what gives you pleasure).

After you have completed your intention, put it aside and begin making art.

There are  3 rules to this process:

1. Silence

2. Do not comment on your own work

3. Do not comment on anyone else’s work.

This is a process. Painting, collaging, coloring, anything creative and crafty. It is not about what you make, but just about continuing to follow what gives you pleasure. It is best to have a set amount of time for making art. I usually need 30-60 minutes. I can stop whenever I feel like it. Several rounds of the process are usually helpful over time if that is possible since more things are likely to get stirred up than settled when you do communal work. remember how generous and holy it is to do work on behalf of the collective, which in this case isn’t only the people in the room engaging in the process but all people who are touched by these texts and conversations.

The next step is to witness your art. Begin by rereading your intention. Then, while looking at your artistic creation, start writing. Try your hardest not to think, but rather to treat it as a free-write. To let you brain flow, either by talking abstractly about ideas or concretely about what you see in the art. If you get stuck, ask your art a question. (For Example: Why is the bird in the cave on top of a rainbow?”)  I usually write for about 20 minutes. You can write for as long as little as you like.

The last step is optional. As a group, people can share their intentions, creations and witnesses. If you choose to share, be sure not to comment on your own work or on anyone elses. The goal is simply to share what you have created. This is a way to have the text speak to your life, and to have your creative spirit speak to the text.

To recap:

Read

Discuss

Intention

Art

Witness

Sharing (optional)

For a twist, try witnessing someone else’s creation!

I learned all of this from an amazing artist and healer, Pat Allen, who lives in Chicago and California.

Perhaps there is a poem you love, or a piece of High Holiday liturgy you are curious about, or one of the Torah/Haftarah readings for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This exercise can be used all year, and is also a way to begin preparing for the Yamim Noraim (Jewish Days of Awe).

I have included a sample of my summer’s creations to offset any artistic anxiety that might be bubbling up inside you right now!Parsha Art

ps. some background music never hurts!

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It’s Elul: Time to Get Ready for the Jewish High Holidays

It’s Elul!
The last month in the Jewish calendar (click here to learn more about the Jewish calendar). The month of teshuva – the process of healing and transformation, returning to ourselves and acknowledging the ways we have missed the mark. Elul is my favorite month. It is a month of turning inward, of turning to God and of taking an inventory of my personal relationships. It is also a month of warm summer nights and changing leaves – which is a nice touch too!

I want to share with you some spiritual tools that I find helpful to prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippor. Some of them are traditional and some are my own renditions. This is my first installment.

There are three additions to morning prayers.

1. The recitation of selichot, penitential prayers, before traditional morning prayers. It is largely a series of beautiful piyyutim – liturgical poems.

2. Reading/singing psalm 27 at the end of a morning service.

3. Blowing of the shofar to close a morning service.

Ok, more to come on how to do teshuva and how to make all this creative and interactive!

A Yom Kippur Retreat in North Carolina

Spiritual Nourishment and Radical Religious Community for the Jewish High Holidays

North Carolina is not known as hotbed of Jewish political activism, or Jewish anything for that matter. It’s no Berkeley, and it’s certainly not Brookline, but things are growing. This year the NC Havurah will be hosting a wonderful Yom Kippur retreat at The Stone House. So if you live in the area (or you’re willing to travel), come join us in building a spiritual and radical religious community at a two day Yom Kippur retreat full of study, singing, fasting, and prayer.

We plan to create a spiritually uplifting, emotionally engaging, introspective, and welcoming space. In addition to focusing on our personal atonement we will be talking and reflecting critically about the teaching/meaning of Yom Kippur in the context of the ongoing occupation of Palestine and Palestinian people. We welcome people who identify in a diversity of ways. This will be an antizionist, nonzionist, diasporist, queer and trans positive space.

We will spend Sunday day in a variety of workshops, studying and discussing the themes, prayers, practices, and meaning of Yom Kippur. This will include private and paired engagement in teshuva (a return/change/repentance/transformation/healing process) to help us reflect on where we have been in the previous year and where we aim to be in the year to come. Sunday evening and Monday we will observe Yom Kippur together through prayer, singing, fasting, and reflection. On Monday evening we will break fast together.

Services, study, and discussion will be led by Rabbinical student and activist Ari Lev Fornari, and others. (That’s me!)

This spiritual radical retreat will be held at The Stone House in Mebane, N.C.

SUNDAY:
Workshops 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Festive Meal to Start the Fast 5 p.m.
Kol Nidre Services 6:30 p.m.

MONDAY:
Yom Kippur Retreat 10 a.m. – Sunset
Break Fast 6:30 p.m.

Festive Meal and Break Fast are potluck. Drinks will be provided.

In order to offset the costs associated with the retreat, we ask that you make a financial contribution that meets your budget anywhere in the range of $25-$150. No one turned away for lack of funds!
In order to plan properly, we ask you to pre-register by emailing temaokun@earthlink.net. Let us know whether you will be attending Sunday and/or Monday and/or both and indicate whatever contribution you feel you can make (if you can).

Tisha b’Av

Wednesday night through Thursday at sundown marks Tisha b’Av, which means the 9th of Av, a date in the Jewish calendar. It is traditionally observed as a fast of mourning that includes reading from the book of Lamentations.  It is thought that this day marks the fall of Jerusalem to both the Roman and Babylonian empires. Because of its connections to Jerusalem, it has taken on a very zionist flavor that mostly makes me want to ignore it altogether. However, it also marks the very very beginning of preparing for the Jewish high holidays — a season I find very meaningful. When I was in Palestine of 2006, I spent Tisha b’Av flyering at the Western Wall, amidst thousands of sobbing Jews who were crying for Jerusalem, for their sons in the Israeli army and for loved ones they had lost due to the occupation of Palestine. Their pain was palpable. From this I learned the value of having a communal day of mourning, in which we gather together to be sad, to talk about our losses, to honor those who have passed, to grieve the pain of oppression and occupation. Back in the day, people were paid to be public lamenters. Perhaps one day we will revive this tradition as a movement fundraiser and call it “A Lamentathon.” In the meantime, here is an amazing alternative Tisha b’Av service written by Elliot Bat Tzedek.

Why Hope for the Heretics?

There is a prayer in traditional Jewish weekday liturgy that asserts, “Take away hope from the heretics.” Continue reading

This blog is about baking muffins

My name is Ari Lev Fornari. I am a queer and trans anti-zionist Jew studying to be a rabbi in Boston, MA. After receiving an amazing political education in Palestine and the Bay Area, I decided to go to rabbinical school because I felt like I needed a deeper well of Jewish knowledge to draw from.

On my first day of rabbinical school, my teachers handed me 10 pounds of flour, and I thought to myself: “I can make something with this.” On my second day of school again my teachers handed me 10 pounds of flour. I looked at them and I looked at the 10 pounds of flour already in my hand. Now I had 20 pounds of flour to bake into ideas and rituals and radical Jewish goodness.  On my third day of rabbinical school, my teachers handed me another 10 pounds of flour. I proceeded to pile pounds of flour atop pounds of flour, until I was finally surrounded by piles and piles of flour. Now its time to bake some muffins!

Continue reading

Heretics

Check out this episode of This American Life

This is an awesome podcast that tells the story of Reverend Carlton Pearson, a fierce evangelical pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who grew a huge chuch and then decided he no longer believed in hell. He was called a Heretic and most of his congregation left. Slowly he is rebuilding his career, ironically in a way that aligns him with queer struggles and other such heretics.

These are the kinds of risks I am thinking about.