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Summer Issue - Fall Israel Trip
June 16, 2015

Rabbi Debra and family enjoying bumper boats.

Welcome to Summer - Slow Down!

In This Issue:

Slowing Down This Summer - A message from Rabbi Debra.

Summertime and the Livin' is Jewish -A recent article by Rabbi Debra.

Fall Israel Trip with Rabbi Debra - October 10 - 19, 2015.

Craig’s Corner - Notes from the rebbetzin.

High Holiday Preparations - It's not too soon . . .

Calendar & Scholar-In-Residence Appearances - Join or Invite Debra.

Staying In Touch - With thanks to our subscribers.

Slowing Down This Summer
A Message from Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Summer is approaching, but life hasn’t slowed down yet. My children (and maybe yours, too) are enjoying end-of-the-year recitals, special projects, and multiple parties. At the same time, we are trying to squeeze in all our duties and tasks before the end of the school year, and then there will be more to squeeze in before camp, and more still to squeeze in before a family trip.

Then, at my synagogue, I am planning High Holidays with our Cantor and Ritual Committee. (If that is your focus, too, then please see the description of High Holiday resources, below.) Simultaneously, I am collaborating with lay and professional leaders on setting the calendar and programs for next year, updating our Bar/Bat Mitzvah Handbook, arranging for coverage during my impending time away, and buttoning up dozens of tasks that need to happen during this “slower season.”

But the day is approaching when the schedule will finally be lighter. And that’s when a different kind of work begins. It is the work of integration, rest, and thought. This is the “work” of summer. And it demands time to just be.

About a year ago, professors at the University of Virginia conducted eleven different experiments on how people sit with their thoughts. The answer is: not well. In general, people found it very uncomfortable to sit quietly without a phone, magazine, task, or other stimulation – even for short periods of time. When asked to sit at home, about a third of the people admitted afterwards to cheating, either by inflating the time they reported sitting or by not sitting at all. When people were given a mild electric shock, most said that they would pay $5 not to be shocked again. However, when they learned that they could shorten the time spent sitting alone with their thoughts, 67 percent of the men and 25 percent of the women elected to receive that same jolt in order end their “thinking period.”

We have become so unaccustomed to quietly turning inward that we would rather be in pain than in thought.

The gift of summer, for many of us, is that stimulation lessens. We can just “be” on the beach. Hang out in the hammock. Lounge with our loved ones.

My prayer for all of us is that we won’t rush to fill in the blank spaces. As you sit quietly to daydream and think, you may uncover great insights or wisdom. You may find greater compassion for yourself and for others. And… you may just realize how tired you are. You are sure to find some inner riches and surprises, and you will get some much-needed rest.

As meditation teachers are wont to say: “Don’t just do something. Sit there!”

Summertime and the Livin' is Jewish - An article by Rabbi Debra, published in The Menorah, the newsletter of Congregation B'nai Israel in Emerson, New Jersey.

Summertime and the Livin' is Jewish

Fall Israel Trip with Rabbi Debra -October 10-19, 2015, with an optional extension to Petra, October 18-22.

Rabbi Debra is leading a congregational tour to Israel, and a limited number of places are still available to FOD (Friends of Debra). The group will be intimate (36 people or fewer), and this trip is for adults, though we hope to schedule a trip for families in the next year or two. The schedule will be full, but some time is also allotted for rest, shopping, and free choice evening activities, including visiting with friends and family.

The trip is suitable for first-timers and will also be interesting for those who have been to Israel previously. We are visiting many “must-see” locations, including the Western Wall in Jerusalem (for Friday night services!), Masada, and Tel Aviv. We are also going off the beaten path to do a tzedakah project at a Jaffa food pantry, a tour of Old Jaffa, and an artist’s demonstration in Safed. At Tzippori, Lee Levine, one of Israel’s leading archeologists (and Rabbi Debra’s close family friend) will explain the astonishing excavations and mosaics.

You can travel by air with or apart from the group, and you can extend your stay before or after the tour. We expect this to be a deeply spiritual, unique, and exciting trip! The deadline to guarantee the current price is July 6. Learn more at Rabbi Debra Orenstein - Israel Trip.

Craig's Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

I’ve been reading about the brain lately. Michio Kaku’s book The Future of the Mind takes you through the history of brain science, the current knowledge, and postulations about the future. Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind comes at some of the same ideas from a psychological perspective and explores how we evolved a sense of morality – and why different groups (Westerners/Easterners, Republicans/Democrats, etc.) often have very different definitions of morality. And then I’ve been listening to a few NPR reports on what goes on in your brain when you sleep – and when you don’t. It’s all making me a little nervous.

While these reports describe aspects of personality and behavior in biological rather than spiritual terms, even Kaku, the rationalist, agrees that there is a point in exploring the workings of the mind that defies biological definition. We can understand a great deal by seeing our physical construction and operation, but there’s a limit to what science can explain or what computers can (so far) replicate. Understanding scientific findings can lend perspective to your decision-making, but many times daily you come to that moment of “now” when the executive function inside you must decide what is right. How well do you hear that voice?

Every year at High Holidays and in every Amidah, I try to hear for that voice, a voice of reality, of objectivity, of true guidance. But my mind is a crowded place. I have craven thoughts, intellectual curiosity, worries about kids and money and work, a laugh from last night’s John Stewart. If I don’t make mental space, a fence around that spiritual Torah, I can’t hear the truth I seek. That’s why Debra’s message is so important. Before Passover we make a physical effort to clear out our houses of chametz. During this time, the summer months before High Holidays, many of us have the chance to clear our minds, to do the necessary tasks of rest and repair. Scientists tell us our brains require it to synthesize and cement new knowledge. The sages already knew that.

Take these months to rest and renew, that you may meet the next year with vigor, wisdom, and patience enough to let the voice of truth come to you.

High Holiday Preparations - It's Not Too Soon . . .

Some rabbis, cantors, and lay leaders have begun to prepare for the High Holidays. Others are just beginning to anticipate them. Some may be dreading the work and demanding practical and spiritual preparations that are required. Please don’t dread! (Happier alternatives are below.)

Whether you are writing sermons, distributing honors, and/or conducting your own review of the past year, starting early will make the holidays less pressured and more meaningful. Allotting sufficient time and focus is half the work of preparation.

One easy way to get started is to listen to the CD's or downloads we have available. All of them are edited from live High Holiday recordings, so you will get to hear Rabbi Debra and Reb Zalman on topics that resonate with the themes and spiritual work of the Days of Awe.

Many people have told us that listening – and especially repeated listening – has inspired both their own spiritual work and their own sermons and teachings. The CDs offer prayers, prayer explanations, sermons, meditations, questions & answers, but, more than that, they are a sound track for repentance, forgiveness, and transformation.

Please also visit our Holidays page, for many free downloads, including meditations, quotations, journal prompts, audio, and other resources to help you prepare for the High Holidays.

Calendar & Scholar-In-Residence Appearances - Join or Invite Debra.

Rabbi Debra has recently served as a scholar-in-residence in Potsdam, NY, and Bloomington, IN. She will be leading Shabbat Services for the Hebrew Congregation at the Chautauqua Institution on August 14-15. If you have not yet been to Chautauqua, it is an amazing “summer camp” for adults who love religion, politics, and the arts. (There are also children’s programs available.) You are invited to join Craig, Debra, and our children at Chautauqua this summer!

If you would like to invite Debra for a single lecture, a scholar-in-residence weekend, or a longer-term residency, please visit the or visit the Scholar-In-Residence page at

We welcome your inquiries about Debra's trip to Israel in October. L’shana haba’ah biyerushalyim – next year in Jerusalem!

Staying in Touch - With thanks to our subscribers

Please be in touch via e-mail with any comments or questions about the newsletter, the teaching CD's, or any resources on the website.

We always appreciate any positive reviews you might leave on iTunes, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble. Thank you for all your interest and support.

Have a restful, restorative summer!

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