Monday, August 27, 2012

The Symposium

I arrived in my beloved Oakland day on Monday night and was picked up by a dear friend. She is part of a collective household where I am staying while in the Bay, a lovely assortment of Buddhists and Witches. I missed some morning sits, but I was blessed to sit with them on Wednesday and Saturday!

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I went to Starr King School for the Ministry's first ever Symposium. It was held the days after orientation for new students (which is, in itself quite the affair*!) This year, they are honoring the Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi with an honorary doctorate. He is one of the founders of the Jewish Renewal movement and we were blessed to hear him and his wife, Eve, speak over the course of three days.

I had never heard of Reb Zalman before, but I had seen the fruits of his labors first hand. I am surprised that I have never wrote here about Chochmat Ha'Lev, the Jewish Renewal temple in Berkeley and my experiences there**.

We Starr Kingers were blessed to be in collaboration with Chochmat on this event, and their musicians and congregants were in attendance- they added joy and ecstacy to our rituals and services. We had a joyful opening ritual, which was a delightful blend of Sufi Zhikr, Jewish Renewal shabbat service, and Unitarian Universalism weaving it all together. This was a ritual that not only talked about "organic multireligiousity" but did it, gladly and wholeheartedly. There is a line that exists between multireligiousity and appropriation- and because SKSM truly encompasses people of all faiths and beliefs and they are bringing their traditions to the table to share- it is the former not the latter. It feels liberating.

As a polytheist Witch, I feel completely at home at SKSM, even when I am misunderstood. There is room for misunderstandings at Starr King, as it always leads us to better understanding through dialogue- because people there are committed to building beloved community***.

At the symposium, I was in for a treat and took copious notes. Expect some philosophical theological posts in the near future! One of the Starr King faculty, Ibrahim Farajaje, introduced our honored guest thusly, "(Reb Zalman) cracks open the cosmic cardamom so that we may enjoy the sweet taste and smell of his teachings." Indeed! I have a lot to ponder and draw inspiration from whilst I review my notes.

The shofar was blown and we prepared ourselves to listen to this man, whose amazing life and works have touched so many. Over the three days, he talked on so many subjects: how G-d is nature, how to teach children about the universe, brain chemistry and the soul, how we are all not just connected but are divine ("Upon waking and finding myself alive, I say, 'Dear G-d, you decided to be Zalman another day? OK, I'll give you a good ride.'")

His talks gave me a lot to think about and I am still processing. Heck, I am processing the whole experience, really. We discussed Audre Lorde and how two of her essays could be read and combined with Reb Zalman's. We had a workshop on Theater of the Oppressed and I have a lot to ponder on those exercises, too. The Ritual Arts Collective created two amazing rituals that left me breathless and weeping at times. I had a great Symposium and also had a great visit to the Bay afterwards.

*My orientation was overwhelming and moving. Students are included in a ritual that walks the talk of radical trust and beloved community and are given keys to the building so that they may enter it, day or night. It was such an amazing gesture, I wept.

**How to describe Chochmat? Joyous, inclusive, ecstatic, and mystical. I was blown away by their shabbat service with the singing, dancing, and squealing, giggling children diving into pillows. I would go back in a heartbeat and wish that there was a Jewish Renewal temple in Columbus.

***My first UU Church, in Oakland, CA has a dedication to building beloved community. Here is the statement about it from their website: To build a radically inclusive community, to grow the beloved community by expanding the welcome table and deepening our commitments to countering oppression as an intentional multiracial, multicultural, multigenerational congregation. There is a sermon here about it.

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