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Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness
Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness
"We are all endowed with talents, aptitudes, facilities; yet talent without dedication, aptitude without vocation, facility without spiritual dignity end in frustration. What is spiritual dignity? The attachment of the soul to a goal that lies beyond the self, a goal not within but beyond the self." Abraham Heschel, from "God in Search of (Hu)Man(ity)
Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness
Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness
Shabbat Shalom! Gut Shabbes! Sabado dulse i bueno!

This week's parsha is Bereshit, Genesis 1:1-6:8. It covers the grand sweep of two creation stories, the separation of HaAdam, the Human, into Adam and Eve, sexes capable of reproduction, Eden, temptation, rule breaking, expulsion / emergence into the non-Edenic world, Cain and Abel, murder, generations, weird children of angels and humans, God gets angry. From formless emptiness to the goodness of creation to imminent destruction in one Torah portion.

The Torah scroll has been rewound. We start over. And so this Shabbat reflection starts with a memory from my youth rather than from Bereshit.

I first heard the slightly mangled, famous version of the koan "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" from my seventh-grade English teacher Mike Hartrich as he walked us through an analysis of the lyrics of Jewish duo Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence."

His age-appropriate minimal explanation of what Zen was and what a koan was were intriguing to my twelve-year-old mind. But looking back on it, I find it interesting that the idea of a koan was introduced by suggesting that it was the question that a song lyric answered.

Japanese Zen master Hakuin (1686-1769), originally devised the koan in this form: "In clapping both hands, a sound is heard. What is the sound of one hand?" I realize now that koans aren't about answers but about getting beyond linear thought, getting beyond either/or binaries, getting beyond the idea of a "right" answer.

But in seventh grade, I thought that a koan was a puzzle, a riddle with a right answer that one found by thinking the "right" way. I learned and "knew" what the sound of one hand clapping was. Silence - the absence of noise production - was the "right" "answer."

A good teacher could only introduce something new, not escort me to some final destination I must then have believed to exist.

Then as a middle-aged adult I discovered that one hand clapping is also Talmudic. In the lesser known Yerushalmi (Talmud of the Land of Israel) - rather than the Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) - we find a story about one hand clapping in the lives of Shimon ben Lakish, better known as Reish Lakish, and Rabbi Yochanan, Third Century CE teachers in the area around the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee.

There are several interesting and amusing narratives of their lives apart and together. Rabbi Yochanan applied himself early to study and became a master, but Reish Lakish came to it late, after younger years as a bandit and a gladiator.

When they first met, the rabbi was bathing in a river, and Reish Lakish, mistaking him for a woman because of his delicate features, bounded to his side in the river with an amorous adventure - or worse - on his mind. Reish Lakish was not a man of refined intentions. From that day on, the two were fast friends.

Reish Lakish married Rabbi Yochanan's sister and took to the books with Rabbi Yochanan as as his chavruta, his study partner, as well as his best friend and brother-in-law. Eventually, Reish Lakish became as well known for his teaching as his friend.

The Talmudic one-hand-clapping story goes like this:

Once Rabbi Yudan Hanasi heard a teaching of Reish Lakish's and was outraged. He sent guards to arrest Reish Lakish, and they roughed him up. Reish Lakish ran for it and fled to Magdala, and some say, to the village Hittayya.

The next day, Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Yudan Hanasi went up to the meetinghouse. Rabbi Yudan asked Rabbi Yochanan, "Why does my master not give us a teaching of Torah?"

Rabbi Yochanan began to clap with one hand.

Rabbi Yudan said to him, "Do people clap with only one hand?"

He said to him, "No. For Reish Lakish is not here. Just as one hand cannot clap, I cannot teach Torah without Reish Lakish here."

(Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 2:1*, translated by Judith Z. Abrams)

Unable to teach without his friend, Rabbi Yochanan nearly wordlessly taught the relational nature of teaching, learning, and even thinking.

Christian European traditions of learning often made study into a solitary, monkish endeavor that you accomplished in isolation from the flow of life, whether in a study or library or in a cloister. The Jewish traditions made learning relational, something you do with a partner.

What is the sound of one hand clapping? Does one hand make a sound? Do people clap with one hand? No. It is not good to be alone. We need each other.

(Shabbat reflection by the Rev. Paul Oakley)
Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness
Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness
Dear friends, your Board wishes you a chag sameach sukkot! We will soon post excerpts from our high holy days services, in a way that respects others' copyrights. And, we are planning future holiday shabbat services, do stay tuned!
Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness
Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness
All are welcome to join us on the evening of Yom Kippur, September 27th at 7PM, we will co-host a service with the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship on ZOOM. Let us reflect on what matters most, on the possibility of individual and collective change, and on beloveds we have lost in the last year. Join Rev. Alison Miller & UUs for Jewish Awareness for this annual service at:
Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness
Unitarian Universalists for Jewish Awareness
Shanah tova, dear friends of UUJA, we have some suggestions for your participation in the High Holy Days this year.

Firstly, the evening services conducted by our own Rev Alison Miller of the UU Fellowship of Morristown, NJ. These will be UU services which honor the Jewish roots of our faith. All are invited to evening services for ROSH HASHANAH on Friday, September 18th at 7pm Eastern on ZOOM and for KOL NIDRE on Sunday, September 27th at 7pm Eastern on ZOOM. The link for both services is:

Secondly, at the usual time for UU Sunday services, The Rev Leah Ongiri, former UUJA President, will conduct a UU service for the High Holy Days from the UU Fellowship of Appleton, WI. She writes: As is tradition at our Fellowship, we will mark the Jewish High Holy Days by reflecting with Jewish Unitarian Universalists Rev. Leah and Jaclyn Kottman and experiencing ancient sacred Kol Nidrei music offered by Dan Van Sickle and Mark Urness. Same service—and yet, like so much these days, it will be different. During a global pandemic, how might Judaism suggest we reckon with deprivation, discomfort, and disappointment caused by human behavior? A simple home ritual can help you establish your sense of self, reclaim some power, and set intention. All are warmly invited to attend!
10 AM CST, September 20th, 2020 Reclaiming Power: A Days of Awe Service by Rev. Leah Ongiri and lay leader Jaclyn Kottman. Go to and scroll down.
Thirdly, our “cousins” at the Society for Humanistic Judaism are offering a wide variety of services at their many congregations in several time zones, including morning services and Yizkor.

Finally, a new group, JewBelong (, looks like an inclusive and interesting resource for UUJA supporters. Here are their offerings:

1) The Program! Sins, Stars, and Shofars! A JewBelong Virtual High Holidays Experience premieres on September 18th at 7:30pm ET and will be available to watch throughout the High Holiday season. Get your free ticket here.

2) The Digital Rituals! We’ll guide you through the High Holiday themes of Apology, Tashlich (casting off our sins and what no longer serves us), and Legacy (what do you want written on your tombstone and how do you start living that way).

3) The High Holidays Booklet! Use it to follow along with the show or have your own DIY High Holidays celebration!

Book Review – “Anne Frank and the Remembering Tree”

Teaching without Terrifying: Younger Children and the Holocaust

By Rev.Marti Keller

Memoirist Deborah Feldman, who walked away from her Hasidic upbringing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn as a young adult, has been on an exodus to discover who she is as a Jewish person now that she has rejected her ultra-Orthodox roots. Part of her journey was a trip through Europe retracing her grandmother’s life during the Holocaust, including time in a concentration camp.

At the Holocaust museum in Berlin, she wandered into one room where there was an explanation of death camps: what they were, how they were run. While she was there, she saw a little boy of around seven in an audio booth with headphones listening to an explanation of how millions of Jews were transported to and processed for their deaths in the Auschwitz gas chambers during World War 11.

In her book Exodus, she wrote, “You shouldn’t be here I wanted to say. You are too young.” Upon further reflection, she observed that there really was such a thing as a small child who needed to be educated about those death camps in order to grow up to be a decent human being.

For a non-Jewish German child, this was the expressed reason for such early and explicit teaching on ethnic hatred and its too often horrifying consequences

For contemporary Jewish parents and their children, as Tablet magazine religion columnist Marjorie Ingall wrote in a column on Holocaust books,  seemingly disregarding what happened 75 years ago ( and for centuries before) because we wish them to be carefree and happy is simply an impossibility.

Really? She asks. We are Jews with a history that hasn’t been carefree and happy. Our children need to know the darker side of what it has meant to be Jewish for so many years in so many places. If we don’t do the educating about anti-Semitism and about genocide, she reminds us, as it is with sex Ed, someone else will do it for us. Certainly by the time our child is eight years old, we should be doing so in a way that is not too graphic, too terrifying to both caregiver and child.

I don’t recall an intentional conversation with any of my own kids when they were elementary school age, or   knowing about any in their public schools or religious education classes: even while having experienced a petrifying incident as a 10 year old myself. I was thrown against a chain link fence by two female classmates and accused of killing Christ.

It is not a matter of us wanting to forget the Holocaust and the virulent loathing of the Jewish people that undergirded it. Those of us who are self-identified Jewish Unitarian Universalists are more than likely to be aligned with the 73 percent of American Jews who ,when surveyed by the Pew Research Center a couple of years back, said that remembering the Holocaust is essential to their sense of Jewishness. We need appropriate materials, as do all parents, that begin to tell the distressing but very real stories of discrimination and annihilation, to teach our kids about our history, as Marjorie Ingall proposes, without scarring them for life.

In light of the recent horrendous, hate triggered , murderous events in Pakistan, Paris and Nigeria, it is both terribly unfortunate and also fortuitous that our own UU Skinner House press has just published  Anne Frank and the Remembering Tree , a  children’s  book written by well- known Jewish author Sandy Sasso, with enticing illustrations by Erika Steisal. Some of the story of the girl, whose diary was key in exposing the evils of the Holocaust to millions of Jews and non-Jews around the world, is told using a clever and effective narrative device. The now famous horse chestnut tree that Anne could see from the attic of her family’s hiding place from the Nazis describes her life before she was taken away to a camp. What happened there, her death from typhus and the obliteration of all of the others who had hidden in that Secret Annex in Amsterdam is not shared. But the humanness of Anne and her sister Margot in particular, the injustice of their treatment, and the trajectory of hatred are vividly conveyed.

As the parent of three grown children now (and a former UU religious education teacher), I wish this book had been available when my school age children were beginning to be aware of the Holocaust and other genocides. This is a book to be read with our children, or by our children, and certainly in group settings where the story of Anne and her family, and of the chestnut tree whose saplings are now planted  in so many places in remembrance and in hope is unfortunately too much needed today.

Rev. Marti Keller is a lifelong, self-identified Jewnitarian, was co-editor of Jewish Voices  in Unitarian Universalism and past president of UUJA

Rev. Marti Keller


Interview with Rabbi Marcia Falk

A piece worth sharing from Lilith Magazine.


A Testimonial

Dana Snyder-Grant has given the UUJA permission to share the following testimonial given March 2014 at First Parish in Concord (MA).


Hello.  My  name is Dana Snyder-Grant.

First Parish has become very precious to me over the last 10 years, and so even though this is scary, I’ve decided to stand up here and talk about four things: being Jewish, being disabled, how Pastoral Care has become a calling, and why First Parish has become a home for me.

I was raised Jewish, and coming to a place many call a church was very scary. First, I felt I was betraying the millions who died because they were Jewish.  I figured that joining a place with deep Christian roots meant I had to leave Judaism behind, or risk rejection.

But that hasn’t been so. First, I can be Jewish and Unitarian Universalist, or, as some call it, Junitarian.  No one here has asked me to give up what it is I value about my upbringing. A few weeks after I started coming here, Margaret Stewart asked me to sing the Chanukah blessings at a service. I love sharing those beautiful melodies.  Soon after, I started the Jewish Awareness affinity group that’s still going on. It’s helped me sort through what Judaism means to me, what I like about it, and what I want to leave behind. And I keep finding this overlap between Judaism and Unitarian Universalism: the natural empathy for the marginalized and downtrodden, the notion that doing what’s right is more important than what you happen to believe, that behind all our diversity, we are one.

I’ve had MS, multiple sclerosis, for more than 30 years. That’s why I look a bit drunk when I walk. Meeting new people is scary because some people like to fit me into a box they have for ‘disabled people’. In all my dealings with First Parish members and staff, you have been welcoming, supportive, and seen me as a person first. (Pause)

Because of my journey with MS, a big part of my social work career has been with people with illness and disability.  After I was invited to talk to the lay ministers about that work, I knew I wanted to be part of their warm, caring circle.  Compared to the counseling I was used to,  pastoral care was more about simply being present with people, using my heart and soul, more than my head.  I know how hard it is to ask for, and accept, help in this culture.  But I’ve learned here that it is a blessing to give and to receive.  Two years ago, I added pastoral singing to my activities, by joining the By Your Side singers, our pastoral care choir.

That’s the most important thing I’m doing in my life.

First  Parish has let me become more myself, by helping me find new ways to express my care, and new confidence that I’m fine just the way I am. I want that miracle to happen for others, and so Jim and I give what we can, with our time and money, and are proud to be members of First Parish.

The Garden of Time – Now Available at the UUA Bookstore

The Garden of TimeThe Garden of Time

By: Jill Hammer Illustrator: Zoë Cohen

Published by Skinner House Books 4/17/14



In this story based on ancient Jewish legend, Adam and Eve walk through the Garden of Eden, noticing what is happening around them and deciding what holidays they will celebrate based on what they see, smell, hear, and taste. Gorgeous text and art illuminate Judaism, the calendar, and the environment for both children and adults.

Includes guides to the Jewish holidays and ancient iconography.

With beautiful images and words, The Garden of Time offers a magical path through the seasons and allows the sacred breath of life to blow through all our souls. Take a walk in the garden; be refreshed and renewed.
—Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, author, The Shema in the Mezuzah: Listening to Each Other

As Adam and Eve discover seasons in the Garden of Time, readers become aware of the universal spirituality and meaning for living within each Jewish holiday. Zoe Cohen’s beautiful paintings, which echo ancient Near Eastern art, invite readers into an ancient paradise that is both magical and deeply rooted in the earth. Rabbi Jill Hammer is a world-class storyteller, helping children and adults to connect their experiences in nature to festivals like Hanukkah and Passover. A wonderful teaching aid, intergenerational and multifaith discussion starter, and perfect holiday gift.
—Rabbi Goldie Milgram, co-editor, Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning

The Garden of Time reveals the cycle and meaning of time, the seasons, and the Jewish holidays in many-splendored ways. Jill Hammer’s poetic, midrashic writing led me to see the passage of time in technicolor and with all my senses and to experience it with a renewed vision and a bountiful appreciation. I enthusiastically recommend this transcendent book as an intergenerational shared story!
—-Peninnah Schram, author, The Apple Tree’s Discovery

Gracefully written and beautifully illustrated, The Garden of Time roots each holiday in its season, in the cycle of nature. In our urban, speeded up, digital lives, nature is often little more than an amusement or an obstacle, and we can forget how integral the seasons are to our cycle of holidays. Jill Hammer’s lilting text and Zoe Cohen’s surprising drawings remind us that the cycle of our holidays is rooted in the cycle of nature. I look forward to reading this book with children in my family and community.
—Arthur Strimling, Maggid HaMakom, Congregation Kolot Chayeinu, Brooklyn, NY