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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!