Sh’ma Now curates conversations on a single theme rooted in Jewish tradition and the contemporary moment. At the heart of this issue of Sh’ma Now is the theme of “Hineni” “Being present for oneself and others.” The perspectives shared in these pages are meant to be expansive — to inspire reflections on Judaism and possibility in ways you may not have considered before. They aim to hold discord. We hope that the richness and diversity of these essays will show you new perspectives that are personally meaningful and edifying.
Sh’ma Now has never viewed learning or “meaning-making” as solely an individual activity. That’s why we have included this guide, which is specifically designed to help you consider the idea of going forth independently or with others, formally and informally.
How to Begin
This guide offers a variety of suggestions, including activities and conversation prompts for individual contemplation and informal or more structured conversations. We suggest that you use this guide to share reflections and thoughts over a Shabbat meal, or, for those who are more adventurous, to lead a planned, structured conversation, inviting a small group of friends and family to your home or to a coffee shop. If you would like more information about ways in which this journal might be used, please contact Susan Berrin, Sh’ma Now editor-in-chief, at SBerrin@shma.com. You can also print out a PDF of the entire issue at https://forward.com/shma-now/.
Guidelines for Discussion
If you wish to hold a structured conversation, the following guidelines may help you to create a space that allows for honest personal exploration through sharing:
- Create a sense of shared purpose that can foster the kind of internal reflection that happens through group conversation.
- Remind participants of simple ground rules for conversations. For example: Avoid commenting on and critiquing each other’s comments. Make room for everyone to speak. Step into or away from the conversation appropriately. No one participant should dominate the conversation. Let silence sit, allowing participants to gather their thoughts.
- For each of the questions below, we recommend that you print out the article in question, or provide the link to it, and we ask that you to take a moment to read it in print or on screen, before the conversation begins.
- Allow people a few minutes to absorb the article, perhaps even to read it a second time, before moving into the discussion.
Interpretive Questionscanfocus the reader on the ideas in the articles.
Rabbi ScottPerlo writes about the role of a prayer emissary. “Every year, I wonder whether I’m fit for the role…to speak for the community before the Most High.” How do you understand the role of an emissary? And how does your own personal theology fit with the idea of communal prayer? Where are you and what are you doing when you connect to something greater than yourself, when you are seeking transcendent moments?
Rabbi SusanTalve writes about being present in places where she is not always and immediately welcome. She discusses her work in coalitions with others to build relationships that strengthen both multifaith alliances for bettering society and alliances that support individual faith leaders and the ideas they represent. What roles might Jews play in a movement such as “Black Lives Matter”? And how should individual Jews (leaders and supporters) address any antisemitism they experience at meetings, rallies, and other events they attend to support important social justice work?
- Rabbi Batshir Torchio looks at the “call and response” of “Where are you? Ayeka?” and “Here I am. Hineni.” This rich and paradoxical connection is ripe for speculation. How do you understand the connection between this question and its response? Ayeka first appears in the Torah when God is looking for Adam: How could God not know where Adam is? How is Adam’s response different than Abraham’s response several chapters later in Genesis, when he’s called upon to sacrifice Isaac and he answers, “Here I am”?
- What role does paradox play in your experiences of the High Holidays?
Reflective Questionscanhelp to integrate the ideas in these articles with one’s own sense of self.
- Karen Ehrlichman’s poetic reflection explores the world of familial caregiving. She writes about being her mother’s anchor and advocate when she was ill and vulnerable. How do families negotiate caregiving roles? And how do families and individuals respond to disappointments when the responsibility for caregiving isn’t distributed among families equally? What happens when ne person always shows up and another does not? What happens when “being present” for someone grows burdensome?
- Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow writes as a pastoral caregiver. She leans on the Hasidic masters, such as the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Dov Baer of Mezritch, to find a deeply Jewish approach to death. As we become more aware of death as a part of life, how do we make death less alien and more connected to our living? How does that translate for caregivers, for the dying, and for those who take on the mitzvah of caring for the dead? Do you think about death differently during this High Holiday season?
- In NiSh’ma, three writers explore the prayer recited during the High Holidays just after the Torah reading and before the beginning of the Musaf service. Carefully, read the verse: “Here I stand, impoverished in merit…unfit and unworthy for the task.” Why would a prayer focus so much on being unfit? What role does humility play in our prayers? Read the commentary of Yavilah McCoy. Do you hear anger? Awe? Discuss what gives her power, strength, and courage.