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 lech lecha, “Take yourself and go.” 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, that 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 else, 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. To support your conversation, you can download and print out a PDF of the entire issue focusing on lech lecha or email Susan Berrin, Sh’ma Now editor-in-chief, at SBerrin@shma.com.
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 you print out the article in question, or provide the link to it, and ask people 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 Questions can focus the reader on the ideas in the articles.
- Rabbi Menachem Creditor [p. 1] writes about how the sacred journey is accompanied by risk. How do you cultivate the necessary faith and trust for the path ahead? Have you felt — and under what circumstances — an urge to set out on a journey into the unknown? What type of journey would that be?
Steven Aftergood’s essay [p. 2] describes some of the ways security analysts work. How might we calibrate “fear” and “trust” today? When fear of the “other” is so rampant (and often justified) in America, Europe, and Israel, how do we address it and recognize its underbelly while holding onto our humanity?
In NiSh’ma, [p. 4] four writers explore the idea of “wilderness.” Look specifically at the commentaries of Zelig Golden and Gail Twersky Reimer. How do they use the metaphor of “wilderness” to provide deeper and richer understandings of “freedom”?
Reflective Questions can help integrate the ideas in these articles with one’s own sense of self.
- What does Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel mean when he writes, “The course of life is unpredictable, no one can write his autobiography in advance”? What, in your autobiography would surprise you?
- When we think of journeys we often consider an external path. But Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, a Hasidic thinker in the first half of the 1800s, best known for his writing, Mei Shiloach, teaches about a different approach — the inward journey. How do you understand: “Move yourself forward, meaning to yourself, to your true source…and the main point of life, you shall find yourself”? How and under what circumstances do the journeys of inner self-knowledge and the external wanderings intersect?
- Ruby Namdar, an Israeli writer living in New York, writes about the risks of physical dislocation as a writer. [p. 3] Rather than worry, he allowed himself to “bask in” the adventure of love. What do you think this might mean? What happens when unknown paths change the course of life and its predictable outcomes?