Consider and Converse: A Guide to Shevirah / Brokenness / Embracing Imperfection
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 “shevirah” — “Embracing Imperfection and brokenness.” 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 print out a PDF of the entire issue focusing on “shevirah” from https://forward.com/shma-now/ 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 Questionscanfocus the reader on the ideas in the articles.
- Rabbi Jill Jacobs (p. 1) writes that the blasts of the “shofar reveal a secret: wholeness and brokenness cannot be separated from one another.” How do you imagine that connection—and in what circumstances do brokenness and wholeness intersect?
- Eitan Kensky’s essay [p. 3] explores art as a creative response to disequilibrium. He analyzes the poetry of Avrom Sutzkever, specifically the poem “Green Aquarium.” How do you understand the relationship of breakage and art? In what ways do you agree and disagree with Leonard Cohen’s line, “There is a crack, a crack in everything.That’s how the light gets in.”?
- Shaul Magid [p. 2] writes about the myths that sustain us as a people. “Myths are like living things; they are born, they serve a purpose, and they die.” What myths have grabbed hold of American Jewry, and what role do these myths play in constructing community? Do some myths need to be shattered? How have you personally shifted your religious and cultural experiences in response to the mythology you’ve bumped up against?
Reflective Questionscanhelp integrate the ideas in these articles with one’s own sense of self.
- Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer [p. 2l] lost their son Sam to Leukemia a few years ago. Though devastated, they are beginning to learn that they “cannot be only in a place of sadness… It seems to be an insult to the world to ignore its goodness because we would rather live in the valley of the shadow.” What are the ways that you keep memories alive while moving beyond the darkest places of mourning? What helps you adjust to changing realities of loss?
- In Rabbi Jill Jacobs’ essay [p. 1], she quotes the Psalms in suggesting that brokenness gives us greater access to God. “God is close to the broken-hearted.” (34:19) Do you feel a deeper spiritual closeness when you feel broken-hearted? Do you seek spiritual succor? Where do you go for that succor?
- In NiSh’ma, [p. 4] three writers explore what it means that the “broken tablets were placed in the holy Ark along with thesecond, intact set.” Look specifically at Rabbi Adina Lewittes’ commentary where she suggests that the shards remind us of “sacred symbols of… eternal disassembling and reassembling that bind a people, that animate a soul.” How do you understand her commentary? Do you agree? Nathan Ehrlich uses his personal history to understand the role of accepting brokenness as part of a healing process. “We hold onto brokenness because it is an essential part of gaining wisdom, growing, and, indeed, living.” In what situation has this advise been helpful to you? Rabbi Margie Klein Ronkin examines the writing of the Apter Rebbe, who suggests that the second set of tablets allowed Moses to work with the people to put them back together. “Only when the entire community plays a role in creating the rules will they all abide the rules.” Can communities work with their leaders in constructing the rules of governance? How does it work and what are the pitfalls?v