Each week at our staff meeting, one of the ISJL employees gives a brief “d’var,” sharing some thoughts about either the weekly Torah portion, or words of wisdom about an upcoming holiday, our time on the road, and so on. This week, Ann Zivitz Kimball is on the road with Dr. Ron Wolfson, sharing lots of words of wisdom with communities across the South – but before heading out of town, she wrote this “for-the-blog-d’var” with her musings on destiny vs. free will … which might also provide some good car conversations while she’s on the road with the Wolfsons. Enjoy!
I believe with perfect faith that we are all created in the Divine image with a purpose, destiny, path and fate. On the other hand …
I believe with perfect faith that we are all created in the Divine image with complete and total free will. On the other hand (in her best Tevye voice) …
I believe with perfect faith that we are all created in the Divine image with a purpose, destiny, path and fate, and free will — AND I believe that when we use our free will and follow our hearts and minds, choosing unselfishness and compassion over ego and control, that we are much more likely to be present and aware in the moments that our lives intersect with Divine destiny.
Moses, by his own account, was a “stranger in a strange land”. Through hap and circumstance, miracle and tragedy, he was just passing by a bush, like many others before him; what makes the story different is that he took the time to notice the bush was both on fire and also not being consumed by the fire. From that moment on, he became the central figure in the Torah. Or was it from the moment he was born, or even before his birth, in some pre-destined plan, that he became a great figure? What if he had chosen to walk away as every instinct in his being cried out for him to do? Did he have that option?
Joseph, another stranger in a strange land, was placed in a foreign land by God’s divine plan, as he clearly believes … but was it a plan, or a series of random events? Either the events, or his destiny, led him to a pivotal moment of revelation to his brothers and saving not only the Israelites, but also the Egyptians – and becoming a hero!
Esther, a Jewish Queen of Persia, (undercover of course) found herself in just the right place, at just the right moment in time to save her people. Was it only because Mordecai insisted she apply for the job, or would she have been there anyway through destiny?
It is in those special moments, the great ones recorded in history and the every day ones we experience in our own lives, when we elevate ourselves and others, that we exhibit ourselves in the Divine image and God is experienced as a verb.
Fate, or free will? Can it be both?
Have you ever had a moment (great or small) when you felt that your very presence in that place, at that time, or with that person changed an outcome for the better or saved a life? Did it feel like pure chance … or destiny?
What do Yiddish-speaking chickens, screaming latkes, and a pig who really, really wants to be kosher have in common?
They’re all characters featured in Jewish Books Cooking, a children’s theater show that brings eight popular, contemporary children’s books to life with bright characters and catchy songs.
Jewish Books Cooking (JBC) is a project made possible by The Covenant Foundation. The show debuted earlier this year in New York City. Created and directed by Liz Swados, the New York production of Jewish Books Cooking was mounted at several venues around the city. This December, along with a new director, new music director, and new cast, the show is also going to have a whole new destination – the Deep South.
How does a show like JBC wind up traveling through the South? It happened how it always happens in show biz, baby: “ya know a guy.”
While preparing for the inaugural New York production, the staff at Covenant thought about how great it might be to bring a peppy show like this to smaller communities. They would need a director for the touring show, and an organizational partner with connections to smaller communities…
But they knew a guy – or, in this case, a gal – and they knew of just such an organization. So they made a few phone calls. They called me (because I’m a theater nerd who lives in Mississippi, and was lucky enough to intern with Covenant awhile back). They called the ISJL (since they’re an organization located in Mississippi, accustomed to partnering and delivering programming to smaller communities). They posed the question: what do you think about teaming up to bring JBC to Southern cities – smaller communities that aren’t always reached by this sort of performance?
Everyone was excited about the idea. I mean, who wouldn’t want to bring something totally different to Southern audiences … namely, a children’s show filled with moxie-rich Jewish stories, not to mention all the kooky, rapping, dancing, hilarious characters?
In short order we had actors, venues, and everything else the recipe called for to stir up a Southern helping of Jewish Books Cooking. Though a lot to wrangle, this has been a fun and rewarding process. The stories included in the show are all upbeat, sometimes poignant, sometimes zany, but never dull. The music gets stuck in your head for days — in a good way, as the entire cast can assure you. And even the craziest of the characters is charming and relate-able, especially as conveyed by our talented actors. (These guys are pros: they go from being rats to parrots to witches to fried foods, without batting an eye!)
Directing JBC has been a treat. But best of all, knowing that this show will travel around and delight audiences who might not see anything like it all year … well. It’s practically a theatrical Chanukah miracle.
Next week, this show hits the road, traveling to Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Memphis, and closes out right here in Jackson, Mississippi. The show is free, and the Southern touring production will be followed by a family program focused on exploring Jewish stories and sharing family bedtime rituals. The program was written and will be implemented by the ISJL Education Department staff – so it’ll be just as fun as the show itself.
Welllllllllll, maybe it’ll be more fun. I mean, the show is pretty hard to beat. Did I mention there’s a Yiddish-speaking chicken?
If JBC is coming to a city near you, find more info here and go check it out! In the meantime, tell us: what’s your favorite Jewish children’s story?
We hear a lot about “interfaith” and “outreach” programming. In fact, I spend a lot of my time promoting it. But why does it matter? If it might lead to some difficult conversations and such – why bother?
Well, my experiences not only as a director of programming, but also as a proud New Orleans native, have shaped my understanding of the value and vital need for these sorts of efforts.
“….Temple Sinai is a house of prayer for all people and all who enter our doors in the spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood are always welcome and that includes the members of Greater St. Stephens Ministries.”
These words were spoken by Rabbi Edward Cohn. Since becoming the Rabbi of Temple Sinai in New Orleans 25 years ago, Rabbi Cohn has made interfaith and outreach programming a priority for the congregation. His efforts have led to a strong New Orleans Interfaith clergy group which meets on a regular basis to discuss theological, ethical and political issues as well as forming strong bonds of friendship which have served all of these congregations well. Often times, our opinions or convictions may conflict, but there is always respect and love. In times of celebration and in times of tragedy, these congregations have stood with each other side by side.
In fact, when the Greater St. Stephens Baptist Church burned down, Rabbi Cohn reached out to Bishop Paul Morton and Senior Pastor Debra Morton and offered the Temple Sinai sanctuary as a … sanctuary!
I attended several of the services to see what it was like while the St. Stephens congregation was worshiping in my synagogue. Sitting in the back of that 1,100 seat-sanctuary (completely filled twice each Sunday while they were there), I was blown away by the full Gospel choir and the spirit. Whatever your faith, God was in that place, and I knew it.
That’s why interfaith and outreach programming matters. Because in times of triumph, and in times of trial, it enables us to be better neighbors and experience modern miracles … like when the trial becomes the triumph, and two communities can share one sacred space.
What has been your very best interfaith experience?