Wednesday, September 19, 2012



- Joy Krauthammer © 

A meaningful day today on Rosh Hashana with B'nai Horin's Rabbis Stan Levy and Laura Owens, cantors, musicians, shofar players, poets, playwrights, prayer community and gardeners and guards at American Jewish University's Brandeis-Bardin country property. Moving into the chapel on the ground's main lower level (not as overwhelmingly large as the House of the Book), was a positive move! So many congregants said this to me. I did miss the two mile drive up the Santa Susana Mountain, and gazing far out over the 3,200 dry acres from the top of the mountain, and sitting quietly with a friend or two (or sister) on the green grass having a picnic lunch, while most all others drive down the hill to the dining hall and then drive back up for more prayer. The smaller chapel was more intimate and comfortable, with more natural light and warmth, versus the more majestic, renowned, windowless, dimly lit, large, stone circular House of the Book. Today it was easier to physically embrace community in Torah, prayer, stories, sound, song, and dance. Seats were all filled. I could share my prayer book with others who had none, and with newcomers, share the translations of prayer songs we sang so that they too felt welcomed and included.

It was good to see friends from other spiritual communities that I don't see for a whole year, and gather at this time in this sacred space. It was good to have a friend to stand with to say Kaddish prayer, who also mourned the death of our beloved Jerusalem rebbe Yosef, zt'l, one year ago. It was good to congratulate others on their successes, have gratitude, hear new insights, stories, share familiar prayers, pleas, songs, share compassion and condolences, witness age-ing and births, and share New Year's blesSings. Important to say MiSheberach prayer for those in need of healing.

For my musical participation, I am grateful that so many people appreciated the gift of the temple sounds of the crystal and Tibetan singing bowls; that they made a difference. The sound was more clear in this holy space, congregants told me. People even said I "played better" than prior years and that they experienced deep meditation; Must be the good energy of the current room (and the angels within). A surprising surge of warmth filled my upper body receiving genuine generous words from others.

Previous years I played the singing bowls as they sat (in good company with shofarot and plants) crowded on the far side and edge of the bima (the honored table where Torah is read, and I was grateful), but the singing bowls at times also sat awkwardly on the bima / stage platform slightly raised floor, where I played them. Instead, this year, the tall small round humble wood table was perfect (that the rabbi gave me) for my singing bowls. I covered table in a long-fringed golden garment, draped to the floor. There was room for only six of my ten Tibetan singing bowls; I also carefully placed my crystal bowl regally in the center of the six. The setting and energy is different every time I play, and it is always with kavanah / spiritual intention.

This holy day, I mostly did not lift the bowls one by one into my hand, always careful to not stifle the sound during transition, but I played them in their place (because they weren't partially hidden). Some bowls in the rear sit higher on pretty Asian pillows so that they are more visible. I like the aesthetics of the setting. Woman Gong in her simple bamboo stand (this year intentionally unadorned), stood sturdy in front of table and chimes-- both hanging and stationery 'energy' chimes. I enjoy playing the large gong with cotton-covered large mallet at the beginning of meditation, and the smaller sweet chimes at the end of the singing bowls, hoping that helps meditation of listeners-- for them to release themselves and 'return'. Hmm, is that like 'tshuvah'?  I did not play my precious little inherited Asian bells, nor my metal ting shas, etc. (For longer meditations, I play a wide array of musical instruments and offer a poetic guided meditation.) At B'nai Horin services, I've played singing bowls for about twenty years.

Strangely, today I also did not play the bowls in the higher sharper tones (with a slight playful exception), and only played metal bowls using the purple cloth-covered soft end of wooden wand. I don't think I sang the bowl rims either and I love making them sing, not just ring. Today (unlike last night's playing) I did not 'wah wah' my bowls-- which vibrates them in a whole different light; They sound like ripples of bubbling water. For the first time last night, I mouthed the word, "love" while I did 'wah wah' them. I also mouthed "shalom". I admit that 'Ohm' resonates more completely, but 'shalom' is authentically mine. 'Love' felt really good. During playing, I realized for the first time that I was smiling, and not as serious a vessel as usual. Maybe because others were smiling at me. :-)

I felt sad when I finished because I realized that although I traveled with the crystal singing bowl circling from shul front to back along the two outer aisles, and to the clergy and workers in far front and back, I never traversed the middle aisle. Oy. I hope all center seated people received the good sounds. I'm always conscious of not taking too much of the rabbis' prayer time as I play, but I feel badly that I unintentionally missed the middle aisle.  For some especially interested people, at the end of the service when they come to me to personally express themselves, I show them how to play. I also play the singing bowls separately for the armed guards and I notice it is hard for them to 'let go of their guard'.

Before arriving at the chapel for High Holy Days, I stopped by the local cemetery, greeted beloved neshamahs, z'l, and took out the crystal singing bowl from it's beautiful purple velvet and satin-lined bag, and played the crystal bowl for the 'welcoming' cemetery staff. My treat was also that I saw a bunny rabbit by my husband's grave. I usually only see hawks soaring high over the hills.  This visit, I also saw last month's fire-burnt to the ground black land adjacent to the graveyard. A blesSing that this hillside fire by the freeway was quickly extinguished, unlike others. May our blesSIngs extend throughout the New Year.

More on crystal and Tibetan singing bowls:

Joy's Tibetan singing bowls, bells, chimes, gongs
B'nai Horin garden, early 1990's.
© Joy Krauthammer

Many special experiences on Rosh HaShana day one and I share two.

1. In the morning, I clearly saw Debbie, z'l, visiting in front of me to my right (facing B'nai Horin congregation). I'm not surprised by her presence. She was listening to us, sing.

2. A magical moment happened for me during Rosh HaShana first day, while responsively reading a prayer out-loud from the machzor. I have 'been drummed' and I have 'been danced' and this following experience was a first.

Prayer book section II - 57,  "Before the Beginning". 
With the congregation, toward the end of the page I read out loud the words, 

"...But we know it is only when angels move us to act
that they reveal their strength…"

The point I need to share is that I had never before seen nor read this page, and what I unconsciously read out loud --was actually NOT the words on the page.

I stunned myself. I heard myself as I spoke one word that was NOT written, in lieu of the written word. I was 'being voiced'.  I reread the written words:

"...But we know it is only when words move us to act
that they reveal their strength…"

I am grateful that angels must have been speaking through me for me to hear them and to voice them.
I am conscious of the fact that I do not acknowledge as often as I could, the angels that are with me, and this was an awesome surprising way for me mamash to hear truth. Baruch HaShem.  Thank you B'nai Horin leaders. It was a Rosh HaShana filled with blesSings and magic and inspiration. And Angels.


May we ALL be Written and sealed in the Book of Life.
It matters how we hear the Book, how we read the Book, how we speak the Book.
How do you hear, read and speak the Book?
~ ~ ~

Angels Move Us
© Joy Krauthammer

~ ~ ~

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Meanings of Shekhinah, Words of Joy

Meanings of Shekhinah in the "Jewish Renewal" Movement

Reprinted with written permission from author Chava Weissler

pp. 53-83 | 10.1353/nsh.2005.0031
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues 10 (2005) 53-83
Chava Weissler

Encountering a feminist conception of God can transform a life. In Los Angeles during the 1980s, Joy Krauthammer encountered feminism through the Los Angeles Jewish Feminist Center, with such Jewish Renewal teachers as Savina Teubal and Sue Elwell, and later with Judith Halevy. "Feminism gave me the ability to worship a God who isn't the Lord. . . . I can pray to the Source of All Blessings." Not long after, she began to attend the Aleph Kallah (the biennial week-long gathering of Renewal Jews) and Elat Chayyim (the Jewish Spiritual Retreat Center), where she learned how to shape her spiritual practice to her new understanding of divinity:
I start the morning by greeting the sun. . . . I go out in my bare feet and dance in the garden as the sun is coming up, and say the Modah Ani [a prayer said on awakening]. I learned it from Shefa Gold at the Kallah in 1993. I learned that I could be free and liberated to express myself in ways I didn't know I could.

A spiritual seeker for most of her adult life, as well as a musician, photographer, and artist, this woman, coming from a secular Jewish background and married to an Orthodox man, had been involved in both Hare Krishna and Chabad (Lubavitch Hasidism) before settling into Jewish Renewal in the early 1990s. While she still maintains connections with the Orthodox and Chabad communities, Krauthammer is so identified with the Jewish Renewal movement that she introduced herself to me by saying, "I am Renewal!" In addition to her work with women teachers, Krauthammer formed deep connections with male Renewal leaders: Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Shlomo Carlebach, David Zeller, and Stan Levy.
How does one speak of (or pray to) "a God who isn't the Lord," in Krauthammer's phrase? 

This article, after giving some background information on "Aleph: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal," will discuss the use of God language in Renewal and explore how it is implicated in the competing versions of feminism expressed and created by women such as Joy. While the theological meanings of God language are important, the focus here will be on its social meanings, that is, on the implications of this mode of constructing gender for the lives of women and men in the Jewish Renewal movement. Renewal Jews insist that God cannot be comprehended in human language and must be addressed in multiple images. However, one of the most revolutionary moves they make is their reshaping of the mythological figure of the Shekhinah, the feminine divine of Kabbalah. Jewish Renewal's understanding of Shekhinah will be compared to the figure of Shekhinah in classical Kabbalah and to other forms of God language in Renewal. Further, I will argue that the Shekhinah of Jewish Renewal can only be understood if we take into account Renewal's emphasis on artistic avenues for spiritual expression.

"Jewish Renewal is Hasidism meets feminism."
Rabbi David Wolfe-Blank
"Renewal is a well-spring of women's energy."
Nan Fink Geffen
"God is coming through the women this time."
Barbara Breitman
~ ~ ~ 

I also encountered LA feminism at the Shekhina Conference, 1984, chaired by Dr. Gloria F. Orenstein, USC Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature and Gender Studies. Now I am blessed that I am friends with Gloria. - Joy Krauthammer

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Creating My Shofar


In glowing terms I told the visiting SHOFAR FACTORY mavens (Levi from Australia, and Mendel from Brooklyn, as well as my Chabad rabbi) about the Hearing Shofar site and about Shofar Corps!!!  I enjoy reading and contributing thoughts to this expansive shofar site:

I do own, enjoy, and play daily during Elul, a lovely light pearly colored, curvy shiny smooth shofar that I bought in the Old City. 

One of the mavens' dozen display horns was a Gemsbok; I recognized the earthy, long straight heavily rimmed and rough brown natural horn which can double as a percussion guiro!

Mavens and I arrived in Chabad parking lot at same time for the children's (and "young at heart") workshop.  From their car trunk, they brought in a several small horns for the young kids, and when I asked, they allowed me to look myself through their horn-filled car trunk. Looked like a horn graveyard, not appealing or respectful, but a whole lot of horns piled in to choose from. I didn't want an arbitrary horn.

In their auto trunk were a million small horns; I picked out one; not that I liked it or was drawn to it, didn't even have wonderful curvature, but a slight subtle curve, one flat side, no unwanted holes, and it did fit my hand size. I liked it more than the several others I lifted which did not appeal to me and were rough, flaky, scaly, barely curved, dull, thin or short. They didn't call out to me to take them. A very sad day if this was a pet adoption center.

I made the horn mine by stroking it, turning it over and over, like Torah. Touched the inside, the outside. I really liked the smooth dark pointy horn tip. I expected that the horn inside would smell bad and was surprised that the horn smelled OK.

There was a peculiar partially loose membrane tissue layer inside horn's large opening that I tried many times to remove. I mostly got it out by peeling, picking, scraping, and sanding it away without soaking it in hot water-- which is what I'd been advised to do at home.

I liked the horn's natural outside roughness but the maven said G*d wants us to beautify it and enhance it and do some work for it, so nu, I sanded and sanded. Looked dull, not polished. … I do know about Hiddur Mitzvah. Without being told, I also sanded the new 'to be' mouth piece to a pleasant bevel. 

With a slightly curved hanger wire, I measured the inside length of ram's horn until where it was plugged with core, and made a mark a little further on the outside of horn. Rabbi had earlier made a shorter mark but I liked my longer mark for where tip would be cut off. (Better safe than sorry.)

Wearing a dust mask and heavy gloves, I power sawed off the tip after I had sanded forever. I'd never used a hand power saw but I DID today! Had a trigger and was heavy and I kept pushing deeper and increasing the speed. I was the only one who insisted on doing it myself! I DID IT MYSELF and it looked good! The small cut piece has a beautiful coloring. I kept the 2 1/3" tip. I like the tip but it's too short for a percussion striker. If it was an umbilical cord, I would have buried it in ceremony.

Then, at my request, my rabbi let me drill a bit of the solid small end for the mouthpiece but he did most of the boring which is good so I didn't blow it. I had to participate in my shofar creating! I blew the dust out of hole but barely felt the expelled air. 

When after drilling the rabbi blew it-- now a shofar, and it sounded great! Now my turn. On my own, I said Shehecheyanu.  And ME, I can't get a sound out of it… OK, then I got a nothing / gornisht sound out of it, maybe a newborn baby single tekiah, so I know we both have potential…
oy vey.

Babies come through narrow straights. My rabbi quoted something about "narrow straights…"  What was that?  Mitzrayim? The maven said that I'll practice and get better.

Sanded large irregular open end to get off a small bothersome nubby chunk like nipple on the inside. I feel like the big open end has been circumcised to a new form, and it doesn't feel good. Sorry I let the maven sand off the nubbiness. They were ready to pack up after a couple hours, and were in a hurry so I didn't insist on doing it myself.  (I had let all the little kids go ahead of me.) I worked on another broken notchy place to smooth that out on same open large end.

I went outside the shul, and with consciousness held up with skinny wood skewers my shofar to the large spray can of shellac, noticing the wind direction. I shellacked the shofar to make it shiny because the mavens said that's what you do to make shofar look professional. With the sticks in my hand holding up shofar, it dries without my finger prints all over it, which there are anyway because I like touching it. 
(I like water smoothed rounded black river stones and like them shiny, so I add water or oil to them.)

I wouldn't have shellacked but there were two small scaly rough spots on the outside that would splinter and that refused to smooth out even though I sanded them for over an hour. I didn't have "filler wood" that the maven suggested. ("Not halachic" according to Hearing Shofar.) The more I sanded, the worse they got. Almost sanded to the inside. I added extra shellac to the layered rough spots. (It didn't help.)

What used to be a dull medium brown horn color is now a shiny, very dark mahogany shofar color. (I tried sanding off some shiny shellac and it only leaves unsatisfactory sanding scratchy lines!) Thankfully some of the horn texture where I purposefully only lightly sanded toward the narrow tapered end, is still visible looking like lovely dark and light wind ripples on the ocean sand or water. I don't like dark!

It's my shofar. With kavannah, I MADE IT.  Wish I could blow the notes on it…  I would like to connect to my shofar…

I dedicate my shofar making to my beloved rebbe, Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen, z'l, a singer of holy songs. He would have loved it that I made my own shofar. He would have loved it more if I could blow it.  Yosef's first yahrzeit is in 12 days. May he hear all the sounds of the shofarot around the world and in heaven.

© Joy Krauthammer

My Chabad rabbi tells me:
"It works just fine. Keep trying..."

next day. TEKIAH
Listening on the phone to my daughter and her cooing with baby infant and many new sounds, I picked up my new shofar, placed it in my hand, rolled it around to a comfort zone and while continuing to listen on the phone-- made a very long extended crystal clear high blast. I was stunned! Yet I knew it would happen because I wanted it badly and visioned it.  Baruch Hashem
My daughter didn't appreciate the blast and told me to warn her next time. She didn't understand my challenge.

 Blessing before Hearing Shofar  (from Hearing Shofar)

Baruch atah Adonai Elokaynu Melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu lishmo-ah kol shofar.

Blessed are you, Eternal One our G*d, Universal Sovereign, who sanctifies us with holy ways and commands us to hear the voice of shofar.

Following first time you hear shofar in Elul or Rosh Hashanah and at other significant occasions:

Baruch atah Adonai Elokaynu Melech ha-olam,
shehecheyanu, v’kiyamanu, v’higiyanu, lazman hazeh.

~ ~ ~

Before, During, and After photos

Joy's Shofar
© Joy Krauthammer

Faces of the same single Shofar

photos & collage by Joy Krauthammer ©

Mendel and Levi, Shofar Factory mavens sawing off a horn tip
© Joy Krauthammer 

Rosh Chodesh Elul 5773
My hand made shofar gives great pleasure to friend, Cindy, at home on hospice.
 On this Rosh Chodesh Elul, Cindy is in awe of the little shofar, and happy to hear me play shofar on every visit.


~ JOY Krauthammer

SOUNDS of the SHOFAR (SOS) inspire me to open with a blast, the beginning of Elul on day one, Rosh Chodesh, for self-reflection/Cheshbon Hanefesh, knowing I can meet Our Beloved in the field. A serious soul journey lies ahead, and I am inspired to meditate on SOS!

SOS inspire me for the New Year to once again seasonally awaken to my Jewish tradition and heritage, and connect to my faith and beliefs, knowing SOS in the same sequence of blasts are heard around the world.
SOS help me to stimulate others when I play shofar. Friends receiving SOS are a gift to me, and I am further inspired with Chesed to give more and joyously do more mitzvot.
SOS, as I practice playing, inspire me to study Torah and understand more fully.

SOS inspire me to Shma/listen silently to the notes, and more deeply, in awe, and with strong kavannah/intention to be a better Ba'alat Tekiah (as my husband, z'l, taught me when we bought our first shofar in the Old City.
Sounds of the Shofar inspire me to breathe deeply, expansively --G*d in and out.
SOS inspire me to use tools, instruments of music of my own faith, and to mamash delve deeper and higher into my Judaism.
SOS inspires me to share with pride and joy in interfaith gatherings with my own authentic ancient Jewish instrument of sound-- shofar, in addition to spiritually playing drum/tof and timbrel ala Miriyahm HaNeviah in temples. SOS inspire me to carve my own personal shofar.

The shofar inspires me through grateful breath to connect L'Dor V'Dor with my children and their child; to the Holy One, Mount Moriah, Mount Sinai, and to our People, all the way back to the ram caught in the thicket by its horns (Genesis 22:13); and to our Matriarch, Sarah, who died because of the Akeda/ the BindingWhen I save little goats with their horned heads stuck in fences, and I give them freedom--I am inspired. Baruch Hashem.

~ ~ ~