Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Open Letter to Rabbi Joshua Lesser, Congregation Bet Havarim

I was quite moved by your Facebook page post on August 15, 2012 on welcoming people into our Jewish congregations. As someone who has not always felt welcome in different Jewish shuls (synagogues), I felt confident that I could at least get myself through your front door because – at minimum – I knew I would be welcomed by you. With only two Shabbats left before our most holy set of days, I offer a few items you can do with your congregation (if you have not already done so) to realize the warmth, welcome, acceptance and safety your post promises.

The first one is obvious; circulate the post in your congregation: all members, all volunteers, and all staff. Encourage them to really read the post and to consider what they can do to make the promise live.

In your homilies (sermons), weave in stories about Jewish diversity; directly state that the assumption that all Jews are “white” is completely false and that the assumption that all Jews of color are converts is equally false. Remind them that we have always been a "mixed multitude" (Exodus 12.38) and that, according to one midrash, we would not have what we now call rabbinic Judaism were it not for a brown skinned man named Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai.

Additionally, speak to them about hospitality. Remind them that it is as important to greet the people they have never met as it is to greet and rekindle relationships with people they have not seen since last year. Also remind them that there are members who can be a little too eager; therefore, if someone is holding onto a newcomer's hand a little too tight, check to see if a guest needs rescuing.

Lastly, share with congregants that asking someone if they are Jewish is offensive and antithetical to halacha (Jewish Law). Yes, I am aware of standalone writings that quibble about what portions of certain prayers converts ought not to say. However, the oldest writings say a convert is completely Jewish and not to be reminded of their conversion (Yevamot 47a, Bava Metzia 4.10). This would also be the perfect time to remind people – again – that not all people of color are converts. Questions that pry into our status are the most frequent and are perceived as being highly invasive. Speaking for myself, I feel as if I am being asked what color underwear I am wearing. You could also use it as an opportunity to raise to consciousness that there are plenty of members that look like them who are converts as well as spouses of another faith active in the congregation and no one ever asks them for credentials. Personal stories are shared, or not shared, over time as a part of people getting to know each other and building community.  

Thank you, Rabbi Lesser, for entertaining my thoughts. I will not be able to join you during this year's Days of Awe due to commitments in Washington, DC. However, I hope my travels permit me to visit Atlanta and share services with you and your congregation in the coming year. 

L'Shana Tova Tikatev v'Taihatem!
(may you be inscribed and sealed in the book of life for a good year!),
Sabrina Sojourner

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2012

Jews for Justice Black Lives Matter Erev Hanukkah 5575

(I was honored to be one of the speakers. I share with you my remarks)

Thank you, Rebecca, and I thank all of the organizers, speakers, and all of you for being here this evening. I am your shamash for the evening, and I’ll explain what that means in a moment.

I begin by inviting you to join me in song. Some of you know this song in Hebrew. Some of you know it in English. Some of you know it in both and some of you don’t know it as all, and that’s all perfect. However you know the song, sing it. If you don’t know it, you’ll catch on to the melody or words and can sing, hum, or yai-dai-dai or la la la along. And, I have a special message for those of you who have been told some variation of “It’s better if you don’t sing.” I want you to sing and I want you to sing loud! This is not about what’s pleasing to human ears, this is about what’s pleasing and healing to us – personally and, for those of you who believe in a Divine being, The Divine One only cares about our willingness to raise our voices – not about human assessments of the quality of our voices.

Yah, prepare me, to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living
Sanctuary for You. (three rounds)

What does it mean to be a sanctuary for The Divine One? What does it mean to be a sanctuary for justice? For hope? For peace? Are you prepared to be a reservoir for a vision of an America - a world in which all lives matter? I’ll repeat that: Are you prepared to be a reservoir for a vision of an America - a world in which all lives matter? And if you are not ready, and most of us are not, this is the time to intentionally prepare. If you think you’re ready, but not completely sure, this is the time to intentionally prepare. And, for those of you saying, “Yeah, I’m ready, I’ve been ready all my life!” You may be ready but are you prepared? Have you done the internal work? Are you willing to do the ongoing internal work? Are you prepared to move out of binary thinking and into the universe of complexity? Expansion?

Who do you fear, and why do you fear them? Does that fear have any basis in reality? Where does bias, prejudice, and discrimination live in you? Who are the people you make fun of because of their size, their seeming lack of mental acuity? Their ethnicity or accent? What are the broad and sweeping beliefs you hold about White people? Native American people? Women? Lesbians? Gay men? Bisexual people? Transgendered people? Latino women and men? Asian women and men? How does colorism shape your familial relationships? Friendships? Your concepts of beauty? What long ago hurts are running you? What are the ways that the oppressor sees you that you see as being true about you, or about people you love? I stand before you, not as an accuser, but as shamash. To put it simply, I don’t want my heart broken again. I see and feel the promise of this moment in our national and global community, and I am not the only one. As I was listening to the radio this morning, I heard a young Asian man say that making Black Lives Matter was important to him because if Black Lives Matter, then all lives will finally matter! Kein y’hi ratzon – may it be so.

It can be so, if we understand we are a wedge for a change in the social order of common sense and conventional wisdom. Black Lives Matter, to be truly revolutionary, MUST be about the lives of Black men and Black women. Black Lives Matter, to be truly effective, MUST connect the dots to the lives of our Latino, Asian, Native American and working class white brothers and sisters. Black Lives Matter, to be socially innovative, MUST challenge heterosexist and sexist norms that marginalize the humanity of lesbians, gay men, bisexual people, transgendered people, queer people, people with disabilities, our elders, and our young people.

For Jewish support of Black Lives Matter to really make a difference, the discussion of racism, classism and sexism MUST come home. We need these discussions in our communities, our synagogues, our institutions, our homes as an analysis and challenge of our assumptions about our history as a people and the richness of our heritage.

I know not all of you observe Hanukkah, so I’m making a personal invitation for you to light candles this week, whether it be once, many, or every or only a few intermittent nights. Here’s why: Twice I’ve referred to myself as shamash. Shamash is the name for the candle used to light the candles of Hanukkah. Technically, it is the servant of the other candles, and its own light is important precisely because it is of service. It is of use. Once it has done its job, it sits in the menorah to add light and joy. I know that some of my words have caused some, if not each of you, to be uncomfortable. That discomfort is pointing to the place to start in dedicating or rededicating yourself to be of service to a larger purpose. My words are intended to spark the will in you to be of service, to be of use for a larger purpose.

We are on the cusp of a transformational moment, though I have been here before, I really believe that this time can be different. To fulfill the promise of this moment, we must do the work we are demanding our society, our country, our global communities to do. We want more justice and less bias in the world, we must burn down the internal wall between us and our unexamined fears and attitudes regarding all we see as other, and dismantle those thoughts and emotions. We want more love in the world, we must burn down the internal wall that keeps us from loving and having compassion and patience for ourselves. We want more peace in the world, then let us burn down the internal wall around our rage so that we harness that energy into constructive action.

This week, as we light the candles of Hanukkah, or we light candles to chase away the dark, let us use those lights for joy and for opportunity. The joy, I hope is easy, if for no other reason than the beauty of the flame and how it illumines the space around you. Use candle lighting to consciously begin or continue the dedication of your internal temple. Develop practices such as holding paradox, connecting the dots to all forms of oppression, having patience and compassion for yourself so that you can break binary thinking and have compassion and patience for others. These are just a few of the practices that will serve you and us for the long haul.

Let this evening serve you. If nothing else, remember the rich sound that surrounded us as we joined our voices together, and it was truly more magnificent than I imagined. For all our different approaches, nowhere was there a false note. That kind of perfection only happens in moments. For one moment those who knew and those who had no clue joined with those who had voice and those who had been shut up or shut out to create something bigger than all of us. So, let this evening be a reminder of what is possible when you are willing to be the shamash, the one who is of service, of use to the moment, to the vision, and to the movement toward that vision

Tonight, we light the first candle of Hanukkah together. Let it signify our public commitment to the personal work of building or rebuilding our internal temple so that we can be of service, of use to the larger purpose of Tikkun Olam, repairing the temple of our world. And let us say: (Amen!)

Consider supporting Sabrina's efforts to create a broader vision of who we are and can be: Living Whole and Complete is a collection of poems and essays that explore spirituality, love, heartbreak, culture, resilience and much more. Sabrina is also available as a guest shaliach tzibur, cantorial soloist, speaker, educator, artist-in-residence or facilitator for your community, school or conference. Contact 

(c) Copyright Sabrina Sojourner 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

Gluten-free Dairy-Free Blackberry Crisp Cobbler

It’s been a while, and there is plenty of time later to share the whys. It is a cloudy day in DC this Shabbat, so I am already baking! One of the things I love to bake is something that will be Shabbat dinner dessert that can also serve as Shabbat morning breakfast!

I love blackberries, and have great memories from when I was a kid: My mom would send my sister, Sandra, and me into our backyard with a large bowl or her Dutch oven to pick blackberries. It was an easy assignment. Between us, we probably ate as many as picked. Nonetheless, we always made sure the container was full so that my mom could make a big patch of blackberries and dumplings. For lots of reasons, I can no longer eat that way. Yet, my love of blackberries and some kind of yummy dough has continued.

Over the summer, I took advantage of Costco’s great prices on fresh blackberries to play with several recipes. This is the winner. It is based on a recipe on Rachelle Himmelman’s blog Gluten Free Baking By Rachelle. The primary difference is that I use a lot less sugar. I like the tartness of berries and do not seek to cover it up. Additionally, raw sugar granules are larger. I know that granule size makes a difference in salts and how I use them, so I am making the same assumption about sugar. To adjust the sugar, simply double my suggestions. I also take an extra step to accommodate my pesky egg-yolk allergy. Rachelle's recipe says "fresh or frozen". So far, I have only used fresh, though I keep frozen as a possibility. With winter about to settle in, I’m sure I’ll resort to frozen and let you know how it goes. It you get there first, let me know!

The reason I added “crisp” to the name is because the topping does not produce the thicker pie or almost biscuit-like crust I associate with cobblers. The lighter, crisp-like topping has also become one of the reasons this is now a go-to recipe. All ingredients are certified kosher, certified gluten-free, and soy-free. I am using a new flour blend. Once I have used all of it in a variety of recipes, I'll give you my report! In the meantime, use your favorite blend!


Prep time: 15-20 Minutes
Cook time: 45-55

For Filling:
  • 4 Cups Blackberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 Cup Raw Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Gluten-free all purpose flour

 For The Topping:
  • 1/2 Cup Raw Sugar minus 1 tablespoon (if changing, 1 cup)
  • 1 Cup Gluten-free all purpose flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1 Whole Egg, cold from the frig
  • 1/2 Cup Dairy-Free Shortening, melted. Note: I use one or a combination of these: refined coconut oil (does not add coconut flavor and seems to neutralize sulfites), certified to be responsibly harvested palm or red palm oil, or - if no one has a nut allergy - a really good almond paste. Yes, you can use a soy-based shortening or butter if those are not issues.

 Cooking Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a medium sized bowl add blackberries, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 tablespoon flour stir until ingredients are combine and there is no longer any sugar or flour on the bottom of bowl, set aside.
  3. In another medium bowl add 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, lightly stir with a fork to combine, once combined make a well in the center of your bowl and add egg, stir until your mixture becomes small crumbs. Note: I beat the egg first, then place it in the well.
  4. Place blackberry mixture in a ungreased 11x7x1.5 inch pan or 2 quart baking dish.
  5. Pour crumb topping and spread evening over the blackberries.
  6. Drizzle the melted shortening on top of crumb mixture and bake for 45-55 minutes or until golden brown. DO NOT OVER BAKE!

Consider supporting Sabrina's efforts to create a broader vision of who we are and can be: Living Whole and Complete is a collection of poems and essays that explore spirituality, love, heartbreak, culture, resilience and much more. Sabrina is also available as a guest shliach tzibur, cantorial soloist, speaker, educator, artist-in-residence or facilitator for your community, school or conference. Contact