JCC East Bay Shamash Residency
The rotating Shamash Residency is a unique opportunity for a local rabbi, Jewish scholar, or Jewish educator to teach and learn with the JCC staff and community. During each three month immersive residency, a rotating rabbi or educator will join us to explore Jewish holidays, texts, culture, and traditions.
The Shamash Residency fosters meaningful collaboration between Jewish educators, our staff members, and our vibrant community. Selected scholars will participate in the design of community holiday programs, contribute to a monthly blog, and offer Jewish learning for over 80 staff working throughout Oakland and Berkeley.
Current & Upcoming Shamash Residents
Tamar Zaken: March-May, 2018
Tamar is an educator, organizer, and community worker who lives in the East Bay. She spent over a decade directing Jewish Service Learning programs at Memizrach Shemesh, a beit midrash (study center) for social change inspired by the commentaries and writings of Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews, based in Jerusalem. She graduated from the Joint Program at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and received a MSW from Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University in New York. She has two daughters, Lilah and Amina, and is married to Asher. In her spare time, Tamar translates Sephardic Rabbinic texts to expose English speaking audiences to their inspiring message of inclusion and justice.
Yosef Rosen: June-September, 2018
Yosef is a teacher of Jewish creativity and a DJ of contemplative dance. His classes and workshops weave together the imaginative and social dimensions of Jewish creative genres—Kabbalah, Talmud, philosophy, and poetry—as an invitation for participants to discover their own genre of Jewish creativity. He has a PhD in Jewish Studies from UC Berkeley, where he completed a dissertation on kabbalistic models of spiritual community. Before moving to the Bay eight years ago, Yosef spent many years in Jewish seminaries in both Israel and America. When not in the classroom or the dance-floor, Yosef can be found zipping through the Berkeley hills on his bike.
Reflections on the months following Passover from Tamar Zaken, Spring Shamash Resident
The Season Following Passover
I am always relieved at the end of Passover, like I accomplished something great because I cleaned up my house and avoided leavened bread for a week. I think it is truly a philosophical relief, as we leave this time when we are constantly reminded of the story of the Israelites enslavement in Egypt, and slowly transition into a time of waiting, trudging through the desert, anticipating the revelation of Torah that awaits us at Mount Sinai.
What can we do to ease this transition from slavery to freedom? Mimouna, a North African Jewish holiday that occurs the evening that the Passover holiday ends helps to do just this. The holiday of Mimouna originated among Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian Jewish communities and these immigrants brought the holiday with them when they arrived in Israel in the 1950s and 60s. The holiday emphasizes the Jewish value of Hachnasat Orchim or welcoming in guests.
During Mimouna, families open up their homes to all who will enter, with costumes, sweets, flour-heavy foods like the oily pancake confection moofleta, and music. The tradition is that no one is specifically invited: all homes are open to everyone and people go from house to house, visiting with neighbors and friends, both Jewish and non Jewish.
The Moroccan Jewish liturgical poet Rabbi David Bouzaglo explains some of these traditions in this excerpt from his poem: You, People of the West:
“…This is the way of the native Arab, now in Morocco
To give the Jews a plentiful gift, as much as one has to offer.
Flour, Honey and grain, milk from a healthy cow
Fish, mint and butter with wildflowers and herbs
There, Hebrews and Arabs recline together
Their hearts rejoice with music and song
The Hebrew woman wears the Arab garb
And the man, a Adraiya**, Incense and perfume
And you cannot tell the difference between a Hebrew and his Arab brother
A city-dweller from a countryman, all have one spirit…”
In fact, tonight the JCC East Bay is joining with many other Bay Area organizations for a Muslim-Jewish gathering, at which Rabbi Dorothy Richman will sing this verse over a Kosher and Halal meal. I was honored to share these verses with the JCC for the laws of Passover. It was a way of saying: we are part of your community and we love you because you are our neighbors.
At the JCC of the East Bay, this Mimouna spirit exists all year around. During Passover I had the opportunity to lead a seder for older adults. There was such a wonderful sense of community as participants called out ideas and questions and sang along to some of the most popular Passover “hits” like Dayeinu. At the Oakland after school program I was welcomed in warmly to teach the staff about Shabbat. Staff members shared their resting rituals and we talked about how to create community during Shabbat at our after school sites. This week I met with other staff members for session on Shavuot where we discussed how we communicate messages (from Torah to programming schedules) within the JCC community. All of these have reminded me of the inviting, open spirit of the JCC East Bay. I am honored to be part of this celebration of inclusion this spring.
Reflections on Purim from Rachel Brodie, Inaugural Shamash Resident
“Behind the Crescent Moon: Thoughts on this Month in the Jewish Calendar”
The catchphrase for the next month on the Hebrew calendar (Adar, which comes in with the new moon Wednesday night, February 14, 2018) is "be happy, it's Adar!" Indeed, with spring approaching and both Mardi Gras and Purim shedding rhinestones and dripping schnapps all over the calendar, many people find it easy to get into the spirit of Adar. But what about the times when we find ourselves out of sync with communally-dictated emotional states?
My first memory of contending with this dilemma was in the month of Adar, forty-two years ago. My grandmother (my father’s mother) had just died. We observed the intense period of mourning governed by ancient Jewish wisdom and then, as a family, we slowly inched our way back into the world outside our bubble of grief. When it was time to join our community in the celebration of Purim, I announced that I was not participating.
I had been especially close with my grandmother and I was a vortex of many emotions but none of them seasonally appropriate. With the narcissism of most young children and mourners, I wanted the world to cry with me. I wanted Purim to be cancelled. But my father insisted that I go with the rest of my family to the synagogue, to listen to the story of Esther. I did not have to wear a costume, I did not have to actively partake in any of the frivolity, but I had to attend. I had a massive meltdown. He was unrelenting. I was seething. He didn’t look too happy either, but off we went.
I made a point of sitting alone in the corner. I made a point of not being responsive to the well-intentioned attempts of friends to connect with me. I spent a lot of time in the ladies’ room crying.
Walking home I exploded with fury: the experience had only made me feel worse. It was cruel to make me go, how dare he or anyone else tell me how to feel, etc. I couldn’t understand it at the time, but what my father explained to me then and again when I could actually hear him (which wasn’t until about 10 years later) was that while it wasn’t any easier for him to be there, he went to be reassured that even if we weren’t feeling it in the moment, joy, even silly fun, had not been extinguished with the death of this one beloved person. That to know it’s not “all about me” is actually the good news. That while I didn’t yet want to feel joy again, I needed to see joy as essential to our being, vital for our well-being, and within reach. But also, that in the same way that the Jewish holidays cycle through emotional states, we as individuals do too. That what I could not have known then and did not want to know at the time was that I would feel better, I would experience joy again… but also grief again and so on.
Exactly twenty years later, in the month of Adar, just after Purim and just before my 29th birthday, my aunt sent me Barbara Kingsolver’s High Tide in Tuscon. Not sure I was interested in reading it, I flipped it open to a random page and read:
“Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job or a limb or a loved one, a graduation, bringing a new baby home: it's impossible to think at first how this all will be possible. Eventually, what moves it all forward is the subterranean ebb and flow of being alive among the living.
“In my own worst seasons I've come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.”