We heard from many leaders on September 12th, between the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, highlighting a season of jubilee. Pictures above show some of the community of Freedom Shul of the Poor. The beauty of that evening cannot fully be captured in this blog, so we share the link to the full video as well: Facebook Video of Freedom Shul of the Poor from September 12, 2021.
This community joined together that evening and continues to do so around a growing mission, which states:
The Freedom Shul of the Poor is a sibling of the Freedom Church of the Poor and its mission is the same: to be a spiritual home for movement leaders and a place to help nurture moral leadership in the struggle to end poverty, systemic racism, ecological devastation, militarism, and the false moral narratives of religious nationalism.
Freedom Shul is a new and evolving project, bringing the sacred traditions and teachings of the Jewish faith to bear on the building of a movement to end poverty, and into conversation with the liberatory essence of other religions and faith traditions.
Freedom Shul is for everyone: Jewish leaders searching for community and a spiritual home rooted in a movement led by poor and dispossessed people, as well as anyone else who finds meaning and connection within its metaphorical, and in this case virtual, walls. The hope is that by coming together through Freedom Shul, all of us – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and more – can discover new depths and dimensions of our own religious and faith traditions and what they have to teach us about the divine call for justice.
This is a communal mission that speaks to the continued growth and sustaining of numerous leaders. One leader, Dan Jones, shared the following reflection on the text of Exodus 20:1-16. Through his words we are invited to embrace the abundance among us and release the distortion of White Christian Nationalism that holds onto the myth of scarcity:
We’re here, between the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah, the new year, and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. It’s a time of deeply personal and also deeply shared reflection – for feeling painfully and seeing clearly the ways that we’ve strayed from the path and the life that God has laid out for us – the path of justice. It is not a time for pulling punches, for saying peace when there is no peace, or for being overly gentle with ourselves and certainly not with the world we live in. It’s a time to cry aloud and spare not, to proclaim to the whole nation its transgressions. To force our attention to the gigantic gulf that has opened up between the possibility of abundance and health and community and the reality of violence, of false scarcity and deep poverty.
In this time, we chose to lift up this text, the 10 commandments in Exodus 20. At the end of this text, this passing down of basic teachings for our life together, the sound of the shofar is heard.
In the Torah, Rosh Hashanah, which means the head of the year, is actually known as Yom T’ruah, the day for blowing the shofar. We blow the ram’s horn 100 times a day. The shofar, the ram’s horn – here in this text and throughout our traditions – is about announcing the presence and the possibility and the sovereignty of the divine among us. First to shake us up and wake us up to brokenness, the uncleanness of the injustice in our world, the ways that our society has defiled itself by treating people as less than human beings – denying health care, wages, voting rights, evicting people, taking babies from their mothers and trying to control women’s bodies. Defiled – uncleanliness, Yom Kippur all about making our community a fit place for God to dwell in. Holiness is the quality or value that things or persons have when they help people to become fully human.
And it’s also a war trumpet, a call to arms, to courage and discipline in the face of powers that appear mightier than our own. A reminder that God is on the side of the poor struggling to remake the world. As the 10 commandments here end with the sounding of the shofar, we should remember that they begin with the reminder that our God is the God who frees slaves from bondage.
Idolatry is all about the worship of wealth and making gold into God. Lying here, in its historical context, is all about the ways the wealthy abuse the courts and use them to subvert truth and justice. Coveting your neighbor’s house is all about foreclosure and debt: Who is it but the wealthy who are going to benefit from this eviction crisis and a foreclosure crisis, by snatching up people’s homes and turning them for greater and greater profits? Adultery is all about the sexual abuse carried out by the powerful against the vulnerable and dispossessed. Taking God’s name in vain is all about the religious hypocrisy of the authorities who bless what God condemns. Keeping the sabbath is all about the fact that no one has the right to work someone else to death, that everyone has a right to rest and to live a life with dignity, that we aren’t made so that we can produce wealth for others but so that we can enjoy the abundance of this world.
But the point of the wakeup call, of seeing how far we’ve strayed, of stating clearly what is wrong and broken and unclean isn’t to stop there. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur also hold out this amazing possibility and miracle of creation and renewal – but only if we see the transgressions clearly, cast them off (tashlich) and return to the path of justice. On Rosh Hashanah we say “Today the world is born!” – the power of this new year, of this shofar call to arms, is the same power that created the world. Rosh Hashanah, the sounding of the trumpet, asks the question – which side are you on! By the time we reach Yom Kippur, a time to make the world clean again, we should have made our answer and our commitments and our preparations – that’s what this season of teshuva means.
The High Holidays are literally the season of Jubilee! And on Yom Kippur there is a final sounding of the shofar which is the moment of jubilee! The shofar proclaims liberation for all the land and for all inhabitants! And to add to that, this year is a shmita year, a year of rest for the land and for those who work on it. This is a year of enjoying abundance and freedom from working to make others wealthy. We have a lot more to do together. No one will make this so for us. I wish the completion of this, God’s kin-dom, speedily and in our lifetime.
We were welcomed and continue to be welcomed into a season of Jubilee by Dan’s reflection followed by the sounding of the shofar. Dan invited us to tashlich, a casting off so that we may “return to the path of justice.” Sarah Weintraub led us in this ritual:
With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we have a 10 day process. We take 10 whole days to slow down, reflect deeply, take stock of our lives and of the world around us, make things right with ourselves and others before we close out the year that is ending, and ground ourselves and prepare for the year that is coming. This whole process is inherently a stand against the pressure to be more productive, to get ahead. It is a process firmly set on our hearts and souls and aligning our lives with our values. We know that the only way to live our lives in alignment with our values is to take up this fight of the poor and dispossessed against a system that is trying to kill us. So we must use this process of preparing and aligning, to make ourselves ready to truly be the leaders that these times are calling for.
During the Days of Awe, we do many rituals to take us through this process and bring ourselves into this next year- we pound our hearts, we fast, and we throw stones or bread crumbs into moving water in a ritual called Tashlich that we are going to share tonight. Tashlich is about casting off- we throw stones or bread as symbols of all that we need to be rid of.
Therefore, what do you need to cast off? What do we need to cast off as a community? We invite you to hold onto these questions as we welcome in the new Jewish calendar and as we continue to build power from the bottom up.