November 23, 2021
Narrow Bridge Project unveils guidebook confronting antisemitism
Students, parents and scholars gathered Thursday night at Brown RISD Hillel to celebrate the launch of a guidebook created by Brown students which unpacks and confronts the issue of antisemitism.
The guidebook, titled “Love Thy Neighbor: A Guide for Tackling Antisemitism While Committing to Justice for All,” is the culmination of two years of learning and research by Narrow Bridge Fellows Maya Dayan ’21, Elana Nussbaum-Cohen ’23.5, Isaac Sonnenfeldt ’22.5 and Andrew Steinberg ’22. The resource was compiled into a comprehensive guidebook by Sonnenfeldt and Hannah Gelman ’22.
The Narrow Bridge Project was created by Rabbi Michelle Dardashti, associate University chaplain for the Jewish community, in an effort to bridge divides within the Jewish community and allow students to engage with topics of antisemitism, Jewish identity and Zionism in a bipartisan context.
November 22, 2021
November 4, 2021
E.J. Lownes Memorial Guest Artist Organ Recital
November 2, 2021
September 7, 2021
Join us for Kivun: a soulful and songful Rosh Hashanah experience on the second day of the holiday. Kivun, which means direction, is a collaboration between Rabbi Michelle Dardashti (Associate University Chaplain for the Jewish Community at Brown University and Rabbi at Brown RISD Hillel) and some incredibly talented student musicians and singers at Brown.
This program is hosted by Brown RISD Hillel and will be livestreamed via YouTube.
September 3, 2021: Chaplains Chapbook
On Shopping Period and Rosh HaShanah: Seven Tips for Navigating Your Spiritual Orientation
Rabbi Michelle Dardashti
Associate Chaplain of the University for the Jewish Community
The fall holiday of Rosh HaShanah begins at sundown this Monday evening - and we can feel it. On one hand, College Hill is bustling with new life and we’re filled with thrilling anticipation of all that’s to come. And also…. From floods, to fires to violence and virus variants, the world we’re living in feels apocalyptic. The good news is that the Jewish holidays headed our way are designed to help us hold the seeming contradiction between celebration and desolation and to live into the space between excitement and anxiety. So, however you’re feeling about the semester’s imminent start or the state of our world, Rosh HaShanah has some tools for you. But just as arrival on College Hill necessitates an immersion into a plethora of acronyms and other Brunonian jargon, the Jewish season demands some decoding.
Here are seven helpful tips for making sense of Rosh HaShanah, however you spend it, and navigating your spiritual orientation, amidst your academic:
1. Being a “bad Jew” isn’t a thing; choosing vitality is. Let’s get this settled way up front: whether you come to services or not, you’re not a “bad Jew” (in fact, per #4, you’re already amazing - whether you’re Jewish or not!). Judaism, like Brown, is an open curriculum of sorts. Every moment presents a choice point and the essential thing is that you’re making choices that are self-actualizing, life-affirming, good for your body and for your soul. We hope that you’ll find Hillel’s offerings over the coming holy days (which include meals, services, prayerful song-sessions, yoga, meditation, contemplative walks and more) nourishing and that you know you can dip in and out as you’d like. SHOP. IT. UP. Please make whatever choices are best for your mental and spiritual health. Your professors are aware of the holiday and you won’t be penalized for missing class as long as you’re in touch with them in advance; Chaplains, Hillel staff and CAPS are here to support you in figuring out the rest. We know that “choosing aliveness” is not always straightforward.
2. We’re not in control, but we are powerful. The Days of Awe are about facing our mortality and the precariousness of life more generally; as a result, some of the liturgy is downright scary; we chant “On Rosh HaShanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, who shall live and who shall die.” This central prayer isn’t meant to render us paralyzed by fear, but rather inspired to take nothing for granted and live each day with awareness that we know not what tomorrow holds. “Who shall die by earthquake? Who by fire? Who by water? Who by war.” These questions are all too real. We’re thinking, this year, of those in Haiti, California, Louisiana, Afghanistan and more. And “Who by plague?” Covid has made this one painfully unnecessary to explain. And yet, the liturgy is clear that while we don’t have ultimate control of our destiny, we do have tremendous agency and not only through “thoughts and prayers.” Many many choices -- toward life on earth that is more just, sustainable and joyful for all -- are in our hands.
3. Rosh HaShanah is the original Earth Day. According to Jewish teaching, our planet came into being on Rosh HaShanah. Legend has it that God walked the first humans around the place, warning them that if they destroy God’s handiwork, there will be no one to fix it. Apples and honey likely became a thing because of Adam and Eve’s incident with a forbidden fruit; the point for me is that trees are central to our existence and the sweetness of our lives depends on them. If you’re looking for a totally universalist way to celebrate the upcoming holiday, consider eating something sweet from a fruit-bearing tree, giving thanks, and committing to being a better steward of our planet’s health.
4. This season is about finding our way back to ourselves. “Sin” and “repentance” are inadequate translations of Hebrew words that are worlds deeper and, at core, not about damnation, but direction - orientation. Het, the Hebrew word generally translated as sin, really means to veer, or drift off in an unintentional direction – a het (sin) really amounts to a lack of kivun or kavanah – direction, intentionality, mindfulness. (This is why the alternative service I’m leading with students on Wednesday is called Kivun.) Choosing to take the direction that leads us back to our truest self, that is the definition of the Hebrew word, teshuva, most often translated as repentance. The root of teshuva means “return,” because Judaism holds that we are, at essence, already amazing; we’re born with a soul perfect and pure, longing to return to itself.
5. The shofar is meant to WAKE US UP. The shofar is a ram’s horn; like the ram caught in the thicket in the story of Abraham and Isaac, all of us tend to get a little stuck and unclear about our purpose. Rosh HaShanah is biblically known as Yom Teruah, literally, “day of shouting or blasting;” it’s meant to wake us up to how we should be living out our passions and gifts. The holiday is also known as the Day of Remembrance, Yom HaZikaron. This is because, throughout the year, we tend to get a little lost; we forget our priorities, even forget who we are. We’re not in need of salvation (in a top-down metaphysical sense), but rather, retrieval and reorientation -- a total recall of who we are, what we’re about and how interconnected we are to every other living creature on the planet.
6. God is a spectrum. There’s a name for God, which appears frequently in daily prayer, that it turns out I’d been mistranslating (in my head) until my adult life. That name is Adonai Tzevaot, which literally means “God of Hosts/Armies;” in my head, though--because neither spelling nor grammar are fortes of mine--I always understood it to mean “God Of Many Colors” (which would be Adonai Tzevaim). Anyway, I was close -- and I’m still convinced my childhood translation is closer to the truth. The point is, God is an English word used to translate infinite names for the Divine found throughout the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic literature, let alone other faith traditions. The names include everything from (the Hebrew words for) parent, ruler, lover, shepherd, creator, designer and feminine presence, to rock, place, breath of life, wind, master of souls, endless and “I will be what I will be.” So…. If your vision of God is something very specific, singular or concrete you might be unnecessarily constraining yourself. If traditional God language doesn’t work for you, try imagining, in its place, every positive, intangible thing you’ve experienced (love, goodness, beauty, joy, the sensation of the sun on your skin) - and lean in.
7. Shanah Tovah = a blessing for “good change.” Contrary to common translations, the words used to greet and bless one another at this time of year, Shanah Tovah, don’t mean “happy new year.” Shanah means to change and tovah means good. What we’re praying for--all around and inside ourselves--are positive changes - developments, growth. As the old adage says, when we’re not growing, we’re dying - and thus we return to #1. The Days of Awe (a more literal translation than “High Holy Days”) are about making life-affirming choices that change us and our world, for the better.
As daunting as this season--the start to the Jewish and/or academic year--may feel, our ultimate message and promise (mine and the liturgy’s) is that you’ve got this, someone’s got you, and we’ve got each other. I hope to get to say more about this in person at our Rosh HaShanah dinner this Monday evening on Simmons Quad and/or 1:1 over coffee or a walk soon. In the meantime, I hope you’ll take my word for it. May it, indeed, be a shanah tovah - for us all, and for our planet.
Rabbi Michelle Dardashti is heading into her 9th year as Associate University Chaplain for the Jewish Community at Brown University and Rabbi at Brown RISD Hillel. You can reach her at [email protected] in her office on the 4th floor of Paige Robinson or at Hillel. (Best to catch her at one of these events, or email her after the holidays!)
April 28, 2021
Watch the 2021 K. Brooke Anderson Lecture with Eric Ward below:
April 22, 2021: Chaplains Chapbook
Fasting on the Bosphorus
Amir Toft, Associate Chaplain for the Muslim Community
“God intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship.” These words, appearing in the Quran (Q 2:185) in connection with the fasting of Ramadan, pass through my mind frequently each year during the holy Muslim month. At the time of this writing, we are about a third of the way through the month of Ramadan—thirty days in which observant Muslims of sound health abstain from food and drink (including water) during the daylight hours or, if medically unable, feed the poor in place of fasting. Many observe special prayers at night. Alongside this daytime abstention and nighttime devotion, Muslim try to cure the ailments of character—greed, egotism, anger, and so forth—that all humanity is heir to. There are many here at Brown dutifully and silently who observe the month.
On its face, such an act of physical self-denial would appear to be the definition of hardship. What, then, is the meaning of stating that God in fact intends for us ease?
I asked myself the same question when hiking up and down the hilly terrain of Istanbul seven years ago, wiping the sweat off my sun-beaten brow. The Islamic calendar follows a lunar reckoning—shifting backward each year about ten days on the Gregorian—so that year Ramadan fell in the dead of summer. Istanbul summers are as hot and muggy as in New York or Chicago. The days were at their longest, so the eating hours were limited. This meant late nights and early mornings with some eighteen hours of fasting in between. I was in Istanbul that summer for a Turkish intensive as part of my grad studies, so I also had six hours each weekday of classroom learning. If I was lucky, I could snatch a nap here or there.
And then there was the hour’s commute to campus from my apartment on the Asian side of Istanbul. Somehow I would peel myself out of bed at 7 am and get presentable, stumble groggily out of doors and walk briskly down the hill to the pier. On the way I’d pass by the man selling simit—which is basically a sesame seed bagel only ten times better (crispy and oven-kissed on the outside, pillowy soft on the inside)—and look forward to picking up a few on the way home for fast-breaking. At the pier I boarded a ferry for the soothing ten-minute ride across the Bosphorus to the European side. Outside of Ramadan I would buy a tea on the boat and sip it while taking in the salty air, but not so this month. On the other side I grabbed a bus, usually packed with the rush hour crowd, which would trundle up the steadily rising hill to campus. If it was an older bus, the air conditioning didn’t work, so the hot air with the heat of fifty bodies made the ride punishing. Then, after class, I’d do the same thing, often taking the coastal route for a change of scenery. By the time I marched up the hill and arrived home, especially in the early days of Ramadan, I was a noodle. I cherished those wholesome meals at sunset more than anything.
None of this is a complaint. I did all of it—the fasting, the studying, the living an hour from campus—by choice. Looking back now, I wouldn’t have changed any of the arrangement. But at the time I did wonder how the ultimate point was the bring ease into life. About halfway through Ramadan, however, I developed a clarity that grew sharper as the month wore on. Each day I proved to myself, through willing and temporary self-deprivation, that I could do things that seemed far beyond my capacities, that I didn’t always need the things I thought I did. I saw the results on my body—I felt spry and agile, and I daresay my skin was glowing—and in the sharpness of my mind during class. For a moment I felt the effects on my soul: an ineffable sweetness that Muslims are taught one can experience when they privilege the spiritual over the corporeal.
The ease of Ramadan, as I briefly experienced, lies in liberating ourselves from the bonds of our appetitive selves. We cannot cut our appetites loose; to have them is to be human. But too often those appetites are the prime mover of our decisions in life. In the short term, an appetitive disposition ironically makes the ultimate satisfaction of our appetites less enjoyable. The simit after a day’s hunger tasted so much better than it would have on a full stomach after breakfast. In the long term, and more damagingly, such a disposition makes us unable to bear the unavoidable hardships of life when they come—and that incapacity is the greatest hardship of all.
For more than a year we have been asked—indeed compelled by forces both unseen and seen—to endure immense deprivations. Some of us have certainly suffered more than others. As we slowly emerge from and look back on this chapter of the human experience, we should take stock not only of the chinks in our social and political armature but also of weaknesses within our own selves. What did we do—or what did we not do—to cultivate the inner discipline to deal with this adversity? What can we do to better prepare ourselves for future adversity? Fasting, a spiritual practice observed by Muslims and countless other traditions, is one way to find ease through hardship. What is yours?
April 8, 2021
April 7, 2021
XVIII Annual Mary L. Interlandi ’05 Memorial Lecture with Prof. Rhonda Magee
Please join OCRL and Brown Contemplative Studies for the XVIII Annual Mary L. Interlandi ’05 Memorial Lecture by Rhonda V. Magee, Professor of Law, Mindfulness Teacher and Social Justice Advocate. Professor Magee will speak on Change ‘Gonna Come: Contemplating Identity-Based Suffering in a Time of Social Transformation on Monday, April 12th from 5:30 - 7 pm, EDT. This is a virtual event. To register and receive a Zoom link, please contact [email protected].
April 1, 2021
Why We Need Each Other: Tackling the Triple-Threat of Racism, Misogyny and Antisemitism: a Conversation with Eric Ward.
Eric K. Ward is a nationally-recognized expert on the relationship between authoritarian movements, hate violence, and preserving inclusive democracy. In his 30+ year civil rights career, he has worked with community groups, government and business leaders, human rights advocates, and philanthropy as an organizer, director, program officer, consultant, and board member. The recipient of the Peabody-Facebook Futures Media Award, Eric’s widely quoted writings and speeches are credited with key narrative shifts. He currently serves as Executive Director of Western States Center, Senior Fellow with Southern Poverty Law Center and Race Forward, and Co-Chair for The Proteus Fund.
The K Brooke Anderson Lecture Fund in the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life and The Department of Religious Studies; in collaboration with Brown’s Center for Truth Racial Healing and Transformation, and Brown RISD Hillel.
April 6, 2021
March 25, 2021: Chaplains Chapbook
In Every Generation...We Seek Wholeness
Rabbi Michelle Dardashti
Associate Chaplain of the University for the Jewish Community and Rabbi of Brown RISD Hillel
In every generation, as Jews, we’re asked to see ourselves as though we personally came out of Egypt. The root of the word Egypt, in Hebrew, is tzar “narrow.” The experience of Egypt is one of constriction and, I think, is about binaries. It evokes an either, or attitude which pushes us to believe we must accept narrow self-understandings or choose between seemingly contradictory emotions or values.
The command to see ourselves as though we personally came out of Egypt is the central mandate of the Passover Seder, yet it lends itself to at least two distinct interpretations.
Recalling the Exodus of my Israelite ancestors might, quite reasonably, lead me to a stance of guardedness and fear – a scarcity mentality in which I pledge to do anything necessary to ensure I’m never oppressed again. On the other hand, recalling redemption might encourage me to assume a stance of abundance, a sense that my freedom emboldens, and behooves, me to liberate others.
The Haggadah, the “book of telling” from which we read on Seder night, reflects both of these postures, sometimes in the same breath – or mouthful. Emerging from the ashes of the Temple’s destruction by the Romans in 70 CE, the Seder rituals replaced pilgrims’ offering of the Passover sacrifice in Jerusalem.
Celebrated through centuries of dispersion and persecution, the Seder’s rituals and themes reflect both profound paradoxes and deep longing. We dip parsley and eggs — symbols of rebirth and spring — into salt-water, symbolizing the tears of our ancestors; matzah symbolizes our freedom but is called “bread of our affliction.” I could go on and on.
Perhaps the most explicit manifestation of this holiday’s bitter-sweetness comes through the “Hillel Sandwich,” the last thing we eat as part of the Seder, prior to the meal itself. We are instructed to combine haroset (sweet mixture of fruits and nuts) and maror (the bitter herbs, forcing us to taste the bitterness of oppression) and to eat them between two pieces of matzah. Apparently, Rabbi Hillel, the first-century sage and namesake of Jewish centers on campuses across the globe, initiated this practice.
This year, I’m thinking about how this mixing — this holding of both-ness —is emblematic of other teachings for which Hillel was known. Perhaps most famously, he taught the following three questions as one: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am only for myself, what am I? If not now when?” These three questions formed the arc of a curriculum I taught this semester to a diverse cohort of Jewish students as part of the Narrow Bridge Project. It was powerful to wrap up our eight weeks of learning together just now, as we prepare for Passover, because these questions of R’ Hillel are the very questions the Exodus compels us to ask: how do I stay safe, how can I save others, how do I do both at once – now?
The cohort explored these questions as students and activists with differing understandings of the Jewish past, present and future. Some came in hopeful, others brought despair; some were steeped in knowledge and/or experience of the subjects at hand, others were dipping their toes in for the first time. They represented the various characters that the rabbis imagine seated around the Passover table, reflected in the Haggadah through the “Four Sons/Children” motif. They had differing thoughts and feelings about what it means to celebrate freedom while still tasting the bitterness of oppression, and about what it means to consider the toll that our own freedom takes on others, not responsible for our oppression. We wrestled there, for instance, with what the founding of the state of Israel has meant for Palestinians; similarly, at the Seder, we reflect this consideration and increase empathy by removing sweetness from our wine glass in acknowledgment of the suffering the ten plagues inflicted upon innocent Egyptians.
Whether Jewish or not, all of us today can relate to the experience of entering this spring burdened by feelings of vulnerability, even as we celebrate the arrival of warm weather and increase in COVID vaccinations. With so many groups targeted for hate, based on their race, gender or creed, and with all of us targeted by a pandemic that has stunned and smitten us through both its longevity and reach, the arrival of spring finds us utterly spent. We are exhausted by the daily psychological stress of asking, “how do I stay safe, how can I help keep others safe, how do I do both at once?” Many of us are holding deep grief and feelings of brokenness. We fear that our world is broken, that our democracy is broken, perhaps that we are broken.
Passover speaks to this brokenness and aspiration toward repair. The Seder ritualizes it. We ceremoniously break one piece of matzah near the start of the Seder (this is called Yahatz) and hide it; the dramatic culmination of the Seder comes through children’s search for this broken hidden piece, called the Afikomen. The Seder cannot conclude without the wild seeking and joyful finding, and without its promise of eventual wholeness. At the same time, the Seder pushes us to reenact liberation and an achievement of wholeness, not because we have arrived at them, but to help us believe we can. These themes of paradox and longing frame the Seder; they are in stark relief near its beginning and at its very end.
At the start of the “telling” section of the Haggadah — as we prepare to celebrate! — we acknowledge that we’ve still got a ways to go: “This year, we are slaves,” we declare, “next year, may we be free people.
And finally, every Passover Seder closes with the words, “Next year in Jerusalem.” The fact that Jews everywhere recite this blessing, even those having Seders in Jerusalem, makes plain that it does not refer to the ancient city, or to any physical destination at all. In Hebrew, the word for Jerusalem is yerushalayim, a word, which, literally, means “they shall see wholeness” – yiru-shalem. This is the objective toward which all of the Seder is directed. It is reflected in all the seeming paradoxes we’re pushed to hold through its rituals and it articulates the central yearning that Passover—and, I’d argue, life more broadly—challenges us to hold; of being able to care for self alongside caring for others, of being able to celebrate our world, our society and ourselves, even while acknowledging where work is needed, even while grieving.
Brokenness and pain are inevitable features of the human condition, but we dare not let them define us. Whatever you are holding, however you are hurting, please know there are people throughout the university, standing by to support you in shouldering the burden. The chaplain team is awesome (you can find us here and Father Edmund and Imam Amir, who are both new, can’t wait to celebrate Easter and Ramadan, respectively, with you) and the Hillel team is too. All of us wish you a spring that inspires a belief that hope is real and that greater wholeness lies just around the bend. We’re also all down to help you find it.
March 23, 2021
Nominations for the 2021 Interfaith Leadership Awards Due Monday, April 5
Nominations are now open for the Interfaith Leadership Award, the Manning Medal, and the Levi C. Adams Citation. A nomination form, complete with instructions, can be found at the bottom of this page, and is due, along with supporting material, in the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life, Box 1931 by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, April 5, 2021. Questions may be directed to [email protected].
The President James Manning Medal
The President James Manning Medal is awarded to a member of the Class of 2021 whose pursuit of excellence in the study and practice of religion is exemplary. This award is given in honor of Brown's first president who exemplified the synthesis of intellectual precision and spiritual engagement. The academic study of religion enables students to become critical thinkers and move beyond personal piety into responsible leadership achieving a balance between the particularity of respective faith traditions and a sense of community and global responsibility.
The Interfaith Leadership Award
A generous award to the Brown University Chaplaincy from the Kapstein Foundation, administered through the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, makes possible the honoring of a member of the Class of 2021 who has demonstrated interfaith leadership both on campus and beyond, within the confines of the academic year and/or during time away. This award will acknowledge the energy, insight, imagination, and service of a student in the realm of inter-religious community building and programming. The Interfaith Leadership Award honors the late Reverend Charles A. Baldwin, Chaplain of the University, 1958–1988.
The Levi Adams Citation
Inaugurated in 2001, the Levi Adams Citation honors a senior in the college for distinction and service in the leadership of a campus based religious organization, project, or initiative. This award is given in honor of Dr. Levi Adams, whose retirement from Brown in 1994 concluded a distinguished career during which he served on Brown's faculty, as one of the Deans of the Medical School and Vice President of Government and Community Relations. His resilience, imagination and strength in his varied tasks were always ground in deep spiritual convictions. Empowered by Dr. Adam’s example this citation is made to honor such service.
March 9, 2021
February 25, 2021
Join the Buoy Team at this OCRL-sponsored event! Overcoming Imposter Syndrome Panel
January 28, 2021: Chaplains Chapbook
A Clenched Month: January 2021
Rev. Janet Cooper Nelson, Chaplain of the University
Brown Spring term classes began on January 20th, sharing the date with the American Inauguration of a new President. Both are ordinary turns of the calendar, yet neither was like any of its predecessors.
At Brown the Class of 2024 arrived on campus without late summer fun and warmth and quickly hunkered into single rooms, eating meals in bags, and living on-line to arrange regular COVID testing and to attend everything--TWTP, Orientation, meeting with hall mates and first classes. Successful, to be sure, with smiles and resilience expressed broadly, but everyone felt and witnessed the strangeness.
In Washington, DC, the US Capitol was polished, if muted, in readiness to host the Inauguration of the 46th President. Dominant, the mourning for the nation’s lost, COVID-19 precautions, and the barricades staffed by hosts of National Guard. Burned into the nation’s retinas were the devastating images from two weeks earlier of armed insurrectionists, Americans, largely White, exercising deadly force in a futile attempt to retain power for a defeated president,
And January still has a few more days.
I juxtapose these images not to create a vacuous equivalency. I mean to observe directly that this is a truly difficult season: nothing is quite right; and, much is very wrong. Our racing hearts can slow even when the worst is happening if someone can speak something plainly, truthfully--perhaps just an accurate recounting of how the sun seems as it drops behind the horizon. The later Mary Oliver’s poem The Fist slowed my pulse:
There are days
When the sun goes down
Like a fist
Though of course
If you see anything
In the heavens
In this way
You had better get
Your eyes checked
Or, better still,
Your diminished spirit.
Have no fist,
Or wouldn’t they have been
For a thousand years now,
Longer than that,
At the dull, brutish
Ways of (hu)mankind--
Instead such patience!
To let us continue!
little by little,
only, so far, in
pockets of the world--
suggesting the possibilities
Behold, how the fist opens
As January 2021’s demands unfolded, The Providence Friends Meeting created an Interfaith Pre-Inauguration Vigil for Peace and Unity on January 19th on ZOOM and invited spiritual leaders in Providence to offer prayers. Mary Oliver’s poem The Fist seemed the perfect preamble to the prayer I wrote for that day. If it can encourage us as we finish stumbling through January 2021, then the work of February and beyond can begin.
Can we unclench--our fists, our jaws, our death grip? Whether on campus or in the community and nation, our work’s efficacy depends on our capacity to risk repairing broken trust; hearing the needs of the injured and excluded; assessing our role in the creation and perpetuation of harm; creating new good for others and ourselves. May all that is sacred release our grip and sustain us in generosity and mercy.
Open our fists
Clenched in fear--ready to hit back
Shaking with grief, dreading news of the next loss
White knuckled in anger against greed and dishonesty.
Open our fists
Turn our eyes toward the softness
We hope dearly to receive,
To see our neighbors’ need
Beyond racist distortion,
May we see anew
Our common life
Our common risk,
Our common mortality
With open eyes and hearts
May we see all we have
Failed to be.
Hearts and fists
May we be open to truth and reconciliation
To racial healing and transformation.
May we find our neighbor’s fists
Each of us to the other
For strength and a hand to hold
For the journey ahead.
Behold how the fist opens with invitation.
January 19, 2021
A cool service opportunity, from Quaker Voluntary Service:
Position: Quaker Voluntary Service Fellow
Community Living | Social Justice | Transformational Spirituality
Job Description: Quaker Voluntary Service is a year-long Fellowship program in which young adults between the ages 21-30 build intentional community, work full time at social service and social change agencies, and explore themes of spiritual and personal growth with local Quakers.
An ideal QVS Fellow is committed to working with diverse community members, brings a willingness to explore and practice spirituality, and is prepared to work in a professional setting. QVS Fellows should be ready to ask challenging questions of themselves and each other about how to live simply, with integrity and justice, while doing meaningful and mutually empowering service. QVS Fellows will work at partner site placement organizations addressing a wide range of social and environmental issues including, but not limited to economic justice, racial equity, housing and homelessness, education, immigration, environmental sustainability, human rights issues, mental and physical disability, and youth justice.
Fellowships are available in Atlanta, GA; Boston, MA; Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN; Philadelphia, PA; and Portland, OR. QVS provides housing and utilities, a public transit pass, grocery allowance or support registering for SNAP, support securing health insurance and mental health resources as needed, student loan counseling and assistance, a simple living stipend, access to conferences and trainings, dedicated time for reflection and community building, access to an equity fund for Fellows with historically marginalized identities, and robust support from staff and volunteers.
The 11-month program runs from the end of August to the end of July each year.
How to Apply: Apply by March 15th at www.quakervoluntaryservice.org/apply
You will also need to have reference forms from a current or past supervisor, a spiritual mentor/companion, and a housemate by the March 15th date, which can take a while, so you are encouraged to begin the process now. You can find those forms here: www.quakervoluntaryservice.org/references/
January 14, 2021: Chaplains Chapbook
"Peace Be With You" (From the Catholic Mass)
Rev. Edmund McCullough, O.P.
Associate Chaplain of the University for the Catholic Community
I’m new to Brown. But I’ve heard that Brown students intend to change the world, to create a more just and peaceful society. They want to right all these distorted and unjust relationships within society. This intention comes up in discussions on elections, race, economics, environmental concerns, and the current social turmoil in the United States.
But how, exactly, is such a peace to be brought about? We’re inundated with images of violence and instability. It seems like a lot to tackle. Where does one start in changing the world?
We must acknowledge that peace is first an internal reality. If we don’t have peace in our souls, how can we hope to give it to others? We’ve all seen anxious people try to fix things. The results are either hilarious, tragic, or both. Only after achieving some (it’s never perfect) interior peace, can we succeed in changes outside ourselves. It’s easy to see the absence of peace in the world. It comes into your news app. But it’s harder to see an absence of peace within us. For that, we need the mirror of a relationship with God. In establishing peace with Him, we can begin to have success in communicating that peace to others. Peace is all about a right relationship: with God, with ourselves, and with others. Peace spreads from the inside out.
We only achieve this (I’ve only achieved this) imperfectly. Such achievement takes patience: a scarce resource in early 2021. Peace, looked at this way, is not new. You can find it in Fr. Jacques Phillipe, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Paul. Maybe this is one purpose of the chaplains: to help others remember what they already know, and apply that knowledge in our own tumultuous times.
“And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phillipians 4:7)
December 11, 2020
The Office of the Chaplains wishes everyone celebrating a happy Hanukkah! For a list of Hanukkah events sponsored by Brown RISD Hillel, click here. Rabbi Michelle Dardashti sat down with President of the University Christina Paxson last night for a conversation, reflecting on the themes of the Hanukkah season as well as the student experience in the age of COVID-19. Below are her words of introduction.
President Paxson, it feels deeply meaningful and fitting that you’re here with us for the first night of Hanukkah, not only because you are our university’s fearless leader but also because your leadership--particularly within the last year--has exemplified precisely the miracle that we celebrate on the first night of Hanukkah.
The rabbis of the Talmud discuss at some length why it was that the first night gets considered a miracle at all. After all, they reason, if we say that the miracle of Hanukkah is that there was only enough oil for one night but it lasted for eight, then aren’t only nights 2-8 miraculous? According to Rabbi David Hartman and others, the miracle of the first night is that they had the courage to light at all, with no promise that there would be enough oil to last through the time of rededication!
President Paxon, you did this very thing for Brown. One month into the Pandemic you wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in which you declared that College Campuses Must Reopen in the Fall. “I am cautiously optimistic that campuses can reopen” you wrote, if “administrators are willing to make bold changes to how they manage their campuses.”
You have made those bold changes and seen us through a remarkably successful semester - but like with Hanukkah, perhaps the most miraculous thing of all is that you had the courage to try. In his 1979 Essay, The Courage to Defy Mass Culture, Hartman writes that “The strength to continue, and to persevere grows by virtue of the courage to initiate a process by lighting the first flame.” You did that. You lit the first flame and thus gave us--and universities across the country--the strength to continue and persevere.
Hanukkah means dedication, because it celebrates the rededication--the reopening--of the Temple after a time of devastation. How fitting.
Many people thought it could not or should not be done - beyond the health concerns, there was the risk of disappointment: what if we opened only to have to close promptly again - what if the oil didn’t last at all? As Hartman writes, “Uncertainty of success often paralyzes one’s initiative to act.” But you were unshaken.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who left this world just over a month ago, had a similar take to Rabbi Hartman; what Hartman called courage--and what you called “cautious optimism”--Sacks called faith. “The miracle of the first night” he wrote “was that of faith itself.” So, we’re here tonight, this first night of Hanukkah, to honor and learn from your leadership and to thank you for modeling courage and giving all of us--in addition to students, faculty and staff on campuses across the nation--faith that rededication, that reopening was possible. Thank you for lighting the first flame.
December 3, 2020: Chaplains Chapbook
This new biweekly Chaplains Chapbook hopes to provide a sustaining glimpse of inner life for Brown Bubble dwellers all. We welcome your response and submissions. Send them to [email protected], and sign up here!
Being Satisfied During a Season of Waiting
Rev. Jermaine L. Pearson, Associate Chaplain of the University for the Protestant Community
Before the arrival of COVID-19 and the closure of most major entertainment venues, the hottest ticket on Broadway and in most cities across the US was the musical Hamilton. I finally had the chance to see it in the summer of 2019 while visiting San Francisco on a day trip from LA, and despite it being rather long, it was the most entertaining show I had ever seen on stage. The combination of acting, singing, rapping, and dancing piqued my inner musical theater nerd and had me downloading the soundtrack as soon as the cast took their final bows. If you have not seen it yet, Disney Plus released it online this past summer with the original Broadway cast. While everyone seems to love the signature piece, My Shot, where Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda) fervently proclaims, “I’m not throwing away my shot!” the show-stopping number for me is the song Satisfied. Performed by Angelica Schuyler (Renée Elise Goldsberry), the song takes place as a toast at the wedding reception where Angelica is the maid of honor, and she offers words of encouragement to Alexander Hamilton and her sister Eliza Schuyler. She begins with a toast to the bride and groom, and then the song rewinds to when she meets Alexander for the first time. Alexander tells her: “You're like me. You’re never satisfied.” She’s initially taken aback by his stance but later becomes intrigued by his flirtatious banter. Within a matter of moments, she has to decide if she will pursue this chance at romance, or if she will offer Alexander to her younger sister Eliza, who finds him equally attractive. Hamilton is broke and poor, and as the older sister, her only job is to marry rich in efforts to climb the social ladder of success. Essentially, she has to choose between potential love or her livelihood. If Angelica chooses love, she would be reduced to a state of living that was not conducive to her lifestyle, and she would not be satisfied. However, if she chooses a comfortable livelihood and marries for wealth, she would potentially lose out on the love of her life and still would not be satisfied. For Angelica Schuyler, it’s a lose-lose situation, what we call a catch 22. In the end, Angelica offers Hamilton to her sister Eliza, to have some relationship and see him from time to time. At the end of the song, she reaches this moment of self-awareness, where she’s riddled with emptiness and regret and realizes that she will never be satisfied. In my most humble opinion, it is the most powerful and vulnerable performance, and I understand why it garnered Goldsberry a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
I realize that for many of us, the year 2020 has left us feeling like Angelica Schuyler after her show-stopping number: vulnerable and empty. We have had to make some tough decisions and sacrifices this past year, where it seems like regardless of the outcome, it is a lose-lose situation. We have had to choose between love, spending time with family and friends, or maintaining our livelihoods and well-being by staying safe in the confines of our apartments and homes. We have neglected social outings, such as birthdays, and even everyday routine activities, like yoga and the gym, to maintain socially distant lifestyles. Some of these decisions have come at the expense of our mental health, and being socially distant has taken a toll on us emotionally and mentally. If I can be honest and transparent, even as a chaplain, I have had moments when I have felt empty over the past 10 months. However, one thing that keeps me going, despite the weariness of a pandemic and lack of human interaction, is hope. I have hope that things will get better, and I’m going to be satisfied while in this season of waiting.
With a year filled with a relentless and unyielding pandemic, racial upheaval, several deaths of friends, family, and celebrity mentors, this feeling of hope has sustained me. It continues to sustain me even as Rhode Island is on the precipice of yet another two-week semi-lockdown. Ironically, this lockdown falls at the beginning of what we Christians celebrate as the Season of Advent, a season of waiting in expectation for the birth of our holy savior. I realize that many of you reading this message practice different faith traditions; however, regardless of our religious identities, most of us can understand what it’s like to wait in expectation for something and not necessarily know when it will come to pass.
We wait in expectation for a vaccine for COVID-19, and we have hope that we will be able to embrace each other when we see each other in passing. We have hope that our economy will rebound and that that the unemployed will find jobs post-pandemic. For those millennials struggling with student loan debt, we have hope that we will see some loan forgiveness in the future. We hope that the world will finally begin to see the humanity in one another regardless of our racial, religious, and sexual identities. So, we wait in expectation for a better tomorrow, a better future, with the hopes that our latter years will be greater than our former.
Last week, I felt down because I could not travel to Chicago for Thanksgiving and experience my mother’s famous sweet potato pie. I went to my local grocery store and picked up a Patti LaBelle Sweet Potato Pie. As I bit into this Patti pie, I realized that it was certainly not my mother’s and was not what I expected. It was just okay, decent at best, as the spices were different from my mother’s……….I still ate the whole pie. Even though it didn’t taste like Shirl Pearson’s pie, it was fulfilling and satisfied my sweet tooth, which provided me with some Thanksgiving normalcy; I was still thankful and was satisfied. This pie experience was reflective of my entire year. 2020 has taught me to be grateful and satisfied with the things that I do have instead of things that I don't. My sincerest prayer is that while you are in your season of waiting, you sincerely have hope while being thankful and satisfied with what you already have.
November 19, 2020: Chaplains Chapbook
This new biweekly Chaplains Chapbook hopes to provide a sustaining glimpse of inner life for Brown Bubble dwellers all. We welcome your response and submissions. Send them to [email protected], and sign up here!
Barbershop Shukr: On the Practice of Gratitude
Imam Amir A. Toft, Associate Chaplain of the University for the Muslim Community
This has been a suboptimal year. And as it treads toward its close—and especially as we enter the wintry stretch of Covid before at last being released, we hope, into a new bloom of life—it is easy to find our reservoirs of joy running low if not indeed already run dry. Most of us have, quite humanly, sought to treat our beleaguered souls by expressing sadness, anger, distress, exasperation to those within trusted circles (and venting them as well, perhaps too often, into the void of social media). Yet such treatments, though restorative for a time, may give way to a condition that has worsened beneath the temporary relief. The medicine, administered too liberally, turns to poison. I can only speak for myself, quite sickened of constantly talking about disease and political strife, but you might feel the same. What is most difficult to capture, especially in moments of great agitation, is a deep contentment and tranquility of spirit.
When casting about for perspective in such moments, many turn, as I do as well, to the wisdom stored in such things as sacred writ and great literature. Sometimes, however, the loftiest wisdom can be found in the most mundane places. For me it’s the barbershop. (Or at least it used to be, before seemingly everyone started shearing their locks at home if not abandoning the enterprise altogether.)
My barber of some ten years, before moving to Providence, was someone I looked forward to seeing every month. Muhammad (not his real name) didn’t have a string of accolades to boast of—no fancy education, no big bank balance, no high-profile influencer status—apart from being a hard-working owner of his own business. He had foibles like the rest of us; he was perhaps even not, nor did he expect to be seen as, the best role model in all areas of life. But each visit, it seemed, Muhammad would treat me to some new knowledge or perspective. He’d often drop on me a piece of the Arabic poetry he had picked up over the years, in that way that ordinary people from other cultures still seem to do. We’d banter about religion and politics and have friendly arguments. We’d talk of our personal lives, and over the years he shared with me his personal and professional hardships. One episode stands out to this day.
It was several years ago, and I went in and asked Muhammad as usual how he was doing. “My father passed away,” he said, adding that the death had been sudden and unexpected. Knowing his father to be abroad, I expressed my sympathies and asked whether he would be going home to visit and grieve with extended family. Muhammad explained that, because of some quirks in the law and his background, he occupied a sort of immigration no-man’s land—perfectly legal in status but unable to leave and re-enter the country. “I’m so sorry,” came my feeble response. “It’s okay, brother,” he said calmly, following it up with Alhamdulillah, a common praise of God. “We have to thank God for what he gives us in life.” He then thanked me for my friendship and kept on cutting my hair.
In doing so, my friend unselfconsciously emulated the Prophet Muhammad, who, when asked why he kept the prayer candle burning through the night alongside his daytime burdens, said, “Shall I not be a grateful servant of God?” My friend preferred to be joyful and grateful in a moment when others, including myself, might have been despondent and bitter. And so it is, I have found again and again, that those who have gone through the most hardship are the most alive to the blessings that they have and the most magnanimous in expressing shukr, or gratitude, for them.
That kind of contentment with the fortunes of life, together with the ability to carry on serenely with the business of living, is within the reach of each of us. For some, especially those who enjoy considerable material comfort, it may be harder to attain than for others. But one step to getting there, available to all of us, is to practice gratitude. Not to cogitate about it abstractly, but to actively display and express our gratitude for all the mundane things and to all the mundane people in our lives. And to do so even when it doesn’t entirely make sense. For if we can discover the barber’s insight on life, we may find, to paraphrase the Quran (14:34), that we will never fully be able to number the favors of God.
November 5, 2020: Chaplains Chapbook
This new biweekly Chaplains Chapbook hopes to provide a sustaining glimpse of inner life for Brown Bubble dwellers all. We welcome your response and submissions. Send them to [email protected], and sign up here!
Soft Like a Reed: Writing a Future We Can’t Yet See
by Rabbi Michelle Dardashti
At the time of my writing, election results aren’t clear. We’re in limbo – a hard posture to sustain with grace, but one worth practicing, because regardless of what news is delivered in the coming hours and days, there is no telling what will happen next. This vulnerable position of not knowing—magnified by the pandemic and by our political moment—is at the core of what it means to be human. The only real question is how we meet and move through it. Will we flee to an illusory place of greater certainty or will we roll up our sleeves and root ourselves firmly within what Parker Palmer calls the Tragic Gap.
Some years back, I was fortunate to be among the dozen clergy and educators to participate in a retreat with Parker Palmer, a Quaker philosopher and pedagogue, founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal. On the final afternoon of our time together, he shared with us his teachings on the “The Tragic Gap.”
On one side of the gap, teaches Palmer, stands all that is wrong in the world; on the other side, is all that we know to be possible in the way of goodness, equality and justice. This gap is tragic in that it will always exist between the world as it is and the world for which we yearn. The question is only one of endurance: do we have what it takes to continually stand in that tension-filled place between reality and possibility, or will be lured into the tempting alternatives of corrosive cynicism (a result of exclusively seeing what is) or irrelevant idealism (a product of excessively envisioning the realm of what might be).
While the two might seem like opposites, one can see how both the corrosive cynic and the irrelevant idealist might sit out voting or choose not to take Covid precautions seriously. The cynic’s reasoning might be that the apocalypse is coming and/or that we’re all going to die anyway (or, less dramatically, that politics is broken and masks are bogus); the idealist might insist that everything is going to be okay and that rhetoric around the high stakes of this election or the threat of Covid-19 is exaggerated. Indeed, as Palmer writes in Healing the Heart of Democracy, “Cynicism and idealism … have the same result: both take us out of the action by pulling us out of the tragic gap….”
Parker Palmer names faithfulness and a capacity for heartbreak as the qualities that enable us to remain and act meaningfully from within The Gap. In unpacking what he means by these, however, I turn to a Jewish source from the 7th Century. Avot d'Rabbi Natan teaches as follows: “A person should always be soft like a reed and not hard like a cedar. In the case of a reed, all the winds come and blow upon it and reed bends with it. The wind ceases and the reed returns to its place. Therefore the reed merited to become a quill to write a Torah scroll.”
This text asserts that we need to be soft not because it’s nice, but because it’s strategic. The reed’s flexibility allows for resilience; its rootedness means it wins out over the long hall, even if it sways in the wind. The text goes on to say that the cedar gets used to build rooves, but that any remains are thrown into the furnace: it’s useful as a defensive mechanism, but ultimately, it burns out! The reed gets to write our sacred narrative – it inscribes our destiny.
With polls as painfully close as they are, the only thing we know for sure in this moment is that the work before us isn’t going to let up, regardless of which way the election goes. The future won’t be decided or defined by who wins it but by the work we do in its wake, by the grit and faithfulness with which we stand boldly in The Tragic Gap, the so often grueling and heartbreaking place of becoming. Writing a world we can’t yet see is what we’re here to do.
Octavia Butler (as excerpted in a fabulous summer 2014 TWTP booklet) says it best:
All social change is speculative fiction because we’ve never seen a world without poverty, never seen a world with total equality, never seen a world without prisons…therefore activism IS speculative fiction, it’s visionary fiction because we are writing a world we’ve never seen but a world we’d like to live in. It’s hard and unapologetic but it’s hopeful because it can cause us to move; it wakes up and shows us that change is possible.
Here’s to our being as rooted, resilient and prolific as the reed. The Gap beckons.
October 29, 2020
Join the Chaplains this Sunday at 5 pm for a discussion on how to navigate this troubled election season. Via Zoom.
October 27, 2020
Mark Steinbach, Brown University Organist and Senior Lecturer in Music, will perform the annual Midnight Halloween Organ Recital on October 31 at 11:59pm from Sayles Hall on the 1903 Hutchings-Votey pipe organ. This year, the performance will be streamed to audiences live via Zoom.
View the performance below!
October 22, 2020: Chaplains Chapbook
Do What You Do
Fr. Albert Duggan, Associate Chaplain of the University for the Catholic Community
While exploring the grounds of the new Catholic Center, I came across a granite pillar on which were inscribed the words: AGE QUOD AGIS.
I knew enough Latin to realize it meant, roughly, “Do what you do.” That sounded a little trite. Not the sort of thing you would inscribe in stone. Suspiciously like the expression: "You do you."
So I did some research, both about the significance of the inscription as well as the genesis of this particular monument. A neighbor told me that the original owner of the house was Catholic. As it turns out, this is an important maxim in the spirituality of the Jesuit Order, founded by St. Ignatius Loyola in the 16th century. Literally, it means “Do what you are doing.”
But more to the point, it implies focusing your energy and effort on the task at hand.
We might elaborate on the phrase…
Do what you are doing, and do it well.
Do what you are doing, and don’t try to do something else.
Don’t get distracted from the task at hand.
Don’t spend all your time daydreaming about what could be,
all the while ignoring what is right in front of you.
Let me use a mundane example. I like coffee. If you've been in my office, maybe you've seen my French press and coffee grinder. They say this is one of the best ways to make coffee. It takes a little extra time and work, but if you do it right, the result is excellent coffee.
You heat the water to 200-205 degrees. You grind the beans right beforehand, slightly coarser than usual. Then, having measured out the proper ratio of ground coffee to water, you pour a little hot water over the coffee to let it "bloom." Then you add the rest of the water, stir, and let it steep for four minutes. Then you push the plunger down, but not too fast. Then, and only then, is the coffee ready to pour and enjoy (and in better days to come, share with someone else!).
If you set aside the time and concentrate on the task at hand, the results are markedly better than if you take shortcuts (e.g., using pre-ground coffee, not bothering to measure) or if you try to multi-task. I’ll admit that what trips me up most of the time is that, while the coffee is steeping, I go to check my e-mail and get distracted, losing track of time. The coffee is oversteeped. Okay, but not great. I think, “Well…maybe next time, I’ll get it right.”
If I really want to make coffee the Age-Quod-Agis way, I need to set aside the time, perhaps 10 minutes, and say "For these 10 minutes, I'm going to make coffee. I'm not checking my e-mail. I'm not surfing the web. I'm just going to make coffee the best way I know how."
As human beings, we're not good at dividing our attention. We might think we are. We might feel we're more productive when we multi-task. But more often than not, the result
is that we accomplish many things of comparatively lower quality, with less joy.
When we read, how well do we read?
When we are with friends, how well to we listen? How well do we express ourselves?
When we write a paper, how well do we write?
When we pray, how fervently do we pray?
Sometimes we get distracted, or rush through a task, or do it poorly because our heart is simply not in it. It happens, and we need not be embarrassed by that. We get pulled in so many directions. Our heart can't be in everything all the time. Our minds can’t focus on everything.
But, when all is said and done, our hearts and minds are most content and most energized when they can give themselves more fully to one object. At the very least: one thing at a time.
Even if a particular task seems mundane, it's worth doing well. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones.” Doing mundane things well has the power to transform us into the sort of people who do great things well.
So....do what you are doing, the best way you know how.
October 7, 2020: Chaplains Chapbook
Of Prayers and Bubbles
Janet Cooper Nelson, Chaplain of the University
The Brown Bubble opened its Gates figuratively just a month ago to welcome us to a beloved place of friendship, comfort, challenge and beauty; a sweet seclusion against we often struggle to insure that we engage reality; and yet it is an indelibly beloved address whose privilege is hard to overstate. The Brown Bubble embraces much and many. Spiritual life and the practice of prayer bubbles within the Bubble--endless varied, and often just out of view. This new biweekly Chaplains Chapbook hopes to provide a sustaining glimpse of inner life for Brown Bubble dwellers all. We welcome your response and submissions. Send them to [email protected], and sign up here!
It is fair to say that this autumn the Brown Bubble is quite different. Spiritually, we are doing our best to stay and keep others safe while navigating a threatened world. We worry. Almost overhearing us, the extraordinary New England poet Mary Oliver, who died earlier this year, replies:
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
We too go out into the morning and sing--though for this season, we must sing by ourselves, outside, and at considerable distance from anyone. For my part, I pray, and I pray for Brown. I send you this year’s Convocation prayers with my heartfelt hope that they may evoke your prayer--however you express your heart’s deepest petitions.
May we, collectively, bubblingly, sustain honest hope and useful life within and beyond our beloved Brown Bubble. Blessings, dear Brown!
At Convocation: September 8, 2020
Brunonians near and far, dearest elders--alumni, faculty, benefactors and friends, newest students--including the not-yet-arrived Class of 2024:
Today, we don our regalia to assert as always that it is Convocation Day, no matter
how unusual. And as always, as your Chaplain, I bid you pray…
Today my prayer is rooted in the deep wisdom of elders. The ancient prophet Micah who asks--And what does the Lord require? That you love justice, do kindness and walk humbly with God.
The Abolitionist, activist and scholar, Frederic Douglas, who wrote: I prayed for 20 years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who records: For many of us, the march from Selma to Montgomery was about protest and prayer. Legs are not lips, and walking is not kneeling. And yet our legs uttered songs. Even without words, our march was worship. I felt my legs were praying.
And from Adrienne Rich’s remarkable poem Final Notation in The Atlas for a Difficult World:
You are taking parts of us into
places never planned…
you are going far away with
pieces of our lives
it will be short, it will take
all your breath
it will not be simple, it will
become your will
Their voices strengthen mine--and so I bid you pray--with your head, heart and your legs.
Hear and hold us as of old. Grief and loss cloud our nation and world. Almost amazed we gather, grateful for health and our profound privilege; created by family, benefactors, faculty and a vast set of University leaders whose generous imagination and tireless work, walk and built the path we walk, through the Gates and into this term--apart, in body but joined in heart. Grant us humility and gracious humor to navigate carefully, awkwardly, masked, distanced, worried, finding our privilege in caring for and encouraging one another. We hear the wisdom of the great souls who trod trying seasons before us, named and unnamed. Infuse us with their courage to stride beyond isolating fear and self-interest, walking toward and committed to building an inclusive new community--a beloved community. Grant us courageous acuity. Sorrow’s harsh light shines on racism’s deadly national injustice. May protests yield new structures and maps, streets, monuments, bridges named to honor those who dismantled wrong and built the good. This, surely, is our work of defiant, sacred Hope--In Deo Speramus has long been the calling of Brunonians. Autumn’s beckoning corroborates what Douglass saw in the graceful freedom of sailing ships. This long season of hardship will turn--Hope’s shores still await us. We yearn with Heschel to arrive on those shores--praying with our legs to step across the confines of identity, to insist on our neighbor’s good--to release the imprisoned; to welcome the stranger to our nation; to shield the vulnerable from illness and harm. We raise our voices without equivocation to affirm that Black Lives Matter--everywhere--in College Hill’s classrooms, at the State House, church, mosque and temple, from sea to shining sea. May we hear a whispered, then shouted, reply in the joy of children and their families released from fear and trauma. Nightmares transformed into songs of justice flourishing. Brunonians--in this never before season, grateful for all that sustains us in life and brings us gladly to this day—Together let us open a path of blessing, knowing with the poet Adrienne Rich, that it will: “take us to places never planned; it will take all of our breath and not be simple, but together, it can become our will.” In our hope, in walking prayer, may we become and create blessing for others, this day and always, Amen.
September 21, 2020
September 11, 2020
From Rabbi Michelle Dardashti:
First Shabbat "Back" ;)
Start: 11 SEP 2020 6:00pm
End: 11 SEP 2020 6:30pm
Description: Join the BRH community in taking a collective breath after our first week "back," whether we're physically back in PVD (yet) or not. See/make some friends, light some candles and raise a glass (or kiddush cup) to the strangest semester of our lives! At 6:30pm, those of you who miss the sounds of the Beit Midrash on Friday nights are invited to stay on for some of Havurah KabShab's greatest hits ;). (Havurah is a Recon/Conservative-ish minyan and the Beit Midrash is the room in Hillel where it met weekly, in a songful circle, Pre-Covid!)
May 24, 2020
The Office of the Chaplains offers our warmest congratulations and blessings to those graduating today. Since we can't all be together in person on this Commencement day, here is a video from members of the extended OCRL community offering their own blessings to the Class of 2020.
May 22, 2020 / 28 Iyar 5780
“Man plans, God laughs.” Though I doubt God finds Covid-19 particularly funny, this Yiddish expression – “Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht”- has felt all too apt. In the Corona era, planning can feel rather futile. But experiencing this pandemic through the lens of the Jewish calendar has been both striking and grounding.
First, there was Purim. The holiday of topsy-turvy coincided with our world turned upside down. We were yet naïve about how bad this would get; my mishloah manot featured Coronas and lime and I put up signs that read: “In order to prevent the spread of the AchashVIRUS, remember to Vashti hents!”
Then came Pesach. It offered us Seder, order, amidst the chaos. But it was also sobering. Sickness and death from plague, spread swiftly and suddenly through our country, as it did through Mitzrayim.
And thus began the Omer, with its daily count, allowing us to make sense of and distinguish between the passing days, each spent repetitively – in our homes, in front of our screens.
The new moon of Iyyar followed; an acronym for “I am God, Your Healer,” Iyyar has brought our wounds into stark relief, and made desperate our pleas for healing…
And throughout all of this, of course, we’ve had Shabbat: our weekly lifeline and marker, our taste of eternity and glimpse of majesty amidst the morbidity and monotony.
Coming our way next is Shavuot, with its climactic promise of revelation. That would be nice – to have revealed answers which have alluded us: When will this be over? Will I make it through in life and health? Employed? Will my loved ones? Will the holidays happen in person this fall? Will my kids’ school? Will anything?
The hard truth is that it’s unlikely we’ll have much greater clarity in these realms by the 6th of Sivan, the day we celebrate receiving the Torah, any more than the Sinaitic experience responded to the Israelites’ questions – What will we have to eat and drink? When will we arrive “there”? And where exactly is “there”? But in a way, Z’man Matan Torahteinu does reveal, or remind us, of everything we really need to know.
Through the experience at Sinai, the Jewish people forge a covenant with God and with one another. It is at Sinai, through together receiving the Torah, that we transform from a band of refugee slaves into a people with a purpose and a plan. Shavuot reminds us that we are still that people and that our purpose and plan are not only still relevant, but in fact more vital than ever.
The prescriptions for leading a meaningful life—found in the Torah and built into Jewish communal life—address the critical yearning for connectedness that is timeless and so palpable amidst this pandemic. We’ve had to grow ever more nimble and creative in how we navigate the Wilderness, but we can rely on Judaism to help guide us through. We learn to put one foot in front of the other and we learn to pause. The map inherited at Sinai is as basic as it is profound.
May 15, 2020 / 21 Iyar 5780
Some Pre-Shabbat and Pre-Summer Wisdom from Rabbi Dardashti – 5/15/20 – 21 Iyar 5780
You’ve made it. You’ve made it through finals (or just about) and now you can close your books and -- ?!
In any other year, you’d be getting ready to celebrate with friends and head out of town and onto your next adventure. But this year? This year, the day after finals, and the week after that, may have a disconcerting sameness to them; your next adventure may feel out of reach and utterly uncertain.
This week’s Torah portion, the last in the book of Leviticus, leaves us with a similar feeling. When we close this book tomorrow, what faces us is a vast wilderness; the next book of the Torah is in fact called Bamidbar, “In The Wilderness.” How does one muster the strength to face and journey through a wilderness? That’s the daunting question we’re all called to address in this moment.
As we depart into the wilderness of summer, without the harness of classes, without great mobility and possibly without the jobs or internships anticipated, here are three tried and true practices for the trek:
1. Give Shabbat a whirl. There’s never been a better time to take a break from work and technology for one day a week to reset and renew: the semester is through, screen time has become overwhelming and, let’s be real, there’s no place you have to be.
2. Lean into the uncertainty. Our tradition teaches that the Torah was given in the wilderness because of its ownerlessness and its openness; we learn that one must surrender control and make oneself as open as the wilderness to receive the wisdom we seek.
3. Reach out. Remember that trekking alone is unnecessary and ill-advised. Please know that all of us at Hillel stand ready to connect throughout the summer, to dig into all of the above and more. You are never alone.
For now, we send you off with blessings for shalom and sheleimut—peace and fulfillment—and the words with which we close every book of the Torah: hazak, hazak, v’nithazek – strength, strength, and we shall be strengthened.
May 14, 2020
April 28, 2020
April 23, 2020
Amir Toft, our new Associuate Chaplain of the University for the Muslim Community, will be having a live daily Qur’an recitation at 12 pm ET, with the intention of completing the recitation of the entire Qur’an over the course of the month. Those wishing to join live to listen and/or follow along may do so via Zoom. Please write to [email protected] if you are interested in joining.
April 9, 2020
An opportunity to join Jermaine Pearson, our Associate Chaplain of the University for the Protestant Community as he preaches at Beneficent Church tomorrow, April 10:
Tomorrow at 12pm, all are invited to an hour-long Good Friday service of readings, music, and reflections on Jesus’ Seven Last Words. Please join us for this virtual spirit-filled journey.
- Join at https://zoom.us/j/367226102
- Or, dial in (312-626-6799) and enter Meeting ID (367 226 102)
See here for Beneficient's bulletin: Good Friday Bulletin
April 9, 2020
An opportunity for Brown students from the Community Dialogue Project:
We hope this message finds you feeling grounded in the midst of this very challenging and uncertain time. We recognize that the state of our lives, communities, and world have drastically changed in the last four weeks. Given the abrupt shut down of Brown and the public health and economic crises of this moment, the Community Dialogue Project is creating a virtual community care space for students who are experiencing challenges regarding family, housing, mental health or their living environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We want this community gathering space to meet your needs, so we need your input! If you feel like this is something you are interested in potentially joining, we ask that you fill out this INTEREST FORM by Sunday, April 12. All responses will be anonymous and will solely be used to help design the gathering space we offer. Please complete the form if you’re able and also email [email protected] to get the Zoom invite for the group.
If you have any questions you can reach out to Dara Bayer, Transformative Justice Program Coordinator, at [email protected] or Marc Peters, Assistant Director of Community Dialogue and Campus Engagement, at [email protected].
We look forward to being in community with you!
Dara & Marc
Community Dialogue Project
April 8, 2020
The Brown/RISD Catholic community will be hosting Holy Week Prayers on Zoom. See below for details:
April 9 at 10:00am
Holy Thursday Prayers
The Brown-RISD Catholic Community is hosting remote prayer gatherings for Holy Week. On Thursday morning, we'll come together on Zoom to pray with psalms and readings from the Liturgy of the Hours. All members of the Brown Community to join at 10:00am ET using this Zoom link: https://brown.zoom.us/j/548156856
April 10 at 10:00am
Good Friday Prayers
The Brown-RISD Catholic Community is hosting remote prayer gatherings for Holy Week. On Friday morning, we'll come together on Zoom to pray with psalms and readings from the Liturgy of the Hours. All members of the Brown Community to join at 10:00am ET using this Zoom link: https://brown.zoom.us/j/548156856
April 11 at 10:00am
Holy Saturday Prayers
The Brown-RISD Catholic Community is hosting remote prayer gatherings for Holy Week. On Saturday morning, we'll come together on Zoom to pray with psalms and readings from the Liturgy of the Hours. All members of the Brown Community to join at 10:00am ET using this Zoom link: https://brown.zoom.us/j/548156856
April 6, 2020 / 12 Nisan 5780
Rabbi Michelle Dardashti offers these words for a Passover in the midst of a pandemic. See here for resources for hosting and celebrating a virtual Passover.
What Does It Look Like On the Other Side?
In every generation, we’re asked to see ourselves as though we personally came out of Egypt.
For this generation, certainly this year, Egypt is Covid. The root of the word Egypt, in Hebrew, is tzar “narrow.” The Hebrew root of Coved is kaved, “heavy.”
This year, our universal narrowness is a heaviness called Covid. Its weight and its constriction--its reach and its lethality--are unfathomable. As impossible to wrap our heads around as any of the plagues of Egypt. Is this what it felt like?
Not all of us—yet—feel the full weight of Covid’s heaviness upon our families, upon our incomes, upon our lungs. But we are all impacted, regardless of age, class, race or geography.
The question is: how will we emerge from under this heavy weight?
How will we as individuals look different? How will our families look different? Our neighborhoods? Our schools? Our activism? Our places of worship? Our places of work? Our states, countries, our universe?
In every generation, we’re asked to see ourselves as though we personally came out of Egypt.
This year, we have a unique--and weighty--opportunity: to truly decide what we’ll look like on the other side, if/when we God willing, make it there. When the virus is through, if/when we have our freedom again to roam, to be proximate, what will that freedom look like? How will we reengage with our neighbors, our needy, our jobs, friends, technology - ourselves?
We know now better than ever how to maintain distance. What will freedom to physically reconnect look like? Will we want it back?
Many of us are resonating with the idea of Covid as the plague of Darkness. It’s a plague that makes us unable to see our neighbors, a plague that keeps us stuck where we are, precipitating hoarding and suspicious glances, when we do step out our front door. It is heavy, indeed, and it threatens to crush: my empathy, my goodness, my very ability to see the others’ needs, presence, claims upon me.
But the opposite of both darkness and heaviness is light.
The Seder was an institution meant to address the paradigm shift in which the rabbis found themselves in the wake of the Temple's destruction. The Passover story and Seder similarly inspire and inform our own moment of re-learning how to live into our days and our traditions.
May this Passover shed light – light on who and how we want to be when the great weight and darkness of Covid is lifted.
Please God, may I see you on the other side. In health, in wholeness, in peace. May we see ourselves and one another with enlightened eyes.
April 2, 2020 / 8 Nisan 5780
That’s been the best, most consistent and scientific advice we’ve been given for how to escape Covid-19. On a physical level, we experience this as quite a constricting formula for achieving freedom. Spiritually, however, going inside truly is a prescription for liberation. We’ve been told to “go home” - we’ve been invited home to ourselves, invited to scour our inner selves.
The last few weekends, I’ve found myself zealously motivated to CLEAN. I’ve sifted and sorted through shelves, closets, cabinets and drawers more vigorously than, perhaps ever! Not to sanitize against sickness, but rather, to make order – I’ve felt an irrepressible desire to liberate myself from clutter, from excesses, mess and muck.
This is the sort of “cleaning out” that Passover is meant to prompt: a rigorous search for and destruction of all hametz in our lives. Hametz is leaven, it’s the unnecessarily puffed up parts of our lives - the stuff that’s not serving us. The coincidence of our fight to escape Covid with our preparation for reliving our people’s escape from Egypt has inspired in me a deep desire to separate out that which is essential in my life—that which keeps the flame of my soul alight—and that which is not.
On this Shabbat before Passover, we’ll read about the esh tamid, the fire that burned eternally in the temple. Over this Shabbat and the days leading up to Passover, consider what shiny gems about yourself and your needs you have discovered over the last three weeks. What aspects of “life before Covid” light you up and what’s simply in your way? May we all find and rid ourselves of plenty of hametz in the coming days, and may we find that for all the chaos Covid has wrought, there will also be deep learning and seder (order) born of all this “staying inside.”
April 1, 2020:
A message from the Chaplain of the University:
More a love letter than an op-ed, I write with a deep April heartache for beloved, far-flung Brunonia and a suffering world. Everywhere, everything has changed. College Hill is now oddly quiet, despite a loud riot of daffodils and magnolias defiantly gathered to bloom.
Suddenly dispersed, we are broadcasters, frontline reporters and those seeking refuge in myriad virus epicenters. Tucked inside our necklines is a metaphoric locket holding beloved portraits, our many identities and homes, a composite of an aching global landscape. Our fingers search nervously for the locket’s clasp, and perhaps we laugh out loud at the tiny replica of Brown’s beloved Blueno, light on, holding the locket’s chain tight. We Brunonians all don such metaphorical jewelry — keeping us together at heart.
Read the rest here.
March 15, 2020:
In light of the COVID-19 situation, the Chaplains of the University are holding the Brown community in our prayers and remain fully available, even as we work remotely. Brown community members may send requests for counsel, support, information or prayer by email to the Chaplain of the University: [email protected].
Individual members of the OCRL team can also be reached directly at the addresses listed on our website https://www.brown.edu/campus-life/spiritual-life/chaplains/ Including best timing and contact numbers will help us to reply promptly.
We hope to resume the meetings of several groups remotely after Spring break and will post appropriate information also on our website.
In urgent matters or at off-hours, please reach us through Brown’s Department of Public Safety: 401.863.3322