Amsterdam: What Do You Know about Love?

Posted by Rabbi Goldie Milgram |

The setting is Sheila Gogol's Amsterdam salon. I always feel so fortunate to teach here, knowing the loving curiosity and wisdom those present will contribute. We begin with the Tikkunei Zohar approach - a soul needs two wings to fly. In Europe, one wing - yira, is readily accessible - respect for the awe/fearsome nature of the Godfield. To fly, in the balanced way to which Jewish tradition would have us aspire, we need the other wing - ahava, love.

Sheila has convened many cultural creatives - artists, authors, poets, musicians, scholars, healers...Skillfully guiding us in sacred chant is one of the first women cantors of the Netherlands, now further ordained as Rabbi Nava Tehila. Our host has brought in a young filmmaker too, who recorded the salon for a possible bit of televised documentary. There is some chutzpah to having love as our topic, because it will likely first evoke for some the holes in love caused by the murder of over 100,000 Dutch Jews -- their parents, siblings, partners, children and more -- by the Nazis and some Dutch collaborators. Among those attending the salon, I knew to be those who, as toddlers, had seen their parents shot before their eyes, hidden Jews fostered as children among gentiles, and more. Present also are American, Canadian, South African and other ex-pats and some who are not Jewish and are drawn to the topic, and also those who sense they are born with Jewish souls because not enough Jewish women survived the war to bear all the returning souls, as well as loving partners.

In preparation for this session, Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi, whom I serve on shlichut (as one of his representatives), pointed me to The Four Loves by CS Lewis, indeed a good conceptual trans civilizational grounding. Our salon begins with the direction that if the Jewish mission is to live mitzah-centered, rather than self-centered lives, (kedoshim tihiyu), then the healthy evolution and alignment of self is essential for our entelechy of avodah, sacred service in life, to be realized.

Next level - (the complexity of) love within families. On the road over the years to come, b"H, many of you will hear the example story I shared at this point, true and newly minted for telling. For me, it was rather what Sheila shared that blew the Ruakh HaKodesh through the room. She described a never- opened box of family pictures, from before the Shoah, in the bottom of a closet, I believe it was near a four- year old granddaughter's doll house. A box that no family member's soul could bear opening. I, and others, nodded; we, too, have such boxes at home. One day she entered the room to discover her granddaughter had found the box, opened it and arrayed the pictures within her play. "Look at my family!" with such love she yet includes them, marveled her grandmother. Gasps of joy resounded to this incredible, holy sharing. This, I believe, is what Rabbis David Wolfe-Blank, z'l and Elliot Ginsberg (in his essay in the volume Seeking and Soaring) would view as the ultimate expression of the miracle of lifsoakh, leaping over- the Pesach consciousness that releases parts of us once enslaved.

Europe is so different this visit. Jewish grandchildren are being born here; young marrieds and singles identify and meet; new minyanim, programs, and synagogues are here. Alive! hah!! We Jews are soooo alive. I just had to write that out loud. 

The next level is based on a quote I first saw in a teaching of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, z'l: "When love of each other is practiced by the Jewish people, the heart of the Shechinah is healthy." Here my Hubbatzin Barry offered a true story of how he shifted a ChaBaD tefillin ambush from an I-It to an I-Thou encounter. With every variety of Jew in the room, the respect necessary for emerging into Tu b'Av the next day from these levels of love was present already and heightened in this study of his story. Barry's story will appear in the new book from Reclaiming Judaism Press: Mitzvah Stories: Seeds for Inspiration and Learning (with 60 contributing authors and edited by yours truly and Ellen Frankel, with Peninnah Schram, Cherie Karo Schwartz, and Arthur Strimling). (Release event is Nov. 6, 2011, Yeshiva University Museum, Manhattan).

So from where is love derived? Ahavah and Yirah are, indeed, foundational mitzvot. Our dear friend, the profound healer, mashpi'ah, artist and author, Carola de Vries Robles now brought us to Rabbi Shefa's Gold's chant of the tefillin/ Jewish wedding verses from Hosea, the v'eirastich li. I loved her idea and so shifted to guide our study of how the seven core phrases of this prayer might be a pathway of love that leads us through relationship to "know God." 

Now we chanted Amar Rabbi Akiva which emphasizes the mitzvah of loving others...to "love one's neighbor as one might best love oneself." We were almost up to appreciations (among them a young man, Edgar, sketched our portraits brilliantly. I will forward his website when I can get into my Facebook page where he wrote to us). So we committed to walk the streets of Dutch life on Tu b'Av not as icy-hurting Jews, nor as dangerous fiery zealots, rather as "warm cubes, Our souls flying with aware Yirah and radiant Ahavah - the kind that within our body/mind/spirit such that Ahavah and Yirah meld beyond earthly struggles to where "Adonai echad u'shemo echad." 

Next, reflections on nine days teaching and touring in Berlin. (Note, these posts are delayed as they take a long time to compose. I'm no longer in the precise city being posted about.