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Jewish marriage rites are robust. Now a rabbi is innovating rituals for Jews who divorce.



(J. The Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — For Lyssa Jaye, throwing the wood chips into the Tuolumne River felt in many ways familiar to the tashlich ritual performed on Rosh Hashanah. But rather than casting off her sins, she was tossing away feelings: shame, resentment, anger.

They were the emotions that had taken residence inside Jaye since her divorce eight years ago, along with a sense of failure. And she had come to a Jewish retreat to rid herself of them.

“I’ve been carrying around these feelings for years now,” Jaye said. “I have a completely different life now, and I needed to let them go.”

Jaye was taking part in Divorce & Discovery: A Jewish Healing Retreat, the first-ever gathering in a series conceived by Rabbi Deborah Newbrun as part of her training, held this month at Camp Tawonga in the Bay Area.

One of the requirements at the Pluralistic Rabbinical Seminary, where Newbrun was ordained last year in the first graduating class, “was that each of us had to do an innovation, or something that didn’t exist before,” she said.

Newbrun, who directed Camp Tawonga for more than two decades, has been recognized for innovative programming for such achievements as initiating Tawonga’s LGBT family camp and founding its wilderness department. She even won a prestigious 2018 Covenant Award for Jewish educators. But as she started thinking about how to fulfill the seminary requirement, her first thought was, “I don’t have any ideas left in me.”

Then she began reflecting back on her divorce years earlier. She remembered how she had approached numerous rabbis and colleagues in search of Jewish support around the grief she felt. And how they all came up empty-handed.

That’s when she realized: “I can put together something meaningful and helpful for people going through divorce.”

From the moment participants arrived at Camp Tawonga near Yosemite, they knew this would be no ordinary Jewish retreat. At the opening event, all of the facilitators, several clergy members and a therapist shared their own divorce stories, “to set the standard and normalize vulnerability, transparent sharing and establish that we all know what it’s like to have a marriage end,” Newbrun said.

Most participants were from the Bay Area, with a handful from farther afield. They were in different life stages, from those in their 30s dealing with custody battles over young children, to empty nesters in their 60s. Some had separated from their partners years ago, while others had gone their separate ways more recently. Some split amicably; a good many did not. But all had come up against a lack of Jewish resources or support when navigating this major life passage.

Rabbi Deborah Newbrun, the founder of Divorce and Discovery at the recent weekend. (Photo/Margot Yecies)

Jaye said she left no stone unturned in seeking out support, an experience Newbrun said she heard echoed by many participants. Jaye attended a retreat at a local meditation center. She read self-help books. She joined a support group for divorcees. She went to therapy.

And while they all helped in different ways, none was specifically Jewish.

“I knew I needed some kind of spiritual way forward,” she said. “I needed to do this in my own language, with my own people.”

Even though the retreat came nearly a decade years after Jaye’s divorce, “it was profound. It felt like coming home, and that this is what I needed all along. This model could be extremely powerful. The rituals we did could be taught in rabbinical schools or to Jewish educators so it’s not just ‘sign this get and goodbye,’” she said, referring to the Jewish divorce document.

Rather than create new rituals, Newbrun and her facilitators took familiar Jewish rituals and retooled them.

The tashlich ritual, led by Newbrun and Maggid Jhos Singer, had a call-and-response portion, and participants also could call out what they personally wanted to cast off. “One person ‘tashliched’ their wedding ring into the river and felt it was such a perfect place to let it go!” said Newbrun. 

An optional immersion in the Tuolumne River followed. Jaye, who years ago went to the mikvah alone, with only the attendant there for support, said there was no comparison with how much more healing it felt performing the ritual in community.

A session on sitting shiva for one’s marriage, led by Rabbi Sue Reinhold, allowed participants to share and mourn the loss of what they missed most about being married. That resonated for Robyn Lieberman, who does not attend synagogue services but went to every session at the retreat on innovating Jewish rituals.

“I did need to mourn what I’m losing,” said Lieberman, who had been married to an Israeli. “We had a very public, open house around Jewish religion, and a constant Israeli identity, which fulfilled my Jewish needs.”

Rabbi Jennie Chabon of Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek reflected on how much time she has spent with couples preparing for their wedding day, both in premarital counseling and in planning the event, and on how many marriage-related topics are covered in rabbinical school.

“And when it comes to divorce? Nothing,” Chabon said. “We’re all out here on our own trying to figure out how to wander through it.”

She was tasked with creating a havdalah ceremony with a divorce theme, in which she reimagined the wine, spices and flame typically used to mark a division between Shabbat and the rest of the week.

“There’s a fire that burns within each of us, and that flame doesn’t go out,” said Chabon, 47. “When you’re married for a long time, your identity, energy and spirit is so woven into that of another.” Her ritual was meant to affirm that “you are on fire just as you are, and you’re a blessing as an individual in the world. You don’t need a partnership or family to be whole.”

Even the Shabbat Torah service was on theme.

Rabbi Jennie Chabon reads from the Torah during a service at the Divorce and Discovery retreat. (Photo/Margot Yecies)

Rather than focusing on Noah’s emergence from the ark after the flood, Chabon spoke about a lesser-known section of the week’s Torah portion, in which Noah builds a fire and offers a sacrifice to God. But if the entire earth was drenched from the flood, Chabon asked, what did he burn?

“The answer is he must have burned the ark,” Chabon said in recalling her talk at the retreat. “What does that mean for people going through this incredibly painful and tender time in their lives, when what was once a safe container and secure and protected them, they have to burn it down in order to start life anew?

“This is a perfect rebirth metaphor. But what’s being birthed is a new self and a new identity in the world as a single person,” Chabon said. “You have to release and let go of what was to make room for the blessing for who you’re going to become.”

At a ritual “hackathon” workshop presented by Newbrun, participants suggested standing during Kaddish at synagogue to mourn their marriages, and offering their children a Friday night blessing that they are whole whether they are at either parent’s home.

Not all of the sessions centered on Jewish ritual. In a session on the Japanese art of kintsugi, or mending broken pottery, attendees made vessels whose cracks they fixed with putty, symbolizing that beauty can be found in imperfection. Many danced in a Saturday-night silent disco.

Everyone was assigned to a small group, or havurah, that they met with daily, so they could establish deeper connections within the larger cohort.

“To have gone through some of these practices was very meaningful to me,” said Lieberman. “It’s not like I put a seal on my marriage and wrapped it up in a bow and put it behind me, but it was a nice catharsis for completing a transition that I’ve been very thoughtful about.”

Newbrun aims to recreate the retreat in communities around the country. Both Jaye and Lieberman said they found value in being in community with people “who get it,” without the judgment they often face.

“I was a little skeptical that all I’d have in common with people was that we were Jewish and divorced, and that that wouldn’t be enough for me to form a relationship,” said Lieberman. “But having the willingness to talk about it and explore it did open up a lot of very vulnerable conversations. The expert facilitation really made us think about the fact that divorce is not about your paper [certificate], it’s about reexamining the direction of your life and who you want to be.”

A version of this piece originally ran in J. The Jewish News of Northern California, and is reprinted with permission.

The post Jewish marriage rites are robust. Now a rabbi is innovating rituals for Jews who divorce. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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