ראיה מביאה לידי זכירה ,זכירה מביאה לידי עשיה
Looking upon leads to awareness. Awareness leads to action.
-Talmud, Menachot 43b

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New Website

Please go to our new website for more on upcoming programs.  Our blog will now be found there as well-- check back soon for new updates...


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Please join us tomorrow night (Wed., 1/4/12) for our first sit at our new Chicago location-- the Shambhala Meditation Center of Chicago (7331 N Sheridan Rd., Chicago). 7:30-9:00pm. Hope to see you there!
 See the post below this one for some new information on upcoming programs at local synagogues.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thank you for visiting the Center for Jewish Mindfulness • Chicago
Please visit again soon for a new website at www.jewishmindfulness.net

Thanks for your patience while we get our website up and running!  
Below is information about our upcoming programs.  



Weekly Chicago Sessions
Come check out our new format which allows for more silent meditation (50-55 minutes of consecutive sitting and walking meditation) in addition to a mindfulness Torah teaching and discussion.  If you have never practiced meditation before, you may want to first come to a Beginners' Meditation (see below for more information).
Our next session: 

Beginning Wednesday, January 4, 2012 our Chicago weekly meditation group will be meeting at the Shambhala Meditation Center of Chicago, 7331 N. Sheridan Rd., Chicago (Rogers Park). It is easily accessible by CTA (3 blocks from Jarvis Red Line stop).  There is a parking lot at the center that we can use during our meetings.  More information on this move coming soon.
Wednesdays Beginning January 4
7:30-9:00 pm
$10 donations are appreciated
Sessions led by either Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell or Rabbi Sam Feinsmith.   

CJM in Highland Park 
Please join Jordan and Carole Caplan for evening sessions of the CJM-North.  At the home of Carole Caplan:
            Wed. Mon. 1/9, and Mon. 2/6  
             2595 St. Johns, Highland Park
If you would like to sit on a cushion, please bring one.  There will be chairs available as well.  This session is appropriate for all, and includes mindfulness instructions, Torah teachings, and gentle, mindful stretching/yoga.
Stay tuned for more information on future CJM sessions in the Northern suburbs. 
              $10 donations are appreciated

*** Coming in February to Highland Park: 

Three Part Series on the Mindfulness Practice of Ma'ariv 
at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park

Tuesdays, February 28, March  6, and March 13, 7:45-9:00pm
More details coming soon.
Beginners' Meditation at the CJM (in Chicago) 
             The first session of every month  

The Beginners' Meditation sessions will include detailed and explicit mindfulness meditation instructions, in addition to the typical Torah teachings and discussions.  These sessions are especially appropriate for those who do not have experience with mindfulness meditation.  While these sessions will include more instruction than a typical CJM session, they are still suitable for those with more experience with this practice.  
Upcoming Beginners' Sits:  12/6, 1/4, 2/1 (future dates TBA)

*** The CJM at local Synagogues--Open to All***
Three Part Series on Mindfulness Practice and Prayer
at North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park
Tuesdays: February 28, March 6, and March 13  

Facing our Darkness: Purim, Catharsis, and Jewish Mindfulness
at Anshe Shalom in Lakeview
Thursday, March 1 

More details coming soon.

For more information, contact Jordan: jbappell@gmail.com
Or, visit our blog:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sukkot is the Culmination

We are approaching the culmination of this season of the Days of Awe with the beginning of Sukkot on Wednesday night.  We began the season back in August with Tisha B'Av, a day of mourning the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem.  Tisha B'Av starts the season from the very depths of mourning, and becomes a paradigm for how we must acknowledge and mourn the decay and impermanence of all structures, all attempts at constructing perfect and lasting meaning and purpose.  Despite our best efforts, the structures of our lives will fall, like the Temple.

From the crumbled ruins of Tisha B'av, we traveled through the month of Elul for a time of figuring out  who we are where we are going.  On Rosh Hashana, we were roused awake by the call of the shofar and asked the questions: Whom have I hurt?  What do I make sovereign over my life?  How do I want to be remembered?  How might I see into my blind-spots?  We take the advice of Rebbe Nachman and read the holiday not as  ראש השנה (Rosh Hashana, literally: "Head of the Year") but rather as the command: שנה את הראש ("Shane et haRosh", "Change your head!").  On Rosh Hashana we allow for the possibility that we can change.

During the Ten Days of Teshuva (the time in between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) we intensify the process of recalibrating and turning, and focus on shifting--even subtly-- how we perceive and act.  Finally, we reach Yom Kippur, a surreal day of fasting and prayer in which we face with naked honesty the truths of our lives.  We acknowledge that we have hurt others, we have acted stubbornly, angrily-- we have been small and constricted.  Additionally, we look directly at the difficult reality of our own mortality.  On Yom Kippur, we achieve a "small death."  Through this small death, all that is not essential is seen for what it is, and we find ourselves prepared to "choose life so that you may live" (Deut. 30:19).  But Yom Kippur is not the end.
We arrive at Sukkot a mere four days after Yom Kippur, and we begin by responding to the essential question of Yom Kippur, perhaps given voice by the Torah reading we read on Yom Kippur morning: Acharei Mot/ After Death-- then what?  Sukkot responds to that question with action: we build.  On Sukkot we acknowledge that everything we build is impermanent.  Yet, build we must.  We conclude the season with a festival that bookends the entire season by acknowledging the impermanence of our structures-- and situation-- but instead of responding with mourning or despair (like on Tisha B'Av), we are ready to build a life and rejoice in it.  This is Zman Simchateinu, the Time of our Rejoicing, and it is a time of building lives of engagement that are guided by hope and meaning.  

On Sukkot, we finally understand that we will forever live lives of disappointment if we insist that life  has meaning only in the accomplishment of solid goals.  If we believe that we can only be happy if we solve all problems, or get rid of that person or issue, if we could only succeed in all of our relentless struggles to solve, fix, build, or grasp onto; then we could be happy.  This season reminds us that we do not know what is coming tomorrow-- or even in the next breath.  We could allow ignore this reality completely, or we could obsess on it and become parallyzed.  Or, we could find ourselves in the orientation of Sukkot-- a time in which we allow for different levels of truth to operate simultaneously:  everything (including me) is impermanent, and, I am incredibly powerful to act and find meaning.

On Yom Kippur we tell the truth, on Sukkot we act on it.  We build a sukkah that is beautiful, but that can be blown over in a strong wind, and that has a roof that must leak if it rains.  We sit in the sukkah and rejoice over the blessed lives that we live.  Our hearts feel full because we know that despite our ample limitations as human beings, we are astonishingly powerful and moreover, we are empowered to build a world that is as good as we can possibly make it--without thinking that it can ever be finally completed or perfected.  "You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it."(Pirke Avot 2:21). 

We feel a deep contentment as we feel home in our sukkot-- our lives, bodies and minds.  We smile as the rain drips in our soup (see Alan Lew's chapter in This is Real on Sukkot).  We have come a long way from Tisha B'Av.

Chag Sameach,

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Update! Mindful Preparation for the Days of Awe

A Half-Day Jewish Mindfulness Retreat

Sunday, September 25th

10am-3pm at the Heller Nature Center in Highland Park

$36 (includes lunch)

Please join us for this opportunity to deepen your practice, ask new questions, and to experience the truths of this Season of Awe in the deepest way possible. The day will include teaching on the themes of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, sitting meditation (with instruction), walking meditation (on the beautiful trails of Heller Nature Center), and study and discussion.

We are thrilled to announce that joining Jordan in facilitating the day will be: Rabbis Sam Feinsmith and Ruth Durchslag as well as master yoga teacher, Carole Caplan, who will lead us in light yoga themed for the day. No previous experience with meditation or yoga needed to participate-- so spread the word!

Unfortunately, we inadvertently scheduled this retreat at the same time as the Chicago Maot Chitim food delivery. This essential program that delivers food before the holidays to the neediest in the Chicago Jewish community is well-deserving of our support. Please consider doing a mitzvah and donating to Maot Chitim. If you are planning on delivering food for Maot Chitim and also want to attend the retreat, please let us know-- and join us when you can.

Please RSVP to Jordan by September 15 (jbappell@gmail.com)

If you need a ride from the city or can offer one, please contact


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Isn't it Time I Turn?

There is a Taoist teaching that "if I don't change direction I will end up where I am heading." Sometimes I am amazed at the trajectory of my life. How is it that I ended up here doing this, in this body and life? And, then the corollary questions: How am I living? Where am I headed? Do I have to live like this? How might I change?

Recently our son, Adin, (3 1/2 years old) taught me a beautiful lesson. I was cooking dinner and had lost track of time, taking too long to prepare the (overly) involved meal. By the time the food was ready, Adin was too tired, beyond hungry, and not at all interested in coming to the table for dinner. The situation, and Adin's deteriorating mood, quickly worsened. Adin responded to our attempts to coax him into eating with anger and defiance. Our son, (who generally has a wonderful and loving temperament,) completely lost it. He hurled some of his strongest toddler language: "I do not like listening to you!" "You are not my friend!" "I am a mean boy!" Eventually I had to give him a time-out at the bottom of the stairs.

As I watched him in his "time out", I remember feeling my own emotions of sadness and anger in my body. It was unsettling to see him suffering, and to witness his loss of control, and I became further unsettled as I was upset for feeling upset-- I wanted to enjoy the nice meal I had made for my family!

Then, suddenly, in a moment of calm, Adin got up and walked to the table. As he climbed up onto the chair and into his green booster seat he said, "No, I am not a mean boy." He settled into his chair and with a smile he began eating his food. We had a lovely dinner.

I don't know how it happened, and it certainly did not precipitate a permanent change in his behavior, but that night Adin did something that I work so hard to practice: teshuvah. In English, this word is usually translated as "repentance", but in Hebrew it also has the resonance of "returning", as it comes from the root "shuv/שוב", which means "return."

That night Adin modeled teshuvah. Somehow, he was able to let go of, or move beyond, the incredible momentum of anger and frustration he was experiencing to choose something that was good for him and others.

I feel like an expert (don't we all?) in experiencing the visceral power of my emotions. When they rise up they can easily take control, clouding my sense for what is compassionate and right, and carrying me to do and say things that I know will be harmful. The mere intensity of that tidal thrust of emotions buttresses my sense that I am right; the emotion adds such great weight to my belief in all the stories about the situation and how that other person is wrong and I am right. That night, Adin turned directions, he did teshuvah.

Teshuvah is the ultimate goal of the season. Sometimes people say, "this is just who I am and how I will act." This holding tightly to the status quo is undercut by teshuvah. Teshuvah is predicated on the reality of change; it is not a question of whether or not we will change but rather how-- and in what direction-- we will change.

This season of returning and turning begins in the most appropriate of places-- with Tisha B'Av, the 9th of Av in which we remember and mourn all of the destruction in Jewish history. The First and Second Temples were both destroyed on the 9th of Av, and other landmark events are also marked by this date--including the final date by which the Jews of Spain were to be expelled in 1492, the declaration of war on Germany in 1914, and the beginning of the exterminations that took place at the Treblinka concentration camp in 1942.

We begin the season of the Days of Awe with Tisha B'Av because we must begin not with a New Year's Eve kind of resolution (which nearly always have short shelf-lives), but rather with acknowledging in the deepest possible way that we are broken. On Tisha B'Av we allow our hearts to break, and we feel the brokenness that already exists in our hearts. We break without needing to know the way forward or how we will rectify all that we have broken. We just break. Typically, we don't allow ourselves to really feel the brokenness of life because it interferes with our narratives of wholeness and continual growth. We may intuit that to feel broken is a failure. So we cover over it with busy-ness, blame, buying or other escapes. Or, conversely, we may feel so broken that we are paralyzed by the brokenness. We may feel overcome with darkness and feel unable to move on from traumas of the past.

Tisha B'Av allows us to really feel the brokenness in a way that is neither about ignoring or obsessing. Tisha B'Av prepares us to "turn" through opening the heart and bearing the soul. We acknowledge that many of our usual stratagems for keeping our head above water and feeling happy and good simply do not always work. We mourn the ways that our behavior, and that of society, have fallen short. And we do this without fear of getting stuck in this place because we know that Tisha B'Av is only the beginning. And it is from this place-- from the very bottom-- that we begin to move forward and upward. As the Psalmist declared, "From the narrow place I call to the Divine; I was answered with expansiveness." (Ps. 118:5)

I hope you will join the Center for Jewish Mindfulness as we move through this season of transformation together. It is time we turned.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Always Becoming; Parashat Behar 5/13/11

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has a beautiful teaching on this week's Torah portion that I believe has an important application to mindfulness practice. Sacks writes:

What is the difference between philosophy and the political vision at the heart of Tenakh? The answer lies in their different understandings of time.

The sedra of Behar sets out a revolutionary template for a society of justice, freedom and human dignity. At its core is the idea of the Jubilee, whose words (“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”) are engraved on one of the great symbols of freedom, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. One of its provisions is the release of slaves:

If your brother becomes impoverished and is sold to you, do not work him like a slave. He shall be with you like an employee or a resident. He shall serve you only until the jubilee year and then he and his children shall be free to leave you and return to their family and to the hereditary land of their ancestors. For they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves. Do not subjugate them through hard labour – you shall fear your G-d . . . For the children of Israel are servants to Me: they are My servants whom I brought out of the land of Egypt – I am the Lord your G-d.

The terms of the passage are clear. Slavery is wrong. It is an assault on the human condition. To be “in the image of G-d” is to be summoned to a life of freedom....

Yet the Torah does not abolish slavery. That is the paradox at the heart of Behar. To be sure it was limited and humanized. Every seventh day, slaves were granted rest and a taste of freedom. In the seventh year Israelite slaves were set free. If they chose otherwise they were released in the Jubilee year. During their years of service they were to be treated like employees. They were not to be subjected to back-breaking or spirit-crushing labour. Everything dehumanizing about slavery was forbidden. Yet slavery itself was not banned. Why not? If it was wrong, it should have been annulled. Why did the Torah allow a fundamentally flawed institution to continue?

It was Moses Maimonides in The Guide for the Perplexed who explained the need for time in social transformation. All processes in nature, he argued, are gradual. The foetus develops slowly in the womb. Stage by stage a child becomes mature. And what applies to individuals applies to nations and civilizations:

It is impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other. It is therefore, according to the nature of man, impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed.

....The challenge to which Torah legislation was an answer is: how can one create a social structure in which, of their own accord, people will eventually come to see slavery as wrong and freely choose to abandon it?

The answer lay in a single deft stroke: to change slavery from an ontological condition (“what am I?”) to a temporary circumstance. No Israelite was allowed to be or see himself as a slave. He or she might be reduced to slavery for a period of time, but this was a passing plight, not an identity. Compare the account given by Aristotle:

By analogy, [the difference between animals and human beings] must necessarily apply to mankind as a whole. Therefore all men who differ from one another by as much as the soul differs from the body or man from a wild beast . . . these people are slaves by nature, and it is better for them to be subject to this kind of control, as it is better for the other creatures I have mentioned [i.e. domesticated animals]. For a man who is able to belong to another person is by nature a slave . . . (Politics 1.5)

For Aristotle, slavery is an ontological condition, a fact of birth. Some are born to rule, others to be ruled. This is precisely the worldview to which Torah is opposed. The entire complex of biblical legislation is designed to ensure that neither the slave nor his owner should ever see slavery as a permanent condition. A slave should be treated “like an employee or a resident,” in other words, with the respect due to a free human being. In this way the Torah ensured that, although slavery could not be abolished overnight, it would eventually be. And so it happened.

There are profound differences between philosophy and Judaism, and one lies in their respective understandings of time. For Plato and his heirs, philosophy is about the truth that is timeless (or for Hegel and Marx, about “historical inevitability”). Judaism is about truths (like human freedom) that are realised in and through time.....

What Sacks is illuminating is the tendency, that I believe each of us has, to resign ourselves to a belief that "I am who I am." Thankfully, we do not find ourselves in the bondage of slavery, but we may be imprisoned to ideas about ourselves that we have come to accept as a fait accompli We think, "I am not good at this", or, "I am an anxious person", or, "I am not someone who really feels at home in my body or life." Or, "I can control my world", "people always love me", or "I am better than him." The Jewish conception of time is that we are always becoming. Until our last breath, we are developing as human beings. Perhaps this is why at the burning bush, even God does not say to Moses, "I am who I am" but rather, "I will be who I will be."

Part of this practice of Jewish mindfulness is about liberation. Through bringing our awareness to the contours and textures of our moment-to-moment experience we become more aware of the ways in which we are locked into particular ways of being and relating to the world. Perhaps we want to stay that way-- perhaps we don't. We will never know until we really look closely and illuminate our assumptions about who we are and who we might become. Through our practice, we might find that we do not need to be limited by what has previously limited us.


This truth of practice is held in a creative tension with another essential orientation of mindfulness: acceptance. If we are never content with this moment, with who we are and where we are in life, then we may never truly experience happiness. In this practice, in addition to this future leaning orientation discussed above, we are cultivating a real capacity for feeling at home in the moment. Three times a day we are invited to recite, "אשרי יושבי ביתך", "Happy are those who dwell in Your House"(Ps. 84)-- could I experience this room that I am sitting in, as imperfect as it is, as the Divine House? What would it feel like to walk around--or drive around--this world operating under the assumption that I am in the Divine House? How would I speak to my neighbor, my partner, or child?

We are always becoming. We were not born into a particular caste or a fixed identity. There is such important work to do as we develop over time in this process of becoming. And yet, we are also home already. We can rest in the timelessness of this moment. Both truths illuminate the potential dangers of the other. By bringing them together breath after breath we walk the shvil hazahav, the Golden Path.

Shabbat shalom,
**looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday night at Flourish!