Global Jewish Reflections is a recurring feature highlighting the voices of rabbis and other spiritual leaders and Jewish educators from across the JDC world.
In Jewish tradition, Elul — the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah — is a particularly sacred time of preparation for the new year. To commemorate this special month, we present a weekly series of meditations on Jewish life, the year that was, and the year to come.
I opened my eyes and the screen was full of antisemitic slurs and obscenities. And yet, there were still 20 meditators from “Ruach haShabbat,” each sitting in their home somewhere across the globe with closed eyes. Over an hour together, we had built up an immense kavanah (intention). How would I tell them we got Zoombombed? How would they take it?
Later, I was asked how it felt to be the victim of a hate crime. To me, it was a moment of teshuvah (repentance or return).
Ruach haShabbat (a full pre-Shabbat experience of the Torah portion, meditation, and breathwork) debuted early in the coronavirus lockdown as a resilience initiative of Synagoge Fraenkelufer, Base Berlin, and me, a meditation teacher — supported by Junction Europe, the pan-European partnership between JDC, the Schusterman Family Foundation, and Yesod.
On a personal level, collaborating with Junction is lovely, as I’m grateful my grandparents received humanitarian assistance from JDC during the Holocaust in Shanghai. Exiled from Berlin, their return to Germany, via Jerusalem, was part of a 15-year-exodus, lacking other options. Now here I was in Berlin, part of a team sending live tools and methods of personal resilience into the Jewish world.
According to the Talmud, teshuvah was one of the seven things created before the world. It raises the question: How can a “return” be created before “going astray?”
There’s an idea you come across in nearly every spiritual teaching: You don’t have to become anyone else; you have to realize that you are “it.” Think of a grey sky full of clouds; the endless blue is always there waiting for the clouds to pass. Or consider the words of Blake: “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
It further resonates with the Hasidic idea of the divine spark. We never go astray unless a spirit of folly overcomes us. The divine part of the soul, the ruach (spirit) that was breathed into us, is ever untouched and pure.
So, how can a return to knowing we are “it” help us when attacked?
The mythologies of the world know the archetypal hero’s journey of separation-initiation-return. In the Jewish hero’s journey, rabbis have described two modes of consciousness: Exodus consciousness (separation) and Sinai consciousness (initiation). Exodus consciousness thinks of community as a protective camp, like a refuge. Sinai consciousness thinks of community as a congregation of meaning.
When I was asked how it felt to be the victim of a hate crime, I felt almost bad that I never thought of the Zoombombing as something that would push me into Exodus consciousness. Indeed, immediately ending the session would have felt like a defeat.
But I did think of my participants, the men and women meditating in their homes around the world. How would the others take it, opening their eyes and seeing all these slurs?
I took a deep breath and relaxed my shoulders, my jaw, my eyes. “Please take your time to come out of meditation slowly. Make a smooth transition,” I said. “Unfortunately, we have been Zoombombed, but don’t worry. Unless I unmute everyone, nothing can happen to us.”
It’s an “ancient” tradition at our real-life meditations at Base Berlin to conclude with “Hinei Ma Tov,” chanting how good it is to sit together. On Zoom, it’s usually an acoustic mess because only the loudest singers are shown on the main screen.
The Zoombombers continued attacking, but what could they touch? Meaning held us, not fear.
I looked at the chat. It was still full of swastikas, Hitler gifs, and homophobic and racist slurs. It was weird, but I started singing “Hinei Ma Tov,” knowing everyone would hear only me but hoping all our dear ones would join in for themselves without trembling, without anger — a return to the untouchable.
Our group kept ruach. Everyone stayed and sang, even though they couldn’t hear the others. The Zoombombers continued attacking, but what could they touch? We chose Sinai consciousness over Exodus consciousness. Meaning held us, not fear.
Both Sinai consciousness and Exodus consciousness are essential to peoplehood, as my own family history teaches me. The month of Elul gives us the opportunity to return to our truth, to let the illusions that arise naturally as we live in time and space fall away. Wherever you personally return to, return as a spiritual initiate. You are not the ghosts that haunt you.
It’s been a rough year. Use Elul and the High Holidays to clear the clouds to the tune of your very own shofar.
Martin Schubert, 41, is a yoga and mindfulness teacher in Berlin, Germany. With a background in marketing and journalism, he offers communication workshops and personal growth retreats in Europe and Asia. A participant in Junction programs since 2016, he works to support Jewish communities with modern methods of mindfulness and personal resilience.