by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen~
For the past 13 years since my ordination, I have been wearing a rainbow kippah. The kippah and its pattern hold many meanings for me: connection to family, covenant with G!d, hope for the future, acceptance of all kinds of people (including myself), and more. Periodically, I have had to make a new kippah, when the previous one wore out.
Recently, when I again needed to make a new kippah, as I thought about it, I realized that I wanted to make this new kippah slightly different from all my previous rainbow kippot. I crocheted the first few rows, but waited until I was in the company of AJR (Academy for Jewish Religion) friends and colleagues at an alumni retreat to do the bulk of the work on it.
I was pleased with the kippah’s bright new colors. I had, as always, started with yellow in the center—it strikes me as the Sun, the Source, the Radiance. But this time, when I completed the last rows of green on my new kippah, I didn’t stop. I added a few more rows—of black, to symbolize and hold the deep grief that I feel about the destruction we are wreaking upon the Earth and the impact on people around the globe.
With the finished kippah in my hand, I shared its story with my companions. As I placed it on my head for the first time, it felt deep and powerful, meaningful and helpful.
One beautiful June day, a week or so later, I went out walking. About a half mile into my walk, I felt something WHOOOSH by, inches from my head. I looked back and saw what appeared to be a young hawk fly up and light on a high branch of a nearby tree.
Interesting, I thought. Weird. And I kept on walking.
Suddenly, I felt a thud on the back of my head. Catching but a glimpse of the hawk soaring away, I lifted my hand to my head. My kippah was gone!
Shaken, I turned and hurried home. What did this mean? My legs felt wobbly. What was I to make of what had happened? Were there theological implications? What might they be?
I reached out to my AJR friends, seeking support as I held the tension of my experience in my heart.
Responses landed in my inbox almost immediately. They fell into two general categories: “We’re so glad you are OK!” and, “You just had a mystical experience.”
These two kinds of answers accurately described what I was grappling with—I could absorb the distress of the experience and tumble down the tunnel of despair, or I could embrace the spiritual aspect of the experience and allow it to envelope me, and, perhaps, change me.
My friend Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn wrote, “Sometimes allowing an experience space to breathe is not inaction, rather we give ourself a moment to breathe and then we act.”
She was so right. I needed time to absorb my experience, and so I donned an old kippah with a different pattern, and, with the words of friends in the back of my mind, I allowed myself that time.[Your kippah] seems to me a symbol to unite heaven and Earth, together with the hawk as a shaliach/shlichah (messenger) to that union. I can imagine the wings of the Shechinah (Divine Presence) in exile swooping down saying, “I too am grieving without a place to dwell, feeling disconnected from the souls of the people…” In grief we say that the soul will be reunited and yet here it seems like souls who have been reunited with The Mysterious One Above may have sensed the story behind the kippah. The sparks of intention seemed to radiate outward like a spiritual bull’s eye, third eye, sensing a creativity of higher realms….–Rabbi Leslie Schotz
The [climate] hawk has brought your lament on high to remind God of the Rainbow promise of old. –Rabbi Peg Kershenbaum
Your connection to the environment is out there and the bird felt you…–Rabbi Ziona Zelazo
There is already too much sadness and grief to carry; let the hawk take some of the load off you. –Rabbi Enid Lader
In keeping with the retreat, your experience strikes me as a threshold moment-only you know where the threshold leads… –Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn
As a lover of the natural world, you have given it a gift — both tangible and spiritual. –Rabbi Michael Kohn
As the summer passed, the old blue kippah on my head, I found myself thinking of the repeated Biblical injunctions to choose compassion over indifference or fear, to choose blessing over curse, to choose life over death.
In response to my experience with the hawk, I can choose blessing.
In response to my grief about our planet, I can choose compassion.
In response to every experience every moment of the day, I can choose life.
As Elul approached, I was ready, and I began my new kippah, another rainbow with Radiance at the center and grief at the edge. It is a kippah that will, G!d willing, inspire me to embrace both the delights and the grief in life with peace, acceptance, and resolve.
May I—may we all—today and always, choose compassion; may we choose blessing, may we choose life.
Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma’yan Tikvah – A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, and the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit, and is a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the singing at Ma’yan Tikvah.