The very end of winter can be a tough time for people. The greyness outside, the lingering cold, the seeming endlessness of the season, all can make us want to hunker down. I am of the mind that winter can actually be a special time. As we go into a sort of hibernation-mode we can focus on generating some creative habits. I think humans need to create. In the making or bringing about of things, we put ourselves into the world. It helps us process some of what is bothering us; gives us an outlet. And it gives us the chance to add beauty to the world.
What does any of this have to do with being Jewish? Or a Humanist? Lots actually… There is a Jewish imperative to create. We are a text-based culture. For many they think of this only as writing, but our textual sources starting with the Torah demand interpretation. We call this interpretation midrash. And midrash can take the form of visual or other forms of art. Many Jews have expressed cultural identity and connection by creating Jewish art. From Judy Chicago to Mark Chagall, using Jewish themes in art both connects people to Judaism and deepens Judaism through these expressions. People have lovingly created Judaica in order to elevate our rituals such as lighting Shabbat candles or drinking wine with a blessing into a more beautiful experience. The story of the Golem is about people creating a mystical being (as opposed to a mystical being creating people) that houses its fears around antisemitism or other challenges. Art can be that repository for our fears, concerns and, like with the Golem, help us learn how to tame/control them. We mark Shabbat as a time for rest specifically because of the story of the world’s creation. We make our own worlds each week and so need time to rest and reflect.
It has often been said that the impulse to create is one of the very things that separates humans from animals. We are creative beings. And as Humanists we have even more reasons to wish to create. We need our creativity to further life and the betterment/enrichment of life. We need creativity to find solutions to our problems. We need creativity to be able to imagine a better future. We aren’t waiting for anyone else to address these human needs. We need to address them ourselves and the unique issues of humanity require the application of the unique creativity of humanity.
The creativity that goes into the planning and doing in one’s own private life is itself important to note. There is creativity in planning and cooking meals, for example. Creativity in how we approach our work. Creativity in how we entertain children, for those who have children in their lives. Creativity in hobbies we pursue such as how we play a sport, an instrument or just, simply, play.
This winter I made a resolution to try to be more creative. I signed up or an online creative writing workshop. I signed up for an acrylic painting class. I went to a meeting of Choir! Choir! Choir which encourages anyone to come and sing along. I take a dance class. All of this has helped me both get out of my hibernation, but also use my quiet indoor time to a positive purpose. It has been energizing.
You’ve been hearing lots from me about social justice and Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. We are in some tough times. Part of my goal in pursuing artistic expression is tied to the challenges of justice we are facing. We need something that sustains us, quiets the mind, and gives us pleasure in order to maintain the energy and hopefulness required to do good in the world. And the arts themselves can give us metaphors for doing this work. A friend of mine related to me a metaphor of being in a choir. When holding a long note or several long notes, it is necessary to pause to breathe. However, if everyone stops at once then the music is interrupted. So choir members must rely on each other to hold the notes and keep the music going while each takes their turn to breathe. Then they must rejoin the singing so that others can breathe.
If you are feeling a little breathless, a little low on energy, and a little hopeless against the challenges of your life or in the broader world, I hope you find a way to take care of yourself. Art may be just the thing you need. And know that many of us are “singing” for you while you pause. Then, once you’re feeling stronger, rejoin the singing so that your voice may contribute to the singing out for justice.
Creativity can lead to increased connectivity between us and the wider world. To truly engage our creative passions, and to make positive change, we also rely on community. If it has been a while since you’ve checked out Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, we hope to see you soon. We are a hub for Jewish, Humanist creativity and engagement, with programs on the arts, culture, and much more. As spring finally begins to make its appearance, perhaps its time to get out of hibernation and (re)connect with our creative and connected community.