Living with the Jewish calendar is practicing Judaism: Interview with Rabbi Johanna Kinberg

Rabbi Yohanna Kinberg serves at Kol Ami in Kirkland, Wa. Before joining Kol Ami in 2014, she was an assistant rabbi and director of education at Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue, Washington for 11 years. She is a graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and a member of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association. She is involved with JStreet, Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Services, Faith Action Network, the Institute for Jewish Spirituality and a variety of other organizations working towards peace, justice, sustainability, and interfaith connections.

​Rabbi Kinberg is a leader I look toward with gratitude, respect, and admiration. She is someone who has mastered the art of holding strong views while making space for others. Her presence brings the possibility for unity across difference. As a Sephardic female rabbi, a mother, a west coaster, and an activist, Rabbi Kinberg often offers insights and perspectives many Jewish conversations need.

Rabbi Kinberg has been a big supporter of The Jewish Planner since the beginning of the project. Amanda and I know why we are so pumped about what we are doing, but I wanted to hear from Rabbi Kinberg what was so exciting to her about this.

Rabbi Kinberg began by sharing that she greatly values keeping both the secular calendar and the Jewish calendar within sight at all times. “Both are essential to my daily functioning. Keeping both before me at all times reminds me of Mordecai Kaplan’s teaching about looking at the world through two lenses at all times, our secular lens and our Jewish lens. Keeping both in focus and clear is a high priority in my life.”

When I asked what her biggest frustration living between the two calendars was, Rabbi Kinberg said that there just isn’t a good paper form Jewish calendar. She said, Digital calendars are fantastic, layering calendar upon calendar in a clear and efficient manner. But I keep both a digital and paper calendar, and it is hard to find a good Jewish paper calendar that gives me what I need from paper.”

Hearing this reinforced the same struggle Amanda and I were each having. The more we talk to people, the more we realize this is a community-wide issue. Rabbi Kinberg said there are other confusing things about the calendars in her life, The Reform Jewish holiday calendar is often not reflected in Jewish calendars. We do not celebrate 2nd day holidays with the exception of 2nd Seder. There is much confusion in our world because of the Reform world keeping a slightly different Jewish calendar from the rest of the Jewish world. Luach is a new app developed by the Reform movement. It gives you all the Reform Judaism calendar info you need in one place.”

This is helpful to think about as we begin laying out The Jewish Planner. Our intention with the design is for it to be intuitive, accessible, and easy to use for folks at all levels and branches of Jewish practice. Rather than each having our own ap or calendar plugin, Amanda and I want a central place we can all look to, that connects us to the essence of our traditions. Rabbi Kinberg’s point is a reminder to review all the subtle differences, both cultural and denominational, and make sure our planner makes everyone feel welcome and important in their Jewishness.

 

“Living with the Jewish calendar is practicing Judaism. Just that awareness of the cycle of the Jewish year is part of Jewish civilization.”

Rabbi Kinberg lives very aware of the moon cycles and expresses feeling “connected to time and tide, to what is blooming and what is dying on the vine.” She says, “The Jewish calendar keeps me firmly within a spiritual framework of renewal and rejoicing. I live from Jewish holy day to Jewish holy day – always looking forward to the next Torah portion to study with my community, the next holiday to celebrate, the next life cycle event coming up…”

I asked her if she had a story about a time when a Hebrew date conflicted with her plans. She said there were many, but offered the example of Tisha B’Av, “I have often struggled with planning around Tisha B’Av. My secular calendar says: party time! It is summer and every day is a possible fun day. My Jewish calendar says otherwise regarding August. Tisha B’Av is an important day not to be forgotten. Mourning can happen any time during the Jewish calendar year. Summer included.”

I love Rabbi Kinberg’s response because it illustrates how it is not an either/or issue. The Gregorian calendar is measuring something real and relevant; so is the Hebrew calendar. And both calendars have an impact on our lives, while offering important guidance. We can live in both, if we have systems that support us in actively understanding and engaging in both.

Rabbi Kinberg closed by expressing that “Living with the Jewish calendar is practicing Judaism. Just that awareness of the cycle of the Jewish year is part of Jewish civilization.” I love this so much and I feel the truth of it in my bones.

If you want to read Rabbi Kinberg’s brilliant words or learn more about her congregation, visit www.kolaminw.org.