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  • Writer's pictureIOWA Project

Cultivating Joy in the Month of Adar 2

By Dan Gelbtuch

Peace, this is Dan Gelbtuch Kirva’s co-founder and lead organizer. It has been my great privilege to connect with you through our many programs over the last five years.

As we enter the month of Adar, when we celebrate Purim, we are encouraged to Marbim B’ Simcha/increase in joy. As war rages in Gaza, as we enter yet another incredibly fraught election cycle and so much seems to be falling apart, this idea feels challenging to grasp and live into. I feel this on a more personal level as well. As the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I often feel a sense of fear and hypervigilance as I scan the world around me. More generally, we are evolutionarily programmed to look for danger, to narrow our vision towards what we need to survive. The path toward focusing on what’s wrong often feels instinctual, clear and straightforward, whereas the path toward focusing on the good often seems like a bramble.

This is where Jewish tradition comes in. As part of the spiritual practice and social justice cohorts we run, we spend an entire module focusing on simcha/joy. We teach that Simcha is a deep sense of joy that comes from an awareness of the reality of connection to God, people and all creation. It underlies all reality and can co-exist with transitory feelings of sadness and anxiety. Joy and happiness are and have been a major feature of Judaism and Jewish culture throughout the ages. There are nine distinct words in Hebrew for “joyful” and “happy.” Furthermore, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov—one of the core teachers in our work and someone who was no stranger to despair—pushes us to see good points/nikkudot tovot. Finding good points is a practice. Joy is a practice. If we are ever going to build the world we all deserve to live in, we will must build it with love and with a focus on what is life-giving and beautiful.

This practice of joy can take many forms. It is tangible. Last month, my daughter Hannah turned eight. We had three celebrations for her. As a family, our entire month of January was more or less focused on organizing these different parties: organizing the guest list and invites for the party she had with her friends, reorganizing our dining room so there was space around our table for fifteen seven and eight year olds to paint flower pots, and coordinating with grandparents and chosen family for her family birthday party. This was a practice of celebration and joy all month long.

As we enter Adar, I invite you to find your own practices of joy. To find your own way into the practice of Marbim B’Simcha. Maybe this is spending more time with friends, spending more time in nature, or listening to music. Practicing joy is not easy; every morning I wake up overtaken by a sense of hypervigilance, and start scanning my environment for danger. I feel pulled to focus my attention on the multiple catastrophes in our world. Sometimes, I pause and remember that this is only part of the story. I remember that for millenia, in the midst of incredible destruction and suffering, our people have focused on increasing joy every Adar. This remembering is a practice, painting flower pots during Hannah’s birthday party is a practice, and we can make joy a practice.

–Dan Gelbtuch


Dan Gelbtuch was born and grew up with his three siblings in Boston Massachusetts and was raised in Greater Boston's Jewish Community. He studied history and religion at Wesleyan University, and received a Master's in Education from Queens College. Dan taught for three years in the New York City public school system, focusing on social movements. He  returned to Boston in 2007 to begin the Jewish Organizing Initiative (JOIN) where he received community organizing training and began his career as a youth organizer at Dorchester Bay Youth Force. During his ten years as the Youth Force Director, Dan co-founded the Youth Jobs Coalition. Most recently, he has been interested in how to connect his spiritual path and his organizing work. Dan is currently exploring this and other key questions through his work at both Kirva and Episcopal City Mission.


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