Archive | November, 2014

An Attitude of Gratitude! by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

25 Nov

On Thanksgiving in my home, we have a tradition of going around the table to say what we are thankful for. The same thing is happening in many, many homes all over the country. We all have so much to be thankful for and that is the official day to publicly state our list of things and people for whom we are grateful. My kids think it is sappy and would rather start eating but I think it is important to take time surrounded by those most important to me to share our thoughts.

As I think about what I will say this year, I realize how much I have to be grateful for. I wonder if everyone feels this way? My life is filled with so many blessings and I know that so much of what I have to be thankful for is a direct result of the incredible people I am surrounded by on a daily basis, the families at Temple Beth El, the staff and clergy with whom I work, my family and friends. I don’t think I can find the words to express how much you all fill my life with blessings and love.

Every day at Temple Beth El, we share stories of incredible acts of kindness and courage that move us. We see people working tirelessly to make the lives of other congregants and community members better, happier, healthier and safer. We see people reaching out to welcome those who are new to help them find their place. We know that there are congregants passionately trying to change our community for the better. You have all touched our lives and the lives of so many others and I am so grateful.

So on behalf of those who will never be able to say thank you, allow me to tell you on this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for you. I am thankful to be among people who work so hard to make the world a better place. I love the quote by Albert Schweitzer, “At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” Thank you for being the spark and I wish each of you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.ThankYouwithKids


Violence Stained Souls vs. Peace Loving Hearts by Rabbi Judith Schindler

19 Nov

Shalom Salaam

“Blessed be God”
The men prayed
Talleisim on shoulders
Tefillin wrapped tightly

In horrific irony
“Allahu akbar – God is the greatest,”
The terrorists proclaimed
With meat cleavers and guns in hand
Staining the Islamic image
Silencing its peace loving sentiments
Stealing and misrepresenting the faith from its true adherents.

Five Israelis dead…
Four Rabbis who kept Torah
Continually on their lips
And one Druze police officer
Who put his life on the line protecting them
24 children left in mourning
The security of sanctuaries shattered.

The Quran teaches:
“The taking of one innocent life
is like taking all of Mankind…
and the saving of one life
is like saving all of Mankind”
(Holy Qur’an, 5:33)

The Talmud teaches
“Whoever destroys a soul
it is as if he destroyed an entire world.
Whoever saves a life,
it is as if he saved an entire world.”
(Sanhedrin 37a)

This is not a battle between
An Islamic God and Jewish God
They are one and the same.
This is battle between
those with violence stained souls
and those with peace loving hearts.

Do not let terrorists destroy
Prospects for peace
In our holy land, in our holy city,
In our hearts, and in our minds.

Do not let radicals kill
Prayers, faith, and futures.

Pray for peace in Jerusalem
Invest in peace promoting organizations
in Israel, in Gaza, and the West Bank.
Pursue peace in the world.

Blessed be God
in whose image we are created
and who has endowed us
with the ability to make peace.


12 Nov

A couple of weeks ago I was in New York for the start of this year’s cantorial certification program where I teach Shabbat music to the first year students. We were so fortunate to have the introductory class on traditional chant presented by Cantor Jack Mendelson, one of the finest cantors on the planet. Both Cantor Mary and I studied traditional Rosh Hashanah music with him while we were students, and I told my students that when she and I are standing on the bima at Temple Beth El during High Holiday services, there are moments when we look at each other and smile because we both know that, at that moment, we are channeling Jack Mendelson.

What makes Cantor Mendelson so outstanding is not merely his mastery of traditional chant. His artistry and knowledge is unsurpassed — but he exudes such enthusiasm and reverence for the music that you can’t help being swept up by it. And he is also an incredible mensch. He worked with the students both as a group and individually, coaxing from each of them the beauty and the subtlety of the style. He is kind. He is funny. And most of all, he’s genuine through and through. At the same time he makes you relax into the beauty of the music, you also realize that you are in the presence of greatness.

Listening to him teach the class, I felt full — filled with the incomparable artistry, filled with the respect and love of the music, filled with the warmth and humor of a man who lets the notes and the sacred words pour forth from his very being. It is a wonderful — and often rare — feeling of being full.

That same feeling is the ideal when we make the transition to Shabbat on Friday night. Every week we ask you to let go of the busy-ness and the stresses of the week gone by — to empty yourselves of the frantic and the mundane in order to make room for the peace and the sanctity of Shabbat. There are many weeks where, frankly, I’m thrilled just to be able to stop the sense of agitation, to empty out the noise and the hysteria. But truly experiencing Shabbat is not feeling empty, but feeling filled — filled with warmth and beauty and a sense of being in the presence of something so much greater. It is a sense of awe that simply makes me smile.

Marathon for Peace – Stories for Peace

5 Nov

by Rabbi Jonathan Freirich

This week at Temple Beth El University we begin a three week series about the current situation in Israel and what we can do about it.

Here are all the details: link to full TBEU description.

If you haven’t registered already, come by on Wednesday evenings, November 5, 12, and 19, and you can still attend.

Our purpose in bringing this conversation about Israel to TBE is to shift our focus on the debate between competing ideas of nations, and instead move towards a dialogue between peoples. In speaking with Israelis and Palestinians, most of whom seem to have opinions in the middle of the spectrum, there seems to be an overwhelming desire for real co-existence.

I believe that peaceful co-existence may be achievable, perhaps even necessary, before a formalized peace is finalized. People may need to see the fruits of working together – in terms of concrete improvements to the lives of Israelis and Palestinians – before the leaders of either people may feel forced to make the necessary compromises for peace between nations.

So, in addition to having conversations about this idea in November, I am also running our local Charlotte Marathon, Thunder Road, on November 15, in support of the Peres Center for Peace, which promotes projects of collaboration and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Please take a moment to spread the word about this effort to complete my 6th marathon, and also raise resources and awareness for peace between Palestinians and Israelis: click here to support the Rabbi Run for Peace.

Here is a fun and inspiring video from the Peres Center.

My Grandmother’s Shabbos Soup by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

3 Nov

Ordinarily, I would write Shabbat, but when I talk about my beloved Grandmother, I need to write Shabbos because that is the way she would have said it. I adored my Grandma Berdie, my mom’s mom. Everyone in my family did. She was the center of my maternal family’s world and lived to be 99 years old. When my son was born, her oldest great-grandchild, her name was shortened to G.G., for Great Grandmother. She always said it with a French accent! G.G. was widowed at 56 and worked until she was 70. She was smart, articulate, hard-working, kind and loving. Everyone adored her. She was also deeply religious. Her life centered on Judaism. She kept Shabbat and always walked to shul (temple). She kept a kosher home and was an exceptional cook. Her recipes were all the Jewish dishes you would expect but no one could make them like my G.G. Believe me, I have tried.

There is a story about a King who ends up eating a Shabbat meal at a peasant’s home and he realizes that he has never tasted anything so delicious. He gets the recipe and has his cook try to replicate the dish. To his dismay, no matter what they try, it never tastes as delectable as it did when he ate with the peasant. Finally, he returns to the peasant to ask him to help with the recipe and he discovers that what was missing from the dish was the most important addition, Shabbat. It was the spice and spirit of Shabbat that made the peasant’s food so extraordinary.

That story brings me to my grandmother’s Shabbos soup. Every Friday night dinner in her home, after lighting candles and saying the prayers, started with a steaming bowl of soup. There were many courses and everything was wonderful but I loved her soup. As a young bride, I meticulously wrote down all of her recipes and try as I might, they never tasted quite as good. When she would come to Charlotte to visit, I would have her come over to prepare my favorite things and take copious notes as I watched her taste and adjust her specialties to get them just right. Didn’t matter. When I prepared them, they were good but never quite as good.

And then something changed. I became the grandmother. I don’t know how that happened but somehow time has flown by and I am now the grandmother who cooks the special Jewish foods that makes Shabbat and holidays so special. I now understand that it wasn’t what my grandmother added to the soup that I couldn’t figure out. It was that my whole family was together and that we were sharing Shabbat.

Why am telling you this? For a couple reasons. Whether it is a traditional Jewish Shabbat menu or pizza, nothing tastes as wonderful as a Shabbat meal shared with special people and those special people are right here in our Temple. On November 14, 2014, the Religious School Committee is inviting all of our school families to join us for a Shabbat Pot Luck dinner. Click here for the details. There is no agenda for this evening other than to share the Shabbat experience together. Please RSVP and join us. As an added bonus, I am going to give everyone a copy of my grandmother’s Shabbos soup recipe. The second way to enjoy the sweetness of Shabbat is to join the Shabbat Supper Club program for Religious School families. Contact Cantor Mary for details and she will find the perfect group for your family to enjoy a monthly Shabbat experience. Click here for more information.

I hope to see you all on November 14th. I promise, every dish will taste superb!