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Our Jewish Values in Israel – Vote Now!

28 Jan

by Rabbi Jonathan Freirich

In a world where we feel that we need Israel more than ever, as a homeland, a source of pride and inspiration for all Jews everywhere, and in the worst situations (God forbid), a refuge for us all, our voices have never been more important in helping to determine the Jewish values of our shared national home.

Judaism asks all of us to stand up for the rights of the oppressed, and to stand up for our own rights to a place that is for all Jews. The values of Reform Judaism deserve a home in Israel too.

Please join Temple Beth El in casting your vote for Reform values in Israel – here is the easy way to do so.

 

Cast a Vote for Reform Values in Israel

The 2015 World Zionist Congress elections are vital to the future of progressive Judaism in Israel. ARZA, representing Reform Judaism, is asking every American Jew who holds the values of religious pluralism, gender equality and support of the peace process dear to stand with us by voting for the ARZA slate which includes both Rabbi Judy and me in the current election. You support is important and you are encouraged to do three simple things:

  1. Vote today: Register with the American Zionist Movement and vote at https://www.reformjews4israel.org/ for the ARZA-Representing reform Judaism today.
  1. Spread the word:  Share this link (https://www.reformjews4israel.org/) with your friends on Facebook. Let them know that it is important to you and that you voted.
  1. Send a copy of your Thank you for voting! page along with your name and address to kwilson@carolina.rr.com.  Please let us know if the registration fee of $10.00 for those over 30, and $5 for those between the ages of 18-30, is a hardship for you.

Our Temple Beth El goal is 100% participation.  Register, vote, share and send us your voting confirmation so that we may track and report our progress!

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OPPORTUNITIES by Cantor Andrew Bernard

22 Jan

I am sometimes amazed by the nearly infinite number of ways a person can express his or her Judaism. It’s easy to focus more narrowly on activities directly associated with the synagogue, but the richness of Jewish life really depends upon the infusion of our principles and beliefs in life’s smallest nooks and crannies. Our actions may not always “look” Jewish (to invoke the cringe-inducing metaphor), but they rise up out of our values.

That is not to say that the things we do as part of synagogue life aren’t hugely valuable. I love leading services — an opportunity to help people explore deeper meaning in their lives and reach beyond the physical world to experience something of the divine mystery.

Then there are the activities that could be done in a secular environment but take on added significance when done in a Jewish context. We have some young, talented musicians who make up our Teen Band and Teen Vocal Ensemble. While they could (and do) perform in non-religious settings, there is a depth of meaning to making music in the sacred setting that is enriching and, hopefully, an important part of the path toward contributing their talents to the community. This month and next we are running our 6th, 8th, and 9th grade human sexuality programs — again a subject that is equally important in the secular world but in the synagogue infuses the learning with more profound and enduring values.

At Temple Beth El there are many organized endeavors, inspired by Jewish teachings that serve the broader community. These are activities that I would call “doing Jewish.” Judaism is, in part, about taking action out in the world. It comes alive in a notable way through social action and caring community projects.

But I am perhaps most astounded by the small and simple acts or gestures that reflect the soul of Judaism in less obvious ways: a meal, a brief hand-written note, a call just to check up on someone, the offer to pick up something a person needs while out on errands, showing up with someone’s favorite sweet or cup of coffee. These are all things that any “nice and thoughtful” person would do. Yet when the motivation springs up out of the conscious awareness that those around us are created in God’s image, the kind gesture becomes an expression of what it is to be Jewish.

One of the reasons I most love working as a pediatric hospital chaplain is that the smallest kindnesses are monumental. It may seem counterintuitive in a place where much of the activity is around the saving of lives. That, obviously, is critical. But those small moments of checking in on someone, the hug, or the brief quip as you pass someone in the hallway adds a profound layer of human compassion and empathy that is at the core of our beliefs.

What will each of us do today that bubbles up out of our core Jewish values that makes even the smaller world around us light up — for ourselves and people with whom we have the privilege of sharing life’s journey?

Time Flies by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

6 Jan

Time flies. You’ve heard that saying a million times. Well, I’m here to tell you that it sure does. I just spent a wonderful week with five of my six children, their spouses and three of my six grandchildren, celebrating my husband’s milestone birthday. Our youngest child is 31 and the family dynamics are so different when your children become adults. And I am here to tell you that it happens in the blink of an eye.

Moments ago and a lifetime ago, I was holding my babies. As any good Jewish mother would do, I had their entire lives mapped out and all I had to do was keep them safe and on the path and we would be fine. What I could never have predicated was how bumpy their paths would be. Each one had many periods of smooth sailing but each hit rough patches, some rougher than others but they all wandered off course many times in their lives. Sometimes it was because of matters that were beyond their control but most often it was because they made some bad decisions or had a period of time when their brains stopped functioning completely. During those periods, I felt like time was standing still and that the blackness would never leave. It was overwhelming to see my children lose control, be in pain, or worse, cause someone else pain. But that is part of parenting, as well.

This week we begin the Book of Exodus or Sh’mot in Hebrew. It begins with the birth of Moses. With the Egyptian Pharaoh commanding the midwives to kill all Hebrew males, his very survival is a miracle. At three months old, Moses’ mother makes the impossible decision to abandon her child in the river to try to save his life. I think about holding a three month old and imagining all the possibilities that lie ahead for that child. Rescued by the Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses is raised by his own mother who acts as his nurse maid. As Moses is reaching adulthood, she again must abandon him to the Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses’ very first independent act is to kill an Egyptian. Even from a place of concern for his people, he made a decision that would cause him to have to flee and go into hiding. I am sure that act was far from the dreams his mother had for him. The consequences of those actions make it hard to predict that he would become the great leader we celebrate. And that’s the point. Perspective is everything.

I am now at a time in my life where I look at my children and see adults who are responsible, loving, hard working, compassionate people. They are now the ones holding the babies and praying that they will not stray too far from the path of their dreams. They became those adults because of the journey they made through their childhood and teen years. All of those experiences, both good and bad, have brought them to this moment. Some of it was painful and frightening but most was wonderful and went by much too quickly. And now, time flies. We are expecting our seventh grandchild in March and I marvel at our blessings.

It would have been impossible for me to have predicted what kind of adults my kids would become any more than I could have kept them from making the choices they made. What I can tell you is that I lived through it, laughed a lot, shed some tears, stayed awake some nights, beamed with pride, yelled at them, and kissed and loved them. So like Moses’ mother, who can brag that her kid became the leader of the Jewish people and hung out with God, I can tell you that each of my children has become exactly the person they were meant to be.

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Waking Up to a New Year By Rabbi Judith Schindler

31 Dec

We close our eyes to 2014.
So much to leave behind.

Lost planes,
Lost lives.

Shots ringing out –
In Syria, in schools,
across Israel’s borders.

Rising tides of anti-Semitism

Rising distrust of police
and rising frustration with politicians.

Radicals destroying faith
wreaking destruction

We open our eyes to the dawn of a new year
filled with light.

This year may we see and be the good.

Daily acts of compassion
that outshine others’ acts of contention

Generosity that streams steadily forth
from hearts and hands

Religion that heals souls
and lifts communities

Schools of safety
Police that protect
Palestinians who want peace
and an Israel that inspires the world

This Shabbat,
we turn from one book of the Torah
to the next and say:

Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek
Be strong,
Be strong
And let us strengthen one another.

This day,
we turn from one secular year
to the next and say:

Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek

Be strong, in faith

Be strong, in goodness and in your resolve
to cast light even in the darkness

And let us strengthen one another
by giving each other
faith in humanity,
and hope for our future.

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THE GIFT I GIVE MYSELF WILL BE… by Cantor Andrew Bernard

23 Dec

As Jews, we have the advantage of experiencing many significant annual events twice: once as part of our Jewish year and once as part of the secular year. We have Sukkot and Thanksgiving, Rosh Hashanah and New Years, Memorial Day and Yom HaZikaron, Tu Bishvat and Arbor Day — to name a few. While the background and customs of these days may vary between the Jewish and secular observance, they also share some similarities that allow us to reflect on some important ideas twice each year.

New Years is a time when many people make resolutions for the coming year. They pledge to improve their physical health, to treat others more kindly or thoughtfully, or to get bad habits under control. Of course as Jews, we just went through this self-examination and self-improvement ritual a few months ago during the High Holy Days. For us, the New Years resolutions may be more of a progress report than a fresh start.

While making changes to improve our lives is a noble idea, it’s not all that easy. At this time of year, experts caution that the best way to make improvements is to start with something small and manageable, and to build on the little successes. Some of the things we want to change are pretty well ingrained. In other cases, we are often not even fully aware of some of the negative behaviors we engage in.

I’m not sure that the world is ever a really calm place, but the last few months have seemed particularly chaotic and unnerving. There has been violence and injustice. People have succumbed to fear and bigotry. Even when there is acknowledgment that we have to make the world a safer and more compassionate place no one, it seems, can agree on the path forward.

Fear brings out the worst in people. While self-preservation is a natural and healthy instinct, fear often causes irrational and counterproductive responses. We reject those we should embrace, we blame those for whom we should show empathy, and in an effort to cope with a complex world, we declare ourselves right and insist that others are simply wrong.

Even more insidious, we make ourselves feel better about ourselves not through self-improvement but by distracting ourselves with others’ misfortunes. Reflecting the tabloid culture, some people find it much easier to point fingers at the troubles or failures of others rather than doing the more difficult work of tending to themselves. Judging another person is a lot easier than taking personal responsibility.

There are plenty of things in my own life that are good candidates for change and improvement. Some of them are easy while others are deeply rooted and a constant challenge. But one of the things I gain from facing my own shortcomings is increased empathy for the challenges of others. The impulse to judge another person is deflected by self-awareness and honesty. It also helps me see that judging myself harshly is not likely to be a healthy or productive way to bring about change. Self-improvement must often begin with showing compassion to ourselves. And if I can learn compassion for myself, it should be an easier next step for me to find compassion for others.

This is a season of gift-giving. Most people enjoy getting “stuff” but I think the gift that can bring joy and peace to our troubled world is the gift of compassion — for ourselves and for others. This gift I give to myself is not selfish but a first step to doing the work of making this world a safer and more compassionate place. May our new year bring peace — to ourselves, to each other, and to our world.

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Saving the day with creative cuisine

18 Dec

by Rabbi Jonathan Freirich

This week we continue to read the story of Joseph in the Torah.

Joseph interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh and he predicted seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and then Pharaoh entrusted Joseph with the administration of Egypt’s entire harvest for seven years in order to set aside enough food to survive the famine.

Ignoring the strange question of why Pharaoh would have entrusted such a daunting task to a foreigner recently retrieved from prison, let’s look at a different question: how did Joseph accomplish his assignment from Pharaoh? How did he know how to effectively store harvests for seven years? Even in dry climates like Egypt I imagine that grain and crops would not be easy to store up for that long without them rotting or spoiling or going bad. So what secret did Joseph have to help him achieve this massive endeavor?

Joseph spent his time in prison with a baker and a wine steward. Maybe he learned some tricks of the trade from the two of them. Joseph could have learned how to make couscous, a pasta like substance that once made might be more easily preserved over the long time needed to feed an entire country during seven years of famine. And he could have learned how to brew beer from the wine steward, allowing the storing up of another source of nutrition from excess grain for a long time.

In both cases, he would have stored up knowledge that would allow him to fulfill this difficult task of running an entire empire’s food production and strategies so as to avoid the impact of the famine to come.

May we learn in these difficult times that creative thinking about our seemingly overwhelming problems has always been the hallmark of Jewish, and human, ingenuity. Working together, even discussing each other’s dreams, and then applying our know-how creatively, may be the only way out of our biggest predicaments.

Shabbat Shalom!

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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