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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?

Memories and Making a Difference – Cantor Mary

15 Jan

I’m writing today from a cozy spot in the heart of Manhattan. Several times a year, I make a one or two day pilgrimage to New York City to visit my voice teacher and have a tune up, so to speak. Congregants are often surprised to learn that I still take voice lessons and are even more surprised that I remain with the same teacher after nearly 8 years, working together over skype and in person. I usually ask in response, “Do professional athletes have coaches? Do you think they have trainers?” Of course they do and so must professional singers.

I stood in Candace’s studio, just an hour or so ago, and as we started the familiar exercises, I was flooded by memories. I remember the first time I sang in this room. I remember the endless hours of frustration. I remember the successes. Those memories and feelings immediately call forward memories of the other parts of my life during those early years, the years when I spent one hour a week in that room and countless more practicing. I think of friends and school and work and commuting and dreaming about what the future might hold. Outside of the window, I notice that the sign across the street has changed, and I am back to the present.

My spot behind my teacher’s piano is one of the places where times collapses. Suddenly, all that was, was imagined, or might still come to be comes together into a single point of focus. I am, somehow, more myself and my potential self is more fully realized. These are deep memories – they are experiences that formed me and help me remember my past and to imagine my future.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his work The Sabbath that Shabbat is when we “collect, rather than dissipate time.” During the week, we dissipate time. We annihilate time as we race from one obligation to the next, focus on meeting our needs and the needs of those around us: gym, groceries, emails, meetings, deadlines, and alarm clocks.

But on Shabbat, moments are stretched longer and conversations linger. We are taught that shabbat is a mystical folding-in of all that was, is, and might come to be. Shabbat is a time when we sense the eternality of our people. When, if we stop long enough to tune-in, we feel the sanctity of lives lived before our own and lives that are yet to be. This is an awareness gained from slowing down, sitting back, and listening deeply that assures us that we are not alone, never have been, and are part of a great history past and story yet to be written. Shabbat is our collection of these moments, stacked one a top the other into a deep trove of memories and experiences.

This week’s Torah portion is Va’eira. It is both a memorable and challenging Torah portion, where the first 9 of the 10 plagues are exacted upon the Egyptians. Rabbi Dreyfus explores some of the difficulties with studying the suffering endured by the Egyptians as we went through the process of being wrested from our enslavement. I often think how much easier it would be to read this text, not as history as so many do, but as spiritual drama designed to link us viscerally to our very own story. The trials of the story, when read deeply, trigger a willing suspension of disbelief and allow us to be flooded by the memory of our people and to live our lives in such a way that our people’s history becomes our own story.

I haven’t seen Selma yet – but I will. I’ve heard that it is powerful and that the images, ideas, and events linger for hours after you’ve left the theater. Movies, music, architecture, paintings, theater – all art and everything we experience with our senses – has the power to trigger deep memories. A song may remind us of our grandmother’s hands, a smell of what it was like to feel very small, but very loved, and the feel of the pavement beneath our running shoes what it is to believe we can catalyze change. Our senses, as much as our intellect, can help us to access our deep memories and empower us to be who we are meant to be, not only who we happen to be right now. As we prepare for Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, may we seek ways to access our deep memories and may we find the courage to live our own story and to help to write  the story of our people and all peoples with justice, righteousness, and holiness.

~Cantor Mary Rebecca Thomas

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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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

 

A Morning Blessing

8 Sep

[Rabbi Jonathan Freirich delivered this on Friday, August 29 with the wonderful people of the Transfaith Conference here in Charlotte, NC]

אֱלֹהַי, נְשָׁמָה שֶׁנָּתַתָּ בִּי טְהוֹרָה הִיא

My God, the soul you have given me is pure.

As we look out upon this day, among these beautiful people around us, let us acknowledge the shining purity and beauty of the spirits we find around us this morning.

Let us revel in the light that we bring to each other and share with one another.

In Jewish traditions we begin our mornings in gratitude – first for our bodies, may they work well enough so that we can offer praise and thanks. Then we notice that our spirits still reside within us, and that that essence is pure, and we celebrate the return of our souls into our bodies after that absent time during our slumbers.

Each morning we look out upon the world and offer up gratitude because a day that begins with gratitude is a better day. A day that we transform with words of thanks in turn transforms us into grateful people.

I am so grateful to be among all of you today.

So I offer you another blessing from the opening prayers of a Jewish morning service:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁעָשַׂנִי בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים

Praised are You, the Infinite source of a miraculous creation, who made me, and all of us, in the divine image.

Each and every one of us here today reflects another gorgeous facet of the image of the divine. To be in the image of the infinite is to be infinitely varied.

Let us begin our day in praise of the purity of our inner spirits, and in awe of the beautiful variety of our outward appearances.

Let our time together be filled with soulful beauty, and pure diversity, and let us say: Amein.

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