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Israel is calling – let’s go!

12 Feb

by Rabbi Jonathan Freirich

Register for the TBE Family Trip to Israel by March 6, 2015!
Trip dates: June 21 – July 2, 2015

Link to trip details and registration information: Click here

With all of the news about Israel we often lose sight of the best aspects of our relationship with Israel as Jews – the senses of wonder, home, belonging, and connection to our extended Jewish family that we get when we visit.

My first trip to Israel as an adult was in 1990 and my romance with the place continues after more than three years of living there at three separate times, through multiple trips with congregations, leading three Birthright trips, and the opportunities to dwell in diverse parts of the country: Jerusalem, on a Kibbutz in the north, and in Arad, a small city in the Negev desert.

Through work in kiwi fields, study in both modern university and yeshiva settings, time learning from the vivid and evocative locations – every place in Israel speaks to us – and exploring the tangled difficulties of creating a Jewish democracy, I feel my life even more intertwined with the destiny of our people through my relationship with Israel.

Join me and many Temple Beth El families this summer for an amazing tour of Israel. We will go many places, touching on the most important highlights as a trip for first-time visitors. We will also spend enough energy and attention in each of our destinations so we can get a profound glimpse at the layers of the people and history that saturate our Jewish homeland.

Please register soon, as the deadline approaches:

March 6, 2015 is our deadline

and the link to register is here: TBE Family Trip Registration

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Image source

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?

New conversations and connections

21 Jan

Seeking a new approach to spiritual life and bringing meaning into our lives?

We have two new opportunities – one is a four session class exploring Kabbalah from a useful and scholarly perspective – how can Jewish mysticism affect my life for the better every day?
Find out – details and registration here:
Entering Kabbalah

The other is a new conversation:
Lunch with Martin Buber
Monday, February 2, Noon – 1:15 PM
Bricktop’s Restaurant, 6401 Morrison
“I and Thou” and lunch.
We will begin to read and discuss Martin Buber’s majestic and humble approach to finding God in the world.
We will look at at the First Part (pages 53-85 in Walter Kaufman’s translation).
Copies provided, no reading ahead required

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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

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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