Tag Archives: Shabbat

Kindling our hearts

6 Jun

This Shabbat we read about the lighting of the menorah in the Tabernacle, an obligation that we all have to bring light into our homes, here’s a quick meditation inspired by that and an anonymous 13th Century text, see Daniel Matt’s The Essential Kabbalah, p. 119 for the source text:

When we pray on our own we aim for unity with all,
we kindle the fire on the altar of our hearts.
By concentrating our thoughts, we unify our feelings,
our principles, our hopes, our dreams,
until they are drawn to the source of the infinitely sublime flame.
Here lies the secret of unifying which we perform in prayer,
raising up our ideas, like an elevating offering, towards one source.
In praise and in thanks
we draw ourselves nearer to the spark that ignites all.


Image source:


Summer Services: A Welcome Change of Pace! by Cantor Andrew Bernard

28 May

Summer Services: A Welcome Change of Pace!

With the arrival of Memorial Day, most of us are grateful for the change of pace. School schedules wind down, many people embark on vacation, and there seems to be more time to spend with family and friends. It’s an easier time to let go of stress and take a relaxing breath.

Each Friday night we begin our worship by letting go of our busy weeks and breathing in the peace of Shabbat; during the summer months, that peace feels even more expansive. To enhance this relaxed experience, we’ve instituted some changes to our Friday pre-neg and service that I think you’ll enjoy. When you arrive for the pre-neg (starting at 5:30pm), you’ll notice our Kiddush Bar and our new Casual Zone. At the Kiddush Bar, you can grab a glass of wine or juice, and toast the end of the week. (Blessing provided.) Wine is provided, but if you’d like to bring a bottle or two to share, you’ll find a sticker to place on your contribution so we may all recognize you for your generosity.

The Casual Zone is in one of the small social hall areas just off of the Sanctuary. Its location may change from week to week, but you’ll always find tables and chairs set up where you can relax with old friends or make new ones. Bring your food and drink to the table and enjoy the conversation. Not finished eating when the service starts? No problem! — continue to sit and enjoy. It’s the best of both worlds where you can both nosh and pray, and be embraced by the warmth of our community. Planning an early Shabbat dinner? Great! — join us for pre-neg and feel free to head out to meet your family and friends when services begin.

The Casual Zone is also a kid-friendly zone with an area set up especially for the younger ones containing books and crafts to occupy them throughout the service. Summertime is a great family time, and we want your family time to be part of our worship experience.

Our services will continue to follow our Community Shabbat model, usually featuring a theme to provoke some thoughts, enhance the spiritual experience, or set your weekend in motion. This week we will focus on our blessings — a great way to appreciate and give thanks for the start of summer! The tone of services will be a little lighter to match the season, and our 6:15pm start will have you on your way so that you can continue to celebrate the end of the week with Shabbat dinner.

Friday nights at Temple Beth El have been a warm and fulfilling tradition for many years. We hope that our new Kiddush Bar and Casual Zone enhance the joy of our being together.

Shabbat shalom!
Cantor Andrew Bernard

CasualZone Picture


19 May

Over a year ago, I sat in the congregation with my daughter on my lap one Shabbat morning. As a clergy-person, I rarely sit with my family in the congregation, so this was a special occasion. While Johannah regularly attends Tot Shabbat, this was the first time she had ever been in a “main” service on Shabbat morning. Only two at the time, she made it through about 15 minutes of the service before her attention span waned and I sent her home with her dad.

In those 15 minutes, I had a profound realization.

I asked myself, “When will we ever have pancakes?”

You see, in my dreams for my Jewish family, I want my family to “do” Shabbat. I want them to light candles, eat dinner, and sing songs on Friday night. I want them to know the Shabbat morning service and hear Torah read often. And I want to have a morning, too, where we keep our PJs on late and have pancakes.

“What about when she is a kindergartener?”, I thought. If I do cultivate a family that goes to synagogue on Saturday, when she begins Religious School on Sunday mornings as a kindergartner, we will never have pancakes.

I looked around the room. The kids present were, by and large, our 7th graders whose class meets once a month on Shabbat. I looked around again, for the most part, the adults were the parents of the 7th graders and of the many musician kids participating in the service. Those are two HUGE success: 7th grade families and musician families deeply engaged in Shabbat morning worship. But where were the other families? Don’t they know that congregational Shabbat is awesome?

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of our Reform Movement has called for a move towards audacious hospitality. We should be unabashedly welcoming, which includes thinking about how we can best engage people and make sure that we regularly put ourselves in their shoes. This leads us to audaciously ask, Are there families who might be better served by a different model of religious education? Perhaps there are more families like mine who want Shabbat together in synagogue and pancakes on Sunday.

At the URJ Biennial in December 2013, Rabbi Elka Abrahamson of the Wexner Foundation said, “Synagogues should lock the doors on Sundays.” I actually stood up and cheered. Synagogues should move the rhythm of Jewish life back to Shabbat. Period.

Now, I am not championing the end of Sunday Religious School. At Temple Beth El, our religious school is strong and vibrant. Our students learn an amazing amount, our teachers love the kids, and our kids have national record-breaking engagement throughout synagogue life. Our Sunday school serves our kids very well, but I wonder if there is another way that we might serve some of our families with young children better.

So, we have decided to launch an experiment next year to find out. Let me introduce you to the Family Experiential School at Temple Beth El.

The Family Experiential School at Temple Beth El will be a new option for kindergarten families in the 2014-2015 school year. To be clear: Kindergarten Families will have the choice between our amazing Sunday Religious School and the new FES.

The Family Experiential School is a Jewish living program designed for kindergartners and their families, that will guide the entire family through the process of incorporating Jewish practice, learning, and community into the core of who they are. Participants in the FES will build deep relationships with other families over study, prayer, and social action in the classroom, in the kitchen, and around the dinner table.

The Details:
17 Saturdays from 8:30-10:30 AM Shabbat morning programs will consist of one hour of parents’ instruction and children’s instruction in separate classrooms. Babysitting will be provided for other children during class time. The other hour includes musical and participatory Shabbat morning services and a healthy kiddush snack.
8 Sundays for two hours Sunday programs will include 4 sessions in the kitchen learning Jewish values and ideas through cooking together. The other 4 sessions will be family social action projects where we work to repair the world.
8 Shabbat Dinners Each FES family will join a Shabbat Supper Club comprised of other kindergarten families. Each month, you will plan your own Shabbat dinner together in one another’s homes or the location of your choice. The year will begin with an opening Shabbat Dinner at Temple Beth El. The FES will partner with you to establish and enhance your home Shabbat observance.
Tuition is $625 per kindergarten student. This includes all course materials for parents and kids, salary for our outstanding staff, and babysitting for other children during one hour of Shabbat morning school. This is the same amount as Sunday Religious School.
Youth Group FES tuition includes the $25 registration fee to participate in our kindergarten youth group KATANTY K/1.
Youth Choir FES children are welcome to participate in Youth Choir on Sunday mornings from 10:30-11:00 AM with our Sunday Religious School students.
Tuition Assistance We have tuition assistance available for the FES program, just like Sunday Religious School. We will work with every family to make participation possible.

Some of the feedback that I’ve heard so far about the FES is that it sounds like a huge commitment. In reality, the commitment isn’t substantially different from Sunday Religious School hour-for-hour. In fact, the Shabbat Dinners are the only additional time. What is different is that the schedule is not predictable (though it is set for the year already) and that at least one parent, but hopefully whole families, must participate in the program.

We need at least 12 families to choose the Family Experiential School in order to offer this pilot year. If your family would like to know more about the FES or you know a kindergarten family that we can reach to for either the FES or Religious School, let us know! Everyone at Temple Beth El is excited to bring kindergarten families into the center of synagogue life, through either program and in whatever way is most appropriate for them.

I hope that our first year of the FES helps one group of kindergarten families next to find more time together, more time for Torah, and more time for pancakes.

~Cantor Mary R. Thomas

Day 25 of the Omer – Shabbat at last

20 Apr

Netzach in Netzach – the long view from the self focused perspective in itself.

The simplest way to perpetuate life is through self-preservation. As this Shabbat evening continues the Boston crisis concludes with more life preserved, with great appreciation.

In these moments of relief may we focus on celebrating life and the miraculous ways by which it finds a way.

Wishing all meaningful days of counting to come and a Sabbath of true rest, peace, and even joy.


Causing God to Dwell in Our Midst

18 Feb

This week, in parashat T’rumah, Exodus25:1-27:19, the Torah details the commands for the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernace, or portable Temple. We can understand about the need to bring God into our presence, even today, when we imagine God to be beyond the ideas of a tent or an ark of the covenant that might actually contain God. After all, there are moments in our lives when we feel God much more powerfully, and there are places we go in order to experience God more fully too. Life cycle events, Shabbat services, holidays, family get-together’s – we often identify these times as filled with greater meaning, and even the presence of God. Synagogues, holy places, sites of tremendous natural beauty – these loom large in our mind as places where we might feel connected to God.

The Israelites in the desert, after the encounter with God at Sinai, where God visibly showed up in an impressive array of special effects, built a Mishkan, literally a dwelling place for God. Do we think that they really imagined that the entirety of God could fit in a little box inside a tent?

I don’t think our ancestors believed that, and I certainly don’t expect all of you to believe it either. Rather, I think that they understood what Abraham understood before them. Abraham knew that the presence of God entered into a place when we behaved in a certain way – in his case, when he welcomed strangers into his tent. The ethic of hospitality brings the presence of God into our midst. The Israelites understood that when they worked together to build something, when they came together for the improvement of the entire community, that God would dwell in their midst too.

In this way, we read the building of the Mishkan, the bringing together of many different items from many different people with many different skills and advantages, as a way of uniting to transform the Israelite community into something better. The actions of the people of Israel united behind a common cause and helped them overcome their difficulties from the past – like grumbling about being brought out of Egypt, and building the Golden Calf.

To bring God into our midst means acting in a way that transforms people from individuals with different desires and agendas into a community, united around projects and causes that bring benefits to everyone.

While we no longer build a Mishkan and all of its ornaments, including the ark of the covenant, we do reap the rewards of united actions. We come together to pray and to learn, to celebrate and to mourn, and to mark the end of the week and the beginning of Shabbat.

I wish that all of us take moments on this Shabbat to come together with each other, to find family and friends and do something that we couldn’t do on our own. Celebrating Shabbat in community transforms our time together, and brings God to dwell in our midst.

Joseph and Forgiveness

5 Sep

Back to our parashat-ha-yom, daily Parashah, commentary heading into the High Holy Days, after a Labor Day hiatus – remember that Shabbat was the first fair labor practice ever!

Today we look at Va-Yechi, Genesis 47:28 – 50:26 – the end of Jacob’s life, his blessings for his sons, his request that his remains be buried near his fathers’, and Joseph’s fulfillment of that request – so ends the book of Genesis.

Near the end of Joseph’s stories, after his father Jacob has died, his brothers worry that without their father around, their now powerful brother will now seek revenge upon them.

Joseph responds:

Gen. 50:20 Now you, you planned ill against me, (but) God planned-it-over for good, in order to do (as is) this very day- to keep many people alive.

During our season of forgiveness and making apologies, Joseph stands as a model, letting bygones be bygones, and forgiving his brothers. So may we all bury the hatchet and move into the new year holding peace in our hearts for our family, friends, and communities.