Rabbi Andrea Merow

August 29, 2014

Dear Friends -
Israel on our Minds:

As of this writing, we are a few days into a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. We mourn the many precious lives that have been lost. Much is being written about the internal Israeli politics of accepting this open-ended ceasefire. No matter where one stands on the politics of the ceasefire, we can all be grateful for some calm in the south of Israel. Our relatives and friends are grateful to not hear sirens at all hours. We pray that this calm will grow and that all experience safety and security. We must continue as a community to keep our love for, and ties to, the State of Israel strong. Here a few ways to continue to support Israel:

1. Stay informed for yourself, and so that you can inform others. Read Israeli sites. We recommend:
http://www.ynetnews.com/home/0,7340,L-3083,00.html
http://www.timesofisrael.com/#!

2. Read American news outlets and make sure they are giving the full story. Write Op-Ed pieces if and when they are not.

3. Join AIPAC, America's Pro-Israel lobby (http://www.aipac.org). Join Rabbi Glanzberg-Krainin, myself, and 14,000 others at the AIPAC policy Conference in Washington D.C. on March 1-3, 2015. Purchase your ticket now from Beth Sholom. Contact Ksandler@bethsholomcongregation.org and book your hotel.

4. If you have the time and the funds, plan a trip to Israel.

5. Join us at Beth Sholom on Sunday September 14th at 10:15 am for a pro-Israel Rally. 

A Meditation for Shabbat

Were there times this week when you felt out of sorts? Are there difficult issues in your life that you are confronting? It seems that the nature of the human spirit is that we struggle; sometimes we struggle internally and other times we find ourselves in conflict with other people. This week in shul we read words of consolation from the prophet Isaiah. "(anochi, anochi m'nahemkhem) I, I am the One who comforts you. What ails you that you fear man... ?" His words were meant to comfort the Nation of Israel after we were defeated in battle and exiled from Jerusalem. 

But his words ring true for each one of us as individuals. In a busy and sometimes cold and fast-paced world, we need comfort. "I,I (God) am the One who comforts you." Because we are each created in God's image, we too can comfort others. The world needs people to act in God-like ways to bring comfort.

This Shabbat consider where you might find God's comforting presence. 

This Shabbat find people in your life who may need you to comfort them - and then endeavor to bring them the comfort that they need.

Shabbat Shalom -

Rabbi Andrea L. Merow 

August 22, 2014

"Behold, I set before you this day blessing and curse." This is how our Torah portion begins. And in fact, this is how our lives work. Each day, in the small and large decisions that we make, we are given the free will to choose to do good, to be good, and to be a blessing. The Torah sets up a dichotomy. There is blessing and there is curse. There is nothing in between. Some people may think there is a middle ground of "in-action" which does not yield blessing or curse, but is about status quo. The Torah rejects this idea. The Torah is saying that if we are not bringing blessing into the world, through our words and our actions, then our in-action brings about curse, or negative. Here "curse" can be negative outcomes, energy, or worse. Science teaches us that the essence of life is that life constantly changes; in the natural world there is no status quo. 

In so many places the Torah gives us a command to act and to bring about justice and peace in the world. We are taught to not stand by the blood of our brothers and sisters. We are taught to care for all of God's children and to care for the most vulnerable in society. We are taught to be people of action and of blessing. In our lives, we must actively make choices that bring about blessing. 

Here is a short prayer that I will say when I light candles this Shabbat. I invite you to join me at 6:00 pm to welcome Shabbat.

This Shabbat let us endeavor to always choose actions that will bring about blessing. 

This Shabbat we pray for rest and calm in our lives.

This Shabbat we pray for rest and calm in all American cities.

This Shabbat we pray for the safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel.

This Shabbat we pray for calm in the Middle East.

This Shabbat we pray for all of those who are working to defeat terror.

This Shabbat let us endeavor to always choose actions that will bring about blessing. 

Amen.

Stay informed about the situation in Israel, visit www.ynetnews.com and www.idfblog.com.
Also, please enjoy the following post that I put on FB today: 


https://www.facebook.com/andi.merow?fref=ts 

August 14, 2014

A meditation for Shabbat

It was yet another hard week in the world. On a global level we watched as the United States tried to help innocent victims of ISIS's savagery in Iraq. We are proud to be citizens of a country that fights evil.  We worry as this kind of evil grows in the world.   

We watched as ceasefires were not kept by Hamas, and destruction continued to reign down on our brothers and sisters in the south of Israel. We are proud to be Zionists and to support The Israel Defense forces in "Operation Tzuk Eitan -Protective Edge." We pray for the security of our people, for peace and calm for all peoples, and for the evil of Hamas to be uprooted.

We watched as anti-Zionist/Jewish rallies occurred in Western Europe and our minds could not help but wander to the 1930's. And while we honor and appreciate the value of free speech, we pray for a day when there is also more loving speech about the Jewish people and Israel. 

And on a more personal level we saw how mental illness can cause strikingly beautiful souls to suffer so greatly.  Most of us have a friend or family member, if not ourselves, who live with mental illness. We pray for greater sensitivity for all those affected. 
We pray for great scientists and wise doctors to combat this evil.  

We pray for those affected this week by danger and illness. We pray for a Sabbath, a rest from hostilities in the world, and a rest from hostilities in our souls.

We turn out thoughts to our weekly Torah reading: 

This Torah reading speaks so many times this week about love.  

"And now Oh Israel, what does the Lord require of you? Only this: to revere the Lord your God, to walk in God's ways, to LOVE God... ." (Deut. 10:12) "LOVE therefore the Lord your God and keep God's laws and commands. (11:10 "LOVING the Lord your God and serving God with all your heart and soul. (11:13)

This Shabbat, let us take love and bring it to each person and aspect of our lives.

The Torah also speaks about the land of Israel - a place that we love:

"For The Lord Your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey. A land where there is ample food, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. When you have eaten your fill give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which God has given to you. (Deut 8:30)

Even amidst the difficult neighbors and political reality that Israel lives with, this Torah still rings true.  The land and the state of Israel continue to be a source of beauty. So this Shabbat, let us celebrate the beauty of the land, its streams and produce - and even of the iron - and this summer we also celebrate the protection of the Iron Dome.

It was an honor to spend the last two weeks in Israel and I look forward to sharing my stories and thoughts with you this coming year.  Until then, enjoy the pictures and Shabbat Shalom!

July 3, 2014

A Word of Torah

This week our Torah reading recounts a famous tale of how the Jewish people are praised by others. At the start of our story, King Balak of Moav, a foreign king, feared the Jewish people as we wandered in the desert. Balak sent a message to Baalam and asked him to curse the Jewish people. Baalam was known as one who could give blessings or curses. God tells Baalam that our people are blessed, so he cannot curse us. But Baalam is persuaded to go.

During his journey to curse our people, God puts a donkey, literally a talking ass in his way. The story is clearly supposed to be a bit satirical. The ass tries to get Baalam to do the right thing and not curse our people. In return Baalam hits the ass, that is, until God intervenes and lets Baalam know that ours is a people to be blessed. In the end, Baalam, who is not Jewish, and was sent in to curse our people, is only able to bless Israel. 

The most famous part of this blessing is: "Mah Tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mish-kenotecha Yisrael," "How lovely are the tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings O Israel." We say this when we enter a shul. But this verse is a comment not only about our shuls; it is about how we live together as a people, in happiness and even in sadness. This past week, the Jewish people mourned together. Even in the searing pain of our mourning, we saw "how good" (mah tovu) the Jewish people can be. At the funeral of her slain son, Mrs. Frenkel said, "Dear soldiers, intelligence personnel and police, we still thank you very, very much. You promised you would find and bring them back. And you brought them back. That is a great kindness, too." "From the very first day, we said to ourselves that even if it ends badly, God gave us an abundance of blessings, wonderful young men, children with noble souls, a large and empowering community." 

Click here for the full article.

Even in the midst of her pain, this mother was able to express gratitude. Others spoke about the unity of our people. The parents did not speak about revenge, only about justice and about peace for their sons. Many have commented to me about the graciousness of these families. It is hard to comprehend. These boys came from remarkable families full of faith; their fortitude and grace can be a lesson for us.

In our parasha, when Baalam blesses the Jewish people, he adds the phrase "No harm is in sight for Jacob, No woe in view for Israel." Though this particular blessing may seem so out of reach for us now, it is what we most need. May no harm come to our people. May we be able to protect our children, defend our homeland, and live in peace. And like Baalam, may God turn the hearts of those who curse us into hearts that praise our people. 

Shabbat Shalom - Rabbi Andrea Merow 

Click here to add a note of condolence to the parents of  Eyali, Gilad and Naftali.

June 12, 2014

I did not grow up with Yiddish language in my life. I can understand a bissel, but I do not really know the language. I seem to remember holiday dinners when I was very, very young and there were enough grandparents and elder aunts and uncles around who spoke some Yiddish. Later I figured out that they only really spoke Yiddish curses, so that is what I learned.   You know many of those words or phrases and some are used in everyday English.  Yiddish is a colorful language and some of its words actually express large concepts.  For example both fahrklenpt and farbissene need many English words to really understand them..   

But there are other Yiddish words that sadly have also made their way into our culture. Words that are hurtful and insensitive.  The words that I am speaking about are words that are used to denigrate someone. You know these words: shiksa, shvatza, faigela and goyim are probably the most famous of these words.  These words are ugly and should not have any place in our language moving forward.  I understand that some may think that these words are merely descriptive and are not negative. That is incorrect.  Each of these words are hurtful and do not reflect well upon the speaker, or the Jewish community.

Sadly, over the last several weeks I have heard some of these words used by members of our community. I admit that not many people use these words, but we need our community to be completely free of these hateful words. Like many of you, my family and friends include members who are gay or straight, Jewish or Christian, black, white and Hispanic and I do not want them to be hurt by hearing a member of The Jewish community use these words. It is time to remind our community the words we choose have consequences. We can use our words to honor all.  Psalm 34 teaches, “Keep your tounge from bad and your lips from speaking evil, turn away from what is bad, do good and seek peace.”

We are fortunate to live in a culture that has diversity of religion, race and orientation. We recognize that every human being is created in God’s holy image. Let us use words that will uplift others and bring honor to our community.

May 29, 2014

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to be in Dallas for a Rabbinical Assembly Convention. I wrote then about the wonderful learning and inspiration I felt from sharing time with my colleagues. I learned both in and out of the “classroom.” One afternoon several of us took the opportunity to visit The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, where President Kennedy was assassinated.  It was a moving experience that continues to haunt me.

Though I was not alive on November 22, 1963 I have always felt that the tragic event of that day has been part of my collective memory.  Collective memory is a concept that The Jewish People have perfected.  Each year we each claim that we left Egypt and that we were at Mount Sinai when Revelation occurred. In fact we are taught, “in each generation one must see oneself as if we have personally left Egypt.”  We do this so that we can be changed by, and grow from, the experiences of having been slaves in Egypt, and then from gaining our freedom and receiving Torah.  These were watershed moments in the life of The Jewish People and life was changed by each of these events.

The murder of an American president is part of our collective memory as Americans. So I ask, what changed after that murder? How was it a watershed event? This was not the first assassination of a president. The first one happened 102 years earlier in 1865.  But the 1960s were a tumultuous time in our history and there was a sense of national innocence lost when President Kennedy was killed. It saddens me though that more has not changed since that event. One can still purchase a gun with relative ease.

While at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza I read each exhibit leading up to the assassination. I was ok. Sad, but ok. Then I read the panel that related that the gun used to kill President Kennedy was bought through a mail order catalog for $12.48.  And I was totally overcome with deep and consuming sadness. $12.48 changed history, ended a life, ended an era. That gun was too easy to purchase. 

I have been sitting with this sadness for the last few weeks contemplating how we as a community can mediate both the rights of those who wish to own guns with the need for our society to deal with the terrible epidemic of gun violence. I believe that it is a religious imperative for our country to come up with sensible laws and with funding to enforce them, that better protect the public. In the Torah we read the command “to not stand idly by the blood of our brother and sisters.” Our brothers and sisters are bleeding.

In response to the shooting this past week on a California college campus The Rabbinical Assembly issued the following statement. http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/story/rabbinical-assembly-reacts-santa... At our Dallas convention we ratified a resolution asking for our elected officials to work for sensible gun control laws.  http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/story/resolution-sensible-gun-control-united-states

Here are some sobering present day statistics:

Every year in PA, more than 1300 people are killed by guns (this includes homicides, suicides and accidents)

In Pennsylvania, a person is killed by a gun every 7 hours.

From 2001 through 2010, nearly as many people were murdered with guns in Pennsylvania than were killed in combat in the Iraq and Afghanistan war.

In 2010, 95 children ages 0 to 19 were killed with guns.

Since, Newtown (Dec. 14, 2012), there have been at least 44 school shootings .

My mind wanders back to The Sixth Floor Book Depository in Dallas, and the gun that was too easy to purchase for $12.48 by mail order.  This is a difficult issue to solve, but regardless of our religion or our politics can we agree that it is a problem that we can't ignore? Good people will all have different ways of taking a stand against gun violence, but it's time to take that stand.  

One way to get involved is to join CeaseFirePA. They have bi-partisan backing and are fighting to make sure that there is no more blood shed. http://www.ceasefirepa.org/email-thanks/?key=35438789. 

I want to end with the blessing found in the week’s parasha:  May God bless you and keep you. May God deal kindly with you and show you grace. May God favor you and grant you Shalom. And may we work to create a more peaceful world.

And may we work towards a less violent, more peaceful world.

Shabbat Shalom-

Rabbi Andrea Merow

May 15, 2014

This week I was honored to be deep in the heart of Texas at an International gathering of The Rabbinical Assembly in Dallas.  Our gatherings are a time for serious learning, RA business meetings, and the deep joy of being with colleagues and friends.  It is a time for fervent prayer, deep study, and a time to have experts guide us in our discussions.

We were treated to wonderful, thought provoking ideas.  One panel included the leaders of the institutions of the Conservative Movement in dialogue, including Dr. Arnie Eisen (JTS), Rabbis Brad Artson (Ziegler School), Julie Schonfeld (RA) and Steve Wernick (USCJ). Their bold and optimistic presentations encouraged us to look deeper at the Pew study to see not only our demographic challenges, but to also see our amazing strengths. I plan to speak more about this in the coming weeks.

For me, other highlights included a full morning learning rabbinic texts with traditional study partners, under the guidance of legendary Israeli scholar Dr. Donniel Hartman.  Dr. Hartman guided us through texts on the primacy of ethics in Jewish tradition, even over belief in God.  I hope in the coming months to share with you some of the Torah that I learned with my teachers here: Dr. Eisen, Rabbi Amy Eilberg, Rabbi Brad Artson and Ambassador Dennis Ross. 

There was one rabbi here whose life story is in and of itself living Torah, true hesed, loving-kindness.  I would like to share a story about Rabbi Bill Gershon, new President of The International Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Gershon is a personal and professional inspiration.

Rabbi Gershon is a rabbi at a synagogue in Dallas. The shul is Texas sized big –with four rabbis and a cantor. His synagogue is a model of innovation and warmth. As hundreds of rabbis entered the shul, we were greeted by almost every board member, wearing a name-tag and welcoming us. However, more than the welcome that we received was the welcome that Rabbi Gershon received that night.

Rabbi Gershon is a graduate of The Joint Program between Columbia and JTS and the JTS rabbinical school.  Rabbi Gershon loves Judaism and Jews. He is effusive, loving, and articulate. He has been in line for probably 10 years to be the president of our rabbinical organization.  During this time, he has also dealt with severe illness. Several months ago he found out that an anonymous living donor would give him a kidney. And so, five weeks ago he received that life-giving donation. This week, Rabbi Gershon returned to his bima for the first time for his installation this week to become President of the Rabbinical Assembly.  The house was packed with grateful rabbis and congregants.  

On that night we experienced the grace of God who sent our rabbi a living organ donor, gifted doctors, the ability to heal, and a loving Jewish community. Rabbi Gershon thanked God for all of these gifts.  I thank God for these gifts and share with you one teaching of his as an intention for each of us to live with this Shabbat and moving forward:

Rabbi Gershon reminded us to always infuse our lives and our communities with simcha shel mitzva, deep and embodied joy while we perform mitzvot.  It is a religious imperative for us to create joy in our lives and in our communities. We have the ability to choose to be optimists. We have the ability to create joy, and in fact, the creation of joy – through song, prayer, study, and acts of loving-kindness is the essence of living a vibrant Jewish life.

This Shabbat I wish you all the creation of much joy!

Shabbat Shalom –

Rabbi Andrea L. Merow

May 2, 2014

Over the last few months, since the Pew Study, there has been a renewed conversation in the Jewish community about what actually works in our quest to actively engage people in meaningful Jewish life.  Like the good Jewish discussions recorded in our ancient Talmud, this discussion deserves to have many voices, many ideas, and lots of critical thinking, all in a non-judgmental way.  In the spirit of "start-up" and technology culture we need to be willing to dream, to implement ideas, to succeed, and even more importantly, to fail, to learn, to try again - and to divest ourselves of the idea that any one idea will make everyone happy at the same time.  We know that there will not ever be a singular answer to the question of how to "actively engage people in meaningful Jewish life;" there will be many answers that fit our community and others.  Instead, we need to dream, be flexible and be creative.

There are however some firm answers that do exist when it comes to how to ensure Jewish continuity. Most notably:

1. Create intentional, mission driven Jewish communities, where members are invested in the welfare of each other and the community. 

2. Make Jewish life affordable.

The synagogue is where we can create an intentional, meaningful, affordable Jewish community. Beth Sholom Synagogue is where we can do this. The Early Learning Programs at Beth Sholom are a prime example of how our community is putting these values to work. Considerable research has shown that attendance at Jewish summer-camps and Jewish pre-schools are good predictors of continued Jewish life. We value our Early Learning Programs for many reasons; one is that our preschool is a great way for families to become part of the Beth Sholom family. When a child graduates our preschool we imagine being with their family at their bar/bat mitzvah and Confirmation.

We want all of our congregants to know what goes on in our Early Learning Program so that you can be proud of your synagogue and so that you will share this great gem of the community with prospective families. Early Learning is an example of a micro-community within the synagogue that is creative, mission driven, offers stellar cutting edge academics, 4 Star State certification, and values education in the context of our warm shul family.

As you know, our Early Learning Program values flexibility and the idea that children, really all people, learn in different ways. We are flexible: We begin to care for children at 6 weeks old and continue to kindergarten. We give parents the opportunity to choose from 2 highly credentialed preschool programs; Traditional track or our innovative Jewish Montessori track, based on what is best for your child. Our teachers and administrators are the most dedicated educators out there; they are inspiring each and every day. It is really amazing to see the magic that occurs in our classrooms and at all of our special programs like: Shabbat services, gym, music, science and Tzedakah programs. All of our kids learn Jewish values and Hebrew and next year we will begin to teach them Mandarin - to prepare them to navigate the global world that they will live in. Our PTO is wonderful. As you can see, Early Learning at Beth Sholom is an intentional Jewish community that helps children and parents to become part of our larger Beth Sholom family.

Many families today find becoming part of a synagogue community cost- prohibitive. The organized national Jewish community is slowly working on ideas to fund Jewish preschools, you can read about an example of this here. We at Beth Sholom are grateful for the vision and generosity of Stefan and Elizabeth Brodie whose preschool initiative will help families to become part of our Early Learning and synagogue community.

Our new financial incentive helps to make all of this affordable. As you may know, any Jewish family that is new to our Early learning Program is eligible to receive up to $4000, or a 40% discount per child for tuition at the Early Learning program. This is revolutionary in the world of Jewish education-and we hope that you are excited about this initiative to continue to build our vibrant community. We also hope that you look around to those you know with babies and small children who are not yet part of your community and invite them to become part of our vibrant, Beth Sholom family. Beth Sholom is a destination synagogue and school, with families even coming from West Philly and beyond - so feel free to invite new families from all over the area.

If you have any questions please speak with Eileen Weingram, Early Learning Director.

My best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom. I hope to see you at Lunch and Learn this Saturday where we will learn about domestic and dating abuse, and next Friday night at our final Shabbat Experience program this spring. 

April 18, 2014

Dear Friends,
 
A Mid Passover Thought-
 
Passover is the most work intensive of all of our holidays. Though it lasts for a little over a week, if you count all of the preparation, you could be in Passover mode, cleaning, cooking, inviting, hosting, for almost a month. Passover deserves all of this time and attention, but not only because of the complicated nature of the laws and rules that have come to define the holiday. Passover deserves all of the time and attention it receives because it is the holiday that shaped the identity of Jewish People as one that cares deeply about the plight of others. It is not a coincidence that anytime there is a natural disaster in the world it is the State of Israel and the organized Jewish community that are out helping. In fact, Passover is the holiday that reminds us that empathy is an important Jewish value. Passover is the holiday that teaches us to not only feel the suffering of others; we are also taught to act to alleviate that pain.
 
The Haggadah reads that in each generation we are obligated to see ourselves as if we had personally left Egypt. This act of imaginative memory requires us to first feel like we are enslaved. We are asked to deeply feel what it means to be in the midst of personal and national suffering. Only then are we able to feel what it would be like to be freed. Pesach teaches us to always live in the world remembering that we were slaves, so that we will feel the obligation to help those who are enslaved and downtrodden.
 
In the Torah we learn about two midwives named Shifra and Puah who are credited with standing up to suffering, slavery and tyranny. These midwives went against Pharoah's law and saved Jewish babies. Our Torah commentaries ponder if they were Jewish midwives, or midwives to Jewish women. If they had been Jewish, then they would have been credited with helping their own. It is even more impressive if they were Egyptian women who helped the "other" and put themselves into grave danger by doing so. Shifra and Puah defied Pharoah because their moral convictions taught them to stand up to tyranny.
 
In A Different Night, the Haggadah that we use at my family seder there is a time to nominate someone for a Shifra and Puah award. This award goes to someone who stands up to tyranny in our day. I would be interested in hearing from you to see who you think might deserve this award this year? And how we can support those who work against tyranny in our world. I know that we all recognize that there are so many examples of suffering in this world. None of us can fix all of the suffering, but each of us can commit ourselves to working to end the pain of one person or of one group. On this Passover I want to invite each one of us to think about one issue or example of contemporary suffering, slavery or injustice, that we feel close to or passionate about, so that we can commit ourselves to alleviating the suffering of others this year. (poverty, slavery, violence, etc)
 
All Passover long, and all year long, we are taught to "remember that we were slaves in Egypt." We are taught this so each and every day we can cultivate our sense of empathy and compassion for those who are suffering. The examples of Shifra and Puah teach us to not only feel compassion, but to work for the freedom of others and to not stand idly by while others suffer. May we be inspired to act like Shifra and Puah and to fight for the rights and freedoms of all.
 
Please join us this Friday night for a Neshamah service at 6 pm.
 
Shabbat Shalom,

February 28, 2014

Dear Friends,
 
Parashat P'kudai contains a description of the service vestments created for the Kohanim who served in the Tabernacle during the period of the wilderness-and who would later serve in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The vestments were made of blue, purple and crimson yarn including precious metals. These materials are hinted at in the articles that we use to dress our Torah scrolls today. The Torah says that these vestments were to be worn by those who are l'sharet bakodesh--literally "those who serve the Holy." We know that Shalom Zachmy joins the two of us in affirming our belief that it continues to be an honor and a sacred mission to serve God, the Jewish People, and the members of Beth Sholom Congregation.
 
We are overjoyed that Beth Sholom has chosen to honor our service to the congregation by bringing in Rabbi Naomi Levy for a Scholar in Residence Weekend. Rabbi Levy is a noted author and scholar whose work focuses on creating community, feeling God's presence through prayer, and on the importance of deepening our relationship with God through the study of our sacred texts. As we learn in Pirke Avot, the foundation of our world rests on learning, on prayer and on acts of loving-kindness. By choosing to honor our service with a weekend of learning and prayer, the lay leadership of Beth Sholom affirms that our community is built on these important Jewish values. It is our hope that our learning this weekend will help each of us to nurture what is sacred in ourselves and in this community.
 
We look forward to seeing you over the course of this weekend, and at our community celebration in May.
 
Shabbat Shalom,

February 21, 2014

Dear Friends,  
 
Most of our Torah reading this week continues to speak about the building of a dwelling place for God. But it begins in a different way. The parasha does not start with building instructions, or discussion of fabrics, or the interior design of the Tabernacle. Moses begins by gathering the entire people together and reminding them to observe Shabbat. "Moses gathered the entire People of Israel and said to them: These are the things that The Lord has commanded you to do: On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a Sabbath of complete rest."
 
The commentator Saadia Gaon goes so far as to say that the word "these" written in the Torah teaches us that the observance of the Sabbath is worth all of the other commandments together. I understand what Saadia meant. When we observe Shabbat in a joyful and festive way we create an entire Jewish life; a life connected to community, God and to sacred time. When we put Shabbat on our weekly agenda we are better able to live in Jewish time and in Jewish community.
 
This week is our 3rd Shabbat Experience program of the year on the topic: Experience Shabbat. We gather together on Shabbat afternoon for a mincha at 5 pm (afternoon service), Seudah Shelishit (3rd Shabbat meal), Havdalah and a Melaveh Malkah (a celebration to make Shabbat last just a bit longer). Our Melaveh Malkah will include star and moon watching with The Franklin Institute.
 
 
This week at our Shabbat Experience program we will hear from some congregants who find that Shabbat afternoon at Beth Sholom is a time to create and nurture friendships and to become spiritually recharged. Many who attend these services each week love the feeling of community that they are able to build in this sacred place, during this sacred time. Prayer, Torah, food, singing and schmoozing-all in a little over an hour! On behalf of our mincha crowd, consider joining us for this wonderful time-this week and every week.   
 
Shabbat Shalom

January 31, 2014

Two kavanot / intentions for you as you end the week:

The Torah reading teaches us "to make a sanctuary; so that God may dwell with us." The Torah then goes on to give the exact measurements of the space and the kinds of materials that are to be used in the construction of a mishkan, a temporary dwelling for God.
As we enter Shabbat let us take a moment to consider what else we need in our lives to help God to want to dwell with us? What are the kinds of positive behaviors that we can practice, first as individuals, and then as a community, that enable us to be people who dwell with God, and to create a community that is Godly?

This Friday and Shabbat we celebrate the new Hebrew month of Adar I. There is a famous teaching from The Talmud that says, "whoever brings in the month of Adar will be filled with joy." The month of Adar is associated with joy because The Jewish People are redeemed in Adar, on the holiday of Purim. This is a leap year so there will be 2 Adars, with Purim arriving in about six weeks.

This Shabbat as we welcome Adar I, what are ways that you can bring more joy into your own life? This Shabbat what are the ways that you can bring more joy into the lives of those around you?

Rabbi Glanzberg-Krainin and I hope that we will see many of you this coming Shabbat, and next, as we welcome cantorial candidates.

Shabbat Shalom,

January 10, 2014

Dear Friends;

A Word of Torah for This Shabbat:
 
This is the week that we leave Egypt. In Hebrew the word Egypt is Mitzrayim;the root of this word means, "a narrow or constricted place."
 
When Moses led the Jewish People out of the horrors of Egyptian slavery he physically took them out of that place. Equally important was how Moses helped our People to mentally leave the narrow and constricted thinking that was a mark of an enslaved society.
 
As our people flee Egypt Pharaoh changes his mind and sends his armies after us. Scared, the people sarcastically remark back to Moses, "Why did you take us out of Egypt, were there not enough graves in Egypt that you had to take us to the wilderness to die?"
 
Moses responds with the words, al tiru, Have no fear! God will deliver you. Moses understands that his people will need encouragement to overcome the challenges of changing their situation and identity: from slave to free person, from narrowness to openness. Together, the Jewish People, with God's help were able to leave their narrow place.
 
It is often difficult to leave a narrow or difficult situation. It is often difficult to leave narrow thinking in favor of openness to possibilities yet unseen. This week may you be blessed to discern what your own narrow place is; may you not be fearful to leave that place. And may you be blessed with plenty of encouragement along the way.
 
Shabbat Shalom,

December 20, 2013

Dear Friends,
 
A Word of Torah.
 
This week we our Torah reading brings us a mysterious and magnificent teaching to consider. In The Book of Exodus we read:
 
"An angel of the Lord appeared to him [Moses] in a blazing fire out of a bush. He gazed, and there was a bush all aflame, and the bush was not consumed."Moses said, "I must turn aside to look at this marvelous site; why doesn't the bush burn up?" When the Lord saw that Moses had turned aside to look, God called out to him out of the bush: "Moses, Moses!" Moses answered, Hineni  "Here I am."
 
This is the story where God and Moses find each other. This is the story where God reaches out to Moses, and Moses responds to God's call in the affirmative: Here I am. This is the story that teaches us to look for God even in unexpected places.
 
Many commentators ask why God appears in a lowly bush and not a majestic tree, or in a mountain, thunder or lighting as will occur later at Mt. Sinai?
 
Some answer that God chooses to be seen in something lowly to teach us that God can be found everyplace that we look, even in the dry desert bramble. Even in the nitty-gritty details of our lives. Many people think that they are supposed to experience God's Presence in majestic places like a mountain, the ocean, or even in shul. What if one of the lessons of The Torah is to look for God in the dry and difficult spells in our lives, just as God was seen ablaze in the dry and desolate desert? How might our days look and feel different if we were actively looking for God's Presence, even in unexpected places?
 
Other say that God appears in a lowly bush to parallel how the People of Israel have been treated in history: utterly downtrodden.  Just as the lowly bush is burning, but is not consumed, so too The Jewish People may be attacked and endangered but perpetually survive. (Philo)  How can we remember to feel good about what exists in the Jewish community?  The long-range view of Jewish history reminds us that we are here, and will continue to be here, even with internal and external obstacles. We are here keeping the flames of Judaism alive.
 
When Moses does see the burning bush he responds with the words, "here I am," ready to serve you God, and to serve you The Jewish People. How would our community look and feel different if each one of us said the words, "here I am," ready to experience God's Presence, ready to help, ready to be the flame that will help the Jewish People to grow and prosper?
 
This week I hope that we are each blessed to discern God's Presence in our lives, especially when it is hard to see and feel. This week I hope that we are each blessed to be able to respond to a loved one, to a friend, or to one in need, with the phrase "Here I am."
 
Shabbat Shalom

December 6, 2013

Dear Friends,

In the early 1100's Judah HaLevi, Spanish Jewish philosopher and poet, wrote this now famous poem about his own relationship to the Land of Israel:

 

My Heart is in the East, and I am at the ends of the West.

How can I taste what I eat and how could it be pleasing to me?

How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet Zion lies beneath the fetter of Edom, and I am in the chains of Arabia?

It would be easy for me to leave the bounty of Spain, as it is precious for me to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.

 

HaLevi felt a deep pull to experience Israel. Of course there was no Jewish State at the time. There were no rebuilt cities. And as the poet notes, Israel was filled with ruins and dust. Still, HaLevi yearned to be in the Holy Land. Towards the end of his life he made the long journey to the Land of Israel so that he could be in our holy land and understand its history and its spiritual grandeur.

In our generation we are fortunate to live in a time with a strong, rebuilt and flowering Jewish State. This year we hope that you will travel to Israel with Beth Sholom to better understand Israel's history and to be a part of its spiritual grandeur. This June travel with us and see new museums, great beaches, great restaurants, ancient sites and modern marvels. This June travel with us and fall in love with Israel, for the first time, or again.

Selma Roffman and I are thrilled to invite you to join us on an amazing two-week tour of Israel. We invite you to join us if this is your first trip, or your tenth trip. We invite you to bring your family and friends. Together we will experience modern Israel and build a wonderful sense of community. Of course, as you can see from our schedule, we will also have fun!  

If you have any questions please contact me, or Selma Roffman, at Beth Sholom. View the travel brochure  here

 

November 23, 2013

Dear Friends,  

Do you know the feeling of rushing to get everything finished before you go on a vacation? Do you have an extra measure of intensity at work to clear your desk as much as possible before going away? And then do you remember the feeling of rushing to pack? And maybe packing the kids? And then do you remember that wonderful feeling of relief, the deep and clear breath that you take when you are finally are on vacation? You may even have a ritual with which you start your vacation, like changing your voicemail message or going out for a walk--or drink. This is what Shabbat can be each week: a little bit of intensity to prepare for, followed by the bliss of true rest at the weekly stay-cation that we call Shabbat. At a recent meeting of our Shabbat Experience Committee, Julie Glass, Director of Congregational Engagement, used the metaphor of preparing for vacation as a way to think about preparing for Shabbat. We can prepare for Shabbat by inviting guests, making a special meal and more. And then we can literally change our state of mind and of being by lighting candles, having a festive meal, coming to shul and more.

As Jews we endeavor to mirror God's actions. Just as God created the world in six day and created rest on the seventh day, we are fortunate to be creative in the world for six days, and then we rest and do activities to rejuvenate our soul on the seventh day. The rituals of Friday night are transitions that help to move from the ordinary weekday to the holiness of Shabbat. This week at our Shabbat Experience program we will learn about traditional and contemporary ways to make the start of Shabbat special. So many in our community have meaningful Shabbat time already, we are eager to share with each other to help each one of us to have the gift of a mini-vacation each Shabbat.

I hope that you will join us this week on Saturday. Our adult service is at 9:15 am. At 10 am the entire congregation joins together for a Shabbat snack and learning, followed by a tot service, a family service and an adult service. We then join together for a festive lunch with some learning and singing. I urge you to join us this week at Beth Sholom and be part of our spirited Shabbat community -and learn how you can take a weekly Shabbat vacation.

Shabbat Shalom and best wishes for Hag Urim Sameach -a Happy Hanukah!

November 8, 2013

Dear Friends,  

An observation from this week's Torah Reading:
 
It is of course human nature to form ideas about people from how they look to us. And it is difficult to go against human nature, but sometimes that is exactly what Judaism teaches us to do: to try to be better than our base instinct would permit. In truth, even if we make it a practice to not comment on how a person looks, our brain may register a positive or negative judgment anyway based on how a person dresses, their weight, the color of their skin, or their height. The Torah does this when it says, "Leah had weak eyes; Rachel was shapely and beautiful." (Gen 29:17) Rabbinic literature often reads the phrase "weak eyes" to mean that they lacked luster. Essentially, Leah is described as a "plain-Jane" in comparison to her stunning sister.
 
Neither Rachel nor Leah need to hear the description of their sister, or be placed in competition with each other based on how they look. All of our kindergarten teachers taught us that we should "find some thing nice to say, or don't say anything at all" and that "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder."
 
And what does this verse from our Torah reading tell us about the character of either of these women anyway? Nothing. Hundreds of years later in the Mishna, the earliest rabbinic text, there is an important teaching that is somewhat counter to our verse in the Torah: "Rabbi (Meir) says: Do not look at the flask, but at its contents. You can find a new flask with old wine and an old flask that does not hold even new wine."   (Pirke Avot 4:27) Rabbi Meir's teaching is aspirational. It teaches us to reach beyond our natural instincts and to not judge someone by how they look. Instead, the Mishna challenges us to see others for the depth of their character and not their perceived outward beauty. In a society that values "looks" this is sometimes difficult. But as religious people we can aspire to look beyond the surface and to find beauty in the depths of the character of those around us.
 
Shabbat Shalom,

 

October 11, 2013

Dear Friends,  

This week in parashat Lekh Lekha, God famously tells Avram to go on a physical journey from the safety of his home and the place of his birth to an unknown destination. "Go forth from your land, your native land, from your father's house to a place that I, God, will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; and I will make your name great, And you shall be a blessing." Avram and Sarai begin a physical journey towards the land of Israel; they also begin a journey towards living their lives in ways that will create blessing.
 
Later in our parasha, and thus, later on in the journey of Avram and Sarai their names are changed. Avram becomes Avraham, and Sarai becomes Sarah. Each name has the letter hey, which represents God's name, added to it. The journey that Avram and Sarai begin at the start of our Torah reading is not only a physical journey; it is also a spiritual journey towards living with God. The letter hey is added to their names to show that God has been added to their lives.
 
Like Avraham and Sarah, each one of us is on a journey in life. Our parasha reminds us to include God in our lives and in our journey, so that our lives will be a great blessing. In this New Year I invite you to go on a spiritual journey with us at Beth Sholom: Join us this Friday night at 6 pm for our First Shabbat Experience program of the year. Take one of our Adult Learning programs. Join us in prayer - and let your spirit soar! As the Torah teaches, Lekh Lekha, go forth and begin, or continue, your spiritual journey, and it shall be a blessing.
 
Shabbat Shalom,

June 14, 2013

Dear Friends,

In our Tradition Moshe is called "Moshe Rabeynu" "Moses, our teacher." In this parasha we learn that Moses is such a wonderful teacher because he is first a good learner. We are all taught to look for teachers and mentors in life who can impart knowledge to us. Pirke Avot instructs us to "Make for oneself a Rav (teacher), and acquire for oneself a friend."

But some knowledge cannot come from a teacher. Some knowledge must come from deep within ourselves. In this parasha one can imagine that Moses was self-reflective enough that he learned to change his own behavior. What do I mean? Towards the start of the parasha Moshe's beloved sister Miriam dies. Moshe does not mourn. And in turn, just a bit later, Moshe loses his temper with the People and disobeys God. Moshe's grief unravels him. But Moses learns from his own mistakes. He learns that one must take the time to mourn; one must understand ones own emotional life.

How do we know that he learns? At the end of our Torah reading his brother Aaron dies. This time Moses does mourn. He learned from his own behavior that the experience of not having spent time mourning his sister left him emotionally depleted. So when Aaron dies Moses changes his behavior. He learns from his own actions.

Some of the best knowledge that we gain over the course of our lives happens when we are deeply self reflective. My blessing for each of us is that we can lead lives of self-reflection so that we can be our own best teachers.

On a different note, I want to wish Mazal Tov to my colleague, Rabbi Glanzberg-Krainin on becoming co-president of the Philadelphia area Board of Rabbis!

Shabbat Shalom ,

 

 

May 31, 2013

Dear Friends,

Do you love Shabbat dinner? Would you like to help create a sense of community for people across the congregation? Or do you have good computer skills? Or organizational skills? If you answered yes to any one of these questions then we hope you will join Anna Green and Ivy Mermelstein in planning our Shabbat hosting program for this upcoming fall. Curious? Please come to an organizational meeting this coming Tuesday June 4 at 7:30 pm. To RSVP or ask questions contact Ivy at ivmerm@aol.com

A thought from the Torah Reading, parashat Shelah Lekha: For me this parasha most closely mirrors the complicated nature of our lives. In the Bible scouts are sent into the Land of Israel to see what the Land is like. The spies come back and report: " We came to the land to which you sent us. It does indeed flow with milk and honey." They even brought back samples of its sweet fruit. But, they continued, "the people who inhabit the country are powerful and the cities fortified, and very large, and we saw giants there."  

Both of these statements hold truth. The Land was sweet and good and held promise; but the Land would also present many challenges to The Jewish People. Both sets of spies were right. There were multiple truths to learn. The important lesson was how the data that was presented was interpreted and used. Most of the spies and the community were overwhelmed by the challenges that the Land presented. Caleb and Joshua also knew about the challenges that the Land presented; however, they responded with optimism and hope.  

Many events, episodes and relationships in our lives contain positive and challenging aspects. This Torah reading teaches us to see and hear the truth but to favor hope and optimism. There will always be challenges. It is our task to be inspired to find the sweetness in life. 

Shabbat Shalom

May 10, 2013

Dear Friends,

Is your watch working? Does it just tell you the time of day or does it also encourage you to slow down, consider time, and value each moment? A regular watch only tells time; we need other methods to help us to appreciate time. A few weeks ago our bat mitzvah Sophie Koval delivered a d'var Torah where she taught that the holidays are like the "time clocks of our lives." Jewish holidays punctuate our day-to-day existence with sacred time that is special and set apart. Those special times in our calendar help us to live more deeply and fully in each moment.   Sophie's Torah reading, from parashat Emor, speaks about Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the three Pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. These holidays are the time clocks of our lives.

This coming week we celebrate Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks. Like all of the Pilgrimage festivals, Shavuot has multiple meanings. On an agricultural level we are celebrating our connection to the land of Israel, and the seasons, as we remember the harvest. We also celebrate the "first fruits." On many kibbutzim this holiday has become the time to appreciate what each area of the kibbutz has produced in the past year.   On a religious level Shavuot is a celebration of Revelation. We celebrate God's communication with Moses and the Jewish People at Mt. Sinai.

But Shavuot is also an acknowledgement of our deep yearning to continue to hear God's voice. This year as Shavuot approaches let us renew our connection to the sacred land of Israel and our connections to God's beautiful earth. This Shavuot let us consider and celebrate the fruits of our labors. This Shavuot let us consider ways to better hear and discern God's voice.

This Shavuot set your watch on Jewish time by joining us at Beth Sholom. The celebration begins this Tuesday night May 14th at 7 pm with cheesecake baking, Torah learning and services. Join us Wednesday morning at 9:15 am for services and our Confirmation Exercises. The parents of our Confirmation class invite you to join them for an extended kiddush after the service. (We are happy to write excuse notes to schools for any children who attend services). On Thursday May 16th join us for services as the Yizkor memorial prayers are recited. Make next week sacred by celebrating the Shavuot holiday with us.

But before that, this Friday night we culminate our Shabbat Experience with a program that reviews Jewish life cycle rituals. In addition we will consider how we celebrate the milestone moments of our lives in meaningful ways. Equally important is the opportunity to spend Shabbat together as a community. Please join us at 6 pm for a Shabbat snack and services outside. Also, if your family did not pick up your complimentary book about the Jewish Life cycle please contact our office; we have few copies still available.

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameah,

 

April 26, 2013

Dear Friends,

In this weeks Torah portion Emor, we read the words, "there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion." (Shabbat Shabbaton mikra kodesh) There has been no greater gift to humanity than the idea that every person needs a regular fixed time to have a complete and renewing rest. The Sabbath teaches us to value time by helping us to make time slow down just a bit. The Sabbath teaches us to be more aware and appreciative of each moment. Our commentators note that the holidays and Sabbaths will occur as a matter of course. They teach however, that though God has set these sacred times, it is up to each one of us to sanctify the Sabbath in order to make it a "sacred occasion."

I want to invite you to give yourself the gift of making Shabbat a special occasion with your community. I want to invite you to start your weekend with joy and song, peace and serenity. These precious gifts are yours at our Friday night service. This Friday night at 6 pm our Neshamah band will join Rabbi Glanzberg-Krainin and I, and our congregation, in welcoming Shabbat with soulful song. This hour-long musical service allows us the opportunity to transition from the work week into a separate and holy time.

I also want to ask you to give the Beth Sholom community a gift. I am asking you to give us the gift of your presence. Your participation in our service matters. Our prayer is more joyous when more of us are present -so I urge you to take advantage of the gift of starting your Shabbat in community, by giving us the gift of your attendance. When our seats are filled, our souls are uplifted.

We are grateful to our volunteer Neshamah band for their dedication to Jewish music, to meaningful prayer, and to Beth Sholom.

You can also join us in prayer at 8pm Friday night, 9:15 am Saturday morning, or 7:15pm Saturday evening.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

 

April 11, 2013

Dear Friends,

In our Torah, on the third day of Creation, God says, " Let the earth sprout vegetation." And thus began our relationship to finding our sustenance in the land. In our busy city and suburban lives it is often difficult to see a direct connection between the food that we enjoy and the land where that food grows. Those of you who garden, or have spent time on a farm, know that there is nothing like eating just picked produce that your own hands have helped to cultivate. Personally, I fondly remember being on Kibbutz Ketura and picking melons in the field at daybreak. Nothing has ever tasted as sweet as a melon picked from a field in the desert at 7am and eaten at 8am! Nothing.

Our Beth Sholom community has maintained a produce and flower garden for many years. This modest garden allows members of our community to grow vegetables for those in need, and to grow spiritually.   The acts of planting, watering, weeding and harvesting are religious acts. They are about partnering with God in the creation of food and flowers; gardening creates sustenance and beauty. This produce goes directly to our food pantry. Gardening also helps the gardener.

Our garden needs your help. Our garden will only continue if you can lend it some of your love and attention. Our pantry depends upon it; and your spirit will benefit from it. We have many different kinds of jobs in our garden. You could plant, water or harvest depending on your schedule. Our garden coordinator Alan Rothman would love to speak with you about how you can lend your time and talent to this important project. Please

contact him at 215-885-1582 or alanrothman@comcast.net.

On another note, we are thrilled that last week over 80 people from four shuls gathered at Beth Sholom to learn about hunger in our commuity, and to begin a process of community organizing for food security. I want to personally invite you to our next advocacy organizing meeting on Thursday May April 18th at KI. (See full note below) If you cannot attend that meeting, but are interested in advocacy, please contact me. Of course, if you are a grandparent, you are already busy that night, as Beth Sholom hosts GLEE - our amazing Jewish grand-parenting program. This program will focus on creating memories and a legacy. Every one who has attended this innovative group comes away with great knowledge. I urge you to attend. (See Flyer enclosed)

On behalf of Rabbi Glanzberg-Krainin and myself we want to welcome Cantor Yakov Hadash to our community this Shabbat. We look forward to seeing many of you at Beth Sholom over the next two weeks.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

March 15, 2013

Dear Friends,

Last week in shul we announced the new month of Nissan. The start of Nissan signals that Passover is a mere two weeks away. For some holidays that might be a great deal of time. For Passover, at two weeks out, I begin to makes lists that include: Who is coming to seder? When am I shopping? When does the kitchen get switched over? What haggadah will we use? How can I make this holiday meaningful? How will I prepare?

The holiday requires a great deal of preparation from us. But this holiday can also give so much to us. Passover is a time to renew our relationships with family and friends around a seder table or as we cook and prepare. It can be the time of year when we share time with loved ones and create memories. Or if one does not have family that is close, it can be the time of year when we meet new friends at a seder. We also acknowledge and honor that like all holidays, for those who have suffered the recent loss of a loved one, an empty seat at the seder can be painful. We hope that both good memories and supportive family and friends reduce that particular pain, and that the season brings joy.

Passover can be the time when we renew ourselves to fight for freedom for all others. Passover brings an enduring and universal message. We are taught to always remember how horrible it must have been to be enslaved. We learn this in order that we become sensitive to the plight of those who are enslaved. But Passover also teaches us to be activists to work for the freedom of all people. I encourage you to do a web search before seder with the word "modern slavery". As a start, read about what The US Department of State writes about modern day slavery. http://www.state.gov/j/tip/what/index.htm

Passover is the holiday of freedom. But the Torah sees our freedom from slavery as only part of the equation. Passover is also the time when we celebrate freedom to serve God. Judaism understands that God freed us from Egyptian slavery so that we could serve God. We have each been blessed with many gifts that can help us to discern how we can serve God. Each one of us can find mitzvot and acts of loving kindness to perform that speak deeply to who we are, and are a way for us to serve God.  

We are also freed from slavery so that we may make our way to Israel. So this is the time of year to think about going to Israel and supporting Israel.

Just as most important parts of our lives require preparation, so does a fulfilling Passover experience require thought and planning. Here are some helpful ways to prepare:

  • Passover is holiday to be in a home, so invite guests to your seder.  
  • Passover is a holiday to be in a home, so be a guest at the seder of a Beth Sholom family. (e-mail me by Monday so we can arrange invitations)
  • Passover is also a holiday to be at shul. Plan to attend shul at Beth Sholom with your family on the first two days of the holiday.      
  • Make sure you sell your hametz by appointing Rabbi Glanzberg-Krainin as your emissary. Please send in theforms to the synagogue this week so that we can be prepared for the sale.
  • Spend time planning your seder. Visit the following link created and provided by our friend Rabbi Dov Lerner to find hundreds of interesting readings and songs for your seder.http://www.jewishfreeware.org/downloads/folder.2006-01-07.0640323187/
  • Visit our gift shop and purchase some new and interesting haggadot. Or wine for the 4 cups, afikomen gifts or gifts for the chef.

I hope that you find meaning in your Passover preparations. Have a great Shabbat this week - and good week and a half journey to the Exodus.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

March 1, 2013

Dear Friends,

Some speeches become watershed events in history. Just a few weeks ago new Israeli Member of Knesset Ruth Calderon gave such a speech. Calderon is a member of the centrist new political party called "Yesh Atid." I am not commenting here on the particular politics of her party, or any party. Each new member of The Knesset has the opportunity to make an opening speech in the Knesset. MK Calderon's was a call for understanding, a call to work together, a call for all Jews to access our sacred literature, and a call to create a just Israeli society. Calderon is a non-orthodox Israeli woman. She holds a PhD in Talmud from The Hebrew University. Calderon stood up in the Knesset and taught Talmud. She used a story from the Talmud to help her to consider modern issues. Her words, her message, her learning, and her grace have moved me spiritually, along with hundreds of thousands of others. Even the speaker of the Knesset, a member of the Orthodox Shas party eagerly participated in Caldreon's teaching and praised her.

Caldron's speech brought a sense of optimism to The Knesset. She does not make light of any of the social or security problems that Israel faces; she takes these issues seriously and brings honor to those on all sides of an issue. As I listened to her words it seemed to me that she embodied the idea of civil discourse. (* see note below on Civil Discourse.) She knows that we can disagree with out being disagreeable. Her open heart and her erudite speech point to a positive future for problem solving in The Jewish State. Caldron's speech made me think of Herzl's now famous words, "im tirzu, ayn zo agada." If you will it, it is no dream." I am happy to include a video of MK Caldron's speech with English subtitles and hope that you too feel inspired by her words. Click here to see the video.

On another note, on behalf or Rabbi Glanzberg-Krainin, Allison Sasson and myself want to extend an invitation to each of you to join us this week at Saturday morning Shabbat services. During the later part of the service, our community will celebrate our third graders at their Consecration ceremony. Our third graders will lead the Musaf service. It would be wonderful for you to come and celebrate our Beth Sholom children and the commitment of their families to Jewish education. We promise that you will leave with a smile on your face.

*On March 28th Beth Sholom will have the inaugural forum of The Bernard Wolfman Civil Discourse Project. Please click hereto learn more about this exciting program, or click here to register today.  

Shabbat Shalom,

 

February 15, 2013

Dear Friends,

Our Torah portion of Terumah helps us to consider our commitments to the upkeep of our sacred spaces as an important path for each of us to build connections to God and to holiness in our lives. In the last two weeks of our Torah reading, we read about laws and rituals that can make our lives special and holy. This week we learn about creating a communal place for God to dwell. A key element in the building of The Tabernacle is the deep willingness of the community to use its many gifts to fashion a beautiful place for people to experience God's Presence in prayer and in gathering. We also learn to value every kind of gift.

The Torah says, The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring me gifts from every person whose heart moves them. ...and let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them." The creation and upkeep of the Tabernacle, the ancient dwelling place of God, must be from people "whose hearts move them" to donate time and resources. In other words, we are asked to give to the upkeep of the Tabernacle willingly and lovingly. Examples of gifts given for the building of The Tabernacle include gifts of gold, silver and copper, yarn, linen, skins, spices and oil. The gifts range from the very expensive to the quite commonplace; each gift, from the gold to goat's hair, from the silver to the skins is necessary and important for the upkeep of the ancient Tabernacle. The lesson for us is that the most beautiful dwelling places for God are those created by willing and loving donors, where every gift is valued - and where each person feels moved to give - of their time and their resources.

The name of our parasha, Terumah, comes from the root word "to elevate." It originally referred to the physical act of lifting up that which was being offered. Reb Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev teaches that it can also imply that the act of offering a gift to God, by building and caring for our sanctuaries, actually uplifts the donor. (Etz Hayim, 486)

The same is true in our community. We are blessed with congregants who support our community in so many precious ways with gifts of their time, energy, creativity and resources. We value each gift and the generosity of spirit with which it is given. May we each be blessed to share our many gifts with our community and may our spirits be elevated and uplifted by our giving.

 

February 1, 2013

Dear Friends,

We know that you join us in our love and care for Israel. As you know, there are many ways to show ones love of Israel. We are proud that Beth Sholom congregants travel to Israel often, own homes there, invest in Israel, give t'zedakah to support Israeli institutions and love Israeli culture. As American Jews it is also crucial that we find ways to help our government to understand the importance of a strong, secure and peaceful Israel.   As American Jews we help Israel when we are educated about American Middle East policy and when we foster relationships with our elected officials.

That is why we are writing to you to ask you to join us this year at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference. AIPAC Policy Conference is the largest gathering of the pro-Israel movement in the United States. At AIPAC policy conference we have the opportunity to learn about America's Israel and Middle East policy from experts, and to influence our elected officials to continue their support of our country's pro-Israel policies. AIPAC believes in the importance of fostering relationships on both sides of the political aisle.Going to AIPAC is a concrete and important way to learn about and to support Israel -and we are asking you to join us this year.

Thousands of participants come from all 50 states to take part in "three of the most important days affecting Israel's future." The 2013 conference is March 3-5, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Thousands have already registered, don't miss out on this truly remarkable experience to be in our nation's capital with thousands of fellow pro-Israel supporters. Please take advantage of the remaining reduced-cost spots that Beth Sholom has secured for Policy Conference. If you have never been to policy conference and would like more information please contact us. We can also provide you with names of other Beth Sholom members who are going. They are happy to share details of where to stay. We look forward to you joining us in D.C..

Register for the Conference by clicking here

B'Shalom -

January 11, 2013

A Torah thought for this Shabbat:

Our Torah reading includes the plea by Moses to Pharaoh to "Let My People Go." But that is not the entire sentiment. The statement in Hebrew is "sh'lach et ami v'ya'avduni." Let my people go, to worship me." Moses is saying to Pharaoh that our People, indeed all peoples, must be free. Moses is also saying to The Jewish People that when the Exodus occurs it is in order that we may serve God. Our service to God occurs when we use our unique gifts for the betterment of The Jewish People and of humanity. Our service occurs when we join together in prayer. Join us this Shabbat at Beth Sholom on Friday night at 6 pm or 8 pm and Saturday morning at 9:15 am - as we worship together.

May we each be privileged to use our freedom well to serve God by living the values of Torah - of learning, of Avodah - joyous prayer, and of g'milut hasadim - of kindness and service to others.

Best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom.

 

I look forward to seeing you at Beth Sholom for our Shabbat Experience at the wedding of Eli Surkis and Lucy Winter, immediately following Shabbat at 5 pm.

 

 

 

January 4, 2013

Dear Beth Sholom Members,

We wanted to use the start of the New Year to ask you to consider joining us at the AIPAC National Policy Conference in Washington DC on March 3-5, 2013. Last year Beth Sholom brought the largest delegation to Policy Conference in our congregation's history. We believe that you will have the experience of a lifetime as you join thousands of pro-Israel advocates who will hear from Senators, members of the House, and leading scholars on issues related to Israel and the Middle East. Policy Conference is always followed by the chance to lobby our local elected officials at their offices on Capitol Hill. it is an experience that you will not want to miss.

We are fortunate that Beth Sholom has reserved a limited number of places for BSC members at the highly discounted rate of $399--that is $200 off the current rate of $599. This discount is only available through January 12, 2013. More information is available at the AIPAC website  www.aipac.org . Our local AIPAC representative, Seth Mirowitz, would like to be in touch with you directly to answer any questions that you may have about Policy Conference. Seth can be reached at:SMirowitz@aipac.org and he would be happy to speak to you personally about any questions that you might have about this year's Policy Conference.

We very much hope that you will be able to join us in Washington in March.

B'Shalom,

Rabbi Andrea Merow

 

 

December 28, 2012

Dear Friends,

Here are a few questions to think about before Shabbat: Whom have you blessed this week? How did you bless them? With your words? Or your actions? Can your actions be seen as a blessing in the world and as aKiddush HaShem (an honor to God's name)?

In our weekly Torah reading Jacob, now also called Israel, prepares for the end of his life by imparting blessings to his children. He also blesses two of his grandchildren, Ephraim and Manesseh, the sons of Joseph. Rabbinic commentators believe this was a way of almost adopting these grandsons. Today, it reminds us of the important role of extended family in the raising of our kids. This prayer was rich in meaning for our ancestors and is still used today as part of the Jewish bedtime prayer ritual. Consider using this as a blessing (bracha) then, at other times, or as a way to start your own personalized bracha to your family.

"And he blessed Joseph saying: May the God in whose ways my father Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd from my birth to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all harm, bless the lads. In them may my name be recalled, and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they be teeming multitudes upon the earth."(Genesis 48: 15-16)

What a beautiful blessing. Jacob blesses his grandsons by first connecting his blessing of them back to his own father and grandfather, and to God's role in their lives. When we use this blessing today we can remember the very active way that God was present in the lives of Abraham and Isaac. They were the first to hear God's call. May we also be blessed to hear God's voice. When we use this blessing we can add words to include and reference God's role in the lives of our own parents and grandparents.

Jacob then recounts God's role as a shepherd and guide in hislife. Jacob wants God to be a guide and shepherd not only for himself, but also for his family after him. This is an important statement because it reminds each of us that we need guides in life. The blessing recognizes God as the Ultimate guide. In addition, we need our family, our teachers, and our Tradition to guide us to live lives of meaning and holiness.

Jacob continues the blessing with an extraordinary thought, he says: "the angel who redeemed me from all harm." Jacob recognizes that being blessed in this world does not necessarily mean that one does not encounter harm. Jacob certainly knew fear, loss, and harm in his life. He fought bitterly with his brother, lost a beloved wife, he had a daughter who was raped, and for years he thought he had lost a favorite son. Jacob recognizes that an angel has been with him throughout his life, and his ancestor's lives, and has helped them to get through many hard times. Jacob is asking that this angel also bless his family in the future by being with them, presumably in the hard times that they, or we, may face.

Jacob's blessing includes a reminder that our good actions are a reflection of God's Presence in the world.

May the God who blessed our ancestors continue to be with us in hard times and in good times. May our actions and deeds glorify God's name. May we be privileged to bless others. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom

 

December 21, 2012

Dear Friends,

On Tuesday night of this past week, the students from the Jewish Teen Collaborative gathered together for prayer in the wake of the mass murders in Newtown, Connecticut. We reminded our students that Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav taught that one of the highest forms of Jewish prayer is to call out to God from the depths of our beings about the pain and the heartache that we feel at any given moment. We asked our students to articulate a feeling or an emotion that we could weave into a collective prayer of anguish.

The students responded with words that echoed how all of us were feeling at that moment: Shock; anger; disgust; disbelief; repulsion; numbness; grief; sadness; hopelessness. We then brought those words together into an offering of pain, and ended with a collective prayer that we could work to be agents to create a world in which such violence would cease-where we could one day feel safe, and where human beings could know comfort and solace instead of heartache and grief.

To be a religious person is not only to be a person who yearns for that which has not yet come into being. To be a religious person is also to be an agent for change in making the world that a place where the chasm between the world as we know it and the world as it ought to be moves closer and closer.

In this week's Torah portion, we are reminded that the bridge between the unredeemed world of the present and the world of redemption begins with the belief in our own capacity to change. Joseph has received the lion's share of the Torah's attention in the past few weeks. But this week, we remind ourselves why we are called Yehudim-after Joseph's brother Yehudah.It is Judah who had sold Joseph into slavery all those years ago. But this week, Judah shows that change is possible. Instead of sacrificing another brother, Benjamin, Judah tells Joseph that he is willing to sacrifice his own life. Judah is therefore the first character in the Torah who embodies the human capacity forteshuvah-for a complete turning away from past behavior. Yehudah represents the human capacity to start over.

As Americans, it is time for us to believe in our capacity to start over. We can no longer accept the premise that our society cannot chan its ways. We have not done enough to help those with mental illness; we have not done enough to restrict the sale of weapons that were intended for use in the military; we have not done enough to curb the onslaught of violent images in our culture. We have spent enough time believing it is out of our hands; we must remember our own capacities to be agents for change like our Biblical namesake Yehudah.

We urge you to act. Please consider signing the petitions to one of the organizations below and to contact our elected officials and them that we support meaningful change in American society. We dare not wait for more murdered six year-olds to remind us that we have abrogated our responsibilities.

Sign the petition of JCPA 

Send a Petition to the White House

Contact Your Congress people through the Religious Action Center 

Take Eight Steps to Prevent Gun Violence

Resources from The National Alliance For the Mentally Ill

B'Shalom

December 14, 2012

Dear Friends,

We are thrilled that on this upcoming Shabbat we have the opportunity to celebrate Hanukah as a community and to continue our year of congregational study in our Shabbat Experience Program. Hanuukah is about bringing light into our lives by rededicating ourselves to Jewish Tradition and learning. When we learn together as a community we bring about enlightenment and we honor the fight of The Maccabees.

As you know, this year we are focusing on The Jewish Life Cycle in our Shabbat Experiences. Our overarching goal for our learning this year is to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of how we create meaning and holiness in our lives by bringing a Jewish approach to universal lifecycle events.  Last month we studied the concept of Covenant with our special guest speakers Cantor Kushner and Rabbi Layman. This week we will study Bar/Bat mitzvah, coming of age, and our relationship to mitzvah -after all, it is the 2nd word in Bar/Bat Mitzvah!  

During Shabbat morning we will consider how Bar/Bat Mitzvah is the beginning of the process of Coming of Age in the Jewish Community. We will also study and reflect on each of our individual relationships to mitzvah and how that relationship may develop throughout our lives.

Adult services begin at 9:15. Congregational Learning begins at 10, followed by the completion of services and a festive lunch.

This Shabbat is also a day to celebrate Hanukkah with us. During our special Hanukkah Shabbat lunch complete with homemade sufganiyot (jelly donuts), we will hear Shirah B'Yahad, our elementary school singing group led by Jay Danzig. We hope to see you at Beth Sholom this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hannukah,

 

 

November 30, 2012

Dear Friends,

A Word Of Torah

In this week's parashahVaYishlach, we literally learn how to express our Judaism from the deepest core of our being. Our patriarch Jacob, along with Gd and some precious angels, show us that to be integrally part of the People called Israel means to live with an understanding that one of our sacred tasks in life is to struggle and to grapple: with ideas, with our conscious, with Gd, and with each other.

In this parashah our patriarch Jacob is scared. He is about to meet his brother Esau, whom he had wronged and had subsequently not seen for a great amount of time. Esau had every right to be angry with his brother Jacob and thus Jacob certainly had what to fear. In the middle of the night, alone and in the dark, Jacob encounters a man, or an angel, and they wrestle. Did Jacob wrestle with a man? With an angel? With his own conscious? Maybe all three. As dawn breaks and their encounter ends, Jacob is asked his name. When he answers "Jacob" the man-angel replies, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have striven with beings Divine and human and have prevailed." (Genesis 32:29)

And so our Torah reading teaches us that to BE Israel we are supposed to grapple with ideas. We are meant to continually wrestle with the choices we make, and to strive to be Godly in our choices. To be Israel means to not see most of life in black and white terms, yes and no; rather, to be Israel means to strive to see nuance in life and meaning in our struggles.

My brahah for each of us is that we are blessed to have angels at our sides, blessed to lead lives where we can grapple with important issues and in our wrestling, blessed to see the face of God.

Shabbat Shalom,

November 16, 2012

Dear Friends,

As we prepare to celebrate Shabbat with great joy here at Beth Sholom, our hearts are focused on the East where some of our family and friends will spend Shabbat in bomb-shelters and stairwells. I write to you with trepidation as our brothers and sisters in the South of Israel defend themselves from recent attacks from Gaza. As many of you are aware, in the last several days The Israeli Defense Forces have responded to incessant rocket attacks on its citizens with a campaign called "Pillar of Defense." As written on the IDF blog, the goal of this campaign is to "protect Israeli citizens and to cripple the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza." We pray that the IDF is able to speedily achieve these important goals and that peace comes to our Holy Land. I have included two different prayers below that you may wish to recite at this critical time. The first is a Prayer for the welfare of Israeli Soldiers followed by a prayer written by Israeli rabbis for this campaign. For continued up to date information from the Israeli Armed Forces you may wish to visitwww.idfblog.com/2012/

At home in the U.S. we continue to respond to the destruction from the recent storm. I have included a link to Nechama: The Jewish Response to Disaster. You may wish to donate or to volunteer with them. If you are interested in volunteering in the Tri-State area please also contact me so that we can consider organizing a group form the shul. http://nechama.testsiteclient.com/index.php/about

Finally, I have included a link to a beautiful Thanksgiving prayer by Rabbi Naomi Levy for use at your family Thanksgiving celebration next week. With conflict in Israel and natural destruction here, it is even more crucial that we spend a few moments counting our many blessings.http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/readings-prayers/prayer-thanksgiving-feast.pdf 

I hope that you will join us this Shabbat morning at Beth Sholom when our community has the joy of celebrating a baby naming, a bat mitzvah and an ufruf!

Shabbat Shalom,

 

November 2, 2012

Dear Friends,                                                                                              

We have all been through a stressful week. It began with preparations and uncertainty. Before speaking about damages, storm relief, or about having fared well, we stop for a moment to acknowledge the many lives that were lost this week. We send our condolences to the families of those who did not survive this terrible storm. May we see no more destruction from natural disaster.

As religious people, we realize that even in the midst of natural destruction we can perceive God's presence in the power of a storm, in the calm after, and in how we respond to those in need. The ancient Psalmist knew this when he wrote, "Adonai lamabul yashav, vay'sheiv Adonai melech l'olam. Adonai oz l'amo yitein, Adonai y'varecih et amo baShalom. Adonai sat enthroned at the Flood; Adonai will sit enthroned forever. Bestowing strength upon people, blessing people with peace." (Psalm 29) The Psalmist teaches that even during the worst of natural disasters, God is-was-and will be-present with us. May our actions and our prayers bring blessing and strength to those whose lives have been forever damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

For those who have come through the strom unscathed, it is appropriate to recite the Gomel blessing: "Praised are You, Adonai our God, who rules the Universe, showing goodness to us beyond our merits, for bestowing favor upon me. May God who is gracious to you continue to show favor with all that is good." Join us at Beth Sholom this Shabat morning at 9:15 AM or at the afternooon service at 5:25 pm where those who wish to say the Gomelblessing may do so at the Torah.

Many have of you have been in touch about concrete ways in which you can help with relief work through the Jewish Community. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has set up a site to make donations to help communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. To donate to USCJ's Disaster Relief Fund, please click here.

Some have asked how they can provide hands on help. We direct you to Nechama - The Jewish Disaster Relief Effort for volunteer opportunities.http://www.nechama.org/index.php/disaster-response

Our best wishes for a peaceful and warm Shabbat,

Rabbi Andrea L. Merow                                   Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin

 

October 20. 2012

Dear Friends,
 
A vort/word of Torah:
There is a popular debate among Torah scholars that comes from parashat Noach. The Torah teaches us that Noah was "righteous in his generation." Some say that Noah was only considered righteous in a relative sense, in contrast to all of the badly behaved people around him. If there would have been better people Noah might have been considered average.   Others say that Noah was even more righteous because he was able to lead a life of integrity surrounded by others who were so wicked. It seems to me that each interpretation can be instructive for our lives: God wants us to behave nicely to one another at times when others behave well towards us, and at times when they do not. The latter is much more difficult and gives us a great challenge. The word used to describe Noah is "tamim." The rabbis say that this word means "one who has unimpeachable integrity." This Torah reading occurs before the creation of the Jewish people and thus the teachings of Noah apply to all of humanity. This Torah reading challenges each human being to live at all times with great personal integrity, even as if the continuation of all of humanity depends on it. In the time of Noah it did. Let us lead lives imbued with great personal integrity and respect for all of Creation.
 
I hope to see you this Shabbat morning at Beth Sholom for our Mitzvot B'Yahad Lunch and Learn where we will learn about advocating on behalf of food security.
 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Andrea L. Merow

October 5,2012

Dear Friends,
 
Sukkot is called z'man simhateynu, the time of our joy.
 
On Sukkot we commemorate the time that The Jewish People wandered in the desert. They were vulnerable and had to depend on God to shelter them. Even now, in an age when we have so much, we are each vulnerable and we depend on God's protective care. On Sukkot we celebrate the joy of God's Presence in our lives.
 
In ancient times our ancestors celebrated Sukkot as a harvest time. They also looked forward to a new season of rains to nourish the earth. Though most of us are removed from our own food production, we understand that the entire world is dependent on good harvests, the change of seasons, and a clean and stable water supply. On Sukkot we celebrate the joy of the natural world.
 
The time that our people spent in the desert was a time of community building. Our 40 years of wandering in the desert allowed us to transition from being a large family or clan to becoming a People - pulled together by our common history, land, language, God and future. Now is the time to build OUR community. In a time when many of us communicate through technology, Sukkot is a time to sit together in a sukkah and create connections with others. On Sukkot we celebrate the joy of sacred community.
 
Increase your joy this holiday by spending time with us at Beth Sholom.

  • Friday night, 6 pm service.
  • Saturday 9:15 am congregational service
  • NEW - 10:45 am Family Service in the Price Chapel. (Elementary age and parents)
  • Simhat Torah Celebrations: Join us Monday night for dinner at 6 pm (reservations needed). Service at 7 pm where we will honor Ata and Gary Goldberg as our Simhat Torah honorees. Followed by dancing with the Torah, Rak-Dan Israeli dancing, Ice-cream and more.
  • Tuesday 9:15 service. Come hear listen as we complete and begin The Torah.
  • May your joy increase during these Sukkot and Simhat Torah Holidays-

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Andrea L. Merow

 

September 21, 2012

Dear Friends,
 
Each year at the High Holidays, I am struck by the beauty of our liturgy. The poetry, metaphor and symbolism contained in the words of the mahzor are multifaceted and can inspire one to be reflective.   I am also struck each year by how many words are contained in our High Holiday prayer services. Some clergy call this the "wall of words" because the sheer volume of words contained in our service can sometimes divert our attention from the spiritual work of repentance. We sometimes concentrate so much on the words or melodies that we forget to concentrate on ourselves and on doing the work of repentance.   That is why we have the Ten Day of Repentance.
 
It is with this in mind that I want to again share Maimonides Rx-prescription (he was a doctor also!) for how to best accomplish t'shuvah. I like using the "4 R's of t'shuvah" as a memory device.
 
1. Recognize. The first step in changing is to recognize that we have done something wrong or that our behavior has missed the mark in some way. Many experience this as a type of "aha" moment in their lives when they recognize that something they said or did hurt others.
 
2. Regret. We then feel a deep and often overwhelming sense of regret for our actions. Sometimes we can be paralyzed by our own shame at this point. 
 
3. Resolve. We resolve to discontinue our negative behavior or actions. It is only at this point that we ask the person whom we have wronged for their forgiveness. And in cases where we have wronged ourselves we can forgive ourselves.
 
4. Return. We are asked to put ourselves in a situation that is similar to when we had difficulty and to act in a better way this time. That is considered by our rabbis to be tshuvah g'murah, complete t'shuva.
 
It is only after we seek forgiveness from others, or from ourselves, that we are ready to come to ask God for forgiveness on Yom Kippur. T'shuva, repentance, is difficult spiritual work. We are fortunate to be inheritors of a Tradition that recognizes that our humanity lies in our ability to recognize where we have gone wrong, to make amends, and to move on to better spiritual places.
 
May we each be blessed with the ability to recognize that which we need to change in ourselves, to regret past actions, to resolve to live better lives and to always return to paths that bring us closer to holy living.
 
K'tivah v'hatimah Tovah- May You be Inscribed for a Good New Year-
 
Rabbi Andrea L. Merow

June 29, 2012

Dear Friends,
 
Last night there was a sacred event at Beth Sholom.  It was our annual meeting.  We heard reports about what each auxiliary and committee has been involved in this year.  I listened with pride as each of our groups spoke about their diverse programming for the year.  The common thread for me was that each of our many groups create activities that help us to become a strong community imbued with the values of Study, Worship and Acts of Loving Kindness:  Board, Religious, Sisterhood, Men's Club, Education, Preschool, Youth, House, Ways and Means, and more. The work that these committees engage in helps to make this a kehillah kedosh, a holy community.  Some of us will find holiness, or meaning, in creating social activities for others, in prayer, in tzedakah projects, in education, and still others take on the task of being financial stewards for our community- working to use all of our funds wisely.  It is all-important work in the job of community building and in building the continuity of our shul and The Jewish people.
 
Each of our lay leaders lists Beth Sholom as one, albeit an important one, of their many commitments.  They have families, jobs, and other responsibilities. So we as a community are fortunate to have so many lay leaders who are committed to the future of Beth Sholom and of The Jewish People. The clergy and staff at Beth Sholom are honored to partner with such dedicated lay leaders; together we will move our community to even greater heights.
 
Last night we said an ancient prayer for our modern community.  This prayer is found in our Shabbat prayer book and I would like to offer it to our entire congregation as we enter a year of renewed leadership at Beth Sholom.
 
May God who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah, bless this entire congregation, together with all holy congregations; them, their children, their families and all that is theirs, along with all those who unite to establish synagogues for prayer, those who enter them to pray, those who give funds for heat and light and wine for kiddush and havdalah, bread to the wayfarer and charity to the poor and all who devotedly involve themselves in the needs of this community and in the land of Israel.  May The Holy One of Blessing reward them, heal them, and forgive their sins. May God bless them by prospering all their worthy endeavors, as well as those of the entire people Israel. Amen.
 
Shabbat Shalom -

June 22, 2012

Dear Friends,
 
Last night there was a sacred event at Beth Sholom.  It was our annual meeting.  We heard reports about what each auxiliary and committee has been involved in this year.  I listened with pride as each of our groups spoke about their diverse programming for the year.  The common thread for me was that each of our many groups create activities that help us to become a strong community imbued with the values of Study, Worship and Acts of Loving Kindness:  Board, Religious, Sisterhood, Men's Club, Education, Preschool, Youth, House, Ways and Means, and more. The work that these committees engage in helps to make this a kehillah kedosh, a holy community.  Some of us will find holiness, or meaning, in creating social activities for others, in prayer, in tzedakah projects, in education, and still others take on the task of being financial stewards for our community- working to use all of our funds wisely.  It is all-important work in the job of community building and in building the continuity of our shul and The Jewish people.
 
Each of our lay leaders lists Beth Sholom as one, albeit an important one, of their many commitments.  They have families, jobs, and other responsibilities. So we as a community are fortunate to have so many lay leaders who are committed to the future of Beth Sholom and of The Jewish People. The clergy and staff at Beth Sholom are honored to partner with such dedicated lay leaders; together we will move our community to even greater heights.
 
Last night we said an ancient prayer for our modern community.  This prayer is found in our Shabbat prayer book and I would like to offer it to our entire congregation as we enter a year of renewed leadership at Beth Sholom.
 
May God who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah, bless this entire congregation, together with all holy congregations; them, their children, their families and all that is theirs, along with all those who unite to establish synagogues for prayer, those who enter them to pray, those who give funds for heat and light and wine for kiddush and havdalah, bread to the wayfarer and charity to the poor and all who devotedly involve themselves in the needs of this community and in the land of Israel.  May The Holy One of Blessing reward them, heal them, and forgive their sins. May God bless them by prospering all their worthy endeavors, as well as those of the entire people Israel. Amen.
 
Shabbat Shalom -

June 15, 2012

Dear Friends,
 
In this week's Torah Reading we learn about Moshe sending scouts into the land of Canaan to discover what the land was like. The scouts brought back a mixed report. The majority of the spies believed that even though the land was wonderful, it would be difficult to dwell there. They said, "The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers." (Number 13:32)   They saw that the land was beautiful and had great value but they emphasized the most difficult parts of their visit.
 
The Jewish people in the generation of the desert took notice of this bad report but were ultimately swayed by the words of Joshua and Caleb. These spies said, "The land that we traversed is an exceedingly good land, ...God will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey (Numbers 14:7) All of the spies saw the same land, they just saw it from a different perspective. Joshua and Caleb were able to find the best in a situation. They emphasized the "milk and honey" knowing full well that we would have challenges in the land but that the prize of the beautiful and sacred land was worth overcoming obstacles.
 
I pray that we can be like Joshua and Caleb and find the positive even in challenging situations. I pray that like Joshua and Caleb we see Israel as a land flowing with milk and honey, productivity and possibility.
 
Many of you received brochures in the mail this week for our Israel Innovators Experience Tour. We hope that you will consider joining us for this fabulous opportunity to see Israel as a beautiful country blessed with the spirit of innovation. Please contact one of the rabbis if you have any questions about this exciting trip. 
 
Shabbat Shalom-

June 1, 2012

Dear Friends-
 
In this week's parasha we read the famous blessing of the Kohanim. The text reads:
 
The Lord spoke to Moses: Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them:
 
The Lord bless and protect you!
The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!
The Lord bestow favor upon you and grant you Peace!
 
Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.
 
The act of giving another a blessing is one of the most powerful and meaningful religious gifts that we can give to another. I invite you to give your blessing to another person this Shabbat. You can begin with the text from our Torah reading above and then personalize the blessing with words that will uplift the recipient. Find the words that their neshama needs to hear. Your giving a blessing to another brings God's name and blessings into our lives and can move you and the recipient to a place of gratitude and wholeness -Shalom.
 
I wish for you the opportunity to give many blessings to others this week and to thereby be a blessing to our People and to God.
 
As a community we want to take the opportunity to wish Rabbis Deborah and David Glanzberg-Krainin, Eliana and Klielle, mazal tov on Noam becoming bar mitzvah this Shabbat at Beth Sholom. We know that he is a blessing for you as you are all a blessing to our community and our People. We look forward to celebrating with your family this Shabbat!
 
B'vracha,
Rabbi Andrea L. Merow

May 18, 2012

Dear Friends-
 
Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to spend several days with my colleagues at The Rabbinical Assembly International Convention in Atlanta. Each year I savor the opportunity to learn with and from my colleagues. This year's gathering brought together hundreds of rabbis for several days of learning and discussion on important topics.
 
A few highlights of the conference included an intense six hours in discussion about how our Conservative Movement can be more welcoming to dual-faith families. We continue to explore this important topic and I look forward to sharing these discussions with you over the coming year and to hearing your insight. I want to congratulate our congregant, Liz Solms, and her company InSyte Partners, for structuring and leading this complex and productive discussion.
 
For me, two other highlights of the convention included an important address by Vice-President Biden and another address by Israeli politician and author, Yair Lapid. These talks were so wonderful that I want to share them with you. Vice-President Biden spoke for over 40 minutes and touched on both domestic and foreign policy. Mr. Lapid gives an interesting portrait of current Israeli politics on the day after the Kadima party joined the Israeli government. Below please find links to both speeches. I hope that you enjoy both talks.
 
Vice-President Biden:  click here Yair Lapid: click here
 
I would like to leave you with a word of Torah as we prepare for Shabbat. Often the meaning of The Torah is complicated to discern but this week our parasha gives us one simple and poignant verse to live by: "Do not wrong one another." (Leviticus 25:17) The medieval commentator Rashi clarifies this elegant statement by adding, "Do not belittle anyone, nor deliberately give one advice that would work to your benefit and not to theirs." The context for this verse is a list of laws for property transactions; but this verse can have great meaning in all of our interactions.
 
Let us begin Shabbat with the kavannah, the intention, taught in our Torah reading: "Do not wrong one another." And then we will truly be on our way to a world filled with Shalom -peace and wholeness.
 
Shabbat Shalom-

April 20, 2012

Dear Friends -
 
"When Ado-nai restored our exiles to Zion, it was like a dream." Psalm 126
 
The upcoming week is a very busy week in the Jewish calendar. On Saturday night we welcome the new Hebrew month of Iyar. In this month we commemorate Yom HaZikaron-The Day of Remembrance For Israel's Fallen Heroes, the day after we celebrate Yom HaAtzma'ut - Israel Independence Day. The juxtaposition of these two days reminds us of the great sacrifices that so many have made and continue to make so that we have a secure State of Israel.
 
Just after the UN partition plan in 1947, Israeli poet Natan Alterman wrote a moving poem about the great sacrifices that were, and would be, made by so many in order to attain statehood. Even sixty-four years after the establishment of the modern and vibrant State of Israel there are still so many soldiers who keep our people and our state safe. This week we remember their courage and honor their memory and their service. On Tuesday night or Wednesday consider sharing the Alterman poem with those around you. (See below*)
 
On Wednesday night the mood of the Jewish people shifts from sadness and gratitude to celebration. We celebrate 64 years of Statehood. We celebrate a rich Israeli culture. We celebrate a thriving and innovative economy. We celebrate an ingathering of our exiles. We celebrate the possibility that each one of us can go and be part of the future of our people in our Jewish State. And we pray that Israel's tomorrows can be more peaceful and secure than her past. On Wednesday night or Thursday consider sharing the Prayer for Israel with those around you. (See below**)
 
May The State of Israel and The Jewish People know peace and security, happiness and prosperity, in the coming years.
 
Shabbat Shalom - Rabbi Andrea L. Merow
 
*The Silver Platter
Natan Alterman
And the land grows still, the red eye of the sky slowly dimming over smoking frontiers

As the nation arises, Torn at heart but breathing, To receive its miracle, the only miracle

As the ceremony draws near, it will rise, standing erect in the moonlight in terror and joy

When across from it will step out a youth and a lass and slowly march toward the nation

Dressed in battle gear, dirty, Shoes heavy with grime, they ascend the path quietly

To change garb, to wipe their brow
They have not yet found time. Still bone weary from days and from nights in the field

Full of endless fatigue and unrested,
Yet the dew of their youth. Is still seen on their head
Thus they stand at attention, giving no sign of life or death

Then a nation in tears and amazement
will ask: "Who are you?"
And they will answer quietly, "We Are the silver platter on which the Jewish state was given."

Thus they will say and fall back in shadows
And the rest will be told In the chronicles of Israel.
 
**Prayer For The State Of Israel
Aveinu She baShamayim, Rock and Redeemer of the people Israel; Bless the State of Israel, with its promise of redemption. Shield it with Your love; spread over it the shelter of Your peace. Guide its leaders and advisors with Your light and Your truth. Help them with Your good counsel. Strengthen the hands of those who defend our Holy Land. Deliver them; crown their efforts with triumph. Bless the land with peace, and its inhabitants with lasting joy. And let us say: Amen. (Translation from Siddur Sim Shalom)

April 5, 2012

Dear Friends,  

Passover is almost upon us and I would like to share a kavannah (intention) with you to take into the Passover holiday. This week as I entered the supermarket for the 4th time its occurred to me that the Jewish People who left Egypt had virtually no time to prepare to leave. They left in the middle of the night with very little. I envision scenes of breathless people running out of their homes away from their slave masters towards the unknown. Then they encountered a great obstacle. The sea was in front of them and the Egyptians were giving chase. Our Tradition recounts that one man named Nachshon dared to step into the Sea of Reeds. The sea had not yet parted and our path to redemption from slavery was unsure at best. And yet, Nachshon stepped into the sea. And then all of The Jewish People and all who were with us made that split second decision to follow and to rush to freedom and joy.

 There were no extra trips to the supermarket right before we left Egypt.   In fact, one reason that we eat matzah is precisely because our ancestors had no time to let their bread rise. It seems to me that some decisions and actions in life require much planning and need to be done in evolutionary ways. And then there are other defining moments in life where, like Nachshon, we just need to have courage, have faith, and be bold - and take a step towards freedom, change and joy.

 This Pesach I pray that each one of us can identify what may enslave our souls, and that like Nachshon, we have the courage, will, and fortitude to jump into the unknown, without fear, and to live with open souls filled with joy.

 This Pesach I pray that each one of us use our freedom in the service of G-d and of humanity.

 This Pesach I pray that we are able to see a world with a safe Israel.

 This Pesach I pray that each one of us use our freedom to advocate for those who are enslaved, hungry and in despair.

 Hag kasher v'Samayach, - Best wishes for a Happy and Kosher Passover.

 Below are readings and action items for your Seder:

 The Worldwide Union for Masorti/ Conservative Synagogues.

4 Ways To Connect Your Seder To Israel   http://masortiworld.org/4ways

From Mazon.

A Fifth Question About Hunger: http://mazon.org/get-involved/communities-and-synagogues/passover-2012/

From Our Kehillah.

Join The SNAP (Food Stamp) Challenge: See the article below on the Greater Philadelphia Food Stamp Challenge.

Other Pesah Resources:

Rabbinical Assembly Pesah Guide 

Hametz Form (to sell your hametz before Pesah)  

 

March 23, 2012

Dear Friends,
 
 
A Word of Torah
 
This week in synagogues all over the world we transition from reading the narrative rich stories found in the books of Genesis and Exodus to the legalistic and ritualistic material in The Book of Leviticus. The book of Leviticus contains instructions for the Levites, the priests who serve Gd. Much of it has to do with the sacrificial system and laws of ritual and spiritual holiness.
 
Sometimes it can be difficult to make the switch from learning texts that have such readily accessible stories, to learning about ritual and law. But I appreciate this difficult text and love how its ancient laws can be metaphors for our modern lives. Its messages are often subtle and must be coaxed from ancient rites and symbols. Today there are no jobs called "Cohens" or "Levis." Instead, Jewish tradition teaches us that we are a "nation of priests." That is, each one of us can use our own spiritual gifts to serve Gd and The Jewish People. With this in mind, what can the laws of Leviticus teach us about how to be of service to Gd and others?
 
Even in the first two verses of Leviticus we learn important lessons. Vayikra, "And God called to Moses and spoke to him." Rashi teaches that the word "vayikra" denotes calling one with affection. As Gd is about to teach Moses, Gd address him with love and affection. This is a good lesson for every teacher, parent and friend. Gd wanted Moses to hear his words so he had to speak those words with affection, kindness and gentleness. The same is true for us.
 
A second beautiful teaching from this parasha comes from the second verse, "adam ki yakriv mikem korban" "When any of you presents an offering from themselves of cattle to the Lord... ." The word offering is korban and the word to bring an offering is yakriv. Both words share a common root. Both words come from the word "to come close." This is because the very mission of bringing a sacrifice to Gd is to create a closer relationship between the person and Gd. Gd does not need our gifts; rather, we need to bring the gifts because we wish to be closer to Gd.
 
From the time of the destruction of The 2nd Temple in Jerusalem in 70 c.e., prayer has become the replacement for ritual sacrifice. The goal of ritual sacrifice was to become close to Gd and the goal of our personal and communal prayer is to become closer to Gd. This week at our Shabbat Experience we will study the evolving nature of the Jewish prayer service and consider how our prayers help us to become closer to Gd and to holiness.
 
I hope that you will join us this Shabbat morning as we study, pray and celebrate together. May we each bring the best of ourselves to our prayer, so that our prayer becomes a true korban -an offering of ourselves that will bring us closer to Gd.
 
Shabbat Shalom

March 8,2012

Dear Friends -
This was a week filled with wonderful activities in our broader community. I want to highlight three: The 2012 AIPAC Policy Conference, Purim, and past Ramah president Ken Shear. 
 
Last week Rabbi Glanzberg-Krainin wrote to let you know that over 13,000 people would attend the 2012 AIPAC Policy Conference in D.C.at the start of this week. Over 40 of us were from Beth Sholom. Both Jews and non-Jews representing a full range of American and Israeli political views came together for an inspirational conference. Together we share a common commitment to a strong partnership between Israel and The United States and a secure future for both places.

Beth Sholom Members Attending Recent AIPAC Conference in Washington, DC

For those of you who were unable to attend I am including the following link of actual plenary sessions at the conference. Be sure to watch Sunday morning, which includes Israeli President Shimon Peres and President Barack Obama. Also see Monday night's moving speech with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Most important, there are videos that teach us how to be better advocates for a strong Israel -America relationship.

Please mark you calendars for March 3-5, 2013 for next years AIPAC Policy Conference. This conference is geared to all - including those with no advocacy experience, those who work in politics every day, and everyone in between. Please consider being part of our growing Beth Sholom delegation next year. Look for a letter soon to register with Beth Sholom for AIPAC.
AIPAC LINK

Mazal Tov to our congregant Eric Schorr for winning The AIPAC Campus Advocate of the Year Award at Policy Conference for his work in LionPAC at Columbia University.
 
PURIM: Beth Sholom is the place to celebrate Purim.   Last Sunday our school had a festive Purim carnival organized by Miriam Lefkowitz and her many volunteers. On Wednesday our families delivered hundreds of Mishloach Manot, enjoyed a festive dinner, heard the Megillah in three different forums, read by many congregants. We had an adult reading, a children's reading, and a tot program. After, we celebrated with 2 fantastic parties.   We also had an amazing tot celebration on Thursday morning in our preschool complete with a shpiel arranged by teachers Beth Porter and Susan Morey. Thank you to Gary and Ata Goldberg and family and their volunteers for a wonderful Purim meal and to Deborah Zahal and her volunteers for a great party. Thank you to all who make Purim at Beth Sholom the place to celebrate being Jewish. Thank you to Jules Markowitz for taking professional photos.

Our favorite Clowns at Beth Sholom

In Honor Of: On Thursday night many of us will gather at The National Museum of American Jewish History for the Annual Camp Ramah Tribute Dinner. This year Ramah is honoring its past presidents including our own Ken Shear. Ken is Executive Director The Philadelphia Bar Association. Ken continues to be an active supporter of Ramah and an active Beth Sholom member. Currently he serves as a trustee of The Temple Sholom Legacy Fund. He and wife Susie are the proud parents of Yoni and Michal, Adina and Andrew, and the grandparents of our preschool student Lucy. Ramah is the camping arm of The Conservative Movement and provides creative Jewish living and education in the summer. Mazal Tov Ken and thank you for your work on behalf of Ramah.
 
It has been a great week at Beth Sholom. I hope to see you on Shabbat!

 

February 23, 2012

Dear Friends,
 
A Kavannah, a spiritual intention, for this week from our Torah Reading:
 
The Torah reading begins, "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves them. And these are (literally: this is) the gift that you shall accept from them: gold , silver and copper, blue, purple and crimson yarn, fine linen, goats' hair, tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; oil for lighting, spices for anointing the incense; lapis lazuli and other precious stones for the ephod and the breast plate. And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them." (Exodus 25)
 
On the surface this parasha seems to be giving us a list of materials that were needed to build the mishkan. The mishkan was the temporary dwelling place of God and gathering place of our people when we wandered in the desert. The commentator Rashbam writes that the miskhan/sanctuary, implies a place set aside for meeting Gd. Up until this point in The Torah Gd had been accessible to us in a myriad of places, some low, some exalted. Avraham encountered Gd in his home, Joseph in his dreams, Moses spoke with Gd high up on a Mountain, and down low from a common desert bush. As individuals, we can always access Gd wherever we are.
 
After we are freed from slavery in Egypt, we not only begin the physical journey towards The Promised Land; we begin the meta-physical journey towards People-hood.   As a nation and a People, we need communal places to gather and to glorify Gd's Presence. Thus we have the command to build Gd a sanctuary.
 
When you read the quote from The Torah above, you see a detailed list of many kinds of materials to build the mishkan. Some are expensive and others were more commonly found; all were given with love and from the heart. This diversity allowed each Jew to participate in the building of the mishkan.
 
When one reads the text we assume that these gifts are all physical building materials. They are not. The commentator Ramban has a novel interpretation of the phrase, "this is the gift." He teaches that the word "this" refers to the Shekhinah and the wisdom provided by the Shekhinah. The Shekhinah is Gd's indwelling Presence. The Shekhinah is Gd's gentle, kind, caring and wise Presence. The Shekhinah IS NOT Gd's attributes of judgment, justice, or punishment. The Shekhinah literally goes into a self- imposed exile and leaves us when we are judgmental, harsh or mean. In essence our gift to Gd and to our community is really to allow Gd to have a place to dwell where Gd is felt and perceived. That gift depends entirely on how we choose to live in the world. If we treat all others with kindness, gentleness and love, then Gd will want to dwell in our midst. If we allow our hearts to be moved and to seek wisdom, then Gd will dwell with us. 
 
This week may our hearts be moved to be giving individuals. May our shul be a place where the Shekhinah dwells as a result of our kind and loving actions.
 
Shabbat Shalom,

February 9

Dear Friends -
 
This week we read parashat Yitro. This is a monumental portion in the Torah Reading; many believe that its importance derives from the fact that the asert hadibrot, Ten Commandments are first recorded here. But the significance of Mt. Sinai is not only the ten laws that we receive, these are ten out of hundreds of laws and traditions which all have importance. The significance of this experience at Mt. Sinai IS to be in Gd's Presence, to have felt that Holy Presence with multiple senses, to feel awe, and to have been changed by our encounter with Gd.
 
Immediately before the Theophany, the appearance of Gd, there was thunder, lightning, a dense cloud and a long shofar sound. It is as if all of our senses are engaged. The loud thunder may shake us; many of us both hear and feel thunder. The sight of the lightning in the sky dazzles us. A thick cloud literately changes the physical atmosphere. Then we see smoke and fire, the mountains tremble and a clear horn gets louder and louder. How could one not be taken in by the grandeur of this sight in the natural world? It is meant to have us stop, feeland know that we were in the Presence of something different and Holy. I believe these physical manifestations of Gds Presence were there to open our eyes and our souls.
 
The ancient rabbis also attached meaning to these events. In Midrash Rabba the rabbis quote our parasha and write:"And all the people perceived the thunderings" (Exodus 20:15) Since there was only one voice, why, "thunderings" in the plural? The rabbis answered, because Gd's voice mutated into seven voices, and the seven voices into seventy languages so that all the nations might hear it." Here the rabbis interpret that "thunder" in the plural helping us to know that Gd speaks to each one of us in a language that we can each understand. We just have to listen for Gds voice.
 
This Sinai encounter with Gd reminds us of the religious drive to become close to Gd and to be able to perceive Gd's Presence, even today - thousands of years after our ancestors stood at Sinai.
 
The rabbis of the midrash write: "And God spoke all these words saying" (Exodus 20:1) Rabbi Isaac said, At Mt Sinai the prophets of each and every generation received what they were to prophesy for. Moses said in Deuteronomy 29:14, 'but with one who stands here today, and one that is not here with us this day.'" Rabbi Isaac is teaching us that it was not only those who were physically present at Mount Sinai thousands of years ago who felt Gds Presence, but each one of us was somehow symbolically at Mount Sinai, in Gds Presence.
 
As we hear the words of Revelation in the Torah reading this week we pray that each of us can hear Gds words in language that we understand and feel Gds Presence deeply in our souls -and we pray for each one in our community to feel not only as if they were at Sinai thousands of years ago, but that we Stand at Sinai, in Gds Presence, today and each day.
 
Shabbat Shalom,

January 27

Dear Friends -

We are so excited about this upcoming Shabbat Experience at Beth Sholom. The Shabbat Experience allows our entire congregation to learn, pray, and eat together and to create a warm Shabbat atmosphere. The format of our morning allows for several different prayer options that suit the needs of our diverse congregation. Our Congregational service begins at 9:15 am. The entire congregation is invited to learn together in age appropriate groups from 10 am to 11am - of course we will provide a Shabbat snack. Our learning is directed at people who have varying levels of comfort with Jewish text so that ALL ARE WELCOME. All you need is a desire to learn and to be part of our community. This week we continue our study of prayer with an in-depth look at the weekday amidah as we begin to answer the questions: What are we praying for? What is the interplay between the fixed text of our prayer and the prayers in our heart?
 
At 11 feel free to go to The Congregational service for Torah reading and musaf in the Bornstein Auditorium or to join us for a family service in the Sisterhood sanctuary. At 11:15 we offer a tot service. After, join together for Shabbat lunch, singing and schmoozing. This is a wonderful way to spend a part of Shabbat with your community. Please bring your friends.
 
I also want to share with you an interesting event in the prayer life of The Jewish People this week. For the first time ever there was an egalitarian afternoon service in the Knesset. Mazal Tov to the members of The Masorti Mission to Israel who were part of this historic service. Please enjoy the article below reprinted from The Jerusalem Post.
 
Shabbat Shalom, 

 

A Word of Torah:
 
This week's Torah reading contains one of the most moving and poignant scenes in The Bible. In parashat Vayiggash we read about the reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers.   This could not have been an easy rift from which to heal. Even if we concede that Joseph may have gotten preferential treatment from their father, the actions of his brothers were heinous.   His brothers conspired first to kill him, and then only as a concession they sold him into slavery. This brought great challenges to Joseph's life and sadness to the life of their father Jacob. This would seem like one of those sibling fights that cannot be repaired. 
 
And yet Joseph, Judah, and the other brothers were able to come together. An important step in their process of reconciliation happens at the start of our parasha, It reads, "Vayigash alav" "Then Judah went forward to him." Our commentators believe this to mean that Judah came close to Joseph physically as well as emotionally.
 
In a 16 verse eloquent speech, Judah showed Joseph how he had matured and even done t'shuva, repentance, for his acts. At one time Judah was responsible for selling Joseph into slavery thus hurting their father. Now, in our parasha Judah is deeply worried about the emotional state of his father -something he did not think about when he participated in the sale of Joseph. Also, even though their brother Benjamin had preferred child status, Judah seems protective of his brother Benjamin.
 
Joseph is so overcome with emotion with this speech - that he needs to cry out by himself. His sobs were so loud that they were heard all over Egypt. Joseph understood that Judah had changed and they were now ready to reconcile. Joseph reveals his identify to his brothers and all are overcome with emotion. Joseph says to his brothers, 'g'shu na ali" "Come close to me."   This is the same word used at the start of the Torah reading when Judah comes close.   And that is what they did. They each came close to one another. Judah and his brother came close to Joseph, and Joseph came to them. The reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, even after terrible events, occurs after they each decide to come emotionally close to the other. They make a decision to understand the other, to put their jealousies aside -and they come close.
 
May we find the courage to be like Joseph and his brothers - finding ways to reconcile in even the most difficult situations.
 
Have a safe and restful holiday weekend.
 
Shabbat Shalom-

December 15

Dear Friends,
 
Words Of Torah From Parashat Va-Yesheiv:
I'd like to share an interpretation about our parasha, inspired by Rashi and Dr. Aviva Gottlieb Zornberg, and rooted in our own life experience. I am sure that each of us has experienced a time when we have had a large project due, an important event, or a time of great anxiety. In the immediate aftermath of the event we often feel a deep sense of calm and we want to imagine that the world could always feel easy and care-free.   We feel settled.
 
When I was in college I used to love the few days both before and after final exams. I loved the intensity of the buildup to the great test and then the feeling of quiet and even of accomplishment afterwards. This is how our parasha begins: "Vayeisheiv Yaakov" "Now Jacob was settled... ." In our last two parshiyot Jacob had some very large struggles with his relatives and with God. As our parasha begins, it is as if he is now looking to a life that is quiet and carefree.
 
The structure and events of the Torah reading remind us that this is not how life works, not for Jacob and not for us. "We often think that, once we reach a certain milestone, we will be able to settle down to a life free of challenges. But life never promised to be tranquil. The sages see this "settling" (va-yesheiv), as an effort to disengage from the problems of living. Dr. Zornberg adds: The full tension of composure and discomposure in the world is felt most acutely by the righteous, by those whose essence of beauty and desire for order exposes them to the shock of reality." Her point is that both Esau and Jacob "settle" in the land. Esau feels settled because he is able to ignore the problems of the world. Jacob, who is seen as more righteous, is fully engaged in family and community and therefore never feels very settled. (ETZ Hayim, 226)
 
A bracha for us: May we come to understand that in order to fully be Israel, (one who struggles), like Jacob, we are supposed to struggle with ideas and practices in our life.   May we be blessed to feel moments of tranquility in life, but may we strive to live lives that are righteous, so that we never "settle" in this world and that we strive to make the world better.
 
Shabbat Shalom-

December 1

Dear Friends,

Jewish Tradition teaches the concept, "shi-vim panim L'Torah," there are 70 faces of Torah. Many understand this to mean that there are many avenues of involvement in Jewish life that can bring one closer to a life a Torah.   Our ancient rabbis were careful to not preference the importance of one mitzvah over another. This allows people with different needs and different personalities to express their Judaism in a multiplicity of ways.
 
One of the distinctive qualities of life at Beth Sholom is that it is rich and diverse. Having so many different kinds of activities here allows people to be involved in the community in ways that are meaningful to them at a particular time in their life. We fortunate to not be a "one size fits all shul." Rather, there are many ways to be part of the Jewish community by being part of Beth Sholom.
 
On any given day at Beth Sholom you can pray, be involved in learning, do some social action and have some social time. But next weekend at Beth Sholom seems particularly full of opportunities to be part of the community., you can express your Judaism in so many different ways. I urge you to mark your calendars for next week and choose to be part of some of our meaningful activities.
 
Friday December 9 bring in Shabbat at either a 6 pm or an 8 pm service. Following the 8 pm service enjoy festive Hanukah music with the Nashira - A Philadelphia Jewish choir.
 
Saturday December 10 join us at 9:15 am for our Traditional Shabbat service. Or join us at 10 am for our Shabbat Experience Program. During our TSE program we will study The Shema and then enjoy a festive Shabbat lunch.
 
On Saturday night our community is invited to gather together for nite of dancing, music and fun at our Congregational Festival of Light Party. This party is open to all members of Beth Sholom who are over 21 years old.
 
Sunday morning come back to Beth Sholom and join the Men's Club for a breakfast with sports writer Stan Hochman. Sunday afternoon at 5 pm come hear Joseph Siry speak about his new book about Beth Sholom Synagogue and its architecture.
 
All this in just one weekend! Mark your calendars and bring your friends to one of our many wonderful activities!
 
Shabbat Shalom,

November 18

Dear Friends,
 
It is just about a week before the Thanksgiving holiday and many of us are preparing to host or to visit family or friends. We want to also take a moment to spiritually prepare to celebrate this American holiday and to make our celebrations reflective of our Jewish value of gratitude.
 
Many of us experience the blessings of shelter, food and clothing as everyday and commonplace. Judaism, and the Thanksgiving holiday, encourages us to experience even these basic necessities as blessings. The recitation of blessings and prayers sensitizes us to living in the world with a sense of awe and gratitude. We are grateful for all that we have; and we are grateful for living in a land where there are ways to help even those who have very little. You may wish to recite the prayer that I have included at the end of this note at your holiday meal as a way to state our sense of gratitude.
 
On this holiday we celebrate the bounty of the land and our good fortune to live in a land of plenty, of freedom and of blessing. But we know that many of our neighbors live with less. Mazon is the National Jewish organization that responds to hunger in American through advocacy, education and grants. This week Mazon's newsletter invites each of us to be involved in advocacy of anti-hunger measures in America. Abby Leibman, the president of Mazon writes the following:
 
"Hunger in America has never been more prevalent. And yet, for the first time in generations, funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) could be in jeopardy. SNAP has historically enjoyed bipartisan support and protection. But the recent stalemate about the debt ceiling, and the "super committee" it spawned, has put the fate of this highly effective program - and the 46 millions of Americans who rely on it - at risk." We look forward to March17, 2012 when Abby Leibman will be our guest speaker at Beth Sholom. If you would like to join Mazon in their advocacy, and if you wish to educate yourself about hunger in America please visit their website at:
 
http://mazon.org/get-involved/advocacy/
 
My best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom and for a wonderful week of Thanksgiving,
 
Rabbi Andrea L. Merow

November 4

A Word of Torah
 
" The Lord said to Avram, Go forth from your native land and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing." (Genesis 12)
 
This Torah reading is transformative. We go from the Torah being concerned with all of humanity to the work of one man and one woman. Avraham and Sarah become our role models for what it might mean to be a blessing in this world. Avraham and Sarah leave what is familiar to them and struggle with new ideas and with new ways of engaging God. Through their service to God and their search for holiness in this world they teach us to search for God and to seek holiness and blessing. Avraham and Sarah's journey is often complicated and is not always the spiritual high that we seek. Yet they stay on a path to search for God in their lives.
 
These words can teach us that the way for our lives to have meaning and blessing is for us see our lives as a journey -with ups and downs, spiritual highs and lows. This journey requires us to think in new ways, to engage in spiritual journeys through out our lives, and to seek to role models of blessing to others.
 
May we each be like Avraham and Sarah - able to overcome spiritual low points in our lives as we search higher and higher for God's Presence.
 
Shabbat Shalom,
 
Rabbi Andrea Merow

 

In just a few hours we will come together as a community for Yom Kippur.   Our day will be filled with self reflection, prayer and fasting. We hope that the day itself, and our own words and actions, will have the power to change our lives for the better. Each year these holy days give us the opportunity to recognize our faults and to apologize to those whom we have wronged. We hope to begin the new year renewed in our efforts to be better in our relationships with other people and with God.
 
But Yom Kippur begins before we arrive at synagogue. Our preparation for Yom Kippur is both practical and spiritual. For these past ten days we have the responsibility to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged before we ask forgiveness from God on Yom Kippur.
 
There are also mitzvot, commandmeants, associated with the afternoon leading up to Kol Nidre. Yom Kippur is called the "Sabbath of Sabbaths" and as such we are meant to have a sense of oneg - enjoyment. And yet the central mitzva of Yom Kippur is to "afflict oneself" by fasting. Usually we associate the word oneg with festive food. The meal that we eat before coming to shul on Yom Kippur is meant to be a festive meal. It is called a "Seudat mafseket," a concluding meal, and we feel joy for having arrived at this Day of Atonement. Though we do not recite kiddush we do wash our hands and say motzie over bread. We conclude the meal with the blessings.
 
After our meal and before we leave for shul we have several rituals to prepare us for Yom Kippur. We begin with Kapparot. This ritual symbolically transfers our sins to tzedakah. Next, many people light a memorial candle in memory for their loved ones whom they will say the Yizkor memorial prayers for in shul. Next we light candles and say the She-hehyanu blessing. Finally, it is custom to bless ones children before shul. These pre-shul ceremonies, complete with explanations, may be found on page 199 of your new Machzor Lev Shalem. We hope that these ceremonies, and all of Yom Kippur, will be a moving and meaningful day for you and for all of Israel.
 
G'mar Hatima Tovah- May you be sealed for a Good New Year,
 
Rabbi Andrea L. Merow

A Word of Torah To Start Your Shabbat
 
This week we read from parashat Nitzvaim the verse, "(v'shavta) Return to the Lord your Gd." The Hebrew verb shuv, return, is often understood as repent. I think it also can mean "turn" - as in turning inwards to be reflective -or turning in a new direction to become better. The root of this word appears seven times in the first ten verses of chapter 30 of Deuteronomy. This repetition is meant to help us to understand that we may need encouragement and help when we are about to examine our lives and actions and ask for forgiveness from other people, from Gd, and from our selves. The work of the High Holy Days is the work of t'suvah - of turning ourselves to become ever more reflective and compassionate with ourselves and with others. Ultimately, it is our ability to turn inward and be self reflective during this time of the year that will enable us to become better people -and to return to better visions of what we can become. As this High Holy Day season of turning begins I wish you all a meaningful season of returning to our best selves, a season of returning to family, and to your Beth Sholom Family.
 
Shana Tovah- Rabbi Andrea L. Merow

A Teaching From Our Torah Reading
 
Our Torah reading, Ki Tetzei, is full of laws that deal with a myriad of life situations. There are 74 different laws in this weeks reading. They cover ideas too diverse to categorize except to say, these laws cover the situations of life. There are laws about war, about the behavior of children, inheritance, lost items and even modern day tort law, to name a few. Why so many? Why so diverse a set of guiding laws? Rabbi Neil Gilman, my professor of philosophy, taught that the Torah was given to create cosmos - or order, from the chaos that is in the world and that we experience in our lives. From the story of Creation to the laws in this weeks reading, we move towards creating a society where law gives us the opportunity to bring order to our sometimes messy lives. Laws create order but laws can only be one element in fashioning a just and good society.
 
We read the following verse from the Torah, "You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge from his master. He shall live among you...you must not treat him ill." In an attempt to mitigate the harsh reality of ancient slavery Jewish law went against local Aramaic custom and allowed slaves to escape and live freely with us. But it was not enough to allow escaped slaves to reside with us; the Torah added that we must also treat them well. Maimondes teaches, "It is not sufficient to assist people when they are in need. We must also look after their interests, be kind to them and not hurt their feelings." It seems that Maimonides is reminding us what every good parent tries to instill in their child: Be kind to others, all others. Be careful to not hurt the feelings of others. Look after the physical and emotional needs of those around you -then and only then will we be partners with God in creating a just society. What a great message for all of us in the month of Elul as the High Holy Days approach. Let us endeavor to be kind to all.
 
Shabbat Shalom-
 
Rabbi Andrea Merow

 

 

170 Jewish Social Justice Leaders Met With Obama Administration
 
On Friday, July 29th I joined with 170 representatives from the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable (JSJRT) at The White House for a policy briefing to exchange ideas on domestic issues including housing, healthcare, food justice and education. The JSJRT is a group of 21 Jewish nonprofit organizations promoting economic and social justice as a core tenet of Jewish life.   I participated as a member of the delegation from The Rabbinical Assembly Social Justice Commission and as regional RA president. *See below for a listing of all of the member organizations of the JSJRT.
 
Rabbi Jennie Rosenn, director of the Jewish Life and Values Program of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, which funds the JSJRT writes: "Many people think the Jewish community has only one message to bring to Washington and it's about Israel. In reality, the Jewish community is deeply involved in issues of social justice here and around the globe. We are so pleased to have been invited to discuss these issues with the White House staff as we work to create a more just world."
 
At Beth Sholom Social Justice work and acts of g'milut hasadim have been the part of the cornerstone of our mission for decades. From the long -time work of The Hebrew Free Loan Society and Cook For a Friend, to newer projects like The Mitzvah Pantry and Garden, Beth Sholom works to improve the lives of those in-need in the larger community.
 
One briefing that I attended with officials from The US Department of Agriculture was about The Farm Bill (FB). Did you know that in 2009 50.2 million Americans were "food insecure" at one point during the year. More than 43 million Americans receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), but there are still millions who need help. Our pantry receives some government aid to help those who experience food insecurity. In addition, many in America depend on programs like SNAP and WIC. We are concerned that if funding is decreased for food programs we will see many more people suffering from food insecurity in our community and beyond. It is for this reason that we are particularly interested in what will happen later this September when the Farm Bill (FB) expires. Approximately 70% of FB subsidies go to nutrition programs in the US including WIC, SNAP, and to help food banks that service pantries like ours.   It is important that our government know that faith based places like our pantry are privileged to serve those in need; but we also would like our value of serving those in need reflected in government priorities. 
 
My colleagues and I also attended briefings on public education, immigration law, and health care. It was an exciting day to be DC as discussions about the debt ceiling were were heard everywhere.   In the afternoon we received a series of updates from White House officials and were given the opportunity to voice our concerns.
 
I expressed my support of funding for food subsidies. I also added that many American Jews are not as focused on domestic policy because they are eager to hear continued support for a strong Israel from the Administration. I also advocated that our President visit the State of Israel. At our lunch I was honored to introduce the Blessing After The Meal with a short d'var Torah. Please see below for the words that I delivered.**
 
I look forward to continuing these discussions on immigration, health care, education and food security with you and with our elected officials. It was an honor to represent the Rabbinical Assembly and our concerns on this day Washington.
 
*The Jewish Social Justice Roundtable comprises:
 
 

American Jewish World Service
AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps
Hazon
Jewish Community Action
Jewish Community Relations Council
     of Greater Boston
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
Jewish Organizing Initiative/Center for
     Jewish Organizing
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Jewish World Watch
Jews United for Justice
Keshet
MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
National Council of Jewish Women
New Israel Fund
PANIM Institute of BBYO
Progressive Jewish Alliance & Jewish Funds
     for Justice
Rabbinical Assembly
Repair the World
Union for Reform Judaism/ Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism/Just Congregations
Uri L'Tzedek
  
**Kavannah prior to The Blessing After The Meal - Rabbi Andrea L. Merow
We would like to invite your attention for a brief moment of blessing for this food that we have shared.

Our Torah instructs us to consider the Source of All Food before AND after we have eaten.  "You shall eat, you shall bless, and you shall be satisfied". So, as we began our meal with a moment of gratitude, so too we end our meal with just a moment of appreciation for all those involved in helping to bring this food to us -the work of People, and the work of Gd.  We reflect on how to better bring these material blessings to all.  Please join us in listening to and reflecting upon a few words of Torah.

In the first blessing after the meal that many recite we proclaim that Gd is Hazan et ha kol -that Gd provides enough sustenance for all.   At the end of the traditional text of birkhat haMazon, the blessing after a meal, we softly sing the aspirational words of the Psalmist, "I was young, and I was old, and I have never seen a righteous person forsaken or begging for food."  How can these statements both be true?  It is our sacred task to make them true in this world.

The first blessing teaches us that there IS enough food in the world -the last verse reminds us of our sacred responsibility to ensure that food and resources are equitably divided in our world -so that non are forsaken.  This truth is deeply felt by those in this room.  You do this sacred work.  May you each be blessed in your work of advocacy and of service -as we work together to bring bounty and blessing to all. Amen.

We now invite any who wish to join us in the opening and first Blessing after the Meal found on the cards on your table. We recognize the diversity of individuals in this room -and ask each person to participate to the extent that you wish. You also may wish to use this as a moment of personal reflection.
 
Shabbat Shalom,
 
Rabbi Andrea Merow