February 28, 2014
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.
February 14, 2014
For those of us who have spent the majority of the winter of 2014 here in the mid-Atlantic, let me say this: You have every right to kvetch. It is cold; it is hard to be cheerful; the snowstorms are endless; the loss of electricity is not only an inconvenience, it can even be life threatening to those who are frail and without support.
On the other hand, a winter like the one we are experiencing is also a religious opportunity. For the religious personality, a winter like the one we are experiencing is a reminder of two essential facts: 1) Much of life is out of our control; and 2) Our character is frequently defined by how we respond to that over which we have no control.
Many of you are aware that this current storm took a major shot at the southern part of our country-in places that are not used to experiencing ice and snow. One of the hardest hit cities in the U.S. has been Atlanta. Not only are close to a half million people in the city without power, but more than a quarter of all the trees in the city may be destroyed by this storm.
Against this backdrop comes the story of Michelle Sollicito, a native of Atlanta who created a Facebook Page called "SnowedOutAtlanta" in which over 50,000 subscribers have signed on in the last day and a half. The page offers everything from helpful advice to a crowd sourcing map that connects stranded motorists with nearby strangers offering shelter. The site also offers a link where people, whose cell phones are dying, can pin their last location before they lose mobile service.
According to an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Sollicito said she started the group because she wanted to connect some of her friends to others who have the ability to help. Sollicito said when she learned that a friend's husband was stuck, she linked him to another friend who was in that same area. More contacts found their way into her sphere. "I thought, 'We should put these people in touch,' " Sollicito said. "And it just ballooned."
Sollicito said she's been able to account for roughly 400 stories of people being helped through Snowed Out Atlanta. "After that, I lost count," she said. "Through this page, an elderly woman with cancer got help; a pregnant mom and a young child found shelter; a man with a heart problem got to the hospital." Said Sollicito: "There is a lot of anger, but there is a lot of love."
Every experience in our lives gives us the capacity to define who we are and the nature of the people we want to be. Even though we have every right to retreat, we can also find opportunities to serve. May we, like Michelle Sollicito, use the storm as an opportunity to serve instead of an opportunity to kvetch!
February 7, 2014
Although it did not get a lot of attention in the American press, Shulamit Aloni passed away a few weeks ago in Israel. As a young woman, Aloni fought with the Palmach in the War of Independence where she was captured by Jordanian forces during the siege of Jerrusalem. She studied law and became a member of Kenesset for more than 30 years. Aloni was associated with the Left in Israel and worked for causes hoping to establish peace and dialogue with Palestinians. She was widely respected in Israel where she was a winner of the Israel Prize in the year 2000. She was widely respected-even among those who felt that her political views were wrong and even dangerous-as a woman who spoke her mind and who stood on deep principle. Less known was that she suffered from severe dementia in the last few years of her life. Her family did everything they could to safeguard her dignity and her privacy.
In the wake of this most recent storm in which many of us have experienced our own vulnerability-the absence of electrical power, damage to our homes and vehicles through downed trees-it is worthwhile to remember that despite our culture's emphasis on the importance of strength and fortitude, to be human is to know vulnerability and weakness as well.
At Shulamit Aloni's funeral, her son Udi shared some words in memory of his mother. Udi Aloni acknowledged this truth of the human condition that so many of us seek to run away from by acknowledging the last years of his mother's life-the year's in which his mother began to lose the strength that had characterized the vast majority of her life. At her funeral, here is how Udi Aloni eulogized his mother:
"I want to say something about the last year of her life. Many people seeking to console me, out of good intentions, asked me to remember her strength and her heroism so that her weakness would not, heaven forbid, be what remained in my heart. Many people, and these are good people, will recall her heroism, and I myself speak of it and will speak of it always, but I want to conclude with a recollection of her weakness.
"She was so beautiful also in her weakness. But we are a society so scared about aging and dementia that we do not always know how to open our hearts to moments when a person's mind has gone but her heart is still as open as a child, [and yet still] to love [her]. One door closes yet another door opens, and after I got over my fear of encountering this great woman in her dementia, and I came close to her and hugged her and I would look with her every day at the beauty of the cypress tree she planted in front of the house, with its flourishing of branches and leaves on top, and every day we would say, 'this tree is so lovely!' I learned that if we open our hearts to our elders and to our getting old, we will receive a huge gift of late love. And so my mother, who lived her whole life in Hebrew, the language of strength, the language of the sovereign, began to speak Yiddish in her final days, the language of exile, the language of the weak, a language that longs for its mother, and we would sing "Reyzele" [the song that] Grandma Ida and Grandpa David, who are also buried here - would sing to us at night."
May we learn from Shulamit Aloni (z"l) and from her family, to embrace or loved ones in strength and in weakness, and to see all moments of life as an opportunity to learn, and to love, ever more deeply.
January 24, 2014
One of the most important reasons we belong to-and invest in-a synagogue is our recognition that we are committed to something larger than just our families of origin. A congregation is a place to create a sense of belonging. In an era of rampant individualism, we need places where we create communities that are there to support us in times of joy and in times of sorrow and tragedy.
The New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote a column about a family that had endured far more than its fair share of tragedy. Six years ago, one of the adult children in this family was working for a service organization in Afghanistan when she was thrown from a horse and died. Five years later, this woman's sister was biking home from work when she was hit by a car and her face was severely smashed up. This young woman, Catherine Woodwiss, has endured-and will continue to endure-a series of operations. For a time, she had to breathe and eat through a tube and was unable to speak. The recovery has been slow.
Catherine Woodiwiss has written about what she has learned from her experiences in a recent blog post that you can find here:
I want to share with you the insights of the Woodiwiss family because so many of us are called upon to offer comfort to those who are suffering. And despite our best intentions, we may end up inadvertently causing harm because of our own discomfort with the suffering that we encounter. I hope you will find the lessons that follow, lessons that were learned through the most difficult of life experiences, to be helpful as each of us looks to be better able to support those in our lives who are suffering.
Do be there. Some people think that those who experience trauma need space to sort things through. Assume the opposite. Most people need presence. The Woodiwisses say they were awed after each tragedy by the number of people, many of whom had been mere acquaintances, who showed up and offered love, from across the nation and the continents. They were also disoriented by a number of close friends who simply weren't there, who were afraid or too busy.
Don't compare, ever. Don't say, "I understand what it's like to lose a child. My dog died, and that was hard, too." Even if the comparison seems more germane, don't make it. Each trauma should be respected in its uniqueness. Each story should be heard attentively as its own thing. "From the inside," Catherine writes, comparisons "sting as clueless, careless, or just plain false."
Do bring soup. The non-verbal expressions of love are as healing as eloquence. When Catherine's mother Mary was living with Catherine during her recovery, some young friend noticed she didn't have a bathmat. He went to Target and got a bathmat. Mary says she will never forget that.
Do not say "you'll get over it." "There is no such thing as 'getting over it,' " Catherine writes, "A major disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no 'back to the old me.' "
Do be a builder. The Woodiwisses distinguish between firefighters and builders. Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles.
Don't say it's all for the best or try to make sense out of what has happened. Catherine and her parents speak with astonishing gentleness and quiet thoughtfulness, but it's pretty obvious that these tragedies have stripped away their tolerance for pretense and unrooted optimism.
May each of us learn from the experiences of the Woodiwiss family to bring comfort and healing to those in our midst who are suffering.
January 2, 2014
This year, the new month of Shevat roughly coincides with the New Year that we have just begun in the Gregorian calendar. The holiday in the Jewish calendar most associated with this month is Tu B'Shevat a day that originally was used to reckon the age of trees for purposes of taxes and of orlah (the first three years during which a tree's fruit was considered strictly God's property and not to be eaten). Later, the mystics developed a Tu B'shevat Seder that represented both their connection to the land of Israel and reflected their ideas of God's relationship to the world using the imagery of a cosmic tree.
Indeed, trees have always been central in Jewish life. It is for that reason that I wanted to share a story about trees that is particularly appropriate for Tu B'Shevat that is called The Tree of Life and was written by Rabbi Noam Sienna.
Once upon a time, the trees of the forest decided to choose a ruler. All of the trees were arguing-disagreeing about who should be their ruler. They decided that each tree should make a short speech on why he or she should be chosen.
The tree of knowledge said, "I am the first tree mentioned in the Torah, and what's more, Adam and Eve ate from me." "Yes," the other trees agreed, "but because they ate from you they got in trouble, and had to leave the Garden of Eden." So the tree of knowledge returned to its place.
The fig tree said, "I am special, because I am the first tree named in the Torah. And my fruit is totally edible-with neither shell nor pit." But the others said, "Your fruit or tree is not mentioned. Only your leaves were used to cover up Adam and Eve after they ate from the fruit."
The grape vine announced, "My fruit gives people pleasure to people everywhere. My juice makes wine for Kiddush for Shabbat and festivals. Noah planted a vineyard. I was the first cultivated plant after the flood." The others argued, "Noah got drunk, and your fruit brought him shame." The vine retreated.
Then the wheat stood up. "I am not a tree, but my grains are ground into flour which makes delicious challah and bread. I am one of the seven species." "Ha, you are so small. You cannot be our ruler. Our ruler must be tall and exalted."
The etrog said, "The Torah calls me beautiful tree-and I am one of the four species too. My fruit looks like a lemon, but has a beautiful smell." "Your fruit is very fragile. If your pitom falls off, your etrog cannot be used."
The apple tree cleared its throat. "I am dipped in honey on Rosh HaShanah for a sweet year. I am healthy-an apple a day keeps the doctor away." "You"are almost perfect, but your name in Latin: malus means Evil. So we cannot choose you."
One tree had not spoken. It was Eitz Hachayim, the Tree of Life. "The Tree of Life can be our ruler," said the trees. Eitz HaChayim is a name for the Torah. The Torah is nourishing like the carob and sweet like the date, and every part edible, like figs, and is exalted like the cedar. When we return the Torah to its aron (ark) we sing, Eitz Chayimhe. She should be our ruler."
And so on every Tu B'Shevat we remember all the trees, but in particular, we remember the Eitz Chayim. As this New Year begins, and as this new month commences, let us each find new ways to deepen our relationship to the Torah-the most important tree in Jewish life.
Shabbat Shalom and best wishes for good health in 2014,
December 13, 2013
This week we come to the end of Sefer Bereisheet. And if we were going to try to give a title to this Book based on its themes, we might call this book Sefer Achim-the Book of Brothers. Except, the sibling relationships chronicled in this Book are about brothers who hate each other, and who often try to kill each other. Just think back to the sibling rivalries of this Book.There was Cain and Abel; Isaac and Ishmael; Jacob and Esau; and for the last several weeks-Joseph and his brothers. Usually, brothers in the Book of Genesis try to kill each other; sometimes they are content just to get rid of the brother whom they cannot stand.
Rabbi Reuven Kimelman points out that the stories in the Book of Genesis prime example of what we now call "domestic history." This theory of history holds that the keys to understanding civilizations and human behavior are not political or military doings, but the goings-on of the family. If you look closely, Genesis says, you find that great families are often torn with conflict. And in many cases, the way that families resolve these conflicts is to get rid-or excise-the family member who is perceived as the source of the conflict.
The one counter-example to that dominant theme of this Sefer Achim-this Book of Brothers-is the Joseph story. Joseph's brothers move from a desire to kill him to a desire to reconcile with him. What is it that allows this reconciliation to occur? It is Joseph's willingness to overlook the hatred and contempt with which his brother's treated him, and to look instead at what binds them together as a family.
Earlier this week, the world gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa to mourn the death of Nelson Mandela, a man who taught not only the nation of South Africa about the possibility of reconciliation, but who reminded the world about the power one individual can make in transforming history. Regardless of what you think of President Obama as a leader, he is a magnificent orator-and his speech at Mandela's memorial service was in my mind one of his best. I want to quote our President extensively because I was moved by his eloquence: I first appreciated President Obama's reminder that Mandela wasnot a great man because he was a perfect man. "Given the sweep of his life, the scope of his accomplishments, the adoration that he so rightly earned, it's tempting I think to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men. But Mandela himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. Instead, Mandela insisted on sharing with us his doubts and his fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. "I am not a saint," he said, "unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying. It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection - because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried - that we loved him so. He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood - a son and a husband, a father and a friend. And that's why we learned so much from him, and that's why we can learn from him still. For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness, and persistence and faith. He tells us what is possible not just in the pages of history books, but in our own lives as well."
Meanwhile, Mandela was great because he could see the point of views of both sides: Mandela said at the trial in which he was sentenced: "I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I've cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and [with] equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
President Obama spoke about Mandela's unyielding commitment to principles, and his willingness to compromise when it made sense to compromise: Said the President: "Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough. No matter how right, they must be chiseled into law and institutions. He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history. On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of unconditional release, reminding the Apartheid regime that 'prisoners cannot enter into contracts.' But as he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal. And because he was not only a leader of a movement but a skillful politician, the Constitution that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy, true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African."
Let me conclude with the end of President Obama's tribute: "It took a man like Mandela to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well-to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he also changed hearts. We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa and the young people around the world - you, too, can make his life's work your own. Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Nelson Mandela and the struggles taking place in this beautiful land, and it stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities to others and to myself, and it set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Mandela's example, he makes me want to be a better man. He speaks to what's best inside us.
After this great liberator is laid to rest, and when we have returned to our cities and villages and rejoined our daily routines, let us search for hisstrength. Let us search for his largeness of spirit somewhere inside of ourselves. And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, when our best-laid plans seem beyond our reach, let us think of Mandela and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of his cell: 'It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.' What a magnificent soul it was. We will miss him deeply. May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela."
November 30, 2013
As we prepare to celebrate both the Festival of Hanukkah and the holiday of Thanksgiving, we revel in the miracles in our lives and the many gifts for which we are thankful that abound in our lives. The thematic ties between Hanukkah and Thanksgiving resonate far more deeply than the Christmas holiday with which Hanukkah is usually paired.
And yet, in this season of thanks, we feel a sense of collective anxiety as well. Will the six-month interim signed between the United States and five world powers with Iran actually make the world-and Israel-a safer place-or will it make the world a far more dangerous one? None of us knows the answer to this question right now. For two examples of very diverse points of view on the agreement, check out Jonathan Tobin's take in Commentary. versus the take of Yonatan Touval in the Jerusalem Post.
What we do know is that we want the United States to be vigilant in enforcing sanctions-and adding even greater sanctions-in the event that Iran does not live up to its agreements during this six-month period. For a useful guide to ways of helping to encourage our elected officials to put new sanctions in place should Iran fail to live up to its commitments, please see this guide published by AIPAC.
Given the skepticism with which so many of us view the Iranian regime, let us be vigilant in urging our elected officials to be prepared to take strong action in the event that Iran does not live up to its agreements.
In the meantime, may we be blessed with a week of thanks and awareness of the miracles in our midst.
Hag Urim Sameah, Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom,
November 15, 2013
What does a religious person do-what does a religious Jew do-in the aftermath of the kind of colossal devastation we have witnessed this week in the Philippines? It seems so easy to give in to the feeling that there is nothing to do because the devastation is simply too enormous.
Let me share with you the suggestion of my colleague Rabbi Tzvi Weinreb who writes what a Jew must do in the aftermath of natural disaster: See. Feel. Act. That's it: See. Feel Act.
Although it is natural for a religious person to want to ask the question "Why?" such a question is particularly not useful in the aftermath of natural disaster. What we can say with certainty is that no answer to such a question will satisfy the question. The question of "why?" is a question for a lifetime of religious struggle-not a question for the aftermath of disaster. Because such a question usually gets in the way of the most important thing that a religious person must do: Respond to the pain of another.
As tempting as it would be to avoid confronting the scenes of horror and devastation, the first thing we must do is See. We need to see not because we want to be voyeur to the pain and devastation, but because we need to be witnesses.
Second, we must feel. So often in contemporary society we become numb to the pain of others because we are overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of suffering in our midst. In addition, the ease by which technology connects us to disaster threatens to numb us to its reality. Therefore, feeling compassion for that suffering is a second religious response.
Finally, we must act. Lo ta'amod al dam re'echa-we are forbidden to sit idly by and do nothing to respond to the pain of our fellow human beings. A religious person is bound to be the agent of God in bringing help, support, and comfort to those in need. By responding with faith and generosity, our actions bear witness to the reality of God despite the absence we sometimes feel.
For those looking for a Jewish response to support the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, click onto this link and connect to the American Jewish World Service's effort to support those who are in such great need: https://secure.ajws.org/site/Donation2?df_id=6421&6421.donation=form1&__...
May the survivors of the Typhoon know strength and comfort as they rebuild from this great disaster.
November 1, 2013
Why the Red Sox Winning the World Series is a Religious Opportunity-Especially if You are From Philadelphia
You do not have to be a sports fan from Boston to realize that there was something magical and beautiful about watching this Red Sox team win the World Series in front of their hometown fans at Fenway Park for the first time in 95 years on Wednesday night. Even though the Sox had won World Series championships in 2004 and 2007, it had taken almost a century for them to win a championship at home. The pent-up passion, exuberance, and sheer joy of this city for its team was indeed a beautiful thing to watch.
I know you may be thinking that no true Philadelphia sports fan should take delight in yet another team from Boston winning a major sports championship. But here's where I think some important religious qualities come into play that in no way undermine one's hometown sports loyalties. In fact, several elements of the Red Sox victory present opportunities for Philadelphia sports fans to build character even as we starve-metaphorically speaking-in the current pathetic state of Philadelphia sports teams. So what are some of those religious qualities?
Watching Shane Victorino be the Hero of the Clinching Game: As a Philadelphia sports fan, your initial instinct is to root against Shane every time he comes to the plate. After all, Shane was an integral player during the only recent stretch of sports glory here in Philadelphia-during our 2008 World Series victory. To watch Shane come up to bat for the Red Sox with the bases loaded and cheer him on?!? And yet, you cheer for Shane. He was a great Phillie, and we chose not to re-sign him. The fact that he comes to play in Game 6 after being out with back trouble the previous two games, and breaks a horrific slump with a bases-loaded double, what's a Philadelphia sports fan to do? You cheer him on. You even take a little pride in his accomplishment-knowing that he used to be one of your own.
The Fact that Every Red Sox Player Grew a Beard: Such a great thing for a team of guys to do! An added layer of solidarity-a statement of unity of purpose, of investment in each other, in a public display of team solidarity. What could be more Jewish about this-especially if you're a guy!
Victory Takes Place at Fenway Park: Is there a more iconic stadium in all of baseball? In all of sports? Fenway Park is the Kotel of professional sports-the holy of holies-the place that avoids fads and gimmicks and stands for the essence of what baseball is all about. We Jews who spent 2,000 years longing for Jerusalem in exile can relate to the loyalty of that 95-year drought of Boston fans at Fenway Park
Avoiding the Great Religious Sin of Envy at the Good Fortune of Others: Here's the really tough one: Boston and Philadelphia are cities of roughly equivalent size. Philadelphians already suffer from the geographic insecurity of living in between New York and Washington. We have Penn, yes? But they have Harvard! And then to add insult to injury-the great Boston sports legacies: The ridiculous consistency and Super Bowl victories of the Patriots; the storied legacy and the innumerable championship banners of the Celtics; the 2011 Stanley Cup win of the Bruins; and now, the third World Series in the past ten years for the Red Sox. Is it really possible to feel good as a Philadelphia sports fan as the Red Sox make Boston a winning town yet again? It would be so easy to sink into pure envy of Boston sports fans. And yet, we can avoid it-I believe. We can take solace in the knowledge that in the end, Philadelphia will once again know a championship-caliber sports team (in our lifetimes, we pray!). We can take comfort in knowing that for 95 years, fans at Fenway never got to toast their beloved Sox in the stadium that they share. And we can use our religious imagination and faith to affirm that one day, loyalty and commitment will indeed be rewarded. That is the faith of the Philadelphia sports fan.
May we all be blessed with peace of mind, and lack of envy, at the good fortune of our friends from Boston!
October 18, 2013
The Jewish community in the United States has been abuzz since the publication of the Pew Report on the American Jewish community. While there have been many debates about the implications of the study, the consensus that is emerging is at least two-fold: More and more American Jews outside of Orthodoxy are not primarily defining themselves as Jews by religion; at the same time, those who do define themselves as Jewish by religion tend to have stronger markers of positive Jewish identification and commitment to Jewish causes in their lives. Moreover, Jews who affiliate with synagogues are overwhelmingly likely to have deeper commitments to living a Jewish life and to insuring Jewish continuity.
In the wake of the publication of the study, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism convened its centennial convention in Baltimore this past week; Rabbi Merow and I both attended the convention along with 1,200 leaders of Conservative kehillot across the country. Since the Conservative movement has been steadily losing ground over the past 20 years in terms of denominational affiliation, the question that was on everyone's mind is the following: What do we do to stem the tide? Is there anything synagogues can do to attract this younger generation of Jews to affiliate with our congregations? In order to continue these questions, Beth Sholom is delighted to announce that the CEO of United Synagogue Rabbi Steven Wernick will be speaking at Beth Sholom this Friday night as part of the 8:00 PM service. We very much hope that you will be able to join us to hear Rabbi Wernick's perspective on these crucial questions.
After attending the conference, I want to offer five major points of concrete that were emphasized by leaders in our movement and those who study congregations that are effective in order to point us in a direction for how Beth Sholom can address these questions in the future:
1. JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen exhorted us to stretch our boundaries of who we reach out to. The way to grow Conservative Judaism is to reach out beyond it to bring in more Jews, affiliated or not, denominational or post-denominational. We need to attract more members not by watering down our message and our activities, but by deepening what we do. We need to offer more passionate prayer experiences, more serious learning opportunities for adults and children, and a more intense experience of Jewish that make a profound impact on people's lives.
Second, Chancellor Eisen called upon us to stretch our understanding of the definition of what synagogues provide. Fewer and fewer Jews in our day want to define themselves as "Jews by religion." They think that religion means the opposite of involvement in the so-called secular world where all of us live and breathe. We do not sense God only at services, as we do not serve God only or primarily in prayer. We do not fulfill our calling as Jewish human beings only by some narrow definition of religion. We need to stretch beyond that.
Third, synagogues need to move away from a consumer -oriented fee-for service model where members feel they are paying for the purchase of religious services like High Holiday tickets and the education necessary to celebrate a Bar or bat Mitzvah. Instead, synagogues need to see themselves as Batei Kenesset-as Houses of Assembly where diverse constituencies gather to create profound experiences in community that impact on both heart and mind.
Fourth, rabbis and Boards of Directors should encourage more risk taking and innovation in their communities. Rabbi Sid Schwarz suggests that Board's set aside 5% of yearly operating budgets for "innovation funds" that are used to empower congregants to create any program that fits the mission of the synagogue and allows them funds to get new ideas off the ground.
Fifth, Rabbi Ron Wolfson emphasized that the successful synagogues of the future will be those that are focused laser-like on building relationships among members. What people need more and more in the 21st Century is face-to-face encounters in which they feel God's presence through the deepening of personal relationships. Every synagogue activity should further this goal.
I am delighted to say that a large chunk of our Board of Directors meeting this past Tuesday evening included an initial discussion on these issues. Continued discussions of these questions will be vital to the perpetuation of a vital synagogue community here at Beth Sholom. I hope that many of you will find ways to communicate with me about your vision for how we can build a stronger Beth Sholom Congregational community. Our very future depends upon tackling this task seriously and creatively.
October 4, 2013
For anyone interested in the future of the American Jewish community, this week's release of a study entitled A Portrait of the American Jewish Community by the Pew Center on Religious and Public Life is indeed a cause for sober reflection. The study tells us that the 21st Century American Jewish community is vastly different from last century's American Jewish community. Among the report's findings are the following:
There is much to digest in this study and I urge you to take a look at it yourself:
For those of us committed to the joys of a religious Jewish life and the principles of Conservative Judaism, it is clear we have a lot of work to do. I will have more to say about the Pew study in the coming weeks. In the meantime, let us meet these challengesnot with resignation, but with determination and a renewed desire to communicate the richness of Jewish life, Jewish community, and Jewish tradition to those who have not yet come to appreciate it.
June 7, 2013
On Monday night of this past week, about 70 leaders from the Jewish community on the Old York Road Corridor gathered together at the offices of the Jewish Learning Venture to learn about the results of an investment that seven synagogues in our area had made together to help revitalize our community. The Old York Road Community Organization (OYRCO) is a unique collaborative ventured that formed almost three years ago to look into ways to help attract more Jewish families to move to our area and to help improve both the Jewish communal institutions and the general quality of life in our region.
After receiving investments from all the synagogues in our area representing the denominational spectrum from reform to Conservative to Orthodox, and after receiving funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the OYRCO hired Penn Fels Consulting Group to create a strategic plan to help us achieve the goals of strengthening our Jewish community [click here to read the report findings]. On Monday night, Boar members from the seven participating synagogues were invited to learn about the fruits of their investment.
As a leader and a participant in this project from the very beginning, I want to say that I was encouraged by the meeting and by the response it generated. Those who attended learned that some incremental progress has been made since the Penn Fels Report was issued. We are partnering with business leaders to help revitalize the Jenkintown downtown district; we are initiating a beautification project in Cheltenham Township called America Blooms; we are working with Federation's real estate Committee to help strengthen the institutions on the Mandell Campus and to consider new uses for the campus that will enhance its role as an anchor to the Jewish community here.
What the participants also heard is that there is a clear limit to the work that can be done to fully implement the Fels Report without additional funds to help pay for a part-time staff member to drive the work of the revitalization project. Volunteers have put in countless hours to get us to this point. We need a paid staff person who will drive the project, and we need more communal support and volunteerism to make sure that the project continues to grow.
The Board members present were asked to commit additional funds-or to commit to raise additional funds from their members-to help insure the long-term viability of the project. We are hopeful that Federation will continue to partner with us. There is still much work to be done. But those of us who participated in this meeting left hopeful. In a world in which the world around us is so polarized-and in which the Jewish community is so divided-it was refreshing to be part of a process that is bringing our larger community together. If you would like to be involved in the work of OYRCO, please be in touch with me directly. May our efforts bring us to a vital and flourishing Jewish community in the Old York Road Corridor-both now-and in the future.
May 17, 2013
With the end of Shavuot and the reliving of receiving Torah at Sinai, it is as though we, the Jewish people, have returned to earth. Now we are asked to consider how we will bring the gifts of our inheritance as Jews into our daily lives.
The Jewish community in Philadelphia has a unique opportunity to do something concrete and meaningful this Sunday. I want to invite you to join thousands of Jews from across the Delaware Valley in celebration of Israel's 65th Anniversary this Sunday.
There are still a few seats left for you to reserve on the bus that will leave Beth Sholom on Sunday morning at 10:00 AM. Please RSVP to the synagogue office before Shabbat to confirm your reservation. In addition, we invite you to pick up a free Beth Sholom Israel 65 t-shirt to wear as you march in the parade. For those who will be driving on your own, we will be meeting for the start of the parade at 11:00 AM at Eakins Oval. If you can't spot us by our t-shirts, look for the incredibly large Israel flag created by BSC congregant Doron Zahal.
Once the parade has ended, we hope that many of our members will enjoy the celebration taking place at the Philadelphia Convention Center from Noon - 4:00 PM. There you will findIsraeli food, entertainment, arts and crafts, dancing and shopping. You will be able to visit an authentic Bedouin tent; learn Krav Maga; celebrate Israel's achievements in science and technology; and create a huge Israeli flag out of K'NEX.
We look forward to seeing you as we celebrate 65 years of Israel's independence as a modern state.
May 3, 2013
One of the beauties of Jewish tradition is that it resists simplistic reductions to absolutes. As we conclude the third Book of the Torah this Shabbat and Sefer Va'yikra comes to a close, the Torah's vision of work has nuance that is so relevant for our lives. The tradition affirms the value and the dignity that comes from work. As Psalm (128: 2) states: "When you eat of the labor of your hands, you are happy and it shall be well with you." Our tradition was born of a people that had been enslaved and that experienced the deliverance that came from redemption. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has written: "At the heart of the Hebrew Bible is the God who seeks the free worship of free human beings, and one of the most powerful defenses of freedom is private property as the basis of economic independence. The ideal society envisaged by the prophets is one in which each person is able to sit 'underneath his own vine and fig tree'" (Micah 4: 4).
Yet even as Jewish tradition affirms the dignity and the value of work, it did not see economic activity as the be-all and end-all of our lives. The Torah understands that not all people in a society will be able to support themselves. Four times in this week's Torah portion we find the words "Should your brother sink into poverty..." The poor must be supported. Money lent to them in assistance cannot accrue interest. Lands auctioned to meet debt must be redeemed and kept in the family. And most radical of all: To prevent the systemic poverty enduring throughout the generations, a Jubilee is proclaimed every fifty years. In the year of Jubilee, all properties return to their ancestral owners, all debts and contracts of indentured servitude are canceled, and all economic conditions return to a starting point of equality.
Equally radical is the Torah's vision of a sabbatical for the land: "In the seventh year, the land shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, a Sabbath of the Lord: You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the after growth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land." These commands are not merely focused on resting the land; they are equally focused on those who spend their lives working the land. In an agrarian society, the notion of giving up a year of farming would have been unthinkable.
And how about us? Could we imagine giving up a year of work every seven years? A full year separated from the pursuit of accumulating wealth? Would we do with such a year? How would we spend that time? Would we spend real time with the people we love? Would we go to places that we had never seen? Would we learn a new skill that we had never had time for?
Jewish tradition asks us to affirm the value and the dignity of work even as it reminds us that we are far more than the pursuit of our occupations and our material wealth. May we be blessed with lives in which our material pursuits live in harmony with the pursuit of the fullness of our humanity.
April 19, 2013
It has been such a full week for our congregation and for the Jewish people-even as it is a week that has been marred by terrorism for the citizens of Boston and the American people. As a Jewish community, we have moved from the heartache of remembering those who perished defending the State of Israel on Yom Ha'Zikaron to the triumph of celebrating the 65thanniversary of the modern-day State of Israel. And yet, as we were preparing to begin our celebration of Israel's statehood, we were horrified to be witnesses to the scourge of terrorism at the Boston Marathon. Let us continue to pray for the strength to overcome evil through the goodness of our actions, and let us pray for comfort and healing for the victims in Boston and all who love them.
Here at Beth Sholom, we were delighted to welcome Cantor Yakov Hadash as the first of our two guest cantors. This Shabbat, we look forward to welcoming Cantor Jason Green as our next guest cantor. I hope that you will take advantage of the many opportunities to be with us over Shabbat and on Sunday morning to get to meet, to listen, and to learn from Cantor Green. We will look forward to hearing your feedback on both of our guest cantors.
Finally, for those of you who were here over Shabbat, you know that Rabbi Merow spoke about the historic proposal brokered by Natan Sharansky in his role as Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Sharansky is proposing to create a new reality for the ways in which Jews will have access to worship at the Western Wall. This proposal was unveiled last week in New York and has support from leaders of the progressive Jewish community. Much is still unknown about the logistics and implementation, but the very proposal is a wonderful shift away from the hegemony over public expressions of Jewish life in Israel by the ultra-Orthodox. What follows is a letter from Mr. Sharansky about his proposal:
As many of you have heard by now, in the last few days there have been some significant developments regarding the task that Prime Minister Netanyahu has asked me to undertake, specifically drafting recommendations for dealing with issues of access to the Western Wall. This is a good opportunity to thank the members of our Committee on the Unity of the Jewish People and especially its co-chairs Shoel Silver and Lori Klinghoffer, as well as Vera Golovensky and Yogev Karesenty for their invaluable assistance.
After spending a number of months researching and consulting with various stakeholders, Members of Knesset, representatives and leaders of various Jewish religious streams and organizations, we have established three guiding principles to create a suitable space for egalitarian prayer at the southern section of the Western Wall (Kotel).
These guiding principles are based on the notion of One Kotel for One People. This requires a solution that respects the legitimate need for all Jews to be able to pray in accordance with their tradition. To this end, the proposed recommendations will focus onaccess, equality and unity.
The Western Wall was divided into two sections in 1968, not long after Israel liberated the Old City during the Six Day War. The northern section was designated for prayer and the southern section, adjacent to the Mugrabi Bridge, was set aside for archeological exploration. The excavations at the southern half of the Kotel have been completed. It is time that we transform the Kotel into a site dedicated to prayer as well a meaningful cultural and national symbol.
The southern end would then remain open for prayer 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A plaza would be constructed so it is equal in size and height as the northern prayer area. This will allow all people to touch the Kotel. Finally, there should be a single entrance to the entire Kotel plaza. All comers will then be able to choose the area where they will pray.
We have an historic opportunity to make the Kotel a symbol of Jewish unity and diversity instead of a place of contention and strife. I will continue to update you as things develop.
April 5, 2013
Woody Allen once said that 90% of life is showing up. By that measure, Harold Paul is the Valedictorian of Beth Sholom Congregation.
Harold Paul, who is most often found accompanied by hisbeshert Sylvia, is the person who not only shows up at Beth Sholom Congregation, he is the man who makes sure that we have a morning minyan: The one who makes sure there is food to eat for breakfast following the service; the one who makes sure that yartzeits are recalled; that those who are new to Beth Sholom are greeted; that three different members of the congregation lead parts of the morning service; that those with occasions to celebrate are given aliyot to the Torah. In short, Harold Paul is the person who makes sure that six days a week the members of Beth Sholom Congregation are able to start their days off with prayer, community, and food. And Harold does this six days a week, 51 weeks a year. He and Sylvia take one week off for vacation-and remarkably, we survive. Harold Paul is the Cal Ripken Jr. of Beth Sholom Congregation.
That is why I know so many of you will be there to join us on Friday night as we honor Harold Paul as our Congregant of the Year with services at 8:00 PM and a festive Oneg to follow. He is such an extraordinarily deserving recipient of this honor. We owe Harold so much as a congregation. I hope that you will join us as we pay tribute to a truly remarkable man.
We also hoe that you will be able to join us the following morning for Shabbat morning services at our Men's Club Shabbat. Both rabbis look forward to being members of thekahal as the men of our community lead the service in its entirety. Following services, please join us as BSC member Rachel Lithgow leads a discussion about her work at the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation.
Finally, we urge you to join with us on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 PM at Keneseth Israel for our Kehillah-wide Yom Ha'Shoah observance. BSC member Rob Van Naarden will introduce a righteous Gentile family from Holland that tried to save the life of his brother during the Second World War. Unfortunately, a Nazi collaborator informed the authorities that the family was hiding a Jewish child and Rob's brother Wim (of blessed memory) was murdered. Learn about a family who embodied the ideal of righteousness, and join Rob as he leads us in a thought-provoking discussion about what we would do had we been in the position of saving the life of another by putting our own families at risk.
I look forward to seeing you at these important events over the weekend.
March 28, 2013
As our Passover preparations head into overdrive, I find myself deeply moved by the images of President Obama in Jerusalem. One could be cynical and say the President sure does have good speech writers; but isn't it amazing to hear our first African-American President say in Hebrew: Tov lihiot shuv ba'aretz-"It is good to be back in the land of Israel!" And then to hear the President say: I'm confident in declaring that our alliance is eternal, it is forever - lanetzah"-again, using the Hebrew. I want to use this space not for political analysis, but simply to acknowledge how powerful it feels to witness the depth of the U.S.- Israel alliance on display for all to see as we prepare for the Festival of Freedom.
But on to matters closer to home: If all politics are local-then one could argue that all politics begin at home and with our own families. Imagine that it is Passover eve and that people are standing around, waiting for the Seder to begin. As you survey your guests, you realize what a diverse group you are: parents, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and some relatives to whom you're not quite sure how you're related. The only thing that ties all of you together is that you're family. If it weren't for an accident of genetics, you would not likely find yourselves sharing the Seder table with this group of people. But soon it will happen: The first Seder will arrive and we will sit down for a meal and shared conversation.
Now, here's the trick. For the evening to be a success, you have to know when to speak up and when to be quiet. You have to tolerate your cousin Jack who's too loud and always bragging. And you have to avoid arguing with your Aunt Esther who is a staunch Democrat or Republican (you fill in the blank) and who constantly reminds you that Judaism is full of rituals that make no sense. And then there's your nephew, Josh, who has a scowl on his face and keeps asking, "When are we going to eat?" At the same time you want there to be meaningful conversation around the table; you hope people will go home at the end of the evening having learned something, having listened to one another, feeling closer to one another, and to their tradition.
Here's something to keep in mind. There are four children that we will read about in the Seder. They are very different children. Each has his own questions; each comes to the table with her own perspective. They agree about nothing - and yet they all show up on Seder night. They epitomize pluralism - and the need to honor each person no matter how diverse his or her point of view may be.
So let's hear it for passionate Seder discussions. And let's remember that a good Seder is one in which different points of view are encouraged and listened to with care and respect. And let's also remember that Beth Sholom will be hosting an important event on Thursday night during Hol Ha'Moed Pesah as we honor the memory of Dina Baker's father Bernard Wolfman with our inauguration of the Civil Discourse Project. The topic will be the federal government's role in heath care.Stuart Butler, Ph.D., director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Policy Innovation, and David Nash, M.D., M.B.A., founding dean of the Jefferson School of Population Health, will provide insight into this issue from liberal and conservative perspectives. Chris Satullo, director of news and civic dialogue at WHYY and co-founder and co-director of the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Project for Civic Engagement will moderate. With an emphasis on productive conversation - not debate - this forum will offer us the chance to learn new things and question our own beliefs, while sending us home with concrete opportunities to take meaningful action. We hope that you will join us here at Beth Sholom Thursday night, March 28 at 7:30 PM. Advanced registration is required. Please visitwww.civildiscourseproject.org to register for the event.
I wish you and your families spirited and civil Pesah Sederim and discussions.
Hag Kasher v'sameah,
March 8, 2013
The Book of Exodus concludes this week with the final descriptions of the completion of the Mishkan-of the Tabernacle. The construction of the Mishkan is remarkable because it is an amalgamation of the contributions of the entirety of the Jewish people-all of whom are focused on a single goal: to create a place where God may dwell.
The Mishkan is unique because it takes the diverse gifts of the entire people and channels and creates a unity of purpose. As I attended the AIPAC Policy Confrence this past week in Washington DC along with Rabbi Merow and a delegation of Beth Sholom members, I was struck by the diversity of the 13,000 plus people in attendance. There were over 2,000 university students in attendance-many of them non-Jewish student leaders at campuses across the country. There were Christian Zionists; there were Jews from across all religious perspectives. What united each of us who attended was one simple idea: The Love of Israel and our desire to see the partnership between Israel and the United States strengthened.
We were honored to listen to speeches by Vice President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. There were several clear themes that emerged from the Conference: Israel and the United States continue to stand united in their commitment to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons. The Vice President affirmed President Obama's pledge that all options-including military strikes-will be on the table should Iran refuse to give up pursuit of a nuclear weapon. All of the major players spoke about the greater instability emerging in the Middle East-particularly in Egypt and Syria. Strong cooperation will be necessary between Israel and the United States to ensure that the situation in Syria does not continue to devolve into chaos and that Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons is secured. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and defense Minister Barak spoke of their yearning for a negotiated solution for a two-state solution with the Palestinians. While there is little evidence to suggest that the Palestinian leadership is ready to begin such negotiations, both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak affirmed their desire to reach a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.
For those who have never been to an AIPAC Policy Conference, I want to urge you to consider going next year. It is truly inspiring to sit in a room with 13,000 pro-Israel activists united in their love of both the State of Israel and the United States of America-all of whom are committed to strengthening the vital relationship between these two great nations. May the partnership between Israel and the United States only strengthen in the years to come. And may the result of this partnership bring peace and security to the State of Israel, and to all those who yearn for peace.
February 22, 2013
One of the highlights of our communal religious life at Beth Sholom Congregation is our annual celebration of Purim. During this year's event we will turn Beth Sholom into a 1920's Speakeasy complete with Flappers and Gangster's. Even though there may be Prohibition laws to contend with, the alcohol for those over 21 will be abundant and plentiful. We thank Robin and Steve Katz, Sandy and Gregg Epstein, Gary and Ata Goldberg, and a wonderful crew of Beth Sholom volunteers for putting so much hard work into this year's Purim celebration. We look forward to seeing you on Saturday night-and then on Sunday afternoon at Perelman Jewish Day School on the Mandell Campus for the community-wide Purim Carnival.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin notes that of the five biblical books known as megillot (scrolls), three of them have unexpected heroines. In The Song of Songs, it is a shepherdess who describes in starkly sensual terms her beloved shepherd, a man to whom she is not yet married. The heroine of the Book of Ruth is a Moabite woman (Moab was an historic enemy of Israel) who converts to Judaism.
Yet more unusual than either Ruth or the unnamed shepherdess of The Song of Songs is Queen Esther. Esther's greatness is so taken for granted among Jews that we seldom reflect on how peculiar a role model she is. After all, how many of our daughters of a certain age can resist trying on their Queen Esther costume? But who is Esther, after all? Esther is a young Jewish woman who wins a beauty contest and marries a non-Jewish king. These are the two main biographical details that the Bible supplies. Nowhere in the Tanakh do we learn anything about Esther that would indicate that she is a woman who is involved or committed to her Jewish life. While the Bible frequently omits details about the everyday lives of its characters, Esther is not portrayed as a woman who has a profound relationship to any aspect of Jewish life. Nonetheless, when the Jewish people were in danger of being murdered by Haman, it was Esther who turned the king against his anti-Semitic adviser, Haman, and saved the Jewish people.
What is the meaning of this most unexpected heroine of Jewish life? Perhaps one of the most significant, though rarely mentioned lessons of this biblical book is that the Jewish community-today no less than in the past-should be very cautious before it despairs of any Jew. If 2,500 years ago an intermarried beauty queen risked her life and ultimately saved the Jewish people, just think about how many not-so-obvious heroes and heroines are in our midst today. It is far too easy to write off large swaths of the Jewish community because of what we may perceive as indifference to the fate of the Jewish people. But if we remember that saviors are sometimes found in the least obvious of packages, we may find ourselves a bit kinder, and a bit more compassionate to those Jews who now sit on the periphery.
May Esther's example remind us to better seek out the unexpected heroes in our midst. And may we, inspired by her example of courage and commitment, find that we contribute more actively to building our Jewish life here at Beth Sholom and throughout the world.
Hag Purim Sameah--Have a wonderful Purim!
February 8, 2013
This week is International Hebrew Free Loan Shabbat, a week to learn about and honor the work of Hebrew Free Loan Societies around the world. These non-profit Jewish community organizations raise funds and make confidential interest free loans to support Jews who are hoping to receive an education, have an emergency expense, or want to try to start a new business. The origins of Hebrew Free Loans are found in the verse from this week's Torah portion in Parashat Mishpatim: If you lend money toMy people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor; exact no interest from them. (Exodus 22:24) The concept of free loans builds on Maimonides' teaching that the highest form of tzedakah is to help a person help him- or her-self.
There's a beautiful insight that Rashi makes in the language of the verse from our Torah reading this week. Rashi comments that the Torah's use of the words "My people" teaches that as we make individual tzedakah decisions, we should prioritize "my people," i.e. those closest to us. And Rashi continues that the words "among you" are meant to remind us that each of us should remember that our individual financial circumstances could change dramatically. None of us, Rashi is saying, is immune from the causes of poverty: Illness, war, recession, displacement-could happen to each of us-and we must recognize the humanity of those who are in need-because they, too, are created in the divine image. Rashi has another beautiful insight: The word "interest" teaches that a loan can cause a great wound in a person's life. The word neshech (interest) is from the same root as nashach (bite). A snakebite begins as a little wound, but the wound can swell throughout a person's body. Similarly, interest can seem like a small percentage, but it mounts up and becomes a huge amount of money over time.
We should be very proud that Beth Sholom Congregation was the founding organization of the Hebrew Free Loan Society here in Philadelphia. Through the efforts of our Rabbi Emeritus Aaron Landes, through the generosity of Madlyn and Leonard Abramson, and through the hard work and vision of Bernard and Maria Granor, the Philadelphia Hebrew Free Loan Society has been in existence for close to 30 years. A strong core of volunteers under the leadership of Marshal and Tamar Granor continue to make sure that Jews have access to free loans to help them across important thresholds of their lives. Our Hebrew Free Loan Society has given out more than $2 million in loans over since its inception. A new fund to help small businesses get started has just been established. If you would like more information-either to donate, to volunteer, or to help individuals who need loans to get access to our Free Loan Society-please visit the Web page:www.hebrewfreeloanphila.org May each of us support the work of the Philadelphia Hebrew Free Loan Society, and the work of organizations that seek to preserve human dignity and therefore bring God's presence more fully into our world.
February 1, 2013
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.
January 25, 2013
This week's Torah portion tells the paradigmatic story of a people's desire to live in freedom. Despite a history of oppression, the Israelites muster the courage to leave the oppression of slavery in Egypt and embark upon a journey to become a free people. We call this Sabbath's Torah readingShabat Shira-the Sabbath of song and rejoicing-as our ancestors cross the sea to freedom.
Of course, what we will come to realize in the subsequent weeks of our Torah reading cycle is that freedom is not something that can happen in a moment. The time to build a society that nurtures true freedom in its citizens is one that happens only with time-and only with a people that is willing to accept the responsibilities necessary to live in freedom.
As Americans and as Jews, we have come to believe that a government that nurtures democracy and institutions that promote the responsibilities of citizenship are the societies most likely to produce freedom and creativity among its citizens. This past week, we were privileged to witness two such societies celebrate institutions that represent the greatness of democracies. Here in the United States, President Barrack Obama was inaugurated for his second term of office as our President. And in Israel, citizens went to the polls to elect the government that will lead the State of Israel for the next few years. Despite the partisan rancor that has defined the last four years of President Obama's first-term, and despite some fractious jockeying throughout the Israeli election cycles, it was heartening to witness these two mature democracies in action. Both here in the United States and in the State of Israel, when the polls were closed, and the people had spoken, the citizens of both countries accepted the results and began to look to the future. On Inauguration Day, Democrats and Republicans momentarily put aside their differences and celebrated the peaceful transfer of power in this country. And in Israel, a new Kenesset featuring new political players will look to secure the future of the Jewish state.
On a week when the Torah celebrates the gift of freedom, it was heartening to see the two countries in the 21st Century with the largest Jewish populations in the world celebrating the values of freedom that define the political institutions of two great nations: Israel and the United States of America. May we never lose sight of the blessings of the democratic institutions that define both nations-and the freedom that we enjoy as a result.
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.
Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin
December 21, 2012
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 change 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.
December 7, 2012
Now that the days grow shorter, we tire more quickly and feel in our bones the absence of the light around us, and the fatigue that the darkness can bring. Perhaps our elected officials also feel this darkness-as the fiscal cliff looms ever closer and bi-partisan solutions remain elusive. Here in our Philadelphia Jewish community, we feel concern that the inability of the leadership of the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy and the Perelman Jewish Day School to achieve consensus on a unified middle school solution is leading families to feel disillusionment at the great light and promise that a Jewish Day School education can bring. We pray that both in Washington-and here in our Philadelphia Jewish community-a spirit of mutual respect and compromise will prevail-and the bigger problems that we face-both as a nation, and as a Jewish community-can be addressed with courage, cooperation, and vision.
Perhaps the arrival of Hanukkah on Motzei Shabbat can serve as inspiration for all of our leaders. We have a beautiful expression in our Jewish tradition: Meh'at ohr doe'kheh harbeh khoshekh-a small amount of light can dispel a great deal of darkness. We were reminded of this recently during Hurricane Sandy when the electricity was out and we went around our dark homes using candles and flashlights. Indeed, the ability of light to dispel the darkness is the great theme of Hanukkah as well.
The Baal Shem Tov taught that if you have a body of water and a fire, and you put them near each other, then they each act in opposition to the other. If there is enough water, it will put out the fire. If there is enough fire, it will evaporate the water. If you ever try to put out a campfire with water you will hear the crackling and the hissing of the fire as it battles to stay alive. In essence, water and fire are adversaries.
Not so with light and darkness. If you place a source of light in a dark place, the light will naturally and easily illuminate the darkness. Obviously if you place that light in a very large dark room, you will need a lot of light to alleviate the darkness; but in the area where you bring a flame, suddenly the darkness is dispelled.
That's why light is such a central theme of Hanukkah. We not only light the Hanukkiyah at sundown to illuminate the darkness outside. The story of Hanukkah is a reminder that small forces can accomplish extraordinary feats. The Maccabees were tiny in comparison with their Greek adversaries. Despite their smallness in numbers, they had hope and faith that manifest itself in passion and commitment to preserve their Jewish faith. Sometimes the power of the faithful few can overcome the physical strength of the many-in the same way that a small bit of light can overcome the overwhelming presence of darkness.
Let us hope that the star of the Festival of Lights that begins on Saturday night will bring light to our souls, light to the problems that vex our nation, and light to our Jewish community here in Philadelphia.
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Urim Sameah,
November 23, 2012
As I write this e-mail, news of a terrorist bus bombing in Tel Aviv is just being announced. It is a strange juxtaposition for American Jews: Thanksgiving arrives tomorrow and many of us are preparing to celebrate the holiday in which we will bring our families together for festive meals and joyous reunions. At the same time, we have our eyes and ears glued to various media as we watch the dangerous events that are unfolding in the State of Israel.
We Jews are adept at living with incongruous emotions simultaneously. At the depths of our deepest day of religious mourning-on Tisha B'Av-we affirm that this is the day that the Messiah will be born. At a wedding ceremony filled with joy and festivity, we break a glass to remind ourselves of the destruction of the Temple and the pain that still exists in the world. And so when we come to our Thanksgiving tables, I suggest that we do what Jews have always done: We savor the moment of being surrounded by family; we give thanks to God for the food that we will eat; we remind ourselves of the blessings of citizenship in this great country; and we have conversations around our table about that for which we are grateful. And, this year, perhaps we will take a moment to remember that our brothers and sisters in Israel are living in fear and uncertainty, and we offer our prayers of support and strength to all those who are suffering.
Here at Beth Sholom Congregation, we want to invite you to join us on Shabbat morning for a service that Rabbi Merow and I are calling "Israel Solidarity Shabbat." During the service, we will intersperse readings from those living in the State of Israel who describe what their day-to-day experiences are like at this difficult time. We will also include some songs of peace throughout the service. We also want to ask members of the congregation who have family members living in Israel to join us for a light Kiddush luncheon following services in which we can hear first-hand accounts of life in Israel for members of our extended Beth Sholom Congregational family.
May we spend the next few days enjoying the blessings of our family and our American heritage; and may we join together as a larger congregation and community to give strength to each other-and to our brothers and sisters in Erez Yisrael.
Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom
November 9, 2012
It has been a tough election season. Nearly $2 billion in spending by the two presidential candidates; nearly $6 billion in spending on the election in total; a divided electorate; a noted absence of civil discourse; partisan rancor among both our elected officials and the electorate.
Now that Election Day has passed, we wonder if it is possible to overcome the gridlock in Washington. We have such enormous issues to confront: Unemployment and economic insecurity; spiraling costs for Medicare and Social Security; the threat from Iran; our nation's crumbling infrastructure; schools that may not prepare our students for the challenges of a global economy; student loan debts of astronomical proportions.
We have truly significant issues to confront as a nation. And we have not shown ourselves to be adept at confronting these challenges. Consequently, trust in our elected officials is at an all-time low.
I am not a political pundit. But it seems clear to me that there is only one way that we can move forward and begin to make a dent in these issues: By demanding that our elected officials move from the margins of their respective parties to the center. Americans understand that principles that prevent the government from governing effectively are ultimately destructive. We know that we need to get our debt spending under control and we know that we need to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable of our citizens. Our country needs to re-dedicate itself to a spirit of bi-partisanship. We need to affirm that effective governing can only occur when both parties are willing to compromise.
The consolation to this rancorous season of political brinksmanship was the grace with which Governor Romney conceded the election and the generous hand that President Obama extended to Republicans as the election results became clear. Standing for principles does not preclude making principled compromises to achieve long-term goals. Our greatness as a nation depends upon our willingness to work together to tackle the truly tough problems that we face. May we have the wisdom and the courage to work together across our differences as we address the truly difficult issues at hand.
November 2, 2012
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 26, 2012
As the debate cycle has come to a close and we begin the mad dash to November 6 and Election Day, I am reminded of the importance of faith for American voters. Not a faith that imposes a particular religious worldview on voters, but a faith that helps us to believe that obstacles can be overcome and that better days lie ahead. And yet, faith seems difficult to find in present day America.
We are having a tough time with our faith because we are worried about our future. We are worried about the economy and jobs; we are worried about wage stagnation and student debt; and we are worried that our children will have a much tougher time than we have had in providing their families with a sound economic future. David Leonhardt, writing in a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, points out that for the first time since the Great Depression, median family income has fallen substantially over an entire decade. By last year, family income was eight percent lower than it had been eleven years earlier, at its peak in 2000. The primary reasons for this are the impact of globalization and the digital revolution. Technology means that we can do more work with computers and that there are less jobs to fill. Globalization means that we are now competing for jobs with workers from all over the world. These are the tough new conditions that we now face in our 21st Century economy. But it need not be all gloom and doom.
The good news is that we have lived through periods of economic stagnation in the past, and when we have come through those periods, we have generally become economically stronger than we were before the economy tanked. Quoting the economic historian, Benjamin Friedman, Leonhardt writes: "When technology reduces the need for certain kinds of labor, we know that some inventive people will one day come along and find a way to use that freed-up labor making things that other people want to buy."
I am not an economist, but here is what I believe: With our entrepreneurial spirit, with our access to capital markets, and with a commitment to excellent education that will prepare American students for the challenges of this new economy, the United States can come through this difficult period in our economic lives stronger than we were previously. All we need is a little faith.
September 28, 2012
On Yom Kippur I spoke to you about the fact that all things in our lives will change and that everything in life is temporary. I suggested that there are two ways to respond to these truths of life: We can respond like Jonah who gives in to despair because everything that he values is temporary. Or we can respond like Ludwig Guttmann who taught that we can make something beautiful in our lives despite what we have lost-and despite what we will lose.
Now that Yom Kippur has passed, we place our focus on the holiday in Jewish life that epitomizes the temporary nature of all things-Sukkot. Everything we use to celebrate that holiday does not last. All the ritual items of Sukkot are natural and come from the earth-and everything that we use to celebrate the holiday will go back to the earth: The lulav; the etrog; the skhakh on the roof of the sukkah; the sukkah itself. Everything that we will use to rejoice in this festival is here today; and it will all be gone tomorrow. But what do we do while we are in that sukkah? What do we do while we hold the lulav and etrog in the brief moment that they are in our hands?
Here's the Jewish answer: V'semakhta bechagekha-we rejoice in this moment; in this festival. Everything about the Festival of Sukkot is temporary, and yet Sukkot is called Zman Simchateinu-the time of our rejoicing. We know it won't last; and that is why we have all the more reason to rejoice while we have it. This is what we Jews do about the fact that we recognize that all things in life are temporary: We sanctify moments. We rejoice in the times that are given to us. Joy is nothing more than the ability to experience profound happiness in a moment even as we recognize the moment will not last.
May we know much joy in our lives-and much simcha during the Festival of Sukkot.
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameah,
September 14, 2012
If you do a lot of texting, you are probably pretty comfortable using abbreviations such as BTW (by the way). LOL (laughing out loud) and IMHO (in my humble opinion).
I recently came across an acronym for a computer system that truly made me pause: WYSIWYG-which stands for "What You See Is What You Get." Apparently, computer systems that use WYSIWYG allow you to see text and graphics onscreen as you edit that will look almost exactly like the finished product. As amazing a process as this is from a technological point of view, WYSIWYG strikes me as a bad concept from a life point of view.
Lots of us tend to grow through life with the "What You See Is What You Get" kind of attitude. And a near cousin to that is: "What you look for is what you find."
In his book Are You Living in the Past? Steve Goodier talks about how both the vulture and the hummingbird fly over the same desert. The vulture sees rotting flesh. The humming bird sees colorful desert plants. Each sees and finds what it is looking for.
The same is true for we human beings. We can look out at a sunset and be worried that we are late for dinner; or we can look out at a sunset and remember to praise the magnificence of God's creation.
A New Year in Jewish tradition is the time in which we set our sights on new opportunities-and on the possibility of new patterns of behavior. But in order to behave differently, we have to see differently. If we seek the negative traits in a person, then we will find unpleasantness; if we hold out in our minds what is positive about a person; we may see the good that lies beneath the surface.
"What You See Is What You Get" may be good advice for buying a used car. But if we want to change our lives, if we want to experience new opportunities, we have to change what it is that we see. And we have to hold on to the faith that true vision is the gift of seeing beyond the surface.
May we all be blessed with commitment to see beyond surfaces. And in the coming year, may we be motivated to act in ways that will truly bring blessing to the world.
L'shanah tovah tikateivu-May each of us be inscribed for blessing in the Book of Life..
Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin
June 8, 2012
On behalf of our family, we want to thank the entire congregation for the love and support and extraordinary sense of community that we experienced this past Shabbat as our son Noam was called to the Torah as a Bar Mitzvah. It was a truly memorable day for the entire Glanzberg-Krainin family. We felt deeeply held and supported by the outpouring of good will and good wishes. It was a true honor to be able to share our simcha with our Beth Sholom Congregational family and community.
Again, our thanks and gratitude,
Rabbis David and Deborah Glanzberg-Krainin
May 24, 2012
We Jews believe that things do not happen by accident. There is a relationship between our efforts and the results-and the ways in which we bring God's presence into the world. Yet, even our ancient Sages acknowledged that not all aspects of our lives could be easily explained. Our Sages taught the following in the Talmud: "Everything depends on luck, even the Torah in the Ark."
What did they mean by using this example? In many congregation--and this is certainly true at Beth Sholom--there are several Torah scrolls in the aron kodesh at any time. And yet, only one or two of the Torah scrolls are read from frequently--the others simply stay in the ark are hardly used. Anthropomorphizing the Torah scrolls that are not read from frequently, the Rabbis ask: "Why should this Torah have had such poor luck as to be read from so infrequently?"
We could argue equally that some Jewish holidays have mazal while others do not. If this were the case, certainly Shavuot would certainly be considered a holiday without a lot of mazal. Although it is one of the three pilgrimage festivals, it is the only one that is celebrated in the Diaspora for two days--instead of eight--as Passover and Sukkot are celebrated. In addition, every Jewish holiday has a symbol that is unique to that holiday: On Pesah we eat matzah for eight says; on Sukkot we sit in a sukkah and wave the lulav and etrog. But what is the symbol of Shavuot? Is it blintzes?!?
In fact, the symbol of Shavuot is Torah. Shavuot celebrates Zman Matan Toratenu-the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. But of course there is no symbol for the Torah. The Torah is unique unto itself. That is why we celebrate this Festival by studying Torah. In essence, Shavuot is the most important of all of our Festivals--because its central symbol--the Torah-is what we are asked to commit to each and every day of our lives--365 days a year.
This year at Beth Sholom we will have many wonderful opportunities to celebrate Shavuot. On Shabbat morning prior to Shavuot we will welcome our friends from Congregation Adath Jeshurun to Beth Sholom for a joint Shabbat service at 9:15 AM. Beginning that evening on May 26th, our Minhah and Ma'ariv services on Shabbat will be followed by a Tikkun Leyl Shavuot--a late night Torah study session at the home of Rabbi Josh Zlochower and Samantha Small (see details and starting times in this e-mail).
On Sunday morning May 27th, we will celebrate the first day of Shavuot with services at Congregation Adath Jeshurum beginning at 9:30 AM. There will be no services held on Sunday morning at Beth Sholom! Finally, on Monday, May 28th, we will celebrate the second day of Shavuot with Confirmation services. We have an extraordinary group of confirmands this year-and I hope many of you will be on hand to celebrate. Yizkor prayers will also be recited on Monday morning as part of second day Shavuot services.
May this Shabbat and Shavuot increase our love for Torah, and our commitment to its teachings in our daily lives.
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameah,
May 10, 2012
When our children were younger, Deborah and I loved to take them to the Please Touch Museum. For those of you who have taken your children or grandchildren to the Please Touch Museum at its former location, there were always two must-go-to stops: The Grocery Store and the "Where the Wild Things Are" exhibit.
Maurice Sendak, the author of Where the Wild Things Are, died earlier this week. His influence on children's literature will last long after his death. Sendak was not afraid to plumb the depths of a child's imagination-both in its wondrous glories and in its darkest terrors-and bring both to life in his writing.
Sendak was definitely not a practicing Jew. Yet his Jewish identity permeated nearly everything he created. Writing in an op-ed piece earlier this week, Professor Jodi Eichler-Levine of the University of Wisconsin at Madison had this to say about Sendak's writing: "Sendak, who died this week at age 83, lived out core paradoxes of American Jewish identity. A son of immigrants in Brooklyn, he longed for Manhattan, calling the shining spires of the city, 'America.' He held religiosity at arm's length but based the images of his Wild Things on his Jewish relatives, the ones who threatened to pinch his cheeks and consume him with their love and their desperate longing for continuity on the shores of this new world: 'We'll eat you up!'" In keeping with his cultural identity as a Jew, food often played a central role in each of Sendak's stories.
Many of us remember the production of Brundibar that was performed at Gratz College a few years ago that our own Paula Rothman helped bring to our area. Brundibar is based on a Czech opera performed at Thereisenstadt. The composer and nearly all the children who performed in the original were murdered in the Shoah. But it was Sendak who brought Brundebar back to the attention of 21st Century audiences.
Sendak's life reminds us that the influences of a Jewish identity can permeate one's life even when one chooses to absent oneself from religious practice. The particularity of Sendak's experience-and the Jewish nature of that experience-allowed him to create universal works of literature that influenced a generation. The world of literature is richer for Maurice Sendak's contribution. May his memory be for a blessing.
April 27, 2012
Next week, the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis will celebrate its 150th anniversary as the oldest trans-denominational rabbinic organization in the United States. In the American city in which freedom was founded for our country, it seems fitting that we will take time to honor the spirit of unity that binds the Jewish people together even as we recognize the diversity that abounds in our community.
As one of the two Vice President of our local Board of Rabbis, I have been working with my co-Vice President-Rabbi Robert Leib of Old York Road Temple Beth Am-to create a program that would be a fitting way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Philadelphia Board of Rabbis. We are bringing four rabbis who are national leaders of the four major denominations in American Jewish life to speak to the Philadelphia Jewish community about the role of denominations in American Jewish life. Here is a link to the flyer that gives all the specifics.I very much hope that you will join us on Wednesday evening at 7:30 PM at Federation's Community Services Building to join in this fascinating panel discussion on the role denominations will play in the Jewish future.
At a time in which all of the Jewish denominations in this country outside of Orthodoxy are experiencing shrinkage in their congregational membership, it is important that we take time as a Conservative congregation to understand what it is that makes us Conservative Jews. We need to think critically and clearly about what it is about our denominational identity that engages us, and what it is that deters a new generation of American Jews from joining us. We need to think about the role that our religious ideology plays in our Jewish identity and practice, and we need to engage in more conversation about creating religious communities that reflect both our ideologies and vision.
As members of a Conservative congregation-the American denomination of world Jewry that is losing members faster than the three non-Orthodox movements-it is a critical time for us to be self-reflective and visionary. I hope that the program on Wednesday night will be an opportunity for the Philadelphia Jewish community to take part in a conversation hat is a critically important one for our generation. I urge you to make room in your busy schedules to join us for this important evening.
April 13, 2012
I hope that all of you have had a wonderful Pesah and that you found yourselves surrounded by people that you love during your Passover sederim. As we prepare to conclude the Festival, we look forward to doing so as an extended Beth Sholom congregational family. Tomorrow night we expect close to 200 members for our Shabbat Under the Stars Passover edition service beginning at 6:00 PM and featuring the Neshamah Band. For those who have RSVP'ed, we look forward to joining you for dinner following the service. There will be no 8:00 PM service on Friday night.
On Shabbat morning, the Yizkor prayers will be offered at 10:45 AM. In addition, we look forward to a light Pesah meal following Shabbat morning services. There will be a special luncheon for those who have joined the congregation within the past year as well. Thanks to Julie Glass for coordinating all the logistics.
Many of you are eagerly anticipating your return to the eating of hametz. Please be aware that I will be purchasing all of our hametz back from our beloved custodian Charles Seal at 8:20 PM on Saturday night. You should feel free to once again eat hametz after 8:30 PM on Saturday night.
Wishing you all a sweet end to the Pesah Festival.
March 30, 2012
One of my all time favorite Passover stories is the one about Chaim, a Jewish man who was good friends with the monarch in a small kingdom long ago. The king loved Chaim and Chaim loved the king. More important, the King trusted him, and knew that he was a talented and capable banker so he decided to make Chaim the royal treasurer. Unfortunately the other advisors resented having a Jew placed in a position of such high authority over them so they went to the king with an ultimatum: Either Chaim had to convert or they would resign.
Reluctantly the king told Chaim his dilemma. Being a good friend and realizing how fortunate he was to be the royal treasurer, Chaim told his family that they had to convert if he was to hold on to his position.
For weeks and then months after the conversion, Chaim's conscience gnawed at him. How could he have deserted his ancestral faith so easily? Finally one day Chaim burst into the royal throne room and told his friend: "My king, you know how I feel about you and how much I love serving you. But I cannot live with myself if I cannot be a Jew. I cannot be treasurer if I must remain Christian!"
Upon hearing this, the king said to Chaim: "My dear friend why didn't you tell me how strongly you felt about this. If Judaism is so important to you I will allow you and your family to return to your ancient faith." Chaim immediately rushed home to his wife the good news. He said: Shprinze: I have wonderful news: "The king said we can return to Judaism immediately." To which Shprinze responded: "You idiot - couldn't you wait until after Pesach to ask?"
About this time of year, many of us feel a lot like Shprinze, Why do we go to all this trouble? The schlepping of the Pesah dishes; the cleaning; the koshering; the expense associated with celebrating this Festival. Is it really worth all the trouble?
And of course, we know the answer is an emphatic "Yes!" It is worth the trouble because nothing in life that really matters happens without effort and without commitment. This week at morning minyan I asked the minyanaires to think about the things that they were most proud of that they had done in their lives. As I scanned the room, I was certain that there was not a single person whose mind filled up with things that had happened by accident in life. The things that we value most are the things that we have worked hardest to achieve: Our most important relationships; the work-both professional and volunteer that we have committed to-the causes and communities in which we have given of our time, money, and energy. We value the things that we work hardest for in our lives.
As a community, Pesah preparations may at times feel like a punishment for being Jewish. But in the aftermath of all the hard work, there is the satisfaction of a job well done: We know that we have modeled the seriousness of our Jewish commitments; that we have meditated seriously on the responsibilities of freedom; and that we have connected the story of our families to the story of the Jewish people.
May we each be blessed to celebrate a hag kasher v'sameah, and may we merit the satisfaction of knowing that our hard work has indeed served a larger purpose.
March 16, 2012
Resignations by business executives are rarely good fodder for a rabbinic e-mail message to the congregation, but Greg Smith's very public resignation from his position as an Executive Director at Goldman Sachs is food for thought for any person who cares about the integrity of an organization and the leadership necessary to sustain any institution worth its salt.
In case you missed the powerful Op-Ed piece written in this week's New York Times, here is the link to Mr. Smith's article.
Mr. Smith talks about the fact that over the course of his twelve-year relationship with Goldman Sachs, something fundamental shifted in the company's culture. No longer is today's Goldman Sachs primarily concerned with doing what is best for its client; instead, it has only one goal: to make as much money as possible for Goldman Sachs. Of course, no company can survive if it does not turn a profit. But if making profits trumps doing what is best for your clients, you are probably not going to be a profitable company for very long. Here, in Mr. Smith's own words, is what contributed to his decision to leave Goldman Sachs:
"It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs's success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients' trust for 143 years. It wasn't just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years......How did we get here? The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an ax murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence."
Smith's letter is surely bad news for the current senior management team at Goldman Sachs who is no doubt trying its best to do damage control. But Mr. Smith's disillusionment speaks to the dangers of what can happen to any organization-for-profit or not-for-profit-that puts expediency over values. Bad values are not only bad for morale; they are also bad for business.
March 2, 2012
On Sunday morning, Rabbi Merow and I will leave for Washington DC to attend AIPAC's annual Policy Conference. I am pleased to report that our delegation of 37 members is the largest Policy Conference in Beth Sholom's history. The strength of our delegation was made possible by the confidence that our congregational leadership showed in purchasing 20 advanced registrations at the discounted price of $299. All of those registrations were sold to our members. In addition, a family in the congregation that wishes to remain anonymous paid $50 towards the registration fee of anyone who was attending Policy Conference for the first time. We are delighted that we have close to 20 members attending for the first time.
During our time in Washington we will hear from Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. U.S. President Barack Obama will speak as well. In addition, we are expecting at least two-if not three-of the current Republican Party candidates for President to address the delegates. Right now, over 13,000 people are registered to attend-the largest AIPAC Policy Conference in history.
Of course, the chief concern on the minds of all those who will be attending is the growing threat of Iran's nuclear weapons program. The issue of how Israel and the United States will respond to this growing threat is clearly the dominant concern among all those who will be on hand. We will be listening carefully both to our elected officials and to Israel's elected officials for clues about what may lie ahead. I will look forward to briefing the congregation about what we learn upon my return.
In the meantime, the irony of the Iranian threat taking center stage at a time of such proximity to Purim cannot be lost upon any of us. Almost 2,000 years ago in the land of Persia, a man rose up with the intent of annihilating the Jewish people. Today in the modern-day land of Persia, new actors have appeared on the world stage with a similarly evil goal. With the courage that we learned from our ancestors Mordecai and Esther, I am confident that the Jewish people today stands ready to make sure that the Haman's of the 21st Century will be similarly unsuccessful.
I look forward to celebrating the Festival of Purim with you here at Beth Sholom on Wednesday, March 7th. If you have not yet already done so, please remember to RSVP to Julie Glass at firstname.lastname@example.org to confirm your dinner reservation for our 6:00 PM congregational dinner.
Wishing all of you a memorable and uplifting Purim celebration.
February 17, 2012
For more than two years now, you have undoubtedly been aware that the seven synagogues in the Old York Road Corridor have joined together to look into revitalizing our neighborhoods and strengthening the Jewish institutions that are here. Our efforts, which we have called the Old York Road Revitalization Group" (OYRRG) consisted of creating a leadership group and a financial investment from all seven synagogues in our area. With matching funds from the Federation of Greater Philadelphia, we were able to hire the Penn/Fels consulting group to create a revitalization plan for our area.
As part of this process, communal leaders were interviewed, focus groups were convened, town hall meetings took place, and research on the strengths and weaknesses of our community were studied. Last night, the Steering Committee of the OYRRG met with our consultants from Penn/Fels to review a draft plan of their report. The purpose of the report will be to help our community accomplish the following objectives: 1) Identify and prioritize the types of development that are likely to have the greatest impact on revitalizing the area; 2) Suggest effective ways for making those developments a reality; 3) Develop a marketing strategy that will raise the image of the neighborhood and increase interest in moving there; 4) Establish measures that can be used to assess the success and impact of the group in implementing the plan and revitalizing the neighborhood; and 5) Recommend an organizational structure for the group that will lead implementation of the resulting plan.
The report will be finalized within the next three weeks and we will have a link on our Web site that will allow the entire congregation to have a chance to review it. As one of the leaders of this process, it has been heartening for me to see the Jewish community in our area come together in all its diversity to work together on strengthening our Jewish communal home. I have also been delighted at two recent developments that bode well for the future health of our community. Just last week, the Creek-Side Co-op had a dedication ceremony in the former Ashbourne market property. Renovations are now underway and the co-op is scheduled to open this summer.
In addition, members of our community have launched the Old York Road Jewish Network, a group of Jewish professionals dedicated to the growth and vitality of the Old York Jewish Community. The mission of the group is to help both existing community members, as well as prospective community members who are considering relocating to our neighborhood, identify job and business opportunities. By harnessing the strength and diversity of the vibrant Jewish community in the OYR Corridor, the Old York Road Jewish Network is a truly unique networking resource.
If you are already a member of LinkedIn, please join the Old York Road Jewish Network by following this link:
If you are not already a member of LinkedIn, you can join for free at:
As our revitalization plan is finalized, I will continue to keep the members of our congregation apprised of programs and opportunities that will allow us to harness the power of our larger community to work together to strengthen our Jewish communal home here in the Old York Road Corridor. May we continue to grow from strength to strength.
February 2, 2012
Dear Friends -
This Sunday at Beth Sholom Congregation, the Men's Club of Beth Sholom and Adath Jeshurun will sponsor a program for the World Wide Wrap that helps promote the mitzvah of tefillin. The World Wide Wrap is a national program sponsored by the Federation of Jewish Men's Club (FJMC) that uses Super Bowl Sunday as a time to spend the morning focused on tefillin as a beautiful way in which we actually wrap ourselves in God's words as a prelude to the early evening activity that over 100 million Americans will participate in as they watch the Super Bowl. This Sunday, our program will feature a presentation by the Star of David Bikers Group-the Delaware Valley's only Jewish motorcycle organization (learn more about them at starofdavidbikers.org). On Sunday morning you can learn about a group of Jews combine their love of motorcycles with the doing of mitzvoth and of expressing pride in their Jewish-ness. Services will begin at 9:30; followed by the Star of David presentation at 10:00, and breakfast at 10:30.
In thinking about the World Wide Wrap, I have often wondered why the FJMC felt the need to juxtapose teaching about tefillin with the Super Bowl. Aside from the obvious marketing tie-in with an over-the-top event cultural and sporting event, why does the World Wide Wrap always take place on Super Bowl Sunday?
Let me share with you an answer that I came across recently in a book entitled "America: Religion and Religions" by Catherine Albanese a Professor of Religion at the University of Chicago: According to Dr. Albanese: "There are many ways in which the sports of modern America are like deliberate religious rituals. Both mark out a separate area for their activities - a "playground" or sacred space. . . Both are examples of dramatic actions in which people take on assigned roles, often wearing special symbolic clothing to distinguish them from non-participants. . . In sports and deliberate religious rituals, the goal of the activity is the activity. While there may be good results from the game or rite, there is a reason implicit in the action for performing it. Play or ritual is satisfying for its own sake, for each is an activity in which people may engage because of the pleasure it gives in itself. . . .
In other words, when we take on the mitzvah of tefillin, we are donning the uniform of Jewish prayer. By engaging in the ritual of prayer in our tefillin and tallitot, we are declaring ourselves participants in this important life pursuit. While we never know whether or not our prayers will be answered, we know there is intrinsic value in the ritual itself. We become more deeply identified with our Jewish team through taking part in this ritual, and more deeply invested with the well-being of our teammates as a result.
So if you have never been to a World Wide Wrap, find us in the Sisterhood Sanctuary on Sunday morning. Since few of us really care if the Giant win or if the Patriots win, at least we can feel part of a winning team in the morning!
January 19, 2012
Dear Beth Sholom Member,
As many of you may already be aware, in just two weeks, the BDS Movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel) will hold its national conference in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania February 4-5, 2012. A student group called Penn BDS, a group sanctioned and funded by the Student Council at Penn, is bringing the conference to campus.
Your two rabbis and the Mid-Atlantic Region of The Rabbinical Assembly have been in constant consultation about the conference with both the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Hillel of Greater Philadelphia who communicated our collective concerns to the University. In fact, the President's Office at Penn has recently put forward a statement that clearly and unequivocally disassociates the University from the BDS movement and the positions of the speakers. We would like to ask any members of the congregation who are Penn alumni to be in touch with the University administration to thank them for distancing themselves from the goals of this conference. In addition, we encourage you to urge Penn administration officials to encourage more exchange and programs between Penn faculty and Israeli academics.
Our ongoing concern is that this conference brings to our community academics, professional activists, and students from around the country who are pursuing a de-legitimization campaign against Israel. Beth Sholom Congregation joins with the numerous Jewish and pro-Israel organizations across the globe that condemns the BDS movement and their divisive message.
A broad coalition of pro-Israel organizations have been meeting to address this issue and to plan strategies for responding including Federation, ADL, AJC, AIPAC, JCRC of Southern NJ, J-Street, ZOA, Z-Street, the Israeli Consulate, and Hillel of Greater Philadelphia. Part of the strategy of our organized Jewish community is to have many pro-Israel events during the time of their BDS conference. This way we can support Israel without giving any attention to the BDS Movement. We are attaching a link to a lecture by renowned Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz that will take place on Thursday, February 2nd entitled "We Are One With Israel." We urge as many Beth Sholom members as possible to attend this lecture and to join with the pro-Israel advocacy community. The lecture is free, but you must rsvp now to the number on the flyer to hold a spot.
We want to make sure that you are informed and aware that Beth Sholom's leadership is staying on top of this issue and that we are joining efforts in the community to address the matter. We will continue to keep you updated and be in contact about what action, if any, you might take that could be beneficial to our efforts. If you have any questions or concerns, you should feel free to contact either of us.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin and Rabbi Andrea Merow
January 5, 2012
As participants in the larger culture, we Jews use the opportunity of beginning a new year as a time for reflection as well. As 2012 began, a number of issues from the first week of 2012 speak to the challenges that we face both as Jews and as Americans. What follows are a few of those challenges and some questions for us to consider:
These, and other issues still unknown await us as 2012 unfolds. There are great challenges that we face both at home and abroad-both as Jews and as Americans. We pray that this new year of 2012 marks a time of greater peace, security, and prosperity for each of us-and for the world.
December 22, 2011
The Rabbis in the Talmud debated many things about lighting the Hanukkah menorah: They debated if we start with one candle and build up to eight or start with eight candles and move down to one; they debated where the hanukkiyah should be placed in the home; and they debated whether it was preferable to have one hanukkiyah per home or whether it was preferable to allow each member of the household to have a Menorah in order for each family member to light his or her own. Eventually, Jewish laws became settled on these issues. We light one candle on each night and add a candle so that we ascend in light and holiness; we place the hanukkiyah in the window so that we can "publicize the miracle." And it is considered a "beautification of the mitzvah"-a hiddur mitzvah-for each family member to light his or her own.
It is interesting to understand why some of the Sages objected to this practice of multiple hanukkiyot in a single household. The dominant reason for the objection is that multiple hanukkiyot next to each other on the window sill might make it more difficult for an observer to be certain what night of Hanukkah it is. Eventually, the Rabbis were able to agree that it was possible to avoid this confusion by placing the hanukkiyot in different parts of the house so that the progression of nights is apparent to all.
My colleague, Rabbi Danny Nevins, teaches that there are two reasons why multiple hanukkiyot make great Jewish sense. First, it allows us to teach our children at a relatively early age (when they are able to safely hold a candle) that each of us has the responsibility to do mitzvot. Rather than see a mitzvah as the purview of the adults when there is inly one hanukkiyah in the home, giving each child a hanukkiyah and allowing each child to light teaches a wonderful lesson about Jewish responsibility.
A second reason for having a hanukkiyah for each member of the household comes from the Hasidic master, the Sefat Emet. Because Hanukkah is a festival that comes from the Rabbis and is not found in the Torah, it is part of our oral tradition. As opposed to the written Torah in which every letter is fixed, the oral tradition is ever capable of expanding and growing into new ways of creating a relationship with God. By adding ever more candles to illumine the dark places of life, we are making a statement about the possibility of innovation. Jews have always found new ways to enhance our traditions and to bring more light and energy into our religious practices. May the many candles of light during this Hanukkah season remind us of our own power to bring more light to the world and to our Jewish observances.
Hag Urim Sameah-A joyous Hanukkah to each and every one of us!
December 8, 2011
Since the start of the New Year on Rosh Hashanah, Beth Sholom Congregation has focused its attention on the experience and the meaning of Jewish communal prayer. We have had wonderful experiences with two guest prayer leaders-Craig Taubman and Hazzan Bat Ami Moses. The third and last guest prayer leader will be Joey Weisenberg who will be spending the Shabbat of December 16-17 with us. You can learn more about Joey's work by visiting his Web site at www.joeyweisenberg.com We hope that you will join us for services and dinner at 6:30 PM on Friday Dec. 16 and for Shabbat morning services and a lunch and learn beginning at 9:15 AM on Dec. 17 .
This week we continue our focus on learning about prayer in the third Shabbat Experience that will take place on Shabbat morning. Our focus will be on the meaning of the Shema and the blessings that surround it.
Many of us understand that the declaration embedded in the Shema amounts not only to a statement of our belief in one God, but functions as a kind of Jewish pledge of allegiance as well. We say the Shema two times per day and we recite the Shema before going to sleep. We say the Shema at the conclusion of Yom Kippur; and we are commanded to say the Shema if we are aware that we are about to die. Yet why is this prayer so central in Jewish life?
British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks makes the point that Judaism is a religion that emphasizes the importance of sound over the importance of sight. Our most important prayers remind us to "listen" and to "hear." Judaism emphasizes the importance of sound because our primary way both of relating to God and to knowing God comes through the power of language. As much as we acknowledge God as the source of the natural universe and the created world, the Jewish vision of God is that God revealed God's presence through language-through the Torah. The essence of what makes humans unique is our capacity to think and to relate to each other and to God through language. It is our ability to think and to speak which makes human beings unique among God's creations.
God becomes real to us when we engage God through the study of our sacred texts and through prayer. That is why our central prayer reminds us to "listen" and to seek to "understand." The fullest expression of our humanity is found when we exercise our unique human capacity to use language.
We look forward to seeing you on Shabbat morning as we engage as a community in this holy enterprise. In the meantime, enjoy this video in which our Religious School students sing the Shema in three-part harmony.
November 23, 2011
Why do we Jews love Thanksgiving so much? A couple of responses immediately come to mind:
First, Thanksgiving feels like a very Jewish holiday. After all, it is a day when we surround ourselves with friends and family members and we offer thanks for the gifts of our lives. According to tradition, Jews are to give thanks 100 times each day. We are to give thanks before we eat, when we have food, and after we have eaten our fill. Each morning the traditional liturgy includes thank-yous for such simple acts as standing up and having the strength to get through the day.
Second, Thanksgiving is a day that reminds us to be thankful that we are Americans. America has been very good to the Jews. We have always lived here in relative safety. Our rights as a religious minority are protected by laws and by the Constitution's Bill of Rights. There is Diaspora Jewish community in which Jews have faced less anti-Semitism throughout our long history than American Jews have faced here in the United States of America.
In this way, Thanksgiving reminds us that we Jews are part of the American dream, a dream in which peoples of all races, ethnicities and religions enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
May we each be blessed with much to feel thankful for during this Thanksgiving holiday. And may we be blessed with the awareness of how privileged we are to be citizens of this great country.
Happy Thanksgiving and an early Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin
November 11, 2011
First and foremost, we send congratulations to Beth Sholom congregants Risa Ferman on her election to a new four-year term as Montgomery County District Attorney and to Josh Shapiro on his election to the office of Montgomery County Commissioner. May you both be blessed to serve our County with honor and distinction and may our County flourish under your leadership. We are proud that Beth Sholom is your Jewish communal home in Montgomery County.
As we are all aware, the news this past week has been dominated by the arrest of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on multiple charges of child sexual abuse. The allegations are excruciating horrifying. Just this morning, the Board of Trustees announced that Penn State President Graham Spanier and Head Football Coach Joe Paterno were fired from their positions.
According to news reports this morning, Coach Paterno will state that he was not informed of the specific nature of the sexual molestation that took place in 2002. Rather, he was told by a 28 year-old assistant coach that the coach had witnessed what seemed to him some inappropriate "fondling" and "horsing around" by Sandusky. The extent of Paterno's ethical culpability certainly may depend on exactly what he knew and when he knew it. But it seems to me that there is a larger lesson for all of us who work for-or who represent-institutions that espouse moral values-whether they are religious, political, educational, or business institutions.
Institutions thrive when they live out their values. The health of any institution is commensurate with the extent to which the values it stands for are matched by the actions of those who represent the organization. Joe Paterno was well-known for creating a football program that stood for "success with honor." He espoused those values whenever he spoke about the nature of his work at Penn State. While no one accuses Coach Paterno of committing a legal wrong-doing, unless the assistant coach who informed Paterno of what he saw completely whitewashed and omitted significant details of what allegedly took place, Paterno is certainly guilty of not living up to his ethical responsibility embodied in the philosophy that he espoused.
At this time, our primary religious response should be one of empathy and compassion for the victims of these horrific assaults. But for those of us who represent institutions in which values matter, this is a cautionary tale. The currency we trade in is our honor and integrity. May those of us who represent institutions of all kinds never lose sight of the fact that our actions will always speak louder than our words.
October 28, 2011
A great Sage once asked his students: What is the holiest month in the Jewish calendar? One student answered: "It is Nissan-for in that month we were freed from slavery and we became a nation." Another student replied: "It is Sivan-for in that month we received the Torah." And a third replied: "Clearly, it is Tishre-for in that month we begin the year again; we observe Yom Kippur-the holiest day on the calendar; we rejoice in the sukkah; and then we dance with the Torah on Simhat Torah."
The Sage considered these responses and responded: "All of these months are holy; but the holiest of all is Heshvan; for in Heshvan, there are no hagim or festivals. This is the month in the Jewish calendar when we see ourselves for who we are and measure the quality of the lives that we are living."
Today and tomorrow mark Rosh Hodesj Heshvan-the beginning of the time when the din of the holidays come to an end and our lives return to "normal." But here at Beth Sholom, we are celebrating Rosh Hodesh Heshvan with the start of a process that is designed to help us understand who we are-and what kind of congregation we want to become.
Our first guest prayer leader, Craig Taubman, joins us here at Beth Sholom for a Shabbat of soulful Jewish prayer. Before Craig even arrives in Elkins Park, let me say from the outset that the three prayer leaders who will visit us over the next two months have been regular prayer leaders at Conservative congregations. Let me also say that we have asked each of our guest prayer leaders to lead a service in his or her own vision; we have not asked them to lead a service in the style that we are accustomed to at Beth Sholom. Our goal is to learn about new possibilities for meaningful and powerful Jewish prayer experiences so that we will be better able to articulate the kind of worship life we hope to create in our future. We hope that all members of our community who come to services this Shabbat will open their minds and their hearts to new possibilities without fear that something that you experience during these Shabbatot is something that we are committing ourselves to for the future. Some of you will undoubtedly like some of the things that you experience this Shabbat; some of you will be likely to dislike and to feel uncomfortable with some of the things that you experience this Shabbat. All of what you think, feel, and believe will be valuable information as we imagine our future. We simply ask that all members of the community enter these experiences with both open minds and open hearts.
Please be aware that the service Craig leads on Shabbat morning will not contain either a full Torah reading or a full Musaf service. For that reason, Shalom Zachmy will be leading a traditional Shabbat morning service in the Price Chapel. For those who choose to attend services in the Price Chapel with Shalom, we hope that you will join us for the lunch and learn program with Craig following services on Shabbat morning.
As this month of Heshvan begins, let each of us as individuals commit to incorporating the visions of the better selves we imagined during the Days of Awe and the festivals of Tishre. And may we as a Beth Sholom community open ourselves up to new possibilities and new vehicles for deepening our awareness of God's presence through the worship life we create in this community.
Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin
October 11, 2011
First and foremost, g'mar hatima tova to each and every one of you. May you be sealed for blessing and good health in the coming new Year
Second, it is with rejoicing that we welcome the news of the release of Israeli IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. After five years in captivity, reports have been confirmed that he will be reunited with his family within a few weeks. We know that the State of Israel pays a heavy price for the value that it places on the lives of each one of its citizens. Over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners will be released from Israeli prisons in exchange for Shalit's release. We understand the security risks the release of these prisoners pose to Israel and we understand the fear that such exchanges can act as an incentive for more kidnappings. At the end of the day, however, I believe that most of us are proud to identify with a nation that places such an extraordinary value on the life of its soldiers and citizens. We pray that Gilad Shalit will be united swiftly with his family and that he will be able to enjoy a long life of health and prosperity.
Third, I want to remind you that we have a wonderful series of three guest prayer leaders who will be joining us at Beth Sholom Congregation in the coming months. We look forward to learning from these talented Jewish professionals who will help our congregation begin the process of discerning the type of prayer life we hope to have as we begin our search for a new Hazzan of the congregation. Our first guest will be Craig Taubman who will be here the Shabbat of October 28-29. Craig is an internationally renowned Jewish musician who has written gorgeous music for both Kabbalat Shabbat and Shabbat morning services. Please mark your calendars and plan to attend this wonderful musical Shabbat at Beth Sholom.
Fourth, I want to remind each and every one of you that I am still awaiting your ideas and suggestions for ways that we can make Seth Sholom Congregation a stronger Jewish community. As you may remember, I asked each one of us tocome with an idea that you are willing to invest some of your talent and time to make happen in the life of the congregation during this New Year. To date, I have received ten suggestions from our members with a variety of ideas: Some have suggested programs for grandparents and grandchildren; others have suggested we encourage couples who are celebrating milestone anniversaries to have a joint renewal of vows ceremony; others have suggested we do much better in reducing our carbon footprint by avoiding disposables at kiddushes and onegs. There have been many wonderful suggestions; we would like to hear from many more of you as well. Please e-mail me with any ideas that you have at Rdgk@bethsholomcongregation.org
We look forward to building a stronger and more collaborative Beth Sholom Congregation in this New Year
Hag Sameah and Shabbat Shalom
Setptember 28. 2011
A New Year is not only a time when we take stock of our individual lives; it is also a time when we look closely at our communal obligations and responsibilities.
Many of you are aware that the seven synagogues of the Old York Road Corridor have joined together to initiate a community revitalization project. Our group is called the Old York Road Revitalization Group (OYRRG). The Steering Committee of the OYRRG is made up of senior lay leaders and clergy from the seven synagogues in our area. Thanks to funding from all seven synagogues and a matching grant from the Philadelphia Jewish Federation, we have hired the Penn Fels Consulting Group to work with us on developing a plan that would help to strengthen the Old York Road Corridor as a destination community for the Greater Philadelphia area. We believe our neighborhoods were not only great places to live 30 years ago; we think they are great places to live NOW. We want to encourage more Jewish families to think seriously about living here, and we want to make this a more attractive region for Jews and non-Jews to live and to raise their families.
In order to work on developing a plan, we are holding two open meetings in which the community at large will meet with our consultants and share in a dialogue about ways to strengthen our area. I want to urge each and every member of our congregation to attend at least one of the two Community Engagement Meetings. The first meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 5th at Abington Junior High School. The second meeting will take place on Monday, October 10th at the Cheltenham School District Building on Ashbourne Road in Elkins Park. Please invite your friends who live in the area-Jewish and non-Jewish alike-to attend one of these two meetings. Your input is essential for us to develop a plan to insure that the wonderful quality of life that we value here in the Old York Road Corridor will continue to be strengthened in the coming months and years.
On behalf of the OYRRG Steering Committee, I thank you in advance for working together with your friends and neighbors to strengthen our community. May this New Year be one in which we are strengthened not only in our homes and families, but in our neighborhood and community as well.
Shanah tovah u'mitukah,
Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin
September 16, 2011
It is a busy time of year for many of us, and yet this month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah and the start of the New Year, is also the time of year when our Jewish tradition asks us to take stock of our priorities.
A well-known expert on time management once spoke to a group of business executives. He took a one-gallon wide-mouthed jar and put it on the table in front of him. Then he produced a dozen rocks about the size of an apple and carefully placed them in the jar one at a time. When the jar was filled with rocks and no more rocks could be fit inside, he asked: "Is the jar full?" Everyone in the glass said, "Yes." He asked, "Really?" Then he reached under the table and took out a bag of gravel, and poured some into the jar and then shook so that the gravel worked themselves into the crevices between the rocks. Then he asked again: "Is the jar full?" Now the executives said, "Probably not." "Good," he replied. Then he reached under the table and took a bag of sand, and demonstrated that there was still space left between the gravel and the rocks. "Is the jar full now?" he asked. "No!" they all said. "Right!" he said. This time, he took out a pitcher of water and poured it into the jar.
The time management expert then looked at the executives and asked: "What do you think the purpose of this exercise is?" One businesswoman said: "The purpose is to demonstrate that no matter how busy your schedule, you can always fit in something more if you want to." The speaker responded: "No, that is not the point at all. This exercise is meant to teach you that if you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all!"
A good lesson for each of us as well-particularly at this time of year. Elul is a good time to reflect on some questions: What projects are really worth accomplishing in our lives? What have we been putting off that is worthy of our time? What causes need our time and attention that would make a difference in the world?
Too many of us look back over the course of a year and find there was too much time spent on the small stuff-the sand, the gravel, the water. When in truth we know what matters is the big stuff: Our families; our communities that need our talents and devotion; our souls that need time to be opened up and nourished.
Take some time to reflect on what is in the jar of your life. And make sure you've left room for the big rocks-the really worthwhile things in your life. For is you do, the New Year will be one of blessing indeed.
Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin
Community Collaboration Nights at Beth Sholom
A community is stronger when the whole is related to the sum of its parts. This month, Beth Sholom will begin a modest attempt to allow ourselves to bring the constituent parts of our community into greater relationship with the whole.
On Thursday, Sept. 15th, we begin the first of three Community Collaboration Nights. On this evening, committees will meet simultaneously in separate parts of the Fischman Auditorium in order to accomplish individual committee business. Following a short break for coffee and schmoozing, we will then gather together for one collective meeting in which we will engage in discussion on a topic that is important to the congregation as a whole, and which would be best solved by the congregation working together to achieve common ends. The schedule for the evening is listed below.
Why bring together members of committees and auxiliaries on the same night? Do we really need yet another meeting for the already busy members of the congregation? First, these Community Collaboration Nights are meant to help reduce the number of meetings our members attend. Our vision is that these meetings will replace the monthly meetings that most of our committees and auxiliaries usually set up. For those members who serve on more than one committee, we suggest that you divide your time in the first hour of the Community Collaboration Nights among the various committees that you may serve on. Instead of two or three meetings per month for the various group that you serve on, you have just consolidated your meeting schedule to one night per month.
But most importantly, we create a structure at Beth Sholom for leaving our individual silos and communicating together. Rather than see ourselves as connected to the community mostly through our involvement with one group, we now have an opportunity to institutionalize collaboration. Some of the topics we hope to address during the time when we are all together include the following:
Strong communities remain strong because they create mechanisms to do collective problem-solving and consensus-building. Until this time, we have had no mechanism to build these intra-communal bonds. We hope that you will join your favorite committee and auxiliary members on Thursday September 15th when we begin what we believe will be a fruitful effort to build a stronger Beth Sholom.
Rabbi David Glanzberg-Krainin
Rabbi Andrea Merow
Schedule of the Evening:
7:00 – 7:25 PM: Evening Minyan
7:30 – 8:20 PM: Committees and auxiliaries meet separately spread out in different parts of the Fischman Auditorium
8:20 – 8:35 PM: Individual meetings end and we gather for coffee, cake, and informal schmoozing
8:40 – 9:30 PM: We gather together for a community conversation on one topic of importance to the congregation as a whole. We hope to emerge with consensus and plan for how to follow up on achieving these common goals.