(JTA) — Indonesia’s last synagogue has been destroyed, a Dutch news site reported last week.
Unidentified persons demolished the Beith Shalom synagogue in Surabaya on the island of Java to its foundations sometime earlier this year, according to a report on Indoweb.nl.
The synagogue has seen a number of anti-Israel protests staged in front of it and was sealed by Islamic hardliners sealed in 2009, according to the Jakarta Globe.
Reports of the synagogue’s destruction have appeared in the Indonesian media since May and were confirmed last week by Indoweb.nl, which quoted the director of the Surabaya Heritage Society as saying that he intended to protest the demolition in talks with government officials.
“It is not clear by whom and when exactly the building was demolished,” Freddy Instanto told Indoweb.nl.
The City Council of Surabaya was in the process of registering the building as a heritage site. Istanto said that for that reason, the building “should have been protected.”
The Dutch news site also quoted Sachiroel Alim, the head of the Surabaya regional legislative council, as saying that it was unknown whether Muslim extremists had anything to do with the demolition.
Situated in in eastern Java, the small synagogue was built in the 19th century by Dutch Jews when Indonesia was still a Dutch colony. It had white-painted bricks and a Star of David painted on the front door.
The first Jews arrived in Indonesia in the 17th century with the Dutch East India Company. During the 1930s and 1940s, the community grew due to new arrivals fleeing persecution in Europe.
Currently, about 20 Jews are estimated to be living in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation, according to Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.
(JTA) — Two new synagogues, one of them for a Reform community, opened in Kiev.
Some 120 people attended the Sept. 27 dedication ceremony of the Reform synagogue and community center of the Congregation Hatikva in the Ukrainian capital, according to Alexander Haydar, executive director of the Religious Union for Progressive Jewish Congregations of Ukraine.
The new structure, bought and paid for with donations by three North American families, replaced “very inadequate rental facilities” which had served the community for 22 years, a statement published Thursday by the World Union for Progressive Judaism read.
Situated in Kiev’s historic Jewish neighborhood, Podol, the new, 4,000 square-feet center cost about $1 million to build, Mike Garbiner, the world union’s chairman, told JTA. The center has a sanctuary with seating for 150; activity rooms; a library; youth center and kitchenette.
Haydar old JTA that some 12,000 people take part in the programs run by 40 Progressive congregations in Ukraine. Kiev’s has some 800 members, he said. Ukraine has some 360,000 Jews, according to the European Jewish Congress.
Just south of the Reform center, Rabbi Moshe-Reuven Azman, a chief rabbi of Ukraine, on Sept. 25 helped inaugurate the new Orthodox Abraham Malach Synagogue, which was purchased for local Jews by philanthropist Ze’ev Levitan, Azman said. The new synagogue has a small dormitory for Jews who want to spent Shabbat and holidays there, Azman said.
“Synagogues are getting crowded. There is a real Jewish awakening among Ukrainian Jews,” Azman told JTA. “That’s why we are seeing new synagogues opening up.”
The Reform center‘s dedication ceremony was attended by its three donating families — Susan and James Klau of Rhode Island; Austin and Nani Beutel of Toronto; and Anne Molloy and Henry Posner III of Pittsburgh – and leaders of other Progressive Jewish communities.
The guests also held a memorial service at Babi Yar, the place where Nazis gunned down more than 33,000 Jews in September 1941 in one of the worst Holocaust-era massacres.
“Today is no less real than yesterday,” Rabbi Joel Oseran of the Union said during a speech. “And today we look around this new synagogue
center and feel the power of Jewish renewal and rebirth.”
BOSTON (JTA) — The elders of Israel are like the wings of a bird: Just as a bird cannot fly without wings, Israel cannot do anything without their elders (Vayikrah Rabba 11.8, Midrash on Leviticus 9:1).
Last I checked, there was no mitzvah among the 613 telling us to dye our hair to counter the effects of aging. If only people would give charity and observe Shabbat as assiduously as they follow the social commandment to hide their gray. The veneration that our tradition gives to a person with gray hair is undermined by a nip-and-tuck culture. People in large numbers persist in trying to mask the natural effects of aging, which creates a false hierarchy of youth and communicates that those who are older are less valued.
It’s time we got over it. The statistics are quite clear: We are living in a time when the oldest in our society are the fastest-growing portion of the population. And yet it is also clear that people over 85 are frequently marginalized, lonely and alienated from the life of our people. Significant change is needed.
Jewish life is inordinately focused on children, teenagers and young adults. They are presented as our future and our continuity. People observe children in a Jewish preschool or on a Birthright trip and believe that we will succeed in having them live out our values.
There is no sin in nachas, the emotional gratification we take from our children. But these populations should not be granted the exclusive focus of our collective energy and creativity. Ensuring our future — the future of every person reading this article — means guarding life such that each of us can continue to live and join the elders of Israel, living good and meaningful lives up until the day of death.
There are some obvious challenges we must overcome to help seniors remain in the midst of our people. Among them are improved access to health care, accessible communal organizations, supportive housing and support for caregivers. People should not be struggling alone. Jewish life should be easily accessible, and people should be able to choose to live in a community where they can receive supportive services, maintain friendships, have a rich spiritual life and easy access to health care and health maintenance.
As Robert Putnam described in “Bowling Alone,” civic engagement, belonging and active participation in community results in better health outcomes and increases the potential for a longer happy life. Similarly, the reward in the Torah for honoring your parents is that you shall merit a long life. Here we find an essential life circle: We honor our parents, and our children honor us, and we succeed in extending life and life’s enjoyment.
How do we do this as a community? We should be designing and building affordable supportive housing integrated into our neighborhoods, with health services easily accessible and multigenerational communal life bubbling all around. We honor them by integrating them into our lives.
More than 50 years ago my grandfather, Dr. Milton I. Levine, wrote a letter to The New York Times outlining a foster care program for elders. His idea remains relevant today: Adopt an elder. Learn their story. By including elders in the mental map of our neighborhoods, we help create a stronger klal Yisrael. But to truly see the elders in our midst, we also need to stop denying our own aging process. We are in this together.
In a women’s prayer book published in Germany in 1908, there is a two-page prayer for a daughter to recite when her mother is facing illness as well as a prayer to assist in getting along with an elderly stepmother. Such rituals and prayers for the children of older people have largely vanished from the liturgy. Jewish life can support this expansive stage of life much more fully by offering prayers, rituals, generationally integrated social opportunities and relevant educational programming as we accompany our parents and all the elders of our community from decade to decade, even as we ourselves age into our 60s and 70s.
As I looked out this Yom Kippur at the worshipers gathered at the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Boston, I saw a hundred faces of aging. Many were seated next to their 70-year-old children, an aide or a good friend. I indeed felt our prayers take flight, born on the wings of those worn and creased faces and the voices that carried theirs, joining in song and prayer.
(Rabbi Sara Passche-Orlowe is the director of chaplaincy and religious services for Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston.)
The Western Wall rabbi requested that haredi Orthodox girls not fill the plaza for the next Women of the Wall service.Click here for the rest of the article...
Let the Natalie Portman Holy Land sightings begin.
The actress is in Israel right now, working on her adaptation of Amos Oz’s “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” Haaretz reported Tuesday. The film, Portman’s directorial debut in which she is also starring, will begin shooting in Jerusalem in January.
No need to scan the Kotel crowd for her just yet, though. The Israeli-born actress is currently staying in a Tel Aviv hotel.
JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Western Wall rabbi requested that haredi Orthodox girls not fill the plaza for the next Women of the Wall service.
Aiming to reduce tension at the plaza, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz made the request on Thursday, one day before the monthly Rosh Chodesh service by the group.
Rabinowitz said in a statement that the mass gathering could spark tensions at Judaism’s holiest site and upset a fragile compromise on multidenominational prayer that has been taking shape through a committee convened by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Women of the Wall comes to the Western Wall to pray at the beginning of each Jewish month. In recent months, Israel’s haredi rabbinic leadership has sent thousands of haredi women and girls to pray there during the services, filling the women’s section of the plaza and preventing Women of the Wall from entering.
According to the statement, a confrontation between the haredi girls and Women of the Wall – whom Rabinowitz called a “provocation” – could upset the “sensitive security situation at the Temple Mount, which is now at its zenith.”
“When Jews fight with each other at the Western Wall, there is no greater desecration of God’s name,” the statement read. “Therefore we should await the decision of the committee, so that we can create order that will return calm and brotherhood to the Western Wall.”
By Cantor Hayley Kobilinsky
It may seem strange, but I wish to begin with a very Jewish, and yet not at all Jewish phrase: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.” These words are what a Catholic person says upon entering Confession, or at least that is how we all see it portrayed in television and movies.1 Those words are also found, not surprisingly, in Jewish liturgy: “S’lach Lanu, Avinu, Ki Chatanu…” (Forgive us, Father, we have sinned). While there are many similarities between Christian and Jewish liturgy, including that of penitential language, this is not a comparative religions essay. I begin with this example, however, because of its prevalence in our cultural context. HOW we handle these moments of penitence, however, is quite different.
We all have the opportunity to apologize to others face to face, over the phone, or even on Facebook. We can say the words, or type them, and hopefully begin a meaningful conversation that will effect change. What do we do when we don’t have that route? Sometimes we need to account for our actions in a different way, and prayer is certainly one of those methods. Silent prayer is one aspect I love about Jewish prayer services: we have a chance to think and meditate, silently. That is my time for private, personal prayer. As far as the rest, those are public prayers: set formulas we recite either aloud or silently, covering a wide range of subjects.
You may have wondered why we recite these self-deprecating texts out loud, all together as a community, even though they may be exaggerations of reality. You may have even heard an explanation for this which suggests that it is easier for someone to acknowledge a sin aloud when accompanied by many others, either as a way of shielding that person from being singled out or harshly judged, or holding one’s hand so he or she is unafraid. I would add that the comforting effect of communal prayer in these examples is enhanced by the melodies to which they are chanted. We can bring emotions to the surface by the use of music, or drown them out in the same way. On Yom Kippur, when we experience what it is like to be close to death, the melodies keep us somber while showing us there is light at the end of the tunnel.
One of the major components of the Selichot section of liturgy is “Ya’aleh.” Composed of several paragraphs, the solemn text begs that the petitioner be declared cleansed, purified, and forgiven, after having looked within and confessed. This setting of Ya’aleh by Hazzan Israel Alter begins by referencing the familiar strains of “Ani Ma’amin.” (“Ani Ma’amin” as referenced here is a melody said to have been sung by Jews as they were taken to gas chambers during the Holocaust. Its text, “I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may tarry, I will wait every day for him to come,” is based upon a selection from Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith.) Despite the somber subject matter of the borrowed melody’s text, Hazzan Alter kept the tempo just rhythmic enough that congregants might hum or chant along. LISTEN
Not unlike other prayers within this liturgy, K’racheim Av has positive content, describing God as a compassionate, loving parent: “As parents show compassion to their children, so do You, Adonai, show compassion to those who revere You. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so is Your love unending for those who serve You.” The prayer could be interpreted as beseeching God’s mercy, and consequently the music could reflect our urgency for compassion. Quite to the contrary, I have long found this gentle setting by Michael Isaacson to be warm and comforting, so much so that I have used the selection for memorial services. LISTEN
It would be remiss to not include a snippet of the much beloved setting of “Sh’ma Koleinu” by Max Helfman. Although there are other versions, including by the ever popular Debbie Friedman the High Holidays would not be complete for many of us without hearing Helfman’s majestic setting. Ranging from a shockingly loud plea, “Hear our voice!” to a practically whispered, “accept our prayer…do not cast us away,” this classic composition sums up the essence of not only the Selichot prayers, but perhaps all of Yom Kippur itself. LISTEN
Towards the end of the Selichot portion of prayers is a brief poem, “Ki Anu Amecha,” which begins, “We are Your people, You are our Sovereign. We are Your children, You are our Parent…” Melodies for this simple list of expressions of our relationship to God tend to be quite upbeat. The melodies do not sound sad or mournful despite the context of our repentance. Rather, they help us lift ourselves out of the depths of apologies and forgiveness. They remind us that there is hope, and with that hope, we return with renewed fervor to our prayers. In this example of a common folk tune forKi Anu Amecha, the arrangement, both of the melody and of the piano accompaniment, helps maintain the congregation’s lifted spirits by its tempo. LISTEN
Jews have only one “Day of Repentance” per year. Does Yom Kippur give us a 364-day-long pass for the rest of the year? Quite to the contrary, having one day on which to repent to God doesn’t mean we spend the rest of the year without thinking of the content or melodies of these prayers. Each time I recite the prayers of the Amidah, the central portion of each prayer service, and I come across the paragraph which begins, “Sh’ma Koleinu,” I immediately think of the lengthier prayer with its classic melody, sung on the High Holy Days. Perhaps seeing those, and other, familiar words helps remind us of the upcoming Day of Repentance, and returns us to the path on we had set forth since the prior Yom Kippur. Similarly, Catholicism distinguishes between different types of sins; while they must confess a minimum of once per year, or when they have committed a particular type of sin, they are encouraged to go to confession often, for the sake of awareness of one’s actions and intents, and to help overcome potential future sins. While the steps of confession and repentance differ dramatically from religion to religion, there is something reassuring in the fact that so many of us strive to make ourselves better on a regular basis. I hope the above examples of our Jewish musical expressions of penitence have been not only reassuring, but a reminder; Yom Kippur is nearly a full year away, but we should keep our actions in mind as surely as we can hum the melody of Kol Nidre.
Ya’aleh, Israel Alter. From The High Holy Day Service: The Complete Musical Liturgy of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for The Hazzan. Cantors Assembly, Inc., 1971. Performed by H. Kobilinsky.
Translation of K’racheim Av from Sharei Teshuvah (Gates of Repentance): The New Union Prayerbook for the Days of Awe, ed. Chaim Stern. Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1978
Kracheim Av, Michael Isaacson. From Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), Volume II, Yom Kippur, ed. Samuel Adler. Transcontinental Music Publications, 1982
K’racheim Av, Michael Isaacson. Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) Highlights: Music for Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur, Track 17. Performed by Cantor Martha Novick.
Sh’ma Koleinu, Max Helfman. From Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe), Volume II, Yom Kippur, ed. Samuel Adler. Transcontinental Music Publications, 1982.
Sh’ma Koleinu, Max Helfman. Yamim Noraim (Days of Awe) Highlights: Music for Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur, Track 15. Performed by Cantor Howard Stahl.
Ki Anu Amecha, Folk tune, arranged by Mary Feinsinger. From Shirei T’shuvah (Songs of Repentance), Transcontinental Music Publications. Performed by H. Kobilinsky.
- I suppose I should confess to you readers that I have never been to a Confessional, and so please take my observations as second-hand. Also, I have chosen not to change the liturgical language to be non-gendered, for the sake of familiarity.
Hayley Kobilinsky has served as Cantor of Congregation B’nai Yisrael of Armonk for nine years. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, where she teaches a workshop on music for the Three Festivals, and coaches for the Cantorial Certification Program.
NEW YORK (JTA) — When Rabbi Neal Borovitz retired from Temple Avodat Shalom of River Edge, N.J., in August, his congregation donated a Torah in his honor to a Reform Jewish summer camp. At the dedication service, Borovitz sat in the audience as his successor offered a sermon about the Torah’s history.
“And that’s when I realized that after two decades at this synagogue, I’m not the rabbi anymore,” said Borovitz, 65.
After 37 years as a rabbi, Borovitz was candid about the mix of feelings inspired by retirement — relief, excitement, uncertainty.
His situation is shared by a growing proportion of Americans — and an even larger proportion of Jews.
Nearly 20 percent of the American Jewish population is 65 or older, according to the Jewish Federations of North America, compared to 13 percent of the general population. And as growing numbers of Jewish Americans face retirement, a number of Jewish leaders are thinking about the spiritual aspects of the transition and how they can provide Jewishly inspired guidance to them.
“I want to bring the resources of Jewish life to bear on the experiences of growing older,” said Rabbi Dayle Friedman, a pioneer in spiritual guidance for the elderly.
Last fall, Friedman launched a program of discussions exploring “the rich and complex phase beyond midlife.” Known as Provisions for the Journey: A Wisdom Circle, the project aims to help Jews between 60 and 75 navigate the aging process through a combination of discussion, text study and meditation.
For Laura Jacobs, 62, Friedman’s Wisdom Circle was just one part of a spiritual transformation that began at retirement. For 22 years she headed a company recruiting professionals for health care firms. After 39 years in the workforce, Jacobs was terrified at the prospect of retirement.
“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life,” she said. “I had no notion of what life would be like if I wasn’t working. It made me feel as if there would be nothing for me anymore.”
Befitting a woman who had built a company from the ground floor and led it for decades, Jacobs approached the problem proactively. She began by hiring a life coach, and with his help spent the next months “researching her life,” exploring new paths and possibilities, from the synagogue to the photography studio.
She now has a daily spiritual practice in which she writes down all the things for which she is grateful. And Jacobs has become a life coach in her own right, helping clients of all ages.
“I have genuinely gotten to know myself and how I think, and what’s wonderful about life,” she said.
Joyce Norden had similar concerns when she retired several years ago. After spending her working life in education — first as a professor of medieval history at Carnegie Mellon University and later at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College — retirement showed Norden how much she still had to learn.
“I was an art historian who had never drawn a line,” Norden said. “But I was scared. I think it’s important to be passionate in this life, and I had been passionate about my work, and now what? What was I going to do?”
Norden turned to Rabbi Jacob Staub, a professor at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College who specializes in spirituality. She studied mussar, a body of Jewish texts dealing with ethics and moral instruction, and learned ways to connect with the divine in everyday life. Now Norden, 74, is an abstract painter, producing vibrant acrylic paintings in the styles of Kandinsky and Matisse.
“I want to live the last part of my life with the same sense of purpose I had at the beginning,” Norden said.
Helping older Jews find that kind of purpose is the objective of Rabbi Rachel Cowan’s Wise Aging Project, run under the auspices of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality in New York. Cowan says programs related to aging often bring to mind issues associated with end-of-life care, but for the recently retired, issues of purpose, gratitude and understanding can be more pressing.
Cowan, 74, teaches courses in the New York area aimed at imbuing retirement with spiritual meaning and a daily sense of purpose. Many of her classes consist of discussions inspired by secular and religious texts that address issues of identity, loss and existential crisis.
“Judaism has a whole rich tradition of cultivating spiritual qualities,” Cowan says. “Some of them are things that are really important in growing and aging well. We work to cultivate capacities for patience, gratitude and humility.”
For Borovitz, spirituality remains as central as ever in his transition from the rabbinate into retirement. He has become an active participant in a minyan and fills his days with volunteering, activism and reflection. And while he was grateful to have been freed in August after 37 years of frantic High Holidays preparations, he didn’t mind the request made of him by his prayer group.
“It’s nice not to have the pressure of preparing five Holy Day sermons this year,” he said. “But it’s nice that in this minyan that I’m involved in, they’ve asked me to give just one.”
A resolution that calls male ritual circumcision a “violation of the physical integrity of children” was passed overwhelmingly by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.Click here for the rest of the article...
(JTA) — A resolution that calls male ritual circumcision a “violation of the physical integrity of children” was passed overwhelmingly by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
The council, a pan-European intergovernment al organization, debated and passed the resolution on Tuesday based on a report by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development led by German rapporteur Marlene Rupperecht. The resolution passed by a vote of 78 in favor and 13 against, with 15 abstentions.
The resolution calls on states to “clearly define the medical, sanitary and other conditions to be ensured for practices such as the non-medically justified circumcision of young boys.”
It also calls on member states to “initiate a public debate, including intercultural and interreligious dialogue, aimed at reaching a large consensus on the rights of children to protection against violations of their physical integrity according to human rights standards” and to “adopt specific legal provisions to ensure that certain operations and practices will not be carried out before a child is old enough to be consulted.”
Practices covered by the resolution include female genital mutilation, the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons, early childhood medical interventions in the case of intersexual children, corporal punishment, and the submission to or coercion of children into piercings, tattoos or plastic surgery.
Large majorities rejected five amendments that sought to remove or alter references to the circumcision of boys. An amendment that removed a reference to the “religious rights of parents and families” was supported by a large majority of members.
“Although the adoption of this report is non-binding and does not represent any direct threat to milah, we are troubled at the readiness of the Parliamentary Assembly to dismiss the points made during the debate about religious freedom,” the Milah UK organization told JTA.
The ritual circumcision of boys younger than 18 has come under attack increasingly in Scandinavia and German-speaking European countries both by left-wing secularists and right-wingers who fear the influence of immigration from Muslim countries.
On Yom Kippur, 35 congregations across the U.S. partnered with the RAC and Gift of Life to run bone marrow registration drives. The project held many uncertainties; no one was sure if congregations or rabbis would buy into this project, or if the connection between Yom Kippur themes and saving a life would be self-evident. It turned out that many rabbis and congregations loved the project, and many were able to run with the program, with their imagination being the only limit on how to incorporate this mitzvah into the holiest day of the year. Temple Israel of Northern Westchester was one of the congregations to participate, and the coordinators of the drive there were also the grandparents of a little boy whose life was saved by a Gift of Life donation. Below is the story they shared with their congregation to encourage donations:
“Six years ago, Susan and I received a phone call that every parent and grandparent dreads.
Our 6 month old grandson was sick and no one knew why.
The finest doctors of pediatrics at Yale New Haven Hospital, and the head of pediatrics at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital were baffled. Our kids entered Sloan Kettering with our grandson and lived there in a single room for five months.
The doctors finally told us our grandson would need a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. If he didn’t get one and if it wasn’t successful, there was no hope for survival.
Our kids turned to the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation to find a donor and a match. It took two transplants. The second transplant was a success, and our grandson today, speaking like a grandparent, is an adorable and a special 7 year old, thanks to Gift Of Life.
One year after the transplant took place was the first time everyone would meet and learn the identity of the donor at Gift of Life’s annual gala dinner in NYC. Our son, daughter-in-law and grandson were led onto the stage. And then across the stage walked our hero, the most beautiful woman who saved our grandson’s life.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as everyone on the stage kissed and hugged. It was the first time we could really understand the saying: “One who saves a life saves the whole world.”
So you can see why when the Rabbi asked us to coordinate a Bone Marrow Donor Drive at our temple, it was a “slam dunk.” Now our Temple, along with 34 other Reform Congregations nationwide, including Fort Collins, Colorado; Greenwood, Mississippi; St. Louis, Baltimore, Atlanta; Brooklyn & White Plains, is partnering with Gift of Life and the Religious Action Center to sponsor a Bone Marrow Donor Drive on Yom Kippur.
At the Friday night Kol Nidre multi-generational service and the morning & early afternoon of Yom Kippur, you will have the opportunity to become a potential match to save a life.
Temple volunteers, who have been trained, will staff tables in the lobby to assist you. You will complete a short consent form and be shown how to swab the inside of your cheek with a Q-tip. That sample will be sealed and shipped to a laboratory for analysis and then will be entered into the Gift of Life Donor Registry.
The entire swabbing process is simple and brief. In fact, if you complete the consent form in advance (and they are available after the service in the lobby), the swabbing will take minutes. Otherwise, the form completion and swabbing takes a few minutes longer. Rabbi Jaech encourages you to leave the sanctuary during services to perform this mitzvah! No appointment needed; just show up at any time.
And maybe someday soon, or years later, you may be contacted that you are a match for someone with a life-threatening illness. At that time, you decide if you want to proceed. There is no obligation to do so. Stem cell donations, which are 80% of all procedures, are similar to giving blood. Bone marrow donations, only 20%, are a bit more involved, but both are same day out-patient procedures, with absolutely no cost to you throughout the entire process!
If you are between the ages of 18 – 60, please take this meaningful first step on Yom Kippur to have the opportunity to perform the ultimate mitzvah — to save a life!”
In the end, 35 congregations registered over 3,000 people on Yom Kippur. Temple Israel of Northern Westchester registered 173. If you would like more information on this project, or our other projects with Gift of Life, including a B’nai Mitzvah project and a Martin Luther King Jr. Day initiative, contact me at the RAC at 202-387-2800 or email me.
Thanksgiving is next month (or this month for our Canadian friends) and while it is not a Jewish holiday, you and your board can still use the essence of the holiday – giving thanks – as an impetus for recognizing the dedication of folks within your congregational community.
Many congregations rely on the hard work of board and committee members and volunteers to make their synagogue run. These people donate their time and energy, even though no one has enough of it, to strengthen the congregation and thus should be thanked. Here are a few examples (all taken from the Communicate! database) of how some Reform congregations recognize and give thanks to their leaders and volunteers.
- At Temple Anshe Hesed of Erie, PA, they have begun a Mitzvah Maker program which was designed to reward the volunteers who serve behind the scenes and often go unrecognized. (Monetary contributions are never a criterion.) Congregants nominate unsung volunteers and the synagogue’s Tikkun Olam Committee picks winners in four categories: youth; young adults; seniors; and staff members. (See Communicate 2579)
- One volunteer appreciation program wouldn’t suffice for Temple Beth Or of Everett, WA,: This congregation has two ways of thanking volunteers! The first is through a Volunteer Shabbat, during which the rabbi talks about how integral volunteers’ efforts are to the synagogue; the volunteers’ names are also printed in that week’s Shabbat bulletin as well as in the monthly bulletin. The other program is administered by the congregation’s president. Twice a year the president chooses an individual who has made an outstanding contribution of time and energy to the congregation. This volunteer is then lauded at the semi-annual meeting and his or her name is engraved on a dedicated “volunteer plaque.” (See Communicate 2077)
- Congregation Beth Tikvah of Worthington, OH, says thank you by holding an annual Volunteer Dinner and Celebration, which includes Shabbat dinner and entertainment. The highlight of the evening is a caught-in-the-act-of-volunteering photo-filled slide show. The photos are preserved on DVD and played on a large monitor during oneg. (See Communicate 2510)
- Keep in mind that it may not just be people in your congregational community who deserve thanks – it may be folks or organizations in your community at-large: Temple Beth Torah of Melville, NY, conducts an interfaith Thanksgiving service with a local Lutheran church. This church made its building available for Saturday morning worship and b’nei mitzvah services to Temple Beth Torah when the synagogue was just beginning and didn’t yet have its own building. Over the years, the relationship between Temple Beth Torah and the church has grown and now they jointly host a Thanksgiving service – a great way of giving thanks to one another for being good neighbors and positive forces in the community. (See Communicate 1464)
How does your congregation or board make Thanksgiving meaningful?
Since Rabbi Avrohom Leventhal moved from Baltimore to Israel, he has taken over a local charity and become president of his synagogue. Now Leventhal is hoping to add city councilman to his resume.Click here for the rest of the article...
Rabbi Abraham Skorka from Argentina recently spent several days in the Vatican, hanging out with his good friend and countryman Pope Francis and staying at the guest house that the modest pontiff has made his residence.
La Stampa’s Vatican Insider has the story:
Never before in the history of Christian-Jewish relations have a Pope and a Rabbi celebrated their friendship by living in the Vatican together for several days, sharing all meals, including on two Jewish festivals and the Sabbath at which the Rabbi said prayers in Hebrew, and discussing what more they can do together to promote dialogue and peace in the world.
That is what actually happened over the past four days at the Vatican guesthouse (Santa Marta) where Pope Francis lives and where his friend from Buenos Aires, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, has been his guest from September 25 to this day.
“I eat with him at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. He cares for me, and controls everything regarding my food to makes sure it is all kosher, and according to my religious tradition. These are festive days, and I have to say certain prayers at meals and, I expand the last prayer and translate it. He accompanies me together with the others at table -his secretaries and a bishop, and they all say ‘Amen’ at the end”, the Rabbi said.
Skorka, the rector of the Latin American Rabbinic Seminary, got to know the future pope in Argentina. The two men conducted a series of interreligious dialogues back when Francis was still known as Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. The dialogues were later published in book form.
Skorka told Vatican Insider that he and the pope hope to travel together soon to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
While the relationship between the two clerics does seem unique, this pope is not the first occupant of the Chair of St. Peter to have a rabbinic buddy. Francis’s predecessor, the academically inclined Pope Benedict XVI, bonded with the famously prolific Judaic studies professor Rabbi Jacob Neusner over shared scholarly interests. (Here’s a nice account from Neusner about visiting Benedict in the Vatican.)
As you probably know from the internet or CNN or this Twitter feed, the federal government has now shutdown. In response to the failure of Congress to pass a funding bill, resulting in the shutdown, Rabbi David Saperstein issued the following statement:
“On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.3 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes over 2,000 Reform Rabbis, I urge Congress to end this devastating government shutdown.
Partisan brinksmanship in Congress has jeopardized the vital safety net programs that millions rely on, including aid to struggling new mothers and their children – a service used by half of all infants in America. This is in addition to the 800,000 families of federal workers who will be going without pay due to unnecessary furloughs. Many other families will be affected by greater unemployment caused by the broad economic uncertainty. This blatant disregard for struggling and working families stands in stark contrast to today’s launch of open enrollment that enables millions of previously uninsured people to finally access health care exchanges. We call on Congress to swiftly pass a clean funding bill, restore the vital services that so many need, and halt efforts to defund or delay implementation of the core components of the Affordable Care Act”
In response to the failure of Congress to pass a funding bill, resulting in a government shutdown, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement today:
On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.3 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the world’s oldest and largest rabbinic organization whose membership includes over 2,000 Reform Rabbis, I urge Congress to end this devastating government shutdown.
Partisan brinksmanship in Congress has jeopardized the vital safety net programs that millions rely on, including aid to struggling new mothers and their children – a service used by half of all infants in America. This is in addition to the 800,000 families of federal workers who will be going without pay due to unnecessary furloughs. Many other families will be affected by greater unemployment caused by the broad economic uncertainty. This blatant disregard for struggling and working families stands in stark contrast to today’s launch of open enrollment that enables millions of previously uninsured people to finally access health care exchanges. We call on Congress to swiftly pass a clean funding bill, restore the vital services that so many need, and halt efforts to defund or delay implementation of the core components of the Affordable Care Act.
Utilizing a process called the Social Sermon, I developed my Yom Kippur morning sermon this year in partnership with Facebook Friends, TED ,and a group of insightful congregants. To be blunt, this year, the whole Congregation Or Ami wrote its rabbi’s Yom Kippur sermon.
Where Great Sermon Ideas Come From
Rabbis explore sermon ideas from within the Machzor (prayerbook) and Torah, through conference calls organized by Jewish non-profit organizations, and at sermon seminars run by local Boards of Rabbis. Ideas are generated from Jewish text study, current events, issues in the public sphere, bestselling books, and powerful movies. Some clergy ask friends, colleagues, congregants for ideas. Deciding upon topics and themes for High Holiday (HHD) sermons can be a multi-month process. The social sermon encourages rabbis to engage the congregants (and other contacts in the social media sphere) in the process of exploring the topic and teasing out important themes.
Fleshing out a Topic
Over the summer, as our community struggled to deal with illnesses and deaths of beloved congregants, I knew it was time again to explore Unetaneh Tokef, the haunting prayer most remembered for its opening lines: “On Rosh HaShanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is Sealed… Who shall live and who shall die.” I read this text as a cosmic wake up call: God reminds us that “stuff” happens. Unetaneh Tokef forces us to face this reality and to decide: How are you going to deal with it?
The prayer offers three responses to the severity of life’s decree of misfortune, pain and death. We may reach around (teshuva or repentance – by fixing our relationships with those around us), reach inward (t’filah or prayer – by finding our center and the truth within), and reach up (tzedakah or charitable giving – by lifting up others we lift ourselves).
But how did this play out in real life? What lessons do people learn from enduring the hardships or challenges that life throws out way?
Facebook Friends Chime In
For assistance, I turned to Facebook and Twitter, where my personal and congregational pages yielded some poignant answers to the question, “What did you learn from going through hardship or challenge?” Responses poured in from all around the congregation and around the country. The question struck a few heart strings as people posted publicly and some privately about the tsuris (problems) in their lives. Face-to-face conversations with other community members elicited many significant lessons learned. From these responses, as well as those from people I spoke with over the course of a few months, three categories of hardship rose up as being particularly challenging: financial ruin, turmoil from dealing with children with special needs, and horrible medical diagnoses.
TED Talks Provide Inspiration
Around that time, I was watching some TED Talks and became inspired by the stories I heard. About people in challenging situations, who found meaning and purpose nonetheless. The most moving sermons include powerful personal stories to illustrate the central message. It occurred to me that rather than my telling those inspiring stories, I would ask a few congregants to tell their own stories. After all, High Holy Day services offer just the forum for Jewish TED Talks. Thus was a sermon born.
I invited three congregants reflect on what they learned personal through their personal challenge. Their initial drafts were poignant. Each participant had learned powerful lessons on how to overcome the “stuff” of life on which Unetaneh Tokef focuses. Guiding the speakers to understand how their experiences embodied teachings similar to those in Unetaneh Tokef, I worked with them to weave references into their sermonette.
Simultaneously, I crafted a short introduction – utilizing a sledgehammer, if you believe it – to sharply make the point that Unetaneh Tokef comes as a Divine wake-up call. Like a sledgehammer, Unetaneh Tokef comes to break down the walls of naivety and denial that keep us from accepting a simple truth: that between this year and next, so many will live but many will die. Some will experience success; others failure. So many will encounter the unpredictability and pain of life. We are left to discover how we keep ourselves from becoming angry, embittered, and crotchety, from giving up.
Congregants Tell their Own Stories
At different points in the service, these congregants and our president shared their stories:
- David Sackman, on the hardship of financial ruin (read his sermonette or view at 00:22:09)
- Eric and Jill Epstein, on the challenges of raising a child on the autism spectrum (read their sermonette or view at 00:33:40)
- Mike Moxness with Debbie Echt-Moxness, on living after a diagnosis of cancer (read his sermonette or view at 00:49:49)
- Hedi Gross’ presidential speech, “A Spiritual Journey” (read her speech or view at 02:34:32)
Their presentations were poignant. Worshipers sat at the edge of their seats, listening in silence. Certain moments were unforgettable: When Eric and Jill Epstein spoke just after their 14-year-old son Ethan led the congregation in prayer. When Mike Moxness was moved to tears as he recalled the overwhelming mix of sadness and gratitude. When Hedi Gross, in the traditional end-of-service presidential sermonette, recounted her Jewish spiritual journey, including their struggle with fertility issues, unexpectedly reemphasizing the theme of the sermon and service.
Suffice it to say, the responses to the Jewish-TED-talk/HHD-social-sermon touched and moved so many worshipers.
What Lessons were Learned?
- Social Sermons Work: A number of worshippers later described the Facebook discussion on Facebook as a meaningful way to get them to prepare for the holidays. Others reflected on the Facebook discussion as an inviting way of previewing am upcoming sermon theme.
- Jewish TED Talks Inspire: In comments about the High Holidays, this multi-speaker sermon topped the list of worshiper kvells (positive comments). Unanimously, post-service comments called the congregant presentations inspiring, powerful, very real, and intensely thought-provoking.
- Rabbinic Tzimtzum Fosters Deep Reflection: As clergy “pull back” from their up front role as sermonizer to work in partnership with congregants to craft a Jewish teaching, the message becomes that much more influential. In an increasingly do-it-yourself Jewish world, involving other Jews in the teaching/preaching/liturgy leading roles cements their relationships to the community, the synagogue and the rabbi.
- Weaving in New Technologies and Methods Animate Communities: Darim Online and The Convenant Foundation introduced me to the Social Sermon. TED Talks inspired me to invite congregants to speak. Just Congregations of the Union for Reform Congregations taught me about listening campaigns. eJewish Philanthropy constantly pushes me to explore new perspectives and methods. Visual T’filah of the Central Conference of American Rabbis propelled me to rethink the entire worship experience. Finally, Rabbi Eugene Borowitz’s 1973 essay, Tzimtzum: A Mystic Model for Contemporary Leadership, has long goaded my rabbinic style to pull back to invite others in.
What’s next? Already, congregants are wondering which congregant speakers will elucidate which themes next year. And so am I – but I do not expect to wait until the High Holidays to invite my congregation to write my next sermon!
Originally posted at Or Am I?
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