New Beginnings

This week, we begin a new book of Torah, Devarim, (Deuteromony) in our cycle of Torah readings. When we leave one book to begin another, our tradition creates a ritual of transition. “Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik” is said at the end of one book – “Be strong, be strong, and thus we will be strengthened,” and there is even a big white space in the Torah as we proceed to the next. That space reminds us to pause and take a breath before we start something new. For me, the transition is very concrete. I must pull out new volumes of books for Torah study, as the ones I use have separate volumes for each book of Torah. This physical act is a good reminder that I’m starting something new.

We are blessed to start over multiple times throughout the year, and for those “beginnings” to be foundational to our yearly cycle. The Baal Shem Tov says that “… the world is new to us every morning – this is the Holy One’s gift and every person should believe they are reborn each day.” Can you imagine how differently we would approach time if we saw each day as something entirely new from the day before, as if we were entirely new than the day before?

I think it is healthy and helpful to pay attention to the beginnings that already exist and even more so, actively create opportunities to start new things. We’ve had too many endings lately, and personally, I need some fresh perspective. We can easily notice and appreciate the beginnings around us: the start of every season brings not only new weather, but also new scenery. Every time there’s a vegetable growing in Jonathan’s garden, I get excited. And we can make beginnings happen: plan a new vacation; start a new new class or lecture series; binge a new tv show or listen to a new podcast – all of these and more can lift us with inspiration and sparks of energy.

In a time when many of us have lower levels of energy, I invite you to either look for newness in your life, the “beginnings” that already exist. Or, even better, choose to start something new. Not something that feels like it’s going to take work and deplete your energy, but something that will do the opposite: bring joy and increase energy.

Just like when we open the pages of a new book of Torah or turn the Torah scroll to that space between the books, we pause to catch our breath with anticipation. What awaits us? Something unknown calls to us, and whatever it is, we know it will be a new experience. A fresh start, a beginning, a “new-ness” is worthy of gratitude.

TES COVID Policy

Temple Emanuel Sinai COVID Policy

Vaccination:

Anyone attending any event at TES must provide proof of vaccination and first booster (i.e. 3 shots if Pfizer or Moderna, 2 shots if Johnson & Johnson) in order to attend events. The TES office is keeping a list of those individuals who have provided their vaccination information. To provide your information, you may either: (a) bring your vaccination card to the event or (b) upload your information here

Masking:

Please read the below guidelines carefully

Services and Events:
While indoors – with some exceptions for Oneg or scheduled events with food – all individuals attending events/services at TES are expected to wear a surgical or N95/KN95 mask at all times. Cloth masks are not acceptable, per most recent CDC guidance and TES policy.

Religious School & Kehillah High School:
Students and staff may now be unmasked only when they are in their classrooms. This unmasking policy is optional – any student or staff person who wants to continue to be masked should continue to wear a mask. All adults, children, and staff should continue to arrive with masks (on both Wednesday and Saturday) as masks will continue to be required in common areas and during services.

The optional mask policy change only applies to religious school and Kehillah High. Shabbat services and all other in-person events at TES still require masking. Vaccines remain a requirement for everyone age 5 and up for TES events, school, and services.

Oneg or Events with Food:
COVID task force met in June 2022 and it was decided that Onegs may resume.  We have had food during some events like Second Seder, Shavuot, and Mahjong, and the task force decided that that these events were handled cautiously enough to permit this.

The guidelines for Oneg and Events with Food are as follows:

      • Food will be placed on tables and covered with plastic wrap or some covering, and serving utensils will be provided.
      • In good weather, we will most likely use the patio area for consumption of food. If weather is inclement, tables inside will be spaced accordingly.
      • MASKS ARE STILL REQUIRED DURING ALL INDOOR ACTIVITIES AND SERVICES. No one should remove their mask indoors  unless eating or drinking and at a safe distance from others while doing so.
      • Masks are not required while outdoors.

TES Summer Institute 2022

I imagine I should probably make appropriate rabbinic comments about yet another mass shooting in Highland Park on July 4th, just one of over a dozen that took place this weekend, but I just can’t. I am angry and afraid and disheartened, and I have no more words.

Instead, I want to write about the goodness and beauty that exists in our world, created and nurtured by compassionate human beings. Some work to provide for others the necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare. Others focus their energy on improving the quality and availability of education, arts and culture. As Jews and as human beings, we are commanded to repair what is broken, and to contribute to these efforts of caring for each other.

In our prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah, there is an English passage that stopped my breath for a moment. You know that feeling when you are so struck with awe and clarity that an internal flame sparks?

We pray for love to encompass us for no other reason save that we are human…”

This one line and the theology it represents is the prooftext, so-to-speak, of why each one of us deserves love, joy, and dignity as well as the more concrete rights mentioned above and many more. Our humanity, made in the image of God, is holy, and we deserve no less than to be seen and known, face-to-face, as Moses saw God – holy.

Worcester is blessed to have so many organizations filled with staff and volunteers dedicated to this mission. For this year’s TES Summer Institute, the Lifelong Learning Committee chose to highlight some of the more unique organizations so you can learn about our community’s needs and how our neighbors are making a difference. Some of these organizations may be new to you, and all of them are connected to our congregation or particular congregants. In this way, they are part of our family.

During July and August, we encourage you to not only attend our Shabbat Services to learn from staff and volunteers of these organizations, but also to welcome those who are visiting Temple Emanuel Sinai – some for the first time. Let us be gracious hosts, fulfilling the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, as they share with us how they perform acts of lovingkindness – gemilut chasadim – every day.

I look forward to celebrating Shabbat with you throughout the summer, both in person and online.

Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Last week, I served as faculty at Crane Lake Camp during staff orientation. Although camp is a “bubble”, separate from the real world, important news still seeps in. On Friday, we all heard about the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade’s 50-year precedent of protecting reproductive rights.

We immediately held an optional discussion session – which was attended by some international staff along with our American staff, but it wasn’t enough. We needed prayer and healing. I was asked to share some comments before Mi Shebeirach, and this is some of what I said:

Many of us are feeling a little broken now as we process the decision made by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Personally, I am angry and sad and scared. What does this mean for our country? Most importantly, what does this mean for the generations who will follow me?

In our morning blessings, we have prayers for our bodies and our souls. The prayer for our body thanks God for the miraculous gift that has been placed in our care. Dan Nichols, a Jewish singer/songwriter familiar to many of us, wrote a beautiful interpretation of that prayer, including these lyrics:

“I thank You for for my life, body and soul
Help me realize I am beautiful and whole
I’m perfect the way I am and a little broken too
I will live each day as a gift I give to you.”

Our bodies are beautiful and whole and perfect and broken.

The world is beautiful and whole and perfect and broken.

Our bodies, gifted from God, belong to us for as long as we’re alive. Friday morning, we were told that other people have permission to control what happens to our bodies – people who don’t know us, people who can’t begin to understand our experiences. Strangers are making decisions about an individual’s reproductive rights even if it is counter to that person’s religious beliefs and values.

The choice should belong only to us.

The last line of the lyrics above tell us to live each day as a gift to God. Our gift to God, to each other, and to our country is to live each day with Jewish values guiding our actions.

The chatimah (the signature/one-line summary) of the prayer for our bodies is Baruch atah Adonai rofei chol basar umafli laasot, loosely translated as: Thank you God; you can heal our bodies and make miracles happen.

As partners with God, we begin with healing; soon we will move toward action and the making of miracles to repair our broken world.

 

To listen to Dan Nichols’ song, I Am Perfect and I Am Broken, click here

Statement from the Union for Reform Judaism

Statement from the Central Conference of American Rabbis

 

 

 

 

Meatless Summer Grilling: Avocados

A grilled avocado is elegant in its simplicity – simply brush with lime juice and place on the grill to infuse the earthy fruit with savory smoke. The grill marks make for a delightful presentation and you can really up the ante in serving the salsa smack dab in the middle, replacing the pit.

This recipe comes to us from Patrice of Circle B Kitchen.

Serves 12

Ingredients:

For the salsa:

  • 1 15 ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes
  • ¼ cup diced onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 sprigs cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar or 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 jalapeño*, stemmed and seeded

For the grilled avocados:

  • 3 avocados, halved
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • salt, to taste
  • low-fat sour cream, for garnish* or low-fat Greek yogurt, for garnish*

*optional

Directions:

To make the salsa:

Combine the tomatoes, diced onion, garlic, pepper, salt, cilantro, vinegar or lime juice and jalapeño, if using. Pulse in a food processor or blender until the salsa is chopped and blended to preference.

To complete the grilled avocados with salsa:

Preheat a grill to medium-high heat.

Remove the pit of each avocado by cutting into the pit with a large sharp knife and turning the knife counter-clockwise. Once the knife is properly wedged into the avocado pit, it should be easy to remove the pit from the flesh of the avocado, as you twist and remove the knife.

Whisk together the lime juice and olive oil in a small bowl. Brush each avocado half with the lime juice marinade.

Place each prepared avocado half, flesh side down, over the hot grill. Cook for about 5-7 minutes, or until grill marks appear and the avocado is warm, but not overly mushy.

Remove the avocado halves from the grill and fill the hole, left by the pits, with salsa. You will have salsa left over after all the holes are filled. Reserve the leftover salsa in the fridge for a future snack or entrée topping.

Squeeze the wedge of lime over the avocado halves and sprinkle lightly with salt. Top the salsa with a dollop sour cream or Greek yogurt, if using.

Consume with a fork or use baked pita chips as your utensil.

Pride Shabbat 2022

In the book of Leviticus, one of the most well-known passages of the Torah begins: And the Eternal spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the whole community of the People of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:1-2)

We are all holy.
We are holy in our coming home and in our coming out,
In living with honesty, integrity, and openness to diversity.
K’doshim nih’yeh, ki kadosh Adonai Eloheinu
We will be holy, for the Eternal our God implanted holiness within us.
(taken from a passage in Mishkan Ga’avah, by Rabbi Nikki DeBlosi)

June is Pride Month, and we celebrate those in our community and beyond who identify as LGBTQIA+. Pride Month began as a commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, a response to the harassment and discrimination faced by the LGBTQ community and the resulting police raids of the time. One such raid in Greenwich Village turned the neighborhood’s response from frustration to action, and the neighborhood responded with anger, protests, and eventually riots which lasted several days. This event was one of the galvanizing forces for LGBT political activism which eventual led to our modern LGBTQIA+ movement.

Sometimes, change requires righteous anger and strong action, although it’s not where our Jewish values demand us to start. We start with collaboration, remembering that every human being is holy, and move from there if necessary.

Every year, I remember the stories that my father-in-law told about spending the night in his father’s paperback bookstore in the middle of Greenwich Village during the riots. Knowing someone who witnessed the chaos and turbulence of the time – which represented how dehumanized people were feeling – makes it more real to me.

What I also think about every year is how the LGBTQIA+ community and others built upon the memory of the Stonewall Riots and created a time of pride and celebration. They knew that they needed to be louder and more visible in order to make a difference. From the first Christopher Street Liberation Day March in 1970 (a march, protest, and celebration) to our now established June Pride Month, they did make a difference.

As we celebrate Pride Shabbat tonight at Temple Emanuel Sinai, we do so in this spirit: to support and affirm our LGBTQIA+ loved ones and others; to celebrate diversity and how far we’ve come; most of all, to dedicate ourselves to continuing the fight. There is much work to be done.

Shavuot 2022

It wasn’t until High School that I became aware of the holiday of Shavuot, and even then it barely took up any space in my brain much less my calendar. After Passover, and in the hectic flurry of Memorial Day, graduations, and the beginning of summer, Shavuot often gets overlooked.

Because Shavuot is a holiday that has everything!

      • Drama: the giving of the 10 Commandments along with fire and thunder on the mountain
      • Environmentalism: connection to the land as a harvest festival
      • Science Fiction/Fantasy (sort of): from the prophet Ezekial, God’s chariot, the pavement like sapphire… you have to read it to believe it
      • Feminism: the book of Ruth
      • Memory: Yizkor (Memorial) at the Festival Service
      • A Wedding: Shavuot celebrates the Covenant between God and the People of Israel and is seen as a wedding by some mystics
      • Rule-breaking: we get to stay up all night long (for Tikkun Leil Shavuot)
      • Learning: Torah L’shma, Torah for its own sake as we interact with our text all night long
      • Food: the tradition of serving a delicious dairy meal; don’t worry, we’ll always have something for those who are lactose intolerant

What’s not to love about Shavuot, except maybe the poor timing on the calendar?

Temple Emanuel Sinai celebrates Shavuot every year with Tikkun Leil Shavuot and a Festival Service with Yizkor. This year we’ll begin Saturday night at 6:30pm with Kabbalat Shavuot in person, welcoming the holiday with a dairy “snack.” We’ll continue by joining other congregations in our first study session, followed by Havdallah. Then everyone is invited to continue the joint congregational Tikkun Leil Shavuot at home, returning to temple Sunday morning at 10:30 am for our Festival service and Yizkor.

The Shavuot fun doesn’t end there! I recently learned that rainbows have a unique connection to Shavuot as well. (Remember I said that Shavuot is the holiday that has everything?) Our last visiting musician of our series, Shira Kline, will lead a Rainbow Garden Party for our families on Saturday, June 11, at 9:00 am in the patio.

In any case, don’t let Shavuot pass you by unacknowledged! Google it, check out the Shavuot music videos on YouTube, or best of all, join us in celebrating Shavuot at TES. A communal gathering for Shavuot could be exactly what we all need to lift us up after the difficult and sad weeks we’re leaving behind.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach.

Uvalde Texas Shooting

I used the words “tragic irony” last night to begin our security training that was scheduled over a month ago.  As we learned about how to protect our congregation, we carried the city of Uvalde, Texas in our hearts as the news about Tuesday’s school shooting weighed heavily on us.  And not quite yet forgotten was the Buffalo supermarket shooting just ten days prior, with some of the victims still not buried.

Protecting human life is one of the most important values in Judaism – in many religions. The Talmud teaches, “Human beings were created as a single individual to teach you that anyone who destroys a single life is as though that person has destroyed an entire world, and anyone who preserves a single life is as though an entire world has been preserved.” (Talmud Sanhedrin 4:5)

How did our society – our country – forget that life is precious? When did some people stop caring? Over a week ago, my daughter told me that she didn’t feel safe at school. I was both surprised and a little resigned that my strong-willed and outspoken daughter felt unsafe in the place where she spent most of her time, second only to home. She described other students talking about guns and LGBTQ teens being targeted and harassed in the bathrooms.

My heart is broken and keeps breaking. My grief is wound up in writing yet another one of these eNews articles as we all try to find a path to healing. Some of us have children who feel unsafe, some of us have been personally touched by gun violence, and for others – we want better for our community.

Last night, we gathered and prayed, but most of all we took action by learning concrete safety measures. We each walked away with at least one security strategy we felt we could do ourselves, thus reclaiming our power. As a religious community, we need prayers to hold us together. As a community that values social justice, we need to act in order to reclaim our power and repair our world.

I implored our congregation last night: vote your values, vote your Jewish values. We need courageous leaders who will put into place what the majority of our nation wants – common sense gun laws. 

We have a lot of work to do, internally and externally. I pray for the future of our children and for the healing of our breaking world.

 

Opening Prayer for the Colorado State House in the Aftermath of a Tragedy February 15, 2018
By Rabbi Joe Black
(and still applicable today, 4 years later)

Our God and God of all people,
God of the Rich and God of the poor.
God of the teacher and God of the student.
God of the families who wait in horror.
God of the dispatcher who hears screams of terror from under bloodied desks.
God of the first responder who bravely creeps through ravaged hallways.
God of the doctor who treats the wounded.
God of the rabbi, pastor, imam or priest who seeks words of comfort but comes up empty.
God of the young boy who sees his classmates die in front of him.
God of the weeping, raging, inconsolable mother who screams at the sight of her child’s lifeless body.
God of the shattered communities torn apart by senseless violence.
God of the legislators paralyzed by fear, partisanship, money and undue influence.
God of the Right.
God of the Left.
God who hears our prayers.
God who does not answer.

On this tragic day when we confront the aftermath of the 18th School shooting in our nation on the 46th day of this year, I do not feel like praying.

Our prayers have not stopped the bullets.

Our prayers have changed nothing.

Once again, a disturbed man with easy access to guns has squinted through the sights of a weapon, aimed, squeezed a trigger and taken out his depraved anger, pain and frustration on innocents:  pure souls. Students and teachers. Brothers and sisters. Mothers and fathers- cut down in an instant by the power of hatred and technology.

We are guilty, O God.
We are guilty of inaction.
We are guilty of complacency.
We are guilty of allowing ourselves to be paralyzed by politics.
The blood of our children cries out from the ground.
The blood of police officers cut down in the line of duty flows through our streets.

I do not appeal to You on this terrible morning to change us. We can only do that ourselves.
Our enemies do not come only from far away places.
The monsters we fear live among us.
May those in this room who have the power to make change find the courage to seek a pathway to sanity and hope.
May we hold ourselves and our leaders accountable.

Only then will our prayers be worthy of an answer.

AMEN

Earth’s Embroidery

Earth’s Embroidery by Solomon ibn Gabriol (11th century poet, Spain)

With the ink of its showers and rains,
with the quill of its lightning, with the
hand of its clouds, winter wrote a letter
upon the garden, in purple and blue.
no artist could ever conceive the like of
that. And this is why the earth, grown
jealous of the sky, embroidered stars in
the folds of the flowerbeds.

The official first day of spring was almost two months ago, but today really feels like spring is here. Instead of one or two random days of warmth, we have many days of higher temperatures to look forward to, with both sunshine and rain as their companions.

Our Jewish texts have long acknowledged both the importance and beauty of nature. The miracle of life, of God’s creations, is a source of connection to the Divine. In a moment of exceptional natural beauty, we are struck with awe and motivated to express words – or be present in the powerful silence of gratitude.

I have recently rediscovered our medieval poets, like Solomon ibn Gabriol and Yehudah ben Levy, among others. I had forgotten how well they paint pictures with words, transforming our feelings into a concrete form that brings them forward. As winter turns to spring outside my window, I can imagine the contest of colors happening between the sky and the earth, and the earth saying, “it’s my turn now.”

I look forward to searching for the stars among the flowers.

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, oseh ma’aseh v’reishit.

Praise to You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of the universe, Source of creation and its wonders.

Supreme Court Leak, Reproductive Rights, and Jewish Values

I was not surprised to hear about the brief that was leaked from the Supreme Court on Monday, but that doesn’t mean I was any less devastated. Okay, maybe I wasn’t surprised that these five Supreme Court Justices were willing to overturn Roe vs. Wade, but I am still in disbelief about what was written in the opinion and the long-term ramifications for women’s health and so much more.

But I  am not a lawyer; I am a rabbi, a dedicated Jew, a woman and a mother of a young woman, so I can only speak to the subject of reproductive freedom from my perspective with Jewish values as my guiding principles.

Access to abortion is a Jewish value and essential health care. From the Torah to the Talmud to Maimonides, there is profound support within Jewish sacred texts and scholarly teachings for the right to abortions and for prioritizing the life and wellbeing of the living woman over the rights of a fetus.

The Jewish community overwhelmingly agrees with the need to protect abortion access. Polls show that 80-90 percent of Jewish Americans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

For a Jewish perspective on abortion, you can read this excerpt on from The Social Justice Jewish Commentary by Rabbis Joshua R. S. Filler and Emily Langowitz; https://ravblog.ccarnet.org/2021/09/abortion-and-reproductive-justice-jewish-perspective/

The Reform Movement, including Reform rabbis, support and defend a person’s right to control their own reproductive health decisions. We believe that all people should be equipped with the information they need to make the choices that are right for them, in consultation with their loved ones and health care providers. The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) have affirmed these rights on record going back to 1967 through multiple resolutions and Reform Responsa (answers to questions about Jewish law).

We have a lot of work to do, and I’m not even sure where to start. I just knew I had to start somewhere so I started here. We hope to provide more Jewish resources and ways to be involved in the future. As someone said to me just this morning, as Jews we have a responsibility to be a “light unto the nations,” to be role models for improving society and lives of individuals, to repair the world.

Kein Yehi Ratzon – May it be God’s Will and our own.

Central Conference of American Rabbis Statement on Draft Supreme Court Opinion Overturning Roe V. Wade, May 3, 2022

https://www.ccarnet.org/ccar-statement-on-draft-supreme-court-opinion-overturning-roe-v-wade/