There is, out in the world, a t-shirt that says “Rabbis love Cheshvan”.
This Jewish month beginning on November 2nd is traditionally called bitter.
Coming after the month of Tishrei, the month of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah,
a month with no holidays seems a little bitter for us, with nothing to celebrate.
And yet, those of us who have experienced the ups and downs of the holidays of Tishrei might also find it sweet
– the sweetness of quiet and calm and the sweetness of being able to get started on the work of the year. It’s true, I do love Cheshvan.
The first work of this year is to vote. I imaging many reading this mailed in your ballots days ago, but if it you are a procrastinator like me, don’t wait.
Please vote. Today.
Now that that’s taken care of – this year I set out the following challenge during Kol Nidrei services: better your Hebrew.
I wanted to share the names of some apps and websites to help with this challenge.
My favorite alphabet app is Aleph Bet Schoolhouse from Davka Writer. It has a great feature that lets you practice letter differentiation.
For those working on Hebrew communication, I recommend Duolingo.
It will figure out your level and take it from there.
There is also still time to sign up for the class at Bet Chaverim beginning this month. It’s always sweeter to learn with friends.
With that, I wish you a Cheshvan that is more sweet than bitter.
May your month without Jewish holidays be relaxing and refreshing and may all your election wishes come true!
Greetings for the new year. As we enter 5777, there are some traditional ways we greet one another,
each which can teach us about how we think about this time of year.
Shana tova – A good year – this classic greeting reminds us of the goodness to be found as we celebrate
the journey of this planet and
Shana tova u’metukah–A good and sweet year – reminding us of the sweetness we find in reconnecting
with one another.
L’Shanah tovah tikkathevu- May you be written down (in the Book of Life) for a good year
– we wish one another inscription in the book of life, for a life full of reasons to be grateful.
There’s the Sephardic Tizku leshanim rabbot – May you merit many years
– reminding us of the blessing of change, the opportunities for growth and learning in the coming year.
The reply to his greeting – Ne’imot ve-tovot-pleasant and good ones – hearkens to the words sung each Shabbat
– how good and pleasant it is for us to sit along side our brothers and
sisters. And the Yiddish Gut yor – Good Year – with it’s simplicity, reminds us to focus on the essential things in life.
Finally, there are the words we greet each other with during Yom Kippur, G’mar chatima tova
– May you be sealed forgoodness.
As we enter 5777, may we grow together, celebrate together, learn together,
and work together for a year of goodness and peace.
To me, they compliment Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ five stages of grief perfectly.
First, denial. When we hear of a death, we often don’t know what to say first. We are sorry. We are devastated.
We are speechless. Judaism teaches that in this moment, we should speak the words, “Baruch Dayan HaEmet” (Blessed is the True Judge).
In that moment of disbelief, nothing more needs to be said. Second, anger.
Between death and a funeral, Jewish tradition teaches that we are absolved from all responsibilities.
When we might be angriest at God, God does not expect our prayers. Third, bargaining.
The Jewish funeral acknowledges the tension of the mourner – wanting to honor the deceased, but also not wanting to let go.
One beautiful example of this is the tradition of participating in burial.
Each person is responsible for picking up the shovel of their own accord, showing their desire to do this ritual,
but they are also supposed to use the back of the shovel, showing their reluctance to participate.
Fourth, depression. Shiva, the seven days of mourning, allows mourners to grieve in whatever way they choose.
Mirrors tend to be covered, showing that none need worry about their appearance.
Doors can be left open, showing that visitors don’t need permission to enter and share their memories. Fifth, acceptance.
Finally, after 30 days or 11 months, depending on the relationship, Judaism marks the end of formal mourning,
encouraging us to take our loved ones in our hearts and move forward with our lives.
Those who we have loved, those who have touched our hearts, live on in our memories.
They inspire us, challenge us, and fill us with love.
It is customary to remember parents, siblings, children and spouses.
If you would like the name of your loved one read at services in the month of their Yartzeit, please e-mail their name to
firstname.lastname@example.org. Zichronam Livracha,
may their memories be blessings to us always.
On March 3rd, a woman named Nathalie Gordon tweeted a picture from her shopping trip at Whole Foods.
An orange, peeled, packaged in a plastic container.
Her tweet read “If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn’t need to waste so much plastic on them.”
Her remark started a chain of responses. Whole Foods apologized for the packaging, tweeting, “Definitely our mistake.
These have been pulled. We hear you, and we will leave them in their natural packaging: the peel.”
But this is not the end of the story.
People with disabilities, specifically arthritis, appreciated the pre-peeled fruit.
In fact, the plastic packaging made it possible for some to enjoy oranges at all.
One person responded that “Any time you see a “so lazy!” product you want to dig at, 99.9% of the time it’s an accessible item for someone.”
This waste of plastic reminds us to open our eyes to ways we can be inclusive of all in our community.
Since the 1980s, an orange has symbolized inclusion on Seder plates around the world.
The legend is that Susannah Heschel, daughter of esteemed scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel, was told that a woman
belongs on the bima like an orange belongs on a Seder plate.
Heschel herself has said that the real story is that she was introduced to a feminist Hagaddah that suggested adding
a crust of bread on the seder plate, as a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians
(which was intended to convey the idea that there’s as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of bread on the seder plate). Heschel changed it to an orange, both to make it kosher and to add to the symbolism as we spit out the “seeds of hatred”.
This year we can add another layer of inclusion, peeling our orange to remind us of those for whom
daily tasks are all the more difficult because of disease and disability.
Through these symbols like these, we become aware of how some are enslaved, and help all move towards freedom.
As you might know, last month, a landmark decision was made in Israel.
After lengthy negotiations between the Reform Movement, Conservative Movement
and Jewish organizations such as Women of the Wall, with the Israeli government,
the Israeli parliament voted to approve the opening of an egalitarian public place of worship at the Kotel,
the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Unlike the current access to the Western Wall,
which is overseen by the Orthodox Movement, at this new space men and women will be permitted to pray together,
in any way they choose.
The feminist in me cheers. How wonderful that my daughter never remember a world where she was not able to pray out loud,
wear a talit, or read from the Torah at this holy space. The idealist in me is angry.
The space seems second rate – it is not the same section of the wall where people have been visiting for decades.
It does not have the samesmoothness of the stones that were touched by my parents and grandparents.
The realist in me agrees with Rabbi Bradley Artson who reminds us that “anything that moves the ball forward,
even if it is just a little bit forward, anything that advances and nudges things just a bit is something to be celebrated.”
On one hand, At the end of the day, the Wall is just a wall. On the other, it is a symbol of Jerusalem and worship for many people.
Rabbi Artson continues, “[Liberal Jews] have finally gained a place at the Western Wall where we can govern our own worship and where our worship has to be publicly acknowledged as a legitimate form of Jewish practice.
That’s a big deal. And it’s also a little deal.” As with so many steps in the direction of equality,
we can both celebrate this victory and acknowledge that there is much work still to be done.
Passover is just around the corner – and this year, as we proclaim “Next Year in Jerusalem!”
we can envision a Jerusalem that is one step closer to being a place where all branches of Judaism are valued and respected.
Does Judaism help us become more empathetic?
Mi Chamocha Ba-Eilim, Adonai? Who is like you, Adonai? These words, from the book of Exodus, are sung by Moses, Miriam, and the children of Israel. Having just crossed the Red Sea, marking the transition from slavery to freedom, they watch as the Egyptian soldiers drown in the waters behind him. A midrash tells us that in this moment, “The ministering angels sought to sing God’s praises…” Appalled at their behavior, God chastised the angels, saying, “My handiwork is drowning at sea and you would sing?” (Megillah 10b)
This moment of Torah reminds me of an old episode of The Simpsons. Homer makes a wish for the new store of his neighbor, Ned Flanders, to go out of business. The wish comes true and gets the Flanders family into financial troubles, causing a gleeful reaction in Homer. Homer’s precautious daughter Lisa asks him if he has ever heard of schadenfreude. She says, “It’s a German term for ‘shameful joy,’ taking pleasure in the suffering of others.” – a true “Doh” moment for Homer. Schadenfreude, epicaricacy, gloating – however we name it, the phenomenon of feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune is at the heart of this moment in Torah.
It is normal to feel this emotion. Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, explains, “[People] don’t wish their friends ill, but they can’t help feeling an embarrassing spasm of gratitude that [the bad thing] happened to someone else and not to them.” A scientific study showed that fans of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees felt pleasure when observing the rival team experience a negative outcome. Even the Muppets of the musical Avenue Q sing, “D’ja ever clap when a waitress falls and drops a tray of glasses?” and “Don’tcha feel all warm and cozy, watching people out in the rain?”
And yet, this normal emotion is chastised by God. “My handiwork is drowning at sea and you would sing?” To paraphrase Spider Man, with freedom comes responsibility. The Israelites (and by extension the angels), now in a position of freedom, have the choice of how to respond. They can rejoice or they can weep. Judaism teaches that we must consider how we celebrate our victories, considering, “are we rejoicing while others suffer?” By simply asking this question, we might argue that we become more empathetic, caring people.
Here’s where you chime in! This article will(also) be posted on the Bet Chaverim Facebook page. I want to invite you to comment on the article with your response. Does Judaism help us become more empathetic? How? If you have a response but are not on Facebook, you can e-mail rabbi@betchaverim and we will post it on your behalf.
Judaism loves transitions. Every week we mark the transition into and out of Shabbat, every month we mark the transitions of the moon,
the Mishnah teaches us about not one, not two, not three, but FOUR new-year transitions.
Our Torah opens with a story of transition, the separations that begin the creation of the world, and the separations that teach us about the importance of marking sacred time.
It is fortuitous when the special transitions of the Jewish calendar coincide with those of our secular (Gregorian) calendar.
This year, one such coincidence occurs at the transition of the secular new-year, the transition from 2015 to 2016.
As we ring in the new-year, we will also be ringing in a new book of Torah. At the end of 2015, we conclude Genesis. In 2016 we begin the book of Exodus.
When we transition from one book of Torah to another, we recite a special phrase – Chazak Chazak V’nitchazek – be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened.
There is a sadness that comes with closing a chapter of our book. Even though we know we will be returning to it again, we are saying l’hitraot, see you later. We remind ourselves to move forward into the next chapter with strength. By finding the strength to move forward, we strengthen ourselves, each other, and our community.
The same can be said with the change in the calendar year. Saying goodbye to 2015 and hello to 2016 may bring mixed emotions.
On a personal and global level, 2015 brought joy and hardship, challenge and celebration.
While we hope 2016 will bring a brighter future, we know that good and bad will come our way.
As we move from year to year, perhaps the phrase Chazak Chazak V’nitchazek – be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened – can inspire us.
Facing 2016 with strength, we can bring strength to one another and be strengthened by one another.
Cheers for a happy 2016 and Chazak Chazak V’nitchazek – be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened.
Rabbi Emily Meyer
In recent weeks, we have seen tragedy befall our world. In Paris and Beirut, Egypt and Israel, and here in the US, we see violence, ignorance, and hatred.
Often, we are left wondering how to respond. Jewish theologians today have moved beyond explanations that things happen for a reason,
or that God tries to teach lessons through punishment. Rather, most modern theologians paint a picture of God in which God is crying with us for the victims of the attacks,
angry with us at those who continue to incite evil, and there for us when we search for comfort.
Jewish tradition has a long history of how we respond to tragedy. The Talmud in Brachot 5a teaches that when a tragedy occurs,
we should look within ourselves and take an accounting of our deeds.
While we may not be comfortable with the idea that our personal actions could impact the evil events of the world, I believe that this teaching provides us with an important imperative.
Especially in the face of evil, it is our responsibility to become even better people.
In Pirkei Avot we read, “In a place where there is no humanity, endeavor to be human.
” We have the power to affect evil in the world by stopping hatred in our own hearts, raising our voices for peace in our communities, and letting those voices be heard throughout the world.
The other valuable lesson that Judaism provides in the face of tragedy is our relentless optimism that the world can become a better place.
We see this vision in our ancient texts and we see it echoed in the words of modern poets. Isaiah 2:4 provides us with a vision of a world of peace,
a world without the weapons of war. “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they study war anymore.” Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai takes it even further, “Don’t stop after beating the swords into plowshares, don’t stop!
Go on beating and make musical instruments out of them. Whoever wants to make war again will have to turn them into plowshares first.
” This belief, that we can reshape the instruments of war to be instruments of work, and further, to be instruments of peace,
is a powerful reminder of our agency and our ability to dream.
As we approach the holiday of Hanukkah, let us sing out the words “a great miracle happened there”
as we remember that great miracles can happen at any time in any place.
Why do you come to services? At one of our recent Shabbat services, I was inspired by a member of Bet Chaverim who told me that he doesn’t like coming to services, but comes anyway.
It got me thinking: why do we come to services? As a child, I came because my family went and because the cookies at the Oneg were so delicious!
As I grew older, there were weeks that I went to services because of family obligation but also weeks when I was the one pushing my family to come.
I went in hopes of being in community, singing together with friends and neighbors.
Communal singing has certainly been a huge motivational force for me.
Singing the prayers together connects me with an ancient tradition and with Jews around the world. Singing has physical benefits as well.
A 2013 article in Time Magazine explains, “According to one 2005 study,
group singing ‘can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality.
‘” Communal singing can lower stress, relieve anxiety, and elevate endorphins.
But it’s not just the melodies that inspire me; it is the words as well. While my personal theology does not understand a God who needs or even listens to each of our prayers,
I do find meaning in opening a conversation with God.
Prayer reminds me of my relationship with God, my responsibility to be a partner with God in the ongoing work of creation, and my power to affect the world through my actions.
I feel God’s presence in moments of sincere prayer, and strive to create services where others feel able to connect to God in their own ways.
There’s an old joke that has a grandchild asking his Papa why he goes to synagogue. Papa says, “My friend Mr. Goldberg goes to talk to God. I go to talk to Mr. Goldberg.
” Even when we aren’t seeking a spiritual connection, being in community is a powerful experience.
Reconnecting with friends and family reminds us that we are part of a strong, supportive, vibrant network that is with us when we celebrate happy moments and with us when we need support in sadder ones.
Whatever the reason, when we come together on Shabbat and Holidays, we strengthen Bet Chaverim.
It is remarkable to be part of a congregation that has between 25% – 200% of its membership there at any given service.
More than that, it is invigorating to be part of a congregation where people come when they would rather be somewhere else,
where people step up to volunteer time and resources to make the synagogue warm and welcoming, and where people practice the value of hachnasat orchim,
enthusiastically welcoming guests and newcomers to the service. Bet Chaverim is truly a house of friends, welcoming, nourishing, and celebrating together.
Rabbi Emily Meyer