Rabbi Matt Green – Shabbat Vayeitzei 5781 D’var Torah

What are we doing when we pray?

My guess is that this is a question that many of you have asked yourselves before. Presumably if you’re here this morning, many of you find something within prayer that’s worth drawing you away from other holiday weekend festivities.

Among the clergy at CBE, I am probably the least likely to ask the question: What are we doing when we pray?

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Rabbi Rachel Timoner – Shabbat Tol’dot 5781 Nechemta

Aaron and Sam, I love that you wrote one d’var Torah together. I don’t think we’ve ever had anyone do that before, and it was as if your medium was your message. And your message, about the particular closeness of twins, was a great way to approach a question for all human relationships and really all human existence.

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Rabbi Rachel Timoner – Shabbat Chayei Sarah 5781 Nechemta

Hannah, I really like how you brought us so many different Rabbinic perspectives on Abraham’s motivations in this parasha. I also think that your idea that Abraham was trying to feel equal to the Hittites is smart and perceptive. I was particularly taken by the idea that Abraham was trying, through his actions, to secure God’s promise that the land would belong to him and his descendants forever.

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Rabbi Rachel Timoner – Shabbat Vayeira 5781 Nechemta

Norah, you taught us that we are descendants of Abraham, meaning that we live in the tradition and by the example of our first ancestor, who had the courage and temerity to stand up to ultimate power. And that means that living in his lineage obligates us to do so as well. Yes.

I could not agree with you more. This is a week when our society stood up to power. It looks like we have just averted a full scale autocratic attempt. We used the institution of democracy to vote out fascism. Narrowly, yes. But let us remember that fascism and autocracy have toppled governments, distorted minds, and wasted civilizations around the world for generations. Perhaps before 2016 we thought we Americans were immune from the great lure of a strongman, but by 2020 we learned that any society in the midst of profound change and resultant insecurity is vulnerable to populist appeal and compelled by fascism. For those of us who felt disappointed that so many of our fellow Americans seemed to choose cruelty, hatred, white supremacy, patriarchy, regression, and incompetence on Tuesday, let us remember how difficult it is to defeat fascism. We fought a world war over it. Our people perished because of it. It is no small thing. And so far, we are on the path to rejecting and defeating fascism. We still have a long way to go, but this week we came back from the brink.

Let us celebrate the strength of our democracy, all of its weaknesses having been revealed and exploited. Those weaknesses must be addressed in time. Still, we had an election. It was remarkably fair. There was voter intimidation, there were large scale purges of voters from the rolls over the course of the last year, there were lawsuits attempting to prevent voting, the postal service was hobbled and that did prevent some ballots from being counted. But more than 150 million people voted.

And a majority of them cast ballots to unseat a fascist. Tens of thousands of ordinary Americans gave of their time and their resources with extraordinary dedication to register voters who’d been purged, to notify voters about how to navigate the obstacles that had been placed before them, to monitor the polls, to bolster our democracy while it is under threat. Like Abraham, we stood up to power in all of its terrible might and allure.

But let’s not miss the why. Standing up to power is often a good thing to do regardless, but Abraham’s motivation was specific, and it was similar to ours. Abraham was primarily concerned with the sanctity and the preciousness of human life– of every human life. Each life. And that’s why he pushed God to consider the lives God might be ignoring, caught up as God was in anger at the evil of Sodom and Gomorrah. But what about the innocent lives? Abraham asks: “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty! … Far be it from You! Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?!”

Rashi explains that Abraham is saying to God, “it is a profanation of Yourself” “People will say,” Rashi says Abraham is arguing, “that You, God wantonly destroy life, like you did with the flood, that You are insensitive to life, are willing for people to die, that You do not care about the individual, about the minority, that You are willing to sweep away the innocent along with the guilty.” This verse concludes with a rhetorical question: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth practice true justice?”

This raises the question, what is true justice? Ramban argues that Abraham is concerned here that God is not balancing the attribute of justice with the attribute of mercy, by which every life is held and valued. True justice, Abraham is arguing, is a blend of justice and mercy. True justice values every life, sees every life, honors each human being in full dignity, without exception.

And how does Abraham stand up for human life? He calls upon God to count, as we have been asserting that every voice must be heard and every vote must be counted, because every life matters.

Abraham did all of this not knowing if his actions would make a difference. We acted not knowing what impact we’d have. One thing we have learned this week is just how much what we do matters. Out of millions of votes, the margins are in the thousands. We think about people like Stacey Abrams, Tameika Atkins, Helen Butler, Nse Ufot, and Deborah Scott in Georgia, who were difference makers there. I think about our members Adam Barbanel-Fried who started Changing the Conversation Together and has been training and leading teams to do deep canvassing in Pennsylvania for four years. Or Harlene Katzman, who ran a massive nationwide network of attorneys doing election protection. Or Gale Kaufman, who was the Brooklyn office of Reclaim our Vote, registering thousands of voters who’d been purged from the voter rolls throughout the south. And so many more of you. You are nobly upholding the legacy of Abraham.

And this basic principle, that every voice, every vote, every life matters, is the way forward, over the next few months and the next many decades. It means Black Lives Matter. It means protecting women’s lives and bodies. It means we care about immigrants in detention, and children crying for their parents. It means health care is a human right and we do we everything we can to stop the pandemic in its tracks. It means low wage workers, and unemployed people deserve a living wage. It means addressing the chasm between rich and poor that is preventing so many people in this country from feeling like anyone cares about them. It means listening to people who disagree with us in ways we find intolerable, while holding fast to the ending oppression and upholding human dignity.

Julian, you saw something really important in this parasha, beyond what Abraham saw, which is that it’s not only human life that matters, but all life. The entire web of life of our planet, the entire ecosystem of the earth. And that if we go forward only concerned with saving and honoring human life as Abraham did, it will not have been enough. But in the way that we learned this week that our actions matter, in the way that we saw that we can come back from the brink of fascism, we can come back from the brink of ecological devastation and collective destruction.

So together, Norah and Julian, you have taught us on this first Shabbat after the election, that we must create a world together that honors all life. That holds all life to be sacred. That acts with mercy-laden justice. That stands up to all forms of power that would seek to destroy, to exploit, or to dominate.

In the lineage of our ancestors, let us continue to protect and restore our democracy, so that we can your vision real.

Rabbi Rachel Timoner Interviewed by NY1

“Most of what we’ll be doing is out and around the Sukkah. Families can bring a blanket, have a picnic, but stay separated from other families, but [they] still have the feeling of community, the opportunity to be outdoors and the opportunity to celebrate the holiday.”

Rabbi Timoner was recently interviewed by NY1 outside the CBE sukkah. Read the full article here.

Rabbi Timoner Interviewed in The Forward

“The main thing that Judaism tells us God believes about us is that no matter what we do and what we’ve done, no matter how we’ve fallen short of that ideal of justice, peace, love and compassion, no matter in what ways we’ve closed our hearts and failed to see how we’re harming others, how we’ve erred, there is endless opportunity for us to turn. God absolutely believes that human beings can endlessly improve ourselves, that there is no end to the learning curve, no limits on our capacity to become righteous.”

Read this powerful interview with Rabbi Timoner by journalist Abigail Pogrebin, originally published in The Forward, as part of her series Still Small Voice.

New York Jewish Agenda Presents: Allies Debate the Two-State Solution

At a time when progressive Zionists have united in opposition to annexation, Peter Beinart’s provocative essay in Jewish Currents, and his New York Times op-ed, divides allies. Beinart’s contention that a two-state solution is unattainable, and that a binational state provides the only path to achieving a just resolution to the conflict, has challenged the conventional wisdom and ignited a vigorous debate.

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Message from Rabbi Timoner to the CBE Community – My Thoughts On This Moment

Dear CBE Friends,

These are harrowing times. A pandemic, a nationwide cry for justice, fires and destruction, and police and now military deployed by the president to “dominate” our streets.

If you are feeling afraid, despairing, overwhelmed, or uncertain, you are not alone. Your CBE community and clergy are here for you, I am here for you, and our tradition is here for you.

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Rabbi Timoner and New York Jewish Agenda Featured in the Times of Israel

“We felt it was important to create a new voice in New York that focuses on state and local issues, that serves as a central address for liberal Jews whose Jewish values shape their priorities, both with respect to domestic issues and with respect to their support for Israel and their commitment to combating anti-Semitism.”

Rabbi Rachel Timoner shares the mission of the New York Jewish Agenda, which she recently co-founded with several other progressive NYC rabbis, activists, and politicians, in this new article by the Times of Israel.

Hashkiveinu – Friday Nights at CBE: Sounds of Shabbat

With each passing year, as with each passing day, we pray for peaceful transitions from work, to rest, to renewed wakefulness. This brooding, poignant melody, originally set to the text of Psalm 121 (“I lift my eyes to the mountains…”), brings out our essential human vulnerabilities but also calls us to reaffirm our faith in God’s essential grace and compassion. And it reminds us that no matter how scary the night may seem, we find courage by traveling through it together, as one community.

Me and the Jews

Check out this beautiful article written by our friend Rev. Dr. Daniel Meeter of Old First Reformed Church about his meaningful relationship to Judaism and CBE.

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Never Forget

By Betty Leigh Hutcheson

Aliza, Our Holocaust Survivor, Addressing the Mission. Photograph by (ret.) Lt. Col. Peter Lerner in April 2011.

Aliza Goldman-Landau buried her cousin’s son the same day she served Shabbat dinner to six members of our tour. She had agreed to be a host for the evening meal after services at Kehillat Mevasseret, a reform synagogue in a Jerusalem suburb. That Aliza continued with her commitment was incredible to us, but was a minor feat for this quiet, tiny woman—small in stature but large in spirit. Even more astonishing that evening was hearing her life story.

Aliza emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine from Poland, arriving in 1947 by way of Cyprus when she was 9, an age when our children are considering treats, swimming pools, soccer in the park, and the secret comfort of a parent’s lap. Aliza’s life was much different. By the age when she was old enough to enjoy outdoor sports, her family had left Lodz to hide in the woods during the Nazi occupation. They hid in the forest for months and ate what they could find around them while the Nazis destroyed Jewish culture and lives throughout Europe.

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Creating Sanctuaries through Crises

By Rabbi Rachel Timoner

When innocent children are separated from their parents and held in camps, we are in a crisis.

When two synagogues experience Antisemitic murders within six months, we are in a crisis.

When hate and scapegoating are whipped up by the leader of the country, we are in a crisis.

When the president vilifies the press and threatens the freedom of the press, we are in a crisis.

When the president defies and delegitimizes Constitutionally-mandated oversight by Congress, we are in a crisis.

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Israel and Language

By Ed Bleiberg

One aspect of my relationship with Israel has always included my interest in languages. My year-long stay in Jerusalem in 1974-75 was primarily to learn Hebrew. On the recent CBE congregational trip to Israel, language took many forms.

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Israel’s Light

By Bonnie Bader

The light in Israel is brilliant. It floated over the Mediterranean, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River (which is neither deep nor wide). It reflected off the Dome of the Rock, emanated from the candles held in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and reflected off the Kotel; men and women praying in their separate sections. The light danced off faces: white, beige, brown, black, sparkling in the blue and brown eyes.

The light in Israel is mystical. Wandering through the cobbled streets of Tzfat, one of the four Holy Cities, I took in the blue doors, gobbled down a delicious Yemenite sandwich, and visited art galleries with work inspired by the messages of Kabbalah, and old synagogues each with its own story.

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Fellow Dykes: We Must Be Both Pro-Israel And Pro-Palestine

By Rabbi Rachel Timoner

I remember the first Dyke March, organized by the Lesbian Avengers in 1993 during the LGBT March on Washington. I was there, and I remember feeling that I was finally free — that we dykes could claim all of who we were — our full and complex identities, our bodies, our love, our commitments to equality and justice for all — and be utterly unashamed. It, and the subsequent marches since all over the country, have been profoundly liberating for so many people.

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Who Counts In Israel?

By Emily Sachs

Parshah B’midbar begins with an accounting/a census of military age Israelite men.

“So Moses and Aaron took those men, who were designated by name, and on the first day of the second month they convened the whole community, who were registered by the clans of their ancestral houses—the names of those aged twenty years and over being listed head by head.” Numbers 1:17

As the mother of a twenty-year old, whom we named for Jonah, the reluctant but effective prophet to the people of Ninevah, I think a lot about who counts, who serves, and what courage, service and peace-making look like.

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Our New Director of Yachad and Family Engagement

After a comprehensive and thoughtful process led by a committee chaired by Danielle Mindlin with members Leslie Lewin, Marc Sternberg, Mara Getz Shaftel, and Jonathan Spear, and in close consultation with our clergy team and Yachad staff, we are thrilled to welcome Tehilah Eisenstadt to CBE as our new Director of Yachad and Family Engagement, effective July 15.

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From the Valley to the Slope, and Back Again

Rabbi Leora Ezrachi-Vered recently joined us as part of her Golden Fellowship through HUC-JIR, which brings Israeli rabbinical students and recently ordained Israeli Reform Rabbis to intern in North American Reform congregations. Read Rabbi Ezrachi-Vered’s heartfelt reflection to CBE.
In the past week you may have noticed me around. I’ve had the good fortune to be able to visit CBE as a “Golden Fellow” (thanks to the generosity of the Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion), getting to know your wonderful community, learning from your spiritual leadership and joining activities.

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Reclining as a Measure of Freedom

One of my favorite aspects of the seder is that we eat reclining. In this one move, the seder invites us to act out the release of stress from the body. The four questions tell us that on other nights we might eat sitting upright — tense — our minds on the work or hardships of the day, full of worry about what tomorrow will hold. But tonight, the freed slave experiences the psychic safety to recline, and we re-enact that sense of emotional and physical release. When my kids were little, they’d decorate their own special pillows for this purpose, which led them to nestle in to the shoulders or onto the laps of their neighbors. We’d make sure that everyone around the table had a pillow in order to fully lean on one another. This leaning on others reminds us that we’re connected, and the people around us can help hold us up.

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Rabbi Timoner’s Op-Ed in the Forward

Rabbi Timoner recently wrote an op-ed for the Forward on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming appearance at the AIPAC Policy conference, expressing major concern for Netanyahu’s recent embrace of the controversial, extremist Jewish Power Party.

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Heartbreak into Shabbat: Rabbi Timoner’s Message to the Community after the Christchurch Shooting

Dear CBE Community,

As we prepare for Shabbat, our hearts are broken from the murderous hate that killed 49 Muslims during prayer at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Before killing and wounding innocent worshippers, the murderer released a manifesto citing American white nationalism as his inspiration. With Pittsburgh still so clear in our memories, we know how threatened and vulnerable all Jews felt after our own people were targeted in one of our holy places. We also know what it felt like when the larger community stood with us to make clear that we were not, and would not be, alone. We remember in particular how the Muslim community encircled us with their love and support.

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Rabbi Timoner on Religion News Service Podcast

Rabbi Rachel Timoner recently appeared on an episode of the Beliefs Podcast, a weekly news podcast covering religion, faith, and ethics. Rabbi Timoner and Dr. William Baker had a meaningful conversation about progressive activism, Zionism, the great potential of the progressive Jewish movement in America, and the crosswinds and squalls for American Jews during the Trump Administration.

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Unleavened Plays Festival

CBE is excited to announce its first annual Unleavened Plays Festival.

The Festival is seeking six 10-minute plays, each reflecting the underlying theme of “PLAGUE(S).” The plays will be performed as an evening of staged readings at CBE on Sunday, April 14, 2019 — the weekend before Passover begins, as people around the world begin to think about the Jewish people’s efforts to escape Egypt and head out into the desert toward freedom.

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New Play Commission About the American Jewish Experience in Partnership with Brooklyn Jews and Rattlestick Playwright’s Theater

Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, in partnership with CBE and Brooklyn Jews, opened their search to commission a new play focusing on the American Jewish experience. The commission is looking to support an emerging, early-career playwright in creating a new work that will encourage meaningful dialogue around the complexity of being Jewish in America.

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Rabbi Rachel Timoner – Vaera 5779

Read Rabbi Timoner’s d’var Torah on the upcoming Women’s March on Washington.

We find ourselves this week in the second parasha in the Book of Exodus. At the opening of last week’s Torah portion, we meet a new Pharaoh who doesn’t know Joseph. “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us,” he says. “They might side with our enemies.” So he oppresses us ruthlessly with labor that makes our lives bitter, but we continue to increase and spread out until the Egyptians come to dread us.

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CBE After School to Chess World Championship

Fabiano Caruana will be the first American to compete for in the World Chess Championship since Bobby Fischer in 1972! Shortly after moving to the Park Slope area, Caruana’s parents enrolled him in CBE’s after school program where he was first introduced to the game of chess.

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Rabbi Timoner on “America, We Need to Talk”

Rabbi Rachel Timoner sat down with Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America and host of “America, We Need to Talk” on WBAI Radio, to discuss the current climate of anti-Semitism in America, what we as Jews (and as people) can do to eliminate it, and the importance of welcoming and embracing the other. Rabbi Timoner’s interview begins at 01:05.

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We will #ShowUpForShabbat

Earlier this week, American Jewish Committee launched #ShowUpForShabbat, an initiative encouraging people to come together this weekend in solidarity with the Jewish community of Pittsburgh and Jews across the nation.

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The Prayer of Endings

Farewell Speech from Rabbi Marc Katz
Marc’s Last Lap Farewell Event, June 3, 2018

The amazing thing about the Jewish tradition is that there is a prayer for everything. There is a prayer for new beginnings, a prayer for seeing lightning and a different prayer for the rainbow after the storm. There is a prayer for seeing a beautiful person, and prayer for smelling a flower, even a prayer for using the bathroom.

But my favorite prayer has always been the prayer of endings, because it completely defies expectations.

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Bound Up In One Another

A Message from Rabbi Rachel Timoner

Dear CBE Community,

I know that many of us are experiencing a range of thoughts and emotions about what’s been happening in Israel. Yesterday, as the American Embassy was moved to Jerusalem and as 60 Palestinian people were killed at the Gaza border fence, Rabbi Rick Jacobs released this statement, which I support, on behalf of the Reform movement. Meanwhile, Rabbi Sharon Brous was with Rev. William Barber and many leaders of the Reform movement in Washington, D.C. launching the Poor People’s Campaign. She said these words about poverty in the United States, words that speak to my heart about Israel and the Palestinians. Perhaps they will speak to yours.

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Speak Torah To Power

Rabbi Rachel Timoner was one of three Jewish educators invited to participate in Avodah’s Speak Torah To Power Speaker Series. Watch* her powerful speech, Radical Humanity: Inalienable Dignity and American Public Policy.
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Rabbi Rebecca Epstein Joins Clergy Team

Last month, we shared the bittersweet news that Rabbi Katz will be leaving CBE at the end of June to lead Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, New Jersey. You can see that announcement and Marc’s beautiful letter to the congregation here. Four weeks ago, we were thrilled to announce that Matt Green will become CBE’s new Assistant Rabbi after he is ordained in the spring. You can see that announcement and read about Matt’s stellar achievements here. Today, we share the exciting news that CBE is expanding our clergy team with a third rabbi, and to introduce you to Rabbi Rebecca Epstein.

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clean dream bill

15+ Jewish Orgs Plan Civil Disobedience in Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC – On Wednesday, January 17, Rabbi Rachel Timoner joined Bend the Arc Jewish Action, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Anti-Defamation League, and other clergy, leaders, and grassroots volunteers from across the Jewish community in a historic act of Jewish civil disobedience.

More than 100 participants occupied the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill to demand that congress include a clean DREAM Act in the government funding bill.

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Our New Assistant Rabbi

Dear CBE Community,

We hope that you’ve had a chance to read Rabbi Marc Katz’s announcement last week. While it is not possible to ever replace Rabbi Katz at CBE, and while his imprint will remain on our community and on our lives for many years to come, we are grateful to have an extraordinary new rabbi ready to serve our community in his own unique way. We are thrilled to share the wonderful news that Matt Green will be CBE’s new Assistant Rabbi beginning on July 1, 2018.

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