I came across a post on Facebook this week that I sat with for a long time and then hesitantly re-posted. It’s by a woman named Leah Solomon who lives in Jerusalem. I don’t know her, I’m not even her Facebook friend. But we have friends in common and she works for Encounter, an organization that brings Jews and Palestinians together to listen to one another. I read her words and I want to share them with you in their entirety.
The best parts of life are the surprises.
Here we have a story of surprise. The scouts are surprised that the Promised Land is a frightening place, with looming giants. Why would Gd, whom they trusted, promise them a land like this, with these terrifying people in it?
I had a chance on Thursday to talk to our member Jared Dougall, who’s 18 years old, one of my son Benji’s closest friends (they met at Yachad), and is living and working in Tel Aviv these few months, taking a break from his first year at the University of Michigan. Jared is a really smart, thoughtful intellectual, and he and I have had many conversations over the years about Israel/Palestine, as well as all about American politics.
Lucy, what a beautiful d’var Torah. I love that you connected rest to freedom, Shabbat to Shmita to Yom Kippur to Yovel (Jubilee). I love that you brought us two evocative teachings about t’ruah, the shofar sound that, according to the Mehilta of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, is the sound of breaking chains of slavery, and according to Ketav v’haKabbalah, the sound of fellowship and friendship.
One of the curiosities of pandemic life in our synagogue is that time is jumbled, juxtaposing Torah portions that would never otherwise be read together. Today we contemplated Bereishit, the first parasha in the Torah, with Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, today’s double Torah portion which, as Jane taught us, is at the very center of the Torah. This creates for fascinating possibilities of analysis.
Abbie and Benny, beautiful and important Torah.
Benny, I think you’re right. A few days ago the Park Slope Patch reported that a full fifty percent of this neighborhood is at least partially vaccinated. CBE now has a reopening task force making plans for how and when and with what precautions we will reopen services and programs to members in person. We’re all pretty eager to do the things we couldn’t do for the last thirteen months.
“My dad taught me that businesses thrive when the dignity of every human being is honored — workers, customers and shareholders alike. He taught me that there is no contradiction between being pro-business and pro-union. He taught me that our economy and society can be both prosperous and caring. He taught me that standing for the rights of workers is what it means to be a proud Jew.”
Please read this meaningful op-ed by our very own Rabbi Rachel Timoner for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Mouna, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us this morning. You took on important themes including your thoughts on God, and the flexibility and ongoing evolution inherent in Judaism. As you have heard, our 5th graders are here today, they are just beginning their journey towards B’nei Mitzvah and as part of that journey they are going to receive their Chumash, or Torah book in just a few moments. I am so glad that they specifically heard both what you had to say, and how you built your remarks, incorporating Torah study and commentary, Jewish history, and your own experiences and ideas.
This Shabbat, this seventh day of Pesach, we read from Parashat Beshallach in the Book of Exodus. We read of our people’s departure from Egypt, the pursuit of Pharaoh and his many chariots, the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, and the triumphant Song of the Sea once we’ve crossed to the other side.
Cleaning Out the Chametz in Our Houses and Ourselves
Sometimes, the Jewish calendar aligns perfectly with the natural cycles of life. Like in the winter, how our Chanukah candles bring light to the darkest days of the year. And we celebrate Sukkot, the harvest holiday, when the farmers’ market is full of fall produce.
Today is Shabbat HaGadol, the Great Shabbat, the Shabbat before Passover. This is the Shabbat when historically our people would settle in to services because it was the longest sermon of the year, all about how to halakhically prepare your home for Passover. That is not what we’re talking about today. Instead, we’re talking about Light and we’re talking about Shame.
V’im Kol Adat Yisrael Yishgu: Standing with the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community
My family recently moved from Gowanus to Crown Heights, so we became avid users of the Buy Nothing Facebook Group for our old neighborhood. If you’re unfamiliar with what that is, it’s a forum that people use to give things away or request something for free. It’s a way for communities to share what they have, make less waste, and offload things they are done with that might find a new home with someone who needs it.
On the Anniversary of the Pandemic: The Scraps with Which we Build
Vayakhel-Pekudei 2021, Rabbi Stephanie Kolin
Wow, we’ve been building the Mishkan for a long time. For chapters and chapters, we’ve been getting the instructions for how to build the Tabernacle, our traveling sanctuary in the wilderness.
There’s a guy in Texas who owns a furniture company. His name is Jim Mcingvale. Maybe you’ve seen some reporting about this story. He has this huge warehouse store and when it became clear that Texans were in serious trouble, without electricity or heat or water, he opened his store to anyone who needed refuge. Seniors and kids sitting on his mattresses and recliners. Children curled up on their parents on his couches, watching his televisions. He’s not even worried that their shoes are all over his furniture. He was worried that they were alone and freezing and afraid and out of options with no one to come help them.
In my family, we occasionally need to talk about consequences. We have an almost four year old who I hope you will all get to know in time. She’s awesome. And she, like many almost four year olds, sometimes makes questionable decisions.
Why is asking for help so hard? Why do we resist it so much?
Russell, your d’var Torah explored this parasha and the issue of Pharaoh’s hardened heart in a totally original way, as you explored the terrifying feeling of being out of control in our emotions. You showed us that not only is this a universal human experience, it is an experience that the Torah tells us God shares with us. And you questioned whether it was okay, whether it was moral, for God to artificially impose or exacerbate that experience within Pharaoh.
Joe and Sylvia, your divrei Torah today are aiming at the questions of what is true and what is right. Joe was asking what caused the ten plagues, a question that could be answered scientifically (whether through scientific theory or archeology), religiously, or literarily, through text criticism. This is a question of what is true.
I felt the need to speak to you this morning, though it was not part of our original plan. I felt the need to speak to you in the week that the Reverend Doctor Raphael Warnock, John Lewis’s pastor, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr was baptized, gave his first sermon at age 19, and served as pastor for the rest of his life—the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Reverend Warnock became the first Black Senator from the state of Georgia. I felt the need to speak to you in the week that Jon Ossoff, John Lewis’s intern, became the first Jewish senator from the State of Georgia.
Among the silver linings of this terrible time through which we have been living has been the opportunity to be part of the CBE community since last March.. I am grateful to Rabbi Timoner for allowing me to share some thoughts with you this Shabbat.
We need dreams. Hanukkah ended yesterday, and the longest night of winter is still ahead. Vaccinations began this week, thank God, but it will be many months until we can enjoy their protection. Dreams will be what carry us through the long, dark winter. Dreams are our light in the dark.
It’s not an accident that Hanukkah encompasses the longest, darkest nights of the year. That’s because it contains the new moon closest to the winter solstice, combining the lunar calendar with the solar calendar for maximum darkness.
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?
Last night was a sad night for a lot of people. Even if you made a full meal and had your family around you, even if you zoomed in with family and friends all around the country or world, few of us were able to gather with the joy and feeling of fullness, with the full mishpacha we would usually enjoy.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
There once was a man on a journey who came across a beautiful palace, but the palace was on fire. He looked around, trying to find help to put out the blaze. He wondered, surely there must someone who owns this palace, someone who cares for it. This, the rabbis teach in the midrash (Genesis Rabba 39:1), was our ancestor Abraham.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
As part of a series of articles on Judaism and American democracy published by eJewish Philanthropy, Rabbi Timoner wrote the following article on the imperative of Jews and civic engagement especially during this particularly challenging time.
Rabbi Timoner recently signed on to a joint letter sent to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo with over 100 New York City and New York State faith leaders in support of bail reform. Read the full letter below.
Senior Rabbi of CBE Rachel Timoner was recently invited to help deliver the unity prayer at the African-American Clergy & Elected Officials breakfast with Rev. Dr. Robert Waterman of Antioch Baptist Church, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, New York State Attorney General Letitia James, NYC Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, and many more.
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.
As the Jewish community emerges from weeks of holidays and enters the month of Marcheshvan, we take comfort in the simple weekly rhythm of Shabbat.
Ki HaMalchut Shel’cha – Friday Nights at CBE: Sounds of Shabbat
At the heart of Rosh Hashanah morning liturgy lies “Aleinu l’shabeiach,” an affirmation of God’s ultimate, singular sovereignty over everything that is.
Read Rabbi Timoner’s review of Rabbi Mike Moskowitz’s recent book, Textual Activism, a collection of essays, articles, and teachings offering a new perspective on Torah, with an emphasis on contemporary issues of justice and inclusion, especially around gender identity.
Forty-four protesters were arrested while demonstrating against Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) cloud contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at a New York Amazon Bookstore Sunday evening.
Rabbi Timoner’s article, “Hope for Independence and Peace for All”, is featured on the Union for Reform Judaism’s Ten Minutes of Torah series. In it, she reflects on visiting the village of Sanoor, where every Shabbat a delegation from Physicians for Human Rights Israel comes to the West Bank to offer a mobile medical clinic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We are thrilled to welcome Alan Herman as our Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer, effective July 15.
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.
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.