My Heart is in Israel by Susan Jacobs, Director of Education

24 Jul

My first visit to Israel was in 1971. I was a rising senior in high school and I spent the summer along with 50 other teens on a USY teen trip. Israel in 1971 was invincible. The country was filled with a pioneer spirit. Young soldiers hitchhiked everywhere. There was no Intifada. We were able to travel to every corner of the country. There were a few minor skirmishes that summer but nothing that made us feel unsafe or even cautious. At the time, I thought it was a life altering experience. Forty three years later, I know it was a life altering experience. That summer indelibly imprinted my passion for all things Israel in my heart and soul. My deeply rooted Jewish identity was and remains tied up in a strong bond with the people and the land.

I have traveled to Israel a dozen times since then. I’ve gone on Federation missions, chaperoned TBE teen trips, taken my own family, participated in Partnership projects and most recently had the opportunity to join the interfaith trip with our friends from Myers Park Baptist Church. The excitement and anticipation I feel is always the same. For me, it is going home. I know who I will visit and what I need to bring them. I know where I will eat, sleep and shop. I have special spots that I love to take first-timers to visit because it is the perfect view or smell or taste. I know where I want to pray and that I will be overcome with closeness to God and to my fellow Jews in ways only possible in Israel. I feel relieved to walk the streets and to hear the tumult. I am almost giddy because I know my way around the streets of Jerusalem like someone who lives there or that the best falafel can be found on Ha Nasi Street in Hadera! I am at peace and filled with happiness. And, yes, I have been there when there was chaos and commotion. I have visited at the height of the Intifada when Israelis poured out of their shops and homes to thank us for coming. They were moved to tears that we had not forgotten them. I was not frightened. Until now.

Israel has always been held to impossible standards in world opinion but I have never felt such vehemence and hatred as I have these past few weeks. Maybe it is the barrage of 24 hour news channels reporting with such anti-Israel bias or the constant Facebook, Twitter and other social media feeds portraying the Palestinians as innocent victims but it seems as though the entire world has turned against us. I am frightened because I don’t want my people to feel alone and abandoned while they send their loved ones back into military duty or sleep with their children in safe rooms. I worry about my friends who live there and my friends who are visiting even in the midst of the struggle. I know that I need to do something to help. I know I need to make sure that I support Israel in any way that I can.

So I will be attending the Stand with Israel Community Rally on Sunday, July 27th at 2:00pm at Romare Bearden Park. I want to demonstrate my support and show my pride and love of Israel to our community and the world. I am hopeful that every Jew and non-Jewish supporter will join me. This is the time to come together as a community. This is a time to make sure that our voices are heard. I will also be making a pledge to “Stop the Sirens”. Our North American Reform Movement is working to help support millions of Israelis in harm’s way. The Reform Movement has joined with the Conservative Movement and JFNA (the Jewish Federations of North America) to raise and distribute funds to provide emergency aid and alleviate the pain and suffering of our Israeli brothers and sisters. At times such as these we especially feel connected to our people and I hope you will all join me by contributing generously.

I will go back to Israel as soon as I can. There is nothing that will keep me from setting foot in my Homeland. I have no doubt that it will be as wonderful as always. Until then, I will pray for Israel and for peace.

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Is This the Fast I Desire?

16 Jul

By Rabbi Judy Schindler

On Monday night, I made an unusual promise not with my words but a click on my computer. I made a commitment to take part in an event called Choose Life: Ramaddan and the Seventeenth of Tammuz. Apparently thousands of other people also thought this commitment would be a powerful one to make.

You see Tuesday represented an interesting intersection between the Islamic calendar and their community’s month-long observance of Ramadan and the Jewish calendar and our observance of the Seventeen of Tammuz. On that day, both communities observed fasts during daylight hours and I chose to join them.

The minor fast days of Judaism do not often speak to me. I have never fasted on the 17th of Tammuz. Traditional Jews observe this day as one of mourning because it is the day on which the walls of Jerusalem were breached in 69 CE. Three weeks later the Second Temple was destroyed.

On Tuesday I fasted because our holy land is once again under attack. To fast with my Jewish brothers and sisters and my Islamic brothers and sisters across the globe seemed appropriate. I support Israel’s right to defend herself yet weep over the death of every innocent soul. In this midst of feeling helpless hearing about rockets being showered upon Israeli and Palestinian soil and feeling that peace seemed like a distant hope, I adapted Isaiah’s words that we read on Yom Kippur.

Is this the fast that God desires –
a day for us to starve our bodies?
Is today a day for bowing our heads like a bulrush
and lying in sackcloth and ashes in mourning?
Do we see this fast day as one that will cause
God to look favorably upon us?
Do we think that our piety in prayer
and our self-affliction through fasting
will enable us to gain merit in God’s eyes?

No, this is the fast God wants:
To unlock the fetters of evil,
to stop the cycle of violence.

A fast inspired by God moves us
to share our bread with the hungry,
and to take the poor into our homes;
When we see the naked, to clothe them,
And not to ignore our own kin.

To cry out against brutality
To do all that is in our power
to stop the rockets and the war
to enable families leave shelters
And to let children run free.

To do all that is in our power
so that the wolf will indeed lie down with lamb
and enjoy the landscape of the holiest land in the world
that teaches powerful lessons of centuries and sages gone by.

May Tuesday’s fast and Tuesday’s collective prayers

of Muslim and Jews across our globe

move the Middle East nearer to peace.

 

TIME TO BREATHE. TIME TO THINK. by Cantor Andrew Bernard

9 Jul

Every week we talk about letting go of our busy weeks and taking a break for Shabbat. Every year we read in the Torah about the sabbatical year, and acknowledge the importance of regular periods of rest and renewal for our own health and the health of our planet. We read studies about unhealthy workaholic lifestyles, the hazards of relying on fast foods, the damage we do to ourselves by foregoing leisure time to cram in additional activities. Yet at the same time we concede the value of taking time out, we convince ourselves that it’s a luxury we can’t afford.

And here’s where I say that taking time out is not a luxury, it’s essential. And here’s where I admit that, as convinced as I am that it’s essential, I (like many of us, I’m guessing) fail to make that time out a reality. After awhile, taking time becomes an intellectual ideal or — at most — taking a full day to simply collapse after a very long, busy period.

So why does this suddenly seem paramount? Normally I have a two-month opportunity for downtime between Confirmation and the start of High Holiday choir rehearsals, and a two-week break over the winter holidays. For a variety of reasons these breaks didn’t happen over the last year, so I find myself caught off guard this summer when those quieter days suddenly return.

Over the past couple of weeks, there have actually been clusters of days where I’m not scrambling to get to the next obligation. After initially feeling lost when every minute wasn’t programmed out of necessity, something fascinating happened: I felt like I had time to think. Having down time is not only important for letting my body rest a bit (although I am almost surprised by how good a swim workout can feel after a couple of good nights of sleep); not having to triage the multitude of commitments each day gives me a chance to think.

I remarked recently to someone that, as a child, I had lots of unstructured time. My siblings and I generally had one weekly activity outside of school. There were many days — especially on weekends — that we left the house in the morning and were told to be home by dinnertime. Boredom was considered our own problem whose solution was personal creativity. When every minute of the day is planned, there is no time for — and sadly no real need for — creativity.

On these days when I’m not having to devote most of my brain power to processing the immediately pressing tasks, my mind has a chance to wander. I have the chance to dwell on things that interest me and play out ideas in my head. There is, for me, warmth and joy in reopening parts of my being that have been closed off for too long out of what I tell myself is necessity. The creativity that blossoms during these quieter weeks will enrich the work of the coming year. And the creativity replenishes my spirit, allowing me to once again recognize and embrace the many blessings that surround me.

time to breathe

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The View from the Air by Cantor Mary Rebecca Thomas

2 Jul

Several weeks ago, our Torah portions taught us the laws of the Sabbatical year and the sort of super-Sabbatical, the Jubilee year. During these special years in the Jewish calendar, we allow things to rest and be renewed. In the Sabbatical year, we allow the Land a period of time to go fallow, and in the Jubilee year, all slaves are freed and ancestral land holdings are returned to their original owner.

Clergy and academic professions maintain this notion of the sabbatical year. Depending on the terms of the individual institution, that clergy person or professor might be entitled to a few weeks, months, or even a year on a seven-year cycle to have respite from the demands of the day-to-day work of their calling and, instead, be able to work on a special project of their choosing.

At Temple Beth El, full time clergy are entitled to three months of Sabbatical each seven years of full-time employment. Now, a true sabbatical is far-off for me since I have not yet accrued years towards a sabbatical, as I am contracted to work part-time. Nevertheless, I write to you from the airplane headed towards a sabbatical of a different sort.

The American Conference of Cantors, the ACC, is the professional organization for Reform cantors in North America and world-wide. Each summer, we convene to study, sing, share our work, and share our lives for just a few days. I’m sure that it goes without saying, but this time is invaluable. As one of only several hundred Reform cantors in the world, our network is very small and very dear. We support each other through our rewarding, yet challenging callings and also inspire one another to make better music, lead better prayers, teach better classes, and be more deeply present.

In the fashion of a sabbatical, the ACC holds this annual convention in Israel every seven years. In this case, the call is not to let the Land rest from its work, but for cantors to return to the Land and renew their connection to our language, our people, and our music for one week.

The last time that the ACC convention was in Israel, I was in Israel, too, on the first year of our five-year seminary program. (In a bizarre scheduling blip that I do not understand, this was actually eight years ago. We do not recall why the seven year Israel conference interval was pushed to eight this past time…)

In the summer of 2006, I left Charlotte, my home for three years and Matthew, my husband for only slightly more time than that, and headed off to a year of study living with new classmates in Jerusalem. During that year, I flew back and forth six times to nurture my marriage and to see my grandfather in what would be the last year of his life, alav hashalom – peace be upon him. I became an expert in navigating the 6000 mile flight – 10 hours one way, 12 the other – and an expert in navigating multiple worlds, multiple lives, multiple languages. That was the very beginning of Facebook and Skype, thank goodness, so I think I was able to be more connected at home than I would have in previous years.

Preparing for this trip over the last few days, I have become distinctly aware of the passage of time. Johannah, who is closer to four-years-old than three these days, and I have been talking about this trip to prepare her for me to be away for so long. She understands that she is too little to come this time, but I’ve promised her that in seven years, when the ACC convention is in Israel again, she and her brother and her dad will all come with me. She will be ten then. And for two weeks, she has reminded me that when she is ten-years-old, she will get to come with me to Israel.

So here I sit in hour seven of this ten-hour flight, poised between two worlds: the memories of me at 25 out on my own for a Jewish adventure at the beginning of my career, and the promise made to a little girl that in seven more years, Matthew and I will introduce our children to beloved Israel. And, at this moment, those dear ones are far away.

It is a wondrous thing to have markers in our lives: birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. These stopping points are moments of reflections where we assess what has transpired in the year gone by and likely set goals and dream about the year ahead. The sabbatical year, however, gives a bizarre mid-range vantage point over the landscape of one’s life.

Seven years is just long enough for everything in a life to change. For me, in the past seven years I have lost my grandfather, completed graduate school, become a cantor, had two children, and most recently, lost Matt’s mom. When I look at recent photos of myself, I see the weariness that comes with parenting small children and the wisdom that comes with responsibility. When I look at pictures from the last time I was in Israel, I see a very young woman and I remember my naiveté and the conviction that if I just worked hard enough, everything will be alright.

Sometimes, things will never be right again.

While I sat in the airport in Charlotte Monday afternoon, the world learned that three kidnapped Israeli boys had been murdered in cold blood by their captors. Their bodies had been found partially buried beneath some rocks.

I, and all of the people of Israel, wept for these mothers and fathers, whose seven-year dreams for their children might have been to be doctors, lawyers, or fathers. We wept for these boys whose own long-term dreams were snuffed out like a candle.

Sometimes, things will never be right again.

Sigh.

My view is not so pessimistic, really. I continue to be, though older and more worn, filled with the profound hope that through hard-work and perseverance, most things will be OK. Even for the families of Ayal, Gilad, and Naftali, in time I pray that they find comfort in their community, in our traditions, and in the memories of their sons. Though this time may tarry, I pray that it will be theirs.

It is a wondrous and dangerous thing to have the vantage point of the sabbatical, the view from the air. It gives time to take stock of seven years passed and dream of what might be for seven years future.

Yet, I am reminded of the Yiddish proverb, “Man plans and God laughs.” it is the Creator who has the real vantage point, able to know the twists and turns of our choices just out of our own sight lines. It is the Source who knows how quickly the tide can turn, for better or for worse.

As for us, let us hope and plan and dream, yet know that ultimately there is so very much in life that is beyond our control. May we build strong ties to community and loving relationships that will carry us through the smoothest skies and the most turbulent storm.

Pic From Israel

Heavy Hearts for Ayal, Gilad and Naftali

1 Jul

by Rabbi Judith Schindler

“Baruch dayan haemet”
We are called to say
when news of a death
reaches our ears.
“Blessed be the True Judge.”

Sadness and grief
touch us with every death.

Anger and anguish
touch us with tragedy.

Wordlessness and helplessness,
challenging God and questioning humanity   touch us with death by terror.

In all cases we utter a prayer:
“Blessed is the True Judge.”

Today, as a Jewish family
we mourn and weep                                                        as we watch the funeral in Modiin
of these three boys

Even as we fail to understand,
may we act to bring God’s goodness and righteousness
and truth into this world.

Even as we cry out
at their murder,
may we affirm our commitment to break the cycle of violence
and work to bring about peace.

Even as we weep,
may we do all we can
to honor the memories
of Ayal, Gilad, and Naftali,
and to honor God.

Baruch dayan haemet.
Blessed be the True Judge.

Baruch Atah Adonai
Oseh Hashalom.
Blessed are You O God,
the maker of peace.

Summertime Judaism

26 Jun

by Rabbi Jonathan Freirich

A quick look back on the last week at Temple Beth El tells you just how vibrant our Jewish community is (apologies to any events that I missed):

- We had our weekly events – Shabbat evening and morning – including two B’nei Mitzvah, Anniversary Blessings, Torah Study, FIJI Class, and Tot Shabbat too!

- We celebrated: two baby-namings and a same-sex marriage ceremony.

- We mourned our losses and comforted our mourners with two shiva minyanim and a memorial service.

- We had some intriguing conversations about tattoos, organ donation, marijuana, the novel The Golem and the Jinni, Taste of Judaism, The Porch Torah, and even Talmud, in a myriad of locales including the Temple Beth El building, at The Village Tavern, Whole Foods, and at the Bechtler Museum Cafe.

- We ate together at a SPICE Potluck on Shabbat, and shopped together at our Attic Sale.

- Our Annual Congregational Trip to Israel returned with Rabbi Judy – everyone had an amazing and meaningful adventure, and four kids became Bar or Bat Mitzvah.

- And even though it is summer, B’nei Mitzvah preparations continue with a full schedule of training for our soon to be Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies.

I hear that other Jewish communities slow down in the summer.

I feel so honored and blessed to be part of our Temple Beth El family, to be all together so often for important times and moments of thoughtful discussion.

Looking forward to a great summer!

Check out the next book we will read for our August Book Club, or enjoy the last – links below:

Next book for August 3, 11:00 AM:

But Where is the Lamb?

Last book, a fun summer read:

The Golem and the Jinni

Apples to Apples – America to Israel

19 Jun

imageby Rabbi Judy Schindler

Haifa is Israel’s San Francisco. Both are port cities with hills, spectacular views, and mellow co-existence.

Tzfat is Israel’s Asheville. Here it’s mysticism, there it’s hippies, and both have art and mountains.

Tel Aviv is Israel’s New York. Here’s it’s beaches on the Mediterranean and there it’s high rises on the Hudson. Both are major metropolises with fashion, nightlife, businesses, and fun.

But Jerusalem has no match. The Talmud says, “Ten measures of beauty were given to the world, nine were taken by Jerusalem.” (Babylonian Talmud Kiddishin 49b)

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