Monday, December 26, 2011

Reflecting on Chanukah at Age 7 3/4

A Chanukah Interview with Eli Bailit, Rashi Second Grader, Age 7 ¾

Mommy: You made a pretty cool Chanukiah a couple of years ago – what did you use for materials?
Eli: I made it with a board of wood as the base and nuts as the candleholders. We have to blow out the candles as they get close to the bottom so the wood doesn’t burn.

Mommy: For the past few years, we have had the tradition of giving gifts to children in need one night out of the eight nights of Chanukah. There is even an organization, started by Rashi parents and temple members, called “The Fifth Night” that asked for donations for Birthday Wishes this year. You learned something interesting about the fifth night of Chanukah. What was it?
Eli: I learned in The Jewish Book of Why that, a long time ago, parents gave gelt to their children ONLY on the fifth night.

Daddy: Can you spin a wooden or plastic dreidel longer?
Eli: Plastic.

Daddy: For how long?
Eli: Seventeen seconds.

Mommy: How many chanukiyot do we have in our house?
Eli: Eleven.

Daddy: Where did your oldest chanukiah come from?
Eli: My great-great-grandmother, Edith.

Daddy: If you light all of your chanukiyot on the eighth night, how many candles would that be?
Eli: Eighty-eight candles.

Mommy: Who is “Menorah Man”?
Eli: We have a battery-operated menorah that sings to the tune of Maoz Tzur. It has a face on it, so you call him “Menorah Man”!

Mommy: What was your favorite gift this year?
Eli: You and Daddy gave me the Patriots jersey, and I wore it to my first Patriots game ever on December 4. You said it was a Chanukah present, so you wrapped it up and gave it to me for Chanukah. The card said “Surprise!,” but it wasn’t.

Mommy: What feels better: giving a gift, or receiving a gift, and why?
Eli: Giving a gift, because it makes you feel good.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Jews Who Get Tatoos

This blog post from Molly Tobin (Wheaton College Class of 2013) was originally published in the Wheaton Wire on October 12, 2011.
For as long as I can remember there was a standing rule in my house: no tattoos. It was always explained to me “Jews don’t get tattoos.” I still debate whether my parents were opposed because of Jewish laws and customs or because of my mother’s own hatred for them. Nevertheless I broke the rule and got a tattoo.

I was never hesitant to share my tattoo with other people, especially because of the symbol representing equal rights. However I felt ashamed to show it to one person, my Nanny. She’s not my relative by blood, but I consider her to be my grandmother and thus one of the people I most want to make proud. She was friendly with my grandparents whom I never knew and is able to provide me with stories of them and a sense of connection. Nanny is remarkable in so many ways, but a tattoo is something I was sure she would never appreciate or adapt to. For three very successful years I hid my tattoo from her, but over the summer its existence was revealed.

I was sitting right beside her when she was told about it and I am sure that I looked like a ghost. Unsure of what to do or say, I turned to her and said, “I know, my grandparents would be ashamed.” She quickly looked at me and started shaking her head, “they would have been proud and privileged to have known you.” I was relieved, but then she impressed me even further. As she questioned the symbol and asked what it meant, I explained that it was about equality and my belief in equal rights for all people. She then smiled and stated, “don’t worry about the tattoo then, as long as you wear what you stand for.”

I learned something from Nanny that day; customs, beliefs and practices are not forever. As times change, people’s beliefs and understandings about certain events and actions change. For me, this is prevalent in my religion. Often certain prayers or customs during the holiday’s or throughout the year don’t make sense to me. One example for me is the idea of “keeping Shabbat”. Imagine not using any electricity for 24 hours, I have tried and after 30 minutes I didn’t know what to do with myself. In an age where everything is digital the temptations are simply too great. Imagine 24 hours without a microwave, car, Facebook and iPhone apps; I simply couldn’t do it. Though I am respectful of those that do keep Shabbat, I know I am not alone in not keeping it. Many peoples compromise has become driving to synagogue on Shabbat. While they may use electricity, they still show their dedication and faith by attending Friday night services, something many others have given up on. Perhaps fifty years ago temptations wouldn’t have been as great in keeping Shabbat, just like tattoos were not as common.

Nanny showed me that things change and sometimes you can’t do anything but go along and accept it. She could have acted flabbergasted and upset by my tattoo, but then I thought, “What would have been the point of that?” That just creates conflict, damaged relationships, and in my family makes people suffer from some of that famous “Jewish guilt.” I am eternally grateful that Nanny knew that and  instead instilled me with some of her ahava and hokmah – love and wisdom.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rosh, the Ring and Feeling Connected

This blog post from Molly Tobin (Wheaton College Class of 2013) was originally published in the Wheaton Wire on October 5, 2011.

This past week Jews around the world celebrated Rosh Hashanah, or popularly referred to by my eldest brother as “the Rosh.” Rosh Hashanah is the New Year on the Hebrew calendar and also marks the beginning of what is known as the High Holidays or High Holy Days; the period of time between the start of Rosh Hashanah and the end of Yom Kippur.

I made a decision a few years ago to not attend High Holiday services. It was not a protest against my religion or a rebellion against my parents. I articulated that I didn’t like that so many people attended services on these two days, and yet I had never seen most of them in synagogue on the other 363 days of the year. But I also felt services to be impersonal and insignificant for me. I felt connection in temple at other times of the year, whether during services or social gatherings, and I didn’t see a need to loose that connection simply because it was an important holiday. This year I have spent a lot of time thinking about connection and discovered that my connection to Judaism was made stronger during the times I least expected.

I have been immensely fortunate to travel to Israel three times in the last year. Each time I deplaned at Ben Gurion International airport in Tel Aviv, the first thing I did was put my sunglasses on. No matter what the weather was outside, inside the sunlight was always blinding. It was a tremendously dramatic scene to walk through the airport towards immigration and glance outside the window noticing it was cloudy, but then looking straight ahead and seeing sunlight consume the corridors.

Walking through the streets in Jerusalem, goose bumps constantly travel up and down my arms. The Old City is surreal and the atmosphere unique. My entire mindset changes and I feel comfortable, as if I am on a cloud. It is not that I compare being in Israel to a religious experience like sitting in synagogue (though it could be) it’s that I don’t need to be in a place of worship to feel touched and connected.

Part of the process of reconnecting with Judaism and reclaiming my faith has been to understand the ways in which I feel connected. I don’t always feel connected by sitting in synagogue – though I have a tremendous respect for those that do. However I felt connected this summer by spending multiple days with a Holocaust survivor; I have felt connected enjoying a casual cup of coffee with the Rabbi of my synagogue; I have felt connected by spending time with over 150 young Jewish adults in Israel over the course of my travels.

Yet, I have discovered it is an object that makes me feel the most connected: the ring I wear on my finger everyday. Inside it is inscribed to the memory of my Grandfather and the exterior reads “ani malkah bet malkim.” Literally meaning “I am the queen of the queens.” However figuratively it connects me as the descendant of my Grandfather and makes me a part of his legacy. The ring’s simple presence on my finger connects me to his love of Judaism, his pride in Israel, and his dreams and hopes for his family. This ring makes me feel connected to a man I never knew and helps me to feel Jewish in a way that I couldn’t attain from attending synagogue.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tips for Surviving Your Older Sibling's Bar Mitzvah by Temple Member Shayna Tribush

Ed. Note: The following essay was written by TBS Member Shayna Tribush for her weekly sharing at the Rashi School. We present it here as a "survivor's guide" for the younger sibling. Much congratulations to Shayna's sibling, Rylan, on the celebration of his becoming Bar Mitzvah, and to the entire Tribush family.

The photo is of another younger sibling at TBS "surviving" the celebration of his older brother's becoming Bar Mitzvah.

I know a family bar mitzvah can be hectic for the younger child, but I can tell you how to get through with style!

  • Tip #1: Always have a book on hand. As soon as the family starts bickering open it up and begin reading.
  • Tip #2: Stay out of the way and try not to be more of a distraction. This will make sure that you don't get into trouble. Warning for fellow troublemakers, this might be hard.
  • Tip #3: Tell the sibling that they are doing a good job even when they are really not. SHHHHHHH!
  • Tip #4: When mom says she needs to go to Starbucks, let her go because she really needs it.
Hopefully using these four tips will help you survive this stressful, but insanely fun event.

- Shayna Tribush, Grade 3

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What’s Your Favorite Hanukkah Music?

I was in Staples yesterday and noticed (perhaps later than you have) that the Christmas music was already blasting throughout the store. Now, I'm no Grinch (I'm a huge fan of Vince Guaraldi's Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack and our interfaith family has a lot of other Christmas music in our collection), but it did make me long for my favorite Hanukkah music.

My absolute favorite Hanukkah album (and now a staple of our family’s December playlist) is “Hanukkah Rocks” by The LeeVees. Trust me, with songs like “How Do You Spell Channukkahh,” “Applesauce vs. Sour Cream,” “Kugel,” and “Latke Clan” you can’t help getting excited for Hanukkah and the anticipation of spending time with family and friends. The music is infectious and the lyrics range from funny to touching - making “Hanukkah Rocks” one of my favorite CDs/iTunes downloads to share. Definitely check out the links above and let me know what you think.

What about you? What’s your favorite Hanukkah music? Are you a fan of the classics or have you discovered new favorites (like Matisyahu’s “Miracle” from 2010)? Share your favorites in the comments!

- Michael Goff

Monday, December 5, 2011

Beth Shalom Garden Club - Garden Therapy at Charles River ARC

On November 29, 2011, eight women from the Beth Shalom Garden Club in Needham presented a special workshop for the young women's group at the Charles River Center in Needham. The young women enjoyed creating their own "Chinese Food Take-Out Bouquet," with flowers and instruction provided by the Club.

Through gardening and nature-related activities, those with disabilities can experience a greater sense of competence, enhance sensory stimulation, improve motor skills, and find occasions for socialization, self-expression and creativity. Every year, as part of the Garden Therapy Program, the Beth Shalom Garden Club members bring floral design programs to different groups, including The Walker School and The Charles River Center.


Beth Shalom Garden Club Holiday House Tour Participation

Temple Beth Shalom Garden Club was invited to participate in the Needham Women’s Club Holiday House Tour on December 4 and join ten other teams to decorate tables for the holidays. This “Festival of Holiday Tables” was a new addition to the tour.

Marjorie Golden graciously opened her home to display 10 festive tables in addition to our presentation in the dining room. Our team designed a table for an elegant winter wedding that was beautiful and stunning. I have included just a few of the photos. If you want more photos, you can email me or Sue Kaplan.

I also want to mention that Denise Garcia also decorated her lovely home for the tour and her decorations were also beautiful.

Congratulations to Denise and the Temple Beth Shalom Garden Club team: Sue Kaplan, Sylvia Golden, Debbie Kraft, Anita Glickman, Judy Levine, and Carol Gershman. This invitation to participate was extended only recently and with just a few weeks, the team was able to present an elegant floral table that delighted everyone.

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season,

Carol Gershman

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hiding the Jew in Me

This blog post from Molly Tobin (Wheaton College Class of 2013) was originally published in the Wheaton Wire on September 28, 2011.

Earlier in the week, a friend posted on my Facebook wall addressing me as her, “Jew friend.” Last night as I was sitting in my kitchen at home, my mother walked in carrying two trays of homemade challah she had just hand-braided. These are a fraction of my weekly experiences that remind me of the obvious: I am Jewish.

I grew up in a household that celebrated all of the Jewish holidays and felt proud to be Jewish. Judaism was a part of my daily life, as were Jewish values and the concept of Tikkun Olum – repairing the world.

When I graduated High School I was sure of who I was and yet my first day on campus my Freshman year I felt the need to reinvent myself. The part about myself that I went to great lengths to avoid was my faith. It wasn’t that I felt unsafe or unwelcome as a Jew, but with such a small population of Wheaton’s campus identifying as Jewish, I didn’t want to be part of such an obvious minority. I wanted to fit in, so I thought it couldn’t be with this small group of people. Furthermore, when I did appear at a Hillel event there were only a handful of people. I couldn’t help but question where everyone was, surely there were more than 10 Jews at Wheaton. I thought maybe being Jewish isn’t fashionable and I hid myself from Jewish life as I think so many others on campus do.

My second year at school I realized I couldn’t try to reinvent myself and be happy. I started to become involved in clubs, but I still felt lost. In December I made a daring decision to travel with a group of 40 strangers to Israel on Birthright. I completely fell in love with the country, but finally realized I was undeniably Jewish. It’s not that I consider myself to be a religious person; it’s quite the opposite. It’s the culture of Judaism that I love and I had been denying myself a major part of who I am and the sense of belonging. This summer, after two more trips to Israel, during a month long program for Jews aged 18-26 in California, I was asked to write down 5 things that described me. It took a mere moment to write my first answer, “Jewish.” When asked to explain my answer I simply said, “if I wasn’t Jewish I don’t know who or what I would be.”

Wheaton prides itself on acceptance and diversity and I am now proud to be part of a small population on campus. I am privileged to be apart of a campus where people feel comfortable and accepted to display their religion, sexuality and beliefs. It has taken me two years to abandon and regain my love of Judaism. It was a struggle to get to where I am today, though I couldn’t be happier about where I have arrived.

To all of you who have never hesitated to express yourself I say Yasher koach – a job well done and may you have the strength to continue. I also thank you for showing me the way to do the same for myself.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sisterhood Dinner Kicks Off the Year with a Large Crowd

Snow fell outside, but warmth was abundant inside Simon Hall at Sisterhood’s annual Membership Dinner on Oct 27. The year’s kick-off event drew 145 women, enjoying the opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.

After a cocktail/shopping hour with many new boutiques, Rabbi Jay quieted the crowd long enough to say the Hamotzi, and we enjoyed an excellent dinner by La Morra (thank you to owner/member Jennifer Ziskin). Sisterhood’s BFF, Rabbi Michele Lenke, presented a good-natured montage about the meaning of Sisterhood. Each table completed a quick survey to learn more about each other – including some very funny answers to the prompt, “Have you ever met a famous person?” – before the dessert buffet.

Big kudos go to event co-chairs Kate Basch and Christine Shusterman, each chairing a Sisterhood event for the first time. (It’s not so hard! Contact Marcy Hirschen if you’d like to co-chair the spring Donor Dinner.)

Additional thank yous go to committee members Jane Blauvelt, Marcy Hirschen, Sarah Keselman, Margaret McConchie, Elise Miller, Jessica Post, and Marie Shapiro and volunteers Emily Aransky, Aimee Bierman, Lisa Channen, Elissa Grebber and Jane Spigle, with special thanks for Linda Rosenberg’s superb design skills and Roche Brothers for continued generosity.

Sisterhood is off to a great start, with 24 new members so far. Many new events and projects, as well as perennial favorites, are in the works.

  • Thursday, November 10:  Board Meeting (6:45) & Games Night (7:30) at the temple
  • Tuesday, November 15:  SisterhoodNight at the Paint Bar. Not a member of Sisterhood yet? Click here for membership information.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Rabbi Eric Yoffie: Why Americans Dismiss Sin

Rabbi Eric Yoffie
[This post by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie is reposted with permission from URJ and was originally posted on The Huffington Post and reposted on]

To talk of religion without reference to sin is absurd.

Sin is what results when a human being chooses evil rather than good. It is the consequence of violating transcendent values. Contending with sin is a central theme of both Jewish and Christian religious thinking.

The United States is a religious country, and one might think that sin would be a major subject of public discourse. Yet this is not so. We may talk of "morality," but being moral is generally a secular matter, cleansed of any hint of evil or sinfulness. And, oddly enough, even in religious circles, we fear the language of sin and rush to avoid it.

I acknowledge that liberal religion has a part in this. Liberal religious people are sometimes so anxious to see the good that they become blind to evil intentions and divert their eyes from sinful acts. They want to be reasonable and tolerant and therefore assume that others will be as well. Conservative religious leaders contribute to their unease by invoking sin for certain types of behavior that they abhor -- such as homosexuality -- while ignoring it for everything else, thus giving the impression that their real purpose in talking about sin is to promote hatred of gays.

But the problem goes deeper. When an individual acknowledges his sins, he recognizes his weaknesses and begins to take responsibility for his actions. There are many aspects of American culture that discourage us from taking responsibility for what we do. Denying responsibility, we also deny sin.

Ours is a culture of endless explanation. Our 24-hour news cycle means that sinful acts of the most straightforward sort -- abuse, violence, fraud -- are subject not just to reporting but to non-stop interpretation. Experts of every conceivable variety put forward explanations that in another era might never have been offered; some will be ingenious, some bizarre and many downright ridiculous. We gain thorough coverage but at the price of explaining what does not need explanation and excusing what should not be excused.

Ours is a therapeutic culture. Freud and his disciples have conquered us all. There is no outrageous act that cannot somehow be attributed to the interplay of psychic forces or to some newly discovered psychological "syndrome."

Ours is a culture of victimhood. Groups of all sorts see themselves as victims, even when they plainly are not. I know Jews who see an anti-Semite under every bed and evangelical Christians who are convinced that they are an oppressed class in America. By portraying themselves as victims, they send the message that they are not responsible for their actions; by definition, the fault lies elsewhere.

Ours is a culture of medicalization. (My thanks to Wilfred McClay for this term.) We trust medical science more than we should, expect from it more than is reasonable, and bestow upon it wisdom and insight that it does not possess. We believe we are at the mercy of diseases, often of a new and esoteric sort, even when evidence is scant, and we listen to neuroscientists who assert that biology controls both morality and destiny. What all of this means is that our own responsibility is diminished.

Ours is a culture of relentless realism. Realism is seemingly a virtue; in the political and financial arenas, the "realists" are tough and calculating and call upon us to deal with the world as it is. But claiming to be shorn of illusions, they are often shorn of ideals, and their talk quickly shades into fatalism. If one cannot change the world around us, one has no responsibility for that world; and in such a world, apathy makes more sense than responsible action.

In light of the above, it should not be surprising that we do not talk of sin in America. Our culture pushes us to cast aside responsibility and to find others to blame.

I thought of these matters while sitting in the synagogue on Yom Kippur. Left to my own resources, I am no more able to admit my sins than anyone else. I point fingers, make excuses, hold others responsible. But the liturgy on this day is unyielding and harsh. In one prayer after another, we were obligated to proclaim what we otherwise resist: "We have violated the laws of God and Torah. We have sinned."

There is not the slightest suggestion here that our fate is determined by societal pressures, "root causes" or any other forces beyond our control. Indeed, the liturgy specifies the sin of prikat ol, which means throwing off societal restraints for one's own purposes, or more simply, "casting off responsibility." To cast off responsibility is a sin and our own fault. Period.

Jews and Christians, to be sure, do not understand sin in precisely the same way, but both see it as a foundational theological category. As a Jew, fresh from the jarring experience of Yom Kippur prayer, I find myself wishing that we would struggle with it more than we do -- separately in our respective traditions and collectively as partners in building a more just society.

Absent sin, we are not responsible. Absent sin, there is no moral precision. Absent sin, there is no moral judgment. Absent sin, there can be no forgiveness.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Brotherhood Retreat - A Delight!

Free-time walks to the beach, another great retreat ritual

The 6th Annual Brotherhood Retreat keeps getting better and better. I can attest to this statement as I have received many unsolicited rave reviews. All our participants appreciate the balance of insight fully relevant Torah study, spirited topical discussions, laughter, plenty of food and drink and of course the camaraderie that brings everybody closer. Rabbis Jay and Todd do an amazing job of creating and leading a thoughtful program that is engaging, inspiring and sometimes uproarious.

Our new retreat location, The Yarmouth Resort and friendly staff made us feel welcome and supplied us with a wonderful meeting room that had all the conveniences of home. This was the first year that we could cater our own home cooked breakfasts of waffles, eggs and of course Lox and Bagels. This large sun filled room also served us well easily handling plenty of seating for our discussions and a nice venue for multi media presentations, happy hour and wonderful Saturday night after dinner. The only thing missing from other retreats was not having the Red Sox on TV in the post season, but we won't go there. We'll save that discussion for the Leroy Davis Breakfast on November 20th.

Our group dinner just happened to be right next door at the Yarmouth House. For only $40.00 we enjoyed a fabulous four course dinner with an additional large fruit & cheese plate for the table. Our first course was a choice of two soups or a fruit cup, then a garden salad, followed by a choice of 3 entrees: Prime Rib, Baked Stuffed Scrod and/or Chicken Marsala. If you weren't full by now there was a choice of 2 desserts, a fancy multi-layered chocolate cake or a rich slice of strawberry topped cheesecake. Most guys felt the need to lay down after this spectacular, it was really delicious.

We have already decided that next year's retreat will stay at The Yarmouth Resort and we are already brainstorming new ideas to make it even better. Marty Goldberg, the event chair along with Ed Schreider, Stephen Staum and Michael Herman, our new Retreat Chairman Emeritus worked on the planning for many months over the summer and everything really came together and exceeded most every one's expectations.

We again thank everyone who participated and we are already looking forward to next year's 7th annual retreat.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Preview of the Library

The other day I was sitting in the Temple Library (be honest how many congregants even know we have a Temple library?) when I looked up at our collection of books, DVDS and compact discs. I was amazed by what a wonderful collection we have!
Have a question on parenting we have the books for you a few examples are:
Parenting Jewish Teens: A guide for the preplexed by Joanne Doades (on a personal note who isn't preplexed by teenagers?)
Raising resilient children: Fostering strength, hope and optimism in your child by Robert Brooks & Sam Goldstein
Don't know what to cook tonight? How about checking out our cook book section. The library has just received Joan Nathan's new cookbook entitled Quiches, kugels and couscous: my search for Jewish cooking in France.
We also own a wonderful collection of DVDS for the entire family; from Shalom Sesame Street which provides a wonderful introduction for young children to Israel & Jewish holidays to A life apart- Hasidism in America.

So the next time you are at the Temple don't forget to "check out" the library!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Garden Club Antiques Show - November 6

Beth Shalom Garden Club is sponsoring the 14th Annual Antiques Show on Sunday, November 6 from 10 am to 4 pm at the Needham High School.
Please help support the BS Garden Club at this event, which is our only fund raising activity.

The Antiques Show will be a fun event as always.
Browse 2 roomfuls of antiques for sale, displayed by dealers from several states.
In addition, we our lucky to have an appraiser available from 10 to 3. Bring in your treasure and get a verbal appraisal of its value. Who knows, you could be a Needham star as in Antique Roadshow fame.

More fun - take a chance or more at the Raffle tables.
Great selections of Needham restaurants, Sundae Kit from Abbots, Children's Birthday Party at Boston Sports Club, jewelry, hand-knit clothes, shopping certificates, bird house, Byrd Honey from Needham, and so very much more.
Super Raffle (just $10 a ticket) gives you a chance to win a Trek Lime Bicycle, BJ's 14 month membership, AAA membership or renewal for 1 year, stay at the Needham Sheraton.

Visit our French Flower Market for a special take home lovely.

While browsing, shopping and seeing friends visit the Cafe for coffee, breakfast, lunch, or snacks.
Check out our yummy Bake Sale supplied by Garden Club members who have the best family recipes .

Hope to see you Sunday, November 6 from 10 am to 4 pm for Garden Club's Antiques Show and the Sisterhood Rummage Sale - what a great day!

Beth Shalom Garden Club presents Needham Antiques Show, Sunday, Nov 6 >10am-4pm

Please join us, Sunday, November 6, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
(Before or after Rummage Sale)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Take a (Shabbat) Hike!

Shomrei Adamah is excited  to report the success of its first two Shabbat Hikes of the year. On September 17, 17 hikers (including our new religious school director Allison Gutman) joined Beth Shulman for a two hour hike on the Wellesley Acquiduct trail. On October 15, 21 hikers including several temple families joined the Bailit family for a one hour hike at Cutler Park.

October 15 at Cutler Park

We invite you to join Marlene Schultz on November 19 at 2:00pm for our next Shabbat Hike at Wilson Hill Reservation. Rabbi Todd will be the guest clergy on the hike.

About Shomrei Adamah:
The Shomrei Adamah (Guardians of the Earth) Committee at Temple Beth Shalom is a group of individuals who are connected by their belief that taking care of our natural environment is our responsibility. We believe it is ethically imperative for Jews to work toward lessening our environmental impact and thus uphold the Jewish ideals of tikkun olam (repairing the world), tzedek (justice), and bal tashchit (prohibition against wanton destruction). We identify ways for the Temple as an organization and as a facility to improve its use of energy and natural resources. We not only educate our community about green initiatives, but we also participate in hands-on activities to make the world more sustainable for now and for future generations.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sukkot BBQ Block Party was a Huge Success!

On October 16, nearly 230 members, prospective members, and friends of the TBS community attended our annual Sukkot BBQ Block Party. Attendees decorated the sukkah, shook the lulav and etrog, jumped in a moon bounce, and dined on Blue Ribbon Bar-B-Q. A fun time was had by all, as we celebrated the holiday of harvest and giving thanks.

The Sukkot BBQ Block Party is just one event hosted by the Member Relations Committee each year. We also host the adult Purim shpiel, prospective member open houses, and programs to honor both our newest and longest-standing members. We are always interested in gaining insights from others in our community. If you have ideas to share, or would like to be involved in Member Relations, please email Jenny Small at

Below, enjoy a few photos of the event.

Margit Fried paints her mother Meredith's face.

Dora, Juliana and Elsa show off their beautiful face painting art work.

Drew Koplan decorates the sukkah.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Brotherhood and our community celebrate "Jews Clues"

It was a beautiful Sunday morning and we were preparing to host the kick-off of the "Jews Clues - You're doing it all wrong" World Synagogue Tour - 5772. Everything was indicating that this event, a TBS community celebration of the authors, CJ Kaplan and Mitch Blum was going to be a smashing success. We were celebrating the accomplishment of someone in our men's community and the theme was Jewish humor with a traditional breakfast being served.

Something that our whole community could relate to and enjoy.

Thank you to everyone who made our celebration special (over 70 attendees), to our expert kitchen crew, to Mimi & Linda for creating the awesome cover art "Jews Clues" platter and of course to CJ & Mitch for sharing your humor and stories with everyone. We hope that the tour makes it on to the "Daily Show with John Stewart" and maybe as an encore at TBS as the tour comes home.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Jewish Future is Now - a Repost from eJewish Philanthropy's Blog

The following post has been cross-posted to the TBS blog from eJewish Philanthropy, a daily enewsletter about trends in Jewish Philanthropy. The author, Dr. Jonathan Woocher, Chief Ideas Officer and the Director of the Lippman Kanfer Institute, a part of the Jewish Education Service of North America, speaks about the Jewish Futures Conference, an opportunity for all of us together to define the future of Judaism. Special thanks to the author for permission to repost this entry.

by Dr. Jonathan Woocher

Jews have a thing about the future. We gave the world the Messianic concept, the vision of a future in which the world is perfected and peace and justice reign. But, we’re also perennially anxious about the future. An updated version of the old telegram joke might go: “What’s a Jewish tweet? ‘Start worrying; Facebook update follows.’” Historian and philosopher Simon Rawidowicz called Jews “the ever-dying people” because of our persistent penchant for fearing that each generation of Jews might be the last. In our own time, we have lived through the era of “Jewish continuity,” determined and sometimes feverish efforts to secure the Jewish future against the perceived threat of intermarriage and assimilation.

When we launched the Jewish Futures Conference a year ago, we took a different tack toward the future, one more in keeping with computer scientist Alan Kay’s advice: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” We saw evidence all around us that Jews are indeed inventing an exciting, vibrant future. Yes, there are real challenges: The world is changing very rapidly around us, and Jews are changing with it. But, the raw material out of which to create a future that, while hardly Messianic, is one that we can anticipate with enthusiasm, is at hand. The question is whether we are ready to embrace fully the possibilities that exist today for reshaping Jewish life so that we can thrive as individuals, as a community, and as a people in the new environment we inhabit.

The goal of the Jewish Futures Conferences, the second of which will be held in a few weeks at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in Denver, Colorado, is to stimulate conversation among the diverse groups that will determine our future – everyone from high level federation leaders to teenagers – about the visions and values that should guide our ongoing journey. As has been the case throughout our history, learning – Jewish education – will play a pivotal role in shaping both the content of these visions and whether, how and for whom they will become integral to living a meaningful, purposeful, fulfilling life. The second Jewish Futures Conference, like the first, will bring diverse and fresh, even unexpected, voices to this conversation in order to challenge and inspire us to seize the potential of this moment and to imagine where it can carry us.

The theme for the upcoming Conference is “the Jewish learner as ‘prosumer.’” The concept of ‘prosumers’ – people who are at once consumers and producers of the ideas, experiences, and cultural products that give shape and substance to their lives – aptly describes a growing number of today’s Jewish learners.

Increasingly, Jews of all ages are stepping forward to become “co-producers” of their Jewish lives. They are no longer content simply to absorb what others, figures in authority, have prescribed as the way things are to be done. They want to have an active share in the doing, the interpreting, the applying, and they want to do so together with others – Jews and non- Jews – similarly energized to learn and to teach.

Today’s technology makes prosumerism more widely achievable than ever before; it empowers and connects in unprecedented ways. But, in fact the prosumerist idea is not a new one. It is built into the fabric of Judaism itself, where Jewish learning is not limited to an elite caste, and the chain of tradition asks each of us to create new links, new midrash. The ideal of a globally interconnected learning and creating community is perhaps more realizable today than ever before in Jewish history.

What kind of a future can emerge from taking up this opportunity and unleashing the prosumerist potential of the present moment? We don’t know precisely, which, of course, is exactly the point. We will be creating it – together. We can hope, though, that it will be one in which many more Jews are engaging in a wide range of activity motivated and shaped by a passionate and expansive sense of what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century – activity that will expand Jewish learning and culture, strengthen Jewish connections, repair society and the world, and enrich their own and others’ lives.

At the Jewish Futures Conference we will experience for a few hours what such a future might look and feel like. Three keynoters coming from different vantage points – Chris Lehmann, educator extraordinaire; Tiffany Shlain, prize-winning film maker; and Lisa Colton, social media guru – will encourage us to unleash the creative power that we collectively possess to shape new realities. Covenant Award winner Shai Held will use Jewish text to provoke us to think more deeply about how we use this power. New voices – two winners of a world-wide video competition and two teenagers – will share their visions of what we might create, exemplars in their own right of how empowered prosumers are already coming to the fore as creative forces in Jewish life.

William Gibson, the science fiction writer who gave us the term “cyberspace,” argued that “the future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.” The Jewish Futures Conference organizers heartily agree. Jews may never put their anxiety about the future entirely behind them (and perhaps never should, at least till we reach that Messianic era). But, we have also never let that stop us from seeking to draw on the wisdom of the past and the possibilities of the present to create a better future. That work continues today, and the Jewish Futures Conference is ready to celebrate it and to ask us all: how can we be part of this historic venture?

The Jewish Futures Conference is presented by JESNA’s Lippman Kanfer Institute and the Jewish Education Project, with support from a growing number of collaborating organizations and sponsors. Read more at Register to the GA at

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pride Not Prejudice

A healthy and happy new year to everyone! This year, just in between the final blast of the shofar and the beginning of Sukkot, is October 11th. We all know about September 11th, especially as we commemorated its 1oth anniversary together at Memorial Field, but October 11th is also known as National Coming Out Day.

While not often talked about, NCOD is an internationally observed civil awareness day for coming out and the discussion about the LGBTQ community, rights, issues, and awareness. One of the many blessings of the Temple Beth Shalom community has been our openness and acceptance of our LGBTQ friends and family, and yet most of it has happened somewhat silently. How does it happen? It usually happens when I least expect it. Sudbury Farms, Trader Joe's, at the oneg on a Friday night, right before a young person becomes Bar or Bat Mitzvah, or prior to a funeral. Rabbi, I want to let you know about my ______ (fill in familiar relationship here)... He and his partner are ... She and her wife are... Did I ever share with you that ...

I have to admit that I love hearing these stories and expanding what I know about you and your family, and I think it is time that more people in your temple community can share these stories, experiences, and simchas. Many of you already know about our TBS Keshet group.

Keshet is the Hebrew word for rainbow and this group is comprised of lesbians, gays, and straight allies. Keshet is also a national organization started here in Boston whose mission is "to ensure that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews are fully included in all parts of the Jewish community." Continuing to grow and expand their own programming, Keshet has started the Keshet Parent and Family Connection as an opportunity to speak to other Jewish parents with LGBTQ children.

What I would like to ask, is that in honor of National Coming Out Day 2011, you email me and share with me some of the LGBTQ history in your own family. Talk to me about your cousin, your daughter, your son, your ex-spouse or even yourself. Be proud of who your family members are and if this is a challenge, let's talk about that too. No judgement.

I know that closet doors still exist for a variety of reasons and I am not asking you to "out" someone who is not ready to come out, but rather I invite you to open the door a bit wider so that together we can remind them that Temple Beth Shalom is welcoming and safe place.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rosh Hashanah, Blessings, Blogs, and a new Web Site...

Welcome to 5772! In the spirit of the New Year, and in the spirit of taking stock of our lives at this important time of the year, there are many exciting and new things happening with TBS online which I thought I would highlight here.

First, we have launched our newly updated web page. You can still find us at but when you log in, you will notice that the site has a slightly new look and feel. The calendar of events is now firmly linked in to all of our subpages, and we have several exciting new features which will be debuting in the coming weeks (and, in fact, later in this email).

To access much of the customized content, we have moved away from the model of a single user password for the entire congregation. Instead, you will have an individual user identity and password. If you have not already registered for a username and password, please do so by clicking here, and following the instuctions below:
  • Fill out the form to register for an Online username and password.

  • Enter key information: First Name, Last Name, Password and confirmation, Email, and Display Name

  • Enter required information on the Custom Tab: Timezone.

  • Enter optional information: Address, Avatar / Profile photo, Tags tab (to indicate your interests or affiliations), Custom tab (for privacy settings), and Activity tab (settings for how you want to be notified about activities within the Community Area).

You will be sent an email with a confirmation that your account has been established once you have been approved. Login information is per user, so everyone in your family can (and should) create their own username on our new page.

Also on the new page (as you begin to explore) you will find that we have updated the section including the Rabbi's sermons to feature the two sermons delivered on Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Todd's erev Rosh Hashanah sermon entitled "Opening our Eyes to Blessings" can be found here and the list of blessings mentioned in his sermon can be found here. Rabbi Jay's Rosh Hashanah sermon entitled "Israel: Seeking Hope, Inspiration, and Courage to Act" can be found here. After Yom Kippur, we will update their respective pages with copies of this year's sermons.

Another new feature of our relaunched website are two new blogs for our K-5 and 6-12 learning programs. Following the incredible success last year of our pre-school blog, we have launched two fully interactive blogs with posts from your children's teachers, pictures from the classrooms, information about learning and curriculum, and lots of opportunities for ongoing conversation. We welcome you to come view how exciting learning at TBS is! The Elementary Learning (grades K-5) blog can be found here and the Teen Programs blog (grades 6-12) can be found here. Please note you must be logged into the Temple web site to access these pages. (If you would like to have a family member who is not a member of the Temple [i.e. grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc.] be able to access the blog, please note that they can also register for a username and password using the instructions above although their access to the webpage as a whole may be limited).

As a final reminder and update, we are in the middle of our Annual Shofar Appeal. This is time of year when we reach out to you asking for your support as we begin the year ahead. A pledge card was sent home to all members, and if you prefer to make a contribution online feel free to click here (you will be able to use Paypal to make a contribution by credit card).

We hope you enjoy the start of the New Year as well as the new ways in which we are using technology at the Temple. May the year to come bring you and yours many blessings!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Still Smiling...

Have you ever smiled so much that your cheeks hurt? That’s how I felt yesterday as we celebrated with Ida Kublin as she became a Bat Mitzvah at 83! I just could not stop smiling and I think it was contagious! In attendance were her children and grandchildren, family and friends. We all came together to witness an important moment in Ida’s life and it became an important moment in the lives of all of us who were present. For months Ida and I had studied her Torah portion together, debating whether she would use the Sephardic or Ashkenazic pronunciation of the Hebrew text before her. As we studied, she shared stories of her youth with me and how she excelled in Hebrew school, but never had the chance to become a Bat Mitzvah. After months of studying and years of imagining what it might be like to read from the Torah, the day had finally arrived and she knew that her parents of blessed memory would be so very proud.

When we first met, I learned that she had wanted to celebrate this special Bat Mitzvah close to her birthday and together we chose the date not paying attention at the time to this week’s Torah portion, but rather to the availability at the temple and the upcoming Holy Days. Little did we know, that we picked the perfect day.

There is a saying that you get the Torah portion that you were meant to get, and that was so true in Ida’s case. When I initially picked the verses that she would read, I knew it would fit because it spoke about food, and I knew that Ida and her beloved Abe of blessed memory used to have a deli, but I had no idea at the time that the verses I had chosen for her to read, would actually be a wonderful statement of her theology, her philosophy and her practice.

Ida is proud to say that she believes in bashert, it was meant to be, and this match of Ida and her Torah portion was indeed bashert. She spoke beautifully about the importance of family and as she spoke those words, I looked out into the congregation and amid the tears of joy were the smiles on the faces of her family members and friends. She spoke about her belief in God and gave profound thanks to God, and I proclaimed yesterday to be Thanksgiving Day, as we were all grateful to witness this RIGHT of passage. Young women of her generation did not celebrate the rite of passage we know as Bat Mitzvah, and yesterday as she received the Torah from the generations of her family who have followed her, the Torah was in Ida’s loving arms, reclaiming it as her own. Seeing her pure love of life, family and God was captivating. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

Ida’s last verse of Torah was perhaps the most fitting as it reads: Baruch ata b’tzetecha u’varuch ata b’voecha. Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in your goings. (Dt. 28:6). It was when we studied this verse together that Ida revealed to me that whenever someone in her family goes on a trip it has long been her practice to say, “Go well and come well”, words right out of her portion. Truly Ida got the Torah portion that was meant for her, and she is indeed a blessing to us all.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Next Friday night, September 9, 2011, celebrate summer overnight camping with us!

As a preparation for our Shabbat in celebration of our campers, we invite you to submit your own favorite camp memory below as a comment to this post.

We are so thrilled that hundreds of our Temple Beth Shalom children attended overnight camp this summer. We would like to celebrate them and the wonderful experiences they had next week at our Friday evening services. This will be our first Simchat Shabbat service of the year, an evening filled with spirit, joy, and plenty of "camp music," as we welcome all of our temple kids home from their summer experiences.

So bring the whole family along to services at 7:15 PM on Friday, September 9th, and be sure to wear all of your camp gear to celebrate the place where summer memories were made.

Our oneg following services will feature camp-themed tasty treats.

We would also like to share photos of our temple kids off at camp, so please e-mail Rabbi Todd with high resolution pictures from your child(ren)'s summer at camp. Your child's 4 or 5 favorites would be great!

We hope to see you there so we can see the smiling faces of those who've recently returned home and to hear all about incredible summers at camp!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Getting to the Heart of Yom Kippur by Rabbi Vicki Tuckman

Ed. Note: This cross-post comes from the URJ's email series entitled "Ten Minutes of Torah". The email comes daily and provides a one-page e-mail on a topic of Jewish interest. To sign up for the daily email, visit the URJ's web page.

Rabbi Tuckman has given TBS permission to repost her email on a new ritual her family has created for Yom Kippur on our blog. Rabbi Tuckman is Assistant Director / Director of Jewish Life for the URJ's Camp Harlam. You can read more about Rabbi Tuckman on Camp Harlam's web page.

Last year I introduced a new ritual into my family’s observance of Yom Kippur. I was determined to observe this most holy of days in a meaningful and active way. Yom Kippur is a long and challenging day, even for the seasoned Jew who spends the month of Elul and the “days of awe” in preparation. The normative Yom Kippur rituals (i.e. fasting, prayer, personal and communal atonement) are not necessarily engaging or developmentally-appropriate for children or pre-teens. Even teenagers (and adults) can be overwhelmed by the length of services and miss the point of fasting if they do not understand the true intent.

With that said, there is no doubt that the message and teachings of Yom Kippur are appropriate for all. All people – from preschool on up – ought to be practicing reflection, atonement and forgiveness. At each stage of our lives we can and should seek to fulfill the sacred duties of this day.

Rabbi Gunther Plaut writes the following about “The Day of Atonement” in his Torah commentary:

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of Yom Kippur in the life of the Jewish People. Even the religiously indifferent respond to its call and crowd the synagogues...It speaks to each human being and seeks to bring each person into harmony with others and with God. (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, page 858)

Rabbi Plaut goes on to explain that when reading the original Torah text from chapter 16 in the Book of Leviticus, with follow-up passages in chapter 23, we learn about an animal sacrifice system meant to connect humankind to God. In biblical times Yom Kippur was observed as a well-choreographed ceremony by those highest in power, with the Israelite people primarily observing the day as “passive spectators.” The modern Jew, however, is left searching for a more inspiring message and not a discussion regarding “a complicated sacrificial service performed by the High Priest.” (Plaut, page 858)

It was for this reason that a different Torah passage was chosen by the leaders of the Reform Movement; one that would fulfill the ultimate charge of the day - that being a sacred call for each person to take responsibility for one’s words, actions and behaviors. In Deuteronomy each and every member of the community is called forth. No one is exempt from standing before God and our fellow peers in judgment, as well as forgiveness.

“You stand this day, all of you, before Adonai your God – your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from the woodchopper to the waterdrawer – to enter into the covenant of Adonai your God.” (Deuteronomy. 29:9-11)

This article began with a reference to a “new ritual” that I started with my family this year, cognizant of a Yom Kippur teaching I wish my own children to imbibe. After a beautiful morning t’filah at our synagogue, we ended our day not in front of the Aron HaKodesh for Neilah, but simply the 5 of us standing in a circle in the woods near our house. With an ode towards the tashlich ceremony of Rosh Hashanah, we stood by a pond and read parts of the Neilah liturgy. Even though our prayers told us the “gates of Heaven were closing” - we discussed the importance of keeping our hearts open. Open to growth, open to forgiveness, and open to change. And whether one is 6 or 60 – living in ancient Jerusalem or modern America – this message has remained constant since our ancient words were eternalized in our Torah. As we will read on the morning of Yom Kippur in Reform synagogues in North America and around the world:

“This Instruction… is not too baffling, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, neither is it beyond the sea… No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

Friday, August 19, 2011

My New Passport

By Cantor Marcie Jonas

(Photo Credit: M. Jonas, Grand Tetons taken from the Snake River)

This summer, I was given a new passport. Not the kind that you need for international travel; rather this passport is solely for travel within our country and only to specific locales. It is my Passport to Our National Parks. This passport book, created by the National Parks Service, is divided into nine geographic travel regions throughout the country. Whenever I visit a National park, I have my passport stamped with a cancellation mark. Each cancellation mark records the name of the park and the date of my visit. It is a keepsake of our domestic travels.

This summer, through our family travels in Wyoming, we received a few cancellation marks in our passports. For me, there is no question that the National Parks in the great state of Wyoming contain some of the most breathtaking views. The Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone, are host to bears, bison, elk and moose, as well as the famous Old Faithful Geyser (and some of it’s less-reliable cousins nearby, which we also got to see erupt, however, sporadically). I’ve heard many describe this part of our nation as “G-d’s country.” It is breathtakingly beautiful, with nothing to obstruct the 360-degree view of mountains, lakes and streams.

Even on our flight and the approach to land in Jackson Hole Wyoming, the conversations on our airplane turned to the gorgeous land below. Even those passengers, who call Jackson Hole home, were awestruck as our pilot navigated through the Grand Tetons, and flew over Jenny Lake. The snow-capped mountains set against the deepest blue sky took our breath away.

I knew that experiencing the terrain of this part of the country would be a gift for our family.

There are moments in our busy lives where we forget to stop and look around us, at the beauty of our natural resources. Driving through the state of Wyoming, there was nothing to see except our natural resources, and this new perspective really helped to restore balance in my life. Our senses were heightened while in Wyoming, taking in the views of the glorious landscape, the smells of pine, the feel of the crisp morning air, and the sounds of the rushing Snake River. This is not to say that these beautiful vistas don’t exist here, for they certainly do, only that sometimes we need to look a little harder to see them.

After a week out west, we returned home. As we drove home from the airport we noticed how the foliage in the state of Massachusetts is different from that of Wyoming. We noticed how it has changed even from a week or two earlier primarily due to imbalance of rain and sun. The familiarity was beautiful. Coming home always feels good.

Sometimes we need to step away from what we know so well, in order to see it and embrace its beauty. I was reminded of this one day on our trip. I was getting ready to photograph the Grand Tetons off in the distance but what struck me as most beautiful was in the foreground of my viewfinder…my family.

I am reminded of a stanza from a song from the musical group Lonestar. It’s called My Front Porch Looking In. A section of the song lyrics state:

I've traveled here and everywhere
Following my job
I've seen the paintings from the air
Brushed by the hand of God
The mountains and the canyons reach from sea to shining sea
But I can't wait to get back home
To the one He made for me
It's anywhere I'll ever go and everywhere I've been

Nothing takes my breath away
Like my front porch looking in

As the summer winds down, my wish is that we still find moments for front-porch-sitting, and vista viewing. But also know that the view looking in can be more beautiful than the view looking out.

[This post originally appeared in the August 19, 2011 Shabbat Shalom email]

Monday, August 15, 2011

Shayna Reed's Sinai Statement: Celebrating Confirmation and An Individual Relationship with G-d

Ed Note: The fourth in our series of our Confirmand's Sinai Statements comes from Shayna Reed. Shayna writes about her individual relationship with God and how her learning in the Confirmation Year has encouraged her to find her own personal relationship with belief as part of the ongoing Jewish journey.

I’ve been going to Religious School for a really really long time, and in the process I have formed many opinions on all sort of topics like prayer, the Jewish relationship with Israel, and the best kind of hamentashen filling (definitely poppy seed). However, one topic that has been harder for me to process and form opinions on is my individual relationship with G-d. I went into this year only knowing what I don’t believe about G-d. I do not believe G-d controls our world and our destinies completely. I do not think G-d is wholly uninvolved in our lives. I don’t believe G-d is so involved as to keep records of our every action and rewards or punishes accordingly, and I do not believe that G-d is our conscience. As a biology geek I tend towards believing that G-d is the order found through science because I see something majestic in the way our world is organized; however, I don’t think that science encompasses the entire nature of G-d or how we lowly humans can relate to G-d. As beautiful as science is to me because it explains our world, some things simply cannot be explained and therefore suggest divine presence.

Obviously, judging from the hardly comprehensive list of ideas I have already rejected, G-d is different for everyone. The one conclusion that I can draw about my own views from our G-d discussions is that I greatly respect the Jewish faith’s command to constantly question G-d in serious ways. As the people Yisrael, even our name reflects our constant struggle with G-d as it literally means “one who will struggle with G-d.” This struggle means that we must constantly re-evaluate what we have learned and always seek more knowledge and reflect on our experiences and the teachings of others. I feel comfortable with Judaism because I am not forced to believe in one ideology, and my understanding of G-d can change as my understanding of life does. I don’t agree with everything our religion tells us but I love the discussions and insights that are stimulated by questioning it. G-d is confusing and ultimately unknowable. However, I know that I will always struggle with G-d, as Jacob and all the Jews before me have.

by Shayna Reed

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Social Justice in the Social Media Age - A Crosspost from eJewish Philanthropy

Ed. Note: Today we feature a cross-post from eJewish Philanthropy, a daily newsletter focused on the Jewish Philanthropic world.

This post, written by Florence Broder, Chief Operations Officer for, explores how the use of social media is shaped by your community. She uses the backdrop of the current protests in Israel as a case study on the successful use of social media.

What do you think about the challenge the article lays out for us? In what way can our community at TBS embrace the vision of using social media "to reawaken the complacent into action"?

Special thanks to Florence Broder for permission to cross-post her article to the Temple Beth Shalom blog.

When Allison Fine was in Israel in May, she said Israelis have so much to say, it can’t fit into 140 characters. Yet Israelis are a population that live for text messaging – it’s even how they pay their parking meter. I constantly try to make sense of the disparity between the two Israels: one being the hi-tech center of the world; the other, a country not that can’t use the tools to communicate. During June’s Israeli Presidential Conference, everyone applauded the great coverage on Twitter, but I couldn’t help but ask why was it all in English? Where were all the Israeli Hebrew tweeters?

However, the developing protests in Israel paint a different picture. The need to communicate has made tweets a catalyst for change and a revolutionary spirit. Empowered by social media, the Israeli public has been galvanized in the quest for social justice, the mantra of the movement. The Tent Protesters quickly launched a WordPress site designed by Code Patuach that has the elements that we all want – a social, interactive site, with a clear call-to- action, and consistent branding.

The site homepage offers you photos, videos and blogs. If it’s community you are looking for, there is a Hebrew and English Twitter feed and you can follow the #J14 hashtag. (In case you were wondering, it’s J14 because the movement began on July 14th, which is also Bastille Day.) There is a Facebook page which allows fans to identify with the movement by offering them badges and other opportunities to get involved. Want to leave a comment about a newspaper article? You can do it right from the homepage. There is even a live chat feature so you can talk to protesters right on the spot! And if you want to support the movement financially, the is a clearly labeled donate button.

The protesters have been so successful because they have been strategic in how they have empowered the public to get involved. They have created clear and consistent messaging to propel the public forward. They have leveraged social media to give a voice to people who thought they were voiceless. They have created community for people who felt alone in their plight. As the movement grows, so does the reawakening of the Israeli public who are starting to actually believe that they can effect change and re-envision a different future for Israel.

As you consider issues in your own community, reflect on the success of social media in bringing together Israelis from all walks of life. Think about how the tools can do the same for your community. Take a fresh look at your organization’s website and think about how you too can integrate social media into your website to reawaken the complacent into action.

By Florence Broder

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sam Moller's Sinai Statement: Celebrating Confirmation and Tikkun Olam

Ed. Note: The third in our series of our Confirmand's Sinai Statements comes from Sam Moller. Sam talks about his views on Tikkun Olam and how his trip to the RAC during his confirmation year has helped shape these views.

Throughout my life I have always been drawn to perform Tikkun Olam, the Jewish principle of repairing our world through acts of social justice. Throughout my time at The Rashi School, I was under the impression that most of the people in our society were involved in social justice projects. After my trip to the Religious Action Center this winter my impression of Tikkun Olam completely changed. I realized from my trip to the RAC that very few people participate in social justice projects or have a clue about the injustices in our world. The trip also showed me that people should give back to their community and the people who have given to them. As Judaism says “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.

On the trip we covered many different social issues that have a great effect on this country, such as poverty, LGBT rights, America’s relationship with the State of Israel, family abuse, global warming and many more. By going into deeper learning around these topics I realized that there are more than one or two common views on these matters. There are hundreds. The phrase, “Two Jews, Three Opinions”, came into play on the trip countless times.

After I returned from our time at the Religious Action Center, I reflected on my experience and I realized that besides the friends that I made, I discovered a strong passion for the social justice projects that we worked on during the trip. I then came to the conclusion that I want to pursue a career in bringing greater justice to our world. Some people have come up to me since the trip and have asked what I want to be when I get older, and I have responded to them that I want to work in social justice. Some have said that, that it is very commendable, however the majority of the people have responded in saying that, my thought about my career is foolish because there is no money involved. Yes it is true that working in social justice is not a “get rich quick” occupation, however the enjoyment that I get from doing good is priceless.

--Sam Moller

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

SOFTBALL: A Reflection, in Seven Innings


Baseball and softball have always been important parts of my life. I grew up playing catch with my dad and my mom, and all summer long my older brother John (a good hitting lefty and an above-average fielder) and I would ride our bikes to a nearby field where anywhere from four to twenty kids would play baseball until it was too dark to see the ball. In high school my temple’s NFTY group had no softball team, so I also joined the local BBYO to play softball with the AZA team. I played intramural softball with John during the one semester we were at college together, and I have been playing softball – and occasionally helping coach little league – ever since.


A few years ago, Jon Cohan pitched the idea of starting a TBS Brotherhood softball team. He gathered a group of interested players, found a league for us to play in, and undertook the thankless task of organizing us into a softball team. Not very easy, given the unruly, opinionated, and vocal group of players – myself included - who joined the team. The diversity in age, athletic ability, softball experience, and temperament was extraordinary, but that first season we managed to practice once or twice without suffering too many injuries, field a team each week without forfeiting, and have a lot of fun while getting to know each other. Within a couple of years, the roster grew to more than 25 players, and when it became apparent that those of us hitting 22nd or 23rd in the order risked going an entire season with only one at-bat per game, the team was divided into two.


Softball is played with 10 fielders, and between 12 and 14 players usually show up for our games. It’s not so few that we lack variety of skills and personalities, but not so many that we lose our close connections with each teammate: it is a good size. It takes 10 to form a minyan – wasn't there something about Abraham trying to field a 10-man team of innocents so Sodom could be saved (Genesis 18:32) - and Moses sent 12 tribal leaders to scout the home team when the Israelites first approached the Promised Land (Numbers 13:2). Groups of this size are common: most juries have 12 members, and the basic fighting unit of many armies is the squad, usually consisting of 10 to 12 soldiers. It has been suggested that 12 “was a natural size for a hunting party of the Stone Age, and that men were predisposed to feel comfortable in a group of about that size” (Neal Stephenson, Anathem, Harper (2009), p. 346). Literary examples include Tolkien’s 9-member Fellowship, and the 11 courageous pioneers, led by the heroic rabbit Hazel, who went forth from their native land to establish a new home on Watership Down.


How many connections with classmates, friends and Temple members have I made over my decades of playing softball? Too many to count. When someone asks if I know a lawyer with a particular area of expertise, the first people I think of are my law school softball teammates. Most of the men I know best at Temple are guys I first got to know playing softball. Softball buddies Morris Porter and Richard Atkind were instrumental in setting up our employment assistance program; I have shared terrific music with some teammates; I’ve worked on Temple boards and committees with others; and I have led shiva services at the homes of some of my softball friends after the death of a parent.


Every summer Sunday morning after I graduated from law school, I played in a long-standing pick-up game in Brookline. (A few of the other regulars were Orthodox, and I enjoyed watching their fringes fly as they ran the bases). I stopped playing in that game in the mid-1980s after moving to Needham, but one Sunday morning about 3 or 4 years ago, I decided to see whether the Brookline game was still going. When I arrived at the field, I recognized three or four of the players, and a couple of them saw me and yelled, “Hey, Kenny – we need a second baseman.” Two decades absent, and they welcomed me as if it had been two weeks. Clearly, there is some intangible bond that forms on the softball field. (Or maybe they just really, really needed someone to play second base).


Reflecting on Brotherhood softball compels me to point out a serious problem with the Mens Shul Softball League: women are not allowed to play. I believe that this ban is in deference to Orthodox players’ concerns about forbidden physical contact with a woman not one’s wife or close relative. For its adherents this may be a matter of religious observance, but its effect is discriminatory. Women cannot play on our TBS team, solely on the basis of their gender. When I first heard of this rule, it bothered me, but I rationalized my concerns away somehow, and it did not bother me enough to protest - or to quit the team. Our 2011 season is now over. Writing this has made me think more seriously about this problem, and I do not know whether I will choose to play again next year.


Softball brings back great memories and allows me to meet and get to know other Temple members. It can even be an occasion for hearing good things about our Temple. Last summer, before a game with Mishkan Tefillah’s team, one of their players came over to me and said, “I was at a B’nai Mitzvah service at Temple Beth Shalom recently, and I want to tell you what a great place it is.” I started talking about the sanctuary renovation, and how the space is now so much more open and light, and he interrupted me: “I wasn’t talking about the physical structure – I was talking about how warm and welcoming the people are at your Temple.” I thanked him, and walked away feeling proud of TBS and the impression we had made on this visitor. And I felt even better after we won the game by a dozen runs.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Maimonides - Then and Now

In contemporary culture today, the name Maimonides stands for the mainstream Jewish Orthodoxy. Chabad (Lubavich Hasidic) sends in regular messages on line with special references to Maimonides’s books for daily study. A prominent Orthodox private school, called Maimonides, continues to have a great academic reputation in Boston, MA.

That was not always the case in the medieval period when the great philosopher lived, first in Cordoba, Spain and then in Fustat, Egypt. Moses Maimonides (1135-1204; called for short, Rambam) was deeply influenced by the teachings of Aristotle, and attempted to show that Judaism, too, with some restrictions, could be understood in light of Greek philosophy. Through his books, such as The Guide to the Perplexed, and the Commentary to the Mishnah, the rabbi-philosopher spoke of God as pure intellect, and insisted that God’s attributes were metaphors, which were understood and expressed only by our limited human minds.

Though Maimonides had many supporters, some of his contemporaries strongly disagreed with his rationalistic interpretation of Judaism. Soon, an anti-Maimonidean movement developed in southern France and Cataluña, which shook the foundations of the Jewish communities in the Mediterranean basin. Spearheaded by the Ravad of Posquieres (12th cent) and supported even by some of the great rabbinic luminaries, such as Solomon b. Abraham of Montpellier and Jonah b. Abraham of Girondi, the anti-Maimonidean movement declared the Rambam a heretic, and was instrumental in having his books publicly burned in Montpellier, southern France in 1233. As time went on, however, this negative attitude against Maimonides abated, and, in our time, few remember the fierce intellectual battles that medieval rabbis fought about this great Jewish-Spanish philosopher.

In our time, a new intellectual battle is raging between the Jewish rationalists and anti-rationalists -- each claiming that it best represents the Jewish tradition. Regrettably, the anti-rationalists appear to be denigrating the other possible approaches in Judaism. This would be a big mistake, because there is room within our tradition for both approaches, and no one should claim that it has the ultimate truth. As a rationalist myself, I would be very sad if this reality is ignored in the modern Jewish world.

Rifat Sonsino

This post originally appeared on Rabbi Sonsino's blog, “From Istanbul to Boston

Friday, July 1, 2011

Thirty Conversions In Barcelona

I have been in the rabbinate for more than four decades but never before have I participated in a group conversion of 30 individuals (24 adults and 6 children, ages 4 to 12) until now. This historic event took place in Barcelona, Spain on June 8 and 9, 2011.

The entire project was coordinated by Rosina Levy of Bet Shalom of Barcelona, a small congregation I have been helping out on and off for the last four years with its programs and services, and which now belongs to the European Region (ER) of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ). When word got out that Bet Shalom was ready to present its candidates to the ER’s Beth Din (“rabbinic court”), other liberal Jewish communities around Spain asked that they be allowed to send in their own as well.

A duly authorized progressive Beth Din of three rabbis and a lay secretary came in from London. The European custom is that the local Rabbi (in this case, me) is not an official member of the court. However, I was invited to attend all the sessions and became a full member when one of the rabbis had to return to London for Shabbat services.

The candidates came from many parts of Spain: Barcelona (the majority from Bet Shalom but a few also from Atid), Asturias, Galicia, Seville, Cordoba, and Madrid. They were prepared for this transition by local teachers for a period of a year or more, and the men had to bring a certificate of circumcision as required by Jewish law and the European custom. (In the States, some Reform Rabbis do not require this procedure from adult males). The participants demonstrated proficiency in Jewish history, customs, religious festivals, and life-cycle events; and they were all involved in their own synagogue life.

It is estimated that there are about 20,000 to 25,000 Jews in Spain today, most of them coming from North Africa, France and surrounding countries, but there is a great pool of local people with vivid Jewish memories going back to the times of the Inquisition. Now these people want to reclaim their Jewish identity and wish to become officially part of the people of Israel.

After the exams, we issued two types of certificates: a formal conversion certificate but also, upon request, a certificate of return. We heard incredible stories: their parents, and more often their great or great-grand parents, told them that they carried Jewish blood, that it was the family tradition to cover the mirrors during the period of mourning, that many lit candles on the Sabbath Eve, some knowing exactly what they are doing, others attributing the practice to vague family traditions of ages gone by with no particular knowledge of their significance.

The culminating event took place on Friday, June 9, in the afternoon, when all the candidates (with the Beth Din supervising the procedure) went to the beach for the tevilah, the ritual immersion, with women on one side and men on the other of the pier. It was drizzling that day in the morning but fortunately for us, when we arrived at the beach, the rain stopped and the sun appeared for a short while. There was a mad dash into the tepid waters. After reciting the blessings together, they all came out triumphantly proclaiming their new Jewish identity.

That night, during the Sabbath service, I, as the officiating Rabbi, gave each Jew-by-choice his/her certificate, and the next day during the morning worship I called them up to the Torah for their ever first aliyah. There was joy and celebration in the congregation. They could not thank us enough for confirming what they felt a very long time. And we, at the rabbinic court, were thrilled to make this happen a reality for them. For next year, many are already planning an adult Bar/t Mitzvah.

This conversion program not only propelled Bet Shalom onto the front lines of progressive Judaism in Spain but is now a model for other small congregations, which have learned what can be accomplished with enthusiasm, dedication and the support of the European Region of the WUPJ. This made me really proud.

Rabbi Dr. Rifat Sonsino, Emeritus

Boston College, USA

This post originally appeared on Rabbi Sonsino's blog, “From Istanbul to Boston