Thursday, June 16, 2011

Needham 300 and Temple Beth Shalom 55

The Town of Needham is celebrating it's 300th birthday in 2011. Last Saturday night my wife Julie and I had the pleasure of attending Needham 300 Night at the Pops. Symphony Hall was full with 2500 Needhamites (and only Needhamites!) who had journeyed into Boston. As I sat in the balcony and looked at the many animated faces before the concert started, I noted the many Temple Beth Shalom members who were present.

Needham has been an exceptionally good home for Temple Beth Shalom for our 55 years in the town. We are blessed to have it as our congregational home. It is a good community of citizens who are actively involved in town government and other town activities. So too has our community been good for the Town of Needham. Our members populate the Board of Selectmen, Town Meeting and many, many community organizations.

As Needham celebrates its birthday this year, let's pause and reflect with gratitude on this long-standing and wonderful relationship that we share with our broader community.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Jacqueline Agranat's Sinai Statement: Celebrating Confirmation and TBS Teen Programs

Ed. Note: This second in our series of our Confirmand's Sinai Statements comes from Jacqueline Agranat. Jacqueline talks about her experience during this confirmation year, and shares her perspective on shalom.

Shalom everyone. This one word, “shalom,” has multiple meanings. The main three meanings are "hello, goodbye, and peace." In Hebrew, however, "shalom" is related to the word, "shleimut" which means "wholeness, health, and contentment." Being a part of this temple allows me to feel all the different parts that Shalom can offer. School cannot compete with the environment that this synagogue provides. In school we are taught facts, and forced to memorize them in order to do well on the upcoming test. In Confirmation, however, we are taught stories, lessons, and facts as well, but we do not need to memorize them for a test. We discuss these teachings and share what they mean to us. Each commandment from our Torah tradition impacts each individual differently. Confirmation class allows each of us to be our own person, rather than just another student in a class. We have come to understand that we are part of a larger tradition of adding our own voices to Torah, making it speak to our lives today.

As I was growing up, going to temple was a mandatory activity in my busy life. After everyone became Bar or Bat Mitzvah, in many families, it was the kid’s decision whether or not they should continue learning at temple. After observing how much my older brother Josh enjoyed his time here, I was willing to continue with it. Now I can see why he enjoyed it so much. This place, this beautiful synagogue, makes me feel secure. It wouldn’t be the same without the people that are here with me. Each member of the Confirmation Class of 2011 is a unique individual. It has been incredibly refreshing to spend time with the members of Confirmation and get to know them better. I know we all can relate when I say that the sharing circle before each class, during which we can check in about one another’s lives, is something we all enjoy. We are able to speak our minds and know that everyone’s support is present. Confirmation is one of the few places where I feel comfortable enough to really speak my mind without being judged, and I thank you all for allowing this shleimut, this wholeness, to be possible.

--Jacqueline Agranat

Friday, June 10, 2011

In Preparation for the Annual Congregational Meeting: A Review of the Temple Finances

Ed. Note: This article appeared in this month's Scroll and is repeated here with color charts for ease of review. As we approach the upcoming congregational meeting on June 15th, we would like to ensure that every member of the congregation has an understanding of the Temple's financial position. This article invites your feedback and ideas. We also hope to see you on June 15th at 7:30 for our Congregational celebration.

Please click on any chart below to open a larger version for ease of viewing.

Dear Temple Beth Shalom Family

All year we write and talk with you about the sacred goings on in our building – about our innovative programming, as well as the exciting ventures of our transforming professional staff. While we are blessed with a rich and ever-growing community, we need always to ensure its sustainability and development.

Because all of our members are sacred partners in the building of our community, it is important that everyone understand clearly the fiscal realities which sustain us as we continue to grow and thrive. It is our intention that this article will become an annual tradition of June reports on the financial health of our congregation.

Our Composition:

We celebrate the diversity of our community in all of its aspects. While our membership is certainly primarily based in Needham, (83% of our households), the remaining 17% of our households come from Natick, Newton, Dedham, Dover, and other neighboring communities, as well as from out-of -state.

We also have a diverse population by age (of oldest family member): 50% of our households have an oldest family member between 40 and 55 years old, 7% have an oldest family member in the 30 - 39 year old age range, and 43% have an oldest family member in the 55 years of age and older.

As a complete picture of our membership, we have grown from a congregation of 540 households eight years ago to one of over 700 households today. When we utilize comparative data from the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts, we sit in the category of synagogues with the largest number of members (500 and above) regardless of denomination (from the Union for Reform Judaism, URJ, we sit in the next-to-largest category of congregations, 500 to 1000 households).

We should be proud of how our congregation has grown in size while maintaining its warm and welcoming nature. We continue to celebrate our diversity in all of its aspects, from gender and sexual orientation to religious upbringing and ritual observance.

Our Sources of Financial Support:

Our TBS Vision reads: “Membership in our congregation and education for our children are accessible to all, regardless of financial circumstance.” It is our belief in this community that each household will contribute towards dues the amount they are able. Of the total amount of dues assessed in 2010-11, 84% were collected. The remainder of the dues was subsidized by the operating budget. This financial support is a fundamental lifeline for families who would not otherwise have sufficient resources to become or remain a part of our congregation. This fiscal reality also requires that we grow other income sources as we cannot simply forgo revenue and continue to provide excellent programming and services to our members.

The total amount of net dues accounts for 49% of the Temple’s annual operating budget. Our next largest income source stems from Teen Programs, Religious School, and Children’s Center tuitions, which amount, collectively, to 37% of all income. Additionally, we secure 4% of our annual operating income from fundraising (Taste of the Town, our Golf and Tennis Fundraiser, Elijah’s Table, High Holy Day Pledges, Fund donations), 1% from house rental, and 9% from all other sources combined (Scroll advertising, Membership Directory advertising, grant income, program fees, etc.).

Our Operating Expenses:

The largest portion of our operating expense is the 64% which funds salary for all of our staff, including clergy, professional and support staff (both full and part-time), as well as employee benefits. Building and Operations (which includes custodial services, building and outdoor maintenance, utilities, etc.) comprises 9% of operating expenses. Programming accounts for 7% of our annual operating expenses, whether fully funding or subsidizing costs for events such as our Scholar-in-Residence Weekend, Teen Programming, Oneg receptions following services, and Shabbat dinners. Other expense categories are organizational dues (a required cost in support of our parent URJ organization) at 6%, interest on our mortgage debt at 3%, contractors (consulting or contributing outside educators and musicians) at 2%, telecommunications (technology and phone costs) at 1%, and finally 8% of other miscellaneous expenses, including advertising, office supplies, printing, books, professional development, equipment, insurance and legal fees, among others.

Sustainability and Financial Implications:

In order for us to move forward as an organization, we need to not only benchmark where we are, but also to complete our analysis of what financial resources will be required to move us toward our TBS Vision, adopted last year. As our Strategic Planning work is underway, we have begun to review the information outlined above, and to create big picture assessments of the gaps between our existing structures and our vision for ourselves. So too we are actively determining strategies to help us to bridge our gaps.

To that end, we will continue to help congregants thoughtfully grow and refine their giving relationships with Temple Beth Shalom. As part of this effort, within the next months we will be unveiling a cyclical calendar of giving. These regular giving opportunities have been designed to afford people ample chance throughout the year to share their gifts and blessings. We share this calendar with you now so that you can best anticipate the ways and times at which you want to offer support:
  • Summer membership renewal will include opportunities to give the gift of sustaining membership for those undergoing financial hardship.

  • Celebrate the start of our school year in the fall by contributing to scholarship funds for our Education Programs through our Golf and Tennis Fundraiser.

  • During the Days of Awe, our High Holy Day appeal will allow us to practice tzedakah… a most fitting way to start a new year together.

  • At Chanukah, we will offer an opportunity to pledge to our scholarship endowment as we celebrate our teachers and educators who bring enlightenment to our students.

  • At Pesach, we will revitalize Elijah’s Table to spiritually provide sustenance through Temple membership for those who hunger for, yet require assistance with, the associated costs.

  • Finally we will spring forward into the hope of new visions for our youth funded by our Taste of the Town evening of fun and celebration, which help defray the operating costs for all our learning programs.


With this information in front of you, we invite you to offer feedback on this blog post that can then be utilized in our strategic planning assessment and goal-setting. As well, please mark your calendars to join us at the Annual Congregational Celebration on Wednesday, June 15th at 7:30 pm for a comprehensive Annual Report, an election of the slate of nominees for the Board of Trustees, a vote to approve our 2011-12 budget, and a celebration (with refreshments and music) of the year’s work. AND for the first time, this evening will include a ritual of welcome to our new temple leadership: we will be installing our new officers and trustees in the sanctuary at 8:45 pm. We look forward to seeing you there and we thank you for your ongoing partnership in building a sacred community of which we can all be proud, and within which we can all find our spiritual home.

Rabbi Todd Markley
Beth Pinals
Daniel Barkowitz

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ben Grebber's Sinai Statement: Celebrating Confirmation and the Ten Commandments

Ed. Note: This past Tuesday night, our Confirmands shared their "Sinai Statements" with those of us who attended their Erev Shavuot service of Confirmation. Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing many of their statements. At the service, all 15 of the Confirmands read from the book of Exodus. The Torah scroll from which they read has special meaning. Read on to learn why.

When God passed the Torah down from Mount Sinai, it was given to Moses to share with the Jewish people. They, in turn, were now responsible to learn it, teach it, and pass it down through the generations. This created the strong heritage that we share today. After having a very special guest stay at our home, I now understand that heritage and what the Torah means to our people and to me.

During the Temple renovation some years back, my family kept a Torah from our sanctuary in our house for several months. We kept it free from dust and potential harm. We were a surrogate ark! At first, having the Torah in our house was cool but I was somewhat indifferent to it.

As the months went by, our new “house guest”, the Torah, took on a different meaning to me. The Torah became a member of our family as odd as that sounds. I passed it every day on my way to the kitchen. I checked on it to make sure that it was covered and protected.

The Torah was always a talking point when we had Jewish guests at the house. I realized that to a Jewish person, the Torah is immediately identifiable and even the least observant person seems to revere it as being something special, almost royal. I began to see the Torah as representing something greater than just a borrowed “thing” from our Temple.

After a few months of “Torah babysitting”, the Temple renovations were complete and the Torah had to be returned to its rightful place. My family was devastated. The Torah had become a part of our family, and it was sad to see it go.

The following Hanukah though, we were surprised yet again when my parents gave us a Torah of our own. Now we truly had a family Torah.

Once we put our new Torah in the infamous family room Torah Ark, I learned more about our Torah. I came to understand the Torah’s age, how fragile it is, and that it holds the Five Books of Moses. In my Holocaust class, I learned that many Torahs were destroyed by the Nazis and that some were actually secretly carried by my ancestors to America from places far away. For many of my ancestors, getting the Torah to a new and safe land was just as important as getting their families there. This was similar to the story of our Torah which came from Poland during the Holocaust.

Having our special Family Torah, I began to understand that when God instructed Moses to give the Torah to the Jewish people to pass its lessons and teachings down to future generations, God was instructing me to do the same. So I started asking questions about what stories the Torah contains. I took a greater interest in its teachings. Is this how the Jewish people felt at Mt. Sinai? Was it just an object given to them by Moses or did they see it as something more? Did they know that it would link future generations of Jews to them?

Even more important, over those months that the Temple’s Torah was in our house followed by the arrival of our Family Torah, I began to understand how the Torah links me to past generations. My Jewish ancestors learned the stories and teachings contained in the Torah just as I have throughout my religious school education. Through the strength and perseverance of the Jewish people, even in times of great hardship and war, the Torah is here today for me. I am a link in that chain of possession. My great-grandparents read from a Torah in Russia; my grandparents read from the Torah in America. My parents read from the Torah too – my father right here in this sanctuary. The Torah allows me to share that link in our heritage with all of them. It’s what binds us all together as Jews and as one family.

Just as Moses did on Mt. Sinai, we, too, will pass our family Torah from generation to generation. Like the Jewish people in Poland who read from our Torah years ago, I read from our sacred Torah when I became a Bar Mitzvah. My sister followed me by reading from it when she became Bat Mitzvah and my brother will follow our footsteps when he becomes a Bar Mitzvah. Like Moses, we will pass our family Torah from generation to generation, sharing the stories that go along with it, linking our future family generations with our current generation today. This is what keeps our history so strong. That is what identifies us as Jews and makes me who I am. I am proud that my Confirmation classmates and I will read from this sacred scroll tonight as we affirm our connections to Torah, to Temple Beth Shalom, and to one another.

--Ben Grebber

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Congratulations to TBS and Needham High School Graduates by BESTY President Matt Lerner

Ed. Note: The following speech was delivered at Shabbat Services several weeks ago at which we offered congratulations to our graduating seniors. The words of blessing were delivered by Matt Lerner, current and incoming BESTY president. In recognition of yesterday's Needham High School graduation ceremonies, we offer Matt's words below.

Everyone loves ice cream. (For those of you who are lactose intolerant, my apologies, please cover your ears)… You know…I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. Everyone loves to eat ice cream in their own way-cup or cone, shake or split, sprinkles or fudge. But whether you would vote for chocolate, vanilla or maybe cookie dough, we can all agree that it’s a great dessert.

As it happens, I know quite a bit about this tasty treat. (Stay with me here, I promise to get back to our graduates…) I spend the majority of my weekends scooping ice cream, often getting more on me than in the cup. Working at an ice cream store, I have to opportunity to observe the differences in how people prefer this iconic frozen dessert.

One day, a small child and his grandmother came into the store together. It’s a big store, so it took them a while to get their bearings, checking out all of the flavors and toppings. (Folks come in all the time and get overwhelmed by all of the choices. They end up settling on a flavor based on a catchy title, pretty color, or they go with what they know.) But this little boy was SO excited, he couldn’t decide on just one. He wanted EVERYTHING! The flavors, the toppings, in a cup with a cone… and by the time he was done, it was falling out of the cone, dripping everywhere. It was not a pretty sight. He had a scoop of black raspberry ice cream, with a scoop of peanut butter as well. He wanted marshmallow and strawberries and kit-kats on top. He just kept adding things while his grandmother stood by in shock.

When he was finally done, and it was his grandmother’s turn to order, she chose a small cup of mint chocolate chip. No toppings needed.

And as I watched this, I realized that as a child you want everything. You need to try all the flavors and combinations to find the ones you really love. As you grow older, you learn what you like most. And that’s the beauty of it… Some day that child will grow up, and bring his grandkids to get ice cream - hopefully I won’t still be there - and he will look on with a knowing smile as his grandchildren order everything on the menu.

And so now, as you move on from TBS, NHS, and this phase of your life, I want to offer you good luck in creating your own perfect ice cream Sundae, no matter what shape it takes. You will be constantly adding to it, changing it, altering the flavors as you grow and learn about yourself.

Keep in mind that there is only so much room in your cup - and be sure to keep the important things in there - your loved ones, memories, and your Jewish identity. Although you’re not all going to be together next year, remember that TBS will always be a common ingredient in your Sundae. Regardless of cup or cone, remember that this experience we’ve had at TBS is always with you - even if it gets buried underneath the other flavors.

Enjoy the chance to taste all that life has to offer: Good luck and we will miss you. Shabbat Shalom.

--Matt Lerner

The Ten Commandments, Our New By-laws, and the holy day of Shavuot - by Beth Pinals

Image credit from Kolbo by artist Menachem Boas, "Fine art print. Image size is 21' x 31'. The culmination of the Exodus was the giving of the Ten Commandments. This exhilarating moment at Sinai is relived in this stunning piece, with Moses carrying the Tablets and the Leaders of the Tribes bowing in awe. The entire text of the The Book of Deuteronomy is here. This is Hebrew micrography in which all images are made with Hebrew letters. Call for pricing and availability if you would like a framed print. Also available in a limited edition.

Ed. Note: This "bonus" post in our Ten Commandment series is written by Beth Pinals, temple President. This new reflection on the Ten Commandments and how they relate to our new congregational By-laws is shared with you on the eve of Shavuot, the time in which we commemorate the giving of the law to Moses on Sinai. We invite you to join us tonight as we celebrate our Confirmands, and mark this special event. Services tonight start at 7:30 pm in our Sanctuary, and Shavuot morning services are tomorrow at 7:00 am (during which
Yizkor prayers will be read).

In Torah, the Ten Commandments are ‘brought to us’ in Exodus – the story of the Israelites’ journey to freedom. The preface to the revelation and receipt of the Decalogue is the affirmation of covenant between God and the people. Without the laws, Israel would not be Israel – the unique, sacred nation reaching back to “those who are not with us here this day” and enduring to a future beyond what we can know. This bridge across covenantal time is in fact, at the core of our TBS Mission and Vision. And the roadmap for the enacting our Vision are our new By-laws.

As Nathan Laufer observes in The Genesis of Leadership, the Ten Commandments “…conveyed the large, axiomatic, strategic values that were to guide the Israelites on their historic mission.” So too, do they offer wisdom and values reflected in our By-laws and in our new Vision for Governance:

  1. “I Am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” This blueprint, different than so many others in our daily lives, is sacred.

  2. “You shall have no other Gods before me.” In following the new guidelines for roles, decision-making and policy setting, we shall have faith that in this document we can find all of the answers and all of the right intentions.

  3. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Our process will be in accordance with these By-laws and with the utmost respect for one another.

  4. “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.” On Shabbat, we shall seek rest from the good work of the Synagogue in order to pause, gain a new perspective, celebrate what has been done, and be rejuvenated.

  5. “Honor your father and your mother.” Always keep in mind the foundations laid by those who came before us and acknowledge the ‘caretakers’, mentors, and ‘educators’ of our community. Take special notice of The Leadership Council, which will contain the voices of our sages.

  6. “You shall not kill.” We are responsible for the ‘life’ of our TBS Vision, as well as for our Vision for Governance and By-laws. We must keep them alive by keeping them close, utilizing and examining them.

  7. “You shall not commit adultery.” Honor the commitment to adhere to these By-laws, in large and small decisions, in matters that are complicated and sensitive, and in moments of doubt.

  8. “You shall not steal.” Each section of our By-laws is carefully crafted and self-explanatory. Certain concepts or articles may be designated as ‘borrowing’ from another. In addition, some policies are to be determined by the President or the Board at the start of a term. This clarity prevents the need to seek solution or ‘steal’ from elsewhere.

  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” As we heard in our special Meeting of the Congregation and again see in the past 10 days of TBS Blog postings, it is critical for our leaders and for all of our congregants to speak for themselves. Kavod is kept by allowing each person to own their behavior and communications.

  10. “You shall not covet.” In order to push away from envy or wishes to possess another’s circumstances, one must engage in t’shuvah – a return home and focusing inward at our own gifts and processes. We may always return to the internal blueprint or basic structure of our By-laws and Governance Vision as a reminder of the clear and sacred bed on which our community rests.

As the Israelites stood at Sinai open to the public receiving God’s disclosure, so too on May 4th 2011, did representatives of our Congregation witness the sharing of personal reflections on these Commandments, receive and explore the new ‘commandments’, and share the Shechechianu blessing as we officially embraced our new Governance Model, Vision and Bylaws. It is a moment to be remembered. L’dor v’dor… from generation to generation.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Tenth Commandment: A Personal Reflection by Judy Ravech

Image credit, Cafe Press user Hebrew Art Ornaments

Ed. Note: Today we present this final post in the Ten Commandment Series. Written by Judy Ravech, today's post covers "coveting." This post looks at how we can turn our concern ABOUT others into concern FOR others.

As we finish our series, we invite you to join us tomorrow night for our Shavuot service celebrating our Confirmation Class of 2011. Services will begin at 7:30 pm in our Sanctuary.

Please also let us know whether you have enjoyed this expanded blog series. What future topics would you like to see on the blog? How often would you like to see posts on the blog? Would you like to be a contributing poster? Please feel free to comment on this or any topic on this post.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female slave, or..."

One of the most interesting things about the 10th commandment is that it’s the only one which instructs us on what we should or should not FEEL. The previous nine commandments are all about action, telling us what we should or should not DO. If we don’t observe the other commandments, it would be apparent to others that we’ve broken them; if we don’t observe this commandment, no one except ourselves, and G-d, will notice – unless we go from simply feeling desire for what our neighbor has to taking action. Perhaps the purpose of this last commandment is in fact to prevent that – because desiring what someone else has might eventually lead us to break one of the previous commandments – to steal, to commit adultery, perhaps even to commit murder.

But is it OK to covet something if we don’t act on it? We all have our moments when we envy what our neighbors have – their shiny new car or beautiful home, their happiness or good health, even their well-behaved children who, by the way, were just accepted to Harvard. But if we continually measure ourselves against our neighbors, how can we ever be satisfied with our own lives?

I don’t believe that desire is necessarily a bad thing – it’s what motivates us to study hard in school, to get up each day and go to work, to become productive members of society. But if I focus all my energy on the things I want to HAVE, I cannot be paying nearly enough attention to the things I want to BE. When we stop caring about what our neighbor has and trying to keep up, our hearts and souls become incredibly free. As an active participant here in the TBS community, I’ve been granted continual opportunities to move forward from caring about what my neighbor has, to caring about how my neighbor is – and as a current and future leader, to be in a position to take action and do something about it. This commandment – the last and only one which tells us how to feel – is perhaps really G-d’s way of directing us to “chesed” – and by caring about each other, we ultimately repair the world.

--Judy Ravech

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Ninth Commandment: A Personal Reflection by Ina Glasberg

Image credit, Scientific American.

Ed. Note: Today's post is the ninth in our series on the ten commandments. As a reminder, each of these individual posts was presented at a special congregational meeting during which we passed our new by-laws. Each congregant who presented their personal view of one of the ten commandments is also a candidate for our newly constituted Board of Trustees.

Ina Glasberg spoke at the event and presented her personal reflection on the Ninth Commandment. The summary of her words follows.

As we approach the holiday of Shavuot which commemorates the giving of the Law to Moses, we invite you to join in the conversation by posting your own personal reflections to any of the posts on the commandments. Also please join us at 7:30 on Tuesday night for our Shavuot Service and Confirmation.

Do we realize that we may cause, consciously or unconsciously, injury with the words we speak or repeat? We must not sin in criticism of other people. If you answer or repeat what you do not know to be true -- you are a false witness.

--Ina Glasberg

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Eighth Commandment: A Personal Reflection by Mindy Pasco-Anderson

Image credit is, a program dedicated to inspiring children through art. Their slogan is "Love Naively. Give Generously. Be Foolishly Compassionate."

Ed. Note: With this eighth post in our series, we are heading into the home stretch as we approach the holiday of Shavuot. Today's post by Mindy Pasco-Anderson tackles the topic of stealing. Join us by adding your feedback to this or any of our posts so far.

This Commandment #8 is a bold, broad directive. What is it, you ask, that you should not steal? Anything that is not yours is my answer. Nothing material, nor a claim to good deeds done by others, another's time or energy, relationships, money, people, pets, ...the list goes on.

The commandment tells us in a very succinct and direct way what NOT to do...

But there’s another, more subtle implied message – something that the physical laws of nature tells us must be there – the complement to the commandment. There is, I believe an implied message of what TO DO. I would define the opposite of stealing as giving or sharing. So, to makes things right in the universe, I believe that we must find ways, big ways and small ways to give back. The HOW is not important, and is as customizable as the giver, their abilities and the perceived need. The WHY, however is unquestionable.

I like this kind of thinking. I like thinking that each and every positive thought and deed helps to keep the world in check. In fact, with so much current world negativity, I think that we all have to work harder to maintain the balance. So simple and yet so powerful.

So, you shall not steal – indeed, you shall be a contributor. Live your life with care and compassion.

--Mindy Pasco-Anderson

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Seventh Commandment: A Personal Reflection by Daniel Barkowitz

The image to the left comes from the web page for Jewish Marriage Encounter in Israel.

Ed. Note: This post, by Daniel Barkowitz, continues our series on the Ten Commandments. Credit is due to's post for quotes about the Jewish Marriage Encounter philosophy of "Love is a Decision". For information on Jewish Marriage Encounter visit their web page.

Just as Faith is a decision, I believe that Love is a decision.

I remember sitting next to my wife, Rebekah, in (what was then) the Newton Sheraton Tara hotel, hanging over the Mass Pike. We were there for a Jewish Marriage Encounter Weekend, an event which promised to teach us how to better communicate with each other as a couple. We were still young in our marriage, what we referred to then as DINKS (Dual Income, No Kids) and we were excited to see what we could gain from a weekend focused on just our relationship with each other.

One of the more controversial statements made that weekend by one of the presenters is that "Love is a Decision." It was a statement that reminds couples to love the person, not the behavior.

Many people do not see why a person would have to make the decision to love since they made that decision many years ago when they said yes to one another on their wedding day. We were taught on the weekend that it is normal in married life to have periods of romance and disillusionment. This cycle is often repeated – sometimes over days, weeks, even months.

One way to break out of disillusionment is by deciding to love. Feelings change and aren't not easily controlled. Love is not only a feeling, it is more than a feeling. Love is a decision.

By saying that “Love is a decision”, I mean that I am committing myself to be open and to share when I don’t feel like it. By saying that “Love is a decision”, I am promising to make the decision to love even when I don't think my spouse deserves my love.

Saying that “Love is a decision” means that you are open to honest communication with your spouse. That's not only talking, but also listening. It is also a decision to be loved.

Making the decision to love includes the everyday, little things that you often do for one another, especially when you’re not feeling loving. From the action of deciding to love, often the feeling of love will follow.

This resonates in our Jewish tradition as well. Often the decision to do a good deed and the commitment to the mitzvot only happens after the mitzvah itself is completed. We are taught to pray with intention, but that the act of prayer itself will lead to the development of the intentionality of prayer.

--Daniel T. Barkowitz

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Six Commandment: A Personal Reflection by Liv Nash

Image credit - Flickr user ANVRecife. Image title is "Killing Ideas II".

Ed. Note: What follows is our sixth blog post as a part of the 10 commandment series. We are counting up to Shavuot by sharing personal reflections from congregants on each one of the 10 commandments. Today's reflection comes from Liv Nash and gives an interesting and new view of the commandment not to murder. Please join our conversation by adding your thoughts and opinions to this or any post. What do you think of Liv's take on the commandment? What do you take from her point of view?

My interpretation of the 6th Commandment relies on a non-legal one. As noted in Broken Tablets, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Bloch of Telshe also suggests “that a concept of murder more subtle and comprehensive than standard legal definitions is intended.”

I look at the 6th Commandment as a direction to not suppress one’s beliefs, regardless of how they may or may not deviate from what the majority of people may or may not believe. As someone who grew up in a secular household, I didn’t think about religion or spirituality. I knew that I was Jewish and that we celebrated Passover and Hanukah, but I didn’t quite get what being Jewish meant. I know that I thought of it more as a religion than an act of being, which is how I interpret my Judaism today.

As my involvement in Temple Beth Shalom began to grow, I had conflicted feelings about my beliefs – did I believe in G-d or did I feel a connection to the spiritual aspects of Judaism that are so often discussed in our meetings. Even as I attended my adult B’nei Mitzvah classes, leading up to my becoming a Bat Mitzvah here at TBS, I almost felt a need to ignore my feelings toward the religious aspect of what I was doing as I felt very conflicted: again, did I believe in G-d or not and how was I going through this monumental step in my life without knowing. I was suppressing the need to “come clean” with my own interpretation of being a Jew.

Fortunately for me, the TBS community, its leaders and in particular the clergy, have made me realize that all that I was feeling and am still today, is OK. There isn’t a need to put aside the fact that my beliefs may not be consistent with so many. They are my beliefs and I shall not “murder” them.

--Liv Nash

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Fifth Commandment: A Personal Reflection by Bernice Sue Behar

The image we are using today comes from, a website "directed to the ‘after 50′ audience [where] the writers and editors ... don’t sugar-coat the 50+ years but reveal what boomers today, as individuals, are thinking, exploring and experiencing."

Ed. Note: Today's post comes from Bernice Sue Behar and speaks to the Fifth Commandment. Halfway through the series, we would like to ask for your feedback! Are you enjoying the series? What are you finding best about these posts? What would you like to see more or less of in future posts?

When I saw the note asking each of us to say a few words of reflection about one of the Ten Commandments, I didn’t hesitate about which I would choose. The words “thou shalt honor thy mother and thy father” are part of the conversation I have with myself every day.

I decided that the essence of this commandment relates to vulnerability. We usually interpret “honor” as somehow synonymous with respect, but I don’t think that respect can be commanded. Instead, I think that to show honor in a way that matters really means to attend to the needs of our parents as they become older and more vulnerable. As our parents age, they begin to lose capabilities, their life long companions, and often, their dignity. As Jews, we know that it is incumbent upon us to take care of those who are in need and I believe that honoring our parents falls into the same framework. As their children, we are ultimately the ones who are responsible for helping our parents and for bringing them comfort and the reassurance of love.

-Bernice Sue Behar