Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z”l

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Last week one of the great luminaries of our age left this life. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, zichrono livracha (may his memory be a blessing), died last Thursday morning peacefully in his sleep at the age of 89. His inspiring example is the reason I became a rabbi.

RebZalman2007-byDanSieradskiPhotograph by Dan Sieradski.

Reb Zalman, as he was known, bridged the worlds of pre-Holocaust Europe and postmodern cosmopolitanism and globalism. As a young man, he was ordained a rabbi within Chabad. As he matured, his expansive spirit could no longer comfortably inhabit that world, and he left Chabad, moving on to pursue a doctorate at Hebrew Union College (the flagship institution of the Reform movement.) He is widely regarded as the father of Jewish Renewal, the transdenominational movement to revitalize Judaism, which is my deepest spiritual home.

Over his lifetime he retained his deep roots in Hasidism and kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) while spreading his wings to travel throughout the world. He was one of the rabbis who went to India to meet with the Dalai Lama to help explain Judaism’s secret to survival in Diaspora (as chronicled in Rodger Kamenetz’s book The Jew in the Lotus.) He taught that God broadcasts on all channels, and we hear where we are “attuned;” he taught that every religion is a necessary organ in the body of humanity, and that we need each to retain its uniqueness even as we need each to be in loving conversation with the others.

He was a pioneer in so many ways: in the ordination of women and of gay / lesbian / transgender rabbis, in bringing Judaism’s ancient contemplative traditions back into common use, in praying in the vernacular and experimenting with how to make prayer life and Jewish life genuinely meaningful in our age.

A few of you have already asked me when and how I will share stories of and teachings from “my rebbe” at CBI. I promise that I will do so, perhaps during the Days of Awe, or as we move into fall. Those who are interested are welcome to read Remembering my rebbe, the long post I shared on my own blog a few days ago.

It is thanks to Reb Zalman that I am now able to serve all of you. Thank you for joining in remembering him, and for giving me the privilege of being able to share a glimpse of him with you.

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

How do the Days of Awe “work” for us? Groundbreaking research – at CBI!

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

I hope that this note finds y’all well! I have sweet news to share with you. We at CBI have an opportunity to be at the cutting edge of understanding how Judaism functions at the beginning of the 21st century.

Some of you may recall that I was chosen as a Rabbis Without Borders fellow last year. Rabbis Without Borders is a program of Clal (the Center for Learning and Leadership — the Hebrew word clal means “inclusive”), and the fellowship experience gave me all kinds of tools and ideas to bring back to my service of CBI.

Because of my participation in Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders, our congregation has been invited to participate in the first ever national study of the impact of the High Holiday experience on the strengths and virtues central to human flourishing. In other words, do you get something out of the High Holidays? Does some aspect of the experience of coming to shul during the Days of Awe help you in your life? No one has ever asked these questions before. Our answers could shape the Jewish future.

Here at CBI, we’re already hard at work planning the experiences we’ll open up to you during those special days. We want your high holiday journey to be meaningful and sweet. We hope that our services will uplift your spirits, connect you with each other and with God, and launch you into a new Jewish year filled with renewed desire to be your best self. This mirrors what Rabbis Without Borders aims to create nationally, a Judaism which helps us flourish as human beings.

How will the CBI community participate in this research? Those who choose to do so will be invited to fill out a survey both before and after the high holidays to measure how we are affected by the holidays. The survey will be anonymous. If you are interested in participating please let me know (email rabbibarenblat at gmail dot com, or call the office and leave your name with Jack.)

The information we gather will be a novel contribution to the fields of positive and social psychology, and will benefit the Jewish world as a whole. Beyond that, in filling out the survey, we ourselves will learn more about how the High Holidays work for us to increase our capacity for gratitude, optimism and belonging.

Please let me know if you have any questions about this process. I look forward to sharing more about it with you in the months ahead.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Mourning the three Israeli teenagers

The CBI community joins the rest of the Jewish world, and those of all faiths who honor the image of God in every human being, in mourning the deaths of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar. We hold their grieving families in our hearts. We know that we can barely begin to imagine what they are going through. May they be upheld by the loving support of their community at this terrible time.

A memorial service is being planned for Wednesday evening at 7:30pm at Congregation Ahavath Sholom, 15 North Street, Great Barrington.

May the Source of Peace bring comfort to their families, and to all who mourn. Baruch dayan ha-emet.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Balak

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to you! This week we’re reading the Torah portion called Balak in the book of Numbers. The name of the Torah portion is a hyperlink; click on it to be taken to the Torah portion in English if you want to read the portion before coming to Shabbat services.

Traditionally, we spend each week studying a new Torah portion, and then read from that portion on Shabbat, the culmination of the week, before beginning a new portion on Sunday again. If you would like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are some which Rabbi Rachel has shared over the years:

And here’s a link to the Union for Reform Judaism’s page for this Torah portion, which contains several different Reform commentaries:

return-to-shabbatThis Shabbat, our shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) for morning services (July 5) will be Rabbi Rachel.

We extend a hearty thank you in advance to this week’s service host, Rabbi Pam Wax, and also to everyone who is bringing a vegetarian / dairy dish to our brunch after Shabbat morning services honoring the Ranzers. If you would like to join the shamashim (“helpers”) who welcome people to our Shabbat services and who host our light kiddush afterwards, contact Pattie Lipman.

We also thank our member Helene Armet for the home-baked challah!

We hope to see you soon at CBI. Have a great week!

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Chukat

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to you! This week we’re reading the Torah portion called Chukat in the book of Numbers. The name of the Torah portion is a hyperlink; click on it to be taken to the Torah portion in English if you want to read the portion before coming to Shabbat services.

Traditionally, we spend each week studying a new Torah portion, and then read from that portion on Shabbat, the culmination of the week, before beginning a new portion on Sunday again. If you would like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are some which Rabbi Rachel has shared over the years:

And here’s a link to the Union for Reform Judaism’s page for this Torah portion, which contains several different Reform commentaries:

return-to-shabbatThis Shabbat, our shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) for morning services (June 28th) will be Rabbi Pam Wax.

We extend a hearty thank you in advance to this week’s service host, Wendy Penner. If you would like to join the shamashim (“helpers”) who welcome people to our Shabbat services and who host our light kiddush afterwards, contact Pattie Lipman.

We also thank our member Helene Armet for the home-baked challah!

We hope to see you soon at CBI. Have a great week!

The CBI July-August Newsletter is here!

newslettercoverIn This Issue:

From the Rabbi, Service times, Thanks to Jewish Federation, Shabbat and havdalah times, A song for the month of Elul, You’re Invited…to the Ranzer Brunch!, What does z”l mean?, Never Forget Exhibit , Looking Back: Shavuot, Monthly Spiritual Discussion Group Coming Soon to CBI, Psalm 100 in a new translation, High Holiday Schedule , Introducing Days of Awe, Co-Presidents’ Column , Meet Our Members: Information Needed, CBI Book Group (upcoming titles / meetings) , Lunch Bunch Dates, CBI Co-Presents Rabbi and Scholar Haviva Ner-David, author of Chanah’s Voice, Happy occasions, Thanks to our donors, Seeking Shamashim, A poem, Reprint: The Power of Do-Overs,and Other Great Jewish Happenings in the Berkshires This Summer: from Rimon and JTS.

If you’re on the CBI email list, you should receive a digital copy soon; if you’ve asked to receive paper newsletters or don’t have access to email, you should receive a printed copy soon. Extra printed copies are always available at CBI. Meanwhile, you can download the digital edition here:

CBINewsletterJulyAugust2014 [pdf]

Monthly spiritual discussion group at CBI

soul circle soul proprietor 25Starting in late June, a spiritual discussion group will meet at CBI, once a month, on a Friday afternoon at 3pm. This group is growing out of the weekly spiritual discussion group which took place at CBI during the Counting of the Omer, but is not limited to those who participated in that group. All are welcome to join!

Unlike the Omer group, which functioned on a drop-in basis, this is envisioned as a group of people who are interested in meeting regularly together to talk about spiritual life and to do some learning. We ask that participants sign up in advance, so that over the course of the year we can build closer relationships and rapport among the participants, which will in turn deepen our conversations.

At each meeting we’ll explore a text together — perhaps part of the Torah portion, to see how and whether it speaks to our own spiritual journeys; perhaps a Hasidic or Kabbalistic (mystical) text about an upcoming holiday; perhaps a Mussar (ethical self-improvement) text — and we’ll also talk about our spiritual lives as they continue to unfold. No previous experience with any Jewish subject matter is required.

Here are the dates for the next several months:

June 27
July 18
August 29
September 19
October 17
November 21
December 19

Each date is a Friday; we’ll meet at CBI at 3pm in my office.

I know that we all have busy lives and that any individual participant may not be able to make it to every session; that’s okay! If this is something in which you are interested, please sign up by June 25 so I know how many copies to prepare for our first meeting.

Wishing you blessings for a Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Rachel