Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Nitzavim-Vayeilech – and to Selichot!

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a (slightly belated) good week to you! This is an extra special week; not only are we looking forward to Shabbat already, but we’re also looking forward to Selichot on Saturday night.

This week we’re reading the Torah portion called Nitzavim-Vayeilech in the book of Deuteronomy. 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. If you would like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are a few:

return-to-shabbat

This Shabbat, our shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) for morning services will be Rabbi Rachel.

And, on Saturday evening, we will enter into the High Holiday season with one of the most beautiful services of our year, the evening service called Selichot. “Selichot “means “pardons,” and is the name for the liturgy of forgiveness prayers we recite during the Days of Awe. We’ll begin at 8pm on Saturday evening with havdalah, the ritual which formally divides between Shabbat and workweek.

After savoring the light of a braided candle and the scent of wine and spices, we’ll move into a short-and-sweet service which will contain some of our favorite High Holiday melodies and some  inspiring contemporary poetry. During Selichot services everyone will have the chance to write down, anonymously, the things for which we seek release or forgiveness. We’ll collect these cards and the rabbi will weave the responses into one of our communal “Al Chet” prayers on Yom Kippur.

After Selichot, we’ll enjoy a potluck dessert party — please bring a favorite dessert to share.

We extend a hearty thank you in advance to this week’s service hosts. 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 extend thanks to our member Helene Armet for the beautiful home-baked challah!

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

A mid-Elul message from Rabbi Rachel

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

You may have noticed the glorious full moon last night — it’s this year’s harvest moon, because it’s the full moon which falls closest to the autumn equinox. It’s also the full moon of the month of Elul, which means that Rosh Hashanah begins two weeks from tonight. As this moon wanes, so does the Jewish year of 5774 which has almost come to its end.

One Jewish tradition teaches that this is the month to take stock of our relationships, and to make whatever emotional and interpersonal repairs are necessary. During Elul we make teshuvah (repentance / return) in our relationships with each other; during the Ten Days of Teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we make teshuvah in our relationship with our Source.

Over these final two weeks of the Jewish year, I invite you to spend a few minutes every day thinking about the year now ending. What were its highlights for you? What are the sweet parts you want to be sure to remember? And what were its low points, times of grief or depression or places where you missed the mark for which you had aimed? Lift up the good memories and affix them in your minds and hearts; and as for the hard parts, glean what lessons you can from them in retrospect, and try to let them go.

At Selichot services on September 20 (8pm, potluck dessert reception to follow) we’ll sing some of the sweet melodies and prayers of the High Holiday season, getting our hearts and souls “warmed up” for the big days to come. We’ll also have an opportunity to write down the places where we feel we’ve missed the mark, and the misdeeds for which we feel we need forgiveness, to be placed anonymously in the communal basket.

Until then, I wish for you that you might find meaning in this journey of teshuvah during the old year’s final two weeks.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

If you’re looking for resources for this season…

 

D’var Torah for Ki Tetzei: on right relationship with each other

Here’s the d’var Torah I offered at CBI yesterday. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)


 

This week’s Torah portion is filled with instructions. Here are some of them which speak most to me this year:

If someone works for you, pay them right away. You never know when someone might need payment desperately. Don’t shame them by making them ask.

This is a time of year when requests for dues abatements and Hebrew school tuition abatements come across my desk. These verses in Torah remind me how important it is to respond to these requests lovingly.

If someone’s children misbehave, try not to judge the parents. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Parenting can be difficult.

If someone’s parents have done wrong, try not to judge the children. We are not responsible for the actions of those who came before us.

When the Torah speaks of not putting people to death for the sins of their parents or children, I hear a message about the importance of responding to people with generosty of spirit.

Maintain perspective about the difference between wants and needs. Remember that you don’t need to own everything. Practice sufficiency.

Whatever abundance comes your way, be sure to share it. Cultivate a sense of trust in the universe which will allow you to give freely.

Though most of us no longer have fields or vineyards in which those who are hungry may glean, we can still choose to share with others, and to train ourselves to trust that we don’t need to hold on to everything for ourselves.

Always remember the hard places and tight straits which you have known, and let those memories impel you to kindness and generosity.

We’re almost halfway through with the month of Elul. This is the month during which we prepare ourselves for the coming Days of Awe. This is a time of teshuvah, the spiritual work of re-orienting ourselves in the right direction again.

One tradition teaches that we should seek to repair our relationships with each other during Elul, so that during the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we can focus on repairing our relationship with our Source.

The mitzvot enumerated in this week’s Torah portion are mitzvot bein adam l’chavero, mitzvot between people. Directions for right action in our relationships with each other.

May we be strengthened in our intentions and in our practice. May these mitzvot become engrained in us, engraved in us, channels through which our behaviors naturally flow. Kein yehi ratzon.

 

Schedule for the Days of Awe 5775

All are welcome; no tickets are required.

Before the holidays begin

Selichot: havdalah and short ritual (sing beloved melodies, write down what you need to release), potluck dessert reception to follow – Saturday, September 20, 8pm

Cemetary Service, Walker Street – Sunday, September 21, 2pm

Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah First Evening service – Weds, September 24, 7:30pm

Rosh Hashanah First Day morning service  –  Thurs, September 25, 9:30am (childcare will be provided; childrens’ service is at 10am)

Tashlich (casting bread upon the waters) to follow

Rosh Hashanah Second Evening service – Thurs, September 25, 7:30pm

Rosh Hashanah Second Day  morning service – Fri, September 26, 9:30am

Yom Kippur

Kol Nidre – Friday, October 3, 6pm; arrive at 5:30 to hear musicians (violin and piano) playing melodies to set the mood (childcare will be provided)

Yom Kippur Morning service –  Sat., October 4, 9:30am (childcare will be provided; childrens’ service, 10am)

Yizkor will follow at the end of the morning service.

Particularism and Universalism: An Exploration with Rabbi Pam Wax – after Yizkor is complete. (“How, as Jews, do we hold the tension between our particularistic longing for Jewish community and survival with our universalistic longings of Jewish purpose beyond mere survival? What do the High Holy Days have to say about this tension?” This will be the first in a series of three sessions; the second will fall during Sukkot and the third in November.)

Gentle Yom Kippur Yoga,  3pm (appropriate for those who are fasting)

Yom Kippur Mincha service (including the Avodah service – during which we will pilot liturgy from Mishkan HaNefesh, the Reform movement’s forthcoming machzor), 4pm

Spiritual discussion: what has opened up in you, during these Days of Awe?, 5pm

Yom Kippur Ne’ilah service, 6pm

Yom Kippur Break-The-Fast: after services. Please RSVP!

Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah

Help us build the CBI sukkah on Sunday, October 5, at 2pm! Sukkot begins on Weds 10/8.

Sukkot / Shabbat Potluck, Friday, October 10, 5:30pm. (Feel free to drop in & use the synagogue sukkah any time during the week of Sukkot.)

Sukkah Cycle Sunday, Sunday October 12, starting at 10am – we’ll caravan (via bicycle or car) from the Williams College sukkah, to Bob and Susie Scherr’s sukkah, to two other sukkot, to the CBI sukkah. In each location we’ll have the opportunity to nosh, schmooze, shake the lulav, and learn a little Torah.

Shemini Atzeret services, with Yizkor, Thursday, October 16, 9:30am

The Elul 5774 / Tishri 5775 (September-October 2014) newsletter is here!

SeptOct-coverIn this issue you’ll find the From the Rabbi column; Service times; Shabbat and havdalah times for the next few months; It’s almost time for Selichot!; A song for the month of Elul; Introducing Elul Reflections; Reb Zalman’s translation of Psalm 27; Don’t Miss Sukkot!; Updated High Holiday Schedule; Simchas, Condolences, Corrections; CBI Book Group (upcoming titles / meetings); Lunch Bunch Dates; Happy occasions (birthdays, anniversaries); Thanks to our donors; Seeking Shamashim; We Were All Refugees Once, by Judy Weber; Reprint: T’shuvah, the spiritual practice of return, by Rabbi Marcia Prager; Ethiopian Jewry; Introducing David Arfa!; congregational contact information; the Co-presidents’ column; and information about a program called Compassionate Listening: Israel, Gaza, and Us, October 23.

Those who are on our email list will receive a digital copy via e-mail shortly. Those who don’t have access to email, or who have specifically requested paper delivery, will receive a paper copy in the mail next week when our office administrator has returned from his richly-deserved vacation.

Meanwhile, all are welcome to download: CBISeptOct2014 [pdf]

CBI’s meditation minyan: new start time, and clarification of focus

Dear all,

Many thanks to everyone who responded to our survey about our Friday morning meditation minyan. The survey results showed a clear preference for 9am as a start time, so starting this Friday, we will convene at 9am instead of 8:15. My apologies to those who had other preferences; I know that no time of day is perfect for everyone.

I am delighted to learn that in addition to our regular practices of following the breath and preparing ourselves spiritually for Shabbat, several people are interested in walking meditation (once we create the planned meditation labyrinth on the CBI grounds), in Jewish chant and mantra practices, and in practices for cultivating compassion.

The survey results also revealed an interesting difference of perspective about our meditation minyan. Some of our non-Jewish participants would like for the group to be broadened into an explicitly ecumenical meditation experience, with teachings rooted in a variety of faith-traditions and not just in Jewish thought and practice. Others (both Jews and non-Jews) seem happy with the kind of Jewishly-oriented teachings which I’ve been offering, and which Rabbi Jeff offered in previous years.

I love the fact that our meditation sessions are attended by people of many faiths, and I am committed to principles of post-triumphalism (no faith is “the only right way”) and deep ecumenism (we can and should learn from one another’s faith-traditions and practices.) And, it’s important to me as the only rabbi in north county to ensure that programming is offered which can help members of the local Jewish community prepare for Shabbat and festivals in a heart-centered way.

After conversations with a few different people here at CBI, I’ve come to the conclusion that the teachings I offer at our meditation minyan should continue to be rooted in Jewish thought and practice. The meditation minyan is a service which I offer to our community, and it’s important that I offer it even if only a few people are taking advantage of it.

We continue to welcome friends of all faiths to join us in our meditation minyan if our practices and teachings hold meaning for you or if sitting in silence in our sanctuary appeals to you.

And if there is community interest in an explicitly interfaith / ecumenical meditation group in addition to the 9am Jewishly-oriented meditation minyan, I’m certainly open to CBI hosting such a group in our sanctuary. If someone would like to take that idea and run with it, let me know and I’ll do what I can to facilitate its happening at CBI.

The other piece of feedback I’ve received is that it’s frustrating that sometimes life circumstances obligate me to cancel our meditation minyan for a week or for a few weeks at a time. I hear your frustration and I honor it. One of the challenges of serving this community as a half-time rabbi is I sometimes have to shift my work days in a way which precludes my presence here on Friday mornings. I know that that is not ideal.

I can offer a new policy which I hope will be a small help in those circumstances. Our office administrator Jack Hockridge arrives at CBI every morning at 10am. On Fridays when I am not able to be at CBI, meditators are welcome to convene at 10am instead of 9am. Jack can open the building, and you are welcome to meditate in our sanctuary together without me. If there is a week when you intend to take advantage of this, please let Jack know in advance by emailing office at cbiweb dot org.

(The exceptions to this will be, of course, when major Jewish holidays fall on Friday mornings and our sanctuary is otherwise occupied. Friday September 26, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, will be one such day.)

Thank you all for your input and for being part of our community.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Shoftim

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a (slightly belated) good week to you!

This week we’re reading the Torah portion called Shoftim in the book of Deuteronomy. 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. If you would like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are a few:

return-to-shabbat

This Shabbat, our shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) for morning services will be Rabbi Pam Wax.

We extend a hearty thank you in advance to this week’s service hosts. 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 extend thanks to our member Helene Armet for the beautiful home-baked challah!

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