Sukkot Updates

Dear all,

Chag sameach – wishing you joy in this festival of Sukkot!


Our community Hebrew school enjoys our synagogue sukkah. You can too!

As a reminder: our synagogue sukkah is open to you. Come and use it anytime this week.

Please RSVP to the office for Friday night’s Shabbat / Sukkot potluck (5:30pm) so we know how many tables and chairs to set out.

Next Monday morning at 10am we’ll hold Shemini Atzeret services with Yizkor. You can read more about that here.

And next Monday afternoon at 4:15 all are welcome to join our Community Hebrew School for our celebration of Simchat Torah. We’ll say a few prayers, read a bit from Torah, sing songs, parade the Torah around the building (weather permitting) or at least around the sanctuary, and celebrate the wonderful teachings that are our inheritance! The service will be geared toward our Hebrew school kids but all ages are welcome.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov and chag sameach!

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all — and chag sameach, wishing you a joyous festival of Sukkot!


return-to-shabbat sukkot_1

Join us this Friday evening at 5:30pm for a Shabbat Sukkot Potluck in the Sukkah (dress warmly!)

Join us also this coming Saturday morning for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Pam Wax.

The synagogue sukkah is yours to use all week long: feel free to come sit in the sukkah, bring a picnic, stargaze in the evenings through the gaps in the cornstalks, bring a sleeping bag and camp out… the mitzvah of the week is to rejoice in the sukkah, and I hope that all of you will take advantage of our beautiful sukkah in its beautiful surroundings!

And join us next Monday October 24 at 10am for Shemini Atzeret Services With Yizkor. (What’s Shemini Atzeret? I’m so glad you asked! Read all about it, and about Monday morning’s services.)

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact the office.

May Sukkot fill you with joy!


We want to hear from you

surveyDear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

The Days of Awe 5777 have come and gone. We hope that your experience of this holy season was deep, sweet, and transformational.

Here is a very short survey about the Days of Awe. We want to know what we did well and what we could do better next year: High Holiday Survey 5777.

We take your feedback seriously and we look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for being with us during these holy days.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel and Hazzan Randall

ps: Please join us at 9am on Sunday to build the synagogue sukkah — many hands make light work!

The gates are closing – short words for Ne’ilah

Neilah-art-wohlThe gates of this awesome day are closing.

For twenty-four hours we have gathered together in song, in prayer, in contemplation. We have knocked on our hearts, imploring them to open. We have admitted to ourselves and to God where we habitually fall short. We have tried with all our might to forgive ourselves our mis-steps, our missed marks.

And now the gates are closing.

If there is something for which you still don’t feel forgiven; if there is a hurt, whether one you inflicted or one you received, still heavy on your heart; the penance I prescribe is this: work it off with the labors of your heart and hands.


As Yom Kippur ends, the first thing we do is light a candle.

Then we feed each other at the break-the-fast.

And then we put the first nail in the sukkah, connecting Yom Kippur with Sukkot which will begin in four short days.

Light. Sustenance. Shelter. These are our calling in the year to come.


Bring more light to the world: combat ignorance, homophobia and transphobia, fear and mistrust of Muslims and of immigrants, small-mindedness of every kind.

Bring more sustenance to the world: feed the hungry in our community and everywhere.

Bring shelter to those in need: welcome Syrian and Iraqi refugees to Berkshire county. CBI’s tikkun olam committee will be working with me in the new year to discern how we can best extend ourselves to support refugees. I hope that everyone in our community will take part.

The verse most oft-repeated in Torah is “love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” And in more recent memory than the Exodus, many of us have parents or grandparents who fled war or persecution. It’s incumbent on us to act to care for those in need.

This morning we heard the searing words of Isaiah:

“Do you think that this is this the kind of fast that I want? A day for people to starve their bodies? Do I want you to bow your heads like the reeds, to mortify your bodies with coarse cloth and ashes? You call that a fast, a day when Adonai will look upon you with favor?”

“No! This is the fast I want: unlock the chains of wickedness, untie the knots of servitude. Let the oppressed go free, their bonds broken. Share your bread with the hungry, and welcome the homeless into your home.”

This is the work to which Yom Kippur calls us.


The gates are closing. This is the moment when we make the turn — teshuvah, turning our lives around, re/turning to our highest selves and to our Source — to build a world redeemed.

More light. More sustenance. More shelter.

For those in need. For refugees. For everyone.


[Image source.] Also posted to Velveteen Rabbi.

Your life is your art: a sermon for Yom Kippur morning

18609711e28ea2e68700d6fde8c79c46I don’t know how many of you are MASS MoCA fans, but many of you have probably seen the building of LeWitt wall paintings — yes? It will be on view until 2033, so if you haven’t seen it, you still have time.

My favorite floor is the middle floor. The ground floor features works in pencil and chalk; the top floor features works in psychedelic colors so vivid they almost hurt my eyes; but the middle floor features geometric works in colors that are bright but not painful. That’s the floor where I spend the most time.

I’ve said for years that someday I should paint a LeWitt on a wall in my house. How difficult would it be? All one needs are dimensions and instructions. This summer it occurred to me: I could actually do it. I could make a LeWitt, and have something big, bold, vivid, and colorful to brighten my home through the winter.

Maybe it’s because of timing: I began work on my faux LeWitt during Elul, as we began the ramp-up to the Days of Awe. But as I worked on the canvases, I couldn’t help thinking about teshuvah, that word so often translated as “repentance” though it actually means “return.” The work to which we dedicate ourselves today. Continue reading

Release: a sermon for Kol Nidre

Let-goWe’re not here in this life to be small. Our souls yearn to expand, to live into the fullness of all of who we can become. Yom Kippur is here to help set us free.

Tonight we let go of broken promises. “כָּל נִדְרֵי  / Kol nidrei…” All the promises, and the vows, and the oaths. The promises we made that we failed to live up to. The promises we made that it turns out we couldn’t keep.

Unkept promises, both those we make and those made to us, become a weight holding us down. What would it feel like to let that weight go?

My teacher Reb Zalman — Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi of blessed memory — wrote a script for releasing ourselves from our promises. The petitioner says:

“In the last year I have from time to time made vows, sometimes speaking them out loud, or had an intention, a resolution to change something in my actions, behavior and attitude in my mind. Some of these are in relation to myself, my body, my mind, and my soul. Some of these deal with the way in which I conduct myself in relation to other people. And most of all, there are those that deal with my relation to God…”

You might imagine that he wrote these words for Yom Kippur. Actually, he wrote them to recite before Rosh Hashanah. There’s a custom called התרת נדרים / hatarat nedarim, “untangling of vows.” Here’s how you do it. You assemble a beit din, a rabbinic court of three. And then each person takes a turn being the person requesting release, while the others serve as judges empowered to grant release.

The ritual acknowledges that resolutions are a kind of vow, and that when we fail to live up to our intentions, we need a mechanism for forgiveness. What moves me is the response from the court of friends: “hearing your regret, we release you.”

To release ourselves from the promises we couldn’t keep, the first step is to name them, with genuine regret. We speak our mis-steps to someone we trust, and that someone whom we trust says “it’s okay, you can let it go.” Then? We have to believe them. That last step may be the hardest part.

That ritual is a kind of practice run for the work we’re here to do over the next 24 hours, together.

Continue reading

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Ha’azinu – and to Yom Kippur.

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to all!

Join us this Tuesday and Wednesday for Yom Kippur. Here’s a note about some of our customs of Yom Kippur; you’ll find a schedule of the services and experiences we’re offering at the end of that post.

Join us also this coming Saturday morning for Shabbat morning services led by Rabbi Jarah Greenfield, where we’ll read from parashat Ha’azinu.

return-to-shabbatIf you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, some links follow:

Here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Ha’azinu at the URJ.

And here’s a short reflection on this week’s Torah portion from Rabbi David Evan Markus: The Poem Of Your Life.

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact the office.

G’mar chatimah tovah — may we all be sealed for good in the year to come. See you on Yom Kippur.