The March-April 5775 / 2015 Newsletter is Here!

The March/April 2015 (Adar / Nisan / Iyar 5775) Newsletter is Here! In this issue:

newslettercoverFrom the Rabbi
Service times
Shabbat and havdalah times
Meet Rabbi Lori Shaller
Special Shabbat with Gene Wein & Family
Want to Edit This Newsletter?
Don’t Miss Purim on March 4!
Cookbooks…
Second-Night Community Seder: April 4!
What Is Shmira & Why Should I Care?
A Tikkun Olam Idea: Soaps & Shampoos
A Glimpse of Senior Lunch
Summer Opportunities: Deep Ecumenism Shabbaton & Retreat near Philly
CBI Book Group: Upcoming
Second Annual Game Night
President’s Column
Donations since the last newsletter
March and April birthdays / anniversaries
The Jar of Tears: Yom HaShoah performance
…and much more!

Download the issue here:  MarchApril5775 (pdf)

Are you coming for Purim? Let us know!

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

February may be the shortest month on the calendar, but it always feels longest — thanks to the snow and the cold, of which we have had more than our share this year! But spring is on the way, and one of the ways we know that is that Purim is in just a few days.

Please RSVP to Jack (663-5830 or office at cbiweb dot org) to let us know whether you are joining us for our Alice-In-Wonderland-themed Purim celebration next Wednesday evening! In your RSVP, please let us know:

1) How many are in your party (adults and children)

2) Whether you’ll be joining us for pizza at 5:30 before the Spiel

3) What you can contribute to the nibbly-foods buffet for after the Spiel

(We’re hoping for a Middle Eastern buffet this year — you might bring olives, cheeses, roasted vegetables, hummus / pita…) And of course you’re always welcome to bring hamentaschen and/or other desserts, too.

If you don’t have a costume, never fear — we’ll have boxes of costume items available for anyone who wants to augment their ordinary attire.

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear a few verses of the Megillah, enjoy your fellow CBI members’ acting abilities, and ring in the approaching springtime! I look forward to seeing y’all at Purim.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

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April 4: Second Night Community Seder!

Second night community seder; April 4 6pm; all are welcome; $18 for an individual, $36 for a family; bring a kosher-for-Pesach non-dairy side dish

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Tetzaveh – which is also Shabbat Zachor

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

This week we’re reading the Torah portion known as Tetzaveh in the book of Shemot (Exodus.)

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

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: T’tzaveh | Reform Judaism.

This coming Shabbat is a special Shabbat, Shabbat Zachor — the Shabbat immediately before Purim. So you may hear verses from Deuteronomy which are special to Shabbat Zachor, in addition to or instead of Tetzaveh.

This coming Shabbat morning, February 28, services will be led by Rabbi Pam Wax.  Join us for Shabbat davenen (prayer) followed by Torah study — or, if we don’t quite make a minyan, we’ll do the Torah study during the service.

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

We hope to see you soon at CBI!

Terumah: the Torah of 40

Here is the d’var Torah which Rabbi Rachel prepared for yesterday’s Shabbat morning services (cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)


God spoke to Moshe saying: tell the children of Israel that they should bring Me gifts…from every person whose heart is so moved.

This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, begins with this instruction to bring gifts for use in the construction of the mishkan, the portable sanctuary intended to be a dwelling-place for God. Terumah, the name of the Torah portion, is usually translated as “gifts.”

Earlier this week I studied a Hasidic text written by the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov. In his book the Degel Machaneh Efraim, he offered a fascinating interpretation of the word terumah.

Terumah, he said, can mean more than simply gifts. The word terumah can be deconstructed, the letters rearranged, into תורה מ / “Torah Mem” — the Torah of forty. (Remember, Hebrew letters double as numbers.)

מWhat is the Torah of forty?

Torah was revealed atop Sinai over 40 days, he writes — just as a human being, in ancient rabbinic thought, achieved its form in the womb over a period of 40 days. He’s drawing on a longstanding rabbinic interpretation which connects the number 40 with the time it takes for something to go from beginning to fruition. The rabbis also taught that 40 are the days between planting and harvest, and 40 are the weeks between conception and birth.

So Torah comes to us through 40 (days), and a human being comes to us through 40 (either days or weeks.) What happens if we re-read the opening lines of this week’s Torah portion through this lens?

God spoke to Moshe saying: tell the children of Israel that they should bring Me the Torah of completeness and fruition; the Torah of every human being.

Human beings and Torah both require 40 units of time to emerge into this world. Ergo, each person is a Torah! This is a radical teaching, because in Hasidic thought the Torah is the most valuable thing imaginable — it’s a direct transmission of God’s essence.

Later in this week’s Torah portion we read:

Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell within them.

What can it mean to say that God dwells within us? The Degel teaches that that we bring God into ourselves when we study Torah, because Torah is one long and complex Name of God.

“God and Torah are one,” says the Zohar — so if we study Torah, and bring Torah into ourselves, then we are also bringing God into our hearts. The Zohar also teaches that God, Torah, and Israel are one, which is to say: we, and God, and God’s Name as expressed in Torah, are all part of the same unity. In the language of the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, we and Torah and God “inter-are.”

The gifts we’re called to bring before God are gifts of ourselves; gifts of our own completeness; gifts of new creation which only we can bring. The root of the word terumah is רם, which connotes raising something high. When we understand that we, and God, and Torah “inter-are,” then we can bring our most unique personal gifts, and in so doing be elevated to the highest of spiritual planes. May it be so!

My infinite thanks are due to my hevruta partners Rabbi David Markus and Rabbi Cynthia Hoffman for translating this text with me, and especially to R’ David for helping me tease out its deeper spiritual implications. 

If the idea of “inter-being” is new to you, read this tiny excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh — from his book The Heart of Understanding, which R’ David and I also studied together some 25 years ago!

Shabbat Morning at Williamstown Commons – we’re back on!

Dear Congregation Beth Israel community,

This Shabbat (February 21 / Shabbat Terumah) we will not hold services at CBI; instead we will hold an abbreviated service beginning at 9:30am at Williamstown Commons, the nursing and rehabilitation center at 25 Adams Road in Williamstown.

Gene Wein, one of our oldest members (and also one of the people who’s been a CBI member for the longest time), greatly misses coming to Shabbat services. Since he can’t leave Williamstown Commons, this weekend we’re bringing services to him.

Join us at 9:30 at Williamstown Commons (note the unusual location) for a short-and-sweet Shabbat service. We’ll sing as many traditional melodies as we can (hoping to give Gene some joy in hearing melodies he may remember), hear a brief d’var Torah, and close with a kiddush. We hope to see you there!

(We apologize for the mixed messages regarding this special Shabbat at the nursing home —  we have confirmed with the family and the service is on.)

Chodesh tov – happy new month of Adar! Also, a Purim update.

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Chodesh tov / a good new month to you! If you’ve looked up at the night sky recently you might have noticed that the moon has been shrinking away to nothing. It’s new moon, which means that it’s a new month on the Jewish calendar. calendar

The new month we’re beginning today is the month of Adar, about which the Talmud teaches, “When Adar enters, joy increases!”

Adar-happy

Why is this a month of joy? One answer is that this is the month which contains Purim. In two weeks when the moon is full, we’ll celebrate Purim by entering into the story of the Megillah of Esther. The Purim story is yet another one of those “they tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat” tales — this time it was the wicked vizier Haman in the Persian city of Shushan who wanted to kill the kingdom’s Jews because the virtuous Mordechai wouldn’t bow down to him, only to God. The Megillah reads almost like a pulp novel or soap opera, complete with harems, beauty pageants, wicked viziers, and wild swings of fortune.

But there are also deeper themes in the Megillah of Esther. One of them is the theme of inversion. The king, who ought by all rights to be in power, turns out to be a buffoon; Haman, who builds a gallows for Mordechai, winds up swinging on it himself; Esther, who hides her Jewishness, “comes out” and saves her people. Everything gets turned upside-down in a way that’s for the good. Maybe that’s part of why this is a joyful month: because it invites us to turn things upside-down and see them from a new vantage point.

The Megillah of Esther never mentions God. But God’s presence is palpable throughout the text. God is hidden — nistar (the word comes from the same root as the name Esther, who hides her Jewishness) — but just because God’s presence is invisible, that doesn’t mean God isn’t there. On the contrary: divine providence is everywhere in this story. Maybe that’s another reason why this is a joyful month: because we remember that even when God seems absent and hidden from us, divine presence is always here.

Happy Adar! Join us at CBI on Wednesday, March 4 for this year’s celebration of Purim — an Alice-In-Wonderland-Themed Purim Celebration, complete with kids’ costume parade, a Wonderland-themed Purim Spiel which will tell the story of the Megillah in a new way, decorations by Jen Burt (those who attended our Tu BiShvat seder have some idea of what to expect there!), a variety of games for all ages, and this year a sweet and savory buffet (bring hamentaschen / your favorite dessert snack  — and/or Middle Eastern or Persian nibbly foods, such as hummus and pita or olives or stuffed grape leaves, to share.) Please RSVP to the office by February 25 and let us know :

– how many people are coming in your party
– whether you would like for us to provide pizza for any of your party (at 5:30, before the formal celebration begins)
– and what you plan to bring to the sweet-and-savory snacks buffet!

(If we hear from several people who are all bringing the same thing, we will reach out and try to shift things around so we don’t wind up with ten tubs of hummus and nothing else.)

May we all experience increased joy as the Adar moon waxes. Looking forward to seeing y’all at Purim!

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel