Save the Date: A Very Harry Potter Purim!

A New Design

And while we have your attention… mark your calendar for the second-night community seder at CBI on Saturday, April 23 —

and for the amazing Shavuot retreat at Hazon, June 10-13, at Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in northern Connecticut!

Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Terumah

Shavua tov – a  good week to you!

Please join us for Shabbat morning services this coming Saturday morning at 9:30am led by Rabbi Pam Wax. return-to-shabbat

If 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’rumah.

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.

Be There: on Mishpatim and Presence

This is the d’var Torah which Rabbi Rachel offered at CBI yesterday morning.

24721539102_1c3ce739f2_zIn this week’s Torah portion, Moshe and Joshua and 70 elders have a mystical experience together. They ascend the mountain and behold a vision of God, under Whose feet there is the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, as pure as the very sky itself.

As if that weren’t enough, then God says to Moshe. “Come up to Me on the mountain, and be there.” And this time Moshe goes up on the mountain alone, and enters into the very cloud of God’s presence, and remains there with God for forty days and nights.

This year the phrase “be there” leapt out at me. It seems superfluous. Wouldn’t “come up to Me on the mountain” have been enough? Tradition teaches that every word in Torah carries meaning, which means there must be a reason for this phrase to be there. To me, this year, “be there” suggests a different quality of being present.

It’s one thing to climb the mountain. It’s another thing entirely to really be present at the top — or to really be present along the journey up or down. Anyone who meditates has probably noticed how hard it is to be in the moment. It’s human nature to get caught up in the past or the future, to become so conscious of remembered wounds or joys (or anticipated ones) that we miss the now. Surely Moshe had that problem, just as much as you or I do. So God reminded him: come to Me, and be there.

I was talking about this with R’ David Markus , and he asked whether I saw an anagram in the phrase והיה שם (be there.) I looked at it — and suddenly saw the beautiful teaching he had wanted me to glimpse. Rearrange the letters of והיה (“and be”), and you get the four-letter Name of God, that Name which some consider too holy to speak (and others say we “speak” every time we breathe). When we can be there, then God is there. Making ourselves fully present is how we open up to encountering God.

Shabbat is a 25-hour-long opportunity to be there. On Shabbat, we’re called to set aside our striving, to set aside the inclination to try to change things. We relinquish whatever happened last week: whether bitter or sweet, those days are over now. We resist anticipating whatever might happen during the new week to come: whether bitter or sweet, those days aren’t here yet. Shabbat is the day we’re given, each week, to be in the now. To let now be enough. To find the perfection in this very moment. To be there.

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work,” Torah teaches, “but the seventh day is the Shabbat of Adonai your God; on it, you shall not do any work…” Maybe you recognize those words from the Shabbat lunchtime kiddush. The rabbinic text known as the Mekhilta asks, “Is it really possible to do all of one’s work?” Isn’t work, by its definition, something which can never entirely be completed? Rather, teaches the Mekhilta, on Shabbat we are called to rest as if all of our work were complete.

The Hasidic master known as the Sfat Emet teaches — following on that idea from the Mekhilta — that when a person truly stands still for Shabbat, peace and wholeness will descend on them, and it will be as if their work were complete. When we can relinquish workday consciousness, and our to-do lists, and the stories we tell ourselves about the future and the past — when we can be there, as God instructed Moshe — then we can touch perfect wholeness. Then it is as though our work were done. Then we can experience Shabbat as “a foretaste of the world to come.”

The mystical vision of God atop a firmament which was like sapphire, as pure and clear as the very sky, may be beyond us. And the experience Moshe had atop the mountain, surrounded by a cloud of divine presence for forty days and nights, may be even more unimaginable. But we can all follow God’s instruction to him, because we can all have the experience of Shabbat as a time to be there, to commit to being wholly present right here and right now. And right here, right now. And right here, right now.



Image: a detail from a painting by Rabbi Pamela Jay Gottfried, in watercolor and salt.


Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Mishpatim.

Shavua tov – a  good week to you!

This coming weekend is a First Friday weekend, so we will hold Kabbalat Shabbat (Welcoming the Shabbat Bride) services on Friday night. Please join us for services at 6pm on Friday, and also for Shabbat morning services at 9:30am on Saturday, led by Rabbi Rachel. Torah study will be included in Shabbat morning services.return-to-shabbat

If 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: Mishpatim.

This weekend we’ll be using a melody from Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal community of Jerusalem, which is a setting of a verse from this week’s Torah portion. Here’s a YouTube video of the song, which is called “Livnat HaSapir.”

Here’s another melody we’ll use on Friday night — the song which welcomes the angels of Shabbat:

Shalom Aleichem, melody by Shneyer, as recorded here by Cantor Jeff Klepper:

(If you can’t see the embedded audio player, you can go directly to the audio file.)

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.

Two online learning opportunities from ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal

Dear CBI members and friends,

CBI is now a member of the ALEPH Network, a network of creative, innovative, and heart-centered Jewish institutions, nonprofit organizations, and communities around the world. Here’s information on two upcoming online classes which will be offered by ALEPH — one taught by our own Rabbi Rachel.

These courses are open to everyone, and you can participate from the comfort of your own home (as long as you have an internet connection).


ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal is proud to present Tikshoret, a new online adult education initiative. We aim to offer adults an opportunity to dive deeply into the spiritual and educational gifts of Jewish Renewal. Tikshoret tuition is intentionally low to welcome a diverse group of learners.

The Hebrew word Tikshoret comes from the root for “deep connection,” and that’s what these classes are designed to be: an opportunity to connect with the riches of our tradition. These exciting classes will be taught by teachers and rabbis from across the Jewish Renewal world. Through this highly accessible online platform, we seek to inspire, engage, challenge, and explore the mysteries of the past with an eye towards contemporary spiritual practice and creating personally meaningful Jewish experiences.

We hope that you will join us on this sacred journey!

Writing the Psalms of Our Hearts
Instructor: Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Wednesdays, Feb 17, 24, March 2 & 9
8pm-9:30pm Eastern Time
The psalms are a deep repository of praise, thanksgiving, grief, and exaltation, one of our communal tools for connecting with God. In this class, each of us will become a psalmist. We’ll awaken our spirits and hearts by praying select psalms together, warm up our intellectual muscles with writing exercises, and enter into a safe space for creativity as we each write our own psalms. After sharing our psalms aloud and sharing our responses to each others’ work, we’ll close by davening together once more.

Learn more about Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Cost: $125


Eve and Lilith: Secrets of the Creation of the Divine Feminine
Instructor: Shoshanna R. Schecter-Shaffin

Wednesdays, March 30, April 6, 13 & 20
8:30pm-10pm Eastern Time

(Photo by: Janice Rubin)

How much do you really know about the Biblical Eve and mythical Lilith?  In this participatory 4 part class we will draw on archaeology, ancient ethnographies, actual Biblical text and midrash as we deeply “rediscover” Eve and Lilith and their connections to the ancient Divine Feminine. Please note: All texts will be taught in translation, no Hebrew background is necessary.
Cost: $125

Future Tikshoret Teachers include:
Hazzan-Magid Steve Klaper, Rabbinic Pastor Dr. Simcha Raphael, and Rabbi David Zaslow.

If you have questions about these courses, please contact

Blessings to all!

A very special weekend in late February

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

I’m writing this morning to let you know about three wonderful things which will be happening in our community over the weekend of February 26-28.

A Musical Shabbat with Rabbi Rachel & Rabbi David

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Rabbi David Evan Markus, my ALEPH co-chair, will be co-leading Shabbat services with me over the February 27 weekend. Those of y’all who were with us at the end of August last time he visited may remember the beauty and sweetness he brings to the bimah. Expect music, harmony, teachings, and an extra helping of joy. Please join us for Friday night services at 7:30pm on Friday February 26, and Saturday morning services at 9:30am on Saturday February 27.

A Talk by Rabbi Jill Hammer, Author of The Hebrew Priestess

518QFADpahL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ rabbi_jill_hammerCBI is joining with Rimon and Temple Anshe Amunim to present a visit to the Berkshires from Rabbi Jill Hammer, co-author of The Hebrew Priestess, a groundbreaking book about women’s spiritual leadership from antiquity to today. Rabbi Jill will speak at 7pm on Saturday February 27 at Temple Anshe Amunim, 26 Broad Street in Pittsfield. She’ll read from the book, talk about how it came to be, answer questions, and sign copies of the book. Don’t miss this!

Write songs of love with Bernice Lewis

linderpix-450211Local resident (and nationally known singer / songwriter) Bernice Lewis will present a workshop on “How to Write a Jewish Love Song,” co-presented by Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.  11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday February 28, $10.00, includes a kosher style buffet lunch. Bring your instrument or just your voice. Bring a smart cell phone to record your song, and a notebook and writing tool! Bring your sweetie! RSVP’s requested by February 24 or by calling (413) 822-5267.

I hope you’ll join us for some or all of these special happenings at CBI.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov; looking forward to Shabbat Yitro.

Shavua tov – a  good week to you!

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for services led by Rabbi Pam Wax where we’ll read from parashat Yitro. return-to-shabbat

If 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: Yitro.

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.