Monthly Archives: November 2011

Song for the Month: Kislev 5772 (December 2011)

The Song for the Month this month is one of my favorites — a setting of “Or Zarua.” We sang this at CBI on Kol Nidre night, as this verse is traditionally sung at the start of Kol Nidre services; for me, it always seems particularly appropriate for this season, since it speaks about the sowing of light and about how God is the source of all light. In these darkening days of Kislev and December, that’s a message I need to hear!

The words are:

אור זרע לצדיק
ולישרי לב שמחה.

כי עמך מקור חיים
באורך נראה אור.

Or zarua la-tzaddik
U’l’yishrei-lev, simcha.

Ki imcha m’kor chayyim (3x)
B’orcha nir’ei or.

(Light is sown for the righteous, and for the upright of heart, joy.
For with You is the source of light; in Your light, we see light.)

The melody — which is really gorgeous — is by Shir Yaakov Feinstein-Feit; you can listen to his recording of it here on bandcamp, or via the embedded player below.

Avodah: Ahavah Rabbah mp3

This coming weekend the Avodah program will meet once again. We’ll be learning a new melody for the Ahavah Rabbah prayer (the blessing which speaks of God’s love for us, which comes after Yotzer Or and before the Shema.)

This melody was written by my teacher Hanna Tiferet, and it is a round. Here’s a recording of me singing the melody (apologies for my slightly hoarse voice — I’m still recovering from the cold I caught from my toddler last week.)


If you want to hear Hanna herself singing the melody (as a round, the way it was intended), you can find it on Amazon, where the single song costs 99 cents: Ahavah Rabbah on Amazon.

R’ Howard Cohen on The Three R’s tonight

Please join us this evening (Friday) at CBI for an informative discussion by Rabbi Howard Cohen on The Three R’s: Reconstructionism, Reform and Renewal.

Rabbi Howard Cohen will present a short history of progressive Judaism (Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionism and Renewal) in the United States. He will then look at the fundamental and theological differences between these four groups – and will show how today these differences are becoming less and less relevant.

The presentation is at 7:30 p.m. Doors will open at 7:00 p.m. and refreshments will be available.

Shabbat shalom!

Visiting cantorial soloist/rabbinic student David Markus

David Markus and me, at a rabbinic school retreat, summer 2010.

Next Shabbat morning, I’ll be co-leading services with David Markus. David and I were Williams students together once upon a time — we sang together then in the college madrigal ensemble, which we co-founded back in 1993. Later we became companions in rabbinic school. He’s a student in the ALEPH rabbinic program now, and serves now as associate spiritual leader at Temple Beth-El of City Island, New York City. He’s coming to the Berkshires to co-lead Shabbat morning davenen (prayer) with me on Saturday, 11/19.

David and I will be bringing some old harmonies and some new melodies to our Shabbat morning worship. Here are very basic recordings of two of the tunes we plan to use; listen and enjoy.


This melody for Baruch She’Amar (“Blessed is the One Who Speaks”) has two parts; we’ll teach both during services.


This melody for one verse of Psalm 92, the special psalm for the day of Shabbat, is a wonderful one for singing and dancing and playing the percussion instruments we keep in the basket at the sanctuary door!

Avodah: Modah Ani mp3

The prayer we learned at Avodah this month is “Modeh / Modah Ani,” the morning prayer for gratitude.

Modah Ani – by Jeff Klepper

The words are “Modah/Modeh ani l’fanecha, melech chai v’kayam, shehechezarta bi nishmati b’chemla, rabah emunatecha” — “I am grateful before You, living and enduring God; You have restored my soul to me; great is Your faithfulness!”

This melody is by Cantor Jeff Klepper; we’ll sing it at our Avodah service next week, and will sing it in the mini-service we do during our Avodah program each month. Enjoy!

A D’var Torah for our Annual Meeting, on parashat Lech Lecha


It’s not going to be easy.
All of your roadmaps are wrong.

That was another country:
those lakes have dried up

and new groundwater is welling
in places you won’t expect.

You’ll begin the journey in fog
destination unknown, impossible.

Don’t be surprised by tears.
This right here is holy ground.

Take a deep breath and turn away
from cynicism and despair

listen to the voice from on high
and deep within, the one that says

I’m calling you to a place
which I will show you

and take the first small step
into the surprising sun.

(From 70 faces)

In this week, in our Torah story, God calls Avram to lech-lecha, to go forth. Go forth from your father’s house, from your native land, to the place which God will show you.

Avram doesn’t have a road map. He doesn’t have any way to prepare himself for the journey — how could he? But he hears God’s call, and he feels it in his heart, and he journeys forth into a new life and a new covenant.

What a wonderful Torah portion for the week of our Annual Meeting, in which we celebrate our own going-forth, our own journey toward becoming the community we are called to be.

Others this evening will speak about the state of our congregation, our education programs, our finances. I want to mention the state of our communal religious life.

This year we had some of the highest attendance we’ve ever had at services during the Days of Awe. We experimented with some new things: sacred storytelling on Rosh Hashanah morning, yoga on Yom Kippur afternoon. And we remained true to some of our longstanding traditions: welcoming all who entered our sanctuary, plenty of singing, plenty of joy. The feedback we’ve received — and I want to thank everyone who filled out our High Holiday survey — has been overwhelmingly positive.

Our Shabbat morning services continue to evolve. This coming Saturday we’ll experiment with our first contemplative, chant-based service! Later this month I’ll lead services with the first of several invited guests, my friends and colleagues from ALEPH who will add their voices, their harmonies, and their joy to our davenen. I’m also grateful to rabbis Howard Cohen and Pam Wax, who’ve stepped up to lead prayer on weekends when I’m home with Drew.

Some commentors translate the first phrase of this week’s portion, lech-lecha, not as “go forth (from your native land)” but “go forth from yourself.” Extend yourself, reach beyond yourself. Strive for something greater than yourself. Take the risk of opening yourself to change. We at CBI are responding to that call.

I want to close with a brief prayer for board elections:

May our hearts open to one another and to the community we strive to serve.

May we be kind to one another.

May we give one another benefit of the doubt.

May we listen to one another generously.

May we be willing, when it is appropriate, to set aside our own desires in the service of consensus.

May we be willing, when it is appropriate, to stand up for what we know to be right — without diminishing the esteem with which we hold those with whom we disagree.

May we see the bigger picture of which we are all a part.

May we remember that there are things happening, in each person’s life, to which we may not have access.

May we be compassionate with one another.

May we honor and thank those whose hard work has gotten us to where we are, and celebrate those who are willing to take the baton and continue the work ahead.

May all who serve reap joy.

And let us say: Amen!

Thanks, Berkshire Jewish Voice!

Thanks are due to the Berkshire Jewish Voice, and to David Verzi, for this lovely article about Reb Rachel!

Photo by David Verzi.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat: Light and Heat

By David Verzi

published in The Berkshire Jewish Voice, November 1 to December 1 2011 edition


By time honored custom, tradition and calling, a rabbi is sought to serve as a formal beacon of enlightenment and wisdom, this while much of modernity desires and demands that the illuminating insights of spiritual leaders come packaged within relaxed, comfortable, and comforting pew-side warmth.

These words with music, pedagogy with passion, light with heat combinations are no mean magic for a cleric to perform.

Fact is, it’s no trick at all — it’s a feat melded with a gift.

For while the law, liturgy, and lessons that shed light can, through arduous scholarship, be attained for teaching: the heat, if authentic, must be childlike, filled with wonder, and heart-sprung. Continue reading