Monthly Archives: December 2011

A New Year’s Note from Reb Rachel

Dear friends and members of CBI,

As the secular year draws to its close, many of us think in terms of new year’s resolutions. For instance, every year I promise myself that I will write more poetry, pray more, sing more, spend more time with my family, exercise more. Maybe some of these resonate with you? Or maybe you have your own perennial list.

As you imagine the year to come, I invite you to think about how CBI can help you in your resolutions. If you ever feel overworked or worn thin by the end of a work-week, maybe attending our Friday morning meditation minyan or our Shabbat morning services would calm and enliven you. If you’re thirsty for intellectual and spiritual stimulation, maybe you would enjoy the Jewish book discussion group led by Chaim Bronstein — or the adult ed class on Cycles of Teshuvah which I’ll be teaching over lunch after three Shabbat morning services this winter.

As 2012 approaches, please think about your spiritual needs, your needs for community and connection, and how CBI can help you to meet those needs. And, of course, if you want to talk with me about any of this, my office door is always open — metaphorically speaking, anyway! Please email me or give me a call and we can set up a time to connect in person in the new year.

And I hope you’ll also consider how you might be able to give back to CBI in return. Signing up with the Shamashim and hosting a kiddush after a Shabbat service, volunteering to wash the synagogue tablecloths from time to time, helping to label and sort mailings of our newsletter, cooking or serving as a driver for our Take and Eat program, working with our webmaster Len Radin to develop a password-protected section of our website — the possibilities are limitless.

Our community depends on an infinity of small tasks done by loving volunteer hands. But there is satisfaction in doing these tasks and in knowing that you’re helping our congregation to thrive. And I believe that there is also an emotional and spiritual benefit to lending a hand. When we give of ourselves, we receive abundance in return.

I want to bless you that your 2012 be filled with family and friends, with community and connection, with gratitude and with joy. Kein yehi ratzon — may this be divine will, and may it come to pass for you in the new year! I look forward to praying with you, playing with you, celebrating with you, and simply being with you in 2012.


Reb Rachel

Upcoming adult ed class: Cycles of Teshuvah

Announcing an adult education class which will be taught by Reb Rachel in the new year!


Many of us are familiar with the idea of making teshuvah — repentance; return; turning-toward-God — before Yom Kippur. But Jewish tradition offers rich teachings about the spiritual (one might even say karmic) importance of making teshuvah each night before sleep, each week before Shabbat, and each month before New Moon. This three-session adult education class will explore classical teachings about the cycles of teshuvah and how those teachings can enrich and inform our lives today. You’ll come away with simple and beautiful daily, weekly, and monthly practices to incorporate into your life.

This class is open to all: Jews and non-Jews, members and non-members. (The class is free for CBI members; for non-members there is a $35 registration fee.)


Classes will be held over lunch, after services on three Shabbatot in February and March: February 11, February 25, March 3. (Attendance at services beforehand is optional, though of course it’s always a joy to see you in shul! But please don’t feel that you can’t sign up for the class if you won’t be in shul that morning — you are truly welcome to come just for the lunch-and-learn.) Bring a bag lunch; we’ll eat at the seminar table as we learn.


email office (at) or call 413-663-5830. (Questions, comments, concerns? You can reach Reb Rachel at rebrachel (at) or that same phone number above.)

I hope you’ll join us!

Song of the Month: Tevet 5772, Dec/Jan 2011-2012

M’kor Chayyim / In Your Light

כי עמך מקור חיים
כי עמך מקור חיים
כי עמך מקור חיים
באורך נראה אור.

[Ki imcha m’kor chayyim (3x) / B’orcha, nireh or.]

For with You is the source of life
For with You is the source of life
For with You is the source of life
In Your light, we see light.

(Melody by R’ David Zeller, z”l)

MkorChayyim (mp3 – download or listen right here on you computer)

The Song for the Month for Tevet is another song about life and light — we could all use a bit more of both at this cold and dark time of year. And since we’ve passed the Winter Solstice, the days are indeed getting just the tiniest bit lighter! We’ll sing this at the Shabbat morning services Reb Rachel is leading during Tevet (January 14 and January 21), and probably also to open and close some of our Friday morning meditation minyanim, too.

Today’s d’var Torah for Vayeshev

Today we have read aloud the very beginning of the Joseph novella, the narrative of Joseph, son of Jacob a.k.a. Israel. The coat of many colors. His father’s favoritism. The dreams he recounted to his brothers, apparently heedless of how this recounting would wound and anger them. His father sending him to go and see to the peace of his brothers and the peace of the flocks.

That’s where the portion we read aloud came to its close. I’d like to remind you of the rest of the story. On the way, he meets a mysterious stranger who points him in the right direction. His brothers, angry, scheme to kill him; but Reuven talks them into a lesser fate, and they cast him into a pit. Judah comes up with the plan of selling Joseph to a caravan of traveling Ishmaelites, and that caravan brings Joseph down into Egypt, where he is sold to Potiphar.

So far, Joseph’s story is one of descent. But then Joseph rises in the household of Potiphar, to become his chief servant. Then Potiphar’s wife — who is named, in later Jewish tradition and in the Muslim tradition which shares this story, as Zuleikha — tries to seduce him, and he refuses. Zuleikha, spurned and angry, tells Potiphar that Joseph tried to seduce her. And down Joseph goes once more, into Egyptian prison.

(Thank God that these were the Egyptian prisons of that Pharaoh’s day, and not the Egyptian prisons of today. Joseph languishes, but is not mistreated.)

God, Torah tells us, was with Joseph. And as a result, Joseph rises up in the prison hierarchy; the warden puts the other prisoners into Joseph’s care. And there, in prison, he interprets the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants. He tells the cupbearer that in three days, Pharaoh will lift him out of prison; he tells the baker that in three days, Pharaoh will have him killed.

And it comes to pass exactly as Joseph interpreted. But the cupbearer, who survives, forgets the man who interpreted his dream in prison; and our parsha ends with Joseph, forgotten and imprisoned in a foreign land.

What can we make of this tale? For me the most potent message of the Joseph story is the motif of yeridah and aliyah, descent and ascent. Time and again, Joseph goes down — only to be lifted even higher up. This week’s story ends with Joseph in darkness once more…but I believe that the story calls us, as it calls Joseph, to trust that better things are coming. That if we are mindful of God’s presence, of God-with-us even in our darkest hour, the darkness will always give way to light.

Here’s another way to phrase all of that…in poetry. First, a poem by Rabbi Brant Rosen (originally published on his blog); then a poem by me.


and jacob said go see
to the peace of
your brothers take off your
coat peel off your
outer skin and fling yourself down
the rabbit hole down
straight down into the darkest of
prisons into the narrowest of
places you’ll be free when
they carry out your barest bones will
you do this for us
and joseph said i am


The mysterious unnamed man
is always a messenger
sent to keep our story moving
in the right direction.

The appropriate answer
is always hineni, here I am
ready for whatever pitch
is up God’s sleeve.

Into the pit, out of the pit
from slavery into service:
descent always contains
the seeds of ascent.

He had to be enslaved
in order to be accused
had to be accused
in order to be imprisoned

had to be imprisoned
in order to hear the dreams
of the cupbearer and the baker
which “surely God can interpret”

had to interpret dreams
in order to sire Freud
a few hundred generations
down the ancestral line.

But the cupbearer forgets
leaving Joseph in the dark
as the longest night of the year
threatens to swallow us whole.

(This poem can be found in 70 faces, Reb Rachel’s collection of Torah poems.)

PDF of Chanukah songs

Here’s a two-page handout (can be printed as two sides of a single page if you want to save paper!) containing a few classic Chanukah songs in English, Hebrew, and transliteration.

Chanukah Songs (pdf)

The handout contains the words to “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah,” “Sevivon, Sov Sov Sov,” and “Maoz Tzur / Rock of Ages” (first verse in Hebrew; first verse and 2 subsequent verses in English, in translation adapted from Rabbis Arthur Waskow and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi.)

We’ll use these at our congregational Chanukah celebration on erev Shabbat / Friday December 23, but you’re welcome to use them at home, too.


A tzedakah opportunity

Dear Friends,

During this time of year when we remember the miracle of Hanukkah and the joy of being together with our families and community, it is appropriate for us to show compassion to others and share of ourselves. It is in this spirit that we are organizing a Toy Drive to benefit the local homeless shelter.

We are asking all of you to join us in donating one or more used toys that are in very good condition so that we may share some of what we have with those who are less fortunate.

Please bring your toys to the synagogue and leave them in the bin marked for the Toy Drive. We will arrange to deliver them during the December break from school. We thank you in advance for your participation and wish you all a Happy Hanukkah!


Chris, David & Jonah Kelly-Whitney

100 voices screening and conversation – this Sunday night!

Join us at CBI on Sunday, December 11 at 7pm for a screening of 100 Voices: A Journey Home, a film which chronicles the journey of dozens of world’s finest cantors, accompanied by hundreds of lay people, to Poland, the birthplace of chazzanut. The film will be followed by a discussion with Cantor Bob Scherr of Williams College who is planning a similar trip to Germany in 2012.

Hope to see you there!