Monthly Archives: March 2012

Seven Melodies for Pesach

As we approach our community second-night seder at CBI, I thought it might be useful to share a few of the melodies we’ll be using that night. Enjoy!

Kadesh Urchatz

This is the melody we’ll use to sing the steps of the “order of the seder.” We’ll sing it each time we come around to a new step in the order, so by the end of the night, everyone will know it well!


Avadim Hayinu

The words of this short song mean “We were slaves, but now we are free.”


Shir Ha-Ma’alot

This setting of psalm 126 is often sung before the Birkat HaMazon, the Grace After Meals.


Psalm 118

Here are two verses from psalm 118, sung as part of Hallel, the songs of praise after the meal.

PitchuLi(Ps118).mp3 and MinHaMeitzar(Ps118).mp3

Eliahu HaNavi and Miriam HaNeviah

Here are both verses of this beautiful song which anticipates the return of the prophets who will herald redemption.


Had Gadya (Beginning)

Here’s the very beginning of Had Gadya, “One Lone Kid.” With each verse, there are more words and it goes faster and faster — but this is how the song begins, and how each verse ends!


Don’t miss our second-night community seder!

Pesach is coming! Join us at
Congregation Beth Israel
for our annual community seder
on the second night of Passover
6pm, Saturday April 7, 2012

Songs! Guitar! Good food! Friendship! Poetry! Stories! This year we’ll use a special abridged CBI edition of the Velveteen Rabbi’s Haggadah for Pesach. Please join us.

Includes a non-dairy, kosher-for-Passover potluck
CBI will provide a chicken main dish; you bring the rest
cost: $18 (chai) for an individual, $36 (double chai) for a family
please RSVP to the synagogue office (office at cbi web dot org) by March 30, 2012

(Here’s an article about our seder in the North Adams Transcript.)

Rabbi Reflections in the BJV

Be sure to pick up a copy of the new Berkshire Jewish Voice! Volume 20, No. 5 — the March 26 – May 5 issue — features a Rabbi Reflections column by Reb Rachel. And in case you don’t have your copy nearby, you can read the whole issue online; and/or, here are those reflections — reprinted from the new BJV, with gratitude.


Rabbi Reflections: Out of Slavery and Into Freedom

We’re entering my favorite part of the Jewish year: Pesach and the counting of the Omer.

I love the story at this season’s heart. Once we were slaves, and now we are free. Once we were in Mitzrayim — the Narrow Place — but the Source of All lifted us out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Once our lives were embittered with hard labor, but now our hearts are expansive — and in our exodus from that tight place into freedom, our national identity was formed.

The story has great power. But in some way even more powerful, for me, is the way our community has clung to this story as the central narrative of our peoplehood. We are the people who understand ourselves to have been brought out of Mitzrayim, out of slavery and into freedom, and it happened not only “once upon a time” (if it even happened in historical time at all) but it continues to happen now. Each of us, tradition says, must see her or himself as though we had been brought forth from there.

Each of us has experiences of constriction. Maybe it’s fiscal constriction; maybe it’s emotional; maybe it’s spiritual. Maybe it’s postpartum depression, or depression of some other kind. Maybe it’s sickness. Maybe it’s sorrow. Pesach offer us the opportunity to recognize, and celebrate, the Source of Life Who enlivens us and brings us out of those tight and painful places. Continue reading

April service schedule at CBI

It’s almost April, so here’s the schedule for who’s leading which services here next month.

CBI Services Schedule April 2012

Meditation minyan every Friday morning, 8:15am.

Friday April 6: no potluck because it’s the first night of Pesach.
Saturday April 7: morning service led by Maggid David Arfa
featuring Pesach prayers, storytelling, and song
11am Torah study

also Saturday April 7: Second Night Community Seder! 6pm
led by Reb Rachel; guitar, poetry, feasting, story and song

Saturday April 14: Reb Rachel with rabbinic student Lori Shaller
expect song, harmony, teachings, and creativity
11am Torah study

Thursday April 19: Yom HaShoah service led by Reb Rachel
7pm evening service, interwoven with poetry and remembrance

Saturday April 21: Rabbi Howard Cohen leads services, 9:30am
“traditional”-style service (lots of Hebrew & singing)
please note: Torah study will be folded in to the service

Saturday April 28: Reb Rachel leads a Contemplative Service
chant-based service; stripped-down liturgy, meditation
Torah study to follow at 11am

And if you want a version of this to print and put on your fridge, here you go: April2012schedule (pdf)

Resources for Counting the Omer

Pesach is on its way! The first seder will be on Friday, April 6 — less than two weeks away. And on the second night of Pesach, we begin the process of Counting the Omer, counting each of the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, between the festival of our freedom and the celebration of the revelation of Torah at Sinai, between liberation and covenant.

During the Omer count, I’ll be posting a series of daily Omer teachings on the CBI From the Rabbi blog, which I hope will help enrich and sanctify this special corridor in time. (If you use a blog aggregator or feed reader, you can subscribe to the Omer postings at this feed URL; alternatively, you can choose to receive emails when posts appear on the From the Rabbi blog — click on the “sign me up” button under “Follow blog by email.”) But if you’d like some resources for Counting the Omer on your own, here are four of my favorites. Three are newly-published books, and the fourth came out in 2010.

Omer / Teshuvah: 49 Poetic Meditations for Counting the Omer or Turning Toward a New Year

by Shifrah Tobacman, edited by Rachel Barenblat

This collection of poems by Shifrah Tobacman offers meditations for each of the 49 days of the Omer count, from Pesach to Shavuot, from freedom to revelation. These poems will open your heart and your spirit as you move through the gates of each day. And the book is also designed to be read in the other direction (like a Hebrew book, right to left) during the Omer Teshuvah, the 49 days between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashanah.

The collection is edited by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, author of 70 faces: Torah poems (Phoenicia publishing, 2011) and features photography by Elizheva Hurvich.

Omer Calendar of Biblical Women

by Rabbi Jill Hammer with Shir Yaakov Feit

The Omer Calendar of Biblical Women is a journey through the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot. According to the Kabbalah, each of these forty-nine days embodies a unique combination of Divine attributes, or sefirot. Each day of this calendar features the story of a biblical woman who embodies the unique spiritual dimension of that day of the Omer. The calendar also contains illustrations from classical paintings and modern midrashic art.

The author of the calendar is Rabbi Jill Hammer, PhD, author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women and The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons. Rabbi Hammer is Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy for Jewish Religion. Shir Yaakov Feit, Creative and Music Director of Romemu, New York City’s Center of Judaism for Body, Mind, and Spirit, designed the calendar.


Journey Through the Wilderness: A Mindfulness Approach to the Ancient Jewish Practice of Counting the Omer

By Rabbi Yael Levy

In this book, Rabbi Yael Levy gathers wisdom from Psalms and the Jewish mystical tradition into a unique Mindfulness approach to the ancient Jewish practice of Counting the Omer during the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot.

This 96-page, full-color guide includes the Omer blessings in Hebrew and English, daily teachings and intentions, pages for reflections and photographs to inspire meditation. Daily suggestions for action deepen the experience of counting each day and making each day count.

Using insights gained from more than a decade of her own spiritual exploration with the Omer, Rabbi Levy has created a guide for spiritual growth for beginners and those who have experience with this practice.

Rabbi Yael Levy’s Approach to mindfulness is deeply rooted in Jewish tradition. She is the founder of A Way In, A Jewish Mindfulness program based in Philadelphia that offers a range of activities from meditation and contemplative Shabbat services, classes and retreats, as well as online teachings and practice. She is a spiritual director for rabbinical students in both the Reconstructionist and Reform movements as well as in private practice.

Her Mindfulness teaching grows out of her deep personal commitment to spiritual practice and a passionate belief in its potential to change not only individuals but the world.

Counting the Omer: A Kabbalistic Meditation Guide

by Rabbi Min Kantrowitz

Counting the Omer is a Kabbalistic meditation guide to understand the in-depth meanings of each of the forty-nine days between Pesach (Passover) and the Shavuot celebration of the revealing of the Torah. Rabbi Kantrowitz follows Kabbalistic guidelines to show how the unique values of the sephirot interact each day, giving the reader insight into the strengths of the day. Through this guide the reader is led to meditate on the mystical qualities of life and self.

Rabbi Min Kantrowitz is the Director of the Jewish Community Chaplaincy Program of Jewish Family Service of New Mexico, which provides spiritual support and pastoral care services to thousands of unaffiliated Jews. Rabbi Kantrowitz also directs the Albuquerque Community Chevre Kaddisha, facilitates grief support groups and conducts Healing Groups for Jewish survivors of domestic abuse. She is a sought after speaker and teacher, having conducted services, workshops and lectures in Europe, California, Montana, Arizona, and across New Mexico. She received her Rabbinic Ordination in May 2004 from the Academy of Jewish Religion in Los Angeles. In addition, she holds a Bachelors Degree in Psychology and Masters Degrees in Psychology, Architecture, and Rabbinic Studies, as well as a Masters of Science in Jewish Studies.

And, if visual art speaks to you more than does text, try D’vorah Horn’s Omer Series of paintings, available on beautiful printed cards for $36.

Happy counting!

On shiva

Dear members of the Congregation Beth Israel family,

By now you know that there will be a shiva minyan tomorrow evening (details redacted on the From the Rabbi blog; you have hopefully received them via email). I’m writing to share with you a few thoughts about shiva: what it means, why we do it, and how to do it well.

There are many traditions around sitting shiva, though each shiva experience is unique because of the unique needs of the mourners and the context of their lives. Shiva can be a deeply meaningful way to walk the mourner’s path — a path which is a natural part of life, and a path which each of us will walk eventually.

What is shiva? After a funeral, mourners stay at home — traditionally, for seven full days (“shiva” means seven) — and are fed, nurtured, and cared-for by friends, neighbors, and members of the community. This custom arose at a moment in time when it was presumed that everyone said the prayers of the evening service each night; to ensure that the mourners didn’t need to leave their homes in order to find a minyan with which to pray, we bring the minyan to them.

The first week of mourning gives the mourners time to come to grips with the reality of their loss, and time to grieve. It can be an emotionally and spiritually intense time. It is our job, as the mourners’ community, to respond with love and compassion, to be helpful and generous. The most important thing we can do is to show up.

In our community today, many people choose to observe formal shiva only for a few days, or for a single night. Regardless, the intention is the same: it is a time when our community can come together to take care of those who have experienced a loss.

A shiva call is not a social visit. The mourners are not “hosts;” they do not need to entertain us. Their job is to be present to their experience and their emotions; our job is to accompany them, to bring them food, to listen when they need to talk, and to lovingly share memories of the person who has died.

Thank you for joining us in shiva — an act which helps to constitute our community, again and again.


Reb Rachel

Torah study text for Shabbat Vayekhel-Pekudei, March 17, 2012

For those who are interested, here’s the Torah study text we studied this past Shabbat.

Kedushat Levi on parashat Pekudei

“These are the things (דברים) which God commanded that you should do: six days you shall do [work], etc…” (Exodus 35:1-2.)

The sages interpreted this (in the Talmud, tractate Shabbat) to refer to the 39 forms of labor. As it is said, “these [are the things]” — this hints at externals [external forms of labor rather than internal ones], as the Ari (of blessed memory) noted in his commentary on the verse (Lamentations 1:16) “For these things I weep, etc,” arguing that we need to heal them by means of work. When we say “to do,” [as in: “these are the things which God commanded that you should do,”] we’re speaking in terms of healing. [So: what Torah is really saying is, these are the  things which God commanded we should repair / heal.]  And that’s in secular/profane/workday time; but on Shabbat one doesn’t do the work of clarifying externals, and therefore doing work is forbidden.

It is said with regard to Shabbat “God commanded to do,” and with regard to the [building of the] mishkan it is written “which God commanded, saying.” The Tur raises a question [about why one verse uses language of “doing” and the other verse uses the word “saying”],  and notes that although creating the mishkan involved the mitzvot of making/doing, by means of the the work of the mishkan they repaired the world of speech. That’s what Torah means when it says “which God had commanded, saying.” [Kedushat Levi is saying here that the reason Torah notes “saying” is that God’s commandment to build the mishkan was really a commandment to create a repair, a healing, in the world of our speech.]

And on Shabbat, when they weren’t doing work, only (engaging in) mitzvot of speech, such as Torah and prayer — for this is the essence of Torah and prayer — on Shabbat, by means of this, they repair the world of work. And this is “Which God commanded them to do,” as it is said, repairing the world of making/doing.

Questions for reflection:

What is Kedushat Levi saying about external work vs. internal work? Which one do we do during the week, and which on Shabbat?

How do you like his idea that when we say “doing,” we’re really talking about healing?

What do you make of the idea that in building the mishkan, we were repairing the world of our speech?

How about the idea that through Torah and prayer on Shabbat, we repair our workweek?