Monthly Archives: October 2012

From the Rabbi – Preparing for the Hurricane

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

First of all: please know that CBI’s religious education programs will not meet on Monday. Stay home and stay safe!

We are all in the path of this storm. Please prepare as you can for potential power outages, restricted water access, and other disruptions to everyday life. Rabbi Howard Cohen, who has long been involved with the fire service, tells me that emergency service providers through out the Northeast  are taking this storm very seriously. Here are some preparedness tips from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

As we batten down the hatches in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy, there are many mitzvot we can undertake for family and neighbors. Here are several.

  1. Call elderly neighbors and those who are disabled and/or unemployed, physically ill or emotionally fragile to ask if they need help bringing things in from outside, property and auto protection, make sure they secure sufficient food, water and batteries. You might bring them in to stay in a guestroom to reduce fear and isolation, ensure warmth and safety.
  2. Are you the wrong person to be alone right now? Call friends, family and neighbors and arrange to stay with them. Bring provisions, flashlights and batteries to help out. Far better safe than sorry.
  3. Make a regular check-in plan for while the storm rages, if electric goes out, and keep these calls short and reassuring so as not to lose cellphone battery power.
  4. Now and during the storm, start collecting things to donate to those who will have had major losses, talk together about a family tzedakah plan for funds to donate as well.
  5. No one to reach out to? Reach out to our Hesed Committee and to the rabbi, and we’ll do our best to stay in touch.
Reb Rachel

Canceling religious school on Monday

We are canceling all of our religious education programs on Monday because of Hurricane Sandy.

Stay safe and dry, all. See you next week.

North Adams: Rabbi chosen for fellowship program

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat of Congregation Beth Israel has been selected for the Rabbis Without Borders national fellowship program.

More than 90 applicants competed for the 18 spots.

Barenblat, ordained in 2011 by ALEPH: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal, has lived in Northern Berkshire for 20 years. Before becoming a rabbi, she was co-founder and executive director of literary arts nonprofit Inkberry; she also served as editor of The Women’s Times. She is the creator of award-winning blog “Velveteen Rabbi,” and author of “70 faces” (Phoenicia, 2011) a collection of Torah poems.

The program, now in its fourth year, encourages rabbis to think creatively about their work and the new American religious landscape. Building a network of religious leaders from all streams, RWB helps rabbis make Jewish insights readily available, adding to the well of American spiritual resources.

Rabbinic Fellows will gather in NYC four times over the academic year, 2012 to 2013. The first session, on Oct. 29 and 30, will feature Lisa Miller, religion editor at Newsweek magazine and The Daily Beast, who will discuss religion in America today.

The Dec. 17 and 18 program will feature social media innovator Daniel Sieradski, who will discuss technology’s effects on society.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle.

CBI Podcast: Special Shabbat Service 10-20-2012

This past Shabbat we had a special service at CBI, during which we offered a blessing for those who have been members of CBI for thirty years or more. (In many cases, much more!)

It was a joy to lead davenen with so many dear souls in the room, and afterwards to enjoy a bagel brunch and an opportunity to look at old CBI photos and to hear some stories about what it was like here 10, 20, 30 and more years ago.

Of course, there were some folks who weren’t able to join us — so we recorded the service, and are making it available online as a podcast. (See What is a podcast? — in a nutshell, a podcast is like a homemade radio show, available online, for free, which you can listen to anytime.)

This mp3 file is lightly edited (I’ve removed the announcements from the end of the service, and some chit-chat before the service) but otherwise, this is Shabbat morning services from Shabbat Noach, October 20, 2012, including the special aliyah and blessing for 30+ Year Members.

If you can see the embedded audio player, you can listen to the file directly in your web browser:

If you don’t see an embedded audio player, you can go directly to the file and/or download it to save on your own computer:

Shabbat Morning Services, 10/20/2012 [mp3]

83.3MB / 1hr, 26 minutes, 48 seconds

Song for the month of Cheshvan: Mah Gadlu

The lunar month of Cheshvan begins tomorrow night.

Cheshvan is a rare thing on the Jewish calendar: an entire month without any holidays at all (except, of course, for Shabbat.) Especially after the whirlwind of the Days of Awe, this can feel either like a relief or like a let-down. The rabbis called this month Mar-Cheshvan — “Bitter Cheshvan” — because it contains no holidays. But Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, may his memory be a blessing, used to reverse the word Mar into Ram, which means “elevated.” This can be an elevated month, a high and holy month for us, even without special celebrations.

Our Song for the Month this month is a setting of one line of Psalm 92. The melody is by Rabbi Shefa Gold, and can be found on her cd Chants Encounter. Here it is:

Mah Gadlu

part 1: Hallelujah, hallelujah

Part 2: Mah gadlu ma’asecha Yah, me’od amku machshevotecha!

(Translation: How great are Your works, God; Your thoughts are very deep!)

If you can’t see the embedded audio player, you can go directly to the recording or download it from

We’ll sing this during our Family Shabbat service / special Shabbat honoring 30-year members at CBI this coming Saturday, and will sing it at other Shabbat morning services during this month as well.

Wishing you a sweet month of Cheshvan!

Reb Rachel

A blessing for Shabbat Bereshit

Dear friends,

This Shabbat we will read from parashat Bereshit, the very first portion in the Torah. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” (Or, perhaps, “When God was beginning to create…” Or “When God began to create.” Or “In a beginning…”)

We read these words every year, but they never fail to thrill me. This is the beginning of our holy story; the beginning of our creation story. The beginning of everything.

Our sages teach that God created creation — God created us — because God was lonely. God yearned to be in relationship, so God established creation in order to have something and someone to be in relationship with. Our lifelong task is to figure out how best to be in relationship with our Source, with something greater than ourselves.

I want to bless us on this Shabbat Bereshit. May we experience this Shabbat as a new beginning. May this Shabbat open up for us the blessings of the vast cosmos, the created universe which is more strange and wondrous than we can imagine.

May we, this Shabbat, look out upon our world and our lives and be able to proclaim, with God, that what we see is good… even as we also taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and recognize that our world also contains suffering and sorrow.

And may we be strengthened and renewed in our desire to bring healing and repair: to our earth, to our community, to our relationships, to ourselves. Every day can be a new beginning, a new Bereshit, a new creation. Kein yehi ratzon: may it be so!

Shabbat shalom!

Reb Rachel

Reminder: Jen Marlowe this weekend

Tthis weekend the First Congregational Church of Williamstown, the Jewish Association at Williams College, the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, and Congregation Beth Israel are partnering to bring Jen Marlowe, the American co-author (with Palestinian Sami Al-Jundi) of The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker, to northern Berkshire.

Here’s the schedule:

Sunday October 14, 2012, 8pm
Reading, Q-and-A, Booksigning
Fellowship Hall, First Congregational Church,
206 Main Street, Williamstown

Monday October 15, 2012, 7pm
Book Discussion With Author
Congregation Beth Israel,
53 Lois Street, North Adams

Free and open to the public; all are welcome!

Water Street Books will be selling copies of the book at the Sunday event; all are welcome to attend the Monday book discussion even if you haven’t finished (or haven’t yet started!) the book.

For more on this, you can visit Velveteen Rabbi where Reb Rachel recently posted an extended reflection on Jen Marlowe’s forthcoming visit: Jen Marlowe, ‘The Hour of Sunlight,’ is coming to town.