Monthly Archives: November 2012

The news out of Israel and Gaza, and the Song for the Month

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

It is with heavy hearts that we follow the news this week out of Israel and Gaza. Many of us have family members and friends in Israel, and we fear for their safety. Some of us have friends in Gaza, and we fear for their safety, too. I know that for many of us, it is profoundly painful to turn on the news or visit our usual news websites, knowing that more terrible news may await.

Within this community our politics may differ, and our interpretations of this latest round of military action — its causes and its consequences — may differ, but I know that we are all united in a deep and heartfelt wish for peace. We all pray that those with decision-making power for the region manage to broker a cease-fire in the short term, and work for a true solution for a just peace for the long term.

Please know that if this situation is raising fears and anxieties for you, about your loved ones or about the region in general, I am here and happy to listen. Call or email and we’ll find a time to connect.

I have chosen, as our Song for the Month during this month of Kislev, a setting of two verses from Tanakh which describe the coming era of peace for which we yearn. The text comes from Isaiah 2:4: “And nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.”

The words are

לֹא-יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל-גּוֹי חֶרֶב, וְלֹא-יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה.

Lo yisa goy el goy cherev, Lo yilm’du od milchamah.

You can listen to me sing these verses at the the post Song for the Month of Kislev.

We will sing this song during Shabbat services this week, as an expression of our fervent prayer for peace in the Middle East and everywhere. May it come speedily and soon.

I wish you every blessing,

Reb Rachel

Three blessings for your Thanksgiving meal

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Thanksgiving is almost upon us! By now you’ve probably received the newsletter which contains a Thanksgiving prayer by my teacher Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. (It’s an adaptation of the Al Hanisim — “For All the Miracles” — blessing which is added during Chanukah in our daily Amidah prayer, but it makes a fine standalone prayer, too.)

I’d also like to share with you a short Blessing for the Thanksgiving Meal which is my own creation, and sheet music for a very short-and-sweet one-line grace after meals (set to the tune of “O Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary”) which I have posted here before.

Here is a downloadable pdf file called Thanksgiving Trio which contains these three prayers: Reb Zalman’s Thanksgiving prayer, my Thanksgiving meal blessing, and “Brich Rachamana” (the grace after meals variation.) I hope one or more of these will speak to you this Thanksgiving!

ThanksgivingTrio [pdf]

Song for the month of Kislev: Lo Yisa Goy

You may have noticed the crescent moon waxing in the sky; the month of Kislev began a few days ago. And here, slightly belatedly, is our Song for the Month of Kislev! This is one I learned as a kid at Jewish summer camp, and it’s one of my favorites.

The text comes from Isaiah 2:4: “And nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.”

The words are

לֹא-יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל-גּוֹי חֶרֶב, וְלֹא-יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה.

Lo yisa goy el goy cherev

Lo yilm’du od milchamah.

If you can’t see the embedded audio player, or if you just want a copy of the song on your own computer / ipad / ipod / etc, you can download the mp3 directly from the url

We’ll sing this song at Shabbat services this coming weekend, and at other times during the month of Kislev. May its promise become truth, speedily and soon.

Nice publicity in the Transcript for CBI

Many thanks to Seth Brown and to the religion editor at the North Adams Transcript who decided to run an article about my Velveteen Rabbi blog! You can read it this morning at the Transcript: Local rabbi’s blog keeps conversation moving.

(The article is also reprinted below.)

Local rabbi’s blog keeps conversation moving

By Seth Brown

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat of Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams is also known as the Velveteen Rabbi. (Courtesy photo)

Saturday November 10, 2012

Special to the Transcript

NORTH ADAMS — Rachel Barenblat serves as the rabbi for Congregation Beth Israel in North Adams, where she is known by her congregation as “Rabbi Barenblat.” But to a larger readership across the country, she is known as “The Velveteen Rabbi,” the name of her nearly decade-old blog on which she blogs about various aspects of Judaism. Continue reading

Hurricane Sandy Relief: How to Help

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Late last week, I met with a group of northern Berkshire clergy to talk about our community’s needs in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. (We’d planned the meeting as the storm was brewing, remembering the devastation left by Tropical Storm Irene last year.) When we met, it quickly became clear that for the most part, we in northern Berkshire are fine.

I’m grateful that our region was spared — and my heart goes out to those whose lives have been disrupted, damaged, or destroyed by the storm. Several of you have asked me what we can do and how we can help those who are suffering. In my understanding, the best way to help is to donate money to a reputable organization whom we trust to use funds responsibly and well. Here are a few options:

  • The Jewish Federations of North America has opened the JFNA Hurricane Relief Fund to contribute to recovery and rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.  Donors are urged to contribute through the online donation form at Or, text RELIEF to 51818 on a mobile device to pledge a donation. Donors may also send checks to the national mailbox at The Jewish Federations of North America, Wall Street Station, PO Box 148, New York, NY 10268. Please indicate “JFNA Hurricane Relief Fund” on all checks or in the designation box online.
  • The American Red Cross also has a hurricane relief fund: American Red Cross Hurricane Sandy.  “The Red Cross continues to focus on reaching as many people as possible who need our help. Your help is urgently needed to continue to support relief efforts. Getting supplies and meals and water into affected areas is the top priority… Please donate today. Financial donations make the greatest and most immediate impact, helping the Red Cross provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance to those affected by disasters like Hurricane Sandy.”
  • The Masbia Soup Kitchen has been providing meals at shelters throughout New York City. You can donate money to their efforts here.
  • Occupy Sandy Hacks Amazon’s Wedding Registry (In a Good Way!) “Those displaced by the storm, the group realized, need blankets. They need flashlights. They need hygiene products. They need a bunch of things that are orderable — with that famous one-click efficiency — through Amazon. Now, anyone who uses Amazon can buy them those things, and have them shipped to the area hardest hit by the storm. Victims need stuff; people want to give them stuff; Occupy Sandy, via Amazon, is bringing them together.”

Thank you for caring and for wanting to help those in need. When we extend ourselves and give tzedakah, we open channels through which blessing can flow.


Reb Rachel

Kallah 2013: Save the Date!

Franklin Pierce University, site of next summer’s ALEPH Kallah.


Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

I’m writing to invite you to save the date for the 2013 Kallah, the Jewish Renewal biennial — a week of community, learning, davening (prayer), singing, connecting, and joy. The 2013 theme is Kol Echad: Connecting With the Divine, Within & Around Us, and this year’s Kallah will take place from July 1-7, 2013, at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge, New Hampshire — a scant two hours and ten minutes from CBI.

If you’ve ever been curious about Jewish Renewal teachings or teachers, coming to a Kallah is a fantastic way to get a sense for who we are and what we do. There’s no better way to experience Jewish Renewal than to spend a week learning, dining, davening (praying), connecting with other Jewish spiritual seekers. And this year, the Kallah takes place at a campus on a beautiful lake at the foot of Mount Monadnock — it will be a beautiful and serene place to spend a few days, and the retreat will culminate in a fabulous, spirit-filled, awesome Shabbat.

I’ve submitted a proposal to teach there, and will know by the end of the year whether or not my class has been accepted, but I’ll be there regardless, and I would love to bring a delegation from CBI with me. All are welcome, and I know that we’ll come home from the Kallah with all kinds of new ideas and energy to share with our congregational community. For more information, you can contact the Kallah office at kallahajr (at) rcn (dot) com. I’ll post again to share news of the course offerings once they’re finalized. (For more information about what Kallah is like, feel free to check out the ALEPH Kallah category on my Velveteen Rabbi blog, which features posts about and from the last few Kallot I’ve attended.)

I hope some of y’all will join me in New Hampshire next summer!

Blessings to all,

Reb Rachel

Resources and information: African migrants in Israel

Since I referenced this summer’s violence against African refugees in Tel Aviv in my Rosh Hashanah sermon Being Change, a few people have asked for more information about African migrants in Israel. Here is a collection of (English-language) resources: an overview, some news links, some opinion essays, and some nonprofit organizations in Israel doing good work in this area.

Israel houses a large number of African migrants (most estimates say that the African population in Israel is between 60,000 and 70,000). Most of those migrants come from Eritrea and Sudan, and most are in the country illegally, which means that they cannot obtain work visas.

Some argue that the Africans who enter Israel illegally (sometimes called “infiltrators,” which is a term with a specific history — see Infiltrated by history, The Daily Beast) are linked to an increase in crime, that Israel does not have the resources to support them, and that they should be detained and/or deported. Others argue that the Africans who enter Israel illegally are refugees fleeing persecution and seeking a better life, and that Israel has both a legal and an ethical obligation to aid them. (I also know people who believe both of those at once: that the influx of migrants is more than Israel can support, and that they are refugees who deserve aid.)

Recent months have seen an increase in incidents of violence against Africans. Some blame the violence against Africans on crime committed by Africans, and others attribute the violence against Africans to general anti-immigrant sentiment or to poor economic conditions which contribute to social unrest. Also this year, Israel amended its 1954 Prevention of
Infiltration Law
, which now permits Israel to detain migrants for three or more years. (See Migrants in prison protest ‘infiltrators’ law, Jerusalem Post.) A Jerusalem district court judge issued a preliminary injunction on October 12 banning the summary arrests of Sudanese refugees (see Court prohibits detention of Sudanese refugees days before mass arrests begin, +972); another ruling on this is expected soon.

For more information: The Refugee Situation in Israel (a page provided by the African Refugee Development Center); FAQ on Violence Against Asylum Seekers in Israel (that page is courtesy of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society); African Refugees in Israel (Rabbis for Human Rights).

Articles about the situation:
Please note that these articles, which aim to be news rather than opinion pieces, paint a range of different pictures of the situation.

  • Sharp rise in African migration into Israel, by Shira Rubin, The Times of Israel. “The number of African asylum seekers crossing the Israeli-Egyptian border reached a record high in May, the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority revealed on Thursday.”
  • Israeli Anger over ‘African’ Crime Wave, The Forward. “A crime wave blamed on Africans, including two recent rapes, has stoked
    long-standing hostility toward the country’s estimated 60,000 illegal
    African immigrants and sparked an ugly wave of retaliatory violence
    against them.”
  • African Migrants Attacked in Tel Aviv, The New York Times. “After a rally demanding the immediate expulsion of migrants seeking
    asylum in Israel led to a spate of attacks on Africans in Tel Aviv late
    Wednesday, political leaders condemned the violence but vowed to crack
    down on illegal immigration.”
  • Israel confronts a flood of African refugees, by Ruth Marcus, The Washington Post. “Israel, as government officials here like to point out, is the only first-world country that you can walk to from Africa. This geographic reality has produced a flood — 60,000 in the last seven years — of refugees who make their way first to Egypt and then through the Sinai desert to Israel’s southern border.”
  • Netanyahu: Israel could be overrun by African “infiltrators,” Ha’aretz. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the phenomenon of illegal infiltrators from Africa is extremely serious and threatens Israel’s social fabric and national security.”
  • Yishai Warns African Infiltrators Crushing Israel, Arutz Sheva. “Likud Knesset Member Danny Danon, chairman of the Knesset lobby dealing with the problem of infiltrators, recently stated, “They are a blow to the country, and we need to deport them before it is too late.”
  • State using Infiltrators’ Law in place of Evidence, Jerusalem Post. “The Executive Director of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Reut Michaeli, said on Thursday that the state is using the so-called ‘infiltrators law’ as a sort of administrative detention for illegal migrants who they do not have enough evidence to convict of crimes.”
  • Yishai: I Sound Racist – But I’m Not, Arutz Sheva. “Minister of Interior: ‘Infiltrators and Palestinians will bring a quick end to the Zionist dream.'”
  • Eritreans protest Negev detention facility, Jerusalem Post. “Rallying under slogan ‘Israel, don’t put us in prison, again’, migrants protest facility meant to house thousands of Africans.”

Opinion pieces: These next links are to op-eds / opinion pieces, which — like the news articles — paint a range of pictures of the situation.

  • For an ethical African migrants policy in Israel, global Jewry can help, by Chaim Landau, Ha’aretz. “The Israeli government, if it is to uphold both its Jewish and international obligations, should form a committee tasked with creating ethical policy on the issue of African migrants, with leading experts from Israel and the entire Jewish world.”
  • The strangers among us, by Naomi Ragen, Jerusalem Post. “I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I am looking at the roundup of African asylum-seekers with an equal mixture of heartbreak and relief.”
  • Israel’s refugee hypocrisy, by Gershom Gorenberg, The American Prospect. “Its mythology is grounded in exile and return, so why won’t Israel grant refugee status to North Africans in need?”
  • Southern Tel Aviv Residents: We Live in Constant Fear, Arutz Sheva. “Arutz Sheva visits the neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv, hears from
    local residents who live in fear because of illegal infiltrators.”
  • Ethiopian-Israeli Jews, mistaken for African migrant workers, feel racism’s pain, JTA. “When violent riots against African migrant workers erupted in south Tel
    Aviv recently, a mob attacked Hanania Wanda, a Jew of Ethiopian origin,
    mistaking him for a Sudanese migrant worker.”
  • Israel Can’t Solve Africa’s Problems, Commentary. “Those who are quick to accuse Israel of racism should remember that it
    went to great trouble and expense to facilitate the mass immigration of
    tens of thousands of black Jews from Ethiopia in the past generation.”
  • Addressing the Plight of the African Refugees in Israel, by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, The Jewish Journal. “As Jews, we are a nation of immigrants commanded to love and protect the stranger in our midst. This imperative is highest when we have sovereignty. It is not only our historical condition but also our eternal identity as the children of Abraham, the paradigmatic stranger.”
  • If you do only one thing for Israel this year, let it be this, by Bradley Burston, Ha’aretz. “The asylum seekers want nothing more than to live productive lives and contribute to this society. Their children are as Israeli as anyone, they belong in the only home they have ever known… If you do only one thing for Israel this year, let it be this: Send a message. Write a letter.”
  • Israel’s African Problem, a podcast at Tablet magazine. “Israeli officials argue that the deportations are necessary because the migrants are a burden and a threat to the country’s Jewish majority. Critics say the policy violates human rights, not to mention Jewish values…”
  • The Africans in Tel Aviv and Jewish Values, by Dov Lipman, The Times of Israel. “The issue of the African ‘infiltrators’ in Israel is very complicated. The arguments for deportation of illegal immigrants who are not employed and are committing crimes certainly resonate with a large percentage of the population. Arguments about providing refuge for these individuals on humanitarian grounds certainly tug at the heart. But, I have yet to hear anyone discuss the situation from the perspective of core Jewish values.”
  • +972 Magazine coverage – Asylum Seekers, +972. This online magazine, named after Israel’s country code, features new reporting and opinion pieces about this aspect of Israeli life and culture regularly. This link goes to the collection of their coverage of this issue.

If you are interested in making a donation to a nonprofit organization which works in this arena, here are some which you might consider:

New Israel Fund

New Israel Fund is the leading organization committed to equality and democracy for all Israelis. We believe that Israel can live up to its founders’ vision of a state that ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, without regard to religion, race, gender or national identity.
Our values drive our work. We fight inequality, injustice and extremism because we understand that justice is the precondition for a successful democracy — and the only lasting road to peace.

African Refugee Development Center

The African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) is a non-profit organization founded in 2004 by refugees and Israeli citizens to assist, support and empower refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. The ARDC seeks to ensure access to basic social services, to facilitate integration and promote self-sufficiency. It also advocates for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers and for a humane and fair Israeli asylum policy. The ARDC’s work includes individual counseling, humanitarian aid, education, community development, awareness raising and policy initiatives. Through the ARDC, diverse communities are drawn together to promote understanding and cooperation amongst refugees and the broader population.


In collaboration with the Tel Aviv Refugee Clinic, we employ nurses from within the migrant community to improve the health of this population. These nurses are uniquely qualified for working in the migrant community as they are multilingual, highly trained in their home countries, eager to work, and already have their fingers on the ‘pulse’ of their community. (This group recently completed initial fundraising via IndieGoGo and has now hired five Eritrean nurses to tend to the health of the largely Eritrean refugee population in Tel Aviv.)

We Are Refugees / אנו פליטים

Israeli Foundation for Legal Aid to Refugees, Asylum Seekers and the Stateless. “We are Refugees” is a non-profit organization founded on October 2010 by a group of lawyers who represent asylum seekers and refugees in Israel on a pro-bono basis. These lawyers donate their time in order to represent refugees in the Israeli court system. See also The Refugees’ Rights Forum, which consists of eight human rights organizations active in promoting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, as well as implementing activities on their behalf.

I welcome links to more articles and resources — please feel free to share more in comments.

(Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)