Monthly Archives: February 2013

Special guest Lori Shaller on March 2

Services on Shabbat morning, March 2, will be co-led by Reb Rachel and special guest Lori Shaller.

Here’s how Lori describes herself:

I live on the island of Martha’s Vineyard with my husband Matt Pelikan (a restoration ecologist for The Nature Conservancy) and our cat Pitzi. I am studying in the ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal Rabbinic Ordination Program. I’ve been an educator for more than 20 years and currently write English and History curricula and teach teachers in content institutes. Areas of expertise include curriculum design and alternative assessment, Shakespeare and World and American History. I am currently writing curriculum on Jewish Women in the Labor Movement for the Jewish Women’s Archive. I occasionally also work as a personal chef and a meeting facilitator. I enjoy being outdoors walking, running, cycling, hiking and gardening, and I am an active member of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center.

Lori co-led davenen with Reb Rachel here last April, and also led davenen one Shabbat morning over the summer, as well. She’s looking forward to returning to CBI! Please join us in welcoming her back to western Mass.

Celebrate Purim at CBI!

Come Celebrate Purim at CBI!


Saturday, February 23
at 6:30pm:
decorate a mask
(for Purim is our festival
of merriment & disguises)

at 7pm: enjoy our Purim Spiel

featuring intrigue! disguises! passion! revenge!
ably acted by a cast of CBI congregants
directed and written by David Lane
refreshments to follow

Come in costume (if you’re so inclined)
or come in street clothes and decorate a mask.

All ages welcome!

(Downloadable Purim flyer — print it and hang it on your fridge! — right here: PurimFlyer2013 [pdf])


For more: How to Celebrate Purim in 5 Easy Steps.

Ne’arim Podcast Episode 2: The Scroll of Esther


Episode Two: Teen Takes on The Book of Esther
15.9 MB / 16 minutes 32 seconds

– click on the small triangle to listen:

or, download the file: NearimPodcast-Esther (mp3)

Just in time for Purim (which will begin this coming Saturday at sundown), here’s the second episode of our Ne’arim podcast, in which our 5th through 7th graders offer their own unique take on the Megillat Esther in advance of Purim.

Act 1: The students retell the basic story of the megillah in their own words. (Well, at least that was the plan.)

Act 2: A news broadcast featuring interviews with the characters from the megillah.

Act 3: Given the opportunity to respond creatively to the story, some of the class opts to set Esther in a contemporary junior high school, while the others retell Esther using figures and iconography from the video game Minecraft. Also, there’s a bit of discussion about casting Harry Potter characters as Esther characters.

And Act 4: a bit of closing discussion about Esther and what we’ve learned. The podcast wraps up with a few closing words and a couple of bloopers.

Happy Purim, and enjoy!

D’var Torah for Terumah: God Dwelling in Us

Here’s the d’var Torah for last week’s Torah portion, Terumah, which I offered yesterday at CBI. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

This week’s Torah portion contains one of my favorite verses in Torah: וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם / “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell within them.”

We’re diving deep this week into the description of the materials used to build the mishkan, the portable tabernacle the Israelites built in order to carry the tablets from Sinai with them in the wilderness. Some interpretations hold that the mishkan is built on a mystical blueprint which matches the blueprint of creation itself. Others see the mishkan as a temporary, portable “first draft” for the eventual Temple in Jerusalem.

The mishkan is a big deal. We’ll spend weeks reading about its construction. But the Torah offers up what is arguably the most important detail at the very beginning of all of the descriptions: the reason why the Israelites are building this sanctuary in the first place.

The word “mishkan” comes from the same root as the word Shekhinah, the divine Presence which dwells in creation. You might imagine, therefore, that God would dwell within the elaborate structures of gold and acacia wood, tanned skins, and woven tapestries of blue and crimson and purple which the Torah describes. Or that God would eventually dwell within the Temple, when we reach the point in our history when that structure is built, all shining white limestone atop one of Jerusalem’s hills.

But God dwells everywhere. As our liturgy reminds us, מלוא כל הארץ כבודו / the whole earth is full of divine glory! The reason the Israelites built the mishkan was so that God would dwell within them.

Like our ancestors, we too build religious structures in our lives. Some are literal, like this beautiful building of cement and copper and wood and glass. Some are metaphorical, the structures of practice and ritual and prayer. But the purpose of all of them is to invite God to dwell within us.

You’ve heard me say something like this before, in introducing the ashrei.
Rabbi Phyllis Berman taught me to understand that prayer’s first line
— “happy are they who dwell in Your house, they will praise You
forever” — as an invitation for us to be joyous dwelling in our own
bodies. This body, this heart, is God’s house.

When we create beautiful places with the intention of opening ourselves to holiness, God takes root in our hearts. When we engage in beautiful practices with the intention of opening ourselves to holiness, God enlivens us. We are the mishkan, the tabernacle, the temple, where we seek for God to dwell.

Why do we need to build the structures — the buildings, the practices? Why can’t we just invite God in? Well, we can; but that doesn’t always work. Just saying, “hey, God, I want to open myself up to you” — what does that really do? For most of us, it isn’t enough. A better way to cultivate holiness in our lives is to enter into the practices, to take on the work, of building something together.

We don’t have a mishkan to build anymore, but we can enter into the work of building our synagogue community. Show up to make a minyan; mix meatloaf for Take and Eat; plant a synagogue garden in the spring; join the Hesed committee and visit our members who are homebound or sick. We build our community in a million little ways, and when we do, we invite God to dwell within us.

Song for the Month of Adar

Chodesh tov — happy new month! Adar is an especially joyous month on the Jewish calendar, because this month contains Purim.

Our Song of the Month this Adar is the same song I chose for us last year during this month, so it may be familiar to some of y’all. It’s a musical setting of the last verse in the book of Exodus, which we’ll read in the Torah toward the end of this lunarm onth. The melody was written by my friend Daniel Kempin, an ALEPH cantorial student. It is simple and beautiful, a call-and-response which I’m hoping will be easy to follow. The words appear below.

You can listen to the song online, or download it for your home computer, here: Ki Anan Adonai (Kempin). Or, play it by clicking on the little triangle icon:

Here are the words:

Ki Anan Adonai (The Cloud of God) – melody by Daniel Kempin

כִּי עֲנַן יְי
עַל-הַמִּשְׁכָּן יוֹמָם

וְאֵשׁ, תִּהְיֶה לַיְלָה בּוֹ

לְעֵינֵי כָל-בֵּית-יִשְׂרָאֵל,

Ki anan Adonai
al ha-mishkan yomam

V’esh tih’yeh laila bo

L’einei kol beit-Yisrael
B’chol mas’eihem

(Translation: For the cloud of God
was above the mishkan by day
and fire was there by night
in the eyes of all the house of Israel
in all of their journeys. — Exodus 40:38)

Happy Adar to all!

CBI Wants You…To Do Our Newsletter!

34349540 Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Do you like writing and editing?

Would you enjoy knowing what’s coming up at CBI?

With great gratitude to Heather Levy for editing and designing our newsletter over the last several years, we are now seeking a new newsletter editor. Maybe that person is you!

The CBI newsletter is meant to come out every two months. This role is not a very time-intensive one; all it requires is for you to announce yourself as the newsletter point person, keep track of newsletter-related emails when they come to you, and come in to the synagogue office once every two months to collect, edit, and lay out the newsletter content.

(You don’t need to write the newsletter articles yourself — though if you want to write some, you’re welcome to!)

Heather is happy to come in and show the new newsletter editor “the ropes.” All we need is a volunteer! If you’re interested, please contact Jack at the office. Thanks!

After the week of shiva, what then?

This is a resource for those approaching the end of shiva; I’m putting it online so it will be easy to find & available for anyone who needs it. (Cross-posted from Velveteen Rabbi.)


So you’re approaching the end of shiva. That first week of mourning after the funeral, after the first mourner’s kaddish, after the unthinkable act of shoveling a spade-ful of earth and hearing it thud on unvarnished wood. Shiva means seven, the number of days of this first stage of grieving. One week: the most basic unit of Jewish time. After those seven days, a mourner enters the stage called shloshim, “thirty,” which lasts through the first month after burial. But what does entering into shloshim mean? How does it, might it, have an impact on your life?

In the tangible world, the move from shiva to shloshim can have palpable implications. Traditional Jewish practice places a variety of restrictions on mourners during shiva — for instance: not wearing leather shoes, sitting on the ground or on a low stool (closeness to the earth is a sign of humility and mourning), not going to work, not engaging in physical intimacy. All of these restrictions are lifted during shloshim.

For contemporary liberal Jews who do not consider themselves bound by traditional halakhot (laws / ways-of-walking), the restrictions and their abeyance may or may not have meaning. You may not have given up leather or sex or anointing yourself with perfume or listening to music this week. But the psycho-spiritual shift of moving from shiva to shloshim is still significant. The shift from shiva to shloshim is all about expansion.

During the first week of mourning one’s life may contract to a very small space. Perhaps you haven’t left the shiva house at all. Or even if you’ve gone in and out of your home, you may have felt constricted, your life seemingly shrunken. Once shiva has ended, it is time to start expanding again. Open yourself to seeing more people. Allow yourself to immerse in your work life again. Expand your self-perception: you are not only a mourner, not only someone who grieves, but also someone who lives, works, struggles, and loves.

This may feel impossible. If it does, that’s okay. Just know that our tradition believes that it is good for a mourner to try to open themselves to life again after that first most-intense week of grief. Your sorrow may ebb and flow. You may experience times when you think you’re close to okay again, and times when the floodwaters of emotion threaten to swamp you. Keep breathing. The emotional rollercoaster is normal. You won’t always feel this way, but — as the saying goes — the only way out is through.

If you’ve been burning a shiva candle all week, your candle will naturally flicker and gutter and run out of fuel as the week of shiva ends. (The candle is designed to last for seven days; that’s what makes it a shiva candle.) When the candle extinguishes itself, that may feel like another blow, another loss. Remember that the candle is only a candle: a symbol of your mourning, but not a barometer of your spiritual state or of your loved one’s presence.

You can still talk to your loved one, if there is meaning for you in that practice. You can talk to God. You can pray or meditate or sit in your silent car and wail — however you can best express whatever you’re feeling. You might try writing a letter to your loved one at the end of shiva, telling them where you are and how you are as the first week of active mourning comes to its end. (What you do with the letter is up to you: save it? burn it? shred it and use the paper to mulch a new tree?)

Above all, be kind to yourself. Pay attention to what your heart needs.

This second stage of mourning lasts for one month, the time it takes for the moon to wax and become full and then wane again. This is an organic cycle, a mode of measuring time through observing the ebb and flow of the natural world. Just as the moon grows and shrinks, so our spirits and our hearts experience times of fullness and times of contraction. The end of shloshim is a time to begin looking toward fullness again. We trust that after the moon has disappeared, she will return; we trust that after our lives have been diminished by loss, light and meaning will flow into them again.

If you are moving from shiva into shloshim: I bless you that the transition should be what you need it to be. May this ancient way of thinking about mourning and the passage of time be meaningful for you; may time soothe your grief. One traditional practice is to mark the end of shiva by going for a walk around the block — a symbolic step out of the closeness of your home, into the wide world around you. (See Ending Shiva by Rabbi Peretz Rodman.)

If you are moving out of shloshim, I offer you the same blessing: may this transition be what you most need. For those who feel the need for a ritual to mark that shift, I recommend this Leaving Shloshim Ritual by Rabbi Janet Madden. (Ritualwell has a wide variety of materials relating to mourning and bereavement, so if that ritual isn’t what you need, feel free to browse.)

May the Source of Mercy bring you comfort along with all who mourn.