Monthly Archives: April 2013

You’re invited to the ALEPH Kallah

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

The ALEPH Kallah is the Jewish Renewal Biennial — a week-long gathering which takes place every other year, a magical week of learning, prayer, yoga, meditation, and terrific programs led by amazing teachers. It’s a great way to experience Jewish Renewal: a chance to meet people, have meaningful conversations, experience new modalities of prayer, and engage in learning which feeds your mind and heart and soul alike.

This year’s Kallah will be in Rindge, New Hampshire from July 1-7. The theme is Kol Echad:  Connecting With the Divine, Within & Around Us.

I would love for some CBI members to join me, and there’s a congregational discount for any community which is bringing a “minyan” of attendees. Coming to the Kallah is a great gift you can give to yourself — and also a gift you can give to the CBI community, since I guarantee that you’ll return home inspired and enlivened.

The Kallah Website includes a listing of all of the classes, along with information about the kids/teens program, opportunities for artists, and opportunities for practitioners of various healing arts. Classes do fill up, so I encourage you to register as soon as you can. Here’s the program booklet, which features course descriptions, lodging information, information about the various programs happening during the week, and also pricing information.


2013KallahBrochure [pdf]

The Kallah moves around the country every two years; it hasn’t been on the East Coast for a while, and probably won’t be again for a while, so: seize the moment and join us!

For more information you can visit the Kallah webpage, or contact the Kallah office at — or reach out to me directly; I’m happy to talk about this with anyone who’s curious.

Blessings to all,

Reb Rachel

Save the Dates: Jewish Mexican Films at CBI this summer

Join us for Bagels, Coffee, & Films at CBI. This year, member Chaim Bronstein has organized a film series featuring Mexican Jewish movies. Join us for bagels, coffee, and movies projected on a big screen (a really big one — a whole wall in our darkened, comfortable classroom) and then conversation! Each film will begin at 11:11 on a Sunday morning, giving you time to show up, get your coffee and bagel, and schmooze a little before the movie begins.

NorasWillJune 2, 2013, 11:11am
Nora’s Will

Nora’s Will is a tale of lost faith and eternal love from one of Mexico’s most talented filmmakers. When his ex-wife Nora dies right before Passover, José (Fernando Luján) is forced to stay with her body until she can be properly put to rest. He soon realizes he is part of Nora’s plan to bring her family back together for one last Passover feast, leading José to reexamine their relationship and rediscover their undying love for each other. Join us for bagels, coffee, the movie (on a big screen!) and discussion.

LikeABrideJuly 7, 2013, 11:11am
Like A Bride / Novia Que Te Vea

In CBI’s continuing summer festival of Jewish-Mexican movies, we’re showing this story set in the 1960s in Mexico City, where the daughter of Ladino-speaking Turkish immigrants wants to be an artist, not a bride. Meanwhile, her friend (of Ashkenazic descent) shocks her parents by dating a Gentile boy who is active in liberal political circles! Join us for bagels, coffee, the movie (on a big screen!) and discussion.

MexicanShivaAugust 4, 2013, 11:11am
My Mexican Shivah

The third and final film in CBI’s continuing summer festival of Jewish-Mexican movies, My Mexican Shivah tells the story of a man named Moishe who commits suicide. After Moishe’s death, family and friends sit Shiva in Mexico City. During seven days, secrets will be disclosed. Join us for bagels, coffee, the movie (on a big screen!) and conversation.

A message from Reb Rachel: untie our tangles

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

As I write these words, we’re well into the fifth week of the Omer, the 49 days we count between Pesach and Shavuot, between freedom and revelation. (Today is day 31, the day of harmony and balance within the week of splendor and humility.)

There’s a prayer which is traditionally recited after counting the Omer which I wanted to share with you today. Even if you haven’t been counting the Omer every day, I hope this prayer may still be meaningful.

The prayer is called Ana b’Koach, and I wrote about it last year: A melody to sing after counting the Omer. That post contains the words of the whole prayer (in Hebrew and in sing-able English) as well as some material about the prayer (and a recording of the prayer as well). What I want to focus on today is just the first line, which Reb Zalman translates as “Source of Mercy, with loving strength, untie our tangles.”

Source of Mercy, with loving strength, untie our tangles.

What are we saying when we read, or sing, or meditate upon, these words? First, that there is a source of mercy in the universe, an everflowing stream from which divine mercy and compassion and kindness arise (and so do our own qualities of mercy and compassion and kindness). One name for this source of mercy is “God.”

Second, that that source of mercy is both loving and strong. Jewish tradition teaches that God’s lovingkindness and God’s strength are always intertwined. Strength (and judgement and justice and discernment) in perfect balance with mercy (and compassion and lovingkindness) — that’s one of our quintessential ways of understanding God.

And we’re saying that our tangled places, the places where we’re tied up in knots, can be lovingly untangled.

You know how knots can become so tight that it can start to seem impossible that they will ever come apart? That’s true not only in the case of yarn or fine necklace chains; it’s true also on an emotional and spiritual level. Our hearts and our souls and our minds can become tied-up in knots too, and when they do, it can be easy to despair of ever untangling them. But this prayer tells us otherwise. It tells us that our knots can be unbound, that our tight places can be released.

If there are places (ideas, relationships, emotions) where you’re feeling bound-up, wound-up, tied in knots: may the Source of Mercy, with loving strength, untie those tangles in your heart and in your life.

May this Shabbat be a source of comfort and rejuvenation for all of us. (And join us tomorrow morning for services led by Rabbi Pam Wax, featuring the Ana B’Koach prayer as well as a Pirkei Avot-focused Torah study!)

Blessings to all,

Reb Rachel

Announcing a new book by Reb Rachel

Dear CBI members and friends,

I’m delighted to be writing today to announce the publication of Waiting to Unfold, my new collection of poems about motherhood.


About the collection, poet Merle Feld — who visited CBI last year — writes,

In these remarkable poems Rachel Barenblat traverses the world of first-time parenthood with insight, generosity, rare courage. She shares first innocent awe, then unexpected darkness as a winter of the soul claims squatter’s rights in the nursery, and finally, aching, yearning, growing toward hope, a relearning of holy presence in small things. New parents will be astonished that someone has found words for their deepest secrets, parents long past these early months will gratefully nod: yes, I remember, this is true.

And poet Rodger Kamenetz writes:

The intense observation of the poet and the intense observation of the mother unite in a celebration of what is new and newborn, what is intensely felt and cherished and what is lost and mourned. Rachel Barenblat’s poems are easy to enter into, and they carry both the uniqueness of her persona as poet and serious Jew and the universality of love that has made us all. There’s a subversive wit here too,—a changing table that’s also a throne of glory, or the baby chewing on his mother’s tefillin—that speaks to a newly emerging sensibility about what is reverent and what is holy. It’s in the everyday as our best American poets have taught us, and as Rachel Barenblat teaches us in a new way too.

You can learn more about the collection at the publisher’s website; if you’re so inclined, you can purchase a copy there, or on Amazon.

I’ll be giving a reading from the new collection at 4pm on Sunday June 9 at CBI, and books will be available for purchase then too. Stay tuned for more information about that.

Thank you for joining me in celebrating this milestone!

Blessings to all,

Reb Rachel

A message from Reb Rachel after the Boston Marathon bombing

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

What an unexpectedly painful week this has been. I know that the bombing at the Boston marathon weighs heavy on all of our hearts.

It is difficult to make sense of this kind of tragedy. But I believe that when we mourn, God mourns with us; and that when we care for one another, God is manifest in the acts of our caring hearts and hands.

A few of my colleagues have written prayers which have been helpful to me this week. Here’s how one of them begins:

God of Runners
God of Responders

We mourn the loss of life
Our cries crack through the icy spring of Minneapolis
To the blood-soaked streets of Boston.

As we remember those whose lives were taken by senseless hate
Lives and limbs torn apart in the blasts of bombs
As we remember people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds
Who seek the help of doctors and therapists, of communities and clergy
Let us open our hearts to heal and hope….

That’s God of Runners, God of Responders by Rabbi Aaron Weininger, a fellow Rabbis Without Borders Fellow.

And here is another:

On this day of destruction, we need to remember that the race is not for the swift; there is no finish line for those who seek a better world.
Neither bombs, nor blood, not death, nor destruction can deter us from running, O God.
We run to You.
We run towards a vision of perfection that is always in our sights.
We run determined to never allow hatred to obscure Your presence.
We run to build a better world.

That’s from A Prayer in the Aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing by Rabbi Joe Black.

Both of these are powerful prayers; I hope that you may find some comfort in reading or reciting them.

The URJ has shared URJ Resources on Bereavement: prayers, ideas, and resources, including links such as “Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters: What Parents Can Do,” which I highly recommend to all of the parents among us.

I have also found meaning in Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s reflection For Boston: Love & Justice, which sets this horrific act in greater historical context. And for a different sort of response, I hope that you may find something of value in my own post We find God in the helpers, which I shared at Velveteen Rabbi on the night of the bombing.

If there are resources, readings, and reflections which you are finding particularly meaningful this week, please feel free to share them on the synagogue’s Facebook page or in the comments to this post on the From the Rabbi blog so that others in our community can benefit from what has helped you.

And, most of all: if you need to talk about what this has brought up for you, I am here. Email me (my email address is once again working) or call me and we’ll find a time to connect. (If you don’t have my cell number at hand, you can call me at shul: 413-663-5830.)

I trust that in time our fragile sense of safety in the world will heal. When it does, I hope we can enter into some communal conversations about the tragedies we have witnessed during 5773 (from the Sandy Hook shootings to this week’s bombing in Boston) and about how we can respond meaningfully to these in the worlds of action, emotions, thought, and spirit.

May the Source of Peace bring comfort to all who mourn, and all who are frightened. May God strengthen us in our love for one another and for those who grieve.

I am holding each of you in my prayers and in my heart.

Reb Rachel

A Message from the CBI Board

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Here is a message from Grace Bowen, the president of the CBI Board:

During the next few months, I will be continuing to deal with my current illness, and feel it is wise to delegate my authority to Pattie Lipman and Bill Levy, our Co-Vice Presidents.  I must take a step back but still ensure that business at CBI is handled, which I have no doubt that Pattie and Bill can do.  Please contact Pattie or Bill if there are issues or questions.

And: please remember that volunteers are always wanted and needed (and appreciated) — especially during this time when our Board president is dealing with illness.

Blessings to all,

The CBI Board

April 2013 Education newsletter

Our most recent education newsletter, compiled by Education Coordinator Susan Federspiel, features updates from all of our religious education programs and showcases what the Hand in Hand, Aleph-Garten, Aleph Tav, and Ne’arim students learned and did during the month of Nisan / March.

It was sent to the whole community via email, but in case you missed it, it’s also now available here:

CBI Education Newsletter 4_1_13 [pdf]

All future installments of the CBI Education Newsletter will also be shared on this blog, so if you misplace your copy, you can find them here under the “education newsletter” tag. Enjoy!