Monthly Archives: December 2013

Ne’arim video podcasts

One of the projects undertaken by our 5th through 7th grade Hebrew school class this fall was a series of short video podcasts, exploring themes of Judaism and civil rights through the lenses of some of their favorite pop culture stories.

Here are their four short videos, ranging in duration from about two minutes to about five minutes. The password for watching the videos is the name of that class (capitalized, no punctuation) followed by the current Jewish year.

(If you are a CBI member but can’t make the password work for you, email Rabbi Rachel for help.)


Nearim Video Podcast 5774: Civil Rights and Doctor Who


Nearim Video Podcast 5774: Oppression, Privilege, and Harry Potter


Nearim Video Podcast 5774: Oppression, Privilege and the Hobbit:


Nearim Video Podcast 5774: Star Wars and Civil Rights:

A note from Rabbi Rachel before Christmas

6a00d8341c019953ef0154373d08be970c-800wiDear friends,

One of the interesting asymmetries of being a minority religious culture is that while members of the dominant religious tradition often have little awareness of our festivals, we can’t help being aware of theirs. At no other time of year is this more true than now, as we approach Christmas.

Across the breadth of our community, we respond in many ways to this omnipresent holiday.

Some of us may enjoy Christmas although it is not our holiday. We may admire our neighbors’ Christmas lights, appreciate the festive beauty of each household’s unique decorations, enjoy classic Christmas movies, and delight vicariously in the pleasure our Christian friends and neighbors take in their festival of light and hope.

Some of us may find Christmas overwhelming because it is not our holiday. We may feel excluded from public displays of Christmas celebration; the day and its trappings may evoke entrenched feelings of isolation and “otherness.” For those of us who associate Christmas with uncomfortable memories of being an outsider, or communal memories of antisemitism, this can be a challenging season. We may resent the way mainstream American culture ignores the reality that not everyone celebrates this holiday, or may struggle with the message that everyone is “supposed” to be happy at this time of year.

Some of us may enjoy Christmas because it is a festival we share with loved ones. Our community includes many Jews by choice (many of whom still have Christian family), and many families of dual heritage (who likewise have Christian family, as well as Jewish family). For those of us in such families, this holiday may offer a time to connect with loved ones across a variety of traditions.

Some of us may experience December 25 as a secular midwinter holiday of gift-giving and cheer having little or nothing to do with Jesus. Others may experience its customs as as a thinly-camouflaged variation on pagan winter solstice festivities. (Did you know that in ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated on December 25? It was called the festival of sol invictus, the birthday of the unconquered sun.)

Some of us may take Christmas as an opportunity to serve others. I have known many Jewish doctors, nurses, and chaplains who choose to engage in pastoral work on Christmas so that our Christian colleagues can take the day off. Others may choose to work in soup kitchens or homeless shelters so that all who are in need will be cared-for and fed on this day and all days.

And some of us — single-heritage households and dual-heritage households alike — may engage in the age-old Jewish custom of eating Chinese food and going to the movies! (Okay, that one wasn’t handed down to Moses on Sinai, though we’ve been doing it since the late 1800s.)

Whatever your week may hold, a blessing:

May we experience light in this season of darkness.

May renewed awareness of Jesus as a Jewish teacher open for us new ways of relating to our neighbors’ commemoration of his birth.

And may we emerge into the secular new year ready to enjoy the increasing daylight!

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Moses, love, and light (a d’var Torah for Shemot)

Big-bang-theory-3172Here’s the d’var Torah for parashat Shemot which I offered at CBI yesteray morning. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

Talmud teaches (Sotah 12a) that when Moses was born, the house was filled with light. In this week’s Torah portion we read that Moses’ mother saw that he was good, and in Genesis 1 we read that God saw that the light was good. The same phrase is used to describe both Moses and that primordial light.

Remember that at the beginning of the Torah, God says let there be light, and there is light, and God sees that it is good — and only some days later does God create sun, moon, and stars.

The light of the first day of creation is not literal light. It is the light of wisdom and insight. The light of love. This morning we sang “For with You is the source of light” — not talking about the sun and moon, but about that primordial light.

In the kabbalistic understanding, that primordial light shines from ein-sof, “without-end,” the most infinite, transcendent, ungraspable aspect of God. Using the scientific paradigm, we might call it the light of the Big Bang, still emanating into our expanding universe. Or using Hasidic language, we could call it the light of God’s yearning for us.

I love the teaching that God birthed the universe in order to be in relationship. Before there was creation, there was only God; but that was lonely. So God pulled back to make space for something which was not-God, and in that space, creation came into being.

In today’s parsha we read about Yocheved birthing Moses. When we bring children into our lives, we too have to pull back to make space for something which is not us. We make room for relationship. It takes intention and awareness to respond to our children as Yocheved did — to recognize and nurture the light in them.

If you’ve ever practiced yoga, you may have heard the greeting “namaste,” which means “the light in me greets the light in you.” The light in me greets the light in you. Maybe that’s a glimpse of the first light that God called good, shining within each of us.

Yocheved, mother of Moses, hides him for as long as she can. When she can no longer keep his light under a bushel, she places him in a wicker basket and sets it afloat on the Nile — the very river in which Pharaoh had commanded that all Hebrew boy-children be drowned.

But instead of the waters of drowning, these are waters of redemption. As his sister Miriam the prophet watches from afar, the daughter of Pharaoh finds him there. Immediately Miriam rushes to her side and offers to hire a Hebrew wet-nurse…which means that Yocheved is able to continue nursing her own child.

For our sages, the love of a mother for her child was symbolized by the act of nursing. And our love is a reflection of God’s love, which is also likened to nursing! More than the calf wants to suckle, says the Talmud, the cow yearns to give milk. More than we desire God’s blessing, God yearns to bestow blessing upon us. God yearns to bestow love. God yearns to bestow light.

Much later in our story, when Moses comes down from Sinai, Torah teaches that he had to veil himself because he was shining with divine light. His encounter with God was so profound that he came away glowing. Have you ever had an experience of such profound wonder and joy that you came away glowing? That’s primordial light, shining through you.

On this Shabbat, may our eyes be opened to see the light in each other. And may our hearts be opened to receive the flow of love and light which God yearns to bestow.

Image: an artist’s rendering of the Big Bang, from here.

Winter 5774 / Jan-Feb 2014 Newsletter

NewsletterCoverThe Winter 5774 / Jan-Feb 2014 newsletter is now online!

In this edition of the newsletter you’ll find reports from the annual meeting, interviews with our Jewish Star award-winner Grace Bowen and with cantorial soloist David Curiel, Shabbat candle-lighting and havdalah times for the next few months, updates on recent happenings at CBI, the d’var Torah by Rabbi Pam Wax delivered on the Shabbat when we honored chevra kadisha and cemetery committee, and much, much more!

The digital newsletter can be downloaded here at the From the Rabbi blog by clicking on the link below:

Winter5774Newsletter [pdf]

As always, the newsletter will also be archived on the Newsletter page of our website, and will be sent via e-mail to all CBI members.

We also send the newsletter on paper to our members who do not have email access and to those who request paper delivery. If you want to receive a paper newsletter, please let the office know (office at cbiweb dot org or 413-663-5830.)

Shabbat shalom to all!

Join us for Kabbalat Shabbat!

ShabbatCandlesDear friends,

In the time since I became the rabbi here at CBI, we have not held Friday night Shabbat services. We relinquished our kabbalat Shabbat (“welcoming Shabbat”) service because attendance had been quite low on Friday evenings. (We have always had a small but dedicated core group of Shabbat morning regulars.) Many of you have told me that you miss Friday nights. Rejoice with me: this week we’ll celebrate Shabbat both on Friday evening and on Saturday morning at CBI!

This Friday, December 20, we’ll begin at 5:30pm with a vegetarian / dairy Shabbat potluck dinner. We’ll make blessings over candles, wine, bread, and our children; we’ll feast and enjoy fellowship at the Shabbat table.

At 6:30pm, we’ll move into the sanctuary for Kabbalat Shabbat, the service of welcoming the Sabbath bride into our midst with psalms, songs, prayers, and joy. Kabbalat Shabbat services usually last about an hour (the first half is technically the Kabbalat Shabbat part; the second half is ma’ariv, daily evening prayer.) Some of the words and melodies are the same as on Shabbat morning, but many are special to Friday nights alone.

We’ll sing “Lecha Dodi” (“Come, my beloved, to welcome the bride” — the Shabbat bride, the Shekhinah, the divine Presence which graces us each Friday night), we’ll sing songs and psalms which are unique to Friday night services, and we’ll celebrate the beginning of Shabbat, our opportunity for relaxing and rejoicing, which our sages said (when celebrated wholly) is a foretaste of the world to come.

And then, of course, on Shabbat morning — Saturday, December 21 — we’ll gather at 9:30am for Shabbat morning services as always. That service lasts an hour and a half, and features songs and psalms of praise, morning prayers of thanksgiving and awe, and a reading from Torah. This week we’re entering into a new book of Torah: Shemot, known in English as the book of Exodus. At 11 we’ll adjourn to the social hall for kiddush, and then those who are so inclined will gather in the library for Torah study.

December 20th or 21st (depending on who you ask) is the longest night of the year. This Shabbat will be our turning-point, our hinge, between the darkening days and the gradual return of warmth and light. Join us and bring more light into your life — and into the lives of everyone here at CBI who will be enriched by your presence and by our coming-together in community!

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

ps: Ne’arim parents, if you are still seeking Shabbat services to attend in order to fulfill your child’s obligations for the month, either the evening or the morning service “counts.”

Human Rights Shabbat d’var Torah: Making God Present

Here’s the d’var Torah I offered yesterday at my shul for Human Rights Shabbat / parashat Vayigash, crossposted to Velveteen Rabbi.

Today we’re observing Human Rights Shabbat. Human rights are woven into the fabric of our tradition. They’ve been there from the very beginning, the creation of humanity in the image and the likeness of God. Every human being bears God’s DNA, as it were; each of us reflects a unique facet of divine infinity.

Because every human being is a reflection of God, containing a spark of divinity within, every human being has inalienable human rights regardless of race, gender, creed. The right to worship freely, without coercion. The right to pursue meaningful work. The right to earn a living wage. The right to choose the shape of one’s family. The right to be treated as a whole and holy creation of God.

Over recent weeks our Torah portions have taken us into the Joseph novella. Joseph’s story features several suspensions of his human rights: when his brothers throw him into the pit, when he’s sold into slavery, and when he’s cast into Pharaoh’s jails.

In Joseph’s story, of course, everything happens for a reason. Joseph himself is certain of this. When he reconnects with his brothers he assures them, “don’t feel guilty for what you did — even if you intended it for ill, God intended it for good.” The Joseph story is a classic example of what our tradition calls “descent for the sake of ascent.” In order to be lifted up, you have to recognize that you’re someplace low.

Here’s someplace low: our world is marred by human rights violations which ignore the innate wholeness and holiness of every human being.

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Celebrate Human Rights Shabbat at CBI

imagesThis coming Shabbat — December 6/7, Tevet 3/4, parashat Vayigash — we will observe Human Rights Shabbat here at CBI.

Now in its 6th year, Human Rights Shabbat is an initiative to commemorate International Human Rights Day by educating Jewish communities about the intersection of Jewish values and universal human rights. Nearly 150 communities around the world will come together and pledge to manifest the value of k’vod habriot (human dignity) in our synagogues, schools, and homes.

“Human Rights Shabbat gives synagogues across the nation the opportunity to shine a light on some of the most pressing human rights issues of our time, through prayer, sermons, educational panels and more,” says Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. “These communities are committed to the shared value that all of us are created in the image of God, b’tzelem elohim, and that this fundamental human equality requires us to work for human rights both around the world and in our own backyards.”

We will take part in Human Rights Shabbat by experiencing some new liturgy, readings, poems, and prayers during our Shabbat morning service (9:30am) and studying texts relating to human rights during our weekly Torah study (11:15am.) Join us!