Monthly Archives: February 2014

Don’t Miss Purim at CBI!


Don’t Miss Purim at CBI!

Join us for a night of Purim revelry on  Saturday, March 15:

6pm pizza dinner (RSVP to the office by midweek so we know how much pizza to order)

Costume Parade 
(prizes for kids in costumes!)

followed by our PURIM SPIEL

featuring intrigue! disguises! passion! revenge!
ably acted by a cast of CBI congregants

refreshments to follow — please bring something to share
(we’ll have cookies for all ages, and a little bit of schnapps for adults)

Our sages teach: “When Adar enters, joy increases.” The new month of Adar 2 (the month containing Purim) begins on Saturday night. Here’s to increasing our joy!


Shabbat services change

Friday’s potluck is cancelled, but Kabbalat Shabbat service is still happening. Please be aware that we will not be holding a Friday evening potluck as previously scheduled, but we will still hold a Friday night service at 6:30pm! The service, led by Rabbi Rachel, will last for one hour and will feature the songs and psalms of Kabbalat Shabbat (“Welcoming Shabbat”) as well as the prayers of the evening service. Join us for services to put the capstone on your week.

Also, join us Saturday morning for our regular Shabbat morning services (9:30-11ish) with Torah study to follow, led by Rabbi Rachel.

An Invitation to the Human Library

Williams College invites all members of the community to experience the Human Library on Friday, Feb. 28, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, March 1, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Paresky Center on the Williams College campus. This is a free, interactive event, and reservations are not required.

The Williams Human Library contains 60 “books:” Williams students, faculty, staff, and community members who have volunteered to  be “checked out” for up to 30 minutes each. Each book shares his or her story in a one-on-one conversation with a “reader,” and each book asks questions of the reader as well, prompting an engaging discussion about their similarities, differences, and life experiences.

Rabbi Rachel will serve as one of these human books on Friday afternoon.

This is the third year that Williams has hosted the event. Last year, more than 250 people checked out human books. This year, the catalog of  human books includes titles such as: “Navy Seal,” “16 Years in Prison,” “Olympic Athlete,” “Gun Shop Owner,” “The Complex Life of a First Gen Student,” “Cancer Survivor,” and “Growing up in the Jim Crow South.” These captivating titles, along with the intimate nature of this project, serve as an opportunity to learn about another community member for a given time and ask them what you want to know. The goal is for the people of the community—both on and off campus—to learn more about each other, to explore and move beyond stereotypes, and to develop a greater understanding of each person’s unique narrative.

The Human Library is an innovative project designed to spark dialogue, reduce prejudices, and encourage understanding and uncomfortable learning. Typically organized by municipal libraries, the Human Library has an international community that includes Australia, Lithuania, Spain, Turkey, and now Williamstown, Mass. The Human Library was conceived more than a decade ago in Copenhagen, Denmark, by a self-initiated, non-governmental youth movement called “Stop The Violence.”

Williams’ Human Library is sponsored by the Gaudino Fund and the Human Library Committee, which is made up of faculty, staff, and students.

To learn more about the Human Library, visit

Rabbis’ Reading List: Winter 5774 Edition

5813377968_cf4d892e81_nIt’s time for our periodic update on what our shlichei tzibbur (prayer-leaders) are reading in their copious free time!

Rabbi Rachel is reading (or has recently read):

And here are updates from other other regular or semi-regular shlichei tzibbur (leaders-of-prayer):

Rabbi Pam Wax reports:

  • I’m reading a lot about Morocco these days to prepare for a trip to Morocco in May: I have recently read a memoir entitled “In the Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca” by Tahir Shah, a novel about a Jewish Moroccan family entitled “The Road to Fez” by Ruth Knafo Setton, and am in the middle of Paul Bowles’ “The Spider’s House.”
  • I am also reading “Into the Fullness of the Void: A Spiritual Autobiography,” a beautiful memoir by Dov Elbaum, a formerly ultra-Orthodox Israeli who is trying to understand his spirituality by using the Kabbalah as a roadmap.
  • What I can’t wait to begin is Ari Shavit’s “The Promised Land” which everyone I know is reading and talking about. Chaim and I just heard him speak.
  • I am also reading (as well as re-reading) a number of Jewish short stories in hopes of putting together a course on Judaism through the short story.
  • With my chevruta partner, I am also re-reading “Cheshbon haNefesh (An Accounting of the Soul),” a classic Mussar text.
Rabbi Dennis Ross writes:

The big news: The Central Conference of American Rabbis recently listed me as a media coach and consultant. In this work, I’ll be drawing from my religious advocacy experience to help rabbis and synagogues make better use of traditional and social media to expand and strengthen their presence and outreach. While this combination of “marketing” and Torah may seem strange to some, the reality is that the Jewish people have been self-promoting ever since we placed our Hanukkah menorahs in our windows and “branded” ourselves with words like “People of the Book.” So, I have been reading,

  • Words that Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear by Frank Luntz
  • Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age by Mara Einstein
  • 101 Social Media Tactics for Non-Profits: A Field Guide by Melanie Mathos, et. al.
And Rabbi Howard Cohen is reading or has recently read:

  • The Radical American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan, by Mel Scult.  Excellent study of the most influential Jewish thinker in the 20th century.  The research for this book is based on Scult’s access to Kaplan’s vast journals.  To truly understand Judaism in the 20th and 21st century you need to understand Kaplan.
  • The Real Name of God, by Wayne Dosick.  Dosick offers an intriguing insight to the many different names and personalities of God in the Hebrew Bible.
  • Mixed Up Love, by Jon Sweeney and Michal Woll.  This is a challenging book about the marriage between Rabbi Woll and Sweeney who is not Jewish.  Together they explore how this relationship works and why their marriage may be an important model for how intermarried couples can create a meaningful Jewish home.
  • The Way of the Hen: Zen and the Art of Chicken Raising, by Clea Danaan.  Although a light hearted book, the author actually makes deep connections between raising chickens, Buddhism and life in general.
  • Leviticus:  You Have No Idea, by Rabbi Maurice Harris.  Harris’s book helps explain why Leviticus is such an important book despite the fact that it seems to be the least interest of the 5 Books of Moses.  He tackles some of the biggest challenges Leviticus throws at us such as menstrual blood, sacrifices, “leprosy” and sexual behavior.

We hope you enjoy these assorted rabbinic book recommendations!

Spring 5774 Newsletter!

SpringCoverThe spring 5774 / March-April 2014 edition of the CBI newsletter is now available! In this edition of the newsletter you’ll find information about upcoming events (our Board Game night in late February just after presstime; Purim and Pesach festivities), classes (save the date for our Omer study group!), member happenings, a reprint of an essay by the rabbi about Jewish meditation, and more.

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

Spring5774Newsletter [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. If you are a CBI member and do not receive the Newsletter via email this week, that may mean that we don’t have all of your household’s email addresses on file; drop us a line or give us a call to make sure we have the right information.

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.)

Shavua tov; looking ahead to Shabbat Vayekhel

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Shavua tov / a good week to you! This week we’re reading parashat Vayekhel. The name of the Torah portion is a hyperlink; click on it to be taken to the Torah portion in English if you want to read the portion before coming to Shabbat services.

Traditionally, we spend each week studying a new Torah portion, and then read from that portion on Shabbat, the culmination of the week, before beginning a new portion on Sunday again. If you would like to read some commentaries on the Torah portion, here are some which Rabbi Rachel has shared over the years:

And here’s a link to the Union for Reform Judaism’s page for this Torah portion, which contains several different Reform commentaries:

return-to-shabbatThis Shabbat, our shaliach tzibbur (prayer leader) will be Rabbi Dennis Ross.

We extend a hearty thank you in advance to this week’s service hosts. If you would like to join the shamashim (“helpers”) who welcome people to our Shabbat services and who host our light kiddush afterwards, contact Pattie Lipman.

We also thank our member Helene Armet for the home-baked challah!

We hope to see you soon at CBI. Have a great week!

Ki Tisa: Shabbat, the Golden Calf, and Rest

Worshiping_the_golden_calfHere’s the d’var Torah I offered yesterday at CBI. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

This week’s Torah portion begins with Moshe atop Mount Sinai, communing with God. The last thing God says to Moshe is a set of verses we now know as V’shamru, commanding us to keep Shabbat throughout the ages as a sign of covenant with God. Then God gives Moshe the two tablets, inscribed by God’s own hand.

Meanwhile, the people are anxious. Moshe has been gone for a long time. They implore Aaron, his brother, to “make them a god.” They donate their gold jewelry, and from that jewelry is fashioned a calf which they begin to worship.

When Moshe comes down the mountain, he shatters the tablets in his fury.

Many commentators have seen this incident as a kind of spiritual “adultery.” Here is God reminding us of the Shabbat which serves as the sign of our eternal relationship, and meanwhile we’re off giving ourselves over to something which is not God. The Torah frequently compares our relationship with God to a marriage…and here we are, “cheating on” God when the ink on our ketubah is barely dry.

As punishment, Moshe grinds up the calf and makes the people drink it — which is strikingly similar to the punishment for a woman accused of adultery, as described later in Torah. I’m always struck by the symbolism of making the people confront their own misdeeds in this way. They have to literally swallow what they have done. They have to take ownership of the damage they have done to their relationship with God.

Seen in this light, Moshe’s shattering of the tablets is a sign of the spiritual brokenness in that relationship. But what becomes of those broken stones?

We read in Talmud:

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said to his sons: Have care for an old person who has forgotten his/her learning. For we say: Both the whole tablets and the shattered tablets lie in the Ark. (Talmud Bavli, Berakhot 8b)

In the ark of the covenant, which will be kept inside the mishkan / dwelling-place for God, our ancestors carried both the second set of tablets (which are whole) and that first set of tablets (which are broken).

For Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, this holds a message about how to treat our elders. Just as we cherished both sets of tablets, so we should cherish both those who are whole, and those whose wholeness has been broken by sickness or by age.

Perhaps when Moshe broke the tablets, he was demonstrating his own brokenness. His wholeness was broken when his people demonstrated their lack of commitment and faith. Just as our ancestors kept the broken tablets along with the whole ones, we cherish the memory not only of Moshe’s beautiful moments, but also his times of imperfection and anger.

Each of us is like Moshe. Each of us carries her own history in the ark of her own heart. In our own holy of holies, we hold our sweetest memories — and also the times when we have felt shattered. Without both, we wouldn’t be who we are.

How does all of this relate to Shabbat and to v’shamru?

The verses of v’shamru, from this week’s portion, charge us with keeping Shabbat as an eternal covenant. It is a sign, God says, between us for all time. A reminder that on the seventh day God rested and so do we.

Shabbat is a covenant between us and God. When we keep Shabbat — whatever that means to us; as liberal Jews we shape our Shabbat observance in accordance with a variety of values — but when we keep Shabbat, however we keep Shabbat, we re-enact the covenant.

Every week, we renew our wedding vows with the Holy One. We reprise the central act of our relationship, an act of pausing to notice the sacredness of creation.

Every Shabbat is the antidote to the sin of the Golden Calf. Then we were anxious and we put our faith in something gleaming, something we could see and touch. Now we remind ourselves that relationship exists even when we can’t see it. That when we make Shabbat, we emulate the ineffable force behind the cosmos in rhythms of creation and rest.

Image source: wikimedia commons.