Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,
It scarcely seems possible, but the Days of Awe are right around the corner. On August 28 we’ll officially enter into the high holiday season with Selichot, our annual service of forgiveness prayers to stir the soul, high holiday melodies to open the heart, and an opportunity to write down some of the places where we’ve missed the mark in the last year — a first step toward letting them go and committing to change. That service will be offered both onsite and online; if you’re joining us onsite, please wear a mask (we’ll be in the building, socially distanced, with doors and windows open.)
Preparing for this year’s Days of Awe has been unlike any other year — even last year. Last year, it was clear that the correct course of action was to shelter-in-place and make our homes holy. This year has been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, from the cresting of hope when vaccinations became available to the emotional plummet when the Delta variant reached our community. The CBI Board and I spent all summer planning for three possibilities simultaneously; consulting with the URJ and with other congregations both locally and regionally; discussing risks with medical professionals; and always circling back to to our sacred path of mitzvot and to the Jewish values that guide us. I believe that our current plan will allow us both to protect the vulnerable and to give those who wish to be onsite an opportunity to do so… and I’m mindful that if the situation worsens in the coming weeks, we may need to pivot again.
Last year when the Days of Awe were over, you told us that our Zoom services helped you feel connected; that our time together on Zoom felt real; that you appreciated the interweaving of ancient words and modern technology; that you were moved by the opportunity to see each other on Zoom; that you felt like you were part of a community even though we weren’t all in the same room. I hope and pray that this year will be equally uplifting. I’m excited to share some new things with you — including new music to carry us through the season, hopefully some piano accompaniment on Yom Kippur morning thanks to one of our new members, and a brand-new Jonah play for Yom Kippur afternoon. And I’m also looking forward to continuing our longstanding traditions, the words and melodies and modes of prayer that have sustained us for generations.
Hopefully if you wish to attend a service onsite during the holidays, you’ve already filled out our online registration form and indicated which service you would most want to attend onsite. That registration form will close at the end of the day on August 25 so that we can turn to figuring out how to (hopefully) enable each member who wishes to be onsite to attend one of their top-ranked services onsite. Of course, all of our offerings will be open to you online throughout the season.
We’re also preparing now for the coming Hebrew school year, which is slated to be onsite and masked just like local schools. We’re planning a series of monthly Family Programs, from an apple orchard outing in September to midwinter Saturday afternoon pajama parties with storytime and havdalah. If there is interest, we can reconvene our monthly Shabbat Zoom dinners to stay connected over the winter. And of course we will continue to offer Shabbat services and festival observances all year long, as always.
Your donations make all of this possible. We can’t operate on revenue from dues alone; that revenue does not fully support the work of our synagogue. Your contributions make up the difference and allow us to do all of the things we do, including offering memberships to those who cannot afford to pay full dues. In Torah we read that each Israelite gave a half-shekel to support the spiritual life of the community. We also read that many Israelites gave a t’rumah offering, a freewill offering from the heart over and above the half-shekel that everyone was obligated to provide. Regardless of amount, supporting spiritual community is a Jewish obligation. Giving is a religious act, and our sages teach that when we give tzedakah, we prime the pump of blessing to flow into the world.
Thank you for being a part of our synagogue community. Thank you for gathering with us, learning with us, and praying with us. (Please encourage farflung friends and family to join our email list so that they can join us for Zoom Days of Awe!) And thank you for your support of the synagogue of northern Berkshire county. Please give as you are able. We need your support especially in these difficult pandemic times. The only donation that’s too small is none at all.
Looking forward to being with you soon during the Days of Awe. May the rest of this month of Elul open our hearts and souls to transformation, and may the spiritual updraft of the holidays lift us ever higher.
Blessings to all —