Category Archives: books

Poems for Elul, the month before the High Holidays

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

The moon of Av is waning. Soon, on August 15, we’ll reach Rosh Chodesh Elul — the new moon of the lunar month of Elul, which is the month leading up to the High Holidays.

Elul is a special season on the Jewish calendar: a time for self-examination, for the inner work of teshuvah (repentance / return), for repairing our relationships with ourselves and with our Source so that once we reach the Ten Days of Teshuvah between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we can focus on repairing our relationships with others.

Last year during Elul I wrote daily poems on themes of teshuvah and preparing for the Days of Awe. (I was participating in an internet-wide phenomenon called #blogElul — Rabbi Phyllis Sommers provides 29 prompts, and people around the world write daily responses to those prompts. My responses were poems.)

As a working congregational rabbi, I tend to find Elul pretty busy. But these poems poured out of me. Writing them gave me a touchstone, a sustaining thread of spiritual practice, which helped me connect with my own inner work even as I was preparing for the High Holidays in a practical way.

After the month was over I took some time to let the poems rest, and then returned to them with an eye to revising and improving them. I shared them with some trusted readers. And now I am delighted to be able to share them with you — in printed and bound form, and also as an e-book — in hopes that they might enrich your month of Elul, too.

SeeMe-frontcoverSee me: Elul poems

The lunar month of Elul (leading up to the Days of Awe / Jewish high holidays) is a time for self-examination, contemplation, and the inner work of teshuvah, repentance or return. Here are 29 poems, one for each day of Elul, which aim to open the reader up to awe, reflection, and the spiritual experience of being truly seen.

Print edition: $10 on Amazon | £6.25 on | €7.98 on Amazon Europe

E-book edition: $6 on Amazon |  £4.07 on | €5.72 on Amazon Europe

(And if you buy the print edition, you can add the digital edition for 99 cents.)

I also have copies available for sale in my office, and am happy to inscribe one for you if you would like. And, if you would prefer to borrow a copy rather than to buy one, I have some copies available for that purpose too — just let me know.

May our collective journey toward Elul be meaningful and sweet.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Two groundbreaking books; two inspirational talks in one evening – Aug 13 at CBI

ZaslowsOn Thurs., August 13th at 7:00 pm, Rabbi David Zaslow and Debra Zaslow will speak about their recently published books at Congregation Beth Israel. The event is co-sponsored by All Saints Episcopal Church and Congregation Beth Israel. The talk is free and open to the public. Both Rabbi David Zaslow and Debra Zaslow are gifted speakers, known for their ability to inspire and entertain, and both are longtime participants in Jewish Renewal, the trans-denominational movement to revitalize Judaism within which Rabbi Rachel was ordained.

Rabbi David Zaslow is the author of Jesus: First Century Rabbi and Debra Gordon Zaslow is the author of Bringing Bubbe Home, A Memoir of Letting Go Through Love and Death.

41RaeXMgvjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In Bringing Bubbe Home Debra Zaslow writes candidly about the life-changing experience of bringing her 103 year-old grandmother into her home during her final months of life. The narrative of their time together in Bubbe’s last months is mingled with scenes from the past that reveal how her grandmother’s stories of abuse, tenacity and survival have played out through the generations of women in the family. Debra watches her expectations of a perfect death dissolve in the midst of queen-size diapers, hormonal teenagers and volatile caregivers, while the two women sit soul-to-soul in moments of stark tenderness.

This honest and powerful literary memoir illustrates the choice to bring death into the home  with family, caregivers, hospice, and all the ramifications. Zaslow offers keen insights into the process of being with a dying person on their own terms, while meeting the needs of family at the same time.

51VN6+8EBmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Jesus: First Century Rabbi takes a bold, fresh look at the historical Jesus and the Jewish roots of Christianity while challenging both Jews and Christians to re-examine their understanding of Jesus’ firm commitment to his Jewish faith.  Instead of emphasizing the differences between the two religions, this groundbreaking text explains how the concepts of vicarious atonement, mediation, incarnation, and Trinity are actually rooted in classical Judaism. Using the cutting edge of scholarly research, Rabbi Zaslow dispels the myths of disparity between Christianity and Judaism without diluting the unique features of each faith.

Rabbi David Zaslow, M.S., is the spiritual leader of Havurah Shir Hadash, a synagogue in Ashland, Oregon. He is the editor of the best selling Hebrew/English prayer book for spiritual Renewal, Ivdu et Hashem B’simcha – Serve the Holy One With Joy. He travels the country leading workshops for churches and synagogues on the Jewish roots of Christianity. He is also a guitar player, poet, author, and lecturer who has been interviewed on national TV and radio. He is also the author of numerous poetry books for children and adults.

Following the author presentations there will be time for Q and A and book-signing.

Bringing Bubbe Home is published by White Cloud Press; Jesus: First Century Rabbi is published by Paraclete Press. Both books are available through Barnes and Noble, or from local independent booksellers — and will be available for sale at the event at CBI as well.

More information on Rabbi David Zaslow can be found at his website: , and you can get a glimpse of him on YouTube here.

More information on Debra Gordon Zaslow can be found at her website, and you can get a glimpse of her on YouTube here.

We hope you’ll save the date and plan to join us! A $10 donation is requested from those who feel able to contribute.

An Evening with Haviva Ner-David

Don’t miss…

An Evening With Haviva Ner-David

Monday, August 25

Knesset Israel
61 Colt Road,
Pittsfield MA

 front-coverRabba Haviva Ner-David is an author, pioneer in Jewish women’s post-denominational thinking, wife, and mother of seven living on Kibbutz Hanaton. She is also a dynamic speaker coming to share the experiences and thinking which led to her latest book: Chana’s Voice: A Rabbi Wrestles with Gender, Commandment, and the Women’s Rituals of Baking, Bathing and Brightening (new from Ben Yehuda Press).

All genders are invited to join us for a talk followed by light refreshments and an opportunity to chat with the author and get books autographed.


co-presented by Congregation Beth Israel, Knesset Israel, and Rimon: Resource Center for Jewish Spirituality

What is the Rabbi Reading?

One way to know someone more deeply is to find out what they’re reading. Board member Pattie Lipman asked our shlichei tzibbur (prayer leaders) what they are reading, and here’s what they said in response!

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat is reading:

Rabbi Pam Wax is reading

  • Colum McCann’s new book TransAtlantic;
  • Eitan Fishbane’s memoir about his wife’s tragic death (at age 32!) Shadows in Winter: A Memoir of Love and Loss. I teach in Eitan’s “Practical Hasidism” class at JTS every year, and he gave me the memoir as a gift because of all the bereavement groups I lead.
  • My Mussar hevruta partner and I are slogging through Avraham ben haRamban’s (Maimonides’ son) Mussar tome The Guide to Serving God, from the year 1230.
  • And I am re-reading (for the 3rd or 4th time) the most seminal Mussar classic, Mesillat Yesharim/The Path of the Just (early 1700’s) to try to keep at least a half step ahead of the rabbi/cantor Mussar group I lead.

She adds: “There are a lot of books I dabble in regularly but don’t read cover-to-cover — Naomi Levy’s amazing book of personal prayers, Talking to God is a mainstay, as are the poetry books of Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.”

Rabbi Howard Cohen is reading

And Rabbi Dennis Ross, who will lead services here on Shabbat Shuvah (between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), is reading

Stay tuned for the next installment in this periodic series of glimpses into the bookshelves of our shlichei tzibbur!