Category Archives: classes

Journey Into Judaism at CBI in 5779

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

I’m delighted to be able to share that I will once again be offering CBI’s Journey Into Judaism class in the coming Jewish year, in association with the Miller Introduction to Judaism program.

What is CBI’s Journey Into Judaism class?

Some people call this a ‘conversion class,’ and it can serve that purpose. Last year some who took the class were not Jewish when we began and chose to become Jewish by the time we finished! And, it doesn’t have to serve that purpose. You are welcome to take this class if you are already Jewish and “just” want to learn more about our traditions. And you are welcome to take this class if you are considering choosing Judaism, even if you don’t ultimately decide to “take the plunge” and join the Jewish people at the end of the year.

What are the logistics?

We’ll meet two Tuesdays a month from 1-2:30pm at CBI. Over the course of the year we’ll meet eighteen times, starting on the Tuesday of Sukkot week (September 25) and culminating on the Tuesday before Shavuot (June 4).

(The day and time are once again determined by the scheduling needs of those who have come to me explicitly seeking study toward choosing Judaism. I recognize that a daytime class will not work with everyone’s work schedule, and I apologize to those for whom this time is not convenient.)

We will use the same textbook we used last year, and will once again augment it with outside reading, hevruta (paired) study, field trips, and experiential opportunities.

If you are interested in taking part, please let me know as soon as possible so that I can order you a textbook, add you to the class email list, and send you the dates of our meetings.


Last year’s Journey Into Judaism class was a profound gift for me and, I think, also for the students who took part. I can’t wait to begin the new Jewish year by diving into this learning with y’all again.

Blessings as we move deeper into Elul —

Rabbi Rachel


Prepare your heart and soul for freedom: March 23-24 Shabbaton at CBI

Shabbat HaGadol (“The Great Shabbat”):

prepare your heart and soul for freedom!

March 23-24, 2018

Shabbat HaGadol is the special name given to the Shabbat before Passover. Join us for a Shabbaton (an immersive Shabbat experience) featuring Rabbi David Markus and Rabbi Rachel, aimed at helping you prepare your heart and soul for the Festival of Freedom. 

Friday Night March 23:

  • Shabbat Dinner (location and details TBD)

Saturday March 24:

  • 9:30am Shabbat morning davenen (prayer) – Parshat Tzav (Eternal Flame)
  • 11:30am Leisurely potluck Shabbat lunch
  • 1:00-2:00 Prelude to Liberation
  • 2:15-3:15 Intro to Jewish Angelology
  • 3:30-4:30 Contemplative practice (Four-Angel Mincha / bedikat chametz)
  • 4:45-5:45 Angels in the Outfield: Transcendence and Liberation
  • 6:00-7:00 Time of Yearning: niggun and story
  • 7:09pm Havdalah at sundown

We’re exploring the possibility of kids’ programming during the day on Shabbat so that families with children can fully participate. Stay tuned for more information. For now, please save the date and plan to join us!

(For more information see the weekend’s Facebook Event Page.)

Journey into Judaism

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

I’m writing to share news about a Journey into Judaism program that I’ll be offering over the coming school year, and to invite your participation.

There are a few folks in the northern Berkshire community who are not yet a part of CBI who have approached me about taking a journey into Judaism that might culminate in choosing Judaism formally next Shavuot. Y’all will get to know them over the course of coming months as they come to CBI to experience Jewish life in community.

Teaching people about Judaism is a joy and a privilege and an important part of my work. I’m looking very forward to working with this group in coming months. I’m writing now to open the invitation to all of y’all as well. If you, or someone in your family, might be interested in joining this group please let me know?

Starting in September, our intention is to meet on Tuesdays after lunch. I recognize that this will not work well for people with day jobs, and I’m sorry about that.  (The timing is dictated by the work schedules of those who approached me to set up the class in the first place.) We will meet twice a month from September until Shavuot.

We’ll work with the On One Foot textbook that my Introduction to Judaism class used last year, and I’ll augment that book with other materials, from books to experiences to hevruta (paired study).

If any of my students decide to “take the plunge” (as it were) and formally enter the Jewish people, that will take place next May on the cusp of Shavuot at Isabella Freedman, the Jewish retreat center where some of y’all have joined me for Shavuot over the last few years.

Shavuot is a traditional time to welcome Jews-by-choice into the community (because at Shavuot we read the book of Ruth; Ruth is often considered to be the first Jew-by-choice). Our new Jews will come before a beit din (a rabbinic court) and then immerse in beautiful Lake Miriam to effect and mark their change. Then we’ll celebrate them over the course of Shavuot as we receive Torah together anew. (Save the dates: next year’s Shavuot retreat at Isabella Freedman is May 18-22.)

If you’re interested in taking part in this Journey into Judaism on Tuesdays during the coming nine months, please let me know!

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

Introduction to Judaism Class at CBI – Beginning in November


Do you want to learn more about Judaism? Great!

Announcing a new  Introduction to Judaism class at Congregation Beth Israel:  a new program in Jewish engagement for everyone regardless of religion or background, offered in partnership with the Louis & Judith Miller  Introduction to Judaism Program at American Jewish University.

This class, taught by Rabbi Rachel, will have eighteen sessions over the course of the fall and winter, beginning in November 2016. (Schedule TBD — after the Days of Awe we’ll take a break to breathe, then dive in together, and we’ll do our best to find a class time that works for everyone who signs up.)

Free for CBI members; $60 for non-members.

To sign up, contact 

The required textbook is $20; let the rabbi know if this is a hardship.

New dates: class on death, mourning, and transformation

Dear CBI members and friends,

I have heard from several of those who wanted to take my upcoming class on Jewish teachings about death and mourning that the dates don’t work for y’all, so I am moving the class further into the summer season. The new dates are: June 5, June 26, and July 24. Here’s the description of the class:

Death, mourning, and transformation

This three-session class, taught by Rabbi Rachel, will explore Jewish ideas, teachings, and rituals around death and mourning. We’ll explore texts both ancient and modern which will offer us different Jewish ideas about death and afterlife, taharah and burial, and kaddish and mourning customs. The class will meet at 10am on Sundays June 5, June 26, and July 24

Price: $18 for CBI members, $36 for non-members. Register by emailing rabbibarenblat at gmail dot com.

I look forward to learning with y’all!


Rabbi Rachel

Announcing an adult education class this spring

Death, mourning, and transformation

This three-session class, taught by Rabbi Rachel, will explore Jewish ideas, teachings, and rituals around death and mourning. We’ll explore texts both ancient and modern which will offer us different Jewish ideas about death and afterlife, taharah and burial, and kaddish and mourning customs. The class will meet at 10am on Sundays April 3, May 15, and June 5.

Price: $18 for CBI members, $36 for non-members. Register by emailing rabbibarenblat at gmail dot com.

Shavua tov! Looking forward to a very special Shabbat.

Shavua tov – a  good week to you! The coming Shabbat is going to be special in several ways.



Rabbi David Evan Markus, my ALEPH co-chair, will be co-leading Shabbat services with me over the February 27 weekend. Those of y’all who were with us at the end of August last time he visited may remember the beauty and sweetness he brings to the bimah. Expect music, harmony, teachings, and an extra helping of joy. Please join us for Friday night services at 7:30pm on Friday February 26, and Saturday morning services at 9:30am on Saturday February 27.

On Friday night we will begin with a potluck Shabbat dinner at 6:30pm — we are still seeking a host who can organize cleanup and lock the building at the end of the evening, so if that’s you, please let me know!

This week we’re reading parashat Ki Tisa.
return-to-shabbatIf you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, some links follow:

And here’s the URJ’s compilation of commentaries on this week’s Torah portion: Ki Tisa at the URJ.

Even once Shabbat draws to its close, there will be other exciting happenings in our community next weekend.


518QFADpahL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_rabbi_jill_hammerCBI is joining with Rimon and Temple Anshe Amunim to present a visit to the Berkshires fromRabbi Jill Hammer, co-author of The Hebrew Priestess, a groundbreaking book about women’s spiritual leadership from antiquity to today. Rabbi Jill will speak at 7pm on Saturday February 27 at Temple Anshe Amunim, 26 Broad Street in Pittsfield. She’ll read from the book, talk about how it came to be, answer questions, and sign copies of the book. Don’t miss this!


linderpix-450211Local resident (and nationally known singer / songwriter) Bernice Lewis will present a workshop on “How to Write a Jewish Love Song,” co-presented by Jewish Federation of the Berkshires.  11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday February 28, $10.00, includes a kosher style buffet lunch. Bring your instrument or just your voice. Bring a smart cell phone to record your song, and a notebook and writing tool! Bring your sweetie! RSVP’s requested by February 24to or by calling (413) 822-5267.

We hope you’ll join us for one or all of these special events!