Category Archives: Jewish Renewal

Bayit: Your Jewish Home and CBI

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

I’m writing to share with you some news about a new endeavor in which I am involved that I think will be terrific for CBI!


Bayit: Your Jewish Home is a nonprofit organization I recently co-founded with several colleagues — including CBI’s own Steven Green! The word Bayit is Hebrew for “house” (hence the tagline “Your Jewish Home”), and we want to help people feel “at home” in their Judaism in renewed and renewing ways. Our goal is to give people the tools they need to build the Jewish future, and to empower everyone to take their Judaism into their own hands. I’m deeply excited about Bayit, and about bringing the tools that Bayit creates “home” with me to CBI.

Bayit’s initial keystone projects include a few things that I think will directly benefit CBI. We are diving into the world of Jewish publishing, collaborating with Ben Yehuda Press to release a volume for mourners called Beside Still Waters. That volume contains materials for before death, for the time between death and burial, for shiva (the first week) and shloshim (the first month), yahrzeit (death-anniversary) and yizkor (times of remembrance), and more. I’m looking forward to using that book in our community as we accompany and comfort those who mourn.

Bayit is also launching an Innovation Pilot Program that will entrain 10-20 congregations across the continent and across the denominational spectrum. We’ll create innovative community experiences, and seek responses from participants to discern “what works.” Assuming that the Board approves, CBI will be one of the participating communities. Bayit’s offerings will be keyed to the Jewish festival calendar, and participating communities will get to offer feedback to help improve these rituals, practices, and experiences — participating in meaningful spiritual R&D.

There are other projects on Bayit’s to-do list, among them a website of curated resources for lifecycle transitions, a website of curated resources for spiritual seekers (think The Jewish Catalog, updated for the 58th / 21st century), and more. And: we want to know what you most need. What tools would best help you feel like you have ownership of Jewish tradition and practice? What resources do you most need in your Jewish life? What can we build together with you that would help you feel more “at home” in Judaism and in your spiritual life?

I think the work I’m doing with Bayit will facilitate a variety of ways for me to better serve you as your rabbi. I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds.

Bayit doesn’t yet have an email list, but we have a website, and we’re on Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to follow us in any of those places. And tell us what you want to see us build! (Our doors are always open, and given that two out of the seven Founding Builders of Bayit are CBI members, y’all have a particular “in” — nu, reach out anytime.) I look forward to bringing Bayit’s resources and programs here to CBI to enrich and enliven our practice, and to helping all of us at CBI feel “at home” in our Jewish lives and in the life of the spirit, now and always.

Blessings —

Rabbi Rachel

Reprinted from the March CBI Newsletter.

An act of conscience: standing against oppression

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Y’all know that I am honored and humbled to serve, with my dear friend and colleague Rabbi David Evan Markus, as co-chair of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. CBI is part of the ALEPH Network, and I wanted to share with y’all a resolution and petition that ALEPH put forward recently. The full text of the resolution appears below, followed by a link to a petition that I hope you will consider signing.

The resolution urges us to stand with our Muslim neighbors if they should be targeted by religious oppression under the Trump administration, and calls on all Americans to stand with the oppressed. In this way we signal that we stand against bigotry. When we say “never again” about the Holocaust, we must mean not only “never again for us,” but “never again for anyone.”

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel




As initially proposed by ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal 


President-Elect Trump repeatedly has advocated and expressed his intention that Muslims resident in the United States will be required to register as such with the United States government; and

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution bans state action in respect of any establishment of religion, including tests and other qualifications on the basis of religion; and

Article II of the United States Constitution obliges the President of the United States to take care that the Constitution and laws of the United States are faithfully executed; and

Incitement and tolerance of invidious discrimination on the basis of any religion, ethnicity, race, gender, nationality or sexual orientation cultivates a civic climate that countenances all such discrimination, including anti-Semitism; and

Incitement and intolerance of religious discrimination have no place in any civil society; and

The Jewish people have living memory of anti-Jewish legislation and other official discrimination in Nazi Germany, including civic disqualification and registration with the government, preceding the Holocaust; and

Core Jewish spiritual values teach that one must not stand idly by the blood of one’s neighbor (Leviticus 19:16), and that one must love one’s neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18); and

Principles of deep ecumenism  view all religious traditions as potential paths to the sacred; and

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi  z”l (of blessed memory) professed faith with the Sufis of Hebron to exemplify the spiritual principle that Jews can and must stand in faithful co-religionist solidarity with Muslims;


If Muslims are required to register as such with the United States government, then all Jews — and all other persons in familial or communal relationship with Jews — are urged to register as Muslims immediately; and

All Jewish clergy associations based in the United States — including OHALAH (Renewal), Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform), Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative), Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (Reconstructionist) and Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox) — as well as the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, its constituent organizations, all Jewish seminaries and other institutions of learning, and all other Jewish organizations, are urged to adopt, implement and publicize this resolution by all available means; and

All other clergy organizations and other faith-based organizations operating or having influence in the United States are urged to adopt, implement and publicize corresponding versions of this resolution most suitable to the tenets and contexts of their respective faith traditions; and

If Muslims are required to register as such with the United States government, then a goal is established that every United States resident promptly will register as a Muslim; and

Each ratifying organization will transmit a copy of this resolution to the official government office of Donald J. Trump as of its date of ratification; and

This resolution will be publicized by all available means.


Two online learning opportunities from ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal

Dear CBI members and friends,

CBI is now a member of the ALEPH Network, a network of creative, innovative, and heart-centered Jewish institutions, nonprofit organizations, and communities around the world. Here’s information on two upcoming online classes which will be offered by ALEPH — one taught by our own Rabbi Rachel.

These courses are open to everyone, and you can participate from the comfort of your own home (as long as you have an internet connection).


ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal is proud to present Tikshoret, a new online adult education initiative. We aim to offer adults an opportunity to dive deeply into the spiritual and educational gifts of Jewish Renewal. Tikshoret tuition is intentionally low to welcome a diverse group of learners.

The Hebrew word Tikshoret comes from the root for “deep connection,” and that’s what these classes are designed to be: an opportunity to connect with the riches of our tradition. These exciting classes will be taught by teachers and rabbis from across the Jewish Renewal world. Through this highly accessible online platform, we seek to inspire, engage, challenge, and explore the mysteries of the past with an eye towards contemporary spiritual practice and creating personally meaningful Jewish experiences.

We hope that you will join us on this sacred journey!

Writing the Psalms of Our Hearts
Instructor: Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Wednesdays, Feb 17, 24, March 2 & 9
8pm-9:30pm Eastern Time
The psalms are a deep repository of praise, thanksgiving, grief, and exaltation, one of our communal tools for connecting with God. In this class, each of us will become a psalmist. We’ll awaken our spirits and hearts by praying select psalms together, warm up our intellectual muscles with writing exercises, and enter into a safe space for creativity as we each write our own psalms. After sharing our psalms aloud and sharing our responses to each others’ work, we’ll close by davening together once more.

Learn more about Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Cost: $125


Eve and Lilith: Secrets of the Creation of the Divine Feminine
Instructor: Shoshanna R. Schecter-Shaffin

Wednesdays, March 30, April 6, 13 & 20
8:30pm-10pm Eastern Time

(Photo by: Janice Rubin)

How much do you really know about the Biblical Eve and mythical Lilith?  In this participatory 4 part class we will draw on archaeology, ancient ethnographies, actual Biblical text and midrash as we deeply “rediscover” Eve and Lilith and their connections to the ancient Divine Feminine. Please note: All texts will be taught in translation, no Hebrew background is necessary.
Cost: $125

Future Tikshoret Teachers include:
Hazzan-Magid Steve Klaper, Rabbinic Pastor Dr. Simcha Raphael, and Rabbi David Zaslow.

If you have questions about these courses, please contact

Blessings to all!

CBI Joins the ALEPH Network!

NetworkMemberDear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

One of the reasons I delight in serving CBI is that ours is such an inclusive community. Our members come from Jewish backgrounds ranging from Reform to Orthodox, and a variety of non-Jewish backgrounds, as well. We proudly align with the Reform Movement in its commitment to modernity and pluralism, values near to my heart. (And I continue to be honored that the Union for Reform Judaism regularly shares my writings on the Reform Judaism blog, and that my words appear in the new Reform machzor, too.)

The Reform Movement understands that modern Jewish life is changing – becoming more porous, innovative and experimental. In the 21st century, Jewish denominational lines and boundaries are becoming less important than they were a generation ago. Across the board, Jewish life today is increasingly trans-denominational, creative, and focused on re-forming and renewing Judaism to meet the needs of today and tomorrow.

That’s where my other role, as co-chair of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, comes into play. Jewish Renewal is a trans-denominational movement to revitalize Judaism, and is the context within which I was ordained a rabbi.

My two spiritual homes, Congregation Beth Israel and Jewish Renewal, have long been connected by virtue of my service in both places. Now our connection has become more concrete. I could not be more delighted to be sharing with you the news that our community is now part of a new collaborative initiative called the ALEPH Network.

The ALEPH Network is an alliance of organizations, individuals, shuls, and more at the vibrant cutting edge of Judaism. The ALEPH Network is not a denomination. It’s a sign that the person or institution to which it is attached is doing innovative, heart-centered, spiritual, meaningful work. It can be congruent with denominationally-affiliated congregational life (as in our case — we remain a proud affiliate of the Union for Reform Judaism) and also with organizations, institutions, and individuals who are independent or post-denominational.

Being part of the ALEPH Network connects us with other creative, innovative, and thoughtful people, organizations, and communities around the world. We will reap the benefits of that connection in a variety of ways, among them sharing ideas and materials and engaging in joint programming.

(On the joint programming front, a spring holiday retreat is already in the works! This retreat will be for members of CBI and other ALEPH Network folks in the region, and we’ll receive a substantial discount because we’re doing it together. More on that soon.)

There are also other perks of joining the ALEPH Network. In 5776 our leadership will be invited to join a brand-new online space for ALEPH Network members. We’ll have the opportunity to promote our events and happenings to other Network members. We’ll also receive the benefit of early registration for ALEPH telecourses and for the ALEPH Kallah. I look forward to sharing more about these things, and other benefits of Network membership, in coming months.

Joining the ALEPH Network is a way of expressing gratitude for the many benefits of involvement with ALEPH which we’ve been receiving for years, among them the service of ALEPH-trained clergy and student clergy, use of Jewish Renewal liturgical materials and melodies, the availability of Jewish Renewal spiritual technologies such as hashpa’ah (spiritual direction) which I offer to members of our community, and more. Until now, there was no fiscal way for us to thank ALEPH for Jewish Renewal’s melodies, materials, and spiritual modalities. Now there is, and I am delighted that we are taking part.

And finally — joining the ALEPH Network is a small way of “giving back,” financially, to the organization which ordained me and made it possible for me to serve as your rabbi.

I know that the other ALEPH-trained folks who serve here (among them student Hazzan Randall Miller, Rabbi Lori Shaller, and Maggid David Arfa) join me in delight and gratitude that CBI has become part of the ALEPH Network. I look forward to continuing to share with y’all the countless spiritual gifts I have received from being part of Jewish Renewal.

Wishing you blessings for a week of sweetness and joy —


Rabbi Rachel




Edited to add: As of autumn 5778 / 2017, we are no longer part of the ALEPH Network, but we remain part of Jewish Renewal, and Jewish Renewal remains part of us. For more on what Jewish Renewal means to us, here’s a link: Renewing Judaism.

A Special Shabbat Weekend at CBI

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

As you may know, we’re bringing Friday night Shabbat experiences back to CBI! Starting this fall, we’ll be experimenting with different Friday evening celebrations (services, potlucks, and/or joint potlucks-and-services) on the first Friday of every month.

However, the first Friday of September is Labor Day weekend when a lot of people are out of town, so we’re kicking off our Friday night / Kabbalat Shabbat adventures a week early — this Friday, August 28, when I will welcome a special guest to the bimah.

9219803272_c141a5a867_zThis coming Shabbat we will be hosting Rabbi David Markus of Temple Beth El of City Island, who (with me) serves as co-chair of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. On Friday night there will be a vegetarian potluck supper at 6pm (please RSVP for that – followed by a Kabbalat Shabbat / Welcoming Shabbat service at 7pm. The two of us will also partner in leading Shabbat morning services, where Rabbi David will offer the d’var Torah.

Rabbi David and I will be following the custom of wearing white on Friday night as we welcome the Shabbat Bride into our midst. Please join us in wearing white, in singing the songs of Kabbalat Shabbat, and in some joyous grapevine dancing around the sanctuary or patio as we sing Lecha Dodi! (We’ll also have hand drums and shakers for those who are so inclined.)

pnai-or-siddur-for-erev-shabbat-marcia-prager-256px-256pxWe’ll daven on Friday night using Rabbi Marcia Prager’s wonderful Siddur for Erev Shabbat, which features meaningful translations as well as beautiful poetry and images. On Friday night you will also be treated to a special story from our education director, Maggid (Storyteller) David Arfa, about the wonders of this month on the Jewish calendar, the lunar month of Elul.

Please join us for any and/or all of this coming weekend’s special Shabbat experiences: vegetarian / dairy potluck at 6pm on Friday (and please RSVP to the office so we know how many people to set up for!), Kabbalat Shabbat services at 7pm on Friday, and Shabbat morning services at 9:30am on Saturday.

Wishing you blessings as Elul continues to unfold,

Rabbi Rachel


Shavua tov! Looking forward to Shabbat Ki Tetzei… and a special guest this Shabbat!

Shavua tov – a  good week to you! This week we’re reading parashat Ki Tetzei from the book of Dvarim (Deuteronomy.)return-to-shabbat

If 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 Tetzei | URJ.

This coming Shabbat we will welcome a special guest — Rabbi David Markus of Temple Beth El of City Island, who with Rabbi Rachel serves as co-chair of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. On Friday night there will be a vegetarian potluck supper at 6pm (please RSVP for that – followed by a Kabbalat Shabbat service at 7pm. Stay tuned for more information about that. (Shabbat morning services will also be led by Rabbi Rachel and Rabbi David.)

During the month of Elul it’s customary to pray psalm 27 every day. We’ll be singing different excerpts from the psalm over the course of this month and the Days of Awe — the song “Achat Sha’alti,” which we’ve sung here for many years at this season, and also the verse “Lach Amar Libi” to a melody from Nava Tehila, the Jewish Renewal congregation of Jerusalem.

Here’s an embedded mp3 of that melody so you can listen to it at home:

And here’s sheet music, for those who find sheet music useful: Psalm 27,Lakh Amar Libi notes [pdf] The words translate to “You [God] called to my heart, saying ‘seek My face;’ Your face, Source of All, is what I seek!”

Many thanks to our shamashim, the members who host our Shabbat services each week. If you would like to join that group, please contact Pattie Lipman.

We hope to see you soon at CBI!

Eldad, Medad, and Reb Zalman’s tisch – a d’var Torah for B’ha’alot’kha

Furniture-dining-room-chairs-sale-awe-dark-brown-wooden-lacquer-green-dining-chairs-framing-with-armrest-and-floral-patterned-upholstered-theme-cross-legs-buffer-teak-dining-chairs-restaurant-furniturIn the verses we just read from Beha’alot’kha, God takes the spirit which was upon Moses and places it on seventy elders, and all of them begin to prophesy. Then two other men, Eldad and Medad, also begin to prophesy. Joshua, who will be Moses’ successor, urges Moses to stop them. And Moses says, “Are you upset on my account? Would that all of God’s people were prophets!”

When we think of the English term “prophecy,” we think of foretelling the future. But that’s not what a Biblical prophet did. In the Biblical understanding, a prophet is someone who speaks for God. The great rabbi and scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches that it was the prophet’s job to offer a God’s-eye view on the world.

The Biblical prophets spoke on God’s behalf: sometimes words of love, sometimes words of caution and judgement. The prophets bequeathed to us a treasury of writings which call us toward a world redeemed.

In the Jewish understanding, prophecy isn’t about predicting the future. Prophecy seems to mean something like opening ourselves to that Voice from beyond which exhorts us to be better than we think we know how to be.

In this morning’s verses, I hear Joshua’s anxiety. His boss Moses was the only one who had a direct line to God, and now suddenly all of these people are speaking on God’s behalf — even people who weren’t invited. The familiar structure of authority is at risk of breaking down!

I can empathize with Joshua’s fear. And I love Moses’ response: oh, dear one, are you jealous on my account? You think I mind having other people connecting with God? On the contrary — I wish everyone had a clear channel through which divine spirit and wisdom could flow.

Tradition teaches that never again will there arise a prophet as great as Moshe. Today’s verses offer a glimpse of his greatness because they show us someone who was not threatened by others being uplifted too. Moses knew that connection with God is not zero-sum, and that other people opening their hearts to divine wisdom didn’t diminish his ability to do the same.

One of my favorite stories about my teacher Reb Zalman z”l is about how he used to teach at his Shabbos tisch. “Tisch” is Yiddish for “table;” it means a celebratory gathering where students gather to imbibe wisdom from their teacher, usually accompanied by singing niggunim and toasting l’chaim! Following in the footsteps of his Hasidic forebears, Reb Zalman would gather his hasidim around the table, and offer his unique and beautiful Torah, and his students would be nourished by his wisdom.

And then he would do something which his forebears didn’t do. He would invite everyone to rise, and to move one chair to the left. Now someone else was sitting in the “rebbe chair” — the big cushy seat with the armrests at the head of the table from which the rebbe was supposed to offer his teachings. And he would say, “Look inside for the Rebbe-Spark within you — and teach from there.”

And then they would do it again, and again, until everyone at the table had had the opportunity to be the teacher, the giver of wisdom, an open channel for divine grace. Everyone got to sit in the rebbe chair, both literally and metaphorically.

It was important to him that all of us learn that “rebbe” is a function, a role, into which we too can step. That we too have wisdom to give over. That we too can open our hearts to something beyond ourselves and learn to trust that the wisdom which will flow through us will be the right wisdom for this moment. That all of the power shouldn’t reside in one person, because that isn’t good for the rest of us — and it’s not good for the one person in power, either.

“Would that all of God’s people were prophets.” Would that we all felt safe enough to open our hearts and minds to divine inspiration. Would that we all trusted our intuition enough to discern when the voice urging us on is a holy one. Kein yehi ratzon — may it be so.


This is the d’var Torah which I offered yesterday morning at CBI. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

I’ve heard the story of Reb Zalman’s tisch many times. If you’d like to hear about it from someone who was there, I commend to you Reb Arthur’s post Reb Zalman: His Light is Buried Like A Seed — To Sprout.