The Healing Powers of Music

The Healing Powers of Music

Music Director’s Message – November 24, 2020

Courtney Cummings, Music Director

“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more – it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.” -Dr. Oliver Sacks

Music inspires so many things – it can alleviate depression, mirror our feelings of sadness or joy, move us to dance, and allow us to communicate with others and with ourselves on another level.  In his book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Dr. Oliver Sacks investigates the power of music to move us, to heal us, and to haunt us.  As a neurologist, he explains how the brain functions differently with music, and how it occupies more portions of the brain than language alone.  This particular book follows individual stories of how music has improved the lives of patients with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and amnesia, among other medical conditions.  Lines of communication open for the first time, memories are unlocked, and words are spoken when there once were none.  If music has that kind of power, what impact does it have on the rest of us? 

Think about your favorite song.  Did it just bring a smile to your face?  Did you start to hum the melody or sing the lyrics in your head?  Did your mood shift?  Music stimulates the brain centers that register reward and pleasure, which is why listening to that favorite song can actually make you feel happy.

We are all living in the pandemic world of 2020.  It’s not one we have seen before.  Sadness, loss, chaos, and uncertainty have the potential to overwhelm us at any moment.  But what if we make a different choice?  What if we choose to harness to power of harmonized sound to improve our well-being?  What if we create our own soundtrack, filled with love, light, and hope?

Lucky for us, our Jewish tradition is filled with beautiful melodies that inspire and evoke awe.  The soulful words of our liturgy have been artfully set to music by Jewish masters of composition dating back to the time of King Solomon.  Music has been used by our people for thousands of years as a means to tell a story, set a tone or mood, and keep our traditions alive.  It has sustained us this far and will continue to do so, as long as we allow it.

This being the 21st century, we can access music with the touch of our finger, likely from the device sitting in our pocket.  Streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, and Pandora make it easy to listen to our favorites –  anytime, anywhere.  Harness this age of technology to explore new music and expand your horizons.  Need some guidance?  Here are a few soul-nourishing Jewish favorites:

Noah Aronson and Elana Arian’s collaboration of Ahavah Rabbah is a soulful, simple setting of a prayer from the morning liturgy that reaches into your soul and celebrates the power of God’s love.  

In Heal Us Now, composer Leon Sher writes a heart-felt prayer for healing, health, and stability, utilizing texts from different sources and a gentle driving chord structure.

This prayer of thanks, Modim Anachnu Lach, has both a grounded feel, but also an air of whimsy and triumph in its musical-theater style approach to the liturgical text and interpretive English translation.  It reminds us to be grateful for the little things. 

Louis Lewandowski’s 19th century setting of Halleluyah harnesses the power of the voice to sing praises to God.  This particular performance from the Boston Zamir Chorale also gives insight into the composer’s history and life story and is sure to leave you exhilarated.  

Stand Strong by Laurie Akers encompasses themes of strength, togetherness, inclusiveness, and peace, and it is sure to inspire every listener to feel uplifted and empowered.

Our journey this year has been tough. And the road may continue to be bumpy for a long time, but we have a tool to make our own experience just a little bit smoother.  Make time and space for music in your life, as it might just be the medicine you need to survive this trying time with an open heart, gentle mind, and nourished soul.

Giving Thanks for the Small Things

Giving Thanks for the Small Things

Rabbinic Intern’s Message – November 17, 2020

Grant Halasz, Rabbinic Intern

It is hard to believe that it is the middle of November already.  So, with Thanksgiving on the horizon, I am reminded of the importance of slowing down and appreciating all of the little things that we take for granted every day. Especially during these times of uncertainty and inconsistency, we should appreciate and celebrate the gifts we have. We can take for granted the ability to wake up each day, choose to get out of bed, live inside a body that functions, read this TIDBITS email, and the list goes on.  

Whenever I think of being thankful for the small miracles and moments, the prayer adapted to song, Asher Yatzar by Dan Nichols, always comes to mind. The English verse is simply elegant:

I thank You for my life, body and soul
Help me realize I am beautiful and whole
I am perfect the way I am and a little broken too
I will live each day as a gift I give to You

These words paint the picture of everyone every day. Each one of us has a unique body, soul, and lifestyle. We should not shy away from being unique, as it is what makes us individuals. In the second line, we are humbled when asking for assistance from our friends and loved ones to recognize that our full potential is already within. We are whole – spiritually and physically.  “I am perfect the way I am and a little broken too.” Building on this sense of wholeness, we may have personal shortcomings that we feel need repairing, but it is important to realize that we are all perfect because of our imperfections.  Having the knowledge to see who we are and know that we have the ability to better ourselves every day is such a gift. 

I invite you to take the time to appreciate the everyday and to seek out the blessings in yourselves.  Pause from the noise and breathe a deep breath, and then open your eyes to the miracles around you. 

We Remember and Give Honor

We Remember and Give Honor

Rabbi’s Message – November 10, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

One of the most moving speakers I’ve heard at Temple Israel was Pastor Chris Edmonds, who has twice shared the incredible story of his father, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, and his organization “Roddie’s Code.”  The message never gets old, only more important.  In this matrix of time, today we stand between remembering the events that signify the beginning of the Holocaust and honoring veterans who served our country, it is only appropriate for us to recall this inspirational story.  His father’s courage to say “we are all Jews here” has been featured in GI Jews and in Pastor Edmond’s 2019 book “No Surrender: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier’s Extraordinary Courage in the Face of Evil,” in which he shares the story of his father’s brave choice to risk his life to save those of the Jewish U.S. infantrymen in the final days of WWII.  

As we give honor to all those who have served our country in war or in peace, we appreciate all who sacrificed and put their own lives on the line to uphold our freedom and dignity.   We especially give thanks for their role in liberating prisoners from the death camps at the end of WWII.  I invite us all to take some time to ourselves to reflect on Master Sergeant Edmond’s heroic story.  Thank you to all our veterans who have served to ensure freedom and democracy.  

If you are interested in watching GI Jews, you may do so through Amazon (or other platforms) and if you would like to learn more about Roddie’s Code and Pastor Edmond’s No Surrender, be sure to look at his website. 

Seeking Peace Amidst the Disagreements

Learning from the Past & Hopeful for Our Future

Rabbi’s Message – November 3, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Twenty-five years ago I was living in Jerusalem when a hate-fueled political atmosphere became deadly.  On November 4, 1995 Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated not by one of Israel’s enemies, but by another Israeli.  Though I was young, I realized that hate from within the country would be as devastating to the Jewish people as hate from others. 

I wish I could say there has been great healing in the years that have passed, but the level of animosity between factions still runs high.  Most recently, concerns over the Coronavirus pandemic have led to especially inflammatory arguments. 

I caught a glimpse of hope a few weeks ago, however, when Israeli MKs agreed that the atmosphere was not in keeping with the Jewish value of respectful dialogue.  They brought forward a “Mutual Respect Charter” and signed this pact hoping that Israeli elected officials could begin to disagree from a position of mutual respect.  The Charter will encourage them to find ways to work together despite significant differences of opinion.  

I am cautiously optimistic that peaceful discourse may be possible.  Not just in Israel, but here at home where we see unbelievable levels of political aggression.  Normally the end of a challenging election brings relief and hope for our country to reunite. But we are so  fractured that it feels “agreeing to disagree” is a thing of the past.    There is real fear that election day will divide us even more.  In the days to come, I hope that our elected officials recognize, as they did in Israel, that it will be most important to find mutual respect.   We will be looking to them to ensure a peaceful transition of power.  And when political rivals lead the way, it inspires us to show respect for everyone, even those with whom we disagree.

On this election night and eve of the 25th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, I pray that we will renew our commitment to seek peace in our communities, our country, and our world.  

Moving Forward on a Narrow Bridge

Moving Forward on a Narrow Bridge

Rabbi’s Message – October 27, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

As with other tragic moments in our communal history, we will all remember where we were when we heard about the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre.  It was a haunting reminder that we remain a target of hatred in a world where hate crimes gain traction.  This was too close.  Too personal.  Too real.

I am sure we all remember hearing about or experiencing antisemitism in past generations.  I grew up feeling grateful that I did not have to live in such a world.  As I grew up, Jews were no longer barred from certain fraternities, hospitals, neighborhoods, country clubs and the like.  Nobody ever threw pennies at my feet or called me hateful names on the way to or from school.  Blatent antisemitism was much less tolerated. Until now.  I may not have grown up in a world with Father Charles Couglin, but we are all living through a time with Stormfront and other expressions of white supremacy.   

I saw my first swastika when I travelled to Poland on the March of the Living in 1992 and even more that summer when I travelled to Germany with my high school symphonic band. Today, we don’t have to leave our country to find swastikas. In New York City in 2018, 150 out of 189 hate crimes featured swastikas.[58] 

But rising numbers of antisemitic and violent hate crimes did not prepare me for the emotional toll of the Tree of Life massacre.  Antisemitism may have become less in vogue over the years, but it continues to foment in the dark recesses of the online world and behind closed doors.  And now this hateful rhetoric has emerged with growing violence, as we have seen in Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, Monsey, Poway, and beyond. 

To deny the real threat of antisemitism today would be foolish.  But to live in constant fear of violence is equally irresponsible.  True living is about holding these two extremes in constant balance while working to make the fractured world more whole and at peace.

To do so takes strength of character.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav very famously wrote a piece often translated as:  

“The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the essential thing is not to fear at all.” It is hard to imagine not fearing at all.  Which is why I prefer his writing from Likutei Moharan (II:48), in which he expressed this idea differently.  It is translated: “When a person must cross an exceedingly narrow bridge, the general principle and the essential thing is not to frighten yourself at all.”

At this time when we are reminded of the many narrow bridges we must walk upon toward a life of meaning, I hope that we can look within ourselves, to one another, and to God for the strength to move forward, in spite of all we know of the world’s dangers.

Choosing Gratitude in the Storm

Rabbi’s Message – October 20, 2020

 

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

We are all familiar with the story of the flood.  In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Noach, we learn about God’s anger at humankind and God’s decision to start over.  God chose Noah and his family to build an ark for themselves and all the animals that would repopulate the world.  The idea of being stuck on an ark in the midst of a flood with only family and animals, used to sound harrowing to me.  Yet now, I imagine for those who have been cooped up at home throughout this pandemic, it doesn’t sound half bad.  

 
In this week’s portion we are taught that Noah was chosen because he was righteous in his generation.  This is to say that among those who were living, he was the best they could find.  Unfortunately, that was not such a compliment and we see in this section that Noah was really only looking out for himself.  He was more concerned with his own family’s protection than he was with trying to protect the lives of other human beings.  I’ve thought about this before, but there is one aspect of this that I am looking at differently this week. After reading a midrash by Elie Wiesel (in Sages and Dreamers), I am thinking of the guilt Noah must be feeling when he emerges from the ark and sees that he did nothing to prevent this loss of life.   He takes on a new identity – that of the survivor.  
 
Wiesel wrote about Noah: 
 
“Imagine what he must have felt as he walked ashore and discovered the empty, devastated land.  He must have looked for familiar ground, vantage points, cities of light and life, dwelling places and their sounds.  He knew that they had vanished, still he went on looking for them.
 
Then he was confronted by a choice: anger or gratitude.  He chose gratitude.  He offered thanks to heaven…As a survivor, the first, he chose gratitude rather than bitterness: the special gratitude of the survivor….”
 
There is a lot going on in our lives right now. Most of us are still on board our “ships” with our families, riding out the storm. Going through this pandemic has been disruptive.  It has tossed all of our plans overboard and the waves of sadness and confusion continually ebb and flow.  Our choices and decisions continue to be difficult, many times affecting not only ourselves, but those around us.  And there are still several months ahead of us before we even begin to see what normalcy looks like.  Yet, it is not too early to think about how we might choose to respond.  I invite you to look around and identify something you are grateful for right now. It’s easy to see the bitterness and destruction like Noah initially did, but choose to find the good.  Whether it is celebrating the joy of your family, your friends, your pets, or something else, if we change our mindset in the midst of the chaos, the calm will be that much sweeter when it comes. We will rebuild this world together and find familiar ground once again.
 
Looking for a way to calm your mind?  Check out Grant Halasz’s Meditative Song Session for soothing melodies and harmonies from our tradition.

Setting Boundaries

Setting Boundaries

Rabbi’s Message – October 13, 2020

Rabbi Tina Sobo

This week, Jews across the world begin reading the Torah anew, with Parashat Bereshit, the very beginning of Genesis.  There is something about this portion that always strikes me as we read its words, and that is how God creates the world in the first chapter.  While we think of God creating the world in seven days, there are a series of acts of separation.  God separates light from darkness, sky from earth, land from water – God creates the boundaries of the world and puts everything in its place.  Then on the seventh day, God creates a boundary of time – holy time, Shabbat – from the mundane days of the work week.  Then we enter into the narrative with Adam and Eve and find that one of the first human actions is to cross a boundary and eat from the Tree of Knowledge.  As we enter into this year of 5781, I see this notion of boundaries as something that has been especially challenging in our pandemic world.  For many, who have found themselves working (or studying) from home, the lines between work and home are blurred.  It feels counter to everything about the rabbinate to not greet congregants with a hug or handshake, especially at their most vulnerable moments, but we all have an awareness of how far 6 feet is more than we did a year ago.  

Our Jewish tradition loves to put everything in neat little boxes (and then argue about what you can and can’t do with the contents of that box).  And yet, in 2020, all of our boxes seem to have been tossed in the air, mixed up, and/or spilled out.  So as we read about God taking the tohu va’vohu – the gloopy mess of our pre-“created” world and taking careful steps to bring order to the chaos, perhaps, as we enter this New Year, we too can start to bring some order to the chaos that 2020 has brought, and find the boundaries, physical, temporal, or spiritual that we need in our lives.  

Marking the Time: A Personal Reflection

Marking the Time: A Personal Reflection

Rabbi’s Message – October 6, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

So many core memories become associated with time markers, but marking the passage of time in 2020 has been challenging.  Key moments have changed: family seders, graduation parties, end of school picnics, summers by the pool or at summer camp, school supplies shopping, birthday parties, and break-the-fast gatherings.  It has even been hard to know what month it is, because so little has changed in how we have been living since March.  Indeed, we all need “days of the week” t-shirts just to keep us on schedule.  

But, this week, I found myself unusually conscious of the days and times of the year.  You see, tomorrow Jonah turns 11.  While it will not resemble most of our birthday celebrations with family and friends in the past, it feels more like his birthday to me than any of the others that have come before. 

Jonah’s birthday has always been tied to Sukkot. In 2009, on a Friday, five days after we read the story of Jonah on Yom Kippur, we entered into Sukkot. By Saturday night our Sukkah was decorated and ready to enjoy, and on Sunday, following religious school, our congregation kindly hosted a baby shower in my honor.  But the next morning, Monday, October 5, I entered the hospital with pregnancy complications and Jonah was born on the evening of Wednesday, October 7, or the 20th of Tishri.  We remained in the hospital until after Simchat Torah.  

Since then, Jonah’s birthday hasn’t fallen over Sukkot, except in 2017.  And it has felt very strange each year to mark Jonah’s entrance into the world without it.  During Sukkot, we, as a family, remind each other about the year Scott worked so hard to put up our sukkah but nobody was able to dwell in it.   But for the first time in 2020, time is being marked in a way that feels normal and natural to me.  Everything completely aligns and the calendars are in synch. And it brings me true joy in this “zman simchateinu” (time of our rejoicing) to be able to sit as a family and celebrate Jonah’s birthday under the stars of our sukkah.  There is comfort in finding something eternal within such an ephemeral year.

Perhaps this is the meaning of Sukkot for me this year. When we read from Kohelet, Ecclesiastes, we are reminded that everything we are concerned about is temporal.  This year, we have seen how many of the things we believed were steadfast in our world have become as tenuous as the walls of our sukkahs.  But what ultimately remains eternal is our relationship with God and our appreciation of the many gifts we enjoy every day, especially at a time when we have been focusing on what has been taken away. Hold your family close, focus on the beauty that is all around you, and keep making memories, whatever day of the week it happens to be.  (And let me know if you need a t-shirt to remind you.)

 

Our High Holidays

Our High Holidays

Rabbi’s Message – September 29, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

As we reflect on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there are so many things to be thankful for and I am so proud of our community.  First, thank you to all of our congregants who participated in making these holidays so meaningful by filling it with your talent, as well as your fun and friendly faces.

 
Second, thank you to the creative teams of the Imprint Group DMC for their masterful work on producing our services and to The Ohlmann Group for their spectacular Welcome Video. Special thanks to Monika Shroyer and Beth Styles for helping us sound so good and a shout out to Andy Snow, as well, for his generosity of time and expertise.
 
Third, a heartfelt thank you goes to our Temple Israel senior staff team and our incredible families that have supported us. Rabbi Tina Sobo, Courtney Cummings, Grant Halasz, and Suzanne Shaw – this could never have happened without your many talents and gifts. Nobody could ever know just how large of a task it has been getting us to this moment.  Thank you also to our support staff – Ellen Finke-McCarthy, Annette Stogdill, and Scott Francis.  

 
Even though these holidays are behind us, the content we shared and created together over the last several days is still available.  If you have not yet watched our Welcome Video, please take a few minutes to share in our joy of this season with the special greetings of our community members at https://services.tidayton.org.  If you have not checked out the supplemental Torah and Haftarah readings and translations, please do so. And be sure to take a moment to listen to the Yom Kippur Afternoon Haftarah translation of Jonah, by Saul and Nathan Caplan. (It is fantastic and no Yom Kippur feels complete without that story.)  You may also revisit the healing service from Yom Kippur afternoon, our sermons from both holidays, and the special musical video productions with the choir.
 
As we see Sukkot and Simchat Torah on the horizon, we look forward to continuing our holiday celebrations with you.  Sukkot Services will be LIVE from home this Friday evening at 6:00 p.m. on Zoom.  To celebrate the joy of this season and see each other again in person, we are hosting a Sukkot & Simchat Torah Drive-Thru Experience on Friday, October 9 from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m.  You will have a chance to drive through a large sukkah and fulfill the mitzvah of shaking the lulav and etrog, pick up a few goodies, return borrowed prayer books, drop off food donations, be serenaded by our Rabbinic Intern, Grant Halasz, and more.  The Rosh Hashanah Drive-Thru was such a success – you don’t want to miss this experience.     
 
L’shanah tovah tikateivu v’techatemu – May you be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year.

High Holidays During the Covid-19 Pandemic

New Year & New Online Platform

Rabbi’s Message – September 15, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

For the last few months we have all been wondering what High Holidays would look like in a pandemic.  A lot of dreaming and hard work since the spring have culminated into an immersive holiday experience.  And I’m excited to unveil the fruits of our labor – today!  

I realize that nothing can substitute for in-person services.  Nothing beats the real thing.  Yet we hope you will come away with a sense of renewal and even satisfaction for having navigated what it means to engage in this ancient ritual in 2020.  We hope to provide you with the most accessible, reliable, and spiritually uplifting opportunities to share our familiar and iconic Temple Israel High Holiday moments together. 

Our High Holidays will be hosted at http://services.tidayton.org, a custom page accessible from our Temple Israel website.  It is just like walking in our front doors and taking your seat.  The page is essentially your virtual Great Hall, complete with shout outs from some of your favorite ushers and familiar faces!

Once you enter, everything else will be taken care of for you.  Are you missing a prayer book?  No problem, just click on the red link next to that service.  Need to join a Zoom room for Children’s Services?  Just click the children’s services tab and explore your options.

All of our regular services will be live streamed.  This means that at 7:30 p.m. this Friday, you will simply need to go to the website and click the PLAY button on the image in front of you.  If you have any trouble, we have an online technician ready to answer your questions.  You will also be able to access all types of supplemental resources, including a beautiful Rosh Hashanah Seder crafted by Judy Heller and Rita Dushman Rich.  We will continue to add service highlights, extra worship opportunities, and supplemental materials that you can access on demand.  

Feel free to cater your experience to your own needs.  If you prefer to pray from the comfort of your living room, take a moment to learn how to “cast” the webpage onto your Smart TV.  If you wish to be surrounded by the voices and faces of your friends and loved ones, start your own Zoom room to simultaneously participate in services.  You can even do it with out of town friends and family!  Now is the time to start preparing for Friday if you haven’t already.  Check out the webpage, buy your fruits and vegetables for a Rosh Hashanah Seder, and make sure your loved ones know how to participate with you.  

I look forward to wishing all of you a happy New Year on Thursday and Friday for our Rosh Hashanah Drive Thru Experience! 

Shanah Tovah.