Choosing Our Destiny

The Choices We Make

Rabbi’s Message – January 19, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

This week we read from Parashat Bo, where we complete the narrative of the plagues in Egypt and receive the commandment to celebrate Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the future.  (The Red Sea crossing happens in next week’s portion.)  In this generally well-known story, there are two verses that stand out, and are not usually part of the retelling.  Just before the final plague, God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to “borrow” from their neighbors’ objects of silver and gold and that God would dispose the Egyptians favorably to them (Exo 11:2-3).  While seemingly out of place, Rabbi Reuven Greenvald in Reform Judaism’s commentary gives us some additional insight.  He points out that in early liberated life, the Israelites would need a little money to get started.  Some commentators attribute these verses as laying the groundwork to explain where the Israelites got precious metals from to erect the tabernacle and the Golden Calf.  Continuing his commentary, Rabbi Greenvald focuses on the relationship between these actions and the plague that follows.  But, if we look at the Israelites instead, here they stand on the precipice of a new life of freedom, with these precious metals in their hands, and a choice about what to do with them.  We know, as Rabbi Greenvald reminds us, that some of those materials will be used to make the Golden Calf – for purposes that are not ultimately to the benefit of the community.  We also learn that some of them will be used for the most sacred of uses – the service of God.  And I’m sure some were used for more mundane purposes as well.  

Life is full of transitions.  (We have talked about them a lot lately.)  The turning of the year, the upcoming transition of leadership in our country, personal changes and adaptations to our current pandemic life, and the evolving outlook towards hope on stopping this virus – to name a few.  Fortunately, we all have different tools to help us navigate these transitions.  What precious items will we carry with us – material or intangible – to lead us successfully forward?  Will we be like the Israelites who used their precious metals to construct the Tabernacle?  Or is there a Golden Calf in our future?  I will close with words adapted from last week’s blessing of the New Month, which seem particularly apt right now:

Our God and God of our ancestors, may the days ahead bring us goodness and blessing: long life, peace, prosperity, Torah and reverence for the divine, and may the longings of our hearts be fulfilled for good.

Pursuing the Work of Justice

Shabbat Tzedek

Rabbi’s Message – January 12, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

This coming weekend we will honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his efforts in the Civil Rights movement.  We come to this MLK weekend and Shabbat Tzedek, our Justice Shabbat, after many challenges to human dignity and rights have manifested since this time last year.  For me, the call to continue the work of Dr. King has never been stronger to bring peace and unity to our country.  Jewish tradition has long stood to protect the rights of the vulnerable among us.

With Parashat Va-eira, we are at the beginning of our retelling of the Exodus story, and therefore also the numerous reminders in the Torah to protect the orphans, widows, and poor among us because we were slaves in Egypt and know their plight.  These portions of the population were the most vulnerable in their time and we hear these verses today to protect not just these groups, but others that are most vulnerable in society.  

At Rosh Hashanah, I preached that we must, during this pandemic, remember that we are all in the same storm of the current situation, but we are not all in the same boats.  Some boats are better able to withstand the storm than others.  There are many storms around us, and just because my boat is doing well, does not mean that I don’t have a duty to help others weather the storm as well.  We are now deeper into the pandemic experience than we were when I spoke those words.  We have seen more acts of racial injustice, actions that endanger the health of others amid the pandemic, and many others.  I sit at my desk, in my warm house, safe from the cold weather, safe from COVID exposure, with the privilege of white skins, food security, financial security, and the support of family.  It would be all too easy to tune out from the news and carry on with my family of five here.  

As we join together with our friends from Omega Baptist Church this weekend, even though we cannot physical sit side by side, it is more important than ever to strengthen our connections with one another and to be each other’s support as we weather the storms of 2021 together.  Please join me on Friday night at 6:30 p.m., via our special Zoom link, as we worship together and hear the sage words of Pastor Joshua Ward, and again on Sunday morning at 10:15 a.m. for the live-streamed worship at Omega, with a sermon delivered by our own Rabbi Bodney-Halasz.

The Story We Tell

The Story We Tell

Rabbi’s Message – January 5, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

Last week Rabbi Bodney-Halasz wrote of the liminal space that we find ourselves in as we entered 2021, and how we might try to open ourselves to new and different possibilities amid the uncertainty of our current situation.  As we begin the book of Exodus this week, I’m always struck by its opening verses.  The first seven verses are extremely short.  They recount the sons of Jacob who went to Egypt and the tally of 70 souls related to him, that fact that Joseph died, and that his progeny were numerous.  All of this in seven verses.  And then, we get the ominous eighth verse: “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.”  

I am surprised that the book didn’t begin here,  as it is the major turning point into the Exodus narrative.  The previous 7 verses fit more at the end of Genesis, which deals with the death of Jacob.  Much like Rabbi wrote last week, with the deaths of Jacob and Joseph, Israel and Egypt find themselves in a liminal state at the transition of leadership.

Rashi and other commentators find this eighth verse to be difficult because there is no account in the Torah that the previous King of Egypt died.   The commentaries suggest that perhaps rather than an actual new king, it is the same king, but he begins acting as if he has forgotten Joseph and his legacy.  

As we navigated 2020, our lives changed.  Maybe in a few months, and after a couple vaccine shots, we will find ourselves in a new chapter.   God-willing, 2021 will be a much more “normal” year than 2020.  When we go to tell the story of these years, will we be like the Torah that begins the narrative by remembering the past, or more like the Pharaoh who forgot (or acted like he forgot) the past?Can we take pieces of 2020 forward with us to shape a better story for everyone in 2021 or 2022?  

Unlike the commentators’ forgetful Pharaoh, Judaism encourages, and God often commands, that we retell our history.  We recount victorious times like Purim and Passover when we succeeded over an evil force, and we even remember times that we might wish not to emphasize like Amalek, or all the complaining in the wilderness.  Now that we have said goodbye (and good riddance?) to 2020 – how will we tell the story in the years ahead?  Will we record just the bad, just the good, or both? Spoiler: Don’t be Pharaoh.

 

Standing on the Threshold

In Our Liminal Space

Rabbi’s Message – December 29, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

“We plan, God laughs.”

An easel sits in the corner of my office, filled with a year of programing plans. It is as useful as a paperweight today, but it remains to remind me life’s ephemeral nature.  We naturally make assumptions that certain things will always be the same.  2020 challenged this theory and this week we enter 2021 with tentative plans at best.

This pandemic has left us in a constant state of change – a lot of being “in transition.”  We entered what is known as “liminal space;” we crossed the threshold into a period of intense transition and “becoming.”  While the term “liminal space” may identify physical areas like stairwells and lobbies, it also represents the span of time between major parts of our lives.  It is the place between “what was” and “what will be,” and it is uncomfortable.

Father Richard Rohr, author of Falling Upward: A spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, describes liminal space as “when you have left, or are about to leave, the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.” 

This week we complete the book of Genesis and prepare to read Exodus.  We stand between the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021.  Our government is transitioning leadership, completing one presidency while simultaneously preparing for another.  People who have received a Covid-19 vaccine are waiting for their second dose.  Others of us are waiting to learn when our first shot will be available.  We are stuck with uncertainty.    

The Torah teaches us that transitions are inevitable.  In this week’s Torah portion Jacob passes his legacy to his children, is gathered to his ancestors, and taken out of Egypt to be buried in the cave of Machpelah.  And then Joseph dies and his bones are brought out of Egypt.  This part of our Joseph story reminds us that we are always in transition – eternally “becoming.”  And it can be both frightening and beautiful.

Father Rohr explains: 

There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks to human life. The first task is to build a strong “container” or identity; the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold.

But we need to leave ourselves open to the changes around us.

The familiar and the habitual are so falsely reassuring, and most of us make our homes there permanently. The new is always by definition unfamiliar and untested, so God, life, destiny, suffering have to give us a push — usually a big one — or we will not go. Someone has to make clear to us that homes are not meant to be lived in — but only to be moved out from…

This is the essence of liminal space.  It puts our identities up for grabs.  It can force us to question all of the areas of our life, including our purpose. Perhaps this is why people are responding so strongly to Disney’s “Soul.” 

Father Rohr tells us:

…we have to allow ourselves to be drawn out of ‘business as usual’ and remain patiently on the ‘threshold’ where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown…This is a good space where genuine newness can begin…It is the realm where God can best get at us because our false certitudes are finally out of the way…

There is something spiritual about being in a situation that is ever changing. As deeply troubling and uncomfortable as things are, it is also a time to find hope and self-efficacy.  My hope is that this uncertainty allows us to open ourselves up to beautiful new things, rediscover the things that matter most to us, and realign our priorities.  Let’s not let it pass us by.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year. 

Moving Forward with Light

Moving Forward with Light

Program Director’s Message – December 22, 2020

Courtney Cummings

The darkest day of the year has passed us.  Starting today, we are officially heading towards days filled with more light.  (Whew!)  My hope is that this additional light in the world will inspire us to focus on bringing light and joy to everyone, especially those in need.   As Jews, we are taught to treat others with dignity and respect and “that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man.” (Hillel)  It seems simple enough.  Treat others with the same kindness you hope to receive.  We all have the power to do good and make this world a better place, one act at a time.  Wondering where to start?  Here is a list of 6 things you can do to make a difference in our Dayton community:

1. Donate Blood – About one in seven people entering a hospital needs blood.  With the increase of hospitalizations due to Covid, this need could be even greater than usual.  Blood donation takes about one hour of your time. When you give blood, it gives someone another smile, another hug, another chance. It is the gift of life.  Find out where you can donate blood.  If you are a first-time donor, learn more about the donation process.

2. Make Mac & Cheese – Yep, that’s right!  Time to get cooking.  Jewish Family Services of Greater Dayton is organizing a Mitzvah Mission on December 25 for St. Vincent de Paul.  One piece of this program is making mac & cheese using a specific recipe.  If you plan to make something or attend the event, be sure to RSVP so they know you are coming.

3. Drop off food at Temple Israel for The Foodbank – For over 40 years, The Foodbank has served as the primary source of food for the hunger relief network in the Miami Valley. The Foodbank – the only one of its kind in the area – relieves hunger in the community through a network of partner agencies by acquiring and distributing food.  Temple Israel is proud to be a drop-off location for those who wish to donate non-perishable items.  In addition, you may drop off items directly to the Foodbank. No one should go hungry, especially during this pandemic.    

4. Donate an item from Dayton Children’s Wish List – Children admitted to Dayton Children’s and their families receive the finest medical treatment, emotional support and loving care available anywhere. But children have other special needs. Your gift of toys, books, games, and activities help brighten a child’s stay at Dayton Children’s. These gift items are used for birthday presents, end-of-treatment gifts and to stock our play and waiting areas.  Shop their Amazon Wish List.  Help bring a smile to a child’s face.  

5. Volunteer at St Vincent de Paul or purchase items from their wishlistSt Vincent de Paul aids the homeless and impoverished by providing emergency shelter, transitional and permanent supportive housing, food, clothing and household items, and guidance to leading a self-sustaining life.  On average, they shelter nearly 400 men, women and children every day. Guests receive clothing, personal items and three meals a day. Donating personal items is a great way to help ensure guests’ needs are met.  Download their needs list and consider a donation, or sign-up to become a volunteer

6. Donate money to Temple Israel – Our rabbis and staff are always here for you.  In addition to our regular programs and services, we provide assistance to those in need in our congregation, as well as ongoing emotional support and spiritual guidance.  Consider a donation to Temple Israel as this year comes to a close, so that we can continue to meet the needs of our community.

In these current times, it is easy for us to think that we can’t make a difference.  We can.  One small gesture can change someone’s day, lift their spirits.  Many acts of kindness can brighten the world.  Together let’s shine as much light as possible.  What are you waiting for?

Office Closure

Temple Israel offices will be closed December 24 – January 1.


warning

Temple Israel administrative offices are closed from December 24 – January 1. If you have an emergency during this time period, please follow the emergency call directions when dialing 937.496.0050.

Shabbat services and Torah study will occur at their usual times. Check the Temple Israel calendar for information and any updates.

Keeping Hope Alive

Keeping Hope Alive

Rabbinic Intern’s Message – December 15, 2020

Rabbinic Intern Grant Halasz

The Hanukkah season is one that has many different lessons. The gift of giving, looking for the light in dark times, the pride of celebrating who we are, and many more. But I think that one of the most valuable, is the lesson of resilience. Especially in a time where we feel like we are only reacting to the ever changing world around us, we must stay strong and keep our heads held high, knowing that there is going to be a sense of normalcy in the world again. Though we may not know when, it will come. 

When thinking about the resilience of the Jewish people the song “When You Believe” by Stephen Schwartz comes to mind. Like most of us, I was first introduced to the song in the animated movie “The Prince of Egypt” where it was sung by Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.  The movie tells the story of our exodus from Egypt, and we hear the song as all of the Jewish slaves in Egypt are fleeing and following Moses toward the Red Sea, and escaping to their freedom. In the song, they talk about how we must keep hope alive, especially in times when it is tested most. 

Like the song says:

In this time of fear
When prayer so often proves in vain
Hope seems like the summer birds
Too swiftly flown away
Yet now I’m standing here
My hearts so full, I can’t explain… 
There can be miracles

When you believe (when you believe)
Though hope is frail
Its hard to kill…
They [miracles] don’t always happen when you ask
And it’s easy to give in to your fears
But when you’re blinded by your pain
Can’t see your way clear through the rain
A small but still, resilient voice
Says hope is very near, oh (oh)

I think that these words describe mindset that a lot of us may be having in our lives at this time. Prayer and belief may seem like it’s fleeting, but we must remember that solutions may not happen exactly when you ask, nor will they happen over night. There must be that small resilient voice that helps us know that we cannot lose hope. As we see in the song, hope may be frail at times, but it is hard to kill. I would argue that it is near impossible to kill. Use this Hanukkah season to keep hope alive, better yet, keep it healthy and thriving. Let the candles that we light every night be a literal symbol of the light at the end of this crazy tunnel that we call the world in 2020. 

Planning for Warmer and Sunnier Days Ahead

Planning for Warmer and Sunnier Days Ahead

Rabbi’s Message – December 8, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

This past Sunday our Religious School was joined by URJ camp directors from GUCI and Six Points specialty camps.  Our URJ camping experts have been hard at work creating safe ways to bring our children back to our Jewish camps.  From my personal experiences as well as from those of families I have guided toward camp over the last 20 years, I know that our URJ camps offer once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for our children to live and love Judaism. 

Because it is hard for us to know what things will look like six months from now, GUCI is offering a bright opportunity for us during this time of Chanukkah.  During these 8 days, parents can save a space for their child at summer camp for only $8.  It is a low-risk deposit that will open up the door to years of growth and lifelong friendships. 

I know that camp is expensive and that the price of the deposit does not cover the fees for the actual program.  Please do not let this deter you from exploring the possibilities.  Both camp and Temple offer camperships and we will do all that we can to try to make camp possible.  Especially this year.   I believe it is all the more important that children who have been isolated over the last several months be given the opportunity to thrive in a safe environment with other children.  I have spent time talking with Jeremy Klotz, the GUCI camp director, who has a background in law (especially risk management!) and I am confident that he will provide a unique and positive camp program with as safe and virus-free an environment as is possible.

If you have any interest in sending your child to camp in 2021, take advantage of this $8 deposit and fill out your application immediately, as spaces are limited.  Wishing us all a bright and blessing-filled Chanukkah.

 

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday

Rabbi’s Message – December 1, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

 
This year has sent us into such unchartered territory, but fortunately, we have been able to weather this storm together as a congregation.   As we continue to navigate these waves of challenges, we can reflect on the ways we have adapted to our new environment.  
 
Our caring committee spearheaded outreach efforts to help alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness.  We also developed new methods to continue meaningful Jewish living as a community.  It was a year of firsts: our first online annual congregational meeting, a “Zoom-Mitzvah,” virtual High Holiday services, and even holiday drive-thru experiences.  Our regular, ongoing programs such as Shabbat worship services, Torah study, and religious school look different, but still evoke the essence of Temple Israel.  While we may be physically separated, we are finding creative ways to lift one another up, increase our connectedness, and grow in our knowledge of Torah.
 
All of these things have only been possible because of members like you who have stepped up your participation and giving.  Your donations directly support the work of our rabbis and staff, and the programs and services that directly impact you, our friends, and our neighbors.  Thank you for your continued generosity even as you, too, have experienced the impact of this pandemic. 
 
Today has been designated as “Giving Tuesday,” which reminds us that we all have gifts to give and every act of generosity, big or small, makes a significant impact.  Please consider lending a helping hand to those most impacted by this pandemic by making a year-end donation to Temple Israel in honor of Giving Tuesday.  Your support will enable us to remain connected through kindness even without physical proximity.  Together we can continue to provide the financial, emotional and social supports that nurture our families and communities. 
 
Every act of giving, big or small, moves us closer in our quest of tikkun olam, repairing the world.  One day the storm will be over, but until then we must walk together in the rain.  Thank you for considering a year-end donation to Temple Israel.
 
May we all go forward in strength and good health.
 
 

 

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.