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.

When Fasting is Actually a Sin

When Fasting is Actually a Sin

Rabbi’s Message – September 22, 2020

Rabbi Tina Sobo

To fast or not to fast?  

Perhaps the most well-known Yom Kippur custom is that of fasting.  The tradition is based on the command in Leviticus 16:29 to afflict our souls, and in the Mishnah Yoma 8:1: “On Yom HaKippurim it is forbidden to eat, to drink, to wash, to anoint oneself, to put on sandals (leather), or to have intercourse…”  

While fasting is an “iconic” Yom Kippur practice, not eating or drinking is one of several actions we refrain from on this Holy Day. For me as a rabbi, the essence of these “afflictions” is that we are rising above our most basic urges that lead to physical pleasure, in order to focus on the spiritual dimension of our being.

For some, that grumbling stomach is part of the Yom Kippur experience.  For others, it isn’t.  You’ve heard us saying throughout the pandemic that Judaism holds life, and the preservation and protection of life, as one of our highest values.  Fortunately, in the Mishnah, there are explicit exceptions to fasting for those who are ill or recently married, among others.

If, in any way, refraining from food and drink is not healthy for you, Judaism REQUIRES you to eat and/or drink on this day.  If a medical expert has given someone advice to eat, and they go against that advice, then that person is considered to have sinned, not to be pious.  Whether one is pregnant, seriously ill, has a chronic condition like diabetes or an eating disorder, has medication that needs to be taken with food/water, or something else – fasting is not an option, and you aren’t getting any brownie points with God for attempting to do so.

So, for those, like myself, who are forbidden by Jewish law to fast, this year (or any year), what can we do?  Remember, the essence of this practice is to focus on the spiritual.  There may well be other things on the list above that one can refrain from.  We can still attend services and focus on our spiritual selves, even while having a snack or meal in between (or during, if needed).  We can still practice serious self-reflection.  We can still find words of prayer in our own hearts.  We can still… do almost everything else related to Yom Kippur.

But we eat.  And here’s my advice.  Take some time this week to think about what it is that your body requires.  Call your doctor if you need to.  The year I had Gestational Diabetes, pre-made all my meals and snacks and I set a reminder on my phone to eat them and test my sugar levels, so that I didn’t have to put mental energy into counting carbs or remembering when it was time to test.  For children, maybe skip a snack and dessert (with permission from your grown-ups).  For anyone, perhaps you skip your favorite foods that day.  But the bottom line is this: Eat what you are supposed to eat; do not eat what you are not supposed to eat, and may our eating be a prayer in and of itself, as a service to God while we protect our bodies and health.

ReformJudaism.org offers this prayer and mediation for this who cannot fast.

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.

Tech Solutions for a Better High Holiday Experience at Home

Enhancing Your Viewing Experience – September 8,2020

Most of you will be participating in our High Holiday services from home on devices like iPhones, iPads, Androids, and laptops. We recommend that you connect your device to your large screen TV for the best possible experience. Here’s how to do it:
 
Method 1
Get an adapter that connects your device to HDMI. These are readily available on Amazon for about $20 or less. This is the most surefire, cheapest, low-tech way to get the job done. Just google “(type of your device) adapter TV.”  Here’s a video on how to do it, once you have the HDMI cable and the appropriate adapter cable for your device.  
 
Method 2
Use a device like an Apple TV, a Chromecast, or an Amazon Fire Stick to connect wirelessly. Chromecast and Amazon Fire cost between $30 and $50. Apple TV is more expensive, about $150.  Here is a video that covers these steps as well as the first one listed.  
 
 
Detailed information about how to access our live-streaming services will be available soon.  Stay tuned!
 
If you or someone you know will not have internet access during the High Holidays to participate in services, please contact Rabbi Bodney-Halasz at rabbi@tidayton.org.  We will work to find a solution for everyone.  Wishing you all a joyous new year.

Marion’s Seat

Marion’s Seat

Rabbi’s Message – September 8, 2020

Rabbi Tina Sobo

In the congregation where I once attended, it was well-known that the second row back, second seat in, on the Cantor’s side was Marion’s seat, with her prayerbook, dedicated in memory of her late-husband, tucked in the seat back pocket. If you’d been to services at least once before, she’d ask you to move – if you were a visitor, you usually got a free pass. “She knows where to find me,” Marion would say of God – always emphasizing the ‘she’ while pointing up above. Every Friday night, every holiday – that’s where you would find her.  I have thought quite a bit about Marion and her seat lately, while preparing my own home for service-leading during this pandemic.

Perhaps one of the hardest challenges of this High Holidays will be that we are missing our “seats” – up front and center or tucked away in the back with a little more space and quiet or someplace in-between.  We will be missing our space in the Great Hall and Sanctuary at Temple Israel, but how can we create a space at home where God will find us, and we will find God?

Will you relish in the comfy armchair? Squish together with family on the couch? Sit in an office chair? Still dress up, or secretly smirk, knowing you are still in PJ pants? Will you take the day off of work or school as usual, or stream services in the background? Will you sneak that Yom Kippur snack, when you usually fast; or perhaps, finally not feel self-conscious about sneaking that snack because your blood sugar deems you must not fast? Will young children be at school or daycare, or will they hear the iconic melodies for the first time because it doesn’t matter if they are loud and squirmy? Will your dinner table feel emptier this year, void of guests; or adorned with a tablet while eating with family or friends from across the country on Zoom? Will you use the online flipbook for the liturgy, or a physical machzor, or maybe just listen?  

The short answer, which I always had to bite my tongue from saying to Marion, is that God will find us wherever we are, however we are dressed, however we are positioned, and even if you sneak a game of solitaire or some text messaging in during services. But, we won’t find God in the same ways depending on our personal answers. There are no right answers. PJ pants might be more comfortable than the itchy suit, or might make it easier to doze off – only you know yourself, but take the time to consider your sanctuary for these days.  What do you need to create a holy place where you can find a connection to God, to Israel, to the holidays, and more?

Need some help creating a holy space in your home?  Read these suggestions and blessings from ReformJudaism.org.

Looking Ahead and Staying Connected

Looking Ahead and Staying Connected

Rabbi’s Message – August 25, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

When Ohio’s “Stay at Home” order began, none of us knew how long it would last or what impact it would have on our congregation and community.  What we did know was that our community needed to recite Kaddish and hear the names of loved ones recited aloud for Yartzheit and Mi Shebeirach healing prayers. Out of our commitment to meeting that urgent need, we immediately increased the frequency of our email communication.   We began sending TIDBITS on Fridays as well as Tuesdays.  This enabled us to provide information and videos specific to Shabbat.  We have continued this for the past five months, but the situation is changing and evolving.  For instance, many of us are no longer in quarantine, we have several ongoing Zoom activities, and we are streaming weekly Shabbat services via YouTube.  I am proud of the rich content and unique opportunities Temple provided during this challenging time.  Though we are still very much in the thick of this Covid-19 pandemic, Temple will return to our pre-pandemic level of communications beginning in September.  The TIDBITS you receive on Tuesdays will contain all of the information you will need to access Shabbat services and study, as well as the regular content you have become accustomed to.  We will no longer send out a Shabbat Edition TIDBITS after this week. 

As we look to the fall Holidays, we promise to keep you informed on all that is happening.  Returning to a once-a-week TIDBITS will not make it any more difficult to tune in for the High Holidays.  The September Temple Tablet and Dayton Jewish Observer will include many details and our website will be kept up to date.  The most important thing for you to know at this point is that all of the High Holy Day services and resources will be available through our www.tidayton.org website.  You will not need to learn any new technology to participate, unless you choose to “cast” or “present” the service onto a larger screen.  Our goal is to keep everything as simple and user-friendly as possible.  You can expect to see content about holidays on the website and on our Facebook page in the next week or two.
 
Thank you for supporting and living the Jewish value of pikuach nefesh (saving a life) during these last five months.  May we all go from strength to strength.
 
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Taking a Stand, Making a Statement

Taking a Stand, Making a Statement

Temple Israel is committed to social justice for all people.  We firmly stand with all of our brothers and sisters in the fight against hate, bigotry, and racism in all forms.  This sign (pictured in this post), now standing out front of Temple’s driveway, will help serve as a reminder to the community of our Jewish values of tzedek (righteousness) and gemilut chasadim (loving kindness)for we are all created B’tzelem Elohim – in God’s image.

Is social justice your passion?  Would you like to help work for change in our community and beyond?  Contact Temple’s office at 937.496.0050 for more details on how you can get involved.  Together we can make a difference.