History and Memory – Rabbi Bodney-Halasz’s Message for April 6, 2021

History and memory are not the same.  Some have described history as “something that happened to someone else in the past,” and memory as “what happened to me in the past.”  This week we observe Yom Hashoah VeHagevurah, “Day of (Remembrance of) the Holocaust and the Bravery.”  When remembering the Holocaust, there are elements of both history and memory.  It simultaneously feels deeply personal as well as unifying for the Jewish community.  As a group we give honor to historical events and individuals that we ourselves may not have experienced or known.  Yet, in many ways we identify personally with these dark times.  Perhaps because of a letter we hold from a grandparent with the names of their relatives we never had the opportunity to meet.  Or candlesticks or chanukiot we use for our own candles that originated in Europe.  It saddens me that we have fewer and fewer relatives and community members left to offer firsthand memories of the Holocaust; but I feel fortunate that those survivors feel compelled to share their personal stories and lessons with us.  Whether we are Jews by birth or Jews by choice, the Holocaust plays an important role in our personal sense of Jewish identity.   These up-close encounters with the past help us to internalize and incorporate these powerful experiences into our own personal understanding of Holocaust.  

It is important that when we contemplate the personal meaning of Yom Ha-Shoah Ve-Hagevurah we recognize its intentional placement on the Jewish calendar.  Not only does it occur in the month that coincides with the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but it takes places within our period of counting the Omer, marking the days between Passover and Shavuot.  This is a time when we, like the Israelites, pass through the lowest and highest spiritual moments of Jewish living. The Israelites spent their time in the desert trying to release themselves of painful memories of slavery while preparing to accept the Torah and find redemption.  Jews today seek meaning in the journey from the horror of the Shoah to the high point of celebration on Yom Ha-Atzmaut, Israeli Independence Day.  We, too, are asked to grapple with the complexity of Jewish sovereignty as we continue to work toward redemption.  

During this week of self and communal reflection, I encourage us all to think deeply about the role of the Holocaust in our own lives.  How does it influence our identity with the Jewish community?  How does it offer perspective?  How does it help us to weigh answers to difficult questions in the present?  How will we pass all of this on to the next generation in a way that will feel both communal and personal?

Perhaps one of these two opportunities to commemorate the day will help us to discover those answers.

This Sunday at 4 pm the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton offers us the opportunity to hear from our community Holocaust survivors.  Register here.

And on Thursday, April 8, at 10 a.m., we have the opportunity to virtually walk the 3.2 kms between Auschwitz and Birkenau with survivors of the camps and the March of the Living.  Register for this experience.

 

The Egg, the Matzah Ball, and Water

Change in the Face of Adversity: The egg, the matzah ball, and water

Rabbi’s Message – April 23, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

Last year, 30 people gathered on Zoom for the Passover Seder.  In our household, Matt, the kids, and I attempted to navigate Zoom with Matt’s siblings and their children.  It was not the finest Seder of my life.  In fact, I was disappointed to be holed up at home, so accustomed to large holiday gatherings.  And now, here we are a year later, and my Seder is going to look just about the same – just Matt, the kids, and I, probably with some family on Zoom.  

Except, this year, it’s different because we knew it was coming.  This year, there are a vast number of digital resources, and using video conferencing software is an old trick for many at this point.  In culling through those digital resources, I found this one from The Blue Dove Foundation, which provides a mental health framework for Passover classics.  In this article, one thing that stands out is the description of the egg on the seder plate: “It’s traditional to roast or char the egg, leading to a fun interpretation – an egg, just like us, is resilient!  The hotter the flame, the tougher we get.  We aren’t weakened by struggle; we overcome it and become stronger.”  This interpretation reminded me of the lesson about what happens to a potato, an egg, and coffee beans when exposed to boiling water.  The potato – the biggest and strongest of them, becomes the weakest.  The egg, hardens, becoming perhaps stronger, as Blue Dove Foundation suggests, and the coffee beans, they change the water.  

We all respond to adversity in our ways, whether it be slavery in Egypt, a pandemic, or some other challenge. This Passover, the egg on the plate can remind us of how we can be strengthened by challenges – even if we get a little charred on the outside.  But maybe we don’t always become stronger, and that’s okay.  I also think of the matzah ball, that when cooked, becomes soft (and delicious), – unlike its unboiled original version.  Exposure to the hot water has changed not only the matzah ball, but the water around it has also become different.  What was once just plain water has become infused with the flavors of chicken and vegetables through the process of cooking and becoming soup.  The matzah ball and its environment have been forever changed.  And maybe we too, in facing adversity, changed the situation around us instead of ourselves – turning water into soup.  

We may be like the egg, the matzah ball, or the soup – stronger in the face of adversity, slightly softer because of it, or completely changed.  Each of these reactions are a part of who we are as individuals and who we are as a people.  And so, we will sit down this year and tell the story of Passover like we have for thousands of years.  Maybe we will reminisce over the seders that have been and fantasize the seders that might be next year, all the while experiencing the seder that is.  It’ll be different, but after all, isn’t Passover all about being different than other nights? 

One Year Later

Reflecting on the Last 365 Days

Rabbi’s Message – March 16, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

March 16, 2020:  This was the last day I sat side by side with my colleagues at 130 Riverside Drive. Our closing would be temporary, I thought.  We wanted to be cautious, announcing our reopening after Memorial Day weekend.  A hand drawn calendar stands on an easel in the corner of my office, with plans for a meaningful 2020-2021 fiscal year, filled with learning, worship, and gathering.  As I collected my resources to take home with me, I was blessed by an unexpected visit from a former student, who reflected on her life as a young Jewish adult.  A thoughtful token of appreciation still sits on my desk, waiting for me to find the perfect place to hang it.  My heart was filled with hope and uncertainty.  The staff and I began to prioritize the ways in which we could sustain Jewish life in our absence.  Technology was still a bit of a mystery, but were committed to finding ways for congregants to recite names of loved ones for Mi Shebeirach and Kaddish.  We would help meet the urgent needs of congregants and encourage new congregational relationships through a calling committee.  We would increase our communications –TIDBITS would go out twice a week, and be filled with updates from the synagogue, songs of comfort, practical information on how to use technology and order food, and a collection of some of the best virtual programming across the country, including links to congregational services in communities that had been streaming for years.  We would send cards to let our members know we were thinking of them.  We would ensure ways to observe our holidays together, beginning with a virtual second seder.  

March 16, 2021: Today, I sit here in my home office, stepping away from what has proven to be the largest conference of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), with emails coming in from rabbinic school classmates for virtual class dinner and notifications from Google Sheets about calls reported from our incredible Caring Committee.  We will surpass having made more than 1650 calls by the time I finish writing.  I am surrounded by video equipment – a boom mic, bright lights, and second computer screen. There is a report by my side showing that over the past 365 days we have gained 148 new YouTube subscribers, uploaded 83 videos, had almost 3,100 views, and more than 155 watch hours on our YouTube channel.  My Ring doorbell informs me that my produce has arrived on my doorstep, joining another box filled with shampoo and parmesan cheese.  My phone dings to remind me to report any side effects after my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. This life hardly resembles the one I inhabited a year ago.  

As I take this moment to reflect I am filled with many emotions and healthy tears. 

Sadness, Loss, and Pain:
For lives ravaged by Covid-19, taken too soon and without loved ones 
For families forced to mourn without the comfort of community and ancient ritual
For the postponement of weddings, B’nai Mitzvah, graduations, and baby namings 
For individuals living in solitude
For my own struggles in learning to balance congregational responsibilities with the need to care for and educate my own children 
For the moments spent with you this past year, especially at times of mourning, when I could not hold your hand, offer a hug, or just sit together and be present with you

Gratitude and Appreciation:
For the teachers and caregivers who have gone above and beyond to keep our children healthy and provide them with a sense of normalcy
For the medical professionals and frontline workers who have had to risk their own health and wellbeing to serve the needs of the community 
For those who have reached out to check on others, including me, and helped sustain a sense of community
For community leaders who continue to make difficult decisions on our behalf
For my husband, my children, and my family who fill my heart with joy and love
For scientific and technological advancements that have saved millions of hearts and souls 
For an amazing team of co-workers who support one another and excel in their jobs
For the email that came across my screen today to announce that as of Friday, anyone over the age of 40 may be vaccinated, together with those who suffer from cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, heart disease and obesity.
For a light at the end of the tunnel

I hope you will also take a moment and reflect on this past year and allow yourself the space to feel all the feelings, cry all the tears, and express joy for surviving this year.  

To this effort I offer both a prayer and a poem. The Shehechiyanu, thanking God for allowing us to reach this moment, and Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Miracle of Morning,” which reminds us that “like light, we can’t be broken, even when we bend.” 

Temple Israel Information During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Temple Israel Information During the Covid-19 Pandemic

For centuries, synagogues have played a central role as places of holy gathering, learning, prayer and service.  Our Sages teach there comes a time when the Jewish community is confronted with sha’at had’chak, an hour of duress, when lives and safety are at risk and the kehillah must adjust accordingly. Traditionally, sha’at had’chak occurred when Jews, specifically, were threatened. But the moment in which we find ourselves is not limited to Jews or synagogues, nor even Americans or Israelis. The spread of COVID-19 is a global crisis, and our faith demands of us that we stand now as citizens of the world.

We have assembled a team of congregational leaders and staff to develop and periodically review policies to ensure that we can maintain our essential functions in a safe and responsible manner. This group communicates regularly and makes necessary adjustments to our policies in response to current developments of the pandemic and the latest advice from public health organizations.  Under the current guidelines, the following policies have been implemented:

  • Friday night Shabbat services and Saturday morning Torah study will convene virtually.  Join our services via Zoom and email franwr@gmail.com for Torah study Zoom link.
  • No in-person services will be held.
  • All programming, including religious school, will be virtual until further notice.  Check our calendar for the most up to date information.
  • Temple Israel administrative offices will be open during limited hours for essential work only.

Meetings of the synagogue, such as committee meetings – particularly those of larger groups – will be held remotely via telephone or video conference. Check the calendar or check with the chair of the committee for more information.

We recognize that “social distancing” makes it difficult to accomplish the rich community-building to which we aspire at Temple Israel. These are temporary measures to deal with the situation at hand. We will need to find new ways to express our appreciation for and support of one another. When possible we will use technology to bridge the divide.

Rabbis Bodney-Halasz and Sobo remain available to anyone who is in need of pastoral care. In addition, our congregation continues to think through how best to support our most vulnerable members through this crisis. Please contact Rabbi Bodney-Halasz at rabbi@tidayton.org if you wish to be part of that conversation. 

During this “hour of duress,” may we continue to hold each other from afar, and may the bonds of friendship that unite our Temple Israel family continue to grow even as we endure this difficult congregational, national and global moment.

For specific information about Covid-19, please visit our resources page.  

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.
 
 

 

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.