Women Leading Change

Women Leading Change

Rabbi’s Message – March 9, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Yesterday marked International Women’s Day, a global day set aside to celebrate the achievements of women. In this spirit, I’d like to share the names of two remarkable Jewish women who are changing our world for the better. They are Lead Attorney Roberta Kaplan and Amy Spitalnick, Executive Director of Integrity First for America (IFA). These women represent a group of individuals who suffered directly as a result of the Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville, VA in August of 2017. The organization that supports these efforts, the IFA, is a nonpartisan non-profit dedicated to defending democratic norms and the civil rights of every American.

Kaplan and Spitalnick have been successful thus far in their groundbreaking federal lawsuit, Sines v. Kessler, that seeks to hold accountable the neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other far-right extremists who conspired to orchestrate that weekend of violence.  By taking on both individuals and groups in this civil lawsuit, they hope to bankrupt the movements, undermine their ability to operate, de-platform them, and show others that people who conspire to perpetrate violent hate acts will be held accountable.  This lawsuit and the work they are doing is both urgent and critical. The research they are conducting reveals the growing use of online platforms to facilitate extremist violence. They have even been able to trace communications between the orchestrators of the Charlottesville attack to those in Pittsburgh and in the recent insurrection in Washington, D.C.

In these times of increased incidents of hate, antisemitism, and racism, I find that the work of these women gives us hope and offers us tangible ways to take action.  On March 23, at 8:00 p.m. you, too, will have the opportunity to be inspired by these women as part of a conversation being offered through the Men of Reform Judaism and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. I hope you will tune in and recognize their efforts to lead by example, take action, and stop the cycle of hate.  Register now for the event

Increase in Joy

Celebrating Religious Freedom

Rabbi’s Message – March 2, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Mi shenichnas l’Adar marbim b’simcha.”  

When a person enters into Adar (the current Hebrew month), he or she increases in joy.  

Today, progressive Jews are exuberant, celebrating religious freedom with Reform and Conservative Jews in Israel.  Yesterday, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that the Israeli Orthodox rabbinate would no longer hold a monopoly over legitimate conversion for the Law of Return.  This was the culmination of more than 15 years of legal appeals that sought to provide Israeli citizenship to those who converted to non-Orthodox Judaism.  Previously, a ruling had forced the state to recognize non-Orthodox conversions performed abroad as eligible, but not those performed in their own country.  This major breakthrough opens the door to a more pluralistic vision of Jewish identity.  My colleague Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Cohen said it beautifully when proclaiming that this monumental win “constitutes a moral victory for all Jews who battle religious coercion.”   

The High Court rightly anticipated a strong negative response by the Orthodox community, who have long opposed and delegitimized Reform and Conservative Judaism.   Some of the highest Orthodox rabbinic authorities in Israel refer to these new Jews as “non-Jews” and call our conversion process a “forgery of Judaism.”  The court tried to point out that this ruling was only about the secular issue of citizenship, and not religious identity, but all involved understand the true significance of this vote.  Israeli politicians have begun to turn this into an election issue, promising to reverse the decision.  We cannot allow them to dampen our spirits.  Let’s take a moment to celebrate.  Tonight, join me in offering a toast to the non-Orthodox clergy in Israel.  May we continue to see successes like these in our fight for religious equality in the Land of Israel.  

The Feeling of Insecurity

Insecurity, Vulnerability, & Empathy

Rabbi’s Message – February 16, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Last year I read a powerful book by Isabel Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.  This historical study of the the movement of almost six million African Americans out of the Southern United States to the Midwest, Northeast, and West from approximately 1915 to 1970 forever changed the way I understand Black History.  In it, Wilkerson delves into the lives of three extraordinary people, sharing the painful truth of what it meant to flee the Jim Crow South and seek refuge in the rest of the country.      

One of the most painful parts of reading Wilkerson’s book was seeing all of the obstacles that prevented people from escaping the Jim Crow South.  It was never as simple as making a geographical move, even for those who were well integrated in their hometownsI am thinking of Dr. Robert Pershing Foster, in particular.  He was a talented Army surgeon who returned to the south after serving abroad during the Korean War.  When he returned home, he sought to build his medical practice in California.  Leaving his wife and daughters at home while he found a place to live, he drove from Louisiana to California.  But the trip itself nearly cost him his life when it became a long, harrowing nonstop drive.   Foster was not allowed to stop along the way due to segregated hotels and open hostility.  No matter his status, even after becoming Ray Charles’ personal physician, he never was able to escape his vulnerability. 

As I shared over the High Holidays, the inconvenience of our current pandemic has exposed all of us, regardless of race or status, to a new sense of vulnerabilityThose of us who are white experienced, many of us for the first time, what it is like face restrictions in our daily lives.  With Covid-19 we have had to consider risks before engaging in normal activities, such as going to the grocery, a restaurant, the doctor, hair salon, or department store.  We have been limited in when and where we are allowed to go, such as hospitals, nursing homes, banks and bars. And even if we choose to enter those places, we must carefully watch the behavior of those around us to determine if we are in a space in which we feel safe 

There is no comparison between the racism faced by black Americans in the 20th and 21st century and the inconvenience felt by white Americans in a pandemic.  Unless we have lived it, we can never understand the ways in which black and brown Americans here in Montgomery County are disproportionately limited and vulnerable in their everyday lives.  To name only a few, our black community is at a greater chance of dying from Covid, facing limitations in professional success, and giving birth to children who may never reach a first birthday.  However, our experiences will help to heighten our empathy, which I hope will encourage us to deepen our involvement in issues of social justice.   

It healthy for our souls to take this time to recognize what insecurity in everyday living feels like – not so that we live in fear, but to help us better relate to those whose barriers will not disappear once this pandemic subsides. 

What’s “Wrong” May Be Right

Celebrating Women the Right Way

Rabbi’s Message – February 23, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

This week, we welcome in the holiday of Purim and its famous narrative.  Which also means the annual question of how to present the beginning of the Book of Esther to children arises – you know, the part where the drunk King asks Queen Vashti to dance in her crown “to display her beauty” (ahem) to the officials and himself.  Of course, Vashti’s refusal gets her ousted as Queen and sets the stage for the rest of the narrative.  The idea that someone may be punished for refusing to have their body objectified is not the takeaway that our youth should get from the story.  At the same time, to gloss over the event misses an opportunity.

I like to use this opening as a lesson in the importance of knowing our boundaries and of respecting one of the greatest gifts we are given in life: ourselves.  In the highly patriarchal Persian society, a woman refusing the command of her husband was unthinkable.  Even though Vashti disappears from the narrative after she is dethroned, she is perhaps one of the strongest characters in the story – mirrored by Esther.  Esther is celebrated as the heroine of the story, but Vashti is willing to lose everything to maintain the dignity of her body and her self respect, in a time period where that was not yet a thing.

As we continue in our recognition of Black History Month, I would be remiss not to make a comparison to Rosa Parks’ stance on that bus, a black woman who simply took a seat and similarly challenged a social hierarchy in her own day.  She recognized the unjust laws and practices of her time towards people of color and chose to act out against them.  History, and our reality, has ways of highlighting and aggrandizing some parts over others, but let us not forget the figures that remind us of our personal autonomy and the importance of maintaining basic human dignity for ourselves and those around us – especially in the face of injustices in society.  When given the chance, Judaism calls us to do what is in our power to create a more just world for all of its inhabitants. 

Virtual Israel Trip

Travel to Israel with Us!

On March 8-11, from 5:00 – 6:00 pm. each day, we will travel to Israel with our Tour Guide, Muki Jankelowitz, exploring four different regions of the country, all without leaving the couch.  Where will we be going? We’ll visit the Desert, Galilee, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem. Even if you’ve visited Israel before, there will be something new to see and learn.
The Desert plays a disproportionate role in the Biblical stories. It is a backdrop for many of the events in the lives of the patriarchs and matriarchs. The desert is also the geographically largest part of the State of Israel. We will explore the desert looking at its history and the challenges and opportunities it presents in modern Israel.
Galilee, lush and green by Israeli standards, was the site of a number of major revolutions in Jewish history. It was the site of the writing of the Mishna, Jewish mysticism, and Zionist pioneering. We will visit the sites and tell the stories of these revolutions.
Tel Aviv is the 24/7 modern city of Israel. What makes this city so cutting edge in it’s business, culinary and cultural aspects? Why is Tel Aviv the fulfillment of the founding fathers’ and mothers’ dreams?
We conclude our visit in Jerusalem, the focal point of Jewish life. We will look at the history and centrality for the Jewish people (and for Christianity and Islam) of Jerusalem. We will also grapple with the issues that the modern city confronts.
Register now.  Suggested donation is $36 per person, which will go to Temple’s camp scholarship fund which provides assistance to children

Equal Access for a Brighter, Safer Future for All

Addressing Equality for All

Rabbi’s Message – February 9, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

There’s a well-known rabbinic parable where a community is saving babies that are found floating in the river and how they go through more and more steps to save these babies, utilizing precious resources and time, until someone in the town gets the brilliant idea to go upstream and figure out why babies are getting put in the river in the first place.  

As we consider Black History Month, the progress we’ve made and where we might go in combating racial disparities and civil injustices in our communities, it’s important to recognize that we need both the ones saving the babies and the ones going upstream to address a problem.  This story is told often by the Religious Action Center to give energy and purpose before speaking with elected officials and becoming the “brilliant” ones going upstream to solve the problem.  But here’s the thing – while they were going upstream, there were still babies that needed to be saved.  Changing the policies for tomorrow doesn’t do much for those affected by them today.

Here’s one graph, of many that I have seen, which shows in numbers the disparate effects of COVID-19 on minority groups, particularly People of Color.  While the virus doesn’t care what color our skin is, or what religion we practice, or who we love – the systematic differences we have created and allowed to exist lead to graphs like this one, where we see drastically different rates of hospitalization of black patients in Atlanta.  Why is this?

The conditions in the United States have lead to disparities in several areas, including physical environment, health and healthcare, occupation and job conditions, income and wealth, and education.  It doesn’t take much to see how these are intertwined and contribute to make living under pandemic conditions more challenging and more dangerous for those who do not have equal access and opportunity.

We have seen this play out over the last year with data showing that people of color, particularly blacks, are more likely to contract the virus, to get severely ill or die from it, and now, are less likely to have access to a trusted source of the vaccine.

What can we do?  We can be the Heschel’s and Dr. King’s of our generation, walking hand-in-hand, going upstream to do something about systemic racism.  AND we also need to be the ones kicking off our shoes and diving into the river to save the babies.  It is not enough to do one or the other.  Each arm that gets a vaccine is potentially a life, or many lives saved.  I am proud that your bimah team – Rabbi Bodney-Halasz, Courtney Cummings, and myself – are I am part of various groups actively trying to ensure doses of the vaccine are getting to accessible locations, through mobile units, to those in West Dayton, among other efforts locally.  

So what can we do?  We’ve talked before about “getting out the vote” to encourage the democratic process and make sure all voices are heard.  How do we “get out the vaccine”?  If you know someone who doesn’t have equal access to make or get to a vaccine appointment, help them (safely) make an appointment, make sure they know when they are eligible, share information on social media about vaccine clinics, and the like.  Person by person and appointment by appointment, we can ensure a safe and healthy future for everyone today and even for tomorrow’s babies.

Building a Better Future

Building a Better Future

Rabbi’s Message – February 2, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Before we begin, let’s take a collective breath and slowly exhale.  I’m not sure if it is a deep breath or a lingering sigh….

Last month over the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend we celebrated American advancements in civil rights.  We gave honor to the brave souls who fought peacefully for the dignity of all human beings.  Last week the world observed an International Holocaust Remembrance Day, remembering those who died and honoring those who helped to liberate the camps.  This prepares us for February, when we will raise up the accomplishments and contributions of Black Americans throughout Black History month. 

The narrative is clear.  Most years we exit January uncomfortable, still horrified by how humans, at their worst, torture other human beings, yet also hopeful as we recall the darkness we have emerged from.  We are thankful that men and women of every hue and religion are no longer fighting for equal rights. There is still a lot of work to do, especially on behalf of those who are persecuted because of their sexual identity, but we believe we are moving in the right direction. 

This year, it is much harder to emerge from the pain.  This year, in particular, I believe we need to engage with this discomfort rather than rest on our laurels.  It isn’t enough for us to pat ourselves on the backs and feel good about advancements made over the years.  Our world is much too broken for that.  We must pick up where our ancestors left off and get to work.  We must respond to hate-filled groups who spread conspiracy theories about minorities and sustain systems that enslave.

But first, we must be willing to open our eyes.  Over the next several weeks I will use this space to address ways we may do this.   As we observe Black History Month I hope you will join me – not only in recognizing the accomplishments of Black Americans –  but in combating hatred and bigotry on all levels.  If we work together then we can build a future where everyone can breathe more easily.

Purim – Party Like It’s 2020!

Let’s Celebrate Together!

We finally made it to 2021, but we are going to party like it’s 2020!  You heard that right, this year’s Purim theme is “2020.”  

We will convene on Zoom on Thursday, February 25 at 6:00 p.m. to hear the Purim story and then have some fun afterwards with a Scavenger Hunt created by your TIDY members.  Costumes are encouraged on our Zoom call and prizes will be given for those who come in costume!  The costume can be anything that represents the year of 2020 to you. It could be a roll of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, a zoom box, etc. Get creative! 

Our Scavenger Hunt will involve using your head and your quick feet to find items around the house related to the holiday of Purim.  We’ll give you the clues and then it will be your job to find something that best matches the description.  It could be something that is shaped like a triangle to represent Hayman’s (cue the boos and groggers) hat, or it could be something that we may find queen Esther wearing. Also, to make it as fair a game as possible – as there will be prizes on the line – we will be splitting up the children participating into groups based on their age. All prizes won during the game will be available to take home at the next Religious School materials pick-up in March. 

Why just have fun on one night?  In the days leading up to Purim, we will send out some activities and crafts related to Purim, and even some directions on how to make your own carnival games at home.  (Plinko or toilet paper roll bowling, anyone?)  Information will be sent via email and will be posted on our Facebook page.  It will be a great way to take a break, enjoy some family time, and celebrate the upcoming holiday!

Our last special surprise for Purim is an interactive online game.  We will send out instructions for children to play Club Penguin, a child-friendly game where you create your own penguin and explore the games on an island with other penguins playing along as well.  Earn coins by playing the games and win additional prizes to go in your Temple Israel bag.  There is so much to explore with the game itself, so have fun discovering it!

We can’t wait to see everyone dressed up in 2020 costumes on February 25! See you on Zoom!

Virtual Israel Trip

Explore Israel with Us!

Mark your calendars for an amazing exploration from Israel, all from the comfort of your couch!  Join Muki Jankelowitz, our Israel tour guide, on March 8-11 from 5:00 – 6:00 p.m. as he takes us on a journey through Israel.  A suggested donation of $36 per person will go to our camp scholarship fund and help offset the cost of this program.  More details will be available soon!

It’s Not Easy Being Green

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Rabbi’s Message – January 26, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Tu B’Shevat marks the beginning of yet another new year – the new year of the trees.  The Talmud explains that Tu B’Shevat delineates between last year’s crops and produce that will be assigned to the next year.   It is traditionally a time to begin planting, reflect on environmental and personal renewal, and appreciate the beauty of nature.  
In many ways, Tu B’Shevat has become the Jewish Earth Day or Arbor Day.  It reminds us that we have an obligation to care for our planet.  In Genesis 2:15 we are taught “God placed the human in the Garden of Eden, to work it and guard it.”   Throughout Jewish texts this message is echoed.  We must not be wasteful nor contribute to the destruction of the world.  
Being environmentally responsible is not always the easiest or least expensive path to take, but Jewish tradition teaches that righteous people “…use all their strength to save everything possible from destruction (Sefer HaChinuch 529).”  What will it take for us to fulfill this obligation today?
Tomorrow begins a wonderful festival that will help us to answer this question in fun and creative ways.  From the same group that brought us last year’s Great Big Jewish Food Fest comes “The Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest.”  This online program is free and offers 150 events throughout the week.  According to their website, these events are being held in an effort to position climate change as a central moral issue of the Jewish community and to re-energize Tu B’Shevat as a modern, purpose driven holiday.  With extra time on our hands due to the pandemic, perhaps this is the perfect year to delve further into this important religious endeavor.  
To learn more, visit The Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest website.  Be sure to check out the “Main Stage” schedule to find unique learning opportunities from some of today’s most engaging teachers.  There is a wide variety of learning modes, including panels, discussions, performance, presentations, workshops, and rituals.  There will certainly be something of interest to everyone.
Wishing us all yet another happy New Year.  May we find hope in this friendly reminder that spring is on the horizon.