Reframing the Question

Reframing the Question

Rabbi’s Message – August 11, 2020

Rabbi Tina Sobo

The question isn’t “How can they learn the V’ahavta virtually in third grade?” instead it’s “How can religious school be a source of constant love for third graders when the world is upside down?”  -(Posted 8/2/2020, @RogueShul)

I remember a commercial for an office supply store where a parent is wheeling down the back-to-school aisles singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” while piling school supplies into the cart and happily sharing lyrics about the children going back to school.  I thought it was funny as a kid.  Now as an adult, I can see how parents might have had a different perspective than the nine-year-old me.  But this year, instead of frivolous commercials and excitement over back-to-school sales, I’m seeing advice on the best masks for little ones and the best footwear to avoid shoelace tying.  I’m seeing social media posts about how unsafe in-person learning will be and also how ineffective and challenging virtual learning will be.  Through all of this, teachers are scrambling to put together lesson plans for all the different scenarios of learning.  There’s little actual excitement about the return to school.  Right now, I doubt any parent, teacher, or sane adult is that gleeful parent from the commercial.

But here’s the catch.  As adults, we have to be excited… or at least pretend to be, especially with younger children.  For them, how the adults in our community frame this school year, will make all the difference in the world.  It’s the difference between, “How will I make sure my child/student is wearing their mask?” versus “How can I make them feel great about utilizing a face covering?” and “How will they learn this year’s curriculum?” versus “What are some new ways to engage with this content at home?”

For those with school-age children or not – our attitudes and behaviors towards school will make a big difference for ourselves and those around us.  It won’t negate that elements of living through this pandemic are less than ideal or even borderline impossible, but it can shape the way we view the next several months.  “Fake it ’til you make it” is an old adage that applies today.

Turning a Jewish lens on this time of year, we are given the gift of the month of Elul for reflection leading up to the High Holidays.  I invite you to take some time throughout this week and into the next month to consider what it is that we are bringing from the past year, and how we are framing it, into the coming year; and to pay attention to how you approach the questions and situations posed before you.  Let’s do our best to make it feel as wonderful as possible, even if it seems like everything is upside down.

Together We Remember

Rabbi’s Message – August 4, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Our hearts are heavy today as we mark the first anniversary of the Oregon District shooting.  Some are still processing the trauma, and for others it feels more remote.  Yet today, as we collectively mourn together as a community, we are all experiencing some amount of grief.  Memorializing as a community when we are socially distanced may feel awkward.  Thankfully, the thoughtful leaders of #DaytonShines crafted meaningful opportunities for us to remember and still feel the strength of the community.  In Judaism, we mark remembrance by setting aside time and reflecting on the lives of our loved ones.  I invite you to join me tonight at 8:04 p.m on Facebook as our city offers for a nine minute memorial tribute to Lois Oglesby, TJ McNichols, Logan Turner, Derrick Fudge, Megan Betts, Nicholas Cumer, Monica Brickhouse, Saeed Saleh, and Beatrice Warren-Curtis. Zichronam L’vracha.  May their memories always be for a blessing. 

If you are having a difficult time today, please remember that I am always available to meet by Zoom.  In addition, our local government has also provided mental health resources through a 24-hour Crisis Line at 937-225-5623.  

Emerging with Resilience and Hope

Emerging with Resilience and Hope

Rabbi’s Message – July 28, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Our people are well acquainted with devastating loss.  Every year on Tisha B’Av, which begins Wednesday evening, we recall the destructions of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, a symbol of our Jewish sovereignty.  We also collectively remember all of the loss and suffering experienced by the Jewish people over the last 2500 years.  We observe Tisha B’Av by fasting and observing rituals associated with mourning.  We sit on the ground, by candlelight, mournfully chanting Lamentations.  We yearn for security and stability but recognize that everything is always at stake.  It is a time for finding strength despite the unstable ground beneath us. 

In the months following 9/11, an EMT who had lost her EMT partner on that disasterous day was talking to her rabbi.  She hadn’t been to synagogue for months.  She couldn’t bring herself to go to the High Holidays.  She had lost countless nights of sleep.  She said, “Rabbi, this is one long run on sentence without a period.”  It is true.  There is no “sof pasuk” or period to complete the sentences of our lives following tragedy.    

In many ways, it has felt like that for us here in Dayton since last May.  But, the greatest loss was felt after the Oregon District shooting nearly a year ago.  It has been one long run on sentence without an end.  And finding strength will be much harder this year for many of us.   

As we observe Tisha B’Av this week, I want to lift up the idea that Tisha B’Av also contains elements of hope.  Hope that our world will still be redeemed.   Hope that, just as our ancestors found new ways to participate in Jewish life, we will do so too.  Hope that we never stop remembering our losses and learning from them.  Hope that out of destruction comes meaningful living.   

Our Judaism teaches us how to find that hope.  It encourages relationship building.  It teaches us the importance of coming together as a community to be present for one another through our shared experiences.  It teaches us the significance of collective memory.   

Over the next few days, as we reflect on our Jewish history and on the devastating loss we have felt here in Dayton, I encourage us all to take some time not only to remember, but to re-sanctify the values we share and to emerge with resilience and hope.  This never-ending run-on sentence will eventually come to an end.  Let us fill it with hope.   

How Do We Choose?

How Do We Choose?

Rabbi’s Message – July 21, 2020

Rabbi Tina Sobo

Right now we are all grappling with so many decisions about our future.  Sometimes that future is only the next 5 minutes and sometimes that future spans the next several months.  As we look to the fall and the complexity of choices regarding back-to-school options, I am reminded of a story from our tradition:

A well-known Rabbi discovers that a bag of coins have gone missing.  Even though the coins were not his, the Rabbi seeks to solve the mystery.  He goes to see one of his former messengers who had an opportunity to steal the money.  The Rabbi hopes it isn’t true.  Upon the Rabbi’s questions, the young man offers to repay the Rabbi the sum of the money in installments.  The Rabbi agrees.  Years later, the original bag of money is found in someone else’s possession.  With this new information, the Rabbi goes to return all of the messenger’s money, and he questions why the messenger took the blame.  The messenger responds that he made a small sacrifice with the payments over time, in order to protect the less fortunate individual from accusation, who likely needed the money.  And as all rabbinic stories go, the messenger is then greatly rewarded for his actions and his family is blessed for generations.

Why this story?  It teaches us that sometimes we have to make sacrifices – big or small – in order to serve those that are more in need.  As we continue to navigate the pandemic as a community, and as we learn more about the virus, there are things that we can do to protect those around us.  These things might be a slight imposition on us – for example, wearing a mask –  but there is a greater good to consider.  As a younger, otherwise healthy adult, a bout of COVID-19 likely would not kill me – but I wear a mask to protect those who are higher risk.  

As a parent and educator, I know full well that back-to-school decisions are hard right now. The question of whether students and everyone else in the school community, will be in-person has become quite a loaded one.  While to some extent, each individual, family, and school has to make their own choices, we must also remember the potential consequences to others.  Recently, I saw a parent suggest and recommend full virtual learning to all those who are able to make that choice in order to create a safer learning space for those who cannot opt out of in-person learning.  This reminded me of our messenger.  As a parent, I don’t envy the prospect of a large portion of the upcoming year being virtual.  I also don’t look forward to the continued physical distancing measures, but I know that the choices I make may save another life.  

We are all making tough decisions as we navigate how much and when to “re-open” our lives.  There are no clear-cut “right” answers to what risks are “acceptable.”  My hope is that we can weigh our options not by what is easiest, cheapest, or most beneficial to us individually, but by the best of our Jewish values of communal responsibility and protection of one another.  My hope is also that as we make these decisions – and recognize that they will be different for different people – that we can be supportive of each other rather than judgmental.  We do not walk in another’s shoes or know exactly what they are experiencing in this challenging time.

 

Recognizing Our Blessings

Recognizing Our Blessings

Rabbi’s Message – July 14, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

It’s mid-July and we are tired of social distancing.  It has cramped our styles.  Birthdays, anniversaries, special celebrations… none of them feel quite right in isolation.  But this time apart has not just kept us safe, it has brought unacknowledged gifts and even clarity 

Personally, my family and I have established new traditions, renewed old traditions, and grown as individuals and a unit. Educationally, I have a much clearer understanding of my children’s skills and growth areas – and my own.  Emotionally, I feel greater appreciation for most everything, especially my health.  Culturally, I’ve found the online arts world amazing.  One word – Hamilton!  Socially, I have reconnected with long-time friends through the expansion of the “Zoomiverse.  Spiritually, I continue to expand my understanding of what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century.  Pastorally, I have learned that technology can play a role in “I-Thou” relationships.  Communally, there is a new sense of unity with non-Jewish clergy and leaders in Dayton.  And of course, a new sense of purpose and urgency.   

Our Judaism teaches us to recognize our blessings – at least 100 a day!  I encourage you to take a moment today to sit and reflect on what this year has brought for you.  Even in trying and painful times, we must try to focus on the good.  We can begin by offering Modeh Ani, thanking God for returning our soul to us after our slumber, and then take a moment to acknowledge the everyday miracles we encounter.

Continuing the Conversation

Continuing the Conversation

Rabbi’s Message – July 7, 2020

Senior Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Last week I wrote about the importance of having tough conversations about race, identity, equality, and implicit bias.  We must continue to unpack the meaning and history behind words like “white privilege,” “systemic racism,” and “white supremacy.”  These terms likely evoke strong feelings in all of us, and there is space for those feelings.  They can also mean different things to different people and if we share our thoughts, we are better able to understand each other on a deeper level.  Don’t get me wrong, this is hard work!  Fortunately, we don’t have to do this work alone.  

The Dayton Jewish Community Relations Council is teaming up with the YWCA to bring a special virtual event called The Jewish Perspective on Racial Equity and Social Change.  The conversations have already begun on a national level, but what is the local Jewish response?  How can we further the work of social justice in our own backyard?  Rabbis from all of the Dayton congregations and Chabad will serve as the panelists for this discussion on Friday, July 10 at noon.  I will represent Temple Israel and I hope you will be there too to join in on the discussion.  Register here for this discussion.

In the coming months, we will also have a small committee of volunteers actively seeking ways to positively improve the experience for marginalized individuals.  If this is something you are passionate about, let me know.  I will add you to the roster.

We are a holy community and together we can strive to create a better world for ourselves and for our children.

Difficult Conversations

Difficult Conversations
Rabbi’s Message – June 30, 2020

by Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

 
Each of us is created in the image of the Divine and each of our voices is important, and powerful.  In these turbulent times, this is the most important thing for us to remember.  Being in relationship with God means being in relationship with one another, and we honor this by leaning in and engaging in difficult conversations.  
 
This is hard, but essential, work.  And I am starting with myself as a part of a newly formed local clergy group meeting virtually to challenge and improve our understanding of racism and bigotry.  I strongly urge us all to embrace the vulnerability of being in honest conversations about these topics.
 
It won’t be easy.  We are hard-wired to be easily offended by expressions like “white privilege,” “systemic racism,” and “white supremacy.”  I, personally, believe we respond with discomfort because we have yet to unpack what these words and ideas actually mean.   There is plenty of room for  diversity of opinions.  But, first, we must move past our own emotional firewalls to enable us to engage meaningfully in these conversations.  
 
The YWCA’s 21 Day Racial Equity Challenge has been an excellent place to better prepare myself for deeper discussions on these issues.  Consider joining me in this effort.  Even if you haven’t participated in the first part of the challenge, it is not too late.  Click for more information.  
 
On Friday, July 10, I will be participating in a Jewish Community Relations Council panel with other Dayton rabbis to discuss the importance of the YWCA Challenge and our response as a Jewish community to what is happening.  If you are able to join us, register here.  
 
I look forward to continuing this work together as a congregation. 

Combat Voter Suppression

Doing Our Part to Combat Voter Suppression 

by Nancy Cohen
June 26, 2020

As Jews, we have a duty and an obligation to repair the world, and the work of tikkun olam manifests itself in many different ways.  In a democratic society, everyone’s voice should be heard, especially at the ballot box.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case.  The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) reminds us that “voter suppression has long plagued the U.S. election system, particularly impacting communities of color. Today, underrepresented communities continue the fight for equal access to the ballot”.   As we look towards this fall, we will work towards including everyone in our democratic process of voting.  As the RAC says, “democracy is strongest when everyone participates—and it suffers when citizens are shut out from the democratic process or choose not to engage.” Working with RAC-Ohio, we have an opportunity to engage with potential voters in the greater Dayton community by educating individuals on the voting process, helping them to register, and encouraging them to show up at the polls.

For this initiative, RAC-Ohio is partnering with an organization called Ohio Votes, which is coordinating nonpartisan voter outreach activities. In this age of COVID, we are still able to reach out to potential voters in the comfort of our homes by phone- and text-banking. Ohio Votes has developed an app for reaching out to voters and has scripts available to help you complete your contacts. And best of all, they will provide us with a recorded Zoom training that we can use to learn about the process.

Please consider participating in this important work of our democracy, which will help us to reach our goal as Reform Jews of building a more just and compassionate world. If you would like to join this effort or would like more information, contact Nancy Cohen at nrc2622@gmail.com or 937-307-4792. 

Rabbi’s Message 6-9-20

Evolving Together

A Message from Rabbi Bodney-Halasz

June 9, 2020

Change is always hard.  It’s even harder when it happens quickly, without warning, and without even a glimpse of what a new normal might look like.  This was March 2020, from a year that practically promised us clarity of vision. 
 
When this began, our focus was on meeting the most pressing of our needs:  reciting Mi Shebeirach and Kaddish “together,” providing pastoral care, celebrating Passover as a community, and continuing ongoing education classes. 
 
As the situation evolved, we, too, have evolved. We brought new opportunities for learning, spotlights of hope, resources for support, and original prayers for new experiences.  We used Zoom to boost virtual gatherings and one-on-one conversations and began researching new technology to move us forward.
 
This has been a hard road to navigate, but we finally have a clearer view of what the immediate future might look like.  We have learned about Covid-19 in religious institutions and the impact it has on worship experiences.  There is a lot happening in the world to process and we process it better together.  It is clear that increased virtual interactions will be key to moving forward as a community in isolation.  
 
Many of you have told us you miss praying together on Shabbat.  We have missed you too and are anxious to see your faces and be together again.  This Friday, we will finally go live for our evening Shabbat worship services.   I hope you will join us, as your presence will allow Shabbat to be even more meaningful for us all. 

 

Embracing Each Other and Teaching Our Children

Rabbi’s Message – Friday, June 5, 2020

Embracing Each Other and Teaching Our Children

by Rabbi Tina Sobo

Tough conversations are just that, tough.  As parents, we have them with our children all the time.  We are trying to mold them into young adults with the right moral values, and explain difficult concepts to them.  Sometimes they go well and other times they don’t.  Right now, we have a great opportunity to teach our children about the history of systemic racism and the prevalence of prejudice in our country. And more importantly, what it is that we can do to change things for the better, even if it feels overwhelming.

In that spirit, here are a few tips for you from Embrace Race:

  1. Your child is not too young – by 6 months most children are capable of recognizing people that look like them and people who don’t.  Which means, they also react to the differences they see in various ways.
  2. Encourage questions & normalize differences – You don’t have to look for specific “racism” books (though PJ Library has many great resources here) – simply books, media, playgrounds, your circle of friends that represent diversity help normalize diversity.  If your child is seeing faces that represent diversity throughout their day, their circle of what is familiar and normal will be expanded.
  3. You don’t have to do it all at once – Yes, you can have ‘the talk’ with children, especially if they understand or know about a current event, or a specific incident in their lives; but more importantly, understanding differences and valuing each human life as uniquely and equally holy is a life-long process.  Come back to it often and be a role model along the way.

June is also Pride Month, and this same advice essentially applies.  How we speak, how we act, and the experiences we create instill the values of equality and acceptance from a young age.  Start young and keep the conversation going.  And ask for help or support if you need it along the way!

Additional Resources on Racism: 

https://pjlibrary.org/beyond-books/pjblog/june-2020/resources-for-talking-to-kids-about-racism

https://www.embracerace.org/resources/26-childrens-books-to-support-conversations-on-race-racism-resistance

Resources on LBGTQ+:

https://www.keshetonline.org/resources/topic/families-parenting/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2019/06/14/how-straight-parents-can-raise-kids-be-allies-during-pride-month-beyond/