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.

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.)

 

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.

The Rosh Hashanah Drive Thru Experience

The Rosh Hashanah Drive Thru Experience

Thursday, September 17 from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. &
Friday, September 18 from 11:00 – 2:00 pm.

This has been a tough year for everyone, so we want to help you have the best Rosh Hashanah possible, even at home.  Our Rosh Hashanah Drive-Thru Experience will offer many of the essentials you need to celebrate the holiday in a joyous way.  Stop by Temple Israel on Thursday, September 17 from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. or Friday, September, 18 from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. to pick up a FREE honey cake, greet your bimah team, drop off food for our holiday food drive, hear the shofar, sign out copies of Mishkan HaNefesh (our High Holiday prayer books), pick up a special Rosh Hashanah Seder guide, and even grab a special holiday kit perfect for families.

We know how important food is to the Jewish people, especially on the holidays.  With that said, our Rosh Hashanah Drive-Thru Experience will be a pick-up location for anyone interested in ordering round challahs from Evans Bakery or a Rosh Hashanah meal from Bernstein’s Catering.  Order from Evans Bakery by calling 937-228-4151 and contact Bernstein’s Catering at 937-898-2761, no later than September 14.  Bernstein’s menu includes a Prix Fixe dinner for 4 and a la carte options.  Evans’ challahs will be 1.5 pound loaves for $5/loaf.  Both are perfect to complement your dinner table.

We hope you will join us for this special event!  L’Shanah Tovah!

 

 

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.

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.