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.)

 

Our High Holidays

Our High Holidays

Rabbi’s Message – September 29, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

As we reflect on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there are so many things to be thankful for and I am so proud of our community.  First, thank you to all of our congregants who participated in making these holidays so meaningful by filling it with your talent, as well as your fun and friendly faces.

 
Second, thank you to the creative teams of the Imprint Group DMC for their masterful work on producing our services and to The Ohlmann Group for their spectacular Welcome Video. Special thanks to Monika Shroyer and Beth Styles for helping us sound so good and a shout out to Andy Snow, as well, for his generosity of time and expertise.
 
Third, a heartfelt thank you goes to our Temple Israel senior staff team and our incredible families that have supported us. Rabbi Tina Sobo, Courtney Cummings, Grant Halasz, and Suzanne Shaw – this could never have happened without your many talents and gifts. Nobody could ever know just how large of a task it has been getting us to this moment.  Thank you also to our support staff – Ellen Finke-McCarthy, Annette Stogdill, and Scott Francis.  

 
Even though these holidays are behind us, the content we shared and created together over the last several days is still available.  If you have not yet watched our Welcome Video, please take a few minutes to share in our joy of this season with the special greetings of our community members at https://services.tidayton.org.  If you have not checked out the supplemental Torah and Haftarah readings and translations, please do so. And be sure to take a moment to listen to the Yom Kippur Afternoon Haftarah translation of Jonah, by Saul and Nathan Caplan. (It is fantastic and no Yom Kippur feels complete without that story.)  You may also revisit the healing service from Yom Kippur afternoon, our sermons from both holidays, and the special musical video productions with the choir.
 
As we see Sukkot and Simchat Torah on the horizon, we look forward to continuing our holiday celebrations with you.  Sukkot Services will be LIVE from home this Friday evening at 6:00 p.m. on Zoom.  To celebrate the joy of this season and see each other again in person, we are hosting a Sukkot & Simchat Torah Drive-Thru Experience on Friday, October 9 from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m.  You will have a chance to drive through a large sukkah and fulfill the mitzvah of shaking the lulav and etrog, pick up a few goodies, return borrowed prayer books, drop off food donations, be serenaded by our Rabbinic Intern, Grant Halasz, and more.  The Rosh Hashanah Drive-Thru was such a success – you don’t want to miss this experience.     
 
L’shanah tovah tikateivu v’techatemu – May you be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a good year.

When Fasting is Actually a Sin

When Fasting is Actually a Sin

Rabbi’s Message – September 22, 2020

Rabbi Tina Sobo

To fast or not to fast?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

High Holidays During the Covid-19 Pandemic

New Year & New Online Platform

Rabbi’s Message – September 15, 2020

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

For the last few months we have all been wondering what High Holidays would look like in a pandemic.  A lot of dreaming and hard work since the spring have culminated into an immersive holiday experience.  And I’m excited to unveil the fruits of our labor – today!  

I realize that nothing can substitute for in-person services.  Nothing beats the real thing.  Yet we hope you will come away with a sense of renewal and even satisfaction for having navigated what it means to engage in this ancient ritual in 2020.  We hope to provide you with the most accessible, reliable, and spiritually uplifting opportunities to share our familiar and iconic Temple Israel High Holiday moments together. 

Our High Holidays will be hosted at http://services.tidayton.org, a custom page accessible from our Temple Israel website.  It is just like walking in our front doors and taking your seat.  The page is essentially your virtual Great Hall, complete with shout outs from some of your favorite ushers and familiar faces!

Once you enter, everything else will be taken care of for you.  Are you missing a prayer book?  No problem, just click on the red link next to that service.  Need to join a Zoom room for Children’s Services?  Just click the children’s services tab and explore your options.

All of our regular services will be live streamed.  This means that at 7:30 p.m. this Friday, you will simply need to go to the website and click the PLAY button on the image in front of you.  If you have any trouble, we have an online technician ready to answer your questions.  You will also be able to access all types of supplemental resources, including a beautiful Rosh Hashanah Seder crafted by Judy Heller and Rita Dushman Rich.  We will continue to add service highlights, extra worship opportunities, and supplemental materials that you can access on demand.  

Feel free to cater your experience to your own needs.  If you prefer to pray from the comfort of your living room, take a moment to learn how to “cast” the webpage onto your Smart TV.  If you wish to be surrounded by the voices and faces of your friends and loved ones, start your own Zoom room to simultaneously participate in services.  You can even do it with out of town friends and family!  Now is the time to start preparing for Friday if you haven’t already.  Check out the webpage, buy your fruits and vegetables for a Rosh Hashanah Seder, and make sure your loved ones know how to participate with you.  

I look forward to wishing all of you a happy New Year on Thursday and Friday for our Rosh Hashanah Drive Thru Experience! 

Shanah Tovah.

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.

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.   

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.