Together Again

Rabbi's Message - June 8, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

הנה מה טוב ומה נעים, שבת אחים גם יחד

Hinei Mah Tov u’Mah Naim Shevet Achim Gam Yachad.

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for us to be together.

This past Saturday a small group of us gathered in our sanctuary for our first in-person Shabbat together in more than a year.  Appropriately, we began our service with a moment of prayer.  We recited Shehechiyanu together, thanking God for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach that moment.  

I have spoken those words on numerous occasions, but this Shabbat they were sweeter on my lips than usual.  It felt like an authentic expression of gratitude – it felt like a deep breath.   There was something especially meaningful and holy in helping create that sacred community.  And it felt wonderful.  This pandemic year has offered us time – lots of it – to think about the things that matter to us, including faith.  I have enjoyed reflecting with so many of you about what elements of our prayer services are most important to you and why.  Unfortunately, we have had to go beyond our comfort zones. But the conversations that ensued as a result provided insight and appreciation of experiences that we once took for granted.  

Zoom services, though they allow us to be connected and feel a part of an online community, have their limitations.  We enjoy wishing each other a Shabbat Shalom and checking in with one another.    We like that it is an alternative for those who do not drive at night or who travel all the time.  But it did not allow for physical connections, which is the element we most appreciated this past Saturday morning.  

I know many of you have shared that it is hard to connect with the congregation electronically. If this is you, I strongly urge you to take advantage of our summer in-person prayer opportunities.  Being together will fill your heart and bring joy to your soul.  Our next service will be in two weeks on June 19.  We hope to see you and would love to see all 20 spots filled.

I am also looking forward to this Friday when we will gather again for our last Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival celebration.  If you have not had the opportunity to stop by, this is the time!  It will be fun to wish a Shabbat Shalom to one another in person, and who doesn’t look forward to a visit from El Meson's food truck?  I have been touched by the large numbers of people from the non-Jewish community who have made the effort to come to our Taste programs to support us.  Let’s show our appreciation by showing up in strong numbers, as well.  After all, how good it is for us to be together.

Marking the Time with Connection, Engagement, and Support

Rabbi's Annual Meeting Message - June 1, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Good evening and congratulations again to those of you elected to represent our congregation on our Board of Trustees. We are so grateful for your vigilance to our community. 

As we normally begin our Board Meetings with a word of Torah, it’s appropriate to begin this evening by looking to this week’s Torah portion - Parashat Beha’aolotcha.   Most often we look to the narrative driven part of this story, in which Miriam is struck with a skin disease and is put into quarantine.  Moses then prays to God “El Na refa nah lah” - “Please God heal her.”  Certainly, this is a meaty portion.  But, interestingly, people have referenced Beha’alotcha for another reasons this year.  That is the ritual of Pesach Sheni, or a second Passover, which refers to the14 Iyar, exactly one month after 14 Nisan, the day before Passover, which was the day prescribed for bringing the Pesach offering in anticipation of that holiday.  

In our portion we are taught that the Passover sacrifice (Korban Pesach) can only be eaten on a specific date and only by those who are ritually pure.  The people raised a question - do they have to completely miss the opportunity to perform the mitzvah if they, but no fault of their own, became impure through coming in contact with a dead body.  

'We are unclean by the dead body of a man; wherefore are we to be kept back, so as not to bring the offering of God in its appointed season among the children of Israel?' (Numbers 9:7). 

In our portion, God responds by declaring that anyone who is unable to bring the sacrifice – either due to ritual impurity or an inability to reach Jerusalem to make the offering during Passover – can instead make the sacrifice on the 14th of Iyar, a full month after Passover, and eat the paschal lamb with matzah and maror (bitter herbs).  In essence, we are given an official “make up day” for the Passover offering to ensure its performance and to ensure all will have a chance to fulfill that duty. 

This is the way our past year began.  With the pandemic shutting down our traditional observance structures, our community began to look at alternative ways we might fulfill our religious life outside of the way things have normally been done.  For some, there was a hope that even an extra month might bring families together to join for Passover - which is how this portion became so relevant. Little did we know how many other observances would need to be adapted. But for us, an extra month did not change much in terms of our ability to fully engage in our Jewish life.  We began to consider pushing off life cycle events and other observances, hoping that things would quickly change.  But we quickly realized we would need to find new high-quality ways to bring Jewish life to our community.  Babies still needed names, young adults were ready to become bnai mitzvah, brides and grooms were anxious to move forward as a married couple, mourners yearned for the opportunity to be surrounded by loved ones. We could not continue to look for other Pesach Sheni opportunities.  We could not continue to push off Jewish life until it was convenient again, nor could we put any of our members at risk by returning to normal.  And so, like every generation of Jews who have come before us, we learned to adapt and create new ways to honor sacred Jewish time and ancient Jewish rituals. 

Over the last year we have demonstrated that: “The doors of our building may be closed but our synagogue is always open.”  Despite a year of disruption, we have managed to keep ourselves moving forward with even footing.  Our success was not just in maintaining the essential elements of Jewish life, it was about forming new connections - within the congregation, the Jewish community, other congregations around the country, and even our connection to Israel.   

We were able to maintain the sanctity of Jewish time, finding meaningful ways to observe Shabbat, the High Holidays, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot.  We introduced our Thoughts of Elul meditations, Drive Thru events, and an online Purim spiel.  We continued to gather with our greater Jewish community to observe Selichot, Yom HaShoah, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut.  We found ways to observe life cycle observances with virtual baby namings, b’nai mitzvah, confirmations, weddings, funerals, shivas, and even conversions.   

We stayed committed to Jewish learning - teaching in the community-led Intro to Judaism course, engaging our children with a top-notch religious school program, meeting virtually with conversion students, offering adult education opportunities in partnership with Beth Abraham and Beth Or, and providing interesting education pieces through the Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival.  We held robust weekly Shabbat Torah studies, introduced a new Tea and Text series, and offered a session on how to run a virtual seder.  

We also found creative ways make connections with other Jewish communities around the United States and Israel, participating in a multi-congregation meditative micography program with Rae Antonoff, a Yom Kippur Social Action Lecture with Eric Ward and members of Fairmount Temple in Cleveland, a Passover Holy Wanderers Retreat with Noah Aronson and other participating North American congregations.  And we were even able to bring Israel close to home, offering meaningful Israel programming with our tour guide, Muki Jankelowitz, who also brought us along for a virtual Tour of Israel.   

We also engaged locally, continuing our pulpit Exchange tradition with Omega Baptist, launching our Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival, promoting health with our Oy Vey 5k and Chai Challenge.  We participated with community partners with collection drives and gifts to first responders during the drive thrus and weekly meetings with our mayor, local clergy, and county health officials.  We made casseroles for St. Vincent, helped ensure people could get appointments for vaccines, and held internal discussions of what it means for us to engage in the work of social justice, which resulted in the placement of a sign on our property vowing that we at Temple Israel will not be silent about racism.”   

Social justice was a large part of this past year.  We participated in the YWCA’s 21 day community conversations challenge, Nancy Cohen helped lead our involvement in the Religious Action Center’s Every Voice, Every Vote civic engagement effort, We have congregants currently involved in research for the next RAC OH campaign issue and others being trained in REDI work, Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion work, within our congregation.   

Internally, we also looked at ways we could support one another, offering healing services, a session for parents to meet with mental health expert Dr. Betsy Stone, virtual pastoral sessions with the rabbis, QPR suicide prevention training, and a weekly Coffee with the Clergy drop-in time. 

Communications have also been key.  We created a beautiful new High Holiday microsite, developed a robust YouTube presence, reformatted our Tidbits and included a new weekly clergy blog, and formed new connections between congregants, thanks to the more than 2,000 calls made by our caring committee this past year. 

Despite how exceptional this year has been, we have risen to the occasion.  Even during the challenging times of a pandemic, antisemitism, racism, and political polarization, we have continued to fully operate in a way that highlights our values and acts to brings these qualities into the world.  Our success as a congregation could be measured by the numbers.  We have healthy finances, strong fundraising, a dedicated lay leadership, and an exemplary professional team.  But this alone is not enough.  Our success must also be defined by our strength of character, our commitment to Jewish values, and the power of our relationships.   

This year we recognized that many of us are seeking greater intimacy in our relationships with each other and the synagogue.  I believe each of needs to feel remembered and that we matter.  I am excited that our new President, Linda Novak, has chosen to make this a priority during her presidency.    

In the next year, things will, of course, continue to evolve.  And you can be assured that we at Temple will continue to adapt and do so in ways that reenforce our commitment to enhancing Jewish life and learning, cultivating relationships, and engaging in Tikkun Olam, finding ways to piece together the brokenness of our world.  And I am excited.  I feel inspired by the devotion of our congregants who have reached out to each other this year with compassion.   I am grateful to those who have supported this congregation in every way possible. Thank you to all who have kept the synagogue open, even when the doors were closed.  

It has been and continues to be a privilege to serve this sacred community. Thank you. 

This message was originally delivered on May 26, 2021 to the congregation.

Israel’s Fight

Rabbi's Message - May 22, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Today we descend from our high point, still full with delicious rugelach and filled with pride for our newest confirmation class.  Yet, even in our celebration, our spirits are heavy.  Over the past week our hearts have ached over the escalation of violence in Israel.  We mourn the loss of life and are particularly saddened by the recent breakdown of previously amicable Arab/Israeli relations within the country.  While we process our sadness and fear, we find ourselves in the spotlight of a highly complicated and widely misunderstood conflict.  It seems the world around us would rather point fingers and assign blame to Israelis and Jews than learn that none of us bears the full weight of this escalation. 

As one who loves Israel, I struggle with the news reports that portray Israel as the Goliath against the Palestinian’s David.  Though Israel is hardly perfect, it is not the monster it is being made out to be.  I would argue that at times Israel cares more about the welfare of Palestinians than Hamas does.  But so much of what is being shared by the news or online influencers is incomplete or short-sighted.  Too often they fail to recognize that Hamas is a terrorist organization choosing to fire rockets indiscriminately on innocent civilians, including Palestinians. Or are deaf to understanding that when protesters call out “Free Palestine from the River to the Sea” they are calling to eliminate 6.5 million Jews who currently live in their ancestral homeland.  Or it downplays Israel’s moral right as a sovereign nation to protect innocent civilians, such as the elderly woman and caregiver who died last week in Ashkelon trying to get to a bomb shelter. 

By and large, Israel has had little opportunity to provide an even-handed narrative.  While Israel allows for freedom of the press, all pictures and stories that come from Gaza must be approved by Hamas.  Their intent is to paint Israel as the aggressor, and they are winning the optics war.  It is painful to see images of people suffering.  But what we see is not always reality.  Nobody understands that the three Gazan children killed by a rocket last week were murdered by errant Hamas rockets, not Israeli.  Nobody sees how much Israel values life, strategically firing at stockpiles of missiles and rockets, not civilians, and giving advance warning to inhabitants before destroying military strongholds embedded in civilian areas.  Nobody knows the extent to which Hamas has misused valuable community resources in Gaza to invest in building tunnels and accumulating weapons.   

This being said, I understand that none are without blame.  We all have blood on our hands.  Yet, despite her imperfections, at the end of the day Israel still has the absolute right to defend herself and to halt the violence.  I am grateful to those who are willing to recognize this need, especially the United States, who supported the creation of Israel’s Iron Dome, air defense system.  This has played the biggest role in protecting civilian lives, both Israelis (of all faiths) and Gazans.  Without the Iron Dome, Israel likely would have had to enter the Gaza strip to forcibly stop the rocket fire upon Israelis.    

There are other ways that we, overseas, can show support for Israel.  One of the most powerful ways at this time is to stay educated and to help others recognize the complexity of the conflict and that not everything they see is as it appears.    

One great example of this was a powerful written response to Trevor Noah’s monologue composed by David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).  I urge you to take a few minutes to read his open letter, not only for a clearer picture of the conflict, but to help educate those who are also seeking more clarity.  

As always, prayers are appropriate at this time.  Perhaps you will find comfort in the poetic words of Alden Solovy 

~For the Return of Peace~ 

O Peace, you fleeting dream, 

O Justice, you fickle hope, 

Today we do not pray in your name. 

Today we pray in the name of the children 

Who have never met you, 

Who have not been blessed 

With your love or your truth. 

Surely, their cries must someday 

Drive you out of hiding, 

Summoning you to cast your healing 

Upon all the earth. 

One G-d, 

Ancient and merciful, 

Justice and Peace are Yours. 

Halt their retreat from the world 

And send them to us for good. 

Do it for the sake of Your name, 

Do it for the sake of Your right hand, 

Do it for the sake of holiness, 

Do it for the sake of Your children, 

So that all may live in the fullness of Your gifts, 

As one family on earth, 

Under Your canopy of love. 

© 2021 Alden Solovy 

However long this violence continues, take comfort in knowing that we are a strong people.  Jews have overcome oppressive forces time and again throughout history, and it has not diminished our faith, but made it stronger.  May peace descend upon all Israel and all inhabitants of the Earth. 

Four Ways to Celebrate Shavuot

Rabbi's Message - May 11, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Shavuot is the second of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, between Passover and Sukkot, and serves as both an agricultural holiday and well as a historical commemoration.  There are many ways that we can celebrate and observe this holiday, with traditions standing behind each one.  Here are some of my favorites:

1. Donate food to those in need.  Agriculturally, Shavuot marks the beginning of the wheat harvest.  We are taught in Exodus 34:22: “And you shall observe the feast of weeks, even the first fruits of the wheat harvest.”  Jews who lived during the days of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem would make the pilgrimage to bring first fruits from seven kinds of sources: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranate, olive oil, and date honey.  Today, we honor the tradition of giving thanks for our earthly abundance by donating food to our partners at the food banks and to those who are hungry.  We hope that if you are seeking a meaningful way to continue this tradition, you support our efforts this Friday at our Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival in collecting donations for the Dayton Foodbank.

2. Study Torah.  Rabbinic interpretation also teaches that the ten commandments were given on the same day as Shavuot, the 6th of Sivan.  It is for this reason that on Shavuot we celebrate God giving us the Torah, the blueprint for how we are to live lives of holiness.   Tradition teaches us that the best way to give thanks to God for the gift of Torah is to engage in Torah study all night in what is called a “Tikkun Leil Shavuot.”  Often we go back to our basic understanding of God’s will by studying the Ten Commandments.  But there are many other Tikkun Leil Shavuot practices, including reading from each Torah portion, the Mishnah, the Book of Ruth, and even the Zohar.  

3. Honor our teens’ commitment to Jewish learning.  Years ago, the Reform movement recognized Shavuot as an opportunity to celebrate our commitment to Jewish learning. In particular, our high schoolers.  Though many see Bar or Bat Mitzvah as a culmination of Jewish learning, it hardly touches the surface.  There is much more to learn, especially as teens mature and have a broader understanding of the world.  For this reason, Reform Judaism created a Jewish confirmation ritual, to recognize the commitment of our youth to study and become learned Jewish men and women.  This Sunday, on Shavuot, we will honor six individuals for their ongoing studies and desire to understand Judaism from an adult perspective.  I hope that you will join me in tuning in to our Shavuot services on Sunday evening at 6:30 p.m., where they will share some of their own Torah with us.  

4. Enjoy some dairy food.  Another tradition tied to Shavuot is eating dairy.  There are a few explanations of this practice.  One is that it relates back to a verse in the Song of Songs (4:11) that tells about “the honey and milk” that shall be under our tongues.  We are taught that the words of Torah shall be to our hearts and our ears as honey and milk to our tongues.  The other reason given for dairy on Shavuot has to do with “new” laws presented in the Torah at Sinai dealing with preparing kosher animals for slaughter.  Until they were able to create a proper slaughtering knife, the Israelites were to refrain from eating meat. Today, we too refrain from meat on this day and celebrate with delicious dairy desserts, including cheesecake, blintzes, and rugelach.  

As you can see, there are numerous ways to observe our ancient festival of Shavuot.  I hope you will join me in affirming your commitment to Jewish learning in at least one of the opportunities listed above.  Make sure to submit an order for your rugelach today and to bring your own bikurim (food offerings)! Or perhaps learn from our youth on Sunday night at our Shavuot worship services on Zoom at 6:30 p.m.  Just as the Torah was not given to a single person, Shavuot is a group celebration.  Let’s gather as a community in whatever way we can to share the sweetness of our traditions.

Appreciating Our Teachers

Rabbi's Message - May 4, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

This first week of May is recognized as Teacher Appreciation Week and it is an honor to take some time right now to reflect on how grateful I am for this year’s teaching team in our religious school.  When we switched to virtual learning last year, I never expected to still be primarily on Zoom over a year later.  Our teachers committed to teaching, knowing that this year was going to be a very unique year.  All of them have stepped up to the challenge (and then some) throughout the year, engaging with our students, coming up with new tactics to educate, and planning in ways we haven’t asked previously.  This year, we’ve gathered in little squares on Zoom, we’ve waved through car windows at material pick-ups, we picnicked in the parking lot for Passover, and we’ll do it again for the last day.  You’ll hear more about all of our amazing educators during Friday night’s Shabbat service as we officially recognize them – and I hope you will join us.

One of my favorite statements from Pirkei Avot, teaches that “the one who is wise is one who learns from everyone,” and it is complemented by Rabbi Chanina’s teaching (Taanit 7a), “I have learned much from my teachers and even more from my friends, but from my students, I have learned more than from all of them.”  Whether you spend time each week in a classroom or not – we are all teachers and we are all students, and we have all learned something from or in unusual places this year. 

I encourage you this week to take a bit of time to think about who your teachers have been.  How will you show your appreciation for them?

The Motivation to Grow

Rabbi's Message - April 27, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

On Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, we are reminded of the greatness of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi (Rashbi), a sage from 2nd- century ancient Judea who had been a disciple of Rabbi Akiva and is believed to have written the Zohar.  It is said that he passed away on this day.  One of quotes attributed to him is the following:  

 “Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow! Grow!'” – Bereishit Rabbah 10:6

Many years ago, when I first came upon this quote, it spoke to me deeply.  I laminated a small placard with these words and it remains next to a plant sitting in our Temple office.  Especially when I was working with younger congregants, I found its message one that we could all stand to be reminded of from time to time.  God has great aspirations for all of us, even the smallest blade of grass, but sometimes each of us needs a little boost to keep us moving toward our own self-fulfillment.  

As children of Israel, we are familiar with these moments.   We are “God-wrestlers”, after all, committed to the holy work of wrestling with God, with Torah, and with a broken world.  It is not always easy.  In fact, it is often challenging, exhausting, and painful.  In our quest for meaning and clarity, we have all faced moments when we lacked motivation or fulfillment and found ourselves “stuck.”  Especially during this pandemic, we have also felt alone.  In a world of more than 7.5 billion human beings, there are times that we doubt the impact of one human, of one voice.  

It is comforting to know that there are those out there, perhaps God’s angels, rooting for us and reminding us that victory is up ahead, that the Promised Land is on the horizon.  I imagine these angels as hardcore gym trainers, motivating athletes when they’ve been pushed to the brink of their strength.  When we find ourselves in those moments, we must not give up, but remember that each of us has a destiny to fulfill.  God is here for us, even in our growing pains, reminding us that we must continue to grow in Torah, even when it hurts.  There will be times when we seek motivational voices, are those inspirational voices, or even provide those encouraging words to others.  We must be those angelic voices supporting one another, not just during the easy moments, but the difficult, as well.  This is part of what makes us a holy community.


The Beauty of Nature

Rabbi’s Message – April 20, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

This is my favorite time of year, even on a day when the forecast is 60 degrees with a chance of snow!  Earth Week likely is scheduled for now because the weather is perfect for outside activities related to the environment.  I may be biased, but there is no place more beautiful to enjoy the outdoors than by our Temple on Riverside Drive.  I was reminded by many of you at Friday's Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival of how nice it is just to be near our building, even when the Temple is closed.  We all miss spending time here. We feel spiritually connected to this space along the Great Miami River.  Our synagogue sits on one of the most magnificent green spaces in the area from which to soak in the natural surroundings.  It is easy to see God’s creative handiwork here on days when the grass is green and the flowers are blooming.  During services in the summer, congregants love to look through the chapel windows and gaze upon the scenery.  Our worship is framed by beautiful trees, natural land, and the Five Rivers Fountain of Light.  

Dayton is well known nationally for its role in aviation and engineering patents, but it is also distinguished by its extensive MetroPark trails.  How lucky we are to be at the heart of these paths and so close to Riverscape!  Did you know that behind our building we have Adirondack chairs, a picnic table, and benches for you to enjoy?  Or that there is a path at the north end of our parking lot that leads directly into the Great Miami River Trail? If you are looking for a change in scenery, please feel free to take advantage of our outdoor space and our location.  It is a peaceful place to rest and enjoy a lazy Shabbat afternoon.  Enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking the Great Miami River Basin and then, perhaps, take a stroll with a pet, or a bike ride along the river.   However you choose to spend your time this spring, please remember that you are always invited to enjoy our sacred space, especially now.  And if you find yourself smitten by the beauty of the outdoors, consider giving thanks to our Creator with this poetic Prayer for the Preservation of the Environment.
Sovereign of the universe, who makes peace and creates all, sanctify all that Your hand has shaped, with blessings of life and tranquility. Life giver of the worlds, preserve the earth and all therein. Spread Your wings over its multifaceted riches which in Your abundant kindness You have bestowed upon us, so that for all the generations to come, our children and our children’s children may find wonder and healing in the fruits of Your labor. 
You have conferred upon us humankind, guardianship over the earth and all its beings, as it is written: “And God said, we will make people in our image after our likeness and entrust them with dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heaven and over the animals and over all the earth and over every creeping thing on the earth.”  Instill in us the humility and insight to appreciate our planet’s fragile beauty. May we rejoice in our unique and extraordinary environment, enhance it and bequeath it secure, to future generations. As we continue to unravel the infinite mysteries of the world, grant us the wisdom to utilize its myriad treasures sustainably and preserve them. Unify us all humanity with a shared fate and communal responsibility, so that we may act together for the sake of a better future for all. 
May it be Your will, the Lord our God, that You cast Your rainbow above us, as it is written: “And the bow will be in the cloud, and I will look at it and remember the eternal covenant between God and every living soul of all flesh that is on the earth.”  Lord of wonders, renew the world’s natural order as of old and protect us and the environment so that we may have the merit to thank and praise You and may all the earth be filled with Your glory for eternity, Amen and Amen. 

From Sadness to Celebration

Yom HaZikaron & Yom HaAtzmaut

Rabbi's Message - April 13, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Earlier this afternoon, I watched Masa’s Yom HaZikaron Memorial, remembering all who have died to protect the State of Israel.  After completing the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish came the soulful words of Hatikvah to remind us that “our hope is not lost yet.”   This hope is one that has kept the Jewish people alive for thousands of years.   But our hope often is coupled with loss; Jewish life sometimes appears on a continuum of sadness to joy. It is no coincidence that Yom HaZikaron was set to be the day before Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.  The cost of our independence has been heavy.  Even when the loss has not been ours, we do not rejoice without remembering.  We see this in our retelling of the Exodus from Egypt.  When we chant from the Song of the Sea, we whisper the words of Torah when it tells how horses and riders were hurled into the sea behind us.  Our celebration of independence has always been complex.  It is hard, especially for those who are grieving, to switch so quickly from the depths of sadness to the heights of joy.

But it is the joy that helps to sustain us and give us a glimpse into the possibilities of our future.  This is why we savor the lingering scents of candle, wine, and fragrant spices at the end of Shabbat.  We have all done a lot of grieving this year and for some of us, those moments were made harder by the limitations put upon us by the pandemic.  But now, with the onset of spring, the count up to Shavuot, and the initial success of vaccines, hope is in the air again.

Last year we were disappointed we could not celebrate our 10th anniversary of the Jewish Cultural Festival.  But this year, we have the opportunity to honor years of successful fun-raising and fundraising with our creative hat-tip to our most successful continuous event.  And it comes at a time when we are feeling hopeful that things will not stay closed up and closed off indefinitely.  This Friday’s Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival will be a safe opportunity to say hello to friends and community members again.  We can also take home the scents and tastes of delicious baked goods, to help us savor the sweetness of community until next month, when we gather again.

I look forward to greeting all of you this Friday at Temple between 4:00 - 7:00 p.m. when you drive through the “Greet the Rabbi” station!  

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?