Thinking About God: Part 1

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Thinking About God: Part 1
Thursdays October 14, 21, and November 4, 11, 18 at noon

Rabbi Bodney-Halasz leads us on a journey through Rabbi Kari H. Tuling's book "Thinking About God: Jewish Views," beginning with Part I: Is God the Creator and Source of All Being—including Evil? Over five weeks we will examine this question through biblical, liturgical, rabbinic, medieval, and modern texts, Feel free to bring your own lunch.  This class is free.  Register now.

Leading By Example

Rabbi's Message - July 6, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

Many of us know the importance of pikuach nefesh - saving a life.  It is the most important value in our tradition, even more so than keeping Shabbat.  This past week in Daf Yomi (the cycle of reading a page of Talmud a day), Yoma 84b elaborates on a Mishnah about preservation of life on Shabbat: treating a sore throat with medicine, even when it doubtfully endangers the ill person’s life.  One is permitted to do all kinds of healing acts that would typically violate the prohibitions of Shabbat: mixing and taking medication, heating water for drinking or bathing, and more are specifically listed.  The Talmud teaches that “these acts should not be performed by gentiles or Samaritans” – that is, those who are otherwise not bound by Jewish law, but rather, “by the greatest of the Jewish people” – that is, the sages and scholars who are well-versed in how to act properly.  

The context is that the sages and scholars would fully understand the Jewish law of what is permitted as well as the individual circumstance of the ill person.  They are the best people to examine both pieces and understand how best to proceed.  However, it brings to mind the Torah’s teaching that the priests are the ones who examine a leper, meaning that the highest ranking individuals in rabbinic circles had to have a degree of humility.  One could have said that they should be consulted and someone of lessor status be the one to break Shabbat on behalf of the ill person.  This would have allowed for the knowledge of the sage to take precedent while the ‘grunt work’ is done by someone else.  But it doesn’t.  

This reminds me of a rabbinic story wherein a couple seeks the help of their rabbi to settle a dispute.  The husband studies Jewish texts dutifully all day, and does not want to complete simple chores, particularly taking out the trash when he returns home as that is too mundane for a great Torah scholar.  The wife asks the rabbi if there is something in Jewish tradition to compel her husband to take out the trash.  The next morning, the rabbi shows up at their house.  The man excitedly invites him in – but the rabbi declines, saying he is merely there to take out the man’s trash.  It may be beneath the man’s dignity, but not the Rabbi’s.

Much like the sages the of the Talmud (and the husband in our story), while one can make excuses for not ‘getting our hands’ dirty and claim that something is not our job – our tradition teaches that dignity is not gained nor lost from labor itself, but rather in how it is done, and not assuming that you are better than the next person.  Perhaps what makes us considered among the greatest of our people, is not merely knowing the law, but being willing to get our hands dirty, to be the one to do the thing no one wishes to do.  So, what will you do this week to get your hands dirty?

Did you pitch in, help out, and get your hands dirty at our Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival events?  If so, join us for a special thank you event on Tuesday, July 13 at 5:30 p.m.  We’ll enjoy Graeter’s ice cream together at Temple and then walk over to watch the Dayton Dragons take on the Great Lakes Loons at 7:05 pm.  Tickets to the game may be purchased on your own online.  

Increase in Joy

Celebrating Religious Freedom

Rabbi’s Message – March 2, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Mi shenichnas l’Adar marbim b’simcha.”  

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

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

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

Equal Access for a Brighter, Safer Future for All

Addressing Equality for All

Rabbi’s Message – February 9, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Temple Israel Information During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Temple Israel Information During the Covid-19 Pandemic

For centuries, synagogues have played a central role as places of holy gathering, learning, prayer and service.  Our Sages teach there comes a time when the Jewish community is confronted with sha’at had’chak, an hour of duress, when lives and safety are at risk and the kehillah must adjust accordingly. Traditionally, sha’at had’chak occurred when Jews, specifically, were threatened. But the moment in which we find ourselves is not limited to Jews or synagogues, nor even Americans or Israelis. The spread of COVID-19 is a global crisis, and our faith demands of us that we stand now as citizens of the world.

We have assembled a team of congregational leaders and staff to develop and periodically review policies to ensure that we can maintain our essential functions in a safe and responsible manner. This group communicates regularly and makes necessary adjustments to our policies in response to current developments of the pandemic and the latest advice from public health organizations.  Under the current guidelines, the following policies have been implemented:

  • Friday night Shabbat services and Saturday morning Torah study will convene virtually.  Join our services via Zoom and email franwr@gmail.com for Torah study Zoom link.
  • No in-person services will be held.
  • All programming, including religious school, will be virtual until further notice.  Check our calendar for the most up to date information.
  • Temple Israel administrative offices will be open during limited hours for essential work only.

Meetings of the synagogue, such as committee meetings – particularly those of larger groups – will be held remotely via telephone or video conference. Check the calendar or check with the chair of the committee for more information.

We recognize that “social distancing” makes it difficult to accomplish the rich community-building to which we aspire at Temple Israel. These are temporary measures to deal with the situation at hand. We will need to find new ways to express our appreciation for and support of one another. When possible we will use technology to bridge the divide.

Rabbis Bodney-Halasz and Sobo remain available to anyone who is in need of pastoral care. In addition, our congregation continues to think through how best to support our most vulnerable members through this crisis. Please contact Rabbi Bodney-Halasz at rabbi@tidayton.org if you wish to be part of that conversation. 

During this “hour of duress,” may we continue to hold each other from afar, and may the bonds of friendship that unite our Temple Israel family continue to grow even as we endure this difficult congregational, national and global moment.

For specific information about Covid-19, please visit our resources page.  

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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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.

 

Our Covenant with the World

Rabbi’s Message – June 16, 2020

Our Covenant with the World

Last fall, with the support of our Board of Directors, Temple Israel signed on as a “Brit Olam” congregation of the Religious Action Center.  Brit Olam translates to covenant with our world” and is a promise to create a world in which all people experience wholeness, justice, and compassion.   In Pirkei  Avot we are taught: “Study alone is not enough, our tradition demands action.”   Brit Olam is our commitment to actively work for social justice.  By signing this covenant, we promised to foster a culture of sacred and civil dialogue in our community where all opinions are heardact in solidarity with vulnerable communities, build relationships across lines of difference in our local community, act at the local, state/provincial, and/or federal levels to address the root causes of injustice, advocate for systemic change, mobilize around issues that resonate with our community, and participate in state-specific social justice work with RAC-Ohio.   

We hear the voices all over the world proclaiming the urgency of this work.   We must continue to fight against racism and other forms of injustice, even if we are unable to physically do it togetherWe need to begin conversations about what this might look like.  Join me in this effort.  If you are interested in these conversations and becoming more meaningfully involved in social justice, contact me.  You may email me at rabbi@tidayton.org or leave me a voice message at the TempleAnd if you want to dive in now, I strongly urge you to participate in the YWCA’s 21 day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge, which begins on Friday.  This is a great step toward deepening your understanding of systemic racism in America.  May every step we take bring us closer to fulfilling the work of Brit Olam.  To learn more about the Union for Reform Judaism’s Brit Olam communities, visit www.rac.org/britolam.  

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/