V’achalta v’savata u’veirachta
You shall eat, and be satiated, and give thanks (Deuteronomy 8:10)

As some of you may know, those three Hebrew words – V’achalta v’savata u’veirachta – comprise the proof text for the Birkat Ha’mazon, known in English as the Grace After Meals. Birkat Ha’mazon is a very long series of blessings of gratitude that are meant to be recited – and are often sung boisterously – after every meal. (Having grown up singing this every day after lunch at Jewish day school, I still mostly know it by heart.) In addition to offering blessings before eating, such as the Motzi, the blessing over bread, our Sages determined from this verse of Torah that we should also give thanks after we eat. Their decision was based on the order of the words: eat, be satiated, then give thanks!

Why should we be required to give thanks after we eat? The verses in Deuteronomy that immediately follow explain that when you have entered the good land that YHVH is giving to you, and have plenty to eat, and have built fine houses to live in, and you have become prosperous, “beware lest your heart grow haughty…and you say to yourselves, ‘it was my own power and strength that won this wealth for me!’” No, you must remember that your abundance is a gift from God, the Source of All. (8:11-17)

The Torah, as always, understands human nature. When we are famished or thirsty, and someone offers us refreshment, we might find ourselves exclaiming, unbidden, “Oh, thank God!” with a sigh, knowing that imminent relief to our suffering has arrived. But when we are satiated, we quickly forget the need we so desperately carried just moments earlier. That’s the way we are. We get used to our good fortune and our privilege, assume that as our baseline, and then focus on our next need. We forget to give thanks.

I recently read about a study that explored how quickly people become accustomed to new circumstances. For example, when we get faster internet speed, how long does it take before we expect that speed all the time? How long before we find ourselves complaining when the speed is too slow, when just a short time ago we were thrilled with our computer’s new capacity? I don’t remember the details of the study, but the answer is: it takes almost no time at all. And from there it is but a small and predictable step to feeling not only satisfied but self-satisfied, having forgotten completely about our blessed good fortune.

Therefore Judaism instructs that we must practice gratitude before the need is met, and after the need is met – in other words, all the time! Gratitude is the antidote to dissatisfaction. It is impossible to kvetch and keep a straight face when you dwell in a moment of appreciation.

You shall eat, and be satiated, and give thanks. When a physical need is involved, the feeling of satiation comes only after the need is met. But with spiritual and emotional needs, the reverse is true. If you can fill yourself with gratitude, lacks that you may have felt a moment before disappear! It is quite wonderful: when I am counting my blessings, when I am focusing on all the good that is bestowed upon me in any moment, at that moment I lack nothing. I fill and overflow with gratefulness. My cup runneth over.

Prayer is designed to carry us into this blessed state. You can do it right now: you can still your unquiet spirit, you can silence your endless whining simply by noticing the unearned bounty that has been bestowed upon you in this moment. Notice the next breath that has been granted to you, gaze at the greenery outside your window, feel the pulse sending life through your veins and arteries, all of them a gift to you from the Universe…and give thanks. These infinite gifts cannot be bought or sold; they are literally priceless. They have been given to us gratis, freely. And the only way we can even begin to return this kindness is with our own gratitude, freely offered.

Then I might say: You shall give thanks, and then feel satiated with life, and then – if you’re hungry – go ahead and eat something! Enjoy every bite. We are truly blessed, and when we take the time to count our blessings, we remember and rejoice.

Shabbat Shalom and love,

Rabbi Jonathan

  • Geoff Miller on guitar and Cathie Malach on Piano will be joining Rabbi Jonathan this evening at 7:30 pm for an especially musical Kabbalat Shabbat service. Join us!
  • Come laugh this Sunday at 7 pm with the comedy duo Mikhail Horowitz & Gilles Malkine in “Millennial Mishegas”, an evening of deservedly obscure songs, poetry, and shtik from (mostly bogus) Jewish cultural history.
    • Admission: $10 suggested donation
    • We're recommending adults only (although not necessarily mature adults) for this performance.

 

Dear Friends,

I composed this piece a year ago, highlighting Judaism’s insistent and insightful understanding of the dangers of demagoguery. A year later, sadly, tragically, dangerously, the demagogue who was then a presidential candidate is now our president. Therefore I am sharing these teachings with you again today. My thanks to my colleague Rabbi Lewis Eron for his insights into this Torah portion.

Shabbat Shalom and love,

Rabbi Jonathan


Vayikhalu al Moshe v’Aharon vayomru aleihem: “Rav lachem, ki chol ha’edah kulam kedoshim u’v’tocham YHVH – u’madua titnas’u al k’hal YHVH?”

And [Korach and his followers] gathered against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! Is not the entire community holy, and is not YHVH in their midst? Why do you raise yourselves up above the community?!” (Numbers 16:3)

Demagogue: a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument. (Merriam-Webster)

Korach assembles 250 Israelite leaders and publicly confronts Moses and Aaron: “Why do you merit to be the leaders?” Korach’s argument sounds reasonable – did not YHVH speak to all of the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai? Did they not all enter into covenant with YHVH at the mountain? Does not the Divine Presence dwell amongst them all? Why then should the brothers Moses and Aaron have the power of Chief Judge and High Priest? How about a little more power-sharing here? And did not Moses himself recently exclaim, “Would that all YHVH’s people were prophets!” (Num. 13:29)

It sounds good, but the Sages and Jewish tradition don’t buy it. Instead, the Sages examine what can be learned about Korach elsewhere in the Torah, and determine that his words are hollow and self-serving. They then read between the lines and midrashically paint Korach as the embodiment of demagoguery, a phenomenon they clearly are deeply acquainted with, (when it comes to human behavior, there is nothing new under the sun), and they hold Korach up as the example of the political leader not to follow.

The Sages note that Korach is not an ordinary citizen. He is Moses and Aaron’s first cousin. He is part of the priestly elite, and his role is to care for and transport the Ark of the Covenant and all the other sacred objects that furnish the Holy of Holies. Korach is clearly among the most privileged of the Israelites. The midrash describes Korach as exceedingly wealthy, as well. (Even today, the Hebrew and Yiddish expression “as rich as Korach” describes an extremely affluent individual.) The midrash explains that Korach did not earn his wealth. He either came upon it by luck or by dishonorable means. By some accounts Korach expropriated part of the treasure that Joseph hid for Pharaoh. Other stories relate that as a Hebrew slave, he was Pharaoh’s treasurer and placed a good portion of the royal riches into his own purse. Yet Korach’s wealth did not prompt him to do good deeds but only fed his sense of self-importance.

Parshat Korach opens with an unusual wording: Vayikach Korach… – “And Korah took…” (16:1). Took what? Why does the Torah not say “And Korach arose”, or “And Korach gathered around himself…” The midrash expands upon this strange opening and explains: Korach took people with words. His followers were taken in by Korach’s rhetoric. Korach, the rabbis assert, possesses the gift of gab. He knows how to inflame his followers’ grievances and reinforce their sense of entitlement. He distorts and selectively ignores the truth in order to win people over.

For example, the other named leaders that Korach gathers around him have their own reasons to be aggrieved at their exclusion from the highest echelons. Dathan, Aviram and On are all of the tribe of Reuben. If you will recall, Reuben was Jacob’s first-born. Yet descendants of the tribe of Levi are in control. Doesn’t the Torah explicitly direct the inheritance to go to the first-born son? Shouldn’t they be in charge?

But their emotion ignores history. Their patriarch Reuben long ago fell from grace, after he slept with Bilhah, one of his father Jacob’s wives. Jacob stripped him of his first-born privileges (see Genesis 49:3). Yet Korach knew just what to say to appeal to the Reubenites’ humiliation, to promise them restored status, and to get them to stand by his side.

Korach finds good company with the leaders of the Reubenites. Dathan and Aviram are also masterful at manipulating appearances and at twisting language. When Moses asks to meet with Dathan and Aviram they publicly refuse to meet with him, and hold a “press conference” instead, announcing: “We will not meet with that man. Is it not enough that he brought us from a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die here in this wilderness, and now he wants to lord it over us?… We will no longer be hoodwinked by this man! We refuse to meet with him!” (Numbers 16:13-14)

Note Dathan and Aviram’s breathtaking gall: They take the very words of hope that Moses shared with the slaves in Egypt, that if they would leave bondage God would lead them to a land flowing with milk and honey, and use that image to conjure the good old days of slavery! (Happy slaves singing on the plantation, anyone?)

The midrash elaborates on Korach’s clever casuistry (specious argument), creating passages in which he picks apart and mock’s the Torah’s instructions and laws, making them seem pointless and burdensome. Korach paints Moses as a tyrant whose rule is more onerous than Pharaoh’s. He even slanders Moses, claiming that Moses behaved immorally and warning women to stay away from him! He proclaims Moses’ choice of Aaron as High Priest to be pure nepotism, a brazen attempt to consolidate all the wealth of the priestly tithes into Moses’ own family. Korach incites the people, commenting on how well fed these leaders appear to be. He even spins a tale about a poor widow who was forced to give up her only means of livelihood – a single sheep – because of the onerous taxes and regulations that she is forced to follow by Moses and Aaron. Today we call these kinds of stories “fake news”.

But as always, skillful demagogues mine kernels of truth, which is what gives their arguments momentum. Dathan and Aviram play on the fact that Egypt was more fertile than this wilderness through which the Children of Israel now journey: where’s that land of milk and honey you promised us?! Korach also strikes a chord of truth: Moses does possess great authority; Aaron does receive the best cuts of meat. They are privileged. But Korach and his followers also ignore the greater truth: Moses has never governed for his own enrichment. He carries the burden of leadership without fanfare, just as his brother Aaron carries the sins of the entire People on his shoulders when he seeks God’s forgiveness. Aaron and Moses serve a higher purpose, and resist the aggrandizing temptations of power. But Korach, despite his compelling rhetoric and his populist appeals, serves no one but himself.

Thus Jewish tradition uses the contrast of Korach and Moses as an object lesson in leadership, teaching us to be wary of self-serving leaders. In Pirkei Avot, The Teachings of the Sages, Korach becomes immortalized as the example of the wrong path: “Any dispute that is in service of the common good will have enduring value. A dispute that is not in service of the common good has no lasting value… And what is an example of a dispute that has no lasting value? The dispute of Korach and his companions.” (Pirkei Avot 5:17)

In our portion, we are rewarded with a satisfyingly fantastic and wish-fulfilling ending to Korach’s rebellion: the earth opens its mouth and swallows him up along with his cohort. Problem solved, I suppose! But we don’t get to expect any miracles in our own political dramas. Rather, we have to remain vigilant against the Korachs of our day. We must shun the fleeting satisfactions of self-righteous rage that cloud our own good judgment, and hone our abilities to argue with reason, to stand up to falsehoods, and to work with passion for the common good.

Dear Friends,

In May I had the privilege of teaching a class on the writing of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel of blessed memory. His words resonate with relevance across the decades since he composed them, and inspired me afresh, as they always seem to do. I want to share with you one passage that has especially stayed with me. Its message is both timeless and ever timely:

Looking upon myself from the perspective of society, I am an average person. Facing myself intimately, immediately, I regard myself as unique, as exceedingly precious, not to be exchanged for anything else.

No one will live my life for me, no one will think my thoughts or dream my dreams.

In the eyes of the world, I am an average man. But to my heart I am not an average man. To my heart I am of great moment. The challenge I face is how to actualize the quiet eminence of my being.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, from “Who Is Man?” (1965)

I want to repeat that final statement:

“The challenge I face is how to actualize the quiet eminence of my being.”

Heschel is not being arrogant here. Rather, he recognizes the truth, that each of us possesses a “quiet eminence”, an inner light, a unique self. Actualizing that inner self does not require becoming famous, or being recognized at all. It is a private act in which one affirms that one has a place in the world, that one matters. We were not created so that we could hide our unique light under a bushel. We were created in order actualize that light: in our daily exchanges, in our creative life, in our garden, in our work. Whatever the arena of our lives, that is where we each have something to offer that no one can replace: our selves. Your quiet, magnificent eminence is a gift to the world, and a wonder to behold. Go for it.

Shabbat Shalom and love,

Rabbi Jonathan

Dear Family School Families,

Yesterday was our last day of Family School. Thank you for giving us the privilege of teaching, supporting and nourishing your child's Jewish education. It has been a pleasure watching them grow, reflect and inspire us all!

Thank you to our wonderful, loving, dedicated teachers: Partricia Moger, Rose Ostrander and Jill Schwartz. Without you, our Family School would not be all it is! Thank you to our dedicated volunteer Willy Kane, and to all who love and support our school and community!

Over the summer, we will continue to have Tot Shabbat and First Friday Family Shabbat Pot-Luck Dinners. Tot Shabbat starts at 5 pm, and is followed by dinner at 6 pm. All are welcome! These are the dates for the summer: July 7, August 4 and September 1. Please plan on attending. All are welcome!

Everyone has progressed in Hebrew, but I strongly encourage continuing to study at home regularly. A few minutes a day really makes a difference. Each child was sent home with a study pack, please encourage your child to stay on it. If you are interested in arranging a summer tutor for your child, please contact me.

In-Home Shabbat Meals
Friendships are growing within our Family School; wouldn't it be nice to cultivate these relationships out in the community?

Our Congregational Communications Task Force is creating a plan for In-Home Shabbat Meals. They are looking for families that would like to learn more about hosting a Shabbat meal in their home on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon; it is a great way for us to get to know each other in a relaxed Shabbat setting.

It can be a pot-luck or you can do the cooking; that’s up to you.
The Task Force will provide guidelines and support to ensure a fun, successful gathering.

To learn more, contact Amy Messing at (845) 684-5279.

Important Dates to Remember
Please mark your calendars and plan on attending!
Summer Schedule

  • Friday, July 7
    • 5 pm: Tot Shabbat
    • 6 pm: First Friday Shabbat Pot-Luck Dinner
  • Friday, August 4
    • 5 pm: Tot Shabbat
    • 6 pm: First Friday Shabbat Pot-Luck Dinner
  • Friday, September 1
    • 5 pm: Tot Shabbat
    • 6 pm: First Friday Shabbat Pot-Luck Dinner

Back to Family School: First Days

  • Grades 1–6: September 12 (4–6:30 pm)
  • B'nai Mitzvah Class: September 12 (6–8 pm)
  • Pre K–Kindergarten: September 16 (10 am)
  • Teen Class: September 19 (6 pm)

As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or thoughts. Please feel free to call or email me anytime.

Wishing all a warm, loving, happy summer!

(845) 684-4242
familyschool@wjcshul.org

Shalom,

Dee

Dear Family School Families,

This week in Family School, we had stimulating conversation about the Ten Commandments: our students had very interesting thoughts and comments.  Each child was sent home with two papers: one was the simplest form of the Ten Commandments, and the other was a piece by Rabbi Jonathan. 
(Please keep the conversation going at home. There is a lot to talk about!)

On display in the hall outside of the school wing and kitchen are our Chai Cloths. Each child created a Chai Cloth with the intention of giving one to someone in need, whether physically or emotionally. They can be gifted to someone you know or to a member of our congregation that you may not know. Throughout the year, our curriculum has been centered on Kavanah (intention), Gemilut Chassadim (acts of loving kindness), Mitzvot and Tzedakah. The Chai Cloths represent all of these Jewish teachings.

If you or your family have any treasures that have been saved from your ancestors we asked the children to bring something in next Tuesday.  We had great conversation about what is important to you and, what our ancestors may have gone through.  Please ask your child about the story.  One student brought in something that his mom brought from her childhood and something he treasured that was given to him.

It is hard to believe that we have only two more Tuesday classes:

  • May 30th's classes will include a Congregational Shavuot Pot Luck Dinner. School starts at 4 pm as usual, and then we will gather in the social hall at 6 pm. The children will be making noodle kugel for the pot luck dinner. Please come early, bring a dish to share, and stay for dinner. All are welcome.
  • June 6 is the last day of class for Grades 1–6. 

Over the summer, we will continue to have Tot Shabbat and First Friday Shabbat Pot-Luck Dinners; all dates are listed below. Tot Shabbat starts at 5 pm, and is followed by dinner at 6 pm. All are welcome!

Everyone is moving along in Hebrew but I strongly encourage continuing to study at home regularly.  A few minutes a day really makes a difference.

If you are interested in arranging a summer tutor for your child, please contact me.

Sixth Grade families, please look at the available dates for your child's Bar/Bat Mitzvah that Rabbi Jonathan emailed to you. Choose a date as soon as possible so that we can add it to next year's calendar.

In-Home Shabbat Meals

Friendships are growing within our Family School; wouldn't it be nice to cultivate these relationships out in the community?

Our Congregational Communications Task Force is creating a plan for In-Home Shabbat Meals. They are looking for families that would like to learn more about hosting a Shabbat meal in their home on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon; it is a great way for us to get to know each other in a relaxed Shabbat setting.

It can be a pot-luck or you can do the cooking; that’s up to you.
The Task Force will provide guidelines and support to ensure a fun, successful gathering.

To learn more, contact Amy Messing at (845) 684-5279.

Important Dates to Remember

Please mark your calendars and plan on attending!

  • Tuesday, May 30
    • 4 pm: Family School, Grades 1–6
    • 6 pm: Congregational Shavuot Pot Luck Dinner – Everyone is invited! Please plan on attending and bring a dairy/vegetarian dish to share.
  • Friday, June 2
    • 5 pm: Tot Shabbat
    • 6 pm: First Friday Shabbat Pot-Luck Dinner
  • Tuesday, June 6
    • 4–6:30 pm: Family School, Grades 1–6 (LAST DAY)

Summer Schedule

  • Friday, July 7
    • 5 pm: Tot Shabbat
    • 6 pm: First Friday Shabbat Pot-Luck Dinner
  • Friday, August 4
    • 5 pm: Tot Shabbat
    • 6 pm: First Friday Shabbat Pot-Luck Dinner
  • Friday, September 1
    • 5 pm: Tot Shabbat
    • 6 pm: First Friday Shabbat Pot-Luck Dinner

As always, please feel free to contact me  with any questions or concerns. Confidentiality is always ensured.

(845) 684-4242
familyschool@wjcshul.org

Shalom,

Dee

May 18, 2017

Dear Family School Families,

In Family School we read a beautiful book, Elisabeth by Claire A. Nivola.  It is a true story about a girl and her family that fled their home abruptly in Germany and took nothing with them.  There was a doll that the little girl left behind and she was extremely sad. After they left Germany in 1933 they went to Italy and in 1939 left Italy for New York City.  In 1939 they settled in Long Island.  Many years later when she was a mom herself she found her doll in an antique shop.  She could identify it by a dog bite mark the doll had on her arm from her childhood dog.  A miracle! We have been having on going discussion what it would be like and what you would take with you if you had to leave your home immediately. The conversation has continued since Bruria Falik came to talk about Yom Hashoah and her families experiences.

If you or your family have any treasures that have been saved from your ancestors we asked the children to bring something in next Tuesday.  We had great conversation about what is important to you and what our ancestors may have gone through.  Please ask your child about the story.


This Saturday is the End of Year Shabbat Service on May 20, 2017 @ 10am.  The children will be participating in the service that morning with Rabbi Jonathan.  It is a special day to honor the achievements of our students and presenting them with gifts, thanking our teachers, staff, rabbi, parents and supporters.  Please plan on attending,  It is a pot luck lunch with our traditional special dessert, Make Your Own Ice Cream Sundae's. It is a wonderful celebration of learning, growing and being part of our wonderful community!

It is hard to believe that we have only 3 more Tuesday classes:   May 23, 2017, May 30, 2017  will include a Shavuot Pot Luck Dinner with everyone @ 6pm please come early and stay for dinner and, June 6, 2017 Last day  for grades 1-6.   PreK-K Last day May 20, 2017.

Everyone is moving along in Hebrew but I strongly encourage studying at home regularly.  A few minutes a day really makes a difference.  
If you are interested in arranging a tutor for the summer for your child please contact me.


Sixth grade families please look at the dates available from Rabbi Jonathan's email for your child's Bar/Bat Mitzvah and choose the date and send it back.  We are working on next years calendar and need the dates ASAP.

Please consider: 
A great way to build relationships is to share a meal together! Friendships are growing within our Family School wouldn't it be nice to cultivate these relationships out into the community?

Our congregation has a Congregational Communications Task Force.  Their goal is to create community and build relationships.  Currently they are working on creating a plan for In Home Shabbat Meals.  They are looking for families that would like to host a Shabbat Meal in their home either on a Friday night or Saturday luncheon.  It could be a pot luck or you can do the cooking.  That is up to you.  There is a guideline sheet to make it very manageable.  There are support people to insure your success.  It is a great way to meet, welcome and get to know each other in a relaxed Shabbat setting.  If you are interested please let me know, or Amy Messing @ 845.684.5279. 

Thank  you for considering this it is a great way to connect and build community.

School Reminders:

  1. Drop off and pick up is at the front door. 
  2. All doors will be locked after Tefilah at 4:30 pm on Tuesdays.
  3. All families are always welcome to stay for Tefilah. It is prayer time, led by our teachers and rabbi, that takes place in the first 30 minute period of the day (4:00 – 4:30 pm on Tuesdays). It is my favorite part of our Family School: not only do you have the opportunity to pray, but you also have the opportunity to see what our children know, and to witness their thoughts and reflections on what this means to them.
  4. Children will not be allowed to go out to the car without an adult coming in. If your child is in a carpool, please make sure to inform our office of these arrangements and that your child(ren) know who they are leaving with.
  5. Please remind your child to study. 5 minutes a day is all it takes to make a huge difference. When students are prepared for their class they feel good about themselves and are ready to work. Homework insures the success of each child. Each student only has one hour per week to learn a new language in Family School. Homework will reinforce what they have covered in class. Please be part of your child's success by talking and even learning with them each week.
  6. We do our best to keep interruptions to a minimum. If your child needs to leave early, please let me know ahead of time and the teacher will prepare what needs to go home and we will have your child ready for pick up.
  7. All electronic devices need to be turned off and be out of sight.

Important Dates to Remember:

Please mark your calendars and plan on attending

  • Saturday, May 20, 2017: 10 am, End Of Year Shabbat Community Day Pot Luck and Make Your Own Ice Cream Sundae Day!  
  • Tuesday, May 23, 2017: Family School grades 1-6 4-6:30 pm.  
  • Tuesday, May 30, 2017  Family School grades 1-6.   6pm  Shavuot Pot Luck Dinner, Everyone is invited!  Please plan on attending and bring a dairy/vegetarian dish to share.
  • Tuesday, June 6, 2017  Family School grades 1-6 4-6:30 pm.   *LAST DAY*

As always, please feel free to contact me either by phone at (845) 684-4242, or by email at familyschool@wjcshul.org, with any questions or concerns. Confidentiality is always ensured.

Shalom,

Dee

Dear Family School Families,

Another great day in Family School! The children are preparing for the End of Year Shabbat Service on Saturday, May 20, 2017 @ 10am.  They will be participating in the service that morning with Rabbi Jonathan.  It is a special day to honor the achievements of our students, thanking our teachers, staff, rabbi, parents and supporters.  Please plan on attending,  It is a pot luck lunch with our traditional special dessert, Make Your Own Ice Cream Sundae's. It is a wonderful celebration of learning, growing and being part of our wonderful community!
It is hard to believe that we have only 4 more Tuesday classes:  May 16, 2017 (B'Nai Mitzvah), May 23, 2017, May 30, 2017 (Shavuot Pot Luck Dinner with everyone @ 6pm) and June 6, 2017 Last day  for grades 1-6.   PreK-K Last day May 20, 2017.

Everyone is moving along in Hebrew but, I strongly encourage studying at home regularly.  A few minutes a day really makes a difference.  
If you are interested in arranging a tutor for the summer for your child please contact me.


Saturday, May 13, 2017 is our Lag B'Omer BBQ picnic. Festivities begin at 5pm.  There will be music, games, kosher burgers, kosher hot dogs and veggie burgers.  We will also have a bonfire and marshmallow toasting.  Please plan on attending bringing blankets/chairs.
 The event is free, rain or shine.  Donations greatly appreciated.  All are welcome.  
Jews around the world celebrate Lag B'Omer with picnics and bonfires.  It is sure to be fun for all.  Please RSVP to assure we are prepared in abundance.


Sixth grade families please look at the dates available from Rabbi Jonathan's email for your child's Bar/Bat Mitzvah and choose the date and send it back.  We are working on next years calendar and need the dates ASAP.

Please consider: 
A great way to build relationships is to share a meal together! Friendships are growing within our Family School wouldn't it be nice to cultivate these relationships out into the community?

Our congregation has a Congregational Communications Task Force.  Their goal is to create community and build relationships.  Currently they are working on creating a plan for In Home Shabbat Meals.  They are looking for families that would like to host a Shabbat Meal in their home either on a Friday night or Saturday luncheon.  It could be a pot luck or you can do the cooking.  That is up to you.  There is a guideline sheet to make it very manageable.  There are support people to insure your success.  It is a great way to meet, welcome and get to know each other in a relaxed Shabbat setting.  If you are interested please let me know, or Amy Messing @ 845.684.5279. 
Thank  you for considering this it is a great way to connect and build community.

School Reminders:

  1. Drop off and pick up is at the front door. 
  2. All doors will be locked after Tefilah at 4:30 pm on Tuesdays.
  3. All families are always welcome to stay for Tefilah. It is prayer time, led by our teachers and rabbi, that takes place in the first 30 minute period of the day (4:00 – 4:30 pm on Tuesdays). It is my favorite part of our Family School: not only do you have the opportunity to pray, but you also have the opportunity to see what our children know, and to witness their thoughts and reflections on what this means to them.
  4. Children will not be allowed to go out to the car without an adult coming in. If your child is in a carpool, please make sure to inform our office of these arrangements and that your child(ren) know who they are leaving with.
  5. Please remind your child to study. 5 minutes a day is all it takes to make a huge difference. When students are prepared for their class they feel good about themselves and are ready to work. Homework insures the success of each child. Each student only has one hour per week to learn a new language in Family School. Homework will reinforce what they have covered in class. Please be part of your child's success by talking and even learning with them each week.
  6. We do our best to keep interruptions to a minimum. If your child needs to leave early, please let me know ahead of time and the teacher will prepare what needs to go home and we will have your child ready for pick up.
  7. All electronic devices need to be turned off and be out of sight.

Important Dates to Remember:

Please mark your calendars and plan on attending


Saturday, May 13, 2017:  5 pm Lag B'Omer BBQ Picnic, RAIN OR SHINE!
  • Tuesday, May 16, 2017: Family School grades 1-6 4-6:30 pm.  B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6-8 pm.
  • Saturday, May 20, 2017: 10 am, End Of Year Shabbat Community Day Pot Luck and Make Your Own Ice Cream Sundae Day!  
  • Tuesday, May 23, 2017: Family School grades 1-6 4-6:30 pm.  
  • Tuesday, May 30, 2017  Family School grades 1-6.   6pm  Shavuot Pot Luck Dinner, Everyone is invited!  Please plan on attending and bring a dairy/vegetarian dish to share.
  • Tuesday, June 6, 2017  Family School grades 1-6 4-6:30 pm.   *LAST DAY*

As always, please feel free to contact me either by phone at (845) 684-4242, or by email at familyschool@wjcshul.org, with any questions or concerns. Confidentiality is always ensured.

Shalom,

Dee

V’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha

Love your fellow human being as yourself (Leviticus 19:18)

“This is the central principle of the Torah” (Rabbi Akiva, 2nd C C.E.)

“The rest is commentary – go and study” (Rabbi Hillel, 1st C B.C.E.)

This week we reach the pinnacle of the Torah, chapter 19 of Leviticus in the portion Kedoshim. The chapter begins with YHVH instructing the entire Children of Israel, “You must be holy, for I, YHVH your God, am holy.” What follows are the ethical behaviors that the community of Israel must fulfill in order to manifest this collective quality of kedusha – holiness. These instructions parallel the Ten Commandments of the Book of Exodus, where we are also told that we must fulfill these commandments in order to become a holy people. But the Holiness Laws of Leviticus actually transcend the Ten Commandments, for after repeating most of the “Thou Shalt Nots” of the Ten Commandments, the Holiness Laws culminate in the positive decree to love your neighbor.

The commandment to love here is clearly not meant to address our feelings, but rather our behavior. In fact, a more accurate translation of v’ahavta l’re’echa kamocha might be “Behave lovingly toward your neighbor, as you would wish for yourself.

But what constitutes loving behavior? The verses that precede this one tell us what we must do, and it is a tall order

You shall not render an unfair decision, nor pervert justice; do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich – treat all people fairly.

 

Do not slander others.

 

Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s blood is being shed.

 

If you see your neighbor committing an offense, do not hate them in your heart; rather, admonish them and try to interrupt their behavior. If you do not do this, you bear some of the guilt for their misdeed.

 

Do not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your neighbor; rather you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am YHVH, the Source of all life. (19:15-19)

Oh my! We are not being told to be merely tolerant. We are not being told to just live and let live. We are being told that to fulfill our collective potential we must take an active interest in each other’s lives. We must care and act when other lives are at stake, or when we know that someone is headed down a dark path. In a holy society, there are no innocent bystanders.

Underlying all of these commandments is the fundamental assertion of the Torah that every single human being is of infinite value, because every single human being is made in the Divine image. In a holy society, no one is expendable.Everyone merits fair and dignified treatment, simply because they are human. If we are to be a holy people, all of our decisions, all of our communal norms, all of our policies must align with and grow out of this understanding.

Judaism, it has been said, is a 3,000-year-long discussion of ethics, and the Torah is our foundation. Being a “practicing” Jew means that we take on that challenge of continuing to think and act in ways that make us more ethical and make our communities more loving and just. If we follow Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Akiva’s lead – and that is what Judaism has followed for all of these centuries – then there is no way around it: Being a good Jew means putting ethical behavior at the center of our existence.

I offer these thoughts humbly, for I am humbled by the enormity of the demand placed upon me as a Jew. I fail so often to live up to these principles! But I am also inspired to be the inheritor of our aspirational teachings and by our unbending ideals. I am inspired to belong to a tradition that demands the best in me. Fortunately there are plenty of Jewish holidays for rejoicing in life’s goodness and bounty, so that our spirits might be regularly replenished. Meanwhile, we have holy work to do.

Shabbat Shalom and Love,

Rabbi Jonathan

Dear Family School Families,

It was great to see everyone together again!  We talked about our Passover Seder experiences with great excitement!  Passover is a great holiday for family, friends and food to all be Jewish together and create memories!

In tefilah, Rabbi Jonathan  discussed, Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), Yom Hazikaron ( Israel's Memorial Day) and Yom Ha'atzmaut (Israel Independence Day). Our students are very bright with lots of great thoughts and knowledge!

Everyone is moving along in Hebrew but, I strongly encourage studying at home regularly.  A few minutes a day really makes a difference.

1st Friday is May 5,2017 with our  Tot Shabbat at 5 pm followed by our monthly Pot Luck Shabbat Dinner at 6 pm. We are also welcoming new members.

Saturday, May 13, 2017 is our Lag B'Omer BBQ picnic. Festivities begin at 5pm.  There will be music, games, kosher burgers, kosher hot dogs and veggie burgers.  We will also have a bonfire and marshmallow toasting.  Please plan on attending bringing blankets/chairs and a pareve side dish (non dairy) or outside friendly dessert like fruit or cookies.  The event is free, rain or shine.  Donations greatly appreciated.  All are welcome.  
Jews around the world celebrate Lag B'Omer with picnics and bonfires.  It is sure to be fun for all.  Please RSVP to assure we are prepared in abundance.


Sixth grade families please look at the dates available from Rabbi Jonathan's email for your child's Bar/Bat Mitzvah and choose the date and send it back.  We are working on next years calendar and need the dates ASAP.

Please consider: 
A great way to build relationships is to share a meal together! Friendships are growing within our Family School wouldn't it be nice to cultivate these relationships out into the community?

Our congregation has a Congregational Communications Task Force.  Their goal is to create community and build relationships.  Currently they are working on creating a plan for In Home Shabbat Meals.  They are looking for families that would like to host a Shabbat Meal in their home either on a Friday night or Saturday luncheon.  It could be a pot luck or you can do the cooking.  That is up to you.  There is a guideline sheet to make it very manageable.  There are support people to insure your success.  It is a great way to meet, welcome and get to know each other in a relaxed Shabbat setting.  If you are interested please let me know, or Amy Messing @ 845.684.5279. 
Thank  you for considering this it is a great way to connect and build community.

School Reminders:

  1. Drop off and pick up is at the front door. 
  2. All doors will be locked after Tefillah at 4:30 pm on Tuesdays.
  3. All families are always welcome to stay for Tefilah. It is prayer time, led by our teachers and rabbi, that takes place in the first 30 minute period of the day (4:00 – 4:30 pm on Tuesdays). It is my favorite part of our Family School: not only do you have the opportunity to pray, but you also have the opportunity to see what our children know, and to witness their thoughts and reflections on what this means to them.
  4. Children will not be allowed to go out to the car without an adult coming in. If your child is in a carpool, please make sure to inform our office of these arrangements and that your child(ren) know who they are leaving with.
  5. Please remind your child to study. 5 minutes a day is all it takes to make a huge difference. When students are prepared for their class they feel good about themselves and are ready to work. Homework insures the success of each child. Each student only has one hour per week to learn a new language in Family School. Homework will reinforce what they have covered in class. Please be part of your child's success by talking and even learning with them each week.
  6. We do our best to keep interruptions to a minimum. If your child needs to leave early, please let me know ahead of time and the teacher will prepare what needs to go home and we will have your child ready for pick up.
  7. All electronic devices need to be turned off and be out of sight.

Important Dates to Remember:

Please mark your calendars and plan on attending

  • Saturday, April 29, 2017:  10 am Prek-K Class.
  • Tuesday, May 2, 2017: Family School grades 1-6 4-6:30 pm. B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6-8 pm.
  • Friday, May 5, 2017: Tot Shabbat 5 pm followed by 1st Friday Pot luck Shabbat Dinner @ 6 pm.  New Member welcome at our dinner.
  • Tuesday, May 9, 2017: Family School grades 1-6 4-6:30 pm.  Teen Class, 6-8 pm.
  • Saturday, May 13, 2017:  5 pm Lag B'Omer BBQ Picnic,
  • Tuesday, May 16, 2017: Family School grades 1-6 4-6:30 pm.  B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6-8 pm.
  • Saturday, May 20, 2017: 10 am, End Of Year Shabbat Community Day Pot Luck and Make Your Own Ice Cream Sundae Day!  
  • Tuesday, May 30, 2017  Family School grades 1-6.   6pm End Of Year Shavuot Pot Luck Dinner, Everyone is invited!  Please plan on attending and bring a dairy/vegetarian dish to share.
  • Tuesday, June 6, 2017  Family School grades 1-6 4-6:30 pm.   *LAST DAY*

As always, please feel free to contact me either by phone at (845) 684-4242, or by email at familyschool@wjcshul.org, with any questions or concerns. Confidentiality is always ensured.

Shalom,

Dee

Dear Friends,

I want to give you a sense of the vitality of the Woodstock Jewish Congregation by describing our activities of the coming week—and invite you to participate in any event that awakens your curiosity. (As you read these offerings, click on the links for more information.)

Are you interested in meditation as a spiritual practice? We are honored to host Rabbi Jeff Roth along with our own Gail Albert as they lead a brand new Jewish Mindfulness/Heartfulness Practice Group. The meetings are free and open to all, and the first gathering is Monday, April 24 from 7–8:30 pm. Take this opportunity to explore the emerging field of contemplative Judaism with these masterful teachers.

Looking for inspiration in troubled times? I will be teaching a new course beginning Tuesday, April 25, 1:30–3:30 pm: Abraham Joshua Heschel: A Prophet for Our Times. Rabbi Heschel, theologian, mystic, and activist, was a champion of social justice and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest Jewish colleague. We will be reading and reflecting on essays from two of his collections, The Insecurity of Freedom and Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity.

Do you want to express yourself with fullness and joy? Our own master theater teacher Carol Fox Prescott begins a new series of classes on Tuesday, April 25, from 7–9 pm: Breathing, Awareness and Joy. Anyone who has experienced Carol’s teaching and coaching will attest to its transformative power to awaken and express our deepest selves.

Are you a man looking for fellowship with other men? Our new WJC Men’s Group also meets on Tuesday, April 25 from 7:30–9 pm.
We have also formed a Women’s Rosh Chodesh Group, led by our Student Rabbi Kami Knapp—they meet next on Sunday April 30, 10 am–12 pm to celebrate the New Moon of Iyyar, the month of healing.

Every Wednesday morning, April 26, 10 am–12 pm, come have fun in Yiddish with Chane’s Yiddish Vinkl, led by our own Noami Halpern.

Then, on Wednesday evening, April 26 at 7:30 pm we have a concert of some great Yiddish music! We are delighted to present FRAYDELE, a new project led by multi-instrumentalist Joanna Sternberg. Named after Joanna’s grandmother Fraydele Oysher, a pioneer of Feminism Yiddish Theater, FRAYDELE performs their own unique arrangements and interpretations of soulful songs from Yiddish Theater and Yiddish folk music traditions. This concert is free—your donations are welcomed—and is sponsored by the Chane Yachness Fund for Ashkenaz Culture Through Yiddish Language, Music and Literature.

Of course, if you have time on Thursday, April 27, 5:30–6:45 pm you can join me for our always-enlightening study of the weekly Torah portion, Parshat Hashavua.

I admit that all of this marvelous activity does leave me a bit breathless, but also very gratified. We truly are fulfilling our WJC Vision Statement, which begins, “The Woodstock Jewish Congregation is dedicated to the advancement of Jewish ethics, culture and religion. We strive to enable participants to enrich their lives through Jewish worship, celebration, practice, study and fellowship.”

And there is always more: Shabbat services tonight, April 21, at 7:30 pm. Tomorrow, Shabbat morning, we have the privilege of calling another of our incredible young people, Sylvie Bergquist, to the Torah as a Bat Mitzvah. It is such a joy! Sunday, April 23 at 6:30 pm we join with the Ulster County Jewish community for our annual Yom Hashoah memorial service, this year taking place at Congregation Agudas Achim, 254 Lucas Ave., in Kingston. And looking just a little bit ahead, on Sunday, April 30 from 12–2 pm our next Gallery Lev Shalem exhibit, “Inner Journeys”, opens.

I’ll stop here and catch my breath! I hope you find this plethora of activities heartening and enticing, and that you feel encouraged to keep up with all that is happening at the WJC. I also hope that you remember that you are always welcome at our great smorgasbord (is there a Jewish word for that?) of Jewish life here at the Congregation of a Full Heart.

Shabbat Shalom and love,

Rabbi Jonathan

My dear friend and esteemed colleague Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum recommended a little book for me to read, and now I want to recommend it to all of you. The book is On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder, the Levin Professor of History at Yale University. Snyder has written numerous works, among them Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. He serves as a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

On Tyranny can be read and absorbed in one or two sittings. It is a work of “public scholarship”, a manifesto meant to show us a bigger historical picture, and to equip us with the necessary understanding so that we can confront our own political moment with clarity and with courage.

By drawing lessons from the collapse of democracies and the rise of fascism and totalitarianism during the first half of the twentieth century, Snyder makes clear that the future of democracy in the United States is by no means ensured. History teaches us that democratic systems can lose their footing, and that opportunists will reliably exploit those weaknesses to further undermine the rule of law and replace it with governing systems that consolidate power in the hands of a few. Snyder’s account of Vladimir Putin’s current skillful maneuvering to undermine and weaken European and American democracy is especially chilling. Framed within this global perspective, the election of our current president and his administration’s priorities fit into a terrifying pattern of democratic systems losing their grip in a way that might have seemed unimaginable until recently.

Unimaginable, that is, if one has been raised on what Snyder calls the “politics of inevitability”. This is the mythic framing of American history as the inevitable march toward ever-greater democracy and freedom. I remember learning back in junior high about the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, that the United States of America was somehow blessed – even chosen – by divine providence to move ever forward to greater glory and fulfillment. Growing up as I did in the prosperous post-war baby boom, I absorbed and accepted this ahistorical myth of the march of progress. It was a comfort, and an inspiration to live within this bubble: to the moon and beyond, humanity marches toward a brighter tomorrow. But it is beyond time to put these myths aside; history is a clear-eyed witness that human progress is not assured.

This should be of keen interest to us as Jews for multiple reasons. As an oft-maligned minority, we Jews thrive and are safest when societies abide by the rule of law and the protections of human rights. The tyranny of Nazi Germany led to our near-annihilation. The tyranny of Stalinism led to the crushing and near-extinguishing of our culture and religion, and to gross institutionalized discrimination against us. It is in our obvious self-interest as Jews to resist tyranny and to defend democracy.

Even more obvious is the message of Passover: Long ago, we ourselves were subjugated by tyranny. We groaned under our servitude. And the Source of Life brought us out from that crushing place to freedom. Therefore, we tell this story to remember where we came from, and to remember that we serve the Source of Life. And, as the Haggadah then explains, “Whoever expands and expounds upon this story is worthy of praise!”

This Passover let us be wise, and learn from both the lessons of Torah and from the lessons of recent history. The world needs us to be informed and empowered citizens. I recommend as your Passover reading On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.

Wishing you all a sweet and illuminating Pesach,

Rabbi Jonathan

April 5, 2017

Dear Family School Families,

We started our day in tefillah with Rabbi Jonathan singing the 4 Questions and singing other Passover songs.  We really have a very musically talented group!  After tefillah was Hebrew studies, everyone is progressing and enthusiastic!  After Hebrew, we read a wonderful book The Four Questions.  It was written by Lynne Sharon Schwartz and paintings by Ori Sherman.  Definitely worth checking out.  It is a book that will be enjoyed by all. 

Three varieties of charoset were made by our students.  They chopped, cut, mixed and then were able to taste the fruits of their labor. Besides being singers they also are cooks!  You may want to consider adding something different to your charoset recipe this year,  We added dates, oranges and figs chopped up into one of the recipes.  They were all delicious!  

 We will be off for 2 weeks, no school on April 11th and 18th  please help your student stay focused and fresh in their Hebrew studies.  We want everyone to feel success!
 I wish you all a Zissen Pesach.  Enjoy the break and have a sweet delicious seder.

Sixth grade families please look at the dates available from Rabbi Jonathan's email for your child's Bar/Bat Mitzvah and choose the date and send it back.  We are working on next years calendar and need the dates ASAP.


Here is the schedule of make up days:
FAMILY SCHOOL MAKE UP DAYS
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Tuesday, May 30, 2017 and,
Tuesday, June 6, 2017.
Our End of Year Shabbat  will stay scheduled for Saturday, May 20, 2017 but, Family School will continue for 3 more Tuesdays.  We understand scheduling is difficult and next year we will build in extra Tuesdays at the end of the year to use if  needed.  Hopefully we have seen the end of weather cancellations for this year!


Please consider: 
A great way to build relationships is to share a meal together! Friendships are growing within our Family School wouldn't it be nice to cultivate these relationships out into the community?

Our congregation has a Congregational Communications Task Force.  Their goal is to create community and build relationships.  Currently they are working on creating a plan for In Home Shabbat Meals.  They are looking for families that would like to host a Shabbat Meal in their home either on a Friday night or Saturday luncheon.  It could be a pot luck or you can do the cooking.  That is up to you.  There is a guideline sheet to make it very manageable.  There are support people to insure your success.  It is a great way to meet, welcome and get to know each other in a relaxed Shabbat setting.  If you are interested please let me know, or Amy Messing @ 845.684.5279. 
Thank  you for considering this it is a great way to connect and build community.

School Reminders:

  1. Drop off and pick up is at the front door. 
  2. All doors will be locked after Tefillah at 4:30 pm on Tuesdays.
  3. All families are always welcome to stay for Tefilah. It is prayer time, led by our teachers and rabbi, that takes place in the first 30 minute period of the day (4:00 – 4:30 pm on Tuesdays). It is my favorite part of our Family School: not only do you have the opportunity to pray, but you also have the opportunity to see what our children know, and to witness their thoughts and reflections on what this means to them.
  4. Children will not be allowed to go out to the car without an adult coming in. If your child is in a carpool, please make sure to inform our office of these arrangements and that your child(ren) know who they are leaving with.
  5. Please remind your child to study. 5 minutes a day is all it takes to make a huge difference. When students are prepared for their class they feel good about themselves and are ready to work. Homework insures the success of each child. Each student only has one hour per week to learn a new language in Family School. Homework will reinforce what they have covered in class. Please be part of your child's success by talking and even learning with them each week.
  6. We do our best to keep interruptions to a minimum. If your child needs to leave early, please let me know ahead of time and the teacher will prepare what needs to go home and we will have your child ready for pick up.
  7. All electronic devices need to be turned off and be out of sight.

Important Dates to Remember:

Please mark your calendars and plan on attending

  • Friday, April 7, 2017:  5 pm Tot Shabbat followed by our 1st Friday Shabbat Pot Luck @ 6pm. Please come and bring a dish to share!
  • Tuesday April 11, 2017: NO FAMILY SCHOOL.  
  • Tuesday, April 18, 2017NO FAMILY SCHOOL.
  • Tuesday, April 25, 2017: Family School 4 pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.  Teen Class 6-8 pm.
  • Saturday, April 29, 2017:  10 am Prek-K Class.

As always, please feel free to contact me either by phone at (845) 684-4242, or by email at familyschool@wjcshul.org, with any questions or concerns. Confidentiality is always ensured.

Shalom,

Dear Family School Families,

We are continuing on our Hebrew journey.  I strongly encourage all students to study.  It is difficult to learn a new language with only 1 hour per week dedicated to learning it.  Studying makes a huge difference.  Just 5 minutes a day makes a  difference!  When children are not prepared they are not committed.  When children see their parents are interested and committed it is more important to them as well.  They need support and encouragement.  Just 5 minutes per day help tremendously!  We will be off for 2 weeks, no school on April 11th and 18th  please help your student stay focused and fresh in their Hebrew studies.  We want everyone to feel success!

Sixth grade families please look at the dates available from Rabbi Jonathan's email for your child's Bar/Bat Mitzvah and choose the date and send it back to me.  We are working on next years calendar and need the dates ASAP.


Please consider attending our 2nd night Freedom Seder for Passover.  Our website has all the info, you can register on line as well.

Here is the schedule of make up days:
FAMILY SCHOOL MAKE UP DAYS
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Tuesday, May 30, 2017 and,
Tuesday, June 6, 2017.
Our End of Year Shabbat  will stay scheduled for Saturday, May 20, 2017 but, Family School will continue for 3 more Tuesdays.  We understand scheduling is difficult and next year we will build in extra Tuesdays at the end of the year to use if  needed.  Hopefully we have seen the end of weather cancellations for this year!


Please consider: 
A great way to build relationships is to share a meal together! Friendships are growing within our Family School wouldn't it be nice to cultivate these relationships out into the community?

Our congregation has a Congregational Communications Task Force.  Their goal is to create community and build relationships.  Currently they are working on creating a plan for In Home Shabbat Meals.  They are looking for families that would like to host a Shabbat Meal in their home either on a Friday night or Saturday luncheon.  It could be a pot luck or you can do the cooking.  That is up to you.  There is a guideline sheet to make it very manageable.  There are support people to insure your success.  It is a great way to meet, welcome and get to know each other in a relaxed Shabbat setting.  If you are interested please let me know, or Amy Messing @ 845.684.5279. 
Thank  you for considering this it is a great way to connect and build community.

School Reminders:

  1. Drop off and pick up is at the front door. 
  2. All doors will be locked after Tefilah at 4:30 pm on Tuesdays.
  3. All families are always welcome to stay for Tefilah. It is prayer time, led by our teachers and rabbi, that takes place in the first 30 minute period of the day (4:00 – 4:30 pm on Tuesdays). It is my favorite part of our Family School: not only do you have the opportunity to pray, but you also have the opportunity to see what our children know, and to witness their thoughts and reflections on what this means to them.
  4. Children will not be allowed to go out to the car without an adult coming in. If your child is in a carpool, please make sure to inform our office of these arrangements and that your child(ren) know who they are leaving with.
  5. Please remind your child to study. 5 minutes a day is all it takes to make a huge difference. When students are prepared for their class they feel good about themselves and are ready to work. Homework insures the success of each child. Each student only has one hour per week to learn a new language in Family School. Homework will reinforce what they have covered in class. Please be part of your child's success by talking and even learning with them each week.
  6. We do our best to keep interruptions to a minimum. If your child needs to leave early, please let me know ahead of time and the teacher will prepare what needs to go home and we will have your child ready for pick up.
  7. All electronic devices need to be turned off and be out of sight.

Important Dates to Remember:

Please mark your calendars and plan on attending


 Tuesday, April 4, 2017Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.  B'Nai Mitzvah Class, 6pm - 8pm. 
  • Tuesday April 11, 2017: NO FAMILY SCHOOL.  Please consider attending the WJC Freedom Seder.
  • Tuesday, April 18, 2017NO FAMILY SCHOOL.
  • Tuesday, April 4, 2017: Family School 4 pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6

As always, please feel free to contact me either by phone at (845) 684-4242, or by email at familyschool@wjcshul.org, with any questions or concerns. Confidentiality is always ensured.

Shalom,

Dee

Dear Members and Friends of Kehillat Lev Shalem,

As spring arrives (in fits and starts!), with it another Passover approaches. As much as I thrill at the promise of spring, I marvel at the longevity of Passover. I feel privileged, and also obligated, to continue to celebrate this ancient festival that Jews have marked for some 3,000 years or more.

Passover actually has four Hebrew names; taken together these names cover the breadth of this holiday:

  • Pesach – “Pass over”. The Children of Israel slaughter lambs and then spread the blood of the sacrifice on the lintels above their doors. On the terrible night when the Angel of Death sweeps over Egypt, slaughtering the Egyptians’ first-born sons, the Angel of Death passes over the Israelites’ homes. When we sit at the Seder table, we mark the night vigil of Pesach. The roasted lamb shank bone on the seder plate reminds us of our ancestors’ vigil so many generations ago, and we are commanded to tell the story to the next generation, just as we received it from our own elders.
  • Chag Ha’aviv – The Festival of Spring. Passover is our ancient springtime celebration, always timed for the first full moon of spring. We clean our houses, throw out our old, fermented food stores, take off the storm windows, and let the fresh air in as we rejoice in the end of winter and the rebirth of spring.
  • Chag Hamatzot – The Festival of Unleavened Bread. The Torah commands us to eat only unleavened bread – matzah – for the full week of the festival. Matzah is known as lechem oni, which can be translated as either “the bread of affliction” or “the bread of poverty”. As we tell the story of our escape from bondage, the Torah instructs us to eat matzah in order to identify with the fleeing slaves, and with poor people everywhere. Therefore during the seder we hold up the plate of matzot – some also open their front door – and announce, “This is the lechem oni that our ancestors ate in the Land of Egypt. Let all who are hungry, come and eat!” Our tradition wants us not only to hear the story of our oppression and liberation, but to taste it, to ingest it, to embody it, so that it becomes a part of who we are, people who can empathize with the degradation of oppression, and who can appreciate the gift of freedom.
  • Z’man Cheruteinu – The Season of Our Liberation. For me, this traditional name for our Festival encompasses all of the others, for liberation is at the heart of our yearning and our celebration. We celebrate the earth’s liberation from the bondage of winter, and the life that bursts forth in spring. We celebrate our ancestors’ liberation from bondage, and our birth as a free people. We retell and re-embody the story of that dangerous and difficult time, so that the ancient memory lives on. We celebrate the ever-present potential for human liberation, for the ultimate triumph of the human spirit against those who would wish to crush it. We ponder what our tale of freedom means for us, in our generation, as the Haggadah instructs: “In every generation you must see yourself as personally journeying out of the land of bondage.” And we celebrate that the Jewish People are still here to share our inspiring tale with one another and with the world.

If you are looking for an inspiring and uplifting seder to join this year, look no further than the WJC. Our long-time friend, singer, songwriter, activist and all-around amazing human being Reggie Harris will be joining me for our annual Second Night Community Seder, Tuesday, April 11, 5:30-8:00pm. It will be an evening of great music and food and meaningful conversation as we apply our ancient message to our contemporary challenges. Register soon – space is limited and we expect a full house.

Wishing us all energy and inspiration in this Season of Liberation!

Shabbat Shalom and love,

Rabbi Jonathan

U’vayom hashvi’i shavat vayinafash

And on the seventh day [God] paused from labor and [God’s] spirit was restored. (Exodus 33:17)

This famous passage appears in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa. Many will be familiar with it because it is end of a brief passage that we know as V’shamru, verses that we sing at every Shabbat service that remind us of the central importance of Shabbat to the Jewish People. Just as God rested and was restored on the seventh day, following 6 days of labor, so we are instructed to recuperate every week from our busy lives.

The hoped for result of this weekly respite is the term vayinafash, usually translated as “restored” or “refreshed”. In Hebrew, vayinafash is constructed from the root nefesh, which means “soul”, “spirit”, or “self”. Therefore the most literal, and evocative, translations of vayinafash might be “re-souled”, or “inspired”, or “find yourself”.

Our world, especially right now, is in many ways a frightening, dispiriting and soul-sucking environment. Bombarded with coarse and violent news, absorbed in the trivialities of constant information, fatigued by our efforts to walk upright through our days, we can lose our selves, and be swept off of our foundation. We can forget that life is good and that we can be agents of positivity in our lives. We need a regular reminder that life goes much deeper than the latest news cycle. We need a sanctuary in which we can nurture our tender hearts and spirits. We need a respite during which we can offer one another courage and hope to face the next day. This is the purpose of Shabbat.

One of the key functions of a synagogue, as I see it, is to be a space and a community in which people can restore their spirits, in which we can be “re-souled” on a regular basis. We approach this purpose with many different modalities: song; sacred study; fellowship; laughter; moral inventory; and prayer, to name a few. Last week, at Purim, the modality was laughter. If you attended our purimspiel, you hopefully exited with a lighter spirit and the healing release of laughter. (And a special shout-out to purimspiel author Bennett Neiman, and to our great cast of Purim players!) This Shabbat, with our special guest Rabbi Miriam Margles, we explore prayer as a restorative practice. Rabbi Miriam and I titled this weekend “Going Deep: Tapping the Wellsprings of Love and Courage”. Here’s what I wrote on the flyer:

“Prayer is meant to move us, both in the sense of awakening our insides, and moving us to action. Prayer, when practiced with intention and openness, helps us to act with clarity while maintaining a joyous and calm center. Our world needs our clear, loving and powerful presences, and prayer – both individual and communal – is a practice that nurtures and helps us to manifest our best selves. Prayer takes us inward, where we can tap the unfailing spring of Life Unfolding, and then outward, as that spring flows through us and waters the world with love and righteousness.

Rabbi Miriam is a master of this terrain, and a masterful guide in its subtle pathways. Shabbat is a retreat, a sanctuary in which we can replenish and renew ourselves. This Shabbat, Rabbi Miriam and Rabbi Jonathan, using both traditional prayers and experiential exercises, will help us tap the wellsprings of love and courage so that we can continue to step forward into our troubled world.”

Please join us for Shabbat services tonight at 7:30pm. Gabriel Dresdale will be accompanying us all with his sensitive and beautiful cello playing. A festive and copious Kiddush will follow, as Evan and Neesa Holland celebrate their move to their new home in Woodstock with all of us.

Saturday morning, Rabbi Miriam and I will be leading Shabbat service at 10am. At noon we will all be sharing a potluck lunch. And then from 1:30-4:30 pm Rabbi Miriam and I will be leading a free workshop, “To Be Moved and To Move: An Experiential Workshop on the Power of Prayer”. No preregistration is required – just wear comfortable clothes and bring a willing heart.

We hope that you experience the quality of vayinafash with us this Shabbat, that you find your spirit renewed and your soul restored. And please remember that your presence is also a gift, strengthening and encouraging the rest of us. Let’s go deep together here at the Congregation of the Full Heart, and then face the world together as well, with renewed energy.

Shabbat Shalom and love,

Rabbi Jonathan

March 15, 2017

Dear Family School Families,

Wow, we finally got the BIG one!  Hopefully all extreme weather is behind us and everyone managed well!

For everyone that attended our Purim celebrations thank you!  The Purim Spiel was great!  And, a GIANT thank you to our B'Nai Mitzvah Class for hosting fun game booths for the carnival!  Fun was had by all!  

This weekend we have a guest scholar Rabbi Miriam Margles.  Rabbi Miriam is a beloved member of our shul community she will be spending the weekend co-leading services and a Shabbat afternoon workshop with Rabbi Jonathan.  Friday night is our first back to later time services.  7:30 pm is the start time.  On Saturday, services begin at 10 am, 12-1pm is a pot luck Shabbat Lunch (bring a dairy/vegetarian dish) followed by To Be Moved and To Move:  An Experiential Workshop on the Power of Prayer ending at 3:30 pm.  Come, bring a friend all are welcome!
Saturday is also, our PreK-K Class from 10 am - 12 pm.  Morah Wendy is looking forward to seeing everyone!

Reminder:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 @ 5pm incoming  2017-2018 B'Nai Mitzvah Class meeting with Rabbi Jonathan. A meeting to discuss dates, expectations and requirements for the B'nai Mitzvah year. Parents and students  attend.   Please RSVP to me.


Here is the schedule of make up days:
FAMILY SCHOOL MAKE UP DAYS
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Tuesday, May 30, 2017 and,
Tuesday, June 6, 2017.
Our End of Year Shabbat  will stay scheduled for Saturday, May 20, 2017 but, Family School will continue for 3 more Tuesdays.  We understand scheduling is difficult and next year we will build in extra Tuesdays at the end of the year to use if  needed.  Hopefully we have seen the end of weather cancellations for this year!


Please consider: 
A great way to build relationships is to share a meal together! Friendships are growing within our Family School wouldn't it be nice to cultivate these relationships out into the community?

Our congregation has a Congregational Communications Task Force.  Their goal is to create community and build relationships.  Currently they are working on creating a plan for In Home Shabbat Meals.  They are looking for families that would like to host a Shabbat Meal in their home either on a Friday night or Saturday luncheon.  It could be a pot luck or you can do the cooking.  That is up to you.  There is a guideline sheet to make it very manageable.  There are support people to insure your success.  It is a great way to meet, welcome and get to know each other in a relaxed Shabbat setting.  If you are interested please let me know, or Amy Messing @ 845.684.5279. 
Thank  you for considering this it is a great way to connect and build community.

School Reminders:

  1. Drop off and pick up is at the front door. 
  2. All doors will be locked after Tefilah at 4:30 pm on Tuesdays.
  3. All families are always welcome to stay for Tefilah. It is prayer time, led by our teachers and rabbi, that takes place in the first 30 minute period of the day (4:00 – 4:30 pm on Tuesdays). It is my favorite part of our Family School: not only do you have the opportunity to pray, but you also have the opportunity to see what our children know, and to witness their thoughts and reflections on what this means to them.
  4. Children will not be allowed to go out to the car without an adult coming in. If your child is in a carpool, please make sure to inform our office of these arrangements and that your child(ren) know who they are leaving with.
  5. Please remind your child to study. 5 minutes a day is all it takes to make a huge difference. When students are prepared for their class they feel good about themselves and are ready to work. Homework insures the success of each child. Each student only has one hour per week to learn a new language in Family School. Homework will reinforce what they have covered in class. Please be part of your child's success by talking and even learning with them each week.
  6. We do our best to keep interruptions to a minimum. If your child needs to leave early, please let me know ahead of time and the teacher will prepare what needs to go home and we will have your child ready for pick up.
  7. All electronic devices need to be turned off and be out of sight.

Important Dates to Remember:

Please mark your calendars and plan on attending



Saturday, March 18, 2016: PreK-K Class 10am - 12pm.
  • Tuesday, March 21, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.  B'Nai Mitzvah Class, 6pm - 8pm.  5 pm meeting with incoming B'Nai Mitzvah students and families.
  • Tuesday, March 28, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6. 
  • Tuesday, April 4, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.  B'Nai Mitzvah Class, 6pm - 8pm. 

As always, please feel free to contact me either by phone at (845) 684-4242, or by email at familyschool@wjcshul.org, with any questions or concerns. Confidentiality is always ensured.

Shalom,

Dee

March 8, 2017

Dear Family School Families,

Thank you to all families that came to the Shabbat Seder and Tot Shabbat.  It was a lovely evening.  Starting Shabbat together is a great way to become connected with our community.  We are blessed to have each other!

This weekend is an exciting Purim Weekend at Woodstock Jewish Congregation!

 Saturday night, March 11th @ 7:30 pm is our patriotic Purim parody, MAKE SHUSHAN GREAT AGAIN!  Use your imagination and expect a wild show!  Everyone is welcome and there is no fee.  Your donations are always gratefully accepted.  Hamentashen and raffle tickets will be available for sale.

Sunday, March 12, 9-10:30 am Reading of the Megillah.  Come hear the whole Megillah!  One of the mitzvot of Purim is to read the entire story, and drown out the name of Haman.  We will take turns reading in English-bring your best jokes, wear a costume if you wish, and we have the groggers!  


Our Purim Carnival follows the Megillah reading from 10:30 am-11:45 am. Run by our B'Nai Mitzvah Class families.  Come in costume, make Shlach Manot baskets, play games, win prizes. Celebrate Purim!

11:45 -12:30 pm is a Sing-along, costume parade, raffle drawing and the Purim story with Rabbi Jonathan.

12:30 - 1:15 pm:  Pot Luck Lunch, please bring a dairy/vegetarian dish to share.
Please plan on attending and invite your friends.  All are welcome!


This week in Family School we continue to progress in Hebrew studies.  Studying and reviewing at home is a very big help.  A few minutes per day makes a big difference.  

 Here is the schedule of make up days:
FAMILY SCHOOL MAKE UP DAYS
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Tuesday, May 30, 2017 and,
Tuesday, June 6, 2017.
Our End of Year Shabbat  will stay scheduled for Saturday, May 20, 2017 but, Family School will continue for 3 more Tuesdays.  We understand scheduling is difficult and next year we will build in extra Tuesdays at the end of the year to use if  needed.  Hopefully we have seen the end of weather cancellations for this year!


Please consider: 
A great way to build relationships is to share a meal together! Friendships are growing within our Family School wouldn't it be nice to cultivate these relationships out into the community?

Our congregation has a Congregational Communications Task Force.  Their goal is to create community and build relationships.  Currently they are working on creating a plan for In Home Shabbat Meals.  They are looking for families that would like to host a Shabbat Meal in their home either on a Friday night or Saturday luncheon.  It could be a pot luck or you can do the cooking.  That is up to you.  There is a guideline sheet to make it very manageable.  There are support people to insure your success.  It is a great way to meet, welcome and get to know each other in a relaxed Shabbat setting.  If you are interested please let me know, or Amy Messing @ 845.684.5279. 
Thank  you for considering this it is a great way to connect and build community.

School Reminders:

  1. Drop off and pick up is at the front door. 
  2. All doors will be locked after Tefilah at 4:30 pm on Tuesdays.
  3. All families are always welcome to stay for Tefilah. It is prayer time, led by our teachers and rabbi, that takes place in the first 30 minute period of the day (4:00 – 4:30 pm on Tuesdays). It is my favorite part of our Family School: not only do you have the opportunity to pray, but you also have the opportunity to see what our children know, and to witness their thoughts and reflections on what this means to them.
  4. Children will not be allowed to go out to the car without an adult coming in. If your child is in a carpool, please make sure to inform our office of these arrangements and that your child(ren) know who they are leaving with.
  5. Please remind your child to study. 5 minutes a day is all it takes to make a huge difference. When students are prepared for their class they feel good about themselves and are ready to work. Homework insures the success of each child. Each student only has one hour per week to learn a new language in Family School. Homework will reinforce what they have covered in class. Please be part of your child's success by talking and even learning with them each week.
  6. We do our best to keep interruptions to a minimum. If your child needs to leave early, please let me know ahead of time and the teacher will prepare what needs to go home and we will have your child ready for pick up.
  7. All electronic devices need to be turned off and be out of sight.

Important Dates to Remember:

Please mark your calendars and plan on attending


Sunday, March 12, 2017: 10:30 am - 1:15 pm Purim service, carnival and pot luck lunch.  Plan on attending!
  • Tuesday, March 14, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.  Teen Class with Rabbi Jonathan 6-8 pm.
  • Saturday, March 18, 2016: PreK-K Class 10am - 12pm.
  • Tuesday, March 21, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.  B'Nai Mitzvah Class, 6pm - 8pm.
  • Tuesday, March 28, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6. 

As always, please feel free to contact me either by phone at (845) 684-4242, or by email at familyschool@wjcshul.org, with any questions or concerns. Confidentiality is always ensured.

Shalom,

Dee

Dear Friends,

You are likely aware that anti-Semitic incidents are on a dangerous rise around the United States. Most prominently there have been dozens of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers, and Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized and desecrated. I have unfortunately also been receiving reports about anti-Semitic taunts and posters in our own Mid-Hudson Valley region.

While of course very distressing, none of this is surprising to me. Human beings tend to follow the cue of their leaders, and when hateful speech and intolerant behavior is modeled and championed from our national leadership, tacit permission is granted to everyone who is so inclined to exercise their own hateful speech and impulses. Hatred can breed in every human heart, and a healthy society’s role is to marginalize, suppress, and ideally undo that hatred, so that we can have a civil – as in civilized – society. We need look no further back than the Nazi regime to understand the human potential for evil, and the terrifyingly slippery slope that allows the container of civilized behavior to be upended. We also need look no further today than to Syria, where once again human savagery – led by Syria’s dictator Assad – has swept away the human values that uphold civilization. Jewish tradition names this recurrent wave of human depravity “Hamashchit” – “The Destroyer”, and the 11th century sage Rashi points out, “When the Destroyer is let loose in the land, innocent and guilty suffer alike.”

We are living in a dangerous moment.

I think it is important for us Jews to remember that despite our historic role as scapegoat, here in the United States at this moment we are not first in line for the forces of bigotry. Muslims and Hispanics appear to be closest to the crosshairs, and people of darker skin shades in general are the primary focus of bigoted hatred. But we are certainly all in this together, and the truism “What affects one, affects us all” is as true now as it has ever been.

Fortunately, that awareness of our need to look out for one another is being dramatically awakened in response to these developments. Perhaps you followed the heartening response to the desecration of the Chesed Shel Emet Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. Two Muslim activists, Linda Sarsour of MPower Change and Celebrate Mercy’s Tarek El-Messidi, immediately launched a crowd-funding response to their Muslim communities in order to raise $20,000 to repair the cemetery. Within hours they had surpassed that goal and raised $100,000!

Then, as my colleague Rabbi Yael Ridberg reports, “less than a week later, when the Mt. Carmel Jewish Cemetery in Philadelphia was desecrated, Tarek El-Messidi abandoned his travel plans and was one of the first people on the scene, helping to lift toppled stones, and pledging to use funds from the now $130,000 collected, to aid in restoration efforts in Philadelphia, and anywhere else they might be needed.

Many members of the American Muslim community gave of themselves — their money, their verbal condemnation of the attacks, their physical presence to volunteer at the cemeteries and stand together with Jews against such anti-Semitic actions.” Read more of her excellent post here.

Our Muslim allies’ response is precisely what is called for from all of us at this tenuous moment in the United States and around our planet. We can contain and subdue the forces of division and hatred with our determined efforts to remain connected and to offer support across group boundaries. I think that one of the goals of terror is to get folks to shrink back and close ranks with their own kind. I implore us Jews to resist the contracting imperative of fear, and instead to reach out determinedly to the countless people of good will from all corners of humanity who understand that we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

Shabbat Shalom and love,

March 1, 2017

Dear Family School Families,

I am so sorry that the make up day information was not included last week.  Here is the schedule of make up days:
FAMILY SCHOOL MAKE UP DAYS
Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Tuesday, May 30, 2017 and,
Tuesday, June 6, 2017.
Our End of Year Shabbat  will stay scheduled for Saturday, May 20, 2017 but, Family School will continue for 3 more Tuesdays.  We understand scheduling is difficult and next year we will build in extra Tuesdays at the end of the year to use if  needed.  Hopefully we have seen the end of weather cancellations for this year!


This week in Family School we continue to progress in Hebrew studies.  Studying and reviewing at home is a very big help.  A few minutes per day makes a big difference.  
Our Chai Cloth project has taken a life of its own.  The children have really taken ownership in creating a very meaningful work of art truly from their hearts.  It has been a multi-step process requiring a lot of thought and concentration.  Please ask your children about it.

This Friday, March 3, 2017 is First Friday Shabbat Seder @ 6 pm.  Please bring a dairy/vegetarian dish to share along with your family to start Shabbat together with a beautiful community dinner.  Candle lighting, blessings, songs, dinner and great company will be enjoyed by all.

Tot Shabbat is also this Friday, March 3, 2017.  We start at 5 pm, followed by our Shabbat  pot luck dinner  at 6 pm.

Sunday, March 12, 2017 is our Purim Celebration and Pot Luck Lunch,10:30 am - 1:00 pm. Our B'Nai Mitzvah Class runs carnival games for the children and shekels are given out to redeem for prizes.  We encourage everyone to come in costume, planning to have fun with games, face painting, making Shalach Manot baskets, stories and singing with Rabbi Jonathan. Ending with the pot luck lunch.  Please plan on attending and invite your friends.  All are welcome!


Please consider: 
A great way to build relationships is to share a meal together! Friendships are growing within our Family School wouldn't it be nice to cultivate these relationships out into the community?

Our congregation has a Congregational Communications Task Force.  Their goal is to create community and build relationships.  Currently they are working on creating a plan for In Home Shabbat Meals.  They are looking for families that would like to host a Shabbat Meal in their home either on a Friday night or Saturday luncheon.  It could be a pot luck or you can do the cooking.  That is up to you.  There is a guideline sheet to make it very manageable.  There are support people to insure your success.  It is a great way to meet, welcome and get to know each other in a relaxed Shabbat setting.  If you are interested please let me know, or Amy Messing @ 845.684.5279. 
Thank  you for considering this it is a great way to connect and build community.

School Reminders:

  1. Drop off and pick up is at the front door. 
  2. All doors will be locked after Tefilah at 4:30 pm on Tuesdays.
  3. All families are always welcome to stay for Tefilah. It is prayer time, led by our teachers and rabbi, that takes place in the first 30 minute period of the day (4:00 – 4:30 pm on Tuesdays). It is my favorite part of our Family School: not only do you have the opportunity to pray, but you also have the opportunity to see what our children know, and to witness their thoughts and reflections on what this means to them.
  4. Children will not be allowed to go out to the car without an adult coming in. If your child is in a carpool, please make sure to inform our office of these arrangements and that your child(ren) know who they are leaving with.
  5. Please remind your child to study. 5 minutes a day is all it takes to make a huge difference. When students are prepared for their class they feel good about themselves and are ready to work. Homework insures the success of each child. Each student only has one hour per week to learn a new language in Family School. Homework will reinforce what they have covered in class. Please be part of your child's success by talking and even learning with them each week.
  6. We do our best to keep interruptions to a minimum. If your child needs to leave early, please let me know ahead of time and the teacher will prepare what needs to go home and we will have your child ready for pick up.
  7. All electronic devices need to be turned off and be out of sight.

Important Dates to Remember:

Please mark your calendars and plan on attending

  • Friday, March 3, 2017:  Tot Shabbat @ 5pm followed by our monthly First Friday Shabbat Seder @ 6pm.
  • Tuesday, March 7, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.  B'Nai Mitzvah Class, 6pm - 8pm.
  • Sunday, March 12, 2017: 10am - 1pm Purim Carnival.  Plan on attending!
  • Tuesday, March 14, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6. 
  • Saturday, March 18, 2016: PreK-K Class 10am - 12pm.
  • Tuesday, March 21, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.  B'Nai Mitzvah Class, 6pm - 8pm.
  • Tuesday, March 28, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6. 

As always, please feel free to contact me either by phone at (845) 684-4242, or by email at familyschool@wjcshul.org, with any questions or concerns. Confidentiality is always ensured.

Shalom,

Dee

Dear Friends,

Our tour of Israel, “Meetings with Remarkable People”, has come to an end, and it exceeded all of our expectations. I know I can speak for everyone in our group when I say that we were uplifted and inspired by the passionate, courageous and principled individuals we encountered. We were able to experience an aspect of Israel that does not make the headlines: individuals from all sectors of the society who feel compelled to make a positive impact on the nation in which they live.

At times we traveled far off the beaten tourist path – sometimes literally, as our bus drove on bumpy dirt roads and across railroad tracks. We met a retired Israeli Supreme Court Justice and we met a Beduin woman who has started her own cottage industry. We met a Christian Arab High School principal transforming her impoverished students’ lives and we met a self-described punk rocker and hippie originally from Australia transforming the desert into fertile soil. We met a Palestinian Muslim man who, with his Israeli partner, daily risks his life to bring Palestinian and Israeli teens together, and we met an Israeli Jewish man who is guiding troubled Jewish teens to become proud men. We met a successful jeweler who is training Ethiopian Jews in his trade as his way of giving them an entrée into a stable economic life, and we met a passionate young Israeli woman who works for a solar energy company that is now providing most of the electricity for the city of Eilat, and has much bigger plans for the future.

We met all of these people, and many more. None of these individuals can solve the endemic problems of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. None of them can single-handedly undo the inequities of their society. None of them has any measurable influence on or significant access to Israel’s current governing coalition or Prime Minister Netanyahu. None of them has the power to stem the terrifying tide of angry nationalism and racism that is sweeping our world, or to hold back global climate change.

Yet none of them are giving up. In fact, what all of these individuals share is a twinkle in their eyes, and a fierce determination and love for what they do and especially for the people they serve. Each one of them has a vision and a purpose for their lives, and was eager to share it with us. Each one has identified what they are passionate about, and is pursuing their goals despite the daunting obstacles. None of these remarkable people is making headlines or rolling in grant money, but every one of them is an agent for positive change.

Perhaps you see where I’m headed with this: our trip not only reminded me that Israel is filled with good people. Our trip reminded me that the entire world is filled with good people. Anywhere you will go, if you know how to look, you will meet countless people who have empowered themselves and are committed to improving their societies. The people we met in Israel are remarkable yet also ordinary people, often very humble, but lit by the inner fire of love and of a sense of purpose, of wanting to be of service. Their sphere of influence is limited: a business, a school, a farm, a small city, a courtroom, a youth group, yet they are not deterred, because they are doing what they love and what they know must be done. They often spoke of their children, and of their desire to hand them a better world.

And so I came back from Israel with the gift of their inspiring examples. I came home encouraged and empowered to keep making a difference in the world within my own sphere, to act locally while I think globally, and I want to share this gift with you as well.

We are living in dark times, but there are good people everywhere. Find them, join hands with them, draw inspiration from one another, do work that you care about, and keep your heart open. That is certainly my goal.

I once again wish to thank our guide Kayla Ship and her organization Keshet Educational Tours for showing us this slice of life in Israel. I can’t wait to return.

If you want to hear more about our trip, you are invited to join me and members of our Israel group on Sunday, March 5, 11am-1pm at our monthly WJC brunch. We will be sharing our reflections and stories from our journey, and look forward to your questions and comments.

Shabbat Shalom and Love,

Rabbi Jonathan