Dear Friends,

While the snow continues to fall in the Hudson Valley, we have arrived in the very south of Israel, a desert landscape of beige and brown. The climate is cool at night and pleasantly mild during the day, a contrast to the surprisingly biting chill that met us in Jerusalem.

View of Mountains from Kibbutz Ketura

We are staying at Kibbutz Ketura, a kibbutz that was founded in 1973 by a group of idealistic young adults from Young Judaea, an American youth movement sponsored by Hadassah. (I’m sure there are some Young Judaeans out there reading this!) They claimed a completely barren site in the Arava valley - a great example of “the middle of nowhere” – and over the decades built a thriving, progressive community. Ketura is an old-style kibbutz, still maintaining itself as a complete cooperative. Across the road is Kibbutz Lotan, another successful kibbutz founded by American youth from the Reform movement. Immediately beyond Lotan is the border with Jordan – one can walk through the groves of date palms and reach the fence. Fortunately, the peace treaty with Jordan is stable, and the border here for decades has been completely calm. The view is stunning and restorative.

Ketura’s success was by no means guaranteed. The Arava receives almost no rainfall, has no obvious natural resources, and the summer heat is brutal. Through trial and error some of the kibbutzniks created a successful algae factory that is quite profitable. And, of course, they noticed that the area’s greatest resource is continuous and intense sunshine – solar power. Led by Yossi Abramowitz, and battling Bezek, the Israeli electric company that holds a monopoly in Israel, Ketura has created a burgeoning solar energy company, with plans to build enormous fields of photovoltaic panels that will be able harvest enough sunlight to power the entire southern region – including parts of Jordan. They certainly hope to extend their reach to the rest of Israel, planning for a sustainable energy future.

In my eyes, Ketura’s crowning achievement is the Arava Institute (http://arava.org).

In keeping with the kibbutz’s vision to promote pluralism and peaceful cooperation in the region, the Arava Institute trains environmental activists and academics from Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, and around the world. Their website states, “The Arava Institute is a leading environmental and academic institution in the Middle East, working to advance cross-border environmental cooperation in the face of political conflict. Students live, learn and work together at the Institute, study conflict resolution, and celebrate each other’s holidays, in all ways encountering one another intimately. The Institute’s motto is “Nature knows no borders”. I encourage you to peruse their website, and if you are inspired, consider offering your support.

Last night we had the pleasure of participating in a kibbutz-wide Tu B’Shvat Seder in the communal dining room. (Tu B’Shvat actually falls on Shabbat, but the kibbutz was celebrating a day early so as not to conflict with their Shabbat observance. At the WJC, our student rabbi Kami Knapp will be leading our Tu B’Shvat Seder following our Shabbat morning services and lunch!)

Tu B'Shevat at Kibbutz Ketura

Tu B’Shvat falls on the full moon of the month of Shvat, and marks the “New Year for Trees” in Israel. We taste the fruits of Israel, sing songs, and give thanks for the bounty and goodness that the trees provide us. The kibbutz dining hall was packed. We sat near the Kenyan volunteers who are here for a year working on the kibbutz. Children dressed as flowers and butterflies and bees performed a dance, teens taught us rounds and chants, adults spoke meaningful words, we ate delicious fruits and nuts, and our group was blessed with a privileged glimpse into the life of this community.

The most moving moment for me was the prayer for peace. The organizers invited up a representative of every different language spoken on the kibbutz. Each one then recited the prayer in his or her own language: French, Spanish, English, Dutch, Afrikaans, three Kenyan languages whose names I do not know, Swahili, Arabic, and Hebrew: “Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu, v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei tevel” – “May the One who makes peace above, make peace among us, all Israel, and all who dwell on earth.” After each recital we all declared “Amen”.

The members of Kibbutz Ketura are certainly doing all that is within their power to contribute to that vision of a peaceful and sustainable world. May they be blessed in all of their efforts.

Over the past week we met with so many remarkable and inspiring people, and I promise to write more about those meetings in weeks to come. This has been an extraordinary trip. But now as Shabbat approaches I will pause, and send you all my warmest wishes for your wellbeing. I will write again soon.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jonathan

Dear Family School Families,

Family School is cancelled once again due to freezing rain!  The advisory is now until 7pm according to accuweather.com.  Safety is our main concern.  Please put in to your thoughts that we will be extending the school year and keep Tuesdays available for few weeks after our original end date. Our last Tuesday was originally scheduled to be May 16, 2017.  Please keep your calendars open for a possible 4 additional Tuesday into June.  More info will follow.

 This Saturday February 11, 2017 @ 10 am is our monthly Shabbat Community Day followed by our pot luck lunch, it is also our TuB'Shevat Seder.  Please plan on attending with your families.  All are welcome, bring friends and family to celebrate the trees!
Saturday February 11, 2017 is our PreK-K Class 10am-12pm followed with our pot luck and TuB'Shevat Seder.


Looking forward to seeing all next Tuesday, February 14 2017 Family School 4 - 6:30  pm.  PLEASE REMEMBER TO STUDY HEBREW.  IT REALLY MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE AND IS A BIG HELP.  Thank you!  Please stay safe and warm!

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, February 7, 2017:  Family School Canceled 
 
  • Saturday, February 11, 2017:  Shabbat Community Day for grades 1-6.  We will be celebrating TuB'Shevat with a TuB'shevat Seder  after lunch.  Please plan on attending.
  • Saturday, February 11, 2017:   PreK-K Class 10am - 12pm.  Please plan on staying for the pot luck lunch and TuB'Shevat Seder.
  • Tuesday February 14, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6
  • Tuesday, February 21, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.  B'Nai Mitzvah Class, 6pm - 8p,

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,

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem!

I am in the midst of an incredibly stimulating and well-planned tour of Israel with a great group of 33 individuals ranging in age from 15 into the 80s. I have been working with Keshet Educational Tours, our tour company, for more than 20 years. Their mission, as indicated by their name, is to educate while we tour, and they just keep getting better and better. Our trip is really a seminar-on-wheels, with fabulous educators teaching us about different aspects of society, history, politics and nature in Israel, alternating with fascinating experiences, sightseeing and large amounts of great food. It is odd to say this, but right now being in Israel actually feels like a break from the turmoil of our own United States.

I only have time to give you a small taste of my experiences thus far, and will write more in the coming week. But let me begin at the beginning. As I emerged from my plane last Sunday at Ben Gurion Airport I scanned all the advertisements – for yogurt, for banking, for cell phones – all in Hebrew. And as always, I marveled that we Jews had, against all odds, reinvented ourselves, rebuilt a long-lost homeland, resurrected our ancient tongue, and here I was again, living a miracle. That sense of awe always overtakes me when I am in Israel, and doesn’t leave me, even as I grapple with the intractable problems and existential questions that accompany life in Israel. During my cab ride from the airport I had what felt like the perfect introduction to my time here (and a chance to practice my Hebrew, as well.) My driver was a sweet young man from Tel Aviv, and after we greeted one another he said to me, “We in Israel are used to living in a balagan (a great Hebrew word which means “a mess”); now the whole world is a balagan – even the United States is a balagan!” I responded, “You’re right, but at least here in Israel this is our balagan!” And so it is, and I still cannot help but embrace it.

Our group convened that evening at our hotel, and in the morning we headed off on our adventures. One high point for me was meeting with David Breakstone. David Breakstone is the brother of our own WJC member Diane Colello. David is also the Vice Chair of the World Zionist Organization, and the founder of Israel’s Theodore Herzl Museum. A passionate educator, David has spent his adult life in Israel promoting Herzl’s original vision of Zionism: a movement not only to create a refuge for World Jewry from anti-Semitism, but also a movement to create a Jewish society that could be a model of equity and social justice for all of its citizens. No one will dispute that Herzl’s utopian dreams are far from being realized, and are even in many aspects receding. Other less generous versions of Zionism battle for preeminence. But thanks to people like David Breakstone, Herzl’s dreams have not died, and the educational center he created stimulates countless Israeli students and teachers to think about the founder of Zionism’s vision, and to consider what kind of nation they themselves might want to work for.

We had the privilege the next day of learning from another amazing educator, Noam Zion, a scholar at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute. The late American philosopher David Hartman founded the Hartman Institute in 1976, shortly after he had moved to Israel. Its mission is to reinterpret Jewish teachings for the challenges of modernity, such as religious pluralism, democracy, and especially the unprecedented challenges of a newly powerful Jewish state. How can one apply Jewish ethics to the implementation of state power? Is it even possible for a nation state to behave ethically? The Hartman Institute has become a leading center and influential think tank in Israel for political, educational, military and religious leaders to explore these challenging questions.

Noam Zion was one of the scholars responsible for the creation of the Israel Defense Force’s manual on the ethics of warfare. All IDF officers and soldiers are required to study this curriculum. Professor Zion led us through a lesson that describes the training these soldiers receive. Rather than a simple book of rules, the curriculum teaches soldiers how to pursue ethical decision-making in complex, dangerous and even life-threatening situations. Professor Zion described the substantial effort the IDF has made to train soldiers who will respond ethically in tremendously difficult conditions. He described the extreme challenges of what is known as asymmetrical warfare: a uniformed army confronting a civilian population, among whom are unidentified enemies. I cannot even begin in this brief paragraph to do justice to the nuances of Professors Zion’s teaching. Suffice to say that this was not propaganda – it was mind-expanding education in the best sense, raising for all of us more questions than answers.

Kayla Ship, our terrific Keshet tour guide, told us that when the Keshet staff had a strategic planning meeting, they came up with a tagline for their educational mission: “It’s Complicated”. In all of the meetings we have thus far had, no teacher or presenter has insulted our intelligence. No question has been off limits. I am deeply impressed by the education our lovely group has received thus far, our minds expanding and bending, our assumptions challenged, sometimes painfully, sometimes thrillingly, sometimes both at the same time.

Which brings me back to my own mission statement: if you want to really understand Israel, you must come here, preferably more than once. Panel discussions, op-ed pieces, and “60-Minute” reports are completely unable to bring this place to life, and we ourselves become talking heads as we debate Israel from afar. It may be complicated here, but it is also vibrantly alive, and I am so grateful to be traveling with this wonderful WJC group as we bend our minds and wrap our hearts around this extraordinary land.

More to come next week – until then, Shabbat Shalom and take care of yourselves!

Love,

Rabbi Jonathan

Dear Family School Families,

Due to the  snow  Family School  has been canceled for today.  I don't even know what to say or think anymore!  We will all be brainstorming on how to make up days.  I hope everyone will be flexible and open to thoughts  once they are presented.

This Friday, February 3, 2017 is our monthly Tot Shabbat at 5 pm followed by our  dairy/vegetarian pot luck Shabbat Dinner @ 6 pm.  All are welcome, please plan on attending and invite someone as well!


Looking forward to seeing all next February 7, 2017 Family School 4 - 6:30  pm.  PLEASE REMEMBER TO STUDY HEBREW.  IT REALLY MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE AND IS A BIG HELP.  Thank you!  Please stay safe and warm!

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, January 31, 2017:  Family School Canceled 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6
  • Saturday, February 11, 2017:  Shabbat Community Day for grades 1-6.  We will be celebrating TuB'Shevat with a TuB'shevat Seder  after lunch.  Please plan on attending.
  • Saturday, February 11, 2017:   PreK-K Class 10am - 12pm.  Please plan on staying for the pot luck lunch and TuB'Shevat Seder.
  • Tuesday February 14, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6
  • Tuesday, February 21, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.  B'Nai Mitzvah Class, 6pm - 8p,

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 am preparing to lead the Woodstock Jewish Congregation’s trip to Israel, “Meetings with Remarkable People.” I fly out this Saturday night, and our group convenes in Jerusalem this coming Sunday evening. We have a full contingent of about 35 people, and I’m sure this will be a deeply meaningful and bonding journey for all of us. Following the tour I will be staying an extra week in Israel to visit with my daughter Timna, who is currently living in Tel Aviv, and to catch up with the rest of my family who live in Israel. I will be back in Woodstock on February 20.

I look forward to writing weekly dispatches to you all about our experiences on the tour. I will be checking my email regularly, so if you need to reach me you will be able to connect with me via email.

All of our services, classes and events will be continuing while I am away, in the able hands of congregation members, our staff and our terrific student rabbi Kami Knapp. At this deeply troubling and unsettled time in the United States I encourage us all to stay connected and close to our synagogue community, so that we can give each other support, perspective, and strength.

I would like to briefly share some words of the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel of blessed memory, whose writings we studied in our Torah study class this week, and will continue to engage with this Shabbat. We have reached the episode in the story of the Exodus when Moses confronts Pharaoh with the message of YHVH: “Let My people go!” Pharaoh replies, “I do not know this YHVH, and I will not let the people go.”

On January 14, 1963, as the keynote speaker at the first “National Conference on Religion and Race”, held in Chicago, Rabbi Heschel used this reference to open his extraordinary address:

At the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses…The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end. Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The exodus began, but is far from having been completed. In fact, it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for a Negro to cross certain university campuses.

Let us dodge no issues. Let us yield no inch to bigotry. Let us make no compromise with callousness.

Rabbi Heschel than builds an irrefutable case that Judaism, and every true religion, must oppose the Pharaonic view that some humans are more equal than others. Anything less is idolatry:

What is an idol? Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol.

That is, we worship the principle of empathy, the capacity to know another person’s pain, the ability to reach out beyond our own ego and recognize our fundamental parity with every human. As YHVH says to Moses at the burning bush, “I have marked well the plight of My people; I have heard their outcry because of their taskmasters; yes, I know their pain.” (Ex 3:7)

With prophetic power, Heschel insists that we worship the God of empathy. His words ring as true today as they did in 1963, for they are the truth. We must be resolute, and confront the Pharaohs of our day who treat other humans and the world as a whole only as playthings for personal gratification. Heschel cites the words of the famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, writing against slavery:

I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to think, to speak, or to write with moderation. I am in earnest – I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – and I will be heard.

Rabbi Heschel’s essay is from his collection The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence (1966). As I strive to keep my moral compass steady in these dangerous times, I find my self turning for guidance to Heschel, a Jewish scholar, an activist, a poet, a refugee from the Nazis who became Martin Luther King’s close colleague, and became the leading moral voice of Jewish teachings during the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War, until his passing in 1972.

When I return from Israel, I will offer a class on Heschel’s writing, so that we can internalize Heschel’s teachings, and bring them into our own lives and actions. His is a Jewish voice that can guide us on the path of righteousness in today’s world.

Until then,

Shabbat Shalom and Love,

Rabbi Jonathan

D’var Torah – Parshat Sh’mot
Mariel Goran

In Genesis we are introduced to the sons of Jacob by name and then in Exodus they’re named again. This repetition gives emphasis to the connection of individual and family to the past.

Each brother is mentioned by name. To name something gives it validity, belonging, and ownership. Jacob’s family holds a high honor to warrant a place in this holy book. Something significant is about to occur, for from these named sons of Israel will come Moses. This is a pretty illustrious family tree, and it’s been preserved for us to cherish.

Joseph was in Egypt before his brothers, and had been accepted as part of the community. As second in command to Pharaoh, Joseph was respected, acknowledged, and well-established in his identity. But with the new ruler, Joseph’s historical memory is lost. To the Pharaoh of the Exodus, Joseph was an unknown.

Pharaoh did not know what Joseph had done for Egypt in the past, nor did he acknowledge any interest in knowing what went on in the past. He views the situation through his own skewed perception that Joseph’s people are a threat. This Pharaoh is one who abuses his authority and position by imposing impossible tasks and condemning Hebrew male infants to death. He concocts what he thinks is a “cunning” way to deal with the problem of the increasing Hebrew population: he would arrange to have all newborn Hebrew males thrown into the river. To him, this must have seemed to be a logical way to prevent future soldiers who may end up fighting against Egypt. This is such a bad, irrational plan on so many levels. Look at who Pharaoh instructed to do this dirty work: The midwives Shifrah and Puah. Note that they have names.

What new mother or father has not experienced the awe and wonder of new life and marveled that every detail of the newborn is in the right place and in the right number? There is no other explanation of how life exists but for the presence of a higher being. This is something the midwives experience on a daily basis.

Maybe this Pharaoh wasn’t the sharpest despot among the unconscionable oppressors of the world, but really, what was he thinking to ask the women who preserve life to act as his cohorts and wantonly take life? He gave this order to the two least likely people on earth to comply. It would go against their purpose in life. If he thought this out more clearly, which fortunately he did not, he could have had a cleverly diabolical outcome.

Here we come face to face with a Pharaoh who is a dictatorial tyrant. He treats Israelites as foes. This Pharaoh is shown as an insecure, power-hungry ruler, afraid that the Israelites are becoming so plentiful that eventually their men would outnumber his own army, or at least join forces with an enemy against Egypt. He makes serious decisions based on a lot of ‘ifs.’

Apparently he thought his power to be so strong and absolute that there would be no question but that Shifrah and Puah would just do as he commanded.

If he were trying to keep his mandate a secret, he must have imagined that no one would notice. ‘Oh, all the Hebrew newborns are dying, wait - only the males. None of the females, and none of the Egyptians.’ Did he really think no one would notice? As Lord Acton said, ‘Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

The “Hebrew midwives” are definitely midwives to the Hebrew women, but could that modifier also mean that they themselves are Hebrew, and act as midwives to all women? There is a division of opinion – some scholars believe that they were Egyptian, some believe that they were Hebrew.

Shifrah, according to Rashi’s Talmudic commentary, is a northern Semitic name, common with the Egyptian slaves, indicating that she is a Hebrew. Puah is a Canaanite name, again supporting the theory that she is a Hebrew. Perhaps it is intentionally ambiguous; either way, they are members of humanity who choose to do the right thing.

Shifrah and Puah are put into a position where an evil dictator attempts to coerce them into immoral behavior because he feels as powerful as God. Recognizing God’s awesome power, Shifrah and Puah ‘fear God’ and know that they cannot follow Pharaoh’s orders. They know that God is One and they do not put another before God, as Pharaoh wants them to do.

From Pharaoh’s point of view, however, he feels his power entitles him to give any outrageous order, and he vainly expects it to be followed, especially by two women who are, in his eyes, not very important.

When Pharaoh asks why they disobeyed his order to kill the male infants, their well thought out reply is that the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian woman. This might give the reader more insight into their position as midwives. By comparing the Hebrew women to the Egyptian women by telling Pharaoh they are more ‘vigorous,’ we might assume they were midwives to both groups and could speak with a certain amount of authority, thus making their argument more persuasive. ‘Vigorous’ could mean that they are so strong and healthy that they don’t need help in childbirth, or that they give birth even before midwives arrive. But if we look at the word that is translated as ‘vigorous,’ חיות, we find that it means ‘animals.’ They used the word animals in describing them, knowing that Pharaoh could interpret it in accordance with his own temperament. Their explanation apparently placates Pharaoh, as he would take it as a derogatory term such as ‘breeding like animals’ or ‘being less than human.’ It also allows him to save face in thinking that they did not defy him after all, but just affirmed his prejudiced viewpoint. The ploy keeps his wrath under control. The quick wit on the part of

Shifrah and Puah saves the annihilation of the people and makes way for the birth (and life) of Moses in the following chapters. These strong women alter the course of history by defying an order from the highest authority in the land, while making Pharaoh believe that they are still loyal to him, and that the end result is out of their hands. They maintain their beliefs, and do so with grace and forethought, and without alienating him.

Those were very powerful women. They stood their ground, not in a militaristic way, but by making Pharaoh think they concur with his xenophobic opinion.

Their behavior is admirable. We can learn from their diligence and faithfulness. In the face of adversity, they risk their lives to save lives. Shifrah and Puah hold fast to their beliefs. Without harsh words, without battle, they convince this tyrant, even temporarily, to back away from his position.

Throughout history we are placed in situations where we are mistreated, abused, or ignored. Even, or especially, under oppression and the threat of danger, we should remember to do what we know is the moral thing, even under pressure from those in charge. Many times we cannot control the situation, but still we can maintain our own inner balance and equanimity by remembering who we are and by retaining our own sense of justice and morality. We are reminded to be grateful for and mindful of what came before us and allowed us to be where we are today.

This Parshah is not called Exodus; it’s called “Sh’mot,” which means names. Naming Jacob’s heirs begins this chapter. The two admirable midwives, Shifrah and Puah, are named.

Pharaoh has no identity.

Later in Sh’mot, will come Moses’ encounter with God, The One who cannot be named. (But that will be addressed another year.)

Before you think that these names only refer to the males, let’s look at the Hebrew word for name, Shem (the singular of sh’mot).

‘Sh’mot,’ incorporates the all-inclusive elements of masculine and feminine, yin and yang. Shem is a masculine noun. But in the plural, it’s not conjugated with the plural masculine ending ‘im,’ but with the feminine ending, ‘ot.’ It’s an irregular plural noun, one of many in Hebrew with this anomaly.

Some other words with this trait in Hebrew are generation, image, source, and injustice. A similarity in these words is that they can all be found in abundance in the Torah. They give an equality of characteristics to all people or things, male or female.

When discussing a generation, or a likeness or image, or injustice, how can you assign gender?

Judaism is an historically matriarchal tradition. Fortunately, this has changed. But during that era, even if you descended from a long line of male Rabbis, been steeped in teachings from infancy, and practiced Judaism throughout your life, if your mother was not Jewish, neither were you.

This is both an honorable and an enormous responsibility placed upon women. They provide the continuity of family and traditions; they are the keepers and teachers of historical heritage. This continuity is made between Genesis and Exodus in the very beginning of Sh’mot with the repetition of the names of those who traveled into Egypt. While it explicitly names the male heirs of Jacob, the brothers of Joseph, it doesn’t just refer to the men, but to their entire households.

This past Monday was a national holiday to celebrate the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Last Shabbat, Rabbi Jonathan gave us a handout with a selection of Dr. King’s writings. There are two that particularly epitomize the essence of this parshah:

“One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

“The time is always right to do the right thing.”

Throughout our lives from time to time, we’ll find ourselves in situations where another may attempt to intimidate or bully us into doing something against our beliefs. At these times may we be blessed with the consciousness of our own integrity and maintain strength and resolution in our sense of fairness and respect for others and ourselves. May we remember to stand by our beliefs and morals, stand up for ourselves, and stand up for what is right. And may our reward be a sense of quiet contentment with ourselves and others and our surroundings, and oneness with our beliefs.

Dear Family School Families,

Family School and the B/Nai Mitzvah Class  has been canceled for today.  
Oy!  This is a nightmare of Tuesday cancellations!  
 This Saturday, January 28th is a Shabbat Community Day.  It is also, a day we are introducing and welcoming our new Executive Director, Susan Mack.  Our PreK-K class will also meet.  Please bring a dairy/vegetarian dish to share and plan on attending this special community day.
 After this Saturday Rabbi Jonathan will be off to Israel for a trip with many congregants lets send them off with a big hug!

Please keep encouraging your student to study their Hebrew.  With so many snow days it is very important for extra studying and practice.

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, January 24, 2017:  Family School Canceled and B'Nai Mitzvah class canceled.
  • Saturday, January 28, 2017:  Shabbat Community Day for grades 1-6.  
  • Saturday, January 28, 2017: PreK-K class 10am-12 pm.
  • Tuesday, January 31, 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,

In August of 1790, George Washington visited Newport, Rhode Island as a good will gesture, Rhode Island having recently ratified the U.S. Constitution after a contentious delay and thus affirmed the authority of President Washington’s national government. During this visit President Washington met with the leaders of Kahal Kadosh Yeshuat Israel, better known as the Hebrew Congregation of Newport.

The Hebrew Congregation of Newport, founded in 1658, was the second Jewish community formed in the Colonies, the first and oldest being Shearith Israel in New Amsterdam (now New York City, of course), founded in 1654. The Touro Synagogue in Newport was constructed in 1763, and is the oldest synagogue in the United States.

The founders of these first Jewish communities in what were to become the United States of America were Sephardic Jews. They were on the run from the Spanish Inquisition, which had chased them all the way to the New World, and they sought refuge from persecution and death. Rhode Island, created on the principle of freedom of religion by Roger Williams, offered that haven. That welcome set the course of the United States as a pioneer and as a beacon of religious tolerance to this day.

On August 17, 1790, Moses Seixas, the Hebrew Congregation’s leader, presented a public letter of welcome and gratitude on behalf of his community to President Washington. Seixas welcomes the President, thanks the Almighty for Washington’s leadership, and then writes,

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People — a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance — but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: — deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine…

For all these Blessings of civil and religious liberty which we enjoy under an equal benign administration, we desire to send up our thanks to the Ancient of Days, the great preserver of Men — beseeching him, that the Angel who conducted our forefathers through the wilderness into the promised Land, may graciously conduct you through all the difficulties and dangers of this mortal life: — And, when, like Joshua full of days and full of honour, you are gathered to your Fathers, may you be admitted into the Heavenly Paradise to partake of the water of life, and the tree of immortality.

Done and Signed by order of the Hebrew Congregation in NewPort, Rhode Island 

Moses Seixas, Warden

August 17th 1790

The next day Washington returned the gesture with a penned response. This letter is credited with enshrining the principles of religious freedom and tolerance that form the DNA of our democracy. The letter reads, in part,

Gentlemen:

…The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington

It is interesting to note that the immortal phrase, “a Government, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” was not Washington’s original coinage, but in fact the words of Moses Seixas! Be that as it may, Washington had the wisdom to repeat that felicitous phrase, and thus it entered the lexicon of the guiding principles of these United States.

It is also important to remember that these enlightened sentiments did not extend to the African Americans who were brought here in chains, or to the Native Americans who were being decimated and displaced by our founding generations. Our national ethos is still crippled by that legacy. Nonetheless, the underlying principle of equality expressed by Seixas and Washington has given us the foundation to continue striving and struggling toward its genuine realization.

I share this piece of Jewish and American history quite intentionally on the day that we inaugurate the 45th President of the United States. Our new President thus far shows little understanding of or respect for the rights of all Americans as defined in our Constitution. He thus far shows no empathy for the plight of the refugee seeking our shores. I want to remind us all that the United States (despite some tragic and heartless lapses) has provided a home for millions of Jewish people, the vast majority of us arriving here as refugees, fleeing persecution from nations that had no laws protecting minorities or ensuring freedom of religious expression. I ask you to slowly reread the exchange of letters above, and reflect on their profound content. These sentiments were shared at a moment when our nation was but a few years old, but they remain astonishingly fresh and relevant. (You can find the full text of both letters here.) I want to remind us that as both Jews and as Americans it is our duty to protect and preserve these freedoms and protections, not merely for ourselves, but for any who are threatened.

And, on the Shabbat when we begin the Book of Exodus, which tell us that “A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1:8), I want to remind us that we cannot take our freedoms for granted. That king fears the Hebrew foreigners, and oppresses and enslaves them, institutionalizing generations of suffering and bondage. I want to remind us that the midwives Shifrah and Puah defy the Pharaoh’s orders and at great risk to themselves ensure that the Hebrew babies survive. I want to remind us that in our tradition, Shifrah and Puah are heroes. As Jews and as Americans, our values are aligned and they are clear: welcome the stranger, protect the powerless, and stand up to potential tyranny and injustice. Let us be attentive, and see what is asked of us in the coming days, months and years.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jonathan

Dear Family School Families,

Due to the forecast for snow and ice Family School and the Teen Class  has been canceled for today.  
Looking forward to seeing all next Tuesday January 24th. Family School 4 - 6:30  pm and B'Nai Mitzvah Class, 6 -8 pm.  PLEASE REMEMBER TO STUDY HEBREW.  IT REALLY MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE AND IS A BIG HELP.  Thank you!  Please stay safe and warm!

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, January 17, 2017:  Family School Canceled 
  • Tuesday, January 24, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6 B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6pm-8pm.
  • Saturday, January 28, 2017:  Shabbat Community Day for grades 1-6.  
  • Saturday, January 28, 2017: PreK-K class 10am-12 pm.
  • Tuesday, January 31, 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,

Dear Friends,

I am sharing with you the piece I wrote a year ago for the Shabbat preceding our national holiday celebrating the birthday of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This Shabbat we will be including some of his inspiring and powerful teachings in our services, as well as showing the acclaimed documentary “13th”, which teaches about the legacy of racism in the United States with bracing clarity. Dr. King’s memory is a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom and Love,

Rabbi Jonathan

Martin Luther King Is My Rabbi

Va’yavo Moshe v’Aharon el Par’oh va’yomru eilav, “Ko amar YHVH, Elohei ha’Ivrim: ad matai may’anta lay’anot mipanai? shalach ami vaya’avduni!”

So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “Thus says the Source of Life, the God of the Hebrews: How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, that they may serve the Source of Life!” (Exodus 10:3)

Our Torah tells an ageless and inspiring story. Every year when our cycle of readings brings us to the telling of the Exodus from slavery, I am stirred once again by the central message of our people’s journey: we affirm that there is a Power inherent in the fabric of the universe that insists that human beings be free from subjugation and tyranny. We affirm that there is a moral law imprinted in the “DNA” of human affairs and even in the tapestry of all Creation that insists that all humans bear the imprint of Divinity, and therefore must be treated with dignity and respect. We know that human beings, in our lust for power, can willfully ignore this moral law, harden our hearts and become like Pharaoh. It is our task as human beings not to succumb to our own lust for power and control that would lead us to subjugate others to our will. As Jews we are called upon to serve, bear witness to, and align ourselves with the God of Freedom.

These truths can become buried, however, in the struggle for survival. In the face of all the Pharaohs throughout history that have tried to hurl our babies into the Nile, to this very day, we Jews can close ranks and read the story of the Exodus as merely a promise of our own survival, rather than as the bearer of soaring truths about the human condition. In the rote repetition of the tale, we also run the risk of becoming inured to its deeper message. How do we awaken again to the universal message of our story?

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. showed me the way. The Africans who were captured from their homes and forced into slavery in the New World were also forced to adopt their masters’ religion. But subversively, as these African slaves listened to their masters’ Bible, they heard their own lives in the story of the slaves in Egypt. The seeds of their own hope and liberation were embedded in the very heart of the teaching that their oppressors had forced upon them. When they sang “When Israel was in Egypt land…Let My people go”, they made the ancient story vibrate with new life and urgency. Dr. King fully understood the inspiring power of the story of the Exodus, and the sustaining hope it gave to African Americans. He embraced the prophetic voice of justice that is the centerpiece of the Hebrew Bible.

Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, was replete with Biblical references:

Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children…[And] we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream…

Dr. King is quoting the Prophet Amos, who spoke these words in the name of God to the community of Israel in the 8thcentury BCE:

I loathe, I spurn your festivals, I am not appeased by your solemn assemblies.

If you offer me your burnt offerings or your grain offerings I will not accept them;

I will pay no heed to your gifts of fatlings.

Spare me the sound of your hymns and the music of your lutes.

Rather, let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream!

(Amos 5:21-25)

Then Dr. King quotes the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3-5):

I have a dream that one day “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low; the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

As Dr. King drew on the Hebrew prophets for his vision, he awakened me to the power and message of my own heritage. And as he invoked the journey of Moses and the Children of Israel toward the Promised Land as the template for his own people’s struggle, I recognized that journey as being our own, in every generation. On April 3, 1968, the night before he was murdered, Dr. King etched this indelible image with his final words:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

I thank Dr. King and all of the African Americans who continue to struggle against the ingrained racism of American history and life. I thank them for inspiring me with their fortitude and continued determination against the external and also the internal, warping effects of oppression, a struggle that I support with all my strength. But I equally thank them for taking my ancient story and reminding me that it speaks to us today, and every day. For this is the plain instruction of the Passover Haggadah: “In every generation every person must view him- or herself as personally leaving slavery in Egypt. And anyone who elaborates upon this story is to be praised!”

I thank Dr. King for bearing witness to the God or Power or Idea that I worship as a Jew and as a human being of conscience:

…there is something unfolding in the universe, whether one speaks of it as an unconscious process, or whether one speaks of it as unmoved mover, or whether someone speaks of it as a personal God. There is something in the universe that unfolds for justice, and so in Montgomery we felt somehow that as we struggled we had cosmic companionship. And this was one of the things that kept the people together, the belief that the universe is on the side of justice. (The Power of Nonviolence, 1958)

That is why I think of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one of my rabbis. May his memory continue to inspire us.

January 10, 2017

Dear Family School Families,

Due to the forecast for snow and ice Family School and the B'Nai Mitzvah Class has been cancelled for today.  

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.


CANCELLED
Tuesday, January 10, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6 B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6pm-8pm.


 
  • Tuesday, January 17, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.
  • Tuesday, January 24, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6 B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6pm-8pm.
  • Saturday, January 28, 2017:  Shabbat Community Day for grades 1-6.  
  • Saturday, January 28, 2017: PreK-K class 10am-12 pm.
  • Tuesday, January 31, 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

Va’yar Ya’akov ki yesh shever b’mitzrayim
And Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt (Genesis 42:1)

We lost a sage of our era with Leonard Cohen’s passing last month. His absence prompted me, as it has so many others, to revisit his words and to absorb his unflinching wisdom. Leonard Cohen was a prophet of brokenness, a seeker of the light who did not ignore the inherent frailties and folly of the human condition. In “Anthem” (1992) he sang:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

In these words Cohen echoes the teachings of Jewish mysticism. Rabbi Isaac Luria, a formative giant of Kabbalah who lived and taught in Tzfat in the mountains of the Galilee in the 16th century, explained the brokenness of our world with a compelling origin story that still animates Jewish thinking today. Luria explained that when God attempted to create our world, God poured the infinite Divine light into the vessel of creation. But it was impossible for the finite creation to contain that infinite light. The light caused the vessel of creation to crack. Much of the light escaped and rejoined the Divine source, but much also remained hidden in the shards of our sublime yet broken world.

Luria taught that the human task is to find and recognize the countless sparks of Divine light. Through our attention and devotion to freeing these sparks, we do our part to repair the broken vessel of our world. Luria named this process Tikkun Olam, Repairing the World.

So we can see the Kabbalistic background of Leonard Cohen’s verse, but what has this got to do with our Torah portion? As Jacob addresses his sons at the beginning of chapter 42, there is a vast famine underway. Unbeknownst to Jacob, his son Joseph is in Egypt. Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams as predicting seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, and proposed a plan to store the grain of the plentiful years in preparation for the lean years to come. Joseph is now second-in-command to Pharaoh, disbursing that grain to feed the entire populace. “And Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt.” – “Va’yar Ya’akov ki yesh shever b’mitzrayim.” Jacob will send his sons down to Egypt to procure provisions, thus setting into the motion the drama of their reunion with Joseph.

Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, known by his pen name “Me’or Eynayim”, “Enlightener of the Eyes”, was a disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov and a Chasidic master of the 18th century. Rabbi Menachem Nachum offers a mystical interpretation of this verse. Remember, Jewish spiritual teachers throughout the ages understand Torah primarily a spiritual rather than a physical journey. Rabbi Menachem Nachum notices that shever, which means “grain” or “provisions”, also means “brokenness” or “breakage”. He also notes that Mitzrayim, which means “Egypt”, also means “the narrow place” or “constriction”. Thus he reads the verse “Va’yar Ya’akov ki yesh shever b’mitzrayim” as “And Jacob saw that there was brokenness in the Place of Constriction.” 

On the spiritual journey, Mitzrayim is our physical world: a place of constriction and brokenness, in which the Divine Light is present but hidden. Our task as spiritual beings is to descend from the Promised Land, the place of Divine Oneness, into the world of broken vessels, vessels that were shattered when the light of Oneness overflowed into them. The task of Jacob’s sons – that is, the Children of Israel – is to recognize the sparks of light that are hidden and waiting to be released and uplifted by our searching hearts and our righteous deeds.

Father Jacob sees the light glimmering through the cracks of our shattered world. He sends us down into that world, our beautiful, broken world, to seek that light in all we do and to liberate the sparks and let them fly! Rarely is that a simple or easy task, but who said that a life filled with purpose was supposed to be easy? May we be blessed with each other’s good company as we pursue our holy, human work.

The light is always there, mingled with dark, but we have to know where to look and how to see. Or as Leonard Cohen—Eliezer ben Natan ha’Cohen was his Jewish name—taught us in “Suzanne”:

And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever

His memory is truly a blessing.

Wishing you continuing joy in front of the Chanukah candles, Shabbat Shalom, and may we know where to look among the garbage and the flowers in 2017.

Love,

Rabbi Jonathan

Dear Friends,

I am excited to be joining this warm, vibrant congregation.
A little about my background: I am a dedicated non-profit program, administrative, and management professional, committed to strengthening communities and enriching lives.

I most recently served as Executive Director of the Adirondack Birth to Three Alliance in Lake Placid, NY, and Family Strengths Network in Los Alamos, NM. Prior to that, I served as Executive Director of KidsArts!, a multicultural children’s arts program in Jamaica Plain, MA.

My Jewish identity was formed in a religiously eclectic Zionist family and continued with youth group participation. As an adult, I have enjoyed teaching Hebrew school and assuming leadership roles in Hadassah.

I look forward to working together to build on our strengths. Please stop by the office to introduce yourself – I would love to meet you!

With warm regards,
Susan

Dear Family School Families,

As we are enjoying Winter Break and staying warm 
I hope you are planning to attend our Chanukah On Shabbat.
On Friday, December 30th from 6pm-8pm we are having Chanukah on Shabbat.  A Pot Luck Chanukah  Celebration.  Bring your favorite latkes, and another dairy/vegetarian dish to share.  Bring your menorah for the 7th night of Chanukah.  There will be candle lighting, and singing with Rabbi Jonathan.  All are welcome!  Please RSVP to info@wjcshul.org so we can set enough tables and chairs.  If you would like to volunteer to help set tables Friday morning, December 30, 2016 please come at 9:30 am.  We will be setting for 100 so the more hands the quicker it goes!  

School will be back in session on Tuesday,  January 3, 2017 for grades 1-6 our next B'Nai Mitzvah class is Tuesday, January 10, 2017 and  the next PreK-K class is Saturday, January 28th. Looking forward to seeing everyone!

If any family would like to donate snack, you can drop off tortilla chips, salsa, pretzels, mini bagels or any healthy snack that we can store and use as needed.  Or, please contact me to arrange a date.  Thank you!

Please remember to scroll to the end of the email to see the school calendar!


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.

Winter break, No School till Tuesday, January 3, 2017.
  • Tuesday, January 3, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.
  • Friday, January 6, 2017:  Tot Shabbat @ 5pm followed by First Friday Pot Luck Shabbat Dinner @ 6pm.
  • Tuesday, January 10, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6 B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6pm-8pm.
  • Tuesday, January 17, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.
  • Tuesday, January 24, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6 B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6pm-8pm.
  • Saturday, January 28, 2017:  Shabbat Community Day for grades 1-6.  
  • Saturday, January 28, 2017: PreK-K class 10am-12 pm.
  • Tuesday, January 31, 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

Click here to read Susan's letter.

Dear Congregants,

It is with great pleasure that the Board of Directors and I announce that Susan Mack will join the Woodstock Jewish Congregation as our Executive Director. Susan will begin her journey with us on January 3rd.

The Search Committee, chaired by Myrna Sameth, received and reviewed more than three dozen resumes from as far away as California. Six candidates were interviewed via video conferencing and three were asked to a second, in-person interview. I would like to thank my colleagues, Judy Lewis, George Swain and Kathi Wood who served on the Search Committee as well as Rabbi Jonathan, Danny Rubenstein, Paul Mozian and Matt White who assisted with the selection process. Their efforts are deeply appreciated.

Most recently, Susan comes to us from Lake Placid, NY where she served as the Executive Director of the Adirondack Birth to Three Alliance. With more than 30 years of experience, Susan has served in various positions in the not-for-profit world.  Her skills are in sync with our needs and we are excited to have her join our team in this leadership position.

Susan has both a Conservative and Reconstructionist background and, through family and friends, has ties to the Hudson Valley. In her spare time, her hobbies of choice are white-water kayaking and opera.

I am confident that Susan will be an excellent match for this position and a strong asset to our synagogue and our community. She is eager to help us build on our strong foundation as we move into the future. Susan describes her style as collaborative and she is excited to join forces with our staff and Rabbi Jonathan.

A welcome get-together will be announced in the very near future so that you all can meet Susan and welcome her to our congregation family.

Sincerely,

Jerry Lerner
President, Woodstock Jewish Congregation

Dear Congregants,

The WJC Communications Task Force has gone through the input we gathered from our congregants at the Meeting of Sharing we held at WJC on September 11, and compiled a list of the activities that interested people. The activities are listed here. If there is a contact name listed next to the activity, that means the activity is in process. Feel free to contact the person.

The remaining groups which require volunteers to be leaders are:

  • Connecting to Israel
  • Intergenerational Group
  • WJC Archive Group
  • Walking, Hiking, Biking, Swimming
  • Study Group (Book Group)
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Consciousness-raising group to discuss treatment of people with physical disabilities or differences

If anyone would like to lead or participate in the above listed groups, please contact Laurie Mozian (lmozian@hotmail.com).

At this time, The Task Force will focus on the following activities:

  • In home Shabbat Meals
  • A Telephone Team to greet all members at holiday times

December 16, 2016

Dear Family School Families,

I hope everyone is staying warm!  We do have school next Tuesday, December 20, 2016 for grades 1-6 and the B'Nai Mitzvah Class too.
This past Tuesday, Yael Bernhard came to read her new book The Life of an Olive.  Each child received a signed copy. If your child did not come home with a copy I have it in my office, they just left to fast.  The story is a beautiful tale of the life of an olive tree.  She discussed her experiences in Israel, how she did her research for the book and how she created the artwork.  

Next week in grades 1-6 we will be celebrating Chanukah, reading stories, making dreidels, latkes and applesauce.  

We have 2 Congregational Chanukah Happenings this year: 

On December 24th we have Chanukah on Christmas Eve 6:30- 9:00 pm.  We will start with Havdalah and menorah lighting.  Bring your menorah! Chinese food and latkes for dinner and @ 8pm a comedy played called OY!  Featuring congregants and Rabbi Jonathan.  Dinner and the show are free, your donations will be most welcome.  All are welcome!

On Friday, December 30th from 6pm-8pm we are having Chanukah on Shabbat.  A Pot Luck Chanukah  Celebration.  Bring your favorite latkes, and another dairy/vegetarian dish to share.  Bring your menorah for the 7th night of Chanukah.  There will be candle lighting, and singing with Rabbi Jonathan.  All are welcome!  Please RSVP to info@wjcshul.org so we can set enough tables and chairs.

If any family would like to donate snack, you can drop off tortilla chips, salsa, pretzels, mini bagels or any healthy snack that we can store and use as needed.  Or, please contact me to arrange a date.  Thank you!

Please remember to scroll to the end of the email to see the school calendar!


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, December 20, 2016: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6 B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6pm-8pm.
  • Winter break, No School till Tuesday, January 3, 2017.
  • Tuesday, January 3, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.
  • Friday, January 6, 2017:  Tot Shabbat @ 5pm followed by First Friday Pot Luck Shabbat Dinner @ 6pm.
  • Tuesday, January 10, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6 B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6pm-8pm.
  • Tuesday, January 17, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.
  • Tuesday, January 24, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6 B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6pm-8pm.
  • Saturday, January 28, 2017:  Shabbat Community Day for grades 1-6.  
  • Saturday, January 28, 2017: PreK-K class 10am-12 pm.
  • Tuesday, January 31, 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 Family School Families,

Thanks to all who came to our Friday Night Shabbat Seder.  It was beautiful.  It is a great way to meet and greet and start Shabbat as a family.

Our Chanukah Bazaar was a great success!  We had wonderful vendors offering a variety of goods with affordable prices.  Gifts could be bought for all.  Thank you to the Congregational Learning Committee for all their efforts!

In Family School this week after Hebrew we had a great discussion about miracles.  What is a miracle, how do they happen,  are they always seen?  There were many good explanations and good stories to hear.  Please keep the conversation going this week.  Just breathing is a miracle. 

This Saturday, December 10th is our monthly PreK-K class at 10am with Morah Wendy.  We are looking forward to seeing all.

We have 2 Chanukah Happenings this year: 

On December 24th we have Chanukah on Christmas Eve 6:30- 9:00 pm.  We will start with Havdalah and menorah lighting.  Bring your menorah! Chinese food and latkes for dinner and @ 8pm a comedy played called OY!  Featuring congregants and Rabbi Jonathan.  Dinner and the show are free, your donations will be most welcome.  All are welcome!

On Friday, December 30th from 6pm-8pm we are having Chanukah on Shabbat.  A Pot Luck Chanukah  Celebration.  Bring your favorite latkes, and an other dairy/vegetarian dish to share.  Bring your menorah for the 7th night of Chanukah.  There will be candle lighting, and singing with Rabbi Jonathan.  All are welcome!  Please RSVP to info@wjcshul.org so we can set enough tables and chairs.

If any family would like to donate snack, you can drop off tortilla chips, salsa, pretzels, mini bagels or any healthy snack that we can store and use as needed.  Or, please contact me to arrange a date.  Thank you!

Please remember to scroll to the end of the email to see the school calendar!


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, December 10, 2016:  10am-12pm PreK-K Class.
  • Tuesday, December 13, 2016: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.
  • Tuesday, December 20, 2016: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6 B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6pm-8pm.
  • Winter break, No School till Tuesday, January 3, 2017.
  • Tuesday, January 3, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6
  • Tuesday, January 10, 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

 

On the top of the front page of this past Tuesday’s New York Times print edition, there is a beautiful photo of two women embracing. One of the women is light-skinned and gray haired, the other is dark-skinned, her head covered by a hijab, the traditional covering worn by some Muslim women. These two women were among 500 Muslim and Jewish women who gathered at Drew University for the third annual gathering of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom.

At this organization’s first annual gathering, 100 women attended. Last year, 200 attended. It will surprise no one that in the wake of our recent presidential election the numbers swelled to 500, with many more interested who did not attend. Driven by fear of our President-elect’s campaign promises to discriminate against Muslims, and by the precipitous rise in anti-Semitic speech on social media and anti-Semitic incidents around the US during Trump’s rise – not to mention the rampant misogyny and racism that have also been unleashed – these Muslim and Jewish women find themselves drawn together by common cause, to mobilize to protect themselves and their families, and to defend the American values that make it possible for us to live together despite our differing backgrounds.

My eyes were drawn to the photograph for a very personal reason: the light-skinned woman with the beautiful gray hair is Barbara Breitman, one of my oldest friends and a precious Jewish colleague. A brilliant psychotherapist and teacher, Barbara directs the Spiritual Direction program and teaches Pastoral Counseling at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, my alma mater. Barbara has influenced a generation of rabbis through her guidance and personal example. I felt such pride seeing her representing my Jewish people and our highest values of love and tolerance as she beams from that photograph with her fellow participant Shabiha Sheikh.

Here at the WJC, we are also taking steps to break down barriers and increase understanding. We are partway through our current course, “In the Tent of Abraham: The Mystical Heart of Islam, Christianity and Judaism”, which I am co-teaching with Rev. Matthew Wright from St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, and with two fabulous teachers of Islam and Sufism, Karuna Foudriat and Rabia Gentile. Having read some books and taken a graduate school course in Islam, I thought I knew something about what it meant to be a Muslim. In fact I know next to nothing. My academic investigation has not even scratched the surface of what a committed Muslim feels about his or her faith, and how that faith feeds their spiritual journey and guides their moral behavior.

I’m learning about why Muslims revere Muhammad as their founder and prophet, and how they try to model their own lives after his example. I’m learning about the spiritual underpinnings of Muslim practice. Karuna and Rabia, our teachers, have no illusions about the way their beloved traditions have been desecrated and hijacked by Salafi and Wahabi Islamists, who practice the fundamentalist and warped version of Islam that destroyed the World Trade Center and terrorizes so much of our world, including of course the Muslim societies that they inhabit. But by observing the fundamentalist and militant versions of Christianity or of Judaism, we see the same capacity to ignore teachings of love and instead elevate teachings of exclusive claims of truth and utter disdain for others. Nonetheless, it remains true that underneath all of that human folly and perversion, the spiritual heart of Islam still beats, inspiring committed Muslims on their path to fuller realization. And that remains true for Judaism and Christianity as well. It is, of course, up to committed practitioners of all three faiths to keep that spiritual heart beating, and to continue to craft the best versions of our traditions that will honor and support the true diversity of the human family in our planetary era. Those versions are embraced by millions, even billions around the world, and I won’t allow the bullies and demagogues of my tradition or any other to tell me different.

I’m learning so much. I feel that because of this course I will be able for the first time to approach a Muslim and have a conversation with them about their practice and their faith. I’m learning about the common practices and related beliefs that link Islam with Judaism, and with Christianity, even as I’m working to understand the origins of the age-old conflict between Islam and Christianity. I already knew about the fertile interchange between Judaism and Islam during the medieval period known as the Golden Age of Islam, but now I can revisit that remarkable era with deeper understanding.

This is so important to me. I am acutely aware of the extreme hatred toward Israel that has been infused in Moslem countries throughout the Middle East. I am not lowering my guard about geopolitical matters. But the United States has always been a laboratory testing the hypothesis that many and differing groups can live together in one society, that we can know each other, share school assemblies together, sit in doctor’s offices together, visit each other’s houses of worship, even marry and make families together. This model makes it possible for American Jews and American Muslims to reach out to one another, and to build bonds of mutual concern, friendship and even love. The United States at its best is an idea and an ideal in action, and at our best we model and export that idea and ideal to the rest of the world: we can share our society. As our new administration prepares to take office, I am not only fearful for the physical safety of minorities in our country, including Jews; I am fearful for the crippling of an idea that is our best hope for humanity on our crowded planet – the idea that we humans can transcend our basest natures and instead nurture our capacity to welcome the stranger into our midst.

In our class session this past Tuesday, WJC members Susan Rosen and Carol Fox Prescott reported to us that they had made the trip to New Jersey and had participated in the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom conference. Susan and Carol described the love that was palpable among the women at the gathering. In our Tent of Abraham class, and in everything that we do at the WJC, we are doing our best to extend that feeling of love to our community. I want us to continue to create a sanctuary in which truly everyone can feel welcomed, where we can share our hopes and fears and aspirations with one another, even (especially!) if we do not all agree. May our participation in the Woodstock Jewish Congregation help us transcend our stereotypes about others, nurture our courage, and support us to stand up for that which we hold dear.

Shabbat Shalom and love,

Rabbi Jonathan

December 2, 2016

Dear Family School Families,

We had a wonderful Tuesday in Family School.  Click here for a beautiful overview of the day written by Morah Jill.

Tonight, December 2, 2016 is a Family School Shabbat Seder Dinner.  6pm-8pm.  This is a potluck dinner Shabbat Diner. There is candle lighting, blessings, songs and dinner.  Plan on attending and bring a dairy/vegetarian dish to share.  It is a lovely way to start Shabbat with our Family School and congregation.  Tot Shabbat starts @ 5pm.

This Sunday, December 4, 2016 is our Chanukah Market and Bazaar 10am-3pm.   Please plan on coming to shop on that day!  We are sold out of vendor spaces and have many wonderful vendors selling books, jewelry, handmade doll clothing, cards, candles, wrapping paper, dreidels and gelt something for everyone!  Thank you for supporting our Family School.

If any family would like to donate snack, you can drop off tortilla chips, salsa, pretzels, mini bagels or any healthy snack that we can store and use as needed.  Or, please contact me to arrange a date.  Thank you!

Please remember to scroll to the end of the email to see the school calendar!


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, December 2, 2016:  Family School Shabbat Seder 6pm.  Tot Shabbat @ 5pm.
  • Sunday, December 4, 2016:  10am-3pm. Chanukah Bazaar.
  • Tuesday, December 6, 2016: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6 B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6pm-8pm
  • Saturday, December 10, 2016:  10am-12pm PreK-K Class.
  • Tuesday, December 13, 2016: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.
  • Tuesday, December 20, 2016: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6 B'Nai Mitzvah Class 6pm-8pm.
  • Winter break, No School till Tuesday, January 3, 2017.
  • Tuesday, January 3, 2017: Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6
  • Tuesday, January 10, 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