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

Dearest Friends,

Our tour group from Israel returned to Woodstock but my soul is still dancing on the roof to of our hotel in Jerusalem.  I could look out over the old city-truly the city of gold-especially in the morning sunrise, evening sun set and under the full moon.  Scanning the sky line to the east- The Mount of Olives, the City of David, the valleys and hillsides.  So many Mosques, churches synagogues, the university—all visible from this vantage point.

Upon my return flight the flu that had caught several of our group caught me as well so I am slowly reemerging into life on the side of the world.

From the deepest parts of my heart thank you to each and every person who contributed emotionally, spiritually, financially to make my beyond amazing trip to Israel possible.

I invite and actually plead with you to come to the Sunday Brunch on March 5th at 11 am, where we will be sharing with you the abundance of our trip through stories, photos and food.

Please come so I  can share this with you.

With deepest thanks,

Shalom,

Miryam Sarsheen

February 23, 2017

Dear Family School Families,

In spite of it being a break for some we had a wonderful day in Family School and missed the students that were not there.  Rabbi Jonathan is back from Israel and led tefillah.  We heard about the trip and continued on our journey of learning and singing basic prayers.  Hebrew is moving along and we continued to work on the Chai Cloths.  When we are finished with the first batch they will be displayed in the hall.  It is lovely listening to the children as they are creating these meaningful cloths and who they think may be in need of one.

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 you can also contact Avis Toochin @ 845.679.7653 although after Friday Avis will be away for a month 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, February 21, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.  B'Nai Mitzvah Class, 6pm - 8pm.
  • Tuesday, February 28, 2017:  Family School 4pm - 6:30 pm grades 1-6.
  • 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,

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