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From the Rabbi - October 2017 PDF Print E-mail

In the Talmud we are told that when we die and go to heaven, and are to be judged, we will be asked a series of questions about how we lived our lives. But why wait till we die to ask these important questions?  Why wait till we are no longer able to change anything to consider how we live our lives and how we might face our ultimate judgement?  

Three of these questions are particularly interesting to consider while we have the time to do so. Nasata v’natata be-emunah? — Did you deal with people honestly? This is often translated as “Did you deal honestly in business?” which might seem like an odd question to open with as you stand before G-d in judgement! But it really means “did you deal honestly, in a way that is trustworthy and with integrity in your daily dealings.” Not just the business of business but the mundane business of life, how you deal with others in the daily interactions of a regular day rather than in the grand gestures of a special occasion.   Integrity is often described as “what you do when no one is watching.” But here it may be better understood as how you act regardless of who is watching: whether you like a person or you don’t, whether you know them or you don’t, whether you will benefit or not, or even if it will disadvantage you.

Tzipita lishuah? — Did you hope for salvation? But being honest with yourself isn’t always enough.   Having integrity often means realizing that you will not always get the results you want, that things will not always turn out your way even if you did the right thing in the right way.   And so we are asked whether we hoped for salvation.  Hoping for salvation is pretty standard in religious life. But in Judaism the question is not about achieving a personal place in heaven but about bringing about a better world and working diligently towards that goal.   And the essential point here is hope.  In a world that often seems so hopeless our tradition asks us if we made sure to maintain hope. Despite generations of persecution and oppression we have maintained hope.  Despite all that has befallen us in our history we have always looked towards a better future believing that hope would eventually win out.  Indeed the Israeli national anthem, Hatikvah, means “the Hope” reflecting the fact that despite years of exile in which the idea of a national homeland was only a distant idea, eventually because that hope was kept alive, it became a reality.  

Havanta davar mitoch davar? — Did you understand one thing from another? This is a seemingly simple question but one that may be the ultimate question in many ways.   This question is really about our priorities in life. Did we spend our time understanding the difference between what was important and what wasn’t what was significant and what was petty, what made a difference to the world and what was merely self-serving?  We all recently experienced an event that put our priorities into perspective – Hurricane Harvey.  Facing the might and sheer power of nature, and seeing the devastation left in its wake, a lot of what we think is important comes into perspective.  When we think of what we experienced and what people whose homes were destroyed and livelihoods wiped out it focuses us on what truly matters in life in a way that our normal comfortable existence obscures.  How much of what seemed so important the day before, that we spent so much time and energy on before, seemed irrelevant and petty in the face of the hurricane?

On Yom Kippur each year we are faced with a similar idea.  Here we stand “trembling and afraid” awed by the sheer power of the day.  We are reminded on this day to distinguish one thing from another, to put our priorities in order and to go forward in life with both integrity and hope.   

        Rabbi Ilan Emanuel

From the Rabbi - September 2017 PDF Print E-mail

There is a children’s story I have told on several occasions on the High Holidays that proposes that the hardest word to say is “sorry.”  I love the story but in reality sorry can be a very easy word to say.  People say sorry all the time but it’s only hard if they really mean it.  What really makes sorry the hardest word is that saying it with meaning involves first saying what may be the hardest phrase – “I was wrong.”

Nobody likes to admit they were wrong.  This has always been true but in the modern era it is even more so because individual choice is such a significant part of the modern world. As our choices become more significant our emotional connection to our choices, big and small, becomes greater.  We think that in admitting we made mistakes,  that we were wrong, means we are admitting something is wrong with us. And no one wants to do that.  So rather than admitting when we are wrong we convince ourselves that we were not and we allow the many distractions of life to excuse us,  using them as ways to  avoid facing our mistakes and facing ourselves. 

And then the High Holidays come around and we are asked to make facing the choices we have made in the past year our highest priority.  All the distractions are taken away as we sit in services on Yom Kippur allowing us to focus intently on our sins and our mistakes.  We are faced with a litany of sins in the prayer service of which many probably sound all too familiar to us if we are being honest with ourselves. 

But in a sense facing our bad choices at the High Holidays makes it easier.  We are surrounded by our friends and family and community and we realize that, of course, all of us have made mistakes, all of us have sinned, all of us have made choices we wish we could take back. We realize that if all of us make such mistakes admitting them is not as much of a judgment as we may have feared. 

And in the context of the High Holidays - a time of rebirth and renewal - we are also told that facing our mistakes is an essential part of looking forward, of making better choices in the year to come and becoming better people in doing so. 
This High Holidays we should all take the opportunity to face our past choices, to admit our mistakes however hard it may be and in so doing move forward to a better future in the year to come.  

        Rabbi Ilan Emanuel

From the Rabbi - August 2017 PDF Print E-mail

Bulletin Article Edited Extract from Sermon given by Rabbi Charles Emanuel on the occasion of Mira Emanuel’s  Bat Mitzvah

What does bar or bat mitzvah really mean? There is a very interesting insight at the end of the Torah portion (Naso) which, while on the surface might seem completely unconnected, is actually very crucial to all of our individual Jewishness.

The end of the Torah portion tells us about the transport of the tabernacle by the tribe of Levy as the Israelites journeyed through the wilderness. Most of the tabernacle was transported on wagons but the family of Levy carrying the Holy Ark itself, was commanded to carry it on their shoulders 

Concerning this, Rabbi Morris Adler, a prominent 20th century American Conservative rabbi, wrote “we are told not only about a detail of transportation but …we are also being instructed [that]….when it comes to the very heart of religion, we must not try to find…a substitute for our own shoulders. We cannot transfer to anybody else or anything else the obligations that rest exclusively upon ourselves….”

And so it is for the bar and bat mitzvah. Up to now, their Judaism has been, for the most part, just that of their parents. But now, as the 13 year old begins his or her journey into Jewish adulthood, they will have to start to carry Judaism on their own shoulders. Like the Levites who carried the Holy Ark, the young adult needs to start to understand that Judaism can be a burden and a discipline, something that many people, especially teenagers, find difficult to accept. But if he or she seeks to carry a faith easily, shouldering no special tasks, making no distinctive sacrifices, the person will have a Judaism that is neither true nor helpful.  This is the real meaning of becoming a bar or bat mitzvah, shouldering the burden as well as the joys of our Jewish tradition. 

What does it mean to shoulder this burden? The 18th century Jewish mystical rabbi the Baal Shem Tov once wrote concerning the beginning of the Amidah prayer, “Why do we say, ‘Our God and God of our Ancestors’? He argued that there are two sorts of persons who believe in God. The one believes because their faith has been handed down to them by their ancestors and their faith is strong. The other has arrived at faith by dint of searching thought. And this is the difference between the two: one has the advantage that their faith cannot be shaken no matter how many objections are raised to it for their faith is firm, because they have taken it over from their ancestors. But there is a flaw in it: it is a commandment given by human beings and it has been learned without thought or reasoning. The advantage of the second person is that they have reached their faith through their own power, through much searching and thinking. But their faith too has a flaw. It is easy to shake it by offering contrary evidence. But the person who combines both kinds of faith is invulnerable.  That is why we say ‘Our God’ because of our searching and ‘the God of our ancestors”, because of our tradition.”

This is the hope we have as a person becomes bar or bat mitzvah. They have taken upon themselves this responsibility. They have learned a great deal from their teachers and from their parents and also from the wonderful atmosphere of this very special congregation whose members individually and collectively demonstrate by their actions the highest of principles of Judaism. But when a person becomes a bar or bat mitzvah, they will have to decide for themselves what their Judaism will be. This is the responsibility of the bar or bat mitzvah and it is the responsibility of each and every adult Jew. 

Rabbi Ilan Emanuel 


From the Rabbi - June & July 2017 PDF Print E-mail

Summer is here again and many will be traveling away from home and taking time away from work.  One of the wonders of the modern age is that no matter where we are we have access to all the knowledge of the world at our fingertips through the internet.  So as we look forward to the summer here are some great Jewish websites to keep in touch with the Jewish world on our travels. 

Our congregation is a merger of Reform and Conservative congregations and is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) so we can start with websites that connect to those movements.  The Union for Reform Judaism can be found at URJ.org and reformjudaism.org and the Conservative movement is at USCJ.org.  Both sites give lots of information for what is happening in the movements and provide weekly Torah commentary.   For those interested in a good website from an Orthodox background you can’t do better than the website of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain whose extensive and thoughtful commentary on all things Jewish can be found at Rabbisacks.org. 

For general Jewish information and learning you can go to MyjewishLearning.com or Jewishvirtuallibrary.org.  Both provide excellent general resources and unlike Wikipedia they are both well sourced so you can see where the information came from.  Just enter in your query on any subject from Abraham to Zachariah and anything in between and you will surely find an answer to your question. 

For anyone wanting to know what is going on in the Jewish calendar Hebcal.com is the place to go.  The site allows you to check the Hebrew date, the Torah and Haftarah portion, festivals and many other aspects of the Jewish calendar that you might want to know about for any particular date.    And for Jewish texts there is no better pace on the web than sefaria.org where you can find Jewish texts of all sorts from Torah to kabbalah, to Jewish philosophy in Hebrew and English.

If you are in need of a Jewish ritual on the fly you can go to Ritualwell.org where you will find prayers and ritual for pretty much any occasion you can imagine.   For those looking to add a little Jewishness to their kids’ summer, Kveller.com is a great website for Jewish parenting. 

And no matter where you  are in the world you can follow along with Jewish news and views on sevral good news websites.  For general news there is JTA.org and Forward.com and for Israel news there is TimesofIsrael.com, Haaretz.com and Jerusalem Post (Jpost.com). 

Finally, as we enjoy our summer we can always continue to keep connected to our family of families here at CBI by checking our website Bethisraelcc.com and keep up with what is going on in our community on our congregational Facebook page.

Shalom Y’all and have a great summer! 
Rabbi Ilan Emanuel

Presiden'ts Message - May 2017 PDF Print E-mail

Friends, what a busy end of year we face.  Busy, but full of interesting things for us to think about, participate in, and look forward to doing.  Our calendar is full of activities and I hope each of you will participate in as many activities as you can. 

Looking backward and forward….this past month we cleaned up Hebrew Rest with a lot of help from 45 of you.  Just this week, the new fence is being installed.  It is a beautiful cemetery and looks fresh, clean, neat, and a place we can be proud to call ours.  Thanks to each of you who turned out to offer your time, your donations, and give some “sweat equity” to this project.
Our Second Seder was very well attended and greatly enjoyed by 110 congregants and guests.  Rabbi Emanuel did an excellent job and had participation from all the attendees, especially the large number of children that attended.  Food was delicious, and many thanks to so many of you who prepared our dinner.

We have a NEW MEMBER SHABBAT AND FAMILY DINNER coming up on Friday,  April 28 at 6:30 p.m.  I look forward to welcoming 20+ new member families to our Congregation from the past months.  We are so happy to welcome all our new members and hope you will plan to join us for dinner and Shabbat Services, so we can meet and formally welcome new members to Congregation Beth Israel. 

Mark your calendars for the Musical Program and reception honoring the memory of Andy Moore on Sunday, May 21, at 3:30 p.m.  This will be a beautiful tribute to our great friend and High Holiday choir member.
Our Temple has completed our new Board for the coming year.  We have all positions filled with very capable people who step forward to lead our Temple. Our congregational meeting and election of officers will be held soon, so watch for the date and make plans to attend.

Sisterhood has a full board.  They have plans for the entire year, plus leadership in place for a successful FOOD FEST, and other designated programs for our Temple.  We are so lucky to have dedicated people who are willing to volunteer and work in ALL areas.
We’re looking forward to summer camp for our students.  If you’re interested in a scholarship for your child (children), please get an application in to Michael Hiatt and committee asap…. 

Rabbi Roseman is presenting an Adult Lecture Series….entitled ISSUES FROM OUR PRAYERS. All too often we repeat the words of the prayer book without really thinking about or understanding the meaning.  The Sessions are on Sunday mornings, April 23, April 30, and May 7 at 10:30 a.m. at the Temple.  I promise you will find these sessions informative and enjoyable.  Please come and bring guests.  Oh yes, coffee and social time begins at 10 a.m.

Hope to see you all soon.  Make it a point to COME TO SHABBAT SERVICES.  We need you and your participation in our events. 

Chris Adler, President
Congregation Beth Israel

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