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From the Rabbi
Presiden'ts Message - April 2017 PDF Print E-mail

WOW!!! What a marvelous Hebrew Rest Mitzvah Day Clean Up yesterday.  At least 45….45….members of CBI turned out to clean up the beautiful old cemetery. It was beautiful before, but after 45 of us working 4 long, hot, steamy hours, it’s really MORE beautiful.  Hope you had an opportunity to look at all the great pictures of the members, and guests, who came to work.  I’ll not point out specific folks, as all of us were Super Stars yesterday…THANK YOU, THANK YOU.

MANY exciting things going on at CBI….Lots of our members participating in many activities.  We are preparing for Second Night Passover Seder at the Temple.  Lots of “chicken pulling”, matzoh ball rolling, soup making, and other activities going on.  We hope you have made your reservations for the dinner.  If not, call today. We’re near capacity.

Social action committee is always active.  Thanks, Linda Snider, and your great helpers, for keeping us in the forefront of mitzvah work needed in the community.  The latest example is the action committee cooked dinner at Ronald McDonald house for the people staying there.

Suzy Hilliard, Membership Committee, reports we have 3 families as new members.  Yea for us….thanks, Suzy.

Mike Hiatt is chairing the camp scholarship committee.  His committee will be more active in the near future, as camp is just around the corner.  We already have several applications for scholarships for various Jewish Summer Camps.

Ongoing…..repairs to our Temple continue.  We’re facing some roof, leaky windows, compressors, water heater, and other repairs.  Thank you for your donation to our High Holiday 2016 appeal, we can keep our building in good working condition.

Special thanks to Richard Leshin for attending our CBI Board Meeting to discuss changes in documents for trusts and endowments this year.  Andy Lehrman will be joining Richard, and David Engel as Trustees of our legal documents.  (Thanks to Don Feferman who has served in this capacity for many, many years).

Chris Adler, President
Congregation Beth Israel

From the Rabbi - May 2017 PDF Print E-mail

I am a Jew Because…...

There is a beautiful poem in the Reform prayerbook that states beautifully what it means to be a Jew. 

The poem, written by Edmond Fleg in 1927, called “Why I am a Jew” declares: “I am a Jew because the faith of Israel demands no abdication of my mind. I am a Jew because the faith of Israel asks every possible sacrifice of my soul. I am a Jew because in all places where there are tears 
and suffering the Jew weeps. I am a Jew because in every age when the cry of despair is heard the Jew hopes. I am a Jew because the message of Israel is the most ancient and the most modern. I am a Jew because Israel's promise is a universal promise. I am a Jew because for Israel the world is not finished; humanity will complete it. I am a Jew because for Israel humanity is not yet fully created; humanity is creating it. I am a Jew because Israel places humanity and its unity above nations and above Israel itself. I am a Jew because above humanity, image of the divine unity, Israel places the unity which is divine.”

These statements weave together both ancient and modern aspects of Jewish tradition to paint a picture of Jewish meaning and purpose that resonates on many levels and is still as relevant today as it was when it was written.  A few ideas stand out in particular:

I am a Jew because the message of Israel is the most ancient and the most modern - Judaism is, I would argue, the deepest and most comprehensive body of spiritual and ethical wisdom ever devised. Over the course of more than three thousand years our ancestors struggled with the intricacies of human existence and the mysteries of the divine through prayer, study and ritual. It is an incomparable source of wisdom and guidance on how to live a life of meaning and purpose that is grounded in millennia of tradition and yet continues to be creative and dynamic in adapting to the realities of our modern world.

I am a Jew because in every age when the cry of despair is heard the Jew hopes - Despite so much tragedy in our history we have always maintained a sense of hope, a commitment not just to be hopeful for ourselves but to be a light unto the nations. As a people we are an example to all people and individuals of how to keep hope alive in dark times, to maintain hope despite all that may be arrayed against us and thus inspire all to maintain a sense of purpose no matter the challenges we face. 

I am a Jew because above humanity, image of the divine unity, Israel places the unity which is divine. I am a Jew because for Israel the world is not finished; humanity will complete it – Our modern world can often be bereft of a sense of purpose and meaning. That is what so many yearn for, so many continue to search for, and so few find.  Judaism reminds us that our existence is not selfish or bereft of meaning.  There is meaning all around us, in every act we take, every blade of grass, every smile, and the more we learn of our tradition the more we will be open to that reality and that purpose.  And for so many, searching for meaning, Judaism clearly and unequivocally gives an ultimate purpose for us all – to recognize the brokenness of the world and to be partners with G-d in the task of fixing it one act at a time.  

    Rabbi Ilan Emanuel

From the Rabbi - April 2017 PDF Print E-mail

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again!” In many ways this could be the moto of the Jewish approach to text and prayer.  In a world in which we tend to want the new and the latest innovation, Judaism likes to go back to the classics and remind us of eternal truths.  Even in the Reform and Conservative movements, in which we like to be creative and dynamic in our ritual practice and philosophy of Judaism, we are always rooted in the texts and prayers that have been the cornerstones of our people’s lives for centuries, if not millennia.  Perhaps this is why we return again and again to the same stories in the Torah and recite the same prayers at our regular prayer services – we understand that we may not succeed in grasping all that that we can learn and experience of those texts in one go, or even in one lifetime.  Every time we delve back into the study of our texts we are continually trying again and again to find greater depth and meaning in these great writings that are our inheritance. 

And one of the greatest texts to which we return again and again every year is the Haggadah of Passover, retelling the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  Surely, we may think we know this story.  We have heard it many times.  What could we possibly learn from it now after so many repeated readings?  The answer of course is that no matter how many times we read it there will always be more to learn.  Partly this is because the text is rich and deep and varied, full of details we may not see until we have read it many times.  And partly it is because as we grow older and our lives change and we experience and read things differently.  As my daughter gets older I am introducing her to many of the books, movies, and TV shows  I loved as a child, and experiencing them again.  As I do so I see new messages and nuances that I could never have understood as a child but do now because of the experiences I have had in my life.  Every year we return to the Haggadah text and every year we are different and so our experience of the seder is different. 

And, of course, we return again and again to the same text of the Haggadah and the same story of the Exodus because some truths need to be told and retold until we truly get them right!  Human nature is such that  it is often easy to forget these lessons when we do not continually return to them to refresh our connection with our tradition.  We need to hear the stories again and again to truly understand them and to truly ingrain them as part of our lives.  We need to be reminded every year that we are part of a great tradition that has helped us survive and thrive as Jews for thousands of years.  And we must each year remind ourselves that this great tradition began in slavery and oppression, so that we never become arrogant and entitled.  It reminds us to never forget that our tradition is great because it reminds  us year after to year to remember what it was like to be slaves in Egypt, to be downtrodden and thus to conduct our lives with compassion and in pursuit of justice for all.  

           Rabbi Ilan Emanuel

From the Rabbi - March 2017 PDF Print E-mail

The old joke is that Jewish festivals can be defined as “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” On Purim we might also add “drink and be merry!” In the Book of Esther, Mordechai declares the new festival by sending a letter to the Jews of the empire “to observe the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and the fifteenth day, every year – the days on which the Jews obtained rest from their enemies and the month which for them was turned from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday.” According to the Talmud, therefore, the month of Adar, in which Purim occurs, is a month in which we “increase with joy.”

But in a way this seems a bit odd.  Certainly we would be naturally happy to have survived such a threat to the Jewish people.  But the obvious emotional response would seem to be relief rather than joy.  Our ancestors celebrated out of relief, to let off steam from all the pent up anxiety born of fear that they would be killed by Haman.  But after that, for subsequent years, it might be expected that the commemoration of a near genocide of the Jewish people would be more subdued.  Why would the festival enshrine that momentary joy as the essential element of this festival for all time?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, argues that the joy of Purim and the month of Adar is a therapeutic joy.  He notes: “The Jewish response to trauma is counterintuitive and extraordinary. You defeat fear by joy. You conquer terror by collective celebration. You prepare a festive meal, invite guests, give gifts to friends… Precisely because the threat was so serious, you refuse to be serious – and in that refusal you are doing something very serious indeed. You are denying your enemies a victory. You are declaring that you will not be intimidated. As the date of the scheduled destruction approaches, you surround yourself with the single most effective antidote to fear: joy in life itself.”

This is an important message that reminds us that, no matter how dark the world seems to be, our response should be to increase joy for ourselves and for all around us.  As we look at a world that is often scary and worrying in many ways and, as we hear of very troubling ant-Semitic incidents around the United States and the world, we take the lessons of Mordechai after the awful threats we survived in the Book of Esther and apply them in advance to the problems of our time.  We declare that we will commit ourselves to hope and joy rather than fear and dread. 

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught: “It is a great mitzvah to be happy always… Strengthen yourself to push aside all… sadness. Everyone has lots of problems and the nature of humanity is to be attracted to sadness. To escape these difficulties, constantly bring joy into your life—even if you have to resort to silliness.”

Purim is silly and joyous.  But it is not simply frivolous and fun. It is a genuine and hopeful response to darkness and fear in in our lives and in our world.  When we celebrate Purim it is not just a celebration of a festival (as important as that may be) but a profound statement of resilience and life. 

Have a joyful Purim! 
Rabbi Ilan Emanuel

From the Rabbi - February 2017 PDF Print E-mail
Two stories of the Chassidic Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev:
On his way to synagogue one Saturday morning, Rabbi Levi Yitchak met a Jew smoking on Shabbat.  “Surely” the Rebbe asked, “You have forgotten that today is Shabbat?” “No” replied the man, “I remember.”  “Then,” stated the Rebbe, “you obviously didn’t know that the law forbids smoking on Shabbat?” “No, I know that too,” he replied.”  The Rebbe looked to the heavens and said to God: “True, he violates the laws of Shabbat.  But you must admit one thing: nothing can make him tell a lie!”
One day while walking Rabbi Levi Yitchak was hit in the head by a garbage can.  After thorough investigation he found that the culprit was the wife of a vicious critic of Chassidic Judaism. “Don’t be angry with her God,” implored the rabbi, “she was only trying please her husband!”
I love these stories not just because they show a rather humorous side to usually serious genre of Chassidic stories, but because they point to an important truth.  Sometimes we think that to be truly honest and to tell the truth means being negative.  We think it’s easy to be positive and nice but telling the truth means being critical.  But actually it’s very easy to be negative, to let our negative emotions – anger, fear, frustration –drive us to say things that are hurtful, things that are critical of ourselves and others.  It’s easy to dismiss others because they get in our way or to demean others because of a trait we find annoying or frustrating. 
But what Rabbi Levi Yizchak of Berdichev teaches us is that truth is both positive and negative.  To be truly honest one must be willing to see both the good and the bad in all things.  When we seem to be favoring the positive we must force ourselves to look at the negative however unpleasant.  But the opposite is also true.  When we find ourselves looking negatively upon others or even upon ourselves, we should always do as Rabbi Levi Yitchak of Berdichev did and be as honest in our praise as we are in our criticism. The person we find most difficult in our lives, may also have traits that deserve praise.  It’s easy when we are angry or impatient forget this, but these stories remind us that it is our duty to be as honest about the good in others and in ourselves as we are about the bad. 

Rabbi Ilan Emanuel

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