By Cantor Alexander My grandmother was a German Jewish girl living in Shettin, Germany (now in Poland). She was about seven years old when Hitler was elected Fuhrer. I wonder, but will never know, did her parents tell her what this might mean for the family, for her? My great grandparents, Irma and Johan […]
Cantor Alexander The summer is at its halfway mark, and we still have another two months until Rosh Hashanah, but we can tell this is still a necessary time of reflection. Traditionally, reflection leading up to the time of atonement does not start until one month before. During the month of Elul, we are to […]
This year, we celebrate a Jewish Leap year. You may be aware that seven out of every nineteen years we add an additional lunar month to the calendar. The Jewish holidays are based around agriculture. If we did not have these leap years, a holiday which celebrates the spring harvest would soon take place in the middle of winter. We would be unable to find a lulav and etrog for Sukkot, for the holiday would find itself in the summer. But by adding a leap month, we keep the holidays centered around the proper agricultural time of year. This year however, our leap month is pushing our Jewish calendar significantly off our American schedules.
Last year, I wrote about the gifts of my grandmothers. Part of their gifts to me was communicating to my parents (their children) about the quality of life they wanted were they unable to communicate and advocate for their own medical decisions.
As you may be aware, this year we will be using a new Machzor, or High Holiday prayer book. To better learn about this new Machzor, Rabbi and I went to a seminar for rabbis and cantors in May, and yes, we have been thinking about and planning Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur since the first week of May.
After another long winter in the snow, I’m so excited to have many temple activities this spring to bring us together to celebrate, sing, and be part of a holy community. Each month, no matter the season, we have special Shabbat services which bring us together clapping and learning new songs, where we watch the un-encumbered dance and exude the spirit of Shabbat; where we put the prayer books down and hold hands or embrace our loved ones.
In January, I had the extraordinary opportunity to go with our 10th graders to the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, the Reform movement’s lobbying arm. Our students spent a packed 3 1/2 days of intensive learning, exploring and studying.
Rededicate yourself to Temple Rodeph Torah: try a new class; try a new social action project; try a new worship experience; even try having coffee or dinner with a new family to broaden your social circle and be inviting to others.
Recently I was speaking with a potential convert who grew up with no religion. What he was really struggling with was, what do I need religion for at all? Can’t I just be a good person? I’ve heard this question from many Jews and certainly many students over the years: why do I need to come to temple, or Sunday school? Isn’t it good enough to be a good person? And for the most part it is. To my Jewish students it’s easy to say, of course being a good person is important, but you are a Jew, and that includes a history, and religious traditions which have nothing to do with ethical behavior, so to continue the Jewish people you need to know about these things and continue to teach them. But to a non-Jew this, of course, was not a true statement.
What does it feel like when you pray? I don’t mean when you come to services, or when you sit begging God for something really important. What does it feel like when you know that right now, in this moment, you’ve connected? You’ve been touched by God? You’ve been moved by energy, or spirit, or community. What does it feel like?
Welcome to our second annual Rock Shabbat Fundraising Concert!
Wow, what a year it has been! Last year we held our first Rock Shabbat fundraising concert and with the approximately $6000 in proceeds, combined with the generosity of our wonderful Rock Shabbat Sponsors, we were able to hold another amazing year of once-a-month Rock Shabbat services with a variety of guest artists. This year we have invited our first female artists, including Naomi Less (in January) and Beth Schafer, who will be with us in May. Because of the popularity of Rock Shabbat we decided to try a similar aesthetic for a Rosh Hashanah service and created “Rock Hashanah.” That service, with guest artist Jules Frankel, was amazing – one of the best worship experiences of my life.
Happy New Year! Just a few short months ago we were saying Shanah Tova, Happy New Year for the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. We were evaluating how we had missed the mark in the past year, and what T’shuvah, turning or re-dedication, we could do for the next year. We contemplated re-evaluating our priorities, making more time for what is truly important in life. We may have asked what God wanted us to do to be a better person, a better Jew, a better ME? We may have been inspired to think differently, or act differently by our holiday worship, sermons or time spent with family. Only a few short months ago many of these topics were on our mind.
As you might have seen, but definitely heard about at our High Holiday services, TRT is in the midst of many worship experiments. We’ve been very successful with Rock Shabbat, and believe Rock Hashanah is something to be repeated as well. But these once per month services are not the only changes we are making.
Thank you, Temple Rodeph Torah, for five amazing years! Thank you for celebrating those years at the June 14th Rock Shabbat. I look forward to many more years, music, experimentation and celebrations!
“Sinful Texting”: a Yom Kippur Community Experience at Temple Rodeph Torah
This Yom Kippur we continue asking the question we started asking when we launched the Center for a Jewish Future: what does the Jewish Future look like? And what does Judaism say to me, today, in 2013? Judaism is not a religion of the past; it is a living religion which changes to meet the needs and realities of every generation.
On Yom Kippur we say many of the same prayers Jews said a hundred years ago. Yet we also add new prayers, and say many of them in English; men and women sit and pray together; we have a female cantor singing from the bima; we drive to the service and pray in a temperature-controlled environment (most years). Our traditions reflect many of our modern values, but what about the future?
Growing up, I remember being taught about Mitzvot as good deeds, rather than commandments. I think the reason for this was that at the time, Reform Jews viewed Judaism as “ethical monotheism.” They believed that teaching monotheism was important and that the important commandments were the ethical ones. (Acting ethically is good or a good deed, so mitzvah was appropriated as a good deed, doing the right thing). At camp, I remember learning about commandments falling into two categories: ben adam l’chaveiro (concerning people’s interaction with each other) and Ben adam l’makom (concerning people’s interaction with God). Because of the emphasis in Reform Judaism on living in the modern world, and on ethical monotheism, we elevated the mitzvot ben adam l’chaveiro over those just concerning God. We elevated acting ethically towards our fellow humans, and towards animals and the world, above commandments concerning our relationship with God.
Talmud teaches the following story:
While Moses was watching God write the Torah he asked why God made the letters with fancy crowns on them, and God responded that in several generations Akiva would use those crowns to interpret Torah Law. Moses asked to see this man, so God sent Moses into the future where:
Babylonian Talmud, Menachot 29B
Moses went and sat in the back of Rabbi Akiva’s class, and had no idea what they were saying. He became weak and disoriented. Soon the class reached an issue and a student asked, “Rebbe, what’s your source for this ruling?” He said, “It’s a law of Moses from Sinai.” Moses was relieved.
I began thinking about Shabbat Shira and what tone I wanted the music to take, and what I wanted to say, shortly after Hurricane Sandy. While Sandy may not be a constant thought in our minds today, I do still hear people speaking about it. Last week I heard congregants asking each other about their hopes for beach plans for the summer – is the beach they usually go to intact? Have they started rebuilding the boardwalk there? Is there beach between the water and the boardwalk position? And, on the radio just the other day I heard about people in the Rockaways still without heat battling these bitter cold days. I cannot imagine still being without heat. I also cannot imagine staying in my home if it was without heat, but perhaps this is just a failure of my imagination.
Hanukkah is the holiday of rededication. We cleaned up the temple and the country after many years of war. Even with rededication of the community to religion, remember that the war was fought in part to battle assimilation. The Judaism that came after Hanukkah was not quite the same as what was previously practiced. In […]
Well, it’s already been a busy musical year and it’s just October! We’ve had two Rock Shabbat events, our High Holidays and begun a new and exciting musical year in our Center for a Jewish Future. This year we plan on having nine more Rock Shabbat services (that’s one per month), other services featuring our volunteer choir Kolot Yafim, two special musical healing services featuring our music teacher Karen Joseph and Rabbi Shira Stern (in November and April) and even a ticketed Rock Concert featuring Sheldon Low coming in March.
With all this excitement, it has come to my attention that people are confused about what it means to sponsor a Rock Shabbat event, and what it costs.
Kol Nidre Machzor Temple Rodeph Torah has accomplished the near impossible! You have permitted and embraced change with almost no complaint over the last year or two. First in December of 2010 we changed our prayer book. We stopped using the prayer book so lovingly put together by TRT, and took up the newest version […]
We are finishing the second year, of junior choir since I have come to TRT. There are currently six 6th grade girls. We sing, laugh, clap, perform, try to be divas, and just have fun together! I work very hard trying to find “cool” music for us to learn, music I think they will like, music that can be used in services, and music they might hear at camp or NFTY. Since I’m not a 6th grade girl, sometimes I miss the mark; the music is too hard or decidedly uncool. Or it works when we sing it but not when we add accompaniment. Getting to sing on the bima with Eric Komar and Sheldon Low is a highlight for the choir, and some of the girls were disappointed when junior choir was not scheduled to sing the night Cablevision recorded Rock Shabbat. So is it cool? This is something I really don’t have an answer to. We have so much fun but others aren’t joining; did I not invite them? Are they too busy? Or is it not cool to sing in the junior choir?
I was thinking back to Rabbi Weber’s sermon a couple of years ago on males participating in Judaism. He grew up with exclusively male teachers, rabbis, and singers. We have only female teachers, and in all likelihood future hires (rabbi, cantor, or educators) will also be women. Who will our male Jewish role models be?
Religious school students recently asked me what my favorite story in the Bible was.
I told them that my answer regularly changes, but it’s currently the story of Ruth. The book of Ruth is traditionally read at the time of Shavuot, our third festival of the year (Sukkot and Pesach being the other two), which this year takes place May 26-27. In Reform congregations, we celebrate Confirmation on Shavuot, and we always read the Ten Commandments from the Torah. It is a holiday where we celebrate receiving the law, which is our special set of rules from God.
So much has changed in the last year of my life, and I cannot believe it has been a full year.
I knew, because people told me, that becoming a mother would “change everything” and would be “different than you can ever expect.” I knew this would be especially true because every image I had of motherhood was for one child at a time, and yet I was going to be a mother of twins. Now I cannot imagine having just one child. Why would anyone want only one child climbing into your lap at a time? Why would you want only one child laughing when there could be two? As they say, I don’t know anything different. I cannot believe my babies are one year old. I cannot believe the worry and fear of visiting them in the hospital every day for a month has turned into laughter and crawling and standing, into the joy of watching them learn, understand and do. I am in awe of my children and I am in awe of God for creating us this way.
In the darkest time of the year, we celebrate with light.
In the Book of Isaiah The Jewish people are commanded to “be a light to the nations.” At this festival of lights how can we be a light to the nations? We all know about the 6th night of Hanukkah where we are asked not to receive gifts but to give away gifts, and this is a wonderful act of tzedakkah. But is this being a light to the nations? What would it look like if you saw a light? What kind of act would it have to be to compel you to change your ways, give up something you love but are told is bad? What does it mean, what kind of responsibility is it for us to be asked to be “or lagoyim” a light to the nations?
Upon returning from maternity leave our president, Brion Feinberg approached me with a new initiative; it is simultaneously the most exciting thing and scary thing he could have asked me to do. Brion has a vision for this congregation in which people come to services because they love them and want to participate in them and because they leave feeling connected and uplifted (these are goals Rabbis and Cantors have, too, and to have them shared by the president makes life that much better). He feels that now, most people attend services out of obligation, for service scrip, for yahrzeit, or ushering obligations, and if we were able to change the music and the feel of the service perhaps we could motivate attendance through desire because of how the service makes you feel. You want more music? This is the kind of request cantors live for. You want to help fundraise to make it happen! Even better. But as part of this request is a desire to change the minhag (traditions) of this place. This is very scary for a Cantor, as I feel it is my job to balance the musical traditions of our Temple with the traditions of the Jewish People, while introducing the newest trends and the things our kids learn at camp. “Lets do something new” is a great opportunity but also terrifying.
As I write this newsletter I am anticipating great changes in my home just around the time you will receive it. What does home mean? And what does it mean when “home” changes completely?
As college students, young adults, newlyweds, and new home owners (or renters) we spend a lot of time turning houses and apartments into homes. Just think about the number of TV stations or hours of television devoted to home improvement, home decorating, upgrades, DIY… creating a home by changing something physical about the space we sleep and eat in seems to be what they are selling. But I think it is also what we are buying. As I’ve seen the changes to our TRT space over the last 3 years (the sanctuary and the atrium and now the youth lounge/oneg room) people don’t just say “oh what a beautiful renovation” they say “it’s so warm in here” “it’s so inviting.” Clearly the physical space does affect the emotional one.
This I believe.
Over the past three years I have struggled with God. At first, when we started trying to have children, I didn’t know anything was wrong. I was excited, I would pray to God to help us conceive, but I was not terribly worried. I was only 27 after all; it would happen when it happened. Then as nearly 2 years had gone by I thought it was time to see a doctor. My doctor said all the tests she ran showed nothing was wrong, but as I wasn’t pregnant I should see a fertility specialist and they would probably put me on an ovulation stimulating drug. I think I cried, I was terrified and angry. If nothing is wrong why should I need drugs! What are the consequences of these drugs? Am I going to be sick and moody all the time? Am I at risk for multiple-birth? What’s wrong with this country that we just drug all our problems instead of finding the root cause…? Apparently personal anger had turned into a critique of the whole country’s psyche.