Rabbi's Blog

Rabbi's Blog

Follow Rabbi Kail on Facebook Facebook

November 5777 Bulletin Article

on Thursday, 27 October 2016. Posted in Rabbi's Blog

There is one thing we can all agree on this election season: how stressful it is. At least half of U.S. adults feel very or somewhat stressed about the election, according to the American Psychological Association. The election keeps us up at night, and raises our blood pressure. We are weary of discussing politics with people with whom we disagree for fear of the response. We count down the days to November 8 with both trepidation and a sigh of relief, as it election draws near. We do his despite knowing that our anxieties are unlikely to vanish even after election day, no matter the outcome.

So how do we cope with such enormous stress? Judaism offers some insight:

  1. Shabbat

For six days God created the world, and on the seventh day God rested. After about 6 minutes of a political debate, I need to rest, and yet our 24-hour all pervasive news coverage rarely gives us an opportunity to get away.

We need not travel to Boston’s Hotel Commonwealth and take advantage of their Election Escape package to find our escape from the commotion. Far before the hotel began blocking news channels and removing political news from all papers, the Jews invented Shabbat: an opportunity to turn off our computers, radios and televisions for one full day each week.

Instead of stressing over politics, we eat and we pray. We study Torah and go for walks in nature. We nap and we read and we spend time with people we love. We feel the love and embrace of the larger Jewish community. We refocus, and connect to the many blessings in our lives each and every day. Who of us couldn’t use a little Shabbat in our lives? As Ahad Ha’am said “More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” This election cycle, Shabbat may keep our sanity as well.

  1. Blessings of gratitude

Judaism teaches of the importance of blessings. Each morning as we rise, we offer the words “Modeh Ani,” which express how grateful we are to be alive. We begin our day with words of gratitude and celebration. Sages teach a spiritual practice of saying 100 blessings every day. That’s no easy task, let me tell you. It requires opening ourselves up to blessings at every moment of the day. It pushes us to connect to the world around us: the color leaves circling in the air, the shape of the clouds, or the stunning constellations overhead. It compels us to consider and be thankful for every bite of food we consume. We pause to take in the tranquility in the quiet that fills the house when children are comfortably asleep. Sometimes we begin to find blessings in places we least expect them: blessings that our children feel comfortable enough at home to throw a full blown tantrum over the spots on their bananas or extinction of dinosaurs; or of our ability to get everything done despite 3 hours of sleep the night before.  

When we offer 100 blessings a day, our entire way of looking at the world changes. We become more relaxed, more accepting, and more prepared for whatever lies ahead.

  1. Community

To be Jewish is to be part of a community. When a baby is born, we celebrate together. When a child becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah the community comes together. Weddings include witnesses, as do divorces. When we lose people we love, the community rallies around us, offering us food, comfort, and standing with us as we say the words of the mourner’s kaddish. It doesn’t matter what our political beliefs are. We are all one family.

At this time of stress, we gather, knowing that whatever happens, we will move forward together.

***

The 2016 election is stressful. And yet, Judaism reminds us that we have so many important coping techniques already build into our lives. In addition to having family and friends, hobbies and a wide assortment of interests, we have Shabbat, blessings of gratitude, and the embrace of a larger Jewish community. We also have the power of our voices.

As Jews and as Americans, we have a lot at stake in this election. The Jewish vote matters precisely because the Jewish community does vote. We exercise our right to express our concerns and cast our ballot according to them. If we want our voices to matter, we have to continue to use them. We have to vote come November 8. In so doing, we do our part to create a country that we wish to see (or not see) for the next four years.

But until then, take care. Celebrate Shabbat. Pray. Read. Spend time with those you love. We’ll get through it, together.

B’shalom,

Rabbi Cassi

Installation of New Officers 25 Iyyar 5776

on Thursday, 27 October 2016. Posted in Rabbi's Blog

Installation of New Officers
June 4, 2016/25 Iyyar 5776
 
Now five years into our time together, it continues to be an honor and privilege to serve as the rabbi of Temple Emanu-El. I am blessed to work alongside phenomenal leaders, who continue to dedicate not only their time—but also their heart and soul into our sacred community. From our phenomenal president, Joe, to our committee chairs to lay leaders and volunteers, so many people in our community dedicated themselves to creating meaningful celebrations, prayerful services, programs, volunteer opportunities, fundraisers, and learning opportunities for one another. Thank you.
 
Yesterday we finished reading from the Torah portion Bamidbar, in which the Israelites were instructed to encamp around a communal tent, each tribe with the banner carrying his paternal family’s insignia.
 
The insignias meant something- they spoke to roles and abilities of each Israelite—they spoke to that which made him unique. They held up their banners, proudly displaying and taking pride in their part of Am Yisrael—of people Israel.
 
As we heard reports of our committees I could visualize each one holding a banner of pride:
 
From sisterhood, proudly taking on roles such as creating luncheons of condolence, social programming and flowers--- to finance’s role of keeping us solvent and prepared for the future, to cemetery’s role of ensuring a holy place in which we can bury and honor those who have died, and the list goes on.
 
And yet, the Torah also reminds us that each of the tribes, banners in hand, encircled the ohel moed—the community tent of meeting. Each and every one had their place working for a common goal- to support the larger Jewish community in the best ways they knew how.
 
How blessed we are to have community members with various expertise, talents and abilities! How blessed we are to have so many entry points to Jewish living!
 
This past year, we’ve welcomed in a new High Holy Day prayer book with enormous success, including a new violist, who played during Kol Nidrei. We’ve enjoyed the spirit the Templations have brought to services such as on Simchat Torah, and Shabbat Shira. We’ve participated in out of the box prayer experiences, such as our summer hike, and snowshoe Shabbat.
 
We’ve increased our Jewish learning with a Hebrew bootcamp, and Intro to Judaism. We’ve studied the majority of the book of Genesis in Bagels and Torah, and discussed videos such as “Under the Helmet” with our Israeli lacross superstar, Jake Silberlicht. We continue to have productive and insightful conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the Hartman institute’s iEngage curriculum. We’ve been enriched by the story and culinary expertise of our Waldman lecturer Nancy Saporta Sternbach.
 
We’ve had a phenomenal year in religious school, marveling at the inquisitive questions of our students, and their growing knowledge on Torah, prayer, Hebrew, social justice, holidays, Israel, and Jewish culture. This education was greatly enhanced by family High Holy Day services, Hanukkah events, grade services, a phenomenal Purim carnival, a mock Passover Seder, planting in our temple garden, and a lag b’omer joint temple celebration.
 
From playdates to family services, to Rosh Hashannah programs to World read aloud day, our youngest temple members (and their parents) have a vibrant connection to Temple Emanu-El. (I confess that one night, when my kids didn’t come to temple on a Friday night they legitimately threw a tantrum because they wanted to go to temple. I take that as a good sign for the welcoming environment we’ve all worked to create.
 
We’ve celebrated during births and weddings. We’ve mourned together. We’ve celebrated the legacy of town hero Helen Sperling. We’ve had meaningful conversations about racial justice. We received a reward for our congregation’s participation in the NAACP’s Journey for Justice. We’ve volunteered at the hope house, and wrote notes to our assemblymen and senators about the refugee crisis. We’ve marched in support of Israel.
 
I’ve been blessed to service on the steering committee of the Utica-Oneida Country Anti-Poverty Initiative, and on the steering committee of the Religious Action Center’s New York affiliate, Reform Jewish Voice.
 
We’ve breathed new life into sisterhood and the men’s club. We’ve written poetry for a Tu Bishvat Poe-tree café, raised money for deserving charities and our temples with a phenomenal mishloach manot fundraisers. We’ve begun to enhance our temple database so that we can better meet the needs of ever congregant. We’ve cooked together, raised money together and we’ve dreamed together.
In March, heads of every committee came to a calendar meeting, where we’ve expressed our shared wishes and goals for our congregation. Next week we will come together to thoughtfully create a temple calendar that allows us to work together to ensure that 5777 is a year full of inspiration and meaning. We’re off to a great start already, with a Waldman lecture by famous artist Mordecai Rosenstein, and a congregational Israel trip.
 
Each and every one of us, as temple members and leaders should be proud of all that we’ve accomplished—the banners we have raised—and the way in which our work, our expertise and our passions enhance temple life. I’m so excited to see everything that lays in store for 5777.

 

Blessing:
Like to begin by asking all of our board members for the year 5776 to please rise.
 
Thank you for all you have done—for the questions you asked, the wisdom you shared, your willingness to help, to chair, to step up when we needed you. Without you, the temple would not have been nearly as vibrant and successful and inspiring as it is today.
 
In particular, I’d like to invite up the board members, who after years of dedication are stepping down from the board. Barbara Goodman, Harris Samuels and Ken Bobrow.
 
A prayer for those who have faithfully served the congregation:
 
May you end your term on Temple Emanu-El’s board with the knowledge that the time you dedicated to our community has been well spent and appreciated.
May you delight in seeing new leaders take your ideas, and make them their own.
May you continue to feel valued and heard.
 
 
May you continue to find ways to engage in the sacred task of making this community a loving home for all who enter the doors, filled with many access points to God, Jewish culture, Spirituality, Torah, and Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World).
And may it be Your will, God, God of our ancestors, to lead our past officers in peace, and guide them in peace. May You bestow blessing upon the work of their hands—the work they have done, and the work they have yet to do.
 
We also come to celebrate the brilliant leadership we have in this coming year—from people who have served in many capacities before, to ones who are new to the board. Each has volumes to teach, talents to share and passions to express. The community thankful and delighted that they have chosen to be leaders of Temple Emanu-El. The congregation pledges its support, encouragement and participation.
 
As I say your name, please rise.
 
President, Joe Silberlicht
1st vice president, Pam Vescera
2nd VP Rachel Smith
Corresponding Secretary, Denise Sachs-Michalanie
Recording Secretary, Caren Summers
Treasurer, Sam Rudolph
Past President, Sid Blatt
 
(Read 18 names of board members)
 
Joining them:
Howie Cohen
Lindsay Rosenfeld
Anne Yoss
 
I invite the new board to offer these words, about their newfound commitment to temple life.
 
Prayer for Board members:
 
I am a board member of Temple Emanu-El because I love Temple Emanu-El, and I want others to love it as much as I do.
 
I am a board member of Temple Emanu-El because, I have heard the call to serve the Jewish community, as many before me as served, with the hope for being a role model (dugma) for those who will one day serve.
 
I am a board member of Temple Emanu-El because I take pride in the reform movement, which balances tradition and innovation, authenticity and creativity.
 
I am a board member of Temple Emanu-El because I desire to continue making our community a warm, welcoming spiritual haven haven for tefillah, prayer; Torah, study, and ma’asim tovim, good deeds.
 
I am a board member of Temple Emanu-El because I wish to be a partner in this journey, working alongside leaders from a variety of perspectives, insights and talents, with the goal of meeting everyone who walks through our doors.
 
I am a board member of Temple Emanu-El because the temple that you and I envision together has yet to be created.
 
Holy One of Blessing
 
Bestow Your blessing on these leaders,
Who have been elected to serve our congregation.
Instill in them with insight and understanding,
Perseverance as well as patience.
Inspire them to work together
In pursuit of our community’s greatest aspiratons,
Even as they watch over its daily needs.
O God, we are thankful for the dedication and giving spirit
That brings these men and women before You,
Prepared to devote their energies to Your service
And to the benefit of us all.
Grant success to their endeavors,
And help them to lead us in the pursuit of our sacred mission.
 
Priestly benediction
 
You sustain and nourish us with sacred wisdom and traditions of our people,
Teaching Torah to us and to our children:
May God bless you and keep you.
 
You work alongside us
To bring the light of justice and compassion to God’s broken world:
May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious onto you.
 
You bear witness to our lives and accompany us on our journey;
You help us elevate our consciousness
And search in every hour for God’s presence in our lives:
For your dedication to our community,
May God lift your hearts
And grant you wholeness, fulfillment and peace.