Your Decisions Matter
Letter from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh
"Things are not as easy to understand or express as we are mostly led to believe; most of what happens cannot be put into words and takes place in a realm which no word has ever entered." - Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1903.
I return to these sage words in order to remind myself we cannot always comprehend and place our circumstances into a neat order and construction. The human need to categorize and understand the world fails when we lose our perceived control. Structure provides a sense of normalcy but what really is normalcy? Isn't what we consider normal always in flux?
If Rilke was correct, and there are places no words ever enter, then how can we make sense of our surroundings? Isn't language an opportunity, a vessel, to understand who we are and where we fit into the world? Allow me to share a story from the Talmud. It happened in the second century C.E. during the time of Roman occupation. It is part of a larger story we recall on Yom Kippur afternoon of the Ten Martyrs. The Romans punished our rabbis for continuing to teach our traditions.
Hananiah Ben Teradyon was wrapped in the Torah scroll he had been holding when he was arrested. As the flames engulfed him, his students asked him what he saw. He replied, "The parchment is burning, but the letters are ascending to heaven." The scroll burned. And the words and the teachings survived.
Are we indestructible? Do the words of Torah survive even though individuals and communities bar their entrance into daily vocabulary and literature? Is it our job to return the letters of Torah to earth in order to create and build once again? What do we do with the words we are given? What is Torah and what is its meaning?
Rabbi David Wolpe wrote in 2003, "The most important event in the world today is probably unknown to us. But we can hazard a guess: in decades or centuries our descendants will see again that the mind outlasts empires, that the word endures and that God gently nurtures miracles out of small seeds of creativity and of faith. That is the Jewish certainty. What does that knowledge call upon us to do? Not only to cultivate our souls, but to understand that seemingly small decisions and actions can have a profound effect on history."
Our words, our actions, and our responses to the pain in our world will have a substantial effect on history. We are living in a time with access to many gifts and opportunities. How are you utilizing yours? Have you abandoned the words of Torah or do you gather them to build community, faith and a future? There is much we cannot comprehend and so much more we do understand.
Later this month we celebrate the Festival of Shavuot. Seven weeks after Passover, we stood at Mount Sinai to receive words to guide our lives. The words were given to us to live by. The words were given us to act upon and to enrich a world around us. They may have ascended to the heavens under the occupation of the Romans. Surely, they have returned for us to actualize and implement.
A story. "When an engineer builds a bridge, he figures on three loads that the bridge must bear: the dead load, the live load, and the wind load. The dead load is the weight of the bridge; the live load is the weight of the traffic on the bridge; and the wind load is the pressure of the wind on its superstructure. This is a parable of life. Life's 'dead load' is concerned with managing one's self; its 'live load' is the pressure of daily wear and tear; its 'wind load' is adversity and unalterable circumstances."
Today we are feeling the additional loads of life. As a rabbi, I look to texts and teachings as well as humanity for words, understanding and meaning. I search for inspiration and comprehension knowing as Rilke wrote, "Things are not as easy to understand or express as we are mostly led to believe..." Perhaps that is just the way it is right now. And if so, I look towards that mountain and time when holiness descended upon all of us whether or not we were ready.
Letter from President Val Turner
Sometimes there is great power in a simple phrase. L'Chaim, to life. The ability to live within tragedy and yet grab life. The strength to not only persevere within hardship but to realize the opportunities it has presented. Much has been lost during the past several months and yet every Monday and Thursday Zoom session, every Shabbat Study, every streamed service and much more has become our L'Chaim.
As I write this article, it appears that our recovery from the current pandemic may take longer than expected. Our battle with a life-threatening virus is now compounded with serious economic issues. All of our community will be affected in some way and in varying degrees of severity. If you are looking for Jewish guidance, it may well be contained in the belief that during troubling times the most effective way of helping yourself is to help others.
In this spirit we are establishing a new short-term fund at Temple Emanuel called the 2020 Assistance Fund. This fund will provide assistance to members affected by the current medical/monetary events, ranging from assistance with financial issues to help in securing needed medications or food. The list of what we are capable of helping with and the volunteers available is far too long to list within this article. If you or someone you know needs assistance, please ask.
If assistance is needed the point of contact with the fund is Rabbi Hersh. Rabbi Hersh will maintain strict confidentiality and is the best person to know and appreciate the needs of our membership. Simply contact the Rabbi by email at to initiate a conversation about what is needed.
For those who would like to contribute to the fund simply write a check to Temple Emanuel and in the memo line of the check write "2020 Fund." There will be no listing of contributions in the Emanuscript in order to maintain confidentiality as well as the highest level of tzedakah giving.
It is important to keep in mind that the root of the Hebrew word tzedakah does not mean charity. The root meaning is justice and righteousness, or in simpler terms the act of doing the right thing. Within Jewish tradition both parties involved, the giver and the receiver, benefit. We are a community, we are a family. With each act of generosity, with each acceptance of generosity, we stand together and say...L'Chaim!
Letter from Executive Director Andrew Goldfeder
It's so refreshing that Spring is upon us. I cannot recall a time when I have had the opportunity to watch flowers blossom, trees budding and birds build their nests. These small moments that I have missed for years remind me of the beauty that exists, even in the darkest of times, when we look for it. Another occurrence I am enjoying is sitting in our front yard every Wednesday around noon with my son in my lap watching the trash compactor pick up our garbage. The driver loves the excited expression on my son's face! We choose to create special moments during these uncertain days. We must.
I certainly miss seeing my colleagues at Temple Emanuel, but I've gained three new "colleagues" at the Goldfeder home. My wife Nikki, four-year-old daughter Ilana and two-year-old son Ethan fill my days with joy, laughter, energy and enthusiasm. Working full-time from home, being a preschool teacher, with recess and lunch duty added to my job description, has been an interesting adjustment.
In addition to missing my colleagues, I also miss you! Thankfully, Rabbi Hersh has found creative ways to help our community stay connected. I am thoroughly enjoying our Monday and Thursday TE Community Chats. I always find myself laughing, learning and loving our human connections. Zoom has truly proven to be an effective tool for our virtual meetups, Shabbat Study sessions, education classes, etc. and I will say that Rabbi Hersh's leadership continues to shine bright during these extremely difficult days for our nation and world.
Please reach out to me anytime. I understand that needs continue to change - please know that I am here for you, and I am happy to help support you in any way I can. I wish you and yours continued good health; stay safe and well. See you soon!
Letter from Director of Education and Community Engagement Emily Cohen
While this past month has not looked the way I (or any of us) pictured when we planned this year, learning and engagement is very much happening with TE families. Every Sunday of religious school we have been gathering online in one form or another. Whether we have a conversation with Israeli teens, celebrate Havdalah led by teens, or play a family version of Newlywed Game, TE students and their families are continuing their Jewish journeys online.
One of the gatherings that especially brought hope and excitement was the 8th grade welcome Zoom session. To welcome them as incoming 9th graders for the fall, the TEDY (youth group) teens led an afternoon of online games and talked about the rich variety of opportunities for Jewish engagement in high school. Teens have tons of options for Jewish travel, social justice work, even sports and fine arts opportunities. Even if you don't have a teen, the list of programs is exciting.
One thing that struck me on these virtual gatherings is that our students and teachers have truly become a community. The bonds formed throughout the year were especially clear when each class had their own Zoom meeting. It was such a treat to watch everyone's faces light up when another friend joined the call. Teachers led a "circle time" or "morning meeting" to see how each student was doing, read stories, sang songs, even celebrated birthdays virtually. The warmth felt on these Zoom sessions is a testament to the connection our community has formed.
This connection is possible because of the dedication of TE families and faculty. This year it has been my privilege to work with TE's teachers and madrichim (teen assistants). This group of dedicated professionals shows up each week at religious school with energy, compassion, and creativity. While we were not able to honor them in person as we'd like, I want to share the list with you so you can thank these fabulous educators next time you see them.
Cantor Josh Finkel
Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh
Madrichim (Teen Assistant Teachers)
I want to add my personal gratitude to the religious school families. I appreciate the support you gave all year, and especially your patience as we adapted an in-person program to an online model. Thank you for making my first year at TE so special. As we move in to May, I wish you a month full of laughter, learning, and good health.
The Power of Yizkor
Letter from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh
The very first time I was part of a Yizkor service was High Holidays 1989 in Lafayette, Louisiana. I was a second-year rabbinical student. In my more conservative, bordering on superstitious, world, I didn't know what to do. Both of my parents were living. Yet, I was the one conducting services, and expected to recite the traditional prayers on Yom Kippur afternoon.
Growing up, my family was active in a progressive Conservative congregation. My rabbi, of blessed memory, introduced the kaddish by telling us that we were each saying it for those who perished in the Shoah, leaving no one to say it for them. The mourner's kaddish (earlier in the service) was only recited by the mourners. And children were not permitted to be a part of the Yizkor service, lest they place an ayin ha-ra [the evil eye] on their living parents. I remained in the lobby with other children. On Yom Kippur afternoon the sanctuary was crowded, perhaps even moreso than on Kol Nidre. Inside, men and women alike were remembering their loved ones, and beseeching God that their names, of blessed memory, be bound up in Eternal life.
The first time I needed to be present for Yizkor, according to Jewish tradition, was in 2009 after my father, of blessed memory, died. It was the most powerful religious services I have participated in or conducted. I stood, albeit from the bima, amongst my fellow congregants, in tears and smiles, engulfed in a sea of memories. And I was not alone. I truly understood and embraced the power of my community reciting the Yizkor service.
Yizkor [may God remember] is the first word of the memorial prayer we recite for our loved ones. The tradition is to recite this four times a year in the place of worship. Originally, it was only recited on Yom Kippur. The custom expanded to holding a memorial service also on the last days of Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot.
The custom of praying as a community for our loved ones began in the eleventh century in Germany when the Crusaders annihilated Rhineland Jewry. In the fourteenth century, Jews were massacred because their non-Jewish neighbors believed they were the source of the Black Plague. What was once personal prayer recited by the family developed into a communal prayer service on Yom Kippur.
Moreover, I recently read, "Polish Jews supplemented it with a prayer remembering the Jewish victims of the 1648 Cossack massacre under the leadership of Bogdan Chmielnicki." It was practical to include a Yizkor service on the three Festivals, as it was a time for communities to gather. We now include a passage for those who were murdered in the Shoah. As Jews, we remember those who came before us, of all faiths and nationalities.
This year, I am introducing an opportunity to gather for prayers on the last day of Passover, which includes a Yizkor service. Please join us for live streaming services on Wednesday, April 15th, at 11:00a.m. I hope, if your schedule permits, you will join me as well as your fellow congregants to read the prayers that have sustained generations before us.
A Passover Tutorial
Letter from Rabbi Elizabeth B. Hersh
In Judaism, there is never one answer to a question. Rather, there are a multitude of legitimate responses. Our sages offered various answers to questions of Jewish law and custom. There are what I denote as the "practical" answers as opposed to the lovely, more spiritually engaged answers. For example, "Why do we have a blessing over spices at Havdalah?" (Havdalah is the brief service that concludes Shabbat, separating sacred time from mundane time.) In rabbinical school, we were taught that we are blessed with a second soul on Shabbat, in which to enjoy this time. When Shabbat concludes and the additional soul departs our being, we are naturally saddened. The aroma of the spices carries us joyfully through the week until once again we welcome our bonus soul. Are you smiling? It is lovely, isn't it? Turn 180 degrees. For almost 25 hours, there is no manner of work in the home, no fire, electricity, washing, cleaning...You can only imagine after this period, the home may have needed a little "refreshing." Spices were certainly welcome at this moment. Sentimental and practical.
Why have I written two Emanuscript articles for April? In the manner of a Jewish dialogue, I have two answers. First, the charming, but very real, response. l always love communicating with my TE family. How much moreso (another rabbinical concept) at this difficult time of social distancing. It is one of the ways I can be in contact with you.
Turn 180 degrees. Many of you know I work well in advance of deadlines. When time and creativity present themselves, I embrace the opportunity to write articles, prepare classes, and the like ahead of schedule. I wrote my April Emanuscript article in early March. I was, and am, excited to begin a last day of Passover/Yizkor service for our community.
When I began my communication with you prior to the mandatory isolation, many of you expressed dismay about the unfortunate, but wise, decision to cancel our community Passover Seder. Saving a life takes precedence over observing mitzvot (commandments). While we are looking into the possibility of having a ZOOM Seder, I am sharing information, stories and new writings about Passover.
This is no substitute for gathering as a TE family. I do hope it provides some inspiration and ideas for you. Hence, two articles. Please note that many notes I have in my Hagadah are from various sources and are not marked as such. It is with tremendous humility that I share commentary with you.
There are many debates in the Talmud (Jewish law) between Rav and Shmuel. A relevant one during this time of year is over the approach to the Exodus. Shmuel believed the exodus is a physical redemption. Rav held it is spiritual. Maimonides presented a third distinction. "There are two elements to the Seder service: there is the story we tell our children, and the story we tell ourselves. Shmuel focused on the story as told to a child. Rav spoke of the story as an adult reflection. It takes an adult to understand the journey from polytheism to monotheism, from myth to faith." (The Jonathan Sacks Haggada 2003, 2013).
The Seder is a festive meal. We can only share food when we are free. The one who fears where tomorrow's food will come from cannot offer to others. (A tremendous lesson for today; I am certain our food pantries need collections.) On Passover, the custom is to pour wine (four goblets) for others. In the custom of royalty, we do not pour our own. On Passover we sit for the blessings over wine. On Shabbat we stand.
The Four Children - the wise, the wicked, the simple and the one unable to ask a question. Think of the four individuals as a scope of the Jewish people. One inquires because she wants to hear the answer. The next does not want to hear the answer. The third asks because she does not understand. The fourth doesn't understand that she doesn't understand. And yet, we hope. We can disagree because we are family. We can sit at the same metaphoric table and tell the same story while disagreeing. We draw strength from one another. We argue and struggle to understand each other, not to convince we are correct. Moreover, we must answer each question according to the ability of the listener to comprehend. Be sensitive to your audience.
The Seder involves the act of remembering. Each generation must add to the story. Hagadah comes from the root meaning to tell, connect and join. The Seder is an invitation to tell your story of your exodus or Jewish journey. The Hagadah tells us who we are, where we came from and what we stand for in life. Passover is a "mind" holiday. We must free ourselves spiritually and emotionally. Beware that ideas may enslave us!
Chad Gadya - One Only Kid and Who Knows One are meant not only to keep children alert, but to teach. Who Knows One is a counting game involving learning from our history. One Only Kid dates to the Middle Ages, and initially was only recited by Ashkenazi Jews. Each symbol (cat, dog, stick, water, etc.) is meant to represent one of Israel's oppressors. It addresses a world where various forces control or harm one another. In the end, evil will be banished. God is the ultimate victor.
The following is a reading I created for our Seder, focusing on Miriam's Cup which we set on our table and fill with water.
Fearless Miriam was one of the few women in our tradition to be described as a prophetess. She sang and danced before God leading the women in thanksgiving at the Sea of Reeds. Her name is derived from mar, meaning "bitter," and yam, "sea." In Arabic, her name is born from ra'im, meaning "to love tenderly." In Egyptian the root of her name is mer, implying she was beloved. Miriam is associated with water. She watched her brother from afar as he was set upon the Nile. She praised God upon crossing the Sea of Reeds. Legend tells us she had the gift of finding water while traveling through the barren wilderness. The story of Miriam's Well is what brings meaning to our lives tonight. Water is life. Miriam, you inspire us to contribute to the well-being and life of others without whom life and hope may be lost. We begin with an empty goblet, passing it from one to the next, taking from our own cups to contribute water. Each of us can save a life. Each of us can nourish a soul and bring life to parched individuals. Each of us is beloved.
The Mishnah lists five species of grain native to the Land of Israel subject to the prohibition against leavening at this time of year. They are wheat, barley, spelt, oats and rye. The rabbis fixed 18 minutes as the maximum time for making matza from the moment water and flour are mixed. This teaches us to be precise about time. And, do not procrastinate to perform a mitzvah.
Leaven is more than a food matter. The Talmud uses leaven as a metaphor for the evil or unruly impulses in our hearts. Yeast came to symbolize arrogance. It can be the restless force of the evil inclination. Matza is simple. Abarbanel declared this simplicity as a spiritual quality we should desire. In the days before Passover, search for chametz in your homes. It is a cleansing process. Remove not only the breadcrumbs from the corners of your kitchen but the chametz from your hearts and souls. We can devote ourselves to this task anew. And next year in Jerusalem, in a healthier and safer world.
(Please note there are various English spellings of the Hebrew word, Hagadah. In the reference to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sack's Hagadah, I respectfully used his as was published.)
Back To The Future
Letter from President Val Turner
"Roads? Where we are going we don't need roads."
Dr. Emmett Brown - from the original "Back to the Future"
This will be a very odd "From the President" because these are very odd times.
I have a very embarrassing confession to make. Before the original version of "Back to the Future" was released, I would watch the previews and wonder, how can you go back to where you have never been? The question consumed me. After having seen the movie several times, I knew what was meant by the title, but from time to time I would still ponder how you could go back to where you have never been. I must admit, over thirty years later, two or three times a year while walking the dog or watching an uninteresting rerun my mind will return to the question of how can you go back to where you have never been? In the past several weeks my mind has returned to that question dozens of times.
As most of you, over the past weeks I've talked with many different people and the conversation almost always includes comments on the Coronavirus pandemic. The majority of the time these conversations will express the strong desire of being able to go "back to normal." The phrase "back to normal" always triggers my mind to wonder how can you go back to where you have never been? If you are fortunate enough to live a long life, you reach a point where you have experienced births and deaths, marriages and divorces, children and grandchildren, several crisis events and of course, aging. Looking back on your life, you realize that there was no "back to normal." After each significant life event you were forced to adjust, to redefine normal and to eventually live within a new normal. There never was a going back, only making adjustments and moving forward.
During this current crisis, please keep your eyes open for what I will call the super helper. This is the person that rises above most of the complaining, the criticisms and the bad moods by occupying their time with helping others. I would guess we all know at least one super helper. The person that immediately comes to my mind is Rabbi Hersh. I have watched her work tirelessly and devote endless hours toward keeping people and things together. Working toward keeping a congregation and a family together. Whoever it is that comes to your mind as a super helper, remember them.
We all need help in some form during times like this. Help can range all the way from a comforting smile to life-saving intervention by a medical professional. What we have learned from the past, however, is that the super helper will need help after the crisis is over. We will adapt, adjust and endure to eventually accept the new normal. The super helper hasn't had the time to go through this process; they have been too busy helping others. After you have reached the new normal, remember the super helper. Thank them profusely, avoid criticism and be kind. They are the ones responsible for us being able to go back to where we have never been.
Letter from Executive Director Andrew Goldfeder
We are certainly living in precarious times. As I write this note to our Temple Emanuel family, I am sitting across from my wife as she also works remotely. We are both in helping roles professionally, and it is hard for us to grasp that we can help the most by staying away from people whom we care so deeply for. Our four-year-old daughter, Ilana, does not understand why she cannot hug her grandparents; and our two-year-old son, Ethan, has already adopted this lifestyle as his new normal. These are challenging times for all of us, no matter our circumstances. Please know that you are not alone. We are a strong community, filled with strong individuals, and together, we will support each other through this unprecedented time.
We might not be able to predict the exact trajectory of the days to come, but I will tell you what I know for sure: Rabbi Hersh has been a phenomenal leader and friend during this period of time. As a supervisor, she understands her staff and truly cares for our health and welfare. As our Rabbi, she has reached out to each household, checking on our well-being and the well-being of our families. As always, she is in full control, and her outreach, care and messages of hope are blessings to us all.
Furthermore, I have been impressed with the leadership of our President Val Turner. His communication to the congregation is clear, effective and thoughtful. Thank you, Val, for all you are doing!
I would like to also recognize our Director of Education and Community Engagement, Emily Cohen. Emily is a creative and enthusiastic educator. She is finding ways to connect with students to help them stay connected to Judaism and each other during this challenging time. As a leader, Emily steps in when needed, rolls up her sleeves and is a wonderful teammate. Thank you, Emily, for all you are doing!
Finally, our Office Administrator Vicki Watson has been working hard behind the scenes to help our operations run as smoothly as possible while we are away from the building. Thank you for your dedication, Vicki.
My family and I extend our warmest wishes for continued good health and for a Zissen Pesach (Sweet Passover)! I hope to "see" you all soon through our Zoom sessions.
Letter from Director of Education and Community Engagement Emily Cohen
The kindness and strength of the TE community has really stood out over the past couple weeks while we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been blown away by the generosity of our members and the dedication of Rabbi Hersh, TE's President Val Turner, and Executive Director Andrew Goldfeder.
Here is an update on all that is happening in TE's education and community engagement efforts:
Religious school classes met virtually to check in and find strength in community. We will schedule future virtual meet-ups based on the feedback from the first round of online gatherings.
The TEDY board is meeting and planning a fabulous year of programming for next year as well as a special welcome for the current 8th graders to the high school youth group and the rest of the rich variety of Jewish programs available to them.
TE members are connecting in a private Facebook group where they can share conversation starters, talk about how they are coping, and ask for help and recommendations.
The sweeping stay-at-home orders have brought to light the rich virtual Jewish learning content for children, teens, and adults. Whether you want to hear some new Jewish music, study a Jewish text or holiday, cook a Jewish dish, or simply meet other Jews, I can help you find a resource online. Feel free to reach out any time, email@example.com. Your TE community is still very much here for you even when (especially when) we cannot be together physically. Stay well!