Shabbaton: Music, Study & Celebration

Sing and learn with Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

Congregation Etz Chayim, Palo Alto, CA

Rabbi Rosalind Glazer
Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

7:30 PM Friday July 15th

This Erev Shabbat service with drum accompaniment promises to be a lively, inspiring and energetic musical Tefillah experience. In a Dvar Tefilah (teachings on prayer) I will discuss some of the ideology and theological concepts that have motivated liturgical changes to the Reconstructionist siddur, particularly the Aleynu.  An oneg Shabbat and shmoozing will follow.

9:00 AM Saturday July 16th

Torah Study on parashat Pinchas will include a discussion and exploration of teachings by the late Slonimer Rebbe (d. 2000), who took a hybrid Hasidic-Musar approach in his Torah Commentary, Netivot Shalom al haTorah.  We may also explore other contemporary scholars.

10:00 AM Saturday July 16th

Shabbat Morning Services will include vibrant and harmonious singing, meditative niggunim, Torah chanting and special group aliyot with blessings coordinated to the verses of Torah, a celebratory aufruf,  reflections on the Parasha and a brief concluding service.  Services will be followed by a light Kiddush luncheon and a meet and greet / shmooze and cruise.

8:00 PM Saturday July 16th

Our Shabbaton wraps up with a Melavah Malkah Experience – a delightful storytelling and uplifting musical and rhythmic sing-along event for the whole family.  It includes dessert and music-making  indoors and concludes with Havdallah and smores under the stars in the shul courtyard at 9:45 PM.

Please join us for this spiritually enlightening and uplifting Shabbaton.

Come along and bring a friend.  Everyone is invited!


Spiritual Community and the Generosity of “Strangers”

Ongoing acts of kindness and generosity literally turn strangers into friends and transform a random group of folks into a real community.

“We can only create and maintain community if we share both the dream and the commitment to work for its realization…Community life needs to offer the affection and support that is normally provided by extended family members living in close proximity. ” – Rabbi David A. Teutsch

After helping someone in need recently, a BIJ member told me that the line between giving and receiving had been so blurred that she did not know who had benefitted more. In response all I could say was that to know this feeling is to be truly blessed. Not long ago, I also learned of an informal gathering of BIJers who assembled spontaneously to offer healing prayers for someone who had received a difficult diagnosis. I was deeply moved at hearing this since it affirmed what I know to be true of BIJ: We are a caring congregation. The peer-led prayer circle affirmed my long-held belief in the importance of spiritual community. It further reminded me that while a leader’s role is to serve as a teacher and mentor, acts of leadership both great and small are initiated all the time by members of our community.

According to the Sages, gemilut hasadim, deeds-of-loving-kindness, is one of three categories of mitzvot that sustain the world. Whether it is by supporting a member whose child is in distress, visiting or delivering food to a fellow congregant who is ill, providing a ride to shul for a synagogue elder, comforting the bereaved, attending a shiva minyan, helping an unemployed congregant find a job, assembling and dropping off mishloach manot on Purim or delivering seder sacks on Passover, hundreds of mitzvot are performed at BIJ every day.

These ongoing acts of kindness and generosity literally turn strangers into friends and transform a random group of folks into a real community.

The list of tasks required to run a congregation far exceeds the number of available staff hours. Whether serving on the Board or a committee, helping with administrative duties in the office, planning and organizing special events and programs, greeting fellow congregants and visitors at services, preparing and serving an oneg Shabbat, kiddush or meal, washing table cloths or kitchen towels, selling coffee and bagels at the Micha Mocha café, chanting Torah or haftarah on Shabbat or holidays, setting and cleaning up before and after shul events, kashering the kitchen for Pesach, planting shrubs and new seedlings in our garden, repairing broken or damaged furniture and fixtures, BIJ depends on our volunteers.

The Torah describes a ‘volunteer’ as one who is nediv lev, moved by the heart. The term first appears in Exodus, parashat Vayakheil, during the building of the mishkan (tabernacle) where a call for contributions is answered to such excess that a moratorium on giving is declared. While BIJ has never faced this happy dilemma, our community exists only because our members are continuously moved to give of their resources, time and talent and by so doing have built a spiritual home that this far greater than our numbers betray. At BIJ members feel a true sense of belonging and our palpable warmth and hospitality is what makes our community attractive to potential members and guests.

Thank you for all you do and give to sustain our spiritual home. The generous offerings of the heart that each of you brings to our congregation are appreciated far more than these words can adequately express.

It’s Not Easy Being Green – But it is a Mitzvah!

We cannot underestimate how powerfully the values and practices we embrace as a community powerfully influence our personal habits and choices.

Succulents in the Rock - Dor Nachsholim Preserve, Israel.  July 2010.  Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer
Succulents in the Rock - Dor Nachsholim Preserve, Israel. July 2010. Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

The Talmudic rabbis wisely warned their generation, “If we destroy our world, there will be nobody to repair it after us.”  Far more than those who came before us and with all we have learned in the era of globalism, our generation can fully appreciate this message.  We’ve witnessed many environmental disasters in our lifetimes and have come to acknowledge the inconvenient truth of global warming.  We know that ours is a delicate and fragile planet; that it is vulnerable to ignorant, greedy and destructive human actions. Yet individually and collectively we’re still struggling to incorporate pragmatic and effective habits into our daily lives.  The first Earth Day in April 1970 introduced the world to the 3 Rs of caring for the earth; Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Yet in the 40 years that have ensued we’ve witnessed the devastating impact of increased waste and overconsumption.  It’s particularly evident in the US where per capita use of the world’s resources is grossly out of proportion.  

Echoing the Talmudic sages, preeminent scholar, authority on Jewish mysticism and author of the book Radical Judaism, Rabbi Arthur Green regards our need to embrace a sacred relationship with the earth as THE critical spiritual challenge of our time.  While this is a universal spiritual issue, Jews are already called to engage in the mitzvot of tikkun olam (repairing the world), bal tashchit (preventing needless waste and destruction) and tzar ba’alei chayim (protecting living creatures).  Thus it should be no surprise that Jews are at the forefront of the environmental movement.  More than a dozen new Jewish initiatives (and growing) have enthusiastically embraced the issue.

At Beth Israel Judea we’ve also taken up the challenge.  Over a year ago we added an Eco-Kashrut clause to our kitchen and food policy.  When sharing meals at BIJ, we encourage the use of dishes and silverware over disposables and we advise careful conservation of water.  When purchasing single-use items we recommend eco-friendly products.  With the help of Karen Kerner, we recently purchased and now display sets of clearly marked blue bins for recyclables and green bins for compostables.  And we use non-toxic, eco-friendly products for most of our cleaning and custodial needs.  

We cannot underestimate how powerfully the values and practices we embrace as a community influence our personal habits and choices.

After recent screenings of the new environmental documentary, “Bag It,” several BIJers told me they are now making a greater individual effort.  While this pleases me, I hesitate to say dayenu because I know it is possible to do better. Recycling is good, but reducing and reusing should precede it.  And a fourth R – redesign – is more critical than ever.  As consumers we should vocally reject manufacturers ‘planned obsolesce’ and insist that electronics and other big ticket items be built–to-last rather than designed-for-disposal.  We can no longer purchase goods wrapped in heavy plastic packaging and simply assume it will all be recycled.  Like other viewers of the film, I was stunned to learn that the large majority of the items I place in my curbside recycling bin are shipped by barge for sorting by impoverished workers in China!  Other plastic items are incinerated to toxic smoke or dumped into the ocean to become part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a growing island of plastic larger than the state of Texas. Our relative affluence offers freedom and power, but it requires that we exercise greater responsibility.  Just because we can buy more, doesn’t mean we should. The acquisition of knowledge is far more valuable, but it also increases our obligation to act. 

The “Bag It!” film emphasizes the impossibility of throwing things away.  There simply is no such thing as away!  For the 16th c. Kabbalists, the smallest act or decision had spiritual consequences.  Let us embrace the challenge and do right – for our planet, for ourselves, for one another and for future generations.   Keyn yehi ratzon – So may it be.

The Mitzvah of Making Minyan

“When we speak the name of someone who has died, it’s like bringing a part of their soul back to life.”

A Minyan of Mt. Airy Women
A Minyan of Mt. Airy Women

This article was originally published in the BIJ Bulletin March-April 2010 / Adar-Nisan 5770.

“When we speak the name of someone who has died, it’s like bringing a part of their soul back to life.”

I was surprised to hear this comment from a confirmation student whose theology is otherwise pretty eclectic, because his sentiments affirm those of many traditional Jewish commentators.

Every faith tradition memorializes their beloved deceased with practices that keep memories and spirits alive.  In tribal communities, burial sites and cemeteries are visited in sacred pilgrimage. Long standing memorial practices and rituals connect individuals, families and communities with those who are no longer physically present in the world.

In this regard Jewish tradition is not unique.  Many congregations, BIJ included, announce the names of the recently departed and read a yahrzeit list before reciting Kaddish.  Mourners recite Kaddish for eleven months and annually at yahrzeit. We light memorial candles. We give tzedakah. We pray Yizkor on the festivals and on Yom Kippur.  We host a Kiddush or oneg Shabbat and drink a bittersweet l’chaim.  We gather to study a passage of Torah, Mishna, Talmud or other sacred text and enjoy a celebratory meal on the yahrzeit of great communal leaders and teachers.

While Judaism provides an elaborate structure of memorial practices, ours is not at all a culture of death.  At its core, Jewish tradition is life affirming. The recitation of Kaddish may permit survivors a moment to remember their beloved deceased, but the prayer speaks of radical awe in this miraculous and eternal moment. 

Furthermore, the underlying power of Kaddish is not merely in the instant of remembrance, but in the building and preservation of community. That a minyan is required to recite it is not a mere halakhic legalism. Minyan allows us to sustain and perpetuate community.  It is as essential to the mourner as it is to the thirteen year old who becomes a bat or bar mitzvah. Minyan holds the collective social force of critical mass.  In essence, minyan is synonymous with community. This is why so many Hassidic tales extol the virtue of being the tenth person and honor those who fulfill the mitzvah of ‘making minyan.’

Congregations are often identified by their rabbis but rabbis do not and cannot constitute a community.  As our Cantorial soloist David Morgenstern recently reminded me, “Nine rabbis do not make a minyan, but ten ordinary Jews do!”  Beyond the walls of the shtetl it is just short of impossible to find a Jew in the street to make a minyan.  Since liberal Jews are less compelled to fulfill ritual mitzvot, the community must rely upon the individual Jew’s call to conscience.

In truth, our actions belie our values and beliefs. While Judaism’s focus on mitzvot makes it seem as if a higher value is placed on deed than creed, the two, in fact, work in tandem. Each time we respond to the spiritual imperative – each time we respond to the call by showing up and saying – Hineni, I am here – we affirm our community.

 The Irish philosopher George Berkeley questioned whether something ceases to exist if nobody is around to perceive it.  He was clearly on to something! The only way a name spoken before Kaddish will bring an aspect of that person’s soul to life is if we are present to hear it.