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Is Criticizing Israel Antisemitic? by Rabbi Sharon MarsJune 2, 2021

If you’ve been wondering if what you may be hearing—on the news, in casual conversation, certainly on social media—qualifies as antisemitic, let me assure you, you’re not alone. There has been a dramatic spike in antisemitic events in the wake of the recent eleven-day war in Israel and Gaza. I cannot remember a time in my life when Jews at a restaurant were surrounded by angry fellow diners because someone was wearing a Star of David around their neck. And that was in West Hollywood last week, not Berlin in 1938.

As serious as these attacks are, there needs to be a commensurately serious response on the part of Jewish communities everywhere. I was given some relief when Rabbi Jill Jacobs of the Jewish organization T’ruah spoke directly and powerfully to the question in an interview over the weekend, “When do you know that someone is crossing the line from criticizing Israel to being antisemitic?”

Rabbi Jacobs answered as follows: While “reasonable people” can argue about the possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the conversation needs to stay focused on whether or not Israel as a nation state is living up to its human rights obligations. It’s valid to argue with those who question Israel as long as the starting point, she says, is that we need to ensure the safety and human rights of both Palestinians and Israelis. But when someone equates “all Jews” with the state of Israel or attacks Jews verbally (including social media) or physically, that’s no longer reasonable; that’s antisemitism. 

It may be possible to have a civil conversation about Israel. We just all need to insist that Jews and Muslims and Christians; Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs deserve to live without fear or insecurity or humiliation. Maybe we can even make progress and start paving a path towards peace when we engage from that premise.

That may feel like pie in the sky right now. Folks on both the right and the left run to their corners on Israel and nuance flies out the window. So, what are the rest of us to do?  We need to remain vigilant against antisemitic rhetoric and maintain our physical safety. And then we need to talk amongst each other. I hope you will always feel free to have conversations with me about Israel, send me articles, and stay educated for yourself on current events. It’s part of the way we subvert the ludicrous and nefarious reality of Jew hatred and feel the strength and gift of being Jewish. It’s also the way we remain open to the possibilities of hearing all sides of the conflict which are posited by reasonable people.

And one more thing: I also invite you to share the good stuff with me and with one another (see the picture below). Taken in Pittsburgh, PA on May 30 by Or Mars.


Israel in Our Hearts and On Our Minds - Guest Column

My own words about Israel and the current conflict feel purely insufficient this week, the second week of violence and bloodshed wreaking havoc in Israel, Gaza, and throughout the land.  I am blessed to share my cousin Becky Berkman’s blog as a more accurate, more substantial voice to shed some light on what’s happening there.  One I’m pretty sure you won’t easily forget. 

Praying for peace, Rabbi Sharon Mars

I'm Not Okay by Becky Berkman

     Please excuse my writing, I’m a bit rattled and raw and this piece I have in my head might be too far-reaching or too disconnected, but I feel the need to let it all out.

     I’m writing because I’m not okay. There, I said it. So many friends and acquaintances are checking in on me, which feels comforting on one hand, but also makes me wonder what this situation must look like from far away, where all you see are battle cries and rockets launched, displaced people who have lost loved ones – war scenes.

I’m writing to you from my mother-in-law’s kitchen in Modiin, where we have come for some refuge from our home in Be’er Sheva. We ordered pizza last night, my older son Yoav played with his cousins, and everyone else was ogling my baby boy, Asher. Because that is what life looks like between rocket fall – it’s pretty normal.

I’m writing to you because of the mental toll that this takes on a person. I’m writing because I am not okay.

In years past, we’ve had to stay in our shelter, sometimes run to it, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes in the middle of the day. It didn’t feel like this. I felt safe, I felt certain that the Iron Dome would be able to intercept the rocket fire, that it would end swiftly, that a cease-fire would be called and we would go back to “normal.”

This time, the amount of rockets coming out of Gaza is extraordinary. There’s a joke going around that it’s as if Hamas spent the pandemic preparing rockets instead of baking banana bread.

Also, this time I am the mother of two. And we moved earlier this year to an older house, built in the 1960’s, with no safe room. Which means, the other night, when Shie and I awoke to the siren alerting us to rocket fire over Beer Sheva at 3AM, we hopped out of the bed, each grabbed a kid from their beds, and huddled with them in what we thought would be the “safest” part of the house. But the sirens kept coming and the booms were loud, and we decided we needed to head to the community shelter, located in the park next to our house.

When the sky quieted, we put shoes on, each grabbed a kid and a water bottle, and left the house. I was out of our front gate with Asher in my arms when the siren started up again. I yelled to Shie, “I’m running.” And I ran, with Asher in my arms, like I was running for my life. We all got to the shelter in time, and ran down the stairs, sweaty, breathing heavily, but we made it. And for the third and fourth barrage of rockets we were in the shelter. Safe.

I can’t explain exactly why or what this did to me mentally, but I feel traumatized. Running outside in the middle of the night holding my 5-month old like a football, praying that I don’t trip, praying that I’m not harming my baby boy, praying so hard that our feet carry us to shelter in time. Writing this after the fact, I feel like I’m being dramatic. But it was dramatic. It was the worst.

We spent the rest of the night sleeping at an elderly neighbor’s house, in her safe room, with her. She opened her house and welcomed us at 4AM, and into the next morning. By the time I woke up, Shie had transferred the bulk of our savings into a checking account so that we could purchase a mini shelter – a little thing that looks like an igloo and fits in our yard. This will keep us safe, we said. It arrived the next morning at 7AM.

We stayed with our neighbor, drank coffee, and waited for more sirens. We are always waiting. They didn’t come, so we made our way home. The walk across the street felt like the zombie apocalypse. Streets were so quiet, so eerie. We made breakfast, ate breakfast, cleaned the dishes, and I took nap. I woke up 2 hours later to more sirens – this time we sheltered in our bathroom, which is surrounded by walls and felt somewhat secure.

The sirens end but they replay in our heads, over and over again. We are ready for them. We make eggs and think about how fast we would have to move and turn off the flame if a siren started. We make toast and jump at the sound of the toaster bell. We put our shoes near the door, neatly, so we can find them if we need to run.

We tell our children that when they hear the siren, they should know the siren is protecting us – it’s telling us it’s time to find our moms and dads, and listen carefully to what they say.

Yoav is a musical kid, he hears things and imitates them. Yesterday he began mimicking the sirens so exactly, that my heart skipped a beat and we almost ran outside. I had to yell at him to stop – asking him multiple times wasn’t working. I had to show him how scary it was for me. Only then did he stop.

Circles of friends check in with each other. We try to lift each other’s spirits – to a point. After a night like that, we are just low together. We are hanging on by a thread. We’re not sleeping well, we’re grieving the lives lost on all sides of this conflict. We are not okay.

Many, many of my friends in Israel are working towards building bridges. Toward a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians. The people living in this land do not want war.

I’m writing what I lived, I’m not including all the facts and all the events and all the historical context. You can find other resources for that. I wasn’t at the riots on the Temple Mount or Al-Aqsa. I wasn’t in Acco or Haifa or Lod or any of the other places where cars burned and people became animals. I’m writing about my family’s life.

I’m writing because too many times I’ve seen people comparing Israel’s death toll to the death toll in Gaza. Should we apologize that Israel is doing what it can to stop its citizens (its citizens of all faiths, of all backgrounds) from being killed?

We are sad and horrified that Hamas does not protect its citizens, that they would rather kill people they’ve never met than bolster education, healthcare, employment, infrastructure for their own people. But we also want to protect ourselves. We need to protect ourselves. All of these thoughts live together in our minds.

Chimes of Freedom - March 31, 2021

By Beata Abraham

Yosef Mendele­vich, a Latvian born refusenik, lived through extreme anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, including watching his father being arrested and imprisoned for being a Jew. Mendelevich studied Judaism in secret and founded an under­ground organization to fight for Jewish rights. In 1970, when his attempts to obtain an exit visa to immigrate to Israel failed, he and fifteen other refuseniks tried to hijack a plane to the West. This led to his arrest and a twelve-year sentence in the Gulag. While in prison, he did his best to study and practice Judaism.

Not long ago, Mendelovich published an article about his determination to hold a Seder on the Passover of 1978, while imprisoned in the Soviet Union.

“A month before the Passover festival I suggested that we hold a Pesach Seder. Among my personal belongings I kept a postcard from Israel on which there was a photograph of. . . a Pesach Seder Plate from the Israel Museum. From this postcard I learned what I would need for the Seder Plate. And there was a further small miracle: in the margins of the postcard there was all the order of the Pesach Seder: Kadesh, Urchatz. I began at once to write my own Pesach Haggadah according to the order written in the postcard.”

Mendelovitch tells of how he made wine. Having saved a few raisins his father had sent him ten years earlier, he began to hoard prison sugar rations.

“Every day a prisoner would receive a spoonful of sugar. People ate the sugar at once. But I decided to collect it. After a month I had enough sugar. I poured the sugar, raisins and hot water into the water-bottle and hid it underneath the bed. Although I was afraid that there might be a sudden search and they would discover my wine, I had no choice.”

He was even successful in making Maror:

“Suddenly there began an outbreak of influenza in the prison. The prison management didn't have medicines. They heard that onions prevent the flu. One day every prisoner received a fresh onion bulb. It was a real asset! For years I hadn't eaten a fresh vegetable. I thought to myself that if I put the onion in water the onion would sprout leaves and I would be able to make bitter Chazeret from them. I had an empty tin in which I put water in the little onion bulb and placed it on the cell windowsill exactly under the bars. They all laughed at me – "Are you crazy? Why didn't you eat it? Are you trying to grow flowers here?" And I remained silent.”

He used a small leaf that grew in between the cracks of the cement in the courtyard as Karpas. He made the egg from egg-powder. The Zeroa was symbolized by a soup cube from Israel with a picture of a chicken on the wrapping. He was permitted to receive matzah ( which prison authorities called "dry bread").

When it was time for the Seder:

“In the evening I asked the wardens to bring me the Pravda newspaper to read. I made from the newspaper a circle and wrote on it as on a Seder Plate: Zeroa, Egg, Maror. Everything was ready. I hid the Seder Plate under my blanket. When the evening of the 15th of Nissan arrived I called Hillel and said " Pesach has arrived, come let us sit at the Seder table."

He laughed at me: "You again with your stupid ideas, I already told you that it is impossible to hold a Seder in the prison!" Then I showed him the Pesach Seder Plate. He examined it. Everything was in place. And then he said to me: "But you don't have wine, it's impossible without the Four Cups."

I bent down and took out the water bottle with raisins from under the bunk. Hillel uncorked the bottle, smelt, and declared real wine. If that's the case, come let us sit down and hold the Pesach Seder."

The Hebrew language, with its abundance of words for Joy (including Hedvah—a joy that completely overtakes a person, physically, emotionally, and spiritually), doesn’tt have a single word for ‘tragedy’. Instead, it borrows from the English, and becomes Tragedia. Given all of the trials and tribulations the Jewish people have endured, the absence of this word may seem surprising. Perhaps, less so, when we consider the very Jewish way of telling a story.

The Exodus story begins with the bad news “We were slaves in Egypt”. But because focusing on suffering and tragedy is not the Jewish way of telling a story, it immediately continues with the good news—“we were led out of slavery to freedom.” Throughout our history, it has sometimes taken divine intervention, or tapping into our vast stores of resilience and perseverance, but the Jewish story is always a story of hope. Rather than a tale of exile and slavery, Passover becomes the festival of our freedom, “Zman Cherutanu”.

With the help of Jews from around the world, Yosef Mendelovitch was freed in 1981. It would have been easy for him to see himself as a victim of the Russians, an embittered prisoner, unable to practice Judaism. But instead, by holding an inventive Seder behind bars, he set himself free, and turned his own story into one of resilience and hope: a true Jewish story.



A Pair of Queens - February 3, 2021

By Beata Abraham, Education Director

The holiday of Purim arrives this month, and with it the epic story of two very different queens, both of whom had a hand is shaping history with their strength, willfulness and audacity.

While Queen Esther is the object of many Jewish children’s Purim costume aspirations, there is another, less popular queen, who played an important part in the story. Although little to nothing is known about Queen Vashti other than that her actions paved the way for the salvation of the Jews, her bad rap is likely based on a surface reading of the Book of Esther that highlights one thing- she was punished for being a refusenik Queen and wife.

“On the 7th day, when the king Achashverosh was merry with wine, he ordered…the seven eunuchs in attendance…to bring Queen Vashti before the king wearing a royal diadem, to display her beauty to the people and officials, for she was a beautiful woman. But Queen Vashti refused…”  (Est. 1:10-12).

Long before the days of social media, Vashti’s disobedience was assumed to travel near and far: “For the queen’s behavior will make all wives despise their husbands, as they reflect that King Ahasuerus himself ordered Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come. This very day the ladies of Persia and Media, who have heard of the queen’s behavior, will cite it to all Your Majesty’s officials, and there will be no end of scorn and provocation!” (1:17-18). In true 5th century BC fashion, the fear of allowing a rebellious woman off the hook was real.

Even the Talmud doesn't waste any time in painting Vashti as a horrible human being. Esther Rabbah, the midrash to the Book of Esther, explains that Vashti’s issue with the command wasn’t that it was humiliating, but that it wasn’t immodest enough: “Rabbi Pinchas and Rabbi Hama bar Guria said in the name of Rav: she requested to enter even wearing bells like a prostitute, but they did not allow her.” (Esther Rabbah 3:13).

The commentators don’t stop there. Rashi insists that not only did Vashti have an unattractive disease- possibly leprosy or boils, but she abused her Jewish employees, making them work on Shabbat (1:12). Another claims she refused to appear naked because she had grown a tail rather than from an inclination towards self-respect.

But the maligned Queen Vashti’s disobedience was a key part of the Purim story. Her actions paved the way for a nice Jewish girl named Esther who lived with her Uncle Mordechai in the suburbs of Shushan, to save the day.  The story continues with Esther taking part in a beauty contest held by the king to find and crown as his next wife. Despite shunning all of the beauty enhancements available to the contestants, Esther wins by virtue of her natural beauty (and perhaps some divine assistance). When Esther becomes queen, she does not reveal her religion or nationality, and continues to work behind the scenes with her uncle Mordechai to report on palace intrigue.

When the king’s prime minister, and iconic anti-semite Haman, announces the decree for the destruction of all Jews in the kingdom, Uncle Mordchai asks Esther to use her royal connections to intercede. Esther is absolutely terrified of approaching the king without an invitation—an act punishable by death.

In one of the most powerful moments in the story, Uncle Mordechai masterfully invokes the timeless art of the Jewish guilt trip, admonishing his niece: “If you will remain silent at this time, salvation will come to the Jews in some other way… But you and your legacy will be erased forever. Who knows if this is the reason why all this happened and why you’re here, in this position, right now?”  In other words, if you don’t step up, someone else will, and your opportunity for greatness will be lost.

Esther fasted for three days before seeing the king, and then dressed in her royal  finest, she gathered the courage to enter the king's chambers uninvited. Like those who came before her, Esther joined the many mistresses of sacred seduction in the Torah- cunning women in ancient times who used their feminine wiles towards a higher and often holy purpose, or to simply survive.

When the king learned of Haman’s plans for destruction of the Jews (in which Esther was included), he became incensed and ordered Haman to be hanged on the same gallows Haman had built for Mordechai. The impending disastrous fate of the Jews was averted.

No one will fault you if the Book of Esther is your favorite story in the Tanakh because it features awesome biblical heroines, the unrelenting power of karma, or because it serves as a cautionary tale for the need to keep track of the decrees you sign. Perhaps it is also your excuse to gorge on exotic flavored Hamentashen, throw an outrageous costume party and drink so much wine that you can’t tell the difference between Haman and his donkey.

But remember, as with all biblical tales, the Book of Esther has many lessons for our modern times as well: remaining silent is not an option, fierce women change the shape of history, sometimes payback can be very satisfying.

Tu B'Shevat Guest Column: The Natural World

This past October, our congregant Brooke Thomas had her bat mitzvah. Brooke connected her Torah portion, No'ach, to her passion for the natural world. We can all get inspired by Brooke's message to sustain and watch over the environment while we celebrate Tu B'shvat this week!

My family and I went on a trip last year. I have so many amazing memories from that trip, but my favorite was snorkeling. As I dove into the water, I was greeted with the brightest colors. There were fish that would swim around you, and were all shapes, colors, and sizes. The coral varied shades and textures, and would sway beneath the surface. We saw jellyfish, and even a shark! I remember looking down and seeing this massive turtle, that we learned was over 100 years old! It was truly one of the coolest experiences. No offense to Ohio, but I never knew nature could be so beautiful. And the very joy I felt in that moment, is something that was in the back of my mind as I read through my Torah portion.

Most of us know the familiar story of Noah’s ark and the flood. There were even movies made about it in Hollywood. However, there is so much more to the story, and a much deeper meaning that I have found while studying my Torah portion Noach. It all started when G-d decided to send the flood. People were causing corruption and were not treating the world as the Holy One wanted. G-d gave many small warnings, but decided the flood was needed as almost a restart to humanity. So the flood began, covering up all civilizations and the surface of the earth. G-d told the righteous person Noah to build and ark for him and his family, and animals of every kind. After several days, the waters started to recede, and land was discovered. Noah, his family, and the animals were given a second chance at taking care of the world. G-d then sent a rainbow as a promise to never send another flood. 

Later on in the Torah portion, humans were still trying to figure out how to live life and create civilizations, so there was still a lot of disagreement. They decided to build the tower of Babel, which means confusion, to reach from earth to heaven. Seeing what the humans were trying to endeavor, G-d scattered them all around the world, and gave them different languages to speak. This leads us to where we are today, facing destruction and disagreement. But this time, we don’t have a restart, it is not G-ds responsibility, it is up to us.

As I was studying my Torah portion, I began to dig into the idea that we are being given our chance now, but unlike the story, there is no plan B. I feel as if we are receiving warnings such as the pandemic, a rise in racism and anti-Semitism, hurricanes, pollution, wild fires, and things that are starting to tear our world apart. These are signs telling us that we need to step up, and do our part. 

While there are many issues we are being challenged with in our world today, one that I know I can influence others on is pollution. I know I can motivate people to become more environmentally friendly and try and help our planet. So what is pollution? As we produce more waste, litter, make more air pollution, and destroy our earth environmentally, it causes a domino effect of problems. The list could go on forever about the earth’s temperature getting hotter, animal extinction, ozone layer depletion, etc. Basically, it stands for: our earth is dying, and the main cause is humans. Many of us individuals are aware of the topic and care greatly, but it is the doing something about it that has put a roadblock on humanity. We do not understand what it means to help the planet, and how one small action goes a long, long way.

As we live our everyday lives, common thoughts occur such as, “Does it matter if I pick up that piece of trash? Does it matter that I go through 8 plastic water bottles a day? Does it matter if I don’t recycle? Will I even make a difference?” And those questions are in the heads of about 8 billion people on our planet Earth. When we all sit back and rely on someone else to do the work for us, we get caught in this endless cycle of no change. As our ancient Rabbis taught us, Lo alecha hamelacha ligmor It is not upon YOU to finish the work, but you are not allowed to run away from it either. It is not upon you to complete the work but neither are you to desist from it.” Realizing that, you do not need to do everything, but you have to make an effort, is what we all need to comprehend. For some of us, it might be starting on level one. Just getting into the habit of picking up trash you see on the ground. For others, it might be trying something a little different such as not using plastic grocery bags and replacing them with reusable ones. It does not matter if it takes you days, weeks, or months to adjust to habits such as these, it is the idea of taking small steps to helping our planet. 

For me that journey started from being influenced by my father. He told me a story about his Uncle. Every time they were together, he would see his uncle picking up trash. It wasn’t any big action; it was simply someone cleaning up the litter around them. But that small action led my dad to start doing the same things. And bringing something to collect trash almost wherever he went. And here I am, and I try and do the same thing. It was my father’s uncle led my dad, who led me, on that small task. This started a passion for teaching others about things you can do to become more ecofriendly.


For my Bnai Mitzvah project, I did just that. I took this opportunity to ask my friends and family to pick up waste around their community. Even though we live in Ohio, that piece of trash that you didn’t pick up could end up in a river that flows into another river, into another river, then into the ocean, that eventually harms sea life. While solving pollution isn’t just about picking up trash, it is something we can do to positively contribute. If everyone on our planet tried to do one thing, we would make great strides. That is what I am trying to do today. To open the eyes of people, and grasp a problem that I know we can help solve. It is up to us to not take our beautiful world for granted. It is up to us to try and contribute whether it is a big action or a small action. It is up to us to help each other as a community and educate one another. It is up to us to realize we CAN make a difference, and start that journey wherever we may be.

As I was sitting through Yom Kippur services this year, I heard a prayer that resonated with me, and ties into what I have been talking about today. I would like to share this with you, and hope that it opens your eyes to what is happening in our world. 

We confess our sins against the earth.

We commit ourselves to saving it.

We have assaulted our planet in countless ways

We have driven myriad species to the point of extinction

We have exhausted irreplaceable resources 

We have harmed beyond repair the habitats of living beings

We have ignored the signs of change in our climate and our seasons

We have jeopardized the well-being of future generations

We have known the problem, but left the problem solving to others

We have lost sight of our roles as G-d’s partners in creation

We have questioned and doubted solid evidence of danger

We have transformed dazzling beauty into industrial ugliness

We have violated the commandment “Do not destroy”

We have wasted precious treasures, our G-d given gifts

And yet we yearn to be better Guardians of this Earth and the fullness there of.

Let us be zealous now to care for this unique corner of the cosmos, this planet - our scared home.

“Lo alecha hamelacha ligmor” It is not upon YOU to finish the work, but you are not allowed to run away from it either. It is not upon you to complete the work but neither are you to desist from it.”

I would like to dive into the ocean again, and experience the pure joy that I felt on the trip that I mentioned earlier. And want others in the future to be able to do the same. You can make a difference, together we can make a change, it is up to us. 


The Holiday of Sigd | November 18, 2020

Alevel & Michal Samuel

The Holiday of Sigd

By Cantor Bat-Ami Moses

A very special Jewish holiday called Sigd was observed by the Ethiopian Jewish community this past Monday. This ancient holiday has been recognized as a state holiday in Israel only since 2008. Today, it is observed within the Ethiopian Jewish Community, also known as “Beta Israel” as an opportunity to raise awareness and educate Israeli and American Jews about their customs and rituals. 

Ethiopian-Israeli musician Avi Wogderas Wassa explains: “Sigd comes from the word Sigda, to pray to G-d to prostrate oneself. To celebrate Sigd In Ethiopia, Jews would walk for days to go to a high mountain where they could pray in the direction of Israel, towards Jerusalem. They would fast for the first part of the day, and go to the top of the mountain and pray. The kessim (rabbis) would bless them and then they would come down and eat a seudah (feast) together. The whole community would come together like brothers and sisters. It was our hope to return to Jerusalem.” 

Today, Ethiopian Jews celebrate much the same way they did when they lived in Ethiopia. Sigd is about accepting the Torah and yearning for Israel and the Temple. It is thought to be the date on which God first revealed himself to Moses. Traditionally, members of the Beta Israel community fast on Sigd, read from the Torah, recite psalms, and pray for the rebuilding of the Temple and for renewing the Israelite covenant with God.

I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know very much about this holiday until I heard that it was coming up in our liturgical calendar from Columbus’ new Israeli shlicha, Michal Avera Samuel—and her family—who are Ethiopian Jews. Only days before Yom Kippur, they moved to our community so Michal could begin her work at JewishColumbus. The goal of the shlicha or shaliach (messenger) is to enlighten and teach about Israeli history, arts, culture and politics by developing interactive programs and workshops with community synagogues and schools. How blessed and lucky that only days before Yom Kippur the Samuel family relocated to Columbus! It seems rather appropriate and “bashert” to introduce and welcome them to our community during the week of this Jewish Ethiopian celebration that always occurs 50 days after Yom Kippur. 

Michal has a rich and deep history that begins in Gondor as the youngest of nine children who made aliyah with her family in 1984 as part of Operation Moses via Sudan. Michal comes with a depth of experience and a wide range of talents. She has an MA in Educational Counseling from Haifa University and is regularly invited to lecture on Ethiopian-Israeli community history, culture and absorption at academic institutions and schools across Israel. She has served as the Executive Director of the Fidel Association since 2011 and also serves on the Government of Israel’s prestigious Round Table Panel on social issues which brings together leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Beyond her dedication to advancing the Ethiopian-Israeli community, Michal serves as a Board Member of the Israel Center for Educational innovation and volunteered at “Women to Women” in Haifa, supporting victims of domestic violence. As a role model, it is very important for her to encourage women to reach senior positions in the private and public sector. 

What a phenomenal time to welcome Michal, her husband Alevel, and their three children to Columbus. B’ruchim Ha’baim! We welcome you with open arms and hearts!

"Precedented" Times | November 4, 2020

by Beata Abraham

In the early 1800s a cholera epidemic began to make its way through India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Eastern Africa. It ravaged economies and killed tens of thousands of people. The epidemic was denied and downplayed—and in the absence of much science—disinformation and conspiracy theories abounded. The word “unprecedented'' was likely tossed around at an alarming rate.

By Yom Kippur of 1848, the cholera epidemic had reached Vilna in Lithuania. But unbeknownst to the Jewish residents of this city—known also as the “Lithuanian Jerusalem”—they possessed one outstanding asset: a young, upstart of a rabbi, by the name of Israel Salanter. Though only 38 years old, Salanter was a brilliant Jewish scholar and head of his own orthodox congregation. Salanter was determined to battle the virus and save as many lives as he could.

Though he held no position in the Beit Din (Jewish court of law), or any civic role with authority, Salanter immediately issued some very radical edicts to the Jews of Vilna. First; a ruling that eating and drinking on Yom Kippur were not simply permitted, but required. People in Vilna were dying every day from cholera and Salantar believed that fasting might weaken the body and spirit in a way that would allow the illness to invade and sicken its host. Salanter himself ascended the Bima of his Shul on Yom Kippur, made Kiddush on wine, said Hamotzi on Challah and ate and drank heartily in front of his congregation. He then proceeded to shorten the services and instructed everyone to take walks in the fresh air instead of staying inside to pray.

In spite of the huge outcry against his edicts, Salanter remained steadfast in his belief that the sanctity of preserving life outweighed all Jewish law. When faced with life or death, precaution was piety.

Salanter’s bold leadership did not end there. He raised the money to create a makeshift hospital that could accommodate 1,500 patients, and recruited doctors to volunteer their services without pay. He rallied a group of 70 yeshiva students to provide emergency services to those sickened by cholera. Salanter felt that it was the obligation of every Jew to care for each other; no task was to be passed off to non-Jews, even if it meant breaking the laws of observing Shabbat.

Rabbi Israel Salantar continued leading audaciously, and went on to become the Father of the Mussar movement, teaching that Talmudic study is not an end in itself. It must be accompanied by self-examination, ethical study and conduct—a radical idea at the time.

Leadership is not an exact science. But it often requires accepting the inextricable link between challenging norms and the discomfort inherent in that challenge. Salanter believed that even if it meant going against the laws of their Jewish beliefs, pushing his community to adhere to doctor’s guidelines was a way to spiritually elevate oneself and to serve God.

As we push through “pandemic fatigue” months after much of the panic and novelty that fueled our solidarity at the onset have faded, Rabbi Israel Salanter’s words are still relevant. “Someone else’s material needs are my spiritual responsibility.” We are responsible for protecting each other.

Perhaps the knowledge that the changes we have made to our customary way of life due to our modern day pandemic are also the way in which we live out our Jewish values, will make the discomfort easier to bear.

Let us look forward to living in a time of precedence again.

God's Rainbow | October 21, 2020

Did you know there’s a Jewish blessing one recites after seeing a rainbow? You may recall that rainbows are symbolic in Judaism, especially in Noach, our Torah portion this week. God creates a rainbow as a reminder of the Divine's promise never again to destroy the world with a flood. It seems to me that God was the first "parent" who engaged in a "do over," with his "children," but then immediately after doing so, regretted it, not once—but twice! God becomes aware that humans will continue to do bad things—presumably including engaging in acts of violence—yet despite this, God still blesses Noah and his sons and makes an eternal covenant with them, their future generations and the earth's animals, promising to never again send a flood to destroy all living creatures. 

Even though this Torah portion may be the most widely read, reenacted, and popular—especially among children, (even my S.O.S Song of Strength this week was written and geared towards children! Listen here). The idea of this "brit" or covenant is a serious, challenging, and mature concept—one that goes much deeper than the pediatric version we are so often presented. Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus writes that the one problem is that God's lack of patience and forgiveness leads the Holy One to destroy the world not long after it was created. 

We can completely commiserate with God's regret, especially when we look at our world which we have been a part of creating today. How many times have you wanted to start over, begin again, get a second chance to make it right? This can happen in our personal lives regarding a work issue, a parenting failure, or in familial relationships that needs repair. It can also pertain to behavior in larger global issues of concern, perhaps regretting asking for that straw at the restaurant (plastic destroying our oceans), being a bystander when witnessing racial injustice, or not speaking up for religious and political freedoms. 

This Torah portion gives us one of the most profound teachings of all Judaism: that our agreement—known as the covenant or "brit" in Hebrew—that exists between God and all living creatures gives human beings responsibility towards animals, each other, and God. This covenant is a reminder to us that all creatures are connected to each other and need to be accountable for the wellbeing of all. As Rabbi Yitz Greenberg states, "Judaism proclaims the unity of existence and interconnection of all life bound up with this universal sustaining presence." 

So the next time we see a rainbow, let's remember our agreement with God and commit to taking care of each other, to be loving to all creatures—big and small—and to make decisions that treasure our earth instead of destroying it. Say the blessing: 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעולָם זוכֵר הַבְּרִית וְנֶאֱמָן בִּבְרִיתו וְקַיָּם בְּמַאֲמָרו.
Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the Universe, who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to God’s covenant, and keeps God’s promise.
Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, zocher habrit v’ne’eman biv’reetoh v’kayam b'ma'amaro.

From our Education Director        | October 7, 2020

God’s Afterparty

Stay all night, stay a little longer

Dance all night, dance a little longer

Pull off your coat, throw it in the corner

Don’t see why you can’t stay a little longer.

-Willie Nelson

Have you ever spent an impassioned, yet sublime stretch of time together with people you love? The kind of time that engulfed emotions and senses? Perhaps there was too much eating, ear-splitting music, retelling of beloved stories, no eating at all, regret over misdeeds, heartfelt promises to be and do better in the future, and delicious meals under the stars? Needless to say, it probably felt like a lot. Yet, in spite of feeling spent, when it was time to say goodbye you found yourself unready for the time together to end?

There is a Jewish holiday based on this exact feeling.

Most of us know that Simchat Torah is the day we celebrate the completion of the annual reading of the Torah and affirm the Torah as one of the pillars on which we as Jews, build our lives. But there is another holiday that is not so clearly defined: Shemini Atzeret.

In spite of coinciding with Simchat Torah in Israel and in the Reform movement, Shemini Atzeret is a holiday in its own right. Unlike most Jewish holidays, Shemini Atzeret doesn’t commemorate a specific historical event or victory, or even have a clear set of traditions or activities we are supposed to engage in to celebrate. What it does have, is the confusing word, “Atzeret”. While we know that Shemini means eighth, the problem with the word Atzeret is that we are not entirely sure what it means. Most likely this word comes from the Hebrew word “atzar,” a verb that is translated to mean to stop, to pause, or to hold back.

So why do we have this ambiguous day? The Midrash essentially tells us that Shemini Atzeret is like God’s afterparty with the Jewish people. An extra day for God to hang out with us, while we process and recover from the aftermath of the revelry. Much like the day after vacation that is often needed to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally before returning to the familiar framework of regular life. God wants one more day with us, the Jewish people, just to be together. Just to chill.

The emotionally intense rhythm of the holidays asks a lot from us. We throw a birthday party for the world, summon the strength to forgive, pound our chests in regret for the error of our ways. We recall the misery of exile and the joy of redemption, building huts and with them model the importance of welcoming guests, and let’s not forget all of the praying!. Shemini Atzeret is the welcome rest day we all need. A day to coalesce all we have struggled with and learned, and spend some time alone with God, no agenda required. A day to reflect on the knowledge that while the Torah belongs to the nation of Israel, it also belongs to each one of us in the most personal way. Yes, Judaism can be about a whole lot of symbolism, customs, traditions (and food!), but Shemini Atzeret is a reminder that rest and reflection are just as integral to nourishing our souls. Besides, who are we to turn down some quality time with God?

Please join for a very special Erev Shabbat as we celebrate Simchat Torah and our adult B’nai Mitzvah class. These students have been immersed in learning Torah and studying prayer over the past year. They are excited to share words of wisdom, and lead their community in prayer. Join our celebration!

September 24 2020 | 6 Tishrei 5781

The days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are known as,"The 10 Days of Repentance." So if you didn't get around to doing all that spiritual "prep" work in the month of Elul, don't worry, you still have time! In the famous liturgical poem "Unetaneh Tokef," we are told that there are three actions we can do in between these two holy days to help us get a "good seal" in the book of life. By engaging in teshuva (repentance), tefilla (prayer) and tzekdaka (charity)  we have an opportunity to "avert the severe decree" and do our part to not only better ourselves but better the lives of others, thus elevating our own spiritual status. 

On Rosh Hashana we said goodbye to a year that has felt unbelievably broken, unprotected and fraught with fear, deep sorrow and loss. A year where justice and goodness have been replaced with hatred and anxiety, where sorrow and grief have replaced joy and hope, where even our blessings seem fragile and fleeting blackened out by plagues and injustice. So as we prepare to ask forgiveness from God for all the sins we have committed, some might ask, shouldn't God ask forgiveness from us? Shouldn't God apologize to us?  

It has always been my belief that God is just as broken hearted, angry, frustrated, perplexed and devastated when fires destroy, viruses spread, and humankind makes irreversible decisions that destroy instead of create. I do not blame God and I won't be asking God to apologize to me, but rather will apologize to God for not doing my ultimate best to help in God's initial vision for us, to learn deeply, do good, and repair this world.

Upon the eve of Rosh Hashana I was inspired by Rabbi Ed Feinstein's suggestion to "write a letter to your loved ones." He suggested that we write a letter that reveals what you have learned from your childhood, education, marriage, raising children, your work, triumphs and failures. What have you learned from the death of loved ones and the path of mourning?  He said that we should do this for three reasons, for yourself, for your loved ones, for your soul. I challenge and encourage you to begin this letter. It will reveal hidden truths to your soul. 

In honor of the ten days of teshuva, I share an excerpt from my letter with 10 things that life has taught me up till now. 

1. I've learned that having an open heart and mind, being kind and generous and wearing a smile will get you much further in life than being closed off to the world immersed in personal angst or despair. 
2. I’ve learned that opportunity is not a lengthy visitor. (Stephen Sondheim) and even when I'm feeling alone, I am not. 
3. I’ve learned that each soul comes into the world with his or her own “life curriculum,” with lesson after lesson and test after test. 
4. I’ve learned that we are here to learn, succeed, fail, time after time, again and again. Falling and rising in the same movement IS the path. 
5. I've learned that we only have this one life to be in relationship with our parents, siblings, partners, and friends. So forgive each other, speak to each other, love each other for who they truly are, not who you want them to be. Acceptance and love is the only option if you want to live a healthy emotional and spiritual life. 
6. I've learned to live out of faith instead of fear finding God's presence in music, silence, stillness, nature, laughter, prayer, resilience, pain, love, courage and kindness to one another. 
7. I’ve learned it’s okay not to be the very best, but it’s not okay to ever give up trying to be. 
8. I’ve learned that health, connection, creativity, curiosity and gratitude are essential to life as is breath. 
9.  I've learned that having hope and joy in your life is non negotiable.
10. I've learned that there is so much more I need to learn.

As I chant the words of Kol Nidre with you on Sunday evening, I will tremble and crack as I beg God for forgiveness. I will pray for more opportunities to learn and grow, to do justice and make the world a better place, and be sealed in goodness. 

Shabbat Shalom 
G'mar Hatima Tovah, 
May you be sealed in the Book of Life! 
Cantor Bat-Ami Moses date this content.

Temple Israel Offices  are Closed  Until Further Notice Due to Covid 19 Concerns. Please join us for services and events online.

Stay Healthy & Safe

Dear Temple Israel Community,
Your congregational leadership and clergy want to make you aware of how we are monitoring the coronavirus outbreak and the recommendations we are making to insure everyone’s safety.
We have no information that any congregant or any personnel have been exposed to the virus. This is excellent news! Life within Temple Israel will continue as usual. Obviously, if this situation should change, we will immediately inform you.
As a community we have always insured everyone’s welfare, but now we must increase our vigilance down to the individual level. Even though you have probably heard and seen the various recommendations, they bear repeating

  • Do not come to services, events, classes, or meetings, if you are sick or symptomatic. If you believe you have contracted the symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Properly cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, mouth and nose.
  • Washing hands thoroughly and frequently is the most effective preventive act you can take. This ought to include not sharing towels at any location including your home. Paper towels work wonderfully.
  • Touching others is a no-no! This includes touching the Torah and others. Affectionate greetings can be done through smiles, waves, and Shaloms.
  • At public events do not touch food with your hands! Serving utensils are there for a purpose.
  • We are doing our utmost to maintain the cleanliness of all surfaces, including counters, sinks, and soap and hand sanitizers.
  • If you have not done so, get a flu shot!

The very best thing we can do in a situation like this is to stay informed and work together to make decisions that maximize the well-being of our community. It is important to not panic or spread rumors. Staying informed is key, so use trustworthy sources.

Lastly, there is, unfortunately, a fair amount of mis-information being spread, and it is difficult sometimes to discern what is trustworthy. Here are some of the sources we are monitoring to stay informed:

Please feel free to contact us at any time if you need assistance.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sharon Mars

Amy Weisbach, Congregation President



Do Not Hide...Your Light

In his famous tragedy Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare asked, "What's in a name?" He continued Juliet's soliloquy with the idea that,  "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Even though I might agree with this sentiment, I would argue that the names we are given and sometimes choose later in life are indeed important and deserve to be differentiated. Our names can carry memories, create legacies and shape futures yet to be. In a couple of days, Jews all over the world will be very conscious of names as we chant the Megillat Esther, a dark tale (yes, the tale is quite dark even though the holiday is filled with light and joy) cheering when hearing the name of Mordechai and booing and hissing trying to blot out the name of the dreaded villain, Haman. Other players have important names too, like the simpleton King Ahashverous and the brave Vashti, but no name is as significant as the star of the scroll itself, Queen Esther. 

In fact, when Esther is first introduced in the Megillah, she has a completely different name, "Hadassah," the girl that Mordechai raised. The name "Hadassah" is taken from the Hebrew word "hadas," meaning myrtle. The Talmud explains why Queen Esther is also called Hadassah. 

             Why was she called Hadassah? Because the righteous are called myrtles. As it states (Zechariah 1:8), "And he was standing among the myrtles (the righteous prophets Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah.)" 

The sages in the Midrash take this one step further: 

             Just as a myrtle has a sweet smell and a bitter taste, so too Esther was good and listened ("sweet")  to the righteous Mordechai and was adverse ("bitter") to the wicked Haman. 

But what is also fascinating is that the name "Esther" is also taken from word play, and derives from the concept of "hester panim,"  translated as the "concealed face of God," or simply (hester) as "hidden." Yes, Esther is righteous and sweet as myrtle, but more importantly she "hides" her Jewish identity from the King until that which she conceals and tries to hide is exactly what is revealed and saves her own life and the continuation of the Jewish people. It is a curious fact that the story of Esther is the only other text in the Hebrew Bible, other than the Song of Songs that does not mention the name of God explicitly. Perhaps even though the name of God is hidden from the text, God's presence is certainly revealed through the actions of Esther. 

This Shabbat, when we read from our portion,  Tetzavah,  we will be introduced to the concept of the  "ner tamid," referring to the lamp that burns eternally without interruption giving protection to our holy Torah. This internal AND eternal light reminds me of Esther's own hidden light that she worked so hard to conceal at first, but the strength and power of truth was too bright and couldn't help but be revealed to shine on for all time. 

As we know all  too well, hiding our truth and our light is never the right choice. We must look to Esther as an inspiration to always find the courage to never conceal the truth of who we are, and never dull our own light no matter how threatened we feel as Jewish individuals or as a Jewish nation.  In a time that seems fraught with the fear of contagion and the anxiety that cripples us to speak our minds and reveal our truth, let us continue to live by one of the last lines of the Megillah, a passage that we also say to begin each new week in our Havdalah prayers: 

"Lay'hudim haytah orah v'simcha v'sasson vikar. Ken tih'yeh lanu!"  (Megillat Esther 8:16) 
The Jews had LIGHT and joy and gladness, So be it with us. 

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Purim Sameach! 
Cantor Bat-Ami Moses 

Enjoy a fun and informative video about the holiday of Purim!
Update this content.

On Kvetchitude

When the world is in steady decline, 
quit pretending that everything's fine. 
You'll be easing your pain if you moan and complain. 
It's much better for you if you...whine! 

(from the NPR radio news quiz “Wait, Wait...Don’t Tell Me!”, Jan. 11, 2020)

According to new research, kvetching (good old fashioned Jewish whining) is good for you!  This comes as tremendous news to those of us who may gravitate towards groaning about life’s trials, large and small. Whining can be a healthy way to process some of the emotional baggage we carry, an outlet for any frustration upon which we might fixate.  The study indicates that whining can help us bond with the people around us, “unless, of course, you're frustrated because everybody around you hates you because you whine so much” (ibid.).

With candidates abuzz and viruses awaft, we may very well find ourselves ruminating on the disquieting news of the day, in addition to other very real pressures of daily living.  The Jewish response is to approach life with equal parts seriousness and humor.  So it’s great timing for us to celebrate Adar - the Jewish month which ushers in the holiday of Purim.  I therefore submit to you a little levity on the subject of kvetching, or what Rabbi Marc Margolius calls “the Middah [or Jewish character-building trait] of Kvetchitude.”  Here are some of his recommended tongue-in-cheek resources for us to refine our kvetching skills:

Meditation of the Month: “Eh. Things could be better.” (The Veyizmir Rebbe)
Guided meditation: Close your eyes. Visualize any number of ways in which life could be better.
Embodied Practice of the Month:  Scrunch up your face tightly. Shrug your shoulders. Release. Sigh deeply. Moan. Whine. Repeat.
Text study: 
And Adam kvetchethed to Eve: “For sure, we can eat anything. The weather is great. And the fruit is always in season. But would it spoileth some divine plan if we ate an apple, for God’s sake?” - Bereishit Rabbah, midrash on Genesis 1.)
The people took to kvetching bitterly, saying “Oy” and “Vey iz mir.”
“Behold,” said Moshe to the Holy One, “they truly annoyeth me.” - The Book of Numbers, ad nauseum. Also, see pretty much the whole Torah.)
Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? One who learns from everyone. Who is mighty? One who subdues one’s passions.  Who is rich? One who rejoices in one’s portion.  Who is honored? One who honors one’s fellow human beings.  Who is miserable? One who wins the lottery and kvetches that last week’s pot was bigger.  Others say, one who complains loudest that the bagels were gone by the time he (some say she) reaches the buffet. (Others versions: the lox, not the bagels.)  Some say, who is miserable?  One who just moved one’s car and forgot that alternate side parking hath been suspended (this view is observed only in New York City and walled cities) -  Mishnah Avot – Ethics of the Patriarchy 1:4, version discovered stuck in a menu at the 2nd Avenue Deli.

Happy Adar, happy kvetching, and Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Sharon Mars

How Do We Talk to Our Kids About Anti-Semitism?

Given the number of important issues vying for space in our hearts and minds these days, a conversation about anti-semitism can sometimes take a backseat to other pressing topics that we worry about on a regular basis (poverty, global warming). And of course, explaining to our children that there are people in the world who hate us, and sometimes even want to hurt us, simply for being Jewish, is not an easy thing. But being open about the existence of discrimination and intolerance can help our children cope with the sad reality. It will also let them know they can always come to us with questions, fears and thoughts about scary situations.

With an impossible-to-control flow of information they receive from the internet, peers, and even adults, kids will inevitably come face to face with ugliness in the world as they  grow up. The presence of security guards and signs posted at every Jewish institution adds silently to the blaring messages of precarious Jewish safety. In light of recent events, you may already have had to engage in difficult conversations sooner than you would have chosen. 

Here are some thoughts to help you navigate a conversation with your child about antisemitism:

  • Your very best tool will be honesty. Your child may already know far more than they are letting on, so make sure that you are honest in all that you say-even the painfully hard-to-explain parts. Being honest does not mean you should answer more than the question that your child is asking. There is no need to volunteer extra information that your child may not be ready to hear. Answer only the question you are being asked. “Are there people in the world who do not like us because we are Jewish?”, “Yes, there are.”
  • Try to balance the information you are giving with comfort and reassurance. Pay attention to body language. Does your child need a hug? To be told that there are also many good people in the world? To hear that you will always do your best to keep them safe? Do they need to bake some cookies as a reminder that the regular routine of their life is unchanged? Keep the information and reassurance ratio balanced.
  • Encourage and help your child to express their feelings. Take your cues from your child to determine if they simply need to talk, have their feelings validated, or would welcome knowing your feelings. Model the emotional calm that you hope they will achieve.
  • Upper elementary kids are often able to handle information intellectually, but may still be struggling to catch up emotionally, and need time and patience to get there. Sometimes this shows up as being silly, laughing, and other seemingly inappropriate reactions to difficult information. This simply means their emotional maturity is a work-in-progress, and honestly - whose isn’t?
  • Teens will often have very strong opinions and solutions. Listen and take every opportunity to stress the role they have in their own safety. Remind them that they need to report anything disturbing that they hear, see or feel to a safe adult. Kids need our partnership to empower them to handle situations where they may be called a bad name, hear a joke about Jews, or encounter negative images. They need to be reminded that it is important to tell an adult and not to stay silent.
  • Do not get stuck on the question of why there is antisemitism in the world. It is ok to acknowledge that there is no good answer, and if there was- we would likely have found a way to end it by now. Again, honesty is key. Explain that we cannot control what others think, or understand why they act the way they do. 
  • Help your child understand that to some people, being Jewish means being “other”, and sometimes people hate others simply because they do not know or understand about them. Strengthen them in their “otherness” by reading books and telling stories of the many ways in which people can seem “other”; kids who have two moms or two dads, kids with unfamiliar cultures, or are differently abled. Recognize the broad spectrum of diversity.
  • Help your child access age-appropriate books about kids facing different types of adversity. Reading about other kids confronting and overcoming hardship will build their resilience.

As parents, it can sometimes feel as though we shoulder the weighty guilt of a thousand Jewish mothers to get everything right. But there is not one single way to have a conversation with your child about the difficult subject of anti-semitism. As with every aspect of parenting, simply do the best that you can. Then move on to the topic of our miraculous survival against all odds, and explain that living a joyfully Jewish life is the best antidote to anti-semitism.

Beata Abraham
Education Director

Sing your song and sow your seed this Shabbat!

They were prophetesses, They were poetesses. They were leaders. They were singers. They prayed because they were believers. They were bold and courageous. They were admired and listened to. They were the musical branches that brought harmonic cadences in their journeys. They were Miriam and Devorah. As "SHE-roes" they set us free. 

This special Shabbat, known as "Shabbat Shira," the Shabbat of Song is dedicated to these two powerful Biblical characters because we will chant "their songs." In our dramatic Torah portion, Beshalach, we will be chanting one of the oldest songs in Jewish history, the triumphant melody of  the "Song of the Sea," known as "Shirat Hayam." Along with Moses,  Miriam led this song with her voice and timbrel as our ancestors fled from Egypt as the waters parted.  Congregations all over the world will also be chanting the Haftarah from the book of Judges, a section known as "Devorah's Song," describing a decisive victory over enemies into Israel,  the land to which we had come, enabling us to live there in peace for forty years. These stories are linked together by two women who lead their people in time of struggle and uncertainty to victory and triumph through the vehicle of song, thus creating this beautiful and powerful, "Shabbat of Song." 

The power of song and music is transformative and healing. Music is the expression of our deepest desires, joys, fears, triumphs and is at the core of human creativity. This is true whether we are praying, learning or merely enjoying its powerful properties. We have experienced melodies that have cracked open our hearts, moved us to tears and triggered memories that brought great joy as well as deep sorrow. Indeed, each of Miriam and Devorah's songs remind us of both the extremes, struggles and triumphs of the Jewish people, eliciting the gamut of emotions expressed in their distinctive

This Shabbat is also marked special because it is immediately preceding Tu B'shevat, the 15th day of the month of Shevat when we celebrate the new year for trees. It is a time in the Jewish calendar to celebrate and consider our environment and our impact upon it as we reflect on our own "carbon footprint" and the impact it has on our precious planet and our responsibility to the beauty of nature which has been left entrusted to us by God. 

Rabbi Jordi Gendra reminds us that celebrating our environment this Shabbat is actually linked to Shabbat Shira. The Ba'al Shem Tov and Rav Kook both suggest that every plant, tree, flower and shrub has its own song, even blades of grass sing their own unique melody.  The voices of the plants join together in a beautiful harmony and the song they sing together circles the world, resting gently upon us all. This is illustrated in a beautiful compilation of Psalms and Biblical passages sometimes attributed to Kings David and Solomon but compiled by the Rabbis of the Mishna, called, "Perek Shira"- A Chapter of Song, where there is a song and passage attributed to every element of nature. 

On this Shabbat of song as well as on Tu' B'shevat that begins Sunday night, let's set aside some time to truly listen to and then sing our own personal song that can flow through nature and can help us plant a seed to connect to the Divine. 
Together we can celebrate the wonder and beauty of this world, discovering our own voice and message while sharing it with each other. After all, as Doug Floyd teaches, "You don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note." 
I am looking forward to creating harmony with you, weaving together our songs of triumph and joy discovering the beauty and bounty of our natural world. 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Tu B'shevat! 

Cantor Bat-Ami Moses

Enjoy this gorgeous song, "Shirat Ha'asavim" The Song of Nature, Text by Rabbi Nachman of Breslav and Music by Naomi Shemer


What Will it Take to Soften Your Hard Heart?

“Then God said to Moses, 'Come to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants...'” (Ex. 10:1).  As Parashat Bo opens, one can only imagine the trepidation felt by Moses as God's command him to approach the very person he seeks to sway to free his people from slavery.  Pharaoh was the original heart of stone, and that heart seems to have been created (or at least edified) by God.

Why would the omnipotent Ruler of All not - with a simple wave of the divine magic want - soften Pharaoh's heart, to swiftly make the redemption of God's people possible?  The Talmud (in Genesis Rabbah 13:3) is concerned that "a hardened heart" might - over time and with practice - become a good excuse for evildoers to continue their wicked ways.  But it goes on to argue that, in strictly psychological terms, it was an inherent part of Pharaoh's nature to toughen himself against the Israelite "other."  He created a habit which developed to the point of no return, and God understood this fact.  Once Pharaoh habituated himself to that violently unfeeling, unyielding disposition he could never change.  And God conceded to this horrific and highly problematic reality.

Sometimes - painful as it can be to admit - we can be like Pharaoh.  Sometimes it can feel easier for us to approach life as Pharaoh did - with an irreversible mindset, without feeling, hardened to certain people, circumstances, beliefs.  This is why real change is so seemingly impossible - we cannot imagine having to soften ourselves to think or behave another way, a way that makes us feel vulnerable or exposed.  But that is why this Torah is so powerful.  To be human is to exercise our free will sometimes even against our very real instincts to protect ourselves. 

May we be blessed this Shabbat to connect with our better instincts and our impulse to soften up that muscle that yearns to protect us from whatever we find to be difficult, ugly, or frightening.  Let us dare to break open our hardened hearts and allow divinity to flow from those hearts straight to others.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Sharon Mars

Building Update

If you travel E Broad you cannot miss the construction at our new home. Lots of activity both visible from the street as well as hard work occurring behind the scenes. Hopefully you notice the progress being made as the existing building expands. For those of you that do not regularly travel E Broad street, these pictures should help keep you informed and up to date.

We have several ongoing streams of work – many of which are less dependent on the weather!

  *   Working with a company that specializes in audio visual technology and experience to help us present our archives and possessions within our reduced space when compared to our prior building. This technology will bring us into the 21st century, from the memorial wall to the classroom teaching aids.
  *   Working with security & situational awareness experts to protect our members and our children.
  *   Working on networking capabilities within the building to support both state of the art audio visual technology and safety processes.
  *   Working on interior design to ensure our new home is welcoming and warm while maintaining our rich history.
  *   Engaging those congregants that have yet to participate in the Shuvu campaign.
There is still a lot of work to be done and we do not intend to slow down. We need you to help us finalize details and make many outstanding decisions. Please help us if asked – after all, it takes a village!
And pray for nice weather...

Que Sera Sera

I've never been a fan of the aphorism:  "It will be what it will be."  No matter how true that statement may be, it is cold comfort for us when life throws us a fastball.  

In their book on leadership, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading, scholars Marty Linsky and Ron Heifetz teach that, "Leadership can be understood, in part, as about disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb."  That lesson is lived out in this week's Torah portion, Shemot, the start of the Book of Exodus.  Moses asks God, who appears in the Burning Bush: “When I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your  ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is God's name?’ what shall I say to them?”  The Holy One answers:  "Ehyeh-asher-ehyeh.  I Will Be What I Will Be."

What a strange name for God and what an obtuse answer!  Our sages seem to agree, and they want to understand this cryptic name for God - Ehyeh Ashe Ehyeh - so they imagine the story continuing this way in a Midrash:  "The Holy One, Blessed be God, told Moses to go and tell Israel: 'I was with you in this enslavement, and in this redemption, and I will be with you in the enslavement of the kingdoms in the future.'"  Though this might be reassuring for some, Moses defiantly replies: "Master of the Universe, it is enough for them to endure! Let the future suffering be endured at its appointed time. There is no need to mention their future enslavement" (BT Brachot 9b).

Moses coaches God in Empathy 101.  He insists that God step into the shoes of God's people:  "Creator of the Universe," Moses seems to be saying, "Your people can only take so much!  After only knowing lives of slavery so far, don't remind them that they have more years of servitude awaiting them.  It will only crush their spirit!"   Henceforth, the Talmud notes, the Holy One agreed with Moses' compassionate response, and instructed him: "Go and tell the children of Israel only that, 'I Will Be has sent me to you.'"  God gets "schooled" by Moses in how to disappoint people at a rate they can absorb.

Even if life truly will be what it truly will be, that can be a tough pill to swallow.  As life lobs us its ups and downs, all we humans can do is learn to be nimble and manage our reality and our disappointment from one moment to the next.  And as leaders - whether we are parents or teachers or in any role of authority and expertise - all we can do is dole out difficult news and disappointment at a rate that other people can handle.  As we nurture our spiritual intelligence, may we each be blessed to become more skilled practitioners in giving and receiving every challenge that arrives at our feet.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Sharon Mars

How To you Mend a Broken Heart

We live in a time when our hearts are likely to be broken simply by tuning into our newsfeeds. Of course there has never really been a time without anti-semititism, but the chilling daily reports of hatred and physical attacks on Jews are more frequent than they have been in a long time. It feels terrifying.

But it is precisely now that we need to remind ourselves of our infallible secret weapon in the battle for Jewish survival: our youth. As Mark Twain famously put it, "All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?" The answer is simple. It is our commitment to teaching and raising our children Jewishly.

When our community shows up for Tot Shabbat on a Saturday morning with toddlers, infants and newborns in tow, it is because of this commitment. And when pairs of small arms are thrust into the air with each shout of “Hey!” during the Shabbat Shalom song, it is impossible not to feel renewed hope for our future. The singing, the Challah, the wine and the blessings will serve as lifelong memories of a Jewish childhood.

The second grade students at Religious School on a Sunday morning may not yet realize that the Jewish people constitute less than .02% of the population in the world. They do not fully comprehend the enormously difficult odds that our people have overcome to be able to make global contributions in science, medicine, technology and the arts. But they do know that as Jews, we are obligated to act as humanitarians and  participate in making the world a more just place. They are eager to flex their Tikun Olam muscles by making signs that champion changes in the world that are important to them. They earnestly march through the JCC chanting “We want change!”, waving hand made signs with slogans like ‘Stop Bullying!’, ‘No More Violence!’, and the very popular ‘More Cake!’. Their boundless hope is contagious.

And our teens. Almost all of them are tuned into the accelerated pace of the anti-semitic events happening around them, many have experienced anit-semitism first hand. Yet they arrive on Sunday mornings full of greetings, giggles and yawns, ready to help out in Religious School classrooms. To be role models for their younger counterparts, to practice being the change making leaders they will someday be, several staying afterwards to learn. They announce their pride in being Jewish by showing up.

Drop by Religious School on a Sunday morning for a good look at the fiercely optimistic faces of those who will lead us out of the darkness, and into our brighter Jewish future. Our youth’s Jewish engagement is a mighty act of defiance in the face of anti-semitism, and we can all use an infusion of hope.

No Goodbye is Final

When I first  began working at Temple Israel, Rabbi Emily Rosenzweig said to me, “Everyone here is like family. We have each other’s backs. We help each other out.”  That statement has stayed with me for 11 years, and to this day it rings true.
Temple Israel has become a family to me, and over the past 11 years, I have had the pleasure of serving its members.  My role as Religious School Assistant and Communications Coordinator has allowed me to get to know and work with so many of you and your families.
Thank you to the amazing staff that I have had the privilege of working with during my years at Temple Israel: Jennah Scher, Ruth Silverman, Zachary Looper-Friedman, Beata Abraham, Rabbi Sharon Mars, Cantor Bat-Ami Moses.  Thank you for your support, guidance, leadership, humor, friendship, and love.  Thank you to Elaine Tenenbaum and Rabbi Misha Zinkow for your mentorship when I began working at Temple.
In Ben Greenberg’s article The Jewish Way In Saying Goodbye he writes, “When we turn to the traditional statement uttered by Jews upon completion of study of a sacred text, and we ritualize a form of goodbye to that text, we recite Hadran Alach, we will return to you. A goodbye is never final in our lifelong engagement with Torah.”
I will miss everyone at Temple Israel.  While I am completing the end of my journey here, my goodbye is not final.  The experiences shared with you and the lessons I have learned will remain with me throughout my life, as I hope they will with you as well.
Hadran Alach,
Bethany Fitzgerald

Purim in January?! (1/3/20)

Little did I know almost four years ago, just after Ali Senser suddenly died after giving birth to her and Andy’s third child, how pain and sorrow could ever be transformed into something joyous and beautiful.  “Love is stronger than death,” chants the Song of Songs, and that truth abides for everyone who knew and loved Ali, namely Ali’s dad Neil Goldberg. Neil’s love for his daughter Ali, his son-in-law Andy, their young daughters, and their community of family and friends is as vast as his uniquely gifted creative mind. 


So, for Neil, it wasn’t enough to create a hamantaschen extravaganza open to the entire Columbus community, a gathering which captivates all the senses and beams with Jewish pride.  Neil’s dream has grown over time and one week from tonight is his latest, greatest creation come to life: the film premiere of TI’s annual hamantaschen festival “Purimagination.”


On Shabbat evening, Friday, January 10th, we will debut Neil’s film “Purimagination,” a magnificent tribute to Ali, the history of Purim, and how Temple Israel celebrates the holiday.  The 15 minute documentary film was produced by Neil and the Shabbat evening will be the kick-off event for all of TI’s Purim celebrations in 2020. We will welcome in the Shabbat at services, then strike up the live band, and celebrate together over an amazing Oneg reception and awesome music.  This event sets our congregation uniquely apart, and we are tremendously grateful to Neil Goldberg for sharing his talent, vision, and generosity with our community!


You’re officially invited - bring your friends!  But remember to RSVP HERE for that evening for security purposes. 


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sharon Mars


Please mark your calendars now for the 2020 Allison Senser Hamantaschen Festival on Sunday March 1st from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom of Hilton Columbus at Easton.  To make your reservations visit Temple Israel online at  This will be another dazzling and memorable event not to be missed!

BE the Light (12/26/19)

When I was in Cantorial school (almost 18 years ago!) I remember being stumped at the extra credit question in my cantillation (Torah chanting) final exam. The question was, "What is the one time of year the Jewish people take out three Sifre Torah from the ark and read a portion of them all?" Clearly, as a student I didn't know everything (yet :) and I didn't receive the extra credit points. But when I did discover the correct answer, I never forgot it. And since that moment, I have always looked forward to the time when it would occur.

As it so happens, this special time will be happening this coming weekend when we will be celebrating a "trifecta" in our Jewish calendar. The three special observances will be: 1. Shabbat
2. The 6th day of Hanukkah
3. Rosh Hodesh, the new month of Tevet.

Each of these occasions merits a special reading from the Torah that reflects their liturgical meaning and place in our calendar. During the festival, one may not realize that every morning (not just on Mondays, Thursdays and Shabbat) during the holiday of Hanukkah we read a special section of the Torah during our Shacharit morning prayers. We not only immerse ourselves in the light of the menorah and the miracles of the Maccabees in the evenings, but we also immerse ourselves in the light and wisdom of the Torah during the daytime.

A week ago, I attended a wonderful "pre-Hanukkah" party at the Columbus Jewish Day School honoring beloved teachers and mentors in our community. Rachel Arcus Goldberg, the Principal and Head of School shared beautiful words bridging the light of Hanukkiah with the perpetual light above the Torah called the, "Ner Tamid." She explained that the Ner Tamid is not a light just lit during the festival of Hanukkah but one that remains lit perpetually, shining upon the Torah at all times. She described that the "Ner Tamid" not only reminds the congregation of the holiness of the Torah scrolls, but continually reminds us of God's abiding presence helping people feel that they are never really alone. And so it is that feeling of being surrounded by love, community, and the Divine presence shines even more brightly during Hanukkah.

So this Shabbat, Hanukkah AND Rosh Hodesh, let's BE the light for each other celebrating all the blessings, sometimes hidden by the darkness of the season, but illuminated by the light we possess when we love one another.

Shabbat shalom, Hanukkah Sameah and Hodesh Tov!
Cantor Bat-Ami Moses

Light of Intention (12/19/19)

Chanukah will light up the end of 2019 starting this Sunday night!  Despite my best efforts, there are always a few times during the eight days when kindling the candles gets squeezed in and given short shrift.  So here's a list of kavannot - spiritual intentions which I have based on Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev's 19th century Hasidic model - that can help us more gracefully and meaningfully bless the Chanukah lights this year:
Night #1 -  May the time we spend alone never feel lonely.
Night #2 - May we be blessed with companionship.
Night #3 - May we be blessed by the children in our lives.
Night #4 - May we be blessed by the women and men in our lives.
Night #5 - May we be challenged to discover more about life and living (more Torah!) every day.
Night #6 - May we be blessed with simcha - joy and contentment.
Night #7 - May we be blessed to experience some form of rest every Shabbat.
Night #8 - May we be blessed, even though the blessing sometimes seems elusive; may we persist in finding the light in the darkness.

Shabbat Shalom! Happy Chanukah!
Rabbi Sharon Mars

Families Are Complicated

Families are Complicated Regardless of the unique configuration of humans which will form your family at Thanksgiving dinner this year, you will all have at least one important thing in common with our ancestors; an intricate web of family dynamics. Family is complicated, but you might find it comforting to know that this has always been the case.

This week’s Torah portion; Toldot tells the tale of some of the most tangled and difficult family dynamics in our scriptures. After enduring years of infertility, Rebecca is blessed with twins who begin their squabbling while still in the womb. As different as night and day, Esau and Jacob’s struggle to get along is not helped by blatant parental favoritism. Rebecca chooses her gentle son Jacob as her favorite, while Isaac prefers Esau, the hunter.

During a moment of shortsightedness inspired by extreme hunger, Esau accepts an offer from Jacob to sell his firstborn birthright to his brother in exchange for a meal. An even deeper injustice occurs when Esau’s mother and twin brother conspire to deceive Isaac and trick him into giving Jacob the blessing meant for Esau. It is one of the saddest moments in the Torah. The abject sorrow in Esau's reaction to having been bamboozled is heartbreaking. “When Esau heard his father's words, he cried out a great and bitter cry, and he said to his father, "Bless me too, O my father!" (Bereishit 27:34)

“And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing that his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, "Let the days of mourning for my father draw near, I will then kill my brother Jacob. " (Bereishit 27:41) A grudge begins.

Decades later, it takes hundreds of goats, sheep, camels, cows, bulls and donkeys, sent ahead by Jacob, for the brothers to reconcile, proving that even family conflict of biblical proportions can be overcome with those we love. Also, that you should never underestimate the power of a peace offering.

In spite of the family dynamics requiring navigation, as Jews, we can’t help but embrace Thanksgiving. A holiday that forces us to carve out precious time from our insanely busy lives and stop everything to be with family, and enter into talmudic debate over the best way to cook a turkey. A holiday that urges us to remind the people around us who we love, who we struggle to love, and those we don’t want to lose, why we are so thankful for them. It is a chance to live the Jewish values of gratitude, (sometimes) forgiveness, while indulging in the Jewish tradition of eating too much food with people we love.

Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom,
Beata Abraham Right Now. (11/21/19)

When our ancestor Sarah dies in this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sara, her spouse Abraham goes to great lengths to find her final resting place. Through a long, drawn out passage, he finally acquires Sarah’s burial plot. This is the ultimate demonstration not only of our forebearer’s devotion to his wife, but, even more significantly, the inherent sanctity of all human life. Had Abraham not taken the care to bury Sarah properly, he would have relegated her life to a less than the holy status, instead of the precious one it was.

We as Jews can never take for granted that all human beings are precious to God and therefore holy. Which is why the news of China’s mistreatment of Uighur (pronounced “Wee-ger”) Muslims is so haunting. Uighurs are a Muslim minority in China, and, as they hold certain beliefs and customs to be sacred, do not want to be fully absorbed into the Chinese state, and therefore have disappeared in huge numbers, entire families gone missing.

Here’s a few facts about the current catastrophe:

  • As many as one million Uighurs have disappeared over the past several years from the far west and heavily Muslim Xiajiang provence of China.
  • Over the past year, reports of mass internment camps have emerged.
  • Eyewitnesses note that these camps seek to brainwash prisoners to disavow Islam and pledge loyalty to the Communist Party.
  • Those who resist police have been subjected to arbitrary detention without charge or trial, and government officials cite “crimes” including searching foreign websites, speaking on cell phones to relatives abroad, growing beards, and praying regularly. Torture is conducted regularly.
  • All anti-Uighur activity is being conducted in the name of “transformation through education” or “counter-terrorism education” for the sake of “social stability.”

This knowledge should not stun us into silence, but shake us to the core. The Jewish people should be the first to recognize this for the repression and ethnic cleansing that it clearly is. As columnist Anne Applebaum writes, “‘Never again?’ It’s already happening. In Xinjiang.”

In the name of all that is sacred, may we act as Abraham did for Sarah to dignify life in all moments. May peace be upon our Uighur brothers and sisters everywhere.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Sharon Mars

  • Educate your family and friends over Thanksgiving dinner about the Uighur tragedy by reading more from Anne Applebaum here
  • Find more facts on the Uighurs and U.S. legislation to support them here

"'re calling."

From someone who finds comfort and solace through prayers filled with words, music and movement, never did I imagine that it would be possible for me to find myself, discover balance and to encounter God through the magic of silence and stillness.

This was like an unexpected song, a gift that was granted to me through my experience as part of the third clergy cohort, a combination of Cantors and Rabbis who participated in two years of intense study of Torah, prayer, yoga and meditation in a Jewish context through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. In fact, as you read this now, I will already be on my way to participate in a completely silent Jewish meditation retreat in New York as an alumnus of this program.

As much as I am saddened to not be with my community this Shabbat that will be honoring Or Mars, who spearheaded and built our beloved Jewish Meditation Project, and all of our Temple Israel facilitators who have led and brought this holy work to our community, I believe it is very poignant that I will be engaging in the work and practice that we will be honoring and celebrating this Shabbat.

Initially, I was inspired to participate in the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, not only because of the life changing experience of my husband, Rabbi Jay Moses, who after participating in the program changed the trajectory of his Rabbinate, but both Rabbi Zinkow and Rabbi Mars also studied in this program (and I believe they were hevruta (study partners!) as they experienced the deepening of their own spirituality through these new modalities, especially the spiritual practice of meditation.

Jewish meditation is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it was first experienced as a practice of Jewish mystics and was regularly a way in which to cleave to God, the Hebrew word, being "devekut, " much like the modern Hebrew term, "devek" which means "glue." Meditation was a spiritual way in which to literally bind oneself with God. Whereas the Hasidim cleaved to God through niggunim, wordless melodies, many mystics also connected to God by engaging in complete silence, and through practices of settling the mind, including introspection, visualization, and contemplation on the names of God or philosophical and theological ideas.

One of the first books I ever read on meditation that inspired my practice was Rabbi Areyeh Kaplans, "Jewish Meditation." As an American Orthodox Rabbi, he went on to write "Meditation and the Bible," "Meditation and Kabbalah, and "Inner Space," all of which remind us that meditation has deep Jewish roots, based on Torah and the Psalms of King David.

In fact, in parasha Hayyei Sarah which we will read next Shabbat, it says that "Isaac went out in the field toward evening," (Genesis 24:63) our prooftext for mincha, our afternoon prayers. The Hebrew word for "went out" used in this passage, is "lasuach" which can also be translated as "meditate" or "pray." Another example is the first passage in Psalm 65 which reads, "To you (God) silence is praise."

While there are many expressions of prayer I believe the greatest gift that silence and meditation gives us is the opportunity to truly receive the present moment. One is forced to relinquish all thoughts of the past and future and to completely be fully present in breath immersing in the moment of "here" itself. And once you are silent, you can listen.

At certain times in our lives, we need to be still and silent to be able to "hear our calling." Other times though, it is necessary to surrender and listen to this alternate message of the moment.

"HERE"'re calling."

With heartfelt gratitude to Or Mars and all the Temple Israel Meditation Facilitators,
Shabbat shalom,
Cantor Bat-Ami Moses

Local Prophets Apply Here (11/8/19)

The life of a prophet can be rough. "There is no evidence to suggest that anyone ever asked a prophet home for supper more than once," joked theologian Frederick Buechner. Boisterous and timely, ancient Israel's prophets were solitary visionaries called by God to deliver bad news and shame his fellow citizens into making better choices. Safe to say, the prophet was probably never cocktail party material.

Prophets were not elected, nor did they hold any political power. Yet their voices called others to justice. Rabbi Mona Alfi notes that today's prophets exist "to shake us up, to agitate us into changing our ways, to move society closer to the vision of a world redeemed. Prophets," she says, "are a social irritant. Theirs is the still small voice we hear at 3:00 a.m. that wakes us up with a gasp and a start, refusing to allow us to rest easy."

While you and I may not have the chutzpah to call ourselves prophets, the times in which we live demand our stepping up with prophetic vision to advocate for fairness and equality whenever we can. One such opportunity is this Wednesday at RAC Ohio's Lobby Day. I invite you to join hundreds of other Reform Jewish Ohioans from all over our state at the Statehouse to speak to our elected officials about upcoming legislation on gun reform and criminal justice reform.

"Ein navi b'iro," our tradition has said: "There is no prophet in his/her city." To state uncomfortable truths and stand up for justice may not get us invited to dinner, but it is the Jewish way to lead and affect change. When we speak that prophetic voice together, popular or not, we help fulfill our mission to lead and affect change in our world.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Sharon Mars

Better Build An Ark! (10/31/19)

I vividly remember leaving 5419 East Broad St. on the last Friday night we conducted Shabbat services at that location. Rabbi Mars and I walked out the back door together and were greeted by a magnificent and radiant rainbow, and if I recall correctly, it was a double rainbow! We looked at each other and knew deep in our hearts that Temple Israel was "going to be okay." In fact we were certain that the rainbow in front of our eyes was God's sign that the journey of our congregation would be blessed by God's protection and "brit," covenant with us. I must admit it was a pretty spiritual and magical moment. A moment which caused us both to utter the traditional Jewish blessing we recite upon seeing a rainbow, which is, "Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to God's covenant and keeps God's promise."

When we think of Parashat Noah, we remember the ark, the rainbow, the olive branch, the dove of peace and of course the great flood that caused all of those other images to appear in the story in the first place. Rabbi Noah Arnow (yes, Rabbi Noah) teaches that "remembering is really what a rainbow is about, at least for God. After the flood, God establishes a covenant with Noah and sets the rainbow as a sign of this covenant “between Me and the earth” (Gen. 9:13), says God:

When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Gen 9:14-15)

The rainbow, it seems, is a way for God to remember about the covenant not to destroy the earth. God, we suspect, will get angry at us humans, every so often, and perhaps desire to destroy the world again, but the rainbow is a reminder of God’s promise not to.

I have always been intrigued between the difference between a symbol and a sign. I have learned that the difference between a symbol and a sign is that a symbol can convey a deeper and more complex meaning than a sign while a sign is an indicator or marker for something very specific, very concrete and, in general, unambiguous in meaning.

Perhaps scientists may believe that a rainbow is a mere sign where an arch of colors is formed in the sky in certain circumstances, caused by the refraction and dispersion of the sun's light by rain or other water droplets in the atmosphere, but I would prefer to believe that the "keshet" (rainbow in Hebrew) serves as both a sign AND a symbol. Yes, a sign for us to remember God's covenant with the Jewish people and a deeper symbol for us to remember how to behave in our lives. The beauty of the rainbow can help us remember to live in integrity and fully embrace all the colors of this world and to commit to doing acts of loving kindness and justice not only after the flood has passed, but using that rainbow as a reminder to act even before the flood occurs.

And indeed, if and when that flood does descend upon us, it will be our task to "build an ark" made of the mitzvot we do, the relationships we nurture, and the kindness we spread.

Enjoy an original song by our own youth choir, HAVA NASHIRA- "Better Build An Ark!"

Here's to a Shabbat shalom filled with rainbows and miracles,
Cantor Bat-Ami Moses

Seeds of Love, Roots of Peace (10/25/19)

Part 1: Seeds of Love

This Shabbat will be sweet, as a perfect world created by a loving Life Force is described in Parashat Bereishit, the beginning of the Book of Genesis. But this Shabbat will also be somewhat bitter, as we mark the first yartzeit (anniversary) of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting. The world seems far from perfect this Shabbat, and our Jewish family and good people all over the world will grieve the senseless loss of life in Pittsburgh, not to mention other parts of the globe that are stained by hatred.

My prayer for us all this Shabbat is to remind each other and ourselves that, despite it all, people are mostly kind-hearted, well-intentioned, and, as God noted in Genesis 1:31, “very good.” May we be filled with the strength and courage to draw that goodness out of every person we encounter, this Shabbat, this yartzeit, and beyond. And may that loving Life Force imbue our words, actions, and intentions with that which is so sorely needed among all human beings: love.

Part 2: Roots of Peace

What does it mean to love Israel? Though we are commanded in the Torah to love God and love our neighbor, there is no commandment to love Israel. Nonetheless, Ahavat Yisrael is a core Jewish value - it means “love of Israel,” both in its specific definition (love of Israel, the place) and its broader sense (love of Israel, the people). For me, the way I choose to love Israel (both the place and the people) is to learn about it, visit it, and to honestly face up the most urgent challenges to Israel today.

On November 8-9, Temple Israel will be welcoming Roots, a grassroots Israeli-Palestinian movement fostering understanding, nonviolence, and transformation. With the generous support of the Lurie Micro Grant and a team spearheaded by Or Mars, we will learn from Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Shadi Abu Awwad who embody what it means to work “within a broken reality without accepting it.” Roots works to increase dialogue on systemic issues, and seeks to reduce hate, heal trauma, include multiple opinions and approaches, and take responsibility across visible and invisible boundaries, “in our search for commonality, understanding and the path to a solution to our conflict” (

Regardless of your interpretation of root causes of Israeli-Palestinian strife, the roots of peace start with us. For me, Israel is a basic part of Jewish life and I want to encourage all of us to have an ever deepening relationship with Israel. Looking forward to being with you for this special Shabbat of learning and listening on November 8th and 9th!

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Sharon Mars

See details about the Roots Shabbat

Launching Our New Learners Together (10/17/19)

Do you remember your Consecration ceremony? If you happened to have had one, you may not have fully appreciated it at the time. But whether or not you remember your Consecration, your understanding of the significance of beginning the journey of Jewish learning has probably grown over time. 

Consecration is a special ceremony unique to Reform Judaism. It usually takes place at the tail end of the high holy days, often on or near, Simchat Torah. This timing is fitting, as when the torah is read on Sukkot it includes God’s instructions to Moses, Deuteronomy 31:12.3: "Gather the people – men, women, children, and the strangers in your communities – that they may hear and so learn to revere Adonai your God and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching.” 

Consecration includes special blessings from clergy under a grandparent held Chuppah. Each consecrant receives a certificate and the group picture is added to the growing gallery of those in the congregation who have embarked on this journey before them. What better way to mark the beginning of Jewish learning for our younger congregants as they set out to live these words of Torah? 

The consecrants in the parade of unbearable cuteness this Friday may not yet fully understand their roles as living legacies of our traditions, traditions which teach us that learning Torah is holy. But like many of our beautiful rituals, Consecration is also about coming together as a community. It is an opportunity to welcome new students and families, and to remind ourselves of our obligation to Jewishly educate our future generations. Don’t be surprised if you find your own passion for Jewish learning reignited during this beautiful milestone. The spark will help to perpetuate the passing down of wisdom from generation to generation ( L’Dor V’Dor). 

Even if you don’t have a child of Consecration age, please join us this Friday, October 18th at the JCC, at 6:00 PM.

Come Home (10/4/19)

The Shabbat we are about to experience is called "Shabbat Shuva," or the Shabbat of  "return." It is the Shabbat when we return home to reacquaint ourselves with our true essences. This holy day always occurs during this fragile time called the "aseret y'mei teshuvah," the ten days of repentance that occur in between  Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.  My dear friend Billy Jonas, musical artist and colleague who has visited Temple Israel several times, wrote an "AWE" some song describing these fragile ten days in between the days of awe when we are judged and when our fate is sealed.  It is totally worth the listen....

The first verse sings out: 

Ten days to shine the light
Ten days to get it right
Ten days to do your best
Ten days to pass the test
Ten days to show you care
Ten days to clear the air
Ten days to let it fly
Ten days to purify

Each consecutive verse gets deeper, more serious and more urgent.  Frankly, I feel that urgency and also a bit terrified during these ten days, as the space between the book of life and the book of death lies open and undeclared. In my daily prayer practice, I find myself standing paralyzed clinging steadfastly to my health and holding onto my balance. I truly feel like I am standing at the mercy of the God, as the scales tip back and forth and I wonder how much agency do I have to make them tip one way or the other? How much teshuva, (repentance) tefila (prayer) tzedake (charity) do I truly need to do? 

Though when I finally arrive at the evening of Kol Nidre, I surrender. I begin the Kol Nidre prayer trembling before God. With each iteration, just a half step higher than the time before, I bridge my voice and my soul as they mingle softly together with the unlimited steps of release. I begin chanting that ubiquitous minor melodic motif feeling extremely vulnerable. I am scared of cracking, not only of voice but of cracking of heart. 

The musical notes shift and swell as does my desperate yearning to become pure, begging to be absolved and granted a clean slate. The musical notes crescendo to an ultimate solo, surrendering leaving me only one choice, to plunge into the major tonality of oneness, releasing fear, inviting hope and coming home. 

As we enter this Shabbat may we all be blessed with health and harmony and the courage to not waste another moment. Let us return home right here, right now. 

G'mar hatima tovah--may you be inscribed in the book of life! 

Shabbat shalom,
Cantor Bat-Ami Moses 

In the Details (9/27/19)

Shanah Tovah and Happy New Year, dear TI family~

Temple Israel's board and staff have worked for this past year to assure that God is in every detail of our time together over the holidays. Here are just a few of the finer points we want you to know:

Security: Our time together at the JCC for the High Holidays depends first and foremost on our security. Your cooperation with our uniformed police officers and awareness of your surroundings is crucial. If something seems suspicious, please let an officer or usher know.

Nametags: We ask that you display your nametag at all times- it is your entry ticket for security AND it also helps others say hello! Please bring your badge with you for all services, and return it to staff only when you are no longer planning to return.

Seating: All members will be accomodated on a first come first served basis. With all of these changes, you’ll want to allow for extra time to park, check-in and be seated.

Navigation: After feedback from you last year and thanks to our High Holiday Task Force, you will be able to navigate - everything from parking to seating to way finding - with greater ease. Whether you sit in the main service (auxiliary gym) or the theater (overflow space), we aim for you to have a warm, accessible, and engaging spiritual and social experience. Countless technical details have been considered, so the sound and sights of the holidays will be of the highest quality, including live streaming for folks who watch from home.

The magical Torah tie-in: Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once summed up the Jewish system of performing mitzvot (commandments) as "the design for a coherent harmony, its separate components being like the instruments of an orchestra. So vast is the harmony to be created by this orchestra that it includes the whole world and promises the perfecting of the world" (The Thirteen Petaled Rose). Let those words inspire us as we enter the New Year! Let's remember that God is all the details of our lives, and that we are the harmony-makers for our experience in community together. The world may not be perfect yet... but what a beautiful orchestra we are!

Sending you and your families only sweetness and peace,
Rabbi Sharon Mars

Blessings and Curses (9/20/19)

This week's Parshat Ki Tavo, brings us to Moses, as he delivers a powerful speech to the people of Israel in preparation to enter the Holy Land. In his last oratory, Moses conveys God's promises of abundant blessings and prosperity in what amounts to biblical bliss, in exchange for the Jewish people following God's commandments. He directs the Israelites to be actively grateful and consistently kind to those that are less fortunate, as well as to write and display God's commandments for all to see. Jewish values which continue to endure to this day.

Then he gets to the Tochechah (rebuke) portion of the speech: dire threats of terrifying and seemingly disproportionate curses for violating God's prohibitions. Prohibitions which have a very clear underlying theme- one of avoiding deceit and secretly taking advantage of others.

These days media outlets and news sources are filled with an appalling barrage of prominent, powerful people who's externally squeaky clean image is shattered, when they are exposed for privately engaging in the very behavior they publicly condemn. From politicians, celebrities, there is an endless stream of those who believe that as long as they are getting away with it, no harm is being done.

But clearly the Torah has zero tolerance for deception and hypocrisy: The prohibitions Moses relayed to the Israelites include: Worshiping secret idols in the home, degrading the elderly, changing a neighbor's property line without them knowing, taking advantage of a disabled person, several variations of incest, murdering in secret, taking a bribe to kill an innocent person, false testimony against oppressed people. Each act is done covertly and is easily concealed from all but God, and often likely to be committed by someone in the position of power, to another who is less fortunate, or unaware. In order for the Jewish people to enter their homeland and covenant with God, they needed to do so with the understanding that a violation committed in secret was potent and forbidden. That even if the individual was never caught, God was watching, and the result would be a multitude of curses heaped upon the community.

Ki Tavo is a warning that even if a person can get away with secret corruption and and unscrupulous acts in private, there are always consequences. Each betrayal of integrity erodes the moral fiber of our society as a whole. We are all responsible for one another, each and every one of us. As much when our actions are unseen as when they are public.

Shabbat Shalom,
Beata Abraham, Education Director

May Your Strength Give Us Strength (9/12/19)

"Telling a story is like stoking a fire full of hot coals. The more one turns and prods the coals the hotter the fire will become" (Yismach Yisrael on Pesach Haggadah, Magid, par.2).

Eighteen years and one day have passed since the U.S. was attacked on September 11, 2001.  The trauma still stings us and the pain still clings to us, and despite our despair, we revisit stories of pain and trauma out of necessity and out of honor.  Stories keep us human.  Sharing them binds us together.

In telling the story of 9/11 again this year, may we stoke the fires of memory and ignite our passion to lift up all that is and all who are broken, sparking the transformation of despair and pain into faith, strength, hope, and love. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sharon Mars

For more inspiration, watch "Into the Fire" by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band here

Into The Fire ( Bruce Springsteen, The Rising, 2002)

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

You gave your love to see in fields of red and autumn brown
You gave your love to me and lay your young body down
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need you near but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

It was dark, too dark to see, you held me in the light you gave
You lay your hand on me
Then walked into the darkness of your smoky grave
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

Hold On (9/5/19)

As I watch dramatic rescue efforts underway in the Bahamas, my heart wants to shout out the words, "hold on."

As I once again stand heartbroken, dumbfounded in disbelief at the loss of more innocent lives by senseless gun violence, my mind wants to cry out the words, "hold on."

As I prepare to sing Psalm 23 at an Interfaith Association of Central Ohio's 9/11 Anniversary Commemoration event this coming Tuesday evening, my gut wants to sing out the words, "hold on."

As the High Holy Days are quickly approaching, I invite you to "hold on." We often think of the "Days of Awe" as a distinct pair of holidays at opposite ends of a ten-day span. Two discrete moments in time, one majestic and joyful (apples and honey!) and the other, a somber fast day when we rehearse for our own deaths refraining from all earthly physical pleasures, wear shrouds and look into our own souls, we discover our deep need to beg for forgiveness from others, our own selves, and from God.

In his book, "This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared," Rabbi Alan Lew makes a persuasive argument that this special time is not just about two holy days, but the spiritual transformation we are hoping for, takes place in the context of a broader journey. The journey that began with Tisha b'Av and stretches all the way through Sukkot, and that this annual holiday journey is a microcosm of the cycle we enact in our lives. Rabbi Lew writes,

The journey .... is one of self-discovery, spiritual discipline, self-forgiveness, and spiritual evolution. It is the snapshot the Jewish people pull out every autumn of the great journey all human beings must make across the world: the journey from Tisha b'Av to Sukkot, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, from birth to death and back to renewal again.

Hold on my friends, hold on to each other, hold on to hope, hold on to the idea that the spiritual journey we will be making together can lead us to a better place filled with renewal, patience, and peace.

Hold on to the idea that hurricanes will be replaced by calm air, that violence will be blotted out by communication, and that hatred will be melted away by love.

My words were inspired by this song.

Shabbat Shalom,
Cantor Bat-Ami Moses

From the Mouths of Babes

"I have to mentally prepare myself every single day just to go to school."

"For practically my whole life, I've been scared."

"How valuable are our lives, anyway?"

These are just a few voices of the many high school students who sat at the Big Table yesterday. The Columbus Foundation's annual event showcased young leadership in the Columbus community by having teens facilitate conversations all around town. At the Big Table I attended, we gathered at First Congregational Church downtown for lunch and conversation with around 200 other adults and students to share ideas and inspiration. The topic of our Big Table was gun violence.

No matter where you may land on the issue of gun violence, we can all agree that mass shootings have become a terrible part of our collective "new normal." While "the older generation" at my table told stories of drop-drills to prepare for the A-bomb, the younger folks shared in chilling detail their daily concerns of the day: whether to hide in a classroom if there is an active shooter or to run (best practice: run); why semiautomatic weapons are so easy to purchase (one student asked: "Are guns weapons or toys?"); and when our lawmakers will take action to make school a safer place, regardless of the neighborhood people live in.

But the most haunting and inspiring part of the discussion for me was when these students talked about the loneliness, alienation, and sadness that seems so prevalent among their peers. They spoke openly about the need to "be brave and introduce yourself" to that kid who sits alone at lunch or seems to get bullied a lot. "Go over and sit with them!" "Open your eyes to other people's needs!" "BE the leader!" The first step to changing society, said these thoughtful, wonderful kids, is to acknowledge each other's human frailty. Maybe then we can truly cultivate a culture of compassion inside and outside our schools. Maybe then people won't resort to violence. Maybe part of the solution to the larger problem of gun violence, said these young people, is simply to say, "I'm here."

As we enter the month of Elul this coming week and the new year just one month later, may our go-to words be anchored in "Hineni - I am here." The simplest of sentiments, but surely among the most powerful we can utter. Wisdom...from the mouths of babes.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Sharon Mars

Believing in the Invisible (8/8/19)

Last Friday night, I announced the new Hebrew month of Av, a mournful time in the Jewish calendar dedicated to remembering the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. It is a period of time in Jewish life when we give ourselves permission to mourn, to surrender to our deepest pain and to remember what it was like when we were in exile. In witness to the horrific incidents of violence and hatred in our country this week, it has been way too easy to observe this month of mourning. And it certainly feels like we are still deeply in exile.

Not only do I find myself experiencing waves of distress and melancholy, but in all earnestness, frustration, anger and fear are also on the forefront of my mind. I can imagine the Israelites felt the same complexity of emotions after their sacred spaces, both physical and spiritual were utterly destroyed.

There are many traditional customs that are observed during the last nine days before Tisha B'Av, the 9th day of the month commemorating the destruction of the Temples which begins this Saturday evening. In traditional circles, during these nine days before the holy day, foods traditionally associated with joy, such as wine and meat, are forbidden, except on Shabbat. Bathing, beyond what is absolutely necessary, is prohibited, as is doing laundry, and buying or wearing new clothes.

While the majority of liberal Jews do not follow these restrictions, the rhythm of our Jewish calendar and the day itself of Tisha B’Av gives us permission to not only remember the pain of our history, but also to acknowledge the very real pain of our present. In Rabbi Alan Lew’s excellent book focused on spiritual preparation before the High Holy Days called, “This is Real and You are completely Unprepared,” he dedicates a chapter to Tisha B’Av with the title based on the psalms, “I turned, the Walls came down and there I was.” He opens this chapter with a beautiful passage:

The soul is always teetering between two great tidal pulls: the sun and the moon, the conscious and the unconscious, the mind and the heart.

Let this Shabbat and Tisha B’Av break down all of our walls between each other, awaken our consciousness, and merge our hearts and minds together in order to reclaim our faith. So that even when it looks like evil prevails we will have the courage and strength to fully embrace Freud's greatest teaching, that "the invisible is more important than the visible." For the antidote to evil and hatred are indeed things that are invisible to the naked eye, but rather deeply felt in the, kindness, courage and hope. These are the vehicles which will be solely responsible for healing ourselves, our neighbors, our country, our world.

Looking forward to being together this Shabbat in our pain, joy, sadness, comfort, and hope—believing in the invisible.

Shabbat Shalom,
Cantor Bat-Ami Moses

Here are some helpful links sent by the URJ to help adults and children alike during this time. 

For Jewish Youth 


Helpful resources for parents and teachers on how to have difficult conversations regarding gun violence 

No Need to Fake Your Own Death (7/25/19)

Growing up, I was the kid who was prepared to fake my own death to get out of going to Religious School on Sunday mornings. Not one single thing about the experience appealed to me, starting with being dragged out of bed on a freezing cold weekend morning, to riding in the carpool with other unwilling kids (one of whom would get car sick and vomit out of the car window every single time on the short car ride). In the musty synagogue classrooms, humorless teachers struggled with the difficult task of making ancient texts seem relevant to our secular, suburban lives..We sat in our seats resigned to our shared fate, praying that we would be able to remember the Hebrew words for “Can I go to the bathroom?”  For many of us, this environment was the only place we dared to misbehave, even if it meant having to be reprimanded by the stern Rabbi of the synagogue. Our bonds were rooted in our shared weekly torment. 

Decades later, I never cease to be amazed on Sunday mornings as I watch the youth of our congregation arrive for a radically different Religious School experience than mine. In spite of the enduring American ritual among Jewish kids to bash Religious School the rest of the week, on Sunday mornings, these same bashers arrive to high fives and bear hugs from their Rabbi, before running to greet each other with urgent updates and giggles. They race to their classrooms early to snag some one on one time with their teachers and Madrichim (teen classroom assistants). There is an abundance of smiles, laughter, energy.

Religious School education is certainly not perfect (eliminating Chanukah Bingo, and the annual Passover screening of The Prince of Egypt are long overdue). But in addition to being fun, it is an opportunity for kids to be surrounded by a bunch of other Jewish kids who understand the difficulty of making the decision to attend Yom Kippur services, or to play in their soccer team’s end of the season match (and learning that even Sandy Koufax took Yom Kippur off). 

Educating our youth Jewishly has come along way. At its best, Religious School has a magical way of employing its elements of Torah, Jewish values, Israel and Jewish history, to imprint a deep connection to Jewish identity on kids who attend. Simply being there can spawn lifelong friendships and nurture cherished bonds with educators and clergy. It can equip students with the wisdom and guidance found only in our ancient texts, and provide them with the resilience of strong Jewish values through which to navigate their complicated world. 

Whether you bring your kids to Religious School so that you can spend 2.5 hours laying in bed watching The Great British Bake Off, or feel strongly that Jewish learning is instrumental to raising thriving Jewish children (or both) the payoff will likely be the same. You will participate in creating another Jewish adult who has a strong Jewish identity, and a love for Judaism. However, unlike some of us, this adult, will have joyous memories of Religious School to look back upon.

This Dangerous Moment

Two images haunt me as we enter this Independence Day Shabbat.  The first is of Korach, the obstreperous self-appointed leader of the Levites for whom our parashah is named.  Korach and his band of rebels take it upon themselves to challenge Moses, Aaron, and [therefore also] God’s authority and attempt to tip the balance of power in his own favor.


The other image is that of a Salvadoran father and his baby daughter, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and Valeria Ramirez, migrants fleeing violence in their own country, who drowned crossing the Rio Grande this past week.  Their bodies clung to each other even as they lay lifeless on the river’s edge.


Both terrifying images tell stories of how human beings - leaders, in particular-  can go astray when they confuse self-aggrandizement with what they deem to be “the greater good.”  Because Korach defied God’s moral authority, hundreds of people (himself included!) perished, swallowed up by the earth at the Holy One’s command.  And as migrants and refugees are being denied entrance to our country, thousands of people stand to perish at the hand of our own government which is relinquishing its moral authority to do what America has long pledged to do: to take care of the stranger, protect the vulnerable, and stave off human suffering.  


When authority emanates from a place of moral responsibility for the greater good, rather than for its own self-interest, communities can thrive.  So what is our moral responsibility and what can we do as people who revere both American and Jewish values at this fragile and dangerous moment in our country?


A combination of responses are possible and could potentially create positive change:

  1. We can use the power of our voices, pens, and pockets to decry the Family Separation policy, and urge the swift reunification of families - not only has the policy been an ineffective deterrence to immigration, but it is causing widespread panic and long-lasting trauma among children and adults.

  2. We can resist using language which dehumanizes immigrants, such as “illegals,” and insist on learning more about the men, women, and children who are fleeing their home countries which promise violence, economic peril, slavery, war, environmental disaster, and/or death.  

  3. We can remember that for most seeking to cross the border, fears of what lies behind outweigh those which lie ahead.  

  4. And, perhaps most urgently, we can press Congress to pass fair, responsible, and comprehensive  immigration reform.


We will be doing what we can as a congregation to answer the call for immigration justice.  But first, we can all get educated. Learn more about how you can take action here:

As we hold the image of Korach in one hand and the image of the Ramirez family in the other, may we also pledge to live out the most precious and vital values of our country and our people this Independence Shabbat!


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Sharon Mars

Three Names (6/27/19)

“A person is called by three names: one that their parents call them, one that other people call them, and one that they acquires for themselves. And the best of these is the one they acquires for themselves” (Kohelet Rabbah 7:1 [3]; Tanhuma, Vayak’hel 1).
A "gadol," a great one, has left us.  Rabbi Richard Levy, a passionate activist, poetic liturgist, and major mind in shaping the Reform Jewish movement as we know it today, died this past Friday in Los Angeles.  Rabbi Levy was my teacher and mentor during my post-undergrad pre-rabbi days when I worked for Hillel, and when I finally grew up he became my friend.  There are so many ways to remember the people we love and lose in life.
Over the last few days, I've found myself shedding tears as I have recalled...
How Rabbi Levy guided me as a young Jewish professional and budding rabbi to fulfill my personal and job goals (e.g. he did not balk at my request for travel mileage when I decided to work 45 minutes away from my chosen Jewish neighborhood); how he modeled that living as a "traditional and Reform Jew" was possible all at the same time and not a contradiction; how his typical greeting was not "Oh, hi" but that he would shout, "Hooray!" before engulfing you in a hug; and how he fed our now 21 year-old son Adi his very first morsel of solid food (pictured here).
And then there is the way he is remembered among the Hebrew Union College (Reform Movement seminary) community, described beautifully here by Dr. Andrew Rehfeld:  "For all his professional genius, Rabbi Levy was, for us, the rabbi who sought to excavate his own soul, as well as the souls of those whom he encountered—always asking piercing questions posed with a remarkable gentleness and unabashed human interest. He was not above a wry smile and ironic remark, nor did he shy from an ideological argument. But he emanated indiscriminate kindness and warmth, the ultimate mark of his personality and legacy."
But it is his own words that define who Rabbi Richard Levy truly was.  When he delivered the ordination address at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles in 2014, Rabbi Levy charged the new rabbis to approach their work with a combination of anavah (humilty) and ga'avah (authority), saying:  "It is possible, it is crucial, to embrace them both. There are times for softness, and there are times to be bold.  The way out of the wilderness and into the promised land is to be bold...You have thorns to clear away and you need to be bold in clearing them.  Bold enough to know you may get scratched sometimes.  But the promised land is worth a scratch.  Smell the flowers you are planting, and the scratch will not hurt so much."  
May we live by these words and by the memory of this mensch.  
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Sharon Mars

Mishebei-ROCK (6/20/19)


If you opened this link, you recognized this beautiful melody as one of the songs we sing when we pray for those loved ones in our lives and community who need a "refuat hanefesh and a refuat ha'guf," a full healing of body and spirit. 

Debbie Friedman z'l' (May her memory be forever a blessing) composed another melody for a healing prayer, which we commonly know as the "mi shebeirach, " translated as "one who needs blessing.) Her version of this prayer has become one of the most popular musical pieces in our contemporary Jewish musical repertoire, crossing all denominations. And yet, even when this melody is extremely well known and sung around the world, very few of us know the original source in the Torah of asking for healing, which are not the words of the "mishebeirach" itself, but yet can be found in this weeks Torah portion, B'chukotai
When Miriam is struck with leprosy, Moses prays, "El Na refana lah!" (Oh God please heal her!") Numbers 12:13. 
Rabbi Patricia Karlin -Neumann writes in her article, "A Caretakers Prayer," the five words, the 11 Hebrew letters are all that Moses speaks. Except for Gods name, each word ends in a vowel, as if each word were an unending cry. It is as if each world is punctuated with an exclamation point, the brevity of the syllables giving voice to the tortured helplessness to the supplicant- God! Please! Heal! Please! Her!
And that is where we come in. We not only can recite these healing prayers capturing our fear, powerlessness and incomprehensibility in the face of sudden illness or accident, but these prayers can also give us an opportunity for our primal cry to be heard with our hope and yearning to heal.
We know that when we encounter sickness of the mind, body or soul of others or ourselves, our hearts can become hard as rocks. We chant el na refana la or sing mishebierach, and can become the prayer itself. Let us soften and be strengthened at the very same time to be the solid foundation and become the mishebei-ROCK for the person who is in need and also giving permission to be the strong, stable, hopeful rock for ourselves.   
Shabbat shalom, 
Cantor Moses 
*This article was inspired by Betsy Besl, the maker of "MI SHE-BEI-ROCK" Little pocket gemstone blessings. 

Tank Man and Torah (6/6/19)

Can it really be that 30 years ago this week I graduated from college?  Alas, I can barely remember some of the classes I took at UC Santa Barbara in the late '80s.  What I do recall is wearing my white graduation gown, mortarboard, and a black ribbon affixed right over my heart.  Just days before, the Tienanmen Square massacre shook the world, and a lone individual - a man in civilian clothing carrying two grocery bags - faced off against a line of Chinese tanks.  University graduates and citizens of the world, we united through that little black ribbon with "Tank Man" and the aspirations of the Chinese people for democracy and freedom.
The iconic photo of Tank Man in Tienanmen Square reverberates in my Jewish soul.  When the Jewish people stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, they listened as Moses recited the word of God, and promptly responded:  "Na'aseh v'nishma - all you say we will do and we will understand" (Ex.24:7).  We may not fully understand the consequences of taking action towards improving the world, but we'll deal with that later.  For now, we will act based on the information we have received, and we will have courage that our moral mission is clear.  Talk about standing for something.  Talk about putting it all on the line for what you believe.  Act now, understand later.  Tienanmen Square was Tank Man's Sinai.
As we celebrate Shavuot this weekend, as we ourselves stand again at Sinai, may we recommit to continuously learning what is eternal and valuable and moral and just.  And may we gain strength and clarity from the ultimate demonstrations of human courage in the face of the unknown.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Sharon Mars

Help Is On The Way (5/30/19)

Every time we recite a Mi Shebeirach, our prayer for healing we ask for a "refuat ha'nefesh v'refuat ha'guf," translated as a full healing of spirit and body. We live in a day and age where we recognize that the state of our physical bodies aren't divorced from the nature of our spirits.  While many may argue that disease in the body is a manifestation of "dis" "ease" within the soul, perhaps it is also true that just as objects are subjected to wear and tear over time and exposed to the stress of our environment and experiences, we too simply may break down. 
The real question is how do we get up when we find ourselves broken down? How do we continue to be hopeful and strong, courageous and kind when God forbid we are sick or attacked merely for being who we are? What happens when we watch our loved ones, our neighbors, friends, brothers and sisters vulnerable to the mystery of nature as tornadoes or fires destroy homes and lives? 
The only answer that I can think of and that our tradition echoes is found in the Torah portion we read last Shabbat.  Leviticus 15:35 states that, "If your brother falls low, and his hand falters beside you, then you should strengthen him-sojourner or resident- and he will live with you. " 
We show up, we help, we engage in gemilut hasadim, acts of loving kindness not only because we know it's the right thing to do, but as Emanual Levinas, a Jewish French philosopher suggests that it is our incumbent duty to look into the eyes of the other and by responsible for him or her. 

The Chofetz Chayyim (a 20th-century Rabbinic luminary) says that there will come a moment in everyone’s life when a poor person, or a troubled person, or a desperate person, will come to you for help — at that moment, you have a choice, to help or not, to fulfill this basic mitzvah or to turn your back, to “strengthen your brother” (or sister) or to “let his hand falter beside you.”

Even before you can answer your neighbor with a resounding, "Hineni--here I am," just hearing "help is on the way," is healing enough. This beautiful song by Nancy Lamott always inspires me,  "Help is on the Way"  Listen here.

Shabbat shalom, 

Cantor Bat-Ami Moses 


Help Is on the Way
Don't give up the ship
Even when you feel it's sinking
And you don't know what to do
Don't give up your dream
Even though you may be thinking
It never will come true
Life has it's own ideas of how things come about
And if you just hang in there, life is gonna work it out
Help is on the way
From places you don't know about today
From friends you may not have met
Yet believe me when I say
I know help is on the way
You don't have to know 
Where the path you're on is leading
You just have to walk along
Dreaming as you go
Asking for the things you're needing
You never can go wrong
If you have faith that things are happening as they should
And just believe each step you take is leading you to something good

Are You Okay? (5/23/19)

Desmond Meade knows a lot about the power of forgiveness and the power of one voice.  He spoke earlier this week to a group of 1,200 Reform Jews from all over North America and Israel in Washington DC at the Religious Action Center’s Consultation on Conscience.  Meade is a formerly homeless, formerly incarcerated returning citizen who took the stage to urge us as Reform Jews to consider what it means to take part in repairing the world.  After receiving his law degree while in prison, he was the prime mover to help Florida pass the state’s Amendment 4, which restores millions of voting rights to those who have served time in prison and seek to return as responsible citizens.  Turning to the plenary, Meade boiled this moment in America down to this: “The question we need to ask each other is not ‘How did you vote?’ but ‘Are you okay?’”


I felt so moved to hear these words as I sat alongside our awesome delegation of TI congregants, Bev Darwin, Izzy Naveh, Mitchell Snay, and Amy Wharton, all members of the TI Social Justice Team.  You could say that the question at the heart of Judaism has always been, “Are you okay?” This week we answered it by learning Torah and Tikkun Olam strategies for two days before going to Capitol Hill to speak with Ohio’s elected officials about upcoming legislation on criminal justice and immigration reform.  With the generous funding of a Lurie Micro Grant, this team of TI congregants did us all proud in representing the Jewish values of love, integrity, forgiveness, and redemption, all in an effort to make sure we all have a voice and that we are all okay.


While some people might choose to spend their time fighting across party lines, Meade preached, we can also choose to love each other and harness each other’s energy for the betterment of all people.  In houses of worship and in halls of power, these are not mere platitudes but can be used as practical guidance to those of us who seek to create change to help strengthen our inextricable American bond and craft a better country.  To maintain our humanity in the midst of myriad social challenges, “Are you okay?” should be our core question and our platform from which we ensure the "okay-ness" of others.


Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Sharon Mars

Split Your Red Sea (5/16/19)

“To match couples together is as difficult as the splitting of the sea," states the Talmud, (or in a more modern analogy, as difficult as finding a parking spot in Midtown Manhattan)

“Even the worst of husbands is better than no husband at all,” explains Yente, the old matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof.  And while she would not get many clients with this attitude in today’s post-Shtetl world, the art of matchmaking and its messy struggles is as old as Judaism itself. Even modern ingenuity has failed to effectively solve the conundrum of how to get amazing people together with other amazing people to make more amazing people (or simply to go through life’s tumultuous journey together)? But it’s not for lack of trying. Jewish matchmaking is an an art and a profession that is timeless.

The very first matchmaker appears in Beresheit (Genesis), as Abraham realizes that his son, Isaac has yet to be galvanized by God’s directive to “Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth”. As any doting parent of a 40 year old bachelor son, Abraham takes matters into his own hands and designates his servant Eliezer as the Shadchen (matchmaker) for Isaac. He sends Eliezer to Haran to find Isaac a wife in order to prevent him from marrying any of the local Canaanite girls.  Eliezer creates a test of kindness, and Rebeccah passes with flying colors. Her brother Lavan, impressed by Eliezer’s wealth, understands what a catch Isaac will be, and invites the servant back to their tent to make the match. The rest is history: literally. Isaac and Rebeccah’s offspring are Jacob and Esau, the progenitors of two powerful nations that still exist today, making this a glorious matchmaking success story.

While the process of finding a match has evolved drastically, many things remain the same. We now have global access with the touch of a finger, generating more choices than our ancestors ever thought possible. Yet, finding the right partner continues to remain no less complicated than the splitting of the Red Sea. Perhaps it is best to  swipe a lesson from the Israelites as they fled Egypt. Unable to advance with the daunting, seemingly, impassable sea before them, but also unable to retreat with the Egyptians in hot pursuit from behind, they cried out to God in despair “What are we supposed do now?“ and God answered, “Why are you complaining to me? Get in the water, go forward!“. So they did. They waded into the sea, and the waters parted before them to create a path. In taking this leap of faith, they changed not only their own destiny, but that of the Jewish people. Luckily, your stakes are not quite this high, but if you are seeking a match, and feeling equal parts of apprehensive and uncertain about stepping into unknown waters, remember this: only you can take that step and part your own Red Sea.

Spoiler alert: you will probably be glad that you did.

If you are single or know someone who is, come to Temple Israel’s Jewish Singles Speed Dating event!

Shabbat Shalom,
Beata Abraham

Singing with Strength and Praying with Pride! (5/9/19)

We have been holding Israel close to our hearts this week. Yesterday we commemorated Yom HaZikaron, a day of remembrance to the soldiers fallen in war and today we celebrate Yom Ha-Atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. During these two days of ceremony and celebration, we have been acutely aware of those who still continue to hurt and heal from the violence that erupted this past week in our holy land, as we continue to pray for shalom. 

Today also marks the 20th day of the Omer, the seven week period of time counted between Passover and Shavuot, which serves as a spiritual exercise gearing up and counting the days to receiving the Torah. Every week of this  time period is matched with a specific theme. This third week of counting the Omer possesses the theme of "tiferet," meaning beauty. In her book, The Jewish Book of Days, Rabbi Jill Hammer explains that the 20th day of the Omer is specifically called "yesod shebetiferet," or the "root of the heart." Today we root ourselves in the land of Israel, and also acknowledge the need of all people for peace." 

Join us this Friday night to celebrate Shabbat and acknowledge the need of ALL people to live in peace, dignity, safety and joy at our annual PRIDE Shabbat. We will be blessed to hear from a guest speaker, our own Cheryl Rose as she speaks on the topic of the power of everyday moments. As we do on all Shabbatot, we will immerse ourselves in prayer and music that reminds us we are all loved, by an unending love and that we are "supported by hands that uplift us, even in the midst of a fall," as Rami Shapiro's poem so beautifully illustrates.  Join us in harmony as we acknowledge that which makes us unique while at the same time celebrating our oneness and the idea that we are all created "b'tzelem Elohim," in the likeness of God. 

Looking forward to singing with strength and praying with pride. 

Shabbat Shalom, 
Cantor Bat-Ami Moses 

LISTEN TO "We Are Loved"      Music: Shir Yaakov     Text: Rami Shapiro

We will sing it together this Shabbat!

And Then...Poway (5/2/19)

Last Friday evening, I shared a few words (below) about the holiday we celebrate today, Yom HaShoah.  I wanted to talk about Holocaust Remembrance Day to help us approach this holy day thoughtfully, to brace ourselves as we do every year for this day of mourning and deep sorrow.  Nothing could have prepared any of us for what happened the very next day, that Shabbat afternoon when a young man violently attacked the Chabad House in Poway, California, killing one woman and injuring many more, traumatizing all.  As we manage our own trauma from afar, we pray for healing for the victims of this latest anti-semitic attack and for the fortitude each of us must muster to forge our way ahead despite this display of vehement hatred and tragic ignorance. 

I feel like I was there, but I wasn’t.  I can’t remember the whole story, but I remember feeling it as if it was happening to me.  I know it wasn’t me and my family who perished in the Shoah, but knowing what happened to Mr. Lowy’s parents, his aunts and uncles, friends and teachers, it may as well have been my parents, my aunts, uncles, friends, and teachers whose lives were taken.  Honestly, all I have is the sensory memory of having witnessed my Hebrew school principal’s knees knocking together as he shared his family story with us to make me feel like I had been there.

Mr. Lowy’s sunken eyes seemed only to see their shadows as he gazed down at all of us second graders assembled at his feet for Yom HaShoah (the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony) in the social hall of the shul I grew up in.  His body trembled head to toe, a human earthquake.   He spat the word “Treblinka,” his thick Polish accent rolled out the word “torture.”   Tears streamed down his weathered face and I felt mine grow hot.  I was petrified that our education director had feelings at all, much less that he was suddenly sharing them this way - through a horrific tale I could not seem to blink away or command to disappear from my thoughts for many weeks thereafter.

I feel like I was there, but I wasn’t.  I can’t remember the whole story, but I remember feeling it as if it was happening to me.  Just like at Mt. Sinai, when the Torah was handed to Moshe and the Jewish people, it is said that every one of us was there to bear witness in that moment.  Suddenly, stunningly, the family I belong to expanded.  This terrifying story became MY story. 

I’m therefore particularly troubled by a recent survey by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany which reveals that:

  • 41% of Americans do not know about Auschwitz
  • 41% of American millennials believe that 2 million or fewer Jews perished in the Shoah
  • 70% agreed that “fewer people seem to care about the Holocaust as much as they used to”
  • 58% believe it could happen again

These statistics should shake us.  And we can all say with 100% accuracy that genocides can and have happened since the Shoah, and that the world in many ways HAS forgotten the lessons of the Shoah:  Bangladesh, Burundi, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur (not at all an exhaustive list!) have all experienced systematic murder.  And Holocaust denial continues to rear its ugly head and roar in white nationalist circles and websites with a thunderous and foreboding howl.

What, then, is our responsibility as Jews alive and thriving in the world today?
Not only to those martyrs of our people but to those who have yet to be taught 

-or reminded- that the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” is a real and undeniable part of human history?  We live in a time of “fake news” - what the Cambridge English dictionary defines as “false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke”.  We live among those who would call the Holocaust invalid or “fake” because to them history is merely hearsay, second-hand evidence in which the witness is not telling what he/she knows personally, but what others have said to him/her.  So how, ask these bombastic deniers, could the "so-called Holocaust" be proven to have actually occurred?

What is our responsibility as Jews alive and thriving in the world today?  My answer is simply this:  To use our words, to tell the story AS IF IT WERE OUR OWN -  When words of hatred and ignorance come our way, to respond with words of fact, truth, and conviction - strategically and not passionately.  To testify as witnesses ourselves to this cataclysm, not just so that it never happens again, but so our sisters and brothers walking this earth at the same time as we are (Jews and non-Jews alike) become second- or third- hand witnesses themselves to what undeniably DID happen.  We say WE ARE WITNESSES because we know what one human being can and did do to another.  The Jewish people is OUR people and the Jewish story is OUR story tell.  Just as we did at Pesach last week, we can feel in our bones AS IF we experienced the tyranny of Egypt or Poland or Skokie or Charlottesville or Pittsburgh...

And as long as we have HEARD those stories, then we have an ethical responsibility to bear witness and help facilitate teshuvah and tikkun - repentance and repair - by using our voices to teach and to inform and to correct false information and to testify before humans and before God.

I did not survive the Shoah, nor did most of the people in this room.  And yet we know what we know and we are here to bear witness.

Yom HaShoah will be commemorated in our community this coming Wednesday night at WHV at 7:15pm.  Consider yourselves hereby invited to attend.  As usual, the CBOR have organized a meaningful tribute to the millions of our people who died in Kiddush HaShem (for the sanctification of God’s name through martyrdom).  A speaker will teach about her mother’s experience as a Righteous Gentile saving Jews in the Shoah, some of the few survivors will light candles of remembrance, and inspiring words will be offered.  And we will leave feeling lifted up by those words, validated in our grief  But if we’re not careful, we may also feel vindicated to go about our lives free of the onus to do anything beyond attending a ceremony once a year.  We cannot be indifferent to the history of our past or the story of our present and future. We must see ourselves as the Holocaust’s witnesses whether we were there or not.

When author and survivor Elie Wiesel spoke to the UN in 2005, 60 years after WWII ended, he noted:  “Suffering confers no privileges; it is what one does with suffering that matters. Yes, the past is in the present, but the future is still in our hands….We must be engaged, we must reject indifference as an option. Indifference always helps the aggressor, never his victims. And what is memory if not a noble and necessary response to and against indifference?”

With memory as our motivator and the courage of conviction and justice as our guide, may we own our place as witnesses to history for the sake of all who perished and for the sake of our collective Jewish future.

Shabbat Shalom~

Rabbi Sharon Mars

Honor Thy Everyone (4/26/19)

As we near the end of this Passover week, we embrace the quality of Kavod (honor) in the counting of the Omer.  Marking each day between now and Shavuot when we celebrate the giving of Torah, we can set a spiritual intention to help bring consciousness to this special season of the year.  Cultivating Kavod for me means refining my awareness of those beings that I might otherwise overlook.  

We can cultivate our Kavod when we try to help the people around me who may be hungry, homeless, addicted, or forgotten.  I cultivate my Kavod when I recall the holiness of the soul who may be frustrating me in traffic or at the grocery store.  By honoring the other with kindness and compassion - rather than venom and vitriol-  we lift up that person's humanity and help our holy souls shine more brightly together.

When we open the door for "all who are hungry [to] come and eat," and later for Elijah the Prophet at the end of our Seder, we invite in those holy souls who deserve our Kavod.  The hungry deserve to eat and the Prophet deserves a seat.  It is only when we open our hearts and homes to others that peace can feed our own holy being selves.  

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same'ach- Happy [end of] Passover!
Rabbi Sharon Mars

What If I Have More Than Four Questions? (4/19/19)

Passover is not just a time when we must part with our emotional support carbs for a week, it is also a time when many of us fall into one of two camps: those who eagerly anticipate the Seder (copious amounts of singing, eating, drinking), and those who approach it with some amount of trepidation (how to remember songs sung once a year? The food options begin with the word Matzah, -ball, kugel, brei, and the alcohol is Manischewitz). But regardless of which camp you belong to, take comfort in knowing that there is no wrong way to Seder. In fact, you get instant participation points just by sitting at the table. And although there are plenty of rules associated with this holiday (at our house, enforced family viewing of the Ten Commandments), which ones you embrace and how you do so, is entirely up to you. Also, none of the rules specifically prohibit you from playing a drinking game that requires taking a shot of Manischewitz each time you hear the word slavery. Your Seder does not have to be as dry as the Matzah in the Afikomen bag.

Luckily, the most charming highlight of the Seder, the tradition of the youngest child at the table reciting the Ma Nishtanah (Why is this night different than all other nights…”), is also one of the most enduring. And while I don’t wish to deprive anyone of this opportunity to Kvell as a 5 year old ask and answers the four questions, I must admit: I have more than four questions. To be honest, I always have more than four questions, and since our longstanding tradition tells us that the answer is less important than the question. The Seder is the perfect opportunity to ask some of those questions, and to encourage the captive Seder audience to do so as well.

Whether you are hosting or making a guest appearance, come to the table prepared with a question to which you know the answer, as well as a question to which you do not, this way you will be both student and teacher. Encourage each guest to come with two questions of their own, and if you are doing it right, unsettling revelations and uneasy honesty will be part of what surfaces as everyone around the table has the opportunity to throw new questions into the mix.

Sample Questions:

  • Who in the story of Exodus is really more stubborn Moses or Pharoah (and doesn’t it seem like they would have been great friends under different circumstances?)

  • Why is the current, modern version of Promised Land (i.e. Israel) less about milk and honey and more about conflict and division?

  • Is Exodus really a cautionary tale about the dangers of assimilation?

  • Why do some people love horseradish (Maror) while others hate it?

These questions and the ones which you and the other guests come up with will infuse some lively and possibly enlightening elements into your Seder.  But obviously, no matter how wise and scholarly the participants around the table may be, the most important question of all remains to be answered only by you: Where is the best place to hide the Afikomen?

Shabbat Shalom,

Beata Abraham, Education Director

Shoot for the Moon (4/12/19)

Just two days after the conclusion of the most divisive election in Israel's history, the country united to cheer on its first ever attempt to land on the moon.  Though the unmanned Beresheet aircraft crash landed in the final stage of its mission, it was still called a success for Israel.  "Compared to not doing the mission at all, it [is] still an advancement, because it proves that they got that far," noted planetary scientist Phil Metzger of the University of Central Florida.  "You can say they hit the moon, they didn't get hopelessly lost among the stars- that's amazing!"

I felt a thrill of pride and excitement for Israel when I heard the news.  Daring Israel, risk-taking Israel, "shoot for the moon" Israel - this is my Israel!  And it is such a far cry from the back-biting, contentious, Jewish in-fighting characterizing the campaign for prime minister which just ended with Netanyahu's victory.  How refreshing it is to see our people coming together to root on Jewish ingenuity and sheer grit, imagination and technological prowess for this shining moment.  We Jews are so divided these days - both in Israel and the U.S. - that it is a minor miracle that in this one instance we decided to collectively launch a symbol of our unity into space.  In this moment, we agreed that attempting the mission was more important than never trying at all.

Our mission as a people is to be a "goy kadosh," a holy nation.  The Jewish mission is to live in the presence of something awe-inspiring and vast as the stars in the sky, yet as tangible as the touch of a person's hand when we help them.  My prayer this Shabbat is therefore that our speech and actions reflect this sacred obligation we have to the Divine and to each other.  And as we enter into our preparations for Passover next week, we use the redemptive power of our freedom to take seriously our responsibility to our fellow Jew.  Without that commitment, we may find ourselves "hopelessly lost among the stars."

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Sharon Mars

Come, Let Us Sing! (4/4/19)

There is nothing more fulfilling than "jamming" and creating music with my children. By "my" children,  I do mean the two children I physically and spiritually brought into this world, but I also mean all of "our" Temple Israel children. There is nothing more joy inducing and fulfilling as spending a Sunday morning teaching and rehearsing music with our youth choir, "Hava Nashira," which translates as "Come, let us sing together!" 

Throughout my tenure at Temple Israel, our youth choir has taken on different forms throughout the years that included a couple of teenagers with guitars, to younger students from K-3rd grades leading Friday night services once a month, to a very special past year where we created a special after school music program designed with 5 objectives:  

  1. To cultivate a love of Judaism through the language and exposure to diverse types of Jewish music. 
  2. To teach students some music fundamentals and the proper way to use and warm up their voices in a healthy and productive way.
  3. To write original melodies and lyrics, creating musical arrangements and choreography to music. 
  4. To utilize instruments in practice and performance, with students playing the piano, guitar, violin and drums. 
  5. To record in a professional music studio a new CD, "It's a CHALLAHday!" 


I am very proud to say that in 10 short rehearsals we have accomplished these goals culminating in a field trip to a recording studio this coming Sunday, to record music for a new CD comprised of mostly original music written by Ma'ayan Cohen, Zeke Moses and yours truly. As we celebrate the new Jewish month of Nisan, this coming Shabbat we are reminded that music is and will always be one of the vehicles of redemption and peace, which is exactly what this month promises to celebrate with the holiday of Passover quickly approaching. And we know that the best Passover seders are the ones with lots and lots of music! 

I couldn't think of a better way to invite this month than with a special welcome to our new Temple Israel members at our Celebration Shabbat during Friday night at services featuring the original music of our youth choir, "Hava Nashira" and our trusted and beautiful Shabbat melodies. 

A very special thanks and shout out to the dedicated and supportive parents of the Hava Nashira singers and instrumentalists who not only organized and structured their weekends around our rehearsals, but schlepped instruments and siblings to class!

Enjoy a little preview of what you'll hear on Friday night!
*Recorded in honor of the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh

Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov! (Happy New Month!)
Cantor Bat-Ami Moses 

Portrait of a Volunteer (3/21/19)

When it comes to doing the Mitzvah of volunteering your time and talents, sometimes the most impactful contributions are the least visible ones. The Religious School has been blessed with dedicated congregants such as Debbie and Ken Cohen who get up early every Sunday morning to make the Bistro happen for our community of learners. This year we have been fortunate to add to our list of volunteers and have welcomed Allen Reynolds and Mitchel Shapiro. Read Allen's own testimony to understand what his and his husband's investment in the school has meant to them both.

Portrait of a Volunteer (Allen Reynolds)

Train(Guide) a child according to their way; and even when they grow old, they will not turn away from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

A very short but meaningful verse, that in my opinion often gets overlooked. To me and my husband, Mitchel, this proverb contains a “directive” that on the surface might not seem to be relevant to us, and our childless lifestyle. But in fact, the very opposite is true.

Since Mitchel and I are gay, and have chosen not to go down the path of raising our own  children, you may wonder why we would care how other’s children are trained? Why should we get involved with Jewishly educating children? 

I firmly believe that the commandment to teach a child in the ways and traditions of Judaism falls upon the shoulders of the entire community, not just the parents who have their own child. Not only is this responsibility to be taken on by the entire community, but it will also be the entire community that benefits from creating future adults who carry on our learning and traditions, in a living legacy. 

As a Jew of choice, and without our own children, it was even more important for Mitchel and I to find a way to follow this important Mitzvah (commandment). Fortunately, as things often do in my life, at the right time the perfect opportunity presented itself. I was asked if I would take on the role of teacher for the 7th grade class at Religious School on Sunday mornings. While I originally accepted because I wanted to help Temple Israel in any way I could, it has turned out to be one of the most gratifying and meaningful things I have ever done. Over the past few months, I have taught Jewish values and Torah, but for all that I have taught, I have learned even more. I have also had the privilege of being a guide and friend to this incredible group of young adults- to- be, and to watch them forge their own paths in a way that would make their parents burst with pride. It has been a pleasure and a privilege.

As for Mitchel, my husband and partner in in early Sunday morning rising...he too (almost) glady wakes up with me at the crack of dawn each and every Sunday morning and heads to Religious School. While I teach the 7th grade, Mitchel patiently helps the other volunteers, Debbie and Ken Cohen, set up the Bistro where parents and students purchase snacks and coffee during Religious School. Neither one of us knew we would have the opportunity to invest in the community and in the guidance of Temple Israel youth. Neither of us realized how much we ourselves would benefit from doing so. But take it from us, the benefits far outweigh the investment, so if you have the time, and are thinking about donating it to helping out on Sunday mornings, there are lots of opportunities available and all of them will make you glad you decided to invest personally in being a part of the future of Temple Israel: its youth. 

We Are the Storytellers (Cantor Moses 3/7/19)

I love stories. I love telling, listening, and learning stories almost as much as I love listening and singing new songs. Perhaps these two vehicles of expression, storytelling and singing are the reasons why I connect so deeply with my Jewish spiritual practice, as they are the foundations that keep our Jewish history and culture alive. As we embrace the second month of Adar, (when it is a leap year we get two months that we are commanded to be happy!) and look forward to celebrating the the ancient  miracles of the Purim story with a Megilla reading this Sunday during Religious school and a spectacular PURIMAGINATION carnival, we also can take the opportunity to learn and listen to stories that aren't as popular as the heroes of Mordechai and Queen Esther when our Bat Mitzvah will chant from our Torah portion the story of the completion of the Mishkan, (the portable and temporary sanctuary.)   

Our Torah is so rich and layered with an array of stories solely for the purpose of grappling with and teaching to the next generation. In April of 2017,, the flagship website of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) reaching more than two million visitors annually, launched a weekly podcast titled Stories We Tell. This podcast features a diverse roster of outstanding storytellers, that provide a new story for listeners each week to reflect on during Shabbat and beyond. It is intended for listeners of all ages, while each story provides a new lesson and insight based in Jewish tradition.

“Stories reach people like nothing else does,” said Rabbi Leora Kaye, Director of Program for the URJ. “Storytelling is one of my favorite ways to engage with Jewish thought, and it’s so exciting to bring that tradition into podcast form. It’s a unique, lively, and engaging way to make these stories come alive and reach a wider audience.”  

This Shabbat I invite you to take time to share a story from your own childhood to a grandchild, read a story out loud to a family member, tell a funny or poignant story to a friend about something that brought you joy. After all, psalm 100 says, "Ivdu Et Hashem B'Simcha!" Serve God with happiness and joy!  And joy comes alive in the form of story and song. 

Check out the first story in the podcast told by my colleague Cantor Ellen Dreskin

Shabbat Shalom!
Cantor Bat-Ami Moses 

Help  a Jewish Angel Get Its Wings

I am convinced that in the right hands, a freshly baked Challah has the power to bring about world peace. While we patiently wait for it to reach  those right hands, the luscious loaf can, and should find its way into your kitchen. Although baking Challah can be a little intimidating (due to the vast number of ways to mess it up), with just a moderate bit of prep and toil, you too can rebrand yourself as a master Challah baker.

Your Challah will undoubtedly be fun to make and delicious to eat. But even more importantly, If you pay close attention throughout the process, you will absorb some of the many life lessons that your warm, crusty sage, the Challah, has to teach you. 

Here are just a few to get you started:

Life lesson #1: Gametime Decisions Matter
Wading through the infinite array of life altering choices hurtling towards  you at warp speed can be overwhelming. So can choosing the perfect Challah recipe from among the over 758,000 that come up in a Google search. Pick the wrong one and your divine dough is doomed. 

Fortunately, in both life and Challah baking, breaking down your decision making process to a few simple steps can help.

  1. Identify your goal: Do you want to be a doctor or an electrician? Do you want your Challah be sweet or savory? 
  2. Do your homework: What will it take to reach your goal? Talk to those have have gone through the process. Watch a YouTube video on Challah baking, read some recipe reviews. 
  3. Trust yourself: Listen to your gut or inner voice, it probably has your best interest in mind. Pick a recipe, roll up your sleeves and plunge elbow deep into the flour.

Life Lesson# 2: Easier Is Not Always Better
We all want to arrive at our destination yesterday, and who can resist the seductive call of a fast-food place beckoning to you to stop in and grab dinner? But as with most things in life, you get out what you have put in. If you can get there on foot, the trip will be slower- but you will have added a smidgen of exercise and and a few lung-fulls of fresh air to your day. If you make that meal from scratch, your taste buds, wallet and waistline will join hands to do a dance of joy. 

Of course there are plenty of perfectly braided and baked loaves of Challah on the supermarket shelves, but buying one will mean that you miss out on being transported to a state of nirvana via the aroma of freshly baked Challah filling your kitchen. Baking Challah is messy and time consuming, but you cannot MacGyver it. Success depends upon following several complicated steps correctly and in order. 

Life Lesson #3: Question the Status Quo
Just because something has been around a long time or is done a certain way, doesn't mean it can’t be improved upon or that there isn’t a better alternative. Eliminate the words “supposed to” from your vocabulary and make it a habit to question the status quo in every situation. 

Do rainbow sprinkles on your Challah make your heart sing louder than sesame seeds? Does a shmear of Nutella tempt your taste buds more than a pat of butter? Following other people’s rules is overrated. Look at things from your own unique angle, and strive to find new ways that are meaningful and create joy inside of you. 

Does a Jewish angel gets its wings every time a Challah is baked? Probably not. But there are still plenty of good reasons to attempt the mystical alchemy invoked in baking Challah. The result will be supremely delicious and a great way to usher in Shabbat, as well as a reason to say a blessing. But also, Challah is not too shabby at reminding us of some much needed life lessons, which is almost as good as the an angel getting new wings.

Why You Need Yiddish In Your Life(Beata Abraham 12/27/18)

I am not saying that the English language is lackluster from a purely technical perspective, but it is no match for the Yiddish language and its ability to spice up a sentence with a few judiciously sprinkled words. Used masterfully, Yiddish can impart sentiment and nuance to a sentence, while simultaneously conjuring up the tenderness and warmth of Bube and Zayde. Would you rather “Go to sleep.”, or  “Go shluffy.” ?

Some things are simply best expressed in Yiddish. When the rules governing normal civil society cease to apply- such as when you have reached your limit for tolerating whining or complaining- the allure of the perfect Yiddish word is irresistable. A “Stop your kvetching!” can be most effective and socially acceptable. Same goes for letting that shlemiel know he is no mensch. No English words would suffice.

But aside from getting a better understanding of Fiddler on the Roof, and borrowing the situationally perfect word when needed, is Yiddish actually important?

For starters, the vast majority of Jews in the United States are descendants of Yiddish speaking immigrants who came to the US in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. These immigrants created their own American culture through translating popular music, poetry, novels and political commentary into Yiddish. All of this is invaluable to understanding their experience in the new country.

Reports of the death of the Yiddish language have been greatly exaggerated. Yiddish began at least as early as the 12th century as a homespun construct of Ashkenazi communities of Europe. Today, it is alive and well, failing to be extinguished with the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust (many of whom were Yiddish speakers). Instead, Yiddish words have boldly worked their way into colloquial language among Jews and non-Jews alike.

Yiddish played an integral role in the Holocaust as well. Many of the Jews in the Holocaust used Yiddish to overcome language barriers between themselves, to keep diaries, to write the songs and poems designed to keep up morale. After World War II, Yiddish was most used as a vehicle for survivors to express themselves through personal memoirs, music, poetry and film. These recorded vestiges of bravery and humanity in the face of extermination are key to understanding and honoring our brutal history.

Today, Yiddish endures as an intrinsic part of our collective Jewish heritage, elevated by its history as a form of covert and spiritual resistance in shtetls and for Jews in the Holocaust. Keeping the Yiddish language alive is not only a posthumous act of defiance against those who attempted to annihilate us and our culture, but also an amazing way improve your shmooze and express your tzuris to the mishpocheh. Just try not to be a shmendrick about it.

Shabbat Shalom,
Beata Abraham

The Fine Art of the Kvell (Beata Abraham 11/22/18)

Although Thanksgiving is not necessarily considered a Jewish holiday, you will find plenty of examples of the importance of gratitude (in Hebrew Hakarat Hatov) in the world’s number one best selling self-help book; the Torah. We can all agree that gratitude can bring you joy by helping you appreciate all that you have to be grateful for, can strengthen your relationships and build up your compassion muscle. All of which will result in you being a better human in the long run. And don’t worry, in case you forget to be grateful throughout the year, there is an actual holiday (some call it an entire month), dedicated to reminding you of its importance.

However, lurking in the background is the equally significant, and frequently underrated first cousin of being grateful- Kvelling. You have likely felt it, but perhaps didn’t know there was a word for it: the feeling that you are bursting with pride over the accomplishments of someone you care for deeply. Kvelling feels so personal - almost as though you are the one who gets the credit for the accomplishment, that you simply need to share your exultation with the world, or risk exploding. The Yiddish translation of Kvelling is: “Being filled with pride, to swell with delight over a family member’s achievements, to be delighted by another’s accomplishments, usually a relative”. Once again we can thank the Yiddish language for putting four sentences of meaning into one perfect, concise word.

So why is the act of Kvelling sometimes suspiciously regarded (and even suppressed)? Perhaps due to its other cousin; bragging. But make no mistake, Kvelling and boasting are distant relatives. While both require a bit of Chutzpah (another perfect Yiddish word), Kvelling makes the object of your attention feel good (who doesn’t love to have their achievements shouted from the rooftops?), bragging simply makes people think you are trying to show off.

This year amidst getting caught up in the minutiae of Thanksgiving (the menu, the travel, the imminent family warfare), try an experiment. Put the transformative powers of the Kvell to the test by actively seeking opportunities to point out and boldly share an achievement about each person sitting around your table. It doesn’t have to be something monumental, but it does have to be genuine. It must be something about the person that simply makes your heart sing with joy just thinking about. Be ambitious and challenge others at the table to take a turn at Kvelling. Although this experiment might alternate between being easy and challenging (Kvelling about Mean- Grandma might put you to the test), it will transform the focus of your guests from “How do I survive this turkey coma?”, to “I did not know that Uncle Sam built his lawnmower completely by himself!”. After all, isn’t the point of Thanksgiving for everyone to stumble away from the table, their bellies, hearts and souls filled to capacity?

Shabbat Shalom!
Beata Abraham, Education Director

Shabbat Soup (Cantor Moses 11/8/18)

I've always loved the drama of Toldot, (Generations) the Torah portion our Bar Mitzvah will chant and teach us about this coming Shabbat morning. It is a story of struggle, negotiation, deception, blessing, and.....soup. Yes, lentil soup to be more exact.

You may recall the story of Isaac's sons negotiating their birthright over a bowl of bean soup. Esau comes in hungry from a hard day's work in the field and in a haste he agrees to give his birthright to Jacob in exchange for sustenance. As we learn later in the story, the exchanging of the birthright foreshadows the switching of the blessings they will receive from their father, Isaac.

Esau's weakness is that he lets his immediate hunger drive his behavior without thinking about the consequences of selling his birthright. In the moment itself, it never occurred to him that by relinquishing his right as the first born, he was also going to lose his father's blessing which would grant him inheritance and status. Jacob's actions are also immature and deceptive,  thinking he could have a short cut to the "better" blessing by selling his soup for the birthright. Both brothers could only see what was clearly right in front of them, seeking immediate gratification without taking the long view . 

As it so happened, when the time came for the brothers to receive their blessings, their father Isaac possessed "eyes that were too dim to see," (Genesis 27:1) Not only did his eyes have physical difficulty seeing what was in front of him, but perhaps he also suffered the same inability as his sons, unable to see metaphorically into the truth of the situation. Their father was also unable to take the long view. 

Even though the brothers eventually do reconcile, because of their narrow vision they couldn't have truly known the struggle it would take to embrace each other as mature adults. Perhaps their journey is a lesson trying to help us take the long view. When we are tempted to seek immediate gratification in any form, whether it be a desire to be right in an argument or make a decision without thinking about the consequences of hurting another, we forget that real meaning in life comes from growth, learning and time spent grappling with a certain amount of struggle. 

Today marks the second day of the new moon, Rosh Hodesh Kislev,  a new month in the Jewish calendar where we will embrace some of the darkest and coldest days of the year. The darkness of these days can sometimes consume us and limit our ability to embrace the hope that lies on the other side of patience and productive growth and struggle. But if we take the long view, we can be certain to feel the warmth of light and love that will help us get through the darkness.

It will also help to have some warm lentil soup with your challah this Shabbat. Enjoy this recipe!  

Shabbat shalom, 
Cantor Moses

Solidarity Shabbat (Rabbi Mars 11/1/18)

"My people –
We are beautiful.
We are beloved.
We are worthy of life.
May the souls of our eleven
brothers and sisters from Pittsburgh
be held in life and love
in this world and the next.
May those who are injured be healed.
May we love ourselves
and one another fiercely –
as we mourn,
as we remember,
as we choose life." 
-Rabbi Annie Lewis

In the most desperate of times, our people- our beautiful and beloved people- have always understood the urgency of hope and the necessity of communal action.  King David was moved to song: "A song from the deepest places- Shir Lama'alot Mi'ma'amakim" (Psalm 130:1).  And our prophets wrote potent poetry to get us off our feet even when we may have felt unable to move.  

This Shabbat, we will sing out to the heavens and the holy places in our own earnest song of remembrance and hope for our family in Pittsburgh.  We will raise up our communal voice at Temple Israel as a statement of our love and grief, and our shared belief in ultimate goodness and peace.  

This weekend has been named Solidarity Shabbat by the Union of Reform Judaism.  Please join us for all of the following special Shabbat offerings:

  • On Friday night, we'll gather for a unique Shabbat evening service in solemn remembrance of those affected by the Pittsburgh shooting.  As we do every first Shabbat of the month, we will also have an opportunity to share simchas.  This moment asks for us to balance both grief AND joy.
  • On Saturday morning, join us for a special Jewish meditation dedicated to our sisters and brothers of Pittsburgh, including a chance to share and process, be silent, offer blessings of healing, and of course sing and say Kaddish together.  
  • We will also bring our youngest kids and their parents together for Tot Shabbat, complete with music, stories, a craft and a nosh with Cantor Moses and Dana Zager.
  • The Jewish Women's Retreat is happening this Shabbat afternoon, 3-5pm at the Westin downtown, complete with massage, meditation, movement, and music.  A much-needed chance to Be, Breathe, and Bond together.
  • great Shabbat activity we can all do this Shabbat is to vote.  It's the perfect way to show we love this country and we love our freedom.

Come let us welcome Shabbat together in a song of strength, courage, peace, and healing-

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Sharon Mars

Our Bonding Youth (Lindsay Scheinbach, Youth Advisor, 10/25/18)

This past Sunday, we kicked off our Temple Israel youth group event for the year with a fantastic event for the 7th & 8th graders. It was the first program our two new Youth Leaders, Ben Ziegler and Charlie Breyfogle, planned and executed, and it was an incredible success! It was an exciting event and I was thrilled to observe how much the activity truly brought out the best in our participating Temple Israel kids.

The group of teens worked together to complete the obstacle course behind the JCC, and It was wonderful to watch the friendship and the bonds between everyone, as well as the smiles on their faces throughout the exhausting course. Each person brought a positive attitude and an encouraging spirit to the event, supporting and cheering on their classmates and encouraging them to complete each obstacle. They all genuinely impressed me with their adventurous attitudes and their incredible amounts of energy! Everyone attempted each obstacle, sometimes multiple times, really giving it their all and doing the best they all could.

The group of teens worked together to complete the obstacle course behind the JCC, and It was wonderful to watch the friendship and the bonds between everyone, as well as the smiles on their faces throughout the exhausting course. Each person brought a positive attitude and an encouraging spirit to the event, supporting and cheering on their classmates and encouraging them to complete each obstacle. They all genuinely impressed me with their adventurous attitudes and their incredible amounts of energy! Everyone attempted each obstacle, sometimes multiple times, really giving it their all and doing the best they all could.

Shabbat Shalom!
Lindsay Scheinbach

Those 62 Precious Hours (Rabbi Mars 10/18/18)

Our Torah portion opens with a booming command this week:  “God said to Avram: ‘Lech lecha! Go from your land, from your relatives, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you'”  (Gen. 12:1).  Avram, very much a "newbie" to being the first Jew, should have taken off running as the Holy One shouted out "Lech Lecha!" from on high.  Avram at the ripe age of 75 determines that he is being told "Go by yourself" and "Go for yourself."  So he goes with his family and he is ready for this "reinvention" of himself.  

But I think that Avram ultimately internalizes this command as: "Go TO yourself."  God chose Avram to set out and establish himself in a new land as God's holy instrument, and "Lech Lecha" is the call for Avram to pause before rushing out to fulfill God's command.  It is the Holy One saying, "Get up and WAIT!  Lech Lecha- Get ready to launch the best version of yourself to fulfill your life's mission which is My mission for you and for the Jewish people.  Look inside yourself.  Study your own potential.   But don't move a muscle until you know first who you are."

"Lech Lecha" isn't just an ancient echo for Avram and his family.  It is the shofar call, the alarm clock, the pop-up notification on our phone to live our lives in a state of mindful "forward march" every day.  If we live with the awareness that we only have 168 hours in every week- with an average of 56 hours for sleep and 50 more for work and travel- how do we (ideally!) live the 62 remaining hours per week with intention and grace?  Even one 24 hour period of self- care and reflection could make all the difference.  One simple answer is to make Shabbat itself a time for nurturing relationships, feeding our minds, taking care of our bodies, and contributing to the community.  Imagine what "going to yourself" might look like and how that could change your daily life!

Heeding the call of "Lech Lecha"- journeying to ourselves, regularly reflecting on our lives and taking care from within- can help us fulfill our missions in life and realize the promise of landing in a place of growth and potential.  May this Shabbat be our time for doing just that.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Sharon Mars

The Promise of a Rainbow (Cantor Moses 10/11/18)

Out of all the Torah portions we study, one of the most memorable as a child or adult is the story of Noah's Ark, which we will chant this coming Shabbat at our special B'nai Mitzvah Workshop morning service.  As I write this message with current events in the backdrop, I am acutely aware of the element of water with its equally powerful abilities to either create or destroy, which we find in the story of the "great flood" in the Torah, as well as in the natural disasters that manifest right now in our lives.  

 I reflect on the way Noah exercised leadership by shepherding people and animals inside to shelter and safety in order to save them from the possible devastation from water. Concurrently I am thinking about the leaders and officers who forced people to go outside and leave their homes and property behind in order to escape Hurricane Michael, a first time category 4 hurricane that hit the Florida panhandle with the promise of destruction, as well. 
Just last Shabbat, we read about the creation of water from water, and only one week later we learn about the destruction of God's entire world with that very same element. Just as fire has the power to heal or harm, we recognize that water and wind have the powers to either quench or squelch in the Torah, as well as in our own lives. We recognize nature's ability to use water as a vehicle to create, through the birthing process and by enabling vegetation and food to grow.  Humans can live without food for days. but not without water. Now, more than ever before in my lifetime, our environment reminds us how very fragile we are and the undeniable powers that water and wind have to destruct and destroy.  
We can all relate to the Torah portion this week by recognizing that we cannot control how nature renews itself, but that we can control whether we help others take shelter in a "proverbial ark." We must open our hearts and prayers to those who have felt destruction this week by living in gratitude for our safety and taking our part in creating our own "brit," (covenant,) not only with God, but with our neighbors. We know how the story ends-- with the sign of a rainbow symbolizing hope, and an olive branch symbolizing peace. Let us enter this Shabbat creating the belief in the promise of a rainbow that will always appear in the aftermath of destruction. 
Shabbat shalom, 
Click here for ways to help those communities affected by Hurricane Michael.
Fri, September 29 2023 14 Tishrei 5784