Rabbi’s Sermon — Rosh Hashanah 2020 / 5781

Posted by on Sep 22, 2020 in Latest News | 0 comments

We are pleased to share Rabbi Ari Isenberg’s sermon from Rosh Hashanah Day 1:

 

Joni Mitchell, the renowned singer/songwriter, did not have the easiest start. She was in her early-20s, became pregnant, and as a single-woman struggling to make it in the music business, gave her child up for adoption. Shortly thereafter, she married; a marriage that would last less than a year.  In 1967, at the age of 24, while on a plane, she heard her tekiah, her call of the shofar, if you will – reading Saul Bellow’s book “Henderson the Rain King”, she looked at the clouds below her, and immediately started writing her famous hit, “Both Sides, Now”. With this song, born out of a call to delve deeply into the darkest places, Joni Mitchell found herself on the cusp of fame. What ensued was a series of hit songs, songs that reflected her pain, her loss, picking up the pieces of her life. Through that, she would eventually find healing, experience wholeness, and would even reunite with her daughter, the one she had put up for adoption in her youth.

Rabbi Steve Greenberg, author of the book “Wrestling with God and Men” and the first openly gay Orthodox rabbi, grew up feeling isolated in his sexual orientation. Without the ability to speak it, keeping it tucked away, hidden inside, it was like a dream. Greenberg dated women throughout his 20s, even getting engaged to one. In 1999, Rabbi Greenberg heard his tekiah, his call of the shofar.  It was then that he came out, publicly. That revelation initially stung – to be sure, some of his professional and social ties shattered. But through that shattering, for decades now he’s lived a very happy, full life with his husband and daughter and has established a notable rabbinic career.  

In sharing these two accounts with you, it occurred to me: could it be that to live lives that reflect our truest selves, to instill shleimut – wholeness into our lives, to establish teshuva in our lives, we first have to endure a measure of brokenness and vulnerability?  

The Talmud seems to think so – quoting tractate Nedarim: “Once a person renders themselves like a wilderness, like at Mount Sinai, utterly exposed, deserted before all, only then is Torah, wholeness, and teshuva given as a gift”.

But here’s the problem: who among us actually enjoys feeling vulnerable, feeling exposed? Professionally, we live in a culture of caution – beware of the paper trail, of overexposure, don’t tip your hand. In our personal lives, most of us have some thoughts, experiences, and memories that we suppress, ensuring they never bubble up to the surface.  

And this year, as a society, in the face of a pandemic, of a raging climate crisis, and of levels of anti-Semitism and racial tension as high as ever in this country, becoming numb to the numbers and turning a blind eye have become coping mechanisms. 

It seems we face a conundrum: In order to attain wholeness and teshuva, Jewish tradition suggests we need to open ourselves to the brokenness that exists in our lives and in our world. And yet, we spend most of our lives trying really hard to ensure we never feel broken, creating a protective shell around us.

Rosh Hashanah, however, is the call to crack that casing, to break down the walls we’ve put up.  Rosh Hashanah is the call to come face-to-face with our brokenness, with our vulnerability, with our fears and faults.

And this breaking is actually a common Jewish theme.

Moses smashed the first set of tablets. And what happens to those tablets? Are they discarded? Quite the opposite. They are kept sacred, along with the second whole set, in the tabernacle. They travel all the way to the Land of Israel. Through Moshe’s smashing, the Israelites heard their tekiah, their call of the shofar. They were forced to reckon with and examine the darkness in their lives – slavery, idol worship, endless complaining in the desert – and through that journeyed to wholeness, resolving their history as slaves and idol worshippers … complaining, on the other hand … I’m not sure that’s been resolved yet. 

Descriptions of brokenness are also woven into our Rosh Hashanah liturgy, notably in the Unetakeh Tokef prayer we sang earlier this morning. In it, humans are compared to cheres ha’nishbar – broken, shattered earthenware.  

Why are we compared to broken earthenware? Rabbinic tradition prescribes that when an earthenware vessel is deemed unfit for use in the Temple, the way to purify it is by first breaking it apart and then reassembling it. The result: a purified, augmented vessel. What this also means is that in its broken state, each individual piece is still sacred and should not be discarded.  

So, too, with us. Even in our brokenness, even in our loneliness, we are still sanctified, still sacred; we can still be reassembled and brought to a heightened sacred plain.  

My challenge to you is to shatter the numbness, shatter the protective shell, and feel it — on an individual and communal level. Psychologist Esther Perel described the pandemic as a loss of a predictable future. Life is lived in the details, she asserts … we had plans, we had goals, we had celebrations ahead; I wanted to spend the month of July in Israel … but with all of that postponed, what’s behind the details of our lives could be profound loneliness, brokenness … not just at the loss of plans, but also at the loss of touch, the loss of hugs and handshakes and kisses. 

But hope grows out of fracture. The notes of the shofar indicate as much. First, the tekiah, the piercing, then the shevarim, the breaking down of the whole, but the drop isn’t bottomless …  the shofar swerves up … teruah, tekiah gedolah …  for when we blow the shofar we blow a whole note, followed by broken notes, followed by a final whole note. The shofar offers us a challenge, yes, but it does so with the understanding and the promise that at the end of the process there is hope, there is revelation, and there is redemption. From allowing ourselves to feel the shock of this global deprivation, we might even extract a deeper love for all we are given.

Maybe that’s why we sing Ashrei Ha’Am Yodei Teruah – Happy Are the People who know the call of the shofar.

For God’s best work is done with broken tools. So as we break through the casing, when we peel away the numbness, when we get a glimpse of the other side, what we discover is that God is right there — God resides in all of our faults, all of our misdeeds, all of our imperfections, personal and societal. Once we are brave enough to see that; once we are strong enough to endure the pain of rebuilding, knowing that Godliness lies within us; well then, what we begin to see, is life from both sides. 

 

Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”

Rows and flows of angel hair

And ice cream castles in the air

And feather canyons everywhere

I’ve looked at clouds that way

 

But now they only block the sun

They rain and snow on everyone

So many things I would have done

But clouds got in my way

 

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

From up and down, and still somehow

It’s cloud illusions I recall

I really don’t know clouds at all

 

Tears and fears and feeling proud

To say “I love you” right out loud

Dreams and schemes and circus crowds

I’ve looked at life that way

 

But now old friends are acting strange

They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed

Well something’s lost, but something’s gained

In living every day

 

I’ve looked at life from both sides now 

From win and lose and still somehow 

It’s life’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know life at all

All of the People of Israel are Responsible for Each Other

Posted by on Sep 21, 2020 in Latest News | 0 comments

Remarks delivered by CBI President Mariela Markelis Dybner on Rosh Hashanah 2020/5781

 

As we prepare to usher in a new year, a year which we hope and pray will be easier, safer, healthier and more joyful than this one, we reflect on the year that has just passed. From the High Holidays of 5780 until the building closed in mid-March, we enjoyed a time of vibrancy and transition. We welcomed Rabbi Paul Resnick as our Interim Rabbi and Rabbi Julie Schwarzwald as our new Director of Congregational Learning. We studied topics from Talmud to Gender and Ritual. We knit, we knoshed; we shared scotch and comedy in our beautiful new sukkah and chicken and pasta for many a Shabbat dinner. We met in our building, at Liv Breads and on walks around our community. We prayed together with ruach and chanted in our chanting circle and enjoyed what seemed like an endless stream of celebrations in our sanctuary and social hall, culminating in an incredible Gala honoring the Linver/Askin, Engel and Katzman families in the beginning of March. We even spent a weekend getting to know a fantastic young rabbi and his engaging wife and unanimously voted to bring him into our kehila as the new spiritual leader of our congregation.

It was amazing!

When it became clear that the Coronavirus was an imminent threat in our community, we made the painful decision to close our building on March 13. Zoom minyanim replaced our daily times for prayer in our chapel; we faced Pesach, our first pandemic holiday with improvised seders and days turned into weeks which turned into long months of staying home with dramatically limited social interaction. Our medical professionals, first responders and essential workers braved the new virus with little information or protective equipment. Some of us fell ill or buried loved ones, without the support of our time honored traditions like shivas surrounded by family, friends and community.

During this time of pandemic, it is easy to feel alone. Originally legal and still now, moral, social and physical restrictions keep us from congregating as we did, as we would love to do, as it is natural for us to do. And the longer we are apart, the deeper we fall into ourselves. While our High Holidays, these days of awe are meant to be a time of self-reflection, as Jews, we pray together. I am reminded of the Talmudic text, Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, all of the people of Israel are responsible for each other. In normal times, this phrase has vast implications — if one Jew sees another Jew at the verge of sinning, the first has an obligation to step in and help. Additionally, we are obligated to ensure that all the Jewish people have their basic needs met, that each one has food, clothing and shelter.

This communal obligation has added meaning in the time of a global pandemic. Not only are we responsible for our own acts in the face of a new and dangerous virus, but we are even responsible for the acts of our fellow Jews. We must care for and with each other. It is incumbent on each of us to consider the needs of the other, to reach out in whatever way we can. We should consider the health, mental and physical, of each of our members. During these holidays, we hope that you, our kehila kadosha, our holy community, has felt the care and love of CBI. As I am sure you are aware, our clergy and volunteers have spent countless hours preparing these services, coordinating COVID protocols and expanding our offerings to include in person, Zoom, livestream and outdoor opportunities for our community to pray together. The greater Jewish community has supported our efforts with grants from our Jewish Federation to help us reopen our preschool and from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey* to further improve our indoor air filtration.

While I hope you allow some time in the coming days to take a personal inventory of where you are in life — use the Days of Awe to look around yourself as well, to consider the needs of your loved ones, your neighbors, your fellow congregants and all those impacted by the havoc imposed in our world in 5780. And when you see the change that is necessary to help heal the world this year, if it feels overwhelming or like too much to bear, remember the wise words of the late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a true tzadik, who reminded us that “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

L’shana tova u’metuka — May we all be written in the book of Life.

 

* The Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey has roots in the Jewish community of MetroWest NJ from more than 125 years ago and is not affiliated with Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest. 

Climbing our Pyramid through Learning

Posted by on Aug 18, 2020 in Latest News | 0 comments

DCL’s Drash from Rabbi Julie Schwarzwald, Director of Congregational Learning

The month of Elul begins this Wednesday evening. As Cantor Wallach mentioned last week, we are supposed to begin preparing for the High Holiday season with cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul. We are to engage in a period of intense reflection on what we have been and to imagine what we can become. It should be our goal to think about our relationships, our goals, our hopes and dreams – to be prepared to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged and to plan how to engage in healthier relationships with ourselves, other people, and God in the year to come.

Yet here we are, still in the middle – or maybe still the beginning – of a pandemic. A time when we are uncertain of so much around us and living with anxiety and trauma every day. In psychology, we learn about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow explained that each lower level of needs must be satisfied before one can move to the next higher level. Later psychologists acknowledged that there can be movement among the levels – that we can find ourselves back at the bottom level.

The practice of cheshbon hanefesh is meant to be a process of reaching toward self-actualization. This feels next to impossible this year, when so many are worrying daily about the bottom two levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy. How can we focus on our spiritual needs and desires when we are worrying on a daily basis about whether to return to work or school, to restaurants, to visiting family and friends? We are in a place where each of us, each family unit, is called upon to assess our own individual risk tolerance and make our own judgements about our comfort level with a return to “normality.”

And yet, how can we not engage in this period of contemplation, reflection, and envisioning what we want for the year to come? As we are planning for all levels of education at CBI, we are determined to offer as full a range of programs as we possibly can, while making sure that opportunities and programs are accessible to all. CBI Preschool is scheduled to resume in-person learning on September 8, after our successful (and joyous!) day camp — albeit with smaller, limited classes to allow us to follow health and safety protocols that exceed state guidelines. BBRS is in the planning stages for robust and meaningful religious education, including the introduction of a new, online, teacher-guided self-paced Hebrew/Tefillah program for weekday learning. If we are unable to be together in the building, we know that we can be together online in engaging, interactive ways for Judaics education. Lifelong Learning is planning a wide range of programming, online to start, including all ages and stages — and with exciting opportunities to engage with Rabbi Isenberg, Cantor Wallach, and educators across the country if not around the world. Our youth groups are ready to move ahead with regularly scheduled programming under the auspices of Aly and Mike Greenstein, who are always engaging whether in person or online.

While we can find ourselves often back at the bottom of the pyramid — such as during the multi-day power outages many of us suffered through after Hurricane Isaias — we are resilient people. Let’s embrace this month as a time to breathe deeply, accept our current limitations, and look beyond the moment to reach for moments of self-actualization through our process of cheshbon hanefesh.

Kol tuv, all the best,
Rabbi Julie

Making the Most of Times of Renewal

Posted by on Aug 11, 2020 in Latest News | 0 comments

Aug. 11, 2020 (Tuesday during Pandemic)

 

I’d like to believe that I’m in good company with others who also procrastinate! I tend to put off starting things such as an exercise regimen, a diet, or organizing my office until what seems like a more logical (or convenient!) time to begin. I find myself saying that I’ll make regular exercise one of my resolutions for the new year; I’ll start my diet the day after my birthday, and when things quiet down a bit in the summer, I’ll have some time to file papers and sort my music.

Rather than waiting for a once a year opportunity, the Jewish “calendar” gives us the opportunity every month to renew ourselves and to start over, just as the moon renews itself each month.

The Hebrew calendar has been based on the lunar year since Biblical times. Rosh Chodesh (the festival of the new moon) had much greater significance in Biblical times than it has today. Numbers 10:10 states that trumpets were sounded and special sacrifices were offered on Rosh Chodesh. There is Biblical proof of Rosh Chodesh being celebrated with a festive meal and refraining from all business transactions. In Talmudic times, the Rabbis allowed men to work, but Rosh Chodesh continued to be a semi-festival for women in recognition of the women in the wilderness of Sinai who, unlike the men, refused to contribute their jewelry for the building of the golden calf.

In anticipation of each Rosh Chodesh, we are even given the chance to plan ahead. On the Shabbat immediately preceding the first of the month (except for Rosh Chodesh Tishrei which is actually Rosh Hashanah!), a special prayer to announce the specific date of the upcoming new month is added to the liturgy towards the end of the Torah Service. This blessing, called “Birkat Hachodesh” begins with a paragraph attributed in the Talmud (Berachot 16a) to Rav, who used to recite it daily at the conclusion of the Amidah. Since it already contained a full gamut of people’s spiritual and physical needs, including a moving plea for a life of peace, sustenance, health and abundance, and a life based on love of Torah and awe of God, a phrase was added later relating it to the new moon. The second paragraph of Birkat Hachodesh refers to God as a performer of miracles and calls for Jewish unity, reminding those of us in the diaspora to stay connected to Israel.

From the time of the Middle Ages, community leaders wanted to be sure that everyone knew when Rosh Chodesh fell so that they could keep track of the calendar and be able to say the appropriate special prayers such as Hallel (in its shortened form). The announcement of the new month has always been said on Shabbat simply because that is when the greatest number of people are congregated.

We at CBI have a lot to look forward to in this coming month! The re-opening committee has been working hard examining and planning how to carefully and safely get at least some people back to our building to daven together – in person – for those who wish. Please watch for those opportunities to attend outdoor evening minyanim and also (soon!) on Shabbat mornings. Our thriving virtual services will of course continue, but for those of you who wish to attend in person, please also consider volunteering to help with COVID screenings and ushering at those services. We simply won’t be able to gather without volunteers.

I am especially excited that in the next several weeks, we will once again be celebrating B’nai Mitzvah at CBI. Though the service won’t be exactly what we’ve been accustomed to for so many years, I know that our community will nevertheless find a way to show our love and support to those families who have been so patient, understanding and flexible in planning their simchas during this pandemic, and to the B’nai Mitzvah students who have worked so hard even while quarantining (over many hours of Face Time lessons with me!) to prepare for this special milestone in their lives.

This new Hebrew month of Elul also ushers in the High Holiday season! We are supposed to use this month as an opportunity for introspection and “taking stock” of our lives – called “Cheshbon Hanefesh” (accounting of the soul) in Hebrew. As the shofar is sounded each weekday during Elul (you’ll be able to hear it at our Morning Minyanim being held on Mondays and Thursdays, and also at the start of evening minyanim as a special addition during the Pandemic!), its piercing blasts are meant to awaken our conscience and to reflect on our potential to do great things – for our families, our communities and for the world. Our wonderful CBI shofar blowers often make the task of blowing shofar look easy, but it takes significant effort and perseverance. It teaches us that nothing meaningful comes easily. When we are faced with challenges, we must work hard and not give up!

I look forward to spending this month working closely with Rabbi Isenberg, along with the High Holiday and Religious Affairs committees, planning for the many varied services and experiences we are eager to share with you which we hope will help make this year’s High Holiday season as meaningful, spiritual, and community-oriented as possible in these challenging times. We are fortunate to have great support and valuable input from Rabbi Julie, Harvey Brenner and our dedicated lay leaders to help us in this effort.

I pray that this new month will hold the blessings of health, safety, justice, goodness and peace for everyone. And may it be an opportunity in our lives for a renewal of wonder, love, hope, friendship, compassion and holiness.

Cantor Lorna Wallach

Water & Torah

Posted by on Aug 4, 2020 in Latest News | 0 comments

A message from Rabbi Isenberg:

Tuesday, August 4th, 2020

After crossing the Sea of Reeds to safety, it takes the Israelites three days to find their first source of water in the wilderness. Three days without water left the Israelites physically exhausted and dehydrated, and spiritually bereft as well.

The Torah’s commentators teach us that this was one of only a few instances throughout the prolonged 40 year journey when the Israelites were truly without water. In fact, Rashi comments that the Israelites had a constant well of water because of the merit of Miriam, Moshe’s sister. The commentary imagines a nurturing Miriam, whose very presence provides miraculous wells of water that would sustain the Israelites.

No wonder, then, that one of the other instances when the Israelites are without water is when Miriam dies. Upon Miriam’s death, the life-sustaining well that had followed the Israelites dried up. Here, too, the Israelites experience a spiritual drought in addition to a physical one.

The rabbis would ultimately draw a parallel between water and Torah. If Torah is as much a source of nourishment, sustenance, and hydration as water, then we Jews should not go more than three days without Torah. That, dear congregants, is how we arrived at the weekly schedule of Torah reading: Shabbat, Monday, and Thursday. In a typical week, we do not let more than three days pass without hearing or chanting Torah.

These, however, are not typical times. Since the start of the pandemic, CBI has worked hard establishing creative ways to engage with you and maintain a strong sense of communal togetherness, all while adhering to the life-saving protocols of physical distancing. One area, however, that had not yet been restored is the weekly rhythm of hearing Torah chanted. It is just my fourth day as your new rabbi, but I believe we are ready to reintroduce the time-honored tradition of ensuring we, too, do not go more than three days without hearing some Torah chanted.

Therefore, I’m excited to announce that as of next Monday, August 10th, we will resume weekday morning minyan on Mondays and Thursdays, via Zoom. Along with Shabbat mornings, we will be back to the regular rhythms of Torah. Here’s the more precise schedule:

Monday mornings at 7:30am via Zoom.
Thursday mornings at 7:30am via Zoom.
Shabbat mornings at 9:30am via Zoom/Livestream

A word about the pandemic: Let’s remember to remain sensitive to anyone in our midst who needs help, support, and comfort. We are all still in survival mode, in one way or another, and it is critical that we exhibit patience, generosity of spirit, and kindness to each other.

I look forward to seeing you soon:
● Tuesdays at Noon on Zoom for lunch
● At one of the many outdoor and physically-distant parlor meetings
● At this Thursday’s Ice Cream Tailgate
● Friday Kabbalat Shabbat services at 6pm or Shabbat morning gatherings at 9:30am
● Rabbi vs Rebbetzin Cook-Off, Live on Zoom from my kitchen, on Thursday, August 20th
● A host of programs for the month of Elul, as we approach the High Holidays

 

Rabbi Ari Isenberg

Moving Forward — Step-by-Step

Posted by on Jul 21, 2020 in Latest News | 0 comments

A Message from Mariela Markelis Dybner, CBI President

Friday, July 17

 

Dear Congregants,

It has certainly been a long four months since we were able to gather at our synagogue, and unfortunately, as we are all too aware, there seems to be no date in sight when we will be able to all come together again without restriction. Our clergy, professional staff and volunteers have made a yeoman’s effort to provide services, programming and camaraderie during these difficult times to you, our synagogue community. Our Zoom services and programming have been very well attended and have served to fill an urgent need in our congregants’ lives. The good news is that the numbers of Covid cases in our community, town, state and neighboring states has dropped to levels at which our governor and related health authorities have determined that limited outside groups practicing accordant protocols can meet and even more limited groups can gather indoors.

In anticipation of these changes, as discussed at our annual meeting, we set up a new Reopening Committee tasked with recommending a measured and practical method to introduce in-person services. Their recommendation, which was approved by our Board of Trustees this week, provides a step by step basis, first to hold evening minyan twice a week outdoors and then slowly over a period of weeks if things continue to progress positively to hold indoor Shabbat services. However, it is stressed that no one should feel obliged to attend these services for we will continue to hold all of our services and programming over Zoom just as we have been doing the past few months. At this time, we are adding an option for those who do not find remote services sufficient and who feel safe and secure enough to attend in person outdoor services and over time indoor services.

Temperature screening and COVID self-assessment protocols will be instituted and all protocols recommended by public health authorities will be strictly enforced including social distancing, face coverings and once indoors extensive cleaning of all public spaces. Now, candidly, I understand that some may find these measures inconvenient, but they are necessary given the “new normal” that we are all living in, and it is critically important that we remain consistent and disciplined in following these practices in order to achieve our goal of offering in-person services and programming while diligently following health guidelines.

The outdoor weeknight minyan will begin Thursday, July 23 and will continue each Tuesday and Thursday at 8pm to join our regular Zoom service. To attend the evening minyan, you will need to register beforehand by either calling or emailing Karen Tucker. At first, the in-person minyan will be limited to fifteen people so that we can take a measure of the program. We will also need volunteers to help staff and run the minyanim. The volunteers will be the ones administering the COVID questionnaires, taking temperatures of each attendee, strictly enforcing social distancing and making sure that everyone is wearing masks. If you wish to volunteer to be a minyan aide, please contact Karen Tucker as provided above.

We would request that all those who plan to attend the services only enter through the main parking lot. (services will be held in the back of the synagogue for security purposes and other security measures will be taken). You will not be allowed to enter through the cull de sac on Ridgewood Road. This is being done so we can make sure that everyone who enters has had their temperature taken, answered the Covid questionnaire and is wearing a mask. The services and state health guidance will be monitored to determine whether to continue or modify the service and protocol.

This progression to in person services is not taken lightly by our clergy, professional staff and lay leaders and is not and it is stressed again intended to make anyone do anything outside their comfort zone, it is being instituted only as method to provide an avenue for those for whom remote services are not sufficient and feel safe and secure attending such a service. It is important that those who attend these services follow the rules and regulations implemented for if these necessary safety precautions are not being followed, we will have to suspend the program.

As we enter the middle of summer, a summer unlike any we’ve ever experienced, I think we can look back over the last four months, and without in any way diminishing the awful impact of this pandemic, take satisfaction in the careful work we have done, and the progress we have made, to keep our Congregation up and running to meet the needs of our members. At the same time, we all know that there is a long road ahead of us, with twists and turns and detours we can’t foresee. But if we stay patient with each other, united in our approach, nimble in our preparations and laser-focused on the latest public health guidance, we have every confidence that we will meet whatever challenges lie ahead and continue to responsibly discharge our mission in the context of the “new normal” in which we all now work and live. So, thank you for giving us a few minutes of your time to read about this development. Stay well, continue to take the necessary precautions to keep yourselves, your families and those around you safe — and stay tuned for additional updates. Thank you.

L’shalom,

Mariela Markelis Dybner

A Farewell Message from Rabbi Resnick

Posted by on Jul 14, 2020 in Latest News | 0 comments

July 14, 2020

 

My Dearest CBI Millburn Community,

It is hard to believe that my tenure as your rabbi is ending on July 31st.  This means I am in this position for only another 18 days.  My first day at CBI was August 1st – and what happens at CBI on the first Thursday of August – a free BBQ. It was great to meet over 200 of my new friends that evening. Yes, I know that it was a FREE dinner, and folks were not coming out [just] to meet the new rabbi, nevertheless it was an AMAZING start to an even greater year.  Thank you for that!

I need to highlight one person I met that night: Marvin Fish. He came early to the BBQ – I was told that some of the older folks would do so. Marvin did. I asked him how long he was affiliated with CBI.  He said 70+ years. I thought to myself – who could be affiliated with anything for over 70 years?! Indeed, Marvin and a few others have been connected with CBI for what seems to be forever. This is just one special aspect of CBI.

I came into a community that, for some, was hurting and in need of healing and support. Today, one year later, I want to thank each and every one of you who have told me that there is a new vibe at CBI.  Thank you for taking that journey with me. CBI was, and still is, an vibrant, warm community with so much happening now, and so much potential.  

From the very beginning of my year, I said that CBI is a heimish community. That is a key quality that isn’t magically created. It is created by each and everyone of you reading this letter. It is not unusual to have two-generation families. In fact, there are a few three-generation families. And this year we welcomed a few new families, too. A vibrant community needs both. 

We did a lot together – we engaged teens more – leading part of Musaf on Yom Kippur, leading a hakkafah on Simchat Torah, or studying and eating at Torah Teen Time. We studied together – ethics today and ethics of yesterday as we brought Torah to the hood and plunged into Ethics of our Fathers. I was honored to reach out to the community and hand out honey cakes at Rosh Hashanah and donuts during Hanukkah with my fellow Millburn rabbis. Thank you to Mariela for that suggestion.

We prayed, studied, and stood together on Martin Luther King Day and displayed the word DREAM in our front yard, only to be followed by banners connecting with those of us fighting against injustice and expressing appreciation for our first responders as they fight COVID-19. And for the month of June we stood in solidarity with the LGBTQ community by displaying a pride flag.

And now we are at the end of the year. I thank you again for welcoming me into your community. It is hard to believe that I made so many new acquaintances, friends, fellow walkers and learners. I hope that I was able to challenge some of you to do better in this fractured world. I hope that I was able to help some of you pray with more kavannah – intention.  I hope that I was able to better connect some of you with your own Judaism and with this special community.

I will miss studying together, engaging at kiddush together, walking in the reservation together, davening together. And a HUGE shoutout to Cantor Wallach for being my partner in this endeavor and for continuing to inspire all of us with her spirit and voice.

I will also miss this TEAM — Harvey Brenner, Rabbi Julie Schwarzwald and up until a few weeks ago, Rochelle Barron. Today there is a great team at CBI.  

May it continue to flourish with Rabbi Eisenberg as you move forward. This is a lehitraot, and not a goodbye. I hope to see you again. 

Rabbi Paul Resnick

Turn Our Sadness into a Springboard for Action

Posted by on Jul 14, 2020 in Latest News | 0 comments

July 7, 2020

These Three Weeks … A Message from Cantor Lorna Wallach

 

Following the death of a close relative, Judaism has very specific laws and guidelines for what is restricted during this period of mourning (30 days for a spouse, sibling or child; a year for a parent). During this period of personal grief, the mourner is supposed to avoid parties, celebrations, concerts, dancing, avoid listening to live music and, for thirty days, they cannot shave or cut their hair. Within each calendar year, Jews also have periods of communal mourning where similar restrictions are imposed. One such period is known as “Sefira”, or the 49-day period of the counting of the Omer, which begins on the second night of Passover and goes to Shavuot. The other period is the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av (commemorating the destruction of the Temple). The three weeks begin on the minor fast day of Shiv’ah Asar B’Tammuz, the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, (this Thursday, July 9th) which commemorates the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem, before the First Temple was destroyed.

The earliest written source for these communal mourning customs dates back to the Geonic period (6th to 11th centuries C.E. in Babylonia). It appears that the first semi-mourning custom that was established for the Counting of the Omer period was to prohibit marriages, followed at a later date by the prohibition against cutting one’s hair, followed still later on by the prohibition against listening to live music and playing musical instruments.

There aren’t many liturgical adjustments for this three week period, however, there are 3 special Haftarot that are always read in this period, and if you attend our Kabbalat Shabbat services in these next three weeks, you will hear me sing L’Chah Dodi to the somber melody of Eili Tziyon (a Middle Ages acrostic elegy recited on Tisha B’Av) as a reminder of this period of communal mourning.

While mourning is the general theme of this three-week period, the loss of the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, can be seen as symbolic of something special that we once had and is now missing in our lives. When we are in our “normal” routines, most of us are less likely to pause and think about what is lacking in our lives. During this pandemic, however, it has been so hard not to focus on all of the losses we have each experienced during these past 4 months — such as in- person family and communal celebrations including B’nai Mitzvah, weddings, birthday parties and graduations; also hugging, gathering in our beautiful sanctuary to pray together and especially to sing together.

Sadness, tragedy and disappointment are a part of life – no one can escape such experiences, but there is a reason that Jewish tradition delineates a finite period for communal mourning as opposed to having it be a constant state of being.

There is a Chassidic saying that says, “Sadness is not a sin, but its effect on the person is worse than any sin’s.” Chassidic teaching differentiates between two types of sorrow: merirut, a constructive grief, and atzvut, a destructive grief. Perhaps the message of this mourning period THIS year is for all of us to find creative ways to connect and come together, and with one another’s support, we can turn our sadness into a springboard for action to improve ourselves and the world around us rather than losing hope and becoming indifferent.

I wish you all good health and strength.

Cantor Lorna Wallach

A Farewell Message

Posted by on Jun 16, 2020 in Latest News | 0 comments

A look back from Rochelle Baron, Director of the CBI Preschool:

 

Dear B’nai Israel Family:

My involvement with the preschool began in the late 70’s when we enrolled our daughter in the Twos class. Fast forward to 1994 as I sat with Rabbi Bayar, Naomi Eisenberger, and a committee of wonderful people who hired me to be the next director. And now, 26 years later, I am retiring from this special place!

So many events have transpired over this time period! I met wonderful families and witnessed many, many children pass through our school and move on to great adventures. The list of colleges our graduates have attended and the successes they have achieved is truly mind-boggling. I had the blessing of having two grandchildren attend and call out “Hi Grandma!” whenever we would see each other. I have lived through two renovation projects, one emergency evacuation (when the gas station on Vauxhall Road exploded), and holding school in trailers in the parking lot. Throughout this time I have worked with talented and committed teachers who challenged their students and brought many great experiences to their classrooms. As a staff we went through a wide range of life’s experiences, some good and some not so good, and we were always there for each other. The many past CBI presidents, pre-school committee members, executive directors, and maintenance staff are all responsible for helping to make my tenure at the preschool the rewarding experience it has been.

I learned a lot from my years as an early childhood educator. One given fact is that no two days are alike—you never know what you are in for until you see the faces of the students in the morning. I know that children need love, lots of patience, and must be allowed to discover things for themselves. They need to have opportunities to play, make mistakes, and find solutions. Most of all they must be taken seriously and respected by the adults in charge of helping them grow up to be responsible future members of society.

I leave knowing we have created a warm, nurturing environment which is well respected in our community. The school’s focus on learning Jewish values and age-appropriate early childhood curriculum will hopefully continue in the years to come.

Thank you to Rabbi Bayar for his years of guidance, sense of humor, and support. Many thanks to our current CBI team: Cantor Wallach for being my Shabbat morning partner and friend, Rabbi Resnick for his presence and wisdom this year, Rabbi Julie for her commitment to making our two schools work so well together, Mariela Dybner for her leadership, Susan Kashan for her administrative help, and to Harvey Brenner for holding everything together. I wish Rabbi Isenberg and Gila many years of fulfillment and joy as they join this very special congregational family. And best wishes to Rabbi Julie for much success as she becomes the third director of CBI Preschool!

Most important of all, I send much love to Gary, Rhea and Michael, Joshua and Jennifer, Sam, Lucas, and Oliver who make my life meaningful every single day.

Sincerely,

Rochelle

Finding Our Voice

Posted by on Jun 9, 2020 in Latest News | 0 comments

DCL’s Drash from Rabbi Julie Schwarzwald, Director of Congregational Learning

 

But let justice well up like water, Righteousness like an unfailing stream.

–Amos 5:24

Having spent the last three months in various forms of quarantine as a result of the pandemic, we woke up two weeks ago to learn of the wrongful death of George Floyd – the most recent example of racial injustice. This past weekend, many of us joined local rallies to stand together – while socially distancing – to share our outrage. We hope that this time, things will change. And we ask ourselves once again, how did we get to this place?

To educate our children with the understanding that we are all created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, is to emphasize our mission to accept each individual as they are – to recognize that they are exactly as they are meant to be. We can learn from our children. You’ve seen the pictures/memes of children who look different from one another meeting each other and immediately playing together. Youth who have been in class together for years simply accept each classmate’s learning needs and are often able to ignore anything that could be disruptive – and will tell adults, “That’s just how they are.” 

Social justice and social action have long been components of Judaism and have found their place in congregational education. As Rochelle and I have discovered with weekly preschool Shabbat, it can be challenging to find tangible activities for our youngest learners that demonstrate this. We need to fully integrate the value of b’tzelem Elohim into our curriculum, with regular conversations about how our tradition, our history, and our values and commandments inform our daily life. 

A song that we have sung all year in BBRS has been echoing in my head all week. Elana Arian composed “I Have a Voice” with teens at URJ Kutz Camp last summer. What a powerful anthem for our time.

I have a voice

My voice is powerful

My voice can change the world

 

I will open my eyes 

I will not look away 

I will use this gift I’ve been given

Every day

 

I will give of myself 

I will reach out my hand

I will use this heart I’ve been given

To take a stand

 

I will fight for the truth 

I’ll stand up for what’s right

I will use this strength I’ve been given

To be a light

 

I have a voice

My voice is powerful

My voice can change the world

Professional development is essential as we look toward the next school year. While we maintained connection and celebrated successful conclusions to our school years, we know that this pandemic has brought to the forefront a necessary revolution in education. Every BBRS and CBI Preschool teacher will attend the NewCAJE virtual conference this summer with an emphasis on learning new tools for online and distance learning while exploring philosophy, pedagogy, and best practices. I am investigating the best technology to continue to make our education accessible to all. Mila Naiman and I will also attend the USCJ New Directors’ Institute as we prepare to take on leadership of the preschool following Rochelle’s retirement. 

As we continue planning various scenarios for the upcoming school year, we keep in mind how to offer increasingly accessible Jewish education, with righteousness and justice for all.

Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel used to say: on three things does the world stand: On justice, on truth and on peace.

–Pirkei Avot 1:18

 

May we find them soon,

Rabbi Julie