Sessions at the USCJ/RA 20/20 Convention

Sessions at the USCJ/RA 20/20 Convention

8:45-9:45 am Music and Prayerful Evolution (Not Revolution)
8:45-9:45 am Exploring Judaism’s Tradition of Dispute in an Age of Uncivil Discourse
8:45-9:45 am From Accessibility to Inclusion
8:45-9:45 am Making the Most of Meditation and Mindfulness
8:45-9:45 am Recruitment and Retention in Our Congregations
8:45-9:45 am Torah, Technology, and the 21st Century Synagogue
12:15-1:15 pm Who Are Today’s Conservative Jews?
12:15-1:15 pm United States Tax Laws Require a Change in Your Fundraising Shpiel
12:15-1:15 pm A Farm At Your Shul: If Not Now, When?
12:15-1:15 pm Speaking to the Wall? A Historical and Contemporary Look At the Kotel
12:15-1:15 pm Building Effective Synagogue Teams
12:15-1:15 pm The Growing Connection of Liberal Jewish Passion and Jewish Pro-Palestinian Activism
12:15-1:15 pm Grappling With Questions of Faith and Family

 

1:15-2:15 pm Lunch Table Talk: Planning a Successful Israel Trip for Your Community
1:15-2:15 pm Lunch Table Talk: To Be Of Use
1:15-2:15 pm Lunch Table Talk: Congregational Ritual Change
   

 

 

2:15-3:15 pm Make In-Laws into Mishpacha and Congregations More Welcoming
2:15-3:15 pm Expanding the Jewish Family
2:15-3:15 pm Bringing In Families By Branching Out: Online Education to Enhance Community  
2:15-3:15 pm You Got Rid of What? Synagogues of Money Re-Imagined  
2:15-3:15 pm Pursuing Justice: Using Law to Confront Anti-Semitism  
2:15-3:15 pm Running Towards Tough Conversations In Your Congregation  
     
5:00-6:15 pm What Grandparents Need to Know about Interfaith Couples and Families  
5:00-6:15 pm Partnerships for Financial Sustainability  
5:00-6:15 pm Ilu Finu– A Capella for Jewish Prayer  
5:00-6:15 pm Addressing Mental Health in Our Communities  
5:00-6:15 pm What Can Havruta Learning (learning with a friend) Teach Us About How to Thrive in the 21st Century?  
5:00-6:15 pm Spirituality and Addiction  

Rabbi’s Blog – March 8th 2019 “Put your bread on the Table”

Dear friends,

In this week’s parsha (Pikudei) the building of the tabernacle is complete and so we are given instructions on how to set up those things which are to be placed inside. — Calling all interior decorators!

Towards the end of the parsha we read, “He placed the table in the Tent of Meeting…upon it he laid out the setting of bread before the Lord.” (Ex. 40:22-23)

One could read this verse as telling us that placing the ritual bread on the table happens immediately after the table is set down inside the sanctuary. Nahmanides (Ramban), however, points out that we learn earlier that ritual items or offerings can not be laid out until after the space is anointed and sanctified. Therefore the verse is telling us that the table is placed down in order for the setting of the bread to take place once the space is anointed.

This may seem like a small clarification, but it is important because of the context and because of what it can teach us on another level. First of all sacred worship is serious business and things have to be done in the proper order. Spaces have to be ritually sanctified before acts of worship can happen there. You have impure alters and worship tables and the results of conducting services there could be disastrous.

As Miracle Max says in The Princess Bride, “You rush the miracle maker, you get rotten miracles.”

But in truth, I have to say this commentary brings an important lesson. Simply put I am outraged both by Rep. Ilhan Omar’s words, and by the extent to which she has been willing to put her bread on the table (make statements on controversial topics) without anointing the place where her table stands (owning up to her beliefs, opinions, or biases). While being angry about what she has said, I do want to try and understand her words, mostly by pinpointing what is behind them.

Anti-semetic statements can be identified in two ways:

  • Statements that express hatred of Jews, not for what they do but for what or who they are.
  • Statements that, whether intending to or not, contain what is being referred to as, “Well-worn anti-Semitic tropes.”

I don’t think Rep. Ilhan Omar hates Jewish people, but the anti-Semitism is quite clear. I dsee is someone who is, either out of maliciousness, ignorance, or incompetence, using those well-worn anti-Semitic tropes. As a teacher of mine once said, “Never attribute to maliciousness, that which can otherwise be attributed to incompetence,” and in this case I want to believe we are seeing an example of the later not the former. Yet, I am not sure.

A friend of mine reminded me of a saying that I am going to amend a bit for this context. We are not judged by how or how many times we fall down, it is by if, how often, and how we get back up.

For me the, “How we get back up,” is essential here because while I feel unable to judge or explain her intentions by her words alone, I feel compelled to call her out on her intentions based on her responses after the fact. Her responses are not seemingly like ones made by someone who innocently used language he/she did not understand.

As we have entered the month of Adar and are now thinking about who are enemies are, I am calling on Rep. Ilhan Omar to more clearly state where she stands visa vie Jews in this country before putting her words on the table.

As Ramban teaches us, it is crucial to make clear our intentions so that our words can be understood properly. There is too much at stake to have any misunderstanding and we as a Jewish minority in this country need to know where the dangers lie.

May our sacred spaces be anointed by truth, honesty, understanding, and love of one another. When this happens, we can all break bread together.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Victor

Rabbi’s Blog 1-25-2019 – “Returning our gifts to those who gave them to us”

Dear friends,

I want to enter into Shabbat highlighting the ways our sacred texts can speak to the memories of sacred people. Every member of our community is sacred because each of us is created with a Divine spark. Each of us is sacred and each of us has story. Yesterday we laid to rest Elayne Weinstein and her story has impacted so many of us. Earlier that day I taught my class on the liturgy of Kabbalat Shabbat and we focused on the lessons of psalm 96. During, and in preparation, for the class I couldn’t help but hear the text speaking to the lessons I could learn from Elayne while also hearing Elayne voice as I delved into and thought about the text.

As I shared in my eulogy at Elayne’s funeral, psalm 96 speaks of majesty and strength. “Glory and majesty are before the one; strength and splendor are in God’s temple.”

Our text book for the class brought a great Chasidic commentary that I can share here.

“If an earthly king were to give someone a garment as a gift, to return it would be insulting and unseemly. Nevertheless, God gives us khiyyut (“ vitality, life force”), and when we bring that vitality into our d’vekut (our yearning to cleave to the Holy One), this is effectively returning it to God. But not only is God not insulted; God responds by giving us even more vitality. And, in this way, when we return life force to God every Erev Shabbat, then God returns it to us with even greater purity.”

I felt the symmetry, the back and forth between this commentary and Elayne’s story. The message also happens to speak to why we come together on Shabbat. What is Shabbat’s value proposition? We bring the Divine energy we have been gifted with into the mother-ship for a restore. When we do this not only do we get back what we came with, but we leave Shabbat with even more desire to serve than when we arrived.

Active listening, something our leaders would do well to practice if real solutions were to be reached, is an example of taking the gift of the other and returning it back to him/her only to have it come out again even more polished and more inspiring than before.

Perhaps we should all try taking in an idea and responding actively with interest and enthusiasm. When the giver of the idea sees that energy returning to him or her, I believe the next offering will be even more scintillating than before.

My Saturday morning conversations are back tomorrow morning at 9:30 as our religious school children will be with us again. The title of tomorrow’s session is
“Kinship as Spiritual Practice: A Welcoming Ambience (Part I) “How lovely are your sanctuaries and study houses descendants of Israel”

We also have Hebrew learning with Naomi Kamalot, and as part of our Torah service our first and second graders will be receiving a wonderful gift from our school.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Victor

Rabbi’s Blog Sep 27, 2018: “And they shall pray toward this house” – Experience the end of Sukkot with your community

Dear friends,

Be among the blessed and experience the last several opportunities to close out the holiday season in joy and strength (and a little confusion).

Shabbat 9-29 9:30am-12:30pm – Service at the synagogue includes a reading of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes)

“I have further observed under the sun that the race is not won by the swift, Nor the battle by the valiant; Nor is bread won by the wise, Nor wealth by the intelligent, Nor favor by the learned. For the end comes to us all.” — Kohelet 9:11

Shabbat 9-29 approx. 12:30pm – A tree dedication and Kiddush lunch brought to us by the Hochhauser Family in memory and in honor of Susan Hochhauser, z”l.

“From pushing the creation of an endowment fund to co-editing our Jubilee cookbook, Susan Hochhauser literally had her hands in the both the body and soul of Temple Beth-El.”

Shabbat 9-29 4:00pm – 7:00pm – Spackenkill Sukkah Hop brought to you by Beth-El.

The link below is to the map showing addresses and times to be at each house.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KHC1P3S0MI_gV1X-nJcFwpR2luog6xhK/view?usp=sharing

Sunday 9-30 8:30am – Hoshanah Rabbah is the final weekday Sukkot Service

There will be serious marching around with lulavim and Sifrei Torah, all with music played through our sound system, as well as serious willow whacking. Rather than being seen as a lofty psychological cleansing or a deep theological process of reforming our behavior, whacking the willows says Rabbi Brad Artson, is “…a summons back to halakhic tidiness—to cleaning up after ourselves ritually by disposing of our kelim [sacred implements] after they have served their purpose. And that is next to godliness.”

Sunday 9-30 6:00pm & Monday 10-1 9:30am – Shmini Azteret (Private time between God and Israel, Prayers for Rain, and Yizkor)

All the offerings of Sukkot that we read about it (Seventy for the seventy nations of the world) have lead up to one offering which signifies our unique relationship with God.

Yizkor will be recited both that evening and the following morning as well.

Tuesday 10-2 9:30am – Kallat HaTorah and Kallat B’reishit (our Torah will be blessed by two women who are so committed to our synagogue and our people).

Our Simchat Torah morning services will include the moment where we conclude the reading of the Torah and immediately start in back at the beginning.  Our two honorees, Beth Richardson and Jackie Kahn, will receive the last and first aliyot of the cycle of Torah readings.  Two more amazing synagogue leaders who epitomize how we must serve the body and soul of our Temple. Congratulations Beth and Jackie.

 

Sukkot is still raging on and there is so much still to come beginning this weekend.

 

Moadim L’simcha everyone,

 

Rabbi Daniel Victor

 

Rabbi’s Blog Aug 8, 2018: This weekend is Rosh Hodesh Elul with Rabbi Greene – It is all about LOVE

Dear friends,

There is an often quoted tradition that the letters of the Hebrew month of Elul are an acronym for Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li – I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”

The month of Elul is a time for introspection; a time to examine our relationships.  This time is about our relationship with ourselves, each other, the world, and our creator.

I just saw the Fred Rogers documentary {Won’t you be my neighbor) and there it was revealed that for most of his adult life Rogers kept his weight at 143 pounds (he was an avid swimmer).   Why 143?  I, has one letter.  L-o-v-e, has four letters.  Y-o-u, has three letters.  – I know it is corny, but the man was genuine and he practiced what he preached.

Each time he would stand on the scale he received the message “I love you.”

Rosh Hodesh Elul falls this weekend, along with it comes our Shabbat guest: Rabbi James Greene, our third High Holiday clergy person.

Our weekend plans:

Friday night, a instrumentally enhanced service beginning at 8:00pm.

Listen here for some of the tunes Rabbi Greene, Rabbi Miriam, and I will be bringing to the service.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLiz2IUZ1hGSgcwrxVnkI-lzTRN-ytVaJk

Saturday morning our three-headed clergy machine will be leading services beginning at 9:00am with coffee and doughnuts at our boker tov café.  One of several chances to catch a few minutes with our sacred guest.  During the sermon slot, Rabbi Greene and I will discuss (and maybe debate) some finer points of our new High Holiday Machzor.

Saturday evening from 5-9pm, come by my house and hang with Rabbi Greene and members of the community for another schmooze and games evening.  39 Hagan Drive Poughkeepsie.  Bring a favorite, fruit, veggie, drink (alcoholic or not) crackers and dip, or dessert.

Sunday morning we will have a Rosh Hodesh morning program at Vassar Farms off of Hooker Ave beginning at 8:30am.  Rabbi Greene will be leading the program which will feature some traditional prayer pieces as well as a walk on some of the farm trails.  There will be a Rosh Hodesh brunch (food) to wrap things up at the end.

Note: Unfortunately we could not obtain a golf cart for this program, so please be aware the ground is a bit uneven and there is no assistance for those with mobility challenges.  We apologize for this turn of events.  There will be people to assist, if such aid would be helpful.

This is a great chance to begin getting to know our new High Holiday clergy person (he really wants to meet everyone) as well as a time to launch our personal and communal journeys through the process of teshuvah.  Remember, it all begins with love.  Love helps us remember, it helps us be vulnerable, and it helps open us up to the process of growth and change.

In peace and……love,

Reb Victor

Rabbi’s Blog July 27th 2018 – The Need to Put our Own House in Order

Dear friends,

I was going to write here about my views on the Nation State Bill that was passed just before Tisha B’Av.  I have decided to speak about it tomorrow morning in shul.  Here I am going to speak about addressing our own house.  Aside from the Nation State Bill having been passed, a Masorati colleague of mine was arrested in Israel for performing Jewish marriages without informing the orthodox rabbinate.

On Tisha B’Av we mourn the destruction of our temples by the Romans and the Babylonians.  It is easy for us to put the tragedies of our people on the shoulders of others.  But is it now time, if we are really seeking comfort for a people seemingly always under stress, to put our own house in order.

Last week the Rabbinical Assembly put out a statement in reaction to the arrest:

We, the Masorti/Conservative Movement representing two million Jews around the world, are outraged by the arrest this morning of Rabbi Dov Haiyun of Moriah Congregation in Haifa, who was awoken at 5:30 am by police for the “crime” of officiating at a wedding outside the authority of the Israeli ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. Rabbi Haiyun potentially faces two years in prison for officiating at this wedding.

Rabbi Haiyun, who was ordained by the Masorti/Conservative movement at Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem, is the first to be arrested for this act since the law forbidding any rabbi outside the Rabbinate to officiate at a wedding was passed in 2013. Today’s actions against Rabbi Haiyun marks a new and dangerous step in the ongoing attack on religious freedom and civil liberties in Israel; one, thankfully that was thwarted by order of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

We uphold the right of rabbis of all Jewish streams, not just those under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate, to conduct a wedding ‘according to the law of Moses and (People) Israel.’ We stand in solidarity with Rabbi Haiyun and all our colleagues in Israel who bring couples together in love and marriage according to the traditions of the Jewish people.

Cantors Assembly, Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, Jewish Educators Assembly, JTS, Marom Olami
Masorti Foundation for Conservative Judaism in Israel, Masorti Israel, Masorti Olami, Mercaz Canada, Mercaz Olami, Mercaz USA, Seminario Rabinico Latinoamaericano, The North American Association of Synagogue Executives, The Rabbinical Assembly, USCJ, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, Zacharias Frankel College, University of Potsdam, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University

A statement by our sister movements is important, but what are we really going to do to change things?  Israel is continually alienating Am Yisrael; the entire Jewish people who live within the Diaspora.  One of my colleagues suggested that enough of our rabbis should move to Israel so that we can start a political party that can challenge the ultra-orthodox parties in Israel.  Let’s just say the package of plane tickets hasn’t been purchased yet.

But there must be something to do.  There must be ways for the openness and tolerance we see more often than not here in this country for example, to influence how Eretz Yisrael operates (No, our internal pluralism is not perfect).  Liberal Jews must stand up against those in Israel and in other areas of the world who argue that Conservative and Reform Jews are destroying Judaism.  It is simply not true.

I believe that our commitment to Israel must get stronger rather than weaker at times when the Israeli government takes such actions.  We have learned recently in this country that just because a law is on the books, doesn’t mean that it must be enforced.

This week’s parsha brings us the words of the Shema.  We are reminded by these words that God, our creator, is one.  God is not divided, God is unity, and so we must be a unified people.  Israel must hear from the Jews of the Diaspora that such actions will not be tolerated.  This is an issue within “our house” and action needs to emerge in order for Judaism to be most effective in bringing our ethics and morality to the larger world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Victor

Rabbi’s Blog July 20th 2018 – Tisha B’Av and Shabbat Hazon “Problematics and Potentialities”

Dear friends,

When faced with difficult situations, past, present, or future, do we see problems or potential? “Old ideas” tend to raise many objections in our modern day hearts, but inherited traditions often have much to teach us if we are willing to take the time to search out the lessons for our day and in our own lives.

Saturday night begins Tisha B’Av, coming right on the heals of Shabbat. A day which is almost always reserved for Oneg (joy) has its energy intruded upon by the somber themes of our people’s national day of mourning. One particular example is that Havdallah is modified on Saturday when Tisha B’Av falls on Sunday, and during Shabbat more melancholy tunes creep into our Friday night and Shabbat morning services including the cantillation of Lamentations itself.

This Shabbat is referred to as Shabbat Hazon, The Shabbat of Vision or prophecy. The day gets its name from the first word of the Haftarah we recite tomorrow; a vision of Isaiah the prophet that is in keeping with the prophetic admonition directed towards our people as a result of our having abandoned God’s Torah.

As I eluded to above, we are challenged quite strongly by the suggested theology of Tisha B’av. Namely, that tragedy and disaster are punishment for sins seems alien to many modern Jews. And yet, as taught by Rabbi David Seidenberg:

“Tisha B’Av could not be more relevant than it is today, when the crisis of war refugees and fear of terrorism have overwhelmed the political process in so many countries. We think of Tisha B’Av as a time of mourning, but it is more importantly a call to identify with the experience of refugees who are forced to risk their lives and even
their children’s lives in order to escape violence, hunger, devastation. That’s what the Jewish people went through when the Temple, and the nation and society it stood for, were destroyed, when they became “like deer, not finding a place to graze, walking without strength before a pursuer.” (1:6)

Tomorrow I will be discussing the right of a guilty person to challenge the severity of his/her punishment, specifically the punishment of Cain due to his actions against his brother Abel. For the sake of this conversation I am taking the stance that while the book of Lamentations seems to accept that Israel was due for some punishment, many times we find in the text the sentiment that the destruction of the Holy City and the exile of the people was too much. Think of people we know who commit crimes but are unfairly treated by our judicial system. Let us all think of standing before God, guilty of at times missing the mark, but perhaps feeling like we have suffered more than our fair share in the past year. Are we allowed to cry out to God, as Cain did, and say, “That is too much for me to bear.”

9:00pm – On Saturday night we will be focusing on all people as Rachel’s children and how our people’s tragedy must lead to empathy for all.

8:30am – Sunday morning’s minyan will keep the somber tone and allow us to continue ruminating on the themes of the day.

2:00pm – Sunday Mincha will move us to a place of discovery. What is out there for us today to help us bear the memory of tragedy and move forward?

8:30pm – An intimate maariv service and light break-fast at the home of Muriel Horowitz for those looking for a place to conclude their observance of the day.

May the word vision remind us that with the prophets’ prognostications of doom, also came promises of new hope. We are all the prophets of today. We must find it within ourselves to keep our hopes alive for a better tomorrow, even as we see tragedy around us today.

I wish everyone a meaningful day that launches a period marked by community, contemplation and action.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Victor

Rabbi’s Blog June 29th 2018 : Undesired Continuity: values which are being abdicated both within and beyond our borders

Dear friends,

We are in troubling times in our country right now: preventable shootings within our borders and breaking up of families on our borders.  In our parsha we have the story of Balak the king and Balaam the sorcerer going back and forth because Balak wants Balaam to cure the Jewish people as they travel through the desert.  Balaam eventually agrees to go, but tells Balak he can only say what God tells him to say.  In somewhat naive fashion Balak agrees to have Balaam come but instead of getting a curse from Balaam he gets a blessing.  Balaam’s blessing has become rather famous, “Ma Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov… – How beautiful are your tents oh Jacob…”

So Balaam is standing up on a mountain looking out over the Israelite camp and blesses the people.  The commentators ask, what did Balaam see that demonstrated the people’s worthiness to receive this blessing?  I would say, what could he see?  Traditionally the rabbis tell us that Balaam saw all the tents open towards one another.  This was a demonstration of openness and the welcoming of guests.  I don’t believe Balaam would have been able to see much more than the arrangement of the tents from where he was standing.  He certainly couldn’t look into the tents from up where he was.  I would like to think that Balaam also saw good things happening amongst people outside the tents.  If Balaam did see cooperation, kindness, and people helping one another outside the home, then his blessing of the tents would be appropriate based on the concept of integrity.  This is the idea that the outside and inside should be reflections of one another.  Would this be a fair assumption to make?  For example, if you were to see up close a group of seemingly stable homes in which members of the household are well provided for and respect one another, could you make assumptions about how the community operates?  Now generally it is not a good idea to make assumptions about that which we can’t see, and in life there are no guarantees (in fact human history has shown that sometimes a group of seemingly stable homes can be surprisingly unkind to each other and especially to the stranger).  However, I still would like to think that offering a blessing with the expectation of integrity is right more often than it is wrong.  We are taught to treat everyone as we would treat ourselves and our families.  A synagogue for example, wants to be seen as equally kind and caring towards those who walk within its walls as it is with those who roam outside in the lager community.

I said at the outset, that our country is in trouble and it is because values are being tossed aside within our country and on and beyond our boards.  Within our country the proliferation of guns is leading to senseless death and the inevitable separation of parents and children.   The man who killed five people at the Capital Gazette simply should not have been allowed to purchase a gun.  Meanwhile our conduct towards those families at our borders seems to reflect the same lack of care about basic human rights.  This is not the kind of continuity I want for our country.  Now immigration and gun legislation are separate issues, and perhaps I am being a but overly-simplistic in an effort to accentuate a point, but in both cases if one were to be looking down on this country from a hill top I think he/she would see a travesty (the abdication of an ethical responsibility to protect people, especially children and families), happening both within and beyond our borders.  Our reality should not reflect this kind of continuity.

To bring about change we must address the issues directly, but we cannot miss the values that are being cast aside every day as our responses to these atrocities are failing to prevent or solve each crisis.  Our community social action committee is always looking for people who want to take action, and those who currently sit on the committee do have resources for individuals who want to do something to address the troubles within, on, and beyond our borders.  This synagogue can be a home base for those who want to take action on causes that serve to better protect the basic human rights of all people everywhere.

“We must believe not only that all people are created equal, but also that all peoples are created equal.” (Natan Sharansky).

Let us come together on Shabbat to gather strength and guidance from one another and go out after Shabbat ready to work even harder to change the world for the better.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Victor