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Parshat Emor: Dvar Torah by Alizah Brozgold

This week's Torah portion from Leviticus names and describes the sacred festivals of the Jewish year: Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. As Elyse Goldstein writes in her commentary on the URJ website, these sacred festivals invest time with holiness and declare ourselves as active partners with God.

In another commentary by Rachel Mikva, she adds the point that these holy days are holy because they don't "await our convenience" and don't accommodate our own personal schedules.  As Jews celebrating a holiday, "We have an appointment, so we drop everything and show up. That's part of what makes it special." 

She also quotes the Midrash Tanchuma that asks "whether we keep these appointments for God or for ourselves. The paradoxical response is that they are wholly for our own enjoyment . . . because the Holy One wants us to keep showing up (B'reishit 4)."

The question of showing up is an important one and is critical to how we define ourselves as Reform Jews in 2016.  How do we create spiritually and socially meaningful experiences in our shul that will get people to show up? One way is clearly....Jazz Synaplex! Jazz is the perfect musical medium for Jews because it's all about improvisation - something that is central to Jewish culture and religion and our historical status as wanderers, as we constantly needed to adapt to the mores and traditions around us. We are always striking a balance - between our ancient melodies and our new riffs on those old tunes.

Jazz, too, has some Jewish roots. Reading about Jews and jazz in one of Nat Hentoff's JazzTimes columns, for example, he wrote about how Artie Shaw's longtime jazz theme song actually was based on a cantorial niggun. The improvising chazzans in Orthodox synagogues sang a kind of "soul music" that connects us not only to jazz but to American blues as well.

Every generation of Jews needs to find its own voice to remain vital, its own ways to inspire people to show up. This year, as our community collectively and metaphorically composes what songs we want to sing, I imagine there will be lots of improvisation.

And all of your voices are needed! As Henry Van Dyke, an educator, once said, "Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang best."

We need all your voices and we need you all to show up...because the shul must go on!

Shabbat Shalom!

 

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After the Holocaust

At last Friday night’s Shabbat services, The Village Temple commemorated the Shoah with quiet power and poignancy. Through words, music and poetry, Alizah Brozgold, Cantor Bach and Anita Hollander created an evocative stream of memory that connected the hopeful beauty of Shabbat with the horrible events being recalled. Perhaps most touching were the readings and songs from the children of the Terezin concentration camp, brought back to life by choir members Rachel Hendrickson and Emma Basch. It felt appropriate that on this memorial evening we were also celebrating the bat mitzvah of Sasha Beutler, looking to the future as we remember the past. These young people may be the best answer to the question hauntingly posed by Elie Wiesel:  “But who will be the last survivor, the last to tell the tale, the one who, like the prophet Jeremiah, said, “I am he, I was there.” Who will be our witness? What will happen to our legacy?”

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Interim Rabbi News

On Wednesday, April 13, the Village Temple community voted (51 yes, 1 abstention) to approve Rabbi Deborah Hirsch as our interim rabbi, beginning July 1. This is a poignant moment, as we move toward our congregation’s future while appreciating the past 17 years under Rabbi Koster’s leadership.

The next year will offer our congregation an opportunity for self-examination and renewal. Rabbi Hirsch will be an able guide through this process. She brings an impressive array of experience, with more than 25 years as a congregational Rabbi, including 15 years at East End Temple and 6 years at Sharaay T’fila. In addition, she has worked for the Union of Reform Judaism, and has a deep well of knowledge about the wider Jewish world. Those who meet her are struck by her wisdom, ability to listen deeply, intuition, warmth, and sense of humor. You will have many opportunities to meet her and her wife Carole in large groups and small. Please join us in welcoming this exceptional leader to our community.

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Restoration and Remembrance

In her poignant, exquisite book Beloved Dog, the artist/author Maira Kalman says this about the death of her husband:  “When Tibor died, the world came to an end. And the world did not come to an end. That is something you learn.” Kalman’s words came to mind on Sunday, April 3, during the memorial gathering for Village Temple member Ze’ev Mehler, husband of Nathalie Horowicz-Mehler, father of Elan, Jessye, Sarah, Yoav, Noa and Yael.   At an evocative service led by Rabbi Koster, Ze’ev’s family and friends recalled what the world was like with Ze’ev, a passionate man who made every minute matter. Friends were his oxygen, Nathalie said. He lived for his family, his friends said. He taught by example that what you loved had to be embraced. Besides his friends and family he loved music, motorcycles, New York, history, conversation, community and the pure excitement of making things happen, lighting a spark. This was not a man who dipped his toes in the stream of life. He dove in with relish—and made everyone want to jump in with him. When Ze’ev died, the world didn’t come to an end and neither did he. That was evident in the memories shared, the inspiration he gave.

Ze’ev’s memorial was part of a weekend of restoration and remembrance at The  Village Temple. At Friday night services the community officially thanked Judy Steinman for underwriting the refurbishment of the synagogue’s Torahs in honor of her late husband Ralph Steinman, a longtime member who served twice as temple president. Artist and sofer Neal Yerman spoke eloquently about the relationship between the physical Torah and the meaning contained in the letters and words. Sofer Yerman returned to the VT Sunday morning to demonstrate his craft and the concepts behind it to religious school students and their families. Having this event take place the same day as Ze’ev’s memorial felt like a consecration of our community and what it stands for.

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On Being Grateful in the Moment: Dvar Torah by Alizah Brozgold

Dvar Torah

Parshat Tzav

3/26/16

This week's Torah portion, Tzav (from the Hebrew word, 'command') continues the commandments related to ritual sacrifices. Remember there were different kinds of sacrifices for different circumstances, and one was called the "sacrifice of well-being" or "peace offering". Nehama Leibowitz, a contemporary biblical commentator, points out that the sacrifice of well-being was unusual for having no request or petition connected to it. The offerer brought a gift, yet asked nothing of God, motivated simply by, in her words, ". . . an abundance of joy and gratitude."

The people were commanded to eat the sacrifice of well-being on the day in which it was offered. We read (Leviticus 7:15), "And the flesh of the thanksgiving sacrifice of well-being shall be eaten on the day that it is offered; none of it shall be set aside until morning." 

So why would we be required to eat the sacrifice of well-being on the day in which it is offered? If the sacrifice symbolizes a miracle in the life of the one who brings it - as some biblical commentators have argued - it makes sense to me that the ceremony of eating the sacrifice would be done on the same day. It emphasizes that a moment of gratitude and well-being needs to be acknowledged 'in that very moment', without delay. In so doing, it emphasizes the importance, immediacy, and primacy of our thanksgiving. 

This led me to muse on the times in my life that I hadn't stated my gratitude 'in the moment'. How many times did I think about the love and support given me by my family, friends, and colleagues without saying a word, perhaps planning a special future acknowledgement or expression of gratitude? How many times did it come to pass that I never had the chance to express it and deeply regretted that missed opportunity? 

It also made me think of how the expression of gratitude and well-being can quickly become a wonderful chain reaction. It's like holding the door for someone with a smile and seeing the person behind you doing the same thing for the person behind them. Similarly, when we express our gratitude to someone, it often leads to their acknowledging their gratitude to us. The gift of well-being and gratitude is truly a gift that 'keeps on giving'.

Knowing human psychology, even if we do express our gratitude 'in the moment', we are often back to our old complaining, ungrateful selves a few minutes later. This is exemplified by the story of Sadie and her grandson. One sunny day, as they were walking along the beach in Miami together, an enormous wave suddenly came along and swept up little Joshua into the ocean. Sadie looked up at the heavens and railed at God. A moment later, another wave came along and safely deposited her precious grandson on the shore. Sadie looked toward heaven in gratitude, then looked down again, yelling back up to God, "He had a hat!"

May our offerings of well-being and gratitude be given in a timely way and may they, in turn, evoke well-being and gratitude in others. Amen.          

Shabbat Shalom!

 

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Purim spectacular!!

The Village Temple is rocking the house for Purim this year! 

Last night’s Megillah reading and Purimspiel made for an incredible evening, thanks to the talent, creativity, hard work, and enthusiasm of our choir kids and the many adults who planned and performed. Special kudos to Mickey Rindler, who wrote the VT adaptation of “Frozen” with great panache; the performers who put on a chillingly fabulous show; Tina Ball who did a masterful job of herding cats and other delightful creatures. The sanctuary was packed with adults and children. You could see how much fun everyone was having by the fact that it seemed like half the kids in the audience tried to climb up on stage at one point or another. And hats off to Alex Tansky, the best sport ever, onstage and off. 

Cantor Nancy Bach led a lovely service. And while Anita Hollander is performing in Chicago, her incredible daughter Holland Hamilton carried on in style, leading the children’s choir to new heights (with a lovely assist from guitarist Jonny Kunis). Talk about l’dor v’dor!!! The choir was just amazing—truly a sign that spring is here. 

Special thanks to Sandy Albert, who has been working double/triple-time to keep things running, publicize our events, handle our books, and represent the VT with singular grace and intelligence. 

By the time the evening was over our faces hurt from smiling so much. Thank you all for demonstrating so beautifully what a dynamic community we are blessed with at The Village Temple. 

And the fun continues on Friday, March 25, with our adult Purim Celebration. Come in costume, mask (or not), and join the fun, with services followed by Haman’s hat hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, live music and dancing. Childcare provided!

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Parshat Pikudei: Dvar Torah by Alizah Brozgold

At services on Friday night, March 11, lay leader Alizah Brozgold beautifully captured the moment of transition we are experiencing at The Village Temple. Please read her inspiring words:

 

Dvar Torah

Parshat Pikudei

3/11/16

 

         This week's Parsha contains an image that has always held a great sense of awe and mystery for me. The Torah describes that after the Tabernacle or Mishkan is built, a description is given of a pillar of cloud that covers the Mishkan by day and a pillar of fire that burns by night, indicating God's Presence and leading the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land. (40:33-38) 

         Of the two pillars, it is the one of fire that would seem to offer the most impressive symbol of God's presence. Fire and light would literally 'show the way', illuminate our path, inspire wonder in the Israelites and anyone we passed on our journey.The pillar of cloud, on the other hand, has the potential to obscure and hide, although as such, it also serves a protective function.

         Thinking of these two pillars led me to muse on the aspects of cloud and fire both in a psychological and spiritual context, as well as in the context of our synagogue. 

         In the two types of pillars, we can see represented different types of spiritual revelations. One is bright, fiery - a sight that no one can miss. I think of it as the kind of psychological insight that comes in the form of a joyful spark or celebratory "Aha moment". 

         Then there is the cloud revelation. It is the quiet understanding that comes in a darker, more somber moment. It may come to us when we reflect on the challenges of life or experience illness or the loss of someone we love. 

         In the life of our synagogue, we also have these two pillars accompanying us as we proceed on our journey to find a new Rabbi and figure out what our community's future should look like. 

         In the example of our synagogue, the pillar of fire can be seen as representing our hope and aspirations, our need for light and warmth that will bring healing and closeness and clarity. We want that light to embrace us, as well as draw others in. 

         The pillar of cloud also follows us. In the cloud are our hurts and our confusion. The cloud doesn't disappear - as much as we may want it to. We may want to hide in the cloud for a while, just as when we grieve, we may want to withdraw into ourselves for a time. Yet, in the darkness, we can also find insight, and wisdom in the wake of loss. This is beautifully described in the Tanhuma Midrash:

"The eye has a dark part and a light part. One can only see through the dark part." 

         The fire and the cloud are states of being that have their time or season in the life of a human being and in the life of a community. 

         May we make use of our cloud and our fire revelations, and remember in the words of Shlomo Yehoshua aka Stephen Sondheim:

"Where ever we go, whatever we do,

We're gonna go through it together."

 

Shabbat Shalom!

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In Memoriam – Paul Aiken

On Tuesday, Feb. 2, The Village Temple sanctuary was packed with friends, family, and admirers of Paul Aiken, a VT congregant who died on January 29, one day before his 57th birthday. Paul spent the last two years of his life battling Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He approached the diagnosis the way he lived his life—refusing to accept conventional wisdom and trying to make the world a better place. He was not Jewish but lived and breathed the values of tikkun olam. Paul established a blog, n=2.com, to record his fight against the disease which included taking a number of alternative cures. In addition to the blog, Aiken made n=2.com into a foundation with the aim of “building a global ALS community.” To remember Paul, donations can be made to MAC Angels and Project ALS. Rabbi Koster led a beautiful memorial service which elicited as many laughs as tears, appropriate to Paul’s character and his beautiful, spirited family: Stefanie his wife and his children, A.J., Will, and Melanie. His college roommate and lifelong friend recalled Paul as a man who took deep satisfaction from everyday pleasures—a satisfying bike ride, a sunny afternoon in New York, the Chicago Cubs playing baseball, a hot dog and papaya drink from Gray’s. “This is a good day,” Paul would declare. But his impact was far from ordinary. As executive director of the Author’s Guild for almost 20 years, Paul led the guild in a lawsuit against Google that charged the company’s library book scanning project was copyright infringement. The case continues in the courts. In a statement about Paul, guild president Roxana Robinson noted that "Brilliant and fierce can change the world, but it's generosity that makes it a better place. For twenty years Paul worked to make the world a better place for writers, readers and everyone else affected by the written word.”  

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The Legacy of Leon Klinghoffer

On Thursday evening, October 8, 2015, many Village Temple members joined a huge crowd at the Center for Jewish History, for an emotional, fascinating, inspiring gathering to celebrate and commemorate Leon Klinghoffer. Thirty years have passed since he was murdered by terrorists, during a vacation trip with his wife and friends. His legacy might have been simple, a Jewish entrepreneur out of the Lower East Side who invented the Roto-Broil Rotisserie, a popular kitchen appliance in the 1950s. But at age 69, retired and wheel-chair bound, Mr. Klinghoffer took a cruise with his wife Marilyn to celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary. Palestinian terrorists hijacked the ship, shot Mr. Klinghoffer in cold blood, and ordered his body thrown overboard. In that horrible moment, he became a catalytic part of history, changing the way many in the United States and the world viewed terrorism and its consequences.

 The Klinghoffers’ two daughters, Ilsa and Lisa, have transformed this devastating loss into a profound legacy for their father—and their mother Marilyn, who died of cancer a few months after the death of her husband. The sisters, who are long time Village Temple members (Lisa is married to co-president Jerry Arbittier), have dedicated themselves--through their foundation and working with the Anti-Defamation League--to fighting terrorism through educational, political and legal means.  At the 30th anniversary event, Lisa and Ilsa recounted their experiences in a performance-dialogue that was heart-rending, funny at times, riveting throughout. It was humbling to witness their courage in recalling these events. Most amazing, from a narrative propelled by a hateful act, was the palpable love the sisters demonstrated for one another, their families and the extraordinary cast of characters they have met on this amazing journey.

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B’nei mitzvah and legacy….

June 22, 2015

This past Shabbat, with the Bat Mitzvah of Addie Rosenthal, this year’s crop of Village Temple b’nei mitzvah students has completed the journey to the bimah. Nothing provides greater pleasure to our community than to see these young people make this commitment to their families and to their heritage.  Week after week, we hear them apply their Torah portions to today’s world, finding ways to make these ancient stories relevant to their lives.

The effort this takes shouldn’t be underestimated. Each of these b’nei mitzvah students has to do something that would terrify many adults: stand up in front of a large group of people and present a series of complex prayers (in a foreign language); deliver a speech; and accept public proclamations about them from family and clergy. The preparation is long and often difficult, and competes with the demands of stressful school schedules. Meanwhile, all of this takes place during the psychologically fraught transition from childhood to adolescence.

The importance of this transmission of values has never seemed more important than this past week, when our nation once again experienced racial hatred expressed through murder.  The 21-year-old killer, Dylann Storm Roof, was described by Charles Blow in The New York Times as “a millennial race terrorist.” The columnist asked, “Who radicalized Roof? Who passed along the poison?”

The only antidote to that poison is to strengthen a legacy of social action, of belief in true equality and justice. Throughout the year we’ve listened to young people affirm these values. Our hope lies in them.

 

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One Thing Leads to Another

For the past two years The Village Temple has joined with Judson Memorial Church to co-host the Greenwich Village Interfaith Thanksgiving. Through this wonderful event, Rabbi Koster became involved in the New Sanctuary Movement http://bit.ly/18XPr9p , an interfaith network of congregations and individuals working together to stop unjust deportations that separate families and ruin lives. This past Shabbat, our congregation had the privilege of hearing from Kamal Essaheb,http://1.usa.gov/1ztavhO an immigration policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center in Washington, D.C. who spoke eloquently about his personal history while offering specific ways individuals can help this important cause. 

Immigration reform is a subject close to our hearts at The Village Temple, with a rabbi from the Netherlands, a religious school educator from the former Soviet Union, and a cantorial soloist from Morocco. You probably don’t have to go back too many generations to find an immigrant connection in every Village Temple family.  As the child of immigrant parents, for me one of the most moving passages in the Torah was the admonition in Deuteronomy: “You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” This spring, working with New Sanctuary, The Village Temple plans to put these words into action.

 

 

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Seeking the Light

On January 16, 2015, The Village Temple honored the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. by remembering our shared commitment to peace and justice for all. It was an evening of legacy.  Anita Hollander was joined in song by the children’s choir she guides so beautifully, as well as her daughter Holland Hamilton, whose marvelous voice often graces our services.  Anita also invited a special guest performer—the magical Rebecca Naomi Jones,  a rising star in the New York theater, whose mother Susan Rosenberg Jones is a former VT co-president and an accomplished photographer. The presence of these exquisite young performers was just another remember of the many gifts and talents our congregants bring to our community.

It was an evening to look inward and outward. The Village Temple continues to blossom. It’s been gratifying to watch the growth in attendance at services, thanks to the spiritual depth of our clergy and musicians, as well as the diversity and vibrancy of our programming.  Our office staff is doing an excellent job of keeping the machinery running.  We have committed volunteers, including our engaged and hardworking board of directors.

Still, our sweet and lovely MLK commemoration couldn’t entirely block out the barrage of hatred out in the larger world. Even as we enjoyed and appreciated the spirit within, we couldn’t ignore the murderous assaults in Paris. Less publicized here but no less vicious than the Parisian attacks, was an Al Queda car bombing in Yemen that killed 37 people. The victims included Jews, Christians, agnostics and Muslims.

 Our service was dedicated to respect for individuals and groups, at a moment when Muslim extremists have dominated the news.  Yet, as Times columnist Nicholas Kristof pointed out in a thoughtful column nyti.ms/155NaGC  we can’t fall prey to what he calls “religious profiling.” As a congregation, we are continually working to make The Village Temple live up to our aim of kesher, or connection, and to always seek the light of knowledge and tikkun olam.

As Dr. King said so eloquently: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

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In Memoriam - Cantor Jenny Izenstark

jenny izenstark

On Friday, November7, 2014, with the untimely death of Cantor Jenny Izenstark, The Village Temple lost a dedicated teacher and a brave friend. She was fifty years old.

Born in Chicago, Cantor Jenny was a Fulbright Scholar and then an opera singer in Europe before she became a  graduate of Hebrew Union College and an ordained cantor. For the past twenty years she guided countless students through the process of becoming B’nei Mitzvah, including those with learning issues and challenges.

In the spring of 2013, at age 49, Cantor Jenny was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that she battled with courage and humor .“I pretty much have my mojo back,” Cantor Jenny told a reporter for the hospital newsletter during her stay at Columbia University’s Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center. “But it’s been quite a dramatic and humbling experience. Certainly I didn’t expect to almost die before I turned 50.”

Despite the physical toll the disease extracted from her, Cantor Jenny rallied to teach her students at The Village Temple and elsewhere,. Less than a week before her death she was working with young people,, determined to pass her knowledge to the next generation.

Her humble courage was inspiring. “Have you heard the saying, man plans and God laughs?” Cantor told the hospital reporter.”To me it means you just have to roll with it. Whatever life brings you, turn it into lemonade. I’ve always been good at doing this—but I didn’t know I’d have to be quite this good.

We are grateful for all she gave us. Her family has requested that memorial donations in her name be made to Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center, www.ndbc.cumc.columbia.edu.

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The Embrace of Community

In a sharply crafted article in the October 23, 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books, http://bit.ly/1vkxUB2 the brilliant writer Zadie Smith writes of a harsh individualism she sees in Manhattan, gentrification gone wild, celebrating singular success and “happiness” without regard for those who don’t have this luxury. She writes: “Manhattan is for the hard-bodied, the hard-minded, the multitasker, the alpha mamas and papas. A perfect place for self-empowerment—as long as you’re pretty empowered to begin with.”

Updated and incisive as her essay is, Smith’s observation isn’t a revelation. New York has always been perceived of as a tough and often heartless town—because it can be. In her Brain Pickings blog last year, Maria Popova quotes a 1934 letter from Anais Nin to her then-lover Henry Miller http://bit.ly/1yr69rH:

“New York is the very opposite of Paris. People’s last concern is with intimacy. No attention is given to friendship and its development. Nothing is done to soften the harshness of life itself. There is much talk about the ‘world,’ about millions, groups, but no warmth between human beings. They persecute subjectivity, which is a sense of inner life; an individual’s concern with growth and self-development is frowned upon.

Subjectivity seems to be in itself a defect. No praise or compliments are given, because praise is politeness and all politeness is hypocrisy. Americans are proud of telling you only the bad. The ‘never-talk-about-yourself’ taboo is linked with the most candid, unabashed self-seeking, and selfishness.”

And yet, now as always, New York offers another kind of energy,  embodied by countless people whose ambitions are just as relentless as the “hard-minded” success seekers, but with a different definition of success.  Maybe you don’t notice them as much because selfishness stands out more than kindness, in the way you remember the person who shoves you more than the 100 people who passed by, mindful of your space as well as theirs.  We tend to revisit/analyze/dwell on the sting of rejection more often than the embrace of approval.

So in the spirit of embracing warmth between human beings and celebrating the empowerment of community, Jerry and I thank all of you who make The Village Temple such a welcoming corner of our sometimes harsh city. The warmth was palpable this past Friday at our Succoth service, with the sanctuary and Succah filled with people of all ages, from a wide range of socioeconomic circumstance, to join Rabbi Koster and Anita Hollander and our amazing children’s choir.  For a couple of hours the clock stopped ticking as we celebrated the great gift of stepping outside the usual demands and concerns imposed by our hectic lives, to recognize that we are not alone.

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A Rare Glimmer of Hope

On September 12, 2014 The Village Temple was honored to host Avshalom “Abu” Vilan as our speaker for Shabbat services. Mr. Vilan—a former of the Knesset, founder of Israel’s PEACE NOW movement, veteran of the Israeli armed forces, father of a soldier who fought in Gaza—provided a rare glimmer of hopefulness—however tiny—from the Middle East. Hearing about his family’s generational commitment to Israel—three generations now fighting in so many wars—was so moving.  He brought a fresh perspective that you don’t often hear—vehemently pro-Israel/anti-Hamas/pro-peace—presented with knowledge, political savvy, enormous sophistication.

Seventy people attended services and engaged in a respective, provocative post-service Q&A in the social hall. We hope this is the beginning of an ongoing conversation: How do we maintain security for Israel and her citizens while promoting peace in the region? This isn’t just a question for Jews but for everyone in the world at a moment when so much madness is raging.

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Feeling With Our Minds

It may seem like a busman’s holiday for an author to read books about writing, but I do it--often. Right now I am engrossed by Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. Yesterday I came across this wonderful passage, meant for writers but meaningful  to anyone who takes respite in reflection—and  a fine prelude to the meditative spirit of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

“We are part of a great tapestry of those who have preceded us,” Shapiro writes. “And so we must ask ourselves: Are we feeling with our minds? Thinking with our hearts? Making every empathic leap we can? Are we witnesses to the world around us? Are we climbing on the shoulders of those who paved the way for us? Are we using every last bit of ourselves, living these lives of ours, spending it, spending it all, every single day?”

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What Truly Counts?

 Alizah Brozgold, a congregant who is a psychologist, filled in for Rabbi Koster, who was on vacation, at July 11 Shabbat services. Alizah connected the weekly Torah portion from the Book of Numbers, to the terrible events taking place in Israel and Gaza. We asked Alizah if we could post her beautiful reflection on our blog.

From Alizah:

            This week's Torah portion is from the 25th chapter of the Book of Numbers.

            You might be thinking that this particular book of the Torah is one you wouldn't be much interested in reading.  You might be thinking along the lines of Albert Einstein who wisely said, - "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."  In fact, this portion contains many lessons of relevance to our lives today related to both counting and what truly counts.

             We read in this Torah portion of counting in several contexts:  a census taking of the Israelites, as well as a long list of the sacrifices required at the Holy Temple for different occasions.  We read of the four daughters of Zelaphichad who appeal to Moses for an inheritance of land since their father had no male heirs.  We read of pairs, for example, Moses and Joshua, as Moses hands down his role of leadership to Joshua before the Israelites enter the Promised Land.  And in a story that resonates with the tragic cycle of violence in Israel today, we read of another couple - an Israelite man and a Midianite woman who are brutally slain by an Israelite named Pinchas when they flagrantly display their love for each other by the Temple altar.  Pinchas seems like the model of the first 'vigilante' - he takes justice into his own hands in the context of punishing a couple who violate the norms of their society in which they cannot be together. And why is it that Pinchas appears to be rewarded by God for his heinous act, as Pinchas is offered God's "briti shalom" - "My covenant of peace", and his descendants are offered the covenant of the priesthood. 

Dvar Torah, Page 2

Parshat Pinchas

           As Rabbi Burkeman in his Dvar Torah on the URJ website comments, on the surface, the Torah appears to reward Pinchas for his actions, as Burkeman says, "a worrying precedent for the actions we have witnessed in this past week."  When we look a little deeper, however, there is more to the story because God brings him into a covenant of peace. By making him a priest, God "removes him from the realm of violence and war, placing him squarely in the realm of peace and ensuring that Pinchas will never again be in a position to bring death and destruction."

            Today we also have in mind other 'counts':  the three Israeli teenagers,Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach who were kidnapped and killed as they hitchhiked to their homes, the Palestinian teenager from East Jerusalem, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was kidnapped and killed in an apparent revenge attack.  We're also counting the 350 Israelis who went to the home of Mohammed Abu Khdeir's family to express their condolences for his senseless murder, and the thousands of Israeli reservists who have been called up for military duty.

             As we hold all these numbers in mind, thinking back to Einstein's quote, what truly counts here? What counts is that we do what we can in our own lifetimes and societies to help justice and mutual understanding evolve above and beyond what we read in Parshat Pinchas.  Whether we are standing up for the rights of those who are oppressed or in some way dismissed, discounted, or 'othered', God's covenant of peace must be reclaimed and reimagined in every generation.  For the Israelis and for the Palestinians, we pray that peace will come with all our hearts. 

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Julie and Jerry Welcome Letter

Dear Village Temple Members,

This is Julie Salamon and Jerry Arbittier, your co-presidents, checking in to tell you our hopes for 5775.  

Last year The Village Temple inaugurated our theme of kesher, or connection, which resulted in a wonderful series of services and special programming. We hope you join us in our ongoing journey of exploration and contemplation.

Rabbi Koster brings enormous creativity and passion to the work of expanding our vision of Judaism while preserving the Village Temple traditions we love. Our soloists, Anita Hollander and Gerard Edery, along with our flute player Lisa Loren, guest musicians and our beloved children’s choir, delight us with new and familiar versions of Jewish music, from across time and around the world. Religious School director Alex Tansky and his teaching staff  engage and educate our children with an eye on past and future.  Our new B’nei Mitzvah trainer Geoffrey Brown will join Cantor Jenny Izenstark in preparing our children for this important milestone.

    The Village Temple offers many ways into Judaism—through weekly Shabbat services and our High Holy Day services at Cooper Union.  Our Synaplex committee, led this year by Sandi Knell Tamny and Judith Schiff, bring us insights into unexpected aspects of Jewish culture, with guest speakers and delicious food. Our film series, produced by Ellen Goosenberg, brings fascinating films on Jewish subjects to The Village Temple, always accompanied by a guest lecturer. Our Prayer Project will continue, with monthly reflections on prayers, psalms and commentaries by Village Temple members. You can read these on our website—and contact us if you’d like to participate.

Harvey Epstein and the Social Action committee plan to build on their great work with programs like the Blood Drive, our Mitzvah Day clean-up of Washington Square Park, and the Kites for a Cure gathering.   Along with our Soup Kitchen, under the leadership of Dean Chavooshian, these events help solidify tikkun olam as a centerpiece of The Village Temple’s mission, for the congregation at large as well as our religious school and B’nei Mitzvah students.  

We plan to continue to build on our interfaith connection project and to launch new initiatives aimed at welcoming the Manhattan Russian community as well as young adults in their 20s and 30s. 

There are many ways to connect with one another. Our website is a cornerstone of our efforts to keep you posted on what’s going on at the VT, and for you to communicate with us.   In addition, we offer our reinvigorated temple newsletter, named Kesher, and welcome contributions from our congregants.  We are always looking for fresh thoughts, so please join the conversation!

We have also established a committee of Shabbat Ambassadors to help us get to know one another better. When you walk through the door for Shabbat and holiday services, as well as other Village Temple events, someone will be there to greet you, to answer your questions, to make you feel at home. And we hope many of you might like to be one of our Ambassadors from time to time!   

If you have questions or concerns, never hesitate to reach out to us, Rabbi Koster or our wonderful Temple Administrators, Sandy Wilson and Sandy Albert. 

Finally, many thanks to Stephanie Kanarek, who provided so much wisdom and grace as our co-president last year--and to our hard-working board of trustees, who do so much for our community.  

Looking forward to a sweet and spicy year together.

With warm wishes,

Julie and Jerry

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In Memoriam

Just a brief word to mark the passing of a longtime Village Temple member and extraordinary woman, Elinor Ratinor, who died on Wednesday May 15 in her home, at age 94.

I last saw Elinor a few months ago at lunch with Harriet Zimmer. These two amazing women—both in their 90s—were Founding Mothers of The Village Temple. After lunch I accompanied Elinor home. She insisted on walking, though she wasn’t strong and there was a powerful wind that chilly afternoon.  As we made our way across the Village, Elinor talked about her work with the Educational Alliance and various programs to help children in the Bronx and elsewhere. She was smart, tough and inspiring.  Elinor, for many years deeply involved with the Village Temple Soup Kitchen, didn’t just believe in mitzvah, she lived according to that belief.

When I heard that Elinor died I called Harriet to give my condolences for the passing of her dear friend. Harriet told me she was trying not to feel sad though it was hard. She and Elinor were close for more than 50 years. When Harriet turned 90, five years ago, Elinor threw the party for her. Harriet told me the two of them had often discussed death and agreed that when life became so difficult the hardship outweighed the pleasure, they were ready to go.  So, Harriet said, she felt Elinor was ready. But Harriet also said that belief doesn’t soften the blow of losing someone whose friendship was such an important part of her existence for so many years.

Here’s the New York Times obituary celebrating Elinor’s life:

RATNER--Elinor Frances Goodfriend, died peacefully in her home in New York on May 15, 2014, aged 94. She was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania and received her Bachelor of Arts from Wellesley College in 1944. Shortly after her graduation she moved to Washington, DC., where she worked in the Office of War Information. Later she worked for the State Department in New York. Elinor Ratner had a lifetime commitment to social and civil projects. She was a passionate advocate for child welfare programs, principally with Day Care and Head Start in the Bronx. She was Vice President and Trustee of the Educational Alliance, a Co-Founder, former Secretary and Vice President and Board Member of Leake & Watts Children's Services and a co-founder and Board Member of the GO Project. She was an adviser to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and a founder of the Village Temple as well as a tireless supporter of the Temple's Soup Kitchen. In 1944 she married Robert S. Ratner (1918 1980) and after the war they moved to an apartment on lower Fifth Avenue where she continued to live until her death. She is survived by her two sons, Peter and David Ratner, her daughters-in-law Carol Walters and Dr. Laura Schiller and her beloved grandchildren, Molly, Sophie, Sacha, Suzanne, Erin, Simon and Frances and her great-grandchildren, Ezra, Lilith and Elinor. She held so many in her warm embrace and will be dearly missed. Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, May 21 at 11:45 at Riverside Memorial Chapel, 76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Manhattan. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the GO Project or the Educational Alliance.

- See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=ELINOR-RATNER&pid=171041036#sthash.X56gr4QI.dpuf

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The Village Temple 2013-2014 Report to the Congregation

The Village Temple 2013-2014  Report to the Congregation

 

A year ago, after a series of Town Hall meetings, Rabbi Koster and The Village Temple leadership embarked on a year of kesher, or connection, with the goal of reinvigorating our 65 year old congregation. Thanks to the commitment and hard work of numerous volunteers, Rabbi Koster, and the participation of our wonderful community, we’ve accomplished more than we would have dared to dream was possible. Weekly attendance at regular Shabbat services has steadily increased, while Synaplex and other special events pack the house.  Our regular musicians—Gerard Edery and Anita Hollander, together with Lisa Loren on flute—have treated us to marvelous interpretations of familiar prayers, frequently joined by fabulous musical guests. Our communications have improved greatly, with our new website and the reintroduction of our synagogue newsletter, Kesher. Our religious school continues to be a vibrant center for education and connection, building on Village Temple tradition while creating new forms of learning. And week in and week out, Rabbi Koster provides comfort to the bereaved, blesses our newborns, presides over our B’nei Mitzvahs, marries us, and provides a safe space to look inward, to discover our place within Judaism’s history, present and future.

Here is a survey of what’s been happening at The Village Temple with thanks to the Rabbi, Alex Tansky, our musicians, our office staff, custodians and board of directors as well as the many, many volunteers who brought it all together.  Like Judaism itself, The Village Temple remains a work-in-progress, and what it becomes depends on all of us.  So much of the special programming is carried out by volunteers. We welcome your suggestions and your help, either through joining a committee, or occasional volunteering for a specific project. Every bit is appreciated!!

Shabbat Services and Special Events

Prayer Project

                 Every month Rabbi Koster has selected a prayer from the service for closer study by the Rabbi and our musicians. On the last Shabbat of the month, one or two congregants have provided intriguing, personal interpretations of the prayer—and Sandi Knell Tamny donated her contribution, a beautiful interpretation of V’ahavta, now hanging in our social hall. You can read all of these on our website, in the Prayer Project section of the Worship category. The Prayer Project will continue next year. Let us know if you’d like to participate. Thanks to this year’s participants: Paul Hamilton, Ann Temkin, Julie Salamon, David Smith, Esther Siegel, Stephanie Kanarek, Lisa Feitel, Sandi Knell Tamny, Bill Abrams, Barbara Leopold, Mickey Rindler, and Deborah Wolf. On May 30, we will have our final Prayer Project presentation for this year, from Andrew Wilkinson and Fred Basch. 

 Synaplex and Special Shabbats

                Our Synaplex committee has produced a remarkable series of speakers and programs. We’ve learned about the Jews of Cape Verde, Bolshevism and the Jews, and Jewish Renewal in Poland.  Music was central to our Jazz Shabbat and Andalusian Shabbat. As always, the Purimschpiel (“Jewsies”) was standing room only. Our Friday night speakers have included a member of the Knesset, an editor of the Washington Post during Watergate,),a survivor of Auschwitz, and on May 16 the senior minister of Judson Memorial Church  will discuss her experience raising children in an interfaith family. Congregant Joseph Siegel graced our social hall walls with an art exhibition, and Alice Chernik moved us with her personal story on our Disabilities Awareness Shabbat. Special thanks to the Synaplex committee: Joel Roskind, Judy Schiff, Sandy Knell Tamny, Sheila Renert, Sharon Weinstein and Joy Kestenbaum.

The Village Temple Children’s Choir

                Throughout the year, our children’s choir and their fabulous leader Anita Hollander add immeasurable joy and energy to holiday and other special services. On Martin Luther King Shabbat the choir joined Broadway star Andre de Shields for a memorable tribute to the civil rights leader. The choir helped lead the congregation in celebration of the High Holidays, Chanukah, Sukkot, Thanksgiving, Purim and Passover, and will be there again on Yom Ha Atzma’ut on May 9.

 The Film Series

                Throughout the year we have presented films with Jewish themes, accompanied by a Q&A with the director or producer. Our films this year: 50 Children; Koch; and one more film, to be announced shortly.. Thanks to Ellen Goosenberg for helping procure the films, and to Ellen and Emily Hacker for being ace interviewers.

Education

Religious School

                Under the leadership of Alex Tansky and oversight of board member Jill Wilkinson,, enrollment was strong. The Village Temple continues to provide our children grounding in Jewish tradition and liturgy, celebration of holidays, and a respect for the importance of Tikkun Olam. In addition, several new initiatives were put into place.  These include:

                --Increased communication with parents via curriculum night at the beginning of the year and regular faculty reports         informing parents what the children are learning, as well as how each individual student is doing.

                -- Electives that include student newsletter, drumming circle, Biblical drama.

                --Flexible schedule for our Monday/Wednesday students.

                --Participation in social action projects.

 

B’nei Mitzvah Program

                Cantor Jenny Izenstark conducted our training of B’nei Mitzvah students.  When Cantor Jenny had to be absent because of a serious illness, Rabbi Koster and Liotte Greenbaum stepped in to make sure our B’nei Mitzvah students had continuity in their training. For next year, we will be offering more days of training to provide more flexibility for our B’nei Mitzvah families, and an additional trainer, Geoffrey Brown, who brings a warm soul and years of experience.The Social Action Committee worked with B’nei Mitzvah families to help match each B’nei Mitzvah student find a community service project in conjunction with their religious training.

Hartman Institute “Engaging Israel” course

                Twenty-two adults enrolled in this monthly course, led by Rabbi Koster, organized by Israel’s Hartman Institute.  This was the third year the course was offered. This year’s topic has been the “Tribes of Israel,” an examination of all the people who lay claim to Israel. Thanks to Jerry Arbittier for handling administration.

 Social Action

                The Village Temple Soup Kitchen continues to be a source of pride to our community, under the excellent supervision of Dean Chavooshian.  Building on this historic center of mitzvah, our social action committee organized several powerful events this year.  The second annual Village Temple blood drive drew 40 people who volunteered to give blood; 24 pints were collected.  And this year the blood drive was supplemented by bone marrow donor registry. The committee sponsored the speaker from Bend the Arc, who discussed two federal campaings to protect voting rights and advocate for immigration reform.   In April, The Village Temple held its first “Mitzvah Day,” a clean-up of Washington Square Park, attended by about 70 Village Temple members, half adult, half kids.  Mitzvah projects for B’nei Mitzvah students became part of the B’nei Mitzvah process.  In May, The Village Temple will once again put on its “Kites for a Cure” event, which was such a success last year, both as a fundraiser for lung cancer research and a community builder. Many thanks to committee chair Harvey Epstein and Fred Sachs, Nelly Szlachter, David Levit, and Arthur Schwartz.

 Interfaith Initiative

     Through a grant from the UJA, The Village Temple offered several programs aimed at engaging our interfaith families. In November, we co-hosted the annual Greenwich Village Thanksgiving service, together with Judson Memorial  church. The result was a rousing evening of poetry, song and dance, with participation from numerous denominations and faiths. In addition, interfaith congregants were welcomed to a brunch last autumn, hosted by a Village Temple family, and to a Havdalah service and dinner at another family’s home this spring. In May, Donna Schaper, senior minister of Judson Church, will be speaking at the VT about her experiences raising children in her interfaith home. Also in May, a UJA representative will provide training to our religious school faculty and board of directors on how to improve connections with our interfaith families. Thanks to Emily Hacker, Barbara Gerolimatos and Jill Wilkinson.

 Communication

 Website

     Our newly designed website has provided information about Village Temple events in a much more attractive, user-friendly format. Rabbi Koster and the co-presidents have maintained updates on blogs posted on the website, and Alex Tansky has taken over weekly management of news posted on the site from its superb designer, Emily Hacker.            

 Newsletter

     Janet Falk, Elyse Grusky and Jill Boltin have done a wonderful job of reviving the temple newsletter, now called Kesher. This bi-monthly newsletter provides news, an easy-to-post-on-the-fridge calendar, and insights into our community.

E-blasts and flyers

     We’ve redesigned all our materials to provide a cohesive look to all Village Temple materials.

Membership

 We now number approximately 250 family units, representing about 700 adults and children. Thank s to Betsy Krebs for heading up membership. And thanks to Alexandra Pomerantz for overseeing our Shabbat Amabassador Program, and all the volunteers who participated in this program to greet people at services and events, and provide information about The Village Temple.

Fundraising

Our Fundraising Committee organized our annual Phonathon; thank you to everyone who contributed. Major supporters of The Village Temple attended a private tour at MoMA, conducted by Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture—and a Village Temple member.

Administration

The office

     Sandy Albert and Sandy Gonzalez-Wilson, our office administrators, have worked diligently to make our office run more effectively. Please thank them when you can!

 Business affairs

     501 c 3 filing with IRS. Some organizations with matching programs require this. The Village Temple filed several months ago; we are now subject to the IRS timetable.

      Conflicts of interest policy was adopted and our Certificate of Incorporation was amended.

      By-laws revision. Special thanks to Carole Sadler for overseeing this important task.

      Accounting and building oversight: Special thanks to Fred Eichler and Fred Basch.

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