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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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Legacy

A year ago, we declared that we were embarking a year of kesher, or connection.  Every week since then, we have been amazed and gratified at the breadth and depth of our small congregation’s talents and resources. Almost every weekend our programming has led us to think: We can’t match this—and then we are proven wrong again. This past weekend, beginning with Friday night services and continuing with our Yom HaShoah commemoration, was the most recent of those occasions.

The importance of legacy was the unstated theme throughout the weekend, where congregants ranging in age from 11 to 95 gathered for three powerhouse presentations. 

At Friday night services, the congregation had the chance to connect Jewish values to two American traditions: the rights and demands of a free press, and the spiritual practices of Native Americans. Harry Rosenfeld, the Washington Post metro editor who oversaw the Watergate coverage in the 1970s, provided fascinating insights into the relationship between his personal history and professional path, which became the basis of his memoir, From Kristallnacht to Watergate. Mr. Rosenfeld was introduced by his daughter, Village Temple congregant Stefanie Rosenfeld and appreciated by all, including his lovely wife and grandchildren, who were also present.

Deborah Wolf, an integrative cognitive therapist and anthropologist, who has worked with indigenous healers and spiritual leaders for over twenty-five years, presented a remarkable and moving interpretation of Yedid Nefesh, that linked this ancient Jewish prayer with a Native American pipe ceremony.  (While words can’t  adequately convey the experience of watching Deborah perform the ceremony, her beautiful text is available under the Prayer Project link on The Village Temple website.)

On Sunday morning, with the guidance and wisdom of Rabbi Koster, Alex Tansky, Anita Hollander, and our religious school music leader  Ty Citerman , members of the Village Temple Religious School led a reverent and meaningful Yom HaShoah service for the religious school students and our adult community, more than 100 participants in all—including one of The Village Temple’s most revered and longtime congregants, Harriet Zimmer, age 95.

They were joined by Lilly Salcman (mother of co-president Julie Salamon), who is, among many other things, a survivor of Auschwitz. In a living example of l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, Lilly recalled her experiences and answered the sincere and probing questions provided by the religious school students. Inspiration overflowed in all directions.

 

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Pete Seeger’s Legacy

We join the many who mourn the passing of Pete Seeger, who died on January 27, 2014 at the age of 94. Seeger wasn’t Jewish but he embodied values we hold dear, chief among them the notion of tikkun olam.

He had a complicated relationship with Israel: admiring and then questioning, but always open to discussion. Below is an excerpt from Seeger’s obituary in The Jerusalem Post:

The musician first visited Israel in 1964 to spend time on several kibbutzim with his wife and children, JTA reported. He also visited again right before the 1967 Six Day War, performing the hit Hebrew song “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” which he had recorded with the Weavers in 1950, according to JTA. The Weavers version of the song, originally written by Polish immigrant to Palestine Issachar Miron in 1941, made No. 2 on the Billboard charts for 1951 – second only to another song of the Weavers, “Goodnight Irene.”

In addition to performing “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena,” Seeger also recorded a version of “Dayenu,” from the Passover Haggadah, in the 1959 album Folk Songs for Young People. Seeger also performed “Hineh Ma Tov” with the Weavers in their 1963 Reunion at Carnegie Hall – Part 2 album.

In November 2010, Seeger performed in an online peace rally “With Earth and Each Other,” in support of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, despite widespread calls for him to boycott the event. At the Kibbutz Ketura-based institute, students from around the world, including Jewish and Arab Israelis, as well as Palestinians and Jordanians, partake in environmental studies and research programs.

Seeger resisted the call of more than 40 organizations, led by Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, to skip the event and “join the growing list of artists who have respected the Palestinian boycott call.” At the time, Arava Institute executive director David Lehrer stressed that the event was not designed to be a political rally but “to show the world that there is another side of the conflict, in which people across borders are striving to work together for the betterment of all.”

The musician expressed similar sentiments prior to his performance, telling JTA that, while he could understand why someone might want to boycott a place financially, he could not understanding a boycott of dialogue.

“The world will not be here in 50 years unless we learn how to communicate with each other nonviolently,” he told JTA.

“By March 2011, however, Adalah-NY reported that Seeger had met with representatives of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and said that he supports the anti-Israel BDS movement, according to JTA.”

“Afterwards, Seeger told JTA that while he “probably said” that, he is still learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that his “opinions waver with each piece of information” he receives.”

“After learning about Seeger’s passing, Lehrer told The Jerusalem Post that “this is indeed a sad day” for the Arava Institute and for “all those who love folk music and believe in the power of song to change the world.” Lehrer fondly recalled visiting Seeger at his home in Cold Springs, New York in 2010, when he and his daughter enjoyed singing a few songs with the musician as well.”

“Pete Seeger stood for justice and for standing up for the weak and the powerless,” he said. “Mr. Seeger supported the Arava Institute because of our commitment to environmental justice in the region and because of our commitment to building bridges between people instead of walls,” Lehrer continued.

“We join with the rest of the humanity in mourning the loss of an important voice for peace, sustainability and human dignity.”

The founder of the Arava Institute, Prof. Alon Tal, recalled the “tremendous pressure on Pete Seeger to pull out of the virtual rally.”

“But Pete refused,” said Tal, a faculty member at Ben-Gurion University’s Blaustein Institute of Desert Research, on sabbatical at Stanford University.

“He sought peace in the Middle East and expected Israel to pursue peace more expeditiously, but he was not an anti-Zionist,” he added.

Commending Seeger’s commitment to the environment, Tal stressed that the musician’s work to preserve natural resources must be remembered by all those working toward a more sustainable future.

“Pete Seeger’s efforts, indeed unflagging efforts, to restore the Hudson River to its former glory constitutes one of the great conservation stories of recent US environmental history,” he said.

Tal – who is also a banjo and fiddler player in the Arava Riders bluegrass band – said he learned to play banjo using the “Peter Seeger method.”

“Pete Seeger will first and foremost be remembered as someone who popularized the social conscience in the American folk tradition,” Tal said.

Crediting Seeger for transforming the five-string banjo “into an acceptable acoustic instrument and not just a marginal twanging oddity,” Tal said he appreciates that Seeger made the instrument mainstream.

“Most of all he loved to sing and got a lot of us who grew up in the ‘60s to love to sing the great American folk repertoire,” Tal said. “And I will always remember that he never stopped singing Israeli folk songs like ‘Hineh Mah Tov.’ Let’s look at the entirety of his remarkable life and not this or that political statement that he might have made – and sing a song in this great man’s honor today.”

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Remembering Carmi Landes

On January 12, The Village Temple will host a memorial service for our long time congregant, volunteer and friend, Dr. Carmi Landes, who died in October. Every Friday night, Carmi’s fellow Board members have been standing together to say Kaddish for her, in honor of her service at The Village Temple and will continue this practice for a year.

“Kesher” or connection has been our operating theme this year and it takes many forms.  Carmi’s death has reminded us of the space The Village Temple fills for many of us. It isn’t our only community and we may or may not be close friends with other congregants. But at certain moments, usually connected significant life passages, the synagogue provides an emotional center that can’t be replicated anywhere else. The exact nature of that bond differs from person to person. For some it is religious or spiritual; for others the tie is harder to pin down, linked to memory or perhaps longing.

Through our services and special programming, we are trying to honor the many facets of Judaism that may speak to us individually—religious, cultural, intellectual, culinary, political, and ethical.   The more we consider where we’ve come from and where we might be going, the stronger we become as a community. This is the central theme that runs through everything we do—our Synaplex Shabbats, our interfaith events, the Prayer Project, the film series, our social action programs,  our children’s choir and Religious School events.  Let us know what moves you and what doesn’t.  Tell us what you think is missing and what you love so much you wish there was more of it.

If you have doubts about your own connection don’t worry. You aren’t alone. The great writer Isaac Bashevis Singer put it well:  “Doubt is part of all religion,” he wrote. “All the religious thinkers were doubters.” 

 

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Thanksgiving and Chanukah VT-Style

The rare convergence of Thanksgiving and Chanukah takes place this year. It almost never happens—less than once in a lifetime—because of the complex relationship between the lunar and Gregorian calendars.

Some congregations are celebrating with “Thanksgivukkah” and passing out recipes for pumpkin latkes and fried turkey.  At The Village Temple, we decided to celebrate the way we always do: with music and kesher—connecting with our community. In this case, our community extends beyond the walls of our synagogue throughout Greenwich Village and lower Manhattan. We volunteered to co-host our neighborhood’s annual interfaith Thanksgiving service together with Judson Memorial Church, along with people from many (or no) faiths.  Join us on November 27 at 7 p.m. at Judson Memorial Church, on the south side of Washington Square Park, for an evening of song, music and poetry celebrating light, peace and friendship.

Don’t wait til then to see what we’re up to, however. Gerard Edery and Anita Hollander have been helping Rabbi Koster bring new dimensions to our weekly Friday night services, setting our prayers to a wide range of composers--from Bruch to Yupanqui to Debbie Friedman to James Taylor. Through our Prayer Project we are developing historic and contemporary understanding of our texts, as we try to figure out what being Jewish means to us. But it isn’t work, trust us! We think of Shabbat as a decompression chamber, a place to set aside the crush of business and daily cares. Our weekly services begin at 6:45 every Friday night. Hope to see you there.

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The Gift of Community

September 20, 2013           

E.B. White is best known perhaps as the author of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. He also wrote a slim but deep homage to our city called Here is New York, in which he says: “New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation.”

That sentiment reflects our feelings about services at The Village Temple. You can find a haven from the crush of daily responsibility that comes with New York life.  And feel the excitement of participation in a safe and welcoming community, seeking spiritual fulfillment together.

The gift of private reflection and communal adventure was palpable throughout the Days of Awe, with Rabbi Koster and Gerard Edery’s brilliant guidance. Join the two of them and our marvelous soloist and choir director Anita Hollander this fall, as we continue this ongoing experiment in kesher, or connection through music, reflection, education and friendship.

The more we get to know our fellow congregants, the more humble and grateful we feel to play our part in helping this community tighten its bonds. We have an enthusiastic and dedicated board of trustees and other volunteers. Our office staff—Sandy Albert and Sandy Gonzalez-Wilson with help from Lily Shapiro—not only work at The Village Temple, they do their countless tasks with endless grace and affection. Alex Tansky, our religious school director, brings remarkable life experience and knowledge to our children and families. Our custodians—Santiago, Yvette,  Andrew, and Julio—approach their job with warmth and caring.

E.B. White had another fine quote in that same book: “No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.” We feel very lucky to be here in New York, and to have The Village Temple and all of you as part of our lives.

Looking forward to a sweet, good, kind, and creative year together.

Warm regards,

Julie Salamon and Stephanie Kanarek

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Welcome to our Blog

The launch of our spiffy new website (kudos to Emily Hacker) coincides with a new beginning for The Village Temple. Now celebrating our 65th year, we have spent the last year as a congregation in reflection. Who are we? Who do we want to be? Several dedicated members developed a strategic plan, which has become a touchstone for a community wide conversation that we hope continues every day.

Our byword is Kesher, or connection. What does it mean to be a Jew in the 21st century? Together we look forward to discovering Judaism’s many traditions, our history, and our culture.

Rabbi Chava Koster just graduated from the prestigious three-year Rabbinic Leadership Initiative at the Hartman Institute in Israel, where she has been grappling with these questions. Rabbi Koster is primed and ready to bring her wit, intellect and knowledge to the bimah and beyond. Join her in The Prayer Project, our Interfaith initiatives, at our Film Series—and for the pleasure and spiritual fulfillment of weekly services.

The Village Temple has become known as a synagogue that explores musical boundaries. Our soloists Gerard Edery and Anita Hollander are amazing musicians, unafraid to experiment while honoring the songs and customs we love.

At the Religious School, Alex Tansky and his teaching staff continually review our curriculum and ways of communicating with parents. Check out the RS page to see what they have planned for our children. We have expert B’nei Mitzvah trainer Cantor Jenny Izenstark on board to prepare our students for this important rite of passage.

Tikkun Olam remains a crucial component of our synagogue’s identity. Our soup kitchen is a Village institution, and our social action committee is developing many ways for all of us to make the practice of mitzvah part of our lives.

Our goal this year is to be in touch with you as often as you want. Please let us know what moves you, what you feel is missing, how you want to connect. In the fall, look for the new incarnation of synagogue newsletter, Kesher.

We may be a small synagogue, but we do a lot, thanks to the help of our wonderful community. Check in to see what we're up to, and come along for the ride.

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