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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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