Co-Presidents' Blog

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Jerry Arbittier and Julie Salamon are the Village Temple Co-Presidents.

A Room Full of Love

At last week’s human rights Shabbat, Ruth Messinger offered wise counsel on how we as individuals and a community can combat bigotry of all kinds in our country.  In her words: “Despair is not a strategy.”

That lesson has been lived by Anita Hollander, our children’s choir director and musical force, who this past Shabbat was celebrated for her 30 years at The Village Temple.  It was a perfect Anita evening—bursting with life, wonderful music, a packed room full of love.

At age 21 Anita was diagnosed with neurofibrosarcoma, a former of cancer of the nerves. After surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and 5 years of walking and dancing in a leg brace, the cancer recurred. Ag age 26, her left leg was amputated.

Anita went on to pursue her musical theater career, and became a tireless advocate of fellow performers with disabilities. She built a wonderful family with her husband, the actor Paul Hamilton and her daughter, Holland Hamilton, a gifted performer and teacher ( and former member of the Children’s Choir!). Along the way she joined The Village Temple, first providing special music programs and then becoming children’s choir director.

Preparing for Anita’s 30th anniversary celebration was a remarkable experience. The process has given us a chance to quantify (in a way) the unquantifiable—namely, what she means and has meant to The Village Temple all these years. We’ve seen an outpouring of love and respect from the choir kids and families who have learned so much from her, musically and otherwise. These feelings were beautifully captured by the Dorzback family, in a letter they contributed to the celebration. This excerpt captures the feeling shared by so many, l’dor v’dor:

Whenever our mother said  “the choir taught you this, the choir taught you that,” we used to roll our eyes -– choir seemed like just another activity.  But now we recognize the habits that we formed, the skills that we developed, the support that we received and passed on, the Jewish history and values that we learned through song, and the incredible role model that you provided.  We are proud to be part of the scores of children whom you instructed, engaged, and inspired, and we hope to be able to influence others in our careers as you have influenced us. 

And there is that large constituency of people whose children were not choir members, but who are huge Anita fans because of everything else: the beautiful music she has created for Shabbat services, the young musicians she has cultivated, all those Purim Spiels, Jazz Shabbats, Martin Luther King celebrations,  her one woman show “Still Standing,.” Et cetera, et cetera.

The groups are overlapping, which makes sense, because Anita brings people together.  All of us have been inspired by her talent, her ability to integrate the personal and professional, her courage,  her toughness,  her honesty, her tenderness.

Year in and year out she has made us better.

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A Call to Action!

On Friday night, The Village Temple community had the privilege of hearing from Ruth Messinger, lifelong advocate for social justice and civil liberties. The synagogue was packed with people of all ages, including our wonderful 7th grade class whose members contributed their  hopes for tikkun olam to the service. This is a moment of great turmoil for our country. This service, dedicated to human rights, created a much-needed feeling of hope.  The evening combined powerful ingredients for a spiritual community—a wise and forceful rabbi, beautiful and inspiring music, a thought-provoking speaker, engaged young people (and parents and grandparents and everyone else), delicious food and an atmosphere filled with warmth, good will, and intellectual curiosity.  Our synagogue has become a real haven for those in need of personal reflection and restoration. Can we carry this message outward, to join others dedicated to protecting civil liberties and social injustice? Our job now is to build on this strength and use it for the greater good through personal service and collective action.

Though we are approaching Chanukah, the season of miracles, the success of this evening was not a miracle. It came about through the hard work of many people: Rabbi Hirsch and Cantor Bach created a deep and meaningful service, with the help of our terrific seventh grade class and talented musicians, Eli Salamon-Abrams and Hila Kulik; Bill Abrams, who brought Ruth Messinger to The Village Temple and did great work publicizing the event; Nelly Slzachter and Arthur Rovine , who sponsored the Kiddush, and Nelly, Sandi Knell Tamy and Judy Schiff, who created the lovely oneg; Alex Tansky and Liotte Greenbaum, who oversaw the contributions of the students; Sandy Albert for juggling all the moving parts; Santiago Astacio and Ivette Torres, our dedicated custodial staff.

In the days ahead, the voices of spiritual communities will be of great importance in the fight to uphold constitutional rights, environmental and personal safety, and respect for one another throughout our country. Please be part of the conversation, participate in the action. Your thoughts and ideas most welcome!

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L’Shana Tovah

Thanks to everyone who participated in our High Holy Day services—with special thanks to all of those who volunteered. Rabbi Hirsch brought wisdom, kindness and intellectual force to the Days of Awe. You can read her sermons by clicking here.  And when our cantorial soloist Gerard Edery had to go undergo emergency back surgery in Poland,  where he is still recovering, Rabbi Hirsch on very short notice arranged for two wonderful substitutes—Cantor Nancy Ginsberg for Rosh Hashanah and soloist Ellen Allard for Yom Kippur. Here is an excerpt from our Kol Nidre co-presidents speech, which we offer here as a reflection on the place of The Village Temple in the lives of many people:

When Jerry and I tell people we are co-presidents of our shul we usually get one of two responses.

Pity.

Or abject pity.

But tonight, on this night of self-examination, we can honestly say you shouldn’t feel sorry for us at all!

I’m not saying there haven’t been very tough moments over this past year, as we began a transition.

It was a difficult process, to be sure. Passions were aroused. Feelings were hurt. Throughout it all, Jerry and I were impressed by how much people cared.

We have been gratified to see how many of you were willing to engage in conversations with Rabbi Hirsch about what the synagogue means to you. It has been a privilege to hear what the Village Temple has meant for you—at times of celebration and at times of stress and sorrow.

When I first became co-president more than three years ago, I paid a visit to Harriet Zimmer. Harriet is one of the founding mothers of The Village Temple and is now our oldest congregant—97 years old. I asked her what I needed to know about our congregation.

She didn’t hesitate.

“The temple is the temple,” she said.

I was taken aback at this Yoda like response. The temple is the temple?

Then she explained. “the Village Temple has been around since 1948,” she said. “Rabbis change, cantors change, people come and go. But The Village Temple is always there for all of us.”

So here we are, on this Kol Nidre evening, here for one another, so we don’t have to reach inside by ourselves.

And the Village Temple is here for all of us, as it always has been, for generations before us.

Wishing you an easy fast, and a hopeful New Year.

 

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The New Year begins…

We just read an article on a syndrome called Election Stress Disorder. Not kidding, you can google it.  As we near the end of this long, disturbing presidential campaign, it will be a relief to join one another at Cooper Union for the High Holy Days. We all need a chance to pause, to take stock, to consider what our values are. For our congregation, the High Holy Day services this year feel particularly momentous, coming at the end of a trying period of disruption and the beginning of an exciting process of change.

 

We have been blessed to have Rabbi Hirsch come to us as our interim rabbi, to guide us through a process that, while difficult at times, is invigorating and will make us a stronger, more self-aware congregation.  We look forward to her wise and comforting words during the Days of Awe, and the inspiring music of Cantor Nancy Ginsberg for Rosh HaShana and Cantor Ellen Allard for Yom Kippur.

 

As for the rest of the year: Every week at Shabbat services and in between we are reminded how lucky we are to have the musical and spiritual gifts of Anita Hollander and Cantor Nancy Bach and the smart and gracious administrative talent displayed every day by Sandy Albert! In the summer’s conversations with congregants, there was enormous praise for our Hebrew School and Alex Tansky, who never faltered in the most difficult times and who is so enthusiastic about building for the future. Liotte Greenbaum is doing a wonderful job engaging our teenagers and has jumped into her new position with energy and creativity.  Our board of trustees has been incredible—giving unstintingly of  their time while supporting our community financially.  It is a privilege to be part of such a committed, thoughtful and good-hearted group.

 

These will be the thoughts on our minds as we enter the Great Hall at Cooper Union during the High Holy Days and throughout the year at our spiritual home at The Village Temple.

 

Wishing all of you a sweet, healthy and hopeful New Year.

 

L’shana tovah,

 

Julie and Jerry

 

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As the New Year Approaches….

Photographers talk about the magic hour, that ambiguous time just after sunrise and right before sunset, when the light is soft, full of possibility. As the Jewish New Year approaches, The Village Temple is experiencing a spiritual magic hour, a time of beginnings and endings, of transformation, of contemplation. As our congregation begins the search for a new permanent rabbi, let’s consider what kind of a community we are and who we want to be.

Over the summer, more than seventy of you participated in discussions held in small gatherings at congregant homes. These conversations, led by Rabbi Deborah Hirsch, had two purposes: to gather information that will be useful for the rabbi search committee and, just as important, for you to meet fellow congregants.  If you weren’t able to make it to one of the summer gatherings, not to worry. There will be other opportunities this fall and throughout the year to connect to one another, to learn more about why each of us has chosen The Village Temple as a spiritual home. The reasons can change. People who join out of a sense of duty—perhaps the desire to see children become b’nei mitzvah-- may find something else that appeals: -music at Shabbat services, a challah-baking class, a social action project, the chance to make friends who might be asking the same questions

In this moment of transition, the trick will be to preserve the traditions we hold dear while being unafraid to create new ways of approaching worship, learning and community-building. Rabbi Hirsch is working with musical director Anita Hollander and Cantor Nancy Bach to keep music front and center of our services. Rabbi Hirsch, who became the spiritual leader of The Village Temple on July 1, will lead High Holy Day services at Cooper Union, beginning October 2, 2016 with Erev Rosh Hashanah. If you haven’t yet renewed your Temple membership, please do so we can send you your tickets for the High Holy Days. Unfortunately, Gerard Edery will not be joining Rabbi Hirsch on the bimah as planned. He underwent emergency back surgery end of August and will not be able to recover from physical therapy in time for the High Holy Days.. We hope all of you will say a prayer for Gerard’s quick recovery. However, Rabbi Hirsch quickly reached out to her substantial network and has found two top-notch replacement cantor/soloists. We are honored to have Cantor Nancy Ginsberg for Rosh Hashanah and Cantorial Soloist Ellen Allard for Yom Kippur, who will bring excellent voices, experience and warmth to our services.         

Looking forward to a sweet and inspired New Year!

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In Memoriam

We received the message below from longtime Village Temple member Mimi Abrams, whose beloved father Sol Abrams died last week, on August 31, at age 92. Mr. Abrams led a fascinating life, worth reading about. His obituary noted: “Throughout his life, he helped those in need and championed civil rights, becoming one of the first theater owners in Georgia to integrate. His daughters said his sense of fairness came in large part from being the son of immigrants in the wave of Jewish merchants in small Southern towns who understood the injustice of discrimination.” You can read the entire piece by clicking the link in Mimi’s note: 

 

Dear Family and Friends,

See link below for Sol Abrams (my dear Daddy) Obituary in Atlanta Journal Constitution today.  There is also an Athens Obituary:

google:  online athens obituaries and type in Sol Abrams. 

://www.myajc.com/news/news/local-obituaries/sol-abrams-92-cinema-owner-loved-movies-music-fami/nsSLk/

May his memory forever be a blessing!

Thank you all for your love, kindness and support!

Love,

MIMI and Family

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New Beginnings

On Friday night Rabbi Deborah Hirsch stepped onto the bimah for the first time as spiritual leader of The Village Temple. As it happened, that Erev Shabbat coincided with Erev Fourth of July weekend, not quite propitious timing for starting a new job!!  Happily, a great many of you chose to begin the holiday by welcoming Rabbi Hirsch to our community. The sanctuary was delightfully full—not just with people, but with good will and open hearts. Accompanied by the beautiful music of Anita Hollander and Holland Hamilton, Rabbi Hirsch conducted a moving, intelligent service that invited participation as well as introspection. With eloquence and respect, she spoke about the importance of healing, for our little congregation and for the large, troubled world around us. 

This summer you have the opportunity to have a voice in directing the future course of The Village Temple. Please come to one of several small gatherings taking place in congregant homes for conversation and connection with fellow congregants. Rabbi Hirsch will lead discussions that will allow you to talk about your experiences and hopes for the synagogue, what would make you feel more engaged, why is it important to you. Supper will be served at the evening get-togethers.

Two dates have already filled up. Please reserve as soon as possible, so your hosts can begin to plan. To RSVP please email Sandy Albert in the VT office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call 212-674-2340.

Tues. morning 7/19—11 a.m to 12:30 a.m

Thursday evening 7/21  6:30 pm to 8:00 pm

Tues. morning 7/26—11 a.m to 12:30 a.m

Tues. evening 7/26 – 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm

Mon. evening 6/6 6:30 pm to 8:300 pm

Thursday evening 8/11 –6:30 pm to 8:00 pm

Please indicate your top two preferred dates and times. You will be notified of the date, time and location a few days in advance.

Meanwhile, we encourage you to come to services when you can over the summer. Anita and Cantor Nancy Bach and guest musicians will join Rabbi Hirsch in making Shabbat at The Village Temple inspirational and engaging,  a lovely respite from the hubbub of everyday life.

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Summer Plans

While Religious School may be finished for the year, The Village Temple is open all year round. Our summer services are always a special pleasure, with guest appearances by wonderful musicians and the opportunity to meet Rabbi Deborah Hirsch, our interim rabbi. Rabbi Hirsch’s official start date is July 1, which happens to be Erev Shabbat. Skip the holiday traffic and start July 4 weekend at The Village Temple. Come to Friday night services on July 1 to welcome Rabbi Hirsch and then head out for wherever you are going!!

We have emerged from this difficult year stronger and smarter about community engagement. You are invited to participate in one of several opportunities to meet with Rabbi Hirsch in small groups, to discuss what you would like the Village Temple to be. Most of these gatherings will take place in the home of members, and will be part business, part social. This will allow you to be part of an important conversation about the synagogue’s purpose and meaning, as well as the chance to get to know fellow congregants. Please attend these sessions, so your voices can be heard. 

The information gathered at these meetings will provide guidance to the search committee for a full time rabbi. Thanks to the following congregants who have volunteered for this important task. They represent the spectrum that makes up The Village Temple: long-time and recent members; grandparents, families; singles; interfaith families; experts in Jewish ritual and those at the beginning of their learning journey: Sarah King, Marina Levin, David Caceres, Rachel Glube/David Friedman, Gabrielle Haskell, Esther Siegel, Alizah Brozgold, Mickey Rindler, Adrienne Koch, Jamil Simon, Fred Basch, Larry Klurfeld, Sandi Tamny, Dean Chavooshian. (The co-presidents will be ex-officio members.)

This group will have the task of creating a job description, based on your input, and then managing the process outlined by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. They will be reporting to the congregation along the way, to keep you fully informed.

Please let us know if you have any questions. Look forward to seeing all of you soon.

 

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Rabbi Hirsch on the Tragedy in Orlando

Dear Village Temple community,

We are sharing a note Rabbi Deborah Hirsch sent to her congregation at Shararay Tefilla yesterday upon learning of the tragic events in Orlando (Rabbi Hirsch begins as our interim rabbi on July 1.)

From Rabbi Hirsch:

It was with disbelief that I woke on this Shavuot morning and heard the news of the mass shooting at the Pulse Orlando Bar.  When I left for services this morning, the death toll was at twenty.  When I returned home three hours later, the number had climbed to fifty dead and fifty-three injured—many who are listed in critical condition. 

Today, Jews across the world listened to the chanting of the Ten Commandments, a set of rules embraced by multiple faiths.  The sixth commandment, Lo TIrtzach—you shall not murder, was transgressed at least fifty times early this morning. The president and media called the slaughter ‘the worst mass shooting massacre in American history’.  Today’s tragedy must lift up for us the value of human life and we must raise our voices against senseless violent acts that not only cut short the lives of innocent men and women, but eclipses God’s presence in our world. This deadly assault occurred in the shadow of the upcoming first anniversary of the historic gay legislation that secured the rights of LGBT citizens in our country.  Sadly, we know we can legislate laws but we cannot legislate an end to hatred.  Clearly, today’s terror was a hate crime—a reminder that it is incumbent upon all of us to champion the rights of those who face discrimination in our land. 

I know there are gun debates across our country and there are those in our congregation who represent both sides of that debate.  Having said that, I truly hope we can all raise our voices in solidarity against horrific mass murder—that we can distinguish between the possession of a gun and the possession of an assault weapon, whose sole purpose is not to defend, but to snuff out dozens of lives in a single breath—leaving carnage and pain and misery for so many. 

May God grant comfort to all who are in shock this day—to all who are wounded—to family members who will mourn the loss of loved ones—to first responders who forever will be haunted by the images they witnessed.  May God grant them strength to endure their pain and may God send healing that will embrace them with memories of love. 

L’shalom,

Rabbi Deborah Hirsch

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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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L’Shana Tovah

As co-presidents of The Village Temple, we wish all of you a sweet and hopeful New Year! Our services for Rosh HaShana were lovely and we are looking forward to Yom Kippur. Hope you can join us. Here is an adaptation of Julie’s Rosh HaShana welcome: 

We had lots of backstage excitement/anxiety before the High Holy Days this year. Less than three weeks before Rosh HaShana, Gerard Edery, our cantorial soloist extraordinaire, had emergency back surgery—big stuff, spinal fusion. Two weeks later Anita Hollander, our Shabbat musical director, fell and severely broke her hand—more surgery.

But these turned out to be the days of awe in more ways than one. Gerard sang beautifully all three days of Rosh HaShana services, and Anita was back for Shabbat services last week and Children’s services at Cooper Union.

Rabbi Koster pulled together services that were beautiful, meaningful, heartfelt--not knowing until the last minute whether she would be singing as well as praying! Thanks to all for this heroic effort.

And thanks to all of you for joining together for services. For some of you, this is an annual pilgrimage to childhood ritual. For others, this is part of a continuum, a spiritual journey that takes place throughout the year. Whatever your reasons, we all have one thing in common. In this space we find connections to some part of our souls that we can’t make anywhere else.

I love the fact that our High Holy Day services take place in the Great Hall at Cooper Union, where Abraham Lincoln gave the speech that foretold his future as the Great Emancipator. The Village Temple respects the past-...in the Jewish calendar this is 5776! And this synagogue has been here for 67 years.

We also believe in the future. You can see that in the faces of the 140 children who attended our religious school this past year—and in the many young people who were part of Rosh HaShana services.  You can see the seeds being planted, week after week, at The Village Temple, through conversation, prayer, study. Check us out in Kesher, our newsletter, or on the website—or drop by for a Friday night service—6:45, every week throughout the year.

As for the now, please join us in saying thanks to all the people instrumental in the massive task of moving our synagogue temporarily fro East 12th Street to Cooper Union, for the High Holy Days:

To Lisa Loren, who organizes this production, and has done so for more years than we can count.

To Sandy Albert and Sandy Gonzalez-Wilson, our wonderful office managers, and to Santiago and Ivette, as well as Chris and Julio, our kind and hard-working custodians, who keep the machinery running.

To all the ushers, greeters, and ticket takers—volunteers all, who make sure everyone is given a warm welcome.

To Alex Tansky, Anita Hollander, Holland Hamilton and Daniel Stein—and Rabbi Koster, of course-- for children’s services that are edifying and entertaining!

Finally, on the first night of Rosh HaShana, Rabbi Koster talked about the importance of being connected not just to one another, but to the world at large. In the past year, The Village Temple has welcomed speakers seeking peace in Israel, groups working on behalf of immigrant rights, heard from our congregants who bring to the bimah an impressive assortment of experiences and wisdom—as recently as September 11, Holland Hamilton—VT religious school bat mitzvah/now occasional Shabbat soloist—spoke about what she learned at a conference in Berlin this summer, which brought young Jews and Muslims together from around the world to discuss better paths to the future.

L’Shana Tovah, with warm wishes for a healthy and hopeful New Year!!

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Summer in the City

The city can feel oppressive in the summer: Too much heat, too many tourists, too little green. But I love New York in summer, when the extra light takes the edge off the frenzy, when the quick pace of the crowds slows a beat, almost to an amble. In a city driven by a sense of purpose, it seems okay to relax, just a little. 

Friday night services at The Village Temple have been a lovely way to celebrate the New York summer shift in mood. The pace slows, the edge dissipates. 

Thanks to Anita Hollander and her roving band of excellent musicians for lifting our spirits, and to the knowledgeable congregants who have stepped in to lead services while Rabbi Koster is on break: Alizah Brozgold, Mickey Rindler, and Susan Rosenberg Jones. 

For those of you who missed services, here are Alizah and Mickey’s talks: 

From Alizah Brozgold’s d’var Torah on July 10, 2015: 

            This week's Torah portion is from the 25th chapter of the Book of Numbers and is the same Torah portion I wrote a Dvar Torah on when I led services last July.  Like Rabbis all over the world, I was faced with the choice:  do I give the same sermon I gave last year (and see if anyone remembers) or delve again and come up with something new.  The beauty of our Torah is that there is always something both old and new under the sun. 

            When reading the Book of Numbers, one is struck by the constant cataloguing and quantifying. In this chapter, for example, a census is taken of the Israelites and there's a long list of sacrifices required at the Holy Temple for different occasions.  It led me to ask myself:  Does there come a time when we stop cataloguing and counting? I believe that there is a stopping point - that people need to stop counting and collecting grievances and instead focus on finding paths to forgiveness and healing. 

            One might ask, "Why do we even need to remember something bad that happened to us, individually or collectively?"  At some level, it's a matter of survival.  If we don't remember, it may put us at risk again for more hurt and more trauma, like the proverbial child who learns never to touch a hot stove again once they've burnt their hand.  Yet, temperature varies along a continuum and not all stoves are so hot that they will always burn us.  We learn this through experience and taking risks. 

            Similarly, in the interpersonal context, we find ourselves holding onto past experiences of hurt and as the famous psychoanalyst, Clara Thompson, said, "escaping from the freedom of the present".  We escape from the freedom of the present whenwe collect grievances and get paralyzed by them, using them to avoid change.  Here are some familiar examples:                                   

            Our partner wasn't really listening when we told them about something we were upset about; our parent didn't appreciate something we did for them; our child ignored our heartfelt advice.  These can all become scenarios that lock us in negative spirals of anger, blame, and retribution or lead us to, as one of my clients puts it, "Sing the oldies". 

            We free ourselves from paralyzing emotions when we develop more curiosity about our experience and try to understand it.  As John Welwood writes in his book, Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships, by letting ourselves be fully open to our emotional experience, whether sad, fearful, or angry, we put ourselves in touch with our "capacity for strength, kindness, stability, and understanding" in the face of whatever we're going through.  As a result, we draw forth our essential strength and can move toward healing ourselves and our relationships with others. 

            The collecting of grievances affects us deeply at a societal level as well.  One need only think of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. If we're constantly looking back on past traumas, we cannot effect change in the present for the future.  Looking again at this week's parsha, we read how Joshua was selected to take over Moses's leadership.  Moses asked God to appoint a leader who would "go out before the people and come in before them" (Numbers 27:17).  How do we understand this? 

One Chassidic commentary explains that a true leader, by "going out before the people", does not trail behind them by constantly looking backwards.  Similarly, we could add, the true leader steps out into the future before others, showing by example that we can and we must move ahead, holding both our fears and our hope in one collective heart. 

This conflict about change is illustrated in the following light bulb jokes. 

The first is:  How many Bratslaver Chassidim does it take to change a light bulb? 

None. They will never find a bulb that burns as brightly as the old one.  

And the second joke: "How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? 

Only one but it really has to want to change!"  

Shabbat Shalom! 

 

From Mickey Rindler’s d’var Torah on July 3, 2015: 

Torah portion Balak (July 10-11, 2015) from the book of Bamidbar (in the desert; aka, Numbers) 

This week’s Torah portion is named after Balak, the king of Moab, a tribe on the eastern side of the Jordan River. At this point, the Israelites who had wandered in the desert since they left Egypt nearly 40 years before, have camped in Jordan and are preparing to conquer Canaan. They had already defeated several tribes in the area and Balak is concerned that they will now make war on the Moabites and their allied tribes. He summons Bilaam (translated Balaam), apparently the most prominent prophet and religious leader in the area. 

Balaam was a Midianite who did not live in Moab but instead in what was probably the tribe of Ammon (after which Amman, Jordan is named). He was an immigrant made good and a very unusual man. Balaam was a follower of Baal Peor, the major diety of the tribes in that region. And yet G-d, the G-d of Israel, actually speaks to him as well. Now the Midianites lived in the desert regions in Arabia and the Sinai and were allies of Moab. But their priests are very unusual. Recall that Moses lived among the Midianites after he escaped from Egypt. He married Jethro’s daughter Ziporah. Jethro was a prophet and the religious leader of the Midianites. The Druze consider him the founder of their people and religion. Moses lived with his wife’s clan for decades before returning to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. According to the Torah, Midianites built altars in high places where they had burnt offerings and practiced animal sacrifice. I have wondered how much of our people’s religious laws and customs, brought to us through Moses, to the extent that we believe literally what the Torah tells us, were actually of Midianite origin. 

Bilaam was asked by Balak to meet him and curse the Jewish people. You’ve probably heard the story of Balaam and his donkey. On the way to meet Balak the donkey stopped in the road and wouldn’t budge because an angel of G-d blocked his way. Balaam could not see the angel and beat the donkey severely, at which point the angel admonished Balaam for the beating and told him to only speak the word of God. Three times Balaam was asked by Balak to curse the Jewish people, but each time he blessed them instead. The last of these blessings has been incorporated into our liturgy: Ma tovu ohalekha Ya'akov, mishk'notekha Yisra'el (How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, and your dwelling places, O Israel). In fact the haftorah portion from the book of Micah, which makes reference to the story of Balaam, also contributed a line to our Torah service as well: Ki mitzion tetze Torah ud’var Adonai m’yerushalaim (For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem). Micah was a prophet who was a contemporary of Isaiah. 

 

Balaam goes on to prophesize that great things were in store for the Jewish people. In the very next parsha, however, the Torah tells us that, despite having relayed the words of G-d, Balaam was killed when the Israelites did indeed fight a war against the Moabites and neighboring tribes. The text says that he was punished for advising Balak to send prostitutes and unclean food among the Israelites to entice them to worship Baal. Indeed, this did happen at the end of parshat Balak to the chagrin of Moses and the high priests. The sidrah ends with the priest Pinchas, a son of Aaron, executing an Israelite and his Midianite consort.

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