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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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