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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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