Friday, January 29th, 6:30 p.m. on Zoom
Join Rabbi Judy Chessin for special Double-Chai Shabbat to Celebrate the 36th Anniversary of Temple Beth Or.
During my first year of rabbinical studies, my colleagues and I spent many evenings trying out the various eateries in Jerusalem. I had one job at the end of all of the dinners – to split the bill appropriately. In Jerusalem, restaurants seemed to frown upon the idea of “separate checks,” so, since I had been in finance before starting at HUC, I got the honor of splitting the bill. I did not mind it. Numbers, finance, math, accounting, economics have always been enjoyable for me. It is no surprise, thus, that biblical numerology has always been an exciting cross-section of my love for Judaism and my interest in numbers.
There are so many numbers in Judaism that play an essential role in our Torah, our mysticism, and our teachings. Thus, as we turn to a new semester, we also turn to a new way for students to connect in a new theme. Just as last semester started with a thematic election, this semester will always start with the sharing important Jewish numbers. Stemming from our upcoming Double Chai anniversary at Temple Beth Or, Makor students, teachers, parents, and the entire community will come together at the beginning of every Sunday morning to count up our blessings and count out our history.
Naturally, our first day back will start with the number 36, acknowledging the years of hard work of so many in our community to build our Temple Beth Or family. How appropriate it is to look at an exciting coincidence for us about this number. In the book of Bamidbar (Numbers), in the 36th chapter, the 36th word of the chapter, we find the word “achinu” which means our kinsman. As Temple Beth Or has continued to grow into the warm and caring place that it is, it has been because of the inherent sense of kin, of family, that fills the walls of the building and the hearts of those who walk through its doors. Double Chai represents an affirmation of life, as we look to each other to continue the traditions which have blossomed over 36 years. Rachel and I send our heartfelt congratulations on this momentous milestone. May the 36 years of kindness, compassion, and kinship fuel the next 36, and may we all go from strength to strength. Ken Yehi Ratzon.
B’bracha (in blessing),
Rabbi Benjamin G. Azriel
After a challenging year, it is time to celebrate. In January 2021, we mark the 36th anniversary of our first Shabbat Service together. Thirty-six years ago, this month, we inaugurated and dedicated Temple Beth Or – our House of Light.
“Chai” is the Hebrew word for life and has the numerical equivalent of 18. Thus 36 is double life! The number bears additional significance in Judaism. Tradition has it that the light God created on the first day shone for precisely 36 hours. It was the light of discernment, which was then replaced by the lesser light emanating from the sun, moon, and stars. Judaism teaches that the world depends on the Lamed Vav (36) righteous individuals hidden in our midst. Finally, there are 36 candles kindled by the shamash over Hanukkah’s eight-day festival of light and Temple rededication.
Unfortunately, this year, when we gather, it will not be in our Temple building. Who could have imagined that 36 years, 1,872 Sabbaths, 3,744 Shabbat candles, 13,149 days, 432 board meetings later, we would be celebrating our Temple from our homes online? Like everyone, I miss our building. But much more, I miss the handshakes and the hugs, the conversations over an Oneg Shabbat, and the ability to sing together. I long for the time when we can sing in unison and feel each other’s hugs.
And yet, there are benefits to celebrating online. On Zoom, we’ve welcomed out of town guests from around the country, former Temple members who have moved far away, and those who had challenges getting to our synagogue for Shabbat Services. A beautiful quarantine meme states: “My synagogue is open. It is open every day because my synagogue is not a building. It is the people who are helping each other and their community. It is the prayers for those who are struggling medically, financially, and emotionally. My synagogue never closed. It just opened in every home.”
And so let us enthusiastically gather to rededicate our Temple from our homes this Double Chai 36th Anniversary Service Friday, January 29 at 6:30 p.m. Let’s celebrate all of the Jewish life and light which has emanated from our congregation over these decades. Let us hear from former members and Temple graduates. Most of all, let us celebrate twice the life, twice the love and twice the light that is Temple Beth Or.
Kindness is what we do; charity is what we give. At least, that is the lesson that we are taught in the Talmud (b. Sukkah 49b). Our sages say that chesed (kindness) and tzedakah (charity) can be compared on three levels, all of which have kindness “winning out” in the end.
1. Tzedakah, they say, can be performed only with one’s money, while chesed can be completed with one’s money or one’s actions.
2. Tzedakah is given to the needy while chesed can be given to both the needy and those rich in blessing.
3. They say tzedakah is given only to the living while chesed can be given to both the living and the deceased (i.e., the burial and mourning rituals).
4. Chesed and tzedakah are both values that we hold dear to us in our community.
In fact, in our last Light, we introduced the theme for this semester’s Makor – a “Precedential Election.” With Rabbi Chessin playing the role of Tzedek (justice – notice the same Hebrew root letters as tzedakah) and me playing the role of Chesed, we are bringing to life these two different principles to teach our students the relationship, dichotomy, and need for both charity (justice) and kindness. Small interlude – Tzedek and Tzedakah share a root as Tzedakah can be thought of as just or righteous giving, now translated into English as charity. It should be evident that a Precedential Election is playing off of the theme of our society this year as we go through an election cycle. (As I sit and write, we are still before our November 3rd election; I know not what the future holds; as you read, you can recall the anxiety that existed for one and all, no matter for whom you pulled the lever). Nonetheless, our Makor curriculum focused on these core ideas: Justice, charity, kindness, compassion. All exist within our world, there is room for them all, there is a need for them all, and our students must be exposed to them all so we can help to shape a generation of learners, doers, listeners and leaders that of whom we can all be proud.
It leaves me thinking about the above text from the Talmud. Our sages provided opinion after opinion after opinion, often contradicting each other, leaving room for dissent and argument, memorializing the discussions so that in the future (today), we can still see where variance in our practice might be found. Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice you shall pursue (Deut. 16:20) – olam chesed yibneh (Psa 89:3) – the world will be built upon kindness, all of these phrases which can be teased out from our traditional texts are taken in sum, not individually. Our society is built upon an even balance of all of our morals, some of which may be more valuable to one family and others more valuable to another. However, without learning about them all, without exposure to a spectrum of ideas, our students would be left to one-sided conversations. Thus, Rabbi Chessin and I don our costumes on Sunday mornings, using our Zoom backgrounds and sound effects to bring our Precedential Election to life. Chesed and Tzedek may be looking to garner support from our students to win the competition. Still, neither of them disrespect the other but instead realize the importance of working together to create the balanced, just, kind community that we all deserve.
B’bracha (in blessing),
Rabbi Benjamin G. Azriel
Most of us are anxious to bid farewell to the year 2020. With a deadly pandemic and its resultant economic lockdown, the tragic death of George Floyd and its ensuing violent protests; fraught national politics and a vitriolic election season; wildfires, tropical storms, and earthquakes, we might wonder, what else could go wrong this year.
Of all of the words of comfort out there, I have been most inspired by the words of someone very close to me.
Michael’s grandson Jesse Cook was one of the many unlucky seniors to miss out on his high school graduation in Boston. As class president, Jesse had the honor of taping his graduation speech, which aired online on the day they would have graduated. Jesse said:
“This year has been compared to several other points in history; the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, the Great Depression, and even the aftermath of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. I find 1968 to be a better comparison.
Like 2020, the U.S. saw a presidential election, and Boston sports fans were angry about losing a seven-game championship series the year prior… Also, like 2020, there was an abundance of misfortune as disaster after disaster plagued the world. America was locked, starting to lose the war in Vietnam, presidential candidate and advocate for equal rights Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, and one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was fatally shot. The world looked like an awful place in which to live.
In the midst of all this chaos, N.A.S.A. was still hard at work, hell-bent on putting a man on the moon. In December of 1968, nearing the end of one of the worst years in American history, the crew of Apollo 8 embarked on the most important mission to date.
Their mission was to be the first humans to leave Earth for the moon. They would lock into lunar orbit, orbit ten times, and come home. No crew had ever attempted to lock into lunar orbit, and, consequently, no crew had ever attempted to leave lunar orbit for Earth. One slight mistake and they could either be vaulted into the vast emptiness of space or violently shuttled directly into the unforgiving surface of the moon, doomed to die in both scenarios. They had to be perfect.
As they approached the most dangerous part of the mission, flying over the dark side of the moon, where communications with mission control would be impossible, the world held its breath. The mission came at the tail end of a year of disaster, so why shouldn’t something else go horribly wrong? For seemingly the first time all year, fittingly on Christmas Eve, everything went right. Communication reconnected at the right time, and the world listened in joy to a safe crew. They became the first humans to ever witness an Earthrise, and as the world saw the beautiful pictures of the journey and learned that it was possible to go to the moon and come back, everything began to heal a little bit.
Upon returning home to Earth, Apollo 8 Mission Commander Frank Borman received an anonymous letter, reading, “Thank you, Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”
Now, I’m not saying that there has to be a mission to the moon or some other incredible worldwide event to save 2020, but I am saying that life will not always be this massive hardship. Look for the victories in your own life because even the smallest win can save a bad day. My sister has always loved a quote from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Dumbledore says, “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.”
In 1968, the world was a dark place, but, ironically, by flying over the dark side of the moon, Apollo 8 turned on a light. We will all go through dark times in life, but you can make them easier by just turning on that light.”
Such perspective and wisdom from someone just starting his adult life, but like the prophet Joel states, “The old shall dream dreams, but the youth shall see visions.” May Jesse’s vision for a brighter tomorrow sustain us as we hope for a better and brighter 2021.
Rabbi Judy Chessin
Do you like to read? Do you like to read, but don’t have time? Do you like to read, but don’t have time, so you prefer short stories? Have we got a new program for you! Once a month, or every so often, read a Jewish short story (and we mean short), and come to a follow-up discussion. You will make new friends, renew your current friendships, and deepen your understanding of Jewish life through the ages in a welcoming, engaging forum.
The Adult Education Committee (AEC) of Temple Beth Or is pleased to offer An Exploration of the Jewish Short Story, via zoom, beginning January 20, 7:00 pm. Come every month or drop in as you can. Co-facilitators are Rebecca Carlson of Congregation Anshai Emeth in Peoria, IL and Ruth Schumacher of Temple Beth Or in Dayton, OH. (The two facilitators are sisters!) The registration deadline is 2 days prior to each month’s discussion.
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