Join us for our Friday night service with our Bat mitzvah 7:30 p.m. September 4th.
Continuing on Saturday September 5th at 10 a.m.
One cannot overestimate the importance Sh’ma Yisrael has in Jewish heritage throughout the generations. In many cases, these were the only “Jewish words” that Jews, who lived in remote places and who heard them from their ancestors, knew. The “marranos” in Spain and Portugal passed them on from parent to child, sometimes without knowing, their actual meaning but with profound understanding of their value. Many Jews, beginning with Rabbi Akivah and up to the victims of the Holocaust recited the Sh’ma with their last breath.
The centrality and profound importance of the six words that comprise Sh’ma Yisrael could not be encapsulated in a short essay such as this (or in any form, to be honest). I will confine myself to one story, one that is documented in more than one version, and has to do with the special place that the Sh’ma had in the minds of young children. After the Holocaust, Rabbi Eliezer Silver of Cincinnati went to Europe to look for Jewish survivors and especially for children who were hidden in monasteries during the war. The story tells that he entered a certain monastery in Krakow, where he heard that there were many Jewish children and asked the priest in charge if he could see the children for a couple of minutes before they went to bed. Standing in the large dormitory, he recited loudly but tenderly the words of Sh’ma Yisrael, the room was immediately filled with children’s cries and excitement. Rabbi Silver looked at the Priest and they both understood the meaning of this encounter. The children had recited these words every night with their mothers, who were no longer alive, before their world turned dark, and they were indelibly engraved in their hearts. And these words were the gate through which they returned to their people.
Sandwich of love
The Sh’ma verse and the response to it (barukh shem kvod malkhuto l’olam va’ed) are encased within two readings of love, as if they were a sacred sandwich of love – Birkat Ahava (the blessing of love) just before, and the rabbis teach us that one should not interrupt between the blessing and Sh’ma Yisrael, not even for saying “Amen” after the blessing, and V’ahavta(you shall love), the first portion of the Sh’ma – verses from Deuteronomy – just after it.
The Ahava Blessing is a heartfelt thanksgiving for the abundant love God has for us. Note that in the morning we recite “Ahava rabba” (with abundant love) and in the evening “Ahavat olam” (with eternal love), both contain similar content. After the verse of Sh’ma Yisrael we continue with the command to ourselves to love Adonai our God, with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our might. In between these two declarations of love that stand as powerful gourds, we find the words of the Sh’ma.
The words of V’ahavta contain the order to love God (and some may ask how can you force someone to love), but the demand is made, as it were, only after it guaranties God loves us and after mentioning the precious gifts that the Divine has given us – in the morning we mention God’s “gracing us with surpassing compassion” and in the evening we are more specific thanking God for the “Torah and Mitzvot, laws and precepts” given to us.
The Sh’ma verse is a meeting point, an intersection, if you will, between God’s love for us and our commitment to love God in return. Reciting it with our eyes closed we address not only our own soul but also our fellow Jews and remind ourselves that although our world seems dispersed and disintegrated, there is one unity behind it – “Adonai ehad”, and it is our duty to find this harmony in a broken and suffering world. Maybe the children in the Krakow monastery had a sense of it (probably without being able to explain it) on the night that Rabbi Silver gathered them before going to sleep.
Rabbi Dalia Marx (PhD), the author of “When I Sleep And When I Wake: On Prayers Between Dusk And Dawn” (in Hebrew), is an associate professor for Liturgy and Midrash at the Jerusalem campus of HUC-JIR.
Join us for our Friday Night Live Kabbalat Shabbat Service
6 p.m. August 28th
Faith and Science
Can we have one without the other?
Until further notice, services will be at 6:00 via Facebook Live on the Congregation B’nai Israel Facebook page. If you cannot make the “live” service, it will be available to watch any time at your conven- ience. This is the link to the Temple’s Facebook page:
Simply go to the page at 6:00 and click on the live video to view. Saturday morning Torah studies will be held via Skype at 10:00
The Farmer’s Almanac dates the “Dog Days” of summer from July 3 to August 11. What are the Dog Days, exactly? They are a period of particularly hot and humid weather occurring during the summer months of July and August in the Northern Hemisphere.
As such they were thought to be time of drought, bad luck, and unrest, when dogs and men alike would be driven mad by the extreme heat. They were named after the Dog Star Sirius, the brightest of all stars in the sky which is part of the constellation Canis Majoris—the “Greater Dog.” The name “Sirius” even stems from Ancient Greek seírios, meaning “scorching.” For the ancient Egyptians, the dawn rising of Sirius (known to them as “Sothis”) also coincided the Nile River’s flood season which contributed to the extreme weather of the season. So far so good!
However, unlike the Egyptians, the ancient Greeks and Romans were not as pleased by Sirius’s appearance. For them, Sirius signaled a time when evil was brought to their lands with drought, disease, and discomfort. How sadly relevant this is in our afflicted times: economic, civil unrest and Covid-19.
I have a friendship with a local Roman Catholic Priest with whom I break bread some three to four times a year. Buoyant and optimistic, he always looks on the brighter side of life, seeking what good can come out of the bad. He is much like the ancient Jewish sage Ish gam zo, who always said “This too is for the best!” I must admit that I struggle, as I am sure you do as well, with the afflictions that have beguiled us these past five months.
Yes, there are great stories of devotion and caring that punctuate these difficult times. Jews have not been reluctant to question the divine, especially when the innocent are hurt and worse. So, we struggle to be like Ish gam zo, trying not to sound like Pollyanna who said “I could have broken the other leg as well!” We take solace from our history in which the Jewish people down and out so many times rose and persevered again and again.
An old saying has it that “Israel does not believe in the stars (astrology) yet there is a star for Israel.” I pray that the Star Sirius will bode shine with bright anticipation of better days for us and all mankind.
Revising an old folk saying, let us live with this hope:
Dog Days bright and clear
Indicate a happy year; But when accompanied by rain, For better times, our hopes will not be in vain.
Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz, D.D.
BY MARK PACKER
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be observing the High Holidays through Facebook this year. Services will be briefer than normal, each one lasting no more than one hour and fifteen minutes. Instead of requesting the usual number of volunteers, we will be asking fewer people to be present in the sanctuary to do all the readings for any given service; for example, three people for six to nine readings.
For those who will be in the sanctuary, we will be observing strict safety protocols. These include keeping the number of participants to a minimum and screening anyone entering the temple for their medical status and possible exposure to the virus.
To maximize safety, we will request that all participants wear face masks. There will also be regular sanitizing of the sanctuary, high touch areas, and washrooms before and after services.
Despite the challenges facing us, I think we can all look forward to religiously appropriate and spiritually satisfying services this year.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.
It’s been approximately one year since we celebrated Debby’s Bat Mitzvah. The Temple was buzzing with people! We were surrounded by family and friends (many of you) as Debby read from the Torah and completed her rite of passage. Fast forward a year…so much has changed.
Staycation has become a popular buzz word. Boats, swimming pools, bicycles, and camping gear are hot commodities these days. To my surprise, there is even a shortage of canning lids as I found out when I was preparing to can tomatoes. Fortunately, I located some at a local hardware store. Zoom, Facebook Live, Go to Meeting, etc. are the way to meet these days. For those of us who are technically challenged, it’s been a real learning experience.
Business is not business “as usual”. Temple functions are being conducted differently, as we’re being forced to make difficult decisions. We continue to offer virtual Friday evening services and Saturday morning Torah studies. The Sisterhood reluctantly cancelled this year’s Annual Bake Sale for the first time in 54 years.
Planning is underway for the High Holidays. Rabbi Liebowitz and the Board have been engaged in discussions while seeking advice from the URJ and other organizations. Considering the current impact of Covid 19 and the predictions for the next few months, High Holiday services will be conducted virtually. This was a tough decision to make, but the right one, in order to protect the health and safety of our Temple community. On the bright side, the Rabbi and Ritual Committee are working diligently to ensure the services are spiritual, musical, and enlightening. Stay tuned for more information in the near future.
Please stay safe and healthy!
8/2 Ruben Falcon
8/4 Arleen Siegel
8/4 Carter Smith
8/6 Joan Barnet
8/6 Lynn Stauber
8/11 Sandy Smiley
8/17 Ben Stauber
8/24 Thomson Halley
8/24 Mark Lurey
8/24 Tina Lyon
8/25 Jennifer Orseck
8/26 Kim Pickett
8/27 Daniel Falcon
8/29 Ina Minsky
8/30 Ray Frye