Rabbi's Message

Rabbi's Message

Rabbi Feingold's bimonthly message

June 2017

on Friday, 02 June 2017. Posted in Rabbi's Message

By now, I am sure that most of you are aware that we here at Beth Hillel are building for the future in brick and mortar.  

Although our elevator and accessible restrooms project has been delayed, we will move forward with this plan.  We thank all of you who have dug deep and made pledges and contributions to the best of your ability.  Every contribution, no matter how small, will bring this plan to fruition, and we will continue to reach out to each and every member so that everyone has a chance to be part of this exciting new chapter for Beth Hillel.

I believe that this hiatus period for the construction project is a good time to think about other ways in which we need to build. For what good is a remodeled building if the congregation is not growing its membership nor even filling the seats with current members when we program?  

We have been a strong and active congregation for many decades, but if we take a hard look at our participation and demographics, we can discern some signs that we best not ignore. Complacency can set in when things are going well.  We need to make sure that pride in our accomplishments does not blind us from the work we need to do going forward.

For example, our school census is declining rapidly, especially in the younger grades. Our pattern for many years has been passivity, waiting for new families to join us.  How can we be more proactive in recruiting families with children to join our ranks?

We offer a good variety of programs:  Classes, retreats, book groups, concerts, films, discussions, mahjong, family oriented worship, and more, but often it is the same group of people filling the seats.  Are we offering the right kind of programming that will encourage a more diverse cross-section of our members to engage in Jewish life?  

People have very busy lives. This is the reality of modern life.  But, for many, it seems that every other activity comes first, and if there is still time and energy left, a Jewish activity might get on the schedule. How do we encourage our members to put Jewish life on the higher rungs of their list of priorities?

We have various organs of communication, but I often hear that members did not know about something we were offering until it was over-- or too late to change their plans.  Do we need to rethink how we market our activities to our members and beyond?

And what about our geographic spread?  Is it reasonable to expect our members who come from as far as 40 minutes away to be active on committees and come to programming in Kenosha on a regular basis?  Should we offer more programs off-site?  Do we need new technologies to help us better connect?

There are other Jewish institutions in our area, and some of our members have been reached by their marketing and personal overtures.  Do our members ever use that personal touch to invite those they meet in those settings to come here for what we offer?  

A few of our newer committee members and school families are asking new questions and challenging our assumptions.  We need more of that.  We cannot continue to do things the way we have always done them and expect new generations to commit to our enterprise.

In his book, Jewish Megatrends, Rabbi Sidney Schwartz and others look at the new reality of Jewish life in the 21st Century.  Schwartz uses a Rabbinic saying:  “Makdim refuah l’maka,” “even before the onset of the malady, the antidote already exists”  to encourage Jewish professional and lay leaders to try to stay ahead of the curve on meeting today’s challenges.  

Over the summer and beyond, I hope you will join me and our lay leadership in doing just that.  I invite you to help us rethink what Beth Hillel Temple will look like in the coming decades.  We will surely have an updated building, but let us be proactive to ensure that the new and improved building is a hub of Jewish life that both attracts and reaches out to meet the needs of future generations.

We will begin this process with some “transformational conversations” at the BHT Annual Meeting on June 11.  Be there and help us imagine the future.

Rabbi Dena A. Feingold

March-May 2017

on Wednesday, 15 March 2017. Posted in Rabbi's Message

The three months of the first half of my Sabbatical have flown by so quickly. As I write, I am preparing to return the congregation in a few days. By the time you read this, I will be fully immersed in our work together to build up and share in our wonderful Beth Hillel community. It will be a very busy four months until I embark upon the second half of the Sabbatical on June 1.

As I wrote when I departed, it is hard to express strongly enough how appreciative I am for this opportunity and how grateful I am to the many, many people who stepped up to keep our community going while I was away. From service leaders to event planners, to substitute teachers, to our Leadership Council and committees and Temple staff, I know that the good work we do at Beth Hillel has barely skipped a beat while I was gone. I also know that there must have been times when my absence created some challenges. But, I hope those challenges will be mitigated by the new energy, ideas, teaching and perspective I hope to bring to the congregation upon my return and by the growth the congregation experienced in having to “go it alone.

At his final press conference before leaving office, President Obama said: “I want to be quiet a little bit, not hear myself talk so darned much.” This puts into words, precisely, the primary goal of my Sabbatical. I wanted to set my brain on “input” rather than “output.”

While I did not have a clear set of goals back in October when the Sabbatical started, looking back over these past months, I am pleased at the amount of learning and reflection I have been able to accomplish along with tending to personal and family life. Elsewhere in this issue of Achshav, I have included a summary of the learning I pursued during my Sabbatical time. I know you don’t expect me to account for my time, but I thought some of you might find this summary interesting or may wish to discuss some of the areas of study with me. I would welcome that conversation.

I will be presenting new ideas for future programming, gleaned during the Sabbatical, to our committees and school. Some of my Sabbatical undertakings will enhance services and sermons. And some things will not directly influence what happens here at BHT, but have enriched my life and my rabbinic skills. I can only hope that this too will improve the way I serve the Beth Hillel community.

Most of all, I hope that by taking this time for Jewish and personal self-enrichment, I can inspire more of our Beth Hillel members to take time to do the same. We offer many such opportunities here at Beth Hillel. In the coming months, we will have fascinating speakers on world religions and the worldwide refugee crisis. We will have film nights, “Great Decisions” mornings, Taste of Judaism classes, “Lunch and Learns”, Purim, Passover and Shavuot celebrations, B’nai Mitzvah and Confirmation, a concert with the Israeli group Mikolot Mayim, led by Rabbi Or Zohar of our Domim “twin” Jewish community in northern Israel, for Israeli Independence Day in May. And of course, weekly opportunities for prayer and Torah study.

And perhaps the closest each one of you can come to a Sabbatical, if your profession or place of employment does not allow it, is to take that weekly Sabbatical, the original Sabbatical that God took after six days of Creation: Shabbat. Of course, the semantic root of the term Sabbatical is Shabbat: A day to “be quiet and not hear ourselves talk so darn much.” To renew ourselves and reflect. To think and not decide. To rest and not act.

I look forward to reconnecting with all of you in the days and weeks ahead.

Rabbi Dena A. Feingold

Sep-Oct 2016

on Friday, 16 September 2016. Posted in Rabbi's Message

The month of Elul, which precedes the New Year, is a month rich with meaning and tradition.   First and foremost, it is the month of Selichot, penitential prayers, and a time for a spiritual check-up, when we are encouraged to itemize our misdeeds and misgivings from the past year.  A second meaning is that Elul is the month of love.  Already in the rabbinic period, the sages noted that if you use the letters that spell out Elul: Alef, Lamed, Vav, Lamed, they can represent the phrase from Song of Songs, “Ani L’dodi v’dodi li,” “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Songs 6:3).  Elul also begins just after Tisha B’av, the sad holiday of the Ninth of Av, when the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and other Jewish tragedies are mourned.  Weddings are prohibited, according to traditional Jewish law, in the weeks leading up to Tisha B’av. Therefore, Elul has, for centuries, been the month of choice for Jewish couples. 

Perhaps you can imagine that the confluence of our daughter Abby’s soon-to-be wedding on the first day of the month of Elul and the approaching Days of Awe has given me not only an unusually bad case of pre-holiday jitters, but wonderful food for thought on the connection between Elul as the lovers month and Elul as the preparatory month for the High Holy Days.   And connections do abound.

Even a cursory glance at the Songs of Songs in the Bible makes it abundantly clear that this is an extended love poem.  So how did a love poem get included in the Bible, the holiest book of Jewish literature?  The rabbis who determined the canon (official collection) of books in the Bible determined that the Song of Songs was an extended metaphor for the relationship between the People of Israel and God.   No matter how these poems might look to us, the rabbis said these chapters really express the devotion between Jewish people and God.

At this season of Elul, the entire Jewish people are working toward a better relationship with God, singing, if you will, our Song of Songs to God.  We are all vowing to return to God, presenting our best selves so that we can find oneness with God before Yom Kippur comes to an end.  We even dress up in our best clothes when the holidays finally come, sometimes even white like the bridal gown, for this all- important coming together.  So, what better season than Elul for a young couple, just starting out, to make their commitments to one another?  

They have the collective energy of the entire Jewish people behind them, seeking to be sincere in their promises and devoted in their goals.  Perhaps when a wedding falls in Elul, the bride and groom can sense, as they stand under the chuppah ( the marriage canopy), not only the good wishes, but the good intentions, of all those who come to celebrate with them.

Please do join our family on Sunday, September 4 at 4:45pm to wish Abby and Zak Mazal Tov at a backyard reception.  They will have just exchanged rings under the chuppah in a private ceremony in the Beth Hillel sanctuary and whether you can be present or not, we know that the best hopes, goals and promises of every Jew that are first uttered in the month of Elul will be with them as they start their married life together. 

Thank you all for your many good wishes for Abby and Zak.  And now a wish for all of you: 

May your Elul be rewarding and the New Year 5777 be joyous and fulfilling.

L’shanah Tovah Tikateyvu

Rabbi Dena A. Feingold

March 2016

on Saturday, 27 February 2016. Posted in Rabbi's Message

retreatAt the beginning of February, I spent the weekend at OSRUI with our 5th and 6th graders at an annual retreat for small congregations in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. One of the teens we hired to serve as a counselor for the kids (along with our own Emily Birz) was a high school senior from my hometown, Janesville, WI. When I asked the young man which high school, and then told him I too attended Janesville Craig, he thought I was pulling his leg. (Breaking out into the school fight song helped to convince him it was true!). As the only Jewish kid his age in the entire school system (the same experience I had there), he was incredulous that a rabbi could have risen out of that same environment many decades ago.

But, to us here at Beth Hillel, it’s not so surprising. In a few weeks, during the culmination of our 90th anniversary observances at Beth Hillel, we will be celebrating our wonderful community, and a big part of it will be focusing on the strong Jewish identities that a small Jewish community like ours can build. Your presence at our March 20th “A House for All People” gala dinner at “Circa on Seventh” and some other activities that will happen during the morning at BHT, along with the school’s Purim Carnival, will shine a spotlight on the Jewishly committed young adults who have grown out of our congregation and the crucial role that Beth Hillel played in their lives.

The highlight of this sharing will come from three rabbis, Rabbis Dan Selsberg, Benjy Bar-Lev and Monica (Meyer) Kleinman who rose out of our congregation to serve the Jewish people as congregational rabbis. The mere fact that they are choosing to be with us and give up time with their own congregations and families to do so, says a great deal about how much they value Beth Hillel. Their bios are found elsewhere in this newsletter, and by reading them, you will discover a bit about how BHT influenced their Jewish lives and the choice to become rabbis. Much more will be shared when they headline the March 20th evening event. But, as remarkable as it is that Beth Hillel has seen 3 rabbis come from its ranks, our trio of rabbis still does not tell the whole story.

In preparing for the March 20 celebrations, we have also reached out (and we are greatly indebted to Esther Letven and our BSBH 8-9 grade students in the Midrasha Oral History elective for this effort) to young adults who are in college or beyond, to ask them to reflect on the role that Beth Hillel played in their Jewish identities and to share about their Jewish lives as they step out on their own into the world. Here, too, we are blessed to have a group of college age and “20 somethings” who credit Beth Hillel with their positive Jewish identities, for inspiring them to live and act as Jews in the world, and, for several, even leading them to jobs and careers within the Jewish community. Many speak of their social relationships and extra-curricular choices as having been highly influenced by BHT and the opportunities afforded them here to learn, to socialize with Jewish youth both within and beyond BHT, to go to Jewish camp and youth group, on trips to Israel, and to internships in Jewish settings.

Some may not be active in Jewish life right now, but think back fondly on their time at BHT and believe they will want to pass on what they had to the next generation. This too says a great deal about who we are as a Jewish community and the importance of what we do at BHT.

Creating positive and joyous, meaningful and relevant Jewish experiences for our youth and adults and making people feel good about what happens when they are within the walls of our synagogue has always been a priority for me personally, and it is what motivates our school staff and lay leaders as well. It is gratifying to have those who have left our community confirm that we have succeeded in that endeavor many times over. Growing and shaping Jews who engage in Jewish life and build meaning in their lives through the practice of Judaism and on the foundation of Jewish values should make us very proud of what we are doing here at Beth Hillel. It is truly something to celebrate. Join us on March 20. And if you have a story to share about what Beth Hillel has meant in YOUR life, please share comment below.

December 2015

on Thursday, 24 December 2015. Posted in Rabbi's Message

As you have undoubtedly noted, Beth Hillel has been celebrating its 90th Anniversary with special events over the past few months. We had a photo and artifact display in Founders Hall and a historical facts scavenger hunt for the kids at the Annual Picnic in August. We also had a program about the anniversary on the first day of BSBH school, the highlight of which was Bud Lepp sharing memories of what BHT and the school were like when he was young. We had wonderful group story-telling at a pot-luck dinner in November. Over the next few months, there will be more. Look in the Upcoming Events section and for articles and flyers in this issue of Achshav for details.

UPBIn June of 1925, Beth Hillel Congregation was officially incorporated as an organization. Its mission was to be a congregation with a modern type of worship so that Kenosha’s Jewish families would have the opportunity to affiliate with Reform Judaism, instead of only having the option of Orthodoxy at the already-existing Bnai Zedek shul. In the 1920s and for the next several decades, one of the hallmark features of Reform Jewish worship was organ accompaniment, choral and soloist performance pieces, and praying in English, using formal, “King James” or Early Modern English, thought to be of high literary quality. (Lots of “thee” and “thou” and “est” on the ends of verbs.) The Reform Movement’s Union Prayer Book was used for “Sabbath” worship.

BHT Organ redThose of us in the Baby Boomer or older age groups used this prayer book and experienced this type of worship through the mid 1970s, when the Gates of Prayer siddur was published by the Reform Movement. Around the same time, guitar and piano accompaniment, the influence of folk-style music popularized at Jewish camps, and a cappella singing, using more of the traditional chanting, came into style. The performance soloist gave way to congregational singing. The organ was phased out in most congregations (there are some Reform congregations that still use it), and the language of the English prayers became more colloquial and less formal.


Organ pipes1 redBeth Hillel’s worship history is in keeping with these historical styles and modes. We thought it would be interesting, as we observe the 90th anniversary, to try to capture a bit of our past by holding services in the style of those earlier eras. While the organ still stands in our sanctuary and its pipes are hidden in a closet nearby, we stopped using it regularly in the mid 1980s. It is no longer functional. But, on Friday, January 15th, we will be holding a “retro” service with a musician playing pieces from that era, using our keyboard on the “organ” setting. And we will bring out our remaining copies of the Union Prayer Book for our worship that evening. For some of us, it will be nostalgic. But, if you have never experienced a “Classical Reform” service, it may be an eye-opening moment.

We will also go back to the Gates of Prayer for a service on Friday, February 12. This is the prayer book that many of our 20-50-somethings grew up with. It was the prayer book in use when I came to Beth Hillel 30 years ago and was the first prayer book to offer a variety of types of readings, acknowledging that worshippers of differing theological positions were present in the congregation. A great deal more Hebrew was included in the siddur, and it opened from right to left, which was a significant change from the Union Prayer Book.

Organ pipe screen1 redJoin us on these two special Shabbatot, both for services and for the potluck dinners preceding. Above all, we want this 90th anniversary year to be a time of community building, and there is no better way to do so than to break bread with one another, perhaps sitting with folks we do not know as well, and, in so doing, finding new bonds with our fellow Beth Hillel members.

The last special 90th anniversary Shabbat pot-luck and program will be on Friday, March 4. It will feature our past presidents. Watch for more details in the next edition of the Achshav. The 90th anniversary celebration will culminate on Sunday, March 20, when Beth Hillel’s “Three Rabbis” – young leaders of today’s Jewish community who grew up at Beth Hillel -- will headline a special program you won’t want to miss!

 

 

 

 

 

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