Rabbi's Message

Rabbi's Message

Rabbi Feingold's bimonthly message

October 2015, #1

on Sunday, 04 October 2015. Posted in Rabbi's Message

Often times, you will see listed on the donation page of the Achshav newsletter a section called “Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund.” But you may be wondering what that fund is and why you might want to make a donation to it. I would like to use this space to describe the fund and some of the ways it is used.

The Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund is set up to allow a rabbi to accept donations that he/she can use at his/her own discretion to support temple programs or needs, tzedakah causes, scholarships for camp, youth events, and adult retreats, people in need, and the like. It is never used for personal purposes and is set apart both from the rabbi’s personal accounts and from other temple funds. The temple has a clear policy governing the use of these funds, modeled after guidelines provided by the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

I have had the good fortune to be the steward of Beth Hillel’s Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund for over 30 years. The fund is primarily supported by donations from the congregation in honor of life cycle events, in recognition of yahrzeits or in honor of a congregation member’s simcha (happy event) from another member. Donations made in appreciation of my services at life cycle events are always placed in the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund*, even if the check is made out to me personally. (Please note that, more properly, such checks should be made out to Beth Hillel Temple) I also place honoraria from speaking engagements in this fund.

During the past year, I have used the Fund to help send a number of our youth to NFTY weekends, and the Fund has helped a few families who needed extra support to send their children to Jewish camps. The Fund also helped two families with urgent financial needs in their personal lives. Since the effort to supply the temple with new mahzorim was underway, the Rabbi’s Fund provided for 20 sets of books last year. A significant gift was made to the Shalom Center in Kenosha to support its renewed efforts to build a new facility, including a permanent shelter for the homeless. Supporting our own education efforts at BHT, the Fund paid for materials from the Shalom Hartman Institute for the adult course now underway, “Engaging Israel,” and also paid for additional subscriptions for the PJ Library program when our grant from the Jewish Community Foundation came up short. In addition, I was able support the American Jewish Archives, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and other tzedakah causes, Jewish and not, with the Fund. This is just a partial list of where the Fund donations went last year--to give you an idea of how it is used.

While there are many other worthwhile funds at the temple and beyond to which you may direct your tzedakah gifts, I hope you will agree that this fund serves an important purpose and that you will keep it in mind in your charitable giving. I sincerely thank those who support the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund for trusting me with your tzedakah dollars.

*Please note, that at the request of the Leadership Council, honoraria for non-member funerals, for individuals not related to temple members, are charged a $350 fee that goes into the temple general fund, and does not go into the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund.

August 2015

on Sunday, 04 October 2015. Posted in Rabbi's Message

As I write, Rosh Hashanah is exactly two months away, and yet it feels like it is almost here. So much preparation goes into making the fall holidays meaningful, deep and joyous that many of us have been immersed in planning for several months already. The added element of a new High Holy Day machzor (prayer book) has made this annual time of preparation even more interesting and involving for those of us who are doing the planning.

You may have noted that the word for a High Holy Day prayer book (machzor) is not the same as the word for a Shabbat, weekday and/or festival prayer book (siddur). Siddur comes from the Hebrew shoresh (root) s-d-r, which means “order.” Machzor comes from the root ch-z-r, which means “return.” This in itself is significant. This is the book to which we return each year at our holiest season, and which is designed to help us return to God and to our best selves. A new machzor will help us to return in fresh and new ways that are sure to bring us to a new level of insight on these Days of Awe.

The Mishkan HaNefesh machzor has a similar presentation that is found in the Mishkan Tefilah siddur, with the traditional Hebrew and a faithful translation on the right side of a two-page spread, and with thematically connected, but very different types of readings, on the left side. The book is fully transliterated, as is Mishkan Tefilah, to help non-Hebrew readers join in the Hebrew. But Mishkan HaNefesh really represents a sea-change for High Holy Day liturgy in many ways, and those of us who have been preparing to use it are very excited about some of the changes it offers.

For example, the traditional three sets of Shofar calls, each with its own theme, will be separated on Rosh Hashanah morning this year into three distinct sections of the service, instead of all being grouped together, as in the past. This will enable us to focus more fully on the unique theme of each section.

In addition, there are many options for afternoon services for Yom Kippur. It would be impossible to use them all, but the Ritual Committee has decided to incorporate material from each of the new services. In this regard, there will be an alternative service during Yizkor (Memorial) services for those who do not wish to observe Yizkor.

Many of our members practice the custom of not attending Yizkor when one’s parents are still alive. Although we have always encouraged everyone to attend Yizkor and contemplate its beautiful readings on life and death, even if one has not lost next-of-kin relatives, we recognize that there are some who wish to stay in the synagogue all day, but will not attend Yizkor. Therefore, a lay-led service on the first floor will take place while Yizkor is going on in the sanctuary. This service will use the liturgy of the brand new “Avodah” service in Mishkan Hanefesh. The Avodah service recalls the ancient Temple worship that was once so central to Yom Kippur and, in 15 steps, offers connections to our spiritual lives today.

The Yizkor service itself will be transformed with a candle-lighting ritual and lay readers offering readings on different aspects of loss and remembrance. In the Mincha (afternoon service), we will begin with the Torah service at 3:30pm, reading from Leviticus and Jonah, before proceeding to the rest of the liturgy. In the past, the Torah service concluded the Mincha service. In addition, instead of reading only the stories of the ancient martyrs (Eleh Ezkarah), our new book encourages us to read the stories of others who gave their lives for their faith or for a just cause, throughout different parts of history as well. We will embrace and incorporate some of this material into the Mincha service.

There are a number of other interesting changes. The new books and some of these innovations will be introduced at BHT during the month of Elul, the month in which we are to prepare ourselves for the Days of Awe. I will be introducing one new thing, briefly, during Shabbat services each week, and we will have one “Lunch and Learn” on the machzor on Aug. 20. Details are found below.

The Ritual Committee, Orit Perlman, and I want to clearly convey that while we hope the books will invigorate our High Holy Day worship, the Hebrew prayers and melodies and the basic feel of the services will remain the essentially same. We all want Holy Day worship to feel familiar, warm and comforting. We thought about what things “anchor” High Holy Day worship at Beth Hillel and made sure that these were retained, even while introducing exciting changes. We look forward to joining with you as we find new ways to think and pray and consider, as we “return again: return to who we are, return to what we are, return to where we are,” (Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach) using our new machzorim in the New Year, 5776.

As the holy days approach, let me be the first to wish you:
L’shana Tovah Tikateyvu,
May you be inscribed in God’s Book of Life for a good year.

June 2015

on Thursday, 25 June 2015. Posted in Rabbi's Message

MachzorsAt the end of May, 777 pounds of books arrived at Beth Hillel! They are the new Mishkan HaNefesh machzorim (High Holy Day prayer books) that we have been anticipating receiving. Many of you have generously donated sets of the books (there are two books--one for Rosh Hashanah and one for Yom Kippur). So far, 117 sets have been purchased (thank you to all who have contributed!), but 83 are as yet unpaid for and lacking the dedication that you may want inside the front covers. Please donate online or through Lois Bruno in the temple office today so that we can use all of them on the High Holy Days!

The sheer weight of the books and the fact that two books replace what was all in one slim volume in Gates of Repentance, our former machzor, should give us a clue as to what is different about this machzor: Many, many choices and options. Designed in a similar format to our Shabbat, Festival and Weekday siddur (prayer book), Mishkan Tefilah, the new machzor allows the leaders of worship and those in the pews to choose their own paths to a meaningful and soulful prayer experience. The words Mishkan HaNefesh mean "Dwelling Place" (or "Sanctuary") of the Soul." Both the name and the format imply that each person using the machzor is invited to have his/her own unique soul-searching and soul-lifting experience on our holiest days with these books.

Allowing us each to find our own way through the machzor does not mean that we will all be praying separately in our own worship bubbles. On the contrary, the Days of Awe will have a very familiar communal feel, with the music and traditions we have all come to love and by which we are all inspired, still intact.

I have been working with the book for a couple of months now, as our High Holy Day soloist, Orit Perlman, and I received advance copies in mid-April. Orit and I are very conscious in our preparations to keep in place what is familiar and cherished about High Holiday worship while infusing new ideas and readings into the familiar flow. The English translations, while faithful, are new and refreshing, but the Hebrew will, by and large, remain the same. We are looking at some exciting innovations in, for example, how the shofar service will play out; incorporating moments of meditation and contemplation from alternative materials provided in the books; and what the afternoon, Mincha service for Yom Kippur will look like, choosing from the many options suggested. There may even be some new Torah or Haftarah readings or additions! The Beth Hillel Ritual Committee is also hard at work, adding many extra meetings, helping to make decisions on how to use this new machzor.

In order to help us all transition to the new machzor, the Ritual Committee will be providing some learning experiences this summer. Some may take place as short insights given during Shabbat services. There may be some separate classes or even mock services offered. Please watch the summer E-minders for further information. And the machzorim will be available for your perusal whenever you come to temple for an event or services this summer.

If would like to read more about the new machzor, go to the following link for an article that appeared in the Washington Post this spring:


If you would like further reading beyond what you see here, please contact me and I would be delighted to provide more material. I invite you to take a look at the books when you are here and post your first impressions at the temple's website where this message appears in a "blog" format that is open to comments.

The holidays are early this year (see schedule elsewhere in this issue of Achshav), so it will not be long until we are all in the sanctuary again with the new machzorim in our hands. Until then, have a restful and enjoyable summer!

April 2015

on Friday, 10 April 2015. Posted in Rabbi's Message

In mid March, I attended the annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. As I ran into colleagues who were in my class or from my era in rabbinical school (the late 1970s and early 1980s), we all commented to one another that we were beginning to realize that we were among the elders in the room; most of the attendees are younger than we are. As we honored colleagues who have been in the rabbinate for 50 years, we realized that we are closer to that designation than we are to ordination. Since we are still full of energy and enthusiasm for our work, it seems impossible that we have reached this stage.

Having just signed a 10-year contract at Beth Hillel, commencing this summer and leading up to my retirement in 2025, this last point is something I would very much like to stress to the entire congregation. The fact that I have signed a retirement contract does not mean that I am slowing down! I intend to give my full energy and attention to the congregation for the length of my contract, just as I have done these past 30 years. I will continue to work with all of you to institute new ideas for programming and operations; to engage in community work; to teach our children and youth; to welcome and integrate newcomers into our midst; to develop new leaders; to listen to each and every one of you to find out what you need and want from being a part of our community; and, above all, to be open to change and new directions, while staying true to the essence of who we are as a Jewish community and as a people.

It has been my honor to serve this congregation for these past 30 years, and I feel privileged to be able to do so for the next decade, while helping to set it on a course for greatness in the future.

As I prepare to make this transition to my final contract at Beth Hillel, I would be interested to know what your ideas are for what we should be thinking about to set us on a path for the future—for the next decade and well beyond. Please feel free to post a comment at the Rabbi's Message/Blog section of the BHT website: www.bethhillel.net. Or if you prefer, speak to me in person or send me an email.

As we say in the synagogue when we finish reading a book of Torah, let us all say to one another at this juncture: "Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazeik. Let us be strong and strengthen one another."

February 2015

on Tuesday, 03 March 2015. Posted in Rabbi's Message

With a foot of snow on the ground as I write and sub zero wind chills, it hardly seems like Purim and Pesach could be the main subjects of the this issue of Achshav, but so it is. Before we know it, Purim, our end-of-winter "cabin fever" holiday, will be here. It provides for a bit of fun relief and release after the long, cold months. And exactly one month later, Pesach, the harbinger of spring, will arrive. Almost all of our holidays have a connection to the cycles of nature -- in addition to their historical meanings.

Observing the troubling rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in the news, these holidays cause us to reflect upon our history as a people and the fact that hatred of Jews has always been a part of it. Anti-Semitism keeps cropping up in places and situations where we least expect it. While we pray for a messianic age when all divisions, hatred and oppression will be banished from our world, until that time comes to pass, we must find ways to cope with the reality that our people are still maligned and mistreated in certain places and under certain circumstances in our world.

Purim and Pesach provide two very different ways to cope with this sad history and continuing reality: Purim's observances, with the silliness and spoofing of the Book of Esther and evil Hamah's plot to kill the Jews, allow us to pause for a moment and laugh a bit at ourselves and enemies who have made our lives difficult. Pesach, on the other hand, takes a more serious approach, having us taste the bitterness of slavery at the Seder, eat the "bread of affliction," and retell all of the details of our ignominious past under Pharaoh's oppression, so that we will remember to work for the freedom of all people.

Both of these approaches have their place. Both provide coping mechanisms when confronting the truth that there have always been and still are people who hate Jews just because of who we are. Fortunately, we live in a land of liberty where we are free to be who we are—free to turn our graggers and wear silly costumes while we laugh at our predicament on Purim; free to eat matzah and read the Haggadah in our homes as we consider how to defeat tyranny on Pesach.

I would be interested to hear from each of you: As you contemplate anti-Semitism or the oppression of any people, which of these two approaches work best for you- laughing it off or digging in to remember and respond? Please share your thoughts at the blog portion of the BHT website by clicking here.

Happy Purim and Chag HaPesach Samei'ach!

Rabbi Dena A. Feingold

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