B’tzelem Elohim, “In God’s Image” by Marlene Frank
Life Long Learning and How I am Surviving the Pandemic Year! by Carol Glassman
The Power of Communal Meditation and Prayer by David Kellogg
Shavuot by Jessica Rosh
Shavuot Speech: May 17, 2021 by Sari Bourne
B’tzelem Elohim, “In God’s Image”
It is said in Genesis (Genesis 1:26-28) that God created human beings in [the divine] image – and many have interpreted this to mean that God lives within us. We embody the spirit of God and thus it is our humanity, dignity, and goodness that are the direct reflection of our creator. More importantly, God is the light in every one of us that shines when we act decently and enables us to connect with others.
Well, I have always known this precept, but have never really given it much thought. However, after the past 15 months, my views have changed. When the world shut down, everything became dark, with a sense of foreboding, not knowing what the next day would bring.
I then got a phone call from Elaine Merker who gently nudged me into her Friendly Calls program. I soon became engrossed in daily conversations with her. Making lists and making calls. Spreadsheets and checkoffs. Additions and deletions. We reached out to volunteers to call while I, too, made my calls. I was clearly out of my comfort zone making these calls, but I realized that it was through those connections of finding the volunteers, and making those calls that was bringing light to my soul. I felt more connected to others; and the recipients as well seemed to welcome the “friendly” call. The connections enabled many friendships to form and still continue. In fact, I began a relationship with one of my callers and we speak weekly. I now take her to her hair and medical appointments and we have an upcoming outdoor lunch date at the Kittle House.
Soon after, Nancy Fried-Tanzer began the much-appreciated Shabbat Meal Program. It brought so much joy and relief to others to have a meal on their doorsteps. I volunteered to help her. I looked forward to my Friday afternoons which consisted of driving to Bet Torah, greeting Rene, popping open my trunk for the touchless food, and then driving to Ellie Busman’s home in Katonah. I would leave the food on her bench, and then drive home. It was a perfect way to end the week and begin my Shabbat.
Speaking of Shabbat, there was always a flurry of emails, texts or phone calls on Friday from friends and relatives to check in and to welcome the Shabbat. The closeness that developed brought warmth and love from within. Life was precarious but we held on.
Tuning in to the Kabbalat Shabbat service and seeing faces gathered on the screen made me feel even more united with my community. It was a time for everyone to move forward even though there was so much sadness and unsureness beneath. The mini-boxes on zoom veiled the darkness behind the screen. I could feel the energy of the community, struggling for strength and hope.
I then began the new week looking forward to Monday morning. Who looks forward to Monday morning?? Well, The morning Yoga and Meditation with Rabbi Sacks and Robin Wald was the spiritual setting that centered me for the day. Actually, for the week. The duo artfully expressed words of wisdom and knowledge of Judaism that was seamlessly orchestrated into a flow and movement, bringing me an inner sense of calm and peace. These teachers, along with the group, brought so much guidance and a ray of sunshine into a period of darkness, which I will forever remember.
In my past life, Wednesday was called “over the hump day”. Now, Wednesdays was Movie Club day. Liz Shoenfeld and Rabbi Sacks sponsored the program and led lively, provocative, and sensitive discussions for a wide range of movies. The dialogue provoked more questions & diverse opinions, which opened me to new ideas and educated me on countless topics.
And finally, I have to thank my friends who accompanied me on my daily walks. The joy of being together outdoors seemed to strengthen our friendships.
It was all these connections and more that brought light into my darkness. I now realize that that light was the spirit of God. It was through the people that I connected with – that I saw God in all of us. Each connection was so meaningful & touching. And, this time led me to treat others with more respect, loving-kindness, and dignity, all enriching my life.
Is there God within us? I can now affirmatively say yes. Because I saw the spark of the divine in each of us.
Life Long Learning and How I am Surviving the Pandemic Year!
When one retires from a long working career, it’s crucial to establish a rhythm to your days, otherwise, time flies unsatisfactorily. With the pandemic closing down our normal routines of work and play not to mention schools and all forms of recreational outlets, it became almost an imperative to find a new daily regimen. Up between 7 and 7:30 a.m., morning pills, exercise, a fast walk , ride a stationary bike, lift weights, eat breakfast and then the day looms large between planning lunch and dinner, watching CNN and Dr. Fauci, reading for a book club or knitting. Fortunately, we live in a beautiful area and could be outside in all seasons.
Enter Bet Torah’s Life Long Learning.
Led by Rabbi Sacks, Robin Wald, Rabbi Brusso and capable lay leaders, the synagogue has provided us, the congregation, with an amazing array of activity choices from attending daily Minyan, religious schmoozes and services, Sisterhood and Men’s Club programs, Torah in the Trees (a walk through Rockefeller Park with a Jewish prospective) and an assorted cornucopia of other mind bending selections.
Enter ZOOM – the connection to connectivity when all else was nearly impossible.
My weekly routine was materializing as the weekdays filled with Life Long Learning activity. The week began with Monday morning Yoga through a Jewish lens using the weekly Torah Parsha emphasizing Torah principles to achieve a work-out through physical posturing. For example, after reading the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, led to a class of using props and belts to bind and support ourselves as the participants were then able to see and learn that being bound is also a form of freeing one-self by allowing muscles to relax to achieve greater movement. It’s always a wonderful and active workout. I especially love being able to turn off the video portion of my screen as my skills are more than un-orthodox while still allowing me to participate., Wednesdays at 5 has been our marvelous BT Film Club with Liz Schonfeld helping to select films to satisfy every area of interest from religious, secular, humorous, modern Israeli, historical events, thriller and thrilling films which were watched individually then discussed with a devoted group of about 12 participants weekly. We all became Siscal and Ebert critics even while driving home from work connected by the iPhone. Thursday late afternoon meditation gave an opportunity to de-stress using many breathing and mindfulness techniques influenced by what was happening in Jewish life cycle and the up-coming weekly Torah portion. Friday morning Women’s Torah study rounded out the weekly schedule.
Each and every activity filled our souls with connection to others as well as satisfied our intellectual, physical and spiritual needs.
Thinking about all the things offered by Bet Torah has made me realize that nearly every aspect of each offering has been infused with a Taste of Torah. The Social Justice programs, Mussar classes that examine behavioral attributes such as humility, generosity, trust and responsibility, even book club selections have had Jewish themes both historical and current that can easily be Torah related and as the Torah is read over and over, one can find relevance for all things today. As we celebrate Shavuot, the giving of our Torah, we Thank G d for how it infuses our lives and we also give thanks for the magnificent menu of our Life Long Learning program. Like Torah, it has sustained us through what could have been darker times but helped to illuminate our way!
Toda Rabah!! And Hag Sameach!
The Power of Communal Meditation and Prayer
Meditation, prayer, and community are a powerful combination with a long Jewish tradition. During COVID, the tradition has taken on new life during weekly meditation and the contemplative Mincha service.
From Talmud we learn that early sages meditated for an hour before and after they recited the Amidah, “in order to direct their hearts to the Omnipresent.” Since they prayed three times a day, that totaled nine hours a day in prayer and meditation! What’s even more interesting, is they would spend a full hour reciting the Amidah, which someone figured out means spending seven seconds on each word. That’s a meditative practice in its own right.
We also learn that when you are absorbed in prayer — or meditation — nothing should interrupt you. “Even if the king asks about your welfare, you should not respond to him, and even if a snake wraps around your heel, you should not interrupt.” Now that’s concentration.
Meditation was a central part of Hasidism. The Baal Shem Tov taught that “Truly, you are where your mind is.”
And he said — “There are times when the love of God burns so powerfully within your heart that the words of prayer seem to rush forth, quickly and without deliberation. At such times it is not you yourself who speak; rather it is through you that the words are spoken.”
The power of communal prayer is also ancient, as we know from the requirement for a minyan.
It is said that, “When ten are sitting… the Divine Presence rests among them.” Which means praying with a minyan is more effective than praying alone, because the prayers are immediately received by G-d. (When we pray alone, we need angels to act as our intermediaries.)
The experience of praying and meditating with others has been all the more meaningful during COVID.
I have found it has several benefits.
First, it’s all about peer pressure! Rather than distracting, I find being part of a group helps focus my mind. It keeps random thoughts under control.
Hearing others speak about their own experience with meditation enriches my own.
But above all, it connects me to the group in a very personal way — sharing the silence gives me a profound feeling that we’re all in this together.
Please consider trying it for yourself — for reasons both old and new!
By Jessica Rosh
I went to law school, driven by my desire to make a meaningful difference in the world, in pursuit of justice, equality & equity. I enjoyed law school, thirsty for the knowledge that would empower me to make an impact and when I found myself in the practice of law, I noticed something I never anticipated. The law, a critical, valued and necessary part of society, was equipped to create guidelines of how to live based on what we are permitted to do and how we are entitled to act. However, when working to resolve issues, many times it seemed that there was a gap between what we are permitted to do and what we ought to do. So, seeking a way to continue to pursue my now decades-old desire to make a meaningful difference, I found my way to bioethics to fill that gap – even if it requires acting in a way with responsibilities beyond what the law may find sufficient. During this pandemic reality in which we continue to find ourselves, it seems as if this gap continues to widen.
This year, as my bioethics courses moved online due to the pandemic, so did the monthly Torah study meetings I attend with Rabbi Sacks and several wonderfully interesting and bright women of Bet Torah – all bringing unique perspective and experience to our shared learning. Often, there is overlap between my work in bioethics and the material we grapple with in Torah study and one such overlap in which I find great meaning is a particular midrash we reflected on this year. In this midrash, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai teaches a parable about a group of people, together on a boat. One of the passengers takes out a drill and begins to drill a hole in the bottom of the boat, under his seat. Others on the boat take notice and ask him what he is doing, concerned about water seeping into the boat potentially leading to flooding and sinking. The individual with the drill dismissed the others and said “What do you care? Is this not underneath my area that I am drilling?”
This friction between rights and obligations which we confront routinely these days, is clearly age-old, as evidenced by this midrash. I reflect on this midrash often lately and have come to understand two important lessons, reinforced by my time spent in Torah study this year:
- I recognize the importance of filling my boat with people who care not just solely about their rights, but also have an awareness of the relational aspect of rights and obligations and know that we each have an impact on each other.
- Even more importantly, I’ve confirmed through my learning this year, that I must not limit the others on my boat to those who would never drill under their own seat without regard for the effect of that on others. I must invite everyone on the boat, we must find a way to talk to each other and not past each other and recognize that we are likely sailing to the same destination after all. Together, we can find a way to get there safely.
Shavuot Speech: May 17, 2021
Good morning and Yom Tov. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Sari Bourne, and my family has been with Bet Torah since we moved here in 2011. For the past 5 years, I have had the opportunity to participate in one of Bet Torah’s Lifelong Learning opportunities…Small Group Discussions with the Rabbi. Our group originated in 2016 with Rabbi Kaufman, and has since transferred over to Rabbi Sacks. In pre-covid times, about once a month, 6-10 women would take turns hosting a small, modest lunch at each other’s houses, and we would proceed to discuss the topic of the day. The attendees would shift slightly from month to month based on people’s availability, but the overall goal was the same. To take a break from the chaos of everyday life’s responsibilities, errands and chores, and to set aside time in our schedules to study and connect.
Throughout the years, I’ve come to truly look forward to these special gatherings. While I never viewed myself as very religious, or someone who would appreciate or enjoy “Torah Study”, I’ve always found these discussions to be very relatable and relevant. Rabbi Kaufman and Rabbi Sacks always come prepared with excerpts from other notable rabbis, jewish philosophers, authors, poets, historians etc., based on the theme of the day. We take turns reading, and then discuss our reactions to the text. Some of the passages are from biblical times, and others are from modern day. In the past, topics ranged from Time, to the Purpose of Study, to Creativity and Spirituality, to Visiting the Sick, to Self-Care, to Forgiveness, to Interfaith Encounters, to Jewish Views of the Afterlife, to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict, to Perspectives on Revelation…just to name a few. Like any discussion, it’s always fascinating to hear the different perspectives and interpretations from individuals when exposed to the same selection. Rabbi Kaufman and Rabbi Sacks guide us through the Jewish lens, and then we relate it to our lives. And the food is always great too…
While each of these topics has been memorable and impactful in their own way, what I have found to be the most treasured part of these meetings is having a set day and time on my calendar to study and connect with members of my community. It feels like a safe place to share and give and receive support…with a jewish twist.
I gained a greater appreciation for this group in 2020, when like everyone else around the world, my schedule came to a halt and everything changed. Suddenly there was nothing to do and yet there was so much to do. The day-to-day routine with everyone together in the house became mundane, yet overwhelming. In the beginning of the pandemic, there was so much family togetherness, and yet it was terribly lonely.
Once the initial confusion and fear settled, and everyone came to terms with the fact that we were going to be in this situation for the foreseeable future, our study group transitioned to Zoom. Zoom…a platform I had never heard of before, and suddenly it was my only gateway to my “previous” life.
I was a little skeptical at first…I wasn’t sure if the group dynamic would translate to a computer screen. Would it feel the same? Would it be worth my time? Should I just wait until we can reunite in person? But I was pleasantly surprised. Seeing the faces of these women, all who were going through the same struggles with this new unknown way of life, and the daunting fear of not knowing when it would be over…was beyond comforting.
We start with a check-in…a chance for everyone to give a quick update on the highs and lows of their current situation. Then we switch over to the theme of the day…allowing ourselves to focus on SOMETHING ELSE. A welcomed break from the current state of affairs. To have that time to connect, and learn, and debate, and talk and listen is extremely satisfying and valuable. I’m always intrigued by the topics at hand, and leave the meetings feeling enlightened and refreshed.
And so I continue to log-on, month after month. I even have a side joke with a friend in the group who also attends regularly that we are “super jews” and get the gold stars “perfect attendance”.
I’m very grateful for my study group: the remarkable women in it, the opportunity to learn and grow as a modern jewish woman and for Rabbi Sacks’ seamless facilitation. But mostly, I’m grateful for the time set aside to connect on a regular basis.
As the world continues to slowly reopen, and my schedule is gradually getting filled again, I make sure that my group discussions are marked down in bold on my calendar, and I try to schedule other events around them. I encourage you all to do the same. Thank you, chag sameach.