D’var Torah: Rabbi Ed Gelb (Yom Kippur)

 

As we approach Yom Kippur I was thinking of the daily blessing, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, for giving sight to the blind.”  It is a troubling blessing.  On the most literal level, this is obviously not true.  Additionally, what a strange blessing to say, as the vast majority of us are not blind and can see fine.  So we are saying a blessing that isn’t true and isn’t relevant to the vast majority of us.  Since I think the rabbis were actually pretty intelligent, there must be deeper reasons for including this blessing.

Every year we could be overcome by all the terrible things that happen in our world.  Globally, the terrible waste of life, the hurricanes, and the utter evil that some people inflict on others areis downright depressing.  On a personal scale, there are too many tragedies.  Whether within our families or within our community, there are too many who are struggling with illness and death, betrayal, and pain.  Sometimes it is hard to see the good in the world.  At Yom Kippur I think it is important to look for the good.  There are so many people who do good things for others every day.  People who drive a homebound person to the store, campers who volunteer to work with children with disabilities, and families that volunteer at soup kitchens.  Look around your synagogue, I bet you find tons of people who are doing good things for others.  By seeing the good in the world we can strengthen our resolve to also do good.

Even with good people, sometimes I believe that we are still blind to thosepeople in need.  Again, I’m thinking personally, in our families and in our communities.  We have such power to influence others.  Yet, in our busy lives do we take the time to truly see?  Time to see our children who are wantingdying to be noticed and to hear one compliment about something they have accomplished.  Time to see our parents and all that they have done for us and to say thank you.  Time to see someone lonely or hurt that we can help simply by listening to them.  Again, look around at your community, there are so many people to see that we can help.

All of us are blind at some point in our lives.  It is natural to be turned inward and to focus on ourselves.  Sometimes we simply do not see the world around us, the good, and also the needy.  This year, may we be blessed with sight so that we can take action to do even more good for each other and our world.

G’mar Chatimah Tova.

Rabbi Ed Gelb is the director of Camp Ramah – New England. 

D’var Torah: David Bernat (Haazinu)

 

God can be scary… At least the God portrayed in our High Holiday services, coming just around the corner.  God, the King, sits on an exalted throne and we approach, with fear and trembling, awaiting the Shofar’s blast and God’s Judgement “Who shall live and who shall die… who by water and who by fire… who by famine and who by thirst… who by earthquake and who by plague…” It is no wonder that this period is called, Yamim Noraim, “Days of Awe.”  The frightening God is also front and center in our weekly portion.  Haazinu, “Listen-up,” is a dramatic poem that is part of Moses’ final words to the Israelites before he dies and they enter the Promised Land.  The Torah here seems to promote the principles of “tough love,” and middah kenegetd middah, “measure for measure.” If the people are loyal and follow the correct path, they will be rewarded. If not, God declares, “I will pile hardship on them…wasting famine, devouring plague…and fanged beasts I will send against them…” (Deuteronomy 32:23-24).

As we engage in spiritual and ethical reflection, appropriate to the season, can we not ask; “Is this the Divine role model we wish for?”  “Are we meant to believe that the people of Houston, Haiti, Florida and other victims of natural devastation deserve their Judgement?” Is this the kind of Parent/Teacher/Manager we want?” “Is this the kind of Parent/Teacher/Manager we want to be?” I am not suggesting that we stop reading Haazinu and stop reciting Unetaneh Tokef. Rather, I believe that we can, and should, wrestle with our core traditions, even at our most sacred moments.

Fortunately, our Parasha also contains a metaphor for God that is like a ray of sunshine amidst the bleak clouds. Kenesher yair kino, al gozalav yerachef (Deut 32:11). God is compared to a raptor, hovering over its nest, ready to protect and feed its hatchlings. Here is the image of a nurturing God who loves unconditionally.  With such a heart-warming model in mind, I hope that, as we near the days of awe, and undertake a rigorous moral inventory, we can also learn how to give and receive love unconditionally, and nurture those in our community rather than rendering judgement.

Shanah Tovah

 

David Bernat PhD, Executive Director, Synagogue Council of MA, Lecturer in Judaic Studies, UMass Amherst, SSDS Alumnus and Alumni parent.

Rebecca Luire

D’var Torah: Rebecca Lurie (Nitzavim-Vayelech)

This week’s parashiyot, Nitzavim-Vayelech, describes Moshe, at 120 years old, passing along his role of leading B’nei Yisrael to Joshua. As his days were nearing the end, Moshe is told by God to relate the Shira, the portion of Ha’azinu that is the Song of Moses, to B’nei Ysrael. The last verse in Vayelech reads: “Moses spoke the words of this song into the ears of the entire congregation of Israel,” עַד תֻּמָּם, “until their conclusion” (Deut. 31,30).

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a Lithuanian Rabbi from the late 19th century asks, why does the Torah say “until their conclusion?” Wouldn’t everyone assume Moshe would recite the entire song? Rabbi Feinstein answers that Moshe was not just reciting the words, but also providing in-depth meaning to these words “Until their conclusion”  implies Moshe provided the deepest understanding of the true meaning of the Song.

Every day, my colleagues and I seek to create authentic Jewish experiences for our students that will ignite in them a spark to form their own Jewish identities. And I am thrilled to see so many moments in the Schechter program that grapple with text – through Tefillah, Talmud and Tanach – in order to find purpose, meaning and deep understanding. Just this week, I sat in on the 6th-grade Tanach class where Lianne Gross emphasized to students that “every translation is an interpretation.” There is so much beauty in the concept of the p’shat (literal translation) and the drash (deeper meaning/interpretation) of the Tanach. That is why I personally love studying Tanach – because it is a place to think deeply about the possibilities of what specific words and texts mean. And it is up to us to find personal connections.

Just as Moshe acted as a facilitator to B’nei Yisrael to help them form a deep understanding in the scripture, so too are the faculty at Schechter facilitating a community of purpose and meaning seekers. And I am truly grateful for the work they do every day with our students.

12155_10101034329068193_2109195832_n (1)

Meet Rabbi Ravid Tilles!

Rabbi Tilles is excited to be joining the Schechter community this year as the Director of Jewish Life and Learning. He holds a B.A.in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh as well as Rabbinical Ordination and a certificate in Pastoral Education from the The Jewish Theological Seminary – JTS. Prior to joining Schechter, Rabbi Tilles served as the Associate Rabbi at the Merrick Jewish Centre in Merrick, Long Island. Rabbi Tilles looks forward to fostering meaningful Jewish experiences for all of our Schechter students and families.

In his free time, Rabbi Tilles likes to take his sons for a bike ride, but he is still getting used to the Boston hills!

Rabbi Tilles feels #SchechterPride already from the warmth and kindness that has been extended to him and his family from the school community as he begins to work in this new and exciting role!

Josh_Bartley

Meet Josh Bartley!

 

Josh is excited to be returning to Schechter for his 12th year as the 4th-6th-grade Physical Education teacher and the Solomon Schechter Athletic Director. He holds a B.A. in Elementary Education from Westminster College and an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Missouri. Prior to joining the Schechter community, Josh taught 5th grade at McIntire Elementary in Fulton, MO.

Every year, he looks forward to watching the growth of his students over the course of the year.

In his free time, Josh is the Assistant Softball Coach at UMass Boston. He helped lead his team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history in 2017!

Josh feels #SchechterPride when he watches the Schechter boys and girls sports teams succeed. Last year both teams won the Jewish Day School basketball tournament! (Schechter is still the only school to win both in the same year!)