Grade 4 Students Win Brookline Children’s Book Shop Poetry Contest!

Mazal tov to Moshe Sherman-Kadish (Grade 4) who won first place in the Brookline Children’s Book Shop Poetry Contest in the third and fourth grade category for his poem, “When Winter Hits the Woods.” Mazal tov to Sonya Finkel (Grade 4) who won an honorable mention for her poem, “A Fall Walk.”

When winter hits the woods

Moshe Sherman-Kadish

The snow is up to my knees

and the wind is stinging my cheeks.

I see abandoned birds’ nests in the trees, and

rabbit and deer feet are printed in the snow,

walking across a frozen pond.

In the ice, air bubbles try to escape, but they’re stuck.

Snowflakes fall and melt on my tongue,

and the wind pushes against the trees.

My toes, my tongue, my cheeks are all cold, and

I see my breath swimming in the air.

 

All of this happens

when winter hits the woods.

 

 

A fall walk

Sonya Finkel

Feel the cool wind upon your face.

Listen to the golden leaves on the trees shake.

Look up at the geese overhead,

Migrating to somewhere warm instead.

Leaving behind all the rocks, logs and dust,

Leaving behind all the trash made by us.

Soaring up over the river, grass and trees.

Up over the sky and across the seas.

As they fly up over the trees ,

all the fourth graders cease.

On top of a hill,

They feel the chill,

And the start of fall begins.

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D’var Torah: Rabbi Ravid Tilles (B’halotcha)

I would like to title this, the final D’var Torah of the 2018-2019 school year, “The student has become the teacher and the teacher has become the student.” Two of the most central elements of this week’s Parsha, B’halotcha, come by way of unexpected reversals. The first relates to the lighting of the Menorah in the Mishkan and the very name of the Parsha itself, “B’halotcha.” At the beginning of the Parsha we learn about the Menorah – We learn about what the Menorah looked like in its dimensions and form and the Parsha opens with the expectation that Aaron and the other Kohanim will be responsible for lighting the Menorah.

 

The word used for “lighting” the Menorah is unexpected, B’halotcha, which comes from the root עלה to elevate or raise up as opposed to the typical root used for lighting, דלק (as in להדליק נר של שבת). The most obvious reason for this word, B’halotcha, is because the flames raise up and there is an association with flame and height. The Midrash Tanhuma takes a reverse approach, however, for why the Torah uses this unexpected verb. It is explained that the lighting of the Menorah served to elevate the holiness and the merit of the Kohanim who were lighting the candles, not the other way around. So while the Kohanim were lighting the candles of the Menorah, the Menorah was elevating the Kohanim.

Following that, the Levites are all elevated when they are appointed to service in the Mishkan. However, again, this ritual seems to be reversed from the expected. While you might expect that the ritual process of elevating the Levitical status would come from Aaron, Moses or even God, part of the ritual of appointing the Levites involved the Israelites placing their hands on the Levites. We often think of placing hands on someone, ritualistically, as a top-down model of conferring status but in this case the power came from below. The followers conferred the power to their leaders in an ultimate sign of equality and respect.

So both of these elements of the Parsha describe unexpected reversals of hierarchy. We would think that the Menorah is lit by the Kohen, but the word B’halotcha implies that the Kohen’s motivation is sparked by the Menorah. And we would think that the Levites would transmit holiness to the other members of B’nai Yisrael, but we learn that the Israelites are charged with transmitting the holiness upwards. And I must say, on behalf of the faculty and staff,  as I look back on this school year, the students were very much our teachers. They motivated us as much, or even more, than we motivated them.

Student leadership and student centered initiatives were a major focus of our entire school program. Creating more opportunities for students to shine was a priority for us. Our teachers worked hard to facilitate moments when students could learn from one another, both inside and outside of the classroom. Each student grew, matured, and changed in remarkable ways that are much easier to notice as we look back on the scope of the entire year. I know that we as a faculty and staff are motivated to do our work because of these moments of growth and advancement. Though we may have mastered our disciplines over the course of more years of study, there is no doubt that the most effective teachers and motivators this year were our students.

We are grateful to our teachers. We are grateful to our students. We are elevated in holiness because of our profound work of education, a work that we all partner in during the course of the year. We are leaving the 2018-2019 school year on a high of accomplishment and pride, and we will only get higher when we come back from the summer for another wonderful year. Have a restful, enjoyable, and well deserved summer vacation everyone! L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

D’var Torah: Rabbi Benjamin Samuels (Naso)

No matter where in the world my children find themselves, they know that if they will not be spending Shabbat or Yom Tov with us in person, they need to call us the day before to receive their berakhah (blessing). There is a precious Jewish custom for parents to bless their child(ren) at the beginning of Shabbat or on a Jewish festival right before Kiddush.

What exactly, though, is a berakhah, a blessing? What is its nature? How do we define it? We say blessings every day. We bless God. We bless a bride and groom on their wedding day. We bless America and the State of Israel. What is the essence of a blessing – especially one we give to other people? A berakhah, I believe, can best be described as an essentialist proposal. It is an earnest attempt to reduce into a few words or sentences all those things, which, for us, make life worth living. And when we give someone else a blessing, in effect, we are saying that we would like to share these principles of life with that person in order to create for all of us a life of blessing.

This traditional blessing of children takes as its model the birkat kohanim – the priestly blessing, presented in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Naso.  Parents, in fact, recite the same blessings formulated with love so long ago: “May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord deal kindly and graciously with you.  May the Lord bestow Divine favor upon you and grant you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26). For a boy we preface these words with, “May the Lord make you like Ephraim and Menashe;” and for a girl with, “May the Lord make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.” The early modern, rabbinic encyclopedist, Rabbi Yitzchak Lampronti (Italy, 1679-1756), in his monumental Pachad Yitzchak (Letter 2:54b), recommends that parents should follow up the standard priestly blessing with a customized personal blessing. Parents should focus into a few words or sentences all that the child needs to hear to transform the past and next week’s experiences into experiences of blessing.

I once had the opportunity to serve as a scholar on a CJP VIP week-long mission to Israel. During our travels, we met with high level politicians, military leaders, business gurus, crackerjack journalists, and social justice warriors. At the end of our journey, we had a concluding dinner and went around the room asking our participants to share the most transformative moment for them on the trip. I will never forget how one wise soul said that in his life he has met plenty of important and accomplished personages, and although he learned much from our mission, for him it wasn’t new information as much as added depth and complexity. However, on Friday night, he witnessed some of our Shabbat dinner guests bless their children. He had not been aware of this custom. For him, learning of the custom of the weekly blessing of children was the highlight of his trip. Taking the time each week for one generation to bless the next with the Torah’s words of power empowers the individual child, affirms our place in the chain of tradition, and clarifies the ultimate purpose of our week’s activities: to create for all a world of blessing, of prosperity and of peace.

If you do not do so already, please consider adding the Jewish custom of blessing your children into your Shabbat and Jewish holiday routine.

Benjamin J. Samuels, PhD, is the rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Tefillah, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Newton Centre.

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D’var Torah: Rabbi Michael Fel (Bamidbar-Shavuot)

On Passover we eat matzah.

On Sukkot we dwell in the Sukkah.

On Hanukkah we light the Hanukkiah.

But how do we celebrate Shavuot which begins on Saturday night?

For being one of the three pilgrimage festivals, the Torah is somewhat tight-lipped about the holiday’s rituals.  Even the Shulhan Arukh, arguably the definitive code of Jewish law published in 1565, gives very few details about how the holiday is to be observed.  Whereas for the other holidays, the Shulhan Arukh lists hundreds of details and customs, for Shavuot, it lists the Torah and Haftarah readings and specifies that full Hallel is recited.  It also mentions, somewhat casually, that some have the practice of decorating their homes and shuls with flowers (there is teaching that Mount Sinai bloomed at revelation) and that some have the practice of eating a dairy meal.  

So what are we to do?

Recognizing the void, for generation after generation, the Jewish people have added several layers of meaning and customs to the holiday.  For many Jewish communities, Shavuot has become a time to honor students, graduates, and teachers. Some communities stay up all night learning to make up for our ancestors who fell asleep before they received the Torah, and of course others have transformed the custom of eating dairy into a full-fledged religious obligation eating cheesecake, blintzes, and ice cream.

While some might see each generation’s creativity as a departure from the holiday’s original intent, I see it as an empowering mandate to make each holiday meaningful and personal.  I am sure many of us have added our own communal and familial marks on many Jewish events and holidays. For example, many families have modified the seder plate to include an orange or added Miriam’s Cup next to Elijah’s cup.  Others always make sure to eat bubbe’s matzah ball soup or brisket at Rosh Hashanah or use a specific melody while lighting the hannukiah.  

I know in my family, it doesn’t quite feel like Passover unless we are clinking our glasses to the beat during the 4 questions on Passover or eating home-baked honey filled challah on Rosh Hashanah.

May each of us merit to celebrate the holiday of Shavuot this year by bringing in the traditions of our ancestors while also ensuring the holiday is meaningful and delicious for future generations.

Rabbi Michael Fel, Temple Emunah, Schechter Parent

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D’var Torah: Rabbi Rachel Silverman (Bechukotai)

“If you don’t come downstairs by the time I count to three, you’re not watching TV!” I know I’m not the only parent who resorts to bribes and threats more often than I care to admit. Despite overwhelming evidence that bribes and threats aren’t an effective motivator, we continue to rely on them.
So at first glance, Behukkotai sets up a familiar trope of reward and punishment, where God is the parent and we are the children. If we behave (follow God’s laws), we’ll be rewarded (with rain, a good crop, and peace in our land). And if we do not behave as expected, punishments will abound.
In that frame, it would be easy for to write off this parsha, as science tells us that keeping kosher doesn’t cause the rain to fall, and not coveting our neighbor’s wife doesn’t produce a good crop. Although, not coveting, plus a good fence, might actually keep the peace between your neighbors…
And that’s the point. It would be a mistake to read Behukkotai as a list of rewards and punishments. Behukkotai is about natural consequences, and the beautiful possibilities that result from making the right choices that God is steering us towards.
If we stop abusing our planet, then perhaps the rain will fall when it is supposed to, the sea levels won’t rise, and the polar ice caps won’t melt. All of which would certainly lead to the land yielding produce and the trees bearing fruit (Leviticus 26:4).
If we take care of the vulnerable in our society, more people will be able to sleep without fear and eat until they are satisfied (Leviticus 26:5). If we remember that everyone is created b’tzelem Elohim, we’ll have fewer wars and more peace in the land (Leviticus 26:6).
And perhaps, if we cease from work (put the technology away and encounter one another) on Shabbat, we’ll be fruitful and multiply – yes, literally, but also figuratively (Leviticus 26:9). If we spent more time finding the humanity in one another, we’d spend less time making policies that destroy lives.
In other words, if we follow God’s laws, we might have a chance at the kind of world Behukkotai holds out as a beautiful reward. And I, for one, would love the chance to experience that.
Rabbi Rachel Silverman, Temple Israel of Sharon

D’var Torah: Rabbi Ed Gelb (Behar)

In parshat Behar, the concept of shmitah (one year in 7 of letting the land lay fallow) and Yovel (return of property to original owners) is introduced.  The broad theme is that both nature and things do not really belong to us but rather to God.  This concept helps us to remember that our mission in life is not to acquire but to work in partnership with God to perfect our world.  Although the economic structure that these laws envision may not be in force or practical today, the broader concept still retains meaning.

“Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield.  But in the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, a Sabbath of the Lord”.  This may make agricultural sense, but the deeper lesson is that we are stewards of our land and not just using the land for ourselves.   When we remember that, we receive the double blessing of the long-term benefit of letting the land refresh and giving our offspring a sustained natural world.

In regard to the “Yovel”, the Torah states: “But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.”  Our tradition understands that wealth and the pursuit of wealth is beneficial.   However, by remembering that ultimately the wealth we acquire is a means and not an ends, we can impact our communities in big ways.  The Torah uses strong language in saying we are “strangers resident”.  It means that we are not permanent.  It is a way to remind us of our mortality and that you cannot take it with you.  Also, our heritage is that we were once landless slaves and we need to always keep faith with those who are poor.    The “Yovel” reminds us of our relationship to God and this world.

Judaism is a practical religion.  We are encouraged to be successful and strive for material success.  However, as in all things, we are commanded to do this in a holy way.  A way that enhances God’s presence in the world.  Both “Shmitah” and “Yovel” are ideas that still resonate today..

Rabbi Ed Gelb, Camp Ramah

D’var Torah: Amy Newman (Emor)

In Parashat Emor, the Torah teaches about “moadei hashem”, the “appointed seasons of God”:  the festivals that fall throughout the year, and the weekly Shabbat. The text mentions Shabbat and festivals side by side, but there are differences between these two types of sacred time.

Long before there was a people of Israel, God declared Shabbat holy. Humans don’t set the date of Shabbat; it has been fixed on the calendar since the time of creation. In the Friday night kiddush blessing, we describe God as “mekadesh hashabbat”, God sanctifies the Shabbat; the holiness of Shabbat originates with God.

Regarding the festivals – Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot – the Torah says “These are the appointed seasons of God, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions.” They don’t just happen; the people must announce them. The Torah specifies dates for most holidays, but it was the task of the court to determine the beginning of a new month based on the appearance of the moon. Only after the month had begun did the people know when the holiday would fall. Without human participation, there could be no festival. In the kiddush blessing on festivals, we describe God differently than we do on Shabbat; we say that God is “mekadesh yisrael v’hazmanim”, God sanctifies Israel and the seasons. God has entrusted people with the holy work of managing the calendar.

God created Shabbat long before God had a covenantal relationship with Israel, and God did (and does) the work of making Shabbat holy. In the early days of our nation – the childhood of the Jewish people – we weren’t ready to partner with God in proclaiming the festival dates. It was fitting that God took care of us like children, and didn’t ask too much. And it seems appropriate that centuries later, once the relationship between God and the people was more sophisticated, and we were bound to each other by covenant, God entrusted us with the high-stakes tasks of determining dates of festivals.

Our Jewish lives are punctuated by both types of sacred time: the Shabbat that God gave us, and the festivals that we create in partnership with God. When I think about work of raising and teaching Jewish children, I find guidance in these models. I hope we are blessed with opportunities to work in partnership with our children and students to create holy space, time, and ideas.

Amy Newman, Grade 7 and 8 Tanach, Schechter Parent

D’var Torah: Rabbi Marcia Plumb (Kedoshim)

Parashat Kedoshim is one of my favorite parshiot.  Its first verse led to major change in my life:  קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃

You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy.   This verse is the root of Mussar, a genre of Jewish literature from the 11th century that tries to answer the question of how to fulfill the commandment from the verse. Studying and following Mussar has helped me change the way I behave toward others and toward myself.  I am a better parent, child, partner and rabbi because of what I have learned from Mussar.

So, what is Mussar?  It is a Jewish method to help us become holier people.   What does it mean to be holy and how do we achieve it? Bahya Ibn Pakuda, a Spanish theologian, the original Mussar thinker, said that holiness starts in our souls.   How do we build holy souls, you ask? Mussar says that we work on character traits to help us feel and behave better. Let’s take an example from the Torah: ‘You shall look after the poor and needy’.  According to Mussar, giving to the poor is part of the trait of hesed, loving kindness. We all have the ability to show loving kindness, but sometimes we give it more than at other times. According to Mussar, in order to be holy, we should show hesed as often as we can to others, and to ourselves.  Hesed toward ourselves is as important as doing acts of kindness for others. Mussar says that if we feel badly about ourselves, and berate ourselves again and again, that is not holiness. At the same time, if we hide our sins from ourselves and deny our faults, then we are not holy either. Holiness is finding a balance between our strengths and our weaknesses. We also need to find a balance with hesed. Of course, it is good to give tzedakah but the Talmud tells us that we shouldn’t give so much money away that we can’t pay the dentist bill. In other words, we can’t give so much away that we go broke ourselves.

Holiness comes from finding the right balance between giving and receiving, between looking after others and looking after ourselves.  This Shabbat, I hope you find holiness, peace and joy.

Rabbi Marcia Plumb, Congregation Mishkan Tefila

D’var Torah: Seth Korn (Acharei Mot)

 

In Acharei Mot, B’nei Yisrael is basically doing what we do on Yom Kippur but a bit simpler. All they had to do was “give” their sins to Aaron, who was the head Kohen. Then Aaron placed all the sins of B’nei Yisrael on a goat which they sent off into the wild to die. And it was simple, for the people. But not for the Kohanim. God gave Moses all these rules and laws on how to conduct the work of the Kohanim. And there were a lot of them! Keep in mind that two of Aaron’s four sons had just been killed by God because they went up to the altar drunk. Aaron had no time to grieve or mourn, it was just, “Help the people with their sins. Make sure the people are okay. The people are the top priority.” That seems pretty harsh if you ask me.

Now as I said in the last paragraph, the people of B’nei Yisrael didn’t really do anything in their equivalent to a Yom Kippur service. They just gave their sins to Aaron, which basically consisted of them going to Aaron and telling him their sins. But that’s the point, they didn’t do anything.  After this once a year Yom Kippur service that occured in the desert, the Jews started a new way to get rid of their sins when they got to Israel and built the Temple.

As the Roman consul, Marcus says in his eye witness testimony, on Yom Kippur “There were thirty-six thousand of them, and all the prefects wore clothing of blue silk; and the priests, of whom there were 24,000, wore clothing of white silk.  After them came the singers, and after them, the instrumentalists, then the trumpeters, then the guards of gate, then the incense-makers, then the curtain-makers, then the watchmen and the treasurers, then a class called chartophylax, then all the workingmen who worked in the Sanctuary, then the seventy of the Sanhedrin, then a hundred priests with silver rods in their hands to clear the way.  Then came the High Priest, and after him all the elders of the priesthood, two by two.”

Just seeing the High Priest on this holiest of holy days was a life changing experience. The Yom Kippur service was entirely surrounding the High Priest. But then, as you all know, the temple was destroyed and the nation of Israel fell in to state of grief. After that happened, the Jews found their own little communities and their own part in each service, including the Yom Kippur service.    

As Rabbi Sacks says in his book The Koren Yom Kippur Mahzor “Every synagogue became a fragment of the Temple. Every prayer became a sacrifice. Every Jew became a kind of priest, offering God not an animal but instead the gathered shards of a broken heart.”

Now we would find it strange to go into a synagogue and see a priest doing everything while everyone else is just sitting there watching or even weirder, to find no one here except for a priest. But the new approach to Yom Kippur demonstrates that the people, everyday people, could talk to God. As Rabbi Sacks puts it “Even ordinary Jews could, as it were, come face to face with the Shekhina, the Divine Presence. They needed no one else to apologize for them. The drama that once took place in the Temple could now take place in the human heart. Yom Kippur was saved. It is not too much to say that Jewish faith was saved.”

Yom Kippur is one of those very special praying times. On Yom Kippur we are even not supposed to eat anything for fear of your thoughts straying away the prayers you are praying. “Yom Kippur is the holy of holies of Jewish time. Observed with immense ceremony in the Temple, almost miraculously rescued after the Temple was destroyed, sustained ever since with unparalleled awe, it is Judaism’s answer to one of the most haunting of human questions: How is it possible to live in the ethical life without an overwhelming sense of guilt, inadequacy and failure.”  

But God is understanding, “He [God] asks us to acknowledge our failures, repair what we have harmed, and move on, learning from our errors and growing thereby. … at its heart there had to be an institution capable of transmuting guilt into moral growth.”

Now we pray with Rabbis, but we also pray as ourselves. By ourselves or more often, with a community.  Again, “Even ordinary Jews could, as it were, come face to face with the Shekhina, the Divine Presence. They needed no one else to apologize for them. The drama that once took place in the Temple could now take place in the human heart. Yom Kippur was saved. It is not too much to say that Jewish faith was saved.” Because now we can all pray to God as ourselves.

 

Seth Korn ’20

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D’var Torah: Rabbi Elan Babchuck ’96 (Pesach)

One of my favorite memories of Passover as a child is of bedikat chametz – the search for any remaining morsels of bread after the house had been thoroughly cleaned for Passover. My father would turn off all the lights in the house, my mother would hold a brass candleholder and light the sole candle that would aid us in our search. My siblings and I would each hold feathers and take turns finding the piece of bread in each room and gently sweeping it onto a paper plate, making certain not to leave even one crumb behind.

It always struck me that the Aramaic prayer (Kol Chamira) we would say that night, and the slightly different one we would say the next morning as we burned the bread, sounded so similar to Kol Nidre. The Aramaic language is comparable and the framework is the same: First we name the thing(s) we want to disavow, then we declare them disavowed, and then they are considered to be like the dust of the earth, as if they’ve never existed. Unfulfilled vows and undiscovered bread are one and the same.

What a powerful gift to ourselves! To know that there are limits to our vision, to our steadfastness. But as generous as this gift is, it comes with a catch: we may only avail ourselves of these Aramaic incantations once we’ve done the work of searching as thoroughly as we can.

So whether we’re searching for forgiveness during Elul or chametz during Nisan, we must first do everything in our power to find what we’re searching for.

While the similarities between the holidays are interesting and the Aramaic word-play is intriguing, the more profound takeaway is what this connection implies. During these next couple of days we’re not just searching for loose crumbs and broken crackers. We’re tasked to search within for anything that – like leavened foods – has expanded to take up more emotional, mental, and spiritual space than we may have intended.

We’re invited to put down our smartphones for long enough to consider how many unintended minutes (or hours?) a day we bow prostrate to it, checking and re-checking our emails, the news, and any other feeds we’re apt to overconsume. We’re called to consider the residual feeling of resentment toward a loved one that – left unresolved – has swelled over time to overwhelm our love for them. We’re encouraged to consider our own feelings of guilt, shame, and self-doubt that have expanded far beyond their usefulness and become blocks to our ability to flourish.

Over the next couple of days as you find yourselves at the car wash with vacuum in hand, or in your home aggressively wiping down countertops in search of microscopic crumbs, take a moment to close your eyes and ask yourself: What’s taking up more space in my life than I want it to? And whether it’s an emotion, an activity, a piece of technology, or maybe even the hectic (over)-preparations for Pesach, my blessing for us all is that we can commit ourselves to letting go, and finding new spaciousness in our homes, our families, and our lives.

Chag Kasher V’Sameach!

 

Rabbi Elan Babchuck ’96, Director of Innovation, Clal; Founding Director, Glean Network