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 October 2019 Newsletter

What Is Possible During Communal Prayer?

by Rabbi Lee Moore

 We’re in the midst of the Days of Awe, the spiritually fertile stretch of time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  For many American Jews this season is the one time of year to participate in communal prayer. Some come for the songs, the tug of familiar melodies. Some come for community, to feel that sense of belonging that happens when diverse Jews converge. Some come to remember and honor their ancestors. Many are not exactly sure why they do it. They just show up.  As a prayer leader, I sometimes wonder – what is really going on for people at their seats? Are we able to actually pray in the environments we create during High Holidays? If so, what does that look like for each individual -- a more open heart? a few flashes of inspiration and guidance? a stronger commitment to life purpose? a surrendering to be held by others and in turn offering one’s own presence? What kind of ‘container’ can we possibly create in collective prayer and how might we find ourselves transformed by it?

 Raised in a secular intellectual household, as a child I never experienced group prayer.  Still, I had the feeling that something Powerful was out there, so I would speak to that Divine Mystery directly, in secret.  I felt heard. Mostly, I would ask … for help, for things to turn out in certain ways. Then as a tween, I started to judge this style of asking God for things as self-serving and naïve. ‘God is not a candy store,’ I felt, so I ended it.

 Then, in my early 20's, my parents got divorced.

I felt the rug had been pulled out from underneath me. I was crying at all hours of the day.  I was actually relieved that my parents were divorcing, as it created more psychic space for all of us. Still, an overwhelming flood of emotion wouldn’t stop and I couldn’t sleep.  I tried metta practice … calling to mind any person I could conjure up and sending them a sincere wish of loving-kindness, then calling up another. I would do this for what seemed like hours until I fell asleep. It still wasn’t enough.

 One day I suddenly knew what I needed -- to pray again. This time, I wanted to get beyond asking for things. I wanted to approach and get closer to God, but not with an attitude of trying to ‘get’ something. I had no idea where to start. After several weeks of contemplating what a more nuanced form of prayer might be, I arrived at a clear prayer that felt legitimate to ask … that I might find other people I could pray with. [If you’re interested, I’ll tell you later the miraculous story of how my prayer was answered in a carob forest not far from Tel Aviv.]

 I found what I sought -- around desert bonfires and in city shuls. Especially through the power of song and joining my voice with others, I found spiritual support.  Still, to this day I have more questions than answers about what actually happens when we pray with others.  Prayer is such a personal enterprise; how can we feel safe enough to go into our deep places amidst a group? And while the offerings of Jewish liturgy can powerfully unify our voices, it also presents serious stumbling blocks. One BAJC congregant I spoke with recently shared how alienating it can be to engage in communal Jewish prayer … because of the Hebrew. Within 24 hours, I met with another who expressed difficulty with communal Jewish prayer … because of the English. Prayer is necessarily shaped through words, and the language of the siddur and/or the kahal can feel so foreign to the heart’s actual disposition. Full of anthropomorphized, masculine God language and archaic idioms, Jewish prayer-speak is not always a doorway for our innermost yearnings to be expressed.

 In the late 18th century, after a few generations of Chassidic re-imagining of Jewish spiritual enterprise, Rebbe Nachman advocated a new style of prayer, hitbodedut, that is less about reciting particular words from a prayerbook and more about opening a channel for free-form conversation with God. To do so, he recommended venturing alone outside, as he described in his often-quoted intention:

 May it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grass – among all growing things and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer, to talk with the One to whom I belong. May I express there everything in my heart, and may all the foliage of the field – all grasses, trees and plants – awake at my coming, to send the powers of their life into the words of my prayer so that my prayer and speech are made whole through the life and spirit of all growing things …

 Expressing ‘everything in my heart’ out loud, speaking with full voice alone in the woods, a larger range may be possible than only addressing God with the Jewish liturgical trio of ‘Thanks, Praise and Request.’ Expressions of the heart may not fit so neatly into those three categories. Opening a stream of consciousness – supported by trees and the open sky – may offer more access to levels of depth than a room with four walls, a ceiling and other people.  I wonder what it would take for this same spirit of exploratory connection to happen in a group setting. Perhaps it could arise if we were to all give each other a bit more room. How might we embody a stance of permission for each other to go deep, to be present with whatever shows up? How might we collectively enable each person to feel they can talk with the One to whom I belong’?

 What if communal prayer could be a place where my unfiltered emotions can pour through; where I sense, or strive to sense, the Presence of something larger holding me; where I might receive guidance in the silences or through the voice of another person; where my spirit can be lifted above the day to day concerns that weigh it down; where I can look around and witness how others are also striving to connect to their own longings; where I can give myself permission to accept and acknowledge what I most want for my life and for the world and in so doing see that my longings have value?

 This may be a tall order.  I want all of it to be available for us as we come together this Yom Kippur.

This Month's Top Stories

President Column

Forgiving

by Laura Berkowitz
 

Do you have trouble forgiving?  I’m not talking about saying you’re sorry, but about truly forgiving.  I’m talking about wiping the slate clean, letting go of all resentment and self-righteousness; not temporarily, but permanently.  I suspect this is part of being human for most of us. It certainly is true for me. 
 

As I shine the light inside myself, and question my difficulty with the path to forgiveness, what I stub my toe on every time, is being right.  I feel like I have an addiction to being right.  Seen through the lens of my addiction, I equate forgiveness with admitting I am, or was, wrong.  This makes it much harder to truly forgive. 
 

When I contemplate this right/wrong binary, it begins to feel like a gross oversimplification of human actions.  I’m getting the sense, after 60 years in relationship with others, that every action we take comes from an infinitely complex interaction of personal stories, beliefs, assumptions, private truths and falsehoods, private pain, joy, hopes and aspirations, the desire for connection, for solitude, for respect, recognition, acceptance and love.
 

Every week we study a new torah portion and every week we engage, as did our ancestors, in the act of questioning, in trying to figure out why, why were these words chosen, these actions taken. The act of questioning, a favorite Jewish pastime, is valuable and enriching.  Yet, in our own lives do we have the time? Last year at this season I lost my dear friend Margaret. I remember the day I had the thought: “She ran out of tomorrows.” 
 

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur —indeed the whole month of Elul—inspire us, and require us, to take time to examine our own behavior before we “run out of tomorrows.”  So, this year I will try to expand my perspective on right and wrong. I will try to remember how my limited understanding of the depth and dimension of human experience keeps me trapped in a false idea of duality.  I will try to remember how much I don’t know about my own motivations and that of others, and I will try to remember what I know to be true: we are all doing our best and we all deserve love, and forgiveness. La’shanah tovah.

 

The One Law Campaign

 In light of the humanitarian crisis our country is currently facing on our southern border, the Jewish clergy of Vermont have organized a state-wide Jewish response. The One Law campaign builds from Exodus 12:49, which states, ‘One law shall be for those that are home-born and for the stranger that dwells among you.’

 This is primarily a fundraising campaign amongst the Jewish communities of Vermont for legal aid, to be distributed to three groups -- Vermont Freedom Bail Fund, who provides bail for immigrants living in Vermont held on immigration charges; HIAS/Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the national Jewish organization working on immigrant issues since 1881; and Los Americanos, an organization that works on the southern border. The goal is to raise $7,500 before Yom Kippur. 

 BAJC will be donating a percentage of what we raise at our upcoming Welcome Center fundraiser to this. Individuals are also encouraged to support the effort at this donation page https://fundly.com/for-those-in-detention-from-the-vt-jewish-community. Please share the page with your friends and family.

 Conversations about the campaign also brought to light the good work of Community Asylum Seekers Project (CASP) Community Asylum Seekers Project www.caspvt.org, a local Brattleboro organization that provides basic needs and a supportive community for those in the process of seeking asylum in the U.S.

 

LAST CHANCE TO HELP WITH FUNDRAISING

VOLUNTEER  FOR THE WELCOME CENTER COFFEE BREAK 

With only a few weeks left before the Coffee Break at the Welcome Center, the fundraising committee is looking forward to raising money, meeting people, and having fun at at the Welcome Center on Thursday, October 10th.   If you haven’t signed up for anything yet, there’s still time to volunteer for a two-hour (or more!) time slot to help greet travelers and serve refreshments. Sign up now with Deb Schiller at 802-275-6124 debnpurple@comcast.net or Wendy Bayliss at 802-258-3883 pofcher1@aol.com.  They will give you more details about what is needed and the times for drop-off and pick-up. You can also go to

Sign Up Genius Here

and see the tasks needed and the blocks of time for staffing. Volunteers are also needed now to donate items, such as sweet breads, scones, and muffins; brownies, cookies, and cupcakes;  gluten-free items, cheese and crackers, and cider. Several local businesses are providing bagels, spreads, yogurt, cold drinks, and coffee, but we still need many more items! Help is also needed to pack up leftovers at the end of the day and unload them at the shul. A few people have volunteered for a time slot to greet and serve travelers on that day and others have volunteered to provide food,  but there are more volunteers needed for both those roles. We welcome and very much appreciate any help you can offer, so please sign up for this event! NOW! The fundraising committee (Stephan, Deb, Susan, and Wendy) hope this will be BAJC’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Every BAJC member can contribute to this fundraiser in some way!

 

DID YOU KNOW....
 

 … that as an individual Jewish resident of Windham County you can receive funding from Harold Grinspoon Foundation for:

         Israel travel and study, 

hosting Shabbat dinners in your own home, 

sending your kid to Jewish summer camp, 

or your whole family to family camp.

Stipulations apply, so for more information, speak with co-President Laura Berkowitz or RabbiLee@BAJCVermont.org.


 
 

Volunteers Still Needed For High Holidays 

 High holiday services, like many things at BAJC are, to a great extent, DIY (do it yourself).  We invite participation from the community to prepare for and to participate in the services. We need help prior to each holiday to set up the main room at WVMH—chairs, the ark, books, etc.  Please contact stephan@bajcvermont.org or faith@bajcvermont.org to volunteer. Setup for Yom Kippur is on Monday October 7th, late in the afternoon.

 

We still need a couple of greeters, able to be at WVMH at least a half-hour before the scheduled service times.  Contact Faith or Stephan if you can do this. We also need a couple of people to organize and serve a simple break-the-fast (challah and juice) after Ne’ilah at the end of Yom Kippur. Contact Elan Moses (emosesvt@gmail.com) to volunteer.

 

We will be approaching aliyot and other Torah honors in a new way this year — an opportunity to be called up to the Torah by the rabbi “in the moment”  for one of the six aliyot and for hagbah (lifting the torah), glilah (dressing the Torah), and other honors. Each aliyah could be done by one person alone or shared by  two or more people. There is no need to sign up ahead of time—just come to the service prepared to say your Hebrew name and the names of your parents if you think you might be moved  to go up for an aliyah. As the Torah service begins, you might also be moved to step up to carry a Torah in procession, open and close the ark, lift and dress the scrolls, etc. Rabbi Lee will be happy to lead the way for people to participate in the Torah service.

Sukkot at BAJC

Come celebrate Sukkot on the beautiful grounds of BAJC.  We will build a  sukkah — a temporary 3-sided hut in which we can spend time for seven days, beginning this year on Sunday evening, October 13th and ending on the next Sunday, the 20th. Andrea Watkins will be supervising the setting up of our sukkah and on Sunday afternoon, October 13th, between one and two o’clock, all are invited to come and decorate the sukkah.  Adults and kids (especially kids!) should make decorations and bring them to the sukkah—cards or pictures with Jewish symbols, paper chains, lanterns, fruit, gourds, flowers, cranberries and popcorn on a string, Indian corn, corn stalks, leafy branches for the roof,  etc.  During the week people can bring their lunch or supper to eat in the sukkah, committees can meet there, people can visit and perhaps make music there.  On Friday night, the 18th, everyone is invited to a Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming Shabbat), part or all of the service to be held in the sukkah  (weather permitting).

This Month's Notes

YOM KIPPUR FORGIVENESS MEDITATION
 
In lieu of the traditional mussaf cantorial service on Yom Kippur afternoon, at one o’clock Rabbi Lee will hold space for a lightly guided Forgiveness Meditation. Sitting together in stillness and silence, this is an opportunity to go deeper into the great work of forgiving that we are asked to do in this season – both forgiving others AND forgiving ourselves.

An Update on Security for the High Holidays

 Hello BAJC Community,

Happy colorful fall and Shana Tova! I am writing to you as a member of the Ad Hoc Security Committee, the Ritual Committee and as your co-president. 

As was the practice last year, I have sent our High Holiday Schedule to Chief Fitzgerald at the BPD so he can inform his shift commanders to factor that in when they assign the patrols for respective shifts. There won't be a visible police presence but a cruiser will swing through a couple of times during our hours of service and will be within a couple of minutes response time if they are needed. 

The BAJC board and Ritual Committee recognize that any form of police presence can't fully assure safety for anyone regardless of what group they identify with. If you feel a need or are uneasy about walking to or from the parking lot by yourself, please reach out to either a board member, a member of the Ritual Committee or directly to me and I will do my best to arrange someone to escort you. 
The Ritual committee and the Rabbi fully grasp the ever present insecurity and anguish of violence that congregations everywhere experience, in particular at this time of year. This past year has seen a significant increase and spike in the frequency of shootings and hateful acts, and we are well aware of the countless ways that our Jewish community and its friends, while always vigilant, have responded by coming together out of love and solidarity.  
If you have any questions, please contact someone from the Ritual Committee (Elan Moses, Susan Auslander, Faith Schuster, Kate Hayes, or me. You can also contact anyone on the BAJC board.

Shal-OM and May we all have a sweet, safe and blessed year.

Stephan Brandstatter,
BAJC co-President, Ritual Committee Member, Security Committee Member

 

Hebrew School Notes
 

Hebrew School is off to a very smooth and enthusiastic start, with enjoying the opportunity to get to know each other and to learn about the upcoming high holidays  (Most school years the holidays arrive before school starts!) The students have all had the experience of blowing the shofar and knowing the calls and they are looking forward to the Torah services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

 


TREASURER’S REPORT FROM RICK AND THE BOARD

 When the BAJC fiscal year ended on August 31st, we were very pleased to see that we ended the year with a surplus, not the projected deficit we were worried about.  This is, in a great part, to the generous folks who responded to our request for additional donations over the summer, and the diligent and sensitive work of the membership committee reaching out to members through the year for “gifts from the heart.” The surplus on the revenue side can be attributed to several factors. Our overall member donations, totaling almost $73,000, were at the highest level ever, and we also benefited from fundraising, outside grants, and improved returns from CDs on our reserve fund balances.   We are happy to report this surplus, which will be added to our reserve funds.

 Although there were some overages on the expense side —  most notably in the areas of building and grounds and in web management and communications— we are working  to keep expenses as  low as possible.  We are cutting the cost of communications and website management by sending only one e-message a month, in the middle of the month, and by streamlining our website page. The newsletter will  be published at the start of each month, both hardcopy and e-mail.  Although we always monitor costs for maintaining our buildings and grounds in the budget, the budget figures are only “estimates” that may vary from year to year—sometimes up, sometimes down— depending on weather and other unexpected circumstances. This year we will have a major expense for the construction of a new covered entry/handicapped ramp/porch,  for which we will be inviting special contributions from the community to match a grant of up to $25,000.  We welcome ideas and help from members to raise money for the Porch Project, and in general to reduce other budgeted expenses through volunteer work or maintenance help or infrastructure investments that might save money over time. 

 While our balance sheet for the past year shows successful financial efforts, meeting budgetary obligations for the current year needs the vigorous support of everyone in the BAJC community.  We thank you in advance for your prompt and generous response to the annual membership pledge request recently sent to all. Please contact Faith if you did NOT receive the pledge information.

What is Cantor Kate Up To These Days? 
 

Follow her day to day life in Israel, her reflections on being in a foreign country, her struggles with learning a new language, and her studies wrestling with Jewish text. See pictures and read short posts about  the mundane and the holy, the ugly and the beautiful, the familiar and the strange in the land of Israel. 

 

Click Here For Her Blog

Peace- Inside and Out
By Stu Copans, Lin Taggard, Don Fitzpatrick
Harmonograms and Collaborations

“PEACE - INSIDE AND OUT”  is the 11th annual Papercuts and Peace exhibit at All Souls Chuch featuring BAJC’s own Stuart Copans.  The exhibit, which focuses on the importance of creating and maintaining internal peace while working toward peace in the external world, involves collaborative works combining papercuts and harmonograms.  Peace is a process, not an event, and the integration of papercuts and harmonograms, of text and abstraction, of inside and outside is an ongoing process which is visible in the artworks of the exhibit, which is available for all to see  from nine to noon on weekday mornings, until October 27th

WEST VILLAGE MEETING HOUSE
All Souls Church
29 South Street
West Brattleboro, Vermont 05301

Gallery Hours
Monday — Friday 9AM to Noon
September 3 ——October 27


Significant Jewish Books Club

In a rare foray into non-fiction, the Significant Jewish Books Club (SJBC) has  selected Stranger in a Strange Land, by George Prochnik, for its meeting on October 16h.  The book is about Gershom Scholem, the renowned historian and theologian, who  was instrumental in the formation of twentieth-century Zionism and played a crucial role in revitalizing Jewish mysticism.  The book entwines memoir with biography, chronicling Scholem’s intellectual and personal life, including his 1923 emigration from Berlin to Jerusalem and his ambivalent attitude toward the evolution of Zionism. The author’s account of his own sojourn in Jerusalem illuminates the ongoing struggle to reconcile Zionist ideals with political realities and to envision possibilities for breaking hopelessness in a divided land.

 

SJBC is always open to new participants, even if for one particular book.  We meet at the shul for potluck supper (dairy/vegetarian) usually on Wednesdays at 6:00, about every six to eight weeks (announced in advance in the BAJC newsletter and messages).  For more information and to let us know you will attend, contact schiffer.selma@gmail.com or 802-464-5803.

 

HONORABLE MENSCHEN
 

Donations were received in September from:


Willa and Barry Schneider in memory of “our dear cousin, Mark Schneider”

Rena Linder in memory of Herb Linder and Katherine Linder Ecochard, and new year wishes to the Schuster family and the Linder family and the congregation 

 

Jennifer and Joe Mazur to the discretionary fund to welcome Rabbi Lee

 

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