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werks words of wisdom

September 1, 2015

Looking ahead — and looking back

This summer I had the good fortune to spend time with our congregant and friend Karen Hauss, who reminded me of a wonderful childhood memory. Like many of my genera-tion, I remember the encyclopedia salesperson coming to our door and selling my mother the full set, to be sent one volume a week. For approximately six months, a new volume would arrive each week — in alphabetical order — so, for example, until we received the “G” volume, we were left without all the facts and important information about a giraffe.

What a celebration we had with the arrival of Z! Now our source of knowledge was complete; we were equipped with all the material we needed, A-Z, with facts on the full range of subjects for school reports and our own personal edifica-tion. Our excitement did not end with Z but continued for several years with the arrival of the encyclopedia’s annual “yearbook,” filling in previously unavailable information.

Recently I looked at the white, blue, and gold volumes and noticed that the yearbooks seem to have ended in 1980, the year I graduated from high school. I wonder about these books and how did the encyclopedia’s editors decide in their 400 allotted pages what should be included in reviewing each new year? How did they decide what was important and what needed to be left out?

I also wonder if I were to make the decision what I would include? These books are now considered obsolete, out of date, and soon I will decide whether to hang on to them or recycle them. With today’s technology, information is obtained so quickly from the Internet, looking anything up in a book seems so “old-fashioned.” But my memories of the excitement of flipping through the encyclopedia pages, discovering new worlds of information are so dear to me —and, after all, aren’t some facts timeless? Isn’t the entry on a giraffe the same today?

We are now beginning to consider our indi-vidual year in review with the beginning of September, mid-Elul, as we prepare for our new academic and spiritual beginnings with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. What will we recall? What are the concrete facts of our lives that can withstand the advancements around us and what should or could we dis-card or recycle? We remember our past year, celebrate the goals achieved, and set our new goals for the future. As we prepare for the High Holidays, we look toward sources of wisdom to guide us. Perhaps just like the old encyclopedias, we feel that some of our goals or deeds are out of date or need recycling.For inspiration, let’s consider this mediation from The New Mahzor:

As we recall the successes and challenges of 5775 and look ahead to new growth and new beginnings in 5776, we might wish to discard the old, outdated material. But let’s remember that our old encyclopedias still contain valuable information.

Thanks to an amazing 2015 Adult Ed Summer Camp experience! Under the leadership of our chair, Lori Fuchs-Mey-ers, helped by Joan Bronspiegel Dick-man, we had a summer of terrific trips, lectures, and movies. Over 150 adults were engaged in our summer camp expe-riences! Look for our Adult Education brochure, which will be available mid-September, for all the 2015-16 offerings. Thanks again to Lori and to Joan for their dedication and hard work and to all of our participants!

Shana Tovah U’m’tukah—A Good and Sweet New Year! B’Shalom,
Susan Werk Educational Director 

June 3, 2015

Oh, those summer twilights!

As summer nears, the warm weather and sunny days make me itch to be outdoors. My favorite time of the summer day is twilight. This magical time — between the setting of the sun and the emergence of the stars, between the heat of the day and the cool of the night — presents an ideal setting for a spiritual high. It is not only witnessing the beauty of nature coming to life, but the meeting and greeting that occur as many of our neighbors take to the sidewalks and do the famous “shpatzeer” (Yiddish for stroll). In our tradition, the virtue of “sayver panim yafot”—adopting a pleasant demeanor —can ideally be practiced via your countenance and openness during the summer evening walk. From the rabbis we learn that “it is said of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai that no one ever greeted him first, not even a non-Jew, in the market place.” (Brachot 17a).

Like Rabbi Yohanan, we should all develop the habit of being the first to extend a greeting to those we meet with a pleasant demeanor. Beset as we are with caution and suspicion in today’s society, this simple act can be difficult. We no longer know all our neighbors, and we fear the stranger. The challenge of our time is to have a healthy caution but to still strive for this virtue. In addition the “shpatzeer” is a time to connect with our own family and friends. Spirituality can be nurtured by the environment as well as by conversations that the environment allows us to engage in. How wonderful it is to have the time and leisure to schmooze. Important stories are told, future plans are discussed, and “wow moments” are discovered. What is a “wow moment”? Moments of clarity, moments that inspire, moments that gives us the feeling of gratitude. The summer at dusk is an ideal time to seek and to find the spirituality around us, to be “wowed” by the wonder around. I reflect on the past year in these times and my attitude of gratitude is elevated by the “wow” of who I get to work with.

Of course Rabbi Silverstein and Cantor Caplan are my forever blessings in the work I do and the life I live; over the past several years, however, the educational team has gone off the charts. Every day I enter into the magic of working closely with Geula Zamist, our early childhood director; Marisa Bergman, our Religious School principal; Jason Kay, our Elbaum Youth Director; and Debbie Lurie, our Membership coordinator, not to mention the outstanding Early Childhood, Religious School, High School, and youth staff. Wow, are we blessed! In Hebrew we use the word “kahal” as a community of individuals who assemble for the sake of implementing a goal. Our team members bring their individual gifts, collaborate on our collective goals, and implement our CAI mission in a way that brings us all closer to achieving our reputation as a place of warmth, engagement, and vision.

Our Jewish legacy in the hands of such talented individuals enables us to grow as a community, as families, and as individuals. How awesome it is to come to work in such a “wow” place. Thank you so much to our staff and to our amazing lay-led Education Cabinet, chaired by Shani Drogin, for another year of excellence. We thank Shani for her guidance, encouragement, and support. We welcome Mandi
Perlmutter as our new Education Cabinet chair for 2015-16 and look forward to her leadership.

Enjoy those twilight walks of reflection during this summer break!

May 1, 2015

The many meanings of Shavuot

One of the most beloved stories of the Tanach is in the Book of Ruth, which we read on the holiday of Shavuot. The multiple aspects of the holiday of Shavuot are
reflected in its several names: Chag HaKatzir (Celebration the Harvest), Chag HaBikurim (Holiday of the First Fruits), Z’man Torahtenu (Time of the Giving of the Torah), and Shavuot, which means “weeks.” The last name refers to the counting of the Omer over the seven weeks starting seven days from the start of Pesach to Shavuot, the holiday marking the Israelites’ receiving the Torah at Sinai. 

So why do we read the story of Ruth on Shavuot? How does this story add meaning and purpose to our own lives? First, it contains the themes of harvest and fruits of the land. Ruth’s conversion to Judaism is a model of voluntary acceptance of the Torah and God’s covenant. We celebrate the giving of the Torah and look at Ruth as a source of inspiration and someone with pure integrity.

But it is the hesed (kindness) enacted by the main characters in the story — Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz — that serve as enduring examples for us as we conduct our own lives. The powerful relationship between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi, the selfless actions of Boaz as the redeemer/protector of the two women, and the generational linkage from Ruth to the line of King David provide us with dramatic models of love, generosity, loyalty, and faith. We are inspired and moved by the acts of kindness, the selfless deeds performed in the story to ensure the success of others.

So in honor of Shavuot let us turn to the lessons of this inspirational text and pursue our own acts of kindness. What actions can you take to help others for which you would receive no recognition, that you can do anonymously with no motive other than helping others?

April 3, 2015

Cherry blossoms — the ‘snow’ of spring

What a snowy winter! I am writing this article gazing out my window, earnestly wishing for spring. Hopefully by the time you read this article we will finally be celebrating the true end of winter.

April was always a very busy month during my childhood. Of course Passover always has some presence in April but it was also my immediate family’s birthday month. I am the only member of the original five born in March; father, mother, and
brothers were all April babies. So of course holiday observances, birthday celebration, milestone events of bar/bat mitzvah all occurred in the month of April.

What enhanced the pictures of all my childhood memories was the blooming of the two cherry trees on our property, one sweet, one sour, one on each side of the house. We did not have a large property; the cherry trees took up most of the lawn
— in fact, they held a position of honor. Seeing the first cherry blossoms was always an event. My mother took notice and made sure that we participated in some way in the wonder of the beauty that the trees provided. I remember thinking that the white blossoms were “spring snow.” As a family we intuitively included the blossoms in all our celebrations, capturing them in our photographs as a forever reminder of our accomplishments and, yes, holy moments.

At the time I was unaware that there is even a blessing that would have been appropriate to recite, “Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha’olam, shelo hisar b’olamo davar, u’vara vo briyot tovot v’ilanot tovim l’hanot bahem b’nei adam.”
“Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has withheld nothing from His world and who has created beautiful creatures and beautiful trees for mortals to enjoy.” We enjoyed those cherry trees throughout my childhood, rejoicing in the beauty of the blossoms, climbing the branches, eating the sweet and sour cherries, smelling the aroma and then tasting the delicious sweet jam my mother made. We also grieved the day one of the trees got struck by lightning, causing the other one to also suffer from its partner’s sudden and untimely death. By the time I went to college, the cherry trees were gone, replaced by new fruit trees that needed time to produce the peaches and apples it promised to bear. The beauty of the cherry blossoms, the true sign of spring for me, was now a memory attached to childhood. It is truly a gift to mark our sacred time with blessings and our sacred space with the wonders of nature around us. After such a cold, snowy winter, here’s to us taking notice of the blossoming trees and how they add to the holy moments of our lives.
Happy spring!

March 1, 2015

Meaning in anticipation

March begins with the topsy-turvy holiday of Purim and ends with the anticipation of Passover. For me, all the preparations for Pesach — planning curriculum for the religious school, organizing workshops to help people create meaningful
seders, and making arrangements for the annual Women’s Seder, not to mention all the cleaning, shopping, and planning in my personal life — is just as meaningful as the actual celebration. 

Contributing to this is the insight and wisdom I received on enhancing meaning during holiday preparations and at the seder from Creating Lively Passover Seders by David Arnow. Here is something to think about from the book: The Haggadah tells us that “in every generation, each individual should feel as though he or she had gone out of Egypt.” On one level, that means we should relive the journey from slavery to freedom so that we neither take our freedom for granted nor lose hope in our ongoing struggles against oppression. But beneath this — and this would be Rav’s view — the Haggadah cautions us to remember our ancestors’ spiritual missteps so that we can better direct our own journeys.

Our journeys mark the progress of our efforts to live lives of ultimate purpose and meaning. Each stage of life presents us with particular challenges, so what feels “ultimate” at one stage of life may feel trivial at another. Phases of the journey focus on different themes: personal identity, interpersonal relationships, love, work, vulnerability. And sometimes, the journey focuses on our search for closeness to the Great One of Being. Here we consider the story of the Exodus as a metaphor for our own spiritual journeys. We’ll look at some of the milestones along the journey and at the significance of the fact that the Bible attributes humanity’s first song to the Israelites after they cross the Red Sea. We conclude with a note about the spiritual journey’s ultimate goal. Before you begin, consider the following
• The Haggadah tells us that “in every generation, each individual should feel as though he or she had gone out of Egypt.” If you think of the Exodus as a personal journey, where are you trying to leave and where do you want to go?
• The Bible says that the paschal sacrifice was to be b’chipazon, “hurriedly,” “in a rush” (Exodus 12:11) because that was the manner in which the Israelites left Egypt (Deuteronomy 16:3). When is it good to rush? When is it bad to rush? In your life, where and why are you rushing?
• Is your destination a state that you think you could ever reach? How would you know whether you had arrived?
• Have you ever felt as if you had a glimpse of your destination or a taste of what it would feel like to be there?
• To what extent is your journey shared with others? Is there an element of your journey that you must experience alone?

Have a meaningful Passover preparation and celebration!

February 2, 2015

Facing the challenges of life

In our Greater MetroWest community and in Jewish communities across the country, February is Jewish Disability Awareness Month. Leading the effort for awareness and inclusion locally is the MetroWest ABLE Program, which aims to create a whole community through the meaningful participation of all its members, with opportunities for access to every aspect of Jewish life.

So this is the right time to point out that the Torah shows us individuals with disabilities who yet achieve so much, role models who can inspire us when we face life’s difficult challenges. In Exodus, God gives Moses the task of returning to Egypt to free the Israelite slaves. Moses at first sees himself as lacking the ability to perform such a daunting task. In Exodus 4:10-11 we read, “But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ And the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?’”

God then assigns Aaron as spokesperson for Moses and, with such support, Moses displays outstanding leadership and capabilities — achieved in collaboration with his brother. The only problem with this scenario is that after the departure from Egypt, in the desert, it seems that Moses’ speech impairment has disappeared; in fact, Moses speaks quite a lot — to God, to the people, to the elders, to Aaron. Why is his speech impediment mentioned only once in the text? Moses is not labeled by his disability. God helps Moses succeed despite what he views as an obstacle in achieving his goal of leading the Israelites to freedom. This demonstrates that a disability does not necessarily define us. Moses is known to us as Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our Teacher. In Deuteronomy, in fact, all he does is speak with the aim of teaching us. When we are given the correct support, having a challenge does not mean we cannot achieve great success. We have so many examples of this: the singer Stevie Wonder, who has been blind from birth but has become one of the most celebrated entertainers in his generation. But what happens when a person is physically/mentally fine for the majority of his or her life and then a challenge presents itself, changing the person forever — like Dr. Stephen Hawking, who contracted ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) when he was in his 20s? How does an individual learn to cope with the challenges of hearing/eyesight loss, the compromising of physical mobility, the occurrence of mental deficiencies — how does one learn to adjust to being “disabled”?

The Torah gives us the example of Jacob, who — during the night before he meets his estranged brother Esau (Genesis 32:30-33) — wrestles with “a divine being” and suffers a physical change: a limp resulting when his “hip socket was wrenched at the thigh muscle.” What does it mean that Jacob will have difficulty walking and, we may assume, will experience physical pain for the rest of his life? The Torah does not tell us, but we know from our own experiences that such a disability is likely to cause discomfort. But this impairment does not diminish our patriarch Jacob; in fact, after this encounter, his name is changed to “Israel,” which means “wrestled with God.” When a sudden disability occurs we often “struggle with God” to understand the why. But how do we move on from the anger at our seemingly arbitrary fate? Once again our tradition gives us the method: an attitude of gratitude. Our rabbis teach us that in the worst of times we are to seek our blessings. We can wrestle and ask why — but we ultimately should turn such a challenge into another thread in our fabric of life, not be labeled by it, not eliminating it, but weaving it into the tapestry of our life. To help us in this process, we cultivate gratitude.

Our CAI sacred community presents lots of opportunities for us to assist our friends and family as they adjust to such challenges. Our Caring Committee chairs, Michelle Shandler and Cindy Brooks, are looking for helpers as they fulfill the sacred work illustrated in these passages: “Blessed is the One who helps me keep my eyes open to the outstretched arms and the signs, divine and human, that will lead me to a place of promise.” “Open the gates of tzedek (righteousness) and I will enter.” (Psalms 118:19) (From The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices, edited by Rabbi Irwin Kula and Vanessa L. Ochs) During Jewish Disability Awareness Month let’s keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open to opportunities to assist community members in transitions and adjustments, helping them gain strength as they face these daunting challenges.

January 1, 2015

Bidding farewell to Shabbat

Our Jewish memory bank is often filled with experiences through which we felt God’s presence in life-cycle events and rituals of the holidays or “aha” moments when all the forces come together with meaning and purpose. There are many such settings from which these moments emerge, but it seems that one in particular holds a place of particular inspiration for many: the magical and illuminating Havdalah ceremony.

Havdalah marks the end of the holy Shabbat and the start of the secular weekdays. The Hebrew word itself means “distinction” or “separation,” drawing a symbolic line between the holy and ordinary. Havdalah’s four blessings are: 

Wine: Just as the beginning of the Shabbat is marked by the sipping of sweet wine and the Kiddush blessing, another cup of wine marks its end — a symbolic connection between the beginning and the end of the holy day. 

Spices: The blessing is recited as a box filled with sweet spices is passed around for each participant to smell, a reminder of the sweetness of Shabbat that is about to depart. There is a tradition that we receive a special Shabbat soul, and the aroma of the spices helps revive our everyday soul as the workweek begins. If a spice box is not handy, an orange studded with cloves can be used.

Fire: A blessing is said over the flames of a candle with at least three wicks and
usually braided, which produces a light stronger than the same number of single
wicks burning in individual candles. This symbolizes the strength coming from the
diversity and unity of the Jewish people.

Final Blessing: The Havdalah ceremony ends with a final blessing and the
extinguishing of the candle in the wine. So why is this five-minute ritual so
memorable? All our senses are employed as we perform this ritual, we see the
flame, smell the spices, hear the blessings, feel the fire of the flames, and taste
the wine. This multi-sensory experience is seared into our mind with meaning
and purpose. Outdoor Havdalah ceremonies are particularly beautiful if we can see the three stars in the sky, amid the beauty of nature, that are the signal that Shabbat has actually departed. We complete the transition from the holy Shabbat to the rest of the week by wishing each other “Shavua tov,” a “Good week.”

Susan Werk, Educational Director

December, 8 2014

Art appreciation

When I reflect on my appreciation for art, I realize that my high school social studies teacher, Mrs. Mildred Alpern, actually gave me a powerful introduction to a subject that has become a love. Mrs. Alpern had a dynamic approach to storytelling and the background information of the Renaissance, Impressionist, Realist, Baroque, and Neoclassical periods of art. I had the plea-sure of learning from her in my sophomore and senior years and even learned from her during my college years, as she mentored me for my future teaching degree. To this day when I go to a museum and engage in the art, I remember her approach of providing information on what was going on in the artist’s life, what the artist was trying to convey, and how does the art make the viewer feel. As I enjoy the syna-gogue’s many adult education museum trips — thanks to Lori Fuchs-Meyers and the adult education committee — I always use the foundations supplied by Mrs. Alpern to enrich my experience. It should come as no surprise that my love of art also translated into a desire to be like an artist myself. The truth is my family does have art in its blood. My mother doodled cartoon-like images that entranced me as a child. My nieces and nephew inherited a love of creating pictures and drawings that can be seen in my home, includ-ing the murals on three doors and a number of framed pieces of art. I have not fully developed my own artistic talent in drawing, painting, or other creative areas, but it’s never too late, and I know I have a personal masterpiece in me just waiting to be created. How wonderful it is that we are celebrating Jewish art this fall for “every age and stage” of learner. In September we were charmed by Mordechai Rosenstein and his creative and inspiring use of the Hebrew alef-bet in his colorful paintings. In the Religious School wing, thanks to the generosity of the Sol and Martha Rogoff Chil-dren’s Fund, we now have a beautiful mural cre-ated by our own families under the direction of the Peace, Garden, Song, and Mural Project. To complete our Artist-in-Residence series, this month we welcome Susan Leviton, who will demonstrate and teach her skill as a calligrapher and paper-cutter. She will also engage our community in Yiddish art and music. I am so excited that “every stage and age” of learner will experience this form of art. I am especially curious to see the response of our teens, since it was during my teen years that I truly opened up to art, to a special workshop on traditional paper-cutting on Wednesday, Dec. 10, 6:30-7:30 p.m. (sign-up required, limited to 20 teens). Maybe Susan will inspire enlighten some of our young people, unleashing in them a desire that could begin a life-long love affair for this form of art? Everyone — from the early childhood to adults — will have this opportunity. Special thanks to Bonnie Rosenfeld, Lori Fuchs-Mey-ers, Joan Bronspiegel-Dickman, the Education Cabinet, and all the Book Fair volunteers for providing our synagogue with such an important opportunity. Please check the schedule and come, learn, and be inspired through the lens of Jewish art. Hag Urim Sameiach! Happy Hanukah Lights! B’Shalom, Susan Werk Educational Director 

November 5, 2014

Did you know that Jewish Book Month has been during the month of November since 1925?

It's hard to limit myself to my top ten favorite Jewish books but here it is...

The Dairy of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

Exodus by Leon Uris

O Jerusalem!  By Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre

The Source by James Michener

Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Jewish Stories One Generation Tells Another by Peninnah Schram

Teaching Your Children About God by Rabbi David Wolpe

To Begin Again by Rabbi Naomi Levy

Nice Jewish Girls by Marlene Marks

And of course the TANACH!

So what are your favorite Jewish books?  Shop and share at our annual Jewish Book Fair beginning Wednesday, November 12 to Sunday, November 16, sponsored by the Education Cabinet 

April 19,2024 /  11 Nisan 5784