Why Jews

Why Jews?

Where do we get the name “Jew”? What is the origin?

In this week’s parasha we will read about the beginning of the Jewish nation. Jacob will have twelve sons and one daughter and with them come the first steps of our people. But, why “Jews”?

Later in history the twelve tribes will be divided in two kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The northern tribes will disappear and basically we are all descendants of the tribe of Judah (Cohanim and Leviim are the exception; they are descendants of the tribe ok Levi but that is for another post).

We are called Jews (Yehudim) since we descend from Judah (Yehudah). Continue reading →

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A New Chorus!

The other day, Rabbi Harris came into my office during a rehearsal and said, “please quiet down, I think people are having way too much fun in here!”

Some of you may know that back in Connecticut I ran a teen choir for 9 years that performed locally at Shabbat services and traveled nationally as well.

It was featured, at one point, in a promotional video for the Cantors assembly.  https://www.asafradkin.com/watch ( look for “Singing Is Just The Beginning”

It was the highlight of my time in Greenwich and the bonds I formed with those kids remain incredibly special to me.

When I came to Beth El I was amazed that we already had our own a capella teen choir, Marak HaYom, a stellar self run group of High School kids that meet for a few hours each Sunday. Continue reading →

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Proud to be Jewish

I am proud to be Jewish, even in these difficult days.

In these past days, I have cried with people and sometimes hugged when words felt inadequate. Rabbi Werbin, Hazzan Fradkin and I have spent time with Beth El students and adults responding to the tragedy in Pittsburgh.  We have had gatherings in the sanctuary and conversations in the hallways. We have sung, prayed and been silent together in response.

Continue reading →

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Seeing Beyond God’s Gender

This week is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. 

I am bringing a blog by Dr. Joy Ladin who is the Gottesman Professor of English at Yeshiva University.  Reflecting on her own journey with gender, she invites us to see God in an expanded way – beyond the language of He or Him.  As I read this, I am reminded how people are continually able to find themselves reflected in the Tanach.   Our sacred texts can inspire, comfort, and nurture a sense of belonging when we invest ourselves in our ancient verses.

Continue reading →

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Make your own list

checklist.jpgSometimes we get so immersed in our routine, our daily life, and the many things that occupy our minds, that we lose sight of the blessings that surround us. When we drive our cars, it is difficult to look up and enjoy the beauty of the sky, appreciate the blue jays and the cardinals or just observe how the trees dance with the wind.

As we transition into the fall and the trees around us start to change their colors, I wanted to take a minute and reflect about the beauty of the place we live in.

When it’s time for me to think deeply, the Talmud is always one of my first resources. Through its statements, teachings and anecdotes, we can discover what was essential to our ancestors almost 2,000 years ago.

We read in the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 17B)

“It has been taught: A scholar should not reside in a city where the following ten things are not found: Continue reading →

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Two Songs, One Message and the power of children singing

So I was sitting in my office one day with a teen who is involved in our High School A Capella group, Marak Hayom ( Soup of the Day).

We were discussing their upcoming repertoire for the year and I asked if she’d heard this version of Hashem Melech by the Y-Studs A Capella group.

I start to  play the video and she says “This sounds familiar”. I say “Yeah, it came out a few years ago as an Israeli pop song by Gad Elbaz.” She says “ No, I’m pretty sure I had to learn this song for a 7thgrade Spanish class.”   After I rearranged my puzzled expression , she said she was pretty sure it’s a Mark Anthony song. Continue reading →

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An Embracing Look at Ourselves

During the High Holidays, I enjoy looking at the kahal (community) gathered.  I clearly recall how I felt during my first Rosh Hashana at Beth El and how many strangers were before me.  Over many years  I have been invited into so many people’s lives.  In quiet moments on the bimah, I reflect on the experiences I have shared with people – high points and low points, children’s weddings and parent’s funerals, first steps of a baby and first times at the Torah.  These are the most special parts of being clergy.

One aspect of our community which I have been thinking about is how we embrace all Beth El families – ‘traditional’ families and  ‘non-traditional’ families.  Families of one adult who is a parent by choice (maybe through adoption or IVF) or by circumstance (by divorce or death of partner) or a single adult member.

For the past year and a half, I have been working with Beth El leadership to review our congregation’s practices and policies to assure they reflect our embracing values and bring clarity to our ritual practices.  This focus has been on households where Judaism and another faith is present.  Continue reading →

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It Didn’t Always Rain on Sukkot

This week is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders drawn from throughout the Jewish world. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. 

This year feels like a Sukkah Wash-Out… but it didn’t always rain.  Below is a 2014 Sukkot reflection from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat who has been blogging as the Velveteen Rabbi since 2003.  Her blog takes on many current issues.  She lives in western Massachusetts.

Continue reading →

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Sukkah and bubblegum

I know English pronunciation is not my area of expertise. It is good to know one’s limitations. I’ve done so in the past but I ask you one more time to forgive me, to give me a pass with pronunciation. An “S” or a “Z” does not make a big difference in this post. Not for me, and I hope not for my readers either.

As I recall my childhood days, many were the challenges I faced. Looking at kid’s challenges from an adult perspective can be an unfair act. I remember how difficult it was for me to do the monkey bars… No I can walk under them but I couldn’t climb them!

I remember how difficult it was for me to open my eyes under water. I still don’t do it very well.

One of the biggest challenges I faced as a kid was to blow bubble gum. I still remember the day I was able to accomplish that first “balloon” as we called it in Argentina. I felt I was about to take off the ground. I could feel how that balloon elevated me. It was such a big accomplishment; I felt such happiness. I didn’t envy other kids who blew bubble gum anymore. I was relieved from the shame because I now longer felt that I was the only one in the world who did not know how to blow bubble gum.  Freedom was knocking on my own doors.

Since that moment and until today, I cannot stop making a connection between Sukkot and bubble gum. Continue reading →

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Everyone is buzzing

Congregational Singing

It’s the “it phrase” for Hazzanim looking to get a good job out of school and the trend that veteran Cantors have needed to embrace in order to stay relevant.

It’s the title of a book by Joey Weisenberg, the musical director of Kehilat Hadar, a vibrant spiritual community in Manhattan. It’s also a movement that’s been around since the 1960’s, when the first Chavurah was established in Whittier, CA.

The whole idea of the Chavurah was to reject the large scale synagogue and its formalized worship with Cantor and Choir, which came to be seen as a performance and not engaging enough to the congregation. A staple of these groups was increased congregational singing.

Nearly 60 years into this paradigmatic shift, the synagogue service has become, in many places, a formalized version of the Chavurah.

Congregational melodies are central to the experience, and the Cantor usually davens without a choir, with few moments of Hazzanut, or ornamental and artistic renderings of the text.

But something in this great swing of the pendulum has been lost. What of the congregations whose musical life flourished under the traditional Cantor and Choir?

How did they “participate” before the days of commonplace congregational tunes?

It turns out they often participated without “singing” at all.  A tradition of accompanying the Hazzan with a drone of humming underneath has been practiced in shul for centuries. Dating to medieval Germany.

We did this on Rosh HaShanah. And at times, it was very very powerful. I sang long held notes, and you hummed the chords beneath me. You were the choir. A choir of 800!!

Change is good, change helps us grow. People love singing the tunes they know, I love hearing the whole sanctuary sing B’Rosh HaShanah together.

But we need all of ourselves in the communal davening. When we hum along, filling in the nusach, it’s magical and it keeps us all constantly present and engaged. Not simply waiting for the next familiar tune.

We have started something really amazing, or perhaps revived? I heard we used to do it at Beth El in the 50’s.

So as Yom Kippur approaches let us continue to buzz and to hum and tell each other, Hineni, here I am. I’m ALL IN, ready to give myself to prayer.

Shabbat Shalom

Hazzan Fradkin

Sent from my iPhone

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