Resilience During Extraordinary Times

This is an extraordinary time – COVID-19, economic uncertainty, schools and businesses indefinitely closed, social distancing and isolation.  As this is the fourth week of the month, Reflections Off the Bimah features thought leaders from throughout the Jewish world and beyond. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter.

Next week I will reflect on Passover and how to do / experience sedarim during social distancing.  This week though, I want to share two messages of hope to help us see beyond the stresses and pressures of the immediate.  First is a beautiful musical piece by Andy Grammer who is singing with the Palestinian – Israeli Jerusalem Youth Chorus (JYC), “Don’t Give Up on Me”.  The JYC was founded by Micah Hendler who grew up at Beth El.  (Click here to see more of Micah’s incredible work.) JYC brings together Israelis and Palestinian youth to forge common ground through music. Their music gives voice to seeing the world beyond the immediate.

The second piece is from Rabbi Chanan Morrison who has written extensively on Rav Abraham Isaac Kook (1865 – 1935), the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine. Rav Kook’s message is to be cautious but not to fear.  Morrison channels Kook’s message as finding “resilience that we need to persevere in challenging times.”  Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments

Your last name

Turn on the television, read the newspaper or go to just about any web site. You can’t escape Cononavirus coverage even if you want to. I’m well aware of the virus and its global (not to mention, local) impact. Before getting to my main point, I do want to address that as we face global challenges, individuals in our community are struggling. The anxiety associated with these changes is not easy to manage. Rabbi Harris, Chazzan Fradkin and I stand with you and we are available to help address your needs.

In an attempt to address a different topic that is also front-of-mind, I want to share a message that may help you connect with your families in these unprecedented times.

We all have last names. The use of last names varies according different cultures. Some claim that their culture has been using last names for more than 1200 years. Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 2 comments

Megillah Madness, COVID 19, and an opportunity for mindfulness.

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone”

—Joni Mitchell ( but you knew that)

I’m so glad Megillah Madness was this past Monday. It was raucous, loud, hilarious and so so so so much fun.

I literally think if Purim had fallen one week later, we may not have had it at all. That would have been such a enormous letdown for the incredible work that all our amazing volunteers put into this year’s Rock of Ages Megillah Madness spectacle.

Beth El is awesome. It’s ridiculously amazingly awesome to be a part of, belong to and I continuously marvel that I ended up working here. Continue reading →

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin in Hazzan Asa Fradkin, 0 comments

Another Topic of Conversation

We have quickly become consumed by concern for coronavirus, COVID-19.  Store shelves have been emptied of hand sanitizers and bleach wipes.  I have heard of confrontations over face masks.  Some public spaces are closing or limiting access.  The best advice has been to wash your hands and pay attention to the CDC and Maryland Dept of Health web sites which are both linked here.

At Beth El, we have been proactive in planning contingencies for however events unfold.  Let me remind you about the ability to participate in services via live streaming on our website.  Click here to watch Shabbat morning services. Our congregational theme of Shmirat HaGuf, Caring for our Bodies, has taken on new dimensions.

As we continue to pay close attention to these events, let’s also occupy our time thinking about others things too – Israeli elections.

Not the Knesset elections but the World Zionist Congress (WZC) elections.

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments

Reflections on Three AIPACs

Rabbi Adam Kligfeld

This is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders from throughout the Jewish world and beyond. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. I share this Facebook post (2.25.20) from Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles.  We look forward to joining him at AIPAC’s Policy Conference next week.  Rabbi Kligfeld wrote:

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments

Coronavirus

The flu season this year has been a tough one. In addition to that, the coronavirus is making headlines and worrying all of us. I decided this week to share with you a different approach to one aspect of these viruses that I hope will make you think.

All of us sneeze – and so do some animals. A mysterious and fascinating thing happens when we sneeze: we close our eyes. Nobody can sneeze without closing their eyes.

Many people have automatically say “bless you” or “gesundheit” when someone sneezes. In Hebrew the term we use is “libriut” לבריאות (good health).

The custom of wishing someone well after they sneeze probably originated thousands of years ago. Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 2 comments

Rocky Mountain High

IMG_0928 IMG_0928

I know it’s cliche, but really, you should have seen the view from up there on those snow capped mountains, 2 miles in the thin Colorado air.
I thought snow tubing would be a fun idea for the choir to do as a local activity while we were “on tour” in Denver.
As you may know, the Gesher chorale- our new middle school singing group at Beth El- traveled to Colorado to sing in a gala concert with the Colorado Hebrew Chorale this past January.
While there, we of course wanted to take advantage of some of the local tourist activities, including snow tubing in the Rocky Mountains.
I actually didn’t envision it as a team building activity, but that’s exactly how it turned out. At one point, one of the kids suggested we do a snow tube train of all eight choir members plus myself.
What ensued was a particularly ridiculous and crazy fun way to get down the chute, while screaming along with my eight singers.
I would be remiss, if I didn’t share the best moment of that experience – at least for me – when John Denver‘s famous song came on the loudspeaker and I couldn’t help singing along.
I wouldn’t even have to tell you about the rest of the trip to explain what a magnificent experience it was to travel with these amazing kids and parents, sing at local synagogues and perform in a major fundraising concert for over 200 people. Because it’s really all evident just in that snow tubing train.
These trips are always the highlight of the year for me and the kids as well, because we get to spend precious time together, develop numerous inside jokes, and make ourselves into a family.
In the coming weeks, we will make lots of the pictures and video available that have already been shared widely on Facebook. Just suffice it to say, that I am thrilled I could continue the tradition of my choir trips here in Bethesda that I started back in Greenwich Connecticut in 2015.
I hope the kids will keep fond memories of these trips, I know that I treasure each one and often think of the indelible impact it has on all of us.
Next year, LA! ( No but seriously)
Shabbat shalom
Hazzan Fradkin
Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin in Hazzan Asa Fradkin, 0 comments

Bringing My Voice Against Hate

One of many panels on aspects of anti-semitism

(This blog was written in Tirana, Albania but could not be posted till I returned.)

Albania was never on my travel bucket list yet here I sit at a cafe in Tirana, Albania on a break from the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) on anti-Semitism.  Two weeks ago, I former student of mine called to invite me to attend this conference.  She has been living in Warsaw and we had lost regular touch.  When she described the gathering though, I knew I wanted to juggle my schedule to be here.  (Thank you Fabian, Asa, Sheila, Ricardo and the b’nai mitzvah families whose meetings were rescheduled.)

This international gathering to fight anti-Semitism brought together 150 people representing 45 countries.  The formal sessions include security experts discussing work in securing Jewish institutions and coordination with law enforcement.  Younger people talking about social media platforms being leveraged to promote hate.  Discussions on balancing freedom of speech and limiting hate speech are bringing out different legal tools available in various countries.  And Bethesda resident Elan Carr, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, spoke passionately about responding to hate against Jews and others with boldness.  He said, “There are always short term reasons to be quiet from pushing against anti-Semitism.  We must be very clear that we remain quiet at our own peril.”

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 1 comment

Anti-Semitism: Searching for a Global Response

Antisemitic image portraying a Jewish shopkeeper as greedy and devious

This is the fifth week of the month and allows for another outside blog. I am focusing this week’s blog on the relentless scourge of anti-semitism.  The hatred of the Jewish People and its morphing into the hatred of the State of Israel continues to be dangerous around the world.  From college campuses in America to grocery stores in France and synagogues being attacked around the globe, antisemitism persists.  It incorporates overt attacks and subtle acts of hate and bias.  Below are resources shared by the European group – the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to challenge anti-semitism.  They have been produced in multiple languages.  I share these because this Sunday, I will be traveling to Tirana, Albania to attend the OSCE’s international conference on combating anti-semitism.  I have been invited as a delegate to speak about security measures in American synagogues as well as the robust efforts to nurture interfaith dialogue and cooperation.  Beth El is vigilant in both these arenas. 

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments

The Ordinariness of Auschwitz

Image not part of original blog post

This is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders from throughout the Jewish world and beyond. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. As yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I share this blog by Alex Benjamin published in “The Times of Israel.”  Benjamin is the director of EIPA, a multi-disciplined pro-Israel advocacy group based in Brussels, with offices in Paris and Berlin.

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 1 comment