What’s in a Parsha?

If you are a regular shul goer, you may not have been surprised to hear the recent Pew Study.

Essentially, it says that shul goers are 11% more likely than their non going counterparts to be happy.
Read more here.

I could spend some solid time here breaking down the reasons that this may be the case. We know that creating community, connecting with our friends and family, and enjoying a delicious Kiddush lunch are activities that can bring us meaning and fulfillment.

The fact remains that going to shul is a deeply ritualistic experience. We practice doing the same things over and over again, which some people find comforting, but many more people find monotonous.

That is why even the shul going crowd tends to arrive later, since one can still get their fill of davening and also enjoy the communal aspects of kibbutzing, kiddushing and schmoozing in general, after the service.

So what can we do to invigorate our experience in synagogue so that, comforting as it is, we raise it to a higher level; So that we go from the comfort of our practice, to devotional prayer? Continue reading →

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin, 0 comments

Being a Community of Inclusion

I have learned disabilities are sometimes obvious and other times hidden.  Crutches and wheelchairs are external indicators of physical differences.  As a community we have been diligent to design spaces to be accessible through wider doorways, a ramp in the sanctuary, door assist mechanisms and other intentional features for our physical spaces. We have allowed greater access to our communal and sacred spaces.

Many people though are encumbered by less obvious conditions – autism, mental illness, addiction and other circumstances which present quiet barriers to accessing the Beth El community.  These differences might be more subtle but no less real to people being present, heard and valued.

As February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month, I want to briefly explore the difference between access and inclusion.  These concepts have real differences but are frequently lost.

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 2 comments

Religious Architecture

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 week’s blog is written by Yiling Shen, a frequent blogger at ArchDaily.com

We live in spaces.  Homes, schools, offices and houses of worship shape our experiences through their architecture.  I have long been interested in the connection between design and function.  After all, it was Exodus 25:8 where God commanded an awareness of design:

וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָֽׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, so I may dwell among them.

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, 1 comment

All in the Same Boat

‘Painting the Sloop’ by Andrew Wyeth

A few days ago, we observed the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.  His vision for America and humanity continues to resonate even as we continue to fall too short of his dream.  Of the many quotes attributed to Dr. King, I have been thinking about one in particular – ‘We may have all come in different ships, but we are in the same boat now.’  This is true in so many ways.

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 5 comments


One of the words we repeat the most during religious services is Amen. Amen is translated as: “it is true” or “may it become true” or “so be it.” Amen is found in the Torah only 15 times (11of them in chapter 27 of Deuteronomy) and no more than 30 in the entire Bible. Amen shares its root with the word Emmunah (faith) and its letters (alef, mem, nun) form the acronym אל מלך נאמן (’El melekh ne’eman, “God, trustworthy King)

Even though it has become a very common word, our sages taught that there are five different types of amen. Unbelievable! Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 3 comments

Meditating with Teens

Meditating with Teens

A couple of teens rushed up to me at the last second and asked if I still had space in the class. Pleasantly surprised, I scribbled their names down on the same day registration form in my hand.

They wanted to sign up for the Yoga and Meditation as part of the inter session classes the Religious School is offering in January.

It’s the second year we are offering the class, this time I’m teaching with a talented yoga teacher in the area.

Meditation can be challenging with teens. It requires vulnerability and self awareness; concepts that are right at the epicenter of teenage development.

We meditated on Jewish identity and responsibility, the things that make us Jews, and what we can undertake during this month to embrace our Jewish practice in a tangible way.

We also took time to journal some of these thoughts and some shared aspects of their Jewish identity with the group.

We talked about the Parsha and how Moses finds the courage to overcome both his Egyptian upbringing and his speech impediment and practiced Yoga poses that provided a vehicle for our own calm and strength, practiced in deep stretching and breathing.

In the coming weeks we will delve into each Parsha, concluding with the Ten Commandments, and how we hear God’s voice.

I just wanted to give you a glimpse of 12 teenagers in a circle, breathing together, meditating on their Jewish selves and practicing their Judaism.

For the parents who sent them, Thank You, for the rest of us, they should serve as an inspiration to us to keep practicing, breathing, stretching into our Jewish selves.

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

Good News in Religions

Sacred texts at the US Capitol

I want to share good news.  I expect some will read this blog and respond as doubters and find exceptions – it is the times we live in today.  Good news is just that… good news, not perfect news.  Sometimes it is appropriate to see fears and divisions but we cannot lose the ability to see good things around us as well.  Good news feels increasingly rare.

So let’s remember religious diversity is lived in beautiful ways.

The picture above was shared with me by someone at CNN.  It is a table at Capitol Hill covered by the diverse sacred texts upon which the newest members of Congress were sworn into office for the 116th Congress.  There were Bibles, Koran, Buddhist Sutra, Hindu, Eastern Orthodox and an African Heritage Bible.  Senator Kyrsten Sinema did not use a religious text but rather a copy of the Constitution.

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 7 comments

It’s Not My Typical Wednesday

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 week’s blog is written by Elisha Frumkin, Beth El’s education director, while chaperoning the inaugural Sorkin Youth Trip to Israel.

Yesterday was not my typical Wednesday.

Making pita on an open fire does not usually happen in Montgomery County but today I found myself avoiding the smoke of a fire and enjoying a  lunch of pita, hummus, a variety of salads, and spaghetti, sitting at the base of a giant sand dune. We, or I should say the 18 teen participants on the Sorkin Israel Youth Trip, Matthew Jacobson, a BERS alum and Rabbi Harris, sand surfed down the dune at occasional breakneck speeds.  The entire day was outdoors. We began at Machtesh Ramon, the massive crater in the middle of the Negev desert. Then this afternoon at a dune we reached after turning off the highway at a completely unmarked location, driving through the desert over bumpy landscape, and arriving at a food truck, a Jeep, and a sign inscribed with “Welcome to the Middle of Nowhere.” Continue reading →

Posted by Elisha Frumkin in Guest Post, 1 comment

The Sorkin Youth Israel Trip is no Dream

“If you will it, it is no dream.”

These words of Theodor Herzl from his book Altneuland, Old New Land (1902) resonate with me today.  Herzl had a vision of establishing a political state for the Jewish People.  He wrote at a time of rising nationalism and anti-Semitism.  Herzl’s solution to the pogroms and hatred he reported on as a journalist was to press for the establishment of a safe haven for Jews where they (we) could thrive, contribute to mankind and be proud of our heritage.  Herzl’s son and last direct relative died in 1930, 18 years before Theodor Herzl’s dream was willed into reality.  It is a misfortune of history that no Herzl relative was able to witness the establishment of Midinat Yisrael (the modern State of Israel).

As you read this blog, I will be just arriving in Israel on the inaugural Sorkin Youth Israel Trip with 18 Beth El students.  This trip was a dream of Jerry Sorkin’s z”l, Beth El’s immediate past president.  Jerry wanted to create a trip which would tie our students closer to Israel and be a capstone experience of our Religious School.  This Confirmation Class experience will draw the participants together in very special ways and be something for younger students to anticipate as they remain engaged throughout the Religious School years.

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Rabbi Greg Harris, 6 comments

Yasher Koach (Yishar Koach)

The most common way to congratulate somebody after a simcha (a happy moment) in that person’s life is “Mazal Tov.” A Bar/Bat mitzvah, the birth of a child or grandchild, a wedding or any other special moment deserves the good wishes of Mazal tov. Sometimes we even joke and say Mazal tov when something breaks in the kitchen (a plate or a cup, etc.), perhaps because the noise evokes the sound of a groom breaking the glass under the chuppah (the wedding canopy).


There are events in our lives that are more frequent and (maybe) less relevant than a birth or a marriage like leading a service, saying a D’var Torah or receiving an aliyah. We have two different options to congratulate those who have had these kinds of honors: The Ashkenazi custom is to say: Yasher Koach (should be pronounced Yishar Koach) (יישר כוח) that means literally “may your strength be firm.” The answer to this blessing should be Baruch Tiyihe (ברוך תהיה), may you be blessed. The Sephardic custom is to say Chazak u Baruch (חזק וברוך) that means literally “strong and blessed.” The answer to this blessing is Chazak vEmatz (חזק ואמץ), strong and courageous. Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 1 comment