Messages from Rabbi Russo

October 28, 2016 - 26 Tishrei

We begin anew again in our Torah reading cycle with Parashat Bereshit.  We got a taste of this reading on Simchat Torah when we read from the end of the Torah and the beginning of the Torah on the same day.
  
In Hebrew School this week, we took out two Torahs and compared the beginning and end of the Torah scrolls as we contemplated the cyclical nature of the Torah readings.  We focused on how the Torah begins with a Bet from the word Bereshit, often translated as in the beginning. The Torah ends with the word, Yisrael, Israel, concluding with the letter Lamed, which speaks to the peoplehood of Israel.  A Hasidic commentator noted that when paired together the letters spell the word Lev, which means heart.  For our students, sharing about their love for the Torah and holidays came easily for them.  It was deeply gratifying to hear.
   
I sometimes find it easier to foster our love of Torah in the midst of the excitement of the holidays.  Our family program and Hakafot, the dancing with the Torahs, on Monday night was so joyful that it was easy to feel the heart, the love of Torah and love for each other.  Now that we are entering a quieter time in the Jewish calendar, may each of us find the heart to connect with Torah and our community.  Let's start the new year with an abundance of love and really put our hearts into our Jewish identities, practices, and communities.    
Shabbat Shalom.

September 30, 2016 -27 Elul

Shimon Peres z''l is remembered for how he changed history with his strong sense of integrity and morality.  He is remembered for his integral role in founding the State of Israel, his two terms as Prime Minister, President, Foreign Minister, and his unwavering commitment to peace.  We lost one of the greats this week.  His funeral brought together Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.  This is no small feat.  As we mourn Shimon Peres z''l, we also to take to heart the values that he stood for during his lifetime.  

In Parashat Nitzavim, we read, "Atem Nitzavim Kulkhem -- You are all standing today before the Lord your God."  One of Peres's greatest acts was his ability to change his mind as life unfolded before him.  Shimon Peres z''l stood for something and his convictions changed the course of human history.  What do you stand for? It is important for us to ask ourselves this question on this last Shabbat of Elul as we remember Shimon Peres z''l.

Shabbat Shalom.

September 16, 2016 - 13 Elul

We are basically at the halfway mark in the month of Elul.  Many of us have engaged in the soul searching and questioning of this time of year. For many of us, the process is still daunting.  This week I offer a different approach to dealing with our mistakes.  The approach is of self-reflection as a way to get to know ourselves better.  Rabbi Wolpe shares this kavanah that can give us a starting off point: 

We think of self-examination during the month of Elul as a path to repentance. But it is more fundamental than a step toward something else: We examine ourselves to know who we are. Our darkness and our sins are part of us, stitched into our soul. Without coming to grips with what you have done wrong, you can never understand your own soul.

Our character is reflected in our actions and our relationships. But neither is the whole story. Some revelations call for introspection. Who am I? Have I become the person I was meant to be, or am I betraying or trivializing my destiny?

Look at a picture of your childhood self. Would that child be proud of the adult you have become? No one else on earth can answer that for you. Elul calls us to be deep sea divers into our souls. The stories in this book will serve as a spur to self-reflection. This is a time of year for repentance — acknowledgment, reparations, healing.

Equally it is a time for discovery. Only by apprehending who we are can we shape real hopes about who we might become. Forge ahead without fear into the mystery of your own soul and emerge wiser this year, and kinder.

David Wolpe is the Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.

It can be extremely difficult to look inwards and identify what we want to work on this year.  It is not easy to admit where we have missed the mark.  I hope the image of working on ourselves in an effort to know ourselves and love ourselves more may help us as we approach the Days of Awe. 

 Shabbat Shalom,

September 9, 2016 - 6 Elul

Many of us felt the whirlwind of this week as summer came to a close, schools began, and one week of Elul passed by.  As we engage with the deep spiritual work of this time of year, we create and try to surpass expectations.  In Parashat Shofetim, we read "Justice, justice shall you pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20).  The continual striving to do better and to be better is captured in this line.  There are so many ways we can apply ourselves to create more justice in our lives and our world.  I share with you a jewel of Elul kavanah about striving to pursue what ought to be better.   
Think ought.
Not what is a Jew, but what ought a Jew to be.
Not what is a synagogue, but what ought a synagogue to be.
Not what prayer is, but what prayer ought to be.
Not what ritual is, but what ritual ought to be.
Focus from is to ought, and our mindset is affected. Is faces me toward the present; ought turns me to the future. Ought challenges my creative imagination and opens me to the realm of possibilities and responsibilities to realize yesterday’s dream.
Ought and is are complementary. Without an is, the genius of our past and present collective wisdom is forgotten. Without an ought, the great visions of tomorrow fade.
Ought demands not only a knowledge of history but of exciting expectation. Is is a being, ought is a becoming.
Ought emancipates me from status quo thinking.
Ought is the freedom of spirit.
Ought we not Ought?
Harold Schulweis z”l, was an activist, author and Rabbi of Congregation Valley Beth Shalom.
During this time of new beginnings, may we all found the courage to pursue the oughts through bettering ourselves, our community, and our pursuance of justice.
Shabbat Shalom.

September 2, 2016 - 29 Av

Motzei Shabbat, the evening of September 2, begins the sacred month of Elul. The preparatory month of Elul prepares us spiritually for the upcoming High Holidays.  It is a time of reflection, teshuva, and a spiritual accounting of the soul known as Heshbon HaNefesh.  
Here are a few ways you can engage in Heshbon HaNefesh during the next month:

1.  Attend our Elul Spiritual Workshop, led by Judith Rose, on September 13 at 7 pm at CSI.  Allow your soul to be awakened and get ready for the days ahead.  
2. Sign up for Jewels of Elul.  You will receive a story or an inspiration daily to your inbox.  The emails help to carve out time to remember Elul each and every day.  You can sign up here: http://www.jewelsofelul.com/receive-a-jewel-a-day/
3. Ask yourself key questions: What do I want to be a part of?  What am I willing to risk?  What do I want to give?  I encourage you to ponder these questions and email me with your answers, stories, and inspirations.  With your permission, I will find a way to share your words with the congregation as we all engage in this holy work.
 
I leave you with a story about recognizing spiritual moments that can easily pass us by, excerpted from Yom Kippur Readings edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins:

Twenty years ago, I drove a cab for a living.  When I arrived at 2:30 a.m., the building was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window.  Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, then drive away.  But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation.  Unless a situation smelled of danger, I always went to the door...A small woman in her 80s stood before me...By her side was a small nylon suitcase.  The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years...When we got into the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, "Could you drive me through downtown?" "It's not the shortest way," I answered quickly.  "Oh, I don't mind," she said.  I'm in no hurry.  I'm on my way to hospice."  I looked in the rear-view mirror.  Her eyes were glistening.  "I don't have any family left," she continued.  "The doctor says I don't have very long."  I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.  "What route would you like me to take?" I asked.  For the next two hours, we drove through the city.  She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.  We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds.  She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.  Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building, or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.  As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, "I'm tired.  Let's go now."...The woman was already seated in a wheelchair [at the Hospice facility] "How much do I owe you?" she asked, reaching into her purse.  "Nothing," I said.  "You have to make a living," she answered.  "There are other passengers," I responded.  Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug.  She held onto me tightly.  "You gave an old woman a little moment of joy," she said...On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life. (As told to Rabbi Jory Lang)
 We do not know when experiences and people will inspire us.  When we slow down and take our time with spiritual attunement, we are more likely to recognize when one of these incredible experiences forever changes us.  In preparation for the days ahead, we open ourselves up to change by focusing on who we are and where we want to be in our spiritual journeys.     
 Good luck and Shabbat Shalom.

 

August 12, 2016 - 8 Av

We are on the brink of many transitions.  We are beginning a new book of Torah this week, Deuteronomy, which will carry us through the end of the Jewish year. In the Jewish calendar we are preparing for the end of 5776 and the beginning of 5777.  The High Holy Days feel just around the corner.  Many of the camps are concluding as we transition back into school and work (for those of us who have the summer off).  Some of us cannot wait for the change of seasons when we can get a little respite from the humidity of summer.  This reminds us that some transitions are easier than others.
This Shabbat we face another transition as we immediately move from the end of Shabbat into the somber holiday of Tisha B'Av.  Since the 9th of Av falls on Shabbat this year, we barely have time to go from one holiday into the next.  How does our tradition help us with this immediate change?  Shabbat is joyful and Tisha B'Av commemorates the destructions of the Temples.  In Havdalah, the ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat, we do the blessings a little differently to honor the very different mood of Tisha B'Av.   
During Havdalah, we usually bless the wine, the spices, the light of the candle, and going from the holiness of Shabbat into a regular week.  Since we fast on Tisha B'Av, we do not bless and drink the wine until Sunday night.  We still light the candle and this is the only blessing recited during Havdalah on Saturday night.  We do not bless the spices as we are not entering a sweet time.  The last blessing, honoring the transition from holiness to the mundane, is also postponed until Sunday night.  
This tradition reminds us that we need rituals to help us ease into transitions.  Last week we prepared for a new book of Torah with the words, "Hazak, Hazak, v'Nithazek" - Be strong, be strong, and you will be strengthened. This week we alter Havdalah to honor Tisha B'Av.  Whatever changes we have coming up in our Jewish and secular lives, rituals and blessings can help us navigate them with intention.  I am happy to speak to anyone about rituals and blessings that can ease transitions.
Shabbat Shalom

August 5, 2016 - 1 Av

In the last two parshiyot of Numbers, Matot - Ma'sei, we continue to learn about the Israelite wanderings.  We read:  "Moses recorded the starting points of their various marches as directed by the Lord. Their marches, by starting points, were as follows..." and then a list tells us all of the places that they have traveled (Numbers 33:2).  Why is it important to list every stopping point? There seems to be a great emphasis on the journey.  The Sefat Emet, a Hasidic commentator, understands the significance of this list to indicate that wherever the Jewish people travelled over our very long history, we have created opportunities for Tikkun Olam - chances to make a meaningful contribution to the surrounding environment.   
We need Tikkun Olam more than ever today with so much darkness in the news and in our world.  As we each embark on our own wanderings in life, may we do so with an awareness of Tikkun Olam and the possible impact we can make towards the world around us.  Small acts such as returning a stray shopping cart, offering to help someone who could use a hand, or picking up litter may seem minor but can make an impact.  If we take note of every place that we stop with an eye towards how we can help, our daily routines could become much more meaningful.
Shabbat Shalom.

July 22, 2016 - 16 Tamuz

In one of the most comical scenes in the Torah, Balaam, a sorcerer, cannot find his way and is guided by a talking donkey.  Balaam is on a mission from the King of Moab, Balak, to curse the Israelites.  The commentator, Beit Ramah as quoted in the Etz Hayim, asks, "Why didn't Balak hire Balaam to bless his own people rather than to curse Israel (since 'whom you bless is blessed indeed,' (verse 6)? He was so consumed by hatred that he forgot about his people's needs and could think only about hurting his enemy."  I think this question and his message are just as relevant today.  There are heightened tensions and emotions as the Republican National Convention was held this week and the Democratic National Convention will be held next week.  When the stakes seem so high, there is a tendency to want to curse candidates who make us uneasy.  There can be fine lines between advocating for what we feel is right and hateful speech towards others.  I am amazed by the array of political views even within our small community. In a time of heightened awareness and political campaigning, may we look to highlight the blessings instead of cursing those we disagree with. 
Shabbat Shalom

July 15, 2016 - 9 Tamuz

We once again enter Shabbat with heavy hearts after a devastating terror attack in Nice, France.  We will explore the Torah's response to loss when we read about Miriam and Aaron's deaths in Parashat Chukkat tomorrow morning.  
As we balance our grief with the joy and respite of Shabbat, I encourage all of you to come out tonight for a healing, uplifting Friday night services.  Hazzan Kasper will be joined by Cantor Jerry Blum. Together they will lead a service incorporating the music of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Reb Shir Yaakov Feit, and others.  As Hazzan Kasper paraphrased for me earlier today, music is the wings that carries prayer towards the Source.  We can tap into the beautiful melodies coupled with the words of our ancient tradition to recenter ourselves and connect to God during difficult times.  We hope to see many of you with us tonight. 
Shabbat Shalom

July 8, 2016 - 2 Tamuz

July 8 - 9 ~ 2nd and 3rd of Tammuz 5776
Korach, in this week's parashah, goes against Moshe's authority and arguably against God as well.  He is treated as a rebel by the text and is punished accordingly.  
I have been thinking a lot about the role of the rebellious type in our society especially this week.  I am proud that so many people screamed out and protested the long-standing institutional racism and racial inequality in our nation.  We are moved to act in response to violence, death, and racial inequality that targets young, Black men in America, whether we attend Black Lives Matter rallies, bring up racism at the dinner table, reach out to our neighbors, and show our support, or lobby congress.  There are so many times every day that police and civilians interact civilly, appropriately, and in ways that protect the public.  When something does go wrong, when a person of color is targeted, killed, and it goes terribly wrong, there is no turning back.  The loss is felt forever.  
Sometimes rebelling is good.  Rebelling against a corrupt and broken system is essential.  As Elie Wiesel z''l, who died this week, said in his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech in 1986, “And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”  
When we wake up and hear about a violent attack on police officers in Dallas, when we learn that five officers who serve our country in their  community are to protect us were murdered during what should have been a peaceful protest, that is when rebelling is taken too far. Officers who rushed to the source of the gun fire and danger to protect protesters because this is what the men and women of our law enforcement have pledged to do demonstrates the enormity and difficulties involved in the noble work of good policing.
Violence and murder is never the solution.  We need to take a note from Korach and rebel against injustices and also know when it is taken too far.  May we all find the strength to comfort each other during difficult times without violence.  We need the shelter of peace that Shabbat provides more than ever this week.
Shabbat Shalom.

July 1, 2016 - 25 Sivan

July 1, 2016 - 25 Sivan

Shelah Lekha brings us back to God's promise of the land of Israel.  We read about the spies, sent out to seek out the Promised Land, the land that will become Israel. The story is only the beginning because it takes another forty years before the Israelites live in the Promised Land.  It has not been an easy path between the Jews and Israel.  Living in a Jewish homeland became a reality only 68 years ago.  
 
Ben Gurion declared Israel's Independence, and 11 minutes later, the United Stated declared Israel's Independence as well.  As Jews there are a lot of reasons to love America.  Our relationship with Israel is just one reason.  This weekend as we celebrate Shabbat, we also have great cause to celebrate the birth of America.  We count our blessings as Jews and Americans.  
Below I share with you a blessing for July 4th and Shabbat written by Shira M. Zemel and Rabbi Daniel G. Zemel.

Shabbat, as we recite each week, is a reminder of our people’s liberation from Egyptian slavery: Zecher yetziat Mitzrayim. The light that glowed in the bush that would not be consumed was rekindled on these shores as America became a beacon of freedom that glows from sea to shining sea...We end Shabbat with a flame just as July 4th peaks in wondrous flames throughout the sky. On July 4th we dedicate ourselves that these eternal flames shine brightly both at home and across the globe.
Dear God, we ask your blessing on our nation as we enter Shabbat and this sacred American day.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy July 4th

June 3, 2016 - 26 Iyar

Shabbat Shalom
June 3 - 26 Iyar
In Parashat Bechukotai, God outlines the covenant and the communal responsibility.  In 26:37, the Torah teaches us that "each man will stumble on his brother."  Rashi (12th century, France) understands this to mean that when people are running away from an enemy, they may stumble upon one another.  A midrash takes another approach.  Sifra understands this as "It does not [mean to] say, 'a man will [literally] stumble on his brother,' rather, 'a man will stumble on his brother's sin.'  This teaches that all Jews are guarantors for one another."  This is a beautiful sentiment that we share responsibility of one another and together we can perform mitzvot.  It is on this note that I want to address two ways that we can come together as a community.  
1 - When someone has a major life event or notable moment, we can help mark it with Max Smith cards.  The cards are only $5 and you can open an account with Joanne Schoen at joanne.schoen@gmail.com.  She will mail Max Smith cards to your friends and families that can serve as get well cards, condolence cards, or Mazal Tov cards.  Anything from a piano recital to a graduation to a note of appreciation can make a big difference.  It is nice when the community feels recognized and it helps the synagogue.  
2 - Another initiative we are starting is a keruv committee to look at how we do outreach and if we are as welcoming as we would like to be.  Please let me know if you would like to join this task force as we explore our outreach and inclusion in our shul.
Shabbat Shalom.

May 20, 2016 - 12 Iyar

In Parashat Emor we read about the holidays such as Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and Shavuot.  Immediately afterwards God tells us, "These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the Lord, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions."  There is a midrash which understands this verse to be representative of the partnership between God and the Jewish people.  God sets the holidays and the Israelites make them sacred.  This is true of today.  The calendar is mostly set well in advance.

At the synagogue we have our own calendar meeting coming up soon.  How we recognize the holidays, celebrate them, and infuse holiness into them is up to us.  We cannot slow down or speed up time, but we can choose how we recognize time and how we bring holiness in.  

May you all have a holy Shabbat.  We have a special Sisterhood Shabbat planned and we hope you will join us as we celebrate Shabbat and women in our synagogue.
Shabbat Shalom.

May 13, 2016 - 5 Iyar

There is something so unique about witnessing awe when we share something fantastic with our children.  During Hebrew School this week we spoke at length about Yom HaZikaron, learning parts of the story of one of my friends, Michael Levin z''l, who died during the Second Lebanon War.  Then we explored the miracle of Israel, celebrating her 68 years of Independence and seeing our students take it all in.  We pause to recognize the blessing of Israel.  For generations we have hoped, prayed, and fought for this reality, the Jewish homeland.  For centuries we have adamantly declared "L'Shana Haba'ah B'yerushalyim - Next year in Jerusalem!" around our Passover seders.  Today, this is a reality.  We have so much to be grateful for with the awareness that there has been a lot of loss and there continues to be loss in actualizing this dream.  So today we celebrate because Israel is a gift.  I believe it cuts to the core of who we are as Jews.  Please enjoy this video of 68 facts about Israel.  I learned a few things from it.  The video is here.

As we prepare for Shabbat and pause from the business and the emotional nature of Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day, and Yom Ha'aztmaut, Israel's Independence Day, let's keep the blessing of Israel on our minds and in our hearts.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

Shabbat Shalom

May 6, 2016 - 28 Nissan

Shabbat Shalom
Achrei Mot, after death...the parashah begins with the recognition of how to seek out holiness and God following the tragic deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu.  I have been thinking about these themes a lot on the morning after Yom HaShoah. The community came together last night as we learned the stories of five families in the Ukraine who survived the Shoah by living in caves for more than one and a half years.  The documentary/reenactment "No Place on Earth" (which can be ordered on Netflix for those who were not able to join us last night) taught us about survivors and victims.  The story which had not been told until recently chronicled how families lived in fear, in the dark, with little access to food for an extended period of time to escape Nazi persecution.  We learned about how families survived after their loved ones were killed.  It was painful to witness the reenactments of their murders on the screen.  After the movie we heard from the next generations of survivors, one of the child survivor's daughter and granddaughter answered questions.  How do we go on after death?  We remember our loved ones through stories, prayers, and the continuation of families when possible.  We do our best to seek out God and to capture the holiness that is inherent life with the recognition of loss.  As the generation of survivors are now dwindling, it is so essential that we continue to tell their stories and engage with our history.  The wisdom of the Torah has so much to tell us today.  After death we go on with the help of God and with the gift of memory.  This week we will recognize two more significant days, Yom Hazikiron and Yom Haaztmaut.  The Jewish Federation of Rockland will have a ceremony on Tuesday night and a celebration of Israel's Independence Day on Thursday afternoon at the JCC.  I hope to see you there.  
Shabbat Shalom.

April 15, 2016 - 7 Nissan

Shabbat Shalom. 
We celebrate Shabbat HaGadol this week, the last Shabbat before Pesach.  Many of you have asked me about the Conservative Movement's latest teshuvot that permit eating kitniyot (legumes) on Passover for Ashkenazi Jews.  I will give a formal class on this at the Siyum for the fast of the first born on Friday morning. You can also read the teshuvot here from the Rabbinical Assembly's website.  It is a complicated issue, and I encourage you to attend the class or read the responsa.
Traditions become very emotional and close to our hearts.  We do not know the precise reason for why certain rabbis forbid kitniyot, yet it is a tradition (not codified into Jewish law) that developed in the Ashkenazi circles that is still upheld today.  Kitniyot are not considered hametz.  Rabbis Golinkin, Levin, and Reisner make compelling arguments for why we can eat kitniyot today.  It is a tradition that will be hard for some to abandon, while others will joyfully embrace kitniyot this year.  I am happy to speak about this in more detail for anyone who is deciding what to do this year.  Everyone is welcome to come to my class next Friday morning and to bring your chametz to burn.  We will have an antique fire truck and pizza as well.  
We still have a few spots left for the community seder, but we need to know ASAP if you are attending.  We have a beautiful and interactive seder planned, and you do not have to do any work!  Please contact the office if you would like to attend. 
We are rescheduling Tot Shabbat from this week for next Saturday morning.  There will be a special Passover theme.  
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom and a Zissen Pesach.



 

 

 

April 8, 2016 - 29 Adar Bet

Shabbat Shalom

One of the take-aways I have from Parashat Tazria is how our actions can evoke strong reactions.  The rabbis understood that Lashon Harah - evil speech or gossip - could have been a reason why the Israelites contracted tzaraat, a skin affliction.  We learn in the parashah that the individuals who contracted tzaraat had to leave the camp for seven days.
Our tradition has a lot to say about how we treat each other.  We learn in the Talmud that "if a person resides in town for thirty days, that is person is responsible for continuing the soup kitchen; After three months, the charity box; After six months, to the clothing fund; After nine months, to the burial fund; And after 12 months, that person is responsible to the repair of the town walls" (Bava Batra 8a).  
I am really proud of how the community, under Dustin Hausner's leadership, has been giving back to our community and Rockland County in meaningful ways. Elyce Bristol from People to People expressed her gratitude after our very successful Purim clothing drive.  She wrote, " I wanted you to know how much we appreciated the donations.  You all donated quite a bit and the boxes of clothing are still being sorted and displayed this week.  Thank you for thinking of us and your generosity." 
I am excited for community members to join Stephanie Hausner's team at Keep Rockland Beautiful on Sunday morning.  You can still register here for the West Nyack clean up if you would like to help at: http://www.keeprocklandbeautiful.org/cleanup-registration/
Our tradition teaches us that our actions make a difference in the larger community.  We hold power.  I encourage us to think about ways we can be thoughtful about our speech and actions as it relates to the community-at-large as we enter Shabbat.  
Shabbat Shalom.

April 1, 2016 - 22 Adar Bet

This Shabbat is one of the four special Shabbatot leading up to Pesach, Shabbat Parah.  If the growing Kosher for Passover supermarket aisles have not served as a reminder that Pesach is coming, then Shabbat Parah will.  Parah refers to the Red Heifer.  In the time of the Torah, the ashes of the Red Heifer were used as part of a ceremony of purification for people who had come into contact with the dead.  It enabled such an individual to participate in the sacrificial offering until the person was completely ritually cleansed.  An example of such an offering is the Pesach offering, thus making this ritual important as we approach the holiday of Passover.

In modernity we do not have such a ritual, yet we still purify ourselves and our homes in preparation for Pesach.  Here are some examples of how we can accomplish this:

 1. Meditate - Take time for prayer and/or meditation to contemplate what it means to revert to our Spring selves.  We can spiritually prepare for the holiday by getting into the Pesach mode.  

 2. Spring Cleaning - Get a head start on the big Pesach cleaning and kashering by cleaning out your closets and junk drawers.

 3. Keep Rockland Beautiful - We are participating in a county-wide cleanup on April 10.  We will meet at West Nyack Hamlet Green, 721 West Nyack Road, West Nyack, NY 10994, to check in from 9 am - 12 pm.  Join the West Nyack team and register here: http://www.keeprocklandbeautiful.org/cleanup-registration/

 4. Growing Edge - Choose one trait that you see in yourself that upsets you and work on it.  We all have areas of growth.  We can try to get rid of one fault or improve one area in our personal lives.  

 Come celebrate Pesach with CSI with some fabulous upcoming events! 

- April 12, Women's Seder, at 7 pm - Reservations a Must.

- April 22, Siyum for the First Born, at 7:30 am.

- April 22,  Burning Chametz, with an antique Fire Truck and Sparky, with pizza, at 9:45 am

- April 23,  Community Seder, at 8:30 pm - Reservations a Must.

- April 27, Matzah Brie on the Porch, All you can eat matzah brie for $5 at Art Cafe, 5:30 - 7:30 pm.  

This Friday night at 6 pm you are encouraged to come out to hear our guest davener from Long Beach. 

I want to also thank all of the fabulous volunteers from Purim.  In addition to Isabel's beautiful thank you, huge thanks goes to Lisa Berke -Weidenbaum, Helene Parker and Sharon Mitchel, who ensured that everyone received delicious Hammentashen.  

Shabbat Shalom.  

 

 

March 11, 2016 - 1 Adar Bet

I recommend following the Etz Hayim Torah commentary this week as we read more about God's presence in Parashat Pekudei.  God leads the Israelites in two forms, by a cloud and by fire.  The Etz Hayim commentary understands the forms of fire and cloud as symbolic for the modes of relating to God.  The fire is the big moments in life, the miracles, the times we feel that we encounter God.  This can be weddings, births, and even near misses with death.  God portrayed as a cloud can be representative of the longer processes and the everyday presence of God in the daily schedules of life.  Examples of this can be extended processes like adjusting to a new job, going through a period of mourning, or aiding family members.
Parashat Pekudei reminds us that our relationship with God can be found in both the revelatory moments and our daily moments.  Whether we are having a wonderful week or a difficult one, finding ways to seek out God, can aid us as we prepare to enter Shabbat.
Shabbat Shalom.

February 26, 2016 - 17 Adar

Anger and fear are powerful emotions in Parashat Ki Tissa.  The Israelites grow impatient when Moshe is on Mt. Sinai with God.  Under Aaron's direction, they create the infamous golden calf.  Their fears of abandonment and the unknown propel them to turn away from God.  God is justifiably angry and says to Moses (Exodus 32:10) "Now, let Me be alone, that My anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them, and make of you a great nation."  God tells Moshe what is going on with the Israelites and shares God's anger with him. Moses, acting quickly and as an effective and compassion leader carefully responds to God, (Exodus 32:11-13) "Let not your anger . . . blaze forth against Your people, whom You delivered from the land of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand... turn from your blazing wrath and renounce the plan to punish your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel."  Moses is also angry with the people, but in this moment he listens to God and is thoughtful in his response. 

The medieval scholar Rashi comments on Exodus 32:10, "by saying 'let Me alone' God opened the door to Moses, intimating that if Moses prayed for them, God would not destroy them."  I learn from this section and Rashi's commentary that sometimes we need a soundboard and a partner particularly when we are angry. Prayer can serve in this way at times.  It is a good reminder for us that sometimes we need to take step back and ask ourselves are we acting out of fear or anger?  Speaking to someone we trust can help us to see a situation from a new angle.  Let's pay attention to our own feelings this Shabbat and listen for strong emotions from others in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom.