Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Something Old, Something New ...


When my daughter Sonya was five years old, we had a very special bedtime tradition. Every night, in her lovely, little girl voice, she would sing the Sh’ma with the “traditional” melody composed by Solomon Sulzer in mid-nineteenth century Vienna. At first, she would sing it as she learned it, with her best possible Hebrew. But then she would sing it a second time, this time doing it her own way. Sometimes she would change the words or tune. Often she would echo each word as she sang (“sh’ma-ma-ma-ma Yisrael-el-el-el…). In short, she had a great time while singing the Sh’ma. That a five-year-old could have a great time performing a millennia old Jewish ritual every night is no small statement. It says a great deal about her, our family, Reform Judaism and the future of our Jewish rituals. And it exemplifies my ideals as a cantor and as a Jewish leader. I embrace tradition, but I also use it as a catalyst for new modes of worship, new ritual and new music. In order to create a vibrant, relevant Jewish experience for all, we need to embrace both our history and our unique, modern sensibilities.

Here at Temple Israel, we are lucky to have such diverse offerings of worship styles. In the month of December alone, we will share the following Shabbat services: Community Shabbat, Chanukah themed Family Shabbat, a more classical Friday night with Torah Service, and one Friday night simply welcoming Shabbat. If any of these appeal to you in particular (e.g. Torah Service, Organ and Choir, Kol Simcha, etc.), I would encourage you also to try a service that isn’t your typical fare. You may be surprised by the traditional elements found in our Family and Community Shabbatot, or how the Organ and choir can help inspire new experiences of prayer. Check the worship calendar!

Judaism has wonderful traditions. And as I am still quite new to our community, I am thoroughly enjoying learning the special Temple Israel twists on those traditions. In the months and years ahead I look forward to embracing and to building upon the beautiful traditions of our people and our community.

L’shalom,



 





Cantor Randall Schloss

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Our Sacred Ideals



Dear chevrei (friends),
I awoke this morning after a late night and woke up our girls to explain to them the results of the election last night.  They were upset, but mostly, they were shocked.  I feel shocked too.  Not at the results per se, but at the difference in the values that I voted for and the clear values statement many voters made yesterday: "I'm angry at the government and its dysfunction; I'm voting for the anti-government candidate."  Sadly, I also truly believe that there are those who voted against a woman president, against the progressive gains made by women, people of color and people on the sexuality spectrum over the last eight years.
Yesterday, I voted, proudly, with Limor and our girls based on our Jewish values - for inclusiveness, fairness, equality and tolerance.  These are values steeped in the Torah and in our experiences.  It is those very experiences that made the rhetoric of this campaign particularly painful to the Jewish community as a whole: race-baiting, anti-Semitism and nationalism have all been used against our people throughout our history.  We have a keen sensitivity to such words.  Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, where in 1938, the Nazi's officially began their persecutions of the Jews in Germany.  There needn't be a link between that day and the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States.  This date, however, is a reminder that words and votes can lead to terrible outcomes.  If...
- If we turn our backs on our responsibility to be engaged citizens, vigilant in making sure that the dangerous words of the campaign do not become dangerous acts.
- If we turn our backs on our religious traditions of treating everyone with the notion that each of us is created in the image of the Divine and therefore should be treated with holiness.
- If we turn our backs on the concept of Tikkun Olam, that we are obligated to work to make our world a better place.
- If we turn our backs on those Americans who feel such despair at their lot in life that a protest vote feels like a last option.
- If we forget, for even one moment, our obligation to teach our children right from wrong, that ends justify the means and that divisiveness is a winning strategy in the long.
Zachor, "remember," the Torah implores us time and time again; remember injustices brought upon us and work to make our world a place of justice.  "Justice, justice, shall you pursue!"  Justice, we are taught, is not recrimination and revenge, but a balancing of the scales.  America is out of balance and we need to do our part to restore the balance.  That's what we Jews have done with the gift of American liberties - we've improved out lot in life and used that improved standing to make the lives of others, our country and the world better.
I pray, with all sincerity for the success of Donald Trump's presidency; not on policy grounds, but with the hope that his election spurs in our nation a desire to heal wounds, to right wrongs and to meet the needs of the citizenry.  We all bear a role in such a presidency, no matter whom we voted for.
My colleagues, Rabbi Nichols and Cantor Schloss, and I, are here for you.  Call, write, stop by.  In times of doubt, we need to be together as a beit knesset (synagogue), literally "the house of gathering" is just such a place.
Friday night, we will have our annual Shabbat service in commemoration of Kristallnacht and Veterans Day.  The two might seem incongruous, but they are not.  We retell the stories of our pain and suffering to remind ourselves of how bleak the world can be, but we also gather to show that we are not powerless and that in our moments of great distress, our nation is capable of unifying under the sacred ideals upon which this country was founded.  Join us, pray with us.
On Rosh Hashanah, my sermon ended with our community singing God Bless America.  We need God's blessings, as we always have.  And God needs us to do our part, to make whole what is broken.
Indeed, God, please bless America, and all Americans,
Weiner Signature
Scott Weiner

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

It's a New Year ... It's Never Too Early to Start Thinking About Camp!

Summer Camp! 


The High Holidays may have just ended, but it is time to start thinking about the summer in this new year of 5777! Many families in our community send, or plan to send, their children to overnight camp. Entrusting the care of your children to a summer camp is a big decision, and there are dozens of outstanding camps to choose from.

As you consider what camp is the best fit for your child, we encourage you to consider Jewish summer camps. Over the years you may have heard me speak about the transformative experiences I have witnessed while serving as a faculty member at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Eisner Camp. But you do not have to take my word on the power of Jewish camping. The Foundation for Jewish Camp compiled data from over 25 Jewish population studies and found overwhelming evidence indicating that attending Jewish summer camp strengthens Jewish identity and builds Jewish community (jewishcamp.org/research).

The wider Jewish community and Temple Israel believe so strongly in Jewish overnight camp experiences that we have grants available to help you try it out. The Foundation for Jewish Camp’s “One Happy Camper” program provides $1000 for each child attending an eligible Jewish camp for the first time. In addition, Temple Israel’s Hirshenhorn Fund gives additional funds to children attending an eligible Jewish overnight camp for the first time (or traveling to Israel with an organized teen program). Please contact me for more information on these sources of funding at RabbiNichols@tinr.org.

How do you choose a camp for this summer or a summer in the future? Your Temple Israel community is the best place to start. Talk with your friends, parents in your children’s grades and our staff. The clergy and professional staff can share their own experiences attending and working at camp, as well as connect you with families in the congregation who have attended over a dozen different Jewish camps. For a full picture of all there is to choose from, the Foundation for Jewish Camp has profiles of over 150 Jewish camps on their website (jewishcamp.org) with an easy to use way to sort by geography, activities, Jewish affiliation and other features.

The summer is a unique time for kids to immerse themselves in a Jewish community away from the pressures of the school year. In addition to traditional overnight camps there are local and national programs focusing on travel, volunteering, history and more. We look forward to holding many conversations with you about the wide variety of Jewish summer opportunities open to your children and teens. Start 5777 thinking about CAMP!

Check all the pictures below from last year ... don't miss the fun this year!
Let us know some of  your memories, leave a comment below for Rabbi Nichols to read!





















Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Welcome Cantor Schloss and family to Temple Israel of New Rochelle!

 The Schloss Family: (l to r) Sonya, Leah, Cantor Schloss, Maya

Welcome Cantor Schloss and family!

Mark Zborowsky was a valuable NKVD agent and mole who infiltrated the Trotskyist organization in Paris on behalf of the Soviet Union in the 1930’s. He was also an anthropologist and happens to be the great-uncle of my wife, Leah. In 1952 he co-authored the seminal book on the culture of the Shtetl, Life is with People. Apparently, Fiddler on the Roof bases its conception of life in the shtetl on Mark Zborowsky’s work.

I am no expert on Shtetl life and Yiddish culture. Unfortunately I never got to meet Leah’s great-uncle who undoubtedly was a fascinating man. But I completely agree with his concept, whether in the Shtetl, in Israel, or here in the United States: life is indeed with people. A shtetl was not the physical village where Jews lived in Eastern Europe, a shtetl was the community that lived there. While we may be proud of our synagogues’ beautiful architecture and enviable facilities, it is the community that makes a synagogue.

I came to be a cantor through community. I grew up in a somewhat typical, not particularly observant Jewish home. I went to Hebrew School (occasionally), became bar mitzvah, went to synagogue on the High Holidays, had a lovely Passover seder and lit lots of Chanukah candles. And, I have made music throughout my entire life. In high school, my academic work suffered more than a little due to my participation in music: I sang in two choirs, an acappella  group and in musical theater; I played guitar and drums in a blues band, a rock/funk band and the school jazz band; I played cello in the orchestra and a string quartet; and I was program director of our radio station. Ever since I was a little kid people have often told me (beginning with my grandparents), “You should be a cantor!” My first impression of a cantor was the dramatic singer who almost always seemed to be crying to God. I wasn’t sure if that was for me. Only after speaking with my own Rabbi and Cantor as a young adult did I come to understand that to be a cantor, to be clergy, is really a community service position. Clearly music is central to what I do as a cantor: I lead joyful and spiritual services through affective music, I give concerts, I compose, I teach music to children and adults and I conduct choirs. But music is my medium, not the message. The message is community—sacred Jewish community.

Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “To attain a degree of spiritual security one cannot rely upon one’s own resources. One needs an atmosphere, where the concern for the spirit is shared by a community…It is the task of the Cantor to create the liturgical community, to convert a plurality of praying individuals into a unity of worship.” I couldn’t agree more! But Heschel wrote those words about fifty years ago, when the role of the cantor was almost exclusively as a leader of worship. A cantor now must work to create moving worship, but also help to build this shared community spirit through every aspect of synagogue life. I love that my role of cantor requires this breadth of experience and connection. For example, at my former congregation, I led a Shabbat celebration with several of our preschool classrooms every Friday morning. On its own, this seems like a simple (and fun!) task: sing Shabbat songs with adorable children. But this is just the beginning. Parents visit and share the joy that their children express while celebrating Shabbat. They see the connection between what we do in the classroom and what we do in the synagogue during Shabbat services. And many of them bring the songs and rituals home for their family observance of Shabbat. I have joyfully discussed issues of Jewish ritual and practice, Shabbat observance, musical participation and much more with dozens of families with young children. Last year, a divorced father of a 4-year-old (both non-Jews) became so moved by his son’s participation in the Jewish life of our school and synagogue that the two of them are now working with me toward conversion to Judaism. While I have forged a deep personal connection with this family, it is the combined efforts of our educators, clergy, staff and community members that truly made them feel so welcome and connected.

I am so thrilled to be sharing my love of Judaism and music with the Temple Israel community beginning this summer. I can’t wait to make music together, to learn together, to pray together and to share life together. The people I have already met, Rabbis Weiner and Nichols, many staff members and leaders of your community have already made Leah, our daughters, Maya and Sonya, and me feel so welcome. I look forward to your community becoming our community and to joining Temple Israel as its cantor.








Cantor Randall Schloss

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lloyd Robinson - Temple Israel of New Rochelle's President

Dear Chevrei (Friends),

Alas, I am writing my last Temple Topics article as your President. The past three years have been nothing short of amazing and I have cherished my time serving all of you. Together we have accomplished so much and we all should be proud of the work we have done. I say “we” because nothing that has happened at TINR these past three years could have happened without all of your support and dedication. I really want to thank all of you that volunteered your time, gave your financial support and guided me during my tenure. While I may not miss all the meetings, phone calls and emails, I will certainly miss my interactions with all of you.

Over the past few months I have thanked many of you and if I thanked everyone in this column I’d have to take up the whole issue with just saying “thank you.” All I want to say is that our congregants, clergy and staff are all amazing and I could not be more proud of all of you. Our congregants’ dedication to Temple Israel is so heartwarming. Our Rabbis have done a remarkable job, especially with not having a Cantor this past year.  Cantor Schloss will be a great addition to the Clergy team and I really look forward to having him join us in July. I have praised our staff numerous times throughout these past three years but no amount of praise is enough to thank them for all they have done to make all of us proud. 

I will single out the officers plus two groups that really helped shape and move my agenda forward these past three years.  Liz Weingast, Mindy Stark, Stacy Spiegel, Mark Kleinman, Richard Stoerger, David Itzkowitz, Paul Warhit and Marji Karlin - I cannot thank all of you enough for your unwavering support. Through many meals and some wine and bourbon, we were able to create a vision for TINR’s future that Liz will certainly continue. From the Kehillah expansion, to “TINR 2100” and so many other projects and initiatives - your support made it all happen.

So as this chapter of my 40 plus years at Temple Israel closes I am so looking forward to being just a “regular congregant” and seeing all of you in the pews and at all the great events that TINR offers.

In closing I really want to thank my family for enduring all the meetings and phone calls that took time away from you.  Thank you for allowing me to lead TINR these past three years. I know sometimes it was hard but I also know that I had your love and support. Be careful what you wish for because Barb, Ash, Ari and Ben, I am not sure you are ready to have me around.

Once again thank you all so much, and I hope I made all of you proud.

Lloyd Robinson
President, Temple Israel

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

There's a New Cantor in Town!

Welcome Cantor Randall Schloss!

Dear Chevrei (Friends),

Nearly a year ago, Temple Israel set off on a search for its next cantor. While the process might be best served by having an American Idol style contest – which would leave us with a great singer – the search for a cantor here needs to have far more depth because we expect our cantor to have much more than a great voice. An American Idol style process would have overlooked the many things that our leadership, guided by our Worship Taskforce’s blueprint for the future of worship and community life, was seeking in a new cantor. We were on the hunt for a well-rounded, professional clergyperson who could bring us into that future by bringing a bevy of skills, talents and personality traits to meet our unique needs. We have found such a person in Cantor Randall Schloss, coming to us from Brookline, Massachusetts. 

Cantor Schloss brings us nine years of pulpit experience, a lifetime of musical abilities (he plays many instruments including cello, guitar, drum, piano), an outstanding vocal range (from folk music to opera – he used to be a professional opera singer), and a full gamut of pastoral skills. He composes music, conducts choirs, is relatable and academic (he holds four degrees!), and is an all-around genuinely good person. He fits all the criteria we set out to find all those months ago; our Cantorial Search Committee deserves many kudos for their work.

Every synagogue would want to have a cantor with all of these skills, though not everyone can find such a person. Beyond all of these skills, however, comes the mission of the job as it is here at Temple Israel. Years ago, our Worship Task Force laid out several key elements necessary to transform our worship to meet both our current needs and meet the needs of our ever-evolving future here. These include some tall orders – fully integrating our new prayerbook (which we have been using, but not to its fullest abilities), shifting our music to include more instrumentation and contemporary musical settings, using the Reform Movement’s new High Holiday prayerbook, creating a seamless congregational repertoire spanning the ages of our congregation – from our infants to our oldest seniors - and, perhaps most important, using Jewish music to elevate our collective voices – be that in the sanctuary, in youth group or on the march towards a socially just world.

Rabbi Nichols and I have worked over the last few years to make much of this a reality with help from the Worship Committee, the Board and many lay leaders. But, as valiant as our attempts have been, we have been missing something – in the words of that great sage, Reggie Jackson, we’ve been without “the straw to stir the drink!”  Throughout the many months of searching for a cantor, one candidate felt, to us, like that catalyst Temple Israel needs to make it all come together. We both feel that Cantor Schloss’ combination of skills and experiences will get us where we want to go; where we need to be in the future.

While there is never any guarantee that a new clergy person will be a perfect fit, we have some measure of security in Cantor Schloss. Not only have I seen him create dynamic worship, lead great singing and craft engaging communities, I have done it with him. Cantor Schloss and I have shared the pulpit before – both at Central Synagogue and at my former congregation, the Hebrew Tabernacle, both in Manhattan. I have seen firsthand, and experienced firsthand, the power of Cantor Schloss’ abilities. Even more, I know that wherever he has been in his career he has made a mark that is long remembered for its excellence, caring and attention to detail.  This is a collegial partnership that I am happy to renew on our bimah here in New Rochelle.
 
I know that you are as excited as Rabbi Nichols and I are to have Cantor Schloss lead us for years to come. July 1st is just around the corner, and so is a bright future. 

Welcome, Cantor Schloss!

Senior Rabbi Scott B. Weiner

Monday, March 21, 2016

Kehillah's Passover Story ... Preparing for the Tot Seder

Some of us involved in Jewish education, joke about a common theme throughout all the Jewish holidays: “They tried to get us - they didn’t - let’s eat.” Some families who conduct a 20 minute Passover Seder, or wish they conducted a 20 minute Seder, may relate to that, but we all know there is much more to Passover and the meaning behind retelling the story each and every year!

For the youngest members of our community, the Passover story is a complex tale of adventure with long-reaching lessons. There are numerous concepts involved in the Passover story and each year we choose a few for each of our age groups to explore according to the children’s interests and abilities.

In preparation for our 2nd Annual Tot Seder on Saturday, April 16 at 11:00 am, we will focus on the characters of the story and try to imagine the thoughts and feelings they had during the unfolding of the years of slavery, the adjustment to freedom, and the process of journeying toward the Land of Israel and our People’s bright future. At our Tot Seder, we will be dressed as Israelites and welcome guest participants like King Pharoah, Moses & Miriam & Aaron, and of course, the main character…God! If you have little ones who might enjoy this participatory preparation for Passover, please join us on April 16. Call Nancy Bossov in the Kehillah School for more information (637-3808) or to reserve a spot in the tent!   

Nancy Bossov
Director of Early Childhood Programs