Dear Chevrei (Friends),
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
From Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Shabbat to the NFTY-NAR Winter Kallah...Temple Israel is the Place to Be!
Dear Chevrei (Friends),
Most people are creatures of habit. Some are mundane and personal, like using the same coffee mug every morning, and others feel grand and involve others, like fraternal organizations. Each of these, in their own way, create and maintain traditions. Traditions are hard to let go of – perhaps because human beings do not naturally love change, but we do love traditions. Judaism is, perhaps more than anything else, a system to store and deliver traditions. And, we’ve got all kind of traditions – from our rituals and holidays, to our favorite foods and special terminology. That is why Judaism is still so important to Jews – even ones who have no religious practice at all. Even we Reform Jews, who do not fear change, nor avoid it, still know that without many of our traditions, we wouldn’t be Jews at all.
Temple Israel, like all communities, has its own traditions, unique to us. One of those traditions is that Temple Israel has always been the gathering place for the larger community. We are seen as not only a trusted communal institution, both to Jews and non-Jews, but we are known for being warm and welcoming to all who come through our doors. That did not happen by accident. It takes a lot of work, over many years, to build a culture such as we have here. We’ve played host to an array of community wide events over the years because no one does a warm welcome like Temple Israel.
Rabbi Wohl established just such a tradition by creating and hosting the Annual Coalition for Mutual Respect Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Shabbat. If you haven’t been here in the past, you have missed out on a gathering like no other. This is one of the largest annual gatherings in New Rochelle and Westchester – bringing together hundreds of people from diverse backgrounds and communities, races and religions. Only Temple Israel was willing to open its doors like this more than thirty years ago. If you haven’t experienced this tradition, you should join us this year. I’ll add, that this will be our first year without Rabbi Wohl presiding over the service and the evening. Those are big shoes to fill. More importantly, this is an opportunity to show Rabbi Wohl, from afar, that what he created has indeed become a tradition here – that tolerance, respect, human dignity and equality are the teachings which he has bequeathed to us. Those teachings too are our traditions and we must, perhaps more than ever, continue these traditions. I hope to see you on Friday, January 13 at the Dinner at 6 pm followed by the Service at 7:30 pm. Click here for details!
Another tradition here at Temple Israel is a commitment to our youth and youth programs. Temple Israel is no "Johnny Come Lately" to the idea that we must invest heavily in our youth if we hope for a bright future for our Jewish people. Going back generations, Temple Israel set itself apart from all other congregations in our area by having a robust high school program. Our formal education program boasts one of the highest post-B'nei Mitzvah retention rates in the country. Our 500 families produce a hundred high school enrollees every year. Congregations, quadruple our size, often do not see numbers like that! Adding to our amazing formal program, is our unmatched youth group. TIFTY is outstanding in the scope of its activities and the number of kids who are involved. Again, in a region that boasts some of the largest synagogue communities in the entire world, it is TIFTY that is regularly the largest, most active and best youth group anywhere around. Why are we so successful? Tradition! For generations, the commitment to our youth has been clear and our kids know the congregation, and Brotherhood and Sisterhood, are supporting their growth every step of the way.
In recognition of our success in youth programs, and because our reputation and tradition of being the communal gathering space, NFTY-NAR, the region that TIFTY is a part of, has asked us to host its Winter Kallah over the January 20 - 22 weekend! This is an honor, not just for our teens, but for all of us. We all contribute to the culture of success of our youth programs. Now, we can once again put our special form of Temple Israel hospitality on display as we play host to almost 200 teens from all over New York. As we have for more than a century, we’re calling on you to support our youth by offering to host – literally – all of these teens! We need people to open their homes to house all of them over the course of the weekend and to get them to and from Temple Israel throughout the weekend. Please show these teens, what we here in our community already know – that we are the best hosts! Contact Rabbi Nichols at RabbiNichols@tinr.org if you are willing to host. We hope you do!
Abraham & Sarah, the first Jews, according to our tradition, had a tent with no sides so that they could always see visitors, strangers and wanderers from afar. Why was this so important to them? Because they felt that hospitality was among the most important traditions they wanted to begin, and hand down all the way to us! Not much about Judaism has changed in the 4,000 years since they lived. Abraham & Sarah, and Rabbi Wohl too, can all be at ease knowing that we’ve learned their lessons well.
I look forward to seeing you both weekends in January.
Senior Rabbi Scott B. Weiner
Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Chanukah in the Kehillah School
It seems like when we mention Chanukah to young children their immediate reaction is “Presents.” We are inundated by a flood of advertisements and gift guides, especially during the holiday season. I always take joy in the look on a child’s face when a present is opened. Parents often say that all toddlers need is an empty gift-wrapped box and that is what their kids love opening and playing with most. With that being said, Chanukah goes beyond the “Presents”. There is more to it than that. What I enjoy most about Chanukah is watching children with their eyes wide open staring at the Chanukah candles burn in the dark of night. If you could just figure out a way to put that awesome flicker into wrapping paper it would be the greatest Chanukah gift of all.
What can we do as parents to shift the focus from a nightly present party to seeing the meaningful light that Chanukah has to offer? This year think about incorporating Chesed (acts of kindness) into your nightly Chanukah ritual. Here are 9 ideas (one for each candle) that you and your family can do to help bring a bit more light into this world.
1. Make dinner and dessert for a neighbor who is homebound, going through a rough time, or just someone who you think deserves a nice homemade meal.
2. Go through your child’s drawers and toys with them and select items to give away to those less fortunate.
3. Collect socks for homeless shelters (check out www.joyofsox.org or www.knockknockgiveasock.org).
4. Do housework, shovel snow, or garden for a neighbor.
5. Make crafts or jewelry for people in group homes, assisted living, or nursing homes.
6. Make cards to thank community helpers (perfect time to hit Pinterest for awesome ideas).
7. Send a care package to someone who lives far away.
8. Make a family Chanukah video, try to get it to go viral, and have people who view donate to a charity of choice (think ice bucket challenge).
9. Help animals in your community by offering to walk a neighbor’s dog or collecting items for an animal shelter.
May the light of Chanukah bring a better world to all humankind.
Director of Early Childhood
Director of the Kehillah School
for Early Learning