Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Our Commitment to Community - Shavuot Passing, Camp Pinebrook Beginning

As May comes to an end, the echoes of a moving Shavuot and confirmation service are still reverberating in my mind. Despite my being the cantor, I’m not actually referring to the beautiful music (although much of our festival music is indeed beautiful and powerful). Rather, what made this Shavuot and confirmation so powerful were the primary participants: our confirmands.

Sixteen 10th graders were confirmed during Shavuot. It is not a coincidence that our tradition places confirmation on the holiday that celebrates the gift of Torah. We as a people received Torah at Sinai, and year after year, our 15- and 16-year-olds actively receive it again and confirm their commitment to Torah. The confirmation tradition and Shavuot holiday make a strong case for the Jewish sense of community. We don’t just celebrate a book (Torah); we celebrate its power as the defining source and guide for our entire people, l’dor vador, from generation to generation. If you know any of our confirmands, or if you witnessed them chant our sacred books, lead prayers, sing and play music of worship or express themselves through personal, confirmation statements, then you know the strength of each individual. They stood up as a community; but sixteen unique individuals confirmed their commitment to both our synagogue and the Jewish community at large.

On June 3rd, at 4:00 pm, we celebrate another powerful commitment to community as we officially open Camp Pinebrook with a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony (see invite below). The opening of our camp will not only strengthen the Temple Israel community, but the Jewish People! Study after study shows that a Jewish camp experience is the greatest indicator for lasting Jewish engagement. How many of you have vivid memories of special moments at camp and lifelong friendships? Commitment to camp doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to encourage a diverse involvement in Jewish life such as a religious school education and participation in Shabbat and other holiday observances, both at home and at the synagogue. But if we truly want to cultivate engaged  Jewish adults, the future of our people, then meaningful camp experience could be the most important thing we do. The Reform movement understands this, creating more and more URJ camps of all kinds and placing a great emphasis on youth engagement. How wonderful that within our Temple we are doing the same.

But Camp Pinebrook does not only serve community, it takes the support of our community to make it happen. Our camp staff (really the entire Temple staff), led by Jesse Gallop, is working diligently to create both a beautiful camp facility and great programs. And, our lay leaders are equally committed and involved—this is no small endeavor. But it requires all of us. Many have given time, expertise and money to ensure the success of this community project.

If you would like to donate, there is still time! Visit to give.

Also, join us on June 3rd as we stand as a community to support our new camp, and know that through this project we are strengthening both Temple Israel and the people of Israel.

Let us go from strength to strength,

Cantor Randall Schloss

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Shavuot - Confirmation - Community 2018

We start out the Confirmation year by having our teens read from The Faith of Israel: A Guide for Confirmation, published by the Reform movement in 1917. This guide uses phrases such as “old-time Bar Mitzwa” and “good Jews and Jewesses.” I love starting with these excerpts because the language makes the teens giggle, but it also helps the teens place themselves in the history of the Jewish community. This year’s Confirmation class will be the 106th Confirmation class at Temple Israel, joining thousands of young people who have pledged their commitment to Judaism standing before our congregation on the holiday of Shavuot.

To understand the placement of Confirmation on the holiday of Shavuot, it is important to know the dual meaning of Shavuot. The Faith of Israel describes it in the following way: It was the first harvest festival of the year, and the people gave thanks for the yield of the land. Besides, it was observed in memory of the giving of the Law at Sinai, and the people gave thanks for the gift of the Law. Both meanings of the Feast of Shavuot are important. On the one hand, we commemorate Israel’s receiving of the Law. On the other, we give the first-fruits of our spiritual life to God. Therefore, we have set Shavuot aside as the day for Confirmation.

Our confirmands symbolically celebrate the two meanings of Shavuot, both through the Confirmation year as well as through leading the celebration of their Confirmation on Shavuot itself. By choosing to participate in Confirmation, young people  symbolically receive the Torah at Sinai by studying Jewish tradition and declaring its place in their lives. They also symbolically offer their "first-fruits" by articulating their individual understandings of God and prayer, and choosing for themselves elements of Jewish practice that add meaning to their lives.

Shavuot, however, is not a holiday only for Confirmation students. The dual meanings of Shavuot issue an invitation to each one of us to consider, and confirm, the role that Judaism plays in our lives. We can each ask of ourselves, how do I receive Torah in my life? and, how do I offer the fruits of my spiritual life through prayer or action? Whether you celebrated your Confirmation or not, we can all see Shavuot as an opportunity to stand at Sinai and confirm our Jewish identities and commitments.

If we need further inspiration, May is a month full of celebrating exemplars of Jewish life in our community. At the 110th Anniversary Gala on May 5 we will celebrate the illustrious history of our community along with Cantor Helene Reps, Beverly Hoffmann and Amy Bass; three women who repeatedly confirm their Judaism through a diversity of volunteer activities, on-going study and religious expression. On May 11, we will bless our High School Graduates, young adults who have expressed their Judaism in the classroom, on the bimah, as role models to our children, in our youth groups and on the basketball court. And on May 19 and 20, as we celebrate the receiving of Torah at Mount Sinai, we will be led in worship by our newest class of Confirmands.

May this month be a month when we are all inspired to stand again at Sinai and receive Torah for ourselves, each in our own way.

Rabbi Beth Nichols

For more information on celebrating Shavuot, click here!