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Rabbi's Messages

MARCH-APRIL, 2021

Shalom All,

Every one of us can complete the following nugget of wisdom: “Don’t judge another person until…you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” But our more sensitive side will remind us that we never really know what it is to walk in another’s shoes. Does that mean that we forfeit the right to judge others altogether? Of course not! Let me tell you why.

I have been carefully studying an 11th century Spanish work by Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pakuda called Duties of the Heart. It is a handbook for the individual striving for spiritual growth. It is a guide to lift oneself above the materiality of this world. It’s ironic that the ethical challenges people faced almost 1,000 years ago haven’t changed much to this day.

The behaviors of those around us are, all too often, disappointing. We see politicians lying and cheating, businesspeople manipulating the system, and ordinary people treating themselves and their loved ones poorly. Each of these examples are expressions of the  – yetzer harah – the base inclination towards our animal desires: power, self-advancement and bodily satisfaction. These temptations are a necessary condition of being members of the animal kingdom, but they detract from our divine selves – we can’t lift ourselves up if we’re satisfied slogging around in spiritual mud.

Bachya, encourages us to maintain a proper attitude towards the gifts and privileges we enjoy in our lives. Gainful employment, safe homes, fulfilling relationships, and wealth sufficient to feed ourselves and our families are examples of our incredible blessings. Hoping and striving for much more than that would represent an audacity that borders on idolatry. Those of us who enjoy those additional blessings take them for granted at our own spiritual peril. Rather, we would be wise to remember that our material pleasure should be acknowledged with gratitude to the Universe. And, if we wonder what that looks like in practice – we should seek out individuals who live the way that we aspire to live.

Both the condemnation and the admiration of others’ behavior require our ability to judge others. If we are not admiring our neighbor’s behavior, how are we to grow in our ability to lift ourselves higher? And when we condemn a lowly example of conduct, we are implicitly making a commitment not to follow suit.

Obviously, we are right to be afraid of the judgment that is utilized for our own aggrandizement and the joy of slandering others. It is ugly in others and we should recoil from it. But judgment of others for the purposes of our own growth cannot be over-valued.

There is a lot happening out there these days and we are all doing a lot of watching and judging of those around us. Please God, grant us patience and forbearance as we use our judgment of others’ ugly traits to eliminate the same in ourselves. And strengthen in us both awe and the desire to replicate the beauty we judge in others – may it soon be a part of ourselves. 

L’Shalom – In Peace,
Rabbi Jay TelRav

 

JANUARY-FEBRUARY, 2021


 

 

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President's Messages

MARCH-APRIL, 2021

One of the advantages of being President of our congregation during this pandemic has been the ability to regularly visit Temple Sinai in order to sign checks and letters. After taking care my business in the office, I usually find myself wandering over to the sanctuary and imagining what the future of our temple might be like once we are able to return to our building at Lakeside Drive.

Toward the end of last summer and into the early fall, the Temple Sinai Covid Task Force was hard at work developing guidelines for re-opening our building. As the pandemic situation worsened, these efforts were put on hold as it was clear that access to our building was going to be significantly delayed. However, as I write this, many in our community have started to get vaccines and I have added to my to-do list the dusting off of our opening guidelines so we will be ready to welcome our community back to our building. The big question is what the experience of our community will be like once we get to return.

If there is one truth that has been reinforced during the pandemic, it is that Temple Sinai is far more than our building. The work that has been done by our extraordinary clergy and staff and the enthusiasm of our members have created a vibrant online temple community. Once we are able to enter our building again, I can assure you that we will not be going back to the way we operated before. As an example, we recently had over 90 members participate in our Tu B’Shvat Seder on a Wednesday evening in January. In the pre-pandemic world, we would likely get a third of that number in our building for our in-person Seder. Rabbi Jay and I have already started discussing what future activities might look like with both in-person and remote participation. A major initiative of Temple Sinai going forward will be to develop plans to successfully meld a community that may be at the same time both physically together and physically apart.

When I am in the sanctuary imagining the future in my mind’s eye, I see the joy in our faces to be able to be with one another again in person. I imagine being in person for Friday night services and raising our voices together in prayer. I also imagine those of us who may not be with us physically but are equal participants in our community. We have faced so many challenges this past year and I have no doubt that we will be successful in creating a community where some of us may be in our building and some in their homes.

If you need even more enticement to come back to the building once it is safe to do so...wait until you see the progress on the renovation of the multi-use bathrooms outside the sanctuary. This is a project for which many of you have been generous both financially and with your time. Going forward nothing will be the same, including our wonderful home at Lakeside Drive.

Alan Cohen
President
president@templesinaistamford.org

 

JANUARY-FEBRUARY, 2021

 

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Cantor's Messages

clientuploads/Bio_Images_Leadership/micah_morgovsky.jpgmarch-april, 2021

At the end of each Religious School service on Sunday mornings, Rabbi Jay sends the children off to class by reminding them to “ask a good question.”

As educators, we want our students to be curious and inquisitive. Children who ask good questions explore the world thoughtfully, with eyes open to the myriad wonders that surround them. Similarly, as Jews, it is our obligation to delve deep into our stories and traditions. We are, quite literally, Yisrael, those who “wrestle with God.” It is incumbent upon us to look below the surface. There are always more layers to reveal, as our sacred texts are truly ancient icebergs. For centuries, the rabbis of the Talmud puzzled over the Torah and wrote volumes both asking and responding to their own queries about our canon. To this day, each time we study Torah, we wonder anew at this ancient text.

The Torah itself asks, Mi Chamocha, ba’elim Adonai? “Who is like you [God], among the gods who are worshipped?” And, at the end of Shabbat services, we often sing, Mi Cheloheinu? “Who is like our God?” True, these are rhetorical questions (the obvious answer to both questions is: “No one is like our God!”), but the structure itself points towards our Jewish penchant for questions. And let’s not forget the most famous questions of our tradition – the four questions (which are really one question and three answers) – which seek to ask about and then explain the Passover rituals. As we make our way through the haggadah, the youngest at the table is charged with reciting, Ma nishtana ha’lilah hazeh? “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Our tradition beseeches us to search for meaning and seek understanding through questioning. Thus we engage in sacred, mindful ritual. 

At this point, you may be wondering, “So, why is she writing about questions?” Good question! Asking good questions is not only a path to richer experience of the world around us and a deeper appreciation of our Jewish traditions, a good question is also an opening for creating more meaningful connections with others. Anyone who has ever been in therapy certainly knows the power of a thoughtful question. But one need not be a psychologist to hone our question-asking skills.

I used to shy away from asking too many questions of others. I didn’t want to come across as nosy, or accidentally ask about something that was actually none of my business. But, over time, I’ve learned that people often are yearning to share and genuinely appreciate a thoughtful inquiry.  During this COVID time, we are hungry for connection and many are reaching out to friends and family to check in. I’ve been using this time to practice my question-asking skills. I’ve found the following prompts helpful for myself; perhaps they’ll resonate with you, too.

When you do connect, whether on Zoom, Facetime or the phone, do your best to pay close attention. Limit distraction and resist the urge to multi-task while in conversation. Listen to the sound of their voice, the intonation, the inflection. Attune yourself to the meaning behind their words. Lean into the challenging feeling or the difficult reality being expressed. When you can, try asking an open-ended question that allows the person speaking to respond in greater detail. Be patient, give them time to think before they answer. Don’t be afraid of a momentary silence. When you speak, respond with care and compassion. If we remember to approach every dialogue in this way, each conversation has the potential to become a sacred exchange. A chance for two people to truly see and hear one another. May we always remember to “ask a good question” and to strive to elevate our mundane chats to moments of sacred connection.

B’Shira, in song,
Cantor Micah Morgovsky

 

NOVEMBER-DECEMBER, 2020

 

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DIRECTOR OF CONGREGATIONAL ENGAGEMENT'S Messages

MARCH-APRIL, 2021

A year has passed since the pandemic took hold of our way of life. I was going to write a reflection piece about resiliency (see our new column “From the Mouths of Our Children” on page 12), loss, our relationship with time, forgiveness, how we may handle a safe re-entry in a changed world, etc. However, those topics have been infinitely discussed and dissected; what more can I add? Instead, I’d like to focus on hugs.

In my role as Director of Congregational Engagement, I have assumed the position of lead hugger at Temple Sinai, and it’s been a missing piece of my life for the past year. I can’t even conceive of the fact that I haven’t hugged my own parents in over a year. We know the benefits of hugging: reducing stress and fears, communicating comfort and love, increasing heart and overall health. How do we replace such a vital tool for our emotional well-being?

I recently had a conversation with my friend Dr. Dale Atkins, noted author and psychologist, lamenting the difficulty of connecting in a physically distanced, masked, Zoom-led world, and she brought up an alternative, what she calls “conversational hugs.” Conversational hugs are meant to replicate the purpose of hugs as best as possible. The idea is to engage and feel the presence of the person/group you are connecting with on a more intimate level. When Dr. Atkins mentioned conversational hugs, it resonated with me in a profound way. It defined for me the very nature of our approach to engagement at Temple Sinai. One could easily say the purpose of Sinai Circles is to have conversational hugs, to connect in a more meaningful and intentional way. We also witness it with Havdalah each Saturday night when our clergy lead us not just in song to mark the end of Shabbat, but with a trigger question that fosters open and often revealing and entertaining conversation. We have organized many rounds of in-reach calls to our fellow congregants since the start of the pandemic and I often receive feedback that describes a conversational hug, often taking place between congregants who didn’t previously know each other. There are no strangers among us. As Dr. Atkins told me, “strangers are friends waiting to be met.”

As we mark the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, there is demonstrable dissatisfaction with our inability to be near each other. We don’t yet know what the other side looks like and how quickly we will get there. In this world, where we can’t hug, the next best option is to approximate a hug with a clear, intentional, purposeful connection. Lean in for a “conversational hug” with me or our clergy. Nothing would make us happier.

Larry Stoogenke

JANUARY-FEBRUARY, 2021

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Educator's Messages

MARCH-APRIL, 2021

Facebook and social media have been with me for the better part of 18 years. Facebook fell into my lap when I was a new college student and has never left. Since 2008, players have been added to my social media repertoire, such as Instagram and Twitter.

Lately, I have been reflecting on what needs and wants I look to social media to fulfill. I am a different person than I was in 2008 or even 2017. The Morah Erica of 2021 is a mother, a wife, a daughter, an educator, a friend, and a contributor to a Facebook group with viewers worldwide. If you asked Erica Santiago of 2008 if she would be a top fan of parent groups, toddler activity ideas, Hebrew Union College, Temple Sinai, Fairfield County Restaurants, and many more, she would have said, “who knows.” My friends list is now full of colleagues, friends, mentors, families from Temple Siani’s religious school, and SoSTY teens. It also consists of people I have never met but have connected with because of  our shared experiences.

The Covid-19 pandemic has left me looking for connections at all hours of the day and night, looking for activity ideas, recipe ideas, and maybe most important right now, networking and learning with other Jewish educators and youth workers. It is clear that my needs have changed since 2008 and I now realize that there are two sides to everyone’s Facebook story and Instagram post. For every post of a smiling and happy child, there is the photo from an hour ago of a tired and tearful child who wants to get off Zoom and play with a friend, or a parent who managed to capture a photo right after putting their makeup on only to have a child spill paint on them 20 minutes later while they were trying to keep the child entertained while doing professional work. I wish more people would post those pictures! I wish more people would respond to Facebook posts with “you are not alone.” To all of you out there struggling, even if it comes in waves, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. The Facebook and Instagram stories are lovely, but not always the whole story.

Beyond my own social and emotional needs is my need to stay current in the field of Jewish education. I never imagined hosting online meetings with Jewish educators who I met through a Facebook group to plan religious school and youth events. I could never have predicted the level of support I received for my work in these online communities of educators. Technology and social media have come a long way from their earlier intended uses. These connections have encouraged me to continue to push myself, no matter how challenging or daunting the task seems. There is a lot of work to be done to keep our programs current with influence from the best practices in Jewish education and youth engagement. We may find support and resources in places that we may not have expected to in the past.

I hope many of you will join me for “Coffee Talk with Morah Erica.” I should tell you that I do not drink coffee; I am an avid drinker of strong black tea. I am hosting two open Zoom meetings to give parents and interested congregants an opportunity to check in, ask questions, reflect and talk about the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. I plan to host more of these sessions in the future to discuss the exciting growth in our religious school and youth programs.

I am looking forward to the 2021-2022 school year and beyond. I am blessed to have the Temple Sinai clergy, staff, and lay leaders’ support.

L’Shalom,
Morah Erica Quamily, LMSW

 

Dates to remember:

March 6:   
4th & 5th Grade Family Shabbat Service

March 14:
4th Grade partnership with the Schoke JFS Freeberg Family Kosher Food Pantry Passover food distribution

March 21:
6th & 7th Grade virtual Chavurot with Living Voices, bringing to life the stories of the children of the Holocaust and the immigrants of Ellis Island

April 18:    
3rd Grade flower planting at Scofield Manor

April 18   
6th Grade Personal Yad Making Program

JANUARY-FEBRUARY, 2021

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DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS Messages

MARCH-APRIL, 2021

The building we know so well.

As I sit to write this month’s article, I realized it has been almost a year since we were all together in our building. We mark time in Judaism with rituals (a bris, b’nei mitzvah, a yahrzeit, and an unveiling to name a few). I decided to take a walk through the building to see if anything sparked in me a way to mark this unusual anniversary in the form of a renewed appreciation for the Temple building. Just like renewing marriage vows, which can be a way to remember what you each love and appreciate about the other and to express a commitment to enhance the couple’s connection, I was also looking to share a connection with bits and pieces of the building.

Did you know?

The atrium was the last section of the building to be constructed. Before that, the school/office building wasn’t even connected to the sanctuary and if it was raining, you needed an umbrella to walk from one to the other or you would get very wet. The floor was wall-to-wall carpet and was redone in 2006. The tile mosaic in the center was designed by Rachel Watson (daughter of Betsy Blumberg & Doug Watson). The red larger triangle points due east towards Jerusalem which, according to Sheldon Katz, is at approximately 52 degrees. All the marble is Jerusalem stone. If I look down at the tiles when I walk on them, I almost feel as if I am walking through the old city in Jerusalem. The Jewish star in the front produces the perfect shadow while the sun is overhead.

Our New Chapel Space

It is so hard for me to believe that our new Chapel space was once an overgrown garden. The garden was created in memory of Joan Freedman, but over time this area became difficult to care for. Improper drainage of the garden area created mold and structural issues in the rooms below. We are eternally grateful to our generous donors for helping us create our new space. I know that when I enter the Greenberg Family Chapel I feel as if I am transported to a sacred space, and not as if I am in the middle of the building. This space is a wonderful place to meditate.

Our Bimah and Ark Doors

The holiest place in the building is our bimah and our tapestry. When you look closely at the tapestry, the entire story of creation seems to just pop out! From a burst of light in the center, to the detail of each animal, and even God’s name — all are stitched into this majestic piece of art. Our Torah Scrolls are protected behind this artistic masterpiece.

So, at this point, I am still not sure how to mark this “anniversary” or milestone of a year of COVID, a year of an empty sanctuary and the space just calling out for all of you to return. This month we will celebrate Passover, the Festival of Freedom and just as the Israelites traveled in the desert for 40 years to freedom, we are all travelling toward the vaccines and a time when we can be together once again to pray, socialize and learn in our sacred space.
 

Shelly Welfeld

JANUARY-FEBRUARY, 2021

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TEST LINK

Tue, October 19 2021 13 Cheshvan 5782