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Rabbi's Messages

JANUARY-FEBRUARY, 2021

Shalom All,

Close to the beginning of every morning’s prayers, we find a blessing upon the act of study. The words tell us that God made us holy with commandments including the imperative to “engage in words of Torah.” I want to point out that the word “la’asok” does not mean “to study,” but rather “to make our business” the words of the Torah. That Hebrew word, esek, in modern conversation would refer to the most common sorts of business. We’re talking buying and selling items, lending and investing, laboring to make a profit – you know, business! That is why I find it a little surprising that our classical rabbis decided that it should stay a part of the blessing that we also recite on Saturday morning, ironically a sabbath from matters of business.

But yet, there it is, on page 88 of our Shabbat morning prayer book. Which leaves us to reconstruct the notion of what Torah study can look like. Remember, this is the seventh day of the week, which according to our myth, is the day upon which God rested after the first six days of creation. So how can we both “rest” and engage in “business” on the most holy day of the year? (Yes, you read correctly, Shabbat is considered more holy than Yom Kippur!)

Those same classic rabbis considered it a great sin to remain hunched over the tomes of our people, endlessly learning, without putting that learning to good use. They all studied, but only after the completion of their days’ labor. They understood the integration of Torah’s values into the actions of one’s hands and feet. Well, there are times when it feels like my balance of learning and action is somewhat reversed: I spend a great deal of my time learning and teaching Torah, yet am left with too little time to go out and express the values in my actions. I suspect there might be others of you who feel similarly.

I am so grateful to be a part of a profession that has preserved the tradition of sabbatical – which comes from the word “shabbat.” Based on the instructions in the Torah, the land must take an extended rest to recover every seven years if it is to remain fertile. So too, a teacher should be able to step back from their studies and lessons to regenerate and refocus on what they’re teaching day in and day out. You might recall that Temple Sinai has given me a short sabbatical each January (rather than a much longer one) during which I am free to make it my “business” to refresh, refocus and return with new material for my work with the congregation. It feels wonderful every year to reach this period, but after the year we’ve had, January 2021 hasn’t come a moment too soon.

This year, I’ll be using my sabbatical time to translate the values of our sacred teachings into action. The most oft-repeated commandment in the bible is to care for the widow, the orphan and the foreigner - three categories of the most vulnerable members of that ancient society and, in important ways, of any society. We have so many vulnerable neighbors around us that it feels like a mission that is crying out for my attention. This month, I will be meeting with leaders of color in Stamford to discern ways in which Temple Sinai can serve as their allies in the fight for equality. I’ll be volunteering at our local food banks to help get your valuable donations into the bellies of those who live right at the edge of poverty. I’ll be offering my skills to the leadership of Inspirica, Pacific House and Liberation Programs to try to support the individuals who have come much closer to “rock bottom” than I ever have. I will be:

Looking for the lessons of Torah on the streets of Stamford;

Looking for the stories of Torah in the stories of our neighbors;

Looking for the sparks of God in the passion of civil rights leaders;

Looking for the very reason I have committed my life to teaching Torah:
the translation of word into deed.

Thank you for the gift of a sabbatical, Temple Sinai. I am so lucky to have the opportunity to step out of my normal routine for a couple of weeks to live Torah in order to be reminded why it is so critically important that I teach Torah!

L’Shalom – In Peace,
Rabbi Jay TelRav

 

nOVEMBER-DECEMBER, 2020


 

 

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President's Messages

JANUARY-FEBRUARY, 2021

There are many factors that make a congregation thrive and continue to find creative
and innovative ways to build a community like Temple Sinai’s. One of the most important factors in achieving this is to have sacred partnerships at the core of our congregational shared leadership.

Before I became President of Temple Sinai, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the Scheidt Seminar for incoming temple presidents held by the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) in Atlanta (back when we were regularly flying to and mingling person-to-person at such events). There was much that I learned at the Scheidt Seminar and the concept of sacred partnerships was one of the most important. I think of sacred partnerships both when I am engaged with Rabbi Jay in our leadership responsibilities and when I observe how our lay leadership works hand-in-hand with our staff and clergy.

The URJ defines sacred partnership as follows:

  • When two people sit together and there are words of Torah between them, the Shechinah (Divine Presence) dwells among them. (Pirkei Avot 3:2)
  • A sacred partnership is a commitment to building and nurturing relationships that elevate the work of leadership to a level of holiness. Sacred partnerships recognize each of us as individuals and our desire to inspire sacred action in our communities.
  • Sacred partnerships are built and nurtured through the Jewish values of mutual respect, trust, honesty, listening and communication, transparency, confidentiality, flexibility, and reflection.

It is hard for me to point to one of the Jewish values listed above and say it is the most important to me in my understanding of sacred partnership. Each is important in all interpersonal relationships, not only among congregational leadership. Without “mutual respect” how do you practice “listening and communication”? How can one experience “trust” without “honesty”? Is it possible to be “transparent” without expecting that appropriate “confidentiality” would be practiced? How can one be “flexible” and not have the ability to practice “reflection”? As you can see, these values are interconnected (and can be connected) in many different ways.

I believe that sacred partnerships are one of the core values that makes the congregational shared leadership of Temple Sinai so successful. The values that reflect a sacred partnership are an integral part of my day to day working relationship with Rabbi Jay. I also know that sacred partnerships exist throughout Temple Sinai’s leadership. I observe it on a daily basis among our Vice Presidents, committees and task forces and their respective staff/clergy counterparts. Most recently sacred partnerships played a vital role in the successful replacement of the boiler in our school wing. It was a complex project made possible through the sacred partnership between Sharon Goldstein, our VP of Operations, Shelly Welfeld, our Director of Operations, and Jeff Pardo.

What I think is most important is that these values are consciously reflected upon from time to time by our shared congregational leadership. For those of us in sacred partnerships it is always helpful to remember what makes them so special. For me, both experiencing and observing sacred partnerships at Temple Sinai is one of the great benefits of being a part of our sacred community.

Alan Cohen
President
president@templesinaistamford.org

 

NOVEMBER-DECEMBER, 2020

 

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Cantor's Messages

clientuploads/Bio_Images_Leadership/micah_morgovsky.jpgNOVEMBER-DECEMBER, 2020

Before COVID-19, I drove a lot. As you probably know, I live in the Bronx and it’s a 30-mile trip to and from Temple Sinai. In a typical year, I put about 20,000 miles on my trusty Mazda. I love my car and I love driving. However, when it comes to my car’s GPS, I have serious trust issues. My GPS drives me crazy. Often, it falsely alerts me that there are major traffic delays on my route and that I will be egregiously late to my destination. Sometimes, it tries to steer me on circuitous paths that will undoubtedly take longer than if I just stay the course and wait out the congestion on the road. It frequently derails my forward trajectory and leaves me more confused and irritated than the traffic itself. Over the years, I have learned this about my GPS and I have taken to using Waze on my phone as a way to compare travel reports and alternate routes.

Why am I telling you this? On the morning of Yom Kippur, I hopped into my car and headed north for Temple Sinai. I left at 7:30am, hoping to be at the building well in advance of my 8:30am rehearsal with the High Holy Day quartet. No sooner had I pulled out of my driveway when my GPS tells me there are major delays and that I won’t arrive at my destination until 9:22am - mere minutes before services are scheduled to begin. My GPS starts suggesting alternate routes that will take almost as long as the original route, including all the supposed traffic. I start to panic – should I take the back roads, many of which I have never driven on before? Or should I remain on my current path and hope the traffic will clear up?

In the end, I ignored my GPS and stayed on my trusted route. There were a few minutes of traffic, but not nearly as much as my GPS had predicted. I made it to the temple by 8:22am – with plenty of time to rehearse and get ready for the service.

As I pulled into the temple driveway, I laughed at the metaphor that came to mind: my GPS is like that person in our lives who tends to blow things out of proportion, who makes mountains out of mole hills. My GPS is like the person who distracts us from our true goals and steers us off of our trusted path. My GPS is like those people in our lives who confuse and infuriate us unnecessarily. Yes, my GPS is attached to my car, I can’t remove it from my life (unless I get a new car), but I can choose when to pay attention to it and how I respond to it. And, when I choose to engage with it to plot my route, I can be sure to use Waze to verify its accuracy.

That morning, I learned a life lesson that extends beyond my challenging relationship with my GPS: We need not get sucked into the drama of those around us. We can observe and evaluate and then choose how to respond. Yes, we can accept input from others, but ultimately, we must choose our own path and stick to it. And, usually, the most direct route is the most efficient, even if there are small delays along the way. May we have the wisdom to maintain a similar attitude towards the challenging people in our lives, may the path ahead be clear, and may we arrive at the appointed time.

B’Shira, in song,
Cantor Micah Morgovsky

 

SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER, 2020

 

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DIRECTOR OF CONGREGATIONAL ENGAGEMENT'S Messages

JANUARY-FEBRUARY, 2021

The theme of my last bulletin article was the marriage of grief and gratitude. Less than a week after it was delivered to your mailbox, my father-in-law passed away from COVID-19.

Never had I so personally felt the tangle of grief and gratitude than at this moment. The void of losing our patriarch is painful, yet the pain is filled with wonderful memories and the support and love of our community. We are grateful.

So many of you reached out and every one of your messages resonated with Susie, Harrison and me. Most of your messages ended with the traditional words,“May his memory be for a blessing.” As we were exploring a lifetime of pictures, I took to heart the meaning of memories being a blessing. I took a lot of time to meditate on the creation of memories, fanning through mental images of our time together, his stories, his facial expressions, his laugh, his mannerisms, his frustrations, his pride, his confidence, his meticulous nature, his love for us.

In our sanctuary, Rabbi Jay encourages us to leave the photo taking devices in their place and asks us to record mental images instead. Cell phones and videos serve as barriers to being wholly present and allowing an experience to fully wash over you. I am thankful that the mental snapshots of my father-in-law aren’t clouded with obfuscation, as he was old school and didn’t have the patience for a lot of picture taking. His presence demanded our being present. As my family works through the grieving process with the love and support of our Temple Sinai family, one of the best ways I can honor him is to be fully present for our congregation, advance our culture of connectedness and help create meaningful memories. There is no greater blessing.

Larry Stoogenke

NOVEMBER-DECEMBER, 2020

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Educator's Messages

JANUARY-FEBRUARY, 2021

I am sure I complain as much as the next person about technology. Technology is great when it works and is stress-inducing when it does not work. Zoom could be considered a four-letter word in 2020 and possibly well into 2021. Lately, I have a new perspective on Zoom and technology: it has become a lifeline.

On Sunday, November 8, I sat in front of my computer at 9:30am as our religious school family service was starting. I watched the number of participants on Zoom tick up, 23, 35, 56, 89, 93. We landed at 93 participants on a cold Sunday morning. These participants included students sitting at home with their siblings and parents squished on one couch so they could all be on screen, teachers, our clergy, and our madrichim. Shelly and I texted each other at the same time, 93 computers! It is incredible to see so many families on-screen every Sunday and Wednesday; the opportunity to pray together is one that I cherish, especially during this time when so many of us are isolated from each other. I am working on complaining about technology a little less these days.

I cannot move on without complimenting our faculty; almost every week, I receive an email from parents providing positive feedback on their child’s religious school class. This year is unique in so many ways especially the parents’ access to their child’s class. Our parents are listening to classes and not just relying on updates from their child. Our teachers are making the best of the situation by utilizing online resources and coming up with creative ideas of their own. Morah Sandy Rosenberg teaches fourth grade Hebrew. If you pop in on her class at any given time, you will see a homemade memory game made from oaktag and index cards on the wall of her home. Morah Claudia Wolen, who teaches Kindergarten, has a large whiteboard on her wall that she uses in her classes. Our teachers, who also serve as b’nei mitzvah tutors, are utilizing every minute of their time and are regularly working with students from the religious school to support their Hebrew learning as needed. We are a team and could not have had as successful a first semester of religious school as we have had without every single member of this team giving 100%.

My reach at Temple Sinai extends beyond our religious school. We have welcomed congregant and ridiculously talented musical educator Natasha Fenster to our Tot Shabbat team. We are engaging children and parents monthly to learn about and celebrate Shabbat together. As a parent of a young child, this exposure to Shabbat is priceless. We are using singing, dancing, props, and relatable toys to give our youngest learners a stable platform to begin their Jewish learning journey at Temple Sinai. It is incredible for me to look forward to my daughter, Parker, eventually being a SoSTY member and being surrounded by friends she played with at Tot Shabbat.

L’Shalom,
Morah Erica Quamily, LMSW

 

Dates to Remember:

Sunday, Jan. 24; K/1st Family Chavurah


Saturday, Jan. 30:   3rd Grade Shabbat morning service
 

Saturday, Feb. 6:  4th & 5th Grade Shabbat morning service
 

Sunday, Feb. 7:  5th Grade Israel Adventure Family Chavurah
 

Sunday, Feb. 14: No Religious School in observance of President’s Day
 

Saturday, Feb. 20:  6th & 7th Grade Shabbat morning service

nOVEMBER-DECEMBER, 2020

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Fri, January 15 2021 2 Sh'vat 5781